A Pathway of Flowers and Thorns

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We are to follow in His steps; and can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?
John Newton

A few years ago, our family made the necessary decision to have one of our two older dogs, just diagnosed with inoperable cancer, euthanized at home. The vet came on a blustery winter evening after his clinic appointments were done; my husband and son had worked in the cold wind preparing the grave on a little hill overlooking the barnyard. This peaceful but unmarked spot has become a pet cemetery over the years, now with three dogs and at least that many cats lying under the apple trees.

It was difficult for our family that night to think of our dog’s still warm body tucked into that cold ground. That bare patch of dirt stared at me as I walked past and our other aging dog paused there a few times, as if knowing where his old friend lay, and where within a year, he too would join him. Then a couple months later, still in the midst of wintry weather, with passing storms of hale, frozen rain and snow showers, I was astonished to see that plot of bare ground transforming.

Snowdrop flowers had appeared from nowhere. They had not been there before and I have no idea where they would have come from. Possibly disturbing the ground brought previously hidden bulbs closer to the surface. No matter how they found their way there, they were a breath of relief and promise after a dark winter. They were bright and clean and pure in the midst of otherwise unadorned mud, embraced overhead by stark bare orchard branches, their little white bells stirred by winter breezes.

These flowers became a brave and insistent symbol that life does goes on, thriving over the top of death.

So we are encouraged to follow in His steps, one slow difficult step at a time. The going is painful much of the time, strewn as life can be with thorns and tears. Yet, because He walked there first, going ahead of us, His footprints through the thorns fill with flowers, cushioning and adorning our path with unsurpassed grace and beauty.

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In a Dark Place

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Sometimes when you’re in a dark place
you think you’ve been buried,
but actually you’ve been planted.
~Christine Caine

_______________

We don’t understand
while buried in the dark,
that we rest planted in holy ground,
waiting for the wakening
that calls us forth to bloom and fruit.

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Bedewed With Tears

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“The Snow-drop, Winter’s timid child,
Awakes to life, bedew’d with tears.”
–  Mary Robinson

 

The past few weeks have been particularly dark and dank.  February often feels like this: the conviction winter will never be finished messing with us. Our doldrums are deep; brief respite of sun and warmth too rare.

I feel it in the barn as I go about my daily routine.   The Haflingers are impatient and yearn for freedom, over-eager when handled, sometimes banging on the stall doors in their frustration at being shut in,  not understanding that the alternative is  to stand outside all day in cold rain and wind.  To compensate for their confinement, I do some grooming of their thick winter coats, urging their hair to loosen and curry off in sheets over parts of their bodies, yet otherwise still clinging tight.  The horses are a motley crew right now, much like a worn ’60s shag carpet, uneven and in dire need of updating.  I prefer that no one see them like this and discourage visitors to the farm, begging people to wait a few more weeks until they (and I) are more presentable. Eventually I know the shag on my horses will come off, revealing the sheen of new short hair beneath, but when I look at myself, I’m unconvinced there is such transformation in store for me. Cranky, I  put one foot ahead of the other, get done what needs to be done, oblivious to the subtle renewal around me, refusing to believe even in the possibility.

It happened today.  Dawn broke bright and blinding.  I heard the fields calling, so I heeded, climbing the hill and turning my face to the pink painted eastern light, soaking up all I could.  It was almost too much to keep my eyes open, as they are so accustomed to gray darkness. And then I stumbled across something extraordinary.

A patch of snowdrops sat blooming in an open space on our acreage, visible now only because of the brush clearing that was done last fall. Many of these little white upside down flowers were planted long ago around our house and yard, but  I had no idea they were also such a distance away, hiding underground. Yet there they’ve been, year after year, harbingers of the long-awaited spring to come in a few short weeks, though covered by the overgrowth of decades of neglect and invisible to me in my self-absorbed blindness.  I was astonished that someone, many many years ago, had carried these bulbs this far out to a place not easy to find, and planted them, hoping they might bless another soul sometime somehow.  Perhaps the spot marks a grave of a beloved pet, or perhaps it was simply a retreat of sorts, but there the blossoms had sprung from their sleep beneath the covering of years of fallen leaves and blackberry vines. I wept to see them thriving there.

It was if I’d been physically hugged by this someone long dead,  now flesh and blood beside me, with work-rough hands, and dirty fingernails, and broad brimmed hat, and a satisfied smile.  I’m certain the secret gardener is no long living, and I reach back across those years in tearful gratitude, to show my deep appreciation for the time and effort it took to place a foretaste of spring in an unexpected and hidden place.

I am thus compelled to look for ways to leave such a gift for someone to find 50 years hence as they likewise stumble blindly through too many gray days full of human frailty and flaw. Though I will be long gone,  I can reach across the years to grab them, hug them in their doldrums, lift them up and give them hope for what is to come.

What an astonishing thought that it was done for me and in reaffirming that promise of renewal,  I can do it for another.

(repost from 2004 — published in Country Magazine in 2007)

 

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A Few Feathery Flakes

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A few feathery flakes are scattered widely through the air,
and hover downward with uncertain flight,
now almost alighting on the earth,
now whirled again aloft into remote regions of the atmosphere.
~Nathaniel Hawthorne

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It was a fairy-tale world, child-like and funny.
Boughs of trees adorned with thick pillows,
so fluffy someone must have plumped them up;
the ground a series of humps and mounds,
beneath which slinking underbrush or outcrops of rock lay hidden;
a landscape of crouching, cowering gnomes in droll disguises—
it was comic to behold, straight out of a book of fairy tales.
But if there was something roguish and fantastic
about the immediate vicinity through which you laboriously made your way,
the towering statues of snow-clad Alps,
gazing down from the distance,
awakened in you feelings of the sublime and holy.
~Thomas Mann from The Magic Mountain

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“You wake up on a winter morning and pull up the shade, and what lay there the evening before is no longer there–
the sodden gray yard, the dog droppings, the tire tracks in the frozen mud, the broken lawn chair you forgot to take in last fall.
All this has disappeared overnight, and what you look out on is not the snow of Narnia but the snow of home,
which is no less shimmering and white as it falls.
The earth is covered with it, and it is falling still in silence so deep that you can hear its silence.
It is snow to be shoveled, to make driving even worse than usual, snow to be joked about and cursed at,
but unless the child in you is entirely dead,
it is snow, too, that can make the heart beat faster when it catches you by surprise that way,
before your defenses are up.
It is snow that can awaken memories of things more wonderful than anything you ever knew or dreamed.”
~Frederick Buechner

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You should see my corgis at sunset in the snow.
It’s their finest hour. About five o’clock they glow like copper.
Then they come in and lie in front of the fire like a string of sausages.
~Tasha Tudor

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“one day you stepped in snow,
the next in mud,
water soaked in your boots and froze them at night,
it was the next worst thing to pure blizzardry,
it was weather that wouldn’t let you settle.”
~E.L. Doctorow

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coyote in the field

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Snow not falling but flying sidewise, and sudden,
not signaled by the slow curdling of clouds all day
and a flake or two drifting downward,
but rushing forward all at once as though sent for.
And filling up the world’s concavities,
pillowing up in the gloaming,
making night light with its whiteness,
and then falling still in every one’s dreams…
~John Crowley

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blowing snow in the barn
blowing snow in the barn
another barnstorming
another barnstorming

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“The smallest snowstorm on record took place an hour ago in my back yard.
It was approximately two flakes.
I waited for more to fall, but that was it.
The entire storm was two flakes.”
~Richard Brautigan

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Out through the fields and the woods
And over the walls I have wended;
I have climbed the hills of view
And looked at the world, and descended;
I have come by the highway home,
And lo, it is ended.

The leaves are all dead on the ground,
Save those that the oak is keeping
To ravel them one by one
And let them go scraping and creeping
Out over the crusted snow,
When others are sleeping.

And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last lone aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question ‘Whither?’

Ah, when to the heart of man
Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?
~Robert Frost “Reluctance”

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Stumbling Upon Spring Again

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repost from 2004 (published in May 2007  Country Magazine)

The past few weeks have been particularly dark and dank.  February often feels like this: the conviction winter will never be finished messing with us.
Our doldrums are deep; brief respite of sun and warmth too rare.

I feel it in the barn as I go about my daily routine.   The Haflingers are impatient and yearn for freedom, over-eager when handled, sometimes banging on the stall doors in their frustration at being shut in,  not understanding that the alternative is  to stand outside all day in cold rain and wind.  To compensate for their confinement, I do some grooming of their thick winter coats, urging their hair to loosen and curry off in sheets over parts of their bodies, yet otherwise still clinging tight.  The horses are a motley crew right now, much like a worn ’60s shag carpet, uneven and in dire need of updating.  I prefer that no one see them like this and discourage visitors to the farm, begging people to wait a few more weeks until they (and I) are more presentable. Eventually I know the shag on my horses will come off, revealing the sheen of new short hair beneath, but when I look at myself, I’m unconvinced there is such transformation in store for me. Cranky, I  put one foot ahead of the other, get done what needs to be done, oblivious to the subtle renewal around me, refusing to believe even in the possibility.

It happened today.  Dawn broke bright and blinding and after escorting horses out to daytime paddocks for a sun bath, I heard the fields calling, so I heeded, climbing the hill and turning my face to the eastern light, soaking up all I could.  It was almost too much to keep my eyes open, as they are so accustomed to gray darkness. And then I stumbled across something extraordinary.

A patch of snowdrops sat blooming in an open space on our acreage, visible now only because of the brush clearing that was done last fall. Many of these little white upside down flowers were planted long ago around our house and yard, but  I had no idea they were also such a distance away, hiding underground. Yet there they’ve been, year after year, harbingers of the long-awaited spring to come in a few short weeks, though covered by the overgrowth of decades of neglect and invisible to me in my self-absorbed blindness.  I was astonished that someone, many many years ago, had carried these bulbs this far out to a place not easy to find, and planted them, hoping they might bless another soul sometime somehow.  Perhaps the spot marks a grave of a beloved pet, or perhaps it was simply a retreat of sorts, but there the blossoms had sprung from their sleep beneath the covering of years of fallen leaves and blackberry vines.

It was if I’d been physically hugged by this someone long dead,  now flesh and blood beside me, with work-rough hands, and dirty fingernails, and broad brimmed hat, and a satisfied smile.  I’m certain the secret gardener is no long living, and I reach back across those years in gratitude, to show my deep appreciation for the time and effort it took to place a foretaste of spring in an unexpected and hidden place.

I am thus compelled to look for ways to leave such a gift for someone to find 50 years hence as they likewise stumble blindly through too many gray days full of human frailty and flaw. Though I will be long gone,  I can reach across the years to grab them, hug them in their doldrums, lift them up and give them hope for what is to come.  What an astonishing thought that it was done for me and in reaffirming that promise of renewal,  I can do it for another.

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Partly Tuber

 

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snowdrops in January
snowdrops in January

Some of us . . . are darkness-lovers.
We do not dislike the early and late daylight of June,
but we cherish the gradually increasing dark of November,
which we wrap around ourselves in the prosperous warmth
of woodstove, oil, electric blanket, storm window, and insulation.

We are partly tuber, partly bear.
Inside our warmth we fold ourselves
in the dark and its cold –
around us, outside us,
safely away from us;
we tuck ourselves up
in the long sleep
and comfort of cold’s opposite,
warming ourselves
by thought of the cold,
lighting ourselves by darkness’s idea.
~Donald Hall from “Season at Eagle Pond”

I confess
loving the dark as much as light.
Drawn without alarm clock
away from my pillow,
I awake early
covered in inky blackness
of unlit January mornings.

An uncharted day
before sunrise,
so raw with ripening,
belongs to no one else.
Only in darkness do I
sprout so boldly.

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Tint and Swell

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

The February sunshine steeps your boughs and tints the buds and swells the leaves within.
–  William C. Bryant

The sun is everywhere today, thawing the frost layer on the metal roof of the barn to the point of seeping through the cracks, dripping and splattering inside like an indoor spring shower during our chores.  The sun rays are trying to burst through our layers to activate Vitamin D thirsty skin, and there is actual warmth on our cheeks as we look up, squinting at the unaccustomed brightness.

At last, oh at last — after months of gray misty drizzle.  It may be only a tease and not the real thing but even the soil is feeling seduced.  The snowdrop sprouts have thrust through the frozen ground and crocus shoots are peeking out hopefully on our side of the crust rather than staying tentative and hidden down under.

Today’s glimpse of spring was worth waiting for, even if winter breaks loose again for a few weeks and plunges us back into doldrums and gloom.  If only a peek, it is still promise of a coming renewal and rebirth.

We won’t always dwell in darkness.  Let us be luminous.

photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten