Tuesday, September 12, 2023

In Gratitude for the Day


"To open my eyes 
and wake up alive in the worldTo open my eyes 
and fully arrive in the world
With its beauty and its crueltyWith its heartbreak and its joyWith it constantly giving birth to life 
and to forces that destroyAnd the infinite power of changeAlive in the world"
--Jackson Browne

 A rabbit scurries across the lawn, disturbed by my approach, but already busy with its day.  The morning sun is young, just breaking through the trees as I lug pails of chicken feed toward the coops.  There is something settling, centering, about this morning routine - an homage to purpose, to capacity, to necessity.  


The sky is clear and the air crisp after yesterday’s rain.  Though technically still summer, this morning’s 47-degrees already feels like autumn.  The scattering of fallen leaves punctuates the anticipation.  Two deer stir from their reverie in the orchard, shaking off the last quiet grace of dawn – and no doubt the lingering taste of fallen apples – and lope into the woods.  The chickens, of course, are long-awake.  Eager in equal measure for the feed and the freedom, they cluck their impatience and, I like to imagine, their gratitude and greeting.  It’s hard to mistake Dwayne the Rooster’s persistent crowing for anything but impatience.  


I fill the feeders, open the hatches, and retreat back through the gate, my boots showering dew ahead of me with each step.  


I’m feeling lazy about the day ahead.  Though the heaviest harvest is behind us, there are still leeks in the ground, peppers on the bushes, and purple-hulled peas on the vines.  Apples and pears and plums are ready for our attentions, and of course there is the fall clean-up to commence.  Some of that will get some of my attentions today, but ragweed season in all its histamined glory is not a helpful workmate, and I’ve little energy for much beyond tissue retrieval and disposal.  We’ll see how much or how little I accomplish.


But “accomplishment” is not the measure of the day.  The day is its own glory, with or without my initiatives.  It is both humbling and enlivening to reconcile with the reality that the morning is indifferent to my productivity.  For the moment, then, I relish the light on my face, the cool on my skin, the shiver of delight, and the empty buckets in my hands.  


It’s a new day, and I get to be alive within it.  I’m grateful. 

Monday, August 28, 2023

In Anticipation of the Dawn

 It’s not that I couldn’t sleep; just that sleep ended early.  Reheating a mug of yesterday’s leftover coffee, I take a seat on the deck, gently rocking in the pre-dawn darkness.  And listen.  It’s not exactly silent; the chirps and clicks and miscellaneous thrums layer an underlying drone that bends my own rhythms to its pitch - like a tuning fork for the heart and mind.  Part rhythm, part sound, my breath - already relaxed - slows even more as it becomes aligned with the lingering night noise.  Even the reheated coffee tastes better.

Gradually, imperceptibly, the edges of the horizon gain light - eastward, to be sure, but even in the recesses to the north the hint of a glow.  It’s still dark, but my body moreso than my eyes perceives the change.  Soon I will be able to make out the form of the landing plane in the distance, not simply its blinking light.  Soon, the stars overhead will dissolve into the blue of the morning sky.  Soon the green of the trees will swell the details of the branches and leaves beyond the current outlined silhouette.  And just now, Dwayne, the rooster, announced that he, too, is aware of dawn’s approach.

Last week the temperatures hovered around 100, and next week the prediction is a return to more of the same sweltering climatic malaise.  But this week days will be mild and the darkness almost chilly.  I draw my robe more closely around my shoulders and savor the rejuvenating cool.  

Reviewing the calendar, I confirm that there is no schedule to keep within the hours of this day, just the rhythms of the farmstead to honor.  There is harvesting and groundskeeping and preserving.  There are bees to tend and chickens to feed, eggs to gather and music to make and perhaps, when day is done, a fire to build in the pit.

But for now there is the music of the night to hear, and the crescendoing morning.  And the dawn to celebrate.  Which might just be the most important work of the day.  

The chair rocks gently. I breathe slowly, and deep.  And color teases the horizon.  

Good morning.  

Good, indeed.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Long Game

watch the young chickens while I water on the deck.  The labor allows for considerable watching.  Our deck is ringed with vertical PVC pipes - 18, plus the 14 French flower cans suspended in a steel frame - filled with potting soil, sown various herb seeds.  Watering doesn’t require much concentration.  The pipes stand just taller than the deck rail, no bending involved, and aim is the only requirement.  It is slow, quotidian work; mindless in that liberating way that untethers my attention, allowing it to drift like a stringless kite and snag on whatever branch or chimney or light pole happens into its path.  

Those, or chickens.  The young ones are segregated into a partitioned section of the chicken yard. With only a wire fence between them, there is plenty of opportunity for mutual observation and curious envy between these 12-week-olds and the mature ones on the other side.  Eventually the adolescents will make the great migration into the big yard, making room for the next round of chicks even now trading down for feathers in the brooder in the barn, but for now their sequestration affords them a little kinder, more protected environment while they continue to grow.  There will be time enough in the weeks ahead for their skirmishes with the big girls, and their introductions into the ways of life administered by Dwayne the rooster.  For now, they flit and flurry their way from water to feed to bug to whatever else they happen to see.  

And I tip the watering can from pole to pole, spotting tiny sprouts slowing emerging.  

These early days of the growing season recalibrate my sense of time.  What a tuning fork is to the ears, a seed - a chick - is to the soul.  Someone once said, “Never travel faster than your guardian angels can fly.”  Carrie Newcomer lyricises that wisdom into the caution not to “travel faster than our souls can go.”  The farmstead constantly counsels me not to live faster than seeds can grow; than buds open into flowers; than bees make honey; than fruit ripens.  To live at the speed of soul.  Pouring on more water, after all, won’t speed up the process.

Every day, then, I fill the can and sprinkle the seeds, and wonder with awe at all that might be happening around me.

And within.

Monday, May 29, 2023

This Sanguine Moment in Time


There is a soulful sanguinity to this transitional moment.  Garden planting is complete, save for a few more flowers intended to feed the bees (and our own aesthetic hunger).  The supportive systems – the wire cages, the trellises and the plastic drip lines – are in place and functioning.  After a frenetic and tiresome few weeks of furrowing and transplanting, the initiating work is done.  Exclamation and exhalation are both warranted and earned.  There is always work to do, but in this still and transient moment, we rest in the transition between construction and maintenance.  On this holiday weekend we intend to do a little of both: basking in the satisfaction, and taking a deep breath.


But as that opening sentence suggests, it is not simply that the startup work is completed.  More than anything it is that the work is a down payment on hope.  We haven’t sored our muscles and exhausted our energies merely for the good and righteous discipline of it.  It was all in service to the prospect of growth – that the work would eventually lead to something, produce something, that is profoundly good.  And “here” is the only place to start if we want to arrive “there”, at harvest.  I am spiritual enough to know that grace is real, and that blessings quite often fall on the undeserving and the unprepared.  Good things sometimes simply come whether we have seeded them or not.  I have been the beneficiary of too many of those to count to scoff at the wonder and the joy of them.  But cultivation never got in the way of grace.  I don’t think God takes offense at the little bit of spade work we can contribute to the alchemy of abundance.  Hence, the sweat and the fatigue and the ever-sore muscles.


But even harvest is not the ultimate denouement.  It, too - as good and celebratory as it will be – is but the precursor to the kitchen, which is the on-ramp to the dining room with its plated wonders and delights, and the satiated, satisfied smiles that result. 


For now, of course, the garden is more brown than green; more loosened soil than sturdy plants.  But those nascent seedlings, both transplanted whole and popping up from below, will have their day.  Hope will find its height and breadth and, if the malefactors are held at bay, its fruit. 


That is a question for another day, the predations that are always lurking and how to counter them.  This morning I am sitting on the deck in the cool of a quiet holiday, admiring the work and its promise. 




A deep and grateful breath. 



Savoring the anticipation of the flavors just beginning to stir.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Holiness in the Dirt

The work days were interestingly bookended.  We started the week spreading worm poop – a ton of it; literally 2000 pounds of it – and ended the week spreading chicken poop.  It’s a sentence that I couldn’t have imagined writing not too many years ago, but there it is:  manure in all its glory, large and small, put to the ancient use of fertility.  Reality is more exciting than the facts might sound.

It is planting season of course.  The grass is growing, the chickens are laying, the dandelions are blooming, the flower beds are bursting, the rain barrels are filling.   And we have been working.   The garden beds have been prepared – cleared of remnant detritus and lightly tilled; scored with a hoe and drilled with an auger, the seeds have been meted out and the greenhouse seedlings have been transplanted.  The tomato cages have been placed - though their securing still needs reinforcement - and the irrigation drip tapes have been unrolled into place.  


Life has been nudged forward in the direction of color and fruit, and thanks to the earthworms and the chickens, it has been encouraged.  Fed.  Nourished. Beckoned.  With the manure.  Small and large; worm and hen, bucket and shovel wielded by Lori and me.  It gets down to basics - far from any glamour, it’s about the humble building blocks.  The occasional rains will surely help, and when it refuses, the faucet.  Sunlight will do its part, as will we with the hoe.  But it’s the soil that will make the difference – the soil, elevated by the excrement.


I once heard a famous chef observe that cuisines were born out of the creative use of the poor leftovers, the discards, the refuse.  The result, he said with a smile, was the inversion of desire.  Having discerned its quieter value, that creative use elevated and popularized the previously maligned, overshadowing the once-preferred. 


I have no idea who figured out this miracle of manure – above who’s ancient head the bulb of insight flashed on – but it’s funny to recognize that same inversion in the garden.  What comes out of the ground as food is beneficially returned to it in digested, concentrated form.  As important as are the seeds and the seedlings, it’s the shit that is the salvation.  


I suspect that truth is resident and operational in all manner of pursuits – for those with the patience to wait for it, the vision to discern it, and adequate humility to wield the shovel and carry the bucket and entertain the possibility that mouths are not the only valuable orifice.  I have work to do in that regard, but in the chicken yard and the garden I have good teachers. 


And plenty of opportunities to learn.


We shovel, then, and turn in the promise:  a kind of genuflection amidst the sacrament of the soil.



Saturday, March 25, 2023

It’s a Smile of Course

You could take my word for it.  I am, after all, 66 years old and have seen a thing or two.  I have climbed my way through the educational system, earning a diploma and a degree or two or three.  I have put in my years of employment of one kind or another - selling ice cream and communities, camps and congregations, eggs and tomatoes and a point of view.  Or two.  I have some credentials and credibility and some trips around the sun.  Whether the sum of any of that is wisdom is anyone’s guess, but nonetheless you could take my word for it.

Or you could consult the scientists who routinely ask questions and seek credible answers.  They have scanned the skies and attended conferences and published articles and calibrated distances and distilled the gases and charted the relevant rotations.  

You could retrieve the almanac, assuming you can remember where you shelved it, check the date and trust the ancient wisdom.  

You could consult the poets because poets, with their poetic eye and ear, routinely paint the truth and beckon us to stand beside them, shoulder to shoulder, and witness awes larger than life.  

We could flip through the scriptures, righteously and “rightly dividing the word of truth,” but chances are the verse we would land on is from the muttering Micah who would quietly shake his head and remind us, “God has shown you, O mortal, what is good.”

“Goodness,” we might exclaim by way of response, “is there anything good?”  

There is plenty to make us wonder. In my town a mother just killed her newborn.  At the Capitol they are passing laws that amount to suffocation.  At the bank they are wringing their hands - I am too when I look at my eroding reserves.  In Eastern Europe, Goliath is bombing David who, so far, is successfully slingshotting a few well-aimed stones in return.  And at schools, teachers must now set aside their teaching to assess genitalia and monitor bathroom access.  

We could ask the churches, but what ones haven’t fallen asleep are largely fighting amongst themselves and aren’t likely to hear the question.  Or are too busy gearing up for the Easter Egg Hunt to answer.

You could ask Siri or Alexa and they would surely have some well researched Wikipedia article to succinctly summarize the details.

Or, you could simply look up and draw your own conclusions - seeing for yourself that it is a smile - the moon whimsically offering a blessing for your night, your sleep, your punctuating period at the end of this day.  

A smile.  

It’s up there.  You could ask someone or never even notice.  Or in the process of walking the dog or turning off the light or peeking out the window or simply taking one last deep breath of this day, look up, zoom in, and claim it for yourself.  A smile.  The corners of Creation are curling upward in affirmation.

And returning a smile of your own - for whomever and whatever might need one - offering the world a blessed and happy “good night.”

Monday, March 20, 2023

Away with the Prevenient and on to the Vernal

 We planted seeds today - collards and kale, tomatoes and peppers, onions and leeks, and strawberries.  Not in the ground, mind you - it’s weeks too early for that.  The populated seed trays are destined for the greenhouse where they will, if our green-thumbed prayers are answered, stir and sprout and spread their eventual leaves.  But this is where it starts:  with seeds, the granular beginnings that tilt toward fruitfulness.  It seemed like the thing to do on the occasion of the Vernal Equinox - seeding, while also pondering when it last might have been that the word “vernal” showed up commonly in casual conversation.  It was certainly before my lifetime.  That’s a loss as I think about it.  Of all the words to drop out of our vocabulary, we can ill-afford to lose those connoting “freshness,” “newness”, and “of the spring.”  In a world whose cultural graces and political discourse seem iced into winter - clinched, hunched, curled inward - words bending toward growth and light strike me as precious enough to nurture.

Here, at least, then on this particular day when the Northern Hemisphere begins to tilt toward the sun thereby stretching the daylight and warming the air, we are reminded.  It is officially spring.  Life is officially new.  

At least the newness has begun.  Perhaps that is why I like the word “tilt” so much as a description of this nascent transition.  Nothing has plopped down upon us or fallen over on us.  It is far less dramatic, far more incremental than that.  Indeed, the casual observer might well have noticed no change at all from yesterday to today.  The Vernal Equinox is, as the rock band “Chicago” used to sing, “only the beginning.”

But it is a beginning.  And the testimony is prolific.  The hens are laying, the grass is greening, the bulbs are slightly emerging, and buds are bulging from seemingly every branch, from forsythia to fruit tree.  All that, plus it feels a little contagious - at least to a guy like me who has been feeling as stark and barren as the wintering trees, brittle limbs clattering in the wind.  Without going into detail, I haven’t been my best self.  Too much crankiness.  Too much judgment. Too much anger over what I can little influence.  Too much winter in my veins.  Too much frost in my heart.  I’ve needed a little tilt toward the sun.  I’ve needed a little vernal nudge.

Right on time, here we are.  

It is, as I noted, just the beginning.  But it is beginning.  Even Easter, the grandest vernality of all, is just around the corner - triggered by this very day, calculated as it is to rise on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

And so we tilt.  

Toward the sun.

Toward life emerging.

Toward - dare I say it? - fruit.