The Witness

“All day the blanket snapped and swelled on the line, roused by a hot spring wind….
From there it witnessed the first sparrow, early flies lifting their sticky feet, and a green haze on the south-sloping hills.
Clouds rose over the mountain….At dusk I took the blanket in, and we slept, restless, under its fragrant weight. “
–Jane Kenyon

It is spring and soon time to empty the beds of blankets and quilts for their day of renewal by clothesline hanging in the sun.  The airing of bedding is a May tradition from generations past, allowing the wind to buff all fresh again with scent of ambient apple and lilac blossoms.

This quilted veil covers our dreams, our fevers, our loving, our deep sleep, our wakeful tossing; now allowed flapping freedom for a day before returning to the weighty responsibility of becoming comfort and protection, tucked, folded, smoothed and ordered.  As we climb back into the realm of the dark, burrowing beneath its weight, breathing deeply from the fragrant breeze of freedom in the fabric, we see through closed eyes the snowy mountains in the distance, smell clouds of pink-white orchard bloom just up the hill,  feel the tousling wind in our hair.  All this from the safety of our bed.

Our dreams, each deep and rhythmic breath, sleep shrouded by the blanketing of spring.

Posted in Dreams, farm life, Freedom | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Potato Weather

photo by Tim McCord in Entiat, Washington

“Look at that moon. Potato weather for sure.”
Mrs. Gibb― Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Tonight is super moon night –the full moon combined with the annual closest approach to the earth and it did not disappoint.  The orb was orange and optically oversized on the horizon, looking ever so much like a search light trained over the landscape, creating moon shadows and moon worshippers everywhere.  The moon was made for hankerings of all kinds and in my case, I’m hankering for a new crop of potatoes.  I’ve cooked up the last dug up 7 months ago.

The garden is ready for the spuds, just newly rotatilled with worm-happy compost.  The dirt feels fluffy in the hand, and the air is still cool on the face.  Between a full moon waning and brisk spring weather, it is time to plant potatoes, eyes up, anxious to sprout through to the surface and reach for the sky and the moon.

I have no idea what the moon has to do with potato planting.  I only know that back when people paid close to attention to such things, it mattered when they planted.  Maybe the search light moonbeams brought those sprouts out of the ground just a little faster, with due haste and God speed.   Maybe the accelerando tidal pull of a close super moon brings
us all a little nearer to the surface: to grow, to flourish, to howl moonward from the safety of the evanescent shadows that vanish, dissolved by the sun, at daybreak.

They danced by the light of the moon,
          The moon,
          The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Edward Lear–The Owl and the PussyCat

Posted in farm life, Farming, gardening | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

For the Look

Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth (Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy) in BBC's Pride and Prejudice

Occasionally the movies get it right.  If they really want to show two people in love with each other, it does not require states of undress, or acrobatic clinches, or lots of heavy breathing.

All the movie needs is “the look”.

Some call it “locked eyes” or the “the held intense gaze” or “gazing longingly”.   It’s not ogling or  lurid or lusty.   It is the look that says “I want to look into your eyes forever and get lost there.”

It works for me every time because I am lucky enough to know what it feels like.  I get that butterfly in the stomach feeling anytime it happens.  My husband held my eyes with his from across a room early in our relationship, and over thirty years later, he still holds them when he looks at me.  And I look at him just that way as well.  The eyes say what words cannot.  The eyes don’t lie.  The eyes never change even though the years bring gray hair and crow’s feet.

The “look” says “I want to look at you forever, just like this, just as you are, wherever you are because of who you are.”

The look of unconditional love is worth hankering for.


Posted in Communication, Marriage | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

For a Day to Stay In and Make Soup

There has been no real snow for us yet this winter down at sea level although the mountains surrounding us have had plentiful snowfall, making for happy skiers and snowboarders.  So last night, the clouds did try.  The temperature was 32 degrees, the southerly winds brought in moisture and the precipitation fell.  Some of it came in snowflakes.  Some of it came in raindrops.  Most of it came down in tiny little shards of ice that cracked against the windows.

The ground was covered in slush and ice this morning while the skies still were confused about what exactly to exude.  As the temperature slowly rose, raindrops reigned.

I have always been inept at walking on slippery surfaces, probably since my first traumatic roller skating fiasco where most of the hour in the rink was spent on my butt, or pulling friends down with me as they tried to keep me upright.  I’ve skied once and that was once too much–I barely made it home.  I’ve never ice skated–simply walking down the slope to the barn on surfaces like today is adventure enough, Yak Traks and all.   I’ll confess.  My body hates sliding in any form.   My feet betray me, my balance is nonexistent, and my brain panics.  Some of us have nervous systems that can’t handle it and we will crash no matter what we do or the defensive postures we assume. If we are going to have snow, at least let it be enough to crunch through up to my knees so that if I lose my balance, I face plant into a nice drift, thank you very much.

So a skiff of snow with ice quite undid me this morning.  I managed to finish my chores after sliding gracelessly down to the barn, and defying all the laws of physics, I slid my way back up to the house, if it is possible to slide uphill.  And here I sit, looking out at it all, wishing for the mud of spring, something I feel much more at home with.

What do I do with a Saturday like this?

Make soup and hunker down.  Pull everything still edible out of the refrigerator and cut, dice, stir and simmer into something wonderful to last several days, in case I’m stranded that long.  If I can’t walk outside with confidence, I’ll at least have something inside to show for it.

Oh, and take a nap.  Maybe several.

Posted in farm life, Farming, Home | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

For a Nest That Empties and Fills Again

Eagles return to the same nest year after year–a steadfast marriage of life long partners and domicile that is both touching and practical.  Generations of offspring are raised in the same tree, hatched upon the same branches lined with the same dirt and down and moss and foliage, then the soiled lining removed by the parents after the fledglings fly.  After being washed clean in the winter rains, the parents return in the spring to replace the soft bedding for the next crop of eggs.  It is a cycle of comfort, of familiarity, and of commitment.

Many see an empty nest as sad and forlorn–a symbol of what was and is no longer.   Others see it as the gateway to freedom from responsibility and the daily cares of parenting worries.  I’m not so sure it is either.

Our children left us to fend for ourselves last August.  It was a distinct adjustment, knocking about in this empty nest without the usual crowd of flying feathers, hungry mouths and busy bathrooms.  When they recently came home for a few weeks at Christmas, it was a joyful reunion with great conversations, singing and music, wonderful meals and memories.  It felt like it always had.

As of today, the nest has emptied again–the house quiet, the refrigerator bare, the bathrooms always available with enough hot water, the calendar suddenly unfilled.  The adjustment again.

I will set to work cleaning, and laundering, and putting away what will be pulled out again in four to five months as they flock home briefly once again.  I know just how to line the nest, making it welcome and familiar to my family who are off to make their own nests elsewhere.   It is important that this home be here for them to land when they need to, to refresh, to relax and to belong and be loved.

There is nothing empty about it.  It is lined with comfort, is chock full of memories, and sits ready with unlimited potential for future gatherings.

And most of all, we’re still here, my husband and I.  There is absolutely nothing empty about that.

Posted in Family, Home, Marriage, Mothering, parenting, Remembrance | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

For a Real Twitter

photo by Josh ScholtenAs I headed out to do farm chores this morning, I heard unusually loud bird vocalizations from the woods near the barnyard.  They were distinct twitters and trills–friendly and engaging sounds being answered between the woods and our lone fir up on our hill.  I stopped a moment to look and saw two mature bald eagles with at least one younger eagle swooping back and forth over a few hundred yards between various perches, clearly enjoying a winter morning together.  Their sounds were very much like what you can hear clearly on this video from the Eagles of Hornby Island webcam video starting around the 2 minute mark.

Eagle Vocalizations (Doug Carrick webcam from Hornby Island eagle nest)

These were happy family sounds; there was an intimacy and comfort in their back and forth that made me assume I was probably seeing and hearing a conversation between a mated pair and their grown offspring.  I’m more used to hearing the raptor screech of the local hawks and eagles as they threaten others in their territory or they announce a kill but this truly was a delicate and melodic twitter one would expect from a much smaller (and less intimidating) bird throat.

I’m rather relieved to know the bold bald eagle has a softer side–almost canary-like–when they are together as a family.  All that talon action, screeching, ripping and shredding of prey can get a bit overdone.  Instead, an eagle can use Twitter to communicate the important things without ever needing a keyboard.

I’m grateful all I have to do is step outside my back door to get the latest Tweet.

photo by Josh Scholten

Posted in Family, farm life, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

For the Respite of Christmas

This story is familiar to many but bears repeating each Christmas, more so than ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Five months into WWI, on Christmas Eve 1914, the soldiers in the trenches of France declared an unofficial and spontaneous ceasefire after the German soldiers shared chocolate cake from home with the British soldiers, who responded in kind with tobacco and beer.  According to eye witness accounts, they joined together in singing Christmas carols, exchanging gifts, and playing a game of impromptu soccer between the trenches in “no man’s land”.   The high command was upset and tried to prevent this social exchange but to no avail.  The truce lasted for at least one day along parts of the front, and longer in others.

What strikes me about this story and how it resonates with us is how similar the beliefs and upbringing were for those European soldiers in WWI and how easily they could find common ground.   Would the soldiers on either side of gun sights find this commonality in the now-ended Iraq war or in Afghanistan?  Given the cultural and religious gulf that divides us, this is unlikely.

Still, there is inspiration in the sweet thought of “Stille Nacht” and “Silent Night” being sung by sons of different mothers, all children of the same Father in heaven,  only hours before and after trying to kill each other.  What sadness to think it took so many lost lives to resolve this war years later despite their similarities.

The song below written and sung by John McCutcheon, an American folksinger, was my first introduction to this bit of history and is just as touching today.  It can be found in various versions on YouTube but this is one I particularly like:

Christmas in the Trenches

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here,
I fought for King and country I love dear.

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still
No Christmas song was sung,
Our families back in England were toasting us that day,
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground,
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound,
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear,
As one young German voice sang out so clear.

“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me,
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony,
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more,
As Christmas brought us respite from the war.

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent,
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent,
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I,
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky.

“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried,
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side,
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright,
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night.

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land,
With neither gun nor bayonet we met there hand to hand,
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well,
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell.

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home,
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own,
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin,
This curious and unlikely band of men.

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more,
With sad farewells we each began to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart
That lived that wondrous night,
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were warmed
As songs of peace were sung,
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war,
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore.

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell,
Each Christmas come since World War I,
I’ve learned its lessons well,
That the ones who call the shots
Won’t be among the dead and lame,
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

Posted in Christmas | Tagged , , | 1 Comment