A Marvelous Understanding

I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.

A rabbit noticed my condition
and came near.

It often does not take more than that to help at times—
to just be close to creatures
who are so full of knowing
so full of love
that they don’t chat,
they just gaze with
their marvelous understanding.
~St. John of the Cross, Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, trans. Daniel Ladinsky, p. 323

It would be good to have an understanding
that helps people feel better
just by being near.

Knowing that you can be comforting
simply by being who you are
in that moment.

Even if you are a little afraid to be there.

Locked and Threw Away the Key


The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away.

I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut. It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes.

If you and I looked at each other that way, our skulls would split and drop to our shoulders.

But we don’t. We keep our skulls.

~Annie Dillard from “Living Like Weasels”

I watch you.  And you me.  Our eyes locked and someone threw away the key.


For Someone to Ride Along

Why do you think birds would be riding the horses our farm? Have they forgotten how to fly? Do their wings and feet get tired so they need to hitch a ride instead?

These are called cowbirds. Not like cowboys and cowgirls but usually they ride the backs of cows, searching for bugs and flies to eat. But since there aren’t any cows on our farm (yet) they ride the horses instead. And the horses like them to eat the flies on their back because flies are itchy and tend to “bug” the horses!

So our horses like giving rides to cowbirds, even if they aren’t called horsebirds!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have someone along for the ride as you go about your day?

For Old Fashioned Pencil and Paper

School is starting back up and with that comes stealth texting from cell phones, hidden behind back packs, behind propped up text books on desks, and even more creatively, hidden in the lap folds of some of the baggier fashions.  The students think the teachers are unaware.  Some teachers are simply tolerant and don’t have a desire to collect every cell phone in use at a given moment (which is enough to fill up a drawer).  The irony is that students are mostly texting other students who are sitting a few yards from them in the same room.  Texting is practically the only known form of communication for human beings between the ages of nine and twenty nine.  Email and instant messaging is so yesterday.

We used to call it “passing notes”.  This generation just doesn’t know what it is missing. Instead of a quick text between two phones, it took a village of cooperating students to successfully pass a note.  This brings new meaning to “group project” before it became the only way to get students working together in an enlightened learning environment.

Part of the challenge of passing notes was to write on the largest piece of ripped off notebook paper possible, but still be able to “palm” it, and pass it imperceptibly, often across a room, without the teacher being aware.  An intercepted note meant it would be read aloud in class so content had to be carefully coded, very much like today’s text messages that are full of abbreviations and uninterpretable jargon.

One memorable day in 8th grade science, I and my friend who sat diagonally from me clear across the classroom passed a folded half sheet of notebook paper over a dozen times through six intermediaries.  True, it was during a filmstrip projector presentation on volcanoes, so we had the cover of darkness to assist us.  It was still an achievement.  I suspect Mr. Duffy simply ignored us but knew what was going on the whole time.

What was so important that we had to communicate secretly during class?  Beats me.  It seemed like the thrill of being found out was as much a motivation as the need to write something entertaining or enthralling.  In fact, one of my goals was to try to make my friend laugh out loud, which she rarely did, and when she did, she would make it sound like a snort or sneeze, to avoid further teacher scrutiny.  My cover was a hiccup.

Notes were important communication devices between classes too. Stuffing a note in a crack in a desk that a friend would occupy during the next class period was an effective means of staying in touch.  Writing on the desk surface was far riskier, and certainly not private, but employed when necessary.  There were sometimes passionate love notes left on desktops in pen and pencil. It resulted in after school soap and water duty.

Now that I’m part of the “texting” crowd, via my Blackberry,  I text sometimes while in meetings when I should be paying strict attention to what is going on.  My “excuse” is that as a doctor to college students, I’ve found they are sometimes more likely to tell me their greatest concerns via text rather than in person, so I see it as part of the “job”.

So I regretfully must bid farewell to pencil and paper.  It was sweet knowing you.  And if you ever hear me stifle a hiccup, you’ll know someone just sent me something that made me laugh and I needed to dive for cover.

For An Unusual Shower

When I look out the kitchen window and see our geriatric barn cat (the one who I thought was near death because she was barely eating and drinking and not leaving her rug, only to show up three days later at the back porch meowing for her breakfast) curled up cozily on the lush turf-covered lid to the septic tank, I know she is on to something.  Even the most disgusting stuff can have an upside.  In this case, her thin frail frame will never get cold as long as she can find that nice green spot.   She doesn’t care what makes it warm and cushiony, only that it is.  In fact life throws us plenty of septic tank lids to hunker down on if we only know how to find them in the grass.

The other day I was mowing lawn,  not thinking about much of anything, which is one of the true pleasures of cutting grass.   I took a swath near the garden through some taller grass that had not been mowed for over a month, forgetting that well over a month ago, after planting the beans, I neglected to pick up rolled up twine and stakes that I had used to mark the row.   The swath of the lawn mower blades guaranteed I found them again.  The twine ended up completely disabling the lawn mower by wrapping tightly around the blades.   I was immobilized in my own unwitting and unintentional trap which lay stealthily hidden in a sea of green.  I won’t describe in detail what it took to get the blades untwined but it included some blood, a lot of sweat, and not a few tears.   Lesson learned: not everything under lush green grass is septic tank toasty–hazards of one’s own creation may be lurking beneath what appears benign and innocent–so pay attention.

Today I was setting up tables and chairs in our yard for a long-planned outdoor bridal shower for a special young woman in our church family.   As I spread tablecloths, arranged flowers, and strung up festive lights, I noticed a farmer driving slowly by with a huge tanker, turning into his large acreage of grassy field across the road.  Within minutes he was spraying liquid manure out on his field row after row, only a hundred yards from the spot where I was soon going to have a couple dozen ladies eating a light supper and watching gifts being opened.

This abruptly gave new meaning to the term “shower”.

When you live rural, you accept manure and all its “qualities”  as a part of daily life.  Thankfully, the ladies arriving at the party were mostly from farming backgrounds and were completely understanding about the frequent comings and goings of the tanker during the evening.  The bride-to-be was very gracious indeed.  I’m grateful the wind was blowing the other way.   If I’d been really quick on my feet to make profound use of this opportunity,  I could have reflected on the benefits of “liquid fertilizer” on a new marriage relationship.  When the going gets slippery and smelly in a couple’s life together, as it invariably does, it is important to remember where there is manure, there is eventually growth, there is fruitfulness, there is harvest.  You really need to stick it out, knowing something better is coming soon, if only you have faith that the rough times don’t last forever.

It was an unexpected gift to all of us, made more meaningful while eating a most amazing fresh raspberry pie, in the acknowledgment that in some other field a few miles away, it was liquid fertilizer that made those succulent berries thrive.

For Old Friends

“Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly?  How terribly strange to be seventy…”

This was the day we were planning to go to Vancouver B.C. to see Simon and Garfunkel in concert at the start of their 2010 tour, the year they both turn sixty nine.  However, their tour has been indefinitely postponed due to Art Garfunkel’s vocal cord problems, so we are staying at home doing Saturday catch up instead, though a bit wistful at what could have been an enjoyable time hearing great songs.

“The sounds of the city sifting through trees
Settle like dust on the shoulders of the old friends”

Even so,  Simon and Garfunkel harmonies run through my head, spurred by a sing along after a wonderful dinner together with two other families last night.  These are friends who are not by any means old, but it is friendship that has lasted over twenty years so we can be very accurately called “old friends.”  Our children grew up together and remain “old friends” in their late teens and twenties.   There is nothing quite as comforting as a friendship that endures time and miles and life transitions.

“Time it was, and what a time it was…
it was…
a time of innocence, a time of confidences”

And so, with the sounds of those songs settling like dust on my shoulders,  it is time to go mow lawn and pull weeds.