Hog-ku

Ordinary day
except for the feral hog
strolling through the yard

We’ve seen a lot of critters throughout our years of living in the countryside, but this is the first wild pig, enjoying a Sunday afternoon ramble through my son’s yard. My son took photos and sent them to me with an article on how feral hogs are an increasing concern in North Carolina. Apparently they do millions of dollars’ worth of damage to crops and pose a disease threat to livestock and pets. The state actually has a Feral Swine Task Force.

A zoomed and cropped shot, nevertheless too close for comfort…fortunately the hog wandered off.


A turn of turtles

My son texts to say
today
the girls and I
watched a turtle
laying eggs
in the yard

which I am sure
my six-year-old
backseat prophet
slash nurture scientist
loved witnessing

here’s hoping
she’ll keep the memory
for her little sister
living her first June

and that
they get to see
a turn of baby turtles
just before summer’s end

Snapping Turtle Laying Eggs Eno River Durham NC 095938-001. bobistraveling. CC BY 2.0.

“Turn” is one of the collective nouns for turtles.

Of racehorses and old roads

As I write, the National Anthem’s being sung at Churchill Downs for the start of the Kentucky Derby.

I’ll be pulling for a horse not favored to win.

His owner grew up in eastern North Carolina on a little stretch of road in the country. It’s paved now, but people have living memory of it being dirt… and I have an affinity for old dirt roads in these far reaches.

Once upon a time, I was a child who stayed in a little house on a dirt road in the summertime. I swung from a tire swing that Granddaddy hung from the pecan tree all studded with woodpecker holes. I swung to the deafening rise-and-fall rhythms of cicada-rattles, alongside the old dirt road across from the clearing where timeworn gravestones stood over people my grandmother knew when she was a child. I swung back and forth, round and round through the dappled afternoon, singing a favorite folk song from my father’s Peter, Paul, and Mary album…

Stewball was a racehorse
and I wish he were mine
he never drank water
he always drank wine…

The song goes on to say how the speaker bet on the gray mare and the bay, when:

ahead of them all,
came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’,
my noble Stewball.
The hoot owl, she hollered…

This past week, early one morning, I recorded a hoot owl (barred owl) hollering from the pines behind my home.

Memory runs so deep, so strong.

And so I pull for the horse named Barber Road, whose odds keep going down in these remaining moments before he gets to the gate.

Here’s to my own beloved road by another name in eastern North Carolina, and childhood, and belonging, and ol’ Stewball who wasn’t favored to win, either, but did, and to the hoot owl, the stories, the songs, and overcomings.

And here’s to you, Barber Road.

Run on.

Thoroughbred racehorseMIKI Yoshihito. CC BY 2.0.

Update: Barber Road finished 6th. By now the world knows that Rich Strike, the least-favored horse (80-1,) took the Derby in the second-biggest upset in its 148-year history. Secretariat, the first racehorse I remember, and who still fills me with awe to the point of tears, holds the record.

Abundance: Spiritual journey

May. Newness. Longer days, more sunlight. Blossom-laden trees perfume the air, geese with goslings glide across glassy ponds. Along the backroads and byways, the fields have been plowed; John Deere tractors roll over the naked earth, freshly dotted with neat rows of little green plants.

I think of sowing and the harvest to come.

My illustrious daily planner seems to be a cross between almanac and oracle these days. It offers this quote:

Small seeds of gratitude will produce a harvest of hope.

I love it for its own merit, emphasizing gratitude, which I know to be as transformative a force as love, forgiveness, and possibly awe. I envision tiny seeds of gratitude planted in the furrows of the heart, eventually producing a harvest of hope to be stacked and stored for when it is most needed in the future.

And I remember Joseph.

Unlike the chief cupbearer in Genesis 40, who “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him,” after Joseph interpreted his dream, correctly and prophetically. At the time they were in prison with the chief baker, who would be hanged by Pharaoh (yet another accurate dream interpretation by Joseph). To this point, Joseph had endured quite a bit. His mother died just after having his baby brother. His older brothers detested him for being their father’s favorite and for being “this dreamer” (37:19)… perhaps Joseph shouldn’t have told them of his dreams in which they, and their father, Jacob, all bowed to him. His brothers discussed killing him until Reuben, the oldest, intervened. They threw Joseph in a pit instead and sold him as a slave. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh. Joseph serves Potiphar with great efficacy and integrity, so much so that Potiphar “left all he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate” (38:6). Until Potiphar’s wife tried repeatedly to seduce him, that is, becoming so aggressive that Joseph wriggled out of his garment to get away from her… a garment she used to make the accusations which landed him in jail for thirteen years. (Note: This is the second garment that causes trouble for Joseph; the coat of many colors given to him long before by his father didn’t set so well with those brothers. Imagine their initial self-righteousness while tearing it, dipping it in goat’s blood, and presenting it to their father as evidence that Joseph was attacked and killed by wild animals…which, of course, they’d live to regret).

And Joseph is forgotten in prison until Pharaoh has a troubling dream and the restored cupbearer finally remembers him.

Here’s the thing: It was God’s plan all along for Joseph to stand before Pharaoh and interpret his dreams of coming famine, that Pharaoh should be so impressed he’d set Joseph up as prime minister of Egypt, that Joseph should execute his proposed plan for planting and harvesting:

During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured. -Genesis 41:47-49

It is this divine plan of action that eventually saves Joseph’s brothers when they come seeking food in Egypt.

Joseph weeps a lot through several chapters. When his brothers realize who he is, they bow before him (every dream having come true) in fear and trembling… and Joseph chooses reconciliation over retribution. His father is still alive; he brings the whole family to Egypt to survive the famine. The brothers again fear his wrath on the death of their father, but Joseph’s words ring with gratitude to God: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, that many people should be kept alive…” (50:20). And so the Twelve Tribes of Israel were preserved.

Seeds of gratitude, shall we say, protect against spiritual famine, yielding hope to be relied upon in times when faith is tested, as Joseph’s was. He never wavered; this is why I love him. He’s one of my favorite Biblical figures, exhibiting integrity and faith in abundance.

In the midst of our trials, God is at work. In times of bleakness, verdant lushness awaits.

Begin with seeds of gratitude… and expect a harvest of unimaginable abundance.

Joseph Storing Grain During the Seven Years of Plenty. Patrizio Cajés (1540-1612).

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with thanks to my Spiritual Journey friends who write on the first Thursday of each month, and to Susan Koehler for hosting today on a theme of “abundance.”

Retooled tanka poem

Today Cara Fortey invites teacher-poets to compose tankas for VerseLove on Ethical ELA. A tanka has thirty-one syllables and, in English, is usually arranged in five lines of 5/7/5/7/7. Cara offers the example of Harryette Mullin, who reduced the lines to three, for flexiblity of form. In honor of Mullin’s nature walks captured in tanka, Cara extends this invitation: “Write one or more of your own tankas in the style of Harryette Mullen. Take a walk, literally or imaginatively, and write what comes to you in three lines with 31 syllables.”

Mourning Walk

Last summer when I walked here 
the fallow field at the end of the lane opened up before me
an undulating sea of green

Long before I reached the shimmering expanse
I could feel the mystical, quivering aliveness
in the depths of the grasses

Infinitesimal orchestra, vast insect choir
assembled in its tabernacle, offering lifesong
to all the Earth

Today, I stand here in memoriam
for the field is no more, shorn of its green tresses
its body ravaged by bulldozers

An unseasonably cold wind
whips with knife-shivering emptiness
even doves, high on the power lines, bear silent witness

Until we meet again

Today I write in memory of my grandfather.

His name was Columbus St. Patrick Brantley.

He was born in 1906 “up the swamp” in coastal North Carolina. Farming was in his blood. He married my grandmother during the Depression and worked as a sharecropper. My father was born in a tenant house. Just before WWII, Granddaddy went to Virginia to work as shipwright. He tried farming and house painting after the war but “couldn’t make a go of it,” so he went back to the shipyard, where he was still working when I came along. For the record: the whole family said I looked exactly like him when I was born.

He didn’t work on Sundays; that became our day together when I was small.

He retired when I was six. He and my grandmother moved back home and thus began my many journeys to the little white house nestled in the bend of an old dirt road, where the woods had grown up all around, taking back house after house where people lived no more.

In his later years Granddaddy recorded stories of his life on audiocassette to give to his family. He could remember seeing his first Model T at age three or four. He said that mail was delivered by horse and buggy; farmers ordered chickens that were delivered in cages. He had a whole string of pins awarded him for perfect Sunday School attendance at the little Methodist church. He loved listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio. He spoke of his nine siblings, including a sister, Peaney (Penelope), who died of diphtheria at age four. He outlived them all. He lived to see both of my children. He could remember an ancestor speaking of Dublin.

Near the end of his life, I gave him a framed print of an Irish blessing. It hangs by my front door now:

The last time I saw him, he was dying of lung cancer at ninety-two. It was springtime. He’d grown weak but was fully dressed, sitting in his recliner by the door; he tried to coax my two-year-old to sit in his lap, like I did when I was little. I sat by his chair on a stool and held his old, wrinkled, work-worn hand.

Do you remember how we used to go to the park on Sundays?

I do, Granddaddy. We took bread to feed the ducks.

And the old locomotive?

I can just remember climbing in it together…

He was tired, always a man of few words. We sat for a long time together, not speaking at all.

When it was time to go, I kissed him on his forehead.

I love you, Granddaddy. God’s got you safe in His hands.

That’s the best place to be. And I love you.

He held tight to my hand.

It’s been twenty-three years. You can’t imagine all I have to tell you, Granddaddy. There’s been another pandemic. Wars and rumors of wars. Your great-grandsons are grown. The little two-year-old you tried to coax into sitting with you at that last visit plays piano and guitar; he loves singing the old-time songs that you loved. His brother’s a pastor with a baby girl; he tells me almost daily that something about your great-great-granddaughter reminds him of you. God remains faithful from one generation to the next. It’s almost springtime again, the fields are so green…

Until we meet again, Columbus St. Patrick.

I love you.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.





For love of all creatures

Many years ago I read a series of books about a young 1940s veterinary surgeon beginning his career in Yorkshire, England. The stories are captivating, hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking; the characters—some of them animals—are larger than life, unforgettable. I fell in love with these stories right away.

And so I have again, with the Masterpiece Theater version of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. When the series premiered in 2020, it was deemed “the surprise runaway hit of the year.” The second season recently ended and I do not know how I am going to endure until Season Three. I have begun watching episodes over and over…and over…

I have to ask myself why.

Maybe it’s that I loved these stories so much when I was young. I recall encountering the name “Tristan” for the first time and being so enchanted by it (and by the comical character, another young vet) that I thought about naming one of my eventual children Tristan (a thought which earned a resounding Are you serious? NO from my eventual husband). Maybe it’s that I find details of long-ago rural veterinary practice fascinating. James delivers calves and tangled-up twin lambs; in the show he must figure out how to untwist a mare’s uterus to deliver a foal, or both will die. Or maybe it’s James’s ongoing struggle for acceptance by the local farmers who are often mistrustful, preferring their familiar “old ways” (I so relate to this as an instructional coach, sometimes).

I suspect it’s all of these. And more.

Beyond James’s love for the animals and his gentle spirit is a compelling, refreshing sense of purity. Times aren’t simple, life is hard, loss is always imminent, yet there’s a richness in it all, a sacred honesty born of living close to the land, a sense of true interdependence and valuing all living things…

Not to mention the scenery. The Yorkshire Dales are breathtaking. I have to go there someday. I feel like I have seen this place before, in some of my most beautiful dreams. Place is a character in itself, alive, vibrant, calling in its own voice, and the Dales will not be outdone by human nor beast…speaking of which: the animal performances are astounding (how DO the directors manage this magic?).

As the series progresses, so do relationships. I will not say anything more than this: Conflict, humor, and great love are all bound together by cords of civility. Reputation matters. Honor matters. Honoring life matters…

And just as one is getting cozy at the end of 1938, and snow begins to fall, and farmers lead draft horses through the town streets at the close of day, and young people are gathered together, beginning new chapters of their lives…the first war plane flies overhead in the darkening sky…

And I’ve an overwhelming desire to stop time, to hit rewind, to savor peace… which we almost never realize we have, until we don’t…

Yorkshire Dalestricky (rick harrison). CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Dear Goat

Dear Goat In The Pasture At The End Of The Street Where I Make a Right Turn On My Way to Work Each Morning:

I just want to say thank you for lifting my spirits on weekday mornings as I drive by your pasture. You cannot know that I look for you and your herdmates, or how the sight of you fills me with inexplicable peace. Perhaps it’s the idyllic setting, the pastoral scene with its inherent restfulness. Maybe it’s the continuity. Your pasture remains as it always has, while all around us fields are being bulldozed and sculpted for the coming of houses. The trees farther down this road are being timbered this very moment… I wonder: Had birds already nested in them? Were there any little eggs that are now lost? It’s possible; this is March. Isn’t tampering with birds’s nests and eggs a crime? I digress. I cannot help it, watching the trees come down even though I know the new houses to be erected will be homes where people will build their lives and live their stories, where children will grow up… meanwhile, on the other side of the world, a man is busily destroying people’s homes, sending them fleeing from danger like animals trying to outrun a raging forest fire, in search of a different place to survive…

Yesterday as I came through here I heard a bird calling and wondered if its tree is gone. Will the big, beautiful,snowy-feathered hawks soon be gone, too? I haven’t seen one for weeks now. I keep watching. And in all the years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen skunks until last week when I saw two dead in the road and my son saw a third. We didn’t smell them, thankfully. Makes me wonder about them never seeing the end coming…

I don’t know why I should be telling you all of this, dear Brown Goat in your green pasture so often dappled with new morning light when I drive by. All I really meant to say is thank you. I see you grazing in the grass and a tiny bit of balance returns to the universe. Your placid nature spills into mine. You somehow impart the right and needed mood for the day…

I am grateful for you.

Sincerely,

An Admirer

P.S. I would deliver this letter to you in person but I suspect you would only eat it… I’ve had to eat my words before and it’s not a particularly pleasant experience… trust me.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Sunday song

Early Sunday morning, on my way to church, the sky’s overcast but sun rays are peeking through, all set to teach the lesson on what constitutes a “hero” and while the best-known characteristic may be courage (which is not the absence of fear but acting bravely in spite of it), not to mention self-sacrifice, then perhaps the least recognized is humility, throwing off the mantle of leadership to be a servant, it’s all a matter of the spirit, service… and as I drive past barns, fields, pastures, the green, green grass hints of imminent spring, making my heart rejoice, as do the horses tossing their manes when I pass, surely shaking off sleep and the night, greeting the day as if to say Good morning, good morning, not to mention that I have just enough time to make choir practice before I teach, for we are finally singing as a choir again after two long years, and look at all these robins flocking by the roadside, taking flight as I round the bend, maybe straightening a curve or two, until I remember something my childhood preacher said: Don’t have a Jesus bumper sticker on your car if you drive like the devil… good thing I have no such sticker, but I’ll slow down a bit just the same…in my bag is a list of prayer requests and petitions to make, knowing the Lord already knows, for He knows all, sees all, is over all, and while there is so much I cannot understand, I am learning, I am always learning, and although words are forever scrolling through my brain, today, my heart needs no words; it just sings, like the birds.

A photo from last summer. In recent weeks a little Carolina wren has been perching on the tip of the cross of one of our two “bird churches,” singing its heart out to the sky. I haven’t been successful in recording this glorious solo… yet.

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March.

Green

Haiku in Honor of My Six-Year-Old Granddaughter
Whose Favorite Color Is Green

Riding in the car
I muse aloud: Look how green
the fields are today.

From the carseat: Yes.
Greenest green I’ve ever seen.
—Children are poets.

Photo: The sunset of the green field. Bardia Photography. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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with thanks to Two Writing Teachers for the Slice of Life Story Challenge every day in the month of March. This is my sixth year participating.