Saturday, November 29, 2008

Praise Alla

In this season of Feasting, Thanksgiving, and Grace, I offer my thanks for all other wordsmiths, poets, bards, and sermon-spinners. I offer my deep gratitude for all of Creation and the Creative Spirit that rises and surprises, renews and sustains. In honor of all these gifts, I offer the gift of words from another: one of the finest feast-blessings I know. This poem/grace comes from Alla Renee Bozarth, an Episcopal priest and exquisitely-rooted mystic. It appears in the book Earth Prayers, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991) on page 358.

Blessed be the Creator
and all creative hands
which plant and harvest,
pack and haul and hand
over sustenance--
Blessed be carrot and cow,
potato and mushroom,
tomato and bean,
parsley and peas,
onion and thyme,
garlic and bay leaf,
pepper and water,
marjoram and oil,
and blessed be fire--
and blessed be the enjoyment
of nose and eye,
and blessed be color--
and blessed be the Creator
for the miracle of red potato,
for the miracle of green bean,
for the miracle of fawn mushrooms,
and blessed be God
for the miracle of earth:
ancestors, grass,
bird, deer and all gone,
wild creatures
whose bodies become
carrots, peas, and wild
flowers, who
give sustenance
to human hands, whose
agile dance of music
nourishes the ear
and soul of the dog
resting under the stove
and the woman working over
the stove and the geese
out the open window
strolling in the backyard
and blessed be God
for all, all, all.

--Alla Renee Bozarth

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Rock, Paper, Sisters

Soft warmth whispers from the smooth grey stone in my lap. I don't know the history of this stone--where it was formed and quarried and how long ago, how it was cut into the smooth hymn-book-sized rectangle, how many hands handled it and wore the corners down--but I love its weighty, enduring and immediate presence.

This small soapstone slab is a treasured fixture of our home, one of a small family of such stones that congregate on the woodstove, always ready for use. In warmer weather, they gather dust on that stove--like everything here gathers dust: blown in from the dirt road, drying and crumbling from the soles of workboots, sifting down from the crumbling horsehair plaster of our 1830s ceiling. The daily go-round with the broom and the weekly vacuum attack seem powerless to clear the dust from the stones' smooth, cool surfaces. But when the weather turns cold and the stove is fired up, the dust no longer appears. The fire-warmed stones come into regular use, set on the floor of a chilly room to warm our feet when sitting, or wrapped in raggedy towels and tucked under blankets to warm the sheets at bedtime. Today, in this achingly cold old house, the stone shifts between lap and desktop when the icy air stiffens my fingers and slows my typing.

I have always loved stones, smooth or rough. I have always loved rocks of every kind. An entry in my baby book describes a toddler reverie during a family trip to the Pacific Northwest coast, where all my attention was given to the gathering of smooth black stones I called "baby crow eggs." Such searches have always been a joyfully meditative pastime... and I fuss over each beautiful little treasure like a mother hen tends the dear eggs her nest.

Last Friday morning, I found a rare thing: an unwelcome stone. It was a bread-loaf-sized rock--we actually mistook it for an escaped loaf from the bag of "pig-bread" we glean from a local bakery. I noticed it near my car when our dog took me out for our morning walk. I made a mental note to carry it down and feed it to the pigs sometime later. My partner noticed it too, in her rush to start the car and head off to work. Then, she sat down in the driver's seat and discovered "the strangest frost pattern" on the windshield. Only it wasn't frost... and it wasn't a loaf of bread.

We were the fourth call to which the deputy responded. It seems some kids went on a midnight spree and we were one of the seemingly random "beneficiaries" of their little KristallNacht. We comforted ourselves with that randomness. We smiled a little wearily, but smiled nonetheless, when the deputy asked if there was anyone we'd argued with, anyone who might hold a grudge. No, sorry, not one--we two earnest community servants could think of nobody we'd angered or offended. The deputy nervously mentioned my "Celebrate Diversity" bumper sticker, but it didn't seem like a factor of provocation--since I always back my car into its spot, the sticker is never visible from the road. We later learned that a plant nursery had also been vandalized. That reinforced the apparent meaninglessness of it all. Why would anyone purposefully attack a place that grows hostas and heathers and daylilies for a living? They simply saw it as a grand place to smash a great deal of glass.

Well, the deed was done, and there was nothing for it but to file a police report, make an insurance claim, and look with despair at my checkbook. There was less than I needed to cover the deductible, and other than calling up all my friends and asking them to come over and buy meat and eggs today, I couldn't think of any way to bring in lots of cash in a hurry. We didn't want to use a credit card--not when we've been working so hard to pay everything down. With the morning eaten up by waiting and making our police report, my partner got off work for the rest of the day and we threw all our frustrated energies into a review of our farm accounts.

Mountains of receipts were scared up from various dark corners and assembled on the table. We sorted and tallied together: feed bills, new chicks, seed-starting supplies, glass to repair a barn window... like the old soapstones, these little slips of paper hinted at hard knocks and careful attentions. Stacked and tallied, they helped tell the story of our attempts at a well-rounded life. Even as we marvelled at the great outflow of money, even as we pondered and despaired over the national economic downturn and the dwindling income of my off-farm job, we found pride in the evidence of all that we'd done. I was reminded of Douglas Adams' wry observance in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "most of the people living on [Earth] were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movement of small green pieces of paper, which was odd because on the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."

Receipts are useful records, but they do not change the situation. Stones give beauty and warmth, but not kindness. What repaired the fractured web of our windshield was not glass, glue and tools, but the people who knew how to use them--the two lads in the white van who did their job with sympathy and care, then stayed to scratch our dog's belly, admire the strolling bantams, and take pictures of our cows to share with their families. What repaired the web was the quick response and expressions of concern from neighbors and friends. What repaired the web was our church family's willingness to pray that the perpetrators cease their destruction and come to know some sort of peace and restorative justice.

What repaired the web was a circle of love and connection: farmers and tradesmen, deputies and ministers, brothers and sisters. Oh, and the little green pieces of paper may help too, according to the mysterious e-mail that reached us last night:

"Dear Representative of the Hard Times Corp

Let it hereby be known that Mr Scot Brievewit is checking his bank account to see if he has enough overtime money in it to cover the deductible on your windshield that was destroyed by Mr Random Violence in a collision. Stay tuned for further developments. The aforesaid Mr Brievewit learned of your mishaps this morning. He is considering the reward for your Perserverance, Hard Work, and Ability to stay Focused on your Mission. Also because you are his daughter.

The Financial Committee of the Brievewit Family Unlimited"

Well, it's starting to happen: the soapstone is beginning to lose its warmth. Time to put it back on the stove and tackle some other paperwork, so I'll be ready for tonight's church meeting and tomorrow's New Ventures class. In between the fiduciary fuss and encounters with the elements, as we move through this season of harvest and thanksgiving, let me offer up my "two bits":

1. I'm thankful for all who keep me connected.

2. My Parents Rock.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Waiting for the Wind

It feels like Spring.

Aye, I'm fully aware that it's early November, but this morning is so golden and the day so full of possibilities, I almost expected the dooryard to be decked with a blooming carpet of crocuses.

Happy Celtic New Year to one and all! Samhainn has arrived, and with it the Dark Half of the year when we step inside, rest, and replenish our energies. I open my arms to welcome this darkness, even as I enjoy the golden light. It has been an exhausting agricultural season and I am much in need of rest!

Happy Election Day to one and all! Whichever way you plan to vote, hie yersel tae the claisest booth an dae yir civic duty!!! (Sorry, but my constitutional right to free speech allows me to use Scots words, now and then.) Here in our small town, we revel in the act of exercising our rights. We glory in our historic--and energy-filled--town hall, where the old wooden voting booths have been carefully stocked with "number two pencils with the erasers cut off." There are no machines to fret about, no touch-screens or hanging chads. My partner's favorite saying bears repeating here: "We're so far behind, we're ahead!"

Tonight, when the polls close, I'll join local citizens of every political stripe to hand-count and tally every single vote. We'll each be paired with someone of a different party registration and sent to a table with a stack of fifty ballots and a tally sheet. We'll take turns being "caller" and "counter", then check the two tallies against each other to make sure each count was correct. The ballots and tally sheets will be then be handed to the town clerk for further official documentation and proper handling. We'll do this until there are no more stacks left to count. With the number of questions and candidates on the ballot this year, we anticipate a very, very long night. Fortunately, rumor has it that the town clerk will be providing a grand spread for this gaggle of vote-counters: not only the usual plate of cookies from the "Town Clerk Emeritus," but other home-baked goodies, casseroles and pizza.

And now, I'd love to write more, but I have to seize the day and take full advantage of the mild weather before the Wild Winds of Change (and Winter) hit. There are trim-boards to paint, creatures to tend, pig-food to purchase, non-hardy bulbs to dig and store, and the ever-elusive fieldwork contractors to find. (We're still in need of someone with a tractor & manure-spreading rig to distribute a 30-ton load of woodash on our future fields. Know anyone you can recommend?) And then there's the important matter of a birthday present for one of last year's farmhands... time to get going and "get 'er done."

I remember, growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that we'd often have fantastic wind-storms on Election Day. We always referred to them as The Winds of Change. After a campaign season of ridiculous length and feather-ruffling rhetoric, I'm ready for the wind. I'm ready for a cleansing storm that snaps loose and shoves off the dead branches of our current (lack of) leadership. Though it's quiet just now, and the light is still hazy and golden, I'm watching the weatherglass for signs of change... and I'm planning to vote for Barack Obarometer!