Saturday, March 27, 2010


One of the skills that I've begun to learn since I came to the farm, is pruning fruit trees. I know only the most rudimentary principles of pruning, and spend at least as much time being perplexed about what my next cut should be, as I spend in the actual work. Yet already it has become one of my favorite springtime chores.

It's a slow, thoughtful, deliberate job, just right for a day when the sunshine is warm and the breeze gentle. As I work, wielding my clippers and handsaw with a mixture of trepidation and satisfaction, I think what a timeless job it is. My New England predecessors have been doing the same job, with the same tools, for the last century or two. Certainly my grandfather, who planted these trees, has often enjoyed a warm spring day in the same way. They nurtured trees that would outlive them, looking forward to the day when their grandchildren could enjoy the fruit.

And here I am, fingering the rough bark to see which wood is dead, standing back with my head on one side to see if I've missed any tall sucker shoots, and balancing on the top rung of the ladder with the exciting knowledge that I'm specifically disobeying the sticker on the ladder that says "Not a step". But more than that, I'm thinking what a magnificent privilege has been given me to spend a couple hours in something that's so purely delightful.

The air is very still, and that is one of the most beautiful things. I've come to appreciate the silence of nature in a new way. The alarms and clamor that surround me at work are far away now. No voice, however beloved, breaks in upon my resting neurons to cause ripples of thought and perplexity. The only thoughts are those that have been waiting for silence in order to surface, thoughts arising from a full heart and happy mind.

And yet it is not completely silent. For, like my mind with its pleasant thoughts waiting to be enjoyed in silence, nature has a music that is not heard until everything else is still. Here and there birds twitter sociably, and water trickles gently out of the pond. If I listen, I can hear the muffled sounds of my feet on the grass, the neat slicing of my clippers, and even my own quiet breathing.

No one enjoys lying down to rest like the one who has worked hard all day, and can feel each knotted muscle relaxing one by one. In the same way, I enjoy the leisurely, useful hours, feeling each part of my person soak in the beauty of the day. Just as my ears exult in the silence, my eyes drink in the beauty, my nose enjoys the sweet smells, my skin basks in the warmth of the sunshine, and my whole person delights in this moment of utter rest.

In my future, I may live in a war zone, or dwell in a crowded city or village. Something may take away my physical ability to enjoy the view of the world from the top of a ladder. Perhaps I'll live in a desert or a city, alike in their lack of trees and songbirds. Any number of things could happen to prevent me from pruning trees another springtime. And so I take these hours as a gift to enjoy and remember, moments of pure happiness in which I am strengthened and refreshed for the work that awaits me.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Almost Two Months Later....

Well, once again, many weeks have passed since my last blog post! I'm not sure what happened to the concepts of quiet winter evenings by the woodstove, but they have been rather infrequent around here!

To be honest, though, my busy schedule hasn't been the only reason that I didn't write. There just didn't seem to be much to write about. The view from the kitchen window could be described as variations on the theme of brown, and my schedule, although full, has been the same way. At least, from the kitchen window view.

Yesterday I actually pulled on my boots and went for a walk, to explore that world of brown.

The fields and I have had a new kinship lately. An early thaw melted the snow, leaving hummocks of dead grass, punctuated by muddy patches, ingloriously exposed. When dressed by a scouring wind, and overshadowed by gray skies, the fields provide a perfect environment for musing on all that is wrong with oneself. I've come to appreciate the unadorned humility of the world at this season. Never was it more shabby and miserable. The refreshing thing about humility is that it is nothing but the truth. The exciting thing about humility is that it is all that's required for the growth that a wise God desires to bring about. Never were the fields closer to the explosion of beauty and fruitfulness that we call summer.

As I trudged along the muddy cow paths, marked with tracks that were frozen into the ground last fall, I began looking for any beauty that could be discovered. And I found it! There was beauty in the faithful evergreens, proving that the otherwise bare woods were not dead. There was beauty in the variations of dull green and brown juxtaposed on neighboring slopes. There was a certain beauty in the dark fingers that streaked the ice on the pond, betraying that the sun had begun undoing the lock that concealed the glistening water beneath. In one pond, it had already been victorious, and the open water, roughened by the gusty wind, was chewing at the ragged edges of ice that remained. I wandered toward the sound of a little brook that ran through a drainage pipe into a small area of woods. With a surge of delight, I saw that the water was running free now, leaping joyfully into the pool. The cap of ice that once enclosed it, had fallen away.

The giggling brook, the green that has started creeping into the fields, the melting ice, all betray the great changes that are beginning to come about beneath the drab exterior. The weeks seem to pass in a monotony of half-hearted frosts and dripping rain, mud that freezes at night and ferments during the day, fed by reluctantly eroding snowbanks. Occasionally a violent windstorm provides an exclamation point, tearing down some dead branches and making everything tumultuous. But otherwise, the changes are subtle and hidden. The orientation of the earth's axis to the sun changes a few degrees, the days get a few minutes longer, the ice crystals underground begin to melt.

There isn't much hope or excitement in the kitchen window view. But the rubber boot tour reveals the beginnings of something grand, something so wonderful that it seems completely impossible in such a dingy landscape.

Recently I discovered a verse that whispers of spring coming, of big things beginning to happen while the rain is still dripping and the ice melting. "For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear, Nor has the eye seen a God besides You, Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him." (Isa 64:4)

The kitchen window view: me, in a constant battle between faith and discontentment, sunshine and rain. Spending my days cooking meals that are eaten in a flash, washing laundry that's dirty again in twelve hours, changing linens and writing down vital signs at work, trying to figure out what to cook, and dealing with the frustrations and difficulties of daily life, thinking that my share of annoyances should provide enough grit to produce several strings of pearls. Noticing how exciting and dramatically useful some people's lives are, and recognizing that there's a whole lot of the old sinful flesh in what other people admiringly call my service. Drip, drop, slip, slop, slush, slosh, brown, browner, brownest. Just like spring!

But then, there's the rubber boot tour: A loving God in heaven, Who knows exactly what each of my days hold. (Psalm 139:1-4) The sunshine of His love at work in my life, beginning to melt the icy spots, and turn hard ground into usable soil (it's in the mud stage right now). The winds of inconvenience and exhaustion, breaking off dead branches and tearing away sodden leaves. The greenness of fellowship with God, beginning to brighten the brown fields.

One day soon, I'll look out the kitchen window and be startled by fields of waving grass, fringed by leafy forests, and bathed in warm sunlight. I'll say, "How did summer get here all of a sudden?" Yet I'll know there was no "all of a sudden" about it, but long, boring weeks of dull, imperceptible change.

And I can't help but think, with a thrill of anticipation, that during these days of waiting and trying to simply be joyously faithful, God is acting on my behalf, just like Isaiah says. Someday, and perhaps it won't be long, He'll let me in on the secret of what work He's preparing me for. He's already told me His over-arching goal, which is for me "to become conformed to the image of His Son." (Romans 8:29) But even His Son had a specific work to do here on earth. At some point "beforehand," God prepared good works for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10) I'll admit I'm getting pretty eager to find out what they are!

The knowledge that summertime is on its way lends beauty and purpose to the rain and even the mud. The knowledge that God is working on my behalf, lends joy to the waiting. I'll keep my rubber boots on for a while yet.