All Things Bright and Beautiful

“Come on, critters!  Come on, Charlie!  Come on, Hufflepuff!  Come and get some tasty grass!”

We tried to coax the cattle forward from their winter safe haven; the barnyard, to their springtime place of revelry; the pasture.  The older ones had been out to the pasture before – the field of grass that stretched away from the barn and out to the borderline of the woods – but the snows of winter had clouded their memories and made them comfortable in the confines of a small space.  So they stood at the borderline where a gate stood open that had been closed for months and stared at us questioningly.

Soon a handful grew bolder and sniffed their way forward, grasping at tufts of grass with their tongues, inching their way further and further into the pasture.  And then they realized it:  “Hey, I’m free!  I’m free in a land full of food – a land of milk and honey!”  And they ran ahead out into the fresh green grass and kicked up their heels.

This is the life!

This is spring!

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There really is no more exciting time than spring on a farm.  The trees and fields that have been barren for so long begin to come to life.  The grass, made brown, matted, and dormant by the snow stretches forth slender green fingers to the sun.  It grows taller and thicker until my Dad begins to look out the window and say “It’s about time to get ready to cut some hay.”  The trees, that had been so slim and barren, shivering in the freezing winter temperatures, roll out their leaves to welcome the warmth of spring and the little birds that have begun to build nests in their branches.

And the flowers come.  I try to make sure that I pay them a visit – these annual springtime guests – before they leave.  The sunny warmth of the daffodils resting on the bank at the house on the hill – the “boys and girls” wearing their yellow or purple trimmed pants within the shade of the woods – the lilacs, dark and light purple, heavenly scented, opening their blooms from the branches of the lilac tree that towers above the garage.  They are all only here for a time.  But they are soon replaced by their summertime friends – the sunny-faced, pale-cheeked daisies and the dandelions that shrug off the soil and open their arms to the sun.  More cold-hearted people might call them weeds, but we know them for what they are – droplets of sun in one guise, a wispy ball of wishes waiting to be granted in another.  So we let them stay there, singing in the grass around the home place.

The barn is suddenly more full.  The chicks begin to shake loose their baby feathers, while the barn cats begin to multiply.  The barn floor is peppered with kittens, rolling, scampering, and looking up at me with round faces and blue eyes sure to turn green any day now.  The youngest calves find new trouble to get into – an unattended piece of cardboard to chew on, a float to investigate and pull off of the water tank.  Barn swallows make nests in the rafters and swoop down on any animals or people that come too close.

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The fields begin to think of the future.  In the orchards, we plant baby cherry trees snugly in the dirt as adult ones begin to blossom and bees begin to buzz.  In the cornfield, the tractor runs up and down the rows, the no-till planter sliding seeds in between the stalks of last year’s crop.  Words like “spray” and “fertilizer” and “mow” begin to pop up more often in conversation.

Everything is new, busy, alive.  A time when it is easy to kick up your heels and cry:

This is the life!

This is spring!

A time when it is not hard to believe, not hard to know that you are one of these free, hopeful, springtime things.  A part of a creation made up of all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small.

The Lord God made them all.

And for this we are thankful, here on this quiet Michigan farm.

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Fire and Rain

The orchard stood ready and waiting under a heavy gray sky.  My dad turned Captain Bouncy (a white flatbed truck known for its not-so-smooth ride) off of the gravel two-track that wandered past the orchard and drove over the green hills of the hay field to the corner of the orchard where we had left off yesterday.

My brother was already there, the tall bearded version of the skinny kid with dark hair and glasses that I grew up with.  He was running the yellow forklift with its brush rake attachment up and down the rows of the orchard.  My Dad was in charge of running the chainsaw and cutting the dead limbs off the trees.  I was in charge of piling the limbs that he cut into the middle of the orchard rows to make sure that my brother would be able to pick them up easily with the brush fork.

This orchard had been planted several years ago by my Dad’s parents.  My Grandpa had done the driving while my Grandma set the trees.  They had planted, pruned, fertilized, and shook these trees until they rained down cherries.  But, like all things, the trees were starting to feel their age.  That’s why we were here.  Many trees needed more than just limbs cut off – the whole tree was dead.

My brother had already begun a fire from the brush pile that he had started yesterday.  The flames crackled as they ate up the cherry wood and the smoke billowed across the orchard, occasionally bringing a bit of white ash with it to land at my feet.  As I took a deep breath of wood-smoke-tinged air (a comforting smell for a gal who spent many days of her childhood in a yellow house with a wood-burning stove), the rain that the gray sky had been holding onto started to fall.  Thinly, steadily, it tapped the shoulders of my faded pink rain jacket and the toes of my brown boots as I headed up and down the rows pulling branches, limbs, and bits of stump into the centers.  I debated whether or not to put on my rain pants – but decided on holding off.  It was not yet a penetrating rain – and in truth, I was enjoying this bit of light rain mixed with the fire up the hill.  The rumble of the chain saw and the cracking thump of the occasional limb releasing its hold and leaping to the ground ahead of me reminded me to keep up the pace.

As I dragged branches through wet grass, I couldn’t help but think that there was something poetic about this simple task.  There was a kind of beauty to the fire standing out against the rain, the heavy smell of warm wood smoke mixed with chill damp early spring air, the sounds of the whirr of a chainsaw and the rumble of a forklift mixed with the sounds of the patter of the rain and the crackling of overheated branches.  This orchard, despite its bent and broken trees and the rain that fell at its roots, had a comforting feel to it.

I hummed under my breath as I picked up another damp limb and dragged it to the middle.  Amongst the crackle of the fire, the dampening of the rain, the smell of wood smoke and the rumble of the chainsaw and forklift, I had found a peaceful place.

After all, it’s not every day that you get to walk amongst a living, breathing bit of poetry…

Or is it?

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