Wind Song

Tonight the wind is sighing ’round the house.  It is whipping ’round the corners and tapping at the seams.  There is a weakness, there, at the front door.  The wind climbs the steps and knocks.  The door whistles back a reply, a greeting fit for a meeting between old friends.

The wind twists around the trees.  Their branches rub together and begin to creak.  They are not accustomed to dancing.  But they thrill to it nonetheless.

The wind travels out to the barns, where it rattles the door and shakes hands with a loose piece of tin.  The tin beats out a rhythm against the side of an old calf crate.

The wind is eager tonight to travel where it will; to give voice to the voiceless.  As it sighs, doors whistle out tunes, trees hum as they dance, and pieces of loose tin try their hand at percussion.

Tonight I curl up in my chair and let the world sing me a song through the dark.

A special music –

a music that only the wind can bring.

Not so much anymore

It was a mid-March Kentucky day.  Mother Nature had been teetering with uncertainty (the chill of winter or the thaw of spring?), but today she was in the mood for spring.  The sun warmed the earth and the trees began to think of changing from brown to green.  And us?

We were doing what everyone does when winter melts away and spring comes skipping in – forsaking the indoors for the out.  Hiking leisurely past Cumberland Falls and down along the river, stopping to sit on a huge boulder and watch the water here, wandering off to investigate a little cave there.  There were several of us, volunteers from different roots, mixing here, splitting there, talking, laughing, enjoying a companionable silence.

As the hike came to a close, I found myself betwixt Sam; thin-limbed and eyes wide in expectation (because life is a funny, wonder-filled thing and who wants to miss any of it?), and Janean; smile wide and heart filled to the brim (with McCreary County, with thoughts of beautiful souls already met and beautiful souls still to meet, with an appreciation for this moment, here.  Right now.).

We walked three abreast down the path toward the falls, trees shading our steps and spring joy settling into our bones.  Sam suddenly turned and waved to someone down the hill.

Janean peered down the slope.  “Is that one of our people?”

Sam turned, eyes smiling behind his glasses.  “No.  Just a stranger.  But not so much anymore.”

Janean and I grinned, because we both know how wonderful it can be when a stranger loses a little bit of their stranger-ness.  We’d seen how it works many a time.  And many of those times were right here, on Kentucky soil, working with the Christian Appalachian Project.  That’s what we were all here for really – to help out repairing homes for Workfest.  The very next day found us out of the forest and sitting in rows of chairs at Camp AJ, watching college kids get oriented to their surroundings.  They had rolled in from several different colleges in several different states.  They didn’t know each other, but soon that would change.

Soon they would all be standing awkwardly in a circle in front of a house tucked in between Kentucky hills.  They would be handed safety glasses and hammers and shovels and drills.  They would exchange stories between pounding nails into siding and digging trenches for underpinning.  They would eat lunch on the floor in a circle, while the homeowner’s grandchildren bounced around the outskirts, looking for someone to throw a ball for them.  They would develop skills with saws and formulate inside jokes.  They would gather together in prayer.  They would take advice from Jay, the 80-year-old crew leader with a gruff voice and a compassionate heart who’s been volunteering at Workfest for years.  They would learn about service, about community, about living, about love.

And then, at the end of the week, they would say good-bye.  They would say good-bye to Sarah, the nursing student from Chicago…to Joe, the pysch major from New York…to Elizabeth, the farm girl from Michigan…to Jay, the retired military man from Georgia…to Michael, the campus minister from Indiana…to Viv, the future pediatrician from Nebraska.  They would hug all of these, their crew members, and exchange last minute laughs before waving good-bye and climbing into their college vans.  They would head home with a bittersweet taste in their mouths, knowing it was likely that they would never see the people they worked with this week again.

Because, after all, they are just strangers.

Although…

…not so much anymore.

 

Music in my veins

Today, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I have music in my veins.  It is flowing from my heart and thrumming in my throat.  Reaching down and tapping at my feet.  Escaping from between my teeth.  It is there, singing with joy.

Perhaps I caught it while I was in Kentucky.  The guitars – the drum – the banjos – the ukuleles.  They sang in the cafeteria – in Old Hickory – in the dorm.  And they decided to climb into my heart and sit a spell.

Gather ’round my table.  Say grace with me.  In my little trailer, in the mountains of Wise County.  I sing while I wash my hands, frothy with soap.

Back when I was younger, I was not so bright.  I made lots of blunders, but things turned out alright.  I sing softly as I make my way down the stairs, stocking feet slapping against wood.

Or maybe it’s not Kentucky…maybe it’s the rapidly approaching Holy Week.  Perhaps my heart is readying itself for the sorrow and the joy.  The triumph of Palm Sunday – the beautiful servitude of Holy Thursday – the agony of Good Friday – the expectation of Easter Vigil – the joy of Easter Sunday.  The songs are settling down inside my soul, preparing me for the week ahead.

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  It vibrates inside my throat as my paintbrush slides across a battered and deeply scarred door.

Ohhh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Pain.

Beauty.

Awe.

Gratitude.

Incredible, wonderful gratitude…

…humming, singing, flowing in music through my veins.

Gray Hair, (Don’t?) Care

Lent is fast approaching; and, as I have written about before, I really like Lent.  It’s hard to describe exactly why I love a penitential season that involves not-necessarily-fun things like fasting, but I do.  I enjoy the challenge, the feeling of preparation – of solemnity and sadness followed by rejoicing and gladness…and I appreciate how often Lent lends itself to being a season of personal and spiritual growth.

And that’s what I’ll be trying to do this Lent by giving up…

headbands.

Yeah.  Headbands.

You know, those little strips of stretchy cloth that can be used to hold back hair from the face.  I’m giving them up…but mostly, I’ll be facing one of my insecurities:  my gray hairs.

I found my first gray hair when I was seventeen.  One day whilst washing my hands in front of the bathroom mirror, I saw a glimmer of something white on my head.  Thinking that something had caught in my hair, I reached for it and picked it up in my fingers.  My mouth dropped open in shock.  Surely…surely…this was not attached to MY head!  But it was.  And those gray hairs have been popping up ever since.

Now, I don’t mind my gray hair so much in theory.  Everyone gets gray hair eventually – it’s a natural part of life.  Some people just get it earlier than other people…and I just happen to be a member of that lucky group of “some people.”  I’ve always held with the theory that I should be happy with the way that I was made and that I shouldn’t try to cover it up artificially.  Which is why I don’t wear makeup…and why I have never dyed my hair.  I always want to be happy with me, just the way that I am; because, after all, that’s the way God made me and I guess He’s a better judge than me or anyone else in the world for that matter.

But I’ve been struggling with it when it comes to my gray hair.  Hence the attachment to headbands.  A lot of my gray hairs grow right next to my forehead (perhaps I’ll eventually have a Rogue from X-men thing going on), so I cover them up with a headband, not so much because I think they need to be covered up, but because I get tired of people commenting on how many gray hairs I have at such a young age.

I have noticed that gray hairs are one of the few imperfections that people seem to have no scruples commenting on.  Most people will not point out to a teenager that they seem to have a horrible lot of zits…or to a middle-aged person that they have gotten significantly more wrinkled since they saw them last…but I have noticed that most people seem to have no problem with commenting on a twenty-something’s gray hair.  So, whenever I don’t wear a headband, I almost always get comments, which are usually accompanied by someone staring at my head like it’s on display in a museum.  And I hate it.  And lately, I’ve been discovering that my fear of the comments has been leading me to get attached to my headbands.  I never go anywhere without them anymore.  Once in a while, I’ll contemplate getting rid of them so that I can do something different with my hair, but it always ends up with me staring at my gray hairs in the mirror, feeling ugly.

And I know that’s wrong – because I’m not ugly – and my gray hairs aren’t ugly.  They don’t even age me beyond my years…I am constantly being mistaken for a teenager (a couple of years ago, they even gave me the children’s discount at the fair (despite protests that I was, in fact, older than twelve)).  So, there’s really no reason for me to be so anxious to cover them up or to be insecure about them.

That’s why, this Lent, I’m giving up headbands.  And in the process, I’ll hopefully be giving up my insecurities…and truly learning to love myself just the way that God made me.

You’re Still There

Tonight I am curving smoothly along a Jackson County road, window down to let in the early spring air, dusk slowly settling in.  It smells of grass, of mountains, of ice cream rock-clambering adventures.  And, man, is it good.

Tonight I am sitting in a valley on a lawn chair in the grass.  A bluegrass band is playing in a field surrounded by chairs.  An old couple dances to the music in the back, the fiddlin’ climbing its way into their hearts and finding its way into their feet.  The sun bakes my skin and my smile.  Some music isn’t written; some music grows up from the earth.  And here…I’ve found it.

Tonight I am paddling around a lake in a red canoe.  An early summer rain is falling and I have a trash can for a copilot.  The deck of Old Hickory looks out at me wonderingly and the dock waits for the patter of bare feet that will come once camp starts.  I slide through the water, never minding the gentle rain, peace in my heart.

Tonight I’m cleaning out my soul spaces…

and, Kentucky,

you’re still there.

 

Wandering through cold moonlight

He startled me.  I saw him wandering through cold moonlight, right where he shouldn’t have been.

The rooster, Napoleon, black and white speckled feathers ruffled, dried blood smeared across his head, limped through the snow outside the window.  The sun had fallen from the sky long before.  He should have been roosting, sleeping peacefully at his usual spot on top of the fence.

But he wasn’t.  Tiny Tim – the other rooster – was.

Napoleon had been the boss of the chickens for his entire life.  He had started when he was young and not yet fully grown, ruthlessly attacking Mr. Chicken, the only other rooster who could challenge him in physical size.  Mr. Chicken didn’t know how to fight – he went for the tail.  Napoleon, now; he was born fighting – he went for the head.  So Mr. Chicken ran away in defeat, breathing heavily and dripping blood.  We separated them then, and watched as boundaries were laid.

Tiny Tim was the next to be routed.  The smallest of the roosters, he knew that he didn’t have a chance.  So, he hung around Napoleon and let himself be bossed.  Napoleon decided what to do and where to go.  He decided when to crow and when not to crow.  If Tiny Tim went against the rules, Napoleon put him in his place.  Tiny Tim had the brains, sure, but Napoleon had the brawn.  He was the boss.  And that was the way he liked it.

Until this night…when Tiny Tim, who Napoleon had lorded it over his whole life, won a fight for the first time.  For the first time, Napoleon was defeated, and badly.  Wounded, throne taken, he could only go into hiding.

This was why he was wandering in the dark, through the cold moonlight.  His head ached and he limped on a bum leg in the snow that bit at his feet, looking for a new place to roost.  He hurt all over, but what hurt the most…

was his pride.

Sometimes there is no ache greater than the sting of defeat.

(Note:  Well, it’s terribly out of order, but I suppose this blog post could also be entitled “Adventures of an Amateur Chicken Farmer, Part 2″).

Swallowed in Indifference

This has been a year of rentals.  Country rentals well outside of town…houses with stories to tell and no one to tell them to.  Houses that were once full of pride, but now slump down into the ground, worn and tired from misuse.

Their occupants left the house not at all like they found it.  They left it with broken window panes, with holes in the walls, with “FU” carved into the window trim, with a pile of garbage that had been accumulating for months in the backyard, with walls so filthy that their children had drawn pictures in the dirt on the wall.

Standing in their doorways, wandering their halls, I am always weighed down by an anger and a sadness.  Anger, because the occupants have shown little respect for anything and little concern for anyone but themselves (Why deal with your own filth and refuse when you could leave it behind you for someone else to take care of?).  Sadness, because I can often see what the house once was…a home that its owners were proud of.

I have always liked the history of things and the people behind them…many of whom have passed long ago.  This, my father taught me.  It was he who pointed out the numbers etched into the barn cement and shared with me what he knew of the history of our farm before he owned it.  It was he who pointed out the work that would have gone into building this porch or that hay wagon (“See?  Someone built this themselves.  Someone welded all these pieces together.  They put a lot of work into this.”)  He taught me to respect the land and the buildings that call it home…and the people who built them who I will never meet.  He taught me to recognize that every place has a story, and that I am just one short chapter in it.

So I suppose that is why, when I look at a house, I see not only what it is, but what it used to be.  There are little details in many of the rental houses that let me see that someone was once proud of this house…that they poured a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into it…that they loved it.  And so, when I go into a house and see that it has been treated with complete indifference where it was once treated with love, I am sad.

The Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said that “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”  Not caring leads to, and spreads, many of the world’s greatest troubles.  And indifference is something that is inside all of us…there are some who can say that they harbor no hate in their hearts, but who can say that they harbor no indifference?  No one.

And perhaps that is why the rentals sadden me so…

because I see in them yet another piece of love that has been taken away and swallowed in indifference.

The snow fell

The snow fell thickly through the air,

pellets of white pouring from the clouds,

it fell.


The snow landed on the trees, on the pickers,

on expectations, on hopes, on fears,

it landed.


The snow faded as quickly as it appeared,

melting into soil, nothing but a memory,

it faded.


Today a cloudy late October sky looked down and quietly, beautifully, compassionately, gave me a preview of what is to come…

and, despite myself,

I smiled.

 

House Cat, Boss Cat

The cat stared at me brazenly, green eyes wide open as I came in the house.  She sat next to her box and sniffed the air.  I smelled like a mixture of the outdoors (of rain mixed with snow, of apples freshly picked, of leaves crisping on the ground), and of the tractor (of exhaust fumes, of gasoline, of oil), and of the  human (of the cigarette smoke from the picker up in the tree next to me, of the meat that I ate at lunch, of just plain old human-ness), and she could sense it all.

“Kitty!  Hello!”

I reached out and scratched the top of her head.  She reached up and bopped me on the hand with a well-aimed furry white paw.

“Booj!  What are you doing?”  I stretch out my hand to pet her again.  She bops me again.

We engage in a battle…me trying to give her a friendly hello pet…she trying to tell me quite definitively that she is not currently interested in pets (especially from someone as smelly as me), and that furthermore, she is the house cat…which makes her the boss cat.

So get lost human.  Unless you have food.  Then give me some of that. 

Luckily, I am a human with a sense of humor.  So I just laugh and take off my boots.

At the top of the steps

The basement door creaked open.  I lugged my laundry to the top of the basement steps, rough cut boards propped in between a foundation built of stones – old farmhouse steps.  The insulated barn boots were lined up against the wall, name tags tucked inside, waiting for winter.  A spider web hung in the corner, waiting for a fly.  A mousetrap hung out under the steps, waiting for a rodent.

Meanwhile, a girl stood at the top of the steps, black mesh laundry bag in hand, battered old Nike mules falling apart on her feet.  She stood and listened as the rain pounded on the roof, and looked through the little square window where the rain drops slid down the pane.  There are few sounds as thrilling, as comforting, as the patter of rain on the roof.

So I listened…

and sent up a little prayer of gratitude.