Category Archives: Contemplation

A Time to Prune

Erda, Utah

Fall reminds me of climbing high into apples trees to join my church congregation in picking and selling large red delicious apples as part of our annual church fundraiser.  How I loved my perches high in the trees, munching on sweet apples that had not seen a refrigerator.  As a boy, this was the height of happiness.  We returned later, when the leaves had fallen and air had grown quite cold, to prune.  Seeing a tree, I feel a compulsive desire to prune, to improve its shape, its health, its fruit-bearing potential.  And, at pruning time, I contemplate whether, during the previous year, I adequately pruned myself, to improve my shape, my health, my fruit-bearing potential.

A TIME TO PRUNE

Mid-Winter
is the time to prune apple trees,
with sheers and saws and snippers.
All upward-pointing twigs must go:
leave the balance to bud and to bloom,
to offer hanging fruit
to the groping hands of Fall that fill
brown paper sacks and assorted used boxes
with flaps folded in.

Top it flat,
declutter it within,
to admit Summer’s ripening sun,
with no suckers upward pointing,
stealing the sap of Spring
from the blossoms, from the fruit.

Send the children scurrying high
to pluck sun-red apples,
to crunch sweet freshness,
to gaze across orchard top to ocean’s horizon.

Sell the bulging bags and boxes
by the roadside,
at the church bazaar.

Oil and sharpen the shears.

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

See My Wings

On my recent cycling and hiking forays into the local canyons, I have been graced with the presence of hundreds of gorgeous, enormous Tiger Swallowtail butterflies.  Such amazing creatures!  Utterly vulnerable, yet mighty and magnificent in their beauty and flight.  I reached into the memory of my butterfly collecting days (God forgive me) and my first experience of seeing a butterfly wing under a microscope.  That these stunning creatures can fly on flimsy wings astonishes me.  They embody such a rare combination: beauty and strength and humility.  With no worry for their future, with no thought of the impossibility of them against the world, they fly and fly, in spite of the skeptic.  This poem grasps at the metaphor of a butterfly’s flight to contemplate the concepts of beauty, introspection, the flight of the human soul, and the finding of hope, faith, and trust in this life.  I hope you enjoy it.

SEE MY WINGS

Look closely
at my wings,
carefully,
do not touch,
scrutinize
up close
with the microscope of your brain
and see,
see scale upon scale
in row upon row,
the most exquisite tapestry
known:
orange and blue
spots and whorls
blending
into one another;
yellow and black
fields and stripes,
veined,
coursing
under Sun’s heat
and tiny flutterings
that flash beauty unabashed and unaware,
that lift on wing
into apparent invisibility
of air and sky,
of breath and life,
of trust
implausible and true.

Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.  The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon.  Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.

A Day to Rejoice!

I sat in my home recently, contemplating my blessings.  I could see quickly that they abound.  I felt to rejoice on that day and wrote this poem.  I thought it fitting to post the poem on Fathers Day.  I hope that you all find reasons to rejoice today and everyday.

A DAY TO REJOICE!

Today
is a day
to rejoice:
A Rejoicing Day!

Do you see
there
on that wall
those photographs
of young people who
consider
you their friend, who
trust
you with their hearts, who
love
you despite your imperfections, who
call after
you, papa, dada, pops,
smiling from their place
on that wall, who
forgive
you
today:
A Rejoicing Day!

What do you think of these
bratwurst,
tell me:
stadium brats,
beer brats,
smoked brats,
sweet Italians—grilled
on that Father’s Day grill
under flames leaping after dripping juice—
which do you like
best?
You like them all?
A Celebration Day!

No booby-trapped doors.
No roadside IEDs just waiting to rip off your limbs.
No bullets through your windows on a Sunday afternoon.
You can walk
to your church,
you can pray and sing
and lift your hallelujah hands to the heavens
and not get beheaded for it;
you can hold your grandbaby,
almost smiling,
and have
a reasonable hope
in her
prosperity and peace—
a reasonable hope.
Yes,
I declare it:
A Rejoicing Day!
A Rejoicing Day!!

Then
there
is
you:
your wrap-around hugs, tight,
your battalions of butterfly kisses, soft,
your letting go and letting God,
your dogged determination
to forgive
me.
I am permitted to dream,
am I not?
A Jubilation Day!

The sun shines.
The rain falls.
The garden grows its fruits.
The church steeple rises
toward the sun in heaven,
rises,
with your heart, in
a reasonable hope
that the world,
for all its cracks and chasms,
is a home worth living in
on this
Rejoicing Day!

 

(Note: parts of this poem are autobiographical; other parts are aspirational.)

Frames

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Sitting at my desk, staring at the framed pictures on the windowsill, I began to contemplate the nature of frames: frames around pictures; frames around windows and doors; frames around issues.  Squares; circles; rectangles.  My brain beats against the frame of my skull, my heart in its rib cage.  I thought about the relationship between frames and things framed.  Do frames imprison, complement, constrain, guide?  Here is my poem exploring the idea of frames.

FRAMES

Frames around windows—
windows and doors.
Frames around paintings
and pictures of smiling children
missing their baby teeth.
Frames around issues of law
in a reply memorandum.

Squares and rectangles,
borders and limitations.

Frames around the innocent
without alibi.
Frames around political cartoons
and Sunday morning comics.
Frames around Christmas cards,
posters and book titles,
product labels and lists
of edible ingredients, tri-fold
advertisements and dollar bills.

Circles and hedges,
boxes and constraints.

Forever

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Ice Crystals on Wood

I believe in an afterlife.  I believe that human beings are eternal beings.  We always existed in some form, and will live forever, always improving and growing, with the objective of achieving our full potential.  I sometimes consider what I will not be able to do during my lifetime that I would like to do in the hereafter.  So much!  This poem touches upon that wish.  In the meantime, I had best be making the most of this life, this time!  This is our time to choose, to learn, to love, and to forgive.

FOREVER

In Heaven
(if allowed)
I shall revel in eternity.

I will first master music:
a century for the cello;
a century for the oboe;
a decade or two for each other;
a millennium to compose for them all.

After music will come languages,
a decade each, longer for
dazzling Thai, Bushman, and Navajo.

I shall then conquer the science
of deoxyribonucleic acid
and genomic switches—
ten millennia might do.

I will take three centuries
to tackle cosmology:
quasars, black holes, star-birth;
encounters subatomic to intergalactic.

Then, I will study systems:
water and air and heat;
flora and fauna;
soil and seeds;
the interdependency and synergy
of all things.

Lastly, perhaps, will come
my study of the human mind:
the joys, the hurts;
the addictions and dysfunctions;
the condition of perfection.
A million millennia
will make a good beginning.

For the remainder of forever
I shall endeavor to learn
kindness, humility, patience,
generosity, and forgiveness:
the true arts of eternity.

Grail

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How does one put into words the fragility, beauty, and precious nature of life?  The more words we use, maybe, the closer we get–adjective upon adjective.  Or, perhaps, only a poem, with the fewest words, but bursting with meaning and imagery, can do the job.  Even then, words might not be capable at all, and we must yield to an embrace, a kiss, a memory, a lullaby.  My poem Grail is an attempt to encapsulate life, or at least a bit of it.  I hope you enjoy.

GRAIL

Even
a cracked and empty eggshell
evokes awe for new life.

The infant, you cradle,
as if a spark,
ephemeral,
of something infinite,
or divine.

Hold her, tight
and careful,
while she is yours
to hold.
She will bury you,
someday,
with roses and tears,
and tell your story:
you will inspire,
still, from the crypt.

First cry, first tear.
First laugh and first kiss.
Sips from the holy grail.

Finding Sleep

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I went to bed early one evening, overcome by fatigue, stress, over-stimulation, and worry.  But I could not sleep for all the ambient sounds that my ears so perfectly picked out.  Instead of sleeping, I scrawled out this poem.  Was it really sleep that I needed?  Or did I need the ability in the moment to find joy and wonder in all that surrounded me?  Did the ear plugs help or hinder my state of being?  Let me know what you think.

FINDING SLEEP

Bulbous beetle sees
my nightstand light
and bounces his exoskeleton
against the vertical trampoline
of the window screen,
bounces three times,
his lace wings rasping like
sheets of stiff cellophane;
he can’t enter into my room
to reach the light he longs for,
and we both are the better for it.

Incorporeal sounds sail through—
a filly whinnying over his weaning,
a puppy straining and yapping
at her collar and leash,
our cat defending her kittens
against the neighbor’s surly tom,
children screaming delightedly
as they run at night in the grass,
only to bicker over turns
on the round trampoline—
they all drift in
to settle upon me
like a New England Bible
on a dying man’s chest.

Orange plugs twisted into my ears
dull it all, stop even
the crooning of the crickets
and the breeze’s inviting whisper.

Tulips

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My poems usually result from a single poignant image, thought, or sensory experience. Through the poem, I tell the story of that experiential moment.  On occasion, however, I compose a poem from random shreds of sight, sound, thought, and memory, stringing them together like multicolored bulbs on a string of lights.  “Tulips” in one such poem.  Though the glow of each image is unique, yet a common thread joins them.

TULIPS

Special sauce drips
from the double bacon
cheese burger clamped
between fingers and thumbs.

Overgrown boys goggle and grin
at bikinis bouncing
down the beach
as the girls blink and babble
at biceps.

Not one yellow patch
or errant blade
mars that lawn,
frequently fertilized
and mowed twice
to a neat crisscross.

He smiles at himself
in his tailored suit,
white shirt cuff linked
and monogrammed, perfect-patterned
tie, long-point faux alligator shoes
shining.

JD. . . MBA. . . PhD. . . CPA. . . MD. . . DDS. . .

Though shifting,
even clouds have shape.
Air I cannot see
rounds the alveoli
of my lungs.

Blood spatters my face
from new battles
with brick walls.

Drugs at least
dim the pain.

You had better shut your
window against the wafting
putrescence of skunk.
Dogs know only
how to bark.

Put down your gun:
no violence pursues you:
your bullets would pass cleanly
through the clouds,
undeterred and unaffecting.

Run to retrieve
a vomit bowl
for him or her. Summon
the compassion to watch
as they wretch.

Surrender to the universe
inside you. Let go
your clutching at clouds
you are not meant to capture.

Stand unafraid in the mists:
the dews will coalesce
to cool and sooth and moisten.

Tulips swell before the house:
purple, yellow, orange, pink, red, each
bright under the morning sun.

An Evening

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I contemplate. Everything. I don’t mean to; I just do. I notice my abundance and my scarcity. I think about my gifts and talents, and worry about my abyssal weaknesses. I ponder my joy and my sadness, my human connections and my loneliness. I try not to allow meditation to slip into obsession, or depression. And my observations are not just about me. I thrill at the beauties of nature. The world, and life, are simply filled with mystery and unfathomableness and beauty and suffering that beg to be studied, to be understood. So I contemplate. This poem contemplates a quiet evening alone.

AN EVENING

A fish fillet simmers
in basil and salted lemon juice.
The baked potato steams
with butter and sour cream gobs.
Three cobs of corn.
Absence of conversation.

Fingers fumble with chords,
picking awkward patterns.
Crooning “Blackbird.”
Absence of applause.

On the big bed,
looking at paintings
on the walls.

No Diving

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Photo by Liddy Mills

I live in an apartment now.  My children come to visit.  Mostly I am alone.  But I have books, music, poetry, crock-pot dinners . . . and a hot tub.  My children and I sit in the roiling 110-degree water even when the ambient air is 20 degrees F, and the steam has condensed in frozen icicles hanging from the hot tub railing.  We talk about life, their soccer goals and rugby tries, sore muscles, ornery pimples, church dances, dates and the prom, stubborn cowlicks and bad haircuts, good books, good movies, hopes and dreams.  We flex our biceps and splash steaming water at each other and laugh.  Sometimes after work I soak alone, watch the steam rise, and write a poem.

NO DIVING

in the hot tub
three feet deep
no diving sign in the tile
ice clings to the chrome railing
steam, and contemplations,
billowing, billowing

Cup of Tea

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Photo by Liddy Mills

I sat recently with a mug of scalding water in one hand and a tea bag in the other, dipping the bag repeatedly in the water, watching the water darken as the herbs steeped.  Mmm.  How aromatic was that chamomile (“cidreira” in Portuguese).  I looked forward to sipping that sweet brew!  The process of boiling the water and steeping the tea–of transforming crushed, dried herbs into a delicious, soothing beverage–caused me to ponder the processes of life and transformation.  I thought about how we are similar to crushed, dried herbs–the dust of the earth, if you will–and about how, through life’s challenges and choices, we can transform our character, our soul, into something better and more pleasing.  I contemplated God’s purposes in sending us to this mortal sphere, giving us rules and guidelines for our success, and nurturing us quietly every arduous step of the way.  Please enjoy my poem “Cup of Tea” about this process of becoming.

CUP OF TEA

The Maker holds me
by a string, steeps
and dips me in the scald
until I become
the water
and the water becomes
me, stirred and stirred
with small cubes of sweetness
and drops of smoothing cream,
to be held in warming palms,
to be smelled and sipped
and savored.

Miracle

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Stansbury Mountain Range, Tooele County, Utah

During a quiet moment I found myself contemplating the nature of miracles. A miracle is often defined as a phenomenon that cannot be explained by the known laws of nature, and often carries a religious or spiritual aspect. To me, a miracle is anything truly joyous and beautiful, like love, acceptance, natural beauty, a smile. These miracles raise our countenance above the cruelty and disappointment of our mortal existence.

Inspired by my daughter, Erin (23), I keep a daily miracle journal. At the end of each day, sitting bedside, I search the day for miracles and jot them down. Hyrum’s cello recital. Hannah’s painting. Brian’s blog post. Laura’s straight As. Erin’s love. Caleb’s 15 points in a basketball game. John’s V6 bouldering problem. Smiles. Kindness. Laughter. Sunsets. Waves crashing on sand. Birds and butterflies. A peaceful sleep. Forgiveness.

I wrote this poem to convey, through images, what a miracle is to me. I encourage you to examine your life for the miracles that are surely there, every day. Seek them, and you will find them, and be transformed by them.

MIRACLE

the small
the hidden
the barely seen

what brings joy
what stretches
what teaches

a brush with the senses
an immersion
a whisper

relief
healing
denouement

my desire to forgive
my yearning to touch another
my love

your forgiveness
your reaching toward
your love

a butterfly’s artwork wings
a bird’s song
a giggling brook

fog hovering pink under sunrise
antlers, alert, twisting above brush
owl’s soundless flight

your whisper
your touch
unconditional

A Cross To Hold

Holding Cross-crop

Elizabeth recently sent to me a special crucifix, carved from olive wood, that she called her holding cross.  Anne, wife of Father Chris, had gifted the cross to Elizabeth during a difficult period of Elizabeth’s life.  “For when there are no words,” Anne had said.  Elizabeth kept her holding cross close day and night, grasping it as she slept, toting it in her purse, carrying it as she walked along the beach, feeling it in her pocket.  Knowing that I, too, was passing through a challenging time of loss and loneliness, Elizabeth gifted her cross to me.  She sacrificed something holy and dear to her so that I might find comfort in the cross, as had she.  How I appreciate her gift, which arrived the day after Christmas.

Since receiving Elizabeth’s holding cross, now my holding cross, I have often sat in contemplation of its features, simple and beautiful.  I have thought of the wounds of Christ, the pain he suffered on our behalf, the love he beams to each of us, the dreadful certainty of his death, and the certain hope of his resurrection.  Though often a trying exercise, I labor to trust in him to mentor me in each moment, to show me the ways of patience and generosity, to coach me at kindness and compassion.  Turning the holding cross over and over in my fingers, staring at it in my palms, the words of this poem began to flow and form.  It is my hope that this poem inspires hope within all who read it.

A CROSS TO HOLD

These two arms, outstretched,
fit the curving
space between my fingers
as I caress, hold tight, caress.
Those hands, two,
at the end
brought tears, and blood,
that I make my own
through kindness.
The head inclines
to me, to all
the world, the masses.
I wonder at the mystery,
joy in the simplicity.
The feet: his feet: my feet:
wandering purposefully through
time and tide;
standing firm through all;
footprints to follow.
Olive wood glistening
from the oils and sweat
of your hands, of my hands,
from lips’ kisses;
polished with beeswax,
scented with lemon oil:
smooth; soft;
shining.
Hope,
in my hands,
holding.

Fly

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I watched a battered Tiger Swallowtail fly awkwardly from flower to flower, clinging precariously from its remaining feet, its tails cracked and broken.  How sad, I thought, that this usually stunning butterfly has lost its beauty.  Only later did it occur to me that the swallowtail had lost nothing of real beauty.  It lived on, though battered by storms, by would-be predators.  What it had lost in glamour it had gained in strength and nobility.  And it still commanded the air.  It still indulged in the sweetness of life.  This poem celebrates the swallowtail.

FLY

Today you limp
on air:
wings faded,
edges serrated,
tails broken off.
Still, flowers
beckon
you to push awkwardly on,
to cling with three barbed feet.
Uncurl your coil
to taste the sweetness
of the flowers
today.

Nativity

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The mere thought of adding to the Christmas repertoire intimidated me from making the attempt.  But one quiet evening, as Christmas approached, I began to think of the baby Jesus, and to hum.  I thought of the star and the heavenly choir, of the Magi and their gifts, and of Mary holding her child wrapped in rags.  The Christmas lullaby “Nativity” arose from my musings.  Here is the sheet music for you to enjoy: Nativity.  Sing it softly to your own little ones as you put them to bed.

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In My Veins

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Sitting on the shore of Bear Lake watching my boy scout troop, including my own sons, swimming and canoeing, I grew contemplative about the nature of water and the currents of my life.  The boys laughed and squealed as they frolicked in the cold lake.  They were clearly enjoying scout camp at Bear Lake Aquatics Base.

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The scene caused me to remember my own scouting days canoeing down the rapids of the Delaware River, across the lakes of New York’s Adirondack mountains, and over placid colonial New Jersey canals fishing for catfish.  This poem began to take shape as I continued to watch the water and happy boys so clearly enjoying it.  Good for you, I thought.

The river of my life continues to flow, with strange twists and turns, and not a few eddies and submerged snags.  But I paddle on.

IN MY VEINS

This water does not seem to move,
rather sleeps contentedly,
still, glistening the yellow sun.
Trees on each bank reach
skyward and riverward,
into air and water.

This river slumbers except
where my canoe prow tickles
up a wake and green sides
send slow ripples
that lazily lap the banks.
I do no injury.

If I slow my canoe, if
I drop my paddle and stop,
leave no trace,
I see:
the boat still advances
in quiet current
past the bank-bound trees.
The river does not sleep,
I see:
it creeps forward
inexorably, taking me
from whence to where,
from then to what will be.

I am part of the river.
My childhood passed a stone
upstream, a green-speckled hegemon
lording from the bank,
aged with orange and black lichens.
The river’s mouth, yawning to the eternal
ocean, will swallow me some day, draw me
into swirl and flow forever.
Here, today, the river is
the liquid in my veins.

I seek neither headwaters nor sea:
they were and will be, and always are.
Here is where I am.
Kingfisher knows this,
watching me from arching bow.
Great Blue Heron knows this,
winging downstream
to a place where I am not
yet.  River knows this, too,
expiring in oceans even
while birthing from melting snows.

The river is always
awake, every part of it:
River knows.
Rock knows.
Tree knows.
Only,
I am slow to see.
Sky knows.
Earth knows.
Wind knows and whispers
to me across the water.
Only,
I am slow to hear.

I Waited for You

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Some of us wait silently to be loved, wait expectantly for our needs to be met.  Others of us demand to be loved with stomping feet and a sharp tongue.  The fortunate among us have learned to express their needs in ways that the listener understands, respects, and responds.  We are all different in how we approach life and love, yet we all want and deserve love.  My hope is that, rather than waiting for love or demanding love, we will learn to seek love in healthy, positive ways.  Beyond this, my prayer is that we will first offer love and kindness to others, thus inviting love and kindness to come back to us.

This poem personalizes one seemingly ill-fated approach to finding love.  What do you think the poem’s speaker could have done differently?  Should the speaker have done anything differently?  Was the speaker’s approach unreasonable?  Consider posting your answer in the comment section below.

I WAITED FOR YOU

I waited for you:
Waited for you to come to me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like the crimson clouds after the tired sun drops behind the mountains.
When you came to me at last,
I had faded and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to touch me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a dry, dusty leaf under a charcoal sky when the soothing rain won’t fall.
When you reached for me at last,
I had withered and gone.

I waited for you:
Waited for you to smile at me.
But you did not.
I waited for you
Like a famished infant yearning to suck from her mother’s ripe, fragrant breast.
When you smiled at me at last,
I had drifted and gone.

Kingfisher

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(Belted Kingfisher by Caleb Baker-2015)

Driving to church one morning, I noticed a Belted Kingfisher perched on an electric wire suspended over Stansbury Lake.  What a strikingly beautiful bird.  I wondered about his perspective on the world from that perch.  All through church I thought more about the kingfisher and what he saw than I did about the sermons and what they taught.  I wondered what he saw, what he felt, what he thought about, what it must be like to dive like a missile into the water, then rise with a writing minnow.  Sitting in my pew I wrote this poem.  My family thought I was taking copious notes on the sermons.  (Thanks to my son Caleb for this excellent drawing of a Belted Kingfisher.  The smudge is from the best of many scans, not his pencil).

KINGFISHER

Kingfisher,
watching from your high-wire perch,
looking down upon the world,
upon the water—
what is it that you see?

Kingfisher,
diving from your elevated view,
wings folded,
a yellow-beaked torpedo—
what was it that you saw?

Kingfisher,
fluffing your feathers dry,
back at your vigilance place,
the minnow having slid down your gullet—
what was it that it saw?

Kingfisher,
flying on your blues and blacks from your high-wire perch
into the nook of a sheltering tree,
the waning sun still warming—
what will you see tomorrow?

Round Shells Resting

(The following piece tells in greater detail about the construction of my chicken coop and its inhabitants.  The article was originally published in 2003 in the Tooele County Magazine by the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin.  I offer it here as an appendix to Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road.)

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The weathered hinges creek as I enter my patchwork coop.  Its quiet inhabitants, rudely rousted from their roosting, suddenly jabber with a cacophony of clucks, crows, honks, and coos.  They run nervously about as I turn over a bucket and occupy a corner of their space.

I sit quiet and motionless, and the chatter calms as their anxiety fades.  Soon they ignore me and go about their normal bird business: pecking at mash, scratching through straw, drinking from water they muddied the moment it was poured, brooding on freshly laid eggs, and general roosting.

This is where I come for quiet contemplation.  Here I am free from the suit and necktie that pay the mortgage but strangle my dreams.  If I sit long enough, I begin to see again a glimmer of who I am.

In the coop, the delicate fragrance of fresh, dry straw soothes my frazzled nerves.  An impressive portfolio of molted feathers decorates the room in abstract patterns that appear a mere mess to the unenlightened.  Eggs nestle comfortably, softly, in beds of straw—a perfect still life of brown, white, and pastel-green ovals.

I soak in the simplicity and innocence of feathered life.  I silently bless the absence of drool and bark and bray.  I relish the moment’s escape from trivial chatter and from the weight of the world’s woes.  My birds demand nothing of me.  I feed them; they eat.  I water them; they drink.  I leave them alone; they leave me alone.  We are together in a four-walled world of quiet being—no doing allowed—happily minding our own business.

* * *

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My chicken coop is unique in all the world.  It follows no blueprint or pattern.  Its configuration is determined wholly by the dimensions of the pallets that previously carried snowmobiles and four-wheelers to the local dealer.  The pallets were free, except for one blue fingernail, five stitches in a knuckle, and three dings in my truck.  Scrap fiberboard sides the pallets, with old storm windows framed into the south and east corners for winter light and warmth.

The finished product stands twelve by eight, ten feet tall in the front and six in the back, with more pallets nailed together forming the roof.  After driving the last nail, I stood back and admired my beginner’s handiwork.  Beautiful, I thought with pride.  The chickens seemed pleased, too.  A month later, Grandpa offered to cover the mottled scrap wood with exterior wood siding, and the roof with corrugated aluminum.  He said it would last longer that way—he was right, of course—but I could tell he was concerned about preserving my property value.

* * *

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Chickens and ducks share the coop.  Sometimes the billed birds peck at the beaked, but the coop is spacious enough to permit these distant cousins to live together in seeming familial friendship.  Maybe they merely tolerate each other.  I suppose at any moment an invisible tension could erupt into a flurry of feathers.

Despite both being fowl, however, they are really nothing alike.  They eat the same food—grain, mash, bugs—whatever is available.  But chickens peck with sudden snaps of the neck that bring whiplash to mind.  The hungrier they are the faster they peck.  At feeding time their heads lurch toward the grain with such ferocity that my head hurts, and I wonder what cushions their small brains from becoming mush against their skulls.  Their hunger satisfied, they meander around the coop, casually pecking at straw, feathers, grains of sand, but still with the same mechanical whip-snap motion.

Ducks, on the other hand, definitely don’t peck.  In fact, their heads remain practically motionless while they feed.  The head merely points the bill, which opens and shuts with remarkable speed, as if plugged into a vibrator.  My slow eyes perceive a vague blur as bills pulverize a strand of straw into straw-dust.

In contrast to whip-snapping chicken heads, chicken feet unfold and flex with a smooth, fluid motion.  This fact holds true with all chicken gaits, but becomes obvious to my eyes with the slow, searching gait employed in casual grazing and roost pacing.  I notice suddenly that each chicken breed has its own foot color.  White Leghorn: yellow.  Rhode Island Red: orange.  Araucana: steel gray.  Golden Sebright Bantam: blue-gray.

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Red combs flop around carelessly with the chickens’ bobbing heads.  Some combs reach over an inch tall; others resemble short, blunt spikes barely protruding from the head.  While the height of a chicken’s comb depends partly on its breed, the comparative height within a single breed indicates a hen’s egg cycle.  A tall comb indicates productivity.  A short comb tells me she’s taking a break for a few weeks.

I wondered one evening, Just what does a chicken comb feel like?  I had to know.  To find out, I employed my practiced chicken-catching technique to apprehend the subject of my curiosity.  I cornered a long-combed hen and inched forward slowly, rocking back and forth on wide-planted feet.  With a sudden stretch I grabbed her.  Terror struck her: she squawked hysterically, struggling to break free.  I cupped her head gently in my hand to calm her down.  Then I stroked her comb.  It was rough and firm, but fleshy, like an old, cracked rubber scraper.  I sat on my bucket and smoothed her ruffled feathers.  “Don’t worry, little one,” I whispered.  “I won’t hurt you.”  I began to savor this simple moment and to appreciate this creature who lives unfettered by the concerns and dysfunctions of humanity.

* * *

One evening, as I sat contemplating nothing, I watched a tiny field mouse skitter along a lateral plank, keeping to the shadowed corners.  It paused behind each pallet vertical like a thief slinking behind trees before a caper.  Yet I just couldn’t quite make the metaphor work: the tiny black eyes, soft, glossy coat, tissue paper ears, and delicate, bony hands painted a picture of sweetness, not deceit.  The tiny creature just wanted a little food, after all—and the chickens’ leftovers would do quite nicely.  The image of a poor vassal gleaning the fief’s fields fitted better.  But the chickens’ crumbs were far from subsistence: they were a bounty to the contented mouse.  Perched on petite haunches, it ate undisturbed from a kernel it turned in its delicate hands.

As long as I sat quietly, the mouse seemed to not be aware of my presence.  I noticed that the loud crowing of the big rooster registered not the slightest tremor in the mouse’s calm nibbling.  Neither did the soft hen clucking or high-pitched Bantam crowing.  Hmmn, I thought, and whistled a few notes.  No sign of rodent distress.  A little humming—still no observable trauma.  It must have thought I was just a big, motionless chicken, as oblivious as the rest.  Then I snapped my fingers with a crack.  The mouse jumped with a start and disappeared.  But my little friend soon peeked its dark bright eyes—small, but huge on its tiny snout—out from behind a board.  The mouse blended naturally with the setting: warm straw, yummy grain, lots of places to hide, and freedom from felines.

* * *

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Not only roosters like to roost.  Roosting, among chickens at least, rises almost to the exaltation of eating.  Old two-by-fours form their roosts, crossing the coop at different heights and angles.  As evening comes, the chickens instinctively return to the coop and hop up to segregated spaces.  The full-grown chickens claim the highest roost.  This Spring’s juveniles take the middle.  No one chooses the lowest.

I have never actually witnessed any pecking to this pecking order.  But I surmise that, when I am not watching, the mature birds throw off any pubescent ones who presume to attempt the highest roost, in a sort of king-of-the-roost affair.  I engineered some equity in their social order by positioning the roosts so as to protect the younger birds from getting dropped on by their roosting superiors.

Ducks don’t roost.  They prefer to cuddle comfortably together in the straw.  Long necks sway their heads back to settle in a fluff of wing feathers.  From this position, the ducks’ heads appear to rise neck-less from the middle of their backs.

* * *

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The crowing instinct has recently possessed my daughter’s young Bantam.  With no one to coach it, it is learning nonetheless.  But its attempts require an effort painful for me to watch.  Dropping its wings slightly, the young Bantam’s crow unfurls from the tip of its tail feathers through its small body, which contorts like a crawling caterpillar, and releases itself as a wheezy little croak, sounding like an old bicycle bulb horn.  Between crows, it struts around confidently, like a politician at his election party.

* * *

The big Araucana rooster paces inside its rabbit cage, to where it was banished for its summer misdeeds.  An amiable young rooster, the adult became arrogant and aggressive.  As I gathered eggs one morning, it flew at me, claws first, like an eagle swooping upon a giant rodent.  My denim-clad legs felt like they’d been struck with a willow switch, and I was glad I hadn’t worn shorts.  But the unprovoked attack annoyed me more than hurt.  A swift boot kick ended the fight, temporarily at least.  Each visit to the coop replayed the scene: flying claws; boot kick; peace.

Pulling weeds in the flower garden one Saturday, my seven-year-old began screaming hysterically.  I spun around to witness her racing across the grass with the big Araucana trotting after her like a miniature painted ostrich.  Its face devoid of emotion, I nonetheless divined its malicious intent.

With the rooster now securely in the rabbit cage, my children safely gather eggs from the irritated hens, whose pecks, after the rooster attacks, seem to them friendly taps.  I’ll some day expand the coop so the Araucana can enjoy life without ruining it for others.  It is a beautiful bird, after all, with luminescent blue-black tail feathers and a rich golden mien.  In the meantime, it paces endlessly in cramped quarters that cramp its tyrannical style.

* * *

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For the children, discovering the first egg was as exciting as finding hidden candy, not just because it was our first egg, but also because it was green.  Araucanas lay pastel green and blue-green eggs.  Some call the breed the Easter egg chicken, for obvious reasons.  Pre-died, you might say.

Despite the eight identical nesting boxes that line the rear wall, the hens insist on laying in only one box—the second from the right, to be exact.  Even when one hen is brooding a newly-laid egg, another hen, in answer to nature’s urge, oozes herself into the same one-foot by one-foot cubbyhole to lay.  Although they soon both give up on brooding, they continue to lay in the same box, day after day, egg upon egg.  Left uncollected, the eggs soon form a neat, multicolored pile, with the other seven boxes vacant.  The plastic eggs I placed in the other boxes to induce even distribution were pecked open and kicked out.

Each day, the children thrill to gather the eggs in their skirts and run to the kitchen.  At least one egg inevitably suffers a casualty, cracked or dropped along the way, sometimes before it even leaves the coop.  The chickens rush upon the broken egg, devouring its spilled contents in a cannibalistic frenzy.

Each broken egg tempts my irritation.  But a moment’s reflection reminds me that I love my daughters more than my chicken eggs.  Anyway, the majority of eggs usually weather the trip without incident.  I figure we have the chickens not just for the eggs, but for the experience of having chickens and eggs: to earn the rewards of work; to care for something besides ourselves; to nurture life; to find simplicity and peace in the midst of a frantically materialistic world.

Soon to come will be a pallet patchwork addition, with rooms for pheasants, jungle fowl, pigeons, quail, and maybe an exotic breed or two, like the iridescent Japanese golden pheasant.  We’ll admire their remarkable beauty and diversity.  We’ll cry when a raccoon spreads feathers and feet through the field.  We’ll curse as young roosters spur to defend their turf.  And we’ll witness the process of life as old birds die and new life emerges from thin, round shells resting in the straw.

Chapter 48: What Is To Come

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–Wherever you live, find your Rabbit Lane.–

(Photo credit: Jeanette Baker Davis)

Christmas day.  A warm south wind had begun to howl in the early morning hours, the kind of wind that tears off siding and rips at shingles.  A particular set of vulnerable shingles had flapped irritatingly above my bed all night long, as if under the sticks of a novice but indefatigable drummer.  All day long the wind had blown, with frequent gusts that shook the house and trembled the floor under my chair.  The bird feeders swung wildly on their wires, like marionettes under the hand of a demented puppeteer.  We knew the pattern: the wind would blow and blow until the climactic dissonance resolved in a downpour of driving rain or sleet or snow.  At 9:00 o’clock in the evening, Angie called us to where she stood by the front door opened wide to a world covered with new whiteness.  The south wind had stopped, replaced by a steady northern breeze bringing the snow from over the lake.  Brian, home from his first semester of college, announced happily that he was going for a walk.  He bounded away with enthusiasm. Continue reading

Chapter 47: Big-Wheel Ecosystem

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–Rabbit Lane is a short nothing of a dirt road in Erda, USA.–

The air was crisp but warmer than a typical January day.  The sky hung gray, and pockets of darker clouds dropped round, soft pellets of dry snow.  Shades of orange accented the western mountaintops.  Feathers of unseen House Swallows rustled from inside Wild Rose and Willow bushes.  The scene made for an idyllic late Sunday afternoon walk on Rabbit Lane.  Idyllic and peaceful . . . except for Hannah (3) riding her big-wheel tricycle behind me.  The wide, hollow, pink plastic wheels ground over the disintegrating asphalt, radiating into the peacefulness the racket of an ore crusher.  I couldn’t hear my wife talk or myself think. Continue reading

Chapter 45: Of Light and Love

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–I need the light on to keep my eyes warm. (Caleb-3)
–I need the light on to go to sleep because I can’t see. (Hannah-3)

Early one morning I notice a light in the Weyland wheat field next to Rabbit Lane.  The soft circle of lantern light bobs around over the newly-sprouted wheat, magically as if without a master, seemingly unattached to a farmer.  The night sky begins to lighten, and I can see the dim outlines of a man checking the sprinkler heads on a wheel line.

Ron starts his big John Deere early, headlights blaring, before I can see its trademark green and yellow.  The tractor pulls behind a homemade harrow: creosoted rail beams loosely chained together with railroad spikes pounded through.  The harrow tears at the rooted wheat chaff, spewing up dust that creeps over Rabbit Lane like a heavy, brown fog. Continue reading

Apple Tree

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Old things fill me with such deep feelings of nostalgia.  It is as if they contain an essence of goodness and profundity that has somehow become lost and forgotten.  They are voices of lives and things far away but not diminished in value for their distance.  This poem highlights some of these, trying to catch that uncatchable essence.

APPLE TREE

The tree has grown
unpruned
for some seasons now. Golden
apples hang unpicked,
falling one by one
as breezes blow
and neighbors jostle, to cider
in the soil, enriching
first yellow jackets,
then slugs and worms and grass
still green in Fall.

The old brick bungalow,
white paint peeling,
has gone unlived in
for many years now. The smoke
is stilled, and the chimney soot
is old and cold. She was
born here, birthed
in her mama’s brass bed.
She played in the ditch,
munched raw oats, picked
nosegays of daisies and asters,
and planted pips
from a golden apple
in a secret spot of soil.

The misted vase has sat
empty upon the table
for so very long now. Dust has settled
into stem and petal etchings, caught
upon dry, white mineral rings. Outside,
beside bungalow brick,
hyacinths, daffodils, tulips,
irises rise in rows
to bloom each Spring,
bidden only
by sun and warm soil.

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Wandering

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The lonely apple tree on our one-acre property had survived from pioneer days, had made it through the decades of when the property housed the old Mormon church.  After pruning my apple tree, I was able to climb into its highest branches, whence I could gaze over the sloping valley toward the silver ribbon of the Great Salt Lake to the north and west, or look the other direction to the Oquirrh Mountains to the east and south.  From high in my apple tree, and on my walks on Rabbit Lane, I contemplated many strange and wonderful and dreadful aspects of life and living.  These thought slowly distilled themselves into my song Wandering, attached here for you to enjoy.

Wandering

(See the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page, Chapter 43: Trees post, for further reference to my apply tree.)

Almost

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Sometimes, in the evening, I like to sit in the chicken coop, in a corner on a stool, and just watch my hens.  They scratch around and peck at this and that, keeping a wary eye on me.  They don’t exactly come when I call, but neither do they seem anxious, rather, just aware of my presence.  As with my children, I have especially enjoyed the young chicks for their beauty and willingness to be coddled and petted and spoken softly to.  Yes, I confess to talking adoringly to my chicks.

ALMOST

Almost
they believe
I am one of them—
close enough for calm.
They, gold-feathered, look up at me
blankly, peeping softly,
let me stroke the feathers
on the tops of their heads,
across their backs,
accepting me best
under their yellow beaks
and down their bristly necks
to billowy young breasts.
The others, blacks and barred,
peck and scratch
comfortably at my feet,
sense me from a disinterested distance,
but run cackling to the corners
at my reaching hand,
as if I were
suddenly some monstrous enormity,
which, of course, I am,
but guileless and doting
despite my alien countenance.
I shelter them from skunk and fox.
I feed them and water them
each day. We visit,
me on my cinderblock stool.
They will grow and repay me with eggs,
and with soft peepings,
condescending to my gentle hand.

Chapter 38: Black-Oil Pavement

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–Hold on by letting go.–

Toward the north end of Rabbit Lane, the ditch crosses the road through a 36-inch culvert pipe, where the water flows diagonally across Charley’s pasture in a shallow channel.  Charley was losing too much water through the informal channel and decided to install a new culvert a hundred yards or so further south.  He cut a new crossing in Rabbit Lane with his backhoe, dropped in a new section of black pipe, and backfilled around the pipe, restoring the road.  The water now flowed directly west in a deeper channel following a fence line. Continue reading

Chapter 35: Canoe Trip

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–Being accomplishes more than doing.–

Our fast-paced society places so much emphasis on getting things done.  We often base our self-esteem on the completion of routine tasks.  I say to myself, “I had a good day: I got so much done.”  But what did I really accomplish?  Did I make a meaningful contribution to the world? Continue reading

Chapter 31: Hurry Up and Play

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–I’m rich!–
(Caleb-3, upon finding two pennies.)

Though running late for work one morning, I felt a determination to take my walk on Rabbit Lane.  Quickening my pace on the crunching gravel, I found myself thinking: If I hurry, maybe I can finish my 30 minute walk in 20 minutes.  The absurdity of my thought struck me instantly.  I chuckled to myself, but could see that my thinking deserved further study.  I might as well have said, If I hurry, maybe I can short-change myselfContinue reading

Chapter 29: Gardens

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–Knock, knock.–
–Who’s there?–
–I got up.–
–I got up who?–
(Hyrum-4 with Dad)

Despite the bright blue sky and the sun’s brilliance dazzling from millions of ice crystals in the fresh skiff of snow, I felt crushed by life’s burdens as I trudged alone along Rabbit Lane.  The burdens of being a husband and provider and father to seven children.  The burdens of being legal counsel to a busy, growing city.  The burdens of maintaining a home, of participating in my church, and of being scoutmaster to a local boy scout troop.  The burdens of being human.  While the sky above me opened wide to space, these responsibilities bore down heavily upon my heart.  They seemed to darken my very sky. Continue reading

Shoes 2: Son on Sunday

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An empty, dusty pair of shoes has seen nearly every step of the life of the wearer: Sunday services, basketball games, dinners at home and away, airports, bedrooms, offices, funerals, weddings, and the resting place of all shoes, the closet.  Seeing my son’s dress shoes one Sunday afternoon prompted me to reflect on the boy he was and the man he was quickly becoming.  I ached and hoped for him as the days trudged on and the years flew by.

SHOES

Black dress shoes, slightly scuffed,
stand on the bedroom floor,
purposefully aligned:
size 4½.
The house is empty now;
so, the shoes.
Each once possessed
a boy—once eight—
who laughed and ran,
who sparred with wooden swords and sound effects,
who worked in the garden along side his dad.
Each once held a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy,
with a noticeable underbite,
who wanted only to please,
only to be favored
with a warm smile and a twinkling eye.
The house is silent now;
so, the shoes.
Each once held a boy.

Chapter 24: Remembering the Day

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What I like best is being with you.

The hour was 10 p.m., long after the children’s bed times.  I had come home late from city council meeting, and had settled into the sofa with cookies and cold milk, Grandma Lucille’s crocheted afghan over my lap, and a book of Sherlock Holmes mysteries in my hand.  Finally, it was time for a little quiet enjoyment. Continue reading

Summer Corn

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On many a summer evening, as the dry air began to cool, the children found me in the garden sitting on a picnic chair hidden between rows of corn stalks, munching on cobs of raw sweet corn.  That is as close to bliss as I’ve ever come.  One day I yielded to the impulse to lie on my back in the dirt between the corn rows, close my eyes, and just listen.  It took me years to put the experience into words, but I finally managed (hopefully) with “Summer Corn.”  As the poem seeks to share with an anonymous companion, so now I share with you.

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Summer Corn

Lie with me between the rows of summer corn.
Don’t speak, yet.
Listen:
to the raspy hum of bees gathering pollen from pregnant, golden tassels,
to the hoarse soft rubbing of coarse green leaves in the imperceptible breeze,
to the plinking rain of locust droppings upon the soft soil.
Listen:
to the neighbor’s angus wieners bemoaning their separation,
to the pretty chukars heckling from the chicken coop,
to the blood pulsing in your ears, coursing through your brain.
Don’t speak, now.
Reach to touch my hand.
Listen to the world
from within the rows of summer corn.

Voices

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Areas of my ramshackle chicken coop are filled and covered with odd-and-end antiques.  I don’t buy them; they just seem to find me, in ditches, from neighbors and friends, at thrift stores.  I love them for their shape, color, and design.  More deeply, they speak to me of people and times long faded.  My book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road is partly about the voices of the peoples and cultures that have died, giving way to the young and new.  The young and the new, however, find much of their substance in the past, whether they care to acknowledge it or not.  When I want to feel the voices, I walk on Rabbit Lane, or retreat to roost in my coop.  (See Chapter 15: Of Foxes and Hens for a description of how my chicken coop was built.)  This poem is about my chicken coop antiques and the voices that still whisper.

VOICES

Reaper’s rusted scythe screwed to weathered wood.
Glass milk bottles glazed with powdered cobweb.

I have surrounded myself
with old things
that gather dust to cover rust.

Springy sheep shears that built bulky forearms.
Blue-green power line insulators.

I bring them inside walls
of bricks and unplaned planks
and windows of rainbow leaded glass
that once walled and windowed others’
houses and living rooms and bedrooms and kitchens,
and sit with them.

Buckboard step that lifted a long-dressed lady.
Sun-bleached yolk with cracking leather straps.
White skull of an ox.

Filigree voices whisper
the virtues of old ways,
without judgment of me
or my time or my ways,
in gratitude for not forgetting
altogether.  I prefer their voices
to the bickering blogs
and testy tweety texts
of now.  They tell me they were
practical get-it-done devices
with no axe to grind or soul to skewer.

Brown-iron horseshoes open upward
to catch the luck, nails bent and clinging.
Vestiges of sky-blue on the rickety bench
I sit upon.

Open Eyes

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The more I walk on Rabbit Lane, the more I notice the nuanced environment around me, in the hay fields, the trees, the flowers, the birds, the cows.  And with each step I ponder the meaning of things, of what I see and feel.  I begin to understand more about the worlds both without and within myself.

OPEN EYES

when
we open our eyes
the places we walk
will show us
wonderful things
but also hard
heart-wrenching things
beauty and sorrow
sometimes each alone
often all together

Turn to the Gutter

100_1044Walking on a downtown Salt Lake City street during a seminar lunch break, I became aware of how my gaze tended to turn downward on the trash that had collected in the gutter.  The words “trash” and “gutter” are well-known and perhaps over-used metaphors for the vulgar and profane.  I wondered, with some private embarrassment, why I persisted in looking downward instead of lifting my gaze to the trees, birds, architecture, and sky.  I wrote this poem to recognize and resist the temptation to look downward during life, and to encourage myself and others to raise our sights and to focus on beauty, on love, and on kindness and other noble attributes.  The gutter and its trash will still be there, but we need pay them no mind.

TURN TO THE GUTTER

Birds sing a-wing
in the ocean-blue sky,
perch on arched windows
and brick parapets.
Trees waive and bow,
flowers show splendor.
But I:
I turn my gaze, and
miss it;
I turn to the gutter,
treasure
lies and tokens, and
miss it all.

Chapter 18: Mary

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–Bend, bend, but don’t break.–

I had rescued Austin from his fall just two years before.  Now the barrel-chested man was gone.  Mary, his widow, a diminutive black-haired woman in her nineties, lived alone.  We tried to visit her one afternoon.  We knocked and knocked, but no one answered the door.  Later we learned that she slept during the day and lived her waking life at night.  I now understood the dim yellow light that glowed late at night from her living room window. Continue reading

Chapter 17: Foreshadowing

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–The Milkweed will push through to grow tall, fragrant, and beautiful, to call the Monarch.–

The disc cushioning my lumbar 4 and 5 vertebrae has been bulging capriciously since I was 12 years old.  It was then that I experienced my first unexpected spine-twisting spasms that paralyzed me sitting in my church pew.  A bulging disc means a frequently aching back, with locked joints and tense muscles.  The pain is always different depending on which way the disc is bulging and, more importantly, which area of the spinal nerves the disc is irritating.  While it becomes difficult and painful to bend, I somehow always manage to dry my feet after a shower, to shimmy on my socks, to tie my shoes, and to drive to work, even if I do have to lie occasionally on the floor during the mayor’s staff meeting. Continue reading

The Dance

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My family’s favorite event of the year is Tooele’s Festival of the Old West, combining a gem and mineral show, a mountain man rendezvous, and an Indian pow-wow.  I give the children a small allowance, and they bring some money of their own, to buy polished rocks or beads, a bag of marbles or a medicine pouch, a rubber-band gun or second-hand knife, and always a homemade cream soda and fry bread.  “Fire in the hole!” precedes the boom of the real cannon that blasts arm-loads of candy for children to scamper at.  Men and women walk around in period clothing–my kids always chuckle at the man with the deer-skin breaches not quite concealing his butt-cheeks.  And then the drum beats begin, and the chanting.  The Native Americans have begun their dance competition.  Exiting the back door of the gem and mineral show one year, we saw a young American Indian man dressing in his fancy regalia in preparation for the competition.  His father helped him with the clasps and ties that held in place the flowing regalia, which abounded with feathers and shells and bells.  I wrote this poem to express my overwhelming impressions of this boy connecting powerfully with his peoples’ at once glorious and painful past, with his attenuated but clinging culture, and with the spiritual reality of his ancestors.  (This poem relates to Chapter 7: Turtle Lodge on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, and also to the poem House of Offering on the Rabbit Lane: Poems page of this blog.)

THE DANCE

Shell open.  Tailgate down.
A boy,
in bright-beaded leathers,
in spirit feathers,
preparing,
for the dance.
Father inspected, breathing deep:
satisfied and proud;
unspeaking:
You are ready.

The drum beats the hour,
the moment,
of the dance;
a summons:
compelling
the movement of feet
pressing the ground in
a rhythmic communion
of flesh and earth,
of spirits;
compelling
the movement of arms and wings,
like the offering
ascending
in red birch smoke.
Earth and sky recede.
Light and darkness combine.
There is only him,
with the drum,
with the song,
with the dance—
his dance.

They come to him, then,
and lift him up
in flight
through the heavens:
Shadow-faces
with warm wrinkled eyes;
their hair flowing in long gray strands,
like wispy rain clouds
above the parched plains.
Shadow-faces
singing the ancestral song,
turning above and beneath,
swirling around and through,
joining him, becoming one,
bringing him tenderly
down to earth and sky as
his feet press the ground
to the last drum beat.

He walks, then,
slowly,
back to the tailgate,
the world
before him,
Shadow-faces
within.
He waits, then,
to dance again
the dance.

Monday Night

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Family gathering together is what makes the holidays special.  Family, in all its forms.  We arrive, ring the doorbell, and are welcomed with hugs (or grunts.)  We eat and laugh and tell stories, catching up.  We play out the human drama in the family microcosm.  Older family members display what they have learned for younger generations to see, if they will.  Funerals, though enormously sad, have been some of my most meaningful family experiences.  We grieve together, share the family lore, and partake unquestionably in love.  Weddings, while hopefully more joyous occasions, strike me as similar.  Baptisms.  Bar-mitzvahs.  Holiday celebrations. Sunday dinners.  Even the mundane moment, however, gives families powerful moments to bond, to contemplate, to rejoice, to mourn, and to hope.  The poem “Monday Night,” below, describes one such moment from my family’s past, and relates to Chapter 16: Around the Fire Pit post of the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.

MONDAY NIGHT

Monday night,
and we gather again,
a family:
sitting on cinderblocks
around the fire pit;
holding long applewood sticks,
like fishing rods,
with points in the flames,
connecting
with the warmth, the glow,
the power and mystery of fire.
A family:
singing songs about
head, shoulders, knees, and toes,
and the beauty of God’s creations;
reading poems about kitties and calves,
and forks in the forest path;
telling stories of inspiration and faith;
munching popcorn and brownies;
keeping the cats away from our cups of milk.
Children
toss sticks into the flames,
poke smoking sticks into the ground,
carve their special sticks
with knives that are somehow always dull.
Sun sets behind towering pink and orange
Cumulous that dwarf the snow-capped mountains.
Fire settles into a ringed bed of shimmering coals.
Children quiet themselves
and stare into the ebbing heat and color.
Mom and Dad look to each other
and share an unspoken gratitude that,
for this moment,
life is good.

Chapter 16: Around the Fire Pit

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–I’ll help you learn to walk.–
(Erin-10 to Hyrum)

One Monday evening after dinner, the whole family walked on Rabbit Lane.  The sun was setting large and red, and the chilly Spring air settled upon us as we returned home.  We gathered around our new fire pit to tell stories, sing songs, and roast apples and marshmallows, sitting on camp chairs and logs. Continue reading

4 degrees F

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My phone registers 4 degrees Fahrenheit as I walk this New Year’s Eve morning on Rabbit Lane. I do not enjoy the cold, but I know that I will find beauty on Rabbit Lane, despite the adversity, or perhaps because of it.  I am wearing as many layers as my boots, pants, and coat can accommodate.  Brisk movement is my best protection.  Also, the air is still, and the brilliant sun shines warm on my back, cutting through the cold.

Despite having completed the manuscript of my book Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road, which I am posting on this blog one chapter at a time, I know that the true story will never be fully told.  Beautiful things will happen every hour of every day that deserve telling.  The spirits of people passed on will whisper, You forgot about me.

Today, I come upon Russian Olive trees still sporting abundant fruits, burnished by months of hanging in the sun (photo above).  A Red-shafted Northern Flicker launches from a tree, flapping furiously, then torpedoes through the air without wing-beats, then flaps furiously again, sporting its white tail patch and orange primary underwings.  Torpedo.  Flap.  Dive.  Beat. There is always something new, something beautiful.

This poem attempts to capture the paradox of having completed something that can never be complete.  I hope you enjoy this last glimpse of Rabbit Lane from 2014.

POSTSCRIPTS TO A PARADOX

My manuscript is finished.
Everything there was to write, I wrote.
All the notes have been transcribed, expanded, and stitched up.
I proofread it, twice, and double-checked the formatting.
I capitalized the name of each Bird and Butterfly and Tree and Flower.
Now there is only rejoicing, recounting, and remembering.
But nothing new can happen.
My manuscript is finished.

PSs.
Bruce told me a story,
a good one, about Harvey,
that I hadn’t heard before.

Horses ran to the fence to greet us,
cheerfully, kicking up snow
and snorting steam.

Long after sunset
a thinning patch in heavy gray snow
clouds still held light, Hannah (8) pointed out.

Witch’s Tree is rotting,
her skin and flesh flaking off
into the dry waste of Witch’s Pond.

Old Cottonwood has unquestionably grown
beyond his once 17-foot girth,
though his tree-top branches languish.

(But nothing new can happen.)

Coming Home

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I stopped to watch the pulsing airport beacon–my desert lighthouse–as I walked in the snow today on Rabbit Lane.  White.  Green.  White.  Green.  “See that beacon?” I asked Hannah (8), whose gloved hand held mine while we gazed.  “It’s like a lighthouse showing the way for ships in trouble to make for shore.  Long before Hannah was born, I gazed out the window with Erin, then 5, as the old beacon bulbs swept slow arcs around the sky, lighting up the clouded underbelly of the sky.  I imagined sailing ships rocking precariously amidst tumultuous waves, the sailors shouting commands and wondering how to obtain the shore in one piece.  I also imagined their frightened families at home, wondering if they would ever see their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons again.  With this troubled image in mind, I wrote this one-verse song about these sailors, nearly lost in the storms, coming home at last.  (Read more about this beacon in Chapter 4: Desert Lighthouse on the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.)

Coming Home

Fences

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Farm fences flank me as I walk on Rabbit Lane two days before Christmas.  Walking the length of the country road, I begin to contemplate the nature of fences.  Fences keep the cattle in their pastures, while keeping pheasant poachers out.  Fences remind me of the limitations I put on myself through fear and doubt.  I think of social, legal, political, and relationship boundaries.  I ponder that each cedar fence post used to be a juniper tree thriving in the Utah desert.  I imagine lines of soldiers marching into battle in distant early-morning mists.  Ultimately, we can choose to transcend many of our life’s fences, like the butterfly that simply flies over, as if the fences do not exist.

FENCES

Grain-field fences march
away in a disciplined line,
cedar post after cedar post,
rough-barked,
each tugging its barbs
taut as burning guns
at soldiers’ cheeks, marching
straight and away at an acute angle
to the way I would go,
hemming me in with wicked wire
points, urging me down, at the risk
of gash and scar, the direct
and dusty disciplined road,
while a Tiger Swallowtail
lazily wafts its easy way across
the fence to flutter above
the ripe wheat tops,
and a Western Kingbird
darts here and there,
erratic, up and down,
above all artificial lines, chasing
invisible insects overhead.

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Chapter 12: Worm Sign

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–A sincere smile can change the world.–

The night’s rains have turned the hard-packed-dirt surface of Rabbit Lane into a thin slick of mud, with small pools in the valleys between washboard peaks.  Long earthworms, flushed from their deluged burrows, make their tedious way across the muddy film, seeming to wander without any sense of where they need to go.  Slight worm tracks criss-cross the slick: shallow smooth ruts, their directions and intersections chaotic, random, crossing over and following each other without discernible pattern.  They leave only faint signs of their humble existence. Continue reading

Generations

So many times I have caught myself reflecting on the fact that I am as old in a given moment, involved with one of my children, as my father was when involved in the same way with me: camping, throwing a baseball, swimming and sailing at scout camp, choosing not to spank a stubborn child, asking about girlfriends, counseling through challenges, on bent knees begging for a child’s welfare.  I often sense a melding and shifting of the generations, from me being the child to being the father of a child, and yet I remain the child.  I muse on this time-defying phenomenon in this poem, Generations, and on the Chapter 11: Austin post listed in the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog.

GENERATIONS

I am the center and the circumference,
the present and the past.
The generations are one before me,
the memories of years
a single infinite scene,
shifting and stirring within me,
slowly moving to embrace the future
even as it becomes the past.

I am at once a boy and a man,
a son and a father,
my child: my father: myself.
I gaze at my child
and see
my father gazing at me
and feel
a father’s agony,
as I look to my father,
and my child looks to me.

Chapter 11: Austin

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–The measure of one’s greatness is one’s goodness.–

Sitting on the porch lacing my boots for a walk on Rabbit Lane, I heard the distant bellowing of a distressed calf.  Something in the bray was not quite right, sounded a little off.  I had heard lost calves calling for their mothers before.  I had heard desperately hungry calves complaining before.  I had heard lonely wiener calves bellowing for their removed mothers before.  This calf call sounded strange; perhaps, I thought, not even a calf at all.  I turned my head to pinpoint the source of the noise.  It came from behind Austin’s house, where there should be no cows and, in fact, were no cows.  An ignorant urgency sent me running through the intervening field to Austin’s back door.  There lay Austin, helpless, in abject distress, fallen across the threshold of his back door and unable to arise, the screen door pressing upon his legs.  He shouted and bellowed with his deep and distressed bass voice.  I wrapped my arms around his prodigious barrel chest and heaved as gently yet as forcefully as I could to raise the big man from the ground. Continue reading

These Hands

Hands are the perfect metaphor for who we are, what we do, and what we hope to become.  Do I use my hands to lift or to strike down, to caress or to punish, to persuade or to coerce?  My hands with their fingers type the words formed in my mind, spoon soup for a grandmother, and tickle a toddler.  Hands.  Use them for kindness, gentleness, hard work, and love.  And to write a poem.

THESE HANDS

Look at these hands.
My hands.
They tell my life:
in groove and scar and callous;
in a knuckle torn by a chicken house nail;
in railroad lines from a childhood race through a glass door;
in black grease ground into coarse cracks and cuticles;
in blisters and blood on a westward handcart;
at times, thrust hiding in deep but empty pockets.
These hands:
that hold the hopes and dreams of a self-hewn future;
that have sought the secret softness of a soul mate;
that have led trusting toddlers over perilous paths;
that hoisted an enduring ancient from the place of his collapse.
These hands:
that have clasped tightly together in impassioned prayer;
that have suffered the sad sting of punishment;
that have bathed the infant and dressed the dead;
that have hooked a worm and thrown a ball.
These hands:
that have penned a paltry poem;
that have reached for the stars and grasped only earth;
that have blessed the sick and slaughtered swine;
that can seal a man’s fate with a waive and a gavel’s rap.
These hands:
that spared the rod, soothed a crying child, wiped away a tear, smoothed a stray lock;
that once were tiny and tender, that patted Grandpa’s drooping cheeks;
that bestowed a ring and received one in return;
that now are old and gnarled, resting folded and futile in my lap.
Touch my hands with your hands.
Bring my hands to your face, your eyes, your lips.
Feel the coarseness and tenderness of my hands.
Bring your hands to my face, my eyes, my lips.

 

Chapter 9: Witch’s Tree

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–Desire teased spawns vice.–

My boots crunch loudly on Rabbit Lane’s loose gravel.  The noise reverberates in the air and in my brain and distracts me from the peaceful quiet of my surroundings.  I imagine the noise to be similar to that of chewing crisp carrots with tight earphones on.  I find myself wandering within the roadway in search of the path of least noise generation potential.  Part of me doesn’t want to startle the wildlife, which in turn startles me with a sudden rustling of wings or splashing of water.  I also don’t want to interfere with nature’s soft voices.  A bigger part of me simply doesn’t want to draw attention to myself, not even from the animals.  On Rabbit Lane, at least, I can be free of critical eyes and voices.  Still, even here, alone, I instinctively avoid the noise that would bring the attention of looks and whispers in other places. Continue reading

Come Walk with Me

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It was obvious to me that my daughter, Laura, was feeling emotional distress. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I asked.  “Nothing,” she replied, in typical hold-it-in fashion.  I put my arm around her and said, “Come walk with me on Rabbit Lane.”  We walked, she talked and cried, and I listened and did my best to buoy her up.  We have taken many walks on Rabbit Lane since.  Rabbit Lane has become more to me than an unremarkable little dirt country road.  It has become for me a place of contemplation, enlightenment, and healing.  I wrote this poem not only to remember the occasion of that walk with Laura, and of many other special walks with my family, but also as an invitation to you, my fellow travelers, to come walk with me down Rabbit Lane, as it were, in our respective journeys to understand, to grow, and to be the best men and women we can be.

COME WALK WITH ME

Come walk with me,
my child.
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.
Tell me your troubles.
Tell me your fears.
Tell me your joys and your dreams.
Tell me everything
while we walk
past racing horses and cudding cattle,
past the llama guarding thick-wooled sheep,
past deep-green alfalfa and wispy golden grain,
past the skittish muskrat diving to its ditch-bank burrow,
past Monarch caterpillars poised on pink, perfumed milkweed flowers.
Come walk with me,
my child,
just you and me.
Come walk with me
down Rabbit Lane.

I Left the House

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While I don’t care for the cold of winter, I find that winter walking reveals unparalleled beauty despite the leafless trees, and brings unique pleasures and insights, such as those discussed in this poem.  And winter mornings are quiet.  So, as much as I prefer the warmer seasons, I still enjoy bundling up and heading to Rabbit Lane for pre-dawn winter walks.  (For more discussion of winter walks in the snow, see the Rabbit Lane: Memoir page of this blog, Chapter 8: Tracks in the Snow post.)

I LEFT THE HOUSE

I left the house
to walk a long walk
through the uncertain silhouettes
of morning’s pre-dawn dim,
and found that
Heaven had graced Earth,
silently,
magically,
with a covering of snow,
soft on the hard, frozen earth,
pale gray in the lingering starlight.

On the farm road,
tire tracks sliced and sullied the snow,
leaving long, undulating ruts
to follow.
I quickly chose the ease of the rut.
Then I found the tracks of
other travelers—mice, rabbits, a raccoon—
meandering, veering, crossing,
as necessary or desirable.
Then I, too, left the pre-established path,
and made my own way through the snow.
The frozen crust crunched and gave way
under the weight of my boots;
each step sent up a small crystalline cloud;
white snow caps clung to my toes;
my legs protested with burning fatigue at
the effort of resisting the rut.

The snow turned from gray to white with the fading of night,
tinged with the pink of impending sunrise.
In the undisturbed snow beside the rutted tracks,
the sun’s first rays revealed an infinity of microscopic prisms,
sparkling brief flashes of rainbow color.

In the distance behind,
the house waited patiently for my return.