Thursday, December 25, 2003

Today the Virgin gives birth to him who is above all being,
And the earth offers the Cave to him whom no one can approach;
Angels with Shepherds give glory,
And Magi journey with a star;
For us there has been born
A little Child: God before the ages.

Bethlehem has opened Eden, come, let us see;
We have found delight in secret, come let us receive
The joys of Paradise within the cave;
There the unwatered root has appeared whose blossom is forgiveness,
There has been found the undug well
From which David once wished to drink;
There a Virgin has borne a babe
And has at once quenched Adam’s and David’s thirst.
For this let us hasten to this place where there has been born
A little Child: God before the ages.


From the Matins service for the Feast of the Nativity
Translation by Archimandrite Ephraim

Monday, December 08, 2003

Why small dogs should really live further south . . .

Sheep have this unerring way of breeding to lamb in the worst weather possible. Since the average gestation time is 150 days, this shows a foreknowledge of weather that shames the best human prophets. When the storm hit, and no lambs arrived, we thought they had finally slipped up. Then Susan went to the barn this morning . . .

Sunday, December 07, 2003

We had our first snowstorm of the season this weekend. Susan moved the sheepflock into the barn and we have been feeding grain and hay while the pastures are buried under a foot or so of white. I am writing this with a leg propped up between sessions with an ice pack. One of the ewes, a little too eager for her share of the afternoon's hay bale, took out my right knee with a body block that would have done an NFL linebacker proud. I will recover in due course, but, in the meantime, here are some pictures from the weekend's storm:

Sunrise and snow



Between Storms

Regular visitors here may be curious about the outcome of the election on November 4th. I was running as an independent candidate for Commonwealth's Attorney in my home county here in Virginia. The final results are posted here on the State Board of Elections website. As a first fling with politics, the results were respectable, if not all that we had hoped for. Looking back, I am amazed at the number of people who did come out and support a first time candidate with little money, no party backing and name recognition only among the circle of folks who keep track of doings around the Courthouse. My wife Susan performed heroically helping me go door to door and and handling logistics of getting poll workers out on election day. I am also grateful to the many friends who came forward and donated both time and money, freely, without being asked.

Since the election, I have been gratified by the number of people who have asked me to stay on in my current position, assuming the new Commonwealth's attorney (and my former opponent) is agreeable. I have some offers to leave public service and go into private practice, which I am also considering. For those of you who read this and are praying people, your prayers for wisdom would be appreciated!

Thursday, November 20, 2003

We had a bit of wind yesterday . . .

Monday, November 10, 2003

This morning's weather report comes from eighth century China via some lines by the poet Du Fu:

Autumn window still colored by dawn,
bare trees, high winds that go on blowing:
sun comes up beyond cold mountains
river flows through last night's mist.


(Trans. Burton Watson)

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Saturday Morning 10-19-03



There is no mistaking it, autumn has arrived. The first batch of leaves that turned were stripped down by wind and rain last week and scattered around the pasture. The survivors are turning more slowly, as if made cautious by the fate of their more impetuous brethren. We have had our first big frost, the fields white again, bringing back memories of last Winter's snow, and perhaps prophesying about the Winter to come. In between the extremes, we have had a few of those warm days where you wish for nothing more than to stretch out in the slanting afternoon sunlight. There is so little time to sit and watch it all. I have an election just over two weeks away, and mixing work with the campaign gets me out of the house at sunrise and keeps me away until after dusk. Our town and county may look small on a map, but they expand to continental proportions when you are traveling through one door at a time, talking to folks. Knocking on doors and asking for support is not something that comes naturally, but I do think that if you want your fellow citizens to vote for you and provide you with a living, you should at least have the courtesy to stop by and introduce yourself. It is at once invigorating and exhausting. Sometimes I think I have learned more about our hometown in the last month than I have in the last fifteen years I have lived here. Great works could be written on the different ways people decorate their front walks alone. So much love and effort spent to make a place in the world. I have talked to more people, shaken more hands, and spoken more in public these last few weeks than I have ever done before in my life. I will be glad when it is over, but I will also miss it a little. It is too early to predict the outcome of the election, but win or lose, the leaves will still change. Win or lose, it is time to get the barn ready for Winter and the lambs due to arrive in December.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

I have re-posted an older short essay on icons over at my greatly neglected other blog, The Suburban Ascetic. Some new pieces are in the works, but may have to wait until after the election, when, one way or another, I will have a little more free time.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Isabel passed through our hillside farm last night. The overall damage is not as bad as the last big snowstorm, but we are still pretty impressed. In the field next to the house, the wind picked up a three-sided shed big enough to hold a dozen ewes and turned it over on its roof. The sheep who were in it are fine, apparently all having escaped safely before the big flip. A few looked a bit bewildered though by the unexpected change in their accommodations. They were standing in the inverted shed, hooves on the tin roof, casting uncertain glances up at the open sky. The rest of the purebred flock weathered the storm snug in the barn, which held up much better than the shed.

We lost electricity at half past eleven, about an hour before the center of the storm came through, so I am writing this from my office in the Courthouse in town. This morning, after checking the livestock and helping the in-laws get situated on the other side of the farm, I fired up the generator and ran extension cords to the chest freezer and the refrigerator. We got the Coleman stove off the camping supply shelf and moved the gas grill back out of the basement. The water supply is whatever is in the bathtubs supplemented by three cases of bottled water for drinking and food preparation. We should be good until the lights come back on, though a hot shower would be awfully nice right about now. I will upload some pictures when home internet access is restored.

Sunday, August 31, 2003



I had not intended to go two weeks between updates, but the end of summer has come quickly. Oh, the days are still hot enough, but the signs are there. The tadpoles in the seep from the pasture spring are gone, replaced by the voices of frogs in the tall grass. Birds fly in crazy connect-the-dot clusters before dropping into the big sycamore, pausing as they congregate for the flight south. I duck under spider silk as I walk into the barn, looking for egg sacks, and any last messages written into webs. (Bambi never made me sentimental about deer, but Charlotte's Web has stayed my hand from many a spider. Foolish, I know . . .) I can't understand how I ever thought that rural life moved slowly. There are days I feel like I am in one of those time lapse nature films, and the projectionist keeps pushing the speed control. We are in that last rush of nature to get business done before winter, and every day looks different in some great or subtle way. Each day, this small piece of ground I pretend to know shows me new possibilities, many good, some bad, almost all unexpected. It brings to mind the truth of what poet-farmer Wendell Berry says in "Travelling at Home":

Even in a country you know by heart
it's hard to go the same way twice.

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Sunday afternoon, the air so humid that birds seem to swim. Clouds threatening, no rain yet. . .

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Mist, 8-12-03



And the Mountain vanishes! For our next trick . . .

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, better known to readers of his books on prayer as Anthony Bloom, died on August 4th. His little book, Beginning to Pray, has been my constant companion for the last quarter century. I will reread parts of it tonight in honor of this good and wise man. Memory Eternal.

Friday, August 01, 2003



This Sunday marks the start of the Warren County Fair. The boys are washing sheep, getting them cleaned up for the 4-H show ring. I will have a booth in the "Wonder Building" kicking off my campaign for Commonwealth's Attorney. (That's chief local prosecutor, or "D.A." for you non-Virginians.) Stop by the show barn and greet the kids, then walk across the way and pick up a bumpersticker, get your hand shook and your baby kissed.
Hot August afternoon, thunderheads building, sunset coming

Monday, July 28, 2003

After a cold spring and colder winter, it comes as a shock to find ourselves (at last) in deep southern summer. Hot, and so humid the least effort leaves you dripping. As I was pounding in metal fence post stakes this weekend, rebuilding the fence between the barn and the little spring that feeds our brook, my thoughts turned to rest, shade and running water:

From time to time I use my friend Jonathan Chaves' wonderful translations of Chinese poetry on this site. Jonathan claims to be the world's only Jewish, Eastern Orthodox scholar of Classical Chinese literature. Like the Confucian poets he translates, he is also something of a philosopher. He has written a substantial exploration of epistemology titled Kicking the Stone and Viewing the Icon: Realist Epistemology Between Heaven and Earth, which is now online. Beginning with a quote from Chesterton, it spins through Aquinas, Dr. Johnson, early nineteenth century English novels, John of Damascus, Gregory Nanzianus, Gregory Palamas, and Vogelin, stopping along the way to examine the pernicious influence of both nominalism and deconstruction. It is worth your time if you are interested in such things.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

I have been reading lately in Powers of Heaven and Earth; New and Selected Poems, by John Frederick Nims. Here is a new favorite from the epigrams interspersed between his longer works:

Avant-garde

"A dead tradition! Hollow shell!
Outworn, outmoded--time it fell.
Let's make it new. Rebel! Rebel!"
Said cancer-cell to cancer-cell.

Reading Nims, whose published work spans from the forties until 1999, when he died, I realized that he has a characteristic that I miss in most of our contemporary writers; wit. In our post-modern age we have sarcasm, satire, and irony, but, rarely, wit. Wit shares in post-modernity's delight in word-play. Where wit parts with post-modernity is that wit assumes the existence of standards, of ideals, and skewers our failure to live up to them. In our post-modern days we, by contrast, seem to have come to the conclusion that, since no one lives up to an ideal, it is hypocrisy to hold one. Cleverly pointing out the gap between the real and the ideal is pointless, if ideals themselves are fictions promoted by the dominant class structure. Holding firmly to the existence of standards, wit plays in that gap between our actions and our best intentions. Here is another example from Nims:

Contemplation

"I'm Mark's alone!" you swore. Given cause to
doubt you,
I think less of you, dear. But more about you.

Here the poet makes a double-play, skewering both the narrator and the lady in question, as both fail to live up to the ideal of fidelity. The play of wit, of course, is not the same thing as actually repenting of our sins and hypocrisies. What use is it then? Perhaps it is as close as some of us can come to humility; recognizing our own sins as we smile at our neighbor's. As Nims says in another epigram, directed to

You Pious People

Most any sin--read Scripture if you doubt it--
'S forgiven sooner than righteousness about it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

If you have visited this site within the past twelve hours and found a rather different page than the one you were expecting, no I haven't headed in a radically new direction. Blogger appeared to go insane for a while and linked my url to someone else's page. I hope everything is fixed. While the page has not undergone a full metamorphosis, I am doing a little housecleaning on the site. The links on the left are undergoing a long overdue sorting and updating. If you would like a link on the site and I haven't put you in yet, let me know. The categories are somewhat arbitrary and subject to change, so if you don't like where I've put you, shout out and I'll try to find a more congenial pigeonhole.

Saturday, July 19, 2003






Easy-flowing brook,
Hushed--till root or rock impede.
Then it learns to sing.

Ragdale Haiku, John Frederick Nims

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

The shepherdess nuns at Holy Myrhbearers Monastery have updated the page for Maude, their spokessheep. If you like the photos on this site, go take a look at the wonderful pictures of the new additions to their flock. While you are there, stop by the online store and pick up something. Like most monastics, the sisters try and support themselves with the labor of their own hands. The sisters publish a small review twice yearly, "Essays and Notes," which is always worth reading. Mother Raphaela's essays exhibit a deep spirituality combined with that rarest of virtues in the religous life, common sense. Click on the link for samples, or, better yet, buy her first collection Living in Christ and support the sisters' work.

Saturday, July 12, 2003

I have little enough time these days to update one weblog, so of course, I have now started a second. It too, I expect will see sporadic updates. Here is the intro to the new site:

Sometime back I had planned on adding a regular feature on Orthodox spirituality in our contemporary culture to my Notes From a Hillside Farm weblog. As that site has developed, it no longer seems an appropriate forum for longer pieces. So now I would like to introduce "son" of Hillside Farm; The Suburban Ascetic. This site, as the subtitle suggests, will be a place to put occasional longer pieces on Orthodox spiritual life lived, not in monasteries or some dream of Byzantium or Holy Russia, but in contemporary America. By way of a beginning, I have reposted some thoughts on the Jesus Prayer, originally written on Hillside Farm a year ago.
Visitor


Redsox, the sheep pictured above, was a bottle lamb, born half-dead and brought back to life by my wife with "mouth to snout resuscitation." She spent her first few weeks being bottle fed in a box in the basement intensive care ward. To our amazement, she survived and thrived. When she was older she used the children's small plastic playhouse as a barn, growing strong enough on a diet of front yard grass and Susan's back yard roses to rejoin the flock. She adapted to life as a regular sheep quite well, though she still comes up to see us, her first flock, when we are out by the pasture.
Summer Fields

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Morning mist and trespassing ewes


This year has been hard on the sheep flock. A harsh winter followed by the wettest spring in recent memory has stressed lambs and ewes alike. The pastures, while green enough, are getting choked with weed and thistle who have formed a kind of vegetable mob, rioting in the wet fields. The ladies pictured above picked their way across the cattle guard, filled in with gravel wash from the latest downpours, to get at the more well-mannered grass in the yard. With all the labor and losses we have gone through together this spring, I didn't have the heart to chase them out. I left them to their breakfast as I went to pour the morning coffee.

Sunday, June 15, 2003

This is the summer of rain. I heard a local forecaster announce recently that the last time we had three consecutive sunny days was in April. Our farm has become like that place for which the local weather wisdom summed up all possible conditions by saying, "If you can see the mountains, you know it's going to rain. If you can't see the mountains, it's raining." Here are two pictures of our mountains taken this weekend to illustrate the point.



Sunday, June 01, 2003

Daniel asked in a comment below, "[W]hat does the Orthodox Church teach concerning the eternality, if any, of animals?" It is something I have thought about myself. The Scriptures and the Tradition are not overflowing with information on the subject. The great vision of the New Jerusalem in Saint John's Apocalypse is strangely silent on the fate of these companions of ours for whom we struggle and pour out our care, and who, sometimes, provide our sustenance. For a vision of animals and the Kingdom, we must go back to the Prophet Isaiah:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah 11 6-9.

The vision of Isaiah encompasses a renewed Creation where other creatures, themselves renewed, have a place. It does not answer however, the question of the fate of individual animals. Do all dogs go to heaven? We do not know. What we do know is that all things are embraced by the love of God who keeps track of the fall of a single sparrow. In Orthodoxy, when we wish to know what God is like, and to understand what God is doing, we can look to the Saints, those men and women who lived in close communion with God. The goal of Orthodox spirituality is theosis, a participation in the life of the Trinity, whereby men and women become God-like, or as the Tradition sometimes puts it, "gods by grace." One ancient Saint that many modern Orthodox turn to as a kind of touchstone for the spiritual life is Isaac the Syrian. He had this to say about the nature of the person who has made the Divine compassion his own:

An elder once asked, 'What is a compassionate heart?'. He replied: 'It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons and for all that exists. At the recollection and at the sight of them such a person's eyes overflow with tears owing to the vehemence of the compassion which grips his heart; as a result of his deep mercy his heart shrinks and cannot bear to hear or look on any injury or the slightest suffering of anything in creation. 'This is why he constantly offers up prayer full of tears, even for the irrational animals and for the enemies of truth, even those who harm him, so that they may be protected and find mercy. 'He even prays for the reptiles as a result of the great compassion which is poured out beyond measure- after the likeness of God- in his heart'.
From 'DAILY READINGS WITH ST. ISAAC OF SYRIA'- 1990 Templegate Publishers, Springfield, ILL

If the compassion of the Saints is such, how can we doubt the compassion of the God whose likeness they bear? While I know of no specific revelation concerning the animals we have loved, I do know from the Orthodox Tradition, that in God's mercy, no love is ever wasted.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Our Memorial Monday Shearing Marathon went the way of "the best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men", when we discovered that the sheep, members of a species not noted for manual dexterity, had managed to unhook the chain on the barn gate. Pushing open the now unsecured gate, they headed out to pasture just in time for an early morning rainstorm to turn their dry coats into a sodden, unshearable mess. I shouldn't have been surprised. A single sheep is, by definition, an accident waiting to happen. Several sheep are a chain of accidents waiting to happen. Putting seventeen together in an enclosed area has the same effect on the laws of probability that a black hole has on the laws of physics. One can only look on with a kind of despairing awe while muttering "no, that's just not possible."

Faced with an empty barn and a field full of walking wet wool, we gave up on shearing and decided to inspect the remainder of this year's lambs. After a few sales, and some losses due to the hard winter, we still have over forty running around the place. We selected five of the larger ones to go off to the auction in Winchester this morning to help cover the winter feed bills. Selling lambs is the point of the enterprise, but it still hurts a little every time we load the truck. Last year we reduced the size of the flock by half and selection was one of the hardest things we have done on the farm. One old ewe, a favorite of my wife's, had not had a lamb in two years. Making the rational economic decision, we tagged to her to go. As we were loading the trailer, she stepped out of the flock and walked over to my wife to greet her and have her chin scratched. She is still with us. She made it through the worst of the Winter, but will probably not last until Summer. Age has caught up with her and the decline has been rapid. For the last day or so, she has been resting near the fence, in a spot shaded in the day, out of the worst of the rain. There is good grass within easy reach and the rest of the flock is in view. I checked on her this evening and she was too weak to stand. I made her as comfortable as possible as we wait.
A break in the rain and a hint of blue this evening:

Sunday, May 25, 2003

I would put up a new picture today, except that last Sunday's still serves very well. We have had more rain in the last few weeks than we did in the months of June and July last Summer. Already the light greens of Spring have given way to something darker and more lustrous. The ground squishes when you walk in low lying areas. The pasture springs that feed into Gooney Run at the foot of our hill are flowing freely. If I am quiet, I can hear the sound of rushing water all the way up at the house. The end of May is normally sheep shearing time, but that has been delayed as our flock walks in knee high wet pastures, rain soaking into their thick, sodden wool coats.

Yesterday we took advantage of a break between showers to put seventeen ewes from the flock into the barn to dry out for a Memorial Day Morning Shearing Marathon. A professional could shear our entire flock (well over a hundred, counting this year's lambs) in a day. We move a bit slower, taking a while to get up to speed each year. My wife is also very picky about her girls' appearance after their annual cut, and spends extra time on each to make sure they look sharp before they head back out to the pasture.

Some of the sheep take very well to the process, and seem relieved to have winter's wool off as summer's heat kicks in. Others want nothing to do with it and fight you every step of the way. It has to be done though, as they would be dead from heat exhaustion by August if we let them keep their coats. The yearlings are the worst. Imagine a hundred and fifty pound toddler getting his first haircut and you begin to get the idea. My back hurts just thinking about it.

Some years we actually have a volunteer or two come out for a real hands-on farming experience. There are some things that they don't have the experience to do, but extra hands are always welcome. There is an art to shearing in the traditional fashion that involves throwing, balancing and turning the sheep as much as it does actually using the clippers. We shear a few of the flock that way, but in the interest of being able to stand up and function at our day jobs, most of the flock will be cranked up on a show stand and trimmed out with a minimum of bending and turning. It is slower, but easier on the shearer. It also makes it possible for the amateur volunteer to help without immanent disaster involving escaping sheep, power cords, and sharp blades on electric shears.

We will be at it most evenings and weekends for the next couple of weeks. Come on out and lend a hand!

Sunday, May 18, 2003

Rain on a Sunday Afternoon

Thursday, May 15, 2003



These lambs were at the Warren County fairgrounds to be weighed and tagged for competition in the 4-H sheep show in August. They took the truck ride in stride, but were happy to get back to the barnyard.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Posting has been lighter than usual lately. We start jury selection on a homicide trial on Friday. There are upwards of seventy witnesses subpoenaed and trial preparation has turned into a great black hole, bending time and sucking in vast amounts of energy. We are also into the first part of the local election cycle. Almost all the elected slots in County government, including the position of my own boss, the current Commonwealth's Attorney, are up for grabs. By the end of next week we should know one way or another about both the trial and the candidate slate for the upcoming elections.

Already the muscles in my neck and back are stiffening up to the point where I feel like the Tin Man before Dorothy found the oil can. Fortunately I found my own Dorothy and Wizard rolled into one fifteen years and nine days ago when I met Susan who first shook me loose and then, miraculously, gave me a heart. When you have all that, what's a little extra stress?

There are some longer posts in the works on a variety of topics once the crunch is over. In the meantime, enjoy the pictures.
We had a break in the rain today, giving us this view an hour after sunrise this morning:

Sunday, May 11, 2003

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Saturday, May 03, 2003



April showers, continuing now into May, have made the pastures flourish with a kind of rich green the digital camera has trouble capturing. This doesn't stop our sheep flock from deciding the grass in the yard has to be better than what is on their side of the fence. Every evening when I get home, I find lambs arrayed on the front yard like living lawn ornaments. I tried to get them to stand still for a group picture, but they had grass to eat and places to go, so left me walking behind as they cruised the fence line.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

At midnight the congregation walks slowly around the darkened Church, candles in hand, singing softly. Outside the doors of the sanctuary, the Gospel is read. Father knocks loudly on the closed doors; "Lift up your gates that the King of Glory may come in!" The doors open to a flood of light, flowers, and candles, as we proclaim, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the tombs bestowing life!" We stand shoulder to shoulder as the choir and chanter sing, proclaiming the joyful paradoxes of the feast. At the end of matins, before the start of the liturgy that will take us past two in the morning, we hear the words of St. John Chrysostom, John the Golden-tongued, inviting all to join in the joy of the day:

If any man be devout and loveth God,
Let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast!
If any man be a wise servant,
Let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord.

If any have laboured long in fasting,
Let him now receive his recompense.
If any have wrought from the first hour,
Let him today receive his just reward.
If any have come at the third hour,
Let him with thankfulness keep the feast.
If any have arrived at the sixth hour,
Let him have no misgivings;
Because he shall in nowise be deprived therefore.
If any have delayed until the ninth hour,
Let him draw near, fearing nothing.
And if any have tarried even until the eleventh hour,
Let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness.

For the Lord, who is jealous of his honour,
Will accept the last even as the first.
He giveth rest unto him who cometh at the eleventh hour,
Even as unto him who hath wrought from the first hour.
And He showeth mercy upon the last,
And careth for the first;
And to the one He giveth,
And upon the other He bestoweth gifts.
And He both accepteth the deeds,
And welcometh the intention,
And honoureth the acts and praises the offering.

Wherefore, enter ye all into the joy of your Lord;
Receive your reward,
Both the first, and likewise the second.
You rich and poor together, hold high festival!
You sober and you heedless, honour the day!
Rejoice today, both you who have fasted
And you who have disregarded the fast.
The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously.
The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith:
Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness.

Let no one bewail his poverty,
For the universal Kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one weep for his iniquities,
For pardon has shown forth from the grave.
Let no one fear death,
For the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it.

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.

Monday, April 21, 2003

We Orthodox will celebrate Pascha, the great feast of the resurrection, a week later than our western brethren this year due to differences in calendar calculations. The Lenten fast continues for a few more days, but even now preparations and foreshadowings of the joy of the coming feast appear. This past Saturday was the commemoration of the raising of Lazarus, and, as if to join in the foretaste of the Resurrection, the redbuds and dogwoods burst into blossom at the foot of the mountain. Here is a photo from this Sunday of three of our guard llamas, keeping watch in the midst of it all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

I had not intended to take a twelve day break from the weblog, but time passes quickly in Spring. Every day the scene outside changes, green where there was brown, leaves where there were skeletal branches. Too fast to capture in a daily slice of words. I can understand why the haiku poets loved this season. Things will not stop in their rush to sit for a full portrait, but a quick seventeen syllable sketch is just barely possible.

Last week it rained. Not just for one day. The whole week it rained, cold and continuos showers. Down at the sheep barn there was mud above the ankles, sometimes up to the boot top, grabbing and holding on like an insistent drunk at a party -- "Have you heard the one about . . .?" The joke, it seems, was a good one, as the Lenten grey and gloom of the rain has given way to this week's riot of sunlit green.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

Morning 4-02-03



Our detour back into winter is over. Temperatures yesterday reached into the 70's, with the same expected today. The pines, green all winter, are now getting company, as gray branches start to bud and leaf on the lower hills. This morning, the sound of birds.

First it sends a gentle breeze
to announce the news;
next it orders twittering birds
to explain the reason
.

Po Chu-i (Trans. Jonathan Chaves)

Sunday, March 30, 2003

As the saying goes, what a difference a day makes. A sudden cold front, moisture in the air, and we have snow again. The first flakes fell just after sunrise, precursors of those still falling outside my window as evening approaches. It is a wet snow, falling on to ground warmed by a week's worth of spring weather. The gravel road is mostly clear, but the pastures and trees are covered, the snowflakes temporarily winning the see-saw battle between freeze and thaw by sheer force of numbers. In sheltered spots, the new grass still shows through, looking almost emerald green by contrast. On the lower hills, the dogwoods are in bloom, white flowers bending under white snow, springtime delayed until the storm passes.

Here is today's view of Buck Mountain:

Fenceline and Clouds, 3-29-03

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Sunday, March 23, 2003

I have had a request for an update on our Houdini lamb. Susan finally caught him yesterday and succeeded in getting his tail docked. She and a helper went through the flock three times before they found him. She had seen him earlier outside, but he managed to vanish for over half an hour inside the barn itself. It is just not that big of a barn, and being the only big lamb with a tail, he should have stood out, well, like the only big lamb with a tail. The third try was the charm, and she grabbed him. This time she was ready for him and he went straight into a pre-prepared "high security" pen. When I came down, he was still there, trying to wriggle through the bars. He is now back out with the rest of the flock, no doubt plotting further mischief.

I think he has been talking to Tippy the llama. Tippy is one of our four guard llamas, and is, frankly, not very good at his work. Sheep bore him. He thinks he was intended for grander things than life on the farm, and heads out to see the sights at the first opportunity. When the mood is on him, he jumps like a deer and dances across cattleguards like Baryshnikov. Not being sympathetic to his urge to travel, we have been keeping him in the one part of the pasture where the fencing is too high to jump. We were going to open that field yesterday to move some sheep around, so I tracked Tippy down and put a lead and halter on him so we could tie him up until the shifting was done. I secured his lead to one of the rails on the yard fence using my best Boy Scout clove hitch and stepped inside for a quick lunch. When I came back outside, not only was Tippy missing, so was the middle rail of the fence. I found him fifty yards away, down by the barn, the fence rail still tied to the end of his lead. I think he may have gotten farther still, all eight feet of rail in tow, if he hadn't gotten his foot tangled in the lead. My older son and I got him loose and put him back in his pasture, not, I'm afraid, any wiser for the experience. If anyone wants a halter-broke but free-spirited llama, give me a call. I've got one for sale.


You can tell
from the outline of the hills,
the way it's hazed over --
from this morning on
we'll have springtime dawns

Saigyo

(trans. Burton Watson)

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Looking towards the Sheep barn, 3-22-03



March 20th marked the beginning of Spring here in the Northern hemisphere, day and night balanced almost exactly for the first time since autumn. The snows earlier in the month left an abundance of water for the pastures, which, together with the lengthening days, has given us green grass again. We let the rams out of their winter lot onto pasture today, and they jumped and ran like lambs.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Last Saturday we rounded up this year's lambs to date for vaccinations and tail docking. We thought we had them all until Sunday evening when I discovered a stray lamb over the fence on a neighbor's property. My younger son caught him in a thorn bush, and I returned him, slung across my shoulders, to the rest of the flock. This Saturday we put up some temporary fencing to block the more obvious escape routes. When we went to catch the stray for the treatment he missed last week, he was nowhere to be found. Being the only lamb still having a tail, he shouldn't have been hard to pick out from the crowd, so we gave him up for lost. This morning, Susan found him in the crew that came in for feeding. Relieved, if a little baffled, she put him in a pen for safe-keeping. When I walked over to look at him, he was gone again. This afternoon, we looked out and discovered the gate out of the fenced off part of the pasture by the barn was open, and ewes and lambs had scattered over the larger field outside. It is a pleasant day, so we will let them stay until the evening feeding. I can't help wondering though, if the Houdini lamb is behind it all.
Here is the view from home, Sunday, March 16, 2003:

The first hints of spring arrived this weekend. We walked outside Saturday morning like prisoners out of jail, feeling unacustomed warmth on our faces, worried that it may all be a fraud, and winter is waiting for us to let our guard down and break our hearts.
Irina Ratushinskaya was, for a brief time, fashionable in the west; a bold young woman, sentenced in 1984 at age 28 to seven years hard labor by the Soviet state for the crime of writing poetry ("anti-Soviet agitation"). Her case drew the attention of Amnesty International, International P.E.N., and other institutions of the educated and well-meaning. She spent four years in a "strict regime" forced labor camp until international pressure, together with the early beginnings of Glasnost, resulted in her release and forced exile to the west. Her citizenship finally restored by Yeltsin in 1998, she now lives in Russia with her family.

Several volumes of her poems were published in English translation, but, with nothing being so unfashionable as last year's cause, most are now out of print. There are also two volumes of memoirs, Grey is the Color of Hope, and In the Beginning, as well as a novel for the interested reader to explore. Cornerstone Press, a small Christian publisher, has put out a new volume of her poetry. You can read selections at their web-site by following the link. More excerpts can be found, along with a short article, at the Books and Culture magazine website.

Ratushinskaya is a believer. Some of her poems are explicit about her faith. In others, it is a quiet background, the horizon behind the observations and word plays in even her more seemingly secular work. Here are two shorter poems. The first, uncharacteristically direct, was written the day after her release. The "Small Zone" of the second poem is Zone 4 of corrective labor colony number 3, where Ratushinskaya was imprisoned.

Believe me, it was often thus:
In solitary cells, on winter nights
A sudden sense of joy and warmth
And a resounding note of love.
And then, unsleeping, I would know
A-huddle by an icy wall:
Someone is thinking of me now,
Petitioning the Lord for me.
My dear ones, thank you all
Who did not falter, who believed in us!
In the most fearful prison hour
We probably would not have passed
Through everything - from end to end,
Our heads held high, unbowed -
Without your valiant hearts
To light our path.

Kiev, 10 October 1986


So tomorrow, our little ship, Small Zone,
What will come true for us?
According to what law --
Like an eggshell over dead waves?
Covered in patches and scars,
On the word - the honest word - alone -
By whose hand is our ship preserved,
Our little home?
Those of us who sail to the end, row, live to the end --
Let them tell for the others:
We knew
The touch of this hand.

Small Zone, 18 September 1983

If you can find her poems, whether in a library, used book store, or in one of the volumes still in print, I recommend her as a companion through Lent. Here are a few more lines from the Cornerstone Press collection, Wind of the Journey, as food for the journey:

In our hearts we're not waiting
For April but growing toward it.
Oh, 'tis joyful and hard
Like all journeys we make for Your glory.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Over the next few days, I will post my own idiosyncratic suggestions for Lenten reading. To start with, I like to draw your attention to three writers whose work came out of the experience of the long Lent of the Russian Church in the twentieth century. While we all know intellectually that the Church was persecuted under the Communist regime, it is hard to grasp what this really meant. Bishops died in the hundreds; priests in the thousands, executed or condemned to a lingering death in the camps. Ordinary believers had their churches closed, and faced loss of jobs, housing, even their lives for a simple profession of faith. Some survived by compromise with the State, some suffered in silence, some kept the faith in heroic fashion. After the worst of the persecution, the Church was allowed a kind of shadow existence, like a child chained in a closet. The threat of imprisonment was always there for those who grew too vocal. I venerate those who spoke out and suffered. I do not judge those who compromised or remained silent, having only the slightest idea what they faced. The Soviet system of prisons and forced labor camps, most familiar to Westerners from Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, swallowed generations of believers. The first two writers, Sergei Fudel, and Irina Ratushinskaya, are both survivors of the camps. Fudel (1901-1977) lived through the beginning of the darkness. Ratushinskaya, from a younger generation, lived through to the end of it, surviving prison and exile to return to Russia in the 90's, where she lives today.

There is only one work by Sergei Fudel available in English, a sampling of meditations, anecdotes, memoirs and short essays collected under the title Light in the Darkness. I first read the book in a sitting. I re-read it a little at a time now, skimming to find a story or a word that catches me, and then ponder it, seeing what I missed at first reading. Here are two passages selected almost at random, both in their own way appropriate for the Lenten season:

Everything in Christianity is determined and checked out by love. We should know some of the definitions of fasting given by saints:
Saint Isaac of Syria says: "Your spirit will not submit to the cross unless your body submits too" (This means effort, fasting).
Saint Paul writes: "You were called to freedom, bretheren, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for flesh" (Ga 5:13)
An elder said to his disciple whose fasting lacked love: "Eat everything, but do not eat people."



I do not understand the suffering of the world. I only understand that the Creator of the world became part of the world's suffering and let His beloved Son share in it. Christianity speaks to us of God who suffers, suffers not because of His guilt, but because of his compassion, because of love. If this is so, then suffering is not to be feared, because it cannot be separated from love, or from God. "God suffers in His flesh . . ." That is why we dare to say "Of Thy sufferings make a participant" (Stikhera on "Lord, I call upon Thee," Tuesday, 2nd week of Great Lent).

To come; excerpts from Irina Ratushinskaya and an introduction to Mother Maria Skobstova.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Here is the view from the barnyard Saturday morning as the thaw began; snow disappearing on the southern and eastern slopes, hanging on to the hills looking north:

This past weekend saw a rise in temperatures into the fifties. The snow piled in the barnyard Saturday morning vanished by Sunday afternoon, seeping into the once frozen soil and leaving a kind of brown soup in its place. There is still snow visible on a few north facing slopes and on the mountain sides, but it is increasingly becoming a memory instead of a present obstacle. Looking around the barnyard, it comes as a surprise to see the odd pocket of white hidden here and there by an overhang or bit of shade. I thought of quoting Robert Frost's "A Hillside Thaw" in honor of the occasion. Instead, the following Frost poem seemed more appropriate:

A Patch of Old Snow

There's a patch of old snow in a corner
That I should have guessed
Was a blow-away paper the rain
Had brought to rest.

It is speckled with grime as if
Small print overspread it,
The news of a day I've forgotten--
If I ever read it
It is rightly said that Orthodoxy is a Church that celebrates the resurrection like no other. What is often overlooked is that the great outpouring of joy in the Paschal services is built upon weeks of struggle and preparation during the Great Fast of Lent. It is a season set aside for repentance, for facing down all that hinders us as we journey to meet the Risen Lord. Accordingly, the services for Lent contain some of the richest treasures of Orthodox theology and spirituality. The webmaster at Monachos.net has put together a page of Resources for Great Lent which is an excellent place to start. He provides a calendar, selected texts and links to useful commentary on the major commemorations throughout the season. There are several places on-line with selections from the rich liturgical material in the Lenten Triodian (the service book that carries us through to Pascha.) The nuns at Holy Myrrhbearers Monastery post a daily selection from the Lenten Triodian at their website. Archmandrite Ephraim of the Monastery of Saint Andrew in England has translated some of the services and provided them on his website here. As always, David Melling's Arimathea website provides thoughtful material and links for the season.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Today is Forgiveness Sunday, the last day of preparation for Orthodox Lent. In the words of the Vespers service for this evening:

Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

It is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent on the Western church calendar. We Orthodox enter the season a little more gradually. The liturgical book for the Lenten season, the Triodion, begins two Sundays before the start of the Great Fast with a commemoration of the Gospel story of the Publican and the Pharisee. The following Sunday is devoted to the parable of the Prodigal Son. We begin preparing for the full fast with Meatfare Sunday (March 2nd this year), which is devoted to the theme of the Last Judgement. It is called "Meatfare Sunday" because observant Orthodox will give up all meat products until the celebration of Pascha (Easter) some eight weeks from now. This coming Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday, the final preparation before the start of Lent. It also called Cheesefare Sunday, because we now add dairy products to the list of foods set aside until Easter.

This may seem excessive to folks used to giving up chocolate for Lent or going meatless on Fridays, but it used to be a universal custom in the Church, both East and West. To this day you can find "Shrove Tuesday" pancake suppers in Catholic and Episcopal parishes. The original purpose of these was to use up the last of your butter, eggs and milk before the start of the fast. There is of course more to the purpose of the Great Fast than simply doing without. Fortunately there are a number of resources on-line to help explore the deeper meaning of the Lenten observance. In the coming weeks I will try and list a few of them here, as well as suggesting some other materials to aid in the journey.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Behind in the news as usual, I was saddened to hear of the recent death of Fred Rogers. In a time when most children's programs are like fingernails scraping down the blackboard of one's soul, his gentle approach seems better than ever in retrospect. An ordained Presbyterian minister, Mr. Rogers is now beyond questions of ratings or cultural decline. We can pray that he is in that Presence where there is no shadow of turning and it is, always, a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Sunday, March 02, 2003



Susan arrived home Saturday from ten days visiting my parents in Florida. I think she is still numb from climate shock. Going from semi-tropical sun to slush over the top of your boots in a matter of hours is a rude assault on the system. While I am glad she had a break from the weather here, and glad she could spend time with my folks, I missed her more than I can say. The evening before she left, we walked back from the barn, both tired from the day's chores. We worked our way down to the driveway in the double path made in the snow by a neighbor's tractor tires, I in the right groove, she in the left, stepping gingerly, our fingers linked for balance; each supporting the other as we went hand in hand up to the house. When we went down to the barn together this morning, I walked a little lighter, and stood a little straighter, still tired from the week's labor, but back in balance again.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

We Virginians usually have mild Winters, Winters that would be mistaken for late Fall or early Spring anyplace north of Philadelphia. Even here in the mountains, deep snow is a rarity. If Winter is a country, we speed through on a tourist visa. This month I feel like I have, unasked, been given a green card and am now a resident alien in the Republic of Frozen Water. I find my vocabulary strangely inadequate, and wish, like in those mythical Eskimo languages, that there were sufficient words for the infinite varieties of snow. There is the powdery snow you can sweep off the porch; wet snow that clings to clothing and bends tree branches down as if gravity itself had grown momentarily intense; snow that falls straight like little pellets of ice: snow that floats down in impossible dandelion clumps; snow which flows over the top of boots like fine, sifted flour, and then melts in icy prickles on skin; snow plowed and piled in megalithic masses; snow windblown and frozen in shapes like carvings from some lost cult of madmen; snow which ripples like waves spreading across open fields; snow brilliant under sunlight; snow fading into somber monochrome under gray skies . . . You see the difficulty. It is a beautiful country, but I don't know the language. I don't know the customs. I want to go home.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

There is an inch of new powder settling on top of the foot of snow remaining from the last storm. The old snow has melted and refrozen over the last week, until its icy crust is hard enough to walk on if you step lightly. As ungainly as I am in Carhart coveralls and insulated boots, for a moment I felt like Legolas in the Fellowship of the Ring film, walking over the drifts without leaving tracks.

This evening I had one of Susan's cousins bring in a round bale for the barnyard to tide the ewes over through this next snowstorm. Getting food and water down to the barn in all this is turning each morning and evening into a struggle with the animals, the elements and my own aching body. I really have had about enough of winter. This morning as I opened the kitchen door and listened to the quiet hiss of new snow blowing over the frozen fields, I thought, "this is the sound the last straw makes, as it floats gently down on the camel's back." But, this too will pass. In a few days comes Meatfare Sunday, and the week after that begins the Great Fast of Orthodox Lent. Perhaps all this physical struggle will even do some good for the slothful soul and spirit in the weeks ahead as we begin the journey to Pascha.
It's snowing again, and the National Weather Service is telling us to expect another six to eight inches before it is through. When did the Shenandoah Valley turn into Baja Minnesota?

Monday, February 24, 2003

The view from home between snowstorms:

It has been a rough week. Snow still piled everywhere, the driveway only partly passable, and more lambs on the way. I fed the last bale of hay in the barn to the girls on Saturday morning. The neighbor we buy it from brought fifteen bales Saturday night, but had to leave it some sixty yards from the barn. Sunday, the oldest son and I carried the bales by hand and by wheelbarrow through the snow to the corner in the barn where it is now stacked. The sheep were glad to see it, but my forty-eight year old lawyer's body is murmuring in revolt. The barn is packed to overflowing with sixty ewes and their lambs, sheltering from the weather outside. Feeding is a mob scene. My non-rural friends laughed a while back at the news service story of a woman in England killed while feeding sheep. What could be more harmless than sheep? Imagining it was like imagining a man done in by wiener dogs, or by a pack of ravaging teacup poodles. Real sheep are not small and fluffy. A good half of our ewes are purebred Hampshires, weighing about as much as your typical NFL running back. Like the running back, they are mostly muscle. The sheep, however, add two more legs and a lower center of gravity to the equation. They take eating very seriously. It is one of the things they enjoy. They are good at it. Picture yourself in the barn standing by a trough. Picture the sheep pressing in, the big Hamps up front, the smaller sheep, just the right size to take your knees out, squeezing in from behind. I hand you the feed bucket. Several thousand pounds of single-minded mutton charges forward on two hundred forty hooves. Pandemonium ensues. Afterwards you check to see if the limbs you went in with are still attached to the rest of your body. Sheep; cute? Cuddly? Not quite. There are moments though where you forget the hassles. Here is one such; a mother and daughter caught in a quiet moment at the barn.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Drifts are now waist high in spots. The neighbor hired to clear the driveway this afternoon reports two feet of snow on Browntown Road, and his tractor wallowing, even with chains. Susan has a flight out of Dulles Airport tonight. We are crossing our fingers hoping for a cancellation, dreading the seventy mile drive. If Browntown Road isn't plowed, the problem will be solved for us. It is a day best spent inside anyhow, warming up after chores are done. Here is a voice from twelfth century Japan, speaking from the depths of Winter:

Winter Deepens in a Mountain Home

At the first snowfall, yes,

some visitors pushed their way through,

but now all trails

are cut off

to this village deep in the mountains


Saigyo, trans. Burton Watson
Buck Mountain visible, the bottom fence rail vanished; still snowing . . .

Sunday, February 16, 2003



Unwarmed by any sunset light
The gray day darkened into night,
A night made hoary with the swarm
And whirl-dance of the blinding storm,
As zigzag, wavering to and fro,
Crossed and recrossed the wing√ęd snow:
And ere the early bedtime came
The white drift piled the window-frame,
And through the glass the clothes-line posts
Looked in like tall and sheeted ghosts.
The old familiar sights of ours
Took marvellous shapes; strange domes and towers
Rose up where sty or corn-crib stood,
Or garden-wall, or belt of wood;
A smooth white mound the brush-pile showed,
A fenceless drift what once was road;
The bridle-post an old man sat
With loose-flung coat and high cocked hat;
The well-curb had a Chinese roof;
And even the long sweep, high aloof,
In its slant spendor, seemed to tell
Of Pisa's leaning miracle.


from Snowbound, John Greenleaf Whittier

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Snow today, six inches and counting. We made room for the ewes, lambs and all four llamas in the barn, or at least under the eaves, sheltered from what could be two feet of snow by Monday. When I went to feed this evening, the barn was filled with small birds. Finches, chickadees, some flitting too fast to see who they were; all drawn in by dry roosts on the rafters, and the memory of summer in the hay stacked in the barn. Here are some pictures of our hillside farm on a cold, snowy day.

Fenceline in February Snow


Morning Snowfall at the Barn


Thursday, February 13, 2003



Morning Landscape with Pickup

Monday, February 10, 2003

It's official; it is now warmer in the Aleutian Islands than it is in Front Royal, Virginia. This news comes from the wonderful Stonewall Place weblog, chronicling one couple's eight month stay as caretakers in False Pass, Alaska. Go for wonderful pictures and daily news from an ever changing landscape.
While reading tonight in a volume on Chinese painting, I found the following comment by T'ang dynasty painter-critic Chu Ching-hsuan which captures perfectly my philosphy of blogging:

I only make records of the things I have seen, but when I know a thing I do not hesitate to express my stupid opinion about it.

From the preface to his biographical sketches of T'ang dynasty painters.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

I have not been blogging much lately. Too much work at the office, busy times on the farm, and a quick trip to Florida to spend time with my parents have made it hard to find enough time to sit and reflect. Or at least enough time to sit, reflect and then type. Back home now since Thursday, I am still recovering from climate shock. When I left last week for the Gulf Coast, it was in the twenties here. Changing planes in Charlotte, the temperature was in the fifties. I called Susan while driving through Sarasota with the windows rolled down. I did not have much time for playing tourist, but I did take a few moments to get to Casperson Beach, just south of Venice Florida, Susan's favorite place in the world. Here is a picture I took for her Tuesday morning. (Compare with this morning's picture and you will understand what I mean about climate shock.)


Boardwalk, Casperson Beach
Saturday Morning on Glenrose Farm 2-08-03

Monday, January 27, 2003

My father-in-law keeps a flock of peacocks on the farm. They mostly stay over near his house about forty acres south of us, roosting in the Chinese chestnuts and stealing food from the cats. At the end of the summer, the males drop the tail feathers they have spent a year growing, leaving a kind of iridescent trail as they walk around the farm. Some blow away, some we pick up and pass on as gifts to friends and visitors. A few end up in odd corners around the in-laws' house and ours, forgotten until you run across them in the dead of winter while searching for some lost item. Living with peacocks is not always easy. They will eat almost anything, and the presence of one-eyed cats at the in-laws' house gives credence to the speculation that birds are the final descendants of the more aggressive small dinosaurs. No one who has lived through their calls at evening during nesting season will forget the experience. Flannery O'Connor wrote a magazine piece about the flock at her family's place in Milledgeville Georgia titled King of the Birds, anthologized in the Collected Works from the Library of America and in Mystery and Manners, an earlier collection by Sally Fitzgerald. She writes of the peafowl's evening voice:

The peacock perhaps has violent dreams. Often he wakes and screams "Help! Help!" and then from the pond and the barn and the trees around the house a chorus of adjuration begins:
Lee-yon lee-yon,
Mee-yon mee-yon!
Eee-e-yoy eee-e-yoy,
Eee-e-yoy eee-e-yoy!

The restless sleeper may wonder if he wakes or dreams
.

I have always, less poetically, described the sound as rather like a cat being crushed under a giant rusty hinge. Nonetheless, they are glorious creatures in their season, and finding one of those forgotten feathers in the dead of winter is like finding a flash of summer sunlight, preserved and radiant. What brought on these reflections was discovering the following poem in The Poetry Anthology, 1912-2002: Ninety Years of America's Most Distinguished Verse Magazine, newly arrived at the local library. The poem is by George Scarbrough, a Tennessee poet born in 1915, and still writing today. I had not heard of him before, and the loss was mine.

HAN-SHAN FASHIONS A MYTH

The old poet loves peacock feathers
And gathers them as they fall, one
By one, from perches in the trees
Near his house.

First, he caressed
Them with a dry writing brush, oh, so
Carefully, lest he separate the delicate
Spines, knowing the colors are interlocked.

Then, he looks for a place to stand them
In his cramped little house. Proper
Location, he says, is half of any art.
Near his bed he keeps a jarful of
These planetary pertubations.

In the egg-yolk light of his lamp,
He sees universes scintillating in blue
and gold like his beloved Saturn,
And hears from close by roosts, the dry
Clattering of galaxies being re-arranged.

And then the cry of damnation comes:
He sleeps and reams of starfalls
And all the rumpus of dragons.


The link above on Scarbrough's name will take you to a small press keeping some of his work in print. They have a sampling of his poems on-line together with a short biography. The Poetry Anthology is also well worth a look; a hundred years of poems, all workmanlike in their various fashions, some simply splendid. In addition to the names you find in any anthololgy, there are some wonderful discoveries waiting for the dedicated reader.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

...Wind chill advisory tonight...
Overnight low temperatures will fall to between 5 and 10 degrees
above Zero in the Shenandoah valley overnight. While winds this
evening will be light...By morning...Winds are expected to Increase
to around 10 mph. This will produce wind chill values between Zero
and 10 degrees below Zero
.

The ewes with lambs are in the barn; the newest in pens, the most fragile with heat lamps hung overhead. When Susan got home from teaching this afternoon, she went over to my in-laws to pick up a lamb born out in the cold today and rescued by a neighbor bringing hay. She is warming in a box in the basement before returning to her mother in the barn. Her sibling was no so lucky, and froze in the afternoon wind before the neighbor came by. If last year went by without a real winter, this year we are making up for it. The snow of the past few weeks has been in its way a blessing. The bitter cold of this week has not. We fill every trough to the brim when we can, unscrew the hoses from the faucets, and hope they drain down the hillside before the remaining water turns solid. We keep a hammer handy in the barn to smash the ice on the water troughs so the sheep can drink. We watch the ewes carefully, and try to get them in the barn when they look like lambing. Susan keeps the intensive care box ready and waiting in the basement. We watch the news, waiting for warmer weather.

These temperatures are nothing for folks in New England, or anywhere within shouting distance of the Canadian border. For us in the Shenandoah, they are a cruel surprise. Not that we don't get one or two truly frigid evenings each winter. The shock is having one or two weeks where forty degrees seems like a tropical dream.

The melting snow brought a little green back to the pasture. The cold has turned that back to monochrome. Here is a different sort of weather report from the Japanese poet Saigyo, written a little over 800 years ago:

Fields we saw
blooming with
so many different flowers,
frost-withered now
to a single hue


(Trans. Burton Watson)

Saturday, January 18, 2003

I have had a request for more lamb pictures. That is harder than it might sound, as the little beggars are perpetual motion machines. The only time you can get one to stand still is when it is sleeping or eating. The one pictured below was still a little shaky on its legs, being only fifteen or twenty minutes old. Susan found mother and daughter in the field just before the evening feeding, the lamb still warm from birth, moisture steaming off her wool in the cold.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Two brief snowstorms have swept through since Sunday. The second is melting this afternoon after leaving two inches of dry powder. Earlier, a stiff wind was blowing loose snow over the pasture, a soft hiss in the background during the morning walk with the dog. The weather gave Susan and the kids a day off from school, and since the Courthouse is closed for Virginia's Lee-Jackson holiday, the whole family was down at the barn this morning. I took along the digital cameral and offer you three photos from this morning;

Apres Ski at the Haybale


Pushme-Pullyu


Waiting for his share