The Salesman

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”
― Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

I became acquainted with Robert during my search for an affordable alternative to ag lime. Soil tests the previous year revealed that most of the ground our hay fields grew on had turned sour. Their PH levels were under 7. Calcium is what you apply to the ground to correct the PH. It was the cause of our dwindling harvests. If you are a wise farmer you understand the sacredness of soil and do all you can to preserve and protect it.

Robert worked for a company that sold liquid calcium. Liquid calcium had many advantages over dry lime but I had never used it before. I had questions. Lots of them. I needed to educate myself on the product. After receiving Robert’s initial response to an email, I could tell he was a salesman through and through. The email was pages of information and customer testimonial’s singing the praises of his product. As I sifted through the information I had to wonder, was it all smoke and mirrors? Or was his perceived confidence trusted truth?

Then the phone call happened. His sentences strung together like a fine pearl necklace. I could tell the sales pitch was recited hundreds, if not thousands of times, locked in his memory from the repetition. He drew out the vowels of his words in typical southern drawl fashion. By its tone and fluctuations, I guessed he was close to retirement. Here and there his words slurred together into unintelligible sentences. Even so, it was a pleasant voice to listen to. That was fortunate because Robert did most of the talking. True to his old school sales techniques, he peppered the conversation with sweetheart bombs and young lady references. I didn’t mind. They lightened the scientific nature of the conversation and ever so gently tickled my heart. Occasionally, to make sure I was still a captive audience there would be a quick, “You follow me dear?” He had me smiling at the first sweetheart.

Questions came about long I’d been farming and the animals we kept, the joys and tribulations that come with bringing in hay. We lamented briefly about getting older. More questions came. How long had I had the horses and their names? Did I ride often? They began to reflected a genuine concern for the land and the people that tended to it. I didn’t feel any pressure. I wasn’t wasting any of Robert’s time. Whether he got the sale or not.

It was near the end of the conversation that I learned Robert was 73 years old with no plans to retire. At the conclusion of the call I was reading off my credit card number. My encounter with Robert brought to mind a quote by Theodore Roosevelt, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.

As it turned out, Robert was just the person I needed to educate me.

Songs Pray

Dew holds tight to the bushes and berries
Its grip loosened by the soft caress of dry cloth
Mornings these days are early and damp.

Flower faces reflect the sun’s smile
Standing tall above them all
a perfectly pink Phlox bloom
I pause to savor the sniff
Heaven dreams of a smell so sweet

In the patch worry rests
You can hear songs
Ancestral songs
The kind that come on their own
The kind that sing themselves
The kind that pray

Hollow bones hold the songs
I sing the praises of mobility and ruby red raspberries
Oh, the voice may crack and pop
But it carries the tune well enough

Handfuls of delight dangle from the tips of grateful fingers
I’ll harvest all I can from this juicy life
Fill my bucket and then some
Before I’m dead ripe

Summer Feelings

Summer’s breath has been hot and heavy these past few days like an agonizing slow exhale that is forecast to reach into next week. All day the heat’s stronghold builds. My bodies profuse sweating the lubricant that allows me to penetrate its walls.

As I halter up the horses, a faint breeze offers a welcome but fleeting respite from the oppression. The horses walk at a leisurely pace down the path towards the lush field of belly high grass. Not a wrinkle of worry on their brows. Every voluptuous curve on their form moves like a gentle rolling wave disappearing into the sand. Summer is a time of loose fullness. More than bodies soften.

Growing up we didn’t have air conditioning. My Mother used to tell us when the heat and humidity of the day carried into the night and kept us awake, it was because we could hear the corn growing in the fields. The grumbling over sleepless nights instantly turned into gratitude. The saying still holds true. All around in the heat of summer things are growing. Including parts of myself.

Every season offers us gifts. We need to learn from nature how to be in harmony with each season. It’s especially difficult during times of extremes when the human minds twist nature’s wisdom into whining. When Mother Nature is in control, stay in the flow. The challenge is to turn inside if something outside makes us uncomfortable. It’s how we were designed to grow—from the inside out.

Today I feel summer feelings (inhale).

Breathing it all in

Sky Kiss

Father Sky came down to kiss Mother Earth this morning
Reassured by the sacred union,
the hard worry in my heart softened.
The affection walked beside me around the field.

I let it inside.

Opened wide and deep,
my lungs embraced the cool moist air.
Momentarily I held its love,
Then gradually I released it to the life around me.
Going, going, gone.

Life is Ceremony

Isn’t life ceremony?
Breath it’s prayer,
pain and suffering the sacrifice
to grow souls;
love it’s healing,
hope it’s saving grace,
gratitude the great amplifier of joy.

Every heart a doorway
to the lodge or church or
temple that lives there.
Find your way to a seat; any seat will do.
Sit quietly and listen for a voice.
Even if nothing is heard, something is felt
that makes you better.

All around us medicine; you are medicine.
Not all medicine tastes good,
but it all does some good.

Partake in the communion with nature,
worship the ground you walk on,
have reverence for all life, everywhere.

A beautiful ceremony lives in you.
Bring it to life.
Don’t hold on to the gift.
Give it to the world.

You will make missteps along the way,
but the ceremony goes on forever.
It is still happening.

A minute ago, a glance at the woods outside my window was clear and now tiny white specks are falling from the sky like powdered sugar shook through a sieve. All I see is covered in a dusting of tiny white specks. There is a soft sweetness that comes over me when I watch snowflakes that fall in straight and true lines from above.

The snow comes after a sharp cold snap. The bitter cold reminded me to appreciate the warmth in life. In words, deeds, the saffron orange flames lapping at the wood stove glass and snowflakes floating down like powdered sugar.

Below is an excerpt from the book I wrote, Sweet Wisdoms. The piece was written during a grueling period of below zero temperatures that stretched all living creatures to the limits of their breaking point.

Keep a warm heart in a cold world and you won’t become a bitter person.

Cruel Cold

Here in Wisconsin, it’s freeze-your-nose-hairs-together and turn-your-whiskers-frosty kind of weather. As I make my morning rounds of chores, I keep pulling my hat down and my long underwear up! You can feel the landscape’s bones on these sharp cold days. I delight in the simplicity of winter~ stay warm. Bitter cruel cold, you can’t make me a bitter cruel cold person!

Apples and Onions

Rainy fall Saturdays put me in the mood to bake. It’s the rest year for our apple orchard but hidden among the Wolf River and Cortland branches I managed to find a five-gallon pail full. Enough for a batch or two of applesauce and a family favorite, Apple Cinnamon Cake. I don’t know of anyone whose dull spirit isn’t polished to a shine when the scent of apple and cinnamon greets them at the door of home. Perfect choice for the mood my relative, Weather, is in.

While the apple cake was baking, I decided to string up the onions I had laid out on the dining room table to dry for a few days now. I hang the onion string in my kitchen. Easy access and I think they are pretty.

I struggled with tying them at first. But then I began to tie them like my prayer ties. A loop knot slipped over each dried tip. Each onion is now a prayer for our family; good health and well-being, peace, joy, laughter, abundance, good relationships. I’ll probably wonder which prayer the onion I’m using is and cry while I’m wondering. The purest form of prayer is crying.

As I stood back to admire the onion prayer tie’s prettiness a teaching came. I’m going to have to use whatever onion is at the end of the string. No picking through them. Just like life you have to take it as it comes. One onion at a time. Layer by layer.

Bee Kind

Honey Haiku

Thick drop of honey—
What flower do you taste of?
All of them at once.

Like a river of sun, the honey pours from the extruder’s spigot. I’m preoccupied licking sticky places on my hands and forearms but I pause to be fully present during this glorious moment overflowing with gratitude.

From a summer of frequent rain came unrelenting blooms. From unrelenting blooms came an abundance of life’s sweetness. I taste it in friendship, in a sunrise, in a soft-spoken word of encouragement, in a door held open, in a smile… kindness sticks sweet to everything it touches. Bee kind.

* If you look closely at the featured image you will see the honey bee on the sunflower 🙂

Pie Potential

Early in its life a rabbit nibbled away the tender bark at the trunk base. Exposing a swath of naked wood, the length of a fully extended rabbit body nearly all around the tiny trunk. I did my best to care for the wound. No apples this year but she lived.

A late Spring cold snap brought snow. Delicate blooms fragrant and supple the day before were now vacant of scent. Frozen stiff. Some leaves anxious to begin again followed the sun’s subtle cue to unfold. The cold hardness of the world nipped the new growth. When touched the scarred tips disintegrated into a brown powder. The potential to taste pie crumbled like the dry brown leaf tip pressed between my fingers. I witnessed the vulnerability of opening. I witnessed how not to let the hardness of the world stop you from growing. No apples this year but she lived.

By all appearances last summer seemed to be the year we’d taste pie! July brought pests of biblical proportions, hell-bent on devouring every last tree in the orchard. The August sun melted summer’s green into the earth. Each day the mother tree struggled to continue her simple life. Beneath her laid the enormity of her sacrifice to do just that. Dozens of immature apples carpeted the ground. To sacrifice is to make sacred. I knew one day I’d harvest apples. The only question was when. The horses appreciated the taste of apple. No apples for pie this year but she lived.

Last week I made two pies with apples from the Prairie Spy tree in our orchard. As I peeled and sliced the sweetness of life in my hands, I reflected on the tree’s many teachings over the years. What I saw was pie. Potential In Everything life takes from us to give us what we need to grow.

And that first bite…heaven never tasted so good.

Patches to Ponder

I woke before the sun kissed the sky good morning. Picked the blueberry patch at first light. Deep blue bodies shrouded in a soft silvery veil covered the bushes. Raspberries ready to burst dangled on tall stems in wide rows barely hanging on. I willed them to wait until I finished the blueberry patch. Here and there an impatient branch bowed over the guide wire as if to say, “Pick me first, pick me now!” Dew drops heavy with wetness washed me with cool refreshment. Every other day for the last 8 weeks I’ve began my day in this patch to ponder thoughts. Any thought about anything that was ripe and ready to be picked.

This year’s berry harvest looks to be a bucket buster. Easy pick’n. As I gently fingered and freed the soft blue beads hiding among their Mother’s maze of twigs and leaves, gratitude ripened in me. Like the plump berries, gratitude has to be harvested, picked and plucked in an untroubled manner from our day to nourish our Spirit. It feeds our heart sweet juicy joy — a heart harvest.

My heart harvest is for…

my horses for feeding the earth what they could no longer use
a strong back bone to pile up what my horses piled up over the winter
the creepy crawlies that feasted on the compost transforming it into rich ground
all the natural elements for breaking down to build up
a strong backbone to haul the rich ground to the bushes
the magic of bees to turn blooms into berries
water living its life through all of us
hours of conversation shared between a Mother, the bushes and her almost 20 year old daughter—pure delight
the time spent with the Mother bushes to pick patches of thought to ponder
that Blueberry Cream Cheese Coffee Cake on the countertop
that taste of summer frozen in the basement freezer

Don’t let a patch of gratitude go to waste. Make your heart harvest a bucket buster.