Poetry Friday: Snow by Kenneth Rexroth

Buffy Silverman hosts today’s Poetry Friday Roundup at Buffy’s Blog .


The very first time I saw snow fall was on holiday as a child of eight.  We had travelled by train to Kashmir, at the northernmost point of India, for our winter holidays.  I remember being woken up early one morning as our train approached the station.  Peering out of the window, I could see a sight I have now become both used to and exceedingly fond of – snow reflecting dawn’s light.   All my memories of that holiday have to do with snow and what it looked like as it fell, and as it transformed all that it fell upon.

These days, I live in a snowy landscape for four months of the year.  Although it presents all sorts of challenges and problems in this new, shepherd phase of my life, I am still enthralled with snow.  Since the farm sits on a hill, I can see snowfall approaching from a distance, and that has to be my favorite winter experience of all.  Sometimes, snowfall marches up the valley to us, sometimes it swoops down the back pasture, and sometimes it meanders over to us from the Green Mountains.  Always, I am mesmerized.

Snow by Kenneth Rexroth

Low clouds hang on the mountain.
The forest is filled with fog.
A short distance away the
Giant trees recede and grow
Dim. Two hundred paces and
They are invisible. All
Day the fog curdles and drifts.
The cries of the birds are loud.
They sound frightened and cold. Hour
By hour it grows colder.
Just before sunset the clouds
Drop down the mountainside. Long
Shreds and tatters of fog flow
Swiftly away between the
Trees. Now the valley below
Is filled with clouds like clotted
Cream and over them the sun
Sets, yellow in a sky full
Of purple feathers. After dark
A wind rises and breaks branches
From the trees and howls in the
Treetops and then suddenly
Is still. Late at night I wake
And look out of the tent. The
Clouds are rushing across the
Sky and through them is tumbling
The thin waning moon. Later
All is quiet except for
A faint whispering. I look
Out. Great flakes of wet snow are
Falling. Snowflakes are falling
Into the dark flames of the
Dying fire. In the morning the
Pine boughs are sagging with snow,
And the dogwood blossoms are
Frozen, and the tender young
Purple and citron oak leaves.


We’ve (i.e.Bowie and I) have been working with my friend Sarah Todd recently, so that she (i.e.Bowie) can come when called, and walk on a leash without chewing it to shreds.  Bowie is nine months old at this point, these should be as easy as breathing for her, but my long trip to London in the Fall put a halt to much of our momentum.  Sarah’s expert help is critical to Bowie’s safety and my sanity.

At any rate, one of the issues I’ve struggled with is what kind of dog is Bowie? Is she a livestock guardian meant to be with the sheep and at their side 24/7?  Is she a farm dog meant to live barnside and keep watch as well as be a companion to farmer me?  Or is she a pet meant to live as our Sophie does – inside the house at night and free to go in and out?

The last option is not an option at all, really.  At 110 pounds, and with a polar bear’s thick coat, she loves being out doors even when the weather is as it is today: 0 degrees at nine in the morning.  She would be miserable spending her day by the woodstove, as Sophie does.

So, it’s the first two options that I’m juggling at the moment, with Sarah’s wise and kind advice.  Bowie clearly loves being with the sheep.  On good days, she helps me get them in and out of the barn, and she is happy sitting with them while keeping an eye out for possible interlopers.  Other days, she has a teenager’s wild glint in her eye (she’s actually middle school aged in human years, an age group I am all too familiar with, having taught middle school for over two decades), and cannot be left alone with the sheep.  She loves people, and her strongest bonds are clearly with the Smith family – she’d rather be with us than the flock, any day.  Thus, the conundrum: what kind of dog is Bowie?

The most important thing, no matter what Bowie turns out to be, is that she is a well behaved dog.  So, multiple times a day, I trudge out to wherever in the farm she happens to be, and we do the homework Sarah has assigned.  Another farm chore to master.


Where, oh where, is Hattie????


There was  quite a bit of coop drama yesterday.  Roscoe found his way into the barn and was happily tucked into the hay rack before I discovered him.  Of course, I was accompanied by my trio of barn helpers – Bowie, Sophie, and Lewis – so this discovery came with a considerable amount of barking and meowing, which scared Roscoe into the high rafters.  It took a hour of cajoling to get him safely into a dog crate and then back into the coop.  Roscoe was uncharacteristically silent for the rest of the day.

Somehow, in my effort to make sure he was indeed okay, I forgot to count the chickens before I shut the coop up for the night.  Hattie, one of my lovely Wyandottes, must have been out and about, for she was left out for the night.  I’ve been looking everywhere for her since the sun rose this morning, and I opened the coop door for the morning’s ration of  chicken scratch and mealworms.

It could be my imagination, but the remaining flock have an accusing glint in their eyes when they look my way.  Meanwhile, I continue to search … 😦




Poetry Friday: Nights Our House Comes to Life by Matthew Brennan

Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup today.


Next year, our farm house will turn 160 years old.  Much has been added on and reshaped through the years; each time we begin a new construction project we learn more about what it looked  like when it was first built.  The main parlor room and the staircase in the center of the house seem to be the only truly original vestiges left of the house when it was first built, not counting the doors, doorjambs, and the front windows made of old glass.

Even so, the house feels like an old soul…especially at night.  I love imagining the life lived here before we Smiths took over stewardship.  Who else sat on the porch, after the day’s work, to see the sun set over the valley?  Who else climbed the steep stairwell, longing for the comfort of warm blankets on a frigid winter night?  How many took their first and last breaths within these walls?  Night time seems to ask these questions.  I found the poem below some time ago, and remembered it last night, when the floors creaked and I thought I also heard them sigh.

Nights Our House Comes to Life by Matthew Brennan


Some nights in midwinter when the creek clogs
With ice and the spines of fir trees stiffen
Under a blank, frozen sky,
On these nights our house comes to life.
It happens when you’re half asleep:
A sudden crack, a fractured dream, you bolting
Upright—but all you can hear is the clock
Your great-grandfather found in 1860
And smuggled here from Dublin for his future bride,
A being as unknown to him then as she is now
To you, a being as distant as the strangers
Who built this house, and died in this room
Some cold, still night, like tonight,
When all that was heard were the rhythmic clicks
Of a pendulum, and something, barely audible,
Moving on the dark landing of the attic stairs.



Finally, it stops raining…

We’ve had two days of non-stop, heavy rain.  It was a muddy slog to get to the barn, around the barn, and through the pasture to the pole barn.  The sheep were so done with it all that they could not be coerced out of the warm coziness of their stall yesterday morning, not even for the temptation of grain.  It took Bowie’s madcap barking antics to scare them out snd up the hill, finally.  But they let me know that they were not happy, not one bit.

It was cold this morning, and every last little patch of snow had been melted away.  The flock were thrilled.  After their breakfast of hay, they happily trotted to the very top of the hill, and took up their morning positions, surveying the view of the valley and their pasture.  This afternoon, they made their way to a rocky knoll at one corner of the upper pasture, their afternoon positions.   They sit on the rocks warmed by the morning sun, and do what sheep  do – ruminate.

We had sunshine all day, and even Lewis left his mousing duties in the barn to bask in it.  All is well when there is sunshine, we really do need it in winter.

Finding Fred

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Podcasts have become somewhat of an addiction for me.  I love the changing formats, the imaginative production tweaks, and, above all, the vast scope of  topics that range from the silly to the wise.  Podcasts make barn chores go by so much more quickly.

Discovering a new series to listen to has become a daily quest; but it was an especially lucky day when I chanced upon Finding Fred.  Mr. Rogers was a boon to me as a parent.  His quiet ways and thoughtful approach to children and childhood were such a wonderful antidote to what passes for children’s television.  My children loved him, and so did I.

It’s been so interesting to listen to this podcast, to unpack the many layers of the man, his philosophy, and the way that philosophy permeated his work.  Even today, just hearing the opening bars of the show’s theme song is enough to make me feel calmer instantly.

The last episode invited listeners to call in and share “how someone in your life had showed you what it means to be a helper”.   Being phone phobic, I knew I would not be calling in.  But I instantly knew who that helper had been: Dr. B.

He was my step mother’s colleague, a professor at the same upstate New York university.  He had a lovely family, a wife as kind and funny as he was, and two adorable children.  We, my stepmother, step sister, and step brother, were invited over to their home from time to time.  Once, we spent a weekend at their camp on Lake George.  The normality of their home, their interactions with each other, the way they approached life with confidence and hope, were what I was drawn to the most.

I needed to see all of that because my own home life was neither normal nor hopeful.  My stepmother was a conglomeration of all the wicked stepmothers in every fairy tale I’d read about before she entered my life.  It would be another two years before my father joined us in America, and this gave my stepmother the freedom to intensify her abuse.  Freedom made her bolder, and she grew careless – there were often visible signs of abuse.

Apparently, no one noticed, because no one, not a teacher, counselor, peer, or neighbor said a word about what they saw.  No one, that is, except Dr. B.  He came to collect me from school one day, and drove me to his house.  On the way, he explained that he had seen enough to know that I was danger, and that he and his wife had agreed to take me in and keep me safe.  Doing so put him in a most awkward situation at the university, my stepmother was a full professor and he did not, as yet, have tenure.  She had both greater power and a vindictive nature.  Clearly, helping me was not a good career move.

Nevertheless, Dr. B. showed up to be my helper.   And, in doing so, he showed me how to help myself.

We lost touch in the many years that followed.    I called just once, after the birth of my first child.  It’s hard to say thank you when the thanks owed is for something so immense, but I remember trying.  He listened for a bit, and then cut me off.  The only way for me to show my gratitude, he said, was to be there for some one else when the opportunity presented itself to me.   Soon after, I heard that he had passed away from cancer.

Listening to Finding Fred reminded me of what I’d learned from Mr. Rogers.  I drew from those lessons in parenting and in teaching .  And, every day of my teaching life, I remembered Dr. B., and tried to live up to his example of what it is to be a helper.

“When I was a boy I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of disaster I remember my  mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helper-so many caring people in this world.”

Fred Rogers



Bird in flight…


It’s boring to talk about December cold in the North Country, but this morning was pretty memorably cold:  2 degrees when I first woke up to feed Cat and have my morning coffee, 4 degrees when I trudged out to the barn to let Bowie out and begin morning chores.

I had the wrong socks on, and my work gloves were still damp from the previous evening’s  chores.  It was a slog to get hay and water out to the pole barn, and I was not as patient as I could have been in getting the sheep out of the barn.

Hurry, hurry, hurry, I seemed to be saying to all my barn animals, so that I can get back to the warm house for a second cup of steaming hot coffee.  Once back inside the farmhouse, coffee in hand, I was ashamed of myself.   I could see Bowie by the barn gate, looking puzzled and disappointed that her morning play time with me had been dispensed with altogether.  Even the sheep, lined up at the entrance to the pole barn, seemed to be gazing down in disapproval.

I stepped out onto the front porch to catch a glimpse of the valley and the way the morning sun transforms every tree and bush into shimmering glasswork, and  took a picture of the cotoneaster at the corner of the yard.  Inside, wanting to see if my photograph had captured the beauty of the scene, I saw that I had also caught a bluejay  in  flight.

Sometimes we try so hard to see what we want to see, that miss what is also there…