What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning…
~from Spring by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Recently, a rainstorm left behind not much destruction but rather a Winter’s last touch, as a slight chill wind, grey-cast skies and a general cold dullness move lingeringly over this St. Joseph’s feast day. But we are grateful for this ebb in what had felt an almost premature jaunt into the liveliness of Spring. Indeed, warmer temperatures and sunshine have been most welcome, but it feels a little like cheating; Lent is not yet over, and our souls benefit from the stretch of seasonal poverty and voluntary lack – prayer, penance, fasting, almsgiving – an overall sacrificial spirit that informs our days as we mortify our bodies and purify our wills, willingly so, in anticipation of the grace of life that comes in just a few weeks when we will celebrate Easter.
Still, natural life is bursting forth all around. Eastern redbud and pear tree blossoms, fig, apple, and dogwood leaf-buds, and henbit, clover, dandelion, bloodroot, wild pansies and daffodils splash with color the brown-and-grey-turning-to-green vista, wherever the eye roams. Birdsong fills the air from dawn to dusk, and we are reminded at once of the promise of verdant times ahead after the long winter, even as we remember, in bittersweet though hopeful resignation, that nothing gold can stay. Sapsuckers call out from the trunks of maples like tin whistles, fat robins share the yard and field with dark-eyed juncos, and sparrows, mockingbirds, eastern bluebirds, tits, and cardinals flit equally up and down and about, all superseded on high by the warbling martins, chirping God’s promise that we are infinitely more valued than those many beautiful little birds. Even the blackbirds’ caw and the rooster’s crow fit harmoniously in to the music that echoes, even if imperfectly, of Eden’s bounty and righteous order, and our spirits are lifted by the sound. The children delight in wild onions and old bones, the tracks of deer, crayfish, snakes, salamanders, and frogs in the water, and rabbits scampering through the underbrush. Reynard was spotted a couple of days ago down near the creek, trotting confidently southward, presumably to a hidden den – soon, we hope, to be found and routed definitely.
Danger always lurks; there will always be loss, but hope springs eternal! Let us ponder in humility, cherish in wonder, strive in perseverance and store up our treasure in Heaven while we treasure the glimpses of Heaven and little happinesses afforded here in this life. St. Patrick, hero in dark times, ora pro nobis! St. Joseph, wonder-worker, perfect husband, father, and inspiration, ora pro nobis!
Two weeks ago today a red fox got a couple of our chickens. It was a grey and misty day - outdoors it was hazy and wet, with the mist clinging to the trees and looking like a light fog through to the afternoon. We were indoors enjoying a family Saturday and at about three o'clock Pa, glancing through the front entryway windows, casually announced: "There's a chicken in our front yard." The chickens have been happily ranging free for a couple of months now from morning til they roost in the evening and get battened down for the night in their safe and sound coop, but a chicken in the front yard is quite unusual. So, Ma went out and, wide armed and making use of our clucking call for the birds, scurried Dot (the hen quite too quick to catch) back around to the back toward the pen and coop area. The rooster and a cluster of chickens were making their way to the same destination point from the opposite side of the field nearer to the barn. Once we all arrived, the pen gate was opened and all the chickens went through - Gonzo receiving a scolding for not keeping better tabs on his girls. Checking for eggs, three were found in a box, and the chickens were counted. All together, only nine. Two were missing. The rooster was scolded again, and though Ma meant to make her way back to the house, she reconsidered and decided to check the barn for eggs (one persistent and broody hen likes to lay there, despite all concerted efforts to squelch that habit!) and glance around for the missing chickens - probably, it was to be thought, in the wooded area beyond the coop or pen boundary. Not finding any eggs in the barn, a return to the house appealed, but the question begged: Where are those two chickens? Ma walked around the outer perimeter of the pen (the rooster, after all, is fickle and she didn't feel like defending herself with three eggs in hand, so she kept out of his way). Walking towards the woods, she sighted a fiery flash of an animal whisking swiftly southward away from the back end of the goat pen. A fox! It paused on a little hill to stare, and as Ma walked forward, keeping it in sight, it ran on. What a beautiful creature. It was much bigger than we'd imagined a fox to be, too. Against the grey and misty background it positively stood out, a perfectly proportioned and lovely thing: orange fur, with an intelligent and too pretty face tinged with black just exactly where all the pointed parts of a fox's visage occur, and culminating in an indescribably soft-looking puffy and graceful tail that was tipped generously with white fur. The fox paused on two rises more, and on the last stood and looked at Ma for a whole minute, then it ran off. The mind had by this time began to work again with thoughts, and it was realized, lamentably, the terrible aspect of the moment. Making her way quickly back Ma almost immediately found her own chicken, dead on the ground. It was her beautiful Sparrow - so named because she looked like a little sparrow as a chick but who had grown up with the most wonderful hues of grey, ginger-brown, and gold, with black-dark feathers around her head. She was a striking thing. All stretched out on the leaf-littered ground she looked gigantic. Glancing quickly around once more, and seeing nothing of the other missing bird, Ma picked up her pace and got back to the house to announce the bad news. In a mere few seconds Pa had his gun and everyone was outside. The family viewed Sparrow quickly and then ran off on the fox's trail. It was too late, though, and, after we buried Sparrow on the spot of her demise and covered her little grave with stones, we thanked God for the gift of the creature, for the eggs she provided, and asked Him to keep us good stewards. We never found Mrs. Cockletop, poor bird! There were only a few gentle piles of feathers here and there - no blood, no harrow. Our golden retriever is invited more frequently to bound around throughout the day, and the chickens, while spending more time in their run than before, are still thriving and laying many eggs. We are moving on and up, realizing ever more fully God's graces and the way He calls us to life even in moments of death and loss. The purple martins have just returned, also, from their sojourn south for the winter, and so our landscape is a-twitter with promises of renewal as we continue along our pilgrim way through Lent. It is not yet spring, but the hardness of winter is full of anticipation, and the sacrifices laid full in our laps clarify our intentions and purify our wills. Create in us clean hearts, O Lord, and keep us ever grateful!
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.