No one better than Maizey
exemplified
the hospitality
we hoped our guests experienced
at Turtle Rock Farm. She never met
a stranger she didn’t want to pet her.
She would raise that right foot
to gently get your attention,
to silently ask for your hand on her head
and then stand—interminably—to receive
your warm pats and scratches.
When her son Joe was still alive,
she would offer him the same
kindness,
licking his ears.

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We don’t know how old she was.
She was dropped at the farm
before Ann or I moved back. We think
she was somewhere between 15 and 18 years old.
She grew grayer with each year
and  a few years ago
we noticed she had become stone deaf.
Eventually, she went blind in her right eye.
Three years ago,
she didn’t hear the electric cart
she was sleeping under
begin to move
and received a deep wound
that put her in Frank’s vet clinic
for most of that very hot summer.
But she did recover. That winter
I enticed her into the house
for the first time
and that has been her home base
ever since.

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By then, she wasn’t leading our long walks
across the prairie,
but she still went along,
barking for me to wait
when I got too far ahead of her.
She still strolled around
the fields on her own
and whenever my car
went north and turned into Ann’s driveway
she would walk that half mile,
trotting, tail wagging, until she made her way.
She developed some dementia,
which made her confused about where
she was, sometimes. And one day a few months ago
her legs didn’t work anymore. I carried her
in and out of the house that day, and
the next day, she surprised us,
back to her regular self. She was a trooper.
She loved her life on the farm.
But Tuesday she took a turn,
couldn’t walk again,
and died last night.

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Maizey brought love to the world,
insistently.
Simply, she was love.
Now, that’s up to us.
Thank you, dear Maizey.

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The prairie grass is greening,
trees along the creek are leafing.
The first greens
are vibrant.
All looks well,
healthy,
on the prairie.
All that new, tender green—
there seems to be water,
somewhere..

The prairie is
like that—
an ecosystem
where plants and grasses adapt
to the cycle of floods and droughts.
During the dry decades, the native species
transfer their sugars and proteins
from their leaves to their deep roots and rhizomes
and live frugally
underground.
With a little rain now and then,
there is greening above the soil.

It’s where humans have inserted ourselves
that we feel the drought:
we plant crops,
build ponds. These are not part
of the natural prairie system,
though essential to our ways.
A glance
at the greening,
at water still shimmering
in some ponds,
and drought conditions
might not be so apparent.
But some ponds are dry,
again.
And look closely at the pond banks
where there still is some water,
and those banks have grown
extensively.
This drought is a long one.
The Big Pond our father built
after the dust bowl days
went dry in July 2011,
for five months. After a few
three-inch rains it filled again.
But we haven’t had a three-inch rain
in a couple of years. We didn’t swim
in the pond last summer,
it was so low. The banks
are rapidly growing wider, drier.
And then one day last week
Ann looked out
and saw Sadie walking
through the water
from one island to another.
She walked across the pond
without getting her back
wet.

It was balmy,
a week after the first snow
of the season. Misty, foggy
first thing in the morning,
warm enough for breakfast
on the porch.
Balmy, cloudy all day
but no rain.

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Dried prairie
grasses revealed their reds
in the moist air
as Maizey and I set out late afternoon
down the west pasture
toward the oil blossom. It hadn’t occurred
to me to go up to the oil blossom
until we were almost there. Ah,
I remembered then,
critical moments when I had been propelled
to the “oil blossom,” (grandfather’s hope)
to stand atop the prairie
above the dilemmas of the moment.
(His: farming, just about every moment.)
Maizey and I climbed over and through
a fence, crossed the dry creek bed
and up the east side of the mesa
that popped up there on the plains.

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As so often happens,
the clouds that had covered the sky
all day, now parted just above the horizon
and as we sat on the north edge,
amid large lichen-covered flat stones,
looking past evergreen trees
to a pond below that still has water!
the first sunlight of the day
poured fiery light across the land,
tinging everything orange.
I didn’t spend even one moment
thinking about a pending decision.
There was too much to see—
notice,
savor—
to think.

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And that’s the magic
of the oil blossom; why
I go there
even when I don’t know I’m headed
there.
There, everything in my head
gets a break,
rests,
and clears.

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Maizey and I headed down the hill,
across the creek,
the fence,
through the scrumptious prairie grass
on our way home
below a sky exploding in outrageous color—
again; as
light on the prairie
dimmed
and this little part of Earth
stilled.

 

There is a difference
between visiting a city park
and the thrill of spotting rosy House Finches
flitting in the trees,
and returning to your sit spot—
the place in nature you know best,
that is all soft and familiar
because you are there daily.
This morning I return from the city,
from walks in the neighborhood,
from soulful conversations with dear friends,
sweet and surprising encounters with strangers…
return to the farm,
the front porch in the quiet
country…
to a Cardinal couple,
the Bluejay couple,
the sparrows—
all of us beneath the Hackberry umbrella
of chattering Red-Winged Blackbirds.
Back from travels,
I have hung laundry on the line…
spring-colored linens
and white cotton eyelet wave softly
in the northern breeze.

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Chickens and Guineas
scratch in the flower beds.
A wind chime sings.
Old Maizey sighs, sleeps
curled in the chair next to mine.
Bumblebees crawl
into sunlit purple blossoms.
A White-Crowned Sparrow perches
on the bird bath for a sip.
My soul settles,
sighs,
sips too.

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Since I attended
a mindfulness retreat
with Thich Nhat Hanh
in Colorado the summer of 2012,
I’ve been using an etool
to help me with this ancient
spiritual practice.
I downloaded (for free)
a Mindfulness Bell app
on my smart phone.
I can set it to ring its beautiful tone
as often as I’d like.
I committed to take three deep,
conscious breaths
and think about nothing
when I hear it,
to re-center myself
in that place deep within
where my truest Self,
my soul
lives,
and where I connect
with the Force of Life and Goodness
that also dwells there.
Honestly, sometimes
I do this
and sometimes I don’t.
Sometimes
I’m grateful for the pause
that connects
and sometimes
it’s an irritant because I’m
right in the middle
of a thought or sentence,
written or spoken.
If I’m with people
who know me well,
when it rings
they hear it too,
know what it is
and we pause together—
silently, knowingly—
smiling,
connected.
(Many of them have downloaded the mindfulness bell
to their cell phones.)
Sometimes we laugh aloud
because the bells’ timing seems
to punctuate the moment
most appropriately,
as if our electronic machines were involved in the conversation,
which, of course, they aren’t; still,
the timing brings welcome chuckles.

I notice this morning,
after about 18 months
of this practice,
an insight:
It seems I have evolved,
a little more.
Maizey, the aged dog
who, this colder winter,
has become a farm house dog,
in addition to being a farm dog,
often rises from her pillow
and comes to where I am
and stands beside me, silently,
asking to be petted.
Or, if she can reach the laptop
where I’m writing,
she hangs her soft jowel
over the keyboard.
Most astonishingly,
I am happy to stop
whatever it is
I’m reading or writing—
no matter how absorbed I am—
and rub her jaw, her head, her neck,
mindfully.

Touching a warm, soft dog face,
looking into her moist, brown eyes,
always
creates a connection—
of tenderness,
love;
inside
and out,
one craving soul
to another.

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Perhaps it’s a sign of the mad intensity—
and yet, the creative possibilities—
of our time
that it took a mindfulness bell app
to train me.
And perhaps it’s a sign
of the Force of Life and Goodness
forever operating in the universe,
that a very patient, deaf, old dog
shows me
who I am
when
I am
in this moment.

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Maizey hasn’t ever been inside this house.
Dropped off here at the farm long ago,
she has always been a farm dog,
making her rounds,
keeping a keen nose to the slightest
change in the air
and barking at whatever she felt needed
fending off.
In winter, she and her son Joe,
kept each other company,
curling up in the hay in the barn.
But Joe died in the fall
and Maizey, a good 15 years old,
shivers now
alone.
It has taken gentle pushing
to get her to cross over the doorstep
and come inside.
Temperature tonight is predicted to be 3 degrees F,
with a windchill of -9. It is imperative
that Maizey come in.
Her first evening indoors,
night before last,
there was much pacing,
tentative sniffing
and more gentle pushing
to get her to step across the threshold
to go out
and come back in again.
She now goes in and out without hesitation—
well, when she sniffed the snow out the backdoor
early this morning,
she turned around and came back in. Later,
she stepped out onto the porch—
and came back after one trot round
around the yard.
She likes sleeping on the rug in the bedroom,
the mat in front of the wood-burning stove.
I like her inside
wherever she wants to be.
The warmth is critical for her,
as is the warmth of her company
for me.

 

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This morning,
set the tone:
a freeze
that warmed quickly
and turned everything
from white
to gold.
And now it seems the tone
for this whole day
is muted, soft yellow.
It’s in the rose blossoms,
undamaged by morning’s bite—
still, the prettiest of the year.
It’s in the Hackberry leaves—
yet to let go from dark branches—
stirring in the breeze,
and blanketing the ground below,
where they’re on their way
to feeding the soil.
It’s in the now-and-then gentle tones
ringing in the big windchime
hanging from the thickest Hackberry arm.
It’s in the light—
yellow barely, dimmer sunny than bright.
It’s in the bowls of water
under the tree,
quivering in the air,
mirroring patches of blue sky
and the yellowing leaves above.
I hear the descending high cry
of a Red-Tailed Hawk,
then see its shadow
and finally watch it float,
wings golden in the sun.
Guineas squawk out at the barn,
having made their mid-day rounds.
The chicken flock
is making its rounds,
pecking in grass,
scratching in the fallen yellow leaves,
stopping for water in the bowls.
I just poured wet yellow leaves
from each bowl
and refilled with fresh water.
It’s a small thing,
a routine thing.
But, somehow,
on this mellow day
filling bowls with fresh water
so dogs, birds, guineas, chickens,
maybe a turtle,
can drink
seemed a soft task,
a welcome task,
a gift returned.