A leap of faith

She squints in the sunlight, shades her eyes, stands on tiptoe in the rambling front yard of the old Iowa farmhouse. Even when she looks along the fence line as far south as she can, to the place where the gravel road bends west, she can’t see them, but she knows they’re there – hay bales almost twice her height, hay bales resting row on row in the fallow field where red-winged blackbirds build their nests. It’s a long, dusty trudge, but she’s going there today. Along the way, she reaches up to clasp her daddy’s hand, just to be certain he’s there.

She finds the hay bales even more imposing when she reaches them and stands in their towering shade. Around her, the thrum of insects; above her, limitless blue; within her, something that compels her to grasp thin twine, bury fingers in clusters of fragrant hay, hang on for dear life as small feet flail in search of a toe hold. It’s an upward battle she’s determined to win.

When at last she gains the summit, she’s rewarded with a breathtaking panorama. Verdant summer fields undulate before her and fade away into far forevers. This spot is the highest elevation in the county, and it feels like she’s standing on the shoulders of the world. The vista is indeed spectacular, but she hasn’t scrambled up here for the view. She has come for the jump.

It’s a family tradition, hay bale jumping. For years she has watched her siblings, five and eight years her senior, stretch much-longer legs to leap from bale to bale down the length of the field, a thrilling sight to behold. This year, she’s finally big enough to join them.

And this first jump will be the hardest.

Because hay bales need space to dry in sun and wind, the long rows do not touch. In between each row lies a two to three foot gap where tall grass grows. Hidden in the grass below, she knows, are sticky webs and worse, the spiders who spin them. Knowing they’re there is a powerful incentive not to fail.

If she hesitates, if she lingers too long, her fears will multiply – the gaps between the bales will widen, the shadows grow more sinister, the spiders’ ranks increase. She’s made it this far; she’s not going to back down now. She can’t look down, she mustn’t. Instead, she quiets a fluttering heart, summons her courage, holds her breath, and leaps. . .

A leap of faith

Like a young gazelle, she arcs through the air, braids flying. She’s suspended between earth and heaven, momentarily weightless. . .

And joy waits to catch her with outstretched arms.

up & down the river

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“I wish I was back there piloting up & down the river again.”

~Samuel Langhorne Clemens, (1835 – 1910), letter to Jane Clemens, October 1865

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The essence of summer: skipping stones across the Mississippi at sunset. [Silhouette of a bronze sculpture by Ted McElhiney, a local artist.]

They both move people forward

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A vintage bicycle leans against a stone wall in LeClaire, Iowa.

My two favourite things in life are
libraries and bicycles.
They both move people forward
without wasting anything.
The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.

~Peter Golkin

voices in the rain

The first half of June has been a steady progression of rainstorms lumbering up through the valley like a herd of traveling pachyderms. Day by day, nearly hour by hour, thunder’s heavy footfall rattles the windows to signal the approach of a new storm. Black clouds blot the horizon, dwarfing farm and city alike. Daylight is lost as the stampede passes overhead, trampling sky, shaking earth, pounding rooftops, flooding streets with great spouts of torrential rain, jolting sleepy creeks and rivers straight out of their beds.

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Today, rain falls with such furiousness, I can’t see across the woods. Beyond rain-pebbled glass, an English sparrow waits out the worst, while a pair of nuthatches huddle, beaks downward, on a sliver of dry bark beneath an arching canopy of rain-glossed oak leaves.

“Seven inches of rain in six days,” mutters our drenched postal carrier as he delivers the day’s dripping mail. “I could grow rice in my back yard.”

Returning to my reading chair, I’m snug and dry in a circle of yellow lamplight. I lose myself in my book of poetry, let the storm pass.

After a while, the staccato drumbeat of raindrops decreases, the sky’s low ceiling lifts, a robin begins to chirrup.

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I lay aside my book and slip out on the front porch to watch swift-passing clouds. Our Japanese maple’s slender wrists wear delicate bracelets of shimmering droplets that wink in the light of an emerging sun.

Rainwater gushes down the sloping curve of our court, racing toward the heavy iron gutter in the turnaround. In bare feet, I pick my way across spongy, saturated grass, step off the curb and into rushing water. How glorious it feels…

Time’s forward march slows just enough to let peals of childish laughter echo back to me from rainy days gone by. I see them in mind’s eye now, our darling children: big sister, little brother, littlest sister twirl bright umbrellas, hold hands, leap into puddles, splash with joyous abandon in a steady downpour, call out to one another, to me…

Treasured memories, these voices in the rain.

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Sunbeams peep through overhead boughs as parting drops splash and spread ripples across puddled water.

My neighbor, a youthful woman in her seventies, spies me from her kitchen window and comes out in bare feet to say hello.

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Following my lead, she eases her feet into the waning curbside flow. We stand together and swap stories of our latest successes and failures in the garden, talk about what’s new with our children, speculate as to when or whether the next storm will strike.

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After a while, we part ways, she to her sewing, and I to my flowerbeds. Before I return to the house and the poems that await, I lean close to revel in a few more moments of rain-rinsed loveliness. Everywhere, blossoms and leaves glisten in the light.

I breathe a sigh, close my eyes, lift the petals of my heart in gratitude for nature’s gifts, for earth and sky, for sunlight and showers, for springtime blossoms and summer’s plenitude, for the seasons of my life, for sweet, remembered voices in the rain.

a carefree circlet of midsummer joy

0083_and my heart dances with them

I’m madly in love with my nasturtiums. For me, a simple bouquet of these bright blossoms is the dawn chorus, summer’s sweet solstice, and a sunset serenade all rolled together into a single, symphonic celebration of warmth and delight. Here, dancing merrily in flowing skirts, are five lovely daughters of the sun: Amaranth, Carmine, Coquelicot, Saffron, Flame. With peals of laughter, they join hands and twirl together in a carefree circlet of midsummer joy – and my heart dances with them.