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On Home and Friendship

O saints, if I am eligible for this prayer,

though less than worthy of this dear desire,

and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,

let my place there be lower than your own.

I know how you longed, here where you lived

as exiles, for the presence of the essential

Being and Maker and Knower of all things.

But because of my unruliness, or some erring

virtue in me never rightly schooled,

some error clear and dear, my life

has not taught me your desire for flight:

dismattered, pure, and free. I long

instead for Heaven of creatures, of seasons,

of day and night. Heaven enough for me

would be this world as I know it, but redeemed

of our abuse of it and one another. It would be

the Heaven of knowing again. There is no marrying

in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like

to know my wife again, both of us young again,

and I remembering always how I loved her

when she was old. I would like to know

my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,

to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully

than before, to study them lingeringly as one

studies old verses, committing them to heart

forever. I would like again to know my friends,

my old companions, men and women, horses

and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here

in this place that I have watched over all my life

in all its moods and seasons, never enough.

I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?

A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know

by it how far I have fallen short. I have not

paid enough attention, have not been grateful

enough. And yet this pain would be the measure

of my love. In eternity's once and now, pain would

place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.

-Wendell Berry

This spring has been one of an inner quietude and a slow warming. The oak trees are always a bit behind in leafing out, and only today, at the very end of April, are their leaves finally at full size. As the season warmed I tried to pay more attention to the things slowly budding out, and learn about tree identification. On sight I now know a hickory, silver maple, white oak, black oak, beech, poplar, and others, and I've started a notebook of tree and plant characteristics with little illustrations and notes. The reader may scroll through them below:

And this has somehow made the days more full of flavor and meaning -- taking the time to be more than just present to the natural world; but investigating and engaging with it. The act of sort of conversing with the world somehow can make one feel more at home in it, more grounded, and that somehow adds wonder and gratitude for it all. Over time the nature journal will slowly be added to the more and more I learn. I've wanted to start a nature journal for years, and now it sits in the art room next to my bird paraphernalia collection box: full of nests and random feathers I've found.

The front porch bed: where hopefully this summer it shall house many a zinnia and wildflower!

I planted zinnias and wildflower seeds out in front of the house, so hopefully by midsummer it will contain many a flower and welcome butterflies and bees with open arms!

Along with the inner quietude of this spring, I've found that I just want to be outside all the time. Just sweeping the back porch feels like an opportunity to get out and listen to the birds sing and the neighboring cows moo and horses neigh.

In the months of feeling like the world is shrinking, home feels more and more like an oasis from that shrinkage. And there is something beautiful and unique about living in the home you grew up in and also it being the same location where we were married, it feels as if all of the life-building, life-expanding things happen here. We really enjoy traveling, but home's roots have grown deeper in my heart's soil, and especially in spring, I find that all of my dreams seem to grow out of this soil or float in the nearby river behind the forest behind our house. And so this afternoon as I was reading Wendell Berry's Sabbath Poems on the front porch, the one above resonated deeply. I find that when I think of heaven, I just long for life here as I know it: only put right, and eternal, and only love and peace and joy between me and my kindred -- all of my kindred friends and family. All of them who have passed or moved or live far away; and even those I haven't met like my great grandparents, my ancestors, Matthew's ancestors, or our little Russell Jeffery who will finally have one of his mama's homecooked meals. We'll all play music and sing on the front porch and that circle will finally be unbroken.

Another beautiful thing that has happened this spring is that my neighbor Sarah (who I've known since I was 10 and she was 5), invited me to share a vegetable garden with her. The garden is on their property, just across the driveway, and I was (and am) thrilled to share it with her! She and her baby girl Josie Blye and I have made a few treks together to the Amish greenhouse up in Cadiz, Kentucky, and we have had a great time. I'm thankful that Sarah is like me and simply hoping for the best, and not too worried about if the rows are completely straight or not. Just yesterday the fence has gone up around it, and so we have hopes for banana peppers, bell peppers, jalepeno peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, squash, eggplant, okra, and onions to be on our tables come summertime.

One thing about the garden that has been doubly sweet is that it feels like a garden of friendship. Both Sarah and I in our talks as we've driven to the Amish, hoed the dirt, and planted have helped us understand that we are both working through some grief. And we also feel unusual in that we both live where we grew up -- a fact that we both love, but can still make us feel misunderstood by friends or family who have gone off and seemed to have had bigger, more grand adventures in the world. And so I am really thankful for that branch of friendship has been offered me -- and I hope and pray that it can grow along with our shared garden, as it (and we who tend it) overlook the valley with the cows.

With my 35th birthday quickly approaching, Matthew got me a book that I've been wanting for some time now. He found an old publication of The Wind in the Willows, and I cannot tell you how good this book smells on the inside. I've been reading it aloud to him in the evenings, and we have both marveled at how beautifully-written this book is. I know it was published as a children's book, but with the list of those who read it repeatedly even in adulthood including the likes of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, it is very much beyond a children's book. The stories of friendship and love of home seem to also season this chapter of my life. Last night before bed, I read aloud what may be the most perfect chapter of any book I have ever read in my life of any literature. As I turned out the light I thought to myself, "If only every book in the world were written as well as this." It may be one of those books that I keep on my nightstand for the rest of my life, because aside from praying, it may be the best way to spend the last moments before falling asleep. Ratty and Mole's friendship is such a beautiful example of supporting your kindred through both the admirable and the imperfect, and the act of loving and honoring each other's home as an extension of the person themself. I cannot tell you how much I want to step inside that world, and yet I realize the only way to do that is to put their sweetness into practice myself.

In loving our home more and more, I want to make it more beautiful. And in that, it needn't cost hundreds or thousands of dollars in renovations or nick-knacks. I'm learning that it can be in baking a loaf of maple walnut bread that fills the house with a warm and happy smell, or opening the windows to let the sound of the birds, cows, horses, and wind in the trees come into the rooms. It can be a more beautiful place by hugging and kissing one another, and telling our old dog how much we love him and what a good dog he is. I can make my home more beautiful by working with integrity (since we both work from home). I can make it more beautiful by trying to make sure that whoever enters here eats a good meal and leaves happier and more at peace than when they came. If the home is a place of prayer, an invitation to be used of God, then it will be a beautiful place no matter how humble.

So as I end this weekend, the last weekend of early spring, I pray that the inner peace and quietude of this season would carry on, pollinating the coming months. May it bear fruit full of nectar so that all those who know home and friendship through me in some way are nourished.

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