Like all families, mine had its share of secrets, some of which I became aware of as I grew up. As I journeyed with other people in the recovery process, I recognized how destructive secrets can be as often people were left wondering why they struggled as they did and what the roots of their issues were. It’s hard to make sense of the picture when you are missing some of the pieces.

I always loved algebra and I can reduce one of my favorite scriptures to an equation.

Honesty and vulnerability + repentance and forgiveness = fellowship and freedom. You’ll notice there is no room for shame or guilt in that equation; those were nailed to the cross 2000 years ago.

I bought a house 4 years ago after living in my last home (with its lovely gardens) for nearly 40 years. The new house was workable but it was the location, on the side of gently rolling hills, opposite a rugged rocky cliff, with views of both valley and lake and the nearby orchards and vineyards that captured my heart. As soon as I stepped on the property, I said in my heart, I want to live here. And with a little help from my friends, I do.

When I look back now at the before pictures I am stunned at my willingness to take on the task. The nearly 1/3 acre yard was simply an undifferentiated mess of weeds masquerading as grass. As we were remodeling the first summer there was no time to landscape. The next year a good friend offered to help with hardscape and with one pass of a backhoe (and 2 weeks’ work) gave it structure, shape and a way forward.

I had never worked in rocky soil before – every attempt to dig was met with a resounding clunk and jarring resistance. So it’s been small mountains of wood chips, manure, compost and topsoil, and four years on the soil is rich and friable (in places).

I wrote this poem about the struggle of life taking root in rocky soil when I was dealing with some of the stumbling blocks in my life. I am going to visit Harvey and Karen’s farm this weekend so I thought I’d post this in honor of their incredible hospitality, generosity and decades of hard work that cleared a place for life to thrive. And boy has life thrived – with three kids and sixteen grandchildren almost within a stone’s throw! On behalf of many, I bless you both.


 Part I   Harvey
I was city born and bred –
 didn't know a heifer from a steer -
but every spring we visited  
Harvey's farm at calving. 
 He’d make us sweat, 
had no use for slackers, 
Uncle Harvey. 
There'd come a day, perhaps, 
 "Too cold to plant, too wet to plow,"  
and he'd get out the old stoneboat  
and hook it to the tractor. 
We kids would shuffle after  
with crowbars and raw hands. 

It almost seemed that's all 
that low field grew.

He said, "Frost heaves and erosion
 work 'em to the surface," and "Root crops 
don't grow so good in rocky soil."
and "You could break a plow on them stones."
That's all. 

He said he used the stones 
for fences and foundations.

Part II  Dad

If I could spend an hour with him
I'd ask him why 
but since I can't,
I wonder.

The rock had been there longer than the farm.
Too big to shift,
(big as a shed my sister said),
and every year
they plouwed, sowed and harvested around it.

Perhaps the furrows -
farther and farther off true,
bothered him. He liked 
the symmetry of straight, 
the purity of parallel.

Perhaps the inefficiency annoyed him, 
farther and farther off true.
And perhaps it was just a practical joke –
the sly fun of watching the farmer's face 
when he got home from town. 

Whatever the reason,  Dad 
dug a hole and buried it.

I wonder if it ever surfaced, 
what grew there,
and how well.

Part III Reunion

It happens 
every time we get together: 
at Christmas, 
at Thanksgiving, 
at every family do.

The aunts are
in the kitchen slicing peaches,
on the porch shucking corn
someone drops a word 
and conversation falters.

A quick glance 'round the room, 
a who knows what  inventory,
an arched brow,  
a tilted head, 
an imperceptible nod.

“Look at these carrots, Martha.
Ain’t hardly fit for pigs.”
And the ghosts of Christmas Past
are howling still. 

The master storyteller Jesus, began a parable with this lovely line – “A sower went forth sowing seeds”. God as gardener is one of the most common metaphors in the Bible. As a gardener, made in His image, aside from the sheer joy of working in the soil, my main goals in gardening are beauty and harvest. Likewise, God is looking for a harvest of righteousness and beauty in our lives. 

When I look at my life I realize there have been examples of all 4 types of soil that Jesus was discussing in that parable: impenetrable, rocky, weedy and ,receptive.   As gardeners of our souls we can make the choice to get rid of rocks and weeds, we can ‘break up our fallow ground’ – we can make the choices that allow our hearts to be fertile ground for seeds to grow. 

Come back tomorrow for a special treat as I introduce the first of my guest poets, Anna Elzinga.

One thought on “Stoneboat

  1. Humbled, honored, blessed.
    Your gardens, like your words, Lois, have always inspired and brought so much joy.


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