Friday, December 2, 2022

The Field Behind the Plow


Photo by Lynn Gurdak

A heritage of rolling hills and farmland is a rich legacy; if you’re blessed enough to have lived among salt of the earth people in rural places, then you are blessed enough.

In many regions across our great land, one can claim “farmer” identity without having tossed a single bale of hay; we are farmers by proxy – identifying with the fields of dry cornstalks adorning the roadways; the smell of burning leaves is in our DNA.

If you have thrown a bale into the loft, or if you have witnessed a sunset while atop a rumbling tractor seat, then you are stitched into the very fabric of rural life.

Like the harvested fields, we are preparing for a season of rest and quiet; a hushed interval of waiting.

Recently I discovered the legacy of singer, Stan Rogers, a prominent voice of Canadian folk music. Rogers was noted for his rich baritone voice and traditional songs, inspired by the daily lives of working people -- especially those from fishing villages and farms. Sadly, he died in a fire aboard an airplane at the age of 33.

Rogers wrote the lyrics to the song, “The Field Behind the Plow.” In the words, I dug out this beautiful gem:

“Watch the field behind the plow turn to straight dark rows,
Put another season's promise in the ground.”

The sentiment is about Springtime and the planting of seeds; the formation of tidy rows and the much-anticipated harvest.

As we hunker down and fortify our walls against the elements, I like to cast a different light on that line: “Put another season’s promise in the ground” might also give a nod to a fresh blanket of snow, covering fields that have recently lined our pantry shelves. Orchards and vineyards, soon cloaked in ice, have given us pies and applesauce; juice and wine; preserves and jams.

Another season’s promise becomes a provision for the winter months. We can, with abundance, enjoy the taste of summer in the darkness of December.

While the earth freezes, we can still savor the juicy delight of a garden tomato. Or Grandma’s impossibly yummy watermelon rind pickles.

This is what I love about farm country. Promises abound whether it’s planting time, growing season or harvest. Promises even thrive in winter when the fields are at rest.

If joy is measured by produce-laden tables, may your pearls be pomegranates; may your diamonds be sweet corn.

Next time you see a resting field, consider the one who planted and worried when it didn’t rain; the family who unloaded their pickup at the farm stand, week in and week out.

In that field, deer may be bedding down at night. Turkeys will perform their comic dance across those brown fields. Geese will stitch seams into the sky overhead.

These, too, are promises of the season: things we can bank on, no matter the economic downturns.

Savor the moments. As Maya Angelou famously wrote, “Buckle close friends to your soul.”

We really can have summer memories in the raw winds of wintertime.

Photo by Lynn Gurdak

This piece also appeared in the November 2022 edition of Silver Magazine - printed by The Post-Journal, Jamestown NY

Kathy Joy is an Indy Writer for Capture Me Books; she eagerly awaits the debut of her new children's book in January 2023.







Friday, July 29, 2022

Traveling Solo

As a newly minted retiree, I am happily wandering the countryside in pursuit of waterfalls, covered bridges, quaint shops and other fun destinations.

In the nine-to-five structure of my days, these mini-adventures had to be squeezed into the weekends. Now, however, I get to unfold a map of my own design. I can draw lines from here to there and in-between, putting a star next to places of interest.

A ribbon of road, a fringe of forest, an endless blue sky. 

My vagabond soul.

Off-highway is my favorite choice. In "settings" I tell my navigation system to avoid freeways and toll roads. And off we go. 

Recently I was returning home from the Harrisburg, PA area and directed my GPS off-highway, as usual. The back roads were portals of wonder as I coasted through the Allegheny Mountains. Trees, dense and overgrown, met overhead to form a green canopy. For miles and miles, I met no other cars. I drove right into a canvas of aging barns and stately homes, hushed cemeteries and white steeples, landscaped lawns and laundry dancing in the breeze. 

Vegetable stands came into view and I slowed down so I could read signs that said, "Best Sweet Corn Ever, $3.00 a dozen" and "Leave Your Cash in the Basket if We're Not Here".  

This is the downhome rural America I love. In the cross sections of one-pump gas stations and enticing ice cream stands, I never once considered I could be doing 70 on a straight stretch of asphalt.

Meandering at 40 or 45 miles per hour, I took in acres of field corn, pastures of grazing cows, glorious bundles of hay as far as the eye could see.

As the shadows lengthened and dusk whispered in, I realized I still had hours to travel before reaching my driveway. 

Reluctantly, I switched my navigation to "highway" and accelerated into the blur of traffic. 

What I'd really like to see in our high tech world is a GPS that can track the intersection of Chaos and Possibility. I want to go there.

Wouldn't it be helpful if we could call a friend and say, "Meet me at the crossroads of Loss and Recovered Joy" ? 

Or, "Let's have coffee at that little place on Main Street - you know the one - where you empty the dregs of cold resentment and tank up on a large cup of affirmation!" My GPS will show me the way.

Or not.

No amount of technology will locate the corner of Loss and Acceptance; it's an organic mechanism of the human heart. 

No warp speed coordinates will zoom in on the corner of Anger and Forgiveness. You have to get there by fits and starts. By lurching sideways and avoiding the potholes of outrage.

Fact is, there is no straight highway, no winding back road, to a safe arrival. The best anyone can do is remain calm and trust the navigation. Oh, and take lots of stretch breaks. 

When we get to those mile markers, we should honk and wave, so the next traveler feels not so alone.

This blog supports

Please consider purchasing my newly published children's book, Will You Hold My Story? - a story about listening, for kids of all ages. You can read customer reviews by visiting

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Of Cemeteries, Selfies and Restored Barns


On the occasion of my daughter’s wedding in June 2020, I visited my husband’s grave. A strange place to take a selfie, perhaps – but that’s what I did.

After placing my mother-of-the-bride sunflowers on Roger’s stone, I took a selfie.

I wanted to preserve the moment, to mark yet another grief-point of Roger’s gaping impossible absence: the wedding where he – not I – should have walked her down the aisle.

The photo is my profile picture on Facebook.

The response has been more than I’d expected, a generous cluster of comments such as “you look great” and “you look fresh as springtime”.

I’d taken the photo to literally make sure I was still in my physical body, the day had been so surreal without him there. I was shadow inside a circle of Nothingness; sorrow inside layers of regret.

It had been the best day and the worst day. 

My carefully applied makeup had been cried into hot rivulets of smeared mascara. A layer of sunburn tinged my skin. My hair, all done up for the wedding, was now mashed down by my favorite sun visor.

I felt a million miles away from Beautiful.

In that moment I was bereft, lonely, a little bit mad. No, a lot mad.

Angry because another Big Life Event had come and gone. Without him.

Without us.

Since that warm June day in a cemetery in Chandlers Valley, Pennsylvania, there have been more Life Events: our second daughter married.

A sweet baby girl arrived, christening me a grandma for the very first time.

I’ve retired.

Moved to a new place. Again.

Published a new book. Working on another.

Life Events. Big Days.

Often I wonder what it might have looked like, to grow old with this man. To grow into a season of “older love” with my husband. We’d experienced the roller coaster of new love, the solemn and joyful entry into a marriage covenant; the happy chaos of parenting; the chasing down of careers, of dreams, possibilities and future hopes. We’d been na├»ve, thinking we would also welcome a mellower time of Seasoned Love, of holding hands in the Silence of Knowing.

But we didn’t.

He didn’t. He had to leave because his heart could no longer keep pace with his intensity, his constant quest to fix things and put in hay and build relationships and try-try-try to mend situations that were clearly beyond mending.

I saw it. I saw it and I wanted him to slow down, to have a seat, to find contentment, to be still. JUST BE STILL.

And then his heart stopped.

And ours kept beating.

Myself and our daughters, we kept moving forward because that’s what the surviving do: they step into the tender lands of a place they do not know, a place without him.

Without his laughter, his dad jokes, his made-up silly songs. His love of bonfires in the back, down by the barn. His good humor toward the girls’ horses, which he often referred to as “hay burners”.

Of course he was always fixing things. He shored up the barn, the barn that everybody said should be razed. Start all over, they cautioned. Build something new.

But not him. No, not Roger. He gazed out our living room window at that barn, studying the way it sagged to the one side. The graying of worn wood from weather and wind and a ‘hundred winters.

Then one day he began. He had help from family, but mostly he took it on as a personal mission. Openly marveling at the dove-tailed wood in that old barn, Roger made it sturdy again. He honored the craftsmanship that had gone before. The barn rallied and stood strong. Impervious to the winds, like Roger himself.

That barn? That old barn is a metaphor for the life he and I shared. The landmark was once a New Beginning on top of a windswept hill. A cathedral of Possibility.

That old barn was made sturdy by times of abundance and in lean times, too. It grew long in the tooth but proved immeasurable in endurance. That structure held laughter in its walls, harbored tools, welcomed children, kept all God’s creatures safe and dry.

Held secrets.

That old barn.

Our abbreviated lives.

It’s beautiful still, that sanctuary of wood and clay and dirt, still sheltering livestock, still smelling of hay and tractors, of oats and manure.

I drive up there sometimes, just to be sure it’s still there. And it is. It’s always there – like the memory of our life together. I can count on that, at least.

So back to the photo. A quick snapshot of myself, standing in front of his gravestone.

Maybe there is a wisp of beauty, after all – a spark of durability; an elegance that rises from unfathomable loss.

This is not vanity, this notion of seeing myself beautiful. This is grit and moxie and a gutsy refusal to lose hope.

A striking kind of loveliness. Harvested from suffering. I’ve seen this in the eyes of other widows, this odd, reflective beauty. The pain is there, but so is the hope – that relentless belief that as long as you cherish the memories, that person lives on inside your own heart.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
 A time to kill and a time to heal.

    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
 A time to cry and a time to laugh.

    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
 A time to search and a time to quit searching.

    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
 A time to love and a time to hate.

    A time for war and a time for peace.

 What do people really get for all their hard work?  I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 New Living Translation

The book, “Older Love” by Warren Hanson, is a lovely collection of thoughts and illustrations celebrating the mellowed love of old age.

The photo of the old barn is a Google image – although it strongly resembles our hilltop barn before it was fixed up.