Thursday, January 5, 2017

Crows on Ice (And Other Firsts)

In keeping with the spirit of a NewYear, I have lately experienced a number of firsts at the pond. It fascinates me that I can visit the same place again and again and still experience something new. (I shouldn't be surprised. This is the work of God.)

Today's excitement? Crows on ice. Temperatures have dipped below the 30s around here, which is somewhat unusual in our corner of the world. The pond was still and quiet; not a ripple or murmur caused the waters to stir. At first I couldn't get close enough to see if the pond was indeed frozen. But when a crow walked on water, I knew.

Although I usually find crows to be brazen and obnoxious, I couldn't help but stop and marvel at their winter behavior. The tapping of their beaks on the ice echoed across the pond as they gathered around clumps of water grasses; here they could more easily penetrate the barrier to their source of hydration. I also noticed that the crows weren't as quick to bolt as I walked the path: they allowed me to come within 5 feet or so. (Not that I really wanted to, mind you. But still. An interesting change.)

The crows were the most noticeable birds today. The water birds, of course, were nowhere to be seen. The only other voices I heard belonged to the finches, flickers, chickadees, vireos and robins. As Avery would say, the robins behaved like "stereotypical" robins. (This is lately her word of choice.) They hopped from limb to limb plucking away at bright red berries as though they had leapt from a charming, stereotypical Currier and Ives print.

I must briefly rewind the clock to include a few other noteworthy firsts that occurred last month. The light, fluffy snowfall on New Year's Eve was decidedly poetic. It was made even more so by the contrast of soaring fireworks. Our neighbors released beautiful bursts into the sky that raced toward the icy heavens and then descended in brilliant umbrellas of color. Never before had I seen fireworks cascading with snowfall.

Another first: (I think) A frozen spider's web. I looked at this picture again and again for days after that cold, frosty, foggy morning.

Speaking of frosty, foggy mornings, did you know that frozen fog at sunrise could do this?

The icy fog particles whirled through the air, nipping at my nose and cheeks à la Jack Frost. As the sun eased its way into the morning sky (at that stereotypical winter slant), a golden arch stretched benevolently over the pond. An additional beam shot toward the apex and, although not vivid in this picture, the colors of the rainbow were quite discernible. I don't know much about light and refraction and such, so we'll once again go with Avery's awe-inspired word choice: "It looks like God threw glitter across the whole world."


Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Elf Nook

We were almost certain that if we could just dart quickly enough, we'd catch a glimpse of a fairy wing or hear the peal of elfin laughter.

The Little Elves of Elf Nook by Elsa Beskow

Perhaps it was the morning fog. Perhaps it was the influence of my current Narnian read, Prince Caspian. Either way, we knew we had entered a land of enchantment.

Really we had just entered the church parking lot. But around the wetlands at home, we're accustomed to seeing the more drab brown varieties. Pretty, but not impish.

This one beckoned. We pulled the car over and allowed the magical world to enfold us for just a moment.

Hmmm . . . There was something familiar about this particular specimen. What was it? Oh, yes. Now I remember. My own little mischievous elfin kin have been inspired by enchantment before . . .  

. . . Once upon a time.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Cider Summer

The warmth of these August days presses down upon the ripening fruits. As I walk the pond path through what was probably at one time an apple-cherry-filbert orchard, the air is cider-scented. Even here from the school room window, I catch wafts of pear and apple sweetness. September is coming.

The trees in apple orchards 
With fruit are bending down.

H.H. Jackson

Something stirs within me every time I pass an apple tree. I played beneath the benevolent branches in our own backyard as a child and delighted in my mother's homemade apple butter, so I'm sure nostalgia has something to do with it. The added memory trigger -- scent -- is so compelling it makes my throat swell with a longing ache, almost akin to sadness.

With Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings I might say,

I do not know the irreducible minimum of happiness for any other spirit than my own. It is impossible to be certain even of mine. Yet I believe that I know my tangible desideratum. It is a tree-top against a patch of sky.

Funny that one can feel sad over a happiness. My personal "treetop against a patch of sky" would have to be apple or birch, I believe. The added delight of fruit clusters in late August or early September make apple trees particularly lovely to gaze upon, and the wild abandon with which they appear in our neck of the woods turns them into familiar, homey friends -- like coming home.  

My sister and I used to play with our dolls beneath the snowball bushes in our backyard, not far from the heady apple trees. With crisp white petals blanketing the grass and the snowy globes swaying overhead, we knew -- even without being able to name our "tangible desideratum" -- that there was indeed something magical about gazing through "a tree-top against a patch of sky" on a cider-scented summer afternoon.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Vancouver Rocks

Today I was Alice, tumbling into Wonderland. The landscape was mostly familiar, but every once in a while a colorful trinket caught my eye. Curiouser and curiouser!

About half a dozen painted rocks into my walk (I'm slow), it finally occurred to me to pick one up and turn it over. "Vancouver Rocks," it read.

Apparently it's a facebook group, and apparently I found some of the artwork tucked around town. Like Easter eggs, the vibrantly painted stones are a delight to the eye and bring a smile to the unsuspecting pedestrian. 

I think the idea is to pick up the rocks and maybe hide them elsewhere . . . or keep them . . . . I'm not sure, but I left my discoveries along the pond path, ready to delight other passers-by. I just might have to get my girls in on this!  

Monday, August 8, 2016

Beyond Sunsets and Rainbows

I would have limited God's glory to sunsets and rainbows. To the color of dahlias and the taste of peaches. But in August I understand that the earth is full of His glory. It soaks everything, seeps from every seam. It spills out in a sudden wind. It burns our skin like sunshine. We droop beneath the heavy weight of glory in the humid air and spy its mystery in the spider that scuttles away before we quite know what it is we've seen.

Christie Purifoy, Roots and Sky 

I, too, limit God's glory. Yet I surprised myself by finding it even in the less-than-cuddly creatures of the pond today: The snake that wriggled across my path . . . the prickly purple thistle that stood proudly against the browning grasses . . . the underground beehive that swarmed with activity, causing me to walk quickly on by.


For that matter, the "cuddly" creatures themselves remind me to keep my distance. The other day I spied three young raccoons tucked among the blackberry brambles, munching on berries with their dainty little paws. (Alas, my camera was at home!) Their perfect masks, ringed tails, and cunning waddle were almost irresistible, until I reminded myself that -- had they been older -- they might have been somewhat aggressive. I pass the brambles more cautiously now.

As is often the case, I think of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

"Is he safe?" 

"Course he isn't safe. But he's good." 

Nature isn't safe. I tend to limit God's glory to the safe and beautiful. But I can also see glimmers of it in the wild and free, in the reckless and bold. It makes me feel small. But it also makes Him feel so much bigger, so much more vast and marvelous than I can comprehend. Indeed, the whole earth is filled with His glory. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

An Audible Pause

Today I walk the pond slowly, meditatively, as one searching not so much for nature, but as one searching for a sign. I lift my eyes to the heavens, a dome of clear blue sky stretching endlessly, neatly tucked around the corners of the earth. Well, almost clear. One, tiny little cloud floats in isolation. It seems silly, that lone cloud in a sea of blue. Doesn't he know this is a cloudless day?

I study that cloud and try to make out its shape. A semicolon. That's it. A tidy, Times New Roman semicolon. A pause in the clear blue. The grammar book tells us that semicolons indicate "an audible pause." The grammar book also tells us that semicolons are often feared. How and when to use them?

Yes, that seems fitting. An audible pause. And a little scary. The narrative that is my life right now seems to have come to a rather audible pause. Where to go next? The questions in my mind are so loud I'm convinced others must be able to hear them. And why the pause when what I really would prefer is clear blue skies? A little scary.

I continue to circle the pond and the corner of my eye catches a flash of white. Spinning around, I see a Great Egret take off from his hiding place in the pond. Has he been here before? I don't think so, at least not that I've seen.

My eyes follow the flash -- soaring, circling, spiraling -- until it vanishes. "They shall mount up with wings like eagles," I recall. My mind reaches back for the prior phrase. Who is it that shall mount up with wings? Ah, yes. Those who wait for the Lord.

So a semicolon . . . and a reminder to wait for the Lord.

My final stretch takes me through the wild apple trees. One branch hangs especially low, a cluster of small apples well within reach. I can't resist, and I pluck the fruit. Holding it to my nose, I inhale deeply. Scent is a marvelous thing, and I'm transported to fall and applesauce and cinnamon and books and all things lovely. Perhaps I'm to pause, waiting for the fall? I like to think such tidy thoughts. But perhaps not. Perhaps this narrative pause will take me beyond the fall. Either way I know that it is through waiting on the Lord that I will find renewed strength.

I come home and tuck the apple atop a cozy row of fall-ish books. I look up Isaiah 40:31 to catch the words once again, and it leaps from the page like the egret from the pond: a semicolon.

Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

This pause, this waiting, is good. Ann Voskamp chooses her words well: "Waiting is just a gift of time in disguise -- a time to pray wrapped up in a ribbon of patience."  

First the wait, and then the soaring. And when I walk or soar or run again -- toward whatever the future holds -- I will have gained the strength that comes from the gift of time, the gift of being invited to wait upon the Lord. 


Friday, July 22, 2016

Ordinary Time

The rain kept up a steady rhythm throughout the night, causing my thoughts to wander toward the approaching fall. Ordinarily, fall is my favorite time of year. Back to school excitement, new books, sharpened pencils, blank pages waiting to be filled.

This year is more uncertain. We haven't determined for sure how or where our children will be educated. Much of this depends on my own work schedule; we may be entering a new season in which my work hours will extend beyond the home in different ways. Am I preparing to home school, or am I preparing to branch out? Am I looking for the yellow Ticonderoga pencils in our school room, or am I looking for the yellow bus down the road? I don't know.

It was this uncertainty that relentlessly pushed itself to the front of my mind as I circled the pond this morning. Toward what am I walking this fall? Again, I don't know.

Even the pond felt uncertain, awkward, and ordinary today. Not quite summer, not quite fall. The landscape workers contributed to the tedium. A steady drone of weed-eaters reminded me that time marches on and there is work to be done, even if we don't always know the object toward which we are working.

A disassembled fence, dusty lupine, rain drenched grasses . . . all so ordinary.

I'm currently reading Christie Purifoy's lovely, lyrical memoir, Roots and Sky. She devotes a thought-provoking chapter to the church calendar's season called "Ordinary Time." This is a time unmarked by the more "exciting" events such as Advent or Lent. These are the ordinary days -- not ordinary as in plain, but ordinary as in ordinal, or "ordered." One day falling after another.

Interestingly, the book I've just finished, Emily Freeman's Simply Tuesday, also devotes a section to this idea of Ordinary Time. Freeman writes, "to learn to live well in Ordinary Time is to keep company with Christ on our simple Tuesdays and remember how He delights in keeping company with us."

I long to be faithful in this time, whether it's uncertain, ordinary, awkward, or celebratory. Lately, my morning Bible reading has taken me to the book of Esther. Today I was reminded that "these days should be remembered." (9:28) The context refers to Purim, and therefore "these days" were marked for God's people by celebration, feasting and joy. But shouldn't also these ordinary days be remembered? For God is with us -- God is Emanuel -- whether we find ourselves in Advent or Ordinary Time.

The last bend of the pond path is often ordinary. Drying grasses bent by their own weight, decaying bushes giving up the last of their blossoms. But this morning, one stretch was marked by something slightly out of the ordinary. A cluster of Queen Anne's lace bowed before me, scepters stretching across the path. My mind went back to Esther, to King Xerxes extending his scepter before Queen Esther. She boldly approached the king at Mordecai's request: "Urge her to go into the king's presence . . . ." (4:8) She approached, and her people were blessed.

Surely it is no ordinary thing to come before a king. Yet I am invited to do so every day. The scepter was extended long ago, and there it remains. I am urged -- yes even warmly beckoned -- to go into the King's presence. And this makes any time -- ordinary or uncertain as it may be -- a holy time to be remembered.