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.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Cedar Waxwing

Sunday evening I often long for a quiet stroll around the pond. The goal is not exercise this time, but more of a sauntering reflection. I quietly made a lap or two, when I noticed a new bird. Well, it appeared to be new to this area in that I hadn't yet seen one at the pond. A Cedar Waxwing sat perched on the dead branches of an old tree. He sat for long enough that I could study his coloring, and then darted off. But much to my surprise, he made a swooping hairpin turn and then came right back to the branch. I watched as he made this same route several times. Swoop, turn, alight. Swoop, turn, alight. When he came back with iridescent insect wings peeking from his beak, I realized this must be his feeding pattern. I watched more closely, and sure enough, each swoop and turn coincided with the mid-air demise of a winged insect.

I wondered if I might have time to run home for Jamie's camera so I could get some close-up shots. Maybe the waxwing would stay long enough? I headed home, and as I rounded the bend, Jamie was just arriving to join me. I was happy to change my plans, and we took a few lingering laps instead. But as we came to the same old tree, the waxwing was still there. Maybe I could grab the camera yet?

We headed home, grabbed the fancy-pants Canon, and Jamie gave me a quick lesson about ISO and shutter speed and f-stop as we again approached the tree. Our faithful waxwing was still there, bless his heart. Occasionally he was joined by another, and between the two of them and their predictable swoop, turn, alight pattern, I was able to catch a few shots.

I tiptoed into the brush to get a bit closer. Usually I try to avoid walking through the vegetation. The signs reminding visitors to "please retain in natural state" suggest that heavy traffic is not welcome. But I figured if the maintenance crew can storm through with weed-eaters (which they do), surely I could tip-toe through with a camera (which I did). A few families paused in their own Sunday strolls to admire the birds I had zeroed in on. Kids pointed and wondered, parents welcomed the wonder. "Look at all the birds!" The pond was a hum of activity as a dozen bird species darted and swooped and chirped. I half expected David Attenborough to provide a moving British commentary, but the delight of children and chatter of birds proved to be just what the moment called for.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Slowly Waning

A squirrel hops in arcs across our backyard and then stops for a moment. Poised on his back legs, paws daintily pressed together, he peers through the window, looking at me as though he's about to deliver a quaint little speech. I listen very intently, and I'm almost certain I can hear his oration:

The year has tipped beyond its peak,
Another summer wanes,
We see it in the Queen Anne's lace
And in the drizzly rains.

I start my scurries to and fro,
As nuts and fruit expand,
(But still we'll have warm days ahead,
in this fickle pacific land.)

I walked the pond yesterday, and couldn't help but notice the signs of an ever-so-gradually waning summer. (Even more so today, which is grey and drizzly.) I love the fall, so it's with joy and anticipation that I notice the tidings that declare: autumn will come in its time. The first of the Queen Anne's lace . . . the blackberries turning from green to red to purple . . . the filberts expanding slowly but surely.

How lovely and reassuring to watch the seasons bend from one to the next, generously sharing their glories with each other.


Friday, June 3, 2016

Sun Flowers

Lately I've been walking in the evening. The daisies nod their heads toward the west, their white and yellow faces bending toward the fading light.

But today I wanted to beat the heat (and a busy schedule), so I headed out earlier. The daisies' heads were inclined toward the east, intent on following the path of the sun.

Indeed it seemed as though every living thing -- from the still flowers to the fluttering songbirds -- had joyfully welcomed the faithful orb and existed solely to follow its warmth and trust in its unfailing provision.

The buttercup catches the sun in its chalice.
J.R. Lowell 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dusk Bunny

Little Peter Rabbit hopped across my path again this evening.

He allowed me to creep much closer this time. I inched my way until we were about ten feet apart. This signifies great progress, and I hope it means that we're now friends. I assume we are at least friendly acquaintances because he let me take his picture.

In case you're wondering, this is how bunnies look when they're smiling:

Or perhaps this is how mischievous bunnies look when they're avoiding bedtime, which -- for bunnies like Peter -- almost always means a dose of camomile tea.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Anne, Peter & Ratty

In a previous post I mentioned that I often think of my childhood when walking the pond. If I'm not thinking about my childhood, it's quite possible that I'm thinking about a book. When the flora and fauna remind me of specific characters or settings, I can't help but be swept away into the land of story.

Naturally, the wild cherry tree dipping benevolently across my path reminded me of dear Anne Shirley and her first exchange with Mr. Matthew Cuthbert:

I'm very glad to see you. I was beginning to be afraid you weren't coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn't come for me to-night I'd go down the track to that big wild cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn't be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don't you think?

~Anne of Green Gables~

The trees are no longer "white with bloom in the moonshine." Indeed, the fruit is already maturing nicely. I noticed the same on a wild crab apple tree.

After I passed beneath the cherry boughs, a skittish fellow darted across the path. He didn't appreciate the camera, so we'll just have to work with this image of naughty Peter Rabbit heading toward Mr. McGregor's garden.

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, 
went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter, who was very naughty, 
ran straight away to Mr. McGregor's garden, and squeezed under the gate!
~The Tale of Peter Rabbit~ 

The white tail that flashed into view as the rabbit leapt away might have suggested that this was not Peter after all, but Cotton-tail; he was heading toward the blackberry bushes. (Which, incidentally, are still "white with bloom.") But upon my return (I thought I might catch him on my second lap), he had "squeezed under the gate!" No doubt in pursuit of "some lettuces and French beans."

Because I was in literary mode, the mother duck and her ducklings brought to mind Ratty's composition in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows:

The Rat was sitting on the river bank, singing a little song. He had just composed it himself, so he was very taken up with it . . . .

All along the backwater,
Through the rushes tall,
Ducks are a-dabbling, 
Up tails all!

The song meanders a bit and, according to Mole, "I don't know that I think so very much of that little song, Rat," so we'll just include one stanza.

A brief visit to my log before heading home provided a few minutes of quiet. I even brought a book this time, and I'm enjoying the third of James Herriot's delightful veterinary tales, All Things Wise and Wonderful.

How glad I am that "the Lord God made them all," and that He gifted us with the delightful world of story.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Like Spun Glass

I slowly approached, expecting the sprite to dart in the opposite direction. But it stayed. It shivered. Puzzled, I looked more closely and saw that

With its blue jointed body,
And wings like spun glass,

. . . this was a newly emerged dragonfly. I was slightly revolted by his nearby nymphal shell. What a good trade he had made. His wings were indeed like spun glass, shimmering moist and delicate in the spring sunshine. A new freedom just within reach.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Of Mauves, Mustards, and Magentas

It's interesting to me how my thoughts often wander to my childhood as I walk the pond. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps it's rooted in the fact that I'm sentimental, and the quiet of my surroundings allows my mind to drift toward the events, beliefs, and people who have in some way influenced who I am today.

Jamie and I are intrigued by our seemingly opposing natures which, in general, prompt me to look back and Jamie to look forward. We're like Jack Sprat and his wife -- the platter of time is licked clean and we appreciate the perspective the other provides.

Which brings me to the color mauve. Lest this transition confuse you, I'll add that we're going back, once again, to my childhood.

Do you remember the color analysis trend that gained popularity in the 80s? My mom's friends very much appreciated the movement, and color swatches were draped and exchanged with unparalleled fervor. It fascinated me. Lorrie would come to our house, arms laden with gorgeous samples, and drape anyone and everyone in her wake. We'd ooh- and ahh- and say, "Oh, she's such a winter!" or "She's definitely a spring. Just look at the way that aqua complements her skin tones!" Ann would hold the periwinkle swatch under her chin and we'd weep and sigh over the beauty of it all.

I took great pride in being labeled "A Winter" and wore the distinction like a banner. No, I just can't wear mustard, I'm A Winter; it just wouldn't be becoming. I'm sorry, I must pass on that rust, no matter how fetching. Dear, you musn't wear the puce, it positively drains your face! But please pass me some hearty fuchsias or teals. (It was many years before I allowed myself to wear brown. I realized that I just plain liked the color and wanted to wear it. Also, I'm a little bit scared to wear red.)

This steady stream of color talk around my impressionable preteen mind prompted me to develop an appreciation for specific color names. Names like amber, salmon, chartreuse and mauve. Your basic ROYGBIV just didn't cut it any more.

This is what I noticed as I walked today. I noticed the mauve hues of the heavily blooming grasses, the mustard rods of the newly developing cattails, the gentle, fuzzy slate of the lupine seedpods, the deep magenta of the baby rose . . . and even the charmingly distressed brick red of the devoted gardener's ever-present wheelbarrow. I'm so thankful for color, aren't you?