Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Sweet Scent of Easter

Closing my eyes and breathing deeply, I relax and ride the flood of memories back to the early springs of my youth. Entering from the sparkling clear - yet still crisp - outdoors, I’m struck by the warm, humid, atmosphere and enveloped in a sweet, earthy scent. Before me lies my father’s greenhouse and benches full of brilliant white Easter Lilies.

I realize now how much I took them for granted, surrounded by them as we were for several weeks each year. Arm loads were sold and delivered each day, decked out in brightly colored foil and ribbons. We always had at least one in the house. At an early age, I was shown how to carefully pinch off the stamens to prolong the blooming time and keep the bright yellow pollen from staining the white petals. Or worse yet - Mom’s fancy tablecloth. I learned to check them daily, gently poking a finger in the pot to see if they were moist. Those who know me well notice that I still do these things - no matter whose lily it is. Old habits die hard...

The plant we know as the Easter Lily is native to the southern islands of Japan. In the 1880s Japan shipped it to Bermuda, where it was widely grown and known as the Bermuda Lily, but the majority of bulbs exported to the U.S. came from Japan. After World War I, an American soldier returned home to the southern coast of Oregon with a suitcase full of hybrid lily bulbs. These he gave to family and friends; because the climate there was similar to the plant’s native habitat, the growing conditions were ideal and the lilies flourished. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Japanese source of bulbs was cut off from the west and the value of lily bulbs skyrocketed. West Coast growers began producing bulbs (referred to them as “White Gold”) for the commercial market, and today 95% of these bulbs grown in the world are grown in a narrow coastal region straddling the California-Oregon border.

The journey from propagation to bloom is not an easy one for the Easter Lily. Bulbs require 2 years to reach saleable maturity and are handled as many as 40 times before finally being harvested in the fall, packed, and shipped to greenhouses. They do not normally bloom in the spring - science and horticulture have altered their natural blooming sequence to coincide with Easter. Growers must carefully determine when to plant and start forcing them, under controlled conditions, to bloom. This is made more difficult because Easter varies in date from year to year. Marketing occurs only for about 2 weeks before Easter and blooms are short-lived by nature, so there is very little margin for error in timing. They are worth the trouble.

Often called the “white-robed apostles of hope”, lilies were said to be found growing in the Garden of Gethsemane after Christ’s agony. Tradition has it that the beautiful white lilies sprung up where drops of Christ’s sweat fell to the ground in his final hours of sorrow and deep distress. We continue this tradition at Easter time by banking our altar and surrounding the cross with masses of them.

From the fields to the greenhouse to our church and homes, the Easter Lily remains the traditional, time-honored flower of Easter. Symbolic of the resurrection, it rises from earthy grave as scaly bulb, and blooms into a majestic flower that embodies the beauty, grace and tranquility of the season. For many, the beautiful trumpet-shaped flowers symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life - the spiritual essence of Easter.

I deeply inhale their rich scent - and feel my spirit soar.

“Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”

Luke 12:25-28

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring Bloom

First, the hole.
Not too shallow or deep - it all depends on what goes in.
Hard work - the challenge of rocks, roots and clay.
when the tool that’s supposed to make a neat, easy hole - doesn’t.
Messy - cold, wet, stick-to-the-hands dirt.
Drop it in.
There is a right-side-up, but not to worry.
When the time comes, it will find its way - honest.
It does not look like anything special.
Small, withered, brown & flaky.
Cover it up and wait.
How long?
Depends - for some, a few months; for a child, forever.
I am a child in so many ways, and time is relative.
It, too, must wait
for the cold, the wet, the warmth, the right time.
Through all the long winters of your life,
it lies dormant and cold.
You forget,
but the promise is always there.
It will come - slowly inching through -
multiplying, pushing, straining upward, bursting forth.
One day you will see it and know,
for it is a magnificent thing of perfect beauty
and warms your heart.
Was it worth the trouble?
Though not here long,
it leaves a small seed in your soul -

When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be,
but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
But God gives it a body as he has determined,
and to each kind of seed he gives its own body....

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead.
The body that is sown is perishable,
it is raised imperishable;
it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;
it is sown in weakness,
it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body,
it is raised a spiritual body.
1 Corinthians 15:37 - 38, 42 - 44

Monday, March 29, 2010

Precisions of the Season

Make no mistake, they are precisely wrought. One is of dried grass, woven ‘round and ‘round into a neat, compact, cup shape. The center depression is lined with short, fine, white hairs - perhaps from some neighboring dog or goat. The second is more raggedy, made of small twigs, dry plant stems, fine pieces of bark, and a couple of strands of yarn. Its center hole is lined also, with what seems to be wool, dryer lint, or insulation and some grey, downy feathers. I have nestled them into small baskets for safe keeping, bringing them out of storage each spring as a reminder of the wonders of this season.

The raggedy one contains its original 5 small eggs. I committed no crime against nature, here. My sister, finding the nest abandoned and knowing of my passion for wild things, offered it to me - eggs & all. We carefully carried it all the way back from Montana that summer.

I gingerly remove one of the eggs and set it on the table. Smooth and white, with a spattering of dark speckles at the wider end, it tapers down at the other. As I tap it gently, one reason for its shape becomes clear. It spins where it lies. Eggs of cliff-nesting birds are more tapered still and, if jostled, roll in a circle - no chance of rolling off. Perfect design.

The shell in the other nest does not belong there, I just put it in for display. Sky-blue, it is obviously a robin’s, but the nest is much too small for that bird. Even now, after several years, the two pieces remain mostly intact, held together by a tough inner membrane. With more than one layer, an egg shell offers “flow-through” support and protection to the precious life inside. I found this shell on the ground, where the mother had dropped it after her young had hatched, for it was no longer needed.

Once we had a pair of geese. The female laid eggs, but she was a confused mother. She laid so many, that when she finally decided to set there was no way she could cover them all. She tried, warming & turning the eggs for weeks on end, but hatching none. Finally, I shooed her off and threw the rotten eggs at tree trunks faaaaaaar away from the house. Each one exploded loudly as it hit its mark.

My solution was to buy an incubator, collect the next eggs, & become a surrogate “mother goose”. Being one takes time & commitment. The eggs need to be kept at a certain temperature and humidity, turned several times a day, & “candled” to be sure they are developing. We used a strong flashlight for the candling and how exciting it was to watch the embryos develop from tiny red spots to turning, squirming nearly full-grown goslings! Hatching time arrived right on schedule & we kept close watch as each tiny babe used its egg tooth to peck a hole, then laboriously peck around the shell until it was finally free. New life rested near cast-off shells.

And so I keep these nests, and others like them - reminders, precisely wrought.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ,

he is a new creation;
the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.
All this is from God...
2 Corinthians 5.17-18

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Mountains May Quake

Lituya Bay is a T-shaped fjord on the west edge of Glacier Bay National Park, along the Gulf of Alaska coast. The head of the bay lies along a fault line; on a July night in 1958 a 7.9 earthquake along this fault loosened 40 million cubic yards of rock high above the NE shore of the bay. The mass of rock plunged from 3000 feet down into the waters of an inlet where the impact generated a local tsunami that crashed against the opposite shore. The wave hit with such power that it swept completely over the spur of land that separates the inlet from the main body of the bay, continued down the entire length of the bay, over a spit, and into the Gulf of Alaska. This tsunami, the tallest ever measured in the world, reached over 1700 feet high. It uprooted and swept away millions of trees and all vegetation from the hillsides, destroyed 3 fishing boats, and killed two people.

72 miles SE of there, in Haines, those of us on a youth mission trip were relaxing in our dorm on the 3rd floor of an old army building. We'd had a practice fire drill so it came as no surprise when the alarm went off and we quickly rushed out the door and down the outside fire escape. On the ground, I looked up to see the tall brick chimney of the old building whipping back and forth in slow motion reminiscent of a cobra doing its slow dance. Strangely, it did not fall. It slowly dawned on me that this was no fire drill.

That was before computers and cell phones, so it was the next day before our minister's wife called home to let everyone know we were all OK. As we worked, clearing the woods and building a root cellar, we felt the ground shake from time to time reminding us of this tremendous force of nature. It was not until long after we returned home that we learned of the terrible damage in Lituya Bay.

One year later, in August of 1959, I was returning home from a date around 11:30 PM. Walking up the sidewalk I was aware of the sound of wind through the trees - but there was no wind. My dad met us at the front door, something he had never done before, and told us there'd just been a large earthquake. Our plate-glass living room window creaked loudly, but did not break.

Glued to the radio the next day, we learned the quake occurred 290 miles away around Hebgen Lake in the Madison Canyon near Yellowstone National Park in Montana. At 7.5, the quake caused parts of the lake to rise eight feet and surrounding landscape to drop as much as 20 feet. Landslides carried 80 million tons of rock, mud and debris into the valley, creating hurricane force winds strong enough to toss cars. 28 people lost their lives when a campground was buried. We knew that my sister and her family, on their way for the summer's visit, were camping and might be in that area. The river was blocked, water rose and formed a new Quake Lake. In Yellowstone the quake created fault scarps nearly 20 feet high, causing extensive damage to roads and buildings. Telephone lines were knocked out; new geysers and cracks sprouted up all over the park. Old Faithful became erratic. Thankfully, our loved ones arrived safely the next day - they had been nowhere near the quake area.

I will always remember those teenage summers and how I gained new respect for the raw power of the earth. For me, it was only a tiny glimpse and my heart goes out to the people of Haiti and Chile. God bless them all.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,

though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:1-3