Thursday, May 27, 2010

Weed and Sow

Spring is a wonderfully welcome time of year, filled with anticipation of gradually lengthening, warming days and the promise of sun-filled time spent outdoors. Although warmer, the rains continue to fall and with the increased daylight green plants burgeon. Grass grows long and unkempt before we can mow; Dandelions, Tansy Ragwort, Scotch Broom, and other unwanted plants shoot up and bloom, spreading their kind throughout the neighborhood. Prolific Horse Tails and small Violets literally take over flower beds and lawns. For a gardener, it is an exhilarating and frustrating time. New plants and seeds to add, weeds to subtract - and the weeds refuse to be to be kept at bay! Out of sight beneath the ground, creeping growth of roots, pests, molds, disease...you never know what will emerge, or when, to wipe out any progress you think you have made.

Students hustle to complete their year at school, looking forward to graduation, summer jobs or travel. Full of youthful enthusiasm, energy, and spirit, they plot their courses and boldly shoot out into the world fully expecting to ever grow, learn, and achieve more. Most of them, that is - one day can end it all.

Tragedies like the shooting at Virginia Tech, and other places, bring us all up short. What is this craziness? We are so suddenly in shock - mourning, berating, questioning our world and lives. Couldn’t this have been seen coming and prevented? How can we keep it from happening again? What can we do to keep our children and ourselves safe? There is no place to hide - there are no easy answers.

It is easy to grieve for those killed, for their families, friends, and others who witnessed the carnage. They did not deserve to die. Neither do the victims of wars, dictators, suicide/car bombers, ethnic cleansing, malnutrition, or disease. None of it makes any sense to me.

As someone with a close awareness of mental illness, I also grieve for the young man who did the killing. What terrible darkness, pain, and despair he must have experienced to be driven to such actions. I am tempted, once again, to rage and blame - but I find no answers in that either. My heart goes out to his parents and sister, who must now bear this burden bequeathed to them for the rest of their lives. None of this is fair.
And so we are left hurting and hunting - for reasons, resolutions, maybe even revenge. But, wounded though we are, perhaps we are not meant to have all the answers. Perhaps, difficult as it is, we only need to persevere and have love - as well as faith and trust in the One who does know all.

As the current rain subsides, I will pick up my rake and trowel, and go forward into the vast unknown of my own backyard. There are pests, diseases, and weeds to be tackled and seeds to be lovingly sown - it is what I am meant to do.

“All men are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.”
1 Peter 1:24

(This was written in response to the tragedy on April 16, 2007, when 32 young people were gunned down and killed, along with 15 others who were wounded, before the gunman took his own life. It was the worst massacre of this type in U.S. history.)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What Lies Below

It was the strangest feeling, one I remember to this day, of somehow being a member of a secret society. As I wandered about carrying my newly-acquired, odd staff I would occasionally pass others carrying the same. Our eyes would meet, briefly, and there would be the light of understanding; the recognition of brotherhood. We shared the knowledge that what we each carried was far more than it appeared to be.

Tired of sedate gray, wet days, we had ventured into the huge Seattle Garden Show for an early taste of spring. Our senses were inundated with the sights and smells of growing things - a gardener’s Eden! Mostly, we wandered and looked, but I figured we just might come home with a prize or two. My husband and I wander at different speeds, so agreed to go our separate ways and meet up later at a certain time and place. Strolling among various flowers and shrubs carefully laid out in intricate indoor gardens, I saw a great many plants I loved. What I ultimately chose to purchase, however, was not all that spectacular. A large bundle of them was displayed and the price was right. I hurried on to our meeting place clutching my prize - held upright so as not to poke anyone. I sincerely hoped the four foot long, crooked, leafless branch would be worth the trouble of carrying it - around the pavilion, through the city streets down to the dock, across the Sound on the ferry, and in the car back home.

It did not disappoint me. The essential ingredient was water, and plenty of it. We set the lower end of the branch in a bucketful and left it there. It was not long before fine, white threads appeared, grew, and branched out until they filled the bucket. Tender, bright green leaves sprouted from the spindly top. It was then time - we carried it down to the waterlogged area beside the pond, dug a hole big enough for the root mass, plopped it in, covered the roots with wet soil and left it on its own.

That was some years ago and the spindly, crooked branch is now a 25 foot tall willow tree. Commonly called a corkscrew or curly willow, it has thrived and grown strong in its place by the pond. Its branches live up to the name, growing in random, crooked fashion and giving the whole tree a disheveled, Bohemian look. Its myriad branches and small, narrow leaves give birds a well-protected place to hang out; their songs emanate from there in the spring and summer, although it is hard to spot them in among the greenery.

In years with heavy infestations of the tent caterpillars, it has not escaped the carnage. Some years we’ve worried as it’s been stripped nearly bare by the voracious gnawers whose webs have been too high to do anything about. But it has survived, putting out new growth when the worms are gone and coming back full and green the following spring. It continues to provide many small creatures with shelter, food and shade.

As I gaze at its strange, wiry silhouette each winter, I’m mindful that what we see is only half of what there is. Below ground its massive root system continues to branch out and support it - as long as it has water.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
Psalm 1:3

...And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:17-19

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Into the Woods

There is a primal and wild part of us that belongs in the woods – far removed from the everyday hustle and bustle, man-made structures and infrastructures, machines, and electronics with their noise and other associated distractions. A part of us belongs among the other living things created in the beginning so that we can directly experience, and thus value, our inter-connectedness. I believe with all of my heart and soul that it is vital to our being to maintain this connection – it is here that we can be silent, get to know ourselves and other beings, and above all – to know God.

I belong in another era perhaps, among the twittering birds of the tall grass prairie or on a high mountain lulled by wind stirring the trees and watching clouds scud across the sky. But since childhood, I have felt a connection to the land that is hard to express. I thank my family for that, for my parents came from a tradition of land-connection and fostered a respect for it in me.

Raised among myriad plants, and all the associated dirt, manure, sand, and water that those cultivated varieties required to survive and thrive, I always had a dirt or sand pile to play in – sometimes one of each. There were pests to learn to identify and deal with, although my way was with jars and magnifiers, and my parents’ was with traps, swatters and sprays.

I am of the age that remembers that parents said “Go outside and play” – and we all did. Although my domain back then was a city block or two, my favorite outdoor activities centered on what bits of nature I could find. Mostly this involved exploring around the neighborhood yards, streets and alleys, but we took frequent jaunts to nearby empty, weed-strewn lots. The “wildlife” was limited, but there were always a lot of caterpillars, bugs, and worms to find and most of us learned their names, habits, and life cycles.

Family outings or vacations were rare, but those were usually to a stream, river or lake for a picnic or fishing. There were city, county and state parks with rustic amenities and the wonderful national parks with their thousands of acres of wilderness and scenic vistas. To reach many of these, there were miles of driving through a mostly undeveloped landscape, so the opportunity for daydreaming and imagining was unlimited. All of these experiences helped shape me into the person I am today.

In this time and this place we are so often consumed with other things, both of our own making and beyond our control, that we fail to maintain our vital connection with the land. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do so, for it is in them that the seeds are planted for how our earth will be cared for (or not) in the future. It is with this intention that I am helping to establish a special garden, partly cultivated and partly left wild,  to nurture children with unstructured time spent in one small corner of what’s left of the natural world. It is our fervent wish that through this experience they will develop their imaginations, skills, and knowledge of this world and form their own intimate connections to God’s creations. It’s a place for the primal and wild part in all of us – so we also encourage adults to come and explore. What better way to spend some time than getting better acquainted with God's creations?

Now the LORD God planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food... The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Genesis 1:8, 9 & 15

(Photos by Sherry Gutierrez)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nothin' Fancy

Here he came again, with shuffling gait, stooped back, mumbling and grunting as he approached the counter. Life and time had taken a heavy toll. He had his dog along - a little nondescript scraggly thing that seemed to adore its ancient owner. The guy had a cranky streak and a quick wit - a diamond in the rough, for sure.

Working with the public, you expect to encounter all sorts of personalities. The floral business is no exception. This elderly man came in every so often, always grouching about something as he tried to decide what to buy. I already knew some of what he’d say: the flowers cost too much, wouldn’t last long, the person getting them would only kill them anyway. For some reason he always seemed to gravitate toward me, so I braced myself for the onslaught.

This time it was something for his wife’s birthday he sought. I tried to be upbeat, pointing out the beautiful vases full of roses, sure to please anyone. Too much money, he wasn’t made of it, you know. Then how about a cheerful bouquet of mixed flowers, less expensive, but still lovely? No, they would only die in a couple of days. What else did we have?

 I walked him through the shop, pointing out ideas, none of which he liked. Finally, I led him to some basket gardens. These woven baskets of different sizes and prices were packed full of small green and blooming plants. I pointed out the nicest ones. “Well, she’ll probably kill the damn thing anyway.” he informed me, before finally choosing a small, insignificant one. “This will have to do.” I felt relief - at least the decision had finally been made.

He shuffled to the counter again, as I fumbled with the computer to find his name. When I found it listed, there were several names exactly the same. What was his address? “ You found my name, why can’t you find my address, too?” he asked. I knew he had no tolerance at all for modern technology.

Finally, after more cutting remarks, he gave me his address, I brought up his order and began filling in the information for a delivery. “Do you want to include a card?” I asked. Now he became serious and a little more agreeable; he needed a favor. If he gave me a few bills, could I just sort of tape them to the handle of the basket for the old gal’s spending money? That’s really what he wanted her to have, a little extra spending money. Of course, I assured him, trying to picture just how to “artistically” tape a few ones or fives to the basket to make it look nice for his wife.

I should have known, he couldn’t care less how it looked. His tough veneer began to crack, ever so slightly. “I don’t mean to trouble you, but I’d like her to have a little money to get what she wants. I like to surprise her. The ol’ gal has put up with me for a lot of years, you know? She turns 85 tomorrow, and I won’t be around forever.” I nodded silently. “So, a few bills - just tape 'em to the handle, she’ll know who it's from.” He pulled out his wallet and began to neatly stack brand new $100.00 bills on the counter - 10 in all. Some May Basket.

Speechless at the computer, I began to finalize the order. I needed to address the delivery envelope, I explained, even without a card inside. “So, what’s your girlfriend’s name?” I asked. A smile flickered across his lips as he spoke her name. “Just stick ‘em on with a little tape, doesn’t need to be fancy.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19 - 21

Friday, May 21, 2010

One Giant Leap

Surrounded by downy hatchlings - seven little balls of fluff that huddled close beneath - she was protective, but unwilling to move very far. Brush and water were close by; had this mother mallard become so tame that she had no fear at all? For herself, perhaps, but highly unlikely when it came to her newly-hatched babes.

Camped in Yakima that brilliant May morning, as we’d been for several days, a group of us were there to help build homes for Habitat for Humanity. It had been a great week, and the men were taking the morning off to work hard at a little R & R. In the less-busy-than-usual morning someone noticed her.

The Yakima River flowed just below the levee that bordered our camp and several large ponds made up a portion of the campground. As might be expected, ducks wandered in to patrol and beg for food and were accustomed to people.

Quietly observing her, I became aware of a sound - tiny incessant peeps - coming from somewhere nearby. “Ah-hah!” I thought. I’m usually fairly observant, but this nest eluded me. Even when the peeps were the loudest, I still could not pinpoint exactly where it was. Gazing up into the branches of a huge cottonwood, it finally occurred to me that it was in the tree - about 15 feet up! A cavity between large branches provided the perfect, safe spot. She did not want to leave until all her young were together, and since the ones beneath her couldn’t go back up, she was waiting until the last few came down. Down came one with a soft plop, landing not far from where I stood. It sat there stunned for a few minutes, then made a beeline for mama.

Eventually, concern for the eight on the ground won her over, and she led them away - out of sight and hearing range as one of the remaining two took the leap. Following its plaintive peeps, I found it huddled amid thick brush near the swift-flowing Yakima. Soon it was in the water, hiding among branches along the shore. I rushed back to camp, returning with a large fish net and a friend. Not at all sure there was anything we could do, I felt compelled to try. With much maneuvering, and a quick, luckily-placed scoop, we hauled it in. Untangling it from the net, I luckily found its family near the pond. It raced to its quacking mom, who nibbled it gently and accepted it.

Later that day, a campground worker climbed a tall ladder to rescue the final duckling, which had not yet gotten the nerve to bail out. It seems that same duck nests in that tree every year, but this was the first time he’d “rescued” any. Gently handing it to me, he asked if I’d take it to where I had taken the last one. I was happy to do so.

The following day, our last in Yakima, I wandered around the pond to see if I could find the duck family. I believe I did - a devoted pair, but with only 7 babes now. The world is a dangerous place for the young - perhaps only one or two will ultimately survive. Against all odds, good parents do whatever they can.

Keep me as the apple of your eye,
hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who assail me,
from my mortal enemies who surround me.
Psalm 17: 8-9

For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle
and set me high upon a rock.
Psalm 27: 5

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Live Your Fortune

For-tune n. 6. fate; lot; destiny; whatever my fortune may be.

I listen intently as my two sisters and oldest niece talk with Mom. They ask about her early memories and family history. Mom, then 78, did her best to answer all their questions, although the conversation was far-ranging and complicated. She said that around 1912, when she was 6 or 7 years old, a gypsy woman came to her house offering to tell her mother’s fortune - in exchange for some food, of course. Her mother said, “No. I live my fortune, whatever it’s gonna be.” She then took the woman out to her barn, gave her several chickens (alive, no doubt), some eggs, and a pound of homemade butter. Mom insisted those gypsies “...robbed the neighborhood blind”, but never touched her house because her mother always gave them something to eat.

I switch off the small Walkman and contemplate what I’ve just heard. The conversation took place 26 years ago, thankfully recorded by my niece. I had not known of its existence until a time when we discussed the family research I’ve been doing and she offered to send me the tape.

I try to look beyond the stereotypes of the era to catch a glimpse of the women one and two generations ago. Mom has been gone for 22 years and I knew very little of my Grandma. We lived far apart and I only remember visiting her once or twice - she never came to see us. My dim memories of her are not pleasant ones and she died when I was 7.

But with the passing of years, and older family members, I became curious about a number of people and events in the past. Bit by bit, my efforts have slowly divulged birth dates, places of origin, occupations, migrations and offspring. It’s been a tangled web, to put it mildly.

Grandma was born in Illinois in 1878, followed by one sister two years later. In 1880, her family traveled by train to a coal mining camp in Montana, where her father could work. He later died of pneumonia, leaving his widow alone to raise the children. Her mother stayed on in the camp, ran a boarding house, worked as a cook. I can only imagine how rough it was there - winter snows blocked the doorways; Liver-eatin’ Johnson and Calamity Jane frequented the area.

Grandma had her first child at 14 or 15 (probably out of wedlock), married, had a second child at 18. Her husband was abusive and, although they lived on an isolated ranch, she somehow found the strength to leave him. By 1900 her family had moved to Helena, where she supported herself and two small children by working as a cook and housekeeper. She was all of 21. She divorced her abusive husband, met and married my Grandpa. They had a baby boy who died at two weeks of age; he had been named after Grandma's father and her then husband, my Grandpa. Four more children followed, the oldest of whom was my mother. Sadly, this marriage also ended and she continued to help support her large family by raising chickens and running a dairy. She later raised at least one grandchild. Surely, Grandma knew what it was to be ostracized, poor, and hungry.

But there was something else - Grandma was a devoted Christian. Her children were baptized and my mother attended a catholic school. I believe she also knew God and I’m sure He saw her through a lot. I’ve heard the stories - she always found something to give.

 Crusty and tough as she was, I wish I’d known my Grandma better. I now think I have at least some understanding of her and the legacy she left. Thanks to you, Grandma, and Mom who followed - I live my fortune, whatever it’s gonna be.

The Lord will keep you from all harm -
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121:7-8

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yo-Yo Connections

Mom reached into the stuffed plastic bag and carefully pulled it out, gently unfolded and spread it open, lovingly smoothing it with her hands. I had never known about this and it took my breath away.

My in-laws had reached the age when “down-sizing” seemed prudent and Mom, especially, had been trying to clear things out and get their house in order, so to speak. For the last couple of years she had gone through the things she treasured with me, asking what we might want. At first I’d been hesitant, not wanting to seem greedy or uncaring. I told her they should be the ones to decide what to do with their things. Mostly, I hadn’t wanted to face facts and the inevitable time of passing things down to the next generation. Finally, we had chosen what we most wanted and marked each with a small round sticker - B & B scribbled on as a reminder. Many of the things still lived with them, but their minds had been eased on the matter.

And then this - a multicolored coverlet made of myriad pieces of cotton fabric, each piece carefully cut into a perfect circle then hand-gathered into a “Yo-Yo”. The Yo-Yos were assembled - a solid colored one surrounded by 6 patterned ones, those surrounded by 12 more of the 1st solid color, then by 18 white ones - and hand-stitched together into a hexagon. Connecting the 6-sided figures, and along each edge, were green Yo-Yos. The overall effect of 3,325 small circles of pink, yellow, blue, lavender, orange, gray , white and green united into a beautiful honeycomb pattern was dazzling!

Probably begun in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s, this wonderful piece of needlework took all the time, patience, precision & love that Mom could pour into it. Bill remembers years of family evenings spent in their basement rec room with Mom diligently working away at this project. No one quite remembers how long it took nor when it was finally finished. Although it looked brand-new and as if it had never been used, she assured me it had been.

Did I want it? Mom’s memory was beginning to fail, so over the next couple of years she asked the same question many times; each time, I tried to reassure her that I did. One fall, I simply wrote & told them we would love to receive that coverlet for Christmas. It arrived the next week along with a note saying how relieved she was that we really did want it. Since then, we’ve enjoyed it covering our bed each summer, adding color, nostalgia and warm thoughts of family to our lives.

Each time I look at it I am reminded of the many connections we have in our lives. Each of us, as individuals, is surrounded closely by those dear to us: first our immediate family, then extended family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances and others we interact with from time to time. The color, pattern and shape of each life radiates outward through these connections until we all are joined together by a common thread. Without it, we are single Yo-Yos bouncing through life with no design at all.

When the thread is a strong one called LOVE - we become a living work of art.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God...This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him...God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him...We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:7, 9, 16 & 19

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Word Butcher

Haul in
A side of words
Slap in the hooks
Hang it up for all to see

Raw, uncut verse
Ready for the butcher
A small cut here
Trim up the lines

Scrape off the fat
Condense the images
Saw through to the very bones
Where emotions lie

A nice roast of character
Standing on its own
Parallel phrases
Laid out like so many chops

Cut out
All the repetition
A ton of words
Tossed on the scrap heap

Story line steaks
Thick and meaty
Edit too much
End up with hamburger

Sharpen the rhythm
Clear and concise
Enough to make
Anyone's mouth water

Package up neatly
Lay out for the masses
The secret hope
That someone will buy

(Written during a poetry writing class when all our work was brought in for class critiquing. Can be intimidating, but if you open yourself up to the process it can be enlightening as well. So MUCH to learn...)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Let Them Go

Fur flew, small tufts wafting away on the breeze, as she rapidly plucked it from her chest. I flew myself then, my 10 year old legs carrying me into the house, screen door banging behind. Concerned, I excitedly explained what I had just seen. A smile flickered across my mother’s face as I led her out to the cage. Potsy was nowhere in sight, having disappeared into the small wooden house. Peeking in, Mom nodded knowingly. “She’s making a nest. She’ll be having babies soon.” Babies!!

Potsy, my recently-acquired pet rabbit, had obviously bred before she came to us. This was before I knew that rabbits spend a good share of their short lives reproducing. I would learn this soon enough as my collection of rabbits - and their upkeep - multiplied way beyond what I had ever envisioned. But at that moment I was excited and could hardly wait for the big event. It would, after all, be the first time I had babies of my “own”.

Soon, Potsy had her litter and I had “my” babies, although I didn’t see much of them at first. She was very protective and hardly left her house, coming out only for food and water. Mom warned me not to bother the new family as sometimes mother animals get upset and may harm their young. We peeked in occasionally to see the blind, pink, thumb-sized creatures. Potsy made clear her opinion of this by leaping about the cage and stomping her large hind feet. As soon as she could she’d return to them, busily cleaning and feeding them.

In time, I won Potsy’s trust. I would gather up the whole litter, bring them into the house and place them on a towel on the kitchen table. How perfectly their tiny claws were formed; how flat their little ears lay against their bodies; how precisely their skin markings matched their fur. I was surprised at their reflexes - so quick, if not yet finely tuned. A litter of baby rabbits can resemble popcorn as their strong little legs jerk in preparation for real jumping.

Before I knew it the young rabbits were half grown, eating on their own, and spending little time in their house. Potsy was less concerned and began to “cut the apron strings” so to speak. Of course, in the wild she would have been on her way towards having another litter and perpetuating her kind. These young would have been quickly on their own to survive or not.

I’ve raised fish, gerbils, puppies, ducklings, goslings and lambs. I’ve known many kinds of mothers, from a Sheltie who nursed and raised an orphaned kitten to a neurotic gerbil who chewed off all of her babies’ feet. There are striking similarities, but animal mothers and babies are not the same as human ones. Observing is not at all the same as being. I wanted to be a mother and it took me a long time. I was never to have a baby, but after 14 years of marriage, we adopted a wonderful little boy. I finally knew motherhood with all its ups and downs, joys and pains. It is everything and nothing like I thought it would be - truly the experience of a lifetime.

Beginning way back with Potsy, I learned that children are not our possessions - they are only loaned to us. You prepare for a child as best you can, devote time and energy to their protection and care, love them with everything that is in you. Eventually, you must let them go. For they are all adopted children and must be free to become Who’s they are.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will - to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.       Ephesians 1:4 - 6

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Mother Lives On

Reflected in the pond, the magnolia unfolds its huge, saucer-shaped pink blooms. Planted years ago, it is a bit taller than I am - slow growing, this tree. Quiet, unobtrusive, steadfast - just as she, in whose memory it was planted, was. She’s been gone so long I sometimes wonder what I have left of her. Then I remember...

She chose a Weeping Birch for the front yard, a Flowering Crab, an apple, and a Black Walnut for the back. Her flower beds edged the yard and over the years she grew countless things I can, and some I cannot, remember. Fresh flowers, lovingly arranged, were a part of every holiday or special family occasion. In the cabin at the lake, or any place where we stayed more than one night, there might be a small bouquet of wildflowers. House plants filled the kitchen window. If she could not be outdoors, then she brought some of it in.

She nurtured us as well:
The body needs healthy nourishment - nutritious, made-from-scratch meals, every single day. Fresh fruit is the best thing for snacking. Use as much of the plant or animal as you can - waste nothing. Preserve what you can - for the long winter or the tough times. Risk a little, try new foods and recipes. SHARE your abundance with a neighbor - they will return the favor.

The mind needs stimulation - talk with your family, but more important, LISTEN. Encourage free expression of ideas, hopes, dreams and discussion of issues and events. Read to your children and promote the love of books, an interest in news and a passion for knowledge. Demonstrate creative thinking; dare to express your own view of things even if it is different from another’s point of view.

The spirit needs renewal and revitalization - SEEK moments of peace and quiet to reflect on the greater scope of life. Eliminate excess noise and distraction. Know that you are only one part of the natural world and learn your place in it. Find joy in the small things, awe in the great. Do what you love to do.

Choose your values and value your choices. RESPECT everyone, regardless of age, color, nationality or sex - unless they give you a good reason not to - then steer clear. Learn your manners and use them, they will get you through when nothing else will.

WORK HARD at what needs to be done. If you can’t have what you’d like, then make do with what you have - and be grateful for it. There are always others better off - and worse - than you.

FIND the HUMOR in life and enjoy it to the fullest; laugh ‘til your face turns red and tears run from your eyes.

BE KIND and gentle with all life, but hold your ground when you need to and fight back if necessary. Accept your family and friends for who they are even with their various faults and idiosyncrasies. The good Lord watches over children and fools - we are all one or the other.

One year, when I was away at college, I had no money to buy her a Mothers’ Day card or gift. Instead, I wrote her a poem, which ended with:

Although I am myself, it’s true,
part of what I am, is you.

Now I know - a mother lives on through her children.

Let your father and mother be glad,
let her who bore you rejoice.
Proverbs 23.25

Monday, May 3, 2010

Scratching in Dirt

My mother was a simple person - a humble, modest, unassuming woman who spoke her mind plainly and did what she thought was right, especially with her children.

Since I was the youngest child and raised as an “only”, I tagged along beside her often. She was nearly always busy doing something and I’m sure there were times when she would have savored some solitude. Nevertheless, she’d patiently listen as I’d rattle on and on about things that seemed important to me. In between my chattering, she’d share her thoughts and give her opinions. Sometimes, in no uncertain terms, she’d let me know how I’d gone awry. We did not always agree, and I did have to mind her, so sometimes the sparks flew! But that was the exception; usually we’d just be together, working and talking.

She loved the great outdoors. Sometimes, judiciously and with great care, she’d attempt digging up a wild plant and planting it in her garden at home. It did not always work - still, she’d share with me the care needed and emphasize our responsibility. She was very proud that wild ferns filled a shady spot in our yard, and even then I realized how special that was (That was in dry, hot Montana, not wet, cool Washington.) She explained how humans work the earth slowly - cultivate, grow, sometimes disturb and neglect. Nature reclaims quickly because each kind of living thing has its own particular niche. It is better to work in harmony with the natural world.

She loved good food and food is where you find it: apples gleaned from a deserted orchard make wonderful pies; wild berries, while a pain to pick, are well worth it when served with fresh ice cream; a hook, carefully baited, tossed into the stream to float down into the quiet, deep, dark hole, may grab the attention of that big Brook Trout; a Lake Trout may just be a “sick one, passing by” - but it nearly always took her hook. Holidays need home cooking to be complete. Food, and the pursuit of it, nourishes much more than the body.

She loved family. She told that the rabbit pulls soft underfur from its chest to prepare a nest for its litter; the bird does the same with its feathers - and so the parent gives of itself to its offspring. Abandoned young can sometimes be saved, but they must be individually cared for, kept warm, hand-fed and watered often. There is no guarantee they will survive, but if you take on the task, you must stick it out to the very end. Being a parent sometimes causes pain and heartache - it takes time, effort, unwavering commitment and the love of a lifetime. There is no greater aspiration nor joy.

She loved well. If she was around now to hear how our scratching in the dirt side-by-side influenced my entire life, she’d quickly pooh-pooh the idea. She’d be wrong.

Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They will be a garland to grace your head
and a chain to adorn your neck.
Proverbs 1:8-9

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Gift Crow

(Web photo)
Standing in front of the large cage, I watched the small birds flit about. They all looked to be in good shape and healthy, with bright, clear eyes and smooth plumage. Many sported brightly colored throats, wings, or cheeks and all had the short, heavy beak typical of a finch. One in particular caught my eye.

Unlike the others, this one was not particularly attractive, being a plain brown with no distinguishing markings. It hopped back and forth between the perches; although its feathers were a bit scraggly, it looked healthy and alert, cocking its head and looking at me. The decision was made quickly. Gently and efficiently catching the small bird, the clerk asked if I was sure I wanted this one. As she placed it into the small cardboard box, I assured her that I did. After all, it was a special gift for a special person.

My mother had kept pet birds for years, usually a canary. I never thought to ask when or why she began, but had grown up with the sounds of their songs in the bay window of our kitchen. Recently she had begun to keep finches and we all were enjoying these lively little birds. Although busy with working in the family business and caring for our family, she always managed to keep their cage clean, their food and water cups full, and to have a daily conversation with them. But when one of the birds died unexpectedly, leaving the other all alone, I decided to surprise her with a new one. For me this was a major decision and a bold step, but after telling my dad of my plans and borrowing the family car, off I went to the town pet shop.

Full of excitement over my purchase, I presented Mom with the box. She could tell what was inside - she just didn't know the specifics. Carefully holding the box up to the open cage door, she watched as the new bird emerged. "WELL", she said. "It looks just like an old crow!" My heart did a flip-flop and I suddenly felt very ashamed. Mom studied me briefly, then she smiled and her eyes twinkled as she said: "SO, that's just what we'll call him. Crow. He is a cute little devil, isn't he?" And then, relieved that she liked him at least a little, my explanation tumbled out: how sorry I felt for this little bird, all the other birds were so beautiful but he was just so brown and plain. Sure that no one else would buy him, I feared he would be left all alone with no one to care for him. I knew that she'd accept and take good care of him - maybe even love him after awhile.

Crow lived for many years, not that his personality changed much. He still mostly just hopped back and forth in the cage and had a strange little chirp that he repeated over and over. Today we might decide that he had a psychological disorder common to caged animals, but we knew of no such a thing back then. He had been molting when I bought him but when his new feathers emerged, although he was still a plain brown, he looked very sleek and healthy. He always cocked his head and looked at you.

My mother did indeed take good care of Crow and we all grew to love him. More importantly, she looked beyond the superfluous surface details into the well-intentioned heart of the giver and was willing to accept this odd gift wholeheartedly. And, it turns out - with great amusement!

For if the willingness is there,
the gift is acceptable according to what one has,
not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:12

A gift opens the way for the giver
and ushers him into the presence of the great.
Proverbs 18:16