Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lifesaver Reverie

For us, vacation has almost always involved long drives to visit family. With the exception of our early marriage years, we have never lived close to relatives - often being hundreds of miles apart. A one or two-day drive seems a small price to pay for a treasured, once-a-year visit. Spending hours in a car, watching farms, fields, forests and small towns roll by can be stimulating, mesmerizing, hypnotizing - boring at times - lulling one into a private fog of thoughts, ideas, memories.

As a child, when my parents and I took a trip the back seat of the car was my private domain, though often cramped and small, depending on how much necessary “stuff” was packed in there with me. That was in the days before air conditioning and mandatory seat belts. I spread out as much as I could, daydreaming myself across the country. Mom would often stow away a small treat, silently passing it back to me with a smile somewhere near the halfway point of the trip. And so, with bare feet out the window, hot, dry, air whipping my hair, I slowly savored one sweet Lifesaver at a time, while imagination carried me anywhere I wished.

I have to admit, as an adult I still pack along a roll (or sometimes two) of Lifesavers for a long trip. For me, the magic is still there. As I suck the flavor from each one, thoughts of great importance and simple pleasures wander through...

Lime Jello salad, in Tupperware bowl,
      lined up at a potluck with laughing good friends.
Iced tea made from leaves steeped in the sun,
      in a sweating-cold glass on a sultry-hot day.
Fresh fruit picked and eaten right off the tree,
      a cherry or two for the birds, the rest shared with a pal.
Easing back in a lawn chair, or hammock or boat,
      gazing up and getting lost in an endless blue sky.
Salmon seasoned with lemon, seared on a grill;
      crisp corn-on-the-cob roasted with family nearby.
And bright yellow sunflowers nodding their heads, 
      over rows of beets, beans and carrots and chard.
Vivid orange sunsets, pale apricot dawns, 
      full moons reflected on a mirror-smooth lake
Enjoyed in the arms of someone you love.
      Steaming hot coffee after a brisk walk in the rain.
Roses, full-blooming, attracting butterflies and bees
      and barefoot, giggling children wiping
Sweet, juicy pineapple drips from their chins
      - then planting a sticky kiss on your cheek.

In this busy, harried, frenzied, stressful world, perhaps the laptop, Bluetooth, iPod, and cell phone should once in a while give way to a lowly roll of Lifesavers . Oh, and don’t forget the Tropical Flavors...

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Flutterer

First, there were the Goldfinches - a beautifully matched pair that are busier than usual these days. Hounding their every move, with fluttering wings and begging chirps, their three fledglings followed. They are old enough to feed themselves, of course, but then why give up a good thing? Must have been graduation day as the parents commandeered both perches at the seed feeder and fed themselves, ignoring their complaining offspring.
 Next, lively chattering, came the mother Downy Woodpecker and her little one, who also is old enough to take care of itself and busily dove into the hanging suet. Already its agility nearly matches that of the parent, for the swinging feeder poses no problem for it. Reluctantly, they give up their places to a noisy group of Nuthatches and Chickadees that are all atwitter with boundless energy. Their antics always make me smile as they flit back and forth between feeder and branch, quickly changing places. There an understanding of sorts among them - each gets a turn, although it must not take too long or it will be nudged out of line. The Hairy Woodpecker arrives, scattering the smaller birds with loud cry and brusque attitude. It grabs its turn at the suet with no negotiation whatsoever. But even he leaves with the noisy arrival of the Starling, a bird none of the others want to associate with. Me neither, as I consider them real pests, so I tap on the window to drive it away. Before long, others arrive - the Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, a Fox Sparrow or two, a family of House Finches. Then, during a lull in the action, it quietly sneaked in and once more I was enthralled.

One small chickadee hungrily attacked the suet, but its methods were a bit different. Instead of grasping the hanging wire basket with its feet and dangling on the underside for easiest access, it fluttered its wings madly - like a hummingbird - just under the basket, repeatedly stabbing its beak in for a bite. Then it would rest on a nearby branch before repeating its performance. It exhausted me just watching him. Why on earth would this bird choose this method, when it obviously required a huge amount of energy to hover as it did? This little guy is also a regular so I was familiar with, and greatly intrigued by, its actions. Because birds burn up so much energy, they require a lot and seldom waste any. Yet, here was this one fluttering away for all it was worth.

Days of patient study finally revealed the reason - it has only one leg. Poking out stiffly to the rear, its crippled leg is of no use to it. This amazingly strong little bird has adjusted and adapted as well as it can to its disability. It is cautious, coming to the window feeders only when no others are there. It perches well on its one leg, so manages the small branch and seed feeder just fine. Landing on and hanging from the suet feeder was difficult for it, but lately it seems to have conquered even this skill, and flutters below only rarely now. I do not know how long it will survive - life is difficult and short even for healthy birds. But I do know that it has grit and a will to survive - and a joyful lilt in its voice and movement. It will not easily be forgotten.

“...Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows....”
Luke 12: 6-7

Shout for joy, O heavens;
rejoice, O earth;
burst into song, O mountains!
For the LORD comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
Isaiah 49:13

Monday, July 19, 2010

Yellowstone Revisited

We ask other hikers if they have seen the bear
The sign warned of.
No one has.
They all have heard of someone else who has.
They say he was headed back over the ridge,
Toward the lake from which we have just come.
He, like the huckleberries,
Grows thick and plump this year.
Dark clouds hide jagged peaks,
envelop distant forest.
Hungry for sun,
People wonder out loud when summer will come,
Now that July is nearly gone,
And the rain continues.

It sifts down from the gray, beads on my jacket,
Slowly forms rivulets, drops to the ground.
I see it soak into earth, dampened for days now,
Still thirsty for more.

Old trees surround us,
Bare and blackened.
At their feet,
filling all space between,
Soft, young evergreens grow waist high.
Twenty two years ago the fires raged.
All efforts to control them failed;
Fueled by deadfall, drought, strong winds,
Their fury and destruction screamed
From headlines and nightly news.
By September, thousands of acres blackened,
They said it would never be the same.
We were there.
Waited in line, did as we were told.
Drove miles and hours without stopping,
Windows closed, through thick smoke
and searing heat.
No sun that day either
- nor for many more long after.
Now we rest under a large tree,
Seeking refuge from the rain.
Mountain Bluebirds flash bright among green.
The lake is brim full, clogged with water lilies.
Through binoculars distant white spots
Become pelicans and swans.
Two ospreys sit high above, sharp eyes scanning below.
Hillsides undulate with grasses
Still lush and green.
Rumpled foothills are
Nubby with grey-green sage.
Around us, wild blue lupine
flow and fade off in all directions
as far as we can see.
Jeans wet, boots muddy,
I raise my face to the gray sky
And laugh.

(The great wildfires of 1988 included 50 within Yellowstone National Park, scorching 12 million acres and burning 793,000 (36%) of park land. The history of wildfire in Yellowstone is long and varied. Even before written records of fire, we see evidence of fire in soil profiles, lake sediments, land slides, and in old-growth trees that have been scarred by fire. The majority of these fires have been caused by lightening, although a few are human-caused. Many species of plant life in that area are well-adapted to fire. Some, such as Aspen, have underground root systems that are not harmed by fire above ground and readily sprout after. Others, such as Lodgepole Pine, have their seeds sealed in cones by resins and require fire to free them for germination. In the years immediately following fires, huge numbers of plants sprout and thrive due to soils enriched with nutrients from the ash. Wildfires have raged there over several hundred-year intervals and it is clear that they have had a role in the dynamics of Yellowstone's ecosystems for thousands of years.)

Friday, July 16, 2010


Our house is old. Not ancient, nor historic - just comfortably lived in since the 1950’s when it was built. Although it’s had several additions over the years, the original part of the house has natural wood ceilings with thick, old, open beams and wide planks running across those. In the evenings the house plays its own symphony - moaning, groaning, and loudly cracking as the old beams contract with the cooling air. Morning sounds the same, as the wood slowly expands with the warmth of day. We’ve grown accustomed to the sounds, but visitors are often startled by the loud cracks.

Since the beginning, wood has been valued for making tools, houses, and myriad other things of use to mankind. Native Americans were the first to cut down and use trees in our area. Drift logs landing on the beach were welcomed and used, but they could not supply all the needs of a village. Thousands of years before the first non-natives arrived, they learned to fell the giant trees, using a variety of tools and methods.

Early explorers were impressed with the huge trees, seeking them from the very beginning for use on their sailing ships. The tall, straight firs and spruces were especially desired for ship spars - those tall, wooden poles which held their sails and rigging. They readily traded with the native people, gleaning their knowledge of the great trees and enlisting their help to acquire them. Although newcomers developed their own methods of logging, there is no doubt they observed and learned much from the Native’s methods.

There were no roads back then, only the water and a few native or animal trails, so people usually traveled by boat. In the 1850s, the first sawmills here were supplied with logs from trees growing near the water. Loggers began at the water’s edge and cut their way inland. Getting logs from forest to mill was a challenge and methods developed and changed as necessary to supply the growing need. Before the railroad arrived, loggers used horse and ox teams to drag logs over skid roads down to the water, where the logs were formed into huge rafts and floated to the mills. By 1881, a Seattle paper reported that the best timber had been cut from the shore of Hood Canal one and a half miles back for its entire length. The same was true for most readily accessible areas around the Puget Sound.

Human need is nothing new. In 950 BC, mighty King Solomon set out to build his massive temple, followed by an impressive palace. To complete the projects, he needed quality materials and highly-skilled craftsmen. Being practical, as well as wise, he established a working relationship with Hiram, king of Tyre to acquire all the timber he needed. He completed both in 20 years.

Apparently, “bigger is better” is not a new concept, either. Exactly how much house, furniture, and toys are enough? Enveloped and protected by the native woods in our home, I wonder - at what point does “need” become “greed”?
So Hiram sent word to Solomon:
"I have received the message you sent me and will do all you want in providing the cedar and pine logs. My men will haul them down from Lebanon to the sea, and I will float them in rafts by sea to the place you specify. There I will separate them and you can take them away. And you are to grant my wish by providing food for my royal household."
1 Kings 5:8-9

By your messengers
you have heaped insults on the Lord.
And you have said, 
"With my many chariots
I have ascended the heights of the mountains
the utmost heights of Lebanon.
I have cut down its tallest cedars,
the choicest of its pines.
I have reached its remotest parts,
the finest of its forests..."
2 Kings 19:23

Sunday, July 11, 2010

TIME at the Lake

In the early morning hours, as the sun creeps up to lighten the sky, a gossamer mist rises silently from the glass-smooth water. Shake the sleep from your eyes and go - walk quietly, passing beneath tall, stately fir and cedar, brushing past huckleberry and salal still awash with the morning’s dew. Approach it with a reverence befitting the mighty creation it is - when you are near its edge simply sit, listen, and BE. There is a hush, a silence so encompassing that it will envelop you and lay your soul bare.

I need a break from the busyness of life. There is always so much to do and my list seems endless. Mostly, this is my own doing, for I am definitely a doer. Work, family, church, home, garden and social commitments keep me going, going, going... I am fortunate, as I am at a stage in my life when I can (for the most part) decide what I will and will not do. I keep busy because I want to, for I savor life and want to give much and get as much out of it as I can. But I know that to keep building, I need to “sharpen the saw” every so often.

For me, that means stepping out of the daily routine and putting aside the usual load that I carry. I need to connect with friends, old and new. I enjoy spending a quiet morning beside the lake, sipping coffee and visiting with someone. So many things in this life take time. Nowadays, with our go, go, go life-style, it is easy to overlook this, but there simply is no shortcut - you need to take the time to get to know someone better.

I need the presence of children - their carefree laughter and exuberance. Through their eyes, I can again see the world as fresh and new, with daily adventures, challenges, and discoveries. Today’s children are kept so very busy that they, also, need the time and space to relax and unwind. To take each new day as it comes, complete with time to play - to explore the woods, splash in the water, row a boat, dangle a fishing line, share secrets, stories and games. They benefit from spending uninterrupted time with their parents, and with other caring adults as well - away from the TV, computer, video games, cell phone, and pager.

I need to share - to take and give with others in a safe, accepting atmosphere. To help prepare a meal, plan an activity, clean up, discuss a good book, explore my beliefs, listen to a concern, tell my story. These times together are far more important than we may realize, for it is in these precious moments snatched from the stream of the daily deluge of life, that we find our commonality, our community, our support for all that life throws at us.

I need this time spent at the lake - to wander the shady trails among the giant ferns and trees, to ponder this magnificent body of water left from the last ice age. I have come to know and love many of my church family members there. I have been refreshed, strengthened, unburdened, and motivated. I have learned much about others and myself, my strengths and weaknesses - and much about my faith. I have learned that God often speaks to me in a quiet voice, in the stillness of my heart.

Join us at the lake - breathe deep, quiet your mind and body, and listen - the voice will come.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
Psalm 23:1 - 3

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Loony Junco

He was at it again. Time after time after time he fluttered up and down near my husband’s shop window. After resting briefly in the nearby evergreen, he attacked the window until it was streaked with wing-marks and he was exhausted. We grew tired just watching him and dubbed him the “loony” Junco. The reason for his behavior remained a mystery to us, just as the reason for his eventually stopping.

Glenn and Martha Vargas © California Academy of Sciences

One morning, some weeks later, I awakened to a tapping at the bedroom window. By the time I woke up enough to look, whatever had caused it was gone. The next morning I heard it again, this time at the other window. I was definitely reminded of Poe’s raven, although this sound was so slight I seriously doubted it was caused by one of those birds. By the third morning, I was expecting it and was not so surprised to see a small bird racing back and forth in the window box tapping at his own reflection. And guess who?
Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

(When they see their own reflection in your window, they assume they're seeing a competitor and attack the image... Fortunately, this behavior usually dissipates within a few days or, at most, weeks. But while it lasts, the bird may exhaust or even hurt itself, and it distracts the bird from far more important activities. And this behavior can be extremely annoying for the people witnessing it. - The Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Thus developed a sort of game between the two of us. He soon preferred one window, so I would sometimes stand inside so that he would see me as he fluttered close. My presence temporarily interrupted his routine, causing him to fly off to tree branch, chirping & twitching about anxiously. It didn’t deter him for long though, and he’d soon be back “patrolling” the window. The arrival of a second bird, grass in beak, caused me to take a closer look. Sure enough, wedged in between the begonia and lobelia, not three inches from the glass, a small nest was taking shape. It seemed we were all winners this time.

For the next few weeks we were honored with the presence of this bird family. They allowed us to “peek out” as they completed the nest, laid, incubated, and hatched four tiny eggs. The frenzy of defending territory became the frenzy of keeping four mouths full - both parents coming and going constantly.

Dr. Lloyd Glenn Ingles © California Academy of Sciences

All too soon we noticed one small fledgling had abandoned the nest and huddled next to the glass. Within an hour, two others had joined it. The parents, chirping their concern, continued to feed and nurture these bold ones, while remembering the last one, still clinging to his security within the nest. Another hour (or more?) passed. The three had worked their way to the far edge of the window box. Then, without apparent warning, the last one struggled to the rim of the nest, took a running leap to the dirt and raced right off the end of the box, spreading his pin-feathered wings as he went. In swift succession the others joined him, all swooping down and up to most-ungraceful landings in the maple tree. The parents fluttered about, checking on each one. By the next day, none of them was anywhere to be seen.

I have to admit that I was not prepared for the emptiness I suddenly felt as those babes took their flying leap into the world. I will never know, of course, which one - if any - it will be this year. But I look forward to seeing a “loony” Junco fluttering wildly against a window. 

How precious is thy steadfast love, O God!
The children of men take refuge
in the shadow of thy wings.
Psalms 36.7

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Root of the Problem

The plants were not doing so well. They grew, but were spindly and pale - frankly, they looked malnourished. I blamed it on the quality of the commercial soil I’d planted them in. You know, that idea of “They just don’t make things like they used to.”...

Some years ago, we purchased 3 of those half whiskey barrels that the garden centers and grocery stores occasionally sell. We lugged them home, drilled a couple of holes in the bottom of each one and, after much discussion, we finally decided where to place them. We put a layer of rocks in the bottom for good drainage and filled them with fresh soil. Each year, I planted various perennials, annuals and spring bulbs in them, and they worked well. Then, gradually and for reasons unknown, the one barrel in the back yard began to wane. I tried fertilizing it regularly and was diligent with watering in the summer. It seemed the better care I gave it, the worse the plants did. ‘Twas a puzzlement to me.
One spring several years ago, I decided something had to be done. We mixed topsoil, sand and compost to create a wheelbarrow load of fresh new soil. Then, I began to carefully dig out the sad plants that remained in the barrel. Immediately, I knew that something was not right - the hand trowel would barely penetrate the soil. I tried chopping away as hard as I could, with little progress. Finally, after a lot of hard hacking, I managed to clear away some soil to reveal what the problem was - roots. The deeper I dug, the more roots there were. And they did not belong to the sad little plants, either.
With my husband’s help, I finally worked my way down. There, in the very bottom, one wandering root from the huge Douglas fir tree above had found its way into one of the drainage holes. Once inside, it had taken full advantage of all the water and fertilizer that I had lavished on this particular planter and literally taken over the whole thing. That entire half barrel was one mass of fir roots, leaving hardly any space, food or water for the plants I had planted there. No wonder they looked so pathetic!
At first, I was really angry. How dare that huge, wild tree just take over one of my prized planters? It had all the space and soil it needed - what nerve! But the more I thought about what had happened, the more awed I became. It all had obviously begun with one small root and one small hole. The root only sought that which roots always do - food and water. It was, after all, part of the underground support system for one giant tree and had important work to do. In the end, what totally blew me away was just how well it did it. If roots get awards, that one took top prize.

Later that summer I was to discover a similar situation with a compost pile at the base of another fir. The roots had totally taken over this rich, nourishing medium also. And already this summer I have discovered yet another planter beset with tree roots. We’ve set about, once more, learning to adapt our activities to the other living things we share our space with. The barrel, and now the planter, have been set up on bricks and - so far anyway - the tree roots have not found a way up. Our compost piles now are laid out on tarps, to discourage the roots below from taking over.
For they will seek and find what they need. 

“Blessed are those
who hunger and thirst
for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”
Matthew 5:6

The wicked desire
the plunder of evil men,
but the root
of the righteous
Proverbs 12:12