Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Late Summer Letter

Dear Father,

I received your most welcome gifts of long, sunny, days, fair temperatures, blooming flowers, and singing birds. Thank you so very much. I will try to care for the plants as best I can - they are such a joy to me. Thank you also for each creature - and person - who comes into my life each day. Each is so special that I find it hard to express what they mean to me. I trust that you know.

Time is flying by quickly here, and summer has been good. Each day brings many joys and surprises, but also some pain and suffering. About the usual, I would say. Life keeps me busy; often I forget to thank you for what you have sent - sorry I have not been better about keeping in touch.

Even at my age, I’m learning new things and meeting new challenges. I try to exercise, eat healthy, and take care of the body you have given me, although it does seem to be an uphill battle. My mind is not as quick as it used to be in some areas, but seems to compensate by being far wiser in others. I keep it busy and active. I ‘m trying to use my time, talents, and resources to serve others, but know I could do more. I only share when I want to and admit to being darned lazy at times!

I’m sorry to say that my mouth still gets me in trouble, for too often I react with my head rather than my heart. I’ve resolved a few conflicts and apologized to some people I have wronged, but must admit that I still hold a grudge or two. I’m embarrassed to realize just how arrogant and judgmental I can be and I certainly don't share as much as I could. I’m sure this will not surprise you, as you’ve known me my whole life and I’m probably not all that unusual of a human being. I do wonder why you gave us a will of our own, as we so often go astray...

In the quiet times this summer, I’ve had a chance to think deeply about many things and I have some serious questions I hope you will answer someday. Why do you allow us to go on hurting each other - insulting, bullying, abusing, maiming, and killing,? Will there ever be an end to war? Why do “good” people suffer so, while some “not-so-good” people don’t seem to? Where is the clear line between good and evil - and who gets to decide where it lies? How do we decide what is “right” and yet not be judgmental? Will we ever learn to take care of this spectacular planet you've given us and clean up the messes we've made here? Why haven’t you washed you hands of the lot of us?

I am still trying to grow and find my way, wanting so many answers. But above all, I know that you love me and will always be with me. When you seem far away, it is me who has wandered off - I seem to do it often. You know what I can and cannot handle, what I should and should not know, so I should not doubt you at all. Please help me with my unbelief - yet again.

And finally - thanks for just being there, for it is often Your presence that gets me through the day.

Your loving daughter,

“’If you can?’ said Jesus.
Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,
“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Mark 9:23-24

Monday, August 30, 2010

Porch Runner

©2006 Walter Siegmund

For years, we called it the “Porch Runner” because that’s exactly what it did - run across the porch, over the railings, underneath, out the other end and through the flower beds lickety-split. It rarely sat still, racing along the ground or flitting from bush to bush, often concealing itself within a dense thicket. We watched it snatch crumbs from the dog’s dish, pick small leftovers from the barbecue grill, hop through the grass flushing out bugs which it nipped in mid air, or gobble seeds from the feeder. Mostly, it scratched for a living. Using both of its large feet at once, it scratched down into moist humus, bare earth, and even snow, to uncover whatever seeds and tiny bugs it could. Often, we’d hear it rooting around before we saw it. With its dark, rusty color and streaked breast it easily blended into its surroundings.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

We’ve grown accustomed to having these plain, nondescript little birds around. One spring day I took the time to trace the source of a brilliant musical song and was truly surprised to find it came from one of these dark little birds. Finally, I took the time to study it carefully and identified it - Song Sparrow. A sly little bird it is, too. Chickadees and Nuthatches pick through seeds in a small feeder at our kitchen window, dropping their rejects to the ground below. Song Sparrows nest under the porch, where it is only a couple of feet to reach this scattering of seeds. Since I keep this flower bed well weeded, it’s easy scratching here.

Violet-green Swallows

With small, weak feet, Swallows can barely walk on the ground, let alone catch their dinners. Each summer, we wait for their return and are elated when we finally see them swooping overhead or perching (with those tiny feet) on the power line that runs right below “their” birdhouse. My husband has built and hung many birdhouses in our yard, but each year the Violet-green Swallows claim the same one. This year, some Chickadees nested there first, causing quite a commotion when the Swallows arrived. Whether the Chickadees got their young raised or were run off we don’t know, but the Swallows ultimately reclaimed the house. Their metallic chirps echoed through the yard as they fed and reassured their young. Swallows catch their food on the wing, climbing thousands of feet up or skimming just above the surface of ponds and lakes, their short, wide mouths snapping up flying insects.

American Goldfinches

It is the season of plenty - whole families of Juncos, Goldfinches, House Finches, Downy, Hairy, and Pileated Woodpeckers, Flickers, Black-headed and Evening Grosbeaks, Ravens, and Crows share our space. I shed my shoes and walk across a carpet of green. Ancient cedars frame a sky of startling blue. The sun warms my back as I kneel down among color, fragrance, and buzzing bees. Nearby, an insistent noise distracts me. A young one follows behind, wings a-twitter, as the Porch Runner noisily scratches out its dance of life.

Pileated Woodpecker

 Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young -
a place near your altar,
O Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
Psalm 84:3-4

Song Sparrow picture file from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Driving Storm

Sky, stuffed with clouds
All shades of grey
Bleeding into one another.
Along the horizon
A small fringe of white puffiness
Holds out against encroaching darkness.

We see it first.
Distant smudges blurring
The difference between land and sky.
Drive into it -
Or it into us -
Large, loud splats against the windshield.

Rain so hard
Wipers can barely clear it off
Fast enough to see.
Moments before, dry gray highway
Now covered with sheets of water.
Inside, we shout to be heard.

In the distance a sudden, blinding flash
From earth to sky and back again,
Although I cannot see this order.
Following quickly behind,
A deep, disturbing rumble
We feel in bellies and on the floor.

A reflection -
Our own traveling through this -
In the images passing by.
Other cars on narrow, now-blackened strip,
Race through and part the flow,
Spraying water as if they were hydroplanes.

It does not last long.
Flash and rumble
Fade away into the distance.
We pass from the storm -
Or it from us -
See dark, smothering clouds recede to the rear.

Drive on through dappled, rain-fresh hills,
All colors deeper now, and more pronounced.
Sweet smell of wet grass and dust

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Willows of the Brook

At first it was a whisper, barely there, something sensed more than heard. Then the syncopated rhythm, drumming softly on skylights and roof. Gentle rain with a hint of breeze stirred the surrounding woods and began the day.

Summers, we enjoy morning coffee and the paper outdoors. My husband prefers the picnic table on the porch where he can spread the news out before him. I usually soak in the sun near the carport, close to the bird feeders where the action is. But this day, even with predicted high temperatures, arrived with clouds and light fog misting in from the canal. On the porch, curled up in my favorite chair, I gazed out to a sea of green - the tall, swaying type.

Beyond the old cedar and the wild cherry, the land slopes down into bog filled with Alders, Douglas Firs, a few Elderberries and Mountain Ash. Near the road, a small drainage stream winds its way through the thicket. There among the blackberries, a number of willows grow. We hardly notice, as they are mostly out of view and that area is far too boggy and choked with brush to walk through.

But we did notice the sudden clearing left after a winter wind storm several years ago. One large old willow had been snapped and was bent over into the bog. Aside from being unattractive, it wasn’t hurting anything and was nearly impossible to reach, so we decided to just let it be. We figured it’d rot out in a year or two and gradually disappear completely. We figured wrong.

That spring, we agreed to have a few of the large Alders closest to the house removed. Wind-damaged, with large splits in their trunks, they could hit the house if they came down on their own. My husband mentioned the downed willow to the tree man. He told us it probably wouldn’t rot; the fallen part would put out new roots, the branches facing up would continue to grow, and a whole new clump of smaller trees would form. By the end of that summer his prediction had come true and then some.

I should have known. We have several curly willows and a couple others we grow for the large pussy willow catkins they produce each spring. All have been grown from branches simply stuck in damp soil and left to root. Willows beyond our fence in the neighbor’s woods continue to multiply, slowly moving our way until we whack them back again - and yet again.

Willows sprout readily, grow in all soils, and on all continents except Australia. For thousands of years they have been used for food, housing materials, firewood, basketry, and pain-relief, containing a chemical similar to aspirin.

Their sticky-sweet scent wafts me back to childhood, when on summer trips we’d stop beside a cool stream for a rest or lunch. If there was water, there were always willows - how we welcomed their shade!

And you shall take on the first day
the fruit of goodly trees,
branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees,
and willows of the brook;
and you shall rejoice before the Lord seven days.
Leviticus 23:40

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tents and a Bucket

It had been a summer of darkness and light. First, the worms. We thought that by removing all the Styrofoam-like egg cases from tree branches and lopping off twigs with the early webs we’d gained a leg up on their summer’s advance. We thought wrong.

(Dark section of this tree's trunk is solid caterpillers.)

Soon we were surrounded, as the native woods endured the first round of attack and the familiar canopy of shade began to disappear. Having stripped the giant Alders, these voracious tent caterpillars moved on to new territory. For days, standing in silence at the edge of the yard, we heard the dropping of small bodies, or their droppings - we never knew for sure which - like the pitter-patter of a gentle rain. Seeing cherries standing out like rounded bright red sore thumbs on a nearly leafless tree and gorgeous full-blown roses on naked stems, I knew we were defeated. My husband swept the porch numerous times each day and resorted to spray, but it was a case of simply letting nature run its course. Our yard became noticeable sunnier.

Then, the moths. After a brief respite during a staggered pupation period, a new wave appeared.

Each evening brought a flurry of drab, furry brown bodies beating themselves to death on every lighted window, door and skylight in sight. And so, an equally bright idea formed in the back of my husband’s mind and he set out to fight fire with fire, so to speak. He concocted a moth trap with a metal shop light clamped to a wooden lath, which in turn was clamped to a white plastic bucket full of soapy water. Worked like a charm! Left on all night long, the light did its job of attracting the moths, so that by morning he was dumping a good-sized army of dead moths. We did not win the war, mind you, just leveled the playing field a bit.


Enter, the frog. A small tree frog lives in an ivied basket on the porch railing near our kitchen window. It comes and goes as it pleases and I like to think it is the same one each year, although it probably is not. Since the moth trap was on the end of this railing, we noticed the frog leaving its basket and lurking about as we watched the mass mothicide each evening. We observed one night as he scaled upward - his delicate, splayed toes, outstretched legs, and rotund little body silhouetted against the backlit white bucket. Reaching the top, he crept along the narrow edge and wedged himself into the small space between the clamp and the lath. I worried that he might leap at a moth, flinging himself into the frothy water below, but he was wiser than that. He waited patiently, casually picking off the odd moth that ascended up the lath by foot, wings vibrating. In the darkness of night, this frog was now highly vulnerable, waiting alone under a bright light to fill its belly. But it was an opportunist, took its chances and depended, at least for the time being, on this light for its livelihood.

 I think this is dangerous, risky business for a frog. How could he do that? On the other hand, life is a dangerous, risky business. How could he not?

But everything exposed by the light becomes visible,
for it is light that makes everything visible.
This is why it is said:
“Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead.
and Christ will shine on you.”

Be very careful, then, how you live -
not as unwise but as wise,
making the most of every opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish,
but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Ephesians 5:13 - 17

You are my lamp, O Lord;
the Lord turns my darkness into light.
With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.
2 Samuel 22:29 - 30

Moth picture file from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Smelt Run

Today I walk among gulls;
Hundreds speckle the beach.
I have never seen so many
Nor felt so ignored.
Feel their frenzy as they
Pace, run, take to the wing
As each wave crashes;
Land in a wing beat or two behind it.
Silver flashes as they nip
- quick flip -
Swallow whole, head first.
Ritual repeated again and again.

Little bickering,
Scant chasing or squawking.
Today they have
a tolerance
For each other.

But not for the ravens,
Who try to
bully and bluff;
Who watch,
quickly snatch leftovers,
Fly off to trees
on the high bank.

There they eat in solitude,
Mock with loud,
rattling cry.

They live on the fringe,
Grab what they can.   
For the first time
I watch waders dip their nets,
Carry them brimful and wriggling,
To drop high on the shore.
As the waders turn their backs,
The gulls eat their fill
Until, exhausted by gluttony,
They rest on sand and preen.
Just beyond the surf bobbing dark,
Round shapes glide slowly back and forth,
Disappear, resurface some distance away.
Seals do not need the gulls’ permission.
"This evening we were visited by Comowool the Clatsop Chief and 12 men women and children of his nation... The Chief and his party had brought for sail a Sea Otter skin, some hats, stergeon and a species of small fish which now begin to run, and are taken in great quantities in the Columbia R. about 40 miles above us by means of skimming or scooping nets... I find them best when cooked in Indian stile, which is by roasting a number of them together on a wooden spit without any previous preparation whatever. They are so fat they require no additional sauce, and I think them superior to any fish I ever taste, even more delicate and luscious than the white fish of the lakes which hae heretofore formed my standaart of excellence among the fishes."
From the Journals of
Captain Meriwether Lewis & William Clark
February 25, 1806

Smelt drawing from the Journals of
Captain Meriwether Lewis & William Clark

Sepia Photo
The Smelt Fisher, Trinidad Yurok
1923 Edward Curtis

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Lizards on a String

Paul Hirst (Phirst)

Osama 1, the terrorist, sedately snoozes away under warm light in the space he’s staked out for himself. On occasion, when the mood strikes and without warning, he turns nasty. A flare of the throat, bobbing of the head and sudden rapid leaps are enough to strike fear into anyone nearby.

Jefferson Heard

That would be Osama 2, the coward. When Osama 1 is out of sorts, he simply retreats into a cave and hides out for awhile. His hiding can last from a few hours to days. Sometimes, only food or water are enough to lure him back out into open territory.


These two are small Anole lizards that live with us. We’ve had them for over 4 years now, acquiring them by default. Originally, I bought them to live in one of several terrariums that I had my students at school set up. I did not teach there the next year, and since no one would take responsibility for the lizards, I ended up keeping them. They require little care; during our infrequent travels our trusty “lizard sitter”, Danielle, gives them her own special brand of TLC.

As a young girl attending the Montana State Fair, I’d find vendors selling these - each tethered by a string tied around its neck, attached to a safety pin, and displayed on felt-covered boards. The idea was to pin them to your shirt and wear them as “living ornaments”. Several years I came home with one of these little treasures. I loved animals (any animal) and knew of nowhere else to get one, and felt sorry for them, seeing the need to rescue them from those dratted display boards. More than a jewel for me, as soon as I got mine home, off came the string and in he went to his own little new home - usually a large jar outfitted with twigs, grass and water. I’d gladly catch bugs to feed him and spend hours watching him change from green to brown and back again, then lull him into a trance by holding him on his back and stroking his belly. Things did not always go well with them, though. I watched one die a long, agonizing death while it rubbed its belly and turned a deep blackish color - the result, we thought maybe, of eating bugs that had been sprayed. (My parents owned commercial greenhouses and used sprays then that would never be allowed now.) Another one got loose, only to show up dead in a load of clothes that my mother removed from the washer. “Well, at least he died a clean death.” she said.


We’ve enjoyed these two. Both males, although looking exactly alike, they have very unique personalities. You cannot tell them apart by the way they look, you have to watch carefully how they act. In fact, I did not even bother to name them until after 9-11, when the name Osama reared its head. Osama 1 is usually very laid back. When I spray water in for them to drink, he closes his eyes, acts disinterested, and lets it drip off the end of his snout. When dinner is served (live crickets and other bugs) he acts like he couldn’t care less. Osama 2, on the other hand, is very high strung. The water spray drives him nuts - he races around the cage as if I’d sprayed him with acid. He attacks dinner as if there were no tomorrow. Strange bedfellows, these two.


Then there’s the way they act towards each other. Although terrorism and cowardice are occasional, total avoidance of each other is the usual behavior. However, when the temperature drops too low for their welfare, they gravitate towards each other. One will actually climb on the back of the other, hugging him tightly, to conserve and share what warmth there is. When they need to, they do band together - if only for sheer survival.

Are we so different?

lanare Sevi

("Anole lizards were once all the rage at amusement parks. People would win these guys on the fairgrounds, then wear them as "living jewelry." A harness with a short string was attached to the lizard, and people pinned the string on their outfits. It was a bizarre and inhumane practice.

Sometimes these slender lizards are sold as chameleons, but they aren't related to true chameleons. Anoles gained the moniker because they may also change color, though not as brilliantly as most chameleons.

There are 200 species of Anole lizards. The green Anole is the only species native to the United States and the one seen most often in pet stores." Steve Dale, My Pet World - 11/13/2000 - SunSentinel)

Four things on earth are small,
     yet they are extremely wise:

...a lizard can be caught with the hand,
     yet it is found in kings’ palaces.
              Proverbs 30:24 and 28

Two are better than one,
     because they have a good return for their work:

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
     But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
     two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
        Ecclesiastes 4:9, 11 and 12

picture files from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, August 13, 2010

Orphan Annie

I’d only intended to find a shortcut through town, avoid the traffic, maybe save some time. As often happens, however, my good intentions came to naught - I ended up stuck anyway, waiting to make a left hand turn into heavy traffic. Coming out of a back road , the intersection had no traffic light, so I was stuck for a bit. So much for saving time.

If I hadn’t been delayed, I probably never would have looked down at the roadway beside my car. As it was, I did, and so I noticed it lying there all dusty and ragged. Something about it intrigued me, so - no other cars being behind me - I backed up a little, opened the door and grabbed it. “How nice.” I thought. “One of those realistic-looking silk plants. Must have fallen out of someone’s car or been dropped by one of those companies that furnish businesses with a lot of fake plants for atmosphere.” It wasn’t very large and was missing a pot, but I figured I could make use of it somehow, so tossed it onto the floor in the back seat.

Eventually, I found a break in the traffic, made the turn and went on my way. I had other stops to make, so it was some time before I returned home. By then the car was sweltering inside as it was summer and a beautiful, sunny day. Iced tea sounded like a great idea.

It wasn’t until the next day that I remembered the silk plant. Bringing it into the kitchen and rinsing it off in the sink I discovered something strange. It was not silk. It had no pot and no roots - looking as though someone had just whacked it off at pot level - but it was a living thing. I caught myself wondering “why?” and “how?” I had no idea what kind of plant it was nor if it could survive such treatment, but it was not totally gone, so I decided not to toss it. I re-cut the bottom with a sharp clean knife and set the it in a glass of water. Many weeks passed and the darn thing just sort of hung on. It didn’t root, but neither did it die. I felt it deserved a chance, so I played the waiting game with it.

One day, I did notice some pale, fragile strands in the glass. Gradually, the number and size of them increased and the day came when I carefully planted my “Orphan Annie” in a pot with real soil. It continued to grow and thrive in the corner window of the kitchen where I could watch it and marvel at its nearly miraculous revival.

The ragged, dirty, sad silk that I chanced to find that summer day was a 10 inch weakling. Today, it stands a proud 84 or so inches tall and shows no signs of slowing down. I’ve since learned it is a Dracaena - well known for being tolerant of poor growing conditions - so I take no credit for its growth. All that I did was give it a chance and wait to see. I did so hope ...

Annie has shown me that sometimes that’s enough.

For if what faded away came with splendor,
what is permanent must have much more splendor.
Since we have such a hope, we are very bold,...
2 Corinthians 3.11-12