Thursday, September 30, 2010

Done with Summer

Like a willful child, I am dragged kicking and screaming away from summer. Bright dewy mornings, warm, sunny days, and frog-chorus evenings seem too sweet to leave behind. Wave after wave of color has dotted the landscape as flowers, each in turn, carried out their mission of attracting bird and insect. Fall slowly creeps in and the flowers - mission complete - are brown and dying. Some have stored their summer energy below ground and will rise again in the spring. Others, too tender to survive the winter, will depend upon the seeds they’ve produced to carry on. Just as Spring is the season of awakening, Fall is the time for passing. In an endless cycle, one thing changes to another.

As a child, I missed the carefree, lazy days of summer, but welcomed the crisp, expectant days of a new school year. In the dry Montana clime, leaves turned, dried, and fell. Yards, sidewalks, and boulevards became carpeted with them and their dusty, musky, smell and swishing sound when walked through remain with me still. Raking them before the snows came became a challenge - and a game. One of my favorite things was the making of “leaf houses”. Neighborhood kids would work together, carefully raking leaves into lines, forming imaginary walls of a gigantic mansion. Breaks in the lines became doors and windows, with intricate details telling you which was which. Equally intricate rules accompanied the various games we’d play around and within these houses. Woe be the kid who didn’t enter the house properly - through the “door”!

Other times we’d each make our own house, playacting as we visited each other and showed off our various “rooms”. Well-appointed homes were complete with leaf-pile “chairs”, “sofas” and “beds”. Designing and creating one of those dream homes took up hours of after-school time and sometimes a whole weekend. There was, of course, risk involved in this activity. An ill-timed windstorm or vengeful bully might easily destroy it all in a single evening, leaving nothing but scattered piles strewn across yards. After that, raking totally became a chore.

With frenzied days of growing, producing, reproducing, and storing nearly past, there is a collective sigh and tentative easing. It’s as if the entire plant world says “ENOUGH - time to rest.” Or, perhaps - “I’m done.” We could learn something here, I think...

Sunlight in Fall has a special, crystal quality unseen in summer. It is a good time to stop, take a deep breath and a close look at the world around us and our part in it. Could be it’s a time to sit back and rest; maybe regroup and shift gears. Maybe it’s time to close a chapter on some area of our life and then open another.

Bask in the waning rays and some silence, then listen to your soul. Winds and rains come, risk is everywhere, and the rules of life’s game are complicated. But there are doors that are open, a house that can’t be destroyed, and you’re always welcome.

“The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God stands forever."
Isaiah 40:7-8

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Expected Yield

Time is turning, inching slowly
from summer, warm and lazy,
toward autumn, crisp and bold.

Spring seeds planted,
lying dormant,
warmed within the fertile earth,
waited for gentle rain.

Sprouts took root,
grew quickly,
tender shoots turned thick and tall,
initial wonder turned to worry:

Growing too fast, too big,
Running out of room.
Underneath, the stems are weak,
Maybe they’ll never bloom.
Big enough, let’s prune it back,
Let’s just let it be.
Ever see one this shape?
Size doesn’t matter to me.

It seems to be a bumper crop,
needs body, heart and soul,
working team that pulls as one.

Row by row, we must move
from lingering daydreams and promises
toward shortening, crisping realities.

Time is turning, marching forward
from seedlings, feeble or strong,
toward harvest, brass or gold.

Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.
See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop
and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.
You, too, be patient and stand firm,
because the Lord’s coming is near.
Don’t grumble against each other, brothers, or you will be judged.
The Judge is standing at the door!
James 5:7-9

(People seem to fret a lot about CHANGE -
some adjust well,
others do not. 
There usually is a lot of grumbling throughout the process. I wrote this one year as our church was going through a series of "growing pains"...)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Night Owl Thoughts

I have always been a night owl. As a child, there were many times when I did not want to go to bed. I enjoyed hearing the quiet evening drone of adult conversations and stories, even as my eyelids drooped and my head nodded. There was no TV or computer to compete with and even long telephone conversations were rare, so evening entertainment was live and on the spot. Being an active child, with an equally active imagination, my sleep was filled with dreams, some of which were scary. To avoid those, I learned to put off going to sleep as long as I could. Night can be a frightening time for a child.

In college, studying was easier for me late at night, away from the noise and activity that comes with living with a lot of other people. During weekends and holidays, late evenings were spent with friends. At that time girls had a curfew, so when my husband and I were dating he’d bring me home on time, then we’d resume our date on the phone - often into the wee hours of the morning. During the summers my family gathered at the cabin on the lake and we spent evenings visiting and catching up on each others’ lives. If the night was calm and clear, we’d gather on the beach around a fire, or huddle under old quilts on the porch. Nothing compares to a crystal-clear nighttime sky where there are no city lights to dim the brilliant stars and moon.

Adulthood brought other realities. Married less than a year, I spent sleepless nights alone while my husband was clear across the country getting basic training with the Air Force reserves. In the dark I paced the floor of our small home in rural Colorado until flashes of lightning and booming thunder subsided, fearing the fires they might bring. With a child there were late-night trips to an on-call doctor for severe ear infections and waiting up for an errant or runaway teen. Aging parents with their own worries, fears and illnesses led to more sleepless nights. In the quiet and dark, with none of the usual daytime distractions, thoughts and emotions have free rein.

But there is another, less worrisome, side to the night where quiet and darkness become your friend. Concentration and creativity can be sharpened, as can problem-solving and laying of plans. The night is so alive if we only pay attention and be patient. Bats flutter about at dusk, snatching insects in midair. Fish rise to the surface to feed. Mice, voles, shrews, opossums, and raccoons scurry about in search of food, some of which they find beneath our bird feeders. On rare occasions we’ve seen an elusive western flying squirrel perched in one, happily nibbling away. Our streets become animal freeways at night. Lying awake, I’ve heard the distinctive yips and howls of coyotes and the eerie hooting of an owl. We rarely see the deer, but know they steal in to munch on rose, mountain ash and cherry leaves.

Gazing up at Orion, Cassiopeia, the Big Dipper, and other constellations as they slowly rotate about Polaris, we are awed with the magnitude of the night sky in all its glory. Paddling a small boat on a silent lake while a brilliant full moon rises, humbles us and brings us closer to God - for we are never alone in the night.

I rise before dawn and cry for help;
      I have put my hope in your word.
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
      that I may meditate on your promises.
Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
      preserve my life, O Lord, according to your laws.
            Isaiah 119: 147 - 149

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Come Out of the Shell

They are superb hiding places - rock-hard, camouflaged, with a maze-like interior. Lying beneath the water, it’s hard to tell what’s inside, if anything. You must pick them up, peer inside, and even then it’s hard to be sure. As I often tell children, when the shell releases easily, there is likely a hermit crab inside. If it is firmly attached, it’s probably a snail.

The snail, of course, is the original owner, having formed the shell with its body from calcium, carbon, and other elements of the sea. It was not born with the shell, having begun life as a bit of microscopic, free-swimming plankton. Only later, when it had grown to be barely visible to the human eye, did it begin to resemble a snail and form the shell. Securely fastened to the smooth interior, it can never leave - it simply makes the shell larger and larger to accommodate its growing body. When threatened by a predator, or left high and dry by the ebbing tide, it can pull its entire body up into the shell. Then as an added measure of protection, it closes a special “trap door”, sealing itself inside until it is safe to come out. This hard, flat, dark brown piece of shell is otherwise carried atop the rear of the fleshy foot that it crawls on.

The hermit crab has a different situation altogether. It, too, begins life as microscopic plankton, but as it grows it eventually forms a hard exoskeleton just like other crabs do - except for its tail, which remains soft. This whimpy, sideways-curved little body part needs protection, so the hermit crab goes searching. An empty snail shell fits the bill perfectly; its spiral shape allows the soft little tail to bend to its curve and hold on tight! With its otherwise hardened body, the hermit crab easily lifts the shell, toting it along wherever it crawls. But whenever it grows too big, it must go in search of a new shell. When it feels threatened, it also can withdraw its body inside, but has no door to seal itself in. Not to worry - it has another method. It blocks the door with one or both of its nasty little pincers, easily repelling most would-be attackers.

When life gets tough, and hurts, some people also retreat into their own kind of “shell”. Being cold and standoffish is one way; acting belligerent and hard-to-approach is another. Some become hardened and picky; others simply slam the door shut and refuse to let anyone in. We all know people we can never get close to, no matter how hard we try. My husband's only brother, seven years his junior, abandoned the entire family over 35 years ago. No explanation was ever given and, although we know where he is, every attempt at communication has been rejected. Everyone was wounded by this - his parents most of all. Being human, we always want an answer. None has come.

I can see what a good hiding place a shell is - satin smooth inside, hard and formidable out. But I think it’s not a very comfortable or healthy place for us to be, heavy, hard and cold as it is. There is only room for one inside a shell - perhaps that’s why we were never meant to live in one.

You are my hiding place;
       you will protect me from trouble
       and surround me with songs of deliverance.
                        Psalm 22:7

Rescue me from my enemies, O Lord,
       For I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
       for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
       lead me on level ground.
                      Psalm 143:9 - 10

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sparks on the Tongue

Photo by Mila Zinkova - Mbz1 at en.wikipedia

Once again, I caught myself saying something that I wish I hadn’t. And once again I learned - it was too late to take it back. The good thing is that as I get older, I’m more aware than ever of what comes out of my mouth, especially about others. The bad news is I continue to spout off and who knows when the spark will catch fire?

Two summers ago we drove through parts of Yellowstone National Park and I was, yet again, truly amazed. The scenery, wildlife, paint pots, and geysers are all impressive, but I revel in the sight of thousands of sturdy young evergreens covering vast tracts of land. The last time we were there was four years ago, when I was able to stand among them - they were finally taller than I am.

MrBell for the Bureau of Land Management

We were also there in 1988, a horrific year for forest fires, with thousands of acres aflame throughout Yellowstone and the west in general. We were only passing through on our way to visit family elsewhere, but were held at the entrance until a long line of cars formed, then escorted through by an official car. There were strict rules that year - keep all windows up and NO stopping. It was eerie driving through that cemetery of charred trees, the ground smoldering like a gigantic inferno. The newspapers and nightly news screamed that it would never be the same and many people believed that. The fires that burned the trees also cracked open their cones, releasing their seeds to grow in the ash-enriched soil. New life took hold and today a young, healthy forest is replacing much of the old. But, it’s taken over twenty years.

Another wildfire was more personal. Years ago, my family had a cabin on a lake where we spent weekends and had a once-a-year family gathering. After one weekend there, I went with my older sister to spend the night with her before she took me home later. That evening, a TV news story caught our attention. Out near the cabin, the local bar and grill had been burning paper trash when a wind came up. Sparks from the burn barrel were blown into dry grass, which fueled a quickly-spreading fire. Their small garden hose was useless against the wind-driven flames and they watched helplessly as the fire leapt into the surrounding trees. This forest fire raged on the screen across country that was very familiar to us. The next day we drove out to view the damage. Because of the wind’s direction the fire missed our cabin and others in the area, but its damage was extensive, leaving acres of blackened trees in its wake. It’s disarming enough when fire comes so close to damaging what you hold dear, but there was something else - we also had burned trash behind our cabin. We had hosed down the ashes very well, making sure all trace of fire was out before we left, but we also knew we might just have been lucky. We never burned again.


 So it is with words - play with fire and it is only a matter of time. Undoing the damage can take a long time.
...Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
      All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
      With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be...
James 3:5 -10

Fire picture files from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Northern Harvest

colored grasses
gently ripple edges
of newly-mown fields.
Fully ripe and sun-laden,
golden stalks of grain lie flat
as far as the green-wooded fringe.
Push back the forest to rumpled, faded foothills,
rising misty, step by step, to distant, rugged peaks.
Summer snowmelt tumbled down -
rushing, nudging seeds to sprout.
As wobbly as newborn fawns,
soon spindly stems arose,
unfolding slowly,
 pushing through damp, dark, earth.
Neither late frost nor lingering heat defeated them,
roots reaching deep, leaves seeking sun.
Short season spent producing seed.
Gilded heads grew plump,
now freshly gleaned,
for winter’s
“This is what the kingdom of God is like.
A man scatters seed on the ground.
 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up,
the seed sprouts and grows,
though he does not know how.
All by itself the soil produces grain -
 first the stalk, then the head,
then the full kernel in the head.
 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it,
 because the harvest has come.”
Mark 4:26-29

Monday, September 13, 2010

Friendship Seeds

...Betty, Dorothy, Ed, Fern, Gladys, Bill, Peggy, Sharon, Steve, Mary Lou, Marvin, Karen, Vern...

Our house and yard are filled with living wonders. Spring arrives with a feast of color - sky blue forget-me-nots, bright azure grape hyacinths, deep cobalt ajuga, nodding columbines, magenta violets, white-blooming heath, pink bergenia and native rhodies, fuzzy , fat pussywillows. Newly awakened bees and butterflies fill the air with their buzzing and fluttering as they drink their fill.

As summer progresses we reap the full benefits of the “world of green” with lush growths of redwood sorrel, salal, evergreen huckleberries, Oregon grape, red huckleberries, juicy red raspberries, stately tall bearded iris, fuzzy blue mountain bluet, giant pink anemones, sprawling, pink-blooming sedum, brilliant orange tiger lilies and wallflowers, dazzling dahlias. Hummingbirds make the rounds by day; in the pale of evening and dark of night moths, mice and flying squirrels quietly share the wealth.

Fall brings on the subtleties of lavender mums and mauve fall sedum; surprising fall crocuses burst forth. There are herbs for seasoning and money plant seed pods for decorations or to pass on to a friend. Raccoons and deer furtively visit and munch what they can to fatten for winter.

As the weather chills and we spend more time indoors, we enjoy a long, slowly blooming stem of tiny yellow orchids in the kitchen window, a sturdy, shiny-green jade plant, erect, spiny cactus, blooming Christmas cacti, shamrock, deep purple Chinese velvet plant and purple heart, and finally - forever later-than-planned-for but always welcome - brilliant red pointsettias. Our eyes are truly sated.

We are continually surrounded by the thoughts and memories of family and friends - those who gave us seeds, a stem, bulb, bunch of roots or plant to nurture, enjoy, and use. This practice of “sharing the growth” with others is an ancient one, but I’m intrigued with the magnitude of it. If the forget-me-nots growing in our yard came from seeds my niece in Montana gave us, who got her seeds from a friend down the street, who got his starts from...then who knows how it all started? Plants have been passed on, in one form or another, for generations - from the very beginning.

We are only giving what was first given to us, but as Martha Stewart likes to say - “It’s a good thing.”

...Kathy, Bev, Stephanie, Jack, Judy, Marian, Helen, Alice, Myrt, Lou, Sandy, Molly, Mary...

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground - everything that has the breath of life in it - I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:29-31

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pulling Through

The papery buzzing sound was distinct - and familiar. To the attentive ear, it sounded of fierce determination, yet desperation. I knew it would go on for some time, truly a matter or life and death.

Several years ago, in yet another attempt to keep birds from crashing headlong into our large living room window, we tried something different. We tightly stretched a large piece of plastic netting over the outside of the window frame. It’s the kind of netting normally draped over fruit trees to keep birds from eating the fruit. We grew accustomed to its strange look, sort of like a large mesh screen. It’s worked too - not one bird has smashed into the window since, although several a year have bounced off the mesh.
This time of the year, attracted by the wonderful reflections in the glass, huge, colorful dragonflies occasionally work their way between the netting and the window. They get in, but they never can figure out how to get back out. Frantically, they try again and again, gradually beating their cellophane -like wings to tatters and eventually dying of exhaustion. The sound I heard was one such trapped dragonfly.
Through trial and error, I have learned to assist them out. Holding the end of a broom handle up to the mesh by the insect’s legs, I urged it to grab hold. If I pulled too hard on the broom it would either let go and remain trapped or I would injure its wings as I pulled it against the net. With steady, solid support though, it was able to fold its wings back just enough to pull itself through. Later, I found it at the pond, basking in its reflection where dragonflies belong.
Finding ourselves in a tight situation, whether of our own doing or not, we too may need assistance. A strong push or pull is not necessarily helpful. Simply a shoulder to lean on can give us all the support we need to “pull ourselves through”. Isn’t this just what we all need sometimes?

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From whence does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalms 121.1-2

All Photos courtesy PDPhoto.org

Sunday, September 5, 2010

More Than One Way to Hold up a Stocking

Grade School Classmates with Teacher

I burst in the door and let fly: "This stupid thing broke, so I had to hold my sock up the rest of the day!" Mom's answer was equally quick, but less irritated: "You didn't need to do that. Look, you could have just wound the top of the sock up like this and tucked it inside - it would have stayed up." Of all the lessons on that first day of school, that was the one that stayed with me.

When I began first grade that fall in 1949, it was my very first experience with school. Kindergarten was not required back then; my mother believed it to be simply a place for playing and I could certainly do that at home - so I didn't need to go. During that era, little girls wore long cotton stockings held up with - of all things - a garter belt. White stockings were for dress-up, plain brown for every day. Being a complete and utter tomboy freshly restricted to the confines of a classroom after a summer spent roaming the neighborhood barefoot, in shorts and light tops, I'm sure being forced to wear a dress and brown cotton full-length stockings put me in a bit of a snit to begin with that day. Then, the dratted garter failure during a group game and I spent the rest of the school day hopping around holding one stocking up. I still remember how embarrassed I was, although probably no one else even noticed or cared. Thinking back to that day, I have to wonder why I didn't figure out another way to deal with that situation? Mom's simple explanation showed me that there is more than one way to hold up a stocking - and that's true for many things in life. It got me thinking...

McKinley Grade School Days

Except on the coldest winter days, I was expected to walk to school. Everyone did. Because we lived about 8 blocks from school, my mother was wise enough to make sure I had a "walking buddy" from the very beginning. The kids who lived closest to me, and with whom I most often played, all went to a catholic school, so that first week Mom walked me a couple of blocks to the home of Carol, a girl I didn't know. Carol and I then walked the rest of the way by ourselves, although probably someone made sure we knew the way. For all six years of grade school, I walked each day to Carol's house, and then we went on together, adding friends to our group as our age and experience increased. We walked home the same way, only taking a different route. I really had no choice in this routine - that was the way it was. I learned that it's better not to go it alone and your circle of friends can grow.

Walking Home
Carol and I did not have a lot in common and so, despite our many treks together, never did become close friends. During our Junior High School years, we met on a corner near my house before walking the shorter distance to school. By the time we started High School we had gone separate ways. Both our mothers had insisted we get along and so I don't remember that we ever fought or treated each other unkindly. THAT, perhaps, was the biggest lesson of all.

...for attaining wisdom and discipline,
      for understanding words of insight,
for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life,
      doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to the simple,
      knowledge and discretion to the young -
let the wise listen and add to their learning.
      and let the discerning get guidance -
for understanding proverbs and parables,
      the sayings and riddles of the wise.
Proverbs 1:2-7

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Suquamish Woods

Crowds of Alder, firm and tall
Long limbs reaching high
Gently touch, sway in harmony
Spattered leaves against the sky

Cedar, forest elders, wrap around
Cloaks of muted green
Dry shelter beneath their feet
Scented core and roots unseen

Sunlight splashes through
Dances with the fern
Hidden deep, ripe berries plump
Salal, Huckleberry, wait their turn

Winding through the forest heart
Spirit world for some
Wind whispers, fish are running,
Follow me and come

(This particular location,
along with many Native Americans of the Suquamish Tribe,
 is found on the Kitsap Peninsula in Western Washington)