Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Is

Christmas is memory -
Of times long ago, of other places,
Whispers of stories that cling to our hearts
Of bone-weary travelers with no place to stay
The birth of a baby who slept in the hay

It's remembering the shepherds
Scared out of their wits
Thinking and worrying that they had nothing to give
The king and the Magi who noticed a star
In the crystal clear nights as they traveled afar

It's anticipation - of a time yet to come
We hurry towards deadlines
For some day on the wall
With hustle and bustle we endlessly prepare
Decorations and food and the gifts we will share.

Christmas is planning -the list seems to grow
For flurry of buying, doing, and going - and yet
Deep down inside, we know that's too much
It's the giving, receiving, and keeping in touch

It's sharing the warmth, the smiles and the "wealth"
Remembering those burdened,
Who have nothing at all
It's baking, and roasting, and stirring the pot
Dishing up for neighbors,
Whether we know them or not

Christmas is believing - and not believing, too
It's buried in hearts where people
Somehow feel the glow
It's hope for the future, tomorrow and next year.
When maybe - just maybe -
We'll have nothing to fear

It's change and tradition - each treasures his own
It's recycled and timeless, brand-new and finite
It's found in the tree and the lights and the star
It's found in woods or alleys,
For it comes where we are

Christmas is fluid - sometimes hard to explain
It lives within us, deep in mind, heart and soul
Maybe we're not ready, last gifts not yet bought
But Christmas is coming - ready or not.

      In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
      Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.  
      John 1:1-5

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Recipe for Thanks-giving

This recipe is very old and has been passed down through generations. It keeps getting lost, however, so keep it in a safe place where you can always find it:

1 portion Gratitude.
2 or more others, friends or relatives.
     (Optional, but add more flavor.)
4 cups finely-tuned - open, not hardened, heart
     (Works best with warm wisdom of very large one)
2 1/2 cups unbiased compassion
2 large, listening (No substitutions!) ears
     (Small ones OK, as long as they work)
1 small voice, tuned to communicate
     (Large, loud ones work too, if not monopolistic)
1 warm, dry shelter- can be eliminated, if not possible to obtain

• Take Gratitude in hand, squeeze out the last drop, then add a bit more.

• Mix in others, the more the merrier.
   Include some smaller varieties for more spice.

• Stir in the heart and compassion until well-mixed.

• Add the ears, so that listening can begin first.
   Then add the voice, gradually, and blend well.

• Gather all together in warm, dry shelter.
    If none is available, stand close & warm each other.
    Season to taste with conversation, laughter, song, games, and whatever else is desired.

• Add some prayer, if you are a believer.
    If not, say thanks anyway.

• Turkey, stuffing, cranberries, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, & pumpkin pie may be added, as desired, but are not at all required for this recipe... Other cooks may differ on this.

• Wine, or other libation may be added.
    Don't overdo - too much will spoil this recipe.

This is a "mobile recipe" - works well anywhere and can easily be transported to wherever needed.

I have never had this recipe fail. There is a greater need for it than ever, so make plenty and be sure to share!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mouse and Crow

Stopped in the left-hand turn lane at a traffic light, biding my time, something on the road caught my eye. It seemed the light took longer than usual to turn, other cars were waiting, and I was growing impatient. On the other hand, had the traffic been moving, I might not have seen it at all.

Mouse photo by George Shuklin

A small brown creature, probably a mouse, raced under a car in the right-hand lane and disappeared around the tires of the car in front of me. I watched carefully until it appeared on the other side, but then turned back and again scurried out of sight under the car. Flicking back and forth, my eyes quickly scanned the ground around the cars waiting, but I could not see the mouse. However, something else now drew my attention.

Crow photo by Atli HarĂ°arson

A large black crow flew in and landed on a corner pole. Looking down at the street, it quickly lifted off and landed on the hanging traffic light, then flew across to the pole on the opposite corner. From the cock of its head and the frenzy of its flight, it was readily apparent that the crow saw the mouse. I now watched the crow, for it knew exactly where the mouse was.

Crow photo by DickDaniels
Whether or not it knew the crow was there, the mouse had a problem. It had three choices:

It could return to where it had come from, racing under the cars, up the curb, and into the tall grass at the side of the road. There, among familiar haunts and runs, it would feel secure and might be relatively safe. But the crow would see it in the spaces between the cars and the cars could move at any time. Still, if it could make it, it would be home free.

Mouse photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
It might choose to visit the field on the other side of the road, running across the empty lane, up the curb, and into the brush. That route would leave it exposed for a longer time and, if the light should change, cars turning the corner into that lane could run over it. If by chance it should make the other side safely, it would be in strange, unknown territory and face new challenges. However, living conditions might be better than they had been where it came from.

The third option might seem to be the safest. It could stay where it was and huddle close under the edge of a tire, out of the sight, claws, and beak of the crow. Then again, when the light changed, as it would any second, its tiny life would end - with a squish and a crunch.

Crow photo by JJ Harrison
The crow - a hungry scavenger - also had choices, which it obviously was weighing carefully. If it flew down among the cars to try to snatch the mouse, it was at a definite disadvantage. If it waited for the mouse to make a move, in either direction, it could miss its chance completely. So it was either risk life and limb for a full belly or survive unscathed, but go hungry.

Crow photo by Nebrot
The analogy here did not escape me. In many different ways we may consider taking a step backward, staying put, or boldly striking out in new directions. We all go through life needing to make choices, each choice having associated risks and rewards. While the risks might not be life-threatening, they can be terrifying none-the-less. Consider the mouse and crow, and then do what you feel you must.

Mouse photo courtesy of the National Park Service 

And that particular scene that I witnessed? The light changed and we all drove off, leaving the unknown outcome in the dust...

Crow photo by Walter Siegmund

All picture files from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Winter's Rest

Every year I feel it and try to ignore it - at least for a while. For I let go of summer quite unwillingly and in a year like this, with a short summer season at best, I am foot-stomping reluctant to move into winter. To ignore it I may try, but the cooling, darkening, slowing pace of other life around me finally pulls me down to the rhythm of Fall-heading-toward-Winter.

I do know the signs: an unwillingness to rise early; an appetite for hearty, warm meals; less inclination to dig in cold, damp earth; spending evenings snuggled under quilts and nights sleeping under flannel and wool. Like a willful child, who loudly shouts that "I will NOT take my winter's rest!" I am led to a quiet place, where weariness is acknowledged and rest is finally accepted.

For many of us, summer can be a time of busyness. We eagerly dive into barbecues, gardening, vacations, camping, traveling and attending a variety of community events. There are yards to care for, special outings, children to transport here and there, and never-ending activities for everyone in the family. For many, these are added to an already full work schedule. Fall brings the return to school, regular work schedules, and a plethora of activities related to those. Is it any wonder we grow weary?

In the days when our ancestors grew and harvested their own crops and stored them for the winter ahead, fall was a time of gradually gearing down. There was still wood to be chopped and animals to care for, but many activities changed with the seasons. There's no doubt that winter was still a working time, but the pace slowed. Sewing, quilting, mending of clothing and equipment often took place by lamplight and with lengthening darkness the working hours became less. In many cultures and areas, this became a time for socializing, story-telling, and sharing meals, especially when the weather limited travel.

Birds, squirrels, and other animals have raised their young, so are less frenzied in their search for food. Various types of dens and nests are prepared and many creatures are ready for longer sleeps or hibernation. Some, like insects, have lived their lives and are now gone, leaving behind their eggs or pupae to carry on next year.

Deciduous trees and shrubs slowly change color and drop their leaves, putting their stored energy into slowly developing new buds for spring. Conifers and other evergreens slow their production of sugars and other nutrients and go into resting states. Many plants die off, depending on their underground root systems or scattered seeds to carry on next year. For all of them, their heavy work of the year is done and it is time for rest.

Perhaps there is a lesson here for us, also. "To rest" does not mean that our work is done. It does not mean that we have necessarily completed a task or abandoned it. It certainly does not mean that we are lazy, shiftless, or unmotivated. Rest is vital to a healthy existence - our bodies, minds, and souls require it to function well. We all need a break sometimes - whether an hour, a day, a week, or several months. For if God took time to rest, certainly we can.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest... 
Hebrews 4:9-11

Friday, October 28, 2011

ArtTrail #4 - Montana Bale Trail

If you were to stick a pin in the very center of the state of Montana it would land in the Judith Basin. This is a landscape as unforgettable as any in the West, with endless blue sky, wide green plains, and distant purple mountains.

The Judith River, a tributary of the Missouri River, flows through the basin. Captain William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, named the Judith for Julia Hancock, whom he later married in 1808.

The little community of Utica began here in the 1880s, as headquarters for cowboys working the basin's huge herds of open-range cattle. Prospectors arrived a bit later when a sapphire mine was discovered, but there wasn't enough money in the mining for everyone who came, so some settled on the land.

During this time, a teenage boy left his schooling and well-off family in St. Louis for a Western adventure. He wintered for two years with a mountain man, worked wrangling cattle near Utica, and became one of the greatest artists of the American West - Charlie Russell. This magnificent landscape inspired many of his watercolors, sculptures, sketches, and illustrated letters. They depicted the Native American tribes who were the prairies' original inhabitants, explorers and fur trappers, and, most memorably, the cowboys of the open-range ranches.

Today Utica stands slap-dab in the middle of Montana wheat country. It is a place where, more than any other in Montana, the romantic vision of the Old West still survives in cowboy sagas and tales. AND, the local ranchers are not above having a little fun with it all...

Back in the '80s - 1980s, that is - a couple of neighbors began joking around with each other one fall. It seems that they got into a bit of personal one-upsmanship between themselves. Oh yea, and since it was readily available and lay in every direction as far as one could see, their competition involved bales of hay. Their friendly little competition involved such humor that others wanted to get involved. Soon their neighbors joined the fun and What the Hay! was born.

Things have changed only a little since then. Now in its 22nd consecutive year, this is now the Montana Bale Trail and is held on the first Sunday after Labor Day. Thousands of people now drive the country road to view these artistic creations. The hay bale sculptures are displayed in fields between Hobson and Windham, with Utica being the halfway point. Titles of the bales are mounted next to each entry. Although local farmers and ranchers make up the majority of the sculptures, there have been entrants from all parts of Montana as well as California, New York, and Arizona.

There are two categories: adults and children aged 12 and under. The only rules are it must be made out of hay. Anyone from anywhere is welcome to enter the contest; hay and a location can be provided. Entrees are free. Ten entries are chosen as winners by a panel of judges and those driving through can vote for a "People's Choice" winner.

If you're ever in that neck of the woods in September, your long drive will not have been in vain. There is the Utica Day Fair and Chokecherry Festival in nearby Lewistown to add to the festivities. It might seem like a bit of a drive just to see a bunch of hay bales, but what the hay, it's Montana, after all!

For more Information: