Saturday, January 29, 2011

Putting One's House "In Order"

As surely as the Chickadee on the suet, it arrives each January - a faint uneasiness, a stirring, an urge to “get my house in order”. Perhaps it is the past 3 months of preparing for and celebrating the fall and winter holidays, with their associated rituals, decorations, foods and clutter. Maybe it is the nearly imperceptible lengthening of the days working towards the distant spring. Or, it may simply be the beginning of a brand new year. Whatever, I feel driven to action.

And not just any action. I feel the need to clean up, clear out and reorganize. This is the time of year when closets and back shelves get tackled, their stuffy, hidden contents aired out, thrown out or stashed in bags for a future rummage sale. Some years there has been redecorating - painting, wallpapering, tiling, or at least a plan begun for such future projects. Other years, new hobbies have been started or old ones readdressed. I feel the need to unload, shake off some hidden baggage and begin anew

This cleansing is not only physical, but also mental. Each year, I mull over where I am in life and where I’d like to be next year at this time. How are my attitudes and moods? What shape is my body in? Am I using my skills and talents in positive ways? Are my priorities really what I claim they are? Am I making any progress, if only baby steps, toward the goals I set last year? What are my goals for this next year?

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, because the word “resolve” and I don’t particularly get along. But I did learn a long time ago that you can’t get anywhere if you don’t know where you are now and where you want to go. I plot a course and every so often take a personal compass reading to see if I’m on the right track. Many times in my life, I’ve wandered pretty far afield from my stated goals, and have had to regroup and find my way back. I’ve visited some interesting new territory along the way! Sometimes, I’ve discovered that I actually like where I’ve landed, and simple change my course and direction to a new goal. I try not to be too hard on myself, just as long as I’m moving and making some progress. Life itself is the journey.

And what is to be gained from this reorganization, this re-charting of the course? It is said that most people never achieve their full potential, nor become all that they can be, nor do all that they are capable of. I’m no exception, but I can continue to try. I have not yet fully developed my talents, honed my skills, nor shored up my self confidence. I have not yet smiled enough smiles, said enough kind words, nor offered enough help to others. I have not yet shared nor given enough of myself and my belongings. I have not yet encouraged enough, trusted enough, nor forgiven enough...

So, once again, I’m putting my house in order. I’ll do what I can as long as I can and trust in the One who’s in charge to guide me. I’m not there yet, but I can always hope.

... But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 8:24-25, 15:13

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sowing Generously

Somewhere east of here, in the high mountains, the search is on. Amid a winter-silent landscape with stately pines swaying high above, they scratch about where the snow lies thin. In protected spots they hurry over needle-strewn ground, eyes aimed low. Somehow - remarkably - they remember.

Michael Sulis
One October, we traveled an out-of-the-way road near Helena, Montana. It lies near the Gates of the Mountains area where Lewis & Clark pushed up the Missouri river and noted the sheer rock walls on either side. As we drove along, I noticed that every so often rather large, gray, black and white birds would dart across the road from tree to tree. Describing them to my husband and sister, they thought that they must be magpies. But unlike magpies, these birds had more gray and white than black feathers and a shorter tail. As we drove through a whole flock of these birds busy flying about, I asked that we stop. Since we had left our small, bird-watching binoculars back at my sister’s, as I slipped out of the car and across the road, I tried to be as quiet and unobtrusive as I could so as to get close to these birds. We observed them long enough to see that they were pecking and prying away at the ends of the branches high in the pines. Then, they would fly down to the ground and shuffle around there before flying back up into the trees. They all were awfully busy! We found their behavior fascinating and could not ever remember seeing it before.

We had some vague idea of what they might be and back at my sister’s home confirmed it. They were indeed Clark’s Nutcrackers, named in honor of Captain William Clark, who was the first non-native to observe and record them in his journal on his epic trek into the Northwest. In the late summer and fall they congregate to collect the seeds from evergreen cones, burying them in the ground - much as squirrels do - to provide themselves with food through the long, cold winter. Amazingly, they remember where they have cached them, and continue to dig up their dinner through the winter and well into spring. Nesting early, they are able to raise their young on the spoils of the year before.

Dave Menke, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
They are well equipped for the job - using their powerful bills, they hammer open ripening pinecones, gathering the fat- and protein-rich seeds in a specialized storage pouch under their tongues. A single bird may store up to 90 seeds here and may collect as many as 33,000 seeds in a season, burying them in more than 2,500 separate caches. They put in long days - working all day, every day, from August until December. To them this is a kind of insurance, as a great many seeds are eaten by other animals or rot in the ground. But, remarkable as the nutcracker’s memory is, they do not always find every seed. Each year some of the seeds sprout and grow into the trees that will nourish the future generations of nutcrackers - and so much more in the world.

Rebecca Kennison
And so, the nutcrackers busily “sow” away, doing what they need to do to survive. They have no idea of the possible far-reaching effects of their actions.

Neither do we.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. ...Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:6, 10 - 11
William Clark,  August 22, 1805, in the canyon of the Salmon River, in what is today Idaho:

I saw to day [a] Bird of the woodpecker kind which fed on Pine burs it's Bill and tale white the wings black every other part...

Meriwether Lewis, May 28, 1806, at Weippe Prairie, in today's Idaho:
                                                                                              Michael Sulis
since my arrival here I have killed several birds of the corvus genus of a kind found only in the rocky mountains and their neighbourhood. [it] has a loud squawling note something like the mewing of a cat. the beak of this bird is 1-1/2 inches long, is proportionably large, black and of the form which characterizes this genus. the upper exceeds the under chap [beak; properly, mandible] a little. the head and neck are also proportinably large. the eye full and reather prominent, the iris dark brown and puple black. it is about the size and somewhat the form of the Jaybird tho reather rounder or more full in the body. the tail is four and a half inches in length, composed of 12 feathers nearly the same length. the head neck and body of this bird are of a dove colour. the wings are black exccept the extremities of six large f[e]athers occupying the middle joint of the wing which are white. the under disk of the wing is not of the shining or g[l]ossy black which marks its upper surface. the two feathers in the center of the tail are black as are the two adjacent feathers for half their width the ballance are of a pure white. the feet and legs are black and imbricated with wide scales. the nails are black and remarkably long and sharp, also much curved. it has four toes on each foot of which one is in the rear and three in front. the toes are long particularly that in the rear. This bird feeds on the seed of the pine and also on insects. it resides in the rocky mountains at all seasons of the year, and in many parts is the only bird to be found.

Journal excerpts are from
The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition
edited by Gary E. Moulton
13 vols.
(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1983–2001)

Clark's Nutcracker picture files
from Wikimedia Commons
Except where noted

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Seven Generations?

Filling the dishwasher with yet another load during this past holiday season, I was distracted by this quote on the front of the soap container: “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decision on the next seven generations.” Intrigued, I filed this away in my brain, and went on to other tasks. But the words haunted me and I contemplated their source and meaning for our actions in today’s world. The quote was stated as coming from The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederation.

The extent of my knowledge of the Iroquois was that they were an eastern U.S. Native American people and that our good china has that name. Research divulged that the Iroquois were a confederation of five, and later six, separate native nations formed before the arrival of the Europeans. They did indeed develop a Great Law, under which their confederacy operated and it is said that Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and others drew much inspiration from this version of representational democracy in the process of blueprinting our own American system of government. Of special significance to me is that before the traditional Iroquois convened their council meetings, they invoked this declaration regarding future generations. Consequently, any vote they had included an equal vote cast by a representative who spoke specifically for the needs, the survival, and the dignity of those who would live a hundred and fifty years in the future. For the Iroquois, the generational format of their council defined a long-term relationship between government and ecology. The rights of future generations were the very context of policy and conservation the foundation upon which their culture was built.

Consider what might result if our own local, state, & national government, our businesses, organizations, and churches were to operate in a similar fashion. What if we thought ahead beyond our own, and our children’s, generation and considered how our actions, and inactions, affect the world that future generations will inherit? Just what are our responsibilities and what can we do, anyway?

I believe that this earth, and all that lives upon it, was provided for us, but it does not really belong to us to do whatever we want with and we certainly have no ultimate control over it. But we are responsible for it in the sense that we are to cultivate, watch over, deal with, attend to it, and act on its behalf as we are able. We must be discerning and wise, with just judgement as to what actions to take. We must, quite simply, take care of it.

Life is a journey and into this New Year I’ll try to take only CARRY-ON baggage with me:

Conserve - use only what I need of water, electricity, fuels - use   alternative sources, as able
Allot time & energy to learn new ways to care for the earth & its  creatures
Recycle - whatever, and wherever, I am able - paper products, glass, cans, plastics, compost
Re-use materials whenever possible - be creative!
Yoke together with others in these efforts - share my goals & reasoning
 Only buy products made from recycled materials and by “green” companies, whenever possible
Never underestimate the value of time, services, & activities in place of material gifts.

Here’s to the future!

...I am God, your God...
...for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine....
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Psalm 50: 7, 10-12

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Respect the Blizzard

“...it was soon apparent that I was stuck in a huge snow drift in the middle of the road which no vehicle could get through. I couldn’t budge forward or backward, even in 4-wheel drive. The snow was half way up to the hubcaps so there was no hope of even putting chains on. I had a moment of panic when I realized that I was truly stuck and alone. It was the worst storm I’ve ever been in!...I shut off the motor and lit one of the candles I keep in the emergency kit. I sat there shivering, frightened and saying my prayers...”

From the letter I wrote to my parents 38 years ago comes the reminder of winters spent in Montana, Colorado and Idaho, where winter brings snow and freezing temperatures. That year we were living in rural Colorado and I had driven 15 miles to have dinner with a friend. A major snow storm had been predicted but was not expected until late that night or early the next morning. So it came as a surprise, as I left to drive home, that a lot of snow had fallen already. The roads were just wet, however, so I chose my usual route - a small, 2-lane back road - thinking I’d be home in no time. Instead, I drove into a tremendous blizzard, where the visibility was nearly zero. Driving into the massive snow drifts on either side of the road, I finally became mired. In trying to dig myself out, my legs, hands and hair became soaked. No lights were visible anywhere, so I returned to the relative safety of the jeep. I was so fortunate. Even though I’d been raised with tales of people freezing to death trying to walk to safety, and knew better than to try, to this day I don’t know for sure that I wouldn’t have tried, had I seen a light. Such is the nature of the human mind in a panic.

This, of course, was before we carried cell phones or used GPS, or any of the other technological devises we all so depend upon today. I have never felt so alone and helpless. I remember wondering what would happen if the snow covered the Jeep entirely - would I go stark, raving mad? As it was, I did the only thing I could - prayed. I asked to be spared, of course, but then other thoughts came to mind. I asked that I accept whatever my fate might be with dignity and grace, that my husband and the rest of my family be comforted, if it came to that. I asked for forgiveness and named those I forgave. A strange sort of peace came over me and I knew then that I was not really alone.

The candle gave off light and a little warmth, and as I took comfort from that I heard a noise and looked up to see a set of lights moving my way. Snow plow! The driver stopped, told me I still could not go home as the road was drifting over behind him, dug me out, turned me around and had me follow him back to a small community near where I had started. I still can see those small lights ahead, forging the way and leading me to safety. Later I learned that snow plow drivers were not supposed to stop for stranded drivers except in life or death situations.

A quick call home, a cup of hot coffee, a caravan with about 50 other people to a nearby Baptist Church for a pew to sleep on and three meals the next day. That church took in stranded travelers during any big storm and probably still does.

Finally driving home late the next day, I realized the dashboard of that Jeep was covered with a thick layer of ice from opening the door during my frantic efforts. It was then that I truly realized just how fortunate I was, how we take for granted so much that we shouldn't, how much we need to respect the forces of nature - particularly snow storms. I’d only been stuck in that blizzard for 90 minutes - in some ways, a lifetime.

O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name...
You have been a refuge for the poor,
a refuge for the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm
and shade from the heat.
For the breath of the ruthless
is like a storm diving against a wall
and like the heat of the desert.
Isaiah 24:1 & 4

*Interestingly, the photographs above are NOT black and white. They appear that way, apparently, due to the almost total lack of color during a snow storm in the dead of night...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ghost Bird

At first, I didn’t see or hear anything, simply sensed that something was there. One night, a small flutter erupted and escaped into the night. It happened so very quickly that I doubted my senses - but the feeling of something having been there was strong.

Beside the door hung a basket of evergreen boughs which I passed to plug in the outdoor colored lights. Above, the bare porch light glowed brightly within its broken fixture. I wondered if something could possibly roost there, with the glass missing and nothing to hang on to. Still, it was a protected and warm spot. I noticed cedar boughs swaying gently and small white spots on the concrete below.

My family thought it must be an owl or a bat. But owls are silent flyers. Other birds flutter, while bats flap. We were awakened one night some years ago by this distinct flapping sound when several bats came down our chimney and one found its way beneath our bedroom door. It was not a sound I would easily forget.

Hearing my line of reasoning, they teased that maybe it was the “Ghost of Christmas Past”. Whatever it was, it was very small. On Christmas evening, as I reached for the light cord, something as light, soft, and warm as a breeze grazed my cheek. The ghost bird had touched me.

By the next evening, the entire landscape was transformed by heavy snow. My family had grown used to, and a bit tired of, my nightly escapades with the ghost bird. I quietly opened the door and peeked up at the light. Nothing. Moving slowly, I aimed the full beam of a flashlight deep within the greens. There, protected from wind, rain, snow and rude lights, a tiny, puffed up, brown bird slept. As I watched, it lifted its head from under its wing and stared with sleepy, obsidian eyes. Switching the light off, I waited, but it didn’t fly away. I backed into the house and left it to the night.

Shanthanu Bhardwaj

The next few nights I watched for this Winter Wren, but he was gone. Maybe he’d gotten tired of being disturbed night after night; maybe I frightened him badly enough that he wouldn’t return to his safe retreat; maybe he flew off into the snow and perished. Maybe... I never knew.

What I do know is that, without realizing it, I gave one small creature the gift of warmth and shelter. In that season of giving, he returned the favor - I learned some valuable lessons: Be alert and aware of your surroundings. We may hear what we cannot see, see what we cannot hear. Many things exist that we may neither hear nor see. Intuition serves us well. Be aware of signs, subtle reminders; keep your heart and mind open to all kinds of possibilities, even when others do not agree. Persevere - learn, strive and hone your senses, for many things become more clear in time. Do your part. Know that you will have times of belief and disbelief, caring and carelessness, enlightenment and blindness. You will touch - and be touched by - others. If we seek, we will find, even if it is not what we think we are searching for. Within it all there is God, the life-force that sees us through.

One last thing. Several weeks later, I again checked the greens, which were still hanging. There was a flutter - and the swaying of one cedar bough...

I said, ‘Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in a man,
the breath of the Almighty,
that makes him understand.
Job 32:7 & 8

Winter Wren picture file from Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Still Dawn

Waits dawn
To break a new day.
A new year, it appears
Out of nowhere, creeps in silently.
Although I knew of its coming,
Humming, I was, and busy with life.
"Last year", I say
Of memories sweet, or bitter.
Makes no difference, really,
For that time, brief as it was,
Burst into flame, burned fully,
Is forever gone.
"Next year", you say,
When laying plans, or dreams
Or putting off what could be done NOW.
Last year,
Children wept from hunger, thirst, cold.
Next year,
If they survive, they grow older,
Hopeless, disillusioned, angry.
Last year,
Creatures wandered lost, forgotten, endangered.
Next year,
If they remain, they tread lightly
In a world that values them less.
In reality,
We each have only NOW,
This New Year - day, moment, breath
To begin again - fresh, clean, clear.
To do whatever we can
To improve the world, help another,
To mother, move over a bit and share,
Simply savor this life.
We have been given

A new beginning

And dawn waits


The unfailing love of the LORD never ends!
By his mercies we have been kept
from complete destruction.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each day.
I say to myself, "The LORD is my inheritance;
therefore, I will hope in him!"
Lamentations 3:22-24