Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who-Cooks-for-You Late at Night?

It was a dark and stormy night... I was deeply engrossed in a book when I was shocked upright. Listening intently, my heart pounded and goose bumps arose as if I were in mortal danger. I thought I might be, as somewhere close outside was the most weird, eerie sound I've ever heard. Getting up my courage, I quietly unlocked and slowly opened the door. I listened for a few minutes - there is was again! And off in the distance, another answered. I can best describe the sounds as sort of a 3-way cross between old rusty bed springs, a very hoarse dog, and a rooster whose crow has run down and needs to be re-wound. As I moved into the yard, whatever it was saw or heard me and the sound stopped.
The next day, I tried to figure out what it might have been: coyote was off the list; it did not sound like any dog I know of; it was too low a sound to be a raccoon or an opossum; neither deer nor bear sound like that. The only thing it could possibly be was an owl.

Photo by Wingchi Poon

 Some owls do call our county home. The Barn, Western Screech-Owl, Snowy, Short Eared, and Northern Pygmy Owl are rare, but the Great Horned, Barred, and Northern Saw-Whet owls are more common. Most are nocturnal, although some are active during the day. Through the wonder of the Internet I was able to research and hear the calls of each of these owls. There is no doubt that what I heard was the Barred Owl (Strix varia)- the original "Hoot Owl". This highly vocal owl gives a loud and resounding "hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ooo" which is often phrased as "Who, cooks, for you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?" The last syllable drops off noticeable. The calls are often heard in a series of eight, then silence, when the owl listens for a reply from other owls. That is exactly what I heard.

photo by Terren
Reaching 16-25 inches in length with a wingspan of 38-50 inches, the Barred Owl preys mainly on Meadow voles, shrews and deer mice. It also eats rats, squirrels, young rabbits, bats, moles, opossums, and weasels. Birds are taken occasionally, as well as small fish, amphibians, reptile, and insects.

Photo by D. Gordon E. Robertson

I have yet to see these wondrous birds, although I hear them every once in a while. I imagine them perched high in one of the old dead trees, scanning the pasture for mice or rats. I would hope they stay, perhaps nesting nearby in the cavity of a tree or in an abandoned hawk, squirrel, or crow nest. Devoted parents, they have been known to dive bomb anything (or one!) perceived as a threat to their nests. They care for their young for at least 4 months, much longer than most other owls. the young usually disperse less than 6 miles before settling. Pairs mate for life and territories and nest sites are maintained for many years. They have been known to live up to 10 years in the wild. with most deaths likely to be related to man (shooting, road kills, etc.). Other than man, Great Horned Owls are their only natural enemy.


I no longer fear those strange sounds-in-the-night; we are honored that they are visiting "our" woods. They may not stay, but no matter - their being here, just this once, sparks the imagination and generates thoughts toward brighter days and hope for the future. It's a good reminder that - no matter what - the circle of life continues.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen,
but on what is unseen.
For what is seen is temporary,
but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
For more information on owls: http://www.owlpages.com/

Barred Owl picture files
from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rain, Precious Rain

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I am sorely tempted to say that I am sick of rain. Gray skies, constant drizzle, puddles everywhere, sodden earth that slips and slides creating minor difficulties at least, and at worst - havoc. Rivers and lakes have swollen, flooded, and created no end of heartache for those who live too near them. What began before Christmas continues into February, and I’m ready to cry “Uncle”!

A few years ago we had a new metal roof installed, so it no longer leaks - mostly. We still have a few problem areas on our kitchen and living room ceilings, probably the result of poorly-suited skylights. We think we have it figured out now, but the next repairs with be the third (fourth? fifth?) go-round, so all bets are off. We’re fortunate in that we’ve never had a problem in our basement, however. All in all, our water problems are relatively minor.

Ironically, since moving here 30 years ago, we’ve tried never to waste the water that we use. That means doing only full loads of clothes and dishes, not letting water run longer than necessary, flow restrictors on all faucets, limited toilet flushings at night. Large amounts of water left from canning or other uses are carried outside to water protected flower beds or potted plants. Sounds a bit eccentric, I know, but there is a legitimate reason.

As young married, we lived at a 7,400 feet altitude in a rural area of Colorado. Our well was not very deep and recovered slowly when drained. Consequently, we soon learned never to wash more than one load of clothes a day. We had no dryer, so that single load was hung outdoors or draped inside in the winter. No dishwasher either, so dishes were also done in one washing. We adapted - water was seldom, if ever, simply allowed to run.

In Idaho, our well was deep but it was old and its pipe corroded, so the pump could only be lowered so far. One year, a severe drought lowered the water table so that the pump could no longer reach it. A kind neighbor ran a long hose from their house to ours, so we could survive until a new well was drilled. Drilling began, but it was not long before they hit a problem - a huge boulder. Slowly, the drill pounded through what proved to be 20 feet of solid granite. I remember the awful THUD - THUD shaking the whole house, as dollar signs flashed before my eyes. Our savings were small and there was no guarantee that another boulder did not lie beneath that one. Luckily, there was only one and eventually we had ample, sweet-flowing water. Our bank account was much less, but as the saying goes “it was only money”...

We have not lived in a true desert, nor ever been totally without access to water. But we have learned that it is not always easy to come by. Nor should it be taken for granted, ever. Try going just one day without it - no brushing your teeth, bathing, laundry, dish washing, flushing, coffee, tea, milk or soda, No wine. Try two days, three, or more....

I am tired of rain, but I will not complain.
Water is far too precious.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14

Friday, February 18, 2011

Winter Gifts from Ants

The stormy, wet winter has made me more than ready for spring and the burgeoning new growth that accompanies it. Returning from my walk to fetch the mail I meander slowly, enticed by the sun and warming temperature. I am drawn to our small pond. Full to overflowing and clouded with muddy runoff through much of this season, on this day it is clear and within its normal banks. The heavy overflow has eroded and deepened the stream bed below the small concrete dam, but the dam has held. Deciduous trees and shrubs are still bare, but buds on the small magnolia tree are swelling and rich red stems of Siberian dogwood stand out against the grassy hillside.

Walking close beside the garden along the side of the house, I search carefully for signs of new growth emerging through the detritus of last fall. Although I see none yet, memory serves me well as I clearly picture where each clump of crocus and grape hyacinth lies. A gravel path runs beside this garden and in summer it is a nice contrast to the verdant, shady bed. Walking on it, rather than on the boggy, wet grass, keeps my shoes from becoming soaked and is especially welcome on this day when the yard is still spongy. Strolling along it, I am reminded of the wonderful little gifts I’ve found buried there among the assorted weeds and ground cover “escapees” from the garden.

Two small plants once grew in this garden - one white and one pink - which are known as hardy cyclamens. Both of these put out leaves in the fall and throughout the winter, which die back in the spring and summer. Since they are native to the northern and eastern Mediterranean, this trait allows them to survive through the heat of summer there. The white one was fall blooming, producing its small, exotic flowers a month before its leaves arrived. The pink one was winter blooming, beginning in December, a few weeks after its leaves appeared. The flowers of both of these begin as tightly twisted spirals, which open slowly and stand tall until pollinated. They then are coiled down, spring-like, on their stems to ground level and tucked under the leaves for insulation and protection while the seeds ripen open. It is said that ants are attracted to a sweet substance on the seeds and are responsible for scattering them about when ripe in the spring and summer, so new plants are often found in unlikely places the next winter. There’s no predicting the exact time of germination - they sprout on their own individual timing. Cyclamens make tiny bulbs just beneath the soil before they send up their first tentative leaf.

I have found a fair number of small cyclamen bulbs growing among the pebbles of this path each summer as I tackle the weeds. Carefully digging them up, I’ve moved most of them to another shady garden near our back door and have enjoyed watching them slowly develop and spread out. This fall, a few small white blooms appeared and now, when I’m hungry for color, I’m greeted by several clumps of bright pink as I round the corner and head for the door. I still find it hard to believe that anything would bloom in the dead of winter, but every plant has its own specific time. So here these small wonders are - warming me through and through with their perky, bright heads. Reminding me that spring is on the way. Filling me with gratitude - even for the lowly ant.

He has made everything
beautiful in its time.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Series of Adjustments

Life is a series of adjustments” my father said on occasion, especially when discussing tough times or decisions within our family or country. I never fully appreciated nor understood these words until I became an adult and faced life full-on. If we are to flourish, or indeed survive at all, adjustments are not only desired, but necessary.

Change is all about us - in the weather, our relationships, the government... most certainly the economics. Just how do we adjust to the changes, the uncertainties, the looming unknowns? One step at a time.

One answer I have found lies in the time of my mother’s death. During our family gathering around her funeral, I sought solace, as I often do, by connecting with nature and the forces that are greater than myself. It was February - much milder than normal for that time of year in Montana - and I needed no jacket as I walked around my family home noting the details of the oh-so-familiar yard. It was then I discovered the crocuses, in full glorious bloom much ahead of schedule. Through my tears of grief I smiled, remembering Mom’s love of all growing things, that surely she planted these, and that new life springs eternal if we can only hang on and hope.

Winter has not yet left us, but new life is all around. Take a quiet, leisurely walk and resolve to be fully in the moment, observing what is right before you here and now. Willows and alders thrive in poor, damp soils and are among the first plants to quickly grow in any disturbed area. Already they, along with wild hazelnuts, have formed catkins and are inching their way toward spring and continuing their species. Never mind that we only just had freezing temperatures and feet of snow - wild things adjust and life goes on.

Alders produce millions of tiny, light seeds which are carried readily by wind over most of the area west of the Cascades. They grow quickly, readily sprouting from stumps and shallow roots as well as seeds. Able to withstand light surface fires and severe outbreaks of tent caterpillars, they eventually succumb to heart or root rot. They are not shade-tolerant, so give way to evergreens which eventually tower above and crowd them out. They suffer multiple afflictions, but alders help create conditions favorable for the giant conifers that replace them.

Because their seeds are tiny, frail, and usually do not germinate in dry or shady sites, willows produce huge numbers, each equipped with a tuft of down to catch the wind. Willows survive even without seeds - new stems sprout readily from stumps or broken-off twigs. What zest they show in their growth until they, too, are eventually overshadowed, having stabilized and cooled the soil so that those that follow can thrive.

Hazelnuts prefer well-drained soil and will tolerate fairly heavy shade, so often are found growing beneath tall, old trees and along the edges of wet sites. These wild relatives of the nuts we enjoy are edible, rich in protein and fat, and are favored by a number of animals. Faithfully they product fruit, year after year.

Alders, willows, hazelnuts, and us - each has strength and weakness and each thrives where it is planted if it can adjust. Life requires myriad adjustments and in those we can find hope. Never underestimate the power of HOPE.

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with God’s people who are in need.
Practice hospitality.
Romans 12:11-13

Monday, February 14, 2011

Colander Valentine

A simple metal colander, its drainage holes forming stars around its sides and bottom, is a source of embarrassment and shame for me. It was a Valentine - an ill-conceived one at that. For in an early year of our marriage, with the romanticism of youth and the one-upmanship chatter of co-workers echoing in my head, I shamed my husband into getting me something on that day. And so he (in desperation, I’m sure) searched the small general store in our rural community for a gift and returned home with that. It was not a big hit.

In grade school, I cut a slit in the lid of a cardboard shoe box, decorated it at home, and toted it to school for the long-awaited Valentine’s Day party. Near the end of the long day, we took turns playing postman to deliver our valentine cards to each other’s boxes. There were no rules on who you gave cards to; it was your choice. Paper darts stabbed deep - the popular, well-liked kids got many; some went home feeling dejected. That’s just the way it was.

Years later I attended our son’s 4th grade Valentine’s party and things had changed. Each child brought cards and had to give one to every child in the class. Gifts for special friends were allowed, however, and some received stuffed toys or large, helium-filled balloons. Competition had just been cranked up a notch or two.

In my growing-up years, Valentine’s day was no big deal for adults. My parents were busy selling floral arrangements (to men, mostly), but my dad did bring home the requisite heart-shaped box of chocolates. My husband remembers nothing special, so we two never made much of that day either. We exchanged cards sometimes, if we remembered, and let it go at that. Until that day when I thought I needed more...

Now stores fill their shelves with marvelous have-to-haves. Red and white and hearts abound - everything from boxer shorts and fancy lingerie to stuffed monkeys and marshmallow candies are covered with them. While working in a local floral shop a few years back, I decided it had all gone way too far. On Valentine’s Day, men lined up four deep to buy the highly-coveted dozen roses. The closer we came to closing, the shorter tempers became, especially if, heaven forbid, we ran out of roses. Some did plan ahead, ordering far in advance, writing thoughtful cards, and requesting early delivery. But for many, it seemed a real chore - one more thing they were expected to do to prove their love for the ladies in their lives. Even that did not always work. I remember one irate recipient who, when we couldn’t deliver to her work before she left for the day, refused the flowers completely. We offered to deliver to her home, but that wouldn’t do. She needed them at her office or not at all. And all in the name of love - poor guy.

Just how does one show their love for another? I value kindness and respect, especially when there are obvious differences of opinion. The surprise of a long overdue home repair or a new creation in wood is deeply appreciated, as is a wake-up cup of coffee served in bed. Romanticism definitely has its place and dinner out is nice, but often just sharing the load is a true treasure - like cleaning up after a meal - and, yes, that does include the old colander with stars on the side.

God is love.
Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
In this way, love is made complete among us...
We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:16 and 19

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Symbols of Love

Panic slowly rose in my throat and an awful churning settled in the pit of my stomach as I suddenly realized they were gone. Married less than a year, I treasured my still-sparkling wedding/engagement rings - tangible symbols, always with me, of my husband’s love. Now, the third finger of my left hand was bare and I felt naked, stripped and confused. I had no idea where they were.

We were helping out at my family’s floral business. My mind reeled as I considered the number of boxes of roses I’d packed that day - the flowers cleaned, corsages made, trips in and out of the greenhouses and cooler. Would someone receive my rings along with their roses? It seemed there was nothing to do but fret; I was too embarrassed to tell anyone, so I did that privately - in agony.

There was one other possibility. I had taken a break to visit my husband, who took advantage of the warmer weather to wash a car on my folks’ lawn. We had chatted and tossed a baseball around a few times before I returned to the store. It was worth a try so, between customers, I raced out to search although I thought the chances were probably nil. Gingerly, I pushed my left hand down into the stiff, leather catcher’s mitt - to find my rings tightly wedged where they’d remained as I’d withdrawn my hand before.

My husband was, and is, my steadfast soul mate. Before marrying we spent a year apart, seeing each other rarely, communicating by letter and phone (In the late 60s we had no computer nor cell phone.) At some point I was feeling impatient and frustrated, thinking we never would be together. He sent me some wonderfully encouraging lines on love that changed my attitude completely. Now, in tearful relief I hugged him, then - between sniffles - told him what had happened. The very next week we took the rings in to be fitted better and soldered together, as they remain today.

Fifteen years later, that same feeling arose from the pit of my stomach, tempered only slightly by the added years and maturity. The diamond was missing from my engagement ring. This gem was not large, and probably not very valuable in monetary terms. But it and the other four tiny ones on my wedding ring are the only ones I’ve ever owned - or ever cared to. They meant the world to me.

I’d just spent a long day wallpapering our old kitchen walls here. Meticulously, I went through every single shred of the slimy, soggy scraps. I went over the walls inch by inch, carefully feeling my way along, searching for any suspicious small bump or bulge. Nothing. One last possibility - the bucket full of filthy, soapy water I’d used to scrub the last of the old paste from the walls. Carefully pouring the water with its debris through a sieve, I searched in vain for any small glint of hope. Then, taking a final glance at the bottom of the bucket, a bright sparkle caught my eye - that diamond was the only thing left inside.

Another twenty-nine years with these rings. Their platinum circles grow thinner each year becoming, as my mother’s band was, sculpted and tempered by the life of a marriage. They are only outward symbols - still mean the world to me.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Friday, February 11, 2011


I often wonder when it was - and why - that “news” became such a negative thing. To scan the morning paper or watch the evening news on TV, one would think that the world is only is full of disasters, criminals, and other dishonest types. If people depend only upon the news media to color their view of the world, and others in it, it’s easy to see how depressing that can be. I suppose (when times are good at least) people have always tended to take the everyday, mundane things for granted and give the negative events and people larger-than-life status. Besides developing a markedly shorter attention span, I believe our modern day culture has also come to expect a weekly, if not daily, major event or crisis. If one does not occur naturally, we simply invent one.

But I think we have a choice. We can choose not to dwell on the ugly stuff and take most of the reported news with a grain of salt. We’re indeed fortunate to live in a prosperous, free country, where most of us have decent homes and never need to go hungry. Honest, caring people are everywhere - we have only to open our eyes. I am constantly amazed by the goodness of so many, for I look around and see people who:

Listen patiently to others when they feel the need to talk, or walk a lonely road side by side.
Offer company and comfort, some shelter from life’s rain; ease a pain, help restore a little pride.
Validate the person, treasure how unique they are; travel far, if a whispered cry is heard.
Encourage each small effort with cheerful smile and nod, and laud with a kind and gentle word.
Extend a hand of welcome, give a pat upon the back; lift the pack from a tired, broken soul.
Answer pleading cry with tender voice, when choice - and consequences - take their toll.
Cook and share a meal, or take it to their door; the poor may look just like you and me.
Hold a hand if it’s needed, or a tongue, or a child; once piled, hope can make a life free.
Open doors when it’s needed, never look to be repaid; once made, promises are always kept.
Thank others for their kindness, accept what they can give, and live with a mem’ry of tears wept.
Hope for the best, and see it shine within each other’s eyes; no lies or jealousies to mar the day.
Enjoy the company of others, be they friends or someone new, and few, be the ones they turn away.
Rejoice that they are loved, and can love then in return, they learn that’s their charge for every day.

Most of the news here is Good News, for I am surrounded by loving people.

This is my command:
Love each other.
John 15:17

Thursday, February 10, 2011

A Valentine Memory

On my way home, in the privacy of a restroom in the Spokane airport, I finally allowed myself to cry. Tears flowed and I sobbed like a child as the overpowering impact of reality hit me - my mother was dying.

She had been through so much those last few years: a broken hip and subsequent replacement surgery, a broken wrist, a debilitating stroke which affected her right side and left her unable to express herself as she once had. But it was this recently diagnosed lung cancer which would migrate to her brain, go into a brief remission then return with a vengeance, that would ultimately take her from us. Little by little, she was being stripped of her independence and dignity - I was beside myself with the unfairness of it all. I did not want to lose her, yet I wanted her misery to end.

We three sisters (Two of us flying in from other states) gathered at home over a long Valentine’s Day weekend - and clung to the promise of an approaching spring. My oldest sister brought a huge amaryllis bulb, so our folks could watch it sprout, grow and bloom over the ensuing weeks. I toted along three brightly blooming primrose plants, knowing the fresh blooms would be set in their sunny kitchen window. My second sister served Mom’s meals on a tray, fancied up and fit for a queen - anything to interest her in food. We tucked her in for her frequent rests with a kiss on her forehead and took family drives, as her energy permitted. Carrying snacks, we’d take turns handing her small bites, hoping she’d eat while distracted by the scenery that she so loved. The weekend passed all too quickly and as I hugged her good-bye tears welled up in her eyes. It was one of the few times I had ever seen her cry. We both knew her time was short.

We called often, sent cards and small gifts and visited her that summer. She died the following February; Dad told us it was a month he had been dreading. He knew seriously ill people could fight to make it through the holidays and winter only to lack the strength to get through February. It was a balmy month that year - shirtsleeve weather. We knew we had done all we could and I had no regrets. I’ve come to understand the importance of that. Mom’s crocuses bloomed extra early and large that spring.


Later that summer while Dad was visiting us, he told me of his vision. My father was not at all “that kind” of person. I had never known him to have, let alone speak of, visions. Still, he had had one. Shortly after Mom died, before we all arrived to help with the funeral, he was awakened in the middle of the night. Mom stood at the foot of his bed, radiant, young, lovely, dressed all in white and smiling. As he stumbled from bed to go to her, she raised her hand in characteristic manner to give a slight wave good-by and was gone. In his grief he was devastated at her departure and took no comfort from the vision, his voice trembling as he related it to me. Even though my father was terribly upset at the memory of the experience, I was truly awed and a strange sort of peace settled over me. I cannot begin to understand or explain his vision, but I believe with all my heart that he had it. And through his sharing it with me somehow I know that all is well in the end.


That was over twenty years ago, but every year as Valentine's Day rolls around, the memories come flooding back...and still I know that all is well. Love you, Mom.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place I am going...I am the way and the truth and the life”  John 14:1 - 4, 6

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Marketing/Marking the Seasons

"Well, they've done it again - here we go..." I muttered, perusing the aisles at one of the local chain stores. I'd come shortly after Christmas to check out the bargains for next year's holiday and indeed found them, but there was more. MUCH more - like rows and rows of items for Valentine's Day, St Patrick's Day, and even a few for Easter discreetly (?) squeezed in among the others. My senses were confronted with "seasonal decorations". It reminded me of the new school supplies hitting the shelves just as summer break began for the kiddos and the Halloween decorations following not long after. Really, for me it's become too, too much!

Made me think, though - is this how most of us follow the seasons anymore? Being accosted day after day, month after month, year-round by the not-so-subtle advertising of large conglomerate businesses? I hate to think so, but I do believe there's a grain of truth here. How do YOU first notice that spring is out there lurking in the not-too-distant future? Warmer temperatures? Swelling buds on the trees? The rotation of constellations, phases of the moon, height of the tides? Or is it the TV commercial reminding you that your Valentine deserves that special gift? How else are the seasons to be noticed and marked?

Most of us are aware we have a bit more hours of light each day, but have you noticed that the sun appears to also be moving further and further north in the sky? Have you observed the night sky recently to find the North Star (Polaris) and note the rotation and re-positioning of those constellations that surround it? How about the moon - are you aware of which phase it is in and how that changes month to month? Extreme high tides occur naturally when the sun’s and moon’s gravitational pulls reinforce one another. These high tides, sometimes called “king tides”, occur this year in January and February. When they happen to coincide with heavy rainfall, serious flooding can result. Were you aware of those tides, what causes them, and more importantly, were the children and/or grandchildren in your life?

Seasons affect us in many ways, some of which we may not even be aware of. Seasons change here on earth, not because of some holiday or event we celebrate or the colors we wear, but due to phenomenal forces and processes not completely within our understanding. In the time between our ancient ancestors first noticing the paths of orbs across the sky and today's incredible orbiting telescopes which capture images light years away, much has been learned about the universe. But much remains to be learned, if indeed it ever will be. One thing is clear: there is a rhyme and a reason to it all with all actions resulting in reactions in an ever-widening sphere of time and space. The mere fact that we don't understand it all does not mean it is not so.

T. Megeath (University of Toledo) and M. Robberto (STScI)

All this makes me feel very small, insignificant, and humble beyond belief. More insignificant, still, are those rows and rows of seasonal decorations...Just give me the sun, moon and stars.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth ." And it was so. God made two great lights - the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars... And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:14-16, 18

*For more fantastic photos and information
on the Hubble Space Telescope: