Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Unsettling Business

One year ago I took a leap of faith
and dove into the world of blogging with both feet. 
While the "splash" I make is probably minute,
I continue to enjoy the journey
and hope you enjoy riding along.
Your comments are much appreciated.

Perhaps it is coincidence, but exactly one year ago I wrote of my personal experience with earthquakes because there had recently been massive ones in Haiti, then Chile ......and now Japan. It is, yet again, one of those times when the earth takes on a life of its own and spins out of control, leaving massive destruction and human agony in its wake.

Frank Slide, Alberta, Canada

There are those who would say that we deserve this - that all signs have pointed this way and that God or "the gods" is/are angry. We are, after all, measly humans who are bound for "Hell in a hand basket". The end is surely near and it is only a matter of time.... Perhaps - but who is to say?

Life on earth is risky and highly dangerous - always has been and always will be. Deep down inside we know this to be true, but somehow in the everyday business of living we shove all thoughts of such aside, unless (or until) we are forced to look them straight in the eye. For this most recent tragedy, as with most events nowadays, that means video on the nightly news or computer screen, and it's impossible to look away. Human misery is eerily compelling and the overwhelming feeling of helplessness - both in Japan and in our living rooms here - is staggering. So much damage, death, and destruction - how can things ever be put back as they were? What can we do? How can life go on?

The answers are both extremely complicated and simple. Much depends on support and outlook and one depends upon the other, both here and half a world away. Choose to concentrate on the stories of rescue, goodwill, and compassion, not the terrible death, crime, and hopelessness of the people involved. Act - decide in what ways you are best equipped to help, and do so. Some people are trained and have the means to travel to disaster areas to lend valuable service on the spot. Most of us, however, are not, so need to contribute in other ways. Usually, contributing money is the best way to help, but be sure to take your time and thoroughly check out the group or agency you are contributing to. Don't be concerned with how little or how much you can afford - sometimes the things that mean the most cost very little. Clean water, fresh bandages, packaged meals, hugs, and reassuring attitudes are invaluable. Offer support here to those you know who have family or friends in the disaster area.

It will be a long road to recovery, for things will never be as they were. Nature is a powerful force and humankind has yet to accept the fact that we are often helpless against it. But as we have seen, time and again throughout history, life will go on. Things will be different, lives will have been changed and much will have been lost. But much will ultimately be gained in the way of knowledge about living here on planet earth and about how we care for each other. Since we are such a tiny pin-prick in the universe, perhaps our real strength lies well outside of ourselves...

They were snatched away before their time;
their foundation was washed away.
Job 22:16

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
Psalm 46:1-3

Click HERE to read my first post on earthquakes.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Lyrical Transitions

There is a stirring - almost imperceptible - subtle, but strong. The sun appears to inch its way northward in an ever lengthening arch, and a gentle, warming breath rustles the evergreens and swelling buds of bushes and trees. Early green plants push up through the soil, some bursting into bloom as soon as they emerge. We hear a lyrical change, a quickening, in the calls of birds that echo through the woods.

Pine Siskin
Voracious flocks of Juncos still come through each day, now joined by chattering flocks of Pine Siskins. These lively, little brown birds are nomadic and have no fixed migrating patterns, so their presence varies from year to year, apparently in response to the local food supply. Our feeders are well supplied, but we are only one stop and last year we saw few. Although they can empty our feeders in a day, we enjoy these feisty little birds who easily hold their own against many of the larger birds. They are only passing through, snatching seeds and a variety of insects as they go. They seldom stay.

Varied Thrush by Walter Siegmund

Robins, and the Varied Thrushes that resemble them, have returned and their familiar songs fill the air. While the Robin’s song is cheerful and melodic, the Thrush’s is eerie - a long, quavering whistle, followed by several more at different pitches - the perfect accompaniment to our misty, drizzly habitat. Black and orange like the Robin, the male Thrush also sports an orange wing pattern, bright orange eyebrow and a broad black band across his breast. Both kinds of birds hunt on the ground, relishing insects, spiders, seeds, fruit, and of course worms. The Robins will stay, the Thrushes will move on.
Pileated Woodpecker
Woodpeckers live here year round, so are seen frequently. Beginning in deep winter, the slow, long courtship of the Hairy Woodpecker is signaled with the male drumming rapidly on a favorite spot to announce that he has staked out his territory and is seeking a mate. An interested female will drum back. Each species has its own distinct pattern of drumming: the small Downy’s is a rapid, unbroken roll, lasting about 2 seconds; the Hairy’s is similar, but louder and shorter; Sapsuckers add a few tap-tap-taps to the end. The Northern (Red Shafted) Flicker makes a soft, muffled drumming and burrows into trees, posts, and sometimes houses, for its nest hole. On the plus side, it eats more ants than any other North American bird, hopping about awkwardly on the ground to find them and other insects. Our favorite, the huge, redheaded Pileated, makes a drumming that is low-pitched, trailing off in speed and volume at the end. It excavates huge holes for its nest in dead trees or limbs and eats a great many carpenter ants. All of these come to feed on suet, noisily announcing their presence with rattling, ringing calls.

California Quail by Vibrantspirit

This past fall and winter, a small covey of California Quail came by to eat cracked corn. They drew the attention of a Sharp Shinned Hawk, which picked off a few. They are all gone now, hopefully some paired off and are working their way towards nesting. We miss their chi-ca-go calls and quick, sprightly movements. But now a brilliant male Ring-Necked Pheasant wanders in from time to time, his creaky gate-sounding skwagock always preceding his coming. And a pair of mallard ducks visits the pond, waddling back to gorge on corn. Someone leaves, someone else arrives.

Ring-Necked Pheasant
It is a time of transition - a fickle, drawn-out time between seasons. A time of turbulence, disruption and reordering. Through this cyclical time of change there is survival, the constancy of life ever moving on. A time to be savored.

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil - this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever, nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it.
Ecclesiastes 3: 1 & 12 - 14

*To learn more about the above birds, and to hear their calls and the drumming sounds of the woodpeckers, just click on their names.

The above credited picture files
from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Under Our Noses

The drab Northwest winter becomes very old for me around February and by March I’m getting stir-crazy. Thoughts of Spring blooms, leafy trees, barbecuing, camping, hiking, and sunny days become almost more than I can bear. Physical exercise helps and I find a walk in the great outdoors puts me back on track. It’s a time and place when I can become childlike and open all of my senses to the wonders of this world.

Let’s face it, we live in a damp, musty climate and most of the wild things that live here prefer that - or at least are equipped to make the best of it. You can’t get much damper than at the beach, so this past winter I took part in some moonlight beach walks during low tides, helping to acquaint people with the myriad sea life that lives there. During each of these we took our time, leisurely strolling the beach to see what creatures presented themselves to us. Colored sea stars, sea anemones, crabs, snails, and numerous seaweeds take on a whole different look under a full moon on a crisp winter night. On the last walk we found a rock totally covered with dog whelk snails; below them were thousands of their yellowish, rice-shaped eggs. Aah yes, spring is definitely on the way...

Under Our Noses

Damp, dark, earthy places
full of leaf litter, fungus,
worms , slugs and snails,
may hide other small secrets
awaiting our discovery.

The mother lode
does not always contain gold,
nor is it necessarily large,
but a treasure ours for the seeking
and worthy beyond measure.

Painted in quiet, muted shades
and infinitely fine detail
by the Master’s hand,
it lies far “below us” in a place
we may think we don’t want know.

But in seeking the mountain
we may trip on the twig,
land face down in the mud,
and come nose to nose
with a masterpiece.

Many, LORD my God,
are the wonders you have done.
The things you planned for us
no one can recount to you;
were I to speak and tell of them,
they would be too many to declare.
Psalm 40:5

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Wearin O' the Green"

In the rainy early spring, my attention turns toward what plants are emerging after their winter rest. In moist, forested areas at low to middle elevations, native shamrocks begin poking their heads above ground in February. Thanks to Marian, under one shrub we have a nice thick carpet of these clover-like plants. Some years ago, after I noticed a good-sized patch of them edging her driveway and remarked how much I enjoyed them, she dug up and gave me a few. They have gradually spread and provide a spot of bright green along with beautiful white flowers. Common throughout western Washington and Oregon, they are a type of Oxalis known as Redwood Sorrel.

There is no single plant identified as shamrock, but rather it might be any of a number of clover-type plants that possess a compound leaf with three more-or-less heart-shaped leaflets. This includes White (or Dutch) clover, Red clover, Lesser yellow trefoil (or hop clover), Black Medic, and Wood Sorrels. Some say that the true plant can be grown only in Ireland or in Irish soil, but in fact the three-leaf clover grows all over the world – from Tasmania to South Africa and from North America to England.

Called "seamroy" by the Celts, the shamrock was a sacred plant in ancient Ireland because it symbolized the rebirth of spring; they revered its three leaves (trefoil) since they considered "3" to be a sacred number. The Druids believed many numbers held mystical powers and the tradition of honoring "3's" continued in Ireland for millennia.

Legend has it that St. Patrick used the shamrock as a parable for the Holy Trinity when he preached to the Irish people. there is no historical evidence confirming this - the story was first recorded in 1726 in a book about the wild flowers of Ireland written by an English dissenting (protestant) cleric, Dr. Caleb Threlkeld.

In the late 18th century, volunteers in Ireland adopted the Shamrock as their symbol, although it didn't become a nationally accepted symbol until the 19th century. At that time, anything connected with Ireland displayed shamrocks, so the legend had taken on new meaning to Irish people and many wore it to show their dissatisfaction with England's Rule. Eventually, this "Wearin O' the Green" was seen as a symbol of rebellion and people were forbidden to wear it or have it on display. A reversal came in 1900 when Queen Victoria instructed that all Irish soldiers serving in British regiments should wear shamrock on St Patrick's Day in memory of those who died during the Boer War. This practice continues today, although the reason is not always remembered. A symbol of the Trinity and the Cross for most Irish-Catholics, it has gone beyond being a spiritual symbol and become a source of empowerment and national pride.

Although the Shamrock is not an official emblem in the Republic of Ireland, the green trefoil is registered under international trade-mark conventions as a symbol of Ireland and is universally recognized as a badge of the Irish; it is used on aircraft, ships, clothes, books, and all sorts of other decorations. It joins the English Rose and the Scottish Thistle on the United Kingdom's Royal Coat of Arms and is an integral part of Saint Patrick's Day celebrations.

Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime;
it is the LORD who makes the storm clouds.
He gives showers of rain to men,
and plants of the field to everyone.
Zechariah 10:1

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tale o' Two Shamrocks

This is a tale of two shamrocks. It began with one (a gift from a friend) which grew to the point where I finally divided it, filling a second pot with the curious little nubs, roots and clover-like leaves of this prolific plant.

The second plant never quite did as well as the first one. I didn’t really care because it was excess baggage anyway - vegetative scraps left over from the prized “Number One”. That one even had an official name, John F. Kennedy, so had a pedigree in a way I thought. I guess that name could also apply to the division, but I didn’t think of it in the same way.

Although I tried to care for the two plants equally, by the end of one summer, the second one was scrawny and peaked-looking. Since I considered it second-best anyway, I dumped it out of its pot and threw it on the compost pile in the backyard. It would not be a total waste that way I thought, and would at least be re-cycled into good, rich soil.

The long, rainy fall and winter passed. I don’t really remember what the winter was like that year, whether it was mild or cold and snowy. In any case, I’m not sure that it would have mattered. Inside, the prized shamrock went into its normal slump - dropping its leaves and shriveling back for its winter dormancy. I never gave the other one - alone and exposed to the elements - a thought.

Slowly, the days lengthened and moderated. At the slightest hint of spring, I charged outdoors to begin gardening chores. To me there is a sense of freedom and elation in the outdoors after several months of darkness and being cooped up inside. Early spring is an incredible time, with all living things building up to burst forth with new life after months of inactivity. The abandoned shamrock was no exception...

Sometime well into spring clean-up I found it. Hauling a load of winter-dead garden plants back to the compost pile, I caught sight of it just before flinging the debris right on top of it. What a sight! There, among the well-rotted vegetation, a healthy, luxuriant green shamrock flourished. It had survived the winter, pushed new roots deep into the rich, loamy earth, sprouted twice as many leaves as it had before and put forth a number of white trumpet-shaped blooms.

You can bet I dug that plant up again, carefully planting it back into a pot along with its nutrient-rich soil. Next to it, the previously prized plant now looked puny and anemic. I didn’t throw the first one out, but planted it purposefully along the house in a garden reserved for shade-loving plants. It continues to survive, though it grows and blooms sporadically. The second plant now has its time of glory in the house. I try to be attentive, water and fertilize it, and each time I look at it I’m reminded of the two shamrocks and their separate lives.

Like people, I think, and you just never know...

But those that were sown upon the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Roughing It" Grows Old

Awaking in the wee hours, I sensed something different. Instead of the soft gurgling of the small stream outside our bedroom, a tumultuous wind roared through the trees and howled in the wires. I glanced at the clock, but the pale green-glowing numbers were gone, replaced by total darkness. Feeling my way to the bathroom, I reminded myself: don’t flush!

Living as we do on the Kitsap Peninsula in western Washington, we are subject to occasional heavy storms. Warmer air and ocean currents rolling in from the southwest bring heavy rains; a collision of air masses over western Canada push south, bringing heavy winds and freezing temperatures. Squeezed tightly between the waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Hood Canal, and Puget Sound, our little slice of earth is especially vulnerable to the wiles of the elements. Mature, tall native trees catch the brunt of high winds and can unexpectedly snap like matchsticks. Or, with shallow roots clinging to saturated soils, may simply lose their grip and topple over. Either way, they’re a force to be reckoned with and may cause serious damage or death. More often than not, they cause only a little inconvenience such as power outages.

After years of experiencing these outages, we have our routines: a fire started in the fireplace, stored water retrieved, camp coffee pot brews coffee over Sterno, flashlights, oil lamps, and candles set out, battery-powered radio dug up. Limited opening of refrigerator and freezer doors and closing doors to other rooms helps conserve cold and warmth, as needed. Since we’re on a private well, no electricity means no running water; no turning on faucets and no flushing toilets.

I have to say there is a bit of a pioneer mentality in our house during these times. It is almost fun to see that we’ve not lost our human will and ingenuity to survive and provide ourselves the basics of warmth, food, light, and contact with the outside world. This enjoyment of the basics is directly proportional to how long the outage lasts: The longer it lasts, the less fun it is.

After a day (or more) of “roughing it”, the glamor wears off. I want to zap my cup of tea in the microwave, roast a chicken in the oven, check our e-mails, take a shower, watch the evening news. As evening approaches, things seem gloomier.

For me, the loss of light is the most troubling; without it I feel depressed. We light the oil lamps, some candles, even a battery-powered camp lantern, but it’s not the same. There is the soft, rosy glow for a while - a few hours, maybe - but that soon wears thin. To read or work puzzles, one needs to be close to the light. A trip to another room requires a flashlight - it’s difficult to find your way and what your are after. Candles and oil lamps burn down, batteries grow weak, darkness hovers ever closer.

With usual routines and activities curtailed, boredom and sleepiness take over and we head to bed - fire stoked, flashlights in hand. Oh, for morning and the light of day!

This is the message we have heard from him
and declare to you:
God is light;
in him there is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Social Networking with a Bear

National Park Service

The sight before me is entrancing - a mother Black Bear, her year-old cub, and two one-month-old "cubbies" all snuggled into their winter den snoozing, playing, and grooming each other peacefully somewhere in the wilds of Minnesota. The yearling grunts, the babies squeal, and the mother gently lifts them to her chest. I look forward to seeing them venture out of the den in the coming weeks. Whoever heard of such a thing?! But in this day of technology, indeed, nearly anything is possible.

And in this day of the internet, more and more possibilities are opening up to us. The question is, however, just which of these - and how much - should we partake of? To many of us now, the computer, I-pod, cell phone, Kindle, and other gadgets take increasingly bigger bites of our time and never seem to be full. It truly can boggle the mind...

Social Networking has wormed its way into our lives in ways we never imagined only a few short years ago. I must admit, there are parts of this that I find intriguing. Used with care, and proper precautions, it is now possible to easily stay in touch with friends you seldom see and family members who live far away. Sharing photographs and instant messages can be big positives if mutually agreed upon by those involved. Like anything else, common sense - and courtesy - should prevail. Limiting the time spent on-line as well as engaging in other non-technological activities is equally important.

American Black Bear by HBarrison

But it was through a friend's sharing on just such a site that I discovered Lily the Black Bear. Lily, and her yearling cub, Hope, are two of the subjects of study by the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. According to their web site: The mission of the non-profit North American Bear Center is to advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans. All eight bear species around the world are now listed as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered in all or portions of their ranges. Remote habitats that once insured isolation and protection are now being occupied by people, and the attitudes of these people will determine the future of those populations of bears.

Photo by Alan Vernon

And so these dedicated people study bears - and share what they learn. Lily is one of these; she is a wild Black Bear and they have traced her lineage back over 20 years. Last winter she gave birth to little Hope and their story became something of a phenomenon as Lily deserted her during the summer, they met and parted again, then met and reconciled to never again leave each other. All of this was followed, in print and on video, by millions of people. Denning together through the rugged northern winter, Lily again gave birth - this time to a pair of cubs. A live den camera was unobtrusively installed in the den last fall, so these bears are constantly observed and studied. What is being learned about these wonderful animals is truly priceless and offers much hope for their future.

By the way, if you would like to learn more about Lily and her kind, you will find her on Facebook!

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge;
the ears of the wise seek it out.
Proverbs 18:15

To learn more about the North American Bear Center:

All picture files from Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Accomodating Spiders

Boy, I was vacuuming up a storm when I first noticed it. The small hole near the bottom of the wall was not new, but the gossamer, funnel-shaped web leading into it certainly was. Perhaps it was just laziness on my part, but I decided to just let it be. After all, it was winter, and even she needed shelter. Besides, how much trouble could one small spider possibly be?

I have gotten into trouble before with such thinking. As a child, I was always collecting odd critters in jars which often ended up in the large bay window in our kitchen. The results of one such episode are crystal clear in my now grown-up mind. My mother was an extremely patient woman, but one day she had just had enough of my “collecting”. One jar in the window contained an odd assortment of cocoons. “This has been here long enough.” she said, handing it to me. “Get rid of it.” Well, I thought I did. Taking the easy road, as children are wont to do, I tossed it in the garbage in the back hall. A day or two later, Mom bellowed “One of these days this whole house is just going to grow over in green mold, and it will all be your fault!!!” Mom didn’t get upset easily, and although this reprimand stung, she had a point. One of those “cocoons” had hatched - the trash was crawling with what seemed like a thousand baby spiders! You’d think I’d have learned...

Perhaps a month or two went by after this latest spider discovery. To be honest, I mostly forgot about it. I figured this little spider was helping keep down the population of whatever other bugs were trying to winter over inside with us. Live and let live, I nobly thought.

But the come-uppance came. It was my night to host our Book Club. The house had been gone over, dessert and coffee made, my husband and I were tending to a few last-minute details before the first guest arrived. Some cobwebs were spied in the skylight above the sofa. I grabbed the dust mop to do away with them, but just before I whisked it through them I noticed something else. Dozens of tiny spiders dotted the area. My husband raced for the bug spray. “No!” I cried. Sprayed spiders immediately drop down on single strands of web. Picture that over the sofa! After quick - and I might add HEATED discussion - we decided to pull the skylight cover closed and deal with them the next day. Of course, nothing was mentioned during the meeting. Some of those who attended are hearing this for the first time.

Thankfully, those little guys cooperated (unknowingly, I’m sure) and stayed out of sight. The next morning we moved furniture out of the way, spread plastic on the floor beneath the sky light, and sprayed the heck out of them. Dozens of tiny bodies gently lowered on silken strands. Oh yeah, and the funnel web in the hole in the wall got a good dose, too. The hole got taped over for good measure. I’ve not been so accommodating to indoor spiders since. I guess a lesson learned late is better than one not learned at all...

Keep hold of instruction, do not let go;
guard her, for she is your life.
Proverbs 4.13

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Endearing Differences

Photo by  Scorpion

Pick, Pick, Pick...” Soft calls attracted my attention. Just beyond the kitchen corner window he hung swaying gently, picking away at his breakfast, also. As I approached the window slowly and quietly he saw me coming, but was intent on his task and not about to leave. So there we were, me with my cup of coffee and him with his soft chirps between bites - less than 3 feet apart. With white body, black and white striped wings and face, and brilliant red patch on the back of his head, the six-inch long Downy Woodpecker is quite a spectacular little creature. He’s well-known for pecking about on trees in search of wood-boring insects, but also eats berries and seeds. He finds suet hard to resist.

Photo by Wolfgang Wander

Before long, the Chestnut-backed Chickadees arrived, also attracted to the hanging suet. Downy held his ground there, so after a couple of tries the chickadees happily took turns snatching sunflower seeds out of the small feeder attached to the glass. These little guys often travel in small bands, as well as in mixed flocks with kinglets, nuthatches and juncos.

Meep, Meep, Meep..” The “volkswagon” of the bird world suddenly appeared in the form of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. He’s small, but sturdy, and also had a hankering for suet that morning, so barged right in. His darting, erratic movements must have disturbed Downy, who finally flew off. The chunky little nuthatches with stubbly tails and legs are one of my favorite birds and amazing in their agility.

All of these birds occupy the same territory and share the role of gleaning insects from trees. But their different styles permit a happy division of the bounty. Some birds prefer one insect type to another, or large insects to small. Woodpeckers brace back on their tails and methodically hop up the tree. Nuthatches run helter-skelter, head-first down the trunk, spotting beetles, insect eggs and larva that the woodpecker might have missed. They will also wedge a larger seed into the bark of  a tree so that they can peck it open. Quite the acrobats, chickadees pick insects from the branches and twigs, as well as hunting for seeds and berries. Their little buddies the juncos will check the ground, while the tiny kinglets flit about inspecting foliage to snatch spiders and flying insects. It is these unique behaviors that make each bird special - we notice and remember.
A man I once knew volunteered at the local Marine Science Center 4 or 5 days a week, 7 hours a day. He cleaned tanks, fed animals, and might or might not talk to others. He admited he was not very social, but he knew all the creatures and noticed if one would not eat. Another elderly man would buy coffee and doughnuts every Friday for everyone and loved to talk, believing that was the best way to start the day. There was the friend who always parted with a “toodle-oo”, the trash collector who looks for me in the front window and waves to me from his truck, my husband who knows that I like coffee in bed, catsup on sausage, and clam dip with chips for breakfast on New Year's Day...
Photo by Kevin Cole
After 35 years, I met an old friend from high school and college days. Deep in conversation, I noticed that she still crosses her leg and bounces her foot up and down while listening. Funny, the things you remember about someone - the things that endear them to you. I, for one, am gateful that we are all so very different.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet photo by Donna Dewhurst
for U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

There are different kinds of gifts,
but the same Spirit.
There are different kinds of service,
but the same Lord.
There are different kinds of working,
but the same God who works all of them in all men.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6

Downy Woodpecker and Slate-colored Junco picture files
from Wikimedia Commons

 Ruby-crowned Kinglet picture file from: http://www.fws.gov/digitalmedia/index.php