Saturday, March 10, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Above, Upon, Below, Within

As Gail and I continue our efforts to make peace with Pacific Northwest weather (hit this link to be taken back to a blogpost on this subject), it is no surprise today that I am thinking again about precipitation. A rainy week is being followed by the weekend before us that actually looks pretty good, and I am eager to get out and enjoy it, sans spiffy new raincoat. Ebey’s Landing Bluff Trail? Rhododendron or Kettles Trail? Fort Casey State Park? Perhaps all of them. So many trails, so little time…

But as I think on it, it occurs to me that rain is only one of the four kinds of freshwater sources found in the natural world – water from above, water from upon, water from below, and water from within. All play their interrelated part in the order of nature. Water comes from above to replenish what is upon, below and within. And in a magnificent, even miraculous cycle, water from upon, below and within circulates back to what again comes from above. This cycle even makes scientists shake their heads in wonder at the specialness of our third rock from the sun.

Now, stick with me for a little theology here, for perhaps the same is true in the spiritual world. First, above. From the Spirit of God ‘above’ comes what the Bible calls the ‘early’ and ‘latter rain.’ Though their literal rendering refers to the early planting rains which soften the ground for seed sowing, and the latter ones which sustain the crops, a spiritual rendering is possible as well -- that which first brings spiritual life and that which sustains it over time, a refreshment that even places the exclamation point on a life in God. Further, just as literal rains fall and water the earth from above, so surely, the Bible says, shall God’s Word be, coming ‘down’ from above and accomplishing everything for which it is intended.

Second, upon: just as there are oceans, lakes, rivers and streams (in other words, water that is upon), so the Bible says there are such things as streams whose reviving presence ‘make glad the city of God.’ Again, though this may have a literal rendering in such things as a public utility work pulled off by a Judean king who tapped a spring stream from outside Jerusalem’s walls and brought it by a herculean engineering feat under the wall and into the city center, its spiritual rendering is also obvious: there’s that refreshing, reviving, spirit-enlivening water again. And besides, one thing of course is clear from the Garden of Eden: a river ran through it.

Third, below, water from below, springs and artesian wells, an interesting combination of pressures and water sources from another place that produce a mysterious flow elsewhere. These were the watercourses that were truly mysterious to the ancients. Some envisioned great oceans of water somehow below the surface of the earth, perhaps even upon which the land floated. And most mysterious of all were the springs that rose in odd places, unexpectedly generating a stunning vibrancy of life, both flora and fauna, in the harshest of spots. Think of desert oases. The spiritual theme still holds.

But finally, water from within? There are some rare places on earth with no apparent natural water sources, but where creatures still manage to live, a place like Anacapa Island, among the Channel Islands twenty miles off the California coast. No apparent water source? No problem. The few small animals that are there get all the moisture they require from within plants that have taken it from the air. In the spiritual realm, this is the most extraordinary, even supernatural, of waters. Jesus called it an innerspring that can well up, gush, jump up to eternal life. Water from within… It’s the refreshing rain Jesus promised the Samaritan woman at the well, who came there seeking for more life, more refreshment, than could be held in a water jar.

Lord, send your rain from above, and bring us ‘times of refreshing from the Lord’ (Acts 3:19). Cause us to come to your river (Psalm 46:4), the water that is upon, and to come often. Give us to drink from the water ‘that becomes a wellspring of life’ (John 4:14). But most of all, grant us the waters from within, those of which you said, “From their innermost being shall flow rivers of living water (John 7:38).”

Our shared request is the same as the woman at the well: “Give me this water always (John 4:15).
~~ RGM, March 8, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Making Peace with Western Washington Weather While On the Road to Rhodies

Okay, it’s time. I’ve been here long enough and I’m done bellyaching about Western Washington weather. And though it’s stretching me, I may even be ready to begin making peace with it.

No, Colorado, that doesn’t mean we don’t still miss you desperately, and the utopian weather we’d relished all our years with you. Your year-round nearly predictable sunshine was a hiker’s delight, and this Vitamin D deprived region could use a bit more of it. Oh, weather is predictable here from October to May, too, if you want to call ‘rain and within six degrees either side of forty-two’ predictable. It’s just that it’s about time I stopped moanin’ and groanin’ about how much we dislike the rain here. They said it would take a year for us to get accustomed to it. They lied. We’re still not used to it. That being confirmed, it’ll take an act of the will to make that happen.

And so, as an expression of that will and a symbol of my new resolve, Gail and I went to REI a few days ago and I outfitted myself with some serious Gore-Tex raingear, inaugurating it yesterday with relative success. No, I’ve never paid that much even for a Minnesota-worthy winter parka, or maybe even the three winter jackets put together that I’ve owned in my entire adult life. Still, though I can’t yet say that I LIKE hiking in the rain, at least I’ve made a start of it.

But in addition to my brand-spanking-new orange raincoat, there’s another thing that is motivating me these days: we’re coming up on rhody season here in the Pacific Northwest. Yup, the Pacific Rhododendron -- the Washington state flower -- is about to make its annual showing. Our little acre here in the woods outside of Coupeville, in fact ALL the wooded areas in the region, are nearly covered with the dazzling things, and we can hardly wait to see them in bloom, yes, even while we hike in the rain. In fact, it’s going to take a hike in the rain to see them, rhodies, among the loveliest of state flowers.

Rhododendrons are found in numerous places around the world. In fact, a thousand of these evergreen species are known in Europe, China, Australia and North America. Besides, horticulturists have cultivated many hybrids for garden plantings over the last two hundred years. But the wild Pacific Rhododendron, rhododendron macrophyllum to be precise, may be one of the most beautiful, especially in the context of its natural environment. A leggy, understory shrub that can grow to twenty feet and more while it reaches for light beneath towering conifer groves, its large, showy and prolific light pink to purple blooms stand out refreshingly on gray, misty days, particularly amid the dark, wet trunks of enormous Douglas Firs nearby. Made prolific due to toxins in the plant that make them unpalatable and unbrowsable to deer, it is that aforementioned rain combined with the acidic soil beneath those gargantuan conifers that make conditions right for the rhody to thrive.

And those trees themselves present another ambience unique from my more familiar Midwest haunts: on wooded trails snaking through giant fir groves, it might be upwards of fifty feet from the forest floor to the lowest branches, leaving a cavernous, auditorium-like opening akin to a large room, one full of flowering bushes. R. macrophyllum, which literally means ‘rose-tree large-leafed,’ stretches from southern British Columbia to northern California, and is variously known as the Pacific, California, Western, Coast or Big Leaf Rhododendron, or the California Rosebay. It was first described for science by famed botanist Archibald Menzies, who collected the plant in Washington while accompanying the Pacific Northwest exploration of British sea captain George Vancouver in 1792.

So back to the rain. The Bible says that God causes his rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), inferring that his manifold blessings are heaped upon both those who revere him and those who have not yet learned to do so. I am grateful for wild rhododendrons, how they will beautify the forest under dark and rainy skies. My new raincoat and I are ready for them now.

“Consider the lilies,” Jesus said, “how they grow. They don’t toil or spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as one of these. But if God so clothes the grasses of the field… can you not trust God to care for you?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

~~ RGM, February 26, 2018

Sunday, January 7, 2018

From My Nature Journal: Restless

[Another year has turned. Many reflect on the passing of time in these first few days of a New Year. I recently ran across this piece in my nature writings, reflecting on such a time some years ago. My prayer is that it will be a blessing to any who are experiencing a season of restlessness.]

In light of a wind of change that has been blowing over me, I have been thinking lately of seasons: I seem to be coming off a long season of unrest, the exact nature of which has not been clear. Depression? No… Anxiety? No, not quite that either. But restlessness? Disquiet? I think for now, those seem to describe it best.

When actual climatic seasons begin to change, it could be said that a restlessness settles in. In mid-season the weather seemed to have normed into an ‘at-restness,’ but within a short time after that, something happens – one may first notice it as a faint whiff, a color, a sound, a sighting – and a harbinger of change presents itself. It may be a September snow flurry or a faint peal of March thunder. Perhaps it’s a towhee at the February feeder or an early fall sundog. From then on, one notices more and more the cues and clues that change is in the offing. Even these become the norm after awhile, until finally the mid-April snow dump or the late fall Indian Summer provide the last vestiges, the death throes, of a season dying, and a new norm ascends reign.

Seasons of course are not known to be static, not always predictable or black and white, at least climate seasons, that is, unless you live nearer the Equator. Winter, spring, summer and fall progress and fade in turn, with their capricious timings and geographic variations. Our years in Minnesota convinced us that winter there seemed to rob a month from each of the most pleasant seasons -- spring and fall -- producing a five-month deep freeze that just went on interminably. That variation is all the more pronounced where my daughter lives in Alaska.

But then there are seasons that are exact, fixed: annual solar seasons of 365¼ days; daily solar seasons of 24 hours, give or take the occasionally added leap minute; lunar seasons of 28¼ days; celestial seasons of other planets that share our solar system, or other extra-terrestrial rotations within our expanding universe, calculable but too vast for most to notice. Are any of earth’s short weather seasons not tied to some of these?

But this is not all. We speak of seasons of life and death, epochs that affect every animal, vegetable and mineral. There are seasons of biological gestation, thirty-nine weeks or whatever. There’s apple blossom season, or morel mushroom season, ‘when the oak leaves are the size of squirrel paws,’ according to my dear hunter-gatherer brother Greg. There’s sugarbush time when the maples are running with early spring sap, or ‘those years the cherry tree grew by the garage.’ Then there are recognizable seasons of human time. ‘My high school years’ is an example of that, or ‘while he was in the military,’ ‘while I had that job,’ or ‘all that time Dad was sick.’ There are tectonic seasons of colliding plates, of mountain formation, volcanism, erosion. There are seasons of a friendship, seasons of childhood and adulthood, puberty, child-bearing years, empty-nestedness, old age. Ownership has its seasons: ‘those years we had the Ford conversion van,’ or ‘the time our cat Spencer lived with us (for certainly, does anyone ever really ‘own’ a cat? Actually, I think the cat looked at it as ‘the season he let us live in his house.’)’ Then there are seasons of place: ‘those years we went to the farm every summer’ or ‘our time at 1540.’ Of course, the longer a season the less it may be spoken of as such; for example, my family does not say ‘while we were on Rockwell Street’ the same way my wife’s says ‘our time on Hemlock,’ for our Rockwell season in Chicago was so long, fifty years, the only home some of us ever knew. In the same way, one does not say ‘my time in the solar system.’ Seasons tend to have duration. Not all their endings and beginnings can be pointed to, but some can.

Joni Mitchell had it:
And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round
And the painted ponies go up and down:
We’re captured on the carousel of time.
We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came
And go ‘round and ‘round and ‘round in the circle game.

Still, I’m thinking these days that seasons sometimes define us, as it seems this season of unrest has defined me, at least from my perspective. I long for it to be over, glad the harbingers of its passing are becoming more frequent. Just the same, how I need again and again to be led to my immutable God -- “…Whose compassions fail not, Whose mercies never cease…,” and of Whom it is said possesses not a single “shadow of turning” (Lamentations 3:22-23 and James 1:17) -- while on and on, from my vantage-point, cycles on the music of the spheres.