Thursday, February 28, 2013

POTM...*: A Symbol for the In-Between-Time

(*Photo of the Month)

There is something amazingly beautiful about tree icicles, but the weather needs to cooperate in just a particular way for us to enjoy them. First there’s snow, of course, heaped and resting on the end of a conifer branch. Then there’s the right combination of sun and temperatures -- warming and freezing, but not too much of either -- and voila! There they are. These conditions are not particularly rare here in Colorado, especially this very time of year, but still, it would be nice to see them more often.  They can be anywhere from one to seven inches long or so; these are about five.

Remember icicle decorations on Christmas trees? There were the white plastic ones with the little molded hook on top. (When I was a kid we had some that glowed in the dark. I thought they were wonderful and would sneak them off to bed with me.) And then there was tinsel, the last decoration to go on, folded up in old musty newspaper and seeming like the Ghost of Christmas Past. (I remember both the lead-covered and the plastic kinds, shaking my head in wonder at how much lead-poisoning must have taken place when we rolled those leaded babies into little balls in our hands and didn't wash them. The plastic ones were also cool to a kid because you could pull them through your closed fingers and make your skin turn silver…) Once we got them unwrapped from the newspaper I wanted to throw it on the tree in clumps, but my Mom insisted it be hung a strand at a time. Thus, she got the privilege of doing it most often! To me it did not look like icicles, but neither do the strands of dangling lights that people put on their houses.

Icicles on a Christmas tree have a bit of symbolism to them. First, there’s an old folk story of the newborn Jesus and his family taking refuge under a conifer while snow was falling; the tree wept tears of joy to bear such a privilege, producing the icicles. And some see in the icicle also a symbol of the spikes with which Christ was eventually nailed to the cross, tying Christmas together with Easter. So a tree icicle is a meaningful symbol for the time in between the two high holy days of the Christian year.

We just got major snow yesterday. I’ll have to strap on the old snowshoes, head out to my favorite county open space and see if I can find some.

~~RGM, February 25, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: Job 12:7-10, Holy Bible

(Blowin’ in the Wind is a regular feature on my blog consisting of an assortment of nature writings – hymns, songs, prayers, scriptures, poems or other things – pieces I may not have written but that inspire me. I trust they will do the same for you.)

Whitetail Fawn
Ask the animals and they will teach you,
the birds of the air and they will tell you.
Ask the plants of the earth
and they will instruct you,
and the fish of the sea 
will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life 
of every living thing
and the breath of all humankind.
               ~~Job 12:7-10

Yup, much to learn from Job... No wonder it’s among the Biblical writings called Wisdom Literature. Are people the only things in creation that have the capacity to ignore the Obvious?
Common Loon (Photos by R&G Mylander)

Job is wedged in a place of deep suffering. The friends that gather around him offer little consolation, insisting his travail is of his own doing. But Job is sure of his integrity before God and appeals to nature in his defense. Creation knows. The mysteries of faith, pain and life are peaceably accepted by the rest of creation; why not us? 

My pastor and good friend Paul has this phrase he uses from time to time -- “…Right observation. Wrong conclusion.” Job’s detractors are often guilty of this. They and we might do well to look more keenly for guidance at the way God speaks through God’s creation.

~~RGM, February 18, 2013

P.S. Next up? Photo of the Month...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

QOTM...*: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

(*Quote of the month)

And nature, the old nurse, took
The child upon her knee,
Saying, “Here is a story book
My Father hath writ for thee.
Come, wander with me,” she said,
“In regions yet untrod,
And read what is still unread
In the manuscripts of God.”
~~ Longfellow            

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a 19th Century American poet, writer, and educator. A true romantic, and wildly popular in his day, his work came under criticism after his death for being somewhat sentimental and catering to the masses. But since I am a pretty sentimental guy and don’t mind people catering to me, I find I enjoy a good bit of his work! And that for the same reason that I like cheesy Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals and the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life!”

White Sands Nat'l Monument, NM
Though he is not categorized with the transcendentalist movement exemplified by Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, some of the themes common to that movement, such as nature and theism, are well apparent in Longfellow’s writing. My favorite is Evangeline, a beautiful love story of an Acadian couple separated in their youth and reunited in their old age. Being a lover of the Northwoods, I find The Song of Hiawatha also a very pleasant read. I have both on my phone and refer to them from time to time while standing in a slow line. (You can download either for free through Gutenberg or Amazon.) The quote above is an excerpt from one of his abundant shorter poems.

Ottawa Nat'l Forest, MI
(Photography by R&G Mylander)
Many writers speak of nature as ‘the book of God,’ or, as in Longfellow’s case here, the manuscript of God. That concept is even alluded to by the Apostle Paul in the Epistle to the Romans: …What may be known about God is plain to people, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been created, so that people are without excuse [when they say they have had no way to know God]. (Romans 1:19-20, parentheses mine)

So, if you’ll pardon me, I think I’ll go read the book. Join me?
~RGM, February 11, 2013

Saturday, February 9, 2013

From My Journal: Well, Maybe it's the Time of Man... or Not

I did not know this until yesterday: the epoch of earth geology in which I live is called the Holocene. It means entirely recent and extends back a mere twelve thousand years or so to the end of the last great ice age. 

A Lesson in Geology

The epochs of earth time have historically been debatable and controversial, but scientists at least seem to be settling into definitions laid down in recent years by others in the field; and to curb at a minimum the scientific debate, it is all now overseen by an organization that is called the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Not being a geologist, I recognize the names of very few epochs. In fact, I find that an epoch is only one of several categories of supposed geologic time. These include Ages, Epochs, Periods, Eras, Eons and Supereons, and among these there are near to two hundred different named time periods and sub-periods!

In case you were wondering, that places us in the Subatlantic Age of the Holocene Epoch of the Quaternary Period of the Cenozoic Era of the Phanerozoic Eon of the post-Cambrian Supereon – if the latter even exists! Hmmm… Who’d ‘a thought? Don’t you just love science? No wonder it was so hard in high school. (Said in a medium monotone voice: “Now, the very popular Jurassic Period [made so famous by Steven Spielberg, heh, heh], consisted of Upper, Middle and Lower Epochs, and is only one part of the much longer Mesozoic Era, which in itself is one of three Eras within the Eon called the Phanerozoic. Very interestingly, it exists within a Supereon that is not even named… questioning the existence of the Pre-Cambrian… wa-wa… sub-Ages within… wa-wa----wa-wa-wa… Tithonian, Toarcian, Oxfordian… wa-wa----wa-wa-wa-wa.”) Among the many time period names are Nectarian (perhaps named for a certain petrified fruit pit found therein), the Santonian (which may contain irrefutable fossil evidence for the existence of Santa Claus after all, yes, Virginia…) and the widely-known Wuchiapingian, purportedly some 259,900,000 years ago, give or take 400,000 years. (“Come on already, who forgot to punch the time-card?”)

                                                         An Argument Heats Up

It’s the Holocene that is curious to me, though, our present time, and a movement afoot, according to the news, to define us as having entered a brand new geological epoch. The new epoch has been variously named, but seems to be resolving into what would be called the Anthropocene – anthropo from the Greek for man, and cene from new. Simple. The age of the New Man. Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young may have had it partly right when they sang, “Well, maybe it’s the time of year and maybe it’s the time of man. And I don’t know who I am but life is for learning.” Indeed it is, among other things. (Nobody’s asking me, but since this is my blog I can say whatever I want -- I like Joni Mitchell’s rendition of Woodstock better than CSN&Y. Like ‘em both, but like hers better. She also wrote it.)
...The IUGS has set a deadline
of 2016 to come to a firm decision
if indeed the old epoch and old man
have passed and the new has come...

(Sorry, back to geology…) Some epochs were long, they say many millions of years, but apparently certain folks want to ditch the current one after a measly twelve thousand. I guess that’s what the New Man would do.  And though the IUGS has set a deadline of 2016 to come to a firm decision if indeed the old epoch and old man have passed and the new has come, some geologists are insisting that the decision is motivated more by pop culture than by good science. These latter would require the change to be triggered by something profoundly observable in the strata of the earth, a standard that has traditionally differentiated all the categories and sub-categories. And those who would change it say they have their observable criteria: the pollution and/or or carbons that have covered the earth since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, or if not that, then the radiation that recently covers the earth since the inception of the Atomic Age. So now things might be redefined as our having entered our new epoch at some point between 68 and 250 years ago. And all that without so much as a birthday party…

And what does that now make of the 'entirely recent' epoch? Is it now the 'epoch formerly known as entirely recent?' 'Entirely recent asterisk?' Or does it all now depend upon one's definition of the word 'entirely?'

New Man or New Creation?

My curiosity is piqued by the effort that seems to be going into such a thing. Pop culture? What about spirit culture? There is only one truly new man I can think of and that is the one spoken of in the Bible in 2 Corinthians 5, Ephesians 4 and John 3, among other places: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come… So put on the new man, which is like the nature of God, truly righteous and holy… Don’t be surprised at my saying that you must be born anew.”

So I suppose while scientists gather their intentions around how many epochs can dance on the head of a pin, I will continue to take consolation in knowing this: the time of man, thankfully, has been intersected by a timeless God, who counts the epoch of the new man from a rock strata upon which a cross stood about 2,000 years ago.

(P.S. The photos shown in this entry are from a series Gail and I have taken over the years of random cross shapes we find in nature and elsewhere, a series we call “The Cross Before Me.”  Since this post is on geology, or ‘what’s in the rocks,’ I thought it appropriate to share some of them. In these cases, as you can see, the cross is what’s in the rocks. Looks to me like, in their way, "...the rocks cry out.")

(P.P.S. And by the way, did you know that this blog is set up in such a way that if you click on a photo it will enlarge? Try it. I think that feature is pretty cool.)

~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry written January 10, 2013