Sunday, June 30, 2013

Blowin' in the Wind: My Delight

(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.)

John Leax (pronounced 'lex') is a retired English professor but current Poet-in-Residence at Houghton College in the Genesee Valley of western New York, a Christian liberal arts school. I became acquainted with his work years ago through an NPR interview, where on air he read this poem contained in his 2000 book Out Walking. The poem captures my own spirit toward a small bit of earth God has blessed Gail and me to 'own' in the Northwoods of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

It is God's good pleasure to delight us with His creation, with what brings God delight. I pray that in some way this poem, no, this entire blog project, will bring its readers a deeper delight with, and stewardship of, God's very, very good earth.

my delight, by John Leax

Though you have made the earth
for your delight,
I walk your woods and find
in hemlock, pine and poplar
from the burning of your sun,
and fuel to warm me
when your cold descends.

I find streaming from a hillside
clean water
that slakes my thirst,
and in the wildness of its flow,
trout that feed my hunger.

At your meadow’s edge,
I pluck raspberries from the cane
and wonder at the thrasher
in the briars.

With every turn I find
extravagance –
the unending revelation
of your joy’s abundance.
What other end should I imagine
for goldenrod and buttercup,
for bloodroot, trillium, and phlox,
for jack-in-the-pulpit
and Queen Anne’s lace, for coltsfoot,
mullein, vetch and lily,
for loosestrife and forget-me-not?
I am confounded…

What harmony within yourself
led you to make your pleasure
and my needs be one?

What awful purpose then
led you to place
your pleasure in my keeping?

What discord now tempts me
to seize what you have made
and call it mine?

The fitness of this place
for my abode portends
(Photography by Rick and Gail Mylander)
a grace beyond
my strength to hold.

I must be held or fall.

With these words affirming
my delight, I yield
my inclination  to name
my own what can be only yours.

Let my delight be as it must,
yours and yours alone.

~~ RGM, June 29, 2013

Sunday, June 23, 2013

QOTM...*: Isaak Walton

(*Quote of the Month)

For so our Lord was pleas-ed when
He fishers made fishers of men.  
The first men that our Savior dear 
Did choose to wait upon Him here 
Blessed fishers were, and fish the last 
Food was that He on earth repast.
I therefore strive to follow those 
Whom He to follow Him hath chose.  

-- Isaak Walton, 1653, The Compleat Angler

No, Isaak Walton was not a great-grandpa of John Boy, but a 17th Century English writer-naturalist who lived from 1593-1683. This quote is from his iconic The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653, among the oldest books I have read, and unless I am forgetting, the oldest I have read on a natural history subject.

First of all, let’s get our language right. Compleat is not to be confused with complete, though there are similarities. Compleat is an obsolete word meaning ‘skilled, highly proficient or quintessential,’ as compared to complete, which means ‘possessing all the necessary parts.’ Frankly, most fishermen never have the latter at any given moment, though they still may be considered compleat! And angler has nothing to do with geometry or bargaining. As fisherpeople know, it is what we are called while we try to ‘get an angle’ on that slippery, wily critter beneath the waves, to figure him out, to think like he thinks. In no other sport, recreation or game activity that I know of is someone
called an angler. It is, after all, why the sport is called fishing, not catching.

The Compleat Angler is a delightful little read that is fifty percent fishing, fifty percent philosophy of living, and one hundred percent a rollicking frolic through songs, poems, quotes, anecdotes and the happy joie de vivre of a man who spent the last several decades of his long life streamside with a bait can and a friend or two, often clergymen. I think I would have really liked this guy. Hear Walton’s advice about the little creature in the can that is going to help him accomplish his goal: of the frog he says, “Use him as though you love him, that is, harm him as little as you may possibly, that he may live the longer.” And so in the quote above, Walton seems to sum up his love for angling this way, that if fishing was good enough for Jesus, it must be good for us as well.

I totally concur.

The book is available from the Gutenberg website as a free download. Hit this bold text if you would like it.

~~RGM, June 23, 2013

 P.S. Next up next time -- my Blowin’ in the Wind feature, a poem I think you’ll really like…

Friday, June 14, 2013

From my Journal: Enhanced Night Vision

It is late. At the end of the dock I sit and shut off my flashlight. One by one the stars present themselves on a moonless summer night, my eyes growing accustomed to the darkness.

First I spot the biggies: the seven stars of the Big Dipper, and, trailing the arc of its handle, the astonishingly bright Arcturus in the constellation Bootes; to the south, red Antares, the heart of the Scorpion; directly overhead, the asterism of the Summer Triangle – Vega in Lyra, Altair in Aquila the Eagle, and Deneb in Cygnus the Swan. Within moments it seems these pinpoints of light no longer present themselves one by one but a hundred by a hundred: Draco the Dragon; Sagittarius the Waterbearer and a coincidently nearby Jupiter; the body detail of Ursa Major, the Big Bear, in which the Big Dipper lies; the asterisms Northern Crown and Northern Cross; even the dim and diminutive dolphin Delphinus. I begin to see satellites, coursing usually northerly, some so dim they can only be seen with averted vision against a seemingly motionless backdrop. Finally comes what I have been hoping for, the crowning joy of the night sky, the test of what constitutes, for me, a truly good night of seeing: the 
Milky Way begins to slowly 'reverse fade' into view;
The Big Dipper in the
constellation Ursa Major
eventually I see it spanning the length of the sky from 
horizon to horizon, from north of Queen Cassiopeia 
to horizon’s end south of the Teapot.

All the stars were showing immediately when I shut the light off several minutes ago, but I could not see them. It is my eyes that needed adjustment. My pupils had contracted indoors to protect my eye’s sensitive rods from light’s intensity. And now as they 
dilate in the dark, they gather dimmer light as a larger telescope would, and I am able to see clearly things formerly not visible just moments ago. It seemed near pitch black blindness when the flashlight went out, but as my eyes have adjusted to the darkness I sense enough light to not only move around the dock without falling in, but to leave the light in my pocket and take a walk, or push out over black water for a midnight paddle.

The light shines in the
darkness, and the darkness
has not overcome it.
(John 1:5)

There is light in my darkness. My night vision has been enhanced.

Lord, with darkness all around how I need enhanced night vision, a different kind than that I experience sitting here at the end of a dock.

Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for to you darkness is as the light. (Psalm 139:12)

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

~~RGM, from an earlier  journal entry,
Adapted for Blog June 11, 2013

Saturday, June 1, 2013

POTM...*: The Ephemerals

(*Photos of the Month)

OK, I decided a photo of the month would be timely for my first blog of June, breaking from the norm of sharing from my nature journal as my first entry of the new month. This is simply because we just took these images these last several days, and I’d like to get them up in context! So let me give a bit of that context before I share the photos.

Gail and I are away from Colorado right now, enjoying an early spring (after a very long winter) in the Northwoods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Early spring? In June? I explain. Though we have often been here by Memorial Day weekend, this winter was unusual here, with cold temps and late, heavy snows well into the first six weeks of spring. Take this for example: last year in 2012, ice-out on our lake took place the first week of March; this year it didn’t go out until May 8, a record in anyone’s memory. That is crazy! And to make matters worse, the depth of that late snow and the resulting delay of the frost going out has produced an unusually high water table, extending what is known here as ‘mud season’ by several weeks. Our driveway is impassable, creeks and lakes are high, some gravel roads are still closed having been washed out with freshets, and water is running in the woods in places we have never seen it run before.

Another thing it has done, however, to our great delight, is delay the first blooms of the season until late May; as a result, we are seeing flowers we have never had the pleasure of seeing here before either. Typically, early blooms come to flower before tree leaf-out blocks direct sunlight to the forest floor.  Some of these early bloomers are called ‘ephemerals,’ blooms that may last as short as a single day. Among them are some shown below. Thankfully, though a patch of them might be ‘here today and gone tomorrow,’ varying ground conditions (shadows, moisture, rocks, incline, etc.) may allow another patch to pop out in another place the next day, or the next. So it has been fun to walk or drive up and down the road, or walk in the woods each day, and see unusual and short-lived blooms along the way. Most early season flowers are white or mostly white.

The word is from the Greek ephemeron,
which means liable to be cut short,
a good word for a bloom that
might only last a few hours.

Ephemerals, as it relates to flowers, was a new descriptor to us. We found it in several places as we looked up these unknown blooms in our field guides. The word is from the Greek ephemeron, which means liable to be cut short, a good word for a bloom that might only last a few hours. Then I thought that Greek word even sounded familiar, and sure enough, it is from the same root as the common Biblical word daily. If I remember correctly, it is the word that we use in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I think it is also the word used in the Septuagint (an early Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) in Exodus 16, when the Israelites are told to gather manna sufficient only for the day, in other words, to trust God that God will daily provide for them again the next day. Thinking about and meditating on this Biblical word has added a lovely meaning and deeper appreciation to our early spring flower-gazing and identification.

Here are the photos...

Hepatica – ¾-inch single blooms. A true ephemeral, it can be pale blue, lavender, pink or white. Also called liverleaf for its liver-shaped basal (lowest) leaf, early herbalists assumed it must then be good for liver ailments – it wasn’t.

Trillium – 2-3 inch tri-petaled blooms, with a three-lobed leaf and three-sectioned sepals. It is no wonder it is called trillium. It is also a protected species, one of our favorites, and the white flowers turn light pink with age; seeds are eventually disbursed by ants who carry them underground.

Wintercress – ¼-inch blooms in bunches, one of the first plants to green in the spring, even while snow is on the ground, thus its name. The leaves are often the first green food of the season for hungry deer.

Spring Beauties – ½-inch single blooms, can be white or pink, with pink veins that guide small insects to the nectar spot. Sometimes producing a veritable carpet of blooms, we have also seen these in the spring on the tops of mountains in Colorado.

Trout Lily – 1 inch single blooms, takes up to seven years to mature to flower; can also be white. It is also called adder’s tongue, with both flower and leaf disappearing by early summer.

Marsh Marigolds – 1½ inch blooms, not a marigold at all but in the buttercup family. The showiest and longest-lasting of the early risers, it is also known as cowslip, as cows would slip on them when coming down to the water in early spring.

Dutchman’s Breeches – 1 inch blooms, one to four on a stalk, another true ephemeral. Certainly the winner in the ‘coolest name category,’ its flowers resemble, upside-down, the pants worn in the Netherlands in earlier times. It is a favorite of spring bees due to its ample nectar.

Skunk Cabbage – tiny flowers on a one-inch pineapple-shaped spike, wrapped in a strange floral sheath, with leaves eventually up to a yard wide. Coming in a close second in the ‘coolest name category,’ it soundly beats all comers in the ‘weird category.’ This ephemeral produces so much heat that, if it has to, it thaws the ground and melts the snow in a circle around it as it pushes up from the ground. As its name implies, it stinks.

And speaking of ephemerals:

As for man, his days are like grass.
   he flourishes like a flower of the field,
for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
            and its place knows it no more.
But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those who fear him,
            And his righteousness to children’s children,
To those who keep his covenant
            And remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103:15-18)

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin. Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more clothe you…? Therefore, do not be anxious… (Matthew 6:28-31, portions)

The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)

May you be completely assured today of the blessing of God’s daily care.

~~RGM, June 1, 2013

 P.S. Up next week? Back to my nature journal…