Saturday, February 22, 2014

POTM...*: Winter Visitors

(*Photo of the Month)

I’m a little rushed for time with my blog this week, as our four Alaska grandkids have been visiting and have preoccupied Gail and me in a wonderful way. We’ve been outdoors much of the time – and over these days have fed a lot of birds, played a lot in the snow or mud, caught the same squirrel twice (he’s sprung the trap and escaped twice more), caught no rabbits (the intended quarry), taken several nice hikes up along the South Platte River or here on a couple of our premier Castle Rock trails, cooked hot dogs and marshmallows on the backyard campfire, driven to the top of Pikes Peak, and explored the dinosaur bones and footprints along west Denver’s Dinosaur Ridge, all among other nature-oriented things I am not remembering. This is to say nothing of the indoor activities that have also filled our days and evenings, but we are always particularly interested in getting our grandkids outside enjoying the wonders of God’s creation, as we did when our own were young. Seven-year-old Madeleine has already developed quite a knack for it all; and, along with their nature-loving parents, we’re always working on her younger sibs and cousin as well, convinced as we are that nature-deprivation can be a very real liability among instinctively imaginative children. (Check out Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods: Protecting our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.)

But our offspring are not our only visitors these late winter days. I mentioned that we’d fed a lot of birds, and my photo of the month highlights one of our most frequent callers. It’s the ubiquitous Mountain Chickadee, a gregarious and acrobatic little guest found at our feeders or flitting through our seeded bushes. Among its slight differences from the more common Black-capped Chickadee, whose range it shares in the mountain west, it has a white stripe over each eye rather than a solid black cap, and is a bit smaller. Birds are famous for having onomatopoeic names (Adam must have gotten a bit bird-bored during naming sessions…), and so its name mimics its chick-a-dee-dee-dee call. Mountain Chickadees are also colloquially called cheeseburger birds, as one of their calls seems to say chee-bur-ger. Really. As a non-migratory species (i.e., it is resident all year), its diet concentrates on insects during summer months and seeds in winter.  Monogamous in its breeding patterns, it will usually travel in pairs or small flocks, with individuals moving quickly from branch to branch or tree to tree.

There’s no question but that we will greatly miss our grandchildren, daughter and son-in-law when they return north. But we know for certain that there is one winter visitor who will be sticking around.

Jesus said, "That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life -- whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn't life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don't plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren't you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (Matthew 6:25-27)

~~RGM, February 21, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blowin' in the Wind: "Creation Calls" and the BBC

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

OK, so sometimes those of us who love nature can also be accused of being cheesy. I’ll own that unashamedly – I can be a sentimental fool.

Typically, my blog’s Blowin’ in the Wind feature highlights something written, but this time I’d like to share something of a different medium. (Click here and settle back for six and a half minutes.) I came across this video during a worship service some time ago, and it never ceases to thrill me. The Creation Calls song by Brian Doerksen is good in itself, but the videography is absolutely spectacular. And why not? The video comes from the BBC’s Planet Earth specials. They've been around for a while, I think airing on the Discovery Channel in 2007, but if you are not familiar with them by all means check the series out at your public library and have a gander. Don't expect to watch it in an evening, however: there are eleven episodes on different land forms, each over an hour in length. Quite amazing, they often include photography of natural events, creatures or objects never before filmed.

But back to Creation CallsIf you are more left-brained, you might want to leave this week’s blog entry to us hopeless romantics. My favorite scene? It comes after about 3:20 of the piece. 

~~RGM, February 14, 2014

Saturday, February 8, 2014

QOTM...*: John Greenleaf Whittier

(*Quote of the Month)

It has been a lengthy cold snap here in Colorado, longer than is typical, two weeks without seeing a nice fifty-degree warmup. Family members in Chicago, Minneapolis and Seattle have seemed to suffer worse than I, however, and it seems the ones who have had it the easiest this winter, relatively speaking, are my daughter and son-in-law's family in Alaska! So it all has caused the snatch of poetry that follows to stand out strongly: 

The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the somber green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where’er it fell
To make the coldness visible.

                                        ~~ John Greenleaf Whittier

Now having shared this, though, I have to confess: I am very sorry to say it, but poetry does not often turn me on. And I suppose the more complicated the poetry, the more quickly I lose interest, like, perhaps maybe, within nanoseconds. I have always wanted to love poetry more. Even to sit down with so fine a volume as Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir always sounds more inviting than it ends up being to me. I regret this very much, as some of the most wonderful people I know read it, write it, speak it and think it. I wish this were I.

(all photography by Rick and Gail Mylander)
Consequently, quotes from poetry masters will likely not often grace these blogposts. And though I’m not remembering where I came across this excerpt from American Transcendentalist poet John Greenleaf Whittier, this brief passage has the effect of nearly translating me to the edge of a winter forest at night, almost even feeling the piercing cold of the wind through my overcoat. It’s from a piece called Snow-Bound, published in 1866, and chronicles a memory the author had of his family holed up in their warm home during a blizzard.

Not a poetry reader? Then try this: read it through twice, silently and very slowly. Then read it aloud even more slowly, pausing not at the ends of lines but at the punctuation marks. See if this kind of read-through doesn’t cause you to visually enter the scene, maybe even make you want to pull your collar up just a little bit around your neck.

The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters become frozen. (Job 37:9-10)

~~RGM, February 5, 2014

Saturday, February 1, 2014

From My Nature Journal: What Could Be More Humble than Dirt?

What could possibly be more humble than dirt?

Yes, it's potting soil... It is winter, after all!
Perhaps it’s a strange thing, but I lately have been thinking about dirt. Not the kind on clothes, mind you, nor that slung by seedy politicians these days or celebrated in the media. But good ol’ soil dirt, of the plain ground variety, what we trod upon, usually without thinking. Where would we be without dirt?

Humus is another word for it. Where would we be without that? From it comes our very existence, created from the dust as we were (Genesis 2:7), yet also sustained by it through crops and meat and as filter for our drink. As if that weren’t incredible enough, did you know that there are more organisms in a tablespoon of rich topsoil than there are people on the planet? Or that soil sequesters ten percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions? Or that it contains stardust from distant suns? Or that fifty percent of soil is made up of air and water, the rest being mineral and organic material? Yet, I confess I actually don’t know if what I have always told my kids is true, that one has to eat at least six pounds of dirt before they die; Google says it’s only one.

You’ve got to get pretty low to appreciate dirt, and of course, it needs to get pretty low itself to do its best work: it’s the refuse of the world that ends up nourishing it in such a way that it can nourish us. Dare I say it? Things that we wouldn’t touch – decaying matter, organic garbage, the leftover substance that both beasts and human beings void – become the stuff of life in dirt, creating the staff of life for our benefit. Amazing.

Interestingly, the word humility comes from the root word humus. (Hmmm… root word… appropriate.) Does humility have something to do with dirt? Maybe there are some correlations here. The one gifted with true humility becomes as the soil. Good, fertile humus can be taken for granted. We walk on it and it supports us, quietly, without complaint. But yet it is also ever ready to accept the seed, help it germinate, then provide the nutrients for growth. Do you know people like that? I sure do. And I am deeply grateful for them.

The one gifted with true humility
becomes as the soil…

So I guess you realize by now that this essay is not so much about dirt as about something else, the gift of humility. You say you’d never want to be treated like dirt? Perhaps at further thought, that cliché is not always the insult we normally would assume.

When we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world... (1 Corinthians 4:13)

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things... to bring to nothing what the world considers important. (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

~~RGM, from an earlier journal entry,
revised for my blog January 31, 2014