Saturday, March 28, 2015

POTM...*: Mexican Poppies

(*Photo[s] of the Month)

OK, here’s something I’ve never had the delight of seeing before, that I’ve been eager to share with you since taking the photos last week. On our most recent visit to the church we’re serving part-time in New Mexico, we spent an amazing afternoon with a new member of the church and her husband, taking what could only in retrospect be called a ‘wildflower hike’ in the Florida Mountains near Deming. It was in a place called Spring Canyon State Park, a newer unit of nearby Rockhound State Park (where we encountered our first rattlesnake ever while hiking several months ago). We went, having asked this couple if they could simply take us out and share with us some of the things they knew about New Mexico flora (which we had already come to know was exponentially more than us!).

What a time we had! “Here, eat this!” Charles would say. And it would be delicious. “Oh, that’s Gluteus Maximus E Pluribus Unum Veni Vidi Vici,” Melanie would say. (Not really, she and he had all the Latin genera down quite well, as well as the common names, some plants of which had several.) And then we’d be off to the next thing along the trail. Gail and I had picked up a knowledge of a few of the more common things since our work in New Mexico began last spring, but the plethora of specimens here had all of our heads reeling -- none of us had expected such a profusion of wildflowers this early in the season. It was as though spring had broken forth all around us in a moment, an early Easter in the long Lenten season.

It is always a singular delight
to be out in nature with others
who enjoy it as much as you do…

Upon our exit from the park, Charles noticed a skirt of a mountain off to the west that was tinged in yellow orange, so he grabbed a quick left on a gravel road, went a ways and then began to search for an off-road two-track that might get us over that way. “That looks promising,” he deadpanned. Having found an overgrown range lane, we sliced over some low brush for a couple hundred yards and soon found ourselves surrounded by Mexican Poppies. “Charles,” I said, “as long as we’re here, I can’t not get out and take some photos.”

The sun teased us mercilessly over the next half hour, brightening the carpet momentarily and then disappearing behind steely clouds, but we were still able to enjoy it, walking among them nearly loathe to step 
                                          on any, which we found quite impossible.

Poppies with Silver Cholla Cactus
It is always a singular delight to be out in nature with others who enjoy it as much as we do, who think it not strange to pause at a plant and bend over, unmoving for thirty seconds, trying to figure out what something is, or just enjoying it in situ. Jesus contemplated nature, too, and used it to teach important lessons. In fact, he had it more than right when he said, “I tell you, don’t worry about your life… See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor, yet I tell you that not even King Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field… will he not much more take care of you, you of little faith?”

How grateful we were to these new friends for such a wonderful excursion. How grateful we are to God for the splendors of his creativity, and the simple but necessary lessons of which we are constantly reminded.

~~RGM, March 27, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Blowin' in the Wind: Psalm 19

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

As usual, I’m watching the skies these days. There’s a solar eclipse today that the United States will not get a peak at; but still, there’s always something wonderful going on up there. The western exposure of Orion every evening tells me the last vestiges of winter are upon us, so it’s good to see it every night and wish it a fond farewell until we see it again in the east next fall. A few weeks ago the highlight was seeking an elusive comet that failed to put on the show some expected. Right now, it’s the blazing beauty of Venus in the western sky at sunset, so bright that it’s even possible to see it before the sun’s orb slips below the western horizon, though this is not an easy thing to do. But as majestic as Venus looks today, keep watch: within three months, Jupiter, now high overhead at nightfall, will join it in a spectacularly close conjunction of less than one degree. That’ll be absolutely gorgeous. They’ll keep closing in on each other until then, so try to spot them both in the evening sky now, then watch them converge in the weeks ahead as they almost come to trip upon one another!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and
the firmament sheweth his handiwork…

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork.” That’s how the old King James Version of the Bible put it in Psalm 19:1. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” is the way it is translated in the New International Version. Interestingly, many are the translations that render the start of the verse with that unadorned yet forceful “The heavens declare the glory of God!” That truly says it, plain and simple.

But I thought I’d share this week the translation from Eugene Peterson’s The Message, which always manages to pick up a few fresh twists of phrase that, for me, cause a smile to be shed and a
nod of my head as I read them:

God’s glory is on tour in the skies,
God-craft on exhibit across the horizon.
Madame Day holds classes every morning,
Professor Night lectures each evening.
Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded,
But their silence fills the earth:
Unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.
God makes a huge dome for the sun – a superdome!
The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed,
The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape.
That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset,
Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.
                                                            (Psalm 19:1-6, The Message)

A tent to contain and display God’s uncontainable glory, the silent heavens nevertheless speak, and that loudly! And the sun, though widely worshiped among ancient peoples, is here simply a creature of God’s good pleasure, pouring out its heat as parodist of the permeating presence of God. The word ‘declare’ is from the Latin de, which intends thoroughness, and clarare, to make clear, so a
declaration’s intent is ‘to make thoroughly clear.’ The heavens surely do that – make God’s glory clear, that is. The OED defines declare in this way: to say something in a solemn and emphatic manner. It is the honesty and surety one is intended to give under oath. In other words, the heavens’ declaration is an oath, a vow, a testimony to the grandeur and glory of God.

I like that. And I guess I also like taking that oath myself, testifying in my own solemn and emphatic manner of the truth I see.

Day or night, get outside. Look up. Be blessed. Take a vow as God takes a bow.
~~RGM, March 20, Vernal Equinox, 2015

Saturday, March 14, 2015

POTM...*: Making Tracks

(*Photo of the Month)

OK, this photo will seem a little pedestrian to some, but I couldn’t help being drawn to take a photo of the animal tracks in our Castle Rock backyard while the sun was going down last night. The yard is mostly a monoculture, as far as I know, because the only things we’ve seen lately are cottontail rabbits. But they do make their presence known in all seasons – munching grass (green or brown), chewing select garden plants down to the nub, or leaving rabbit ‘duds’ scattered about to fertilize the lawn, which is generally more than I can say that I do for it. At other times we’ve seen a fox in the backyard, no doubt drawn to the cottontails, but the only one of those we’ve seen lately was out beyond the fence. (You can’t really see our fence, only the fence poles. It is just wire, and doesn’t block the views!)

Further out beyond the fence and in the field, this morning I can see not only the well-worn paths between burrows in an encroaching prairie dog colony, wondering when at last I am going to find a mound in my yard, but also the loping prints of coyotes come to check the cute little morsels out. No doubt they also make a tasty meal from time to time. Red-tailed hawks also hunt them from our yard, perched from a thirty-foot Ponderosa Pine just to the right of the photo view.

(above, from top to bottom: moose, cottontail, raccoon and sea turtle tracks)

One of the lovely things about hiking in winter is the ability to see tracks of animals in the snow. Tracks are so very much more subtle when the ground is clear that one can be lulled into thinking there’s not much going on. Yet animals are persistently present, just simply not easily seen. By contrast, even the smallest winter snowcover allows us to see the plethora of activity that constantly takes place when we are not looking. Out in the Pike National Forest just to the west from our Colorado home, or in the Michigan woods we haunt so much, the tracks are profuse during winter, from large elk or deer hooves, as they migrate from yard to yard where surface is exposed, to the tiniest feet of field mice darting quickly to avoid the attention of watchful owls. The latter, of course, and the other tiny critters, make most of their pathways under the snow in a habitat called subnivean; this word is taken from the Latin ‘under snow,’ and the environment that develops there, only as snow grows deeper, not only provides much greater warmth, even in far northern climes south of the permafrost belt, but also greater protection from predators and easy access to food sources. One can sometimes even see these hidden trails in spring when the snow finally melts.

God is present to us, too, in spite of our difficulty seeing him at times. He is not only constantly present, but constantly attentive to our circumstances. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see his footprints daily attending in our direction? Yet God’s ways are mystery, infinitely more so than that of furtive animals, so that one can be tempted to think he is absent. But do not believe that for a moment. They may not be easy to see, yet even God leaves tracks… “This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters… I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness… (Isaiah 43:16, 19)”

~~RGM, March 4, 2015

Saturday, March 7, 2015

From My Nature Journal: Mine!

A stout gray squirrel marks territory, tail twittering, scent released.

“My space,” it decrees as it jumps from place to place, barely pausing, frenetic.

“My domain. My stuff. Scram. My realm. Keep out. I possess this. It’s all mine. Get outta here. Trespassers beware! Mine, mine, mine.” We can almost imagine the squirrel’s agitated movements, seemingly obsessive
activities, and busy preoccupations as each neurotically saying these in turn. “All mine!”

But the concept is neither consigned to the wild creature nor limited to the animal kingdom. Is it any wonder the word ‘mine’ is one of the first a child tends to learn?

                                                     How different this child?
From top to bottom -- red, gray
and Abert's squirrels

I kid myself, say I am content and have need of nothing, that possessions do not possess me. “I don’t need much, just a humble place to lay my head,” I pontificate. But then I find myself expanding that a bit. “Oh, and I wouldn’t mind if that humble place were a big piece of land. Hmmm… a big view would really be great, too… And since I’m thinking about it, I hope I have the means to explore and exploit it, and that others won’t get in my way...” How quickly my peaceful repose gets tossed out the window.

Or I practice a variant of the above. “Wow, this is a beautiful piece of land. I wonder if it’s for sale and if I could ever afford to own it...” Of course, it’s a ridiculous thought – how much land does a person need, after all? Does he even need any if public land abounds?

Oh, Contentment, you elusive thing, you…

I am reminded of a few lines from a treasured John Leax poem, My Delight, and pray, “Lord, may these words that follow truly be ‘mine.’”

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?...

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, from an earlier March journal entry
after hiking around Omaha’s Lake Zorinsky,
adapted for my blog March 6, 2015