Saturday, March 25, 2017

From My Nature Journal: Hope Waits

This is our first spring in the state of Washington, and it is an understatement to say that our Pacific Northwest habitat has changed just a bit compared to our former Colorado digs. Here in Cascade land, green is ubiquitous year-round. Back in the Centennial State, winter brown will prevail into April.

So today, in Lenten reverie, I was thinking back to a memorable saunter this time of year. Gail was out of town visiting her folks. I had the day off and was out wandering the newly opened Ridgeline Trail system. It was a weekday morning on a not so nice day, so the paths were empty, the air chilly and the sky gray. At one point I left the trail and wandered back into a draw to see what I could see. In a quiet and secluded spot I crawled back under a scrub oak, lay down on my back and fell asleep. When I awoke, a very light rain had begun to fall, but I was sheltered enough to simply lie there for some time and think about spring and life and death and Lent and resurrection. After a few moments I pulled out a notepad and scribbled a few lines, which came together further later that evening in this:

hope waits

i lie beneath an overwintered scrub oak
            staring up through stark branches
            dead, brittle brown leaves
            clinging, gripping
            beneath leaden sky

death has held tight rein through
            storms and winds of winter
            how? death is strong, tenacious

yet below each stiff leaf stem is life
            life that will soon push out
            push death down, each leaf to earth
            where tree will nourish itself
            nourish its own growth by God’s grace

death is an illusion, mocked
            life triumphs, green
            hope waits

So, that’s where my thoughts have taken me this third week of Lent, and I thought I’d share this little piece with you for your blessing. I pray you might anticipate the life that God is yet to course through whatever dormancy you may be experiencing.

Hope waits!

And, oh, while I’ve got you, let me tell you about the humble Scrub Oak, since I always enjoy sharing a little nature lesson along the way. It’s also called Gambel Oak, Winter Oak, Oak Brush and White Oak, though it’s not the same as the majestic Eastern White Oak. It’s an unpretentious tree of the interior southwest, common to all the ‘Four Corners’ states, and tends to be rather slight, normally 10-30 feet. The Scrub Oak is ubiquitous in arid foothills at 3500-6500 feet elevation, and carries a stunted, gnarly look. Unlike most deciduous trees, it holds most of its dead leaves through the winter, thus the name Winter Oak; spring’s new axillary bud development below each brittle leaf stem finally push the previous year’s leaf right out of its sheath. Though small, the tree is still an important and accessible winter deer browse in any kind of snow, and can produce a prolific mast of acorns each year, a rich and welcome treat for squirrels and bears as well as the deer.

Get outside!

~~ RGM, March 24, 2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

POTM*: Near the Cross

(*Photos of the Month)

Two years ago late in Lent, while we were serving a wonderful church in southern New Mexico, Gail and I became aware of a lovely and lively little woodpecker pair seeming to take more than a casual interest in a large cross in the church’s landscaping. Within a couple days, believe it or not, we realized that they had chosen the cross in which to build their nest. Note: not on which to build their nest, mind you, but in which, adding a whole new meaning to the concept of finding new birth and life within the cross of Jesus Christ! Woodpeckers are cavity nesters, and there, right smack in the middle of the vertical beam and just up from the crossbeam, they had begun their hammering, chipping demolition.

Over the days that followed we kept as close track as we could while being careful not to drive them off with our curiosity. By Easter Sunday the hole was about an inch deep, but the little duo (he with a red cap, she without) really got into it once they went all out. A few days into Eastertide it was five inches deep. (OK, OK, I like things like this, and in their absence I’d check periodically with a ruler!) But then the cavity began heading downward, and soon after, when their presence became constant, I lost the ability to measure.

We researched them and found them to be Ladderback Woodpeckers. Typically these woodies nest in cactus, but this pair seemed to have a different plan that year. And yes, within several weeks time, they fledged several chicks. We even had some fun with the folks at the church and had a naming contest, though I cannot remember the winning entry.

Now, the beams from which the cross was made were solid, not hollow. The cross was sturdily built, and completely painted without so much as a blemish to get the creatures thinking. In other words, this spot was chosen — chosen over cactus, over hollow trees, over snags with holes already started, chosen over countless other available options. Chosen. In the cross! We all should be so smart as to make such a choice.

Which has gotten me to thinking... First, I wonder if the pair or its offspring have returned to the nest in subsequent years. Perhaps we’ll hear from one of our Las Cruces friends to let us know. But the other thing I get to wondering about is this whole idea of staying close to the cross of Christ. In 1869, Fanny Crosby, that prolific, blind, gospel hymn writer, penned a poem that has become one of her most beloved songs, “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.” Here it is, and if you need a reminder of the tune, you can hit this YouTube recording while you read:

Jesus, keep me near the cross. There, a precious fountain --
Free to all, a healing stream -- flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.

Near the cross! A trembling soul, love and mercy found me.
There the Bright and Morning Star shed His beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me.
Help me walk from day to day with its shadow o’er me.

Near the cross! I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever,
‘Til I reach the golden strand just beyond the river.

In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.

This Lent, like a couple of my former avian friends, I am finding my comfort near the cross of Jesus. Join me?

~~ RGM, March 12, 2017