Because it snowed 10 inches the other day, and I need this…

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A Light Exists in Spring
by Emily Dickinson

A light exists in spring
Not present on the year
At any other period.
When March is scarcely here

A color stands abroad
On solitary hills
That science cannot overtake,
But human nature feels.

It waits upon the lawn;
It shows the furthest tree
Upon the furthest slope we know;
It almost speaks to me.

Then, as horizons step,
Or noons report away,
Without the formula of sound,
It passes, and we stay:

A quality of loss
Affecting our content,
As trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a sacrament.

Portrait of a Landscape

Last month I shared a photo from an excursion to Fenner Nature Center and mentioned I’d like to paint it. Yesterday afternoon, I did.

January at Fenner Nature Center

I did it partly as an avoidance tactic (the couple-day warm up has made me think I really ought to clean out the garage) and partly because I’m stuck on manuscript revisions (until I can get a call with a criminal attorney who is out of town) and partly because this is a big reason I quit a bunch of stuff (unscheduled time for creative endeavors).

This time around I didn’t take pictures between each step because I was mostly working wet-on-wet and you have to work fast without letting things dry between washes. But I do have a side-by-side comparison for you.

FennerPaintingComp

I wasn’t trying to reproduce the photo, just to use it as a reference, especially for the low horizon and big sky you get with the portrait orientation. Taking all photos in a landscape orientation (even when you’re taking photos of people, traditionally called portraits) is an easy trap to fall into when you have a traditional camera in your hands. It’s how they’re oriented — buttons, hand holds, etc. — and it’s especially easy to only take landscape photos of…well, landscape. But turning the camera in your hands can give you a far different perspective on your subject.

Looking at the side-by-side, I’m thinking I could have tried to keep the light bits of the sky a little brighter yet. I could re-wet the sky and lay in some darker clouds to make the contrast greater, but, as I said before, there’s always the risk of overdoing it.

I think I’ll let well enough alone.

Winter Has Arrived

Yesterday afternoon I took a solo walk at Fenner Nature Center. There had been a lot of puns and Christopher Walken impressions and general noisiness in the morning, so after lunch I geared up for the colder weather, grabbed my camera, and headed south. As I stood by my car getting my camera over my neck, made extra puffy with scarf and goose down, a man started shouting in another language at his kids. I looked up to see seven or eight whitetail deer bounding by in a line, the sound of a far-off dog an indication of what may have disturbed them. I turned back to the man and shared one of those smiles you only get to share with a stranger when you’ve both witnessed something wonderful. He gathered his kids and piled them into the car. I set off into the grassland.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

I saw a very occasional person, heard a dog bark once or twice. But the principal sound I heard was the wind whistling through the bare treetops and the shuff, shuff sound of my own walking.

I never use a trail map when I’m there, which may explain why I made two new discoveries yesterday. I took a couple smaller side trails I’d not noticed or simply not taken in the past. One led me to an observation blind built of plywood. The other led me past this…

Totem Pole, Fenner Nature Center

I have no idea what the story is behind this totem pole, but it has lots of wonderful carvings of people and animals, including these guys…

Totems

A look at the map later shows that both of my discoveries are clearly marked. I guess that’s one reason to use a map.

Fenner Map

The woods were quiet and filled with the subtle colors of winter — white, grays, and browns — but without the leaves to distract and cast shadows on the tree trunks, their underlying yellows, reds, oranges, and greens were easier to discern.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

All in all a lovely, cold, windy day. It snowed overnight as well and now the trees are blanketed in white and the grass is finally buried and the windchill is near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Winter has finally come. And I couldn’t be happier.

Fenner Nature Center, January 2016

Late-Summer Love

It’s been hot and humid in the Great Lakes State.

We’re canning peaches, plums, and apricots and seeing the first apples harvested.

Birds, bees, and butterflies are at their busiest, storing away food and fat reserves for the coming cold.

It’s the time of yellow flowers.

And purple.

It’s the time of frogs.

And this year it also happens to be the time of floods.

The pond at Fenner Nature Center looks to be a foot higher than the last time I was there, and on our trip there Friday, the boy and I spied little schools of minnows swimming across the deck.

Frogs have taken to floating lazily at the surface rather than sitting on their customary rocks, which are now submerged.

In a few months the teasel will be brown and far less forgiving to the touch. Leaves that are currently melting will be crispy and skipping along the ground.

Already the international students are moving in at Michigan State University (and disregarding stop signs in the Meijer parking lot while I walk across with my seven-year-old). The rest of the college students will be back by next week. You know how people in the South blitz their grocery stores when the forecast is predicting an inch of snow? I kind of feel like I should be prepping before the U-Hauls start arriving in town.

As always, by this time I’m largely done with summer. But we have a couple very busy months coming up, so I’m trying to relish what’s left of it.

 

What I Was Up to Last Week

Saturday afternoon we returned to sticky Lower Michigan after a perfect weather week Up North at Camp Lake Louise.

Lake Louise, 2015

As always, we were up there during the 7th and 8th grade week, with my husband serving as camp pastor (copastor, actually, with one of his former campers who is now a pastor and attending seminary). We also brought with us a new friend and recent transplant from Zimbabwe.

Lake Louise, 2015

My responsibilities amounted this year to being the Fire Guy — building and lighting the campfires each night — and the occasional odd job that needed doing.

Lake Louise, 2015

The rest of the week, the boy and I were free to enjoy participating in the games, the morning and evening sessions of worship and teaching, and various lakeside activities, such as sandcastle building, kayaking, collecting rocks, taking photos, sunbathing, and speedboat riding.

Lake Louise, 2015

We were blessed with incredible weather, sunny and breezy and absolutely gorgeous.

Lake Louise, 2015

The lake was so high with all the snow and rain from the last year that in order to get to my secret rock harvesting spot we had to wade most of the way there. And the peninsula I normally spend some time on in order to get more varied angles of the lake and surrounding woods was practically submerged. Trees and bushes that had been tiny in years past are beginning to block views.

Lake Louise, 2015

Besides the fun outdoor activities, I found time to revise a manuscript on our cabin’s deck while listening to the wind in the trees and the sounds of (mostly) happy kids running around. And I got the happy news that this very manuscript has reached the final round of judging in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s Rising Star contest.

Lake Louise, 2015

Now we’re back home, sorting laundry, buying groceries, and facing the reality of getting back to work. But in a couple weeks I’ll be back up there again with the boy for his first time as an actual camper. It may be hard to adjust to not just doing whatever we want while we’re up there.

Lake Louise, 2015

But I think we’ll manage.

When Life Hands You Synergy…

There was a semester in college when I had three classes that all lined up nicely in my brain and enhanced each other. I can’t remember now their exact names, but I know there was at least one history course, one English course, and something else. The stars aligned and nearly everything we talked about in one class helped my understanding in another. I felt very well-rounded during those few months.

This kind of synergy can happen in work, home, the books you’re reading, the news cycle. You can arrange it or let it be serendipitous, as it was for me just recently. It began with this book, which I read in April:

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I’ve been an amateur naturalist, a conservationist, and an environmentalist since childhood, probably due to the large numbers of National Geographic nature documentaries I watched…

Yes, I still own all of these VHS tapes. And there are at least two missing from this photo.
Yes, I still own all of these VHS tapes. And there are at least two missing from this photo.

and the books I read, which all heavily featured animals, environments under pressure, or simply a deep connection to a particular place…

KidBooks

I’ve been keenly interested in the Christian environmental movement, which bases its conservation philosophy on the understanding that the Earth was placed in humankind’s care and stewardship and that we have a mandate to protect it and utilize its resources thoughtfully. I’ve always been troubled by the disconnect in the secular outlook toward environmentalism because it is fundamentally illogical. If evolution and natural selection are simply natural processes disconnected from morality, there’s no real reason for humans, the most evolved, to protect the weaker species or the endangered species because that’s simply the way the world is evolving. But if everything we see in the natural world was created, declared good, and given into our care, environmentalism and conservation make sense — and must be taken seriously by those who would call themselves Christians.

What’s helpful about Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology is that the authors root their arguments not just in Genesis but in many other parts of Scripture, in systematic theology, and in history, and then they follow through into the very practical implications of praxis. They do not take up the evolution debate at all. They do not pit science and religion against one another. They don’t waste time arguing about things that, while they matter, cause division that leads to inaction. While I didn’t always agree with everything the authors said, they didn’t always agree with each other either. And yet, disagreement in some matters should not cause us to sit in our corners and not act on one of the fundamental crises of our time.

I thought the most important part of this book was the distinction the authors made between talking about the natural world as a subject and talking about it as an object. Making that little semantic shift in our thinking and speaking about our environment has enormous implications. Seeing trees and animals and wetlands and resources as subjects rather than objects puts them not simply at our disposal, to do with what we will, but in our care, which is where they should be. It means they matter in and of themselves, not just in relation to humans. So a tree is good as a tree itself, not just in how we can use it for our own convenience. A bird or a snake or a bee is valuable in and of itself, not just in relation to us. And every thing in the natural world can point us toward the One who designed it. It’s not just there for us to use, it’s there to instruct us and cause us to glorify its Creator.

They also presented the ecological crisis as a moral issue, which it is but which many Christians sweep under the rug as they debate about other things that have less to do with their everyday actions (in other words, it’s easier and more fun to argue about others’ morality rather than face one’s own role in the destruction of God’s creation).

As I was finishing up Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology in May, I began reading Madeline L’Engle’s first book in her Crosswicks Journal series, A Circle of Quiet.

51H9aLq3evL

I had never read her nonfiction before and I was experiencing a period of mild despair over where my work was going (or not going) and so I picked this up to read about another writer’s struggles and insights. I’m so glad I did. In L’Engle’s need for nature and solitude, I saw my own. In her struggles to reconcile with a culture that was changing and a world that was under duress, I saw some of my own struggles. In her dark times as a writer with something to say but no platform from which to say it, I felt comforted.

In the pages of A Circle of Quiet was the personal end of some of the ideas I found in Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology. Simplicity. Family. Domesticity. Introspection. And as I was reading both books I was busy planting my vegetable garden, weeding the flowerbeds, trimming the dead wood off trees and shrubs — doing my part to keep my corner of the world clean and beautiful and productive and chemical-free.

This spring has felt good. And it’s beyond the combination of beautiful weather and almost no mosquitoes. It’s slowing down, lightening up, centering myself on what matters, trusting God to bring me through my small frustrations, considering others — other people, other living things — and doing what I can to lighten their burden. It’s puzzle pieces interlocking. It’s divine synergy. And I like it.

Rocky Mountains Reflections: The Landscape

My, my, how the week just gets away. April slipped out while I was busy with other things and now it’s a full week since I had the good fortune to be here.

Rocky Mountain Foothills, near Denver

And here.

Moraine, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

And here.

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

Compared to many of you, I’m sure, I have lived a very sheltered life close to home. It’s not for want of desire to travel. As a child I was wildly jealous of my best friend and her frequent travels to places beyond our small town. She summered in these mountains at a camp called Cheley. You can see it here if you look hard.

Cheley

Don’t see it?

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She spent her summers riding horses (something else I longed to do, as all girls do at some point) through this landscape.

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Now, I love my state. I could never live in Colorado because of the water factor. It’s hard enough living in mid-Michigan when you grew up with sailboats and freighters and seagulls and drawbridges. But I understand why Colorado sucks people in.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by this?

Rocky Mountains

And this.

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountains National Park, CO

And this.

Rocky Mountains

And this.

Leaving the Rockies

It is fantastically beautiful, inspiring us to stop and reflect on our own cosmic insignificance — were we not made by the same creative and loving hand as each of those mountains. Yet we are known as intimately and cherished as closely. The same God who caused the earth to push up Long’s Peak…

Long's Peak at Bear Lake, Rocky Mountains National Park

…causes the earth to push up the mountain crocus.

Mountain Crocus

He bids us leave our homes, get out of our cars, get off our duffs, and start to climb.

ClimbingUp

He calls us to seek higher ground, not for safety’s sake, but so that we can see the world closer to His vantage point.

Rocky Mountain National Park

He calls us to love and care for this incredible planet, and for all of the living things He put here for our enjoyment and education and inspiration.

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And to pass that love and sense of responsibility down to our wide-eyed children.

Tina and Micah

He calls us to notice the shade of the dirt…

Abandoned Mining Operation?

…the sound of the river…

St. Vrain River

…and the chaotic flight of the swallows.

BirdWatching

My first trip to the Rocky Mountains was entirely too short. But I will be back, with husband and son in tow. Because beauty like this is meant to be shared.

Friends1