March may come in like a lion, but February decided to celebrate Leap Day with a glimpse of spring. Compare these blooms with yesterday's photo of the same flowers. Take a sheltered window well, add a day in the 60's and presto -- instant spring.
I went over to Witmer Woods and wandered the woods of my childhood, when we lived on Carter Road, just south of the College Cabin, on the other side of the drainage ditch. All woods were mostly brown and barren, but the moss was looking lush.
Think of the tooth work it took to reach the nutmeats in this one.
I spent a restful time sitting by the river, listening to the water lapping against the shore, the wind roaring in the branches overhead, and red-wing blackbirds calling in the bushes.
The crocus (crocuses? crocoi?) in my south window well are showing color!
And with the mixed news that nature always seems to offer, these are opening, another patch seems to have served as chipmunk food, and the crocus patch in the north-facing herb bed is still covered with snow.
And with the mixed news that life always seems to bring, I'm celebrating the safe arrival yesterday of Spencer Bruce to Kathy and Craig Glick Miller, mixed with memories of his sister Ellie's birth and death, and I'm holding our copastor Heidi in prayer, as she begins her week-long round of in-hospital infusion treatments.
This prayer from Philip Newell seems to fit well this day:
You have been our strength, O God.
At the beginning of the day you brought us from darkness into light.
At the ending of the day you lead us from busyness into stillness.
In earth's cycles and seasons you offer us new life and fresh beginnings.
Be our strength this day and the strength of new beginnings
in our world.
Be our help, O God, and the help of those who cry out in need.
I am in the throes of working on a sermon for the first Sunday of Lent, coming up this weekend, and it seems to be absorbing all my creative writing energy this week.
The two texts I'm working with are the covenant from the Flood story in Genesis, and Mark's version of Jesus' baptism. A common thread, though not one that will play much of a role in the sermon, is the birds -- the birds of the air in the ark, and the raven and two doves that are sent out in search of dry land, and then the Spirit descending like a dove after Jesus' baptism.
So with birds on the brain, here are a few birds from around our house.
I had an errand at my parent's place this afternoon, so I took the opportunity to take a walk along the creek. What caught my eye today was the interaction of sunlight and water. There is something soothing about watching the water babble along, and the play of light reflections dancing across the sandy bed. It doesn't make for a dramatic photo,but it was a peaceful moment, despite a sharp wind.
I caught a giant tadpole in this creek once, back in my childhood, out playing with the Burkholder girls, when they lived in the big, old white house on the corner, surrounded by big, old trees. There is a miniature golfcourse there now, and the trees and house are long gone. ("Changes, coming upon us....")
Or perhaps it wasn't a tadpole, since my memory, which could be faulty, is that it lived for two years in a fishbowl on our windowsill, never turning into a frog, finally dying on an Easter Sunday.
It was too cold for tadpoles today, though I did see signs of bird-life. And the remnants of dried plants, carrying seeds for the future.
Greens and reds, and flora and fauna (of sorts) from a stroll around the Greencroft pond today. There seems to be a theme of bark-y, green squiggles and red rotundity as well.
I picked up a copy of John O'Donohue's Anam Cara at Better World Books the other day. I haven't started reading it yet, but I did leaf through the beginning and came across this paragraph, which fit so well with the themes of this blog, I had to share it:
We are always on a journey from darkness into light. At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother's womb. Your birth was a first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought that you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born in darkness. Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other.
John O'Donohue, Anam Cara, p 4
Joy -- my schedule was finally such, and the weather warm enough, that I was able to go out for a walk with my camera this afternoon, to see what I could see. Granted, it was a gray day, as you can see above, but it was a gentle gray, a soft, peaceful gray.
What caught my eye today was the cycle of change-- the delicate calligraphy of a dead and dried weed against the gray sky, and the range of decay on these orange berries, with new buds showing tight and plump on a side shoot.
Everywhere I looked there were broken and decaying plants, and a few lines from Henry Lyte's hymn Abide with me started running through my head:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
. . .
Change and decay in all around I see,
O thou who changest not, abide with me.
Which sounds like it could have been really depressing, but it wasn't. The old, broken, dried up stuff will make way for new growth soon. In fact, when I got up close and looked carefully, I kept seeing signs of that new growth already present, like the pale buds on the stem in the photo above.
I saw this old log from a ways down the bike path, and it looked from that angle like the epitome of death and decay. But close up, it was full of all sorts of amazing moss and lichens. Life is full of surprises -- and, apparently, so is death.
A bird story today, but not about this friendly little pair, appropriate though they may be for the holiday. I was a few feet away from them, standing in the kitchen, when I caught a flurry of action out of the corner of my eye. I turned to look and saw a large bird pulling itself out of the ninebark bush near my bird feeder. It flew up to the clothesline pole and perched there, straightening the feathers on its ruddy breast. I am guessing a Cooper's hawk, since I know there are some on campus.
Apparently it had gone after one of the small birds at the feeder, who cleverly dashed into the bush and then got away safely. I grabbed the camera and went into my study -- the hawk was perched just outside the study window. But no photo -- it gave itself a good shake and flew off just as I got there.
A magnificent sight, though I had mixed feelings about it. A glimpse of the perky black cap of a chickadee or the gray tuft of a titmouse is a always a quick touch of delight, but then all they are eating is sunflower seeds. Okay, a hawk has to eat, just like everything else, cycle of life and all that. But somehow that is easier for me to live with when the food is just seeds, and not the other regular visitors at my feeder.
Something to ponder though -- why should a hawk's wings be any less meaningful than an eagle's? Can I see something of God in the soaring flight of a hawk?
How about in the strong beak of a woodpecker? Here's another very occasional visitor -- he showed up for a day or two in December, his red head shimmering in the light as he feasted on suet. A red-bellied woodpecker, a name that makes no sense to me, when the only red I see is on his head.
A bird in the hand may be better than two in the bush, but I was happy to leave these two where they were, catching a few rays on a frigid day.
A flock of geese, a murder of crows -- a conclave of cardinals? There are six or seven that show up regularly at the feeder. Saturday at dusk they were all huddled in these same bushes.
I'm thinking about birds as signs of hope today. At our last Gestalt Pastoral Care class, a cardinal flying to and from the feeder was an encouraging sight for one participant, and later, a healing image was the faith imagination brush of feathery wings. We heard two difficult stories as part of our teaching sessions, and as the first one concluded, we spied the bright flash of a bluebird at the feeder. Linda hasn't seen them up near the house before, though I've seen them out at the cabin. And then as the second story concluded, we saw two bluebirds! A delightful sight, and an image to carry with me.
I took this photo of a mullein back in early November. I was trying to catch the way the light shone through some of the leaves and sparkled off the down on other leaves. Spurts of wind kept tossing the larger leaves up and in the way, blurring the picture.
Finally, on the third attempt, I got this picture. It wasn't until later, as I was looking over the day's images, that I noticed the spider. He crept into a quieter refuge, or I shifted my angle, sometime between the first and second photo, and by this third photo, he was lit by sunshine.
There are multiple levels of discovery with this practice of contemplative photography -- what I notice as I wander with my camera, what I find as I look over the photos on the larger computer screen, what becomes visible as I crop photos, or as I look over photos at a later date.
There is seeing and noticing, and then there's what we notice with a second look, or as we ponder an image that speaks to us in some way.
I'm pondering this trio.
I took this photo of St Ignatius as The Pilgrim at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Wernersville, PA, with the early morning sun on his back. Later when the shadows had shifted, I took this second photo, where it is easier to see that he carries a book and a staff.
And then just as we were leaving, I saw the same statue from another angle, and took the following photo. It was only after I was home and going through the images from the week,looking at this one in the larger Picasa format, that I noticed the staff propped invitingly in the corner. I'm not Catholic or Jesuit, so I'm not picking up his staff in that sense, but I hear the verse of a familiar song:
We are pilgrims on a journey,
we are travelers on the road.
We are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.
May we also be taking up our walking staffs, moving out in pilgrimage, following Christ, in our own time and place.
"Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"
I've taken on a prayer practice of looking for the moments of light in each day, whether actual or metaphorical, and then writing or posting photos of what I find.