This past week has been a hinge time, with the landscape shifting from the copper, gold and bronze of autumn to a dusting of white and dropping temperatures. Here's photos from a golden day before the fall, with the fireworks of milkweed seeds bursting from the pod, the patterns of branches and dried seedpods, the calligraphy of ivy, and a remaining touch of summer purple, side-by-side with a golden grass seedhead.
Early spring reveals bare bones: curving lines of thorny cane, tangles of grapevine knots, ashy remnants of a prairie-burn. These sights seem to fit with this week of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when we are reminded of the bare bones of suffering and death. Sometimes the bareness clears the way for glimpses of new life: fungi on a fallen tree trunk, a secret store, a lilac bud.
More of the spring roller-coaster ride. Friday was warm and lovely and John called from work and said, "Let's have a picnic supper." So we did, walking through Witmer Woods down to the college cabin. We found a number of trees with tassels of various sorts. And one lone sock, left on a campus sidewalk, presumably while the owner reveled in walking barefoot through the grass.
The warmth brought the daffodils out -- just in time for the cold temperatures and inch of snow early this week. But today the sun is shining, the daffodils are still bright yellow, and I've spotted a fox sparrow running from bush to bush in my backyard (first time I've ever seen one here -- and he's going too fast for a photo).
Tuesday was a typical northern Indiana, transition-into-winter day, one that could make you gloomy just looking out the window. Warm though, with a forecast for below-freezing temperatures the rest of the week, so I found time to go out with my camera.
It took about half the walk, heading out from the house, to shed the writing project I had been working on. The scenery didn't help -- bare tree branches, gray skies, prairie plantings full of blackened, weedy stems. I didn't even bother pulling my camera out of my pocket.
When I got to the southwest corner of campus, a couple little rusty-capped sparrows flew up from the grasses to take refuge in nearby bushes. They caught my wandering attention. I listened to them sing and started looking more closely at the weeds and grasses nearby. I found silver and gold, and evidence that the birds had been enjoying the banquet spread out before them.
Then Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
This Luke 13:6-9 passage was in the lectionary readings for last week, and our focus for worship at Assembly North this past Sunday. I led worship, and wanted some visuals, but it isn't the season for fresh figs in northern Indiana, even in the grocery stores that seem largely unaware of seasons.
But I knew that one of us, Rachel, had been trying to grow a fig tree. I saw it in a large pot at her home several years ago and wondered if she might be able to bring it. As it turns out, she transplanted it to their greenhouse two years ago and it was too big to bring. After several years of barely surviving in the house, it is now thriving -- last year they had several dozen figs from it. It is bare at this time of year, of course, but with excellent timing, she was planning to do some pruning that very week.
For Sunday, I brought dried figs for people to see and taste. Rachel brought a handful of pencil-thick cuttings that could be used to start a fig, a bag full of dried leaves that she had gathered from under the tree, several six foot long branches, and a jar of fig jam. Dried leaves and bare branches sounds dull, but I found their sculptural shapes so fascinating that I brought several home to spend more time with. Here are a few photos -- I'd like to do some sketching and reflection on these signs of past and potential fruitfulness.
More photos from Sunday's visit to the Calendar Garden. My eye was caught by the lines of leaves and branches.
Breathe deeply. The air is crisp and cool. Except for bird calls and an occasional small plane overhead, the only sound is the breeze stirring the golden poplar leaves. The mosquito hum of summer is gone. Drying leaves crackle underfoot. Mushrooms thrive and the rose hips are cherry red. Overhead is a symphony of blue sky, white clouds, golden leaves, white tree trunks, dark evergreens. Alberta woods in late September....
Today some of the details on "barren branches" caught my eye -- a fascinating mix of buds and berries at various stages. I especially liked the water berries above. When the temperature drops below freezing tonight, will there be little ice berries on this tree?
Yesterday I was early for meeting my sister, so I stood in Schrock plaza and wondered how my search for sparks of light will shift as the weather turns colder and cloudier.
My eye has been repeatedly drawn to the interplay of light and the colorful fall leaves the last few weeks. Most of the leaves are down now, and yesterday was a gray morning, though warm. I waited and wondered where I would find moments of light.
Gradually the bare branches against the lightening sky drew my eye.
_The sun was rising, and the clouds blowing away, revealing the nearly full moon they had been hiding.
I'm not sure how the search will evolve -- I'm still holding the option that some winter days may be the time to bring out photos gathered during sunny, colorful fall days, or that I'll look for more metaphorical sparks of light in songs and writings -- but so far each day seems to have brought some special spark of light and delight.
Today's sparks came as the sun began burning off the morning's heavy fog. The trees and bushes in the front yard may have lost their leaves, but they were bedecked with diamonds this morning.
I wish i had been able to get my camera up in time to record the other image I received -- the flock of geese that came ghosting overhead, half hidden by fog, but undersides white with sun.
A day of many gatherings, which brought moments of light, but little time to write about them. Here are a few:
The quality of light in my backyard, midmorning, was striking. Leaves and clouds blew by swiftly, so one moment the yard was dim,
then the spotlight came on, and neighbor’s garage and maple tree blazed brightly,
And then the garden was full of light and the maple tree faded into the background.
Then, later in the day, the calligraphy of bare branches lit by sun at Oxbow
And the lights and shadows of these oak leaves still on the tree
Sparkles from the sun on the water in amongst the weeds and grasses and flowers in the roadside area near the Oxbow entrance
And a moment of light (or perhaps “lite”) as seven former members of the Assembly group Fishslippers met for breakfast, after a gap of eight years, and remembered how we had come by our name.
Back then, we had just begun meeting. We had come together around an interest in exploring how to live justly and joyfully in North America. We went around the circle, telling a little about ourselves and why we were interested in the group. Two couples had recently returned to the US after MCC terms, others had spent parts of their childhood in other countries. There was a lot of energy and grand ideas were flowing about ways of being countercultural.
Then it was Andrea’s turn. She shook her head ruefully. “I don’t know,” she said. “You’re all so serious and here I am, knitting fish slippers.” She waved her knitting at us – and indeed, it was a slipper designed to look like a fish. A bit like this, only in a solid blue-green, and adult size.
“Perfect,” someone else said. “We’ve been talking about swimming upstream, against the cultural current.”
“And we’re wanting to do it joyfully,” someone else chimed in, “ We could all use fish slippers.” One thing led to another, and Fishslippers we were from that day forth.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"