A few weeks ago, when we drove into town after a couple of weeks away at family reunions and weddings, we found scorched, tawny lawns and parched fields. Weeks without rain and temperatures over 100 degrees had sent the area into serious drought.
The past few weeks, we've been blessed with rain -- over five inches. It was too late for the corn crop, and the experts tell us we're still in drought conditions, but it is amazing what a little rain can do to resurrect lawns and plants.
The grass has started growing again, and though our lawn is looking patchy and has some thriving crabgrass colonies, it is looking more green than tan. And the bee balm above, which was nothing but dried seed heads a week ago, has suddenly put out more petals, and is attracting hummingbirds.
The ground cover in our front window bed, which had turned into a brown, dead mat that I thought we'd have to live with until next spring, not only put out new shoots, it has put them out with such vigor that the bed is looking golden-green again. I meant to take a photo a day or two ago when the new shoots were just starting, but I missed my chance.
Some things won't recover. I think we've lost the globe arborvitae by our garage. Around town, I see plenty of bushes and trees that have died. And the experts warn us that others are at risk. We need to keep watering the trees and bushes to catch up, even if the rains continue.
It all provides some vivid images for verses like Jeremiah 17:7-8.
Blessed are those who trust in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.
Am I planted by water? Do I need to be watering my roots? Where are timely rains bringing new growth? Thoughts to ponder.
At Faith House Fellowship last week, one of the farmers in the group gave us an invitation to think of positive aspects of our current drought. "No mosquitoes." "Hardly any weeds." "No need to mow the lawn."
Another participant mentioned that she'd been keeping her eyes open for what was thriving, either thanks to, or despite the drought. So yesterday I went out with the camera and that idea in mind, and found a few things to record.
Candles have been an important part of our walk with Heidi and her family, from a candle vigil soon after word of her diagnosis to the song and candle vigil just before she died Sunday night.
One of the stained glass windows Wilma Harder made for the Assembly meetinghouse, on a rainy November day
Mary Gilbert, Anne Graber Miller and Sibyl Graber Gerig created a comforter for the Siemens-Rhodes with scraps that the congregation donated. Many have stories behind them -- the blue scallop one near the upper right corner came from material I got on a trip to Japan. Heidi, having lived there several years, provided helpful tips and a sackful of books before I went.
One of the hymns we sang this morning at church was "O Savior, rend the heavens," #175 in the Hymnal Worship Book.
The second and third verses brought visuals to mind for me, all photos I've taken in the last couple days.
dew from heaven send. As gentle dew,
O Son, descend.
Drop down, you clouds,
and torrents bring,
to Jacob's line
rain down a King.
(This is one of four stained glass windows in our meeting space, made by Wilma Harder. It was also raining outside, and there are light-filled raindrops on the bush outside the window, though it's hard to see in the photo when it is this size.)
in flow'ring bud be seen,
clothe hill and dale in garb of green.
(Our forsythia has buds flowering totally out-of-season.)
O earth, bring forth
this Blossom rare;
O Savior, rise
from meadow fair.
(A rare fall bloom on this normally spring-blooming violet in our yard.)
I've got some photos of light despite the gray skies and rain today, but I'm also seeking light. Or rather, enlightenment.
A day or so ago I brought in the rosebud that had made it through several frosts. It's opening slowly and doing much better than the bud that I brought in earlier, which has stopped opening.
Here's the question -- looking at the rosebud, I realized it had green leaves. Yes, with burgundy stems and edges, but definitely green. This photo is of leaves that are still out in the herb bed, reflecting light in raindrops, a photo I recorded this afternoon.
These are the same rose leaves that I photographed back in September, the ones that inspired this prayer practice of looking for moments of light. At that point the leaves were burgundy. You can see them in the banner at the top of this page, and in this photo from September.
So I'm confused. These rose leaves were green in the summer, turned burgundy, and then turned green again. Is this normal? Unusual? This rose bush has been just outside my backdoor for about 23 years. Has this been happening every year, and I've been oblivious? Mysteries, mysteries.
To end, one more rose bud picture (from September), catching the light in multiple ways.
I spent four days on the road this week, traveling anywhere from four to eight hours each day. There were many moments of light, but I collected those images in my memory banks, rather than with the camera -- interactions of clouds and light, and of light and shadow on rolling hills and fall scenes, as well as many good conversations with my traveling companions.
One day we traveled during the “golden hour,” that hour loved by photographers when the sun’s rays are low across the landscape. Our golden hour lit the golden leaves still on many trees.
Other days were cloudier, with the sun’s rays breaking through open patches in the clouds, rimming the edges with light, and sending shafts down to earth. When the cloud bank thickened, we were left with rolling Pennsylvania hills, covered with a gray-brown afghan of bare trees, interspersed with an occasional bright yellow or red tree, still proudly displaying its leaves.
Yesterday it rained all morning as I traveled between Columbus and Fort Wayne. The clouds were soggy and leaking, but there was a golden undertone – russet fields of drying soybeans, tawny cornfields, thickets of trees with wet black trunks vivid against a backdrop of yellow leaves.
After Fort Wayne, the cloud cover began breaking up, so there were dramatic cloud configurations mixed with sun highlighting fields and woods. It reminded me of travels in Big Sky country in Alberta, with majestic clouds rather than our more usual gray blanket.
I tried to capture a bit of the drama at a stoplight, and by pulling off a time or two – this only hints at the beauty, because it proved quite challenging to find a good combination of dramatic clouds, shafts of sunshine hitting fall colors and a safe place to pull off the road. Perhaps it can remind you of your own dramatic memories of cloud and light.
Another rainy day – I have to look more carefully to find those moments of light. One came with the news that the biopsy on a friend’s mole had come back with the happy word, “Benign.”
Then there was the quiet light reflected in this bird bath.
And one more photo of rosebuds in the rain.
You'll notice that there are two rosebuds in the previous photo. With predictions that temperatures will drop into the 30’s tonight, and in the spirit of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” I brought one inside. It has a teensy bit of color showing. We’ll see if it opens, and whether the bud outside is able to keep developing.
I stood outside the library waiting for Judy this morning, and wondered whether there would be any moments of light today. I hadn’t bothered to bring the camera. It was a rainy morning and we were squeezing our walk in between rain storms.
I stood there, under gray skies and dripping trees, with no sunshine in sight. But slowly I became aware that there was a lot of light around me. The sky, though gray, was light. Bright headlights kept passing out on SR 15, and the windows in Umble Center caught the reflection of headlights waiting at the stoplight, multiplying them till it looked like a wild party was going on inside. The campus lights burned a warm yellow.
And the wet sidewalks reflected the campus lights with puddles of gold, and they reflected the gray skies with puddles of silver. Silver and gold, at my feet. More subtle than diamonds in the dewdrops on grass on sunny days, but a spirit-lifting light when I allowed it to seep into my awareness.
And rainy fall days like this tend to trigger a memory from my childhood days. I see the turn into Carter Rd, with wet leaves on the wet road. This is 10th St from this afternoon, outside our current home, so it's missing the curve, but this is close to what I picture.
And then I’m in our warm home. I can smell beef stew simmering on the stove, and bread baking, or maybe an apple pie. And Judy and I are at the piano, singing, “Joyful, joyful we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love,” and working together on the music, one of us playing the right hand part and the other the left hand.
All thy works with joy surround thee,
earth and heav’n reflect thy rays,
stars and angels sing around thee,
center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
blooming meadow, flashing sea,
chanting bird and flowing fountain,
call us to rejoice in thee.
HWB 71, v 2, Henry van Dyke
I must have absorbed these words at a deep level, because in some way, this is what I’m watching for and what I'm finding as I watch for those sparks of light – the invitation to praise and wonder, wrapped up in light and shadow and leaves and candles and grasses and puddles and clouds.
(this is Judy and me at the piano, from about the right time period, but given the position of our hands and the trolls above the keyboard, I suspect we are playing a duet version of The Hall of the Mountain King)
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"