Category Archives: Critters

Lessons from Fossil Rim

Alan and I have flown through the DFW (Dallas, Fort Worth Texas) airport a number of times, and once we even had to spend the night, although we didn’t know where to go or what to do, so we pretty much “wasted” our day. However, my friend Marilyn (who’s also going to share her recipe for chicken enchiladas this Saturday), recommended one excellent opportunity for fun and learning if you’re in the area. Here’s what she shared with me:                                    Becoming a grandparent is a gift from God because you get a second chance to relive old memories and pour your life into your grandchildren. We are blessed to have our children living fairly close to us, and our two youngest granddaughters are home schooled, which presents new adventures for us.

Recently we went on a home school cooperative field trip to Fossil Rim, a 1,800- acre conservatory protecting 1,100 animals on open meadows near Glen Rose, Texas (just an hour or so from Ft. Worth or Dallas). Not only can you observe these animals, you can interact with some of them as well!                                   Fossil Rim was named for the terrain which is an upheaval of land that is the beginning of the Texas Hill Country.  Limestone outcropping and caves may be seen in the area. Many fossils can be found indicating total flooding. My granddaughter picked up a rock in the picnic area that was a conglomerate of aquatic fossils and reminded me of Genesis 7:19, “And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered.” When we first arrived, there was a presentation on the importance of being good stewards by Mark, a former missionary kid and missionary, using a creation Jinga (though he didn’t use the term creation). Blocks were stacked in the order of creation starting with the appearance of the land and ending with the creation of man. Genesis 1:9, “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.” Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” Mark then talked about stewardship, and as the children were chosen to pull boxes from the stack, Mark illustrated the imbalance that occurs when man does not care for what he has been given. Eventually the stack collapsed. Genesis 2:15, “And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.”  Next was a discussion of how an animal is brought to the park vet for examination. There are three methods: 1) Place food inside a trailer to entice the animal to enter, 2) Use a snare, or 3) Tranquilize the animal, which is only used as a last resort. We were taught how to use a blow pipe and had fun practicing our skill on a cardboard zebra.  After the teaching time, we boarded the tour bus where our guide told us, “The bus is to the animals what an ice cream truck is to children!” He was so right. The giraffes were the first to see us and approach. Did you know that because of their weight, the giraffe’s gait is to advance front and back legs on one side and then the other in unison?  That was news to me! I also learned that giraffes have no upper teeth. They took the pellets from our hands with their soft lips. They have whiskers on their chins and long beautiful eyelashes. We were told that their favorite food is the leaves from the acacia tree, which also has thorns. The whiskers and eyelashes serve to protect their mouths and eyes from the thorns. The eyelashes also shield their eyes from the sun. Their tongues can be up to 20 inches in length.  The giraffes were tall enough to “come into” the tour bus. When they took the pellets from our hands we felt their soft lips and bristly whiskers. The biggest one, a male named Mosey, was able to reach beyond me all the way over to my hubby on the far side of the bus.  All along our route, the bus continued to be an attraction to the animals. This aoudad sheep seemed to be smiling at us.  Fallow deer hunted for the pellets that were thrown. Fallow deer come in a range of color from white to dark brown, and many are spotted like white-tail deer fawns.  The proud blackbuck was too busy guarding his harem and territory to come to the bus,                   and the mountain bongo stayed in the shelter of the trees.                                                   But the gemsbok,                                                                 addax, and a Hartmann’s mountain zebra came to get their share of pellets. Other species came to the bus, and still others were in restricted areas that we could see but not feed. I couldn’t help but marvel at the variety of God’s creation and in considering the animals’ ability to approach the bus unafraid made me ponder the bond that God designed between man and animals before the fall. Genesis 2:19b, 20a explains: “and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field.

  “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1:31a

Born In China

Probably everybody who watches videos has already seen the captivating co-production between Disneynature and Shanghia Media Group entitled Born in China, but just in case you missed it (like I did, until on a recent trip),

Description: Cinematographer Justin Maguire filming golden snub-nosed monkeys.

I want to recommend it as a wonderfully warm and intimate, G-rated documentary that looks into the lives of several mothers and their cubs who were all born and bred in China…but whose stories are also an allegory for our own. The movie features four families in particular and their struggles to survive and thrive through the mysterious circle of life we all experience.

Born in China stars a giant panda bear, Ya Ya, and her little cub, Mei Mei. Mother pandas live in relative seclusion with their cubs for two years and develop incredibly tender, strong bonds with them, so I’m sure everyone sensed the anguish in Ya Ya’s heart as this helicopter-mom panda struggled to let her precious daughter become independent.  The second star is  a little golden monkey named Tao Tao, who is expected to be independent after the birth of his little sister…but before he’s really ready!  Tao Tao struggles to find himself, ends up joining “The Lost Boys” (a group of young male monkeys), and has to make some pretty tough decisions about whether or not he’s going to be a follower or a leader.            Ah, the difficulties of adolescence…and haven’t we all been there?!

               The third star is Dawa, a memerizingly beautiful snow leopard  who lives in the remote mountains of Tibet at altitudes of 14-16,000 feet, where very few animals can survive.  Dawa births twin cubs and has to grapple with trying to provide food for three in a desperate struggle against hardship and poverty. Sound familiar? Interwoven into the fabric of the story are scenes showcasing a herd of mountain antelope known as Chiru, who live on the Tibetan plateau. They are a “near threatened” species and represent the embodiment of all animal life that exists in the wilds of China (and the world).  And, last (but in some ways most rather than least) are cinemagic images of the magnificent red-crested cranes, perhaps the most spiritual animals in Chinese mythology. Roy Conli, the producer, pointed out in an interview that the director, Lu Chuan is one of China’s best: “His work has really been ground breaking…Great story sensibility; great love for his country…He was able to capture something that no westerner could do…We see a part of China so unique and beautiful that it will make people want to travel there.” So true! I’ve been there a couple of times, but I’m still daydreaming about visiting again!

Conli also said (and he almost seemed to have a catch in his voice, as if his comment was truly heart felt),”We have to let go of our kids and let them grow up.” As a mother with grown children who are winging their own ways through the world now, I found the movie profoundly moving! So, whether young or old, an adolescent trying to find your way, in the midst of rearing your own brood, or a member of the older generation learning to let go,  Born in China has some lessons for each of us! I hope you will watch it if you haven’t already. I know you’ll be blessed if you do! Have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in… To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth…Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Excerpts from Isaiah 40:21-31).

(All photos from or about Born in China.)

The Birthday Club Strikes Again

Happy Spring to you!! We celebrated spring and Cindi’s birthday yesterday, which was so much fun that I wanted to share right away in case any of you living in the GR area might be interested in going to the Sugarbush Festival at Blandford Nature Center tomorrow (March 24, 2018) where they’ll be making maple syrup, etc! Also, this coming week would be an ideal time to take your kids
to the Critter Barn in Zeeland, MI, during spring break because they have all sorts of babies being birthed,  and if you show up at feeding time,  they may even let you give the baby goats a bottle of warm milk!  (This may depend on how many children come.)  Of course, being our Birthday Club, we stopped at Sandy’s Donut House  for some of their famous donuts,  and we took a lunch break at El Aztecas Mexican Restaurant,  where they spontaneously blessed us with some festive fried ice cream and sang “Happy Birthday” when they found out we were celebrating Cindi’s birthday.  If you go to the Sugarbush Festival tomorrow,  dress warmly, because it’s only supposed to be a high of 39°F,  but there are lots of things to see outside and some lovely nature walks.  Also,  think about stopping at Sandy’s for a donut on your way, or maybe serving pancakes and syrup at home first, because there isn’t a pancake breakfast there. However, they did let us taste the syrup,
and you’ll be able to buy some yummy maple syrup cotton candy or other treats! If you decide to go the Critter House,  I’d recommend going in the next few weeks while the mothers are birthing,  and call ahead to see what time the next feeding will be.  Be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind getting a little warm milk on,
because even kids will be kids…but it’s well worth the spilled milk! I’d never in all my years fed a baby goat before, and it was so much fun!One of the things I love best about our Birthday Club (and about life), is that we’re never too old to try new things, experience new joys and find new beauties. Are you trying new adventures? Keep exploring! The world is full of good things!

The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).

He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

How Would You Like a Beautiful Mink Coat?

We have an adorable little mink who’s taken up residence at our cottage, and I love to see him skittering everywhere, but he hardly ever stops long enough for me to take a clear photo. I always admire his gorgeous fur coat!Do you have a favorite place to shop for clothes? Mine is Goodwill. Oh, I do shop sometimes in other stores, particularly if we’re traveling where the prices are great and the styles unique, but for every day staples, I’d rather let someone else pay 10 times as much to wear their new outfit a few times before getting tired of it. Usually nothing I buy costs more than $3.50, and sometimes the item still has tags on it. Pretty hard to beat! My all-time favorite purchase from a second-hand shop was a lovely fur coat, which did cost more than $3.50 but less than $100. I just looked online at Sax Fifth Avenue, where they’ll give you a mink coat if you’ll give them $10,141.00, so I figured I got mine at a 99% discount. All winter long, our mink runs across the waterfront and dives into a hole under our dock, where I suppose he’s ice fishing, but this morning he was out enjoying the early spring sunshine, so he spent a few extra minutes on top of the dock.I remembered my son Joel telling me at the breakfast table that he’s reading a new book called Being a Beast by Charles Foster—a veterinary surgeon, London barrister and teacher of medical law and ethics at the University of Oxford.  In trying to understand what it feels like to be a beast, Foster attempted living like various animals, and his book relates what he’s learned from this unique experiment.  I’d probably never spend weeks underground eating earthworms the way Charles Foster did, but I can definitely identify with how lovely it would be to have a warm fur coat, especially if you’re going to jump into ice cold water!As humans, I don’t think we’ll ever fully understand what it’s like to be a beast…or to be God, for that matter! We’re greatly limited by our intellectual capacities. We don’t know much about communicating with animals or God! However, unlike animals, God has given us a revelation about himself in the  Bible. If we want to know more about God, we can start by reading his book! Right at the beginning of the Bible, we learn that humans chose to disobey God and tried to cut off communication by hiding. But guess what? Instead of getting angry, God loved them and made provisions for them: Beautiful fur coats!  Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21). In the New Testament, we learn that God still loves us—every one of his created human beings! God longs to communicate with us and is still providing for us: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).                            That’s not exactly a beautiful mink coat, but it’s even better!   Not just a covering for our skin, but a covering for our sin! Will you accept it?I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

A Crab in the Hand is Actually Safer Than Two in the Sand

We spent a few days with my son Michael’s family at Cocoa Beach not long ago. It was warm enough to swim, which we all did,  and surf (which only Michael and Grace did),  but we also spent a lot of time walking and playing along the seashore.The kids collected sea shells and took turns burying each other in the sand…pretending to be mermaids!  While Mom and Dad went for a long jaunt down the beach,there was some serious sand castle building going on with Nana,and the girls made a race car to take their little brothers for a ride.

For whatever reason (perhaps our deep-seated fascination with living things), I think the highlight of the day was chasing sand crabs, who like to hide themselves in little holes near the high tide edge of the shore. Michael is an expert at catching them, and the kids are always enthralled to see him work with such energy and focus until he finally manages to capture a little creature. The kids are fascinated, but Michael always protects the sand crab so he isn’t hurt by curious little hands, and I’m touched that the crab backs up against Michael’s hand, sensing that he’s “safe” there…which he is! I thought about how the little crab wanted to be free and tried so hard to hide, although he really was completely safe with Michael and eventually relaxed and “hid” in the shelter of his hands. Actually, as long as he was with Michael, he was doubtless even safer than off on his own trying to escape the shore birds and dodge the incoming tide, but Michael knew the crab would rather be free, and so he let him go, and away he scurried, back to his cave in the sand. I’m like that little crab! People are like little crabs. We want to be free to run and play, but we also have to run from trouble and spend way too much time in dark, dank caves! When the Master finds us and tucks us into his hand, we can try to run away, but we’re really much better off recognizing that we’re safe with him. We can back right up against his big hand and rest, sheltered in the shadow of his care.  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-29).

See It, Touch It, Hold It…Including Snappy the Alligator?!

During the first Christmas my oldest was able to toddle around, he kept asking for permission to “see” then “touch” then “hold” the Christmas ornaments. Unfortunately, he was too young to hold an ornament for very long before it would fall, and if I wasn’t right there to catch the bulb, it would break.

So, in our home, the line went, “See it? Hold it? Touch it? Break it!”
But, don’t we all love to get our hands on things we’re curious about?I think we all have a fascination with holding things that fill us with awe—whether it’s a shiny Christmas ornament or an exotic living creature. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what can be touched and what to avoid! In Tunisia, the zookeeper seemed fearless and knew just how to hold a scorpion while the scorpion held on tight to a pack of cigarettes, but none of us dared try! He also knew how to handle a deadly sidewinder… but nobody wanted to try that one, either! Of course, some critters seem more cuddly,
and those we’d like to touch as well as see. In fact, when it comes to camels, I like to ride them too! A well trained camel can take you for a pleasant ride down the streets in India. A well-trained elephant will let you pet him in the jungles of Nepal, or let you go for a ride (only with his mahout aboard, however!) Baby elephants are something else, though!  They’re 250-pound characters who love to push you around if they can!!I only dared touch this little playmate while he was distracted by someone else! Many creatures look almost irresistibly cuddly, like these monkeys,  but monkeys are pickpockets with nasty bites, so I’ve been trained to keep my distance lest I lose my camera…or worse! Over the years, I’ve been able to see and hold many different creatures,  but on our trip through the Panama Canal,
I got to hold a baby alligator named Snappy.  Snappy has been handled by this park ranger since his birth,
and he’s quite friendly…as long as you don’t put your face next to his mouth.

Alligators have a brain about as big as a pea, so most of what they do is instinctive. Nevertheless, we were back in America, so I figured they wouldn’t let us hold him unless it was relatively safe, and when they asked who would like to hold Snappy, I volunteered. Yes, being in America, they made it quite safe! Although the ranger hadn’t forewarned us, he put a big strap around Snappy’s mouth to keep him quiet. He was totally docile and let me hold him by his soft underbelly. Holding living creatures touches something deep inside me…a trust given to me to hold without hurting…not to break…and hopefully not to get hurt either. As we go through life, I hope we continue learning what is safe and what is not…       and just how close we can get to others without asking for trouble!    But I hope we keep exploring and trying to connect,  not only with critters,  but with people! There’s a huge world out there full of people who’ve never heard the good news that Jesus came to set us free from sin and give us eternal life!                       Can we hold them so gently that we don’t hurt them?

Therefore seeing we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we faint not; But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:1-7).

Hurricane Harvey: A Truly Epic Storm

A blog follower from India asked what’s happening with the rain in America, so I thought maybe this would be a good day to share what’s going on with Hurricane Harvey. So far, it’s the biggest rainstorm in continental U.S. history, and it’s still raining, so we have no clue what’s yet to come. Hurricane Harvey started as a tropical wave off the coast of Africa on August 13, 2017, made landfall on August 26 at Rockport, Texas as a Class 4 hurricane, went back out to sea and has returned again this morning. Hurricane Harvey has unleashed over 50 inches of rain east of Houston, and it’s still raining this morning.  The record so far is 51.9 inches near Mont Belvieu, TX  (40 miles east of Houston). The downpour also caused one key reservoir to spill over, which has led to the largest flood in Houston’s history. Although isolated areas of Hawaii have had more rain, the overall effect of Harvey has had no rivals in American history, dropping about 3 feet of rain over most of the Houston region—some estimated 9 trillion gallons of water!— which affects more than five million people. According to the Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin, the probability for such a storm is about one per thousand years! Last Sunday morning, the National Weather Service tweeted: “This event is unprecedented & all impacts are unknown & beyond anything experienced.”

One problem that’s gaining attention concerns the wildlife, which are swirling in the floods. There are hundreds of thousands of American alligators in Texas (some seen have been up to 8 feet long), 23 species of snakes (all of which can swim, but only 5 of which are poisonous), and billions of invasive fire ants (who are the ultimate survivors, because they band together by the thousands to produce massive flotillas up to several feet across). In addition, there are all the usual wildlife common throughout America, such as deer and coons, that haven’t been able to flag down a Noah’s ark for rescue and are trying to find safety. For example, under the Waugh Bridge near downtown Houston, a colony of 300,000 free-tailed bats have lost their home in the surging waters.

Of course, the most pressing issue is saving human lives. Fire fighters from around the country are arriving to help, and even civilians who own pleasure boats are coming to aid in the rescue efforts. I saw an interview of one man who said “I got tired of watching it from the comfort of my own home” and decided to help. He had rescued over 2 dozen victims last night and this morning. The death toll has confirmed 30 dead, but untold numbers are missing. One center was trying to prepare dry clothing and food for 5,000, but so far over 8,600 have come for help.

In the midst of all the horror and grief, there have been some bright spots. Several news reporters pointed out that people were responding with compassion towards everyone…regardless of race…no questions asked about creed! One man pointed out that the heart of America doesn’t come out “when there are pitched political shows, we see the heart and the true nature of our country when you have a tragedy strike like this. Everybody wants to help.” Praise God for that mercy!

However, the tragedy is still very much in the making. Harvey’s path inland is producing some bleak predictions for Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, and even into the Ohio River Valley. Please stay tuned, and thank you to all who are helping and praying. The estimates of economic damages are up to 50+ billion dollars, and I’ve noticed that charities such as Samaritan’s Purse are accepting gifts as they try to respond to the crisis.

Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).