Category Archives: Nature Studies

Learning to Fly and Living in Community

A pair of robins built a nest on the drain pipe under the eve right outside the window of our “tea room,” where we always eat in the summer. It’s been a special delight to watch them rearing their broods of chicks. The first of this summer’s batch fledged
while my son Joel and I were eating breakfast last week,  but one chick fell so fast I feared for the his life, although he must have done fine because there was no sign of the chick dead or alive on the ground. Then, several nights later,  I dreamed that I saw a mother and baby robin together silhouetted in the sun, and I woke up with the distinct sense
that the last two robins would fledge that day. I’m one of those people who seem to carry on a continual conversation with God, and such premonitions are rare but not totally unusual, so I decided that I would keep a very close eye on the two babies all day.  Just as the sun was coming up, the first baby took flight,and I really believe the Lord gave me the dream so I wouldn’t miss the spectacle! The last chick wasn’t at all sure about taking off. He perched on the edge of the nest, surveying possible flight paths. It was definitely a long way to the ground from his secure nest!  On the other hand there were lots of trees and bushes not too far away…About then Mom came by with a big, fat, juicy worm and Dad stopped in to give junior a little pep talk. Dad hopped into the nest and gave junior a little push toward the edge.  Baby was feeling a little ambivalent but took a few tentative steps out of the nest. The world was looking bright and beautiful, but the nest was looking very comfy…In fact, he thought it looked safer to have one foot in the nest and one foot out.In fact, after due consideration, the nest looked definitely safer than the world, so the fledgling perched on the edge of the nest and started praying
(or sleeping, I couldn’t tell which).  🙂  In a while, Mother Robin returned to talk things over with her fledgling again just as it was time for Joel and me to eat breakfast, so I had to give up watching.We didn’t get to see the baby’s first flight, but while we were eating,  we caught sight of the fledgling in the tree just outside our window! He had made a successful first flight, and his parents hadn’t lost track of him.In moments one of them was by the chick’s side with a yummy snack! In no time at all, the fledgling would be following his parents,
winging his way through the woodland world.

It’s graduation time as well as spring time, and I know several couples who have refused to let their kids come back home after their graduation (except to vacation). Some of these kids are flying, but some are really struggling financially, emotionally, and/or spiritually. Personally, my parents never “kicked” me out; they let me feel like their home was also my home until I married, which I thought was just perfect. I’ve always wanted my own children to feel the same sense of love and security.

My mother’s youngest brother (70 years ago) brought his bride home to the farm, where the couple lived throughout their lives, eventually caring for Grandma until she died. Alan had two uncles who never married and lived on their home farm throughout their lives too, eventually caring for Alan’s grandma until she died. What is it it about current American cultural expectations that make us think adult offspring shouldn’t enjoy the fellowship and security of family until they personally feel a compelling reason to leave?

If you’re an unmarried young adult with parents who are still happy to have you at home, please feel perfect liberty to remain with them until you personally want to leave. Don’t let social pressure drive you away from family! In the Old Testament, everybody lived in family groups!

Also, if you have adult sons or daughters who would enjoy living with you, why not let them? Share the wealth, share the expenses, share the work load, and also share the warmth and community that God intends for all humans to enjoy! Let’s parent like our heavenly Father, who never leaves us nor forsakes us!

He led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: So the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him. He made him ride on the high places of the earth, that he might eat the increase of the fields; and he made him to suck honey out of the rock, and oil out of the flinty rock” (Deuteronomy 32:10-13).

Has Spring Failed to Install in Michigan?

While my brothers are sending me photos of glorious spring weather
in California and New York City, I’m singing “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!” Because, here in Michigan there are still snowflakes sifting down from heaven! There were power outages over the weekend, and over 200 churches closed
(ours included) due to  dangerous, “almost impossible” driving conditions. In Williamston, MI, east of Grand Rapids, my friend, John Bjorlie, posted these three photos from the ice storm that hit their area, with the following caption: “Excellent crop yield this year from our Ice harvest.
The Ice plants were full and fruitful.”  🙂 Yes, if ice were a cash crop, he’d be in the money! Last week our lake was reflecting dreamy blue sky eyes, and our cherry tree was beginning to bud. This morning all our hopes for spring have been put on hold. Our lives are like this sometimes, too, aren’t they? Stormy, fragile, and uncertain. And yet, I believe God cares for us and will continue to provide for us. If you feel like your life is on hold because of unexpected storms—
Be patient and hang tough! Spring will come again!

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

 

P.S.—A big thank you to John to sharing his photos with me. By the way, if you’re looking for an idyllic, rural setting for an event in the Lansing area, John and his wife have a new venue that is open for business. They’ve christened it Rosrmål Barn, after the Norwegian painting style of Rosemåling, so if you’re looking for a place to celebrate, let me know, and I can put you in contact with them!

 

 

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).

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).

Late Bloomers

Do you ever find it hard to throw out a perfectly good plant that has finished blooming but still looks hardy? I  have this “thing” about letting anything die, and it sears my soul to throw out even diseased plants that I can’t seem to rehabilitate, although I eventually do get rid of them lest they infect the rest of the plants in our little garden room.  What I’ve noticed is that, unless they are annuals, most flowering plants will bloom again the following year if I wait patiently enough. In particular, we have three Christmas cacti and two poinsettias, all of which were in full bloom during December when we first got them (more than a year ago), but all of which bloom more in January and February now that they are not being “forced.” I don’t know when they would bloom in their native soil, but I’ve grown to appreciate that our garden room is dotted with bright flashes of reds and pinks during the otherwise dreary, dark days of winter in January, February, and early March!

Do you ever think of yourself as a late bloomer? Or, maybe you think you’ll never bloom again. If you’ve got the Holy Spirit inside, then you’re a perennial, not an annual! Even if you look back and lament that you’ve lost the beauty and bloom of young faith, take heart. Be patient. If you want to, you can bloom again, and when you do, you’ll find unexpected joy that blesses not only you but everyone around you!You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again” (Psalm 71:20).

(Photo with verse compliments of Robert Hardee. Thank you, Bob!)

 

In The Cave

As we prepare our hearts for Easter, I’d like to share this meditation written by a dear friend from my writers’ group who is a retired English teacher…wise, deep, and sweet!

It is the season of Lent, before Resurrection Sunday, and our church is encouraging us to be more contemplative in our personal worship, to be quiet, to listen to the voice of the Lord as we clear our minds and pray and wait. We have practiced being quiet in the worship service, in small meetings, in vesper services. It is a lovely and beautiful time. It is also totally awkward for someone determined to learn through study, to work out the faith in good deeds, to be busy just about all of the time.

In the middle of Lent we take a trip to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky with two of our grandsons. We have been there before and also to various caves around the country, so small wet stairs going down down down, slippery handrails, and the “Now I am going to turn off the lights” from the Ranger are not brand new events. However, they are the events I most dread even though I am thrilled to be there with our grandsons.

After a long hike down into a truly mammoth cave, “you can do it you can do it” keeping time with my footsteps, our group reaches a large inner space with high ceiling and park-supplied benches. The Ranger tells us all to “take a seat.”

He talks about where we are, how the large space has been formed, and answers several questions from the group. Then he says, “I am going to turn out the lights.” I schooch over closer to my husband. “But first, I want all of you to close your eyes. Keep your eyes closed until I tell you to open them.”  Yikes, I find my husband’s hand, move even closer to him. And I also close my eyes. Best not to remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave, “Now I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” Click, he turns them out. Best not remember we are 250 feet underground in a damp cave with our eyes closed and the lights turned off.

“When I tell you to, open your eyes.”  Momentarily, he tells us to open our eyes. I do, and it doesn’t seem to make any difference, the darkness, the blackness, is all the same. I can’t see anything. Then the Ranger says, “I am going to turn on my light; it is the equivalent of one candle.” He clicks something and a light goes on. He is standing in the same place as before, he is holding a small light, and I can see the whole cave — ceiling, walls, jagged floors, bench seats, my husband, our grandsons, everyone else.

The Ranger makes some jokes about the overhead lights. Then he tells us that we can see well enough to get all the way out of the cave by this one small candle light if needed.  However, he does turn on the regular lights and we breathe easier.

And deep in the cave I think, “Wow, this is just like the practices for Lent. ‘Close your eyes,’ the Ranger says. ‘Be still,’ the Lord says. The choice is mine.”

The Ranger says, “I am going to turn out the lights. Keep your eyes closed.” The lights go out which is not by my action, but I keep my eyes closed which is my choice. I choose to let my eyes adjust, I choose to clear other images out of my mind and heart. These are my choices.

The Ranger says, “Open your eyes.” I obey. It is deeply dark, fearsome. When I am quiet, focused, it can be deeply dark, fearsome. Light-action-busy is much more comfortable. “Now I will light one candlepower of light,” he says, his action not mine. The acuity of my vision astounds me. How can I possibly see this much? I see because I obeyed the Ranger and prepared my eyes.

So it is in the time of Lent. I can be still and quiet, close my eyes to the confusion of life. I can accept the darkness and allow the eyes of my heart to adjust. And now, with my eyes prepared, what more do I see?

Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10, ESV).

(Written by Helen Bell. Thank you so much, Helen!)