Category Archives: Nature Studies

Did You See the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse?

Last night there was a very special lunar event! Did you get to see it? January’s full moon is always called the “wolf” moon. (I’ve heard it was so-named by American Indians because that’s when the wolves howled most fiercely outside their villages 😦 ).  Last night there was also a “super” moon, which means the moon was full while it was at its closest point to the earth in its rotation, making it look especially large and luminous. Every year we get two to five supermoons, and this year there are three: the one last night, one on Feb. 19 (which will be the closest and largest full supermoon of the year), and one on March 21.  A “blood” moon refers to the color the moon appears to be during a total lunar eclipse. Instead of disappearing altogether, there is still some light that reaches it from the sun, although the rays are refracted in such a way that blue light is filtered out, leaving the sunset glow of red light. A super blood moon is a rare occurrence with gaps between six months and three years. Last night was the only  super blood moon in 2019, and there won’t be another one like it visible in North America until May 26, 2021. Lunar eclipses occur during a full moon, when the sun and moon are perfectly aligned on opposite sides of the Earth so that the moon falls completely under Earth’s shadow. Last night’s eclipse lasted just 72 minutes, between 11:41 EST (January 20) and 12:53 EST (January 21, the wee hours of this morning).  The moon appears red only during the eclipse. Once the moon enters Earth’s shadow, it will turn red throughout the full eclipse.  But, once the moon begins to lose its red hue, you know the full eclipse is over.My photos of the blood moon and the lunar eclipse were not taken last night, however! They were taken in Italy last July while I was visiting my kids who lived there. Michael and Grace were all excited about the special event, and we were perched in place, watching so we wouldn’t miss this opportunity! We knew the eclipse wouldn’t be visible anywhere in America that night, which made it all the more exotic and unusual! Last night, Alan and I admired the full moon rising on our way home from visiting with friends, but we were oblivious of the momentous event about to occur just a couple of hours later. When we got home, we watched our son, Joel, out skating in the moonlight and thought about what a beautiful evening it was, but we fell right to sleep without any portend of “things to come!”I wonder, friend, as you look up at the night sky, do you know some day a blood moon will portend the Lord’s return to  Earth? For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Are  you prepared for that day? Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 25:6-13).

But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.38 For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark,39 And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.40 Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left.41 Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” Matthew 24:37-44).

And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke:20 The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and notable day of the Lord come:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:19-21).

(Photo Credits: Best photo of the blood moon [#3 in order] was taken by NASA. I took #2. photo at a showing in our local planetarium and the rest on July 27, 2018 near Costozza, Italy.)

Relaxing in the Blue Lagoon

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is the world’s largest man-made geothermal mineral bath and listed in National Geographic as one of the world’s Twenty-Five Wonders.Many people travel to Iceland in January in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights, but we have good friends who went last January and didn’t see a single streak of midnight light, so Alan and I were happy to go in August, when the  thermostat doesn’t dip so low and the daylight hours are luxuriously long.  Iceland in August is unforgettable, and among the dozens of delights we enjoyed, savoring a day lulling in the legendary Blue Lagoon was right up there at the top. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most visited attractions, and people come from all over the world to enjoy the ambience and healing waters.                                                    How does it work? Well, the lagoon is filled with sea water channeled from over a mile underground, past a volcanic lava flow that super-heats it to a searing 464°F. The water is used to generate power at the nearby Svartsengi geothermal power station and then cooled to 100°F. before being pumped into the lagoon.  The Blue Lagoon is built into a black basaltic lava field that’s thought to be 800 years old and looks natural (for a moonscape) as well as ethereal.  The pools contain 9 million liters of water, which are circulated through the baths and then discarded, completely renewing the lagoon every 40 hours.  The result is an enormous “spa” with luxuriously warm waters rich with algae and mineral deposits like sulfur and silica (which gives the water it’s beautiful, milky-blue color).  If you’re squeamish about modesty (like I am), you can relax. The changing rooms are divided by gender, and everybody wears a bathing suit.  Each person is given a fluffy, white, warm bathrobe (hanging on left) for wearing before and after entering the pool, which was comforting even in August!      Complimentary silica-mud is distributed if you want to try a face mask,         and refreshments are available at their swim up bar in the pool.  There’s also a fresh-water drinking fountain in the pool if you feel dehydrated. There are walkways around the lagoon, although lava is sharp, so you’d need shoes and warm wraps before attempting a hike. Now, perhaps some of you who find this post are researching Iceland and are considering a visit to the Blue Lagoon. I hope you go and love it! However, there may be others who won’t. Either way, I’d like to share that there is a place even more restful and wonderful than the Blue Lagoon, and that’s  the spiritual rest that Jesus offers: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).  That doesn’t mean we never work anymore, but that does mean that we don’t “work” in order to obtain our salvation! Jesus has provided for us through his death on the cross, so we can stop trying to be “perfect.” Mud baths are unnecessary; we can be washed clean through His cleansing power!Instead of trying to “work” our way to heaven, we need to completely relax. Jesus died for us. He is our healing water, and He will hold us up. He provides clean, white robes for us! He gives us the pure water of life to drink. All we have to do is believe: Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:28-29).There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.10 For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his.11 Let us labor therefore to enter into that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

 

(Photo Credits: Two of the photos I used appear on multiple sites, and I couldn’t trace it back to the original photographer to ask permission. However, I’m going to link them back to the most likely options I found:

Photo #1: https://wakeupreykjavik.com/iceland-in-january/

Photo # 3: https://www.travelandleisure.com/flight-deals/cheap-flights-icelandair-northern-lights

The rest are mine, taken on our trip last August.)

The Uniqueness of God’s Corpse Flower

The Amorphophallus titanum/aka “corpse flower,” native only to rain forests of Sumatra and Java, is among the world’s most fascinating plants. It has a humongous  bract that makes it look like the world’s most gigantic flower. By botanical definition, however, the Rafflesia arnoldii (known as the “corpse lily” and also native to Sumatra) actually holds the world’s record for plant with the largest flower (as opposed to a bract), which can be 3+ feet in diameter.  Still the corpse flower definitely holds the world’s record for the largest corm (339 pounds in Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh) and the largest “unbranched inflorescence” (a group of flowers arranged on a single, central stem), which can grow up to ten feet high!  These amazing plants became known in the Western Hemisphere about 140 years ago, and since that time, there have been some 100 cultivated blossoms around the world, mostly in botanical gardens.One of the locations is our own Meijer Botanical Garden, here in Grand Rapids, and we enjoyed following the progress of our garden’s corm, affectionately named “Putricia” ( due to the terrible odor reminiscent of rotting meat, which Putricia proudly produces while in bloom to attract unwary carnivorous insects into helping out with her pollination). Putricia was planted at Meijer Garden 18 years ago, and this past July (2018) was the first time she bloomed!  In fact, corpse flowers usually only bloom about once every ten years, and when they do, the full bloom only lasts one day! When I first heard about Putricia, I wondered if one “stinking” flower could be worth all the bother, but after six months, I’m still thinking about her and have decided that seeing the corpse flower was worthwhile . . . and unforgettable!Why? Because it reminds me that no matter how large or small . . . how long lasting or short lived . . . how fragrant or odoriferous . . . I am—and we all are—unique creations of God intended for His pleasure. It doesn’t matter if people come from all over the world to see us . . . or “the world” never takes note of us at all! It doesn’t matter if we’re like an ever blooming rose . . . or bloom like clockwork once a year . . . or if we’re only in full bloom for one day each decade.No matter who we are, we are God’s unique creation, made as He designed us. He takes delight in us, especially as we trust in him. (“The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy” [Psalm 147:11].) As this new year begins, may we commit ourselves to resting in being the unique and wondrous blossom that God has created us to be, even though we’re flawed, imperfect, and feel insignificant. Let’s worship Him, reflecting His love and light.

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Photo Credits: I took five of the photos on the day we visited Meijer Garden. The photo of the butterfly on an ivory-colored peony was taken in my front yard. The rest were found as follows:

Blooming Corpse Flower photographed at the New York Botanical Garden on June 27, 2018 by Sailing Moose. Found on Wikipedia: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Amorphophallus_titanum_(corpse_flower)_-_2.jpg

Rafflesia arnoldii and black and white photo of corpse flowers found on Wikipedia.

Four side-by-side photos of Putricia courtesy of Meijer Garden’s livestream  found on WOOD TV: https://www.woodtv.com/news/kent-county/meijer-gardens-corpse-flower-nearing-bloom/1290512106

Lessons Learned from a Deep Sea Fisherman

Of course I admit to being prejudiced, but I have some of the world’s coolest relatives, and among them is my brother-in-law, Frank. (In this photo, he’s part of a floating parade themed on the explorers who discovered the Californian coast, although he doesn’t usually dress in velvet for his fishing trips.  🙂  )

Frank’s been fishing since he was four, back in the days when his dad had a dairy farm close to the Sacramento River. For the past 50+ years, he’s fallen in love with deep sea fishing, and he says there isn’t anything in the world that brings him closer to nature than being miles out in the ocean, breathing pure air and surrounded by nothing but sky and sea.  I’ve never been deep sea fishing, so I decided to ask Frank it he’d share a few of his experiences with us in conjunction with thinking about Jesus’s commands: “Launch out into the deep for a draught” and “Fear not.”Because, I’m convinced that even though we are often afraid to launch out, God usually blesses us with an amazing “catch,” just as he did for the disciples. So, what are some of the lessons I learned from talking to Frank? I’m going to mention what I learned about fishing, but I’ve also been having fun thinking about spiritual parallels between catching “fish” and what it might take to become a “fisher of men.” If you think of anything as you read this list, I’d love to hear your thoughts!*You have to be willing to get up way earlier than normal people need to, even when it’s cold and wet and dark out! (I remember Frank getting up at 4:00 a.m. to take his young son out salmon fishing on Saturdays.) *You have to watch the weather and water conditions constantly and make sure your boat is mechanically sound so it can handle the trip and withstand any unexpected storms. *You always need to have radio communication with the Coast Guard in case you need rescue, which did happen to Frank once when he was 14 miles out. His boat quit unexpectedly in really rough water and had drifted to within a quarter of a mile of some deadly rocks. Frank’s uncle had drowned just the year before, so he was extremely thankful that the Coast Guard was able to rescue him in time!  *It takes a lot of love and work to share your experiences with others, but it’s worth the cost, because that’s what it’s all about! Frank’s scariest adventure was when he had taken a group of 13 friends 27 miles out from the Golden Gate to fish near the Farollones Islands and a vicious storm blew up. (The photo above is not from this trip.) Everybody was so seasick that they couldn’t do anything to help but throw up (which wasn’t really helpful), so he tucked them all inside while he and his (double-lifejacketed) eight-year-old son wrestled to keep the boat upright. Despite their best efforts, the boat rolled over, and he thought she was going down and they’d all drown. Thankfully, the boat righted itself, and although they lost all 13 rods and reels and their 3 tackle boxes, everybody survived to tell about it!*It’s a lot more fun to fish with friends, but it’s also almost impossible alone if you’re doing something complicated, like crabbing.*If you want to catch anything—be it fish or crabs or shrimp—you have to go where they are! Frank’s longest trip was a 5-week cruise up the coast to Alaska and back in search of crabs and shrimp.   *You have to use different types of bait depending on what you want to catch. You can troll for salmon with anchovies or a lure called a “watermelon.” Rock cod like squid, but you  have to use a small, round weight and bounce the weight off the bottom, because rock cod swim near the bottom. *Crabs like any kind of meat that smells bad. Frank saves the guts, heads, and skeletons of his fish for bait, although crabs also like chicken parts and squid. *Crabs live about 200′ deep in the ocean, so after the crab pots are baited, they are lowered with 230′ of line and 2 floats about 8-10′ apart to mark the spot.*Frank uses his GPS to retrieve his pots, and if he doesn’t have enough weight on his traps, they can be caught in currents and carried away so that he never finds them again.*Also, sometimes people find his crab pots and steal the crabs when he’s not there. 😦  *It’s not  unusual for Frank (and his crabbing buddies) to fight 10-12′ waves while trying to pull up the traps. He has a big crab pot retriever and a hook to help lift the pots into his boat.*There will be some unforgettably wonderful experiences if you persevere in fishing. Frank’s all-time favorite memory of deep sea fishing was a trip back in August of 1977 with his friend Bill. It was a perfect day, and when they were 100 miles off the coast of San Diego, he hooked a 58.5 pound yellow fin tuna. It took him 2 hours and 40 minutes to reel in that beautiful baby!*As a last reflection, Frank said that fishing is great, and catching fish is a thrill, but the greatest thrill of all is just going fishing, whether or not you catch anything!*However, just like Jesus blessed his disciples with a huge catch, if we’re willing to follow Jesus, we’ll probably have many wonderful experiences where we are visibly rewarded for all our hard work!                                                  Ready to go fishing?

And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” (Luke 5:10, maybe even some crabby ones!  🙂  )

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

Under His Wings

There are three families of geese that have been camping out at Tanglewood Cottage this summer, and as you might guess, there are pros and cons to this situation.However, today I want to mention one of the sweet pros, which is that Canada geese are great parents and keep watchful eyes on their goslings. Whether their little ones are snuggled under their wings or resting beside them in the shade, I have never (and I mean never) seen the parents neglect their young. They are ever watchful, and ever concerned. They paddle all over the lake, but they stop by every morning for some breakfast                …and for some lunch…and for some dinner…rain or shine! On warm afternoons, they love to rest in the shade, and since I’m usually writing at my desk each afternoon, a couple of my favorite songs keep singing in my mind. The songs are about God, who is better than the best of all earthly parents, and the words so comforting that I want to share them with you:

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.” (Psalm 17:8)

Under His Wings
(William O. Cushing, 1896, public domain)

Under His wings I am safely abiding,
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him; I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me, and I am His child.

Refrain:
Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.

Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus, I’m safe evermore.

God Leads Us Along
(George A. Young, 1903, Public Domain)

  1. In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet,
    God leads His dear children along.

    • Refrain:
      Some through the waters, some through the flood,
      Some through the fire, but all through the blood;
      Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song,
      In the night season and all the day long.
  2. Sometimes on the mount where the sun shines so bright,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Sometimes in the valley, in darkest of night,
    God leads His dear children along.
  3. Though sorrows befall us and Satan oppose,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Through grace we can conquer, defeat all our foes,
    God leads His dear children along.
  4. Away from the mire, and away from the clay,
    God leads His dear children along;
    Away up in glory, eternity’s day,
    God leads His dear children along.The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:1-3).

 

Planet Earth and Planet Earth II

I suppose everybody on earth but me has seen the incredible nature documentary series, Planet Earth II, produced by BBC in 2016 as their first ultra-high-definition T.V. series, narrated by the inimitable Sir David Attenborough, and enhanced with theme music composed by Hans Zimmer.                          (Could it get any better than that combination?!) There are six episodes, including studies of the wildlife on islands, mountains, jungles, deserts, grasslands, and (believe it or not) wildlife in our cities. Our son Joel saw the documentary on “Cities” at a friend’s house and came home with such enthusiasm that we immediately discovered the series is available on Netflix (and probably other online sources).The photography is absolutely breathtaking, and they used innovative techniques, such as setting up to 25 “camera traps” in the remote mountains of India to trigger photographs of the elusive snow leopards.                               Every episode was mesmerizing and marvelous!                               What an amazing world God has created for us! If you watch all six episodes and are wishing for more, Planet Earth II is actually a sequel to Planet Earth, an 11-episode natural history documentary published by BBC in 2006 that was so popular it was broadcast in over 130 countries in 15 months!  The original series took five years to film and was the most expensive nature documentary series BBC had ever produced up to that time.                        It won many awards, including four Emmy Awards. Although the original Planet Earth series definitely showcases animals in each environment, I think the earlier series highlights the geographical marvels  of our world even more than the wildlife. The beauty of our earth blows my mind! “Our planet is still full of wonders…It’s not just the future of the whale that today lies in our hands: it’s the survival of the natural world in all parts of the living planet. We can now destroy or we can cherish. The choice is ours” (David Attenborough).  I believe God wants us to cherish His creation, tend it, and take care of it!

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28).

And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it” (Genesis 2:15).