Category Archives: Nature Studies

Beauty in our Backyard: Amen to Aman Park!

We moved from Michigan’s northern peninsula about 24 years ago, and one of the lingering memories I’ve cherished
is that of northern spring woods carpeted with trillium and wildflowers. Actually, we have a sprinkling of trillium in my backyard, but nothing like the gauze of white that drapes the hillsides near Fayette in the Upper Peninsula, so I’ve harbored a pensive ambition to return some spring just to feast my eyes on the wildflowers that bloom there. Therefore, I could hardly believe my eyes after church last Sunday when some friends showed me photos of the woods filled with trillium at Aman Park, which is just off Lake Michigan Dr. only about 10 miles east of downtown GR.In all the years we’ve lived here, I’d never stopped by to check out this park!  Talk about a deplorable lack of curiosity! (Well, I’d been curious a few times, but never enough to do anything about it!) Susan and I decided to go hiking there.It was S.O. beautiful! The little ridges of the woods seemed sprinkled with frost. Not only are the trillium in bloom, there are wonderful patches of Virginia bluebells and delicate hepatica, wild phlox, vinca minor, and violets. If you live in the area, love wildflowers, and have a couple of hours free in the next few days, consider visiting. It’s free. 🙂But, take a photo of the map on your cell phone for reference, because the trails are very poorly marked. The red (“Interpretative Trail” aka “B”) is only 1.5 miles long but gives you a wonderful experience  of peaceful trails through mazes of flowers.  I laughed with joy, but I also laughed at myself. In 24 years, I’d longed to drive hundreds of miles north (which I never did) rather than figuring out if there were any woods filled with trillium right here! I wonder, is there anything you’re missing and wishing for from days gone by? You might not be able to find exactly the same thing where you are,
but how about doing a little research? Perhaps like me, you’ll find some unexpected and wonderful opportunities
very close to home. In fact, it may be that heaven is closer than you think.Whom have I in heaven but thee?
and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee
” (Psalm 73:25).

(All these photos were taken on April 24, 2017 at Aman Park. If you miss it this year but want to try next year, they seem to bloom about the time the daffodils have peaked and the tulips are starting to bloom, which I’m guessing would be true anywhere trillium grows. Look online…you might have woodlands filled with wildflowers wherever you are!)

Meijer Garden: Butterflies Are Blooming Again, But Not All Butterflies Are Free

One of the perennial delights of living in Grand Rapids
is access to Meijer’s beautiful botanical gardens, and from March 1 until April 30th, 60 colorful species of butterflies bloom  in the 15,000 sq. ft. tropical conservatory,  which is kept at a luscious 85° with 70% humidity  so you feel a rush of warmth  every time you enter, no matter what’s going on outside! We’ve been at night and during the day, but unless you enjoy flashlight hunts and sleeping butterflies,  a bright, sunny day is by far the best option. In unclouded sunshine, the butterflies are dancing everywhere, and if you wear brightly colored clothing, they’re apt to light on you
just in case you taste as delectable as they look!         Usually, our times searching for butterflies is pure bliss,

but this year, there is another ongoing exhibition that counterbalances the joyous uplift of butterflights with the broken-hearted reality of suffering and captivity.The artist is Al Weiwei, a Chinese activist who was arrested in 2009 (and had the presence of mind to take his own photo, which he later tweeted to the world!).  In 2011, the Chinese authorities took his passport so that he couldn’t travel. Once he was beaten so badly that he was unable to go to court to testify. During his house arrest, he bought and photographed beautiful bouquets of flowers as a silent protest against his captors, a practice that he continued until his passport was restored on July 22, 2013.

Perhaps his most provocative sculpture is a vibrant collection of twisted rebar, commemorating the many children who were killed during an earthquake. Reading his story made me think of many Christians who have been similarly persecuted for their faith, not only in China but around the world. As humans, we are born to be free—as free as butterflies!
However, just like humans, not all butterflies are completely free! When we leave the tropical conservatory, each person is carefully examined to make sure no butterfly has landed on them and will end up outside in the cold.Of course, we don’t think of it in terms of their freedom being limited,
because we know they couldn’t survive the freezing nights outside. We think they’re being protected, but the butterflies don’t know that! They flutter happily wherever,
with no apparent sense of direction besides sipping nectar.

My heart aches for Al Weiwei and all who are unfairly persecuted and confined. But, I am also exercised to think about those who wander off in an attempt to “escape” all contraint (like the butterflies who flit outside on a freezing day). Sometimes we’re like those butterflies, totally oblivious to how carefully God has provided a safe environment, mindlessly wandering away from warmth into an exhilarating, freezing freedom which cannot sustain life. In our flights and fights for freedom, let’s make sure we’re fighting for what promotes health and life rather than what will destroy us. Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32, NKJV).   Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You From those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 17:7-8).

The Three Rondavels of Mpumalanga

From the overlook at Blyde River Canyon, there’s a dramatic view of the “Three Rondavels” (named for circular African dwellings with conical thatched roofs). These fascinating rock formations are shaped like round, grass-topped, huts similar to those still in use today among the indigenous people groups of Africa.   Renier, our guide, explained to us that the people believe evil spirits like to hide in dark corners,              so they make their homes (and even hotel and other structures)                     somewhat round to keep away such unwanted intruders. Of course, these massive shale, dolemite, and quartzite “huts” are monumental in size, rising 700 meters from the ground (which is already 1,390 meters above the river floor below). They are utterly spectacular!Traditionally, the three peaks were known as “The Three Sisters” and were named for three troublesome wives of Chief Maripi Mashile, who was the courageous nineteenth-century Pulana chief that defended his people from a Swazi invasion.Legend has it that the three wives were Magabolle, Mogoladikwe and Maseroto, and the three rondavels are named to commemorate these irksome busybodies! In this photo, you can see the “three sisters,” and to the right is a long, flat-topped mountain known as Mariepskop, named in honor of Chief Maripi, who used the mountain as a stronghold during the invasion.Blyde River Canyon is gorgeous, and the Three Rondavels are definitely worth visiting, but I’d really hate to be commemorated for being a troublesome wife.                                                            Wouldn’t you?   “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 21:1).I’m also glad that the Holy Spirit indwells believers in Christ so that we don’t have to fear evil spirits hiding in the corners of our homes! Instead, God tells us that we’re protected by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:12-14), and that we do not need to fear evil spirits: Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Later in the same chapter God explains: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).

World’s Largest Canyons, Blyde River Canyon, and Changing Names

Our next stop was for some magnificent views of Blyde River Canyon, which is the world’s third largest canyon, (although I’d never heard of it before). In fact, would you like to see photos of the world’s largest and second largest canyons? Do you know their names? I wasn’t sure! America’s own Grand Canyon is the largest canyon in the world, although Copper Canyon in Mexico’s Chihuahua state is a group of six canyons with a combined area that’s even greater, and Peru’s Colca Canyon is twice as deep. Nevertheless, we’ll keep our Grand Canyon as Numero Uno!The second largest canyon in the world is also in Africa. It’s called the Fish River Canyon: 550 meters deep and 160 km long! The Fish River Canyon is in Namibia. We didn’t get to see it on this trip, but it’s a popular tourist attraction and reported to be gorgeous. In 2011, they began an annual ultra marathon along the banks of this river! Can you imagine???We were blessed with a beautiful day and had the leisure to walk along the rim of Blyde River Canyon, luxuriating in the views and learning a little of its history.  There are over 1,000 different species of flora in this area, including many beautiful wildflowers in the spring. The canyon is part of the Blyde River Nature Reserve, one of South Africa’s most stunning geographical features. This 29,000-hectare (71,660-acre) park is carved from red sandstone along 60 km of the Blyde River. Our guide shared with us that the river was first named “Treur,” which means “mourning” in Afrikaans, because in 1844 some distraught settlers feared that their leader, Hendrik Potgieter, and all the members of his pioneering expedition had perished. However, shortly thereafter, the men returned, and the river’s name was changed from Treur (mourning) to Blyde (happy; joyous). This made me think of how the Lord works in us, to change our mourning into joy: “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Since returning home, I’ve discovered that now there is a push to revert back to the canyon’s most ancient name: “Motlatse Canyon Provincial Nature Reserve.” Motlatse means “a river that is always full.” That’s also a wonderful name, especially in an area that has been beleaguered with drought for twenty years!Do you have any idea what your name means? My name means “pure,” but I used to mourn that—hard as I tried—I couldn’t live up to my name. However, the Lord has comforted me, changed my name to “Christian” and filled me with joy, because I now know that Jesus Christ was pure and gave me his name when I accepted him as my savior from sin: “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, The Lord Our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). How about you? Have you made “the plunge” into the canyon of God’s love and experienced the life-changing depth of his forgiveness and grace?

For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work: I will triumph in the works of thy hands. O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep.” (Psalm 92:4-5)

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!
Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!
Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love
Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!
How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;
How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

“O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!
’Tis an ocean full of blessing, ’tis a haven giving rest!
O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;
And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee! (—S. Trevor Francis, 1875)

(The photos of the Grand Canyon, Fish Canyon, and the last photo of the Blyde River Canyon are used by permission of Wiki; the rest are mine, taken November, 2016, at Blyde River Canyon. Also, I’ve since learned that the section of the Blyde River that was first dubbed the Treur River was a tributary which separates in the canyon and still retains that name.)

Bourke’s Luck Potholes in Mpumalanga: Not All Potholes are Problematic!

                Do you go crazy trying to avoid all the potholes in spring? In Michigan, the winters are so brutal that by springtime roads are pocked with depressions where the ground has heaved, leaving broken asphalt and treacherous traps just waiting to pop the tires of unwary commuters. So, when we were told we were going to stop along the Panoramic Route between Kruger National Park and Johannesburg in South Africa to see “the potholes,” I wasn’t particularly impressed…until I saw them!  These potholes have been created by the confluence of the Treur & Blyde Rivers                                                      at Blyde River Canyon, where centuries of wear have formed deep, cylindrical depressions in the sandstone bedrock. They are indeed potholes, but they’re not the dangerous ones we see in America. These potholes are grand and spectacularly beautiful formations in layered shades of rust, amber, brown, and taupe.  Their name refers to Tom Bourke, who was an unsuccessful gold prospector in this area, but I think he found something better than gold! Today, tourists (like Alan and me) come from around the world to marvel at the natural beauty of this area. So, the next time you see a pothole in your road, please avoid it to be sure, but remember that some potholes can be beautiful. How about us? Is the wear and pressure in our lives revealing natural color and creating unique patterns of beauty in us, or are we becoming broken and depressed? God intends the floods of time and pressure to transform us (particularly at the confluence of ourselves with another “river”).He cutteth out rivers among the rocks; and his eye seeth every precious thing. He bindeth the floods from overflowing; and the thing that is hid bringeth he forth to light. But where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding? (Job 28:10-12)   But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour (Isaiah 43:1-3)

(All photos taken on our trip to South Africa at Burke’s Luck Potholes,  2016.)

A Few of My Favorite Birds (37): Would You Rather be a Chicken, a Hen, or a Rooster?

handsome-rooster-kauai-01-2017According to Merriam Webster rooster-on-path-at-waimea-canyon(whose dictionary is the gold standard for literary editors, so I’m told), hens-in-hawaiia chicken can be a type of common domestic fowl used for food…or a coward. colorful-kauai-henA hen can be an older female chicken…or a “fussy, middle-aged woman.” rooster-in-kaloa-kauai Rooster refers an adult male chicken…or a cocky, vain man. chick-hen-roosters-togetherNow I ask you, who wants to be any of those?? rooster-tee-shirt-kaloa-kauaiAnd, how did chickens get such a bad rap, anyway? rooster-in-kaloa-mill-ice-cream-and-coffee-shopAmong my list of favorite birds, chickens never really made the grade…  rooster-by-captain-cook-memorial-kauaiuntil I came to Hawaii, but now I have a new fascination for these fine fellows. regal-rooster-reigns-at-kalalau-lookout-kauaiI saw a gorgeous rooster with iridescent green feathers as well as the usual kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows rooster-crossing-road-kauaitrying to cross the highway in Kauai not long ago, and I thought to myself, rooster-waimea-canyon-kauai“If I didn’t know what that was, I’d be agog with its size and brilliant plumage!” kauai-love-chickens-teeshirtIndeed, these cocky specimens of male finery are all the rage in Hawaii. couple-at-waimea-canyonRoosters adorn baseball capsrooster-napkin-holder-kaloa-coffee-shop-hawaii and napkin holders. rooster-walking-through-kaloa-mill-ice-cream-and-coffee-shopThey rule the roost, make themselves at home cleaning up waffle cone scraps in ice cream parlors, and slurp up puddles of shaved ice spilled from kiddie cones. rooster-posing-at-kalalau-lookout-hawaiiThey announce the coming dawn…
sometimes as early at 2:00 am but definitely by 4:00 am hawaiin-cock-rooster(and throughout the day whenever they’re startled). rooster-mating-dance-kauaiI noticed this ad today accompanying the photo of a rooster:
“Diamond Head home for sale with pool and built in alarm clock.” menu-offering-feral-chicken-in-kauaiMenus offer entrees of feral rooster stuffed with cactus. rooster-in-kauai-one-of-hundreds-copy(That one might be a joke; I’m told the reason they’re everywhere
is because they have parasites and aren’t fit to eat.) amazingly-colorful-plumage-on-rooster-in-kauaiDespite being the brunt of jokes and a synonym for a lame-brained coward, rooster-by-wet-cave-kauaiI think chickens are worthy of respect, and here are my reasons:  chickens-everywhere-in-kauai*They are the most common bird in the world (50 billion). rooster-near-wailua-falls-kauaiCompare that to the most common wild bird in the world,
sparrows, at 1.5 billion!  (Huge difference, huh?)cock-and-hen-feeding-in-grass-by-ocean-kauai* They are historically famous, called the “bird that gives birth every day”  (Thutmose III, 1500 BC). regal-rooster-near-a-bush-kauai  *They are the most prolific birds: In 2009, an estimated 62.1 million metric tons of eggs were produced worldwide from a total laying flock of approximately 6.4 billion hens. (That’s over a trillion eggs!)  gorgeous-plumage-on-rooster-kauai *Besides being beautiful, cocks aren’t afraid to crow!  rooster-on-a-fenceJesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow,
till thou hast denied me thrice
” (John 13:38). mother-and-chicks-feeding-in-grass-kauai * Besides being plucky, chickens make wonderful mothers:  mother-hen-with-chickens-under-her-wingsO Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together,
even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not
!”
(Matthew 23:37).  dont-feed-the-chickens*And last, but most significantly, chickens provide more sacrificial lives for meat than any other animal (even if the feral flock aren’t feed by humans).  lovely-hens-mottled-brown-and-white-kauaiIn 2008, 9.08 billion chickens were slaughtered in the United States according to the United States Department of Agriculture data, and that’s just the U.S.! cock-and-hen-looking-for-water-kaloa-kauaiWorld wide, over 40 billion broilers are raised and killed every year. sign-dont-feed-the-chickenOnly the sacrifice of Jesus has provided life-giving food for more people!

rooster-by-sign-for-kings-chapel-in-kauaiFor the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33). Jesus said: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).

(All photos were taken in Hawaii, although the one of the rooster crowing at dawn was taken at my son’s home in Oahu.)

Deep in the Heart of Kauai

mountains-in-kauaiDeep within Kauai’s mountainous heartland lies Mt. Wai’ale’ale,
which means “rippling water.” mt-waialeale-waterfallsWith an elevation of 5,148 ft. and an average of 452+ inches of rain every year, mt-waialeale-wettest-spot-on-earthMt. Wai’ale’ale’s summit is considered one of the rainiest spots on earth, mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-aerial-viewand its “Wall of Tears” is filled with waterfalls gushing-waterfalls-kauaistreaming down its face. green-mountain-slopes-kauaiFrom a distance you can’t see the waterfalls. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauaiYou have to come closer and look carefully. manawaiopuna-falls-jurassic-park-waterfall-kauaiThis area is so wild and remote that it was used in filming Jurassic Parkrugged-mountain-peaks-in-kauaiMy husband didn’t want to go on the helicopter ride lush-foliage-in-kauais-interior-hawaiibecause sudden drops narrow-valley-on-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideand sharp turns in narrow spaces make him motion sick, waterfalls-in-the-interior-of-kauaibut I was totally enthralled the entire time. na-pali-coast-from-the-air-kauaiI’ll always remember my wondrous flight into the heart of Kauai, rugged-valleys-in-kauai-helicopter-tourand how much it made me think of flying into the heart of God. jagged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-kauaiGod’s heart is deep, rugged, and privately owned, just like Kauai’s mountains. na-pali-coast-kauai-blue-hawaiian-helicopter-rideHis heart is inaccessible except by permission of the Holy Spirit,
who is able to guide us in. mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauaiWithin God’s heart is a “Wall of Tears”
weeping for mankind to choose to love Him. spectacular-waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you realize that God’s ultimate sacrifice of love is in allowing us
to choose good or evil, to reject Him or love Him…
and then loving us so much that He sent His Son to redeem us?mt-waialeale-fallsIf God forced us to obey Him…forced Himself on us, He’d be a rapist, not a lover. waterfalls-in-kauaiDo you wonder why there’s sin in the world? Because we choose sin over God. secret-manawaiopuna-falls-on-kauai-2Still, God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to save us from sin
and transform us into children of light and love. blue-hawaiian-helicopterHave you allowed the Holy Spirit to transport you into the heart of God? manawaiopuna-falls-kauaiHave you marveled at his love and experienced drinking from His Living Water?rugged-mountains-along-na-pali-coast-hawaii In not, can I encourage you to come into His heart today?close-up-of-mt-waialeale-waterfalls-kauai-from-helicopter“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all,
how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. (
Romans 8:31-33)na-pali-coast-on-way-to-hanalei-kauai