A Fall Story

This is a Fall Story. I’ve always liked Fall, there are things I like to remember about it and things I look forward to. I like to watch the leaves change. I remember people always saying that leaf color peaked in the third week of October, but here we are and things are still green. I enjoy Fall for those mornings you can see your breath against the sky. I enjoy anything apple or pumpkin.

There are things about Fall that I have always loved and figure I have probably retired from. This is not an intentional retirement, but I haven’t done them in so long I suspect that I’ve retired. I’ve played a lot of Fall soccer, but not for some time now. It has been a long while since I’ve made a scarecrow or bobbed for apples or attended a costume party. I was never very good at that.

But, surprisingly, my Dad could pull off a costume. Dad was influenced by whoever influenced James Dean. He combed his dark hair straight back. I might also add that Dad had false teeth. Once when the church was in need of a drunkard for a play, Dad volunteered. He flipped the collar up on his jacket, pulled out his teeth, messed up his otherwise slicked back hair, and staggered up the aisle – he totally pulled it off. I think people were lining up afterwards to get his autograph.

Since it is Fall I am reminded of a Halloween costume party. At this particular party, there was an unrecognizable old man in a dark corner. He looked rough, he held a cane, he held it out if someone came near. He would sometimes yell and cause commotion. I stayed away, out of fear. When the party was over, the scary man stood up, combed his hair and put in his teeth. I had no idea that was Dad.

Each Fall there are things I look forward to. I like to overnight in the forest and Fall is the perfect time. The sounds, the smells, the way the fire feels against the cold, the way the star lit sky looks through the tree canopy. I like to carry my bow in the woods. I like to fit in one more fishing trip. And now that I have retired from some activities, I do things like clean out the gardens, clean out the bird boxes, clean the feeders. I used to run around on a soccer field, now I have become a maid for the local wildlife. I am seriously thinking about putting up an owl box. I am thinking about putting up a bat house.

But so far, I haven’t had a chance to do any of this. I have been busy writing a paper. 7500 words, for those counting at home that is 28 pages double spaced. Now that I think about it, I should have continued bobbing for apples and retired from writing papers.

This paper took over my life, at least it felt like it. A class I am part of was assigned a text and told to read it over and over. We were told to steep in it, like a tea bag steeps in water to make a delicious refreshing drink. It doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. I took the request seriously and steeped and steeped for over two months. I read it in six different translations. I read it in a different language. I read it out loud. I moved to different rooms to read it. I read it upstairs and downstairs. I read it standing on my head (true story). I thought I might read it in a tree, at least in a hammock, but then I haven’t made it to the forest.

The text I’ve been reading is from the New Testament and includes apostles and widows and complainers and table servers and priests. I pretended to be all of them. I read as if I were auditioning for the part of apostle. I read as if I were auditioning for widow. I read as if I were auditioning for someone waiting on tables… you get the idea.

Did I mention this paper took over my life? Fortunately for me, I turned that thing in this week – all 7500 words. And the best news is, we are not yet halfway through Fall. I have time left to do some of those things I’ve been looking forward to…

One of Those Days

I heard an Oriole today. It puzzles me that I can hear him so close and still it takes me so long to find him. Finally, I am caught off guard with that splash of bright color on the edge of the forest.

Its been that kind of day. A day that the sky shows a lot of blue. A day that leaves you thinking spring is a pretty good time of year. A brisk walk feels comfortable. If you pick up the pace at all, you begin to sweat.

The dogwoods are in bloom. So are the redbuds. Most everything else is turning green. It’s the kind of day that spice bush is the dominant smell in the forest. The kind of day you can find plenty of fiddleheads and an occasional morel. There is plenty of dandelion also but it has already turned bitter.

Critters enjoy these days as well. It’s the kind of day you might spot an eagle flying overhead (I did). It’s the kind of day you might get too close to a pair of geese raising young. The kind of day the gander might step aggressively in your direction and let out an evil hiss (did I just quote Charlie Daniels).

Its the kind of day a Carolina Wren is trying to prove he can deliver more decibels per ounce than any of the other birds. It’s the kind of day to find one of the largest bullfrogs I have ever seen. I can remember when it didn’t seem like it counted unless I caught it. For some reason, I am now content just to find him. It’s the kind of day it seems a bumblebee is following wherever I go. I would like to find a honeybee and follow him back to his honey hive.

Did I mention that I heard an Oriole? I have started thinking about an Oriole feeder. I wonder if I can make it possible to see these colors more often? And then, you turn on the radio and hear Bono’s voice against the instruments of Larry, Adam, and Edge… “It’s a beautiful day… don’t let it get away…” Yes it is, it’s that kind of day.

A Paragraph for Lent

A quote from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.41.

“Our local forests are full of large rocks. I can’t help but climb over them, jump from one to another, and enjoy the view they provide. Early in Luke, I read that God can turn stones into children of Abraham. In the next chapter, the Devil tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. I live in the twenty-first century. I know that of all that has been discovered about them, stones are not likely to turn into children or turn into bread. Yet I sit on a large rock in the forest and am reminded by the Gospel during Lent that I live in a world that is not limited by what we think we might know in this century.”

An Imaginative Creator

I am in the forest and leaves are falling. At times they are falling so hard it sounds like rain. Looking up, it is like I am watching the hardwoods throwing leaves from their branches and into the arms of the conifers. Who knew the trees played games of catch?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben teaches us a thing or two about trees. He wants to make sure we know that individual trees are important. At the same time he insists a tree is only as strong as the surrounding forest. When trees unite to create a forest, the whole becomes greater than its parts. The well-being of a tree is dependent on the community of trees. Wohlleben suggests that trees are far more social than we might imagine.

One tree standing alone is at risk. It cannot establish a consistent climate. It suffers alone in wind and weather. But a forest of trees creates an ecosystem that moderates temperature, stores water, and generates humidity. Wohlleben insists that in a forest, trees care for one another. Every tree becomes valuable to the community and is worth keeping around as long as possible. Sick trees even receive support and nourishment from others until they recover.

Wohlleben is convinced that trees are able to communicate with one another. And not only one another, but with other creatures as well.  Who knew? He makes a case that trees care for one another. They share food with one another. The forest is a tree community. They need one another. Maybe those lively trees we read about in stories are not as farfetched as we think. Maybe trees are not the passive plants they appear to be. Maybe that really is a game of catch they are playing above me. Maybe the forest really is an enchanted place.

I am struck by the way Wohlleben talks about the forest in ways the New Testament talks about church. We communicate with one another. We care for one another. Like trees in the forest, we are stronger and more productive when congregated. Alone we are at risk. Together we are the church. We need one another. Just as an individual tree does not make a forest, an isolated Christian does not make a church. It is interesting that both forest and church are the dream of the same imaginative Creator. Perhaps we should not be surprised by any similarities. Whatever future research tells us about trees, I will never walk through the forest the same way again.

Hiking is an Activity for the Soul

Some things prompt thought and activity simultaneously. Hiking is one of those things. Hiking requires muscle activity and decision making. Hiking can prompt deep breathing and all senses on alert. It helps us learn to live with the gear we have and to live without unnecessary gear.

Hiking allows the imagination to become active. It helps you to see differently and to listen differently. Hiking helps you recognize the blurry line between beauty and danger. It helps you show reverence to both. Hiking will help you to appreciate undeserved gifts.

Hiking is like a trip to the cinema. The colors and acoustics and textures and contrasts and movement provide a live action performance going on all around you. Even the scenery reaches out to touch you. You respond to what is going on out there. And it responds to you. There is interaction. Hiking puts you into relationship. You are granted admission to a one time showing like no other. And you become part of the show.

Hiking surrounds you with life. You cannot take it all in. Annie Dillard says “in the top inch of soil, biologists found ‘an average of 1,356 living creatures in each square foot.’” Even if this figure is off by a creature or two this is a lot of life. She goes on, “ignoring them won’t strip them of their reality.” Life is in front of us, behind us, above us and beneath our feet. Hiking helps us understand that creation has us surrounded.

There is a practical element. Hiking will take you someplace. You might even grow from the experience. But the benefits are more than practical. You might make a discovery. You might get to know yourself. Hiking will do something to you. This is activity for the soul.

Getting Outside

Earlier this week I was walking toward the east as the sun was climbing higher in the clear sky. It is February but the air feels like spring. A red tailed hawk flies into my view. He comes nearly overhead and then circles back toward the east. As he gets closer to the sun the light shines brilliantly through his outer feathers. As if he is outlined with angelic pinstripes. It is like he flew into a Thomas Kinkade painting. I watch until he is out of sight before I move on. It is just good to be outside.

Winter Forest

“I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.”

– from Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p. 29

One Night in the Weather

I am a traveler in the forest. Winding my way through the dark, through a light snow and through the trees toward the trail that will take me back to the road. I see my breath against the clear sky where a slim crescent moon and a brilliant evening star shine the brightest.

I am one who listens to the night. Waiting for a song or a call in the distance but all I hear is the wind in the branches of nearby trees. Blowing across some of these creates a whistling sound. Blowing against others causes a percussion effect. Tonight’s entertainment is acoustic and instrumental.

I am a weather watcher. I think of Annie Dillard’s comment “We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house.”

Winter Adventure

It feels like Winter, finally. And the forecast calls for snow. Makes me want to do something wintry. Maybe I’ll put on a lot of layers. Test the strength of the ice on the lake. Get out the snow shoes. Light a fire. I have been watching the trailer for the movie The Revenant which looks like a winter adventure. Maybe I’ll go check the trap line, fight a bear, and crawl back to camp. Or maybe I’ll just go watch the movie.

I am reminded of the following;

I try to spend as much time as possible in the winter forest. It is a great place to sharpen the senses. Contrast, movement, and sound call attention to themselves in a hurry. Things are more visible in the bare deciduous woods, including evidence that something has already been there before you arrived. Then there is the winter forest at night. The senses sharpen more clearly. Temperature heightens the sense of cold on your nose and cheeks. Looking at the sky feels like a spectator sport. Noise and movement gain your attention quickly. It is not difficult to find yourself on the alert. If you are nothing else in the winter woods at night, you are aware. Sometimes you hear something, see something, discover something that makes this all feel like an adventure. But the fact is, in the forest it is always likely that you were discovered first. Some things are sure to grab attention, like the cold of a winter night. Other things are more subtle and require sharpened senses. I hope to be attentive.(Participant: Field Notes from Here and Now, p.29)

Sounds wintry. I am glad I do not have to fight a bear or crawl back to camp in the snow in order to experience some winter adventure.

It’s a Snake Eat Snake World

The timber rattlesnakes were active in the forest this week. I only know this because I walked up on two of them. Neither of them seemed to be concerned about my presence. These are awesome creatures with their large hefty body and colorful pattern. So large it makes the triangular head appear small. As he moves away from me, it appears to be a strain for this small head and narrow neck to pull such a large body behind it. One of them raised its tail that transitions to a darker color before the rattle begins. I followed it until the cover got so thick that I no longer had a clear view of its dangerous head.

But that was not the most impressive creature I encountered. Walking along a well-worn path I noticed a black tail lying out in the open. Thinking it was a black rat snake I carefully moved closer hoping to get a glimpse of its length. As my eyes followed its tail into the weeds I noticed the body became thick rather quickly. At first I thought maybe it had eaten recently and this was a bulge until digestion was completed. However, this snake appeared thick all the way to its head. There was no visible distinction between head and neck which made the head look large.

When it realized it had been discovered it began to move away. I followed and it turned to see what had disturbed its hunting time. Easily six feet long, this thick body was black with a chainlike pattern that was visible when light hit at the proper angle. Its belly and chin appeared to be white. We stared at one another for a while before it raised its head and flicked its tongue. For a moment I thought it was going to speak “Are you alone out here? What are you doing so deep in the jungle?” Oh wait, I am thinking of the Jungle Book.

The field guide suggests that this is Lampropeltis nigra, a combination of Greek and Latin words that roughly translate as “radiant black small shields.” I had never seen an Eastern Black Kingsnake in the wild before. Interestingly, I also read they are immune to the venom of timber rattlesnakes and will eat them when opportunity presents. Maybe that is what he was hunting for. Perhaps I should have shown him where to look. It is a snake eat snake world out there. I wonder if Kipling got ideas for his stories from adventures like these.