Posts Tagged ‘spring’

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.


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I just heard a chorus frog. They are identifiable because they make a sound that may remind you of the noise you hear when you drag your thumb across the teeth of a comb. They are not the only singers I hear tonight. More often I am hearing wood frogs. Their song may remind you of a quack. Behind me are two barred owls creating a ruckus. But by far the dominant songs tonight are from spring peepers. How can such a loud sound come from such a small creature? It is a miracle that anything else can be heard at all.

I am on South Mountain, strangely named since it is the northernmost mountain of the Blue Ridge Mountain range. It is a cool night, I can see my breath. There is a clear sky, the spring stars have a soundtrack. Or these songs come with a light show. Either way, this is quite a concert.

Last week I was traveling. My route took me through and around the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains get their name because they look blue from a distance due to the isoprene released in the atmosphere by broadleaf trees. (Look at me using the language of organic chemistry). I followed these mountains north. The weather was warm. The windows were down. The radio was on. And I sang loudly. I am sure the mountains could hear me. Sometimes I was Don Henley, sometimes Willie Nelson, sometimes Tom Petty. I was Robert Plant, Dave Grohl, and Charlie Daniels. I am pretty sure I was Taylor Swift a couple of times and at least once I was Debby Harry. That’s right. Call me… Anytime.

The Blue Ridge Mountains begin in Georgia, peak in North Carolina, and travel north into Pennsylvania. And tonight on their northernmost ridge, the mountains sing to me. Perhaps to repay the favor. Perhaps to show me how it is really done. But I am glad to be on the receiving end of this song.

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Already this year we watched the borough bloom with magnolia, pear, and cherry blossoms.  With forsythia and hyacinth and daffodil.  We watched as those gave way to redbud and dogwood and tulips.  As the ground temperature has warmed, lettuce, beets, and onions have started to shoot above ground in the garden out back.  So far, the rabbits have enjoyed them most.

I will continue to keep watch on the garden, however I also have an interest in what lies on the forest floor.  As the ground warms, green undergrowth has started to emerge from underneath the browns.  While walking among the poplars I taste dandelion, spice bush, and wild mountain mint.  But those are not the things I am looking for.  I am stalking morchella, the common morel.

These spring delicacies are not your grocery store mushroom.  Gather a bunch, slice them lengthwise, and refrigerate them in salt water.  Roll them in your favorite batter, sauté them in butter and you will be looking for more.  Give one to someone else and they will do anything you want for another.  Having finished a small batch last night, I am getting a little anxious to find some more.  They taste like spring to me.

Last year I found my first one April seventh.  This year, things have been a little slower due to the cooler weather.  But finding morels is about more than the weather.  The weather may put you there at the right time but it is also important to be in the right place.  So, it is best to start by looking for trees that mushrooms seem to hang out with.  If you find potential territory, stake out a perimeter like a crime scene investigator.  Search it thoroughly.  Look closely.  And when you think you have looked enough – look again.

One Saturday last year I was mushroom hunting.  My sunglasses were on top of my hat when I walked into the woods.  When I got back to the car they were not.  While retracing my steps, I noticed my boot lace had become untied.  When I knelt to tie my boot, there was a morel.  A pretty good reminder that it is always a good idea to have another look.

There are other reasons to pay close attention.  Warmer days may bring out mushrooms, they also bring out the Northern Copperhead.  A pit viper whose coloration happens to match the dominant colors of the forest floor perfectly.  It is not unusual to cross paths with a Timber Rattlesnake.  But, though we are told that they are more abundant than rattlesnakes, I do not see many copperheads up here.  I am willing to bet that they have seen me.  It is true that some activities seem to be safe enough – but one never knows what else lurks in cover.

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It is good time to take fishing gear out and walk along a mountain stream looking for promising pools to cast bait for native brook trout.  The stream does not have large fish.  But they have great color and they are fighters.  One day, I find a large paw print in the soft creek bank.  The size and the five visible toes reveal that it is a bear.  We are told they want to avoid humans, however there have been two reported attacks in the county in the past four years.  Whether they wish to avoid or attack, the fact that they run faster, climb faster, and swim faster than I can keeps me on the lookout.  Not to mention that their claws are sharper and their teeth bigger.  I wonder when it came through and if it saw me.  If so I wonder if it considered taking my fish.

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The Iditarod officially ended on the last day of Winter.  But the winner finished days earlier.  Dallas Seavey, at age 25, is the youngest ever to win “The Last Great Race.”  He and his dogs traveled the distance from Anchorage to Nome in 9 days, 4 hours, 29 minutes, and 26 seconds.  His dog, “Guiness” received special acclaim in her final Iditarod.

Perhaps it was the Iditarod that prompted me to read The Call of the Wild.  This is great writing by the gifted Jack London.  He is described on the inside cover as a seaman, oyster pirate, boxcar hobo, rancher, short story writer, political activist, war correspondent, gold speculator.  His morning routine consisted of writing one thousand words.  From this book we could safely add that he loved wild adventure, the far north, and canines.

It was two weeks ago that I first heard the frogs on South Mountain.  But on the final night of Winter they were deafening.  This army of Spring Peepers is so loud that I am not sure that I would have been able to hear a truck drive into the pond.  Hopefully this is an indicator that mosquitoes (and ticks) are in for a bad summer.

But, the main attractions on this night were the Spotted Salamanders.  There were so many that I had to be careful not to step on them.  Plenty of opportunities for photography but it is still difficult to hold a flashlight in one hand while trying to hold a camera with the other.  Some attempt to run away, others seem to pose for a picture.

It is amazing that these are so abundant yet most people never see one.  They live up to twenty years, grow up to nine inches long, are shiny black with bluish features, and have two rows of yellow spots running the length of their body.  They spend most of their days hidden in moist crevices, but spring calls them to the same pool, by the same route, every year.

Tuesday was the first day of spring – the equinox.  One of only two days in a year where we have equal night and daylight.  I am reminded that members of many species become more alive as the seasons shift.  Even biologist Bernd Heinrich in Summer World is singing along with George Harrison “Here comes the sun – da da da da. – Its all right.”

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There is a stream I like to fish this time of year in hopes of catching native brook trout.  After a recent attempt, I find three wild turkeys scratching the forest floor in search of food.   Soon I hope to be searching the forest floor in search of Morchella Esculenta.  This I will pan fry in butter and eat as a sandwich.  It will be an exciting pursuit and a tasty treat.  This reminds me that I am a predator.  Not alone, one night while interrupting the spring ritual of spring peepers, Keightley and I discovered a carnivorous beetle eating one of the small frogs.

Closer to home, rabbits have been eating the lettuce.  These are all signs that spring is here.  We have flowers blooming all around.  As amazing as some of these signs of spring are, we overlook their significance.  Blue Mountain is still brown.  But, as every year, it shows signs of turning green.  Almost overnight, forsythia and daffodils turn to gold.

We read Luke’s Gospel and notice that at chapter nine Jesus turns toward Jerusalem and does not look back.  He is resolute.  Ben Witherington says that He “has set his face like a flint to go up to Jerusalem.”  He is on the way to the cross.  Along the way, he makes some serious demands.  Luke reminds us that discipleship is not easy.

He who turns back is not worthy?  Take up your cross daily?  Give everything to the poor?  Luke does not leave room for half-hearted discipleship.  He is taking us to Jerusalem where events will take place that will change the world.

One day, from the car, we spot a rainbow.  I wonder if we would have followed it to its end if we would have discovered a pot of forsythia, or a daffodil garden.  But, we are reminded of things of greater value.  Instead of rainbows, we are called to follow Jesus.  Our eyes are not fixed on a pot of gold, but on a cross.

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I was outside turning the compost when spring arrived.  Apparently I am not paying close enough attention because if I was not told it was to occur at 7:21 pm, I would not have even noticed.  Bernd Heinrich says that “Most of us are like sleepwalkers here, because we notice so little.”  Heinrich is right.  We are not nearly as attentive as we ought to be.

I look up into the sky and see the early stages of night.  I wonder what might be headed our way – a potentially hazardous asteroid?

As the weather warms, I have been spending more time in the compost.  This time of year it starts as dead leaves, pine needles and kitchen scraps.  Turning the pile permits air to enter and allows the pile to breathe.  Turning it into the garden helps to hold moisture, fight disease and feed plants that will feed us in not too many months.

Eugene Peterson has written a helpful book Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.  Peterson has carved a niche for further work in pastoral practice and spiritual theology.  It is likely that his name will be mentioned and his words quoted for centuries.  One of the tools in his arsenal is a “contemplative exegesis.”  A reading of scripture that does not ignore the strengths of critical methods, yet utilizes strengths of poets, pastors, and storytellers.

In Christ Plays he reads the Gospel of John through this contemplative lens as a grounding text for “playing in creation.”  Peterson suggests that John presents Jesus at play in the Genesis creation.  That John is Genesis 1-2 re-told in specific, recognizable geography and history.  That Jesus is both the creator at work among us and also the creation of which we are a part.

In John, we become insiders into creation as Jesus continues to speak creation into existence.  John presents signs in a way to show that Jesus continues to work in the stuff of creation.  Everything Jesus does, he does with his hands deep into creation.  In Christ Plays, he proposes creation as a playground for divine activity.  Peterson insists that there should be no sleeping on the playground.

Karissa has completed study at Baltimore School of Massage.  Because of that, anatomy has been a topic of conversation at our house.  Anatomy is not a subject that John writes about.  John is not aware that we are born with 270 bones and wind up with 206 as an adult.  John does not know that we have over 600 named muscles, each of them working efficiently with tendons and ligaments to aid our movement. 

However, John does take us into places where the sick, blind, lame, and withered lay.  One of those is a man sick for 38 years.  John does not even find it necessary to tell us what his ailment might be; he just lets us know that at the word of Jesus, he begins to carry his bed.  John introduces us to a man who was born blind.  He reports that “since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.”  John wants us to know that Jesus applies clay to the man’s eyes and this man begins to see. 

As amazing and against the odds as these incidents are, John later brings us to a funeral for Jesus’ friend Lazarus.  Where Lazarus has been dead for four days.  Where we know that usually when the respiratory system shuts down for four days, one remains dead.  Yet, Jesus says “come forth” and Lazarus comes walking out from the tomb.

It is safe to say that in John we do not learn anything about anatomy.  Yet, we do learn that even subjects that appear to adhere to rigid rules are under the rule of God.  Even rules of nature, including anatomy, are subject to God.  Odds go out the window.  The improbable, even the impossible, have to be seen differently.  Perhaps that is John’s intention – that we see everything differently.

We take things for granted.  We get into a rut.  Things are here, they are real, but we do not notice.  Compost is breaking up the ground; asteroids shoot through the sky.  Who knows what breaks up and shoots through the soul?

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