Somewhere Between Jacks and Shade Mountain

Somewhere in between Jacks Mountain and Shade Mountain there is a plot of mesic-hydric forest. At this time of year, it tends to be crunchy underfoot. A recent snowfall reveals a fox has visited here. We are told more snow and ice and wind and sub-zero temps are on the way. It is a good time to hang a trail camera and fill the bird feeders.

The feeders have been pulling in a regular congregation of black-eyed juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice. Also, downy and red bellied woodpeckers. Trail cameras have recently spotted a red fox and a nice buck. One picture captured six deer in one shot.

Whether the projected storm comes or not, I project a full moon to occur just after midnight Sunday. Our first (and only) lunar eclipse of the year. I am aware that some prefer to call these “blood moons.” Whatever you like to call it, the moon’s proximity to earth makes it a “Super Moon.” Added to that, the traditional name give to January’s moon is the “Wolf Moon.” That makes this event a “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” That might make anyone want to howl. Even if some of us choose not to howl, I’ve heard that some are planning “glow in the dark pajama parties.” (I think I’d rather howl).

Yep, somewhere between Jacks Mountain and Shade Mountain (and wherever you might be) there will be a “Super Blood Wolf Moon.” I wonder how that will affect the local wildlife? Whatever they do – I hope they do it in front of the trail camera.

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.”

A Cold Weather Story

It was cold last week.  Meteorologists credit it to a “polar vortex.”  While we have survived that, we still have “vortex” for use in our immediate vocabulary to express “inexorable downwardness.”  Garrison Keillor suggested that on account of the cold we all now have stories to tell.  It was so cold that the governor of Minnesota issued a proclamation to close schools across the state.  This led Keillor to ask, “Where was the governor when we were kids?”

In an editorial, he wrote the following, “why was no mercy shown to us during the bitter winter of 1951, when we were sent out into the arctic darkness, wearing layers of heavy woolens – no lightweight thermal clothing back then, a child kept warm by the sheer exertion of carrying the clothes on his back, a little 85-pound Sherpa bearing 30 pounds of fabric, the wind whistling down from Manitoba, no windbreak except barbed-wire fences, enormous snowdrifts across the gravel road?

Finally a sleigh appeared, since the bus could not get through, pulled by a team of swaybacked horses driven by Crazy Eric with frozen mucous on his moustache and a bottle of hooch under his seat, and we dived under the buffalo robe as he drove over the wind-crusted snow and down a rocky bank onto the ice of the Mississippi and headed for town, hoping to elude the O’Kasick gang that roamed the area in inclement weather seeking whom they could kidnap.”

Your story may not be quite that extravagant.  Still, you may have added blankets to your bed in order to sleep at night or wore multiple layers to keep you somewhat warm during the day.  (Keillor says that even fashionable skinny people looked like refugees). You may have cursed your numb fingers as you scraped ice from your windows or been inconvenienced by frozen water pipes. You may have lost power in your home or struggled to get your car to start. You may wish you had not scoffed when Aunt Millie asked you if you would like a scarf and mittens for Christmas.  You may have been glued to the weather channel to see  how long this was going to last.  Whatever your story, consider yourself fortunate that you weren’t crossing the frozen Mississippi while attempting to escape the O’Kasick gang with Crazy Eric at the reins.

The Susquehanna and the Spirit

One morning I am at Fort Hunter, looking out toward the Susquehanna River.  The Susquehanna is the longest non-navigable river in North America.  It drains 27,500 square miles of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  Approximately 448 miles separate it from start to finish.  It provides half the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay.  On an average day, the Susquehanna delivers 25 billion gallons of water to the Atlantic, enough to supply every household in the United States.

The governor lives alongside the river.  I wonder if he takes advantage of his front row seat to watch it flow by.  Sometimes when I look at the river, I think of Huck Finn.  Huck may not have ridden the Susquehanna, but did remind us that a river can be an adventure.  When in high school, my friend Tim and I built a raft from wooden pallets, plastic piping and barrels.  We sailed that thing in a regatta from Owego to Nichols.  For most of 11.1 miles, we floated in the current.  Sometimes, we were forced to carry it through shallow waters.   We were exhausted by our effort, burned by the sun, and we smelled like the river.  I would like to do that again.  Tim, what are you up to these days?

Captain John Smith also rode the Susquehanna.  His explorations in 1608 may make him the first prospector on the river.  Later, the Susquehanna was visited by another traveler by the name of David Brainerd.  His diary records that “he traveled about a hundred miles on the river” and “visited many towns and settlements of the Indians.”  Brainerd was not interested in exploring, he was a Gospel preacher, interested in converting the Indians.  It appears that he followed the banks of the river, in reality he followed the leading of the Spirit.

Upriver, near Wilkes Barre, PA, I am told that beneath the river lies a “buried valley.”  A channel a mile wide and perhaps 300 feet below the floor of the valley.  It is a reminder that reality goes beyond what is visible.  There is more than the eye can see.  There is always more than the eye can see.

Just north of Fort Hunter, the river cuts through five mountain ridges.  Instead of avoiding them, the Susquehanna attacks them head on to win its way toward the Chesapeake.  Geologists are puzzled by the direction of the river.  I am reminded of what David Hansen says about a river “always moving forward, always cutting new banks, providing constant nourishment for the valley.”  He says this reminds him of the Holy Spirit.

Susan Q. Stranahan writes in Susquehanna, River of Dreams of a number of ways that people have attempted to manipulate the river for their own purposes.  I am reminded of Simon who thought he could purchase the Spirit’s power and use it for his own profit.  Just as the river can be misunderstood and polluted, I am reminded that the Spirit can be quenched.

As the Spirit, the river does not give in to manipulative effort.  Wendell Berry reminds us that the river can benefit us, but we are not its master.  Every time we think we have it under control, it reminds us of this fact.

We don’t have to look far to be reminded of this.  In September 2011, Hurricane Irene was followed by Tropical Storm Lee and the Susquehanna rose significantly above flood stage.  In Harrisburg, approximately 10,000 were evacuated (including the governor).  Upriver, 75,000 were forced to evacuate the Wilkes Barre area.  Further upriver, where Tim and I launched our homemade raft, the Village of Owego was ninety-five percent underwater.  It is a clear reminder, we do not control this river.

My mind wanders a bit.  I want to find a front row seat and watch for life along the shore.  I want to wait to discover the next thing that floats by.  I want to climb the high banks of the river in order to look upstream to see where it comes from.  And downstream to see where it is going.  I want to walk the water’s edge and discover something new.  I want to wade with egrets and splash with fish.  I want to cast in my line.  I want to get caught in its current and flow wherever it leads.  With David Brainerd, I see the water but desire to follow the Spirit.

Weather and Other Activity

Groundhog Day has again come and gone.  I find myself liking the idea that we celebrate such a non conventional method of weather prediction.  Like the Woolly Bear Caterpillar predicting the severity of winter, I like the idea that we actually set aside a day on our calendar to wait for words from a large rodent.  If he would have included another snow or two in the forecast, I would like that.  Another chance to pull on long johns (wait, we call that base layer now) and strap on snow shoes and hike parts of one of the local mountains.

Without the need for snow shoes or base layer I find myself on Blue Mountain visiting a cold spring that is piped to allow you to get water as you wish.  It is much better than the tap water disguised as spring water that we find in the local grocery.

I like watching the sunrise.  Yesterday morning I watched pinks, oranges, and blues mix on the horizon while eating oatmeal with pecans and berries.  I like cold clear nights when you can watch your breath against the sky.  From the back yard last night I was witness to my breath rolling past the waxing Snow Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and other bright lights of the February sky.

Frederick Buechner says that “God does not sign his sunsets the way Turner did, nor does he arrange the stars to spell out messages of comfort.”  Buechner may be right but I still find myself looking.

This time of year, in between Christmas and Easter, many of us find ourselves reading about Jesus.  Some of his words that have always stuck with me have been the following words about the weather.  “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out.  And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘it will be a hot day’ and it turns out that way.”  I can’t help but think that Jesus seems to be suggesting that some things are obvious, including the weather.

I used to think that the weather was something you talked about when you had nothing else to say.  For some reason now, I enjoy talking about things related to the weather.  Perhaps it is because Jesus found it worth talking about.  Annie Dillard would agree, “There are seven or eight categories of phenomena worth talking about, and one of them is the weather.”

But we can be certain that Jesus wasn’t just talking about the weather.  He does want us to know that the weather is not the only thing that is obvious. “You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time?”  Jesus wants us to recognize the activity of God.

Talking About the Weather

One Monday last month I sat outside in the sun at a Venezuelan Restaurant on Second Street in downtown Harrisburg.  It was good eating.  They specialize in arepas, a spongy Venezuelan corn bun.  I hope to eat there again sometime.

Another day I sat on a couch and felt the earth move.  The epicenter for the earthquake was somewhere in Virginia and was felt north into New England.  It registered a magnitude of 5.9 and cracked the Washington Monument.  That same week we felt the peripheral effects of Hurricane Irene.  Electricity went out for over 100,000 local residents and a local guy died from a felled tree.  Granted, thirty seconds of tremor and rains, wind, and loss of electricity may not appear threatening.  But an earthquake and a hurricane in the same week should remind us that we are not in control of as much as we think we are.

On Labor Day it started to rain again.  Tropical storm Lee cancelled soccer, evacuated buildings, closed highways, flooded basements, and took two bison from the Hershey Zoo.  Downtown Harrisburg is closed.  The electric downtown has been shut off, there is a boil emergency before using water, and there is a curfew in place.  No one will be eating arepas on Second Street today.

Most of us find ourselves thinking that we are on firm footing.  Yet this short review of recent weather activity may suggest otherwise.  Things may not be as stable or as permanent as we might expect.

Ground shaking, wind blowing, rivers rising; these are things we have no control over.  Fractured national monuments, loss of electricity, compromised drinking water; these are not things we expect to occur.

At times, we may convince ourselves that these are simply inconvenient.  We have grown accustomed to flipping a switch for light, drinking water straight from the tap, and eating at our restaurant of choice when we please.  But, in wiser moments, these things may remind us that we have less control over things than we think.  That things we may take for granted are not necessarily permanent.

The ground shaking below us, winds swirling above us, and waters rising around us.  We are reminded that we are fortunate for what we do have and to trust in the One who keeps us.