We gathered around a table where Mrs. Straub showed us what she’d brought in this time. She gave each of us a branch to hold and observe with our eyes and hands. While they didn’t taste as good as the pomegranate seeds she brought in, the softness of the pussy willow is embedded in my memory. Though I know they can grow in other parts of the United States, I don’t recall seeing them in Missouri where my family moved after Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
And so, as I run past them in my new home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, a pang of joy wells up in my eyes. I was blessed by a first-grade teacher who understood the importance of hands-on science learning. When we weren’t able to get out of the classroom, she brought nature to us in the form of pomegranates and pussy willows.
This morning I paused on my run to peer at the pussy willows clustered in the wetlands. I made another scientific observation: rain beads up on pussy willows as it does on my rain jacket. Thank you, Mrs. Straub for helping me to appreciate our world.
We’ve just moved to a new city where I will assume a new pastorate in a few days. Until this transition, my wife and I worked 165-miles apart. We will be living together full-time for the first time in four years. Unpacking and consolidating I’ve discovered that when you live in two homes, have a home office and a work office, AND keep the car well-stocked, you can end up with multiples. Multiple multiples might be more accurate.
We also had multiple toasters. We have multiple bags of dog food not to mention the hand lotion here, there, and everywhere. We even have an extra robe now because she kept an extra in my parsonage. None of this is to complain. It’s been fun counting the number of like items we’ve found we had. The joy of being together in one home outweighs any minor difficulties of merging households.
Candid shots are my preference but the things that move on the trail do not always want their photos taken. So today, I tried to gently coax this beetle to pose for its portrait on all legs. Instead, it rolled on its back. Then it stood on its head. Repeatedly, it stood on its head. I suggested one last time, “You’re portrait will be engaging if you stand on your legs!” My friend stood on its head once again.
I interpreted this to mean it was striking a pose.
I tend to favor less developed parks. Trails that are narrowier, more treacherous, and less groomed challenge my physiology and spirit. Rocks or moss (sometimes both) are my preferred benches. The Oregon Parks Department, however, has a knack for placing benches within oil paintings.
Sometimes, I find myself along a well-groomed, safer trail. When I come across a bench in the divine art gallery, I sit upon that bench. As I admire the painting before me I soon realize the divine artist has also been busy to my left, my right, and behind me.
Tuning in to the chatter of squirrels, the rushing water, and the breath that tousles branches stretching to the sky, I notice my own brushstrokes. I am part of this divinely created masterpiece!
Like the splendor of the falls, the mud in my boots, and the early budding trees, my allure and beauty are created in the artist’s own image.
Awhile back, I was inspired by the abundant life still present in the parched late summer at the Tom McCall Preserve near Rowena, Oregon. The dry conditions were not unusual that year. I confess the sound of the hot wind blowing through the dry grass and crinkling leaves brings me peace when I hike there in the summer months.
Instead of the Columbia River Gorge’s hot breath, I experienced its bitter winds on my early February hike. There was no crunching to be heard, only the sloshing sound of my (thankfully!) waterproof hiking boots on the muddy and floody trail. There was subtle beauty in the winter moisture just as there was in late summer.
Last fall, much of this area was under a drought emergency. Mt. Hood was rapidly losing its snowcap. Areas I hiked in July had the same lack of snow that is typical of late September. This winter we’ve been blessed by moisture falling as rain at the lower elevations and snow in the mountains.
Certainly we need to be concerned about climate change; we should be taking more drastic actions than we have been taking. Nonetheless, spiritually we need to remember that the very nature of existence is change. What is now, will not last forever. Droughts become an abundant winter of snow and rain.
Writes Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, “Impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality.” I confess that I’ve recently been in a funk. I’ve been struggling with the wilderness, the “no-man’s-land” as Chödrön refers to it, on and off for some time.
The result of course is I’ve been out of harmony with reality. By allowing myself to resist and struggle against the impermenance, failing to be in the present, I allow myself to be out of sync with the joy, the contentment — the divinity — within myself and others. So, I confess my sin and pledge to continue the wandering, the learning to be.
Below are photos of the moisture from my recent trek through McCall Preserve. The image that looks like a small stream? That’s the trail.