Star Gazing

17991487168I believe the soul is the very being of who you are.  It is the essence of your existence.  It is the principal of your presence.  It matters more than anything…and I mean, more than ANYTHING.  More than your job, more than your house, more than your car, more than your marriage, more than your family, even more than your dog.  And, if this is true, and I’m just thinking out loud, but if this is true…why do we waste time on things that do not feed our soul?  Why do we invest in things that distract us from becoming who we are truly meant to be at the very center of our spirit?

Why don’t we create a space in our life, our home, our work, our commute, and our relationships that feeds this soul, this part of us that will move from this world to the next even as our bodies lie rotting in the grave?  Why instead, do we seek to entertain and numb the senses?  Why do we stress about the money and the drive and the work and the bills and the, and the, and the?  Why don’t we look for ways to renew our soul, to feed the very core of our beings?  Why don’t we seek solace?  Why don’t we pursue purpose?  Why don’t we want wisdom?  Why don’t we ask for answers?

As I write this, I am attending a day-long personal Advent retreat.  I am sitting alone in a cloistered room in the upper level of this three-story, turn-of-the-century home studying the Christmas story and the Wise Men who so committedly pursued the star in the sky in order to see a king in a stable.  It was their purpose.  It was their passion.

This amazing home and the time “away” has giving me the opportunity to reflect on the “Stars” in my own life; those things which guide me into the presence of God.  They may be people, events, places, or even experiences.  And to be honest, as I’ve pondered this idea and searched for the guiding light of my life, I’ve realized that, sadly, I have very few.  Or rather, I am aware of very few: I suspect the stars are there but I’m simply unable to see them clearly.  I’m too distracted by the blinding glare of the false illumination in my world.

I am reminded of our trip to Yellowstone Park in 2009.  We were driving from one end of the park to the other and because of the heavy traffic and the great distance, we found ourselves shy of our destination very late at night in a high plateau in the park. There were no cities, no street lights, and no other cars for miles.  We were there, alone, in the darkness.  We stopped the car and turned out all the lights and sat on the hood, looking up into a sky that was unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Without man-made ambient light to limit our vision, we were able to see stars in a way we’d never seen them before.  The clarity and intensity of those heavenly bodies was breath-taking.  They spanned the night sky and left us at a loss for words, in awe of their scope and grandeur.

As I think about the search for stars in my life that leads me, I realize that there is no time in my life when I am not blinded by the ambient distractions a busy world.  Understand, I don’t blame anyone but myself.  I’ve erected the lights.  I’ve cultivated the distractions.  I’ve created the lack of space and time for careful observation and sky gazing.

The sad truth is that I fail to carve out time that is purely committed to this endeavor.  Instead, I fill my hours with television, movies, busy work, worry and games – as many distractions as possible, diversions of every kind.  As a result, I fail to feed by soul, exercise my body, and manage my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

And so, it begs the question:  What would I need to do to renew my soul on a daily basis?  What space do I need to create that will allow me to find peace, discover grace, and feed my soul?  And if you are like me, and I suspect you are, what do you need to do?  What space do you need to create?

Let’s be honest; when is the last time you truly looked at the stars?

I’m a Mountain Man

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Mount Rainier, 2014.

If you were to give me a choice between a vacation on the beach, lounging on surf and sand, or a vacation in the mountains, hiking hill and dale, I would chose the mountains, hands down, without question, every single time.  It’s not that I hate the beach.  I love the ocean, the surf, and the birds.  But there is something about the majestic beauty of the mountains that calls to my soul. Perhaps it is the way they change in shape and form with every angle.  It might be the way they hide in a mist of cloud and fog one moment yet suddenly tower above you in the bright light of day a moment later.

A mountain is visible from hundreds of miles away and appears to be so close you can touch it, but the harder you try to find it, the further away it feels.  And, while climbing a mountain gives me the sensation of a slight heart attack, it also fills my heart with  joy: Flora and fauna surround.  Ice and snow turn into babbling brooks and gurgling streams.  There is no sound but that of the mountain, its inhabitants, and the wind blowing through the pines.  Ah, be still my heart.

Over the years we’ve found ourselves in the mountains all across this great country.  We’ve poked along the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.  We’ve traversed the Rockies, scaling the Flatirons on Green Mountain and cogging our way up to the top of Pike’s Peak.  We’ve lounged in the Adirondacks, lost our breath in the Tetons and celebrated beauty in the Cascades.  Even with these adventures, we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of the possible heights we can explore.

You can keep your theme parks and big cities.  You can have the waves on the beach.  You can forget fancy hotels and high-end boutiques.  I’ll stand on a granite peak every time.  Sure, the air is thin and the climb takes effort; but isn’t that the truth about everything worthwhile?  We have to work to get there and in the end, when we take a moment to look down from the summit, it takes our breath away.

 

The Color of Spring

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPerhaps the most powerful aspect of changing seasons from winter to spring is the burst of color.  Sure, warmer temperatures are nice.  Of course, singing birds add a song to the air.  Yes, growing plants are better than bare branches.  But with spring’s arrival, there is a celebration of color, a parade of pigment, a hoopla of hues.

Reds, blues and greens burst forth where just weeks before there was nothing more than dark browns and grays.

Violet, magenta and yellow expand and blossom with each passing day, replacing a blah background of winter’s sad colorless world.

Of course, with the color comes the work.  However, mowing a few times a week is a small price to pay to have a carpet of green grass return from the dead.  Trimming back expanding branches is no burden when I can spend the evenings lounging in the shade of the Maple’s verdant canopy.  Pulling some weeds in the garden beds is a price well-paid for the beauty of daffodils and tulips that spot the landscape with color.

The rainbow of color never ends in this season I love.  And I am so very grateful.

My Yard, My Sanctuary

2013.05.12 Back YardFor the past few years, we’ve worked extra hard making our yard a place of refuge after a long day.  I honestly believe the hard work is starting to pay off.  It is a huge space that takes more than three hours to mow and results in a four-mile hike when the entire thing is done right, but the amazing results are worth every step.

Our back yard has become our refuge.  It is a place where we unwind on warm spring days, cool summer evenings and blissful fall nights.  When snow falls heavy, the boughs of the pines bend under the weight and birds gather at the feeders placed around its edges.

Our time in the yard isn’t simply a back-porch affair.  We don’t simply sit on the patio and enjoy a quiet dinner together at the table, listening to the gentle fountain trickle melodically.  We might choose to sit around the fire pit in the north-western corner, allowing the glow of the slowly burning embers to take us back to a more primitive time.  Some times we gather at the park bench near the pines and enjoy the view of the garden and our fresh produce, growing in the warm summer sun, a glass of wine in hand.

I have big dreams for the yard.  Many of my hopes and visions may never be realized.  I see a utility shed in one corner with a greenhouse attached.  I envision paths winding through dense growth, bird baths, beautiful flowers, islands of color and texture.  I hope for a space that is perfect for nature and people.

But for now, I’m happy with our sanctuary and the joy it brings all year long.  It is my place of peace.  It is the temple in which I find renewal and calm.  In many respects, it is my church.  There are no crosses or stained glass windows, instead we have crisscrossing branches of the willow and the dappled light dancing on the green grass through young maple leaves.  There are no pipe organs or majestic choirs.  Instead, we enjoy the tinkle and gongs of wind-chimes blown to and fro and a chorus of robins, chickadee and cardinals singing their hymns of praise from tall perches throughout the yard.

This is my church.  I would love it if you could come visit some time.  I think you would enjoy it as much as we do.

Just a Tease

IMG_3593Indiana weather is a funny thing.  This year more than ever.

Whether you want to blame the groundhog or the meteorologist, this year’s weather has been awfully strange and now it is about to take a strange turn.  On a day when the crocus is in full bloom, facing the warm spring sunlight, the forecast in the coming day is for 5 to 9 inches of snow, impassable roads, and treacherous conditions.

Indiana is known for amazingly beautiful spring flowers, blistering summer days,  fantastic fall foliage, and hazardous winter winds…Sometimes all in the same week.

I have a feeling that the next few days will provide the best and the worst of Indiana weather.

 

Rise and Shine!

Robins fill themselves with berries in preparation for Spring.
Robins are unaffected by the time change as they fill themselves with berries in preparation for Spring.

Can I ask a series of questions of you, my faithful readers?

What crazy man thought that Daylight Savings was a good idea?

What does this shift give us?

Does anyone enjoy waking up with one less hour of sleep?

Is there any reason we have to change the clocks at the un-godly hour of two in the morning?

Why can’t we change the clocks at 3:30 on Friday afternoon?

Better yet…Why can’t we just leave them the way they every other day of the year?

Thank you for your indulgence and I look forward to any and all answers.

Art and More

I finally found them!  I’ve been looking for a series of pictures I took 18 months ago but it wasn’t until yesterday that I found them.

My daughter was asked to paint some wooden letters for a child’s room.  When she told me about the project, I thought she would paint on letter blue and another red.  She might add a stenciled daisy to a letter or two.

Several months later, I was shocked to see the end product.  For a small finder’s fee paid to her father, you too can have a brilliant and beautiful wall decoration.  The phone lines are open and operators are standing by to take your orders right now!

Any Time, Spring…Any Time.

Flowers on the beachI was flipping through some old photographs and came upon this shot of some flowers on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.  I took this picture in 2008.

More than thinking about the trip itself, the photograph placed a longing in my heart for the return of spring here in Indiana.

From my desk, I can see a skiff of snow on the front yard.  The winter clouds are moving past in the cold breezes of February.  I long for the warmth of spring sun to melt the snow, soften the earth and give rise to the many flowers planted around our home.  I ache for the sound of robins claiming their territory and the roll of thunder as spring showers nourish the landscape.

But for now, a picture will have to do.  For now, memories will suffice.

A Different View

Some of my best pictures happen when I come at it from a different angle.  Imagine snow on a pine tree, for instance.  From a distance the snow is a white mass that bends the boughs to the ground.  But if I look closer, I see amazing crystals and curled needles; each one unique.

These are some shots from today’s snow fall offering a slightly different view of the world.

Another Gift of Snow

A beautiful layer of snow fell last night, covering the neighborhood with a fresh blanket of white. As the sun rises on the winter white, some will find treacherous travel, children will find a fun day of play, and everyone will find a feast for the eye! Look for more pictures to follow as the sun rises on the neighborhoods.

Getting Back My Groove

There is nothing that energizes me more than a walk in the woods in Autumn.  The sound of the breeze blowing across dried leaves, the brisk morning air, the flight of ducks and geese as they make their way south:  All this and so much more brings joy to my heart and peace to my soul.

Wednesday’s walk is a perfect example.  While at Summit Lake for the second time this week, I spied several loons, an amazing Pileated Woodpecker and more geese than I could count.  I watched the sun rise through blankets of fog and enjoyed my dog as she investigated the woods and waters’ edge.

I came home with stories to tell and pictures to show.  I came home ready to face my day.

I simply love a walk in the woods in the fall.

Frost is on the Pumpkin

It’s official, we’ve moved on from a blazing hot summer into the cold chill of autumn.

The hummingbird feeders are down, washed and put away for another year.

The basil in the garden is burned beyond recognition.

The decorative grasses have started to spread their plumes.

Football is in full swing and the trees are in brilliant color all around the neighborhood.

It is certainly fall.

And, not to spoil the moment, but that means that winter is just around the corner.  So sharpen your snow shovels and get out your mittens.  There are only 66 days remaining til Christmas!

A Cedar Waxwing

Geese prepare for their great migration.

Nature, in all its beauty, is best viewed from your own back yard.

Whenever possible, stop and look to the trees.  Look to the sky.  Find the finch that is singing sweetly from the branches of the nearby maple.  Gaze into the blue and seek the formation of geese, strengthening their wings and building their stamina for the long journey south.

Yes there are yards to be mowed, fences to repair and trim to paint.  Yes, the house needs attention and the work is never done.  But you are missing a true gift if you fail to enjoy the beautiful trill of the Waxwing in the spruce bows every now and then.

Web Weavers

One of the many spiders taking advantage of the early morning sun in our garden.

With the cooler days and the colder nights, the local arachnid population is hard at work spinning and hunting and preparing for their short remaining weeks of life.

Webs stretch between flowers and branches or near porch lights, perfectly located to capture their prey.  Signs of life and death struggles are evident in the torn filaments and mummified remains of the night’s catch.

Soon we will see egg sacks, neatly woven and hidden away from predators, filled with the next generation of garden spiders.

There is nothing more chilling in my garden.  And yet, there is nothing more fascinating among the tomatoes and Brussle sprouts.

Hummer Activity

One of our frequent visitors to the feeders rests on the nearby weeping cherry.

The hummers are getting active and playing well together.  I have three hummingbird feeders in my yard and as the weather turns more nippy and we enter fall, the birds have decided to get as much nectar as possible; building up their strength up for the long southern journey.  They chase one another less often and actually spend time together at the feeders.

I marvel at the survival ability of these little creatures.  They weigh less than nothing and yet, they can live up to 10 years.  Despite flying thousands of miles to the southern hemisphere, they return to their home range with pin-point accuracy each and every spring.  They have amazing flying skills but they also have great memories, fantastic hearing and perfect vision.

They are a back yard marvel and when they leave in the next few weeks, they will truly be missed.