Bark: Birch

IMG_2524.JPGIMG_2417IMG_2425.JPGIMG_2384.JPGThere are certain elements of the forest that stand out more in the winter than they do in the summer—and the bare branches and trunks of the trees are certainly one of them.

So it was not surprising that this graceful stand of birch caught my attention for the first time yesterday, though I’ve been past it many times before without looking twice.  Suddenly I was seeing color where I never had before, now that there were no brilliant greens of summer to distract my eye.  Intrigued, I ventured off the trail into knee-deep snow just to get a closer look.

Every tree was so unique in it’s coloring, it was hard to stop with photographing just one.  Some were purest white, with soft watercolor-like washes of gray and blush pink.  Others were these magnificent sunset shades of vibrant rose and orange, darkening into the richest shades of sepia and burgundy.  And all of them detailed with the characteristic black eyes and white dashes, dramatic splits, curls and ringlets of their kind.

Is there anything quite so lovely as the bark of a birch tree as it splits and curls beautifully back to make room for the new growth beneath?IMG_2419I think this is such a magnificent picture of the transformation Christ works in our lives.  He gently, but steadily, peels back the layers of sin and selfishness wrapped around our hearts, time after time bringing to light something altogether new, each time a little better than the last, as we grow and stretch and become more and more like Him.

There is no hurry, no impatience, no frustration. Instead, it’s a continual, lifelong process, with the patient, persistent precision of a Master Artist in the midst of a masterpiece.  Taking us where we’re at, but always nudging us forward to what He knows we can be, what He intended us to be.

And just like the birch trees, there’s so much beauty in the process.  No, it doesn’t always feel like it.  Sometimes, all we’re really aware of in the moment is the pain of the breaking and splitting and peeling back of the old self we cling to.  Sometimes it may not be until we look back that we realize how we have been changed for the better.  But it is always  beautiful, if only to those looking on, because we are continually becoming more like Christ.

“…to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”  (Ephesians 4:22-24)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Gone Away is the Bluebird

bluebird feather / rejoicing hillsAll summer long, as I watched my sociable little swallows raise their family, there was another family of birds, much shyer, quietly doing the same in another nest hidden away somewhere in the trees around our yard.  Nearly every day, I’d glimpse a flash of brilliant blue as they were busy caring for their brood—and eventually we’d see the whole family out learning how to fly.

They never let me get close enough for a picture, much as I would have liked one, and now they’re all gone, headed for the south to flee the coming snow.  But while I was out taking photos of the sunset the other day, I happened to glance down at the ground and was delighted to discover that one of them had left me this shining sapphire of a goodbye gift.

It was like a lovely little promise.  We’ll be back!  I tucked it carefully away to remind myself in the midst of the coming winter that this was true.

“…the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration…” (Jeremiah 8:7)

And so, until next spring, lovely bluebirds!

Cradled in Feathers

baby swallows / rejoicing hillsThis shot of our baby swallows newly-hatched, still so tiny, cradled in downy white feathers has to be my favorite out of all the many photos I’ve taken of them.  It’s not the cutest by any means—those little naked birdies are pretty skinny and ugly at this point.  But I love how those helpless little ones are so lovingly cradled in the softest feathers plucked from their parents’ own bodies.  It so perfectly illustrates this comforting Scripture:

“He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust…  (Psalm 91:4)

In our weakest, most needy and helpless moments, our heavenly Father cares for us with all the tender love and care of a mother bird tending her precious young.  This is perhaps one of the most beautiful pictures of His love for us that I can think of.  Cherish that thought, and tuck it away to remind yourself of on hard days!

Porch Tenants

swallow on nest / rejoicing hillsWe’re happy to be the landlords to a pair of barn swallows this summer.  They’ve tucked their neat little mud nest snug up under the eaves of our porch upon the solid (?!) foundation of a single long nail, and don’t seem to mind our comings and goings below.  In return, we have chosen to overlook the mess they are making in favor of enjoying the sound of them twittering affectionately at each other in the mornings and being buzzed as they swoop through the open flyway around our heads.

Barn swallows often fall on the list of “common birds” for most people (you know, not nearly as exciting as, say, a purple martin or a bluebird)—but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these ordinary little neighbors better this year.  For the first time, I’ve had a chance to observe their unique coloring and markings up close (really quite stylish!) and I maintain that there is no small bird quite so swift and elegant in it’s flight as a swallow.  We’ve (I hope) developed a bit of a bond over our mutual aversion for the red squirrel who lurks around the house—and they’ve even (I think) forgiven me for taking this picture: swallow nest / rejoicing hillsIf you will note from the first picture in this post, they built their nest just far enough away from the roof to allow their slim, stream-lined selves in and out.  They didn’t really take into account the fact that they were taking up residence on the porch of a photographer, and I was a little put out with them about that for awhile.  What’s the fun of having a birds’ nest next to your front door if you can’t even photograph what’s inside?  Then, a friend had a genius idea:  what about using a mirror?  (Thanks, Tami!)  I can’t believe I never thought of that myself! A few gymnastics with a small mirror and a camera on top of a dining room chair later, we got this peek at the five prettiest little freckled eggs you ever saw!

I went looking for a verse about birds to pair with these photos, expecting to settle on some kind of general reference—and was surprised and fascinated to discover that swallows are actually specifically referenced in the Bible.  And not just once, but four times! The following psalm was my favorite, but you can check out these links (Proverbs 26:2, Isaiah 38:14 and Jeremiah 8:7) to read the others!swallow with nest / rejoicing hillsHow lovely are Your dwelling places, O LORD of hosts!  

My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the LORD; My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.  

The bird also has found a house, And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, Even Your altars, O LORD of hosts, My King and my God.  

How blessed are those who dwell in Your house! They are ever praising You. Selah.”  (Psalm 84:1-4)IMG_7318 editStay tuned—hopefully there will be a baby bird sequel soon!