Farewell to shadows of bluebells on white chicken coop walls…Farewell to pleasant afternoons hanging laundry on the line in the company of friendly toads…Farewell to grasshoppers, and white trumpet vines, and all other such elegant pairings…Farewell to barefoot days at the edge of the lake……Farewell to the haunting serenade of loons… Farewell to daisy bouquets made by small hands, and smoky sunsets, gifts from forests burning far away…Farewell to cumulonimbus, those splendid, tall ships sailing by in the sea of the sky…Farewell to restless, flitting warblers in green, green meadows…Farewell to lush gardens decked in the thousand diamonds of sudden morning showers…Farewell to the brief, warm nights, sparkling with celestial beauty and fireflies, humming with mosquitoes…Farewell to all the sun-ripened berries hiding under the leaves…Farewell to picturesque encounters on whimsical summer evening drives…Farewell to all the babies, now raised and grown…Farewell to dancing swallowtails in ballrooms of flowers…Farewell, sweet summer; welcome, glorious autumn!
We paused on our evening walk by a stand of sturdy broad-leafed plants, with their rounded flower heads bursting demurely into dusty pink. It’s a habit formed in kindergarten for both of us, this annual foray into a milkweed patch. After years of monarch caterpillar awareness, we “knew” that it was just that time of summer that there should be some caterpillars in that milkweed, somewhere. And we needed to say hello, show them to our girls, maybe remind them that there’s a nice little flower garden full of butterfly-friendly flowers in front of our house that they’re welcome to visit when they’re grown up.
But where were they?It was a delightful little game of hide-and-seek, peering under leaves, along stems—and it was a credit to surprisingly clever camouflage that we had almost given up when we finally spotted one. But then it was like our eyes adjusted and we suddenly saw them everywhere! Some tiny, some large, dressed in yellow, black and white stripes, far too busy eating to notice they’d been discovered by friendly nature enthusiasts. Did you know that a Monarch caterpillar is capable of eating an entire milkweed leaf in less than five minutes? Pretty amazing mouth-work for such a tiny creature!A few weeks later, walking past the same stand of milkweed, I witnessed a delicate orange and black butterfly flitting from flower to flower, graciously sipping nectar, and I found myself marveling anew at the beauty of God’s design for sustainability in creation.
The plant gives of itself so the caterpillar may eat. The caterpillar, nurtured exclusively by milkweed, becomes a butterfly. The butterfly, fresh out of its gold-flecked chrysalis pauses to pollinate the flowers of its benefactor, therefore ensuring that it will bear seed to produce…
for more caterpillars,
for more butterflies,
for more seed next year.
And while we’re marveling over Monarch butterflies, let’s not forget how those gorgeously designed wings covered in tiny delicate scales will carry this creature 2,500 miles to Mexico come fall, to spend a warm winter on the exact same few trees its ancestors have spent winters on for ages before, and then all the way back again in the spring to lay the eggs that will become that next generation of caterpillars—because there isn’t any milkweed in Mexico!
There’s so much to marvel at in just this one amazing life cycle in nature! Truly:
“…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
…my camera gave to me,
Eleven butterflies a-sipping.
A tiny parable for you:
“Come with me!” called one butterfly to another as she floated past on the soft breezes of a bright June day.
“Where to?” the other asked from her perch on a clover bud, “Why should I leave this perfectly good flower?”
“Because I want to take you to the most wonderful flowers I’ve ever had the pleasure of landing on,” she replied joyfully. “They’re like big round tables spread with the finest lace tablecloth, with room for the largest of nectar-sipping parties. The nectar served is the sweetest for miles—and it’s free for the taking!”
She believed her friend, and followed, and having reached the patch of cow parsnip and finding everything just a wonderful as she had been told, never once regretted the clover bud left behind.
And, so it is for us, when we take God at His Word, and forsake what does not satisfy for that which eternally does.
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live…” (Isaiah 55:1-3)
“Jesus…cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink...” (John 7:37-38)
“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
…my searching brought to me,
A droplet on a lady slipper.
An alternate caption might read: “You know it’s really summer when…”Go take pictures of ladyslippers” makes the Top 3 on your to-do list for the day.”
As we all know, summer in Minnesota is furiously fast and fleeting. Every year I vow to slow down and savor it better; every year, I promise you, it’s shorter. But the faster it seems to go, the more determined I am to enjoy it, and so in that spirit, I’d like to announce the first in a series of a summery, illustrated version of “The 12 Days of Christmas”! Stay tuned!
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
This is oxalis triangularis, otherwise known as purple shamrock. It sits in my south window in the perfect spot to catch the full sun, positioned right where I can enjoy it whenever I’m sitting in my favorite chair nursing the wee babe, or less frequently, as I am this week, convalescing from illness. I especially love the way the sunlight glows through the translucent lavender petals and maroon leaves, and the way those tri-lobed leaves go to bed every night when the sun goes down, folding up neatly into little origami points.
It’s my very favorite houseplant—but nice as all these things are, it might surprise you to know that it’s really an entirely different quality than these that elevated it to the top of the list.
What this photo doesn’t tell you is that last week, this favorite plant of mine had an accident. We won’t name any names, but lets just say that having houseplants in the same house as toddlers is a rather optimistic idea. Also, this is why I don’t (or shouldn’t) ever buy expensive flower pots. Furthermore, it’s the third accident it’s had of this sort, not to mention multiple other instances of small hands plucking off way too many leaves and stems, because apparently I’m not the only one who thinks it’s pretty.
It’s not what I would call a sturdy plant by looking at it. The leaves are tender and the stems easily broken, and every accident has literally crushed it. Every time I’ve tucked it into a new pot when the former has been broken, or given it an extra drink after an inopportune childish pruning, I’ve thought that surely this was it. Surely, the oxalis was going to succumb to adversity this time around. I’ve had other houseplants that have given up the ghost under far less trying circumstances.
And, for a few days, it generally supports my fear. All the remaining foliage dies. By all appearances, it is time to dump the pot and move on with life. But, always, just when I’ve given up on it, the coil of a tiny translucent shoot appears, tipped in the deep purple of the tiniest of exquisite new leaves—and the oxalis lives on yet again.
This seemed quite miraculous to me until I learned that the key to the strength of the oxalis is not in it’s stems, leaves or flowers, or even it’s roots. It’s strength is actually in tiny tuberous bulbs, which are the true, hidden heart of the plant.
This then is the quality that has elevated this little houseplant to the top of my list of favorites. A gorgeous little plant that obligingly flowers year round and can bounce back after any manner of toddler encounters? This may very well be perfection in a pot.
There are quite a few lessons here, but perhaps the most important is that a person’s ability to handle hard times with resilience stems directly from where they are drawing their strength in all of the other times. And the people who I have watched face trying times, who get back up time after time, with wounded souls shining strong, beautiful and tender yet again, always have one thing in common: their day-to-day lives have been centered in Christ. There’s a difference, you see, between rising from adversity with a shell of hardened bitterness or cynicism, and that of rising from adversity with a renewed growth in faith, gentleness and hope. Only a heart deeply rooted in Jesus can do that.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” (Isaiah 40:29)
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)
“My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:2)
To view a fun time lapse video of oxalis leaves “going to sleep”, go here.
Lately there’s been a lot of extra activity around my flower pots and garden. Maybe it’s because they all know that cold weather is right around the corner, and aren’t lulled into complacency by the recent heat wave like the rest of us. At any rate, the hummingbirds, butterflies and bees have been busier among my flowers than they’ve been all summer. In fact, they’ve been so absorbed in the accumulation of nectar and pollen that they’ve hardly seemed to mind when I came by with my camera.
Is this what it’s like to hunger and thirst, as the Scripture says, after God and His righteousness? “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?“ (Psalm 42:2)
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.“ (Matthew 5:6)
“For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.“ (Psalm 107:9)
“O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)
I want to be like these little creatures.
Not lulled into complacency by the fleeting comforts that surround me. Not distracted by those who stand at the sidelines looking on. Free of the fear of what others may think. So utterly consumed with the desire to know God and His righteousness, that all else fades away in my pursuit to know and be filled.To drink to the fill and be completely satisfied, as He promises.
How about you?
We chose a destination on the map, a place with a name hard to wrap our tongues around, that neither of us had ever been to before. We took an entire day and took our sweet, winding, whimsical time and way to get there. We found places we’d spotted on maps and in brochures. We found things that no map or brochure can point you to, small and not-so-small details that delighted and surprised us. It was the perfect juxtaposition of the expected and the unexpected, a true adventure. And so, as the grand finale to this little series of vacation photographs, come have a little glimpse of the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula with us.We took the roads labeled “scenic” and “shoreline” as much as possible, for obvious reasons. It’s the same great lake whose waves we’ve seen pounding the shore of our own home state, but it was no less breathtaking here!We peeked hopefully beneath the leaves of these thimbleberry bushes, and were mocked with loads of not-quite-ripe berries. So we bought thimbleberry jam instead at……a fairy-tale bakery that smelled of gingerbread, surrounded by magnificent fragrant rose bushes. I never thought I’d meet a bakery that smelled as good outside as it did inside, but I was wrong. The fact that the delicious muffins we also secured here were baked by kind bearded monks in long black robes only added to its charm.We climbed a red wrought iron staircase, which wound tightly to the top of……a perfectly picturesque lighthouse with a shiny red tin roof. We picked wildflowers, ate the most delicious fresh lake trout right in view of the great lake it was caught in. and explored a historic fort. And then, as a fitting finale to the day, we drove right to the top of Brockway Mountain to see for miles in every direction, and join other happy people who were also taking time out of their busy schedules to watch the sun as it slipped like a giant copper penny into the lake spread out below us. And then that magnificent sunset chased us all the way down the long road home. The tired little people nodded off to sleep in the back seat, cheeks rosy with sunshine and sticky from after-dinner mints, and the great dark dusk engulfed the rugged shape of the peninsula as it rose to meet the twilight sky behind us, as the music played, softly and fittingly:
“Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer:
God bless America, land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above…” (Irving Berlin)