A is for Acorn

IMG_1583I’ve been a bit missing in action for the last month or two, and for those of you who haven’t guessed, it’s all due to a bit of a recent career shift.  From here on out, if my posts start to sounding to you like those of a kindergarten teacher, you will be correct.  It’s an exciting new chapter for us, but a busy one, with lots of adjustments to new schedules and more time spent researching literature and art projects for unit studies than composing blog posts.  I hope to get back to posting more often eventually, but we’ll see!

Of course, I’ve always been my child’s teacher; that comes with the territory of parenting, as it does for every mother.  Who else will teach her how tie her shoes or to look both ways before crossing the road?  But choosing to be the one who also teaches her I-before-E-except-after-C (except for in a few odd cases, as I’ve been reminded!) and why mushrooms grow on trees, to take the full weight of responsibility for what the world calls her formal education, is another realm altogether.IMG_1491IMG_1464.JPGIt makes sense: who else in the whole world cares more about her success than I do?

It’s exciting: learning is an adventure I’ve always loved, and I can hardly wait to take her along to all manner of new and thrilling places.

It’s serious business: it will be my fault if some vital branch of learning isn’t covered.

That’s why my husband and I agreed that a few days retreat was in order for the teacher before this all officially commenced.  A working retreat, in which to lay out lesson plans and familiarize myself with workbooks, yes, but also to recharge myself for the important task ahead.

And the first thing I did along that order?  Take a hike.IMG_1527IMG_1449I sensed, going into the retreat, that my ideas were good but jumbled.  If you know anything about the world of home education, you know that the amount of resources available are both incredible and rather overwhelming.  I needed some vision to narrow my focus down from all those fabulous options to what would work best for us—and I always think most clearly while walking.  And if the walk winds through sun-dappled woodlands around the edge of a sparkling blue lake?  If there’s not a sound to be heard but the crunching of leaves beneath your feet and the wind in the oak tree tops?  All the better.

I took a book along, and on a short break, sitting in the warm grass with my back against a sturdy oak, I read these inspiring lines:

“Little by little,” an acorn said,
As it slowly sank in its mossy bed,
“I am improving every day,
Hidden deep in the earth away.”IMG_1469Little by little, each day it grew;
Little by little, it sipped the dew;
Downward it sent out a thread-like root;
Up in the air sprung a tiny shoot.

Day after day, and year after year,
Little by little the leaves appear;
And the slender branches spread far and wide,
Till the mighty oak is the forest’s pride.

IMG_1457IMG_1506IMG_1517“Little by little,” said a thoughtful boy,
“Moment by moment, I’ll well employ,
Learning a little every day,
And not spending all my time in play.
And still this rule in my mind shall dwell,
Whatever I do, I will do it well.IMG_1542“Little by little, I’ll learn to know
The treasured wisdom of long ago;
And one of these days, perhaps, we’ll see
That the world will be the better for me”;
And do you not think that this simple plan
Made him a wise and useful man?”—Author Unknown

The acorns rolled under my feet as I hiked on, and the seed of vision had been planted that I was looking for.  Jumbled ideas melded into a plan in my head, and far-sighted goals broke down into the steps A, B and C that would get us there.

It was in honor of the role this poem played in my lesson planning process, that “A is for Acorn” was chosen as the topic of study for our very first week of school.  For my students, it would look like nature hikes to identify oak trees, and making leaf rubbings, and listening to delightful stories about squirrels who love acorns.  We would find out what acorns tasted like and learn about famous oaks of long ago.

But for I, the teacher, it would be an inspiring reminder that the great task I was beginning would be accomplished just like that of a humble acorn becoming a mighty tree: little by little.  Letter by letter, number by number, line by line, book by book, concept building on concept, my young students would put down foundational roots, reach for the sky, and grow strong and mighty into a wealth of skill, wisdom and knowledge.  And for what?  The goal of the poem seems quite adequate to me, that the world will be a better place for having them in it.IMG_1499“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

 

Did you know?

…that multiple people groups consider acorns a delicacy (Korean, Greek, Native American)?

…that acorns have frequently been used as a substitute for coffee?

…that the name of the nut is derived from the Gothic word akran, which means “fruit of the unenclosed land”?

…that one of the greatest visionary statements of the Old Testament was made beneath an oak tree?  Read about it in Joshua 24.

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!” (Joshua 24:15)

 

What Does the Eagle Say?

IMG_7509.JPGWith the warming of the air, the signs of spring begin.  The return of this old friend to his favorite post in the old oak tree overlooking the lake is officially the first.  I heard him one afternoon, reinstating his dominance over favorite hunting grounds for all the world to hear.  He peered at me with his sharp yellow eye through the branches, skeptical of my attempts to find an angle that didn’t make it look like he was holding a stick in his beak (as you can see I was unsuccessful, so let’s just pretend he was grabbing it to add to his nest).

And then, peering up at his grand figure in the branches up there against the blue, I thought of how to describe the call I heard, and came up short.  How, exactly, do you describe the call of an eagle?  I thought someone more learned in the field of ornithology (the study of birds) than me would have a good answer—but I must say that I was disappointed.

My sources basically couldn’t agree on how to categorize the call of a bald eagle, other than that it was too musical to be called a screech, but not musical enough to be called a song.  Some call it a combination of high pitched “whistling” and “piping” (Irish penny whistle, anyone?).  Some call it “chattering”, as though it were a squirrel.  Still others liken it to “chirping”, oddly bringing the largest bird of prey down to the level of a songbird at the bird feeder.  Others go so low as to call it “squeaking”, as though it were a mouse, or, worst yet, “squealing”, which brings to mind a very unhappy pig.  I thought of “trilling”, but even that conjures more images of tree frogs and raccoons in my mind than those of soaring eagles.  “Twittering”, perhaps?  But somehow that just reminds me of a cross old owl scowling at a lot of happily love-sick songbirds in “Bambi”, not a bird who bears the weight of being a national symbol on his shoulders.  Come on, now!  Is it too much to ask for a word that accurately describes the sound, but still manages to embody the dignity of such a majestic bird?

(To be clear, this is the call I’m talking about, not the peal call of alarm which really is more like screeching.)

So, based on that sound recording, how would you vote to finish this sentence?  The eagle __________. (Whistled, piped, chattered, chirped, squeaked, squealed, trilled, twittered, or you fill in the blank with something I haven’t thought of.)  Chickens cluck, geese honk, crows caw, swans trumpet, owls hoot—but what do eagles do?  Do you think it can be boiled down to a single descriptive word—or not?

I’m somewhat tempted to side with the writer of Proverbs on this point.  Describing the voice of the eagle in one word is a mystery that I might have to be content dismissing as “too wonderful for me” and, apparently, the English language.  Though, to be perfectly fair and in context, in this case I think this writer was more in awe of the mystery of flight than flummoxed by a fruitless late night Google search for an apparently nonexistent perfect word.

“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky…” (Proverbs 30:18-19)

 

 

 

White Water

white water / rejoicing hillsWe stood on the dam, peering over the edge.  The roar was deafening.

“Dat water is white, Daddy!” our little girl observed.

“Yes, honey.  That’s how you know the water is going very fast.”

I was thankful for the tightly secured chain link fencing on both sides of the walkway as she stood at the very edge, surprisingly unafraid, watching in fascination as the water spewed tight through the spillways and churned free into the river below.  It was all very exciting, her three-year-old mind oblivious to the warning signs and hazard lights blinking danger all around us.  Daddy and mommy were there with her.  What did she have to fear?

She didn’t know that white water also meant trouble.river's edge / rejoicing hillsI thought about a conversation my husband and I had had earlier in the day, about the trouble in the world and all around us.

Sometimes it can be terribly discouraging, especially when it seems to heap up and come at you from all sides.  You can feel like you’re being tossed around as relentlessly as the tight angry waters in one of those spillways, battered hard against the concrete walls, and all you want is the relief of finally being spewed out the other side so you can find some quiet pool downstream where you can rest and breathe again.

It made me tense and weary just to think of it, and I was relieved when we moved off the dam, and onto a tiny winding trail that followed the river’s edge.  I liked this better.  Here, there were delicate ferns clinging to mossy rock walls, birch trees leaning gracefully over the calmer ripples at the water’s edge and a soft autumn carpet of warm lacy brown oak leaves underfoot.  The roar of the dam faded away in the distance, replaced by the gentle sound of water lapping against rocks along the shore and the whispering breeze in the trees.  Ah—these were the restful places I had in mind.brown oak leaves / rejoicing hillsrocks in the water / rejoicing hillsIMG_1392 editOr were they?

I stumbled as I clambered down a rocky side path to get a closer look at the pretty little ferns.  The thick carpet of oak leaves had been deceptive—what I had thought was solid ground was not.

Was there no escaping trouble?  No, I realized, shaking my head over the irony of it as I regained my footing and continued on more cautiously—there really wasn’t.  If it wasn’t glaring in your face, it always seemed to be hiding where you least expected it.

This was no secret to Jesus, which is why He once stated to his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.”  He knew it was not just a possibility or a maybe.  It was a certainty.  If it wasn’t clear cut persecution, it would be the enemy inside you, that wearying war between the flesh and the spirit.  If wasn’t trouble of your own making, it would be trouble of someone else’s making, purposeful or unintentional.  If it wasn’t any of these, it would just be the stark reality that we live in a fallen world where there is sickness, and death, and the struggle to survive, and where the sheets we got as a wedding present wear out and rip clean through.  (Yep, just this morning.)  And then there would be fear, the thing that can get you even when nothing is actually wrong.

fern on rock face / rejoicing hillsIMG_1388 editSo what did He mean when He followed up that statement with this one?

“But take heart!  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Obviously He didn’t mean that we’d escape all trouble by following Him.  If anything, He warned elsewhere that there would be more if we did.  But then I thought back to the beginning of the verse, before He even comments on the certainty of trouble:

“I have told you these things so that in Me you might have peace.”

That phrase “IN ME” jumped out at me, and then it clicked.  So the picture of the peace He was talking about was really right back up on that dam. The two of them were back on it now, making their way slowly across the walkway.  The small girl in the gray jacket walked calmly next to her daddy between the chain link barriers, the late afternoon sunlight highlighting all the little hairs escaping from her braids.  She stopped periodically to look over the edge and ask questions.  In the midst of the noise and turbulence, the calm voice of his explanations and the reassurance of his presence were all the security she needed.ferns / rejoicing hillsThis was peace.

Not in finding our comfort in our circumstances but finding it in the One who walks beside us.  The reality of trouble will never be any greater than the certainty of His presence.  It’s as astonishing and simple as that—and my little girl knew it better than I did.

I stepped up onto the walkway myself, and my steps quickened as I hurried to catch up to my family, hardly noticing the white water churning below as my heart flooded with renewed peace and the determination to learn from her example.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)