Little American Falls

IMG_4710 edit.jpgThe first time I clambered beneath the cedars trees along this steep muddy bank, we were eagerly experiencing the sights of our new neighborhood for the very first time.  On the recommendation of a dear friend, we drove up through the Bigfork State Forest, on a narrow strip of asphalt hedged by endless miles of black swamp water and stunted spruce.  There, tucked away in an obscure little park, we found the Bigfork River rushing it’s way to Canada across a set of Class III-IV rapids.  It was not quite Niagara Falls, but it was an exciting stretch of river that we could hear the thunder of before we saw it.  

Today, almost exactly six years later, I’m on the same narrow trail, and I find that little has changed since then, as far as the river is concerned.  It’s still flowing faithfully.  The rocks cradling it show no visible signs of erosion.  The tumbling water still curls over that one giant boulder out in the middle in exactly the same way.

The changes that have occurred have been in my own life, and I’ve brought them with me.  My firstborn clambers ahead of me on this Sunday afternoon, reaching sweetly back to offer me a hand on the “hard parts”.  She’s not strong enough yet to really help, but I pretend to accept her offer anyway, marveling privately at how quickly life flies by.  Last time on this trail I was six months pregnant with her, not even a year married. Now she’s out there confidently posing on the lichened rocks while I snap pictures and punctuate my sentences anxiously with “be careful” and “that’s close enough”.  My husband is back up the trail, holding the hands of her two little sisters, who we had only dreamed of at that point.  

On the other hand, one thing hasn’t changed about me.  Apparently, being pregnant, even for the fourth time, still has little bearing on my eagerness to bypass the safely situated visitor’s viewing platforms to get up close to rushing water.   

IMG_4726 edit.jpg IMG_4720 edit.jpgIMG_4687 edit.jpgLast time I was here, I saw the elusive woodcock for the first time in my life, exploding up at my feet from what had appeared to be merely a pile of leaves.  Today the only wildlife is the bed of fluffy foam caught in an out-of-the-way nook beneath the falls, looking strikingly like the back of a very furry animal as it bobs gently in the current.  I smile when my daughter asks worriedly with big eyes: “Mommy, is that a bear?”  “Go poke it and see,” I counter slyly.  She laughs out loud at herself when she discovers that it’s pure fluff.

As we climb back up the river bank, I note the mosses cropping up lush and verdant at my feet, and the first signs of life at the tips of the tree branches arching over my head.  Spring is just waking here, reminding me of a sleepy, groggy two-year-old toddling out to snuggle with me on the couch in the morning, or maybe the four-year-old rolling over in the cocoon of her favorite penguin blanket and blinking sleepily at the morning light coming through her window.  Everything still has that just-got-out-of-bed look, still a little rumpled and squinty-eyed.

The most showy are the pussy willows, who have clearly gone from stage 1, silky and pearly gray, to stage 2, fluffy and lemon-lime yellow.  Also lovely at the tips of the maple branches exploding into bits of red, more showy up close than from a distance. And then on the forest floor, I see the bravely emerging leaves of hepatica.  Leaning down to feel beneath the leaves, I find what I’m looking for at the base of the plant: the downy heads of flower buds just emerging.  A couple more days, and there will be wildflowers in the woods.IMG_4721 edit.jpgIMG_4677 editBack up at the picnic area, we shake what mud we can off our shoes and take a last-minute trip to the nearby outhouse where we convince the girls that it’s safe to seat yourself over a deep, dark, echoing hole receding into the unknown depths of the earth.  Then we head out down the winding dirt road.  Tired little people quickly nod off into belated naps, and the thunder of the falls fades into fiddle music cranked up to keep their parents from following suit on the journey home. 

It’s good to know that as my own life shifts and changes, a wild river running north is still there, doing it’s God-ordained thing and fulfilling it’s purpose pretty much the same as always.

“All the rivers flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is not full.

To the place where the rivers flow,

There they flow again.” (Ecclesiastes 1:7)

Pussy Willow V

IMG_8341 edit.jpgOf course it’s the most appropriate thing in the world that we look forward to the formal celebration of the Resurrection at exactly the same time we are watching the natural world around us spring from dead and dormant to vibrant and alive.

Outside the maroon points of tulips are pushing through the cold, sodden earth within inches of residual snow banks and the pussy willows are making clouds of lace above the thawing murky swamps.  The swans circle in daily, checking the state of the lake ice, and the robins are hopping around, drumming for earthworms.  Inside, I’m writing “buy the biggest ham you can find” on my grocery list, taking stock of white tights and practicing a new arrangement of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” on the piano.  Some of the most wonderful days of the entire year are almost upon us and, to me, the very air is weighty with anticipation.

Considering how I feel about it, I can only imagine how those last few weeks before Easter must have felt to Jesus Himself.  In hopes of catching a tiny glimpse of this, I’m planning to do something a little bit special on here this year.  Starting on Palm Sunday, I’m going to be posting daily for the week leading up to Easter, highlighting the actual Biblical events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Some days I may just share Scripture, which we all know speaks for itself and requires no embellishment.  Some days I may add a few of my own reflections and thoughts.  It will be like an Easter devotional, a countdown to this upcoming highest and holiest of days and a sort of heart-preparation to bring deeper meaning and understanding to the celebration.

I hope you will join me!

“When they gathered together in Galilee, Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised to life.” (Matthew 17:22-23)

 

 

Pussy Willow IV

IMG_7561.JPGWith all these thirty-ish degree days we’ve been having lately it was bound to happen, just like it does every spring.  And yet it still took me by surprise, when I glanced up from picking my cautious way across an icy patch on the driveway, to see this happy sign of spring in the ditch.  The bursting forth of these furry little buds is so predictable, yet they always manage to catch me unawares and are always, suddenly, the most wonderful thing ever.

You’d think that after thirty-some years, I’d get used to it.  But I never have, and I like it that way, so I probably never will.  I love the surprise awakening of wonder in myself, and I love that each one is a soft pearly gray little reminder of an ancient promise, a thousand repeated little bursts of assurance all across the willowed edges of the wetlands.

“While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22)

(Since I get so excited about them every year, I have to take pictures of them every year, so if you missed them, check out pussy willows from other years here: 2015, 2016, and 2017.)

Pussy Willows III

img_9833In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like to say that these pussy willows were officially spotted on February 18th, which is some kind of crazy record in my personal experience.  (I just didn’t get around to photographing them until now.)  I guess that February thaw played a bit of a trick on the willows this year, which honestly makes this post rather anticlimactic.  After all, signs of spring in February seem far too premature to be very exciting.

And yet—I can’t get away from the fact that pussy willows remain that quintessential sign of the spring’s eventual arrival.  When we get that inevitable snowstorm in a week or so, and the thermometer drops back down into the single digits, I will remember these.  Whether we have an early spring, or whether it waits until the average time—or even if it teases us and shows up late—it will surely come.img_9831And so, my husband reminded us this morning in church, will Christ.  And, interestingly, the signs of springtime are exactly the metaphor used in Scripture to parallel the signs that we can watch for to know that His coming is near.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branches become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that He is near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:32-33)

Perhaps you were not expecting pussy willows at this time of year, and didn’t see them.  Well, it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t.

But don’t miss the signs of His coming because you weren’t expecting them.  That will be the end of the world.

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42)

To read about what those signs of Christ’s coming will be, read Matthew 24—and to see pussy willow posts from past springs, see here and here.

Pussy Willows II

IMG_3368The pussy willows popped out early this year during a premature but short-lived warm spell, and have since seemed to be somewhat frozen in time as they wait for the warm weather to return.  I happened upon these while I was walking along a stream stalking an otter, who I’m pretty sure was laughing at my clumsy attempts to avoid detection.  He wasn’t interested in having his picture taken.  These spring beauties were much more obliging, however, and I was happy to come home from my photographic ramblings not entirely empty-handed!

Sometimes we do not get exactly what we want, but there is always something good and beautiful to be found in the midst of failure or disappointment—if we believe and are willing to open our eyes and look for it.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

Pussy Willows

pussy willows over water / rejoicing hillsIs there any first sign of springtime so welcome as the pussy willows?  Probably not—-unless it’s when they leave off their soft kitten grays and make happy polka dots of chartreuse all over the lowlands, ditches and swamps:fuzzy catkins / rejoicing hillsPussy willows are only the beginning;  color and life is exploding everywhere we look these days.  Spring is winning thousands of small and miraculous victories over winter, and the ice and snow is forgotten as all the glorious flowers and leaves burst forth.  Life conquers over death, again.

“Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is thy sting?  O grave, where is thy victory?”  (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)