The Sound of Returning

IMG_8040.JPGEvery time I drive over the bridge there are more of them there than the last time.

The returning has begun.

In the car, though, you miss the sound of it.  On a blog, you do, too.  There’s just nothing that replaces the physical act of standing on the bridge, leaning into a square wooden beam, and immersing yourself in a few minutes of that wondrous cacophony of honking, quacking and trumpeting.  It’s the music of spring migration, and it’s enough to infuse any year-round resident who has weathered yet one more season of long nights and sub-zero temps with hope.

I heard them chattering in the church foyer last week, too, as the winter birds gathered round, tired faces relaxing into welcoming smiles for these forerunners of the much-anticipated annual migration.  The sound of the returning was never so obvious, however, or so beautiful, than it was in the swelling fullness of the opening hymn.

Welcome back, snowbirds.  It’s good to hear all your happy voices again.

“Even 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)

“For, lo, the winter is past…the time of the singing of birds is come.” (Song of Solomon 2:11-12)

 

 

Cattail Glory

IMG_7553.JPGIn this season between seasons, when it’s not really winter but doesn’t really seem like spring either, the changes occurring in the natural world are sometimes very subtle.  Yet, I have learned, they are there.  Nothing is really sitting still.  Everything is silently, gradually, almost imperceptibly, readying itself for when it’s time to burst forth into newness of life.  It does require my camera and I to look harder on these days when a walk still requires me to wear the old winter hat and mittens, but the discoveries we do make of coming spring are only that much more triumphant.

Today I take note: The last of the cattails that have been neat little brown cylindrical sausages on sticks all winter are finally, after months of wear by wind and snow, disintegrating into downy halos of seed.  They are dying, giving up of the very last of themselves.  Soon the bare stalks will turn soft as well, bowing to the swamp below them nevermore to rise again.

But we all know that somewhere, in other bare nooks in the swamp, baby cattails will spring forth from the downy fluff these tired old stalks are releasing to the wind.  There would be no continuance of life if they held onto the gift they possessed; it is only in the letting go that life will go on.  They release the old, looking forward unto the new and better things to come—and in the late afternoon sunshine, it’s as though they’re crowned with glory.

“But this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. .”  (Philippians 3:13-14, KJV)

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.)

Emerging

IMG_3594It’s the best part of spring, that brief period of time when life begins to reemerge from the bare branches and brown earth.  The world is exploding almost visibly with life, and I hardly dare blink lest I miss something.  Everywhere I look there are buds bursting open, leaves unfolding, new scenes unfolding and an unending number of discoveries to make.

Across the lake, that first cloudy mist of soft green is enveloping the poplars, contrasted stunningly against the deep evergreen of the pines.

There are the gardens to examine, where I eagerly check to see if my plants survived yet one more winter, greeting the ones who do like long-lost friends.  The ones who were just planted last year and have just passed the big test of surviving their very first Minnesota winter create the most excitement.  Sometimes, I’m disappointed (never mind, foxgloves, we’ll try again); other times I’m pleasantly surprised (hello, strawberries!).IMG_0518Then, there are the woodsy pilgrimages to make, traditions dating to my childhood, like going in search of the dainty lavender and white hepaticas that are so absolutely quintessential of a Minnesota spring.IMG_0743IMG_0741And, if I’m paying attention and watching my step as I go, there is almost always something new to discover.  Something unexpected, like the strange forms of emerging horsetail at the edge of a gravel country road.  Or a pair of sandhill cranes, flapping their half-graceful, half-ungainly way out of the maze of last year’s cornstalks.  Or a fisher bounding across a lonely, narrow, backwoods road, stopping just long enough to glance back at us curiously.IMG_0494Beauty in the expected and familiar; beauty in the unexpected and unfamiliar.  Truly,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

But I must say that I think this may be especially true in the spring.

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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.

Pasque Flower

IMG_3562One of the earliest, loveliest flowers of spring is the pasque flower.  While it doesn’t appear naturally up here in the northwoods, you have only to drive west to the prairies to find it growing wild and free in its native habitat.  It’s also known as ‘wild crocus’—but I have to say I prefer it’s French name.  I like the appropriate sophistication it lends to such a lovely bloom—but even more, I appreciate a deeper significance to the name that is likely lost on most people.

And what’s the significance?  ‘Pasque’ is a word derived directly from the word ‘Passover’, making its name, literally, ‘Passover flower’—and at least this year, it seems to be quite appropriately named.  On the very weekend I knelt on the brick walkway of my parent’s flower garden to photograph its first blooms, the actual Jewish celebration of Passover was in full swing (April 22nd-30th).

For the Jews, it’s a celebration to commemorate the night of the tenth plague in Egypt, some 4,000 years ago, when the angel of death passed over their homes, sparing their first-born children at the sight of the blood of an unblemished lamb painted on their doorposts.

For me, it’s a celebration that reminds me that Death has passed over me, also, having seen that I, too, am covered by the blood of the unblemished Lamb of God.

“…and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)

“…you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us therefore celebrate the festival… (1 Corinthians 5:7-8)IMG_3558Dare I say that the celebration of Passover holds even more significance for me as a Christian than for any Jew?  Hallelujah!

Rushing River

IMG_3039  IMG_3020We were standing at the edge of a steep bank.  Late afternoon sunlight slanted gold through pine branches over our heads, highlighting the moist hummocks of brilliant green moss creeping along the slanting forest floor.  Below us, a river, satiated with a deluge of rapidly melting snow, rushed it’s wild, joyful way down to bigger waters.IMG_3026IMG_3021  IMG_3033The music of its abundant fullness reminded me of this verse:

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  (John 7:37-38)

A little river like this, wildly overflowing with springtime run-off, is exactly what I picture a life looking like as the fulfillment this verse.  A life so brimful of Christ that it can’t even hold the goodness back—it pours out in utter abandon, literally gushing with the joy of it.

And the good news is: in our case, the source never diminishes like the banks of melting snow eventually will for this little river.  The invitation is always open, the supply is endless.  The only way we can possibly dry up is if we quit coming and drinking.

And how do you come and drink?  It’s simple.  Spend as much time as you can with Him.  Read His Word.  Talk to Him.

“Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  (Matthew 5:6)

May the river of living water that flows from you as a result be one hundred times more wildly beautiful and joyful than this one. IMG_3022.JPG

Farewell to the Lilacs

swallowtail on lilacs / rejoicing hillsThe lilacs are turning brown around the edges and fading away, and all the yellow swallowtail butterflies that have been flitting happily about them for the last couple weeks have gone away, too.  Bless the farmer or farmer’s wife who planted a small spindly seedling in our yard some 100 years ago!  Did they ever envision how splendid it would become, this massive bank of lavender every spring that wafts its heady fragrance on the winds to our porch?

lilac bush / rejoicing hills lilacs / rejoicing hills

How grateful I am for their foresight!  Those people are long dead and gone, but their vision of beauty continues to live on in our front yard for our benefit and enjoyment.  As I savored the last remnants of perfume from my porch today, I was reminded of Someone else who envisioned and planned something beautiful long before I was born, stunningly, and very intentionally, with me in mind.  Actually, as long ago as before the world began.

“God…hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”  (2 Timothy 1:9)lilacs / rejoicing hills IMG_6648

Not only that, but there’s more to come:

“For…eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  (1 Corinthians 2:9)

I am so grateful!

The Gift of Violets

purple violet / rejoicing hillsFor years, it’s been my personal goal every spring to find every color of violet native to our area.  (There are actually up to 17 species, but I limit my goal to the four colors—lavender, purple, yellow and white.)  Some years, I have time to actually go search the woods for them, some years, I don’t—and this has been one of the latter.  So you can imagine my delight when, over the last couple weeks, I stumbled—sometimes literally—across every single one without even trying!

purple violet / rejoicing hillsblue violets / rejoicing hillsyellow violet / rejoicing hillsI was the most excited, however, when I happened upon the sweet tiny white violets, which have always been the hardest for me to find.  They are the smallest of the violet family, and the least showy—often their humble little faces are sweetly inclined toward the earth, hiding their purple-streaked hearts until you get down very low.  They are so diminutive and unassuming, it’s easy to walk right past them, or even step on them without realizing it.  But that makes them all the sweeter to me—and they’ve become my personal favorites.single white violet / rejoicing hillsAren’t they exquisite?

To me, the discovery of each of these little blossoms was a gift.  A gift from a loving heavenly Father who knows the desires of my heart, even the small ones, and delights to give His children good things.  I think He knew that all-four-colors-of violets were just what I needed to lift my spirits this spring.  Whether He caused them to grow just where I would look, or guided my footsteps and eyes to just the right place at just the right time, I don’t know.  But I do know that they caused me to smile and remember His lovingkindness as I knelt low to take their portraits.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…”  (James 1:17)

What gifts has He given you lately to remind you that He loves you?

Budding Tamaracks

budding tamarack tree / rejoicing hillstamarack close up / rejoicing hillsI think I love watching the tamaracks bud out in the spring almost as much as the flowering crab trees.  In the distance, across the swamps and bogs and all along the edges of moist places in the forest, they slowly turn the loveliest soft green, utterly transforming the barren watery landscapes they call home.  It wasn’t until recently, however, that I found out the real treat is when you get a close-up look at those newly-budding lacy branches.

Close-ups like these always put me in quiet wonder at the Creator’s attention to detail.  Certainly there is awe to be found in the magnificent distant views of the sweeping starry heavens or soaring mountain peaks, but God, the greatest Artist of all, is no impressionist.  His masterpiece of creation stands up to the closest scrutiny.

“O Lord, our Lord!  How excellent is Thy name in all the earth!”  (Psalm 8:9)budding tamarack tree / rejoicing hills