The Tracks We Leave Behind

IMG_8091I’m standing at the back of a church sanctuary.  The overflow area has been opened, and they’re setting up more chairs.  The front is packed; more people are filing in to fill the back rows.  The stage is overflowing with flowers, plants and one stuffed bobcat.  And I think to myself: this is the picture of a life well lived.

Of course, as everyone says, Arnie was a bit of legend.  I just sit back in awe and listen to the stories of a man who knew the forest for miles around like the back of his hand, who just as intimately knew the ways of the creatures who lived in it.  His was the spirit of the pioneers, rugged and determined, undeterred, even buoyed, by the prospect of challenge or hard work.  He waded the twining maze of ponds and creeks, walked the trails for miles, and worked willingly with his hands, comfortable with the strength of his own arms above the convenience of mechanics.  If anyone has ever lived out that Biblical exhortation—“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands.” (1 Thess. 4:11)—Arnie certainly did.IMG_9783There will always be a picture in my mind of Arnie, from my frequent viewpoint at the piano, that lean figure over by the east windows in his preferred row at church, denim jacket peppered with Trappers Association patches, big grin spreading from ear to ear.

Considering the sort of man he was, I knew I’d received a high compliment the Sunday he came up to me, shaking his head and grinning from ear to ear, to tell me he was impressed.  Earlier that week, in sheer desperation, I’d used a shotgun for the first time in my life to kill the groundhog menacing my vegetable garden, with a single (lucky) shot, and he’d heard the tale.  I remember thinking that maybe I could be a little proud of myself if I’d managed to impress a man like Arnie Peterson.

I ate a wonderful pie once made entirely of wild berries Arnie picked, made by his wife who shook her head when she described how he just kept “coming in with more”.

I remember Arnie in hip waders at the side of the road, not too engrossed in his labor of hoisting all manner of mysterious trapping gear into the back of his truck to wave jauntily over his back.  He didn’t even know who he was waving at.  He just waved because that’s what Arnie did.

And how could I forget the time Arnie knocked at my back door, grinning from ear to ear again, to tell me I had to come see the beaver he’d just pulled out of the lake in front of our house?  Of course, I walked out to admire the flat-tailed, yellow-toothed giant lying in state in the back of his pickup truck, and listened to the full tale of how he’d finally caught the culprit that had been felling our poplar trees.IMG_9776Yes, Arnie was a legend, and I’m sure that had something to do with the number of people flowing through the church doors on this March afternoon.  But there was something else, too.  There have been other skilled woodsmen who have lived and died as crusty, crabby old men.  For all their amazing practical knowledge, their circle of friends remained small, their influence narrow. 

No, this was more than a circle of mere admirers.  These people were not here based merely on the (staggering) number of ermine, muskrat and bobcat he’d trapped in his lifetime.  They were here because Arnie made tracks in their lives.  Not the hippity-hoppity sort of a rabbit bounding across the snow or the measured tread of a wolf in creek-side mud, but that elusive kind that is not to be found on the forest floor.  It was the kind that sinks in, makes an impression and stays long after the trapping stories fade into folklore-dom.

Because Arnie loved Jesus, and so the love of Jesus filled him and spilled out into the lives of those he came in contact with.

Because Arnie could quote John 3:16, and would use it to preach the simple and beautiful gospel message.

Because Arnie would love to bow his head with you and help you pray the sinner’s prayer.

Because Arnie knew, and let those around him know, that his last breath on earth would be his first in heaven—and he hoped to see you there.IMG_7238 editI’m sad that Arnie will never get to teach my children about the tracks of fisher, bobcat and mink as we’d discussed after church only one week before he went home.  We never suspected that he’d made his last trek through one of those double doors so soon, and as abruptly as a rabbit trail ends in the wing-print of an owl, be off to praise his Maker in person.  But he’s left his own tracks of far greater worth across the landscape of our church and community, that will not be obscured by tomorrow’s snowfall, and will bear fruit into eternity—and for that, we’re all grateful.

“Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments…his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD…[he] will be remembered forever.” (Psalm 112:1,7,6)

“So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32)

Winter Fun

IMG_5779-1.jpgRun, slide, repeat.

That’s what I and the otters did last week, I on my skis, they out on the ice, each in our own way celebrating the return of glorious winter to the northwoods.  That early November snow was some of the finest I’ve ever been privileged to make a trail through, and judging from their antics across the lake, perhaps the ice was, too?  Anyway, we certainly seemed to be agreed on the idea that all this cold stuff was meant to be enjoyed!

Then, as the sun lowered on the horizon, they’d run off in a companionable row, as you see them above, straight into their cozy den, and I’d swish my way back to my warm little house to wrap my cold fingers around a hot mug and sip steaming sweetness.  IMG_5812.JPGAh, winter with all your juxtapositions of icy beauty and cozy routines—how glad I and my sleek fun-loving neighbors are to welcome you back!

And speaking of fun, thank you to each one of you who played along in my little guessing game a couple posts back!  In case you forgot or missed the post, I asked people to guess the book of the Bible where the “psalm” I used in the post was found, as well as which photo was taken in the city rather than the country.

The correct answers were: 1) the book of Daniel (2:19-23, if you want to look it up!) and 2) the first photo of bright red snake root vines.  Unfortunately, nobody quite managed to guess both correctly, so I shall have to reserve my promised prizes for a later date!  (So if you’re terribly disappointed about that, I’m sorry, but stay tuned for another chance!)

If nothing else, it was just fun for me to see who actually reads my blog.  And, by the way, that goes for every time someone takes the time to comment, whether here or on Facebook.  It’s a tiny bit of thoughtful encouragement that always makes my day, and I’m grateful!

“A man has joy in an apt answer, And how delightful is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)

 

All These Things

IMG_1042IMG_1043This is the story of a search for morel mushrooms.IMG_1055 Twice I went looking…IMG_0883Twice I returned empty-handed.IMG_1052But, in process of closely examining large stretches of forest floor in vain, I did make a lot of other wonderful discoveries.IMG_0880 Once, I sat quietly staring into a stand of fiddleheads so long, a grouse thought I’d left and started drumming his log within ten feet of me.  For just a minute, I thought my heart was palpitating—until I realized that he was really just that close.  Then he exploded suddenly off into the woods when I tried to shift to a spot with a better view, which is, incidentally, when my heart rate did increase.IMG_0891I nearly stepped on the elaborate den of some creature (I’d like to imagine it a fox den, but it more likely belongs to far less charming skunks), and happened upon a wolf track, perfectly dried and preserved in last week’s mud.IMG_0886-01 IMG_1039  I chanced upon a place where jack-in-the-pulpits preached in a woodland meadow to spears of blue flag leaves…IMG_1048…and another where the wild plums were wreathed in clouds of frilly white.IMG_0978I didn’t find what I was looking for—but I did find so much more.

The search for the elusive edible delicacies of the forest will continue.  One day, I’ll find what I’m actually looking for—and we’ll fry them up in butter and eat them—but even after that it will continue, because then they’ll be gone and we’ll want more. It’s one of those kind of searches, never ending, always new, always exciting.  The desire is insatiable.  If you don’t like morel mushrooms, I’m sorry that you won’t be able to identify with this, but if you do, you know what I mean.

And along the way, the search is always guaranteed to be fruitful.

Because, see, regardless of whether I came home with mushrooms or not, I did come home with my head and camera full of spring’s splendor flung glorious across the forest.  (Such riches!)  And I did find information to help me with future searches.  (Now I know where they’re not, sigh.)

It reminded me, in a happy, unexpected sort of way, of another ongoing search I’ve been challenged to, one in which I continually search for one thing of great value and end up with so much more along the way.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

 

 

 

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Sunlight and Shadows

IMG_9241.JPGWhen the winter days are so terribly short in the first place, one is all the more grateful for the sunshine when it blazes.  The last few days have been gloriously full of light, and I went out into it as often as I could, cutting new ski trails through the woods and hardly needing a coat, so warm I’d become between the exertion and the sunshine.  It’s so easy to love winter when the fresh snow is sparkling and billowy, and the sun sets in a blaze of fire at the end of each day.

These are the kind of days where I can go out and be completely content taking photos of nothing but the shadows across the snow, mesmerized by the art created by such simple combinations of the trees and a low-blazing sun.  It was a wonderland of artful graphic design, wind texture, trunk stripes and interlocking branch lace, painted across the sweeping canvas of sparkling unmarred snow.  I hated to ruin any of it with a ski trail—but then there would always be an even more inspiring display of shadow around the next curve in the trail.img_9245IMG_9251-1.jpgBut then there is today, when a warm snap is melting sad dirty spots in the plowed snow banks and the sky is one solid wash of nondescript gray.  The light filtering foggily through those clouds is so diffused, there aren’t any shadows.  This, I must admit, is not quite so inspiring.  And it’s strange how easy it is to let one’s mood swing with it.

And then, I am reminded, in a funny sort of way, of what my eldest daughter said when she prayed before supper the other night:

“Dear Lord, thank you for chicken, and squash, and milk…and something that I don’t know what it is.  Amen.”

My husband and I exchanged amused glances.  There was no doubt that she was referring to the helping of cream sautéed cabbage I had spooned onto her plate just before we bowed our heads, at which she had wrinkled her nose uncertainly.  In a familiar, happy world of bright orange buttercup squash with puddles of melting butter, cold glasses of milk and roasted chicken crusted with fragrant herbs, this limp pile of beige and brown was getting a low rating indeed.

But, to our surprise, she included it in her list of thank yous anyway.  It was different and unappealing, but she said thank you.  (Later, she was to find that her first impressions were all wrong, that cabbage sauteed in cream was actually really good.)

And I was convicted.  Gray days and dirty snowbanks are perhaps as uninspiring to me as creamed cabbage is unappetizing to a 4-year-old—but do I say thank you for them as readily as she did?  Do I trust that all the things my heavenly Father puts on my plate are for my good?  Cabbage, gray skies…or otherwise?  Do you?

“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

 

 

 

 

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A Place to Still Your Heart

icy water dropletSometimes, in all the wonderful hustle and bustle that December can be, it’s good to take a walk alone in the woods to listen to the stillness…

to quietly admire the strange and wonderful effects of melting and freezing snow and ice…ice on branchto be startled and then delighted when a deer goes leaping across the trail mere feet in front of you…IMG_1714 editto stand and watch the late afternoon sun glint through bits of ice on twiggy branches, like hundreds of cut glass ornaments hung for Christmas…ice on twigsto deeply breathe in crisp cold air and be glad for warm new mittens…IMG_1776

and, as the still permeates your soul, to think about the One who said to “be still and know that I am God”,

the Prince of Peace whose purpose was to bring ultimate and perfect peace on earth, whose first humble coming to earth we will celebrate very soon—and be glad.

And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.  There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace…to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore.”  (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Sometimes in the midst of the busyness, it takes something as far removed from the tinsel and packages as a woodland cathedral robed in winter white, where no instrument plays but the wind whispering through the branches and no voices speak but those of chickadees and squirrels—

to bring your heart back where it needs to be.