The Colors of Summer

IMG_4098-1.jpgWhether the calendar says so or not, the last day of August always seems like the last day of summer to me—and seeing that always makes me kind of sad.  Nothing against fall or even the coming winter, mind you.  I truly love the changing seasons.  It’s just that summer in Minnesota is somehow just a little briefer than the other seasons, and I never quite manage to get in all the swimming and fresh peaches on ice cream that I want to before it’s time to pull out the sweaters and hot cocoa again.

As sort of a solace for this, I decided to look back over my photos from the summer months to remind myself of what we did do—and in the process, I found a rainbow.  See if you can see it, too!IMG_2193.JPGIMG_3463.JPGIMG_1792.JPGRed is for ripe wild strawberries discovered along fence rows, sweet and warm with sunshine…

and roses outside of bakeries that smell of gingerbread

and poppies along the chicken coop.

IMG_4030.JPG img_2209.jpgIMG_3892Orange is for a monarch butterfly, minutes old, clinging trustingly to my wide-eyed daughter’s finger…

and the one weed in my yard that I don’t mind…

and flower arrangements in my mother-in-law’s bathroom.

IMG_1811.JPGIMG_3920.JPGimg_9624.jpgYellow is for the elegant beards of irises…

and the freckled faces of the lilies along the porch…

and the not-quite-so showy roadside weeds that nevertheless delight the avid, amateur flower-pickers in my family.IMG_2944-1IMG_2226IMG_4721.JPGGreen is for sun-dappled woodland ferns…

and black-eyed Susans not quite open…

and water droplets on nasturtium leaves.IMG_1629.JPGIMG_4065-1IMG_2420.JPGBlue is for swan families floating on riffles of water…

and plump round berries the color of the sky going plink-plunk in pails…

and bobolinks singing on telephone wires against the morning sky.IMG_4096IMG_2882IMG_2300.JPGPurple is for brilliant masses of fireweed…

and stormy skies at sunset…

and blue flags along the creek.

“You [O Lord] have established all the boundaries of the earth;  You have made summer and winter.” (Psalm 74:17)

Lessons From Ducks and Swans

IMG_0368.JPGEvery spring, there’s this short window of time, just before the ice goes out, in which there are little open areas of water around the edges of our lake.  All the waterfowl congregates in these puddles and pools to forage for food and paddle around in one great companionable waiting game for the lake to open.IMG_3397The ducks and geese seem to have a mutual agreement that it’s a nice little community event, too, and mingle quite nicely.

The swans, not so much.IMG_0356.JPGIMG_0328Such a fuss we had from them, of fiercely territorial wing-flapping, neck-bobbing and trumpet-blasting, particularly when another pair of swans would come in for a landing (on a multi-daily basis).  It was all very exciting, and we’re going to rather miss it now that the lake is open and the spring festival is over.

But I must say that I’ve learned something from watching this year’s waterfowl interactions before ice out.  Entertaining as it is for us to be the audience to this yearly stiff competition over swan nesting grounds, it’s not exactly peaceful.  For all their magnificent beauty, they are surprisingly selfish.  And, as God’s Word says, we’d all be much better off emulating the contented little puddle ducks than the regal but contentious swans.

“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.  Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)





First Ice

img_8327The ice is in.

We watched it form all day long yesterday as a snow storm whirled, the stretch of open water slowly but steadily narrowing throughout the day.  The otters were out having a Last-Day-Of-Open-Water party along the slushy edges and the swans trumpeted restlessly through the night, clustered to the creek outlet on the south end, instinctively knowing it would be the last spot to solidify.

img_8320Today, all was still and silent.

The swans are gone, probably to the river, and will likely not be seen here again until spring.  The otters are hidden away somewhere in a cozy den.  And so winter has placed its last seal on the landscape—and then in a brief, glorious five minutes before it set, the sun blazed out from behind a cloak of heavy clouds and kissed it with fire.

And there I was, standing on the shore, breathless with wonder that I was in the right place at the right time to see it.

“Out of the south comes the storm, and out of the north the cold.  From the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters is frozen.” (Job 37:9-10)


Following the Leader

IMG_7011.JPGIMG_6974.JPGThey walked around the milk house, then past the barn.  They paused briefly to flap their wings disapprovingly at the weeds in my garden, then continued on around the garage, and out into the hay field where they walked it’s length back and forth a couple times before finally filing back down to the shore of the lake where they came from.  All this was carried out in complete order and dignified silence.

I feel like there was some kind of lesson being taught to these young swans as they followed their parents on this mysterious tour, mimicking their elders’ every step.  What it was I never will know, I suppose.  Perhaps it was an exercise routine to strengthen land skills before a long flight south for the winter.  Perhaps it was a family outing, just for the fun of it.  Perhaps it was an educational tour of local farm life (if they were expecting anything spectacular, I’m afraid they were disappointed).

Or maybe I was just watching the trumpeter swan version of the game of “Follow the Leader”.  If that was the case, we could certainly learn from their example.  It’s a game that contains principles for life.IMG_6990.JPG“Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children, and walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant sacrificial offering to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (John 12:26)

More posts about our resident trumpeter swans here, here , here and here.



Baby Time

IMG_4726.JPGThis week, our resident swan pair debuted their newest brood of offspring, parading them very proudly all the way around the lake (for all the neighbors to see, I presume).  There are six cygnets, which might be their all-time record for family size!

There is a shy doe at the edge of the field, who acts very nervous whenever we come near.  I know there’s a tiny fawn hiding in the swampy raspberry thicket beyond where she lingers, though we have yet to actually see him.

After three known unsuccessful attempts (including inside the exhaust pipe of my husband’s truck), last year’s swallows have finally settled on a place to build a new nest.  Incidentally, it’s in the exact same place as they built the last one.  Silly birds.

A mother rabbit went bounding off from my parent’s garden when I was visiting there earlier this week, scared by the dog.  She left this wee cutie, with brown eyes almost as big as his ears, crouched obediently close to the ground.  He didn’t move a muscle, even when I took this picture:IMG_4752.JPGIt’s been baby time everywhere we look outside lately—and then, finally, at 6:45, just after the pearly gray dawn of a Wednesday morning, it was our turn.

A tiny baby voice cried out for the first time in the little house on the edge of a lake, while outside in the gentle rain the swan family paddled softly through the lily pads in search of breakfast and the swallows twittered busily around their almost-finished nest.

A woman has pain in childbirth because her time has come; but when she brings forth her child, she forgets her anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21)

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)

Praise the Lord!

Trumpet of the Swan

IMG_2925I must say that reading E.B. White’s whimsical classic, “The Trumpet of the Swan”, as a young girl did little to prepare me for hearing the real trumpet of a swan for the first time.  Up until I got married, I had barely even seen a swan in the wild, let alone heard one.  I thought it would be something like the honking of the Canadian geese that always flew over my childhood home in the spring and fall.  I had no idea.IMG_2932Then, I got married and moved here—and the swans suddenly became an integral part of our lives.  The first spring, we watched them perform their spectacular mating dances on the river outside of the front windows of the little resort cabin we called a temporary home.  They showed up at our next home, too, where they nested on the lake our neighbors had access to.  We never actually saw them, but the sound of their great beating wings and calls echoed over to us tantalizingly all summer long.  And then we moved to our current home, and soon learned, to our great delight, that the little lake our farm bordered was the valiantly defended private nesting grounds of yet another pair of swans.

Now, their arrival every spring has become something to look forward to, something to mark the advent of the season by, and their trumpeting (which, it turns out, is nothing like to the honking of geese—that’s sort of like comparing the sound of a French horn to a car horn) is something we’ve learned to miss when ice locks the lake waters fast and they depart for the winter.

This year they’re back earlier than ever.  I first glimpsed them three weeks ago, while it was still February, doing a fly over.  Within a few days, I realized that they were coming here daily, camping out on the ice, apparently staking out their territory for the season.  They’d leave in the evening, presumably to feed and join other swans on the open water of the river nearby, then return in the morning.  At first they were silent, and it was pure chance that I even noticed the two lumps of white far out on the ice, heads tucked under their wings.  Then, this weekend, a few other swans decided to come visiting—and I knew it from all the way inside the house, because the deep trumpeting was echoing far and wide across the lake and over the fields and through the trees.  IMG_2942IMG_2924I stopped what I was doing and just listened for a few minutes, thrilling to the sound.  The silence of winter was over; the trumpeting prelude to the grand symphony of spring had officially begun.  It was glorious!

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth!  Make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise!…With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the Lord, the King!”  (Psalm 98:4,6)



New Eyes

IMG_2610If you’ve ever tried photographing wildlife, you will understand what I mean when I say that unless your goal is to capture the animal as part of a larger scene, it’s pretty much a waste of time without a telephoto lens. Without one, animals usually scare off before you can get close enough to compose a decent shot.  And that’s why I’ve felt sorely crippled photographically ever since my telephoto lens quit working two years ago.

I remember the moment distinctly.  The sun was setting over the Gulf of Mexico and we were standing at the end of a long rocky pier with the warm salt breeze in our faces.  A pod of dolphins suddenly appeared a distance out, leaping and dancing in the last remnants of golden light sparkling across the waves.  Thrilled, I lifted my camera for what I was sure would be an unusually rare and beautiful photograph—only to hear an unfamiliar clicking sound as I attempted in vain to zoom and bring the lens into focus.  A camera repair shop later pronounced it irreparable.

Remembering that,  I suppose it’s rather ironic that my replacement lens made it’s debut overlooking another view of sun-kissed waves.  Only this was a pretty far cry from the Gulf of Mexico.

The car thermometer declared it to be eleven below zero as I drove down to the bridge near our house.  Faint wisps of steam rose from the swathe of open water as the frigid air met the warmer temperatures of the moving river.  A friend living up on one of the nearby riverbanks had called to tell me that the lone trumpeter swan they’d occasionally seen feeding in the open water was back.  If I came right away, she thought I could get an easy shot of it from the clear vantage point of the bridge.  I spotted it as I drove over the bridge, a lumpy huddle of white effectively camouflaged against it’s snowy perch, head tucked under it’s wing.

I peeked over at my new lens lying in the seat next to me, an early Valentine gift from my dear husband, trying to contain my excitement.  I could hardly wait to see how it performed.  IMG_2613I clicked the lens into place before I got out of the car, and checked my camera settings, trying to guess accurately.  Past experience with swans has taught me to be ready to snap quickly; they tend to be pretty wary of humans.  I didn’t think this one would be flying away (it seems that an injured wing prevented it from leaving with the rest of it’s group in the fall), but I still didn’t want it to go paddling off in alarm and leave the great lighting and position it was currently in.

My breath froze white as I stepped out of the car.  I shut the car door gently and walked as quietly as I could towards the bridge, wishing the snow wouldn’t crunch quite so loudly beneath my boots.

A few minutes later, as the beautiful white bird lifted his head to eye me warily, I lifted my camera.  The zoom slid out smooth as silk.  The focus sharpened, crystal clear.  I framed the portrait and pushed the shutter button.IMG_2621IMG_2598It felt like I had been given new eyes.

There is a beautiful prayer we sing sometimes at church.  I found it running through my mind as I crunched around on the snowy bridge and riverbank, looking through world with stunningly clear and magnified vision:

“Open my eyes, that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me;
Place in my hands the wonderful key
That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for Thee,
Ready my God, Thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me,
Spirit divine!”—Clara H. Scott

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”  (Psalm 119:18)

Fatherly Vigil

father swan / rejoicing hillsOn this eve of Father’s Day, may I introduce you to the fiercely territorial and stunningly handsome patriarch of our small lake?  His lovely lady is very capable of expressing herself as well, and they often do so together, the sound of their great wings echoing all over the nearby countryside as they trumpet indignantly at any unwanted visitors to their little realm.  But right now, she’s busy with other things.

Cleverly located so it’s accessible only by water or treacherous swamp, they’ve built a nest and she spends most of her time hidden away there, lovingly incubating a yet-unknown quantity of precious eggs with the heat of her body.  That is her work—and we eagerly anticipate seeing the rewards of her patience soon when they bring their new family out to show off to the neighbors they tolerate (us and the ducks).

But papa has a job, too.  By day, he nervously patrols the area, watching for danger.  At night, he often rests in this perch away from the nest, careful not to draw undue attention to the place he is guarding, yet close enough to be ever watchful and ready to rush to the rescue.  He is the protector—and I have no doubt he would put his life on the line for his offspring should the need arise (though you won’t catch me getting close enough to those powerful wings to find out!).

There are a couple fathers/grandfathers in my life, who I also happen to love very much, who would do the same—and today I wish a Happy Father’s Day to these very special men.  As you protectively love your families you model the infinitely greater love of our Heavenly Father, and we are so grateful!

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”  (Psalm 103:13)swan / rejoicing hills