Seeing Blue Beyond the Grey {and Welcome!}

Because it intersects with two subjects which fascinate and teach me,  the rhythms of the seasons and Yellowstone, I bought a book, For Everything There is a Season: The Sequence of Events in the Grand Teton-Yellowstone Area. Through it, I see the general happening of Yellowstone’s year from afar. Week by week, it lays out which birds generally return when, the expected arrival of the young of the year, when a particular wildflower will bloom.

Week by week.

Except for December. Not too much happens in December. Twenty-seven of its days get one chapter, six pages, to themselves.

And the stretch  we’re in? January 1 – February 26 warrants only one page, a paragraph. One. Ninety-two words describe the happenings of eight long, cold weeks.

 One of the first bird species to re-establish and passively defend a nesting territory will be the ravens. Paired ravens may be seen sitting side by side on days when the weather is fair and their appetites satisfied, a situation that occurs more frequently as spring evolves. With spring in the air and time to spare, the ravens play, a luxury most species do not have. Red crossbills may initiate nesting during any month of the year. Boreal and great horned owls may be heard calling, this being their courtship period. ~ Frank C. Craighead, Jr.

Apparently Yellowstone doesn’t see much change in the during deep winter. It’s loveliness walks alongside a sometimes cruel companion of cold, windy days under a stark, steel sky.  It’s a quiet time, stagnant even.

It looks like not much is happening. And not much is. There. In the park or on the surface.

But away from the park migratory birds are living a temperate life. The elk have wandered south to a reserve. The bears have denned, sleeping their way through winter and giving birth to tiny offspring who will do nothing but eat and grow through their mother’s slumber.

We can’t always see what’s happening but deep winter reminds us to hope.

The raven operates by instinct. It knows that even though it’s winter on the ground, spring is in the air. In the space opened up by the absence of activity, the raven, mascot of hope, is satisfied to enjoy the little luxury afforded by the sameness of the season. It doesn’t just endure its environment. It more than survives its season. It plays.

Sun sightings and blue skies have been rare this winter, each one a relief and a reminder. No matter the color of tomorrow’s sky, the seeds of spring will sprout from today’s frozen ground and these words from Isaiah are true: Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

He’s always doing a new thing. Even when the grey keeps us from seeing it. Maybe especially when the grey keeps us from seeing it.

And like the blue sky is a gift, so is the journey to learn to embrace the truth that what believing what we can’t see is as important as seeing what we can with proper perspective.

And you? Are you in a crowded season or one with a little open space? What helps you to see blue beyond the grey?

Sharing stories with other writers at Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory linkup.


Welcome to Along This Road’s New Home.

Do you remember when I mentioned that because I want someday to publish a book, I needed to make some changes to help myself and my cause? Here they are.

The biggest is the domain name.  Since I’ve never even given my last name on my blog, this feels kind of weird. But, it’s how it is and after too many years of ignoring how it is, I’ve complied and now it’s out there for everyone on the internets to see. Less obvious is that, because I want to publish a book, I need a way to get in touch with people–outside of my blog –interested in either in  me or in reading my work. (The FCC has rules about how one goes about these things and I am all about following the rules.)

The best way you as a reader can support me as a writer would be to subscribe to an as-yet-unnamed quarterly(ish) newsletter. If you’ve read here for long, you’ve probably noticed I have a thing about seasons. Quarterly fits me best, even though the blog-world experts say that you’ll forget all about me if I don’t contact you every week. I think you possess better memories than that.

If you’d like, you can subscribe in the sidebar, where it says Subscribe to Quarterly(ish) Newsletter. Thanks! (Also, if you’d rather not receive notifications of blog posts any more, you can click the envelope icon at the top and send me an email. I know the weight of an overflowing inbox. I’ll take care of it.)

Thanks for reading, for your encouraging words and kind comments, for sticking with me during these years after I stumbled into blogging, and as I figure out the next steps.

 


 

All Because of a Little Fire

After the Burn by Courtney Celley/USFWS                                                                                                                                                               Source

The springtime landscape in rural Iowa wears a mosaic of ever-deepening swaths of green broken by plots of freshly turned fields and charred black ditches. Growing up, I saw the burns and wondered why people, including my farmer-grandparents, endured the stress of trying to contain a fire they’d set themselves.

They serve all manner of useful purposes, these controlled, or prescribed, burns. They break down dead plant material and return nutrients to the soil. They help with reseeding. They even control ticks.

My dad explained it to me when I was young, but it wasn’t until my family and I took up residence in the country that I began to understand. A long strip of grass lines our driveway. It bears the marks of once being a flower garden–a rosebush lost in the jungle of tall grass, a peony, clumps of black-eyed Susans, and a sea of towering, sunset hued lilies.

After we moved here nine Februarys ago, the melting snow revealed a tangled mass of the previous year’s grass. So we burned. We burned that year and the year after and the year after that, and while it wasn’t beautiful, it was uniform and green and sprinkled with blossoms.

And then we got bees.

They live just beyond the strip of dilapidated garden. When their first spring rolled around so did the mat of long dead grass, but we didn’t feel comfortable burning. For three years, a little fresh greenery but few flowers emerged through the snarl of brown grass. It was ugly and depressing.

So last spring we burned.

Bees orient themselves to the sun, leaving the hive only after sunrise and returning by sunset, so we waited for the sun to disappear, soaked the hive, and struck a match. The grass, cured by days of withering sun and drying wind, carried the fire from one end of the garden to the other while my son hovered over it with a hose.

We discovered, as the flames opened up space where the dead grass had been, interesting bits in the ashes: singed but living lilies, the charred remains of a  poison ivy vine, a couple of pop cans left behind during some day of outdoor work.  Our cats, always after a meal, crouched as closely as they could to the flames, watchful and ready to pounce on any unfortunate–and to my way of thinking, unwelcome–field mice displaced by the heat.

The fire consumed the remains of the grass, the trash, and the vine. It exposed the pop cans and the mice. What it didn’t do was destroy the lilies. And of everything we saw when the flames cleared, only they belonged in the garden.

The fire burned right over them.

It’s the same with us. Fire consumes and exposes the decaying remains, the trash, the weeds, the litter, and the vermin that clutter our hearts and our souls and our minds and sap our strength. It eradicates the things we don’t want and makes space for the things we do.

Not that that kind of heat is easy. The fire burned hot enough to keep us at a distance. Only after it passed by could we get close enough to examine what it left behind.

Spikes of green poked through the charred soil within days, the first hints of what became uniform waves of grass with a few black-eyed Susans around the edges. The lilies, singed but unharmed, stretched toward the sun and presided over the driveway. All because of a little fire.

campfire

And you? Might the heat you’re experiencing be opening up space for something important by burning away the things that don’t belong?

 

 

Sharing this week with the writers at Small Wonders, Thought Provoking Thursday, and  Weekend Whispers.

 

 

 

 

 

Where She Belonged

Path through the trees

I woke, just after midnight, to contractions. Forcing myself to remain motionless under the covers, I tried to convince myself that it was nothing more than a long series of Braxton-Hicks and go back to sleep. But the contractions were strong and regular, each one arriving with just a little less time between it and the one before, and the baby wasn’t due for another six weeks.

When our previous baby made her entrance into the world, she’d been in a rush. Not the early arrival kind of hurry—she’d been overdue. No, she’d arrived just moments after my husband and I walked through the door to the OB unit in a hospital a mere three blocks from our home.

With that in mind, I imposed a deadline of October 31 to complete my out-of-town Christmas shopping. I had no desire to be on the road when I went into labor. I wanted to be where I belonged, close to home,  near my own doctor and the hospital where he practiced.

On the day of my final shopping trip, I drove to the mall with my four-year-old daughter, whose short strides matched my waddling steps. We walked the full length of both floors of the mall. We stopped at Target and Lowes and strip mall stores I can’t even remember. We put in a long and slow-moving day, but when it was over, we’d finished the shopping. But then I found myself, just an hour after laying my weary head on the pillow, awake, uncertain, and lamenting the fact that I had overdone it.

A few hours in a softly lit room hooked up to a monitor  gave me time to consider the uncertainties of life in light of the first Christmas.

Did Mary hope, I wondered, she and Joseph would make it to Bethlehem and back before the birth of the baby? Or did she know that the baby would arrive on the journey? Like me, she probably wanted to be at home, where she belonged, with the village midwife and familiar women to help her. But unlike me, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding when she would and would not leave town. Mary left for Bethlehem regardless of her own desires, comfort, or plans. She went because Caesar decreed it.

At least, that’s what it looked like.

Mary, along with her countrymen, were part of Caesar’s Rome, a government which controlled their lives and their finances, one which they looked to the promised Messiah to save them from. They had no choice but to go wherever and whenever the expansive Roman Empire ordered. Even women who were great with child.

But Rome wasn’t the ultimate authority.

Mary made the uncomfortable journey to Bethlehem–the city of her husband’s ancestors–in the final days of her pregnancy, not by choice, not by coincidence, not even because of Caesar’s edict. She went because that’s where she belonged, because that’s how God said the Savior’s arrival would unfold.

DSC_0954

The contractions faded away to nothing but doctor’s orders for bedrest and the baby held off until days before Christmas, just like she was supposed to. I was glad she waited, grateful for the memory of those unexpected hours in the hospital, a memory which surfaces once in a while to remind me of the truth of the first Christmas–that God wasn’t bound by Bethlehem’s city limits to choose the mother of Jesus, that he could turn even the heart of the mighty Caesar, that even through all the years of his people waiting and all the miles of Mary’s uncomfortable, uncertain journey he had a plan and the power to bring it about.

He knew where Mary belonged and how to get her there. He knows where we belong, how to get us from where we are to where we need to be. We wait. We wonder. Sometimes uncomfortable. Often uncertain.

He, however, is not uncertain. He is unbound by all the things that bind us, able to turn hearts, able to bring about his plan–both for forever and for tomorrow– for you, for me, for a broken and hurting world. That is a Christmas reality to celebrate.

Merry Christmas to us.

The King’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord;
He turns it wherever He wishes. Proverbs 21:1

Sharing Where She Belonged at Small Wonders, #TellHisStory and Thoughtful Thursday.

It Changes Everything

 

20150716_210530The pontoon pulled away from the dock and turned toward the open water where we drifted past brown and pastel cabins tucked into the trees along the shore. Under the influence of the overcast day, that was all there was to see. The sky, typically the star of our evening cruise, offered nothing but dismal grey gruel. Gloomy clouds stacked up overhead, familiar companions for some part of every day of that week.

We were grateful the weather allowed us to be out at all. Between downpours and thunderstorms, electricity-eradicating straight line winds and near-misses with tornadoes, it had been a weird weather week.

Out on the lake,  with its ducks and herons and loons, its reed beds and lily pads, we floated along, satisfied with the knowledge that there were fish below the surface–fish that some of our party hoped to catch the next morning. When my young nephew took the helm, he brought us alongside an island with a fawn on the shore. We watched until it turned and bounded a few feet inland. There, hidden behind a bush, stood its mother. We’d been so busy watching the fawn that we hadn’t noticed her.

Content with our nature sighting on this grey evening and aware that to make it home before that awful hour when the mosquitoes came out en force, my nephew accelerated and turned us toward home.

That’s when we noticed the sky.

Blues and pinks haloed a molten glow, spreading from one side of the sky to the other. Behind us and to both sides the day remained as dingy as when we’d set off, but before us it was vivid and lovely and full of life.

Perspective, I remembered again, changes everything. The fruit of the setting sun had been there and we hadn’t even noticed it. It was behind us as we lamented the grey we cruised into. It was above us as we observed the fawn and the doe.

We didn’t see it because we didn’t look.

Sometimes I don’t see things because I don’t pay attention. Sometimes it’s because I’m looking the wrong direction. Sometimes it’s because they’re still out of my range of vision. What I fail to remember that just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean that it isn’t there.

When I forget this, I lament life’s difficulties the way I despaired the sky.

Sometimes, though, when things aren’t going the way I wish they would, I remember. I remember that there is a time for everything, that almost everything changes, and that the changes begin long before I ever see them.

Because He’s always at work. 

When the woods are thick and the way is uncertain, He’s at work. When life is dry and the soul is parched, He’s at work. He’s always at work.

The way will clear and the river will flow. Sometimes I remember this first, and I am grateful.

Sharing It Changes Everything at  Thought Provoking Thursday and Small Wonders.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19

The Bird and the Wire

Bird in flightSummer mornings, I walk the gravel line between the drone of highway traffic and the twitter of birds in the pasture. A road that knows few cars and fewer houses, its ditches prosper rabbits and bees and the birds which lay down my morning soundtrack. I rarely notice the animals when I walk. Because I’m prone to tumble, I tend to keep my eyes fixed on at the ever-changing place where my feet meet the road. It’s hard to watch with my eyes glued to the ground.

Even so, one morning I noticed a movement in the ditch. A bird flew straight up the front of the fence barrier that separates our rural road from the local four-lane. She fluttered up, past row after row of squares, squares not wide enough for her wingspan. After passing the top one, she squeezed underneath the sagging barbed wire strung across the top and continued her ascent on the other side.

She could have avoided that precarious squeeze. There was plenty of space on the country side for her to rise into the air, space which looked safer, smarter, and better. In just a few inches she could have crossed over without wedging herself between the wires, if only she had looked up instead of straight ahead.

Because I tend to anthropomorphize the natural world, projecting onto it qualities which belong to humans, I wondered what she was thinking.  Why would she make that squeeze when she would have been free to fly wherever she wanted had she waited just a second longer? Why would she take what looked like a dangerous way when safety waited just inches above? Was she trying to challenge herself?

A bird’s life doesn’t require additional challenge. It revolves around survival. Find food. Avoid danger. Evade predators.

It looked to me that maybe she flew just the way I walked, eyes fixed just ahead, just far enough to see the next thing, oblivious to all the rest.

Like the bird, I’ve sometimes got my eye open for the first out. In marriage, in motherhood, and even in own my mind, I’m tempted to look for the easiest way through even though I know that in everything that matters there is no easy way and the first out is almost always a bad idea.

The bird made it through the barbs and on to freedom. She avoided the hazardous wires. She survived.

That was enough for her.

But you and I were intended for more than a song bird’s life, crafted for more than mere survival. We were made to sing, but when our vision is focused on finding the first out, the song can get lost–if ever it is sung at all.

A bird’s song is its song. It can’t sing a new tune. A cardinal sounds like a cardinal, a chickadee like a chickadee.

We, however, can sing most any tune we want. Often the most beautiful melodies are hard-won, springing from waiting places, dark places, places of weariness and discouragement that try the soul, the ones where the temptation to take the first out is strong.

But we weren’t made for escape. We were made for something more, to be drawn out by the God who loves us and to sing his song. And sometimes, it’s in those hard places that we discover the melody.

Bird New song

Grown up life brings with it more hard places than easy ones. What is the nature of your place today? What is your song?

Linking this week with the writers at Thought Provoking Thursday and Small Wonders.

What If?

My husband was away recently for a few days of out-of-town work and instead of going to sleep at reasonable hour, I stayed up and binge read the blog of a writer I’d heard interviewed earlier that day. I read her entire blog–all five years of it–over the course of two late nights. (Because what sane woman would need a good night’s rest when everyone in the family is just a wee bit off because a Key Member of the Household is gone?)

On the bleary-eyed morning after the first night, I staggered down the hall, through the dark living room, and before my foot hit the kitchen’s wood floor, my apparently alert brain asked me a question: What if {a situation I’d been discouraged about} isn’t actually {the name I’d given it}? 

What if?

Back in college, my Children’s Lit and Creative Writing instructors said that the What if question is the basis for a compelling story. What if water from a spring hidden deep in the woods made people live forever? (Tuck Everlasting) What if an American man from the 1800s found himself in Arthur’s Camelot? (Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court) What if a mysterious wardrobe that transported children to a magical world in which an epic battle between good and evil took place among mythical creatures? (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Compelling stories have all the usual elements of fiction: characters, setting, theme, conflict, and plot. Our stories, the ones we live out every day, are no different. Every element is there and together they give shape to our story.

Our lives have characters (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), a setting (the unique circumstances and situations in the places where our lives are lives out), conflicts, overarching themes, and plot (what the story is really all about and who the enemy really is). Our understanding of every one of those elements is affected by that simple question: What if?

What if I took a risk?
What if I waited?
What if I stayed calm?
What if I just took a walk? or a nap? or a bath?
What if I wasn’t distracted?
What if I listened?
What if I loved?
What if I believed, hoped, and endured all things?
What if I believed, period?
What if I didn’t worry?

Who of us doesn’t want to live a good story, one that matters?

To ask the What if question isn’t all that difficult. To answer it, though, can be the starting point of a transformational journey, one that begins at the fork in the road between The Way I am (or even The Way I See It) and The Way It Could Be.

The way I am is familiar and comfortable. The Way It Could Be requires a step onto a foreign and strenuous path covered with trip-hazards and obstacles, a trail that will surely leave us bruised and maybe even a little bit broken. It is, however, the starting point of the most compelling stories.

So let’s ask. What if?

Sharing stories today with the writers at Small Wonders.

 

 

 

 

A Great Deal Of Good


Sun and clouds

Two Septembers ago my family spent a few weeks in South Dakota. It wasn’t a vacation; it was a working trip. My husband tucked us away in the hills and commuted every morning into Rapid City. The kids and I did schoolwork and read and whiled away the remains of the day until he came back home. What we did not do was spend much time outdoors. At least, we did not spend much time outdoors without him, thanks to the overzealously detailed Beware of the Mountain Lion literature prominently displayed in the home we rented.

Two pages of tiny-typed description featured six photographs of poses a mountain lion might assume, the meaning of each one, and the appropriate human response. Loosely paraphrased, it spiraled down this way:

  • Number 1:  Look! The feral kitty is curious about you. 
  • Number 3: That cat is interested in you, maybe too interested. Reign in your children and keep ahold of them.
  • Number 5: (And please note that this is a direct quote.) “If you have a lethal weapon at your disposal, take careful aim, and use it now.”
  • Number 6. The lion has decided that you will be lunch. 

They had me at number 5.

Occasionally I sprung the family from the indoors by dropping my husband off at work and driving the rest of us to places we could look around without fear of being eaten. The Geology Museum. Tourist towns in the Black Hills. Mount Rushmore. The Badlands.

Along the road which wound through the Badlands I saw a sign I’d never seen before: Viewpoint Ahead. It was an announcement and an invitation. Attention! There’s something to see here. All you have to do is stop, get out of your car, walk over, and look.

IMG_0204Such a sign seems unnecessary in such a place, a place preserved for its beauty, a beauty at once unique and harsh and lonely. At least, it’s unique until it becomes the passing landscape for a few miles. Until we get used to it. Until it all begins to look the same and we get a little bored. Before long we stop paying attention to what we see.

It’s a little like the landscape of our lives.

Our todays resemble our yesterdays and our tomorrows. We get used to it, a little bored even. It doesn’t take long for us to stop paying attention. The sights and sounds, the people and problems that create the texture of life cease to be something to see.

In his commentary on Matthew 6, Matthew Henry wrote There is a great deal of good to be learned from what we see every day, if we would but consider it. 

Lilies. Birds. Heavens. The whole of creation. The good is there, in the little things and the big ones. We just have to watch for it.

There is great good that comes from paying attention. It’s how we see. It’s how we consider. It’s how we learn. Or learn again.

Oh, that we would open our eyes.

There Is A Great Deal of Good to Be LearnedSharing this week at Small Wonders.

Roads in Transition, Part 2

haveyoubeenaskingOn December 12 the National Park Service posted a news release to inform the public that Yellowstone’s interior roads would open on December 15, just as predicted.

Yellowstone’s fall and winter travelers knew when the road crews would start to let the snow build, when they’d get dangerous, and when they’d be safe for snow machines.

They knew.

Sometimes I wish I knew. You know, about changes, about transitions. About the things I’m waiting for and the ones I’m dreading. I imagine that a little more information would help me hang on. Often, a more accurate assessment would be that I desperately crave more information because, well, because I want to know. Just a little more.

Just a little more information. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Maybe.

But maybe I know enough. Maybe we know enough.

We know that our little ones grow older before our eyes. We can’t miss our body’s intermittent reminders that we’re doing the same thing. We see our children go through rough patches just as we did, and we know that, like our parents before us, we’ll tread some deep water.

Advanced notice doesn’t seem to help. Knowing there’s a baby on the way or the nest is about to empty doesn’t make it easy.

We live lives of constant fluctuation. Change lurks somewhere around the bend. Either the road will begin to clear or begin to get rough, at least until the next transition brings more change.

We also know that there is only One who never changes.

Every January these words from Oswald Chambers turn me from what I want to know to what I need to know: Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is. 

And that’s enough. All the rest? That’s too much to handle.

Snowshoesun

Read part 1 of Roads In Transition here.

Sharing Roads In Transition, Part 2 at  Unforced Rhythms and Thought Provoking Thursday

Room, Or No?

Shed in Winter

The year I got married, my husband’s mom told me she’d read that the Christmas season brings thirty-nine additional items to a woman’s already overflowing to-do list. At the time I thought the number seemed a wee bit overstated but with age and experience, I’ve learned that the exact number doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s enough.

More than enough.

We address cards and clean houses. We go to programs and the post office. We buy and we bake.  We decorate. We deliver.

In no time, the pages of our calendars are crammed with concerts and gatherings. There’s no room for anything else. No room for one more thing. No room for Jesus.

He knows about a no room Christmas.

On the night of his arrival, Bethlehem was filled with people returning to be counted for Caesar’s census. The Inn was full, so crowded that there was no room for Mary and Joseph and their coming baby. That first Christmas was a busy one.

Still, there were those who made time.

The shepherds were settled in for a long for a night of watching their flocks, situated around their fire, doing whatever shepherds did to stay warm and pass the time. They were ready for another night of work, right up until the heavenly host arrived and changed everything.

The wise men saw the star and followed. They had to have known that to follow meant a long and arduous journey. Still, they went.

Our calendars present a convincing case that we have no room. For us there will be no heavenly host, no star to prompt us to act. It’s up to us to wrestle the list and the calendar and make room.

It’s a hard fight.

I face it every year: succumb to the busyness of the season, to all the things, and plow through my days accompanied by a flashing neon No Vacancy sign or join the shepherds and the wise men and make room.

For the shepherds it meant a trip into town. For the wise men, it was a cross-country trek. We don’t have to go anywhere.

The babe has already arrived.

Jesus came to live his sinless life and die an unjust death. He rose to give us life and then ascended into Heaven where he’ll intercede for us until he returns.

All that’s left is for us to make room, to pay attention, to remember—wherever we are–and worship.

May there be room in your life this Advent. See you in the new year.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

Sharing at Thought Provoking Thursday and Unforced Rhythms.