Tag Archive | nature

The Goose Family is Home Again! Happy Spring!

3 in pondI got up from my desk and walked over to the patio door. “Oh, look, Floey, the Goose Family has returned.” A goose made a big splash as it landed on the water. The honking got even louder as another goose landed. “That looks like Gilbert and Gloria. Let’s go out and welcome them.”

“Who in the world are they?” asked Floey. “And what in the world are they?”

“Oh, that’s right, Floey. You’ve never met them. I’ll introduce you. Oh, look, here comes one more. That must be Grace. I bet Gregory won’t be far behind.”

I clipped Floey’s leash onto her collar and opened the patio door. Even though the sun was shining, it was a little cool to go outside without a jacket, but I couldn’t wait.

Floey looking at pond w ice“Welcome home, Gilbert! Hello, Grace! Hi Gloria! So good to see you again! Where’s Gregory?”

“Hi, Marian,” honked Grace. “Gregory will be here soon. He was busy teaching some of his favorite Lenten hymns to some teenage geese out in the countryside. He told us to go ahead and that he’d catch up with us later.”

Gilbert swam over close to the edge of the pond where Floey and I were standing. “Where’s Abbey? And, who is the new pup?”

1 walking on ice“It’s so good to see you again, Gilbert. This is Floey, short for Florence Nightingale, the nurse. Come on, Floey, you don’t need to hide behind my legs. The goose family shares the pond with us every summer. They’re wonderful neighbors.”

Floey peeked out from behind my legs. “Nice to meet you,” she said, but she stayed very close to me.

Gloria swam over to join our conversation. “Nice to meet you, too, Floey. But I’m anxious to tell Abbey all about our trip. Is she inside?”

“I’m afraid not, Gloria. Abbey joined her friends and family in heaven last November. She brightened our lives for eight years, but then she had to go home. Floey joined us shortly afterwards.”

Gloria responded, “So sorry to hear about Abbey. She was my best dog friend ever.” Gloria looked off into the distance for a moment. Then she turned back and looked directly at Floey. “I’m glad to meet you, Floey. I’m sure we’ll become good friends, too. Do you like to sing?”

Floey facing camera - icy pond behindFloey smiled. “I love to sing. And I have a really wide range – all the way from bass to soprano! Really! And I can sing every note in between, too. Listen…” She started with a low growl, then barked a few notes in her midrange, and ended with a howl that kept going higher and higher.

“Wow! We’ll be glad to have you sing with us,” she said to Floey with a smile. Then, she turned to me and said, “You know what song I think of whenever I’m sad, or when I think about a really good friend, like Abbey, who’s no longer with us? I think of ‘Near to the Heart of God’ by Cleland B. McAfee.”

Gilbert looked at Gloria, and nodded his head. Together they sang the first verse and refrain,

There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us, who wait before Thee,
Near to the heart of God.

Grace heard Gilbert and Gloria singing and she swam over to join them for the second verse.

There is a place of comfort sweet,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where we our Savior meet,
Near to the heart of God.

As the goose trio was singing the second verse, another goose circled overhead, and then splashed down onto the pond. It was Gregory. He cleared his throat, looked knowingly at the three singers, and then sang the third verse as a solo.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God,
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

The four of them sang the final refrain together, a perfectly blended 4-part choir. Both Floey and I had tears in our eyes when they finished. I said, “That was just beautiful. I’m so glad you are all back home with us. Welcome, Gregory. Now that you’re all here, I know spring has come.”

“Sorry we couldn’t make it for the beginning of Lent like we usually do,” honked Gregory. “This has been a terrible winter, and we just couldn’t fly north for the longest time. We started out several times, but we always had to turn around and go back south. I’m sure glad we’re finally here.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Grace. “There’s no better place than the Whispering Winds Pond to sing all those wonderful Lenten hymns. They are such good reminders of how much God loves us. I think we need to get busy singing some more. It will be Easter in less than two weeks, and, as I recall, there are 81 hymns in the Whispering Winds Lenten songbook, ‘Songs about the Love of God.’ Now that we’re all here, I think we should start with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord.’ That should warm us up good. Floey, why don’t you sing soprano on this one…”

4 geese on pond

My Grade on Giving up Hurry for Lent

2 geese 04-21-14On Easter Abbey spent about an hour out on our deck, watching two geese float back and forth on the pond. She said to me, “Mom, did you notice that two of our geese have finally come back home? Two years ago they were here at the beginning of Lent. This year they didn’t come back until Easter. Why were they so slow in returning?”

“I don’t know, Abbey. Maybe it’s because of how cold our winter was, and how long the cold weather stayed with us this year. I was beginning to wonder if they had decided not to come back at all.”

“I’m glad they’re back, even if they were in no hurry to get here. It’s fun to watch them glide on the water so gracefully.”

“Speaking of HURRY, Abbey, how well do you think I did at giving up HURRY for Lent?”

“What do you mean, Mom?”

Abbey-Marian“Remember, I said I was going to give up HURRY for Lent? You were the one who told me I was always in too much of a hurry to enjoy life. How do you think I did? Did I succeed in giving up HURRY for Lent? What kind of grade would you give me?”

“Well, you did stop saying ‘Hurry up, Abbey’ when we went out for our walks. That’s progress…  You let me take all the time I needed to sniff out the news about who’d been walking in my yard. I guess I could give you a grade of B. Sometimes you tugged on my leash a little, so you don’t quite deserve an A.”

“I really tried to stop living my life in a hurry. I think hurrying has become a habit for many of us. We schedule too many things to do, without really thinking about how much that will make us rush around rather than allowing ourselves to make the most of what we’re doing at the time.”

“Did you read that book you wanted to read during Lent?”

“Yes, I did. The book was An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling. There were some good thoughts in the book, but overall I was a little disappointed in it. The author focused pretty specifically on pastors, so quite a bit of the book wasn’t very relevant to me. What sticks in my mind most from the book is the story of The Good Samaritan. What if the Good Samaritan had been in too much of a hurry going about his own business to help the wounded man? That possibility was pretty easy to relate to. The discussion of that story reminded me of the Saturday morning prayer for Spring in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays:

… As this Earth spins around at thousands of miles an hour,
my mind spins with plans for this day.
At the same time as I use your gift of organizing,
grant me also the gift of openness to what you, my God,
may have in store for me on this new spring day.
May I be open to sacred surprises.
Grant me the readiness to set aside my plans when life proposes another agenda
or the needs of others invite me to unexpected service…

“You know, Abbey, the perfect ending to Lent this year came for me on Saturday night.”

“What happened Saturday night? I know you were gone for a long time.”

Messiah altar

“We had an Easter Vigil at church. This was a first for our church (MessiahChurch.com). Since we now regularly have a Saturday night service, as well as two services on Sunday morning, we had to figure out what kind of service to have for the Saturday night before Easter. We decided to do a somewhat abbreviated Easter Vigil. It didn’t last until midnight, like a traditional Easter Vigil would, but it was somewhat longer than a normal service.

“We gathered in the darkened community room of the church. In the middle of the room was a huge, beautiful centerpiece with dozens of candles of all sizes symbolizing a bonfire.  You would have loved it, Abbey. I saw one little girl, probably about three, timidly walk around some people to get a good look at the pillars of fire. As soon as she saw it, her eyes sparkled and she called back to her mom to come quick and see. She was beaming with excitement.”

“I wish you could bring me along to things like this, Mom. Tell me more about it.”

“After a couple short readings in the community room, the pastor lit the big Easter candle from the “bonfire” and then the fire was passed on to everyone gathered there, each person holding a small candle. The pastor led a procession into the church. When everyone was inside the church, the pastor chanted ‘The Exultet.’

“What did that sound like, Mom?”

“It was beautiful, Abbey. Hearing the chanting made me feel like I was a part of our long faith tradition, like I was joined together with ancestors going all the way back to the time of Christ, even back to the time of Abraham, way back to the time of creation.”

Abbey looking up colorized 2“Wow. If I had been there, I bet I would have been tempted to howl like my wolf ancestors!”

“I bet you would have, Abbey. To remind us of how God has been with us throughout history, there were several Old Testament readings. We sang a response after each reading. There was also a reading from Romans, which was followed by loud joyful singing to announce the reading of the Gospel. After all these readings there was a homily, an adult baptism and confirmation, and communion. The service ended with the congregation joyfully singing ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.’ It was really fun to pull out the loud stops on the organ to accompany the congregation as they sang this Easter hymn. The whole vigil was dramatic and wonderful. And you know what, Abbey? It wasn’t rushed at all. We didn’t hurry through any part of the service. It was wonderful to be fully engaged in each moment of the Easter Vigil.”

“It’s a good thing you practiced not hurrying all through Lent, so that you didn’t feel antsy during the vigil.”

“You may be right, Abbey. But, it really felt good to just be in the moment, to be worshiping God, and to be remembering our history and God’s love for us throughout all history, and even up to today.

“It was also good to end the evening with a party, enjoying time together with our friends in church. We had just been reminded of how much God cares for us. That’s something to celebrate!”

Marian-Abbey faces bronze“Hey, Mom. I’m re-thinking the grade I gave you for fasting from HURRY for Lent. I think we both learned three good reasons for not hurrying through life, to not let HURRY become a habit.

  • First, we need to not hurry for our own good, so that we have time to fully experience the hidden joys in each moment of everything we do.
  • Second, we need to not hurry so that we can take time to respond to the needs of others we happen to run into – like the Good Samaritan did.
  • And third, we need to not hurry so that we can recognize God being present with us – like you experienced during the Easter Vigil.

“I think maybe I’ll give you an A-minus, Mom, for your fast from HURRY. You still need to learn to never tug on my leash, even gently, just because you’re in a hurry. But together, we’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.”

1 goose 04-21-14

The geese on our pond already know it’s best not to hurry.

Why Did God Create Wasps?

Wasp 1“Hey, Mom. Why did God create wasps?”

“That’s a good question, Abbey. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. We’ve sure had a lot of them on our deck and our front porch this summer. An exterminator has been here three times this month, and we still have wasps. Some days I’m afraid to sit outside, just in case one of those angry little beasts might decide to sting me.”

“I know what you mean, Mom. One of those horrible things stung my front right paw Saturday evening. It hurt so much I just shook.”

“Yeah. Mim told me. She thought you might be having a seizure you were shaking so hard.”

“I was trying to shake that awful thing off my paw. I finally grabbed it with my mouth and ate it. That put an end to the buzzing beast. But my paw really hurt. I couldn’t step on it for almost an hour.”

“Does your paw still hurt, Abbey?”

“No. It got better pretty quick. But it sure hurt when it happened. Why would God create such awful beasts? I don’t think they’re good for anything. And they sure are nasty.”

“I’ll have to admit it’s hard for me to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation when I’m warily watching a wasp buzzing around my head. To help me give God the benefit of the doubt in having a good reason for creating wasps, I went to Wikipedia to learn more about wasps. The “Wasp” entry says,

Almost every pest insect species has at least one wasp species that preys upon it or parasitizes it, making wasps critically important in natural control of their numbers, or natural biocontrol. Parasitic wasps are increasingly used in agricultural pest control as they prey mostly on pest insects and have little impact on crops.

Wasp face 2“So, Abbey, I guess there is a good reason for the existence of wasps. They just don’t belong around us – unless there are other pest insects around us that are bothering us even more than the wasps.”

“I guess life is pretty complicated, isn’t it, Mom.”

“Yeah. It is. It’s a good habit to always look for the good in something, no matter how bad it seems on the surface.”

“Even a stinging wasp, Mom? Really?”

“Well, we might not always find the good. But we can at least try to see what the evil doer was thinking, or maybe what good God originally had in mind.”

“Like I said, Mom. Life really is pretty complicated.”

Abbey relaxing on the deck - but on the look-out for wasps.

Abbey relaxing on the deck – but on the look-out for wasps.

Fluffy Clouds, Still Goldfinches, and Dirty Windows

Clouds over Cornfield

Up in heaven, a new angel must have been assigned to weather control for southern Wisconsin last week. As a newbie, he’s not quite sure how to maneuver all the clouds and keep the seasons in line. We’ve been covered by some of the biggest, fluffiest clouds I’ve ever seen in my life for the last couple days. But what’s really weird is that we’ve had October weather in July.  Instead of trying to keep cool with temperatures in the 80s and 90s, we’re trying to keep warm with temperatures in the 50s and 60s.

Pond to CondoOn our early morning walk Saturday morning, Mim pointed out two bright yellow goldfinches high in a tree just down the road from us. However, as we got closer, we discovered that the finches were two bright yellow leaves near the treetop. Even the tree was fooled by this weather! And we were fooled by the early-changing leaves. As we walked closer to the tree, our perspective changed, and we could see that the yellow dots were leaves. That’s why the “goldfinches” didn’t fly away when they saw us coming.

Perspective sharpens or distorts reality for us all the time. Way back in the time of the Roman Empire, Marcus Aurelius said, “Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” But for some reason, it’s so easy to forget that “truth.” Whether we’re talking politics, or religion, or today’s news stories.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this phenomenon in 1 Corinthians 13:12-13.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, know him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. (The Message paraphrase)

That reminded me of a story I’d read and shared on Facebook last week. I told it to Mim as we walked down the country road:

Clothes LineA young couple moves into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbor hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is not very clean; she doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.” Her husband looks on, remaining silent. Every time her neighbor hangs her wash to dry, the young woman makes the same comments. A month later, the woman is surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and says to her husband: “Look, she’s finally learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?” The husband replies, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.” And so it is with life… What we see when watching others depends on the clarity of the window through which we look.

Since we know that the window through which we see life is always somewhat dirty, or foggy, or provides some other kind of distortion, perhaps we should remember Paul’s advice, “Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.”

To “love extravagantly” may be for me to give the benefit of the doubt to the neighbor hanging up “dirty” laundry, to recognize that I may not have the complete “truth.” Or, for me to trust that my nephew who consistently supports the “wrong” side of every political issue that I care about, really is making the wisest judgments possible, given the “truths” he sees. Maybe the windows we’re each looking through just have different smudges.

After all, even the two bright yellow leaves on the tree acted upon their perception of October in July, not on the “truth” of a new weather control angel in heaven still getting used to the controls.

Yellow Leaves on Green Tree

Remembering My Dad

Carl Korth

Carl Korth

My dad's confirmation picture

My dad’s confirmation picture

I haven’t bought my dad a Father’s Day present in more than twenty years. He died 22 years ago. But with all the advertising on TV over the past few weeks, I’ve been prompted to think more about my dad, about the kind of dad he was, and about the kind of presents he liked to receive, and to give. I think his favorite present was one he gave both to himself and to his family. He really liked to take his whole family – three kids, their spouses, and all the grandkids – out to a restaurant for dinner, preferably a buffet. He was proud of his family, and he liked to show them off, especially on Father’s Day.

He came from a large family himself. He was one of ten kids. His family had the Korth farm on Rock Lake in Lake Mills, Wisconsin – the farm that has now been turned into a county park, “Korth Park.” As one of the older boys in the family, he had to drop out of school in seventh grade to go and work as a “hired hand” on another farm to help support the family. The blessing in disguise for having to be a country school drop-out is that is how he met his future wife. The farm where he worked was in Cambridge, only a couple miles from the farm where my mom grew up.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

Sitting with his granddaughter, Cindy.

When my parents were first married, my dad got an assembly-line job at General Motors in Janesville. But as soon as their first daughter came along my mom and dad bought my mom’s family farm in Cambridge from my grandparents who retired and moved into town. My dad was destined to be a farmer.

As a farmer, my dad worked hard. The only time he was in the house instead of working outside was during mealtimes and when he was sleeping. Fortunately, mealtimes were times of conversation as well as eating.  I remember talking a lot about the weather, but that’s really important to a farmer.  We also joked and laughed a lot.

When my dad “retired” – that is he sold the cows and just raised corn, he took over primary responsibility for vegetable gardening from my mom.  He kept two huge gardens and raised enough produce to keep our whole extended family fed year around, plus have enough to give away to friends who came to visit. He loved spending time in the garden. Weeds didn’t have a chance. He knew how to use a hoe well, and he cleaned and sharpened it after every use. I still have the hoe in the garage, although I haven’t used it since we moved to the condo.

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

Picking some vegetables for me to take home to Chicago

The only thing he liked better than spending time in the garden was going to the restaurant in town to have morning coffee with all the other retired farmers. He hated to spend the money on coffee, but the life of a farmer is solitary, and this was how he could get his social needs met. One year I gave him a jar of coins for Christmas – so he could have right change for the 35-cent bottomless cup of coffee. The restaurant had raised the price by a nickel.

On April 2, 1991 my dad turned 87. We all got together to celebrate his birthday. A few days later he was out on the tractor, working up the soil for his huge gardens. In June, just as his gardens were beginning to flourish, he got sick and was diagnosed with leukemia. He died within a few weeks. I guess we could say that our dad’s last present to us was another huge vegetable garden that we enjoyed all summer long.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Working up the soil for his last garden

When Bad Things Happen to Good Birds

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch. Photo from www.allaboutbirds.org

Phyllis and Fred H. Finch.
Photo from http://www.allaboutbirds.org

This morning I overheard a conversation between Phyllis and Fred H. Finch in our back yard. I actually was listening for them specifically, because I felt bad about something Mim and I did yesterday, something that hurt them, I’m sure.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred H Finch often sings from the railing of our deck.

Fred often sits on the railing of our deck and sings beautiful songs. I love watching his bright red head and throat as he sings praises to God, totally engrossed in praising his Creator. A few weeks ago, his wife, the hard worker of the family, kept flying back and forth, building a nest in our retractable awning while Fred was singing. As soon as Mim and I saw what she was doing, we got out a ladder and one of those three-foot long grabbers, and pulled the nest down. We love having all the birds in our back yard, but we were afraid the nest in the awning would damage the mechanical parts that enable us to extend and retract the awning with a simple remote control. So, we wanted to discourage Phyllis from building their new home in our awning. Well, yesterday, Phyllis decided to try to build a nest in the awning again, and Mim and I got the ladder and the grabber out again, and pulled out the unfinished nest.

This morning Phyllis was perched on the back of the metal chair on the deck, whimpering. Fred flew up beside her and asked, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”

House Finch Pair 2“Oh, Fred, they did it again. I watched them from a distance yesterday, and I was pretty sure that’s what they were doing. Those two big wing-less monsters climbed up on a ladder, and with a long stick with a beak on the end, they pulled apart the brand new nest I was building. Oh, why did they do that? That awning is such a perfect foundation for our home. I’m almost ready to start laying eggs, and we need a home for our children. Now I need to start building our nest all over again. I prayed all night to the great Mother Hen that they really hadn’t destroyed our home again, but it didn’t do any good. Why does Mother Hen allow bad things to happen to good birds? I just can’t understand it.” Phyllis’ chirp returned to a whimper.

“I don’t know, Phyllis, I just don’t know. But I do know that Mother Hen still loves us and will see that our needs are met. In the Bible she said, ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Mother feeds them.’ (Matthew 6:26)

“I know you’re right, Fred, but sometimes it’s hard to keep the faith when bad things like this happen.”

“Proof of Mother’s love can be seen all around us, Phyllis. Let’s go looking for another home site. I’m sure we can find one nearby. You probably shouldn’t try the awning again, but I’m sure we can find another good foundation if we look hard enough. And there are plenty of small twigs and grasses around to build a nice nest once we find the right spot. Mother Hen is good.”

Then the two house finches flew off the deck to search for a new home site. I hope they find one nearby so that Fred will keep coming to the deck to sing.

Mother Hen protecting her chicks

God’s love explained: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” (Matthew 23:37)

Enjoying God’s Many Gifts

Some of the colors of October

Remember how much fun it is to watch a three-year-old tear the wrapping paper off a birthday present, to watch the excitement and delight in her face. She completely trusts that whoever gave her the present has given her a wonderful thing that she will enjoy to the fullest. One of the verses from the Gospel reading yesterday was “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. [Mark 10:15 NIV]”

After church Mim and I took Anna, our assisted living resident, out for breakfast. The morning had begun as a cold, cloudy day, but by mid-morning, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds, and gradually the completely gray sky had turned into a bright blue October sky, with just a few little fluffy white clouds scattered here and there. The sun shone brightly on fall foliage as we drove through the countryside. Yesterday must have been the peak day for fall colors in southern Wisconsin. Anna kept exclaiming with delight at the color of this tree and that, all the way to the restaurant. Even though Anna is 91, she was sure that the “yellow, orange, apricot, and red leaves were the most beautiful autumn colors” she had ever seen. Talk about childlike enthusiasm! We had a leisurely drive, a conversation full of excited exclamations at the beauty of each tree we passed, and a tasty breakfast where we each enjoyed our personal favorites. Anna’s was corned beef hash topped with fried eggs, Mim’s was French toast, and mine was a Greek omelet with fresh fruit on the side. What a way to start a Sunday! Our souls as well as our bodies were feasting!

Mim and Abbey starting down the trail at CamRock 3, a mile down the road from Whispering Winds.

Last Tuesday, Mim and I took our dog Abbey on a five-mile hike down country roads and on trails in CamRock Park. We ambled along for more than two hours. Tuesday was a beautiful day with a bright blue October sky. We hiked through a woodland landscape of every fall color you can imagine – bright red, dark red, rust, orange, yellow, tan, brown, and even some colors not usually associated with fall, like pink and purple.

As we walked the trails, we stopped to take a few pictures whenever something seized our attention –like a patch of deep red sumac in front of some yellow maples, or an open milkweed with seeds just waiting to be lifted out by a gentle wind.

As if all the beauty we saw on Tuesday wasn’t enough, God pointed out even more beauty to me the next day. On Wednesday evening, just as I was ready to leave the farmhouse to go to the condo for dinner, God set a rainbow in the sky. It had been raining lightly, and then the sun came out. I first noticed the rainbow over the trees between the farmhouse and the condo. That was the left half of the arc. As I walked around the yard, I spied the right half of the bow over the farmhouse.

I think God has been talking to me over the last several days through all this beauty in the sky and across the landscape. The Psalms remind us that God often speaks to us like this, without words.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
[Psalm 19:1-4 NIV]  

How wonderful it is to be reminded that God wants us to notice all the beautiful things around us and to be delighted by them with the enthusiasm of a child.

Happy Autumn! Take time to enjoy it. God wants you to.