Archive for June, 2009

Catching Our Bugs (and Capturing Our Hearts)

June 29, 2009

flycatcher blog

No bird has captured my heart quite like the Great Crested Flycatchers who first nested last year in the ramshackle birdhouse perched on a corner fencepost in a fairly busy spot in our yard. We cannot help but pass it frequently as it sits near our workshop/tool shed. The good thing about that is that the flycatchers have gotten so used to our comings and goings that we can come quite near, even when they’re home, before they fly away. The little house is quite the fixer-upper with cracks and missing shingles, but it doesn’t seem to bother them. Maybe they came for the view.

 flycatcher's view blog

I spent considerable time watching them last year from a bench near their house, but haven’t had as much time lately for watchful and attentive pursuits. But I did spend about 45 minutes a few weeks ago watching them build their nest. I was hoping to see them bring in the snakeskin that flycatchers usually put near the entrance of their dwelling, possibly to scare off predators. I never got to see that, but I was impressed by the huge beakfulls of nesting materials that Mama Flycatcher managed.

 flycatcher builds her nest blog

Can you see why I find them so endearing? And I also love them for the way they cock their heads in a somewhat curious and quizzical manner:

quizzical flycatcher blog

The way they peek out of their house, like a cuckoo in a clock:

great crested flycatcher blog

Their grace and beauty in flight—-like bird ballet:

bird ballet blog

Their neat housekeeping habits:  here carrying away the bird equivalent of disposable diapers, fecal sacs:

flycatcher flies blog

The way the flycatcher’s crest sometimes looks like a rather silly wig:

flycatcher 'fro blog

And just because they sometimes make me laugh out loud for sheer joy and delight.   That, alone, is sufficient. :-)

flycatcherbuildshernestblog

More Signs and Wonders (and A Far Less Lengthy Post)

June 22, 2009

bee balm variety blog

(In my back yard)

I’ve been feeling more pensive than loquacious this past week, so you’ll be happy to know that this post will be far less long-winded than my last. :-) 

You may remember that I talked in the previous post about our bee balm that has never bloomed before, but is covered with blossoms this summer.  Well, it’s not only blooming, it’s blooming in different colors!  Light pink, magenta, purple, and white growing side by side and appearing to spring from a single plant.  Obviously, there must be different plants in the one clump, but, still, such a riot of colors was so unexpected that it seems wondrous and magical. 

two fritillaries blog

And so pretty.  Even the bud of the bee balm is amazing to me.  It starts out  looking like just a cluster of tightly compressed green leaves, but over time, those leaves unfurl and open a few at the time, like a little present, to at last reveal the flower inside.   And the bees and butterflies and hummingbird moths…and me…can’t get enough of it.

bee balm bud blog

varied bee balm blog

And one more small unexpected marvel:  Last year, we installed front porch flower boxes (and gingerbread trim) to make our rather plain little doublewide look as close to Victorian as a trailer could possibly look.  (A challenging task indeed). Early in the spring, I noticed little green shoots  in the flower boxes.  The flowers from last year had re-seeded!  And the flowers (mostly petunias) finally blossomed last week.  I never cease to be amazed at the improbability of such tiny, insignificant-looking seeds growing into something so lovely.   And without any help from me.   An everyday miracle, but a miracle nevertheless,  I think.

flower box blog

(from my front porch this morning)

I hope you’ve had some wonders of your own in the past week.  I think the miracles are always there.   It’s just that sometimes you have to remember to look for them and to listen.  To keep your mouth closed—-but your mind  and heart wide open.

Signs and Wonders and Marvels and Miracles

June 13, 2009

(All photos below taken in my yard)

rainbow blog

I’ve always loved the story of Gideon in the Old Testament.  Gideon was the unlikely hero that God chose to lead an army to deliver the Israelites from the terrible oppression of the Midianites.  (The Israelites were so afraid of the Midianites that they were hiding from them in caves in the mountains). When the angel of the Lord first appeared to Gideon and told him that he was chosen to “save Israel from the hand of the Midianites,” Gideon’s response was incredulity.  “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? Behold, my family is poor and I am the least in my father’s house!”

But God persisted, so Gideon asked for a sign.  First, a sign that it was really an angel of God talking to him (instead of some imposter angel).  Gideon brought bread and meat as an offering, put them on a rock, then watched as the angel of the Lord touched them with a staff.  A great fire arose from the rock and consumed the bread and meat.  So he was satisfied that it was the Lord alright, but that wasn’t enough for Gideon.  No indeed.  He then wanted a sign that God would not only lead him to battle, but give him victory.  He asked that a woolen fleece that he put out would be drenched the next day with dew, but the ground around it dry.  The next morning, Gideon wrung an entire bowl of water out of the fleece, while the ground around it was bone-dry.  

So, at this point, Gideon (1) had an angel appear to him as he worked in the wheat field, (2) had said angel cause a mighty flame to arise from a rock, and (3)had gotten the Lord to perform Gideon’s own personal magic fleece trick.  But was that enough for Gideon?  No sirree.  Gideon, though he was shaking in his sandals, had the nerve to ask for one more miracle!  This time, he asked that the fleece be dry, while the ground was wet.  By now, I imagine God sighing and rolling His eyes, but, again, He complied and made the fleece dry, while the ground about was soaked.  And, at last, Gideon was satisfied.

I love this story, in part, because I identify so strongly with Gideon.  It’s so hard sometimes to keep the faith, especially when you feel that you’ve had far more than your share of hardship.  Especially when you see so many bad things happening to good people.  Especially when you have Midianites in your own life, making you want to hide in a cave, like the Israelites did.  But what I love most is the fact that God, although He must have been somewhat vexed at Gideon’s lack of faith, still had the compassion and mercy to give him the sign that he asked for, not just once but three times!. I think that means that God understands our doubts and recognizes that we are only human. The story of Gideon has given me solace the past couple of weeks while we’ve been going through a difficult time and I’ve been struggling with my own faith.  Because, during that time, we thought for certain that Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man, my husband Tom, had cancer. 

fritillary and coreopsis blog

It all started when Tom was referred to a urologist because of very high PSA levels.  His PSA was 40—-a normal one is 4 or less.  Not a good sign.  Some of the information I found on the internet suggested that almost all men with a PSA over 20 have cancer, and PSA’s much higher (like 40) probably were advanced cancer.  So I was anxious to start with, but became even more so after the urologist said that Tom’s prostate on examination was very hard and lumpy, and he scheduled an immediate biopsy. 

After the biopsy, the doctor (who was a very kind and straightforward sort) showed Tom the ultrasound pictures of his prostate, comparing them to an ultrasound of a “normal” prostate.  He pointed out the dark shadows on Tom’s, which he indicated was not good.  What it boiled down to was this:  he was trying to tell Tom, in so many words, that he was almost certain that he had cancer.  With the extremely high PSA, the hard lumpiness of the prostate, and the suspicious mass on the ultrasound, cancer was almost a sure thing.  The doctor also began to talk about having bone scans, which are done to check whether cancer has spread to your bones. Obviously, the doctor was trying to prepare us for the worst.

bee balm blog

It’s funny how the mind, when confronted with a hard reality, begins immediately to search for signs of hope and reassurance, for signs that God is near.  At least, that’s the way it is with me.  That day, after Tom told me all the doctor had said, I immediately thought of how we had seen five rainbows that week from our porch.   Those of a more scientific bent might say, “Well, yeah…you had rain every single afternoon.  Rainbows are a pretty good bet!”  But, for me, every rainbow is a wonderment, a marvel, a symbol of hope.  And we saw Tom’s favorite airplane—the B-17—fly over our house that day, too. You don’t see that everyday.  Plus, we won two dollars with the lottery ticket we picked up that day.  We never win the lottery. 

Some might call this grasping at straws.  But who’s to say what’s random and what’s not?  Who’s to say whether signs and wonders and messages from our greater power really are?  Even if most of us haven’t been lucky enough, like Gideon, to have an angel visit us in the wheat field, I believe that God sends us messages all the time.  I guess sometimes, we just don’t notice, and He has to knock us upside the head to get us to pay attention, to get us to listen, to get us to see.

fritillary on bee balm blog

We got the results of the biopsy two days ago.  Since Tom, as a maintenance man, has to work in the field, I was the one to call the doctor’s office for the results.  I had my questions about prostate cancer and its treatment all written out, ready to hear Tom’s Gleason Score and the staging of his cancer.  I already had sort of come to terms with the idea of his having cancer and was ready to talk about how to fight it.  But I was still a nervous wreck.  It took a while to get the results because everyone I spoke to—the receptionist, the nurse, the doctor’s secretary—told me, after looking at Tom’s record, that I needed to talk to the doctor.  They all sounded rather grave when they said this, which further heightened my anxiety.  Then, I was put on hold with some sort of Britney Spears-type pop music playing.  Now I don’t care for that kind of music under the best of circumstances, but this time it made me want to tear my hair out and run screaming from the room.  But I couldn’t.  Because, in a few minutes, a doctor was going to tell me something that would either make me the happiest woman in the world or one of the saddest.

I heard someone pick up the receiver. “Hi, Mrs. _______?”   My heart quickened and I began to shake.

“Yes sir.”  I could hardly breathe.

Thank God, he got straight to the point.  “The biopsy showed no sign of cancer.” 

I gasped and very nearly hollered in his ear, but managed (with great effort) to restrain myself. He went on to tell me that Tom had a somewhat rare condition called granulomatous prostatitis which apparently mimics prostate cancer in every way, causing an elevated PSA level, a hardened prostate, and areas on an ultrasound that are indistinguishable from cancer.  Only a pathological analysis of the biopsy samples revealed what it actually was.  Tom was fortunate, in more ways than one.  In some cases, men with this condition have had their prostates removed because of a mistaken diagnosis of cancer.

After I hung up the phone, Benjamin and I began to jump and holler and whoop and giggle and dance around the room like utter fools.  We were actually afraid we might break something—we were much too giddy to be inside.  So we went for a walk.  When I stepped out into the sunlight that day, I felt like someone who had been in a cave.  Everything looked especially bright—our big purple-pink coneflowers, the daisies dancing dazzling white in the field, and the ferny, lacey red and pink yarrow.  The world looked so fresh and new and beautiful that day.

fritillary on coneflowers blog

You know, I’d never have the nerve to ask the Lord for a special sign like Gideon did, especially not three times.  But I’m quite sure God sends them, just the same.  Remember the heart in the grass?  Well, it’s still there.  I looked.  It looks a little different now, but that’s okay.  My heart’s a little different, too. 

That day, as Benjamin and I walked around, still giggling with pure joy, we saw even more signs and wonders.  The butterflies were here at last.  They’ve been scarce this year, and I’ve missed them, but the Great Spangled Fritillaries are flittering now in great numbers to my coreopsis.   And the bee balm that wouldn’t flower last year is just now showing its first blooms.  Soon, it will be covered with pink and red flowers that the hummingbirds especially adore.  And the morning glories have begun climbing up the porch lattice again, with those heart-shaped leaves that seem to convey a divine message of their own, apart from their luminous glory blossom. Natural events, sure…but signs and wonders just the same. 

fritillary on coreopsis blog

But the greatest sign and wonder came later that day when Blue Ridge Blue Collar Man stepped out of his work truck whole and healthy and happy and alive.  And wet. The sky had opened up that evening and it was pouring rain. Tom got drenched as he ran up to the porch, so I got wet too when I threw my arms around him and held him close.  I laid my cheek against his damp hair and closed my eyes and thanked God for rain and sun and fritillaries and bee balm and morning glories and hearts in the grass.

And for giving me, despite my doubts, despite my wavering faith, despite my fear, the sweet miracle of Tom. 

glory blog

Psalm Upon Hearing the First Lawnmower of the Season

June 1, 2009

Our bedroom window blog

(Our open bedroom window this morning)

After we mowed on Saturday, for some reason, the sweet fragrance of the cut grass was particularly intense, so that smelling the combined essence of freshly-cut grass and honeysuckle blossoms coming through the bedroom window was very nearly a spiritual experience.

I’ve always loved the smell of new-cut grass.  In fact, when I was nineteen or twenty (the age of my children now), I wrote a poem about it:  Psalm Upon Hearing the First Lawnmower of the Season.  It actually got published in a literary magazine, and the editors were kind enough to write a little note to me. I can’t remember all the words of their note exactly, but I do recall the last line : 

“Wonderful descriptive images with lively metaphors…but the pun was intrusive.”

Hee, hee…that makes me laugh every time I remember it because it wasn’t the first (or the last) time I heard that criticism.  And of course they were probably right.  I’m pretty sure that none of the poets we now consider great included “intrusive” puns in their poems. But I find it so very difficult to resist wanton wordplay.  After all, for me, writing poetry is about the sheer delight of playing with language, and there’s nothing I find more amusing than a good (or bad) pun.  

So, even though we’re a bit past the first lawn mowing of the season, I thought I’d share the poem I wrote about it over thirty years ago, complete with flagrant pun.  Can you find it?  Maybe those editors didn’t appreciate my wordplay, but I hope that you do.  And, of course, I hope you like my poem, too.  :-)

Psalm Upon Hearing the First Lawnmower of the Season

Winter-sealed windows muffle morning
And the sunshine serenade
Of silver blades on green.
Lone droning melody—long over dew.

Rasping open, the window inhales, gasping
As life and light rush through.
Draperies flutter like pale cobwebs
Swept aside in spring cleaning.
Green air filters through the screen
Almost strained of winter’s ghosts.

Air greening! Bare greening!
Sun and rain in warm light showers
Combine—a pure and golden wine.
Pale embryos too long confined
Beneath the earth begin to stir. 

Something in me moves
Forgotten seeds
Planted in heart grooves
In springs before cold dormant seasons.
They stir once more and feed
On pulsing blood.
New rivers running in a flood
Through a singing heart.


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