Because Winter is Inevitable

Once, long  ago, before babies and moves to houses in new communities, I picked up the beginning of an understanding of the seasons—their rhythms, their tasks, their hard realities. Learning to be a mom to three babies while finding my way in three different towns left room for little else in my brain. I traded a loose grip on the concept of seasons for the clutching fist of survival.

It was not a good trade.

I forgot that seasons really do change. That whether delightful or dry, balmy or bitter, fertile or fruitless, they don’t last forever. That there is a time for every single thing.

SmokeysI still thought about seasons here and there. I even wrote about them. What I didn’t do was believe the truth of them, a truth that drifted around, unanchored, just beyond my grasp.

At least, that’s how it was until I woke up on the hard ground one morning in a tent in South Dakota to a bombardment of missiles launched by a pinecone-gathering squirrel. The squirrel didn’t forget. Because he is a creature of instinct and the outdoors, he knew. Yellowstone 2011 It was September and he was doing the work of the season—gathering pinecones and flinging them down from the tree in rapid succession. They landed on the ground, the picnic table, the tent, and the camper next door. Autumn, the season of harvest, of preparation, of gathering and storing what he needed for the winter, weighed on him. He went to work with the sunrise.

Cocooned between my husband and our littlest one, who’d woken up cold in the night and sought out somewhere warmer to sleep, I listened to the frenzied activities of the squirrel in the tree above as he prepared for the unavoidable days of winter. From the warmth of our double sleeping bag, I considered the cycle of the seasons and acknowledged my own.

Deep winter. There was no other name for it.

Above the Basin

Our babies had grown into big kids, but even years beyond what we hoped would be the last move, the bleak chill of displacement claimed my soul in the same way the afternoon cold settles into my bones and makes them ache. And this frozen season of the heart held on too long, so long that my emotional storehouses—reserves against times drought and famine—depleted to dangerously low levels. With little left to fight off an engulfing depression, I longed for spring, a spring so slow in coming I thought it might never arrive.

But it did.

It came quietly, meandering in soon after waking up to that squirrel. It came on the heels of a long breakfast with an old friend, several perspective-challenging days in the mountains with my dad, and a couple of space-making weeks in South Dakota with my family. It came slowly, spring, with its powers of restoration, and its light, balmy air that took the chill off my soul.

The squirrel gathered because his fields were ripe. He gathered because it was time to harvest. The physical world is tidy that way. The seasons come in turn. Winter, then spring, then summer, then fall. And then it begins again.

101_0915It isn’t so simple in the world of people. Our seasons don’t follow a predictable pattern. They don’t always come in turn. And because of the rich complexities of our lives, we sometimes find ourselves facing deep winter in one place and high summer in another.

What the squirrel didn’t know on that sunny September morning was that within the month his home in the Black Hills would be blanketed by two feet of out-of-season, blizzard-driven snow. Like him, I’ll never know when autumn’s abundance will end. But what I’m learning is that winter is inevitable, that it’s best to gather whenever and wherever the fields are ripe.

For everything there is a season

Linking with Kelly’s Small Wonder and Lyli’s Thought Provoking Thursday.

This post was originally shared at

Because of New Normals

On the eve of our son’s return to college when the kids were snarly and I was weepy, my husband looked at us and said, “Transitions are always tough.”

They are. I know. But I forget.

With his words barely out into the air between us, I remembered Yellowstone’s roads and the rough transition from spring-summer-fall to winter and that it’s hard sometimes to get from where we are to where we need to be. Because I see the road as a metaphor for life, remembering Yellowstone’s roads smoothed my frayed nerves and gave me perspective. And because I know that transitions the road to new normals are not only tough, they’re inevitable, and that it’s human nature to forget what we know, here’s a repost from a couple of years back.


IMG_1511The sun dawned in the steely sky and peeked through trees veiled by the falling snow. It had begun the night before and lingered, fine and heavy, through the day. “It’s slick,” my son told me when he returned from his mid-day Calc class. I must have looked concerned, because he amended his statement. “The roads were fine. It’s the parking lot that was bad.”

Of course the roads were in better shape than the parking lot—the DOT turns the crews loose before the first flake hits the ground. They work to keep the roads neat and tidy, safe surfaces for us to navigate between where we are and where we need to be. Their trucks and plows spread through the area with sand, salt, and blades.

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone that same day, but there no one bothered much about the roads.

It wasn’t because of a strike. It wasn’t because of a government shutdown. It was because–with the exception of the fifty-two mile stretch of road between the North Entrance at Gardiner, Montana and the Northeast Entrance at Cooke City–Yellowstone’s roads are accessible only by snow machine during the winter.


In spring and summer and the early months of fall, Yellowstone’s roads are just roads. They have their seasonal dangers—potholes the size of small cars, thermal mist which ices the surface on cold nights, wildlife lallygagging just around the bend—but they are roads, meant for us to drive. We belong there.

During the winter they consist of snow, groomed smooth enough by the same machines that tend to downhill ski slopes, their edges marked by tall orange stakes rather than the familiar white line. We can belong there, too, on snowmobiles or in Suburbans retrofitted with treads.

But for a few weeks in between they are roads in transition.

They’re messy. They’re dangerous. And they’re fit for neither tires nor treads.

Some of the people who live and work in Yellowstone’s interior drive them anyway—to the grocery store, to visit a friend, to their winter’s work assignment. Park employees tell tales of white-knuckled travels over slippery, snowy roads. It’s what their life requires while they wait for the snow to build up so that groomers can carve out a smooth surface for them to get from where they are to where they need to be.

coyoteonthe road

Some of ours are roads in transition.

Stretches are messy. Sections are dangerous. And sometimes our vehicle feels like no match for the way ahead.

Our kids get older and what once worked suddenly is a cumbersome, clunky way that doesn’t get the job done. Our marriages reshape themselves just as we do, and so do our friendships. Our jobs change, and sometimes even the place where our key fits the lock.

In the midst of it all, we keep going. We make our way over roads that are messy and dangerous, in vehicles that feel like no match for the terrain. We wait for the day when it will smooth into a neat and tidy surface, one that feels safe to navigate–even if only for a little while. It’s the process life requires and the way it gives for us to get from where we are to where we need to be.

And while we wait, beautiful encouragement from a Psalm of David: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 

No matter the condition of the road.


And you? Are you on a road in transition today? What helps you navigate?

The Light of Summer

As the sun set over the baseball field at the end of a sweltering July day, I sat in the stands and tried not to long for fall. Extreme heat is kind of my kryptonite, so I found myself fighting to not wish the light of summer away over a little discomfort.

Sunset at the Field

Summer, hot as it is right now, is already fading. Like a sweet newborn who marches toward independence from the first breath, each season arrives with the end in sight. And autumn, it’s getting ready, waiting in the wings, ready to take center stage. Soon enough I will miss summer’s warmth.

Gifts of Summer

If you’ve been here for long, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to think in seasons and about seasons, that I  take stock of the gifts each one bestows. The practice of intentional gratitude reminds me that seasons change, that they come to an end. It keeps me from wishing them away. And it helps me remember that seasons, whether of the earth of or life, are not about me.

Rainbow at Campfire Bay Resort


Gifts Of This Summer

  1.  Daylight that lasts.
  2. Central air at home. Because it’s everywhere else and the human body (at least this human body) does not adjust quickly.
  3. Rain. Growing things need it. Even three days of stormy downpour when we’d planned to be engaged in some sort of outdoor activity bestowed the gift of forced creativity. That is, we held our first family ping-pong tournament, one that forced those of us who typically spectate to participate.
  4. Nieces and nephews. My summer list always seems to include these guys, because this is when I really get to see them, not just for a couple of days over a holiday, but for a week. It’s when I get a little glimpse into their lives.
  5. Carpet ball tables. Carpet ball is one of the happy sounds of summer.
  6. Loons. Their haunting call issues a reminder that even when there are no humans in sight, you are not alone when sitting on the shore of a Minnesota lake. Listen here.
  7. Mousetraps. Traditional ones. Better ones. Feline ones. Probably that’s all I need to say about that.
  8. Summer skies that go on forever. Especially the ones with a fiery sunrise or an impressionistic sunset.
  9. Summer break. Our boy is home for the summer. Our girls are occupying themselves with kittens and crafts and books and the outdoors.  These are things that don’t happen as easily when school is on.
  10. Basil. Especially when it grows just down the lane in the garden.

And you? What are you thankful for this season? I’d love to hear.


On Clearing and Cultivating

FullSizeRenderEight years ago, two months after we landed in a new place, spring unfolded like the twelve days of Christmas, each morning bestowing blossoms of a new color.

Crocus peeked over the winter’s covering of melting snow. Creeping phlox draped over the rock wall and tidy circles of hosta poked through the mat of the previous autumn’s fallen leaves. A small band of hyacinth and tulips held their blooms aloft near the cluster of tiny grape hyacinth massed at the base of a tree, a tree that revealed itself to be a redbud. Daffodils danced betwixt them all and even at the edge of the woods that is our backyard.

We’d received a gift, a garden–a mature garden–along with the house, one that someone else had labored to plan and maintain. Even though I don’t have the gardening gene that many members of my family carry, I recognized it as a gift because long ago Martha Steward told me so. Fifteen years, she’d told her TV audience, is how long it takes for a garden to mature, to get to that place the gardener had envisioned at planting time.

I love the idea of a garden. I planted an herb garden outside our first apartment. I’ve planted flowers at every home where we’ve lived. Once, I even planted a vegetable garden. But never have we stayed in one place long enough for our gardens to grow up.

The weeds sprang up that first spring with the same vigor as the flowers so, gardening gene or no, I went out to pull them. One side of the garden, the side across from the living room window, had few intruders, making it easy to work my way along the long stretch of green. But as I got further away from the window, the weeds grew thick and the hosta’s tidy circles gave way to a tangled jungle.

While I may love the idea of a garden, the years have proven that I don’t like the practice of gardening– the watering and weeding, the deadheading, the continual care. And while the gardens in my mind come straight from the pages of Martha Stewart Living, Victoria, and Midwest Living,  the actual work of my hands resemble those not at all. My herb garden lacked the magnificence of the ones in the magazines. My flower beds look neither vibrant nor lush. And my vegetable garden? Great with child when I planted and comforting an inconsolable infant during harvest, I’ve not taken that road again.

When a friend admitted she had “romantic notions” about gardening, she gave me words to understand the rough break between the lush gardens in my head and the ones that languished in my yard.

I waded further into the garden, past my romantic notions, pulling up plants of suspect etiology until I reached the farthest and most neglected end. There, in the shelter of the unfurling hosta, mass plantings of delicate, low-growing bluebell and lily of the valley broke the wall of green. Here were jewels I hadn’t set out to discover and without the practice, the work, of gardening, I’d never have cleared away the weeds that obscured them from view. I’d never have known they were there at all.

Spring in a new place, whether that place is a locale or a perspective, is like that, revealing what’s buried beneath winter’s snow, under the soil, behind the weeds. It challenges the romantic notions which stand in the way of tending, of progress, of discovery. It invites us out, beckons us to clear away the weeds and cultivate the land, wherever–or whatever–that land might be.

FullSizeRenderAnd you? Might you find little gems tucked within an untended wall of green in your life? 

Gifts of Spring

Spring Collage




















Like summer and fall and winter, it visits us every year. And like that bird I saw last summer, each of the four seasons brings a regular reminder to remember that somewhere down the road, things will change. That, along with each season’s inevitable hardships and gifts, are part of their rhythm and their charm. Some of these gifts are obvious and some are hidden, requiring us to search or simply be still. These are some of the gifts I’ve found this spring.

Birdsong: It’s so, so much better to wake to the birds than to the alarm clock.
Grey days: What better foil for the brilliance of the next morning’s blue sky?
Graduation parties: Celebrating with these kids and their families is a joy.
Picnic tables: My people linger longer when we’re seated outdoors.
Wildflowers: Even dandelions look fetching in an open meadow.
Baby animals. They’re baby animals, and that’s enough.
Open windows: They invite breezes and birdsong.
Campfires: They’re best when it’s a little cool.
Full streams: They sing one of nature’s songs.
Moss: I don’t even know why. Yet.

What gifts are you finding this spring?

For everything there is a season

Rest Along the Way


We sprinted up the switchbacked trail, pausing occasionally to measure how far we’d come, to rest our already used-up legs, to fill our lungs with as much oxygen as the mountain air would give. In previous years, I would have decided that it wasn’t worth it. Not the rush. Not the climb. Not even the destination. But over a lifetime, I’d come to embrace hiking, to believe that forest trails led to worthwhile places, to want to finish what we’d started. So we pressed on, putting one foot in front of the other, making painfully slow progress toward the solitude of one of Yellowstone’s backcountry thermal areas.

We’d tried this trail eighteen years before, on our first trip to the mountains together, just a couple of years into our marriage. We’d left our little red Plymouth Sundance in the pullout and approached the trail. Well, we walked to where the trail was supposed to be, just beyond the sign nestled in the pines, but no inviting packed-dirt path beckoned us deeper into the woods. The only indication that we were near the trail was a slender opening through the trees and a line of footprints in the snow.

That was May. After eight years away from Yellowstone, I’d forgotten about winter’s lingering ways. We’d set off into the snow in jeans and tennis shoes. One hundred yards later, soaked from the knees down, we turned back.

Now we were trying the trail to Monument Geyser Basin again. In September. On a dry trail. In hiking boots.

The intervening years had taught us some things.

The trail was short. Just a mile. Still, the steady string of switchbacks which climbed over 500 feet in that short distance earned it a classification of strenuous.

Under clear skies and over an open trail, this could have been a pleasant, though thigh-burning, hike but we’d chosen to squeeze it in between an already finished long trek and an appointment for a tour at the Old Faithful Inn.

In other words, we had to be quick. We had to hurry. Hurry and strenuous make a bad match. Hurry and hiking are poor companions. We knew this, but in our desire to get to Monument, we ignored it. So we raced up the trail, intent only on getting there in time to get back down again in time to make our appointment.

The trail ended at an opening in the trees, a doorway into a barren landscape of haunting shapes and the familiar scent of sulfur suspended in the air.

I perused the ghostly scene with its grey silhouettes and its gurgles and felt a strange disappointment settle over me. After all of that effort, I was expecting something different, something more. Something more spectacular. Something more worth the climb.

We’d pushed to get to this place. We’d rushed. We’d risked.  And here I stood, dissatisfied.

I knew the problem wasn’t the geyser basin. It was me. In my rush I’d burst through the opening in the trees as a consumer expecting to be entertained rather than as a visitor willing to be surprised by creation’s hospitality.

With the hour of our impending meeting with the Old Faithful Inn bellman driving us on, we didn’t linger long.

On our descent, we noticed another opening in the trees, one we’d missed on our way up. Even in our hurry, we turned toward it rather than following the trail to the car. Stepping through the trees we found ourselves above a wide meadow. A bison herd, brown dots scattered among the tattered grasses of fall, grazed near the Gibbon River. Standing above the river and the road which followed its course, we let our rush, our race with time slip away and I found rest for my disquieted mind and a reminder for my soul that it is possible–and good–to be still.

Monument was our destination. It drew us up the mountain, reminded me again that we miss out when we hurry, and then it offered the gracious hospitality of rest along the road, even though I showed up as an ill-mannered guest. That was its gift. Someday I’d like to return to Monument with a less entitled eye, to see it for what it is, a quiet marvel that God declared to be good. But for now, I’m grateful for the time on the trail, for what I learned, and the rest along the way.

SwitchbackAnd you? What unexpected discoveries have you made when you’ve paused along the way?


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