Bridges Between

IMG_0828One fall, when I attended the University of Iowa, I went a few weeks between visits home. When my parents drove me to school, the fields were full  and green. When they brought me home, the fields stood empty. Even the combines and trucks had gone home.

Growing up in rural Iowa, I’d never experienced fall without seeing harvest, that gradual dismantling of the familiar, fertile landscape one field at a time. It was unsettling. I’d seen empty fields before, with the stubbly shave they wore between fall and spring each year. The problem wasn’t how they looked. It was that, while I was insulated in the city, fall had stolen in without me noticing. I’d missed it, and now I felt out of sync, like something was wrong in the world.

Twenty-five years later I can look back and recognize harvest for what it was, a long event that was part of my transition from one season to another, one that carried me from the verdant warmth of the growing season to the stark beauty of winter. According to merriam-webster.com, one definition of bridge is “a structure carrying a pathway or roadway over a depression or obstacle.” Another is “a time, place, or means of connection or transition.”

Harvest. It’s more than the gathering in of carefully cultivated bounty. It’s a bridge, a steady, unfolding process that I fail to notice until I miss it, one that spans the chasm between heat of summer and the chill of winter.

The measured pace of the seasons is a hidden bridge which carries me gently from where I am to where I need to be. It extends some space to prepare, not just to enter the coming season but to let go of the best parts of the one  fading away.

Bridge

Life offers other hidden bridges, simple, vital, nearly unnoticed parts of our days.  These are structures that carry our path, that support us along our road, that make the impassable way possible, that provide connection and transition. Stopping to look closely enough to actually see  helps me to understand these three for what they are. Gifts. Helpers. Graces.

Fatigue: That I want to do just one more thing before bed prevents me from either getting up when I should or being at my best for the people around me. That I get tired insures that I lay down for the rest I need. Fatigue furnishes a daily opportunity for fresh starts and new mercies.

Hunger: Because my body needs fuel, I get to pause, body and soul, not for only bread but also for breath. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner.  Hunger bestows three chances to pause between where I’ve been and where I’m headed next. Three opportunities  to gain perspective before launching into the next item on the list. Three occasions for thanksgiving.

Slow Fades: Under the influence of the hardest part of any season, I think that when I’m done with the season, I am done with the season. As in, I think I could switch from one hundred degree days to fifty degree days. I can’t. It takes time to shift between the long, hot days and the short, cool ones. My body isn’t ready and neither is my mind. The seasons’ slow fade offers transition time, a space not just for hello, but for goodbye.

BridgeAnd you? Are there hidden bridges carrying your path along right now, supporting you, making a way for connection or transition?

 

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

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? 

Rest Along the Way

Switchback

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?

 

Sharing at Small Wonder.

 

 

 

Tracks in the Snow

tracks by the fenceThe twelve-passenger van made its way down Yellowstone’s snow-covered road not on traditional tires, but on treads meant to traverse the groomed roadway. Gone were the crowds and the fly fishermen of fall, replaced by seas of white broken by swaths of evergreen and dots of brown, bison in search of last year’s grass to fill their bellies. Two adult trumpeter swans, their arched necks highlighted against the steamy Firehole River, swam alongside a grey cygnet, all camouflaged by the white of the snow and the deep of the water. A cow elk foraged alone for food on a hillside and a bald eagle soared in the sky above.

When we left the Firehole River Valley to follow the Gibbon, we passed a thermal feature I’d never noticed before: the Chocolate Pots. Water flowed from its cone down a short slope to the water below, its deep browns a fountain of chocolate in the forest. Situated on the riverbank across from the road, it was obvious and I wondered how I’d never seen it before. I’d passed by  that familiar stretch of road hundreds of times.

This day was different. Instead of it being just one part of a sea of deep colors—evergreen boughs on brown trunks emerging from dark dirt—it was framed by winter’s white. Snow crept to its very edge and frosted the trees which framed the opening through which it showed itself. It stood out, revealed to me for the first time.

Chocolate Pots

I’d always thought of snow as something that transforms, something that softens the landscape, accenting every beauty and concealing every blemish.

Transformation, it seems, is not snow’s only offering. Its true gift may be that of revelation, and I value what it reveals more than the loveliness of what it temporarily changes. The year we saw the Chocolate Pots, snow showed us more every day.

Tracks in the snow kept us where we belonged as we hiked the hill to Observation Point. Tracks in the snow woke us up, made us pay closer attention and look more closely for wolves in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley, wolves we eventually found sharing dinner for two. And tracks in the snow showed us, as we wandered over the white and wintry landscape, where we’d been and where we hadn’t.

It’s these trails along the wandering way which may be the best revelation of all. They’re signs of sorts, reminders of the places we’ve been and why they matter. And the open spaces between, those fields of unbroken snow and untried trail, they invite us to carry on.

Wandering is a complicated word. Even though I know the children of Israel’s forty-year tenure in the wilderness was spent waiting, not milling around aimlessly lost in the woods, when I hear a reference to their wandering in the wilderness, it’s milling that I see. And even though I know the dictionary definition means to follow a winding course as much as it means to go astray, it’s the astray part that sticks.

Sometimes what sticks needs to be shed. A little time on the wandering way now and again does us some good. The Fellowship of the Ring is fiction, but the sentiment behind Tolkien’s poem is not:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Sometimes the long way around is the best way forward. Sometimes the winding course brings us exactly where we need to be. So here’s to tracks in the snow, the ones that show us not just where we’ve been, but all the places we’ve still to go.

IMG_1313And you? Are you willing to wander?

Sharing this week at Small WondersUnite and Weekend Whispers and Thought Provoking Thursday.

Because Sometimes We Forget

Once upon a time I looked at the empty picnic tables at interstate rest areas  and wondered Who uses those?  I never saw them in use and our stops were always quick and utilitarian.

Then J and I had kids.

Each of our three children was less than a year before we carted them off on their first thousand-mile-one-way road trip. With the combination of little ones and that kind of mileage, I learned to see rest areas with new eyes.

Beyond the continual requests for potty breaks, our kids needed to move, to get the wiggles out. At rest areas they ran. Down the sidewalks. Over the grass. On the playground equipment.

Now they’re growing up. They’re happy to read or sleep in the car. But they’re still willing to stop and wander through a rest area.

Some rest areas are efficient affairs, with straight sidewalks, grey cement picnic pads, and a pet exercise area off to one side. Others are wooded, wound about with sun-dappled paths that curve through the trees. It’s here where we’ll stroll down a shady sidewalk for a much-needed stretch when we find ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be.

Sometimes we want to be home, to sleep in our own beds, to return to the rhythm of the familiar. Other times we want to get on with the adventure, to arrive somewhere magnificent, to be done with the long drive already. Whether the destination is mundane or momentous, we still need to rest.

Rest Area

Because the kids are beyond the stage of potty-breaks and wiggles, it’s easy to forget that we all still need a break from the car. Because they’re growing up, we’re continually finding ourselves somewhere between where we’ve been and where we want to be. And because none of them are in the single digits anymore, it’s easy to ignore the fact that every one of us still needs occasional respite from life’s road.

Without regular naps or early bedtimes to anchor the rhythms of life, we  got a little lazy. Not lazy as in all we lounged around and eat bonbons, but lazy as in we ceased to pay attention, quit tending to important things. We ignored the reality that we all need pauses, pauses that allow for more than minimal sleep and sustenance. We need the kind that make space for conversation and connection, for worship, for the strengthening of the body, refreshment of the soul, and reorganization of the heart and the mind.

Stopping isn’t natural for me. It’s something I’m learning because I believe in the importance of the things that don’t happen when the hustle of life outstrips the pace of the heart. And it’s the heart–and those things near to it–that suffer first when I forget about rest.

Outdoors, I notice sunny spots and inviting paths that remind me to remember what’s important and to pause, to stop if necessary. I’m learning to look for those same places within the moments that make up my days and the days that make up my life, because it’s there I most need the reminder to pause, to stop if that is what’s called for, to embrace and be fully present in those moments–whether it’s the night’s rest or the morning’s breakfast, worship or conversation.

IMG_4121

Sunny spots and inviting paths are less obvious in the moments and days of life than they are outdoors. Sometimes they come disguised as Will you play a game with me? from a little one or an unconvincing Okay to the standard How are you today? asked of a friendOther times they appear as a sick child or post-operative parent. And still others it’s a weary look in my child’s eyes or the nagging fatigue in my soul.

Even short pauses don’t always come easily. In fact, they sometimes come at a cost. Sometimes they cost me my time. Other times they cost me pride.

Rest areas remind of my mortality, that–no matter how my life and lists tempt me to believe otherwise–I’m not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnipresent. I am human, limited and fallible, in need of grace and mercy, and grateful that, in rest, I learn to receive.

And you? What reminds you that you need to rest?


Something to think about: Shelly Miller is a writer who encourages me to remember the importance of rest, specifically Sabbath rest. She writes this:  …Sabbath isn’t about resting so I can be more productive. It isn’t about me at all.  And this: Sabbath is a weekly inward commute from a loud world to a still small voice; a rhythm of familiar conversation in a language that speaks deeply of belonging. It is a reminder that the world doesn’t revolve around me.

The sad reality is that I so much like things to be about me. But slowly, slowly, I am learning about the connections between rest and God’s grace and mercy and that it isn’t about what I bring to the table at all. If you’d like to read more of what she has to say, click on over here or on the link above.

Sharing Because Sometimes We Forget at Small Wonders.

A Little Thing

Hope

The littlest things make a difference, little things such as bits of scarlet in a tangle of brown on a winter’s day.

It’s often true, what Blaise Pascal wrote: A little thing comforts us because a little thing afflicts us. A little thing can make all the difference.

What little thing is making a difference for you today?

Sharing this week at Thought Provoking Thursday and Unforced Rhythms.