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.

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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.

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.