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Archive for the ‘The Wonderful World of Nature’ Category

March Walk

I am not referring to the “outdoors” for millions of Americans, that world which is surrounded by cement, concrete, metal, steel, brick and mortar or any other of man’s useful building materials.  Despite the usefulness of these necessities for community living, we can become so acclimated and overwhelmed by them that we are in danger of forgetting there is another “outdoors”—that which God created not simply to provide resources for the above-listed essentials, but specifically to nurture our bodies and souls.

Speaking from personal experience, I must not only bring God’s created world of outdoors in, I must keep it in to remain balanced and whole.  Thus our home is filled with natural treasures:  a variety of sea shells, coral, hunks of quartz and petrified wood, stones and polished agate, jars and bowls filled with chestnuts, fresh flowers blooming in their season, houseplants, and beauty like the above-pictured gleanings of last summer’s dried bounty harvested yesterday—in the prairie just a three minute walk from home.

We bring the outdoors in when we visit wild places, hike or ski through them, or even just view the natural countryside from a car window if that is all we can do.  Exposures to natural and wild beauty can imprint our hearts and minds for a lifetime—renewing and refreshing over the years.  Even though I can only remember from years ago a vacation at the rocky Maine seacoast, or living with the majesty of the Colorado mountains a few miles from my back yard, I am surfeited by theses experiences recalled.

With a vivid and lively imagine we can bring the outdoors in via books that take us anywhere in the world we desire to go!  I am a person most blessed because I have vicariously traveled the world through books.  When I read I am THERE—wherever I have decided to go—and my soul is richer for the trip!

Over 160 years ago, an American whom I love wrote these timeless words:  “Our village life would stagnate if it were not for the unexplored forests and meadows which surround it.”  Throughout the many decades since Henry David Thoreau penned WALDEN and many other writings, Americans have enjoyed God’s gift of nature so wisely preserved by federal, state, and local governments.  But Thoreau also celebrated and wrote about natural creation which can be found at home, wherever there are gardens, birds, and life!*

I often muse over the era in which Thoreau lived and wrote: the mid 19th century.  Technology back then consisted of trains and factories.  In Thoreau’s lifetime one got around by:  train; horse–or horse drawn conveyance, boat, or foot.  Although the telegraph had been invented, most personal and everyday communications were still largely conducted via the spoken or written word.  Thoreau wrote about the human need to periodically remove oneself from human technology and society.

Thoreau loved to walk, engrossed in every natural sight and sound along the way.  What would the perceptive philosopher think about our world today?  Could he ever have envisioned a culture where countless people walk along a lovely park path, heads down and preoccupied with texting or otherwise puttering with their phones?  Or tuning out the birdsong with earphones and streamed music?

Whether or not Henry David Thoreau could have envisioned such advances, he very clearly understood the human drive to discover the potential of and harness resources for man’s use—with all the more urgent necessity to bring the outdoors in, for the good of our souls!

Margaret l. Been — March 23, 2018

*Thoreau’s writings are not just “reads”; they are “re-reads” over and over and over!  One always discovers something new and fresh with the re-reading.  For Christmas one year, my Joe gave me the complete huge 2-volume set of Thoreau’s diaries.

It is fairly well-known that this “beloved Yankee” died at age 45 in early May, 1862, of tuberculosis.  The diary entries (from 1837 to 1861—two volumes approximately 1750 pages each in small font) center on the natural environment with occasional references to books or articles read by Thoreau, or people in his community and individuals he has met in his travels.  The journals include writings dated until a year before Thoreau’s death, and nowhere in reading have I found anything about Thoreau’s illness or personal distress. 

The final entries in 1861 indicate that Thoreau is no longer out and about.  Friends, one of whom is Horace Mann, bring him natural specimens and gleanings from their nature walks, and Thoreau writes from his past observations when out in nature.  In these final entries we see evidence of the outdoors brought into the immediacy of his home:  descriptions of birds viewed from a window; prevailing weather (always a natural phenomena observable from anywhere above ground); and (most poignant of all I think), delightful descriptions of a batch of kittens born during Thoreau’s final days of writing.

NOTE:  Another and hugely significant reason to love Henry David Thoreau was his dedicated and very vocal advocating for the abolition of slavery.

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uEncore.JPG

. . . and now we are eight.  Eight women who have gathered every second Wednesday at each other’s homes since the late 1950s and early 60s.  Originally bonded by graduation  from Wauwatosa High School (a near west side suburb of Milwaukee) in 1953, we’ve gathered other friends along the way.  Since the 50s and 60s were early mothering years, we began with evening meetings including lots of chat and a sumptuous dessert with our prettiest tableware.  Candles and/or centerpieces were givens and always will be—so long as we can still manage to strike a match (and blow it out!) or delve in our storage closets for interesting adjuncts to the occasion!

As our children grew to school age, we switched to mid day, with lots of chat and a luncheon on the above mentioned tables—varying of course with the seasons, availability of fresh flowers from gardens, and prevailing daylight or early dark.  Now we are getting into the mature years, and we sometimes opt to serve dessert only, or even meet at a restaurant.  But homes are still the best.  Last week the eight of us, plus one delightful guest making us “nine”, met in Joe’s and my condo on a drop-dead gorgeous March day with doors open and sunlight pouring in.

How can we do this, year after year?  Unlike every other gathering to which I’ve belonged, we are not glued together by a specific interest such as Bible Study, knitting, spinning, serious bridge, writing, and antiquing which have composed the grist of my other groupie activities over the years.

In our thirteen-now-eight group, we’re not all on the same page—worldview-wise or according to politics.  Not one bit!  Indeed, it’s tacitly understood that there are conversational places where we simply never go—for if we did, our shared pleasant origins might deteriorate into a food fight, especially if some of us were to begin quoting our favorite, highly-polarized Cable News sources.

Some share an interest in a craft, and others don’t craft at all.  Some of us decorate with antiques, and others with practically nothing in the room except for a couch, table, a few chairs, and a lamp or two.  We all share a love for family, but we rarely talk about our families.  (I probably am the most apt to talk family, because I have so many fun and funny little people to talk about.)

We rarely discuss a problem.  Or medical stuff—the most boring topic of all.  Our bodies are beginning to fall apart, but we try to eschew talking about bodies.  On perkier days, we talk of the natural world outside our doors:  the birds we’ve seen at our feeders; the recent cougar siting in Brookfield, WI—a suburb west of Wauwatosa; the deer and coyotes ubiquitous in our county.  That is real talk.  Some like to travel: always fun to hear about.  Some, like me, stay home and enjoy each day.  I can make jaunty conversation out of that—at least no one has fallen asleep listening to me so far.

Perhaps the closest to a common bond other than families would be pets and gardens.  No matter what side of the political aisle we are on, we agree that cats are hilarious and infinitely interesting.  Plus, most of us agree that dogs are people.  Although I have been cat-less for decades, and (sob-sob) currently dog-less (that cannot last much longer), I never tire of hearing talk about anyone’s cats and dogs.  Better than politics any day.

But even pets can’t explain the phenomena of women gathering every single month over a period of almost six decades!  So what’s up?  I go back to one common denominator:  a gracious mother in an open home.  I believe we were all blessed with such mothers and homes.  We learned the art of disagreeing without throwing food; and we avoid areas of pointless discourse where no one’s mind will budge short of much prayer and a God-given epiphany.  We agree to disagree, and get on with the “math” in terms of our considerable common denominators.

We learned to chew WITH OUR MOUTHS CLOSED, not to lick our knives, and other mannerly amenities of dining.  We learned TO NEVER TALK WITH FOOD IN OUR MOUTHS.  The alternatives are unthinkable.  These mouth bits alone make for six decades of companionable talking and eating.  🙂 

And believe it or not, the mouth manners have been instrumental in naming our group:  We are TALK AND EAT!

Margaret L. Been — March 18, 2018

Always Time for Tea 2.jpg

 

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Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

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Us

“Finally, Brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”  Philippians 4:8

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time as the days are evil.”  Ephesians 5:15-16

One would have to be clueless, to doubt the fact that the days are evil.  The days have been evil ever since the game-changing fiasco in the garden.  But Eden did not have cell phones, a worldwide internet, FACEBOOK, TWITTER, and billions of people—starving, warring, and suffering unspeakable horrors.  Eden’s evil was not so sophisticatedly organized, so widely and criminally justified by evil national majorities—so whitewashed to appear humanitarian, reasonable, rational, “kind to the planet” and altruistic, as the convoluted sin of these days.  It took thousands of years to get here.

Those of us who prefer keeping our heads in Scripture rather than sand believe we are nearing the book of Revelation, when the Lord Jesus Christ will return to earth to establish justice and reign in His Holy City, Jerusalem.  No we are not to name the day or the hour.  But YES, we are to watch for the signs prophesied by Old Testament Prophets, the Lord Jesus in His Olivet Discourse (Matthew 24-25), and New Testament letters culminating in Jude and Revelation. 

The days are evil, and we are nearing the end of the Church Age.  In the words of beloved Christian brother, Francis Schaeffer, “How do we then live?”  How am I to respond or react to evil times?  Am I to go high stress, slap-dashing about in a fervor of Chicken Little-ish behavior?  Wrong!  Am I to think about nothing else than the fact that the days are evil?  Wrong again!

Am I to eschew beauty and instead fashion a drab, lackluster world around me, an environment which says nothing about creative living?  How horrible is that!

So what is Right?  My quest for an answer always comes back to the above quotes from Philippians and Ephesians, and countless other passages having to do with gracious, Spirit-filled living.  Joyous living.  God is still in charge.  God has always been and will always be in charge.

Yes, we are to speak up and out whenever we can.  Yes we are to pray with compassion for those who suffer all over this crazy, convoluted earth.  Yet it is still God’s earth.  As well as being fully God, Jesus was fully human—modeling the perfect humanity intended for people on earth, until man and woman (not in that order) blew it in the beautiful garden which God had provided for them.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will return, to reign on earth for 1000 years.  Scripture predicts a New Heaven and New Earth.  Certainly we will not fathom details until they unfold, but nowhere in the Bible is “earth” left out of the equation.  God created earth, and He loves His creation.  In light of that truth I can only gather that we humans, the most valued of His creation, are to go on living and loving the life He has given us on earth.

That means gratitude rather than gloom.  That means serenity rather than stress.  That means pure, down-to-earth appreciation for and pleasure in His boundless gifts—people to love, gardens to plant, creative hobbies to pursue, art, music, poetry, sports, sunshine, fresh air, the list is endless.  Earth gifts!

There is a pathetic “hangover” from past Christian eras and persuasions which taught that physical and soul pleasures were intrinsically evil.  Hence:  the monks who starved themselves or didn’t converse with each other, those Christians who wear drab clothing because anything eye-catching might lead to idolatry (or immorality), and believers who avoid the enjoyment of any pastime without blatantly “spiritual” overtones.

Asceticism is NOT BIBLICAL.  It NEVER WAS BIBLICAL.  Asceticism is a boring, yet potentially devastating ploy invented by the Evil One who—if he cannot get Christians to throw in the towel and quit, will instead lure them into nurturing a sense of pride in not doing this and not enjoying that.*

The paradox here is that within God’s creative, expansive and wholesome arena of “this or that”, we are to walk with joyous confidence; it is the pride inherent in asceticism which God hates, and holds us accountable for.  The person who lives by asceticism may be bowing before the idol of pride!

Life on earth is to be loved, savored, celebrated, and enjoyed to the max while never losing sight of our Creator, never forgetting that He is the Creator of all things—every breath we inhale, every flower we plant and gather.  With our heads full of God’s “whatsoever things”, our lives will shine out to the lost souls who desperately need to know about our Saviour.  As long as God’s people remain on earth (His earth!) and continue to redeem the time, there will be some light, and some good, although the days are evil.

Margaret L. Been — January 26, 2016

(First posted in “God’s Word is True”, September 25, 2015)

*THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, by C.S. Lewis provides a witty and wonderful treatise on the pitfall of asceticism.

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Pleasant places, pleasant times

gorgeous Wisconsin

Today we traveled just a few miles from our small lake-country community, out to the surrounding countryside—the rivers, farms, and woodlands which say “Wisconsin”.  Pictured above is the Rock River, once a part of the Sauk Indians’ Wisconsin and Illinois territory embedded in history by the leadership of Black Hawk.  From the photo you can see that we’ve had plenty of rain; that white thing apparently floating beyond the high grass slightly above center is a picnic bench.

Joe (flanked by Dylan) cast a line in this river park, which is simply a spur off a county road—one of countless natural retreats for travelers in our state.

gorgeous outing

When Dylan wasn’t fishing, he strolled with me along the water’s edge.  Suddenly, he decided to go wading—something he has never done before.  I was amazed, because it’s always a struggle to get Dylan into the bathtub.  But then, haven’t little boys always preferred wading in rivers to getting lathered up in a tub?  So it’s no wonder that Dylan went in up to his belly, which isn’t all that high off the ground.  Perhaps the presence of hundreds of teensy tadpoles darting in the water provided a lure to adventure, even when it meant my corgi had to get wet.

From the river site Joe, Dylan, and I meandered along country lanes west of the Kettle Moraine State Forest where we lived for 21 years—the longest I have ever lived in any one place for my entire life.  We visited a friend on a farm near Fort Atkinson (more historic Sauk country), and Dylan ran free of his leash—something he hasn’t done since we moved nearly 5 years ago, from our wild northern acres.  On that farm Joe and I stroked horses noses and fondled a small herd of mini-Nubian goats—all of whom Dylan approached with friendly enthusiasm.  (Dylan LOVES all living creatures, barring dogs.  He wants to KILL dogs!)

Laden with rhubarb and some of the best fresh spinach we’ve ever had, we returned home via a favorite country ice-cream shop—“Pickets” possibly named after a 1990s TV series, PICKET FENCES, hypothetically set in  Rome, Wisconsin.*

The actual village of Rome (on the Bark River) seems like something Time forgot, except for the occasional local person walking around with a cell phone.

As you readers can probably gather, our octogenarian decade is at this moment an extremely pleasant time.  We live surrounded by pleasant places, and Home is the most pleasant of all.  Currently we have another family living with us—not inside our 4 room condo, but just outside and above our living room/patio door.

gorgeous best yet birds

The nest contains 5 baby barn swallows.  A week ago we saw nothing but mouths lining the edge of the nest; and when they were open the mouths looked like mini-Muppets.  Now the babies are leaning out of the nest, and they are hilarious.  The middle bird is huge compared to his or her “sibs”, and also the most aggressive.  Some have learned to back over the edge to do their bird jobs; consequently we’ll soon have a piece of work to clean-up.

What we are seeing is Entitlement in action; I call it “OCCUPY NASHOTAH”.  For several days the parents have been zooming and fluttering around between feedings.  It seems that Mom and Dad realize it’s time for their nestlings to get out on their own and DO THEIR OWN WORK!  I hope to be out there when it happens!  🙂

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Pleasant places, pleasant times.  Every single day, I thank our Lord for them.  I’ve lived long enough (and through enough!) to know that “pleasant” can change in an instant—to “crisis”, “emergency”, and even “tragedy”.

Because I know and trust the Lord Jesus Christ who died to save us from our sin and rose to give us Eternal Life, and because I know that I’m in His care forever, I have no fear of the future.  As I rest in Him, He will provide the Grace to bear whatever lies ahead!  Meanwhile I’m thankful beyond expression, for God’s gift of Life—and for the pleasant places and pleasant times He’s given Joe and me today!

©Margaret L. Been, July 2014

*Never having watched PICKET FENCES, I’m not sure of the naming of the country store—or whether or not it was featured in the series.  Perhaps the store was always “Pickets”, and the show was named after it.  Who knows?  Further GOOGLE research may shed light.  🙂

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North

My above-pictured collage, simply titled “North”, tells a story—an account of eight years when my husband and I lived, year around, north of Highway 8 in the Wisconsin Northwoods.  Included in the collage are photos of our lake and the Big Elk River around the bend, snippets of my cropped art, bits of aluminum foil, Japanese lace paper, some cheesecloth, lots of acrylic paint, and a favorite quote from a beloved American author:  Henry David Thoreau:  “I had three chairs in my house . . . one for solitude, two for friendship, and three for society.”  Walden

People who know me may laugh when I share this favorite quotation.  They know that:  1) I have far more than three chairs in our home, as well as far more than three of most anything else.  I’m a collector of everything! and 2) My idea of “society” is a lot more than three people.  We have a gargantuan family.  All are welcome to come and sit on our multiple chairs—although many are still in the stage of running around rather than just sitting.  (My “up north” friend Sandy commented after viewing a photo of our family, “That’s not a family; that’s a tribe!”)

Meanwhile, aside from Thoreau’s eastern philosophical views, I love most everything that he wrote.  His chair quote, to me, symbolizes an inner peace and unswerving stability.  A true Yankee at heart, Thoreau was never swayed by customs, crowds, human opinion, or even his own precarious health issues.  I have his complete diary spanning 24 years and two huge volumes.  Right up to his last entry, when Thoreau was dying of tuberculosis, his focus remained on the wonders of creation and the intricate details therein.

The wonders of creation predominate around our home in Northern Wisconsin, along with solitude and an undescribable stillness.  Black bears abound. Despite the fact that they tore up a few bird feeders and pulled a screen off our front deck, I loved the bears (but my husband did not!).  Perhaps the most unique thrill of all was seeing timber wolves on the ice in front of our pier.  The wolves brought unforgettable excitement to a minus 25° morning.  (That’s 25 degrees below zero, folks!)  But nature’s wonders notwithstanding, my most precious memories of up north have to do with the friends we made—friends forever.  As always, I was thankful to have more than 3 chairs in my home!  🙂

Now we are back in the Southern part of our state, where much needed medical care is within 13 minutes from our door.  And family!  In recent years, 16 great-grandchildren have appeared on the scene and we live close to 9 of them.  We are watching the little people grow up.  We attend their school concerts and some of the birthday celebrations.  I attend church with children, grandchildren, and 7 of our great-grandchildren.  When out-of-state family members visit, we are all together in one county—so tribal gatherings are easily managed.  Joe and I enjoy our condo home, my little gardens, the good neighbors on our lane, the park and woodlands beyond our door, and quick access to great restaurants and bistros.  A new grandbaby is due in June—within rocking and cuddling distance. 

Yet now and then on hot summer nights—when I lounge outdoors on the patio while viewing the hazy moon and scanty stars over our nearby metro area—I recall those northern night skies, plastered with millions of stars.  I often think of my friends up there, and I’m thankful that we stay in touch. 

We never really lose the beloved people or places in our lives.  There’ll always be a part of my heart labeled, “North of Highway 8”.

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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I’m in agreement with Maria in listing “raindrops on roses” as one of her “fav — or — ite things“!  We’ve been parched around here for a couple of weeks, with sunlight and high winds.  Late last night the thunder and rain rolled in.  What a joy to go to sleep and wake to the sound of raindrops on roses and everything else.

I went out early this morning with my little red SONY®, to capture those raindrops.  They don’t really show up on the photo, but the rose bushes do—along with mertensia (Virginia bluebells), hostas, bleeding hearts, some columbine greenery, and other treasures around my beloved derelict red chair.  (The barrel cactus is fake; it stays out all year.)

I can often spot whether people around here are on my page, by observing their response to rain.  People who just don’t get it are apt to say, “It’s a nice day so far, but later it’s supposed to rain.  (Followed by a grimace.)  But!  But!  In Wisconsin we grow crops.  Barring floods, we need rain.  I lived in the Wisconsin Northwoods for years, and learned that a dry spring is the most fire-dangerous time of the year—as the rising sap in the trees is incendiary.  My gardens need rain.  My soul needs rain.  Rain in moderation and balance, that is.

There is an exception to the “soul need” for rain.  Anyone who lives where it rains for weeks and months on end, with no sight of the sun, is justified in saying “But it’s supposed to rain”—followed by a grimace.  I might do the same thing, if I lived in beautiful, green Northwest Washington State.  We have family members who live there.  Laura, are you reading this? 

Our daughter, Laura, works for a bank in Bellingham, Washington.  She tells a humorous story about when people came to her bank recently on business, from Arizona.  They walked around outdoors in a kind of euphoria, exclaiming, “Isn’t this WONDERFUL?!!!”  After awhile, Laura got tired of hearing the exclamations, and she answered very firmly, “No, it’s NOT!”

Years ago, I visited Laura and her family in January—and experienced the same euphoria registered by the Arizona bunch.  Wisconsin is often below zero in Wisconsin in January.  Our nose hair is apt to freeze up when we go from the house to the car.  So the smell of rain and the moist green Washington earth was heady indeed. 

After I’d exclaimed “Isn’t this Wonderful?!!!!!!!!!” ad nauseum, Laura’s daughter Nancy (then 9 years old) said, “Grandma, doesn’t it ever rain in Wisconsin?”  I think they’d all decided I was nuts! 

This afternoon, more thunder and almost hail sized raindrops are landing on the roses and everything else out there.  It’s wonderful!  But we’ll see how wonderful it is if we have a couple weeks of it! 🙂

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