Monday, December 31, 2012

Better Than Light

“And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:  ‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’ And he replied:  ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.  That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.’

I first read that quote the year I had literally gone out into the darkness—quit my job at a school where I was teaching, given up my apartment and gone off to work on my doctorate in an environment about as far removed from my life and lifestyle as possible—the huge and ultra secular University of New Hampshire.  I had no idea what to expect.  All I knew was that I hoped I could succeed in a world I had had little or no contact with until that point.

Looking back, I’m not sure how I had the courage to do it, although if you know me at all, you know I am a risk-taker, always pushing the envelope, so maybe it’s not such a surprise that I would do something like that after all.    Although there were many things foreign and even difficult about the experience for me, I don’t regret having done it.  I also learned a lot, the most important being the truth of those M.L. Haskins lines from the poem “God Knows” in her book The Desert.  Any time you put your hand into the hand of God you are in a better light and on a safer way.

This is nothing new to most of us.  In fact, I think probably most of us believe that a life following close to Jesus is absolutely the best life.  Trouble is, it does no good to hold a belief if you don’t practice it.  If you’re not a thinker and a doer, why bother thinking?  Shocking question coming from one who, as a teacher, is continually exhorting her students to THINK, isn’t it? 

Well, I’ve been thinking about doing for a few weeks, now.  This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about doing, of course.  In fact I often think about doing around this time of year.  It’s the New Year, and one can hardly avoid thinking about doing new things, doing things differently, doing things at all!  At least I can’t. Every year for as long as I can remember—and my sisters say I can remember a long ways back, although it’s getting shorter as I get older—I’ve been making New Year’s Resolution lists.  Sometimes they’re long and detailed lists.  Other times they’re brief but cleverly worded lists—working under the theory that a few resolutions are easier to keep than many.  Omit needless deeds, you know.  It depends on how energetic I’m feeling at the moment…

No matter the form, I find myself thinking a lot during the weeks that surround the New Year.  Thing is, that’s the easy part.  Anyone can think, although they don’t always do it.  It’s the acting on the thinking that’s the real challenge.   That's my goal this year.  To act on the thinking, with my hand in God's.  That is definitely better light and safer than the known way.

The Year is Going

"Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow: The year is going, let him go; Ring out the false, ring in the true." ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Comparison and Contrast

The difference . . . is huge:  Arizona versus Maine, humming birds to blue jays, sun to snow.  From one week to the next, there is no comparison, only contrast:

Not So Bleak Midwinter

One of my favorite Christmas carols is In the Bleak Midwinter with Christina Rosetti's poignant verses penned in 1872 at the request of Scribner's Monthly magazine for a Christmas poem:

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

I love especially the last line--because while that is the simplest and most obvious answer, it is the most complex of all gifts:  the thing that sets us apart from every other living thing, the depth and breadth of our very being, our core, the very reason for our existence.  It's the hardest thing to give as well.  And yet once given, it's plain that there really is no other response possible.

Today's nor'easter is reminding me of this carol.  It is definitely bleak outside for anyone and anything subjected to the pommelling going on out there.  The birds have been buffeted for hours in their flying, feeding, and huddling attempts.  I've been trying to capture them with my camera.  Some are plucky and persevering--the chickadees, juncos, jays, and goldfinches.  The doves, though, seem to be having a hard time, withdrawing into themselves, only surfacing every once in awhile to shake off the snow and then hunker down again.

On the other hand, for this New Englander who only sees snow at Christmas time now--if she's lucky--the snow and wind are anything but bleak.  The stark white of the snow against the rich green of the pines, red of the cardinals, the blue of the blue jays, the black of the juncos, the golds of the goldfinches, the checks of the Harry and Downy woodpeckers, the soft browns of the doves, the grays of the chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice--this kaleidoscope of color, this constantly shifting array of feathered friends--is not only not so bleak, it is beautiful.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Desert Garden Stroll

A few months ago, a friend and I had tea at a charming tea room in the equally charming town of Carefree, Arizona.  The tea room, called "English Rose," was a delightful experience and I've been wanting to go back ever since.  Yesterday, I discovered that the town has a 4 acre desert garden, so I drove over to explore.

The drive itself, once you get within 6-8 miles of the town, is a botanical education with flora- and fauna- identification signs posted by shrubs, trees, and cacti.  The signs are large enough to read as you drive by.
When I arrived at the town center, I found an Arts & Crafts Festival going on, so the Desert Garden was a little cluttered for optimal picture taking.  Still, I don't think I've ever seen more beautiful cacti!

The town of Carefree is fairly new, incorporated in 1980s.  The following information is from its website.
  • In the 1950’s, two entrepreneurs K.T. Palmer and Tom Darlington, formed a partnership and acquired the land now known as Carefree.
  •      In the 1960’s, SkyRanch Airport and the Desert Forest Golf Club opened.  The first shops and restaurants were constructed and business commenced within the TownCenter.
  •     In the 1970’s, a total of approximately 300 homes had been constructed.  Many of the roads in   and around Carefree were paved.
  •      In the 1980’s, Carefree incorporated as a Town.
  •      In the 1990’s, the population of Carefree increased to over 2,500 residents.
  •      Today, Carefree’s population is approaching 4,000 residents.  The Carefree Desert Gardens and Amphitheater hold numerous community concerts and events such as world class art shows throughout the year.  Carefree celebrates 50 years of history and 25 years of incorporation.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Gratitude Unlocked...

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. ~Melody Beattie

The day after Thanksgiving has dawned bright and beautiful.  For the third time in my life I did not spend Thanksgiving Day with family and even though I did pass a delightful afternoon with the families of two colleagues, I still felt a little bit empty.  For so many years Thanksgiving Day has meant lots of family--upwards of 30 people from four very connected families have gathered together to ask the Lord's continued blessing.  And of course they still gathered...but without so many this year.  The two oldest members of the group and one other are no longer with us, having passed away within the past year (one most recently a week ago). My youngest sister and her family, my oldest niece and her new husband, and a nephew were not there, nor were several others.  I missed them all.  And I imagine those who were there realized the absences keenly, too.

And yet.  There is much to be grateful for. My aforementioned close-knit family.  My colleagues and friends who make each work day a pleasure.  My students--past and present--who keep me going day after day.  My church family that is loving and nurturing.  My cats, faithful companions for the past decade.  My friends--near and far.  The list could go on an on.  I am truly blessed.  And for the actual Day of Thanks, even though I was not home with family, it was enough to be with my work family, with people who love me enough to count me family, and with the promise of being home soon for Christmas.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

South Rim Birding

I spent a few hours stalking birds during our long weekend at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  While my friends were hiking, I roamed the area between the El Tovar Hotel and the Kolb Studio trying to get  good pictures of the birds I saw.  I got several, but missed the Stellar Jay and the California Condor.  Maybe another time . . .

A Grand Time at the South Rim

A month prior to our trip to the North Rim and environs, my two adventure-buddies and several other colleagues and I spent a long weekend exploring the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  This time, we were doing an exploratory visit to check out the possibilities for an interdisciplinary field trip  for next fall.  We spent most of Friday with one of the rangers from the education department, but the rest of the time we were on our own.  Happily, we had Linda with us--and she had spent the past 20 years living and working in the Park, so we had an expert in our midst.  She added so much to what was already a fascinating visit!

We made our way up to north in small groups, but by the time we met up at our headquarters, there were an even dozen of us--including a teenager from Taiwan and a 2 year old--although circumstances back at school called two back the next morning.  Thursday was spent getting there and getting settled, but Friday was full, starting with several hours with our Park ranger, who took us through the woods and along the rim, showing and telling us things we'd never get on our own.  By mid-afternoon, we were ready for food and a rest, but there was so much to do, we didn't want to give over too much time to that.  So, on our own, we shopped and explored further.

Saturday morning, several of us got up early to see the sun rise over the canyon, and then some went hiking for a few hours.  I spent some time birdwatching along the rim.  We met back at the Kolb Studio for an art show, complete with the artists side by side with their art work.  Later in the afternoon, our "camp" was invaded by a small herd of elk.  The elk are, apparently, quite unafraid of humans and are very bold about grazing in populated areas of the park.

We spent a crazy and enjoyable evening at the El Tovar restaurant (porch seating) drinking hot chocolate and playing a somewhat rowdy game of "Mafia."  Much to our dismay, we were so noisy that some of the guest of the hotel sent down word asking us to be quiet!  Our students would certainly find that amusing!  To be fair, though, there were a few other guests who were at least as loud as we were, so it wasn't all us ;)

Unfortunately, we had to leave early on Sunday to get back for a mandatory staff meeting.  But we came away knowing that there was plenty of good material and opportunity for a full-fledged outdoor teaching unit.  Never mind, just plenty to see and do, period.