A Walk With Naturalists

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Eye on Us

On Friday they told me they saw a beaver. They said it was on the shore right next to the trail where they stood. The skeptic in me thought, “maybe.” It was full day light, the beaver is nocturnal. My plan-stick with maybe. Their enthusiasm did not sway my opinion.
On Saturday my will weakened. “Could we go for a walk to see if the beaver is there?” was my request. It please me greatly when they said yes. All three of them showed eagerness both to go and to have me along. My skepticism vanished. You see the location of the beaver was in a backwater of a river. Yes, backwater, in a city park, in the capitol of North Dakota. The river was not any river, it was the longest river in the United States, the 2,300-mile-long Missouri.
A second incentive for this walk to the river was my motivation to observe how they would lead me across a busy city street and through blocks of a residential area before the park and the river.

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Two sets of eyes

In bright sunshine, the 4 of us started out. We cut westward through a coulee with water flowing through it. They spotted a pair of Mallard Drakes long before my eyes picked them out. Walking through a small grove of trees on the west edge of the coulee we heard a rooster pheasant crow. The 12-year-old boy conversations stopped. With delight, my eyes witnessed all three of them go into stealth mode. Again, my wise naturalist skills were eclipsed, one of the boys pointed out a pheasant slinking away. They spotted it first. These boys were good.
They led me directly to a pedestrian bridge that crossed the traffic filled street. The rest of the way they used cross walks and the sidewalk. It felt safe and comfortable. They did the same on the return trip. The boys were responsible. Sometimes three boys can think of unsafe things or become silly. There was none of that going or coming. We had not even come to the river and the walk with these three boys was remarkably pleasurable.

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He Watches

At the backwater, more joy came. My great privilege that morning was the company of three 12-year-old naturalists. They were interested in everything. They wanted me to get good photos. Tracks intrigued them. They listened when other pheasants crowed. They questioned what animals had made the tracks we observed. Then one of them did something few kids or adults would ever think of, he stepped over a track rather than destroy it with his foot. We witnessed Western Grebes fishing.

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Water off a Grebe’s Back

There were numerous reasons for happiness that morning. The maturity and responsibility of these three boys was one. The absolute thrill of seeing the respect and true interest in nature the three possessed another. Having conversations with three others who found everything on this sandbar of the Missouri river, fascinating. They were right about the beaver too. We didn’t see it this time. But two piles of fresh beaver scat and many chewed branches were clear evidence.

The boys and I got something else. We witnessed the power of God. We observed His divine nature in the beauty of the crowing pheasant calls and the dives of the grebes. They’d seen a fish in the water the day before. The mystery of fish in water exhilarated them. The four of us relaxed, stress fell away, our health strengthened.
Should we be surprised at the health-giving qualities available to everyone who goes outside? Why is the earth beautiful? Why do our eyes see color, our ears hear sounds equal to 10 musical octaves? Our three other senses add greater depth to any outside time. A man named David was both shepherd and king in his life. As shepherd he learned of the power and divine nature of God in creation. He wrote, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Psalm 24:1 God put health in nature.
Take a walk. Better yet, take some kids with you. Why is the earth so beautiful, so full of stimulating mystery which captives the minds of three boys and a grandpa? Because God made the earth for us. He made it out of love. He designed all of it for us. It is one of his gifts to us. His greatest gift is Jesus Christ and the eternal life His death on the cross provides. Could Jesus really overcome all our sins? He is powerful enough to make a world filled with beauty and mystery. We see it best when we go outside.

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Discussion

The Testimony of Geese

Lurking” begins in late winter. There is no malice or mischief in this waiting, it is intentional. There is still ice on wetlands. The “lurkers” stand on it. Some late winter days they loiter for hours. As warmer weather approaches and the ice melts from wetland waters, the “lurkers” get serious. No other loiterer is permitted to be in the place the two original “waiters/lurkers” have chosen. These waiters are not employees of a restaurant. They wear feathers. They fly. They honk. Sometimes they perch with webbed feet on the roofs of buildings to keep watch over their wetland turf. The early spring lurkers are Canada Geese (Brantis Canadensis) Imagine a large bird with a long neck and flat, webbed feet on the peak of a roof. But there is no danger, they can fly.DSC_0129_985sig

You may wonder why write about Canada geese in spring-when it’s near the end of fall. Today, the geese provide us with perspective. Winter is coming. These geese live outside 24/7. They have no warm building to escape to. Geese do not possess cupboards filled with food. They do have down feathers that keep them warmer than most of our human constructed warm weather gear. They will face freezing temperatures, snow, even blizzards. They live outside all day, all night in conditions we humans would expire from. They live.DSC_0154_993sig

Now, the rest of the spring story. Before the ice is off the wetland, the pair of Canadas begin nesting. The goose (female) builds the nest. She lines it with down from her own body. The gander(male) becomes his mate’s consistent body-guard. He is a true force.  25-30 days must pass as the female incubates and the male guards. Reading about this miraculous process does not provide the magnitude of effort two birds expend to produce a clutch of 4-6 young. She stays on the nest except for brief periods to get water and enough food to sustain her. My memories include a Canada goose incubating her eggs and observing her with head down and neck stretched over the nest-during a snowstorm. I got cold and went inside. The next morning, with ice covering the wetland she was still there. The gander was still guarding. That day for almost 30 more, they stayed on task. My activities that day after sunset included a warm meal, and a warm bed sheltered from any of the freezing elements both geese were experiencing for the entire night. That’s persistence. That’s unselfishness and dedication. It is self-sacrificing, all for the next generation.DSC_0160_996sig

Now, the perspective we can take from the life of a Canada goose. They never give up. This may sound strange, but they never complain. Cold or wet, comfortable or not geese persist-in every season. Yes, you say-they are geese! But they provide a living example we can learn from.

How are geese able to persevere, in all conditions? It’s mercy. It’s great faithfulness. The living example of the geese for us reveals the mercy and faithfulness of God. As Creator of the geese. God provides everything Canada geese need. Water, food, oxygen, yes-shelter, instincts to nest, fly, protect and stay with the same mate for life, these are evidence of the faithful mercy of God. You know the geese cannot generate any of these things by their own strength.

It is a short step now from the example of the involvement of God with the Canada geese. You and I were made “in the image of God.” Why is that important? Only human beings are given the distinct and separate designation of being “made in God’s image.” No other living things fit this category. Humans were made by God to reflect the character of God. We fail often at this-we are sinners. But God never fails. His faithful love exists each day for the Canada Geese who are facing the extremes of a northern winter. Even greater is the faithful love God offers us. It never ends, never ceases and wonder of wonders, it begins new every morning. Look at the geese and see the great faithfulness of God. Best of all, you and I can do nothing to earn this great love of God, it is not necessary. God loves us first, long before we have any idea we need His love. That’s a miracle.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23DSC_0167_998sig

Following the Ordinances of Heaven

Canada Geese ( Branta canadensis)…Lesser Canada Geese (Branta hutchinsii)

There is nothing common about these magnificent birds. They live from coast to coast & from Mexico to the Arctic. Because they are herbivores, they eat everything green from new wheat to golf course grass. Canadas are very adaptable. They thrive at life. DSC_0062_974sigGiant Canadas are well named as they have wingspans to 6 feet and males may weigh over 23 pounds. Their longevity is another amazing attribute, the average lifespan of a Canada goose is 10-25 years. It is no surprise why their population increases. Examine the photos for an understanding of the word gregarious…Canadas “hang” together. The famous Canada Goose V flying formation allows flocks to fly up to 70% farther than when flying alone. Pilots have reported geese flying at altitudes of 9000 feet, at average speeds of 40-55 miles per hour; they can fly at 70 mph with a tailwind! We know they mate for life. We humans could learn from their example. A male is the gander and a female the goose. DSC_0070sigDowny body feathers keep them warm in below zero temperatures which send us scurrying for heat-indoors. These feathers retain their insulation qualities even after the bird dies. Down is best at keeping humans warm.

DSC_0120sigWhile there may be thousands of them in view, there is nothing common about them. How might we explain the ability of these birds to live almost everywhere on the North American Continent? How are they able to withstand extremes in weather, both heat and cold? Why do they mate for life? Because the Canada Goose does not follow prescribed human directives. There is an unseen power to be found in these birds. Whether there are 1000s honking and splashing in one place or a pair in flight over head careful observation reveals power. Canada Geese follow the script. God gives it to them. In Job 38:33 God asks Job two questions.

1.       Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?

2.       Can you establish their rule on earth?

We have libraries full and an internet packed with knowledge about these geese. But Canada Geese act and live the way they do because they know the ordinances of God. His instructions are written in their DNA. They do geese things each day because the rule of God directs them. Refrain from taking them for granted because we see them often. They are completely uncommon.DSC_0086sig