Truth Walk

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Here’s an invitation. Take a walk with me. You may stay at your computer. This is a walk with photos. Everything you read and see will be true. Welcome to the “truth hike.”

Our location is a United States Fish and Wildlife Waterfowl Production area (WPA). As we begin, the wind is from the southeast. The temperature is above freezing and it’s nice to be outside. We take a few steps and a plan is made. There must be white-tailed deer nearby. We adjust our direction, we will stay along the west border of this wild place so our scent drifts northward and not into the WPA.

A “prescribed fire” has recently been completed here. Contrary to what you may think, fire is healthy for a prairie like this. When fire has removed the dry vegetation, it provides a chance to see the history of the area. We stop to examine what looks like a femur from a former resident of this place. We leave it, it will nourish the mice and become part of the prairie soil.DSC_0008sig

We trek northward. We pick up a deer trail and follow it into reed canary grass. More than once a deer has jumped up in front of me. They like bedding in this thick grass. We stand and wait, expecting a large mammal to rise up from the grass. But it’s quiet, only the wind rustles the grass. As we reach the top of the hill boulders buried in the soil catch our attention. They are covered in lichen. The kind in the photo is a type of crustose. No deer yet, but this lichen is old, many deer have passed this rock.DSC_0009sig

The chances of a deer seem improved as we look east. A compact oak savannah grows along the edge of a very interesting looking wetland. We’ll take a photo of the empty bird’s nest to prove to children there are times in the year when nests do not have eggs in them. We take the deer trail into the oak savannah. We barely make a sound. We find fresh deer scat, but again, there are no deer. The ice on this wetland stretches from shore to shore. We step on the edge for a few photos to the southeast. We do not take a chance by walking out toward the middle.DSC_0026sig

Now the wind is in our faces. Our scent blows behind us. We’ve been quiet too. We walk a few steps and stop, watching and listening. We come to another low place filled with reed canary. But this one has water in it. No deer in this one. We take the deer trail leading to the south-east. There are tracks frozen into the ground at the edge of the place we are leaving. Deer use this place, often. As we reach the crest of a small hill, the dried stalk of a fall aster catches my eye. The seed has already dispersed. Still, it seems like a good subject for a photo.DSC_0032sig

Now we reach the edge of the prescribed burn area. Our search for deer now seems futile. But we stop and look behind us often. It seems wise, wolves and coyotes always check their back trail. In just a few minutes we will have returned to our starting point. But as we walk downhill and through burned cattail stalks the white shells of water snails stand out against the charred black cattail. They are beautiful. I did not mention this until now, but during the entire hike my eyes were watchful for muskrats on the ice or edges. They appear to be frozen in for the winter. Speaking of winter, look at the size of their huts! DSC_0039sigThere is an old-timer adage about this. The size of the hut is a winter predictor. Small huts-mild winter…large huts-strong winter. These are the largest I have seen for a few seasons. This may or may not be truth. Hmm, we’ll see.DSC_0044sig

Our “truth hike” comes to an end here. All of these events are true. They happened today. 

There is another consideration about truth. We prefer the truth. We need truth. Because our world is filled with untruth, the beautiful truth we find in nature is one of the reasons we delight in time outside. Today’s “truth walk” was earthly. But each photo reveals the glory of God. They point us to the “eternal truth-walk.” Isaiah said, “This is the way, walk in it…”

Jesus is eternal truth. He is the author of truth, he is full of grace, and truth. He is the Creator of the truth we witnessed on our hike. Jesus also said this about truth to those who believed in him, “then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Take a truth walk outside where you live. Then take a “truth walk” today in your soul, believe in Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life.

Which way should we “walk?” Walk with Jesus, He is the way.

Spiders…fear or not? It’s up to you!

Arachnophobia, it is real. Fear of spiders is widespread. Are you afraid of spiders? Perhaps it is a good idea. People say they bite humans. In an interview of 118 undergraduate students in London, 75% of them feared spiders. A long-standing spider perception is they are creepy. Their multiple long legs and their unusual appearance may contribute. Many spiders are web builders, webs are creepy, aren’t they? Someone said spider fangs are fearsome. Here’s another one; they are poisonous! Another one is the certain fact that they are sneaky. We mind our own business doing human things and BAM there is a spider. Do they actually sneak up on humans? Does ugly count?

Really, is a fear of spiders necessary? What if spiders are beneficial? What if they actually help humans more than harm?

My camera helped me to discover spiders today. In my experience, owning a camera provides a compelling reason to go outside. Nature is filled with an infinite number of magnificent subjects. One of my personal favorite times in a day is when I can see the photos on my computer screen. But this is about spiders. This my spider story, it happened today.

My photography goal for today was to take photos at sunrise. No chance, it was cloudy. Mid-morning photos became my goal. At first my eyes were drawn to colors. However, by mid-September in our latitude, color is largely absent. White asters were still in bloom. As I approached the edge of the city prairie a cold bumble bee snuggled into the aster flowers became my first subject. Walking into the prairie a 2-striped grasshopper on a gray-headed coneflower stem added color. The black of a blister beetle, again on the aster became my third insect subject. The prairie I was in was filled with rich luxuriant heads of Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). The Indian Grass growing there in abundance was magnificent.DSC_0109_612sigDSC_0113_613sigDSC_0120_615sigDSC_0123_616sigDSC_0137_620sig

Then I walked searching for the next subject. The richly flowered prairie of July was now a place of ripening seed heads. The abundant bumble bees my eyes delighted in during a July trip were gone with the blossoms. My feet took me up the hill and then down. A stray cluster of stiff golden rod flowers caught my eye. It happened while setting the camera tripod for a photo of goldenrod yellow.

A large Argiope, or banded garden spider ( Argiope trifasciata) was working its orb web just to the right of the golden rod. Because of the spider, there are no golden rod photos. The spider was the most intriguing thing I’d seen so far. It had taken me more than 30 minutes to begin to notice the spiders in this prairie. Once my eyes witnessed this one it was possible to find 3 more within 10 feet of the first one. All were rapidly harvesting the small flying insects being caught in their orb webs. They were low in the prairie because of the strong north-east wind.DSC_0144_621sig

Another reality that happened while with spiders this morning, I was not bitten by any of the 4 I saw. Nor was I bitten by the many I never saw. Spiders are beneficial to humans. Consider this list:

  1. These spiders are quiet introverts. The Argiopes today wanted nothing of me. Their aim in life: consuming insects.
  2. Their orb web captures: aphids, flies, grasshoppers, mosquitoes, wasps and bees.  Did you read humans in this list?
  3. They have a poisonous bite-but it is for disabling their prey. While a spider bite from some spiders can be painful, it is not fatal to humans-we are too large.
  4. Spiders control the world insect population. Without them we would be over our heads in invertebrates.
  5. Spiders are food for other animals, their venom may have medicinal uses, and their silk is strong as Kevlar.

garden spiders this morning have made their home in the prairie. This the natural habitat for them. But we can find them in our backyards too. They belong there. Actually, because they share the earth with us we benefit from their  existence.DSC_0180_630sig

Do you still fear spiders? Perhaps the next time you see a beautiful garden spider you will not be as fearful. Instead stop and marvel. God made each one. They are His design perfectly structured to function in a prairie world by creating a balance for all living things-humans included.

Is there a cure for Arachnophobia? As you spend time observing what spiders do in their role in a food web, you may find them far less creepy. Perhaps you’ll even be awestruck.

Take a good look at God’s wonders—they’ll take your breath away. Psalm 66:5 (The Message)DSC_0162_626sig

 

No Tears, No Sickness or Pain, No Death

DSC_0011_543sigI spent 30 minutes in another world today. The world was in my backyard. Since it was in my backyard, this world contained earth residents. Once in this world, my feet never moved. Here my eyes found the Cup Plant ( Silphium perfoliatum) Most were over 10 feet tall with deep green leaves and brilliant yellow composite flowers. They made a world of their own. Their nectar and pollen drew other earth residents too. Just watching and listening, I saw a Two Spotted Bumblebee, a Long-Eared Bee, A large Yellow-jacket Wasp, Syrphid Flies and multiple Painted Lady Butterflies. A small white insect landed on my camera lens. In this miniature prairie planted by my own hands were multiple other life forms I never saw. Most were invertebrate. All were present because the little backyard prairie met their habitat needs. The bees and butterflies were there for food: nectar and pollen.

DSC_0017_544sigThis world was quiet. It was peaceful. Bees shared the same flowers with other bees and the butterflies. There was enough for all. I witnessed the same flowers visited over and over. The nectar continued to flow. There was no fighting, rather a visible harmony existed.

My heart was calmed. Peace settled on my own mind and soul. This happened steps from my backdoor.DSC_0056_548sig

This quiet place reminds me of another real place: heaven. There is peace and harmony there. No sickness or death ever occur in heaven. There will never be mourning, tears or pain. The peace of God is always there.  God’s peace passes understanding. We can spend eternity there-not just 30 minutes. Jesus paid the price of admission.DSC_0070_551sig

More Than All

Can you make Stiff Goldenrod Yellow or Blazing Star purple? Maybe. Then, make them bloom, pollinate, seed and produce the next generation. Can you make them drought and fire resistant? Maybe beautiful? Neither can I. There is One who can do “more than all” of these.
 
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be gloryEphesians 3:20-21DSC_0096_491sig

More Than All

Socrates is considered a wise man. Perhaps he is best known for his gifted ability to question everything and everyone. Today we know it as the Socratic method.  The Socratic method of teaching is to ask question after question until students or readers arrive at their own understanding.

The method of Socrates can lead us to truth. Here are the questions:

  1. How much is abundantly more than all?
  2. If all is done what more can be done?
  3. Is there a limit to more than all?
  4. Do you know any human who can actually do abundantly more than all?
  5. Is “more than all” even possible?

Nature provides us with a specific example which can enable us to understand the truth, the answers to these questions. The natural world exists to point us to truth.DSC_0007_462_483sig(Beaded water on Indian-Grass)

Our example is the grasshopper. Specifically, Melanoplus bivittatus, or the Two Striped Grasshopper. The two-striped grasshopper is one species of more than 20,000 species world-wide. The two striped is the grasshopper with, as expected, two yellow stripes which run from their head to mid-wing forming a triangle. The ultimate habitat for the two-striped grasshopper is prairie. The two-striped is a herbivore, a plant eater. It eats flowers and grass. Flowers like Stiff Goldenrod and Monarda, and grasses like Indian grass and Big Bluestem find their way into the stomach of the two-striped. This grasshopper lives in a beautiful world. DSC_0020_464sig(Stiff Goldenrod)

DSC_0023_465sig(Soldier Beetle on  Gray headed coneflower)

DSC_0068_478sig(Ripening Indian Grass Seed)

In a prairie, there is always a harmonious balance. The eaters seldom overcome the plants. Plants dominate. But grasshoppers and their kind can and have overpowered everything. The over-abundance of grasshoppers and locusts is common in world history. Consider two. The first occurred in the United States. It is recorded in history as the grasshopper plague of 1874. In July of that year millions of Rocky Mountain locusts flew into the prairies of the Dakotas and all the way to Texas. By 1874 much of what had been prairie had been repurposed to become farmland growing wheat. This plague of locusts destroyed everything-even wooden tool handles!

The second plague occurred much earlier in human history. The setting was ancient Egypt. It is recorded in the Bible in the book of Exodus chapter 10. In this chapter, it is recorded that the locusts covered the entire country of Egypt and “darkened” the land, and after they were done eating, “not a single leaf was left on the trees and plants.”

Now, return with me to the first question: How much is abundantly more than all?

Few of us have ever seen a plague of locusts like that described in these two accounts. We realize that it must have been a natural disaster of the greatest magnitude, yet since we have never seen such a swarm of locusts, we cannot fully understand. But these plagues bring within sight of the truth. While these plagues contained millions of grasshoppers-neither were more than all. We can see the truth standing on the history of these locust accounts. No human could create the vast swarms contained in these plagues. No human could even make 1 grasshopper.DSC_0044_471sig(The Two-striped Grasshopper

God is our More Than All. He is able to do abundantly more than all. There is no limit to God. It is God who does “abundantly more than all.” This brings us to one of the greatest truths the human mind can consider. Since God is able to do abundantly more than all, like creating swarms of locusts and grasshoppers. Can God be abundantly more than all for you? What are your needs? What benefit would there be for you and I to trust ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all?  Does it help to know that this ONE who is able to do abundantly more than all so loves the world? The not so lowly grasshopper is just one evidence of the infinite powers of More Than All.

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

 

The Magician

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It is a magician but with flowers, stems and roots. It can pollinate itself. But we seldom are excited with pollination, it is out of sight, but it’s still magical. It reaches above earth from ½ to over a meter in height. Not a giant, but perfectly tall enough in a prairie. Its delicate leaves are light and touch sensitive. They enfold at a touch or change in light-yes-magical. Its white flowers are spherical. They resemble something other worldly. In a sense, they are.

Our plant magician is the Illinois BundleFlower (Desmanthus illinoensis). It is also called False sensitive plant. The BundleFlower is significantly better than a magician. Magicians use sleight of hand and illusion to conduct their “magic”.  The Illinois BundleFlower is the real thing.

It is a highly nutritious plant. It is palatable to all classes of livestock, deer and pronghorn antelope. The Eastern Cottontail that lives in our prairie garden likes it also, but not with the cayenne pepper I sprinkle on the leaves. The seeds of BundleFlower are eagerly eaten by birds and rodents. The protein content of BundleFlower seed is 38%, this nearly equals the 40% protein found in soybeans.  In documents published by the USDA, this native plant is considered one of the most important native prairie legumes.

 BundleFlower grows in much of the central to eastern United States. It ranges southward from South Dakota and Minnesota through Colorado, New Mexico and Texas, and eastward to Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas and into Florida.

My guess is-you’ve never seen it before. In more than 6 decades of walking pastures and prairies, my eyes had never seen even one Illinois BundleFlower. In the fall of 2015 my hands touched its seed pods. We gathered them, saved them and propagated them in a greenhouse. The photos you see are of BundleFlower growing in our prairie garden from that seed. Call me a geek, or a bore if you wish. Having Illinois BundleFlower growing in my backyard is a special thrill. We do not see these plants because most of the North American prairie is now at work doing another task: producing food for America.DSC_0010_417sig

It is also most likely that as you have now read this far the skeptic in you has been saying, magician? This is no biggie, it’s just a plant! Been waiting for you to say that. It’s time for just little science. We know that oxygen comes from the air we breathe. Many of us know that the earth’s atmosphere contains more than oxygen. Gasses in the blend we breathe are:

Nitrogen – 78 percent.

Oxygen – 21 percent.

Argon – 0.93 percent.

Carbon dioxide – 0.038 percent.

Remember a few sentences ago we said BundleFlower is one of the most important native prairie legumes? Being a legume means the BundleFlower during the process of photosynthesis can transfer nitrogen from the air into plant ready fertilizer-in the soil. Explained another way: BundleFlower can transfer the nitrogen in the air into the soil. It becomes fertilizer plants can use-and it is all natural.

My current guess is you are thinking, “is that all you’ve got?” Stop, consider what was said. BundleFlower can change a gas in the air to a solid fertilizer in the soil that all plants benefit from. It’s actually a miracle, not magic.

We live in an amazing world. There are always new things to discover. There are always surprises to delight us. The Illinois BundleFlower is a special delight. What discoveries could you make by stepping out your door? What things in nature could fill you with delight? They are out there, go outside.

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Vastness Explained

Vastness…it is immense, even cosmic. And we humans cannot fully comprehend what true vastness is.

We should try. What is vast to you? Your example should be immense and measureless. Your example should cause you to feel small. Feel small, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Your example should cause you to feel powerless. Not helpless-but almost.

 

In abstract situations such as this, we benefit from concrete examples that enable us to visualize the abstract.

 

When thinking about vastness, one of my favorite models to exemplify what vastness is comes from a finite example. The example is a prairie. The French word for a place of grass and flowers is prairie. Prairies occur worldwide in North America, Asia, Europe, South American and Africa. They are characterized as places of moderate temperatures, moderate rainfall and vast stretches of mostly flat, treeless land. The word vast can be used to describe prairies before agriculture cultivation of the land began.

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Even today, there are places in the world where thousands of acres of continuous prairie exist. But size in acres is only one part of the vastness of a prairie. The life forms found on a prairie are another vast seemingly limitless realm. 40 to 60 different species of grass alone canhttps://www.nps.gov/tapr/learn/nature/a-complex-prairie-ecosystem.htm be found in a prairie. Before agricultural development this grass fed between 30 and 60 million bison on the North American continent. Mixed with the grasses an amazing 300 species of flowers with unique characteristics that give each plant climate matching traits that allow the plant to grow on a prairie. Plants native to prairies can withstand drought, fire, intense sun and intense cold.

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In a prairie in summer a nearly incalculable number of insects can be found living in prairies. A better word may be invertebrates. Biologists believe there are approximately 11,000 species of grasshoppers living in the earth’s grasslands. This is simply because they have been studied them more than other invertebrate species. Consider the vast and to humans’ uncountable numbers of insects, spiders and other invertebrates that live in the earth’s grasslands. As we do so we are only starting to comprehend vastness.

 

What is the source of vastness? Ask GOOGLE for the answer. You will discover there is no answer. The answers GOOGLE gives relate to the universe. That vastness exists is undeniable. But, the true source of vastness is God.

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A vast God can create a vast prairie and all the life in it. The Bible records God as a vast Creator and gives the oceans of the world as a second example. Here is the ocean, vast and wide, teeming with life of every kind, both large and small. Psalm 104:25

 

Consider vastness for another reason. We are all sinful. Like it or not, and whether you are willing to admit it or not-you are sinful. Like me. We lie, steal, cheat, commit murder in our hearts and we want what others have-we covet. We all need a vast forgiveness. We are a mess and in need of a vast unfailing love that forgives us of all our sin. In your heart, you know it’s true.

 

There is eternal and infinitely good news. God’s love is as vast as His creation! Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds. Psalm 36:5

 

Still thinking about vastness? A prairie or an ocean can remind you of the vastness of God’s great love for you, for me. He is as near to you with HIS vast love as a prayer. He is at hand. Tell Him what you need. His vast love will never run out.

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