Everything That Matters is Here

 

Let’s take a walk.

Again? You ask. It seems we do this often.

We do.

It’s good for both of us. We’ll need a jacket, and another layer on your legs. When the temperature is below 40 degrees the air feels cold with a slight breeze from the south.

Let me tell you ahead of time; we’ll walk fast. There is a place down the road we need to get to before the light fades. Yes, the bulge under my jacket is my camera. Guess you figured that out because of the tripod in my left hand? DSC_0017_2044sig

I should tell you I have taken this walk many times before, and in every season. It came to me just now that this route has never been boring. Yes, I know my pace is fast, push yourself a little, your legs can do it.

Do you see the opening through the trees ahead? My eyes are always drawn across the water to the distant shore. Every time my eyes go there, skimming over the water. They pause at the tree line on that shore ¾ of a mile distant. They scan for deer. Truthfully, my eyes have scanned across the lake to that place every time we take this walk. There has never been a deer there. That won’t stop me from looking the next time.

Now we come to the east end of the lake. In all four seasons the view to the south across the water is beautiful. Many times, my legs quit moving here. A long gaze at the water, the trees, and the distant sky sometimes brings a sigh from inside. The beauty here stirs my heart.

Oh, we stopped this time too, didn’t we? It’s a habit when this spot comes up. Let me tell you another secret; sometimes my legs stop at this spot on the return trip too. The light is different then.

You got a moment to catch your breath. You should be ready for the next part. It’s going up the hill. We won’t stop, and for sure we won’t slow down. You’ll be breathing harder by the time we reach the top. It’s good for both of us.

There is another thing you should know.  Every time I take this walking route my question is, “What will be the surprise this time?” Remember this walking path is my preferred path. Yes, I walk it in every season. Did you know that I’ve walked this route for years? That’s a lot of surprises.

You don’t believe me, do you?

The surprises are not always big. Sometimes it’s the sparkle of sunlight on the water. Sometimes the fresh tracks of a white-tailed deer catch my eye. One early morning years ago in the dark, a Screech Owl called, a few days ago a Great Horned Owl flew away from me across the lake. Other times the smell of the earth and growing things makes this walk one to repeat. Oh, we are almost there. We’ll stop. We both will catch our breath.DSC_0034_2052sig

No need to talk.  We’ll look into the distance. Scan the trees at the far horizon, move your eyes across the distant hills. Let the beauty soak into your soul. Listen, can you hear mallard ducks calling from the corn stubble beyond? You say you see something moving? Here look through the viewfinder of my camera. Yes, those are deer. Listen, hear them? There were geese in that cornfield too. Can you see them just clearing the treetops in the distance?DSC_0053_2067sigDSC_0018_2045sig

Now, turn around. Isn’t the sunset beautiful?

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Everything that matters is here.

Romans 1:20 …ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So, they have no excuse for not knowing God.

He Sees

What does it mean to see something? We could say we understand or comprehend. Perhaps we might say, “I get it.” When we “see” something we realize it. To see is to perceive or grasp an idea. But the most basic meaning of to see could be expressed in the words observe and notice. To see means both to understand in our minds and observe with our eyes.

DSC_0002_1640sigA photographer must be able to “see.” A photo worthy subject might appeal because it’s rarely seen. Great nature photographers are able to position themselves in places to obtain unusual photos of wildlife. This requires not only ability to use a sophisticated camera, but knowledge of wildlife behavior. It also requires exceptional patience. Some nature photographers learn to see the beauty found everywhere in nature.

DSC_0013_1647sigOne of my favorite things to do with a camera comes while sitting down outside in a wild place. My objective is to find photo worthy subjects while sitting in one place. This takes time. Our minds and eyes need to begin to work in tandem. Using our mind and our perceived sense of the beautiful does not happen instantly. This takes concentration. Sitting in one place allows mind and eyes to work together. Our normal practice is to use our eyes to enable us to move from place to place while outside. Sitting still allows our minds to process the beauty around us. In a wild place there are thousands of beautiful things. We are accustomed to only seeing the big obvious things. The bright color of a Rooster Pheasant on snowy ground is an instant eye catcher.

DSC_0040_1663sigBut beauty is also found in nature details. A single leaf contrasted by white snow. The green of lichen on a background of white. Shadows on a bright winter’s day and a winding track of a deer mouse are beautiful. So are the convoluted chunks of ice thrown up by the river current beneath them. Sunlight on the bark of aspen trees on a bright winter day draws the eye. Dark limbs frosted with white snow are beautiful. To see these things requires stillness. It requires a mind actively seeking the silent beauty found in nature details. It takes time for nature photographers who capture the beauty of nature details to develop the skills to see.DSC_0064_1686sig.jpg

Our subject has been seeing, to observe and understand. What does it mean to you to know that God sees us? What does it mean to know God understands our minds and hearts? How wonderful, he not only sees us, he comprehends who we are. No human can understand you as God does.  He has seen you since before you were born. He saw you in your mother’s womb. He not only saw you, he formed you. He “knit” you together. All of your days were written in his book before you were born. God sees you. He knows when you rise and when you sit. His mind actively seeks you, but he does not need the practice to see you like a photographer. He sees you perfectly every moment of your existence.

Is God’s intent for harm or good? Relax, he sees you because he loves you. The Psalmist wrote from experience. He said, “The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.” Psalm 116:6

It is delightful to see the work of a photographer who sees the beauty of nature. It is life changing to know eternal, everywhere present, all-knowing God not only sees us, he knows all about us. Every problem, every hurt, each fear and every sad moment God sees it all. The one who made all beauty in nature protects and saves us. True beauty lies in this.DSC_0030_1658sig

Striving, Stillness, Peace

Yesterday a wordless reminder was impressed upon me. In words, it is for you today.

Three words focus our attention: striving, still, peace.

The order is important.

First striving. Synonyms for striving are struggling, trying, going all out, and my favorite: pulling out all the stops. When thinking of striving the word struggle seems most appropriate for our lives today. If circumstances and events in life do not cause struggle for us, we are adept at making life a struggle. Another description for striving comes from the term “multi-tasking.” Truthfully, no one can do two things at once. Multi-tasking is striving in disguise. Perhaps we live in the most advanced civilization in world history but we are overwhelmed with striving.

Does it matter?

In our hearts, we all know it does.

The wordless reminder was impressed upon me during a walk in a wild place yesterday. My goal: photograph something wild, exciting, something to cause you to say, “Wow!” Instead, my eyes and ears were met with stillness. Instead of “wow”, peace and quiet were given me. This place was so quiet. It was so still. It was deeply peaceful. The Psalmist reminds us of God’s instructions in Psalm 46:10 these words are written, “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”DSC_0012_1536sig

Still. The opposite of striving. What if multi-tasking keeps us from living life well? What if all our striving is misdirected? The wisest man in the world once wrote these words, “What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun?” Ecclesiastes 2:22

There is a by-product of stillness. Something good and desirable happens when we stop striving. Peace comes. Isaiah the prophet of God wrote these words many centuries ago, “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3 We strive and struggle to live life, seldom allowing even a spare moment of quietness or stillness. We become focused on earthly life. In stillness we can remember the Creator of all life.

Here are those three words again. Striving, stillness and peace. Consider these words a life course adjustment. These words are for me too.

Enjoy the photos. Take some quiet deep breaths. As you view these pictures from a quiet place, stop rushing, striving. In the stillness know that God loves you. Jesus died for you. You are in the eternal hands of God.

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Boone on Ice

His steps led him westward at first. West in the direction of the sunset. As he walked he came to the cross street that led south and east. This street edged the lake. His mind was filled with what he would do. He reminded himself to go slow. He needed to control his emotions to make good decisions. Calm thinking produced wise choices. First ice was no place for foolish thinking.

He was not only thinking about safety. He was thinking about what he would see. He remembered first ice walks with his father when he was younger. Boone smiled as he remembered the colors. He grinned at the thought of seeing the thousands of air bubbles trapped in the ice. His grin remained as these thoughts took him back to first ice last year. He thought the cracks and the impressive and connected network they made. He especially enjoyed the way cracks showed the depth of the ice. By looking down on them it was possible to see from the surface of the ice to where it met the water. Not only beautiful, they indicated how thick it was and if the ice was safe.

The last house along the lake was his point of entry to its ice. His dad knew the people who lived there. They enjoyed Boone’s enthusiasm for nature and even gave permission for him to walk on the edge of their lawn down to the lake. Boone was grateful. He reached the edge of the lake. Its ice was in front of him. He stopped there was a problem. The ice next to shore was dark. Just beyond it the ice was snow-covered. He knew from listening to both his dad and grandfather that the dark color meant liquid water had come up on the ice. The ice at the edge could be weaker. He picked a spot where the dark color was narrow. He could step out onto the snow-covered ice. He took a big step.DSC_0078_1193sig

The ice held. It did not even  crack. Boone was on ice. This was his first time alone. He turned and looked across the lake. The trees on the far shore looked dark. There were no houses on the other side. No one lived there. He wanted to walk in those woods. This wood was home to many birds. Deer lived there. There were rumors that even the tracks of a mountain lion had been seen there. A little shiver went down Boone’s spine as he stared across at the forest on the other side. He did not plan to only look. He planned to walk among the trees on that dark shore. He wanted to see and hear the birds there. He would do his own search for mountain lion tracks. He took a deep breath of the cold brisk air of early winter and turned to walk the ice near the shore. It would be safer at the edge even though it would take longer to get to the wood.DSC_0080_1195sig

The stumps of trees frozen in the ice took his mind off the adventure awaiting him in the trees. As he walked closer, he could see the tracks of an animal that had gone there before him. Because they were filled with snow, he knew the animal had been here a few days earlier. He also knew that because they were a single line of tracks that a coyote likely made them. The thought of walking where a coyote had gone before added mystery. Boone wondered what the coyote had been hunting. The last tree stump was very weathered. Its bark gone. A short branch pointed out into the lake. Boone wondered how many birds had perched on this shelf of wood just above the water. He forgot about the coyote. His eyes drifted over the surface of the stump, wind and water had smoothed the surface.DSC_0087_1199sigDSC_0093_1203sig

As he walked past the stump he saw the cattail on the shore’s edge ahead of him. They gracefully swayed in the northwest wind. Their movement and color drew him. The golden cattail stalks were a beautiful contrast to the white snow he walked on. He wondered what animals moved in and out on the ice beneath these towering aquatic plants that lined this part of the lake shore. He thought a mink would find this area interesting. Mink eat muskrats and muskrats would come to eat the cattail here.DSC_0098_1205sigDSC_0101_1207sig

While he was a bit disappointed that snow had covered the ice before he arrived. He was thankful that the white covering made walking much easier, and he reminded himself, safer. A new thought came to mind. He stopped. He realized he was missing the cracks and the air bubbles. He knelt on the snow. With his mittens, he brushed off the thin layer of snow covering the ice. It was worth the effort.DSC_0115_1213sig

His window was too small to see many cracks. But the bubbles were there. The dark color below told him liquid water was beneath the ice. Boone wondered how so many bubbles could become wrapped in the ice. He found joy in seeing bubbles in different layers of the ice. The faint blue color and the random placement of bubbles was beauty he enjoyed. While he marveled at the miracle and beauty of ice he remembered that he had not heard one crack as he walked. He relaxed a bit. The ice would hold and he would stay safe-and dry.DSC_0121_1215sig

But, he would still walk near the shore. He would not take any unwise chances. He lifted his head toward the trees standing silently on the far shore. The ice would hold him. Soon, he would walk in those dark trees. He did not know what he would see next, but he knew it would be wonderful. It was time to be moving.

(coming soon: Into the Forest)DSC_0132_1218sig

Boone’s Morning (conclusion)

Boone’s Morning Conclusion

Boone scanned the woods as he slowly made each step. He had learned the art of feeling the earth before he put his full weight on it. If a twig or branch was beneath, he moved his foot to the side. There was no sound of twigs or branches breaking when Boone walked. The leaves were something else. The carpeted the floor of the woods. He could not avoid them. He could pick up his feet and place them gently on the leafy mat which was part of the woods. He did not mind that walking took longer this way. Being quiet was his goal. He intended to see things.

He had walked 100 yards when he came to the small flow of water. Crossing a stream was a delight. This one had ice on the edges and Boone’s alert eyes noticed the movement of the water beneath the crystal-clear ice. Water moving under ice was a favorite sight of his. He paused. His eyes took in the liquid beauty flowing silently below him. He looked up and picked his crossing place. Deer had crossed here too.DSC_0025_1068sig

As he reached the top of the little stream bank he took a long look to the north through the woods. It was easy to see ahead. The trees in the woods were thick but with the leaves down the late fall view was uncluttered. Nothing moved. He was reminded then of the strength of the south wind as a fresh gust bent the tops of the trees. He could hear it growl as it tore through the limbs above his head. He knew his scent went before him. He resolved to be more careful, even more quiet. He began to look for a place to sit.

 He chose another landmark in one of the trees to the north. This time it was a large cluster of basswood, the only one like it. Quietly, with care he moved northward to the trunks bunched like only basswood can. He noticed the near perfect rings of holes drilled by a Sapsucker Woodpecker in the trunk. He liked the symmetry found in the woods too. Finding it many places was one of the other pleasures of being in the woods. Soundlessly he moved to the north side of the basswood. He saw the trunks made a perfect spot to sit. They would make a great backrest. But the ground was bare. He decided to pick up a handful of leaves to pad his seat and keep him dry. Even with the wind noise, the rustle they made disturbed the deep stillness. He did not pick up any more. DSC_0094_1081

Quietly he sat down, his back against one of the basswood trunks. He was on the south side of a bowl like dip in the forest floor. He could see everything to the north. He would sit here; and watch. Sitting outside always relaxed him. As the minutes passed Boone became drowsy. But he did not let himself sleep. He’d been quiet. He’d traveled slowly observing while he moved. Perhaps there was a deer standing nearby. Slowly, he swiveled his head from east to west, then back again. Nothing moved. The gusting rumble of the south wind continued. He waited eyes open, and alert. He felt alive. Adventures like this he could picture himself doing over and over. He watched and listened. Still nothing. He knew he needed to keep moving. He was not sure how much farther to the north the lake was.

Softly he rose from his leafy seat. He picked another clump of basswood trunks visible across the bowl before. His northward steps were silent with only a slight leaf rustle. Boone had learned much about travel in the woods. The lake was ahead. He was eager to see it.DSC_0040_1071sig

After reaching the basswood clump, a burl on a birch tree led him further north. Reaching the birch, he glanced north. He could see the blue-gray color of ice on the lake. He did not pick another north facing landmark. He silently made his way to the lake. Just before reaching the downslope towards the water he crossed two deer trails. He had not seen any on the way to the lake. Yet these two paralleled the lake shore and they were only a few yards apart. He did not dwell long on the deer trails. His eyes were pulled the vista of the lake before him. He was amazed at the small hump of land that formed an island in the lake. It was entirely tree covered. In the mid-morning sun it glowed. Movement on the north end of the island shifted his gaze. A bird of prey drifted southward against the wind. He watched as the wind lifted it westward and behind the island out of sight.

He lingered on the edge of the lake for a few moments. The hike had been worth the effort. His reward was not the sighting of a deer, mink or even the fisher he knew lived in the park. His reward was something he knew he would picture again over and over in his memory. The lake pristine, its shoreline undeveloped and the feeling of wildness were his rewards. He made plans to return, for a longer hike next time. It was time to meet his grandfather. He knew the way back and how long it would take him. He turned and faced into the wind. He still hoped to get a glimpse of a whitetail deer. Boone resolved he could come back. There was much more to learn about this place. It was a better than usual morning.DSC_0119_1092

Boone’s Morning

Join me in something new. It’s been on my mind for an extraordinary long time. Meet Boone. He’s a 11-year old boy. He delights in the mysteries and wonders of nature. My idea is to use Boone to share with you some of my nature experiences. Boone is my fictional character, I chose his name today. Boone means good, a blessing.  His experiences will be based on real events in nature. My wish for you is that you enjoy this first adventure of Boone’s. My eyes actually have seen what you will read about in this first story.

Let’s call it “Boone’s Morning.”

 As far back as he could remember in his 11-year-old life, Boone had liked being outside. This morning was no different. He was taking a solo hike for 3 hours in a 10,000-acre park. This park had been returning to nature for nearly 50 years. He was ready. He’d been outside since he was old enough to walk. His grandfather had carefully taught him to be observant, and he knew how to listen to life outside. Boone could walk quietly. He knew his way in the woods.

 This was the first time Boone would go alone. His grandfather would drop him off. The drop off was just an approach, a little driveway that ended at the woods. He had his cell phone compass to keep his bearing, but he planned to walk due north. There was a lake ¾ of a mile distant. Boone planned to see it. His grandpa would be back in 3 hours.

 Boone looked into his grandpa’s eyes. He saw them tear up. But he heard grandpa’s strong voice, “You know what to do, enjoy this Boone.  I’ll be waiting here 3 hours from now like we planned.” Boone just nodded. He put his hand on grandpa’s arm. His smile said thanks. Boone turned to the woods while his grandfather drove away. The wind was strong at his back, at times it gusted over 20 miles an hour. It made a roar in the tops of the trees. Boone liked it. He did not like that the wind would move his scent in front of him long before he could see the wildlife that made this magnificent hardwood forest home. He determined to be ultra-quiet as he moved northward toward the lake which was his morning destination.

 He paused after his steps had taken him far enough from the road that he could not be seen. One thing he liked about the first few minutes in a wild place was the sense of the unknown. He did not know what he would see or hear. This mystery never got old. He gazed around him in a 360-degree swing taking in the whole woods. It smelled good here. The roar of the wind was muted. His heart swelled, this was better than he expected already.

 He took out his phone and turned on the compass. He knew he was facing north. But he knew grandpa would want him to check. North, it was. He carefully stored his phone in a zipped pocket. He took another deep breath of sweet forest air. Somewhere ahead lay the deep lake that was his morning destination. He smiled and thought, “I can do solo hikes like this for the rest of my life.” Once more he slowly scanned the trees for any sign of life. He really wanted to see a whitetail.DSC_0031_1069sig

 Then he took his first step. (to be continued.)

Truth Walk

very

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.