Bumbling around…

I am afraid I am once again guilty of neglecting this blog – but it is not for want of beautiful images.

Today’s were a delight to my soul. Camera and I stepped into the back yard on this warm fall afternoon to take a look around – before the cold front came in and brought more rain.

We sat for a while, hoping to the receive the image of one of the many little “helicopters” descending from my maple tree. But alas, they were too quick for us.

Earlier, I had decided to pick a few zinnia blooms to brighten the indoors since few insects remain to feast on them this late in the year.

In doing so, I had seen a rather sluggish bumble bee resting on one of the aging blossoms. I had stroked it gently, asking if it was okay. However, seeing its middle legs extended, I withdrew, not wanting to disturb it further.

Tired of waiting for (and missing) the little helicopters, camera and I glanced once more about the yard, not expecting to discover anything new.

To our surprise, the once sleepy bumble was now actively in flight and visiting the bright zinnia blooms.

And it was very generous in sharing its image. See for yourself –

Not only did he pose while nectaring, but allowed us to be drawn into the glory of his flight.

How wondrous is the earth and its Creator.

+All praise to Him.

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If the Lord does not build a house…

I am finally getting around to telling the rest of the story.

Or, more probably, the next phase of the journey. Who knows where it will end?

In my last post, feeling saddened by the absence of butterflies and bees in the neighborhood gardens, I wrote: “If you plant it, they will come,” my mind had thought, revising the field of dreams refrain. But they don’t – they don’t come.

Camera and I had taken this stroll down the street on July 18th. I tarried over my article, not pushing the “publish” button until the wee hours of the following day.

When I arose the morning of July 19th, I was greeted by a skyful of blue and sunshine, all the makings of a hot day. Butterfly weather.

I remembered that I had promised camera we would explore the gardens on the west side of the street “some day soon”.

The previous evening they had been hidden in shadows. Why not today?! I had a bit of time. So off we went…

The fright instilled in us the night before still lingered. The emptiness had seemed almost surreal. Would we once again be greeted by nectar-gorged blooms with nary a winged guest?

With cautious vigilance, we approached…

Greatly encouraged, we continued winding our way through the city’s concrete and asphalt maze toward each little oasis of color and hope.

Much to our surprise, our dear cabbage whites were out in abundance!

Though a very “common” butterfly, today we almost wept for joy, camera and I, as we watched them flutter furiously while surveying and rejecting all possible landing sites.

It was almost as though, having just escaped the cocoon, they could consider nothing but flight. Glorious flight.

Yet this added to our excitement – for blessed were we to receive an image of one of these little ones as it danced through a field of wildflowers.

In less than 15 minutes, our worldview had begun to shift once more. They did come.

With joyful hearts, we headed home, stopping, of course, in my own humble garden.

Yes, they had come.

+++

What does all of this mean?

It certainly does not mean that we have nothing to fear.

Climate change, pesticides and many other perils caused by humanity have resulted a very precarious future for our bees and butterflies. And this is no small matter.

As I was reflecting on my experience, I was reminded of a song composed by Dan Shutte, based on Psalm 127:1. The refrain keeps repeating in my head:

If the Lord does not build a house, 
Then in vain do the builders labour. 
And in vain does the watchman stand his guard, 
If the Lord is not his help…

In the movie Field of Dreams (1989), a different refrain sounded, “If you build it, they will come.” It was this line that had led me to think, “If you plant it, they will come.”

In other words, plant enough nectar and host plants in my yard and the butterflies and bees will come. And if enough of us do this, everything will be all right.

This summer has demonstrated to me the obvious: this is not true. It is simply not enough.

I cannot make them come.

It is a great gift when they do come as they did on July 19th. But it is a gift I cannot take for granted.

Neither you nor me nor watch-groups nor legislation can undo the great damage we have done to our beautiful planet and its countless species.

We cannot undo this anymore than we can bring about salvation for our own sins. We are too entrenched in sin to ever redeem ourselves.

And what we have done to our planet is indeed a sin – a great sin.

+++

I want to write something cheery and hopeful. It is my way, to always carry hope into despair, light into darkness.

But I myself am not and never can be the source of that hope and light. If I try, I will certainly fail.

If the Lord does not build the house…

But how does the Lord build…? I do not know, but I will relate a little story. (Note: I am about to cross-blog here, alluding to a passage from one of my other blogs. Look here, if you wish to read.)

Today, a group of friends and I joined together to share our lives via electromagnetic energy (i.e. cell phones). Toward the end of the group conversation, I revealed a sadness that has recently come into my life.

Still feeling sorrow, I went out to work in my garden – yes, more planting. It is clearance season on perennials and I cannot stop myself from trying.

Planting is hot, dirty work, made more so by poor soil full of rocks and roots.

I was pausing for a moment to rest and survey the yard when I saw it.

A huge, perfect Monarch butterfly sailing through my yard.

It did not alight on any of my flowers, apparently not wanting to eat nor ready to lay eggs.

But it glided through as though it wanted to make sure I saw it and knew that it was a Monarch.

This is only the second Monarch I have seen this year. And it came to my yard. When I was sad. And it turned my sorrow to joy.

Indeed, He loves me and tries to please me.

He knows to send me butterflies – and He knows just when to send them.

We are not alone in our sorrows and our sin. We have help.

Shall we accept this help, you and I?

Our help has a Name. It is Love…

I am frightened…

Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, camera and I decided to do a tour of the neighborhood gardens. Evening sun will still shining brightly on the east side of W. 14th Street and the temperature was in the upper seventies.

A gorgeous evening. And just the time to revel in summer’s fullness.

Never mind my little garden. My soil is poor and much gets eaten, as my property abuts an overgrown strip of land that is my only protection from the freeway.

On the strip of land, live possum, raccoons, feral cats, and…well, a family of groundhogs. But you already know about them.

Now these other gardens – they are gardens.

So down the street we walked, camera and I, trying to be leisurely yet not wanting to lose the evening light.

We headed to our old favorite, the wonderfully overgrown garden where we (actually camera’s predecessors and I) started the wondrous adventure of receiving images.

It was impossible to encompass it all in a single frame but the garden was truly bursting with life. And yes, that large green plant on the left is common milkweed, of which they had a good crop.

Although a row of houses on the east side of the street sported lovely blooms around their doors and walkways, they were now deep in shadow. Some morning, we told ourselves, we must return.

Continuing back down the couple of blocks we had wandered, we made a new discovery. How had we not seen it before? What an exceptional patch of common milkweed by that house! Obviously intentionally grown. Obviously, a household not blessed with a groundhog family all its own. 🙂

We continued our walk. Too many images to receive as the sun was sliding down the sky behind the treeline. Surely we must receive at least a few!

And blessed we were with images of God’s handiwork…

Again…

and again…

We crossed back to our side of the street, easily jaywalking the otherwise busy street on this lazy evening. Pausing before a large shrub in full bloom, we were blessed yet again.

Lastly, stopping by the community garden – which seems to have lost much of its community – camera and I smiled at the site of more common milkweed (not shown). And daisies. And purple cone flowers.

After making one last pass through the backyard to bid the plants and creatures good night, camera and I came home to rest inside my little dwelling.

But instead of the usual exhilaration we feel after such jaunts, a pall of sadness – or was it fright? – hung over us.

We knew what we had seen. Or more accurately, what we had not seen.

The gardens had been empty. Totally empty.

Only at the community garden had we seen two or three bumblebees. And one of those was picking feebly at the yellow picket fence surrounding garden.

(I asked the little bumble if it was all right, as it didn’t appear well. Receiving no response, I asked again and gently stroked its side. Weakly, it took to flight, heading nowhere in particular.)

No other bees. Not a single butterfly. Not one.

I am frightened – this wasn’t just an anomaly this particular evening. I have been watching other gardens this summer, fully abloom, and I see nothing. Maybe one butterfly, if I wait and watch carefully.

Something is wrong. Terribly wrong.

I don’t know how to live in a world without butterflies.

And I’m not sure any of us can live in a world without bees. Shall we rely tiny artificial drones to pollinate our crops? (This is not something I made up. I wish I had. Read here.)

I don’t know what to do.

“If you plant it, they will come,” my mind had thought, revising the field of dreams refrain. But they don’t – they don’t come.

And so I pray. I plant and I pray some more.

Bless the earth, O Creator God, and change our hearts. Teach us how to stop the path of destruction we are on. Renew and regenerate what You have created. Bless the butterflies and the bees…may they surround us once again on sunny summer days, reminding us of the perfection of Your Word through Whom You fashion all things. Remain with us and cultivate in us Your Spirit of humility that we might learn to honor all of creation. 

 

What I learned at the hermitage #3

The Little Wood Satyr danced around me many times during this most recent visit to the hermitage.

Unlike its mythological counterpart of the same name, I tend to think of this little butterfly as, well, rather shy. Perhaps even humble and demure.

But no less intoxicating for it.

I have come to recognize them when I detect a brown fluttering at knee level when visiting this wooded area. Because of their reluctance to sit still for even a moment, I often find myself asking, “And who are you?”

Given the abundance of our encounters as I swished through the long grasses of their homeland during this stay, we came to recognize and become at ease with each other a bit more quickly.

To persuade them to offer their image, I am always quick to remind them that they are beautiful. “Even if you don’t think you are…”, I add, sensing their self-consciousness about their coloring.

Although their “eyespots” are really quite dazzling, not much fuss is made over a brown butterfly, at least not by the casual observer. The monarchs and swallowtails take the show every time.

So I remind them of their beauty and ask them if I might receive their images “for the glory of God”.

And they never fail to offer their praise to Him.

The Friday I arrived at the hermitage this year, I gloried in the unmowed grass that held all kinds of special treasures.

And on that very first day, a Little Wood Satyr revealed itself where it hid amidst the tall green stalks, a tiny epiphany for me to contemplate.

“Would you spread your wings, please?” I requested, with a boldness that surprised even me. “I love to see your wings open…”

This one did not comply. I was saddened just a little, but knew I needed to abide by her choice.

Whom am I to tell God’s creature what it ought to do, especially when I ask only out of selfish desire?

Perhaps she was preparing to lay eggs or carry out some other important mission of which I have no knowledge or understanding.

Yet God’s little Megisto cymela was not done with me on that first of my days of rest.

As often happens when this holy time draws to a close, I am packing and tidying up when camera and I feel the urge to take “just one more” venture before reentering the world.

Yes, the gift was given. And we received it, camera and me.

As with so many divine gifts, I am humbled by this giving, this granting of a little favor that I could never deserve.

It feeds me, a blessed manna that nourishes the deepest recesses of my soul.

I do not even understand what it is that I have received. But in this sacramental outpouring, I know that I am loved, unquestionably and endlessly loved.

Praise Him.

What I learned at the hermitage #2

Since God seems to have me on sabbatical from substantive writing, the sharing of another small lesson is in order.

After all, when I asked to receive the images of those living round and about the hermitage, I told them it was “for the glory of God”. Hence, I cannot keep such things to myself.

As much as I love butterflies, it is good for me to remember and honor the beauty of all the little flying creatures.

Of course, the unwinged are treasured as well, but this post is about the gloriousness of wings.

This lovely creature, a female Chrysopilus thoracicus, displays a most impressive set. Note the bold veins that keep her wings sturdy and strong for flight, while stylishly offsetting her bright orange thorax.

I couldn’t help but put the caption on her image. 🙂 Insect wings are just so amazing…

Gossamer-thin, with countless permutations of shape and color and venation. So delicate yet so strong…

So strong as to fly through the sky…to fly and fly, before coming to rest and humbly offering up their image…

We do not know much about the life of the Chrysopilus thoracicus (a.k.a the golden-backed snipe fly). It mates, procreates and dies.

Just one of millions of tiny lives that every day come and go from our planet.

So why am I so fascinated by this little one?

Perhaps for the simple reason that God made her, a bright, bold, fragile bit of buzzing life – and shared her with me while I journeyed through the woods one day.

All glory to Him.

What I learned at the hermitage #1

Just a week or two ago, I again visited my beloved hermitage for some time with God.

Of course, all time is God’s but, at the hermitage, time is special. It is hard to describe just how, but life flows differently at this holy little cabin surrounded by nature.

When I go there, it is like stepping out of the world and into the earth.

The world does not know understand how to live.

But the earth lives fully and correctly. And so to slip into the earth’s Way is a great delight – for one can truly see and hear and smell and taste and touch God in all of His creatures who follow the Way.

I always learn when I go to the hermitage, though seldom can I share the fullness of what I receive. Sometimes it is too intimate. Other times, there are simply no words or images to express it.

Yet something inside longs to share what my heart has received. And so I begin now a little series, not knowing how long it will last (or even if I will stick to it). This post is the first of the series.

I learned a couple of important things during this retreat – though they might not seem so important to the casual reader.

The first was a startling discovery. When I go to the hermitage, every once in a while I hear a sudden, loud, high-pitched sound coming from some creature outside.

Often it makes me start, so unexpected is the sound – and so much louder than the cries of the common birds I could see. Was it some unusual sort of bird?

Adding to the intrigue was the fact that the only other place I ever heard this particular noise was in my backyard.

What creature could be producing this sound, so loud, so unique and be common to these two locations? (The hermitage is in a rural area and my house is in the inner city.)

Well, during this visit to the hermitage, my question was answered.

And to share the resolution of this mystery, I present to you the following brief video. (Cell phone assisted and we received the image from behind a closed door. You may initially think that there is no audio to the video – but think again – and keep your speakers on the ready…)

Yup, that sudden shrill cry toward the end of the video was produced by none other than…a groundhog!

I had read before that groundhogs are sometimes called “whistlepigs” but I did not know what their whistle sounded like. I assumed it was a little wheezy sort of sound befitting animals of their stature.

Boy, was I wrong. Remember that the sound you just heard was picked up by a cell phone through a closed door.

Now there was a second lesson learned from this experience as well.

My efforts at home to live cooperatively with the groundhogs on the other side of the fence are legendary.

Initially, I had no patience for them whatsoever. I considered them the enemy because they decimated my garden. No sooner did I put a plant in the ground than they had chomped it down to its roots.

I tried a capture and release cage. I caught birds, cats, squirrels and raccoons. All of which were quite angry, by the way. But among the groundhogs, if even one family member was lost to this method, a second one never was. They quickly learned mistrust.

Since that unfortunate experience, I have tried in vain to live cooperatively with them. I go over to the fence and talk to them.

I explain what I am trying to do with my garden and why. I appeal to their innate understanding of the need for other creatures to rear their young (e.g. Monarch butterflies on milkweed). I confess the sins of my race for creating this situation and point out my effort to make amends.

Then, when I find my promising young milkweed plants chewed to the ground, I tell them of my disappointment.

I put up fencing so that they could learn what is “garden” versus where they might obediently graze. Still, they wantonly stole from the garden.

However, as I watched and videoed this lovely groundhog family at the hermitage, I felt a true enjoyment of them. They are lovely little creatures, the chucklings so playful, their parents protective but not at all aggressive.

When I discovered that the shrill whistle came from them, likely an alarm because of my presence, I began to address them. As I left or approached the cabin, I would announce, “No need to whistle! It’s only me…”

And the whistling ceased.

I included them in the prayers I prayed from the hermitage porch, knowing that they were listening under the wooden slabs.

As I proclaimed aloud the Canticle from Daniel 3: 57-88 as part of Morning Prayer, I added a line for them (in italics):

 …You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord. All you birds of the air, bless the Lord. All you groundhogs, bless the Lord. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord…

I came back home with a new love and compassion for my groundhog family, recognizing that they each need to eat one-third of their body weight every day. And there are at least two chucklings in this year’s litter.

I continue talk to them, despite their disobedience. I even gave them their own plant. I had seen one of them munching handfuls of it despite my fencing and decided that I could spare this one plant. So I dug it up, plopped it into a pot and put it by the place where they come under the fence.

I explained that it was theirs and that I would water it for them. If they allowed it to grow back, they could keep eating from it until hibernation time. (I know it’s not enough to feed a family, but it was intended to be a goodwill gesture.)

It must be difficult to be an inner city groundhog, living on a rather small strip of land between houses and highway. And it is not their fault that they need to eat so much. Nor is it fair to expect them to eat only grass when I have a variety of foods.

At the hermitage, they have plenty of space to roam and an abundance of grasses and wildflowers. Living in the earth, there is no need to “steal”. They are creatures among creatures, following the Way laid out for them.

And I saw this, while at this cabin by the woods. And I knew that it was me, not them, who had sinned.

May God have mercy on us.

I thought I saw a butterfly…

California in the spring is always such a beautiful experience for me.

Leaving the lingering cloudy grey of early spring in NE Ohio, I land in a veritable paradise. The ocean in all its power and grandeur. Wildlife soaring and basking and creeping about me. Colors blooming all sides.

This year, my friends and I walked some paths I had not walked before. Camera and I had our eyes open for new treasures. What would God give us?

Off in the distance, across the creek and up in the trees, I thought I saw a fluttering. Could it be?

Ah, but is so far away – I will never receive its image, I thought.

I invited it to come closer, but I don’t imagine it could hear me at such a distance. I couldn’t even be sure it was a butterfly…

However, zoom lens was already conveniently in place and I had little to lose.

And this is the image we received:

Well, it sort of looks like there could be a butterfly on that leaf…but it is rather hard to tell.

It was not until I was back home and could properly edit the photo, that I could get a closer look.

Allow me to introduce you to California Sister (Adelpha californica):

Yes, my sister, indeed!

Thanks be to God for His wondrous gifts…