For those of you who know me…really know me, you are keenly aware that I cherish my back yard. It is a welcome oasis at the end of a busy work day. It is a sanctuary for wildlife from birds to bunnies, from spiders to squirrels. It is a haven for family and friends. It is living space outside our home, made up of little rooms with floral centerpieces, statuettes, and the sound of trickling water. This year I even installed a croquette court to add to the allure.
I work hard to make this space appealing and it’s taken shape over nearly 18 years of constant care.
Despite my adoration for my yard, there is something I cherish even more: My family. My wife of 32 years always offers a welcome embrace at the end of a long work day. She is funny, ornery, loving and filled with passion for justice. My oldest son is strong and loving, always willing to take time to listen to those in pain. He is genuinely a gentle giant who will fight for the rights of others and wears his emotions on his sleeve. My daughter is brave and compassionate, ever ready to help a friend, whether that is by offering a ride, $5 of her own hard-earned money, or a listening ear. My youngest son is creative beyond words using music and poetry to express himself. He is a no-nonsense kind of guy but would give you the shirt off his back if he thought it would make a difference.
Like the yard, this family unit didn’t happen by accident. It didn’t simply sprout up over night. The love and care we have for one another, the respect we show to each other developed through careful pruning and a deliberate attention to detail. Like the yard, some mistakes have been made along the way, but we’ve learned from them and witnessed the benefit of careful communication and an open mind.
Let’s be clear, our family isn’t perfect. But there is no group of people I’d rather spend time with on a quiet summer evening. If we can spend time together in the back yard of my dreams…then that’s just fine with me.
Sitting on the back porch on the first day of July, drinking coffee, reading my Bible and my newspaper, listening to the water trickle over the rocks in my small fountain and pond, a chipmunk skitters past, stopping to survey me from his low viewpoint before running off to gather seeds from below the bird feeders. Grackles chase a Blue Jay as they fight for crumbs of suet that have fallen to the ground. Robins roam the yard, looking for worms that lie among the new-mown blades of green grass, wet from the over-night rains.
A pair of House Wrens demand attention as they puff their feathers and shake their wings and hop along the garden’s split rail fence.
I return to my reading only to be distracted once again by a soft whir announcing the arrival of a hummingbird to one of the many feeders in the yard. I find that it is the one I’ve taken to calling “Little Man”. He is smaller than the other male who frequents our yard and he hovers at the feeder, drinking deeply before quickly darting away; a blur in his speed.
A Pandora Sphinx Moth joins me at the table, no doubt tired from a night of carousing, drawn to the warm glow of the porch light bulb hanging overhead.
A pair of squirrel chatter loudly in a neighbor’s tree and two Mourning Doves wings’ whistle melodically as they take flight and disappear around the corner of the house.
I wish every day could begin like this. I really do. Of course, I recognize that a quiet Saturday morning on the back porch only comes once a week as work and life crowd in, resulting in early morning commutes and late night meetings, keeping me from this oasis. But I also know it is here, waiting for me when I return. It calls to me…and for that, I’m so very grateful.
The next time you are out for a walk in the woods, take a moment to look up. You might be amazed at what you find.
Beyond blue skies or puffy white clouds, you might find something of interest from time to time. Recently on a walk in the woods we saw an Eastern Towhee, a Red-headed Woodpecker, a Pileated Woodpecker, an American Tree Swallow, a Chipping Sparrow, a Barred, and squirrels…lots and lots of squirrels.
Too often, we look only at ground-level. We scan the horizon or the path ahead, never taking time to look up to what might be above. It’s unfortunate, really. There is so much that goes on around us but we limit our field of site to the first five feet of elevation off the ground.
During our most recent hiking trip, we discovered one of the strangest things we’ve ever found: A tree had grown into itself.
Something happened years ago to cause a limb to grow out of the bottom of the tree and turn back into the trunk of the tree, grafting itself into it’s original host.
We were in an Ohio State Park on a well-traveled path. Many people were in the park on this beautiful day. I had my camera pointed up. I marveled at this formation. And not one single person stopped to look at the tree. Not a soul. Everyone was busy traveling to the next great destination in the park. In their hurry to the next amazing waterfall, the next great vista, they were missing a marvel of nature just a few feet above their heads.
Keep looking up. You’ll never know what you might see. And for that, I’m extremely grateful.
Spring and early summer are seasons of new growth all around the yard. Trees that have been bare all winter find new leaves budding, and creating a silhouette of full shade, as if overnight. Tulips bloom, Irises explode with color, bushes double in size, grass requires constant mowing. New life is obvious everywhere you look. It doesn’t last long but it’s fantastic to behold while its happening.
We have a beautiful pine tree in our back yard. It has hundreds of new fronds; tender, supple and soft to the touch. Each bundle of needles represent everything I love about the spring and the new growth that comes in this season. They begin as innocent green shoots, but as the days progress from spring to summer and into fall, these delicate shoots will harden into a pointy, protective barrier to better guard the tree from invaders and danger.
Summer heat will rage. Autumn frosts will creep in. But Spring…that is the time for brilliant colors, lovely life, and new growth.
Summer in Indiana can be hot and humid. A quiet and cool morning can quickly change into a broiler of a day.
Thankfully, there is usually relief on the western horizon. Sure, Indiana is located in a side-lot of Tornado Alley and what starts as a gentle summer breeze can quickly become death and destruction, but more often than not, the result of the fronts pushing through the state are a gentle summer breeze combined with a cool, calculated rain.
In our back yard, we have a patio umbrella that stays up most of the time, acting as a drumhead to the patter of the drops. It creates a fantastic rhythm, a syncopation of weather.
I’m not really into beaches. I love the water and I love the birds. I enjoy the breezes and appreciate the setting. You would think it would be a place I could love. The problem is, I just can’t get over the sand. It gets into every little corner, crack and crevice. From your toes to your hair. No matter how careful you are, you always take a portion of the dunes home with you.
However, there is something about the waves and their rhythmic beating that does move me. There is something awe-inspiring about the power of the moon and sun to create wave after wave that crash upon the shore, washing up flotsam and jetsam on the beach.
Jessica sat in the front row with a big smile on her face. As pastors of a fairly traditional church, Herb and I wanted to try something new and daring. And Jessica was brave enough to give it a try on the very first Sunday.
It was 1994 and in it’s day, it was a pretty crazy concept. We had pulled out all the stops (an organ phrase for the more traditional worshipers in the crowd). We had Drama. We had Balloons. We served coffee and donuts and you could eat them DURING the service!! We were doing “Worship in the Round” with guitars, tambourines, a cowbell and drums. We even played the song, “All I want to do is have some fun” by Sheryl Crow with the words slyly rewritten to say something about church. We enthusiastically greeted each attender who took their place in the seats which were set up in a semi-circle. We were wild, man. Crazy for Jesus.
You’ve probably heard them before, perhaps late at night or as the sun slowly sets. They are in age-old forests and at the edges of neighborhoods. Barred Owl have a wonderful call. “Who-Cooks-For-You? Who-Cooks-For-YOOUUU?”
While walking near our home the other evening, we happened upon a wise friend sitting in a tree near our path. It didn’t fly away at our approach. It didn’t seek safety from these intruders. Instead, it looked down on us from its perch. It rotated its head only to ensure its eyes were fixed upon us. Only after I took too many steps toward its tree did it finally fly away and at a distance we were able to enjoy the wonderful call.
One of my favorite times in the woods is as the sun begins to rise. Owls of all kinds call to one another. Barred, Screech, and Great Horned Owls all make their presence known. But any opportunity to hear an owl is a gift. Seeing one in the early evening is a wonder and a joy. And for that, I’m very grateful.
I love to fish. There is nothing better than standing on a quiet edge of the lake, early in the morning throwing out my line and hoping for a bite. But, given my most recent fishing expedition, one would assume that I’d never fished in my life. Perhaps my gear was faulty, my bate was sub-par, or my technique was lacking. Looking at my most recent catch, one would think that I required fishing 101 classes.
I had a #10 hook on a 6 pound line with whole kernel corn as bate. I cast into the pond dozens of times and with each toss of the line I retrieved bass after bass, fish after fish, none of them more than a good 3-inches in length. Not a single one worth keeping. Not a single one considered a trophy bass or a specimen worth mounting. It was quite a disappointing day.
It’s the simple things that bring me joy. For instance, I really like pie. Sugar cream. Apple. Lemon Meringue. Rhubarb. Peach – Oh, I love Peach Pie. Pecan. And then there’s Key lime.
While I’ll eat it if it’s placed in front of me, not every pie floats my dessert boat. For instance, you can keep your Blueberry, Chess and Blackberry.
But Cherry pie; sweet, luscious, succulent, decadent, mouthwatering, yummy, amazing cherry pie, is the one I flip for. That’s the pie for me and every time it’s served, whether straight up or Ala-mode, I’m there, fork in hand, ready to dig right in.
Today I am thankful for pie…But especially the cherry type.