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Return of the Juncos

Male junco under the feeder

Male junco under the feeder

Autumn is officially here and winter on the way. I can tell because the juncos have returned. I saw them on our morning walk, white outer tail feathers flashing as they flew up from the ground to hide in the bushes and lower tree branches. They used to be called Oregon juncos, but now they are stuck with the duller-sounding name of dark-eyed juncos. More accurate, I suppose, as their range is much wider than just Oregon. Still, being a lifelong Oregonian, I preferred the earlier name.

Female junco eating seeds under the feeder

Female junco eating seeds

These sweet little birds spend the warmer half of the year farther north or up in the mountains. Sometimes when my husband and I hike on Mt. Hood in the summer, I hear their quiet little chips in the brush or see those flashing tail feathers as they flee our presence. Black/gray heads—depending upon whether they are male or female—and gray/brown bodies: the rest of them is pretty nondescript. But those tail feathers give them away every time.

Male dark-eyed junco in dogwood tree

Male junco in dogwood tree

Juncos are ground feeders. They hop about under our seed feeder, picking up what the other birds and squirrels knock out of the feeder, along with the seeds I purposely throw on the ground. They sleep in the bushes. Unlike some birds we get at the feeder, they get along well with each other and never cause any trouble. Such patient, considerate, and peaceful birds. We could use a few more juncos in this crazy world of ours.

Vine maple with bright autumn leaves

Vine maple in autumn

zucchini3 (1 of 1)About this time every year, I always wonder why I planted so many zucchini plants. Stacks of the shiny green vegetable—along with the yellow variety I also planted—pile up on the kitchen counter. The menu is filled with similar-sounding dinners: zucchini spaghetti, zucchini fajitas, zucchini rice casserole, zucchini crescent pie—and that’s just for starters. Why, oh why, did I plant so much?zucchini1 (1 of 1)

 

Apparently over the winter my memories fade. By the time planting season rolls in I have forgotten just how many vegetables those few hills produced. Three hills of zucchini and two of yellow summer squash. It doesn’t seem like that much. Of course, it might be better if I actually thinned the hills down to one or two plants, but I hate to pull out perfectly healthy seedlings. And so yet again I have too much zucchini. Will I ever learn my lesson?

Schonburg, Vienna

There have been other lessons I was slow to learn. Like taking chances. I could have gone to Europe while I was in high school, but I chickened out. I wouldn’t know anyone on the trip, and that was just too scary—even though it would have been nice to actually use the German I was studying. I did the same thing in college. The result: I didn’t make it to Europe until I was 66 years old. I gave in to fear other times, as well—giving up a volunteer position that would have taken me to a distant state after college. Now I regret that decision, thinking of the experiences I might have had.

I notice I’m not the only person who doesn’t seem to learn quickly. How many people get one speeding ticket and obey the law from that day forward? How many get drunk once and learn their lesson from the morning after? How many are quick to find new friends when their old ones lead them astray? Sadly, humans do not always learn from experience.DSC00753

Fortunately, too much zucchini lends itself to an easy solution. I have friends who are unable to grow gardens and gladly accept my excess produce. If only other mistakes were so easily corrected! However, there is hope. I married a man who likes adventure, and he helped me to move beyond my comfort zone. Raising our boys was an adventure that involved many new experiences, ones I would never have dared on my own.

zucchini2 (1 of 1)Those with more serious issues can also learn and leave their mistakes behind.  Faithful friends can support and admonish you as you try to change. Support groups abound for every kind of bad habit or addiction. Pastors and counselors can give advice and help. God is watching and listening, there to provide strength when needed. Mistakes do not need to be repeated in an endless cycle. If you reach out for help, the future can be different.

As for me, perhaps next year instead of five hills of zucchini, I will plant four—if my memory doesn’t fail me again. And—with God’s help—instead of holding back in fear, I will try to eagerly accept the adventures He has for me.

IMG_1481The air was cool, the sky cloudy as we drove up Mt. Hood toward Mirror Lake on June 19. While it had been a favorite hike early in our marriage, we hadn’t been there in years. At first we thought we missed the parking area, a little turnout on Highway 26. But then we realized that tight parking area had been closed in favor of a shiny new parking lot just up the road—with lots of spaces and a permanent outhouse.

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A new parking lot meant a different start to the trail, as well as new bridges along the way. The new trail was wider than the old, probably bulldozed through the woods. The hike, now a mile or so longer, eventually hooked up with the old trail, as we meandered through patches of purple rhododendrons, working our way uphill. When we reached the lake, the space opened up. Rhodies were everywhere, along with tall stalks of bear grass, huckleberry plants with tiny green berries, and other blossoming plants. Clouds hid the mountain, and wisps of fog drifted across the lake, whipped by a breeze that rippled the water. On this day Mirror Lake did not live up to its name.

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We hiked on a ways past the lake, seeing even more wildflowers and some nice views. But the fog was growing thicker, and we realized that the nearby mountain would not appear today. We reminisced about the time we hiked up to Tom, Dick, and Harry Mountain and saw swarms of hummingbirds feeding on the flowers in a meadow below the ridge. We didn’t make it that far this time, but turned back so we could eat our lunch at the lake.

 

Despite the clouds, it was a good hike. I much prefer hiking in cool weather rather than hot weather. And the flowers were wonderful. Nature has so many moods, and the quieter beauty of a cloudy day can be as lovely as the brightness of the sunshine. But it would have been nice to get a view of the mountain. I guess we will just have to return sometime and try again.IMG_1546

Beach Serenity

clouds and reflections (1 of 1)What is it about the beach? Why does a feeling of peace seep into my entire being as I walk along the shore, coat zipped up against the wind?

gull over waves (1 of 1)

Perhaps it is the pounding of the surf, like the heartbeat of the ocean, secure and constant. Perhaps the open sands stretching out before me, fresh and clean from the outgoing tide. Or the calls of the soaring gulls echoing over my head. Or even the clouds, constantly changing and moving, giving a new perspective with each passing moment. Perhaps it is all of these with a little added magic that draws me in and fills me with joy.

dark beach clouds (1 of 1)My husband and I spent a couple of days at the beach recently, celebrating 40 years of marriage. Our hotel room overlooked the ocean, so its steady beat was ever-present. We were fortunate to have sunshine for a good portion of the visit and enjoyed several walks on the beach. Of course, beach weather can be fickle, and we did get caught in one downpour, thankful we had worn our raincoats when we ventured out into what was then sunshine and mostly clear skies.

bird tracks on beach (1 of 1)The shore has so many aspects, from the vastness of the ocean to the tiny details of pebbles and bird prints in the sand. It opens my eyes to wonder and my soul to God. Nature’s beauty is easy to see, but God’s glory is all around us, even in the most unlikely places—in the city, at work, in our everyday lives. Even in those bundles of contradiction we call people. I pray I can keep my eyes and soul open, wherever I find myself.people walking by water (1 of 1)

When Winter Lingers

snow in woods (1 of 1)

Are we ever satisfied with life as it is? It seems I am always looking forward to the next thing. At this time of year, I want spring to come. I’ve had enough of the cold, the early darkness, the slippery sidewalks. Then when spring comes, I look forward to summer—camping trips, visits to Pittsburgh to see the kids and grandkids, evening walks. However, summer gets too hot, and I complain and look forward to fall. And then, silly me, I wonder where the year has gone.

sun through branches (1 of 1)

Snow fell this week, very unusual in March in our part of Oregon. When I asked a friend if she was ready for spring like I was, she talked about what a blessing it was to sit by her window and watch the snow gently come down. This friend has suffered incredible grief and pain the past year, and yet she saw the snow as a blessing. She could enjoy the moment for what it was. I was both humbled and encouraged. Surely I, too, could savor the beauty without wishing the time away.

prints in snow (1 of 1)This morning we woke to more snow, a soft white covering over the usual dirt and mud. The sun broke through and made the whitened tree limbs sparkle. Rabbits had left their little trails across the yard. Sounds were muffled, except for the soft chiming of ice bits hitting the ground as they fell from the trees. I grabbed my camera and headed out. This might be the last snowfall of the season, and I needed to capture it. To soak up today’s beauty while it lasted—because today is where I live my life. And this moment is, indeed, a blessing.

snow on trees (1 of 1)

Rainbow Walk

rainbow (1 of 1)Have you ever taken a walk with a rainbow?

Yesterday my husband, Gary, and I went out for a late afternoon walk. The sky overhead was a gloomy, threatening gray. While our weather app said it wouldn’t rain, Gary brought his umbrella just in case. Not for him—he doesn’t mind walking in the rain—but for his fair-weather walking wife. And, as this is an Oregon winter, rain soon began to fall. He handed me the umbrella, and we strode on.over house (1 of 1)

Then, as the rain continued to come down, light burst through from the sinking sun, sparkling off the wet bushes and the growing puddles. I began scanning the skies. Where there is sunshine and rain, there ought to be a rainbow. Sure enough, one started growing in the northeastern sky. It grew brighter and brighter, and I kept pulling out my phone to snap photos. We hadn’t seen such a distinct rainbow for a long time. We could even see a paler double rainbow above the main one.

rainbow2 (1 of 1)“The pot of gold should be right over there,” Gary commented. Yes, one end of the rainbow was adding lines of color to a shrub across the road while the other end colored a tree behind a neighbor’s house. As we kept walking, the rainbow seemed to follow us, as rainbows do. It moved behind other houses, over fields, the elusive pot of gold shifting to different spots. And still the rain kept falling. For nearly half an hour, that colorful arc kept us company as we walked. Even the rain looked dazzling with rays of sunshine lighting it up.rain (1 of 1)

Then the rain slowed to a gradual stop, and the rainbow faded from the sky. We ended our walk, moods brightened by the fresh air and the beauty we had seen. And I wondered, how often have I missed the beauty of the rainbow because I was too busy concentrating on the gray skies and the rain? Rain and sunshine are so intertwined in life, and sometimes it may seem that the clouds will overwhelm us. But God’s light can break through even the darkest of clouds and reveal the beauty that is there, just waiting for our discovery.

Webbs (1 of 1)

Autumn Choices

dogwood leaves (1 of 1)Fall has arrived, and change is in the air. The heat of summer has passed, and rain has watered the parched ground. Today the sun is shining. October clouds have cleared away, and the sky is bright blue. An autumn breeze blows through my hair as I walk out to the garden to see what is left.daad bean leaves (1 of 1)

A handful of pole beans. Half a dozen over-ripe ears of corn. Some good-sized almost-ripe tomatoes, along with a generous number of cherry tomatoes—Sweet 100 and Sun Gold. But the bush beans are gone, and the prolific zucchini is dying back. The pumpkins and winter squash have been harvested, and their vines lie brown and shriveled across the dirt. The garden is fading, as it always does this time of year.

grapes (1 of 1)Yet around the garden, golden leaves waft down from the maples. The dogwood is gradually turning from green to red. Brightly-colored leaves stand out against the blue sky. Grape vines still carry batches of purple fruit. There is much beauty in this time of dying. And also much ugliness in this time of beauty.

yellow maple leaf (1 of 1)

 

For every golden leaf there is a brown, broken one. For every purple grape there is a rotten zucchini. For every blue sky, the remembrance of pouring rain—and more to come. I could look down and focus on the mud, the dead leaves, the empty garden, or I could instead focus on the colorful leaves, the fleeting blue of the sky, the delicious fruits of the season. What will my choice be?

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