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Green

What is the color green? Driving down the road today, I was dazzled by all the new greenness that lined the road. Greens of all different shades and tints—the yellow green of maple flowers, the silver-backed green of poplar leaves, the sedate shade of pine, the dark mysterious fir, and a dozen other trees and bushes, each with its own distinct hue of green. How I love this time of year when all is green!

 Many years ago, on a warm spring day, I was riding my bicycle back to my college dorm, pedaling past a wide grassy field, when the words dropped into my head, “Look at life, and you will see it is green.” Back then green, to me, meant growth, new plants springing forth from the earth and stretching toward the sky. And yes, life is about growth, so that made perfect sense.

 Over the years, I have noticed how spring brings with it a kaleidoscope of colors. Along with the pink cherry and white plum blossoms come the yellow daffodils and blue grape hyacinths, along with a rainbow of crocuses and tulips, soon followed by rhododendrons in red and white and purple and azaleas in bright yellow and orange. While these put on a wonderful show, the different hues of green are just as impressive. Who knew there could be so many varieties of green? So now those words—so mysteriously given—mean even more to me. Life is green, not only because it is growing, but also because it comes in so many different shades—shades of leaves, shades of skin and culture, shades of politics and ways of finding meaning and seeing God. Life is mystery and beauty and an ever-changing, wondrous greenness.

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I like clouds. Living in the Pacific Northwest as I do, liking clouds is a good survival strategy. Not counting the months of July-September, clouds tend to be a part of our weather more often than not. The dull gray nimbostratus clouds that fill the sky I could do without. They darken the day and bring that steady “Oregon mist” that gets into everything and covers my glasses if I forget to carry an umbrella.

 Cirrus clouds ride high in the sky, making wispy feather shapes and neat designs. You could get some good wallpaper patterns from cirrus clouds. They don’t usually last long, since they foretell the coming of rain, usually in the form of stratus or nimbus clouds.

 Cumulus clouds are the most impressive, available in a nice range of styles and colors. They puff across the summer sky like cotton balls strewn about in the blueness. When conditions are right, they pile up like somebody went crazy with the canned whipped cream. They may turn dark and foreboding, flashing lightning and thunder that sends the dog cringing to my side, pelting the ground with icy hard pellets.

 Clouds are constantly changing, particularly in the unsettled springtime. They provide an ever-evolving mural against which the trees bring forth the bright blossoms and varied greens of April. I like clouds.

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Snow fell softly, settling onto the fat buds of the rhododendron, sifting down around a bright yellow daffodil. Spring would soon be here, but winter was not quite ready to leave. A splotchy white coat did its best to cover the soggy ground. By ten a.m. it had melted, the precipitation turned liquid. In western Oregon, winter brings more rain than snow.

 It is a time of transition. Indeed, change is always with us, but it becomes more apparent at certain times of the year. As the cherry trees burst into pink blossoms and crocuses raise their cheerful heads, most people I know are ready for spring, or even for summer. We welcome the growth of spring—with the possible exception of the lawn, which suddenly needs mowing. When autumn arrives, we welcome the changing colors and the rains that end the threat of fire, although some may dread the coming of the cold and the shortening days. Transitions are not always easy.

 My son is in the midst of transition. His springtime brings marriage, a new job, a new city—so many changes, so much to learn. I watch with excitement from afar. My autumn is also a time of change. Child rearing has ended, and work presents new opportunities. Longtime dreams rise anew; perhaps now I have time to chase them. I often fear the unknown, but the future is always unknown. Mysteries can be wild and wonderful; they needn’t always be fearful. I place my dreams in God’s hands and look forward to what may come.

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What is it about little birds that intrigues me so?

 Saturday I went outside to look for birds for the Great Backyard Bird Count. As I headed toward our little one acre woods, walking carefully over the damp grass, all seemed quiet. I entered the woods between alders and brown blackberry vines and stopped to scan the trees and bushes. A bit of movement caught my eye, and I raised my binoculars.

There! A little grayish bird darted from branch to branch. What could it be? I finally got it in my sights. It turned its head my way, flashing the yellow and red marks atop its head. A golden-crowned kinglet! Soon it was joined by a second kinglet. The two flitted from tree to tree, looking for insects on the branches. Such beauty in a small energetic creature.

 Big birds can be majestic—an eagle soaring high above or a snow white egret rising from a lake. Little birds often slip unnoticed through the trees and bushes, and may be hard to identify. “Little brown jobs,” they call those small birds that look so much alike. And yet I like those birds, even the gray or brown ones that get so little respect—the sparrows, the juncos, and those flocks of bushtits that swarm the suet feeder like big gray bumblebees. Each type of bird has its own special character, its own niche in the world.

Black capped chickadee

 I suppose I feel a kind of kinship with small birds. If I were a bird, I am sure I would be a “little brown job.” (There is a reason I named this blog “Sparrow Thoughts.”) I tend to blend into the crowd, to slip unnoticed through life with little recognition beyond my own small circle. And that’s okay. If someday the borders of my little woods expand, and I reach a wider audience, that would be great. If not, well, I’ll just continue to be a little brown bird, getting a little grayer every day…

 What are your favorite birds—and why?

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I watched the day begin, and it came with clouds of glory. I arose earlier than usual, to take my son to the airport. He was flying back to Georgia to prepare for his wedding. We will join him in a few days, preparing for our new roles as parents of the groom. But yesterday I was driving home alone, as I have many times before, watching the day arrive.

 First came a few hints at the eastern edge of the sky, a slightly lighter horizon and tinges of the deepest, darkest rose at the bottom of the clouds extending behind the mountain. Where I live, the sun rises from behind Mt. Hood, which makes for some especially beautiful scenes. As I neared home, the deep rose was growing pinker, and I could see without headlights. I parked the car and grabbed my camera.

 As I walked east along my little street, houses stood quiet, some light within as people prepared for work, many still dark. A cool breeze swept my face, as I came to the place where the road turned to gravel. By now brilliant orange and gold banners spread across the sky, stretching far beyond the eastern edge. Even the mud puddles reflected the splendor. Perhaps I should try to remember that picture when I find myself floundering in the mud puddles of life. Even the mundane can reflect beauty.

 Gradually the intense colors faded, turning finally into the plain gray clouds of daytime. I walked back home in the coolness of morning, the sunrise still glowing in my mind.

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I talked with my sister-in-law recently. She has been working part-time for a year or two now, unemployed for over a year before that. She has learned to live on very little, so much less than what I would consider the bare essentials. And it makes me wonder: what is sufficient to live on? How many of my so-called needs are really not needs at all?

 A robin needs only a nest, food, and perhaps a puddle to bathe in. My cat is content with food, water, and a warm place to curl up, preferably my lap. She would also like a bit of my turkey sandwich and a taste of my ice cream, so I suppose she is not as satisfied as the robin in the holly tree. But her tastes are definitely simpler than mine. Do I really need a television, stereo, computer, closet full of clothes, and half a dozen flavors of ice cream? I probably don’t need all those shelves of books either, but I can’t imagine parting with them. I’d get rid of the television and half my clothes before the books. But that’s just me.

 Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:12) He didn’t say it was better to be poor. The secret is to be content however life finds you. I don’t have to give up my books and my computer, but I do need to hold onto them loosely. They must not be too important in my life. If my possessions take too much of my attention or time, I probably need to get rid of some. Maybe even a few books. And I do need to share with those in need, when I find myself living in plenty. Because I know the blessings I have are more than sufficient.

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Oct-Nov, 2009 063The sky had cleared to blue after a wet night. Sunshine on the autumn leaves lured me outside. Time to clean up the garden. I pulled out the pole beans, the tomatoes, the pea fences overgrown with grass.

 I was beginning on the corn stalks when I heard the familiar chatter of bushtits. Bushtits are little nondescript birds—mostly gray with light brown on the top of the head for males. They generally travel in flocks and are one of the most energetic birds I know. These particular bushtits were dancing around in the alders near the garden when I first heard them. Then they swooped down into the garden. Three of them lit upon the tomato cages I had just stacked against the fence. Perhaps they were looking for weed seeds I had missed when cleaning off the cages. Another half a dozen settled in among the dried corn stalks, flitting from one to another, pecking here and there, cleaning out whatever insects might be hiding in the crevices of the dead plants. They were in constant motion, as bushtits generally are, twittering cheerfully as they hopped about.

bushtit-billwalker

Bushtit by Bill Walker

 After a few minutes, they flew off into the alders, a gray swarm of motion. Bushtits never stay in one place very long. I went back to cleaning out the cornstalks. Halfway through, I ran out of energy, leaving the rest for another day. Oh, well. Perhaps the bushtits will return and be glad some corn is still standing.

 Plain though they may be, bushtits never fail to make me smile. I wonder if Emily Dickinson had these little birds in mind when she wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all…

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