Category: Nature Writings

When I Heard the Stars Sing

Though this experience happened 2 1/2 months ago, it is still fresh in my mind and still lifts my heart. Looking at the night sky brings the experience back to me. Hearing music like I heard this week does, too: a glorious bell choir playing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Or a symphony … and the Nativity story, with bright stars and angels appearing, giving glory to God.

Here’s what happened. In early October, Larry and I went camping in the Rockies. I wanted to see the stars. But so many campfires and lanterns and flashlights obscured the view. Then in the night, when I had to get up and hike to a campground restroom, all was quiet, all human activity was still, all was dark … except for the sky blazing with stars. And that’s when this mystical moment came: I “heard” the stars sing! Here’s a “poem” I wrote about this experience:

•  • •  • •  • •  • •  • 

I HEAR THE STARS SING

Sleeping in a tent, we must take a walk
to the ‘comfort station’ sometime in the night.
At 1:30 a.m. we pull out of sleeping bags,
put on our shoes, snap the dog’s leash tight.

Campfires and lanterns now out, we need
no flashlight to see in the ethereal glow
bathing path, tents, trailers and trees,
boulders, peaks, and meadows below.

Fear of bears is forgotten as, looking up,
I acquiesce to the serendipitous sight—
stars sprinkling the sky, a sparkling array
only dreamed of on lit suburban nights.

Like music engraved across the sky,
notes—not in even scores or measures,
but in splashes of compositions our eyes
and ears aren’t attuned to hear or decipher.

Not with physical ears do I hear music
of stars singing out from the night pavilion,
graced by the moon, answered by bugling elk,
crooning owls and sibilant whispering wind.

Celestial strains fill my soul with consolation,
comfort, and swells of settled certainty
one would expect of constellations shining
in place since God sang the Heavens into being.

Surely nature sings back to God day and night,
I think, as we settle back in our places—
born under stars, resting under starlight
and listening still to star-song cadences.

–Catherine Lawton, ©2018

 

 

 

 

Praise the Lord from the Heavens

praise him in the heights!

Praise him, all his angels…

Praise him, all you shining stars!

Praise him, you highest heavens…

from Psalm 148:1-4, NRSV

 


Photo of stars taken in Colorado mountains: by Lionello (Unsplash)

An Autumn Walk

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Autumn Walk Along the Poudre River

I go down by the river in autumn breeze

that quakes gold leaves on craggy trees

and skitters dry ones at my feet.

The chill breeze hints of snowy peaks,

lifts cricket songs, soars hawks on high,

sails wispy clouds across clear-blue sky.

I see Kingfisher, Yellow-legs, bright Magpie;

hear squirrels chatter, Red-tails scream,

and splashing fish in sparkling stream.

God said that all He made was good;

and surely all these things are good;

and everything He does is good.

My senses and soul exult in our God

who made seasons of change and decay

to display His unchanging glory.

–Catherine Lawton


Excerpted from Remembering Softly: A LIfe In Poems

 

After the Storm: Creation Heals

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Our corner bee garden before the hail storm

It seems God created this world with the capacity for healing built into it.

I remember Kiki, my pediatrician friend, saying that she almost enjoyed it when she got a cut or other minor injury on a finger, because watching it heal was such a wonder. I took this statement from Kiki with a grain of salt. She, of course, doesn’t desire the hurts that come from random accidents and afflictions of this life.

When the hail storm hit in July, I did not enjoy seeing the near-golf ball size hail bombard our home and trees and gardens. In late July, when our gardens were at their lushest—when trees throughout town, flowers in front yards, fruits and vegetables in gardens, crops in the fields were flourishing—came a hard-hitting, hurling from the sky, storm of hail that broke, battered, tore, ripped. It only lasted a few minutes. But it left roofs with holes, windows cracked, siding pocked, bee hives panicked, birds injured, crops destroyed, gardens sad-looking.

Our gardens give us (my husband and me) pleasure. We love to share their beauty and bounty with others. So, in my disappointment over the storm’s devastation, for a few days emotional storm clouds threatened to descend into my soul.

Why, God? What’s the use of planting and tending and making beauty, if destruction can hit any time?

I know people who have weathered many storms—both storms of nature and stormy relationships. Some have given up or have chosen to play it safe in one way or another. Cut down the trees in their yard. Take out gardens and put in rocks. Choose to distance themselves from family and friends. And I’m sometimes tempted to react this way to life’s troubles and conflicts.

But I have been learning more and more to know God as Love. He doesn’t cause evil or bad things. He is not up there somewhere, angry and vindictive, choosing to send hail on some people and gentle showers on others, then watching to see our reactions.

I recently read the book, Does God Always Get What God Wants? by Tim Reddish. He writes: “The whole Godhead suffers to bring shalom to all of creation… To love our suffering sinful world is to suffer…. The one who does not see God’s suffering does not see his love. God is suffering love…. [However,] God doesn’t let suffering have the last word. Instead, God responds to every situation in ways that promote growth and healing.”

God is, always and everywhere, with us, rejoicing with us and suffering with us.

With that truth on my mind, I took advantage of a quiet morning to spend time in contemplative prayer. And there I regained a sense of help and hope.

I have found that contemplation often clears the way to action.

I put on my sun hat and garden gloves, took clippers and went out into my corner flower garden. I began cleaning up, clipping away broken, spent, bent branches and knocked-down leaves, twigs, and flowers. And as I did, with each clip, I said, “I choose hope.” “I choose love.” “I choose beauty.” “I choose to suffer with.” I choose to enter into even the suffering of nature. (We are in this life together, after all.) I choose to cooperate with God to bring order and beauty out of brokenness and chaos, to encourage hope, light, and healing. To expect renewal and new possibilities. I decided to try rooting some of the broken plant parts. I deadheaded to encourage new blooms. I noticed the bees were making the best of things, too, extracting juice from hail-broken rhubarb stalks. Perhaps they would process it into honey.

I will join nature in its response to our God’s ever-creating and re-creating presence. I will stay engaged, by God’s grace, open to His constant working to bring beauty and goodness and newness out of pain and loss and scars…to increase Shalom.

I grieve the losses, the hurts, the scars; but like my friend Kiki, amazed at watching her finger heal, I choose to embrace hopeful wonder.

May God’s kingdom come.

 

 

A Tale of Two Creeks

The two creeks I have in mind don’t surge or produce whitewater. In fact, much of the year, they trickle…through prairie and grassland, over rises and around bends…ever moving, ever adjusting, fed by waters originating in the heights of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, bringing life and sustenance to more remote, insignificant places.

Neither of these creeks flows through prime real estate attracting big-name land speculators and developers. Yet each has a story to tell of life and death, and of refuge seekers. Each has reflected the faces of generations as they laughed and cried, worked and prayed. And each of these creeks has received the blood, sweat, and tears shed there.

What stories these creeks could—and do—tell:  of community…of clashing and contrasting worldviews, lifestyles, and civilizations…of promises and lies, of seeking and finding, of celebrating and mourning.

Big Sandy Creek is noted for being the location of the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in southeastern Colorado. These days, long stretches of this creek appear dry on the surface, but water still flows underground. (A good reminder to us that some things may seem lost or forgotten, but their presence and effects still linger.) John Buzzard’s novel, That Day by the Creek, portrays the hopes and dreams, clashes and conflicts that culminated in the Sand Creek Massacre. There, the tragic, wrongful deaths of a remnant of oppressed human beings surely caused the life-giving Spirit of God to weep. One can imagine that God’s tears mingled with Cheyenne and Arapaho blood flowing into the shores and waters of Sand Creek.

Little Kitten Creek, which flows near Manhattan Kansas, is the namesake of the country road on which Nancy Swihart and her husband, Judd, settled and founded a life-affirming, loving community. Nancy’s memoir, On Kitten Creek, paints the picture of their migration from L.A. “in search of the sacred” in their daily lives, guided by the desire to live simply and Christ-centered. They creatively consecrated and used the land, the farm animals, and the buildings, including a big barn that hosted concerts, conferences and a dramatized Nativity. There, on what had been a dilapidated old farm straddling Kitten Creek, life-giving waters have flowed from the Spirit of God and touched thousands of lives through the years.

A tale of two creeks, two stories of the land, the people, the times—reminding us that God is with us, working in seen and unseen ways to bring good out of rocks and ruins.

Even though the Waters of Life seem at times to flow only in a trickle, or hidden underground, they will never stop until the day finally comes when all things are made new.

 

 


Photo by Nashwan guherzi on Pexels.com

Hunting for Agates on the Beach

We look down on Agate Beach before descending the steep, winding trail at Patrick’s Point in Northern California.

On the pebbly-sand beach as the fog clears and tide ebbs.

Larry searches for agates in the sand.

One of my happy places, finding semi-precious, polished-by-the-waves agates glowing in the sand.

See any agates among these pebbles?

Some agates found through the years and polished in a rock tumbler.

Looking for agates on the beach is what it’s like for me, as a poet, to dig into my heart and come up with poems shaped by experiences and observations.

And this is what it’s like for me as a publisher to discover stand-out poets and their glowing poetry to share with our readers. So far, we have searched for, found, and polished a few collections of gems, which you can discover at Agates Poetry.

 

He Restores My Soul

Photo of the Pawnee National Grasslands

Vast solitude under changing skies

On the first day of June we decided to get clear away from office, computers, books, and other projects. My husband and I felt a hankering for bird watching and wildflower viewing. So we drove out to the Pawnee National Grassland, bringing our dog, Jasper, with us. This mile-high, protected habitat on the prairie of Northern Colorado provides nesting ground to a colorful variety of migratory birds.

Some years the grassland—a vast solitude under changing skies—is hot and dry. This time. after a wet spring, we found it cool and green. Wildflowers dotted the native grasses. Prickly Pear had started opening their blooms. And the birds! They foraged in the grasses, perched on fence posts, did aerial gymnastics to catch flying insects, scratched in the sandy roadside, hunted from the sky, and paddled on small ponds.

We walked a little ways on a trail through the grasses. Larry took a picture of Jasper and me:

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We identified 25 bird species, including Vesper Sparrow, Prairie Falcon, and Loggerhead Shrike. At one point along the gravel road we spotted a bird that looked like a miniature roadrunner. It ran on the ground with its tail held high. We watched it through binoculars and checked our bird guide (and the birding app on my cell phone, the only technology we used that day). It appeared to be a Sage Thrasher. Then the bird lifted into the air and we thought our chance to observe it was over. But it landed on a fence post just ahead of where we had stopped our car on the narrow road (The occasional approaching car or pickup could be seen miles away, in plenty of time to pull over).

As the breeze ruffled its feathers, the Sage Thrasher lifted its head and sang! And sang and sang. What a show. It felt like a gift to have this bird—uncommon in our area—perch and sing for us. I took a picture the best I could with my smart phone:

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Here’s a clearer photo of a Sage Thrasher singing:

A Sage Thrasher

Used with permission of sagegrouseinitiative.com

In the wonder of this bird perching and singing so close to us, we felt even more connected with nature around us.

Connection is important. We connect with people, share ideas, express creativity, and conduct business through keyboard, screen, digital images and sounds, artificial light and wifi. This virtual world is full of potential and offers fascination. But experiencing life through technology can gradually drain our souls. One way I know this soul drain is happening is, when I go to bed, close my eyes and, instead of drifting to a peaceful sleep, I see images and text, web pages and video flashing across the screen of my mind. (This is why I generally turn off my computer by 9:30 p.m.)

King David said, “He leads me in green pastures and beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23).

Once in a while we need to unplug, go out into a world that engages all the senses, and let our souls be restored. Nature and the rediscovery of wonder offer a gateway to a restored soul. Carol O’Casey, author of Unwrapping Wonder, writes, “I escape expectations … and take a walk on the wild side. Whether exploring field or forest, marsh or meadow, or the edge of the sea, in the natural world I am transformed. There, in the solitude of nature I experience God’s presence.”

That night, after a day of birding on the prairie, when I lay my head on the pillow, I began to realize what a gift I had brought home with me from the grassland. When I closed my eyes, my mind wasn’t filled with a screen through which virtual images came at me. No. Instead, I was still among the Lark Buntings, Horned Larks, and Longspurs winging, swooping, twirling in the air. I was still surrounded by the songs of Meadow Larks, Brown Thrashers, and Mountain Plovers. I was still watching Swainson’s Hawks soar on high and kite in the breezes. I was still enjoying the yellow, blue, and red wildflowers and smelling the sweet grasses. With these images, sounds and smells came a peaceful, delighted and deep sense of Presence—the presence of our Creator, the Restorer of our souls.

Gifts are always better when shared. To my surprise, when Larry got in bed and turned off the light, after just a few moments he remarked, “I’m still seeing birds.” Lying side by side in the darkness, we compared notes and agreed that it had been a wonderful day.

A special sense of attunement and restoration has stayed with me—even as I type this at my computer.

Flowering and Flourishing on May Day

May Day Baskets

Not as many May first flowers here—

Not as many kind words and smiles—

as times and places I lived as a child.

Then, roses burst, clambered, and climbed already,

enough garden posies to revel in—make chains

for garlands and necklaces, plenty to fill

baskets to take and surprise the neighbors.

Now I could fill baskets with a few dandelions,

chokecherry and crab apple blossoms.

Or I can let my cup overflow with gracious responses,

pick loving words to give as lavish surprises.

~Catherine Lawton

 

Many of my poems are published in Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems,.


Photo by Enis Yavuz on Unsplash

 

With Palm Branches Waving

GUEST POST

by Dennis Ellingson, author of God’s Healing Herbs

For three years Jesus had ministered in word and deed. There was no one greater than he. Even the elements listened to him and obeyed; and even the dead responded and lived again.

Those who witnessed Lazarus come forth from the dead could not doubt that “truly God” stood among them. When a person had been dead three days and rotting in cave, death was irreversible. But God can reverse what is irreversible. He gave Mary and Martha their brother back.

Then Jesus traveled on to Jerusalem, the City of Peace where there was no peace, the City of the King that had no true king.

But as Jesus and his disciplesaccompanied by a large crowdmade their way to the city for Passover, something happened. An election was held on the streets and the ballot boxes were ripped from the date palm trees. With palm branches waving, the people ordained Jesus as the king.

The red carpet was not out; but the long, full and stately palm branch would serve well in the excitement of the procession. This was a man who could feed the multitudes, calm the seas, and even raise the dead!

“A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut [palm] branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)

At the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the people waved the branches and shouted, ‘Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the King of Israel.’

Jesus told the pharisees who were there to question and criticize, that if these people did not proclaim him king, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out’ (Luke 19:40).

On that day long ago, which we now celebrate as Palm Sunday, if the people had not proclaimed that Christ was King, God, Messiah, Savior—then the very inanimate rocks themselves would have proclaimed it.

More ornamental palms are sold during the Easter season than any other time of the year. Do we buy them just because they are nice? Or is it an expression of our own “Hosanna”—a declaration of Jesus as our eternal and personal King?


This post excerpted from the “Jesus and the Herbs” section of the book God’s Healing Herbs by Dennis Ellingson.

Drawing of a Palm Branch by Matthew Kondratieff

The Sound of Silence

I took this photo of a sign erected at a viewpoint in Rocky Mountain National Park. I have visited the park during all seasons. In spring and summer the melodies of birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. rise and fall on the air. In late summer and early fall, elk calls bugle through the park. Then, on many winter days a soft, white, silent layer of snow breathlessly quiets the scene. Would you think of this “utter, complete silence” as a sound, as Andre Kostelantez did—even “one of the greatest sounds of them all”?

This brings questions to my mind:

Should we seek/embrace silence?

Where/how do we find silence?

Why is silence important/needed?

What can we learn in silence?

Do we tend to avoid—maybe even fear—silence?

My curiosity piqued, I looked up Andre Kostelantez and learned that he was a Jewish/Russian immigrant to America who became one of the most successful conductors and arrangers of music in history. Among many accomplishments, he conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

I personally knew an orchestra musician who spoke of silence as if it were a sound: my daughter’s violin teacher. She drilled into my daughter the concept that a “rest” in the music was an “important nothing.”

Music rests, seasons of silence, “important nothings”; these provide natural, satisfying rhythms to music and to our lives. This is a principle that God seems to have woven into creation. As physical, emotional, and spiritual beings, we need times of silence that can become “the greatest sound of all” to us.

 Nancy Swihart has learned to embrace this life-enhancing principle. In her memoir, On Kitten Creek, she describes the times of silence on Kitten Creek farm that have become to her, as Kostelantez expressed it, one of the greatest sounds of them all:

“On prayer walks I do most of the listening,” writes Nancy. “Up here in this sky-drenched pasture a comforting solitude is one of the greatest gifts the farm has provided—placing my body, soul, and spirit into the presence of God without distraction.”

Nancy has learned to seek and relish these important-nothing rest times that give meaning and lilt to the music of her life.

Have you found ways to incorporate regular seasons of silence into the flow of your days?

Clouds of Glory

An unseasonably warm day here in Colorado yesterday prompted my husband and me to go out birding. We took our nature-loving granddaughter with us. We drove toward the mountains west of us, into a little canyon formed by a ridge along which a small creek flows, where an American Woodcock has been spotted (a common bird in some states but rare in Colorado).

Our granddaughter suddenly exclaimed, “There’s a rainbow cloud. I love rainbow clouds.”

I looked out the car window, and sure enough, all the colors of the rainbow were displayed in this cloud against a blue sky. I’ve never seen such a cloud in my life. Sometimes at dusk the Colordado sky is rimmed all around with clouds glowing orange and pink. This was about 2:45 p.m., thoughnot even close to sunset. The day was sunny, warm (for February), and dry. Yet this one, lone cloud contained a rainbow. We quickly and excitedly took pictures with our phones.

The three of us shared a moment of awe and wonder.

The past week I had been reading an old book by the Scottish writer and minister, George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel. In it, he quoted the poem by William Wordsworth that begins,

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home…

Then MacDonald quoted Henry Vaughn’s poem:

Happy those early days, when I
Shined in my angel-infancy!
Before I understood this place….
And looking backat that short space
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud, or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
From God, who is our home

That sense of wonder that is part of childhood, that makes children spiritually sensitive, and that perhaps is a trailing cloud of the glory from which we each came when God created us a living soul, born into this world … I want to nurture this sense of wonder and awe as I become older. I want to see the rainbow clouds when they appear so briefly in the sky. I want to see and wonder at a little bird that surprisingly shows up in cold Colorado in February to forage along a tiny, protected, flowing stream full of watercress and fallen cottonwood leaves before flying on to its faraway spring destination.

George MacDonald wrote, “To cease to wonder is to fall plumb-down from the childlike to the commonplace—the most undivine of all moods intellectual. Our nature can never be at home among things that are not wonderful to us.”

 

 

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