‘Tis the season to tap maple trees and invite them to share some of their delicious bounty.
Unusual winter weather does not seem to have affected the harvest; I taste-tested some of this year’s “crop” this morning at the Maple Festival at Touch of Nature (on Little Grassy Lake, south of Carbondale) and it was more than satisfactory.
To be honest, I almost didn’t go to the festival. Ash Wednesday, my first full week in a new church community, a lot of planning for Lent, a broken clothes dryer, and dogs with upset stomachs … it has been a very long week.
But at 7:45 this morning, I got the text from wonderful friends with whom I was anxious to spend time … so despite the urge to take a cup of tea and my journal and curl up somewhere quiet, I loaded up the dogs and headed for the woods.
The dogs burned some energy at Giant City State Park prior to our visit to the festival, and their mania at the sun and the smells and the water and the woods made me laugh. After they had worn themselves down, I let them nap in a warm and sunny car while I ate pancakes and sausage with local maple syrup and then learned the ins and outs of tapping trees.
I was sure that my greatest need today was to putter gently around my house, rather than spend one more day this week driving around Southern Illinois. But it turns out that I was wrong.
Laughing with friends, learning something new, and bringing pleasure to the critters whose care is entrusted to me was what my spirit needed most. As it happens, I only discovered that truth in the doing of those things.
In honor of the season, here are a couple of photos:
The interview was with Vigen Guroian, who writes on the connection between gardening and the Christian faith (specifically, the Eastern Orthodox tradition). In the part of the interview that I heard, he suggested that the events of Easter redeem our senses.
I’ve been dodging rain for two weeks, trying to plant blueberry bushes and apple trees and roses and holly and tomatoes and corn and carrots. And in the last few days, while digging and mowing and pruning, I’ve been wondering how Easter redeems my senses.
I wonder about those disciples who went to the tomb, who saw messengers whose clothes and faces shone like the sun. After seeing such a light, were they somewhat blinded to the rest of the world for a time?
After a camera flash, I see spots. When suddenly turning on a light after I’ve been in the dark (or asleep) I am temporarily unable to see.
So, in the light of the news of resurrection, did they leave the tomb with one hand out in front of them, so that they didn’t run into trees and bushes that they couldn’t see?
Or, (unlike camera flashes) does the light of resurrection give such light as to improve our vision rather than diminish it? Am I better able to see the seeds, smell the grass and experience the texture of the petals because of the Good News of Easter?
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, icons are an integral part of the worship experience. These icons are extraordinarily beautiful images of the foremothers and forefathers of the faith, Biblical scenes, or representations of the saints.
The word icon means window. In the Orthodox tradition, it is believed that these visual representations open a window into a deeper understanding of the faith.
Perhaps that is the way in which I experience my senses to be redeemed. Instead of seeing my garden better, I am able to see my garden as an icon, a window: a window through which I am more able to see the fingerprints of God.
When I first bought my house (which is a fixer-upper), someone told me the golden rule of hiring remodeling help:
There are only three criteria that count for any kind of service professionals (or amateurs, for that matter): good, fast, and cheap. You will never find anyone who meets all three categories. The best you can hope for is 2 out of 3. Which two, is up to you.
That has, so far, proven true.
The electricians were wonderful to work with, did quality work and were reasonably priced.
The roofers were very quick at their work … but my roof is still leaking.
I recently organized a Lenten study on food ethics for the congregation I serve. As part of my research, I listened to a lecture by Eric Schlosser (author of Fast Food Nation) who pointed out that the selling point of the fast food industry is that they are fast, cheap and easy.
I occurs to me, in both cases, that fast and cheap are thought to be desirable characteristics in everything from hamburgers to handymen.
I don’t have more hours in the day than anyone else, and I have less money at my disposal than many … and so I am often seduced by the wiles of the quick and inexpensive.
But this is the season that challenges us to consider that, perhaps, we were not made to embrace the easiest, fastest or least expensive. We were made for so much more.
The staggering beauty of trees in bloom, the grandeur of fields of purple, the lushness of soft, moist grass, the majesty and ferocity of thunderstorms … nature in springtime forces us to concede that God does not settle for quick and cheap.
I suspect that God doesn’t expects us to settle for that either. What if, instead of fast and cheap, we sought to surround ourselves with things of another quality:
My grandfather (who passed away before I was born and, of whom, I only know the legends of family) was famous for often saying: “It only costs a dollar more to go first class.”
Spring (and, of course, Easter) challenge us to a “first class” way of thinking, challenging us to embrace what is Beautiful, Interesting, Rare, Mysterious, Delicious, Melodic, Abundant, Important.
This Easter, may the risen Christ transform our lives … and our choices.
After a long day of working on three different worship services and stealing away from the computer for a bit to dig in the dirt before the rain began, it was dusk and the thunderstorms had begun by the time I curled up on my bed with my laptop.
Opposite my bed are two windows that look out over the front lawn, which I opened to enjoy the sound of the storm. After much flashing and crashing, the storm finally eased out of town.
In its wake, it left the most extraordinary sky.
It was pink. Not the fierce pink that you find in a sunset. This was a subtler pink, a dusty rose.
With a backdrop of pink sky, the dogwood blossoms framed in my window were such a sight! It was a moment of pure bliss and I couldn’t find the will to look away.
The pink sky is gone now and the dogwood is little more than a silhouette against the night. But I am left remembering that pink sky and (not surprisingly) thinking of Paris, where the light is pink.
Lost in these thoughts, this quote from the remake of Sabrina (1995) came to mind:
Gertrude Stein said America is my country and Paris is my hometown. I’ll always feel that way about Paris. Across the street someone is playing La Vie En Rose. They do it for the tourists but I’m always surprised at how much it moves me. It means seeing life through rose-colored glasses. Only in Paris, where the light is pink, does that song make sense, but I’ll have it in my pocket when I get home, and carry it with me where ever I go.
I wonder if it hurts to bloom.
We sigh and smile at the sweetness of tiny green buds on nearly bare branches and assume it’s all ease and pleasantries.
I wonder if it hurts to bloom.
As the sap begins to quicken the branches, do the trees feel the tingle of pins and needles as I do when the feeling begins to come back to a hand or foot that has been “asleep”?
What does the bursting forth of the bud of a new flower or leaf feel like? Is it easy, like soap slipping through your fingers? Or does it require something more, like the pain and labor of childbirth?
My soul has known the dormancy of winter. And I have known what it is like to feel spring returning to my heart.
If blooming is as strenuous on the trees and flowers as transformation and new growth is for me, then I really should not take it so lightly. I should pay more attention. I should raise my arms in the air and dance and sing … in order to honor their sacrifice and celebrate their toil.
Anais Nin wrote: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
Here’s to the trees and the flowers! And to all of us struggling to bloom!
I woke this morning to the ringing sound of (another) winter storm warning notification on my smartphone. It seems odd that in the midst of snowstorm after snowstorm across the country, we should quietly enter into February with its ancient promises of Spring.
The month of February was named for the Roman Februa festival, which was a time of ritual purification: a time of cleansing after a long and difficult winter.
The ancient Celts lit great bonfires for the festival of Imbolc (on or about February 2) which honored Brigid (something of a Mother Earth figure) and celebrated the lambing and lactation of the ewes.
Imbolc marked that the worst of the threat of winter had passed. Even though it was still too early for produce, the ancients no longer had to rely entirely on what was stored in the larder, as milk and eggs and butter began to return to the land (and their diets).
Many of these ancient celebrations of the seasons and of creation’s bounty have been incorporated into our “modern” religious understandings and practices.
the Candlemas celebration on February 2, when lighted candles replace the ancient bonfires;
the celebration of Groundhog day, which looks to the wisdom of the animals to announce the coming of Spring;
the Christian celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the temple (after the time of purification of Mary after childbirth), which is celebrated on February 2.
Though our supermarkets defy the seasonal logic of food and we perhaps think we no longer need the wisdom of the created world to help us navigate the seasons, still the promise of new life continues its long, slow work of gestation.
Though much of the country is still blanketed with winter weather (with still more to come) and though we may question that Spring is closer today than yesterday … still the days continue to lengthen.
Though the continued brutality of the cold may seem to suck our stamina, still the life-force of all creation continues to rise, unseen, like sap in the trees.
It is a good time to curl up and dream of the new life that will come. February, which among the priests of the ancient Celts was called the Poet’s Moon, is a time for inspiration: when the sacred fire of the Spirit is kindled within us.
I invite you to honor and celebrate these fleeting days in some way that feels natural and pleasurable to you.
Perhaps you could have your own celebration of milk and eggs by baking aChocolate Butter Cake.
Or perhaps you’re more comfortable as the activist than the cook. You might want to celebrate this season by working to protect our milk supply.
If you’re a poet at heart, then perhaps the best way to honor the Poet’s Moon is to write your own.