Tag Archive | trees

The Running of the Sap

‘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:

High Water Marks

Just outside of town, the empty fields are ringed with trees that have been marked. You can see it even at a distance: a perfectly horizontal line marking every tree for miles.

It’s the high-water mark.

Above the line, foliage is green and growing. Below the line both bark and treeless branches are covered with a grayish-brown film like the haze left on the sides of a bathtub with a too-slow drain.

In a few days or weeks or months, the highwater mark will have faded. While images of the flood will remain lodged in this community’s living memory for quite some time, soon we will no longer be able to point and say, “The water got clear up to here!”

Every time I drive past these two-tone trees, I consider the high-water marks of life: the milestones or transitions or moments that marked both the beginning and the end.

Twenty years ago this month, I was graduating high school: a high-water mark, too be sure. In the fall, my twenty-year class reunion will be held – strangely enough – on the day of the my 38th birthday. There’s some strange irony in that.

In honor of life’s high-water marks, here is a quote from Scott Simon (of NPR). It reminds me that not all of life’s transitions can be marked by a cap and gown; not all of our beginnings /endings are moments for pomp and circumstance.

“Let life change you. You’ve worked hard and learned a lot. But if you live well, you’re going to know love, loss, confusion and failure—life’s truest teachers. Real life can shatter certainties like a delicate cup in a tornado. Keep learning. Be inconsistent. Don’t have a rich, full life only to wind up at 40 with the same convictions you had when you were 20. Let life in.” (Scott Simon on NPR)

Our Senses, Redeemed

On one of my many commutes this week, I caught just a snippet of an interesting interview on Being with Krista Tippett on NPR.

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.

Beyond “cheap” and “easy”

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.

Thriving like blueberries

Between several thunderstorms and a significant amount of work on this week’s three worship services (Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday), I managed to get one of my blueberry bushes planted today.

I was kneeling over a large hole in the ground (sporting my garden chic overalls) and mixing peat moss and amendments in with the topsoil, when it occurred to me: blueberry bushes have something to teach me about being a pastor.

But first, we need to understand the blueberry bush.

A blueberry bush prefers an acidic soil with good drainage, a lot of sun and at least six weeks of near-freezing temperatures in the off-season.

Can a blueberry bush live without these things? Sure. But a blueberry bush won’t thrive without them. And when I say “won’t thrive,” I mean that the bush won’t produce fruit.

Every time I preach on John 15 (the vine and branches passage where Jesus challenges us to bear fruit), I remind those who are listening that bearing fruit isn’t something the plant decides to do (or not do). And an apple tree doesn’t sit around discerning whether to produce plums or pears.

Bearing fruit – as illustrated by the blueberry bush – is the natural result of a thriving plant. (As well as some very helpful bees.)

I know what it takes to create the conditions for my blueberry bush to thrive: some organic additives that increase the acidity of the soil, some peat moss, and some mulch.

As a pastor, there are also things I can do to create conditions that will encourage the parishioners I serve to thrive.

I am neither naïve enough nor prideful enough to suggest that I have control over another person’s ability to thrive … but I also do not underestimate the pastor’s (or teacher’s or parent’s or sibling’s or spouse’s) role in nurturing and encouraging such flourishing.

We each have the ability to help create conditions (in whatever setting in which we find ourselves) that will help others – and ourselves – thrive. I suspect we don’t often recognize our own ability to do so.

Are you thriving? Are you encouraging others to flourish and bear fruit?

La Vie en Rose

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.

Spring is bursting forth

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!

%d bloggers like this: