Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Wilderness in the Backyard

October can't make up its mind. There have been chilly mornings with fog lifting off the lake like steam from a giant's kettle. Some days, I'm pulling out my sandals and cutoffs, and other days I'm reaching for a flannel shirt. But mostly, until this week, it has been as dry as muffin mix without the liquid.

Last Saturday, the sun came out in earnest. It was one of those balmy autumn days, almost too perfect to belong to this world; the air was crisp, and the sky, a brilliant blue. I made my way to the government hollow near our home for the first time since spring. It was like traveling to a different planet. Last spring, before the rains flooded the valley, the ground was almost impenetrable with brush. Now, months of high lake water have killed all but the hardiest of bushes.

I followed the dry creekbed east to where a stream was flowing, fed by small springs emerging from the hillside. Watercress grows there, and bright wildflowers were flourishing. Nearby were raccoon tracks, and I could imagine the little creatures rinsing their food in the water, their masked faces Corvid-correct. A movement caught my eye. Butterflies? No, it was only bright leaves, fluttering to the ground, their first flight, also their last. Overhead, sun-saturated maple trees wore their Sunday best. 

Continuing up the creek, I waded in the shallow water, thankful for waterproof boots, and where the water was too deep, I picked my way through the brush at the side of the brook. Were it not for one strand of rusty barbed wire, I might have imagined I was the first person to walk this quiet hollow.

With both the Corps of Engineers Bull Shoals Lake boundary land and the Mark Twain National Forest in our county, we are fortunate to live in a place with easy access to wilderness. It doesn't take long to find a place where your footprints, on a given day, are the only human ones. As I examine rocks and trees and flowers, my to-do list recedes to the back of my mind, and I come away refreshed.

I didn't see the raccoons in the hollow, but I saw their prints and knew they'd been there. I didn't see God that day, but I saw His fingerprints everywhere.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Hummingbird Reflections

Hummingbirds captivated my attention at close-range this morning as I sat by the flower pots in front of the house. The breeze generated from the motion of their wings swayed the salvia and brushed across my face. When one of the fearless females hovered inches in front of me, I braced myself not to flinch. 

With seemingly tireless energy, their acrobatics were astonishing as they battled for the birdfeeders. Their iridescent feathers sparkled in the sunlight, accompanied by their wings' hum and squeaky chirps. 

From inside the house, I heard the shrill sound of the weather radio. A few minutes later, the sky darkened, and wind-tossed trees resembled wild horses on the run. I wondered how hummingbird nests could possibly stay intact. The birds retreated briefly, then reappeared in full force. I hoped they were better prognosticators than the weather service. It turned out they were, this time. 

When storms threaten, I often wonder how the creatures who live near us manage. It's a comfort to remember that God sees the sparrow when it falls to the ground. If He cares for a sparrow, how about a hummingbird? And will He not much more care for you and me?

Monday, May 25, 2020

In Charge of the Flood

bull shoals lake level high

This morning I checked the Bull Shoals Lake level on the computer, then headed down the hill toward the lake on a trail through the woods. Lately, I’ve been making a note of where the water level is on the government land below us. The lake now replaces the broad valley where I love to walk, and the water is up in the trees. As I rounded the last turn toward the water, a Blue Heron made an ungainly takeoff, squawking its displeasure at being rousted from its hunting grounds. Fat frogs did belly flops into the water. They seem to love this rearrangement of land and lake.

green trillium in bloom

Nearby was a Green Trillium I’ve been watching lately. It’s not as showy as its white and red cousins, but rising 15 inches on a single stem, it makes a statement of beauty in the woods. Today the water is lapping at its feet, and its rhizome may already be underwater.

Back up the hill, I stumbled across a newly dug den, with moist, red clay strewn over the ground in front of the 7-inch opening. A wild flood victim most likely moved its family out of the danger zone. This is probably one of many such relocations.

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers built Bull Shoals Lake in 1952 on the Missouri/Arkansas line as a flood control reservoir. It is vast and beautiful, rugged, and remote. At this writing, the lake is at 693.94 feet above sea level, and the top of the flood pool is 695. That means if we get only 1.06 more feet of water, the lake will go over the dam at Bull Shoals, Arkansas, and the White River below will probably flood. This has been a soggy spring. We’ve had about 34 inches of rain so far this year, nearly 81% of our yearly average of 42 inches in just under five months, with more predicted for this week. In addition to every drizzle or deluge of rain that falls directly into the lake every time it rains, the feeder streams over a considerable distance open their faucets wide and contribute to the flood pool.

Years ago, heavy spring rains resulted in another high lake level. A Little Rock, Arkansas NBC TV station sent a reporter to interview people about the impact of the high water. Positioned on the courthouse steps in our county seat of Gainesville, Missouri, the reporter was poised when an official from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the door of the courthouse and walked outside. “A lot of people are criticizing you Corps of Engineers managers who are in charge of the lake and its level for your handling of this situation,” he said. “How do you respond to them?”

The engineer paused, then replied respectfully, “Well, their problem is they think that we are in charge. We used to think we were in charge. This year, I think we all learned WHO really IS in charge.”

The interviewer was silent, and the engineer walked away.

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; 
the LORD is enthroned as King forever.
The LORD gives strength to his people; 
the LORD blesses his people with peace.

Psalm 29:10, 11

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Watchful Eye

Carolina Wren fledglings

What would spring be without baby birds?

Carolina Wrens fledged a month ago from the basket on our front porch. For a couple of weeks, they used porch as a landing pad and mess hall and, unfortunately, a latrine. They were just adorable enough to put up with the mess.

Their tail feathers, at first barely discernible, grew until, at a glance, it was hard to distinguish the little ones from their parents. But when they flew, it was obvious who the flight instructors were.

Carolina Wren fledgling

After a fortnight, the parents were still doing the feeding. 
While the fledglings waited for their parents, they rested in the shade of the flowerbed... 

Carolina Wren fledgling

examined new garden plants... 

Carolina Wren fledgling exercising wings

and did their wing exercises.

Carolina Wren fledgling chirping

  • If it seemed that their parents had forgotten them, they emitted heartbreaking chirps.

Carolina Wren feeding fledgling

When a bug breakfast was finally served a la carte, they devoured it like Eggs Benedict by a shipwreck survivor.

In past years the birds vacated the porch immediately after they fledged. It may have something to do with the fact that I used to sit on the porch as the baby birds surfaced from their basket. The first year, the fledglings surfaced from the basket and landed on my lap, much to the consternation of their parents. I was probably about as welcome as a fox at a frog's picnic. This year we tried to allow them space, coming in and out of the house from the back door, and we saw them frequently for about two weeks.

Eastern Phoebe with insect

The porch is also home to Eastern Phoebes, who have attached their nest high on the wall near the front door. The birds were making frequent visits, but for a long time, we didn't see any evidence of new life. After the Carolina Wrens left, I was curious enough to get out the ladder and climb up to check out the nest. It contained three grasshopper-sized bits of fluff and one egg. The next morning there was an empty egg on the bricks under the nest. 

Eastern Phoebe nestlings

Now, two of the nestlings perch in the nest, observing the world outside their porch. Their heads are already more significant than the egg from which they emerged.

None of these birds is aware of the crisis in the world around them. While fears abound, five little Carolina Wrens pecked their way out of their shells, grew, and learned to fly, and the Phoebes are burgeoning in their nest, all under the watchful eye of their Heavenly Father. We can rest assured that He sees us, too.

Linking with Wild Bird Wednesday