As we approach Lent, the beautiful hymn “By the Waters of Babylon” is sung at Orthodox services and starts to set the tone for the season in which we cultivate “joy-creating sorrow.”
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps
upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song; and they that wasted us
required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
Thou tellest my wanderings:
put thou my tears into thy bottle:
are they not in thy book?
The LORD preserveth the simple:
I was brought low, and he helped me.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul;
for the LORD hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
Right now the wind is blowing up a noisy gale outside.
It was just getting going this afternoon when Mr. Glad and I were taking a walk in an old neighborhood in a nearby town. We like to look at the gardens and the houses, like this one that seems to have been a church at one time.
When we left the restaurant where we’d eaten a lunch of doner kebab and Turkish coffee, we crunched through leaves on the sidewalk, and took pictures of a tree we didn’t know.
Its graceful branches and smooth bark, holding up bright yellow leaves and pink flowers, put on a multi-layered show for us.
Mr. G. especially liked the door of this little white house…
…and I liked the way the tall green hedge in front of a large brick house had been trimmed so neatly as to frame the entrance like a picture. So I took a picture.
And that purple plant bordering the sidewalk…I think we have that at church, but I can’t remember its name. It’s the perfect complementing color.
Leaves began loosening from branches overhead and falling down on us, as the wind lifted my hair and stirred it into the mix. I had to watch my steps as we picked our way over frequent humps in the sidewalk caused by roots of trees with giant trunks, maybe older than the old houses.
On the drive back to our town the thermometer in the car told us it was 71°! My husband stopped by a store for a few minutes and I stayed in the car. I pulled out an old Bible that I keep stuck between the seats for times like this, and opened randomly in the Psalms, where I read,
Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob;
Which turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters.
Return unto thy rest, O my soul: for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
For Thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
And it seemed that God was speaking from His written Word to elaborate on the exuberance of His presence in the wind and the trees, to remind me that the same Mover of winds is the keeper and Lover of my soul.
At least four poems, songs, and passages from books crowded all together in my mind, all about blowy days, leaves “falling down and down and down and down and down,” and Wind as a playmate.
That wasn’t the end of my windy mental explorations, but before I write any more on the subject I’ll make an effort to gather my thoughts from the corners of my mind and bookshelves and the winter skies.
Last week was the occasion of a blessed excursion to my family’s mountain cabin, and this time I shared the time with my dear friend Mrs. Bread.
I’ve blogged about the cabin and lake before, here and here. The last two years I went mostly for time alone with God in His Creation. This time I enjoyed plenty of that experience, plus deepening of friendship, and working on improving or maintaining the house and property. Now that my father has passed, I am part owner of this place, and I happily but more intensely feel the responsibility to do my part, though I’m afraid I’ll never match the hardworking devotion of my siblings who live closer; some of them can dash up just for the day if they need to.
Here I am painting the threshold and doorjamb against the elements of winter. One year–or maybe more than one–the whole cabin was buried in snow, just a lump in the white landscape.
The drive took me ten hours, what with a leisurely detour to pick up Mrs. Bread on the way. So we stayed four nights so as to have three whole days for taking pictures, cooking, reading together, cleaning, admiring giant boulders and listening to the silence of the forest.
How can it be so awe-fully quiet? There are birds flitting and chipmunks scampering, breezes blowing and even the occasional chain saw in the village. But the earth feels peacefully serene up there, weighted with quiet, heavy with a silence that speaks of God’s presence. I seem to soak up contentedness and rest.
I needed the rest, as I had come down with a cough and cold in the two days before. The altitude gave me a headache the first night, and we both suffered from the reduced oxygen, our legs uncooperative and slow when we dragged back up the hill after a walk down to the lake.
It’s the High Sierra, and up there the mornings start out below freezing this time of year, making you want to lie abed and watch the sky lighten out the window. By midday it can be sunburning hot out on the deck, so we sat in the shade of the umbrella to peruse the several tree guides that have found their way to the cabin’s bookshelf.
At first we limited ourselves to studying the general shapes and angles of branches, focusing in on the cones with binoculars. Eventually we walked among the trees below the cabin and noticed where cones had fallen underneath their mother trees.
The pines in the neighborhood are mostly Lodgepole, as illustrated by the picture here. But to be truthful, it took Pippin’s later confirmation of that suspicion to make me believe it.
As we walked together marveling at the various beautiful flowers, berries, and stones, Mrs. Bread said, “These little trees grab at my heart!” See why I love her?
What a lot can be seen in this photograph, taken from outside the picture window, while I was sitting at the table inside writing a letter to a grandson. You can see the kitchen behind me, and the lake reflected behind Mrs. Bread’s reflection.
I like having these pictures of myself at the lake, something besides the ones of my feet that I took last year when solitary. Thanks, my friend!
These three trees stood out from the pines with their trunks shown off by the granite slabs. Mr. Glad thinks they might be red cedars.
The first morning at the cabin I read in the Psalter, “For Thou hast said: Mercy shall be built up for ever,” (Ps. 88) and was musing about the image that phrase conjured in my mind, of an edifice being constructed. And why not the image of towers of clouds, that often rain down showers of blessing? From now on, when I see cloud skyscrapers rising fast, piling layer upon layer, I will think of the way God’s mercies do the same, every morning.
Someone brought this small remembrance of our father up to put on the bedroom wall. If you click on it a couple of times you can read the labels. I love seeing my father’s handwriting, which didn’t change in all the years since this collection was made when he was in college.
Mrs. Bread helped me firm up my resolve to try really hard to come up to this beloved place more next year. It’s not available for very long, though: This week shutters will be put up, water turned off, chimney covered, to mention only a few of the many tasks to protect the house from blizzards–and if we can get through the snow to open it up before the first of July we’ll be happy.
I’ve never been up more than twice in a summer; I wonder if I really do have the liberty to even dream of spending a week, or visiting twice or three times. I’ll pray for a miracle, and wait to see how the Lord chooses to pile up His mercies next year.
Probably it never happened before this, that we camped in Yosemite two summers in a row. But this year and last, we have been that fortunate. The park is so vast and varied, one could easily stay a month and never get bored; our ancestors often did just that. This old photo from before 1930 shows my mother as a child there.
Nowadays there is a one-week limit on camping, and it’s a rare person who can do the phone work and combine it with luck enough to secure a site or a cabin in Yosemite Valley, where whole campgrounds have been eliminated since our little family started camping there in the 70’s. Pippin’s mother-in-law is one of those dedicated and generous people, and this year Mr. Glad and I benefited from her labors and came along as the second set of grandparents, joining Baby Scout and his parents.
Being there in June meant that we got to see a different batch of wildflowers from those in July. All along the Merced Canyon coming in from Mariposa, the hills and roadsides were covered with these flowers that I am pretty sure are Farewell to Spring, otherwise known as Dudley’s Clarkia, a type of clarkia that reportedly only grows in California. Clarkia is named after William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and I wasn’t surprised to learn that it is in the evening primrose family. It reminds me of the Mexican Evening Primrose by my driveway at home.
The massive rock that speaks to me of God took my breath away as we entered the valley, and this time I took my own photo.
All six adults in our extended family group were veteran campers with hearts thankful to the Creator for lavishing such beauty on us. One grandfather prayed thanks for the “familiness” we were enjoying and when I heard the word I knew it would be in the title of my blog.
The first day some of us went on an expedition to gather firewood in an area that had been severely burned in 1991. Pippin took pictures of Scout sitting in the middle of acres of purple lupine, and later we went into the woods and found the colorful Harlequin Lupine as well–two sisters in that family group.
That afternoon the same group of us hiked past Mirror Lake to Hidden Falls. The last time I had seen the lake it was just a swamp full of horsetail and other such stuff. But this year every body or stream or fall of water in Yosemite is at its fullest and highest, and many families with children were playing in the sandy boulder-studded water as we tromped past.
Rattlesnakes! We saw two on the trail– One crossed silently, completely ignoring us. But the second one shook his rattle as he slithered into the leaves. I took his picture, too, but he is well camouflaged.
Hidden Falls wasn’t easy to get to, not with my stiff and unreliable joints and sinews. There was much clambering up steep hunks of granite and even some log-walking, but before long we came to the spot on Tenaya Creek where all my senses were bombarded.
There is little dirt in that place; towering all around are trees with thick trunks, growing out of granite slabs and boulders as big as houses. And water, torrents of it this wet year, pouring off the top of more speckled gray rock in falls that remained hidden somewhat behind huge craggy stones. The water’s roar echoed off all the rocks and made talking nearly impossible, and the brightness of the white foamy water glared somewhere out of every photo frame.
Scout had come along in the backpack. His parents sat him down in a flat place next to the falls and me, while they tried to scramble a little higher, and he started singing and squealing. He liked the excitement in the air, I think, all the fine cold spray and the tempest blast of sound. Clean and fresher than anything.
All the waterfalls are exciting this rainy year of 2010. Mr. Glad and I hiked together part way to Vernal Falls, and I read a book while he completed the ascent to the top of the falls. High steps are cut out of the rock next to the canyon, where spray from the waterfall drenches the hikers on the Mist Trail, some on their way back from the summit of Half Dome.
We have hiked the Mist Trail several times as a family, but this year my knee hurt just thinking about climbing those steps. The photo above right is of Pippin on that trail, aged three, with her papa. It was a new kind of camping for us, in Housekeeping, where you get three walls surrounding beds with mattresses, canvas roofs over your head, electricity in your cabin and patio area, and hot water in the restrooms nearby. Not like our tent camping at Crane Flat in the past, pictured.
Cooking was fun, shared by the three women. I had a new and hot propane canister stove to replace our old one that was of a kind that we had to pump what seemed to be every few minutes, and even then the burner farthest from the tank never got very hot.
Pippin made a version of Power Pancakes with blueberries. No one had brought a large enough bowl for the batter so we made do with a dishpan.
Scout missed his routine, and seemed to get more overtired and cranky day by day. This is a shot of him sleeping early in the week, after being lulled to sleep on a wheeled walk. He often enjoyed his outings in the baby backpack, with its pauses next to trees and rocks where he was given time to feel the textures.
Our last full day in the park Mr. Glad and I went with our daughter to Taft Point. It’s a short hike after you drive up toward Glacier Point for an hour or so. Still, the trail involved a bit of “boulder-hopping” as I heard it described.
The streams are full and the distances between the rocks that stick up sometimes require a leap. It’s not that the water is deep; I could have taken off my shoes and walked across if I wanted to lessen the risk of wet boots or a sprained ankle. I managed without doing that–but on the homeward crossing, it took me about half a minute to coordinate my eyes, legs and courage and figure out how to spring–or lunge.
From Taft Point you look down into Yosemite Valley where the Merced River is snaking along, and across the canyon to perhaps the most thorough view of Yosemite Falls possible. The day before, we had stood at the bottom of that waterfall; the experience from Taft Point is much quieter and drier.
You can also see down to El Capitan, that mass of rock one often sees from the bottom on entering the valley. It’s in the upper center of this photo, sloping down to the trees.
We ate our trail mix and crackers sitting on the rock slabs, and let Scout out of the pack to wiggle his toes in the granite dust.
So many wildflowers up there remain a mystery to me, even though I have prolonged my vacation (Yes, yes, I know, I should finish putting my kitchen back together or prepare for my soon arriving house guests.) researching them online and writing this blog.
The curious specimen here, for example, has the look of a Longhorn Steershead–the descriptive common name of a flower, Dicentra uniflora–but it doesn’t have the leaves to match that identity, which would be a relation of Bleeding Heart. Is it an imposter steer? How could there be two flowers so similar, that are not at least in the same family? Those blade-like leaves must go to something else…but where are steershead’s leaves? Very odd. But I can’t let that problem distract me from the main point of this flower: God is amazing!
I saw chamomile ready to bloom, and the tiniest alliums: each plant consisted of a single thin stem that I’d have thought was a frail blade of grass sprouting out of the sand up there where there is only wind and rock and sun. But at the tip of a few “blades” were the remains of a half-inch spherical tuft, lying down on the ground at that point because the thin stem couldn’t bear it up.
These leafy plants at left were scattered profusely over the meadows and forests at about 7,000 ft.; when the buds open they will make for a lot of color–we think yellow–and then they will really be attention-getters.
After taking in the views from Taft Point we hiked back to the road and drove on to Glacier Point, the most popular viewing spot in Yosemite National Park. No matter how often I visit the park, I appreciate the broad perspective. You can see where you camped or hiked over the last few days when you were down in the trees.
At Glacier Point the people-watching is unbeatable, because the population is international (Yosemite belongs to the world, or the U.N., or something, after all, which doesn’t please anyone I know), and there are so many people. After driving up the mountain all that way they aren’t in any hurry to leave, so everyone can watch everyone else as well as the scenery. We wondered if this pink-and-black woman might be on her honeymoon…anyone have a guess as to the origin of what looks like a traditional costume?
I didn’t know what a ghillie suit was until I asked Moss Boy if I could take his picture, and why he was dressed like that.
“I love your dress,” I said to the woman with the long yellow costume. It was also quite pretty from the front, as was she.
Kate was dressed in our family’s traditional outdoor clothing when we took this picture of her at Glacier Point nine years ago.
But Glacier Point was not the last view; we always love to see things from Washburn Point as well; it’s just a bend or two of the road back from Glacier Point. Additional exotic members of the Family of Man could be viewed there, like Hasidim taking pictures.
What first caught our ear was a shiny man standing on a prominence and turning to and fro, singing over the treetops an Asian style of chant, a cell phone in one hand and a camera in the other. Two or three other men–one dressed all in black– and four women were singing nearby at the same time, and the women were tapping their feet.
I asked one of the women, when she was finally walking back to the parking lot, what she was singing about. She was beaming smiles as she said, “Oh, I sing to myself.” I didn’t want to pry, but she didn’t seem in a hurry to get away, so I pressed, “What were you singing about?” She was happy to tell me, “About mountains, high, lonely.”
There is no last word that seems to fit after that, unless it would be Psalm 104, revealing to us our Lord,
Who walketh upon the wings of the winds….The mountains rise up and the plains sink down, unto the place where Thou hast established them….He sendeth forth springs in the valleys; between the mountains will the waters run….He watereth the mountains from His chambers; the earth shall be satisfied with the fruit of Thy works….How magnified are Thy works, O Lord! In wisdom hast Thou made them all; the earth is filled with Thy creation….