Tag Archives: Western Redbud

Good shepherds and pink splashes.

I didn’t know the name for it at the time, but one morning last week I experienced an acute and painful case of Cognitive Overload. It was the day I had been looking forward to for two months, when I would drive up to Pippin’s; the day before that I’d started packing my car with the books and food and even a 50-ft garden hose I was going to take to the family there in far-Northern California.

The morning of, I read an article about the coronavirus before I got dressed, and for the next two hours I debated whether I should change my plans. What if I were asymptomatically infected already? I could be the one responsible for bringing the pathogen to a relatively remote area. That was my main concern, and I worked myself into tears not being able to decide what to do.

Eventually all of my daughters weighed in, and the Professor, too. They didn’t just say, “Go ahead,” or “Come!” but they gave their reasons, which helped me choose among my own jangling thoughts and pick a course of action. I went.

I took along a dozen Mars Hill Audio Journal CD’s for the ride because I thought I might catch up on some of the interviews. One of the first ones I listened to was of Alan Jacobs talking about his book How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. Toward the end of the interview when he and Ken Myers were talking about how thinking takes time and effort, and how “practical discernment must be cultivated and developed over time,” he mentioned a discussion he had with Jonathan Rauch about an aspect of thinking that Rauch told him he hadn’t emphasized enough; here are some snippets I transcribed:

“Jonathan Rauch reminded him of the inability of any one human being to bear the cognitive load of decision making that we are called upon to do every day… there is a necessity to offload some of this responsibility to a reliable and healthy community. Each of us individually can’t know what we need to know about every issue; that means we have to trust other people to help guide us and inform us. We just don’t have the cognitive energy to be able to do this…. that triage is impossible for any of us to do on our own. Don’t listen to the people who tell you to think for yourself. It’s not possible to think for yourself… we are always embedded both socially and temporally…  That can work for us, if we see to it that we are properly and helpfully embedded.”

There I was, driving up Highway 5, peacefully following through on a decision that I had made by offloading some of my cognitive load. 🙂 When I had a husband to confer with, that would have been enough community. Various articles on the Internet aren’t helpful because they aren’t humans in my community, but thank God I am embedded in a family.

In the days since then, I’ve been grateful for other communities that I am part of, for better or worse, and the way they have taken some of the load. We pray that by God’s providence, whether the decisions of our civic authorities are always the best or not, they will turn out for the best in the end. The governor of my state said that everyone in my age group should stay home, period. Soon afterward, the more immediate area I live in came under “shelter in place” orders.

I remember the many years during which I would defer to my husband about many, many decisions that I didn’t always think he made with the most wisdom —  even then I was often glad not to have to think through every last decision on my own; it was enough that I had the good judgment to defer. Maybe my tears last week were partly the cumulative outflow of five years of pent-up frustrations, the weight of a widow’s decision fatigue.

Before I learned of the governor’s edict, I had planned to attend church as soon as I returned, though everyone was debating about the prudence of that, even those of us who know that it’s not through the Holy Mysteries in the chalice that we could share pathogens. It’s all of us breathing parishioners and the surfaces we touch…. Here also I have been relieved of the exhausting effort to have perfect wisdom. My rector, with these words, has passed on to us the decision of our bishop to close the church for at least two weeks:

“Let us realize that we simply cannot know the burdens that our Bishops carry as pastors. We all heard the incredible words of the Savior on Sunday about the “Good Shepherd” in John 10 in honor of St Gregory Palamas, how a true bishop cares for the flock…. let’s remember that the bishop has the ‘mind of the Church’ and so we receive his words, actions and requests with joy, and yes, obedience.”

And Monk Seraphim of Mull Monastery, as he was embarking on a trip through five airports on his return to Scotland, wrote to us:

“This is not our time to ‘shine’ by showing empty courage and adolescent bravado. A Christian shines through humility and sacrifice of one’s self, sacrifice of one’s ‘courageous’ image in the world.

“We are human beings, made of flesh and bones. Flesh and bones can become Chalices of God’s presence in the world, but they can also become ill. As a Christian, my duty is to comfort and to love, to keep myself and my neighbour from harm.”

“Pray for the weak and those most exposed, and try to help any way you can. Forget about ‘playing it cool’ – no one rejoices in our pride except the evil one. Be human. Be a human being, surrounded by human beings, loving them, helping them, protecting them. In this simple, living, non ‘heroic’ attitude is the Cross that will lead to the Resurrection.”

I did try to protect my fellow humans as I traveled down the state. I used so many homemade alcohol wipes at gas stations and rest stops that my hands were in great need of TLC last night. Today I’m resting from the trip, and feeling comforted and joyful because of God’s care for me.

I want to tell you, too, more about my visit and fun with the grandkids, but for now I’ll just mention that I saw a thousand ? or so Western Redbud trees and bushes on my travels. The grass on the California hills is still mostly brown, changing to gray-green in some places, and these bright pink splashes all over the place are also speaking JOY!

The family celebrates Jamie.

When we were snuggling and chatting on the couch at her house last week, four-year-old Ivy introduced the topic of the faces of her grandmas. After we talked a while about red spots and wrinkles, she pointed to a tiny freckle on her wrist and said with pride, “This is my first brown spot!”

There was a good bit of cuddle time during my visit, because most of the family had colds and weren’t at their most energetic. One day in particular it was uncomfortably chilly outdoors, and snow fell off and on all day.

But my drive up the state had been mostly under sunny skies, which meant that I could stop and take pictures anytime I wanted — and I did want quite frequently. I had dragged myself away from home, wondering what had I been thinking, planning a trip when gardening and Lenten activities are legion. But as soon as I got away from my usual environment and wide views opened up to me, the spring-green leaves and plantations of wildflowers made me glad I was making  a tour of points north.

I saw hundreds of these Western Redbuds along the highways.

And twice, I got close enough to discover a bee enjoying them, too.


So many kinds of wildflowers were blanketing the slopes in swaths of yellow, orange, blue and white. I only managed to get close to some lupines. I don’t even know what most of the other flowers were – except the California poppies. I was flying past them too fast!





Another bush I saw on my journey was unfamiliar to me. It grows along the creek beds, and when its foliage comes out it is needle-like. It’s a softer, orangey pink compared to the Redbud…

Bear Creek in Lake County

…and its flowers are like beads:

I love the almond and walnut trees when they are bare.
The California almonds have already leafed out,
but the walnuts are still pale gray and venerable:

That freezing cold day at Pippin’s, we celebrated Jamie’s second birthday. His Aunt Pearl and three of those cousins came up from Davis, too, to spend a day and half, which made everything more festive. Maggie helped Scout make a glittery poster to hang near the dining table, and several of us blew up a score of balloons. Cupcakes were baked and decorated. When Jamie finally figured out that he was the center of attention, and that he was the one to blow out candles, he was quite pleased.

I also received a late birthday present from Pearl, with orange blossoms attached to the package by way of decoration. I kept them by my bedside, and then next to the driver’s seat on my way home. One of these Aprils I will go back to the land of my childhood and just live in the scented atmosphere for a few days, for old time’s sake, and for the delicious sating of my olfactory sense.

The next day was a little warmer, and dry. We could take walks, pulling Ivy and Jamie in the wagon. The Professor took the four oldest children to a shooting range for a while – who doesn’t love an uncle who will do that? One day he worked at burning some of the huge number of branches that fell from their trees during the very snowy winter, and Scout helped by dragging them across the yard.

At different times during my stay, both Scout and Ivy asked if I would come outside to see certain springtime happenings in their world. Ivy loves the tiny violets that pop up all over the lawn, dark violet and lavender. I see from an old blog post that I had also discovered those many years ago, but I was sure in the moment that this must have been the first time.

When I found out that Scout (seven years old) knows the names of most of the trees on the property, I brought my notebook outside and jotted down as we walked around the house: oak, maple, hawthorn, red fir, spruce, Douglas-fir, Ponderosa Pine, locust, weeping willow… the ones I didn’t remember, maybe I will next time. He and I examined the thorns of the hawthorn compared to those of the locust.

The time went fast. Soon I was driving back, through the Central Valley that is heating up nicely and made me wish I were wearing something thinner than jeans. I thought about my future as regards expeditions in March. In the last three years I have acquired two grandsons whose birthdays are in March, so I think I better get used to this happy Happy Birthday routine. 🙂 Nothing could be sweeter.

Waterfall with Train and a Dipper

Over the weekend Husband and I enjoyed a trip together to visit Pippin and her family; this time it was a short vacation, not the grandma-only working visit. Though I must say I prefer not to split life into such categories; I like the attitude that we tried to take as homeschoolers: Always on vacation, always in school. When traveling, I always learn things, whatever you call it.

We were in too much of a hurry on the drive up for me to take pictures, but I have to at least mention that my eyes were sated with lupines, great spreading fields and banks and roadsides full of them, on and on for two hours. The farmland, once we got toward the center of the state, was impressive with plantations of tiny tomato plants, onions in rows, and clouds of wild yellow mustard filling the ditches and anywhere the fields hadn’t been plowed.

A smudge on my camera lens turned into a glaring spot on most of the photos I took (and yes, it was the real reason, I know now, for the mysterious brightness of that calendula I posted a while back), but we will just have to overlook this imperfection when it shows up, as in this shot showing how my socks happened to match the tiny violets that have sprung up all over Pippin’s back yard.

Four cats still co-exist in the household, where they line up for meals twice a day. The big eyes belong to Little Cat.

A highlight of the weekend was seeing some waterfalls that flow year-round. Near the parking area from which one sets off for the falls, we had to wait for a train to pass over the crossing, before we could get to the other side and leave our car.

Everyone thought that someone else had put the diaper bag and the baby backpack in the car, but no one had. We did without, and took turns carrying Baby Scout.

We had to walk close beside the railroad track for a mile to get to the scenic spot. As soon as we began hobbling over the rocky slope next to the rails, the train that had just passed reversed direction and slowly came back alongside us hikers. If I had any hobo blood in me, I’d have wanted to pull myself right up and go somewhere, anywhere, just for the romance of it.

The train was remarkably quiet, rocking gently on its tracks. Our boots made more noise crunching on the largest gravel I’ve ever seen. After five minutes or so of this unreal intimacy with the looming cars, they had rolled away behind us, and we could see the Sacramento River, down the mountain where the train had blocked our view. We looked back to see this image of the locomotive backing away behind us.

The falls come right out of the hillside, not from a specific creek or spring, and fall into the river, which bends into a curve at that spot, so that it’s not possible to catch the whole span of water falling. It’s even hard when you stand in the middle of the river downstream, as we learned from one who has done it. So my photo shows about 1/4 of the total waterfall.

Pippin notices birds. She pointed this one out to me after she’d been watching him for a while.

She’d also seen his kind before at this falls, and was pretty sure she’d seen it go under the water. When we got home she looked him up in the Peterson Guide and found out he is an American Dipper or Water Ouzel. And they do walk on the bottom of streams! My picture didn’t come out as clear, so I give credit to my daughter for this one.

On second thought, my photo is so different, I think I will show it to you, too. But it’s hard to see my guy in all the glitter of the water spray.


John Muir called this bird the Waterfall Hummingbird, and wrote a lot about it. The illustration below comes from his writings, and I assume is by his hand.


I never know what I will learn when I’m with my “Nature Girl” daughter. We looked at the cedars growing around the falls, and she showed me that some of them were Port Orford Cedars, which love shade and water. Their needles are softer and finer than the incense cedars that are more common.

The contented Grandma and Grandpa are walking back along the tracks
in the westering sun.

I learned the name of a brilliant bush that startled me several times on my journey earlier this spring driving this route, it was so dramatic popping out of the grey-green hillsides. Pippin told me it is Redbud.

Frequent sightings of Redbud cheered our way home again yesterday, and we weren’t too hurried to stop and capture it in one dimension.

It was a very full weekend. I haven’t told half of what I saw and heard–but writing this fraction in a blog I hope will help at least some of it stick with me a while.