Ice Skating

IMG_9956One of my favorite things about living on a lake in the winter is having unlimited ice skating access.  Getting to walk straight out your door right onto your own private skating rink?  To a girl who had to hike a good half mile for such a privilege when she was growing up, this is a luxury I don’t take for granted.  That is, except for when the weather doesn’t cooperate, like this year, and it freezes and snows at the same time, effectively ruining the ice for the rest of the winter.  What a disappointment!

When I was growing up, my siblings and I would solve this fairly common problem by clearing a giant, hockey-worthy rink by hand with the big snow scoop we dragged that long half mile down the road.  Then, we’d drill a hole with an auger, from which we pumped lake water to flood the rough surface and make it smooth again when it froze.  And did we ever have fun on the finished product!

These days, though, I’m the only ice skater in our young family, so all rink-creating ambitions have been shelved until the upcoming generation I’m helping to raise is old enough to join me in the effort of shoveling for the joy of skating. Thus, when the lake froze rough during a November snowstorm, I just figured skating was out for me this winter and turned my attention to other recreational pleasures of the season.

But I was wrong.IMG_9952February had a change of heart and decided to surprise everyone with an uncharacteristic thaw.  That thaw lasted long enough to melt the snow cover and create some pretty massive puddles of water on top of the ice.  Then, the thermometer plunged and it all froze solid again.  Then, the wind drove tiny particles of ice and snow across it for several days straight like a giant sand blaster, smoothing rough spots, scouring it largely clean of snow.  And when the sun blazed up out of the east one morning, I saw a glassy surface shining beneath it—and all my skating dreams buried since the beginning of winter rose up and wooed me out the door.

My oldest daughter, curious to see what I was going to do with those white boots on shiny silver blades, begged to come along to watch.  When we got down to the edge of the lake shore, though, she wouldn’t come any further.  “I’ll just watch you from here, Mommy,” she said.

So I picked my way out to the edge of the frozen grasses and weeds by myself, where I began the process of standing on one leg while wedging my sock-encrusted foot into a snug skate with the other.  Because, of course, in my hurry to get out there I had neglected to bring anything along to sit on.  How do blue herons do it, anyway?  In my defense, having to put something on the foot while holding it up does complicate the matter.  IMG_9884“Are you going to fall in, Mommy?” I heard the little voice call from the pink-jacketed figure perched on the bank, concerned.

“Nope,”—grunt—“I’m not going to fall in, honey.”  But I might fall over, I thought wryly to myself.  I had gone a little overboard on the warm sock layers.

But I was determined.  Stamp, stamp.  Loosen the ties again with numbing fingers in the subzero windchill.  Stamp, stamp, thump.  There.  Loop the laces, tie them tight.  One down, one to go.

“Are you sure you’re not going to fall in?” I noted that the concerned little voice in the pink jacket was closer and observed that she had moved from high on the bank down to the very edge of the lake.

“Yep”–grunt, grunt, stamp, stamp, thump.  “I’m sure, honey.” 

And I was off.  My little girl cheered.

Back and forth I went for a while, round and round, my audience of one as riveted to my performance as any Olympic crowd .  “Can I come out to you, Mommy?” she finally asked.  What she really meant was, “I believe, but—help thou mine unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

“Yes, come!” I said.She made her way out to the edge of the weeds, all the way to the very edge of that great, shiny sheet of ice—and then she stopped.IMG_9881IMG_9950.JPG“Can I touch it, Mommy?”

But this time there was wonder in her voice, and by now I had stopped my skating to come near and watch.  I had forgotten that she hadn’t been on a frozen lake before, at least that she remembered—and the innocent, wide-eyed first-time experiences of a child are some of the most beautiful things in the whole world to stand audience to.

“Yes, you can touch it,” I said with a smile.  And in faith and wonder, she stepped—and the sound of her laughter and joyous delight echoed from shore to shore.

IMG_9880Funny, how my delight over getting to ice skate this winter after all managed to pale next to her delight when she overcame her fears, believed, and walked on water.

“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified… but, immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. (Matthew 14:25-29)

Thankfully, we didn’t attempt replaying the rest of that story.

 

Pussy Willows III

img_9833In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like to say that these pussy willows were officially spotted on February 18th, which is some kind of crazy record in my personal experience.  (I just didn’t get around to photographing them until now.)  I guess that February thaw played a bit of a trick on the willows this year, which honestly makes this post rather anticlimactic.  After all, signs of spring in February seem far too premature to be very exciting.

And yet—I can’t get away from the fact that pussy willows remain that quintessential sign of the spring’s eventual arrival.  When we get that inevitable snowstorm in a week or so, and the thermometer drops back down into the single digits, I will remember these.  Whether we have an early spring, or whether it waits until the average time—or even if it teases us and shows up late—it will surely come.img_9831And so, my husband reminded us this morning in church, will Christ.  And, interestingly, the signs of springtime are exactly the metaphor used in Scripture to parallel the signs that we can watch for to know that His coming is near.

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its branches become tender and sprout leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that He is near, right at the door.” (Matthew 24:32-33)

Perhaps you were not expecting pussy willows at this time of year, and didn’t see them.  Well, it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t.

But don’t miss the signs of His coming because you weren’t expecting them.  That will be the end of the world.

Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (Matthew 24:42)

To read about what those signs of Christ’s coming will be, read Matthew 24—and to see pussy willow posts from past springs, see here and here.

February Thaw

img_9611Sometimes, nearly always, there’s no end to the cold and snow in February.

Sometimes, on this past rare week in 2017, there’s an end to all the cold and snow in February.

Instead of bemoaning the skis propped uselessly up on the front porch, and the completely uninspiring waning muddy snowbanks, I got out my little girls’ mud boots and we went looking for puddles.  At sunset.img_9615img_9624img_9620And we found them—puddles, liquid blue and silver, beneath cotton candy clouds in February.

One can never predict exactly what sort of beauty one will find. The only thing certain is that you will find it.

“He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Morning

img_9137Stopping by the woods on this snowy day did not start out to be quite as idyllic and simple as Robert Frost first painted it to be.

The truck fishtailed the tiniest bit as I gingerly stepped on the brakes, just enough to send my heart into my throat.  A giant yellow semi bore down on me from the north, leaving the truck shuddering in the wake of its pass, and me clutching the steering wheel, as though I might hold the vehicle on the road by the whiteness of my knuckles.  An icy blast of sub zero air blasted my face as I rolled the window down, fogging the camera lens.  Was it worth all this?

But the way the tall smoothly scaled red pine trunks contrasted against the feathery spruce boughs, freshly highlighted in snow, had been catching me eye. Quiet beauty was calling to me from the edges of the road, right there in the midst of my hurry to get down the middle of it to check all the little empty squares on my shopping list in town.  Surely I had a minute or two to spare?

“But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep…”
The to-do list and ticking clock of the day nagged, but I pushed it aside.  I would stop, briefly, if only to save myself from driving off the road with all the neck-craning I’d been doing.

And after the roar of the yellow semi subsided, it was true:

“The only other sound’s the sweep, Of easy wind and downy flake…” 

img_9143For a few moments, I was still, and the woods were still.  There was not another car on the road within sight or earshot.  The long list for the day faded away to the back of my mind.  A tiny bit of sunlight twinkled through clouds above, kissing the forest in soft, warm light.  The beauty of creation, which in turn pointed my heart to the beauty of its Creator, steeped into my soul.  And I remembered this story:

“And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind:

and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire:

and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12)

I am told that the term “a still, small voice” falls down somewhat in translation, that the idea is more that of a silence alive with His presence. It’s a truth supported elsewhere in Scripture, too, in other familiar lines such as:

“Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

God is not to be found in the rush and busyness and chaos.  God is to be found in the stopping, and in the still and quiet places.  It was true in my soul that morning. It will be true wherever you stop to listen, too.

P.S. Want to read this well-known poem of Robert Frost’s in it’s entirety?  Go here.

Best of 2016

It’s New Year’s Eve, a day for looking back, for remembering.

In that spirit, here are my personal top twelve favorite photos from the last year—and why!IMG_2524This photo of white birch represents for me a special effort to go out and find something beautiful to photograph on the most uninspiring of gray winter days.  Often my favorite photographic memories are the times when the perfect photo presents itself and I’m ready for it—but this picture is a good reminder to me that while not all photos come easily, I’ve never come up empty-handed when I’ve intentionally gone in search of beauty to capture.

IMG_3159I love this picture because it was completely un-contrived by mama (as we mamas with cameras sometimes do) and tells a true story.  The untold part of this story is that all winter this small girl was scared of snow—and then, after this last gorgeous big snowfall of 2015, the fear suddenly, inexplicably transformed to wonder and off she went to explore.  I grabbed my camera, followed behind—and this is where she led.IMG_3450This barred owl wins “Best Result of Being Ready For the Unexpected” award of the year.IMG_2925The swans have become such a beloved part of the rhythm of seasons here on our little farm.  Catching them in the air during this golden hour was a dream come true.IMG_4221IMG_4161My favorite shot from our family trip out west this spring is a toss up between these two.  I love the way the chartreuse green of budding cottonwoods is layered behind lavender lilacs against that magnificent backdrop of looming stone.  But that capture of a wild mare standing guard over her young foal?  Mmm…too hard to decide.  So you get a bonus shot.IMG_4752Another lucky capture, taken less than twelve hours before my own sweet third baby girl was born.  Perhaps it was the contortions I had to put my hugely pregnant self through to get low enough to the ground for this shot that sent me into labor?IMG_5607Flowers never fail to be an appealing subject.  This was my favorite floral capture from this year.img_6865I’ve been taking photos at the headwaters of the Mississippi ever since I owned a camera, but this one with it’s hint of movement and different perspective is a new favorite of a favorite spot.img_7055Nocturnal photography is still experimental territory for me, which is why the success of this harvest moon capture (and what I learned in the process) was truly a highlight!img_7544I discovered this glorious golden tunnel of a woods road on my birthday.  It brings back happy memories of a tub of tiramisu ice cream and a blissfully slow drive without another car in sight to mind my frequent photographic stops.img_7249I can never resist a good mushroom photo opportunity.  The wet autumn hike through an ancient forest that led us to these and so many others is a particularly lovely memory to me.img_8373And, finally, this shot, which is as close to a self portrait as you’ve been offered yet on this blog, and encapsulates everything I love about winter in Minnesota.

I’m so grateful for each bit of God-glory I’ve had the privilege to experience, discover and capture this year, and for the lessons learned and documented along the way.  What photos and experiences will 2017 bring my way?  Speaking from past experience, they’re rarely what I expect, but usually better than I imagined.  I can’t wait to find out!

“O God of our salvation…Thou crownest the year with thy goodness…” (Psalm 65:5, 11)

Praying that you, too, can look back and recognize that He has crowned your year with goodness, and that He will walk with you in the year ahead, gracing you with more and more, day by day.

 

The Light Has Come

img_8625“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

Praise the Lord—because He came, we can each truly have a…

Merry Christmas!

 

First Ice

img_8327The ice is in.

We watched it form all day long yesterday as a snow storm whirled, the stretch of open water slowly but steadily narrowing throughout the day.  The otters were out having a Last-Day-Of-Open-Water party along the slushy edges and the swans trumpeted restlessly through the night, clustered to the creek outlet on the south end, instinctively knowing it would be the last spot to solidify.

img_8320Today, all was still and silent.

The swans are gone, probably to the river, and will likely not be seen here again until spring.  The otters are hidden away somewhere in a cozy den.  And so winter has placed its last seal on the landscape—and then in a brief, glorious five minutes before it set, the sun blazed out from behind a cloak of heavy clouds and kissed it with fire.

And there I was, standing on the shore, breathless with wonder that I was in the right place at the right time to see it.

“Out of the south comes the storm, and out of the north the cold.  From the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters is frozen.” (Job 37:9-10)