Winter Skies

It could be said that the earth is the body of Nature while the sky is her face. The sky is where she puts her moods on display and they are ever- changing, from minute- to- minute, day- to- day, and season- to- season. Winter, I feel, is the moodiest of all seasons and I tend to absorb those moods as my own. There can be endless stretches of  gloomy clouds and fog that require extra motivation to leave the warm comfort of my home or to even roll out of bed in the morning.

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Then, the clouds finally drift away and the brilliant blue sky appears. On days like this, household chores are put on hold in order to savor every last minute of sweet sunshine. The cool air and sunny days are energizing and it is almost impossible not to match Nature’s cheerful mood.

The bare white branches of winter look especially striking against a clear, bright blue sky. Without leaves, the intricate shape and form of trees are on display and the warm sunshine coaxes me to stop and admire.

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Then there are the rare, breathtaking sunsets that just stop me in my tracks. As I stand there in amazement, I imagine God has lifted a veil from over the sky so that, just for a moment, his glory shines through to his children on earth. It is an experience that both humbles and heartens me.

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When the sun fades away on a clear night, we do not have to live in complete darkness. The moon and stars emerge, and they are beautiful reminders that we are not alone. They provide us light, comfort, and wonder until the sun once again brightens the world.

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14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be signs to indicate seasons, and days, and years. 15 Let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 Then God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. Then God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Genesis 1:14-19

Snow

I have a love- hate relationship with snow. Snow makes driving slow and stressful, it creates the chore of shoveling, it makes you cold and wet if you don’t dress properly, and it just makes life a bit harder overall. With that said, I really do love snow. I love watching large snowflakes leisurely make their way down to the earth just as much as I love watching millions of smaller snowflakes swirling violently in a storm. I love watching the winter sun shine on freshly fallen snow, creating a field of crushed, dazzling diamonds against a bright blue sky. What I love most, though, is a clear night, when the full moon reflects off the snow and I am able to see almost perfectly without the aid of a light. My own backyard becomes a magical otherworldly landscape. All is quiet; it is just me and the trees and the snow, with the moon lighting the way.

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In all my life I have never seen anything that embodies the word “pure” more than a blanket of freshly fallen snow. The power of a blizzard, the gorgeous glistening snow in the sunshine, and the peace and wonder of experiencing snow on a moonlit night all point to the majesty of God. His creative and unique gifts to us add beautiful layers and dimensions to life.  Being able to observe our world through the change of seasons adds so much richness and excitement to my life and gives me a greater appreciation of God’s masterful craftsmanship.

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“…Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;…”

Isaiah 1:18

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Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

 

 

First Snow Adventure

We have been blessed with a mild autumn here in Minnesota, but that has come to an abrupt end. Our first snowfall for the season is not a light dusting of snowflakes; it is a full- blown blizzard. There was no working up to it over a period of weeks. Just a few days ago it was 67 degrees and sunny and now we have a foot of snow, 20 mph winds swirling more snow around, and little visibility. Winter is here, folks!

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There is always something so magical and exciting about the first snowfall so I was determined to get out and enjoy it. However, taking my two large dogs and four- year- old son out for a walk felt like an arctic expedition (granted, we were out in an actual blizzard). First, the preparation to take a step outside took close to an eternity. I had to put on an extra pair of socks for Roland, take off his pants and finagle him into his snow bib, shove on his enormous snow boots, and finally put on his jacket, hat and gloves. I believe there was more winter gear than child. Then I quickly threw on my own clothes and leashed up the dogs who had been pacing around and whining the entire time. At this point my energy and patience was zapped, but I did not do all that work for nothing so I opened the door and we stepped out into the snow storm. Roland was uncertain about walking through the foot- high snow on our deck and getting down the steps was treacherous, but we eventually made it into our own back yard.

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After a bit, we got a rhythm down and Roland actually started to enjoy himself. We passed through the front yard, which was my original destination, but Roland said he was up for walking farther so we continued on. We walked through the one set of tire tracks down our quiet street so the going was easier. After we walked a while, I noticed the wind picking up and the visibility decreasing so I decided it was a good time to head back home. When I turned around, I realized the wind had been at our backs going out and now it was blowing stinging snow and ice in our faces. My spirits plummeted. Roland was doing surprisingly well before, but how was I ever going to get him home in this? He is not especially tough in inclement conditions. The weather had never been great, but now it was deteriorating quickly. Our gloves were wet and we could barely keep our eyes open because of the blowing snow. I yelled at Roland to walk right behind me so I could block the wind for him. Every few seconds I turned to make sure he was still following, but he wasn’t keeping up. He was trying to walk with his eyes closed, his entire face was covered in snot, and he looked overall pitiful. What was I doing taking my four- year- old son out in this weather? We were close to our house, but I felt like we were journeying through an arctic wasteland. We needed to get home quickly so I gripped both dog leashes with one hand (I had to control 200 lbs. of frisky dogs with one arm) and grabbed Roland’s hand with the other and trudged on. In a few minutes were we safe at home.

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Just as we finished stripping our dripping wet clothes off, Roland asked to go outside again. I gave him my “You have got to be kidding me!” look.

We settled on some hot chocolate and watched the snow swirl around from our nice, warm home.

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The Simple Joy of Sunshine

As summer becomes more of a distant memory, these increasingly rare warm and sunny days feel ever more glorious. When the majority of the days now are cloudy, windy, and just plain chilly, I want to soak every ounce of sunshine out of days like this. Walking around without a jacket on a northern Minnesota October day is a gift from God that is to be truly appreciated.

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Roland running off some energy before gymnastics class at Diamond Point Park on Lake Bemidji. Walking with my family along a lake in the lovely sunshine makes my heart happy. I hope these are the kind of memories I carry with me through life (and not the tantrums, the bickering, the chores, the stress…).

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I could sit here and watch the waves and birds and falling leaves all day (on a day like this at least).

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This boy absolutely loves the warm sunshine. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact he lived the first three years of his life in Congo- a climate a bit different than Minnesota). The poor kid does not know what is coming. Enjoy it now, Roland!

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What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.

These are but trifles, to be sure;

but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.

~Joseph Addison

A View from Above

The peak of autumn foliage is such a fleeting thing. It seems that every year, right when the colors are getting really good, the wind and rain decide to pay a visit and before you know it, all those gold and amber leaves are falling to the ground. It makes it difficult to plan an outing specifically to enjoy the peak of fall color. Between work schedules and weather conditions, we ended up visiting Itasca State Park just a little after the peak started to fade away. Some of the trees were already bare, but it made for pretty leaf- covered paths.

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We took a short walk to the 100- foot- high fire tower. It was a chilly and blustery day so my hands went numb gripping the metal rails as I trudged up the stairs. The height did not really bother me, but the sensation of a strong gust of wind blowing me off the tower was a little unsettling. Roland, our brave boy, did just fine with his daddy’s help.

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We were rewarded with this view from the top of the fire tower.The forest and lakes extended as far as we could see. I thank God that I am able to live near such a great expanse of undeveloped, beautiful land.

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

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The wind was really beginning to blow so we quickly descended the tower and hiked down a nearby trail. We came across this picturesque lake and thought it would be a good spot for an autumn family picture.

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Roland and his daddy, enjoying being outdoors together on a lovely autumn day.

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A Time to Play

There is a small county park near our house that Roland and I usually visit about once a week. There is something there for both of us to enjoy: a playground for Roland and a walking path through the woods for me. We have a routine: Roland gets some of his crazy energy out at the playground first and then we head down the path into the woods. It has become a good lesson in taking turns and being willing to participate in an activity that somebody else enjoys. I also have found that taking a nice walk is a calming transition from the high- energy activity at the playground to the getting loaded up in the car for the drive home.

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Is there anything more cheery than yellow aspen leaves against a bright blue sky? You have to take time to enjoy those rare sunny autumn days.

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Running through the fallen leaves, a quintessential autumn experience.

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One of my favorite things is admiring the way sunlight gently filters through the leaves, especially when the leaves are showcasing their autumn glory.

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Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun.

So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-9

Autumn by the Lake

On one of our last warm days of Autumn, Roland and I took an outing to Norway Beach on Cass Lake. Matt was home sick so this was just a mommy and son day. We spent the afternoon leisurely strolling (and playing) on the beach, soaking up the warm sunshine and fresh air, and admiring the beauty of the lake.

Roland was in a hurry to walk down the stone stairs to the beach.

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There is something pretty magical about water. The brilliance of the sunlight reflecting off of it and the soothing sound of waves softly lapping upon the sandy shore touch a special spot in my soul. I do miss the mountains of Idaho, but I have begun to appreciate the pure pleasure of walking along a lake shore (and northern Minnesota has plenty to offer).

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The simple beauty of a leaf.

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I love early fall when there are so many vibrant colors all on the same tree branch.

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Give this boy a stick and sand and he is occupied for HOURS.

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A lovely place to sit.

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This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

There is Fungus Among Us

One thing I have noticed while walking around the forests in Minnesota is that there are A LOT of mushrooms. There are mushrooms everywhere: on the ground, on dead trees, on live trees, in dense forests, in my backyard. I have seen them in so many colors: red, bright orange, yellow, brown, white and also in just as many shapes. We never saw such a multitude and variety of mushrooms when we lived in Idaho. I suppose the moist soil of Minnesota provides an ideal environment for them to flourish.

Mushrooms are not only interesting to look at, but they also have a key role to play in the ecosystem. When they have a symbiotic relationship with trees, mushrooms help the trees glean minerals and water from the soil while trees provide the mushrooms with necessary carbohydrates. When mushrooms feed on rotting wood (Saprophytism), they aid in decomposition, which returns nutrients back to the soil.

Nature does nothing uselessly. 

-Aristotle 

Roland excitedly pointing to a pretty, bright red mushroom.

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Mushrooms, at once both lowly and mysterious, add their share of intrigue to the quiet forest floor.

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These shelf mushrooms looked like they would be perfect handholds for climbing the tree. They were surprisingly sturdy, too. We wiggled one, expecting it to tear off or crumble, but it held on tight and kept it’s form. I was pretty impressed with their resilience.

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On this outing we hiked a small segment of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a 4,600 mile trail that traverses seven states as it connects North Dakota to New York. It is the longest of the 11  National Scenic Trails, but probably one of the least well- known.

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This was our first hike of the season that really felt like fall. The leaves were still mostly green, but it was chilly enough to bundle up in sweatshirts. Fall is in the air and it excites me! Autumn is by far my favorite season and this one will be the first Roland is home with us. I can not wait for him to experience the wonder of the world changing into this most beautiful and magical of seasons.

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The ever quiet and peaceful Lake Erin.

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Green Pastures and Still Waters

Schoolcraft State Park is a secluded, quiet place and it actually became the inspiration for this blog. The scenery was not particularly spectacular, but the peace I felt there is unmatched. We hiked an easy two miles through 300- year- old pine trees and along the Mississippi River, without ever meeting another person on the trail.

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On this outing, we were unusually lucky with wildlife sightings. We typically do not see much in the way of wildlife when we go out hiking. We don’t start our hikes until the afternoon, which is not when animals are most active and, with our three- year- old son, we are definitely not in sleuth- mode. However, on this day we managed a glimpse of a porcupine high up in a tree. Porcupines are adept tree- climbers and actually use their stiff quills to help them climb. Before moving to Minnesota, I had never seen a wild porcupine, but I have already seen three in the five months I have lived here. Now whenever I am walking around in the woods I am constantly scanning the tree branches for a moving ball of spikes. I think their natural defenses must make them less skittish than some other animals. Once you spot one, they don’t run away immediately, giving you a chance to enjoy watching them a bit.

Roland found this baby snapping turtle all by himself. I did not realize Minnesota even had snapping turtles and this one seemed especially out of place on the forest floor.

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Roland took this opportunity to practice his letters on the hiking sign.

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On the banks of the Mississippi River we spotted numerous frogs hopping around. That is one of the great things about nature- you never know what you will find. Some days all you get are trees and fresh air and other days you come face to face with some of the critters God created to share this world with us. sep-7-schoolcraft-sp-12

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The serenity of this park was like a breath of fresh air for my soul and brought to mind Psalm 23:

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
    He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
    for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
    I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
    your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.