Remington is such a gentlehorse.
Snow changes everything. A drab, brown, winter landscape becomes a fairy world. A moonlit night becomes silver bright. A windy gale becomes a cozy blizzard. Tufts of grass and the tiny life of plants stands out with new poignancy in the chill of winter when snow is heavy on the ground. Little sounds are magnified, like the rustle of snow falling from a burdened branch and landing with a soft sigh in the snow below. Little bird feet that hardly bend the grass in summer leave bewildering prints in the snow. Cold never seems as cold when snow is falling.
There must be magic in the snow.
We had just enough snow on Friday night to count, in my books at least, as a White Christmas, and Sarah and I made a point yesterday to get out and enjoy it thoroughly. With the goal of ending up with Remington and Dove, we set out at 3:45, bundled up and armed with our cameras.
Little things kept catching my eye, in ways that are different from the summer months. Winter is the season of shifting lights and shadows, and the life of winter is in the play of light and dark, the sparkle of frost in the moonlight, or the blue shadows in the snow beneath the trees. It was fitting, then, that what ended up tugging at my mind about this little family of coneflowers wasn’t even the flower stalks and heads themselves, but what stretched behind them. The magic of snow and the enchantment of light.
With the sinking sunlight in the west, the smoke from my uncle’s burnpiles a few hilltops over rose up like a fog and drifted north. The farthest hills and Harney Peak were nearly obscured, with their easterly slopes no longer lit by the sun. Shadowed hillsides shimmered blue, while sunlit little bluestem glowed golden, sparkling warmly in the chill winter air. Even the air seems to sparkle as the temperatures drop.
Tiny footprints of rabbits and delicate hoof prints of deer leave dimples in the snow. The snow doesn’t keep secrets. Gently-worn tire tracks, leftover from summer and not even deep enough to call a trail, were filled with snow and stretched on until they disappeared over the hill or into the trees. When spring comes and the grass grows back green and tall, the tire tracks will disappear, blending back into the landscape, overtaken by springtime. But winter remembers.
Even after a hard frost and inches of snow and months of winter weather, remnants of life still remain in the plants. Green leaves at the base of a taller plant, or tiny patches of woodsorrel or thistle, or these little leaves, unbitten by the frost. It amazes me to see how well God equips His Creation, and how hardy even the most delicate-seeming things really are. What wonderful capacity for survival God lavished on these, the works of His hands.
When we clambered out of a little hollow and up into the meadow where the horses are, the sky was a clear, pure blue, the snow a clean, pure white, and Harney Peak was visible in the distance. The horses saw us and came nearer to socialize. Dove was shy as usual, but I expected the snow to have put some spunk and spice into Remington. Instead of spunk and spice, he was mellow and affectionate, almost like a big dog. Each breath puffed a cloud of fog, and his hooves kicked up sparkling snow. Little Dove stood a ways off, content to watch from a distance.
The most mundane things take on new life in the snow. These little plants, brown at first sight, turned out to be red, when I crouched down to look closer at them. They seemed like tiny berries. The twiggy plants covered a hillside, catching the last of the light of the afternoon.
Shadows lengthened. When we finally got back to the top of our ridge and looked down at our cabin and the Miner’s Cabin, the sun had been behind the hills for awhile. Home looked cozy. Turkish coffee sounded good. No matter the season, I enjoy a good hike around our place. But in the snow, everything just looks different. New things are highlighted. Normally overlooked things stand out. There’s whimsy. A different sort of beauty. A touch of magic.
Even after the flowers fade, in what is left there is so much variety of texture, so many shades of brown and tan and silver and gold, such strange symmetry and asymmetry, such a spectrum of design. Winter bouquets are the perfect way to showcase the subtle beauty of the season. Sarah and I headed this morning towards the mines where we were hiking yesterday, armed with scissors and sacks and our cameras, to go a-gathering.
It didn’t take long for us to fill our sacks, and it took less time than that for us to be already running late to help with Christmas dinner. Nevertheless, we gathered plenty – Heads of bee balm, little blue stem, coneflower tops, dead spikes of hairy verbena, and other grasses. We stopped once or twice on the way back to cut some yellow rabbitbrush, which seems to grow more on the open hill sides and hill tops, than in ravines.
Mason jars are perfect as vases, and heaven knows we have plenty of Mason jars all over the place! I thought about using some of the old blue jars, but I think the clear glass ones are less obtrusive, for this sort of bouquet. I filled the bottom of the larger jar with pieces of lichen and moss-covered bark. Adding a jute bow, they became festive centerpieces. Jute is like burlap – Rustic, serviceable, and delicately beautiful in its drabness.
And I like simplicity.
Even in the last minute Christmas bustle, baking, cleaning house, wrapping presents, doing laundry, the beautiful weather couldn’t be wasted. We finally got out the door around 3:30. The sun had dipped below the hills. Our Hole-in-the-Wall excursion became a Mountain Lion Cave excursion, since the former takes considerably longer than the latter, and we can drive the Jeep almost all the way to the ravine the cave is in.
We have a trail going from the driveway all the way to the cave, but the last hill down into the ravine is about a 40 degree grade and, while possible in the Jeep, gets a little dicey. So we generally park at the top and walk the rest of the way down the trail. Today, though, Sarah and I decided to walk down through the mining pits, since we’d never gotten into the ravine that way before. It was a lovely little walk down the mine, over deadfall, through briars and waist-high dried grasses, in and out of cutaway places where water probably ran during the mining days.
Clumps of woodsorrel and tufts of lush moss clung close to the earth, as green as springtime, glinting through pine needles and scrubby grasses, like emeralds in an antique brooch. Pale grey lichens crusted rocks, subtle and unremarkable, until you look closer. The moss clinging to rocks, like a tiny carpet of ferns, and the lichen crusting rocks, like strange, oceanic life. What variety of textures and color in Creation!
Even in the winter, even when nearly everything has gone to sleep, dormant, and won’t wake until March or April or May, even with all the flowers dead, the petals faded and fallen, nothing but stems, sepals, dried leaves left, there is still a mysterious, ephemeral beauty. Flowers are common to life, something we are used to looking and wondering at. But what about what is left when the flower is gone? That is something we don’t generally take the time to marvel at. But those things that are left are the means of propagating next year’s flowers – In a sense, they are the beginning of the new flowers.
On the way to the ravine, we stopped to get some pictures on a sun-bathed hillside. These silvery stars were fresh and bright in a bed a fallen pine needles and red earth, one of the only living plants still unbitten by the frost. As many flowers as I’ve photographed and identified, I can’t put my finger on this one – I have a few ideas, including Eriogonum pauciflorum, but I don’t think I’ll know until I check on it this spring. Tomorrow, or sometime soon, I’d like to go back to mark the area so I can be sure to identify the correct plant!
The stems of dried grasses and flowers would make a lovely winter bouquet – We’ll have some time before our Christmas festivities begin tomorrow, so I’m hoping to get out to pick a bouquet. Dressed up with some jute and put in a Mason jar, it will make a rustic, festive centerpiece! I forgot to bring a sack on our walk, or I would have picked some things today.
The moon was rising as we drove east towards home. Giant and golden, fading to silver as it got higher. I didn’t have a tripod with me, but as soon as we were home, I grabbed the tripod and Sarah and I headed out again. It will be a full moon tomorrow, a full moon on Christmas. This evening, it was fitting that we listened to the 1968 Apollo 8 Christmas message, a reading from the first chapter of the book of Genesis. What a wonderful world God created, and what a gift to live here.
Tomorrow is Christmas. I’d hoped for a moonlit hike on Christmas night, but we’re expecting snow. So Sarah and I are about to bundle up and head out for a stroll in the moonlight. The frost is thick and diamond bright in the light from the almost-full moon. A perfect night.
Christmas Eve is a good time to remember – and to reflect. On Christmas Day, Christians celebrate the miraculous birth of a Savior, God Incarnate, who humbled Himself to come to earth as a baby, as the frailest form of humanity. But I think we often make the mistake of forgetting that the Christmas story doesn’t start in the book of Matthew, but it starts back in the book of Genesis. Throughout the Old Testament, a Savior was waited for – The entire Old Testament leads us to Christ.
It starts back in Eden, when Adam and Even were still the first people on earth.
In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve rejected God’s command, God cursed the earth and increased the trials both men and women would face, but He also gave them hope – The hope of Someone who would come to earth to do battle with Satan.
In Genesis 13, God told Abraham that all families of earth would be blessed through Abraham. And in Genesis 15, God told Abraham, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them. So shall your offspring be.”
In Genesis 49, the last days of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, are recorded. Jacob was nearing the end of his life, and he gave a blessing to each of his sons. This wasn’t a blessing of earthly proportions, but was prophetic in nature and from the hand of God. In his blessing to Judah, he says, “Judah, your brothers shall praise you…The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
In the second book of Samuel, chapter 7, the prophet Nathan came to King David, who was himself a descent of Abraham and Jacob, and told him, “….the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom….And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”
And in the book of Micah, the prophet speaks about Bethlehem: “From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”
These five examples barely scratch the surface of the promises and foreshadowing of the Messiah in the Old Testament. These are just a few of the many promises and prophesies that God gave His people – These were signs by which they would recognize the Messiah. They were reminders that God hadn’t forgotten His promises. God had a plan, a perfect plan, a beautiful plan, by which He would bring Salvation into the world, by which all families of earth would be blessed, who would rule in righteousness and justice and mercy, who would establish His throne forever. The Israelites waited eagerly and probably wearily for the Messiah, a king who would come and free them from the various harsh oppressions they lived under. As is so often the case, our anticipation of God’s plan for our lives is so much less than what He actually has planned. They waited for an earthly king. God had a different plan.
Finally, as is recorded in the book of Matthew, a baby was born, given the name Jesus, born in the town of Bethlehem, to a young virgin named Mary, who was of the house of David (Luke 3), who conceived her Child miraculously through the Holy Spirit. This Child’s legal, adoptive father, Joseph, was also of the house and lineage of David (Matthew 1), making this Child both legally and physically of the house and lineage of David the King, and Judah, and Abraham. God always keeps His promises.
From Abraham’s lineage there did come whole nations of people on earth, but more importantly, from Abraham’s lineage was born the Messiah, through whom “all families of earth shall be blessed.”Abraham’s lineage is truly a magnificent lineage, and includes every single Child of God, every single person saved from their sins by faith in God’s Son and adopted into that glorious heritage. Even Abraham, who knew God with such a blessed kind of faith, couldn’t have comprehended that his legacy would include everyone adopted into God’s family through the saving work of the Messiah who would come from his lineage! What wonderful history!
And it continues today! The scepter hasn’t left the house of Judah. The never-ending throne of King David is still being ruled from today, because Jesus, the Son of David, is reigning in Heaven, risen and glorious, and will one day return to finish His battle with Satan. The king the Israelites expected was a king who would wipe out their earthly enemies, restore earthly peace, and give earthly justice. But the King that God had planned would be a King who would wipe away our sins, our tears, our spiritual enemies, who would provide the Gift of Salvation, who would come to earth as a Man, someone we can try to comprehend with our finite minds, someone who can sympathize with us in our weakness, someone to demonstrate a life of righteousness, love, faith, purity, joy, servanthood, humility, and sacrifice. A King who would restore Spiritual Peace, and give Spiritual Justice and Mercy. A King who would adopt us into His household and call us His children, His brothers and sisters, His family.
And all of this started back before Genesis 1. The Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah. We wait for the second coming of the Messiah.
What a glorious heritage. What a glorious past, present, and future, in light of God’s gift to all mankind!