Slow Rain and Relics

The sun and blue sky of Sunday morning had turned into lowering clouds. The sound of raindrops began to hush around us as we followed an old forest service road towards our destination. Before long at all, everyone else was far ahead and out of sight, while I was hunkered down in the wet grass and pine needles taking pictures of spring’s first flowers. What sweetness! We had temperatures in the 40s, and those of us who had properly layered were plenty warm, even with the gentle rain.IMG_5097eWe were hiking in an area of past burn, south and east of Pringle a couple of miles. Before the trail wove down into a valley, distant hilltops could be seen glowing gently under the grey sky, and even scattered blue sky could be seen off to the south east. We saw ample evidence of elk, but not a glimpse of the majestic creatures themselves. No deer, few birds – It was quiet out in the woods. But in amongst the fallen trees and blackened stumps, the purple of pasque flowers could be seen. Life from death. Beauty from ashes. In areas of previous devastating fire, new life springs up with determination.IMG_5059eThe trail took us to the historical remains we had hoped to find. Old foundations, remnants of walls and chimneys, a water pump, a tumbled-in root cellar, sparkling pieces of colored glass, shards of rusted metal, miscellaneous kitchen items, ancient stoves, door knobs, coffee cans – All relics of the homestead or town site that once stood there and the lives that had previously been lived there. We don’t know its name, or who lived there, or whom they knew, or what they did, or where they came from, but someone had a life in that beautiful little valley. What will I leave behind when I’m gone? It is an interesting thought.IMG_5113eIMG_5105eThe raindrops plinked and pattered on a heap of twisted metal, sounding like the rush of a distant, faraway stream. We poked around in the ruins, and could have spent a lot longer there. We only left reluctantly when we figured we should catch up with the rest of the group, who had already gone back to the truck to keep from getting wetter. IMG_5132eIMG_5129The rain picked up, but that hardly mattered. It is spring, and rain is expected! Sarah pointed out how vivid the colors are in the rain, and she is right. It’s as if the rain washes away a layer of dust, leaving everything clean and fresh with the color plainly seen.IMG_5146eIMG_5173eTime and again we extend our Sunday fellowship through the afternoon with hiking. And time and again, I think how perfect a way that is to end a Sunday. Spending time in God’s glorious creation is refreshing any day of the week, but there is something fitting about it on a Sunday – it seems to me that we are in a way extending the sanctuary of worship into the broader realm of His created handiwork. His handiwork and His attributes are proclaimed in the beauty of the landscape, the intricacies of flowers and plant and animal life, the perfect way this earth holds together and flourishes year after year and century after century. When we marvel at and revel in the natural world, we are marveling at and reveling in the works of God’s hands. What a privilege. IMG_5174eWe headed home in a slow drizzle and stopped at Three Forks to get coffee. Beautiful weather. A beautiful day.

 

The Mystery of Old Trees

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air that emanates from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.” ~Robert Louis Stevenson

IMG_9398Thunder purred contentedly in the distance from a sky lowering and dark. After a brief, pearly March shower, the damp, rain-washed world was a landscape changed and new and fragrant. The browns were richer, the greens were more alive, the grey of the sky was lowering above the horizon. Scattered tufts of lichen, usually dry and tough, were soft as ferns and green like gems. The rust-colored earth crumbled under our feet, soft and damp. Garnets in the creekbed were redder and glassier, the dust of the summer washed away.

IMG_9328There is a mystery in the trees, a story untold, a winding path still unexplored. There is beauty, yes, but it must be the sense of wild and untamed mystery that calls us back. There is the allure of constant change, as the shadows shift and deepen, as cool breeze dances with warm, as the voice of the woods quiets then sings then quiets again.

IMG_9299The woods are rich with the fragrance of damp earth and musky leaves, and are wealthy with the myriad hidden things, those subtle treasures hidden in the undergrowth, or tucked beneath a fallen limb, or nestled in the knee-high grasses. There is the misty pink of birch bark, or the rainbow hidden in the heart of a snowy crystal. There are the brightly glowing hulls of autumn berries, still clinging to their trees, opened gaily like flowers in the dead of winter.

IMG_9287Another brief rainshower blustered up while we were walking Battle Creek, a wall of red rock, pocketed with hollowed-out places, towering beside us. The rain came down like beads of glass, and the sun broke through the clouds, making the rocks glow. I don’t think I’d weary of these trails if I hiked the same ones for 100 years. There is always something I never saw before, air I never breathed before, perfumes I never smelt before. And each time there is a renewing. The sort of renewing that comes from peering closely at little things of beauty. The sort of renewing that comes from listening to the silence. The sort of renewing that comes from welcoming the dirt and the mud. The sort of renewing that comes from taking the time to wonder. The sort of renewing that comes from breathing deep of the clean, moist air.

That is the mystery found among old trees.

Laura Elizabeth

Refreshing the Soul

IMG_5096.1lowrezSome weeks are hard – hard to keep smiling, hard to see the beauty of life, and for no good reason. This has been one of those weeks, and the last few days in particular have been a struggle emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. What can happen from one week to the next that can make my life, which I know very well is so much better than I deserve, suddenly seem bleak, or frustrating, or exhausting?

That change is usually something in my heart, something in my inner self, that has become disconnected and out of joint. Knowing myself to be a very dedicated introvert, I recognize that part of my struggle has been the sheer level of activity that takes me outside of my sphere, outside of my cozy home life, without sufficient time to recharge myself. But I realized something else – Not only has there been no time for solitude this past week and a half or so, but I haven’t spent time in God’s wonderful Creation, which is one place that never fails to refresh my awareness of beauty, blessings, and life’s bounty. Time spent in God’s Creation always seems to renew my sense of perspective. Being an introvert, I spend a lot of time lost inside my own thoughts. When my thoughts are tuned to God’s goodness and to beauty and joy, my thoughts are a wonderful place to be. But when my thoughts are in a turmoil, perspective is almost impossible to have. What better way to get out of my own tumultuous thoughts, than to lose myself in discovering the joys of God’s Creation?

IMG_5053.1lowrezAfter church today, the girls and I went on a hike. We left later than we intended to, since we got sidetracked cleaning the loft, so we thought our hike would end up being truncated. Our goal had been to get to Hole-in-the-Wall, which we decided against because of the time, so instead we decided to explore the ravines and draws spiderwebbing off our well-worn jeep trail.

IMG_5101.1lowrezClambering over deadfall and under deadfall, scrambling through steep ravines, down ledges as tall as we are, slipping and sliding over week-old snow still clinging to the shadowed places, carefully parting barbed wire fences to fit through between the strands of wire, laying prone in the stiff, brown grass to marvel at a pinecone, or at the funny little spiked heads of what were in the summer Wild Bergamot – What a delight!

IMG_5128.1lowrezFlickers of white gave away the silently fleeing deer, and Dixie’s black pony could be glimpsed in our east pasture when we came out on top into a meadow. As beautiful as was the view while in the meadow, with Grandma’s driveway in the distance and Harney Peak away on the horizon, I like the ravines the best. The cool shadows, the piles of deadfall blocking the way, the snow and ice in pools at the bottom, the sense of the unknown – What is around the next bend? Where will this ravine take us?

IMG_5115.lowrezIn all the time we’ve been out here, there are still places I haven’t explored. The unknown, unfollowed, un-searched-out ravines. The distant hilltop. The dry creekbed. If I climb that hill, what will be on the other side? What is this stand of trees hiding? What is at the end of this draw? Should I go left or right?

It is impossible to stay lost in my tumultuous thoughts when God is drawing my thoughts out of myself, into something so much more beautiful than I have a capacity to understand or contain or express.

IMG_5149.lowrezThe afternoon gave way to evening. The clouds shone, and the red earth seemed to soak up every ray of light and cast it off again, luminous in the strange golden light of sunset. Then sunset gave way to dusk, and the red-gold gave way to the colors of nighttime. Lavender shadows settled into the ravines, and the clouds became the soft grey of slumber.

Almost as swiftly as the last glow faded from the sky, the warmth settled out of the air. A delicious chill sifted between the trees. The breeze picked up ever so slightly.

December is a beautiful time of year. But any time spent out in the open, breathing deep of the freshness of the earth, anytime spent marveling at God’s wonders is sure to be medicine to the weary soul.

It was.

Laura Elizabeth

 

 

Spring-on-Hill

DSCN0785.1 Within minutes of scrambling out of the pickup trucks at stage stop Spring-on-Hill, we were suddenly treading very carefully at the sight of a rattlesnake retreating into the old dugout stage stop, and the warning rattle of at least one other in the grass nearby. DSCN0787.1We tread carefully and put a safe distance between ourselves and the hidden snakes, but we also tossed small stones gingerly in their general direction, just to hear the fascinating sound of the rattle. Finally, it was clear that Mr. Rattlesnake inoffensively wanted to be left alone, so we very obligingly left the serpents to their lair. There was more to see.

DSCN0793.1This particular stage stop has its own legend of lost gold, and Custer himself in crossing this land wrote of it as a desolate, barren wasteland. Hardly flattering, but barren as it may be in some regards, it is simply teeming with life in others. While drier than the more northerly Hills, there was still water in the ravines and canyons, and Spring-on-Hill itself, the Spring, was actually feeding a small creek, instead of simply soaking into the dry, thirsty gumbo.

DSCN0813.1We scrambled up the ravine towards the Spring, up and down the bank, over rock ledges, through briars and a stand of juniper, and came to the source, which bubbles up out of a concrete housing. Pipes used to run from the Spring, carrying the water further than it could flow itself, dry as it is out here. Now, it just pours from a crack in the housing, feeding a muddy, mossy pool. Some of the water makes it further down, due to the wet spring and summer we’ve had.

DSCN0927.1The grass, rented by a local rancher woman, is sufficient to support a small herd of cattle. The cattle were skittish and suspicious, but the heifer calves were beautiful. So delicate. When we marched through part of the herd, one of the cows, probably a younger mama, couldn’t get far enough away from us. As we approached, she’d move away, watching us, and move away again as we moved closer. Finally, with a frisk and a snort, she took off, taking with her a couple of calves and a spotted old steer. Off they ran, not content to just move out of our way, but with a need to be once-for-all out of our sight. Never saw them again.

We stopped for a few minutes by a little piece of red, muddy stream and watched the tadpoles. The sun was warm, and the air was quiet. On the other side of the trees and up a bank, we could hear the cows munching on the grass.

DSCN0812.1Out on the Spring-on-Hill ranch, the grass is scrubby and sparse, but the low-growing scrub was fragrant in the warm summer air. From time to time, the heady perfume would make me stand up and look around for the source of the perfume. It was a minty fragrance, and we finally figured out which of the scrubby plants it was coming from. It must be some sort of a sage, but I haven’t yet identified it.

DSCN0848.1Growing fast to the gumbo, lichen clung, flourishing in the barren region. I read once that lichen growth is a sign of a healthy climate or ecosystem. It must be a healthy region out here, then, because lichen grows in subtle abundance. The low-growing, rootless things are almost invisible against the rock and red soil. If you didn’t stop to crouch down and just look, you’d miss them altogether. But they are there, in their reds and greens and whites, defying the harshest of weather.

DSCN0914.2lowerrezAfter our fill of hiking, rock hunting, and exploring, the men brought out the guns and did some target shooting. The women got in on it, too, but it was fun just watching the enthusiasm and expertise of the men in the group. Always eager to learn more, to improve their marksmanship, and to exercise our 2nd Amendment rights. Don’t mess with this crew, I’m tellin’ you!

DSCN0905.1It was hard to leave–Such a beautiful place, so much to marvel at, to wonder at, to revel in, to savor. God is a God of beauty, goodness, and creativity. Who can look at this landscape and think it happened by chance? I can’t. Someone high and wonderful must have thought out this landscape and planned the intricate details. They’re too exquisite to have been a mere accident. And I’m glad He gave us the chance to enjoy and experience His handiwork. He could have landed us in a colorless, shapeless world. He could have made us see in black-and-white. But He didn’t.

Laura Elizabeth

Blooming June

DSCN0262.1The Black Hills are dressed in their best and most glorious finery. Wildflowers are sprinkled, sometimes lavishly, on hillsides and in valleys, the creeks are full to overflowing, and everything is green and lush and fragrant. It is always fun to see the Black Hills through the eyes of a visitor. Even though I’ve only lived here for four months, this has always been our home away from home, and consequently seeing it sometimes becomes, well, daily life. There is nothing like a new pair of eyes to renew my own love of this region.DSCN0310.1

Mom’s cousin Russel, his wife, and their three daughters have been staying with us since Sunday. I’d never met any of them, so it was fun to get to know my second-cousins from Texas! We all went down to the Mountain Lion Cave last night (or as close as we could get without crossing Battle Creek), and this morning my second cousin Julie and I headed out on an excursion. The rest of her family and Anna were going to Reptile Gardens and, as fascinating as I am sure it is, neither of us was particularly interested in spending hours there.

DSCN0324.1So out we went to Spokane and haunted the ghost town for a few hours, drove Iron Mountain Road, and visited Little Falls. The flowers were beautiful, and any little hollows or depressions were full of water, frogs, and mosquitoes. The thistles were becoming the prize-winning sort, and mushrooms were in abundance.

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Violet and creeping wood sorrels flashed little glints of color in the shorter grass, their heart-shaped leaves green and moist and plentiful. Wild roses and geranium, blue-eyed grass and purple clover, asters and dandelions, all were tucked under trees and nestled into hillsides, along paths, thriving. The flowers and berries were peeking daintily from the Solomon’s Seal, and the lichen was thick on fallen branches and damp wood.

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DSCN0258.1While on first glance not much had changed (it is a ghost town, after all…), when I looked closer there were dozens of new forms of botanical life, flowers that hadn’t been in bloom on our first visit, overgrown and flooded paths, and new clusters of mushrooms growing in the rich layer of decaying leaves and pine needles.

DSCN0187.1The house looked pretty much the same as before–the broken windows, rusted hinges, rotted floorboards, and the swallow’s nest in the stovepipe–but when on the hunt for details, I suddenly noticed many things that had escaped my eye before, such as the remnants of wallpaper in the house, or the lichen-encrusted nails on the windowsill, or the broken blue Mason jar and the scrap of blue and white wallpaper. DSCN0191.1The nest had a swallow in it this time, and little plants were growing in the moist earth where floorboards were missing. I noticed “love notices”, where boys and girls had written their names together on the walls. What an old-fashioned and romantic little spot. DSCN0220.1

Outside one of the windows, there was a layer of shattered glass. My camera is a bit finicky, and after taking one properly-focused picture, it suddenly stopped focusing on the glass. Instead, it was focusing on the reflections of the trees in the glass. The effect was enchanting! DSCN0232.1

DSCN0266.1Beauty may be subtle and well-hidden, even when in plain sight. It is hard to see beauty in the mundane when one is only looking for the mundane, or when one is overburdened with the world.  A certain optimism is required for seeing exquisite beauty in the drabness of rotting wood or broken glass. Optimism is not my natural state, but I find it exceedingly difficult to be pessimistic when I am surrounded by God’s beauty, and his little gifts. I passionately think we should nourish the vision to see those beautiful details. The world is a bleak place, but there are so many tiny joys and gifts given to us each day by a loving Creator, if we have the eyes to see them.

Laura Elizabeth

New Haunts

When we pDSCN0048.1lanned on Sunday to have an excursion Wednesday, we just assumed the weather would cooperate. When it started snowing yesterday, and then snowed and rained all afternoon, I started having my doubts. But today, the sunshine broke through the clouds, turned the snow into puddles, and the air warmed with springtime. A perfect day for an exploration!

DSCN0024.1My sisters and I and some friends from church ventured forth to enjoy a day off in the beauty of God’s creation. We visited their building site (they’ll be our close neighbors, it turns out!), had a picnic lunch, and then decided to haunt a local ghost town, Spokane.

DSCN0043.1It is hard to imagine people once living here, attending school, inhabiting what are now mere shells of homes, piles of wood and rubbish and old rusted nails. But once, people had lives here in this beautiful little meadow, and the big, two-story house wasn’t overgrown with birch, and it didn’t drip water through the roof. DSCN0032.2The chimney once gave smoke, and the upstairs bedroom was lived in by people, not a family of bluebirds. The apple tree was young and fruitful, the house was whole, and people had lives within its walls. How fast we fade and are forgotten! Who were they?

DSCN0085.1The little ghost town sprawls in an open meadow, and remnants of later days, forgotten later days, are scattered farther into the overgrowth of trees. An old crumbling stove. Ancient automobiles with rust-eaten bodies, rotted cushions, shattered glass, and polished chrome.

DSCN0107.1The recent rain and snow has turned parts of the Hills into thick woods reminiscent of rainforests. Trees were dark with wet, and the ground seeped with it.

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Moss dripped from branches bejeweled with gleaming lichens. Old rotted stumps crumbled softly underfoot, and tiny mushrooms flourished in the fertile moist earth.

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We haunted the town for more than an hour, enjoying the quiet, the creeping life of things living close to the soil, the smell of wet trees and fresh grass. I have a feeling we’ll be back.

Laura Elizabeth