a photoblog of God's handiwork.

Archive for May, 2012

Down by the Riverside

Over the past couple weeks, while passing through Roundup, I made a few quick excursions to the Musselshell River. I wasn’t able to do this a year ago because the lower part of town was flooded as the melting snow and heavy rains forced the river out of it’s banks. What a difference a year makes! My short trips yielded several exciting finds in the way of birds I’ve never seen before. One, in particular, I’ve been seeking for two years and finally got to see him up-close and personal!  At the 20-Acre Wood in 2009, I heard a very unique bird song, but only got brief glimpses of him. It was a Black-headed Grosbeak, and of the few pictures I got, they were either blurry or his head was obstructed by pine needles. Another returned last year, and sang his lively song for a few days before moving on – I wasn’t able to see him at all. However this week I was fortunate to see several of these unique birds at close range along the banks of the Musselshell.

Apparently these large birds are a type of finch, and are one of few birds that are able to eat poisonous Monarch butterflies. On my second visit, I played a recording of their call and quickly had three of these guys responding in song!  To me, they came across as very animated birds, especially as they were singing.  One was fairly close and showed a lot of curiosity about me and the source of my recording.  I captured an embarrassing number of images of him, so I decided to share a dozen faces of this dear fellow.

There was a lot of activity down by the riverside, and I will be sharing some of my other photos in upcoming posts.  Right now it is actually a pleasant place to spend an hour and just enjoy a small piece of the majesty of God’s creation.  However, in two or three more weeks, when the mosquito population builds, I will really be wondering why He created some things!

The title of this post, Down by the Riverside, is also the name of a gospel song that has reportedly been around for about a hundred and fifty years.  The lyrics talk about exchanging the burdens and battles of this world for the garments and fellowship of righteousness in God’s kingdom, and the setting for this to take place is “Down by the Riverside.”  It is thought that the song was commonly sung by slaves on plantations in the south, as they reflected on their condition, as well as the hope they had in through salvation.  The significance of the water in the river is likely tied to both water of baptism and Living Water, as referenced by Jesus in John 4:10.  Living Water is a metaphor for the Spirit of the Lord, which offers grace and comfort to satisfy the thirsty soul.  That same Living Water is available to us today, and Christ invites us to partake in it; “…whoever drinks of this [well] water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).


A Timeless Memorial Day Message

The quote was penned 30 years ago, but is as relevant today as it was then, and has been since our country’s independence.

At The Watering Hole

I’ve been keeping the “natural” birdbath (aka, pothole in the driveway) filled with water for the past few weeks, and have found it to be a pretty good bird-magnet for evening photo-opportunities. Admittedly, the backdrop isn’t very scenic, but the late-day sun hits it perfectly.  Here are a few of the visitors to drop by recently.

Northern Flicker (red-shafted)

Pair of Mourning Doves

Chipping Sparrow

Lark Sparrow

Mountain Bluebird

Red Crossbill

Muley Doe

Okay, so the last one wasn’t a bird. Normally we have a lot of Mule Deer hanging around our place, but with all the spring grass and the does getting close to giving birth, they will be a less common sight for a couple months. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, during our early years here I thought that the only wildlife we had here were the deer, and sure didn’t think we had much of a variety of birds. Sorting through my image files last weekend, I tallied up 61 different birds that I’ve photographed in the Bull Mountains, 28 of which were taken in the immediate vicinity of the 20-Acre Wood.

I continue to be amazed at all the birds I never saw, until I started looking for them. There is no question that they were here; I never noticed them until I sought them. We tend to have that happen to us in many aspects of our lives. We may take certain things or people for granted, knowing they are there, but not really thinking about how important and impactful they are to our lives. Similarly, we may simply be oblivious to things around us due to ignorance or indifference. Oftentimes we are guilty of taking God, the Creator of this amazing planet, for granted or we don’t know or care about Him at all. This is really a shame, because God and salvation through His son, Jesus Christ, is easy to find, but we have to seek Him.  He makes His presence known and He wants a relationship with each of us, but if we don’t seek Him out, we may never find Him. A couple Scriptures bear this out in very simple language; “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (Isaiah 55:6) and  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matt 7:7).

What happened to Decoration Day?

When I was very young, I remember families making an annual trek to the local cemetery to decorate the graves of relatives and friends who passed away while in the service of their country.  It was always a solemn occasion, accompanied by heartfelt emotion, remembrance and prayer.  This event dates back to the years following the Civil War, when women’s groups from the south began decorating the graves of fallen Confederate soldiers.  By proclamation of General John Logan,commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, the first Memorial Day was observed at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868, to honor both Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the war.  The annual observance was to occur on May 30th of each year.

In their infinite wisdom, the US Congress passed the National Holiday Act of 1971, which changed the date of observance to the “last Monday of May,” thus creating a three-day weekend.  Since the passage of that congressional act, celebrations, parades, and the graveside traditions of the day have all but disappeared.  Although the entire day is considered a holiday, officially this has been reduced to a National Moment of Remembrance, per resolution passed in 2000.  The resolution basically asks all Americans “to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a Moment [defined in the resolution as one minute] of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to Taps.”  In its 2002 Memorial Day Address, the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) stated, “Changing the date merely to create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day.  No doubt, this has contributed greatly to the general public’s nonchalant observance of Memorial Day.”  And I agree.

So, here we are one week away from this national holiday.  I challenge you to find a meaningful way to honor and respect those who have fallen in service to our country.  These men and women sacrificed everything for us, can’t we give back a little time to remember them and what they did?

Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

The Catbird Seat

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “sitting in the catbird seat.”  Some readers may know what it means, but I would suspect that many don’t quite understand it, and even more don’t know how it originated.  As with many sayings that have been around for many years, the precise origin is subject to debate.  Author James Thurber is probably most responsible for making the phrase popular in the American lexicon, following his short humorous story, The Catbird Seat, published in The New Yorker in 1942.  A character in the story explains, “sitting in the catbird seat” means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him.  Because of my level of interest in it’s origin, I’ve invested a diminutive amount of time researching the topic, and have determined that it is highly likely that both Thurber and baseball broadcaster, Red Barber popularized the phrase, while it was probably coined in the 19th century.  In any event, you now know as much as I do about this topic.

Why a catbird was chosen as the seat descriptor, I am not sure.  But I did find a pair Gray Catbirds last week at Riverside Park, along the Yellowstone River in Billings, MT.   These birds are a type of Mockingbird that is commonly found in all but five or six states in the continental U.S.  Unlike many other birds, the Gray Catbird is able to recognize it’s own eggs, making them less likely to care for the eggs of brood parasites, like the Brown-headed Cowbird.  One commonality with the Thurber phrase is that a group of catbirds is collectively referred to as a “seat” of catbirds.  How that is an enviable position, I don’t understand!

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It sounds to me like the catbird seat is akin to being in a place of comfort, peace and joy.  While there is no Biblical reference to this phrase, I think Jesus Christ invites us into the catbird seat, as written in the Gospel of Matthew, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30).

Biblical commentator, Matthew Henry (1662-1714), expanded upon these Scriptures:

Christ invites all to come to Him for rest to their souls. He alone gives this invitation; men come to Him, when, feeling their guilt and misery, and believing His love and power to help, they seek Him in fervent prayer. Thus it is the duty and interest of weary and heavy-laden sinners, to come to Jesus Christ. This is the gospel call; Whoever will, let him come. All who thus come will receive rest as Christ’s gift, and obtain peace and comfort in their hearts. But in coming to Him they must take His yoke, and submit to His authority. They must learn of Him all things, as to their comfort and obedience. He accepts the willing servant, however imperfect the services. Here we may find rest for our souls, and here only. Nor need we fear his yoke. His commandments are holy, just, and good. It requires self-denial, and exposes to difficulties, but this is abundantly repaid, even in this world, by inward peace and joy. It is a yoke that is lined with love.

Are you in the ultimate catbird seat?

Colors of Spring

Over the past couple weeks, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot bloomed across the hills on the 20-Acre Wood.  This is generally one of the first wildflowers to blossom here, and it always brightens up the scene through the woods.  Evidently the Cheyenne Indians boiled the plant and drank the resulting “tea” to help alleviate stomach pains and headaches.  They also made flour from the seeds and ate the root of this plant.  We haven’t yet put this plant on our menu, but it might be interesting to try it to cure a headache sometime.

Backlit Arrowleaf Balsamroot (spring 2011 photo)

As we were getting ready for church last Sunday morning, I spotted a Glover’s Silkmoth perched on the tire of our car.  This is only the second time I’ve seen one in the last eight years, so I put him in a temporary detention cell to photograph later in the day.  The adult only lives for a short time, as it is not able to eat, so I took a few pictures and then turned it loose to complete it’s life-work.  The images don’t do a very good job of communicating the size of this moth, but they are typically very large.  This fellow/lady was about 4 inches across, from wingtip to wingtip, although it wasn’t very cooperative when I asked for it to display full plumage!

Glover’s Silkmoth 1

Glover’s Silkmoth 2

Glover’s Silkmoth 3

The entire purpose and goal in life for the adult Glover’s Silkmoth is both simple and focused – to mate and lay eggs.  A single job to accomplish, in a very narrow sliver of time.  And to help keep on the task, the moth doesn’t need to waste time eating or anything else.  With purpose and direction, the duty is diligently executed.  For people, it isn’t quite that simple.  We have a lot of distractions in our lives, and often struggle to find purpose and direction.  Let me share a short anecdote along this line of thought:

When he was 88 years old, the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once found himself on a train.

When the conductor came by, Justice Holmes couldn’t find his ticket, and he seemed terribly upset. He searched all his pockets and fumbled through his wallet without success.

The conductor was sympathetic. He said, “Don’t worry, Mr. Holmes, the Pennsylvania Railroad will be happy to trust you. After you reach your destination you’ll probably find the ticket and you can just mail it to us.”

But the conductor’s kindness failed to put Mr. Holmes at ease. Still very much upset, he said, “My dear man, my problem is not ‘Where is my ticket?’ The problem is, ‘Where am I going?’ “

This story may evoke some empathy for the state of an elderly man, and it probably elicits a bit of a chuckle at his response to the conductor.  But at the end of the day, the predicament Mr. Holmes was in is a question that we often ask ourselves.  Where are you going?  By that, I mean to ask if you know what your purpose here on earth is.  If you think you know what your life goal is, and how you are going to get there, what is the basis and value of that plan?  Are the benefits of attaining your stated purpose temporal and/or for personal gain, or is it a lasting investment with an eternal context?

From a Biblical context, our purpose seems nearly as narrowly focused as the silkmoth’s; we are to honor God.  Granted, honoring God is a simple statement that can be defined in a number of ways, but specifically we are to love and obey Him.  One of the key ways we show our love for Him is to love those He created.  Numerous times, and in numerous ways, He tells us to “love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is something I thought I was doing (most of the time), until I dug into the topic a little more.  In the recesses of my mind I probably already knew this, but simply tolerating or humoring people is not the same as showing God’s love to them!  To share His love, we need to serve the needs of our neighbors.  At times this may require offering something material or tangible, but it may also require time, attention, listening or comforting.  Jesus Christ showed us how this looks in application, as there were times He fed people who were hungry, healed those who were sick, taught people yearning to learn, and comforted the lonely and outcast.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:19-21).

The Right Perspective

This post marks the end of our southwest US journey, and I felt a lively, colorful finale was in order.  All the images in this post were taken at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix; a wonderful, peaceful spot in the midst of a behemothic metropolis.  Alesia and I enjoyed the better part of a day exploring the various desert habitats throughout the garden, and taking an extraordinary number of photographs along the way.  Many of the cactus begin blooming in April, and we were there on the early side of this annual cycle.  Admittedly, I was concentrating more on shooting birds and critters, but I did capture a few flowers and some other colorful subjects to share.

The bloom of the Argentine Giant cactus. This flower was about 7 inches across.

A couple Zebra Longwing seemingly mid-conversation

One of these is not like the others!

Spicebush Swallowtail just showing off

Do you feel cross-eyed when you look at this Julia butterfly?

I was concentrating on the still Zebra Longwing, but thought the intrusion looked good!

A macro view of the activity inside this cactus blossom

Two in bloom, and two more in waiting

If you want to see more photos from this region, my April 2011 trip was featured in the Rejoicing Desert gallery and  The Desert Shall Rejoice and Blossom.  I have come to truly appreciate the desert southwest, an area that I had always thought to be hot, dry and barren – but now I have a different perspective.  This year’s trip was much more enjoyable, because I was accompanied by my sweetheart of 25-plus years.  Seeing exciting and amazing things is so much more fulfilling when you have someone to share it with, and I am thankful that Alesia has come along with me all these years to share so many sights and events.  And I pray that she will be along for the ride for at least as many more.  We don’t get away together very often, largely because we enjoy and appreciate the 20-Acre Wood, where we live.  But it was nice to have four days alone-together with no critters to feed, no work to do, and no agenda to meet.  I found a short story that does a nice job of summing up what I think this trip did for me…

A landscape artist does not always stand at an arm’s length from his canvas. He must not limit his attention to the isolated details of what he is doing. Occasionally he steps back to view his work from a distance. He needs to see how his thousands of small brushstrokes fit together to produce an overall result.

Likewise, our perspective on life is much improved if sometime we can step back and see it whole. We can become so occupied with its daily brushstrokes that we have no real perception of the whole scene we are painting on the canvas of the ongoing years. Our attentions can be so consumed by the requirements of daily living that we have little awareness of the dimensions and directions of life itself.

Step back from the canvas a little, and try to see the picture whole. Look beyond the varied episodes of our daily doings and see the glory of it all. Look beyond the brushstrokes to see the art which the brushstrokes have made—and are making.

“But we all . . . beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).