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Pastors Blog

The Timberdoodle

When I was a Boy Scout, at the appointed hour when it was said that the snipes were running, the Tenderfoot Scouts were marched deep into a snowy night holding paper bags for catching snipes.  I remember being excited about the prospect of catching a snipe, imagining that this feat would elicit admiration for me from the older scouts.  One of the older scouts lined the ten or twelve of us Tenderfoot Scouts across the woods parallel to a road on a ridge a couple hundred yards away.  He carefully spaced us at least ten feet apart and instructed us with great seriousness about how to hunker down in the snow so we could hold our bags open very close to the ground facing the line of snipe drivers who would drive the snipes toward us. Not everyone would catch a snipe, we were counseled, only the most observant and fast-acting. 

Then the older scout left.

Soon we heard the snipe drivers make a half-hearted racket up on the road.

And then there was the winter night quiet which was as heavy as the damp, frigid darkness that seemed to me to be outer space itself that had sunk right down to the surface of the earth.  One of the lads far down the line suddenly crumpled up his bag and shouted a “woo hoo!” and ran off back to the lodge.

After about 15 minutes, a couple of the scouts clambered up out of the snow and trudged back to the lodge to what the last of us assumed would be scorn for having given up.

I stayed out at least a half an hour.

I was the only one left.

I really wanted to at least see a snipe zipping by; I longed, for some reason, for this opportunity of intimacy with a creature of the wild.

The last scout to leave sighed as he stood, “Come on.  They’re just making fun of us.”

But I didn’t believe it.  I believed in snipes.

By the time I returned to the lodge, the entire troop was engaged in a game of steal the bacon.

They hadn’t even noticed I had been gone.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I was invited to a party at which we endeavored to catch a cousin of the snipe, the American Woodcock, performing his annual twilight courtship flight.  For years after the sting of the snipe hunt wore off, I never knew there even was a bird called a snipe.  But there is.  My belief in them was not misplaced.  Their cousins, the woodcocks, turn out to be some of the most interesting members of the Scolopacidae family, because of their method for attracting females with whom to mate.  Snipes have interesting mating rituals, but nothing like the soaring American Woodcock.

Or Timberdoodle.  Or Mud Bat.  Or Whistledoodle.  Or Bog Snipe. Or Bog Sucker.  Or Big Eyes.  Or Night Partridge.  Or Timber Rocket. 

Rocket.  That’s what a male woodcock does: he rockets up, spiraling, “twittering,” for a couple hundred feet, until in the twilight, you can no longer see him. Then he drops, tumbling “like a crippled plane” singing as he falls with a “soft liquid warble that a March bluebird might envy.”  Just before hitting the ground, he levels off and returns to his “peenting ground,” a clearing in the woods, usually at the edge of the woods or on a sandy or mossy stage in the woods, so his amorous acrobatics do not go unnoticed.  He begins the whole drama again, beginning with strange, “throaty peents spaced about two seconds apart.”

I had to quote Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac here for a complete description of the woodcock’s seductive show, because at the Timberdoodle party, I saw only one woodcock launch up into its amorous orbit, but then to promptly disappear. I think the others gathered heard and saw more.  I believe that day for me will come.  It was quite cold that evening, perhaps extinguishing the Timber Rocket’s flaming desire, perhaps making him wonder if he’d come north a bit too soon.  The snowstorm this past weekend I’m sure confirmed that for him, dropping a two foot thick icy pall on him and his family and friends and the earthworms they need to eat.

So the Scolopacidae cousins remain elusive to me as many mysteries of the woods do – a truth noted and affirmed by Aldo Leopold in his description of the woodcocks’ “Sky Dance” which was read at the Timberdoodle party before we went outside.  To Leopold, the woodcocks’ romantic antics revealed more mysteries about woodcocks than facts:

“It is fortunate, perhaps, that no matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all of the salient facts about any one of them.”

The mysteries of Creation are many, inspiring curiosity, wonder, awe.  We are drawn to them as woodcock females are apparently drawn to the spectacular flight of the males, without ever knowing how the choreographic movements of this dance come to his mind.  The extravagance of this display is equal to its importance: obedient to their Creator’s command to be fruitful and multiply, steadfast in the face of storm or danger, it’s vital for them to do their best at the behest of their Lord.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Lambing

The sheep is a Merino.  Lying down, the sheep is a mound of wool the texture of which looks like rows of orchard trees from the air.  Her wool is caked with gray, dried dirt as if Mount St. Helens had just belched up all over her.  Her wool is prized by backpackers for their socks. 

The sheep stretches out her neck, utters an abbreviated bleet, the call, my daughter Katie says, is the Mother's call to newborn lambs.  The sheep is pregnant; she’s in "pre-labor," my daughter's colleague Jordan terms it.  The sheep stretches, paws at the straw as if to make a suitable nest for the lamb to come.  Then she lies down, backs down back into the earth to rest.

We return in a few hours.  The sheep is standing again, still bleating, but also grunting now, her stretching involving not just her neck, but her entire body, starting with her neck but then convulsing her back and abdomen.  She labors, then lies down to rest. The convulsions continue as she rests giving her no rest. 

My nieces are there watching the sheep, as is a volunteer who works for Katie at the Mahaffie Stage Coach Stop and Farm in Olathe, Kansas where the sheep lives.  Also there are the CEO of Mahaffie, his wife, and son.  We are all spectators.  The nieces tell me a leg is protruding from the back of the sheep.  After another series of convulsions, the other foreleg, and the head and shoulders appear.  For a short time the sheep appears to have two heads. Katie is on the phone talking to Jordan who is the expert.  "As long as the sack is intact, you don't need to do anything," Jordan says.

Soon the convulsions come to an end, the lamb's legs in Katie’s hands; gently she assists, pulling the lamb -- long, impossibly slender, pure white -- out of a dark membrane stubbornly clinging.  Katie lays the lamb down in the straw, the lamb shaking its head repeatedly, Katie massaging his face, ensuring that his nostrils and mouth are clear, massaging his sides, his hind legs.  Mother is licking her son incessantly -- his front legs and face especially.  Mother speaks the Mother's call; her son answers with a thin, brittle cry.  The lamb is so white he seems to glow in the evening darkness, in the shadow of his mother's muddy wool.  He struggles to stand, pushing up with his forelegs, but his back legs collapse.  He rests, then tries again.  And again.  When he succeeds, he totters forward, then back, as if the earth is the deck of a ship in a storm. As if there were an urgency to master walking greater than finding mother's milk.  Which, if you think about it, there is. It is the herd animal's only hope: to keep one's feet in the midst of the anxious, shifting, fleeing herd.

This is the mother's second lamb.  The first lamb's approach to the mother's milk was disorienting to the mother, distressing.  She wasn't entirely sure what the lamb was up to.  Jordan and Katie felt a need to assist, and they did.  This year the reunion of mother and lamb went more naturally. 

The other spectator was another sheep, the mother's sister, also pregnant, but several weeks behind.  My daughter said the sisters are great friends.  Jordan had explained that the other sheep had been anxious for her friend who had been more tired than usual, distracted, pawing at the ground.  During the lambing, the other sheep said nothing, but wary, she watched the watchers, her back to the lambing, not entirely sure what was being revealed behind her.  Or maybe knowing all too well.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Ann Zehms on Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Strange Trail through the Strange Woods

At least half of the trails through the Navarino Wildlife Area are not on a map.

Which is a bit unnerving.

Yesterday, I wanted to see if I could walk around the Hansen Flowage.  A trail on its west side led to a fork in a field of very tall, straw-colored grass.   One trail kept heading south; the other veered west toward Highway K and the Wolf River.  No luck getting around the Flowage.  So I took the trail heading toward the River.  That trail did indeed cross Highway K, but ended somewhere in middle of “The Wolf River Bottomlands.”  I was a little disappointed.  Trails usually go somewhere.  That one didn’t.  It ended as an enormous jumble of tree trunks and brush.   A map would have told me this strange fact about this trail.  I’m not complaining.  Not having trails mapped limits the number of people you meet.  Who takes trails not on a map?

On the way back I met Angus, a large black Labrador bounding at me who, his owner later confided in me, does not bark.  I didn’t ask why.  His owner told me about Angus as if he wanted to share Angus’ story.  I was shamefully anti-social.  I felt guilty about it for at least a hundred yards.

It was nice that Angus didn’t bark, because if he had barked and growled at me as he ran leaping around me, he probably would have scared the tar out of me.  I tried to remain calm and greeted Angus, “Hi Buddy!”  Though Angus didn’t listen at all to his owner’s instructions, the whole “Hi Buddy” thing was apparently enough to keep him from eating me.

Between Highway K and the fork in the field is a strange woods.  On the west side of the woods near Highway K, there’s also a fork.  One trail goes up a ridge that borders the woods; the other trail is the one on which I had come through the woods.  Five minutes into the woods, there’s another fork in the trail which is a little trickier, so I had marked it and double-checked by watching for my boot prints.  On that part of the trail, you can still see the ridge to your left, but eventually the woods drop off to your right so you’re on another ridge looking down across a profoundly flat expanse of forest.  The woods appear to have been managed, though long ago:  there are lots of medium-sized trees with a few real giants among them.  Tall, red pines with their lovely gray bark blushing; thick, black-barked, white pines, their full crowns waving, roaring at times, a hundred feet up, some of whom are so old, I couldn’t reach all the way around their trunks.  I tried.  And oaks, both white and red, some of whose gnarly black arms seem to be flung out frantically. 

It was time to rest.  I chose a mossy old trunk overlooking the flat forest floor below.  It was then I noticed the quiet.  Not a nuthatch.  Or a chickadee.  Or a blue jay.  Or even a crow.  No birdsong at all.  The last birds I saw were a couple of Sandhill Cranes rawking away above me near the end of the trail.  The only animal I had seen was Angus.  There were several mounds of white sand indicating the homes of woodchucks or badgers, but their doorways were cluttered with leaves, and there were no footprints in the incongruous heaps of pure white beach sand scattered throughout that strange forest.  Still hibernating?  Their homes were right along the trail, which I also thought was strange.  Maybe they get Fed Ex deliveries.  I was thinking they would have dug their homes off the trail.  Then I thought.  There’s no one on the trail!  The only sign of humans was Angus’ owner and one other set of boot prints in the snow and mud.  A bit more unsettling.  No map.  Trails ending nowhere.  Taken by no one. 

As I sat on the mossy trunk, munching half of my dinner (a large carrot), I noticed the half-eaten shaft of a white pine pine cone surrounded by a few “scales” ripped off the pine cone.  Further along the trunk:  a shaft of a pine cone with all its scales torn off.  Then I noticed that the ground was littered with thousands of white pine pine cone scales and cones, some with half their scales gnawed off, the rest whole, some a foot long!  It became obvious that I was eating my carrot in a restaurant for squirrels.  Though it must be off-season.  Or after-hours.  Or maybe they’d been enjoying a lovely meal there like me and had been, without notice, raptured up.

Strange that signs of their recent feast were encouraging in that ostensibly deserted wood.

On the drive home:  a yard-full of dozens of bobbing robins (the first I’d seen this year), a large V-formation of white birds of some kind (geese or swans?), and thousands of Sandhill Cranes feasting in the fields of farms.  And this morning after the rain: the first day this year that I smelled the worms.  

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Swan Song

In the midst of the raucous croaking of Sandhill Cranes announcing their nuptials, I heard another call, a call I hadn't heard out at the Navarino Wildlife Area before, a call I could hear even over the crunching of my boots on the icy trail, over the crash of my boots through the mica-hard oak leaves.  So I’d stop to listen for it, and I’d hear it occasionally ... it sounded like a dog barking or a bullfrog belching or the booming hoot of an owl.

The distance of the source of the sound made it so I indistinct, so hard to pin down.  I passed the entire Pike's Peak Flowage constantly scanning its still snowy stretches of ice and marsh grasses.  It wasn't until I was off-map again on the land bridge between the 80 Acre and Hanson Flowages that I saw something new (for me) out at Navarino.

The northwest winds had blown the ice clear of the northern shore.  At about two hundred yards, the four birds in the gray blue water there looked like loons and gulls.  I was pretty sure the black ones weren't loons, who I thought liked deep lakes, not fickle flowages. I had a hunch the white ones weren't gulls, because?  I guess it's because there's an informational sign on an observation deck overlooking Pike's Peak Flowage describing migratory visitors to Navarino.  That's why Tundra Swans were in my head.

Then they called out.  Huh, hoo, hoooo.  Like an owl, only less of their pure, eerie sound ... More trombone ... More improvisation ... A little different each time.  More urgent ... Less creepy perfection than an owl.  I had the camera out, the zoom grinding out to its full extent.  Their grand size, their graceful long necks dipping, curling, stretching to call, their heavy black beaks open wide, a dash of yellow gold on their faces: everything about them bespoke elegant canal of the castle of a king. Yet there they were swimming in a swamp, a motley gaggle of Canadian courtiers on their flanks.  On that informational sign, Navarino is billed as a resting stop, a place where migratory birds await some inscrutable sign that it's time to continue to make their way to the Arctic.  Are the signs internal stirrings that it's time to mate or to lay eggs. or is it a matter of the rising temperatures of water and air?  I tried to take pictures at that distance, but a millimeter of movement of the camera was magnified hundreds of times; some of the photos were nothing more than the dried marsh grasses on the shore.

Reluctantly, l left.  I thought of trying to find a path around the 80 Acre Flowage, so I could sneak up behind the swans, but I was less than two hours into the walk and my plan was to walk as far west as I could.  There's nothing on the map between the 80 Acre and Hanson Flowages until Highway K, which I wanted to reach. So I drew arrows in the snow, the mud, the red sand; I counted branching trails and noted as landmarks trails upon which trees had fallen.  I relied on all of those for my safe return from Highway K, only taking two wrong turns, wondering all along how the Tundra Swans and turtles of the seas manage to navigate thousands of miles to the places they were born, to the places where they settle regularly to give birth to future generations.  I take wrong turns on a six mile stroll.  Birds, turtles, even salmon can find a needle in a thousand mile stack of hay.  How?  And why?  It’s humbling.

At 4:00 p.m. I arrived at 80 Acre Flowage again and was pleasantly surprised to see the regal swans still holding court.  I sat down on the bank directly across from them and ate a sandwich and a handful of almonds. 

They continued to call.

I imagine they were sending an invitation to fellow travelers to join them.  The Audubon web site indicates that young swans remain with their parents through the first winter, but doesn't say they migrate north to their birthlands as a family.  Maybe these were young swans on their first trip to the Arctic.  Maybe they outflew mom and dad.  Maybe Tundra Swans fly in formation so there's rest for the lead birds; maybe those two outflew the formation.  They are apparently "Early Birds."  Audubon says nests may be used for one year.  Maybe this pair were anxious to reclaim a site upon which they had labored long last year.  I wished I could have asked them all these things.

They continued to call. 

I've been speaking on behalf of "famous" animals in the bible all Lent long.  Why not try to talk to a real animal?  There was no one at Navarino, even on that fine day, to observe a bewhiskered lunatic talking to animals. So what if there was?  Their call was not hard to imagine replicating ... especially for someone who spent most of his elementary school career making annoying noises in class.  I do voices.  So I tried.

For a long time, the swans fell silent.  Wondering, sensibly enough, if they were in danger.  Each time they called, though, I modified my tone, my phrasing, my vocabulary.  I found finally that cupping my hands amplified the sound so appreciably that I achieved an echo that would have impressed a Sandhill Crane.  (Not that you want to mess with those people when they’re in a romantic mood!)  It seemed, after a half an hour of this, that my calls were being answered.  I called, stood to go, and they called back.  I called, took twenty steps, and they called back.  I called and before I reached the edge of the woods, they called back.  I reluctantly entered the woods and haven't heard from them since.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Poconos for Pterodactyls

Off-map again yesterday at Navarino Wildlife Area, I annoyed a couple Sandhill Cranes on the land bridge between the 80 Acre and Hanson Flowages.  As they leapt into the air, their barking croaks  startled me.  Where the trail veered south to circumnavigate the Hanson Flowage, I went with it.  Before the trail left the woods along the southern shore, I heard Sandhill Cranes again, fifty yards ahead of me.  Their croaking was loud enough that it echoed off the tree-lined, snow-covered expanse of the flowage, a sound loud enough that it made me think dinosaur, to whom the Sandhill Cranes are related.  If Sandhill Cranes tell stories, they'd have one about how their great, great, great, great, etc. Uncle So and So was chilling with T-Rexes 65 million years ago, when out of the blue a big whomping rock slammed into the planet, causing a nuclear winter that cancelled photosynthesis, caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, and rained down a world-wide layer of sediment containing iridium, rare on earth, but common in celestial bodies.  We don't have any film of this, but the evidence looks pretty good.  

The Sandhill Cranes' calls seemed angry to me: they stalked along the trail deliberately away from me, spinning back and forth, biting at the ground, lunging out their necks, opening their beaks wide to make those urgent, raucous calls, that sounded as though they were angry at the flowage or as if they were disparaging some enemy on its nether shore.  Or maybe their cry carries their ancestors' lament of the end of the world as they knew it down to this very day.

Finally the cranes stepped out onto white, flat flowage, stopped vomiting up those throaty shouts, and disappeared.

Like last week, I was able to witness this at exactly the time I had set to turn around, so I could return to the car in the daylight.  I had been hoping to see the eagle out there again, and several of them actually did show up near the end of the crane concert to wheel around above the cranes for a while before disappearing themselves.

Apparently this kind of Sandhill Crane calling is part of the pairing off ritual for single cranes or is a prelude to actual mating, an activity which many Sandhill Cranes do in Wisconsin, which is apparently the Poconos for Pterodactyls.  Now there's a marketing tag for the tourist industry.    

In the midst of their migration from the south, a half million Sandhill Cranes gather annually in the month of March along the Platte River in Nebraska ... kind of a Burning Man gathering for birds.  By the beginning of April, they all head off to their ancestral breeding grounds to the north.  

I think some Sandhill Cranes stay up here year round, but I don't think it was a coincidence that last week I saw no cranes and this week I saw anywhere between 3 and 9 ... I'm not sure exactly how many because there's no way of telling if I saw the same couple more than once.  I think the migrating cranes are back.  The two I saw are likely a couple; Sandhill Cranes, like a lot of birds I'm learning about, mate for life.  Their actual mating is done in public.  It involves wing-flapping, bowing, and leaping into the air.  I'm not sure if I should be sneaking off next week to see that.  Shouldn't they be given privacy for that sort of activity?  And it's Lent, for goodness sake, not Mardi Gras!  

Maybe the roaring, croaking calls, the dancing, the whole public display of match-making and mating is a matter of their fierce determination to defy "the ruler of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2) and to establish a new generation, new life in the bleak winter world in which we now live.  Easter for the frozen wetlands.

Pastor Larry 

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Eagle at the Edge of the Storm

With SNOWMAGGEDON CLAIRE rapidly approaching Monday, I thought I’d drive west to go out and meet her.

I arrived at the Navarino Wildlife Area at 3:25 p.m.  There was a red Subaru ahead of me.  Since I had forgotten my watch, as I was setting my 10 year old i-pod clock, I didn’t see where its occupant had gone.

Most of the trails at Navarino are groomed for cross-country skiing, so with the warm weather, they became rivers of solid ice.  It would have been a good thing to bring my spikes and walking sticks.  But I only fell once.

I walked the southern edge of the Pike’s Peak Flowage along an undulating ridge of mature white and red oaks and pines standing among bamboo thickets of poplars and birches growing back after a managed harvest a decade or two ago.  An hour into the walk at MacDonald Road the trail gets closer to the flowage and is exposed to the northeast wind of the IMPENDING DOOM OF SNOWPOCALYPSE CLAIRE.   It was a nice wind.  Almost strong enough to blow off my wool hat.  As I reached the appointed hour for turning around (5:00 p.m.), the edge of almost the entire circle of the horizon was thunderstorm blue. 

I veered off-map for a while on a trail leading to two more flowages separated at points by a land bridge fully exposed to the storm’s steady wind.  A large bird flew up off the southernmost flowage (Hanson Flowage) and tried to fly into the wind toward the trail and the northern flowage (80 Acre Flowage).  I watched him climb up into the wind.  Just when he had cleared the trees, I saw that he was a bald eagle and saw, too, how he hit the wall of wind that stopped his forward progress.  His wings spread and motionless, he rode the wind, hovering, looking down.  He cried once, then said a few choice words that came across as a chittering sort of sound. 

Then he let the wind blow him back, diving away down to Hanson Flowage with the speed of a falcon.

Wasn’t sure what he was up to.

Once while climbing up out of a canyon campsite toward the final approach to a mountain pass, we walked by a completely non-descript, gray bird a little smaller than a robin who was sitting on a white granite outcrop crying intermittently, as if to reach a mate or even just another bird.  Many birds do mate for life.  It was a creature-forsaken place.  The contrast between that small, wind-ruffled, warm-bodied creature and the gaping granite canyon behind us and the rocky mountain pass ahead of us: the contrast was strangely moving.  A creature crying for a companion in the cold.  Maybe “it’s not good that the man should be alone” applies to all creatures born with the breath of life. (Genesis 2:18)

The eagle flew up two more times with the same result.

The last time (by this time I was supposed to have been fifteen minutes into my walk back), he glided back over the trail, directly, it seemed, over me, chittering some more, looking down beneath him, hoping, maybe, that I was a rodent. 

It was wonderful to be so close to the eagle.  So close I could see each wing tip feather.  So close we could almost see eye-to-eye.

The wind rose and blew him away again. 

It was now a lot later than I had planned.  I had no idea how late Navarino was “open” and whether or not some employee was obligated to swing through the parking lot to see if there were some malingering guests who might have fallen down the ice rivers on the ridge along Pike’s Peak Flowage. 

There was, after all, some danger of that out there alone in the gathering gray gloom of night. 

Which is when I fell.

Which is when a large, loping, shaggy shadow clattered across the trail ahead of me and disappeared into the woods, the sudden sound taking my breath away.

Which is when the thunderstorm blue of the horizon had risen like walls high around me.  Threatening.

It quickly faded, though, to the gray of shadows on snow.  The tangled silhouette of black branches against that gray was beautiful.  Where the trail was mud, for all practical purposes, it disappeared in the dark.  But where the trail was treacherous ice and snow there was a glow as if it were emitting a light of its own.

By which I returned safely to the car and drove home, the storm itself still three or four hours to the west.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Prosthetic Flipper

“If you develop a strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings and in particular all human beings, this will make you happy in the morning, even before coffee.”

His Holiness the Dalai Lama from The Book of Joy

It’s this “strong sense of concern for the well-being of all sentient beings” that inspired a team of three senior students at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to try to make an artificial flipper for a sea turtle named Lola who lives in the Key West Aquarium.

Lola was found stranded off the coast of Texas in 2002 with fishing line wrapped around her front flipper.  The line was wound so tightly, it had cut off circulation, and the flipper needed to be removed.

Lola spent a year in a rehabilitation center, was released into the wild, but was found stranded again just two days later.  After being cared for at several other rehab centers, Lola was moved to the Key West Aquarium in 2007.  

In 2015, the three students from WPI contacted the aquarium to see if they could put their engineering expertise to work to design and build a prosthetic flipper for Lola.  Each of the students brought a specific area of engineering to bear on the project:  Iok Wong, a mechanical and aerospace engineering minor, researched and replicated the hydrodynamics for the flipper; Samantha Varela, a biomedical engineering major, designed the way to attach the prosthetic; and Vivian Liang, a double major in biomedical and mechanical engineering, made sure both the design and attachment of the flipper were actually capable of propelling Lola through the water.

In September of 2016, the team traveled to Key West to see if their design, the first to be developed to exactly reproduce a real flipper’s shape, strength, and function, would work.

It does work.  We saw Lola on our trip to Key West in January. 

Lola’s young.  She’s also a very rare kind of sea turtle: a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.  There may be as few as 1000 turtles of this kind of breeding age in the world.  I hope the next project will be to see if a date can be arranged with a nice eligible bachelor, so they can fulfill their Creator’s command to them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas!”  (Genesis 1:22)

All this fuss about a turtle.   

Yes, but it is God’s will that these creatures thrive.  And it is God’s will that all humankind, no matter what faith they espouse, be dedicated to dominion over all creatures. (Genesis 1:26)

What does dominion mean?  Psalm 72 provides us the best definition in the form of a prayer for a king for the people of Israel:

 

May the king have dominion from sea to sea …

May all nations give him service,

because he delivers those who are in need when they call,

because he delivers poor people

and those who have no helper.

The king has pity on the weak and those in desperate need;

from oppression and violence the king redeems their lives,

and precious is their blood in his sight.  (Psalm 72:8, 11 – 14)

 

Since we have the responsibility for dominion over all creatures, we have the responsibility to deliver or rescue creatures who have no helper, to pity creatures who are in desperate need, and to redeem their lives from violence.  Why?  Because even the blood of sea turtles is precious, because the breath of life from God abides in their blood, the same breath of life that abides us.

So kudos, Iok, Samantha, and Vivian!  Whether you know it or not, you have been faithful to the Creator in your creative endeavor, in your “concern for the well-being of all sentient beings.”

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Pileated Woodpecker

I once saw a pileated woodpecker while I was walking on the Eagle Trail at Peninsula State Park.  Despite the fact that the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website claims pileated wood peckers are “fairly common” all across the northern and southeastern parts of North America, I have found that spotting them is a challenge but also a tremendous delight.  They are large birds: their wings and long tails make them larger than hawks; they have long, strong necks, and their long, stout beaks must be the longest of any woodpecker.  They are crowned with a crest, like a cardinal or a jay, but larger, and bright red.  They are mostly black birds, though feathers under their wings and their faces are white.  Males and females have a black eye stripe; males only sport a red stripe extending from their beaks.

When I saw the pileated woodpecker at Peninsula, it was a cold day.  About one degree.  Apparently that kind of cold doesn’t bother them in the least.  Where I saw the woodpecker, the Eagle Trail is a rocky trace at the base of mammoth limestone cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment from which the soil has been worn away by millennia of storms off the bay.  Seeping from out of that stack of stone was free-flowing water in a tiny channel meandering down to the frozen bay.  A trickle of water flowing at one degree?  Why?  The normal temperature of Mother Earth is about 55 degrees, I think.  Even with her living garment of soil torn away, trees whose roots abide in her warm flesh protect her, and she is profoundly warm.  Maybe the woodpecker was well aware of the warmth radiating from the Earth. 

As birds are, the woodpecker was quite anxious about me following him and always stayed out of range of a nice photograph. 

Alone at the Machickanee Cross Country Skiing area in the Oconto County Forest a few days ago, I heard and saw a pileated woodpecker simultaneously.  Their cry is unique; its volume and its screeching remind me of a peacock, though these woodpeckers use different words.  Cornell calls the pileated woodpecker’s cry a series of short “wuks.”  Using that as a reference point, peacocks have an emphatic, two-part, repeated “wuk.”  But “wuk” doesn’t really work for me.  I don’t think bird language is easily described.  Sometimes birds spurn words entirely and speak using flight patterns or other actions.  Drumming, for example, indicates that pileated woodpeckers are interested in romantic activities. 

When I saw the pileated woodpecker in the County Forest, it wasn’t one degree, but it was still cold enough for me to keep my camera battery in my pocket.  Unlike Mother Earth and pileated woodpeckers, camera batteries are not very reliable in the cold.  I didn’t take the battery out of my pocket, because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to see that woodpecker again.  I was right.  Even though I heard the bird cry two more times, and even though I stopped several times to scan the woods.

Evidence that these woodpeckers live in a particular woods, however, is easy to find.  They drill deep elongated or circular holes in trees, sometimes gouging a spiral groove as they move around the tree, hammering away at it, looking for grubs and beetles inside the trees.  They feed in live trees or rotted wood alike.  There are several dead trees at Navarino that look like someone put a firecracker on the top of them.  Twisted splinters.  I haven’t seen a pileated woodpecker there, yet. 

Something I didn’t know: their nests are deep hollows in dead trees which is one reason dead trees are a vital part of a living forest.  Lots of birds apparently nest in dead trees including other woodpeckers, bluebirds, flycatchers, and wood ducks.   Now that I do know this, I can keep my eyes open for their homes.

Of course, I won’t be welcome.  After I had annoyed the pileated woodpecker in the County Forest and saw him flying away, he kept urgently “wukking” at me, telling me, in no uncertain terms, to get lost. 

Not sure what she was worried about.  I’ve spent about nine hours in the County Forest during three trips.  I’ve only seen one other human being, an older fellow with a dog, looking forlornly down into the Brehmer Creek “canyon,” complaining, when he saw me, about the trash left on the ridge trail before it plunged down to the creek.  Though he did like my idea of returning with a bag to clean up after other members of our species, I haven’t seen any evidence of him since.  When the snow melts, I’ll haul out another bag of trash, keep my eye open for the elusive pileated woodpecker, and certainly not expect any thanks. 

Nor should I get any thanks from the pileated woodpecker.  We’re the species trashing up her home, after all.  Even dead trees have a vital place in the forest.  We’ve demonstrated less usefulness here on Earth than a dead tree.  And, a recent poll cited by the Christian Century magazine indicates that concern for Creation is actually declining among Christians.  So on Creation groans, waiting for “the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-23).

In Boy Scouts I learned to leave a campsite in better shape than the way I found it.  It’s about the campsite, but it’s also about those who will use it next.  We’ve got a lot of things to clean up here on Mother Earth.  Let’s not wait for “the revealing of the children of God,” whatever the Apostle Paul meant by that.  We are the children of God.  Let’s take care of this place right now for all children – for those today, and for those to come.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Hawk

The white-breasted hawk, alone, was watching from a misshapen, leaning tree in a scrap of woods – collateral damage from the construction of highway 172.  Above the hawk’s black watchtower tree, truck tires howled at the purple twilight.  The hawk, alone, hungry, hunting, was scanning the snow with eyes capable of perception at the infrared end of the light spectrum.  I saw the hawk for a second while I was speeding by in a warm car on the way to a meal of my own.

In winter, hawks are apparently more solitary than in spring, when it’s time to hunt up one’s lifetime mate and enjoy their annual, acrobatic mating, when it’s time for them to repair the family nest and defend the eggs, when it’s time to take turns feeding the children and protect them on their first few flights.

I’ve never seen hawks hunting as a team, though apparently they occasionally do.  Just after Christmas in a walk through the Navarino Wildlife Refuge, I did see the limbs of a rabbit hanging in the arms of trees, though I’m not sure if they were generously left to be gleaned or if they were like items squirreled away in the workplace refrigerator.

Cooperative and territorial instincts do drive parts of a hawk’s life:  so I imagine they’re also a part of a hawk’s hunting strategy.  Hawks return to the same nest each year; they must have certain hunting venues in mind as well, switching venues based on … what?  A regular rotation?  A recollection of success in a certain spot at a certain time of day?  One wonders how hawks order their hours.

In the city, in the birches and cedars behind Grace’s dumpsters, in the dumpsters, on the walnut-strewn lawn, five or six squirrels romp year round in a land of plenty.  They’re lucky a hawk hasn’t spied them and stalked them.  Yet.  Once in Madison, I did see a hawk snatch a squirrel who’d been enjoying crumbs tossed to him by diners at a sidewalk café serving strictly vegetarian fare.  The clientele who had vowed to refrain from violence in their own eating regimen were shocked and appalled.  Their misplaced largess in feeding the squirrel led perhaps to his unwariness and untimely public devouring.

In the woods, it’s a different matter.  In the wild, I’ve seen a million rabbit and rodent tracks to each actual animal. I’ve seen tiny tracks of mice across a snowy trail and the tiny holes of tunnels into the banks of snow on either side.  So a hawk must sit, dressed in down, and wait and watch.  For hours.  What patience.  I thought patience was a characteristic only of love.

Maybe at twilight or even at night, hawks can see with their infrared vision the glow of warm-blooded creatures creeping through their tunnels of snow, creeping toward the mouths of the tunnels, where hawks snatch them away, bearing them away toward the heavens, their bodies given and blood spattered for a hungry species that naturally cooperates only intermittently, and only primarily for the survival of their own.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Monday, February 12, 2018

The Traitor

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is a 19 million acre wilderness in northeastern Alaska.  It includes several different ecosystems: coastal islands and marshes, tundra, mountains, and forest.  Many animals and birds migrate to and through the refuge for food and for breeding.  Arctic ecosystems are extremely fragile for lots of reasons:  the soil is often poor because there are few creatures there to return dead plants and animals to the soil to nourish the soil.  The poor soil and short growing season also means the kinds of plants that grow in the Arctic are small and slow to regrow in areas where they have been damaged.  There are fewer species in Arctic ecosystems than in other kinds of ecosystems because of the harsh conditions, which means that each species has an extremely important role to play in maintaining the delicate balance in the ecosystem. 

This is a tiny summary of what I learned in a fascinating book I read several years ago: Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams.  That I remember these details from a book I read so long ago indicates the impression it made upon me. 

In the recent tax bill, Congress and the President approved the sale of two leases in the next decade for oil drilling in the ANWR, a decision I wasn’t aware was buried in the tax bill, a decision for the reasons cited above (and others) I disagree with, a decision that, as a good citizen, I should be vigorously protesting by writing to my congressional representatives … though I have not done so, yet.

Something our President said in a speech in Ohio yesterday indicates his true feelings on voicing our disagreements: he complained that Democrats didn’t applaud during his State of the Union address and concluded that they must not love America and that they, therefore, must be traitors.

Since I disagree with almost everything the President has said and done as a candidate and as President for the last two years, I must also be a traitor.

So be it.

·         I don’t think, as is being considered, that the Government should authorize tips earned by servers to be taken away from them and redistributed to other people.

·         I don’t think a plan for DACA recipients should be tied to a plan to have our tax dollars pay for “a wall” that the President promised that the Mexican Government would pay for.  If a plan for DACA recipients is a good thing, it should simply be done.

·         I don’t think that it’s just that the recent tax plan benefits wealthiest Americans more than poor and middle income Americans.

·         I don’t think that it’s just that the recent tax plan takes away the small tax benefit teachers used to have for buying supplies for their work.  

·         I don’t think it’s wise to encourage fossil fuel industries to drill for more oil anywhere, because I think scientists are correct that the burning of fossil fuels is contributing to climate change that is melting the polar ice cap and glaciers all around the world and that is melting the permafrost in Arctic regions.  Polar bears rely on the polar ice cap for their migratory feeding behaviors. Urban populations rely on water from glaciers.  Adding fresh water to the oceans is killing reefs.  Melting permafrost will increase the amount of carbon dioxide and methane (!) in our atmosphere.

I think it’s absolutely fine to debate and disagree on these issues.  It’s a free country.  I hope that when I do figure out how to find time to write more letters to my Congressional representatives, that my disagreements are considered and welcomed and do not lead to worse things than being called Little Lying Larry the Traitor.

Pastor Larry

Posted by Larry Lange on Tuesday, February 6, 2018