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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

One of the projects I am involved in is the development of a trail behind our school. Given the committee’s desire to include the community, churches, and 4 schools in the development and use of the trail, I suggested naming it the Enola Community Trail (ECT). And so it is. The timing of this community trail was sequential to a student initiated emphasis on helping others, exercise, and the outdoors. An English teacher at my school took  their idea and coupled it with a trail I had already developed in the woods behind our school. (I may ask her to guest blog that huge side of the story.) She asked me how we could use the trail to get students outside and moving.

The idea for a trail originated with a class I taught for about 6 years called Advanced Biology. I basically wrote the curriculum, a fact that I should not admit to in public. That was probably the demise of the class, since it did not have a state mandated test and didn’t have an approved, curriculum specialist, set curriculum.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t work and learn, because there is nothing I hate worse than wasting time. In fact, if a class of 30 students wants to pack up 5 minutes early, I point out that they are intending to waste 2 1/2 man-hours of work. The class included the indoor studies like dissecting cats (once or twice a piglet and shark as well) along with a body organ quiz and extended discussion on binary classification, using stereoscopes to identify student made collections of insects, spiders, wildflowers, and also trees as the season allowed, preparing powerpoint presentations about a body system to present to the class, and researching and writing a paper on an organism of the student’s choice which included characteristics, ecological importance, range, population (including level of endangerment), and usefulness for food, medicine, shelter. The outdoor studies included making collections, trap and release studies, game cameras, succession and soil studies, reflections, creek studies (from dissolved oxygen and macro-invertebrates to erosion) and building projects. We built two bridges, one to cross a creek and one to cross an erosion ditch, two bird nesting boxes with a camera in one, and a pole with bat box and raptor nesting site above. Behind the school there was a small kudzu patch, a large briar patch, two old fields overgrown with trees (one dog hair stand and one with young trees and vines so thick you couldn’t see 15 feet), a monoculture of Eastern White Pines, a large lawn, a hay field, a riparian zone and creek, a small intermittent wetland, and a patch of what seems to be virgin forest (…or at least long undisturbed. It is still there with old growth trees next to a meander in the creek at the odd corner of 5 properties. Mayapples, Doghobble, heavy leaf cover, and 10+ varieties of large hardwoods grace the scene. I call it ‘Beauty Spot’.)

To access these places I had the students begin to build a trail. It was a narrow, single-track path, with two grades cut into the side of banks with mattocks and shovels. The students dug, trimmed, cut, sweated, and occasionally played in the creek. We would frequently stop to talk about a spider someone saw or wildflower, or a bird overhead, or the change in type or smell of the dirt. At first the students whined about the work, but by halfway through the semester they would beg to go out and work, or sit and talk about nature.

One project was fun to surprise the students with. I would lead them down to ‘Beauty Spot’, a solid 1/2 mile walk from our classroom. Then I would explain that they were to lie down in the leaf litter to look, listen, smell, and feel the surroundings for 10 minutes in stillness and silence. It was very difficult to convince them that it is OK to lie down in the leaves. Questions of bugs, snakes, spiders, filth, and more were common. I usually had to plop myself down and call for them to lie down around me. Then I would quiet them and say no talking or movement, or we start over. When I called time, I told them to write down as many things in their journal as they could remember. Next we discussed what we observed. I added as many other things as I could to help them see the need to hone observation skills. Several students would reflect then or later that it was the most amazing outdoor experience they had ever had. I was always amazed since I have spent many hours over many years doing just this, especially on backpacking trips. The opening of their minds and hearts to the significance and love of nature I called ‘Affective Biology’.

I guess we would have run out of trail building and significant maintenance eventually, but it didn’t happen in the six years I had the class. One regrettable reason for this continuance of need to maintenance the trail was the growing kudzu patch. I wrote above that is was a small patch. I warned and pleaded about the coming doom to the wonderful variety of habitats in such a small area, but to no avail. I even had borrowed a goat from a student’s grandfather to test the idea of goats controlling kudzu. In this preliminary study, we checked on the goat every school day to give it water. It was confined in a ten by ten, portable chain link enclosure. That little goat could denude 100 square feet of ground with chest deep (on a human) kudzu every 3 days. Oh, to have a little flock with fencing and small shed to solve the problem ecologically and educationally. Instead, the goat was stolen by a ‘concerned’ student and her uncle who thought we were being cruel to animals by ‘experimenting on a goat’. Never mind that kudzu is nutritious and edible by humans as well as goats. It was quite a surrealistic scene when the goat was returned a week later before the eyes of the class and grandfather.

To say the Advanced Biology class was the best part of my teaching career is an exaggeration and misunderstanding. It was good because of the challenge to me to find new things to study, the truly hands-on activities that didn’t include more than about 3 or 4 lectures from me the whole 90 days, the time outdoors, and the change I saw in students. But the best part of education is the interaction with young people at their moments of wanting to understand the world around them, the meaning of and best way to live life, and humor and warmth of relationship. You have to plow through a load of interaction that is anything but that to experience it, and it doesn’t seem worth it much of the time. I have had those significant discussions with individuals and whole classes in all of the various classes I’ve taught. You just have to seek it and wait for it.

So, I guess this whole blog entry is a side-track, since the title has been largely neglected thus far. When others got involved, they envisioned more of a walking, jogging, eight feet wide greenway style trail, and so it is becoming. In reality, it does not detract from my original intent of nature studies in various habitats, because the trail mostly traverses the growing kudzu patch and might hopefully be the final demise of the same. “Beauty Spot” is still there and the creek is largely undisturbed. The new trail may even result in an outdoor classroom and a wetland/catchment basin to solve an erosion problem. 

One of the problems of such a project like this is conveying and passing on vision. You might have thought I would say getting funding, but as individuals and organizations understand our vision, they want to help. But how do you get the wider community excited about something they can’t see or is only partially formed? It is as if you must reach critical mass of manifest vision before the many contribute money and manpower. We may be approaching that mass, or at least, we hope so.

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

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In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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…and probably the final beach trip of 2018 for me. It was both profitable to my mind and invigorating to my emotions. The previous initial visits, I walked the beaches by myself. I took lots of pictures of the surroundings. Then I went several times with people and took pictures of the surroundings, except I did take several pictures of my wife when we went. This last time I realized that I wanted to get pictures of my newfound, fast friends. Fast has two meaning here: 1) quickly gained, and 2) firmly fixed. Because of the circumstances of meeting these friends, that is, at a seminar in a state far from either of our resident states, it seems somewhat unlikely that I will see them again. On the other hand, since God orchestrated these meetings and good fellowship with them, He may intend for it to happen again.

The horseshoe crab was, sadly, dead. I tried numerous times to take a picture of the flag unfurled just so. This close-up is the best attempt. It had a particular aesthetic appeal with the tall parallel lines of the Palm trees surrounding it and the foreboding thunderstorm backdrop. The foreground Palm trees increased the effect. Sometimes I don’t know how to take a picture of what my mind’s eye is seeing. Perhaps the mind is perceiving more than the light reveals. One of the guys and I went swimming. After just a few minutes it started raining. Wet is wet, right? Well, no, not really. Rainwater is cold, and this time of year, refreshing. But then there is the cellphone and camera sitting on the beach. I managed to wrap them up in my towel and tuck them under my arm so that no harm was done. I should get a waterproof camera for all of the humid and wet days I take pictures. Then I could snorkel with it as well. Speaking of wet, I had a student ask me facetiously if water is wet. My reply was not always. You see, water beading up on a well waxed car is not wetting the surface, so it isn’t wet.  Flying birds among the hardest things to take pictures of. There is so much going on in one cycle of the wings.

I experienced the beach more this summer than in many years past, and I saw things in terms of wildlife and thunderstorms that I had not seen before. It was icing on the cake of learning new things at seminar and meeting new friends. God is good all of the time. Remember His goodness in the difficult times by focusing on His character, on the promises of His Word, and on the good gifts of relationships with people, experiences, and things He has given you.

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Old Glory Stands

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Unfurled for Battle

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Eventide

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New Friends

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Swim anyone?

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More New Friends

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I just now noticed the curious pattern of shells around the horseshoe crab

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On the hunt but gliding with ease

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I came to Clearwater for the third out of four training sessions. I convinced one of my classmates to take a walk on Sand Key Beach after class. The weather was perfect for a walk on the beach: cloudy, raining offshore, stiff breeze. He and I had good, substantive conversation. We began noticing medium small conches in the shallow water. They were actually coming to shore and gathering in pods of 3 or 4, presumably mating. We witnessed one hopping along the bottom by a quick flip of its foot that propelled it forward 2 to 3 shell lengths. I had never seen that before, assuming that they scoot along the bottom by foot pressure in the sand. When I picked up one of the shells, holding it upside down to see what was in it, the gastropod (snail-like mollusk living inside the shell) kept extending its bony operculum and running it quickly halfway around the shell to snag my fingers. It didn’t like me holding it upside down out of the water. I also observed several burying themselves in sand in less than 30 seconds. They are amazing animals.

The next evening we gathered a couple to go with us to Honeymoon Island State Park. The beach is strewn with much more shell debris, washed up coral and seaweed, and rocks. I saw a mostly buried “rock” and mused to my friend whether or not it was really a rock. Pushing at the sand to dislodge it, a crab crawled out and back seaward. We found others. Their backs looked similar to limestone but with small projections on their backs. Just back from the beach was a large pond with hundreds of very small crabs scurrying  away as I approached.

My only regret is that I didn’t get into the water. We sure sweated quite a bit on our walk. But it was good to share the beach with new friends. I like new adventures, learning new things, and meeting new people. And I am thankful that God created all of it with beauty, complexity, and variety. One day He will make “all things new”. (Revelation 21:5)

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Godwit? Common Greenshank?

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Cormorant

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It’s alive!

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How do you identify varieties of coral?

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Just as I found them

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It is nice to see a live sea star

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It’s not a rock

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Abundant life

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Put me down!

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It leaves quite the impression

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I think that I like beaches on cloudy days better.

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I had asked my fourth born son to come to town one weekend and go for a hike with me. It has been a long time since I have hiked with any of my children. He decided to invite a friend from college days. Since it is summer, I thought it would be nice to visit one of our adventuresome swimming holes at the base of Babel Tower in Linville Gorge. It is a steep hike down for two miles. I love to stand on top of the tower, which sits in a severe turn in the river and look down at about 60 degrees to the right and then the left to see the upstream and downstream legs of the river. After we looked around, we went down to the river where we swam, jumped, and sunned. My son waxed reminiscent about past trips that challenged and pleased us.

He said that he liked the other swimming hole we used to frequent better. We still have a lot of daylight; we could go to that one, too, he suggested.

So we hiked as quickly as we could back up out of the gorge. This brought on a discussion (when I had enough breath to talk) about how he and his brothers learned to hike fast, trying to keep up with dad. “I remember the very hike that it changed. You could no longer keep up with us. To be fair, my younger brother and I could not keep up with our older brother either.” But I am thankful to God that I can still hike, and especially since I had a knee injury seven months ago. I have not run since then and could not walk any distance or speed for many months because the back of my knee would swell. But this time I almost kept up.

We went on to Wiseman’s View and took pictures there and told stories. Then we started the car ride around the top end of the Gorge and down Hwy 181 to Mortimer Road and cut across to Wilson Creek in order to hike to Lower Harper Creek Falls. There are few swimming holes so versatile as this one. There are two pools separated by a gentle cascade that you may slide down seated. In the middle of this cascade is a pothole of four foot depth and diameter that the water swirls around in. You can stand in it and even submerge into an airspace under the falling water to hide. The upper pool is narrower and deep with a forty foot waterfall coming into it. Along side the falls you can run off the steep incline at about twenty-five feet up and hit the pool beyond the sloping rocks. The water is quite cold, but the rocks warm up nicely in the afternoon sun.

My son wanted to do everything that we “used to do”. I figured out that between the swimming and jumping and eight miles of hiking to three locations that I was exhausted. On top of that we took very little for lunch. My wife had a three pound roast and plenty of vegetables prepared when we arrived home. There were very few leftovers after three hungry men ate supper. I am thankful to God for the mountains and the health so far to enjoy them, the memories we have of playing there, and the opportunity to show them to others. I need to do more of that.

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I wonder if this is where the Babel Tower separated from the Gorge wall.

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Friend from college days hopping around on the Tower

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Hawk’s Bill and Table Rock

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Beautiful day for a hike with friends

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Upstream of the Tower just below the swimming hole

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Frequently you can see people on top, but I don’t today.

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The Tower has 100′ cliffs on one side and another 100+ foot drop to the river beyond that.

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Deep pool, various jumps, current, decently cold water

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It has been a wet season

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from Wiseman’s View

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Lower Gorge with Shortoff on the far downstream side

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Brings back memories; makes new ones.

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Lower Harper Creek Falls

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The cascade into the lower pool

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The way in and out to the upper pool

 

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Let me begin with a few excuses: 1) not much time, 2) more than normal rainfall, 3) injury, and for good measure 4) wasn’t sure it was worth it. My wife had asked me to weed the flower beds in front of the house several times. I must confess that the only thing that got me motivated to actually start was the avoidance of another chore I detest more, scrapping paint. Now that I’ve blown my cover about a few of my procrastinating personality flaws, here is the point I considered while yanking crabgrass leaders out of the soil.

Weeds run deep. They grow fast. Ignoring them makes their removal harder. Weeds can choke the life out of things. Apart from poison that contaminates everything, the only way to prevent weeds is to replace them with desirable plants that leave no room for weeds.

I have another flower patch that has very little weeds in the middle of it. Weeds have no room for roots and very little sunlight. The various kinds of lilies simply grow too close, having produced more bulbs with each passing year. I will not be thinning them because I don’t have to weed that area. English gardens make more sense, with their crowded beds of profusely blooming flowers. Undesirable weeds just can’t take root in this environment.

It is the same way in our lives. It is not enough to root out something unprofitable or wrong in our life. We must replace it with something better, more desirable, healthier, God-pleasing. Otherwise the weeds will return all the faster in the cleared, well-tilled ground we just cleared.

It reminds me of what Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26) What Jesus states is in the more extreme, related to demon possession and salvation. But even for those of us who are already saved by His grace, we need God in every area of our lives filling up the void spaces, working righteousness in us, teaching us prudence, kindness, and discipline. Our lives filled with the good things of the Lord are far less likely to be encroached upon by the seedier tendrils of sin and unbelief.

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Weeds all gone

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Totally gone

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Dead azalea, too

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A transplanted daylily (not the one in bloom) and a Purple Speedwell

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A Gayfeather and White Speedwell with volunteer Cala Lily in between

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spreading Purple Verbena

Now that I’ve begun to clean the inside of the cup, I guess it’s time to spruce up the outside as well. Oh, I hate scrapping paint.

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I like the beach. I like the mountains better. I like change of pace, newness, different, interesting. It is the beach this summer since I have to go there four times this summer for training. I don’t really get to spend large amounts of time at the beach (which is OK (See sentences 1 and 2.)), but it has been enough mostly because it has been varied and beautiful.

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Sunset at Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FL

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Almost looks like smoke coming out of chimneys

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Small craft upon the main

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The sunset years?

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A moment of quiet contentment

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Real crusin’

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Practicing or Protecting or Both

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The warm glow and cool breeze

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This scene reminds me of a William Cowper hymn (see below)

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Taking it all in

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Glow

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Afterglow

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The Airbnb where we stayed

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Eyeing each other

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Florida Softshell Turtle (A. ferox)

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Shade is good

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House of William Horton

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Ready to make a stand

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Hiding out in the shade

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It’s alive

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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA

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Old Plantation Live Oak

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Sidney Lanier Bridge

Following is the hymn by William Cowper that I referred to in the picture caption above. When all you see is the rain pelting down, remember both that it waters the soul and bespeaks of God’s kind and bright mercy:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The glow of the sunset high up in the clouds is exhilarating. You most usually can’t see thunderstorms from a distance and entirely in the wooded mountains where I live. The beach affords a wide view. You can watch the rain and lightning and billowing heights and still get to your car before it hits. Frequently in the woods a thunderstorm is on top of you before you know it. Reflection upon God is similar; it requires distance from all that obscures reflection on Him. We need to find perspectives from Scripture, in meditation, surrounded by quiet, reflecting on God’s providence in our circumstances in order to again absorb His beauty and peace in our hearts.

William Horton came to Jekyll Island in 1736 with a land grant of 500 acres, 50 of which was supposed to be in cultivation within 10 years for him to retain the deed. This ‘big house’ was, no doubt, built years after first arriving. There are many more big houses of the rich who owned most of the island in the late 1800’s until WWII when it was evacuated. In 1947, Georgia acquired the whole island and administers it as a state park with natural, historic, and commercial areas. It seems to have a good balance. We may have much to learn by this experiment about how to administer other parts of the planet sustainably. We are, afterall, stewards on God’s behalf, and not owners of this Earth.

There was an old plaque under the ‘Old Plantation’ Live Oak that must have been at least 50 years old. It said the tree was estimated to be 350 years old. That means it was a fair-sized tree when William Horton arrived, very possibly a young tree when the settlers came to Jamestown, and definitely a maturing tree when the Declaration was signed. It helps to withstand the hurricanes that must have hit over time that the branches grow back to the ground to support the whole tree and that the tree grows on the inland side of the island. I want to be an oak firmly planted by the waters of His grace (Psalm 1).

The Sidney Lanier Bridge that spans the Brunswick River was named after the former bridge, which was named after the Georgian musician and poet of the Civil War era. The bridge is cable-stayed where all deck supporting cables come straight from the towers as opposed to a suspension bridge where the cables hang vertically from larger cables hanging in a catenary between towers. More frequently the cable-stayed design is used now because it is lowered cost initially and maintenance than a suspension bridge and now possible for long spans with new, large equipment to set it up. Man loves to design and order things, a characteristic that points to God’s image in him.

All of creation from thundercloud to beach to ancient tree to crab to the designs of mankind give glory to the Great Designer-Beautifier God, Our Creator. We may take great joy in enjoying and working in His grand terrarium/aquarium (Earth). He has put us here to acknowledge Him in doing so.

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