The gray clouds lay low in the sky, completely saturated, as if they might burst any minute, with wisps of tattered scud torn from them, grazing the clay roofs of the university buildings. It was fall in Austin, Texas. Hordes of grackles swarmed from tree to tree along the sidewalk, cackling and calling—turning the sky from gray to black as they moved, like something from Hitchcock’s The Birds.
On a corner, perched atop an overturned crate, the spindly, unshaven form of an itinerant street preacher stood incongruous against the backdrop bicycles, backpacks and jeans and t-shirts that passed around him. Perhaps he had been ostracized from a Puritan community and blown into the late 20th century with the somber weather. He held a well-worn black book up toward the sky in one hand, his tattered jacket flapped in the almost-wet wind. His thin voice carried above of the cawing grackles to anyone who would listen.
We condemn in others that which we hate most about ourselves.
Now, I’ve had a lot of school, and church, and church-school since that day. While I was finishing up my PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, I crossed the railroad tracks on campus and studied at the theology school. I taught in a pilot high school ethics course in inner city Atlanta. I participated in a clinical pastoral education experience for laity at the university hospital, and I studied enough New Testament Greek to be able to poorly translate something about thousands of demented pigs running down a hill. And, as a college professor, I teamed up with the chair of our religious studies department to teach a capstone seminar course in science and religion.
Perhaps it was the atmosphere of the day. Perhaps I was in my 20s, away from home for the first time in any significant way and homesick and impressionable. Perhaps it was street preacher’s 1741 Johnathan Edwards delivery style. I don’t know, but that line has stuck with me, and as our society becomes more polarized and more judgmental, it continues to stick.
Fall is in the air. Darkness greets me when the alarm goes off in the mornings now, and the desire to snuggle in a warm blanket, sip on an aromatic cup of coffee and watch the sunrise in quiet comfort is almost irresistible.
The landscape is decorated with gold and crimson—soybeans turning golden brown, golden rod in full bloom, sumac plants with their crimson leaves, and red and orange rose hips and hawthorn berries color my days.
Migrating geese and cranes and cackling turkeys provide the sound track for the day. Crickets and cicadas perform a twilight symphony each evening to bring summer to a close. Stars sparkle in the clear night sky, and Orion becomes prominent in the sky—the hunter returning as autumn approaches.
I love this time of year. There are apple orchards to visit, hikes to take, fall color change to anticipate and watch. The days are clear and crisp. The air is clean and fresh. I can inhale deeply, sigh and be at peace with the changing world around me.
And, there’s one more important thing about this time of year.
If I said to you that this person’s work ensured that 10 years in the future your community would continue to be a safe place to live and work—that crime rates would continue to be low. You would probably say that person’s job was important.
If I said to you that this person’s work meant that we could continue to enjoy litter-free sidewalks, the beauty of fresh streams to fish in, woodlands in which to camp, hike and hunt, the majestic flight of the bald eagle, clean water to drink and fresh air to breathe, you would probably applaud that person’s work.
If I said to you that this person’s work meant that technological advances to improve the lives of the vulnerable, injured and sick would be possible, that your community could be the birthplace of inventors, scientists, engineers and lawmakers, you would be excited to meet that person and call her “neighbor”.
If I said to you that this person has the job of preparing the conscience of the human race to meet the challenges of the future, you would probably say “Wow, that person has a big job. We better get the best person we can in the position, and support her as much as possible.”
You really need to boil the carrots a long, long time when you make wild carrot stew. No camper song goes on quite long enough to accomplish this feat.
Queen Anne ’s lace roots are edible (if you boil them for a really long time, see number 1)—they are wild carrots, but you better know your plants because there are others in the parsnip family that are quite dangerous to ingest, or even pick.
A red-tailed hawk gets its meal about 2 out of every 10 tries; an owl 9 out of 10.
You can make friends for life in one week. Some of them might even be from the opposite side of the world.
Nothing compares to climbing your favorite willow tree.
We had just passed a road construction site on the small two-lane state highway on the way from our hotel to my Dad’s house. The new road cuts and construction revealed bright red dirt— really red dirt, even by the standards of the Piedmont Plateau in Georgia.
From the back seat my daughter asked, “Mom, what kinds of worms do they have here in Georgia?”
“The same species that we have in Wisconsin, why?” I answered.
There was a thoughtful silence, then “But they poop out red dirt?”
It is truly a miracle that my husband managed to keep the rental car on the road.
I was sitting, stumped by the blank Word doc that glared at me from my computer screen. No inspiration was coming for this week’sarticle. Every time I would think of something to write, I would look a back at my log of recent articles and find that I had written about that topic already.