Finding God, self, and community in wild spaces. The better we know our wild neighbors the more we'll discover ourselves.
A vision informed by Henry David Thoreau’s interpretation of sauntering, Jesus’ understanding of neighbor, Aldo Leopold’s concept of thinking like a mountain, Rachel Carson’s prophetic voice and John Muir’s way of capturing the beauty and uniqueness of wild neighbors with words.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Close to home

I was encouraged to hear of the kindness shown to the local avian life by my friends Anna and Les. It turns out a house wren decided to build a nest in a wreath that is hung on one of the windows to their home. Anna said something along the lines of, "I know it will make a mess, but its so special to be able to watch it through the window as it tends its nest. I'm looking forward to keeping tabs on them when the eggs hatch." Again, not exactly what she said but I believe I've captured the essence of her statement.

This is the time of year when birds will be attempting to construct nests on or around many of our houses. I hope that you find as much joy in giving them space as I do.

Yes, hopefully the joy of giving them space and seeing them thrive is enough for all of us. But if not there is always the Migratory Bird Treaty Act which is a federal mandate which, among other stipulations, states that it is illegal to transport or remove birds or any part of a birds nest or eggs from its chosen nest site.

Native species are covered under this Migratory Bird Treaty Act. This means that if a robin or a wren chooses to begin construction of a nest on a location around my residence the bird is protected by law, and that means it is illegal for me to impede the birds nesting activity from beginning of nest building activity to the day the young of the year leave the nest..

Non-native species like house sparrows and European starlings are not covered under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

I hope we can all find joy in giving our native species of wildlife the space they need to raise their young.

Here is a link to some info about the Migratory Bird Treaty Act:

Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918



(the house wren nest at Anna and Les's home)

Childhood memories bring hope for today's youth

 "There it is!," said one of the kids, as we all stood at the edge of the woods taking in the beauty of a house wren perched on a branch 10 feet in front of us singing up a storm! It was such a joy to share some of the beauty and inspiration that wildlife can bring with the 18 current members of the Wellsboro Middle School Nature Club today. Seeing the excitement in their eyes as they got their (maybe first ever) good looks at house wrens, a Carolina wren, and an Eastern towhee gifted me with flashbacks to some very good memories from my childhood.

Some of my earliest childhood memories that have stuck with me are of turning over rocks around the house in Pittsburgh to collect millipedes and potato bugs. I would gather them in a plastic container, watch them for a while, and then let them go. When I was 12 or 13 it was the birds in Phillip's Park (a neighborhood park just up the street from my childhood home) that captured my attention. Cardinals, blue jays, red-bellied woodpeckers, and others; and I will never forget the Carolina wren who made a home on the front porch of the house where I grew up. In the evening I would sit on the front porch and observe him as he came to his nighttime roost. He would perch on the railing first and let our some calls... "Cheer!...Cheer!...Cheer!" After a few minutes he'd hop up into the end of the rolled up sunshade blinds and tuck in for the night. At about that time in my life, a friend of my grandparents, a man by the name of Abe Sally, gave me my first pair of binoculars (Tasco 10x50) that would be good for birding.  Using those binoculars I reveled in seeing turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks ride high on the winds! One day, I was watching over the bird feeders and noticed a speck way high up in the sky. Right away I knew it was a hawk. I trained my binoculars on it, and very quickly it got closer...closer...closer...and before I knew it a Cooper's hawk made dinner out of one of our resident house sparrows that it picked off right there at the feeder in our front yard!

My experience, as life progressed through middle school, high school, and eventually college, is that the more I came to know about the love of God in Jesus the more God set my heart ablaze with love for all that has life.

I understood that Jesus spoke of loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. I grew to understand every creature as a neighbor who is worthy of my respect and care because first and foremost, we are all loved by God our creator.

As I reflect upon my own story I have hope that this next generation will grow in their love for all that has life as more and more they are given opportunities to take in the beauty and wonder of birds and other wild things.

Here are some of the photos from my time with the Wellsboro Nature Club today:


(A student trains his binoculars on a Carolina wren (circled in yellow) that I managed to call in with my bluetooth audio device (circled in orange).

(One of two very cooperative house wren's that the kids got to enjoy) 


 (A Carolina wren, not to be outdone by the house wren, made an appearance and perched on top of a pile of logs offering fantastic views for all!)

 (An Eastern towhee, which fellow birdwalk leader Sean Minnick initially heard a way's off, came in close upon being lured in by my bluetooth audio device. The towhee perched 15 feet above the ground maybe 20 feet in front of us, and threw its head back letting out a very loud "DRINK-YOUR-TEEE!")


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Give them space

Here is a post from October 8, 2017 that was originally published on a previous blog that I managed. It feels fitting to share it again now since marsh wrens, sora's, Virginia rails, common gallinules, and bobolinks are beginning to arrive at their northern Pennsylvania breeding grounds once again.

------------------------------------------------------------ 

I recall many occasions when I’ve found myself in the presence of some beautiful creature that I could have approached very close for the best photo opportunity but something within me says, “give it space.” And so, I am more than content to keep a respectful distance so as not to cause undue stress to creatures that in most cases already have enough adversity to deal with. 

Snowy owl (Bradford county, PA)

It occurs to me that there is great wisdom and depth of meaning encapsulated in this saying; “Give them space.” 


In addition, I recall that in chapter 12 of the Gospel According to Mark Jesus teaches that the most important commandment is to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In truth I believe that in practice loving God and loving our neighbor are very often one and the same activity. As I work to extend this teaching to my relation with all that has life as much as possible I am discovering more and more that very often the best way to love them is to give them space; not only by providing a buffer zone from my physical proximity but to give them space by working to advocate for and to create the kind of habitat that each needs to thrive.


I’m thinking of the marsh birds from my previous post about the inhabitants of Pennsylvania State Game Lands 313, aka “The Muck.”  Through the preservation of this unique emergent wetland habitat the human community (working through the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Tiadaghton Audubon Society) has given space to some rare and beautiful creatures like the marsh wren, American bittern, sora, common gallinule, and Virginia rail that are hard pressed to find a place of similar compatibility within 50 miles.


Marsh wren (SGL 313 "The Muck.")


I’m thinking of the bobolinks that show up every Spring to breed in our big open fields laying their eggs in the tall grasses and how those people who wait until after the young bobolinks have fledged to harvest their hay have effectively given them the space they need to thrive.



Bobolink (Delmar Ridge, Tioga county, PA)

I’m thinking of the huge success story of the reintroductionof the bald eagle in the state of Pennsylvania as well as our various species of warblers that require unique habitats and so many others.



Golden-winged warbler (Bald Eagle State Park)


Give them space. Just give them space. It is simple and yet it is challenging because it means taking the time to understand the needs of the unique species that inspire us and fill our lives with so much joy and wonder so that we might advocate for and work to nurture environments in which they can thrive for their sake and for ours.



The best way to love our neighbors (people and animals and plants alike), is to give them space. Give them space for healing, give them space for creative expression, give them space for leading healthy productive lives. Give them space.


As I reflect upon each of my experiences with the unique and beautiful creatures you’ve already read about in previous blog posts, these three words continue to inform what I understand as my responsibility in relation to them; “Give them space.”


And I know that when it comes to people who want to extend love and respect to all creatures as much as possible, we are better together. That is why I am a member of the Tiadaghton Audubon Society


If something about this has resonated with you I encourage you to get connected with a local Audubon chapter or other conservation organization in your area (if you’re not already!) through which you can live into this joyful and weighty responsibility with the greatest impact too.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Cold hands, warm bellies, kind hearts


Today I got to spend the early afternoon hours with Daffodil and Maggie. They are dogs who are currently at Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries and both were looking for their forever home as they greeted people at the annual Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries Chili Cook-Off which was once again held at Rockwells Feed Farm and Pet Supply just outside of Wellsboro.

It always fills my heart with joy and hope when I see community coming together in support of animals who need our care. It was a cold day, and the wind was so strong that the canopy had to be tied off to a truck; but as the chili warmed our bellies the love shared by people and animals alike warmed our hearts. Money was raised to help support the mission of Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries and Daffodil may have found her forever home.

That being said, as of this moment Daffodil and Maggie are both up for adoption, as are a number of other dogs and cats at Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries. Stop by for a visit. You'll be glad you did.


(Daffodil eyes up some chili as I try for a decent picture!)

(Daffodil expressing her kind and gentle demeanor)

(Daffodil is very sleepy from meeting so many people!)



(Maggie looks out the car window at a stop light on our way back to Second Chance Animal Sanctuaries)



Thursday, April 25, 2019

Another day in the Canyon

To be ministered to by wildlife and wild spaces is a special experience indeed.

My experience tells me that each of us possesses a deep-seeded mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual need to be ministered to by the beauty of wildlife and wild spaces; to be brought into community with this diverse community of life. 

As the song of the black-throated green warbler resonates with my own heart strings I feel at home in the forest. As I lock eyes with a red fox in the solitude of the deep woods something new is awakened within me. The iridescent coloration of the tiger beetle is a shade of green I don't think I've seen anywhere else. 

There lives a God-ordained relational space within me that revels in this kinship with the land and all who call it home. As I discover a space of belonging here among wildlife and wild spaces it brings comfort to my soul knowing that I myself have not become fully domesticated.

Thank God that there is wildness in me as I am inspired to explore farther and deeper; all the while celebrating that the Spirit of God has set my heart ablaze with love for all that has life. What began as a small spark many years ago has become a blazing wildfire that just may engulf the landscape of my whole heart. By the grace of God may it be so.






























Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Beautiful things

I couldn't help but notice the beauty of the wildlife this morning as I walked across town; robins and a Ruby crowned kinglet singing along Waln Street, a fish crow munching on a piece of fried fast food (which I presume he collected from McDonald’s) while perched atop a telephone pole at the intersection of Waln and Pearl Streets. The fish crow said to me, “uh-uh!” in typical fish crow fashion. I also noticed flowers and trees reaching full bloom on this sunny day in April. It all just felt so sacred and special.

All of that I count as the first beautiful thing that I noticed.

The second beautiful thing I noticed were all of the people giving of themselves in care for others through the ministry of the Wellsboro Area Food Pantry. As I entered the church building I could hear  a beautiful melody coming from the church hall and it turned out to be one of the recipients of the food pantry ministry playing the piano to bring a little more joy into this space.

With so much goodness and beauty inside the church building and out in the world around us, my prayer is that the sacredness of this beauty, joy, and compassion would infiltrate all of the spaces where there is trouble and sorrow in this world, as the light shines in the darkness. By the grace of God in Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit living in us the light of God’s beauty and love shines into the darkness of trouble and sorrow with radiant power, and nothing can stop it.








Monday, April 22, 2019

Dovie’s gift

Yesterday was the day when Dovie laid her first egg. We had previously thought that Dovie was a male. Clearly we were wrong! I found that first egg cracked open on the floor since Dovie had no nesting platform or materials available to her. So, yesterday evening I helped by tacking a nest platform to her preferred nest spot.

Sometime between 9am-noon today Dovie laid an egg. Since it is clearly an unfertilized egg I went ahead and cooked it and ate it. Thank you Dovie!

Nest building is proving to be a real bonding experience for Dovie and I since she mostly depends upon me handing her the right sticks which she then places where she would like them to be.

This Earth Day I hope each of us has had opportunities to contribute to the overall health of the planet through our conscientious living as well as moments to enjoy special bonds with those creatures who know us best and depend upon our care on a personal level each day.


(Dovie and the egg she laid this morning)



 
(Very good taste; lighter and a bit fluffier consistency than a chicken's egg. Eggs don't get any fresher than this; thank you Dovie!)

(helping Dovie to build her nest)





Sunday, April 21, 2019

Take courage because I have overcome the world

"In this life you will have trouble and sorrow, but take courage because I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

We took a moment to reflect upon these words of Jesus at the beginning of this morning’s Easter Sunrise Run as we also read John 20:1-21. We reflected upon the truth that Jesus took on the weight of the world (and by "the world" I don't mean this good creation of God, but rather the result of our failures to love as a human race). Jesus took on the weight of the world and was betrayed, denied, abandoned, abused, beaten, rejected, tortured and killed. But on three days later he rose from the grave!

I invite you to consider, as I invited those on the run this morning to consider how you have (or are currently) experiencing the weight of the world. What trouble and sorrow do you bear? This is God's gift to us; the same life-giving power that raised Jesus from the grave is there for us as we trust in him. In the story of the life, suffering, death, and resurrection the love of God is shown to be the most powerful power in the universe!

I’m glad that I got to start this Easter morning with a good run with my friends BettyAnn, Carla, Grant, Jessica and Kit. As we traversed our six mile loop one step at a time we were also in the company of a brown creeper singing in the Wellsboro Cemetery as we passed by, field sparrows and meadowlarks lifting their voices along Delmar Ridge, and a savannah sparrow contributing to the morning chorus of praise along Fischer Street. 

And while the birds are singing their praises, I’m singing mine:

“Then sings my soul, my savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art! Thank you God, for the gift of hope you have given us in the resurrection of Jesus. As surely as Jesus overcame the world by the power of your love, my prayer is that the same power that raised Jesus from the grave would impact our lives this day as we trust in him. Considering our troubles and our hardships; by the power of your love in Jesus we shall overcome. Thank you for this gift. Amen.”




Saturday, April 20, 2019

When life gives you lemons

After living in the Wellsboro area for for almost four years I was finally able to attend the Earth Day event in the nearby town of Mansfield today.  I was asked to lead some bird walks for the event as a representative of the Tiadaghton Audubon Society, so I was excited when the event was originally going to be at the Mill Cove Environmental Area which is a host to many interesting species of native wildlife. But, due to high water the venue for this event was changed to Smythe Park, a grassy park in the town of Mansfield which also contains a couple of baseball fields.

Well, there were lots of great conservation-minded organizations and groups there, and lots of families from the Mansfield and Wellsboro were present. Everything was great, and the only problem was that there were not many birds to show people. The only birds that were reliably present in that spot were European starlings. Not exactly the kind of bird that most people get excited.

But you know the saying; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

I set up my spotting scope so it was directed at a starling nest location. During the 3 hours I was there about 20 kids got to take a close look at starlings. They watched them singing from a power line perch to proclaim their territory and they watched them tending their nest which was in the side of a building and they also got to watch.

Many birders can point to a particular species of bird that inspired them to be a birder. For me it was an encounter with a hooded warbler, which is a small species of yellow and black plumaged songbird of striking beauty. I can't help but to chuckle at the idea that perhaps for some kid today was the day they were inspired to be a lifelong birder due to their encounter with, of all species, a starling!

I got to share the starling's origin story with some of the kids and many adults; about how someone brought a crate of starlings to America on a ship that set sail from Europe in the 1890's because they thought that every species of bird mentioned in Shakespeare's plays should be represented in New York City's Central Park. I'd say that things have gotten a little out of hand with the population of European starlings in North America since then, wouldn't you?

European starlings are exotic to North America because they are not indigenous to this continent, and they are invasive because they crowd out other species where they have been established. If the starlings were not present at Smythe Park, there is a good chance that Eastern bluebirds would be. But there were no bluebirds. Only starlings.

But, European starlings are not the most invasive exotic species in North America; that honor belongs to us.

But the message of earth day is that human beings don't have to be the most destructive species; we can be a life-giving presence.

How does the most invasive species on the planet become a life-giving force?

By the presence of God who has the power to change human hearts.

"Change the desires of my heart, O God, so that it beats in tune with yours; and may the changes you've brought about within me find expression in my living."


(Earth day at Smythe Park)

(One starling perched on a wire)

(another starling perched on a wire)

(starling perched above its nest under the awning of a nearby building)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Lunch spot

It has been a busy week for me as I manage my regular responsibilities as pastor to a local congregation and prepare for not one but four special experiences of worship (as the week leading up to and including Easter Sunday is commonly called "Holy Week").  While it is always important for me (for that matter, all of us!) to find a balance between work, family and retreat, it feels even more critical this week.

After all, in the pages of the Bible which record Jesus' life it seems that he was quite fond of going to quiet places for rest and rejuvenation, probably mostly around dawn and dusk.

This was my quiet place to rest for a while today; my lunch spot at The Muck (SGL 313).

I hope you find yours.