When nature gets shut out

The area I live in is absolutely gorgeous. The forests have an array of evergreen and deciduous trees, ensuring a display of every shade of green and many a golden hue. There are lakes, streams, and ocean.

It’s right there, behind the neighbor’s fence or across the road. But you just can’t get to it. Canoe and kayak access to water is a subculture that requires research and networking with other enthusiasts to find. Trails are relatively few. Bicycling in many places is like placing your life at the mercy of lunatic drivers. 

Highways have crowded out ecosystems and wildlife. People try to destroy pests but end up creating whole neighborhoods of chemical stench. The lawns are only meant to be enjoyed from indoors, gazing through the window at a thick carpet of unrealistic green without a single dot of yellow dandelion or creamy clover. Nature is being shut out. Or we are being shut in. 

Case in point -This morning I saw a breathtaking sunrise while I was driving. The sun was just clearing the horizon turning everything a golden coral, mist was rising from the tranquil waters, outlining the silhouette of a lone fisherman in a boat.

But there was no place to safely stop and enjoy it. I actually turned my car around and tried again to find a place, or at least a break in the traffic that made it safe to go slower than the 40 mph speed limit. Here’s what I got: 

This one was taken when I turned around and went back. I had set it up so I could use the voice activation feature to take the picture.
This one was from the safe place to pull over. Don’t you love the scenic guardrail taking up most of the picture?!

I find this maddening and saddening. Modern life has set aside the wonders of this earth and replaced them with strip malls, mega-marts, and interstates. We zoom along in our planes, trains, and automobiles; minds fixed on the next thing we need to rush off and do. We don’t notice nature. We don’t even notice the gates, bars, and guardrails that we have put up between ourselves and nature anymore. 

I know, this isn’t an original idea. As long as this has been happening, people have been mourning the loss of the connection humans were meant to have with the earth.  

I ask, how can humanity reach its full potential if it ignores it’s purpose? Which is this: to inhabit, explore, and care for this planet, to love each other and the animals, to dig deep into the wisdom of it’s Designer.

How can we as individuals reach that purpose if we are distracted and caged off from our own home? That’s why I say, let’s break out! 

Breathe, be still, connect, stop rushing, just be. 

(All photos my own) 

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Endings 

So it’s the end of the school year. Another year done. Finished, complete. That means my baby is getting older!(sobbing voice, sniffle). But I’m so proud of her for all she has accomplished this year.

I’m such a rookie mom, but I hope I’m starting to get a few things figured out. Having my oldest start school was like entering a whole new world. I have had little to zero contact with the world of formal education since my own graduation from high school. Not only has it been a long time, but times have changed, and the style of education has changed too. I’ve changed. Now I’m approaching it from the perspective of a mom not a student. School years seem to go by quickly and slowly all at once. One school year ends. The next one will start up before 2017 gives way to 2018. My newfound mom perspective makes the time seem to fly.

I’ve been thinking about how deeply children feel the changes involved in their school career. They say goodbye to a beloved teacher, they move on to a new classroom, often with a new group of students. Some switch to a new school. Everything starts again. It’s true, they have the experience of past years, but essentially it’s a new start. It’s almost like changing your entire family every year. There’s a new mother or father figure, new siblings. If the child is moving into upper grades, there could be a complete structure change, from one classroom most of the day to different ones per subject.

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I can see the positives of these changes. If there’s a bad mix of personalities in a class, well next year there will be a new group. Also, the teaching style has to change with the development of the children. But the emotional aspect of it all took me by surprise. Imagine the emotions you would feel if you literally had to change parents and siblings. The time it takes to build trust again. To understand your new family and your place in it. To mourn the absence of your old family. That all seems to happen on a mini scale. The summer break softens it a little. It gives an emotional respite, some breathing room to regroup.

As for myself, I look forward to the summer, to having my girl with me all day every day. To being the main adult in her life again. To not having to share her with perfect strangers most of the day. On the other hand, when the new school year starts, we all enjoy having the added structure to our days, accomplishing something that is measurable in lesson plans and report cards.

My conclusion so far has been that the benefits of change have outweighed the drawbacks. Sure it can be tough in the moment. But we also want our little ones to learn how to be resilient, adaptable. And each teacher leaves his or her stamp on the children’s little minds. You never know which one will be the one to unlock your child’s hidden potential or help them spark a lifelong passion.

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I overheard the sweetest goodbye speech by our K-3 gradeschool’s art teacher to her third graders. She reminded them that everyone’s an artist. She said even if they don’t know it yet, each one of them has a talent they can enjoy and share with the world.

Each school year is a milestone. Maybe it seems more so to me now than it did when I was in school. In my mom perspective it marks the calendar with a date that symbolizes the physical and mental growth my child experiences with each passing year. A stamp that marks off the passage of time.

That one day, The Last Day of School, embodies all the achievements and growth, all the challenges met and overcome, all of the inches and shoe sizes gained, all the baby teeth lost.

Another school year gone, never to return. Did she learn what she needed? Did she enjoy the process? Did she make friends? Was she a good friend? Did she stand up for herself and for what she believes in? I hope and pray the answer is yes. Because what comes to pass in these formative years will leave it’s indelible mark on her mind and personality.

Three ways I have been changed by learning another language

a miniature Danish-Norwegian-French dictionary by Tomasz Sienicki

Ok, I’m a wierdo. I love grammar. Not so much that I’ve kept learning English grammar since finishing school. Somehow, though, it came easy to me and stuck in my memory. When my husband started trying to teach me Latvian, I realized how much my brain relies on grammar. It’s a little OCD. If there’s no structure, I can’t learn it. He spoke Latvian from infancy, so as a native speaker, he just instinctively knew when it sounded right and when it didn’t. But he did NOT know the grammar terms for it. He couldn’t explain WHY it was right or wrong.

Here’s my classic example. I was reading aloud from an article in Watchtower magazine in Latvian. (Which by the way is a great resource if you’re learning another language because it’s the most widely translated magazine in the world.) My husband was correcting my pronunciation. The pronoun She was capitalized, so I knew it was referring to God, but it had a feminine ending. I was like, “whaaaat?! whyyyyy?!” And all he could say was, “I know it’s right”.

Thankfully, my official Latvian teacher was a wonderful grammarian. Her first language was different from her husband’s, and together they had lived in Latvia and learned Latvian. She needed grammar too. In the end I learned that the masculine possessive has the ending -a, which is usually a feminine ending. The text I was reading was talking about “His love”. It was not calling God a female. Now it made perfect sense!

1) So here’s my first strange side effect of learning another language: I’ve gotten worse at my English grammar! Now, the logic or spelling of Latvian sometimes creeps into my English writing or speech. The only problem is, it may or may not be logical in English too!

2) I became less polite. 

All my life it has been super important to me not to offend or make waves. But when your vocabulary is limited to the very basics, you don’t have the words to be polite.  You may not know how to say, “Please pass that delicious native dish you so hospitably cooked for us newcomers.” So you say, “Give me that,” while pointing.

Honestly, this has been a good change for me. I lived there almost 8 years, so I eventually learned how to be polite. I also learned that there’s a place and time for being straightforward and blunt. It doesn’t necessarily offend, but it may just help a situation. If I hadn’t been unable to couch my words in politeness, I may never have been brave enough to try the blunt approach.

3) I no longer enjoy baby talk as much in English.

If you know another language, you may realize the English language has something missing. I mean seriously! English has lost it’s edge a long time ago when it comes to diminutives. And how can you properly speak “baby” without diminutives! When it comes to making your speech seem more lovable and sweet, a diminutive form of the noun comes in really handy!

In the two languages I’m most familiar with besides English, they use diminutives a lot. In Spanish, it’s the ending -ito in masculine and -ita feminine. You simply tack that onto the end of a noun or even a person’s name, and presto, it sounds extra sweet and cute and lovable. In Latvian there’s more than one diminutive ending.  There’s -iņš or -ītis or -ulis masculine and -iņa or -īta or -ule feminine. Then you also have the more colloquial -ucis un -uks. The possibilities to create adorable nicknames are almost endless! You can even combine endings in Latvian. For example lāčuks (little bear) can become lāčukiņš. Which would be literally ‘little little bear’.

An excerpt from “Teach Yourself Latvian”

I looked up diminutives in English when preparing this post, and they are, or were there. They usually only show up in words that are properly in their own right diminutive, like names for baby animals. The one that seems to have been truly English and not borrowed from another language is -ing or -ling, as in duckling. Then there’s -ie or -y as in doggie or daddy. But that one is borrowed from Scottish. Then there’s -et or -let borrowed from French as in ringlet. Probably the one most used currently is -o as in kiddo.

These are not used as much as in other languages. People don’t usually just tack them on to the end of a baby’s name or a word in general. So baby talk is much more fun in other languages!

One of the principle things I learned while learning another language is the way words carry emotion, and how words, emotions, and memory are intertwined. But that will be a subject for another post, so stay tuned!

 

Time

Is time real? Opinion is divided among physicists on this question. I’m not a scientist but I love science.

I’ve noticed that many scientific ideas are presented to the public while they have yet to be proven. This has definitely been the case with this mind bending question, what is time? When I think about it, my brain almost hurts and I feel as if I’m straddling the borders of science, philosophy, and religion. 

From a physics point of view, time defies categorization. Physicists attempt to explain the universe by breaking down each component into the smallest possible increment, the fundamental measurement, the quantum. (Space and light cause controversy as well. Is light a wave or a particle? How many dimensions does space have?) Time seems to break down into nonexistence after 10 to the -43rd degree. This has led to the possible conclusion that time only exists in our perception. The only reality is now, and time is simply a series of nows that we perceive as past, present, or future.

If I understand this theory correctly that argument disintegrates into an infinite mirror effect. Like when you look at a reflection of yourself looking in the mirror and in that mirror you see yourself looking in the mirror on into infinity. If time doesn’t exist, does physical matter even exist or do objects exist only when we perceive or measure them? From that point of view, this theory of time is also just the perception of the scientists who believe it. When they cease to exist, so will this idea. This logic leads to the belief that nothing is real.  

I wondered, what does the Bible teach about time? Here are a few truths I found:

  1.  God made the heavenly bodies and natural laws that allow humans on earth to perceive the passing of time. He also made our brains with the ability to understand this concept. “Then God said: “Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to make a division between the day and the night, and they will serve as signs for seasons and for days and years.” Genesis 1:14. So the natural division of a day is created specifically for human inhabitants of earth. Seasons and years also have natural divisions visible on earth. This is not inconsistent with scientific theories that time is relative. A person standing on Jupiter would perceive a day and a year much differently. To the Author of the Bible though, the important perspective was that of humans on earth, the intended readers of that book.
  2. Since He Created ‘time’, He stands above it’s constraints. The prophet Daniel wrote, “He changes times and seasons.” Dan.2:21. At Psalm 90:2 it says God is “from everlasting to everlasting”. And verse 4 says a thousand years to him are “as yesterday when it is past”. For him even a thousand years could be just one unbroken time period in which he begins and completes some activity or purpose.
  3. Many verses in the Bible inform humans of the definite time appointments God has set for certain actions toward earth. For example Gal. 4:4 says God sent his son “when the full limit of the time arrived”. Prophecy is an integral part of the Bible, which means that our view of the future is important to God. He wants us to have hope, and so the Bible is full of promises of everlasting life. 

From these points I conclude that God meant us to have a sense of time.

Consciousness and our sense of self depend on experiences and memories, which require the passage of time to accumulate. These things can’t be easily measured or quantified, they often tend to be skewed and illogical, yet they help form who we are. It’s a miracle of life that each human who has ever lived is completely unique.

My question is: does it matter whether time disappears after being broken down into immeasurably tiny increments? In the grand scheme of things does this theory, even if it turns out to be true, change anything about the way we should live our life in order to be successful and happy? I would argue that it doesn’t. If I want to make sense of human history, and my place in it, I need to accept God’s construction of time. 

This doesn’t mean I believe time is a restriction of my free will. I believe the passing of time molds my choices based on my previous experiences and thus develops my exercise of free will into a more rounded out process. Which is another way of saying what the proverbs already say, knowledge and understanding build wisdom. However, true wisdom requires a reverence for the Creator, otherwise how can our choices fit the construction of the universe and fulfill our place in it?

To me, it’s a beautiful thing, the way space, time, energy, matter, and the perceptions of each of us meld to produce the physical world we inhabit. It contains limitless potential for exploration and fuel for the imagination. 

Photo credit: Holly Ziemba

Articles and videos used to research this post:

http://wakingscience.com/2016/02/quantum-physicists-why-time-is-not-real/
https://www.google.com/amp/amp.livescience.com/29081-time-real-illusion-smolin.html#ampshare=http://www.livescience.com/29081-time-real-illusion-smolin.html
https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200001132
https://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200000970

Spring

Spring is here and it’s my favorite season. I love watching as frozen landscapes come to life. Ice on water gradually fades into transparency, and the next moment waves dance on its surface. Snowbanks turn dingy and brown but remain after the ground cover of snow has melted like stubborn old men.

And the smells of spring! A little mud, some new greenery, some moldy leftovers of last year’s fallen leaves. Smells of old and new, conflicting yet shouting to your nostrils in one voice, spring is here. The smell of rain sinking into the soft ground and then snatched up by tree roots ascending to feed the fat buds of baby leaves.

The sounds. In New England it’s peepers with their incessant nighttime chirrup. It becomes so embedded into the background that you don’t even notice them until your 2 year old, looking quite nervous asks, “mommy, what is that noise?” In Minnesota, loons start making their calls that similar to howls echo from the distant shore. In Latvia the clacking of stork beaks rattle as they settle into their nests after returning north.

And the colors, that pale baby leaf green that looks like a hazy halo in the treetops. The dark brown mud during spring rains. The blue sky, it’s own new blue, as if the sky was just born yesterday too, along with the baby robins hatching from their speckled blue eggs. And the white, purple, yellow, pink, orange of spring flowers. Crocuses, daffodils, lily of the valley, tulips, hyacinth.

Photo credit to my talented friends on instagram @antikleopatra and @_jnphotography_

Patience

In short supply and high demand, this virtue is something I’m striving for. You moms and dads, can you relate? My little one starts screeching or whining and it takes exactly half a second for it to get under my skin and stretch my nerves to the snapping point. 

While volunteering at my daughter’s school today, I heard a popular quote or, more accurately a proverb. It got me thinking about patience. I have already been working on not responding to the tantrum, being the grown up, and keeping my cool. When I’m in the school and I see teachers doing this every day with large groups of children I am constantly amazed. One of the teachers told us that one particularly stressful morning, she happened to catch a glimpse of the coffee shop barista’s tattoo on her arm. It said

This too shall pass 

 

This is something her mother always said to her while she was growing up. And she felt as if she was meant to see those words that morning. The barista is also a mother and she survives each day with the constant reminder of those words.

This too shall pass. When you think about that phrase, and really let the meaning sink in, it’s the equivalent of a mental deep cleansing breath. It means you can get through this.



But it also means you’d better cherish this. I need this double sided reminder. These days and years when they are little are so transient. Every day they change. And they will never be little again.

This too shall pass, so savor the good parts and breathe through the tough parts. You got this!

Macro

One day from my childhood stands out like a jewel in my memory. We were traveling to a very remote lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Before writing on, I tried using Google maps to scroll around the lakes and refresh my memory so I could tell you the name of the lake, but I give up. Mom and Dad, when you read this you’ll have to help me out.

We went on a day trip from our campsite to visit this little lake, and if I remember right, there weren’t even any sites on it and it didn’t lead to any other lake either. In other words, about as remote as you can get in the lower 48!

Photo credit: Christine D’Anza

It was a perfect day full of sunshine and sparkle. You know when there’s a very light wind and the waves are barely bigger than ripples. The sun reflects off each ripple so the lake looks like it’s wearing sequins. I remember canoeing around and then landing on shore. We all got out and just wandered around exploring. I came across a perfect rock shelf about 8 inches above the water line and just the right size for me to lie down on and stare into the lake.

I was instantly transported to a different world. Under water, creeping along the vertical face of my shelf were about 40 tiny snails. I actually counted them. I watched long enough to discover that each one was traveling a slightly different direction. They were going about their daily business totally unaware of their observer from above. Some were speeding right along, others took their time. That conclusion in itself seemed weird. A snail’s pace is one speed, slow, right? Actually, no!

When I finally got up, I had absolutely no idea how much time had gone by. Space and time had bent and stretched in ways I had never considered possible, until I experienced this vertical world where time moves at a snail’s pace. I had been so completely engulfed in what I imagined to be Snail Times Square, that I lost all sense of reality and was unaware of anything else around me.

Here are some pictures and video I took this week, using a macro lens on my phone. Looking at the world in macro brought the memory of Snail Times Square rushing back!

*Update: Mom says we weren’t in the Boundary Waters but Ontario, Canada and it was Eric Lake.  Sorry Google maps, it wasn’t your fault I couldn’t find the lake!