I’m embarrassed. I wrote a personal essay called “Birthday Blues” which I included in the August chapter of All Nature Sings. It was a tale of being forgotten on my birthday the year after my mom, Casey, died. Even from the retirement center, she had never failed to send a card with $10 tucked inside to me, and each person within her large family, exactly on their day. My siblings and I wondered if she was making up for our childhood birthdays. The first three of the five of us had birthdays within one week’s time—but alas mine was first. She would notice a sadness overtaking me and ask what was wrong. “It’s my birthday and no one even cares!” I wailed. “Oh, my, we’ll have to have a cake sometime this week to celebrate all your birthdays!”
It was that all that got to me—I wanted my day to be special.
The essay must have touched a universal nerve. This August 28, my mailbox was filled with birthday greetings—so many feeling sorry for me, and maybe themselves, at the thought of being forgotten. The cards were only the beginning—after getting long-stem multicolored roses from my husband, I was surprised by two impromptu celebrations—one with apple crisp (from one of those siblings) and then with lunch and cake and ice cream, served by three grandchildren, two of whom along with their mom also have August birthdays.
Maybe I should not be embarrassed, only reminded. Everyone wants to feel special one day of the year—not because of something they do but only because they live and are present among us. My friends and readers, by their thoughtfulness, demonstrated again that every life is precious, including my own.
Big bluestem going to seed
When I get discouraged over climate change and the lack of enthusiasm for working against its effects, I watch two guys at work at Flat Iron Lake Preserve. One gets up early so he can catch fish on the lake at their morning feeding time. He is tall and often stands in the boat, so I know he isn’t your typical fisherman. He may like the sport of catching bass and blue gills but his real interest is learning about the lake’s ecology by understanding the habits of the fish. He tags them and throws them back into their natural habitat. Only rarely does he catch one twice. Occasionally he takes one to the lab to analyze its stomach content. He’s beginning to understand this inland kettle lake and what has kept it healthy for so many years.
The other guy can be seen traversing the prairie with his backpack filled with notebooks, GPS, wildflower books and camera. When I can no longer see him, I suspect he is sitting amid the flowers and grasses, examining them closely. What do they need to thrive and propagate? The soil, the moister than usual days, the precocious growth of certain species—there are so many factors at work. This is the first year that neither large section of the prairie was burned in the spring. How does that effect growth? What explains the reappearance of some invasives like crown vetch and the abundance of Queen Ann’s lace?
The two young men are summer research students from Calvin College. They were chosen among other hopefuls for the chance to live and work at Flat Iron Lake. They get a small stipend and a notch for their résumé’s but mostly it is a labor of love. These two follow three men and two women who went before them in other summers.
The students’ sense of wonder has inspired me. They help me understand a little more but perpetuate awe of the intricacies of God’s creation. I am only scratching the surface; they are going a lot deeper. Even at twenty-something each sees his/her role in creation care. They are only a few of many in their generation who sense that what they do today will have lasting impact into the future.
Now back to my generation. Perhaps we took natural wonders for granted; we thought they would always be there just for our use. We did not sense the consequences of our action or lack thereof. So I’m pinning my hope on young people like these to lead the way in showing the rest of us how to honor God’s gift by preserving the planet and all contained therein. Today, I look out at the big bluestem already going to seed, thankful that together with the students we can have small part in restoring this tall grass prairie.
The Great Plains ate up two long days as we traveled back to Michigan from Colorado. In years past we drove overnight, which our children and families still do, but now find that we need a break somewhere in Iowa. After the long 2-day trek we can’t think about driving and fast food and listening to books on tape. Home on the prairie never looked so good. Except for the garden’s no-good weeds. Hardly unpacked, we began to purge of garden invasives.
But then came the call: “I sure hope you guys can come and see the summer camp where I work before the season is over!” said granddaughter, Lindsay. “This is the last week and you’ve been invited to come on Wednesday for the annual barbeque.” So—after only 2 days, we started out for Big Bay, a small town on the Lake Superior shore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We had not been there for years and were amazed at its beauty even from a fast moving car.
Eight hours later we pull into the Bay Cliff Health Camp. Lindsay and her teen-aged friends, some in wheelchairs or walkers greeted us along with the other visitors. Miss Lindsay, as the campers call her, radiates enthusiasm for her work as teen coordinator and for each of the 150 kids who spend their summer here. All with physical challenges, they traverse the lanes and bumpy ground of the apple orchard where the picnic is underway. The huge campus is dotted with large and small white buildings with green trim, some dating back to the camp’s inception in 1932.
We want to take it all in: kids from preschool to 17 overcoming huge obstacles just to be here and then having the time of their lives. We go to the teen bond fire and join in making camp donuts and smores. In the morning we come back to observe the silent flag raising ceremony and share breakfast in the “Big house” with Chad, a male counselor, and his two kids, one named Morgan who was cheered for learning to feed himself this summer. We avoid a whizzing wheelchair on our way to see the laundry where kids periodically pick up clothes from bins marked with their size. We follow the gradual paved path to the shore of Lake Superior that campers must traverse so they can spend hours on the beach. Finally Lindsay walks us to the parking lot to say good-bye. There is her car, surrounded by tall grass, which has not been moved for over 8 weeks! As the return miles toward home evaporate, we marvel at the dedication of one college senior (and many more like her), who plans to become a pediatrician and continue to work with wonderful kids like those she has loved at Bay Cliff.