The Outdoors is for the Birds

Image result for st. francis of assisi

By Joe LaGuardia

St. Francis of Assisi is not my patron saint. You remember St. Francis? He was the 13th-century monk who preached to all of nature, including animals. He spoke of creation in moving prayers and poetry. He celebrated God’s care over all creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon. If you’re interested, you can purchase a statue of St. Francis at your local hardware or garden store.

But St. Francis is not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like to garden. I spent several weekends this month working on my garden. When we have work days at church, the mulching is always my job.

For all that enjoyment, however, I have yet to make gardening the spiritual exercise it is for many Christians who echo the sentiments of St. Francis. When I weed, I curse the ground of my toil–namely, calling the weeds, “Idiots!” for being there in the first place. Some of the weeds look beautiful, actually, but they are stupid because they keep growing. And why do weeds grow so much better and faster than the things that I want to grow in the garden?

Today, when I was laying mulch in my front yard, there was a brief rain shower. This is what happens in a typical coastal Florida shower: It is a beautiful day that turns more beautiful when it becomes slightly overcast. A welcome breeze comes through for a few minutes, ushering in the clouds. It rains for a few minutes and stops as abruptly as it began.

Then things change. The beauty ceases, the breeze stops, and it turns deathly humid. You are drenched not from the rain, but from heavy moisture in the air. Your shirt clings to your body, and the mulch-stains on your shorts become mud stains, and you can’t wear your glasses because they become foggy, and you can’t wipe your brow because your arms are like slip-n-slides, and although the sun still isn’t out, the heat rises from concrete and from the damp, and you get a taste of what hell is like.

It is then that I realized I was not a Franciscan at heart. I do better with my nose in a book while in air-conditioned housing then in the beauty of nature that turns bleak and cranky.

St. Francis can guard other gardens, thank you very much. Instead, I’ll stick with a saint I fell in love with long ago, St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius popularized using one’s imagination while reading the Bible, and his daily “spiritual exercises” include reflecting on the day as a contemplative form of prayer– a prayer best served indoors.

I had an email bearing Ignatius’s name at one point in my life, when Hotmail was all the rage. And although he is Spanish and I am Italian like St. Francis, I still think that the Jesuits have done more for the Catholic Church than most monastic movements in recent days.

So let St. Francis preach to the birds. I’d rather spend time asking where I find myself in scripture and reflecting on the face of Christ during long periods of solitude and silence. At least I won’t smell like a big, wet sock and have to bath seven times a day.

The weeds will have to contend with another nemesis for now, but at least they won’t face the verbal abuse that I hurl in their direction. Stupid weeds.

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Eastern Sweetshrub reminds us to “be still and know”

east

EASTERN SWEETSHRUB Calycanthus floridus

By Orrin Morris

Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10 ).

Wildflowers are objects of beauty to some and weeds to others. To some of us they are another example of God’s grace. That is, gifts from God that favor us though we do not merit such blessing.  They exalt God’s “in the earth” by their presence.

One of the unique delights we can look forward to in spring is the blooming of the Eastern sweetshrub. It was introduced to our colonial forefathers in 1726 but from what country or region is unclear.

The sweetshrub in my yard blooms for only a week or 10 days, but ooh what pleasure. To me, the flowers are the most redolent of all the spring scents. They waft the fragrance of apple butter cooking in Mama’s kitchen; however, others declare that the scent reminds them of strawberries. If you’ve never been around this unique blossom you’ve missed a treat.

This shrub grows to about 10 feet in wooded areas. Ours is among some pines, but most thrive on hills and stream banks on the edge of hardwood groves. The blooms are deep reddish-brown and measure from 1 1/2 to 2 inches across when fully opened. The dark glossy leaves are opposites and the blooms appear at the axil of each pair of leaves. The chocolate colored branches are smooth.

Two other common names for this shrub are Carolina allspice and sweet Betsy. The Eastern sweetshrub needs moist soil, so like most plants, they don’t do well during extended dry spells.

If you miss seeing and smelling the sweetshrub in our local area this spring, may I suggest you take a trip into North Georgia in June and watch for the shrubs along stream banks. One of the sure places to go is Amicalola Falls State Park above Dahlonega toward Ellijay, Ga.

Eastern sweetshrub can be found from New York and Massachusetts to Florida and westward to Louisiana and Missouri.  Wherever found, they remind us to be still and remember that God is exalted above all.

Rev. Orrin Morris is an artist and retired minister.  This article first appeared in The Rockdale Citizen and is reprinted with permission by the author.

Dandelion more than a pest, a delight of God’s goodness

COMMON DANDELION Taraxacum officinale

COMMON DANDELION
Taraxacum officinale

By Orrin Morris

In Psalm 65:12, the Psalmist rejoices in the beauty of the natural world God has provided. We can easily apply his words to the beauty we anticipate each year in the coming of spring.

The grasslands of the desert overflow; the hills are clothed with gladness.”

One of the harbingers of spring is the common dandelion. Once they start blooming, they are like medallions of sun shining about us. In fact, this season I saw several clusters in bloom.

Eight different names are used for dandelion, depending on the region or culture group you visit. These common names include blowball, cankerwort, lion’s tooth (after the shape of the leaves, which is the meaning of the common name), priest’s crown, swine snout, and wild endive.

Most children view the dandelion as a yellow delight of the natural world, spreading its joyous sunshine. We adults call it a pest because we want uniform grassy lawns. Of course, we adults overrule the children’s delight and the battle to eradicate the dandelion never ends.

Dandelions have a very long blooming season in the South. During a mild winter they may bloom all year. The long tap root must be completely dug up before a plant can be successfully eradicated naturally, otherwise a broadleaf herbicide must be applied.

Dandelions are widely distributed. They have been documented in every state and territory of the United States and Canada. They are in the Yukon, above the arctic circle.

Besides the effects of severe drought on the plant population, dandelions are also adversely affected by soils permeated with salt water and dense shade, as in hardwood forests with heavy undergrowth.

We should be grateful that dandelions are not the pest here that they are up North. As a kid growing up in Omaha, I learned there was a strict code of conduct regarding dandelions.  Mother would scold me if I picked a fluff-ball and blew on it to see the “parachutes” float in the wind.  People who were known as good neighbors taught their children better manners than that. Of course kids will be kids.

As a very young child, my baby-sitter introduced me to dandelions with the promise that if I let her show me a trick I would “get some butter.” In my mind that meant the greasy yellow stuff I put on toast for breakfast. That was not the case. It was a trick. She picked a bloom and rubbed it on my chin. The yellow pollen stuck to my chin like rouge.

During cold weather, the stem holding the bloom is very short. Those I saw earlier this spring were flush with the ground. In hot weather, the soft greenish-white stem may rise 6 inches.

The plant has been useful in spite of its pesky reputation. The young leaves can be picked and boiled as one of the “greens.” Its leaves, before the flowers form, have been squeezed into milk and warmed for a spring tonic. In the fall, the root has been steeped in boiling water as a tea.  Just another sign that, even when inconvenient, the many things God provides is something to behold.