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Down by the Riverside

Eve in the Garden

Unidentified Spiny Object, Lakelands Trail, Pinckney

     Besides lifting my spirits during the pandemic, daily hikes provided another benefit: the pleasure of learning new things. As I walked through the woods, I saw many plants and trees I did not know.
     So, I decided to identify something beautiful or interesting each day. I started with wildflowers because, unlike birds, flowers don't move. Over time, I got a kick from identifying less popular flora like fungus, ferns, lichen, and vines.
     I felt like Eve in the Garden of Eden, gesturing grandly and saying the names of things as I passed by: Scarlet Cups. Christmas Fern. Wrinkled Shield Lichen.
     This September, I saw a spiny green fruit hanging from a vine that had five-lobed leaves and curly tendrils. "What the heck is that?" I asked Ed. He shrugged.
     This is my method for identifying flora and fauna:

1. Look carefully, Note color, shape, size, habitat.
2. Ask random people walking by. "Do you know what this is?" Most don't, but I get some interesting looks.
3. Take a picture with my cell phone.
4. Once home, consult the nature guidebooks on my shelf. The color-coded sections of the wildflower book are particularly helpful, although the placement of entries is sometimes confusing. Like Blue-Eyed Mary in the purple section.
5. I go to the internet only after these steps don't work.    
     "Why don't you use an app right away?" someone said. "I just point my phone at it and use an image search." His expression conveyed what he was thinking: You dinosaur.
     Well, I learn better when I pay close attention. And I retain the knowledge longer. Most of all, I have the thrill of discovery. 
     Curiosity helps keep me alive and moving in the dreariest of seasons. When I found some cute little yellow mushrooms in the moss along the Huron River last November, it chirked me up no end. Their name? Waxy Cap.  
     And the spiny fruit on the vine? Wild Cucumber. Though it's related to domestic cucumber, it has no fleshy fruit, and with those spines, you wouldn't want to eat it anyway. But it's fun to know.
     May you learn something new today. And may that discovery bring you joy.

"The human named all the livestock, all the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals." Genesis 2:20 (CEB)
Playlist: "Morning Has Broken," Cat Stevens, Greatest Hits, 1975.

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Tree Reflections, Paved Trail, Hudson Mills Metropark

     The last Monday of October gave us a sneak preview of what was coming. Cold. Damp. Gray.
     "My favorite Michigan weather," a friend of mine grumbled. "39 degrees and raining."
     The Scots call such weather dreich. "It's pronounced dree-xch," Rev. Derek Webster explained on a preaching website. "You have to gargle the last sound in the back of your throat, '—ahch.' Just saying it, you feel it: Dreich."

     November is my least favorite month. And people know it. My parishioners used to tease me, "Here comes Sondra's annual I-hate-November sermon."
     My father suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depressive condition brought on by shorter daylight hours. Perhaps I do, too. Like a bear preparing to hibernate, I just want to eat sweets and sleep.
     I always dread the coming dark.
     And yet.
     When I remembered on that Monday how daily hikes helped keep my spirits up during the pandemic last fall, I decided to go for a walk. Even though the sun had already set. When I pulled into the parking lot of Hudson Mills Metropark, there were only two other cars. And they were leaving. I had the whole 2.7-mile paved walking trail all to myself.
     The wet trail shone in the dim light. Feeling smug and protected in my raincoat and rain pants, I strode through the puddles. Unseen leaves rattled over the pavement. Acorns skittered away from my boots. Faintly silver, the Huron River flowed alongside me in the dark.

     I came home happy and glowing warm. Like it says in the old spiritual, I had laid down my burden "down by the riverside." I scrolled through my phone to find this photo from last November. I never would gotten the photo had I stayed home.
     May comfort come to you in the dark.

"Even the darkness is not dark to you." Psalm 139:12 (NRSV)
Play List: "Down by the Riverside," Etta James, Oh Happy Day, 2003

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