“Squirrel!”… Life Lessons… And More New Friends

Anyone who has watched the movie “Up”, an animated children’s movie, will have a whole new appreciation for squirrels. And the expression. And then there’s Ice Age, Ice Age 2 and Over the Hedge, all of which portray squirrels as berserk little creatures. And they’re not so far off…

I don’t often see squirrels out in the wide open, when I walk the Mill Race. They’re much too nervous and jumpy. But this week, Tuesday, I came across one, eating the seeds someone had put on a tree stump.  He was immediately startled, upon seeing me.

 

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I dared to take another step. Slowly. Quietly. Instantly his body tensed, prepared to make a dash for it.  I paused. Nervously he started eating again.

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When he looked up and saw how near I was to the stump, which really wasn’t that close at all, he took off like a bullet, jumping from tree branch to tree branch. Suddenly he flew across the path in front of me and into a tree behind me.

There he sat, scolding as if I had come to do some great harm. I talked calmly to him, but he wasn’t about to hear a word I said. His world was just fine before I showed up, and he meant for me to leave again. So I did. But not before I added a large heap of seeds to the dwindling supply.

I met my usual friends. The cardinal seems to be warming up a bit, and overcoming it’s shy nature. While I still can’t get a very good picture, I’m definitely getting closer and better shots. One day… 
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Something I had never seen before, is this little fellow. A baby chipmunk, no bigger than a mouse–in fact, when I zoomed in for the picture I thought it was a mouse–crawled out of a hole in the pathway. And here I thought they were mouse tunnels.

 

 

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Whatever these birds are, they had been flirting quite openly just before this shot, but I missed it. Ah well…

Down by the river a lone goose honked mournfully. The rest of the flock  had somehow left this one behind, and it seemed quite distressed, as it swam about. I had seen the larger flock earlier and wondered if they might return for the stray goose. And to my amazement they did! And when they did, the honking stopped.

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There is something fascinating about the animal kingdom. So much to learn from them. So much I understand and identify with. The goose, feeling lost when separated from its flock. I get that. When I don’t connect with people who care for me, and for whom I care, there is an ‘aloneness’ in my heart.

And the squirrel? I learned something from him too…

When I came through, on my way back to my car, he was on a different stump, much closer to the ground.  For easy escape, I presume. But I didn’t let that detour me. I walked slowly. Only tiny steps at a time, and only a few. And then I stopped, a few feet away. He looked at me, still nervous and ‘at the ready’.

That’s when I talked quietly to it for a little while and watched as he visibly relaxed and kept eating. The tension, that had showed earlier in its fur, gradually went away. While the close up shots didn’t turn out well, I was amazed how differently he responded, and took a few more pictures.

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I remember that feeling of not trusting anyone. It’s a hard way to do life. Always on edge. Looking over the shoulder… wondering if someone is out to get you. That’s how I was for many years.

And then–God bless them–people who cared for me, and had the patience to show it , changed my life. I think about that often, how people helped me and changed my world. It is what my heart longs to give to others.

One would think that a squirrel, like that in the wild, hasn’t any hope of it learning to trust. Much like some people. But with patience I expect he would warm up even more.

And that’s how it is with  people who’ve had their trust broken. None of us are hopeless, or broken beyond healing. With patience, every one of us can be  ‘loved back to wholeness’.

***

Yesterday was no disappointment at the Mill Race either. I had not planned to go, but rather impulsively detoured that way, on my way home from St. Clements Heart & Home. It was just that ‘gut feeling’ that I needed to go. It was especially unusual because it was after 3:00pm and the critters are not really out and about that time of day.

But when I arrived, I found horses and buggies all tied up under the trees. It was gorgeous! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love horses! Always have, since childhood. They are such majestic creatures! And in this community, where there are horses, there are often buggies. And where there are buggies, there are most often people. A short walk later and, sure enough!

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I wasn’t there long before they packed up. I tried not to be too intrusive (thanks to my massive lens) but I fear I may have frightened them away… The Dave Martin Mennonites don’t much take to cameras and having their photos taken. Such a shame… they take nice pictures. And so do their horses.

Well, I had to be going as well, so I took a few parting shots, which turned out, in my opinion, to be the among the best of the day, if not my most favourite. And, having just discovered some of the editing options in my program, I had to play with that, just a little, and experiment.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAn Old Order couple went by  in their horse and buggy, and an Old Colony Mennonite family found a quiet spot to go fishing. And I was left with the intrigue of how many ‘kinds’ of Mennonite we are, each with little (or big) differences and cultural traditions. Each with strengths, and each with weaknesses.

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***

It has been a beautiful week. I’ve had more fun than ever, taking pictures and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. On all fronts, today was my favourite day.

Last night I announced to Kordan, who had a PD day today, that he and I would go to the Mill Race together to feed the squirrels, chipmunks and birds, and hopefully get close enough for them to eat out of his hands.

He groaned, followed by a long, whiny, “No-o-o-o-o-o..”

“Oh yes!” I said. “You’re not going to sit at home on technology all day.” And, of course, I explained how much fun it was going to be. He didn’t believe me.

This morning the whining continued, though not as vehemently. Just gentle protests right up until the moment we walked out the door, which we did a bit later than I had intended, because of some business to tend to.

First things first, I surprised him with McDonald’s breakfast. An egg and bacon McMuffin, hashbrowns and hot chocolate. He wanted Root Beer. For breakfast…

“Umm… No!”

At the Mill Race, his first concern was how far we would go. We’d play it by ear, I told him, but our first mission was at the second bench, where the friendliest chipmunk comes to sit on the bench and eat out of our hands. And, earlier in the day, the chickadees also.

If I had any doubt he would be enthralled, those concerns faded quickly. The pictures tell it all, including two other little visitors who joined Kordan with the critters.


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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving made new friends, and each having had a turn to feed the chipmunks, we packed up to head back. We made it half way before we met some more friends. This time they were adults. I was proud of Kordan, who waited patiently as we chatted.

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It all started when she noticed I had a camera, “Oh…you have a camera!” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I smiled, “would you like your picture taken?” I said it playfully, but in a way that, if that was what she hoped for, we could transition without the ‘awkward’.

Somehow we got it sorted out… they had seen a bird’s nest, back a few steps, and she thought maybe I’d want to take pictures of it. But, sure, they’d love to have some photos done. What they didn’t know (but will know when they see this blog) is that I had already taken a shot of them looking up into the tree.

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I followed them to the spot, and was able to capture the nest, with the mama bird’s tail peeking out. I returned, later, and she peeked over at me to investigate the intrusion. I was fairly certain it was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but only when she left the nest for a few minutes was that confirmed.

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 I suggested we go to the Ice Cream Caboose, just across the parking lot. Kordan preferred a OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We chatted about the many wonderful pictures, and for some reason I mentioned the excitement of the previous day, of being able to capture three different kinds of Mennonite cultures. The gentleman then asked if I knew how many different ones there are, whether it is three, or six…

I said probably closer to fifty. We talked quite a while about that, and I told them that I had been three different kinds myself, and knew many others.  About the Amish, I recommended they purchase Ira Wagler‘s book, “Growing Up Amish“–a delightful read that offers more than a casual glimpse into a beautiful and fascinating culture.

I took some gorgeous photographs, offered them my blog address–so they could contact me to get copies without my name, (and there’s many more!)–and then we bid them farewell, having made new friends.

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I suggested to Kordan that we visit the Ice Cream Caboose, but he preferred McDonald’s McFlurry. And that is what we did. No healthy lunch food. Just an ice cream McFlurry. I should have known better.

We took the ice cream to go, then drove back to the Dam end of the Mill Race to eat them. When we were all done, and ready to head home, I said we’d need to do this again sometime.  Kordan was quite agreeable.  We’ll go early next time, I said, when all the critters are hungry.

“Sure,” Kordan said, “How about next Wednesday when I am supposed to be in school?”

Haha! Nice try, little man!

“And next time we won’t get the McFlurry,” he said. “It wasn’t that good.”

I didn’t say it… But I’m thinking it will be the Ice Cream Caboose. At least it will be in a wafer cone, and make for some great pictures!

© Trudy Metzger

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So I Skipped Church… Part 2

I had not more than taken that glimpse into young love, when a family happened by. Two energetic teenagers soon climbed up the railway track–or whatever you call the structure holding it up–as mom stood by reminding them to be safe.

I smiled. Boys will be boys. And sometimes girls will be ‘boys’ too… ‘tomboys’… I would have been the first in line to try the shenanigans one day. Too old now, but not too old to remember catapulting from on top of the stable in the barn, as a pre-teen and young teen.

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Mom said something about wishing she had brought a camera just as I offered to take some pictures and we stood there, with our cell phones, exchanging emails to make sure we could connect and get the pictures to them. I took a few of them as a couple, and heard a little tidbit of their story. They told me the pictures would make it all the way to Australia, where he was from, as he would definitely want to share them with his family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI continued on then, to my car, where I sat a while just watching the creatures and the people. An elderly couple, whom I had met on my walk, sat under a tree, resting. (People with their backs turned don’t really count, when it comes to rules about taking pictures…) Though older, he reminded me much of Steve Masterson, and I found myself missing Steve and Jackie who, like Howard and Alice, had a powerful impact on my life, and on Tim’s. They were most delightful conversationalists, and I thought how bitter-sweet it is, to meet people only once and never to really know them.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI snapped a shot of the view we shared, then packed up my camera and headed back to Elmira…

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Tim–who went to church with our boys–texted and asked if I would pick up a coffee at Tim Hortons. A double-double. As I pulled in, an Old Order gentleman walked out, carrying his tray of coffees. Across the parking lot, two friends waited–one on a buggy, one on a bike. I make exceptions about taking pictures of people where there are horses and/or buggies involved. Or bikes. (Okay… I just made that up, but hey, it works.)

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After picking up Tim’s coffee, I did the final jaunt home. Nicole had baked the ‘Potato Flake Sourdough Bread’ that I had put in pans the night before. (An outstanding ‘friendship bread’ type recipe that I was given starter for this week, and we all love. I wish I didn’t… I’d rather stay away from bread.)

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My heart was full. I met God in ways and places that are as beautiful as worshipping Him in a traditional church service. I value and believe in the importance of believers gathering together to worship God, as a God-family, but maybe salvation and ‘measuring up’ are not so closely linked to the ‘where and the how’ as we might imagine.

I’m not like the pastor who proudly announced that he never missed church a day in his adult life–not even when his wife had given birth the day before. I’ve missed church when nobody in my life gave birth and nobody was sick… I just played hookie. And not only once. I’ve done it  a few times for no reason at all. Quite a few. And I’ve done it because church was too difficult when hard times caused me to struggle and I didn’t feel safe with people….

And that thought takes me back to the beginning of my little escapade…

Just off of our street, shortly after Barnswallow Street turns to Whipperwill, is the most gorgeous apple tree. I had stopped there on my way out, to capture the apple blossoms. As I contemplated how life, with all of its bumps and scrapes, seems at times to contradict the promises of God, I thought of one of those photos, and that is the extent of my ‘morning sermon’ that I would like to leave with you, in the form of this picture.

God's PromisesGod does not lie. His promises are forever. And, as some of my dreams are coming true, I remember the many times I doubted and struggled. Times I was sure God used me as a pawn in a giant chess game. But always He has carried me through–sometimes kicking and screaming–but always with purpose and destiny.

Wherever you find yourself in your journey with God, and no matter how difficult it is to keep believing in Him and His purposes, hold on to the truth of His promises.

© Trudy Metzger

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So I Skipped Church… Part 1

I reckon this post is going to make a few people want to scold me… (Feel free… my email is trudy-dot-metzger-at-rogers-dot-com… or post it in the comments.) ….Going for a walk on a beautiful Sunday morning, when I should/could be sitting in church. Especially with being in ministry and all.

But, to be perfectly honest, I had no inclination to go sit anywhere for any length of time, listening to anyone, no matter how gifted, how eloquent, how sincere…or, perhaps–though far less likely–completely broken.

It is broken and quiet I long for these days–if not broken, then quiet. Sit me down with a struggling Christian, the homeless, a prostitute, even a murderer, and suddenly my heart is at home. (Yes, I have sat with murderers. Very nice ones, too, who in a moment of desperation killed someone because they snapped. One of them has slipped into glory and, I have no doubt, is dancing with Jesus… or waiting for that dance in some ‘intermediate state of sleep’, depending on who is right on that ever-debated theological  view. (Not that either one is of great consequence… if she’s sleeping, she needed a rest, if she’s dancing and singing, she is in everlasting wakeful bliss. Either way God isn’t much going to ask our opinions on the matter.)

But that is just the kind of thing I was in no space to listen to, or even some neat and tidy sermon or good Christian testimony, when I could go walking with God, enjoy creation and perhaps meet some of His children, out on that same trail.

It isn’t that I don’t love a good sermon. I really do. In fact, having attended the Gospel Express fundraiser on Saturday evening, I already had a wonderful message to contemplate.  Two, really.

Chaplin Rosemary Redshaw spoke first, sharing stories of how God works in prison. One young man, in segregation on charges of murder, wanted to meet with her. When she went in, she took a Bible and prayed for him, at his request, after hearing his story. The young man could barely read, but she left the Bible any way. She didn’t see him often, after she was replaced in that department.  Eighteen months later she was asked to go see him again, and to her amazement, he had taught himself to read and had accepted Christ. The fearful young man who had greeted her that first encounter, was no more. He had grown strong and confident. What was most amazing, to me, is that he was innocent of the crime, and acquitted. Now that’s a testimony! An innocent man, goes to prison to be set free from bondage.

She told other stories of how God moved among inmates, and encouraged the audience to continue to support Prison Ministries.

Melvin Kuepfer was asked to share next and, as he did, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully again. I don’t know the man. Not more than who he is. But I know some of his children, though not well, and have met his wife and find myself always drawn to her.  He shared an overview of a seminar they teach in prison, offering four 2-hour sessions.

I found myself wishing he could launch into all four, right then, and give us the eight hours of teaching. I would have sat there a long while hearing the kind of truth he shared. The kind that is direct, gentle, Holy Spirit-filled and life-changing.

But it was a bit like that friend who lets you ‘taste’–meaning one little lick–their lollipop or some treat, when you’re a kid and that’s all you get…

As they walk away, leaving you with the desire for a lollipop of your own, all you’re left with is that bit of sweetness, and the awareness that there are more, somewhere, just beyond your reach.

And that is just what happened… I dreamed of ways to get him to teach these sessions… Maybe in our home… Rent a room in a church… I thought of the many people I know and work with, who would drink deep from that well of truth.

My heart was challenged and filled as I left home at 10:30 for my walk on Sunday morning. And, at the Mill Race, the world was peaceful. Few creatures scurried about at that hour. Maybe they had gathered for their own service, and only a few rebels, like me, played hookie.

I met Howard and Alice, the couple who took me in when I was a hurting twenty year old. We spoke for a few moments, and parted ways. I walked to my favourite place, the bench where I spend time with a little chipmunk every time I walk the Mill Race. I had different shoes on yesterday, and he wasn’t too sure about me…. Sniffed my shoes and took off like a bullet, but returned after a bit and joined me on the bench again. Only one chickadee showed up. The rest must be more religious about services.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a bit of quiet time, just sitting in the sunshine watching a few critters and all the people walking by, I wandered back toward my car, leaving seeds on various tree stumps, as I walked along.

I stopped at the railway track to put down some seeds, when a young couple walked by. I hadn’t planned to–because I mostly don’t take pictures of people, out of respect–but as this young couple walked away, their sweet young love drew me in, and I found myself sneaking some shots. Later, when they returned, I made a confession and told them where to find the pictures. That assuaged my conscience quite a lot, and I didn’t make any silent promises never to do it again.

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The first picture was a bit blurry. How appropriate. It is just like life and love. We start out with slightly blurred vision, when it comes to relationships. Some go so far as to say Love is blind, but I disagree. It’s only blurred vision. And maybe that is just as well, or most of us would be single for the rest of our lives. None of us are perfect and if we focused too much on it before being madly in love and deeply committed, we would never make it. I hope this couple never loses that closeness, even if, now and then in life, they drift apart for a moment as in the third picture.

To Be Continued

© Trudy Metzger

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An Unusual Friendship

I didn’t intend to do a blog so soon… and not a picture blog… But this morning I went for a walk while my family was still asleep. I thought about our walking path, right here in Elmira, but it is the trees and the river at the Mill Race in St. Jacobs that draws me back. So I packed my camera in my car and headed out to my favourite place.

When I first arrived, the trails were mostly empty. I met one or two in the first fifteen minutes or so. And that’s the way I like it, when I want to listen to the birds and watch the little creatures, scampering here and there.

I do like the people on the trail…  They are a very friendly bunch. I even observed a poster inviting ‘friends from the Mill Race’ to a memorial service for a gentleman who frequented the trails.  I’m not a ‘regular’ and didn’t know him. For me it is a sporadic thing, and mostly it’s in the spring when I find myself drawn there, with a camera. And I’m not really a photographer either, even as a hobby. That’s a bit of a spring thing too.

I love critters of almost every sort, and spring is the perfect time to capture them. The woods are not too overgrown with leaves, making them easy to spot. And at the Mill Race the critters are pretty friendly too, I discovered, first thing in the morning.

It took me off guard, at first, as I’ve seldom been out so early. First I spotted a cardinal. Unfortunately I couldn’t get close enough for a clear shot, but managed to get a reasonable one at a distance.

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I hadn’t wandered far, before I came upon a friendly little chipmunk. Of all the little creatures in the woods, they are my favourite. If it were an option, I would have one or two as pets. Or maybe a whole family of them. The one I met this morning was unusually friendly, almost as though it was pursuing me, rather than the other way around.

I spotted it first by a stump, as it scurried to the top, as if posing for a few shots, before scampering back down. I tiptoed closer, until I stood right in front of that stump. To my surprise it didn’t run away. It peeked around one side, then ran to the other, before disappearing behind the stump again, only to reappear at the top. It was a delightful little game of hide-and-seek, and I couldn’t tell who was having more fun. Little did I realize, as I would discover in moments, that he expected me to serve breakfast.

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I was leaning in for a nice close-up, when I was startled by a little bird, trying to land on my camera. I’ve never walked the Mill Race that early, as I said, but I have walked it many times and have never had little creatures try to befriend me. Thanks to the little bird, I missed that shot of the chipmunk, and focused on it instead.

A little chickadee. I’ve always loved them. They are such happy little birds and friendlier than almost any others. As a youngster I managed to catch one, and bring it home as a pet I put it in our basement for safe keeping but didn’t account for our one cat finding its way in. I watched in horror as the trapped bird became lunch. I took me a long time to forgive Tiger for that.  I’ve never held a chickadee again, since that day…. until this morning.

I couldn’t get a good picture of it, so I walked a bit further, to a bench, where I intended to sit a while, just to watch and listen. Before I got there, several chipmunks caught my attention.

Behind me, on the trail, two women walked slowly. I assumed they were trying to be polite, so as not to disturb whatever creature I was trying to photograph, so I motioned–without really looking at them–that they could continue walking. When they didn’t seem to move, I looked up to tell them not to worry about noise. Instead, I saw one woman holding out her hand, with a chickadee in it. They were still a distance away, so I zoomed in. 
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIntrigued, I walked closer and took another shot. We chatted for a few minutes and one of the women wondered if I would post the picture on the Mill Race. I told her I could do one better and share them on my blog–which is why I am blogging again so soon, about photos–and they could see them here. After I gave them my blog address, they posed for a picture then, offered me some of the bird seed, and with that we parted ways. (And, if you lovely ladies do stop by my blog, please drop me a line. I’d love to hear that you found your pics.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy pocket filled with bird seed, I returned to the bench. I perched my camera on my shoulder, zoomed in for some close shots, and then, with my hand stretched out and filled with bird seed, I waited. And I didn’t have long to wait.  The pictures tell all…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA jealous little chipmunk scurried up the bench beside me, and almost before I knew it was there, I had it eating out of my hands.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chickadee stayed in a tree, only a few feet away, while the greedy little chipmunk finished off the rest of the seeds, then ran off again. I reached in my pocket, filled my hand with seeds again, and soon two chipmunks peeked around corners again, as chickadees fluttered around me, each trying to work up the courage to come back for more.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe chickadees came first, and took turns eating. They were all quite polite about it, other than spitting out the corn. When they left, I filled my hand again, and the little chipmunk returned one more time to stuff its cheeks.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy battery, which lasts for days at a time, decided at just that moment to die. My back-up pack only lasts a few minutes, so the fun was over.

It is the beginning of an unusual friendship… one I intend to invest in, as I am able. In my pocket I had a few more seeds. I placed them on a stump and headed for my car.

As fate would have it, with a dead battery, I missed the best shot of the morning. I blue-jay landed not far from my car, perched on a branch out in the open. A perfect shot.  But before I could snap the picture, my back up batter pack died. I was bummed. Blue-jays are not much to speak of, when it comes to personality, but they are so beautiful! I replaced the dead back up pack with the main battery pack and noticed it has a bit of life again.  By this time the blue-jay had moved into a tree. Not as clear, but still decent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was nothing left to do but to head home and recharge. And, speaking of recharging… I needed a little energy myself, so I slipped over to Tim Hortons for a little recharging of my own…

© Trudy Metzger

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A Picture Blog… “Close to Home”

Sometimes words fail. Like this last week…. There are things I want to write about… things I want to tell you, but the time isn’t right. And so I wait, in silence… patiently, or impatiently… until I am free to express and share…

In the meantime, I spent hours this week wandering through the beautiful wooded area of the Mill Race at St Jacobs. It was there, on a snowy night, where Tim and I admitted our love for each other, to ourselves… It is there we made a promise to wait until marriage for sexual intercourse… It is there we named our first baby, on that same night…

And it is the Mill Race where I go to be alone with God and nature… to wander and enjoy the peace and wonder of who He is, even when He seems silent, or far away. It is where I go when my heart feels lost and empty… when I am devastated or angry…. or any other reason that might make me feel the need to be alone.

This week I went to still my restless heart and enjoy the tranquillity  of God’s creation.  And then I wandered some other places and took more pictures…

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© Trudy Metzger

 

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Return to First Blog: September 2010, “Running on Empty”

 

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