Remind me how much I loved weeds and bugs as a child.  I seem to remember writing something about that in an earlier post.  I just about had my fill of weeds and bugs on this trip to St. Francis of the Woods.

I have always loved the outdoors, but I have also always loved being comfortable.  Trudging through waste high, sometimes head high, weeds for a couple of hours, bugs surrounding me, checking me out at close range, stretched my idyllic view of the outdoors to the limit.

I remember walking the woods at my parents’ place in Northern Illinois, loving everything but the deer flies.  They kept me from idealizing the outdoors beyond reality.  Then there was the Poison Ivy.  The world of nature can be a hostile place.

This trip to St. Francis of the Woods was different from the last few times I have gone.  When possible, I usually go after the first frost and before the bugs have come out in the spring.  Cool and crisp air, dried weeds and clear skies have welcomed me the last few years.  This time it was warm, muggy and cloudy.

With that introduction, you might suspect that this trip was not a good experience.  It was.  First of all, while I am concerned for the environment and the well-being of all creatures, insects included, it seems to me that the person who invented the insect repellent Deet should be awarded the Medal of Honor.  I was not bitten by one mosquito, nor did I find one tick on my body, and while the bugs were everywhere, when they landed on me, they didn’t stay for long.

One benefit of coming at this time of the year was that there were flowers everywhere.  The sights were beautiful.  The flowers drew butterflies.  There were all sorts of butterflies of different sizes and colors.  Every once in a while one or two would land on me as I walked through the weeds.  There was one particular species that caught my eye.  It was probably a Fritillary, but I am way outside of my comfort zone in naming a butterfly other than a very few.  It was fairly large, and the brightest, almost, iridescent orange.  There might be as many as three flying around one another in a cluster.

There are now a couple of bee hives at the corner of one of the fields that I walk through.  I gave them a fairly wide berth.  Through the binoculars, I could see hundreds of bees flying in and out and all around the hives.  I am not particularly fearful of bees, but I didn’t want to have any unnecessary encounters by moving into their home territory.  I noticed as I walked through a nearby field, that the flowers were covered with bees.  St. Francis should have a great harvest of honey when the time comes.

The first evening’s trip through the woods provided no bird sightings at all.  The next day, there was more activity.  I was snorted at by some deer hiding in the woods as I walked by.  At one point a couple of does ran through the weeds in front of me from the woods on one side to the woods on the other.  There were a couple of groups of White Pelicans flying overhead, appearing to be headed the wrong direction for a fall migration.

It was hard to find a spot to put my three legged stool so that I could read a bit.  I didn’t want to be completely buried among the weeds.  I managed to find a spot with short enough weeds that I could sit, eat an apple and then read a very few pages.  The muggy, warm air and flying bugs around my sweaty brow made it uncomfortable enough to discourage me from staying long. I did catch sight of a flock of Common Nighthawks going by.  They are not often seen in the daytime except when passing through in the spring and fall.  Nighthawks are in a family of birds called Goatsuckers.  I just get a kick out of knowing that and saying the word “Goatsuckers.”  I need to check online some time to find out how that name was chosen for them.  I wonder if it had anything at all to do with goats?

I walked down to a newly discovered pond very close to the cottage I was staying in.  The pond was sort of ugly and messy looking, very small.  I saw a large turtle sunning itself when I came closer to the pond.  It slid into the water since I was too close for comfort.  I looked at the water through the binoculars to see if I could locate more turtles under the water.  Then I saw him.  I can’ t really know for sure how big he was, since he was just under the water at the edge of the pond nearest me.  The light refracting through the water can make something look bigger than it is.  It was a Snapping Turtle that appeared to be close to two feet long and a foot and a half wide.  He looked far too big to be living in such a small pond.  I watched him for a long time, and when he moved, I was glad he turned away and moved down farther into the pond.  I would not have been interested in him coming my way.

The most meaningful and valuable time on this retreat was the four and a half hours of catching up with a friend from the Oklahoma City area that I hadn’t seen in over thirteen years.  I have to say that John is as close a friend as I have ever had in my six and a half decades.  During the nine years in Oklahoma City, John and I spent many hours early in the morning at Ingrid’s German Deli talking about our faith and journey we were on living it out, John caring for Sherrie, dying of Cancer, and me dealing with the impact of Mary Ann’s Parkinson’s on our household.

When I went on ahead of the family to start serving the congregation in Bethany, Oklahoma, I lived for five months with John and Sherrie, and their children, Hope and Joel.  I cannot imagine more gracious hosts.  Their spirituality was a marvel to behold.  I have been around lots of folks who are committed to their faith, and sharing it with others.  John and Sherrie did it with such genuineness and humility that those around them never were made to feel inferior.

I had the privilege of ministering to and being ministered to by Sherrie as the Cancer entered her life and became the means through which she touched the lives of so many on her way to her death — and life with the Lord on the other side of death.  I had the additional privilege of conducting her funeral, attended by so many that the Sanctuary couldn’t hold them.

If that was not enough, I had the joy of performing the marriage of John and Peggy, as each was led to the other at precisely the right time to begin building a new life together.  It was refreshing to hear how their spirituality has grown and how their life together has unfolded in the years between then and now.

Not only did the retreat provide the refreshment that comes from engaging the natural world at close range, being fed by a meaningful friendship, but I probably accumulated almost twenty-four hours of uninterrupted sleep in those two nights.  This morning there was a gentle rain with soft rumbles of thunder on occasion in the background, providing the perfect setting for lying in bed, sort of semi-conscious, just savoring the moment.

All went well with Mary Ann while I was gone.  Daughter Lisa had some good quality time with her Mom, and Son Micah, Becky and Chloe were able to come over so that we could eat Pizza together tonight.

The time away provided the opportunity to think through how things are going for Mary Ann and me.  As always, there has come a renewed resolve to be more effective as a Caregiver.  Whether that resolve will result in any changes in what I do and how I do it remains to be seen.

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