Updated: Apr 16
Local pastors have been sending out thoughts and meditations via email each morning over the past few weeks. The other day, the topic was “Bucket Lists”. *
“If you stop looking forward to whatever it is you can do when this is over, what gifts are present on this day?” asks Jim in his devotional writing.
One gift that I have been grateful for during this “Covid Confinement" has been the time to reflect on past experiences. For me, travel always provides opportunities to gather memories; and memories are "gifts that keep on giving”, especially if they are in the form of photos.
So ...... if you have all of your socks organized, and your spices alphabetized, and if whatever other tasks you feel compelled to complete are finished, then perhaps you will allow yourself the time to enjoy some photographs and stories in this third set of "reflections" today!
3. Bucket List
I rarely have a “Bucket List” when I am out wandering; I prefer to carry an empty “bucket”, and remain open to all of the gifts that might be sent my way! When we made our trip to Arizona, however, there were a few critters that I was hoping to find. One was the beautiful Burrowing Owl, which has been placed on the “Endangered” list in Canada, its population having been reduced by approximately 95% in our country over the last decades. These birds, unlike other Owls, live in burrows in the ground, and there is a small park in Arizona that has been modified to include tunnels for them. Burrowing Owls that are in danger of being bulldozed (as development continues at a rapid pace) are trapped, and brought here to start a new life. They are kept in a large tent-like structure that is equipped with tunnels, for about a month, then released in the hope that they will stay in this “safe” area. On the day that we visited, there were 2 Owls in the exclosures, but none in the wild around the burrows. Fortunately, I was staying with a group of golfers who informed me that there had been several Burrowing Owls on the golf course that they had played that day. So, early one morning, well before “tee-times”, we parked on the edge of the course, and walked quietly in to a small culvert that was surrounded by long grass. Almost immediately, a Burrowing Owl popped out, and flew to the crest of a hill for a few moments, where he sat watching me.
I only stayed long enough to take a few quick shots, then backed off to give him time to feed before the golfers descended on his yard for the day. A short distance away, another Burrowing Owl sat in the bright morning sun, in a small patch of longer vegetation. (I think it looks like one of those “nesting dolls” that you take apart and find smaller ones inside!) This must be a favourite resting spot -- look at all the feathers from preening and primping.
Its mate was hunting, but quickly flew in when it saw us, and they huddled together.
Check out the long legs that enable these Owls to run along the ground quickly.
Again, we stayed only a few moments, but left feeling elated at having caught a glimpse of these treasures. Most definitely one of the highlights of the trip!
From the golf course, we headed North toward Sedona, through some amazing country.
I had feared that Sedona would be a tourist-y, crowded area, but I was so wrong. There is a commercial strip that we avoided, and headed out of town to find some of the best hiking trails I have ever had the privilege of walking. And the views......
A cathedral has been built into the face of the rock, and tourists gather here daily (or they did pre-Covid!) to sit in the pews, light a candle, and admire the architecture, engineering, and art of this structure;
but far more impressive to me were the views when we exited the church...
These non-human accomplishments, impossible to adequately capture with a camera, were the inspiring, take-your-breath-away vignettes that almost brought me to tears.
Driving from Sedona to Flagstaff, we stopped at a small viewing area, and I was excited to see my first-ever Acorn Woodpecker in the trees across the road. It was a very brief look at a bird moving quickly, but a wonderful sighting. (Not a great pic, but ...proof!)
Little Mountain Chickadees, quite distinctive from their Black-capped cousins, zipped around in the Ponderosa Pines near Flagstaff, where the temperature was much cooler.
We headed North from Flagstaff, past the volcanic peaks and through Pine forests,
into a more semi-desert landscape once again. After a long drive through arid countryside, we drove into Grand Canyon National Park.
The Grand Canyon was another destination that has never been high on my list of “must-sees” --- but it should have been! I was expecting huge crowds, and a more “Niagara Falls-ish” tourist attraction. Apparently the summer months are much busier than late winter days. We saw plenty of people, but there were still many spots where we could simply stand and stare in awe. “Grand" it certainly is!
It never ceases to amaze me that people will risk their lives by climbing over the railing, down a rock face, and stand on the edge of a precipice.... for a selfie! Apparently tourists die every year doing this.
I was quite content to stay behind the railing (!) and enjoy the views, especially in the early evening as the sun was setting.
The mighty Colorado River flows through the canyon, but is barely visible in most spots.
In the moments before nightfall, these formations reminded me of some mystical village...
It was interesting to see the creatures that live on the edge of barrenness. Along the border of a nearby parking lot, 3 Western Bluebirds, with their rusty backs, fed hungrily,
and rested in the small trees in the late afternoon.
A tiny Juniper Titmouse foraged in the leaf litter.
Another fast mover, the Bushtit fed upside down in the evergreens.
And I thought of words that were quoted in another devotional that was sent out a few weeks ago:
“...whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things...” **
I don’t think it gets much “purer” or more “pleasing” than this little gem:
or this Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay that flew in, grabbed a seed, and perched so obligingly...
or this Rock Squirrel taking a few moments to enjoy the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
May we all find some measure of peace in the present times, as we “think on these things”, and allow their “excellence” to comfort and calm us.
The natural world has the potential to inspire and encourage us in our days of self-isolation, personal distancing, and Covid-fear. Creation surrounds us with gifts for the here-and-now, and a sense of “all’s right with the world” in chaotic times. In the middle of a pandemic, items that might have appeared on our "Bucket Lists" a few months ago are rethought. Having tea with a friend, laughing together with loved ones over a meal, walking into a grocery store and finding food for the week (and stopping frequently to visit!), greeting one another with a hug or a handshake: these are some of the things that I long to experience again. And I would very much like it if all of us were able to come out on the other side, sane and healthy.
In the meantime, we will do our best to "stay safe and stay home”. If we need to go out to the grocery store or for a medical appointment, into places where there will be other humans, we will be sure to carefully maintain a safe distance from them.
And, like the Burrowing Owl, we will wear our masks! Choose one that covers your bill better than this one does...
I add my gratitude to the many expressions that have been offered already, to all of the people who do not have the privilege of being able to self-isolate during this crisis. You folks deserve “hero status” for all you do every day.
Thanks also to the “inspirers and encouragers” among us, who find ways to keep us centred emotionally and spiritually during these bizarre times.
* From “Devotional Day 21”, by Jim Loepp Thiessen
**From Philippians 4:8-9, referenced in “Devotional Day 17”, by Anita Schroeder Kipfer