Some men stumble through life without really noticing anything around them. They only exist, they don’t really live. Among them are those who think they have to wait until they have enough money to buy life, fools who believe the slick lies of the add slogans. Some keep looking for just the right person who will take them by the hand and lead them to it. Some are so convinced that life should be avoided that they drink themselves into unconsciousness or use drugs to buy themselves a ticket to a world that isn’t real and can’t last. Many race ahead on the road of life desperate to see if fulfillment lies around the next bend in the road, oblivious to the bird song and the wildflowers and the lisping chatter of children. Millions have to have their daily fix of entertainment and information. If they turn off the TV or radio or computer or video game they can’t handle the silence. They have input but not life.
Others seem to have a thirst for life. They are alert to everything around them. They plan to participate not observe. They came to play not sulk around the sidelines and shuffle home.
On a small dairy farm among the rolling farmsteads of central-eastern Ohio lives a man named David Kline. He is one such man. He has a special love for nature and keen powers of observation. A few years ago I discovered his book. It was an experience to enjoy. It is a collection of nature observations laced with conservation and memoir, philosophy and religion. It reads like a cool summer’s evening on the porch. I have read and re-read it, some aloud to the family, usually a chapter at a time in the evening when I want something engaging that doesn’t require a great deal of heavy concentration.
The entire book is written about things he observed on or very near his one hundred-acre farm. His life is simple. No radio. No TV. No computer. No furnace. Just family and farm, neighbors and friends, livestock and wildlife, labor and rest, trees and flowers and especially birds.
It is a little book of essays arranged according to seasons. One vignette describes a winter walk where he notices from markings in the snow where a white-footed mouse fell prey to a hawk. Another details the different characteristics of woods used to warm his family though the winter. My favorite is the true tale of the funeral of a great white oak.
It was a family event, the felling of the tree. With a deafening crash the majestic giant settled to the forest floor and then everything was silence as if nature was paying its last respects to the tree. The family gathered around to count the rings, one for each year of growth. Everyone marked their birth year including grandpa on the eighty-second ring. There were 311 rings in the old tree. It took three centuries to grow and fifteen minutes to fell.
Kline says; “For the first time since the late seventeenth century this space in our wood is now open sky.” From an acorn abandoned by a squirrel around 1675, 112 years before the writing of the Constitution on Philadelphia in 1787. In 1875 U.S. Grant was president and the tree celebrated its two-hundredth birthday. It was seventeen inches across at the time. In 1918 the tree became the possession of Kline’s grandfather.
Listen to Kline’s eulogy of the tree;
“The good oak will continue to warm our lives in the years to come. The boards sawn from its sturdy trunk will be used around the farm, and the firewood will warm us to the marrow on the cold winter days and long nights.
“John Donne began one of his seventeenth century sermons by saying that: ‘the ashes of an oak in the chimney are no epitaph of that oak, to tell me how high or how large it was: it tells me not what flocks it sheltered while it stood; nor what men it hurt when it fell.’
“As I scatter the ashes of our oak across the gardens and fields, I believe I knew this oak intimately. Though I was acquainted with the oak only, you might say, through its twilight years, I know how high and how large it was. I saw my first Blackburnian warbler feeding high among its new leaves on a May day many springs ago, and I know that no men were hurt when it fell.”
Can you imagine how many millions of men have dropped a tree without a moment’s thought given to such subtleties? This man loves life and he is living it, not waiting for it to happen when he gets off work or goes on vacation.
Charles Stineman is an elderly man we met where he was playing his fiddle at an outdoor festival. Visiting with him at his county home one day I commented on the size and symmetry of an oak shading the gravel road in front of his house. “It must be old,” I said, looking up at its gnarled, outstretched arms. “It’s younger than me,” he stated flatly, fairly bursting with pride, “I planted it.” To Charles it wasn’t just a tree, it was a story and an achievement and a prized conversation piece. He planted life and watched it grow across the road. Shade and shelter and sustenance for birds and squirrels and men.
Lucy Maud Montgomery, Canadian author of the popular Anne of Green Gables series of books, laces tree observations into almost every chapter of every book. Her stories are filled with evidence that she was alert to living things.
Holly, our ten-year-old, has been going around plucking leaves from the trees for the last couple days and comparing them to the pictures in a book she borrowed from the library. I hope she learns from her childhood to drain every drop from the cup of life.
The wonders of nature alone are awesome. To enjoy physical life is an over-powering privilege. The vast night sky, the love of a woman, the delight of fatherhood, the taste of sweet corn, the sweetness of sleep, the smell of a field of wildflowers, a good book and a summer evening, the rhythm of the seasons, these are just simple joys of physical life. But the myriad joys of physical life are just the mudroom inside the back door of God’s great, immeasurable house.
“Eye has not seen,
nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared
for those who love Him.”
(I Cor. 2:9)
I like what I see. Count me among those who want to enjoy the full experience of life, eternal and abundant! Count me among those who “love Him.” I’m not satisfied to observe, I want to participate!