Signs of Spring in the woods of Michigan

So many shades of brown on the forest floor after the snow has melted and we await the delicate grace of thousands of trilliums in their orchestra of vibrant green and effusive white.DSC07354.jpg

This is the Leelanau State Park woods on the Cathead Trail today.  As we walked, a few leaves were lifted quietly on a merry little breeze of late winter and danced with a swoosh to a new location not very far away.

I have often thought of this brown-scene-of-late-winter as drab in other years of life.  Surely it is no more than a time of waiting for what will be rather than savoring what is.

Today I held three shades of brown in my hand and encountered beauty in their distinct, diverse, delicacy.  You encounter these three leaves as the “featured image” for this post.  Can you name the trees of these three leaves?

Patricia and I found a few beach stones that called to us with the uniqueness of their personality as we walked along the shore of water and sand in a chilly northwest breeze.

Leelanau State Park - Cathead - March 19, 2016.jpg

The water was shades green and blue unique for me to Lake Michigan.

bright sun silvering the tree limbs - Cathead Trail - March 19, 2016.jpg

The sky was awash in blue that went on and on and on. . .   Tree limbs were painted white with the brush of the sun’s brilliance.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday.  We have been, in anticipation of this day and Holy Week, worshiping-in-the-round at Trinity Church UCC in Northport, MI, all the weeks of Lent.

Saturday afternoon before Palm Sunday the last Sunday of Worship-in-the-round  with the Circle of God's love as our center - at least for now - March 19, 2016.jpg  anticipating Lent - 2016 -  the table of God's forgiving love.jpg   anticipating Lent - 2016.jpg

It has been good.

Among our guides through these weeks has been Eric Elness by way of his book Gifts of the Dark Wood.

We have gathered with the Circle of God’s Love and Light in the center of our worship space.

Over the weeks of Lent:

  • we have entrusted our worries and wonderments to the Circle.
  • we have offered our emptiness to the Circle.
  • we have left stories of our encounter with Awe within the Circle.
  • our hungers (that for which we search) have been nourished from within the Circle.
  • we have left within the Circle the number  of just one of the Phoenix Affirmations as we confronted our temptation to want to do it all and to be every good thing.  We chose just one, yes, just one Affirmation to work on this whole week long.
  • tomorrow we will wave our palms as we sing, and maybe as we pray too.  We’ll take some moments to remember a person or a group that have encouraged us for the journey when the way has been arduous and steep and wearying and unfamiliar and scary and dark and transforming . . . and we will either literally or symbolically etch the name of that person or group onto one of the leaves of our palm frond and we’ll leave that leaf in the Circle of God’s Love and Light.  Those very palms will be transformed for our Lenten beginning on Ash Wednesday in 2017.  The stories within us tomorrow will be worn on the exterior of all of us as we are marked once again with ash and oil on March 1, 2017.  Mourning and healing, that is the work of Lent for people of faith.  Letting go in order to take hold.

Yes, and tomorrow, on Palm Sunday morning, we will encounter Eric Elness’ translation of Matthew 4:17:  “Change your whole way of thinking!  Heaven is already here!”

I said, among other things, at the Lenten Soup Supper on Thursday night at St. Christopher’s Episcopal,  “Everyone agrees that America is polarized, with ever-hardening positions held by people less and less willing to listen to one another. No one agrees on what to do about it.”  (from a review of Adam Hamilton’s book, Seeing Grey in a World of Black and White)

Eric Elness has this to say about what we as people of faith need to do and be in these days:

What follows are twelve characteristics that, in my experience, constitute the new foundation of common ground . . . I believe the time is coming when these twelve attributes will be part of what is considered the new “center” by adherents of many faiths.


  1.  They are letting go of the notion that their particular faith is the only legitimate one on the planet . . .
  2. They are letting go of literal and inerrant interpretations of their most sacred Scriptures while celebrating the unique treasures that their Scriptures contain . . .
  3. They are letting go of the notion that people of faith are called to dominate nature . . .
  4. They are letting go of empty worship conventions and an overemphasis on doctrines as tools of division and exclusion . . .


  1.  They are letting go of racial prejudice and narrow definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity . . .  
  2. They are letting go of an understanding that people of faith should only interest themselves in the spiritual well-being of people . . .
  3. They are letting go of the desire to impose their particular version of faith on the wider society . . .
  4. They are letting go of the old rivalries between ‘liberal, moderate, conservative’ branches of their faith . . .


  1. They are letting go of notions of the afterlife that are dominated by judgement of ‘unbelievers’ . . .
  2. They are letting go of the notion that faith and science are incompatible . . .
  3. They are letting go of the notion that one’s work and one’s spiritual path are unrelated . . . 
  4. They are letting go of old hierarchies that privilege religious leaders over laypeople . . .

Yes, we have much dissonance, discord, disagreement, disease in our midst.

In another time when another people also knew of anger, oppression, ugliness, and lack of justice the writer of the book of Matthew wrote that heaven is already here in some significant and meaningful way.

I believe that to be true now as it was then.

I saw a bit of heaven today as I looked at the deep blue sky through the barren limbs of trees painted white by the brush of the light of sun.   I tasted a bit of heaven today as I held those three leaves, in varying shades of brown, in my hand to photograph for you.  I smelled heaven today on the water.  I heard heaven today in the rustle of the leaves moving from here to there as they serve as blankets for the the beauty of trilliums yet to blossom.  I felt a bit of heaven today with Patricia’s hand in mine as we breathed tenderness for each other, our families, Trinity Church UCC and Northport, for our nation, for all the world, and for the cosmos beyond.  It is a tenderness that is in the woods-preparing-its-way-for-Spring.

Shall we let go?  Shall we let go of mean-spirited ugliness?  Shall we let go of hatred?  Shall we let go of anger at one another?  Shall we let go of hard-headedness, hard-heartedness?  Shall we let go of violence?  Shall we let go of  brokenness?   Shall we let go of despair?

in the front yard of the parsonage - ahhhh spring's delicate beauty..jpg

Shall we take hold of the good news of Light within the Circle of God’s Steadfast Love?

It is heavenly.

It is here and now!

Wanna know more?

Take a walk soon in the woods.

Hold three shades of late winter brown in your hand.

You just read what happened there to me.

Write to me of what you see, taste, smell, hear, feel, whoever you are and in whatever woods you walk on your pilgrimage in these days and nights.



Published by philandpatricia

we live in Northport, MI

11 thoughts on “Signs of Spring in the woods of Michigan

  1. I have always said you should put your thoughts and pictures into a book to share with all. Inspiring! Jan

  2. Your observations are so inspiring–and need to be in a book accompanied by the gorgeous pictures! Jan

  3. Wonderful post, Phil and Patricia. I felt my own bit of heaven yesterday when I went on my first photography road trip of the spring. I ended up at Empire Beach for a glorious sunset that could only be termed as heavenly. Karen

  4. Dear Phil and Patricia,What a thought provoking writing, as always! The late fall and early spring woods are always so interesting…….and beautiful, and, yes, holy. I used to really dislike it, because it was so “bare”, and sad to me. About 10 years ago, I looked anew at the woods in this unadorned state. It seems to me, this woods is a little like aging or “being old”. Those qualities that are so popular in our culture….beauty because of physical attributes and the appearance of Youth ultimately fades and changes.. When THAT is gone, or going, you can really see the true person and its character and wisdom….you can see what is under all of those youthful “decorations” When the leaves and most of the ferns are gone, you can see the “real” woods…..the lay of the earth with it’s dips and elevations, the rolling hills, the shape of the downed trees, and you focus on the interesting tree trunks, and the height of the trees themselves. Without the decorations of leaves and all the other foliage, you see the true woods, and you can better view that deep blue sky above those bare branches. Today when Ben and I were hiking with the dogs at Kehl’s Lake, I took special note of all the shades of brown, too…… Thank you for this wonderful blog. And for all of your extra “Lenten work” which has been such a special time for us.


    1. Yes, Terry, “the dips and elevations, the rolling hills, the shape of the downed trees . . . the interesting tree trunks, the height of the trees themselves . . . that deep blue sky above those branches.” Thanks for your thoughtful words about our aging. I wrote this line to two friends in another community this week: “We are living in a treasured, vulnerable, and precious time in these years of our later lives, are we not?” Keep on!

  5. I walked in those same woods Sunday afternoon, from my house to the park, to the orange trail and the blue trail and back to the orange trail and home, noting the changes since I had last made that big circuit. I saw trees blown over in that fearful August windstorm, and others newly broken in last week’s winds: a splintered white pine, its pale shard against that fierce blue sky. These are reminders that the woods are not static; they live, are wounded, and survive. Sunday is Easter, and we shall tell each other “Christ has risen!” Christ is alive. None of us is static; we all are alive in this fine world.

    1. Thank you, Sarah, for your articulate, observant eye and words . . . “that fierce blue sky.” There are such deep wounds among us . . . and we are not static. Sunday is Easter. Thank you for walking the magnificent Leelanau State Park trail and for your wisdom.

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