Splendor in the Grass

It’s a spring evening, cool yet warm.  The grass in the yard is still slightly damp from the rain last night and there are small mud puddles in the drive way.  Watching the neighbor girl, Mylie, and her little sister running barefoot across their yard I think, spring is a great time of year to be a kid.

“Hey!” I holler across to them.  “Don’t you guys know you can only go barefoot on months that don’t have the letter “R” in their name?  What month is this?”

“April! It’s April!” they giggle and jump up and down on cold, red feet. “But it’s almost May and May doesn’t have an “R” in it,” says the shy little sister (I can’t remember her name).

I watch them awhile sitting on our porch step.  The lilac bush next to the house is breaking into bloom and there’s a whiff of perfume in the air.  What game are they playing now?  Mylie’s trying to hit her sister with a big ball.  They must be playing dodge ball. I think about all the ball games my brothers and I played growing up (besides softball). We played “kick the can” using a ball instead of a can, and ball tag, where you didn’t touch your opponent to tag them but instead hit them with a ball.  We also played “cigarette” tag (it was the smokin’ 60’s after all).  If you squatted down quick enough and named a brand of cigarettes, you were safe.  Amazingly, we knew all the brands of cigarettes:  Marlboro, Winston, Pall Mall.  We had a harder time playing “car” tag.  After Ford and Chevy, we had to resort to generic vehicle names like “pick-up” and “station wagon.”

Mylie’s little sister stops suddenly at the side walk edge, and does a cart wheel.  Ah. I enjoy seeing how gracefully she executes her cartwheel, lithe arms and legs rotating in a perfect half circle.  I used to do cartwheels when I was a kid—and round-offs, which were half cart wheels and half flips.

Could I do a cartwheel now?  If I physically survived the attempt, I can see myself swinging through the air, all hips and stomach.  It’s not a pretty picture, and I find myself laughing even considering it.

The neighbor girls begin to chase each other.  It used to be fun to run—when I was little.  Adult running is usually a morning jog, which ironically, we do for our health but end up hurting either our knees or our back.  A jog though, might garner us a small endorphin rush, something besides a martini to beat back the mid-afternoon blues.  Jogging is nothing compared to the absolute joy of running when you’re an eight-year-old.  At that age I never walked anywhere—I ran.  And lovely spring evenings were custom made for running and playing.  We didn’t stop until the last light of day was gone.  Then I’d throw open the screen door and fly into my mom’s kitchen, my nose dripping and my body all chilled from the night air.  Mom would say, “Shut the door! It’s getting cold outside!”  And I’d whine, “It’s hot in here, mom. I’m hungry.”

William Wordsworth, the early 19th century British poet, wrote many poems with childhood and nature as their theme.  He believed in reincarnation and thought that young children, being closer to the event of birth, were more aware of other existences, other lives before birth. As I watch Mylie and her little sister, I’m reminded of a particularly beautiful passage in one of Wordsworth’s poems.  A line in this passage became the title of an old movie, Splendor in the Grass:

“That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight, Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower.  We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.”

Image credit:  Girl Running through Grass

 

 

 

The Baptists and Abortion

In 1971 the Southern Baptist Convention, arguably the leading voice for evangelical Christians, passed a resolution in support of abortion under conditions of “rape, incest, and clear fetal deformity,” and also if there was evidence, “… of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother” (Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1971).  The Convention reaffirmed conditional support for abortion in 1974 a year after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman’s right to abortion (Roe v. Wade)—and again in 1976.  W. A. Criswell, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention was quoted saying in a 1973 issue of Christianity Today, “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person . . . and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”

So, the Baptists, in general, were cautiously supportive of a woman’s right to abortion.

As a former Baptist, I find this fascinating. I grew up in a Baptist church, and I, as well as all of five of my siblings, attended evangelical Christian colleges.  I remember in my young adult Sunday school class discussing “hot topics” along with our usual Bible study.  We talked about the new rock musical, Jesus Christ Superstar and how our Sunday school teacher thought the musical made Jesus seem weak and Judas look like a hero.  My teenage friends and I were so intrigued we wanted to buy the Superstar album immediately.  We also discussed issues like abortion.  What would we do if, God forbid, one of us girls got raped by some creep and became pregnant?  Abortion might be an alternative.  After all, though the Catholics had a problem with abortion, the Baptists didn’t (at least as far as we knew).

Fast forward to last month, March 2019, when James (Micah) Van Huss, a graduate of a Baptist college and a member of the House of Representatives in Tennessee, introduced a bill banning abortion if a fetal heart beat is detected (how you detect a fetal heartbeat is a controversy all by itself).  Let me say now, that I personally would not have a late-term or even a mid-term abortion.  Having said this, I also support a woman’s right to choose.  I far prefer W. A. Criswell’s thoughtful and nuanced observations about women and abortion as opposed to James Van Huss’s legislative attempts to force women to follow his personal code of ethics.

My big question though, is what happened to the Baptists on the topic of abortion?  Why such a drastic change of heart over the years?

According to Randall Balmer, a Christian, and a religion professor at Dartmouth College—politics happened to the Baptists.  Paul Weyrich, a conservative Republican and a Catholic, was looking for an issue to ignite the evangelical voting block in the late 1970’s.  He tried various issues to pique evangelical interest including pornography, school prayer and the proposed equal rights amendment for women.  Finally, the abortion issue seemed to be an exploitable topic, one that could be dramatized in such a way as to evoke emotion (think pictures of dead babies in garbage cans)—and thus, votes.  Suddenly the evangelical community, including and largely the Baptists, became political.

I no longer attend a Baptist church, but if I did, I’d hate to feel my moral positions were the product of political manipulations rather than the Bible. The Bible itself does not speak to the issue of abortion.  It does say though, in Matthew 23:33, to beware “vipers” like the Pharisees, the legalistic religious authorities in Jesus’s time, whom Christ saw as hypocritical.  Abortion is a difficult, private, and painful issue for women.  They do not need the added burden of Pharisees legislating their behavior—and threatening punishment if they don’t act in ways they deem responsible.

Image Credit: Baptists  

Snake River Canyon

There are certain places we visit so many times in our life—maybe a hill in a park or a bridge we cross every day to get to work—they become meaningful to us. The Snake River Canyon near my home is such a place for me.  I’ve hiked the canyon dozens, maybe hundreds of times over the years.  On today’s hike, I’m reminded how pretty the canyon is in the spring.  At its neck, I’m greeted by a vista of green, desert grasses lining the canyon walls.  I’m always amazed to see the canyon, brittle brown most of the year, turn Easter egg green for a brief week or two in the spring.

I remember the first time I really looked at the canyon and noticed how beautiful it was.

I was newly married and had just moved to a desert farm with my husband.  One morning we had a big fight, and I was so angry I took a walk back in the canyon just to cool off.

I barely saw where I was going, my eyes were so blurred with tears. But slowly I became aware of how lovely and quiet the trail was.  Before long, my fury was all gone, lost in the peaceful canyon wilderness.

The walls of the Snake River Canyon were shaped by the flooding of ancient Lake Idaho and Lake Bonneville thousands of years ago.  Now the Snake River runs along the bottom. I look to my right, hearing the river as it winds its way down through the canyon floor.  I’m not able to see the river though, the Russian olive trees along the bank are too dense.  Several years ago on one of my canyon hikes with our family dog, Lindsey, we walked by a particularly dark, deep stand of Russian olive trees.  Lindsey peered into the woods and suddenly went berserk, barking wildly.

“What is it girl?  What’s wrong?” I asked her, trying unsuccessfully to calm her down.

It wasn’t until she abruptly backed away from the trees and started mewling piteously, that I became afraid myself.

My mind flashed on a book I’d recently read, a Stephen King horror thriller, The Tommyknockers I think, about a dog who’d dug up something in the woods: an evil, alien, space object.  I didn’t think there was anything from outer space in that Russian olive thicket, but there might be a wild animal on the other side, drinking from the river.  Cougars were not unheard of back in the canyon.  I called Lindsey and we quickly made tracks back out of the canyon.

As peaceful as the canyon is most of the time, this was not my only scare, hiking in it.  One time I decided to climb up the canyon wall, about 450 feet, to get a view of the valley below.  Half way up, I bent over to look at a black sliver of obsidian laying in the dirt.  I didn’t want to miss finding a possible arrow head.  Then I heard the unmistakable “ping” of a bullet hitting rock not too far from me.  My head snapped around to search behind and below me.  Who was shooting at the rim rock?   I couldn’t see anyone down near the river.

Maybe ten seconds later I heard another ping of a bullet, this one sending rock flying above me. Were they shooting at me?

I didn’t stay around to find out, but started skidding down the side of the canyon wall as fast as I could, stumbling over sagebrush and basalt rocks as I went. I never found out who the shooter was, but after that, I always made sure I wore a bright cap on my head when I hiked in the canyon.

Today, as is my habit, I walk until I come to the big boulder settled among some grease wood at the base of the canyon.  Maybe it’s a little obsessive-compulsive of me, but I lightly tap the boulder’s rounded, pebbled surface, and then pivot to head back the way I came. I guess the boulder’s a touchstone of sorts, a reference point for my many walks in this scenic, wild canyon.

Image credit:  Snake River Canyon

I Am Not a Dog Lover

I am not a dog lover.  Sometimes I feel bad about that.  I read once about a man who said he’d never trust anybody who didn’t love kids or dogs.  My love of kids is all that keeps me from a criminal life.  Not surprisingly, I’m surrounded by a family of dog lovers.  The first time I visited my farmer boyfriend (soon to be husband), he met me on his dirt bike, a little Border collie puppy peeping over the top of his zippered jacket.  And I’ll never forget sleeping on a mattress at my son’s rental and waking up spewing yellow Labrador retriever hairs out of my mouth.  The pillow I’d slept on was apparently, a favorite lounging spot for his dog, Sunny.

How does anyone like dogs?  They eat their own poo (well, some do) and like to roll around in dead fish or worse, my flower beds.  They chase the cats that eat the mice we want to be rid of.  They shed hair and bark—some of them—a lot.  I’ve several unwarranted images in my head of my husband leaping up from our bed in the middle of the night and shouting out the patio door: “SHUT UP (Janie! Ring! Misty! Lindsey! Caputo!—names of our past dogs).  Shut the– &#%!@–up!!”

Given that dogs are such trouble, why is man’s best friend not a gold fish—all beauty and no bother?  Gold fish however, have little to offer in the way of help on a working farm.  I remember being amazed watching my husband send Ring, our Border collie mix, out to herd cows. His full command for Ring to herd was “Sick ‘em!” After a while all he had to do was make the “S” sound and Ring was off, paws beating the orchard grass, not slowing until he’d spotted a cow.  Then Ring did something unique to Border collies:  because of a space between the top of his shoulder blades, Ring was able to crouch and slither low to the ground like a cat, so he could slip behind a cow undetected, and nip its heels, moving the cow forward.

We eventually sold our cows.  We wanted to travel more and not be burdened by tending animals.  Dogless for several years my flower beds flourished—except for the roses.  Without the dogs keeping them away, the deer ate the roses (if it isn’t one animal, it’s another).  Then, this spring a little Border collie pup showed up on our door step, apparently abandoned.  Border collie’s are my husband’s favorite breed.  They’re the furry geniuses of the dog world.  The lineage of most modern Border collies can be traced back to a single, smart dog, Old Hemp, who sired 200 pups in the late 1800’s.

“Isn’t she cute?” my husband said of our new puppy.  I nodded and mentally began the process of fencing my flower beds again.  Clara, my eight-year-old granddaughter heard about our new Border collie–Millie we named her–and wondered if Millie might spend the weekend with her.  I was thrilled.  Having Millie spend the weekend away, felt like my kid was at camp and I was free!  But I didn’t know how my daughter, Clara’s mom, felt about having a puppy to contend with.  So, I was a little surprised when my daughter texted me after Millie’s stay and wrote, “I wish we could pet-sit Millie every weekend.”

I immediately texted back: Okay! (frantically searching for an ecstasy emoji).

Then I got another text from my daughter telling me to ignore the last text:  Clara had written it.  Clara had found her mother’s phone and decided to write grandma her secret wish.  My heart dropped until I heard the phone ping again.  It was my daughter texting:  “But…we’d be fine having Millie on the weekends…”

Yes!