We had a Big Night here last week.
In Maine terms that means just the right number of warm nights, just the right amount of drenching of long-needed rain. It means the perfect conditions for a Big Night migration of wood toads, frogs and yellow spotted salamanders to the vernal pools.
When I moved here, I had no idea what a vernal pool was. All I saw were these brownish watery patches in the springtime woods. A wet puddle of oak leaves and scattered branches. Not much to see – or so I thought.
Last week I signed up to go on a vernal pool walk. Our guide waded out into one of those brown puddles of oak leaves and scattered branches with a white plastic bucket. She scooped up some water and placed it on the ground near our little group.
We stood around like little children oohing and ahhing at tadpoles swimming, the mosquito larvae that look like little harmless little twigs, and the two-fisted size gelatinous globule spotted with little brown specks – so otherworldly and so beautiful – a yellow spotted salamander egg sac.
I’d never seen anything like this, never would have, if I hadn’t taken the time to stop and pause for this afternoon walk in the woods.
These days and nights, the Maine woods are singing. My birder friends tell me its part of a great migration of the flying kind – all sorts of neo-tropical songbirds. All I know is that I was running in Linekin Bay the other day when a birds song stopped me in my tracks. “What is it?” I asked my running companion. “I think it’s a wood thrush.” All I know is that I can’t wait to hear one again.
Its an amazing time to pause, to hear and see what’s happening around us. The only trick is you have to take time for it. It doesn’t just come, you have to invite it. Open your door before going to bed, find the moon glistening through the dark branches. Listen to the peepers.
The Big Night and aviary migrations in the woods are also happening among us of the human species. More and more of us are getting vaccinated. I had my second vaccine last week.
Some of us are impatient to get on with it and back to what had been our lives. Some of us struggling seeing the new life popping up around us as we can’t see any new life sprouting anywhere within us.
Spring can be a hard time to pause and an important time to pause.
In the story, its springtime as well. Moses stands on the hilltop overlooking the Promised Land beyond. After 40 years of wandering, some want to just get on with it and check out this new home its taken them so long to find. Instead, the Book of Deuteronomy invites us to one long pause before jumping into whatever comes next.
As Joanna reminds us in the movie, “News of the World”, “In order to move forward you need to remember.” In the world of the Biblical story, Moses pauses on a hilltop and remembers. Here in spring in Northern New England, here making our way to this point through the pandemic, a good time to pause and remember what is important.
The other day, Mike Denton, the Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, offered four questions to pause and consider this season. I offer them to you as an invitation for you to pause yourself, with your friends and family, before jumping into your committee agenda, to remember so that we might move forward with perhaps a bit more perspective, grounding and hope.
- What is something you did before the pandemic you are looking forward to doing again?
For me, it’s that 5:30 gym class at the Y. Browsing the stacks at the Boothbay Memorial Library.
- What is something you started during the pandemic you hope to continue?
Zoom calls with my family at 5 on Sunday afternoons.
- What is something you did before the pandemic began that you want to let go of?
Perfection and over planning. This year taught me of the need to jump in and learn in real time.
- What is something you started doing during the pandemic you are happy to stop?
Not passing bread. I look forward to the day when I don’t have to continue celebrating communion alone in an empty chancel or at a kitchen counter but can again freely pass and share the bread with you.
Before us, yes, a Promise Land, always. Before us, as it always is as well, a time unknown and a time of great need. The issues that have no vaccination will continue long after we’ve moved on – climate crisis, police brutality, white supremacy, voter suppression. The state of our world, our nation, our democracy, church, our life together as people are truly at stake. Will we take the gifts of the past to build a new tomorrow – or will we merely rush on to the ending?
I read the other day that in France there are 170,000 monuments to World War 1, holding the memory of the millions who died. However, there is no memorial for the 1918 pandemic that killed 50-100 million people worldwide.
What if, in our own particular ways, before moving on, we paused to build a memorial. To make a space to remember, reflect, share with each other what we’ve learned and don’t want to forget. To let our past shape our way forward into the kind of future we long for.
The way begins, today, with taking a time to pause. I’d love to hear what your discover.