What's It All About?

It's all too easy for days to pass without reflection. It's my hope that through a greater active awareness on each day, that I will be able to consider God's presence in my life and in the world around me. Writing has always been a way for me to round up my thoughts. This blog seems like a good place to park those thoughts for my own benefit as well as the benefit of others. Please take a moment to read what I have written, to offer comments, and to share the ideas with others.
Libby

Monday, January 2, 2017

What Weeds Can Teach Us About Survival in The New Year

When life covers your world with asphalt...
This year both Hanukkah and Christmas seemed to arrive quickly. Not being totally prepared is a little stressful. Both holidays demand introspection. This year there didn't seem to be any time for that kind of deep thinking.

However, it pays to look down! My regular walk happens to take me across a parking lot. As I looked down I noticed the weeds poking up through a crack in the pavement. At the same time, I found myself musing on the meaning of Hanukkah. As far as I know, it's really a kind of historical/religious holiday for Jewish people, celebrating a long ago military and religious victory. Moreover, it's a celebration of the seemingly impossible-the stretching of a supply of oil meant for only one day that miraculously lasts for eight days. Where could such an archaic series of events intersect with our current modern day life?

As I looked around myself and then down again at the pavement, it occurred to me that these weeds poking up through the cracks were emblematic of what the holidays are about: celebration of new life in light of often difficult circumstances. It's the perseverance of the human spirit in times of darkness, only personified in the form of small green shoots doggedly poking their way up through a crack in the asphalt. What better to symbolize the miracle of both Christmas and Hanukkah. 

As we face the New Year, which to many of us presents the seemingly impossible, remember the weeds! It sounds simplistic I know but follow their lead: find a way  to thrive even if you face the impossible.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year!
Libby

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Intersections: Science, Nature and Religion

View to Pardee Reservoir, Calaveras County, CA
The intersection of science, nature and religion is of interest to me. Can one subject inform the other? Can something learned in the realm of science answer a long held question about religion? Can religion explain something seen in nature? And on and on. Insight into any of the subjects often leads to insight elsewhere.

Recently I took a hike that led me to the top of a lookout. I could see all around me: different counties, mountains and bodies of water were all within view. As I looked at the scenery, I honestly didn't know what to think. It was overwhelming mostly because of the vastness. of space. What was out there and how did it come to be? My reflections both then and now haven't yielded any answers.

This isn't unusual. Most of the time, my efforts at explanation fall short! But here is where science helps. I am reading a book by Loren Eiseley called The Immense Journey. Eiseley was an anthropologist and naturalist; a keen and sensitive observer of his world. In one of the chapters in this book, he describes coming upon a spider and her web. He reaches for explanations and meanings because the spider is spinning the web in an improbable spot where it probably won't last too long. In the end, he decides that in these types of instances, where the unexplained has been observed, it is best to simply record the findings and leave that information for future generations to puzzle over. Each person can then ascribe their own meaning. 

His answer seemed like it could be my answer. Even though no one is likely to review my own findings of the scenery I found the other day, it is enough to record those findings and not necessarily explain them but to simply enjoy the mystery of what is. To enjoy what I feel is the intersection of nature, science and God, all made visible.  Here is what I observed:

* unseasonably warm weather for November
* clear views of a full Pardee Reservoir
* unobstructed 360 degree view of all hills, mountains and scenery
* very green due to early rain
* overwhelming sense of awe and wonder and gratitude

Make of it what you will!
Libby

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Days of Awe-Some Thoughts

Change of Seasons-Big Trees State Park, Arnold, CA
No matter what I do, Rosh Hashanah always manages to sneak up on me. Though I am not a practicing Jew (I am a non practicing convert), I still like to prepare myself for this holiday. It is my favorite time of year during the Jewish calendar. So much opportunity and so much at stake! 

In the weeks that lead up to the start of the first holiday (Rosh Hashanah), it's time to consider the previous year. There is some reflection and acknowledgement. It's an important time to be honest with oneself. Specifically, it's good to consider both what has gone well and where improvement can be made. Self knowledge isn't easy and being truthful isn't always fun. Being thankful, recognizing God's gifts and his divine love, and knowing that we are imperfect beings made in God's image, are all things to reflect upon. It can be tough at times. We don't always act in ways that are as good as they could be. We fall short. Others forgive us. God forgives us. We forgive ourselves.

By the time Yom Kippur rolls around, it's imperative to identify any failings (as well as strengths) and to make a plan to improve. One must be truly repentant. A plan to do better cannot just be an idea. It must be heartfelt and put it in to action. Wrongdoings are between the person and God but also between the person and other people. Words and actions count in the act of repentance. 

It's my opinion that a person need not be a practicing Jew to take advantage of these ideas. In my mind, they are really for everyone. I included the above image of what (I think) is a Dogwood tree. To me, the beautifully changing colors of the tree are a reminder of the constant renewal that the tree makes every year. Each Autumn, the leaves begin to turn color as they lose their chlorophyll. The green color, normally visible, goes away and the other colors of red and orange and yellow emerge. The tree is preparing for shorter days, less sunlight and it stops its food making process. When longer days and warmer weather return, the tree will once again begin its food production and the green leaves will again begin to grow. 

It's an amazing and miraculous process, the tree renewing itself each season. The tree sustains itself year after year through this process. For me, that is one of the points of this holiday time; to figure out how to sustain both yourself and others around you through reflection, thanksgiving, acts of repentance and prayer. And in my mind, it's what we can all do during the Days of Awe or Yamim Noraim.

Thank you for reading,
Libby

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Can You Help?

Lake Alpine, CA

We live in a very generous and warm hearted community. People give of their time; they open up their pocketbooks and give their money. We really have to. We are a small rural community and without getting into it, we just give. Living here, growing older, and learning more about the world has helped to alter how I feel about someone who is on the street asking for help. I didn't always want to offer help. Now I see things differently.

As I drove home this afternoon from my day hiking at Lake Alpine, I passed through San Andreas and saw a man in front of the grocery street with a sign. The sign read, "Can you help?" He was in a wheelchair and sitting in the full sun; the temperature was at least 95 degrees outside. I had the opportunity to stop and didn't. I then had the opportunity to turn around and didn't. I drove off thinking I had missed something. The least I could do is go back and get him some water. There are places in town to get a meal too and I could tell him about that. By the time I got back, there was another man handing the man asking for a help a grocery bag. I could see that it was something to eat and drink. This made me feel much better somehow and I drove home.

Though I missed giving directly to this individual, I feel like today I myself was given something. Witnessing God's hand at work through the generosity of the man that bought the groceries is part of the circle of helping one another. Give, receive, benefit, give, receive, benefit.  I just never saw it this way until today. It helped me personally to see this generosity in action and I feel as if I was given a special gift. There are many ways to help and to be involved with what is happening around you. Just being aware of what is happening is part of this circle of giving. I hope to be quicker next time (I am sure that there will be a next time too) but until then, I will think about my unexpected gift.
Libby

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The Road Less Traveled

Brushy Peak Regional Preserve-photo by Libby Fife
Take the road less traveled. This advice is meant to enrich our lives. It is applied to many things from traveling to bigger life choices. It can also apply to our everyday actions. So many of us get into a rut with how we relate to one another. It's easy to overlook simple kindnesses as a way of elevating ourselves and our fellow citizens at the same time; the road less traveled. We forget I think that how you relate to others is so important. It says as much about you and your character and outlook in life as it does about your feelings about your fellow man. Your interactions can be a mirror for what is best about being human: treating others as you yourself would wish to be treated. 

In his column today, Parker Palmer offers up a wonderful story about the road less traveled. He uses the biblical tale of the loaves and fishes to illustrate his point about how you treat your fellow man and how that attitude can be helpful in gaining some perspective on the larger situation at hand; how it can bring out the best in us. Read the story if you can and as you go about your business today, remember that even the simplest choices in speech and actions can be akin to taking the road less traveled. 

Thanks for reading,
Libby
contact me: libbyfife@ymail.com

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Unexpected

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir-Wapama Falls Hike
This last week I received an unexpected gift. Sort of a gift within a gift within another gift! A friend invited me to go with her on a hike at Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. We would be hiking a 5.4 mile loop called the Wapama Falls Trail. Halfway through the loop you come upon a spectacular waterfall flowing down from the top of the mountain into the canyon and finally, to the reservoir below. It sounded like something that I would totally enjoy so I said yes to my friend right away.

My friend and I left early in the day and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise as we drove south and east towards Yosemite. Once there, the weather was perfect-cool and crisp with a light breeze. There weren't too many people and the trail was almost empty. The views of the dam and reservoir are spectacular and don't reveal at first just how big the Tuolumne River Canyon really is. Once you start walking however the canyon goes back and back and you wonder at the magnitude of the size of the valley that was flooded to create the reservoir. 

The hike was going well but taking awhile. There are lots of rocks to go over and steps to go up and down. We were close to the waterfall but had a ways to go still. My friend and I talked about stopping and going back. She remarked to me that we should keep going because she felt that this was probably the last time she would be able to do this hike. She is 74, not old really but getting on, and who knows exactly when she might come back to this spot or be able to physically do it? So, we pressed on and were amply rewarded! What a beautiful waterfall! The photo above just doesn't do it justice.

As we were walking back I thought about what my friend said about making this trip, possibly for the last time. Though I am sure she didn't intend it this way, she really gave me a gift. This gift of spending the day with me, of all people, on what was probably her last visit to this spot was really special. And I had no idea that this was even going to be the case so it was a total surprise. Top that off with the views, the weather and the injury free day and I had a gift within a gift within a gift! Talk about appreciating God's presence in the every day!

Hope that if you are reading that you find something unexpected today!
Libby

Friday, February 12, 2016

Simple Reminders

Lake Alpine

This week I had a few reminders that very often, less is more. The first reminder came in the form of the above photo. It is the image of one of my favorite places, Lake Alpine. I have only experienced that lake during the summer when it is green and lush. The lake has a lot of water in it, there are beautiful low bushes and shrubs along with birds and trees. There is a lot to take in each time I visit. This time, however, everything was covered in snow. Familiar forms were reduced to unrecognizable mounds of white fluffy powder. The horizon line of the lake merged with the water's surface until I couldn't really tell where one ended and one began. The entire effect was one of simplicity and wholeness, reduced down from an environment that is normally complex and very detailed. Still beautiful but very different.

The next experience came in the shape of a realization. A small project that I have been working on came to fruition. During its making I struggled with many things: detail, purpose of the project, what types of things would be appealing to the widest audience and in general, my own varying levels of self esteem. At one point I realized that less would be more. It took some back and forth emails with the person who was helping me to be able to realize what I was doing wrong. My approach was too complex and his input helped to reign in my focus. The project has been completed and I feel it is a good effort.

Lastly, I observed someone composing a small and informal photo shoot of my work. I watched him arrange and rearrange the various objects. He kept things so simple, his experience telling him almost right away what was needed for the perfect arrangement. Oh, if only my own efforts were always so effortless! 

I really did learn something from all three events: the simple beauty of a winter landscape has much in common with getting down to basics and the judicious use of mental editing. Each thing I experienced showed me that very often, less is more. And I relate that to how I want to experience God's hand in the world. I want to take notice of what seems to be ordinary or insignificant or just plain. I want to take in the simplicity of something and be appreciative of God's humble effort to please us. I do think that is what those places and moments and lessons are all about: it's God's effort to make us happy with His creations. His message to take notice of what might otherwise be passed up for lack of flash and hype. Pay attention to the basics and you will be amply rewarded.
Libby