When Fossils Lead to Deeper Friendship

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Pine Forest in South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

I’ve learned this year how cool it is to see my friends at work, to get a peek into the ways they spend their weekdays. It was a little strange recognising the thrill this gives me – like, is this weird? What is so exciting about this? But I realise now as I’m collecting my thoughts that these are new experiences for me. I’ve never been old enough before to see my friends do the work they talked about doing and spent years studying. Now I’ve crossed that threshold.

The first time I had this feeling was several months ago, in the dental hygienist’s chair. My friend Toni loves teeth and posts about them all the time on instagram, but this was my first chance to see her in action. She was wonderful! Told me all about my teeth and oral health in general. I left with a sparkly mouth, a heads up about what will likely need to happen with my teeth in the future and new information to incorporate into my cleaning routine.

The second admiration-inducing moment was a few weeks ago when I met up with Elora, a photographer. I’ve worked with her before on a few fun projects, and we talk often about the hours she spends editing pictures and developing her business, but this was the first time I was behind the camera with her. She explained the basics of exposure and helped me navigate the dials and menu options on the DSLR I’m borrowing from my uncle. I had an idea about the technicality involved in her craft, but having her as a teacher for a couple hours provided a deeper level of insight and, correspondingly, respect.

Then this week I’ve been in Abaco, an island in the northern Bahamas, visiting my friend Kelly. She’s an anthropologist for the Antiquities, Monuments & Museums Corporation of The Bahamas, and the office here focuses on natural history. She’s driven me around the island, telling me all about the environment, ecology and history; I alternate between awe at all that I’m learning about my country and Kelly’s fluency in this information.

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Dan’s Cave, South Abaco Blue Holes National Park

Today we went to her office and she showed me prehistoric fossils found in blue holes on the island, preserved almost perfectly because of the anaerobic environment at the bottom of the holes. We don’t have crocodiles or hutia in The Bahamas anymore, but Kelly has sifted their bones from sediment, cleaned and labelled them and taught schoolchildren about their historic presence here, along with other animals that are still around, like bats and wild boar.

Watching my friends at work, or listening to them talk in detail about their work, gives me a glimpse at another side of them. I learn more about the things they’re passionate about and the ways their minds differ from mine: Wow, this person must really enjoy biology/I don’t know if I could ever memorise all these things! I appreciate them in a whole new way for their contributions to our society, and the high standards they hold for their work. As life lasts, I look forward to seeing more friends in action, and the sweeter level of relationship this brings.

An Early Morning, A Gift of Rain

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I woke up too early this morning. I could tell because there wasn’t enough sunlight squeezing into my room. But I felt rested, so I didn’t try to go back to sleep, and I got up to open the blinds. The view was mesmerising.

The sky was blanketed in one big cloud, and reddish grey from the sun that was trying to make its way through. It was a quiet, resolute colour, as though the morning was holding back on itself. From the red sky came a gentle rain, which made a soft whooshing noise that I only noticed because I was looking out the window.

The greens of the three types of palms I could see were muted in the rainy, red-grey light, as were the hibiscus and varieties of crotons. Their leaves moved only slightly, swaying under the direction of the falling water. This was a gentle rain, which made a soft pitter patter on the plants and the ground, whispering its greeting.

After a few minutes, it stopped. I woke in time to see the very last of the morning stretching its way into the work of the day. Then the Saturday that I’m used to came through: the sky, gradually a more vibrant shade of blue; the sun, growing fiercer as it warmed the sky; birds singing to one another. I love the weekend for the way it allows me to savour the beauty of my island.

Yet, as well as I know what it feels like to drink in a weekend morning, I realised this week that there is still plenty about this island that can surprise me. I’ve been driving the same streets that I have for years, with the same trees and flowering plants lining their edges and populating the yards of homes and businesses, and feeling excited because I’m somehow seeing them in a new way. Maybe it’s because I’m older now, and have stood in awe of the greenery produced by other climates, that I can appreciate what gives mine its particular splendour. Everything seems more tropical, or very tropical, somehow. (How can it be more than, or very much so, what it simply is?)

I crested a hill the other morning, driving away from my friends’ house. Looking down at the tops of palms and dots of bright red poinciana flowers I wanted to get out of the car to stand and stare. It looked like the scene on a postcard, or a book cover,  the kind of landscape you read about. Yes, we have the ocean and it is incredibly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. But we also have woman’s tongue and silk cotton trees, poui, gumelemi and mangroves. I read about the oak, birch, redwood and spruce; my island has its majesties too, more than palms, more than exotic fruits. I am thankful for new eyes to see them, rainy mornings to study them, this space to tell you about them.

Swimming Through a Sea of Roses

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I’m back from NYC now, and one of the highlights of my trip was a visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I’d been wanting to go for a while, but it’s all the way in the Bronx and travel time has always been a deterrent. When I found out that there was a Chihuly exhibit up I decided I finally would make the trip, and though I only ended up seeing a few of his pieces the visit overall was well worth it.

After walking past the closed-early conservatory (boo!) and wandering a little aimlessly across the grounds, I was happy to find myself at Thain Family Forest, full of centuries old trees and pieces of rock reminding us of the age when this part of New York was covered in glaciers. When I came out the other side I was at the Cherry Grove, and although the time for cherries has passed it was still a very pleasant experience, with the cute little trees lining the walkway and dotting the grassy slopes. It made me wish I could go climbing into their branches, and afterward enjoy a picnic with a blanket and a basket; picturesque, like the storybook picnics described in books from my childhood.

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Then the grove ended and I came to the lilac collection, which was also unfortunately not in bloom. I did read a little about how supposedly easy they are to grow and make into hybrids. Apparently they’re one of the most popular flowers in the US, which was news to me, but I don’t know much about plants or gardening really so no surprise there.

Finally, I came to the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, which was in bloom with thousands of stunning roses. Oh my goodness. The whole effect was exquisite, and there were so many different varieties, it was astounding. I took a few pictures and just kind of stood in awe of creation and the amazing God responsible for everything I was seeing. Then I made my way slowly back to the entrance of the Garden, past more beautiful flowers and greenery. Despite the disappointments about my visit, it was still wonderful and restorative, and I’m glad I made the effort to go.

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On a Nature High

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I’m writing from my backyard, enjoying the warmth of the afternoon. I so love the sun. It feels like every day since I’ve been home I find myself exulting in the weather. It is so beautiful! How can the sky be so blue? How can the flowers be so richly colourful and the greens of trees, grass and plants so vibrant?  Then there is the persistent kiss of sun on skin. How glorious! Simply being outside I feel it embrace me, like a lover who missed me dearly  and is bursting with exuberance to see me again. I take great pleasure in being able to walk outside in shorts and a tank top, to leave the house in a sundress and sandals. What luxury, to sit on my grandmother’s porch, run on the beach, drive with the windows down. I love being warm. I love being warm.

I surprise myself a little with the depth of my enthusiasm for the climate and the flora, though I remember even as a girl I marvelled at the environment and took advantage of opportunities to be outside. Perhaps now that I’ve lived away for extended periods, and in much colder parts of the world, I have a better sense for how much I appreciate the easy pleasures of these islands. What bliss, to wander the yard barefoot! To look up and see a vast expanse of crisp, clear sky! It is a tonic for my of-late weary soul, a shot of energy and thankfulness more swift and sure than any caffeinated drink or online article. I look outside my window, I step out the front door, and I feel reborn.

A Meditation On My Maker

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A couple of days ago I listened to a sermon on God as maker of heaven and earth. It reminded me of how big he is, how unfathomably big he must be to have created our whole earth, and galaxy, and universe, and to live above and beyond it. On the opposite side of the spectrum, I thought about the intricacies of the human body, the lives of ants and spiders, and the microscopic chemistry that keeps the whole earth – human and animal lives and the natural environment – humming. It’s incredible. Our world is made of things simultaneously greater and smaller than we can see and whose scale we can barely imagine. How is it that a being can create something as massive as our universe, and as tiny as protozoa? Dextrous though they can be, some work renders human fingers bumbling and clumsy, forcing the use of other tools. Psalm 8 – which the sermon was based on – describes God as working with his fingers. There is nothing too delicate for him; he made it all.

My life – human life – lies somewhere on the line of creation; bigger than plankton and insects but smaller than planets and galaxies. Everything I see (Tim Keller reminded me), points to God and can tell me something about Him. The heavens declare the glory of God  – how breathtaking are sunsets and natural landscapes – and so do the tiniest parts of life, like a spider’s web and fractals in leaves and coral. After a visit to the Met museum with my mum last week, she remarked on the fact that we saw countless art objects, each one unique and made by a person with esteemed artistry and skill, but every person made by God. There are people who are going to make more wonderful and amazing things who haven’t even been born yet! And our God is master over all.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around what this means, and what it tells me about God. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about it for the rest of my life. I feel at a loss for the words even to write this post. All the same, I find it so exciting to consider. On top of his other attributes, God is infinitely brilliant, the ultimate artist, and his work tells us about him in much the same way that human artists’ work tell us something about them. I will never know everything there is to know about him, even from the perspective of this physical world. Thus, I can never tire of learning about him.

Furthermore, this magnificent God, whose being and nature I can scarcely grasp, cares for me. Thinking of his grandeur in comparison to my own fleeting life makes everything I deal with, both positive and negative, seem insignificant. Yet it matters to God, and he wants a relationship with me. Not just me, all of us. He is everywhere and sees and hears everything. How is that even possible, if he is so big the universe can’t contain him? More questions.

At the heart of it all though, love. God made our beautiful home: sights that never fail to bring joy, sounds that move us to tears, smells and feelings that bring us comfort and security, both out of his love for us and to point us toward himself, who is even greater than the things we experience here. I want to continue seeking him in everything I  encounter in his creation. I am awed by his majesty, and thankful for his love.

Psalm 8 (ESV)
Lord, our Lord,

    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!