When I walk outdoors in the dead of winter and turn to be among the trees, the smell is heady and heavy. It is unique to the old growth of pine, fir and cedar, and the spongy moss that covers everything. It is unique to the ferns this time of year as well- darker in color and without any newness about to unfurl at their tips. Different than the forest in summer and spring, and even different that the scent of fall. It is lovely, like home and ancient secrets, but I know its secret. What I am smelling is death. An old death- one that began way back in November most likely. Deciduous leaves have been reduced to a skeleton of veins. The fallen pine and fir needles are brown and beginning to break down with decay, creating their own internal heat. The fern shoots flop in frozen waiting, and the remains from the meals of countless carnivores rot into the mud and the fallen branches. Even the hibernating creatures are existing nearer to death than should be possible, their hearts and blood flow slowed in near stagnancy. Death is everywhere. And the cycle is a miracle.
We know that life is coming in fresh abundance and fervency, but not yet. And skipping ahead to the not yet not only deprives us of the beauty to be found in what appears to be ugly and rotten, but it also hints at toxic positivity. How can we ignore that the crumbling fir stumps are the perfect home and food for wood weevils, and that the piles of dead limbs are the ideal space between for mason bees to lay their eggs? This Lent, I want to lean fully into the miraculous and messy thing that is mortality. If we are believers in the personhood of the Christ, then especially during Lent we cannot ignore his mortality. Lent is not Easter. While we might be tempted to leap into the proclamation of “Christ is Risen!”, it is not possible to celebrate without the existence of his death, and without the existence of his full life with a human body. And whatever your beliefs are about the story of the resurrection, to place ourselves into the awe of a God who speaks directly into temporary beings made of temporary sinew and flesh is remarkable.
I chose two books last week, knowing that I wanted to read nature essays during these last weeks of winter. The happy accident or perhaps the design of the universe (It’s not important for me to know which) is that combined, they have just over 40 chapters, making them *almost* perfect Lenten companions. I prefer the almost to the completely -it’s less contrived. The books are World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishmens by Aimee Nezhukumatathil and How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler. I am reading the shorter chapters that appear in World of Wonders on the weekdays, and the longer chapters from How Far… on the weekend days when I have more hours of leisure. Here’s how you can join!
- Procure the books mentioned above in digital or print capacity.
- Sign up for my new newsletter by filling out the box to the right. I tried to do this a year ago and the platform was terrible and never actually sent emails, but now we are a go!
- You will get an invite to join a discussion group on the Discord app
- Join the conversation! Ask questions or bring up discussion topics on your own, and participate however you feel led.
That’s it! I hope to see you in the conversation. Please enjoy this time of delving down into the depths of what it means to be alive in a world made of stardust.