Different from the sum of its parts

Winter im Oberdorf by Jens Japel, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Winter im Oberdof by Jens Japel, CC-BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“When I looked, I knew I might never again see so much of the earth so beautiful, the beautiful being something you know added to something you see, in a whole that is different from the sum of its parts. What I saw might have been just another winter scene, although an impressive one. But what I knew was that the earth underneath was alive and that by tomorrow, certainly by the day after, it would be all green again. So what I saw because of what I knew was a kind of death with the marvelous promise of less than a three-day resurrection.”Norman Maclean

I’ve written here before about the beauty of what lies hidden.  Winter is the epitome of unseen splendor, as the earth lies under a blanket of snow in much of the world, and the promise of spring sweetens our winter solitude.  Before the the year-end holidays are upon us, let’s take a few minutes to enjoy the silent consolation of nature’s magnificence, dormant at times, but always alive.


  1. bobmielke

    I’ve been retired now for 4 years. I keep invited Mother Nature to dump a bunch of snow on us in Portland, OR but it hasn’t happened. We did get gobs of snow in 2008 when I was still working at Intel but not much more than a few inches in the years that followed. Now we deal with freezing rain and high winds. Spring is so very far away I fear.

    • Bob, I agree, it looks to be a long and cold winter. Just stock up on tea, coffee or hot cider, have some good books and an internet connection available, and settle in for some cozy indoor months. Hey, if you want snow, you can always drive down to Crater Lake, where we found an amazing amount of it in JUNE! Really!

      • bobmielke

        Been there done that. I’ve got pictures of myself all bundled up knee deep on the crater’s edge. The same can be said for Timberline Lodge atop Mt Hood in July. I’m just saying I have no place I must go, like work, for example. I can honker in with my Lipton Tea bags and Krusteaz packets of Apple Cider, already in my cupboard.

        • I think it would be so great to be able to drive to so much snow whenever I wanted to see a Winter Wonderland. The scenery at Crater Lake was stunning. We saw the Timberline Lodge from a distance and of course, it brought back memories of one of the few horror movies I’ve ever seen (The Shining). I guess being snowbound was creepy in that movie, but with the right situation, it seems appealing. Sounds as if you are prepared for a nice peaceful winter!

          • bobmielke

            I could easily be found hibernating in my man cave. LOL

            • The older I get, the more I like the idea of hibernating!

  2. Sheila

    Julia, each season really is to be savored, isn’t it? I could hardly wait to return from Willow Tree and get out on my December porch…. as I turned my calendar. I could sit by that fireplace for a long time! 😊 The scene that you have shared today is so beautiful. I’m thinking of you and hoping ya’ll have a good week. Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, I was so excited to see this month’s Verandah that I peeked! Does that scene look gorgeous or what? Wish we BOTH were there! We are doing OK. Today was tiring and trying – more home remodeling and it never ceases to amaze me (though I should know better by now) how much longer things take and how much more they cost than when the tradesmen are giving you their estimate. My kitchen is covered in plastic and the furniture is all scattered about, but I hope it will all be worth it…good thing I am feeling better today than I did yesterday. Here’s hoping tomorrow we’ll be closer to a finish, and that the predicted sleet/wintery mix doesn’t show up. Hope you are having a good week!

      • Sheila

        Good morning, Julia. We could meet on that Verandah (in Paris, Tennessee) and when we returned home your remodeling would be completed and Bill would have all my Christmas decorating finished. 😉☕️📷🎄 Bill had some time off for Thanksgiving so we’ve enjoyed that so much. BTW he was impressed that Matt had tackled and completed that puzzle. We thought it was quite challenging! 👏

        • Sheila, that sounds absolutely DEE-VINE (as Minnie Pearl might have said — BTW, she was from the same neck of the woods as Jeff grew up in). Our remodeling is MOSTLY done and it’s far along enough to be more exciting than stressful, though it took awhile. I’m so happy that Bill has had some time off. That makes such a difference, doesn’t it? Having Jeff at home is like being on vacation. I told Matt you were impressed with his mastery of the puzzle and he said “She couldn’t believe it, could she?” and I said well, yes, you COULD believe it, but you were still impressed. 😀 Hope your week winds down in a pleasant and peaceful way.

  3. Amy

    Honestly I would welcome some of that snow right now. 70 degrees on Dec 1 does not seem right. Hope you are well. Love to all.

    • You may get your wish tonight. Although I hope not! 🙂 I wish I could have gotten out and enjoyed that lovely weather today but I was stuck indoors all day with handymen. You’ll have to come check out our new look sometime soon. Hope your arm is OK – are you going stir crazy?

  4. Not Crater Lake nor Verandahs, but a contemplative question: Once it has been put into existence, does Nature have an independent life on its own – completely separate from the Creator?

    • Ah, that’s a fascinating question that has been the subject of much debate among believers and also some skeptics and agnostics. I think you know my answer. For most of us who believe, it’s a debate about the degree of dependence and/or attention given by, or required of, the Creator. Jeff seems to lean to the idea of less; I to the conviction of more. In my mind, any being capable of such infinite creativity must surely be infinite in the interest taken in that which is created.

  5. HarryS

    We were ones of the many who visited with George Culpepper’s family yesterday to express our appreciation for this wonderful man in our lives and our respect and consideration for his lovely family.
    I whispered in Alice’s ear, ‘You know we love you’ and she responded, “Well you just need to come and tell it more often”.
    I agree.
    George was one of those special people who for me at least always left me smiling.
    I often wondered why this was so that I know it was because he was one of the most interesting people I have ever known.

    Does George rest in God’s eternal now?

    I believe God is smiling.

    http://gurmeet.net/personal/winnie-the-pooh-my-favorite-day/ 🙂

    • Harry, I am so sorry to learn you have lost a dear friend, but I am comforted (as I know you are) to think of him resting in the eternal grace that gave him life. Your ending comment brought back the thought of precious words that are never far from my mind. Bret Lott closes his beautiful novel Jewel with a phrase that is etched on my heart, and may one day be engraved on Matt’s tombstone: “…God smiling and smiling and smiling.” ❤ I can't claim that every day is my favorite day, but today is. 😀

  6. Michael

    I liked Eric’s question and am reminded of an older pastor friend who would say that,” the earth is God’s body.” Well I hope that within our earth is a self healing mechanism -put their by our Creator- intelligent design and moderation. I believe there is a mechanism within- global warming not withstanding- that allows the earth to maintain balance albeit on it’s own schedule. Of course- try telling that to the dinosaurs. Not sure that answers the question or sheds any light. The question also comes to mind is there a point where our intervention in the system-pollution -whatever might lead to a tipping point beyond repair?

    • Mike, I think that’s a great question that invokes an even deeper issue: to what degree is our intervention (in ecology or anything else) helpful, and to what degree is it harmful? It’s true that we can be profligate with our resources, but we can also disrupt things with the best of intentions. This is true in a number of areas: medical procedures, religious proselytizing, environmental actions and even personal relationships.

      One of the things I learned from the hunters I know is that they hunt with an awareness of animal population control that prevents the inhumane starvation and injury of wildlife (thus the conservation laws that prohibit hunting out of season, and limit the number of deer taken). In urban areas where hunting is prohibited, we sometimes see overpopulation of wildlife, with frightening and sad consequences. Predators, like it or not, keep things in balance. Are humans not natural predators too? Just recently here in Virginia, two deer were chased by dogs into a school building – they crashed through the windows in fright, and the school was in chaos until the deer were captured and had to be put down due to injuries. Fortunately no children were harmed. But it’s interesting to wonder whether controlled hunting in surrounding unpopulated areas might have prevented such incidents; are the deer searching for food when they wander into dangerous situations?

      Closer to home, I am thinking of a personal situation with an addicted individual who seemed to have such refractory problems that I heartily took place in an attempted intervention to protect others from this individual, and the individual from self. We were disturbed and worried when all our attempts met with failure, yet six years later, I am happy we failed, as later events revealed that there was a purpose behind our failure.

      WOW do I ever digress here…but suffice it to say, we must use care in our interventions with nature (a system believers see as God-ordained) and realize that good intentions alone are not enough. There is far too much waste and disregard of creation, but even when we care, it’s easy to do the wrong thing. My hope is that we will not reach that tipping point, because I see remarkable resilience in every aspect of creation…some examples of which are more obvious every day, up close and personal. 😀 If you get my drift. Thanks for raising a most important point.

      • Rene

        Don’t think that your attempts were “failures”— remember the concept of planting seeds! I think it’s applicable to many situations.

        • Rene, that is true. It’s something we all need to keep in mind. Part of our angst in any situation may arise from seeking instant results. Thanks for the reminder! Hope you have a great week.

  7. Michael

    Great observations. Have to cogitate. This is favorite video that may be relevant. Back to Eric’s point- about the independent life of nature- if the earth if God’s body as my friend says then I suppose you could say it’s like the life of Jesus who was separate from God the father-yet made of the same life stuff. The earth is separate from God but made of the same substance -spirit. Jesus had a separate existence from God- so does the earth. Over my head.
    At this point you could go to Teilhard Chardin and his little book “The Divine Millieux.” Very deep and thought provoking.


    • WOW Michael, thanks so much for that link to the beautiful song by the late great Louis Armstrong. It’s especially touching to see him sing it with that megawatt smile of his. I can’t watch it without smiling myself. Of course, I can’t watch it without thinking of the incomparable Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwoʻole and his medley of that song with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” which has been featured in so many films. While most of us remember only the medley, he did record them separately. “What a wonderful world” could have been written for him, it fits him so perfectly. I just had to go back and watch these two videos in their official versions (countless versions are available online but I like the film footage in these two). If you are like me you will probably shed a tear or two with happysad memories of Hawaii. His remarks about kuleana pono are a message worth remembering along with this song. IZ LIVES!

  8. Michael

    I will watch this one a little later. One of the Armstrong videos also has him giving a spoken introduction with how the world is- worth listening to.
    I did get to see the documentary about IZ a while back. The only sadness I felt about Hawaii was when I got on the plane to return. But when I think of the suffering of the patients at Hawaii State Hospital where I served as a chaplain; that also saddens me though I loved being there.

    • Michael, I tried to play the one with the spoken introduction, but my sound quality was so poor I couldn’t hear it. I think it was the internet having a problem, not the video itself. I’ll try it again sometime. I never felt sadness about Hawaii until I went to UH for two years and came to know more about the land and its people. Also that was a difficult time in our lives on a personal level. But so beautiful too.

  9. Michael

    Yes is there a point where we have done irreparable harm? But I suppose as in war there is an “acceptable casualty level” and collateral damage is part of the mix. And in my state we have over 56 million gallons of nuclear waste in barrels at the Hanford Reach. These barrels are supposed to last 55 years. Some are leaking. Oh well. Nuclear power is a great idea until
    you have to get rid of the waste materials.
    Great video of IZ. The dedication ceremony was especially moving.

    • Yes, I have a hunch that many so-called sustainable power systems will turn out to be disappointing in one way or another. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, only to assert that in my view, conservation will always have to be a huge part of the equation. Why knock ourselves out to be able to increase the levels of activities that are often dubious at best? Do we really WANT more traffic on the highways?

      I too found the closing scenes of the Iz video moving. In so many ways, he was representative of much that is beautiful about Hawaii.

  10. Michael

    Unseasonably warm today in Seattle at almost 55 degrees. What was your formula for winter again- teas, books, music, fireplace, comforters?

    • Uh, yeah, maybe I forgot to add “and flexibility for those unexpected gifts of warm days!” We too had a warm day yesterday, but it was raining so hard I couldn’t really enjoy it. I got outside to walk some in the historic district of Yorktown, and despite having a “weatherproof” jacket and umbrella, I seemed to get soaked in no time. I ducked into my friend Darla’s home and got lost in the fun of her festive decorations and endless teas and chocolates. So it was a strange mix of seasonal delights with early spring weather.

  11. Michael

    Did I ask you about Emily Akin? She is a frequent contributor to the Upper Room site and has a website to help- inspire, coach spiritual writer’s –maybe also some non-spiritual ones too. I think it is www. Emilyakin.com.
    Lots of people outside today and even some bike riders, while I am the more fair weathered type of rider. I did take a little walk on the Cedar river trail.

    • Hi Michael, if you told me about Emily Akin before, I had forgotten. I went to her site briefly and it does look good. I hope to visit again. Thanks for the connection. It’s been dreary and rainy around here, so I haven’t been walking much at all lately and I really miss it. I fell down the stairs last night and hurt my left foot pretty badly. I was afraid it was broken but “Dr. Jeff” checked it out and told me it was just badly bruised. He wrapped it for me and it’s much better today, but still it may be awhile before I walk much. I’m glad you were able to get out on the trails a bit.

  12. Michael

    Hope your foot is better. Did you have it X rayed?
    Almost 60 degrees here today. Perhaps winter is over or starting.
    Joni Mitchell on NPR this morning. She paints her joy and sings her sadness out- which she says is cathartic. She talked about her song “River” and wanting to do a sad Christmas song. It is one of my favorites. She considers herself a painter who sings word pictures. She talked about her struggle with polio as a child. They told her she would never walk as she was in a hospital bed over Christmas alone, away from her family. What a force of nature and very funny. She has a portrait of her “last love” over her fireplace. I just caught part of it so have to listen again.

    • Michael, “Doc Jeff” turned out to be right – it was just a very bad bruise that covers the left side of my left foot. After a long exhausting day and a full week of events this week, I just could not get the energy to go into the ER, especially since I knew that there would be basically not much to be done for a broken bone in the upper foot anyway. So I didn’t get the x-ray, but I’m getting around much better than I was at first.

      I really like Joni Mitchell, although I’m less familiar with her sad songs, although “Big Yellow Taxi” certainly has a somber theme. “Free Man in Paris,” “Help Me” and “Both Sides Now” are my other favorites. I had forgotten Joni Mitchell was a visual artist as well. She did the cover painting for the CSNY album So Far, which is the only one of theirs that I have. I didn’t know (or had forgotten) that she had polio.

  13. Thank heavens for spring. This I know is true, I could not live in a place with perpetual winter. I barely get thru ours, I’m a summer gal thru and thru. I could have been born wearing flip-flops and don’t wear socks if I can help it at all. I don’t downhill ski anymore and don’t watch hockey (or any sport really). I spend the evenings in my Boom-Room or on-line with friends, or reading a plethora of magazines I’ve collected. The holidays are a great diversion too. I really enjoy decorating the house and tree and normally don’t rush thru it like I’m doing this year. It’s also a time when I can get together with my bro’s and hang out, shoot the breeze and chill. They’re both so busy usually. So there’s a few pluses to winter, I’ll admit. But I’d have no problem if they moved Christmas to July and we could all just skipped winter and come south every year 😀 xo K

    • Well, that just settles it — we need to establish Boomdeeville South for you snow birds to escape to in winter. Meanwhile, we all benefit from your evenings spent in the Boom-Room, and it sounds quite cozy. Holidays are beautiful against the snowy backdrop, aren’t they? I wish you a warm and merry season! Hope you are home before your package arrives — according to the tracking, it cleared customs in NY on Dec. 11. Save it for Ukrainian Christmas if you want – that would be fun!

  14. Exciting, it’s like watching Santa Claus on-line. Thank you for thinking of me. I shall be good and set it aside until January 7th. xo

    • Just don’t get too excited or it might be anticlimactic. 😀 It’s mainly about the surprise of wondering what’s inside, nothing big or grand, just frivolous fun. How cool to learn about Ukrainian Christmas from you! A perfect reason to stretch the holidays out a bit longer…

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