Increasingly I mark the days by the blooming of wildflowers, change in tides, and shift in winds. Snow-queen appears in February looking like blue pearls in the frosty grass. In March the delicate turquoise of the grass-widows nods on a slender stem. Blue camas runs riot in May meadows.
It is all inexact. A cold spring or late snow can slow the bloom of fawn lilies. But in many ways the flowers more exactly reflect the seasons of my heart: early blooms and late thaws. Sometimes a flower not seen for years makes an appearance like some fragrance from childhood.
Summer marks the calendar with the ripening of evergreen huckleberries, salal, thimbleberries, and August blackberries. Asters and goldenrod bloom far into the fall.
Here fall is marked by the beginning of the rains and the overnight magic of mushrooms: chanterelles and boletes. The blonde and dry grasses of summer soften under my step.
In the winter the days are marked as the deciduous trees lose their leaves. The alders first and then big-leaf maples. The maple leaves cover the rocks along the streams like wet paper. Storms scatter branches across the trails and litter the woods with fallen moss and lichen. On the coast, king tides and storms sweep in and carve up the beaches—sometimes briefly uncovering agates that glow in the winter sun. The surf churns up a buttery foam and plays jacks with logs and stumps. The snaking course of the creeks on the beach wander north.
For about fifteen years I have been recording when each flower blooms, but this spring it seemed not to matter what date I assigned. The wildflowers have their own calendar written by sun, wind, and rain. We are close enough to the coast that even a change in sea currents can rewrite the calendars of yellow wood violets.
In the silence of the woods or meadows filled with flowers, I listen. With all my senses, I read the wild calendar. Sometimes the warm south wind smells like spring—soft and moist. In November the dry mosses of summer deepen and soften into winter’s deep green.
Perhaps I live more to the rhythms of a natural calendar because I have grown old and the calendar on the wall means little. As a teacher, I have often ordered my life by academic calendars, but this changes year to year and yet never changes. Or it may be that I now spend enough time in the wilds of this place to listen in on the conversations of wind, rain, and all that lives.
This wild calendar slows my heart but makes it stronger—maybe wiser. I am more present. More importantly, the world around me is more present as a sacrament of God’s goodness, power, and wisdom.
There is a wilder calendar—one even more difficult read. I am slowly learning to read the seasons of God’s Spirit. On the most immediate level, I have learned to quiet myself before God and discern the season of my own heart and relationship with Him. I want my eyes open to all that each season brings. Every season has its own wisdom; its own lessons.
On another level, God has a calendar for his people. I deeply appreciate the timeless aspects of the communion with the saints, but God’s Spirit is also alive and active in each gathering of believers. Above and beyond the babble of division and confusion among believers, God has a calendar that we should learn to read. I am not good at this, but sometimes I detect a change in the wind and shift in seasons. Sometimes there is a false spring before the real one.
Then there is that divine cosmic calendar that Daniel, Ezekiel, and John read so well. This is the wildest calendar. It is felt in the blood—the acceleration of this world toward some end and some new beginning. I make no claims to read this calendar, but I am listening and watching. I hope to be like the sons of Issachar who are described (I Chronicles 12:32) as “men who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”
All believers are like watchmen eagerly awaiting the dawn, scanning the sky for first light. We hope for that final spring that makes a new heavens and new earth. The day marked on God’s calendar.