After morning Mass at Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian Church—a 115 year old country parish—I decided to take a drive along farm lanes, through “God’s country.” The glow of having just received communion felt too fresh to not, in some way, continue the prayer.
County roads here run straight and intersections at 90º a mile or two apart. I turned south along Hawley—roads were historically named after the land owner—and was surprised to see a hops farm. I wondered if the grower crafted beer or sold to local breweries. The grove was surrounded by a ten-foot-fence against deer browsing, and dozens of 16’ crosses pierced the earth. The cross-beams trailed heavy twine, secured at the base near the bushy vines.
I found the view unsettling as thoughts of Saint Paul Miki and Companions came to mind; twenty-six martyred by being hung on crosses in Nagasaki, Japan. I shuddered and shook my head to clear the intrusive image of suffering.
Refocusing on my drive, I made note to come back to the farm through the summer to see how the vines progressed.
In south-central Michigan there are several small lakes, marshes, and muck-land farms—which grow celery, onions, cabbage, and peppermint. Crisscrossing three counties I drove past several, and had come upon a massive wetland whose beauty took my breath away.
Tussocks of tall marsh grasses glowed chartreuse in the morning light. They were surrounded by expanses of open water floating groups of lily pads and reminded me of paintings seen earlier in May. The rains of the previous week had raised the water above the ditch-line; it reached the edges of the road.
I left the car and stood near what would have been the shoulder. The soft breeze carried the deep, low scent of a quagmire, and, lucky for me, was enough to keep the mosquitoes away. Up the road a fully grown, two foot Northern Water Snake casually made its way to the opposite bank. In the stillness I listened to the peeper frogs’ trill.
Then from behind, and startlingly near, a loud swish. Instinctively I ducked as a pair of Great Blue Herons flew a few feet above my head. Their bright orange beaks were slightly open, long black legs were extended and tucked tight against their gray bellies. I had never been so near these large, seemingly primordial birds and was amazed at their size.
My heart was beating fast from being startled. I watched with an overwhelming sense of reverence as they landed a few yards away. The pair stood poised in shallow water, and elegantly folded their powerful six-foot-span of wings.
I stood in awe of the vastness of the marsh, the holy silence of nature, and felt the boundless gift of peace that is God’s. It is a peace that though a gift must be sought, and like the Herons that came from behind, brings with it unexpected beauty, ancient and alive.