Jun 13 2012

This Is The World The Lord Has Made, Rejoice And Be Glad In It

You have probably never heard of the chaparral if you are outside of California. Even if you live in California, you might not have heard of the chaparral. Yet everyone has heard of the redwoods and a whole host of folks know the giant sequoias and ancient bristlecones.

The chaparral is a unique ecosystem that is almost exclusively in California and is as unique as the redwoods, the sequoias and bristlecones. Like those other dramatic plant communities, the chaparral is tightly bound to its environment, an environment that is dry most of the year with a wet winter, an environment that results in a shrub-based ecosystem. With only dense shrubs for its landscape, the chaparral tends to be ignored. It has no dramatic 300-foot tall trees, no trees with bases as large as a small house, no 4,000 year-old trees (though some of the shrubs can be hundreds of years old).

The chaparral shows amazing evidence of God’s always inspired creation and management of His world: the plants are mostly shrubs because it is difficult to send water to the tops of tall trees when there is a shortage of water, leaves are small to minimize water loss during dry conditions, leaves have oils in them to prevent too much evaporation of water, many plants have two root systems — a shallow root system for grabbing water quickly and a deep taproot for going after water that is deep down in the soil, and myriads of plant and animal associations that make this community lively and interesting.

Yet, this ecosystem is rarely appreciated and often badly treated. It is often put down as just “weedy brush” as if only trees were important. I admit that as one who grew up in the East and Midwest with trees, that the chaparral is sometimes uncomfortable, yet when I spend some time there, I gain much from just appreciating what is there.

There is something about us as human beings that always want the spectacular. We want God to appear to us in Yosemite, the redwoods, the Grand Canyon, truly dramatic miracles of our world, places that truly are awe-some and cannot help but make us think of good. Yet, God appeared to Moses as a burning bush, not a forest fire, not a burning mountain, not anything particularly dramatic except that the bush was a vehicle for God (Exodus 3).

And Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”  While Jesus was referring to people in this case, he definitely was making the point that it was not just the dramatic, “important”, “beautiful” people that were the only ones that God paid attention to. I think this is definitely true in nature, too. Otherwise, why would places like the chaparral, swamps, marshes, common grasslands be so intricately and marvelously constructed? Obviously God cares about these places and so should we.

Sometimes I think we pay too much attention to the big, dramatic, beautiful parts of nature. There is nothing wrong with those places, but our attention is skewed from the totality of nature and how important all parts of it truly are. In Genesis, you never see this passage: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, some of it was better than others.” No, in Genesis 1:31, it says, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Sometimes I would like to modify the always familiar Psalm 118:24 passage, “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” to “This is the world the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it, wherever that is.”

– Rob

Jul 7 2009

Grace and a Wonderful World

ca-smmra-0709-2Many of us feel that God’s grace is an important part of our life. Grace implies that even though we turn from God at times, even though we vainly think ourselves and our works better than His at times, and even though we do things against our fellow man and God, God forgives us. His loving grace keeps us close to him and saves us from ourselves. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son” is a mantra for Christians (John 3:16).

But as I spend time in and photographing nature, I believe that the meaning is much deeper than simply grace that forgives our sins and failings. Consider how stunning the world is. I am not just talking about going to some far-away national park. I am talking about sunrise and sunset in our backyard, flowers along a local park trail, the stunning architecture of a bur oak, the elegant beauty of a dragonfly, the soft green of a redshank bush in the chaparral and so very much more.

There is no reason that God had to create such a stunning world for us to live in. If our life on earth is unimportant (as some folks misguidedly believe, I think), then why should we be blessed with such amazing beauty in this world? We may have fallen away from God at times, but His grace not only forgives us, but also gives us this outstanding nature all around us. There is no reason why we should be built to feel in awe of so much of nature, but we do. I feel blessed by the nature of the native plants that live in my garden, the incredible chaparral ecosystem of my now “adopted” Southern California, the beauty of a blue sky with wonderful clouds and so much more.

In the words of Louis Armstrong,

“I see trees of green…….. red roses too

I see em bloom….. for me and for you
And I think to myself…. what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue….. clouds of white
Bright blessed days….dark sacred nights
And I think to myself …..what a wonderful world.”

The photo shown here is from the chaparral of the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of Los Angeles, shot at dawn. — Rob Sheppard

May 28 2009

Early Rising

castrocrestpyramidlk-51I love to be out in the natural world early in the morning. I don’t necessarily enjoy the sound of an alarm going off at too-dark o’clock, but when I am in front of a scene being bathed by early light, I feel blessed. It is like I am at the dawn of creation, in a sense, but of course, the creation of a new day. As the light comes over the horizon, the scene in front of you constantly changes as light moves across the scene, changing what is bright or shadow minute by minute.

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

That has always been a favorite verse of mine, and standing in front of nature as the sun reveals its beauty is truly a time to rejoice and be glad in the day, and be glad for this stunning world we live in. At these early times I feel both excited and at peace as I focus my camera on a constantly changing scene from the light hitting new places as the sun rises.

This is a chaparral yucca blooming in the Santa Monica Mountains not long after sunrise. This yucca sometimes has a common name of Our Lord’s Candle because early settlers thought it looked like a large candle flame above the brush covered hills. This early morning scene is almost like seeing a candle lit in front of a great space of natural life.

— Rob Sheppard