The sunflowers stoop low under heavy caps of crystallized snow. The bean trellises and toppled tomato cages take on magical forms as the flakes stack quietly, softening the rigid contours. The rest of the landscape is indiscernible. Boundaries between hedgerow and field have merged under an insulating blanket of white. From one storm to the next, the snow drifts deeper, accumulating, stretching far to the horizon.
Just as winter has gripped the landscape, I, too, have been gripped by life’s circumstances. In the call of duty, boundaries once clearly defined have become indistinct. My joy is gone, my cup half-empty. Hopelessness stretches far out before me. I fight the day-to-day sameness – despair over God ordained limitations. I cannot change my life’s circumstances any more than I can tell the southerly breeze to blow and melt the winter’s snow. But unlike my garden, I resist every effort to be still, to wait upon the Lord to provide what my thirsty soul longs for.
How long, oh, Lord, how long? How long will I have to endure this season Thou hast ordained for me?
To everything there is a season, but this season is particularly long. Will spring ever come? Will hope ever spring eternal?
Spring and autumn pass quickly, summer lingers, but winter is longer and harder to endure.
But then I am reminded of a passage of scripture from the book of James, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Let endurance have its perfect result.
There are two Greek words for the word endurance. The first is prosdechomai, pros-dekh’-om-ahee which means to await (with confidence or patience): accept, allow, look (wait). The other is hupomone hoop-om-on-ay’ which means cheerful (or hopeful) endurance, constancy: – enduring, patience, patient continuance (waiting).
In order to find joy, I have to let endurance have its perfect result. I have to be still. And finally when I allow my soul to be laid bare and stripped of its defenses – its busyness, its escapes, its pleasures, finally when I cease to strive, the words of comfort come in the truth of the familiar hymn, given by a loving heavenly Father who knows, who cares about the minutest details of our lives.
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Even when it appears there are no solutions, in the stillness He speaks. And through the hymn writer, He reminds me to bear patiently my cross of grief and pain. Wanting so desperately to escape my circumstances, I fail to acknowledge all the grace-filled moments that exist within them.
Some spiritual seasons are longer than others.There must be a time of inactivity to experience growth. There must be time of near death, for life to teem again. I embrace the lessons my garden gifts me even in the dead of winter.
I choose to lie hidden in my Maker, awaiting rebirth – my heart dead to its own will, slumbering through a long cold winter of the soul. Grace is here, waiting to be received.
Take comfort my soul; the Lord is on thy side.
Copyright 2011 by Jill Novak
For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; Job 37:6 (KJV)
A lone leaf scuttles and skips across the snow.
Snowflakes fall and rise, dancing and swirling to winter’s crescendo.
The wind bursts forth in rhythmic explosions, picking up speed, gusting and blowing across the fields, following the Master’s commands.
Mesmerized, I sit by the window and listen to the ferocious howl of the “Symphony in White.”
Copyright 2011 by Jill Novak
It frosted last night. We’ve been on alert the last few days, waiting for the inevitable; still, it was a surprise when Elizabeth told me that she saw frost on the grass this morning. As if in doubt, she tiptoed outside and peeked over the edge of the drained swimming pool. A thin layer of ice had formed on top of the remaining water–a sure sign that the frost was real and not just a figment of her imagination.
I grow sentimental every time the cold returns, knowing that all I hold dear is about to pass away until next year. Goodbye to the cheerful chirping of the crickets, goodbye to the tender eggplant blossoms, and goodbye to the cucumber vines that wrap their delicate fingers around the nylon netting of my husband’s “Cucumber Haus.” The joy of growing a garden and the delights, therein, will have to wait for another season, for now the ground must rest.
I’m never really prepared for the drastic change in temperature. Surely I could have spent more mornings at the garden’s edge, sipping coffee and reading my Bible or drawing a nature specimen under the tree by the fence. But, it was such an ill-tempered summer – too hot– with barely a drop of rain. It certainly won’t go down as one of my favorites.
Anyway, it’s too late now. Just to prove it the tomatoes were drooped over this morning like old women – mere shadows of their former glory. The over-ripe fruit hung low on the vines, mottled and translucent from the penetrating cold.
I looked among the leaves for signs of the black and yellow garden spider. I remember other days, more temperate, when I saw her strung like a single jewel on gossamer thread, basking in the sun’s warm rays. But she, too, has shriveled away in the night. I think I’ll miss her most of all.
Copyright 2009 by Jill Novak
As a natural journalist and homeschool mom, I’ve learned to take advantage of “divine appointments” with God’s creation. Even though I’m accustomed to the landscape of my own backyard, I try not to let a season pass without capturing some of the same specimens anew in the pages of my journal and sharing my observations with my children. Little did I know that this morning was to be especially rewarding.
As I stepped into the sunlight, I was greeted by a cherished, seasonal event–the sight and sound of barn swallows performing aerial acrobatics above the long stretch of grass between the house and the silo. As in years past, I stood in awe, marveling at their agility as they swooped and flew at an alarming rate of speed, just inches above the ground. After watching their maneuvers for a few minutes, I continued walking up the hill to where the wildflowers grow. As I followed a trail through the tall grass and past the entrance of the silo, I heard a loud, insistent chirping coming from inside. Peering into the dim interior, to my utter astonishment, I saw six baby barn swallows on the floor, flapping their wings excitedly as their mother circled low and flew back up to the top of the silo. Every time she circled, they opened their mouths to be fed.
I quickly set up the digital camera and began recording this unusual happening. Suddenly, I remembered our four cats and how they’re prone to follow me on my jaunts into the field. Right then and there, I decided to rescue the baby barn swallows before they were found out. I ran down to the house and woke up the kids. They were excited about my discovery and after rounding up the birds, they carried them down to the kitchen table where they held them in their hands and drew from life. I even set up the video camera in the living room and sketched one little fellow from different angles. They were all very docile and obliging.
Remembering how the babies opened their mouths when their mother flew by, we took them outside and set them on the lawn to be fed (after locking the cats in the garage, of course). To our surprise, not only did their mother swoop down to feed them, but other barn swallows did as well. Later that day, we tossed them gently into the air, hoping they would take off. When it became evident that they weren’t quite getting the hang of flying, we placed them in an aquarium with a lid for safe keeping. The next day we repeated the process again.
Over the next few days, the kids and I seemed to inhale information about barn swallows. From books on backyard birds to Midwest field guides and the encyclopedia, we learned all we could about our new feathered friends. What did barn swallows eat? Did they build a new nest every year or would they return to the one in the rafters of the grain barn? How many times a year did they reproduce? Where did they migrate to and when would they return? As we found the answers to our questions, we began to understand God’s design for these highly social creatures.
Finally, on the third day, their wings grew strong enough to carry them to the roof of the garage. At last, the confident youngsters flew into the branches of the buckthorn tree next to the garage, and eventually we witnessed them join the rest of the community on the roof of the grain barn where the older, more experienced barn swallows took turns pushing them off, encouraging them to fly. We all rejoiced when at last our dear little clown-faced friends graduated from “junior aviation school” and took to the sky.
Making the most of spontaneous encounters with nature requires the skill of observation. The Modern Oxford English dictionary describes the word observation as “the action or process of observing something or someone carefully or in order to gain information.” Observing nature close up and first hand should be a goal for any student who is passionate about drawing. Whether making a quick sketch or a more sustained drawing in great detail, observing a specimen involves more than giving it a brief glance and letting it go. It requires time to observe with the intention of getting the most out of the experience that you possibly can.
One of most intentionally observant naturalists I have come to adore is children’s author-illustrator Beatrix Potter. How I wish I could have tagged along behind Beatrix and her brother Bertram as they explored the Lake District of England during their family’s holidays there. No stone was left unturned in the path of these child naturalists. A friend of Beatrix’s father, the English painter and illustrator Sir John Millais, told Beatrix, “Plenty of people can draw, but you and my son John have observation.”
From an early age, Beatrix was deliberate in her quest to gain knowledge of the subject matter she chose to draw. She was gifted with an intense curiosity and need to understand; she didn’t just “appreciate” nature, she “recreated” it as well. And the originality in which she expressed her observations set Beatrix Potter far above the crowd of aspiring artists of her time. “It is all the same,” she said, “drawing, painting, modeling, the irresistible desire to copy any beautiful object which strikes the eye. Why cannot one be content to look at it? I cannot rest, I must draw, however poor the result.”
When it comes to drawing and recording observations, some artists like to work slowly. Watercolorist Patsy McNamara says, “I produce more of a sustained sketch. I’m uncomfortable trying to work quickly…My sketchbook is made up of slow, steady pages where I focus completely on my subject and lose myself in the process. My pages are about intense observation and gradual understanding, not about speed or an end product. It is a recorded form of active meditation, meant more to give me understanding than anything else.”
There is no method for nature journaling other than gaining understanding through one’s personal observations. The way I approach a subject depends on how it catches my eye, whether I will sketch it or draw it, what tools I will use, and even what effect I am trying to achieve. What nature journaling looks like for each of your children will be as unique and individual as their fingerprints.
We should never rush a child who wants to spend hours drawing in their journal. On the other hand, we should never demand a prolonged journaling session from a child who is not wired to be an artist. Not all children will gain understanding in the same manner–namely recording it in the pages of a journal. Auditory or kinesthetic children may need different avenues for “recording” their experiences, ones that heighten their sense of understanding and will be just as memorable.
More than One Way to Observe
Because of differing learning styles, not all children possess the gift of visual observation, but it is a skill that can be strengthened by giving them different avenues of exploration. Using our experience with the barn swallows as an example, the auditory child might want to imitate the sound of the chirping babies and practice his “bird call” for dad when he comes home from work. He could take the video camera out into the field and make a short documentary about the habits and habitat of barn swallows. The kinesthetic child could gain understanding of the anatomy of a barn swallow by modeling it out of clay or running around the yard waving her arms, swooping and diving and imitating the social behavior of barn swallows. All of these observations could be preserved through writing, drawing, and taking photographs of your child’s experiences to include in their nature journals.
Start Young, Observe for a Lifetime
We don’t have to limit a child’s nature experience by setting a coloring page in front of him or having him copy someone else’s lines – not when there is so much to gain by letting him handle and draw a specimen from life. As in the case of Beatrix Potter, English children traditionally begin nature study around the ages of five or six. We, too, can give our children the eye of a naturalist from an early age. When it comes to understanding the design of God’s creation, a bird in the hand will always be better than two in the bush.
Jill Novak and her husband Robert have been married for 29 years. They are the parents of five children, ages 23 to10. Together their family has produced The Gift of Family Writing, Becoming God’s Naturalist, Drawing is Life, The Sketch with Me DVD Series, and The Girlhood Home Companion Magazine. Jill is a frequent speaker and contributor to the homeschool community. Visit the Novak’s website at www.remembrancepress.com and their new ministry for families with children with special needs at www.hopefulfarmfoundation.org. Contact Jill at email@example.com.
Spring, summer and fall are the time of year to stock up on plant and insect specimens for your home nature library. Nothing is more useful to an artist than a reference library full of specimens. Whether you preserve your specimens from life or use digital photography stored on the computer, stock your library now!
When I attended commercial art school we were taught to keep an artist’s reference file for anything we might want to draw in the future. Those files were filled with pictures of animals, people, and plant life taken mostly from the pages of National Geographic magazines. On one hand the files were invaluable if you needed an example of something for an illustration that you were currently working on such as a monarch butterfly on milkweed; on the other hand they were limited to the photographer’s style or the angle of his shot.
Other than figure drawing class and an occasional still-life, I don’t remember being encouraged to draw from real specimens. I found still-life drawings extremely uninspiring. And still-life is just what the name implies – still! I have found that drawing from life is much more captivating because you can observe a specimen in greater detail and draw it from any angle you choose.
How can you make your own specimen library? Well, it’s not hard at all. Let’s start with insects. Buy your children some butterfly nets and let them go exploring. It won’t be long before you have a fine bug collection. They don’t have to worry about pinning and labeling their insects unless they want to. Their drawings can be labeled and stored in notebooks. Pinning and labeling can limit your children’s ability to draw their specimens from different angles. Instead, get a large tackle box and store your bugs in it loosely. They can draw from their collection anytime they are inclined – even in the dead of winter. Preserve specimens in a jar with a cotton ball saturated in nail polish remover. When the bug has expired, place it in a slot and store it for later reference.
What about animals? Do you have a cat that loves leaving you “presents” on the doorstep? Some of most treasured bird specimens have been the result of a “cat-n-mouse” game. What about preserving dead animals that you find on the side of the road? Sound kind of crazy? Taxidermists have been doing it for years!
I love the story of children’s book illustrator Tasha Tudor thawing out specimens so she could pose them in different positions, and refreezing them to use again later. The collection in our garage freezer includes mice, moles, different kinds of birds, a baby weasel and many other interesting animals.
Keep a medium-sized aquarium on hand for drawing any live specimens you find. Release them after you’re done. In the last two weeks, we’ve used an aquarium to study six baby barn swallows, a large painted turtle, and a flying squirrel just to name a few. You never know what the Lord is going to provide for your nature study so be prepared!
Some plant matter can be preserved by air drying. I have several ball jars that line the top of an old library card catalog in my hallway. They contain samples from last year’s nature walks; thistles, bird’s nests, goldenrod, and milkweed pods are just a few of our “priceless” drawing treasures. Old printer’s trays can be filled with pine cones, maple tree seeds, insects, etc. Give your tray a prominent spot in your house and tell the kids to fill it up with specimens. Children are inspired to draw more spontaneously when specimens are readily available.
And of course, let your young naturalists loose in the backyard with a digital camera. Nothing can compare with the quality and instant reward of a child who takes his own pictures for reference. I regularly let Elizabeth, age 10, and Anna, age 6, take pictures of whatever they find of interest outside. Besides getting instant results, children can enlarge their photos and draw from them as they sit in front of the computer. If they can’t see a particular detail, they can click on the picture and enlarge it. Digital cameras are simply invaluable when it comes to catching a specimen for your collection!
Order The Nature Journaling and Gift of Family Writing Bundle here:
I was asked what supplies we use for nature journaling (I’m glad you asked!). Below is our basic supply list. I also have a workshop entitled Becoming God’s Naturalist which explores creative and practical ways to get the most out of nature study and nature journaling. It is available in a two CD set along with The Gift of Family Writing. You can find these resources in our bookstore:
Our Basic Supply List for Nature Journaling
Paper – For finished drawings we use individual pieces of 110 lb. cover stock fastened to clip boards (available at Wal-Mart). The completed drawing or painting is stored in a binder inside plastic sleeves. That way the children don’t have to worry about ruining previous drawings.
Sketchbooks – My children love having their own sketchbooks. Right now they’re crazy about large formats. Buy a couple of different sizes. You can never have enough sketchbooks! Just about any brand of sketchbook will do. Look for Beinfang or Cannon.
Watercolor paper – You don’t have to buy watercolor paper for beginners, but if you do, try a watercolor block. The paper is already stretched so you don’t have to worry about it buckling. I like to work on Strathmore Watercolor paper cold press. It is available in different sizes (the 9 x12 is nice). We also paint on 110 lb. cover stock. It holds up pretty well as long as your brush isn’t excessively wet.
Pencils – Our favorite all-purpose pencil is Faber Castle. You can find them in most art stores. Buy soft art pencils B, 2B, 4B, 6B and aqua or water soluble art pencils. Let the kids experiment with the different textures. They’ll tell you which ones they like the best.
Artist pens – by Faber Castell. These pens are great for noodeling, doodeling, and sketching. My kids love these pens and told me to put them on the list.
Watercolor pencils – Derwent available at Michael’s, Hobby Lobby or Ebay.
Erasers – We use plastic erasers by Staedtler which are available from Wal-Mart in packages of three. Plastic erasers remove pencil marks without hurting the paper. Kneaded erasers work well for picking up tone.
Paints – I like Prang 12 count paints for children (little kids can use Crayola). They offer a wide palette to mix from and are relatively inexpensive. I also purchased a set of Grumbacher watercolors for myself. These are not necessary if you are just starting out, but you can get them on sale at Michaels for $2.00 a tube. Some children, like my Elizabeth – now age 15, loves tube paints.
Try not to let age be a limiting factor when it comes to art supplies (my mother let me paint with oils when I was 10).
Brushes – Purchase fine quality brushes of different widths and shapes for watercolor. Inferior brushes will ruin your efforts to control the paint. If you’re watching your budget, purchase a couple of sets of packaged brushes from Wal-Mart or Hobby Lobby. They may have to be replaced periodically but they are much better than the brushes that come in paint boxes.
Just as every child can write from what he knows, every child can draw from what he sees. Children who rarely pick up a pencil on their own can learn to express themselves creatively if they are exposed to the right environment – one that’s filled with the beauty of God’s Creation, the work of inspired artists, and the tools of the trade.