Growing up, I loved to read (still do!) My mom (a teacher) was always acquiring the most wonderful picture books by authors and illustrators such as Bill Peet, Eric Carle, and Leo Lionni. I adore Lionni’s stories and art, with some of my favorites being Swimmy, The Biggest House in the World and Frederick.
I admit that Frederick holds a special place in my heart, and I think as an adult, I’ve come to appreciate the story even more. Frederick is a special mouse who is misunderstood by his fellow field mice. With the oncoming winter, instead of gathering nuts and seeds like the others, he spends his time collecting words and colors and sunlight. As the food dwindles during the long, dark and cold winter days, Frederick begins to share the things he has gathered and his friends’ hearts are cheered by the beauty of his memories as they wait for Spring.
I think I have such an appreciation for Frederick because I recognize him as an artist, collecting beautiful things to share and bring joy to others. And sometimes I feel like Frederick myself, storing up treasures in my heart to later share with the individual who has eyes to see or ears to hear.
Just the other week, my team at work went on a silent retreat to The Pines at Tuscarora to spend time in silence and solitude, praying or listening to God as we felt led. I decided to spend all my time outside, since it was one of the nicer end-of-summer days and the sun was shining brightly even if it wasn’t overly warm. What a delight it was to sit on a large flat rock for hours, listening to crows calling to one another and yellow jackets buzzing at the last remaining dandelions in the grass. Scents of pine were on the breeze as I strolled through an aging apple orchard, and I came across tiny, wild strawberries which had survived the last mowing and the cooler nights.
A brief rest at the pond greeted me with a very fuzzy black caterpillar looking for a home to winter in, while a garter snake created rippling lines across the surface of the water. The snorting of horses lured me to peek over the fence of an adjacent farm where foals nursed and cattle grazed. Though I did not come away from this retreat with a profound word from God, I felt I’d experienced Him in every moment with all my senses, and I stored up all these treasures and delights, knowing they will express themselves in one way or another in my future art.
I know I can’t explain these experiences to everyone, and certainly some people will think I’m plain weird for taking joy in watching a cow or a caterpillar, but for the right people, I hope I can be a Frederick to them, gathering up the beauty of this world to share it when things seem darkest and we are waiting for Spring in our lives.