by Nancy Freeman
Nature is the key to the human vision of God. In all its variety, all its beauty, lie two things: the understanding of the greatness of God and the bridge that can bring us to value and be in awe of one another. Joan Chittister, OSB
I recently drove from my home in Chicagoland to visit my mother in South Dakota. The drive is 9-10 hours long, depending on how often I stop to stretch my legs, get gas, take care of bathroom business, and run impulsively into interesting stores along the way. My usual route is Highway 20, a 2-4 lane road that I take through part of Illinois and all the way through the great state of Iowa. Highway 20 winds through gentle hills of farmland, rural homes, and small towns.
I enjoy road trips. What I love most about the drive to my mother’s is the change in seasons. On my journey this time, I became taken with soybeans. That’s right, soybeans. Let me explain for those readers who aren’t soybean farmers, and I’m guessing that’s a fair number of you. Soybeans are planted in the spring, grow to about 3-4 feet tall, and are green until September when they turn first to golden then eventually brown. At a certain point in late fall, depending on weather conditions, the plants dry out completely and the bean pods are harvested.
On this trip, I drove during the time when the soybean plants turn golden, and I mean a bright gold color. The fields looked spectacular with row after row of golden plants. Just as stunning were the areas speckled with green and gold, where not all the plants had turned yet.
I noticed this early in my drive, once I got off the freeways and interstates. Mesmerized, I became obsessed with spotting all the soybean fields amid the corn and hay. And once in Iowa, let me tell you, that’s a lot of soybeans. I often travel to my mother’s home in the fall and I couldn’t figure out how I’d missed noticing this extraordinary golden sight before. Perhaps I’d just not been on the road at this exact time, or, I hate to say, I may not have noticed as I sped down the road, a million things on my mind. I grew up on a farm where my father raised soybeans, and I lived in Iowa until my mid-30s, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with the plant. This time, though, I was totally smitten, gob struck by the beauty of nature. I realized I found God in soybeans!
There is a quiet beauty about soybeans. They are not what most people think about when pondering the joys of fall foliage. Until this trip, I certainly did not. In the colorfulness of rolling farmland, I felt God’s presence. As Sr. Joan Chittister reflects, it is that beauty that brought me to understand the greatness of God. I also thought about the farmers who planted the soybeans. Nearer to me, I thought about the visit with my mother, relatives, and friends. God’s presence and the beauty of the soybeans connected me to those I’d left at home and those I would see in a few hours.
Five days later, the drive back to Chicagoland was just as colorful. I reveled in the fall foliage. I also pondered my connections with family and friends and felt grateful to God for a good visit.
Alas, the soybeans will be gone, harvested the next time I travel to my mother’s during the Christmas holidays, with only brown stubble left in the fields. However, I look forward to marveling at them in spring, watching them grow and turn colors as next year goes by. I’m not quite sure how to time a fall visit in 2023, but perhaps I’ll get lucky and again see the golden soybeans proclaim God’s glory.
Is there a particular aspect of nature that you are fond of? What about fall mesmerizes you? How does God’s greatness in nature connect you to others?