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Archive for April, 2020

My son, his wife, a friend, and I went hiking in the Gorge last Friday. The temperature was perfect, the skies were deep blue, the wildflowers popping and beautiful, the conversation enjoyable, and the hiking strenuous. We went down by way of the Sandy Flats Trail which is on maps but no longer marked or maintained. In places the trail was easy to follow, but in others downed trees and shifting creek obscured any remnant. It was always extremely steep with actual rock scrambles in several places. I am glad that we went in this way instead of coming out this way, because we would have been discouraged when tired. Instead, it was an adventure with many undisturbed spots for wildflowers and jutting rock outcroppings.

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Steep descent via Sandy Flats Trail next to Wiseman’s View

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

Next, we turned up gorge toward Babel Tower. My son felt like the Sun would beat us to our destination, so he set out on a fast pace. With taking pictures here and there, I had the hardest time keeping up. The Gorge is so narrow down by the river that at times you are only a few yards horizontal from the river but 1 to 2 hundred feet above it.

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Trail on the Edge

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Notice the rounded cut outs in the far bank from flood scouring.

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

I am beyond frustrated with the autofocus. In one attempt, I even tried to put a large leaf in the immediate background to force the nearer focus and it still chose 1/5 of the field of view and focussed further away. But I did record a flower that I have not seen often. I saw several of these plants as we went along.

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

Perhaps the most classic and beautiful view of the Gorge is from Babel Tower toward Hawksbill, Table Rock, Little Table Rock, and Chimneys:

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From Babel Tower downstream

The river goes around three sides of the rock outcropping called Babel Tower. A wide angle lens could record in 30 degrees of field of view the upstream and downstream river flowing at an angle about 60 degrees downward. This is extreme topography.

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radical descent

It is always good to have someone to share the journey and the view with, whether the day be pleasant or strenuous, or both.

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And to think, God is pleased to share the journey and the beauty with us and one day bring us to dwell with Him for eternity.

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My pastor preached an informative, challenging, and encouraging sermon this morning on John 14:1-3. I am always trying to organize information so that I may digest it. If it is not organized in my brain, I have trouble living it, because I don’t know what the next step is or even where to look for it. He gave four reasons from the passage that Jesus gave for why their hearts should not be troubled: 1) Jesus is trustworthy (v.1), 2) We have a sure promise of a home with God (v.2), 3) Christ began preparing a place for us immediately afterwards through the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension (v.2)*, and 4) Jesus is coming again to take us to be with Him (v.3).

We will outlast troubles, while troubles will burn away like the morning fog, he said. He ended the sermon with the most encouraging book ends of the eighth chapter of Romans. From verse 1, we know that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”, and from verses 38 and 39, “[nothing] will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.”

Which of following two responses will you have to troubles and trials, brother and sister? Friend, will you consider the hope and peace you may have by trusting Christ, who saves** all those who trust Him?

Responses to Trouble

*Pastor agreed with me that those past preparations do not exclude the present and future preparations in us and the world and in heaven.

**He saves not only through troubles and trials but more importantly from sin and eternity under God’s wrath in hell.

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In normal times “Out and About” sounds like a pretty lackadaisical pursuit of nothing in particular. But in these days of shutdown and stay at home orders, it sounds edgy and adventuresome. The beautiful days cry out for you to come outdoors. The first few pictures show flowers my wife and I found on our greenway walk.

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Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina)

This species is so very common in Western North Carolina and so unknown where I grew up in East Tennessee. The mountains are quite the barrier for some things. They are also not to be confused with Mountain Silverbell (Halesia monticola) which I mention in a recent blog about hiking on the Tennessee side of the Smoky’s (“A Brief Brush with Winter“).

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Common bloom in these parts

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With my wife on the end of the Bridge over the River

I didn’t purposefully play with the focus this way, and in fact, it is one of the main frustrations I have with automatic focus. But the result of framing my wife in the background on the greenway did turn out nice. If I had done it on purpose, I would have framed her in the space just below the small branch that bisects her in the picture. That would have been a very nice shot, which I could have cropped to include a little branch, leaf, and bloom around her on the path.

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Unintentional cool effect

My son asked why the lawnmower was parked on the carport. I said that I was trying it out to consider buying it, but then it quit. After a quick wolfing down his lunch, he offered to look at it. He figured out what was wrong in ten minutes. After work he came back and fixed the fuel pump without any need of parts. I have been impressed with how fast he has picked up on “mechanicing” since starting at the local independent Toyota repair shop.

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Lunchtime mechanic

Another day I needed to go across the mountain to pick up whole food supplements. I took a quick stop to hike a short section of the AT. I saw no one and was informed afterward by a neighbor that it was closed down. This is getting ridiculous. Largely Yellow Poplar stands are not common in WNC, but they are in ETN. I believe the difference is soil and rainfall. There is a slight rain shadow effect from the mountains so that the average yearly rainfall is typically about 10 more inches per year in ETN.

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Yellow Poplar stand in E TN

Yet another day I needed to feed the fish and water the plants in my classroom. Since we are told to not come to the school, if at all possible, I had to take my temperature upon entering. I brought the plants home and a secretary said she would feed the fish. This room has been my classroom for 11 of 13 years at this school. It feels a little like home away from home.

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My forlorn classroom

Exceptionally pleasant temperatures and blue skies have been the rule of late. I hope we neither have drought nor crazy storms at the end of it. I have been making actual but slow progress in my running lately. When you are coming back from sickness and injury it is hard to tell how much is attributable to your present physical condition and how much to excuse by being old. I am trying to make no excuses and have no high expectations. I am thankful that I can make any come back.

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At the end of my run

Today my youngest son called and asked if I would like to go for a hike. I had responsibilities at the beginning of the day, so we opted for a short jaunt in the woods. I honestly do not understand the mentality of closing trails. It further crowds the one not closed. Is that what someone wants so that there is an opportunity to close all trails and control people? It is beginning to feel that way. Why not rather let people make their own decisions about such things, warning them of the consequences, informing them about best practices, and limiting only the most obvious dangers. That is the way of freedom. Our founding fathers understood that we should trust the populace over the ruling class. We have reversed that and we will one day regret it. Thankfully on this day, the trail we had chosen was not shut down. We came in from a less traveled route and avoided all the more passes on the trail. I did not meet one person of the two dozen or so that did not make and succeed at social distancing.

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Ominous sign

The view just off one overlook we lounged on was curious to me. In the valley, Spring has sprung. Here is has only just begun. Notice the unshod trees on the slope behind. The foreground tree (birch perhaps) is just beginning to open blooms. And just beyond is a fir tree. There were a dozen or so surrounding the base of this crag. They were odd because they don’t usually occur at such low elevation (no more than 3000′ at best) and they are totally healthy when almost all others are infected or dead from aphid. I mused to my son that here was an isolated, small stand of Balsam Fir on a north slope under a shading crag where there was plenty of moisture (protection from wind, I might add) and distance from other infected trees. Long may they prosper.

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Spring barely begun

Look directly across from my nose, about 7/8 across the picture, to just past the slope down into the gorge and above the main body of cliffs. You can just see Babel Tower, a very worthwhile hike and view (Check out “Reminiscing Romp”.)

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Most pleasant day to be out

The climbing area at Hawksbill is a little intimidating upon approach. There is some good climbing here and some hard climbing. I hope to be climbing here again one day soon.

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Middle Hawksbill

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a mini-ecosystem

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The Gorge laid out before us

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view over to Wiseman’s View

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Roan Mtn and Hump Mtn

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Gingercake and Grandfather

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Enjoyable time with my son

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From Hawksbill across Wiseman’s View into North Cove with the Black Mtns (Mt. Mitchell) beyond

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Pitch Pine rather than Table Mtn Pine

I was reading another blog earlier today that suggested that spiritual life is better than physical life. The point was being made to focus on the more important one. I took the point, but took exception with the implied undercurrents. Our lives are not divided. All things have spiritual ramifications, including giving too much attention to your temporal life. But our physical life is not evil in and of itself as the Gnostics were apt to say. Instead, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Enjoy God’s good gift of a good day but don’t live for it. Acknowledge His work in your life and live for Him, rather than take credit for it or sweat your way through making your own way. He is both pleased and you benefit from the mundane and extraordinary lived out for Him.

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The following blog entry was written several months ago, but the mental state of the time, the ambivalence about publishing it, the time constraints to finishing it, and the arrival of better emotions and thoughts prevented me from publishing it until now. Now it is time and it will add some balance and veracity to my blog by telling more about who I am. People enjoy a good story, but how about a melancholy tome? It may be instructive to those who don’t struggle with this problem and encouraging to those who do.

I have been struggling with a touch of depression lately. I purposefully state it that way because it is nothing compared to times past. It will be passing, which I can say with confidence because I know how to get help and from Whom. But is it depression or could it be, particularly since I say passing, discouragement? Or might it be desperation? Now I could refer to the dictionary and sort these out, but I am going to give a personal, experience based definition, which may not ring true for you, or better yet, may ring all too true and give you encouragement and tools for dealing with them or it, as the case may be.* These definitions will by no means be totally devoid of knowledge gained from study.

In my experience, depression is an emotional background noise or foreground roar that is hard to define in terms of its source, and harder still to get rid of. Many people excuse it as a chemical imbalance that is not of the person’s doing. I believe that chemical imbalance is a problem for some people, but even then there are ways out, most of which don’t involve drugs in the long-term.** It is not helpful to dwell on the depression itself, but it is profitable to study your own modus operandi during depression for the purpose of recognizing when there is an onset. You are experiencing one of my quirks of depression by reading this passage. When I am depressed, I get very wordy, verbose, articulate, long-winded, redundant. That is most likely the source at present of my long sentences. Another way I deal with depression is to become very silent, but because I have learned to attack it, I now do the opposite and become verbal. Oh, that is the reason for quirk #1. And here is a help for you, dear friend, if you suffer with depression. Talk yourself out of it, not by any random droning of your voice, but by declaring out loud truth. The form it takes in me most often is singing hymns. So, I knew that I was dealing with mild depression this morning because I felt compelled to sing. The odd thing about my singing is that I can be loud and enthusiastic and crying, either inside or literally, all at the same time. I don’t know if the crying is repentance, thankfulness, remorse, release, or sadness, but I do know that if I sing long enough the cloud dissipates. That occasionally is too much for my wife because she is a stroke victim and the continual sound and language overloads her aphasic processing. If it is a hymn that I know well, whistling works so that I can think about other things or tasks simultaneously, but whistling is particularly problematic for my wife.

Desperation is more easily recognized and pinpointed. I was desperate yesterday because I had so much paperwork to do and a sense that it would never end. Perhaps that was part of what brought on today. Planning ways to lessen the load, spread it out, or see light at the end of the tunnel are ways I usually deal with that short-term irritant. Finding the purpose in the mundane and repetitive and distasteful makes it more palatable. Procrastinating is something we have all done to avoid what we don’t like to do, but it is counterproductive because it just prolongs the mental desperation. Desperation, then, usually comes from a fear, be it fear of purposelessness or fear of harm by whatever traumatic or long-term means (e.g. old age for example).

Discouragement can be short-term or long-term and its source obvious or not. Unfulfilled goals and dreams are the source of most of my discouragement. Inability to do something at a higher level of my own making or meeting someone else’s expectations can weigh heavily on me at times but do not usually cause discouragement. I guess that I understand that despite my attempts to be exceptional in various areas of my life, I am just a “common Joe” with perhaps a little better than average ability. I am profoundly limited in some areas. Failure or rejection are high on the list of what brings discouragement to many people.

In all of these areas, particularly depression, I have several coping mechanisms that are my go to’s. I have already listed 1) identifying when I am depressed by things I do and think when depressed and 2) singing my way out of that mode. For me, and these must be specific for you individually, I 3) rock in a rocking chair and think, 4) write to organize my thoughts and identify how I am feeling, 5) talk it out to others***, 6) walk, 7) do anything active, particularly climb, run, bike, or hike, 8) experience nature, contemplating God’s goodness, and 9) organize and propound truth on any subject, though theological and scientific areas are my most common subjects. What is your coping mechanism? Don’t know? Try one of mine. Experiment with things that are true and good (Philippians 4:8). Make them edifying pursuits, not destructive ones like drugs, alcohol, binge eating, binge videos or computer time, or pornography or illicit sex. Look for a way out, not a way further in.

I have purposely separated my last help for depression, desperation, and discouragement: 10) Spend time in prayer specifically about the source of your feelings, or about the emotion itself in the absence of knowledge of the source. To not just be talking to yourself, several things must be true: 1) You must be a believer in Jesus as your Savior, 2) You should be seeking to be repentant of sin, and 3) You should seek to discover what expectation you have that has not been given you by God and give it up to Him. Frequently either #2 or #3 is the source of the depression. If #1 is true, then you have power given to you by God to repent of sin (I John 1:9) and overcome temptation (I Corinthians 10:13). 4) Persist in prayer until you get past distraction, temptation, doubt, and waiting. Your circumstances may not change, as God sees fit, but your peace and joy can return in the midst of the sorrow.

Life is a journey with a destination rather than a destination only. Therefore, be patient with yourself. Conversely, don’t let yourself off the hook in the sense of ‘oh, everybody does it’. Instead, seek to make progress. Growing requires effort, but in the same way as you can not pull yourself up by your boot straps, you need an outside force, the power of God, to make real and lasting progress. May God enable you with His power to grow and may you find those coping mechanisms that work for you to ease your pain by pointing you to truth.

*Long sentences are so fun to attempt, because they are so easy to get wrong, particularly concerning commas, and therefore challenging. I think mine are right.

**How could I be so unfeeling and arrogant as to suppose I can make declarations about others people’s difficulties? Well, not only because I have studied this issue, but because I have personal experience with serious, dare I say, clinical depression, I am speaking up. You may need drugs to steady the boat, but they are a poor way to propel it forward.

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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I love to observe the beauties of nature. Some of the following pictures are from before the pandemic and many are part of my coping mechanism since it has started. The first picture shows algae with what I believe to be a brown spore case. If I am wrong, I wish some algae expert would set me straight.

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Algae under a microscope

Cameras can be deceptive. The pizza place was actually rather dim with little points of light. We enjoyed the cauliflower crust pizza with organic toppings of veggies and cheese.

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

It is convenient that my son has several downed trees in his side yard that I have cut off of a few times. I had never been so low on wood, oh, except for the time many years ago when I had been sick for several months and nearly ran out. At that time a friend felt sorry for me and brought some wood. The present wood is dry and off the ground with very little rot. The day was pleasantly cool for work.

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A little more wood needed

I gave one of my 9 year old Sunday School students an adult coloring book. The next Sunday she showed me the following:

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Sunday School student’s art

A mobile lab comes to our school each semester to do a DNA Electrophoresis Lab with our Biology students. It is a very effective use of their time.

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

A friend of ours from Bible School days came by to visit. She is retiring from many years of missionary work in the Philippians. It has been a privilege to be in contact with her all of these years, following what God has been doing with and through her.

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A friend and missionary

All of the previous pictures were pre-pandemic. The following ones are various fresh air excursions since warning to keep apart from others. The trillium are going wild in a little triangle of woods about 1/2 mile from my house where I frequently walk.

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

I like the beauty of my own yard in Spring as well.

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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Just a week before the restrictive stay at home orders came, my daughter and two grandchildren came to visit.

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He can look so serious

Only 3/4 of a mile from the house is a small waterfall in a draw (small vale or notch for those of you from a different neck of the woods) surrounded by wooded suburbia.

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Neighborhood waterfall

We hiked one day to a much larger waterfall. It is a short but steep walk, which I would have thought nothing of had it not been for the little ones to help along. We have had so much rain lately that the ground keeps giving water.

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

I can’t paint a still life, but I can appreciate one.

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

When my daughter went home, my granddaughter wanted to stay. We did several fun and relationship building things. When we went to the climbing gym I told her to watch me climb at first, knowing that she takes time to warm up to things. After about 45 minutes of following me around, she asked if she could have some climbing shoes. She was really quite good.

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

My wife is a wonderful cook. The only problem is her food doesn’t last long around our house with me there.

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

On the way back from a doctor across the state line, I decided to stop for a leg stretcher. In warm weather it is one of the best and most crowded swimming holes.

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

Two more backyard blooms and a small neck of the woods trillium follow:

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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There is little for perspective, but this huge, perhaps 12″+ in diameter.

At 5 PM on this very day, they were closing down many outdoor venues, specifically including climbing areas. I went and got in a quick session since both gyms and crags are closed for the foreseeable future. So much time to go and so little availability.

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel
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Bloodroot

Having not been outside much to climb lately, I was mostly shutdown by problems that I could previously do. I enjoy climbing for the mental and physical aspects. I needed some success before I went home and this is a good boulder for it.

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

I bought this ground cover only last Spring and it is covering the ground!

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Verbana sp.
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Red Dogwood

I don’t know why it is named after a snake, but the vividness and pattern of the white lines on the leaves are fascinating:

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

Many trees can be identified to the species by how they are shaped. Even sometimes their reaction to heavy pruning still comes out identifiable. One bright blue day I took pictures of 8 or 10 treeforms. I won’t bore you with the lot of them but the general idea is there.

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Spruce treeform

If you know what fractals are, then you will see why I mention them before the white oak tree picture.

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Oak treeform

To end this random array of flower arrangements and outdoor excursions and such I give you one more flower that grows by my backyard shed. Enjoy what little joys and beauties you are afforded. They help you deal with the sad and ugly moments of life. They are gifts from a gracious Father who loves beauty and blessing.

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Star of Bethlehem

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