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Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

One sunny day not long ago I was resting and reading for a short period of time. After I completed the passage, a deep essay on theology, I looked up and called my wife’s name. The house sounded empty. I cruised through the rooms and she was not to be found. Then I looked out the window and there she was wandering around in the yard with her head down. I went out and made a comment about the beautiful day and asked her what she was doing. She raised up a hand grasping small flowers, most people would call weeds, and said, “They cover the yard, and they are so beautiful.” She had three different flowers. I began the search, and we found seven different types of flowers, some hardly as big as the head of a pin, but covering the yard with blues, yellows, violets, and wee little whites. All the detail for male and female flower parts and nectar production and beautiful little petals. How much of God’s beauty goes unnoticed because we are looking but not perceiving, looking inward and not around us, looking to find fault rather than encouragement, or looking to show off rather than being shown to? So small, frequently unnoticed, but declaring God’s glory anyway, quietly turning heavenward.

Many years ago I watched a program about the exploration and mapping of the cave Lechuguilla that is in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. At the very back of the cave is a room with intricate gypsum stalactites, one 20 feet long. The majority of the cave was not discovered until 1986 when cavers broke through an extensive breakdown blocking the main passage. The Cave of the Crystals in northern Mexico features selenite crystals up to 37 feet long and 4 feet in diameter. The conditions are harsh in terms of temperature, humidity, and vaporous sulfuric acid. The cave was discovered in 2000 by two miners after extensive pumping cleared the room of water.

Many other examples of once hidden beauties and wonders could be paraded before you, but these several examples demonstrate to me that God has many hidden beauties in His Creation, quietly giving glory to Him, and how many may never be discovered? Secondly, I believe it gives new meaning to why we explore at all. We don’t just climb a mountain because it is there, we seek something, something wonderful or beautiful or hidden. Our desire to discover and explore reveals God’s glory. Many explorers and exploration societies give glory to the explorers or the less than scientific explanations of what is found, but pieces of God’s character in power and design and goodness and wisdom are revealed in what we find. That is a worthy reason to explore and discover, reveal and describe.

The seventh type of flower is hidden around back and several are facing away, but they decorated our window sill for few days.

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Spring has sprung, and along the Catawba River Greenway, it is in full bloom. The years pass and I have seen every season multiple times on this 6 miles of trail by the river. To long time watchers of this blog (1), this entry might be a bit boring, but there are a few new twists and turns and the beauty of God’s Creation never grows old. I am especially drawn to its ability to regenerate and renew. I didn’t take a picture, but I observed several large Mayapple patches blooming in the middle of a died out Kudzu patch. Of course, as the weather gets warmer, the Kudzu will take over and completely shade and choke out the Mayapple for the remainder of the season. But the plants persist because they sprout, leaf, bloom, and fruit by mid-May before the Kudzu has done much more than sprout.

I found a wildflower new to me. I took two pictures and immediately sent them to sister-in-law, the family resident wildflower expert (2). Within two minutes she replied with the name and inquiries as to the presence of crossbred varieties with different color centers to their flowers. A short distance down the trail I spied a curiously marked songbird, and the two of us stared each other down for a few minutes. I made a cautious one step for a better view, and the bird flipped around on the branch preparing to fly, allowing me to see the backside coloring. After another good look I cautiously moved away, leaving the bird on his branch. I feel quite confident, after looking it up, that I was viewing an Ovenbird, a larger songbird but smaller Warbler. I haven’t the camera to even have bothered to try to take a picture, but the breast markings, eye ring, back and tail feathers were distinctive enough.

To think that this walk had come about because every effort to secure work for the day had fallen through. So, what do you do when you can’t make your best laid plans A, B, and C happen? Take a walk, pray, and look intently around at the beauty of God’s world. For a few of the pictures I did manage to take, click on “Greenway Flowers“.

  1. Some of my former blog entries on Spring on the Greenway follow: “Out and About“, “Small Delights“, “Colorful Treasure“.
  2. In fact, she is a remarkable woman. If you don’t believe me, check out this link: https://www.wate.com/news/local-news/remarkable-women/2022-remarkable-women-linda-francis/

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I found the following reflection from 2011 that I never published. It still the way my wife and I do life.

One of the choices our family has made over the years is to live materially conservative lives. Obviously, if a family has financial limitations then their life must be lived frugally to maintain stability. That has been our allotment for which we are thankful to God. As I have said in times past, “Though we don’t always know how, the bills are always paid.” However, it is possible even within this forced frugality framework to choose convenience overr conservation. For instance, three of our babies wore exclusively cloth diapers and the fourth wore them until continuous diaper rash persuaded us otherwise. It began as a clear way to save money but continued as a mindset on how to conserve resources.

          Another attempt at conserving resources is the compost pile. We began our marriage with two gardens and continued maintaining one for most of our first fifteen years of marriage. We miss our gardens but our present plot is very poorly drained with very heavy soil that doesn’t grow garden vegetables well. But even now without a garden we deliver our ‘wet’ garbage to a covered compost bin that is about 3’ x 5’ x 2 ½ ‘ high. The compost pile helps return nutrients to the ground, reduces the number of times a month trash must be delivered by the rural resident to the dump, and reduces the amount of landfill usage.

          For me personally the compost has had another benefit. Though life is busy and I send one of the children out or my wife frequently took it out in times past, I actually enjoy taking out the small bucket full of scraps. In winter I most often carry it out after dark in anything but the hardest rain and never minding the cold. The smell of the air may suggest a coming snow or rain. The wind chills the nose and ears and shoulders and tells of fast changes to warmer or colder. But the best times are the clear, quiet cold nights when the stars are at full brightness. That is a time to reflect on the celestial light peering down through the bare twigs onto the detrital refuse of Earth below, and everything in between- a quiet moment to consider God and His most excellent Creation.

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I had a peculiar feeling today (1). Two people were talking about an animal that had to be put down for attacking the owner and in the past other people. The owner cried during the conversation and the other person empathized and then turned and asked if I had a dog. I do not. Because of a poor experience (2) with a dog as a child, I don’t really enjoy pets that much.

Some people have pet dogs or cats. Some people have pet hamsters or gerbils. Some people have pet fish. Some have pet rocks. Later in the day I received a strange text with a picture (click here). I had a sinking feeling when I saw the picture. I lived under that plant for 22 years. I cleaned up after it. I trimmed it. I looked up at it during various seasons and variable weather. I enjoyed its shade, its shape, and it size. The new owners had ever right to cut it down, but I was still a little upset. It was, as my wife reminded me, the largest tree in the neighborhood, and it was probably 150+ years old. I have long known that I like trees, but today I realized that I must hold some similar emotions to other pet owners of dogs or cats or gerbils. I felt a sense of loss over an old companion. (3) I responded in a quite non-committal way to the text with the picture, “Make a alot of good firewood.”

  1. Let me tell it in the present tense even though a week has slipped away since it happened.
  2. I wasn’t attacked. I just didn’t like the dog because I had to train it and feed it but couldn’t really play with it because it would always run over you when you went into the backyard.
  3. Far older than me, perhaps 120+ years old based on other oak trees of similar girth on which I have counted the rings.

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I am thankful for awareness to perceive the small little wonders that God has placed in my path each day. As Anne of Green Gables said that there is so much “scope for imagination.” But these wonders aren’t pretend. They are real, interesting, and point up. Check out but a few at “Random Wonders“.

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Beauty in Science.
The American Physicist Richard Feynman wrote, “You can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.” But what is a serious scientist doing writing about cold, objective facts and emotionally compelling beauty in the same sentence? Is there beauty beyond sight, sound and smell? Is there beauty in a simple mathematical equation or a profound idea? And if so, does that beauty communicate anything deeper? At the end of his video essay, “Change”, MIT Physicist Phillip Morrison is discussing the significance of Einstein’s equation E = mc2. He asks what it means and then becomes animated and declares, “What it means is wonderful.” He goes on to explain what it means and because the equation is so simple and profound he marvels at its beauty. So wonder at beauty comes in many ways and at many levels.

More Questions That Beauty Raises.
But what is beauty? Is it “in the eye of the beholder”, that is, subjective, or is it an objective fact about an object or process? Does it have any purpose or is it only random? What is the source of beauty?

Beauty Defined.
In his book “The Evidential Power of Beauty”, Thomas Dubay writes, “The objective evidence for the truth of the tulip flows from its form and not simply from the fact it satisfies a person’s needs or desires.” The tulip is beautiful whether anyone is there to see it or not and even if anyone who sees it is incapable of recognizing its beauty. The eye of the beholder neither makes the tulip beautiful nor denies it of its beauty. Beauty is objective.

Beauty Elicits Response.
But I do not want to rob the beholder of beauty or of his or her pleasure in beholding it. Beauty is compelling; it “elicits a response.” It affects us. Why? John Piper responds to the question this way, “Why do we get near bigness and beauty and magnificence and excellence? It’s because that is what we were made for. We were not made for mirrors. We were made for standing in front of what is infinitely beautiful and having it so satisfy us…” Hans Urs von Balthasar says, that in fact, “every experience of beauty points to infinity.” King David knew this, for he said, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.” Psalm 27:4.

Answer to the skeptic.
As a student of science have I not jumped to conclusions by attributing beauty to God as implied by these quotes? Could not beauty be merely the product of a happy convergence of random processes as demanded by the Naturalist’s evolution? Dubay points out that we know better. “People know that chance can explain neither beauty nor intricate complexity.” Chance and time result in chaos. Therefore, “beauty is a powerful pointer to truth because common sense immediately perceives design and intellect.” So then, God has made His creation so that “The heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) and in every detail there was beauty for “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

Beautiful Conclusion.
So the purpose of beauty is to point us to God and His work. For that reason I will not be embarrassed to tell you that one of my favorite moments of relaxation is to lie under a tree and observe all of the various ways that it exhibits beautiful form. My knowledge of xylem and phloem, photosynthesis, forces and equilibrium, symmetry, wood grain and heat content of firewood only increase my enjoyment of tree beauty. On the part of the tree, its beauty points to heaven in a greater way than by the simple fact of standing upright with upturned branches. And Creation is only a dim reflection compared to the sight every believer will see one day. They “will see the King in His beauty” (Isaiah 33:17), and “splendor and majesty are before Him, strength and beauty are in His sanctuary” (Psalm 96:6), because He is there.

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Adorable may be defined as

“1: extremely charming or appealing” [examples:] an adorable child, an adorable cottage
2: worthy of adoration or veneration” (1,2)

Notice that the charming definition comes before the adoration one. I assume that this preference is based on the amount of usage in the English language. Interestingly, the etymology (3) of adorable and its base word, adore, is based entirely in worship of God. To find one’s spouse or child or anything adorable is secondary and found arising in language 3 centuries later. So, it makes sense that the definition of adore reflects this origin:

“1: to worship or honor as a deity or as divine
2: to regard with loving admiration and devotion [example:] He adored his wife.
3: to be very fond of [example:] adores pecan pie” (4)

More than likely this order of definition is also based on usage. In present culture, I dare say that you have heard the word adorable in its primary use more than adore in its primary use. With this in mind, consider that it is reasonable that I was struck anew with the following phrase from the hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”:

“Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,

Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight.”

Now you may wonder what the purpose of my introduction is. Obviously, this sentence is talking about God. But I didn’t have the definitions and preferences of use in mind at the time, just the cultural tendency to think of adorable, for example, adorable grandchildren (5).

But then I thought, “Wait, these angels believe God is adorable, that is, lovable, beautiful, worthy of veneration and devotion.” And they do not worship Him out of compulsion or duty, afterall 1/3 refused to and became demons (6). No, they veil their sight, for though they are powerful and beautiful and pure beings among whom humans faint and tremble, their power and beauty and purity is trivial compared to God’s. Are they ashamed to look upon Him? Probably not, since they are pure. But He is so holy, so other, and so glorious, so heavy, and so pure, so full of light. They adore Him because He is worthy and they want to, are privileged to. That will be heaven, worshiping before Him because He has enabled me to and with a pure heart I will want to and it will be blissful.

  1. Adorable | Definition of Adorable by Merriam-Webster
  2. It may surprise you to know it is an adjective only. In the sentence, “The puppy is adorable.” it is still an adjective.
  3. Etymology- the history of a word or linguistic form
  4. Adore | Definition of Adore by Merriam-Webster
  5. I have eight grandchildren, so it is natural for that to come to mind immediately.
  6. Revelation 12:3-4

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In this day of record high lumber prices, many people are opting for deck restoration rather than replacement. It is still not cheap since there may be nearly as much labor in restoring a deck as in building a new one. Following is an example of restoration and addition.

But how many boards do you replace? Is structural integrity the only criteria? Where does longevity or appearance or smoothness come into play and to what extent? Beyond structural integrity, the owner has preference and say that should be considered. For instance, this owner specified that the surface be smooth enough of children’s bare feet. But that still doesn’t answer how many boards should be replaced and how many should be sanded or screwed down better. How many boards would you replace in the following picture?

Notice also in the preceding picture that the deck was constructed with nails, and that via nail gun. The young girls of the family regularly pounded the nails down. Expansion and contraction and warping can work the nails out where they can snag a shoe sole or strip off some foot skin. For this reason, I prefer building decks with screws. I get it. A crew is supposed to put up a deck in a day and half and move on, but the result is not the best long-term. Screws cost more and definitely take longer to install, but the result is superior. The best new deck screws have star heads, called torx screws and the most common is T-25. They are so much easier to install than Philip’s Head screws because you don’t have to hold the tool perfectly perpendicular to the screw head and press down so hard. I added some additional screws to the deck and instructed the father to have the girls extract the nails as they come up so that he could replace them with screws that I left behind for that purpose.

The railing was particularly rough. In fact, all top surfaces are typically hard hit by the combination of UV radiation, heat, , heating-cooling cycles, moisture in terms of amount, wetting and drying, frost, and freeze-thaw cycles. For this reason I advise people to treat the top surfaces once a year to increase longevity of their deck. Railing balusters and undercarriage take by far the most time to stain and amount of stain, but the railing needs to be done initially for appearance and probably not more than once every 5-8 years afterwards depending on radiation and moisture exposure. Quick visual inspection will reveal if it needs to be done. Notice that I did not say anything about the undercarriage or joists. I’ve seen 20 year old decks that were not treated and are still sound with only the slightest deterioration between the decking boards. A deck that gets considerable leaf and litter fall is in more danger of joist deterioration, but that depends on how well the decking boards are maintenanced and if the gap between those boards is sufficient for litter to fall through. Boards placed to close together gather organic trash.

The cracks in the following post are not the biggest concern. The post was merely nailed on, and over time worked loose from people using it to steady their ascent and descent and temperature variations. For this reason I bolt railing posts on with a 3/8″ galvanized carriage bolt and screws. My father used to say, “Nothing holds like a nut and lockwasher.” Nails certainly do not. The staircase railing was shaky and that made the steps shaky. I ended up completely rebuilding the stair railing and more firmly attaching the stair stringers to the deck. (1)

I thought that it was quite creative to but a planter pot in the hole and under a table until the hole could be fixed.

The new railing looks nice, is smooth, and is well attached. It bothers me that people who stain decks are so sloppy. There are products that will clean stain off of vinyl siding without damaging it.

The new stair railing bottom posts are planted two feet in the ground, painted with tar, and concreted in. The railing is solid. The old balusters were fine and reusable, which saved more cost in re-cutting than materials.

The owners also wanted a privacy fence and specified the height. I set three 4 x 4’s in concrete and bolted them to the deck. The slat boards were 1 x 4’s ripped on a table saw, meaning they were 1 11/16″ wide. (2) I might have built with wider boards but the owner had a certain aesthetic in mind. Notice additionally that I have begun the framing for the skirt to keep the dog and other critters out.

Yes, there is a 2 x 4 missing in the privacy fence. I had to take a second run to the lumber yard for a few missing boards. It is nearly impossible to go just once, especially on a repair job where new realizations of deterioration become evident. I put it in later, but didn’t want to stop work late in the day for a run to the lumber yard when I was making good progress. Also, this is the only picture where you can glance the result of the floor sander I rented.

Following are the results of the repair. Given time restraints I did not stain the balusters or skirt. The owners did. I like their taste in decor and stain color. To save the lawn and prevent wet or muddy feet, they also added stepping stones.

In two respects I had to be creative concerning the skirting. One was the transition from privacy fence to skirt. I opted for a water shedding wood ‘shingle’ that encased the uprights. The other is not pictured, a screwed in access ‘gate’ at the other end of the deck. If I hadn’t told you, you would never know it is there from looking. You never know when someone might throw or drop any number of things that go through the slats and need to be retrieved or some maintenance needed on the house that requires access under the deck.

Some of these old boards were installed incorrectly, crown down, so that water gathers on the deck. This is major reason to re-stain the deck yearly.

This flowering bush unknown to me is a great way to decorate in front of a garbage can fence. Functionality is great, but appearance is inviting. Extend this idea to God’s Creation. Ecologically self-replicating and self-cleaning and simultaneously visually inspiring and health-giving only begins to describe the depth of God’s gift to us of functionality and beauty in nature for which we should regularly give thanks and praise. Decks and such are only a vague reflection of that creativity.

  1. stairway parts- https://www.mycarpentry.com/image-files/xstair-diagram-solid-risers.jpg.pagespeed.ic.Pc601Vrgj6.jpg
  2. A 1 x 4 is actually 3 1/2″ wide (dressed lumber). If you subtract the 1/8″ of sawdust made by the blade width and divide by 2, you get 1 11/16″. The lumber yard did not have the 1 x 2 inch stock and ripping produces straighter boards anyway. Being from out of town on this job, I asked the owner if a friend had a table saw that I could borrow. A brother in Christ was glad to assist.

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I was in need of going over the mountain a couple of days ago. I have done the trip so, so many times. I decided that I needed to stop on the way back to take a little hike and break up the trip. I appreciate scenes I have already seen and return to many frequently. I especially enjoy showing others little wonders of nature that I have seen. But I was alone and I longed to see something new, and it did not have to be big or impressive. I found what I suspect to be an underappreciated little jewel off the far end of the Linville Falls Access Parking Lot. Old growth forests are few in the Eastern United States. I content myself with enjoying the occasional lone larger tree. This Eastern White Pine is a healthy example.

The trail is very short. By the time you walk to the far end of the parking lot, you are half way there. The trail goes up over a little hump past several large trees and then down into a narrow notch where the park service has a bridge just right for viewing and walking up between the boulders.

In the middle of the bridge, voila’, Dugger’s Creek Falls.

On the far side of the bridge the steps go up between the boulders in such an inviting way.

Always desirous of a little adventure and a better picture, I got off trail just at the base of these stairs. Inviting though they be, they were a bit too civilized for my present frame of mind. Instead, I battled a bit of rhododendron and some small drop offs. The falls, in the 12 to 15 feet wide notch and cloaked in rhodo’s was not having it.

So, I went to the top of the falls in order to check out how and where the water squirms between the cracks and voids of the notch. If you look closely, you can see the bridge. If it were summer, I would probably wade up the stream to the base of the falls, but I don’t have a waterproof camera, so that would not be recorded.

Above the falls the creek comes rushing down into the notch, still a steep pitch with more broken boulders along the sides.

The scene is green with Galax and fern and moss.

The rock form is definitely foliated metamorphic, the layers curiously formed in waves.

The trail exits the woods onto the road just out of sight of the bridge or falls, but just before it does you get one more good view.

Not quite satisfied until I have explored every little turn and divot, I crossed the creek and worked my way under the bridge and edged up along the small cliffs. It was no use. The likelihood of wet feet or more (e.g. wet cellphone) stopped me short of completing every inch. I was satisfied with one more picture and a rock scramble back up to the trail.

On the beyond the bridge side of the trail are several plagues with quotes. The following was apt to my present situation.

The author does not say why we are in need of these things, and it is certainly true that many never consider that they are. But when I muse upon why this quote is true, it seems to me to point to the beauty of God as the why we seek the beauty in nature. We cannot now see Him, though Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8) We want to see His beauty and seek it in nature. But “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word.” (Psalm 119:9) But no one is able apart from the righteousness that Christ imparts, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:230 As He told those questioning Him about the work of God, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:29) Therefore, I look forward, not based on my merit, but His in which I trust, to seeing His beautiful, awesome visage one day, just as I seeks its tarnished and veiled reflection in His Creation I so enjoy experiencing.

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The tradition in my family for about 30 years has been to gather at my oldest brother’s house for Thanksgiving. Numerous traditions grew up around this basic idea. One of the most enduring is the day after hike (see “Cascades and Escapades” and “Ebb and Flow of a Tradition” as two recent examples).

Of course, you can guess that this year was different. We didn’t meet at the elder brother’s house. His immediate family did. They also went on their hike. A good portion of my immediate family met at my house on Friday for thanksgiving reflections and a meal. There was plenty of good food prepared by numerous hands. We read psalms of thanksgiving and sang hymns and shared things we are thankful for.

On Saturday, prompted by two of my sons, we took a hike. My youngest and a young friend were beginning a one night backpacking trip, and the rest of us were along for the views and conversation. The slope had been burnt over twice about 15 years earlier and eliminated much of the topsoil. Regrowth has been slow, but the views are good.

The backlighting turned out OK, but since we did not know that at the time we shifted 180 degrees and posed again for the friendly hiker that I asked to record the images.

My son admitted that he was overly packed for a one nighter.

There are patches where it was not completely burned off and the younger trees come back faster here with the presence of more soil.

New growth is heartening.

The previous pictures show the relatively shallow slope the southeast face of the Shortoff Mountain. The next one shows where the trail comes along the edge of the vertical northwest facing precipice.

Table Mountain Pine predominates the stressed conditions of shallow soil, wind blown and otherwise drying conditions.

You wouldn’t be surprised to discover that this young friend is a tri-athlete. He stands upon metamorphized layers that are common to the Gorge.

Lake James actually dams three parallel streams, two of which are visible here. The South Mountains are visible in the background, being the last foothills before subsidence into the Piedmont region.

Wind is a creative and random sculptor of trees, imparting to this specimen a bonsai appearance.

There are many lone trees hanging onto the cliffs but the pine on this vertical section seems somehow “braver” or “more determined” as anthropomorphisms would have it.

Table Mountain Pine is also one of those species that require fire to open the cones and germinate the seeds. The cones appear to be fortresses against their time of opening.

Shortoff Mountain is amazingly flat on top as seen in this view along the Mountain to Sea Trail.

I know that fire is necessary and unavoidable, but I hate what it did to this little pond. First of all, it is amazing that a pond exists at the summit of a flat-topped mountain. It is not a mere wet weather pool. It used to have shade, open water, abundant frogs, small fish with only minimal vegetation in the water. Now the pond has eutrophied to such an extent as to hold no discernible animal life.

Not knowing that it was there, I had to point out to my young friends that we should stop and look at the best view of Linville Gorge available. Because the Gorge turns slightly at the mouth, you stand here on the rim looking straight up the majority of the length of the Gorge.

You can tell by the quality of the colors that this picture was not taken with my phone. I credit my daughter-in-law for this good picture.

And here she is with her husband.

Near the previous view is another one facing out of the mouth of the Gorge, revealing ridges more than 30 miles away.

I conclude with a picture of me contemplating the change and continuity of God’s nature. We can design our Biosphere 2 in an attempt to copy the real thing*, but our attempts cannot hold a candle to the ability of God’s designed Biosphere to absorb stress in the form of weather and natural disaster and human pollution and still recover and adapt. Man may have caused the fire that so affected this pond, but lightning could have just as well accomplished the same thing during drought. The pond may be changed for the duration of its existence or it may eventually recover its shaded, lively charm. Either way it is and will adapt well.

*If you don’t believe in design in nature, just consider the extent to which scientists go to design experiments like Biosphere 2 and they don’t even work that well.

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… and little people are nonetheless significant beyond their size.

My wife and I visited our daughter and her family this past weekend. It set me to notice little things more than I have recently. Flowers blooming at the end of November is novel, but this little guy was showing off his stuff right next to their driveway. I have told the problem with controlling the focus on my phone, but here it reminded me of a little thing. This is what the flower looks like when I don’t have my bifocals on or when not using the right part of them. Doing fine work above my head is a pain since I have difficulty seeing it. I have actually flipped my glasses upside down to see what I am doing. It’s those little things.

I took an early walk the next morning. The temperature was brisk and there was no one out yet. The woods on either side of the road give this straightaway a pleasantly lonely feeling. White oaks and red oaks and maples and Sourwood and the occasional pine reside in a woods infrequently grazed by cattle. It is a pleasant little scene.

Most of the leaves have turned and dropped off, but this little Red Maple tree by the road was not having it. There was still time to show off the colors.

I’m not a big dog fan, but their dog is an outside dog and likes to explore and circle back around to you. He seems to have come to understand that I’m OK with his occasional inquiries as long as he is not in my face all the time.

Little grandchildren are a big deal, posterity and all that. It is fun to watch them explore and learn. It was a little kindness, but the man in the picture who is unknown to us, gave the children feed to give to the goats. I hope that he enjoyed watching them interact with them as much as they and we did.

It was also curious to watch how adept the goats had become at retracting their heads and horns out of the fencing without getting hung up.

Little moments of quiet, particularly in nature, are so restful to the soul. I hope that my son-in-law found it so.

The rolling hills of the Virginia landscape are fertile soil for an orchard.

Pruned apple trees produce larger and more fruit. The orchard is picturesque because of the views in both directions.

The Little Man is riding on his mama.

His big sister is not so little anymore and in the 3rd grade this year.

Who knew that anything ate Cayenne peppers. Tobacco Hornworms do. (My daughter looked it up first.) The seven white V-shaped markings and red horn confirm the ID.

Yet another small flower exhibiting its beauty. It is some variety of Balloon Flower, because that is its appearance before the bloom opens. The flowers were confused. I have an azalea still in bloom this 6th day of November, the third time it has bloomed this season.

I guess the hood warms his head and the bear warms his heart. But what warms his feet?

While I am talking about little things that are big, I thought I’d add a few more thoughts. One of my pastors offered me some firewood that he had no need of. I cut and began loading. In a few minutes he came out with his son saying, “I brought reinforcements”, and helped me load the wood. Kindness can be a word of encouragement, but an act of encouragement is even better.

Today I did small repairs on a house. I sealed the leaking skylight on the roof. I re-nailed a soffit board that had warped and pulled loose. I caulked around windows that were leaking air and allowing Lady Bugs entrance. Such a little crack can allow so much to transverse a barrier. Do maintenance on the little cracks that can allow rain and cold and insects into your living space. And I don’t just mean your house.

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I am blessed in so many ways. I have far more than I need and many things that I want. Life is not exciting every day, but God provides, takes care of me, and gives me blessings, some obvious and others more subtle.

It has been a wet summer, and very wet and cool for August. A person new to the area asked if it is always this wet. No, usually August is relatively dry and hot, sometimes not even raining the whole month. But this August grass is still green, creeks are still full, and flowers not want to bloom this time of year are.

Morning Glory amongst the cane by the river

With all of the rain there are moments when one wonders how wet it may become and when it will end. But never fear, there is always the promise of sunshine tomorrow (Genesis 9:8-17). Have you ever noticed that double rainbows have the colors in opposite order? From the observer’s perspective the spherical prisms (aka raindrops) are refracting sunlight in two different directions from that point. Also, a rainbow dims as you travel down a highway because you are no longer at the optimal angle to see the most light. So, one of the two rainbows is not at the optimal angle. If you could fly straight up, there would be a point where the two rainbows would have equal brightness. Beyond that, the formerly bright bow would be the dimmer bow. The following picture is from my front porch just after another hard rain of the day.

Double Rainbow

My wife thinks that I am silly when I take pictures of a meal. But I think the appearance, the taste, and the nutritional value are artwork. I am blessed to have a diligent wife who is also a very good cook.

Evening Meal

Though retired from my “career”, I still need to work to supplement my retirement. As any follower of my blog will know, I am a rock climber, but sometimes when I work I do more dangerous things than rock climbing. I am tied in to a stout rope on a climb with a watchful partner who belays me. As the following picture shows, I sometimes work up high without such protection. I could take the picture because the ladder’s feet were secure. I always attempt to make them secure, but things can go wrong. I am blessed to have worked so many years without significant injury and I work carefully to prevent it. Still, my life and safety are in His hands. About rock climbing, several people have said, “But you don’t have to take that risk.” My reply is that it is far less risk than some other things I do and I like doing it. One may say that I don’t need to do these things either, but someone will. The real solution is to not build structures that necessitate this situation. I have given up climbing trees to take them down. Ladders will come next. All of life is a balancing act. I pray, I act prudently, and yes, I take calculated risks. I am blessed.

Working for a living

The gutters were overflowing and had not been cleaned out in several years. I discovered a little ecosystem there, well watered and rooted in black humus. The white zigzag structure in the Garden Spider’s web (the spider being barely seen behind it), is called a stabilimentum. It bears this name because it was once thought to strengthen the web. It may be for the purpose of hiding the outline of the spider. It is a source of beauty to the aesthetic and confusion to the scientist and perhaps the predator. The tree roots ran at least a foot in either direction, allowing the pulling up of much “turf” in one grab. I think that the foreground tree is a boxelder. I am blessed to be able to see and appreciate beauty in God’s creation in the most humble and unexpected situations.

I found this moth on my front porch several weeks ago. Full disclosure: It was dead. The color is so rich, like raw sienna, the Italian clay of that color. I seem to recognize colors that go well together, but I am not quite able to match them when given many colors to choose from. I am blessed to be someone that appreciates the music even if I can’t play it.

Porch Moth

I don’t know what has become of me to put two selfies in a blog entry, or any at all for that matter. The final picture was an accident, humanly speaking. I was trying to show a family the ladder and “mini-ecosystem” pictures after church and took the picture en route to them. I include it mostly because my greatest blessing is being part of God’s family by the salvation Jesus provided for me on the cross. You, too, may have this blessing by repentance and belief in Him. And in particular I was blessed this day to lead my church in singing and voice my praise and thanksgiving to God in song and segue. I am blessed with fellow saints with whom I fellowship around our common belief in God.

Technology causes me a minor bit of consternation for all of it’s utility.

I am, of course, blessed in so many other ways, but these are a few that came across my path in the last week or so. May you be blessed as well and more aware of it than previously.

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I had small amount of business out town early this week, hardly seeming worth the 3 1/2 hours of driving I would have to do to accomplish it. I decided to make more of a trip out of it.

Firstly, I connected up with my present climbing partner for a quick outing to a hidden crag. You have to hike downhill a full mile to get to the creek side cliff. It is always cool and lush at ground level, but the wall dries fairly quickly. My partner led the 5.8 and an overhung 5.9. I followed by leading a 5.10 and we set up a 5.11 on toprope that I climbed clean on first try. As you may have discerned, the real workout is the 1 mile uphill hike after climbing. It is both cardio- and leg power intense. Our conversation reflected our different stages of life and our mutual love of God, truth, and the outdoors.

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Setting up for the warm-up, Jigsaw (5.8)

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“Belaying Blues”?

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Lowering after cleaning the climb

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Beautiful, cool setting for climbing

Secondly, I went to visit my middle son. I ordered Mexican to go and we went up to Wilbur Lake to eat at a picnic table at the boat ramp. People were pulling their canoes and Jon boats in and out and families were wading. The water comes off of the bottom of Watauga Lake above at about 40 degrees, bone aching cold. We waded and ate and talked and reminisced. We had left this area when he was just over 3 years old. I asked him if he remembered being here. He described it in an insightful way: “It was more like a snapshot than a video.” That pretty much pictured it. The area is called the Horseshoe because the Watauga River, now Wilbur Lake, has an extreme horseshoe shaped bend. The next picture shoes the late afternoon Sun shining over the central spine of the Horseshoe. If you walk up this spine, at one point you can look back and see both legs of the horseshoe below you. After supper he drove me up the short hill to the house we had lived in for those 7 years, 1986-1993. It was some of the best and worst times for our family. Best because of the closeness and nature and gardens and church and tangible provision of God. Worst because of the hard work and lack of money and difficulty in finding direction. In retrospect, I think the two correlate. Difficulty precipitates more trust in God and more awareness of His blessings. We went back to his house, watched a few Youtube videos, talked about his new job and went to bed early. He was up early and left earlier than he had said to get to another day of his job training. It was good to see his diligence and drive, not that I have ever seen it lacking.

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Bone Chilling Wilbur Lake

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Horseshoe Homeplace

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Son’s new leased house

Thirdly, I met up with my brother and sister-in-law for two hikes, one to see wildflowers and trees at Warrior’s Path State Park and the other to see the same plus several small waterfalls in a little gorge at Laurel Run Park on the north flank of Bays Mountain in Hawkins County. The first hike was short in distance but long in time because on this limestone slope below the campground down to the lake I saw many varieties of trees that I just don’t see in NC. I was pointing them out and how to identify them to my sister-in-law and my brother as he took interest.

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Three disparate barks

Though I use leaves as well, I was trained to recognize deciduous trees by their bark, learning them in the Fall mostly after the leaves had fallen off. The above three trees are from left to right, Black (or Wild) Cherry, Chincapin Oak (not common and the bark very nearly resembles White Oak), and Hickory (Mockernut or Shagbark most likely though it is hard to tell at this early stage). Before we left the park we had identified 36 trees species, only one not native. 

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Butterflies and Mildweeds

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One of those, “Which do you see first” pictures: 1) reflection of the tree 2) fish 3) foreground leaves and twigs.

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Holston River

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Some uncommon orchid late blooming.

The Laurel Run hike was a bit longer and steeper, but the shade and conversation were good. People had eked out living in these draws where they were left alone and used whatever resources were available. It is a pity that the American Chestnut was not one of the trees we saw. They exist here but are minuscule in size compared to the great trees of the past that supplied so much livestock with food. With the trip between parks and this second hike, my sister-in-law and I identified 52 species of trees with only 3 exotics. We are blessed with a bio-diverse area. 

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Cultural Residual

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Sis and Bro

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typical limestone layering and color; I wondered where the cave entrances are.

It seems most every wildflower is 10 days to two weeks late this year. We speculated that the warm March and very cool April may have been the cause.

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Rattlesnake Plantain not quite ready to bloom. 

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First waterfall- about 15 feet

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“Waterfall” 2 was about 4 feet but with an inviting pool

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Waterfall 3 was about 10 feet. These would be amazing looking after a good rain.

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Sandstone overlaying Limestone?

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Cultural Art: Tractor oil pan perhaps

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Wild Flocks and Stinging Nettle and a Butterfly that moved too fast for my camera.

I find it amazing how you can fill up a 24 hour period with so much that feeds the mind, emotions, and body. These in turn bring a measure of rest to the spirit, best experienced as you thank and praise the Creator for the beauties before you, the health to enjoy them, and the relationships which are more permanent than either.

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Experience is supposed to make us wiser and more prudent. Sometimes we heed lessons learned and sometime we don’t. It began with a seemingly innocent change of plans: “Oh, I can’t go overnight. We’ll just have to figure it out.” Next up was not taking a map. Then there was the part where I should have asked what the actual plans were. The trails are not well maintenanced, that is, cleared, so they can be hard to find. A new trail had been cut that was not on the map I had nor had I seen it, so we wasted some time going the wrong way. About 1/3 through the trip leg cramps ensued which caused us to change our route to avoid uphills that increased the cramps and pain, which then resulted in perhaps an extra 5 miles of hiking. We attempted to traverse a trail in the dark we had never been on. The trail passed through a field. In retrospect there were probably two exits, maybe more, from that field. After too much walking, we ended up on a road and knew where we were, which was about five miles from our vehicle. So we called in a rescue from an in-law. The final result of these multiple missteps was an estimated 25 miles in rough terrain, having left the house at 8 AM and returned at midnight.

On the up side, it was a beautiful day with cooler than usual June temperatures, partly cloudy and mostly tree covered to shield us from all day sun exposure. The river was cold and relaxing. The conversation was pleasant. We succeeded in hiking the length of the Gorge from Cabin Trail all the way to the lake and seeing several trails we’d not been on before. I took some good pictures and felt the beauty of God’s Creation. The stars shone brightly as we awaited the pick-up. My son asked me at one point how I could still be talking about plants. I had a two part response: 1) That’s just who I am, and 2) When you are hurting and in too deep, it’s best to focus your mind away from the difficulty onto more pleasant thoughts.

A few examples of Providential** assistance included finding a laminated map propped up against a tree at a campsite, a clean water source along the way, and an answer to prayer for assistance. I had told my son earlier in the day that I had prayed in the form of a daydream that a person would be standing in the river, fishing, who knew where to cross and would be willing to point out where the trail was on the other side. In actuality, the answer came in the form of two people who were camping and were just stepping out of the river after swimming. The man walked about a 1/4 mile up the river to show us where to cross and gave a detailed and accurate description of the turns to get on the trail we desired. The end of his description was as follows: “I don’t know what happens after the field because I haven’t gone any further.” (Reference earlier sentence about the two exits from the field for a small chuckle.)

Am I wiser for the experience? In one respect, no. I knew all of those things to do and had regularly done them in times past, except when I didn’t. In another respect, yes. For hopefully a long time, and perhaps permanently, I will ask questions of preparedness of my self and others before attempting something more than moderate. And, the moderate can become the strenuous, so take heed there, too. Now, a few of you are thinking how foolish the whole adventure was. I suspect you don’t have much adventure in your life. Some are saying, what’s the big deal since no one was hurt. Your adventures will likely be short-lived. The balance is to take calculated risks. That involves foresight, preparedness, physical and mental vigor, and a willingness to ask for help. I resolve to be better prepared next time rather than just stay home.

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Father-Son Outing

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Ferns have such a feel of richness

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Never seen Galax so profusely blooming as on this trip

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Mountain Laurel

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Steep, poorly marked trails

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Do you see the fisherman?

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Sourwood sprouts and Table Mountain Pinecone

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Steep terrain and sharp meanders

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The reason the trail doesn’t always follow the river bank

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Raccoon Tracks

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Hawksbill

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1 3/4 liter was not enough

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Wild Ginger (Asarum sp?)

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Refreshing

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Chimneys

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Japanese Meadowsweet. What is it doing here?

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Solomon Seal with seed pods

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???

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Fire Pink

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???

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Indian Pipe

*Last lines of “Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost

**Answer to prayer is a Providential assistance, too, but is more direct, so I classify it differently from common grace (Matthew 5:45). God oversees all things in our lives.

 

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While driving a short distance to run at my local Greenway, I turned on the radio to hear the beginning of a TED Radio Hour presentation on NPR about the idea that “Everything Is A Remix”, a web series and idea by Kirby Ferguson. The host of “Science Friday”, Ira Flato, asked, “Is there really nothing new?” Mr. Ferguson said, “The Big Bang.” This line of thinking dissonated with me because of the worldview conflict, and because it is only correct in a way undisclosed by either of those speaking. Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” But what about beyond the sun? And what does this mean, anyway?

Mr. Ferguson’s point is that any song you hear has an association to an earlier song. He generalizes his maxim to say no thought or attempt at creativity is original. The only creativity is found in remixing it to make it your own and make it fresh. Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” My conclusion to Kepler’s quote is that God has made us in His image, which includes creativity, but our discoveries are repeats of a limited nature of His thoughts and plans. We receive joy and He receives glory when we explore, create, discover, and acknowledge.

Create beauty in visual or musical art forms, God has been there already. Create beauty in prose or poetry. He has known it long since. Create sacrificial love and moral purity. He has perfected it. Create novel questions and solutions. He has mused upon and answered them all. The Humanist will be offended by what seem to him or her a deterministic regurgitation of God’s ways. I rather find joy in discovering what He has done.

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When I was invited by an old friend to spend the day in Grandfather Park and State Park, I didn’t hesitate. I had not been to the Private park side of the mountain in at least 15 years. The day was exceptionally calm for this mountain that can funnel 200+ mph winds over its peak. The atmosphere was clear but not exceptionally so. The conversation on the way up was lively and continuous. After the various and many explanations of rules and restrictions, we headed up the steep, winding entry road. The first overlook greets you with the mountaintop vista and a teasing of the ridges that will be seen when you get higher up.

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After conversation with the parking and trail attendants, we excitedly started up the trail. The first small peak allowed a view of McCrae Peak that was framed by a spruce and fir.

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McCrae Peak

The topography, geography, and geology of this place is fascinating and somewhat extreme. There is much metamorphic rock in this area with splatterings of igneous intrusions. Don’t let the signs fool you. This is a Flood remnant from a few thousand years ago with extreme upheavals and collapses opening fissures, grinding formations, and recrystallization of minerals. Under one severely overhung outcropping at the base of the large ladder on the Underwood Trail, are stones and cobbles seemingly glued into the cliff face. Normally I would declare this to be a conglomerate, a sedimentary rock made of cemented sediments of rounded rocks. And that may yet be true, but the cement is metamorphic, gneiss and such. Was it originally sedimentary rock metamophized by the pressure of the upheavals or was it stones that fell into or were forced alongside a magma inclusion that metamorphized the cement? Either way the process was extreme.

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Tiny quartz crystals “glued” onto metamorphized quartzite and feldspar

I did not know until this time that the ladders and all but 1/4 mile of the trail are in the State Park. Except for the huge boulder which is McCrae Peak, I feel confident that there is an easier way up, but the ladders give their climbers understanding of the starkness of the topography. 

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Chutes and Ladders

There is one point along the trail where you are coming to a knife edge of the ridge. Because of the prevailing winds, you may turn this corner and come into the full blast of the wind. This day pictures me with my new friend at that turn, on a calm, sunny day. One time in the past, I was fully surprised by the calmness and reasonable temperatures on an Autumn day only to be rudely awakened by the blowing snow, frosted heather, and fierce winds and chill factor at this very turn.

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A bright day and a new friend

It is amazing how few people have been seriously injured or killed over the years of hiking these trails. Below is a segment of the marked trail that causes one to step cautiously.

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The reflection in the pool of water in the next picture is deceiving, leading one to believe there is a hole in the rock. Actually, the picture was taken to show the Junco bird picking up a bread crumb. These hardy little birds can be seen and heard flitting around on the hottest summer days and coldest winter gales at high elevations.

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The very peak of the mountain at right is one in a series of large boulders that sits on top. The cutting edge of the ridge seems to have been thrust up over the western, American plate.

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There really is no other way up to the peak other than the ladder, unless you wanted to do some real bouldering. The drop is probably 75+ feet off of the back.

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McCrae’s Peak ladder

May 14th and Spring is only beginning to peak its head through the rhododendron leaf litter. I do wonder what the other green leaves are since there were many more of these than fiddleheads.

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Fiddleheads

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Hobble Bush (Viburnum lantanoides) new vegetation

I took many more pictures of the bridge area, but this one taken by a trail attendant best communicates the joy of reopening day. We went past McCrae Peak up through the Attic Window to look back to the McCrae Peak and the bridge beyond. It was a strenuous, talkative, view intensive hike.

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Indeed, this blog entry is cut short, because I could not upload another picture. Now I must decide what to do, because my picture storage for the blog is full. Do I upgrade for a service that I have been thankful to use free thus far? Will deleting old entries free up space for new entries? Is there value in retaining old entries for the occasional reference value to things I have written? How valuable is this blog to me and to those few who regularly follow it and those who occasionally visit? What journal value does it have for me and my posterity? What spiritual value does it have to communicate my journey and God’s goodness, graciousness, power, creativity, and holiness? I will have to weigh these questions against other priorities. For the time being, I am grateful to have had this outlet for my thoughts, thanksgivings, teachings, and creative trice.

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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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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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We haven’t had much of a winter this year. If it has reached the teens more than twice, I don’t remember it. But I went on a hike with one of my great nephews (in both senses). He had never been to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I had never been there coming from Cosby Campground. It was 20 degrees when I left the house and the top of the mountain is about 4000 feet higher. I suspect from the reported low on a mountain of similar height closer to home that the Mt. Cammerer saw 15 or lower. It also snowed 1/2 inch, clinging to the branches and needles. It was still below freezing on the north slopes when we reached the top around 11:30, indicated by the hoar frost on the branches and ground frost columns in the bare spots. There was quite a chilling wind when we began, but when we arrived on top the air barely stirred and the sun warmed the rocks to a comfortable lounging temperature for lunch. We felt so good that I suggested that we consider going back another way that would add mileage- 3 miles by my estimate. I was wrong and the hike extended out to 16 miles total. The way back along Lower Cammerer Trail was an easy grade on smooth ground. We hiked at our own paces in places and together conversing at others. There was so much to clear the mind of stress and consider God’s goodness in our lives and in creating the world. I have yet to hear how my partner fared for soreness, but I had relatively little. It was an overall pleasant day.

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Beginning point in Cosby Campground

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Good flow from abundant rainfall

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Mid-sized Yellow Poplar

My sister-in-law gives an excellent explanation of how this frost forms (click here) and my great-nephew had a a better camera to capture the effect. I am always fascinated by how it elevates pebbles and flat rocks.

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Ground Frost

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Still Fresh

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Which way?

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Ground Frost

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Snow Line

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Main Ridge north of Low Gap toward Mt. Cammerer, GSMNP

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Still well below freezing on the north slopes

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Treetop and Beard Frost

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Took some wind to produce that

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Such intricate outline

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English Mountain in the background

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Good to see in a warm, snowless year

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Pleasant experience, good reminiscing

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Mt. Sterling! rain gauge?

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Restored Mt. Cammerer Firetower

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The next two pictures show how intense the short-lived snow shower must have been. It would have been an adventure, though not so fun, to have been at this location during the snowfall.

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Many names of mountains have changed. The benchmark says Sharp Top, but the internet says it used to be called White Top because of white rocks jutting out. Mt. Cammerer is the name given it after the early Park Commissioner who helped to secure the parklands.

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BM Sharp Top, 1928. Why do they rarely include the elevation?

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Pine tree on a south facing slope with limited soil

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The following two images I borrowed from my great-nephew’s site (with permission) to highlight the immensity of the scene and the smallness of us sojourners. John Piper says that we were made for something bigger than ourselves, meaning God. The proper response to the bigness and beauty of creation is worship of the Creator.

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I-40 and the Pigeon River

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Galax, lichen, and snow

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Time to head down

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has decimated Eastern Hemlocks in recent years. The Park Service treats some of the larger ones that are left. Evidently the treatment has to be repeated (For details click here.) to save the trees. Are the two paint marks two successive treatments?

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Treated Hemlock

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Treated Hemlock next to the untreated one

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Christmas Fern

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Barely over halfway point

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Seep

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Mountain Silverbell seedpod on oak leaves

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Cemetery

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The only marked stone and probably the newest at 1912.

Many of the draws showed more evidence of high flows than the black width of drainage way here.

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The high water must have been something.

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Cruising the easy way in a north facing woods with little underbrush.

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Was the bridge nearly toppled by high water or poorly set to begin with? Bridges across the wider streams are a welcome and easy passage.

With all of the amazing things that cameras can do, I am still amazed at what the eye does better. The following scene revealed 360 degrees of mist penetrating rays to the eye, but several attempts with the camera failed to show any of it. It does show how low the sun was. With the driving to and from home, the hike, and the time on top, I was gone from home for 13 1/2 hours. It was well worth it.

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Almost there

My sister-in-law helped me identify this little beauty on a short detour we took off of the main trail. After the late winter snow and cold up above, it was a surprising harbinger of Spring after a brief brush with winter.

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Trail detour Hepatica

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‘For me this place is therapeutic, but I don’t know why exactly’, my partner mused.

Black Fork 1

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Table Mountain Pine

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Clouds cruising over the ridge (Colors were more vivid in person.)

It is the most isolated place in our county, thoroughly quiet and secluded, but opens up on a view of the valley a distance across several miles of woods. It feels like you are alone with God in this small wilderness with time to reflect.

The clouds and low sun made a significant distinction and contrast between the wooded draw and the valley and mountains beyond. We felt set apart. The clouds with evening colors rushed over the ridge like great ships entering harbor and yet there was no wind at the surface. The barren trees lay quietly in their winter snooze. A lone train whistle on the far side of the ridge quietly reported its presence at a far distance in the next valley. It was a time to praise God in prayer and quietly reflect on the peace it brings to the beleaguered mind and heart.

The Table Mountain Pine is not common unless you are on a south facing, shallow soil of a flat cliff top. It’s spiky cones suggest the struggle it has to tolerate the harsh heating and drying conditions where it outcompetes other conifers. My rough fingers, tape, and chalk suggest the cherished struggle I had with rock faces moments before.

It was a good day to climb, a good day to reflect, and a good day to imbibe the tranquil therapeutics. I am so blessed to have this outlet in seasons of stress. The focus and intensity of climbing and the reflection and relaxation of time in the woods and views from the clifftops are a gift.

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Life is good because God is good.

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