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Archive for the ‘Beauty’ Category

Last Saturday I went climbing with two friends in an out of the way place that local climbers know about but don’t widely describe its location. The day began cool, cloudy, and damp. There was no one out. We stopped along the way to take pictures at the top of the cliff, because you walk in from above and descend a gully to get tot he base of the cliff. My friends had never been to this location before, but I didn’t show them around much because our time was limited.

We worked on 3 different climbs, two sport and one trad. I have a habit of overprotecting trad climbs, but I put in adequate protection without overkill this day. It felt good. For the uninitiate, sport is clipping your rope into bolts on the way up using carabiners, while trad (traditional) protection is various devices that you place in cracks and clip the rope into with carabiners. Trad is more challenging since you have to take more time, and therefore more energy, to place the protection.

The clouds blew away in late morning, leaving a clear blue sky and pleasant temperature. We encouraged and quipped each other up the rock. It is good to have friends with whom to do things.

This day out of context seems pleasant enough, but it is mid-October and still unseasonably warm. The year has been exceptionally wet. Flowers and shrubs seem confused. I have an azalea that is blooming for the third time this season. Below is a picture of rhododendron blooming in mid-October. Mosquitoes are still fierce, moss is still green under the trees in my backyard, and mildews are ubiquitous. Most of the leaves are still green and only now do we see sourwood turning deep red (picture below). Higher in the mountains the yellows are appearing, but green is still the predominant color. Finally, this weekend we expect near freezing temperatures, but we ought to be approaching hard freeze date and it is not likely soon. Whether this is a permanent change or a prolonged cycle I have no foresight to tell, but it is at the very least odd.

One way or another, for one reason or another, this old world will be as a worn out garment one day, ready to be changed and rolled up. But God never changes. He will remain and all of those who by faith are His children. (Psalm 102:25-28) So, I enjoy the beauty of nature and glorify God for its beauty and in its fading glory.

preping at BF

Preping for the Climb

Dan at BF

Balance and Concentration

lichen

“Paint Flake” Lichen?

Noel belaying

The Old Man Belays

Stephen at BF

Beautiful day for a challenge

Stphen belaying

“Belay On.” or Banana on?

variety of seedlings

How many varieties of tree seedlings can you identify? (I see 4 and one more I’m not sure about, a vine and a shrub.)

Lake J From BF

From Cliff Top

3x selfie from BF

Guy Outing

Rhodo blooming in Oct

Rhododendron blooming in mid-October?

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I had asked my fourth born son to come to town one weekend and go for a hike with me. It has been a long time since I have hiked with any of my children. He decided to invite a friend from college days. Since it is summer, I thought it would be nice to visit one of our adventuresome swimming holes at the base of Babel Tower in Linville Gorge. It is a steep hike down for two miles. I love to stand on top of the tower, which sits in a severe turn in the river and look down at about 60 degrees to the right and then the left to see the upstream and downstream legs of the river. After we looked around, we went down to the river where we swam, jumped, and sunned. My son waxed reminiscent about past trips that challenged and pleased us.

He said that he liked the other swimming hole we used to frequent better. We still have a lot of daylight; we could go to that one, too, he suggested.

So we hiked as quickly as we could back up out of the gorge. This brought on a discussion (when I had enough breath to talk) about how he and his brothers learned to hike fast, trying to keep up with dad. “I remember the very hike that it changed. You could no longer keep up with us. To be fair, my younger brother and I could not keep up with our older brother either.” But I am thankful to God that I can still hike, and especially since I had a knee injury seven months ago. I have not run since then and could not walk any distance or speed for many months because the back of my knee would swell. But this time I almost kept up.

We went on to Wiseman’s View and took pictures there and told stories. Then we started the car ride around the top end of the Gorge and down Hwy 181 to Mortimer Road and cut across to Wilson Creek in order to hike to Lower Harper Creek Falls. There are few swimming holes so versatile as this one. There are two pools separated by a gentle cascade that you may slide down seated. In the middle of this cascade is a pothole of four foot depth and diameter that the water swirls around in. You can stand in it and even submerge into an airspace under the falling water to hide. The upper pool is narrower and deep with a forty foot waterfall coming into it. Along side the falls you can run off the steep incline at about twenty-five feet up and hit the pool beyond the sloping rocks. The water is quite cold, but the rocks warm up nicely in the afternoon sun.

My son wanted to do everything that we “used to do”. I figured out that between the swimming and jumping and eight miles of hiking to three locations that I was exhausted. On top of that we took very little for lunch. My wife had a three pound roast and plenty of vegetables prepared when we arrived home. There were very few leftovers after three hungry men ate supper. I am thankful to God for the mountains and the health so far to enjoy them, the memories we have of playing there, and the opportunity to show them to others. I need to do more of that.

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I wonder if this is where the Babel Tower separated from the Gorge wall.

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Friend from college days hopping around on the Tower

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Hawk’s Bill and Table Rock

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Beautiful day for a hike with friends

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Upstream of the Tower just below the swimming hole

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Frequently you can see people on top, but I don’t today.

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The Tower has 100′ cliffs on one side and another 100+ foot drop to the river beyond that.

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Deep pool, various jumps, current, decently cold water

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It has been a wet season

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from Wiseman’s View

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Lower Gorge with Shortoff on the far downstream side

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Brings back memories; makes new ones.

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Lower Harper Creek Falls

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The cascade into the lower pool

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The way in and out to the upper pool

 

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I like the beach. I like the mountains better. I like change of pace, newness, different, interesting. It is the beach this summer since I have to go there four times this summer for training. I don’t really get to spend large amounts of time at the beach (which is OK (See sentences 1 and 2.)), but it has been enough mostly because it has been varied and beautiful.

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Sunset at Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FL

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Almost looks like smoke coming out of chimneys

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Small craft upon the main

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The sunset years?

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A moment of quiet contentment

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Real crusin’

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Practicing or Protecting or Both

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The warm glow and cool breeze

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This scene reminds me of a William Cowper hymn (see below)

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Taking it all in

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Glow

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Afterglow

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The Airbnb where we stayed

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Eyeing each other

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Florida Softshell Turtle (A. ferox)

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Shade is good

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House of William Horton

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Ready to make a stand

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Hiding out in the shade

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It’s alive

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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA

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Old Plantation Live Oak

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Sidney Lanier Bridge

Following is the hymn by William Cowper that I referred to in the picture caption above. When all you see is the rain pelting down, remember both that it waters the soul and bespeaks of God’s kind and bright mercy:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The glow of the sunset high up in the clouds is exhilarating. You most usually can’t see thunderstorms from a distance and entirely in the wooded mountains where I live. The beach affords a wide view. You can watch the rain and lightning and billowing heights and still get to your car before it hits. Frequently in the woods a thunderstorm is on top of you before you know it. Reflection upon God is similar; it requires distance from all that obscures reflection on Him. We need to find perspectives from Scripture, in meditation, surrounded by quiet, reflecting on God’s providence in our circumstances in order to again absorb His beauty and peace in our hearts.

William Horton came to Jekyll Island in 1736 with a land grant of 500 acres, 50 of which was supposed to be in cultivation within 10 years for him to retain the deed. This ‘big house’ was, no doubt, built years after first arriving. There are many more big houses of the rich who owned most of the island in the late 1800’s until WWII when it was evacuated. In 1947, Georgia acquired the whole island and administers it as a state park with natural, historic, and commercial areas. It seems to have a good balance. We may have much to learn by this experiment about how to administer other parts of the planet sustainably. We are, afterall, stewards on God’s behalf, and not owners of this Earth.

There was an old plaque under the ‘Old Plantation’ Live Oak that must have been at least 50 years old. It said the tree was estimated to be 350 years old. That means it was a fair-sized tree when William Horton arrived, very possibly a young tree when the settlers came to Jamestown, and definitely a maturing tree when the Declaration was signed. It helps to withstand the hurricanes that must have hit over time that the branches grow back to the ground to support the whole tree and that the tree grows on the inland side of the island. I want to be an oak firmly planted by the waters of His grace (Psalm 1).

The Sidney Lanier Bridge that spans the Brunswick River was named after the former bridge, which was named after the Georgian musician and poet of the Civil War era. The bridge is cable-stayed where all deck supporting cables come straight from the towers as opposed to a suspension bridge where the cables hang vertically from larger cables hanging in a catenary between towers. More frequently the cable-stayed design is used now because it is lowered cost initially and maintenance than a suspension bridge and now possible for long spans with new, large equipment to set it up. Man loves to design and order things, a characteristic that points to God’s image in him.

All of creation from thundercloud to beach to ancient tree to crab to the designs of mankind give glory to the Great Designer-Beautifier God, Our Creator. We may take great joy in enjoying and working in His grand terrarium/aquarium (Earth). He has put us here to acknowledge Him in doing so.

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Over the weekend my neighbor came over to share a photo album of his recent vacation. Several relatives took him to the beach, a pier to fish, a battleship, and out to eat several times. He was very excited explaining in his broken, repetitive speech about the beach and waves, a fish he caught, the large shells and big guns of the ship, and pancakes he had. You see, my neighbor has an IQ of around 80. His experience of life is very simple and concrete. (He is also the best neighbor that I have ever had.) The thought occurred to me as he talked that his excitement sounded very similar to that of a young child. Subsequently, I considered that me or some very intelligent person is little different compared to God’s infinite intelligence, perception, and power. We are all enjoying the beach like young children in our level of perception compared to God. But are we all enjoying it with the simple excitement and thankfulness of this neighbor of mine? As I considered it further this morning, I thought about the 4 things our society values: riches, intelligence, beauty, and athletic ability. Those are gifts to be thankful for, but frequently they bring their own problems because we think these gifts somehow come from us. We would be best off without these gifts if we are going to misuse them. And we would be best off not alive if we don’t know God through His Son.

I’d rather be a bear of little brain
Thankful, content, and partially sane
Than one of high intellect and profane
Ungrateful, unbelieving and inane

I would rather be an ugly duckling
Humble and kind, always listening
Than one gorgeous, proud peacock strutting
Self-absorbed and manipulating

I’d rather be a spastic water boy
Team player, play maker, full of joy
Than the stud and star that’s all a ploy
To be in the lights, a lonely alloy

I would rather be poor and struggle hard
Thankful and content though often jarred
Than be filthy rich and on my guard
And by greed and retribution marred

I’d rather be a believer in God
A servant, humble though roughly shod
Than a skeptic agnostic, oh so mod
Separated eternally from God

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The following poem may be the biggest mistake I’ve ever made on this blog. It could draw some significant ire. However, if those who read it, read it carefully and understand its intent, it may help someone reconsider how they are doing things. The poem came as a result of a conversation I had with a decent young man who at present has no prospects for marriage. What he said could be interpreted as so much sour grapes, but I don’t think so. He wants to be a godly husband and is waiting for a godly spouse, but inside and outside the church, young women seem suspicious and disinterested in commitment to young men. (Switching gender in this statement is sometimes true as well.) One statement he made struck me as instructive: “The American Woman (I’ve decided to call her) expects that a man meet all of her emotional needs, but she sees it as optional to meet his physical needs.” I thought several things after he said this: 1) The full pendulum swing from the man as ruler of his house to the fully liberated woman has occurred.  2) Neither extreme is biblical and both are damaging to all parties involved. 3) This statement illustrates the age old difference and misunderstanding of differences in needs of the two genders.

This society belittles males as nothing more than animals, blathering, hormonal driven fools. What we expect and inspire is what we get. We need to change our expectations and encouragement of boys and men.

American woman why do you flounce?
Look on with disapproving eyes

Every male reject and renounce
Belittle in jest and despise

You practice no modesty before guys
In speech and action or in dress
Putting out honey will draw flies
Complicit are you in this mess

(Now it’s true that men should not lust for girls
Treat them as objects, as mere tools
But made in God’s image, real pearls
Honoring her, not acting like fools)

So build up young men; don’t tear them all down
Declare to them their great value
Help them step up to be renown
Sober of mind and always true

Thus the benefit for all and for you
Respect your man and serve him, too
Modest in dress says you are true
He will arise, protect, love you

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My pastor abbreviates the condition of Creation as “beautiful but broken”, a deeply descriptive phrase for what we observe in nature. I got to thinking about it one day after church and the following began to come to me.

Beautiful but broken
This world that He made
Of His nature a token
But hastening to fade

Beauty marred by man’s sin
Caused death and decay
So all who are Adam’s kin
To God’s Son, no delay

Though all Creation groans
In futility
Slave to corruption it moans
One day will be set free

The sons of God revealed
Creation restored
We and it too be glorified
Through both God will be praised

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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Feeling It

On MLK Day I went bouldering at Rumbling Bald with a large group of 20 and early 30 somethings, 6 guys and 2 gals. I’m used to this scenario since climbers approaching 60 are not common. I seemed to be off to a good start, warming up and climbing a V3 in the first hour. It was in the mid-20’s temperature but with the full sunlight and copious clothing it was not a problem. The hardest issue to overcome in winter bouldering is cold rock, not cold air. If it is early or shady or a stiff breeze, the rock is cold, and my fingers don’t function well. After the warm-up, Trailside Boulder, three of us moved on to another area to try out easier climbs while the bulk of the group went to project a V10, Pilfer. We tried out some new rock to me, and I started having trouble. I climbed a few V2’s and V1’s but couldn’t even complete another V3. I should be sending V4’s and challenging V5’s, but not today. We regathered with part of the group who were cruising V6’s and 7’s. One diminutive (in size, not ability or intensity) girl was working a V5. I alternated with her having a go at it. We were shut down at the same move, but for qualitatively different reasons. She had reach issues but she was so controlled and fluid. I was stabbing at the holds and began waning in endurance and ability to retry. Our little group of three moved off to the Bart Simpson Boulder. I think that is a ridiculous name and propose ‘Shark Attack’ as an alternate. The other girl in the group suggested the name ‘Narwhal’, which I could go with. After doing Marge (V1), I watched my partners do it, too. Then I set up to do Bart, a V3, probably so rated because to the top-out. I threw my left leg up to complete the mantle; my foot cramped. I lowered my foot, stretched it out, and put it back up. I started the mantle; I struggled to get over center. I lowered my body to give a more concerted effort. When I put pressure on my hamstring something audibly popped on my left shin, migrating like a flash up to and around just below my knee. I groaned and came off. My climbing partner and fellow teacher knew me well enough to know that I don’t verbalize often. I lay writhing in pain on the pad. Would I be able to walk? Had I destroyed my knee? Was if muscular, tendon, ligament? After much rubbing and feeling around I tried to stand. Amazingly my knee was not collapsing, but it sure hurt. My partner later admitted that he was trying to figure out how to carry me out. It took some time but I could hobble. Even more amazing was that I actually climbed some more later, my partner picking a problem that involved almost no left leg involvement, Basketball Mantle (V3).

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Watching my partner, C., get back into climbing after some time off. Wish I could climb so well off the couch.

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Watchers rather than Spotters

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J. is concentrating rather than posing for the picture.

James on Pilfer3

J. on Pilfer, V10, is what all of the effort is about.

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D. making the first move on Basketball Mantle (V3) look easy

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V1? right of Basketball Mantle

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You have to palm the Basketball and throw a high right smear of both arm and leg to mantle this V3.

Now I sit at home, thankful for a snow day from school to pursue healing, blogging, and reading, and even more thankful that the pain is subsiding and the function returning. But healing doesn’t come as quickly as it once did, and for that reason I like to stay in shape, pursue good nutrition, and take calculated risks (most of the time).

Even with the injury and climbing frustration I enjoyed being out with other climbing enthusiasts, observing the beauty of God’s Creation: blue sky, warm sun, sleepy winter boulder field, ice calving off the cliff behind us, and even the natural incuts of holds and friction of a cold day at the boulder field. This transition of life has its difficult moments, but I am thankful to still be able to heal and try again another day. It will not always be that way, and that will be OK, too, since I look forward to a better transition.

Thanks to D. for the pictures, save hers, which I took.

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I have the privilege (really!) to patrol Monday morning parking lot duty from 7:15 until 7:50. On most Monday mornings there are no more than 2 or 3 cars in the parking lot when I arrive. That makes for some quiet moments to consider the day, pray about concerns, and look around. Quiet allows you to observe better. One morning I saw various seeds under the trees: Bald Cypress cones, acorns, and Sweet Gum balls. Another morning I saw oak leaves of various sizes and broadness on the ground. Looking up into the tree I could see that smaller ones generally came from the top of the tree and larger ones from the bottom. These larger ones are called shade leaves. They are competing for the sparse sunlight in the shade cast by the rest of the tree. Yet a third morning I spied leaves popping up a few at a time in the direction from one bush to another. I kept watching and every 5 to 10 seconds the leaves would pop up an inch or so. After every few minutes the movement of the leaves would retrace the path back toward the first bush. I concluded that I was seeing a mouse or other vermin forging a tunnel just under the leaves and mulch on this frosty morning.

Speaking of frost, the very next week the morning was even colder, around 27 degrees (-2.8 degrees Celsius). As I approached my usual vantage point for watching cars, students, and nature, I saw that the golden brown Bald Cypress needles had fallen to the ground in the last week and this morning were fringed in frost. I went to investigate and caught a hold of an early arriving former student, requesting that he snap a picture and e-mail it to me (gonna have to get one of them new fangled smart phones one of these days).

Bald Cypress needles

The most Exquisite Lace

I retreated back to my self-appointed post. Still there were but few cars in the lot and none nor no one stirring. I glanced over toward the frosted needles once or twice. Then between two bushes I spied a curious sight about which I was at first incredulous. In fact, a few minutes later a student came to pass my way and I requested the use of her young eyes to see if she would see what I think I was yet seeing. She confirmed that there were indeed the appearance of heat waves between the bushes. Imagine, heat waves on a frosty morning! She went on and I was left standing to contemplate how this could be. Moments later a small breeze kicked up and the waves were gone. That only served to confirm my belief that they had been heat waves.

Heat waves are caused by varying densities of fluid (air in this case) refracting light passing through them. Usually the warmer fluid is rising, forming a convective cell. As it randomly snakes upward the background images are gently contorted by the light passing through the foreground fluid.

But what was forming the heat waves? As my eyes scanned the parking lot and Cypress needles, it seemed to me that the frost was heavier during the short period I had been standing there. That may have only been to my sight because of the increasing light as the sun rose, but it brought a possibility to mind. When frost forms, water vapor in the air turns directly into solid ice crystals on the grass or windshield. This process is called deposition, which is the opposite of sublimation, and skips the liquid state going either way. The heat given off by changing from gas to liquid and liquid to solid is about 8 times more than the heat given off by the same amount of liquid water cooling from 100 to 0 degrees Celsius. Needless to say, a significant amount of energy is given off by the deposition of frost. Frosty heat waves, that is shimmering amazing.*

*If my conclusion is correct

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bright new day
Mockingbird has his say
Lush and green
Rain brings Spring's early sheen

Season's start
Foliage and plumage art
All dainty
Nests and blooms aplenty

All things grow
Matter, energy flow
Life's cycle
Replenish, recycle

Young ones sup
Foal, calf, kitten, and pup
Insects buzz
Peach, leaf, and mildew fuzz

Remember 
God's mercies are tender 
He provides 
Creates, sustains, abides

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Evidently, last night a spider had laid three lines of silk down the windshield of my truck squarely in the line of my vision for driving. The Sun shining in from just south of my predominantly easterly direction on the way to church down the interstate produced little repeating rainbows in the silk. From bottom to top they gleamed: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and the last two just looked like black gaps before the next red. The colors were brilliant and made the silk appear much wider than it did when the Sun was obscured once or twice by tree branches. I noticed that when I moved my head left or right the colors changed. When I moved to the right the color transitioned to longer red beads up and down the silk. When I moved my head left the color transitioned toward blue. Just before I exited the interstate the roadbed trends slightly more North and I finally began seeing violet when I leaned left.** I was thankful for light traffic on the interstate since I was focusing on 5 lines, one solid white, one dashed, and three multicolored. I thought of lunar eclipses, when the Moon is blood red or orange. Light from the Sun is refracted by the atmosphere onto the surface of the Moon which is moving through the shadow of the Earth. The shorter wavelength colors bend more evidently, careening off into space between Moon and Earth. I also reflected on the refraction that occurs in a droplet of water on a leaf producing and fisheye view of flowers or landscapes behind. The Sun was also pleasantly warm on me. I praised God for beauty He instilled into Creation which points to His superior beauty and His goodness that allows me to be aware of and see it and experience warm Sun and have a truck to travel in, and so on. I went to a corporate worship service later, which I would always recommend, but I got started early with three lines of evidence for God’s beauty and love of beauty.

**I don’t think that I ever see indigo, or is it violet I don’t see? That is, I don’t discern two colors, indigo and violet. I had the thought for the first time today that perhaps I don’t see violet. When I get in discussions with my family about a transition color between green and blue, they always say it looks blue and I most usually say it looks green. Does that mean that I see colors differently than most people, seeing what normal (whatever that means in this situation) eyes discern as blue as green or that I just name them differently? If it is the former, then perhaps I also see indigo as blue and violet as indigo and don’t see a separate violet color. If this is true it in no way changes reality, but only casts a shadow of doubt on my perception of reality. Afterall, certain people certainly hear more or most frequently less than 20 to 20,000 Hz frequency of sound.

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The hymn by this name has become one of my favorites over the years because it conveys the holiness and glory of God by transporting the mind to the mercy seat both in the tabernacle and in heaven. The version I have has 5 verses. The original, written by Frederick Faber, has 8 verses: (for a choir rendition, albeit too slow for my liking, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4VtpEu3CDQ)

My God, how wonderful Thou art,
Thy majesty, how bright;
How beautiful Thy mercy seat
In depths of burning light!

How dread are Thy eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thy endless wisdom, boundless power,
And glorious purity!

O how I fear Thee, living God,
With deep and tender fear;
And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears!

Yet, I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart!

No earthly father loves like Thee,
No mother, e’er so mild,
Bears and forbears as Thou hast done,
With me, Thy sinful child.

Only to sit and think of God,
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the Name,
Earth has no higher bliss.

Father of Jesus, love’s Reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze, and gaze on Thee!

As I sang this wonderful hymn, and others, and mused on Psalm 103, more verses came to me. They are not of a quality of the original but I do intend them as worship to God:

He righteous deeds each day performs
Judgments for the oppressed
Compassionate and gracious He 
With love for the distressed

As high as heaven above earth
So great His steadfast love
Is toward all those who fear their God
The God who dwells above

As far as east is from the west
Transgressions He removes
A Father who compassion on
A child who his God fears

For all is peace, my soul at rest
Submitted to His will
Our God is good and great and kind
To know Him is a thrill

One day in heaven we will be
Adoring face to face
But now we see His glory great
Through His redeeming grace

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After a fire in 1925 the stumps of the recently logged area appeared as grave markers to some and the eroded soil and shallow bedrock prevented the forest from coming back in places, thus the name. 100_9964100_9963

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Upper Falls

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From the top of the Upper Falls

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Light rain, fog, lush spruce and wildflower growth

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Viburnum sp?

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Any idea which species?

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Just above the Lower Falls

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Looking down over the Lower Falls

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Lower Falls

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Enjoying some time together

The day could have been a wash, driving 2 hours to see it rain. Upon approach, the fog seemed unavoidable. The light rain started soon after we started walking and continued almost the whole time. When we got to the top of the Upper Falls, thinking to just take a  quick look and head for the car, we found a spruce tree, rhododendron combination that was keeping the rock at creek’s edge dry. We sat down for a lunch and snooze. I walked upstream a bit while my son snoozed on. It was a quiet time together with no one on the trail all the way back. In route to the Lower Falls we crossed the “fields”, heather thicket really, with scattered wildflowers. The hike was shorter than we had planned because we didn’t really want to get up on bare, Black Balsam with the possibility of heavier rain or lightning, but it was pleasant and relaxed. We both agreed it was an enjoyable time together and in the woods (fields).

 

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Before I ever started rock climbing I used to hike… alot, thousands of miles over the years. In high school and college it was backpacking with day hikes to get in shape. I continued after marriage but increased responsibilities as time went along resulted in reduced overnight trips. Not to worry, because I used to take my green daypack, a child on my shoulders, and go. Summer, winter, it made little difference. About 15 years ago I scrambled into the more vertical sport so that the majority of hikes were approaches. I still climb but I see that climbing may have to be set aside in a few years (not slowing down at the moment, though). The time off from hiking just warms my desire to do some more. I like new places but I’m not shy about visiting old haunts. I have hiked (in a day or overnight) to Hump Mountain on the Tennessee/North Carolina border nearly 30 times since 1977. It has been my go to when someone wants to experience backpacking for the first time. I have hiked several times this summer, once to Purchase Knob (see previous blog entry). Several weeks before that hike I went with some new friends to South Mountains State Park. It has one hike that most anyone would enjoy and is not too overwhelming- High Shoals Falls.

The water was low at the falls, which is odd considering how much rain we have had. I guess the water level drops fast after just a few days of no rain. That didn’t dry our enthusiasm a bit. There was plenty to talk about and plenty to see along the way.

I enjoy getting to know people on a hike. You can talk about nature which leads to many subjects you might not otherwise find out about a person. They certainly learned some things about my spider research in college. I studied Agelenid intraspecies competition in the lab, the woods, and the desert. (Curious side note: As I am composing the number of spiderlings that just left their egg sack and are moving back and forth across my computer screen is growing. They are too small for my unaided eye to discern variety although P. tepidariorum (“common house spider”) is the most likely candidate.) There are about a baker’s dozen of Agelenid species in the US. I remember that most of my study involved the A. aperta from New Mexico and Arizona.

The picnic meal was particularly good- Mexican on the grill. I had hiked with the father and young children several other times to mountain tops. This was a nice change. We played in the creek several places, seeing crawdads and minnows. We talked about plant life along the trail both herbaceous and arborescent. It was an enjoyable day, the likes of which I’d like to repeat. We even left just before it began to rain. God gifted us with a beautiful day and good conversation.

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Purchase Knob

Before two weekends ago I had not seen any of my brothers for a year and a half, some for much longer. We had a cookout at my youngest brother’s house with spouses and a few children and grandchildren. During the conversation we planned a hike for Friday to the Purchase Knob area of the Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the location of the Appalachian Highlands Science Learning Center. The hike we took went along the border of “The Swag”, a Bed and Breakfast that allows hikers to visit their viewing lawn. The weather has been moist for a month and the fungi are out. With more time and patience I could have gotten some really good pictures of the abundant and colorful fruiting bodies of diverse mycelia. One of my sister-in-laws is known for her love and identification of wildflowers. She said she wants to know fungi better. Here’s a place to start.

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Cep or Penny Bun?

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Lush creek side

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Green Cracking Russula (Russula virescens)

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Students coming down from the Learning Center

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Bee Balm soothing a Pipevine Swallowtail

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Winesaps?

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Furguson Cabin

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Black Earth Tongue

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Doll’s-Eye or White Baneberry

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Yellow Wart (Amanita flavoconia)

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“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”?

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Orange Peel Cup Mushroom

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White Coral Fungus

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Earth Cup Mushroom?

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Catch some rays and relax

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Maggie Valley

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Nice smiles! OK, I was trying to make sure the camera was working.

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Great Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

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Insulation, flight, camouflage, mating, ….versatile… not by chance!

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Coral Fungus

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Chanterelles?

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So many colorful varieties

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Death Angel

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Taking in The Swag view

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The Real Purchase Knob

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Hiding under a rock on top of the knob

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Do you see the fairy ring that I found near the top of Purchase Knob?

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Elegant Stinkhorn

The variety and beauty of God’s creation! I could go out every weekend and never get tired of learning and looking.

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Await the Fall

It is perhaps an odd subject for a midsummer’s evening, or maybe not after another day of sweating profusely at chores and listening to the day’s thunder rolling over the mountain. The oddity really comes down to how it came about. The first two lines I wrote last fall one morning looking out the window by my desk before work was to begin. The pleasant thoughts that it brought to me caused me to think it was the beginning of many more thoughts but I laid it aside on  my desk until a break. I found it when cleaning up papers at the beginning of summer. I took it home and laid it next to my rocking chair where I read and pay bills and think. It laid there for a month. The next time I saw it I thought, now or never. Don’t construe the poem to mean that I dislike summer. There is much to like about summer, but we all have preferences and mine is Fall. I am thankful to God to live in an environment where there is a definite change of seasons and deciduous trees to mark the occasions.
A fair, crisp morning
Grass glistens with frost
Birds' feathers fluffed up
That heat not be lost

Chill braces the lungs
Nips at nose and cheeks
Rescue from summer's
Many draining weeks

Oh, how I love Fall
When insects retreat
Reptiles slow and stall
Dry mildews defeat

No more sweat required
Only now by choice
Humidity low
Lightens heart and voice

Skies are clearer now
Leaves have joyful hues
Stars are brighter, too
Grander mountain views

Change is in the air
Every front attests
Animals store food
For their winter rests

Crops have all matured
Bring the harvest in
Celebrate bounty
With neighbors and kin

Yellow blooms abound
Earth tones more I see
Dried herb fragrances
Nature's potpourri

Outdoor things to do
Cool air is the best
All await the Fall
For change and for rest

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I kept wanting to go to the mountains but people, responsibility, and other priorities kept preventing it. Seeing my repeatedly frustrated efforts my wife said that I should go tomorrow. I wasn’t going to second guess the cessation of chores and her encouragement to go. Besides, after taking a walk with her early on this August 1st I knew that it was an exceptionally clear, low humidity, and cool day. (65 degrees was enough for several people to say it felt like the first Fall day- wishful thinking with August and September ahead.) So a hasty breakfast and quicker packing job and I was gone. I like solitude but I like company, too, but the whole reason I was going alone was because I couldn’t find anyone and one had even backed out. 

I even enjoy the drive up on a very curvy rode in a small, good cornering car with a clutch and adequate power. The air was crisp, the sky totally blue, and my heart was light. Bouldering by yourself is considered to be quite risky by some, but I have observed others doing it with care. You only attempt climbs that are straight up over the pad with no barn door potential. The weather meant exceptional friction, almost unheard of in the humid South in the summer. I was climbing well, but I can’t say if I was climbing exceptionally well because I couldn’t try anything really hard because of the ground rules for climbing alone I’d set down. During rest breaks I took pictures of fern and tree leaves.

Rockcap Fern (Polypodium virginianum) I believe

Rockcap Fern (Polypodium virginianum) I believe

Frazier Magnolia

Frazier Magnolia

I set up several videos of me climbing (I just admitted to a selfie! I will not let this become a regular event and certainly not an addiction. I must keep this under control.) You may check them out by clicking on the names below. It will be immediately obvious that I’m no rockstar, but I enjoy the challenge, nonetheless:

Disc and Throw

Chainsawleft

Trillium fruiting

Trillium fruiting

American Chestnut "bush"

American Chestnut “bush”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After bouldering around until my forearms were quite tired, I walked up to the top of the ridge, sat down, took in the view, ate lunch, and read my Bible. Actually, when I first arrived up top I lay down on the bouldering pad a prayed for awhile. There was such a rest in telling my Father all my burdens about work, family, and internal stress. I have been enjoying, not just tolerating reading Leviticus and Numbers. Numbers 2 and 3 seem like lists of camp arrangement and numbers of fighting men, and numbering religious servants, but they reveal several things about God’s character. He is orderly and efficient and given to detail.  The arrangement of Levites reveals His concern for His holiness among the people and grace to not destroy them with His fierce justice. The taking of the Levites in place of the firstborn and the redemption of 273 additional Israelites by a gift of five shekels each reminds us of the depth of our sin problem and the gloriousness of God’s solution in salvation. The more I read the Pentateuch (Genesis to Deuteronomy) the more I feel like Jesus is repeating Himself when He points to God’s holiness and the Law. As a man did He have “aha!” moments of learning the Word from His parents or the synagogue teachers, moments when He said, “I remember saying that.”? All of His Word speaks of His character and what is important to Him. Are we bored with it because we have little passion for knowing Him and what He cares about? Knowledge of Him is our ultimate goal here. Beautiful days in the mountains and hard days of difficulty or frustration are profitable and meaningful if we allow them to direct us to knowing Him more. Yeah, I prefer one over the other but I am slowly learning to muse, “Hmm, I wander how this situation may draw me closer to Him?”

House Fly

House Fly

 

Evergreen groundcover

Shining Clubmoss (or Shining Firmoss) Huperizia lucidula (Thanks for the ID help Sister L)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view up top increased my enjoyment of my time concentrating on God. He created all of the beauty around us to remind us of His beauty and the enjoyment we may have from these gifts from His good hand.

Left to Right: Table Rock, Hawksbill, Gingercake

Left to Right: Table Rock, Hawksbill, Gingercake

Exceptionally Beautiful August Day

Exceptionally Beautiful August Day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Culture is an odd and interesting phenomenon. Though the word has now been co-opted to refer to interaction in a business office, the more traditional definition looks more like the http://www.merriam-webster.com first entry: “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time”. Therein is the oddity and interest. That is a very broad definition trying to capture all that goes into a culture. You can mix and match the first three terms (and the “etc’s” for that matter) with any combination of the “particular” last four terms. Try for instances this combination that helps to explore a situation our tour explored in Peru: ‘art of a particular society in transition through time‘.

Pressing out the air bubbles

Pressing out the air bubbles

Painted, glazed, kiln dried, sun drying

Glazed and painted and drying in the sun in readiness for the second firing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We toured the Seminario Ceramicas in Urubamba of the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The head potter, Pablo Seminario, along with his wife the head painter, Merilu Behar, developed a style of glazed and decorated pottery that has elements of ancient Peruvian cultures and modern stylistic exploration. The style was further developed by the isolation necessary for survival during the Shining Path insurgence of the 1980’s. One motif that the potter declared to me that he finds ever new is the shape of the arrowhead. As he said, “It was a tool for gathering food…is similar to the water drop or a leaf”. So Pablo continues to explore splashes of modern creativity mixed with hints of ancient continuity.

Moderno-ancient mix

Moderno-paleo creations

   I was temporarily separated from my tour    group because I was taking some pictures in this gallery of creations of the artist. When I exited the room outdoors I didn’t see anyone. I assumed a whole group could not have gone far in a minute so I went to the nearest doorway. When I entered, there was Pablo wielding a small carving tool on a large arrowhead. Realizing I had entered his private studio, I began to back out but he waved me forward, not even slowing the pace of his work. 

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

Pablo manifesting a new vision of the arrowhead

 

  For the next 10-12 minutes we amicably discussed the creative process. He seemed to be quite interested in talking with me because I had brought students to tour Peru and because I talked intelligently about art and science. I asked several questions about how he begins a concept and carries it out. One question involved the arrowhead, “You obviously like to make arrowheads. Why did you start with it and why do you continue with it now?” He related the request from an art exhibit many years ago that he combine modern and ancient elements of design. This request caused him to reflect on the usefulness and ubiquitousness of the arrowhead shape he noticed in nature as quoted above. He continues to see new things in the shape and strives to continue to grow and so pursues more content in the arrowhead. This discussion led to me commenting on how one should be thankful to the Creator for instilling the gift of creativity. He retorted that it was far more work than creativity. I countered that the work is necessary but without merit if the person lacks the creative ability; each of us should work to develop the gift we have. The waste of potential that he sees as an artist and I see as a science teacher consumed some of our interaction. We also interacted over the similarities in science and art, how each involves elements of the other, and how both center around the abilities to think and work hard. It was one of those moments when we both knew that we had connected in a meaningful way even though before that moment we had been total strangers from different cultures pursuing different vocations and avocations, separated by different worldviews. Our connection was musing on life, its processes, and its meaning.

His life had been one sufficiently isolated from the insanity of the violent culture around him in order to survive and thrive, and yet not isolated from creative interaction, as his collaboration with his wife and 50 potters and painters in training attests. 

Decorating the forms

Decorating the forms with Inca symbols

Main Gallery

Main Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think that in this discussion and on this trip I discovered a more complete reason for why I like to travel. It extends my musing on life through observation of diversity in nature, culture, thinking, history, distance, science, people, God’s work in the world, and a host of other providential allowances given by a good Creator. We want to see beauty and substance and understand its meaning and purpose. But many are not willing to wade through the meaning of ugliness and triviality to reach the beauty and substance that does not lend to their preconceived ideas of what it should mean. I agree with Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Don’t be afraid to examine yours and others and risk having to change what you hold dear for what is true and good and beautiful and full of substance.

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Contrasts of Hues and Properties

Courtyard Beauty

Courtyard Beauty of Seminario

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It was what church should be: lively discussion about the truths of God’s Word, challenging preaching that conveys God’s truth, hugs and handshakes, words of encouragement, a little extra effort to reach out to the hurting among us, words to get one thinking and rethinking, offers and procedure for help, appointments to get together later in the week to further the effect. God used my brothers and sisters to bless my wife and me both in terms of ministry offered to us and ministry offered for us to do. Was it perfect? Certainly not. Was it Spirit-led? More than I’ve seen in quite a while. Was it encouraging? Very. Was it an indication of things to come? Hopefully and in the longer term, absolutely. Was it a fluke? Not if we continue praying as I know for a fact was happening this past week. It reminds me of a quote we heard in VBS this past week: “Our good is for God’s glory; God’s glory is for our good.” I give Him the glory for all that He is doing at His church in this locale and know that it will in turn be for our best. May it draw others in to hear and taste the Gospel.

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Spring has significantly sprung in our neck of the woods. We may yet have another wintery storm but the bluster is mostly out of that season. Flowers seem particularly profuse this season: carpets of red trillium, bluets, grape hyacinth, and violets. The hardier varieties of Daffodils have already shown their glory. Leaves are sprouting rapidly on the trees.

Neighbor's Redbud

Neighbor’s Redbud

Violets and Grape Hyacinth

Violets and Grape Hyacinth

Violets and Ground Ivy

Violets and Ground Ivy

Variety of Heal All?

Variety of Heal All?

 

As the transformation has occurred, when not out in the yard or woods,  I have been watching from the dining room window as I eat. One sight in the last two weeks has arrested my attention, however, and it is of my own doing. I’ve long wanted fruit trees that produce. I lived for six years across a dirt road from a pear tree that no one cared for or seemed aware of. It would produce a few pears each year that were the old style: hard and sweet- moon glow pears I think. One year just before we moved the spring and summer conspired together with a perfect combination for this old pear tree. It produced so many large pears that it bent over with some of the pears touching the ground. Even more fascinating was the almost total lack of worms or other insects. I ate pears for lunch every day and most usually with yogurt after super. I ate them with my cereal for breakfast. We froze some and I ate them relentlessly. My wife ate her share as well. The tree produced for 3 1/2 months until heavy frost. It was simply amazing. The next year the pear tree produced a few worm eaten pears just like it had in all of my previous notice of it. Soon afterward we moved to our present house. One of the things that drew us to the house we bought was the trees: oak, redbud, catalpa, pitch pine, white ash, chinese chestnut, and two apple trees. I was too busy with house repair and job to prune them the first several years, but I read up on pruning and pruned them later on. I believe that it was the season a year and a half after that they produced some decent sized and number of apples. A fair number were without worm. They are probably what is referred to as cooking apples because they lack much firmness, and much sweetness or tartness desirable in an eating apple. Since then frost has gotten the flowers and worms have rotted the fruit. I sprayed them one year with soap just after the blooms fell off, to no avail. I’m not a pesticide kind of guy and I haven’t figured out the natural ways of preventing apple worms. I have pruned them somewhat since then but finally let them go. My son pruned them heavily last year but they are so tall that you can’t reach half of the apples and those that fall are severely damaged. There is a point to all of this story. I went out to try again this spring and found that the larger tree had several rotten places in the trunk. If there was any possibility of producing apples, it seemed to me, this problem must be dealt with. I cut most of the rot out. Now I sit and look at the sad results of my decisive action.

Ouch!
Ouch!

 I was immediately reminded of two Scripture passages: John 15:1-11 and Luke 13:1-9 Hear a little of each passage:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit… he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”      John 15:1-2, 5-6                   And He began telling this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine, but if not, cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9

Perhaps it is a parable for my life just now. No, by God’s grace, I do not believe I will be burned up because I belong to Him, but does cut down mean eternally separated or ‘fallen asleep’ as those who were disobedient (I Corinthians 11:30)? I have been severely pruned or cut; difficulties with career, health, loved ones. Has my life been unfruitful and full of rot so that it needed a major pruning? Am I too apt to be content, complacent when I have orders to fulfill? There are other ways to look at the reasons for these trials but I don’t want to be oblivious to the obvious. I certainly feel like this tree looks. And I don’t see it or mean it as complaining. I just want to learn the lessons that are here and serve my Lord better rather than have to recycle remediation. The flowers bloom all around; the sun shines brightly; the soil is warming and wet; the grass is greening. Am I connected and abiding in the vine (trunk and root) so that I may bloom, leaf, and bear fruit. I want to be a fruit tree that produces. I want to be pruned, not cut down.

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