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Archive for the ‘Experience’ Category

You are right or left hand dominant because of genetics, right?

When I was six years old, my oldest brother began to teach me how to play baseball. It was simple catch at first. I wanted a glove. My brother seemed to think that I threw as well with my left hand as with my right hand. He insisted that I should throw left-handed. I got a left-hand glove. He said lefties make pitchers who are harder to hit off of and make good 1st basemen. I was learning to write, shoot basketball, eat with a fork and pick up a cup with my right hand, and kick balls with my right foot. I definitely had right hand preference, not only because of the many everyday things I do right-handed, but also because fine motor skills are much more developed in my right hand. I definitely do not consider myself to be ambidextrous, but here I am throwing baseballs, footballs, and skipping rocks with my left hand and doing everything else right-handed.

As time has progressed I have learned to hammer nails and split wood with either hand. I hammer more accurately right-handed but go at it left-handed sometimes in order rest my right. The inside of my wrist on my right forearm has a muscular budge missing on the left wrist from pounding nails and wedges. Learning a skill with the other hand is tedious and sometimes dangerous. I split wood with both hands simultaneously, but the hand on top is the preference and lead hand. For the sake of working longer and working both sides of my body, and particularly my back, I alternate hands.

Which leg of your pants do you step into first, right or left? Which arm of your shirt or blouse do you put on first, left or right? Which way do you cross your legs or fold your arms or clasp your hands? Which one is on top? You have a preference, a handedness, a brain side preference.*

But you can change the level or preference and the balance of strength and coordination. In a number of sports and skills, equal strength and grace are needed by both hands and both sides of the body. Try putting the opposite leg into your pants first. It is hugely awkward the first few times you do it, but with time you feel more coordinated. I alternate regularly. Cross your arms or legs or fingers the opposite way. It feels weird but makes new connections in your brain as you practice it.

There are some things I will not try both ways for safety reasons. I tie my rope and belay when climbing the same way every time so that I may do it correctly without thought in an urgent situation. For the belayer these situations are frequent. As a result, I can and do have conversations while belaying and still catch my partner every time. But climbing requires strength, coordination, and flexibility in all four limbs and in many combinations. That takes work. I can only imagine how a good dancer or ice skater leads into a move with equal grace on either leg. A good pianist must be able to play the melody and complex harmonies with either hand and trade back and forth as the score of music demands. These activities and many others require practice and consideration.

Here is another childhood story that applies to my three brothers and me. Our mother taught her young sons to put their belts on clockwise, that is, starting through the loop right of the button. Traditionally in the U.S., men wear their belts counterclockwise and women wear their belts clockwise. Supposedly this originated with women dressing their men and men opening cloaks to draw swords. I did not know all of this detail until I was challenged as to why I wore my belt “backwards”. Now to increase coordination, I wear my belt both ways, alternating from one day to the next.

So, handedness is definitely genetically gifted but is environmentally altered and may be altered and attenuated by intentional effort. As I have argued here, I think it is useful to strength, coordination, grace, flexibility, and skill to do so.

*The right hand is operated by the left brain and visa-versa.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***Thank you for your patience, friends.

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From last Thursday until Monday afternoon I either drove or rode in a car for about 35 hours. The reason for the trip was well worth the effort and the company and conversation were stimulating and substantial. But it did remind me of a time when I could aptly describe the a trip as purgatory.

When I was in college I studied spiders.* Deep into a research project, my major professor realized that she needed some DNA samples in order to verify her hypothesis and realization that she was dealing with two different species of spiders. It was not the field research season- Summer- so she decided to send me on a Kamikaze bus trip to collect samples. 

I took a Trailways bus from Knoxville, TN, to El Paso, TX. Wait, it gets worse. I slept overnight in the Trailways headquarters bus terminal in Dallas, TX. I carried a box of the approximate dimensions of 18″ x 18″ x 36″ tall containing a DeWar flask full of liquid nitrogen. The purpose of this container was to quick freeze collected spiders at my destination, Southwest Research Station (SWRS) in the Chirichahua Mountains of southeast Arizona. I could not flip the Dewar flask on its side since this would lose its contents. Bus drivers wanted to insist that I put it in the undercarriage luggage compartment, but it was too tall to stand upright. Much of the trip it sat upright in a seat beside me, but when the long distance bus became a commuter bus from Memphis to Little Rock and beyond, with standing room only, I had to hold it upright in my lap. Drivers and riders alike must have thought I was carrying a bomb. In every little town across Texas we would stop under a street light where the many insects circled around, waiting for a new driver or passengers to board. In El Paso I had to catch a taxi to the airport in order to rent a car for the remainder of the trip.**

My previous visit to SWRS had been pleasant and un-rushed. This trip was during colder weather at a station without heat, quickly collecting and marking specimens and returning to El Paso for another taxi ride back to the bus terminal and more time aboard a bus. The green of the East never looked so good, the Mississippi River so welcoming, or Knoxville so beloved. I felt as though I had escaped the dark tunnel of purgatory for real life again. I like adventures, even those that are spontaneous, but sometimes one gets more than he bargains for.

*That could be the beginning of many of my stories.

**It was not possible to transport a full Dewar flask on an airline.

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On the wall of the classroom in bold, beautiful font were the empowering words:

“turn your cants into cans and your dreams into plans”

After correcting the grammar*, my next thought was the proverb, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) Can’s and plans are good, and godly ambition is a worthwhile pursuit, but whether you are a believer or not, your life is held in God’s hands (Daniel 5:23) and He is sovereign in all of your life. So heed the advice given in James 4:15: “Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” Good may come of your efforts, but difficulties may also come of them and both good and ill will come anyway (Job 5:7). Don’t be discouraged by it. Yield to God and learn from it and prosper in it. I have had a measure of trouble, not so great as many others nor so slight as some others, and I have not always been patient, but trials are a constant and consistent teacher. I hope the following poem may encourage and strengthen you rather than drag you down.

In this life and on this path
There is strife and sometimes wrath
Difficulties small and great
But nothing ever left to fate

We have dreams and we make plans
Some have even help and fans
All of your ambitions dear
Wait for God’s directions clear

Paying forward, looking back
Outward viewing, keep on track
In your life reflect on how
Before His will you may bow

The when difficulties come
More than an unhappy sum
Of trials and loss and joys ban
They are part of His good plan

 

*I was first drawn to the visual aesthetics of the display, but almost immediately questioned in my mind why such a poorly constructed phrase would be on the wall of an English classroom. I considered that our students don’t know grammar because we don’t know or model grammar. We are all caught up in texting language, which is understandable for texting but deadly to the language and good communication. If you ignore the contractions, which should not be in formal writing (I use them in this blog to increase the conversational tone of my writing.), then the wall display should have read more along the following lines: “Turn your can’t’s into can’s and your dreams into plans.” The subject is understood because this sentence is a command, but students need to have this modeled along with punctuation.

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I’m not complaining to say the following about 2019. It has simply been a difficult year. Health, stress, strained relationships, loneliness, unfulfilled dreams and expectations, they have all been there. But God has been there, too, and He ordained, allowed, and prescribed the difficulty as well as directed, sustained, and provided in the midst of it. I am not here to say everything is alright now, but I am here to say God’s presence has been more obvious in the midst of the ongoing difficulties. Forgive the overuse of a single rhyme sound. After the first verse came, it became a challenge to continue with coherent, true, and heartfelt lines. Some people say don’t look back, but bracing for the next wave, as well as riding it, requires a steady foothold and keen balance based in knowing your source of propulsion and floatation.

Oh, my goodness, what a year!
Losing things I thought were dear
Trials and temptation to fear
Mundane difficulty drear

Oh, my God, Your presence near!
Comforting when every tear
And discouragement appear
Sparks of joy amidst unclear

Oh, my Comforter, and dear
My cries for help so sincere
Do not fall on a deaf ear
Do not meet with scoff or jeer

Oh, my Jesus, grace so clear
Wipes away my every tear
Makes the voice express my cheer
Pushes worries to the rear

Oh, my Lord, in this new year
Me not from Your path to veer
Own ordained influence sphere
Trials that witness to each peer

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I am amazed at times what a little rest and little reflection can allow to come around in our memory. The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of challenge by way of time pressure and emotional workout. So, even though today is also full of chores and duties, I had the privilege of sleeping late. But sleeping late for one in the habit of early rising is difficult. Usually 7 PM is all that I can manage, but it was a few minutes past 7:30 when I first saw the clock this morning, and my dear wife slept away. In the unhurried moments I lay musing on random thoughts when one came through quite clearly.

Do you remember the names of your elementary school teachers? Sequentially from 1st grade through 6th mine were Mrs. Denton, Mrs Gaston, Mrs. Henderson, Mrs. Gervin, Mrs. Tucker, and Mrs. Alexander. I know that a child’s view of the world and the addition of many years makes memories a bit skewed, but I thought of a few things I remember about them.

Mrs. D was a large lady. I don’t mean overweight, just a big person. She was kind but seemed sad. She had gray hair. None of my teachers were young. I always wanted to please my teachers and I wanted to do my best for her. One day during milk break in the cafeteria, I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t finish my milk. Mrs. D would stand at the garbage can inspecting to see if we had finished our milk. I was nervous and dropped the carton, mostly full of milk, just before she took hold of it. It fell and splashed milk all over her dress. She had to go out and change her clothes. She was not happy with me. I don’t feel like that she held it against me after that. I think I remember struggling to learn to read and yet enjoying the new world it opened up.

Mrs. G was a small round woman who wore lots of jewelry and smiled most of the time. She was also strict. The first and last time I ever cheated on a test was on one of her weekly spelling quizzes. I wanted to do well but spelling did not and does not make sense to me. I used a little cheat sheet and she caught me. I was publicly shamed and worse, my parents were told. In this day and time publicly shaming is frowned upon, but I think it only hurts significantly because we tell children falsehoods about self-esteem the rest of the time so that they have “entitlement issues”. At any rate, I never cheated again, ever. I struggled in reading. After a short stint in reading group #1, I was demoted to the second reading group. My mother was told that I was struggling and it was suggested that I read extra at home. Mrs. G had a box of 2nd grade reading level books. I checked out one or two a week to read to my mother at home. I improved in reading, enjoyed the stories, being drawn most of all to facts related books. I am still a laboriously slow reader, but I understanding is good, and I enjoy an encouraging story or informative narrative. We still had nap, or quiet time. Most of the other students giggled and fidgeted on their mats, but I frequently went fast asleep. I distinctly remember several times awaking, disoriented and drowsy, to be given a hard time by classmates and defended fiercely by Mrs. G.

Mrs. H was almost certainly the youngest elementary school teacher I had and I’m pretty sure she was middle aged. She was innovative and energetic. She decided that our study of American History and the Capitol, Washington D.C., should have a visual. So she set out having us make paper mache models of the various buildings in D.C. I made a Washington Monument. By 3rd grade I had a best friend, Andy D. We loved math and did problems together. We liked science and talking about space exploration and going to the Moon. We liked drawing symmetrical shapes with ruler and compass. I grew up with mechanical drawing since my father worked as a draftsman for ORNL from shortly after the war.* So, Mrs. H selected Andy and me to draw out a map of D.C. with streets, bodies of water, and the locations of monuments and buildings all to scale. We did this on butcher paper laid out on the floor of a particularly large, empty classroom down the hall from her room. Andy and I would get to skip classes we did well in to work on the map. My childish memory wants to say the map was perhaps 20 x 30 feet in size. We spent many hours drawing, talking, and reveling in time together, just the two of us in that empty room. After all of the paper mache buildings were completed with white acrylic paint and all, they were placed on the map which was painted with black streets and blue rivers and pools, and large green spaces. The model that I had made was not selected and I thought it was better. Later someone helped me to understand that Mrs. H had allowed me the privilege and limelight of drawing the map. It would not be equitable to also place my paper mache monument on the map. During the next PTA meeting most of the school and their parents walked around the periphery of the map in that otherwise empty room admiring our work. It was probably the most unforgettable thing for me about elementary school.

Mrs. G was a thin, quiet woman. I somehow remember being a favorite of hers and growing in my love of learning new things. I had a vague memory of some written project that I did well on, but for some reason everything about that year is vague. In fact, even the room we were in seems vague, being set back in a corner at the end of the hallway. Mrs. G liked to keep the blinds shut so that the room had a dark, calm atmosphere.

Mrs. T was a fierce, little fireball who loved to raise flowers. She lived about a block from me in a little white house that was unimpressive, but the flower garden because of the small yard could not be anywhere else but next to the street, was impressive. When I would walk or ride my bike by her house, you could see the weedless beds of massive flowers of many varieties and smell them, too. Many evenings and summer mornings, Mrs. T was out weeding and replanting slips or cuttings. In class, she expected her students to work hard and behave, all orderly and well presented like her garden. I wanted to please my teacher so I did both. Good behavior produces good results. I was allowed to help the teacher and do work ahead of my grade. One of my best friends did something one day that set the class off and sent Mrs. T into a frenzy. It was warm and our school did not have air conditioning, so the banks of casement windows were laid open. A yellow jacket flew in and buzzed around the back of the room. Many of the girls screamed and others jumped out of their seats to get away. While Mrs. T was trying to settle the class, Jack jumped up with a new pencil, made noises as he sung his pencil like a sword, knocking the bee to floor dead on his last downswing. The class went wild with elation.

Mrs. A had to be close to retirement. She told me she had been a teacher for some period of time that seemed astronomical to my young mind. She always seemed to be happy and encouraging. I’m not sure if I am remembering correctly, but I think that I heard that she had had some deep hurts in her life, which if my memory is correct, made her demeanor all the more amazing. She liked to have classroom competitions and interclass competitions: weekly Spelling Bees, group math quizzes, history facts group competitions. I dreaded the spelling bees and seem to remember managing many 2nd places, despite my abhorrence of the art form. Mrs. A invited a number of her best students to come to her house a few times to study extra for a math competition that we went to. I felt so special eating a snack in her breakfast room with a few of my classmates. 

This commentary is a very narrow slice of what I remember about my elementary school years. There was baseball and bowling and bike rides and vacations and good grades and friends and chorus and library and safety patrol and playground (woods, swings and monkey bars and merry-go-rounds, kickball) and PE with the principal and plays and promenades and always working real hard to please my parents, my teachers, and make good grades and times with friends. But my teachers had more influence on me than I have previously given credit for in many long years. They may not have been the best teachers by modern pedagogical standards, but they had high expectations, rewarded what was good, punished what was not, and seemed to care about their students and their content. That was enough for me.

* I decided to say it the way we would back then instead of explaining it for the younger set. ORNL stands for Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of the Manhattan Project where my mother was secretary and just a couple of years before my father arrived, and much of the focus of anything related to radioactivity studies. The war, of course, was World War II where my father had recently arrived home from when he began working there.

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I am a self described “Jack of All Trades, Master of None”. How does one become part of this nation? My observation has been that there are generally two paths to “Jack”. 1) Be very smart and well studied and carefully try many things, having the resources to continue and succeed. 2) Be very desperate (or needy), having few resources, particularly money, imprudent to the dangers of failure, fail alot, learn from experience, and at last succeed. I am of the latter tribe. In the first tribe are those who have confidence that it will work because of their circumstances. In the second tribe are those who against all odds need it to work or “it ain’t happenin'”.

There is, perhaps, a third tribe, but they are small. They are masters of many trades, but those guys retire early to make YouTube videos with over a million subscribers.

My modest car had a modest oil leak, the kind you might ignore because you only need add a half a quart of oil between oil changes, unless you were at highway speeds for extended times (ring blow by likely as not due to mileage above 200K). I wanted to stop the leak because it was dripping on the exhaust manifold, burning, and smelling. That meant that my wife and I could not open the windows on a cool evening or dash through the mountains because the fumes made us feel sick. It also meant that the leak was hard to find because there was very little evidence.

My son who is training to be a mechanic found the leak that I could not. It turns out that the Rocker Arm Cover Gasket includes rings around the spark plugs. The leak was covered and the oil came out elsewhere in small amounts where it was burnt. Oh, what small problems cause such consternation.

20190730_182109
A fun drive, decent to low power, dependable, hoping for another 50 to 100K.
20190730_160744
Simpler approach than most modern compact car engines.
20190730_162700
Clean engine for 207,000 miles!
20190730_162719

The offending tale-tale indicator of leakage

Over the years I have had many successes at mechanicing, carpentering, plumbing (oh, I hate that one), electricianing, tree felling, and the like. I ask lots of questions of people who know how, proceed carefully, beg, borrow, or buy tools as I can, and get help when I get stuck. I have also failed at times, needing costly bailout. But the need of this tribe member not to fail has compelled me to many paths, however so circuitous, to multiple successes. Because of properties of my personality (flaws?) I am not sure I would want to be so provided for that I had not learned all of these neat skills (unless it avoided plumbing, scraping paint, or completing a project after multiple nights after midnight). Therefore, I am thankful to God for the many, many times He has enabled me to provide for my family by a frugal rework of equipment I already possess. I could learn another way of just “Honey, call the plumber,” but that is not the path God has most usually called me to and I am content. I hope this present fix is just works at length.

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I awoke this morning with a number of thoughts rolling around in my mind. Of the ones that rose to the top, I skimmed off the following in a poem that came fairly quickly:

Running fast was once a thing
But now I have grown old
Working ’til the break of dawn
But now I early fold

Once I walked with heavy pack
Many miles in a day
Now I sit in rocking chair
Recalling hard won play

Recovery was quick then
Endurance that would last
Injury slight problem when
Healing would come so fast

Now there is strength in wisdom
Knowing when best to stop
Working smarter not harder
No need to be on top

Much there is I’ve yet to learn
New vistas I would see
But lack of energy
Means that I am not free

My good days are not done yet
Though now I slow the pace
My hope is not in sprinting
But finishing the race

If it were in my own strength
Long since I would have failed
For God is my provision
Or long since I’d have bailed

As life begins to wind down
Vigor begins to wane
Glimpses I see of heaven
Through a dimly lit pane

One day before God I’ll dance
I’ll sing and serve and praise
In His strength forever there
His glories I will raise

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With what are you struggling? Struggling with temptation is a matter of replacing it with something good and godly. I find that Romans 6:11 helps me to focus in times of temptation. Philippians 4:8 helps it to be less of a problem in the first place and less burdensome when happening. But what if the struggle is not a temptation but concerning a desire that you have thought to be a godly ambition? You pursue it, but thus far, to no avail. Patience and acquiescence to God’s will are certainly needed, but as platitudes they do not answer questions about how to proceed. So, here is how I am struggling:

My senses all say no
As do comments and circumstances
Whence comes this great desire
When all else says there are thin chances

To prayer I did devote
This ambition of which I now speak
Much counsel, plans I wrote
And God’s will in this matter I seek

How do I now proceed?
Exercise patience and longer wait?
More scrutiny it need?
Oh my mind and emotional state?

Is it time to give up?
To admit it was not in God’s will?
Accept this empty cup
As good providence rather than ill?

This I know above all
God is good and His will is the best
May stumble but not fall
Be bewildered but finally blest

I will continue on
Trusting God and in His guidance rest
Listening I will hone
Find His direction and pass the test

 

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Why Me? There are generally two ways to answer that question.

Why me? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?

         Or…

Why me? What is God trying to teach me? How is He using these circumstances to guide me?

On a very pleasant, sunny afternoon my wife and I were preparing to go for a walk on our local Greenway. We were talking and enjoying conversation and she was understanding well. You see, she is a stroke victim and most days communication is poor and ponderous. We went to the car, talking away as we went. I distinctly remember enjoying the moment.

I pulled out of the driveway, looking both ways. In my blind spot a car had pulled up on the opposite curb. I looked in my rear side mirror and reacted just soon enough to dent his passenger door no more than about four inches. Two inches less and a toilet plunger would have fixed the problem, but the main beam was damaged and irrepairable. It was an expensive mistake.

Now two months later I was at the body shop paying for the repair. I had planned other business nearby. When I came out of the shop, my truck would not start. After a half hour cleaning the battery cable, I was underway, too late to do the other business I thought so important.

Why had all of this happened? Why was I prevented and redirected? What chain of events is God orchestrating for His glory and my benefit through these less than pleasant events?

I may never know, but I do know that the Scripture says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I lived a good portion of my life frustrated by annoying sidetracks and roadblocks, but I have come to understand what the Psalmist means when he says, “It is vain to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2) I want to end my days trusting God, as the Psalmist says, “The Lord also will be a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble; and those who know Your name will put their trust in You. For You, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You.” (Psalm 9:9-10)

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Man is a tool making animal (I only say in jest, since he is made in God’s image, and animal only by way of bodily similarity.). For repetitive, dangerous, or difficult jobs there is nothing like the right tool. I have been blessed with the use of many good tools and frustrated by the use of many inadequate and wrongly purposed tools. One item that I own and use that many people would not readily see as tool is my car. My 2007 Hyundai Elantra is not fancy, but it is nice, functional, easy and fun to drive, and dependable. It reached a milestone a few nights ago appropriately at the end of a trip over the mountains that we take frequently. In fact, we have probably taken this trip for more miles on this car than all the rest put together. Check out what happened.

Odo200K

Coming of Age.

I hope this tool will function without major repair for another 50,000 miles. But how do you know when to trade it in? Will it go 500 more miles without major repairs needing to be done, or 5000, or 50,000? The engine runs very well and blows by no more oil than it did 100,000 miles ago. The front end will need reworked soon, but how soon? The clutch shows wear but no sense is it near an end.

I have had a tendency to drive vehicles until someone has to tow them to a junkyard (It has happened at least 4 times.) Is that frugality or poor timing? One was catastrophic engine failure that could not have reasonably been foreseen, but others were death by degrees and dollars. For all of the roadside or shade tree repairs I have had a number of dependable and useful vehicles. I don’t say cars, because pick-up trucks figured among 4 of the vehicles, along with 8 cars, that God has provided over my 41 years of owning vehicles.

I married into one, bought two from family and two from friends, and one was gifted new from my father. I had one repainted, which I also replaced the the differential for a higher torque, lower gear, 1 1/2 ton version. One I replaced the bed (or box, and the Canadian’s called it) with a wooden bed that carried twice as much firewood. On one I had the transmission rebuilt, another I helped a mechanic rebuild the transmission in his personal shop, and another I junked because rebuilding transmissions was expensive and odious to me by then.

I hauled children, luggage, firewood, gravel, trash, and trailers with cars, dirt, brush, wood, more trash, etc. I’ve hauled pianos, an enlarging camera, furniture, building materials of amazing variety, hay and straw, manure, for recycling household and oil products. I shouldn’t have started that list because I can’t finish it and it is already too long to be of any interest to anyone.

My experiences, needs, and personality drive me to prefer pick-up trucks and small cars with clutches. I don’t like the inside of my vehicles to be trashy or dirty nor the outside particularly ugly, but necessity above presentation and function above beauty.

All in all, I have been blessed by God with many useful tools of transportation for which I am thankful. In moments of repair frustration or roadside delay, I have not been emotionally up to this thanksgiving, but I know it is true. 200K on the newest one was an apt reminder of God’s goodness and provision.

 

 

 

 

 

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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 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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That’s what I need to take it to the next level- local endurance. “Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time.”

I was climbing on Sunday, the second time in a comeback attempt after an injury. My finger strength is good- no real decline there. I can crimp on half finger pads, but I have maybe 12 to 15 feet of crimping and I’m done for 15 minutes. After flashing a 10a I’d never been on, my partner and I set-up a 10d on top rope. I knew that I needed to climb fast to make it through the 25 feet of sustained 10d climbing. I was just past it making the next somewhat easier move when the strength drained out of me. I reached for the next hold just above the directional quickdraw we had placed. My fingers would not grip. I came down and my right middle finger went right through the gate of the carabiner, stripping a half inch of flesh off adjacent to the nail. Had I grabbed for the quickdraw? No, the injury would have been much worse. My extended finger meant I only peeled some flesh rather than broken a finger or skewered my hand. Instead, my finger should be good in a week or so. I’m not a free bleeder, so after a momentary spirt of blood, and a shake out (hands above my head to prevent further bleeding), I finished the route without much difficulty. But how frustrating, to be one move away from completing the climb and getting shutdown. My overall strength is sufficient for higher grade climbing, I just need this local endurance. So here are two websites that describe training for this deficiency:

Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Training: Maximize Your Endurance

I hope to increase endurance through these workouts. I am always having to balance responsibility, desire, time pressure, enjoyment, higher priorities, and relaxation. I like to play hard and rest well. I am thankful to God that I still can, but wonder with my most recent injury if that will be possible much longer. I wasn’t doing anything extreme or foolish. I just strained connective tissue from midway down my leg to around the knee. For a time running and climbing stopped and even walking any significant amount. As they say, things just don’t heal like they used to. Both life and climbing are challenging and take strength. 

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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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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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As I said in a recent post, I have taught whole science lessons by using the illustration of the woodstove. See if you can name the concept being taught by the following story before I name it at the end.

Heating with wood can be interesting and exciting (chimney fire!) but also mundane. When something interesting happens it gets your attention. One bright morning in early Spring in the Horseshoe I got up and ate breakfast. I had not started a fire the night before because it wasn’t that cool and we like to sleep cool. My wife said, “Don’t you think it’s cool enough for a fire?” Of course, there is only one right answer, so I gathered wood and kindling and sat down to build a small fire to “knock the chill off.” I had only just lit the paper and cardboard when the smoke started billowing out of the top of the open door into the living room. My immediate response was to slam the stove door followed by jumping up to check to see if the stove pipe damper was open. The smoke started oozing out around the door dampers, so I hastened to screw those shut, only to continue more slowly coming out around several small gaps around the doors. All there was left to do was to open the front door and start fanning. After a few minutes the smoke was cleared and the living room really needed a fire in the stove. I got my flashlight, cautiously opened the stove door and peered into the exiting stove pipe at the back of the stove. There seemed to be no obstruction. I even used a mirror but couldn’t see around the curve for the smoke. There must surely be an obstruction in the chimney, be it birds or squirrels or bats or nest thereof. I was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. I put on a coat and hat and went outside to get the ladder and lean it up against the house. As soon as I got out from under the back door porch, I realized that the morning was warming up quickly in the bright sunshine. It was warmer outside than inside. Maybe I should just open the doors and wait. But instead I continued on the mission of solving the mystery stoppage in my chimney. I climbed up onto the red metal porch roof with the flashlight and then scampered up the steeper main roof and grabbed ahold of the chimney. Straddled across the peak of the roof, I removed the chimney cap and pulled the flashlight out of my back pocket. When I shown it down into the opening, I had to wait for my eyes to adjust and move my face closer. I could see clearly down most of the length of the chimney. There was very little creosote build-up. But toward what I judged to be the bottom where I should have seen the pipe coming into the chimney from the stove, the view went fuzzy. I could not tell what I was looking at. I tried to adjust the flashlight and my head to see better, but to no avail. Frustrated, I thought, “I’ll fix that,” shut off the light, slid down the roof to the porch, bounded down the ladder, and stepped over to the old smokehouse, now a storage shed. I strung up my 100′ extension cord with a plug-in socket and light bulb on the end and retraced my course back up to chimney side. Next, I lowered the lit bulb down into the chimney, which was very well lit now. When I lowered the bulb down to the vague area, I could see that there was smoke hovering low in the chimney. I lowered the light into the smoke and it totally disappeared after several inches more of lowering. It would appear and disappear as I raised and lowered it out of this dense smoke layer. I turned my head aside for a moment to consider, since fresh creosote is not the most pleasant smell. Just as I turned back to look again I got a face full of smoke that just kept coming. I choked on the lung full I received and must have called out in alarm because my wife yelled up to ask if I was OK. I hastily pulled the light out and made my way down to the porch with the smoke settling down the roof behind me. What in the world was happening? The smoke cleared quickly, because there really wasn’t all that much. I climbed back up on the peak of the roof and again lowered the light. The chimney was clear.

It took me awhile to figure out what had happened. Have you figured it out, yet? There are several hints in the story having to do with temperature. Before you read below you may want to go back and reread with the hint.

The temperature was warmer outside than inside. Cold air is denser than warm air. Since there was not a fire the night before, the air in the chimney was cooler than the quickly warming exterior air. When I started the fire, smoke was not able to move through the pipe because the air there was heavier than that higher in the chimney where the sun beamed down. There was a thermal inversion in the chimney restricting the air from rising. When I left the light bulb in the smoke layer for a few moments of slow reflection, it warmed the smokey layer so that it was lighter than the air above it and began to rise. I got a face full of lesson about thermal inversion. This situation happened again years later in the home we presently live in. I didn’t even hesitate. I climbed up on the roof and lowered a light bulb down into the chimney. The smoke rose. I climbed down and started a fire and had a warm feeling inside knowing that knowledge and experience go a long way toward clearing away smoke that obscures your path.

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