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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Last weekend my wife and I went to Knoxville for a one our daughter-in-law’s surprise birthday party, my wife’s family reunion, and other visits. What makes this so amazing is that my wife had had health problems that prevented her from significant travel or visiting- she was in much pain and it simply wore her out. About 3 weeks ago the symptoms suddenly began to go away after almost two years of intensifying. She has been to many doctors, but mostly they could not pinpoint the problems, which are not all solved but she feels like she has a life again. She decided that the birthday party with many people would be too much for her, so I dropped her off at her sister’s house to have a quiet visit while I was at the party.

Her husband is very patient to talk to my wife at the slower pace of someone with aphasia.

I missed the surprise moment of the daughter-in-law’s arrival, but there was plenty of visiting all around.

Visiting with my six grandchildren by my oldest son and his wife was enjoyable.

My oldest son is listening to a story by his pastor. We went to church with them the next morning. You can see my sister-in-law in the pink pants getting to know one of my grandchildren.

The pastor is also a near neighbor, so the grandchildren feel comfortable with him and his wife.

I said that there were six grandchildren. The one in the green cap holding his mother’s hand in an earlier picture didn’t stand still long enough for me to get a picture. My oldest brother is a retired pastor and quite the UT fan.

My sister-in-law is quite the story teller. You can about see her spinning a yarn here to my youngest son: “Ye…eeep! It was a real humdinger.” The daughter-in-law’s brother is listening to another story with pleasure.

My third son has that “are you taking my picture” look, but his wife just smiles.

The family gathered for the reunion at Cumberland Mountain State Park on Sunday afternoon after church. Eating and talking is what you do at a reunion. Most of the participants are past playing games.

Mother and son.

Who looks more mischievous, uncle or nephew?

Brothers.

Their spouses.

The eight siblings of my wife’s family and all but one of their spouses are still alive even though the siblings range from 63 to 86 years old. They didn’t get to have a reunion last year and everyone feels like this can’t keep happening from now on, but they are blessed to still be alive and still enjoy getting together to catch up on what has happened in the last year or two. Could you point them out in order by age?

My two oldest grandsons and their father rode with us to the reunion. The others stayed back for a much needed nap. We had gone on a hike together previously, so they wanted to go again. We went down the road a short distance to the dam where we found a trail down by the creek.

The bridge over the dam is the most picturesque feature in the park.

Besides painted dots to mark trails, the park has these special trail markers, this one on Black Oak bark.

I am trying to keep up on the march in the woods.

This is fun, grandpa, but the creek water is only cool and not cold as we expected.

It floats but will it support any weight?

I had the boys in their cowboy hats and boots stand by a healthy Eastern White Pine.

After returning to my son’s home we visited for awhile before departing to my oldest brother’s house for the evening. I was focusing in on my grand-daughter, who is the first second daughter in four generations among the male progenitors. Speaking of whom, the party, reunion, hike, and visit after a week of laboring has rendered him tired. We were all ready for some rest, but content with time we had to visit.

Indeed the years are passing, and we become more desirous of renewing family ties as time goes along. God has been good to our families according to His mercy. We should love those around us and build relationships while we can, because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, though we can guess what many tomorrows will. Life is short so we best be about knowing God and knowing people while we have the opportunity, because eternity is coming. I am so thankful for the young ones coming along, and I pray regularly for their salvation, health, relationships, and knowledge base. May they know Him and give Him glory. Life is good, because God is good.

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We have some young ladies helping with the cleaning and cooking just now while my wife is healing. One of the young women was dusting in our bedroom and bumped a framed invitation to our wedding off of the high chest of drawers. Following is the result:

The glass will be easily replaced. I began to look at the frame, remembering that it is nearly 40 years old and holds the representation of the happy day and the commitment (covenant) that was agreed to on that day. The actual covenant consisted of the vows, which I wrote and we each memorized and said to each other in the presence of God, the pastor, who was my oldest brother, and witnesses, family and friends. Following is the text of those vows. I began:

“Believing that God has brought us together to be as one flesh, a living symbol of Christ and His Church, I commit myself to live with you by God’s power and to love you with a love which God has and will impart to you through me, regardless of difficult or exalting circumstances, despondent or elated feelings. Therefore, I will be careful how I walk in Christ so that I may fulfill my duties and privileges as your Mate, Protector, Provider, and Leader. I will submit to you in Christ and I will cleave to you as my wife according to God’s Purpose.”

Then she said:

“Believing Christ is the head of His Body, the Church, and the Initiator of our union, I commit myself to live with you by God’s power and to respect you by God’s love, regardless of difficult or exalting circumstances, despondent or elated feelings. Therefore, I will be careful how I walk in Christ so that I might win you by my behavior as your Mate, Complementer*, Supporter, and Completer. I will submit to Christ and I will submit to you as my husband according to God’s Purpose. “

My thought was on how this framed invitation is a metaphor for marriage. There are cracks, various rifts in thought and conduct, but the covenant holds firm. There is rust, aging and infirmness both physical and mental, but the covenant holds secure. There is breakage, troubles financial and personal and relational, but the covenant weathers the storm still anchored. These are the marks of a God-centered marriage. Because God is in it, the covenant keeping persists, and it is based in God’s love and power.

The covenant of marriage as set forth in Scripture reveals God’s purpose for marriage, which is to illuminate His work and love for the church of God consisting of the saints of God: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord….Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:22, 25, 31-32) To state it more simply, marriage is a Christian institution ordained by God that points to Christ in all aspects.

In reality then, I am speaking here of a double metaphor. The greater one is human marriage of a man and woman representing Christ and His Church. The lesser one is our framed invitation representing marriage.

This was not the first time the frame had been damaged. After one previous fall, I had to replace the cardboard easel back. I made a stronger one from a paint stirring stick and bolted it to the hinge. The steel frame used to be coated with a thin brass layer but you can see it has yielded for the most part to rust.

And one final picture of where the invitation sits as a reminder to us, there between the flashlight and loving couple.

Besides our five children and two of our eight grandchildren pictured are three wedding day pictures. She sewed her wedding dress and the ceremony was simple and inexpensive. It’s what comes afterwards, the life together, that counts most.

*It appears that I coined a word since complementary is an adjective.

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I built my second handicap ramp this year (see 1:12). It was bright and sunny and when the afternoon came a shade tree covered the spot, cooling the worksite. I would have liked to start with a landing at the door but the practical use of space necessitated dropping immediately out the door to fit the space and stay within the maximum 1:12 pitch of a handicap ramp.

I have taken to tarring the posts in the ground to lengthen the effective lifespan of my structures. A project coming soon will reveal why I set the joists on top of the posts rather than bolt them to the side.

There was some custom cutting and fitting to run the sloping ramp over the existing stoop. I felt that the thinness of the joist at this point compromised its strength sufficiently to need support, so I added a support on the step below.

I like the baluster shadows in this next picture. One should be able to tell time by them. Let’s see, Daylight Savings Time? I probably took this picture just before I left for lunch at around 12:30.

I usually put a toprail on ramps and decks, but we were keeping the cost down as much as possible. That is, of course, hard to do when lumber prices are out the roof.

The evening glow and shadows say that it is time to head for the house, another job complete. Notice the scrap boards under the landing. The two children who frequent great-grandmother’s house had already been playing under the deck.

It was fascinating to see the four generations of this family interacting and coming and going as I worked. What a blessing is a godly heritage, children to keep the elders young at heart and elders to impart wisdom and a sense of belonging and origin. I pray that I might be able to see some of my great-grandchildren and impart some wisdom for life and salvation to them.

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The opportunities to do things with my children have been spread out more as time has gone along. People get busy, new responsibilities and challenges come along, and time is stretched. So it was good to take two short hikes with my youngest two sons and a daughter-in-law. Coming from two hours away and a half hour away, they met at my house at just after 10 AM. We drove to Catawba Falls, seeing four waterfalls in a mile and a half stretch. Along the way there is an old powerhouse built in 1923 by Daniel Adams. (1,2) My son inspects the foundation and well where the generator once resided.

His wife awaits our return to the trail and bridge on this bright, crisp day.

Right next to the powerhouse is a recent pedestrian bridge from which my son is considering the course and flow of the creek. These new alloys of steel that corrode protectively are a boon for non-maintenance. The trees in this area have been left alone for probably 70-80 years and are beginning to grow decently large.

A tributary crosses the trail a little further up. Just below the trail is a large pile of boulders and little waterfall tumbling between the boulders.

To the right of the falls and pool is a curious little cave that would be a good home for a water side creature. Tree roots provide a eerie entrance curtain.

She patiently awaits our silly exploring again. The boulders are fascinating with their significant overhangs.

The Lower Catawba Falls is a double falls, the upper part caused by the remains of the powerhouse dam. The dam is perhaps a 1/4 mile upstream from the powerhouse. I feel sure that this distance along the creek is to gain sufficient head (3), and therefore pressure, to run the generator. The water looks inviting, but icicles lined the edges of the falling water from the 20 degree morning.

The biggest show is the Middle Catawba Falls. It is said to be a 105 feet cascade. I don’t know where that is being marked from, but I’d say more. I have some better pictures of it when I went with my church group in September. (see “Cascade, Not Falls“) Today I was capturing our enjoyment of the scene.

It’s good to see the guys together and happy and enjoying the outdoors.

In this picture of me you can see icicles just up and left of my head. Pictures of falls in full sunlight are hard. In person the ever changing crystals of reflective light are enlivening to the eyes and mind, but my cellphone doesn’t know what to do with all of that light.

I wanted to see the Upper Catawba Falls. So my sons and I figured out a way to get safely above the middle falls. Recorded as 55 feet high, it is the most beautiful and symmetrical of the three.

I learned a little fun activity when I was at Machu Picchu, Peru. (“Peru 4“) I would go around and ask couples if I they would like for me to take picture of them with their camera. Being a cameraman, I know you can’t take the picture and be in the picture effectively (4). Several people offered to take my picture in return. Being by myself and wanting to record my presence there, it was a welcome offer. So this time I offered an exchange. I took their picture with their phone and they took our picture with my phone. Try it sometime. People are appreciative.

On the way back down there are good views and it is steep.

Next we took a 50 minute drive to the Bearwallow Mountain Trail. I should have taken a few pictures of the very open (no underbrush) woods on the way up (5). The large field at the top with the closely cropped grass and numerous variety of towers, both old and new, was a surprise to me. The short grass turns out to be the result of regular pasturing of cattle.

We lounged and ate in the grass and calm air. There had been a cold wind on the north and west slope on the hike up, but it was calm here.

My cellphone telephoto is not good but it does reveal mountains in the county where I reside some 45 miles away ‘as the crow flies’. The little pointy one is Table Rock and the asymmetrical one two peaks to the left is Hawk’s Bill.

The soil is very shallow at the top of this peak and the metamorphised granite pops out here and there.

Sadly, the old firetower is fenced off. It must provide a truly unobstructed 360 degree view.

The largest domed shaped peak on the horizon is Mt. Pisgah. Even my old eyes could discern the huge tower that resides thereupon.

I present this similar picture for the purpose of showing how large the field is. My three hiking companions stand halfway between the two power poles awaiting my return from picture taking.

The wind was still cutting on the north aspect when we descended, but the conversation was warm and lively, like the greening grass and bright sunshine in the pre-Spring higher elevation we enjoyed this day. I am thankful to God for time outdoors with family and hope that more will come with more of my family many times in the future.

  1. catawbafallspowerhousesidephotobuck.jpg (800×498) (wordpress.com)
  2. Catawba Falls Trail Map (hikingupward.com)
  3. Hydraulic head – Energy Education
  4. I don’t consider most selfies to be effective, that is, good picture taking, and certainly not to be compared to a good portrait.
  5. I commented to my sons that the “woods is sure clear.” My youngest pointed out that it should be “woods are clear.” He was right, but it caused me to be amazed once again at the crazy language we speak. I think that the reason I didn’t have subject verb agreement was our use of the word woods. Based on reading, I am confident that past usage was “wood” rather than “woods”. Therefore, the “wood is”, referring to the forest.

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Our daughter came to cook and freeze food for us so that I could get some reprieve from a combination of outdoor and house work. While and because she worked and because the weather and other responsibilities that didn’t allow too much outdoor work, I spent some time with the grandchildren.

Besides cooking, there was also homeschool, because in homeschool, “school is never out”. Of course, the saying alludes to the fact that all situations are opportunities, like the more traditional one pictured and all others, to learn and grow.

One day we took a walk at the local greenway, except we got off the beaten path to see something different. I guess we will call it a fieldtrip.

We actually walked about 2 miles after an hour or so of playing on the Beanstalk Playfort*.

The next day brought continuous rain, so while the my daughter worked and my wife and grandson napped, my granddaughter (E) and I went to the climbing wall.

With a little suggestion and growing confidence with exposure, she began using her toes more and getting to the top more. She met a girl her age with whom she climbed abit.

This was only E’s second time climbing but she enjoyed it thoroughly.

The old man couldn’t stay off of the wall either, even though he’s been declared a bit “off the wall” at times.

The unexpected part was that E had picked up my phone and was taking pictures.

We asked the employee behind the desk and new climbing friend of mine to take a few pictures. I would like to encourage you to check out Bigfoot Climbing Gym**.

I did a traverse around the children’s wall, which was quite challenging, especially these pink and orange holds. Actually, I couldn’t go up them at all and barely traversed across*** them.

We had a fun time and I read to her several chapters of “Tales of the Resistance”, second in a three book series, over the five days they were here. All were encouraged, but I think my daughter was just tired.

*Our local playground pictured here from the website, third picture down on the left.

**https://bigfootclimbinggym.com Check out the 1st anniversary events. It would be a good, inexpensive way to check out the gym.

***Is “tranversed across” a redundant phrase, or does it communicate, as I am trying to, that as I traversed I went across these to climbs?

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I worked on a deck project for about half of the day before my son and his wife came for lunch. I thought we would be sitting around and talking, but he declared that he, his wife, and his brother had planned a hike for the afternoon. I asked to come along for what was a surprise outing on my birthday.

My youngest son decided that he wanted to enter the woods downstream of the main parking lot. The lower lot was full so we had to walk down the road a bit to get to where we wanted to begin on the trail.

I guess they didn’t want their picture taken.

For a change of pace we did the usual trail to the falls backwards, hiking up the long, steep, old logging road to a point above the falls. On the way up there is one small view of the waterfall, which was further obscured by fog this day. The backlighting of the fog caused outlines around twigs in the following picture- odd.

High Shoals Falls through twig and mist

Fog precludes panoramic views but it quietens and narrows the woods down to a more introspective view.

I think that my earth tones blend well with the trunks and leaves.

Sometimes bridges are provided which helps when the water is up and cold. This has been another year of excessive rain, so clogged and sand lined creeks are common.

There is always something foreboding about the top of a waterfall.

Most rock can hold its own weight up, so what level of forces are needed to crack boulders in this way and what supplied it?

The following picture has a number of curious elements. Check out the lower trunk on the small tree a the right. What happened to cause that? The moss testifies to the fact that this area is always wet, not just during a damp fog. The couple are frame perfectly, observing nature, and yet seem out of place somehow. There has been much slippage for these boulders to lie just so. The noise and action of a waterfall never ceases to grab our attention, but there is so much more going on if we look closer.

The splash zone of this waterfall and rapids below is quite large so there are plenty of Hornworts, Liverworts, Mosses, and Ferns. Check out the Doghobble at the right.

We came across some friends, all girls: a mother, 4 daughters, and 2 cousins.

Watching over the brood

There is plenty of Doghobble and Rhododendron, too.

We took a new side trail to a small waterfall as well.

Above the waterfall

River rocks are so good at revealing the geology above their resting place. Though colorful in variety, they speak loudly of the regional metamorphism that shaped these mountains.

My young friend took the following pictures. She is improving regularly in her framing and composition of her photographs. I wear the sunglasses on my head out of habit even when there is little hope of the fog clearing.

I did not expect a hike on my birthday. I mused later that God is good in the little details as well as the big. I enjoyed the day with a few of my children.

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I want to give glory to God for my brother and sister-in-laws’ Golden Anniversary. The following is a tribute to their faithful union enabled by God’s faithfulness in theirs lives. So many of my memories of those years are deeply personal, but with a slight bit of vagueness, making it public seems no breech of trust to me.

As I consider the blessing of your 50 years of marriage, I know that your commitment to God resulting in your commitment to each other and God’s work and in and through you has brought about much blessing for others. I am one example of that. It seems that one of my characteristics is that of having been a struggler, sometimes because of poor choices and other times just as the result of life in this world. Through all of that you have supported, encouraged, counseled, and prayed for me and my loved ones. Whether it was teaching me to throw a baseball or strengthen relationships in my life, you have helped me repeatedly.

As a brother in blood and in Christ, you have always encouraged and supported me. I think perhaps you saw that in my struggling that I desired to do what is right though with much floundering and confusion at times. You quietly helped in any way that you could. You performed the marriage ceremony uniting me to my lifelong partner and counseled me in relationships within my family. We enjoyed the outdoors together and reveled in the truth of God’s Word and truth of His creation of all things in the way that He said it happened. You opened your home and helped me financially and many times offered to.

Your testimony to God’s love is strong. You came along and did not merely own your husband, but owned his family as your own. As we have agreed, we are as big sister and little brother. As sister-in-law and sister in Christ, you have always been a great support to me and my family. You have brought much encouragement to our struggling family and provision and laughter to our gatherings. You have not been afraid on occasion to say bluntly that I was pursuing a wrong course. I know you have prayed for me and you are ever an affectionate sister. We enjoyed discussions of wildflowers and trees and singing of hymns.

Because, as you have said, you have put Christ first in your lives and in your life, your union these 50 years has been a blessing to me and to many. It is and will reap deep benefits to your children and grandchildren for generations to come. This is what we mean by a godly heritage. As the psalmist said of Israel, “God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.” (Psalm 67:7) Your marriage is and will be a blessing as you run this race well to the end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

New growth is heartening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here she is with her husband.

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

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

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

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… and little people are nonetheless significant beyond their size.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Little Man is riding on his mama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My oldest brother turned 72 years old this past Friday. He asked for a hike for his birthday. His wife, two brothers, his daughter, and two grandsons came along. It was an exceptionally humid September day, but not unreasonably hot, particularly because the hike was in the shade of a forest. The particular forest was Lone Mountain State Forest in Morgan County, Tennessee. I drove with my older brother. He pointed out a waterfall along the Hwy TN62 as you go up onto the plateau.

Roadside Waterfall

The signage at the parking area shows all of the trail names, distances, and marker colors. I wish that I had a map to indicate how these interconnect. We had planned a 7.0 mile out and back hike to Coyote Point Overlook.

Below is the crew minus my brother’s wife who is taking the picture. We all look fresh and ready to go.

Some things, fungi in particular, have the ability to look both beautiful and ugly at the same time it seems to me.

The next button of a mushroom seems to reveal the face of a proper English gentleman with Mutton Chop sideburns and lace collar.

The Cumberland Plateau has shallow, sandy soil that dries out quickly. In a normal year, August and September would see soaring temperatures and many days without rain. That has not been the case this year, resulting in the mushrooms popping up through the leaf litter in profusion.

The next two pictures show an interesting variety with gill-like structures on the stalk. Do these shed spores like the cap? The second one looks to me like a bright version of a WWI army helmet set on top of the frilly stalk.

The ray of sunshine pointed out this next beauty to me. It looks like an overextended parasol. The green ribs were barely observable in the bright light and it was somewhat translucent.

Spreading Yellow False Foxglove Aureolaria patula
A mint variety?
Doll’s Eyes Actaea pachypoda

The following Earth tones of decaying root and leaf and cap contrast nicely with the green of renewal.

At a trail intersection about three miles out from the parking lot, we stopped to reconsider the length and difficulty of the hike. GPS and seasoned legs told us this was farther than the signs said. We milled around and considered and ended up eating lunch here before continuing.

I am confused by this spring cover. It seems that it was built (or rebuilt?) crooked on purpose. The spring needed cleaned out, having an orange rust appearance in the water (Click here for an explanation.).

The distance to the overlook was over 4 miles, so that the GPS of several relatives indicated around eight and a half miles of hiking by the time we finished. There are several very steep sections of trail, though not terribly long. The view looked out over the ridges of the Cumberland Plateau. If you look closely, you can see two smoke stacks which we believe are Kingston Steam Plant at perhaps 15 miles away. Ridges far distant behind that were discernible to the eye.

View from Coyote Point

So common to this area is the sandstone cap rock over limestone. This point is a flat area ending in a sandstone outcropping of perhaps 20 feet in height at the top of a ridge, sufficient for a decent view.

Coyote Point
With my older brother at the overlook (photo credit: my niece)
At the local mud puddle

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Partytime! The little man just turned two so we had a party. Grandparents don’t need much excuse to visit. Growing slowly but steadily, he is a wonder of modern medicine and a trophy of God’s grace given his heart challenges at birth. He takes a bit of time to warm up to you, and dons quite a serious expression, but he studies everything quite closely.

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Distracted attention

He is always up to go for a ride in the truck, especially since we went to see a front-end loader dump topsoil in the bed of the truck. 

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“I’m tied down at the moment.”

While daddy was in the store, we listened to hymns and pretended to be going somewhere.

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In the driver’s seat

Besides Mamaw and Grandpa, his uncle and wife came, along with a friend and her parents.

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Party!

The friend’s dad has a job collecting stories from WWI and II veterans and their families. Here the little man’s dad is telling his great-grandfather’s story of being in the Med, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Pacific for over three years. The many stories friend shared were amazing. The one about General Patton’s personal pilot was fascinating. Escaping from a Swiss prison camp was amazing.

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War Stories

A storybook with moving parts is the best. I don’t know how much reading or literary learning goes on, but it is non-stop fun. Everyone wants to see the new gifts.

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Opening presents

Big Sis has a few stories of her own to tell. 

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Hanging out

The pictures don’t show it, but the little man actually laughed and ran around quite a bit. Others were focusing on their various forms of media.

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Always the serious one
It was good to be together. We moved dirt. We heard a sermon and sang. We ate a feast. We talked to family and new friends. We cleaned up dishes. We talked and talked and talked. We walked. We read and took pictures and googled. We came home tired. 

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

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

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

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“Belaying Blues”?

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Lowering after cleaning the climb

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Beautiful, cool setting for climbing

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

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Bone Chilling Wilbur Lake

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Horseshoe Homeplace

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Son’s new leased house

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

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Three disparate barks

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

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Butterflies and Mildweeds

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

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Holston River

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Some uncommon orchid late blooming.

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

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Cultural Residual

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Sis and Bro

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

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

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Rattlesnake Plantain not quite ready to bloom. 

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First waterfall- about 15 feet

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

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

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Sandstone overlaying Limestone?

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Cultural Art: Tractor oil pan perhaps

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

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

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My children threw me a retirement party this past Saturday. They cooked the food, set up, and thoroughly cleaned up. It was all such a blessing. Four of my children and their spouses, all seven grandchildren, my three brothers and their spouses, and even my newest daughter-in-law’s parents were there. Besides lots of eating and general catching up, I played with grandchildren, helped make ice cream, and told stories. My oldest son’s three oldest children sang songs and recited Scripture. Most of the stories came from a little activity my son came up with. He had fourteen questions printed on a paper for attendees to answer about me. Later I gave answers. One of my sister-in-laws is also a retired teacher, so we kept the flow of stories going for quite some time. Earlier in the week the weather forecast had called for 92 degrees in the afternoon on Saturday, but clouds and Saharan dust kept the temperature to the low 80’s. And there were periodic breezes that kept the mosquitoes at bay. The gathering went well past the three hours set apart for it. I so hope we can find excuses to have these get-togethers on a regular basis.

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Trying out some new swings

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Newest grandchild

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All seven

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A mother story?

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Productive waiting

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Technical story?

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Healthy skepticism

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Youngest son and spouse

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Next to impossible to have 100% happy campers

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Still standing by the grace of God

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Rare to get us all together in the same place at the same time

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“His banner over me is love.”

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Paisley and Plaid
Complimentarily clad
Two who became one
Someone’s daughter and son

Opposites attract
Differently act
Conflicts not abstract
Proceed with much tact

Love is a commitment
A selfless deployment
Not for the faint of heart
Pray from the start

It is not all pain
Nor expect constant strain
There are many a joy
Each other to enjoy

Loneliness at bay
In your heart night and day
Find the other’s delight
In darkness be a light

Not good to be alone
God made from Adam’s bone
A helper and a friend
Each other love, attend

A lifelong partnership
On a common trip
Where paisley and plaid
A reason to be glad

Almost always I either write a poem based on a rhyming couplet that pops into my head or an idea that I want to explore. The preceding poem is an example of both. Hopefully the reader can visualize the metaphor that I intend by envisioning a couple, whose female is wearing a dress with paisley that color matches the plaid the male is wearing. We males and females, as God has created us, are far more different than our physical differences suggest. We have different needs and desires and abilities. In this fallen world of sinful people that can and does increase conflict in relationship, it is because we don’t understand each other and probably don’t want to at some level.* But marriage is not meant for pleasure and pro-creation alone. It is meant to refine and remake us. I am thankful that God has given me a godly wife who has been faithful and diligent for more than 38 years now. At times throughout that journey, neither one of us has been easy to get along with, but by God’s grace we still love each other and are nicer to each other than we have been sometimes in the past. That is God’s work in our life together. And as time goes along, you come to realize that the differences are a good, complementary things that have built you both up.

*The world, the flesh, and the devil are all against marriage with a vengeance. I highlight the part played by flesh here.

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

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Algae under a microscope

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

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

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

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A little more wood needed

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

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Sunday School student’s art

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

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

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

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A friend and missionary

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

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

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

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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

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He can look so serious

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

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Neighborhood waterfall

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

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

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

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

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

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

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

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

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

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

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

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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

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

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel

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Bloodroot

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

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

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

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Verbana sp.

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Red Dogwood

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

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

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

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Spruce treeform

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

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Oak treeform

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

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Star of Bethlehem

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The final one of my 5 children to get married was scheduled for the big event on April 4. Travel restrictions were beginning to be talked about and even instituted in one state. They decided to get married two weeks early. I got a call at 8:15 in the morning and was on the road by noon.

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Long distance travel; distance working

There were hours of good conversation and plenty of drivers to make the 15 hour trip seem shorter. 

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sunset over Alabama

We arrived at our destination in Texas at 2:45 AM. The next day was rest, a little distance, online work, getting to know people, and setting up for the wedding. It was surprisingly cool and rainy.

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Set up for the Reception Dinner

The venue has everything you need for a beautiful wedding. There is a two car garage full of props (everything you see in these pictures and more).

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making an aisle

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talented and generous bride

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cozy

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well equipped

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Preparing for a reduced crowd

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The owner told us that this venue had been the home of her family of 7. It would be roomy for a family of twelve, I think. 

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former roommate

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Almost time

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The Bride’s Parents

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The commitment is both a serious and joyous event.

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The Happy Couple

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Her family

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coats after the ceremony

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The couple, in God’s providence, instrumental in bringing them together:

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Rose Petals instead of rice or birdseed

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going away now

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A wedding before a pastor who reviewed the challenges and joys of the commitment of a man and woman before they made their vows and signed a covenant is a Christian event. The whole ceremony points to the larger event one day when the Bride of Christ, the Church, will be presented before the Groom, our Savior and Lord, Jesus. He has and is doing all of the work in presenting His Bride in pure white, purified from all spot or blemish. It seems odd that the One due all of the glory is pictured as standing in duller tones of attire, waiting for the glorious procession of His Bride. But He receives all of the glory for going to the extreme degree to bring about this transformation to present her in this fashion. A lifelong commitment lived out in marriage is the stronger picture of an eternal life lived with the glorious Savior in the abode He has prepared and to which He will whisk away His Bride for the Wedding Feast and life together.

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May God’s bountiful grace and goodness be poured out upon our newest granddaughter. If my source can be trusted, there are not five girls named Idellete in the whole of America. In light of the source of this name, Idellete Calvin, wife of the Reformer, John Calvin, it is a fine name. (Click here for more information on this godly woman.) We are thankful that our grandchildren will be raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord and do pray God’s abundant blessing upon their development, faith, and life work.

Idellete be patient and kind
Industrious and diligent
Faithful and studious of mind
For the Faith be vigilant

As your namesake be strong in faith
Bearing up under trials and loss
Trust always in what the Word saith
Shunning worldly pursuits as dross

Be a Joy to all who know you
For the Savior live all your life
Point the many to life anew
May you bring unity, not strife

May God give you joy in struggle
Peace in sorrow, patience each day
Responsibilities juggle
With power unceasingly pray

With all these things may God bless you
Lightness of heart to meet each day
Toughness that will carry you through
Desire always to God obey

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Who looks happier in this picture, Mamaw or the grandbabies? It was good to see them, talk to them, and hug on them this past weekend. It just doesn’t seem to happen enough. I also helped out my son-in-law a little with a room addition. Time and weather didn’t allow me to help much. We had good conversation and a blessed church service.

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With grandchildren 1 and 6.

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On our hike at Thanksgiving I challenged a great-nephew and niece to prepare for a backpacking trip next summer. Besides asking them to take regular brisk walks around their neighborhood, I offered to do day hikes building up to the overnight trip. Yesterday we went on the first of those trips: Sterling Gap to Mt. Sterling in the GSMNP. When they arrived at the meeting place, they had a cousin in tow. So the four of us enjoyed the strenuous 2 mile hill (~5.2 miles total) and the views from the ~50 feet fire tower. It was just cool enough to make walking comfortable and just overcast enough to make for better contrast in viewing distant peaks. We had interesting conversation and enjoyed the transition of the tree types as we increased in elevation. It’s time to get in shape for the next bigger hill!

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Waterville Hydroelectric Facility: Why does a hydroelectric facility have a chimney?

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The exit is in Tennessee but the hike is in North Carolina.

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Let do this!

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It simply is not 0.4 mile between the trail intersection and the tower at Campsite 38.

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Low elevation outliers

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Big outliers

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Spruce among decidies

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A great niece learning about Galax

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A break in the trees

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Incline

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Almost there

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Notice how it tappers, though you must know that perspective exaggerates the effect

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Mt S BM (Wow, 1928!)

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A camera with the proper filter would better catch what it really looked like with even more distant ridges appearing.

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NE more or less

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We made it. I wonder how any panes of glass survive in what must be a very windy site.

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Enjoying the view?

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Main ridge at Guyot to Cosby Knob

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Campsite 38

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Interesting perspective

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Do you see my great-nephew? Notice how perspective from here makes the tower appear straight-sided.

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After lunch relaxing

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Silly cousins!

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Can you tell which one is his sister?

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At the top and still smiling

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Survived many a storm and wind

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Black (or Wild) Cherry

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White Ash

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Beauty everywhere you look

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Almost down

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On the occasion of my 38th wedding anniversary yesterday,
I dedicate this poem to my good and loyal wife:

In sickness and in health
In poverty or wealth
Commitment I have made
Firm covenant was laid

Living love makes it sure
By God's Spirit made pure
The harder times become
More strength to overcome

Not in us two resides
With tempting, troubling tides
The strength to soldier on
With practice kindness hone

I don't know what to say 
My actions hurts betray
To quiet service go
When good feelings don't flow

But you make no mistake
There's far more here at stake
God's will and His glory
Bound up in our story

I love you more each year
Troubles make it more clear
Losing you would be hard
Like a painful glass shard

And now we onward trudge
No one but God our judge
Work and love together
Nothing our joy tether

Be more affectionate
More kind, compassionate
Consideration grow
Keep irritations low

How can we do these things?
When all hell at us flings
Troubles and trials each day
Our hearts and flesh fillet

I'll tell you beloved spouse
The love that's in this house
Comes from our God above
Spirit of peace and love

I'll never cease to care 
To grow in love and dare
To strengthen what is ours
'Til all see love flowers

We hope for better things
Our future with joy rings
With hope that ever clings
Until our spirit sings

In heaven we will be
Where God's face we will see
Not married at that time
But love will be sublime


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Overflows from the Heart

"But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart…" Matthew 15:18

CreatorWorship

Pointing to the One who made, saved, and sustains