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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Moving to the Country

My third son lived in an apartment for four years. It was roomy and quite nice as apartments go. He was married in early April and has been looking for a house and some property ever since. He is now blessed with a nice piece of property that was improved by the former owners. Below are some pictures of the move and some of the improvements.

I did not think to take pictures of the move out and loading the truck. I was too busy packing the truck to think about it. The first picture show my son’s KIA entering the driveway. There is a thin strip of pastureland between his property and the side road.

You cannot see the house from the road, which is nice.

The house has roomy front and back porches and a gas logs fireplace. The two most abundant tree species are White Oak and Pitch Pine.

In the Livingroom: Distance conferring over where to put things and where things are.

Amazing year where roses and azalea bloom in October.

Snack and fluid break!

All emptied out.

Out in front of the house across the driveway is a spacious brick patio with utilized hammock, swing, glider chairs, and a gas fire pit.

After the offloading and before lunch, I decided to walk the perimeter of the property. I started just behind the patio, proceeded to the north line at the long, narrow pasture that I mentioned earlier. I turned right (East) to follow the line to the NE corner marker. There I met the nearest neighbor, who is the brother of the former owner, with two of his granddaughters doing chores on his place. He had recently had the corners surveyed and pointed out where the next one is.

The woods to the south of the house where the property gently drops down to a small creek, has rich upland soil and some decent sized trees of more variety. I should have taken pictures of a few larger trees, notably 2′ diameter Yellow Poplar.

I proceeded along this line to the road. Their property actually has a small outlying strip on the other side of the road. I speculate that state straightened the road, leaving the fifty foot wide strip on the other side of the road. My son says that will prevent someone from building across the road from them, but I said they could, only you couldn’t see it with the screen of trees. Following is a picture of the SW corner marker.

This line marker is an axle with the differential end sticking up out of the ground. It is a good use of materials that I have seen as property markers many times.

These two markers suggest that either someone lost property and another gained property during the last survey, or there is a complex corner here. The right pipe is obviously the newer marker.

A fixture for country living. I’ll guess that some of you city folk don’t know what this is.

The garden space has been greatly enriched over 20 some odd years and is fenced in against deer, rabbits, and the like.

The property is marked by two additional banners: The Flag

…and the Cross.

You have to look close, but it can be lit up for passersby.

God has blessed my son and daughter-in-law with a spacious, well maintained, and all around pleasant locale for raising a family.

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You wonder how some terms came to be. Then there are others so descriptive of their meaning and utility as to need no further explanation. An example is a Lean-To. Enough said.

I had bought a used riding mower in exchange for labor earlier in the summer. At 60 years of age, mowing a 3/4 acre lot with a push mower was becoming daunting rather than jaunty. When I first got the mower I parked it under my firewood shed to keep the seat dry and deck from further rust. But as Autumn approached I began considering where to put firewood in the dry if I should ever find any. So, I decided to build a lean to onto the side of my shed. The double doors of the shed were not wide enough for the deck of the mower and would require a tedious rework for the purpose of parking the behemoth in the already crowded storage/workspace. I did not want to buy the lumber since it has gone up considerably of late and this was just used mower. When a job required taking down an old deck, I put the better, slightly deteriorated boards aside into my truck for homegoing. One of my sons thought it impressive that I did the lean to in one day. I really took 3 hours of previous day to clear the space of shrubbery and set up the posts, but my wife did not tell him that. I did not think to catch quite the whole process, but following is my lean to build:

Some of the lumber was quite nice to be used. I had built the shed years before. I had hand built roof trusses that allowed a vaulted ceiling over the middle half of the 20′ long shed. I had plywood gussets at the top and ends of the trusses. It had a large Virginia Pine behind it at one point. On the a Friday after Thanksgiving several years ago while we were away at an extended family gathering, my third son was awakened by a loud crash. He looked outside to see everything covered in copious amounts of ice and the Virginia Pine snapped about three feet up its trunk and lying on the shed. The two foot diameter tree and ice broke one truss which slowed it down enough to only crack others. It was a tedious repair job. The new sheets of roofing did not hold onto the forest green Rustoleum paint very well. I need to sand it and try again.

Tools are not toys as some proclaim.

The shed sits in a very wet spot, a fact I did not know when I built it there. For that reason I had to plant the lean to posts on concrete bases, “feet” if you will. The last two years have been very wet, even record wet last year.

The perspective in this picture makes the posts appear kicked out at the bottom. They were definitely plumb.
Diagonals prevent racking.
I decided mid-stream to make the roof one sheet wider, so I will have to go buy another sheet of metal roofing.
I still have a bit of clean up but the mower and lumber are in the dry.

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Prayer of Dependence

Lord, all that we have belongs to You. All that we desire of value resides in You. All that is beneficial to us comes from You. All that we need is provided by You. All that is good and eternal proceeds from You.

Rescue us from all that distracts us and blinds us and diverts us from You. Teach us to learn of You, depend on You, be led by You, act for and by You.

Enable us to repent of those distractions that focus on self rather than focus on You. Change our hearts to find all we need in You.

Teach us to love You, love people, love truth, hate sin, hate idols in our lives, and hate lies that destroy our lives, our churches, and our nation.

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Geometrically, a cascade is a type of waterfall that drops along the contour of a slope rather than freefalls over a precipice. Catawba Falls is a massive cascade at the base of Black Mountain near Old Fort, NC. A group of 22 from my church made the relaxed walk to the base today. in the group were people from about 4 years old to nearly 70. Some children waded and swam, others held hands. There was much enjoyable talk and enjoyment of God’s creation. It has been very wet lately, so the cascade was flowing well. Muddy spots and rivulets cross the trail frequently. There are a few places to rock hop or wade tributaries. There are two large bridges to cross rougher stream crossings. Even in mid-September the leaves are all still green and mushrooms abound. The day was cloudy and cool, but this nor the cold water prevented most of us getting some part of our bodies wet from feet to head.

A Start
A 1920’s hydroelectric generation structure near the first bridge
Tributary cascade above the trail
Well graded trail on steep ground
A small tributary falls below the trail
At the old hydroelectric dam upstream of the powerhouse
Second Bridge
A little friend I helped near the cascade
Catawba Falls
From a rock about 1/3 up the cascade
Food is anything you can digest
Yes, it is cold!

While the group was proceeding back down at a leisurely pace, I decided to bushwhack a little. See what I found.

Where do all of the helium balloons come down?
Mosses and Club Mosses
In September this valued plant gives its location away by exhibiting its red berries. But I won’t give away its location.

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Valence comes from the Latin, meaning strength.

In Chemistry it refers to the combining strength of an element and is usually used in reference to valence electrons. Those are the outer shell electrons that form chemical bonds. In one extreme, ionic bonding, atoms either donate or accept electrons to form charged particles called ions, which are attracted to one another. In the other extreme, atoms share electrons, called co-valent bonding. You could say that they have a certain ambivalence, that is, both sides showing strength. This sharing may exhibit equivalence, as in a carbon-carbon bond, or it may show varying degrees of inequality as in the nearly balanced sulfur-selenium bond or the more extreme imbalance of a boron-oxygen bond.

Equivalence is evidently a state of affairs we desire or want to understand. A simple Wikipedia search of equivalence* lists the numerous ways we have scientific, economic, and psychological laws of equivalence and principles of equivalence in most areas of life. We have a prevalence and desire for equal or shared strength within our systems.

Furthermore, we should be discussing the seroprevalence of COVID-19 as compared to the symptom and severe symptom prevalence in our population so that we may come to a reasoned conclusion about opening our struggling economy. We lack strength as a society if we do not move forward, but continue to give in to the voices of fear, manipulation, and ambivalence.

On a more positive note, I like Valencia oranges, which were named after Valencia, Spain. That’s a strong name, but this hybrid orange was developed in California when it was still part of Mexico, by a Mexican citizen, who named it after sweet oranges in Spain.**

Thus, you have a stronger appreciation for the latent valency of the term.***

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equivalence

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valencia_orange#History

***https://www.quora.com/What-is-latent-valency . You will have to judge the strength of the hidden pun.

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

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

Morning Glory amongst the cane by the river

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

Double Rainbow

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

Evening Meal

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

Working for a living

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

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

Porch Moth

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

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

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

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“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by precedent, by implication, by erosion, by default, by dent of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other- until the day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.” Ayn Rand

Wow! You want to have a worthwhile history/social studies lesson? Have students write a short interpretation of this and the following quote: “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolf Hitler.* Then have them discuss the following proposition: Propaganda and ignorance are happy partners that ravage the land.

It occurs to me that by quoting these two individuals, I could be wholly dismissed by anyone who knows their philosophies. Many Empiricists and Naturalists would applaud Ayn Rand for clear-headed objectivity, but she dismissed faith and religion out of hand. So much for logic and fair-mindedness. Her nearsightedness blinded her to evidences of God. We all have blind spots. I wholeheartedly disagree with her perspective in order to point out that we may learn truth from many people in many places, even opponents, if we are open to it. Her quote here is apropos to our present situation. We have a phrase yelled at us, proclaimed and assumed to be true, day after day, scouring away any right or level-headed thinking by demand and insinuation. So it’s true, right?

And the Third Reich demonstrated that persistent and horrendous lies will be taken as truth. It need not even be believable at first, nor crafty, nor partially true, only persistently and passionately told. We are experiencing these repetitions in several arenas at this time. 

The question is, “Will we allow the lies to drown out the truth by our deafening silence?” All of the loud protestations of lies as truth are the propaganda. Silence is the willful ignorance that partners with it to promote destruction of our freedoms. And yet silence is the passive willfulness.

Our ignorance runs deeper and more active: “‘They bend their tongue like their bow; lies and not truth prevail in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know Me,’ declares the Lord.” Isaiah 9:3 We repeat lies by meme and manifest, little caring that our “causes” promote evil.

Go to the source of truth (John 17:17, Psalm 119:60) and ask the Author of Truth (Psalm 86:15) to strain out all of the man-made lies that have seemed as truth to you.

Lord, have mercy on us, and draw Your people and many lost people to Yourself. Cause us to stand for truth as surely as men of valor in battle and saints in the fire. Thank You for the God-ordained institutions of the family, church, and government that give us order, peace, and joy. Strengthen us to defend them against subtle and outspoken lies that seek to destroy Your gifts to us.

*probably originating from Joseph Goebbels

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Wonderment is a valuable thing. It causes you to ask questions and seek answers. But where might one find answers? For meaning and life, the best and reliable source is the Bible. For beauty and function the best source is the second book of revelation, nature (see “Two Books” for why).

I have been contemplating the idea of wisdom lately. As a grey headed grandfather of seven, I reckon I am supposed to have a bit of that. I have a bit perhaps but feel woefully lacking. By contrast, Proverbs 3:19 says, “The Lord by wisdom founded the earth, by understanding He established the heavens.” Certainly He has no lack of wisdom and did not have to acquire it, deepen it, or perfect it. Out of His abundance of perfect wisdom “the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:6) Therefore, belonging to Him, I have hope of obtaining a measure of wisdom.

But what is wisdom, why do we need it, and how do we get it?

As I began to look in Proverbs, I observed in chapter two the use of four words in rapid succession, as if repetition meant they were different words for the same thing: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and understanding. I wondered, how they are related and how they are different. Do they build upon one another or are they different words for the same idea?

I like to come to some level of completion or satisfaction in the study of an idea. I looked up definitions and key passages. I checked the Hebrew words for the various words. And that was when I realized that I was beginning a study that I will not soon finish. The same Hebrew word was frequently translated as different English words. Knowledge seems to be separate, but the other three somewhat interchangeable. I like for words to have exact meanings. Of course, language develops by usage and exact meanings are never going to happen. Even if someone prescribes a meaning, say Noah Webster for instance, the common misuse or connotative use can destroy any simple, straightforward use of a word. So I set out first of all to define terms as would be helpful in my study of them. Following are definitions I am developing for these four words drawn from dictionaries, the Scripture, and experience. 

Truth is information that aligns with reality. It is the basis of all pursuit of wisdom. “He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit.” (Proverbs 12:17) I have added this word because of its foundational status. If there is no truth then seeking wisdom is a fool’s game never to be accomplished. We live in a culture that argues that there is no truth, but then all other discussion becomes meaningless. No one actually operates on the basis of no truth as seen in the fact that most people do life preservative avoidance moves to continue living (you know, things like stopping at red lights and not jumping off of cliffs without aid of parachute or wingsuit).

Knowledge is awareness and familiarity with truth, facts, skills, and propositions. Proverbs 18:15 says, “The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Prudence is acting now in a way that prepares for the future. Knowledge is useful for the future.

Understanding is the ability to grasp the meaning and value of knowledge and its relationship to other ideas. Proverbs 9:6 says, “Forsake your folly and live, and proceed in the way of understanding.” It is the man of understanding who may acquire and act by wisdom. Contemplating knowledge and how it should be applied leads to understanding. For this reason, it is rare for those who do not consider and muse to gain understanding.

Discernment is the process of evaluating the causes and outcomes of an event. Proverbs 1:2 says, “To know wisdom and instruction, to discern the sayings of understanding.” Instruction is a word meaning discipline and is part of a disciple’s knowledge. In the verse, discernment is making use of understanding.

Wisdom is appropriate action fitted to the situation based on consideration of prudent and right judgement. “Take my instruction and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all desirable things cannot compare with her. ‘I, wisdom, dwell with prudence, and I find knowledge and discretion.'” (Proverbs 8:10-12) Wisdom is the goal because it helps the wise and those under the wise person’s care and gives glory to God, the Author of wisdom.

I have defined these terms in this order because I think that they build upon one another in this particular order. Truth is the basis of knowledge which may lead to understanding, allowing for discernment in a situation, upon which wisdom for action is developed.

Or more simply      T -> K -> U -> D -> W

Obviously, these skills develop in fits and starts and various orders as a situation, study, prayer, or illumination occurs, but I think they are well thought of in this order because of increasing complexity and need of the preceding ones to accomplish.

If I develop clarity on how they are differentiated and taught in Scripture, I will try to share that here. Until then, may God give us wisdom for the living of these days so that we might be like “the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times.” (I Chronicles 12:32)

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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 am participating in a Ligonier Connect Bible Study online with my pastor and six or more other believers at my church. After answering questions and listening to a short lecture online, we have a Zoom meeting on Saturday evening to discuss the content. Fellowship with the saints over the Word of God, Christ, and our walk with God is always invigorating, encouraging and raising one’s spirit. Our topic is particularly encouraging since it is on assurance of saving faith. It can and should be sought after by the believer, because assurance strengthens faith, which in turn develops godliness and a desire for godliness.

In this last week’s lecture, Dr. Joel Beke mentions the key passages on assurance: I John, Galatians 5, Matthew 5, and II Peter 1:6-10. John states his theme toward the end of his book: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (I John 5:13). Galatians 5:22-24 lists the fruits of the Spirit. Matthew 5-7 is the “Sermon on the Mount”, which Jesus begins by stating the “Beatitudes”, characteristics of those who are kingdom citizens. Peter is exhorting the believers to exercise “His [God’s] precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (v.4) by “applying all diligence” (v.5) in your faith. There is not a contradiction between what God gives and our proper utilization of it.

Dr. Beke’s lecture was very good, emphasizing the need to both trust the promises of God and “test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (II Corinthians 13:5). I appreciated most that he dealt with the nuances of testing your faith to be sure you neither deceive yourself into thinking you have saving faith when you have none nor deceive yourself into despairing of faith. I wanted him to provide a list of the assurances, the external and internal (“practical and mystic evidences” as he said it). Since he did not, I have attempted to list and organize them for my benefit and yours. Dr. Beke said there are about 30 evidences in these passages. I came up with the number 37. I combined some because they seemed to be saying the same thing, but I am sure I combine differently than he does. For example, I speculate that he may have clumped all beliefs about who Jesus is into one evidence, whereas I kept them as four separate items. Also, I expanded the II Peter passage by three verses, adding one more evidence.

I further tried to organize the evidences into categories. This is where I ran into problems. At first I had a catch all category that was titled “Emotions/Intentions/Actions”, but I quickly realized that would include everything on the list. So, I separated out “Practice of Righteousness”, but that is still too vague. On that point of vagueness, John lists “practicing righteousness” as a way to know you know God, but that seemed to be a summary of all that he meant and not merely a concrete evidence. I say all of this to say, the process of delineating every single evidence of saving faith is not easy, but the testing of yourself to see that you have saving faith is encouraging and faith building, joy producing, and useful and advisable. I hope that you are encouraged as you read the Scriptures from the list that I have provided. Don’t hesitate to suggest ways that I may better organize my list.

Evidence for Assurance

Or click here to see a clearer Word document version.

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For various reasons the hike schedule I had intended to keep with my great-nephew has been delayed. But this Monday we got out on our 3rd day hike, this time to Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many years ago I had attempted a winter assault via the Bulls Head Trail with a college friend, only to be shut down by icy trail across slides. The thought of slipping down the thousand foot plus slope of cleared forest covered in ice on rock, runs shivers up my spine even now. We crossed one slide ever so tenuously only to be confronted by a second one a short distance later. We turned back, knowing we still had to recross the first one to be delivered to safety. For all of those many years I had wanted to complete this trail. Now my young relative was getting to go up Mt. LeConte for his first time while I completed the only way I hadn’t been to the top. The trail starts in Cherokee Orchard above Gatlinburg. Both of us having stayed at my oldest brother’s house in Knoxville and getting up early, we were on the trail at 7:15. There were actually two cars in the parking lot and one man and son starting up the Grotto Falls Trail as we left. From there you take a 0.4 mile jog on the Old Sugarlands Trail to Bulls Head Trail. It is obvious from the pictures that this has been a high precipitation season.

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Short way over to the turn up the mountain

Log bridges are a staple in the park. The one pictured is longer than usual and the nearness to the road means that gravel is put down to reduce rutting and erosion.

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first bridge

I remember well the pictures of Gatlinburg burning in the fires of 2016. I also knew that the national park had sustained damage. Of the 16,000 acres that burned, 10,000 were in the park. We were about to see the remnants of those fires.

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Contrast

There were great swathes of mountain slope that no tree was left alive by the fire along side other areas where no damage seemed to exist. Very few areas had brush fires that didn’t get up in the treetops. There was a goodly amount of natural charcoal. Secondary Succession is in full swing these four years after the fires. Root sprouts of trees, seedlings of Table Mountain Pine whose cones need fire to open, and abundant annuals covered the ground. 

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Death and renewal

All of this clearing results in non-stop views around every corner. You can see in the next picture the large cylindrical hotel that is built just outside of the park at the entrance to Cherokee Orchard. Two ridges beyond that hotel you can see the strip that is Pigeon Forge. This line of sight convinces me that the far ridges on the horizon are toward a stretch of mountains on the far side of the Tennessee Valley from LaFollete northward to at least Cumberland Gap.

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Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and beyond

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Wooly Tops Mountain?

The exclusively mineral soil speaks strongly of the degree of erosion that took place on these slopes that receive over 100 inches of rain a year. It saddened me to consider what had been lost. As I discussed this with my sister-in-law in the evening, she reminded me that when my father was young, the area had been logged extensively*, rendering it much the same as these smaller areas now. Some 80 to 100 years later it was the lush forest I so loved. It can repair again. 

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bare, mineral soil

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Secondary Succession well under way

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continuous views

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some type of wild grapes

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Lampshade Spiders

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glimpse of the top

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gap between Bulls Head and Balsam Point

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Oswego Tea

I asked myself why some places were completely burned and others seemingly untouched. When we entered the woods from a burned over area, there were almost always coneflower and Oswego Tea which grow in wet seeps. Even in significant drought like was occurring when the wildfires hit, these areas have abundant water under the surface. The fire was doused by the seeps, preventing wholesale destruction.

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Where there were seeps, no fire

There is a constant battle for resources in the forest. When life is good- abundant sunlight, rainfall, nutrients, temperate climate- the battle is intense. Parasites are opportunistic. When life is good or when it is stressed, parasites find resources that are being squandered or difficult to use, and they rob them from other organisms. A common example of plant parasite in the mountains is Dodder.

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Dodder (Cuscate sp.) on Stinging Nettles

Lichen comes in deliciously diverse forms. The texture and variety in this next picture could keep my eyes busy for hours.

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Love the texture

If you can’t find anything else interesting to look at, check out the mushrooms. They come in so many shades and sizes.

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Caught in the forest on the run

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Classic Toadstool look

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Ancient looking Yellow Birch all fern and moss decorated

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Spruce, fern, and moss! We must be above 5000 feet.

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The lush, highland forest

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The fir trees persist

Balsam Firs! Now we are above 6000 feet. A bit of the Canadian Boreal Forest in the Southern Appalachians (There are no long a’s in that word.) Clifftop is not quite the highest point on Mt. LeConte, but it is the most visited for the views of steep, cloud cloaked ridges beyond.

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near the edge

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Over the Alum Cave Bluff Trail ridge

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over the edge

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My phone camera is not the latest generation and digital zoom is pitiful, but sometimes you have to emphasize what you are taking a picture of.

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Newfound Gap

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windblown Heather and Spruce

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Clingsman’s Dome almost revealed

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LeConte Lodge

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Mountain Boomer

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Shelf Fungus

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Rainbow Falls

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There are few healthy Hemlocks after the wooly adelgid, but the park service treats some of the tree to preserve them.

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A healthy Hemlock

The lower part of the Rainbow Falls Trail may be one of the most heavily traveled stretches of trail in the park due to the large waterfall and distance from Gatlinburg. To prevent the erosion from destroying this segment of the forest the park service has put in segments of permanent rock steps. I’m thinking these had to be placed by small skid-stears (like a Bobcat, etc.). I don’t know if even four stout men could lift many of these stones.

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The hike was 14 miles on a high overcast day with thunder on either side of us as we neared the end. It was a good outing, a goal accomplished, an enjoyment of God’s green earth that can so well repair itself and be beautiful in the process and at the conclusion.

I end this entry with a little camera envy. I have an older version cellphone. My great-nephew has one with a far superior camera. I guess when my first blog entry goes viral and get requests to have sponsors, I’ll get some good camera equipment. Anyway here are the pictures I asked him to take mostly of smaller things I knew my camera wasn’t up to:

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Caught in the Crossing

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“Bull’s Head Gap” overlook cairn

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Panarama of 180+ degrees

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*History of logging n the Smokies: https://www.smokiesadventure.com/smokymountains/history/logging_in_the_smokies.htm#:~:text=Before%20the%20boom%20of%20logging%20in%20the%20Smokies%2C,attention%20of%20logging%20companies%20in%20the%20late%201800s.

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I read the book of Titus recently and came away reflecting on the contrasts of our sinful past, our God altered present, and our glory bound future. Paul speaks some ugly things about Cretans, but makes it clear that all we sinners share the same ground. The difference for believers is that Christ, “to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood.”* Paul wanted Titus to silence the “empty talkers” and “liars” who “deny Him”, so that they will not “upset whole families” on the one hand, and “be sound in the faith” on the other. This reminds me that we must stop soft peddling the Gospel because it is not true to God or His Word and because sinners need to hear the truth of the desperation of their condition in order to be saved. The following poem came slowly with much labor, but I think the result communicates the essence of the passage (Titus 1:10-16, 2:11-14).

Lazy and rebellious
You know the kind
Hateful and pugnacious
A good one hard to find

Foolish, godless, enslaved
And such were we
Deceivers and deceived
Who truth refuse to see

Defiled, unbelieving
Claim to know God
Worthless for well-doing
Perverse things get the nod

God’s grace has now appeared
Salvation come
Ungodliness denied
We more righteous become

For blessed hope looking
Glory of Christ
Savior and God stooping
His redemption sufficed

From every lawless deed
To purify
For Himself His own breed
Ardent good works thereby

*from the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

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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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Knowing You better would be such joy
Deep in my heart You would peace deploy
Hope springing forth in the darkest hours
Purity grow as the brightest flow’rs

But sinful passions too often rule
Perverse* actions make of me a fool
The Spirit is quenched by my poor choice
I groan within and give grief a voice

I may God pursue with heart tender
By His Spirit complete surrender
Daily repent, always move toward Him
Extra pursuits and wayward paths trim

Worship the Father with praise and praying
Hear His Word through reading and preaching
Devoted to the truth where’er it leads
Truth more than life that for the lost pleads

By diligence know Him and find rest
Even when I am put to the test
Communing with my Father and Lord
By His grace growing deeper and toward

 

When I arose last Sunday morning and was reading the Scripture and praying, I thought to myself, I have not had a poem come in quite sometime. So, I ask my Father if He would give me one that would focus on Him. A few minutes later the first stanza came rapidly. On my drive to church the first two lines of the second stanza came. I kept having to repeat them so that I would not forget. When I arrived at the parking lot, I quickly wrote them down. The rest of the verse came soon after I had greeted fellow believers and sat down in the pew. During the sermon I was executing some major multitasking by writing the third stanza and listening and taking notes on the sermon. I recognize my pastor for the fourth verse, because it is my distillation of the statements he made that most grabbed my attention. The last verse came during the afternoon down time. 

*The idea of perverse is a “turning away from what is right and good”, not just what we consider to be sickening evil. All sin is abhorrent to God.

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Blue Ridge Parkway Milestone

I enjoy the occasional foray into the realm of etymology. Word origin provides insight into the many and varied meanings and connotations of words and metaphors. There is a humorous twist on the origin of the terms mile and milestone. I assumed that since mile is a thoroughly English measurement of distance that the word, though perhaps not the concept, came from bloody ole England. Afterall, the U.S. is the only major country in the world to still be using the English system. But no, when traced back, mile comes from the Latin mil, or one thousand, which is quite base ten, or metric. Milestones then were stone markers called mille passus, meaning one thousand paces (1), along Roman roads. They were first placed every one thousand steps along the Apian Way out of Rome. Even then they would not have actually paced off the distance, but would have used a standard chain or rope length, the stade (eight stades to a mile). (2)

Etymology was only a small part of why I’m writing this blog entry, but it is fascinating. Metaphorically, milestones are visual, emotional, mental, or group markers for significant events or changes. Milestones typically include salvation, graduations from educational institutions, marriage, arrival of children, job changes or promotions, retirement, lifestyle changes, or significant personal goals reached like weight loss or the first marathon. The term can be overused, particularly in the business and education worlds it seems to me, and there is definitely a difference in significance levels from eternal to trivial. Nonetheless, the idea is solid and shows up in Scripture, even promoted by God (Joshua 4:1-7), and used by prophets (I Kings 18:31, I Samuel 7:10-12).

I have been privileged to have many profitable and enjoyable  milestones in my life, and a few significant ones of late. All five of my children are now married and I have just recently retired.

I passed a small milestone in blogging, which I only inadvertently realized while rereading a few blog entries. This very entry is my 500th blog entry. Having written in this blog since July of 2007, it is quite an accomplishment for me to have continued with only a few months in all of that time of not publishing at least one entry. In fact, the average number of blog entries per month over the that period of 13 years has been just over three entries. It causes me to muse upon why I would be so consistent for so long. The obvious answer is a love and a need of the this forum. I need an outlet for my thoughts and love this particular one that is potentially interactive (3). It gives me a voice, an influence, if ever so small, and a sense of not forgetting what experiences and insights God has so graciously given to me, that is, an online journal. It may hopefully be part of my intellectual inheritance to my children and grandchildren.

But a question arose in my mind: Would a milestone be a milestone if we were unaware of it? I don’t think that this is the existentialist argument about a tree falling in the forest (4), because we are talking about a metaphor for the perception rather than a physical mile marker. When I consider this idea, it reveals to me how dull and fickle our perceptions are. They are dull because we do not perceive significant events that have eternal consequences for good or for ill (John 3:7-8), and they are fickle in that we may see them as significant in one situation and for one group or person but not for another or not at another time. What revealing of missed opportunities and privileges may be ours when our lives are reviewed in eternity. I am thankful for God’s grace to test all things by fire and reveal those works which were by and for Him (I Corinthians 3:10-15, 21-13), for I will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

So, I conclude this 500th mille passus of sorts with one further testimony to God’s goodness in my life. He has been and will be at work in my life to bring it to a good and completed conclusion (Philippians 1:6), not because I am deserving or always willing or cooperative or able, but because He is good and powerful and has attached me to His riches by His grace. To Him be all praise.

 

1) How our mile got to be such an odd number, 5280 feet, is more complicated, though the origin of the whole measurement seems to have been the Roman’s copying of the distance around a Greek stadium track for running events, and thus the unit stade.

2) I wonder if they had workers who held signs for travelers to avoid collisions in construction zones?

3) Oh, that it were more so, that I had to moderate multiple comments, questions, reprimands, and encouragements on each entry. Alas, life is busy.

4) If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it does it make a sound? Being a Christian and a student of Science but not an Existentialist, I would retort that of course it makes a sound. It vibrates air particles, following God’s physical laws.

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God has provided me with projects to do. It is good to remind yourself that “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) And Colossians 3:24-25: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” I am thankful for work to do and things to create and supplementing my income. If I can continue to get regular jobs, I won’t have to work constantly since I have retirement income. So, I think that I will take a few days off and rest from my labors. Even before my retirement went into effect, people were thinking I would have time to work for them and began asking me to do projects. In my mind and plans, this is a transition phase to a “second career”, but since it says, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9), I don’t know what is going to happen. Following are two creations of the last month between home chores, climbing, and parties.

Vance Deck2

Heavy Duty Support

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A deck below the deck

The owner plans to build a retaining wall that will be back-filled to level the ground at the base of the stairs and then lay a stepping stone approach to the stairs. 

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Grand Entryway

The original deck is about ten years old and needed some repair. It is eleven feet off the ground so they wanted a reasonable exit/entry to the back of the house.

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repairs

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Final Inspection by my wife

The second deck is at a lake house where a Jacuzzi was slid down the steep side yard to put in place on a concrete pad. The also had a new patio poured and then wanted an easy way to get in and out of the Jacuzzi.

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The hidden support

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adding the beauty

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My new design

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sturdy, functional, and aesthetic

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Entry from the newly poured patio

There were many custom cuts. The patio is slanted in order to drain water, though more than usual. That makes the first step vary in height across the deck. The Jacuzzi is on a level concrete pad so that the water is level in the tub. The floor boards immediately around the Jacuzzi are tightly fit to prevent dropping small items under the deck.

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Comfortable lounging

I enjoyed designing the bench so that it only overhung the deck by five inches while being sturdy and fifteen inches wide. The deck is low enough to not require a railing. There are temporary steps off the back since they are considering a stairway up to the master bedroom deck. There is a significant amount of sweat and planning in a deck, but a significant of satisfaction when it comes out right. After my short time off, I start another deck. God is providing and guiding. I must have patience and trust for how He is doing that.

 

 

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Getting Out Again

A former high school student of mine just graduated from college and had a few weeks on his hands before starting a new job. We climbed at the gym and week before last we got out to a local crag. It felt so good to be on real rock, breathing fresh air. He brought his girlfriend and little sister along. Everyone was challenged and everyone had fun.

Dalton and Bailey

Little Sis’ Homegrown Slabbin’

Dalton on Son of WT

A rail to rest on before the crux

It is not often that I am videoed climbing, which is OK. His girlfriend videoed me twice. Following is a pretty smooth attempt on a chill toprope of a 5.10a (or 5.9+, depending on who you read):

I learn from watching myself climb. I need to increase flexibility. I need to keep my body closer to the wall. I use my feet fairly well, but need to get them up higher even if on small pricks, so that I can reach handholds statically, that is, with more control. Following are few other scenes. 

Rigging for Son of WT

Helping with the rigging

Scoping out Dimpsey Dumpster

Scoping out the Dumpster (5.10b)

The Seep under Homegrown

Non-stop seep

Morphin Wall

Morphin Wall

 

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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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