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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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My son, his wife, a friend, and I went hiking in the Gorge last Friday. The temperature was perfect, the skies were deep blue, the wildflowers popping and beautiful, the conversation enjoyable, and the hiking strenuous. We went down by way of the Sandy Flats Trail which is on maps but no longer marked or maintained. In places the trail was easy to follow, but in others downed trees and shifting creek obscured any remnant. It was always extremely steep with actual rock scrambles in several places. I am glad that we went in this way instead of coming out this way, because we would have been discouraged when tired. Instead, it was an adventure with many undisturbed spots for wildflowers and jutting rock outcroppings.

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Steep descent via Sandy Flats Trail next to Wiseman’s View

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Newlyweds on a jaunt in the woods

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Crazy Friend

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Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra eximia)

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Wake-robin Trillium (Trillium erectum)

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Showy Orchis (Gelaris spectablis)

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expanding tree Shelf Fungus (or Bracket Fungus; Polypore)

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Linville River

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Sandy Flats?

Next, we turned up gorge toward Babel Tower. My son felt like the Sun would beat us to our destination, so he set out on a fast pace. With taking pictures here and there, I had the hardest time keeping up. The Gorge is so narrow down by the river that at times you are only a few yards horizontal from the river but 1 to 2 hundred feet above it.

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Trail on the Edge

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Notice the rounded cut outs in the far bank from flood scouring.

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Blue-flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

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Tower opposing Babel Tower

I am beyond frustrated with the autofocus. In one attempt, I even tried to put a large leaf in the immediate background to force the nearer focus and it still chose 1/5 of the field of view and focussed further away. But I did record a flower that I have not seen often. I saw several of these plants as we went along.

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Sessileleaf Bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia) with violets below

Perhaps the most classic and beautiful view of the Gorge is from Babel Tower toward Hawksbill, Table Rock, Little Table Rock, and Chimneys:

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From Babel Tower downstream

The river goes around three sides of the rock outcropping called Babel Tower. A wide angle lens could record in 30 degrees of field of view the upstream and downstream river flowing at an angle about 60 degrees downward. This is extreme topography.

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radical descent

It is always good to have someone to share the journey and the view with, whether the day be pleasant or strenuous, or both.

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And to think, God is pleased to share the journey and the beauty with us and one day bring us to dwell with Him for eternity.

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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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Time to renew the Thanksgiving tradition. Because of extended family gatherings, our Thanksgiving dinner has been moved to Friday. We had more than 30 people in attendance. I didn’t get around to saying more than “hi” to a few, but I did have some good conversations with others. However, I find that some of the best conversations are had on our Thanksgiving Day hike, which once occurred on Friday. This time around, two brothers, a sister-in-law, a great-nephew, a great-niece, and I made the trek. The car trip to and from is frequently of equal or greater length, but there is much scenery to take in and much catching up to do. We went to Wolf Creek Falls near the NC border and up from Del Rio, TN.

(Interjection: I just saw something neat. The big drops of a beginning rain shower began to pelt down on the yard outside the window. When I heard it, I stood up and looked out to see large drops smacking leaves on the ground, making them look like Mexican jumping beans. Showers starting with large drops are not as common this time of year when it is cold and there are leaves on the ground.)

The sky was flawlessly blue and the temperature was refreshingly chilly. The trail was an old logging road and flat. But after one creek crossing and the second one going to require wading, my two brothers and sister-in-law decided to turn back. I didn’t want to stop, so I volunteered to go on with the great-nephew and great-niece. Of five total creek crossings the second one was the only one requiring wading. The other three went back to the vehicles and executed a long circumvention to a shorter approach from above the waterfall. They arrived 3 minutes after we did. We all enjoyed the process and the conversation.20191128_11105820191128_115936

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Largest Frazier Magnolia leaf I’ve ever seen. Umbrella and Bigleaf are supposed to be bigger, but you could fool me.

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Mushroom button and possibly three different kinds of oak leaves (Southern Red, Northern Red, Black), hophornbeam (“musclewood”) and red maple

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Approach glimpse

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Unintended fascinating shadow, oh, and Galax

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Hornworts and Liverworts, Batman!

 

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Over the Edge

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Near the Edge

 

 

 

 

 

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A brother, a great-niece, a great-nephew

Wolf Creek Falls
Serious conversation (picture credit: older brother)
Wolf Creek Falls Selfie
I think us oldesters need to learn something about how to pose for a selfie (picture credit: older, pictured brother)
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Double Cascade

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I had another few moments of reflective insight upon waking this morning. All kinds of things bubble up when the pressure is only released for a few moments. It works for uncapped sodas and beleaguered minds alike.

Yesterday was an odd day for me. I was questioning my long-term purpose continuing where I am, doing what I am doing. For many years that was not a question as I felt confident as to my whereabouts and ‘whyabouts’. On top of that, my lesson plans were not the most gorgeous pedagogy, rather boring to be frank, and not having the time or creativity to fix it this time around. Add to that the fact that for some reason, for which I had no clue of at the time, I didn’t feel well. In this state of mind and body I experienced what is not an uncommon pair of interactions with two students.

The first interaction happened about noon. This class has informed me that they don’t want me to say “Good morning” when they arrive in class at 11:35 AM, but instead, “Good mid-day.” In the middle of lecture, I stood off to the side preparing to interpret what was on the screen in front of us all. I felt slightly nauseated and when I looked at the screen my eyes were sufficiently blurry to not be able to add memory (1) and read what it said. I took my glasses off to see if they had some outrageous smudges on the lenses and clean them anyway since I can’t really see them. The students were still copying the screen so that there was not an awkward moment. One student nearby looked up at me, having had me a previous semester, had read my facial expressions many times, and said, “Are you OK, Mr. F?” Rubbing my eyes and replacing my glasses I quietly said, “No.” She replied, “Maybe you should sit down.” I was struck by the utter kindness in her words and tone of voice. I was also secretly chuckling at how old a grey-bearded 59 year-old must seem to a 16 year-old. I was able to recover by using my peripheral vision to discern the screen and continue and a few moments later at my instruction the students were working away quietly on a worksheet practicing the concepts that we had just gone over. I went and sat down and the girl came up to my desk and asked if “maybe you need to go see the nurse”, followed by “did you eat breakfast this morning?” (2) There was nothing but concern in her face, demeanor, and words, and I thanked her several times before the period was over.

After lunch, blurriness gone, I entered my last period of the last weekday. Students filed in to and with “Good Afternoons” and other comments about the day. One surly student entered at the last minute, wearing his hood and plopping down demonstrably at the bell. I don’t allow hats and hoods on heads in my classroom and he regularly pushes this rule and grunts when I would say, “It’s not raining in here, ___”. This day I could tell that he was in a particularly bad mood, so I thought to wait and ask privately or let it occur to him from my sideways glances. I know that this expectation is considered deeply old-fashioned and inexplicable to most people, but I think that it is a matter of respect. (3) Once again, upon reflection, I figured out why this student was non-verbally resisting. He had been told, no doubt moments before, of his lunch detention for a fourth tardy to my class yesterday. If this were the only or rare exhibition of disrespect toward me from this student, I could have totally ignored it, but I had also had him another semester, and this was the regular fare he serves up. I try to be patient because he is under significant pressure I believe from parents and siblings and friends to “make something of himself” through success in education. He has a good mind but not an excellent ability, so to succeed he must struggle and work hard. Interpreting what I see, I’d say his bad attitude results from much extrinsic motivation but little intrinsic motivation, daily lessened by the pressure of the extrinsic forms. I am probably among his least favorite teachers because my expectations require either that you prove through testing that you know the material or work and organize hard enough and consistently enough to convince me of your learning. Either one will garner a B, but only both precipitate an A. Therefore, his extrinsic motivations get turned up a notch because he is not willing or able to live up to my expectations, though more effort on his part would solve the problem.

These two deeply contrasting interactions within the span of an hour and a half have triggered my reflection on interaction between people. And in fact, I had intended to comment on this previously (“Review of what we should have learned” #2), and am self-chided for not completing that thought. So, in quick fashion, I intend to say what I believe to be several GLUES (Good Lessons Underpinning Effective Society) of Society. Society here means “a voluntary association of individuals for common ends”, and in particular I refer to that kind which is “an enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another”. (4)

These two students teach us what we already know to be two required underpinnings of society: respect and kindness. We will forever battle, literally and verbally, if we do not hold these two expectations of ourselves and our fellow citizens. Respect should be for a minimum of two reasons: 1) All people deserve it because they are made in the image of God (5), and 2) Those in authority: a) government servants including elected officials and police, to name a few, b) those who work for our good such as teachers and preachers, fathers and mothers, and c) elders (6). Without interacting layers of respect a society cannot function with civility.

Kindness and mercy, which includes forgiveness, are the only ways past the juggernaut of hatred and fear that propels us to quarrel and be defensive even when there is no offense real or intended.

Additionally, a society must be characterized by truth in order to long endure. I fear our society will not long endure into the future owing to the fact that we have shed all modicum of truth either as a concept or in practice.

The two areas of the practice of truth that I think are a minimum requirement are the rule of law and integrity. I don’t say justice because human government may not even be capable of that in any real and balanced way. Rule of Law it seems to me is a consistent, that is, not fickle, determination to approximate justice in the black and white and gray areas of human ignorance on what constitutes real justice. (7) Some will argue that if we merely follow God’s Word, justice will always be done. I retort that God’s Word is absolutely true and just but our laws are evidence that He did not illuminate us on every detail of how to carry out His justice, though the principles are all there. It is most certainly due to our blindness and rebellion that we do not carry out His law, but that is where we are nonetheless.

Integrity is a term that seems vague to most people I talk to. They simply say it means honesty, or the more astute say it means honesty when no one is watching. Though true, these two definitions fall short of the deeper meaning that a society needs to function. Integrity involves an internal consistency of thought and action based in worldview that makes honesty the unassailable default mode. To put it simply, a person of integrity can’t lie (8) because his/her worldview comes unglued. As an illustration, a student told me that she was telling the truth. In reply, not really questioning her honesty but questioning her integrity and view of herself, I asked, “Do you ever lie?” She thought a moment and slowly replied, “I have.” I pointed out to her that she must, by in large, be an honest person, therefore, because she admits to the human condition that we all lie. (I John 1:5-9) Without integrity there is no good reputation, so where do I take my car to be worked on and do I ever receive change from a cashier without counting it?

How could I make such a list without love. “God is love.” “Without love I am [we are] nothing.” “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (9) Love holds together everything: self, family, friends, communities, nations. It stems directly from God’s nature and is the greatest need of mankind.

And there you have it, my ideas about the GLUE of Society: Kindness, respect, rule of law, mercy, truth, integrity, and love.

Now this list could go on and I hope the reader will comment with your candidates and reasonings for including other ideas, but I think these seven GLUES can be reduced down to two found in Proverbs 3:3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” And these two are not dichotomous in nature, whereby you can’t hold one while entertaining the other. Instead, they are two sides of the same coin, whereby you cannot truly have one without the other. As a fellow citizen, yea human being, I cannot truly be kind to you if I do not tell you the truth. And I cannot really be true if I do not communicate and interact in kindness, because you cannot accept it and real truth is always kind by instructing us for our good. And these two can be further be reduced to just love, because it is an essential attribute of God, but not the only one. And that last little clarification is the the reason I think we need to discuss seven or more GLUES for our life together (10) and stop here.

  1. “add memory”- For those of you with good eyesight that means looking at something blurry but being able to discern from size and general shape what it must read.
  2. I told her that I did not know what was wrong and that I had had a good breakfast. Upon later reflection her prompting caused me to realize a possible cause of the episode. I had eaten eggs, sausage, almond meal pancake spread with almond butter missing one ingredient I usually eat that brought carbs to about zero. I have hypoglycemic tendencies from my father. When I ate lunch at noon the blurriness subsided in minutes.
  3. Few know its real meaning. Even this balanced article only hints at the real reason in ignorance: https://www.thespruce.com/etiquette-of-hats-indoors-1216685 I will likely get push back for communicating the real reason, but here it is: I Corinthians 11.
  4. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/society
  5. Ah! there is a sticking point and reason for decay in our society: lack of respect for and subsequent acknowledgement of Creator God.
  6. I am saying more in the footnotes than in the article, but putting it here hopefully prevents bogging down the main points of the article: Romans 13, I Timothy 5:1,17
  7. Victim’s rights balanced with mercy is something I am seeing more that only God can pull off both because of His omniscience and His omnipotence. (This is getting fun to see how many legit. footnotes I can make.
  8. A person of integrity cannot lie ultimately or consistently and will at some level come back around to admit to any lie stated or acted out.
  9. I John 4:8, I Corinthians 13:2, I Peter 4:8
  10. But since this is not a theological treatise on the character of God, I will leave that for your Scripture reading and systematic theologies.

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I don’t know if I have enough time even now, but I have wanted to share some thoughts and pictures concerning my second son’s wedding that was on August 24th. The typical wedding comment is, “It was a beautiful wedding.” or “It was a beautiful ceremony.” There are two things that can be meant by that. It was visually beautiful and/or it was beautiful in content. Certainly my son’s wedding was visually beautiful: sunny day, aesthetically pleasing, hilltop venue (Whitestone Chapel), and beautifully dressed young people. But I see the true beauty of a wedding to be in the genuineness of the ceremony, which I define as a combination of giving glory to God, the creator and sustainer of marriage, and matching the couple’s personality by revealing a heartfelt commitment and participation in the ceremony (they are not rote repeating spectators).  And it was that. Beyond the traditional vows which they repeated, they had written what they called promises to one another. My son asked me later, “Do you think we collaborated on those?” I said that it seemed likely since they followed the same line of thinking and simultaneously were complimentary to one another. No, he said, “We wrote them separately and then read each others.” He said that the only change she made was to add a comment about coffee similar to his, a moment of levity in the covenant of their promises. The two hymns, “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” and “Amazing Grace” focused our attention to how gracious a God we have, Who not only saves us but gives us all good things to enjoy. The pastor directed our thoughts to the reality of how difficult marriage is, “two sinners living together”, and how the need for love is not just a feeling but a commitment to do what is best for our spouse. The ceremony was God glorifying throughout.

Another thing for which I am very thankful is the number of family members who were able to attend. Many family members from my wife and my extended families were able to attend. The reception afterward was held at a barn at the bride’s family property with 150+ people in attendance. All had feared the August scorching heat, but some clouds and a cool breeze prevailed and it was quite pleasant. I felt that the happy couple were carried along by God’s blessing the whole day, and may it be true throughout their lives.

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Rehearsal

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Pianist

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Bride’s Oldest Sister and Family

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Mamaw and oldest grandson

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Bride’s younger siblings

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Amazing, long preparations and carry through

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‘We’re happy but it’s a long day.’

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Bride’s mother and the Pastor and friends

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My wife beside Bride’s parents

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Taking it in stride

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Fellowship

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Uncle with the little chunk

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Hilltop Venue

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Overlooking the Lake

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The Wedding Party

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My Oldest and Family

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My Youngest and Wife

Bean Family

My Daughter and Family

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My Third Son and Roommate (This Son got engaged the next weekend)

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The Growing Clan minus the Married Couple

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The Grandchildren

5 Children

The Children

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Always in Costume

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The Groom with the Pastor and His Wife

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A Portion of My Family

 

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The title comes from the notion that my extended family gathers every Thanksgiving at my oldest brother’s house for a meal and remembrance of God’s goodness to us. That is what feasts in the Old Testament were about, sacrificing animals to recognize and acknowledge one’s sin followed by celebration and feasting with family and friends over God’s goodness to forgive, provide, and protect.

Recently, because of growth within our family, we have had several additional gatherings for meet and greet. The latest one was planned for Independence Day, 2019. That comes under thankfulness for protection within this great country. Anyone thinking we could have what we do without God’s blessing is foolish, and anyone who implicates God in the evil that sinful men and women of this country have promulgated is without any sense. We are blessed and we don’t deserve it, therefore, God has been good to us. <-Period, read it?

On the way over the mountain, my wife and I stopped at the small westbound I-40 rest area in the highest gap for lunch. On our way to the bathroom, we saw several bunches of planted flowers. The edge of the woods had many wildflowers, notably Solomon’s Seal gone to seed. The entrance to the restrooms is the most busy corridor in the rest area, but it also has a dry ledge for mud builders. I took pictures and described to two ladies why it was a barn swallow instead of a cliff swallow, tree swallow, or swift. (Besides facial pattern the forked tail is a big give away.) Several Swallowtails landed among the plantain to warm their blood in the cool, sunny air. The traffic is close and noisy, people are coming and going, and the creatures just accommodate and adapt as needs be. I am sure some adapt by staying well out of range, but I was amazed at how others live so close.

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2 Beauties
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Barn Swallows
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Built on the Rock
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Eastern Swallowtail

Speaking of accommodating, my oldest brother and sister-in-law are very accommodating to have a family party. I think we are sensing the passing of the years, the incredible blessing of extended family, and the need to connect more often and more deeply. I was so busy talking and playing and eating that I almost forgot to take pictures. My wife and I counted 30 souls in attendance, the majority under 15. Many of my children and theirs were not able to attend. They have 15 grandchildren and I have 6.

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A Story, I’ll be bound
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Whack it hard! The “Birdie” is in motion just above her head over the white SUV.
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Get ready…seriously.

The next day, my older brother and I decided to go on a hike while my wife visited her sisters. The grandchildren wanted to go, but the pictures below reveal why that wouldn’t be safe. My brother wanted to visit a tristate marker on the way. It was a very unheralded spot, tying a point on a map to an actual location in the real world. Lines have thickness on paper, but lines in the world have only one dimension, length. It may seem as trivial to most, but the connection between the two is most fascinating, particularly as you stand over the spot.

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Grandchildren saying ‘goodbye’
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Another Tri-state intersection: The arch says, “Tristate Corner Paradise Point Resort”
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Which state is the camera in? And which way is north?

My brother had been to Foster Falls previously in winter when there was abundant rain. I was not surprised to find it simply dripping. This is the way of streams and falls on the Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee. The pool was quite deep and must be well sealed to keep so much water with so little input. It was a beautiful sight, nonetheless.

After the falls, we walked about a mile along the base of the cliff, reconnoitering the sport climbing for a possible future push. I attempted a few pictures but the quality was sub-par due to contrast of shade at the base and full sunlight on the cliff. With the heat it would be best attacked in Fall. The walk back along the sandstone caprock was significantly flat with sandy spots and intermittent seeps, all dry and baked this summer day. And yet a succulent was thriving on the rocky, shallow depressions, Fameflower. My sister-in-law, who is very knowledgeable about wildflowers, named it and described it from this picture I texted her. She said she had never actually seen one in bloom in nature owing to the fact that it only blooms a few hours in the mid-day heat. You frequently don’t know what you are looking at until someone points it out later. I saw 10 or more blooms at the edge of thicker grasses, but only stopped to take a picture of this one because of its extra-ordinarily stressed environment- kinda a “bloom where you’re planted” scenario. It turns out that they are just tough as nails and out compete other plants for such sites.

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Foster Falls- capstone, shallow soil, and infrequent rain result in a boom or bust flow
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Mud Daubers? Cliff Swallows? Dried Mud? No, it’s pitted limestone!
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Topview of Foster Falls
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Phemeranthus calcaricus, Limestone Fameflower
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Natural Pavement, aka Sandstone Cap; Unnatural Meadow, aka Powerline Right-of-way

We made it home late that night, tired but blessed by the family time and brushes with nature.

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The weekend after Resurrection Celebration my wife and I went the opposite direction from Knoxville, to Concord, VA, to visit our daughter, her husband, and two grandchildren. We enjoyed much good conversation and a very relaxed time. Some of the pictures below are not the best, but well record the joy of the time together. In two weekends we had the privilege of seeing all five of our children and all six of our grandchildren, along with some 30 extended family members. It wasn’t even a planned family reunion time.

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Little Ewok with his magic jewel

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Mealtime

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Doting Big Sister

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Not really wanting to eat just now

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Watching the little man

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Mamaw’s favorite thing

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Firelight and Family

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Enjoying a Spring evening

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Feeding time again

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A nearby scene; living in the country is nice.

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Oak-Hickory stand at the rest area

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Crimson Clover in a neighbor’s field

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I told my brother that my wife and I would be in town to visit our children and grandchildren Resurrection Day weekend. Might we get together with him? He replied that he would get the whole family together at his eldest son’s house for a party. Along with his wife, he has three children with three spouses and 13 grandchildren and one on the the way. One was not there. Of my five children, three were there, one with his wife and four children and the another with his fiancee. My youngest brother was also there with his wife. My ciphering puts us at 34 souls. The clan is growing. If you count my missionary brother and his wife and my two other children with their spouses and two more grandchildren, that brings the clan to 42 at present. The last picture is of my 3rd born and his fiancee at his church breakfast on Sunday morning. The conversation seemed to go through catching up and news, serious political or religious conversation, and then crazy old stories, particularly about growing up in my parent’s house. 

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Mothers are always busy

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Food and Fellowship

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Do crossed arms mean it’s a serious discussion?

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Are we skeptical?

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“Candy Land” Carousel

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My second son and his fiancee

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It has been a year and a half since we visited our son in Pennsylvania. I felt like I made more connection this time with the grandchildren than previously. We have forgotten how much energy young children expend and parents expend on their behalf. We sword fought, colored, cooked, ate, cleaned and organized, worshipped, ran around in two different yards, shopped, read, ate, recalled, sang, ate, talked, watched film, prayed, ate, played croquet, and cleaned some more.

Two of my younger sons were there for the first evening dinner. I would so like to get the whole clan together in one place, at one time. It is good to see the young ones healthy and happy. I think that their parents are tired. Many changes are coming.

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A Stance and Grip on Life Ready for Growth

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My Kitchen Is My Happy Place

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I took two walks and a run while I was there. A walk down by the nearby creek occurred when all seven of the other people were napping. I wonder if the woods, creeks, and fields have always felt so lonely in the winter, or did we eliminate so many mammals as to make it so. I don’t mind alone, because it gives me time to process, meditate, consider, and request. I also observe much better when I have un-rushed time alone.

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The Quiet, Melancholy of a Winter Riparian Scene

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Natural Impressionism

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Late Evening Winter Scene

We stayed in an airbnb all four nights. I discovered them this year because of increased travel and motels being a bit expensive for what you get. In someone’s home you have the option to cook, which both saves money and allows for eating what you want to eat. The first night we stayed in a very nice home, beautifully decorated with an inquisitive couple who would have talked into the wee hours if I had allowed it. The next three nights we stayed in a clean but very sparsely decorated older home. We hardly saw the host and had the two story house to ourselves for the little time we spent there. It was from this second home that I took a walk at dusk on the second night. I had to include the poor picture of the falcon sitting on the fence post. It was not more than 30 yards away. The small towns there are surprisingly compact. There were probably not more than 20 houses with a volunteer fire station, an auto repair shop, and a few small business warehouses. You could walk 200 yards from the middle of town in any direction and be in a farmer’s field.

I’m sure locals could tell at a glance, but just because you see a buggy doesn’t mean the occupants are Amish. Many are Joe Wenger, 35er, or Piker Mennonites. What is generally conservative in religious circles elsewhere is moderate to liberal in Lancaster County. 

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Bad Picture, Amazing Sight

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Mastersonville, PA

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They do have running lights and headlights

We came home tired and satisfied. Time with family and time in a new place are refreshing to the spirit and mind, even if not so much to the body. God has so blessed us with children who seek Him and occasional opportunities to break up the mundane with new experiences. Life is good, because God is good.

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Keeping the Thanksgiving tradition alive on a day after hike is one of the enjoyable ways of renewing our family relationships. I find that the quieter, slower pace and distance between hikers perpetuates more personal conversation. It’s when I really catch up with where family members are at. And I met one new extended family member, too.

The best time to see waterfalls and cascades is when there is plenty of water. This must have been a record rainfall year. Chuck said the area is 10 inches above normal so far. And there had been a big storm just two days before.

The hike we took was on Rhododendron Creek in Greenbriar. I’m told it is not an official trail, but given the traffic, it might as well be. Toward the end of the 2.6 mile stroll we came to cemetery that had numerous Whaley’s in it. There was a curious story about how two distant cousins in my family meet, genealogically speaking.

When we got back to the road, my niece and I ran about 1.3 miles down the gravel to retrieve the cars. I am so happy that I can begin to run again. It was a pleasant hike all around.

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Ready for a hike even on a damp day

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Every little stream full to overflowing

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Hi-ho, hi-ho!

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I like to slow it down a little

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Plenty of water

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The crew at a destination

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A very bushy lichen (Anyone help with the ID?)

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Leon and Chuck

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To read and see my brother’s description of this and another hike, click on Chuck’s Description of the Hike 

While at one of the seven cascades, my niece decided to take a selfie. As she described it in her e-mail with the attached picture, this is the picture with my ‘crazy uncle’. That crazy uncle was trying to go see the next cascade up that was hidden in the rhododendron above. My nephew followed and you can see the site below.

 

Emily with me in background

My Niece’s Photo Bombed Selfie

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‘Crazy Uncle’ Cascade

Some people reading this blog may say that Leon (aka ‘crazy uncle’) seems to think that he has to tag on a thanksgiving or praise to God at the end of a blog entry. I don’t always, but if you look at the title and subtitle of this blog, you will see that it reminds me that He is the one worthy of praise and thanksgiving for our existence, provision, and salvation. I intend never to stop praising His glorious name, and enjoying and thanking Him for His provision of all things good and beautiful. Among those provisions are good health, the beauty of creation, and the warmth of family.

 

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One of the projects I am involved in is the development of a trail behind our school. Given the committee’s desire to include the community, churches, and 4 schools in the development and use of the trail, I suggested naming it the Enola Community Trail (ECT). And so it is. The timing of this community trail was sequential to a student initiated emphasis on helping others, exercise, and the outdoors. An English teacher at my school took  their idea and coupled it with a trail I had already developed in the woods behind our school. (I may ask her to guest blog that huge side of the story.) She asked me how we could use the trail to get students outside and moving.

The idea for a trail originated with a class I taught for about 6 years called Advanced Biology. I basically wrote the curriculum, a fact that I should not admit to in public. That was probably the demise of the class, since it did not have a state mandated test and didn’t have an approved, curriculum specialist, set curriculum.

Now that doesn’t mean we didn’t work and learn, because there is nothing I hate worse than wasting time. In fact, if a class of 30 students wants to pack up 5 minutes early, I point out that they are intending to waste 2 1/2 man-hours of work. The class included the indoor studies like dissecting cats (once or twice a piglet and shark as well) along with a body organ quiz and extended discussion on binary classification, using stereoscopes to identify student made collections of insects, spiders, wildflowers, and also trees as the season allowed, preparing powerpoint presentations about a body system to present to the class, and researching and writing a paper on an organism of the student’s choice which included characteristics, ecological importance, range, population (including level of endangerment), and usefulness for food, medicine, shelter. The outdoor studies included making collections, trap and release studies, game cameras, succession and soil studies, reflections, creek studies (from dissolved oxygen and macro-invertebrates to erosion) and building projects. We built two bridges, one to cross a creek and one to cross an erosion ditch, two bird nesting boxes with a camera in one, and a pole with bat box and raptor nesting site above. Behind the school there was a small kudzu patch, a large briar patch, two old fields overgrown with trees (one dog hair stand and one with young trees and vines so thick you couldn’t see 15 feet), a monoculture of Eastern White Pines, a large lawn, a hay field, a riparian zone and creek, a small intermittent wetland, and a patch of what seems to be virgin forest (…or at least long undisturbed. It is still there with old growth trees next to a meander in the creek at the odd corner of 5 properties. Mayapples, Doghobble, heavy leaf cover, and 10+ varieties of large hardwoods grace the scene. I call it ‘Beauty Spot’.)

To access these places I had the students begin to build a trail. It was a narrow, single-track path, with two grades cut into the side of banks with mattocks and shovels. The students dug, trimmed, cut, sweated, and occasionally played in the creek. We would frequently stop to talk about a spider someone saw or wildflower, or a bird overhead, or the change in type or smell of the dirt. At first the students whined about the work, but by halfway through the semester they would beg to go out and work, or sit and talk about nature.

One project was fun to surprise the students with. I would lead them down to ‘Beauty Spot’, a solid 1/2 mile walk from our classroom. Then I would explain that they were to lie down in the leaf litter to look, listen, smell, and feel the surroundings for 10 minutes in stillness and silence. It was very difficult to convince them that it is OK to lie down in the leaves. Questions of bugs, snakes, spiders, filth, and more were common. I usually had to plop myself down and call for them to lie down around me. Then I would quiet them and say no talking or movement, or we start over. When I called time, I told them to write down as many things in their journal as they could remember. Next we discussed what we observed. I added as many other things as I could to help them see the need to hone observation skills. Several students would reflect then or later that it was the most amazing outdoor experience they had ever had. I was always amazed since I have spent many hours over many years doing just this, especially on backpacking trips. The opening of their minds and hearts to the significance and love of nature I called ‘Affective Biology’.

I guess we would have run out of trail building and significant maintenance eventually, but it didn’t happen in the six years I had the class. One regrettable reason for this continuance of need to maintenance the trail was the growing kudzu patch. I wrote above that is was a small patch. I warned and pleaded about the coming doom to the wonderful variety of habitats in such a small area, but to no avail. I even had borrowed a goat from a student’s grandfather to test the idea of goats controlling kudzu. In this preliminary study, we checked on the goat every school day to give it water. It was confined in a ten by ten, portable chain link enclosure. That little goat could denude 100 square feet of ground with chest deep (on a human) kudzu every 3 days. Oh, to have a little flock with fencing and small shed to solve the problem ecologically and educationally. Instead, the goat was stolen by a ‘concerned’ student and her uncle who thought we were being cruel to animals by ‘experimenting on a goat’. Never mind that kudzu is nutritious and edible by humans as well as goats. It was quite a surrealistic scene when the goat was returned a week later before the eyes of the class and grandfather.

To say the Advanced Biology class was the best part of my teaching career is an exaggeration and misunderstanding. It was good because of the challenge to me to find new things to study, the truly hands-on activities that didn’t include more than about 3 or 4 lectures from me the whole 90 days, the time outdoors, and the change I saw in students. But the best part of education is the interaction with young people at their moments of wanting to understand the world around them, the meaning of and best way to live life, and humor and warmth of relationship. You have to plow through a load of interaction that is anything but that to experience it, and it doesn’t seem worth it much of the time. I have had those significant discussions with individuals and whole classes in all of the various classes I’ve taught. You just have to seek it and wait for it.

So, I guess this whole blog entry is a side-track, since the title has been largely neglected thus far. When others got involved, they envisioned more of a walking, jogging, eight feet wide greenway style trail, and so it is becoming. In reality, it does not detract from my original intent of nature studies in various habitats, because the trail mostly traverses the growing kudzu patch and might hopefully be the final demise of the same. “Beauty Spot” is still there and the creek is largely undisturbed. The new trail may even result in an outdoor classroom and a wetland/catchment basin to solve an erosion problem. 

One of the problems of such a project like this is conveying and passing on vision. You might have thought I would say getting funding, but as individuals and organizations understand our vision, they want to help. But how do you get the wider community excited about something they can’t see or is only partially formed? It is as if you must reach critical mass of manifest vision before the many contribute money and manpower. We may be approaching that mass, or at least, we hope so.

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I would write more if I weren’t living life so much, but then it would all be stale reminiscing. That will have to wait for later or never. Last Friday evening my wife and I fought traffic to get to our son’s apartment (usually 2 1/2 hours but nearly 3 1/2 this rainy, dark, Friday rush hour). We ate out and spent the night. Next morning we traveled 2 hours to my daughter and son-in-laws’ house to see our sixth grandchild for the first time and help son-in-law take down two mostly dead trees. He had acquired by purchase and neighborly borrowing all of the equipment except for my larger chainsaw (He bought a smaller one.). 

Felling trees is adventuresome, challenging, and useful. Being a variety of poplar, possibly a cultivar of Eastern Cottonwood, and dying from some disease, made for a threat to his garage and house. We set up the following rig with cable, pulley, and winch. In place of the truck was a neighbor’s skid-steer loader as an anchor and winches on the other side with a pulley at the tree:

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I set to notching the tree. As I did the wind was widening the gap in the notch, demonstrating the necessity for the cable set-up. Both times the trees were slightly weighted toward the structures and the wind was pushing in that direction, too. But we put them safely on the ground within the approved drop zone.

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Dying too close to the garage

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Notching high enough to leave a fence post

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Relaxed Tension

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More work to do

The other joy was meeting my grandchild and holding him. He has many difficult days ahead with heart surgery sometime in the next several months to repair deformities. But this day he was happy and content, and looking healthier than he really is. As he grows his heart will not be able to provide sufficient oxygen to all of his body. Conversely, the doctors want him to grow larger and stronger before they attempt surgery. When is the right time? We pray that the doctors will know the time, that God will strengthen this boy, direct the doctors, and grow him in to a blood bought warrior for the kingdom. He is a handful for his parents who must give him special care and manage all of the other parts of life as well. May God superintend all their provisions for life and godliness. We are thankful to God for this young extension of our family and their new arrival.

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Mamaw holding a precious grandson

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The little man

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Nurse (big sister) holds a stethoscope or microphone?

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Drink up and grow strong, young man!

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It is good to be home after the long hospital stays.

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When I am walking in an unfamiliar part of the woods, I give attention to my feet to avoid snags and stumbles, what is beyond a log I am stepping over, the topography, stream flow direction and size, water, food, daylight left, cloud cover, and sounds. The quietness and loneliness of the woods encourages a tendency toward introspection. But these observations are needed focus; one needs to be circumspect. It is important to give attention to these variables. And it does not mean that I am paranoid or overly worried. Most of these observations are part of the enjoyment of being outdoors. Nature is enjoyable to observe because God has given it much beauty and intricacy. But I have been in enough potentially harmful situations in the woods to look around and take calculated risks.

“The basic meaning of Latin circumspicere is “to look around.” Near synonyms are prudent and cautious, though circumspect implies a careful consideration of all circumstances and a desire to avoid mistakes and bad consequences.” Math students know that a circumference means around a circle. And many types of training from military to pilot to driving to playing sports involves keeping one’s “head on the swivel”. It is important to have situational awareness for many pursuits, both enjoyable and serious.

But this way of walking in the woods is but a metaphor for the more challenging spiritual walk. Ephesians 5:15-16 says, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” What brought this word to mind happened just last Sunday at my church when we recited our  covenant together,  which includes the phrase, “…to walk circumspectly in the world…” What is the practical outworking of these ideas? Following are a few Scriptures and thoughts on walking circumspectly.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil.” Proverbs 3:7

“Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.” Proverbs 8:33

“prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” James 1:22

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” Proverbs 3:3

“And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27

 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

There are many hundreds of verses that could be quoted about walking circumspectly. The focus that I intend here is care to avoid pride in the areas of truth and relationship. Or to state the idea in a positive and more casual way, be humble about what you know, teachable, convinced of God’s truth, and be humble and kind in how you relate to others.

We are given many good gifts. One is life. God has a purpose for us being alive.

Another is time. We should use it efficiently. I don’t mean by being a workaholic because of some vague guilt that you must utilize every minute in profit making pursuits. Instead, seek the deeper profit of following God’s leading. It may seem a circuitous route, not at all according to your day planner. Rest is profitable. Stopping to converse is profitable. Enjoying a few moments of contemplating nature is profitable. Completing a job in a timely fashion is profitable.

Another gift is work, because it gives purpose. “Whatever your hands find to do, do it with all your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) “He also who is slack in his work is brother to him who destroys.” (Proverbs 18:9) 

So, my preliminary, totally non-exhaustive definition of walking circumspectly is be observant and prudent in how you handle truth, relationship, and pursuits so that “whether… you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) May God grant us each a deeper, more careful, more enjoyable walk with Him through this world.

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Levi Bean had a start so fragile
May your body and mind be agile

As this world and His Word you explore
May God’s strength be yours forevermore

Bring Levi* near for He shall be Mine**
Shall teach Your people of the Divine
Observed Your Word, kept covenant#
May Levi help preserve the remnant*#

May Ezekiel again “God strengthen”+
May his impact and years God lengthen
Show the ‘Son of Man’ to believers
A witness silencing deceivers

May Mr. Bean be ever friendly
To strangers and kin ever kindly
A man of his word, a friend to trust
Husband and father loving a must

*Levi means “attached” or “joined” (Genesis 29:34) **Numbers 3:5-12 #Deuteronomy 33:9-11 *# Malachi 3:3-4 +The meaning of Ezekiel; “Son of Man”- title for Ezekiel (used 95 times) pointing to Christ (Daniel 7:13)

Our sixth grandchild has arrived. I write these a poems for each new grandchild with the intention that they may be blessings spoken over the the child’s life. Circumstances have not allowed me to spend significant time with my grandchildren, but I can pray for them and bless them. Perhaps God will allow me to spend more time with them when they get older. Please pray for this young one, who has many challenges ahead with heart surgery around 3-4 months. God is good to provide and protect a posterity. May they be a godly one.

Check out the picture of L and Sis

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I came to Clearwater for the third out of four training sessions. I convinced one of my classmates to take a walk on Sand Key Beach after class. The weather was perfect for a walk on the beach: cloudy, raining offshore, stiff breeze. He and I had good, substantive conversation. We began noticing medium small conches in the shallow water. They were actually coming to shore and gathering in pods of 3 or 4, presumably mating. We witnessed one hopping along the bottom by a quick flip of its foot that propelled it forward 2 to 3 shell lengths. I had never seen that before, assuming that they scoot along the bottom by foot pressure in the sand. When I picked up one of the shells, holding it upside down to see what was in it, the gastropod (snail-like mollusk living inside the shell) kept extending its bony operculum and running it quickly halfway around the shell to snag my fingers. It didn’t like me holding it upside down out of the water. I also observed several burying themselves in sand in less than 30 seconds. They are amazing animals.

The next evening we gathered a couple to go with us to Honeymoon Island State Park. The beach is strewn with much more shell debris, washed up coral and seaweed, and rocks. I saw a mostly buried “rock” and mused to my friend whether or not it was really a rock. Pushing at the sand to dislodge it, a crab crawled out and back seaward. We found others. Their backs looked similar to limestone but with small projections on their backs. Just back from the beach was a large pond with hundreds of very small crabs scurrying  away as I approached.

My only regret is that I didn’t get into the water. We sure sweated quite a bit on our walk. But it was good to share the beach with new friends. I like new adventures, learning new things, and meeting new people. And I am thankful that God created all of it with beauty, complexity, and variety. One day He will make “all things new”. (Revelation 21:5)

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Godwit? Common Greenshank?

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Cormorant

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It’s alive!

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How do you identify varieties of coral?

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Just as I found them

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It is nice to see a live sea star

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It’s not a rock

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Abundant life

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Put me down!

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It leaves quite the impression

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I think that I like beaches on cloudy days better.

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Time to head south again for another training session. But this time I decided on a different route a bit out of the way for a three night visit with friends I had not seen in five years. We were amazed at how we picked up conversation as though there had not been two weeks between when we had seen each other last. And to make that more amazing (confession time), I’m not particularly good at keeping up long distance relationships. We have had occasional contact by Facebook or phone for needed prayer or listing what had happened in the last year or proof-reading articles, but these were not often. I reflect that one future day when we stand in heaven we will remember and give thanks for all of the people God put in our paths to help us along the way. Some we kept up with; others we did not, but the moments we did share were of value. So make your moments ever more valuable with conversation about your spiritual lives and learning, shared prayer and worship, all true fellowship of substance.

This couple also has three special little girls. As should be they eyed me warily, clinging to mom or dad. But as we interacted and their parents included me in family activities, the girls warmed up. Dad and mom told me to not expect one to warm up, so I was friendly but gave her some space. We played blocks and I read a few stories. I had suggested that the girls were old enough to have longer stories read to them. So I took it upon myself to ask to go to the library where they checked out “Little House in the Big Woods.” I read the first chapter; now it’s dad and mom’s turn. That should keep them busy for a while. It will increase their listening skills and attention span, properties deficient in many of their peers.

As I had been to the Naval Air Museum, the beach, and two historic forts in the area, Dad and I took an all day trip to the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay. It is being wonderfully restored by the money and efforts of the people of Alabama. I find it amazing how much money, energy, and technology goes into such a war machine for the amount of use and action it actually has. The Alabama took 2 1/2 years of 24/7 to build and had a crew of 2500, but saw action for only five years, shooting down 22 planes. It bombarded many islands in the Pacific. But what would have happened if these great ships and their convoys had not been built. Desperate times require desperate measures. War is madness and passive subjection is suicide. What is a people to do?

My friend teaches at the Roy L. Hyatt Environmental Center in Cantonment, FL. We and his girls went the next day to feed the animals and show the new guy around. The Center is in a major transition with a full teaching schedule during the school year while a new multi-purpose classrooms/exhibits building is going up. The variety of activities and creativity of my friend and his teaching colleague is inspiring. Even with many of their exhibits temporarily warehoused they have come up with new, engaging activities for their students, like a GPS treasure hunt that gets the students to solve environmental problems with science based on clues they are sent to find. They have many donated and injured animals that cannot be released as exhibits and 120 acres of swamp, bog, and woodland that has not been disturbed since WWII. They are doing real ecology with studies and allowing students to see, smell, touch, hear nature for themselves.

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1 of 4 USS Alabama Screws

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16″ Turret Nest

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B-25, B-52, Mobile Skyline

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Big Guns

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Rings True

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Anti-Aircraft Guns

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Packing Some Punch

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Comin’ atcha

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Cruiseliner with Mobile Government Building in the background

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But restoration funded by the people of Alabama

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Modern Shipyard

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C-47 (DC-3 Civilian) A workhorse in any capacity

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Where are we headed Captain?

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Keep regulation haircuts

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Notice the overhead winch track for heavy repairs

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Boiler Room

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16″ Armor-piercing projectiles

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USS Alabama Battleship

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The fastest of the fastest (SR-71 Blackbird)

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Grounded Submarine

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Torpedoes Away!

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Oldest

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Youngest

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Middle

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Exhibit A

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Native Florida Lobster

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Corn Snake

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Pitcher Plant

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Actual Flower of the Pitcher Plant

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Helping Daddy

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High Protein Diet

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Preying Mantis hanging out

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Smaller Pitcher Plant

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The Fun way to get around 120 acres

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