December 29, 2010

Who Hasn't Sorrow?

This past year has been a sad year for the families living on our block. A few days before Christmas, our neighbor two doors down, John, died. Earlier in December our neighbor, Ben, a high school senior, was in a roll-over car accident. Ben was a passenger in a van headed to a high school basketball game. Ben is recovering from some pretty serious injuries. The mother of my next door neighbor on the other side, Pat, recently had a stroke and now lives with Pat and her husband. Earlier in the year my neighbor Lisa lost her mother, and the lady who lives across the street from me also died, and most of you know that my wife, Susan, also died in March.

You'd think that our street would be overcome with sorrow and self-pity, but I didn't perceive it to be so. Everyone put up the usual Christmas decorations, lights were lit in every house each night of the holiday season, and all-in-all it was a reasonably merry Christmas. Are we a callous and un-caring bunch? I don't think so.

Brent Auernheimer recently sent me a link to a blog by Barry Vaughn in which Vaughn retells a Buddhist parable of a mustard seed. In the parable, a woman named Kisa loses her only son. She is overcome with grief and begs the Buddha to raise her son from the dead. The Buddha tells her that he will raise her son from the dead if she will bring him a single mustard seed. Initially Kisa was elated, because this would not be hard for her to do, but then Buddha added that the mustard seed had to come from the house of a family who had never suffered any sorrow. Kisa went from house to house throughout her village inquiring if they had ever known sorrow, and at every house she heard them recount their stories of suffering and sorrow. At the end of that day Kisa sat down on a hill overlooking her village, and as the sun went down and the moon and stars rose in the sky, she noticed that lights were lit in every house in the village. Kisa realized then that everyone experiences sorrow, and that what we learn from our own sorrow is how to open our hearts to the sorrow of others.

Vaughn's telling of the Buddhist parable is in the context of a Christian sermon to the effect that nothing, not even sorrowful events in our lives, can separate us from the love of God. I am also thinking that sorrowful events in our lives should not separate us from the love of each other, particularly the important people in our lives.

December 3, 2010

Free To Fly

Every March I venture on my annual March birthday fishing trip to the Merced River with Mike Mast. Mike and I are both March babies. We fish for trout and large-mouth bass on a section of the lower Merced River between Merced Falls and Snelling. The trout are mostly rainbows, but every once in a while you reel up a brookie. That section of the river is closed to fishing from October 31 to March 15. Mike's birthday is just past mid March, and mine is just before the end of March, so we try to catch a day right after the opening and in between our birthdays, and we celebrate both birthdays on the river.

Mid-to-late March is a beautiful time to fish the lower Merced River. All the grasses and the trees are green and fresh, and wildflowers are starting to bloom. The water is cold and the fish are frisky, but the snow melt hasn't got into full flow, so the current isn't too swift. And the spring fishing is awesome, especially for the fat rainbow trout which have swum unmolested for six months.

Then, every October, just before the season closes on that stretch of the river, we venture again to the Merced River. Fall is another awesome season to fish the Merced, with deciduous trees in full color, summer grasses faded and brown and flowing over the edges of the limestone cliffs like brown frosting, and a few ripe blackberries still hanging on the vines that thrive on the riverbanks.

It's hard to get a boat on the section of the Merced River that we fish, and a lot of people don't even know you can fish there, so we usually have the river to ourselves. It's like being in another world when you're down on the river. I'd tell you exactly where it is and how to get there, and how to get a boat on the river there, but I am sworn to secrecy on pain of death. The river runs deep and slow in stretches there, and high cliffs overhang the river. In other stretches the river is shallow, and the current is swifter, and heavy river brush and oaks line the river. Wildlife is plentiful, and we have seen deer, coyotes, beavers, river otters, and a crazy lot of birds of every kind.

One time Mike and I were slowly drifting down the Merced, lazily fishing for trout, and we saw a pretty good sized owl perched in a small cave about three quarters of the way up a limestone cliff overhanging the water. That section of cliffs has about a thousand mud-swallow nests hanging on it. When the mud-swallows are nesting, you really don't want to be in the area, because a thousand mud-swallows flitting around overhead can become a messy situation.

The owls' nesting cave was about 30 feet above the water, and the river there is about 50 yards accross. The cliffs make a great nesting spot for mud-swallows and owls and other birds, because the whole face of the cliff is safe from intrusion by coyotes or snakes or other earth-bound predators.

Shortly after we saw the first owl another adult owl appeared from inside the nesting cave and perched, momentarily, with the first owl. Then both adult owls disappeared into the cave and there was a commotion, and we could see both adult owls, wings slightly outstretched, herding two young owls to the edge of the cave.

It was a fascinating and rare view into the world of nature, and it soon became apparent that the adult owls were going to herd the young owls out of the cave and off the edge of the cliff. It was clearly something the young owls did not want to do, and they resisted mightily. But the adult owls persisted. Once out and off the edge of the cliff, the only good options for the young owls would be to fly to the other side of the river, or fly along the river for a ways and land in the trees at the end of the cliffs, or to turn around and fly back to the nest. The other side of the river seemed the most obvious choice, and would be a relatively safe place for the young owls to fly to, as it was lined with oaks and brush.

Within a minute the adult owls had the young owls perched on the edge of the nesting cave and flapping their untested wings nervously, and then, nearly simultaneously both young owls were pushed out and began to fly for the first time in their lives. Both owls were jittery and both flew clumsily straight ahead. One of the youngsters made it almost all the way across the river, and on landing in the water swam quickly to the shore and got out. One of the adults flew immediately there and stood with the young owl as it shook the water off. The other young owl only made it halfway across the river, and then struggled against the slow current but could not make headway to reach the other side. As it struggled, the young owl's energy sagged, and as the current pushed the bird further and further down river, it struggled less and less and we could sense it was not going to make it. The adult who had stayed in the nesting cave was watching intently, but was powerless to assist the young owl while it was in the water.

After watching in silence for a while, Mike asked me what I thought we should do. We discussed the situation, and both agreed we would not interfere. This was the natural world as God ordained it to be. We were privileged to observe it in its glory. We were privileged to observe the first successful flight of an owl in nature. And we were privileged to observe this moment of failure and struggle for survival. We did not interfere, and soon the young owl stopped struggling and lay its head down in the water and drowned.

I have thought often of that day, and what lessons may come from it. What instincts told the adult owls that was the right time? Was it the right time? Is that the way God intends it to be for all species? Free to fly, and yet also free to fail; free, even, to die. Would more time have made a difference for the owl that drowned? What emotions did the adult owls experience, if any?

As I drift down the river of life, the answers to these questions are not yet known to me. Perhaps they never will be.

October 12, 2010

Carried On The Wind

A pine cone banged on the metal roof of my cabin and clattered down to the edge, catapulting off and leaving a brief silence before hitting the ground with a thud. After another silence the cabin creaked slightly in the morning breeze blowing in from the northeast side of the lake. I reluctantly slipped out of my down sleeping bag, tapped around on the floor with my feet until they found my slippers, stood up and pulled back the curtains to look.

Still dark outside with lots of stars in the sky, but the palest white light was coming up on the eastern horizon. White enough to define the tree line on the ridges east of the lake. I turned on the propane wall heater and listened to it tick and pop as it burned a little chill off the inside air, then shuffled into the kitchen to start some coffee. I went back to bed and listened to the coffee pot tick and pop, and the resident owl just up the hill was awake and calling out the question of the day. I wondered how many whos are carried on the wind unanswered?

Steaming hot Verona coffee, extra strong and black as night, is the precursor to answering any difficult morning questions. That and a steaming hot shower. As a contra-point to the hot coffee and hot shower, I cracked the bathroom window open to let the shower steam out, and the cold morning wind hit my wet body and briefly sent me shivering.

I pulled on my boxers, my Kirkland work jeans, a Pendleton wool shirt over a cotton undershirt, hiking socks, Wolverine steel-toed work boots, and a gray nylon "wool" beanie cap. Then I stepped out into the waning darkness to greet the day, and headed for Inspiration Point to watch the sunrise.

Hard rains during the week before had left the ground outside rutted and wet, and left the air smelling piney and fresh and damp. I'd heard there had been a lot of lightning strikes in the area the previous week, and one Southern California Edison worker had been struck by lightning but was o.k. Two trees just up the hill from my cabin had been struck by lightning, leaving barkless scars winding down their trunks all the way to the ground, like pine-tree candy canes. Long strips of bark were thrown from the trees and the bare-wood scars, about four-inches wide on one tree and running the length of the tree, and about ten inches wide on the other tree and only running from mid-tree to the ground, were still wet and fresh. The trees would be o.k. too, I figured.
Snow tipped the top of Kaiser Peak overlooking the far side of the lake, and fog was rising off the lake into the crisp, cold air. Droplets of moisture clung to the bushes and grasses. As I got higher up on the mountain I could hear the morning wind roaring softly in the treetops overhead. The sounds of the forest birds were carried on the wind, and long strings of spider webs kept blowing by, as well, all headed west to the open sky on the drop side of Inspiration Point.

As I approached Inspiration Point, beams of sunlight poked upward through the trees on the eastern ridge, signalling the sunrise was imminent. A large pool of fog had gathered in a bowl on a ledge of the ridge to the east and was spilling down the mountain over the top of a rain-swollen stream. The fog covered the stream about halfway down the ridge and then dissipated, exposing the stream and creating the illusion that the fog became the stream.

The morning light cast a rosy glow on Inspiration Point, and on the ridges and valley to the west. As the sun crested the eastern ridge, beams of light shone over the mountains into the Huntington Lake basin, and the two crosses on Inspiration Point lit up.

I sat for a moment near the place where Sue's ashes lay and contemplated the majesty of a new day. Was her spirit present every morning to witness these new days dawning? Did she prefer the equally stunning sunsets? Or was she some other place altogether, watching over her girls, or carrying out some heavenly assignment?

I let a few tears roll down my cheeks unmolested and noticed the spider webs, drifting by in the wind, had lodged in the trees and were stretched out and flapping in the wind and, back-lit by the morning sun, looked a bit like tinsel on a Christmas tree. My questions were momentarily suspended there like those spider webs, and then, like the owl's who, were also carried away on the wind unanswered.

Then, as if they had suddenly appeared, I noticed the power lines snaking their way across the mountain, and the hum of the turbine-powered generators down in Big Creek Powerhouse Number One. I saw the penstock pipes carrying water to power the turbines, and the relay antenna that sends signals to control the gate valves on the dams. And walking down the hill, I saw the cell phone towers gleaming silver against the blue sky in the morning sun and heard the muffled sound of their gas motors.

A dead tree stood next to a silver cell phone tower. Dead trees stood in the forest all around. Some of the dead trees had fallen on the ground and were decaying, but new trees and bushes were growing all around. Then, somewhere in the distance I heard the report of a deer hunter's rifle. And the sounds of the rifle and of the cell tower motors and the hum of the powerhouse were also carried on the wind, together with the sounds of the forest birds and the rain-fresh piney smells, and the smell of smoke from the morning fires of the few remaining people at the lake, and the smell of coffee, and all the unanswered questions.

And somewhere in the mix of waking and sunrise and birth and creation and dawning and death and decay and the world being powered and lit both by the sun and by falling water and the works of man, somewhere between the sounds of birds and the smells of rain and coffee and fire, and somewhere between the unanswered questions of an owl and a man, I heard the sound of God's Spirit being carried on the wind, and sensed his presence around me, and yet again my heart was filled with song.


As I meandered down the mountain, I thought of this poem, and of it's author, and of the identity and mystery of the Breeze.

Paige Meadows Wildflowers

Paige Meadows wildflowers waiting for the Breeze
to carry you into cheerful song,
each taking your part as he orders your colorful chorus of voices.

Bold, hearty voices bursting forth in vivid melody.
Light, airy voices swaying your sweet harmony.
Delicate, dainty voices fluttering your fair notes.
What a fragrant sound your choir makes!

Now the Breeze fades away, the concert is ended
and your joyful tune resonates upon the meadow.
You bid him return again today to spread your symphony
to fields not yet blessed with cheerful song.

And their concert will linger in their meadow,
waiting for the Breeze to carry them again.

- by Cheri Sarmento

September 26, 2010

Laid To Rest

Yesterday we had a small gathering at Inspiration Point, above Huntington Lake, to finally lay to rest the ashes of Susan Freeman Harper. This point about a half mile above Camp Keola is holy ground upon which many a prayer has been prayed, many a hymn or song of praise sung, and many a sunset watched with awe. Shortly after Susan was first diagnosed with cancer she had informed me that she wanted her ashes put at Inspiration Point. Her earthly place of final rest has a view of Huntington Lake, which you can see behind me in the picture above, as well as great views of the San Joaquin Valley (when the air is clear) and great sunset views almost every evening.

The picture immediately above is of the "urn" in which Sue's ashes were put by folks at Farewell Funeral Service of Fresno. I had previously likened it to a plastic box about the size of a half gallon of ice cream. I had a moment of panic on Friday morning while packing up for this trip. I couldn't find this brown box of ashes. Valerie popped her head into the garage, where I was looking for this box, and asked what I was doing? "I'm looking for your mother," I told her. "You lost mom?" She asked incredulously. Then, knowing I had taken a fair number of boxes of stuff to Good Will, she smirked and said "Don't tell me you gave mom to Good Will!"

That thought had occurred to me before she accused me of it. Though I didn't think I had taken Sue's ashes to Good Will, I was pretty sure that if I couldn't find them, that would be pinned on me for the rest of my life. I spent another 45 minutes searching the garage in vain. When I finally went back in the house I occasioned to glance into Valerie's bedroom. There, on the floor of her bedroom, were two cardboard boxes. The only two boxes in which I had not yet looked. The first contained only papers from Sue's desk. The second, thankfully, had the little brown box of ashes.
While preparing for the event, Mark Wiens and I had another moment of amusement. We carefully cut the tape seal from the top of the box and, holding the box so as not to spill it, pried the lid up. We didn't know what we'd see, but we did not expect to see styrafoam peanuts. The box was half full of styrafoam peanuts, which we found humorous because Sue hated those things.

The reverand Mark Wiens officiated. He had conferred with Pastor James and they had come up with a good Psalms passage -- the one about looking up unto the hills in times of trouble and turmoil, and from whence commeth my help? From the mountains? No, my help comes from the Lord. Then Mark dutifully read from the Book of Common Prayer as I poured Sue's ashes into the hole: "In the sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life through our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our sister, Susan Freeman Harper, and we commit her ashes to the ground; earth to earth; ashes to ashes; dust to dust. The Lord bless her and keep her. The Lord make his face to shine upon her, and be gracious unto her, and give her peace. Amen."
Different ones from the assembled group then threw snippets of berries or snippets of the local wildflowers into the hole and recited a memory or thought about Sue. Valerie poignantly recalled that Sue had been a good teacher, and that we had all learned something from her, and that it wasn't until recently that Valerie had fully realized the final lesson Sue had sought to teach us all: That when you are secure in your faith in the saving power of God, and when your death is only a passing to eternal life, then death is not something to be feared.

And then, to the fading colors of a fading sun, we sang Amazing Grace. It was, indeed, a sweet-sounding moment.

September 13, 2010

How to Care for a Daisy Plant

Today I am publishing a guest blog from Cheri Sarmento, of Tahoe City, California. Cheri sent this to me in response to the comments and discussion surrounding my last post, titled "Ploughing Forward." The pictures are of Cheri and her daisies, and this guest blog and the pictures are published with her permission.
How To Care For A Daisy Plant - by Cheri Sarmento
A daisy plant blossoms and grows throughout its season, continually adding flowers that bring beauty, substance and fullness to its life. When this rich season begins to change, and some of the daisies begin to fade and wither, the flowers left behind must stretch and strain to stay healthy and to adjust to the differences in the way their plant is now growing. Suddenly the plant has lost some of its beauty and will never be the same. The flowers left behind must be cared for with gentleness so they can continue to reach and to grow.

How do we care for our daisy plant? What do we do with the flowers that fade and wither? How do we care for the daisies left behind, to maintain their health and stability and life, while at the same time progressing them toward renewal and strength and growth?

When some of the daisies wither, do we pull them out of the plant, blossom, stem, leaves and all? We may think, "This plant is plenty full. Pulling out some of the stems won't harm it." But, when we do so, we leave the plant sparse. The daisies left behind no longer have their firm base on which to stand. They topple, they droop, they become separated from one another. They are sad and ragged and fragmented. Their base is exposed to weeds, bramble and drought.
Instead, we should carefully prune only the withered blossoms away. This leaves the stems, the leaves, the very foundation from which the little daisies first began to grow. Careful pruning enables the daisies left behind to reach tall, to stretch, to adhere to their comfortable base and join together with strength. Their base is full and healthy, full of life and support.

Careful, gentle pruning does not harm or cause pain to the daisies; rather, it allows those who are left behind to keep their good health and enables them, when they are strong and accepting, to make room for new blossoms who will enhance and add beauty to the plant. As the seasons come and go, the daisy plant grows richly and plentifully, not only because of the flowers who gave it its firm foundation and have now faded away, but also because of its new blossoms who have brought to it freshness and new dimension.

September 10, 2010

Ploughing Forward

This spring and summer I have traveled a number of roads, both literally and figuratively. More than a few times on my literal travels I have encountered traffic that is slow-moving, or worse, stopped dead cold. Road work, trains crossing, bottle-necked traffic, accidents and rubber-neckers clogging things up -- and no way to pass.

It's reality, I know. There's a lot going on in the world. There are a lot of other people out there doing their thing, and sometimes they get in the way of my progress. Still, it's frustrating. Sometimes it makes me want to shout "Excuse me!!! Coming through!!! Se puede passar?!!! Can one pass?!!!"

These images of bottle-necked frustration, and the unspoken phrases that go with the frustration, are also playing out this year in my figurative travels on the road of life. My life, and the lives of my two daughters, as well as those of many of our friends and family, were stopped dead cold earlier this year by the untimely death of my wife (their mother/daughter/friend etc.) Sue.

In regard to those literal road blocks, I don't know why, but some people have an inexplicable need to slow down and look at the road work, or the carnage, as the case may be, while blocking the way for others who are ready to move on. The same appears to be true for the figurative road blocks of life. Some are ready to move on, and others want to linger. Some are sure you are less than human if you don't also want to linger and look, and damn you anyway if you don't.

Yesterday evening, at a gathering to watch the Saints vs. Vikings pro football season kick-off game, I had a moment of insight about this dilemma. I passed around a picture of my new girlfriend, Cheri, and then I sat next to Christa Wiens, who observed that she missed Sue, and asked if I still experience sadness about the loss of Sue. I didn't know if her question had anything to do with the picture of Cheri I had just passed around, but I responded that, yes, I do still experience feelings of sadness about Sue. Christa then shared that she also still experiences feelings of sadness about the loss of her baby, Caleb, who died just over five years ago, but not to the degree she once did. She told me she vividly remembers the first day after Caleb's death that she didn't cry, and that she cried later that day because she felt guilty that she hadn't cried over Caleb. I could relate. We both agreed you move past that, but to a lesser and lesser degree over time it is still there.

Later, sitting alone at home and reflecting it occurred to me that Christa and her husband, Aaron, have moved forward from their life-stopping grief. They now have two lovely kids and they love them dearly. Everybody loves those precocious kids. They bring a lot of joy to that family, and to the world. And it occurred to me that one can move forward, and live somewhere between the sadness of loss and the gladness of gain. But on these figurative roads of life, when slow-downs and stoppages occur, ultimately one must choose to move forward toward gladness, and toward life, or to be indefinitely stuck in the bottle-necked quagmire that holds them back. The sadness of loss may be looked on directly -- should be looked on directly -- but ultimately, in my opinion, it must be observed only through the rear-view mirror; and ultimatley, as one moves forward, it must become a more-and-more-distant image.

In a recent discussion with my younger daughter regarding my moving forward in my relationship with Cheri, she observed that I am the kind of guy who will "plough forward without apologies." Ploughing and digging have something in common. However, I must acknowledge that she is partly right (well, mostly right). Going with the ploughing analogy, what other way can one plough than forward? But to the extent that "excuse me, can I pass through?" is a form of apology, I am not completely without apology for ploughing forward. "Se puede passar?" "Can one pass?"

September 8, 2010

Groundswell of Hate In Christendom

Yesterday General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, expressed concern that the upcoming well-publicized burning of copies of the Quran by a "Christian" pastor might endanger U.S. troops depoloyed in Muslim countries. Lately I have been much more concerned about the danger I am sensing here, in the U.S., that a groundswell of hate threatens to discredit and despoil the faith of Christians; Christians who profess to be adherents of the God of Love; Christians who profess to believe in a Jesus who calls us to forgive, and even to love our enemies.

I find it ironic that the Quran-burning pastor, Terry Jones, runs a church called the "Dove World Outreach Center." The images of doves reaching out to the world and burning Qurans are, to my way of thinking, contradictory.

On August 26, 2010, about a week ago, the Madera Tribune had an article on page one sub-titled "Local Mosque Vandalized" under the bold caption "Hate Crime Suspected." Ya think? Almost every major newspaper around the country has had similar recent stories of hate crimes against Muslims. The Madera Tribune article featured a picture of a sign which was affixed to the Madera Mosque by hoodlums -- presumably "Christian" hoodlums -- which read: "No temple for the god of terrorism at Ground Zero." How ironic; Christian terrorists intimidating alleged Muslim terrorists whose terrorism allegedly derives from their belief in God. We are talking God, the God of Abraham here. We are talking God, the God of Love.

This vandalism of the Madera Masjid has been but one of dozens of recent hate crimes against Muslims throughout the U.S. As the 9th anniversary of 9-11 looms, we are experiencing, in our so-called "Christian nation," a palpable groundswell of hate which, although it is not state-sponsored, has vague and disturbingly similar themes to the hatred Christians exhibited against Jews and outcasts in Nazi Germany. Where was the collective Christian voice of love then? Who was standing against the violence? Who was speaking up for their persecuted neighbors?

Where is the collective Christian voice of love now? These Muslim people in America are our neighbors, and our fellow citizens. The God they worship is the God of Abraham, just as it is for both Jews and Christians. If that God is the god of terrorism, so is the Christian God. Of the millions of Muslims living in the U.S., only a handful are misguided toward violence and terrorism. This is presumably not statistically different than Christianity, where misguided Christians stab Muslim taxi drivers in New York and misguided Christian pastors stage Quran burnings. We need look no further than the Klu Klux Klan for sad examples of "Christian" terrorism in the U.S., and frankly, there are many more unpleasant and current examples of terrorism perpetrated by "Christians" which we could discuss.

I, for one, will resist the current groundswell of hate. I will speak up for my Muslim friends and neighbors. I will love them, and I will respect them. I will help them, and protect them if I can. I will no longer tolerate the climate of hate, nor the language of hate, which both offend me and sicken me, and which I believe offend and sicken the God of Love.

August 15, 2010

I'll Cross The Stream

Sandy placed a couple of insightful comments on my last post. She said that "(i)t is those who are looking for treasure who will find it." She also said that people who think they already have treasure won't be looking, and then referred us to ABBA's "I Have A Dream." Sandy says that this song, like "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," is about "what may be" and not "what is."

Thank you for the insights, Sandy, and for the referral to the ABBA song. It was a nice throwback to listen to ABBA. It's a feel-good experience, like watching the movie "Mama Mia."

There is a little tension here between dreaming about a better future and being content with what we have. The implication of dreaming about something better than what we already have is not always appropriate, particularly in the context of marital relationships. The grass really is not always greener on the other side. And anyway if it is, get some fertilizer and weed killer and use a lot of tender loving care and try to make your own grass into the greener stuff. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try. I'm a true believer in fidelity and commitment and finding contentment in what you have.

However, in regard to this tension between contentment and dreaming, I am also somewhat of a mixed up person; I am generally content with what I have, and yet I am a perpetual and incurable dreamer. Dreaming is often what moves you to a better place, sometimes even within the context of a committed relationship. Dreams and visions are what motivate the grand achievements in life.

And, there are times in life, like times when injustice and inequity and tyranny rule, or times when tragedy strikes, or times when markets crumble and you lose everything, or times when your wife of 29 years dies of cancer, that you simply have to dream again of a better future.

To do so is a choice. And what you are choosing is, first and foremost, in your head. It's about your attitude. It is, as ABBA puts it, about seeing "something good in everything I see" and believing in angels and having "a song to sing" and foreseeing a future destination that is worth working toward. And ultimately then, to reach that better future destination, when the time is right for you, you have to be willing to "cross the stream."

I Have A Dream - by ABBA

I have a dream, a song to sing
To help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

I have a dream, a fantasy
To help me through reality
And my destination makes it worth the while
Pushing through the darkness still another mile
I believe in angels
Something good in everything I see
I believe in angels
When I know the time is right for me
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream
I'll cross the stream - I have a dream

August 12, 2010

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

This summer my life has taken on the nature of an explorer's life. Or maybe, more accurately, a seeker's life. Well, we're all seekers, I guess, though it seems we often don't really know what it is that we're seeking. We're just out there, somewhere, looking around for some kind of treasure, and we really don't know what it will look like. But sometimes we do know what to look for, or, if we're lucky enough to stumble on a treasure, we at least do recognize it when we actually find it. Anyway, like the 49ers who came to California during the gold rush, I have been wandering the Sierra Nevada mountains this summer, and other less obvious places, looking for that proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Anyone who's paid attention knows that rainbows generally appear after a storm. Those familiar with the story of Noah may also remember that, after the great flood, God designated the rainbow as a sign of the covenant pledged by God to all creatures, and to the earth; It was a covenant not to destroy us with the storms he sends. See Genesis 9.

This past weekend I was up at Lake Tahoe, on the northwest shore of the lake, preparing to take some hikes and continue my seeking journey. I had just checked in to a hotel in Tahoe City, right across the street from the shore of Lake Tahoe, and a BIG storm was blowing in across the lake. The wind was blowing hard from southeast to northwest, right into my face as I stood on the sidewalk facing east to the lake. Debris from the trees across the street was flying, whipping into my face and past me like little missles. The sky over me was gray, but the sky over the lake was black and rain was falling so hard on the lake you could hardly see the water, and you couldn't see the eastern shore or the mountains behind it.

The wind howled through the pines making rushing and roaring sounds as it bent them precariously toward the street, and the leaves of the aspen trees chattered violently. People scurried left and right, rushing to find shelter from the imminent storm, as big drops of rain began to splatter the sidewalks and streets of Tahoe City. A man hurried by me and our eyes met, and he said "where'd the good weather go?" He passed by quickly and didn't wait for my answer. Another man in a car, stopped by traffic, rolled down his window, feeling the storm, and he looked at me with a sheepish smile and shrugged. Whitecaps on the water rocked the moored boats and pounded the shore, as lightning flashed and thunder cracked. A young couple hurried by, and the girl was holding down her short skirt with both hands to keep it from blowing up. The boy with her was greatly amused. A flock of geese flew by, over the road and toward the lake. They flew into the wind as if in slow motion, flapping hard yet barely moving.

Then the heavens opened up and rain poured down and drenched the streets and shores and hills surrounding Tahoe City. Rain cascaded off the roofs like waterfalls and the water gathered itself in pools and then gushed into the gutters, as people stood in doorways, or clustered under shelter, and talked and laughed over the roar of wind and water as they watched the storm and exulted in the excitement of the moment. At the other end of the parking lot two girls in bikinis ran out of their room, into the middle of the parking lot, and danced in the rain as people watched, and the lady next to me laughed and said "you know, my daughter always over packs, and now she is telling me 'mom, I didn't bring any pants, what am I gonna' do?'"

The wind on the leading edge of the storm blew hard from southeast to northwest, and the first rain to fall was driven hard in the same direction. But as the storm progressed, the rain slackened and fell straight down, and then slackened again and fell gently from northwest to southeast. There was no lightning that we could see after the heart of the storm passed by, but peals of thunder continued to roll and people continued to scurry by, getting soaked by the rain but smiling and laughing at their plight, and at the delight of the moment. And to punctuate the delight of the moment, the girls in bikinis ran back into the parking lot for their "so you think you can dance" encore.

Despite the happy mood, one older man wearing nice clothes jogged by and he didn't look happy at all. He had on expensive slacks, dress shoes, and a light yellow knitted shirt, and his clothes were sopping wet and his wet hair hung down on his forehead in streaks, pointing to angry eyes and an angry face that found no pleasure in the moment.

At nearly that moment of the angry man's passing by, the sun broke out from below the clouds and above the ridge of mountains on the western horizon lighting up the lake and the city and the surrounding mountains, and a brilliant double rainbow appeared over the lake. And then the Tahoe Queen appeared, gleaming white at the base of the southernmost rainbow. And during that brief moment of tension between the storm and the clearing, between the darkness and the light, between unhappiness and joy, I revelled in the light and the rainbow, and the sighting of the Tahoe Queen, and the joy I was feeling. And I recalled the promises of God. And suddenly I knew, without a doubt, that I had come to the right place to find my treasure.


And here is a special treasure for you. It's my new, favorite version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It's a must-listen, must-see video. Turn your sound on and enjoy!

August 3, 2010

Nickodemus Land

Valerie, Destiny and I are recently returned from Payette, Idaho and Ontario, Oregon, where the family and friends of my new son-in-law, Luke Nickodemus, gathered in force at the Payette Golf and Country Club to meet-and-greet the newlyweds. Pictured here, from left to right, are Jay, Neola, John, Luke, Jessica, Mark, Valerie and me. I can't tell you all the names of all the people I met, but I can tell you that Luke comes from a big family, and a good family. Good, hard-working, honest, fun-loving, down-to-earth people with big, warm and sincere smiles.

To everything, there is a season. Turn, turn, turn. Ecclesiastes 3:1; Pete Seeger version.

Valerie, Jessica and Destiny. Don't think this set of childhood friends didn't garner a little attention. They had a whole new generation of Idaho farm boys singing the Beach Boys' "I wish they all could be California girls!"

Aww. Why couldn't it have been sunny like this on the wedding day?

July 29, 2010

Purple Majesty

This post is for Grandma G, who takes the best pictures of flowers. See them at:

Attribution: Photos 2 through 6 of this blog were taken by Tom Overstreet.

Note: You may click on the pictures to enlarge them, then use your back arrow to return.

Back in May I drove out to Colorado. Driving through the desert I stopped for 20 minutes to watch a sunset, and maybe catch a good photo op. Where I stopped was in the middle of nowhere, really. I headed up a rise, away from the road a bit, and encountered a number of these little ankle-high blooming cacti. Here were these beautiful cactus flowers out in the middle of nowhere, and it occurred to me that most of them were going to have a magnificent bloom that nobody would ever see.

On my recent backpacking adventure to the high country of the Sierra Nevada mountains I had a similar kind of ah-ha experience with the flowers of the high country. We went off the beaten trail. And while I am sure a number of others go off the beaten trail, we were in enough remote places that I am also sure that some of the flowers we saw will never be seen by anyone else, and wouldn't have been seen by anyone had we not gone there then.

There is a discernible pattern here in God's creation, and particularly in God's wilderness. The beauty is there. Creation is robed in God's Purple Majesty. And the beauty is there, and God's majesty is apparent, if you are lucky enough to see it, but it is also there irrespective of whether anyone at all sees it.

But the beauty, the Purple Majesty, calls to us -- to me. The flowers, in particular, call to me like lonesome children wanting attention. "Can you come over and see me?" "Can you come out and play today?" "Hey! Hey mister! Come over here and see what God did."

They are like bright, cheerful little witnesses standing on their little wilderness soap boxes and spreading a message of hope and good cheer.

But if ever there was truth to the expression "all dressed up with no place to go," these footless flowers are the embodiment of that truth. So I went and saw some of them. They're friendly, and I think they really appreciated being appreciated by someone.

July 24, 2010

This And That

Troubled bridge over waters.. Whenever the water wets the top of a log bridge, the log is slippery. Couple that with a lack of ballerina balance, and you have a recipe for a wet boot.

Golden sky. Priceless.

Golden trout, and Steve K's golden hand sleeved in a golden top.

Steve K makes trail pudding. Trust me, it was delicious.

Duct tape has many uses. I did the fine wood carving. This one-of-a-kind item is currently available for sale.

Wild onions at base of rock, and sprouting out of my pack. They grow along streams and some lakes. Pick a few when you see them and have them with soup, mashed potatoes, or fish. They're delish.
Also note the orange and red duct tape on my hiking pole. That's the way to carry a little duct tape into the wilderness without taking the whole big roll. Don't leave home without it.

Wild onions in the fridge. Wet a cloth and wrap them to keep them fresh. Nice to chew on when sitting around chewing the fat before and after dinner.

Mono Hot Springs all natural hot tub. I am talking about the water, folks. All naturally heated. Nice for a soak at the end of a long trail.

Attribution: All pictures in this post were taken by Tom Overstreet.

July 23, 2010

The Inconvenience of Purity

Anyone who wonders about how the world works has surely spent time on the banks of a river or stream or creek and wondered “where does all this water come from?” This question has occurred to me often when I am backpacking and either camped near, or hiking along, or crossing a full-flowing, year-round stream. How does it just keep flowing and flowing and flowing?

The answer, my friend, really is blowing in the wind. God, in his infinite wisdom, has invented a truly perfect system of water purification and transport and storage. Pure water is deposited in the form of rain or snow high up in the mountains, and it flows by gravity to its millions of users (plants, animals, men) who progressively use and dirty the water. The dirty water continues to flow until it reaches some filthy low point – like a sewage pond – whereupon it is evaporated by the sun, completely purified, gathered in clouds, transported back to the mountains by the wind, and again redeposited as rain or snow for our use and enjoyment. It’s pure. It’s free. It’s perpetual. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful.

And it is inconvenient. Let’s face it, all the good stuff notwithstanding, who says “Hurrah!” when it rains on their picnic? Who hopes it will rain on their wedding day (like it did on my daughter’s wedding day this past May)? And what sane backpacker do you know who hopes it rains while they are out? Or who hopes the snow hasn’t fully melted yet by mid-July so they can get their boots and socks cold and wet slushing through soggy snow?

We had soggy snow and ice and lots of rain to contend with on our recent backpack trip. Sure, we like the fresh, clean, pure water. But why, God, can't you deliver it when it's convenient for us? This dilemma popped up again in a different form in one of our evening devotions when Bud decided to invite Tom, Steve and me to attend the Walk To Emmaus conference in Fresno. Sure, Bud, we want to be clean and pure and to experience God's love to the full, but really, a four day conference which takes up a whole weekend in the summer is not convenient.

Surely God can find a way to deliver pure water and purity in our lives in a way that's convenient and easy for us? Ah, well, the rain and the snow and the so-called "hardships" and the "wading in the water" we endured on this trip weren't so bad after all. Believe it or not, we kind of enjoyed them. Maybe I will attend that conference after all.
Attribution: All pictures in this post were taken by Tom Overstreet.