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

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Algae under a microscope

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

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Upscale Pizza place with my Valentine

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

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A little more wood needed

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

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Sunday School student’s art

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

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DNA Electrophoresis Lab

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migrating DNA in a gel

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

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A friend and missionary

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

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Sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)

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

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Grape hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)

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

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He can look so serious

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

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Neighborhood waterfall

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

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Upper Creek Falls

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Mama enjoys time outside, too

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

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Colors, Contrasts, and Tones

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

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More time together

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Only thing lacking was confidence

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roughed up a little

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Historic times

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

 

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Yet another fabulous dish from my favorite chef

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

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good flow

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Elk River Falls

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

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Backyard Beauty

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Pontentilla sp.

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

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

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Mushroom Boulder

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View from just behind the boulder

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Galax

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Bloodroot and Wood Sorrel

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Wood Sorrel
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Bloodroot

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

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Warm-up Boulder

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Shelf Fungus

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

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Verbana sp.
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Red Dogwood

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

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Rattlesnake Plantain

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Fiddleheads

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Mayapple

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Wisteria

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

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Spruce treeform

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

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Oak treeform

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

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Star of Bethlehem

This poem is quite simple

Similar to a pimple

Which has really a short life

Full of passion and much strife

 

It causes a stir and pain

May nearly drive you insane

But soon will come to a head

Then burst, forgotten and dead

 

But note how it leaves a scar

The complexion ever mar

Cover it to make it small

Or accept me warts and all

 

Best to never have begun

From quarrels and strife you run

Better bring kindness and truth

Than discord and be uncouth

The first two verses of this poem came to me one day when I was considering strife and its ill effects. I knew generally where I wanted to go with it, but could not see how. Just this morning when I brought it up from my drafts file, the way forward began to dawn upon me. In one sense I might like to have developed the kindness and truth way of doing things more. On the other hand, the first and third lines preclude such a tome, and the short version seems to have punch.

The truth I see behind my verse comes from Proverbs:

17:14 “The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.”

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

26:17 “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.”

15:18 “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, But the slow to anger calms a dispute.”

See also Proverbs 6:14,19; 10:12, 13:10, 16:28, 17:1,19; 18:6,18; 20:3, 22:10, 26:21, 28:25, 29:22, 30:33. Evidently, avoiding strife and those who promote it is a valuable consideration and pursuit.

Along the Way

My last post was about my third son’s wedding. You can see the pictures by clicking here or scroll down. This blog entry is a little commentary on stops along the way there and back.

On our way through Knoxville, we stopped to drop off some children’s clothes and baby equipment that Mamaw had gathered from the consignment sale. I got to meet and hold my seventh and newest grandchild. 

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Newest Grandbaby

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1st 2nd granddaughter

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Yawns mean mom will get a break

We had a few minutes with the other grandchildren. May God bless, protect, and know them.

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with Big Sister

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My son’s former roommate and friend came along, too. He is good with children. As you can see, there was a one-sided water balloon fight.

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Water Balloon prep

All things Scottish are greatly admired by my oldest son’s family.

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Scottish watch soldier

The masked man next to the little guy was said to be wearing a cape and carrying a dear over his shoulder. Robin Hood stands between him and Maid Marian.

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With the artists

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The missing, shy, sleepy brother arose from a nap just before we left.

The following pictures were taken on the trip home. I told my partner that I wanted to stop somewhere along the line in order to stretch our legs. We left at 5:22 AM, as he reminded me several times. The sun rose in central Louisiana. Below is the Visitor’s Center in Jackson, MS.

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I-20 at Jackson, MS crossing of the Big Muddy

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Remembrance of darker days

The leg stretcher was a quick jaunt up the ridge to Neversink Pit in Jackson County, NE Alabama. The sign informed us that we needed a permit to even hike on the property. It is amazing what you can do from a cell phone these days. We filled out the permission slips and had approval is less than 10 minutes. I should have taken a picture of the map. It showed the squares of land that individuals bought to set aside this natural wonder.

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Interesting Preservation and Access

The wildflowers were popping all over.

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Fire Pink

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Limestone has the weirdest looking forms

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Not too close!

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Neversink Pit, AL

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My expert sister-in-law (in identifying wildflowers at least (couldn’t pass up the left-handed compliment, Sis)) assures me that it is Violet Wood Sorrel.

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162 foot pit

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Would love to rap it someday

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flint sandwiched in limestone

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Younger brother and oldest son

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No expense withheld

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In extravagant training facilities

The topics of conversation widely varied, though we are both science geeks. For example, we spent perhaps two hours on the way down reading and discussing the history of the development of longitude all because I made the comment, “I wander why they called it Meridian, MS?” We later found out that it stemmed from an argument two developers of the town had, but the discussion about longitude from 1541 to 1767 was interesting. If you are willing to explore and ask questions and be flexible, then the world has many wonders small and large to keep your interest. And we stayed well away from everyone else in the process. Social distancing is not all that bad.

 

 

 

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

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Long distance travel; distance working

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

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sunset over Alabama

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

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Set up for the Reception Dinner

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

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making an aisle

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talented and generous bride

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cozy

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well equipped

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Preparing for a reduced crowd

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

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former roommate
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Almost time

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The Bride’s Parents

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The commitment is both a serious and joyous event.

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The Happy Couple

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Her family

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coats after the ceremony

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

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Rose Petals instead of rice or birdseed

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going away now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We haven’t had much of a winter this year. If it has reached the teens more than twice, I don’t remember it. But I went on a hike with one of my great nephews (in both senses). He had never been to Mt. Cammerer in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and I had never been there coming from Cosby Campground. It was 20 degrees when I left the house and the top of the mountain is about 4000 feet higher. I suspect from the reported low on a mountain of similar height closer to home that the Mt. Cammerer saw 15 or lower. It also snowed 1/2 inch, clinging to the branches and needles. It was still below freezing on the north slopes when we reached the top around 11:30, indicated by the hoar frost on the branches and ground frost columns in the bare spots. There was quite a chilling wind when we began, but when we arrived on top the air barely stirred and the sun warmed the rocks to a comfortable lounging temperature for lunch. We felt so good that I suggested that we consider going back another way that would add mileage- 3 miles by my estimate. I was wrong and the hike extended out to 16 miles total. The way back along Lower Cammerer Trail was an easy grade on smooth ground. We hiked at our own paces in places and together conversing at others. There was so much to clear the mind of stress and consider God’s goodness in our lives and in creating the world. I have yet to hear how my partner fared for soreness, but I had relatively little. It was an overall pleasant day.

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Beginning point in Cosby Campground

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Good flow from abundant rainfall

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Mid-sized Yellow Poplar

My sister-in-law gives an excellent explanation of how this frost forms (click here) and my great-nephew had a a better camera to capture the effect. I am always fascinated by how it elevates pebbles and flat rocks.

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Ground Frost

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Still Fresh

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Which way?

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Ground Frost

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Snow Line

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Main Ridge north of Low Gap toward Mt. Cammerer, GSMNP

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Still well below freezing on the north slopes

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Treetop and Beard Frost

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Took some wind to produce that

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Such intricate outline

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English Mountain in the background

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Good to see in a warm, snowless year

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Pleasant experience, good reminiscing

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Mt. Sterling! rain gauge?

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Restored Mt. Cammerer Firetower

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The next two pictures show how intense the short-lived snow shower must have been. It would have been an adventure, though not so fun, to have been at this location during the snowfall.

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Many names of mountains have changed. The benchmark says Sharp Top, but the internet says it used to be called White Top because of white rocks jutting out. Mt. Cammerer is the name given it after the early Park Commissioner who helped to secure the parklands.

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BM Sharp Top, 1928. Why do they rarely include the elevation?

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Pine tree on a south facing slope with limited soil

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The following two images I borrowed from my great-nephew’s site (with permission) to highlight the immensity of the scene and the smallness of us sojourners. John Piper says that we were made for something bigger than ourselves, meaning God. The proper response to the bigness and beauty of creation is worship of the Creator.

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I-40 and the Pigeon River

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Galax, lichen, and snow

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Time to head down

The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid has decimated Eastern Hemlocks in recent years. The Park Service treats some of the larger ones that are left. Evidently the treatment has to be repeated (For details click here.) to save the trees. Are the two paint marks two successive treatments?

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Treated Hemlock

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Treated Hemlock next to the untreated one

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Christmas Fern

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Barely over halfway point

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Seep

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Mountain Silverbell seedpod on oak leaves

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Cemetery

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The only marked stone and probably the newest at 1912.

Many of the draws showed more evidence of high flows than the black width of drainage way here.

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The high water must have been something.

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Cruising the easy way in a north facing woods with little underbrush.

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Was the bridge nearly toppled by high water or poorly set to begin with? Bridges across the wider streams are a welcome and easy passage.

With all of the amazing things that cameras can do, I am still amazed at what the eye does better. The following scene revealed 360 degrees of mist penetrating rays to the eye, but several attempts with the camera failed to show any of it. It does show how low the sun was. With the driving to and from home, the hike, and the time on top, I was gone from home for 13 1/2 hours. It was well worth it.

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Almost there

My sister-in-law helped me identify this little beauty on a short detour we took off of the main trail. After the late winter snow and cold up above, it was a surprising harbinger of Spring after a brief brush with winter.

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Trail detour Hepatica

“Stop Socialism”*

A colleague of mine came to me with a legitimate concern and question. He prefaced his question by saying that he had no desire to argue but had a great desire to understand the meaning of a sign he had seen several times lately. He referred to a discussion we had earlier in the week, remarking that I seemed to have strong feelings about the subject. Before I reveal the question or my answer, I would like to say that I expressed gratitude for the demeanor of my colleague and friend to want to have substantive, civil discussion. That is rare these days. We seem to not be able to agree to disagree and give calm, reasoned answers to fellow citizens and human beings on controversial subjects.

The sign said, “Stop Socialism”. I think* that this may be the slogan of someone seeking political office. He said, “Give me your three best reasons for why you don’t like Socialism. I am going to go away for an hour and come back so that you have time to think about it.”

Shortly after he left the room I quickly prayed that God would give me clarity of mind, remembrance of apropos Scriptures, and an opportunity for witness. After a few minutes thought three reasons came to mind and Scriptures by way of an online concordance. Then I thought to call my older brother, who was a preacher for many years, in order to see if he had any better Scriptures. It was kinda a “call a friend” on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” moment, but in God’s providence we could not make connection after several tries in both directions.

Though more well thought out and concise here, my answer went some like the following:

I began by saying that I suspected that many of the people who hate Socialism would agree with the points I was about to make, even if few know why or where the ideas come from. For my part, I come from a biblical worldview that judges all of life based on what the Scriptures say. (2)

Here are my three reasons for hating Socialism:

1) Role of Government

In Romans 13:1-5, Paul clearly lays out the God ordained role of government to punish evil doers. We can extend that to include internal and external enemies. The government should punish those who murder, steal, rape, and otherwise harm fellow citizens. They should raise a defense against invading enemies (3). Redistributing wealth is a gross overreach of a government’s God ordained role. As a self-governed, free people we should do all we can to stifle this overreach.

2) Ownership

This concept flows from the eighth commandment, “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) God has given people the privilege of owning and stewarding possessions. The government is stealing possessions to give to others when taxes go beyond maintenance of the God ordained role of government. The government is playing Robin Hood with the taxpayer’s money, but much less efficiently or altruistically. A corollary to this principle arises in a parable that Jesus tells as an analogy for the kingdom of God. The reference to ownership is not the point of the parable, but Jesus teaches us truth about ownership in the midst of teaching about His kingdom. He does not use falsehood to support a truth He teaches. I read part of the parable from Matthew 20:1-16 to my colleague and explained the rest. The owner of the vineyard hires men to work in his vineyard at various times during the day as he finds them in the marketplace. At the end of the day he pays them all the same amount even though some worked all day in the heat and some worked for one hour (4). When questioned about the unfairness of this pay scheme, the owner says, “‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’” (Matthew 20:13-15). The corollary to ownership is freedom to dispose of what belongs to you as you see fit. It is not the government’s place to decide how you spend or give your possessions.

3) Diligence

This last point is the most telling as to the disaster of Socialism. I told my colleague that the Thessalonians (5) must have had a tendency toward Socialism, because Paul felt a need to mention their work ethic in both books he wrote, being quite direct in the second instance. In I Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul admonished his readers “to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands” for the purpose of witness to outsiders. In II Thessalonians 3:6-13, Paul is very direct about those who are idle and slack in discipline: “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.” (v.10) The most extreme form of Socialism, Communism, has failed numerous times to produce hard work and altruism among those laboring on collective farms and in collective factories. On the one hand, why work hard if the government will supply what you need? On the other hand, why work hard if you don’t own the property (crop, stock, interest, benefit) of the enterprise to be able to profit from it succeeding? Socialism fails to provide because of the dual selfishness of the greedy ruler and the slack worker.

I ended the discussion by saying that it seems there is a continuum from the far right of unbridled capitalism and far left of authoritarian communism. It may look something like the following:

authoritarian – socialism –  socialist –  regulated  –  unbridled

communism                         democracy  capitalism   capitalism

I understand the draw of Socialism to curb the excesses of unbridled capitalism. I think that socialist democracy is an oxymoronic attempt either to deceive others or a self-deception on the way toward socialism. I would support a minimally regulated capitalism because it puts the government in a position to punish evil doers who are stealing from the neighbors while respecting the individual’s right to own and dispose of his wealth as he sees fit. I think that I stand in good company with our founding fathers who instituted the Patent Act of 1790, for example. (6) And I believe I am in better company with the principles God’s Word lays down for our interactions with our fellow citizens.

*I don’t follow the tit for tat details of politics because I find it disheartening. A quick Google search brought up several signs past and present of politicians and political groups touting this slogan.

(2) No, I didn’t say that sentence quite so concisely or clearly, but I wish I had. Much that calls itself Christian these days is not, because it does not obey the admonition to be “destroying every speculation” by “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5). The direction for obedience to Christ is the Scripture.

(3) Augustine’s Just War Theory would not include expansionist offensives though it could be well argued that it could include pre-emptive offensives.

(4) His actual point is that whether you come late or early, God gives the grace of salvation (“one denarius”, a day’s wage) to each so the “last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16).

(5) Thessalonica was an ancient city in Macedonia in the north of Greece from whence came Alexander the Great and where Paul planted a church.

(6) As far back as 500 B.C. right of ownership of an idea or new product is noted.