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Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

I’m not getting out to climb often enough to improve these days, but I am amazed how well at once a month I am maintaining. I do some training on the hangboard, door frames, and pull-up bar. We climb in the morning at a South facing local crag. We were 75% of the time in the shade since the Sun had not come around the corner. Of the four climbs we did two of the climbs that we did were positive slopes with minute holds, almost friction climbing. Three were sport climbs (having bolts to clip into, for the uninitiated), and one was a mixed route (meaning it had bolts (2) and needed gear placed (in this case cams)). There was a 5.8, a 5.9, and two 5.10’s. I flashed one of the 5.10’s. I enjoyed the mixed lead most and have some pictures of my climbing partner and me leading it. The day was surprising pleasant for a summer day in the South. There were occasional cool breezes and random small clouds and some shade. The insects were slight, the other climbers out of earshot, the skies exceptionally blue, no injury, and several clean (no falls) topouts. Our conversation was pleasant, and I believe God glorifying, and my mind was cleared. Such nice days make the harder ones more manageable. It is good to set aside and commit such days to the One who “gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)

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Lead on a mixed 5.8

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Partner entering the crux sequence.

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About five years ago one of my classes built two bluebird boxes to put just out the window of two classrooms at the school. One lasted one year and then got taken by vandals. The other one outside my window could be destroyed but not so easily taken because of the wiring that runs out the bottom of pipe pole, through concrete, underground, through the wall into my classroom and to my computer. I realize that wireless cameras exist, but this is what my students could afford. It is color, works at night by shining infrared lights, and has sound. At one time you could record segments of video, but the school techs lost the software that has to be reinstalled every year due to computer re-imaging.

There are two problems with the present set-up. Even with retreating the wood, five years is considerable weathering, so the roof piece is bowed and lichen encrusted, though still functional. The other problem is a matter of rushed planning on my part when it was built. The students were excited about the camera arriving; the box was already built; we quickly installed it and began observing nesting soon afterwards. The camera, however, was mounted too close to the subjects so that it has always been blurry. The new box has a ceiling below the roof where the camera will be installed and not susceptible to moving when the side panel is opened to clean out last year’s nest. The distance is increased sufficiently to enable in focus viewing.

Since there are three eggs in the present box now, the installation of this new box will wait until Fall or later. I had the time to build it now and the availability of the school shop, so I did. I may put a roof shingle on the top when I install it so that it will last more than 5 years.

Students totally love to see the progress of the birds building a nest, laying eggs, hatching, feeding, growing, and leaving the nest. They are amazed when they here the chirping, chagrinned when there is a runt that is underfed because the others poke their heads up faster and more consistently, and curious about gestation and developmental timings. We have 2 to 3 nesting each Spring. One year the bluebirds and tree swallows fought violently over which pair could nest first. At one point two males (one bluebird and one tree swallow) were rolling around on the ground, clawing and pecking. The students flew to the window to see what was happening. We have never been able to observe the hatching of the birds. It seems to always happen on the weekend or in the early morning. I have left at 5 PM and arrived at 7 AM the next morning to find several birds hatched.

I sincerely wish that I could do more of this kind of teaching, what I call “affective science”. Students need an emotional connection to what they are learning to prick and increase curiosity. I could give many reasons why this is not happening, but I’m not in the mood to wax political or negative, so I will leave that to your imagination. I recorded some aspects of the box build, but many details are also left out. I hope that you enjoy the pictures, but even more, I hope you will observe the world around you and give thanks to our Creator for its utter beauty and utility.

If you hover over the pictures, you can see the captions.

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…there’s a Gecko in your bathtub!

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…Spanish Moss is in every Live Oak tree.

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…there is sand and only sand, and it’s everywhere, in your clothes, in your car, in your house, in the breeze.

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…the rocks were once alive- coral or shells.

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…everything grows on everything else. (Pop Quiz: What is the difference in an epiphyte and a parasite?)

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…there are a numerous variety of birds, many of which have long legs and long beaks.

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…you can see thunderstorms coming hours and multiple dozens of miles in advance.

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…the power company provides places for raptors to nest.

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…most of the housing developments have walls and many gates and more than a few screened in swimming pools behind every house (a car in every garage?).

I like different for a change, but it is good to be home where   

   1) the tub don’t have no critters hangin’ out in it. (hope ya ain’t offended by my grammar).
2) the only thing hangin’ in a tree is branches and squirrels.
3) the dirt is orange clay and the rocks are hard with crystals.

   4) the birds are small and sing songs in the morning.
   5) thunderstorms pop up of a sudden.
   6) you have 1/2 million dollar homes and trailers on the same street.
I like traveling and exploring and I like coming home, too. God has created a big, varied world with so much to fill the senses and point us to Him.

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I live in the present for a number of reasons. I like adventure, even if ever so small, so I seek out new experiences. I have never been able to attach times with events; I have a friend who can name the year, month, and frequently which day an event happened. I have discovered, save a few rare jewels, that few people want to hear about what happened long ago. But today at lunch a definite opening to the past came about and I related a story and asked my colleague to relate a similar experience, “What was the most interesting night you have ever spent backpacking?” She related that it was the first and last time she ever saw a porcupine. Part of her adventure was a lack of understanding at the time of how quills work, that is, how porcupines use them for defense.

I told of a night when it was snowing hard, large wet flakes at dusk and we were looking for an opening with a flat spot for our tent. We came down to a road where a man was checking his mailbox. My friends got into a conversation with him about the weather and camping sites. He offered his barn loft and we jumped at it. The loft smelled of hay but there was none other than a dusting on the floor. We swept the loft so we could start our cook stoves without burning the barn down. Svea stoves sound like small jet engines, so it drown out the windy storm for awhile. Candlelight caste eerie shapes and shadows on the rafters and slats. I took several time exposures with my film SLR. We told stories, read abit and lay down to a long winter’s slumber. It was a pleasant place to sleep not having the tent flapping in the breeze. The next morning it was in the upper teens. My wet boots had frozen overnight and were painful to put on and to walk. I am sure that  up on Whitetop Mtn. there were significant drifts, but there was dry snow here, too. I feel like I have experienced a small taste of what life used to be like when I have done things like sleeping in a barn. Of course, our forebearers didn’t have nylon sleeping bags and packs, or pre-packaged food or white gas stoves or SLR cameras, but they did live simply and sleep hard on occasions.

Telling this memory reminded me of other memorable nights in the woods. Once with another friend we spent the night in a forest of young, straight trees. It was hard to hang our packs with no branches within throwing distance of our cord, so we hung our packs between two small, understory trees with the bottoms of our packs hanging barely above our reach. It had been a very wet day and now set in for a foggy night. We may have napped an hour in our tent when we heard pack rattling noises. Our flashlights revealed three large cubs, perhaps even yearlings, taking turns climbing one of the small trees and jumping out to swipe at the packs. We had left the pockets unzipped so that any mice that managed the climb would simply enter rather than chew holes in our packs. This detail meant that the cubs’ swipes were effective at knocking out our granola and snack bars and meat packets, and so forth. Before they had done much damage to our food supplies or torn open any stuff sacks we were out of our tent yelling and banging tree trunks with sticks, to which they scurried into the rhododendron out of sight. After several exchanges of this kind we could see that they thought it was a wonderful game, but we were becoming more leery at the thought of mother bear being just out of sight ready to attack if our admonitions were not to her liking. Wearily and warily we decided that there was no help for it other than to start a fire under the packs to keep the cubs away and mother hidden from sight. It was the hardest fire I have ever started. My friend collected every potentially dry twig and leaf possible, from under rocks and under logs and in tree hollows. There was only relatively less wet; dry did not exist. With a little of our toilet paper, some white gas from our stove, many minute twigs and needles we somehow got a fire going, but keeping it going and drying wood in the smokey fire was just as hard. Walking most of the day with a pack on requires two things: lots of food and good sleep. We were not getting much of the latter. We took two hour shifts of keeping the fire going and sleeping in the tent. Some time during the wee hours the fog lifted to reveal a moonless, starlit, branch filled sky. It was perhaps the first time that I realized that the sky begins to lighten as early as 3 AM in the summer. What is not perceivable to the eye around light pollution is a wondrous sight to the dark adjusted pupil. We didn’t see the cubs again and can’t say with any assurance that mom was anywhere around, but our packs smelled of smoke for a long time after that.  

Another memorable night I spent on Camp Town Bald, which I think was renamed Viking Mountain. There are few fire towers left in the mountains and probably none used for their original purpose, but one of the larger ones stood on top of the Bald in the late ’70’s- I estimate 80+ feet tall. My most frequent backpacking partner and I camped at the base of it in the tall grass. After dark I mounted the tower to the deck above. The glassed in portion was locked so a sat down, curled up in my sleeping bag, leaning against the wall of the enclosed space. I had a wonderful time of prayer and singing hymns as I gazed over the lights in the valley and the stars above. I began to see flashes of lightning in the far distance, so I moved around to the other side of the cat-walk in order to watch the fireworks. Above the trees and over 5000′ elevation, I could see the storm many miles away. Now that I reflect on it, it was odd that the storm was coming from the East over the mountains moving toward me. Thunderstorms rarely come from that direction. The storm kept building in my direction until I figured that perching atop a metal tower in a thunderstorm was probably not the safest vantage point. Having such a grand view of it I feel sure that I abandoned my post in plenty of safe time, but my friend down below had been getting worried. This story doesn’t make for quite as interesting telling or hearing, but if you can envision the scene with its three kinds of lights and the opportunity to worship the Creator of all that is light and life and beauty, you may imagine the depth of peace and joy the situation brought to me.

For it is this same Creator who has saved me and given me purpose and a future with Him. He commands the thunderstorm and the snowstorm, sets the stars in their places, gives man shelter and provides all that he needs, grows the trees and provides for the bear cubs, and will extend to you grace also if you will acknowledge your sin and His Son’s work to put it away. Glory to God for His goodness and His benefits to those upon whom His grace abounds.

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Odd shaped trees make for hazardous felling.

So, I climbed a few feet up on a ladder and took out some limbs. Then I was on the ground taking down the snagged limbs. I had to cross a barbed wire fence to get to some of the limbs. Several of the trees needed pulled by truck and rope. One twisted and the stump end jumped toward me. I had noticed when the tree began to move that it was twisting, so I stepped back two steps. When it landed at my feet I jumped back again. Even small trees are due respect since they outweigh me many times over, are much taller, and fall in surprising ways. Oh, you can read that it will fall funny, but not always the exact path. I cut Sweetgum, Willow Oak, Eastern Redcedar, Black Cherry, and Maple. The trees ranged in size from 6 inches to 2 feet- small to medium.  It was to help out a friend’s mother. My friend helped cut downed trees and pull with the truck and two of his daughters hauled brush and loaded firewood for him and for me. Everyone worked hard and everyone was safe, including, as best I know, not getting poison ivy that was thick on several of the trees. And did I mention that I got paid.

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That’s what I need to take it to the next level- local endurance. “Local endurance is a muscle group’s ability to sustain effort over a period of time.”

I was climbing on Sunday, the second time in a comeback attempt after an injury. My finger strength is good- no real decline there. I can crimp on half finger pads, but I have maybe 12 to 15 feet of crimping and I’m done for 15 minutes. After flashing a 10a I’d never been on, my partner and I set-up a 10d on top rope. I knew that I needed to climb fast to make it through the 25 feet of sustained 10d climbing. I was just past it making the next somewhat easier move when the strength drained out of me. I reached for the next hold just above the directional quickdraw we had placed. My fingers would not grip. I came down and my right middle finger went right through the gate of the carabiner, stripping a half inch of flesh off adjacent to the nail. Had I grabbed for the quickdraw? No, the injury would have been much worse. My extended finger meant I only peeled some flesh rather than broken a finger or skewered my hand. Instead, my finger should be good in a week or so. I’m not a free bleeder, so after a momentary spirt of blood, and a shake out (hands above my head to prevent further bleeding), I finished the route without much difficulty. But how frustrating, to be one move away from completing the climb and getting shutdown. My overall strength is sufficient for higher grade climbing, I just need this local endurance. So here are two websites that describe training for this deficiency:

Learn to Train: Local Endurance for Climbers

Training: Maximize Your Endurance

I hope to increase endurance through these workouts. I am always having to balance responsibility, desire, time pressure, enjoyment, higher priorities, and relaxation. I like to play hard and rest well. I am thankful to God that I still can, but wonder with my most recent injury if that will be possible much longer. I wasn’t doing anything extreme or foolish. I just strained connective tissue from midway down my leg to around the knee. For a time running and climbing stopped and even walking any significant amount. As they say, things just don’t heal like they used to. Both life and climbing are challenging and take strength. 

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It was time for Monday morning parking lot duty again (for more see “Marvelous Mondays“). “We shouldn’t even be here, it’s snowing.” I had my full rain suit on with a little less than comfortable amount of clothing underneath. That slight discomfort added a bit to the melancholy of the streetlights and angled snowfall that resulted in light splatter sounds on my hood. Water droplets flashed like Advent lights on tree branches and pavement as their moving form refracted the artificial light source. I always station myself at the center of the parking lot under six trees planted there a mere eleven years ago. They have produced their own microcosm. The birds love to come early and sing from their branches and feed on insects under the shrubs below them. I am constantly amazed at how lively the little space is. I have long observed the disparity of growth among these six trees, but the stark and beautiful scene of this morning caused me to contemplate their survival and interaction in a rather curious way.

 

A small island in the parking lot
A heavily mulched and shrubbed plot
Reprieve from the barren blacktop
Place of rest and food where birds stop

Six Pin Oak trees were planted there
Shade and shelter where birds repair
One grew fast, rules over the rest
Two compete, the larger one test
Two struggle, healthy but not strong
One not thriving, everything wrong
Disease, breakage, the bark looks old
Misshapen, stunted, soon may fold

All are needed, the plot complete
The strong, the weak, those that compete
The weak need so much extra care
How will we help them to repair?

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