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101_0983

…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 hugely enjoy fellowshipping in other churches on the rare occasions that I travel. This Memorial Day weekend was just one of those times. I am encouraged by God’s universal church worshipping God and the teaching of God’s Word, interpreted by the same Holy Spirit, sounding forth. God is at work in many and various places to accomplish His work, and God’s people are seeking Him.

Visiting a small church called “Grace…” [only part of the name I could remember, or needed to know] in New Port Richey, Florida, the pastor’s son-in-law, who is a policeman, preached on trials from James 1:1-12. Following are a few paraphrases of his words on purpose and perspective in the midst of trials:

“We don’t have it in us to have joy” [deep, light-hearted confidence]; it comes from the Holy Spirit within us enabling us to “delight in the

       1) person of God,    

       2) the purpose of God, and

       3) the people of God.”

“Our life purpose is to portray the superiority of God in our lives”, giving glory to God.

The purpose of our trials is to glorify God by our winning when it looks like we are losing [because of trials].

Trials test our faith: pop quiz:

1) “Do you believe God is in control?”

2) “Do you believe God is good?”

3 “Are you willing to wait on God’s perfect timing in every area of your

    life?”

The endurance or steadfastness referred to in verse three means to ‘remain under’. Trials are a stress, a pressure, an uncomfortable force in our lives. ‘Everything God wants to do in our lives and use to bless us comes through us remaining under God’s control’ in the midst of trials.

This spattering of my sermon notes does not convey the full weight of the sermon, but it does give you pieces of wisdom that I think are worth reading over several times. Trials are for believers to test and strengthen their faith and give glory to God. We are not spared trials because they are what are best for us and give the most glory to God. May His name be praised in all that I do.

My pastor abbreviates the condition of Creation as “beautiful but broken”, a deeply descriptive phrase for what we observe in nature. I got to thinking about it one day after church and the following began to come to me.

Beautiful but broken
This world that He made
Of His nature a token
But hastening to fade

Beauty marred by man’s sin
Caused death and decay
So all who are Adam’s kin
To God’s Son, no delay

Though all Creation groans
In futility
Slave to corruption it moans
One day will be set free

The sons of God revealed
Creation restored
We and it too be glorified
Through both God will be praised

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.

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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Local Endurance

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. 

Which do you want first, the good news or the bad news? If you read this first, you are getting the bad news first, but it ends with a silver lining.

We had hiked a very moderate route on a beautiful day. I had eaten less and differently that usual. My stomach had hurt slightly the last several days. I parted with my brother and his grandson after a very pleasant day. We had stayed at the Donley Cabin the night before, and I was returning to have a quiet night alone- no water, no electricity, and no electronics. When I arrived I didn’t feel very well- tired mostly. I thought, no time constraints as to when I fix supper, so I laid down to take a nap at about 6 PM (Times are all conjecture since I had no time piece.). Perhaps an hour later I woke up with my stomach hurting and a strong urge to go. In the outhouse I totally cleaned out both ends. I slowly made my way back to my bunk, sleeping fitfully for the next 14 hours or so. During my waking moments I awoke to sounds of mice chewing, rain pelting, and wind blowing. A strong stitch in my side prevented anymore than short naps and finding a new position. At what I think may have been around 8 AM I finally got up. I had to put every stitch of clothing on to get warm, probably because of lack of food more than morning chill. With no appetite, I planned my retreat. I didn’t think I had the fortitude to make two trips to the car, 0.3 mile away. We had come up twice upon entrance, and I had used my great-nephew’s pack (40 liter perhaps). So I set about consolidating everything as much as possible. That is when I found what the mouse had been working on all night, a 1-inch square hole through the front pocket of my day pack. And to beat it all, he cut through the top part of the plastic bag that didn’t even admit him to any goodies. You know, I’ve done this camping thing enough years to know to leave the pockets open so these things don’t happen- chock it up to delirium?

I plodded to the car and began the 4 hour drive home, only stopping once to text my wife that I was on my way home (first cellphone reception in 48 hours). My intention in staying the extra night by myself was a time of prayer and reflection concerning future decisions and concerns for my family. I did spend some time in concentrated prayer on those topics between naps in the night. I was much more efficient in what I had to say. I admit that I was not clear enough of mind to listen much.

Today, after sleeping in my own bed and having a shower, I was again lying down next to my napping wife. Still short on food but not short on sleep, I laid there thinking about what it would be like standing before my Savior. It seemed like more than mere drowsy contemplation. After it faded a poem came to me related to what I had thought and seen:

All of Adam’s race
But one day face to face
Our sins He will displace
Their presence He will erase
His glory a fond embrace
All by His sovereign grace

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At the cabin door

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Notice how wide the floor boards are.

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Come sit a spell

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Donley Cabin

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A mouse that knows geometry?