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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

It has been 3 1/2 months since I went climbing, and it was two months before that. This is beginning to not look like a hobby. Oh well, I was thankful to get out today, and perhaps we have a plan to be more regular without overwhelming our schedules.

Being a little warmer, mid-80’s in the valley, we went to a crag where a creek cascades between two cliffs and most climbs are in the shade. It is about a mile walk in, down hill, meaning, of course, that it is a fairly stout walk out after climbing. At least the walk in doesn’t exhaust you before climbing. I knew that my finger strength was still good because I regularly do doorframe pull-ups, but I have not persisted in endurance training activities for my arms. I expected to do single hard moves and then be exhausted. Surprisingly, I did somewhat better than that, though I definitely felt the burn too soon. We completed 4 pitches and worked on a 5/12a project. Gonna have to increase the endurance before that one goes down.

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“On Belay?” Ready to start a sport lead of a 5.10b
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Jigsaw 5.8
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Overhung, shady, and frequently damp (Frazier Magnolia in the foreground)
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Belay lock position
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Height is not a problem when you are properly tied in
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At the rings at treetop level
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The aesthetic cooling factor
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Wall with roof and tree
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Galax is so bright green and lively looking in Spring
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Beautiful and cold
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Grow where you’re planted
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Hanging out at the crag 
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I like big adventures as much as the next person: A trip to an exotic, far off place; a expedition into an unknown place of exploration; a purpose driven service for others. But daily life rarely presents such big adventures unless you can re-orient your perspective to sum all of the small discoveries and opportunities into the whole. Following are a few very small joys in which I partook in the last week. They are neither big nor even the best of the week, but they are the ones for which I had a camera and the appropriate occasion to use it.

I walked out in the yard on a pleasant Spring evening, beyond the large hedge bush, where I had forgotten that I had transplanted a daylily last fall because of crowding where it was formerly. There was a bright surprise on the other side of the bush. Spruce or forest green is my favorite color, but a light golden yellow is a close second. (I never know what to call this color. It’s not gold leaf; it’s too orange to be yellow and too yellow to be orange; it doesn’t quite seem like amber.)

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Twin Beauties

My wife is a particularly  good cook and all the better because she tries new dishes. My palate is never bored. After a new and good dinner the other evening, I pushed back from the table a bit to savor the moment, noticing the patterns of pinewood, stainless wear, and Corelleware. Oak grain is perhaps my favorite and most interesting grain though admittedly curly maple is quite intricate. Walnut grain is rich. Pine knots are the most interesting part pine grain. When placed in pairs on a veneer such as a plywood, the parallel knots can may interesting pictures of faces. Patterns on forks and plates can be gaudy for my taste but French curves are tasteful if not overdone. For instance, consider the persistence of Paisley’s, a French curve derivative.

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Unity and Contrast of patterns, colors, and materials

Mallard Ducks are common and “garden variety”, but have you ever looked closely at the decorations on a male Mallard? I reminds me of the verse: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; but I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.” (Luke 12:27) Conversely, I only saw two Mallard’s paddling upstream against the current. Where are the thousands of birds and the teaming fish in the river? Once migrating flocks blackened the skies. What have we done?

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From orange, webbed feet to yellow, dabbling bill, he’s a well decorated flier

One of the activities my wife and I do most consistently beyond chores is walking on our local Greenway. This is where we saw the ducks. Only a few moments later, my wife was asking me what kind of tree was beside the way. This got me to looking up a little more than usual. Though I do like to look up in the trees, I usually do it more when sitting or lying. As the picture reveals I saw a little different variety on a large oak trunk near the path, a few feet above usual line of sight. I told my wife to come back and see it. She exclaimed and gave it wider berth. I stayed behind to snap a few pictures. I had more close up pictures but black is black and the context of trunk and path seemed more informative.

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For perspective: approximately 4 1/2 feet Black Snake

I am thankful to God for occasional brushes with small joys in nature and relationships and comforts to keep life interesting. Catalog your small joys like the old hymn says: “Count your blessings; name them one by one. Count your many blessings; see what God hath done.”

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In my years of teaching Earth Science, I have discovered that one concept seems to tie more physical phenomena together than any other. Frequently it is the cause of what is observed and often it is the connecting thread between interactions of matter and energy. So I thought to give a few examples of why it is so often the correct answer to questions in Earth Science:

Earth Science is all about density
What will go up and what will come down
That convective cell propensity

Uneven heating of the atmosphere
Solar gain and wind and pressure change
Forced aloft forms clouds, sinking air clear

Heat, salt, and wind stir up the oceans
Many upwellings from the great deep
Gyres and thermohalocline motions

Far below the roots of the mountains
Plates form rifts, volcanoes, and trenches
Float on plastic and magma fountains

In the stars war gravity and fusion
Caldera of rarified plasma
Spots and flares in boiling confusion

Thus mass divided by volume seen
In many small and grandiose ways
And from its study much knowledge glean

 

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It was not a record snow. Those seem to be more in the neighborhood of 18″ in 1993, the 1960’s, 1925, 1911, or something, depending on whether you mean 24 hour total, storm total, and where exactly. Tracing such records is dizzying and hard to do. But a solid 14″ on the hard surface of my yard where there is gravel and scant, short grass is good enough for me.  I have a picture of it when it was 13″, because the 14″ measurement picture was blurred by condensation on the lens.

I think that one of the changes with age is my way of enjoying the snow. Some people don’t really seem to enjoy it unless they are sliding on it. I, too, used to love to do that on anything slick: sled, shovel, skis, shoes (boots really, but I couldn’t resist 5 s’s in a row).

But now I like most of all to take a long walk to the point of fatigue and take pictures of anything that looks beautiful or unique. I find much peace and exhilaration mixed together when it is snowing. It is quiet and yet screams at the senses, bright and yet darkly overcast, beautifully sculpting and yet messy, sanguine and yet melancholy. The wind, flakes, and sound absorption isolate you and yet your neighbors come out to greet you and lend a hand if you are stuck.

I apologize to my friend whose picture I took, twice. It seems that the snow flake that I did not see and obscures part of the clock was inconveniently on his face moments later. I walked 2 miles over to his apartment and then we walked a mile back up into town. We are both school teachers and don’t have anywhere we have to be at the moment.

I am thankful to God for hearing my prayer for it to not rain last night, since that would have certainly caused significant flooding. It melts away slowly today, running down the gutter at the bottom of my driveway. It was a beautiful, big snow.

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The Homeplace draped in liquid lace

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It’s hard to keep firewood dry.

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I had a better picture of this, but the flash reflecting off of the snowflakes was a pleasant surprise.

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It really was 14, later.

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Wind Sculpting

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Nice contrasts

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Working hard for a day off!

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Companionship is always good.

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It looks intense.

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Good architecture shines even when covered.

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In a small town near you

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Iconic, Historic Courthouse

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Go, but not too fast

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No one in attendance this week

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I forgot to tell him to turn off the flash.

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Snowtime

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“I moved down from Wisconsin to get away from this.”

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We have a few pieces of snow equipment in our small, Southern town.

Decorated Snowy Lightpole

Pass Go, collect $200, and have a Merry, White Christmas.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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Ready for a hike even on a damp day

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Every little stream full to overflowing

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Hi-ho, hi-ho!

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I like to slow it down a little

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Plenty of water

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The crew at a destination

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

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Leon and Chuck

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

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

 

Emily with me in background

My Niece’s Photo Bombed Selfie

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‘Crazy Uncle’ Cascade

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The sky was so blue you would have thought we were out West. The day was just barely long sleeves cool in the shade and balmy in the sun. With the low humidity rock friction was good. The wall pictured has very obvious ripple marks which were probably laid down during the Flood in loose sand, lithified then tipped. It is the type of climb that is challenging because of the small holds rather than the need for significant strength. It is not really that hard since it is on a positive slope, but you never quite feel like you are secure because the holds are small. I would not attempt to lead it for that reason. For me this has been a year of recovering from injury, so climbing at all is amazing and climbing decently is even better. I picked my way up this climb and completed it in one try. By contrast, on a later climb I struggled with strength moves up half way and then the holds became so small I didn’t even know what to reach for next. I was totally shut down. I find climbing to be both exhilarating and humbling. I always enjoy the conversation with my climbing partner, who is a growing, young believer in Christ, an avid outdoor enthusiast, and an intelligent engineer.

Noel Rap BF

Rappelling after a climb. Deep blue skies!

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In the moss of my backyard

The trees in my backyard usually sustain moss green until the heat and shade of June, but this year it has remained green even until late October. As I write it is raining hard yet again. The miniature scene above shows a recent mushroom popping up through the moss into a spot of sunlight even as leaves begin to fall off of the willow oak. I don’t remember seeing this type of mushroom before with the yellow rim. It was bright yellow when the fruiting body first began to open. I readily understand the attraction of bonsai scenes. The small detail of lush greenery is fascinating and beautiful. 

I am so thankful for eyes to see dark blue skies, ripple marks on rock, moss and mushrooms and all. The Creation is only a dim shadow of the beauty of our God and one day we who belong to Him will see Him.

Frederick Faber says it well in his hymn “My God How Wonderful Thou Art”:

“How beautiful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!…

Only to sit and think of God—
Oh, what a joy it is!
To think the thought, to breathe the name—
Earth has no higher bliss!.

Father of Jesus, love’s reward!
What rapture it will be
Prostrate before Thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on Thee!”

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