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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

…and probably the final beach trip of 2018 for me. It was both profitable to my mind and invigorating to my emotions. The previous initial visits, I walked the beaches by myself. I took lots of pictures of the surroundings. Then I went several times with people and took pictures of the surroundings, except I did take several pictures of my wife when we went. This last time I realized that I wanted to get pictures of my newfound, fast friends. Fast has two meaning here: 1) quickly gained, and 2) firmly fixed. Because of the circumstances of meeting these friends, that is, at a seminar in a state far from either of our resident states, it seems somewhat unlikely that I will see them again. On the other hand, since God orchestrated these meetings and good fellowship with them, He may intend for it to happen again.

The horseshoe crab was, sadly, dead. I tried numerous times to take a picture of the flag unfurled just so. This close-up is the best attempt. It had a particular aesthetic appeal with the tall parallel lines of the Palm trees surrounding it and the foreboding thunderstorm backdrop. The foreground Palm trees increased the effect. Sometimes I don’t know how to take a picture of what my mind’s eye is seeing. Perhaps the mind is perceiving more than the light reveals. One of the guys and I went swimming. After just a few minutes it started raining. Wet is wet, right? Well, no, not really. Rainwater is cold, and this time of year, refreshing. But then there is the cellphone and camera sitting on the beach. I managed to wrap them up in my towel and tuck them under my arm so that no harm was done. I should get a waterproof camera for all of the humid and wet days I take pictures. Then I could snorkel with it as well. Speaking of wet, I had a student ask me facetiously if water is wet. My reply was not always. You see, water beading up on a well waxed car is not wetting the surface, so it isn’t wet.  Flying birds among the hardest things to take pictures of. There is so much going on in one cycle of the wings.

I experienced the beach more this summer than in many years past, and I saw things in terms of wildlife and thunderstorms that I had not seen before. It was icing on the cake of learning new things at seminar and meeting new friends. God is good all of the time. Remember His goodness in the difficult times by focusing on His character, on the promises of His Word, and on the good gifts of relationships with people, experiences, and things He has given you.

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Old Glory Stands

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Unfurled for Battle

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Eventide

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New Friends

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Swim anyone?

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More New Friends

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I just now noticed the curious pattern of shells around the horseshoe crab

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On the hunt but gliding with ease

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I came to Clearwater for the third out of four training sessions. I convinced one of my classmates to take a walk on Sand Key Beach after class. The weather was perfect for a walk on the beach: cloudy, raining offshore, stiff breeze. He and I had good, substantive conversation. We began noticing medium small conches in the shallow water. They were actually coming to shore and gathering in pods of 3 or 4, presumably mating. We witnessed one hopping along the bottom by a quick flip of its foot that propelled it forward 2 to 3 shell lengths. I had never seen that before, assuming that they scoot along the bottom by foot pressure in the sand. When I picked up one of the shells, holding it upside down to see what was in it, the gastropod (snail-like mollusk living inside the shell) kept extending its bony operculum and running it quickly halfway around the shell to snag my fingers. It didn’t like me holding it upside down out of the water. I also observed several burying themselves in sand in less than 30 seconds. They are amazing animals.

The next evening we gathered a couple to go with us to Honeymoon Island State Park. The beach is strewn with much more shell debris, washed up coral and seaweed, and rocks. I saw a mostly buried “rock” and mused to my friend whether or not it was really a rock. Pushing at the sand to dislodge it, a crab crawled out and back seaward. We found others. Their backs looked similar to limestone but with small projections on their backs. Just back from the beach was a large pond with hundreds of very small crabs scurrying  away as I approached.

My only regret is that I didn’t get into the water. We sure sweated quite a bit on our walk. But it was good to share the beach with new friends. I like new adventures, learning new things, and meeting new people. And I am thankful that God created all of it with beauty, complexity, and variety. One day He will make “all things new”. (Revelation 21:5)

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Godwit? Common Greenshank?

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Cormorant

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It’s alive!

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How do you identify varieties of coral?

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Just as I found them

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It is nice to see a live sea star

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It’s not a rock

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Abundant life

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Put me down!

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It leaves quite the impression

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I think that I like beaches on cloudy days better.

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I had asked my fourth born son to come to town one weekend and go for a hike with me. It has been a long time since I have hiked with any of my children. He decided to invite a friend from college days. Since it is summer, I thought it would be nice to visit one of our adventuresome swimming holes at the base of Babel Tower in Linville Gorge. It is a steep hike down for two miles. I love to stand on top of the tower, which sits in a severe turn in the river and look down at about 60 degrees to the right and then the left to see the upstream and downstream legs of the river. After we looked around, we went down to the river where we swam, jumped, and sunned. My son waxed reminiscent about past trips that challenged and pleased us.

He said that he liked the other swimming hole we used to frequent better. We still have a lot of daylight; we could go to that one, too, he suggested.

So we hiked as quickly as we could back up out of the gorge. This brought on a discussion (when I had enough breath to talk) about how he and his brothers learned to hike fast, trying to keep up with dad. “I remember the very hike that it changed. You could no longer keep up with us. To be fair, my younger brother and I could not keep up with our older brother either.” But I am thankful to God that I can still hike, and especially since I had a knee injury seven months ago. I have not run since then and could not walk any distance or speed for many months because the back of my knee would swell. But this time I almost kept up.

We went on to Wiseman’s View and took pictures there and told stories. Then we started the car ride around the top end of the Gorge and down Hwy 181 to Mortimer Road and cut across to Wilson Creek in order to hike to Lower Harper Creek Falls. There are few swimming holes so versatile as this one. There are two pools separated by a gentle cascade that you may slide down seated. In the middle of this cascade is a pothole of four foot depth and diameter that the water swirls around in. You can stand in it and even submerge into an airspace under the falling water to hide. The upper pool is narrower and deep with a forty foot waterfall coming into it. Along side the falls you can run off the steep incline at about twenty-five feet up and hit the pool beyond the sloping rocks. The water is quite cold, but the rocks warm up nicely in the afternoon sun.

My son wanted to do everything that we “used to do”. I figured out that between the swimming and jumping and eight miles of hiking to three locations that I was exhausted. On top of that we took very little for lunch. My wife had a three pound roast and plenty of vegetables prepared when we arrived home. There were very few leftovers after three hungry men ate supper. I am thankful to God for the mountains and the health so far to enjoy them, the memories we have of playing there, and the opportunity to show them to others. I need to do more of that.

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I wonder if this is where the Babel Tower separated from the Gorge wall.

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Friend from college days hopping around on the Tower

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Hawk’s Bill and Table Rock

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Beautiful day for a hike with friends

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Upstream of the Tower just below the swimming hole

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Frequently you can see people on top, but I don’t today.

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The Tower has 100′ cliffs on one side and another 100+ foot drop to the river beyond that.

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Deep pool, various jumps, current, decently cold water

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It has been a wet season

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from Wiseman’s View

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Lower Gorge with Shortoff on the far downstream side

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Brings back memories; makes new ones.

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Lower Harper Creek Falls

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The cascade into the lower pool

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The way in and out to the upper pool

 

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Let me begin with a few excuses: 1) not much time, 2) more than normal rainfall, 3) injury, and for good measure 4) wasn’t sure it was worth it. My wife had asked me to weed the flower beds in front of the house several times. I must confess that the only thing that got me motivated to actually start was the avoidance of another chore I detest more, scrapping paint. Now that I’ve blown my cover about a few of my procrastinating personality flaws, here is the point I considered while yanking crabgrass leaders out of the soil.

Weeds run deep. They grow fast. Ignoring them makes their removal harder. Weeds can choke the life out of things. Apart from poison that contaminates everything, the only way to prevent weeds is to replace them with desirable plants that leave no room for weeds.

I have another flower patch that has very little weeds in the middle of it. Weeds have no room for roots and very little sunlight. The various kinds of lilies simply grow too close, having produced more bulbs with each passing year. I will not be thinning them because I don’t have to weed that area. English gardens make more sense, with their crowded beds of profusely blooming flowers. Undesirable weeds just can’t take root in this environment.

It is the same way in our lives. It is not enough to root out something unprofitable or wrong in our life. We must replace it with something better, more desirable, healthier, God-pleasing. Otherwise the weeds will return all the faster in the cleared, well-tilled ground we just cleared.

It reminds me of what Jesus said, “When the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and not finding any, it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and takes along seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26) What Jesus states is in the more extreme, related to demon possession and salvation. But even for those of us who are already saved by His grace, we need God in every area of our lives filling up the void spaces, working righteousness in us, teaching us prudence, kindness, and discipline. Our lives filled with the good things of the Lord are far less likely to be encroached upon by the seedier tendrils of sin and unbelief.

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Weeds all gone

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Totally gone

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Dead azalea, too

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A transplanted daylily (not the one in bloom) and a Purple Speedwell

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A Gayfeather and White Speedwell with volunteer Cala Lily in between

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spreading Purple Verbena

Now that I’ve begun to clean the inside of the cup, I guess it’s time to spruce up the outside as well. Oh, I hate scrapping paint.

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I like the beach. I like the mountains better. I like change of pace, newness, different, interesting. It is the beach this summer since I have to go there four times this summer for training. I don’t really get to spend large amounts of time at the beach (which is OK (See sentences 1 and 2.)), but it has been enough mostly because it has been varied and beautiful.

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Sunset at Sand Key Park, Clearwater, FL

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Almost looks like smoke coming out of chimneys

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Small craft upon the main

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The sunset years?

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A moment of quiet contentment

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Real crusin’

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Practicing or Protecting or Both

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The warm glow and cool breeze

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This scene reminds me of a William Cowper hymn (see below)

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Taking it all in

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Glow

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Afterglow

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The Airbnb where we stayed

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Eyeing each other

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Florida Softshell Turtle (A. ferox)

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Shade is good

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House of William Horton

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Ready to make a stand

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Hiding out in the shade

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It’s alive

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Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, GA

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Old Plantation Live Oak

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Sidney Lanier Bridge

Following is the hymn by William Cowper that I referred to in the picture caption above. When all you see is the rain pelting down, remember both that it waters the soul and bespeaks of God’s kind and bright mercy:

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

The glow of the sunset high up in the clouds is exhilarating. You most usually can’t see thunderstorms from a distance and entirely in the wooded mountains where I live. The beach affords a wide view. You can watch the rain and lightning and billowing heights and still get to your car before it hits. Frequently in the woods a thunderstorm is on top of you before you know it. Reflection upon God is similar; it requires distance from all that obscures reflection on Him. We need to find perspectives from Scripture, in meditation, surrounded by quiet, reflecting on God’s providence in our circumstances in order to again absorb His beauty and peace in our hearts.

William Horton came to Jekyll Island in 1736 with a land grant of 500 acres, 50 of which was supposed to be in cultivation within 10 years for him to retain the deed. This ‘big house’ was, no doubt, built years after first arriving. There are many more big houses of the rich who owned most of the island in the late 1800’s until WWII when it was evacuated. In 1947, Georgia acquired the whole island and administers it as a state park with natural, historic, and commercial areas. It seems to have a good balance. We may have much to learn by this experiment about how to administer other parts of the planet sustainably. We are, afterall, stewards on God’s behalf, and not owners of this Earth.

There was an old plaque under the ‘Old Plantation’ Live Oak that must have been at least 50 years old. It said the tree was estimated to be 350 years old. That means it was a fair-sized tree when William Horton arrived, very possibly a young tree when the settlers came to Jamestown, and definitely a maturing tree when the Declaration was signed. It helps to withstand the hurricanes that must have hit over time that the branches grow back to the ground to support the whole tree and that the tree grows on the inland side of the island. I want to be an oak firmly planted by the waters of His grace (Psalm 1).

The Sidney Lanier Bridge that spans the Brunswick River was named after the former bridge, which was named after the Georgian musician and poet of the Civil War era. The bridge is cable-stayed where all deck supporting cables come straight from the towers as opposed to a suspension bridge where the cables hang vertically from larger cables hanging in a catenary between towers. More frequently the cable-stayed design is used now because it is lowered cost initially and maintenance than a suspension bridge and now possible for long spans with new, large equipment to set it up. Man loves to design and order things, a characteristic that points to God’s image in him.

All of creation from thundercloud to beach to ancient tree to crab to the designs of mankind give glory to the Great Designer-Beautifier God, Our Creator. We may take great joy in enjoying and working in His grand terrarium/aquarium (Earth). He has put us here to acknowledge Him in doing so.

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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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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

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