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Posts Tagged ‘Random thoughts’

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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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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Over the weekend my neighbor came over to share a photo album of his recent vacation. Several relatives took him to the beach, a pier to fish, a battleship, and out to eat several times. He was very excited explaining in his broken, repetitive speech about the beach and waves, a fish he caught, the large shells and big guns of the ship, and pancakes he had. You see, my neighbor has an IQ of around 80. His experience of life is very simple and concrete. (He is also the best neighbor that I have ever had.) The thought occurred to me as he talked that his excitement sounded very similar to that of a young child. Subsequently, I considered that me or some very intelligent person is little different compared to God’s infinite intelligence, perception, and power. We are all enjoying the beach like young children in our level of perception compared to God. But are we all enjoying it with the simple excitement and thankfulness of this neighbor of mine? As I considered it further this morning, I thought about the 4 things our society values: riches, intelligence, beauty, and athletic ability. Those are gifts to be thankful for, but frequently they bring their own problems because we think these gifts somehow come from us. We would be best off without these gifts if we are going to misuse them. And we would be best off not alive if we don’t know God through His Son.

I’d rather be a bear of little brain
Thankful, content, and partially sane
Than one of high intellect and profane
Ungrateful, unbelieving and inane

I would rather be an ugly duckling
Humble and kind, always listening
Than one gorgeous, proud peacock strutting
Self-absorbed and manipulating

I’d rather be a spastic water boy
Team player, play maker, full of joy
Than the stud and star that’s all a ploy
To be in the lights, a lonely alloy

I would rather be poor and struggle hard
Thankful and content though often jarred
Than be filthy rich and on my guard
And by greed and retribution marred

I’d rather be a believer in God
A servant, humble though roughly shod
Than a skeptic agnostic, oh so mod
Separated eternally from God

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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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Pastor preached on Proverbs 27:17 this morning: “Iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.” He spoke about the need, purpose, and process of believers helping each other grow spiritually. I enjoy extending metaphors, which requires care not to come up with analogies not there or elsewhere delineated in Scripture or life. The usefulness of such an enterprise may be to help those who hear to further understand the importance of the concept portrayed by the metaphor.

Why does the Scripture say iron sharpens iron? That has long bothered me, because anyone who has sharpened a knife or tool knows that you use a whetstone, grinding stone, or ceramic sharpening tool which are harder than the tool.  And such tools existed. I Samuel 13:20 records the desperation for Israel when “all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe.” These events were more than 300 years before Solomon wrote the proverb. For that matter, why shouldn’t I use modern technology, the diamond sharpening stone?

The proverb is a metaphor for fellowship and discipleship within the congregation of believers. God doesn’t give us any other choice. We must sharpen each other. And we are not back at the castle. We are in the battle, so the grinding wheel is not an option. We go to our brother, cross swords in a mutually beneficial way and come away sharpened for more battle. Fellowship is the non-optional, God-ordained means for being honed to battle readiness.

Those who want to exclude themselves because of “hypocrites in the church” or “I can worship in nature” just fine or “all I need is Jesus” are dull or more likely twisted and unbalanced weapons. The problem is everybody wants to be sharp but nobody wants to be sharpened. When you are sharpening a blade, one swipe of the finger near the edge will reveal why so few want to be sharpened. Your finger will come up with a dark gray dust from the sharpening process. Sharpening removes material. Bad material and excess material must be removed from your life. It can be painful and humbling.

For some it’s rust from lack of use or exposure to corroding influences that needs to be removed and is hindering the cutting edge. For others, it is good material, all be it not according to faith or God’s direction, that needs to be removed to reduce the fat edge of dullness.

When two materials of equal hardness are used to do the sharpening, material is removed from both edges. Discipling and being discipled means involvement in another person’s life with all of the mutual messiness and need for honing away spiritual dullness.

And some of us are more of a mess than others. I own a double bladed axe. The way that I came into ownership of this axe goes back to the beginning of my wood heating days. I borrowed this axe (first mistake) to split some of the first wood I cut. While attempting to split some very twisted forks, I got several wedges stuck in a piece. I used the axe to attempt to get the wedges out (second mistake). I bought the axe, that is, I replaced the friend’s axe and kept the broken one. The strike took out a half-moon divot in the blade about the size of your thumbnail. In years since I have used the good blade to split and the broken blade when risking to remove wedges or cut roots near metal or concrete. No other sizable divots have been removed but the the edge has been bludgeoned a few times. I have tried for years to sharpen that divot out of the blade. For the longest time my efforts were to no avail, but now, years later, that blade is reasonably sharp while still having somewhat of a dent in the edge. It took years and that blade is possibly an inch shorter than the other one. That blade is me. The difference is that I have multiple divots. God has had to work for years to grind away the dullness of my spirit due to sinful habits and difficulties of life. I still show the scars and I’m not the sharpest tool in the box, but neither am I who I was. And much of that has been because God has used brothers and sisters in my life to remove rust here and dullness there. I doubt seriously that I will be admired as a shining blade of perfection, but I do pursue a cutting edge pursuit of God in the battle of life. And for that I give Him all of the praise.

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When my pastor was leading the Lord’s Supper yesterday, he spoke of the Savior’s perfections, making mention of His impeccable life. For those who have read my blog for some time, you know that words and thoughts can set me off. Words beginning in “im” and “in” began to pour into my mind concerning all the ways that Jesus is perfect. The only one that didn’t come to me was inimitable, but I was looking for an “i” word that means perfect to use in the title. I came home in the afternoon and wrote the following poem. I have provided definitions below to help you.

His impeccable life
On display to see
His impervious character
The reason it could be
His invincible power
Makes His enemies flee
His indescribable wisdom
Totally beyond me
His indefatigable grace
Has set believers free
His incomparable mercy
I praise on bended knee
His interposed blood
Rescued His church, we
His inconceivable love
In salvation the key
His infinite existence
The great I AM is He

Inimitable-so good or unusual as to be impossible to copy; unique
Impeccable-in accordance with the highest standards of propriety; faultless
Impervious-unable to be affected by
Invincible-too powerful to be defeated or overcome
Indescribable-too unusual, extreme, or indefinite to be adequately described
Indefatigable-persisting tirelessly
Incomparable-without an equal in quality or extent; matchless
Interposed-place or insert between one thing and another
Inconceivable-not capable of being imagined or grasped mentally; unbelievable
Infinite-limitless or endless in space, extent, or size; impossible to measure

 

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I know people that don’t know how to play and others who don’t how to work. I like the addition to the old saying by Maria Edge recorded in Wikipedia, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy; all play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.” Keep me far from both kinds of people, because for the one you will constantly have to pull their weight and the other will perpetually be a weight to your spirit. Upon reflection, however, I think that knowing how to work and knowing how to play are both learned. So perhaps I should feel sadness for someone who doesn’t know how to do either or both. And for my part, I have erred on too much of one or the other in times past. Not that I have the perfect balance now, but I find that when work is over done either by compulsion or by obsession, play is frequently the tonic. When the indulgence is too much play it loses its savor, because change of pace and relief from work are largely the reasons and pleasure in play.

Yesterday and today were examples of when I went after each one in its appointed time.

Yesterday I went bouldering. I had not been climbing in a month and wanted to go ever so much, but life gets in the way sometimes. I didn’t climb particularly well, which is to be expected when I don’t do it often. My climbing partner had not been for a longer time, but we both tried and celebrated our little successes. During a break we were sitting in the sunshine listening to water trickling over pebbles beneath the nearby boulder and admiring the large trees around us. It was probably below 40 degrees, but we were heavily clothed and the thin overcast did little to obscure the warmth of the sun. There was no breeze and we sat mostly in silence much of the time. Later I observed that I think that I needed the excuse of going climbing today to be allowed to sit in the woods and be quiet. I did enjoy climbing and succeeded at several problems; I enjoyed the conversation; most of all I enjoyed the winter woods in hibernation and the rest it gave to my soul.

Today I set aside for attacking the huge job of cleaning the leaves off of my three quarter acre lot, knowing full well that it was only a start that I was going to make and not a completion. Usually there is little reason to start this chore before the New Year because willow oaks are reluctant to shed their leaves. This year they came down several weeks earlier because a heavy, wet snow pulled them down as it sloughed off in the wind and warmth. I had previously blown some leaves away from the back of the house, so today I began by hauling 10 loads on my painter’s drop cloth. Next I climbed up on the roof and blew the gutters out with the leaf blower and did the same on my neighbor’s roof. Our growing season is long and grass frequently grows even through parts of winter. Leaves in high grass are very hard to get up. I mowed back and forth pushing the leaves in one direction. Periodically I stopped the mower and raked up leaves onto the drop cloth. I trimmed branches and cut down dead flowers and hauled downed branches. I surprised myself and finished the whole front yard and 30 feet away from the back of the house.

Why am I recording all of this work and play? Who cares and why would I care to remember? Well, my blog is more about me reflecting on life than having a following, though I hope that you may benefit from my musings and ramblings. I am reminding myself that I value working hard and playing hard and sleeping well, because I think these are right and good and I am thankful to have the strength to be able to. And when I pause to think about it, I hear the encouragement or admonition, depending on my frame of mind: “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) I hope that I have and hope that you and I will in the New Year.

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Bright day, Boulder, and a Buckeye tree

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Reaching for the topout hold

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