Notes on the weather

I’ve heard a lot of jokes about how much it rains in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve told a lot of those jokes. For a decade we lived in Boise, Idaho at the northern end of the great American desert, and traveled regularly to Portland, Oregon, where our conference office was located. At the time, my sister lived in Portland and I used to collect jokes about the wet weather.

“I once thought I saw a Portlander with a tan, but I realized it was rust.”

“Bicyclists in Oregon have to take precautions to avoid dying from drowning.”

“If you live in the northwest, any day in which the mist slows so that you can see across the street is a sunny day.”

“Did you hear about the guy from Seattle who invited his girlfriend to watch the sunset with him? She couldn’t understand the invitation. She’d never seen this mythical thing called a sun.”

I could go on and on, but I don’t think you want me to.

The truth, however, is that we have just had three days in a row with truly cloudless skies. Spring weather has been beautiful and we have enjoyed being outdoors, taking walks without jackets, and driving with the windows down. I commented to Susan the other day that it was interesting seeing some of our neighbors, who have lived here longer than we, being forced to mow their lawns when it isn’t raining. Being a newcomer, so far I haven’t mowed my lawn in the rain, and it still seems strange to me that my neighbors do.

Clear skies mean dramatic views of the mountains. The big mountain around here is Mount Baker, a 10,700 foot volcano. It is an active volcano, but we haven’t seen any of that activity. It has been covered in snow all of the time we’ve lived here. We haven’t yet driven up to the ski resort on the mountain, but it must have been incredible skiing there in recent days with blue skies and unlimited visibility. Since you can see Baker from the coast, I’m sure you can see the ocean from the mountain.

Many of our friends who live here speak frequently of the joy of living in a place that has access to the ocean and the mountains. I have to admit that the scenery is beautiful. I am frequently struck with a sense of gratitude that I get to live in this place and see such gorgeous views.

We were frequent visitors to the Pacific Northwest for all of the years of our active ministry. We have had family in Oregon and Washington for all of our adult lives. This has been one of the most common areas in which we vacationed when we were working. Our career, however, led us to drier places and we didn’t mind it a bit. Despite growing up with some prejudices about the Dakotas, we really enjoyed living there. Our Black Hills home gave us reasons for joy every day. It was a great place to live and work and play.

One of the things that we have been learning in the past few months is about the importance of wetlands in coastal areas. There are huge fields that were covered in water back in February. They appeared to be lakes, covered with swans and geese. When we drive by those same fields today they appear to be grasslands with no lake in sight. I know, however, that if you were to walk across those fields you’d better have you waterproof muck boots on and you might struggle to walk as it is. You wouldn’t want to drive in such a field. You’d become hopelessly stuck.

The rapid transformation of the land from season to season was a problem for early settlers to this place. Indigenous people were amazed that European settlers wanted to locate the city of Seattle in the place they chose. The boom town soon discovered that it had a tremendous water problem. Eventually they filled in a lot of the area with soil hauled form other places. There is a tour offered in downtown Seattle of the underground areas that once were at ground level before they built up the city.

There are several places that have boardwalks through wetlands so that people can visit and explore the areas. There is a lot to see, with muskrats and beaver and hundreds of birds. When we walk by Tennant Lake, we get glimpses of Eagles and Osprey fishing in the shallow waters. There are all kinds of plants that are not familiar to us. Water skimmers slide across the surface of the water. And when it is clear, the view of the mountains is spectacular. We have a lot to learn about the wetlands and the creatures that live there.

There is beauty in other places we have lived that we miss. I can close my eyes and remember the amazing sight of thunderclouds moving off to the east with rainbows stark against the black sky as the sun draws low on the horizon behind me. It is a sight we won’t see in this place. We have mountains to the east, and I realize I’ve lived most of my life on the eastern slopes of the mountains. My perspective is reversed here. But there has been great beauty in every place we’ve live and I feel most fortunate to have had a life’s journey that has taken me to such different places.

So, it doesn’t really rain here every day. We have days of sunshine and blue skies. Perhaps we appreciate those days more than we did when we lived in Boise, where clear skies are constant and rain falls only about 5 days each year. I’ve been trying to come up with a few jokes about the weather in the Dakotas, since we lived there so many years, but the weather itself seems to demand a certain sense of humor. The cold air was blowing over the hills yesterday and snow was falling in our former home. I’ll probably notice those days when it is beautiful here and snowing there for a while.

A moment of pride

For more than four decades I had a job where people praised me every week. There is a tradition in many churches of the pastor standing at the door of the church to greet worshipers after a service. In the days before Covid, people would line up, shake my hand and give me a greeting. I enjoyed the contact with the people I served, and the immediate feedback on the work that I did. Every week there would be some one and most weeks there would be many people who said a word of praise about the worship service that I had planned. It gave me confidence about the work I did. It probably also skewed my sense of self worth. I know that such a practice can make it more difficult for one to see mistakes and the need for change. I didn’t worry. There were plenty of channels for negative feedback and I got a fair share of that as well. I hope that I maintained some sense of balance throughout my career.

Then I retired. Suddenly the feedback stopped. I no longer have a line of people waiting to say, “Nice sermon, pastor.” It isn’t just the feedback I miss. I miss the people. Like many others during this pandemic, my contact with others has shifted dramatically, but I think that the process of retirement has made my shift a bit more dramatic than what has been experienced by some other people.

My life, however, still has some moments that I treasure and that remind me of how I am connected to others.

Yesterday, we met our son to go for a walk during a break from his work. He often has long days with meetings in the evening and I know that experience well. Sometimes, however, it is possible for him to walk away from his office for a little while and it has worked on several occasions for us to meet him to take a walk. We are getting to know the neighborhoods around the library and beginning to feel at home. As we walked, he stopped at the post office to drop off an envelope that needed to be mailed. We waited outside and he came out talking to another man, who lingered for a while at a safe distance. He was asking our son questions about the library - a recent remodeling project, when patrons will be allowed back in the building, the rebuilding of staff following pandemic lay offs, and more. I felt a surge of pride as I witnessed our son as a professional engaged in serving his community and receiving feedback from a library patron.

Later we returned to the library. A woman was standing outside her car in one of the library’s curbside delivery spaces. She told us that she had forgotten her cell phone and didn’t know how to let the library know she was there to pick up her books. Our son introduced himself, got her name and ran into the library and returned with her books. As he made the trip inside, we told the woman we are his parents. She told us about how important the library has been in her life. She is recently widowed after a long period of caring for a husband with dementia. She told us how the library staff were always so kind to her husband, how they helped her find the right books as his mental capacities declined. The children’s librarians helped her find books and movies that entertained him. Now, after being alone for a few months, she decided to adopt a puppy and she needed some books on training a dog. She called the library and found help getting the books she sought.

It is a really good feeling to have a stranger tell you how important the work your son does is to her and to the community. In a community where we know almost none of our neighbors, it is an ego boost to walk around town with someone who a lot of people know and respect.

One of the blessings of life is having meaningful work. I didn’t always think of that when I was engaged in the day to day struggles of balancing work and family and a need for a bit of personal space. Now that I have retired, I am well aware of how fortunate I was to have been continually employed in a job that contributed to my community and gave me real joy. Over the years I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who felt stuck in their jobs. They didn’t enjoy the work they did, but didn’t know how to make changes. They needed the income and so endured unpleasant work experiences. It was very different for me. I enjoyed the work I did and felt that my work was meaningful and the daily challenges of the job kept me engaged. Now that the time has come for me to retire, I miss my work. I’m not unhappy being retired, but retirement makes me feel especially grateful for the work I had. At this stage of my life it doesn’t feel like it would be a burden to return to work for a while and I may do so after we get settled.

Now it is particularly gratifying to see our son engaged in meaningful work. I am amazed and proud of the work that he does and moments like yesterday when I am given the opportunity to see his impact in the community are treasures.

I was young and new in my career when my father died. He never got to see much of the work that I did. I know, however, how proud he was of my education and my graduations. I remember the sparkle in his eye at my ordination. Now I understand it in ways I could not at the time. I hope that our son and daughter will one day have the joy of seeing their children find meaningful work. It is a family legacy far more valuable than the kind of wealth that is measured in dollars and cents.

Just the right age

I suppose that farmers weren’t the primary consumer in mind when fitness trackers were developed. I’ve already written about my fitness tracker in my journal, so here is a quick update. Yesterday, worked on the farm. I set eight posts. Each post is set in 80 pounds of concrete, so for each I had to carry an 80# bag from the garage to the post hole. In addition, I constructed the fence, carrying rails and pickets from the garage to the site. I shoveled sod into the wheelbarrow and dumped it in an area where additional soil was needed. I traipsed with hammers and levels and other tools back and forth between the shop and the place where I was building fence. When the posts were set, I put away all of the tools. After finishing that project, I came home and showered. I took off the fitness tracker while I showered, so I know exactly how many minutes of exercise had been recorded. After my shower, I sat and read for an hour, did a bit of desk work and then grilled burgers and hot dogs for supper. I had supper with my wife and our son and his family. I played with the kids for a bit after supper. I washed the dishes and read a bit more. At bedtime, I took off the fitness tracker. It recorded exactly the same number of minutes of exercise after the shower as it did before. I’m pretty sure that flipping a few burgers and sitting down for a leisurely evening felt like a lot less work that building a fence. The distinction between work and working out is something that never occurred to me before I got the device.

I think that one of the best features of the watch that has a fitness tracker is that it allows me to laugh at the technology I use and my own desire to have certain technological items. Somehow the marketing of the devices captures my imagination enough that I purchase them. I don’t have the latest and greatest. My new computer is nine years old. I recently read an article about a program that was seeking donation of computers to be refurbished for seniors to use. The program accepted only computers that were newer than eight years old. So I figure that my computer is not quite as up to date as the computers that are donated by businesses and individuals because they have become so old they must be replaced. I’m very happy with the computer I have. Someday it will fail and I’ll figure out how to replace it. In the meantime, I’m happy to do my work with a less-than-state-of-the-art computer.

For what it is worth, the watch with the fitness tracker isn’t the current series. I received an email suggesting that I should upgrade to the latest release.

There is little satisfaction of ownership that comes from upgrading. I had an item. I spent a lot of money and now I have the item. The idea doesn’t appeal to me at all. I’m no luddite. I like gadgets and I have a lot of them. How else could you explain the watch with the fitness app? On the other hand, I’m well aware that I can’t keep up. Furthermore, not keeping up leaves me happy and content. It seems way less frustrating than it would be to always have to keep replacing things to have the latest and best.

Years ago I would see car ads promoting leasing instead of buying cars. The slogan they used was “New every two,” meaning that every two years one car is exchanged for another. It takes me more than two years to remember how to set the clock in the car without having to get out the instruction manual. I’d probably just leave the clock on standard time year round if I had to get “new every two.” I recently had the oil changed in our car and was struck by the service adviser who used the expression, “On old cars like yours . . .” Our car doesn’t seem old to me. A year ago I was driving a 21-year-old car with 290,000 miles on it. This ten-year-old car seems quite new and fancy to me. I prefer to think of it as our new car despite the way the service advisor sees it. After all, I can remember the days before there was such a thing as a service advisor. In those days the mechanic who worked on your car probably also pulled the parts from the bins, prepared the bill and collected the money. In those days I paid by check or cash. I didn’t have a credit or debt card.

Then again, I know that I seem incredibly old to my grandchildren. Sometimes they humor me by asking me to tell them stories about the old days, by which they mean the days when their farther was a little boy, not the days when I was a little boy. And, since I did the same to my grandpa, I know plenty of stories about when my father was a little boy. Occasionally one of those stories strikes them as amusing. I’m not sure that they know that I wasn’t around when Laura lived in the little house on the prairie.

It seems to me that there are a lot of good things about being the age that I am. I no longer feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. If a program at our church doesn’t succeed, I’ve seen other programs come and go. If my clothes are out of fashion, I don’t notice, so I don’t care. If my understanding of technology dates me, I don’t mind being dated. I still have the blessing of my health. I can dig post holes and build a straight fence line. I can load bags of concrete at a faster rate than the store employee assigned to “help” me.

Most importantly, I can laugh and myself. And, as my grandchildren will tell you, I’m a pretty silly guy and there is plenty to laugh about.

Lethal force

As I parked my car in the grocery store parking lot last night I noticed a car parked next to mine had a face mask hanging from the rear view mirror. I’m not sure why it caught my eye, but at first I thought it might be a dream catcher or some colorful feathers - common objects hanging from rear view mirrors in many cars back in South Dakota where we lived for many years. This was a colorful face mask, however, and it seemed like a convenient place to put a face mask. We carry extra face masks in our car, and I often remove my face mask as I slide into the driver’s seat. I don’t like things hanging from my rear view mirror, however, so sometimes I place mine on the dash board. More often, I slide it into the center console.

I probably wouldn’t have thought much about it except the news of the fatal shooting of a black man by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota is being covered by nearly every major news source and part of the coverage is that the man who died called his mother as he was pulled over by police and said that he had been pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror.

It is important to note that I do not know what happened in that tragic event. The investigation is not yet completed. I choose not to watch the video clips that are circulating on the Internet. I’ve witnessed enough trauma in my life to be careful about what I watch. I don’t need to see someone getting shot. I live in a place distant from those particular events and I will reserve judgement for the time being.

What I do know is that in many states there is a law prohibiting hanging items from the rear view mirror. The law is intended to prevent items from obscuring the vision of the driver. It seems like common sense than anything dangling in the windshield could present a danger. I also know that people have been hanging everything from fuzzy dice to air fresheners to dream catchers to face masks from their rear view mirrors and the practice has been going on since before I obtained my driver’s license.

I also know that police officers don’t go into the profession because they want to have the job of enforcing little rules like whether or not someone hangs an item from their rear view mirror.

Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters in a news conference that Daunte Wright was fatally shot after an officer meant to use a Taser, but mistakenly drew her gun instead. According to news reports, the officer yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser” - standard police procedure before firing a taser - just before the shot was fired.

I have no idea how a 26-year veteran police officer, who received recurrent training in the use of firearms and tasers, made that particular mistake. Officers have to make very rapid judgments and learn to act quickly and decisively under tension. They are also human beings who experience fear and panic and who make mistakes. And when a person carries lethal force as a tool of one’s occupation, a mistake can be fatal as is painfully and terribly evident in the story as it has been reported.

I know that a 20-year-old man is capable of making poor choices and that the fear of being pulled over and questioned by armed police officers can cause someone to react poorly to the situation. People often attempt to run away from police officers even though doing so doesn’t result in getting away and usually makes the situation worse.

I have many friends who are police officers and sheriff’s deputies. I’ve invested years of my life as a law enforcement chaplain. I know that there are some very good and honorable people who have chosen law enforcement as a career for some very good reasons. I also know that for a law enforcement officer, the choice to carry lethal force includes accepting the possibility that one will use lethal force. Having a gun on your duty belt means accepting the responsibility that you might one day kill another human being. Regardless of the circumstances of such an action, doing so is a drastic and traumatic event. There is an argument that can be made that the use of lethal force is sometimes necessary and that killing a person can be the best choice in certain circumstances. People imagine that weapons will only be used to prevent further violence and death. They think in terms of saving lives, not taking lives. A car driven at or over another person can be a lethal weapon. Fleeing the scene of an investigation can be an act of violence and cause danger to innocent people.

In the second it takes to unholster a weapon and squeeze a trigger a life was ended. A family is plunged into grief and trauma. A community is set on edge and violence spills out into the streets. An officer’s career is effectively ended. It is a high price to pay for the enforcement of minor traffic violations.

As I drove home from the grocery store I observed a vehicle failing to stop before making a right turn on a red light. The vehicle pulled out in front of my vehicle close enough that I had to brake and take evasive action to avoid a collision. I also observed a vehicle changing lanes without signaling, another with a brake light that was not functioning properly, and several vehicles traveling in excess of the 25 mile per hour speed limit on the street. I don’t know if the person driving the car with the face mask hanging from the mirror removed the mask before driving. I am not convinced that our society requires officers wearing body armor and carrying lethal force to respond to those violations of the law.

Reading the story of the end of the life of Daunte Wright breaks my heart.

A Walk in the Park

Just south of Ferndale, Washington is a public park called Hovander Homestead Park. Whatcom County purchased the park from the Hovander family and opened the park in the early 1970’s. It includes about 350 acres with a huge barn and a big house. There are gardens, an orchard, and a few animals are kept, including ducks, geese, rabbits and goats. There are two observation towers on the property which give great views of Mount Baker and the northern cascades when the weather is clear. Part of the property lies alongside the Nooksack River and it extends to the southwest corner of Tennant Lake. There are several miles of walking trails and we occasionally stop at the park to walk when we are on our way home from visiting our son and his family at their farm in Ferndale.

When we first started visiting the park, waterfowl season was open here in Washington and the part of the trail system that marsh and peat bog near the lake was closed to walking for the safety of visitors. There were plenty of other places to walk, so we continued to visit. On Saturday when we stopped to visit we decided to explore the now open trail that leads to the lake. It was a delightful treat.

There is a large loop of boardwalk that extends across marsh, swamp, slew and wetlands to the shore of the shallow peat bog lake filled with water lilies. The water is relatively high this spring and there are several places where the water is nearly as high as the boardwalk so it feels like we were walking right on the surface of the standing water. We had a clear spring day and there were no mosquitoes around when we took our walk.

It was a reminder of just how different this part of the world is from the other places where we have lived.

I don’t know much about the Hovander family story except that they were immigrants from Sweden who purchased an existing farm with a couple of log cabins in the 1890’s. In the early 1900’s they built the large house and barn on the property. The wood for the house was soaked in linseed oil for two years before it was used. The barn was originally painted with a mixture of oil and red clay. These treatments of the fir and cedar harvested from nearby forests resulted in preserving the wood and the integrity of the structures that appear to be in very good shape.

As we walked the trail, taking delight in discovering the newness to us of the area and the differences from the other places we have lived, I thought a bit about the family whose name remains with the park. They left behind familiar country in Sweden to come to a very different place than they had known. They didn’t hav the advantage of developed trails and constructed boardwalks. If they wanted to explore this corner of the property they would have had to wade through heavy muck. I suspect they saw the Tennant Lake corner of the property as largely useless for their farming, though it may partially dry out enough to permit some grazing in the late fall. Even the rise and fall of the levels of water in the river are strange to us. The river is low at present. The snow in the high country has not yet started to melt. But the river was very high in the middle of the winter when creeks and rivers in other parts of the country are running low. It will take us years to learn about the seasons in this place.

I wonder what challenges the Hovander family encountered as they learned to live in their new place. One of the interpretive signs says that Hokan Hovander was originally a brick layer. He must have had to learn new construction techniques to build with the materials available in the Pacific Northwest. There are no bricks in the house. There are no fireplaces. The house was one of the first homes in the area designed with a central heating system. Every room of the house has multiple doors that can be opened and closed to direct heat throughout the house. It was seen to be a very innovative design for its time. Clearly members of the family adapted and learned new ways of living in their adopted home.

Our move from South Dakota didn’t require the hardships of those who came more than a century earlier. We were able to move directly into a modern home with heating and plumbing and all of the convinces to which we were used. We didn’t have to learn new skills to grow our food. Shopping for groceries here is pretty much the same as it was where we lived before. We’ve had to find our way around a new town and make some new relationships, seeking new doctors and other service providers, but it is unlikely that we will be faced with the challenge of building a new home from scratch in order to have a place to live. Our gardening will be pretty tame compared with what was required of the folks who pioneered in this place.

All of us, including the Hovander family, are newcomers compared to the indigenous people who lived along the coast and in the foothill forests of this region. They understood the rise and fall of the water and knew where to build structures and where to fish and gather food. Much of that indigenous knowledge was ignored by settlers who might have benefitted from native teachings. We hope we are being a bit more wise, talking to locals and exploring the area a bit before choosing a house in which to settle. Nonetheless, I’m sure we’ll make all kinds of newcomer mistakes, some of which may amuse those who have lived here a long time.

In the meantime, we are taking great delight in exploring the area and finding new places to walk and explore.