November 2022

News you may have missed

With all of the news in the world, I hope that you have been keeping track of an important competition that is taking place in Qatar. I am referring, of course, to the Qatar Camel Mzayen Club’s Camel Beauty Contest. Organizers are calling it a “camel beauty world cup.” Camels from the Gulf states are taking part in this important competition. You can tell that they are serious because of the care that has been taken to prevent cheating. Abdallah Mohammed Andib, head of the medical committee, told a BBC reporter about some of the lengths owners will go to in an attempt to win. Owners will use botox injections, fillers, and silicon to enhance the appearance of their animals, but the medical committee examines each camel carefully to detect signs that the animal has been altered. Cheaters have been caught and expelled from the competition.

Many people in other parts of the world don’t understand the seriousness with which camel beauty contests are undertaken.

The story reminds me of a tale told several years ago by a friend. Before the Covid pandemic my friend loved to travel. She set out to take a memorable trip with each of her grandchildren when they reached their teen years. She and her granddaughter set out on a grand tour of the Mideast including visits to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. They visited important biblical sites, Mount Nebo, and Petra, the ancient city of rock featured in the film “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” As they traveled, they met many local people including bus drivers, tour guides, and vendors selling various items to tourists. At one point she was talking to a young man who was trying hard to speak English though it clearly wasn’t his native language. He complimented her on her granddaughter, saying, “Your daughter is very beautiful, no?” She agreed, and made no attempt to correct the generational shift from granddaughter to daughter. He then asked, “Has anyone offered a camel for her?” Thinking that he was talking about an opportunity to ride on a camel, she responded that they had not yet received such an offer, but they might be interested. This was very interesting to the young man who began to talk excitedly, only to reveal to my friend that he wasn’t talking about a camel ride, but an offer of a camel as a bride price to marry her granddaughter. Once she realized what he was talking about, she embarrassedly found a way out of the conversation. She returned from her trip with this wonderful story that she has told many times and has been repeated by her friends, including me.

I have had the joy of traveling with our children to many interesting places, but we never made a trip to the mideast. I did purchase a ride on a camel for our daughter in Australia, but I don’t think she would report it has a high point of her visit to the continent. She found camel riding to be a bit smelly and uncomfortable for her. I, on the other hand, thought it was quite fun, though we only rode the camels around a loop in an enclosed corral. No one offered to exchange a camel for my daughter. I found out rather early in her life that she would be making the decisions about who she would date and that she had no interest in an arranged marriage. And I have to admit that she has made a very wise choice in the selection of her husband. 11 years into their marriage, they enjoy each other very much and are very good parents for our grandson. We’ve grown to love our son-in-law and appreciate his wonderful nature.

I am thinking that a beautiful daughter is worth much more than a beautiful camel, but then again, I don’t really take camel beauty contests as seriously as they are regarded in Qatar.

If you aren’t into camel contests, you might be interested to note that the world’s largest collection of Pokémon memorabilia was recently up for auction at Hansons Auctioneers, a highly respected sales house for antiques and fine art. I don’t think that Pokémon characters are antiques, so they must be fine art. I’ve bought a few bits of Pokémon items for our grandchildren on occasion. We visited Japan twice when our daughter lived there and we saw several shops that sold only Pokémon items. I never got into Pokémon games and don’t know the names of the characters, but I guess to those who are really into it, a collection of items is quite valuable.

However, bidders at the auction of the world’s largest Pokémon memorabilia collection apparently didn’t think that the collection was as valuable as the owner’s estimate. The 20,000 items, including games and action figures was expected to bring up to £300,000, did not reach its reserve and so was not sold. The seller has said before the auction that a few sentimental items were not included in the lot offered for sale. According to the auction house, the collection included trading cards, video games, manga, films, posters, toys, action figures, books, and even toilet paper, with items from the UK, US, France, and Japan. It was presented as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the single largest collection of Pokémon memorabilia that has ever come to the market”.

Apparently buyers decided to pass on the opportunity. The owner, who was selling for financial reasons, still has her collection and, I guess, is strategizing on how it might best meet her needs. I’m not sure what happens next when the collection fails to sell at auction. I suppose the owner could consider breaking up the collection and selling it in smaller lots, though 20,000 items might take a lot of time and effort to turn into cash. There could be a lot of negotiation required to move all of the items.

I wonder of the owner would consider a trade for a beautiful camel. There might be someone willing to deal - especially if the Pokémon collector doesn’t know how to check a camel for botox.

Seeing freshly

I haven’t written much about my cousin Russ in my journal, though I have mentioned him from time to time. Like every human being, Russ was a complex person and the danger of writing about him is that I will fail to tell the story accurately because I am only able to tell part of it. It would take a book and more to tell his story and I’m not the kind of writer who can produce that kind of a book. And there is at least one book that tells part of his story. Liz Carlisle wrote a book that is in its second edition that tells quite a bit of Russ’ story. Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America is the title of her book about how a few small farmers refused to follow the ways of corporate agribusiness. Unlike the chemically based food chain that produces grain for the profits of a few at the top of the pyramid and huge debts for everyday farmers who are forced to continue to get bigger and bigger in order to survive, a handful of Montana farmers began to experiment with heirloom seeds and lentils grown to enrich the soil. My cousin Russ was one of those farmers. And he was successful at what he did, producing organic food and turning away from chemical fertilizer.

That, however, is a story for another time. I’ve been thinking of my cousin Russ the last few days because of some other parts of his story. Everyone who knew Russ knew that he loved auction sales. He had a way of seeing things that others thought were junk and thinking of ways that that junk could be used. He was able to do work with machines that others had abandoned. He knew how to go to a sale and come home with usable machinery and parts for small amounts of money. He also was willing to buy a bucket of miscellaneous metal in order to get a single usable wrench. Auctioneers loved Russ. He bought things that others would not buy.

When I am working on a project at our home or at our son’s farm, I often end up running to town to purchase parts or supplies. Russ didn’t think that way. He looked around his place and figured out how he could find a workable part on a machine in the yard, or make a part from supplies he had on hand, or invent a work around that allowed him to keep working without the missing part.

There were plenty of other farmers who couldn’t understand Russ’ ways. His father, also a farmer, didn’t like the growing collection of junk on the place. Some of his neighbors didn’t like the weeds that migrated from one field to another. A few of those who criticized him thought that he was old fashioned because he didn’t have new equipment and didn’t drive new vehicles. He made his own repairs and didn’t have the service technicians in their mobile trucks come to visit his place.

It turns out, however, that Russ wasn’t old fashioned at all. His way of sustainable farming and the things he learned about how to produce food are at the forefront of the building of a new future for American agriculture. It is becoming increasingly clear that the large fuel and chemical dependent farms are not sustainable. Plants that enrich the soil are more effective than chemical fertilizers. Growing grain for alcohol to use as fuel is inherently inefficient. A more direct route from the farm to the table provides food for more people with less profit for a few already rich people.

Russ had deep respect for those who had gone before. He invested hours of careful listening to Blackfoot elders and others who had lived on the land before the coming of settler farmers. He paid attention to the way that previous generations used machinery to solve problems. He understood his roots. But he also was a man of the future, exploring new ways of solving old problems and always thinking about the future of the land.

I guess that the season of Advent is a natural time for me to think about Russ and his ways. Because in this season we are called to think about the new that is coming. We often proclaim the new by reaching deep into the traditions and symbols of the past. We use ancient language and we practice rituals that have been practiced for generations. The message of the season, however, is that we are not called to the repetition of the same old ways and practices. We are being invited into something new that is emerging. For us the birth of the Christ child is not an ancient event long past, but rather a call to the future and an invitation to envision and work for peace and justice that have eluded previous generations. It is a complex story not a simple set of slogans.

It is a story of hope.

Some people look at my cousin’s farm and what they see are relics of the past - broken machines that have not worked for decades. Some people see a mess that needs to be cleaned up - truckload after truckload of scrap iron that should be hauled to the recyclers. A few folk look at the farm and recognize the future emerging: a future less dominated by corporate greed powered by an increasingly short supply of fossil fuels and more sustainable for the long term. There are different ways of seeing.

Advent for us is about exploring different ways of seeing. Some people look at the coming climate crisis and see mass starvation, pandemic, and millions dying of pollution. Some people took at it and see a problem so big that they feel powerless to act. A few folk, however, see opportunities to discover new ways of living and new ways of caring for others. They see the possibility of justice for those who have long been oppressed.

My cousin Russ challenged me and others to look again and see freshly. Advent is a season of looking again and seeing freshly. May I approach this season with eyes wide open.

How long is it?

I have a measuring wheel. The one I have isn’t the most accurate measuring tool, but it is good for determining approximate distances. The device is fairly simple. there is a wheel that you roll along the ground that turns a digital meter displaying feet traveled by the device. It is useful for ordering fencing materials, planning landscaping, and other measuring tasks. Children are interested in the device. It is fun to measure distances to get the size of objects in your mind. Yesterday, I was talking with some of the children in our church about how long different things are. I used a tape measure to measure the length of my finger and the length of my arm. I pointed out to the children that my 25’ measuring tape would be difficult to use to determine the length of a train car. I have a 100’ measuring tape, which is long enough to measure a 50’ or even a 60’ train car, but the measuring wheel makes the job a bit simpler than laying out the long tape and then having to wind it in.

Surveyors, builders, and others who make accurate measurements of large distances have modern measuring tools such as lasers that help them determine how long various things are.

However, I pointed out to the children, a good measuring tape, a measuring wheel, or even a laser is useless in determining how long certain things are. For example, if I ask, “How long will the sermon be?” no measuring tape will help us determine the answer. For that we need a clock. I had a simple wall clock to illustrate my point. Of course some of the children in the group do not know how to tell time with an analog clock that displays time with hands that rotate around a dial marked with 12 numbers. There is a bit of skill involved in using the device. It isn’t automatic to know that when the minute hand is on the four it indicates 20 minutes - the amount of time often allotted for a sermon in a mainline protestant church. Of course that assumes that the sermon started at the top of the hour, and unlikely scenario.

Even if you have a clock and know how to read it, you don’t have a way of knowing about things that take a very long time. For example the question, “How long until Christmas?” is hard to answer with a clock. I suppose I could make a way to record how often I wind the clock in my study, which has to be wound once a day. It will need to be wound 27 more times before Christmas. But the more conventional way of determining how long in the case of the question about Christmas is with the use of a calendar.

Had I put out the measuring tape, measuring wheel, clock, and calendar and asked an adult, “What do these things have in common?” I wonder how many would come up with the answer, “Each measures ‘how long?’”

I use a lot of object lessons when sharing time with children in worship these days. I suppose object lessons have often been a staple in children’s sermons, but the growth of hybrid worship during the pandemic has heightened my awareness of the need for items with strong visual images when addressing children in the room while at the same time addressing children online. I often remember the pioneering television work of Fred Rogers when planning the time with children for our worship services. For 31 seasons, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood was a staple of children’s television programming and the use of puppets combined with live actors created stories that were engaging for children of a wide age range. Mr. Rogers, however, did not work with a live studio audience. He was able to plan his programs exclusively for a television audience. That meant that video could be edited and a finished product produced from multiple takes of a particular scene or story. The time with children in our church is a bit more complex. We only get one shot and it needs to appeal to children who are in person in the room as well as those who are participating online through livestream. It also will be watched as a recording at a later time by some of the children.

And every experienced children’s pastor knows that the time with children is a critical time for communicating with adults as well. It is the one time in the worship service when everyone is paying attention to the presenter. The time with children often has the function of being an introduction to the scripture for adults as well as an engagement of the scripture with children. I am not sure that I appreciated the complexity of the experience when I was serving as a senior pastor and many weeks’ children’s times were led by others. My wife, Susan, is extremely gifted with the art of presenting children’s times to congregations. I have learned a lot by watching her over the years.

Being allowed to lead the time with children several Sundays in a row is a special treat of this phase of my career. There are weeks when it is my only worship responsibility, so I have time to think of that part of the service with careful attention.

When we stop to think of it, we know that not all time passes with equal impact. Ten minutes to get to the gate at the airport doesn’t feel the same as ten minutes of drilling at the dentist’s office. A year is a very long time for a three-year-old. It seems much shorter to his 60-year-old grandpa. The same person that will camp out overnight to wait in line to purchase tickets for a concert will complain about how long it takes a microwave oven to heat up a cup of soup. And we all know that you can’t measure the length of a pastor’s sermon with a tape measure.

Advent begins

There is a storm blowing outside. the rain is almost horizontal as it hits the northwest corner of the house. the forecasters were fairly accurate in their description of the weather that was building up offshore yesterday. Last night the clouds were dramatic as the winds moved the front overhead. It isn’t cold enough for snow here, but I have no doubt that there is a raging blizzard up in the mountains. We’ve lived in this house for more than a year now, but we still don’t know the weather that blows in from the sea. We walked down to the beach yesterday but it was before the winds really picked up. The gray sky had a few breaks between clouds and the ocean had a silvery color as small waves broke on the shore. I’m guessing that it is a lot more dramatic right now with the winds whipping up the waves. The National Weather Service has issued a Gale Warning, which means winds of 34 to 47 knots are imminent or occurring. Mariners have been advised to seek safe harbor and remain away from the open seas until this evening.

The ten day forecast says we’ll get a brief respite between storms on Monday and we could see snow by Tuesday or Wednesday. It doesn’t snow very much here and the snowfall will be light. Most of my neighbors don’t have snow shovels and they don’t feel a need to have them. I kind of enjoy shoveling my walks, but you have to do it pretty quickly. The snow rarely lasts more than a few hours before melting.

I’m ready for the weather. I have my rain gear. I have regular bibs and insulated bibs and a winter parka should chores at the farm demand my working outdoors, but that is unlikely. The chickens won’t venture out of the coop during the storm and the cows are likely to stay hunkered in the barn. The kids are set up for heavy weather, with plenty of water in the barn and they can feed hay by dropping bales from the loft into the feeding stanchions. A little rain and wind won’t keep us from driving to church this morning.

It is, after all, the first Sunday of Advent. Those of us in the northern hemisphere have grown to associate Advent with winter. It makes sense to use to begin the year with a season of longing for more light and warmth. It seems natural to have the time of waiting be a time of sitting by the fire and dreaming of spring planting, knowing that it will be some time before we are digging in the dirt again. In the flow of the seasons of the Christian calendar, the new year begins with watching and waiting. We tell the stories of a young mother eagerly, but a bit fearfully awaiting the birth of her first born. We recall the stories of our waiting for the birth of our children and grandchildren. We read the words of the prophets who longed for generations for one who could usher in a time of peace.

Critics of Christianity are quick to point out that they see no sign that the prince of peace has come. Ours isn’t an age of no wars and justice for all. It isn’t a time of equity among people and loving support among the nations. Theologians argue about eschatology and a second coming, but people of faith know that there is still more for which we are waiting. We look for signs of hope, peace, joy and love, but we know that the complete fulfillment of the vision has not yet come.

Advent reminds us that we are not in control of the timing. Advent invites us to practice waiting.

I’ve long exercised my imagination in times of waiting. A catalogue from a seller of dahlia tubers arrived at our house last week. I’ve been designing new dahlia beds for our backyard in my mind for weeks now. Last year’s blossoms were delightful and now that the plants have been cut back and the tubers are waiting to be dug in a week or so, I can dream of even more blossoms in the year to come. We’ve still got just a few fresh tomatoes from this fall’s crop and I am already imagining where we will plant the tomatoes next summer.

Of course I don’t have all of my fall chores done. I’m better at imagining things than I am at finishing tasks at this stage of life. My rainwater collection system should be filling the barrel with all of this rain, but the diverter isn’t installed and the stand for the barrel is still at the shop at the farm. I’ll get it finished, but won’t be working outside during the storm. One of the blessings with getting older is that I have patience not only with the undone tasks, but also with myself. I am not as frustrated with the times of sitting in the rocking chair and day dreaming as i was when I was younger. When someone hands me our youngest grandson, there seems to be nothing more important than rocking the child. Other chores can wait. Of course one of the reasons his parents hand him to me is that they have chores that cannot wait. They have busy lives with lots of things to do.

I also have things to do, but I have developed an appreciation for waiting. Our grandchildren are eager for Christmas to come. I am happy to just wait for now. I know that Christmas will come soon enough. I’m in no rush to push the calendar forward.

I know that the family of our church will bring many different attitudes to the season of Advent this year. Some will have all of their decorations up and will be deep into baking and planning parties and gatherings. I’m content to wait and to take things one step at a time. I want to savor the days. I have time to sit and watch the storm from the windows of my house. The chores will be there when I am ready. I’m at home with the waiting.

Generic Indians?

I grew up in Crow country in Montana. Our family home was not within the current boundaries of the Crow reservation, but in a place that once had been part of territory officially reserved for the Crow people. Like many tribes, the name is a loose translation of a word in their language. They call themselves Apsáalooke, also spelled Absaroka. We grew up knowing a few Crow people who lived off reservation and we traveled to the reservation for Crow Fair and when our high school basketball team played at Lodge Grass.

In Montana History class, I learned that there are seven reservations in Montana. East of the Crow Reservation is the Northern Cheyenne. The Flathead Reservation is north of Missoula near where my Aunt, Uncle and Cousins lived. The Blackfeet Reservation nestles next to Glacier National Park and the other three reservations, Rocky Boy, Fort Belknap and Fort Peck all are also along the high line in the northern part of the state. Somewhere along the line, I learned that there were more tribes than reservations in my home state. We were aware of Little Shell people who lived in the Great Falls area. At some point, I learned the names of the tribal nations: Assiniboine, Blackfeet, Chippewa, Cree, Crow, Gros Ventre, Kootenai, Little Shell, Northern Cheyenne, Pend d'Oreille, Salish and Sioux. I knew that there are 12 tribes, but I can never name all 12 unless I look them up.

What I knew from the tribal members we met in our town and later when I went to college is that each tribe is different. Apsáalooke don’t want to be considered to be the same as the Northern Cheyenne or the Lakota. Their heritage comes from Hidatsa roots and they were historic enemies of the Sioux. Stories about counting coup and stealing horses are part of the local lore.

My friends who are tribal members taught me not to think of such a thing as a generic Indian, but rather to learn about the tribes and tribal history. Later, when we lived in North Dakota, not far from Standing Rock and had frequent reasons to visit the Affiliated Tribes - Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara - up by Lake Sakakawea or the country of the Turtle Mountain people up on the border, I learned the differences between those particular tribes. In North Dakota I learned more about the Spirit Lake Nation who were neighbors of my father’s family when he was growing up in Minnewaukan.

I also learned a bit about one of the largest tribes in North America: the wannabes. My indigenous friends had little respect for non-natives who wanted to pretend that they had indigenous roots. My native friends never asked me to be anything except who I am. They respected me for my non-native roots.

We lived for 25 years in South Dakota where the Pine Ridge reservation was in the county next to ours and we had partners on the Cheyenne River reservation. It still bothers me when people speak of Indians as if it were a monoculture and as if all tribal members were the same. I know that there are some awesome intertribal gatherings, and I was present during part of the Water Protectors gathering at Standing Rock when tribes from all over the United States gathered, but I have always been careful to speak of individual tribes and individual cultures.

When we moved out here to the Pacific Northwest, I became particularly aware of the differences in the languages of the Coast Salish people. Lummi words don’t look or sound like Lakota.

Yesterday, however, I began to re-think my previous thoughts about generic Indians. I’m no expert, and I can’t speak for other people, but I am becoming more aware that there are connections between indigenous people that transcend individual tribal affiliations. I had previously known that off-reservation Indians live a different life than those on the reservations. I also know that tribal members tend to find other members of their own tribe when they are living off of the reservation. Lakota people might be from Pine Ridge, but there is a substantial population of Lakota people in Oakland, California and families travel back and forth between relatives in both places. And I know that there are all nations gatherings in the cities. But I don’t think I have been as aware as I might have been about the ways in which tribal members find each other when they are off of the reservation and how there are connections between tribes that are made outside of the reservations. The event that got me to thinking yesterday was a concert in celebration of Native Americans that was held in Bellingham. We know one of the performers and looked forward to attending. It was a fun event with plenty of good music and storytelling. I had hoped that it would be an occasion to learn more about the Coast Salish Tribes and perhaps a place to make some Nooksack and Lummi connections. There was a Lummi teacher and storyteller at the event, but the other two performers were not from local tribes. Our friend is Lakota and her family is from Pine Ridge. Another performer is Blackfeet from Northern Montana. They spoke of their tribal heritage and their indigenous culture as being distinct from that of the wider society, but somehow similar to one another. It was as if there was a “generic” Indian culture that was being presented at the concert.

Maybe the passage of time and the increased number of people with mixed heritages is resulting in the blurring of the lines between individual tribes, especially in urban settings. Out here, nearly all native people live off-reservation. The reservations are very small and the people are scattered. As they tell their stories and preserve the remnants of their culture as a minority, maybe tribal distinctions are not as important as they once were. Maybe the days of plains tribes, who ate a diet of buffalo and who couldn’t imagine why coastal tribes would eat fish are fading.

I don’t know, and it isn’t for me to decide. For now, I will try to learn as much as I can about individual tribes, customs, languages and cultures. I’ll listen carefully to the stories. But I’m keeping my eyes open to see if there are more generic Indians in my neighborhood. I bet I can still tell the difference between them and the wannabes.


We have a very large refrigerator. Our new home boasted “updated” appliances when we bought it. I’m not sure what that term means, but I guess that somewhere between the time the house was built and the time we bought it, new appliances were installed. The refrigerator is so large that it actually protrudes into the kitchen by a few inches. You can see the depth the cabinet designers intended for a refrigerator, but this one is even bigger. I can go on and on about how newer appliances are not better than older ones. When we sold our house in Rapid City, the refrigerator and stove were 25 years old and we had fewer problems with them than we have had with the updated appliances in this house. More features means more things that can go wrong. We will probably have to replace some of the appliances in this house over the years, but for now, we have this very large refrigerator, which is a good thing because we have a lot of leftovers.

We tried not to go overboard with our Thanksgiving dinner. We knew that there would be only three of us this year. Our son and his family are visiting his wife’s grandmother this weekend. So we were careful to select a small turkey. There were a few chickens in this year’s batch of meat birds that were as large at this turkey. There are a few Thanksgiving foods that are tradition for us. I baked rolls. I always do and rolls are important because we love turkey sandwiches as leftovers and nothing makes a turkey sandwich quite the way that home made rolls do. We had cranberry sauce. The canners of the sauce helped us with the leftover problem by packaging the sauce in smaller cans. I think it was a way of raising the price, but it was strange to note the smaller can. We could have bought cranberries and made our own sauce, but when cooking for only 3, canned cranberry sauce seemed to make sense. Two yams seemed like a reasonable amount for three people, but with all of the other food we had, there is a large container of leftovers. The cupboard in our house that is full of plastic containers for leftovers was searched for just the right size for salads and sides and other foods that were on the table.

I don’t know how to make only one pumpkin pie if one is using canned pumpkin. The recipe on the can is for two pies. Making two was no more work than making one. Three people plus two pies means leftovers.

We love leftovers. It simplifies meal planning. A turkey means that we’ll have turkey soup early next week. We’ll have turkey sandwiches with salads for lunches for a few days now, which suits us fine. The baby loves mashed sweet potatoes, so a small container will be frozen for use when they return. And there will be enough for sweet potato patties for a meal. We’re pretty good at avoiding food waste. Still, it helps to have such a large refrigerator.

Part of our Thanksgiving tradition includes speaking with family members on the phone. We called one of our brothers and put him on speaker phone as we put the meal on the table. He had eaten Thanksgiving dinner earlier in the day and reported on the feast they had shared. His wife is not a fan of poultry in general, so roasting a turkey isn’t her idea of a celebration meal, but he was included in a big meal a work and leftovers were sent home with him for his wife.

Sharing an abundance of nutritious food is part of most celebrations in our family. We are fortunate to live in a place where gardening is easy. We still had fresh tomatoes from the garden for one of our Thanksgiving salads. The chickens at the farm provided plenty of eggs for baking. Local bees supplied the honey. The grocery stores around here have ample supplies of a wide variety of foods, and we have sufficient income to not have to scrimp on trips to the grocery store.

Our celebration included a real “day off” mood as well. We planned our dinner for late afternoon so that we wouldn’t have to get up early to prepare. We looked at a few email messages and I put a couple of supplies aside for Sunday’s time with children at church, but we basically didn’t work. The day was bright and clear and farm chores didn’t take very long at all. Feeding chickens and gathering eggs is another celebration of the abundance of food in our lives and watering livestock is as easy as turning on a tap. The dog loves the farm and got a few extra tosses of the frisbee yesterday because I was in no hurry to finish the chores. The beautiful day invited a walk along the beach and the company was just right for meaningful conversation. Having my sister means sharing memories and we had a wonderful childhood, so sharing memories means sharing a lot of laughter and pleasant feelings.

Another symbol of abundance at our household is in the large vegetable drawer of our refrigerator. Earlier this fall, when we visited with a cousin in Montana, he gave us one of the largest zucchini I have ever seen. Susan has made at least three batches of zucchini bread in the past few weeks and as we were arranging leftovers in the refrigerator, we noted that we still have more than half of the giant vegetable remaining. I’m pretty sure that zucchini soup is in our near future and Susan has a really good recipe for zucchini soup.

I remember when we were first married and I used to keep a mental total on the items in the grocery cart as we shopped to make sure that we didn’t exceed our budget. A can of olives or some other extravagance might go back on the shelf before heading to the checkout. We still notice the high price of groceries and are sometimes surprised by the prices we find, but we rarely hesitate at the grocery store. We have a well-stocked pantry and food in abundance.

Knowing of the real hunger that is part of our community and a daily companion of too many people, it is good for us to be aware of the abundance in our lives and our need to share. We really could get along with a smaller refrigerator.

Giving thanks

When I was growing up our family had a few Thanksgiving decorations. Most of them were hand-made by children, “turkeys” made out of the drawing of the outlines of our hands and painted as a school project. We also had wax figurines of pilgrims, which were made as candles, but never burned as candles in our house. They came out each Thanksgiving and were placed on the table as part of the decorations for our annual feast of turkey, dressing, cranberries, potatoes and other foods. It wasn’t just our family that had those wax figurines. Susan can remember them from her childhood thanksgiving celebrations as well. We have joked about those Thanksgiving candles that perhaps they were “issued” to Congregational church families.
Our thanksgiving celebrations usually included some form of the telling of the “first” thanksgiving. The story as we used to tell it usually included the story of the sufferings of the 102 Mayflower passengers, who arrived in November - too late to plant crops. Many settlers died of scurvy and malnutrition during that first winter. Only 44 survived. Those who did survive did so only because of the kindness of the local indigenous people. Squanto, a local Indian who had been kidnapped and taken to England nearly a decade before, served as an interpreter with the local tribes. He taught the Pilgrims how to plant and how to fertilize with dried fish remains. In the summer following that first terrible winter, Massasoit, the chief of the nearby Wampanoags, signed a treaty of alliance with Pilgrims. In exchange for assistance with defense against the Narragansett tribe, Massasoit supplemented the food supply of the Pilgrims for the first few years. That fall, the Pilgrims held a harvest festival after the crops were brought in. Massasoit and about ninety other Indians joined the Pilgrims for several days of celebration, dining on venison, goose, duck, turkey, fish, and cornbread. This tradition was repeated and became our annual Thanksgiving celebration.

The problem with that story is that it is likely that it probably is not accurate. Certainly the Pilgrims didn’t all wear black hats with a buckle. There are all kinds of details that we have imagined to be part of our Thanksgiving tradition that are the result of embellishment of the story. The treaty between Massasoit and the Pilgrims was signed. As far as we know, it was never broken. There probably was some kind of celebration. It probably did involve food.

The Pilgrim Hall Museum, however, has no record of that feast. The first recorded religious day of thanksgiving was held by the Plymouth colony in 1623. The crops were failing due to a severe drought. William Bradford wrote, “Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress.” That same evening it began “to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God . . . For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.”

It is likely that the early Pilgrims held a long religious service - perhaps 3 hours or more, during which prayers were said and Psalms were read. At the end of the service there was probably a communal meal in which everyone shared.

If those early settlers were honest in their prayers, they would have included prayers of thanksgiving for the generosity and support of the Massasoit people. The settlers were a bold lot, but they must also have been deep into grief. Only 44 survivors remained. Yet none of them deserted the colony when the Mayflower departed for England after that first winter. They were courageous and dedicated. They were also dependent upon the generosity of the Massasoit and their gifts of food.

I was born 332 years after that summer of survival for the Pilgrims. I cannot trace my family line to those people. Rather, I am an inheritor of the church that they founded. I have never lived anywhere near the New England states where Congregational churches are in every town. My Thanksgiving traditions have come from many different places. Chief among my thanksgiving prayers, however, are prayers for my life having been blessed by indigenous people, who have taught me a great deal about the truth of our shared history.

It has been seven years since Rev. Norman Blue Coat died. His funeral was in November. Norman was such an incredible leader in the Dakota Association. He never missed a funeral. He was always there for those who were grieving. He put more miles on more cars that barely ran. He never lost his sense of humor, no matter how hard times got. Norman would sit quietly listening through hours of meetings and then, as the meeting was winding down, say a few words that were filled with so much wisdom, vision, and humor that we all sat up and took notice. I miss him. I’m glad I was fortunate to know him.

Many mornings, I linger for a few minutes in a chair by the fireplace and wrap myself in a blanket for my early prayers. That blanket, a Bemidgi Trade Blanket, came from a give away. Many of the quilts and other blankets have been passed on to others, but that one has remained in our family. It helps me remember many indigenous people who have shaped my life, Ray and Rose and others too many to name.

I am constantly telling stories about Byron, the gentle quiet lay pastor who simply and carefully served his people with gardens and chickens and a wind generator and a quilting project and the horses. Byron had such patience with horses, and with the people who learned from him how to work with them. It was Byron who invited me to inipi, and shared its cleansing ceremonies with me.

Matt tried so hard to teach me Lakota words and concepts. I was such a poor student. But he always had a joke and a laugh. Covid ended his life, but nothing can take his presence from those who loved him.

there are so many other stories - too many for the words of this essay. My experience is vastly different from the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. Like them, however, my life has been enriched by the generous gifts and the wisdom of the elders of the indigenous people of this land. Before the feast, my Thanksgiving begins with prayers of gratitude for having met so many descendants of the first inhabitants of this land.

Lets talk

The conversation is becoming so familiar. Yesterday morning we were talking with volunteers working on a project at the church. One is the mother of a high school student and a middle school student. Another is a retired teacher. The high school where the son attends and where a friend of the retired teacher is principal had been locked down yesterday due to a phoned-in threat of an active shooter on campus. It turned out that there was no shooter and after a careful search by law enforcement, it joined another school in our county and one in the county to the south who had received the false calls yesterday.

The false calls are disruptive. They upset students beyond the day in which they occur. They fill parents with fear and dread. We know the routine. When a threat is perceived, the school is locked down. Parents are advised to stay away from the campus while officials conduct a thorough search to make sure that no real threat exists. What is often left unsaid is that all of us know that the threat could be real. School shootings in the United States are at an all time high. At least 257 shootings have occurred on school campuses in our country this year, surpassing the 250 total for 2021. We have seen the impromptu memorials. We have watched anxious parents awaiting news. We have felt the pain of entire communities as they lose trust in the ability of schools to provide a safe place for learning.

And, of course, it isn’t just schools. Last night it was a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, with up to 10 people killed and others injured. Saturday night it was Club Q in Colorado Springs with five dead and 17 wounded.

Active shooter drills are becoming a part of school for our children. It would be irresponsible to ignore the very real threat that is before our communities. Mass shooting events are so common in the news that we have barely learned the details of one before the next is reported. School shootings are an every-week occurrence in our country.

Mass shootings, while gathering the headlines, are only part of the tragedy of gun violence in our country. Individual deaths rip apart families every day. Hand guns are the most common weapon used in suicide in the United States. Suicide is the leading killer of teenagers and young adults. It is the leading cause of death of active duty law enforcement officers. It is the leading cause of death of military veterans.

It does not have to be this way. Other modern countries provide safe schools for their children and people are allowed to go about their lives without fear of becoming innocent victims. The culture of death in the United States makes a mockery of every so-called “pro-life” politician, who lacks the courage to stand up to the lobbyists of the gun industry. Common sense legislation like red flag laws and expanded background checks could make a difference.

Providing safety for our communities does not require hunters to give up their guns. It does not require an end to citizen ownership of firearms. It does require legislatures to place controls on firearm sales that are consistent with the existing interpretation of the second amendment of the constitution. It might eventually require a judges to have the courage to take a closer look at the constitution than has been the case recently.

The shooter in the Virginia Walmart last night was hardly a well regulated militia. The shooter at Club Q wasn’t a well regulated militia. The right of the people to keep and bear arms does not have to be infringed by the presence of regulations on the use and distribution of weapons.

One of the problems with the gun debate in our country is that we have lost the ability to engage in informed conversation about firearms. Those who don’t understand firearms call for absolute bans on categories of weapons without understanding how those weapons are used by those who participate in shooting sports and other safe and legal activities. Manufacturers and sellers of firearms use fear to promote sales. A common sense conversation about how the constitution can be respected and the rights it defends protected while at the same time providing the constitution-promised regulation that is necessary to the security of a free State is absent from the public discourse in our country.

We are better than this.

My neighbors who have NRA stickers in the windows of their vehicles are intelligent and thoughtful people capable of engaging in reasoned conversations. They have children who attend the public schools and they fear for their safety. We have the ability to disagree and continue to work together for solutions to complex problems. I who own no guns and have no need for weapons am not out to confiscate the rifles of my friends who are hunters or the handguns of the law enforcement officers who are close to me. I don’t think that we disagree that the employees and customers of Walmart deserve safety in a store where firearms and ammunition are sold. I don’t think we disagree that people should be allowed to go out socially and dance in a club without fearing for their lives. We are capable of thoughtful and careful conversation about real world solutions to gun violence.

We need legislators and judges who are willing to engage in those conversations without reducing the conversation to simple “either-or” solutions. We need representatives and governmental officials who aren’t beholden to big money backers who want to control their voices in debate and their votes on legislation. We don’t need holders of extreme views to be the only ones who write and propose laws for our states and nation.

We are better than this.

We are capable of engaging with each other to solve these problems. And yet we have been silent too often. We have feared the reactions of our neighbors when we should have spoken out. We have chosen sides when we are all in this together.

There have been too many deaths, too many tears, too much fear. Let’s talk.

Living the good life

Our son and his family are on a vacation trip. For many years, with a few exceptions, they have gone to San Diego to visit his wife’s grandmother at Thanksgiving time. It is a gathering of her family and the excellent weather makes a good break from life in the Pacific Northwest. While they are gone, we are checking in on their farm to make sure that things are in order. That means that for a week, I have farm chores. It isn’t much. There are two chicken coops that need fresh water and food and eggs to gather. The cattle need to have water and grain. I don’t have to feed hay, as a neighbor with a tractor is keeping a round bale feeder stocked. After the chores are done, we pop into the house to put away the eggs and make sure all is well with the house.

It seems like a small amount of labor in exchange for the supply of eggs that we receive from the farm. We also benefit from a full freezer when it comes time to process chickens and cows.

It happens that we are also caring for my sister’s dog this week. Cody is a 7 year-old Australian Shepherd and I have to keep myself reminded of his age, because he is a very fit and energetic dog. I walk him every day and most days I find an opportunity to take him to an open field and throw a ball or frisbee for him to fetch over and over again until he begins to tire a bit.

Australian shepherds were bred to help on cattle ranches, but Cody has lived on a ranch for only a short amount of his life. However he has the soul of a ranch dog. Whenever we go to the farm, he is immediately at home. I open the door of the pickup and out he pops. He checks on the critters, but he respects fences. The chickens will startle when he comes too close to their territory, but he pays them no mind. When the chickens are out ranging in the yard he never chases them. They are always in the coop these days after a predator attack resulted in losses a few weeks ago. The dog stays in the yard and doesn’t venture out into the street. I’ll throw the ball or frisbee for him a few times, but he allows me to do my chores without any problem.

When we walk the dog away from the farm, I have to be careful as he has a tendency to overreact and bark at garbage trucks, delivery vans, and other vehicles. He also can be a bit aggressive with other dogs, and I find myself apologizing for his barking from time to time. He is good on the leash, but he can pull hard - enough that Susan doesn’t feel comfortable walking him by herself.

I’ve taken to saying to people we meet when walking that Cody’s problem is that he is a ranch dog and I don’t have a ranch. It seems to be the truth.

He loves riding in the pickup and he thinks that he should be with me every time I drive it. He doesn’t seem to care about the car. He loads up into the truck without a problem whether we are coming from or going to the farm. I just open the door and say “load up” and he is in the back seat. He’d be in the front seat, but I’ve installed a dog barricade to keep him (and the mud, shed hair and other dog mess) in a controlled area.

I get the best deal through all of this. I get to play rancher, without having the problems of running a ranch. I don’t have to worry about the price of hay or the price of cattle. I don’t have to mend fences or treat sick animals. I can get away with skipping out on the day the chickens are processed. And I don’t have farm chores every day except for a week each year when our son and his family take a vacation. I can justify keeping my pickup truck and utility trailer because they really do contribute to the farm. I haul a few bales a couple of times each year and use my chainsaw to cut up a bit of firewood. They call small acreage places like our son’s “hobby farms” and the title is appropriate. It is enough space for a really large garden and a few animals, but not large enough to be a full time job. Our son and his family manage all of the farm chores while the kids attend school and the parents work as professionals. Our son commutes to work in a stream of traffic every day. Then, when he gets home, he has kids who need attention and farm chores that must be done. Comparing his lifestyle to mine and it is easy to call myself retired even though I do have a part-time job.

And the dog? I love the dog. He is a very nice animal. But he is also quite a bit of work and a fair amount of mess to clean. I joke that I need to check him from time to time to make sure he isn’t going bald with all of the fur that he leaves behind. I enjoy walking him, throwing the ball or frisbee for him, and having his company at home and in the pickup. But I am also very happy that I get to return him to my sister. I don’t miss him when he is with her most of the time.

When I was working full time, Thanksgiving week was always a special treat because I would get a three day weekend, something that rarely happens for a pastor. Unless there was a crisis, people were mostly otherwise engaged for Thanksgiving and the next couple of days. This week, I’ve added a few more chores to my schedule, and it still seems light. We’ll have a fine dinner with a few guests and the work load won’t be heavy. I get to play farmer and then return all of the animals to others.

It’s a good life for an old guy.


If you know where to leave the Interstate Highway south of Dillon Montana, you find yourself on a dirt and gravel road heading west. There are a few markers that indicate the direction to Lemhi Pass. It is a one land road with pullouts for traffic to pass, but the time we drove over the pass, there wasn’t any traffic to worry about. The road is marked as unsuitable for large vehicles or trailers, but our small tent trailer didn’t pose a problem. I had earlier modified the suspension of the trailer to provide more ground clearance and the use of larger tires. If you follow the road, it takes you to the pass that is the Montana-Idaho border and down from there to a paved highway. Heading north on the highway you will arrive in Salmon, where having wound your way around a mountain, you can go south towards Challis. It is country I’ve written about before in my journal.

The actually pass at Lemhi has quite a bit of historical significance. One of the largest challenges faced by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, known also as the Corps of Discovery, was finding a way across the continental divide. They had been sent to discover the source of the Missouri River. There were some people who believed that there was an easy connection between the Missouri watershed and the waters of the Columbia, which flow into the Pacific. However, what really exists is a maze of mountains that provide a significant physical barrier and stretch for miles between the two sides of the divide. There are multiple passes that must be crossed. If you follow the modern route, Interstate 90, once you have crossed the continental divide near Butte, there are two more major passes that must be crossed before you get to the waters of the Columbia.

Lewis and Clark, however, did not realize that they had already crossed the continental divide or that their route would require them to cross over and back multiple times. It isn’t a clearly defined physical feature in many places. On August 9, 1805, Lewis took a small scouting party south from the current location of the main party. They were looking for a pass through the mountains that would lead them to the Columbia. They also wanted to make contact with Shoshone people so that they could acquire horses. On August 12, Lewis crossed the pass. There is a marker where he stood, but the spot would be easy to discern even without the marker. It is a clearly defined ridge that is the current border between Montana and Idaho. I’ve stood on the spot and looked north and south at the divide and east and west into two clearly defined areas. Lewis wrote in his journal:

“two miles below McNeal had exultingly stood with a foot on each side of this little rivulet and thanked his god that he had lived to bestride the mighty & heretofore deemed endless Missouri. after refreshing ourselves we proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immence ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow. I now decended the mountain about ¾ of a mile which I found much steeper than on the opposite side, to a handsome bold running Creek of cold Clear water. here I first tasted the water of the great Co­lumbia river.”

Following contact with Shoshone and acquiring horses, the full expedition crossed the Lemhi pass on August 26. It proved to be the wrong route for the expedition as they discovered that the narrow canyon of the Salmon River did not provide a clear passage way west. The party was forced to retreat back over the pass and eventually found their route closer to Lolo Pass the the route across northern Idaho taken by modern highways.

When I think of borders, I often think of Lemhi Pass. When the Corps of Discovery crossed the pass, they were leaving United-States controlled territory. They were exiting the country. They were also crossing the continental divide and leaving the Missouri River watershed. If you stand at the top of the pass, there is no question in your mind where the pass lies. It looks like a pass. You can clearly identify it as a border. You know where Montana ends and Idaho begins.

I don’t know, however, if i have ever found borders as clearly defined by physical features as is the case at Lemhi Pass. Most borders are like the one just north of where I now live. The boundary between Canada and the United States at Blaine doesn’t have any discernible physical features other than the border crossing stations built by the two countries on the roads that connect the two countries. In town, you can picnic, play and walk from Blaine, Washington, to Surrey, British Columbia, without knowing the exact line in the middle of a park. An archway has been erected to show the location of the border, but there is no line that shows the exact location of the 49th Parallel. A few decades after Lewis and Clark led the Corps of Discovery on their trip to the west coast and back, a treaty between the United States and Britain established the 49th Parallel as the border between the two countries.

For families who live near the border and have members on both sides of the line, it didn’t seemed like much of a barrier until the border was closed during the Covid Pandemic. They were used to crossing the border frequently. There is a school bus route in the Blaine district, where children leave their homes at Point Roberts, cross into Canada, then cross back into the United States to reach their school. They make the return trip after school. That is four border crossings every school day. It is no big deal to them.

There is a difference between borders that are set by politics or history and those that exist by the physical properties of the planet. As the world faces mass migrations caused by climate change millions - or even billions - of people will need to move and they will cross borders. Fences and barricades will be insufficient to prevent the movement of so many people. I suspect that humanity will think differently about borders in decades to come.

I don’t, however, expect there to ever be much traffic over the Lemhi Pass.

The coming holiday

I taught a class yesterday. During the introductions at the beginning of the class one of the students reported that she as feeling a bit stressed because she had the class, which took all morning and she still had to get her home fully decorated for Christmas because family members were arriving to celebrate Thanksgiving today. I didn’t ask why Christmas decorations were expected for Thanksgiving. This particular woman is well-educated. She has a masters in education. She was taking the course in a certification program and excelling in here studies. She knows the names of all of the holidays of the year. I have to assume that for her, decorating her home for Christmas is something that she expects to have done before Thanksgiving. I hope that she leaves those decorations up until Christmas day, but I suspect that they will be down and stored before New Year’s even though the season of Christmas in the church continues until January 6. At least, I thought, she has some sense of Advent - a season of preparation for Christmas.

Today is the day we call “Reign of Christ.” It is the last day of the ecclesiastical year. Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent and, in Christian Tradition, the first Sunday of the new year. Our lectionaries begin a new cycle of readings. Advent is an important season in the church and it has its own colors - purple or blue.

I’m guessing that the student who, by now, has completed the decoration of her home for Christmas, wasn’t using purple or blue, but rather red and green with white accents.

One of the big box stores where we buy a few supplies for the farm and lumber and other items for home repair and improvement projects has a sign in the parking lot that says, “You’ve had a rough year. Go ahead and buy the tree today.” The advertisement might work, because people can remember last year when Christmas Trees were in short supply. Pandemic related problems with the supply chain made several items, including artificial Christmas trees fail to be delivered on time. We purchase a live tree each year and plant it on the farm after we have had it in our home for Christmas. We didn’t have any trouble finding a suitable sized Douglas Fir tree, but it was expensive. On the other hand, the tree is thriving and it makes me happy to see it each time I visit the farm.

At the end of our street, where we can turn right to go to the beach, or left to go into town, there is a house that had an enormous spider web for Halloween. Unlike several other houses on the street, they didn’t take down their Halloween decoration. It had taken some effort to string the web that stretched from the top of their flagpole to the ground below. I noticed last week that they had removed the large artificial spider from the web. I also noticed that the rest of their Halloween decorations had been removed. Only the web remained. Last night, returning from the farm after dark, I realized why they had left the web. I turned the corner onto our street and there beside the house was a giant Christmas tree with strings of lights roughly following the pattern of the spider web. Now there are some people who think ahead. One set of decorating work serving for two seasons. My only question is about the original intended use of the flagpole. Since their Halloween decorations went up on October 1, and I suspect that their Christmas decorations will remain until New Years Day, That’s three months or a quarter of the year when their flagpole isn’t available for flying a flag. I guess they don’t feel a need to fly the flag for Veteran’s Day.

I guess I prefer to have my holidays be of shorter duration with space between them. That way there is a distinction between the holiday and the regular days between. I know that there are problems with the ways we have celebrated Thanksgiving in the past, without acknowledgement of the true history of the invasion of North America and the displacement of indigenous people, but the concept of a holiday devoted to giving thanks is still valuable in my way of thinking. Reflecting on gratitude is an important spiritual practice in my life and having a holiday when families can gather and give thanks together is a meaningful celebration for me. I have no desire to go straight from Halloween to Christmas.

I was delighted to read that several major retailers are remaining closed on Thursday for Thanksgiving, giving their employees a day off to celebrate with their families. Major chains including Lowes, Costco, Walmart, Ace Hardware, Barns & Noble, JC Penny, Sam’s Club, Target and Home Depot have joined what seems to be a growing trend. Places where I shop such as Tractor Supply, REI Coop, Office Depot, and Northern Tool + Equipment have joined in. I celebrate their acknowledgment of the holiday. The reality, I suppose, is that they are all shifting to increasing online sales and they have employed a certain amount of math to determine how to continue extract maximum profit from “black Friday.” I suppose that the shortage of workers in this post-pandemic time also contributes to their decision, but for now it seems to me to be a hopeful trend when retail stores acknowledge that their employees need time off to celebrate with their families.

As for my family, we’ll pause and take a deep breath and celebrate the reign of Christ by worshipping with our church family. On Monday we’ll make a list and make a grocery store run to pick up whatever additional supplies we need to have a celebration Dinner on Thursday. I used to look forward fo Thanksgiving as the only 3 day weekend in the life of a pastor, but things have changed. Pastors these days have comp days and floating holidays and 5 day work weeks with lots of options for 3 days off in a row. And I am semi-retired, which means that most weeks i only go to the church office 3 days of the week. I teach a few classes and attend a few meetings online and I respond to email and phone calls, but it isn’t the same kind of pressure that I experienced when I was working full time. I can’t say that I need a three day weekend. I do, however, need to set aside time to express my gratitude for the goodness of this life.

Despite the lack of decorations, this week seems to be a good time to give thanks.


I used to have a twitter account. I might still have one, though I haven’t posted in a long time. I occasionally visit the site to see posts by friends. I am by no means an expert. And I won’t miss it if the company fails. It just isn’t a big thing to me.

There are a few details about the company and its recent decline that I have noticed, however.

Elon Musk is reported to have paid $44 billion to acquire the company. That is a healthy chunk of change, even for a rich guy, but one that reportedly, Musk can afford. It was estimated that he was worth $193.8 billion when he paid the amount that he said was ‘obviously overpaying” for the company. But here is the strange part. While Musk used some of his personal assets and investment funds, he also obtained bank loans to pay the amount. I’m no billionaire, but it raises the question, “If you have the money, why are you borrowing the money?” I think the answer is that he was hedging his bet. He knew that there was a substantial risk that the investment might end up in a loss and he wanted to share that loss with others and the banks seemed to be the candidates. At least I assume that if the company goes belly up, the banks will incur losses in the form of loans that will not be repaid.

I guess that one of the things about being fantastically rich is that your net worth tends to bounce around a lot. It hasn’t been a good year for the stock market in general and one news source reported that Musk’s net worth had gone down to $181 billion following the purchase of the social media company. To be sure, I have no idea what a billion is and it certainly seems like $181 billion is enough to cover rent and groceries with enough left over for a new car from time to time, especially for the owner of a car company. I don’t think the man is hurting financially.

It looks like Musk intended to lose the money he invested in twitter. Since his takeover his attempt to have investors pay $8 per month for verification backfired with a lot of people willing to pay $8 for verification of a completely fake account. Then they backed off of that deal. Meanwhile the company was losing employees left and right. Some of the company’s best talent, engineers and programmers, left the company. That was already in process before the company announced massive layoffs and instituted a loyalty pledge that required employees to commit to long work days and weeks with little time off. The talent is departing from the company. Users, too are fleeing, with a lot of them downloading their tweets and then cancelling their accounts. Some have reestablished in other social media platforms. Others have just allowed themselves to have one less social media obligation.

In the way of the world of high stakes investment, of course, Musk isn’t the one who stands to lose the most. As the largest shareholder in the company he only holds a 9.2% stake in the company. There are plenty of institutional investors who have a lot of money invested in the company. Among the company’s largest investors are Vanguard Group, BlackRock Fund Advisors, SSgA Funds Management and Fidelity Management & Research. Individual investors who participate in the funds managed by any of those companies also stand to loose on their investments even if they didn’t know that they had any money invested in Twitter.

I really know nothing about all of this beyond what I have read from popular news websites. It seems possible to me, however, that a company that relies on the expertise of engineers and programmers simply to operate, could fall below the critical number of skilled workers for the company to be able to operate. According the the Washington Post, Elon Musk has summoned engineers to Twitter HQ in an attempt to lead the company through adjustments to the hundreds of resignations this week.

I guess that the gyrations of the company since Musk bought enough shares to be considered to be in charge are interesting enough to me that I have read a few of the news stories. But the topic will soon lose my interest. I really don’t care if the company fails and we lose twitter. Certainly the site has been responsible for the distribution of a great deal of false information and has misled millions of people through the short statements of fakers and scam artists. It never was a reliable source of news, but there were a few people who became nearly addicted to the posts by famous people, even when they were overtly racist, sexist, homophobic, and blatantly untrue. As the saying goes, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time.”

I am wondering if the collapse of Twitter might be a sign that things are improving. Maybe we won’t be as easy to mislead if we decided to read a few more words than a short social media post. Maybe some people will consider longer and better researched articles. Maybe a few journalists will continue to practice their craft responsibly, checking facts, and taking enough time to tell the story of complex situations and circumstances.

Still, however, there will be plenty of people who respond to the simplest of slogans, even when they know that the slogans are meant to mislead. I’m not sure where laziness became entertaining, but there are plenty of people who are lazy in their pursuit of information and as long as they are entertained will believe almost anything.

I suspect that there will be none for me to invest much energy in following the story of Twitter. The topic, however, did inspire a journal entry. I guess I can’t clam to not be affected by the fortunes of the company.

Speaking of plowshares

I’m not a big fan of Facebook, but I do have a Facebook account. Sometimes I go weeks without looking at Facebook, sometimes I look at it every day for a while. I first signed up years ago when our nephew was traveling in Central and South America. He posted pictures and news of his travels on Facebook from time to time and it was a place to keep up with his travels. Later, I found it one way to connect with people whom I had known years ago, but with whom I had lost touch. A few years ago, I went through a period of checking on high school classmates as they planned the 50th anniversary reunion for our class. I’m not a reunion goer, and I did not attend, but I posted greetings to former classmates and also posted a couple of grade school papers that my mother had kept, including a class list from the second grade that was distributed so we would have the names of everyone in our class to write Valentine’s Day cards.

Through those contacts, I joined a Facebook group called “You Know You’re From Big Timber, Montana, if you remember . . .” It is a place for sharing memories and photographs from our home town. Most of the posts, however, aren’t of much interest to me. I was born and raised in Big Timber, but I left that town when I was 17 years old and haven’t lived there, except for a few summer months, since. Many of the “old time” photographs that appear in the Facebook group are from the years after I left the town.

There was a time when my family was prominent in that place. Our family company ran the operation at the airport, had the John Deere dealership, a feed warehouse, and sold gasoline, diesel, and a wide variety of farm and ranch supplies. Our store, where 4th avenue met the highway, was known as “The store with the plow on the roof.” On the roof of our showroom was a single bottom moldboard plow with a wooden beam, designed to be drawn by a horse. It wasn’t as old as the original 1837 John Deere plow that is featured in the national Museum of American History. I was taught that john Deere invented the steel plow, but that isn’t quite accurate. What John Deere did was to develop the concept. The 1837 polished steel plow was a significant step forward in the development of American agriculture because the implement was sharp enough to cut through the surface grass and turn the soil in a single pass. The implement made a huge contribution to the transformation of the prairies into productive grain production.

The plow that was on the roof of our store now resides in the Crazy Mountain Museum. Visitors there can learn about the history of agriculture in the region, but there is nothing in the display that tells the story of how that particular plow spent part of its life on the roof of a John Deere showroom.

I was thinking of the plow last summer because I read an article that the John Deere company discontinued production of the 3710 moldboard plow. After 175 years in the business of manufacturing plows, the machinery company no longer makes a plow. Tillage practices have changed in recent years and contemporary farming operations no longer need that kind of major tillage equipment.

Seeing how much changes with the passage of time, I have no doubt that after a few more years, people won’t know how plows worked. We forget quickly.

The biblical book of Isaiah begins with a description of peace in the second chapter: “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they earn war any more.” It is a bold vision of a world at peace. The vision, however, has remained a vision since it was first written. Countries continue to go to war with other countries. The trade in weapons is part of the world economy. The peace that Isaiah envisioned did not come for Judah and Israel. During the span of history recorded in Isaiah, Jerusalem falls and the people are carried off into exile. The country suffers a resounding military defeat.

The verses from 2 Isaiah are part of the scripture that will be read in worship in our congregation as we are following the Narrative Lectionary this year. I wonder how many people in our mostly urban, sophisticated college town congregation know what a plowshare is. I’m willing to bet that most people think of the moldboard when they think of plowshare. The moldboard is the curved blade that turns the soil as the plow passes. The innovation of the John Deere plow was that John Deere put a removable and replaceable tempered steel edge on the bottom of the moldboard to cut through the soil. The cutting edge is the part that has the name plowshare. It was a distinction that was unknown in the time of Isaiah, when the term plowshare referred to all of the metal on a tillage tool.

That is pretty much trivia. I don’t think that preachers need to know the names of the parts of a plow bottom in order to get the concept of turning weapons of war into tillage tools. The transition from war to agriculture is the main point of the story, not the specifics of the construction of plows. I’ve been thinking about it because I will be sharing the time with children this week and I like to have a strong visual image to share with the children. I’ve decided that there is no need for me to run down an actual plowshare. I suspect that not very many of the members of the congregation would recognize one anyway. Instead, I’ll probably use a hand cultivator that we use in the garden that has a cutting edge and a tiny curved blade that turns the soil.

I’m thinking that the fact that John Deere has gone out of the plow business is probably a complication that is unnecessary in telling the story. It’s a good thing I have my journal to write down these stray thoughts that have little value in other settings.

Making decisions

I am generally quick to come to conclusions when faced with a decision. I make my choice and am likely to stick with it. Occasionally, I will experience some regret with a decision that I have made, but that is rare. For the most part I am able to make a choice and then to move on with my life in the light of that choice.

My wife Susan, on the other hand, is a bit slower to make choices. She likes to consider all of the options and think through all of the potential consequences before choosing. She will sometimes say that she is poor at making decisions, but I don’t observe her that way. She makes very good decisions. It is just that some decisions take more time than others and sometimes she takes more time to reach a conclusion than I do.

Earlier in our relationship this difference between us caused some tension. When we were faced with a major choice, I might come to a quick decision and then advocate for my point of view, while she didn’t want to get into an argument with me, but rather wanted to have more time to make the decision. I would think that I had the right choice, and she would want to check to make sure that it was the right choice. Over the years, we began to refine our skills at making decisions together. I learned a lot of respect for her style of making decisions. She grew in trust of my decision-making process. Now that we have been married for 49 1/2 years, we have arrived at a process that allows both of us to trust the other’s wisdom and way of making choices.

Researchers who study how decision are made point out that there are to biases that are more common when decisions are made quickly. The first is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values. In one experiment, participants in the study were asked to read a series of scenarios like the following:

“You meet a person and you would like to find out whether he/she is an introvert or extrovert. You guess that the person is an extrovert. Which of the following two questions do you ask?
Do you like spending time at home alone?
Do you like going to parties?”

Many people will chose the second question. That is a sign of confirmation bias. The person is looking for information that agrees with their assumption, rather than looking for evidence that you may be wrong. A person with a decision-making style like Susan’s is more likely to choose the first question, looking for a way to test their assumption.

When facing an important decision, I look at my desired outcome and then seek information that will support my choice. Susan has a tendency to look at her desired outcome and then seek information that will test the decision. Of course, that is a gross oversimplification of how we make decisions and the difference between us, but I think it is accurate to say that I am more prone to confirmation bias than my wife.

The second bias to which I am more susceptible is called correspondence bias. Correspondence bias results in judging a person without fully considering the context of their situation. An example of this is that I have been known to judge harshly someone who struggled with and perhaps dropped out of their educational setting. I will think of that person as less intelligent, when it may be that financial difficulties or family responsibilities may be forced to postpone or end their formal education. Susan is more likely to recognize the other factors and less quick to make a quick judgment about another person.

Researchers used to rely on a standard set of questions called “The Frost Indecisiveness Scale.” The questions on the scale themselves leaned toward both confirmation bias and correspondence bias. The very title of the scale shows that the researchers who developed the scale saw indecisiveness as a negative quality. Contemporary researchers are less likely to use that scale and have come up with several different ways of measuring “trait ambivalence.” They try to look more specifically at the thoughts and feelings that underly a person’s judgment and decision-making. They look for evidence of contradictory thoughts, and ability to see both sides of an issue. They also understand that trait ambulance can be a positive quality. What initially looks like indecisiveness is actually a more measured and careful way of making decisions.

Life, however, doesn’t always give a person with high trait ambivalence time to use their decision making skills. For example, when shopping online for airline tickets, the decision to wait and weigh options almost always results in having a different set of options. The price of an airline ticket changes with the passage of time and with the frequency with which one shops online for the ticket. Often those who are able to make a quick decision are rewarded with a lower price, but not always. Sometimes waiting until the last minute results in finding a better deal. Because of the fickleness of airline ticket pricing, it is a very poor arena to measure the effectiveness of one decision-making style over another.

Law enforcement officers are often faced with the need to make a very quick judgement. As they assess the danger of a situation, they don’t have time to weigh all of the factors. A split second can mean the difference between life and death. The ability to make very quick judgements, however, can result in huge mistakes as has been demonstrated when officers use deadly force in a situation that was later determined to not present a threat.

Health care providers often have to make quick decisions. When a cardiac arrest occurs, there is no time to weigh all of the factors present. A quick response is the only life-saving option. While it is rare, there have been cases of people who had a “do not resuscitate” order in place being given CPR and other life-prolonging treatments.

In my case, I feel very fortunate to have a partner who has a different decision-making style than mine. She helps me to become more aware of my biases and has helped me to avoid the consequences of a hastily-made decision. For us the partnership works.

Things are different

I have a little cold. My symptoms are not severe. I have tested negative for Covid. I am not miserable. I just have a little cold. It is an event that has happened to me over and over in this life. I have a few home remedies that I use. I add an extra pillow to the bed for sleeping. I take extra vitamin C. In a few days my symptoms will be gone.

Having a cold is different in these days of the Covid pandemic. I’ve learned to don a mask to help prevent spread to others. I worked at home yesterday instead of going into the office. Unlike the pre-covid days, we are all set up with Zoom meetings that make telecommuting possible.

Having a cold is pretty much a foregone conclusion for someone who has three school-aged grandchildren. We have the good fortune of living very near to our son and his family. His children bring home all kinds of viruses and infections from school. Our immune systems probably get a boost from an occasional exposure to a virus. In the early days of the pandemic, we were pretty much isolated. I wore a mask every time I went outside. We had a couple of years when we didn’t suffer any colds at all. That part of the pandemic was nice. However, as we have begun to emerge from the strictest of covid protocols we have discovered that we are more susceptible to infection than was the case prior to the pandemic. It is possible that our immune systems simply aren’t as robust as they had been when we were nearly constantly exposed to a variety of colds and other illnesses.

Over the years, I was fortunate not to miss much work due to illness. I admit that there were a few occasions when I pushed myself and went to work when I was feeling less than completely healthy. It is what the people who were around me did when I was growing up. I had a friend who was a teacher who once bragged that he never missed a day of work due to illness. The way he achieved that record was to go to work when he was sick, of course. I don’t know how many students he exposed to various small illnesses over the years, but I’m certain he wasn’t the only vector of infection.

The rules, however, have changed. Since the pandemic, it is a pretty clear rule to not go to work when one is feeling ill. I know I would raise more eyebrows by going to work with a slight cough than I do by staying home.

It is just one of the things that have been changed by the pandemic.

When I was a pastor in North Dakota in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I encountered quite a few people who had survived the 1918 flu pandemic. They reported about how it changed their lives. Some had lost loved ones to the flu as their loved ones were returning from fighting in World War I. There was a certain irony of having survived the war only to be killed by a virus contacted on a crew ship on the way home. Others reported how the community took to having direct burials as soon as a death occurred, not waiting for the funeral to dispose of the body out of fear of additional infection. They remembered friends and family who had died as a result of the disease.

I listened to their stories thinking that they were stories that didn’t have a lot of application in the contemporary world. We have vaccines. A global pandemic seemed to be something that was relegated to the past. Then covid came. Now I have stories of friends who have died. I have stories of lives that were disrupted. My grandchildren had a year when they were unable to attend school. I learned a lot about social media, video live streaming, teleconferencing, and other technological innovations in a very short amount of time.

The impact of the pandemic on churches is still easy to see. Worship attendances are smaller. People spread out when they do come to church. More and more of our elders are isolated from the community. Live streaming of worship is here to stay. The investments churches made in video cameras and sound equipment was significant and will be ongoing. Having a crew at the controls of a computer is now a regular part of worship.

In all of this, however, there remains a hunger for contact. People want to have real connections with others. Our church held its first potluck since the pandemic on Sunday. We had a picnic at the end of the summer. It was outdoors and well attended. But this Sunday marked a return to the way we used to do things. People brought their dishes to share. Tables were adorned with lots of food. And folks sat around tables in a relatively crowded social hall eating with no masks. I’m sure there were a few folks who felt that the risk of exposure was too great. Some of them stayed away to protect themselves. But those who gathered were energized. They were delighted to be able to sit at table and talk with friends. Folks lingered after the meal was eaten. It is obvious that we missed such opportunities.

As the pandemic slides towards endemic, whatever that means, we are returning to a few of the events and activities we practiced before the pandemic. It isn’t that life has returned to normal. We won’t go back to the way it was before the pandemic. I’ll still be quick to reach for a mask and to stay away from the office whenever I feel a few symptoms. We won’t see a return to the same number of people in church. We will continue to have an online community and those who participate from home.

Still, we continue to be human. We long for times of connection. In person worship still has a lot to offer to participants. I’ll be in church on Sunday.

Sharing the earth

One of the wonderful joys of my job is that I get to tell stories to children. Most of the time, the stories I tell stem from the Bible. Our church’s worship service has a time when we focus on addressing children directly. Since we worship in a hybrid fashion, with some people joining in person and some online, I have a group of children who come to sit on cushions in the front of the sanctuary but I also have an audience of children who are watching from home. With the online community, visual elements are important. I often bring objects into the sanctuary that might not normally appear in that place. Early last summer, when we were promoting Church Camp, I brought a canoe. I’ve had photographs enlarged to poster size and others projected on to a screen in the sanctuary. Because our worship leaders plan in advance, I have time to think about the stories and plan the 5 minutes or so that I have to tell the story.

On November 6, we had a guest preacher as part of our congregation’s climate revival. The preacher used a text from Isaiah and the story of the conversion of Saul from the book of Acts as focus for the sermon. Although Paul’s experience of being temporarily blind and his conversion from one way of life to another is dramatic and a good text to explore with older children, it seemed to me to be a bit complex for our youngest participants in worship. I decided instead to talk about the need to share the world and its resources with others since I knew that the topic would be front and center in the preacher’s message.

We have a large earth ball. It is a beach ball that is printed to look like the earth as seen from space. The ball is about 4 feet in diameter, so it gets the attention of children, who love to touch it and roll it. Some try to pick it up, though it is large enough that it is hard to grip.

I told the children that the ball represents the world and asked what would happen if we had to share it not only with the children in the room, and not only with all the people in the room and all the people watching online, but with all of the people in the world. I gave the example of when I was a child. There were seven children in my family. We had one trampoline. If there are seven who want a turn and each one gets 5 minutes, it means that each child has to wait a half hour between turns. That can seem like a long time. Then I told the children that if each person in the world got five minutes with the ball, the time between turns would be 66,570 years. Of course that number of years means very little to some of the children, except it is a very long time. Older children know that no person could live that long. Younger children know that it is a lot more than the 3 or 4 fingers they hold up when they are asked their age.

Here is the problem with the story I told the children: I based my quick estimate on a world with 7 billion people. That is the number world population reached in October of 2011. Sometime today, perhaps already, the eight billionth person in the world will be born. That means 76,080 years between 5 minute turns if you want to know. And, of course, if it only took slightly over 11 years to get from 7 billion to 8 billion, it is pretty certain that the earth would get far beyond its ability to sustain life for the numbers that would come from projecting 76,080 years into the future.

It took all of history up until 1803 for the earth’s population to reach 1 billion people. The next billion was added in 124 years. From there it took only 33 years to reach 3 billion. You can see the exponential growth.

Here is what is clear from the story I told the children and the bit of math I did to make my story: It is pretty clear that we’ve only got one chance for “our” turn. If we are going to make choices that make this world a bit better for others, the time to act is now. If we are going to consume less so that there will be more to share, the time is now. Waiting another decade means a billion more mouths to feed.

Every year since 1992, world leaders have met in United Nations climate summits to negotiate agreements on steps to limit global temperature rises. The summits are referred to as COPs, which stands for Conference of the parties.” COP27 is currently taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt and will continue through November 18. Participants in the talks are focusing on reducing carbon emissions, helping countries to prepare for and deal with climate change, and securing technical support and funding for developing countries. Scientists estimate that if global temperatures rise 1..8 degrees C above 1850 levels, half of the world’s population could be exposed to life-threatening heat and humidity. Half the world’s population is, as of today, 4 billion people. That’s a lot of victims. It is a lot of threat to life.

Of course, the high population is part of the cause of the rise in carbon emissions and global climate change. A 50% reduction in population would make a big difference. It is also a very hard way for the globe to recover. Mass starvation is already upon us. It is estimated that 20 million people have insufficient food in east Africa because of drought. Places with more temperate climates are already experiencing waves of climate refugees. The influx of refugees has resulted in a shortage of housing and medical services for refugees and increased prices for others.

I don’t know if any of the children remember the story I told about sharing the earth ball, but i can’t get it out of my head.

Relearning history

I’m not sure where I first heard of Robin Wall Kimmerer. The acclaimed author of Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss has a remarkable ability to combine science with indigenous wisdom. I read both books before we moved from South Dakota and found them inspirational. I shared my copy of Braiding Sweetgrass with others and like a few other books that I have read, re-read, and shared with others somehow I ended up with more than one copy for a while. Now that we are settled in our home in Birch Bay, I finally have my bookshelves organized well enough to be able to put my hands on a copy of the book once again.

I’ve been thinking about the book recently as I have been helping to expand the collection of books about environmental justice in our church library. I’ve enjoyed being part of the group that is paying attention to the library and being intentional about growing our library in ways that encourage the circulation of books in our congregation. It is meaningful to me to look back at books that have had an impact on my understanding of the world as part of the process. One of the things we want to do in our church library is to collect books that have lasting value. A church library is a specialty library. It does not replace nor does it need to compete with a community library that is a great place to go for the latest trends and most popular authors. The church library rather collects books that inform about spirituality and meaning. Kimmerer’s book fits that bill even though its perspective is not from a Christian theological perspective.

I remember an interview that Krista Tippet had with Robin Wall Kimmerer on her show, “On Being.” That interview was replayed recently on the show. In the interview Tippet comments that Kimmerer introduces herself as being from Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Tippet grew up in Potawatomi County in Oklahoma and reported to Kimmerer that having grown up in that place she did not know or learn anything about what the word meant or about the people and culture to which it refers. Kimmerer responds to Tippet by talking about how culture and language become invisible.

The conversation struck me and sticks with me because I grew up on Sweetgrass County, Montana and I don’t remember learning anything about the meaning of sweetgrass or its uses in indigenous religious ceremonies in my growing up years. After I became and adult and developed relationships with Dakota and Lakota tribal members, I learned about using sweetgrass and sage for smudging and made friends who offered sweetgrass braids as gifts. Fresh sweetgrass is braided and dried and used for tea and medicine as well as for religious ceremonies.

Growing up in Sweetgrass County, Montana, I was taught that the county began in 1895, formed from parts of Park, Meager, and Yellowstone Counties and that between 1910 and 1920 part of Sweet Grass County were taken to form Stillwater, Wheatland, and Golden Valley Counties, leaving behind the distinctive shape of the county that is rather narrow from east to west but longer from north to south. The southern tip of the county ends deep in the Gallatin National Forest, but before the border with Yellowstone National Park.

I was never taught about how Sweetgrass County was part of the territory occupied for centuries before the arrival of European settlers. We knew a few people who were Crow and we attended Crow Fair from time to time, but our county was no longer part of the reservation when I was a child. The Crow people call themselves Apsáalooke, which is also spelled Absaroka. The town of Absarokee, Montana is about 50 miles from my home town and was part of the sports district in which our high school played, but I didn’t know the connection between the name of the town and the Crow people until I had grown up and moved away from that place.

When it comes to indigenous people, culture, languages, and wisdom, I learned nothing from my 1960’s public school education even though I lived in a place that was part of traditional Apsáalooke hunting territory and the valley of the river that ran by our place was considered to be sacred and the mountains south of town were a place for vision quests and other religious ceremonies.

I learned from decades of living in the western Dakotas that the indigenous tribes of North America have a lot of wisdom to offer, especially when it comes to the care of the natural world. As I have become more involved in confronting the issues of climate change and have studied biblical teachings about the care of creation, I have met and learned a great deal from indigenous elders and leaders.

Robin Wall Kimmerer’s book Braiding Sweetgrass introduced more of that wisdom to me and, more importantly, introduced that wisdom to a much wider circle of people because of her skill as a storyteller and teacher. Like Krista Tippet, in her interview with Kimmerer, many of us have much to learn about the people who came before us and how they learned to survive and thrive on the prairies and in the mountains of this continent. Now that I have moved to a new place, I am trying to form relationships and learn more about the Coast Salish people who were stewards of this land before the arrival of settlers. To speak of the history of our area as being settled in 1856 when the U.S. Boundary Survey Commission surveyed the 49th parallel, followed two years later by the Fraser Gold Rush is to ignore most of the history of this place and the culture and languages of the people who had lived here for many generations before those dates. Our history is much deeper that we have been taught and there is much more wisdom to be shared from that history than is being shared in our schools.

The more I learn, the more I realize how little we really know.

Blue spaces

The pioneering psychologist and educator G. Stanley Hall (1846-1924) built upon the discoveries of Charles Darwin and posited the theory that individual human development mirrors the development of the species. Hall was the first president of the American Psychological Association (APA), and is seen by some as the father of modern psychosocial development theory. Contemporary psychologists have challenged many of the concepts of developmental theory. Much of what has become the foundation of educational psychology has been rightly criticized for its lack of understanding of cultural diversity. Psychologists have based their observations on a rather narrow group of humans and not all of their concepts apply well to people outside of their narrow scope of view. Still, there are observations of developmental psychologists that are valuable for contemporary teachers and developmental psychology is still taught in colleges of education around the world.

Without dipping too far into the history of educational psychology, my life’s experience seems to resonate with a bit of G. Stanley Hall’s idea that the life of an individual might reflect the history of the human species. When Homo sapiens first evolved some 300,000 years ago, we lived in grasslands and forests, next to lakes and rivers. It wasn’t until 2007 that humans became a majority-urban species. The move towards urbanization has also meant a move towards the shores of oceans and the earth’s largest lakes. About 40 percent of the people in the United States live in coastal counties. Coastal counties count for less than 10 percent of the nation’s land mass, yet 40 percent of the population lives there.

I grew up a long ways from the coast. I grew up among the cottonwoods at the edge of a mountain stream. I moved out onto the plains and lived most of my adult life where the prairie meets the forest. Then, as I have become an old man, I have moved to the coast. And I have moved to a place where the population is more dense. There are simply more people gathered along the Salish Sea in western Washington than any other place where I have lived.

Experts who study human mental health have long understood that the interaction between people and nature is critical to mental health. Just looking at scenery causes psychological and physiological changes in people that lead to health benefits. These benefits can be measured in salivary cortisol, blood flow, blood pressure, and brain activity. In addition spending time outside in nature brings us into contact with healthy microbes that boost our immune systems and boost the microbial communities in our skin, airways, and guts. It isn’t just that contact with nature makes us feel better - it makes us more healthy in ways that can be measured.

The concept of green spaces as places of therapy has been around for a long time. Psychologists in the 1960’s and 1970’s prescribed wilderness experiences as treatment for anxiety and depression. Their results led to a deeper understanding of the importance of contact with nature for optimal health.

We know that nature is essential to being healthy, but we continue as a species to move to more urban and dense spaces. Researchers, however, have discovered that one of the ways of dealing with increased urbanization is for people to increase experiences of being on the shore. So called “blue spaces” such as ocean, river, and lake shores are places of healing and health. About 10 years ago researchers at the University of Sussex asked 20,000 people to record their feelings at random times. After collecting over a million responses they found that people were by far the happiest when they were in blue spaces. This study was followed up with a recent study at Glasgow Caledonian University that found that spending time in blue spaces lowers the risk of stress, anxiety, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and premature death.

It isn’t formal research, but I know that I feel better when I take an outdoor walk every day. Now that we have moved into a more urban environment, with more traffic, more people, and more crowding, our walks along the beach have become an important part of my ability to maintain balance and remain happy in my life. There is something inherently soothing about the sound of water lapping at the shore. Even on stormy days, when the winds are high and the waves crash, there is something about the rhythm of the ocean that is soothing.

In earlier years of my life, when I had more demands and more stress in my life, I learned to escape in the wee hours of the morning to the lake with a canoe. Paddling was a way of reconnecting with nature and reminding myself that I was part of something much bigger than my self. It became important to me for maintaining psychological health and balance. These days, in my semi-retired lifestyle, I don’t have the pressures and stresses that once were routine in my life and I find that I am paddling less. However, I still seek daily contact with the natural world. I haven’t completely substituted walks along the shore for paddling, and I still love to get out on the water, but I know that just being near a large body of water is a valuable experience.

I have not been prone to depression and I haven’t suffered as those who struggle daily to maintain a positive attitude towards life. The causes of depression are complex and not fully understood, but it may be that my experience with health is due in part to preventive solutions that have found their way into my lifestyle. Regular contact with nature including walks along the shore may be keeping me healthy when others who do not have those experiences have crises arise that require treatment after they have become ill. I’m sure that it isn’t that simple, but I suspect that water and exposure to blue spaces can be part of a lifestyle that promotes health.

For now, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be near the water on a regular basis. I am fortunate indeed.

Playing taps

I have a digital watch that is very accurate. A few minutes before 3 pm yesterday, I stepped out onto our front porch with my trumpet. Precisely at 3 pm, I played taps from the front porch. After the final tones faded, I listened carefully. I could hear no others playing taps. I checked with my sister, who is house sitting in Bellingham, a city with a larger population than our small community. She went outside at 3 pm, but did not hear anyone playing taps.

The National Moment of Remembrance is an annual event that has occurred since 2000. The first occurrence was in May of 2000 on Memorial Day, but the event was moved to Veteran’s Day and put into law by the United States Congress in December 2000. The Taps Across America debuted in 2020. With many picnics, parades and other Veterans Day observances cancelled due to the Covid pandemic, retired Air Force bugler Jari Villanueva invited buglers and musicians to sound Taps from their front porches all at the same time. The result was a wave of taps with more than 10,000 musicians joining, each at 3 pm in their own time zone.

I missed that first musical tribute. Last year, on Veteran’s Day, I walked over to a county park that used to be an Air Force radar station. At 3 pm, I played taps, listening to the tones echo off of the tower that once was the base of a large radar array. Many of the buildings on the base are empty and the streets also were empty, making it a good place for remembrances. As I played, I wore a cap of the HMAS Sydney (FFG-03) of the Royal Australian Navy. The cap was given by me by a veteran of the Australian Navy who has struggled for years with post traumatic stress illness. I wanted to pay tribute to those who have served and suffered illnesses that are often unseen or unnoticed as a result of their service. I wanted to remember the suffering and sacrifice of family members who support those people.

This year, as I stood on my front porch and played, I was thinking of a dear friend and veteran at whose funeral I played taps during the summer. She was an incredible human being who became a friend as soon as I met her. Her courage and vision inspired me. I will think of her and miss her for the rest of my life.

I often call Veteran’s Day “Armistice Day” in the old tradition that was in place between World War I and World War II. The armistice ending World War I was signed in France at 11 am on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year. On that day, in 1918, after more than four years of horrific fighting and the loss of millions of lives, the guns on the Western Front fell silent. It was a moment of peace and observing a day of peace in remembrance seems like an appropriate response. My first experiences with playing taps came from the funerals of veterans of World War 1. I’ve played for Veterans of WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War.

Part of the reason I play my horn as part of Taps Across America is that I like the idea of being a part of something bigger than myself. Although I couldn’t hear any of the other musicians, I can imagine myself to be a part of the 10,000 who played. Actually, we don’t know how many play each year, only the number of those who register. I suspect that there are a lot more who, like me, simply play and don’t bother with going to a web site and adding our names to the list.

There is another, deeper reason that I play. Over the years of my life since I first was recruited as a high school student to be a bugler for a ceremony conducted by veterans, I have been aware of the depth of grief that this world carries over the tragedies of war. For every veteran who is honored and laid to rest with due ceremony, there are countless other victims of war, both civilian and military, who died. They were loved by family members. They are missed by those who loved them. The weight of the collective grief of millions of people over the span of human history is overwhelming.

The haunting sound of four pitches sounded on a brass horn played in a precise pattern of a specific bugle call to signal the end of the day has become a symbol of grief. I have seen the real tears of real people when I play. I have played through my own tears on many occasions.

Grief is a constant companion for those who love. We cannot escape it. But there is something incredible that occurs when we choose to express it. When we express our grief, it becomes real outside of our minds and bodies. It is no longer something that is “just inside our head.”When we express our grief, we discover that we are not alone. Others share our grief and the burden is somehow less when the isolation is removed. When we express our grief, we decrease the fear that our loved one will be forgotten. Often in polite society, people are afraid to speak of one who has died, but those who grieve do not want to forget. Speaking the names and remembering the unique individuals that we miss is one of the many ways that they continue to live on through our lives.

So I will continue to play taps. I’ll play whenever I am asked and whenever I can. I’ll mention that a live burglar is available whenever I hear plans of using a recording of the song. And, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 3 pm, I’ll step out onto my porch wherever I am and sound the call. Maybe one day, I’ll hear others playing as well.

A bark in the night

When I was a kid, one of my friends had a silent dog whistle. It was a small device made out of brass with holes at both ends and an additional hole in the side. When he blew into the whistle, we could hear nothing. He claimed, however, that dogs could hear the sound of the whistle. I don’t remember any practical application of the device. Several of us were allowed to blow through it and none of us could hear anything except a small amount of air going through the tube.

Now that I am older and have access to the Internet and a search engine, I got a bit more specific information about high frequency dog whistles. It is true that the range of sounds that a dog can hear is different from that of humans. The maximum upper sound frequency range of human hearing is about 20,000 Hz for children. By the time a person is around 30 years of age, hearing declines to about 16,000 Hz. The top end of a dog’s hearing is about 45,000 Hz, with some variation depending on the breed of the dog. Most dogs can hear sounds that are so high-pitched that humans cannot hear them. In general, smaller breeds of dogs can hear higher pitches than dogs that are larger.

Human speech generally ranges from 250 to 8000 Hz. Humans have evolved to be most sensitive to the sounds of other humans speaking.

An article in Psychology Today put it into a practical example: “If we wanted to extend the right side of a piano keyboard to the limits of human hearing, we would have to add 28 keys. If we extended the keyboard to match a dog’s hearing, we would have to add 52 keys . . . The last 24 of these would produce sounds that were so high-pitched that humans cannot hear them.”

In addition to being able to detect odors that humans cannot, dogs can hear sounds that we cannot. Scientists believe that these special adaptations evolved to improve the hunting ability of dogs. Being able to hear high-frequency noises made by the small prey animals they hunted enabled dogs to capture more food than those who could not hear those sounds. In mammals, there is a physiological correlation between the size of the skull and the frequency of sounds that can be heard. The smaller the skull, the higher the frequency range of hearing. Thus small dogs can detect sounds that are beyond the hearing range of larger dogs. Smaller mammals, such as mice can detect sounds that are even higher.

I was rummaging around the Internet reading articles about what dogs can hear that humans cannot in the middle of the night because my sister’s dog, who is staying at our home for a few weeks, will bark an alert when I have no idea what is causing the dog to react. There is no sound that I can hear, and no visual clue that I can see that will explain why the dog has barked. I was accusing the dog of seeing ghosts, but it is more logical that the dog is hearing sounds that I cannot hear.

The dog can hear the approach of a large truck before I am aware that there is one in the neighborhood. The information about dogs being able to hear high pitched sounds, however, doesn’t seem to correspond to the approach of a truck, because we associate lower pitched sounds with a truck. A diesel motor has a lower pitch than the motor of a car. My theory is that what the dog is hearing is not the sound of the motor, but rather the sound of the brakes. A large truck has air brakes and air escapes the system when the brakes are applied. We can hear the whoosh of escaping air when we are close to a large truck, but a smaller escape of air when brakes are tapped may emit a higher pitch that carries for a longer distance - a sound that we cannot hear, but a dog can.

Since lower frequencies travel farther that higher frequencies through a medium such as air or water, a dog whistle must emit a sound that is not only in the frequency range above 20,000 Hz, it also must be loud for that sound to be heard from a distance. The use of a dog whistle to call a dog or to make a dog stop barking requires the skill of a specialized dog trainer. A system of rewards has to be instituted that gives the dog incentive to respond to the sound. The use of a “silent” dog whistle requires the same discipline, consistency, and practice as do other dog training signals such as voice or hand commands.

All of that adds up to the result that a dog, no matter how beloved, who is in our home as a visitor for a short amount of time, will respond to sounds that we cannot hear. It is unlikely that I will learn enough about training dogs to correct the dog’s barking during the span of his visit and even if I were able to train him temporarily he likely would forget the training in the long periods of time when he is not in my home.

Another field of speculation about which I was unable to find much solid information in my basic Internet search is about the dreams of dogs. I’m pretty sure that this dog dreams when he sleeps. He will occasionally grunt, whine, or even bark when it appears that he is sleeping. Since he snores, I’m pretty sure that these sounds are emitted when he is asleep. My theory is that a dog dreams in a manner that is similar to humans. In his dreams there are memories of sounds that are perceived as being real even when there are no external sounds to stimulate the memory.

The information I have isn’t very helpful when it comes to the fact that the dog will occasionally wake me when I want to be sleeping. I’ll probably continue to say that the dog hears ghosts and know that his visit is short and he’ll soon be back in my sister’s care. Who knows? Maybe she believes in ghosts.

A Bit of Background

As usual, I had a digital meeting last night. the group meets weekly over Zoom and I’ve been the official host of the group for over a year. I was a regular participant in the group before I began working as Interim Minister of Faith Formation. the membership of the group changes, with some people joining and others dropping out for a while, but the average attendance is large enough to fill up the screen of my laptop and small enough that we get to know each other well and have established a small group rapport with one another. As the meeting began, I commented on the simple fact that about half of the participants had bookshelves in the background. A brief conversation ensued with one member saying that she now blurs the background so that other participants can’t read the titles of the books on the shelves. She is a professional who has many digital meetings each week and has given careful thought to how she appears and what her background is like. Others in the meeting commented on the keynote presenter at our climate revival last week and how the book he had written was prominently displayed as well as a photograph to which he made reference during the presentation.

The conversation got me to thinking about the background in my Zoom conversations. If I am at my office at work the background is mostly a blank wall, as we are in an interim position and haven’t hung artwork on the walls of our office. I could move my laptop so that the background is a set of bookcases, but they are mostly empty and don’t have my beloved titles because I have not moved books into this office. At home my desk is right next to a window, a location that I love, being able to have fresh air and a view of the neighborhood at hand. Behind me are some house plants that also enjoy the window, a printer, and a rocking chair. On the wall is a photo made by a member of our Idaho congregation of an historic bible, a chalice and plate. If I were to move my desk so it faced the window, however, the background would be all bookcases. I wondered if it might be worth the effort to move my desk for a class I will be teaching next week. My bookcases would make me appear to be more scholarly, I suppose.

It is most likely that I won’t move my desk. I like it where it is. And rotating my computer so that the background changes would be a hassle when I am teaching because I have multiple monitors and I need to be able to read and refer to things on my computer that are not shown to the class and to preview items that I will share on screen with the class before they show up on the screen for them.

I have several virtual backgrounds on my computer including a sunset on the beach and a photo of Mount Baker. When I presented at a large virtual conference during the summer, we were given a special background with the logo of the event, so that all presenters shared the same background. Virtual backgrounds are problematic as they required very precise lighting such as that provided by a ring light or several bright lights. I have decent lighting for my video experiences as I use lights that I have used for photography and know a bit about shadows and how to get crisp photographic images.

Our daughter-in-law is a counselor who frequently visits with clients on a secure video conferencing platform. She has a very plain background and studio lighting in her home office and a similar professional set up in her physical office for such meetings. She is careful to avoid distracting backgrounds. An undergraduate degree in film studies and a few years of working in films and television has given her a professional eye for those details that help her achieve success in her work.

I don’t, however, want to build a professional set for participation in virtual meetings. I have no need to hide the fact that I am semi-retired. My white hair and beard show my age quite clearly. I hope that my presence in meetings is meaningful because of my ability to contribute. I don’t care if I sometimes forget to mute my sound when my clock strikes in the background. I think that the chiming clock reminds all of the participants of the passage of time and, when a meeting involves people in different time zones, establishes my location.

There is something about professional television sets that always seems a bit fake to me. I’ve appeared on television on several occasions and have participated in studio interviews where the set is designed to look like an office or a living room. The cameras are aimed to show the furniture and background, but do not show that the setting is not an office or living room, but a pretend setting with bare concrete floors, soundproofing, and lots of cables just out of sight. I prefer to have my real home as my background. My plants have not been arranged by a professional florist. If my bookshelves were the background, people might notice that my books are not perfectly arranged and that I sometimes place items on the shelves simply because I don’t know where else to put them. My desk is usually cluttered and there are plenty of books in my home that are out on tables and desktops because I am constantly reading and like to keep books close at hand. I have no need to hide these things from others, but I don’t want my setting to become the focus of a lesson or a conversation that has a specific purpose and meaning that I want to communicate.

Non verbal communication is important whether the meeting is in person or virtual and I am aware that non verbal clues are different in different settings. I’m learning to adapt to what to me is a new world of communications. Along the way I’ll make plenty of mistakes and I’ll learn from my mistakes and from others. Somehow, however, I hope that my real identity shines through and that I don’t have to put too much effort into creating a background for my video presence.

Young people & big choices

Over the years I have attended quite a few receptions and parties celebrating long marriages. I’ve been asked to deliver invocations, benedictions, and table prayers at 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. I’ve attended a lot of open houses for church members celebrating significant marriage milestones. One of the things that is common at such occasions is someone asking the couple about their secret to a successful marriage. Sometimes one of the marriage partners offers their version of the story of a long and successful marriage.

I’ve been thinking about this a little bit as Susan and I think and talk about how we want to celebrate 50 years of marriage. Our 50th wedding anniversary will be next June, interestingly a day before the 50th anniversary of our daughter’s in-laws. We were married on a Friday and they were married the next day. We know that we’d like to have some kind of a gathering of friends and family. It would be nice to repeat our marriage vows at church. We’d love to have family pictures taken that include our children and grandchildren and new pictures of each family group.

However, I’m not inclined to have the traditional reception where we are called to speak to the gathered crowd about the secret to a successful relationship. The main reason is that I don’t know the secret.

I know I have been blessed with a wonderful life partner. I know I feel incredibly lucky to have met Susan when I was young. I know that we are fortunate to have been able to share our careers as well as our family life. I know that our children have been healthy and happy and have made some very good decisions in their lives. But I am at a loss to explain why we have had such a fortunate life while others have suffered tragedy and have had different experiences.

My mother was widowed before her 40th wedding anniversary, but I don’t think that we are somehow better at marriage than my parents. I haven’t lived longer than my father did because of having made better choices.

I’ve known couples whose marriages have ended in divorce who were intelligent, capable, complex thinkers who made good choices and yet somehow still ended up in a situation where divorce was the best choice for them.

Of course there have been trials in our marriage. We have struggled at times. We have worked through problems. There have been hurt feelings and a few decisions in which a better process would have been preferable. We have walked through grief together. We faced a nearly fatal health crisis. Part of the success of our relationship is our mutual commitment to working through challenges.

I think I would prefer not to make any speeches about what makes for a successful marriage. I’d prefer to simply express my gratitude for having been fortunate in love and blessed by a wonderfully loving and supportive partner.

If anything, my experiences in life have led me to believe that teenagers are capable of making good decisions. I was 16 when I first dated Susan. I had been 20 for only a week when we married. The decision to marry was a teenage decision for me and it is one that I do not regret. I made some other fairly complex decisions in my teen years of which I am pleased. As a parent, I have witnessed our children making good decisions in their teen years as well.

The popular notion seems to be that teenage brains are not fully developed, that teens are in the midst of powerful hormones and new experiences of dopamine and that they lack impulse control. I’m not saying that these things aren’t true. I do think, however, that a case can be made that adolescents are capable of accurate risk assessment and complex decision making.

Ivy Defoe, professor of child development and education at the University of Amsterdam recently published a paper reviewing scientific studies of adolescent risk-taking. The paper argues that adolescents are more likely to choose safe options than younger children. Defoe cites laboratory experiments examining the cognitive processes of risk appraisal. In one experiment adolescents were consistently more likely to chose a smaller guaranteed payout than to accept a 50% chance of a higher reward or a total loss. Younger children were more prone to risk the guaranteed income.

The fact that teens often make poor decisions comes from the fact that they are often in situations where there are many more opportunities to make decisions. We control all kinds of risks for young children. We don’t give them the option of crossing a parking lot without supervision. We don’t allow them to try illegal substances. We make decisions for them. As children grow into adolescence, the range of choices opens up dramatically. Within a span of very few years they go from a very protected environment to many situations that are risk-conducive. They learn to drive and gain independence. They become sexually mature and open to relationship risks. They are exposed to addictive substances in settings without adult supervision. Their newfound freedom brings newfound risks.

I don’t think that we should be surprised that adolescents make poor choices on occasion. The risks of the transition into adulthood are real. However, I think that we sometimes fail to celebrate the good choices that teens make. I know that as a parent it is really difficult to allow your children to make decisions in which the risk is real. I understand the desire to protect them from making bd choices. But I also know that they need to experience freedom in order to mature into functioning adults. I know that they need to have real choices with real consequences in order to learn.

When officiating at weddings I often comment to the parents of the couple that “there are times when we parents need to step back and allow our children to take steps on their own, trusting in the love that we have given them.”

In my own case, I’m very grateful that I was allowed to make the decision to marry at a young age. It has proven to be the right choice.

A love of notebooks

After we moved from South Dakota to Washington, my sister moved from Montana to Oregon. My sister had been living in the cabin that was our family’s summer home for many years. As I helped her move out of the cabin, we went through boxes of stored items that had been left unsorted after our parents died. I think we knew it before, but the process was another reminder that we come from a long line of people who loved paper. We still have boxes and boxes of the journals of our mother’s grandfather. He was a pioneer court reporter in Montana Territory before statehood and served in the territorial capital. He also was a personal friend of Brother Van, a Methodist circuit riding preacher who left a big mark on the state. As a result his journals have historical value and we are making arrangements for them to become part of official historical archives. The historians, however, don’t want the paper journals. They want digital documents. Scanning the journals is a significant task and a problem that we have not yet solved.

It wasn’t just grandpa Roy who kept journals and loved writing on paper. Sorting through some of our parents’ belongings might make someone think that we owned stock in stationary stores or had some kind of notebook fetish. After helping my sister with her recent move, I came home with a stack of half page size yellow legal pads. These have 5” x 7” sheets. I use those pads and have a notebook with space to carry a couple of them and a pen that I always carry in my backpack. But this stack is more than I will be able to use in the rest of my lifetime. And I use quite a few. For example, right now to the right of my computer keyboard there are three, each with notes on a different project. It seems that I not only inherited our mother’s love of notepads, but I also have inherited the paper to support the habit.

Our father’s preferred paper size was smaller. He was a lover of pocket notebooks. He gave away pocket notebooks as advertisements for his farm machinery business, and always had one in his pocket to record notes on deals he was working, reminders of chores he wanted to complete, and lists of tasks. He put one of the notebooks into the glove compartment of every vehicle we owned and he expected to have every oil change and repair job recorded in those notebooks. He was a licensed pilot and an authorized airframe and engine mechanic. He was used to the detailed maintenance logbooks required for aircraft. He expected similar records for his vehicles and he passed on that tradition to his children. One of the changes that I have made in retirement is that I have removed the pocket notebooks from our vehicles that I used to record mileage. For my professional career, I recorded every trip in our vehicles including mileage, destination, and purpose of the trip. For years we kept complete mileage records as we claimed a tax deduction for professional travel. I decided that the combination of the fact that we are no longer able to deduct mileage and the fact that we are retired has meant that I don’t need to keep those records.

Maintenance records on our vehicles are kept in the computers of the shops that perform the maintenance. I no longer need a notebook in the vehicle to check when the last oil change or brake job was performed. But I have a supply of pocket notebooks.

And despite having sorted through the stacks of pens and pencils that we accumulated from 25 years of living in the same house, there still are plenty of extra pens and pencils in our home. We haven’t bought paper for our computer printer since we moved and I think we probably moved four or five years’ supply. The same is true of envelopes. It is possible that we will not need to purchase regular letter-size envelopes for the rest of our lives. To be fair, however, we inherited boxes of envelopes from both Susan’s parents and from mine.

There is no shortage of any office supplies in our house. We have extra scotch tape and multiple dispensers, extra staples and staplers though we don’t use very many staples, and enough paper clips for any purpose we can imagine.

I like having supplies on hand. It is nice to be able to invite guests for a meal and not have to make an extra trip to the grocery store. When the weather turns cold and the streets become slippery, we won’t go hungry. We keep staples on hand and have a well-stocked freezer. If we had to live off of our on-hand supplies, we’d make it for weeks, though we might get a bit tired of chicken and rice for most of our meals.

I suspect that we could make it for the rest of our lives without purchasing additional office supplies. We might run out of a particular size of paper or envelope, but there would be plenty of other sizes on hand.

My Great Uncle Ted prided himself on having whatever was needed on hand. He kept bits and pieces and parts in containers all over his house and garage and in several sheds in the back yard. He didn’t like to throw out anything that he might one day use. And he was a master at making parts for various objects. He was a skilled sheet metal worker and could fashion a lot of different items from the metal of a 3 pound coffee can. He’d cut open the seam, flatten the metal and reshape it to make whatever he wanted. He kept nuts and bolts and wire screws and rubber bands and bits of string and rope in coffee cans. Going through his house you might come to the conclusion that he never threw away any of the coffee cans he’d purchased. And he drank coffee every day.

I’m trying to be responsible and not increase the supply of notebooks and paper in our home. I avoid stationary and office supply stores as much as possible. Perhaps I could add a bit of moderation to the inherited tendencies before handing them onto our grandchildren.

The dog

My sister’s dog is visiting us for a few weeks. She is housesitting for a friend and the friend has a cat that isn’t ready to welcome a strong dog into the home. Cody, the dog, is familiar with our home and has stayed here before. He is a friendly Australian Shepherd and he is really good with the children, which is a quality that is necessary for any visitors to our home.

We take Cody with us when we go on our daily walks and we often receive compliments for the dog as we walk. People tell us what a beautiful dog he is. I agree. He is easy to walk and well behaved. He does, however, have a few quirks that challenge us. He barks at almost anything that occurs outside the house. If a truck drives by on the street, he barks. If a neighbor’s dog barks, he barks. If I am watching a video on the computer and there is the sound of a backup alarm on a piece of equipment in the video he barks. When he first arrived at our house he barked when the clock struck the hour. Fortunately for us, he quickly adjusted to the clock and it no longer elicits a response from him.

The thing that really sets him off is a garbage truck. When a garbage truck is in the neighborhood, whether on our street or on a street a block away, he goes into a frenzy, barking and running back and forth from the front door to the back door. If I let him out into the yard, he barks and runs back and forth along the fence, jumping to see over the top of our 6’ privacy fence. I’ve tried things that have worked with other dogs. I keep a pop can with pennies handy and shake it to interrupt the barking. It has a little effect, but doesn’t work for the garbage trucks. And our neighborhood has garbage trucks, recycling trucks, yard waste trucks, and more each Monday. Cody also barks at all UPS, FedEx, and US Postal Service Vehicles. Those barking frenzies make a challenge when he sees one of those vehicles when we are walking.

We haven’t kept pet dogs as adults, and so I am no expert. I’ve read that barking is a way of a dog expressing anxiety. I try to remain calm and to speak with authority to the dog when he is barking. I get down and look him in the eye and try to reassure him. But the things I’ve tried so far don’t seem to help.

I tell neighbors and others that he is a ranch dog and that the problem is that I don’t own a ranch. Barking at approaching trucks is normal behavior for ranch dogs. I’ve visited enough farms and ranches to be able to tell when a dog is dangerous and likely to bite and when the barking is just a normal greeting. Cody isn’t dangerous when he is barking. He is just loud, like a ranch dog.

Today, however, is garbage and recycling day at our house and for the other houses in our neighborhood. My sister has decided that the thing to do is for her to come by our house and take the dog to a nearby dog park for part of the day. That will give us peace, and will be appreciated.

I think it is possible that there are as many articles and videos about what to do to stop a dog from barking on the Internet as there are cat videos. At least there are more than I’ve been able to read and I read a lot. I know the advice to “maintain a calm, confident, I’m in charge attitude.” I’ve read that you never reward a dog or give it a treat when it is barking. I know from reading, and from experience, that dogs respond much better to positive rewards than negative rewards. Praising the dog for not barking and for maintaining calm works better than yelling at the dog when it is barking.

I’m not sure, but it seems like the dog is checking out all of the articles just to stay ahead of me. Each new thing I discover and try has almost no effect.

For the record, I haven’t tried any of the dog silencer collars. First of all, I’m not a fan of giving an animal a shock. It seems cruel. I know that there are some that don’t give the shock. I think they work by emitting a sound. But the dog isn’t my dog. He is my sister’s dog. I’m not inclined to invest in a device that may not work and I don’t want to try a new training technique that ends up confusing the dog. On the other hand, I haven’t completely ruled out trying such a device in the future. After all, I’m fairly confident that I could afford such a device and I’m quite confident that I cannot afford a ranch. The collar is the less expensive of the two options.

Not being a dog owner, I’ve never been to obedience school or worked with a professional dog trainer. My opinion, however, is that those programs are almost as much about training the person working with the dog as they are about training the dog. Pet owners need to learn to be consistent in their training routines for animals. I think that Cody has lived where it is acceptable to bark at trucks and other vehicles for enough of his life that learning a new set of behaviors is a real challenge. You know the old adage about old dogs and new tricks.

At the moment, however, it is calm at our house. The dog is curled up on his bed and looks quite charming. He reminds me of all of the pleasures of owning a dog. He greets me at the door, is attentive to me. He is really good with the children. He is an excellent companion.

Now, if he can just get me trained to allow him to bark at garbage trucks . . .

Winter approaches

Part of the adjustment to living in this new place is learning the cycles of the weather. Winter around here doesn’t arrive with snow and heavy frost. Rather its coming is marked by increased rain and lots of wind. The forecasters are saying we could see a few snowflakes overnight, but the thing you have to keep you eyes on is rain. We were among the estimated 80.000 customers of Puget Sound Energy who had power outages on Friday night. It was very brief at our house, just a couple of minutes. It got us practiced for last night, when we had to set our clocks as we fall back at the end of Daylight Savings Time. Let’s see, there is a clock in the microwave and another on the stove. There is a digital alarm clock upstairs. Our phones and watches and computers will set to standard time automatically. The antique clock didn’t need any action with the power failure, but the easy way to fall back was to stop the pendulum for an hour and then reset the clock. It all went smoothly. We’re set.

Actually an extra hour is appreciated at our household. Yesterday was a busy day. We were at the church early in the morning to prepare for a climate summit. Our church’s 2022 all church read is “Climate Church, Climate World,” by Jim Antal. Early in the year, we invited the author to come to our community for an open conversation with the public on Saturday and to preach at our church on Sunday. Early last summer, we decided that problems with transportation, the high carbon cost of flying, and the unknown nature of the Covid pandemic warranted a switch from an in person visit to a digital event. Yesterday’s summit was hybrid, with around 70 persons participating in person and others joining online. Our keynote presenter was on the big screen, presenting from his home in New England. We had in person panelists at the church. The event was a success and people were talking and networking over refreshments afterwards.

In the afternoon my sister arrived for a brief visit. Her dog, who always enjoys the visits, was glad to get out of the car, but settled into life in our home quickly. He has been here before and he knows the routine. Our son and his four children arrived for a supper of pizza and apples and fun with the dog. After they left for their home and Saturday night showers and baths, we settled in by the fire to talk a bit. It was nice to know that we had an extra hour before getting up this morning for another busy day.

The thing about the weather around here is that it isn’t very severe. That storm that brought down power lines land sent utility crews scrambling on Friday night had winds up to 50 mph. That’s nothing. My home town in Montana sees winds doubled that. And then when it snows, the snow will melt before the end of the day. We don’t get accumulations around here. It really doesn’t feel like winter felt in the other places we have lived. On the other hand, the people here live as if there was severe weather. We get power failures when the wind blows and the school declares snow days when it snows even though it seems like it is pretty easy to get around.

Rain, however, is nothing to mess with. We are learning about rain and what happens. The rivers are already running high around here. When another atmospheric river arrives today, the combination of heavy snow in the mountains and lots of rain here is likely to cause flooding. This particular storm probably won’t result in much flooding, but we know from last year’s conditions that November can be a wet time. There was a lot of flooding in the county last November and the newspapers are all running articles with the obvious: don’t drive into flooded areas, don’t go around barricades, be aware of flooding conditions. Last winter there were floods that closed the Interstate highway for a while and mudslides caused damage in the nearby mountains. The Nooksack River left its banks and there was flooding in the city of Bellingham as well as in other area towns. We know that we could see high water again this month.

Fortunately, our home is on high ground and we can get into town or over to our son’s farm without having to cross any areas prone to flooding. Besides, we spend enough winters in South Dakota that we are stocked up with groceries and other essentials. I we need to, we can easily stay home for a few days while things get sorted out.

One thing that can’t seem to get sorted out is Daylight Savings Time. For a while it looked like the US congress would enact permanent Daylight Savings Time act that would mean that when we spring ahead next spring it would be the last time we had to reset our clocks. However, the bill is stalled in the US House of Representatives where everyone has their attention focused on the midterm elections, so it seems unlikely that they will get around to making the change in time. For now we’ll have to remember to set clocks.

That reminds me that I have clocks to set in the car and pickup. Unlike the previous generation of vehicles where I had to get out the owner’s manuals each time I had to set the clocks, these vehicles have clocks that are very easy to set. Armed with an extra hour of sleep, I should have no problems with that chore.

So, I guess we are ready for winter, or whatever weather comes our way. I won’t be needing my heavy parka, but I’ve got my raincoat and even a pair of rain pants ready. My muck boots are in the garage just in case I need to help out in the mud at the farm.

We’ve got this.

The Lottery

Here is a topic about which I know almost nothing: the Lottery. I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I don’t feel any need to buy one. Emotionally, buying a lottery ticket feels to me to be the same as simply throwing money away. I had a brother, who is now deceased, who used to play the lottery. He didn’t see it at all the way I did. As far as I can tell he believed that one day he would win big. Maybe he did. He died of a sudden, massive heart attack. As near as we can figure he died quickly with a minimum amount of pain and anxiety. Maybe that is a big win. It doesn’t seem like it to me, however. Then again, we didn’t always see the world in the same way.

The basic structure of the Powerball lottery is pretty simple. People buy tickets. Tickets are sold in 45 of the 50 United States, Washington, DC, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Not all of the proceeds from ticket sales go into the prize. The states share in the profits from the game. Each ticket has six numbers on it. To win, a ticket must match all six numbers. The odds of winning are very, very low. They change with the number of people who purchase a ticket, but they are never good. That means that there are many weeks when no one wins. Each time there is no winner, the jackpot grows for the next drawing. Currently there has been no winner in 39 consecutive drawings. The prize has grown really, really large. The pre-tax amount is $1.6 billion. The previous largest prize was $1.59 billion, split between three players in 2016. Winners can opt for a single large payment, with enormous tax consequences, or a 30-year annuity, with enormous tax consequences. States that have income taxes benefit from having the winner reside within their borders, as well as from the proceeds of the lottery. The odds of winning the current prize are one in 292 million, according to Powerball officials.

One in 292 million doesn’t seem like very good odds. Odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are less than one in a million. Odds of dying in a plane crash are one in 9821. A car crash is more likely: 1/107. About one in five deaths is caused by heart disease. And the odds of having some form of cancer are about 1 in 2 in the United States. That last one isn’t quite what it seems, however. There are many forms of cancer that are very survivable. Having cancer doesn’t mean you will die of cancer. I’ve already lost that lottery, though the particular form of skin cancer that I’ve had is rarely life threatening and in my case the lesions were small and easily removed.

Statistical odds are pretty much meaningless, especially when they are so wild. On in 292 million simply doesn’t mean much to the people who buy Powerball tickets. They reason, “someone has to win the prize eventually.” Even if three winners have the chosen numbers, a third of $1.6 billion is a lot of money.

I see it differently. Let’s say that the winner is a person who lives below the poverty line. Somehow it seems like that would be better than having the winner be someone who already has wealth. Let’s say that there are five winners this time around and that they are all living in poverty. After the payout and the taxes and the challenges of financial management of sudden wealth, that still leaves 42.31 million people living in poverty in the United States. You’d think that $1.6 billion might have some impact on poverty, but the lottery isn’t a good way to get value out of that money if you are talking about reducing the number of people living in poverty.

I, of course, have no idea what a billion dollars is about. A billion is a lot more than a million. To put numbers in perspective, you can do the math on seconds. Each tick of the clock in my study is one second. A million seconds is 12 days. A billion seconds is 31 years. A trillion seconds is 31,688 years. To put it another way, to spend a billion dollars in 30 years requires expenditures of over $91,000 per day. I have no idea what such an amount of money might mean. I do know that the world is probably better off with me not being in charge of such an amount. Then again, I’m a pretty happy person. I know a lot of people who have more money than I who aren’t as happy. Elon Musk is reported to be the richest person in the world with assets of $203 billion. He’s gone through two divorces. I had the good fortune to meet the love of my life early in life and have never had to go through the pain of a divorce. I also don’t get attacked on social media every day, and the press pretty much ignores me when I go about my life. I have no inclination to switch places with Musk. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that he isn’t going to buy a Powerball ticket. At least we agree on one thing.

There is another thing about a $1.6 billion lottery prize. The odds are against anyone actually seeing a billion dollars of prize money. Almost all winners of really big lottery prizes opt for upfront cash instead of the annuity. That means they get less. If a single winner opts for the upfront cash in tonight’s Powerball drawing, the estimated draw is $782.4 million, which is still a lot of money.

Big winners still have about the same odds of getting struck by lightning, or of being in a car crash. Their odds of being in an airplane crash go up slightly because they tend to travel by airplane more than the average person.

And, when all is said and done, there will still be 42.31 million people living in poverty tomorrow.

Tick Tock

I know it is a silly thing, but I am so delighted to have our antique mechanical clock back in my bookcase and running. There are several ways to count the passing of time in our house. The digital clock in the microwave counts seconds by displaying numbers that decrease with the passage of time. The second hand on my watch sweeps around the face, making a full trip each minute. My watch is digital, so I can also have it display seconds counting from one to sixty and then starting over again. It also has a timer function that counts down like the microwave. The antique clock does not have a second hand, but the pendulum swings back and forth, making the trip from one extreme to the other and back each second. As it travels back and forth, the pendulum is attached to a lever that advances one tooth on the escarpment gear, making a tick, tock sound. The sound may seem a bit strange, or even annoying to someone who is not used to it, but to me the sound is very relaxing. The clock is right next to my recliner, and when I sit in the recliner and relax, the sound often lulls me to sleep.

Other than when they are visiting their grandparents, the clocks in our grandchildren’s world are silent. They don’t naturally think of the passage of time in terms of sound. I’ve taught the older grands to count seconds by inserting a three syllable word between numbers, counting “one one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand,” or “on chimpanzee, two chimpanzee, three chimpanzee.” They still prefer a visual clue such as a second hand or a changing digital display to mark the passage of time. I can count short amounts of time in my head quite accurately. I think it is due in part to my listening to the constant and regular tick tock of the mechanical clock. It’s pace sets a rhythm. As a result, I can recognize when my heart is beating faster than my resting rate simply by feeling my pulse. I know what 60 beats per minute feels like as my finger tips press against my wrist. I don’t need a clock to check my pulse.

How we think about time is greatly influenced by language and culture. For example, if you as a person whose only language is English to draw a time line, they will most commonly draw a line from left to right with the most anxiety time on the left and the future off to the right. However, if you ask the same thing of someone whose language is Hebrew, they will draw a line from the right to the left with the past being off to the right. For a Mandarin speaker, the line will be vertical with the past at the top and the future at the bottom.

It isn’t just the direction of a line that varies with culture. People who speak only Greek tend not to think in terms of a line at all. They picture time as a three-dimensional entity, like a bottle that is filled up or emptied out. Greek speakers don’t talk of a meeting as being “long,” but rather as “big.” What we call a “short” amount of time is a “small” amount to a Greek speaker. When an English speaker talks about a long time, another English speaker knows what is meant. But if an English speaker tries to make a literal translation into Greek and refer to a long time, people will react with confusion.

People have different abilities to estimate the passage of time depending on how that passage is displayed and what their native language is. Like their Greek counterparts, Spanish and Swedish speakers are good at estimating time when the graphic on a computer screen is a container filling up, but less accurate when the graph is a line that grows. English speakers, on the other hand, are more accurate with the growing line display than with the container filling.

Perceptions of time are built into the very structure of language. The English language technically has more than three tenses, but we tend to think in terms of only three: past, present, and future. “It rained yesterday. It is raining today. It will rain tomorrow.” Other languages don’t have the need of three tenses. In German you can say Morgen regent, or “it rains tomorrow.” The same is true of Mandarin. Those subtle differences present a huge challenge for translators, who seek to do more than simply decode another language. A translator must come up with a consistent meaning that is expressed in another language, with another set of cultural conditions.

As an amateur Biblical scholar and sometimes theology geek, I am fascinated by the subtle differences in meaning expressed in language and how those meanings are lost or maintained in the translation from the original languages and cultures to contemporary language and culture. Biblical Hebrew does not have a future tense, but Biblical Greek does. This language barrier makes it easier for English speakers to think in New Testament terms than in that in Old Testament terms even when they do not know either of the original languages. Translation is made even more complex because the Bible was transmitted in Latin, a language with a future tense, for more than a thousand years.

Meanings change not only in the translation of language, but also with the passage of time. My grandchildren are less likely to think of the passage of time in terms of sound than I. They already think that TikTok is the name of a social media platform while I think of it as the passage of time. Even more dramatic is a study by Keith Chen, a behavioral economist with UCLA, who discovered that people whose native languages do not have a future tense are more likely to put money in savings and accumulate more wealth in retirement. Specifically, in his test people whose native languages were German, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch or a Scandinavian language were 31% more likely to have put money in savings in any given year than those who spoke English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Greek. Differences in health statistics followed the same lines, with those whose languages had a future tense, like English, being 24% more likely to smoke, 29% more likely to be less physically active, and 13% more likely to be medically obese than their counterparts whose languages don’t have a future tense.

As I sit and ponder these concepts, it is reassuring to hear the clock mark my journey into my aging years.


Last night in the conversation that preceded a small group discussion, members of our church were talking about long-term friends. Several participants in the group had stories of friends with whom they had been close for decades. On member told of receiving a phone call from a college roommate with whom she is still very close. The conversation got me to thinking about some very good friends. I have friends from my high school, college, and seminary years. I have friends from each of the communities where I have served as a pastor. There was a fascinating connection between two of my friends yesterday that brought a smile to my face.

A college friend who grew up a couple of doors down the street from my wife’s family home has had a life that has paralleled mine in many ways. We are only one day apart in age. We both are married to women who are ordained ministers. We were both ordained in the same year and served local congregations for all of our careers. We both retired during the covid pandemic. His last Sunday in the pulpit before retirement was the same day as mine. Over the years we have both shared similar political perspectives. From our college years he has been just a bit more outspoken than I, but I have almost always agreed with his point of view.

A friend who we first met when we went to North Dakota to interview at the first church of our career is another person with whom I’ve kept up over the years. I worked for him as my boss for a few years as I was getting started as a pastor and needed a bit of supplemental income for my family. His wife was the nurse in the delivery room when our son was born. Susan and I officiated at the wedding of his daughter. I officiated at the funerals of his mother and a brother-in-law. We kept in touch for the decade that Susan and I lived in Idaho and when we returned to South Dakota we would occasionally get together for a meal when he and his wife were in Rapid City. We always had plenty to talk about. Over the decades we learned to tread lightly when it came to politics. His views are very different from mine. I’m certain that we have voted differently in each presidential election since we met. We used to argue about politics a bit, but as we have aged, we have found that our friendship is more important than our political differences and often avoid political topics when we are together.

Then, last night, on his Facebook feed, the second friend - the one from North Dakota - posted a quote from the first friend - the one who is a minister. I did a double take. How could these two have paths that crossed? My college friend lives in Maine and has never lived in North Dakota. My North Dakota friend has always lived in the same town where he was born. The two have political views that are very different. But there it was - a quote and the name of my college friend in a box on the home page of my other friend. More interesting, the quote was reposted after having been posted by another person whom I met 44 years ago. To be fair that person is a lifelong friend of my North Dakota friend, so it isn’t strange that he reposted something that had appeared on the other person’s Facebook feed.

Thinking about it, I suppose that the quote traveled from Maine to North Dakota on United Methodist Church channels. My college friend is a United Methodist minister. In fact he is a sixth generation Methodist minister. My North Dakota Friend joined a Methodist church after the United Church of Christ congregation in his hometown closed years ago. I wouldn’t surprise me for the quote from my Methodist pastor friend to have appeared in a church bulletin or a social media post that was shared by many United Methodist Church members. He is well known in the church, having presented at national conventions and meetings of the church. He is a wise and respected elder among Methodist clergy. He also is a poet and songwriter, whose words are memorable and often quoted.

I sometimes there are things that I deeply believe that I don’t share in certain contexts because I fear that they will cause controversy. I want to remain friends with those with whom I disagree. I don’t want to destroy a friendship over a political point of view. At the same time, there are issues for which I feel called to take a stand and be a witness. Issues like racism, poverty, and climate justice are far too important for me to remain silent.

Reading my friend’s words on my other friend’s Facebook feed got me to thinking that it isn’t what we say as much as how we say it. If we can find a point of connection with another human being, if we can empathize with that person and connect on a deep level, then we are able to witness to the truth as we see it without damaging a relationship. Throughout my career, I have felt a deep freedom to speak from the pulpit precisely because I developed a close relationship to the people I served. I knew them and understood how they would react to my words. When I was called to take a stand, I felt the support of those I served.

These are the words that appeared in the Facebook Post:

“Halloween: a day when we get it right.
Strangers come to us,
beautiful, ugly, odd or scary,
and we accept them all without question,
compliment them, treat them kindly,
and give them good things.
Why don’t we live like that?”
Steve Garnass-Holmes

The response was:

“By far the best statement I’ve seen in quite some time. Maybe ever. Why can’t we live like Halloween?”

I agree.

Word of the year

Dictionaries have played a big role in my life. My Great Uncle Ted, for whom I am named made a home-made dictionary stand that would hold an unabridged dictionary. He lived a very modest life in a very small house with little furniture, but that dictionary stand had a prominent place in the living room. When he came to the end of his life, the dictionary stand moved to my parents’ home. Later, when my mother downsized and moved away from our childhood home, the dictionary stand came to live in our home. Finally, when it was time for us to leave South Dakota and move out to Washington, the dictionary stand left our family. It, along with an unabridged dictionary, went to Good Will. I hope it found a new home with someone who loves dictionaries.

When our children were living at home and were occasionally invited to share a meal at a friend’s home, one of them commented to me, “Other families don’t keep dictionaries at the dinner table.” It was the first time I had thought of the topic. Susan and I had been turning to dictionaries to clarify our conversations for decades by that time. I can’t exactly remember how we graduated from the Webster’s College Editions we used when we were students to the two different unabridged dictionaries that we kept at hand when our children were growing up. I can remember spending evenings reading from dictionaries to each other. When we moved to Chicago to attend graduate school, I discovered the Oxford English Dictionary. For years, I would run my hands over editions of the OED at used book stores, add up the cost of acquisition, and decide that it wasn’t time yet. When I got access to the OED online version, my life began to change.

Our children and our nieces and nephews received dictionaries as high school graduation gifts. Somewhere in the selection of dictionaries as gifts, I began to put confidence in the Collins English Dictionary. They published a one volume dictionary that carried a lot of contemporary words yet wasn’t too big to pack into a box bound for a college dorm room.

We don’t keep a dictionary at the dinner table any more. These days we pull out our smart phones and search the internet for the meaning of words. I am not only enamored with online dictionaries, I also gravitate to news stories about dictionaries.

Each year Collins Learning, publishers of the Collins English Dictionary, publishes a list of ten words or phrases that “reflect our ever-evolving language and the preoccupations of those who use it.” This year’s list appears in today’s online edition of the Washington Post. The BBC website got the jump on the Washington Post and published the list yesterday. The word of the year for 2022 that tops the list is one that I haven’t begun to use. It will, I believe, become part of my active vocabulary.

Permacrisis - a word describing the feeling of living through a period of war, inflation, and political instability - is the Collins Dictionary word of the year. The spell checker in my computer hasn’t learned it yet and marks each entry with a red dotted line alerting me to spelling mistakes.

Around the world there are many people who have the feeling of living in an ongoing state of anxiety and uncertainty. The unending election cycles in the United States with candidates who refuse to concede defeat, a pandemic that continues to bring fear of debilitating and sometimes fatal illness, weather extremes that bring record-setting storm after record-setting storm, the war in Ukraine, deep political divisions that include the rise of fascism and political violence, rapidly rising costs of basic items such as food and clothing, and an on-going energy crisis are just some of the realities in our world that lead to a sense that crisis is not just a temporary reality, but something that will be a part of our lives for as long as they last. We need a word for all of this and permacrisis is that word.

For a little while, however, I will have to be careful when using the term, as the auto correct in my computer wants to substitute perniosis, which is inflammation of small blood vessels caused by an abnormal reaction to the cold. The spell checker also doesn’t know that word and tries to substitute prognosis. You can see why automated dictionaries are poor substitutes for printed dictionaries, but you can also see how we used to get into rending dictionary entries to each other for entertainment.

Six of the word on the Collins top ten list this year are new words this year, including permacrisis. Some of those words will be used by citizens of the UK more than by those of us in the US: Carolean - of or relating to Charles III of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or his reign; and Partygate - a political scandal over social gatherings held in British government offices in defiance of public health restrictions. Other words might make it into my vocabulary: Splooting - the act of lying flat on the stomach with the legs stretched out; Lawfare - the strategic use of legal proceedings to intimidate or hinder an opponent; and Quiet quitting - the practice of doing little or no work while being present at one’s place of employment.

Words from previous Collins’ lists have become part of my speaking and writing: lockdown, climate strike, single-use, fake news, Brexit, binge-watch, photobomb, and geek. All of the words on this year’s list, except quiet quitting which is a two-word phrase, are flagged by my spell checker. None of them from previous lists are. Even my spell checker will eventually learn new words.

For what it is worth, I’m disappointed in the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022. The word for 2021 was vax, a shortened version of vaccine or vaccination. It seemed appropriate. The 2022 word of the year, however, is anti-vaxxer. For me the choice is a disappointment. I hope the editors of the OED spend more time reading dictionaries before next year. Perhaps they should obtain a copy of the Collins Dictionary.

Halloween 2022

A very small green dinosaur walked up to our front porch as I was sitting there last night. I got off of my chair and got down on my knees to meet it. At first it said nothing. Then, with a prompt from its mother, it said in a very quiet voice, “Trick or treat.” I gave it some candy from the bowl in my hands. Then its mother said, “Say ‘Thank you, Ted.’” The dinosaur said, “Thank you!” I said, “Is your name Ted?” The dinosaur looked a bit puzzled. Its mother said, “Yes, his name is Ted.” I gave the dinosaur a second portion of candy and said, “Hello, Ted. My name is Ted, too!” The dinosaur looked a bit more puzzled. His mother said, “What do you say?” The dinosaur said, “Thank you.” I said, “You are most welcome, Ted.” It isn’t every day that you meet a dinosaur named Ted. In fact I can’t ever remember meeting another dinosaur named Ted. And it was such a polite dinosaur, too.

A princess with very long hair came up the walk. I think it might have been Rapunzel. She was very soft spoken. I gave her some candy. She said, “Thank you!” but I could barely hear her. As she walked back towards her parents, her mother asked her, “Did you say ‘Thank you?’” I said, “She certainly did.” Her mother said, “That’s good!”

I was handing candy to a group of children when I overheard parents talking in the driveway, “Do you see the library in that house? I want a library in my front room!” Most evenings I close the blinds in our front room, but last night I had the lights on in our study and the blinds were open. It gave those walking by on the sidewalk a good view of the bookcases along the north wall of the room. I have to admit that I really like having our library in our front room. It is much smaller and has far fewer books than was the case when we lived in South Dakota, but it is still very, very nice. There is a shelf right by my recliner that has the books I’m currently reading on it. The shelf below has some of my favorite poetry books to which I return on a regular basis. Good poems deserve to be read again and again.

We have a section of sidewalk that is made of pavers in squares with white landscape rock around the pavers. It never before occurred to me that the sidewalk looks a little bit like railroad tracks, but one of the children who came to our porch went back down the sidewalk saying “Choo Choo!” as he hopped from one paver to the next.

A cluster of young teenagers stood at the end of our driveway. One of them said in a loud voice, “I can’t remember if we’ve done this house.” I said in a loud voice, “I’m an old man. I can’t remember, either. You might as well come up and get some candy.” They did.

It was our second Halloween in this house and the neighborhood is very different from where we lived in South Dakota. In South Dakota we thought we had a busy Halloween if we got eight or ten children who came to our door. Here I sit on the front porch handing out candy because there isn’t time to close the door between visitors. Besides, it is a lot of fun to sit on the front porch and hand out candy to children in costumes.

After our experience last year, I thought we were well prepared for the crowds of children this year. I had over 400 pieces of candy. I thought it would definitely be enough for 200 children. Our grandchildren handed out candy to some of our guests. They were generous. I hope they learned that from their grandfather. I never kept count of how many children, but after a couple of hours, I was definitely running short of candy to give away. I said to Susan, “I guess we’ll just give out candy until we run out and then we’ll have to turn out the lights.” It wasn’t a problem, however. Our grandchildren had invited their friends to come to our house for supper and trick or treating. Six children returned to our house with pounds and pounds of candy. They sorted through their treasures and gave us plenty to keep our bowl of candy filled as more children came to the porch. I didn’t count the number of children who visited, but I’m pretty sure it was more than 200. Next year, I’ll make sure to have even more treats on hand.

I noticed that after the refill there were even more Almond Joy bars in our candy dish. I had earlier said to the children that I was disappointed that one of the bags of assorted candy bars I had bought had Almond Joy bars in it. “Almond Joy is adult candy,” I had said. “Kids don’t want dark chocolate with almonds and coconut. They want Skittles and Kit Cat and Reeses.” My grandchildren had agreed with me. They weren’t inclined to keep their Almond Joy bars. It was clear that we weren’t the only house that was giving out Almond Joy bars. I heard one child talking to his mother as he walked down the street away from our house, “Here mom. This one’s your favorite.” He handed her an Almond Joy bar.

I don’t get into Halloween like some of the neighbors. I don’t have special lighting or large inflatable outdoor decorations. There are no giant spider webs on the side of my house. No 12 foot tall ghosts are lurking in my yard. But I do like living in a neighborhood where there are hundreds of children walking and running up and down the street talking in excited voices. I like living where parents are spending the evening with their children enjoying the neighborhood. I enjoyed the costumes and the look on the children’s faces. I’m pretty sure that the retirees who moved to the gated and guarded “over 50 only” neighborhoods didn’t have as much fun last night as I did. As they headed out to go home, our grandson’s friend said to him, “Your grandparents live in the best neighborhood for Halloween!” I guess we’re just lucky that way.

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