The path of the storm

I’m used to paying attention to the weather. In the days when my father was earning our family’s living with light aircraft, weather was a critical factor. We had printed weather maps in our home and I learned to interpret the symbols indicating barometric pressure and visualize winds as I looked over the maps. As the technology improved and common folk gained access to the information produced by Doppler radar, I began to use popular web sites such as AccuWeather and Weather Underground to access visual images of the track of storms that might affect our plans. Nonetheless, there have been plenty of times when the weather has surprised us. We’ve been caught a bit unprepared when a 25% chance of rain materializes. It wasn’t 0% in the first place, but the odds were low enough that we took a risk. We’ve spend a few days of our lives snowed in when a storm proved to be more severe than forecast.

Fortunately, however, I have never been in a place where the weather has caused devastation. I’ve never lived in a home that was damaged by a tornado, hurricane, or other weather event.

Although I grew up in Montana where winter storms can be severe, snowfalls high, and bitter cold accompanied by strong winds, I don’t remember ever having a snow day from school as a student. It is possible that such an event occurred and I don’t remember. I do remember times when the school busses didn’t run, but those of us who lived within walking distance of the school still attended. I’m pretty sure that the standards used to make decision about snow days at schools are different than when I was a child, especially in the place where we now live. I can remember snow days from our children’s school days and it seems that it doesn’t take much snow fall at all for our grand children’s school to declare a snow day.

It isn’t snow, but our daughter and her family will be home today with all of their storm plans in place. They’ve got the pantry stocked, extra water in storage, flashlights and lanterns at the ready, and will be staying at home today. Her husband won’t be going to work and they won’t have any social events. They live in Dalzell, South Carolina, and Hurricane Ian is headed their way. The hurricane that caused devastation in Puerto Rico and Cuba and on its path across the State of Florida was downgraded to a tropical storm yesterday. About twelve hours later, as the center of the storm moved back out over water, it was upgraded to hurricane status once again.

I’ve been looking over the weather maps to see how close the center of the storm will come to our daughter’s home. Of course it isn’t possible to give an exact track of a storm and the farther away in time the wider the possible storm path. I’m learning the term “cone of uncertainty” that accompanies storm tracking.

Despite the uncertainty of the storm track, it is likely that they will be experiencing heavy rain and high winds today. The storm is moving at about 10 mph and is expected to make landfall around noon and be just to the east of where our daughter lives around 8 pm this evening. They could see 8 to 10 inches of rain or more before the storm moves on. Wind speeds within the storm are likely to slow as it moves across land. Importantly, they live far enough inland to escape the storm surges that will cause significant coastal erosion an bring dangerous conditions to those living on the coast.

Last November we had a little joke when flooding hit communities not far from where we live. We observed that when the waters rise enough to cover the yard signs, people lay aside their politics and start acting like neighbors once again. Along with the surge of a storm comes a surge of community service. People reach out to help one another. We’ve seen it time and time again. Still, there will also be plenty of politics played even in the midst of the storm. We have seen politicians step in to promote their ideas and political desires in previous storms. There are politics involved in the distribution of relief aid. Politicians like to be seen in the places where storms have passed, examining the effects of the storm and appearing to be compassionate toward the victims of storms.

All it will take for us to increase our worrying would be for strong winds to topple a few cell phone towers so that we cannot talk to our daughter as the storm passes. The Internet cables in their immediate neighborhood are underground and they are likely to have avenues of communication throughout the storm, but they are within the cone of uncertainty in terms of the storm at this point. It is enough to keep me looking at the weather web sites and paying attention to the track of the storm.

Of course this isn’t only about my family. At least ten people have died as a result of the storm in Florida and the death toll is expected to rise. People had to swim to save their lives and there are a lot of people who have lost their homes and possessions. There are a lot of people deeply affected by this storm and the trauma they have experienced will have lasting effects. The response of state and national governments to the disaster will be critical in helping folks to recover from the impact of the storm. In addition to the thoughts and prayers of the rest of the world, folks need real hands-on help with cleaning up, recovering what can be recovered, and replacing what has been lost. There will be complex decisions about which areas can continue to be occupied and which people will need to relocate to saver places.

In the meantime, the waters have risen above the yard signs in many places. Let’s hope they are deep enough that people remember how to behave as neighbors to one another.

Confronting climate change

The reason for our recent trip to Montana was to help my sister with her move from our family’s summer place. She had been living there year-round with some absences during the winter. The time has come, however, for her to live closer to her children and her grandchild and she has undertaken the difficult chore of a long-distance move. We made the trip to assist with her move and to help prepare the place for sale.

The weather has been amazingly mild for the work that we had to do. We did experience a couple of windy days, which is a common phenomenon in that part of Montana. We saw a few clouds, but the small amounts of rain we experienced were brief. The times when we were moving objects, we didn’t have to fight rain at all. We are back in Oregon now and we still have a few more things to move into storage, but most of that work is being accomplished for now.

As I write I can hear a gentle rain shower passing through the area, but it isn’t the long-lasting rain that can come to this part of the country. The Pacific Northwest has been experiencing a period of low precipitation that has locals wishing for rain. People are hoping that recent showers are a foretaste of a coming change. From the years that we have been visiting the Pacific Northwest prior to moving to this part of the country, however, September is often a time of blue skies and little precipitation.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of places in the world where there has been too much rain lately. Making headlines right now is Hurricane Ian, which has lost a lot of strength as it traveled across Florida yesterday. Severe flooding, high winds, and storm surges have wreaked havoc in a wide swath of the storm, leaving two million people in Florida without power and internet in addition to those in Cuba who have yet to have their power restored after the storm crossed the island. The torrential rains combined with the high storm surge to plunge areas under water.

And it isn’t just Ian. The recent hurricane Fiona slammed five provinces of Canada with record winds, rain, and waves. The Canadian Space Agency has released satellite images showing the storm’s devastation. Massive coastal erosion has occurred in the Northumberland Strait - the water the divides Prince Edward Island from the mainland province of New Brunswick. Popular landmarks have washed into the sea and been destroyed. Coastal wharfs and barns also have been destroyed.

Around the world people are cleaning up and recovering from the effects of flooding. Japan is also recovering from a record storm that brought high winds, heavy rains, mudslides, and storm surges.

There is little doubt that part of the cause of so much intense weather is the warming of the planet. Warmer seas mean increased evaporation and though the frequency of storms may not have shifted much, the intensity has increased. Hurricanes are larger, more devastating, and covering larger amounts of land than has historically been the case.

The science of global warming is not new. Scientists have been warming of the effects of increasing carbon in the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels for more than a century. Our generation, however, may be the first to realize the size of the impact human activities have caused. And yet, it is unclear how many people understand the current situation enough to make the significant changes in lifestyle that are required to slow the rate of change in the atmosphere of the planet and the subsequent storms and other events that arise from those changes.

Last night we had a discussion of global climate change and how we might engage others in conversation and learning that might lead to significant change. One voice in our conversation was questioning whether or not the general public has enough awareness to be motivated to change. We fear that our discussions are taking place among a small group of concerned people and not reaching enough people to have a significant impact on behavior.

Having spent the past week helping with the move, I am aware that there are many people who are engaged in a lot of work and activity just to survive and get through life day to day. For many, there is little energy left for contemplating the effects of climate change while they struggle to achieve housing, health care, and groceries. It can seem like the effects of climate change are far away. After all, we don’t live where hurricanes come. Our region did experience devastating flooding last November when high rainfall combined with warmer temperatures to cause extensive flooding in coastal river systems. Too often, however, we think of global climate change as something that is impacting the residents of island nations, those who live in the paths of hurricanes, those whose lives are threatened by wildfire, and others who are far away from us. Climate scientist and communicator Katharine Hayhoe uses the plight of polar bears as an illustration. She notes that most people have never seen a polar bear and even though we know that their habitat is shrinking and their population is threatened the problem seems to us to be far away. She reminds us, however, that in some ways polar bears are very similar to humans and that in a way their situation is a foretaste of what is coming to humans on our planet. If we don’t act quickly, it may become too late for us to make the required changes for survival. Like the polar bears, humans will face mass starvation as the planet’s capacity for food production is reduced by the change in the climate.

Ours may be the first generation to fully understand the impact of over consumption of fossil fuels, but we may be the last generation with the power to avert mass starvation, climate refugees, pandemic, and other devastating effects of that consumption.

We live in critical times and the challenge of learning to work with our neighbors to make meaningful changes is upon us. We will not experience a lack of meaningful work in the span of our lives.

About the space probe

I’m a big fan of NASA. From the early days of space exploration, I have paid attention to the work of scientists and engineers who have pushed space exploration and developed amazing systems that have expanded our knowledge of the universe. From flights carrying humans to robots operating on distant planets, the ideas and imaginations of humans about how to explore the universe are amazing.Our lives have been improved by all kinds of products and developments that have made their way from the space program to everyday use here on this planet. Medical advances, including remote heart monitoring, have had a direct impact on the quality of life of people that I know and love.

However, it is clear to me that I do not think like a NASA engineer. I’m not trained as an engineer, and I tend to approach problems from a less analytical perspective. Many of the projects of the agency come as surprises and sometimes seem a bit strange to me. I’ve read about the enthusiasm and energy that NASA scientists put into the Dart probe that smashed into an asteroid a couple of days ago and I have to admit that I’m a lot less enthusiastic than the engineers pictured in the articles about their work.

A BBC article reported that controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU-APL) “erupted with joy as Dimorphos filled the field of view on Dart’s camera just before then going blank.” The scientists calculated that the impact was just 17 meters from the exact center of the asteroid. It will take weeks before scientists on the mission will know for sure if their experiment has worked. Observations from other satellites and space telescopes will be used to determine whether or not the course of the asteroid has been altered by the impact.

Dr. Lori Glaze, director of planetary science at NASA, stated, "We're embarking on a new era of humankind, an era in which we potentially have the capability to protect ourselves from something like a dangerous hazardous asteroid impact. What an amazing thing; we've never had that capability before,”

I’m still trying to get the experiment straight in my mind. Engineers have developed an incredibly expensive and complex combination of technologies to launch a satellite designed to smash into an asteroid and change its direction. They have done so because they want to have the technology available should there come a time in the future when an asteroid is determined to be heading for a collision with the earth that could have catastrophic consequences. Many scientists agree that an asteroid striking the earth was responsible for the mass die off of dinosaurs. They warn that mass casualties and perhaps the end of life as we know it could be the result of such an impact.

So they built a rocket and sent a devise to intentionally crash into a distant asteroid that poses no danger to our planet to prove that they have the capability to crash a different probe into a different asteroid should the need arise at some time in the future. The project has been dubbed a “planetary defense system.”

Since we humans have invested so much energy and human creativity in the design of this defense system, it makes sense that we understand the likelihood of employing it in an earth-saving maneuver. According to the BBC article an asteroid large enough to cause mass casualties might strike the earth about once in every 20,000 years. Odds of a larger asteroid that would cause global devastation are about once every 500,000 years. Of course those odds do not specify which years the threat might occur so we do not know whether such a threat could arise int he lives of our great, great, great, great grandchildren. It is very unlikely such an event will happen for many generations.

Meanwhile, back on our planet, the Canadian maritime provinces are cleaning up after an unusually strong hurricane caused destruction and resulted in casualties. Another record-breaking hurricane has resulted in the complete collapse of the power grid in Cuba and is not lined up for a devastating impact on Florida. Warnings are out, evacuations are underway, and fears are rising. We have become more sophisticated in predicting the path of major storms, due in part to space technologies. Satellite imagery is very useful in helping to save lives by giving warning in advance of storms. As far as I know, however, we aren’t running any experiments on technologies designed to alter the path of major storms to save lives. If a person is in the direct path of the storm the best defense is to get out of the way and evacuate to a safe shelter.

Climate scientists say that increasingly strong storms are the product of increasing global temperatures. There is widespread acceptance that global warming is the result of the overconsumption of fossil fuels. The science surrounding climate change and its causes has its roots in observations made hundreds of years ago. We humans have known for a long time about the treat of human caused global climate change. To my knowledge, however, we haven’t developed the collective will to work together to defend our planet from its effects.

All of this has me wondering. While we are fairly certain that we need to devise systems to protect humans from mass extinctions from pollution caused diseases, starvation, and mass climate migration, we are slow to respond. The chances of devastating consequences of our current course of behavior are extremely high. Human lives have already been lost and more are threatened as the result of climate change. If we do not make dramatic changes in the next 50 years the consequences are fairly certain and they include flood, fire, famine, and pandemic.

So we focus our attention and capabilities on providing a defense system for the one in 500,000 odds while we haven’t yet found focus around the certain crisis that is immediately before us. If we don’t make serious changes in the next 50 years, humans will not inhabit this planet long enough to deploy an asteroid deflecting probe to defend the planet.

That is the way our minds and imaginations work. We avoid the things that are right in front of us and focus our attention on things well beyond our grasp. I guess we can hope that there is some as yet unforeseen spin off technology or understanding from the space probe that might be used to defend us from a much more likely and immediate danger.

Movies about defending earth from asteroids seem to be more popular than ones about defending the planet from our own behavior.

Saying good bye

This morning, after we have gotten ourselves some breakfast, we will drain the water from the cabin, finish winterizing the system, and head west pulling a trailer loaded with my sister’s things. We also have a couple of items that will end up at our home. It has been fun to spend a few days at a place that was so central to my childhood. It has also been handwork. The routine, however, is not unfamiliar to me. For several years, when I was living in South Dakota and our mother was spending her summers here, I would fly out to Portland and drive mother to Montana in the Spring. I’d turn on the water, open the shutters, and help prepare the place for her summer stay. Then, in the fall, I’d make the trip in the opposite direction, winterizing the place and driving our mother back to Portland where she had a house near my sister’s home.

The years have passed, and I’ve said good bye to this place many times. Each time I knew there was a good possibility I would return. This time is different. If things go as planned, a company that conducts estate sales will sell and dispose of the remaining items at the place and a customer will be found to purchase it. For the first time in nearly 80 years, our family will no longer own property in Sweet Grass County. Saying good bye is especially difficult for my sister, who was the most recent member of our family to live at the place. Unlike our mother, who always treated the property as a summer home, two of my sisters and one of my brothers spent winters here, heating with firewood and electricity and making themselves cozy in the cabin. I’ve visited during winter weather, most recently getting snowed in at the place in the late fall of 2020, but I’ve never spent a whole year at the place. It has always been a place that I visited, rather than my full time home.

My emotions at this time are mostly simply being tired. We have been working hard and some of our work has been sorting through possessions that have been in our family for generations. Among the final items at the place are the diaries and journals of our great grandfather, an early Montana settler who was the territory’s first court reporter, who traveled part of the state by bicycle, and who was friends with pioneer Methodist circuit riders. When they have been digitized they will become part of an historic archive. The paper copies have been stored in an old deep freezer. It turns out that the appliance, after being retired from serving our family storing food, is an excellent waterproof and mouse proof storage place for the documents.

It won’t be hard for me to pull up the driveway and turn west. I have a lot of reasons to be eager to get back to my own home and the life we have in Washington. I’m eager to see our grandchildren again. I want to watch the last weeks of the blooming of our dahlias before cold weather sets in. I have several exciting projects going at the church and am looking forward to a season of growing our faith formation programs.

Life is filled with loss. Learning to say good bye is part of every human life.

I remember packing my clothes, my typewriter and a few books in the late summer of 1970. I was heading off to college. I looked at the cabin where I had spend the summer and it was hard to say good bye. However, college was exciting and fun and I had a girlfriend waiting for me. I was a bit emotional as I took a last walk around the place, looked at the river and got into the car.

I also remember the late summer of 1974, after my wife and I had spent the summer at the place. I had already made a trip to Chicago and placed most of our possessions in storage in the basement of the apartment building where we would be living. For this trip, we loaded our remaining belongings into our small Opel car and headed east toward Chicago. We already knew that the next summer we would have jobs waiting for us in the mountains. We fully expected that we would be returning to Montana to live after completing our seminary educations. It didn’t turn out the way we expected. We did come back for the next two summers and work at our church camp. But we never returned to Montana to live. When we said good bye to Big Sky Country, we would follow the call of the church to North Dakota, Idaho, and South Dakota, and now Washington. We never came “back home” to live permanently.

In a way our lives have been a succession of saying good bye. We have lived in some wonderful and beautiful places. We have been connected to challenging and faithful congregations. Life has been good to us. We have passed milestones on our way. Our children were born in North Dakota. They both graduated from High School in South Dakota after having lived for a decade of their lives in Idaho. Neither chose South Dakota as their adult homes. One lives in Washington and the other in South Carolina right now, but we have the sense that our South Carolina daughter isn’t finished with making moves from one place to another.

So we will say good bye to another place that will remain an important part of our stories. We’ll come back to the mountains. We still have reasons to come to Montana to visit. But it won’t be quite the same when we will no longer have a driveway to call ours.

I am looking forward to shedding the responsibility of sharing ownership of a distant cabin with my siblings. Each passing year makes the work of maintaining the place more difficult for me. I know it is time to say good bye and move on.

It is time for a new family to discover this wonderful place and begin filling it with their own memories.

Team Spirit

The town of Columbus, 40 miles east of my home town, was among the high school sports rivals when I was a teen. Our team was the Sheepherders, often shortened to Herders, and our colors were blue and white. The Columbus High School team colors were green and white and they called themselves the Cougars. A few miles farther down the road were the Absarokee Huskies who were orange and black. In those days, Red Lodge’s team was called the Redskins and their color was (surprise, surprise) red. A little more than a decade ago, the Red Lodge team changed its name to the Rams. The team colors are now blue and gold, and I think that they changed the colors before the name change, but I am not sure.

It is high school homecoming season, and the local schools here in the part of Montana that we are visiting are all active drumming up team spirit. As we drove through Columbus we saw green cougar paw prints painted on the streets. There is a single giant green paw print in a downtown intersection. I suspect that the decorations coincided with the homecoming parade.

Just 15 miles down the road, there are orange husky paw prints painted on the streets of Absarokee. They also have a giant paw print in a downtown intersection. Near the high school the names of the coaches and players are painted on the street as well. Absarokee is a smaller town, but it appears that they were able to muster as much or more money for paint as the team up the road.

We didn’t paint the roads when I was a high school student. I always played in the band, so my perspective on homecoming parades was mostly a matter of memorizing a few songs, trying to march in straight lines, and little else. The band usually led the parade, so we got to watch the rest of the parade as they pulled into the empty lot at the end of the parade route.

After I left high school for college, I never returned for a homecoming parade. I’m not much on school reunions. The Covid-19 pandemic changed some of the plans for our class’ 50th reunion, but I doubt that I would have attended anyway.

I am simply not an expert in high school spirit traditions, homecoming celebrations, or the painting of streets in small towns. However, I do have a few observations based on driving from Big Timber to Red Lodge and back again.

On the city streets, as opposed to out in the wild, the paw prints of cougars and huskies are remarkably similar in shape. The only way I could distinguish the one from the other was the color.

Apparently Sheepherders and Rams don’t leave paw prints behind. I didn’t see any prints painted on the streets of Big Timber or Red Lodge. I doubt that their schools exhibit less spirit than the neighboring towns. I don’t think that there is any lack of team spirt in their high schools. Painting streets isn’t the only way to demonstrate team loyalty.

Of course my own personal experiences don’t give a very accurate picture of high school sports. I grew up before the school sports gender equality mandated by the Federal Government in 1972. High School Sports, including football, basketball, wrestling and track were boys’ sports. Our high school did have a girl’s basketball team, but they didn’t get much attention. Girls could letter in cheerleading, however. The cheer leaders had uniforms in the school colors and traveled with the boys’ teams to games in neighboring towns.

Things are different now. I’m not a very big sports fan and I’m out of touch with high school sports. I used to enjoy watching games from time to time when i knew the players. Sports were important to many of the youth in church youth groups over the years, and I was interested in the things that were important to the youth, so I followed their high school teams and paid attention to the teams. These days, youth ministry isn’t included in my portfolio at the church. I have less contact with the youth, though I still know many of them through confirmation class and other church programs. I know that sports are important to them. I’ve talked baseball and track with some of the young athletes in our church. As far as I know, painting the streets hasn’t been a big deal with the teams where we now live. I’m not sure what the Blaine Borderites would paint on the street anyway, and the Ferndale Golden Eagles don’t leave paw prints behind. Bellingham High School changed their team from the Red Raiders to the Seahawks this year. The other high school in Bellingham, Sehome, is home to the Mariners. Seahawks and Mariners share their name with Seattle professional sports teams, so there is probably a bit of crossover of team identity items. Like the other high school teams in our area, there aren’t any obvious prints that one might paint on the city streets. Like the Herders and Rams in Montana they have to find other ways to express team spirit.

Of course there is the obvious difference between high schools here in Montana and those back home in northwestern Washington. In Columbus and Absarokee, there is not much traffic on the streets. There is time for the pain to dry between passing vehicles. You wouldn’t find a similar condition on the streets of the more urban areas of western Washington. Even the small towns have rush hours and there is no time when the streets aren’t filled with cars going to and fro. Painting the streets is probably just too dangerous to be practical as an expression of school pride in the place where I live. We’ll have to leave street painting to the folks in more isolated locations.

This week, we will leave the light traffic behind as we head back home. I’ll try to pay attention to high school homecoming activities just to see how they compare with what we’ve seen on this trip. I will, however, remain a casual observer. I’m just not into homecomings and reunions.

Red Lodge

The drive from Big Timber to Red Lodge is very familiar to me. There are a couple of different routes that can be taken, but the one I love best heads 40 miles east on the Interstate to Columbus. The Interstate was not built when I was growing up, so the first section is faster and has more traffic than was the case when I learned to drive. From there the two lane highway goes 15 miles southwest to Absarokee. The drive from Absarokee to Red Lodge is about 30 miles of winding up and down with some steep grades and plenty of curves. The drive was the first point to point drive I was allowed to make after getting my driver’s license. I had plenty of experience driving around the airport and on dirt roads and around town, but my parents were careful to limit my highway miles even after I had my driver’s license until I gained a bit of experience. The drive to Red Lodge was just right for gaining that experience. We had a Chevy Caryall, the passenger version of their panel wagon. It was equipped with a 6 cylinder engine and a 4 speed transmission. The hills and curves demanded that I anticipate and brake appropriately and also that I downshift for the steep uphill portions. It was a good place to practice driving, and I remember my first trip with my dad in the right hand seat. My father’s parents lived in Red Lodge and we made the trip often.

A year later, when I was learning to fly we made the same trip with our airplane. The trip is a bit shorter in the airplane and the airports are about 800 feet different in elevation. In those days, Red Lodge had a fair upslope in the runway, so landing uphill and taking off downhill was recommended in all but the strongest winds.

The 30 mile drive from Absarokee to Red Lodge is one of the most scenic drives anywhere. The dramatic Beartooth Mountains rise against the Montana big sky to the south. The hillsides are usually green. The mountains carry snow most of the year with peaks that rise above 10,000 feet. Red Lodge is nestled on Rock Creek at the bottom of a fairly step mountain valley.

Another thing about the drive, is that there isn’t much traffic. The main flow of traffic in and out of Red Lodge is coming down from Laurel and heading up toward Yellowstone National Park. That highway is busy and can be dangerous as people are impatient and tend to take risks when passing slower vehicles. But the road from Absarokee doesn’t have many cars. We may have met ten cars on our drive yesterday, but I think that it was closer to 5. Most of the time we didn’t see other cars at all as we drove.

I have a few friends who are bothered by wide open spaces with little traffic. They wonder what might happen if they broke down. What I know from a lifetime of experience is that help comes quicker when you are on roads that are lightly traveled because other travelers will stop to see if you need help. That doesn’t happen on the busy Interstate highways. Of course these days we use our cell phones if we need assistance, and the more remote locations might not have cell phone coverage, but places where you can’t get a signal are becoming fewer and fewer. At any rate, I have never broken down, or even had a flat tire on the drive from Absarokee to Red Lodge. I’ve had a couple of close calls with deer on the highway at night and I came very close to hitting a skunk once, but so far that stretch of highway has been gentle to me.

I’ve adjusted to the traffic in our new home for the most part. I know that even the two lane back roads will be full of cars and that a driver has to be vigilant for those who pass in the wrong places and others who drive too fast or too slow for conditions. There are plenty of drivers in Whatcom County, where we now live, who follow too closely to the car in front of them. I don’t like it when they tailgate, but I’m getting a bit more comfortable with the pace of travel and the density of cars on the road. We pass hundreds of cars on our drive from our house to the church. I’m sure there are days when it is even thousands of cars.

This trip is a real treat for me. I never expected to retire in a place with so many people. I like having a bit of space.

Red Lodge is still recovering from flooding in June. Rock Creek was so overwhelmed with water that it left its usual course and ran right down the streets of town. It took out bridges and bridge approaches, washed away hillsides and one house. It flooded dozens of other houses and left huge boulders lying around town. There has been a lot of clean up already accomplished, but there are still a lot of excavators and front end loaders working on various projects along the stream bank and the streets of town.

My grandparents are no longer living, but Susan’s sister and her husband have lived in Red Lodge for more than 50 years, so we have always had family in the town. It is a fun place with enough tourists to support several good restaurants and shops. The people who live here have learned to live with deer and moose in their yards. The town deer are very tame and will allow a close approach. They’ll eat dog food out of the dish if it is left outside. Some become so familiar to the locals that they have names and neighbors recognize individual deer. The moose wander in a bit less frequently, are bigger and can be dangerous, but pose no threat to those who are used to them. There are other animals that visit town. This time of year black bear sightings are common. The bears are hungry, filling up to prepare for hibernation and eat the chokecherries and the berries from the mountain ash. They also will raid a garbage can if it is left in a place where they can get access. Sightings of grizzly bears, bobcats and mountain lions are also fairly common. You don’t have to worry about them while walking around town. As long as you can see the deer and they are calm, you know that the apex predators aren’t in the neighborhood.

Our visit is a treat because it is a drive down memory lane for me and a fun visit to a place where there are fewer people. We’ll soon head back to our home where we are happy, but the memories of the Montana high country will be with us forever.

Changing seasons

The Crazy Mountains viewed from Big Timber, Montana. The roof in the foreground is of the shop where our father had his John Deere dealership.

When it was light enough to see yesterday morning, we noticed that there was snow in the high country. This is not at all unusual for September. The Crazy Mountains, rising to the north and west of my home town, have always been dramatic. When I was growing up there were summers when snow remained in high valleys year round. In recent years, however, the snow has all melted and it is common for the mountains to be free of snow from mid-June into October. The lack of snow in the high country has changed the nature of hunting season and some years has impacted the amount of water available for irrigation in some places.

Yesterday it was a simple reminder that fall is coming. Two years ago, when we made our move from South Dakota to Washington, we were hung up for a couple of days in the same cabin where we are staying now. It was a bit later in the year - mid October - and we still had one more trip to make from South Dakota to Washington. We were set to close on the sale of our South Dakota home and had a few more things to pick up for the final trip of our move. We were eager to get back to South Dakota to finish our chores there, which included some cleaning of our home. However, we simply had to sit and wait out the weather as a couple of feet of snow rendered the roads impassable and our patience was required as we waited out the storm.

There was one thing I noticed from that trip that informed this one. The prevailing wind in Montana blows from West to East, so driving across the state usually means a headwind when heading west and a tailwind when heading east. On that trip ahead of the snow storm two years ago, and on this trip, as we drove across western Montana, we were driving into a headwind. I joked about making a trip where I would be driving into the wind both ways, and recalled similar trips across South Dakota. When the wind is blowing out of the east, it means that there is a low pressure system behind us. In other words, a storm is blowing in.

On this trip, however, the storm brought only a few raindrops to the lowlands. Our cabin here is at about 4500 feet above sea level and we saw only a few sprinkles. However, the tops of the mountains were high enough to cause precipitation from the passing clouds. I’m guessing that the snow line was around 7500 feet, based on the height of the mountains and the change in elevation.

Summers are short in the high country. It is part of what makes a visit to the high places so exciting. Around the middle of June, daytime temperatures rise high enough that the snow melts. The days are long and the nights are short. Wildflowers bloom in profusion in the short season. The animals move up into the high country and feast on the fresh grasses that grow in the short summer season.

There are other signs of the approach of autumn around here. The cottonwood trees haven’t turned color and shed their leaves yet, but they are a bit paler than their mid-summer color. The willows dance in the wind, but also are keeping their leaves for now. The deer, however, are acting as if the rut is about to begin. The young bucks are testing themselves with short head-butting clashes and a lot of strutting and prancing around. For now the does are mostly ignoring them and occasionally running them off, but you can tell by watching the deer that things will be picking up soon. The bear is eating as much as possible to pack on the pounds before heading for the hibernation den. We haven’t gotten a good enough look at the one that is going through our place, so we don’t know if it is male or female. If it is female, she probably found a male bear and mated during the summer. The embryos are inside of her, waiting until she hibernates to begin growing and developing. She needs to pack on lots of extra fat to develop cubs without eating herself.

I haven’t noticed the bats flying around in the evening. There has been enough chill to decrease the number of insects in the air. The forecast calls for more warm days and it is possible that the bugs will still be flying for a few more weeks. I saw a small garter snake trying to get some sun on the driveway yesterday afternoon, but in the late afternoon it had become so chilled that it was immobile and lethargic. It didn’t even move when I touched it. I picked it up and moved it out of the driveway so it wouldn’t get run over, but it didn’t respond at all. Hopefully it will warm when the sun comes out today and be able to return to the den before it gets so cold that it cannot move once again.

Today we will head up to Red Lodge, about a thousand feet higher than where we currently are. We’ll get a chance to look at the devastation of the late spring and early summer floods that washed out roadways and flooded basements. This has been a year of weather extremes for this part of the world.

I grew up being aware of the weather among people who talk about the weather a lot. The changing of seasons is always dramatic in this part of the world where summer highs reach above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and winter lows can reach twenty or thirty degrees below zero.

We, however, no longer live in this place. We’re just here for a few days’ visit. Soon we’ll be on the road, heading west. We’ll probably be driving into the wind as we approach and summit the mountain passes that carry us back over the continental divide to the place we now call home where the weather is a bit less extreme. Still, we’ll notice the changing of seasons in our new home and probably tell our grandchildren a few stories about how it is in other places we have called home.


One of the things that we have missed about living in South Dakota is that where we now live, we don’t see deer in our yard. There are plenty of deer in the countryside and we see them from time to time, but our South Dakota home had a much larger yard and the deer were there every day. We were able to witness the birth of fawns and watched them grow to maturity. We learned to recognize individual animals. We have always enjoyed wild neighbors and living near to the national forest was a good place to view wildlife.

I enjoyed watching the deer in the yard here at our family’s cabin yesterday. A young spike was testing his prowess with a two-point buck with a little head butting. Both of them were put on the run by an older doe who was tired of their behavior somewhat early in the fall. The rut is coming, but she wasn’t ready yet. The weather was blustery and the deer were a bit jumpy as the wind blew through the trees and raindrops fell.

One of the neighbors at this place is a black bear. I haven’t seen it, but there is plenty of bear sign around. The bear has been seen on the security camera and it has pushed over the burn barrel a couple of times. There is scat in the yard between the house and the shed. The bear poses no danger to us, but I would turn on the yard light before venturing out in the dark all the same. There is no need to be startled or to startle the bear.

We saw bears from time to time when I was growing up, mostly in the high country or at Yellowstone National Park. We learned to be bear smart when camping and backpacking and never had any troubles. Grizzlies are less common in our area than black bears and in general making a bit of noised not surprising a bear is a good practice.

I read in the Bellingham Herald that the black bears are on the move in the North Cascades in Whatcom County. Our home is quite a distance from where bears have been sighted, but we did get a good look at a bear when we drove up Mount Baker to show the scenery to visiting friends in June. I suspect that the fires in the North Cascades have given the bears reason to move around.

As important as human neighbors are for our health and well-being, we also enjoy a bit of space from other humans. When we have lived in places that are more densely populated, we have sought places that felt a bit more wild. Years ago, when we lived in a tiny apartment in Chicago, we found trips to the lakeshore to be important. In those days we spent our summers in the high country of Montana where we could see moose, deer, elk, bear and other wildlife. During the summer we managed a church camp, so we also had plenty of opportunities for interaction with humans.

Yesterday we took a walk over to and around a nearby county park. The park has been developed since I lived in this town and it is a really nice improvement. There is a walking loop in the park and if we walk from the cabin over to the park and walk the loop in the park and back we have gone nearly two miles, which is about average for our walks these days. There were other visitors to the park which is a popular place for people to walk their dogs. We decided the there were about as many dogs in the park as there were people. Some folks, like us, didn’t have a dog, but others had more than one. One woman had three dogs. The dogs were all friendly and well behaved, and we enjoyed sharing the space with them. They offered the added bonus of giving us confidence that we wouldn’t run into the bear, but we weren’t worried about the bear in the middle of the day anyway.

Since time immemorial, people have lived with animal neighbors, both domestic and wild. Living in harmony with nature includes an appreciation for non-human creatures. Before the arrival of European settlers the indigenous people in this part of the world developed a special relationship with the American Bison, often called buffalo. We learned a lot about those magnificent beasts when we lived in South Dakota. Now we have moved to a place where the natives had a special relationship with the Salmon. Those magnificent and delicious fish are a bit of a barometer on the health of the environment and the signs have not been good. The number of salmon returning from the ocean to the rivers and streams to spawn is smaller with each passing year. Scientists are studying them, learning of the multiple threats to their survival and some of what we read is alarming. There have been efforts to clean up streams and remove dams to restore salmon habitat, but much more work is needed.

We humans have not always been good neighbors to other animals with whom we share the planet. We have over consumed and we have spread out and taken away habitat needed for animals to thrive. We have failed to see that our health is also threatened by some of our practices. As our carbon emissions continue to cause global climate change and our overpopulation consumes more and more of the planet’s resources, we have been slow to recognize the risk not only to our animal neighbors, but to ourselves as well. We are all dependent upon a healthy planet. We all need clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. We all need wild places where we can experience solitude and immerse ourselves int he beauty of creation.

I’ll keep my eye out for the bear and I’ll county myself luck if I get to see it.

Camping in a familiar place

When we were young, our parents bought what had been an old motor hotel alongside the river at the edge of town. It was sold at a sheriff’s auction after a long period of tax delinquency. Some folks considered the property to be essentially worthless. The various buildings, sheds and cabins were in pretty rough shape. The shower house needed to be torn down. It was being undercut by the river and was structurally unsound. There were some interesting buildings on the place. One building that had been converted into two guest rooms had begun its life as a band shell when the property was a park. Another building had housed a slaughterhouse. That building was covered in stucco and had an archway connecting it to a smaller building that had been an office. We called it “The Alamo.” The main cabin, which had been a residence was divided into three sections: A front room with a counter that had been the registration desk, a center kitchen area, and two bedrooms in the third section.

The grass, brush, and willow trees had overtaken the place. There was barely room to turn a car around in the loop at the end of the driveway.

We camped out at the place after it was purchased. We cooked over a campfire. We played in the river. We fell in love with it. For us kids, it offered a summer-long camp experience.

Our father got to work, sketching out plans for a bathroom addition to the main cabin with one bathroom with a tub next to the bedroom area and two smaller rooms with showers and facilities. He brought machinery from his shop to dig a new septic tank and lay out a drain field.

Meanwhile we went to work repairing all of the broken windows. I learned to cut glass and glaze windows. We painted the interior rooms. Not much longer, shingles were the order of the day as we removed roofing, rolled out tar paper, and nailed down shingles on roofs that were not completely square. Each of us children claimed a cabin, cleaned out the cobwebs, and made it into a summer bedroom. It wasn’t luxurious, but it was a lot of fun. We had room for friends to stay over. We set up our trampoline in the yard. We built treehouses. There were always extra kids for dinner, which often was a meal cooked over the campfire.

We raised chickens and donkeys and turned a couple of the smaller buildings into a chicken cook and a shed. The old shower house was torn down.

Over the years various improvements were made. Our parents dreamed of building a home on the property and there were a few sketches of what they might build. Our father got sick and that same year a fire burned past the place and caused some damage to the exterior of the main cabin. The year after our father died, our mother ordered a log cabin. the main cabin was torn down, leaving the new bathrooms in tact. The new cabin was built around the bathrooms. It features a large great room with a kitchen, and two bedrooms.

The slaughterhouse was torn down and we had a huge bonfire with some of the rubble. Mother worked with a local builder that was short of work in the off season and cabins were jacked up and leveled. Siding that looks like logs was put on the outside of the buildings. The new cabin afforded a longer season and the kitchen made things a bit less like camping all of the time.

A large steel shop building was added to the place, offering a lot of storage and work space.

The cottonwood trees on the place continued to grow old. Some fell down. Others needed to be cut down. New trees emerged. Some were planted on purpose. I came to visit when I was able and brought our children here. In the summer of 2001, I spent much of my first sabbatical here, writing curricula to fulfill a contract and paddling and playing in the river. I helped with the mowing and care of the place.

When our mother died, the property was placed in trust and we shared management in an informal pattern. First our younger brother and later two of our sisters lived for a while on the property. We visited on vacations and stayed in the cabins. The trust had no source of revenue and the occasional rental of the place didn’t bring in enough income to cover taxes and insurance. A hailstorm finished off the old asphalt shingles and new metal roofs were installed. Stain was applied to the outside of the buildings and other improvements were made.

The time, however, has come to sell the place. We don’t have a structure to support keeping it into the next generation. Our family has grown in many different directions and we are all getting older. The visits are less frequent now that Susan and I have moved farther away.

For the next few days, however, we are back camping at the place. It feels like camping as some of the furniture has been moved. We’ll be putting the place to rest for the winter, draining the water system and taking down screen windows. In a few days we’ll leave once again. This might be our last visit. The property, however, is a unique kind of place and it may take some time to get it sold. We are unsure of what will happen if it is unsold by next summer when it will need maintenance and work and we are living far away.

Those are problems for another day. Right now we are living with a bit of nostalgia, working on the place. We’ll meet with the realtor and stop by the insurance agency to pay our bill. We’ll make sure that our addresses are correct with the county for tax statements and the electricity company for power bills.

Life goes on. The place of our childhood awaits a new family and more children to come and make it their own. It doesn’t look at all like it did when our family bought it. I expect that in a few years we’ll be amazed at the changes the next owner makes.

The art of miscommunication

Yesterday, on our drive across eastern Oregon and Washington, we stopped for an afternoon treat at Helados La Michoacana, a Mexican Ice Cream restaurant in Pasco. Susan got an ice cream bar with fruit. My sister got a frozen fruit juice bar. I attempted to order mango ice cream, but instead got a dish or cut-up mango. It was no problem. I joked that I got a snack that was much better for me than the one I thought I was getting. I know a few words of Spanish, but I do not speak the language. I suspect that the clerk who waited on me speaks English fluently, but part of the ambiance of the place was the Spanish language spoken by the workers.

It isn’t the first time my language skills have been found to be lacking. I love to travel and have had the good fortune of going to other countries where other languages are spoken. Since I don’t speak any other language clearly, I have to rely on translators and when a translator is not available, I employ a combination of sign language, gestures, and a few words, probably mispronounced. We get by and we’ve had a lot of fun experiencing different cultures and seeing different places. We’ve not gone hungry, but, as I mentioned, I have received food that was different from what I thought I ordered.

To complete yesterday’s adventures, we stopped at a fruit stand a little later to pick up a box of Washington apples to take as a gift to family in Montana. The fruit stand had ice cream. I got a dish while my sister and wife picked up apples and a few peaches for snacking. My sister asked me if I got what I ordered. I replied in the affirmative and we had a good laugh.

In our travels we have found that there are a lot of people in the world who speak English. Many of them have studied it as a second language and are eager to try out their skills. In Japan, school children would come up to us and talk to us in English. They enjoyed the opportunity to use a subject they had studied in school and we enjoyed learning a bit more about their studies and lives.

Once, in Germany, we were visiting a family with bilingual parents. The children spoke only German. The parents reported to us that when they were putting the children to bed, they asked, “What’s wrong with the Americans? They can’t talk.” It was an accurate description of our language skills. We got a laugh out of their perception.

One of the stories that we tell over and over agin is from a trip we took to Europe the summer we graduated from seminary. I locked the keys in a rental car while we were in Holland. None of us spoke Dutch. Susan knows a fair amount of German, but it wasn’t helping much in the situation. Eventually, through gestures, pointing, and a bit of laughing we managed to make one of the locals aware of our problem. That person called a locksmith and our problem was soon solved.

The stories and experiences of our lives point out the limitations of our language skills. There are a lot of people in the world who are fluent in multiple languages. Even though we studied languages as part of our higher education, we have not gained fluency in any language other than English. Compared to many people around the world, we lack communication skills.

Eastern Oregon, Washington, and much of Idaho have had Spanish-speaking workers for over a hundred years. Some of those people have been traveling workers, coming up from Mexico in the summer and autumn to work on farms and orchards and returning to Mexico in the winters Some of them are people whose families have lived in the region since long before statehood. Many of them speak Spanish in their homes and among their friends, but also are able to speak English in order to transact business and go to school. There are generations of multi-lingual members in many families. When we are visiting in their neighborhoods, we have the opportunity to experience a bit of their culture and when we find he right places to eat a bit of their food. Frozen treats and fruit are enough to attract curious visitors and we weren’t the only English speakers in the restaurant yesterday.

One of the joys of travel is stepping outside of our comfort zones and experiencing something new. There are plenty of Spanish speaking people in the part of Washington where we live. We rented a home for the first year of our retirement. Although our landlords spoke English fluently, they both had learned Spanish as the primary language in their childhood homes. Many of our neighbors spoke Spanish as a primary language. Our son is librarian in that town and the library needs employees who are fluent in Spanish and has a growing collection of Spanish language books for children and adults.

Spanish and English aren’t the only languages we hear on the streets of our town. There are people who have migrated from Ukraine, Pakistan, and India among other places. Their languages are like music as we walk down the streets and shop in local businesses. They bring not only languages, but also culture to enhance our community.

Educators tell us that it is much easier for children to learn multiple languages than adults. Their brains are more adept at retaining sounds and meanings than is the case as we grow older. However, there are plenty of cases of older adults learning new languages. It isn’t too late for me to add to my language skills. It will, however, require a bit of discipline and an openness to learning from me. Once again I am resolved to do a bit more studying and learning. I’ll need to practice as well. Even when I am surprised by the food I receive, I am grateful for the opportunity to try.


We drove to the Portland, Oregon area yesterday. There was a time, decades ago, when we came to Portland on a regular basis. When we lived in Idaho, Portland was the location of the office of our Church Conference. In those days, my sister lived in Portland, our children were young, and we would load them in the car and head west. My sister lived in the Portland area at different times in her life. It is where her children were born and raised. In the days before GPS, I got pretty good at navigating around Portland with a map and my memory. There is much that has remained the same and I have a general sense of direction when I’m driving around the area, but there is a lot that has changed over the years. There are areas that once were farmland than now are housing developments. There are busy four lane highways where rural streets once were the way to navigate. The city has a compact and dramatic downtown with tall buildings and a spaghetti bowl of highway bridges and interchanges.

For years, Portland was the destination of our vacations and countless business trips. Portland is inland from the coast, bounded by the Columbia River on the North and the Willamette River which cuts through the east side of the city.

This time, we approached Portland from the north, instead of from the East. Crossing the Columbia from Washington to Oregon, we could see the city emerging. My sister has recently moved back to the Portland area and is just settling into her new home. Part of the reason for our trip is to help her move some of her possessions. We’ll be driving out to Montana to pick up some of her things.

It is interesting to me how memories can be layered in a place. There was a time when I had a lot of friends in Portland. I knew the other ministers of our Conference, I knew the youth from church camp and from youth retreats. A few of my friends remain in the area. We are all a lot oder now. Those youth are now in their late forties and early fifties. Time passes and things change. The decade we served in the Central Pacific Conference is just one of the layers, however.

I remember driving into Portland in our 1978 Ford Pinto. The car did not have air conditioning, and the drive across Eastern Washington and down to the Columbia gorge had been hot. Cooler air greeted us in the gorge and Portland was an amazing city to us. Our urban experience at the time was pretty much limited to the four years we had lived in Chicago, which is a very different kind of city. This was before we had children, and my sister was working as an engineer in a western suburb. We drove out to the coast on that trip, visiting the Tillamook Cheese Factory on the way. I was amazed that we could drive out onto the beach in our cars. I took my first glides in a hang glider on that trip. It was the first a a whole lot of trips.

When we moved to Idaho from North Dakota, I made a silly error the first time we came to Portland for a Conference meeting. In North Dakota, we lived in the Mountain Time Zone and our Conference Office was in the Central Time Zone. We had to compensate for the time zone change when attending meetings. Everything in Bismarck happened an hour earlier than in Hettinger. When we moved to Idaho we were still in the Mountain Time Zone, and our Conference Office was in Pacific Time Zone. We didn’t have cell phones or watches that automatically set their time to the current local time. I changed my watch in the wrong direction, absently thinking of how I would have changed it in North Dakota. I showed up two hours early for a meeting. That was probably better than showing up two hours late.

I drove a lot of rental vans into the Portland area over the years we lived in Idaho. It seemed that I was always transporting youth to Portland for one event or another. Each fall our conference had a youth leadership event that was usually held in the Portland area. One summer I drove a van load of youth to Portland. After an overnight with host families from area churches, we went to the airport and flew to Hawaii for a regional youth event. One of the youth in my delegation took his first ride on an airplane for that trip. I still keep in touch with him. His children are now older than he was when we took that trip.

Memory upon memory, layer upon layer. There are hundreds of other stories that come to my mind when I think of Portland.

In the afternoon yesterday, I had time to go on a brief adventure with my nephew. He came over to his mother’s place to see us and we took a walk through the woods and through the brambles to get down to the river where we took a canoe out of the water and put it onto the dock. I have watched him grow up and it is a joy to see him as an adult.

Last night we were guests at the home of my niece. She and her husband have a daughter, about nine months old. Their daughter is my sister’s only grandchild. They have a lovely home and it was our first visit there. Children become adults with children of their own. It is amazing to witness the change. It is amazing to me to listen to their stories. They have learned to make their way in this place and have forged a life and a family that goes in directions vastly different from my experiences. For them, Portland is home. Both have lived in this area all of their lives. Both have traveled extensively and know a lot of the world and are confident in their choice of this area as their home.

The lure of children, and of that delightful granddaughter, are the primary reasons my sister is returning to Portland to live. I understand this decision well. It is what brought us to our new home. The move is worth all of the work and effort. May she find the joy we have discovered in this city layered with memories.

Thinking of work

My father’s father started out his career as a farmer in the days when field work was done six days a week and chores were done seven. He worked long days with horses on the land that his father had homesteaded. About midway into what would have been a normal working life, the Great Depression hit and a drought swept over the land that they farmed. They managed to hang on, barely, by combining off-farm work that included working road construction. As the country began to emerge from depression he sold his cattle and land at the first opportunity and bought a gas station. He was able to participate in Social Security for the second half of his career and retired with a small check each month. The proceeds from selling his service station and later proceeds from selling a large house and moving to a smaller one got him through nearly a decade of retirement and provided for my grandmother for more than a decade of widowhood after he died.

My father was an entrepreneur. He started out in the aviation business, operating a small town airport, selling and repairing airplanes and flying as much as was possible, flying charter flights, agricultural flights, fire patrol, search and rescue, and air ambulance. When his family needed additional income, he bought a farm machinery dealership while still operating the airport. He grew that business into a feed store, an implement dealership, a trucking company and a leasing company. He envisioned a working retirement and started to pursue projects that did not produce an income in his mid fifties. He still had considerable business interests, but spent less time formally working as he dove into volunteer work. illness cut his life short and the proceeds from his business interests supported my mother through more than thirty years of widowhood. Although my father never collected Social Security, his earned benefits helped to support my mother.

I was fortunate to have a career as a pastor that spanned 42 years and after I retired and took a bit over a year during which I did not work for a salary, was able to return to my chosen profession half time, a pace that supports us and allows a more relaxed lifestyle than the days of working full time. Along the way, I often had additional jobs that I worked to supplement our family’s income. I had a variety of different jobs and was able to supplement our family’s income with free-lance writing and editing among other pursuits.

My grandfather, father and I could all be described as workaholics. We didn’t limit our working to 40 hours a week. We juggled multiple jobs. We relied heavily on our wives contributions to our families and spent a few too many hours away from our families.

When our son began his working career he was careful to build a balance between working and family life. In each phase of his career he had made family and home a high priority. However, as he has achieved success at work, he has moved into positions that require significant hours at the office. Right now his full time job can’t be measured in hours. He needs to bring a certain amount of work home. At home he is juggling a small farm, with chickens and cows and extensive gardens as well as raising four children.

Like his father before him, and his grandfather and great grandfather, our son doesn’t spend much time sleeping these days. Even the days when he doesn’t go into his office begin early and last late.

I am incredibly proud of him and his accomplishments at work and at home. But I also worry that the pace of his life affords him very little time for rest and relaxation. Of course I am not the right person to counsel him on the topic. He knows what kind of hours I worked when he was growing up. Furthermore, I can see how his work and family give meaning to his life and give him joy.

Meaningful work has been a blessing for generations of our family. I have known people who felt stuck in jobs that they did not enjoy. I especially remember an uncle who talked about retirement for many years before he was able to do so. When he turned 65, he retired right away and didn’t miss the work he had done. His son was just like him. It seemed to me that my cousin never enjoyed his job and was talking about retirement from the beginning of his career. He retired as soon as he was able. I, on the other hand, have been blessed by having the work I do being something that I love. I am enjoying being semi-retired and feel very fortunate to be able to have part time work that I truly love. I look forward to going to the church and being with the people. I like to plan my part in worship leadership and enjoy working with the children and adults of the church. I look forward to upcoming events and projects.

On the other hand, I’m getting more sleep than was the case a few years ago. I have time to pursue my hobbies. I’m doing a better job of keeping up with home repairs and yard work. I can see the advantages of retirement. And I know from a lifetime of watching other people that those who are happiest in their aging years are those who continue to be active and continue to work. They may not have a job that produces income, but they discover meaningful volunteer work and remain busy with activities.

Having a job, however, means that I also get the joy of vacation. I’m taking a week off starting today. We’re going to take a little trip, visit family, and do a bit of work on a piece of family property. We won’t be lazing on a beach somewhere. We’re not the kind of people who hang out at resorts. But we’ll enjoy ourselves and we’ll look forward to returning to work after a little break.

Life is good. Work is good. We are blessed.

As usual, as we travel, I am uncertain of access to the Internet. I may not get my journal entries published at regular times during the next week. If you don’t see an entry when you expect it, check back later.

A picnic

We’re going to have a picnic today. The weather is looking good. The food has been planned. Games and activities are arranged. Invitations have been sent. A bluegrass group is set to provide music. We’ve even had a discussion about what we’re going to wear.

Picnics aren’t all that unusual for us. We usually take our lunch to work and sometimes we take our lunch outdoors. Sometimes we eat in a park. In fact, we’ve had a picnic lunch in the park where today’s picnic is set. There is, however, something different about this particular picnic. The whole church has been invited to this picnic. It is part of our Gathering In Sunday activities. Gathering In Sunday is what we called Kick Off Sunday when we lived in South Dakota. It is a special day of activities and events planned to start the fall programming. The traditional Sunday for these events would have been last week, but we delayed for a week in this church this year because of the funeral of a beloved member a week ago.

As I think about the picnic and my excitement about it, there is a dynamic that surprises me. It has been two years since we moved ti Washington. It has been two years since we became involved in this congregation. This is the first all-church meal that we have attended.

In the old days, when we were pastors, our first Sunday in a new congregation was met with a potluck lunch. Eating together was part of the life of the congregations we served. Covid changed all of that. And the pandemic is not over. Our congregation still is not allowing any food service inside the building except for small group gatherings. After worship on Sundays, there is a sort of coffee hour, but people are directed to go past the kitchen when they pick up their coffee, out the door, and are invited to drink their beverages in an outdoor courtyard. Inside the building everyone wears masks unless the group is less than ten people and everyone has agreed to allowing masks to be removed.

From my point of view the picnic is a big deal.

Of course there are plenty of reports of picnics of different sorts in the Bible. Jesus fed thousands with small amounts of food. Crowds following Jesus had to gather outside. They didn’t have access to an indoor place for their meetings. Jesus spoke in Synagogues, but when crowds gathered, meetings had to be outdoors.

I’m a relative newcomer to this congregation. I can’t predict how people will respond to the invitation to come to the picnic. I’ve never been good at predicting numbers for group dinners. In South Dakota, I had a standard joke about the number of people who might attend a funeral lunch. When asked, I’d say, “I think there will be between 10 and 200 people.” Of course, I was usually right with that range, but my numbers were of no help to those who were planning the food. I made the same prediction to the folks who are preparing the food for today’s picnic. I just don’t know how many people to predict.

Our church continues to worship in a hybrid format. We have a congregation that gathers in our sanctuary for worship and we have a number of people who participate online. We call our online worshipping community our “bigger balcony.” When we lead worship, we plan for how our presence will come over for those watching on televisions and computers at home. Since my part is usually the time with children, I think about visual props and other things I can do to make our time interesting to children who are watching from home. As a result, there are members of the congregation who recognize me and know my name from watching online worship. I don’t know those people however. It always is a bit strange to be greeting someone when they know my name and I don’t have a clue who they are. I find myself trying to guide an introduction, without really needing to introduce myself.

I’m hoping that a picnic, in an outdoor setting, with plenty of room and fresh air, might invite a few of the folks who participate from home to come and enjoy an in-person event. I know that it won’t be many people, but it would be nice if a few come.

My entire career - my whole life in the church - has been based on in person events. Our tradition of going to church has always involved going, even when the distance was close. When I was living in my parents’ home we always walked to church. And for years, we left our house as a family and walked together. It was just two blocks. In North Dakota we lived in a parsonage next door to the church, but we also served a second congregation, so our Sundays began with a 17-mile drive to our first service before we returned home for the second one. Going to be with other people in a face-to-face setting is the way I think about church.

I know that online worship is here to stay. I know that our congregations will continue to reach out on social media to a wider community. However, I’m most comfortable with what we do when we are together in the same place. I always feel a bit awkward addressing a camera even though I know there are real people who are watching.

The big Sunday School picnics of my life were held in the spring, often at the end of the church school year. It seems a bit backwards to be starting with a picnic in the fall, but doing new things is just fine with me. I’m ready for a good picnic regardless of the time of the year. I hope we have another in the spring. Today I’m celebrating the fact that I have the opportunity to be a part of a group of people, living in community, sharing a simple meal, and making connections.


Today is a big day for our family. This morning is the official groundbreaking for the Mount Vernon Library Commons Project. Our son is the director of the Mount Vernon, Washington, public library and for five years has been working with the community to make plans for a new library. Part of those plans have to do with a building. The old library building is in need of replacement. The library needs more room, different kinds of spaces, and more. In addition to a new library building, however, the community, like many communities, is in need of a new way of thinking about the library and its role. The Mount Vernon Library Commons Project is ushering in a new way of thinking about libraries. And, proud father that I am, I am convinced that much of this is the result of visionary leadership by our son.

The Mount Vernon Library Commons project is a multiuser infrastructure project located in historic downtown Mount Vernon, right next to Interstate 5 north of Seattle. The project combines several community needs including public library services, community center space with a kitchen, a parking structure with a mega electric vehicle charging station (the largest in the nation to date), charging for e-bikes and scooters, park and ride, and a transit stop. The library will feature an early learning hub, access to digital literacy, new business incubation, employee training, and systems to address knowledge gaps. The building will be a shelter for heat dome and cold weather events.

The building will employ low carbon concrete construction, 40% less carbon than a roadway. It will have a huge solar array. The project will be passive house certified, resulting in 60% less energy to power the building than a conventional building.

It is a $53 million investment in the local economy. The project has been recognized as a catalyst for economic development in the Cascadia Corridor midway between Seattle and Vancouver, BC.

I’ve participated in several capital funds drives in local churches, the largest of which was a little over $600,000. My professional experience didn’t require me to think or work in millions. The sheer size and scope of the project amazes me.

The state governor, senators and representatives will be on hand for the event. With all of the busy pomp and ceremony, our role as proud parents is mostly to watch and witness the groundbreaking ceremony. We also will be shepherding our son’s children so that they also can witness this historic event.

It is all very amazing.

But it is only one of the things going on in our son’s life. In addition to being the director of the Mount Vernon Library, which will continue to provide a wide range of services throughout the construction, he has been a leader in the commons project. He also is the father of four energetic children, and a farmer with chickens and cows that need daily care. He supports his wife’s career. She maintains a thriving private counseling practice while being the primary gardener in the family, growing lots of the food for the family.

As a father, I am amazed at their energy and all of the things that they are able to accomplish. I know that we had some busy times in our lives when we were younger, and we continue to juggle a whole lot of different responsibilities in this phase of our life. Still, I am in awe of the accomplishments of our children. Today’s energy and attention will focus on the Library Commons Project and the visionary leadership Isaac has provided for it, but his sister is no slouch and I can brag about her accomplishments all day long as well.

The prophet Isaiah had the daunting task of addressing Israel in the lead up to the fall of Jerusalem and the exile to Babylon, but the book of Isaiah doesn’t end with these traumatic events. Isaiah is then confronted with the task of reminding the people of Israel of God’s continued presence. Despite hard times, this is not the end of the world. This is not the end of God’s relationship with the people. In the 43rd chapter, Isaiah reminds the still grieving people, “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

We live in challenging times. The climate crisis presents humanity with the largest moral challenge ever. Our response to this challenge literally determines whether or not our planet will have human life in the future. We cannot afford to ignore this reality. As people of faith, however, we cannot afford to ignore the signs around us that God is doing “a new thing.”

While too many people my age are waxing nostalgic about the past and grieving the things that have been lost, I am excited to see the new things that are coming. Building infrastructure for the new ways of transportation, envisioning a new role for libraries in our communities, and investing in the future with buildings designed not only to last, but also to contribute to a cleaner and more sustainable world, are all part of the newness that is coming to one community with today’s groundbreaking.

Groundbreaking ceremonies are symbolic. There will be a couple of dozen dignitaries putting their hands and feet to ceremonial shovels. There will be a few speeches. There will be some news reporters who will want interviews. But when the ceremonies have ended, the hard work begins. There is dirt to move, concrete to be formulated and poured. Conduit to be installed so the critical components of the project can not only be installed, but also will be able to be replaced and upgraded as technology evolves. There will be a host of decisions to be made. There will be more meetings and more hard work.

But today is a day for celebration. Planting the shovels in the ground is a tangible sign of hope. And these days, hope is one of the most important values we can express.

I’m just glad that I get to be there to see it. It is a story my grandchildren will one day tell to their grandchildren.


In some ways, I have lived a fairly simple life. I’ve owned a few cars and pickups over the years, but nothing spectacular. No vehicle of mine has been rare, or a collector’s car, or something that turned heads when I drove down the street. I’ve lived in comfortable houses, but nothing that was a showplace. My home never made a “tour of homes.” I’ve had comfortable clothes, but I’ve never been into name-brand fashions. No one recognizes the brands of shoes that I wear. Once, when we were students in Chicago, a burglar attempted to enter our apartment through a second-story window. We lost nothing. I think the burglar didn’t ever get all the way into our place, but the joke was that if they had, they wouldn’t have found anything to steal. We didn’t have any jewelry, or cash, or guns. We still don’t. All we had was a typewriter and quite a few books. We have more books now.

Nonetheless there have been extravagances. We have been able to travel quite a bit. I have a large collection of tools. And if you were to go through my closet you’d discover that I have quite a few pairs of shoes. I have black dress shoes and brown dress shoes. I have cowboy boots and duty boots from when I was a sheriff’s chaplain. I have comfortable walking shoes and a pair of old shoes I keep for mowing the lawn and other messy chores. I have muck boots for wading along the shoreline or walking across a muddy field.

I’ve got a kind of thing for jackets. I own two hooded sweatshirts. I have a dress coat. I have a winter parka. I have a rain jacket. I have an old rain jacket that isn’t very waterproof, but I keep for working when I might get dirty. I have several vests that keep me warm in varying degrees for varying conditions. I have a jacket with the logo of the Pennington County Sheriff’s Department. There might be a couple more jackets as well.

Then, if we really want to get into extravagances, I suppose I should be honest about hats. I like hats. We won’t count ball caps, but I have four or five of them with logos for different companies. Most of them are dirty with sweat from wearing them while working. I have a floppy hat in the car, another in the truck, and two more in the closet, just in case I need one. I justify having so many because I have had brushes with skin cancer and I do get asked about them on every visit to the dermatologist. Then there is the leather Australian Akubra, and the black fedora. I have two dress hats in two different colors. I own at least three navy watch caps for when it is cold out. And yes, there is in my closet a hat box with my cowboy hats. I have never owned a horse, but I have a white Stetson, and a gray felt cowboy hat. There is a black one that is a bit older and a bit dirtier. There is a straw one. I’m pretty sure that most people would recognize that I have way too many hats for one person. And, if you add it up, I have spent way too much money on hats over the years.

I guess I should feel a bit guilty about having so many hats when there are people who have no place to call home who have to carry with them all of their possessions wherever they go. They might not even have one winter hat, or no hat at all.

But my hats, at least seen one at a time, are far from showy. OK, I’ll make an exception for the white Stetson. It is a pretty flashy hat. I don’t wear it very often. It isn’t practical. It would get dirty very easily. I don’t even dare sweat when wearing it, for fear of stains. I’ve seen a couple of funerals where they place a cowboy’s hat on the closed coffin, but I’m no cowboy and such a display would make no sense at all. I have worn it for a couple of cowboy funerals, however.

All of my hats put together might fetch a few dollars on a rummage sale, but they aren’t the kind of thing that a burglar would take. Still, it is true that I have too many hats. On the other hand, they pale in comparison with the hat that is on display on the coffin of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. It is called the Imperial State Crown.

The crown sparkles with nearly 3,000 stones - including 2, 866 diamonds, 273 pearls, 17 sapphires, 11 emeralds, and five rubies. And these aren’t exactly tiny rocks, either. It includes the 317 carat Cullinan II diamond - sometimes called the Second Star of Africa. Cut from the largest diamond ever found, it was given to Edward VII on his 66th birthday by the government of the Transvaal - a former British crown colony - in present day South Africa. It contains a sapphire said to have once been worn in a ring by the 11th Century king of England, St Edward the Confessor. That stone is in the center of the cross that tops the crown. And there is more. The Black Prince’s Ruby was worn in 1415 during the Hundred Years’ War by Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt. Although the Imperial State Crown was designed to be lighter, and to fit better, than the crown it replaced, it still weighs 2.3 pounds. That’s a heavy hat.

King Charles III will wear another crown for his coronation, the St Edward’s Crown. He will then switch to the Imperial State Crown to leave Westminster Abbey at the end of the ceremony. I guess that one crown isn’t enough for a well-dressed royal. The crowns, when not being worn, are displayed as part of the Crown Jewels - a priceless collection of tens of thousands of gemstones collected over the centuries by British kings and queens. The jewels can be viewed at the Jewel House at the Tower of London, home to the Crown Jewels for more than 600 years.

I’ve been to London twice, I didn’t bother to take a look at the jewels. After all, I’ve got my own impressive collection of hats. I bet the new king doesn’t have a white Stetson.

Brand name clothing

I am not very influenced by brand names. I don’t care whether or not I am dressed in the latest fashions. In fact, I have a kind of a negative sense about fashion that comes from my past. When I was younger and skiing more often, we saw mismatched clothing and the presence of a bit of duct tape to repair a tear as a badge of honor. It was our belief that people who put their energy into having matched clothing and looking good on the slopes, didn’t put enough energy into learning ski techniques. We believed that the duct tape set, which we called ourselves, was composed of better skiers. We believed that skill couldn’t be bought, but only earned by hard work. We struggled to scrape together enough money for a season ski pass, b bought used equipment and clothing at swap meets, and skied as often as we were able.

That has pretty much summed up my attitude towards outdoor equipment. When Susan and I married, we went backpacking in the high country with a plastic tarp and a roll of cord. We never had fancy backpacking sleeping bags, but carried the bulky rolls we used for camp. We believed, and I still believe, that our outdoor experiences are not limited by a lack of equipment and conversely buying more equipment won’t make us more likely to have outdoor experiences.

My canoes and kayaks are not the most beautiful boats on the water. I made them myself because I was unwilling to pay the price of manufactured boats.

There used to be a brand to which I paid attention. It was REI. The recreational cooperative was for us in the early days a source for items that could not be found locally. They sold lots of technical climbing gear and quality tents and other equipment. I still have my original membership card. In order to use it at a retail store, I have to instruct the clerk to enter three zeros in front of the number printed on the card. I cannot be scanned by the store’s equipment. It must be manually entered. I remember writing the number on paper order forms back when the original store in Seattle was more than a thousand miles from my home and we did all of our business from a catalogue. Sadly, REI has become a clothing store these days. There is a REI store in Bellingham, not far from our church, and I’ve been in it a couple of times. We did find a Christmas present there once, but most of the time, what I find is overpriced clothing. And I don’t need clothes to enjoy the outdoors.

Except that last statement isn’t quite true.

We have found that having good rain gear is pretty much essential to living in this place. This isn’t the rainy season, and we walk everyday without giving a thought to rain jackets, but for nearly half of the year, rain jackets are essential to our lifestyle. We walk outdoors every day. And we are not going to allow rain to keep us from doing what we love.

So, after moving to Washington, I bought a new rain jacket for Susan as a birthday gift. We did our homework and decided to get one made by Patagonia. In order to get the size and color she wanted, I ended up ordering it directly from the company. That means that I shared my email address with the company. That means that I get regular emails from the company advertising their clothing. So far I haven’t bought anything else from the company. When it was time to replace my rain jacket, I got mine from REI. After all they sell clothing these days.

However, I will be paying attention to Patagonia going forward. Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of Patagonia has given away his company to a charitable trust. The trust, Holdfast Collective, is “dedicated to fighting the environmental crisis,” and now owns all non-voting stock - 98% of the company. The voting stock belongs to the Patagonia Purpose Trust, led by the family. That means that all profits, except those reinvested in the company, will go towards fighting the climate crisis - an estimated $100 million per year. Chouinard said of his decision, “Despite its immensity, the Earth’s resources are not infinite, and it’s clear we’ve exceeded its limits.”

Often it seems as if businesses are opposed to changes that are required to reduce carbon consumption. For examples trucking companies have steadfastly opposed California emissions standards despite the fact that increased efficiency and decreased fuel costs contribute directly to the companies’ bottom line. Policy makers continue to support subsidies to fossil fuel producers despite a demonstrable lower cost for sustainable energy production. Environmental activism has often meant standing up to corporate interests.

It is refreshing to see a wealthy person who is willing to forego increased income in order to confront the challenge of the climate crisis. Chouinard and his family will continue to be wealthy. His personal wealth is estimated at $1.2 billion. And it isn’t easy for wealthy people to shed their wealth. Despite Bill Gates’ promise to “drop off” of the list of the world’s richest people and despite a $20 billion donation to his philanthropic fund, Gates’ personal net worth has more than doubled since 2010.

It is clear that the plan made by Mr. Chouinard for Patagonia allows his family to retain control of the company. “Even public companies with good intentions are under too much pressure to create short-term gain at the expense of long-term vitality and responsibility,” he said. He believes that the way he has structured the business will produce the most support for the fight against the climate crisis. If it succeeds, the entire world will benefit from his generosity and his vision.

I probably won’t become fashionable. I probably won’t care about whether or not my outdoor clothing matches. I’m not going to set any trends. But I will pay attention to Patagonia and I may be interested in making a purchase when I need outdoor clothing.

Dad of a daughter

Before our son was born, I don’t remember having any preference about the gender of our child. I was excited that Susan was expecting and I enjoyed attending classes and learning about birth and parenting. I am sure that I would have been delighted had our firstborn been a girl, but as it turned out a boy was born. Not being a smoker of cigars, I bought a box of Babe Ruth candy bars and handed them out to all of my friends. Having a son has been a truly wonderful adventure for me and he has been a blessing for us all of his life.

Our daughter’s entry into our family was a bit different. We received a phone call asking us if we could pick her up the next day. She was almost a month old. We didn’t have the length of a pregnancy to gather supplies. I think we borrowed a couple of sleepers from some friends. We gathered up a couple of baby blankets. We stopped at a store and bought disposable diapers and formula after we picked her up.

It was, however, love at first sight for me. I was every bit as excited and shaky as I had been when her brother was born when the social worker handed her to me for the first time. I had to force my hands to stop shaking so I could hold her. I could barely contain the tears in my eyes.

Some of my friends, who are older than I and who had families of their own, told me that there is something special about a daughter and that I would find being the father of a daughter to be a special experience. They were right.

Because she was fed formula, Susan didn’t have to wake up to feed her in the middle of the night as was the case with her brother. I could wake up, change and feed the baby and return to bed when she was settled. Susan took her turns, and when she had an ear infection or was somehow hard to settle, there were times when I had to ask for Susan’s help when I couldn’t think of anything to do for the tiny one. But what I remember most are the quiet moments when most of the rest of the town is sleeping when I would rock her and hold her and sometimes fall asleep with her in my arms.

She didn’t stay a helpless infant for long. Soon she was crawling. When she learned to walk she was so short that she could walk under the dining room table. Then she grew a bit more and was too tall to fit. More than once she crawled under the table and stood up only to bump her head. I’d rush to grab her and sooth her tears.

She begged to attend ballet school when she was too young to enroll in the classes. As soon as she could she started dancing and she danced her way elementary school and high school and on towards college. I loved being a dance dad, even though my role was mostly giving rides to and from the studio. I also got to attend all of the recitals and take photographs of our daughter in all of her costumes.

When her brother got his first call, I made a phone call and asked him if it would work for him to have his grandmother’s car. He agreed and I bought the car. His need for a car lined up with her need to give up driving. When she needed her first car, we shopped and shopped and took a few cars for a test drive before agreeing on a little red Chevrolet Cavalier. I went to a service advisor at the Chevy garage who I had met at his daughter’s wedding. I said to him, when your daughter came to me to officiate at her wedding, I treated her right. When my daughter comes to you with a problem with her car I expect you to treat her right. He always did. When she moved to England, I drove that car for four years. I loved the way it made me feel to drive it because it reminded me of her.

She had a natural talent for teaching and caring for children from a very early age. She would help out in the church nursery and I’d stop by after worship and see her reading to children, singing songs with them and teaching them games. It seemed to me that she would be a wonderful mother, a prediction that came to be very true.

A while ago, our son commented to us, “When we were growing up, if you had been told that one would be a world traveler with a small family and the other would live on a farm with chickens and cows and four children, which would you have predicted would fill each role?” I had to giggle, because I would have definitely predicted that his sister would be the mother of four in a farm family. Our lives, however, rarely turn out as predicted. It is her brother who lives on a farm with his large family. He settled in Washington after he completed his formal education and hasn’t wanted to live elsewhere. She has lived in England, Missouri, Japan, and South Carolina, and has hinted that her family may be moving over seas again soon. She and her husband have one son and it seems quite likely that he will be their only child. She is happy and content with her life and excited about new adventures. She is a loving and devoted daughter and always makes me feel like she would do anything possible for us.

Today is her birthday. I wasn’t there when she was born. I was told she stayed in the hospital a few days longer than usual and became a favorite of the nurses who cared for her. We exchanged a few letters with the foster mother who cared for her before she came to live with us, but the agency discouraged too much contact.

What I do know is that being her father is one of the greatest gifts any person has ever received. Her birthday is a day of celebration for me. It was love at first sight and that love has only grown stronger as time has passed. Happy birthday, beautiful! You have made me the most fortunate person in the world.

Down memory lane

After graduating from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1978, we received and accepted a call to serve as pastors of the Hettinger and Reeder, North Dakota United Churches of Christ. The two small churches were a great match for us and we served there for seven years. I learned a lot of important lessons in those towns. I made a lot of friends for life. Susan and I were job sharing, so I was technically working half time for the churches. I was active in Conference activities and served on several different Conference and regional committees. Our combined salary for that job was less than our health insurance premiums were when we retired, but we had enough to live well. Part of what made our ministry there work was that I had a variety of part-time jobs on the side. I drove a school bus, and for a time drove the activities bus, which was the bus that took the teams to out of town games, the band to competitions, and students on field trips to the state capitol. Perhaps my favorite part time job in those years was serving as the host of an early morning radio program. I turned on the transmitter, read the news, and played the records from 6 am to 9 am on weekdays and occasionally filled in on other shifts to cover for other members of the radio station team. KNDC was a small market, low power, community radio station. We read the birthdays of the people in our community, reported on school events and activities, and promoted local businesses in our advertisements.

The general manager of the Radio Station, Al McIntyre, was on the search committee that called us to serve the church. He served on a variety of different boards and committees during the time we were pastors. His family became ours. We were invited for Thanksgiving dinners and holiday celebrations. His children were just a bit younger than us. We watched them graduate from High School and move out into their first adult adventures. I walked over to their place when his oldest son purchased a used Corvette. We officiated at their daughter’s wedding and baptized his first grandchild. His wife was a nurse at the local hospital and administered my allergy shots in her kitchen so I didn’t have to go to the clinic and wait the mandatory time to make sure there was no reaction. I’d go over there just as Al was coming home from the radio station and we’d shoot the breeze while I waited. She was in attendance when our son was born. We are lifelong friends and get together when we are able. It worked for us to see them quite a bit when we lived in South Dakota. Al and Kaye are both nearing ninety, and have had some health issues, but remain basically well.

In the days when I worked at the Radio Station, I would finish up my shift and complete my logs while Al and his father Bill hosted a half hour talk show called TTO. TTO stood for “This, That, and The Other.” They discussed community events and news, offered a few political opinions, and interviewed guests from the community. At 9:30, that show would end and the morning drive show began. Al, Bill, and I would walk down to the City Cafe and have a cup of coffee. Most mornings there would be anywhere from six to a dozen church members in that cafe. We played games to see who would pay for the coffee.

Part of those morning coffee sessions was a fairly regular argument between me and local lawyer Tom Secrest. Tom served us by helping to complete the adoption of our daughter and he drew up our first wills. He was chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party. He and Al nominated me for appointment to the Governor’s Commission on Refugee Resettlement even though they both knew that I was a Democrat. I received the appointment and was involved in helping the state receive the waves of refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia that came after the Vietnam War.

Tom and I could argue about almost every subject imaginable. One night we faced off in a debate in front of the local Toasmaster’s Club. The topic was “Resolved: The 55 mile per hour speed limit should be eliminated.” There was a nation-wide 55 mph speed limit in those days. Tom drew the affirmative. I blasted him with statistics on highway fatalities, brain injuries, insurance rates, and a host of other facts I had drawn up in my research. He responded with a libertarian tirade about over-reaching government. At the end of the evening I won the debate on points, but barely. Afterward, I told Tom he could have easily won had he pushed my argument to the extreme. If a 55 mph speed limit saves lives, why not lower it to 15 mph where there would be far fewer fatalities? He laughed and bought me a beer. In those days it was only barely acceptable for a minister to drink, and drinking in public was definitely not the norm. The gang at the cafe teased me about it for several weeks, and McIntyre brought it up years later. I didn’t lose my job as pastor over the deal. I never even got a comment from church leaders, which suited me.

After we moved from Hettinger, the editor of the newspaper died and a new person was brought into town to run the paper. Tony Bender became friends with some of the same gang I had known. Bill McIntyre passed away and eventually the TTO radio show became BS in the AM. The BS was for Bender and Secrest. The newspaper editor and the attorney joined Al McIntyre for a half hour of irreverent radio banter each morning. AM stood for more than the morning time slot, it was also a reference to Al McIntyre’s initials.

Yesterday, I read Tony’s column in the Fargo-Moorhead newspaper. It was a tribute to Tom Secrest, and a nod to Al McIntyre and some of our other Hettinger Friends. You can read his column by following this link. He told it straight and the memories flooded me. How fortunate I was to begin my career in a community of such wonderful people. Judging from the column, it was a great experience for Tony Bender, too.

A floppy hat

I can’t remember any talk of skin cancer from my growing up years. We certainly didn’t have much information on the dangers of exposure to the sun. We spent our summers outdoors. My usual summer attire was a pair of cut-off jeans and a t-shirt. The shirt was often removed when we were playing in the river. Being fair skinned, I got sunburned often. It was considered to be a normal part of living. I would occasionally get a brief lecture about sitting in the shade when I could and we kept a supply of Bactine in our home. The Lidocaine in the liquid spray soothed the sunburn and I learned to live with a little bit of pain without complaining.

That was a long time ago. Medical research has progressed. I have learned more from reading articles and visits to the doctor. A couple of bouts with squamous cell carcinoma have placed me in the category of people who visit a dermatologist every six months and I often come away from those visits with several places where the doctor has sprayed liquid nitrogen on a pre-cancerous lesion. The resulting blisters peel off in a few days and it isn’t much of a problem. On occasion a larger area requires a biopsy and when cancerous cells are discovered an in-office surgical procedure leaves a bit larger place that needs a couple of weeks to heal. As long as things are promptly treated, there is little long-term health risk.

As a result, I’ve heard the lecture about floppy hats, sunscreen, and covering up when going out into the sun. I own several good sun shirts, some with hoods, that I wear when paddling, walking, and enjoying the outdoors. One day, when we rode the ferry over to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, I forgot my hat in the rush to catch a ferry at the last minute. When we disembarked the ferry onto the island, our first stop was at a shop where I purchased a floppy hat. That hat, with the Friday Harbor logo on the front, is kept in our car to be easily available when we are away from home. I have another that lives in our pickup and yet another that lives in our front hall closet.

From time to time, someone will comment that I wear several hats around the church. Yesterday, I helped with the time with children in the morning’s service, sang at a funeral in the afternoon, and played taps at the end of the funeral. That prompted the comment about wearing many hats from several folks. The thing about the comment is that it makes me smile. I really do have a lot of hats. Despite shedding some of my hat collection when we moved, I have a hat box with white, gray, and black cowboy hats, along with a straw one for summer. I have a leather akubra that I brought home from Australia. I have a ball cap with canvas attached to the back that keeps the sun off of my neck. I like hats and I’ve collected quite a few.

The Friday Harbor floppy hat is one that gets worn a lot. Looking at that hat and wearing it also serves as a reminder to me about an obscure bit of history. Prior to the arrival of European settlers the islands in the Salish Sea were occupied and regularly visited by several different tribes of Coast Salish people. They had centuries of canoe culture and had learned to craft canoes and paddles that enabled them to travel between islands and between the island and mainland with ease. When this region was “discovered” and later settled by Europeans, some of the tribal people and their way of living was disrupted. Nonetheless conflict was rare and trade between the indigenous people and settlers was common. The 1846 Oregon Treaty was between the United States and Britain to establish the border between Canada, which was controlled by the British, and the US. The treaty established the 49th parallel as the border between the two countries in the west, with the border allowed to dip below the 49th parallel in the case of Vancouver Island, allowing the British to retain control of Victoria, capitol of British Columbia. The treaty, however, was less than clear on the location of the border around the island, stating that the border would be the “middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island.” That left several islands, including San Juan Island, where Friday Harbor is located in uncertain waters. The British claimed that the treaty referred to the Rosario Strait. The Americans claimed that it was the Haro Strait. The conflicting claims meant both countries believed San Juan Island to be their territory. Both countries established military bases on the Island and there was a lot of saber rattling and a disputed butchering of a pig that wandered from the British area into the American area that nearly provoked an armed conflict. Eventually the two countries agreed to submit to binding arbitration. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany was named as the arbitrator and in 1872 rendered his judgment that the Haro Strait would be the border. The British marines packed up and handed the island and several neighboring islands to the United States.

All of that was 150 years ago. On the island, there is an historic park that includes both the remains of the British marine corps and the United States camp. A new visitor’s center also provides information on the history and traditions of the Coast Salish people who occupied the islands since time immemorial. The formal British garden is carefully maintained and the flag of Britain is flown on the pole at the British Camp as a nod to the history of the place. On a clear day it is easy to see Vancouver Island across the Haro Strait from the west side of the island.

A clear day is the time when I need to wear a floppy hat to protect the skin cells that I have left, and when I don my Friday Harbor hat, I am reminded that we are newcomers - mere tourists - in this place with a lot of history and a host of stories of people who came before us.


After a career as a minister, I have a lot of stories about tradition. There are a lot of traditions in the church. We have special rites and ceremonies that have been repeated for many generations in particular ways. There are words and phrases that are said on particular occasions. I often found it slightly amusing when young couples came to me to discuss their wedding. One phrase that was often used is “traditional” in reference to weddings. However, I couldn’t assume that all couples meant the same thing with the use of that word. It was not uncommon for couples to mean “like weddings shown on television or the movies” when they said “traditional.” One thing about weddings in drama is that they are usually much shorter than weddings in real life. The traditions reflected in the Book of Worship of the United Church of Christ and other contemporary denominations are heavily influenced by the rites in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. In those services, there are two sets of vows. The first, vows of intention, the candidates are asked if they intend to become married and if they have come to the ceremony of their own free will. These are the vows that are usually responded to with the words “I do,” or “I will.” The second set of vows outline the covenant of marriage. Often the second set are delivered by the partners repeating after the officiant: “I (name), give myself to you (name) as your husband/wife.” In the book of Common Prayer these vows began “I (name) take thee (name) as my wife/husband.”

There are a host of other traditions surrounding weddings. There are traditions about who stands and sits on which side of the church, the order of participants in a receiving line, the role of the best man and maid or matron of honor, the order of the processional and recessional, and a host of other details. When I met with couples to discuss their wedding plans, I went over a long list of details to determine what the couple wanted and which traditions were fixed in their minds. It was also an opportunity to teach a bit of history and tradition of the church.

I found that people not only had a strange sense of tradition when it came to weddings, preferring some traditions and being ignorant of others. It was also true of funerals. There were certain trappings of funerals that seemed important to grieving families that didn’t come from the history of the church. Some of those traditions were specific to the region of the country or the place of the funeral. In some of the congregations we served, there was a tradition of a family service the night before the main funeral. The family service probably stems from a tradition of wakes or keeping watch with the body prior to the burial. These were generally small and intimate and filled with the sharing of stories. Often they were less formal than the next day’s funeral service. But we served in other congregations where family services were rare. I always tried to be sensitive to the expectations and needs of those I was serving, but I had to learn ways of discovering what those expectations and needs were.

The wearing of vestments by clergy is another area of tradition. I have found, however, that some contemporary practices are very different from historic practices. When I was growing up it was common for the ministers in our church to wear academic hoods in the pulpit. That tradition was no longer observed during my career. We wore clerical robes that were different from academic robes and usually wore stoles instead of hoods. I still have a fairly large collection of clerical stoles in traditional colors. The pastors of the church we now belong to, however, aren’t rigid about the use of colors. I never know what color to expect and they have many stoles in colors that are different from the traditional purple, green, white and red. Blue stoles for Advent have been common in some congregations while purple is the color in others, but I hadn’t encountered brown stoles before this church and at many gatherings of the United Church of Christ rainbow stoles have become very popular.

The church is not the only keeper of traditions in society. Military service is filled with traditions. There are traditions about when and how to salute, titles by which peers and superiors are to be addressed, and the wearing of uniforms. There are traditions for raising and lowering flags, playing bugle calls, and the proper way to fold a flag. Even before I was a minister, I served as a bugler for military funeral rites and learned specific protocols governed by tradition.

The death of the queen and the declaration of the king in England is filled with a host of traditions. Some of them seem a bit strange to those of us who have never lived in a monarchy and don’t understand all of the ways of royalty. For example, there is a very large rebranding going on throughout the United Kingdom right now. It isn’t just the changing of the word “queen” to “king” in the national anthem and in the wording of passports. New stamps, paper money, and coins will be issued. The old stamps, paper money, and coins with the image of Queen Elizabeth will still be considered legal tender. However, they will slowly disappear from circulation as the new ones issued have a new image. I just learned of what is an ancient tradition in the United Kingdom. The monarch is pictured in profile on these items and each succeeding monarch faces the opposite direction of their predecessor. We saw the left side of Queen Elizabeth’s face, but will see the right side of King Charles III. I’ve been unable to find any reason for this other than tradition.

Traditions change over time. It is interesting to me to observe which traditions persist and which are left behind as time passes. I suspect that I’ll start paying more attention to the images on money and stamps than before now that I’ve read about the traditions in England. It will take a bit of sleuthing to discover what is dictated by tradition and which is just the whim of a designer. It makes me wonder what our grandchildren will consider to be “traditional” when the time comes for them to marry.

Advancing technology


I am a bit suspicious about wires and cables. No, I’m not afraid of the electrical system in our home. I am not concerned with the buried cables that deliver electricity to our home. But I have seen several kinds of wiring that became obsolete, leaving cables and plugs unused. Here are two examples. When we bought our home in Rapid City, South Dakota, I was pleased that the house was wired for telephones in every room. There were even plugs for telephones in the bathrooms. If you had a phone, you could connect it in any room of the house and it would work. By the time we sold that home, we still had a land line in the house, but we had a single base station for the wireless phones in our house that plugged into a single phone outlet. We could carry phones anywhere we wanted them and no longer needed all of the wires and plugs that were scattered throughout the house. Now we use cell phones as our only telephones. We no longer need wires. Our grandchildren won’t know what a phone cord is.

Here is another example. Around the time our son was born, the decision was made to replace the siding on the parsonage in which we lived. While we had the old siding off of the house, we connected television cable to several rooms in the house. Our family wasn’t very big on television, and we had never subscribed to cable television, but it was felt that cable television was the future of communications and so coaxial cable was brought into the house and connected to wall plates in several rooms. Each home we have lived in since has had multiple coaxial connections where cables could be connected. Yesterday, a technician installed fibre optic cable to bring high speed internet to our house. The “wires” over which this journal entry will be published are not wires at all. The thin cable, less than a quarter of the size of coaxial cable, is a tube that carries pulses of light to transmit data. All of the coaxial cable in the house is now obsolete and unnecessary. The technician left behind a roll of cable that we will never use. I’m not even sure if it can be recycled.

And here is a bonus example. When I was serving as pastor in Rapid City, we pulled category 5 computer cable through the attic and pulled cables into each office in the building and from the basement where the modems were installed to a hub in the office that was the heart of our computer network. Before I left as pastor, we installed a trio of wi-fi routers that enabled wireless Internet connections throughout the building. No longer did a computer need to be connected to a cable in order to access our shared data. Not long afterward, we migrated all of our database to an Internet cloud server. The backup system for the church’s computer data was no longer physically located inside of the church building. The cables we had pulled were no longer necessary. In fact, I could turn the heat up or down and monitor the status of the boiler with an app on my phone from any location that had cellular service.

So, I’m suspicious of wires. Nonetheless we now have fiber optic cable connected to our house that is connected to the fiber optic cable buried under the streets of our neighborhood and connected to computers and routers that deliver connectivity to the system of computers we call the Internet. I wonder how long fiber optic cables will be considered necessary. Our son, who lives on a farm, has relatively high speed Internet connections, fast enough for teleconferencing and streaming videos, that is based on the cell phone system. He doesn’t have a data connection to his home, just a cell phone booster that increases the signal and a cellular modem and router to distribute wifi not only to the farm house, but also to several outbuildings. Wireless technology is definitely the wave of the future, and that future is not far away. Apple has announced that satellite connectivity in phones and even watches is available in its latest models. No longer dependent on the installation of towers, our handheld devices soon will be able to connect us to others wherever we are on this globe.

We have often spoken of the revolution in transportation our grandparents witnessed. They were born when horses and buggies were the most common form of personal transportation. They rode trains to travel long distances. And they lived to ride on airliners traveling at more than 500 mph. They witnessed the landing of astronauts on the moon. The communications revolution we have witnessed is no less spectacular and it has occurred in a much shorter span of time. The first personal computer in our home arrived after our children were born. Now we repeat the common knowledge that we carry more computing power in our phones than was used to guide the landing on the moon. I think there is more computing power in my watch than was in the Apollo spacecraft. The rate of change is accelerating. My imagination isn’t capable of predicting the changes that our grandchildren will see in their lives.

Of course all of these computers and technology have their drawbacks. We consume so much energy that we are participating in a global crisis that threatens the ability of the planet to sustain human life. Our hunger for energy is so great that we are causing irreparable environmental damage each day. Glaciers are melting. Mountains are sliding. Rivers are flooding. Fires are raging. Environmental migrants are crowding the places that once were empty.

I don’t believe that technology will solve all of our problems. But I also don’t want to pass over technological solutions when they make sense. We are investigating the installation of solar panels on our church and our home. Initially, that means pulling more wires and cables. The technologies in which we invest will become obsolete in our lifetime. Nonetheless, we move forward with the information that we have - and there is a lot of information available.

Sometimes I just have to disconnect and go for a walk and watch the sunset over the bay. And if I am lucky, the cell phone in my pocket won’t interrupt with vibrations signaling more messages and information coming to me.

The death of a queen

I’m not one to place a lot of emphasis on biology or genetics when it comes to how I feel about family. I grew up with sisters and brothers who came to our family by adoption. They were no less sisters and brothers than the ones who were born to our family. There is just as much connection with those with whom I share no genetic lineage as with those who had the same biological father and mother as I. I feel the way about our children. One was born to our family. One came into our family by adoption. Both are fully our children. Their children are equally our grandchildren.

When the adoption of our daughter was finalized, the judge asked me about our wills and inheritance. We don’t have much and there won’t be much in terms of money when our lives come to their end, but what we have will be distributed equally to our children. We started college savings for each of our grandchildren with the same initial investment.

Not everyone sees the world the way I do. When my father’s mother came to the end of her life, there were small financial inheritances for her grandchildren. However, only those of us who were related to her by biology and genetics were named in her will. This didn’t only affect my brothers and sisters. My father’s sister also had adopted children. I don’t know what happened in my cousin’s family, but in ours, we shared the amounts we received with our siblings. At the time, I was baffled by my grandmother’s choice. I still do not understand it.

I don’t understand much about how some people think of inheritance.

Around 9:30 yesterday morning, there was an announcement on CBC radio that Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom’s longest-reigning monarch had died at the age of 96. Then they played “God Save the Queen,” a song whose theology I don’t understand. I believe that God doesn’t need our advice, whether through a song or a prayer, to accomplish salvation. That aside, they soon announced that the King and Queen Consort would remain at Balmoral Castle in Scotland and would return to London the next day. Just like that - instantly and automatically - England and Canada and the other countries of the United Kingdom have a new head of state. There was no election and although there will be plenty of ceremony in the days to come, there was no need for a swearing in or official transfer of power. As soon as the Queen died, there was a new King.

I’m not a monarchist. I don’t understand how the head of a government can be determined by family lineage. True leadership, I believe, is a reflection of the will of the people. Despite the shenanigans of the former president and his league of election deniers, in the end, when January 20, 2021 rolled around, a new President was sworn in and moved into the White House. It was the 12th peaceful transfer of power in our country of my lifetime. Only two of those were accomplished without an election, one when a president was assassinated, the other when a president resigned. We did have one son of a former president elected, but that is rare in American history and certainly not assured.

King Charles III wasn’t the only one who got a new title out of the death of the Queen. There is a whole host of dukes and duchesses and princes and princesses and other members of the royal family who receive updated titles. Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is now Queen Camilla, though her official title is Queen Consort. She isn’t Queen in the sense that Elizabeth was Queen. In the strange ways of British titles, Queen Elizabeth’s husband wasn’t King Philip but rather His Royal Highness Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.

One of the mourners in London commented in a BBC report, “We will never have another queen in our lifetime.” That is likely true given the number of boys in the royal family. Reigning queens become queen only when there is no male heir in her generation. Of the 41 monarchs since 1066 only six have been women. Even so that is a better track record than some other countries. We have never had a woman as President of the United States and we’ve had more Presidents than the United Kingdom has had reigning monarchs.

It is all very confusing to me. The Canadian and British press use HM (his or her majesty) or HRH (his or her royal highness) to refer to Kings and Queens. American news outlets rarely bother with that part of the title. I’m sure that all of the sashes and medals, scepters and crowns mean something to those familiar with the ceremonies surrounding the monarchy, but they mean little to me. In fact, I think they look rather silly. That, however, is only my opinion and means nothing to those who subscribe to Keep Calm and Carry On. Yes, anyone can subscribe to the newsletter that claims to answer all questions about the royal family. For followers of the royal family, I guess it is interesting reading.

The death of any human being leaves behind grief. There are real people who have lost a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Queen Elizabeth was beloved by many outside of her family as well. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said, “She was one of my favorite people in the world and I will miss her so.” I’m sure his sentiment is genuine. The mourning is real. I don’t want to diminish the sense of loss that people are experiencing. But I don’t understand thousands of people standing in the rain outside of Buckingham Palace to pay their respects when the royal family is still at Balmoral. Had I been in London, I might have found the closing of pubs and restaurants to be a bit of a problem for a hungry tourist.

I wish the best for King Charles III. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who will make fun of his title and the trappings of the monarchy. I guess he’ll have to just keep calm and carry on.

Sudden and traumatic loss

Years ago, I was involved in a training conducted by Dr. Frank Campbell, founder of the National Suicidology Training Center, and developer of the LOSS (Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) Team model of suicide postvention. Over my years of working with survivors of suicide, I attended many different trainings including several led by Dr. Campbell. The training that has been on my mind in the last week was a multiple day workshop on sudden and traumatic loss. Sudden loss grief is unique in many ways and walking with people in the midst of this type of grief is critical to their mental and physical health. Grief is not something that you get over, but the journey of grief can be eased somewhat by those who are willing to journey alongside grieving persons. Part of that journey can involve providing appropriate information on the progression of grief. Support groups are tremendously effective for those who have experienced sudden and traumatic loss because the experiences of others who also have had that experience can give insight into the process and offer understanding of what is going on with grieving individuals.

My training is on my mind because, along with many others in the world, my heart has been broken by the tragedies that have occurred on the James Smith Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Early on Sunday morning, a series of attacks occurred in the small community that left ten people dead and 19 injured. Ten remain hospitalized with three in critical condition. The attacks were unexpected and it is unclear what might have prompted the horrors that unfolded. Police announced that they were seeking two suspects in the crime - brothers Myles Sanderson and Damien Sanderson. On Monday police found Damien’s body. Their announcement said that he died of injuries that could not have been self-inflicted. Then, yesterday afternoon, the news came that police had arrested Myles Sanderson. Shortly afterward the news came that Sanderson had experienced medical distress following his arrest. He was transported to the nearest hospital by a paramedic unit and pronounced dead at the hospital.

The community and the world are left with thousands of unanswered questions. And it appears that many of those questions will remain unanswered.

There is a collective sigh of relief that the perpetrators of this horror are no longer at large and it appears that there is no ongoing threat to the health and safety of other persons. However, as more news comes from the case there are many other emotions. In addition to shock, anger is emerging as people learn that Myles Sanderson had an extensive arrest record including 59 criminal convictions since he was 18, including convictions for assault, threats, and robbery. Two of the victims of Sunday’s rampage had previously been stabbed by Myles Sanderson. Sanderson was released from prison early in February while serving a four-year sentence for violent crimes.

I listened yesterday to CBC radio as it broadcast part of an interview with the mother of the two men. “I want to apologize for my son, my sons. We don’t know the whole story, but I want to apologize to everybody that was hurt and affected by this terrible situation.”

There is a world of hurt and grief on the James Smith Cree Nation, and recovery will come very slowly to the community. There are wounds that will not heal, and I am not just speaking of physical injury.

Everyone who has lost a loved one to death knows that no amount of time is ever enough with a loved one. But when the death is sudden and traumatic, as is the case with victims of murder and suicide, feelings of shock, disbelief, sadness, and anger are overwhelming. The survivors feel as if their entire world has fallen apart and become completely unpredictable.

As I work with grieving people, I hear the question “Why?” over and over again. One of the realities that I have to share with those who grieve is that it is likely that we will never be able to answer that question. Homicide, suicide, and other so called “unnatural” causes of death leave behind feelings of helplessness. Nightmares and flashbacks are normal. Survivors feel unsafe in public spaces and around people from outside of their immediate circle of support.

One thing that is not helpful for those who have experienced sudden and traumatic loss is the false promise that justice and closure are possible. It is a truth that I personally know. I lost a sister to murder. The man convicted of the crime died years ago. His incarceration did not end the grief. His death did not end the grief. It is natural for us to want to try to end or stop or dull grief for a suffering person, but throwing out a false hope is not helpful. Grief is painful and uncomfortable. It is not possible to make it easy.

When we work with people who are grieving, we need to continually remind ourselves that grief is an individual process. Different people grieve in different ways. Those walking with others in grief must try not to impose their ideas of what a person needs or a timeline for the processes after a loss. The primary task of a caregiver is to listen to what the grieving person needs. Sometimes those requests will come verbally. Most of the time they come otherwise through the symptoms exhibited by the grieving person.

I have never been to the James Smith Cree Nation, but I am confident that there are a lot of people there who have turned part of the grief upon themselves. “This is my fault. I could have prevented this. I should have been there.” Anger turned inward is a vicious and dangerous phenomenon. In the case of homicide and suicide the survivors frequently wonder, “Could this happen to me?” Their fear is difficult for them to express because it seems small in the face of the immensity of the tragedy that has unfolded. Sometimes it is easier to express self anger than it is to express fear.

There will never be a formula for dealing with the kind of tragedy that has unfolded. However, we can help those who are suffering by learning what we can of their lost loved ones and by remembering the tragedy that they can never forget. When we are with those who grieve, we can share silence, but we must never forget the grief that will remain forever. Only when we are honest in the face of the darkness can light begin to emerge. Only when we are able to remember are we able to peacefully move on and live.

The game in the street

All up and down our street there are portable basketball goals set on the curbs. People shoot baskets and play games in the street when there are no cars coming. When a car comes, they grab the ball and stand on the lawns or sidewalks until it passes. The official speed limit in our neighborhood is 25 miles per hour, but we never drive that fast, and most folks who come here drive 15 mph or slower most of the time. We like it that way. There is a shortage of parking, so even if there were no people playing in the street, there would be plenty of parked cars to avoid. The streets are narrow, so if there are cars parked on both sides of the street there is barely enough space for two cars to pass in the middle. I usually just wait for the oncoming car to pass at an intersection or a space where I can pull over to the curb. It isn’t that far to the farm to market road that leads to the Interstate.

We are walkers, so we appreciate the slower speed of the cars in our immediate neighborhood even though we have good sidewalks.

In our little section of the street, we have a unique feature. One neighbor across the street from our house has a teenage son who is getting quite good at basketball. He is often out in the street shooting baskets in the late afternoon or evening. We enjoy watching him play and have noticed the improvement in recent months. Our next door neighbor, who lives directly across from the family with the teen, is an elementary school gym teacher and a basketball coach. He is often out in front of his house taking a few shots and talking with the teen from across the street. They have lined up their baskets so they have a makeshift basketball court. Of course the street isn’t wide enough for it to be as long as a basketball court. I don’t think the street is even the width of a basketball court. But there are two goals and a bit of space between them to dribble.

Yesterday when we came out of our house to go for a walk in the late afternoon, there was quite a basketball game going on in the street. There were six high school boys, three stripped to the waist and the other three wearing their t-shirts, playing a game. They didn’t have a regulation court. There were no lines marking the boundaries. There were no officials, no coaches, no rigid rules. They called their own fouls, but had to stand under one basket to shoot a free throw at the one across the street. There weren’t that many fouls, anyway. They weren’t playing that intensely. They were just having fun.

I’ve been known to complain of the smell of our neighbors behind our house and their marijuana smoke drifting over our fence. Yesterday, however, I felt grateful to live in a neighborhood where teens gather for a pickup game of street ball. There was a really good feeling knowing our neighbor was comfortable inviting his friends over for a game.

Down the street there is a side street that ends in a cul-de-sac. After school yesterday, the street was temporarily blocked with a hockey net. Preteen and teen boys had quite a game going with roller blades, hockey sticks and a a puck. We’re right on the Canadian border here. Hockey is a big deal. But for a little while, those kids didn’t need regulation equipment and pads and expensive ice time. The street in front of their house, a net made of PVC pipe, some roller blades, a hockey puck and a few sticks were all they needed to have fun.

On the other side of the bay there is a gated and guarded community with houses on lots that are a half acre or bigger. The streets are wide and there is no on street parking allowed. If there are basketball hoops or hockey goals in that neighborhood, they are all hidden on backyard tennis courts. You won’t see children playing in the street. I don’t think there are many children who live in those houses with their three and four car garages, multi-level decks and great rooms that are bigger than some of the houses in our part of town.

I wouldn’t trade homes with the folks behind the gates for anything. I know I’m much happier living where the streets are full of children and we share not only the smell of the neighbors who smoke recreationally, but also the smell of our backyard barbecues. There are dozens of homes in our part of town where folks use their garages as an extra room, with living room furniture and a television set. On a summer evening, their garage doors are open and they are cooking supper on the barbecue in the driveway. I don’t mind that smell at all. On labor day, I was smoking ribs and baking biscuits in a dutch oven with charcoal and sharing the smells and smoke with our neighbors. That gated neighborhood might be quieter than ours, but ours is a lot more fun. Come Halloween, we’ll have a hundred kids yelling trick or treat for every dozen they see. Chances are pretty good they don’t know the fun they are missing.

Growing up today in our society is a tough job. There are a lot of pressures on high school youth. Most of our high school friends have schedules that are busier than ours. They balance school, jobs, and extracurricular activities. They have the pressures of social media and cyberbullying and hyper competitive college admissions. Every once in a while they need to lay aside all of that. They need a time when the cell phones aren’t in their hands and their school books are temporarily set aside. A pickup game in the middle of the street is just right.

When they need to find a game, they are always welcome in our neighborhood. It is a good place to live.


The day after Labor Day is a kind of unofficial start of autumn. At least it is part of my thinking about the passing of seasons. There were some years when I was growing up when it was the first day of school. Our grandkids had two and a half days of school last week followed by the three day weekend. I’m pretty sure that it would be difficult to make a case for such a schedule if you were basing it on the needs of children and the processes of teaching and learning. Of course the schedules of the school are developed in a complex interplay of state requirements about the number of days of teaching, contracts with teachers that often involve schedules as well as wages and benefits, local traditions and the needs of local businesses for summer employees, and a host of other factors.

There is an argument made that a slow start to school helps children make the transition from summer schedules to school schedules. 2 1/2 days last week, four days this week, and the first full five day week next week. Maybe that is the case, but the schedule certainly creates challenges for working parents and childcare agencies.

In the church, we pay close attention to school schedules. We check the calendars of the schools when planning our programs and activities. Christian education programs have long been influenced by schedules that are controlled outside of the church. The concept of Sunday School has its roots in literacy education that was offered by churches for children who were working in industry. The children only had one day off from their jobs, so that was the day when they could attend classes in reading and writing offered by churches. That concept changed over the years from the education of children who were part of the community, but not necessarily part of the church to the education of the children of the people of the church.

The bible rests responsibility for the transmission of faith from one generation to another squarely inside of the family. It is the job of parents to teach the stories of faith to their children. The bible doesn’t mention Sunday School. The attitude of churches and church leaders toward the process of faith education has shifted quite a bit in the span of my career as a pastor. I have always felt that the educational ministries are important and have been involved in them throughout my life. These days, there is little school language used in the church. We don’t speak of teaching and learning, or even of education. The currently popular term for these activities is “faith formation.” Our official title at the church is “Interim Minister of Faith Formation.” I’ve heard my colleagues go on and on about how faith is transmitted from one generation to another and how they don’t think that faith is taught in the same sense as one might teach reading or arithmetic. However, I think that the idea that we can “form” faith is a pretty vain notion. We don’t cause faith to occur. We don’t form the religious lives of children. While I hear the criticism of the verb “teach,” I don’t hear much defense of the verb “form.”

The jargon we use is every bit as convoluted and contrived as are the schedules we follow. There are lots of reasons why we use particular words to speak of these processes. Nonetheless, the program year at the church is beginning to spool up. The official kick off of the church school year isn’t until September 18 in our church this year. It probably would have been September 11, the first Sunday after Labor Day, were it not for the funeral of a prominent church member which will be that day. I’m not sure that one day is particularly better than another, but there are lot of programs that are gearing up despite the official kick off activities.

I will start my day helping launch the fall season of an adult education program this morning. I have the first regular meeting of the adult forum tomorrow. There are several other small groups who began regular meetings this week.

The starting of fall educational programs, however, is just one of the ways that we note the passing of seasons. Officially the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, which is the first day of spring in the Southern Hemisphere, is the equinox, which occurs on Thursday, September 22. It is the day when we are halfway from the longest day of the year in June and the shortest day of the year in December for those of us who live north of the equator. The term equinox comes from Latin and refers to the nearly equal amount of hours of daylight and of night that occur in some places. Of course the length of the day and night is affected by the distance between the pole and the equator, so whether or not they are equal depends on where you are located.

Harvest times and harvest festivals are common around the equinox, and the full moon that is nearest to the equinox is generally called the harvest moon. In some traditions, the full moon provides additional light for working at the harvest or for celebrating the harvest that is just completed.

Whether you are measuring by the public school year, or by the length of the days, or by the temperature outside, change is in the air and the seasons are passing. In our retirement, autumn has an additional meaning. Although we officially retired in June, we didn’t finish our move to the Pacific Northwest until October. Then we moved once again the following October. We are staying put this year and not moving this October, so it means that we are beginning to settle into this house and are feeling more at home. Having made one circuit around the year’s seasons brings us to a new sense of being settled.

However you measure it, I hope this season is one of joy and meaning for you.

Labor Day 2022

I have worked as a janitor. I spent one summer tipping garbage cans into the back of a compactor truck. I have assembled and delivered farm machinery. I once got paid for guiding a youth group on a backpack trip. I’ve worked in a commercial kitchen, doing everything from washing pots and pans to food preparation. One summer I worked in a huge commercial bakery. I’ve done a lot of different kinds of farm work, from driving tractor and truck to machinery repair. I’ve built fences and dug ditches by hand. I’ve done concrete work and helped frame buildings. I’ve pounded thousands of shingles by hand and a few with an air-driven nailer. I’ve worked in a library, at a radio station, and driven a school bus. I’ve mowed lawns, shoveled snow, and swept floors. I’ve repaired furniture and installed sound systems.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but one of the great gifts of my life is the simple fact that I have often been in a place where I needed to work at a variety of different jobs to make ends meet. Being a full time student always meant having a part time job for me, and I don’t regret a minute of it. In some ways the different jobs I had were as much a part of my education as the classes I attended and papers I wrote.

I sometimes say to people that I sit down for a living these days. It isn’t quite the way that it sounds. There is a fair amount of sitting at a computer in my current job. I answer emails, make phone calls and attend meetings in person and over Zoom. I teach classes and confer with team members. But I also get down on the floor to work floor puzzles with children, play games, sing songs, and lead time with children during worship. I check out area parks, go on walks, and rehearse with musical groups. There is a lot of variety in the work that I do.

Over the years, I have had an uneasy relationship with Labor Day. I am a retired member of the International Union of Bakers and Confectioners, which is not the same as the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers. I have a bit of experience as a member of organized labor. That experience, however, was three months of my life. For most of my life I have worked as a professional. I’ve done some hourly work, but most of my experience is with being a salaried employee. Labor Day isn’t really about the kind of work that I have done for most of my life.

My lack of ease with Labor Day, however, comes from a different perspective. We, in this country, don’t really have times when everyone takes a day off. We work around holidays, with some folks working on the holiday and others getting time off from work. Long weekends are extra time off for some, but extra hours of work for others. Labor Day would make more sense to me if it was a time when the convenience stores were closed because all of their employees had a holiday. It would make more sense if people who are working multiple jobs just to make rent and groceries were paid for time off.

From the earliest days of our tradition, our people have told stories about the need for regular rest. The creation stories of our Bible speak of God resting on the seventh day. The laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy outline specific rules for Sabbath rest. Jesus invited those who are weary to come to him for rest. We have all kinds of scriptural teaching about the need for rest. Often, however, we have used those rules and lessons as ways of justifying our need for time away from work without affording the same to others.

In our community, if you do not have a home, there is no day off from the daily struggle to find a safe place to sleep. We seem to have a variety of ways for people who don’t have money to get food to eat, but very few ways for those without funds to find a safe shelter. If you don’t have a safe place to sleep, there is no such thing as Sabbath for you.

In our heads we understand that everyone needs a time of rest. In our behavior, however, we expect the grocery store to be open when we need a half gallon of milk. We expect the big box hardware and lumber stores to be available when we want a tool or supplies for a hobby. We expect transportation and food services to be available whenever we want them. We engage in all kinds of activities on days off and holidays that depend on other people working.

I understand that leisure time needs to be staggered for firefighters and police officers, for doctors and nurses and cleaners and cooks. I know that there are jobs that must be done around the clock every day. But I also know that some of the people who do some of the most demanding work seldom receive the kind of rest that they deserve.

I had the benefit of regular sabbaticals that are common among ministers and university professors. I have read that executive sabbaticals are becoming more and more common. But I don’t know of any businesses that pay janitorial staff to take a few months off to rest and reset. There are no sabbaticals for restaurant workers or retail clerks. The folks who deliver packages on Saturdays and Sundays don’t have a long service leave in our country.

Our creation stories remind us that Sabbath is for everyone, not just for some. Giving rest to those who serve us is as important as taking rest for ourselves. I sometimes think that it would make sense for some of us who have had adequate time for rest in our lives to go to work so that those who rarely get a day off could have one.

So I recognize Labor Day, but I’m not sure I know how to celebrate it. Perhaps my sense of unease is part of being called to work for justice for others.

A bit of luck

I got an email from a friend this weekend with what has become familiar news, but with a bit of a twist. the news is that this friend’s entire household has contracted Covid. “As far as we know, the cat hasn’t contracted the disease. She seems OK. Then, again, no one feels up to giving her a nose swab. Everyone else is more or less miserable.” Here is the twist. My friend also wrote, “It feels like color television when I was a kid. We are the last family on the block to get it.”

The not struck a chord with me, but not because of the reference to color television. When I was a kid, we were the last family on the block to get any kind of a television. I think that my parents finally succumbed and got a television because we kids were spending so much time at our friends’ houses watching their televisions. It probably isn’t true, but it seemed like we were the last family in town to get a television set. However, once we got a television, our father decided that he really liked it. He watched the news every evening if he got home in time. He watched Lawrence Welk. He watched television every chance he got, which wasn’t too much. When color television came out, I think we were the third family in town to get a color set. I know we were the first family on our block to have one.

But if you are wondering, so far our household has escaped Covid. Our son and his family, who live just a couple of miles away and with whom we spend a lot of time, all got sick when the virus came home from school to their house. It didn’t happen the first time. That time, only one child contracted the virus and they were able to keep him isolated while he recovered. The second time, however, the whole family, including the child who had already had Covid, got it. Both times we were saved by having gotten all of the vaccinations for which we are eligible, a bit of distance, the use of face masks, and mostly by luck. Our work has careful procedures, which has kept our church from becoming a site for spreading the illness. We generally wear masks when indoors, but not always. Mostly, I’m sure it is luck.

So far, I’ve been less lucky when it comes to seeing the northern lights. I expected that we would see them frequently now that we've moved up north, but it hasn’t been the case. Part of our problem is a bit of light pollution to our north. We’re just south of the city of Vancouver, BC. Part of it is elevation. We’re not up on top of a hill, which would give us a better view. When we look north from our home we mostly see the houses of our neighbors. Part of it is the location of the magnetic north pole. If you look at the charts for the distribution of the northern lights, it is actually more likely to see them in our old home in Rapid City than in our new home even though we are farther north.

I look out of the window every night, however. I read of others who live fairly close to us who have gotten a good view. I saw some lovely pictures of the lights taken just 20 miles from our place on a night when I made a special effort to see them by driving to a higher elevation. I thought I might see them last night. The forecast was for some views from our county and when I awoke in the wee hours the coyotes were singing. I don’t know if they were singing at the lights or at the moon, but you can see only half or a bit less of the moon right now. It isn’t as dramatic as when it is full.

I realized as I lay in bed listening to the coyotes that the window in our bedroom is on the other side of our bed. I sleep on the side away from the wall. That is a bit unusual for me because in the last four houses we’ve occupied there has been a window on my side of the bed. However, I’ve been sleeping on the same side of the bed since we married, which was over 49 years ago. I’m unlikely to switch sides of the bed. And I think it would be impractical with the configuration of our bedroom to turn the bed around. It must not be bothering me since it took me nearly a year of living in this house to notice that there is no window on my side of the bed.

I don’t hear the coyotes singing as often as I didn’t when we lived in South Dakota. I think part of it is that the country around here is a bit more flat. We don’t get the same kind of echoes. Part of it might be that our immediate neighborhood is quite a bit more dense. I don’t think the coyotes come into our subdivision much. Coyotes, however, are quite adept at adapting to urban environments. I’m sure they are around. I’ve seen one and our son sees them much more often in his commute.

The deer don’t come into our subdivision, which is a big change from our South Dakota home, where they came into our yard every day. I’ve seen a few that have been hit on the road to town, but not as many as we would see in our previous home. Actually, I think I see deer in the middle of the city of Bellingham more often than I see them out in the country.

I’ll keep scanning the skies for a glimpse of the northern lights. We’ll plan a trip north one of these days and camp in a place where we can get a good view. I’ll keep listening for coyote song in the night. And we’ll get vaccinated whenever it is recommended and hope that we remain lucky as the pandemic sweeps around the world.

Summer is ending


We noticed the bright orange sunset the night before last. Yesterday during the day it was obvious that the haze in the sky is smoke. It is likely that the smoke is drifting south from a couple of wildfires burning in the Peace River region of British Columbia. The fire season in British Columbia has not been bad - a bit better than recent years, but conditions are hot and dry and September promises to be a tough month for firefighters. So far, Western Washington has escaped major wildfires. It has been a low fire year for Washington and Oregon while fires in California continue to be a cause of concern.

We’ve lived near forests enough of our life to have a special sensitivity to the smell of smoke. I was sniffing the air and wondering where the smoke was coming from as soon as I went outside for the first time yesterday. When we opened up the house to cool it in the evening, we noticed the smoke smell. After a few days we’ll become more used to it, but we will continue to wish for winds that clear the smoke from our skies without winds that make conditions worse for those combatting wildfires.

The locals tell me that we are suffering a heat wave. Daytime highs in the high sixties and low seventies doesn’t seem like much of a heat wave to me. Overnight lows are in the fifties, which is enough to keep our house comfortable without turning on the air conditioner. We had a rule in our house when I was a kid: If it is 50 degrees or warmer, you can go to school or church without a jacket. If it is cooler than 50 you have to wear a jacket when you go out of the house. I grew up in a time and place where we didn’t wear short pants to school or to church. I spent almost all of the other days in the summer in cut off jeans and short sleeves. My usual summer attire was a t-shirt and cutoffs. Returning to school meant having to wear long pants and “real” shirts over our t-shirts. I was never eager for that attire.

A couple of bouts with squamous cell carcinoma have made me cautious about sun exposure. After a lifetime of not being particularly careful about sun and sunburn, I have reached a stage in life where it makes sense to me to be extra cautious. According to a couple of dermatologists I have seen, while squamous cell carcinoma is easily treated, early detection is the key. Therefore it is recommended that I be examined by a dermatologist every six months until I have been free of cancer for five years. The problem is that so far I haven’t been able to make it five years between bouts with the abnormal cells. That keeps me aware of the risk of sun exposure because I get the lecture about broad brimmed hats and long sleeves every six months. I’ve been pretty careful lately about following the doctor’s recommendations. I wear long pants and long sleeves every day, even in the summer.

This summer, however, hasn’t been uncomfortable for me. We’ve had a few days that got hot, but not more than I remember from other years. The warm weather came later in the summer than the previous year. Two years is all of my experience in this part of the country. So far, I’d say that it is a bit cooler here than the other places I’ve lived. Since I’m not a big fan of hot weather in the first place, the weather around here is just fine with me. Not only do we have few days that require much planning to avoid the heat, there are very few days when I need more than a hooded sweatshirt for the cold. I decided that it was a good idea to keep my parka for a couple of days use last winter, but I rarely have a jacket of any kind along with me. After all, I still adhere to the 50 degree rule.

The beach was full of folks watching the sunset last evening as we walked. It is a long weekend in Canada as well as the US, the last long weekend of the summer. The influx of tourists makes for some interesting people watching for us. I’m not sure why some folks set up their chairs in the back of their pickup when the beach is just a few steps away, but they were causing no problems for others. It wasn’t cool enough to need a fire, but campfires are probably more about atmosphere than keeping warm in the first place, and most kids are always up for s’mores. The smoke from the campfires didn’t make a noticeable change in the sky which was already hazy. I continue to be amazed at how quickly the days shorten in this part of the world. Walking after dinner has been comfortable for a couple of months, but we won’t be able to do so in daylight much longer. We’ve walked past sunset the last two evenings. We live in a safe place and walking after dark isn’t a problem, but we’re likely to return to the practice of walking earlier in the day as the days continue to get shorter and shorter. I’m sure our son isn’t eager to be back to driving to and from work in the dark, but the short days of winter seem to the be the price of the long days of summer.

Since we don’t have children at home, our lives are not as dependent upon school schedules as once was the case. We notice because we pay attention to our grandchildren, but we are not immediately impacted by which weekends are school holidays. We plan to take a week or 10 days of vacation in September. We have a good chance of good weather and less crowded conditions than during the summer. And we live in a place where others come for their vacations. We get to watch the sun set over the bay whenever we want.

Figuring out retirement

I’ve taken to saying, “I flunked retirement,” when talking about my current situation. That isn’t really accurate and I think I’m going to quit saying it. There are all kinds of ways of looking at our retirement as ministers after 42 years of full-time ministry. After 25 years as pastors in Rapid City, it was time to move on from that congregation. The congregation needed to discover its identity apart from us. It hasn’t been easy for the congregation. They have not found the candidates for minister that they need. The shortage of pastors is real and they have discovered that a nation-wide search turns up candidates who do not want to move to South Dakota. Still, the congregation is discovering leadership and strength that was not apparent during our time as pastors. The commitment of members is much deeper than a personality cult. They are committed to their church beyond the personality of the leader. New leaders are emerging.

For us, the change of pace was initially exhilarating. We needed to downsize and we had time to sort our possessions in preparation for moving. That task is unfinished as are many in our lives, but we have made significant progress. For decades decisions about where to live were made by the needs of the church. I often said that I spent my career looking for a call in Montana and finding that there was no call for me in Montana. I never did serve a congregation in Montana, even though I submitted applications to several positions there. Discerning the difference between what I want and what God wants has always been a challenge for me and the search for pastoral call has been a place where I have learned that there is more to listening to God’s call than just thinking about what I wanted to do. Still, as our children grew up and moved away from home, the desire to live near to them continued to influence me. Our decision to move close to where our son lives has brought some surprises, but it has been a good one.

We sort of fell into our current half time interim position. The church we had joined was experiencing the ending of a 20-year ministry and needed time to evaluate and discern direction. The position seemed to be a good match for our skills. I find it to be just the right amount of work for my energies. It gives me time for many other things, but I still am engaged in meaningful work. It is always hard to set boundaries in part time work. I have never known exactly when I am working and when I am not. I’m not by personality inclined to punch a time clock. I like to do a job and not worry about how much time it takes. We try to define our work by which days we go to the office at the church. Three days a week - Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday - we drive to the office and work from the church. But there are all kinds of projects that can’t be done from the office. And like other modern workers, we answer emails and messages from our home computers and phones. The longer we stay in the job, the larger the projects we tackle.

So we have been working this way for a year now. Yesterday was a good example of what retirement looks like for me. After breakfast, I spent a few minutes at the computer answering emails and working at some long-term projects. Our youngest granddaughter, who doesn’t start kindergarten until next week, and her baby brother were dropped off at our house by their mother. She had some work to do and we invited the children to come to our house. Sometimes we provide a bit of childcare at their home, but it was more convenient for us to be at home yesterday. After a while, Susan headed to town for an appointment and I had the children on my own. Our granddaughter was playing with toys upstairs and other than stopping for a mid-morning snack was completely happy to play by herself. After a while the baby got tired, so I rocked him. He had a little trouble settling without his mother, so I sang to him. I have been working on memorizing a hymn to sing at a memorial service in a week, so it was a good time for me to go through it without any music several time. He is a very gentle music critic and went to sleep.

Here is where the retired part of my life is very delicious. I just sat in the rocking chair with the baby for an hour or more. I didn’t pay attention to the time. When his mother came to pick up the children, I recognized that she is too busy to just rock a sleeping baby. When the baby goes to sleep, she needs to get done chores that can’t be done when he is awake. I, on the other hand, could just sit without feeling the least bit guilty.

In the afternoon I had time to work at a project at the farm. I could have finished it, but I enjoy working at my own pace. I find there are some jobs that I do more precisely when I work slowly. This job involved measuring and digging and measuring again, so taking my time felt right. I’ll get that job finished today, but I quit before completing it. Then I stopped by at the house of a friend in the church for a brief call. I ended up staying for more than an hour because I could. I didn’t have to rush off to take care of another need, as would have been the case when I was working full time. I had no evening meetings, so there was plenty of time to toss a couple of burgers on the grill, eat a leisurely supper, go for a walk along the bay and enjoy the sunset, and still answer a few emails and text messages before settling into bed.

I’m still doing all of the things I used to do, but I’m doing less of them, working more slowly, and enjoying the pace. I don’t think I’m flunking retirement. For now it feels like a good balance.

Stories from school

We had quite a feast for dinner last night. Our son and daughter-in-law have a partner in the cattle-raising portion of their farm. As a result they also partner in the hay business. A customer of the hay business, who is also a commercial fisher, traded some fresh crab and our son’s portion of the deal was two large bags of crab, more than enough for a big feast. The day after they received the crab was the first day of school and we got in on the celebration. We steamed crab, boiled corn, and melted butter. There was a fresh loaf of bread from the bakery and a huge salad from the garden supplemented with carrots from a neighbor and avocados from the store. Susan baked an apple pie. There was no shortage of food, and we sat at the table cracking crabs after dinner and produced a bowl of crab meat sufficient for crab cakes for the family today.

We also got to hear stories of the first day of school for the two oldest grandchildren. Kindergarten has not yet started for the five-year-old, but she will meet her teacher today and begin classes next week. We got to hear the name of the teacher and a bit about how the first day went for our other granddaughter. Our grandson had quite a story to tell. One of his friends ended up in a fight on the first day of school. We don’t have the details and know only one side of the issue, but it was the first day of middle school for our grandson and for his friend. His friend has been the victim of some bullying earlier in his life and he witnessed what he perceived to be bullying at the middle school. When he told the bully to stop, the bully challenged him to fight. This drew the attention of other middle schoolers who began to yell “fight! fight!” Fortunately our grandson tried to stop the fight, but a few punches were thrown. No one was seriously hurt. It was the intervention of the school that got my attention. I'm sure that school rules might have allowed the suspension of the combatants in the fight, but neither was suspended. Instead, they both will have to meet in the school library for the next few days and spend a set amount of time playing chess.

The idea of a spunky little kid who has been the victim of the taunts of several bullies and a larger kid who seemed eager to throw a few punches spending some quality time bonding over games of chess intrigues me. From the time when I was a student, I’ve never understood suspension as a punishment. The school takes the kid who is least likely to succeed in school and “punishes” that kid by saying, “stay home from school.” Then we wonder why dropout rates are so high.

I was entertained by our grandson’s report and was impressed with the teachers and administrators of his school. This could turn out to be a very good year of learning for everyone. And, from my perspective, these kids deserve a good year of learning after two years of Covid. Vaccines are available for children. The mask mandate has been lifted. Teachers who have been forced to pour every bit of energy and creativity into trying to teach with “on again, off again” schedules, online and in person classes, calls for banning books, and more than a small amount of criticism and attack against public education in general finally are able to focus their energies on teaching and solving everyday problems in the lives of their students.

“You want to get in fights? Keep that up and you’ll end up in the library! Do that again and you’ll end up on the chess team. Who do you think they’ll be calling g a nerd then?” OK, a real teacher wouldn’t add that last comment. I, however, couldn’t resist it.

Libraries continue to offer creative solutions for schools and for communities. I know I’m biased because our son is a librarian, but I am impressed with all of the community services provided by libraries that go way beyond having books that can be checked out and read at home. Library buildings are serving as emergency shelters in extreme weather events. Area libraries are warming shelters during winter storms and cooling shelters during heat waves. They provide computer access to the public, including those who have no homes. They offer classes and support in a wide variety of different life skills. They provide meeting space for community organizations. The new library building being constructed by the community where our son lives will be the largest electric vehicle charging station in the country when it is completed. It will serve as a transportation hub, a senior citizen’s center, and a community gathering space.

And libraries continue to be great places for people like us to check out books. We’ve become skilled in searching for books through the online resources of the library and reserving them for checkout at our convenience. Most weeks find us in the library, which, in addition to all of its other services, provided us with the at home Covid-19 test kits that we needed to check our status when we suffered a cold or experienced exposure.

Our little Birch Bay library, part of a larger library district, even has beach umbrellas and toys for checkout and a public beach access right in the middle of the bay. That’s not bad for a community that isn’t even organized as a city.

I haven’t been inside of the Middle School yet, but I’ve been to the elementary school library for an evening of learning games with our granddaughter. I know that school libraries are very different from the way they were when I was growing up. And I’m eager for the opportunity to visit the library at the Middle School when we get the opportunity.

Yesterday was only the first day of school. I’m sure there will be lots more stories to hear, even on days when we don’t have a family feast.

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