I had the good fortune of growing up in a large blended family. I was born into three sisters. The two oldest were quite a bit older than me. They were adopted by my parents after our folks had started out as their foster parents. Then they had a daughter born to them and I was born next. After me came three more boys. One born into our family, two adopted. Our parents never made distinctions between children who entered the family by birth and those who came to us by adoption. It proved to be a very good model for me as I grew up as it turned out that we have one adopted child and one who was born to us. Both are incredible blessings to me and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

So, I consider myself to be a bit of an expert on sisters. There are a few downsides to being born with older sisters. One is that they like to change your clothes a lot. I never have been that much on changing my clothes, but it seemed like my sisters, especially the middle one, enjoyed changing my clothes way more often that I would have chosen. Another downside is that you have to learn to be patient about using the bathroom. It seems to be OK for sisters to all go into the bathroom at the same time, but brothers aren’t allowed. And when I got more brothers, I had already learned to enjoy privacy in the bathroom and had no interest in sharing. Even though we got a second bathroom in our house when I was very young, I still did my share of waiting.

Mostly, however, having sisters is a bonus. Teachers may comment on your sisters, but they usually don’t expect you to be like them. I got quite a bit of privilege for being the oldest boy in our family. I often got to go to work with my father and spend a morning or sometimes a whole day with him, which I really liked. The sisters usually had to go with him in groups of two or three. And sisters generally are very loving. When they are trying a new recipe, they let you do a taste test. They sometimes even sneak you cookies. They help with chores sometimes and they make good friends.

I have been extremely lucky in the sister department. In addition to those three, two of whom have now died, I gained two sisters by marriage. Susan is the oldest of three daughters and so when I became a part of their family it seemed like I inherited two younger sisters. Over the decades since those sisters have treated me very well and I love them dearly. Having had some experience with sisters I like to think that I have been a pretty good brother to them as well. I hope they think so.

After their mother died Susan and her sisters got together to help clean out their father’s house and get it ready to sell. I was privileged to be included in that process and we had a few good laughs in the midst of all of the work. Working together is a wonderful way to get to know people even better and I am grateful that I was included.

After their father died the sisters have tried to get together about once each year. Sometimes there is a special occasion and they get to be all three together more than once. When the Covid Pandemic came, they had to take a year off from traveling to get together.

This week they have come together for another “Sister’s Retreat” in Red Lodge, Montana, where the middle sister lives. Susan and I have expanded the retreat to include a camping trip for us. We took our time traveling to Red Lodge, stopping in familiar places and exploring a few new ones. We plan to meander back home slowly as well.

So for the next couple of days I have some time to myself as the sisters enjoy some time with each other. I’ve got plenty of things to do and I won’t be bored. Red Lodge is an excellent place for day hikes and I’ll probably get in a paddle at a nearby reservoir.

Tonight, I am feeling particularly grateful for the five sisters I have had in my life. There is something very special about my relationship with each of them. I love them dearly and they show their love for me in so many ways. In addition to the blessings of these sisters, I am feeling lucky that it turned out for us that our son also has a sister. I have been privileged to witness how their friendship and connection has matured and changed over the years. As adults they are wonderful support for each other and it gives me confidence to know that were there to be a need I know that they would be there for each other just as my sisters have been there for me.

In the fall of 2019, sisters really came through for me. Susan had a health crisis and ended up in intensive care with a respirator. She has fully recovered, but it took time. I made a few calls to inform sisters of what was going on and they called each other and made a plan. Susan’s youngest sister flew to Montana where my youngest sister met her airplane. Together they drove through the night to our home. Our son flew in that night as well. The sisters took over running our household, doing laundry, cooking, and getting ready for Susan to come home. When those sisters needed to go back to their regular lives, Susan’s other sister came and helped care for Susan and keep our household running while I returned to work. I am grateful for all they did during that crisis and I know that we would be ready to respond if one of them had a need.

I don’t mean to downplay the importance of brothers in my life and I don’t mean to say that I value my relationship with my brothers any less than my sisters. It is just that this week I am aware of sisters because I have been able to see both of Susan’s sisters and it feels really good. I know that the three sisters are having a fun time together and that they are strengthening even stronger relationships.

Sound, Memory, and Emotion

I have read that the sense that is most likely to trigger memory is smell. I have not evidence to argue against that, but for me another sense that is really powerful in terms of triggering both memories and emotions.

I can make out the distinct sound of a Pratt & Whitney 9-cylinder Wasp Junior engine in an airplane from a long ways away. And if there are two, I recognize the sound immediately. I can tell you whether or not the twin engines are synchronized and whether or not the props are at full pitch just from the sound. I grew up listening for the sound of my dad’s Beech 18 and I could make out that sound from all of the other sounds before anyone else. Now when I hear that sound, I immediately turn my eyes skyward. Those planes are considered to be classic or antique now. Our Beech 18 was about the same age as me, and a 70-year-old airplane is definitely a classic. Hmm. . . I wonder if I’ve become a classic. I guess that is a topic for another journal entry.

Last night the sound that evoked memory and emotion was the sound of rushing water outside of our camper. We are camped next to Rock Creek near Red Lodge, Montana. The creek rushes from the high country and has already dropped almost 4,000 feet by the time it reaches Red Lodge and will drop another couple of thousand before it flows into the Yellowstone River. The stream bed is all boulders, mostly a foot or so in diameter, rounded by the rushing water. At high water you can hear the stones rolling and crashing into one another. This time of the year the rocks don’t move around as much, but the water is making a quick trip.

I grew up next to another mountain stream on its way to the Yellowstone and in the Yellowstone to the Missouri and the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico. Two drainages to the west is my home valley. However, I am intimately familiar with Red Lodge, Rock Creek and the entire area. My paternal grandparents lived here when I was growing up and the town fills me with memories each time I visit.

But the sound. The music of water over rocks makes me nostalgic in ways that other sounds do not. I had forgotten how much I have missed that sound. Billings, Chicago, Hettinger, Boise, Rapid City, Mount Vernon, Birch Bay. I haven’t lived next to a mountain stream since I was 17. Over a half of a century has passed and the sound immediately transports me to my childhood and memories of playing in the river, fishing the river, throwing rocks into the river, and most of all, going to sleep with the river’s lullaby. Ah, what a sound! And what a wonderful sleep! Maybe the best sleep of all.

I am not unhappy with my home. I loved living in South Dakota. I have not been miserable because I have been away from the sound of Mountain Streams. I suppose that the technology exists to play a recording of that sound for sleeping. I know several people who use white noise machines for sleep, and perhaps the sound of water rushing over rocks is similar. But I do not want a recording.

I long for a river, with cold, clear water, and trout swimming in pools. I am captured by the promise of water so cold it makes your feet hurt and grasshoppers falling into the water that make the biggest, oldest trout rise to the surface with a splash you cannot ignore. And I rarely fish these days. I gave up my fly tying equipment to a church rummage sale years ago. I didn’t move my fly rods and reels. I am in a new place where clams are dug and crabs are caught in traps. I know that the sublime art of salmon fishing still exists on the waters of Western Washington, but the salmon are so threatened that it seems to me to be more just to leave the salmon fishing to members of the Nooksack and Lummi nations who have treaty rights guaranteeing them access to the magnificent fish.

I am quite content to simply listen to the river. I would not be surprised if the sound alone slows my breath rate and lowers my blood pressure.

Perhaps it is simply the fact that I need to seek opportunities to return to places of rushing water. I am formed by the waters of my life and Rock Creek is one of those waters that has made it into somewhere deep in my soul. When I am here, I feel home.

I shall not, however, linger too long. Home is also where my family dwells. Home is a new-to-us house that is a 15-minute walk from the beach and a 15-minute drive from Canada. Home is my dahlias and sunflowers and tomatoes. Home is the half-finished kayak project in the shop. Home is a church family that has been wonderful to us. Home is two colonies of bees that are producing honey that sweetens my tea and whose activities fascinate me. The sound of the bees swarming around the hive is another sound that triggers memory and meaning for me.

I don’t know what smells trigger my memories. Perhaps motor oil reminds me of my father. Baking bread always produces a kind of resurrection moment for me with my mother. Maybe the smell of the river running through willow trees is another important smell. I am sure that there are many smells that are special triggers for me.

Last night I didn’t worry about smells. I was reveling in the sound. And I hear it now as I prepare to publish this journal entry. I pray that others might find their way to a free-flowing mountain stream just to learn the power of water to shape our lives, emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

May you find peace like a river in your soul. My peace is rushing as a mountain stream.

At the Source


Last night we camped at a place of beginnings. Although we are in Montana and not very far from where I was born, it is not my home town. In fact, I am planning to do something that we have rarely done in the past. I am planing to just drive by that town and not visit it on this trip. I’ll be glad to go back someday. Perhaps I’ll take my grandchildren to see the house where we lived and the place I went to school. That will, of course, de-mythologize it a bit for them. It is hard to imagine grandpa walking miles to school into the wind and uphill when you can see it is a simple small town block from his house.

Now, however, is not the right time for me to visit my hometown. Just last spring we sold our folks’ summer place, where we all grew up next to the river. It was time. We no longer were able to keep it up and all of us live hundreds of miles away. So we put it on the market and now it belongs to someone else and I’m not yet ready to visit it.

No the place where we are camping is Missouri Headwaters State Park at Three Forks. It is the place designated as the beginning of the Missouri River. The Missouri is one of several rivers that have played big in my life. My cousin ranched on the Missouri River Bottom and owned land and ran cattle on both sides of the Missouri just upstream from Fort Benton, Montana. The piano that was in our home in my growing up years came from my Mother’s grandmother’s home. It was the second piano to arrive in the town of Fort Benton. It traveled there by steamship from Saint Louis, Missouri. Fort Benton was as far upstream as the river boats could go.

We lived and served as ministers in North Dakota and in South Dakota, two states through which the Missouri River runs where the time zone is divided by the Missouri. East of the Missouri is Central Time. West is Mountain Time. We learned to calculate the time to travel by clock time and not by actual time. For example, when we lived in Rapid City, I thought of the drive to Chamberlain as taking four hours and the drive home as taking two. Of course three hours elapsed each way, but if I was figuring out how to get to a meeting on time, I had to take into account the change in time zone.

I have paddled in the Missouri in several places along its run. We have camped alongside it in several states. For five years, our daughter lived in Warrensburg, Missouri, only about 60 miles from where the Missouri meets the Mississippi.

The rivers that create the Mississippi drainage system were, for the most part, named from east to west. Missouri is a shortened version of an indigenous word that was applied to the tribes that lived near where it flows into the Mississippi.

The Corps of Discovery, headed by Lewis and Clark were commissioned to find the headwaters of the Missouri River and they camped for a while near where we are camped, probably on the other side of the Madison River. They declared this place to be the headwaters of the Missouri and credited themselves with accomplishing one of the major assignments of their expedition.

David James Duncan wrote a non-fiction autobiography titled, “My Story as Told by Water.” I’m sure that he was familiar with Norman Maclean’s semi-autobiographical book, “A River Runs Through It.” Both authors know well the waters we have seen in the past day.

Yesterday we followed the Blackfoot River upstream from Missoula before going over MacDonald pass to Helena and then down to Three Forks. The Blackfoot is the river in Norman Maclean’s book. As in Maclean’s story, there were fly fishers working the waters. I have fancied myself to be a fly fisher at times during my life, but I must say that I’m less enthusiastic about it now that I used to be. Part of the reason is that the mysterious art has become popular. There were far too many fishers on the river yesterday. Even though catch and release is mandated for bull trout and practiced by fishers for other trout, there are too many people interested in having their picture taken with the fish before throwing it back, without considering how much it has been injured and whether or not it can survive. That is a far cry from the way I was taught to fish, where you gently cradle the fish in the water after it has played out. You stroke it and admire it for its fight. You thank it for its sport and gently slip the hook from its mouth before gently allowing it to swim free from your hands. Like other aspects of the sport, releasing a fish is an art. Real fly fishers love the fish and wish the best for them. They donate countless hours to stream restoration and habitat preservation.

With all due respect, there are too many Texans in the waters with thousand dollar fly rods for my taste.

The slightly rugged off grid campground at Missouri Headwaters State Park is much the same as it was when I was a kid - a perfect place for the type of camping we prefer. We don’t need a camping resort with a swimming pool and cable television to enjoy camping.

Being here is visiting a place of beginnings for me. The Missouri, along with the Yellowstone and the Boulder are rivers that have witnessed the story of my life. A river, however, is constantly new. The water flowing by today is not the water that flowed by when we camped here with my aunt and uncle. The mosquitoes that attempt to nibble on us are so many generations removed form the ones that bit our son when he was a toddler that we are the only ones who remember the connection.

I am content to allow the rivers to be themselves in their own way without the need for them to tell my story. Their gentle waters remind me of that story and it feels fresh in my mind today.

Best. Shake. Ever.

One of the joys of traveling for us has been to sample a variety of foods. When we go to a place we like to eat the local foods. Sometimes this is to try something that is entirely new to us. But sometimes in our travels we return to a familiar place and have food that we have had before.

In 2018 when we visited Japan for the first time we made a pilgrimage to Hiroshima. Even thought it was at the other end of the island from where our daughter lived, we felt it was important for us, as Americans, to visit the city that was leveled by the first use of atomic weapons in warfare. There is much to see there and we made a point of ringing the peace bell and making our commitment to working towards the end of the use of such weapons of mass destruction. We visited the museum and read the stories of victims and survivors. We walked among the trees and marveled at how a city that had once been built around a huge war machine was rebuilt with a dedication to world peace. And we sampled Hiroshima Okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is an iconic Japanese savory pancake. Each region of the country has its unique style and Hiroshima Okonomiyaki is known throughout the country for its unique combination of ingredients including thinly fried egg, final chopped squid, and yakisoba noodles. We sampled the dish at a stall where we sat at a counter and watched our okonomiyaki being prepared. The first layer is a thin batter made with bonito flakes, Next piles of finely chopped cabbage is piled on, followed by temkasau, scallions, bean sprouts, thinly sliced pork, yakisoba noodles. It is all topped with fried egg, a special okonomiyaki sauce, and seaweed flakes. It was delicious and very filling. If we ever return to Hiroshima, we will make sure that we eat Hiroshima Okonomiyaki once again.

However, it is possible that our pilgrimage to Hiroshima was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While I have found recipes on the Internet and may try one day to make okonomiyaki at home, we will always remember with joy our first taste of the treat.

Kansas City is a place where we have often been. And when we go to Kansas City, we are sure to have a meal of Kansas City barbecue. My favorite is burnt ends, but there are a lot of options at a good barbecue restaurant. Ribs and sausage and brisket are all good options as well. We have learned that if you pick the restaurant well it doesn’t matter if you are in Kansas or Missouri. In fact we’ve had excellent Kansas City barbecue in St. Joseph and other area towns. I usually save a bit to purchase a couple of bottles of Kansas City style barbecue sauce when we savor that treat.

There are a lot of different places where we associate certain foods with a particular location. Having grown up in Montana with easy access to the high mountain country, I am particularly fond of huckleberries. The location of huckleberry patches are deeply held secrets of the locals. Humans are not the only creatures that love huckleberries. If you gather the tiny treats you have to be bear smart. If you encounter a bear, which is likely because you are in bear country if you are finding huckleberries, it is always the best move to leave the patch to the bear and seek other places to pick your berries.

If you drive through the western end of Montana on the Interstate highway you might see signs that say, simply: “Best. Shake. Ever.” I’m not in a position to reveal the exact location, but the billboards are fairly easy to recognize. Now it is important that you know that there is a lot of false advertising on billboards. Much of what you read on the huge signs should be taken with a grain of salt. For example there is a billboard inviting travelers to stop at Montana’s best loved small town, a claim that is disputed by hundreds of other small towns in the state. Because we have friends in many Montana small towns, we are especially skeptical about the claim of this particular town. It is a nice town, but I don’t think that the locals love their town any more intensely than other folk in other towns. And there are lots of billboards that advertise goods and services that we have no intention of sampling. We can live our whole lives and have happy travels without needing to stop at casinos or stepping up to a bar with thousands of silver dollars embedded in it. So, if you travel, you can ignore a lot of the billboards and have a very find trip indeed.

However, if you do happen to find just the right spot for the Best. Shake. Ever. you might consider stopping. We often plan our travels so that we are able to camp in a particular spot near the place where they sell those shakes. It is our tradition to eat lightly that day to make room for a burger. I’m partial to the buffalo burger, but any burger topped with huckleberry barbecue sauce will not disappoint. And with that burger, I recommend that you sample the Best. Shake. Ever. I’m just saying that not everything you read on a billboard is hype or a direct lie. There are some billboards that simply say the truth.

Now it is possible that you might arrive in this place when it isn’t dinnertime. We’ve done that before. And it is possible to have a healthy lifestyle that includes, on a rare occasion, a milkshake shared at 10 am. We’ve done it and you could certainly do worse. But with a little planning you can arrange to be in the right place at the right time. However, if you do drive right by as we have done on occasion, look for Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream. Wilcoxon’s is a local brand, made in Livingston, Montana since 1912. Their huckleberry ice cream bars are definitely superior to imitation brands.

Wherever you travel, sample the local food. We do. And we find ourselves to be among the happiest people in the world.

Worshiping God in Nature


Dear friends, Susan and I are traveling for the next ten days. I should be able to publish my journal on schedule, but we will be in a couple of different time zones so the time of publication may vary by an hour or more. If you are interested in knowing where we are, you can check out The Adventures of Edward Bear. It is a playful part of my website designed to tell our grandchildren the stories of our travels as if they were seen through the eyes of a Teddy Bear that we keep in our camper.

One of the things that I have heard over an over agin is how some people find the connection with God when out in the wilderness to be so deep and meaningful that they prefer wild outdoor places to worship God over church buildings. I don’t disagree with much of what they are saying. The experience of the glory of Creation is awe inspiring and fills one with reverence. I love to do all kinds of things outdoors and I have witnessed God’s presence on ski slopes, mountain tops, rushing rivers, quiet lakes, ocean shores, old growth forests and countless other natural outdoor paces.

The awe-inspiring moments of awareness of God in creation can be a bit deceiving for Christians, however. It can be tempting to believe that all we need to do is to be close to God. After all Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry and frequently sought out lonely places to pray. Being Christian, however, is more than experiencing God for one’s personal inspiration. Being Christian is following Jesus’ example of reaching out to those on the margins of society, the widows and orphans and outcasts. It is serving others, providing comfort and food and clothing and whatever else is needed. It is sharing grief with those who mourn, seeking peace with those who witness, and pursuing justice with those who cry out.

One of our professors was fond of saying, “You can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself.”

I am acutely aware that the responsibilities of a life of faith are so awesome that I deeply need others. I need others to help me discern God’s call. I need others to help me do the work of justice and peace. I need others to support me in times of grief and despair. I need others to help me believe in moments of doubt. I need other people to share the stories in our generation that they can be shared as genuinely after our time has passed as they were before we were born.

I need others.

I worship with others because I cannot do it alone. I worship with others because personally fulfilled is not the aim of my life. I worship with others because together we can worship with more authenticity and joy than an individual alone.

Today, however, we are making an exception. We are camped by the shore of Lake Chelan. Lake Chelan is glacial lake on the east of the Cascades in central Washington. It is the third deepest lake in the United States. It is long an narrow, wedged between the mountains. It extends for 50 miles, but averages only 1.5 miles across. The towns on the east end of the lake are reachable by car, but those on the west end cam be reached by ferry only. They are deep in the wilderness.

The wilderness of the North Cascades, however, is a pretty scary place to be right now. Yesterday, as we neared Washington Pass, we were escorted through a fire area by a pilot car. We could see the firefighters working and the flames burning in the trees right next to the highway. The mountains are filled with smoke. A bit farther down, after we had turned south alongside the mountains we saw an other fire close enough to see the crews working and a helicopter dumping water on the flames.

So in addition to experiencing the awe of a lake that was carved out by the last ice age and is filled by melting glaciers high in the cascades, we will pause to pray for safety and stamina for weary firefighters. We will pray that we might find ways to reverse the effects of the past hundred years of ecological exploitation that have resulted in these seasons of disastrous fires all across the west. We will pray for the climate refugees forced from their homes by fire and storms, by floods and other severe weather that is associated with human caused climate change.

As we do so, however, I am aware that we are not alone. Even though we are not worshiping with our home congregation and are not even visiting another congregation today, we know that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Later this morning I will participate in a text message chain of more than a dozen people who greet each other with the peace of Christ each Sunday morning wherever we are. I know also that we are in the prayers of others just as they are in our prayers. We feel the presence and support of the community even when we are not physically present.

To speak with a bit of theological jargon, Christian community is transcendent. Differences of time and space are overcome by the love of Christ. When we share communion, we share not only with those who are physically present in the same room as we, but also with those around the globe who share the same sacrament. We also share with people in every time who have been connected through the loaf and cup. I have been especially aware of the connections to community when we have faced grief or crisis. When I cannot find the words for my prayers, I know that I’m not the only one praying and the prayers of sisters and brothers has lifted my spirits and made me whole.

So today we will worship in a wonderful wilderness setting, but we will also accept the responsibility of sharing this experience with others and returning to our community to reconnect and to worship together.

Crab season


It is crab season up here. Recreational fishing for hardshell crab was set to open on August 18, but the opener was delayed for a couple of days this year based on the condition of the crabs. Sport shellfishing has a limited season in our area. Crabbing is open Thursday through Monday. All fishing gear must be out of the water on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Fishers must keep records of catch and report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

I haven’t learned enough about fishing for crab, or any other kind of fishing in the waters of he bay to do any fishing. Our crabbing involves driving to the nearby Lummi Reservation and purchasing live crab from the tribal market. There are special regulations that allow enrolled members of the tribe to exercise traditional treaty rights for the harvesting of seafood.

Local sporting goods and hardware stores all sell crab traps, bait boxes, lines and buoys. People head out at high tide in boats to their favorite locations and set their traps and return to collect their traps later. I haven’t learned the whole process, but I enjoy watching the crab fishers come and go from the shore and from my kayak as I paddle. In general, I don’t paddle out as far as the crab fishers go to set their traps. Most folk who are serious about catching crab have motor boats, though a few have success fishing from docks and piers.

The most obvious indicator of crab season is that the number of boats in the bay goes up a lot. Most are kept on mooring a ways offshore, but the tidal variations around here are significant that boats moored in the bay sit on mud at low tide and are several yards offshore at high tide. I tend to paddle at or near high tide because it is easier to launch and retrieve my boat.

It would make sense for me to learn a bit more about harvesting food from the bay. After all I live right here and we enjoy eating seafood. We have tried to lean as much as we can about local sources of food and try to avoid purchasing too much food that has traveled long distance to reach the grocery store. Since time immemorial people have lived near the shore of the Salish sea and fed themselves with the bounty of ocean creatures that are available. For thousands of years people have fished from canoes and other small, human-powered craft. I’m sure it would be fairly easy to set a few crab traps from our little rowboat. It might be a significant challenge to haul a full crab pot from a kayak or canoe, however.

Still, there is much to learn before I pick up a fishing license. Like other forms of fishing, I’m sure, the best way to learn is to make arrangements to go fishing with someone who is experienced.

For now, it is interesting to observe the way that having crab season open changes our little bay. I’m pretty sure that serious fishers have reserved cottages and beach houses months in advance and take vacation to dedicate themselves to fishing when the season opens at the end of August. The last couple of weeks before school starts are probably the busiest in terms of boat traffic and activity.

School starts in our district next week. It seems early to me to have school start before Labor Day, but from the posts of friends around the country, I can tell that many schools have already started. I’m not sure about the schedule for our neighbors in Canada, but I think that the school year is similar to the schools here in Washington.

I still have a lot to learn about this place we now call home. I know that another popular type of harvesting food from the ocean is digging clams. I’m pretty sure that there are seasons for that activity, though I’m not sure about the process or timing. I know that we don’t see people out digging clams much this time of the year. Right now there is a lot of kelp and the seaweed that is washed up on the beaches. I’ve learned that I need to wash down my boats, paddles, spray skirts and lifejackets as soon as I finish a paddle. The green plants can get stinky and the saltwater is very sticky. Each time I wash one of my boats I am grateful that I don’t have a bigger boat. I don’t have to deal with motors and propellors. My boats are easily turned over to wash the bottom and the spray skirt on my kayak keeps most of the seaweed out of the boat’s interior. I do manage to get a bit inside because I step into the boat and don’t always get all of the seaweed rinsed off of my feet while balancing and entering a bobbing boat in the surf. It is a different process launching a boat here than on a gentle lake in the Black Hills of South Dakota. My canoes aren’t getting much exercise these days. It is much easier to paddle a kayak in these waters.

We are heading East to Montana for a few days starting today. I have my kayak cleaned up and loaded on our pickup. Crossing state lines with any kind of boats means stopping at boat inspection stations set up to help control the spread of invasive species. A kayak is pretty simple to inspect and a quick glance is all that is needed. We have the luxury of retirement that allows us to travel a few less miles each day and be in a bit less of a rush. I’ve planned this particular trip at a very leisurely pace so we don’t have to drive many miles each day and stopping to have the boat inspected in Idaho and Montana will be no problem at all.

There is still much to learn about the place where we live. I’m sure that I won’t feel like a newcomer forever, but for now I’m enjoying learning at a new pace.

Praying in public

Ministry, like other ventures of life, is subject to fashion and trends. When I was early in my career it was popular, among younger mainline clergy, to respond to an invitation to offer a blessing by reminding those who asked that any person of faith should be able to pray in public. My colleagues would decline the invitation, pushing for lay people to lead prayer. Something about that response did not sit well with me and it seemed particularly inappropriate in the rural North Dakota congregations I was serving. I decided that when asked to pray my response would be a simple, “yes.” I kept that answer for all of my career.

I have prayed in public a lot. I have prayed for blessing at service club meetings, city council meetings, state legislature meetings, banquets, fund-raising dinners, anniversary parties, wedding receptions, and a host of other occasions.

I have made it my practice to be very careful in crafting prayers. When given advance notice that I would be offering a public prayer, I have taken time to write out a special prayer for the occasion. Frequently people have expressed appreciation for my prayers. I have made it my practice to write out a unique and careful prayer for each class that I teach. Praying with and for students has helped my build a lasting relationship with them as we learn together.

All the same, I have been slightly uneasy with public prayer. As practiced and as careful as I have been with words, I am aware the there is a theological challenge to public prayer. Jesus warned about public prayer: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret . . .”

Of course I do pray in secret. I do pray in my home with the door closed. But I also pray in public places. I do pray in places where I am seen by others. It seems that a life of faith is almost always filled with theological inconsistencies. I don’t pretend to be perfect. I don’t have everything right, but I have tried to be aware of my own inconsistencies. A certain nervousness about public prayer seems appropriate.

I try to listen carefully and join in fully when others lead prayer. Now that I am retired and not leading public worship as much, I have more opportunities to listen to the prayers that others offer. It has never been difficult to find those who pray boldly in public. I have often heard prayers offered by others. I’ve seen, on television, coaches praying with their teams before games. Two opposing teams, both presumably praying for victory. When I have been asked to pray with or bless a sports team, I have been careful not to pray for victory. I have prayed for safety for all who play the game. I have prayed for compassion for others. I have prayed for fair play. But I do not pray for victory.

Over the years I have heard a lot of things said in the course of leading public prayer, that seem to me to be in direct contrast with Jesus’ advice to his disciples concerning prayer. When I hear such things, I try to be careful in choosing my words for public prayer.

I’ve heard plenty of prayers that focus on male addresses for God. Jesus addressed God as “Abba,” which can be translated father, though the term father in our language is a bit more formal than the familiar form. However, I know that there are those who do not picture God as an old man. Victims of abuse by earthly fathers find the term to be a barrier to genuine prayer. I try to be inclusive in the language I choose for prayer.

I have colleagues who get a bit evangelical about their Christianity when asked to pray before an audience that includes those who are not Christian. I prefer to be more inclusive. I reserve the intense Jesus talk for gatherings of Christian community. In wider and more secular contexts, when I know it is possible that Muslims and Buddhists and Jews and Hindu and Sikh and agnostics and atheists are present, I try to choose generic terms to address the Creator, seeking words that might be meaningful to all listeners. While I might pray, “In the name of Jesus” at a church function, in public I might say, “In your holy name,” for example.

I have heard those offering public prayer go into an extended list of requests for God. I prefer to believe that God knows what we want. Jesus advised to pray only for daily bread - enough for this day. I try to avoid offering lists of requests in public prayer. I don’t think prayer is primarily about asking God to give us what we want. I don’t think prayer is the right time to focus our attention on our own desires. This is especially difficult when I pray with those who are longing for health for a loved one. It isn’t that I don’t share their desire for recovery and restoration. It isn’t that I don’t think that miracles of healing occur. It is just that I don’t presume to be in a position to tell God what to do and I think that sounding like I am doing that is not particularly helpful for others.

In addition to private prayers, offered in quiet and secluded places, public prayer can be about forming community - about recognizing the things we hold in common and lifting them up. Prayer can be about expressing love. And love isn’t about glorifying self, or seeking the things that I want. Love is about putting the other first.

One of my prayers that I don’t often say in public is to ask God to help me to stop asking for ends that please me, but to instead focus my attention on the needs of others, including those who are often overlooked and pushed to the margins of community. I ask God to remind me of those who are homeless, of the victims of injustice and violence. I ask God to help me to pray for others.

Dreaming of Bees

I often don’t remember my dreams, but I have had a couple of dreams recently in which bees figured prominently. It doesn’t surprise me. I spend a bit of my waking time looking at bees. I am fascinated by their behavior at the entrances to their hives and I keep water nearby so that they don’t have to go far to get water on hot summer days. When I am filling up their water, I watch them coming and going. The airspace around the hives is far more crowded and complex than a major airport and yet there are to my knowledge no air to air collisions. A bee will occasionally bump into me as it flies to the hive, but it quickly makes adjustments and goes on with its work. If I am calm and still, the bees will adjust their flights so that they all fly around me on their way.

I have had to cultivate a sense of calm around the bees. I used to panic. If a bee landed on me, I would try to brush it away, but I’ve learned that not reacting to the bees is the best way to avoid being stung. I’ve been stung twice this summer and both times it was my fault. The first time, I was working the hive and there were a lot of bees swirling around because i had removed one of the boxes from their hive. I didn’t have my pants legs tied and one bee that had probably been knocked to the ground when I moved the hive boxes crawled up my leg. I reacted by trying to brush the bee out of my pants and ended up with a sting on my knee. The bee, of course, got the worst of it, having its stinger ripped out - a fatal event for a bee. I know because I later was able to remove the stinger from my skin as I applied some baking soda to the sore spot. The second time, I was just watching the bees and one flew into my beard. I wasn’t wearing my bee jacket and had no protective gear on. Instead of simply standing still and allowing the bee to free itself, I reached up with my hand and tried to brush it away and ended up with a sting on the edge of my jaw. This sting was more mild than the first, but it is still likely that the bee ended up giving its all in defense of the hive.

Most of the time, however, I can simply walk up to the hives and calmly observe without any need for a bee suit.

The bees are very busy right now. There are a lot of blossoms on the farm. The clover is blooming all over the place. The dahlias are in full bloom. There are sunflowers and poppies and dozens of other flowers on the farm. But autumn is coming. The lavender is done blooming for the most part. The strawberries have no more blossoms. The blueberries and raspberries have slowed fruit production. Soon it will be time to harvest honey and button up the hives in preparation for winter.

I’ve been thinking about the process of harvesting the honey for some time. My hives have two honey supers on them right now. My plan is to leave the bottom one as winter feed for the bees and take the top one to harvest honey for our family. That means I will need to remove the tops from the hives then lift off the top supers. Those boxes will be heavy with comb and honey and will need to be set on a board that can later be cleaned so that any honey dripping from the bottom is sealed and then I will put an excluder which allows bees to leave, but not return on the top. When the bees have returned to the main hive, I will take the boxes and harvest the honey. My plan is to remove the boxes from the hives in the evening when all of the bees are inside and not very active. I’ll move slowly and carefully so I do not disturb any bees that are moving between the boxes. In my imagination, I am able to successfully remove the boxes and return the tops to the hives without injuring any bees. In reality the process will likely be a bit less smooth. I’m a novice after all, and even though I am going over the procedure in my mind, things I have not predicted are sure to occur. I’ll be wearing my bee suit and I’ll have my smoker handy in case I need it, but I’m hopeful that the process can be gentle for the bees. After all, the survival of the colony through the winter is essential to next year’s honey crop.

It doesn’t surprise me that I have been dreaming of bees because I have been thinking about them a lot when I am awake. My brain often continues to work on challenges and problems when I am sleeping and often sleeping on a problem is a good way to begin to think creatively about solutions. However, I don’t really see the bees as a problem, just a challenge that lies in my future in a month or so when the time comes to work the hive.

In my dream, I am called to help someone remove a swarm of bees from where they have temporarily gathered in their search for a new home. The bees have become a problem for other people and I am called to be calm as I locate the queen and gently coax her into a container to relocate her into a hive box. If I were successful, the other bees would soon follow the queen’s location. The problem with my dream is that it is something I have never done in real life. I understand the procedure, but I’m pretty sure were I to need to address a swarm, I’d need by bee suit and smoker and would probably want to do so in the dead of night when the bees don’t have any light for navigation.

Hopefully there won’t be any swarms this year. I’m not eager to have that problem to face. But somehow my brain is working on preparing nonetheless.

I admit I’m easily amused, but the way my brain works continues to surprise and amaze me. It does illustrate some of the changes that are occurring in my life. I used to dream about people a lot. There were challenges with raising our children and challenges with serving complex congregations and I would be working on those challenges during the day and dreaming about them at night. I’m not dreaming about children or the church these days. I’m dreaming about bees. I don’t know if that is progress, but at least it is a sign of retirement. Since retirement has been its own challenge, I hope it is a sign that I’m making the adjustment.

Digital detox


I was reluctant to get my first mobile phone. I had borrowed a bag phone from my father-in-law and could see the utility of having a way to communicate when from away from home. In those days the cellular network was far from complete and the phone didn’t work in many remote locations. I have always been attracted to remote places. The main reason I hesitated to get a mobile phone, however, was that I though that having a phone in my car would interrupt my private time and space. The car was a good place for talking with my family when they were with me and a good place for peace and quiet when I traveled alone. “Who,” I wondered, “would want to be interrupted when driving a car?”

I finally got a cell phone because the office administrator at the church was frustrated at not being able to find me when parishioners called or when a decision was needed. I think my predecessor kept regular office hours. I, on the other hand, felt that my work was being with people, so I was present on Sundays, but often out visiting during the week. Getting the phone made me more accessible to other church staff. It was all part of learning to be a senior pastor in a multi-staff church. I quickly adjusted.

I was quick to adopt a smart phone when they became available. By then I was carrying my cell phone nearly everywhere I went. In addition I was using a digital personal assistant for addresses and calendaring. The smart phone enabled me to go from two devices to one: progress!

These days my cell phone is a constant companion. When we sold our house in Rapid City, we gave up our phone land line. Now we only have our cell phones and we haven’t felt the need for having a home phone. And these phones do so much more than the older models. They have reasonable digital cameras for photos. They can access the Internet. They can send and receive text messages and email. they can track fitness and record medicines.

However, one thing I am trying to do in my retirement is to wean myself from constant digital connectedness. So sometimes, I take a break from my devices.

As a result, last night I watched the sunset on the beach with my wife and three oldest grandchildren. And I didn’t have my phone with me. I didn’t have any camera with me. I was free to simply experience my family and the sunset. It was glorious. However, when the kids climbed up on a huge driftwood log, I found myself longing for a camera. When I paused to think and experience my emotions, however, I realized that being forced to simply experience the moment was in itself a gift.

I have no intention of giving up cameras and taking photos. I have no intention of giving up my phone or my computer. I am, however, going to give myself the gift of occasional breaks from technology. Sometimes, like last night, it will be just a few minutes. Sometimes, like a planned sailing adventure in mid-September, it will be several days.

I have an inexpensive lined journal that Susan picked up at the dollar store. When I am away from my computer, I will record my journal entries by writing on paper. This entry was originally written in my paper journal and then entered into the computer later when I returned form our brief camping adventure.

When I do write in my paper journal, I won’t bother to count words. I suspect that my journal entries will be shorter than my usual. I am out of practice with pen and paper. I can “write” much faster with a computer.

I have to remind myself that I am just now learning the art of retirement. Retirement doesn’t mean that I give up my disciplines, but it is an invitation to develop greater flexibility. Sometimes doing nothing is as valuable as doing something. That doesn’t come easy for me. I have long been a take charge and get things done kind of person.

Thank you for your patience with me as I live through these adjustments.

And, the reason there is a picture with today’s post is that Susan did have her phone with her when we were down at the beach. It would have been irresponsible not to have a way to contact emergency services had we needed them, so when we have our grandchildren with us we try to have some way of communicating with us. Susan was not only responsible, she also captured the moment for us to share.

A Note

My journal entry for Wednesday, August 23 will be published late. There is no problem with me or with my computer of which I am aware. I'm just on a little camping adventure with our grandchildren. I'm sorry for any inconvenience this may cause. Please check back. I'll publish my entry sometime during the day. Thanks!



I’m no expert on world religions, having invested my entire life immersed in Christianity, but it seems to me that one of the things that all of the major religions of the world hold in common is a sense of awe. A deep encounter with the immensity of creation inspires an awareness of how small an individual human is and yet our capacity to take in even a small portion of this universe leaves us with a deep experience of awe.

I have experienced awe in many places, perhaps most often, but not always outdoors. I remember watching the river as a child and recognizing that it was constantly changing. The water flowing by was always different water than it had been the last time I looked. From my perspective it seemed like there was a limitless supply of water. I knew the river found its source in the melting snows of mountain glaciers. In the spring it ran high and muddy, in autumn it was clear and much lower, but it was always flowing and there was always more water to replace that which had gone by on its way to bigger rivers and eventually the ocean.

I have looked up at the night sky from a dark place and seen the immensity of the Milky Way. My eyes could focus on individual stars, but there were always more than could be counted. Even when I tried to count the stars in a small portion of the sky, I could sense that there were even more than I could see. I didn’t need a telescope or the incredible images the we have now seen from space telescopes to know that the expanse of the cosmos is huge. That feeling of awe returns whenever I look up to the skies.

I was struck by the sense of awe that came over our grandchildren a few days ago when we took them on a short walk through a section of old growth forest. Their voices became quieter than normal. Their exclamations bordered on disbelief, yet spoke of their amazement at a very real experience. “How can a tree be 15 stories high?” “I can’t believe that this tree is over 700 years old!” “I can’t even see the top of this tree.”

My life has given me countless sunrises and sunsets that inspire me to simply sit and watch the show of light and color and dazzling brilliance.

But I have also experienced awe as I was invited to sit with a family at the bedside of their dying father. At the moment he breathed his last we all simply sat in silence for a while, taking in the power of an interface of human mortality and eternal life. He had died. Yet we all knew that this was not the end of his story, his influence on those of us in that hospital room, his legacy, his presence in generations yet unborn.

The one thing that my experiences of awe share in common is that they challenge the capacity of language to express. I am a writer and sometimes I am a poet willing to wrestle with words. I believe in the power of literature. But I am also keenly aware of the limits of words. There are times when silence speaks more powerfully than any sermon. There are moments when all the words in the world are insufficient to describe the power present. The best we can do with language is to point the way to that which is beyond. Essentially that is what I have attempted to do with my preaching - point beyond myself and beyond this moment. Perhaps sometimes I have succeeded in sparking that sense of awe in others. I know that I have felt awe in the presence of others who are skilled with using words.

I remember stopping my car near the crest of a hill in southwest North Dakota one day and looking out at the expanse of the prairie. Aside from the fence line and the highway there were no signs of human presence. I could not see any houses or barns. Only the prairie stretched before me, not unlike what had been seen by the ancients when they walked on the land in search of food. I could sense a storm brewing on the horizon and summer thunderstorms on the prairie are amazing experiences in themselves. I knew that I could see more than a mile in every direction, an experience that was uncommon for a kid who grew up next to the mountains. I was awestruck at the immensity of the horizon.

Horizons continue to inspire awe in me. They are reminders of the meeting place of that which is temporal and that which is eternal. Here I am, one tiny person in one brief moment. I am so small compared with the vastness of the universe. And yet I have been endowed with an awareness of this immensity. I am a bit of this universe that is conscious of it. I give it the theological name of incarnation. The physical nature of the universe somehow is infused with my personal physical experience. The vastness becomes present. The eternal becomes human.

These days I am often looking out to the ocean and from my vantage point I am struck with the size of the ocean and the vastness of this planet. I paddle in a protected bay at the edge of the Salish Sea. There is no direction in which I could paddle that would not bring me to an island. Behind every island in the Strait of Georgia is another island and beyond those islands is giant Vancouver Island. And yet the water upon which I float is directly connected to the vastness of the Pacific Ocean and that ocean connects with all of the other oceans on this planet which still has more of its surface covered by water than by land. As I peer at the horizon and ponder the place where the sky meets the sea, I am filled with awe.

I will continue to worship in churches and I will continue to seek the community of congregations, but all alone in my tiny boat on the immensity of the sea I know that worship cannot be contained by a building.

I am in awe. Literally. I float in the midst of grandeur.

Smoky skies and a cluttered desk


According to local media outlets, the air quality here dipped into the “unhealthy” category yesterday. It didn’t seem that bad when we were walking in the early evening, but it was definitely smoky. We could barely see the islands when we were at the beach and the Sun was that red color that is a sure sign of smoke in the air. We have been leaving the house buttoned up because we don’t want the smoky smell inside. We don’t suffer from big allergies, but the smoke makes our eyes water and we find that we sneeze quite a bit more after being out in it. Fortunately for us, we have central air conditioning in our home, though we are aware that we are using more electricity than if we simply allowed the house to cool naturally by opening windows.

One of the effects of the smoke is that it seems to trap the surface moisture near the ground. The fog from the ocean doesn’t lift as much. It also keeps the temperatures lower. It got down to 55 degrees overnight and the humidity is holding right at 85% which is enough to make it feel a bit chilly outside. That means that our house is staying at a comfortable temperature without needing the air conditioning at the moment.

We are talking about the smoke, but we are trying hard not to complain about it. Across the border, 30,000 homes have been evacuated due to raging wildfires. The government of British Columbia has declared an emergency. People are being advised to stay away from certain regions so that space is available for fire fighters and those who have been forced to evacuate.

Meanwhile, in California, people are being forced to leave their homes because of encroaching floods as a once-in-decades storm makes its way north.

We really have nothing about which to complain.

Last night Susan came down and asked me for the address of some friends. She had written them a card and wanted to address the envelope and get it in the mail. I looked at my digital address book on my phone and discovered that I had phone numbers and email addresses, but didn’t have a physical address for that particular couple. I know that I once had it, but I don’t know where it is. I also couldn’t remember having exchanged messages by the US mail with them. They live on the opposite side of the country and we correspond by email and text message, but I guess we haven’t sent letters. It isn’t a big problem, we can easily obtain the address from our daughter and send the card without needing to ask them directly for their address. It is just one more sign that the times in which we re living are changing.

Someone should inform the companies that prepare fundraising mailings for nonprofit organizations that the times are changing. They seem to operate as if we are doing a lot of correspondence by mail. I have a stack of return address labels that have been sent to me. I use individual labels from time to time, but the new ones keep coming into the house at a rate much higher than I am using them. Right now I have labels from nine different organizations in my pile. There are multiple sheets of labels from some organizations. What is interesting about the address labels is that most of them are from organizations that we don’t support financially. Because of widespread sharing of addresses among nonprofits, we receive appeals from more organizations than we can support. We prefer to give a few larger donations to organizations rather than send a larger number of smaller donations. It isn’t that we are opposed to the mission of many of these organizations. It is just that some seem to have more immediate needs and match our values a bit more closely than others.

I have a pet peeve about organizations that continue to engage in aggressive fundraising when they have sufficient funds to pursue their mission. There are charities that actually raised more money than they spent last year. They seem to be less needy of my donation than some other organizations. And it bothers me that the organizations spend so much money appealing to me. It probably isn’t very expensive, but printing and mailing all of those custom return address labels isn’t free.

Along with an accumulation of return address labels, we seem to be inundated by paper calendars. There is a limit to how many calendars we need. Susan keeps a paper calendar. I keep my calendar on my phone and computer. I don’t need a calendar to hang on the wall in order to know what day it is or which appointments I have to keep. But, like return address labels, calendars continue to arrive at our home. The calendars have beautiful photographs and we keep them in the art supplies box. Our grandchildren like to have a few pictures to cut out for collage and other uses in their crafts.

Smoke, return address labels, calendars . . . there are lots of things that come to us without our having asked for them. Perhaps they remind us of the many ways our lives are connected to others. Even when we don’t send money, we are connected to pets and ducks and trout and children with cancer and birds and butterflies and bees. Even when we aren’t thinking of them, our neighbors are facing devastating fires and incredible traumatic disruption of their lives as they fear they might lose their homes. Even when we don’t put the calendars on our walls, there are people who are planting trees and working to save bird habitat to add to the quality of life in our world.

And all of those various things are giving me another topic for my essays. There are times when I am unsure of what topic I will pursue. Usually, however, all I have to do to find a topic is to look outside my window or at the piles of paper on my desk. It worked today.

Stories of a church

There are four United Church of Christ congregations within a 25 mile radius of our home. This is very different from the other places we have lived, but for all of our professional careers we have served congregations in areas where there were sister churches not too far away. Our first call was to two congregations that were 16 miles apart. In Idaho, there were two UCC congregations in our town. The same was true in South Dakota. The cluster of congregations in our county is the result of mission activities in the 1880s and 1890s when congregations in the Northeastern United States sent missionaries and provided support for new churches in our area. The northwest was a very remote area at the time, reached by ships that traveled around the tip of South America. The journey was long and arduous in the years before rail lines reached the Pacific.

After our official retirement from First Congregational Church of Bellingham we are taking a few weeks off from worshipping with that congregation. We will continue to be members of the congregation and we plan to make it our home church in the long run, but it is an adjustment for us and for the congregation for us to shift from members of the church staff to regular members of the congregation. Fortunately for us, we have had excellent mentors in that process. Our predecessor pastor in our first congregations remained a member of one of those congregations for the seven years we served. And in South Dakota, our predecessor pastor retired in the community and remained a member of the congregation for the rest of his life, which included the 25 years we served as pastors there. So we have positive feelings about how the transition from pastor to member can take place and good models in those pastors.

Following their example, we are taking a brief break from regular worship with the congregation as they develop new habits and turn to other leaders for pastoral care. Luckily for us we have three United Church of Christ congregations that are closer to our house than First Congregational Church of Bellingham. Today we visit the third of those congregations: United Church of Ferndale. A couple of stories are in my mind as I think of how our lives have brought us to this experience.

We chose First Congregational Church of Bellingham before we moved to this house. When we chose it we were living in a rental home in Mount Vernon. At the time we didn’t know we would end up serving the congregation as Interim Ministers of Faith Formation. We did think that it was very possible we would move closer to Bellingham because our son had moved to this area, but we didn’t know where we would find a home to live. The 30 miles from our home seemed like a reasonable commute for Sunday mornings and we chose the congregation because it was a similar size to the church we had belonged to in South Dakota. We enjoyed the music program and the worship services. Furthermore, the covid pandemic was raging at the time and churches around here were not meeting in person. It is as easy to attend online worship at a distant congregation as one that is closer. We joined the congregation in an online service. The rite of membership was pre-recorded for that service.

As it turned out when we found our home and moved north we are now 20 miles on the other side of the congregation and drive right by the town of Ferndale with the United Church of Ferndale on our way to church in Bellingham.

The second story goes back even further. Back in the early spring of 1985 we were searching for a new call to ministry. We had enjoyed our pastorate of two congregations in rural North Dakota. Our children were born while we were pastors there and we had made deep connections. However, sharing a single job with a relatively small salary meant that we had to seek additional employment to support our family and there weren’t many options for us in that place, so we began to consider a move. We hoped to move to Montana where we had grown up, but there weren’t many congregations seeking pastors in that state at the time, so we circulated our profiles in the neighboring states including Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. One of the congregations that expressed interest in hiring us was the United Church of Ferndale.

When we were packing to move from South Dakota, I cleaned out my files and discovered the correspondence we exchanged with the congregation. I had taken copious hand-written notes about the area including the miles to the ski resort on Mount Baker, miles to the beach, miles from my Sister’s home in Portland, Oregon, and other things about the place.

As it turned out, Wright Congregational United Church of Christ in Boise, Idaho was farther along in its search process and offered us an interview before the congregation in Ferndale. Not wanting to play two congregations against each other, I wrote to the Conference Minister and had the congregation in Ferndale informed that we would suspend conversations with them until we knew the outcome of our candidacy as pastors in Boise. Since we received the call to serve in Boise, we never visited the church in Ferndale.

This morning, 38 years later, we will worship with that congregation for the first time. It will be an opportunity to think of what might have been. Our children were 2 and 4 at the time. They would have thought of this place as their home. As it turned out, our son has a Ferndale address, but didn’t move here until 2020 when their family had three children, their son older than he would have been if we had moved to Ferndale when he was a child. Of course we don’t know if they would have called us to be pastors. We don’t know if we would have moved here back then. It isn’t the way our lives worked out.

Still there is a bit of fascination with the congregation and we are eager to experience worship with the church it has become in the intervening decades. Our lives are a journey with many unexpected twists and turns. This morning is an opportunity to think of one of those turns and how a different path might have led to a similar destination.

Smoke in the air


Smoky skies give brilliant sunrises and sunsets. If you’ve lived in or near a forest, however, that sign is usually an uncomfortable one. We haven’t had much smoke this summer - far less that we have witnessed in the Pacific Northwest another year. But there was smoke in the air yesterday. It wasn’t bad. We would have described the day as clear and warm, but in the evening when we walked, the smoke was evident in the air between us and the islands. Smoke looks different from the usual fog and mist that are common on the ocean. I’m not sure I can describe it in words, but I know the difference.

It shouldn’t surprise us that there is some smoke, with the intensity of the wildfires that have now prompted officials to declare a province-wide emergency for our neighbors to the north. Officials are advising no travel in the central Okanogan. Roads closer to us than that are closed due to wildfire. Yesterday, I wrote about places to the north, in the Northwest Territories, but these fires are even closer. After I wrote yesterday’s entry, I learned that the night before the fire that had been threatening West Kelowna and already consumed some structures had jumped the lake in the night and now was threatening its sister city, Kelowna. The campus of University of British Columbia, Kelowna was hastily evacuated. Several other neighborhoods in the city were also evacuated and thousands more have been put on notice to be ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice. Kelowna International Airport was closed to all but firefighting operations.

There is a soft spot in our hearts for Kelowna. We visited the area for a Writer’s Conference when we were doing some work for Wood Lake Books on a project called Seasons of the Spirit. We returned to Kelowna during our Sabbatical in 2006 and camped in the area. When the CBC radio personalities describe the fires, we know the landmarks. And CBC Vancouver suspended regular programming to cover the fires full time yesterday. I heard an interview with a man who works in Yellowknife, where he was forced to evacuate. He went to his home in Kelowna where he once again was forced to evacuate - two evacuations in 48 hours.

So a little smoke in the air is a tiny problem in comparison with what our neighbors are facing. It really does seem that while so much of the rest of the world is feeling the direct impact of climate change we are in a particularly gentle place. The hurricane bearing down on California might bring a bit of rain to our area, but it may not. It won’t bring enough rain to British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to help with the fires. Help from the weather is still weeks or more away.

Despite the smoke in the air, we aren’t smelling it. And when we do get a whiff, it is almost pleasant, a gentle odor that reminds us of campfires. People were really out enjoying the weather and the view around here last night. We’re a tourist town, so we’re used to bigger crowds on weekends. The local brew pub was rocking with live music last night and that always draws a crowd, and all along the waterfront people were having a good time, strolling and riding bikes. A lot of folks were just sitting on the beach, on portable chairs or on the logs that wash up, just watching the sunset.

As Birch Bay sunsets go, it wasn’t particularly dramatic. There weren’t any clouds in the sky to reflect the light and color. But the sun was red when viewed through the smoke on the horizon and the water in the bay was very calm resulting in dramatic colors reflected on the water. In a way the water was even more beautiful and scenic than the sky.

It was getting dark by the time we ended our walk. We had waited to walk a bit later than usual, enjoying the cool of the evening. Less than two months after solstice sunset is already an hour earlier. One of the adjustments to living this far north is the dramatic pace with which the length of the days changes. Just eighteen days into our second retirement, I am trying to hang on to summer as much as possible this year. Next week is the grandkids’ last week of summer vacation. They return to school the following week. Their South Carolina Cousin has already started the 2023-24 school term.

Autumn, however, is a wonderful season for travel and exploration. The program year of the church often precluded autumn vacation for us, but we have had some wonderful fall trips and we’ve got a few planned for this September. In a week we plan to leave for Montana and we’ve got tickets to fly to South Carolina at the end of the month.

It does seem, however, a bit strange for us to have such wonderful vacation travel on our calendars when our neighbors have been forced to give up on fall plans as they flee the fires. Heat, dryness, wind, and smoke are making life dangerous for them even though, fortunately, there have been no deaths reported. It is a dramatic improvement over the news from Maui where the worst wildfire of the century has left devastation and officials are still searching for bodies as the death count grows.

The news goes from crisis to crisis. The people of Maui haven’t forgotten their fire, but the reporters have focused their attention on Western Canada for the moment. The headlines will be different next week. There is so much going on. And we know that the fires are releasing unprecedented carbon into the atmosphere intensifying the pace of climate change. News reports can seem apocalyptic.

It is not, however, the end of the world. The stories of our people are filled with events that threatened and people who were filled with despair. We know that this planet has an amazing capacity for recovery and self-healing. The smoke in our skies is a reminder that we are called to do everything we are able to partner with this planet for healing and recovery. I don’t know if any of the folks sitting on the beach were refugees from the most threatened areas. I do know that there were plenty of British Columbia license plates on the vehicles parked along the beach walkway. I hope that our neighbors know that they are welcome and we are willing to share.

Worrying about the folks up north

I think it is more than just the romance of Robert Service poems. I admit that I have read a lot of Robert Service poems. A few years ago, before I retired, I read through a large collection of poems that claimed to be the complete collection of his poetry. But I have read a lot more about the north country. I have poured over the Milepost, a mile-by-mile guide to the Alaska Highway that also includes information about the roads and highways in Yukon and Northwest Territories. I’m not much for television, but I have watched many episodes of Ice Pilots NWT and Ice Road Truckers on YouTube.

The Northwest Territories is a huge amount of area with a small population. Communities are usually small and very far apart. I’ve lived most of my life in states that are considered to be large with small populations. Washington is a little over 71,000 square miles. A little over 7.7 million people live here. But I consider this to be a very populated place compared to where we have lived most of our lives. South Dakota has 895,000 people spread out over 77,000 square miles. And the largest population center of that state is 350 miles from where we lived, though Rapid City, with 76,000 people is the state’s second largest urban area. I grew up in a much larger state, Montana, with an area of 147,000 square miles. A little over a million people live there now, but that is a big increase from the days when I lived there. All of those places, however, are relatively crowded compared with the Northwest Territories. The area of the Northwest Territories is 519,700 square miles. Only 45,000 people live there. That’s a little over 11.5 square miles per person.

Yellowknife, the capitol of the North West Territories is home to nearly half of the total population of the province. About 20,000 people live there. And they have all been ordered to evacuate by today due to wildfires threatening the city. The question is, “Where do those people go?” A second question is equally relevant, “How are they going to get there?”

Instinct might lead someone living in Yellowknife to drive around Great Slave Lake to Hay River, but Hay River has also been ordered to be evacuated due to threatening fires. Evacuations have also been ordered in Fort Smith, Enterprise, K’atl’odeechee First Nation and Jean Marie River. Roughly 60% of the total population of the Northwest Territories is under orders to evacuate due to fires.

Driving away from the province is not an easy matter. Because of the large distances, travel is expensive. If you drive, you have to be prepared for many miles of road with few services. Add in a few roads blocked by fires and a few communities where the gas stations are closed due to evacuation orders and there are some routes that are impossible to travel.

People in the north have long relied on aviation to get into and out of remote locations. Yellowknife is served by two major airlines, Air Canada and WestJet. Both have added extra flights, but flights have had to be postponed due to wildfire smoke. Only about 400 people were able to fly out of Yellowknife yesterday. There are 22 flights scheduled for today which could accommodate a maximum of about 1,800 people. It is estimated that about 5,000 need to be evacuated by air. And not all of those who need to fly out of the city have the funds to purchase expensive airline travel. Airline spokespersons say that the airlines have adjusted fares downward and waived change fees, but the cost is still high. The Canadian Air Force is providing military transports but some of those flights have been prioritized for some of the most remote communities.

The highway leading south is lined with vehicles filled with people fleeing the fires. All of those people will need services such as fuel and food. Many are willing to sleep in their vehicles and drive long days. They are used to that form of travel, but you can’t travel without fuel and that is a problem in some areas.

Folks are getting used to waiting in line for almost everything they need.

Hundreds of fires are burning across the territory. Firefighters are prioritizing those that threaten population centers, but resources for firefighters are thin and most of the fires in the territory will be put out by winter.

They do get winter in the north. The hearty people of the territory know the chill of -40. It is the point on the thermometer where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet. -40 is the same temperature on both scales. Although the territories are experiencing a record heat wave this summer, those who live there know that winter is always just around the corner. Among other things that means that for those who lose their homes, rebuilding this year is out of the question. There is no way building materials could be obtained in time to make this summer’s construction schedule. And there will be no construction because of evacuation orders. It raises a third question, “Where will all those people spend the winter?”

Who would have thought that the people of Maui in Hawaii and the people of the Northwest Territories would be facing the same dilemma?

I know a bit about the kind of people who are attracted to living in remote places. I’m fairly certain there are a few who don’t believe that human-caused climate change is a reality. There are more than a few who simply don’t pay attention to the news and politics. But whether they know about it or whether they believe in it, climate change is dramatically altering their way of life. They have adapted to harsh winters and remote living, but massive fires destroying everything in their paths create a set of circumstances that no one can survive. Their world is forever changed.

I’ll be watching the drama unfold from a distance, even as I dream of ways to visit the Northwest Territories sometime in the future. I still hear the call of the north, but I know that now is not the time for me to be heading up there. One more fool won’t make things better.

New routines


Since I was a little child, I have been a morning person. I wake up ready to go. Before I retired, I was able to accomplish many work tasks before the office became busy with people. At church camp, I was often the first to rise and used the time to prepare for the day. I have also used the wee hours of the day as my personal time: a time of prayer and restoration. When we lived in South Dakota I often would rise early and head for the lake with a canoe or kayak to paddle. For several years I had a regular paddling routine that was part of my self-care and stress management. Connecting with the natural world is important to my sense of well being, and paddling into the sunrise is a perfect way for me to connect.

Retirement means learning new routines and shifting schedules. I no longer have to rise before others in order to have quiet private time. I don’t have a stream of interruptions in my day - at least the interruptions are different.

I haven’t yet developed a paddling routine in my retirement years, but it is one of my priorities for this season of my life now that I am once again not working. My new routine, however, needs to synchronize with a different clock than the rising and falling of the sun. I have to learn to pay attention to the moon as well.

Birch Bay, where we live, is a very shallow bay. When the tide is out, the shoreline moves away. And it moves a long ways. If I launch my boat at high tide, I can do so with a short walk from where I park my car. In fact it is closer than it was when I went to the lake in South Dakota. However, if I were to launch my boat at low tide, I would have a walk of a half mile or more across mudflats and shallow tidal pools before I reached water deep enough to paddle. It is a rhythm that all boaters need to learn. At low tide multiple boats sit in the mud waiting the next high tide that will re-float them. The owners of those boats simply have to wait to use their craft.

Less than 10 miles from our home, about the same distance as I drove to the lake when I lived in South Dakota, Drayton Harbor is much deeper. Even though the level of water rises and falls with the tides in the harbor, the change is simply with how much water is beneath the boats. I could go to the harbor and launch my boat there.

However, there is something very appealing about paddling in our own protected bay, learning the water of the place where I live, and not wasting fuel driving back and forth. I have the time. What is needed is my learning to adjust to a new schedule.

Although we have live here for nearly two years, and walk along the shore nearly every day, I haven’t yet become tuned to the rising and falling of the tides. I am roughly aware of how close the water is when we walk, but some days we walk in the afternoon and other days we walk in the evening. Since we don’t walk at the same time every day, the variations in water level haven’t become part of my internal clock.

Developing a paddling routine means that I need to tune myself to the tides. I need to learn to paddle at different times. Some days I will head to the lake as soon as I wake, eager to be on the water before sunrise. On those days I can eat breakfast after I paddle. Other days I will linger over breakfast and perhaps sip a second cup of tea before heading to the water. I’ll learn to paddle mid-morning or even at noon depending on where we are win the tidal cycle. My routine will need to be less of a routine - or at least will need to be tuned to a different schedule than my usual.

It turns out that the old adage is wrong. In fact, you can actually teach an old dog new tricks. According to an article I read, it takes a bit of patience, a sensitivity to sources of stress for the dog, and rewards that are tuned to the dog’s needs. Not every old dog is as motivated by food rewards as younger animals. Special attention and perhaps a special toy or game might be more motivating than a dog biscuit.

l’m not sure what the equivalent is for an old preacher, but I do know that food is less of a factor than once was the case. These days it pays for me to be mindful of my eating. Otherwise I am tempted to eat more than I need and the result is weight gain that is more difficult to shed than when I was younger. The dance of diet and exercise is another good reason to have a paddling routine. Although my lower body moves less when I am paddling, I do use my lower muscles to control the boat. Even though I am sitting while paddling, the boat is steered by the direction my hips and legs are pointed. And my arms and shoulders are in constant motion as my paddle slips in and out of the water. It is a good workout when I put some energy into my paddling. Paddling is like walking. When I am tired I can simply go slower. I still make progress. I still get where I am going, but a slower pace means it takes me longer to get there.

Taking longer to reach a destination may well be another skill I need to develop in my adjustment to retirement. That isn’t something I’ve practiced much in my life.

There is much that I still need to learn.

Trip planning

We are taking a couple of trips this fall. One will be a camping trip to Montana, the other an airline trip to South Carolina. Both are destinations and routes we have traveled many times before. Nonetheless there have been some surprises as we make our plans.

It probably isn’t a surprise, but it is a slight disappointment that we find we are no longer able to just take off with our camper and see how far we can get, finding a camp spot wherever we arrive when we are ready to stop the day. There used to always be a spot in a Forest Service campground that could be accessed without a reservation. I’m sure that there are some off-grid campers who can still succeed in that style of traveling, but we have found that making reservations works better for us. It removes some of the spontaneity from our travels. Even though we do not need hookups every night when traveling, we do like the assurance of knowing we have a space to park.

I remember traveling with friends from Chicago to Montana when we didn’t give any thought to how far we would get in a day or where we would stay. We were tent camping and we simply looked at highway signs to find a campground when the day began to wane. That style of travel simply would not work these days.

We have reservations for all of the nights on the road. I had fun discovering some new places to stay and a few new routes. One of the luxuries of being retired is time, so we are taking an extra day both ways on this trip which shortens the number of miles per day significantly. We should have plenty of time to explore and stop wherever we choose.

The surprise is the cost of campgrounds. Commercial campgrounds seem to be re-branding themselves as RV resorts with increased amenities, many of which we do not want or need. Not every campsite is a destination for us. Some are waypoints. We don’t need water slides, clubhouses, cable television, or golf courses. We just want a safe place to park our camper with a bit of privacy. A good view and a place to walk wouldn’t hurt. It is definitely the case that camping is not saving us money on this trip. Campground fees rival motel fees. I’m pretty sure that even if we don’t count the additional cost of fuel associated with pulling our camper, we would have saved money because I seem to be better at finding inexpensive motels than I am at finding inexpensive campgrounds. On this trip we will be staying at commercial campgrounds, at least one city campground, a state park, and a forest service campground. All require reservations to have an assured site. Two of the commercial campgrounds have reservation systems that allow you to pick out your campsite and then charge $35 to “lock in” your site. Even if you pre-pay they don’t guarantee that you will get the site you chose, only that you will have a site. The extra fee is to guarantee the exact site. Our stay in a Montana State Park is less than $35 total charge.

I’m sure that there are bargains, like the Montana State Park, to be found if you shop around enough. I’ve stayed at that particular State Park before and know that among the amenities are abundant mosquitoes, and there are no amenities. It is just a good place to park with a picnic table and a fire ring.

One of the things that reservations do is to spread out the sting of the cost a bit. Because all of the places we are staying require advance payment, we have already spent that money meaning less cash out of pocket as we travel.

Our other surprise with travel this fall is our airline trip to South Carolina. We didn’t purchase our tickets as far in advance as usual because we were coordinating our schedule with our daughter and son-in-law’s schedules. So I expected big sticker shock on that purchase. When we traveled there last winter our tickets were among the most expensive airline travel we have every purchased. What a surprise to find tickets that were the kind of prices we used to pay when our children were in college! I had to do a double check to make sure that I wasn’t reading the website wrong. Apparently there are still some bargains to be found. Granted, we had some flexibility on travel days, and we live near a major airport. We also had some flexibility about departure and destination airports because both we and our daughter live near several options. Still, I know I paid more per ticket for our son to come home for the holidays when he was in college than we paid for our airline tickets for this trip.

We have never placed a high priority on accumulating money. Our vocational choices led us to a life that focused on other values. We sometimes worry a bit about the amount of money we are spending. Adjusting to a retirement lifestyle has a bit of anxiety over unknown medical costs and other expenses that can go through savings quickly. But we have always made travel and adventure a priority and I suspect that we’ve got a few big trips left in us before we settle down.

Part of what makes travel appealing is that it breaks up routines, forces us to think, and offers surprises. I guess I shouldn’t complain about the campsite costs. We live in a changing world and we aren’t the only ones who are seeking the joys of camping. Just last week I was telling our grandchildren that there are two parts to a successful camping trip: 1) plan so that you have the things you need with you; and 2) innovate when you discover something you forgot to bring.

Planning and innovation are still skills required. I hope I can use them wisely.

The urge to fidget

A few years ago, Susan and I purchased watches with a number of fitness features. The watches track how many steps we take, how far we have walked, record calories burned, minutes of exercise, and hours in which we have stood enough to record motion. One of the features of the watch is that it gives a little vibration at about 5 minutes to the hour if I have been sitting for the rest of that hour. If I am able, I stand and walk around for a few minutes and the watch records another hour in which I stood. If I am in a meeting I will sometimes shake my hand enough to trigger the motion sensors in the watch to think I’m engaging in a more physical activity.

We bought the watches in part because they record heartbeat and have a basic ECG function that can detect abnormal heartbeats such as atrial fibrillation. Because Susan had a near-fatal experience with the condition and I experienced atrial flutter that was detected by the watch and triggered a series of medical interventions including a cardiac catheterization to correct the condition, we do pay attention to our watches. We also bought the watches because we were influenced by a brilliant heart doctor who happens to also be a bit of a technophile who spoke positively of his watch.

I’ve wondered how that watch would have responded to me when I was in my preteen and early teen years. Of course the technology had not yet been invented in those days, so it is idle speculation. I was a fidgeter. I used to bounce my knee so much that it made the dining room table vibrate and prompted requests from my parents to “sit still!” I would play with my hands, or with anything that fell to hand such as a paper clip, a rubber band, a bottle of glue, pencils, and the like during class at school. My constant fidgeting was noticed by my teachers who sought to remedy the situation.

In the early years of my college education, I suffered from hives that were made more painful because I could scratch at my arms, especially the insides of the elbows nearly constantly. I would scratch as I read, as I sat in class, and in almost every setting.

I recognize the behavior in my son and my grandson. Both are constant fidgeters. I joke that tiny items such as paper clips or the plastic ties for bread bags keep turning up all over our house. I will find items from the kitchen on the book shelves in the study and items from my desk on the end tables in the living room. I know that these items have traveled in the hands of our son or our grandson who can’t resist picking them up and playing with them in their hands.

As part of my seminary education, I learned about centering prayer and other meditation techniques. Through regular practice I became more able to calm my self, sit quietly, and meditate. I found that being mindful of my breathing helped me calm my physical body and control pain. After discovering that I don’t respond well to certain types of pain medication when I injured my back, I developed the ability to use meditation to control my response to pain. Once when I was burned the dermatologist who was helping me recover commented about my “Zen-like state” when receiving painful treatment. I am no expert in Buddhist practices and I’m not sure of the connection between my meditation and Zen Buddhism, but I took the doctor’s comments as a compliment and appreciated the simple fact that I was able to avoid opioid painkillers.

Learning to calm myself, however, is not all positive. It makes my watch think that I am not standing when I clearly am. The watch measures motion and my practice of stilling my body and my mind doesn’t give it anything to measure. More importantly, I have read a bit about medical studies that are showing that fidgeting is beneficial. James Levine, a professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic is an expert in obesity. He says “the fidget factor” is an outward manifestation of an innate impulse to move. Growing evidence is showing that the impulse to fidget helps those who are fidgeters unconsciously manage their weight by prompting them to move. Studies have shown that slimmer office workers tend to act on their fidget impulses more often, standing and moving around for two hours more each day than those with obesity.

It turns out that fidgeting is natural. Humans have a biological predisposition to movement. Even a slight fidget, such as tapping a toe, helps to burn of excess energy that otherwise ends up being stored as fat. Fidgeting while sitting can increase the amount of calories burned by up to 29% compared to lying down without moving. Fidgeting while standing up such as rocking or shifting from foot to foot, boosts the number of calories burned by 38%!

Experts are not suggesting that fidgeting is a replacement for exercise. They have noted, however, that those who give in to the urge to fidget are more likely to get the exercise their bodies need.

Maybe after all of these years of teaching myself to be calm when I need to wait and to sit without fidgeting have resulted in some habits I need to change.

When we had tiny children in our home, I noticed that I would rock when I stood, even if I was not the one holding the baby. This tendency has reappeared each time we have spent time with an infant grandchild and when I am around new babies at church or in other settings. I noticed then that the simple rocking movement while standing is not a deterrent to conversation. Unlike my wildly shaking knees when I was a teen, I can stand with others who barely notice the gentle rocking.

I doubt that there is any hard evidence that those who fidget live longer than others. There are genuine benefits to having learned to calm myself including reduced stress response. However, I do think I am going to think more positively about the urge to move and learn to give in to it. I don’t need a watch to remind me that moving is good for me, but I guess having one doesn’t hurt, either.

The wisdom of bees

Last spring a group in our church read a book by John Philip Newell titled “Sacred Earth Sacred Soul: Celtic Wisdom for Reawakening to What our Souls Know and Healing the World.” The book was a follow-up to a series of books that we have read about the care of Creation and the human role in addressing the Climate crisis. Interest in environmental justice has been on the rise in our congregation as we become more aware of the serious threat of human caused climate change and the ways in which we might live more responsibly.

The book sparked an interest in Celtic spirituality for me. I have long been aware of the Christian community at Iona and have close friends who have made pilgrimages to that island to participate in liturgy and song. I have appreciated the depth of Celtic spiritual traditions. After the Roman expansion spread Christianity to parts of northern Europe, including Scotland, the fall of the empire left pockets of Christians who were relatively isolated from the Roman church. Those pockets developed separately from the hierarchy of the formal church and preserved a form of faith that is unique. Modern expressions of Celtic spirituality have much to offer to contemporary Christians including deep respect for the gift of Creation.

My interest in Celtic spirituality led me to some information about Celtic traditions around the death of bee keepers. Funerary traditions for bee keepers were, in some cases, quite elaborate and involved. As a budding amateur beekeeper, my interest was piqued. The tradition was that the bees needed to be informed and involved in the process of mourning the death of a bee keeper. Otherwise the bees might also depart this world, or at least abandon the hives where they were kept. This tradition has even more ancient roots that go back at least as far as ancient Egypt where bees were revered as messengers of the gods and bearers of wisdom from the sprit realm.

The ancients believed that bees needed to be told of births, marriages, arrivals, departures, and deaths in a family. Long before digital record keeping and even before the tradition of writing significant events in family bibles, for those who could afford a bible, perhaps even before handwriting existed, humans have felt the need to record their lives in a form that will survive them. Like the ancients we want to leave our mark on the world. We feel a deep need to somehow be known by those who will come after our time on this earth has ended. We want those who live after us to know that we came and went and somehow left a mark on this world. One of the ancient traditions was to involve domesticated bees in the rituals of death and grief.

Perhaps it is the unique sound of bees flying, the gentle buzz of tiny wings, that inspires us to think of the world of spirits when we see and hear them. Perhaps it is the mesmerizing nature of watching them leave and return to the hive and the highly organized culture of a colony of bees. Perhaps it is the intricate and precise nature of honeycomb with its six-sided chambers making up a perfect storage place for honey. Whatever the reason, bees have been regarded as keepers of story and tradition and messengers between the world of spirits and the life we now live.

In the ancient Celtic tradition, when a beekeeper’s coffin was lifted at their home to be carried to the church for burial, their hives would simultaneously be lifted a few inches from their stands. The church bell would be tolled as the coffin carried the beekeeper on a final journey. The tolling of the bell would stop and silence would descend so that those raising the bee colonies would know the precise moment the beekeeper was being lowered into the grave. At that moment the bee hives would be simultaneously lowered back to their original positions. The journey of the bees was matched to the journey of the beekeeper as their keeper was returned to the earth from which they all came.

It was believed that this action “told the bees” of the event of the keepers death and that the bees would remember and that future generations of bees would know of the significant events in the lives of their keepers. A worker bee lives for perhaps nine weeks, the first three of which are spent entirely in the hive. During that time they somehow gain the information needed to leave the hive, go to flowers that had been previously visited by other bees and return to the hive with nectar and pollen from the plants. During the next few weeks they make repeated trips to and from the hive, discover new sources of nectar, communicate the new locations to other bees, who are raising young bees within the hive that will take their place as workers and carriers of nutrients to the colony. The colony goes through several generations in a single season, constantly producing new bees that somehow carry the knowledge of where to find food and how to sustain the colony. The worker bees that keep the hive alive over the winter are not the bees that placed the life-sustaining honey in storage combs during the summer, but the colony keeps its “knowledge” of how to feed and nurture new bees who will continue the traditions of bringing food into the hive when spring blossoms return.

Those who watch the bees carefully gain a sense that they remember and that they can be trusted to keep memories throughout the generations. If the bees are “told” of the significant events in a human life, surely those events will be remembered by the wider processes of nature forever.

I don’t share all of the beliefs of the ancients when it comes to how to keep bees. It doesn’t appear to me that my bees need to be told anything. I’m not sure that it is accurate to even call me a bee keeper. I am, rather, an observer who occasionally feeds bees in the late winter and early spring, who observes them, and who steals part of their honey, careful to leaf enough for the colony to survive. But I do know that there is something uniquely spiritual about being a steward of bees and I am grateful for the opportunity to observe their colonies. As the seasons of my life pass, I am grateful for the ways that the bees remind me of the spiritual world and how observing them helps me feel connected and rooted in the wideness of all creation.

Wishing for healing for Maui

I only have been to Hawaii once. On that trip I was serving as a chaperone for youth participating in the Western Regional Youth Event of the United Church of Christ. We visited only one island, Oahu. My attention was focused on the youth enough that I remember only the activities we did with them during our visit. I don’t remember having time to take a night walk or look at the stars. I suspect that by the time I made sure all of the youth were safe in their rooms I was tired enough to fall quickly to sleep. Still, it was a wonderful visit and I have fond memories of the beautiful places we visited and the rich cultural diversity of the congregations where activities were held. If I were to return to the state, it would be fun to visit other islands and I would like to take time to gaze into the sky.

A friend of a relative lives on the big island where he works at one of the observatories on Mauna Kea, the large dormant volcano that is at the center of the largest and most southern of the islands in the state. Mauna Kea is a cluster of large telescope observatories and astronomical research facilities located on the mountain where they take advantage of the low level of light pollution to make observations of the cosmos. I don’t know if it would be possible, but I have thought that if I were to make a trip to Hawaii, I would investigate getting a tour of the Mauna Kea complex.

We have friends who travel to Hawaii frequently. The husband of the couple grew up in Hawaii and they own a vacation property on Maui. They have frequently said to us that if we planned a vacation to Hawaii they highly recommend a visit to Maui where they say life is a bit more laid back and a bit less tourist focused than other parts of the state.

Although summer isn’t the high tourist season in Hawaii, the first part of August might be a good time for a visit because of the annual Perseid meteor shower. Every August I pay attention to the night sky and enjoy seeing the bright flashes known as shooting stars. It doesn’t require a telescope. You can see the meteors with your naked eyes. But it does help to be in a place where you can see the night sky. Our home here in Washington is a bit too close to the bright lights of city of Vancouver for really good night observations, but the meteors are bright enough to be seen from our deck.

The phenomenon can produce up to 100 meteors and hour. The earth, in its yearly journey around the sun, travels through a trail of debris left behind from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle and the result is the annual natural display. The peak of this year’s show was supposed to occur last night. I didn’t go out star gazing as I was fairly tired from a few days’ camping with our grandchildren. I’m confident that there will be plenty of meteors to see tonight.

But I doubt that the people on Maui are finding much time or energy for stargazing this year. 93 are confirmed dead and the Governor has warned that the number of victims will rise significantly as workers search for missing persons and forensic experts identify additional victims. Hundreds of people remain unaccounted for. Many of those who survived are staying in shelters after their homes have been destroyed. The historic town of Lahaina has been razed with the debris of collapsed buildings and burned out cars making the search for the missing challenging.

It is easy to see photographs of the devastation on the internet, but the photos cannot convey the weight of grief and uncertainty that must be sweeping the island. Part of the journey of grief is shock and disbelief and that must be part of what the survivors must be feeling. Such dramatic devastation in such a beautiful place! So many people involved in continuing fire suppression and search and rescue work! The scenes from drones show an other-worldly scene of destruction. It must be overwhelming to be present in that place. Grief and disbelief and worry for those missing are a powerful trio of emotions that threaten to overwhelm people before they have time and emotional energy to face the feelings that are sure to follow which include survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress.

This is the kind of thing that will forever remain a part of the lives of those who are witnessing it. As I have often said to trauma survivors, “This isn’t something that you get over. It is something that you get through.”

I hope that those of us who live far from Hawaii can become part of the support system that helps people get through these trying times. Recovery will be slow and difficult and it will require more than a puff of emotion and temporary compassion from those of us who live in other states.

A disaster has been declared. Some federal assistance has already arrived and more is on its way. One of the first bases of the newly-formed United States Space Force is located on Maui. the Maui Space Surveillance Complex contains a high performance computing center along with an optical observatory. The complex, known locally as AMOS for Air Force Maui Optical Station, has been in operation for several decades. The designs were developed in the early 1960s with construction completed in 1967 and the Air Force taking over operations from the University of Michigan in 1969. One of the jobs of the facility is tracking all of the satellites in orbit around our planet.

I can only imagine what the people of Maui are going through, and I know that my imagination is nowhere close to the real experiences of real people in that place. But I hope that somewhere among all of those people experiencing all of those powerful emotions there are a few who have an opportunity to look at the night sky and remember the beauty that has been a part of island life and witness the ongoing power of the universe’s constant motion. Perhaps they will make a wish on a shooting star. Certainly there is no shortage of wishes that need to be made in Maui.

A paddle in my hands


There is a simple elegance to a Greenland paddle. the blades are narrow and longer than conventional paddles. The center handle is thick and fits into the hands comfortably. You can paddle all day with no blisters. It is perfectly balanced and, best of all, it is nearly silent as it enters and exits the water. The paddle is very effective and it is easy to power through waves and into the wind. Another bonus, and probably the reason I started paddling with Greenland paddles, is that they are easy to carve.

I have preferred Greenland paddles to conventional paddles for many years. My paddles have bene dry for most of the past three years, however.

When I paddled yesterday and the day before, however, everything felt natural. I didn’t have to learn how to hold the paddle or how to make the boat track straight and true in the water. With my spray skirt stretched over the cockpit of my cedar strip kayak the paddle and I were united in a relaxing flow of motion.

My, it felt good!

Baker Lake is a dramatic place to paddle. Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, including Mount Baker, which feeds the lake from its glaciers. The water is that wonderful granite green of a glacial lake.

The lake isa reservoir. The dam, operated by Puget Sound Energy, provides the electricity that we use in our home and powers our region.

What a treat it has been to be on this adventure with our three oldest grandchildren. 12, 9 and 6 are great ages for examination and discovery.

One of the forever memories of this trip was our walk on the Shadows of the Sentinels trail through old growth forest of Douglas fir, cedar, spruce and Hemlock. Trees 700 years old stretching hundreds to feet into the air are so impressive. Walking through these forest giants we were reminded by our grandchildren of how awesome this experience is.

Sometimes life needs a reset. We fall into patterns and ways of doing things that are not quite the way we want things to be. Covid forced a reset, and not all of that reset was positive. In the midst of that a we retired - twice. And we moved - twice. And I put the canoes and kayaks in the barn and didn’t paddle. Maybe I was intimidated by the ocean waters. Maybe I was caught up in the cycles of a new church, a new job, and a new home. Whatever the reason, I got out of the pattern of regular paddling. Many years when we lived in South Dakota I paddled from ice out to freeze up every year. Solo paddling has been a deeply spiritual experience for me and I have taken some of my most memorable scenery pictures from the surface of lakes and rivers.

A short camping trip with our grandchildren has given me a much-needed reset. We camped in an area without cell phone service. I interrupted a whole lot of my routines. I didn’t type in my journal and publish it to the Internet each day, which is something I’ve been doing every day since 2007. I didn’t check my email, which I usually do several times each day. I left my computer at home. I didn’t follow my usual bedtime routine. I wrote in a paper journal and didn’t count the words. I went on walks with my grandchildren at their pace. I paddled with my grandson at his pace. I played games and cooked over the campfire and ate s’mores. I didn’t weigh myself. I didn’t log my meals. I didn’t count calories. I went to sleep when the children were all settled and got up when they came bouncing across the camper in the morning.

It was just what I needed. It was the reset I’ve been looking for. In a way that was different from retiring and then going back to work and then retiring again, it reminded me of what is most important. And one of the things I need to put back into my life is a paddling routine.

The simple elegance of a Greenland paddle fills my hands with timeless grace and elegance. As my tiny boat glides silently through the water I feel connected to creation and infused with spirit.

Life is good. I am fortunate to have the gifts of a tiny boat and a simple paddle.

Senior Discounts - 8-11-2023

I read somewhere that people my age don’t like to be called “senior citizens.” I’m not particularly opposed to the designation. It seems to be more desirable than “old folks.” Most of my peers are the oldest generation in our families, though I know a few hearty individuals of my parents’ generation who are still going strong in their 90’s. Were they still living both of my parents would be over 100. After all, I’m 70, so at leas in our family I’m about as senior as we have. In the church, the traditional term is “elder.” That designation is also used in some tribal communities. In both the term is generally more than a connotation of age. It is conferred to one who has accumulated a certain amount of wisdom, who can be trusted to be truthful with tradition and story, and to whom others turn for advice. I wouldn’t mind being called an elder, though it is not a title I can self claim. In the article I read, the authors noted several “Senior Citizen’s Centers” that had been renamed “Community Centers.” I don’t know what is in the name, but I do admit that I have not belt drawn to explore either. My main source of community is where it has been all of my life: the church. I do admit, though, that I have a lot of church friends who are around the same age that I am.

Actually, one of the things I seek is intergenerational community. I like the church in part because of the young adults and children who are part of the community. I enjoy activities in which people of all ages can participate. I don’t think I will find such events and activities in adult communities, or senior’s only community centers.

I do, however, appreciate senior discounts and senior rates. Although some streak of stubbornness has kept me from joining AARP, there are plenty of other special rates available to me with which I have no problem.

The campground where we are staying has regular rates and senior rates. The latter price is 30% less than the former and we paid the discounted rate even though we are 2 70-somethings with three pre-teen children. We have more children than some of the middle-aged campers in the campground, who, I assume, are paying full price.

In addition, I cary a National Parks and Fedral National Lands Senior pass that allows us to park for free and use day use areas without charge in all National Forests. It gives us reduced fees at National Parks and National Monuments, too. It doesn’t bother me a bit to use that pass.

When I was a sheriff’s chaplain, I was a bit nervous about law enforcement discounts. I usually refused them and paid full price, feeling that there was an ethical problem with public servants accepting gratuities. A gift could influence the fairness of law enforcement, though I doubt that any officers I know would knowingly give preferential treatment. I was always very careful to follow all traffic rules when I was serving as a chaplain, knowing that every deputy I knew would find great delight in writing me a ticket and then teasing me about it afterward. They never got the chancer.

At this stage of my life I’ve got no problem with senior discounts, however. I’ve been around for 70 years. I’ve paid my dues. I try to respond by being a good citizen. I leave every campsite a bit cleaner than I found it. I park carefully and use public lands in ways that leaves little impact. I teach values of care and conservation to our grandchildren.

And, for now, I don’t seem to be in danger of having too much money anytime soon, so I’ll take the discounts when they are offered.

A camping adventure

A REMINDER: There will be no journal post tomorrow or Saturday morning. Those entries will be posted later on Saturday or on Sunday. We will be camping off grid and out of cell phone service. Regular posts will return on Sunday.

Our lives have given us the opportunity to visit some incredibly beautiful places. In 2006, our sabbatical journey included time in Alberta and British Columbia including visiting the two iconic Rocky Mountain National Parks, Banff and Jasper. the two parks are right on the border between Alberta and British Columbia and are connected by a road known as the Icefields Parkway. Just north of the community of Banff is Lake Louise with its beautiful green glacier fed waters. The color of the lake comes in part from the granite dust suspended in the water. From Lake Louise to the city of Jasper is a scenic two-lane highway that winds near the Columbia Ice Fields, where tourists can take a ride on giant ice coaches, walk on the face of the glacier and drink the pure cement. Visitors can also view historic photos of the glacier and see how dramatically it has shrunk in recent years.

Amid the news of devastating wildfires wreaking destruction on the Island of Maui and historic flooding destroying homes in the town of Hemsedal, Norway, was a brief story about a couple who road a Gondola to the top of Sulphur Mountain in Banff National Park for their wedding photos. While they were posing for memories to be recorded of their special day a thunder storm swept over the mountain and electrical service to the gondola was cut off. Along with about 300 other people the couple was stranded. There is a large three-story building at the top of the Gondola, so people had shelter as they waited and waited for power to be restored. Nightfall came and it was dark without electricity. People ended up sleeping on the floor, including the groom in his suit and the bride in her gown. The couple were smiling about the experience after they got down from the mountain the next day, saying, the experience was “not that bad” as they were warm and safe and “had each other.” They also got a helicopter ride down from the mountain and memories to last a lifetime.

We’ve done a fair amount of camping in the mountains and know that all along the Rocky Mountains, afternoon thunderstorms are part of summer weather. We used to joke that getting rained on was typical of all of our backpack excursions. In the days before we owned a tent we carried a plastic ground cloth and with a bit of cord could fashion a suitable shelter from the rain. We also learned that we could survive getting wet. We learned to stay away from exposed places during thunder storms and took shelter being careful to avoid the area beneath the tallest trees. I’ve spent hours lying in my sleeping bag counting the seconds between lighting flashes and the sound of the thunder to estimate the distance and direction of the center of storms.

Things are a bit different here on the western slopes of the Cascade mountains. Our mountains are as beautiful and dramatic as the Rockies. Mount Baker, which is visible all across Whatcom and Skagit Counties rises 10,781 feet above sea level. Considering that our house is a mere 90 feet above the high water level in the bay, the rise in elevation is dramatic. The mountain, known as Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan to the Nooksack and Lummi People, is perpetually covered with snow and ice. It is a glacier-covered andesitic stratovolcano and its crater is second only to Mount St. Helens in terms of thermal activity. The volcano is quiet for now and there are all kinds of beautiful places to hike and visit all around it in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. There are several places within the forest where one can walk in old growth groves under gigantic spruce, hemlock, and Douglas Fir trees. Baker Lake is a reservoir. The dam boasts a generating plant that provides power to Pacific Power and Light customers in our region, including our home.

We’ve scouted the area and will be camping on the south side of the mountain with our three oldest grandchildren for the next couple of days. The water has that glacier green color similar to that of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies. Like Lake Louise, it has a dramatic snow capped mountain to reflect in the water. And, like Lake Louise, the water is cold enough that one doesn’t swim very long before climbing out to wrap up in a towel and warm in the sunlight. Children, however, have an amazing capacity to play in cold water. And we’ll have a couple of kayaks for them to paddle and play when they want to be on the water but a bit more dry.

Our trip will include roasting hot dogs over the campfire, toasting marshmallows and making s’mores, hot chocolate and plenty of stories. Among the things we invited the children to bring are books. Everyone will have time to read and relax. The campground where we are staying has approved fire rings where campfires are allowed despite the generally dry conditions that have a fire ban in place throughout much of the national forest. There is a fire burning in the forest, but it is not near to where we are camping.

I’m a bit like I was when I was a kid: excited to get going on our trip and eager to for the adventure ahead. We joke that having grandchildren continues to give us new experiences. After all we only had two children and so our family camping adventures were less complex than a trip with three children. Although the dynamics of three in place of two are new to us, we have a good collection of games and activities for all and we know what to do to entertain ourselves if rain should fall.

Maybe we’ll have the good luck of our former years of camping and will see some rain during our camping outing. I hope so, just as long as it isn’t accompanied by lightning. The firefighters could use a break. We won’t, however, be sleeping on the floor in our wedding clothes. Our pictures might not be as dramatic, but we’ll be much more comfortable. Like them, we will be warm and safe and have each other.

Constant contact

NOTE TO REGULAR READERS: My journal posts will not be posted daily as usual at the end of this week. I will continue to write my journal, but I will be away from my computer and out of touch with the Internet. I will not post on Friday and I may not post on Saturday. We will be camping in a location with no Internet and no cell phone service. I will make a “catch up” post when I return, but it will take time to transcribe my hand-written notes. There will be a similar break in the usual during September.

I have a friend who takes a “digital detox” day every week. One day each week is set aside to step away from email. As far as I know email is the only digital communication from which that person abstains, though it is possible that voice mail may also meet with no response on that day. I’m pretty sure that the person uses a cell phone and also listens to podcasts, streams videos, and engages in other digital entertainment, though I am unsure of the details. I haven’t felt the need to be similarly disconnected. I have found, however, that I am checking email and other communications a bit less frequently now that I am not employed.

There are some activities that we love that work best without constant connection. For example, we love to hike and camp in the mountains and we go places where there is no cell phone service. This used to be common. I can remember when cell phones didn’t work at church camp and it didn’t bother me to be outside of cell phone range for a week of camp. There used to be times when we left our phones at home when heading into the hills because we knew that there would be no service. Then they built more cell phone towers and improved the devices we carry. However, I still know a few places in remote mountain valleys where there is no cell phone reception. Those are beautiful places well worth visiting and we are capable of being safe even when we are temporarily out of touch.

There are many adventurers who travel to remote locations who now carry satellite communications devices. I could purchase such a device that would allow loved ones to tract our location and enable emergency messages from any point on the globe. If lI were engaged in extended expeditions, I would probably budget for such a device. However, it doesn’t seem necessary for our occasional ventures outside of cell phone coverage and so far I haven’t been interested in paying the cost of the device and the service to make it operate.

More interesting to me is the simple fact that I am learning to ignore some of my messages for longer periods of time. I used to feel a need to deal with all of the notifications on my phone each time I picked it up. this meant that consulting my phone for a moment could lead to my being distracted from whatever was going on. Somehow the insistence of emails and voice messages took precedence over some of the things I was doing.

However, I no longer feel the same obligation to stay in touch. I am no longer “on call” and expected to respond to emergencies. And I find I am becoming more comfortable with periods of simply not responding to every message that comes to my phone. I suspect that my new habit of ignoring my phone could become a worry for our children. They are used to responding to each other’s instant messages throughout the day. They know that I don’t respond to every picture or cute quote that is shared, but I don’t want to have them think I don’t enjoy the pictures of grandchildren’s activities. I sometimes am content to enjoy the picture at my own pace and don’t feel a need to respond with an emoji. I never got into emojis in the first place.

The contemporary mode of constant contact and communication isn’t always reassuring. I can remember when we operated on a “no news is good news” assumption. We knew that loved ones would find a way to communicate if there was a crisis or a need, so when they were traveling we didn’t worry if we didn’t hear from them. We assumed that it meant that they were having a good time and enjoying new adventures. For the most part we were correct in our assumptions. These days, however, if I go a day without responding to text messages, I need to inform my family in advance. Otherwise they will worry. I suspect that our daughter worries when we do inform her that we will be heading into the mountains and will be out of touch.

When our children were little we thought nothing of spending a couple of nights camped in a location with no access to telephone communications. With our grandchildren, we feel a different need to keep in touch. We think about where we will be going and how we will get messages to their parents when they are with us. Most of the time we don’t go places where there is no cell phone service. I am careful to make sure that my phone is charged and that I check for messages regularly. I make a point of taking a few pictures of the grandkids and sending them to parents even if our adventure will last only a few hours.

My new phase of retirement is allowing me to take a fresh look at my use of digital tools and to make a few new choices about how I use them. I’m learning to be a bit more comfortable with having some times when I am not responding to messages. I’m trying to make conscious decisions about when to be closely connected and when to be less connected.

I’ve even read a few articles about satellite communicators. I’m not planning to get one anytime soon, but I haven’t ruled out the possibility. For now I’m enjoying being out of touch from time to time.

Learning to live with neighbors

Moving to a new place involves learning to live with different neighbors. When we moved to South Dakota we planted tulips in our yard. We like tulips. So do the deer. The deer ate the tops of the plants before they could flower. For the next 25 years we didn’t have tulips in our yard. We grew plenty of iris, which is another flower we love. And we grew a few marigolds as well. If you talk to the people who work in nurseries and other places that sell plants in South Dakota they are careful to use the term “deer resistant.” I don’t think anyone uses “deer proof.” Deer will sample plants and spit them out if they don’t like them. This is especially true of young fawns.

One of the neighbor mistakes I made in our South Dakota years was feeding a bit of cracked corn to the wild turkeys. My mother loved to watch the turkeys, but as she aged her eyesight wasn’t as clear as it once had been. I decided to put out a bit of cricked corn on our deck so that the turkeys would come up where she could easily view them through the patio door. It worked even better than expected. Not only did they come up onto the deck, but they came at the same time every morning, after mother was up and dressed and having a second cup of coffee. They climbed on the deck and on the deck railing and they clustered in clumps and fell over one another. They tried to get seed out of the bird feeders. They provided a bit of entertainment every day for mother. They also left a big mess on the deck that was a pain to clean. I only fed them a couple of times, but they came back every day for months. I guess they had gotten into stopping at our deck as part of their daily routine and just because there wasn’t food there today they thought maybe there would be food there tomorrow.

I’m learning a lesson about pollinators in our home here in Washington. I’ve become more observant of insects after becoming a bee keeper. The bees I tend (and occasionally steal honey from) don’t live at our house. The colonies are in hives at our son’s family farm a few miles down the road. Although it is possible for honey bees to forage as far away from the hive as our home, those bees have no reason to do so. There are plenty of blooming plants on the farm and they don’t have to travel to find nectar and pollen. Watching bees, including bees that are not domestic, has become a bit of a hobby with me. I listen for the buzzing and I look at the insects and try to discover their ways.

Another pollinator that I enjoy watching around here are hummingbirds. The tiny birds we see most commonly around our plants are Anna’s Hummingbirds. They are common in the Western part of our state and stay all year around here on the coast. This is the only place I have ever lived where we see humming birds in the winter. I’ve seen the tiny ones in the shrubs in our front yard when there is snow on the ground.

This spring I put up a hummingbird feeder in our back yard. I wanted to attract the birds so that I could observe them. It worked. We’ve had plenty more hummingbirds in our yard and I’ve been able to watch them, sometimes as closely as only three or four feet away. I’ve yet to get a good photograph, but I think that one is possible if I have enough patience.

However, hummingbirds aren’t the only creatures attracted by the feeder. Soon I noticed several different types of bees gathering the sweet water from the feeder. There were mason bees and bumble bees and several different types of wasps around the feeder all the time. I don’t think the insects discouraged the hummingbirds, but I wasn’t pleased with the number of insects it was attracting. We want the insects to pollinate our flowers and trees and don’t want to over supplement their feed so that they don’t bother going to the plants we want pollinated. I don’t know about mason bees or bumble bees, but honey bees only visit a single type of plant on each trip from the hive. They may visit several types of plants throughout the summer, but when they find a plant that has the nectar and pollen they like, they keep going back to the same plant over and over again. This makes them efficient pollinators since the plants want the pollen from their own type of plant. Dandelion pollen doesn’t help the lavender propagate. I didn’t want the bees to keep coming back to the feeder over and over again.

Furthermore, the feeder was attracting yellow jackets. Those creatures were’t attracted by the honey water as much as they were attracted by the other insects that came to the area around the feeder. Yellow jackets are carnivorous. They feed on other insects and bees. They don’t shy away from cannibalism, either, eating other yellow jackets. What got out attention is that they are attracted by picnic fare, eating fruits and the food that we eat. We eat out on our deck a lot, but lately the yellow jackets have forced us indoors several times. Our granddaughter got bit by a yellow jacket yesterday, but fortunately it wasn’t at our house. Yellow jackets can both sting and bite. Unlike honey bees they don’t lose their stinger and so it is difficult to know. They can also sting repeatedly and will do so with little provocation.

The humming bird feeder has come down and been put away. I’ll put it up after cold weather has forced the insects into hibernation. And next year I plan to take it back down before the insects are flying. I suppose that I could put up a wasp trap. They attract yellow jackets because the creatures feed off of the bees and other insects that also become entrapped, and are quite effective. But I don’t really want to kill the neighbor insects. I’m particularly reluctant to trap bumble bees and mason bees, which are important to our flowering plants.

I’ve got a lot to learn about living with our insect neighbors and I’m sure the lessons will continue.

Sabbath rest


First a rant: I’ve written before about the driving quirks of the various places where we have lived. In Idaho, it was wandering from lanes, including crossing the center line on narrow roads. In South Dakota it was running red lights. We always had to use extra caution there because of the tendency of people to push not only the yellow light, but to actually run red lights. When the light changed at an intersection, we frequently had to yield to someone who had clearly entered the intersection on the red light. Here in Washington it is passing on the solid yellow line. I haven’t observed this statewide. Perhaps it is just a quirk of Whatcom County. Whatever the case, it is dangerous and way too frequent. At least once a week I get passed while driving at or slightly above the speed limit while driving on country roads around here, and it is common for that to be when there is insufficient visibility to see oncoming traffic. The law is very clear about crossing a double yellow line to pass It is illegal. But that doesn’t stop a lot of drivers around here.

Saturday evening we were walking alongside a stretch of city street that does not have a sidewalk. We were walking facing traffic and single file so we could stay outside of the white line marking the edge of the street. Suddenly a car approached us from behind and came close enough to startle both of us. It was on our side of the street because it was passing a golf cart also coming from behind us. To be clear, our community is a “golf carts allowed” zone. The speed limit is 25 mph. Most golf carts go nearly 25 mph. Where this incident occurred, the golf cart was going down a hill with a curve at the bottom. It was a summer weekend, when there is plenty of traffic in town. The car that came close to us was going at least 35 mph, perhaps more. I’m sure it missed us by more than a foot, but it seemed closer to us. There is no way that passing the golf cart could have saved them any appreciable amount of time. They were headed into a busy, beachside street where there was plenty of other traffic. I can’t imagine what people like that are thinking.

End of rant. We are uninjured. The folks in the golf cart are safe. The people in the offending car are also safe as far as we know. Furthermore, I’m feeling way too much gratitude to get hung up on my rant.

For most of the past 50 years we have been pastors. Sunday was a work day for us. I had studied the scriptures, including the commandment about honoring the sabbath. We were careful to take a day off each week with a few exceptions when the needs of the community demanded otherwise. If there was a crisis or a funeral or a particular reason I would occasionally go a week without a day off, but I know the reason for sabbath and I understood the idolatry of thinking that I didn’t need a day of rest.

But there is something delightful and wonderful about a Sunday when we are retired. We had a leisurely start to our day yesterday. I lingered over a very good book in the morning before I showered and dressed. There was time for a bit more reading before time to leave for church. We were attending a congregation that meets close to our home, so we didn’t need to leave until 15 or 20 minutes before the start of worship. It was a beautiful day and the windows were open in the sanctuary. A chorus of seagulls could be heard outside. We had no duties. We simply sat in the pews, visited with other worshippers, worshipped including receiving communion, and went downstairs for coffee hour and more visiting. It was a typical small congregation, with about 25 in the sanctuary and another dozen online. The adult daughter of the pianist was visiting from out of town, but was given the role of leading the hymn singing. She grew up in the church and was comfortable with the task.

After worship we visited with the hymn leader and discovered that she now lives in Japan. She went to Japan as a college exchange student and returned after graduation. She met her husband and decided to stay. They have two children who are now grown. She is visiting her mother and the rest of her family will join her before she flies back to Japan. We had a Japanese exchange student live with us for a year and our children both participated in short 10-day student exchanges. We visited Japan twice in recent years, so we had a lot in common and a lot about which to visit.

Next we walked down to view the Spirit of Washington, a replica tall sailing ship that is used as a teaching platform. The ship was in town for the annual harbor festival, celebrating the local fishing industry with activities and vendor stalls. We wandered through booths selling handicrafts before having fresh fried oysters for lunch. There is an oyster farm in the bay and they have a wonderful cafe where had not before eaten. The cafe has a harbor front outdoor dining area where the sea breeze and shade made a great place to eat.

After our late lunch, there was plenty of time left in our day to take a nap, wander over to the farm and look at the bees, visit with our Daughter and grandson over Skype, sort through a few items we brought home from my mother’s place when we sold it last spring, have a light supper and take a longer than usual walk along the beach. We were treated to very comfortable weather for a stroll and a beautiful sunset.

Sabbath indeed restores our spirit. I am filled with gratitude.

Where to worship

“Where do you want to go to church on Sunday?” It is a question that has rarely been asked around our house, but it was the question that started a plan for us this week. In the United Church of Christ, ministers are held to carefully-designed ethical standards when leaving a call to ministry. Although we have negotiated a plan that will result in us continuing to be members of First Congregational Church of Bellingham, we are taking a brief break from worship. This will allow the children who worship in person and online to adjust to the changes in leadership. It will also remind children and adults that we are no longer members of the church staff. the arrangement has been carefully arranged with the on-going church staff and we are comfortable with the plans.

It does, however, mean that we, who have been pastors and who have been firmly attached to a single worshipping community for our professional careers, will be visiting a series of different congregations over the next few weeks. The idea is not completely foreign to us. In fact, we have visited some of the same congregations previously. During the last sabbatical of our active ministry in Rapid City, we focused on some end-of-career planning. We interviewed retired pastors, held discussions about congregational transitions with denominational leaders, and wrote about the major transitions of pastoral careers. During that sabbatical we were based in Mount Vernon, a short drive from our present home. We worshiped with a number of congregations during that time, including First Congregational Church of Bellingham. We have some familiarity with the congregations of this region.

The choice of where to worship today was an easy one for us. First of all, there are two United Church of Christ congregations that are closer to our home than First Congregational Church of Bellingham. We chose our home congregation before we knew where our home would be. We live just under 20 miles from the church. While it is likely we will worship with congregations of other denominations in the next few weeks, starting with UCC congregations makes sense. The closest UCC congregation to our home is just 7 miles away in the town of Blaine.

There is a big attraction for me in Blaine this weekend. Although we frequently go to Blaine, we might have a tendency to stay away this weekend because there is a festival in town and events designed to attract tourists sometimes are occasions for us to stay away from places where we are used to finding easy parking and know our way around. We aren’t the biggest fans of crowds. However, I would likely make an exception for the Drayton Harbor Maritime Festival. While I can get by without the games, crafts, scavenger hunt, the pirate costume cossets, arts, crafts and food vendors, I admit that I would love to see the Lady Washington tall ship. The historical sailing ship is a replica of the original Lady Washington that plied the waters of the Pacific northwest in the 1700’s. It is in Drayton Harbor this weekend and there on-board tours are available. I’m a big fan of sailing ships and love opportunities to go aboard. We have tickets for a three-day, two-night cruise on another tall ship in September, the Schooner Zodiac.

So today’s plan is to worship with Blaine United Church of Christ this morning and take a tour of Lady Washington before heading home. We may even purchase lunch from one of the food vendors, or from a favorite fish and chips place at the harbor. It isn’t exactly a date, but it feels like a but of luxury. We are so used to having responsibilities on Sunday Mornings, that our routine is to set our alarm clocks, rise early, get to church early so that we can make last minute preparations for Sunday Morning activities. We don’t have any of those responsibilities today. No alarm clocks needed. We have time for a leisurely breakfast and only have to show up at the church a few minutes before worship begins. When we arrive there won’t be church members with questions and concerns, just the greeters of the congregation. And, as a bonus, we will be able to park our car at the church and walk down to the harbor if the town is crowded with tourists and parking is scarce.

And next week, the question of where to worship will be in front of us once again. One of the treats of this time will be visits to a couple of island congregations, which will involve short ferry rides.

Keeping with the nautical theme of this new phase of our lives, I spent some time in the boat shop yesterday. A kayak project, started in South Dakota that has been on hold for three years while we moved and got settled, came out of storage and I had time to cut some new pieces of wood and begin the process of mating the deck to the hull. I’m a bit out of practice with my woodworking tools so I’m working slowly, but it felt good to make a bit of sawdust and to recapture the vision of the sleek expedition kayak that has been out of the focus of my attention for too long.

Another goal of retirement that I’ll begin this week is a return to the water. I haven’t been paddling very much at all lately. Part of was the busy activities of starting a new job, moving our household and the like. Part of it was learning about new waters. I’ve lived my life far away from the sea, but now the most convenient place to paddle, much closer than the lake when we lived in South Dakota, is Birch Bay, part of the Sailish Sea, which is connected to the Pacific Ocean. Learning about tides and ocean currents will be a small challenge for me, and I’m grateful that I’ve had this time to observe the water and learn its rhythms. I’ll definitely be getting a boat wet this week.

Off to new adventures!

What's for breakfast?

Hot cereal was part of the breakfast plan when I was growing up. The most common hot cereal at our home was coarse ground wheat. Mom would prepare it in a double boiler so that it was warm and soft without having to be tended, but it could also be made in a saucepan. Water was added to the grain with a bit of salt and the cereal cooked. On occasion we also had oatmeal, cream of wheat, Malt O Meal, and other cereals. We called the wheat cereal “Salisbury Cereal.” Salisbury was my mother’s sister’s married name. Their farm produced hard red winter wheat and we got wheat from the farm. My mother had a mill to grind flour that also could be set to grind the cereal. The wheat from the farm was free to our family and we used to haul it home in 30-gallon garbage cans.

The rule in our house was that hot cereal was for the school year. We got to have cold cereal in the summer. Occasionally cold cereal was available as a special treat. For example, we always got small, individual serving boxes of cold cereal in our stockings at Christmas.

Breakfast was a big meal in our home. We weren’t limited to the cereal. There were always eggs and toast available and some days there was bacon or sausage. Pancakes and French toast were often on the breakfast menu.

I still love a big breakfast, but if I ate eggs and bacon with fried potatoes for breakfast every day I’d have to skip lunch and cut back on dinner to keep from gaining weight. Prudence and a bit of experience has taught me to cut back except on special occasions. When I have cereal I don’t go on to have other things for breakfast. I still enjoy cooking breakfast when we have guests and I save the breakfast meats and waffles for times when we have company.

I’m sure that people have been eating cold oatmeal for years, but I just discovered it within the last year. It is simple to make. There are a lot of recipes available for overnight oats. My favorite starts with a small amount of yogurt, an equal amount of skim milk. I add a bit of chia seeds, vanilla, cinnamon, and just a drizzle of honey. Then I stir in a half cup of oatmeal (regular, not the instant kind). In the morning I top with whatever berries we have on hand. Lately we have had plenty of fresh strawberries, raspberries and cherries and the blackberries will be abundant soon. We preserve berries by freezing, so when fresh fruit isn’t available, I use frozen berries.

I was a bit skeptical about cold oatmeal, but I really like it. The oats soften up overnight, the chia seeds and honey make the treat sweet, and the fruit flavors make it a treat. I still make regular oatmeal on occasion, but lately my go to breakfast has been overnight oats.

I think I’m following a popular trend. When I googled overnight oats, I found that there are companies that sell packets of ingredients to which you add milk or yogurt or both. Making the treat from ingredients in the pantry is so simple that I haven’t been tempted to try the “Instant” variety.

Camping, however, is a different story. When we go camping, I always make a hot breakfast. When the grandchildren are with us I make pancakes. They can eat pancakes for several days in a row without complaint. I try to have a few blueberries to add to the pancakes when the grandchildren are around. I try not to eat too many, but camping usually involves more hiking, walking, water play and other physical activities which consume calories, so I can indulge in a bit of over eating.

Now that we have our camper, I have a complete kitchen for cooking. We even have an oven to make muffins and coffee cakes. And having a refrigerator is a real luxury for camping. For years we got by with a cooler when we were car camping and did without refrigeration (other than a cold stream) when we were back packing. Having a refrigerator means that we have more options when it comes to food. Our grandchildren think orange juice is a camping staple, but it wasn’t something that we associated with camping when I was younger.

I still enjoy fixing breakfast outdoors. Sometimes for special occasions or when the mood strikes me, I cook on the barbecue. I have several recipes for egg casserole that bake up nicely in Dutch ovens. I can fry bacon and eggs on a griddle on the camp stove that I use for barbecuing. For our anniversary party, I served bacon and eggs from the outdoor grill. Cooking outdoors made extra space for people to gather inside and kept the cooking odors away from the crowd. I could easily carry bowls of scrambled eggs and dishes of bacon in to serve at the table.

We are planning a little camping adventure with our three oldest grandchildren next week. We are going to a spot in the National Forest that is fairly close to home - just a couple of hours’ drive for three days and two nights. The kids are excited to go and I’m also excited. I’ve been thinking about the menus and what food to take to stock the camper. We’ll probably plan some meals that we cook over the campfire. Hot dogs is always a hit. And, of course, we have to toast marshmallows to make s’mores. But there isn’t any question in my mind about what to make for breakfast. I’ll probably take a box of Bisquick to make pancake preparation easy. Sometimes, I make my own homemade mix of flour, baking powder, salt and butter, but most of the time I buy a box of the prepared mix from the store. Although berry season is winding down, there should be enough fresh blueberries to add to the pancakes. The kids will want pancakes both mornings.

There won’t be any overnight oats. Those can wait until I get home. But they have become part of my breakfast routine. And I don’t mind eating cold cereal in the winter or hot cereal in the summer. Now I can eat hot cereal served cold.

Retirement lifestyle

To regular readers of this journal, I owe a debt of gratitude and an apology. I hope I can express my thanks to you by writing a few journal entries that are more interesting and meaningful than some of my most recent writings. I apologize for the streak of self-indulgent whining in my journal about the ending of my position as Interim Minister of Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Bellingham. I’m not quite sure what got into to me that resulted in days of complaints.

I have nothing to be whining about. Throughout my career as a pastor I have been fairly treated by the congregations I have served. They have all participated in making it possible for me to retire. Each congregation has contributed to an annuity that now provides a monthly income to support my retirement. I have been able to go from one position to the next without ever having a period of unemployment. My most recent position was, from the start, an interim position and I knew that it would end. The congregation allowed me to serve a full 24 months in a call that was advertised as an 18- to 24-month engagement.

Every day I see people who are experiencing substandard housing and homelessness. Communities throughout this country are struggling to deal with a housing shortage and people who are forced by high prices to live in terrible conditions. Meanwhile, I have a very comfortable home and the means to pay the expenses of home ownership. There are people experiencing nutrition shortfalls who struggle just to find enough to eat. Meanwhile, I have a full pantry, the ability to go to the grocery store whenever I need to, and no worries about what to eat. Many people my age face loneliness and isolation. I have the wonderful fortune of a healthy spouse. I am surrounded by a loving family. Our children and grandchildren are generous with their time and attention. I have a sister and two brothers. Susan is close to her sisters. Our recent anniversary celebration was filled with family. We are surrounded by a caring community. We have close friends in all of the congregations we have served. And we have colleagues around the world with whom we have shared ministry and meaning.

Furthermore, I am adjusting to retirement quite nicely. Yesterday was my 3rd day of retirement and I behaved exactly like a retired person of leisure. I got up when I felt like it without looking at the clock. I showered and got dressed after I ate my breakfast because no one cares if an old man eats his breakfast in his pajamas. I read a book at the breakfast table and lingered after I ate and before I did my dishes because I had time to read and enjoy a good book. When I had dressed I went out to my back yard and watered the plants. I deadheaded the blossoms on my dahlias that were beginning to fade and checked the tomato vines for ripe fruit. I spent a few minutes watching the bees on a hanging plant because I was in no rush and had time to just watch those amazing creatures. I grumbled to myself about my back yard neighbors as I trimmed the blackberry canes that creep through and over the fence. I wouldn’t say anything to them face to face, but I complain from time to time about their lack of care for their yard. I’d love to have a neighbor like Wilson in the old Tim Allen television show, “Tool Time.” But I realize that I’m the old retired guy. My neighbor has to go to work and put in long hours driving truck. When he has time at home it is mostly to sleep and get ready for the next day’s work.

When we were ready we got into the car and headed up into the mountains to scout campgrounds for adventures with our grandchildren. We took our time and stopped when we wanted. We paused for lunch at the edge of a beautiful reservoir. We went for a walk in a grove of old growth trees. The forest giants stretch 150 feet above our heads and the undergrowth is lush and green. The path we followed was mostly raised boardwalk and easily accessible for those who have trouble with mobility.

We stopped at a ranger station and information center for North Cascades National Park. The twenty-something rangers were polite and listened as I went on a brief rant about the days when I was a kid and we could find a camping spot in Yellowstone National Park without reservations. I can remember when campgrounds in the National Forest were never full and campers didn’t have to plan in advance. I’m sure that after I left the ranger station the rangers commented to each other about the old guy who was stuck in the past. They know how to use the reservation system to assure that people have places to camp and full campgrounds are an accepted part of their everyday lives. Old guys who go on rants are also probably part of their everyday lives.

In the middle of the afternoon we headed home and stopped at a Dairy Queen for an ice cream treat and a bit of nostalgic rambling about other times we’ve shared ice cream on hot summer days. We came home to a dinner of fresh-caught salmon and sweet corn. The salmon came from a tribal market not far from our home. Indigenous fishing rights are the result of treaties and critical to the culture and support of the tribe. The sweet corn came from a farm stand that is part of our local community.

After supper we went for a walk to the beach and watched the sun begin to set over the bay. There was time for quiet, reflection and I watched a video on the computer. I went to bed when I felt like it without needing to consult the clock knowing that I have no set time for rising today.

For the third day of my retirement, I’m doing pretty good. I behaved just like a retired person, with the proper amount of nostalgia and a few rants to anyone who would listen. Things look promising for today too. I’ve already found that I can use my journal to tell my repeating stories and go on my old man rants.

Thank you for your indulgence.

The news on the radio

For much of my life I have been a fan of radio. While my friends and colleagues are always asking me about television programs that I have never seen, I have found that I hear things on the radio with which they are not familiar. The Internet has changed the radio experience in recent years. I can listen to South Dakota Public Radio over the Internet whenever I want. However, I rarely listen that way. There is something about the regional and local nature of radio that makes me enjoy listening to whatever station has the best reception wherever I am roaming.

Having said that, I admit that I am a big fan of National Public Radio. It isn’t that I don’t listen to the pop and country stations. I do. But I enjoy classical music, jazz and talk and NPR has all of those things. The NPR network has grown and developed a lot in my lifetime. I remember the early years of living in North Dakota when I could not receive a NPR station from our home. I had to drive a few miles to listen to a favorite NPR program. Now there is NPR coverage in nearly every location in the country.

And, of course, there is satellite radio. When Sirius and XM radio were two separate companies, I bought a satellite receiver and subscribed to one of the services. It was amazing to tune to a channel and have the signal remain strong wherever I drove. It did, however, lack the kind of local flavor that was a part of traveling with AM or FM radio and tuning the receiver to new stations as one drove across the country. After a few years, I gave up on the paid subscription and went back to tuning the receiver in my car.

Now we have a regular AM/FM radio in our car, but our truck has Sirius XM in addition to the AM/FM. Most of the time I don’t listen to satellite radio because I don’t like the monthly fee and don’t pay it. However, from time to time when I have an expensive repair done on the truck, I receive 90 days of free satellite radio service. Whenever that happens, I gladly listen to the satellite service for the 90 days and then don’t pay for the service to continue after the free period.

Right now, I have another month of free service left. So I have the radio in the truck tuned to Sirius XM and the radio in the car tuned to FM. Due to a quirk of radio waves and the location of our home NPR doesn’t come in clearly at our house. If I drive just a short distance, I can get clear reception. On the other hand CBC, Canadian Public Radio comes in just fine. Lately I have been listening to NPR over the satellite radio in the truck and CBC when driving the car. It is fun to compare the two as I run various errands.

Yesterday the big news story on NPR was the new indictments against the former President handed down by the federal grand jury in Washington DC and its ramifications for the primary election season. Over on CBC the big story was the announcement that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie are separating.

Frankly, I find the stories about the Canadian first couple to be more interesting than more news about the disgraced former President. I suppose I should be shocked that a candidate for the highest office in the land has been accused of conspiracy to defraud voters. If found guilty, his campaign would be saying, “Vote for me because I am committed to making sure that votes don’t count.” The irony hasn’t escaped me. However, there is something more appealing in the very careful and polite way in which the Trudeaus announced their separation in identical social media posts. “We remain a close family with deep love and respect for each other and for everything we have built and will continue to build,” they wrote.

The story seems tragic to me from a variety of perspectives. I think it is extraordinarily difficult for families to withstand the pressures of the scrutiny that is a part of public life. Other stories of politicians divorcing have struck me as sad. They seem from the outside like relationships that might have endured had the couple not had the pressures of public life. Things are different, however, in the case of the Trudeaus. Justin grew up in a political family. He is not only Prime Minister, he is also son of a former Prime Minister. In fact, Justin’s parents separated when he was only five years old. Their six-year marriage ended in divorce. He has personal experience of family life under the scope of public scrutiny. Since children of divorce are more likely themselves to experience divorce, the announcement of Justin and Sophie’s breakup might not come as a surprise. But there are so many differences between the current Prime Minister and his father. Justin and Sophie are close to the same age and have been married for 18 years. His mother was almost 30 years younger than his father and their stormy relationship lasted only six years. Both couples have been very much in the public eye. Both have been mobbed at book signings and on the campaign trail.

There is something that strikes me as distinctly Canadian about the way the separating couple is taking such care to speak positively about each other and their relationship. I understand that there are serious conversations that are not, and should not be, in the public arena. In public, however, they are careful to be polite and respectful. I hope that they are able to be that way in front of their children. Of course their marriage is none of my business. I’m not even Canadian. I just live near the border and get very good radio reception.

With the distress that I feel from the news of our own country, I find the drama playing out just north of the border to be a welcome change of pace. Who needs to pay for satellite radio when the free radio is so good?

Once in a blue moon

We went walking after supper last night. Our walk coincided with high tide. The creek had a strong current running upstream as we crossed the bridge and we had to scramble over some rocks to walk along the shore. There was almost no beach in once place. A few inches higher and we would have had to divert around that place or get our feet wet.

There are no clouds in the sky and the moon appeared very bright after nightfall. It is a supermoon - one of two that we will experience this month. When a full moon coincides with perigee - the closest the moon comes to the earth in its elliptic orbit - the moon appears slightly larger than usual. The technical term for this phenomenon is perigee syzygy - a term that is not only fun to pronounce, but also fun to spell.

The second full moon in a month is called a blue moon. It is a relatively rare event, occurring once every two or three years. When the blue moon is also a supermoon, a blue perigee syzygy, it is a relatively rare celestial event. If there were to be a lunar eclipse, which will not happen this month, it would be even more uncommon - a blood blue perigee syzygy - which is not the same as blue blood, a completely different phenomenon.

Earl Thomas Conley wrote a song about a blue moon:

Nine times of ten, she's right and I am wrong,
When I won't give in she just goes along
Standing by my side, sitting home alone
I'll never know what keeps her hanging on
When anybody else would be long gone
But once in a blue moon I'll do something right
And Once in a blue moon I'll make her feel so fine
I can make her laugh, And make her cry
She hates the way she loves me sometimes
Once in a blue moon I'll do something right

I’m willing to accept August, 2023 as a rare event in my life, thought it hasn’t been that long since I was unemployed during the month of August. It happened in 2020 after we retired from our position in Rapid City, but by 2021, I was back at work in the interim position that ended on the last day of July this year. As was the case in 2020, I am unsure what will come next for employment for me.

I read an article yesterday about baby boomers who are returning to work after retirement. It is a common phenomenon - not something that occurs only once in a blue moon. Interestingly the article also said that nearly a quarter of millennials, born between 1981 and 1994, do not expect to ever retire from work. Our children are among the oldest millennials, born at the beginning of that generation. I think they have different expectations about retirement. Our daughter, who has been a stay at home mother for a few years, expects to return to work for wages, but also is planning with her husband for retirement. Our son speaks of changing his employment, making more time to be at home with his family, but doesn’t speak of retirement often. Of course time will tell what occurs, but it does seem that they have different attitudes about it.

Retirement is something that doesn’t occur in every part of the world and it is relatively new in the United States. The Social Security Act was signed into law by President Roosevelt in August of 1935. The federal insurance program created continuing income for workers over the age of 65. At the time life expectancies were lower and the period of retirement was relatively short. Our grandparents were the first generation to make use of the program. The income was supplemental for them. It was common for people of their generation to have some work for income beyond their retirement. The next generation was able to retire more fully. Many of the people in our parents’ generation retired at age 62. They also lived longer than the previous generation resulting in a whole new business of retirement activities and eventually retirement care as their health failed.

Our generation knew from the start of our working years that Social Security alone wouldn’t be sufficient income for retirement. Many of us were able to take part in employer-funded annuities or retirement savings programs which supplement the support of the federal insurance program, making retirement for our generation to be common. It definitely happens more often than once in a blue moon.

I’ve decided that I enjoy the change of pace of working for a while and then taking a few months off. I think I’d be pretty happy with a job where I worked part of the year and took part of the year off. That kind of job, however, is a bit more rare. Who knows, however, I might just find one once in a blue moon. I’ve got at least a month to figure that out, and I plan to take more than a month as a change of pace. I’ve got a list of projects and plans for the next couple of months. It is going to be fun.

Yesterday my wife was talking with our daughter in law about possible dates for a camping trip with our grandchildren before they return to school at the end of this month. The six year old overheard them talking about an adventure. A few minutes later the three older grandchildren appeared outside with their shoes on, ready to leave immediately. The six year old had overheard talk of an adventure and reported to her siblings in a way that made them seem that departure was imminent. It made me laugh when my wife reported the incident to me. I like their sense of adventure and eagerness to have a new experience.

I hope that I can retain a bit of the feeling of that six-year-old granddaughter. I’m keeping my shoes near the door, ready for the next adventure. It may come only once in a blue moon, but a blue moon is heading our way.

What is next?

50 years ago, I worked full-time for Interstate Brands, a commercial baker during the summer. On the side, I was janitor for the building where our apartment was located. At the end of the summer, I stopped working at the bakery and began my senior year of college. I became a supply pastor, licensed to serve a small congregation about 50 miles from our home. Most weeks my responsibility was to plan and lead worship. This included preparing and printing the bulletins on the machines at the Conference Office. On occasion there would be extra duties associated with that job. I officiated at my first funeral. I journeyed through the end of Pentecost, reign of Christ, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost with that congregation.

Then I graduated from college and went to work full time assembling and delivering farm machinery. After three months at that job I became a full-time graduate student. During my seminary years I had jobs as a church janitor, a summer camp manager, a pastoral counselor, and a youth minister.

When we completed our seminary degrees, we accepted the call to serve two congregations in southwest North Dakota. Susan and I were job sharing. We had a single full-time job between us. That meant that I had time for other part-time work. I found employment as a radio DJ and a school bus driver. Later in my career I worked as a freelance writer and an educational consultant. I was still writing professionally and doing an occasional consulting gig when we moved to South Dakota. Those jobs weren’t the main sources of income for our family but they provided supplemental income that enabled us to do some wonderful things as a family, including travel.

Throughout my adult life, I have had a lot of jobs that started and ended within a few months. I would sign an employment agreement knowing that the job would be finished when a particular project was finished. On the other hand, my main work - serving congregations - involved long-term commitments. We served our first parish for seven years, followed by ten years in our second parish and twenty-five years in our third pastorate. I learned both the art of long-term service and the art of short-term work.

Those experiences have been important to me as I learn a new art - the art of retirement. Before I retired, I didn’t think much about what it would mean. I looked forward to having more control of my schedule. I thought we would travel a bit. Perhaps I would focus on my writing. I’ve always had writing a book as a goal, but I’ve never written one. Retirement might allow me to collect my journal entries and edit some of them into a collection of essays. Perhaps I might try my hand at writing fiction and poetry. There were some trips we wanted to take that take more time than is possible when we were serving a congregation full-time.

The first year of retirement was full of activities. We prepared our home for sale and moved our household 1300 miles. We did our own moving with a great deal of assistance from friends. We planned a large road trip and after our first year we camped our way across the country from Washington to South Carolina and back. As soon as we returned from that trip, we went back to work half time, job sharing a single full-time position. When we became Interim Ministers of Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Bellingham, we knew that our time of service would be 18 - 24 months. At the time, I thought that it was a pretty big commitment. I was a bit uncertain about going back to work with only two weeks of vacation each year, but it was a time of transition for us. In the first three months of working at the new half-time position we purchased a home and moved from our rental. Once again we did the moving ourselves, employing some part-time help to load and unload furniture from the truck.

The 24 months was over yesterday. We had our exit interviews, packed up our office, and came home from work. I haven’t lined up another job. People have been asking me what I’m going to do in retirement. I have made some vague comments about travel - and we do intend to travel, but we don’t have any big trips planned right away. We wanted to take a few weeks to rest and catch up with a list of tasks. I’ve got projects around the house and over at our son’s farm that I’ve put off waiting for some larger blocks of time to focus. We want to visit family and go camping with our grandchildren. We want to drive the North Cascades loop and pick some fresh fruit from the other side of the mountains. Crabbing season starts in a couple of weeks and I want to learn more about foraging for food in our new location. I’ve got a long list of activities.

But I don’t have a job. At least not right now.

When I was young, I didn’t mind short-term jobs. There were lots of things that I did for a few months and then moved on to another job. The lifestyle fit me well as a student. I could always find something that provided a bit of income and meaning. I find, however, that at this phase of my life, discovering the next job is different.

One of the things I said at my exit interview was that I surprised myself with this Interim position. I expected that I would be happy to complete the job. What I found, however, was that I kept wanting it to go on. I could imagine myself doing this job for many more years. What I said in the interview was that I thought I could continue for a decade. However, the needs of the church are different and it was time for us to end this job.

For now, when people ask, “What is next?” I respond by saying, “I’m not sure.” I suspect they are thinking about retirement activities. I know I am thinking about where there might be another part-time job as a minister. There isn’t one on the horizon at the moment, but I’m going to keep my eyes open and my ears to the conversations of my colleagues.

You never know what might turn up.

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