Front porch fun


I’m not a big sports fan. I do follow Chicago Cubs baseball, a remnant from having lived in Chicago for four years during graduate school. I often comment that being a Cubs fan is all about love for the game. A team that has only won the World Series once in my lifetime (2016) and only two other times (1907 and 1908) doesn’t inspire its fans with a lot of spectacular victories. A solid double play can keep Cubs fans going for an entire season. What I do like about sports and where I become a fan, is when I know some of the players. My favorite times of watching sports have been games where members of our church youth groups have played. I’ve cheered at hockey, baseball, basketball, volleyball, football and soccer when I knew the players.

During my high school and college years, I attended a lot of sports events because I was a member of the pep and marching bands. My athleticism was limited to a single trampoline demonstration at the half time of a football game - something that I definitely would not be able to repeat these days.

So our children grew up slightly culturally deprived, not having been raised with any team loyalties or passion for games. Our daughter, however, has made up for it with her loyalty to the teams that her husband supports. And he was raised in a tradition of fan loyalty. In his family football means New York Giants football and he and his father and uncles all follow Washington Nationals Baseball with great passion. The Nats, by the way, lost by two to the Atlanta Braves yesterday. Seriously, guys, you had 10 hits to the Braves’ 11. You could have won. Only 3 runs to the 5 Braves runs. Your two errors explain the entire game.

I am, however, currently a big fan of preschool soccer. Yesterday was just a practice day, but I was completely entertained by those three- and four-year-olds learning to dribble their balls, stay inside of the boundaries, and go for the goals. And I must brag that our grandson does show some natural talent. I was proud of the way he listened to the coach and followed instructions. I was delighted at his cheers and applause for each goal scored by both sides of the scrimmage.

It was a great way to spend part of a Saturday morning in South Carolina. It is just one of the privileges of being included in our daughter’s family for the brief time of our visit. And I heard a new name for myself when one of the pint-sized soccer players called me “Mr. Papa.” He heard our grandson call me Papa, and assumed that since that was my name, he should add a title because he is a southern gentleman. I don’t mind being “Mr. Papa.” I kind of like it.

In the early evening our daughter’s neighborhood showed off for us with a gathering of neighbors. One neighbor is being deployed and will be serving overseas for six months, so others needed to say good bye and wish her well. And even though our daughter’s 40th birthday was a couple of weeks ago and her neighbors had wished her will on her day, we weren’t present and wanted to have a bit of a party with our grandson for his mother. After all, since she was adopted into our family when she was nearly a month old, we’ve always been a bit behind with her birthdays, and the month after her actual birthday has always been a time of wonderful memory for us.

One fun part of the informal gathering was that it took place in the front yard. Although our daughter’s family has a fun backyard for children with a trampoline and a climbing structure with swings, the gathering started with kids and bicycles in the driveway and soon moved on to chalk art and stomp rockets and games of hide and seek. Adults carried over folding chairs from their homes and sat around visiting. Our son-in-law had been cooking pulled pork all day in his smoker and rushed off to get hot dogs for the kids when he found out that my wife had baked cupcakes and invited the neighbors over. A few bags of chips came out and everyone had a good time just enjoying being together. We were swept up into the friendliness with lots of conversation about home places and activities enjoyed.

Years ago, when we formed a coalition of organizations to provide suicide awareness and eduction and actively work for prevention of suicide in our community, we chose the name “Front Porch Coalition” after considering several different possibilities. Our idea was that we needed to bring talk of suicide out of the back rooms and private places onto the front porch and public places. We worked hard to change the tone of conversation as we raised awareness and education and invested a lot in trying to prevent suicide. We also became skilled at responding to suicides when they were completed and providing ongoing support to surviving family members. I have loved the name that was chosen. I am proud of the work that we did when I was an active part of the Front Porch Coalition and I’m honored to have served on the board and in several other capacities as a part of the organization.

As a result, I am happy with the front porch nature of the neighborhood where our daughter and her family live. I love the fact that she knows the names of all of the kids who live on their street and I love the fact that the kids in the neighborhood all get out their bikes when one of them starts to ride. I love the fact that a plate of cupcakes attracts all of the kids in the neighborhood and that some of them bring their parents along. I love being included in the informal front porch gatherings. It may be partly the result of southern charm, but it certainly has been extended to us northerners who are here briefly for a visit.

It is a blessing to feel good about the place where your daughter lives and to witness how skilled she is at making friends and building community.

A different culture

Traveling from northwest Washington to central South Carolina is almost as far as one can go within the lower 48 states of the US. Of course, Florida is farther South, and Alaska is farther northeast, but the two places are far enough apart that one notices quite a bit of difference in the culture. Even the names of the places are enough different for us to notice. Both the town where we live and the town where our daughter lives are small enough to be considered to be “out in the country” by those who live in cities. Both are not incorporated, but rather what are called “census-designated places.” It means that there are enough people clustered in neighborhoods for the area to look like a village or town, but rural enough to not have a unique post office or municipal government. But the names are illustrative of the difference in culture. We live in Birch Bay - a name that describes the geography and fauna of our location. Our daughter lives in Dalzell - a name that could almost be a different language. To our ears the name sounds a bit exotic.

Many of our daughter and son-in-law’s friends are military and have been raised in other parts of the country and, like our daughter’s family, consider their sojourn in this place to be temporary. On the other hand they tend to live at their assignments for several years. They purchase homes and settle in before accepting new assignments and moving to a new place. Because their service demands that they move frequently they learn the ways of many different places over the course of a lifetime. Our son-in-law has had assignments in South Dakota, Korea, England, Missouri, and Japan before the current one in South Carolina. When you move that often to such different places you learn to settle in and adapt to the culture of the place where you live. You also take a bit of your heritage and culture with you as you travel.

The neighbors across the street are an example. The husband was born in South Dakota and raised in Minnesota. The wife was born and raised in Montana. Their children have experienced living in several different locations and will soon experience having their Air Force mother deployed overseas for six months while they stay in South Carolina. The accents in that household are familiar to us. We know the subtle differences between various midwestern accents and understand the western culture of Montana.

But we also have met people who are true southerners. The receptionist in our grandson’s school is a true South Carolina native with an accent to go with it. One of the clues for me is that people like us, who are visitors to South Carolina might pick up a few southern phrases like “Y’all.” However, when we use that phrase we use it as a plural. Y’all to us means “You all.” It is a reference to a group of people. However, southerners use it as a singular meaning “you.” When they want to refer to a group they say, “all y’all.” We haven’t spent enough time in the south to have that sound natural to our ears. To us it seems unnecessarily redundant. But to a true southerner, it is an important language distinction, but so natural that they don’t even think about it. It is just the way they talk.

The language difference I notice the most, however, is one that our daughter and grandson have adopted. People down here use titles. Everyone is Miss or Missus or Mr. For the most part our grandson refers to all adults as either Miss or Mr. Generally he uses the first name with the title. “Miss Rachel,” or “Miss Catherine,” or “Mr. Paul.” The locals all use titles in a similar manner, using the surname in more formal settings and the first name in more casual conversations. But titles are almost always used when referring to someone else and often in general greetings and conversation.

I think that northwest Washington is a place where titles are pretty much eschewed. I have friends who are university professors with doctoral degrees. Perhaps some of their students refer to them as Dr. on campus, but they never introduce themselves with their title and it definitely isn’t used at church or in other community settings. To folks in our church, I’m simply “Ted.” It is natural and comfortable and the way I like it. I don’t need a title like, Rev. or Dr. or the very formal combination Rev. Dr. I have friends who probably don’t even know that I have doctorate and it simply doesn’t matter to our relationship. We almost never use the titles Miss, Ms, Mrs, or Mr.

So when we make the trip across the country, we hear references and addresses that are unfamiliar and make us stop and think. We try to use the titles that are used by others and we want our grandson to use language that is considered to be polite and respectful, so we try to model in our references to his teachers and the adults in their neighborhood.

I’m not sure if it is a cultural phenomenon of the south or part of the nature of a military community, but the neighborhood where our family lives is a very friendly place. When we go for a walk, nearly everyone who is outside as we walk by greets us. We pause for conversation multiple times just walking around the block. Everyone wants to know our names and gives us a warm handshake. Everyone knows the name of our grandson and wants to know how we are related to him. I have neighbors at home in Washington whose names I do not know and whom I’ve never had a conversation more significant than a simple “hello.” Of course we do have neighbors that we have met and with whom we’ve had more substantial conversations, but I can take a walk around our neighborhood without talking to any other person. Part of the difference is that people spend more time outside here than in the northwest. There is a difference in the weather.

The differences are part of the joy of traveling and one of the treasures of having a daughter and grandson who are at home in many different places as they move around the world with grace and ease. We are fortunate to be able to visit them wherever they roam.

Play days

The weather here in South Carolina is quite like summer for someone like me who has lived most of his life in northern climes. Although it was pretty cloudy most of the day, the temperatures were in the seventies and it was comfortable to be outside without a jacket. And I played like a kid on summer vacation yesterday. Let’s see. I jumped on the trampoline, swung in the swings, dug in the sandbox, played soccer, had a rousing round of hide and seek, and rode bicycles around the neighborhood including a couple of good bicycle races. I also got to go to a park and stopped for ice cream on the way home. All of that was just in the afternoon because it isn’t summer here, it is autumn and our four-year-old grandson had school yesterday. He attends a half day preschool program in the mornings and comes home for the afternoons. He no longer takes naps as his busy life requires that he get a good night’s sleep and his parents have discovered that if he naps, he tends to have trouble settling down to sleep at bedtime. For him, it is pretty much full steam ahead all day long. I have to confess that his grandfather took a nap yesterday and report that he had no trouble falling asleep at bedtime.

The interesting thing to me is that even though my day had lots of fun and physical activity, my watch, which doubles as a fitness tracker, reported that I was not keeping up with my usual level of activity. We were so busy that I never did go for a walk yesterday, and we are used to walking at least a couple of miles. In fact, I had to have a workout on the stationary bicycle in the evening to meet my fitness goal for the day.

All in all, however, we are having a wonderful time in South Carolina. Being a northerner, I am charmed by the local accent and thought it delightful when the receptionist at our grandson’s preschool called me “Patrick’s granddaddy.” I’d forgotten what it is like to be called “honey” by a clerk in a store that I had never previously met. And I beamed a bit when our grandson’s friend called me “Poppa,” which is what our grandson calls me, and our grandson pointed his finger at him and said, “He’s MY Poppa!” The friend had assumed that Poppa was my name, but our grandson saw it differently.

There is such joy in being a grandfather. I think that I imagined it would be fun long before I became a grandfather. When we were newly wed, before we had children of our own, I used to say that when I get old I wanted to make toys and play with my grandchildren. And in the wonderful way that aging works, it seems like it didn’t take long at all and now I am that age. I haven’t really become a toy maker, though I’ve crafted a few things. Among the projects we’ll do in the next few days is a trip to the hardware store to buy a few PVC pipe fittings to glue together to make an “escape slide” for a house that our grandson uses to play with some of his action figures. I know the name of some of those figures, but am sure to become even more familiar with them in the days to come by playing with our grandson, who corrects me if I place the wrong item in the hands of a figure and who has already informed me, “Papa, the new Mask video comes out on Friday.” And today is Friday, so we’ll be attending a matinee of that movie this afternoon. I’m pretty sure it will involve munching theater popcorn with our grandson.

I suppose I’ll have to be careful with my diet. I don’t think I did a very good job keeping track of calories yesterday, with hot dogs for lunch, a trip to the ice cream store, and pasta for dinner. It was all very good and tasty, but I know I need to be careful about calorie intake. That is another part of being the age that I am. I don’t lose weight as easily as I did a few decades ago.

The bottom line, however, is that I’ve got it pretty good. I’m enjoying South Carolina weather in a season that is more to my liking than the hot an humid summers around here. And I know that before long I’ll be returning to the north where I not only will experience a climate that is more to what I am used, I’ll also get to have regular time with four more grandchildren. It is a good thing to be retired so that my schedule gives me time to play.

Of course a grandfather doesn’t have energy to keep up with his grandchildren all the time. Our grandson did have to wait and play quietly while his Poppa took a nap yesterday. And I know it was a challenge for him because he came to get me after I had been lying down for a while. And I could feel the burn in my legs when we were racing bicycles. As a four-year-old who has mastered a two-wheel bike, he is considerably faster than when he was using his strider bike that had no pedals. Even with the advantage of the bigger wheels and a bike with several speeds, I had to work a bit to keep up even though I probably used a bit of grandpa sense to come in just behind the grandson in each race.

To add to my joy, I have the best story-reading, game-playing, hide and seek counting grandmother for a partner. Double teaming a four-year-old is a good strategy for us. We enjoyed it when our children were preschoolers and we enjoy it with our grandchildren. And, in addition, our daughter and her husband provide all the backup we need with other tasks of everyday life.

I went to bed last night with lots of fun memories and I rise this morning eager for the adventures of a new day. I feel like a kid again and that’s a good feeling.

A sad reality

I have live a life with a great deal of privilege. I have avoided some of the problems and challenges that others have had to endure. One of the privileges of my life is that I have been able to live with very little fear. I have lived in peaceful places without war for all of my life. There are many people in the world who have had to live with terror and fear caused by dangerous conflicts. War creates many innocent victims. The weapons of war are imprecise and people living war zones have to adjust to the possibility that death and destruction are close at hand. For me the wars of this world have always been in distant locations.

I recently commented to a colleague that I have been able to go places and do things without a lot of fear in my life. When I lived in Rapid City, I would accompany law enforcement officers all around the city at all hours of the day and night and never felt fear. Sometimes people would ask me, “Weren’t you afraid to go there at night?” For me, there were no particularly dangerous places in the place that was my home. Of course I often was in the company of armed officers, but I never was in a situation where I was personally threatened.

I know that the privilege of being able to live with very little fear is a luxury not known by many others in my community. One out of every 6 women in the United States has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. The simple fact that I am male means that I have been able to live without the fear that is present in the lives of all women in our country. I am of the demographic that is not perceived by law enforcement officers to be dangerous. The color of my skin and my language skills mean that I am far less likely to be the victim of police violence than persons of color. I am much less likely to be pulled over by an officer in a routine traffic stop than Native American or African American drivers.

The list of the privileges i have enjoyed in this life goes on and on. I begin today’s journal entry with these observations because what I have to say might be perceived to be a complaint. I don’t mean to complain about my personal experience. I am not a victim. I am a very fortunate person. Still, there are dynamics in our society today that seem to me to be unfortunate and that occasionally make me sad.

Parents are right to be fearful of strangers and their children. There are too many stories of children falling victim to dangerous folk. And unlike other areas of my life, I belong to the demographic of people who have abused children. Older white males are more likely to be pedophiles and harm children than others. Parents are wise to caution their children about the danger of talking to strangers. I understand that. But sometimes it makes me sad.

One of the delights of our travel day yesterday was observing children who are traveling with their families. As we waited for our first flight in the morning, there were several children a group not far from where we were sitting. One little one had been brought to the airport in her pajamas and was obviously still tired. She laid on the floor for a while as they waited. However, before long another family with children appeared and it was obvious that the two families were familiar with each other. Soon two little girls were laughing, hugging, and playing. After a few minutes, I saw at least two babies in their mother’s arms and four or five preschool children, all traveling.

The flight we were boarding would be along one, taking more than four hours to fly from Seattle Washington to Washington DC. The children were going on a grand adventure. I shared some of their excitement. I wanted to tell their parents how well behaved the children were. I wanted to tell the children that their excitement was shared by other travelers. I wanted them to have a wonderful experience. But I knew that it would be threatening to the parents and possibly to the children if I were to talk to them. I knew that the right thing was to remain in my seat and watch with a smile on my face. I didn’t want to do things that would be threatening to the children.

As we walked down the jetway on one of our flights yesterday, Susan struck up a conversation with a child who was traveling with a man I assume was her father. She had carried her own boarding pass and had held it under the scanner as they prepared to board. Susan commented on how responsible she had been. The child smiled at the compliment. I enjoyed watching the conversation, but I also knew that I would not have been able to have one like that with a child that I did not know and whose parents had no way of trusting me. I need to keep my distance.

I wish I could simply be natural with the children I meet. They add so much to the quality of my life, but I know that their safety demands that I keep my distance. I know that I could easily make a child or a parent fearful if I approach or initiate a conversation. And it makes me sad, partly for myself because of what I experience as missed opportunity. Mostly, however, it makes me sad that we live in a society where children are put at risk. We live in a world where people, some of whom look like me, take advantage of children and cause them harm. I would prefer to live in a society where children are always protected and never at risk. Because of my wish for the safety of all children, I need to be careful about how I appear to children and their parents. I can still watch children and I can wave back if they wave at me. I can smile and I can tell parents that their children are well behaved, but there is a distance that is important to maintain.

It is, I know, a small complaint. I am a very privileged person. And I can use that privilege to do what I can to protect children so that they can live and grow and experience the world without fear.


Today we are flying to South Carolina. Our flight from Seattle leaves at 8 am and we arrive in Charleston, SC a little bit before 7 pm. We have a one hour layover in Washington DC. Of course those times are local times. When it is 8 am in Seattle, it is 11 am in South Carolina. We will make the trip of nearly 3,000 miles in about 8 hours elapsed time, including the one hour layover. That is enough to impress me even after years of riding in airplanes and flying to many distant places.

In 2020 we drove to South Carolina. We took a week to get there and most days we drove for more than eight hours. I have read, however, that our carbon footprint will be larger flying on commercial airlines than it was driving our diesel pickup pulling a 25’ camping trailer. I haven’t checked it, and I am not an expert, but travel is one of the big consumers of fossil fuels and the overconsumption of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming. Our planet is in the midst of a climate crisis due in part to our penchant for fast, convenient travel.

One thing that is striking about this situation is that those who are most at risk due to the change in the earth’s atmosphere are among the poorest people on the planet. They are not the ones who have been doing all the traveling. And those of us who do travel often have the luxury of not having to endure much discomfort due to our behavior.

Several major studies have shown that those who are most at risk to airborne pollutants are far more likely to be racial minorities and impoverished. Most at risk are young children and older adults.

We have some awareness of the consequences of the choices we make. We decided to fly on this trip in order to save time and energy. Even with relatively expensive airline tickets it remains the least expensive way to make a long cross-country trip like we have planned for today. And as passengers, the trip is fairly relaxing.

On the other hand, in order to get the inexpensive airline tickets we did have to agree to fly out of SeaTac Airport. SeaTac is becoming renowned for its long lines at airport security. The facility was simply not built to accommodate the combination of increased airline security and increased numbers of the public flying out of the airport. One time when we took our daughter and grandson to the airport they barely made their departing flight despite the fact that they were standing in line for security a full two hours before their flight departed. When we told that story to a friend, the friend reported a similar frustration of waiting in line for three hours before getting through security.

There has to be a better way of screening passengers and assuring safety. However, at least so far no one had suggested that better way to the authorities who could make changes.

There are a couple of ways to get around the long lines. One is TSA pre pass which allows travelers to obtain a pre-screening and then pass through an expedited line at the airport. Another is a commercial service called CLEAR that allows passengers to pre-register and get screened so they can go through the expedited lanes at security. CLEAR has an annual fee that is quite expensive for occasional travelers like us. It might, however, make sense for business travelers. However, we bought a package deal on motel stays and parking at SeaTac because of our early departure and a late night arrival upon our return. We live a minimum of two hours from SeaTac and with traffic it often takes 3 or more hours to make the trip one way.

So we’ll be giving CLEAR a try. The problem is that we don’t know for sure how much, if any, time it will save us. That means that we probably will plan to arrive at the airport at least two hours before our flight just to make sure that everything works out OK. That adds a bit more to the elapsed time for the day. Also the elapsed time mentioned earlier in this post does not account for the time elapsed between leaving our home and arriving at our daughter’s home. We are flying into an airport that is a hour from their home and if we had decided to drive to the airport this morning that would be another 3 hours. That would be at least a 12 hour day.

Still, we can get to our daughter’s home in a single day, which is impressive to us.

We don’t know what the future will bring in terms of travel for us. For now we can afford to make trips to visit our daughter and her family. We’ll be able to travel more as we ease into our aging years if we fly. We will get to the point where driving is too stressful for us. We are already making a concession to our age by staying over in the motel at both ends of this trip. I’m quite confident that we will make multiple trips each year to see our daughter and her family, at least for the foreseeable future. But we know that the day will come when we will be dependent upon them coming to us in order to see them. As we age, we are less skilled at travel than once was the case for us.

It seems to us that the investment of time and energy in traveling helps strengthen the relationships that will yield visits from family as we grow older. At least that is what we hope. And as a bonus we get the fun of traveling by airliner. Despite frustrations with the whole passenger screening process, the aging fleet of aircraft in service years beyond their original design limits, and the challenges of jet lag and time zone changes, we are happy to be making the trip today. It is time. We’re so eager to see our South Carolina family face to face. For that we’ll endure a bit of discomfort even if it makes no sense at all to us.

Investing in the future


One of the gifts of growing older is that I have become more aware of my own mortality. I have known intellectually that all human beings die for all or most of my adult life, but there is something about being in my 70s that has made me more emotionally aware that I have more years behind me than ahead. This reality is not troubling for me. In ways, I think I am less afraid of my own death than was the case when I was younger. Knowing that I will one day die has not made me less interested in the future. I am excited and eager to invest in things that I know will last beyond the span of my time on this earth. I enjoy planting trees and thinking about things that will outlive me. I enjoy my time working with children and imagining their future that will play out in a timeframe that likely extends farther into the future than mine.

A gift of this awareness is that I am less likely to see possessions as mine alone and more likely to think about how the decisions I make today have an impact on tomorrow. I am less interested in acquiring material possessions. I am more likely to think of the things I “own” as things of which I am a temporary steward and which will pass to others at some point.

This is especially true of some of the investments and financial resources that we have. After our mother died, my sister and I served as trustees of a family trust. The asset of that trust was a piece of property in Montana. We managed that property for the benefit of our mother’s children and grandchildren. A couple of years ago, we decided that keeping the property was no longer in the best interests of those children and grandchildren. As our family grew and spread to other places, the majority of the heirs no longer had access to the property. Increasingly we were managing it for the benefit of a small percentage of those for whom the benefits of the property were intended. We made the decision to sell the property and distribute the financial assets to the beneficiaries. This would enable them to make independent decisions about the use of those assets and make present use of them for their lives.

Since I am one of the beneficiaries of a portion of the assets of the trust, I don’t view them as my possession solely. Rather, as our parents intended the property, they are an asset that is to be shared with future generations. My question is how do I invest those financial resources so that they are not just a benefit to me, but to those who come after me as well? This is made possible in part because we have been well treated by the congregations we have served who provided not only for our support when we were employed by them, but also invested in our retirement. We have the financial resources to meet our needs without having to consume all of the resources we have inherited. Of course there is no way of fully knowing what our future needs might be. Factors such as health can make a huge difference in what is needed.

While some of my siblings have chosen to invest the proceeds of the trust in homes, we have a beautiful home where we live.

We have, however, decided to make an investment in that home. I have been waiting to address this subject in my journal until the installation is complete, but yesterday installers completed the process of adding solar panels to our home. The system is not yet energized as we await final electrical inspection, installation of the net meter, and connection by the electrical utility company - events that will happen in the next few weeks.

The system is impressive - at least to me. It comprises of 30 solar panels installed on the roof of our home with micro inverters that convert the DC power of the panels into 240v ac energy. There are five zones in the system connected to produce 13.6 kW of power. The annual output of the system is projected to be approximately 130% of our current energy usage. The extra electricity will go to the utility company through a process of net metering which will reduce our annual electricity bill to the meter charge. Our panels will produce less than we consume during a few winter months when days are short in our part of the world, but will produce much more than we use for most of the year.

The reason for installing a system that produces more than current consumption is that it is part of a plan to eliminate the gas hot water heater and furnace that are currently installed in our home at some point in the future. The solar system is designed to produce energy for the items as well as energy for an anticipated electric vehicle charging system some time in the future.

It is unlikely that we will reap the financial benefits of this decision. We have projected that the system will take 20 to 25 years to cover the installation costs. We are unlikely to live in this home that long. And currently the installation of solar systems does not increase the value of private homes as much as the cost of their installations in our region. However, regardless of the direct financial benefit to us, this home has become less consumptive of a limited resource. No matter who owns the home and who reaps the benefit of not having to purchase electricity from the utility, this one house will be producing more energy than it consumes for the foreseeable future.

That should be a benefit not just to us but to all who inhabit this planet in the future. It is a small thing in the scheme of our global climate crisis, but it is at least a step in the right direction.

Please note: I will be traveling to South Carolina for the next couple of weeks. This shouldn’t affect my journal other than a difference in the time of day it is published as I will be three time zones to the East during our adventures.

Still using paper

Yesterday a friend presented me with the gift of a book when we met at church. It was a gracious and generous act and I was grateful. So, when I got home, I took a minute to sit down and write a thank you note. I put the note in an envelope, addressed the envelope, and put a stamp on it. This morning, I’ll take the envelope to the bank of mailboxes down the street from our house where it will slide into a slot to be collected by the letter carrier. It will be taken to the post office where it will be placed with other pieces of mail heading to another post office. Sometime tomorrow or the next day it will be delivered to my friend’s home by another letter carrier.

The delivery of paper mail has been considered an essential governmental function since the founding of the United States. In addition to private correspondence, there are essential papers for business that travel in the form of paper. Last spring a trust for which I am a trustee sold a piece of property. The initial offer and counter offer were handled electronically. We e-signed documents to enter into a contract with a realtor, transact business with an attorney, and arrange for the transfer of funds. However, the law required that we provide what were called “wet signatures” on the actual deed for the property. The paper which we signed in ink before a notary was delivered by an overnight courier and is on file in the courthouse in the county where the property is located.

There are lots of places where electronic records are replacing paper records. One place of which I am aware is maps and charts for aviation. When I earned my pilot’s license we were required to have up to date paper maps of the area we were traveling in the airplane when we flew. The maps were dated and new maps were released at regular intervals that showed any new towers or other obstacles that had been constructed. They also showed the correct difference between magnetic north and true north for navigation purposes. Each time new charts were issued, we would purchase new charts for the areas we were traveling and replace the old, dated charts in the airplane. These days, pilots do not carry cases of paper charts as they move from airplane to airplane. Electronic devises store the information that used to be displayed on paper charts and display that information on screens that are a part of the airplane’s instruments and portable devices carried by pilots.

Paper navigation charts for boats and ships at sea are also being replaced with electronic versions, though in certain parts of the world the electronic charts begin as hand drawn charts that are scanned and made into electronic charts. The depiction of complex shorelines, the presence of piers and docks, changing sea levels, and other features that must be understood for safe navigation on the waters still requires a human touch and involves the use of paper.

In 2021, 96% of hospitals and 78% of physicians in the United States were found to use electronic health records. Despite the high use of electronic records, I frequently am required to fill out paper forms when I visit a doctor’s office. My family physician’s office asks patients to arrive 15 minutes before each visit for the purpose of updating records. The process involves filling out a form and answering questions on paper. That paper is given to a receptionist who enters the data into the computer. Each time the practice makes a change in the software used for digital records maintenance, there is a new round of paperwork that is used to confirm that the electronic data has been correctly transferred.

Each time I fill out a new form at a doctor’s office, I remember my mother. When she was in her eighties she was hospitalized for a short time. I was visiting her in the hospital when a nurse or clerk from the hospital came into her room with a paper form on a clipboard and began to ask her questions. The staff person started by asking routine questions including my mother’s name and birth date. My mother gave the answers and then added, “Honey, if you are having trouble remembering, I can write it down for you.” She had been asked those questions so many times by that same clerk that she was tiring of the repetition.

I read in a BBC article that Wikipedia, the giant online resource that is continually being updated and edited by people all around the world and accessed via smartphone and computer, has an emergency plan called the “Terminal Event Management Policy.” The policy includes procedures should there be some event in the future such as “imminent societal collapse” or “imminent extinction level event,” Wikipedia editors are to print out pages of the online encyclopedia for posterity. The policy assumes that there could be circumstances when paper would be more reliable than computer-based forms of memory.

Another example of the persistence of paper in commerce is the huge online retail company Amazon. It is one of the largest consumers of paper in the world. Most of the paper consumed by the company is in the form of cardboard boxes used to ship retail goods.

We speak of a paperless society, but have difficulty imagining it. In the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Disease,” Captain Kathryn Janeway reminds a crew member that the Starfleet’s handbook on personal relationships is three centimeters thick. The comments suggests that the handbook, in the year 2375, is printed on paper. The writers of the fictional story could imagine futuristic modes of travel beyond what may be physically possible, but they could not quite imagine a scenario in which the fleet of star ships could operate without paper manuals of some kind.

I’ve even been known to provide people with printed copies of my journal entries from time to time. And despite my deep respect for the value of old growth forests and work to help preserve natural places, I still treasure the smell and feel of a brand new book and enjoy coming home from the bookshop with a volume to keep. And, yes, I still write notes and mail them when I could send an email or text message. I also treasure the hand written notes I receive.

I’m not done with paper yet.


A lectionary is a cycle of readings of scripture for use in worship. The Protestant Reformation resulted in the development and growth of many Christian denominations that, once separated from the Roman Catholic Church, followed their own patterns and styles of worship. Among the rejection of certain parts of the worship of the Roman Church was a falling away from the use of lectionaries. Many Protestant congregations allowed clergy to choose their own readings. While this allowed for different parts of the Bible to be used in worship and for clergy to offer a wide variety of texts for interpretation, many clergy fell into the pattern of preaching on only a small set of texts and over the years many faithful worshipers became less familiar with the scope of the Bible, hearing only selected texts in worship.

Following the dramatic changes in worship brought about by the Second Vatican Council in 1962 - 1965, liturgical scholars of the Roman Catholic Church began the process of coming up with a new lectionary of readings for worship. In 1969, the Ordo Lectionem Missae was adopted by the Roman Catholic Church. It was a three-year cycle of readings for worship that offered four readings for each Sunday: A reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), a Psalm, a reading from the Epistles, and a reading from the Gospels. Year A focused on the Gospel of Matthew, Year B on Mark, and Year C on Luke. Readings from the Gospel of John were divided among all three years, with a slight emphasis on year A.

That same year, 1969, the Consultation on Common Texts was formed. This was a broader ecumenical gathering of scholars that included many denominations and Christian communions, including the United Church of Christ. This group has continued to meet to work on common ways of sharing scripture in worship ever since. In 1976, the Consultation on Common Texts published a psalter, or cycle of reading Psalms. In 1978, the year that I was ordained, the group took up the work of harmonizing various lectionaries currently in use and devising a calendar of readings. The Common Lectionary was published in 1983. This lectionary was updated in 1992 after nearly a decade of use and comment by many different congregations.

I began to follow the Common Lectionary as a guide to worship preparation in the mid 1980’s. I found its use to be meaningful for me because it allowed me to follow the scriptures in worship planning instead of adopting my own choices which had previously led me to be less than thorough in my choice of readings. I was growing in my skills as a preacher and working hard on developing a style of worship that was attentive to and led by the texts. When the Revised Common Lectionary was adopted, I began immediately to use it and to follow the cycle of readings. For the rest of my career I was immersed in the study of and preaching on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary. That meant that I preached my way through that three-year cycle nine full times and a bit more. I learned the cycle of readings and began to look forward to the seasons of the Christian year as they unfolded.

In 2005, the Consultation produced the Revised Common Lectionary of Daily Readings that provided weekday readings related to the Sunday readings of the Revised Common Lectionary. The daily readings expanded the range of Scripture for study and worship.

Living in that lectionary meant that every third year the readings of the Hebrew Scriptures took worshipers through the story of the Exodus from Egypt. I began to look forward to those readings and developing sermons that made connections between the daily lives of the members of the congregations I served and the story of liberation at the core of Hebrew tradition. There is a rich heritage of preaching on Exodus texts in the Protestant Church and I drew upon sermons from many different sources for inspiration for my own preaching.

It is that point in the cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary this year. Were I still preaching, I would be thinking of the story of the Israelites, having recently escaped slavery in Egypt, discovering manna and water in the wilderness. The Gospel for today is the story of the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20. Those texts are familiar to me and I naturally find connections between contemporary life and those texts.

However, a little over a year ago, while I was working as Minister of Faith Formation at First Congregational Church of Bellingham, that congregation adopted a different cycle of readings. The Narrative Lectionary was developed through the website It is a cycle of readings that began with a focus on Children’s Sunday School. It is a four-year cycle of readings offering a single text for each week and only offering readings for nine months of the year. While the intent of this lectionary was to provide a narrower focus for Christian Education, it has been adopted by many clergy for use as focus texts for worship. Our congregation embraced the Narrative Lectionary last year and is continuing with that focus this year. The lectionary, while not completely new to me, is not the cycle of texts upon which much of my career as a preacher was based. The emphasis on a single text and a cycle that does not continue in the summer, results in a much smaller set of readings, leaving out huge Biblical themes and stories. In addition, it is less closely connected to the flow of the liturgical year, visiting texts at different times of the year. It does give a small nod to Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter texts, but the flow of texts is much different than the cycle to which I have grown to expect.

Now that I am once again retired from congregational leadership, I find that I am retiring a bit from the Revised Common Lectionary. I don’t read the texts each week the same as I did when I was leading a congregation. For me retiring has involved a slight withdrawal from the pattern of study and reading. I am, however, finding it to be a bit disorienting. I miss the cycle. I find my personal study and reading to be out of sync with congregational worship. Hopefully this will lead to me seeing the scriptures freshly. I am surprised by texts in worship these days. I see certain texts differently. Maybe I’m not too old to learn new ways.

Still, there is a bit of nostalgia and longing for the familiar cycle of readings. I began my preparation for today with the reading of the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary and I’ll wait until I get to church to discover the focus for the congregation. The Spirit continues to move and God continues to create. New things are happening even in the life of an old preacher.

Following the law in Washington

When I earned my driver’s license as a teenager my idea of urban driving was a trip to Billings, Montana, a city that despite being Montana’s largest, had a population of just over 100,000 people at the time. Driving in Billings was a challenge for me because I had to navigate and drive in a city with one way streets. I successfully learned my way around and by the time I attended college in that town, I was no longer intimidated by its traffic.

I learned city driving when we moved to Chicago. My first trip driving in Chicago was when I made a trip to take our household possessions to a storage space in the apartment building where we would be living. I was driving a pickup truck with a topper with our goods in the back. I remember driving on a freeway into the heart of the city. I had been advised to listen to the radio for traffic advisories, so I had the radio tuned to a channel that featured traffic reports. That meant that I realized that I was driving into a traffic jam before I reached the stop and go traffic. However, I had no alternative route. I had studied the map and knew the route I had planned, but did not know what to do if I were to exit the freeway before the place I had memorized from the map. As a result I drove right into the slow traffic and waited until I was able to make my way to the exit I had planned. After four years of living in Chicago, two of which included commuting to an internship in the suburbs, I learned a lot about urban driving.

Since those days I’ve driven in and through a lot of large cities. Our son lived in Los Angeles briefly after graduating from college and I made a couple of trips that included driving in that city’s traffic. And these days we make an occasion trip to and through Seattle which, due to its location between the mountains and the sea has a lot of traffic crammed into a relatively small space. We live on the opposite side of the city from SeaTac Airport, so we occasionally have to drive through the city in order to pick up or take friends from or to the airport. Next week we plan to drive down to SeaTac to fly to South Carolina to visit our daughter. Although there are two airports with airline service between our home and SeaTac, the discounted tickets available if we flew to and from the major hub airport were incentive enough to get us to brave the traffic and pay for parking at a remote lot with airport shuttle service.

Since I’ll be making the trip with my wife of more than 50 years whom I love deeply, I’ll have to remember an important traffic rule here in Washington State. Each state of the United States has a few traffic laws that are unique to that state and one rule in the Revised Code of Washington that covers rules of the road doesn’t appear in the rules of any other state where I have lived. Of course driving rules apply to all who drive in the state regardless of the state where their driving license was issued, so I have been subject to this law every time I have driven in the state since the rule went into effect in 1979 even though I only recently became aware of the law. Here is the rule: In Washington, it is against the law to hug another person while driving a car. The code reads, “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle upon the highways of this state when such person has in his or her embrace another person which prevents the free and unhampered operation of such vehicle.” Violation of this rule is considered prima facie evidence of reckless driving.

I’m pretty sure it would be considered reckless driving in other states as well, though those states don’t specifically mention hugging someone while driving. I’ll be sure to remain in my own seat with my seatbelt fastened while insisting that my wife remain in her own seat with her seatbelt fastened as we drive through the city. As much as we are fond of each other and as much as we enjoy hugging, we haven’t had trouble restraining ourselves while driving in the past.

Fortunately for us we are familiar with the route to the airport and there are plenty of signs. We might even have the GPS in the car just in case we need to take an unanticipated detour. That’s quite a bit different from our fist trips together into and around Chicago when Susan would study the map and give directions as I drove the car. I quickly learned that it was much easier to get around the city if I had a good navigator and Susan is good with maps. These days people rely on GPS built into their cars or on their phones for navigation advice and it is generally more accurate in urban locations than in remote isolated locations. On a recent trip to Montana we discovered that we didn’t even have a paper map with us, a situation that we soon remedied. The State of Montana still provides free highway maps to residents and visitors.

Washington has a few other laws that one might keep in mind when living in or visiting our state. For example it is a misdemeanor to abandon a fridge, icebox or deep freezer that is at least one and a half cubic feet in size anywhere children can access it. That seems like a good law to me. Like refraining from hugging while driving it seems to be common sense, but I’ll keep it in mind.

It is also illegal to use a laser to intimidate or threaten someone in the Evergreen State. The only lasers I own are attached to tools. I have a compound mitre saw with a laser to indicate where the blade will cut and I also own a laser level that can be used to project a line on a wall. I’ll be sure not to use them to threaten someone else, though the thought never occurred to me that such might happen.

It is also illegal to put someone else’s name on a petition which is something else that never occurred to me to attempt.

And just in case you were wondering, in Washington only the owner of a carrier or racing pigeon can injure, kill, maim, trap or detain their bird. To knowingly do so to someone else’s carrier/racing pigeon is a Class 1 civil infraction. Just to play it on the safe side, I think I’ll refrain from injuring, killing, maiming, trapping or detaining any pigeons that I see.



One of the signs of autumn around here is that the beaches are covered in seaweed. On a bright sunny day the ocean doesn’t appear to be blue as is the case in summer, but has a gray color and sometimes looks brown. The water is murky and not clear. In the tidal creek that flows into the bay not far from our home is clogged. For most of the year we can see the bottom of the creek, but not right now. All around the edges of the water are mounds of green seaweed that turns black and sometimes purple as it dries. All of that seaweed brings with it an odor that is unique and a bit unpleasant. It isn’t strong enough to keep us from venturing to the beach, but we have had to learn to be careful walking on the seaweed, which is very slippery when wet and quite spongy when dried. We know from the past two winters that before too long there will be high tides that crash on the beaches and carry away the seaweed.

Seaweed is not a single plant, but a large group of plants that grow underwater in the ocean. Some of the different plants are easier than others to identify. Bullwhip Kelp looks like its namesake, with long “ropes” that have bulbous ends. But I don’t have the educated eye to distinguish between other types of seaweed. There is ribbon kelp and forked kelp, rockweed, and nori. Some of the plants are indigenous to our region and have been growing in the region for centuries. The Coast Salish people have lived in this region since time immemorial and have harvested all kinds of food from the inlets, bays and beaches of the region. In addition to harvesting shellfish like Geoducks, clams, oysters, scallops, muscles, squids, octopus, shrimp, and crabs, they fished for salmon and rock fish and also harvested some of the marine mammals.

Like harvesting fish and shellfish, harvesting seaweed requires a license from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. A single license covers both shellfish and seaweeds. However, it takes more than a license to gather edible seaweed. One also has to have knowledge of the plants of the ocean and how to prepare and eat them.

In recent years I have been practicing making sushi and have learned a few techniques for making the delicious rolls. Our visits to Japan encouraged me to learn more about preparing rice with just the right consistency and rolling ingredients in Nori. Since moving to this area, I have tried to be very consistent about using fresh local and sustainably harvested fish in my sushi. There is an excellent Lummi Seafood Market near our home where I can be sure that what I am purchasing is fresh and has been harvested with special care to respect the environment and provide for the future. However, most of the nori I use in making sushi is imported from Japan.

I wish I knew enough to harvest nori myself. I certainly don’t want to eat the seaweed that is washing up on the beach with autumn tides, and that needs to be cleaned from my kayak and paddle each time I venture out into the bay. It doesn’t make sense to me to be consuming food that has been flown in from Japan, even lightweight food like nori, when the same food is available locally.

I have read a bit about the Hijiki Sargassum that can be found on the beaches of Whatcom County. Unlike some of the seaweeds that have broad leaves, what is most noticeable about the Sargassum that entangles my paddle and washes up on the rocks are the stems that are long and stringy, as one might imagine a mermaid’s locks. The stalks can grow to three feet in length and turn brown when washed up on the shore.

The name Sargassum conjures images of ancient myths about sailing ships engulfed in floating seaweed. The plants that can be found here, however, are a different species from those found in the Sargasso Sea. The plants around here are actually an invasive weed. In the early 1900s settlers who had over harvested shellfish imported Pacific oysters in coastal waters. Riding on the shells of the imported oysters was Sargassum. The plants were first documented to be thriving in Washington waters in the 1950s and by the end of the 20th Century Sargassum inhabited over a third of the shoreline in our county. It is sometimes included in the category of bullwhip kelp, sugar wrack, rockweed, and other brown algae. Like many other types of seaweed, autumn bring the end of the active growing season and fronds die off in September. Sargassum fronds have fertilized eggs stuck to the parent fronds that fall off as the parent plants are washed towards the shore, establishing holdfasts that over-winter. The following March rapid growth resumes. Sargassum reproduces so quickly that it reduces the amount of native algae in local water because it shades other plants from the sunlight needed for them to grow.

I have yet to find anything about efforts to control the growth or spread of Sargassum. Our region is home to several invasive weeds on land. Himalayan Blackberries are omnipresent in our region. Almost any place where plants are allowed to grow without control is soon covered in the thorny vines with their delicious berries. Our neighbor to the north has a corner of their yard that is completely given over to the plants and they grow so fast that I have to trim the canes sneaking over and through the fence every time I mow the lawn. Sometimes a cane will grow three feet or more in a week. Another imported plant that thrives on land is English Ivy. The parks department trains and employs volunteers to cut back the ivy vines that can kill trees if left to grow unchecked. But I have not yet learned of similar efforts to control invasive aquatic plants.

Seaweed is just another example of the long list of things about our new home that I need to learn. Living in a new place involves a lot of learning and I’ve only begun to explore all that there is to learn. Furthermore, I’m not all that fond of weeding in our garden, so suspect that I might be less than disciplined about weeding the waters, even though I imagine it might involve paddling a kayak. In the meantime, as I continue to figure things out, I’ll be eating imported nori, purchased at the grocery store until I discover a safe and sustainable way to harvest it myself.

Rain's a coming

We’ve enjoyed a few very pleasant days lately. The sun is warm and the sky has been nearly cloudless. That is a new term for me because I have lived much of my life in places where cloudless skies are common. People around here don’t look for the skies to be completely free from clouds. If it is sunny where they are, they consider it to be clear skies. We have, however, been experiencing dryer weather than typical. Daytime highs have been in the mid-sixties. It was spitting a few raindrops when we were walking one day earlier this week, but yesterday’s walk was delightful.

What we have noticed is that the days are getting shorter. With the equinox coming tomorrow, this is normal. We are, however, adjusting to the simple fact that the change in the length of days is more dramatic in our new home. The difference in the length of days in winter and summer is greater and change occurs at a more rapid pace than other places where we have lived. Within a month we will have lived in this house for two years which is a significant milestone. The years seem to go by quickly, however, and in many years it feels like we just arrived.

Our weather, however, is about to change. According to the forecasts a strong weather system is heading our way. Rain is expected to settle in by Sunday evening and continue through next week. Forecasters are calling for 100% chance of rain next Tuesday with the possibility of more than half an inch. Several days of moderate to heavy rain with higher amounts in the mountains is not an unusual forecast for this time of year around here. We are, however, newcomers and we still aren’t used to the weather patterns in this place.

When we decided to move here, we were a bit concerned about the short days and rainy weather. We have had the luxury of living in places with plenty of sunshine even in winter and know that the gray skies can become oppressive. I have not experienced the weather around here as a problem, however. I thought that I would miss the snow more than I do. Once we got good rain gear to wear on rainy days and good waterproof shoes, I haven’t found that the weather disrupts my lifestyle that much.

Like the other places we have lived, the weather is a common topic of conversation. Long-term residents of this area report wonderful summers filled with lots of opportunities for outdoor activities and long winters that inspire multiple trips to the library. I haven’t ever been someone who is kept indoors by the weather. I rather enjoyed getting out in the snow when we lived in the Dakotas. I tend to go outdoors even when it is raining around here.

One difference that I have noticed is that lawn mowing season is quite different around here. Our lawn is just emerging from dormancy right now. I mowed it this week, but hadn’t mowed it for a month previously. When the rains come, I’ll be back to needing to mow my grass every week and even more often. We’re planning a trip starting next week and I expect that when we return, my lawn will really need to be mowed. Then lawn mowing will continue through much of the winter. That isn’t the way is is in the other places where we have lived. In South Dakota, mid-September was usually the last time to mow the lawn for the year, though there were years when I mowed a bit into October. Then I could put away the mower for the winter. Of course I had to get out the snowblower, so I kept in practice with various kinds of outdoor work. There is no need for a snowblower here, but I have had to learn to mow the lawn in the winter. So far, however, I haven’t succumbed to the fate of the professional lawn care experts and some of my neighbors of mowing in the rain.

Even in this northern location, with short days in the winter, solar panels on the roof of a typical home can produce enough electricity to supply that home. A solar system works well with the net metering that is available. In the summer, when the panels are producing more than is being consumed, a homeowner gains credit with the power company that is used to purchase electricity during winter months when consumption is higher than production. We have several friends whose solar systems result in power bills that are only the minimum charge for having an active electric meter. This has got me to thinking about how it works to tap solar energy in places that are even farther north than our home. Theoretically, a lot of energy could be produced in places where the sun stays up most of the day. Storing that energy for use in the winter would, of course, be a challenge and wouldn’t work as the only energy source for an off-grid home with today’s technology. There is still much to learn about energy as we turn away from energy sources that increase carbon pollution and contribute to climate change.

What is obvious, however, is that our choices about energy do affect the weather we experience. Global climate change is not some future threat, but rather a present reality. The increase in severe storms around the world is directly related to human activities. As our planet warms we will continue to experience conditions that have not previously been experienced by humans.

I guess the weather will remain a topic of conversation for the rest of my life. I’ll continue to consult the forecasts and try to make adjustments to be prepared for whatever weather comes. Next week it means we’ll be needing our rain jackets. The parka, however, is likely to stay in the closet for some time. And I’ll keep looking at the sky enjoying patches of blue whenever they come.


In the book The River Why by David James Duncan there is a line that I’ve quoted in several different wedding celebrations: “People often don’t know what they’re talking about but when they talk about love, they really don’t know what they’re talking about.” I would then go on to talk about love and specifically about the love of the couple marrying that day. I suspect, however, that Duncan is right and that I don’t really know what I’m talking about. However, I did build a career in part by talking about love. It is what preachers do.

Love isn’t the only thing that I’ve been known to talk about when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I’ve written in my journal on many occasions about topics where I lack much expertise. Today, I venture with a bit of caution and perhaps a caveat for readers. I am no expert on the topic of fashion. I don’t think other people should choose what to wear based on my comments or my opinions. I do, however, take responsibility for my own fashion choices good or bad.

I got to thinking about fashion recently while reading an article about the change in the dress code of the United States Senate. For many years, the Senate has strictly enforced its informal dress code for members, with men required to wear suits, ties and business attire on the Senate floor. Under the new rules, more relaxed gear will be allowed. Relaxed gear includes hoodies, sneakers and gym clothes. The article pointed out that some senators have pointed to John Fetterman of Pennsylvania as one who often pushes the limits on the dress code, wearing hoodies, shorts and baggy shirts. I’ve never been much for dress codes, and I can’t afford to dress up to Senate standards, so I don’t really have much of an opinion on the change in rules. I guess I don’t care.

What caught my attention, however, was a comment by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who told reporters “I can’t imagine that we’re going to be wearing jeans on the Senate floor anytime soon.” Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada, referring to criticism of Senator Fetterman said, “Let’s look at all the men who wear cowboy boots and gym shoes on the floor, so let’s not blame one person for this. There’s a lot of offenders.” Both of those remarks caught my attention. I’ve lived my life in the west where it is not uncommon to see men wearing blue jeans and boots with a tie and jacket. Although I didn’t wear jeans in the early years of my career, there were times later in my work life when I would wear a sport coat with a pair of clean jeans. I didn’t intend any disrespect. Furthermore, for most of my career I wore cowboy boots when I was dressed up, including Sundays when I was leading worship wearing a clerical robe. I’m not a tall guy and I’m a bit shorter than my wife. I wore cowboy boots in part to make myself appear a bit taller. And when I traveled East for meetings I didn’t want people to think that I was from the East. A good pair of boots can be polished and look pretty sharp with formal attire. I once officiated at a very formal wedding where the groom and his attendants were all wearing rented tuxedoes. They were also all wearing shiny black cowboy boots. And I have officiated at many funerals for cowboys where western clothing including cowboy boots and hats were the norm. I own a white Stetson that I’ve worn to the funerals of ranchers and farmers. There is no disrespect intended in wearing western wear.

Also, I have to point out that Senator Rosen needs to work on her grammar. “a lot of offenders” is plural. The correct way to express what she meant to say is “There are a lot of offenders,” not “There’s a lot of offenders.” I’m just saying that if you want to enforce your sense of fashion, be prepared for me to try to enforce my sense of good grammar. Furthermore, and I realize this is being petty and that I am no fashion expert, I don’t see a “Barbie power pink suit” as being particularly respectful of decorum. It is, in my opinion, a poor choice of dress for a formal meeting.

I’m pretty sure that Rosen was also intending to include Senator Jon Tester of Montana in her comments. Tester is a farmer who wears cowboy boots most of the time, whether working on his farm or walking the halls of the Senate. He doesn’t wear the same pair of boots for both jobs, however. Like I did when I was dressing to lead worship, he has a nice pair of boots that are kept polished for more formal occasions.

Here in my newly adopted home in northwestern Washington I notice a lot of people who dress casually. When I wear a tie to church, I am almost always the only one wearing a tie. I have never seen one of the pastors of the church wearing a tie and that pastor frequently wears jeans when leading worship. There is no dress code at our church, but it seems that casual dress is preferred.

Then again I wouldn’t wear a track suit to go grocery shopping. I often see people wearing very casual clothes at the grocery store and frequently am struck that folks go out in public wearing clothes that I would never wear in public. I probably wouldn’t wear many of those clothes in private, either.

For my part, I don’t see a need for any set of hard rules about fashion. Fashion is, after all, specific to culture. A suit and tie is a poor choice if one wants to blend in at a ceremony on the Cheyenne River reservation or in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, or a Tibetan village. There are a lot of places in the world where people dress formally without looking like they are going to a gathering of the United States Senate. As our nation becomes more multi-cultural it makes sense to widen our sense of acceptable fashion.

On the other hands, I can’t help myself from snickering at some of the choices people make about what to wear to the grocery store.

Appliance woes

In the early 1950’s, Susan’s father was briefly in the home appliance business in a small town in North Dakota. At that time, which was fairly early in their marriage. He and his wife purchased a refrigerator for their home. The subsequently made a move from North Dakota to Libby in Northwestern Montana and later from Libby to Billings. In Billings they lived for a while in one home and then moved to another home that they kept until after Susan’s mother died. With each move the refrigerator went with them. When we emptied that home in preparation for its sale at the end of her father’s life, that refrigerator was still going strong, keeping its temperatures cool and its freezer cold. I don’t know how long it kept going, but it worked faithfully for more than 50 years.

In 1995, we sold our home appliances except our washing machine and dryer with our home in Boise, Idaho. We purchased a house in Rapid City, South Dakota that didn’t have appliances and proceeded to shop for a new refrigerator and stove. When we sold that house 25 years later, the stove and refrigerator were still working well. I suspect that they are still going strong, but don’t know for sure.

A little less than 2 years ago we purchased the house where we now live. It came with a full set of appliances, including a washing machine and dryer. All of the appliances were touted in the advertisement for the home as “upgraded.” They all looked modern with stainless steel finishes. They weren’t, however, brand new. We later learned that the kitchen appliances might not all have been the same age, but the stove and refrigerator were probably around 15 years old. Last spring we replaced the stove. We did so in part because we wanted to make the change from a gas range to an electric one. The broiler in the stove was not working at the time we replaced it, but the part was fairly inexpensive and readily available.

Yesterday we went shopping for a new refrigerator. The one we purchased with this house is displaying an error code. There are two possible causes of the code that it is displaying. One of those possible causes can be remedied with a part that costs nearly $500 just for the part. The repair estimate is more than $700 if that is the cause. The other possible cause is something for which parts are no longer available. In shopping for repairs, I did discover where the refrigerator had been purchased and was informed by the dealership service department that the refrigerator had outlived its expected life by a couple of years. They did not recommend spending hundreds of dollars on repairs and suggested that repairing the current fault would not significantly extend the life of the machine, which was likely to have additional problems in the near future.

Since we are now going to purchase a new refrigerator, I have been doing as much research as I can. I discovered, for example, that the brand with the highest customer satisfaction is not on the list of brands with the lowest repair records as evaluated by appliance service professionals. Most popular brands of refrigerators have a rated life of 12 to 14 years. A couple of brands are rated to last a bit longer, up to 19 years. The only refrigerators with longer life expectancy are significantly more expensive, costing more than $10,000. We are not in the market for such a refrigerator.

The result is a lot of appliances that end up in landfills. And more and more are ending up that way each year because they simply do not last as long as appliances built years ago. While some of the components in old appliances can be recycled, there are lots of plastics in modern appliances that are not being recycled at this time. On the other hand, that refrigerator that Susan’s parents bought that lasted 50 years, used an ozone-depleting chemical that slowly leaked over the life of the machine and had to be recharged with more of that chemical at least once during its lifespan. It wasn’t what we would call “environmentally friendly.”

When we bought the refrigerator that lasted more than 25 years, it was of the first generation of household refrigerators that was not charged with dichlorodiflouromethane (Freon). It was, however, produced before the existence of Energy Star ratings. Over the span of its life it consumed a lot more electricity than modern appliances.

In our shopping we are trying to strike a balance of cost over the lifespan of the appliance, which does include the energy consumed, maintenance, and eventual replacement. While we have been able to do some research and shopping, we ended the day yesterday a bit overwhelmed with all of the options. Since our refrigerator is unlikely to fail catastrophically in the short run, we’re taking our time to make a decision about its replacement. However, the risk goes up with each passing day and it takes a while for the dealership to arrange delivery, so we won’t delay the decision very long. We have a freezer in our garage and a couple of ice chests available in case it fails completely. And because the machine is not controlling humidity properly, we are trying to eat up as much of the food stored in it to reduce the amount of food that needs to be cooled.

The technology exists to produce appliances that last, but the combination of price and the continuing demand for new features, lowers the incentive for that production. I don’t think we need a refrigerator that is connected to the Internet and communicates with our phones. I’m not sure that we need an ice maker and a cold water dispenser, though we’re probably going to end up with those features because that is the way refrigerators come these days.

I’m hoping that the dishwasher is good for a few more years. Trying to make a responsible decision is exhausting.

Not a sports fan

Our son completed his Masters of Library Science (MLS) degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When he was a student there, the Tar Heels won one of their six NCAA championships. For a short time, I was a bit of a fan of Tar Heel basketball. However, I have never been a huge sports fan. While I did have a UNC bumper sticker on my pickup when he was a student, that was three pickups ago and I don’t pay much attention to college sports.

A few years ago, I installed a receiver hitch under the front bumper of my pickup. The barn where we store our camper requires a tight turn to get the camper into the space and when the ground is saturated with water, the approach is a bit sketchy. Having a receiver in the front of the pickup improves my visibility and changes the turning radius when backing my trailer into the barn. (Or do you call it fronting, when it is hooked to the front of the pickup?)

In rummaging through my trailer hitch supplies I found a hitch receiver cover that has the UNC logo on it. I used to use that cover on the rear receiver of another pickup years ago. It seemed like a good idea to keep a cover on the front receiver since it otherwise would collect a lot of road debris in normal driving. As a result, I have the UNC logo on the front of my truck. At this house, the truck doesn’t fit into our garage so I leave it parked outside in the driveway. It is my habit to back it into the driveway so the UNC logo is facing the sidewalk.

The result is that I occasionally find myself in a conversation about UNC sports with neighbors and acquaintances. I seems like a ready topic of conversation because that logo is easily identifiable and it is right on the front of my truck. Interestingly, there is a much larger Ford oval in the middle of the grill of my truck and I can’t remember having any conversations with my neighbors about the brand of my truck, which is too bad because I arguably know more about Ford trucks than I do about UNC sports.

My next door neighbor, who is a public school gym teacher and coach, has already discovered that I am not a sports fan and has given up trying to discuss sports with me. We quickly get onto other topics. However, new conversations occasionally spring up with others. Not long ago a stranger asked me how the Tar Heels did the previous weekend. I had to admit that I had no idea and that I don’t follow Tar Heel football. He was surprised and said that I broke his heart when I didn’t even know who won the game. I suspect that his heart has since healed and he probably doesn’t even remember the conversation, but it made me think enough that I have been looking through some of the junk I have at the farm for another hitch cover that I used to own. The other hitch cover has a John Deere logo on it. My father was a John Deere dealer for 25 years and I have a collection of John Deere miniatures. I know a fair amount about the history of the company and even a bit about the current lineup of machines. Our son has a John Deere lawn and garden tractor and I frequently operate it. I’m pretty sure I know a heck of a lot more about John Deere than I do about UNC sports.

However, I’ve reached the point in my life where I am uninterested in collecting more junk, so I have no intention of purchasing another receiver cover. If I don’t find the John Deere one, I’ll stick with the UNC cover. And I don’t think it is likely that I will find that John Deere cover. I’m pretty sure that it didn’t make the move from South Dakota. If it had, it would have been in one of my tool boxes and I would have found it by now.

So I’m stuck with appearing to be uninformed each time someone strikes up a conversation about UNC sports. And I drive a pickup with an advertisement for UNC sports right on the front.

I suppose that I could simply take a bit of time to surf the web and follow UNC sports. The football team is looking strong this season. They have won all three of their games so far this season and beat Minnesota 31 - 13 last Saturday. They play Pittsburgh this coming weekend and the next week they take on Syracuse. The October 7 game holds a tiny bit of interest for me because when our son was considering graduate schools he was also accepted at Syracuse.

However, I am unlikely to become a sports fan at this late stage of my life. I think that instead I might try to come up with some lines to say in response to overtures about UNC sports. It might not encourage conversation, however, if I responded to an inquiry about sports by saying, “Oh, I don’t follow UNC sports, but they have an amazing library school. Did you know that it has one of the nation’s top medical library programs?”

The truth is that no one really cares about whether or not I am a sports fan. When I get to know others we discover lots of other common interests that provide topics for conversation. And the pickup is probably destined to make the move to the farm and become a full-time farm truck after a few more years as both it an I get older. When the time comes for us to downsize our camping equipment and sell the trailer, we’ll probably find that it doesn’t make sense to keep the big pickup.

However, for the next few weeks, I’ll try to remember that this year’s basketball opener for UNC is Friday, October 27 for an exhibition game. I hope no one expects me to remember who they are playing.

Remember the Sabbath

Each small town has its own culture. Not far from where we live is a small community that was settled primarily by Dutch immigrants to our area. They brought with them a strong attachment to the Christian Reformed Church. There are a lot of churches in that community and most of them are Christian Reformed. I have a friend who was hired as a school principal in that community several years ago. Shortly after he arrived, on a crisp fall Sunday afternoon he went out to mow his lawn. He was told by a neighbor that in that community one does not mow the lawn on Sundays. That reminder was reinforced by a second conversation with the president of the school board. He learned his lesson. There are certain community values that are far easier to comply with than to resist.

I’m not sure how long ago that incident occurred, and I don’t know if that strict observance of sabbath rules still persists in that community. I do know, however, that despite the community’s strong identity as a Christian community and its adherence to that particular biblical rule, it is not a community that is free from problems. Another acquaintance told me a story of deep seated racism in that same community.

Christianity is not, at its core, a religion of rules. A reading of the Gospels reveals many stories of Jesus in conflict with authorities over their interpretation of laws and rules. There are even stories about Jesus running afoul of sabbath rules. In the second chapter of Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) The comment came after Jesus was rebuked because his disciples were gathering grain on the Sabbath. It wasn’t all that different from my friend mowing his lawn on a Sunday afternoon.

Throughout the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament there are stories of people of faith wrestling with the distinction between trying to earn their salvation by following sets of rules and trying to be genuinely good people by paying attention to their motivation and making decisions in context. Context is important in making moral decisions and in interpreting scripture. It reminds me of a sign I once saw. At the top of the sign it said, “Life is short, lick the bowl.” At the bottom of the sign was smaller text saying, “Context is everything. It matters whether this sign is posted in the kitchen or the bathroom.”

A professor of Hebrew Scripture once said, in a conversation about the role of the ten commandments in Hebrew history and their application in modern society, “We haven’t got a chance with commandments like ‘Do not covet.’ People can’t even get ‘observe the Sabbath.’” He was referring to the commandments as instructions about how to be free people rather than a rigid set of moral behavior guidelines. He pointed out that the commandment in Exodus speaks not only to personal behavior, but also to how one treats servants and even immigrants.

As a pastor, I have struggled with the meaning of Sabbath and how to observe the Sabbath for most of my life. The bottom line is that I worked on Sundays. For the most part, I did take a day off each week, usually Mondays, but when there were needs in the community or other important things to do, I was never rigid about it. If there was a death in the community on a Monday, I responded. If there was something that needed my attention, I gave it. I have colleagues who are much better at taking time off than I was. One colleague doesn’t answer the phone on their day off. I could never have done that. I felt that I needed to be available to the people I served. The result was that I was not always faithful to the instruction about observing the Sabbath. I sometimes convinced myself that I was too important to take a day off - a form of idolatry as pointed out by the scripture.

Being retired has presented me with a new set of challenges around my behavior on Sundays. For a few more weeks, we are not worshiping with our primary congregation in order to make space for new leadership to emerge. Today is the annual “Gathering In” observance, in which the Sunday School kicks off a new program year, choirs resume their usual schedule, and other activities resume after a summer break. In previous years we would have been very busy on this day, organizing activities, preparing spaces for learning programs, recruiting volunteers, and making sure that everyone is welcomed. Today, however, we are intentionally worshiping with another congregation so that the children can make connections with the new Church School Coordinator. We know that if we were in our home congregation, some of the children would come to us for snacks and look to us for stories. We’ll return soon, but today is a good day to have them turn to others. It does, however, feel really strange to be going to church elsewhere on a Sunday that we would not normally miss.

It leaves me thinking about what it means to observe the Sabbath when I am retired. If Sabbath is about rest and restoration, I spent three days on a sailboat this week. That is a restful activity for me. If it is about making time for prayer and contemplation, I have learned to build that time into every day and not just do so on Sundays. If it is about unplugging from constant contact, I do that in different ways. On Sundays, I participate in a group text that wishes the Peace of Christ. I have no intention of skipping that important connection with other people of faith. If I need a day to unplug from my devices, I’ll choose a different day.

Once one is freed from a simplistic literal interpretation of the words and opens to the challenges of connecting with the meaning behind the words, interpreting scripture and living faith in context is a challenge. A lifetime is all too short to explore all of the meanings available in a few words.

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20:8-11)

And I haven’t even begun to consider how I honor my father and my mother in the context of my life today.

A small pain in the arm

As I write today I am aware of a tender spot on my left shoulder. Yesterday we received our annual flu shots and an immunization for RSV. We have an appointment to go back on Tuesday for a Covid-19 booster. We were unable to schedule our Covid boosters for yesterday because the latest vaccine is just being released across the country and our provider had not yet received their doses. Susan elected to have one injection in each shoulder, thinking that she didn’t want to have any possible pain compounded. I elected to have both injections in the same shoulder on the theory that if I am going to have a sore shoulder, at least I’ll have only one. It remains to be seen whose choice produced the most benefit. From what I am feeling and from my experience with other immunizations, I am not expecting much discomfort. The person administering our immunizations advised that a dose of Tylenol might ease discomfort, but I haven’t had enough discomfort to require any treatment.

We were talking after we received our injections about how we have been very fortunate to not have become infected with Covid-19. We’ve had a couple of scares and have been tested for Covid when we developed common colds or sinus infections, but so far we have avoided infection. I’m pretty sure that our situation is due, in part, to our semi-retired status. We were able to avoid contact with large crowds during the height of the pandemic. We learned to wear face masks and have been careful about their use. I still carry a face mask with me wherever I go and I put it on if I encounter a situation in which another person is coughing or sneezing in close proximity. We have also stayed home and worn face masks when we have been feeling ill.

I know, however, that there is a certain amount of luck involved. I have colleagues who are far more cautious than I when it comes to wearing face masks and staying away from close contact with others. Some of them have become infected. Our son’s family have all experienced infection probably due to the virus circulating in preschool and elementary school classes. Fortunately their cases have been relatively mild. They have been able to isolate themselves and have followed CDC guidelines, including being very careful not to expose us to the virus.

My mother was a nurse and I grew up during the era of a massive public health push to vaccinate children against polio. We received immunizations by injection and also received doses of oral vaccine. Mother was passionate about the science and saw a huge benefit in public health campaigns to immunize people from several infections diseases including diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. She lived to see her children make different decisions about vaccinating their children than she advised, but in our case, we stuck with the advice we received from our children’s doctors that was consistent with her feelings on the subject. Our children were vaccinated according the the recommended schedule.

These days I have a friend who is a genuine expert in infectious disease. He is around twenty years older than I and he devoted his life to the practice of medicine and focused his attention on public health and infectious disease. He grew up immersed in a Mennonite community and saw his vocation as a calling from God to engage in serving others. He lived modestly and tried to employ the best of science to serve the greatest number of people. He served in several different locations around the world and remained active in mission and service after his retirement. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit he used his knowledge to advise several churches and other organizations in policy development to encourage safety for communities.

He is a wise and gentle man. I have never heard him raise his voice. But when he speaks, I listen because he obviously knows wha he is talking about. Last spring we were sharing in a study of the book of Isaiah. He observed how the Assyrians mowed over the northern kingdom and threatened the southern kingdom. Isaiah rails on and on for chapter after chapter about the threat of the Assyrians to Judah and Jerusalem. However, that is not what came to pass. Before Assyria could conquer Judah and Jerusalem, their military push came to a screeching halt. They were defeated by the Babylonians, who were eventually responsible for the fall of Jerusalem. His theory is that the Assyrians were not stopped by military might or some supernatural intervention by God on behalf of the people of Judah and Jerusalem, but by some infectious disease. He calmly described his theory in a manner that had me convinced, and I’ve been studying these texts for decades without having previously considered that possibility.

I am in no position to advise others about receiving injections. We have tried to wade through the mass of information and disinformation rampant on social media, select reliable medical advisors, and use our common sense and judgment in making our decisions. I know that the simple fact that we have avoided infection to this date is not because we have somehow made better decisions than others. We have had the luxury of being able to isolate ourselves and have had more than a small amount of luck. Those who have become infected are not somehow less wise or less intelligent than we. They faced different circumstances. I am pleased that there are effective treatments emerging for those who do become infected. I pray for health for all people, especially those with whom I disagree. It is the way I understand the mandates of Biblical Christianity - pray without ceasing and pray for your enemies. Like my friend, I don’t tend to identify those who disagree as enemies, but I do pray for them.

Like them we are trying to make our way in a confusing world of claims and counter claims - of attacks and counter attacks. I believe we have benefitted from the hard work of scientists who have developed vaccines and public health officials who have promoted them. We have also benefitted from a friendship with a calm man of peace and service who despite being retired continues to live our his vocation with grace. He is a blessing to many.

Learning to sail


Yesterday afternoon, as our ship was heading back to our home port, I had the opportunity to take the helm. The process is not very different from flying an airplane using visual flight rules. Once the vessel is on a heading, the person at the helm chooses a visual reference point and steers toward that point. If currents or winds try to force the craft in another direction, inputs are made to the rudder to correct the direction of travel. Because the ship on which we were traveling is often used as a training vessel, there was excellent supervision and guidance available during my half hour stint at the wheel. The captain was on board and at the helm while I was there. There was also a member of the crew as a backup for me who kept eyes on me and the ship’s progress.

I found that I enjoyed my opportunity to steer the big boat. But I was also aware of the responsibility that came with the experience. After all, the ship itself is an irreplaceable piece of history. Were it to get into the shoals and run aground the loss would be incalculable in terms of money. More importantly, there were the souls on board. The crew and the other passengers deserve safe passage. Of course I was not in a position to cause a mistake that could not be quickly corrected by an observant crew member. The experience did, however, remind me of the awesome responsibility that falls on the captain’s shoulders each time the vessel leaves the dock.

Perhaps a sailing ship is a poor metaphor for my career as a pastor, but I do see parallels. In my role as the senior pastor, my responsibility was to use my authority for the good of all of the members of the congregation. I quickly learned that my decisions and leadership had an impact on the spiritual lives of the people who came to the church. there were time when I had to make decisions that were not popular. The churches I served chose a polity and a leadership style that empowered the congregation to make major decisions while carefully delegating certain leadership functions to a pastor. My job was always to be responsive to the will of the congregation while offering guidance and direction. Like the captain’s extensive knowledge of winds, tides, currents, navigation, and rules of the sea are employed to safely steer the ship, a pastor uses education in the history and traditions of the church, the scriptures, and trained reason to advise congregations in making decisions.

Sailing a ship requires many people who are giving it focused attention. In addition to serving a short watch at the helm of the ship, I also served in other essential roles. When I was assigned to bow watch, my duty was to focus my attention on the waters directly ahead of the ship where the crew at the helm cannot see. I watched for logs and crab traps and traffic approaching from the front. I communicated information about any potential obstacles in time for the captain and the crew at the helm to take corrective action. During another watch, I served as a communicator, listening for signals from the person on bow watch, responding when they had a message for the helm, and communicating their message clearly to the helm.

Congregations also require multiple people to pay attention to the direction the congregation is headed. More people than just the pastor need to have a vision of the direction of the congregation and the actions necessary for the congregation to progress. And, like the ship, clear channels of communication are essential. If the moderator of the congregation and the pastor aren’t communicating clearly, conflict can occur.

Like all metaphors, this one has limitations. After all, I am no longer the pastor of a congregation. I am retired. And I am not the captain of a ship, or even a member of the crew. I was not really in charge of the helm. I was a passenger who was given the experience of steering the ship as part of an experience of learning about sailing.

The summer cruising season is winding down for the schooner Zodiac. She’ll be sitting in her berth for about ten days while volunteers do a variety of cleaning and maintenance tasks. Then she goes out for a couple of day sails. There is only one more multi-day sail left on her 2023 schedule, a four day, three night lighthouse tour scheduled for early October. Then she travels to her winter maintenance dock to prepare for next summer’s sail. An historic sailing ship requires a lot of maintenance for a few days of sailing each year. This year the ship’s main sail will be replaced. The largest remaining active sail on the west coast is not something that is easy to replace. The fabric had to be purchased last year, a special sail loft is required to sew the large pieces of fabric together. sewing those seams and making the reinforcements required for the sail to fly properly and make the shape to power the ship is a difficult task. The type of sails flown by the Zodiac only last a dozen or so years and they cost tens of thousands of dollars to replace. Keeping the sails in good condition is just part of a huge list of tasks that are required. In addition to paid staff, thousands of volunteer hours are needed to keep the ship sailing.

Congregations also depend on volunteers to keep them running. Some tasks may seem small and others large, but each is part of a bigger picture. Like the ship, where the skills of sailing are not the only skills required to keep the ship operating, the skills of coordinating and supporting volunteers are quite different from other pastoral skills. Yet those skills are also crucial. I’ve had colleagues who are excellent worship leaders but lack the skills of budget management. I’ve known pastors who try to steer a congregation without first obtaining a good sense of the direction the congregation wants to go. The results are often sad for the congregation and for the pastor.

Fortunately there are patient teachers for novice sailors. And when I was serving as a pastor, I found mentors and models for the leadership to which I aspired. Perhaps that is a role into which I can now ease myself as part of my retirement. I hope I can be a patient teacher as were those who guided me when I was at the wheel of the ship yesterday.


40 years ago today our daughter was born. I think that she has come to a point in her life where she doesn’t mind my mentioning her age. The event of her birth, however, is not something that I remember. In fact it was nearly a month later when I first realized that she had been born. It took that long for the Village Family Services Center to decide that we were the ones to be her adoptive family. During that month she spend slightly longer in the hospital than typical for a healthy baby and then went to a foster home where she was loved and cared for. They even thought to have a portrait of her photographed and presented us with the picture when we picked her up to take her home.

She has probably tired of me telling the story, but the first night that she was in our care I was too excited to sleep. I kept waking up and going to check on her as she slept. I remember standing there looking at her in the crib and thinking, “I don’t know what I would do if something happened to her.”

As it turned out, in the nights to come we discovered that she was going to be the one to wake up during the night over and over again. I sometimes joke that she finally slept all the way through the night once when she was five years old. That is an exaggeration, but I spent a lot of time up with her in the middle of the night during her early years. It was a new experience for me. Although her brother is two and a half years older, he was born into our family and I was not able to feed him until he graduated to bottles and baby food. With Rachel the process was to get up, change a diaper, mix up a bottle of formula and feed the baby. Then I would rock and sing until she was ready to go back into her bed. Sometimes she would cry and I couldn’t figure out how to help her. Sometimes I had to wake Susan for help. Sometimes neither of us could solve the problem.

Part of the issue was that she was prone to frequent ear infections and after the doctor inserted tubes into her ears to help relieve pressure she did sleep better and there was less crying that we couldn’t figure out how to console.

Of course a day like today is good day for me to reflect on her and all that she has come to mean. I have a lot of stories about her. The thing that seems to be important to express is what an amazing person she is. It was love at first sight from the first moment I held her tiny body. I could not imagine what a wonderful woman she has become. I guess that by the time she was in middle school, I recognized her special abilities with young children. At some point I knew that she would make a really great mother, and I was right about that. She and her husbands are wonderful parents to our grandson.

When she was young, she had a lot of fears. She was frightened by insects and frogs and other small creatures. She didn’t like some of the games I have played with other children. She has, however, grown up to be an especially courageous woman. She has lived in England and Japan as well as several states. She has an incredible ability to make friends and to be a good friend. She gives a listening ear to those who need to talk. She is creative and artistic.

As a girl she was my dancer. When her brother started school we would walk by a dance studio on the way to school. She was mesmerized by the studio and she wanted to start dancing there while she was still too young. As soon as she was able, we signed her up for lessons and she loved it. Her first teacher was a dancer with the American Festival Ballet and I learned about pink tights and dance slippers, the French names for the various positions and I thrilled to see her in her dance costumes. She continued dancing ballet into her college years. One of my treasured possessions is a picture of her in a dance costume taken when she was a high school senior. I love to look at that picture, which hangs on our living room wall.

All of the experiences of four decades seem to pile up as I pause to celebrate her birth. Every child is a gift of God, but somehow she seems to be such a special gift to our family. When her husband asked my permission for him to propose marriage to her, I said two things. First of all I said that the decision about who she would marry was her decision, not mine. As nervous as Mike was about asking me about proposing to her, the one he had to convince wasn’t me, but Rachel. He was successful in that. The second thing I said to him was, “You have to understand that she comes with a family.” If she marries you she will be no less our daughter and you will become our son. That’s the way it is with our family and that is non-negotiable for me. He agreed and has been faithful to that commitment. He is, indeed a wonderful son and a treasured member of our family.

Today as I wind down from three days of sailing and adventuring, I am filled with gratitude. I have deep gratitude for a wife and partner who is such an intrepid adventurer with me. I am grateful for children who support their parents in all of our adventurers. And I am especially grateful for the tiny baby born 40 years ago today in a North Dakota hospital. I am grateful to her birth mother who graciously released her, to her foster mother who selflessly cared for her, and to her for being the treasure that she is.

Indeed there have been showers of blessings.

Stuart Island


Today was not a day for sailing. The route of the day was chosen in part to stay away from fog that enshrouded some of the islands. It wasn’t only the foggy places, however, that were becalmed. In the late morning we raised sails in hopes of rising wind, but the wind did not come. We motor sailed for a while and then furled the sails once again.

Despite the romance of a sailing ship we really have not been able to sail very much. In former days a ship like this would have been forced to wait. Sailing, like many other things in life, teaches and favors patience. In the middle of the afternoon we dropped anchor in a bay of Stuart Island. The dinghies were lowered and gave rides to the island where we walked across to the other side to visit the Turn Point Light Station. The light continues to guide mariners skirting the line between Canada and the US. It is an automated light station, so there is no resident in the keeper’s house and no mules in the barn. However, the station buildings are maintained by a historical society and are beautiful and fun to visit.

Also notable on the island is a small area with chests of souvenirs including shirts, hats, postcards, stickers, and more. The “shop” operates entirely on the honor system. Each item is packaged with a return envelope for the customer to mail payment when back at home.

Because one of the authors on our cruise has a character who grows up on a remote island in the San Juans, I have been thinking what it might be like to live in such a place. A remote island is very different from a remote place inland. I am attracted to remote locations, but have not chosen to live in those places. I enjoy visiting and would enjoy a multi-day opportunity to explore the island. It is not, however, a place for me to live.

Our conversations with authors have been rich. Tonight they spoke of the craft of writing and publishing. I have learned to think of myself as a writer, even though little of what I write has been published.

I may not be an author. I am not at present, prepared to do the tasks of assembling and editing books.

Tomorrow er return to port and back to our regular lives. I want to reflect on how the experience of being unplugged has been, but it is too early for that reflection right now.

Echo Bay near Sucia Island


There are 176 islands in the San Juans, plus Eliza, Lummi, and the islands in Skagit County. I’m already learning a lot about the place we now call home. All of these islands are relatively close to where we live.

There is a difference between watching the sunrise from the deck of a ship and watching the sunrise from a kayak. You might not think that being 20 or 25 feet above the water would be a significant change in perspective, but it is very different.

If I had to make a choice, which I do not, I would choose my kayak. Sitting directly on the water makes it impossible to ignore the rising fish. I have to pay attention from the deck of the schooner to notice a passing seal.

It is interesting to me also that I prefer the solitude of a solo kayak. So much of my life is based in community that one might expect that I would prefer the company of the crew on the sailing ship. But we are all so close together. the 30 some people on board are all needed to make the ship operate. Raising sails requires the best of teamwork. You have to learn to work together. Although ti bean its life as a private yacht, the Schooner Zodiac was always a ship that required a crew. And we are quickly getting to know each other and are forming community.

I am genuinely grateful for this opportunity and experience. But I also know that despite years of practice with being with others, there is a part of me that is introverted. I long for solitude and quiet.

It is, of course, a matter of balance. I know I need both. And I have shared close quarters before. The ship is not unlike a cabin at camp or a hostel on a mission trip. There is quiet when other are sleeping. I can find solitude when I am in the midst of others. It just takes a bit of planning, work, and focus.

I think that there is a metaphor involving the ship and a kayak, but it isn’t yet fully developed in my mind. Maybe it takes more solitude and reflection to form it.

Aboard Schooner Zodiac


I wonder where I got my fascination with sailing ships. As far as I know I do not come from seafaring people. My father was a pilot. His father was a farmer. If you read our family genealogies on both sides of my family, they are storers of people who lived from from the oceans. I grew up as an inlander, the child of inlanders. Some of my relatives have served in the military, but I can’t think of one who was in the navy.

I was 68 years old before I lived within a thousand miles of an ocean. And yet . . . here I am aboard a 1924 tall ship. And today we sailed to where I could see the bay that is near the home where we now live.

What a joy this day has been! I got to haul the halyard for the jib. Go out on the bow to unfurl the sail, climb up on the boom of a sail.

And we have hardly sailed. The wind gave out and became so calm that we motored and mortar sailed most of the day. Now at anchor, I have a few minutes to sit in my birth and reflect. Much of this process feels so natural to me. In reality, however, it is all new.

My father briefly considered becoming a dealer for a jet boat manufacturer. He was intrigued by the mechanics of the pump, I think. At any rate, we had a boat around for a few weeks and I took one ride on it. But my family weren’t boat people. My uncle owned several boats in his life. They had a cabin on a lake and he usually had a water ski boat and later also had a sailboat. But we visited them only once a year or so.

Before we moved to Idaho and I got involved in a water sports camp, I had virtually no experience with boats of any kind. That experience made me want a boat of my own. I had very little discretionary money at that phase of my life so I made a canoe. That led to other boat building experiences. I also discovered a love of paddling.

I did not, however, know anything about the ocean. I once paddled my canoe in the Puget Sound off of Whidby Island. I nearly capsized it in the waves. That experience led to my making my first kayak. That boat is still my favorite kayak for everyday paddling. I’ve paddled it in a lot of different waters including the Bay of Fundy, Lake Superior, The Salish Sea, and dozens of lakes and rivers.

After that boat I sought out opportunities to paddle in the ocean. I built another kayak in the style of a Greenland skin-on-frame boat. I covered it with aircraft Dacron because I knew how to work with that material.

It wasn’t until I started paddling again this summer that I started to pay attention to tides and realized how much I still have to learn.

Since that is my story, I wonder why it is that I am so attracted to sailing ships. At my age I don’t have the active fantasy imagination I once had. I am less entertained by the impossible. I am very content with my lot in life. I do not wish for things I don’t have and I want for nothing.

And here I am. On an historic sailing schooner - a competitor in the 1928 trans-Atlantic race. I find it remarkable. It surprises me how natural it feels. Maybe the source of my fascination with sailing is my imagination fueled by a good dose of reading sailing stories. Whatever the source, this adventure is a wonderful experience. I am blessed.

A new adventure

Friends, My regular journal posts will not appear on time for the next couple of days. Susan and I will be on a short journey where we will not be taking our computers. Our access to cell service may be limited. I will continue to write my journal using a paper journal and will copy and upload my entries sometime late Thursday or early Friday. As was the case earlier this summer when we went camping with our grandchildren and were away from our computers the length of my journal entries may vary from the usual. It is all part of the change of pace of our retirement. Thank you for your understanding.


I have long had a fascination with sailboats. When I was growing up my aunt and uncle had a cabin on the shore of Flathead Lake in Montana. Our extended family would gather at the lake for a few days from time to time. One summer someone in our family rented a small Hobie Cat sailboat. I had the opportunity to sail the boat and thoroughly enjoyed it. A few years later my uncle purchased a fairly small cabin sailboat that they kept at the lake for several years. I got to go for a couple of sails on that boat and really enjoyed it. Once, when we were newly wed, we visited the lake and used the sailboat as a guest bedroom and were able to sleep in the small v-berth on board.

When we moved to Idaho, I worked with others to develop a water sports camp at Pilgrim Cove, our Association’s camp site. The camp had a few old fiberglass canoes and a single small sailboat. Over the next several years, we developed the camp and added to the fleet of boats at the camp. Fueled by strong attendance, I horse traded for used boats and sought donations to support the program. First I helped the camp obtain a few newer and more lightweight canoes. Then I found two Hobie Cat sailboats and brokered donations. A couple more small sailboats followed. Watching how teens learned about sailing we next ventured into windsurf boards. I made a deal on 5 or 6 boards and rigs and hauled them to the camp on the roof of our family van. After a half dozen years of development the camp offered a wonderful week for teens. On the first full day of camp every teen became CPR certified and learned about basic water safety. For the next three days they participated in small groups that focused on wind surfing, small craft sailing, and lake canoeing. We had certified instructors for each group. On the final full day of camp the entire group participated in a whitewater rafting adventure on a nearby river. The camp was such a success that we chartered busses to transport youth from Portland Oregon to the camp in central Idaho.

As I observed the youth learning, I was learning as well and I enjoyed opportunities to sail on the craft of the camp. Alongside, I found an abandoned sailboat that I was able to obtain and re-work with a second hand mast and sail. We were able to sail it some before our move to South Dakota became the occasion to sell the boat. By that time I had begun to build strip plank canoes and after moving to South Dakota I fashioned a sail for a 16 foot canoe and continued to explore sailing.

As a canoe builder, I got interested in publications about boat building and began to subscribe to Wooden Boat Magazine. I read dozens of articles about sailboat restorations large and small and when we travel, I have visited wooden boat shows and festivals and have observed many sailboats. A few years ago, while attending a meeting of the International Conference of Police Chaplains held that year in Norfolk, Virginia, I had a free evening and took a two hour cruise on American Rover. It is a modern sailing ship fashioned in the style of historic tall ships.

This week we have the opportunity to explore another ship and learn more about sailing. The Schooner Zodiac sports the largest sail on the West Coast. It was commissioned, designed and built as a private yacht for the owners of the Johnson and Johnson Company in the 1920s and served a storied career that included sailing in the Canadian Maritimes and serving as a medical ship in Labrador and Newfoundland and becoming a pilot schooner in San Francisco Bay. It was the last American pilot schooner in service, retired in 1972. At that point it was purchased and restored by a non profit organization of shipwrights, sailors, and historians and now is operated by the Vessel Zodiac Corporation. The boat is on the National Register of Historic Places. You can click this link for more information about Schooner Zodiac.

Susan and I will be participating in a three-day “Books a-sail” cruise that combines our love of books and authors with my interest in sailing and historic boats. We will be able to participate with the crew of the boat in a variety of sailing tasks including hoisting sails, riding the bow to look for obstructions, navigation duties in the chart room, and even a bit of time at the helm. Along with us on the tour will be novelist Erica Bauermeister and natural historian David B. Williams. We have read their books and will be able to discuss selected works throughout the adventure in the San Juan Islands. The cruise is significantly more costly than we normally spend on ourselves, but we justified the expense as a 50th anniversary gift to each other.

Susan and I have always loved adventures. We once heard someone say that one of the keys to successful aging is being willing to visit at least one new place every year. We’ve kept that practice for all of our married lives. Three days and two nights aboard an historic sailing vessel will take us to new places and give us a new adventure. Let the adventure begin!

Remember to lock your bike

Yesterday I was talking to my sister on the phone when I looked out my front window and saw a child’s scooter parked in my driveway next to my truck. I looked around to see if the child was nearby, but saw no one. After a while when no one came to claim the scooter I moved it out of the driveway and onto the sidewalk in front of our home. I didn’t want to accidentally run over the toy. It remained where I put it for the rest of the day. We were out during part of the afternoon and early evening and when we returned it was still there. Today is the day of our garbage and recycling pick up and I have moved the scooter once again so that it doesn’t look like we put it out for garbage collection.

I can imagine several scenarios by which a child, temporarily tired of riding the scooter, abandoned it and continued walking. Perhaps the child is one who lives on our street near to our house or around the corner and forgot where the scooter was left. The scooter is small enough that it must belong to a child that is too young to be too far from home.

I can also imagine that the scooter was taken from the home of its owner by someone else and ditched in our front yard for some reason. In that case, the owner might not know where to look. I’ve tried to keep the scooter in a place where its owner can easily see it if that person or the parents of that person is looking for the missing scooter.

I try to think the best of people and prefer not to interpret the mystery as part of a crime, but I just read an article about a 16-year-old who was found to be in possession of $45,000 worth of stolen bicycles in our community last week. $45,000 is a lot of stolen property and the youth is in really big trouble. The total valuation got me to thinking that the youth must have had a warehouse to stash all of the stolen bikes, but it turned out that the haul was 15 bicycles. That means that the average value of the bikes was $3000 each. I guess I haven’t kept up with the prices of bikes. I’m pretty sure that my bicycle didn’t cost $300 when it was new.

Of course what made the value of the stolen bicycles so high is that several of them were fancy electric bikes. We see people riding e-bikes around the area frequently. In fact, we have speculated on how the presence of the bikes blurs the line between bicycles and motorcycles. The e-bicycles aren’t licensed for driving on city streets and they don’t require a driver’s license to operate, but we have seen them moving at speeds up to 35 mph on city streets. In many ways they are operated much like motorcycles. I’m sure that there are places on walking paths where the fast-moving bikes pose a danger to pedestrians. We walk a lot around the neighborhood and have not had any close encounters with the bikes, but we have wondered whether or not the increasing presence of the bikes might result in a change in traffic laws. When does a bicycle become a vehicle subject to regulation?

It is clear from the youth’s crime spree that stealing a single bicycle can be a felony due to the high value of the bike. I’m pretty sure that the scooter in my front yard does not fit into that category. Over the years I’ve bought enough children’s bikes for our grandchildren to know that there are a lot of bikes, scooters, and other toys that can be obtained for far less than the value of those stolen bikes.

The article I read about the stolen bikes said that all but three of the bikes have already been reunited with their owners which probably means that the thefts had already been reported to the police. It doesn’t say how long the youth had been stealing bicycles. I don’t know if electric bikes require special chargers. Perhaps the stolen bikes batteries ran down and the thief had no means to charge the batteries so another bicycle was stolen. It is hard to know what the young criminal was thinking. Surely as the number of stolen bicycles mounted, hiding them and keeping possession of them got harder and harder. I suspect that eventually someone saw the stash of bikes, knew that something was out of order, and reported it to the police. The article didn’t say how police discovered the thief and the stolen property.

It is quite possible that some or all of the stolen bikes had been left somewhere without being locked. Our neighborhood seems really safe. We see lots of bikes and other toys left in front lawns. We have commented in the past about bikes and scooters left in driveways and the risk that they might get run over. Children can get careless. Still, we hadn’t thought in terms of the toys being at risk to be stolen. On the other hand, I suspect that many of the stolen bicycles were’t children’s toys, but rather the possessions of teens and adults. The value of the bicycles points to more experienced riders.

I am intrigued by electric bikes. I had the chance to ride one once. It belonged to a friend who were visiting and we went for a short ride on their e-bikes. It was a lot of fun to have the additional assistance with pedaling on the steep hills around their home. I know the owner of a local bicycle shop that rents e-bikes and I have thought of renting one just to see how it might work in our neighborhood. But I’m unlikely to shell out $3,000 for a bike. One purpose of riding a bike is exercise and the one I have works well for that purpose.

I guess that if you are going to own a valuable bike, security has to be one of the things you keep in mind. Although I don’t like to think of our neighborhood that way, I guess that if you ride one of the bikes around here, you need to have a good lock. I wonder if the rental shop also rents locks for the bikes.

45 years

45 years ago today, on September 10, 1978, Susan and I were ordained in a worship service held at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ in Billings, Montana. We had completed our seminary degrees four years after we graduated from college. Two weeks prior to the ordination service, we had presented our ordination papers to a meeting of the Yellowstone Association, been examined, and the Association had voted to proceed with the ordination. Our ordination certificates were signed by Avery Post, who was president of the United Church of Christ. John Bross was the Association registrar and George Barber was the Conference Minister. We had declared our faith in God and accepted the scriptures as source of truth. We promised diligence in private prayer and study as well as public duties of our office. We promised zeal in maintaining the truth of the gospel and the peace of the church. We promised faith in preaching and teaching the gospel, administering the sacraments and rites of the church and exercising pastoral care. We promised to keep confidences in silence, and to regard all people with equal love and concern. We accepted the faith and order of the United Church of Christ and promised to reach out ecumenically to those of other faiths as well as those of no faith. We knelt before the association in prayer and hands were laid upon us.

It was, for us, the second time we had made solemn vows in the sanctuary of that church. A little over five years earlier we were married in that same room. Both sets of vows were, for us, lifelong commitments. Those promises shaped not only what we did, but also who we are. We are married. We are ordained ministers.

For 42 years we served together as ministers. Then we were retired for a little over a year before accepting a call to serve for two more years before retiring once again a little over a month ago. In all of our years of being employed as ministers we served the same congregations. I believe that is a record for clergy couples in the United Church of Christ. I know of no other clergy couples who served all of their careers with both serving the same congregations at the same time. We have clergy couple colleagues - two ministers married to each other. And we know a couple from our seminary days who were ordained about a year before us. But all of the clergy couples we have known have served different congregations. Many have had one member of the family take a break from the active ministry for several years. Several of the clergy couples we known have become divorced. Some have left the ministry as their career. Whether or not our careers constitute some kind of record is not important to us. What is important is how our vows of ordination have shaped our lives. Keeping promises over the long haul has been deeply meaningful to us.

We don’t have any plans to recognize this anniversary other than observing it with each other. Our plan is to join our local congregation, First Congregational Church of Bellingham, United Church of Christ, in worship through our online portal today. We prefer attending worship in person to attending online, but we have been taking a short break from worshiping with the congregation after having been employed as staff members. During that break we have worshipped with other congregations and enjoyed being with other people of faith, but we made it clear before we joined the church staff that we planned to remain connected to the congregation as members after our time of service had ended. In a couple of weeks we’ll return to in person worship with our congregation, after the church has had its official kick off Sunday for fall programs.

45 years as ordained ministers is partly a product of simple endurance. We have been blessed to live this long. We have had colleagues who did not achieve this milestone because they did not live as many years as we. Longevity is partly a matter of luck. It is also the result of having had excellent health care provided by the congregations we have served. 45 years as ordained ministers is also a tribute to the congregations we have been privileged to serve. I think of the steep learning curve of being ministers to the first congregations we served. Ministers do not emerge from graduate school as seasoned preachers. It takes years of practice and dedication to learn the art and craft of preaching. I’m sure that there were plenty of pretty terrible sermons on the way. Our congregations were loving and tolerant of our mistakes. They supported us when we struggled.

Among clergy there are plenty of stories of congregations that have abused ministers, not being fair with financial compensation, subjecting them to bullying from church leaders, imposing unrealistic expectations upon them, and more. None of those things were part of our path in ministry. The congregations we served were faithful and supportive of our ministry. We encountered problems and challenges over the years and we had the support and love of congregations in each problem and challenge. We count ourselves as fortunate to have not moved from one congregation to another very often. We served our first call for seven years, followed by a decade in our second call and 25 years in our third. The length of each of those calls was above average. When we began our ministry, the average for a first call was under four years. Mid career calls usually were shorter than a decade. The length of our times of service are the product of having been called by extraordinary congregations of faithful people. Each was a good match for us.

There are far too many good memories in 45 years to recount in a single journal entry and the focus of my journal is not always looking back. However, today is a day to pause, remember, and reflect. And the memories are very good and precious. For these years I give thanks. For the years to come, I look forward with joy.


We have learned to allow a little extra time when we are going almost anywhere around here because we have to cross railroad tracks and there are plenty of trains that can cause delays. There is a crossing on the way to our son’s farm that is a spur line running to an oil refinery. The trains on that spur travel relatively slowly because it is close to the refinery. And some of the trains are fairly long. A delay of 5 minutes isn’t unusual and I have been delayed more than 10 minutes at that crossing on occasion.

If we head into Blaine, the town that appears in our postal address, there is a railroad crossing that is near an intersection that often leaves cars stranded in the intersection and slows traffic in several different directions. We’ve seen lines of dozens of cars delayed at that crossing.

In addition to the crossing on the way to our son’s place there is another crossing just before we get to the Interstate highway. That crossing has two tracks of the main north-south railway line. In addition to refinery traffic, long coal trains pass that location. The unit trains are transporting coal from a mine in Wyoming to a Canadian port for export to Japan. They return empty on their way to make another round trip.

The Interstate highway has over- and underpasses so that traffic can move on the highway regardless of the presence of trains. However, most of the local roads leading to the Interstate cross railroad tracks and traffic can back up beyond the ramps and onto the Interstate itself.

In the short time between our son moving to Whatcom County and when we moved up here I was working at the farm one day when a train moving petroleum derailed and caught fire. I noticed the black smoke and soon was informed that the fire was forcing evacuations and was very close to the school that our grandchildren attend. Fortunately there were no students at the school when the accident occurred due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Had school been in session at the time, the accident would have created panic as many parents have to cross the tracks to get to the school from their homes. My wife volunteers at the school and she has been delayed in getting to the school because of that crossing. There are two crossings between our home and the school.

Yesterday traffic was snarled in the small town of Ferndale because a Burlington Northern Santa Fe drain de-coupled on a bridge at the edge of town causing the train to stop and block an intersection in town. I don’t know exactly how long it took for crews to get the train hooked back together and get traffic moving. Fortunately, I had completed my errand in town and barely missed the traffic stoppage. I was on the other side of the train tracks, so could make my way back home while I noticed traffic in the other direction to be completely stopped.

There have been problems with railroad crossings for as long as there have been railroads. We just happen to live in a place that has both lots of car traffic and lots of railroad traffic. The combination of those two elements can be problematic not just for people trying to get from one place to another, but also for first responders such as fire and police departments responding to emergencies. Although I didn’t hear of any delays of emergency vehicles being delayed, there is a fire station very close to the intersection that was blocked by the stalled train yesterday, so the potential for fire trucks and ambulances to be caught up in the traffic was very real.

Thinking of the train traffic reminded me of our visits to Japan where the high speed trains travel on tracks that do not have intersections with highways. The tracks are installed so that they either go above or below intersecting highways. Like a freeway in the United States, with controlled access, the train lines allow movement of trains without any conflict with automobile traffic. Of course, there are many things that are different in Japan including the simple fact that more people are moved by railroads than by highways. When we traveled in that country, we did very little driving outside of the town where our daughter lived. It was easier and faster to take the train if we were going any distance at all. Here in the United States it is almost always faster to drive than to take a train.

We do have passenger service on the rail lines that we cross, however. There are trains that carry passengers along the I-5 corridor all the way from southern California to Vancouver, British Columbia. Railroads have been important factors in the recent history of this area. The location of railroad switching yards and offices played a big part in the economies of many cities and towns in Washington. Terminals where freight is transferred to and from ships from railroads provide a lot of area jobs. It is, however, a mixed blessing. Railroads also bring many problems, including significant environmental impact. The reasons that Wyoming coal bound for Japan is transferred to ships from trains in Canada instead of a Washington state port has to do with environmental concerns, coal dust, and potential contamination of critical salmon habitat.

The oil spill and fire threatened a school and an entire community. Fortunately the fire was contained to the immediate area. There are stories from many places around the world where railroad accidents involving petroleum transport have had tragic results.

We are lucky not to be bothered by the sound of trains passing close to our house, though having lived for a decade in a house that was near the railroad tracks I know that you get used to the trains coming and going and can even sleep through the sound. We are learning, however, to be a bit more patient and to plan on the potential of delays when we have to make appointments.

Bears in the neighborhood

The mountains south of the town where I grew up have been home to bears for as long as there have been people in that area. Most of the bears in the valley are black bears, though there have been a few grizzlies spotted at various places in the area. For the most part, bears prefer to avoid humans. When I was growing up, seeing bears in Yellowstone National Park was common. Tourists often fed the bears which attracted them to roadsides. Bears also fed at several garbage dumps scattered around the park. At the Old Faithful Lodge they had bleachers set up near the dump where people would go to observe the bears. After several incidents of tourists being injured by bears the park service began to change its policies. They shut down the garbage dumps. They trapped and moved some of the bears, though this practice had limited success. The bears often returned to their previous locations after being moved and once a bear has been caught in a culvert trap, it is unlikely to fall for the next attempt at trapping it.

A few years ago my sister put up a game camera at our family’s place in Montana and we were surprised at the images of a bear coming through the place. We had been unaware that bears occasionally went through the property. Bears prefer to avoid people.

We hiked in the mountains and backpacked into the wilderness areas. Although we knew stories of bear encounters, we learned to avoid conflict with the bears. Simply being noisy an allowing the bears to hear you before you approach is an effective tactic most of the time. We carried tin cups on our backpacks and used other items to make noise as we walked so that we were less likely to surprise a bear. We knew that we needed to be careful when picking huckleberries and mindful that we weren’t the only creatures that like to eat that fruit.

On our recent trip to Montana, we hiked and stayed in campgrounds where there were a lot of signs warning about bears. Garbage containers designed to prevent bears from getting at the trash and bear safe food storage boxes were common in campgrounds. We didn’t, however, see any bears on this particular trip. That is just fine with me. I’ve seen plenty of bears in my life and I prefer to watch them from a distance.

It was a surprise to us, then, to read in our local newspaper that a family of bears has been visiting a neighborhood just a few miles down the road from us. The bears have been spotted several times just a few blocks from the elementary school our granddaughters attend. The school and its playground are safe places, crowded with children during the day, full of noise, and places bears are sure to avoid. The children are never alone in that area. Still, the news was enough to get my attention.

As more and more homes are built in the forest and alongside the roads leading into the mountains, the habitat for the bears is shrinking. This summer’s drought and several fires in the mountains have further altered the distribution of the bears. The mother bear and her cubs that have been spotted around here likely have come down to our area in search of food because the places where they normally have found food have been disrupted by drought and fire. They aren’t likely to stay in the neighborhood. There are too many things that make life uncomfortable for them.

More than feeling a sense of danger, I find the encounters with the bears to be amusing. Of course they haven’t come into my yard and they haven’t explored the garbage bins in our neighborhood. If we had bears in our neighborhood on a regular basis, the first thing I would have to do is to discontinue the practice of keeping a compost bin. I have a small garbage can that sits alongside our house in which I keep compost. I haul the compost to the farm where it is mixed with other products to produce soil for gardening. I suspect that my bin might be attractive to a bear and one getting into the bin would make a mess that I’d rather not have to clean up.

The bears visiting our area were out in the day enough for a photographer from the newspaper to get a few images of them. It has given locals something to talk about over coffee.

Recently I read a study conducted in Yellowstone National Park of the causes of death of elk calves. The mortality rate of young elk is relatively high. This has long been part of the natural cycles of the animals and they produce enough calves to maintain a stable population in the park. In fact there have been several times in my lifetime when the elk in the park have become very overpopulated. The reintroduction of wolves to the park has helped to restore some balance in the elk herds. The interesting result of this study, however, was that wolves kill relatively few elk calves. The wolves seem to prefer hunting adult animals. Most of the elk calves that were killed by predators were killed by bears.

Even as I am amused by bear encounters, I need to remember that these are apex predators. They have evolved with the ability to hunt and kill other creatures. In an encounter with a bear a person could come out on the short end. While the black bears seen in our area are less likely to attack a person than a grizzly, it is best to observe the animals from a safe distance.

So far officials have responded to the bear reports by attempting to monitor the location of the bears in our part of the county. They expect them to leave the lowlands and return to the mountains in the next couple of days. Still, it won’t hurt to practice a bit of bear safety.

Another sign that I saw in several stores in Montana, “Bear spray is NOT returnable.” I don’t need bear spray, but I guess if you buy some, you’re stuck with it. It made me wonder what circumstances would make a person want to return bear spray. Perhaps some people were buying it, taking a hike, and then returning it when they didn’t see a bear. I wonder if recent bear sightings in our area have boosted sales in area sports shops.


When I was a student, I took a course in photography as an elective. I enjoy making photographs as a hobby and have collected a lot of images on my computer since making the switch from film photography to digital photography years ago. One of the things that I remember about that photography class, in addition to some of the techniques and skills I gained, are the assignments that we received. Each week we would be assigned a prompt or a theme and we would spend the week making images. In that particular class, we worked with black and white film and made our own prints in the darkroom. Once a week we would set up a small gallery in our classroom with each student contributing one or two photographs in response to the assignment. The standard for the class was an 11” x 14” print, mounted and hung frameless in our gallery area. Assignments like “Dawn” and “candlelight” gave us an opportunity to learn more about light. Assignments like “family” and “community” helped us gain sill at portraiture and casual photography. One assignment that stands out in my mind was “home place.”

At that time, we were living in a one bedroom efficiency apartment in Chicago, not far from the University of Chicago main quadrangle. Our apartment consisted of a bedroom, a bathroom, and an “everything else” room with a small kitchenette at one end, a table, a sofa, and a desk. I had struggled to feel at home in Chicago. The lack of personal space was a challenge. All of the locked doors felt unnatural to me. Hearing sirens going up and down the street outside of our building at all hours of the day and night disrupted my sleep. In my mind Chicago wasn’t really home. I was a Montanan. I was from the west. I was in Chicago temporarily to get an education.

That sense of not being home was reflected in the simple fact that we kept moving during our Chicago years. In four years we lived in five different apartments in addition to the caretaker’s cabin in which we spent two summers out of the city.

I sat at the table in our apartment and struggled with what I could photograph that might capture the sense of home for me. I couldn’t go to Montana to make pictures of rivers and mountains and other features that made it feel like home to me. I didn’t have any of the family heirlooms that make up the furniture in our home these days. I wasn’t attached to much in our apartment. I arranged a stack of books in what seemed to me to be an artful arrangement and photographed them, but it didn’t seem right. I noticed that some of them were from the library and not even mine. They were temporary. Home, I thought, should be something a bit more permanent. I tried to photograph my bible, but there was nothing about the picture that captured my imagination. I think that I ended up with an image of our table, set for dinner for the assignment.

Now, decades later, I haven’t kept the images I submitted for that class. I know, however, that the photograph would still capture a bit of the sense of home for me. For one thing, we have used the same set of everyday dishes for all of our married life. The simple white plates that would have been on that table are the same as the ones we have used for family dinners and meals ever since. Over the years we have collected a few more dishes, but the pattern is the same and they definitely invoke a sense of home for me. But what makes those dishes meaningful to me are meanings that come from layered memories. In those days, we had been married just a few years and hadn’t had time to collect all of those memories.

One of our teachers, who was in his seventies at the time, submitted a photograph of a pair of well-worn shoes. The photograph was well-printed. The focus was sharp and crisp. The lighting had interesting shadows. The shoes looked inviting. That professor was currently living in a house that belonged to the school and within a couple of years made the move from Chicago to California. He had lived in several different buildings over the course of a long and active life. What he was trying to capture was the sense of being at home in his own shoes. The photograph worked well at communicating a sense of home.

I have struggled with a sense of home for all of my adult life. I left Montana as a young man believing that my departure was temporary. My plan was to go to Chicago, finish my education, and come back to Montana to settle. Life didn’t work out that way. After Chicago, we lived in North Dakota, Idaho, and South Dakota, but never Montana. And now we have moved to Washington. Over the last couple of weeks we were in Montana. It was the first trip to that state for me since we sold the last piece of family property there last April. We drove right by the town where I grew up without stopping. I enjoyed sleeping by rushing rivers and walking in the mountains. I took photographs of places that were familiar to me. But when we took the exit off of the Interstate and turned onto the back road that leads to our son’s farm, when we pulled into the yard of the farm, and when we left the farm for our house down the road and pulled into our driveway, it felt like I was coming home. Sitting at the old library table where I have written so many pages of my journal feels like home. Listening to the tick tock of the antique clock feels like home.

I’m not sure what I would photograph if I received the assignment today. I might photograph that clock. I might photograph my grandchildren. I might photograph the wedding ring on my wife’s hand. I might photograph the white dishes on the round oak table where we dine. I have less of a sense that home is any single address and more of a sense that home is where the people who are most important in our lives gather. Then I realize that those people live in many different places and call many different places home.

Perhaps I am beginning to feel at home in my own shoes. And I hope that I continue to feel comfortable walking in those shoes and discovering new places to be.

A Small Town


Every time we stop in Leavenworth, Washington, we are intrigued by the town. Set in steep alpine peeks of the East face of the Cascade Mountains, just a few miles from Wenatchee and Washington’s fruit growing and shipping center, the entire town is decorated around a Bavarian theme. While small logging towns up and down the Rockies and Cascades are struggling and dying, Leavenworth is thriving. A walk up and down the main street, which is closed to vehicular traffic, will reveal hundreds and hundreds of tourists, looking in the many tiny shops and storefronts, dining in the dozens and dozens of cafes and restaurants, sampling wine and beer, listening to German music, riding in the horse drawn carriages, looking into the nutcracker museum, and strolling in the waterfront park system.

All of this is in a town of under 2,500 people. Clearly they are doing something right.

I don’t know the whole story of Leavenworth, but part of the story is that it was a small logging town formed around the turn of the century. It might have gone the way of countless other logging and mining towns and been a boom and bust when the easily accessible timber on public lands played out. However, it was chosen by the Great Northern Railway as the site for a regional office. Extra engines had to be stored in the town to make the pull up the steep inclines of Stephens Pass on their way to Seattle. When, however, the railroad decided to relocate the office 20 miles east to Wenatchee in the 1920s it seemed that the city was fated to suffer decline and eventually die. And decline is exactly what happened. By the 1950s main street was a collection of boarded up store fronts. Even the development of a nearby ski hill didn’t revive the local economy.

A couple of Seattle businessmen purchased a cafe and when they couldn’t make it work financially, they became involved in a local improvement association. Copying an idea from Solvang, California, which is a Danish-themed city, they proposed creating a Bavarian-themed town in Leavenworth. The pair convinced the owner of a local hotel to remodel in a Bavarian style. The hotel was renamed Edelweiss after the Bavarian state flower. Building by building the improvement association helped business owners to remodel and redecorate. They worked with the city government to establish zoning laws and control of signs and other outdoor advertising.

Their insight paid off and today the community is a thriving year-round tourist destination. They have the advantage of location, being s few hours’ drive from the large population of Seattle. In the summer there is river rafting and various city festivals. In the autumn there is an Oktoberfest, In the winter the community has Christmas lights up from November through February. Three is also skiing at the nearby hill and a continual Christmas festival with displays of nutcrackers, Christmas carolers, and lots of activities. Spring brings fishers to the shores of the Wenatchee river and summer features street fairs and dances and dozens of outdoor beer gardens.

There are hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms available as well as cottage and cabin rentals. A couple of first class campgrounds provide full services for RVs. The city of Leavenworth is a happening place year round.

Perhaps it was just a stroke of luck. Perhaps it was genuine vision. It is hard to say. I really don’t know the whole story. What I do know is that throughout the mountains of the west there are plenty of small towns that continue to decline and eventually die out all together while Leavenworth has figured out how to continue to be a small town with its small town schools and small town hospital while boasting a thriving economy and dozens and dozens of shops and restaurants that offer employment for the people of the town. Certainly it is a combination of many different elements that has produced an economically viable small town located too far from any urban center for commuting.

Leavenworth escaped the crash of the timber industry in the northwest. Blaming spotted owls and environmental regulations, paper and lumber mills were closed and jobs went away. For the most part the reason for the collapse was the failure to modernize and maintain the mills combined with the simple fact that forestry practices didn’t result in a sustainable supply of timber for the mills. While many towns filled with bitterness at the loss of jobs and the ruin of families, Leavenworth chose a distinct path and found a way to keep the locals employed and the economy of the town strong and vibrant.

Not every small town can become a tourist destination. It takes a lot more than a theme to create a sustainable economy in tough times. What is clear is that Leavenworth didn’t have a sustainable economy as a lumber town. And it didn’t have a sustainable economy as a railroad town. It was only when those two former industries pulled out of the area and the jobs they offered disappeared that the town discovered a pathway to a sustainable economy as a tourist destination. Whatever it is that they have done works. We find ourselves drawn to the town. We have planned stops in the town on many different trips. We’ve camped in both commercial campgrounds. We’ve stayed in a hotel. We’ve sampled sausages in local restaurants and walked up and down the streets looking into shops and making an occasional purchase. And we are just one couple out of hundred and hundreds of people who fill up the city streets, hotels, and restaurants. We’ve visited in winter and summer. We’ve trudged through snow drifts and suffered sweltering heat. And we’ve gone away from the town with smiles on our faces. We enjoy it so much that we are sure to come again and again to visit.

Even more, we are continually recommending to our friends that they visit and check out the town. Try it, you are sure to find it as interesting as we do.

Remote country traffic jam

It is only about 75 miles across the panhandle of Idaho and Interstate 90 provides a good divided highway all the way across. There are some mountain passes, canyons and narrow passages. Speed limits vary from 55 mph to 75 mph depending on the terrain and the condition of the road. I really don’t know how many times I’ve driven across this part of Idaho, but it is a lot. We’ve gone between Montana, Washington, and Oregon almost every year of our married lives.

Yesterday when we drove through the visibility was slightly reduced due to rain and fog. It was no problem for us. We aren’t in a hurry on this trip. We planned it so that we would have short days of driving and plenty of time to sightsee, take walks, and rest.

Just East of Fourth of July Pass, the traffic on the highway slowed to a crawl. At the place where we encountered the slow down, there were signs indicating that there was road construction ahead. The signs warned that the left lane would be closed. I’m pretty sure that the majority of people heading west in that area are able to read signs, but that didn’t stop the traffic from forming two lines when it slowed down. We chose the right lane, knowing that the cars in the left would have to merge right. Others might have thought that the left lane was going faster. They stayed in that lane until the construction barrels forced them to merge. One semi rushed past in the left lane, sometimes pulling onto the shoulder to get by other cars. I don’t know what made that person feel that such a rush was necessary.

We never knew for sure what had the traffic so backed up. We drove for over an hour in the slowed traffic. It took us an hour to go six miles. After going stop and go for all that ways, we had to take an exit to have our boat inspected. Once the inspection was finished, traffic was beginning to move at near normal speeds on the Interstate. We did see a car being loaded onto a wrecker at the boat inspection station. There were also several other vehicles, including two semis that seemed to have dents in them. I suspect that those vehicles were involved in an accident and that was the cause of the slow down.

Driving at five miles per hour or even less gives one some time to observe other drivers. To me, it seemed obvious. We all needed to be in one lane eventually. And the lane we needed to be in was the right lane. Whatever was causing the slowdown wouldn’t be something that could be passed by two lanes of traffic. Therefore, I simply stayed in the right lane. But not every driver was thinking the way I was. I saw one drive change lanes four or five times and when all of that had happened he hadn’t gained many car lengths on me. When there was a ramp and cars were entering from our right, I made room to allow them to merge. It seemed to make sense to me that they had to get into the flow of the traffic some way. When we finally got to the place where we were forced to make a single lane, I allowed others to merge into our lane, even though they were ones who lacked the foresight to read the signs and merge before they got to the orange cones.

I suppose that some of the other drivers were in a hurry. Some of them could have been tired. Yesterday was the last day of a three-day weekend for many people. And Labor Day is seen as the last weekend of the camping season. I guess that one of the advantages of being retired is that we are not in a rush to get back home. We’ve planned to take a couple more days to get back to our home. There will be time for us to stop and pick up some fruit from the orchards on the east side of the Cascades. Our plan is to camp one more night before making it all the way home. That makes the driving easy for us. Hence, I wasn’t uptight when other cars got in front of us. I didn’t need to cut off any other drivers, even those who were rude or who simply couldn’t seem to plan ahead. I just left space for them and the drive was quite relaxing for me.

Maybe I’m learning to have a little bit different approach to life in general. I hope I am becoming a bit less stressed, a bit more calm, a bit more capable of accepting things the way they are and appreciating other people, even those whose choices don’t make sense to me. Mostly, I was hoping that the other drivers could reach their destinations safely. I saw so many examples of poor driving and misguided decision making as we were crawling through the traffic. I wondered about the other drivers.

North Idaho is not a place where you expect to encounter a traffic jam. And this was even slower than a Seattle traffic jam. Remaining calm requires an ability to adapt and to accept the circumstances as they occur. I hope I am developing a bit of patience and tolerance. Those would be good traits to have as I grow older. After all, I will need to be willing to wait for others quite a bit as I grow older.

One of the things that seems to be a part of this trip is the realization that there are simply more people in some of the places that I used to think of as remote. There are more houses in the country. There are more cars on the highway. Ranches are being replaced with hobby farms. The high country is crowded with tourists.

It seems we will all need to learn to deal with other people a little bit better.

Hot Springs


When I was a kid there were two hot springs pools within a few miles of town. We also occasionally visited other hot springs pools in the area. One of our favorites was Chico which is in the Paradise Valley south of Livingston, Montana. It has an old hotel with a restaurant. It was a special treat for us to visit Chico and sometimes we got to stay in the hotel and swim a couple of days in a row. Several of the hot springs had hot pools that were just for soaking. Those didn’t interest me much. I wanted to swim and I thought that the really hot tubs were just too hot. Our father, however, who had sustained a back injury during his military service, really loved to soak in the hot tubs.

We also knew of lots of different places in the mountains, some very close to the roads, where hot springs were located near rivers. In those places you could find just the temperature you wanted by moving closer or farther away from the river.

I was an adult before I realized that we lived in a unique piece of geography, being just north of Yellowstone National Park. Not every place in the world has hot springs nearby. I don’t remember any hot springs near Chicago when we lived there and it was in Chicago that I met classmates who had never gone dipping in a hot springs. I thought it a bit strange as this was so common in my home space.

When we moved to North Dakota, it was a bit farther to a hot springs, but I had known about Evans Plunge in Hot Springs, South Dakota from my childhood and knew it was a fun place to take children. When we interviewed in Rapid City for our positions at the church we took our children to Hot Springs to swim in Evans Plunge, and we made trips down there from time to time. We also knew of hot springs in Idaho during our time there.

However, now we live in a place where there aren’t hot springs nearby. I have read of some hot springs in British Columbia, but we haven’t visited any of them yet.

Hot springs seem to be among the places in Montana that have changed in the decades since I was growing up here. We camped at Fairmont Hot Springs, not far from Anaconda last night. It is really developed and now calls itself a resort. There is a large, modern hotel complex and the pool itself has a huge, multi-story water slide. There is a golf course, mini-golf and more. We didn’t go into the resort as they have a day use fee and the weekend rate is higher than the weekday rate. We decided that we didn’t need to go to the pool. We definitely would have, however, had we had grandchildren with us. I’m pretty sure the fact that I didn’t rush to get in the pool is a sign that I’m older than once was the case.

As a couple of elders, we did enjoy a pleasant walk through the countryside. The area is full of beautiful mountains and there are lots of roads that give access to the national forest. On another visit, we might skip the campground next to the resort and head up into the mountains for one of the Forest Service campgrounds. I’m pretty sure it would be less crowded and a bit quieter. On the other hand, the campground where we stayed is full of children who are excited about the pool, waterslides, and other attractions. Having lots of excited children for neighbors is a good thing that puts a smile on my face.

Last evening I watched as a large gang of children and adults headed for the pool. They were walking, carrying towels and other supplies. The children were running ahead and the adults were calling out to them, asking them to wait. The children were trying to be patient, but how can you be patient when you can see a huge tower with a waterslide coming out of the top, making three spirals before emptying into the pool? The energy and enthusiasm of the children put a smile on my face and brought memories to my mind. I couldn’t help but think how much fun it would be to return here with some of our grandchildren. They would succeed in getting me into the pool. Who knows? They might even get me to try the waterslide. I’ve been down a few in my day.

It is being fun having a leisurely pace to this trip. We planned it so that we only have a half day’s drive between the places where we are stopping for the night. Even though we are already in Western Montana-west of the Continental Divide-we plan to stop two more times before we get back home. There are some advantages to being retired.

Heading home, however, has got me to thinking about all of the projects and things I want to do when we return. I’ve got a long list of things that will need my attention. We have a short trip planned next week - one where the computers won’t be going with us. And there are lots of things that need to be set in place before we leave for a few weeks to visit our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson in South Carolina. The time will pass quickly and I have plenty of things that I want to get done.

But today is not a day for busy. It is a day for an easy drive over a couple more mountain passes into North Idaho and a pause by Lake Coeur d’Alene, not far from where our Conference has one of its church camps. We will probably stop in for a visit. There is a canoe there in need of a bit of repair and I want to take some measurements to make some parts for it.

One more project. I’m retired now. I’ve got time for projects. And just in case I get bored, there are two chairs in need of re-caning in our pickup that I have brought from Susan’s sister’s home to repair. Retirement isn’t going to be boring even if we don’t pay to go into the hot springs.

Heading toward home

Today we are heading home, but not in the way that we have often made the trip from Montana to Washington. We know the routes. We have made this trip many times. When we lived in South Dakota and our son and his family lived in Washington, we made this trip at least once a year and almost always our trip included a stop in Red Lodge or Big Timber Montana. This time we leave Red Lodge, but we have planned to take parts of four days to get home instead of two.

That means we have time to worship with the congregation of Red Lodge Community Church. The United Church of Christ congregation is where Susan’s sister and her family have been members for years and we have visited in the past, when we were on vacation, but it is pleasant to have it be part of our plan for this trip. We know others who are members of the congregation and may even see some old friends.

Then we have a pleasant afternoon’s drive up over the Divide to Anaconda, home of a giant smelter in the days when the open pit copper mine at Butte was being worked. The smokestack is still standing but the boilers are cool and the place is quiet. I think the smokestack is on the registry of historic places. Our destination is not the old smelter, however, but a nearby hot springs that used to be a quaint little swimming hole, but now has been developed into a full-fledged restore. We aren’t usually resort campers, but when we were planning this trip, I decided that reservations were necessary to guarantee a camping spot and I was worried about tonight simply because it is Labor Day weekend and folks don’t have to work tomorrow, so I thought that the campgrounds would all be full given that this is the last holiday weekend for camping for many families with school children. However, what I have learned about the resort is that it might not really be a very kid-friendly place after all. At least the pages and pages of rules and regulations that I had to sign to make a reservation made it sound like some exclusive adults-only area. I’m not excited about staying there, but it is only one night and we know the other campgrounds where we will be staying and have enjoyed stays at those places before.

It is just another sign for me that things are not the way they used to be. I’m pretty sure that the pool at the hot springs costs a bit more than the 50 cents it cost when I was a kid, but price is only part of the change. Also changed is the fact that you need to make reservations at all in order to camp. I’m pretty sure we won’t see any tent campers willing to pay the fees for the “camping” resort. I suspect that our camper will be among the smallest there.

I remember that when we pulled our camper to South Carolina in 2021, we stayed one night at a campground that asked us what year our camper was manufactured. Thinking that to be a strange question I inquired and found out that the campground didn’t allow older campers to be parked there. I immediately thought that the place was a bit too snooty for the likes of us, but we went ahead and found it to be a nice stop on our trip. I wonder if our camper would make the grade now that it is two years older.

We were talking about campgrounds and Susan commented that she thinks that the campgrounds I like the best are state parks, national forest, and other public lands. I have to agree with her. I don’t find myself in need of services or amenities. I prefer a bit of privacy and distance from the other campers if I am given the choice. Furthermore, I prefer the company of people who can’t afford quarter- and half-million dollar coaches and trailers. I enjoy having a few neighbors who are staying in tents. I realize that our camper is a huge step up in luxury from the way we used to camp, but camping for me is about being out of doors. I don’t need a television and a microwave. I am especially annoyed by campgrounds where the campers are so close that you have no privacy. If we draw one of the many campers with an outdoor television as neighbors, I am even less thrilled. I prefer the rushing water, deer, and occasional moose wandering through over fancy RVs.

I am not, however, in charge of the way things are and that is probably a good thing. The challenge for me is to make the best of the world in which we find ourselves and to deal as kindly and compassionately with whatever neighbors I end up with. After all, it is only one night and what we need most is a place to park our camper so that we can get a good night’s sleep. It probably is a step up from a parking lot somewhere.

So much for whining. What I am looking forward to about today is the drive. Up the east slope of the Rockies is always filled with great scenery and the top of Homestake Pass gives a great view of Silverbow country below. The drive is short enough that it won’t be too stressful and there are several fun places where we can stop if we want.

Life is good. The journey has been fun to this point and I’m beginning to get the feel of part of what retirement might feel like. I’ve still got a lot to learn and there are challenges ahead, but we have now made it through our first month and have had some fun and wonderful experiences along the way. I’m learning to slow down a bit and appreciate each day as it comes. Who knows? I might even find that I like it.

Big Changes

I suppose that the place we call Montana has always known major upheaval and change. It once was part of a huge inland sea, but about 285 million years ago the Rocky Mountains began to rise with seismic and volcanic activity that forever changed the shape of the land. About 65 million years ago some cataclysmic event, perhaps the earth being hit by a very large asteroid, precipitated the end of the age of dinosaurs. 100,000 years ago the cooling of this part of the planet started a huge ice age that lasted for 75,000 years or so. This entire area was covered by ice and when it finally melted, a huge ice dam backed up water over much of western Montana and the surrounding territories. When that ice dam let loose the resulting flood carved the land from Eastern Washington to the Pacific, filling the Columbia and carving its course.

The changes haven’t stopped.

From an indigenous people’s perspective, a cataclysmic event occurred over the winter of 1800-1801, when a pair of French fur trappers and traders spent the winter. Befriended by the tribes, it was impossible for those who lived in the region and lived as hunter-gatherers to know how much their lives were about to change. In the summers of 1805 and 1806 the Corps of Discovery crossed Montana, first heading west and then heading east. Their contact with indigenous people was minimal, but they would never have been able to make the trip had it not been for Sacajawea, a Shoshone woman who had been taken slave by the Hidatsa and was purchased from them by a member of the Corps. She guided them and eventually met up with her brother who helped the expedition obtain horses to cross the mountains and make it to the Pacific. Still, it probably didn’t seem like the arrival of a few Europeans who traveled through the area was an indication of what was to follow. Eventually the buffalo were hunted to near extinction, the tribes were forced to live on reservations, their land taken from them. Herders and settlers followed and they fenced the land and divided it up among themselves. The Homestead Act took land that once had been traditional hunting and ceremonial grounds and turned it into private ownership. The railroads came and were given huge tracts of land by the federal government. Roads and highways followed. Indigenous children were shuttled off to boarding schools where their language and spiritual practices were banned. The near genocide by the army was accompanied by cultural genocide by a variety of groups and agencies, some of which claimed to be there for the benefit of the people of the tribes.

Most of those things happened before the arrival of my relatives, who first came to Montana by steamship to participate in the founding of churches and the forming of government. I was born as the fourth generation of my mother’s people in Montana. My father came from North Dakota to Montana as a young adult. Although I was born in Montana, I can hardly call myself indigenous. My relatives all have European heritage.

And I didn’t stay in Montana long. Shortly after my 21st birthday, I went away to Chicago to pursue my education. It turned out that I never moved back. I’ve lived in North Dakota, Idaho, South Dakota and now Washington as an adult. So I don’t even know if I can claim the designation, Montanan.

What I do know, however, is that there have been some enormous changes in this state in the span of my lifetime. The place where I was born and grew up is a thing of the past. New people have come, big changes have occurred and it isn’t the way it used to be.

Yesterday I paddled on Cooney Reservoir. Cooney Dam was built in the 1930s in the middle of a sagebrush area that was mostly cattle pasture. There were no paved roads that reached it until the 1980s. A few locals knew about it and they would take their boats there for fishing and water play on weekends, but the lake was usually abandoned during the week. The first thing I noticed when I arrived that it now is surrounded by dozens of cabins. They aren’t right on the shore, as the entire shore is a State Park, but just outside the park boundaries, the pastureland has become cabin space. There is so much of that all around Montana. Building after building is constructed what once was agricultural land. Sometimes they are spaced on 5 or 10 acre plots. Sometimes they are packed much closer together. I don’t know what percentage of these are second (or third or fourth) homes for the owners, but a large number of these buildings certainly appear to not be primary residences. Many are located in places that are hard to reach in winter except by snowmobile. Others are too far from places of employment to make them practical for working people. I am aware that there are more people who are able to work remotely, but that kind of work requires good phone service and high speed Internet, which I don’t believe are that common in the area yet. I’m sure that there will be a demand for such services. It seems strange to me that the cities in Montana, like cities in other parts of the country, have many homeless people while there are others who have multiple homes. The affluence of the wealthy have driven up the price of homes so that it is even more difficult for those without decent housing to obtain a place to live.

I paddled for an hour or so, sharing the lake with a couple of fishing boats. When the jet skis started to arrive, I took my leave of the place. I could tell what the rest of the day would be like. I’m pretty sure the fishing wasn’t any good by noon.

Perhaps we are experiencing another big upheaval. The land that once was home to dinosaurs became home to buffalo and then home to cattle and now home to tourists and the leisurely class.

While the changes seem out of place to me, I am in no position to judge. I didn’t stay in Montana. I shouldn’t expect it to stay the same for my occasional visits. The land that our family once owned now has all been sold to others who hold title and have the right to do with that land what they choose.

Still, there is a bit of nostalgia and a bit of grief for me when I return to a familiar place that is no longer familiar. Time and change continue and the future is not mine to hold.

High country hiking

I took a little hike yesterday. It is the kind of hike that when I was a teenager I might have hesitated to call it a hike. It is just a walk in the mountains. There is a trail that runs from the Palisades Campground near Red Lodge up to the Ski Resort on Red Lodge Mountain. It follows a babbling and rushing little creek. In my memory it is not terribly steep, but rather a gentle walk. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, before the ski resort was developed and before the paved road up to the ski lifts was built, there was quite a bit of mining activity, or at least exploration, in the area. Red Lodge is mostly known for coal mining. There are remnants of mining activity in the hills across the creek from town. People who know the area know the story of the Smith Mine disaster, the worst coal mining disaster in the state of Montana. On February 27, 1943, 77 miners were working underground when an explosion ripped through the mine near Bearcreek. Only three miners escaped. 74 are buried together in the underground chambers where they died.

The explorations on Red Lodge Mountain, however, were not for coal, of which there were abundant veins lower down. They were test holes and shafts dug in hope that gold or silver might be found. As far as I know none of those tests turned into actual mines, though there were active mines in other similar drainages. There is an active mine that has pierced all the way through the mountain between the Stillwater and East Boulder drainages. On Red Lodge Mountain, however, I don’t think anyone ever struck it rich. Nonetheless there were explorations and an old jeep trail wandered up the mountain that I assume was cleared by miners and carried things to and from the test holes. It is that old jeep trail that now is closed to motorized vehicles and is a trail up to the ski resort reserved for those who want to hike the two and a half miles through the forest alongside the creek.

Less than half way up the trail I had to admit that I am no longer a teenager. I also had to admit to myself that I have become a flatlander. Living at sea level has made my lungs a bit lazy, I guess. I kept running out of breath and at one point I was stopping every hundred paces or so to catch my breath. Actually hiking became easier once I admitted to myself that I needed to stop. I would walk a ways and when my breathing became labored, I simply stopped and caught my breath. I had no schedule to keep. And I was alone. That is one thing about hiking in Montana. You can usually have the entire trail to yourself. I had taken the appropriate precautions. I had told Susan where I was hiking. I clipped a key ring to a metal water bottle to serve as a bear bell. It is a good time of the year to be bear smart. Although it feels like summer, the bears know that fall is coming and they are consuming as many calories as possible in preparation for a long winter’s sleep. They are in no mood to deal with dumb tourists. Although this feels like home country to me, I realize that I am but a tourist in the high country these days, stopping every little while just to catch my breath.

I am happy where I now live. I love the Cascade mountains. They are high and beautiful and have glacier-topped mountains. No matter how much I admire the mountains of my adopted home, however, there is and always will be something special about the Rocky Mountains to me. The spine of two continents, running from the Arctic Ocean to the tip of South America, the mighty mountains have a quality all their own. Having grown up on the east slope, I am at home in the dry lower country that is quickly transformed as you walk uphill. It doesn’t take a scientist to declare that the sagebrush valley is an entirely different climactic zone from the tree-shaded slopes. I’m sure it was a full ten degrees cooler on the trail than it was in town.

One of the things I have always loved about Red Lodge is that it makes it easy to get away from the heat of the Yellowstone Valley. When we were going to school in Billings, we knew we could get away from the city heat by going up to Red Lodge. There is no mystery in my mind why we chose to come to Red Lodge for our honeymoon.

As I walked I made up a little speech that I imagined I might give in case I met another hiker on the trail while going up. I would say something like, “Please pass on by. I’m doing fine. I’m just going slow for two reasons. One is that I’m 70 years old and do everything slower than when I was a teenager. The other is that I live at sea level and I haven’t adjusted to the altitude.” Of course I didn’t run into any others on the trail and if I had they likely would not have been the least bit interested in why I was walking slowly. They would have been happy to simply go on their way.

It isn’t that other hikers are rude. They definitely are not. But we all take to the trail in part because we treasure solitude. My hike gave me a couple of hours to just be by myself with my thoughts, surrounded by beauty. 10,000 butterflies danced before me on the wildflowers, The creek sang is happy song for me. The trees whispered thoughts that are imperceptible to beings that live only a century or less. Of course I wasn’t alone. The deer simply stayed out of sight. The birds called out a warning. And if there was a bear on the mountain, it was far more interested in salmonberries than me and it kept its distance.

I suppose that were I to spend a few weeks here I would acclimate to the elevation. I hope that is the case. But for now, I’m retired and I’m not as young as I once was. That is just fine with me. I’ll go slowly uphill and down. There is still much beauty to see simply by parking the car and walking the trail.

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