Summary of our Trip

We are home. Our camper is safely parked at our son’s farm. It was quite a trip and a wonderful adventure. Here are a few statistics:

We drove 6,481.2 miles. Some of it was driving around Big Timber, Montana; Dalzell, South Carolina; and Rapid City, South Dakota; where we stayed for more than one night. A little bit of our driving was sight seeing along the way with our trailer parked, but over 6,000 miles we were pulling our camper.

We stayed in our camper 32 consecutive nights, parked in 11 different locations. There were 4 campgrounds where we staying both headed east and headed west. One campground, in Rapid City, South Dakota, was our home for four days on our west bound leg of the journey. We stayed at my sister’s place in Montana for 6 nights when we were east bound and one night on our return trip. We parked in our daughter and son-in-law’s back yard for nine nights.

We used 518.5 gallons of diesel, averaging 12.5 miles per gallon for the trip.

We topped out 7 mountain passes going both directions.

We didn’t experience any major breakdowns with the camper or the truck. We didn’t have any flat tires. We did make a few minor repairs along the way, but none delayed our trip. Making small repairs is part of the camper lifestyle. I have a theory that the people who enjoy traveling with a recreational vehicle are the ones who enjoy working on their vehicle and making small repairs. I had to replace a couple of screws in a drawer slide. I replaced a cable that operates a plumbing valve. I tightened a few screws and nuts. I also made regular checks of tire pressures, wheel bearing temperatures, oil levels, and other routine items.

We saw an amazing slice of the United States, driving from the northwest corner to nearly the south east corner. Our camper is currently parked 4 1/2 miles from the coast and 5 miles from the Canadian border. When we were at our daughter’s home, we were in the center of South Carolina. We crossed the Rockies, the plains, the Appalachians, and a lot of other beautiful country. We drove across and alongside the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. We crossed 12 states.

Those statistics, however, don’t come close to telling the story of our wonderful adventure.

I have had significant conversations with all of my living siblings. I have had some important time with nieces and nephews and their children. I have sung the old camp songs with family and friends. I have dipped in cold mountain streams and busy swimming pools.

We have seen first hand the condition of the highways and bridges in our country. We have experienced construction delays and seen repairs in progress. We’ve bounced through a lot of pot holes and rough patches in the highways.

Importantly, we have had a wonderful time being a couple, eating our favorite home-cooked foods and visiting a few very good restaurants. We’ve sampled some excellent barbecue and smoked meats, some tasty Japanese-American cooking, a bit of seafood, and a few treats that we don’t often get at home such as pecan waffles at a waffle house and sweet tea. We’ve also drunk gallons of ice tea that we made ourselves along the way and feasted on bagels and peanut butter, our favorite quick lunch while traveling. We’ve had conversations about a thousand different topics, some simply amusing and enjoyable, some important planning about our future and decisions that we make. After 48 years of being married, we still simply enjoy taking a walk hand-in-hand and having a conversation about the things that are going on in our lives.

We have fitness tracker software on the watches we wear and we completed our exercise goals every day of the trip. We took walks together and separately, we paddled and swam and played with our grandchildren. We got a bit of work done, helping out with projects at the places where we stayed.

We visited friends, old and new. We sat down for conversations with folks that we hadn’t seen for more than a year. We enjoyed renewing friendships that will continue despite the distances between our homes. We visited the homes of friends who will visit our home when they get to make big trips. We were reminded that love is stronger than distance.

The stories of our people are filled with stories of journeys and pilgrimages. We have had the blessing of enjoying many road trips over the years. We have traveled to places that are even farther away than the destination of this adventure. Each time we travel, we learn and grow and experience a bit more of the culture and lifestyle of those who are different than ourselves. Driving across this country reminds us that ours is a union of diverse people with many different concerns, opinions and ways of life. When we travel we get to experience different dialects and accents. I joke about enjoying visits to the south where my name has two syllables. Down there it is pronounced “Tay-ed.” Up north it is a quick “Ted.”

Today we will have some time with our grandchildren who live near us in Washington. We’ll play a few games and have a lunch. We’ve already had supper with their family at their place. Today they will visit our home for a few hours while their parents are working. It should be warm, which will be perfect for us to visit a splash park within walking distance of our house. We’ve walked by it many times, but when you have children, you get to stop and play and even get a little wet. Maybe we’ll have pizza for lunch - something that we don’t do very often in our regular lifestyle. We only ate pizza once while we were on our trip.

This summer holds many more adventures for us. We will be hosting a gathering of Susan’s sisters and their children and grandchildren. We will begin a new job. We will be shopping for a new-to-us home.

Our life is a journey and some seasons involve a lot of miles. Each day is an adventure with surprise and delight.

Nearly home

Note: Sorry for the late post today. We camped at one of our favorite campgrounds last night: Icicle River just outside of Leavenworth, Washington. It is a beautiful place, but sits in a deep canyon where there is no cell phone service. The campground advertises that they have wifi hot spots, but we couldn’t get enough bandwidth from their wifi to publish the journal today. Unseen, but part of the process is updating of the date and time stamp on a lot of files caused by the fact that we transported the computer into a new time zone. We probably will not get the journal uploaded until we get home, where we have high speed internet. (That is what we have done. We are safely at home in Mount Vernon, Washington after a 6,481.2 mile trip.)

We had a short day yesterday. We drove out of Montana, across Idaho at its narrow northern part and into Washington to the Cascades. There is just one mountain pass to cross to get home. The Interstate crosses the Cascades at Snoqualmie Pass, but we left the Interstate and went north to Wenatchee and will cross on Stevens Pass. The traffic will be much lighter and we will bypass Seattle traffic on our way home.

We have reached the point in our pilgrimage where we are almost home. A big adventure has a beginning and an end and the end to this particular trip is in sight. Like every trip, we have begun to think about what is next. We have some fun and busy days ahead. In a week, we will be hosting a gathering of Susan’s sisters and their families and then we will be beginning a new job. A phone call with our landlord yesterday reminds us that we need to move into high gear with the process of shopping for a house to buy and we need to think about moving one more time. Our lease on this house ends September 30, and we will be negotiating with the landlord about exactly when we will make the move.

I’ve watched friends who have retired with a bit more grace than we have mustered. We seem to not have thought of all of the details and still have some big decisions to make in our retirement. Still, we know that being retired doesn’t mean ceasing to work and it doesn’t mean ceasing to have big decisions to make. One of the changes in our culture, as opposed to that of our grandparents, is that it is common for people to make multiple moves in retirement. In the church, we often saw folks who chose a home for their retirement that worked for a while, even decades, and then faced a move to a smaller place. Moving from a house to an apartment to a retirement community to assisted living to a care center is not all that uncommon. Every move involves downsizing and shedding some of the possessions that have been accumulated over a lifetime.

The temptation in every pilgrimage is to allow anticipation of what is to come to cloud the enjoyment of what is currently going on. Although we will be home later today, we are waking to a truly beautiful place. This part of the Cascade mountains is marked with alpine peaks and rushing water. Our campsite is right next to the Icicle River which carries runoff from the brooks and creeks in the high country where the last of winter snows are finally melting. The east side of the Cascades get a bit less rainfall than the west side, but the transition from high desert in central Washington to the lush greenery of the rainforest occurs quickly. We are in that transition zone, filled with pine, willow and cottonwood trees that are familiar to us. After we cross the pass today we will see plenty of Cedar, Douglas Fir and Hemlock soaring above the landscape. Ferns and other water-loving plants will appear as ground cover.

The entire Pacific Northwest has been experiencing unseasonably hot weather this summer. The locals report that it is different from any years in memory. The campground hosts with whom we spoke last evening are planning to head for the coast in a couple of days to get a break from the 100 degree days that have become the pattern this summer. There is still more than a month before cooler days will come. By then the river will be reduced to a trickle and the danger of wildfire will become extreme. There are already plenty of wildfires in the country to the north and east of this tiny valley.

Still, the country cools down at night in the high country. The temperatures drop into the seventies, a bit warmer than usual, but still temperate. The crickets sing and the sound of the water passing by in the creek is refreshing. This is a beautiful place and it is easy to see how people have chosen it as their home. It is a treat to be invited to visit and to enjoy the natural beauty of this place.

Every journey and every life is a balance of memory, present experience, and anticipation of the future. We are fortunate to live with an awareness of time. Part of the process of being joyful, however, is to release the past and the future so that one can focus on the present moment. Philosophers have written millions of words about simply being present in the current moment. It is a true blessing to simply enjoy this time without being over burdened by memory or anticipation. Still, we are human and we do carry with us thoughts of the past and the future. Pilgrimage is a practice of allowing every step of the journey to have its own meaning and to pay attention to the process of traveling through space as well as through time. We are familiar with the place we call home where we will arrive later today. We know some of the chores that face us. We will unload the camper. There will be laundry to do. The house will need a bit of airing out and we’ll probably make a quick trip to replenish groceries. The bugs need to be washed off of the camper and truck and the mail needs to be sorted.

But now, for a little while yet, it is not time for any of those chores. Now it is time to listen to the crickets and the river song and to doze and enjoy the place where we are. There will be plenty of time for working later. Now is a time to enjoy the gift of rest.

Signs of the times

As we have been traveling, we have read a lot of billboards. For most of the trip, it seemed to us that there were a lot of places selling fireworks. In some states, such as Missouri, there are giant warehouse-sized fireworks stores. Another type of business that seems to go in for billboard advertising along the Interstate highways is erotica and sex toy shops. We didn’t stop at any fireworks stores. We didn’t stop at the other places, either.

I suspect that some of the billboards exaggerate a bit. For example, approaching Three Forks, Montana from the east there is a sign that reads, “Voted Montana’s favorite small town.” I’m wondering who got to vote. I’m pretty sure that the people who living in neighboring towns such as Manhattan and Townsend, wouldn’t agree that it is their favorite small town. I know for a fact that the folks who live in Big Timber and Red Lodge and Malta and Fort Benton and Libby and Polson would disagree with great passion. So I don’t know exactly what makes Three Forks Montana’s favorite small town. I guess it is the favorite of whoever paid to have the billboard put up.

But there are some signs that are worth heeding. There is a stretch from about Missoula to St. Regis heading west and from the Idaho line to St. Regis heading east where you will see several billboards that have a picture of a milkshake and simply say, “Best. Shake. Ever.” If you aren’t into huckleberries you should probably put the billboards in the category of the “Montana’s Favorite Small Town” sign. But, if you have a notion about wild mountain huckleberries, you probably ought to check it out.

I’m not sure I can vouch completely for the claim of best. shake. ever. After all I’ve had quite a few milkshakes in my life. I have made quite a few myself. I make a really, really good huckleberry milkshake with Tillamook Huckleberry ice cream and Huckleberry ice cream sauce that we get at the St. Regis Travel Plaza. Furthermore, I have stopped at the St. Regis Travel Plaza many times in the past to have a huckleberry milkshake. It is hard to compare what I’ve tasted in the past with what they are serving right now, but I have to say that they are very consistent with their huckleberry milkshakes - consistently very, very good.

There are more than a few places that serve milkshakes that could hardly be described as a beverage. If it is too thick to draw up a straw, it is a concrete mixer, or flavored ice cream, but it doesn’t really qualify as a milkshake? And what is with all of the whipped cream these days? If you are proud of your milkshake, why do you have to doctor it with whipped cream? The whipped cream isn’t flavored and it just takes up space in the cup that should be filled with the cold creamy beverage.

So is a huckleberry milkshake at the St. Regis Travel Plaza really the Best. Milkshake. Ever.? I’m thinking that you will have to judge for yourself. If you do decide to give it a try, St. Regis is about 35 miles from the border between Montana and Idaho on Interstate 90. It’s a tourist town, so be prepared to wait for a little while in line. Be sure to order a large milkshake. The small will leave you wanting more. Trust me on that one.

The miles are going by and our grand expedition for the summer of 2021 is nearing our home base. We are taking the last couple of days slowly. We didn’t come very far yesterday and we are going to stop short of home today so that we will have an easy half day drive over the Cascades and home on Friday. We’ll be home by noon. Tomorrow we’ll stay at another of our favorite campgrounds, the Icicle River Campground near Leavenworth, WA. We should be past the worst of the smoke by then. It is pretty smoky here in St. Regis and we’ve been driving in thick smoke since Rapid City. The smoke puts a scratch in your throat and it makes your eyes tired.

Temperatures, however, are a bit more mild. The day before yesterday the high we saw was 106 degrees. Yesterday’s high was 90. It was 88 the we arrived at the campground. To be clear, summer highs in the the mountain country are normally in the 70’s, so 88 is warm for the area. But is is better than the 100+ temperatures that we saw when we were heading east in early July. Still, August is generally warmer than July so there is a good month more of high temperatures ahead for the mountain west. We are expecting temperatures to be more moderate once we get over the Cascades. Furthermore, there will be much less smoke there as most of the fires are east of our little corner of Washington State.

88 degrees, however, is plenty warm enough to boost sales of milkshakes at St. Regis. I saw a gentleman walking out of the Travel Center with a tray of six large milkshakes and I had to wait in line while a dozen or so people got their milkshakes before we got ours. Whether or not it was the Best. Milkshake. Ever., it was pretty darn good. I recommend it.

Huckleberries are wild berries similar to blueberries, but with a more intense burst of flavor. They grow in the high country. When I was a kid we knew of several huckleberry picking spots and headed for them each time we were up in the mountains. The only problem is that bears really like huckleberries and so you have to be bear smart and pay attention when you are picking them. As good as they are, they don’t warrant an argument with a hungry bear. The location of the best patches is a well guarded secret and not something one shares on the Internet. So if you want huckleberries, I recommend stopping at one of the many stores that sell huckleberry items all across Western Montana. You might even want to sample the Best. Shake. Ever. Then, I’d like your opinion. Perhaps St. Regis is really Montana’s Favorite Small Town.

Smoky skies

After four days of smoky skies in South Dakota, we are back on the road. Yesterday was a hot and smoky drive. The warmest temperature we saw was 106 degrees as we drove by Billings, Montana. The forecast calls for temperatures to be about 10 degrees cooler today and that will be a relief for the folks who live here. The smoke, however, will continue and no one knows how long the unhealthy air will linger. The various maps of wildfires across the northwest show so many fires that it is hard to determine exactly where the biggest fires are located. The National Interagency Fire Center is reporting 63 large uncontained large fires in Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon. Additional large fires are burning in Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon and Northwest Territories. And in Alaska, over 200,000 acres have been affected by wildfire this year. That is a lot of territory where large fires are burning and that means that there is a lot of smoke for any area downwind.

We expect that we will be experiencing heavy smoke until we get to the top of the Cascade Mountains in Western Washington sometime a couple of days from now. Yesterday we could barely see the Big Horn Mountains from Buffalo and Sheridan, Wyoming and the Crazy Mountains, a major feature of my home town, are completely obscured by smoke. The smoke really changes the amount of scenery we will see as we drive through the familiar country of Montana. We are used to spectacular vistas as we climb the high mountain passes and cross the continental divide, but we know that we’ll be looking out at smoky skies and we will be grateful for air conditioning and the air filters with which our truck is equipped. We took a short walk yesterday, but the air is too unhealthy for strenuous outdoor exercise.

The inconvenience we are experiencing is minor compared to the danger the firefighters are facing. Entire communities have already been consumed by fire and there are many people who have lost their homes to fire and many others whose homes are threatened.

This summer’s record-breaking hot weather across the northwest has been dominating the news in the region. People in the mountain west are not used to triple-digit weather. There are places where the overnight lows are higher than the usual daytime highs. Folks who have lived without air conditioning for generations are sweltering. And the smoke is exacerbating health conditions of many. The area of smoky skies is so large that most people simply can’t get away from it.

I am no expert, but from what I have been reading, hot summers and lots of wildfires are becoming the new norm as the effects of global warming continue to play out. It is difficult to connect any single weather incident to human-caused climate change, but the cumulative affect of so many fires shows the effects of our warming planet.

For now, there is little that we can do. We confess that we have contributed to the problem by choosing to take a long trip with our truck and camper and consume a large amount of fossil fuel along the way. The effect of any individual is tiny compared to the scale of the globe, but taken together we humans are contributing to many factors that have brought about the conditions we are experiencing.

As we drove yesterday, we thought of the many travelers we have seen who are taking once-in-a-lifetime vacations. They have planned and saved and prepared for a big trip to the west and they are unable to experience the natural beauty that we have taken for granted. This smoky drive over the mountains and divides is just one trip among many for us. We’ve seen blue skies and we know how Montana got its state slogan: Big Sky Country. We’ve seen the mountains when they are not shrouded in smoke and we know the grandeur of the vistas that are out there. But for those who are first time visitors to Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks or who are on their first trip across the mountain west, there is so much that they simply cannot see.

Hiking in the backcountry can be dangerous both because of the effects of breathing so much smoke and because of the unpredictability of where the next lightning strikes will fall and where the next big fire will break out.

At this point we are very lucky that our new home is on the other side of the Cascade mountains where there is much less smoke. The cool Pacific breezes will be welcome once we get there. Even though the area has experienced record temperatures already this summer, they are more moderate than the temperatures across much of the area we have traveled on our trip. Even though we know that the energy we are consuming is part of the problem, we are grateful for air conditioning to keep us comfortable.

Back in 1981, we bought a new car in Hettinger, North Dakota. The dealer tried hard to sell us a vehicle with air conditioning. We resisted, thinking that the number of days when we would need air conditioning would be few. North Dakota is winter country. We drove cars without air conditioning to the west coast on several trips. We looked forward to getting to the high country where daytime highs were in the 60s and 70s. I can remember a few hot drives across the high desert in eastern Oregon and Washington, but those consisted of a few uncomfortable hours followed by nights of sleep in places where it cooled down at night. Comparing those days with the current conditions we are aware of how much our world has changed.

As we drive we are mindful of the many people whose lives are far more disrupted by the smoke and fire than ours and we pray for the safety of firefighters and homeowners in the affected areas. We also know that we need to examine our own choices and make changes so that we can be part of seeking solutions to the climate crisis. We have plenty of reasons to work for change.

Farewell Rapid City

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For a very long time, our people didn’t feel a need to have a story about the beginnings of creation. We were a wandering people and so when others asked who we were and where we had come from we told them the story of Sarah and Abraham. That story is reported in the 26th chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy and begins, “A watering Aramean was my father . . .” That story is more ancient than the Bible itself and was incorporated into the Bible as one of the most ancient stories of our people. Later, when we were in exile and lived among people who had grand cosmological stories that told of the earth being formed in a battle between two gods, our people knew that their story could not be accurate because they knew that there is only one God. In those times the stories that begin our Bible and tell of God creating the heavens and the earth emerged and were treasured by the faithful of Israel. Jesus grew up in that tradition and those of us who follow Jesus as disciples learned the stories of the Hebrew Scripture and adopted them as our own.

Our story, then, is the story of wanderers. We are descended from wanderers and we are the people who are fiercely monotheistic. We speak of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - the one God of all that is, who was known by generations of our people going back as far as we can remember and figures in the most ancient stories we know.

So, when I tell the story of my own life and of our family, it is a story of wandering. It is a story of faith. Susan and my story began at a church camp in Montana when we were children. It continues in the stories of the college where we were married and shared our learning. From there we moved to Chicago for theological seminary and from there to two small churches in southwestern North Dakota. We tell the stories of our move from North Dakota to Idaho and from Idaho to South Dakota. There we stayed for a while. It was twenty-five years before God’s Spirit moved us to pack up and move on once again. When we tell people who we are we speak of the places that we have called home in the decades of our living.

There is, of course, more to that story. We could reach back to the stories of our parents and grandparents and great grandparents. We know parts of those stories. But there are so many generations between the ones we have been told and the most ancient stories of our people that we cannot report each generation as was attempted by our scriptures in telling the story of Jesus.

Another way that we tell our story is to report goodbyes. We have said good bye to many places. Sometimes we have driven away from the places we have called home with tears in our eyes even though we knew we would return. Once we have moved, returning is always sweet, but it is never the same as coming to a place that is home.

Yesterday we drove by the house where we lived for 25 years. We loved that house. We enjoyed our time there. But it is no longer ours. We do not own the land, but we are its stewards for bits of time. That house now belongs to another. Still, it was fun to see it and our memories were stirred by looking at the outside of the house.

So today we say good bye once again to this place that was our home. It is time for us to move on to the north and west to the home where we now live. What we know is another truth that the ancients knew. Our real dwelling place is with God. “God, thou has been our dwelling place in all generations,” begins the 90th Psalm. That is our truth. Our home is with God. Along the way there are many places we have called home.

Saying good bye is always a challenge because we have loved this place and its people. It is populated by our friends and people for whom we care deeply. And we know that we will not be together for some of the events of our lives. We will miss the baptisms of new babies and the funerals of elders. We will miss graduations and confirmations and weddings. We are part of the story, but only part.

The “bye” is “good” however, because moving on and continuing the journey is what our people do. There is much to call us toward the future. The places where our children and grandchildren have chose to call home are now a part of our story. We are reminded of an important truth: the story does not end with our generation. We belong to something that is much bigger than ourselves. The journey did not start with us and it will not end when our time of living on this earth has concluded. We belong to a long line of history-making and our story is far from ending.

Farewell, people of Rapid City. Godspeed. May the love that we have shared continue to grow and inspire and the stories we have shared continue to guide the journeys of our people. May the ministry we have known remind others of the joy of the love of God and the fellowship of Christ and the hope of the Holy Spirit. A thousand benedictions have already been said and many more will be added in the generations to come.

This is not the end of our story. We will return to visit in the future. The journeys of those beloved will cross paths with our journey in the time to come. In the words of one of our teachers, “We will walk with a truth that is ever before and sing our God’s song in an ever strange land. Creation still moves through travail and through mirth. And justice, like waters, keeps freshening the earth.”

Good people in a good place

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In the mid 1990s, after a decade of serving a congregation in Boise, Idaho, we decided that the time had come for us to explore where God was calling us to go next. We had 17 years of job sharing and working together as ordained ministers under our belt. We had served in small rural and isolated congregations as well as in an urban church. We had shared ministry with other staff members and been through some capital funds drives. We had learned a lot about how to administer a congregation and how to run educational programs. The church we were serving was ready to begin a construction project that would give it the building to be its home well into the next century. Additional land had been purchased. The funds had been raised to proceed with the project that would add a full service elevator, new bathrooms and give additional space in the sanctuary. And our family was growing. Our children were teenagers and we needed to find a way to produce more than one income to support them and to prepare for their college years.

Our profiles were circulating in just a few states and we resolved to examine potential calls one at a time, without looking at multiple congregations at the same time and playing one off against another. We were familiar with the Black Hills as Susan’s Aunt and Uncle had lived there. Our son had undergone surgery there when he was 18 months old and we were living in North Dakota. We had been to Placerville Camp many times as a young couple and later with visiting youth groups. When we found that 1st Congregational United Church of Christ was seeking a new pastor, we decided to submit only one profile. I would seek the position alone, so that Susan could seek another position. Our family needed two incomes. We were a bit nervous about what working in different congregations might mean, but we wanted to be open to the calling of the Holy Spirit.

Somewhere in the process we discovered that the congregation was also seeking a Director of Christian Education. The nine-month a year position seemed to be a good fit for our family. In our conversations with the congregation we negotiated that if Ted accepted the call to the pastoral position, Susan would be able to apply for the CE position. The church would have no obligation to hire her, but if she was the one chosen by the committee, we would work out terms of call for both of us.

It took a little while, but that is indeed what happened. We had two positions, but only one congregation. It was a perfect match for our family’s needs. It was a fit for us. We worked side by side in those positions for the next 25 years. Over the years, things shifted. Susan took on more of the new member responsibilities. We shared pastoral calling and hospital visits. As our children grew up, Susan shifted to more full-time work in the church. When the demands of caring for our parents ih the later years of their lives required our time, we covered for each other and shifted our working hours to have time for caregiving as well as serving the church.

During that time there were a couple of times when we explored other potential calls and considered the possibility of moving, but each time we discovered that we were called to stay and serve in Rapid City. The congregation supported sabbaticals for additional education and growth and renewal of our commitment. in 2006 we received a significant grant from the Lily Foundation that enabled the congregation and us to examine our calls and our future and recommit to sharing ministry together. It was an exciting and heady time as we discovered a deeper commitment to long term ministry together.

The congregation was, like other congregations, filled with strong people. They didn’t always agree with one another. Sometimes there were small conflicts, but each time the commitment to the church was stronger than the differences. We watched children grow up and new ones be born. We celebrated lives well-lived and joined in grief for funerals. We planned confirmation preparation programs and mentored youth. We participated in camps and in the conference and in the national setting of our church.

Through it all, the people of the church were very good to us. We were well supported in our ministry. We were given opportunities to grow and change and expand our horizons.

When the time came for us to retire, we knew that we had to plan our retirement in a way that allowed the congregation to grow beyond our leadership. We would need to move out of the way for new leadership to be called. For us that meant selling our home and moving to a new place. Plans were made. Then the Covid Pandemic hit and plans were changed. The final months of our active working careers were filled with learning new skills. We increased our social media presence overnight. We learned to lead worship and Bible study and other ministries online.

Now, a year into retirement, we understand how much we have missed the good people of the church we served for so long. We also understand how much we have missed the good and meaningful work that we were given in this place. This weekend has been one of deep appreciation for the people of the church as we pay a brief visit. We know that the year has been a challenge for the church. They have gone through the grief of losing their pastors. They have faced the challenge of seeking new leadership. But they have also remained the good and faithful people in the loving and caring congregation that called us to share ministry so many years ago. Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the people. We have been so warmly welcomed back for our visit. People have shown their graciousness and goodness and their love of the church to us.

It is not possible to find words to describe how it felt to sit in that room and listen to the organ and the choir as we worshiped together yesterday. Then we went into the fellowship hall for more visiting and a special cake and sharing so much love. Our hearts are filled. Our grief at leaving is healing. The years we lived and worked in Rapid City were good to us, and Rapid City and the church will always be beloved by us. We are moving on. We will make a new home in a new congregation in Washington, but we will always carry a bit of the Black Hills in our hearts and spirits as we listen for what God is calling us to do next in our lives.

At the lake

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I often said of our home in Rapid City that it was in the perfect location: between the church and the lake. When I got home from work, I was half way to the lake. It wasn’t quite exactly half way, but it was close enough. On summer days, I often got up early in the morning and went paddling before coming back home to breakfast and heading into the office. The work that we did required us to have skill at self care. I needed the quiet moments at the lake to think and pray and connect with nature to balance the times when I was focused on other people and doing the work of the church. The lake was a place where my spirit could soar and I could remind myself that I am part of something much bigger than me.

Coming back to visit Rapid City, for me, involves both the joys of reconnecting with people and the joy of reconnecting with the place. Yesterday was a fun day of meeting folks and catching up on their lives. It began with a quiet paddle on the lake. We are staying at a different lake than my usual paddling spot in Rapid City and there is a lot of construction on the road to that lake, but the small lake in town is just find for the small canoe I’ve brought with me on this trip.

The canoe I have brought is the first one that I built after we moved to Rapid City. It was made as inexpensively as possible, out of fence grade cedar. The boards had lots of knots and I had to make a lot of scarf joints in the strips. The result is a lot of variation in color, which adds to the beauty of the boat. I sanded the boat down and applied a few coats of fresh varnish this spring before we departed on this trip. It is light weight, about 35 pounds, and I can carry it easily over my head.

Yesterday I walked down to the lake with the boat in the early morning, before there were many others up. I launched into the lake before the fishermen started to arrive. Watching the sunrise from the surface of a lake is a powerful experience for me. The reflections double the beauty from my point of view.

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It was a kind of homecoming for me. The birds greeted me like old home week. The ducks and geese complained a bit as they swam away from my boat, but they weren’t so bothered that they took to flight, they just paddled away from my direction of travel. The great blue heron watched me approach and gave me a good look before taking to flight just a little bit farther down the lakeshore to resume fishing. The crows were the noisiest, swarming around their tree. The turkey vultures were silent, but stared at me as I glided past in my boat.

The lake is small, with an island in the middle. I took about half an hour to paddle around the shore and take pictures. When I set down my camera and paddled for exercise, I could make a trip around the lake in about 7 or 8 minutes. I paddled a few rounds to stretch my muscles and get a bit of exercise and then glided slowly around another time. By then, the fishermen had made it to the banks and were casing into the water, and I had to be careful to give them room. One fisherman was casting from the bridge to the island. I suspect that he wasn’t having much luck from that vantage point, but he was having his own time at the lake.

As was the case when I lived in Rapid City, my morning paddle set the mood for the day. I was grateful for the beauty I had witnessed and for the other creatures with whom I share this planet. I was refreshed by the water and the freshness of the morning. I was grateful for my small boat, built with my own hands, carrying me where I wanted to go. Paddling with a double paddle is just about the perfect stretch for the muscles of my arms and shoulders and a gentle, light exercise to begin my day. Throughout the rest of the day, when it got hot outdoors and we were hurrying from one meeting to another, I could remember the calm pace of the morning and the quiet nature of the birds who make the lake and shore their home.

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I admit that being on vacation is quite different from the years of my working life. I sleep through the night knowing that my phone is not going to ring with a crisis that needs a response from me. I trust that the church is in the hands of others and that my role has shifted. I visit people for the joy of being with others and renewing relationships that grew over decades of working together in the life of the church. We can just enjoy each other without having to solve the day to day problems of running a church. I don’t have to prepare a sermon each week and I don’t have to keep track of the budget. Life is much less complex in retirement and a few days’ visit is a joy.

There is something about reconnecting with both the people and the place that has been very meaningful for me. I am reminded of what a good place this was to live, and what good people I had to share the ministry of the church. I know that my new home is also in a good place. I know that we are forming new relationships in our church there, but I am reminded of how good the work and life was for the years we lived in Rapid City. I am grateful for the opportunity to have lived and worked in this place. And I am grateful for the balance of nature and people that supported my spirit here.

Back home - sort of

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In normal times when a pastor moves on from serving a congregation, the break is final and complete. The general rule is that the former pastor stays away from the congregation and from the people for a couple of years. Contact by phone is limited and a visit to the former church and even the community where it is located is usually not done in the first two years. But these are not normal times. We retired from our congregation in Rapid City during the Covid pandemic. We didn’t get to say good bye with a potluck lunch or with parting hugs. A drive-by of our members wasn’t the same thing. So we have returned, briefly. With the consent of the Interim pastor, we are visiting on a weekend and including attending worship on Sunday, something we have not done in the other congregations we served. The purpose is not to interfere with the congregation or to participate in the transition in any way. Our standing as pastors is no longer in this conference. We will continue to be a part of our new congregation in Washington. This summer’s trip, however, has brought us to Rapid City and we will do a little bit more saying good bye over the next couple of days.

It feels good to be back in the town where we lived and worked and loved our lives for 25 years. We are camped at an urban campground that works just right for us. We can walk, directly from our camper to Rapid City’s greenbelt and take some of our favorite walks. We are next to a small lake that is big enough for a morning paddle in a canoe. We know our way around town. We’ve already met with a few friends, including meeting one at our favorite ice cream parlor last evening. We checked out a new restaurant started by other friends for supper. We drove down Skyline Park and checked out the view of the church building without stopping by.

It is hot here, but we are still in the hills. It has cooled off overnight enough to sleep with the air conditioner off and the windows open. At least one of the campers in the park has not yet discovered that fact and we can hear the sound of their air conditioner running, but it isn’t loud enough to drown out the murmur of the insects in the trees. I walked down to the lakeshore last evening as the sun set and a great blue heron squawked its greeting as it fished the shore.

The skies, however, are smoky. There are a lot of fires north and west of here. I looked at the Interagency Fire System’s incident map and if you zoom out so that you can see the northwest corner of the country it looks like all of western Montana, northern Idaho and easter Washington and Oregon are on fire. There are additional fires in California, British Columbia and Alberta. In that way it is much like last year and the year before. Intense western wildfires are becoming a part of summer in this part of the world. The causes are complex, but it is part of the sudden shift in climate that makes for more intense weather events around the world.

The sunset last night was a typical smoky sunset, with a bright orange-red sun. Looking down main street toward the hills gave a strange feeling, but it is one we’ve felt before.

I suspect that there will be more than a few strange feelings over the next few days. Our time here will be too short for us to see everyone we would love to see. We have really missed the people of our church who had become our friends after so many years of sharing ministry together. Our friends have set up opportunities for us to meet with them and we have brunches, coffees, dinners and other gatherings planned.

Before we left South Carolina our son-in-law shared that he has learned something about going back home to visit friends over his nearly 20 years in the Air Force. “Let them come to you,” he said, “You’ll run yourself ragged trying to go to meet with everyone.” There is truth in what he is saying. This is not a pastoral visit. Our goal is not to get in touch with everyone in the congregation. Our goal is to connect with friends and to see people we know and love. And then, once again, we will leave to our home and our church in Washington and allow the congregation and its leaders to envision and plan their future. With due respect to our son-in-law and his wisdom and experience, our situation is a bit different than when he returns to his growing up home from his service. We want to see the people who we are missing. But we also know that we should not and cannot do so as their pastor. We are simply meeting with friends as friends and our visit will be brief. We are trying to achieve a balance. We have our own home base here in our camper in the corner of the park and we are having a few quiet and private moments reconnecting with the black hills and remembering how much we loved living in this place. The deer and the birds and the water call us as they did when we lived here. The wind in the trees sounds and smells familiar to us in a way that has not been the case in the other places we have visited on this trip. It feels like coming home, but not quite.

So far it has been really great to see our friends. We have been catching up on what has happened in their lives. New jobs, new careers, new graduations have occurred. Children have grown and changed. Elders have passed on. The world did not stop for our retirement. And the church is still the church. People care for one another. Community is being built. There is a vision emerging of a congregation where we are the former pastors and new leadership is coming forth.

I’ve spent many hours of my life, in the quiet of the night and early morning, seeking privacy and “a lonely place to pray” in this area. I know how to find what I need. A simple wooden canoe and a paddle await me in a few hours. In the meantime, i will sleep with the memories of the people of this place.

People and their pets

I’ve been told that RV sales have been very high since the pandemic hit. People want to travel, but are unsure of the safety of motels and other public accommodations. Having a recreational vehicle of some type gives a traveler a portable bedroom, kitchen and bathroom that can travel with them. It certainly seems that there are a lot of travel trailers, fifth-wheels and motorhomes on the highways as we have been making our trip. The campgrounds aren’t quite full to capacity, but there are plenty of campers in every campground where we have stayed on our trip.

I have to assume that there are a lot of folks with campers who are inexperienced. Most are a lot closer to home than we were when we were in South Carolina. The majority of campers that we see in campgrounds are from the state where the campground is located, or from a neighboring state. For example, tonight we are very close to the Minnesota state line and there are quite a few campers with Minnesota plates in the campground as well as a lot with South Dakota plates. Those of us with license plates from more distant places are the minority.

Often we strike up conversations with neighboring campers, so we know some of the stories. The night before last we were in Missouri. We were parked next to a family from North Carolina. It was their first big trip with a travel trailer and they asked us things such as how many miles per day we planned on our trip. On this trip we have planned from 300 to 400 miles for most days, with a couple that were a bit longer. They seemed to be planning about the same distances as us. Their destination is the Black Hills and they, too, were taking one night between Missouri and the Rapid City area.

Other campers are surprised at the distances we cover. The people from whom we bought this camper had never towed it more than 250 miles from their home. They would be surprised that most years we tow our camper 3000 to 5000 miles.

The result of all of these differences is that most campgrounds have their share of campers who are inexperienced with the customs of campground life. In a campground where the campers are parked close to each other, experienced campers know that the driver’s side of the camper is for utility hook ups and the passenger side is for awnings, picnic tables, and outdoor activities. When there is a row of campers all heading the same direction, after you have set up your camper, you spend most of your time on the passenger side of the camper, giving the camper on the other side the freedom and a bit of privacy to do the same. In general, people walk around others’ camp sites, not through them. There are, however, plenty of campers who don’t observe those common courtesies.

Last evening the folks on the passenger side of our camper had their lawn chairs and other items out on the passenger side of their camper away from us. However, they tethered their dog on the other side of the camper, next to their utility hook up. The dog was being ignored by the owners. It was a fairly large dog and it started digging in the ground next to the utility post. It had made a fairly large hole, about 5 or 6 inches deep when the owner came around the camper and discovered the digging. He calmly said to the dog, “Stop digging. Don’t be stupid.” Then he busied himself with trying to get his cable TV hooked up. He didn’t issue a command to the dog. He didn’t stop it from digging. He didn’t go over and pet the dog. He didn’t bring it a water dish or a food bowl. He just ignored it for another hour or so.

We’ve also camped next to campers who put out their dogs in kennels and ignore them. They might put out food and water when the put the kennel out, but then go on with their activities as if they didn’t own a dog. Sometimes the dogs bark or make noise and it is as if the owners can’t hear them. I suspect that those same people put their dogs out into their back yards at home and ignore the barking as well, annoying their neighbors.

A lot of campers travel with dogs. We’ve seen folks stop at a rest stop and take out three or more dogs from a single RV.

I like dogs and cats and other pets. However, we do not currently have pets and when we did we didn’t take them on road trips. We’ve seen plenty of responsible pet owners traveling with their pets and caring for them as they travel. But we’ve also seen others who have strange relationships with their pets. We see folks with small dogs that they carry everywhere they go as if the dogs couldn’t walk. I’m not sure that the dogs appreciate it, but I really don’t know. I don’t want to tell others how to treat their pets, but I have observed some pretty strange behavior.

We’ve seen pets dressed up in costumes, pets that are put out with long leashes and a few that are allowed to run off leash, which in most campgrounds is a violation of the rules. We’ve seen pet owners that clean up after their pets and others that leave messes for others to clean up. We’ve seen signs that use humor to try to get pet owners to be responsible. “There is no poop fairy.” “Our campground is not a bank. Don’t let your dog leave a deposit.” It is obvious that the signs are a response to a problem that campground operators have experienced.

I guess campgrounds are just like the rest of society. There are a lot of good neighbors who are responsible and a few who are less so and don’t seem to follow the customs and rules. It is sad, however, to see pets who are neglected or ignored. They didn’t get to choose their owners.

Meanwhile, driving along . . .

Continuing a theme of he past two posts in my journal, the song for St. Louis has been around for a long time. It was composed for the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

"Meet me in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the fair,
Don't tell me the lights are shining
Any place but there,
We will dance the Hoochee Koochee
I will be your tootsie wootsie,
If you will meet in St. Louis, Louis,
Meet me at the fair.”

I know that the song is a classic, but it really sounds racy, when you think of it. The Hoochee Koochee sounds suspiciously like the turn of the 20th century version of twerking - sort of like something that might show up on Tiktok nearly a century and a quarter later. And what’s with tootsie tootsie? I guess it is a term of endearment, but it made me think of the rhyme you play with little children while tickling their toes:

This little tootsie went to market
This little tootsie stayed home . . .

I know we learned it as “This little piggy,” but tootsie is a child’s term for toes. Perhaps Meet Me in St. Louis is a bit too sketchy for children, however.

We continued down the highway until:

Everything's up to date in Kansas City
They gone about as fer as they can go
They went an' built a skyscraper seven stories high
About as high as a buildin' orta grow.
Everything's like a dream in Kansas City
It's better than a magic lantern show.
You can turn the radiator on whenever you want some heat
With every kind of comfort every house is all complete.
You could walk the privees in the rain and never wet your feet!
They've gone about as fer as they can go.
They've gone about as fer as they can go!

I guess we owe a debt to 1940’s musical theatre for having both of those songs. Both of the musicals were set in the first decade of the 20th century. In the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, they were poking fun at the isolation and backwardness of rural Oklahomans. I suspect that by the time the musical was written, people knew that seven stories wasn’t going to be the epitome in building. These days, One Kansas City Place, 1200 Main, is the tallest building not only in Kansas City but in Missouri. The 42-story building stands 626 feet. And no, indoor plumbing really isn’t as far as they can go. You should see a toilet seat in Japan with sprayers, heaters and driers. That wouldn’t make a very good song, however.

One of the topics chosen for yesterday’s drive was: memorable meals. It was probably prompted by Kansas City barbecue which is a staple for us when we are in western Missouri these days. Our son in law, Michael taught us the joys of this particular style of cooking that involves a lot of smoking, sometimes with dry rubs or marinades and sauces that are added after cooking by the eaters. If you are ever in the area, check it out. You’re in for a treat. But once we got going, we realized that we’ve had far too many memorable meals in this lifetime and the category is not a rare one for us. From bagels and peanut butter while camping to a noodle slide in Japan to Devonshire tea in Tasmania, we’ve had some really memorable meals. Freshly steamed crab on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and real French onion soup served by the wife of one of our professors in seminary came to mind as did a little Thai cafe in Chicago and a Greek restaurant just around the corner from our seminary apartment. We kept listing more and more memorable meals. I guess we’ve done pretty good with eating over the years.

In our rambling way of conversation after passing through St. Louis and St. Charles and heading towards St. Joseph, the topic of “cities with saint names where the saint is a woman” was proposed. We came up with several in California: Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, There are several St. Maries in the country, but we couldn’t come up with any cities named for women saints that are in Missouri.

The miles go by when we are talking and singing together and the traffic in Saint Louis and Kansas City wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. The frogs singing in the trees here in St. Joseph are just as loud and wonderful as the frogs were back in Whittington Woods in Illinois, and we went to bed with our stomachs full of Kansas City barbecue. I had ribs. Susan had a pulled pork sandwich. Coleslaw is the salad of choice in most Kansas City barbecue restaurants, but we often sample potato salad as well to get a taste of how others make the dish. Susan has been adapting and perfecting her potato salad recipe for a long time. The question for last night was whether or not to include the potato skins. Our conclusion is to peel the potatoes first, but there may be sometimes, especially if you have new potatoes, when the peelings add to the salad.

Our lives have been blessed with travel and with good food, often enjoyed with good friends. Having friends from around the world has enhanced our opportunities for eating foods that are different from the things we would eat at home. They also have changed the menus of what we prepare in our own home. Soba noodles have become a staple in our house since we traveled to Japan. Other foods that we cook everyday have been influenced by the friends we have had and the meals we have shared.

The husband of our niece, when responding to a question about special diet needs in advance of a family gathering set for August, wrote that his family is on a pie-based diet and that he didn’t think that the typical raisin-based filling called mincemeat is real mincemeat. Without beef or venison is it really mincemeat? So Susan’s sister is preparing to bake pies for the family. Our son used to specify Kosher meals when flying because he got better food served specially on trips. Of course we don’t get meals on airlines much these days, but it isn’t a bad idea. So I’m wondering if there is a way to describe my love of smoked meats as a special diet requirement.

That could be a topic for more miles of driving.

The Adventure Continues

For starters, I’ll offer just a brief addendum to yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read it, you might want to as I’m not going to explain it today. We hit a category that almost stumped us yesterday. We started by trying to come up with songs about Paducah, Kentucky. We didn’t come up with one was we were driving. There are a couple, however. Here’s the chorus to one:

Paducah, Paducah, if you wanna,
you can rhyme it with bazooka,
But you can't pooh-pooh Paducah,
That's another name for paradise.Paducah

The search for the song brought up the category of words that rhyme with Paducah. Our list was pretty short: bazooka, Luca, and hooka. I guess it depends on how narrow and precise you want to be with your rhyming. I think babushka, palooka, mazurka and Topeka work pretty well. Alaska, Africa, and Jamaica might work in a song, but you have to put the emphasis on the correct syllable. Hanukkah has to be mispronounced to make it work.

We have some interesting, if not very world-changing, conversations while we are driving.

In the part of the country where we now live, Seattle is the city where we encounter traffic. For the most part, we don’t have to go to Seattle very often, but it is a major hub airport and we’ve made the trip to pick up and deliver family and friends to the airport. We also encounter a bit of traffic when we drive through Spokane, which we do when heading back to South Dakota or to visit family in Montana or to go to N-Sid-Sen, one of the camps of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. Based on our experiences with this trip, however, I would say that neither of those cities has traffic that is as bad as cities we have been through or around on our journey. Columbia, South Carolina, Asheville, North Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Nashville, Tennessee all had crumbling roads with huge potholes as well as traffic that slowed to a crawl at times. I cut my teeth on urban driving in Chicago, so feel that I can deal with traffic, but these cities slowed us down. We have two major ones ahead before we return to what I call the wast: St. Louis and Kansas City. Both of them are on the agenda for today.

We are camped in the woods in southern Illinois, having crossed the line from Kentucky near Paducah. The frogs and crickets are singing in the woods and we are able to sleep with the windows open. The humidity isn’t as intense as it was in South Carolina and the temperatures are just a bit higher. So far our travel is going very well. Today we’ll cross into Missouri with a major urban center at each end and we plan to camp near St. Joseph tonight. That makes Sioux Falls an easy destination for tomorrow and then on to Rapid City the next day where we will take a break and stay for a little while to visit friends and attend church on Sunday.

Part of what makes a city intimidating is not really knowing your way around. When you are driving in a city that is familiar, you can select an alternate route based on traffic or construction or other factors. When you are just passing through you often have planned only one route. In some ways navigating by GPS makes it a bit easier as the device will seek alternate routes when you get off track. In another way it is a bit harder as when we studied paper maps, we had a more firm sense of how our route went through our around a city. For this trip we’ve been entering the address of our destination for the day into the GPS and allowing the device to choose our route.

I remember the first time we allowed the GPS to guide our travel on a big trip. We were attending the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, held in Hartford, Connecticut, in 2007. We decided that if we drove hard for 2 1/2 days, we could have our camper and a kayak back east, attend the meeting and explore a bit of New England up towards Nova Scotia and then camp our way back across Canada on our way home. We went to AAA and got trip kits and maps for the adventure, but we also had a new GPS unit. The GPS was fantastic for guiding us through urban areas. When we got to Hartford, it guided us right through the traffic to the front door of our Hotel. When we missed an exit earlier in the trip, it recalculated and gave us an alternate route. I decided that the device was a real asset for urban driving. At the time, I still didn’t trust it completely for back country navigation and there were some big mistakes in the database in rural areas. The accuracy of the devices has really improved and the inclusion of them in our cell phones has made us really dependent upon them for navigation. We have a good atlas in our truck, but we haven’t been referring to paper maps on our trip except to record our route after each day’s travel. There is no stack of state maps or AAA trip kit in our truck.

Another difference in this trip, compared with other cross-country trips we’ve made over the years, is that the condition of the nation’s roads and bridges is worse. The creation of the interstate Highway System was a part of our growing up and young adult years and we got used to roads that were in pretty good condition. But the years have passed and maintenance has been deferred. Concrete highways are crumbling and the nation needs another major effort if we are to maintain our highway system. While congress delays and debates infrastructure bills, it is easy to see the need as we drive. The roads simply are not in as good shape as was the case when we made trips decades ago.

The journey, however, has been a grand adventure and the adventure continues.

The joy of rambling conversation

In the bestselling novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, the protagonist,The Count, and his daughter, Sophia, play a game they call “Zut.” In the game one player proposes a category with a specialized subset of phenomena, for example stringed instruments, or famous islands, or winged creatures that are not birds. The two players then go back and forth until one of them fails to come up with an example within a suitable amount of time. In the novel, they allow two and a half minutes to come up with an example. The first player to win two sets is the victor. According to the Count in the novel, the name of the game came from the expression “Zut alors!” - the only appropriate expression upon losing.

As we have been driving, we have been playing our own version of the game. There are areas of our lives where we are a bit competitive, but for the most part we enjoy working together more than competing, so we’ve eliminated the sense of competition. We don’t bother to take turns. One of us comes up with a category and then we both just try to list as many things as we can in that category. We aren’t French, so nobody has been declaring “Zut alors!” in our conversations. And frequently as we are thinking another topic of conversation comes to mind and we are sidetracked. Sometimes one of us will come up with another item for the category later in the conversation - or later in the day and we’ll return to thinking of items in that category.

For example, “animals that are black and white” generated zebras, skunks, Dalmatians, some cates, orcas, penguins, osprey, bald eagles, and holstein cows right away. Some time later, I added “other dogs” to cover the malamute that we once owned. Siberian husky might also fit the category as would elkhounds. A while later we noted that there are a lot of other birds, such as magpies that are black and white.

We didn’t compile such a long list for the category of “works of art or literature with allusions to purple.” Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” came to mind right way, as did Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I recited, “I’ve never seen a purple cow. I never hope to see one. But I can tell you this right now. I’d rather see than be one!” Then we thought of “One Horned, One Eyed, Flying Purple People Eater, and got distracted trying to figure out the lyrics to the song. That led to a discussion about when the song came out. I thought that Chuck Berry was the one who recorded it, and Susan could remember listening to it on a white radio that they had had in their house in Libby. Our memories sort of placed the song in the late 1950s or early 1960s, but we weren’t sure. That led to looking up the song on a phone to see when it was recorded: 1959 by Chuck Berry. Perhaps one of us should have exclaimed, “Zut alors!” in celebration of getting both the date and artist right. I’m thinking that we might have come up with some other work of art or literature that has an allusion to purple. The best we’ve come up with so far is the poem, “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple.” That prompted a few memories of red hat society gatherings in which my mother participated. We haven’t gotten back to the topic of the category yet.

As we were walking in the rain last evening the category that came up was songs that refer to places we have been on this trip. You’ve got to include “Sweet Caroline” (bum, bum, bum) in that list. Since we are camped very near to Rocky Top, Tennessee the song with that name came up. I suggested that since the Tennessee Volunteers went to the aid of Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, and we are staying in Volunteer Park, the song “Battle of New Orleans” would fit.

In 1814 we took a little trip
Along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip’
We took a little bacon and we took a little beans
And we caught the bloody British in the town of New Orleans

We fired our guns and the British kept a-comin’
There wasn't as many as there was a while ago
We fired once more and they began to runnin’
On down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico

Susan was impressed that I could come up with those lyrics. I commented that I used to know several more verses, but now I couldn’t come up with any more. That got us off topic and we started to talk about how our memories work and how when I have a partial memory, sometimes singing a song over and over can prompt more lyrics to be remembered. Susan said that other than church hymns, she doesn’t have many songs memorized. I pride myself in being able to come up with at least a song, usually from musical theatre, to respond to many different topics of conversation. The song “Memory” from Cats comes to mind.

Memory, all alone in the moonlight
I can dream of the old days
Life was beautiful then

Of course I can’t remember the rest of that song.

Our version of the game and our conversations around it bear little resemblance to the conversations between the Count and Sophia in Towles’ novel. It is, of course, a work of fiction, and the conversations are imagined, not real. I suspect that most real conversations are a bit less focused and wander off to other topics as often as ours do. We have a lot of shared experiences after 48 years of marriage, so we have a lot of topics about which to converse. Having the travel time gives us more time for conversation and even after all these years we haven’t run out of things to say to each other.

Are all skinks black and white, or just some of them?

Moving on

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The way that American History was taught when I was a student was a brief account of the discovery of the Americas by Europeans and a chapter on the Revolutionary War. I’m sue that somewhere we saw a list of the original 13 colonies and that I understood that the stretched from New Hampshire to South Carolina and were mostly along the Atlantic coast. Pennsylvania was the inland colony and Georgia, which was the last of the 13 to be settled, was the farthest south. The area that is now Maine was part of the Massachusetts colony and there was a 14th colony, Nova Scotia, which was the last to be settled and which remained loyal to Britain during the Revolution.

What we studied about the American Revolution were a few of the opening battles, Lexington and Concord, and a bit about the role of indigenous people in the revolution. I don’t remember any lessons about how the war played out in the South. Visiting South Carolina, especially the interior area around Sumpter, has given us a lesson in history of which I was not previously aware. South Carolina was an important battleground during the war for American Independence. The central part of the state was settled with a strong colonial city at Camden. The Camden District was the British administrative district for all of the center of what is now the State of South Carolina. The war of independence was nearly lost in South Carolina, with the British military and loyalists resisting the attacks of the colonialists in the early phases of the war.

The colonists understood the strategic importance of Camden and two of the revolution’s most important battles, the Battle of Camden in August of 1780 and the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill in April of 1781. The attack of the revolutionaries was rebuffed at the Battle of Camden and the attackers were pursued more than 20 miles into the countryside. The second attack resulted in the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill and a narrow victory for the revolutionaries, forcing a withdrawal of British troops from Camden.

The city of Camden claims the title of the oldest city in South Carolina and the sites of the historic battles and the original townsite have become places of public remembrance and education. We were able to visit part of the historic townsite and view the exterior of some of the buildings there as well as some of the fortifications. The rebuilt Kershaw home, reconstructed after a fire destroyed the original structure, stands on the site of the original home, and was headquarters for Lord Cornwallis and Lord Reardon. The historic site, operated in cooperation with the National Park Service, has a lot to see and offers a good supplement to the incomplete historical knowledge that we gained in school.

Visiting in July, when the heat and humidity was high, served as a reminder of the conditions faced by the revolutionaries in August of 1780. There was no air conditioning and although the combatants would have had time to acclimatize themselves, there must have been a lot of discomfort for attacking troops who lived out of doors dealing withe the heat, humidity, insects and rainfall. The conditions are much different that we imagine the lives of the troops who fought in more northern climes during the winter. Many famous revolutionary war paintings depict winter scenes with snow and ice. Those pictures don’t tell the whole story.

This part of our trip is winding down. After a wonderful visit with our daughter and her family we leave South Carolina this morning and head back towards home. Our plan is to retrace the route we took to get here, pausing in South Dakota for a few days to see friends there. Although we have had the luxury of staying more than a week, it feels a bit like we are leaving too soon. I guess it will always feel that way when we visit the ones we love.

A line that I often incorporate into wedding services goes something like this: “We raise our children in love that they might learn to love, but we cannot walk every step of their life’s journey with them. There are moments in life when we need to step aside and allow them to go their own way, trusting in the love that they have found.” I have to remind myself of that every time I say good bye to our daughter. She is a delightful woman who has found love and she has become able to trust that love. It is a great treasure to us as parents to know that the love of her family surrounds and supports her. But I need to continually remind myself to trust the power of that love. Love has sustained me in my life and I believe in the power of love, but it takes a step of faith to trust the love that she has found.

Of course, in the end, I do trust that love. I trust it to raise my grandson. I trust it to sustain my daughter. I have accepted our son-in-law as our own and he is an important member of our family. They will celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary this week. It doesn’t work for us to be with them on that day, but we recognize the strength of their relationship and the hard work that they have invested in building a family together. It is a love that can be trusted.

It was good to make this visit - to see them in their home and to explore a bit of the area around that home. It was good to learn a bit more about the story of our country and correct some of the misinformation that we had. It was good to be reminded once again that there is far more to this country than the scope of our personal experience. It was good to be reminded that there is far more to the power of love than what we have seen with our own eyes.

Moving on, we will remember and we will continue to be open to learning more and more.

Swan Lake

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One of the treasures of living in Skagit County, Washington is that the region is the winter home of huge flocks of swans. Tens of thousands of Trumpeter, Mute and Whistler Swans share the fields with even larger numbers of snow geese. It is a spectacular sight and we delighted in the sound of the trumpeter swans flying over our home last winter. Now we are at nearly the opposite corner of the continent and yesterday we took a wonderful walk through an area in Sumpter, South Carolina called Swan Lake Park. Swan Lake began as the private estate and fishing retreat of a wealthy developer. Among the stories of the park is that he tried to landscape with a huge quantity of Japanese iris plants, but the bulbs did not prosper in the swampy ground. After consulting with plant experts, he gave up and ordered his gardeners to dig up the bulbs and throw them away in the lake. The next spring the area burst into colorful bloom and ever since it has produced glorious blooms every year. The swampy area of the lake, dotted with many islands and cypress tress that grow right out of the water proved to be an excellent habitat for swans and birds were imported from all over the world.

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Swan Lake is now home to permanent populations of all eight species of swans: Trumpeter, Black Australian,Whistler, Bewick, Royal Mute, Black-Necked, Coscoroba, and Whooper Swans. There are lots of other birds, including ducks and coots, Canadian Geese, Great Blue Herons, Egrets, cormorants, hawks, warblers, woodpeckers, jays, tanagers, and cardinals. The bright red cardinals are especially showy in contrast to the dark colors and black and white markings of many of the birds. Although the swans have been imported and are fed and nurtured within the park, they are free to roam within the area and the waters of the park, along with protected nesting and feeding sites, provide for their needs.

The park has been landscaped with several walking loops and a butterfly garden and a chocolate garden have been added to delight visitors.

Walking along the boardwalks and bridges, under the cypress trees that smelled wonderful with the dripping of recent rain, alongside the black waters filled with many different swans was an incredible experience. It was one of those moments of being reminded that we aren’t in South Dakota and we aren’t in Washington. Although our trip is after the iris have bloomed, there are plenty of blossoms in the park, including flowering trees and bushes.

Our grandson delighted in seeing the swans and although he had to be reminded not to approach too closely to the swans and to refrain from too much splashing in the many puddles, he enjoyed being able to get out and walk along the paths. There are two parts to the gardens, separated by a busy street, but there is a pedestrian overpass that provides easy access to both parts of the 120-acre park.

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There are many things that we have seen in our travels that are simply too wonderful to describe in words, and Sawn Lake is one of those places. I took a lot of pictures to remind us of our visit, but they are only reminders. The real beauty of the place is a blend of many different senses. In addition to the sights there are sounds and scents to delight. A special path with braille signs and markers has been developed to allow those who are blind to enjoy the park alongside those of us who can see.

I know that as long as our daughter and her family live in this part of the world, we will take great pleasure in returning to swan lake. It is a wonderful place to take a walk and enjoy the natural world. We visited after an afternoon rain shower and the park was not at all crowded. I’m sure that there are times when the crowds are larger, but even on a summer weekend, there is plenty of space to get away from other people and become immersed in the natural beauty.

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Each place that our children have lived has provided us with a wonderful opportunity to travel and to experience things that we would not otherwise have discovered. I’m sure that we would not have found our way to Swan Lake without the incentive of visiting our daughter, son-in-law and grandson. Their family has given us opportunities to explore England, Missouri and Japan before they moved to South Carolina. Her brother has lived in Oregon, North Carolina, and Washington. His moves gave me my first opportunity for a bit multi-thousand mile, cross-continent trip and those trips gave us confidence for the trip we are now experiencing. One of the joys of being parents is that your children travel outside of your normal areas of experience and invite you to expand your world. Visiting them in their homes allows them the opportunity to share the joys of the unique places where they have lived.

The stories of creation that have been treasured for millennia by our people remind us of the times when our people were wanderers, traveling around their known world without a permanent home. As they traveled, sometimes in the bonds of slavery and sometimes in forced exile, they experienced the wider world. In our creation stories there is the recurring theme of the creative power of God and the wonder of creation. There is also a sense of delight. With each day of creation in the first story of Genesis, God looks at what is created and says, “That’s good!” That delight reflected in our most treasured stories and ingrained into our image of God’s creative power, is evident when we take time to look at the wideness of this world. Yesterday’s trip to swan lake was another opportunity to share the great delight of creation and to offer our thanks and praise for the beauty of this world.

Traveling joys

Once, several years ago, I met some friends as we boarded a plane in Minneapolis bound for Rapid City. I had been traveling to attend a meeting. They had taken a trip to New York City to see a couple of shows and to do some shopping. I have been fortunate to travel quite a bit over the years, but it never has occurred to me to travel for the purpose of shopping. I’m not much of a shopper and I don’t particularly enjoy shopping.

I was thinking of the process of traveling to shop yesterday as I made yet another trip to a local big box hardware and lumber store. The store is the same brand as one that I shop in back in Washington and it is very similar. Even the layout of the store is familiar enough that I can quickly find what I want when I go there. We did bring home a few souvenirs and gifts when we traveled to Japan to visit our daughter a few years back, but most of them were purchased in a local store much like a dollar store here in the states and a few were purchased in an airport gift shop. I guess we aren’t the kind of tourists who make shopping a priority.

Visiting our daughter and her family now that they have a two-year-old means that we haven’t been eating out. We did have carry-out one time, but the rest of the meals have been prepared at home. I think that they have made at least two trips to the grocery store since we arrived, and we have been the recipients of gracious hospitality in their home.

I’m not really absorbing southern culture by spending this time in South Carolina. We are eating the kinds of things we eat at home: a bit of pasta, a bit of barbecue, hearty breakfasts and light lunches. I haven’t heard the rich southern accent the way I did when I traveled for meetings or other events that took me to hotels, restaurants and other public places.

I can’t tell how much of this style of traveling is a product of the pandemic and how much of it is the result of our particular interests and style. Traveling with our camper means that we make most of our own meals on the road. We prefer it that way and would be doing it that way whether or not there had been a pandemic. We visit family for the joy of being family together, which in our family doesn’t involve going out very much. It would be that way whether or not there was a pandemic.

Although we really enjoy traveling to new places and experiencing new foods and new cultural opportunities, we have been very content on this trip to just stay near our camper and hang out around our daughter and her family. My trips to the big box hardware store, where the clerks do address you with a rich southern accent, are very much in keeping with the way I like to live. During our visit we have invested a few hours most days in reassembling and rebuilding an outdoor play structure for our grandson. Our daughter and son in law purchased the set from a neighbor who was moving. It was disassembled and moved to their back yard. We decided to replace some of the structure as we reassembled it. That meant a few trips to the hardware and lumber store to get bits and pieces. I made a few trips to get different bolts and I also purchased a pair of soft garden gloves to protect my hands. I have plenty of gloves in my truck, but frankly, most of my gloves were purchased to keep my hands warm, a quality that isn’t needed in the middle of the summer in South Carolina.

We are staying for a couple more days and then beginning our trip back home, with a pause in Rapid City to visit friends. So far it has been a grand adventure and we have seen a lot of the country, but as has been true of every trip we have taken, we are aware that there is a lot more to see and do than we have experienced and there will be plenty of reasons to enjoy another visit sometime in the future. Our travel experiences have mostly given us just small tastes of other places. We continue to look forward to other opportunities to travel.

I am aware that this particular style of traveling is just one of the seasons of our lives. I don’t think I’ll be driving a truck pulling a camper a decade from now. We will be thinking of downsizing our travel arrangements just as we have been working on downsizing our house in recent months. It makes sense that we discover new ways of exploring. After all, we found that traveling to Japan with just one suitcase and one backpack each was a very satisfying way to travel. Making the grand cross-country RV trip is a very different way of traveling and we’ve been fortunate to experience both styles. The joy of travel is not dependent on a particular mode of transportation or a particular style of travel.

I don’t, however, expect that we will turn into shoppers. We simply have other priorities for our time and our financial resources. I have little interest in the latest fashion trends and, quite frankly, I get bored in many stores, though, as my wife reminds me, I get quite a bit of enjoyment out of walking through the tool section of any hardware store. That kind of shopping, however, doesn’t require travel and offers little reflection of local culture and customs.

We are more likely to look for local parks and walking trails and opportunities to explore the outside. Just walking around the neighborhood where our daughter lives has been fun for us. I’ve had a conversation with a neighbor who owns an interesting boat and noticed the canoe on my truck. A couple of people who live in the neighborhood asked Susan if we were new to the neighborhood. We are, but we don’t live here. Still, it is good to know that our daughter has friendly neighbors.

Engineers

There are engineers and then there are engineers.

My friend Forest Jennings was one of the best practical engineers I have known. I met him when he was in his lats fifties or early sixties. He was the county engineer of Adams County, North Dakota. Forest didn’t gain most of his skills from his formal education. He learned to shoot a grade and determine level by following around an old surveyor who hired him to hold the stick while the surveyor operated the transit. He could figure the amount of gravel needed to improve a county road and estimate how much hot oil to order when paving. But Forest was also a good hand to have around for almost any project. He could set the first course of siding in place when the parsonage needed new siding. He set the first row of shingles when the church needed a new roof. He rebuilt a retaining wall in a location that was too close to use a skid steer loader. He could remodel a bathroom and repair a lawn mower. If there was something that needed fixing, he could figure out how to fix it without having the repair cost an arm and a leg.

Forest understood people, too. He was a first-rate moderator for our church and he could supervise a team of employees and keep them all working. No matter what the project, I enjoyed working with Forest and I learned something new each time we worked together. He taught me a lot of things about the practical side of running a church. Seminaries teach theology, but they don’t teach how to repair the sink in the church kitchen. It is amazing to me how often my career as a pastor landed me in the midst of a simple repair or a building maintenance problem that needed to be solved. Forest was an excellent teacher in my first parish who helped me become a better pastor.

Another engineer in my life took an entirely different route to his vocation. Phil Leahy was trained the best schools of the east. He earned his degrees before he was called to serve in a time of national crisis. The Second World War enlisted him as a professional engineer. When a top secret laboratory was needed to help explore nuclear weapons and later the use of nuclear power for submarines and ships, Phil was the first to be called. His official identification badge bore the number 0002. He designed roads and buildings and oversaw their construction. He developed protocols for keeping information secret and for getting the job done. When a communications tower was needed, he sighted the line to the top of a high hill and ran the bulldozer himself to put in the road. Like Forest, Phil was full of practical skills. He could fix all kinds of things that got broken. He knew enough about air conditioning systems to estimate the size and type of units to install in our church, but he could also caulk a bathroom. Phil seemed to have the tools for any job. When we moved into the first home that we purchased, we needed a six foot privacy fence as we had tiny children and there was an irrigation canal right behind our property. Phil showed up with the right shovels and post hole digger. He also had the proper drills and wrenches to install the hangers on the posts. He knew how to set them correctly and perfectly in line. He taught me how to use the tools and how to get the results needed.

But there have been some engineers I have known who were excellent at their work and probably designed important machines and systems. They, however, lacked practical skills. I know engineers who have had successful careers who can’t fix anything. Some of them understand their lack of practical skills. Others don’t ever admit any failings. They think that they can build things, but I’ve worked side by side with engineers on Habit for Humanity Houses who probably made the work go slower. One time we were preparing to set rafters when we discovered that the entire building was wracked and out of square. It took a couple of days’ work to get things squared up again. The cause of the problem was a volunteer who happened to be a professional engineer who kept saying, “close enough.” It wasn’t close enough. He could’t make an accurate measurement with a tape measure. A good carpenter can get within 1/16 of an inch with a tape measure. He couldn’t get within 1/4 inch and sometimes he was off by 3/8. Add those mistakes up and the entire wall was out of square and plumb. He neglected to crown the 2 x 4s when framing in interior wall. I went back through his layout and turned the boards so they were all in the same direction. He was impatient with my “pickiness.”

I’ve known other engineers who were short of practical skills. They might be capable of designing complex systems, but they couldn’t build anything.

I’m a minister and not an engineer, but I know how to use a framing square and a level. I can measure angles with a speed square and know how to measure diagonals. I can hammer a nail and use a power driver. I can set the lines for a fence and dig the post holes in the right places. I own a fair number of tools and know how to use them. But I also know when to call a plumber or an electrician and when to attempt a simple repair myself. I love working with people who are skilled builders and am constantly learning from them. I know I sometimes focus too much on the small details and fail to see the big picture in a project. When I am careful, I know when to stop and figure out a new solution when the current method isn’t working.

I’ll never be an engineer, but I am grateful for some of the engineers I have known. They have taught me many skills that I continue to use in my daily living.

What to wear

When we were preparing to move, one of the jobs was sorting through my clothing. I’ve never been much of a person to keep up with the latest fashion trends. For many years my casual clothing consisted of a couple of pairs of blue jeans and a drawer full of t-shirts from various youth events, fund-raisers, and such. At one time I was the proud owner of t-shirts from every one of the national youth events the United Church of Christ had held. I wore t-shirts given in response to blood donation. I wore t-shirts from memory walks of the Alzheimer’s Association. I had t-shirts from each annual suicide awareness walk held in Rapid City, South Dakota. There was no shortage of t-shirts and the time finally came to get rid of a lot of them.

The first sort through the t-shirts was easy. A brush with skin cancer that I’ve called “trucker’s elbow” ended up in my not wearing short sleeve shirts much at all. The cancer, which was surgically removed from my left elbow was a warning sign that I need to be more careful about sun exposure. I have plenty of long-sleeved shirts and it made sense to keep my arms covered when out in the sun.

What I had not thought through was how much retirement affected my clothing choices. I know that fashion is fickle and that what people wear changes. For my working career, however, I wore dress shirts and ties to work most of the time. Even after work dress became more casual and ministers stopped wearing suits and ties during the week, I continued to wear dress shirts and slacks. I also had serval suits and a few extra blazers. On Sundays, I always dressed up with a tie. And then I retired.

The suits in my closet hang there. The ties in my drawer sit there. Perhaps the change was accelerated by Covid. I don’t think anybody dresses up for Facebook church. We are on a month-long trip and I didn’t bring a single pair of dress slacks with me. I don’t have a tie along for the trip. I have known all along that part of the trip will be in-person worship on one of the Sundays, but I decided that I do not need to dress up for that occasion. I will wear a nice shirt and a clean pair of slacks, but I know that no one is going to judge me for what I wear.

It is possible that I am just catching up with the rest of the world. Yesterday I was talking with another retiree who told me that he no longer owns a suit. “Those days are past for me,” he said. I have a friend and colleague who told me a few years ago that he and another man were the last two holdouts in their congregation. They dressed up with jackets and ties for worship each week until his friend passed away. My friend wore a jacket and tie for the funeral. Now he is the only one left who regular dresses up for worship on Sundays. He says he does it in part in memory of his friend.

Our world has become more casual. Bankers wear jeans to work on Fridays and wear golf shirts during the rest of the week. Lawyers still dress up for court, but don’t do so for the days when they aren’t appearing before a judge. Doctors wear scrubs for office visits. I wonder if our son will have an occasion to teach his son how to tie a tie.

The good news about the change in fashion is that it allows for us to declutter our closets. I’m pretty sure that it makes sense to get rid of half of the suits and ties in my possession. I don’t know if I’m ready to do so yet. There were plenty of years when I didn’t own as many jackets as I thought I needed and when I had to plan trips to the dry cleaners so that I would have the right things to wear if an unplanned funeral occurred. The luxury of having extra suits came very late in my career. Now that luxury seems a bit silly. A pair of dress slacks, one or two dress shirts, a couple of ties and a blue blazer would cover virtually any occasion that I can imagine. I don’t need a black wool suit for funerals or a light weight summer suit for formal occasions.

When we return from this trip I will be back at work for eighteen to twenty-four months, serving in an interim position. I’ve noticed that many clergy colleagues don’t dress up even for Sunday worship - at least ties and jackets are not required. I’ve even noticed colleagues wearing t-shirts for Sunday worship. I suppose that I should give some thought to appropriate work wear. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to have several long-sleeved white shirts with button down collars. I’m pretty sure that I won’t be wearing sports coats or suits for daily trips to the office.

The camper that we call home has tiny closets compared with the houses where we have lived. We have to plan our laundry days because we do not travel with a washer and dryer. It is easy for us to adjust to this minimalist lifestyle. It makes me wonder if my closet and chest of drawers back at home are filled with things that I simply do not need to keep.

Then agin, thinking through my clothing will require conscious effort on my part. The one thing about being a male professional for my working life was that I didn’t have to give much thought to what to wear. A couple of colored shirts and a few white shirts were all I needed to have. These days I need to give some attention to my dressing.

As the challenges of this life go, this one is pretty minor. I’m sure I’ll muddle through.

Pilgrimage

Several years ago I worked on a project called “International Pilgrimages with Youth.” The project involved sending youth and young adults in their older teens or early twenties to spend time with mission partners serving in other parts of the world. The destinations chosen for the pilot program were China and Turkey - two places where the United Church of Christ and its predecessor denominations have long histories of mission partnerships. My role in the project was as editor of the educational materials. Although the project was never fully funded and only pilot trips were taken by youth and young adults, the process of developing the curricula and theological background for the trips taught me a great deal.

Throughout the history of the church, faithful people have undertaken pilgrimages for the sake of spiritual transformation. the International Pilgrimages with Youth program addressed the transformation in the life of the traveler, but also the transformation that takes place in the community that stays behind. The curriculum included ceremonies for leave-taking and return, prayer guides for travelers and for the home congregations. The belief was that when communities are attentive to the process of travel and return they grow in many different ways.

This particular trip that has taken us to South Carolina from Washington and will bring our return over the next few weeks is not the kind of spiritual pilgrimage that the program envisioned. But, in a sense, every trip can be a pilgrimage. As we travel, our grandchildren in Washington have several ways to follow our trip. After a carefully planned time of saying good bye, we have posted short stories from our trip on this website in The Adventures of Edward Bear. In addition, we have written and sent post cards to our grandchildren in Washington. We have also shared Skype and FaceTime conversations with them. They are aware that we are gone and that we will be returning. They know that the journey takes several days. They know the family members we are visiting.

As we travel, they are living their lives and having their experiences. Yesterday, for example was a productive day at the farm where they live. The first egg was found among the pullet chickens. That means that they will be given access to their nesting boxes and soon will be integrated with the mature chickens. Garden produce is starting to mature. In addition to greens and other crops, the berries are starting to mature. Cherries have been harvested and it will be a while before apples come on. Blueberries are ripe and ready for picking. There will be a lot of berries to harvest and preserve. The first peppers have been picked. The weather has been unseasonably warm, but the farm is not in the places of the most intense heat of the northwest.

Meanwhile, here in South Carolina, we are working on a play structure/swing set for our grandson here. We have celebrated his second birthday and have a significant construction project assembling the structure. It was purchased from a neighbor who is moving, but some of the wood needed to be replaced and fresh paint will help to preserve and unify the structure. There is a lot of measuring and cutting of wood to make the replacement pieces. there have been trips to the hardware store and there will be more today. We work in the mornings and evenings because the mid-day heat and humidity make work more difficult.

As I work, I am learning about the design and construction of play structures in anticipation of constructing a structure back in Washington at some future date. I am using skills that I learned in other construction projects, including farm projects back in Washington. I will return with a few new skills and a bit of new learning. I am also doing a bit of teaching as our son in law works side by side with me. He has significant skills and could complete the work without help, but it would take much longer.

Being the travelers means that we are aware of how much our family in Washington and our family in South Carolina are connected. There are many differences. The weather is different. The homes are different. The chores are different. But there are far more similarities. Children need care and nurture and education in both places. Love shapes family in both places. Grandparents work with parents in both places. I am confident that our grandchildren in Washington and our grandson in South Carolina are aware of their connections with each other. They recognize each other and express affection in video chats. And we treasure the memories of the times when we have all been able to be together. But we also accept that we are a family of different places. There are good reasons for our South Carolina family members to be here and to remain here. There are good reasons for our Washington family members to be there and to remain there. And there are good reasons for us to use the freedom afforded by our current life phase to make the big trip between the two places.

There have been times in the past when other family members have been the travelers. There will be times in the future when that will also be the case. As we age and as our health changes we may be less able to travel at some future point. For now, we are grateful that we are able to travel and experience the diversity and wonder of place and the strong connections of family.

While we are gone, our Washington grandchildren are continuing to grow. They are finishing their summer workbooks and preparing to return to public school in the fall. They are becoming stronger from the good food and meaningful work of the farm. And while we travel, we too are changed. But the changes will not overwhelm us when we return to Washington. We will still recognize and know and love each other. And though we will miss our South Carolina family when we are gone from here, we trust that the love that binds us together is much stronger than the distance that keeps us apart.

So we accept the gift of this pilgrimage. As we travel, we also prepare for return. We embrace the change and transformation that we are given and look forward to the opportunity to share our new selves when we return.

The adventure continues

There were a couple of times during my active working career when I was frustrated with my job. Helping others can be a thankless job. Of course the reason to help others is not to gain thanks and praise, but an occasional “thank you” can go a long way. For the most part, I loved the work I did and I always found it meaningful. As a result, I didn’t spend much time and energy thinking about retirement. I had an uncle who I think didn’t like his job very much. He talked and dreamed about retirement for decades before he retired. I’m not sure that his life was much happier after he retired, but at least we didn’t hear the constant complaints about his job and his employer once he retired. I remember thinking that it was sad that he didn’t have a job that he enjoyed.

The trip we are on right how, however, is something that is a gift of retirement. We had some long breaks in our working years. We took advantage of the common practice of pastors receiving four weeks of vacation each year. That sounds like a lot to people who work at other jobs, but when asked if they would give up all of their weekends for two extra weeks vacation each year, most workers begin to understand how the longer vacation became a part of the typical package for ministers. At any rate, the longer vacation time that was built into our career afforded some opportunities to travel. We took some big trips with our family. We took our children to Washington, D.C. to see the country’s capitol. We visited family on the west coast when we were working in the midwest. We camped and drove. In addition, our sabbaticals allowed us other opportunities to travel. We were lucky with the time away from our work that was granted.

But being able to travel all the way across the country and stay for an extended visit is a luxury of retirement. And it is a wonderful benefit. Although we had a few long travel days, for the most part we were able to take our time and not push too hard with the traveling. And now we have the luxury of staying at our daughter and son-in-law’s home for more than a week as we celebrate our grandson’s second birthday and work on a few projects with our family.

Being able to work on projects with family is definitely a blessing for me. I’ve been able to help out on our son’s farm quite a bit this year and I’ve enjoyed doing things like milling baseboards for their house and building steps for the front door. I like running his mower and working in the shop.

Today we will be working on an outdoor play structure for our grandson. I’m looking forward to working side by side with our son in law. He is a dedicated worker and he plans his work carefully. The materials for our work are carefully laid out and I know he has a plan that will give us a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. It is a fairly large project and we probably won’t complete our work in a single day, but big projects yield big satisfaction when they are done. I’m happy to be able to contribute a bit of labor to our children’s projects. It is a blessing of retirement.

What I miss about the work we did, however, is the people. The last few months of our working careers coincided with the first few months of the pandemic. As people became more and more isolated to help prevent the spread of the disease, we had to shift form what had been a process of constant face-to-face meetings. We had to learn how to use technology for meetings and how to do ministry over social media. It was a steep learning curve for me. I had not thought of myself as one who delivered ministry over the media. I was a hands on, face to face person. Suddenly, I found myself leading worship on Facebook and offering daily prayers to a camera. I missed the direct feedback of being in the same room as the people of my church.

We are blessed with good health with which to enjoy this phase of our lives. Importantly, we have each other. The adventures we tackle, the trips we make, the challenges we meet are all done with a partner. After 48 years of marriage, we have learned how to work together and how to enjoy each other. No matter where we are, no matter what the weather, we have a habit of taking a daily walk together. Last evening, walking in the heat and humidity of the south, we commented on how different that experience is from when we were walking together in the cold and wind of a South Dakota winter, or the rain of the Pacific Northwest. We say that we are intrepid walkers. More importantly, we have time each day to talk and to process the events and activities of our live. It is a luxury that many people don’t have and we are aware of how blessed we are to be able to stretch our bodies and feel the energy of simply walking together.

Our teacher, Ross Snyder, wrote, “There is no well-marked road that our history will take. It turns, writhes and darts with surprise unforeseen.” That is certainly true of our experience. Just a couple of years ago we could not have imagined that we would be spending the month of July in the heat and humidity of the south. We could not have imagined what it would be like to have our grandchildren the ages that they now are. We have been surprised by the places they have lived and the paths their lives have taken. Those surprises will continue.

I hope I have not been like my uncle, complaining about my life. It has been a good one so far. And, from where we now are, it seems that there are many more adventures ahead.

A birthday celebration

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I was at a meeting of our Church Board when I received the text message with a picture. I interrupted the meeting to announce, “My daughter just had a baby tomorrow!” Because of the way time zones work in the world, I knew on the evening of July 11 in South Dakota that our grandson had been born in Misawa, Japan on July 12. It had been a long and difficult delivery and the baby had come early. At first all we knew was that the baby was rushed to a neonatal ICU in a nearby town and our daughter was in serious condition in the hospital where the baby was born. We had planned to be there for the birth, but our trip to Japan had not yet started. We explored the possibility of getting an earlier flight. We looked into having her brother fly to be with her as he lives near the major airport in Seattle. As the messages flowed back and forth and the health of both baby and mother stabilized after the emergency C-section, we decided to stick with our original travel plans so that we could help when the baby came home. By the time we arrived, they were at home and we were able to visit every day for a while as we stayed in a hotel not far from their small apartment.

It is a story that I’m sure we will one day tell to our grandson, but at 2 years old today it is too soon for that story. He is just learning about birthdays and how we celebrate. He is excited because all four of his grandparents are visiting and his dad has a few days of vacation to be off of work and spend time with his family. Today there will be cake and presents and prayers of thanksgiving for this young boy who has graced our family with so much joy.

From the time she was quite young, I have known that our daughter would be a good mother. Her skill showed in her gentle way with younger children. When she was old enough to babysit, she was a favorite of families with young children. When she became an adult she worked in childcare and child development centers. When we visited her, I would comment that having a child of her own would seem easy after managing a room of 18 toilet-training 2 year olds with only one assistant. She also worked in infant rooms and changed a lifetime worth of diapers for others’ children before she became a mother herself. When she married, she chose a husband who is a natural father, gentle yet firm, clear in his values, and they have formed a strong partnership.

Our children are independent and adventurous and it is no surprise that their lives have taken them to distant places. When we were actively engaged in our careers, we invested much of our vacation time in traveling to where they were living to be near them. At one time when we were living in South Dakota, we had one was in Wyoming and the other in California. Then one was in Montana and the other in North Carolina. Our children have lived in Oregon, California, Montana, Washington, North Carolina, South Carolina, England and Japan. It is a good thing that we live in a time when travel is readily available and affordable to families who make it a priority in their lives.

Yesterday Sir Richard Branson rode with three other persons to the edge of space in what they announced as the opening of space tourism. Two other companies will be quick to follow with flights into space carrying paying tourists. The costs of that kind of travel are well beyond our means, but when I was a boy growing up I expected that space travel would become common in my lifetime. I thought that I might one day travel at least to the moon, if not to Mars as new technologies were developed and humans explored space. That process hasn’t gone the way I expected, but I don’t know that I imagined that we would have as many opportunities to travel around this earth as we have had. I think that I thought that I might always live in Montana and that my family would always be close. My mother’s siblings lived mostly in our home state with only one sister living far away in Washington, DC. My father’s siblings were a bit more spread out in Montana, Washington, Colorado and California, but we lived just a few miles away from my grandparents and I don’t think I ever imagined that I would live most of my life in other states.

I am grateful for the ways that travel has become easier during my lifetime. After we get back to Washington from this big road trip I know that we can get on an airliner and return to visit our daughter and her family. We are very lucky that the restrictions on travel brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic did not stop us from seeing our family. We know that there are families who have had to be separated because of the disease.

Even when we are far away from each other, we have technologies such as video chats that were not available to previous generations. Last nite we had a video chat with our son in Washington and caught up on his week. We routinely get to see and talk to our grandchildren even though our families are far apart. Despite the fact that things have not gone as I imagined, we are fortunate to live in the time that we do.

So today we are grateful for all of the things that have made it possible for us to be together and to celebrate the growth of this wonderful new person in our family. We are blessed and count ourselves as among the most fortunate people in the world.

Last night’s rainbow was for us yet another reminder that God is good all the time.

In South Carolina

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I have a cousin who owns a place on Key West, so technically, it would have been possible for us to make a trip across the United States that is longer than the one we’re on. On the other hand, that cousin isn’t in Key West this time of the year and we did see him in Montana. The reality is that we have only two children and they live just over 3,000 miles apart and we decided to go on a road trip and drive between the homes of the two. Yesterday afternoon we pulled into our daughter and son-in-law’s back yard with our camper. We’re going to take a while to rest and visit and enjoy our grandson.

Many years ago, I was at a church meeting in Texas. I was speaking to a server in a cafe who asked my name. I said, “Ted.” The server didn’t understand me at first. I ended up spelling my name to her: “T - e - d.” “Oh!” she said, “Tay-ed!” After that experience, I tell people that one of the delights of traveling in the south is that when I go there, my name has two syllables. Up north, it is a very short name with only one. Students of language would note distinctions in dialect between various places in the south and a true South Carolina native might take offense at my comparing a Texas accent to the way they speak in South Carolina.

When we are in the south, I am reminded how much we are people of the American West. Our lives have been lived in an entirely different region. There are lots and lots of differences in culture between the Pacific northwest and the Atlantic southeast. We did, however, learn a bit about southern culture when our son lived in North Carolina where he attended graduate school. During that time, we were able to visit him and his wife three times - twice by taking long cross-country road trips and a third time by driving up from Atlanta, Georgia, where we had been attending yet another church meeting.

My joke when our son live here is that we had raised him with the rich southern culture of South Dakota and so we needed to sent him up north to learn about northern culture in North Carolina. There is about as much northern culture in North Carolina as there is southern culture in South Dakota. The names don’t tell the whole story.

On this trip we’ve already had glasses of sweet tea - something we never drink in our regular lives. We enjoy ice tea, but don’t add sweetener, but at least once on each visit to the south, we have a glass of the concoction they make by adding sweetener to the tea as it is brewing. And we’ve already made a stop at a Waffle House. The chain of breakfast cafes is a southern phenomenon. There aren’t any Waffle Houses where we come from, but there are plenty of them down here.

The big difference of which I am aware right now is the humidity. The simplest outdoor task leaves me dripping with sweat. We are running the air conditioner in our camper in the middle of the night - not so much for the temperature, as to remove some of the moisture from the air. The water is dripping off of the roof of the camper as the air conditioner dries the air inside our sleeping quarters.

Culture, of course, is much deeper than just the weather, a few foods, or the way we pronounce certain words. And we have much more in common with each other than the few differences we experience. One of the joys of traveling for us, however, is noticing and enjoying all of the signs that we are in a new place - one that we don’t understand as well as we might. There are always new things to learn.

Dalzell is the name of the town where our daughter and her family live. It is right next to Sumpter, which is a bit east of Columbia. It is roughly in the middle of the state of South Carolina. South Carolina is one of the original 13 colonies that made up the United States. European explorers arrived in the area in 1540 with the deSoto expedition. The explorers unwittingly introduced new diseases to the region for which the indigenous people had little or no immunity. Permanent settlers from England arrived at the port of Charleston in 1670. They were wealthy planters who brought with them slaves and planted large cotton farms. The history of settlement in this part of the country is much longer and more complex than in the western states where we have lived. There had been Europeans in this part of the country for hundreds of years before the first settlers moved into the pacific northwest. And the Black Hills of South Dakota, where we lived for many years was one of the latest parts of the continent to be settled by non indigenous people.

The story of the American South is in part the story of the Civil War. Differences in economies, culture and traditions, including the practice of slavery boiled up into an attempt by southern states to separate from the American union. The bloody and messy war that followed was fought primarily on southern soil. South Carolina saw plenty of bloodshed not only in the Civil War, but also in the American Revolution when British troops fought against the settlers. it isn’t that the story of the west is free from violence. The near genocide of Lakota people in South Dakota weighs heavy on the story of that place. But there is a collective memory of loss and tragedy in the south that shapes the story of those who live here.

Our visit gives us an opportunity to see things from a slightly different perspective. It is a gift our children have given us by traveling and visiting other places and inviting us to come to visit them and learn about their lives and homes.

Today, we are happy to have completed a long trip and comfortable to simply rest and look about. Our adventure - and our journey - continues.

The Volunteers

1,500 volunteers from Tennessee fought under Genera Andrew Jackson against the British in the battle of New Orleans during the war of 1812. Once again volunteers from Tennessee went to Texas when the war of Independence from Mexico broke out. This time, among the volunteers was congressman and legendary explorer Davy Crockett. The spirit of volunteerism is a big deal in Tennessee. In the South, where fan bases are deeply rooted in history and tradition, the University of Tennessee Volunteers have a unique name and tradition. Unlike bulldogs and tigers, the namesake of the Volunteers are historic figures.

I know a bit of this story because twice, in 2004 and in 2008, the United Church of Christ held its National Youth Event on the campus of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee. The thinking at the time was that perhaps what was at the time the largest gathering in the United Church of Christ - an event that was held every four years - could benefit from having a “home base” a place that got used to hosting the event and to which participants got used to coming. The complexities of arranging such an event might be simplified by not having to do a national search for a venue every four years.

The 2004 event was the first National Youth Event of the United Church of Christ that I missed. Although our church had delegations as the events in 2004 and 2008, I myself was unable to attend due to prior obligations. From the very first United Church of Christ National Youth Event through the 2000 NYE, I attended every one of them as an adult chaperone to delegations of youth. In 1996, I was the Western Regional Adult Representative to the planning team of the event that was held at the University of South Carolina at Columbia, South Carolina.

That bit of personal history is in my mind this morning as I write because we are camped at “Volunteer Park” in Heiskell, Tennessee, just north of Knoxville. The campground is laid out with attention to the traditions and fans of University of Tennessee football. There is plenty of orange around here - the color of the UT Volunteers. And today we will drive the 300 miles from here to Dalzell, South Carolina, about 40 miles east of Columbia, site of the 1996 National Youth Event.

I’ve been to South Carolina in the summer before - in fact I spent some time there the first full summer that I lived in South Dakota. Our planning team had spent a lot of time on site selection and preparations for the first National Youth Event of the United Church of Christ that was also the annual gathering of the youth of United Black Christians - the largest gathering of members of the United Church of Christ to date at the time. I was on the sub group that was responsible for the planning of the stage and the worship center for the event. I traveled to the event with bright cloth to adorn the communion table and a chalice and paten set that had been commissioned at Sioux Pottery in Rapid City - a set that still is part of the communion ware at 1st Congregational United Church of Christ in Rapid City.

But I hadn’t realized how close that place, which is a part of my story, is to the campus of the University of Tennessee, a place that nearly became the permanent home of UCC National Youth Events. You can drive the distance in about six hours with breaks.

So today we recall that bit of the story of the United Church of Christ as we head out to South Carolina - a place that took up special meaning in our personal story this year when our daughter and her family purchased a home and moved to Dalzell, SC. Her husband, Michael is stationed at Shaw Air Force Base near there.

Monday will be the second birthday of her son. It will also be the first time since we had only one grandchild that we will have made it to each of our grandchildren’s birthdays in the same year. Retirement has its benefits - especially when your children and grandchildren live a long ways apart.

It is a long way diagonally across this continent. We haven’t pushed as hard as we are capable, but we’ve been keeping up a steady pace. It will have taken us eight days of driving between 300 and 400 miles each day to journey from Ferndale, Washington, where our son and his family live to Dalzell, South Carolina, where our daughter and her family lives. Of course we could have made the trip in a single day by airplane. That is the way we will make the trip most of the times that we will make it in the future. But the celebration of our first full year of retirement gave us the opportunity for a grand cross-continent road trip and we’ve had a lot of fun traveling and camping in our trailer. We still have the return trip with all of its adventures to look forward to after a few days of resting and visiting with our daughter and her family and celebrating a very important birthday in our family.

We had planned to be present for the birth of our grandson. He was born in Japan, where our daughter and son in law were living at the time. We had purchased our plane tickets based on the predictions about the timing of his birth. We could only spend 21 days in Japan on that trip. We didn’t want to arrive too early and have to leave before he was born, so we made a guess and planned. Babies aren’t much for plans, so he came early - before we had left home. I received the news during a meeting of the Church Board in Rapid City. After a few frightening days, he and his mother were well and at home when we arrived in Japan.

So there are a lot of stories to tell our grandchildren. Not too many of them will be told on this trip. A two-year-old will be more interested in Buzz Lightyear and the new fishing pole and t-ball set his parents have gotten him. We will be sharing the time with his other grandparents - the first time we’ve had to be with them since the wedding ten years ago.

Someday, however, I suspect I’ll have the opportunity to answer the question, “Why are the Tennessee sports teams called Volunteers?” I’ll know the answer when it comes.

Whittington Woods

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“We’re from Mount Vernon, but not the one here in southern Illinois. We’re from Mount Vernon, Washington.” Of course we could have said a similar thing in Montana, South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri. They all have towns named Mount Vernon. In fact there are 33 places in the United States named Mount Vernon. I don’t know the stories of all of them, but I suspect that they all have been named in honor of George Washington and his estate in Virginia. It isn’t quite as common as places named Washington. There are 88 different places in the United States that have the last name of our 1st president, including the state where we now live.

However, as Dorothy said in The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, I don’t believe we are in Kansas anymore.” We’re not in Washington state anymore. Our journey has taken us to southern Illinois. We’re camped for the night in Whittington Woods, south of Mount Vernon, Illinois, not too far from the Kentucky border. We know we aren’t from Washington because the two cities we drove through yesterday, Kansas City and St. Louis are even bigger and more criss-crossed with highways and traffic than Seattle and Spokane. And the space between the two cities is filled with a lot more towns and cities. For a kid who grew up in small town Montana, the traffic in St. Louis is intense and the roads could use some repair. We used to say that the roughest roads we had pulled our camper down were gravel roads in rural areas, but I think there were more bumps and bounces for our camper yesterday driving on urban highways. Nonetheless, we are calmly camped in the place we had planned for the night with no damage other than a bit of stress from the driving.

In this part of the country the Interstate highways criss cross and run on diagonals and it takes a bit of figuring to get form one place to another because there are different possible routes. We drove Interstate Highway 90 across Washington, Idaho, Montana and South Dakota. Then we took Interstate 29 down through South Dakota, Iowa and Missouri. Interstate 70 got us across Missouri, but in the short distance we’ve been in Illinois, we’ve been on two different Interstate highways and we’ll see more in our drive tomorrow. Other than one intersection where the ramps had been recently changed our GPS has gotten us where we want to go without any glitches.

I remember a trip to St. Louis years ago. I met our Associate Conference Minister there. We were attending the same meeting and we had the same breaks and free time. He had a rental car and we decided to go into downtown St. Louis to see the famous arch. He had a new GPS unit, but it didn’t do a good job of getting us where we wanted to go. He kept following the turns indicated by the GPS and it kept saying, “recalculating.” Finally, at one point I said, “Look, I can see the arch. If you parked I could walk there in 5 minutes.” We finally found a parking place without the aid of the GPS and got to go to the top of the arch. GPS has improved a lot in the years since. We have an atlas with conventional maps, but we are following our GPS to navigate to the campgrounds where we have made reservations on our trip.

We know that we aren’t in our home country from other indications than just the maze of highways. The woods where we are camped are a hardwood forest, with oaks and other trees. They are tall, taller than the pines and spruce of the Black Hills, but not as tall as the Cedars, Hemlocks and Douglas Fir of the Pacific Northwest. The night sounds include lots of singing frogs and crickets, a different sound than we are used to. The flies are definitely bigger. As we took a walk in the woods yesterday a fly was buzzing around us that seemed to be about the size of a Piper Cub. It sounded about as loud as one, too. I’m exaggerating, of course, but they are more than double the size of the flies we are used to seeing. They are noisy, but don’t really cause much of a problem. I didn’t have one land on me, but I saw several resting in various places and I don’t really want to have one land on me. As far as I know they don’t bite like the black flies, deer flies and horse flies we’ve encountered in other parts of the country.

We are just a few miles from Rend Lake, one of Illinois’ largest man-made lakes and one of the larger Army Corps of Engineers projects in the area. It is hard to imagine what this country was like before the massive water projects that were a part of a couple of decades in the early 20th century. The vision of being able to control flooding, generate electricity and provide municipal water by damming up streams and rivers was ambitious and the projects were huge. There is a much bigger story in those projects than today’s journal entry, but these lakes are set in rolling hills, much different geography than the deep canyons of the west. Here there are all kinds of diversion dams and other structures to contain the spread of the lakes. One wonders if they were accurate in predicting just what would be flooded by the dams, or if they ended up making additional dams to control the flooding that was caused by the initial dam. At any rate there are some big lakes in Missouri and Illinois that were created by engineers and laborers during the first three decades of the 20th century. It makes us marvel at the vision and ambition of those who envisioned them.

Our adventure continues as we have now traveled two thirds of the way across the continent. Our plan is to complete our journey to South Carolina in just two more days of driving. Even though we’ve been to South Carolina before, this is our first trip by driving. We’ll continue to discover new things and see new places as we go.

St. Joseph

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St. Joseph, Missouri looms large in the history that I studied as a student in elementary and high school. It was the starting point for many settlers who traveled west. Although Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery officially started from St. Louis, some of the Missouri Basin had been explored. At St. Joseph the river turned northward and the adventure entered what was considered to be wild country. The railroad reached St. Joseph in 1859 and ferry service across the Missouri was established. St. Joseph became the provisioning point for settlers headed west on the California and Oregon trails. Those traveling on the Mormon trail also passed through St. Joseph and purchased needed supplies before heading out onto the prairies.

The settlers took the ferry across the river at St. Joseph and then headed west across what is now Kansas and Nebraska towards Wyoming. Many crossed the continental divide at South Pass in Wyoming. Those headed for California turned southwest across Utah and Nevada to California. Those headed for Oregon cut across Idaho and followed the Snake River towards the Columbia. There are many places throughout the west where you can still see the wagon ruts from the trail.

Traveling west was a huge adventure. Those with access to wagons could haul nearly a ton of food, supplies and household goods. Many attempted to bring too much and discarded items along the way. Departure on the trail was timed with the weather and the end of May was considered to be late for those who wanted to make the 2,000 mile journey before winter weather set in. The story of the Donner Party, caught in winter crossing the Sierra Mountains, was told as a cautionary trail about not starting on time and taking too long to make the journey.

We started this particular trip at our home in Mount Vernon, Washington, nearly as far northwest as you can get in the lower 48 states. We took some days to visit and rest in Big Timber Montana, but our actual travel to this point took us five days, traveling 300 to 400 miles each day. Travelers on the Oregon Trail averaged 15 to 20 miles per day with mules or oxen pulling the wagons. Many settlers walked most of the way, traveling alongside the animals and wagons. They needed days for rest and had to make repairs to wagons along the way. Three to four months was typical for the trip.

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St. Joseph was also the starting point for the Pony Express - a relatively short-lived relay system for rapid mail delivery. Between April, 1860 and October 1861 a system of stations enabled mail delivery from the rail terminus at St. Joseph to Sacramento, California in an average of 10 days. This express service was expensive, but before the installation of telegraph lines enabled news to travel from the East to West coasts in a relatively short time. The riders encountered all kinds of hazards including hostile natives, powerful storms, and conditions ranging from parched desert to snow-covered mountain passes. The system resulted in financial ruin for the company that earned the contract and was quickly replaced by telegraph and by 1869 a transcontinental railroad spanned the nation.

It was a relatively short, but very dramatic period in the story of the United States, when the country was engaged in expansion and settlement was driven by the discovery of gold and other precious metals in the west as well as the displacement of people by the Civil War.

Yesterday Susan and I reflected on a bit of that dramatic history of the mid nineteenth century as we took a walk along the Missouri River at St. Joseph. There is a nice paved walkway along the river that affords a great view of the river and an opportunity to think about the role of this area in the development of the lands where we have lived for almost all of our lives. For us the adventure has been in reverse from the settlers. We grew up and have lived in the west and the country east of the Missouri River is “foreign” to us. We’ve made several trips, but each time we are on a journey of discovery. The southeastern states are places where we have traveled infrequently and there is much for us to explore when we have the opportunity to take a trip like the adventure on which we are now embarked.

We also were reflecting on our personal journey as we walked yesterday. In the fall of 2019, as she was recovering from a nearly-fatal reaction to a drug administered in the hospital, Susan asked her electrophysiologist what she could do to regain her strength and keep her heart healthy. His response was to develop a discipline of exercise. 30 minutes of walking five days a week was suggested as a goal. We undertook that discipline and increased it slightly, walking seven days each week. These days we often walk more than 30 minutes and cover 2 to 3 miles each day in our formal walking. We have watches that record our walking and most days we have traveled between 5 and 8 miles at the end of the day. Figuring conservatively, we have walked more than a thousand miles since we adopted the discipline of daily walks. That isn’t quite the distance traveled by the settlers, many of whom walked 2,000 miles in four or five months, but a respectable bit of ground has passed under our feet in the past couple of years.

We, of course have some distinct advantages. For one thing we have good walking shoes that fit our feet well. We’ve worn the tread off of the bottom of shoes and have replaced them during our time of disciplined walking, but we’ve always had comfortable shoes. We take that for granted, as it is easy to obtain shoes that fit. This wasn’t the case for those who traveled the Oregon and California trials or for the Pony Express riders. Shoes that fit right and left feet were not available until after the Civil War and were uncommon for early travelers. A pair of shoes was two identical foot coverings that had to be worn to fit the foot.

Our journey continues - at a pace much quicker than the settlers. As we travel we remember their journeys.

Dignity of Earth and Sky

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When we lived in South Dakota, especially in the first fifteen years or so, we used to attend a lot of church meetings that involved people from all over the state of South Dakota. Our Church Conference was defined by the borders of the state and members of the various churches served on committees that planned and carried out the programs of the conference. Both Susan and I served on many different committees and worked hard at maintaining the connections between our congregation and the other congregations of the Conference. During that time, the most common place for a Conference meeting was Chamberlain. Chamberlain is a community that is located right where Interstate 90 crosses the Missouri River. The Missouri River was the original line between Mountain and Central Time Zones in both North and South Dakota. There are a few places where the time zone is not the same as the river these days, but Chamberlain, on the east side the river has always been in the Central Time Zone, along with Sioux Falls, the largest city in the state. Rapid City, on the other hand is in Mountain Time. I used to say that Chamberlain was the perfect place to hold statewide meetings because the folks from Rapid City would travel 210 miles for the meeting, the people from Sioux Falls would travel 140 miles for the meeting and the people from Sioux Falls would believe that they had come half way. The folks from Rapid City would have to leave home 4 hours before the meeting to allow for travel time and the change in time zones. The folks from Sioux Falls would have to leave home 2 hours before the meeting. Once again, the people from Sioux Falls would believe that they had made an equal effort to participate int he meeting.

I served for 42 years as a United Church of Christ pastor. I served in three different Conferences. Each of the congregations I served was in the Mountain Time Zone. I never served a congregation that was in the same time zone as the Conference office. For ten of those years, I served where the Conference Office was in the Pacific Time Zone. The other years I served where the Conference Office was in Central Time Zone. I became very used to driving in order to participate in meetings and I got used to the changes in time zones. However, the first time I attended a meeting in Pacific Time, after having served where our Conference Office was in Central Time, I did arrive for a meeting two hours early because I mistakenly computed the time difference in the wrong direction. I had traveled 425 miles for that meeting, so it involved an overnight stay and the mistake ended up not being serious.

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Chamberlain is an interesting place to visit. There is quite a bit of flat land in eastern South Dakota and for a person who grew up in the Mountains, the Black Hills are a very important geographical feature. I loved living in the hills and have always felt that the Rapid City area is one of the most beautiful parts of the state. However, the bluffs that fall away into the Missouri River basin are interesting and varied. Right at Chamberlain, the bluffs on the eastern side of the river are covered with a juniper forest. Junipers are of the same plant order as cedars and people often refer to the trees growing alongside the Missouri in South Dakota as cedars. The trees are much shorter than the cedar trees in western Washington where we now live, and they are twisted and don’t produce very good lumber for structural building. They do, however, produce fence posts that are resistant to rot and good for a few other building projects.

Yesterday on our drive across the state we stopped in Chamberlain. The traditional stop for many people from Rapid City when traveling to Sioux Falls has been Al’s Oasis, located on Oacoma, on the west side of the Missouri across from Chamberlain. The Oasis features fuel, a good restaurant, a grocery store and lots of souvenir items. It is a good place to meet people form all over the state and we often would find folks we knew when we stopped for a meal. In recent years, however, we have preferred to stop at the rest area at the top of the east side of the river. It is a good place to get views of the river and bridge below and take a short walk into the juniper forest. It is generally windy in that location and on a hot summer day it can be a bit cooler than some other places. Importantly, however, we love to look at the large sculpture that is located at that rest area. Dignity is a huge sculpture of a Lakota Woman standing with her back to the prevailing wind, her arms outstretched, and a star quilt across her back. The quilt is adorned with pieces of colored metal that flutter in the wind. It is a magnificent celebration of the history and culture of the region. The sculpture, created by artist Dale Lamphere, was erected in 2016 and is a gift of Norm and Eunabel McKie from Rapid City. Whenever we are visiting with anyone who will be driving across the state of South Dakota, we recommend that they make a stop to see Dignity. The stop made a good lunch break for us as we arrive at around noon Central Time, a bit early for lunch by the time we got up, but a good time to take a break, a short walk and begin to adjust to the new time zone. In addition to seeing the sculpture once again, we could once again duck our heads beneath the branches of the juniper trees and admire their resilience, growing up in the constant wind, and their tenacity, clinging to the river bluffs where the soil is often washed down in the rain and snow melt.

A drive across South Dakota is a good way to get a feel for the size and diversity of the state and our drive yesterday was a good reminder of the years we served in this state and our love for its many different people and places.

Life on the road

The highways are full of recreational vehicles. It is difficult to get reservations at campgrounds. I don’t know the specifics, but it seems like sales of new RVs must be high. As we have been traveling, we’ve noticed that there is a lot of inventory on sales lots, but there are also a lot of units out on the roads. We’ve seen quite a few very large trailers, motorhomes and the like. Although we have done quite a bit of traveling and have owned our current trailer for nine years and used it quite a bit, we haven’t ever been really immersed in RV culture. We’ve used our camper a lot for visits to family where we’ve parked it in yards and used it like a mobile guest room. We have stayed in campgrounds and RV resorts a bit, but it hasn’t been our primary use of our camper. Part of this trip, however, will be a series of stays in commercial campgrounds. We made our reservations in advance and have altered our travel plans slightly around where we found available space.

We are always interested in people and have found that people watching is part of the adventure of travel. We often stop in rest areas to eat our lunch and as we do we observe others who are traveling with trailers or motor homes. We make our lunch in the camper and then eat outdoors unless the weather prevents it. Most rest areas have covered picnic tables that make it easy to enjoy a bit of outdoor space. We also walk around wherever we are parked. After riding in the pickup for a long distance we like to stretch our legs. There are campers, however, who pull into a rest area and barely emerge from their vehicles. Sometimes we will have a conversation with someone in a neighboring parking spot without even seeing them as they talk to us through a window or door.

Last night as we walked around the campground where we are parked we noticed a very large motorhome with four or five people dressed in the simple dress of those who live in religious community. I wondered if they might be Hutterite or Amish or Mennonite. The big motorhome doesn’t seem to fit with my stereotypical notion of Amish traditionalists who don’t embrace modern technologies. It would be interesting to know their story.

I had a short conversation with a gentleman who is staying in the camper parked next to ours. He began by asking where we were from. I think he had seen the license plates on the pickup, but I said we have come from Western Washington, near the Canadian border and almost to the coast. He didn’t seem too interested in where we had come from, so I didn’t give him many details. He asked what we think about South Dakota. Now that is a complex question for me. He might have unleashed a political tirade or commentary on the governor or a lot of other things I think about South Dakota. Instead, I simply said, “We love it here. We lived here in Rapid City for 25 years.” When he asked where we were headed, he seemed a bit surprised that we were taking such a long journey.

I suspect that we will have plenty more conversations in campgrounds as we travel. As we get farther and farther from home our license plates will seem more and more exotic, I guess.

This is the largest trip we have taken with a camper, but we have pulled our camper quite a bit. When we were working it wasn’t unusual for us to pull the camper a couple of thousand miles on a vacation trip. I guess I’ve been thinking that with all of the campers that we see on the road there must be a lot of people who are getting a long way from home. It could be, however, that more people are taking shorter trips.

The campground where we are staying is not full. There are a lot of campers in the pull through sites, but there are plenty of back-in sites as well. It probably was much more full over the holiday weekend and has emptied out on the eve of the first day back at work for many folks. I expect that we will mostly encounter full campgrounds on our trip.

The way we have planned this trip, our Rapid City visits are reserved for the return. We are only staying here one night while traveling this direction. We’ll take time to visit folks on our way back. We had time to visit with two families yesterday, and are putting off our visits with others until our return. Still, it feels a bit like a homecoming to be here in the hills. Even last night’s rain showers felt normal to us. We noticed a few new paint jobs on houses and a bit of new construction. The city continues to change and having been away for much of the previous year means that we notice the changes.

Driving into the city and through downtown yesterday brought back memories of other visits to Rapid City. During the time we lived in North Dakota we came to Rapid City fairly often. It was a regional shopping and medical center. We also brought youth groups to Placerville Camp. Living more on the open prairie in North Dakota, I really was attracted to the cool tree covered hills and always enjoyed our visits. Then, years later, an opportunity came to live in Rapid City. I remember especially the trip when we came to town with our children to shop for a house. We arrived on the July 4 weekend and stayed in a campground. That particular campground is not longer a campground as that area has been developed into a shopping area. But the feeling of pulling into town with a camper reminded me of our arrival on that trip. Other places we will visit on this trip won’t feel so much like coming home.

We’ve always enjoyed traveling and we are up for adventures. This one seems like it will be a good time to learn more about our country, more about other people, and more about ourselves.

The journey continues.

Moving on

Today we are moving on from Big Timber, Montana, the town where I grew up. We’ve spent six nights here on this trip, which is more than I’ve spent here for quite a while. in recent years it has been our custom to spend a night when traveling through here, and a couple of times we haven’t even stayed overnight when we were in a hurry to travel many miles. During our move last fall we spent more nights than we had planned because a blizzard kept us off of the roads for a couple of days. However, short stays are not the only way we have been a part of this place. Back in 2001, when I had my first sabbatical during my time of serving as pastor of the church in Rapid City, I spent much of the summer at this place. I was writing resources for Seasons of the Spirit, a lectionary-based curriculum that was an international partnership between several denominations. The design team had decided on using Canadian spelling and grammar rules in the written materials. Since the resources were being used in the USA, in Canada, In Australia, New Zealand, England and other parts of the UK, there were bound to be some challenges with spelling and grammar. The choice of a single regional dialect made sense. It took a bit of focus to remember to use the correct spelling. During that summer, I did a bit of work on the place, cleaning up downed branches and cutting up downed trees. I made repairs in the cabins, installed new fixtures and kept the place mowed.

Over the years I had done a lot of the mowing, making multiple trips each summer to prepare the place for my mother’s coming and to keep it up for her summer stays. I also learned how the plumbing system worked and turned on the water and drained the system each spring and fall. Other members of the family have taken responsibility for chores other years and three of my siblings have lived here through winters even though the place is primarily a summer cabin.

We have spoken of selling the place and moving on from this chapter of our lives and I think that we have finally come to the conclusion that we will do so soon, but it is a decision that is filled with emotion. We are different in our attachments and different in our choices about where we will live. For some of us, the location of our living has been primarily a factor of the jobs we have held. For others, multiple factors have influenced location choice. Now that we are elders, the places where our children and grandchildren live influence our decisions as well, though not all of us are able to live near our grands. We have the unique situation of having two children who live 3,000 miles apart. That is unique among my siblings, but not unique in this world. Many families have children in multiple countries and have to make choices about where they will live.

It is clear that this place, which is so meaningful and so valued by us, is no longer the center of our lives. One sister, one niece and two nephews are the only family members who have attended this gathering who now live in Montana. Two brothers came from Washington. A niece and a nephew came from Oregon. A niece came from New York. Others were not able to attend because of travel required and commitments made. Our family center is not a single physical location, but rather a web of relationships that continues to become more complex with each passing generation.

The conversations about what to do with the land and cabins our parents purchased and developed are a challenge. Some of us have been more involved in the management of the property. Some of us have made larger financial investments than others. Our mother understood that the property had to be managed and that management by a large committee wouldn’t work. The trust that holds the property names only two trustees. The trustees had to form a management corporation in order to accomplish that task. Different siblings have different resources and different means. The decision about the future of the property does not fall to a committee of the whole, but rather to just two of us.

However, this gathering of our family has been an opportunity for us to listen to others and to receive their opinions about what should be done. Some of the things I have heard over the past few days are not feasible. Other suggestions have merit. We’ll sift and sort and use our judgment to make the best decisions of which we are able.

It has been good to be in this place and to share a gathering of the family. As we prepare to leave, however, I am aware that my sense of the location of home and the importance of any place has shifted over the years. For me it is a theological issue. For as long as our people have remembered, we have had a unique relationship to land. Abraham and Sarah left the land of their ancestors in search of a promised land. God’s promise to them, however, wasn’t a promise to a single generation. It took a lot of wandering and a time of slavery for our people to enter the promised land and then, after it was occupied for generations, the land was lost through the complexities of geopolitics. The exile and return sobered our people and changed their feelings about land. Along the way, we were refining our theology. We became monotheists who celebrated One God, creator of the entire universe. We began to define ourselves as a people of history instead of a people of place. We spoke of our lineage and we kept our stories even when we had no land to call our own. Then, as the centuries passed, we began to spread our faith across the globe. We are a people of a story, not a people of a place.

So we are moving on from this place, understanding that all land is sacred. God has spoken to us in this place and it will always be meaningful to us. But it is not the only place where we experience God’s love. We can continue to move and to celebrate God’s presence in new places.

Ours has always been a story of adventures. Our generation will continue the journey.

July 4 reflections

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A cousin and I were talking during yesterday’s family gathering. We happened to be the two oldest males in attendance. We were remembering some of the characters that were part of our family in years past. Our uncles are now dead, but it isn’t hard for us to remember them and their unique characters. Our family has had some people with passionate beliefs, some with quirky personalities, and some who stirred strong reactions in others. He jokingly commented that now that we have become the elders, it is incumbent upon us to keep up the tradition of quirky behaviors and personalities. “I guess it is up to us to be the memorable characters the others talk about.”

Of course, neither of us are able to be anything different than who we already are. On the other hand, we are a couple of characters. My nieces and nephews asked me to sing the silly songs I used to sing to them to their children. They remember the dramatic gestures and camp songs we sang when they were little and they want to pass on the tradition to their children. I’m pretty sure that they think of me as quite a character. I love them dearly and I love singing silly songs, so their request quickly brought the response they wanted.

And there are more than a few quirky personalities who have joined our clan over the years. Our people tend to marry very interesting people and each new personality brings something new to us. Our story continues to unfold with more than a few stories worth telling. Yesterday’s gathering illustrated to us how much we have changed and how much has remained the same over the years.

It isn’t just the people. The place has changed as well. In the midday heat we did what we have always done at this place: we went down to the river to cool off. The water is cold, running straight from the snow melting in the mountains. But the river has changed. The old swimming hole is so shallow you can barely dip under the water. The main channel of the river is running more than a hundred yards to the east of where it used to cut. Old islands have become attached to the permanent shoreline. New islands have formed. At the point of the river where our place sits, willow and cottonwood trees grow quickly, become old and fall. There are always downed branches and several large trees come down each year. Still the river is familiar to us. The sound of the rushing water is part of the charm of this place. The coolness of the river makes summer heat bearable. We have always slept with our windows open here and can’t imagine doing otherwise.

Yesterday would have been my mother’s 100th birthday. Today would have been 110 for another character I once knew. Bill McIntyre lived through two world wars. He was a military journalist in the second one and served in the European theatre. After the war he went into broadcasting and his rough voice was a familiar sound in the southwest corner of North Dakota. He saw his share of trauma in his life and it shaped him. The celebration of Independence Day and his birthday were always connected in the minds of the people who knew him. Bill was the treasurer of one of the first two churches we served after our graduation from seminary. His wit and droll sense of humor endeared him to me even when we were working together to solve problems. Standing alongside him as he sought treatment for his wife’s illnesses was a lesson in how to be a pastor for me. I miss him and I remember him on July 4 every year.

Like the river running by our place, the stream of time continues to flow, carrying with it the changes of generations. Our elders pass on. New births bring new family members. The little ones grow up and meet others and marry. Their lives become interwoven with the family story. That story takes turns and twists that we did not anticipate. And life flows on. Old stories are told and new stories are formed.

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Last night’s family celebration wrapped up with traditional African dancing. My brother’s wife was a professional dancer who used to travel with Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda as a cultural ambassador. She has performed around the world for audiences large and small. Now she lives a more quiet life in Western Washington not far from where we live. My brother has brought her to our family home on many previous occasions so we ask for her music and dance. We were not disappointed last night.

As I lay in my bed last night, listening to the sounds of fireworks going off in town, I thought about how different our family’s celebration must be from those of other families gathered for the July 4th celebration. Our story is very different from the stories of other families. Some would have been very surprised at our gathering if they knew what we had been doing. My parents, however, would have loved our gathering. I think we did a good job of honoring their memory. I thought of how much my mother loved to welcome new people into our family and of how accepting she was of our many different quirks and unique personalities. She loved to hold each of the babies and told each one that they were loved. One of her favorite sayings was, “You can’t spoil a child by loving it.” She organized family gatherings, chose dates, invited others, and planned menus for the crowd. She cleaned and cooked and prepared and when the family gathered she enjoyed every minute. A quick look through the photographs of her I selected to share with the family yesterday reveals a lot of her smiling face in the midst of diverse gatherings of people. She loved bringing the family together. It is an honor to be a part of a gathering that remembers such a remarkable woman.

A few decades from now the next generation will have to provide the quirky personalities and unique stories. For new our lives flow on like the river that shapes the land.

Mother's 100th birthday

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I was talking with my niece yesterday about the things we love to photograph. She is a skilled photographer who has studied at a fine arts college and makes some splendid photographs. She said that she loves to take photographs of sunsets. I said, I’m one who enjoys sunrises. I said, there is nothing better for me than to launch a canoe or kayak on a calm body of water just before sunrise. I like to capture images of the reflections in the water as the sun rises. She said that becoming a mother a couple of years ago changed her life. She now is awake early in the morning and is growing to appreciate sunrises. She grew up on Whidbey Island, very close to the place to which we have now moved in Washington and knows the part of the world to which we are now learning to appreciate. She now lives in upstate New York on the other side of the country. I commented that I seem to have moved to the sunset coast of the country, because the sun rises over the ocean on the east coast and sets over the ocean on the west coast.

It was a simple conversation that seems difficult to report in writing this morning. But I think that I am learning to appreciate sunsets for a variety of different reasons.

I grew up in a place where the sun sets over the mountains. The photograph with today’s journal entry was taken last night from the top of the driveway at the place where I grew up. We have gathered in this place as a family to reconnect and to remember as well as to celebrate the future that lies ahead. Today would have been our mother’s 100th birthday. We gathered in this same place in 1988 on the occasion of what would have been her mother’s 100th birthday. Of course this is a different gathering. I am now a member of the grandparent generation. Back in 1988, we had two young children and the niece with whom I was talking last night was a toddler. Now she is a mother of a toddler. Another niece, who was not yet born in 1988, was delighting us all with the news that she and her husband are expecting a new daughter for our family - their first child.

In 1988, I lived in Idaho. Now I live in Washington. Most of the time between the two gatherings, however, I lived in South Dakota. Our South Dakota home was another place where the sun set over the hills. I seem to have a natural orientation in places where the sun rises over the prairie and sets over the mountains. I’m an east slope kind of person, in a way.

These days, however, I’ve moved to the west slope. The sun rises over the mountains and sets over the ocean in my new home.

Sunrises and sunsets are not the substance of growing older, but they are a way of counting the passage of time and keeping ourselves oriented in this wide world. My mother lived most of her life in Montana. She was born in Fort Benton, up on the northern wheat lands alongside the Missouri River. It was the head of navigation on the Missouri. The steamboats didn’t venture farther up stream in the days when water was the main mode of transportation. As an adult, she moved around a bit, but settled with her husband in Big Timber, a small town nestled between the Crazy Mountains and the Absaroka Mountains just north of Yellowstone National Park. When she had raised all of her children and become a widow she moved West to Portland, Oregon for a while to be near my sister and her family and later she moved to South Dakota to live with our family at the end of her life. She experienced the change in perspective of different vistas for sunrises and sunsets.

Being here at this point of my life reminds me of the passage of time. In a way I have become the patriarch of this small clan of people. I’m the oldest male at this gathering and will be the oldest male when the rest of the people who are coming have arrived today for the noon meal and celebration. I was the oldest of the sons in our family. And being together is a stark reminder, especially for my generation, of our mortality. I grew up in a family of seven children. Only four of us are now left. We’ve been looking at old photographs of the days when we were children and taking photographs of the generation of our grandchildren. Our mother would have loved spending time with the little ones as much as we do. She would have taken the same delight in the news of coming births that we feel.

We have gathered to honor her memory and tell some of the old, old stories. But we have also gathered to celebrate the future that will continue the legacy of her love far beyond the span of our lives. Some of us are paying attention to the sunsets while others are discovering the sunrises. In the midst of all of that, we are sharing the same moments. As we stood together last evening watching the colors of the sun and clouds over the mountains and appreciating the natural beauty of this place, the passage of time might have been more apparent to some of us than to others, but we were all sharing the same moment. The love and spirit of our elders, who have gone before us, is visible in our children and grandchildren.

Ours is a normal family. We’ve spread out all across the country. We have different passions and different vocations. We see things from different perspectives. Some of us are careful as we choose the words to say to others, remembering when harsh words were spoken and wanting to avoid words that hurt. And in the midst of all of this we laugh a lot. It is good to be together in this brief moment of time that is ours.

I’ve still got a few more sunsets in me and even a few more visits to the places where the sun sets over the prairie. I’ve got a few more sunrises to photograph before I put down my camera. Today is a day to enjoy the stories of those who have gathered and a day to remember. It is also a day to look forward with great anticipation and joy and share the excitement of the new life that is bursting forth.

All in a name

I enjoy making puns and I enjoy the reaction of people when I make an especially clever pun. Last night I got a reaction from my sister by telling an elaborate story that featured our Uncle Ted, who had a brother named Giles. In our family, Giles was known as Gus. So I made up a story about how they formed a baseball team with ten players, which meant that they had “a spare Gus.” We had just eaten delicious asparagus as part of our evening meal. Uncle Gus died decades ago and we do not have other family members with that name, so there was no individual who heard the joke on their own name.

I have, on occasion, made jokes about the names that people have, but I have learned to exercise caution. It is likely that whatever joke I might make about someone’s name is one that the person has already heard. And jokes about one’s name can be annoying. People get tired of being the topic of a joke.

When Susan was in the hospital, we met a very talented and caring nurse’s assistant whose name was Alexa. We commented on the fact that her name was the same as the word used to wake the digital assistant sold by Amazon and asked her if people kept giving her orders because of her name. She told us that she had a roommate whose name is Siri, the word that is used to wake up apple digital devices.

I think, because of the way she told us her story, that the roommate named Siri is a real person that actually exists, but in retrospect, I have wondered just a bit. Did Alexa so tire of all of the questions about her name that she made up a fictional roommate as a way to deal with the situation? We were so well treated by Alexa that we don’t believe that she felt bad about our inquiries about her name. We certainly hope that she feels good about her beautiful name and her nursing skills and her ability to help people in need.

According to an article published by BBC, parents of children named Alexa report that their daughters have been bullied and in at least one case the bullying was so intense that the family decided to change the girl’s name. Other parents are calling on Amazon to change the name used to wake the digital assistant. Apparently it is possible to program the devices to respond to other voice commands, but the vast majority of the devices are set up to respond to Alexa.

We have a friend whose name is Siri who is a brilliant young attorney. She is confident and assured in her manner and I can’t imagine that she would tolerate bullying of any kind, but I wonder if she has experienced an excess of jokes because Apple decided to use her name as the wake up command for their digital assistant.

We own several devices that give instructions in digital voices. Some of the voices are less pleasant than others. When we purchased a Garmin brand GPS unit to use in our car, I found out that it had several voices in the programming. I didn’t like the American English voice and so experimented with the other voices that could be used. Afrikaans was the first language on the alphabetical list. I liked the voice, but do not speak or understand the language. I finally settled on British English for the device. After a while we started calling our GPS unit “Hyacinth” after the character in a British sit-com. The device finally wore out and we replaced it with another unit that has different voice options. Somehow I ended up calling the voice in this unit “Jill,” though I don’t know how I came up with that name.

It is rather silly how we think of electronic devices as having human qualities. However, the manufacturers of the devices do want us to form relationships with them that will endear their devices, and the brand that they sell, to the public.

We have digital assistants that come with our cell phones, but we don’t have a voice command device in our home. Frankly, I’m a bit creeped out with the thought of some corporation being able to listen in on my conversations. It seems a bit too invasive for me. I am surprised and a bit bothered when my cell phone makes a response to something I have said when I didn’t mean to wake the digital assistant program. Because we do not have a land line telephone at this time, we leave our cell phones on all the time, so this can occur at times when I don’t expect it.

Britain, and I suspect other countries, have experienced a dramatic decrease in the number of new born girls who are given the name Alexa. It makes sense that parents, careful in choosing just the right name for an infant, would avoid a name that might hold the promise of future bullying. But that is no solution for girls and women who were given that name and whose identities are already attached to it. The situation is slightly less common with those named Siri because in Norwegian and other Scandinavian countries the pronunciation is different that what is common in English. In those places the name is pronounced something like “see-ree.” Many who use the name as their chosen moniker have the given name of Sigrid.

The reach of giant corporations is so deep into our lives that the names chosen by the companies can be a real problem for those who are real human beings who have also been given that name. I hope that the technology is becoming sophisticated enough that each device can be given its own name and trained to respond to the name chosen by the owner instead of the one assigned by the company. In the meantime, those named Alexa and Siri face a barrage of bad jokes and the potential for bullying because their given names are the same as the ones chosen by corporations for devices that are designed to accept commands.

For now, I resolve to be very careful with my joking and avoid any jokes about the names of people with whom I have contact. They don’t need me to add to the inappropriate and inane jokes that they have to endure.

Canada Day 2021

I think of myself as a northerner. I’ve lived most of my life in states that share a border with Canada: Montana, North Dakota, Idaho and Washington. During our North Dakota years, our church conference included congregations in Canada and I traveled to those congregations on occasion. It wasn’t until after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that crossing the border between the US and Canada required a passport, but even after that time, we’ve made several crossings without incident. I sometimes refer to my new home as “almost Canada” as we regularly are within just a few miles of the border and there are plenty of places where we go that afford a view across the border.

As a result, I’ve known about Canada Day for much of my life. July 1 is the date of the holiday. It isn’t the same as the US Independence Day on July 4 because the history of the two countries in relationship to British colonial power is much different. Canada didn’t experience independence as a sudden or single event, but rather moved away from British control toward independence gradually and slowly. Still there are plenty of similarities. The beginning of July is celebrated with fireworks on both sides of the border. And Canadians sing their national anthem as part of the celebration as we sing ours.

I memorized the words to the old version of the Canadian national anthem at one point, but they have been revised. The song has official versions in both French and English and a bilingual version in which some lines are sung in English and others in French. The English version is this:

O Canada!
Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all of us command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide,
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

The fact that Canada has two official national languages is caught up in its history and the story of Canada Day. July 1 marks the anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. On July 1, 1867, the colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were united in a single dominion. The treaty that established the dominion also provided for the division of the colony known as Canada into two provinces: Ontario and Quebec. That division recognized the language and cultural differences of the provinces and the strong French colonial influence upon the history of Canada.

It took a few more years for other areas of Canada, including Manitoba, Alberta, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories to become a part of the dominion.

The official languages of Canada, English and French tell the story of the European colonization of the land. None of the traditional indigenous languages spoken before the arrival of European settlers are official national languages.

This year Canada Day is inspiring serious reflection as the nation struggles with both its history and its present condition. As the process of discovering the truth about its history continues to unfold there have been many revelations about the practice of mandatory residential boarding schools and the physical and cultural damage they caused. Recent discoveries of the burial sites of children and of hundreds of unmarked graves tell a grim story of those schools. A lot of additional investigation will be required for the full story to emerge, but we now know that hundreds of children were forcibly taken from their homes and families and died while in custody of the schools. Tests are being conducted to determine the cause of the deaths and attempts are being made to discover the truth of what happened. Some of the graves were probably never marked. A few were shallow. Some contained multiple bodies. Others had at one time had wooden markers that have since deteriorated and been lost.

As Canada mourns the deaths of the children and seeks to discover the truth of its history, it is sweltering under an unprecedented heat wave. Many areas of Western Canada have experienced heat that is even greater than that experienced in Washington and Oregon in recent days. In the past five days 486 fatalities were recorded in British Columbia alone, a 195% increase from previous years. The town of Lytton recorded Canada’s highest ever temperature at 121.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Then the entire town had to be evacuated because of a raging wildfire. The whole town burned in less than 15 minutes.

In Vancouver, a city we can see from the town of Blaine, Washington, just a few miles from our son’s farm, 65 people have died since Friday.

Although it is difficult to make direct connections between any singular weather event and the process of global climate change, there is strong evidence that the extreme situation being experienced in Canada has its roots firmly in human-caused climate change.

So today, as we recognize Canada Day, we acknowledge the complex and often tragic history of the colonization of our northern neighbors. We share their grief over historic deaths of so many children and we acknowledge that we have our own history of boarding schools and that we too could benefit from a closer examination of that part of our story. And we have shared some of the weather extremes that our northern neighbors have suffered - enough to remind us that we are all in this together and what affects one country affects us all.

Canada is not my home. I am a US citizen and have no desire to be otherwise. But I think of my neighbors on this day and I pray that they will find the courage and strength to face the times and to work with the other nations of the world to move towards justice and to seek solutions to the crises of these days. It doesn’t make sense to use the concept of “Happy Birthday,” as Canada Day isn’t really a birth day at all, so I will say, “May the recognition of Canada Day this year be a time of meaning and healing for our neighbors.”