Taking a closer look at God's gifts...

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Typical Day in Alaska? You Decide...

Ever wonder what a typical day in Alaska looks like? Let me share my yesterday with you. True story. All of it.

Here's Mr. Grouchy Pants giving us a dirty look just for
disturbing his meal and invading his territory. 
I started off at the DMV. Hear any warning bells? But they were friendly folks, the line was short, and I should’ve been in and out of there in five minutes. All I wanted to do was renew my vehicle registration and since I now live as a senior (yuck) in Alaska, it was free. So far, so good. But someone made a considerable goof on my initial registration when they entered 2006, rather than 2014, as the model year. Why they didn’t catch it in Tennessee is a mystery, but they didn’t. I didn’t either. But Eagle-Eyed Lady at the Alaska DMV did. Now I have to call someone at the Tennessee DMV to find out how to get that corrected. Of course that means I’ll have to get up at O-Dark-Thirty to do it since most offices in the lower 48 are closed by the time I remember I’m supposed to do business with one of them. But that’s my fault, not theirs.

I decided to leave that for another time, and we embarked on the next portion of our day. A friend of ours, Cody, owns one of those ATVs with a roof over it. It’s still open on the sides and back and has tires bigger that some semis I’ve seen. I sat in the front with Cody, who is a delightful woman, a teacher-by-trade who is also experienced in most outdoor activities. My daughter, Darice, and granddaughter, Molly, sat on a bench seat behind us. That meant Darice, who is almost six feet tall, could see over the roof, but had to make sure she didn’t knock her teeth out when we hit a bump, which was every 2.5 seconds.

And when I say bump, I don’t mean a little indentation in the road. No, this was a mountain trail—a primitive one, at that—with dips as deep as some of the boulders alongside the road. A long time ago, someone probably came up with the idea of digging them out and placing them beside the trail to give ATVs something to fall into and then bounce against. Just for grins, I guess. I must say it’s been a resounding success. We traversed eleven miles into the Chugach Mountains. Eleven miles one way with bumps every 2.5 seconds. And mud puddles. Tree branches. Curves. Steep inclines. And more dust than I’ve eaten in the past fifty years.

But all that amounted to nothing compared to what we saw along the way. The trail followed the shore of a blue glacial lake that glimmered and shimmered in the sunlight. We stopped at one point and walked to the lake’s edge. Molly tossed the biggest rocks she could find into the water, while I picked up half the Chugach Mountain range for my rock collection and stood around like a country hick who’d just been driven to the big city. You could’ve driven the ATV into my mouth. I was enthralled.

Later we stopped at a raging river that splashed its way down the mountain from an unknown source (glacial, though) and flowed over and around huge rocks to the lake below. I couldn’t help but wonder how many thousands of years that same water sat suspended in a glacier before being released to slip and slide, skip and splash joyously down the mountainside to the lake below. I took dozens, no, hundreds of pictures. We continued through the deep forest on one side and the lake on the other until we headed straight into the woods. The trail at some points wasn’t more than three feet wide. We barely fit. All around us, mountains soared overhead, some so high the clouds ringed the peaks that poked far into the blue, blue sky. Some were clothed in green with grasses and pine and birch trees, while others stood naked with only massive boulders, gigantic rock faces, and jutting cliffs as stark adornment. We passed a waterfall that began its plunge to earth so high up on the mountainside that it wouldn’t fit in my camera’s frame. I had to take three shots to get it all. We reached the edge of a glacier, but were leery of traveling on foot with a 5-year-old to get to its base. Even from our perspective, though, it was spectacular.

Wildlife is widespread in the park, and we were on constant alert, particularly when we left the ATV and hiked. Both my daughter and Cody were armed with guns, so we knew we were protected. Still, running into a bear on the trail is never a good idea. We were lucky. No bears in sight. That’s partly due to our telling Molly to make noise, an ability she excels in. While we walked, she yelled, “Here, bearie bear! Here bear, bear, bear!” at the top of her lungs. Luckily, we encountered no highly-trained bears, so none of them came running straight to us to grab themselves some lunch.

Finally we headed back the direction we came. The sights were just as spectacular on the back side as they were the first time around. We bounced around for about eight miles with nothing but scenery all around us. Occasionally we’d meet another ATV, move over, and wave to its occupants. I sat, jostling around in my seat, with my jaw hanging open at the splendor laid out before us and praising God continually for His creativity. I gave up trying to find wildlife. The ATV was noisier than a fighter jet, so any bear who didn’t run away was either deaf, dead, or not scared of mere humans and their noisy transportation methods.

And then it happened. Darice yelled over the din of the motor, “There’s a bear!” It was about ten feet into the woods and occupied with eating something. It obviously wasn’t dead, so it was either deaf or not scared of us because the noise we were making had no effect on it. Now everyone knows you don’t mess with a bear. Period. And never, ever if it’s eating. We’re smart, knowledgeable, intrepid ATVers, so we did the smartest thing we were capable of doing. We turned around and drove back to get a closer look at it. After all, ten feet away from a ravenous black bear is just so far away. (Turns out we’re not all that capable. Or smart.)

Sure enough, it was a bear. A big black one. And sure enough he was eating something with great relish, probably grubs or maybe ants since he was digging. I’m not up on bear delicacies, but whatever it was, he was really into it. While he chowed down, we took pictures and generally o-o-ohed and ah-h-ed our seasoned adventurer hearts out. Until, that is, he looked up at us and gave us the stink eye. When Mr. Bear took a step toward us, Cody threw the ATV in reverse and we bumped backward down the road—bump, bump, jar, jiggle, jiggle, thump, bump—until we could turn around, then warned some other folks who were taking a break from their vehicles that they might want to carefully watch the left side of the road, and headed back to the truck and home.

So last night after washing off enough dust to build our own trail and eating supper, we fell into bed around 8:00 p.m. Even Molly was exhausted. I, on the other hand, spent a good share of my time in the bathroom suffering from a chronic digestive issue. I wondered briefly if an unsuccessful visit to the DMV, traveling twenty-two miles in an ATV bouncing around like a pin ball from the teeth-rattling, bone-jarring bumps, eating six pounds of dust, hiking over rugged terrain, and encountering a grumpy bear might have played a role in my stomach upset. Naw.

Finally, after what seemed like forever, but was just a mere four hours later, I fell into bed, exhausted, sore, and ready to put this typical Alaskan day to rest. As I drifted off to sleep my thoughts centered around my aching muscles, the miserable hours I'd just spent in the bathroom, the beauty we’d experienced, the close call we had with the bear, and the fact that I was more than ready to shut down my body and brain and call it a day. Besides, what more could possibly happen to make this day more exciting? Nothing, right? Wrong.

For it was at that moment that the earthquakes--two of them--struck.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Wild Rose of Summer

It's summertime in Alaska, and while that's true of most of the northern hemisphere, up here summer is a great ...big ... deal. At least it is to me.

 A wild Alaska rose blooms alongside a river as a beautiful
example of God's provision.
Alaska's winters come early and stay late. The aftermath of all that snow is not a pretty sight, as it melts in big piles of slushy mush and dirt. They don't use salt up here to get rid of snow; instead they use sand or another sand-like substance. It's probably better on our car bodies, but it wreaks havoc with the roads when it's no longer needed. Once the snow is gone, the trash is visible, and once that's gone, we're left with great gobs of dirt on the roads and sidewalks. Eventually, crews are able to clean the streets and roads, but not before the wind picks it up and dust devils run amok.

But once all that winter detritus is gone, the greenery of springtime and the beauty of Alaska's flowering trees and bushes reign supreme. Yes, the season is short, but it's also magnificent. Seeing the glories of God's creation, even for the short time they're available to us, is at once humbling and joyous. He didn't have to give us the variety of flowers, birds, butterflies, trees, plants, and every other conceivable facet of nature He provided for our pleasure and nourishment, but He did. Walk deep into the woods and you'll find wildflowers that perhaps one person will see before it dies, but He placed it there for someone's (and He knew who it would be) pleasure. Nature is a constant reminder of our Father's loving kindness and utterly phenomenal, unmatched creativity.

Just as He created the universe and all its mysteries for our enjoyment and exploration, He also provided the tiniest of pleasures for those who are willing to take the time to look around. Beauty surrounds us at every turn. It's up to us to find it (just open our eyes), appreciate it (breathe a prayer of thanksgiving), and acknowledge that He did all this for us (tell the world). It's that simple.

See you along the trail...

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Are You a Rock or a Gem?

At first glance, this picture looks blurry, a bit fractured,  maybe even confusing. But it drew me in like a piece of pecan pie when I saw it. I like taking this kind of photo because I can use them to demonstrate things I think God is trying to tell me. 

This is a picture of the creek bed at the Discovery Center nature trail at Murfree Spring, Murfreesboro, Tennessee—not that this particular location is unique to scenes of this kind. All around our planet, large and small bodies of water hide treasures beneath their surfaces. Sometimes depth conceals what’s down there. Other times it might be sand or the murkiness of troubled waters riled up by high winds, choppy waves, and swift currents. Nevertheless, at the bottom of all bodies of water, no matter how deep, shallow, murky, or clear, lies treasure. 

But even this scene would look unremarkable and drab without the play of the sunshine tiptoeing across the water. Ordinary river rocks which, for the most part,` are flat in color and nondescript, take on nuances of intricately-detailed, exquisite gems. Colors explode, and ripples on the water alter their hues and brightness, reflecting the glimmering rays of the sun in ways that man will never duplicate. 

Are we any different than the lowly pebbles in this stream? No. We too can be dull-looking, sharp with our family, colleagues, and friends, and certainly not sparkling like gems. But when we belong to Jesus, we help to manifest His glory and be seen by others as He would have them see us—reflecting His glory and His power. As with everything else, we’re more beautiful, serene, faceted, reflective, and ever-changing as we bask in the glory of the Son.

See you along the trail. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Consolation Prize!

Skies over Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on blood moon night.
On the evening of September 28th, while the world awaited the appearance of the much-anticipated blood moon and total eclipse, I waited expectantly for a miracle that would part those clouds long enough for me to view it along with so many other millions of people.

Alas, it didn't happen. But what did occur was this colorful and dramatic sunset over Murfreesboro, Tennessee. So often when God doesn't give me something I want, I mourn its loss (as if I had it to lose in the first place), failing to understand that what He does give me is sometimes just as spectacular. And this consolation prize was just that--spectactular. Thank You, God!

While there were many pictures taken of the blood moon and eclipse and posted for the world to see, I don't suppose there were many photos of the skies over Murfreesboro that night. It occurred to me that maybe I should share my consolation prize with the rest of the world!

As I stood in the middle of the road in front of our house looking upward at the gloriously-tinted sky, I half-expected to see Christ riding upon those clouds. Now wouldn't THAT have been something?

See you along the trail...

Sunday, July 12, 2015

To Soothe Your Soul

This beautiful, dew-laden leaf was waiting for me one sunny
morning just outside my cottage door, still fresh from its
 morning shower and not yet toweled off or wearing the drier 
face it would wear for the rest of the day. Sometimes seeing 
something at a time of day  different from the times we usually 
see them can bring glorious surprises and yes, beautiful photos. 
One year ago this week, I was deep in my giddy preparations for a trip to Maine to attend the Golden Apple Art Residency for two glorious weeks. While my primary purpose for being there (and the hat I wore most often) was as a writer, I also took time out from writing my latest book to share hundreds--and I'm talking about 1400--photos of the Residency grounds, in particular, and surrounding parts of Maine, in general.

Wow ... what a beautiful place. Maine is known for its beautiful piney woods, gorgeous shoreline, fishing, lobstering, crabbing, hard winters, blueberries, L.L. Bean, and rocks, rocks, and more rocks. I brought all the rocks home I could transport without being accused of stealing Maine right out from under its residents, and because I flew, I couldn't carry with me the 40 or so pounds of rocks I'd gathered. So I did the next best thing--I mailed them. Using the Post Office's all-you-can-fit-in-a-box-for-one-cost offering, I mailed those beauties home to me and believe me, I had a ball when my box of rocks came a few days later. (I'm not sure the mailman was all that thrilled with me, but hopefully, he/she will never know my face.)

While there, however, I was also transfixed with the beauty of Maine--and indeed of our planet in general. Because Golden Apple is situated on nine wooded acres of Atlantic Ocean coastline, the array of plants, trees, and yes, rocks is stunning, not to mention the water or what goes on out there. I couldn't turn around without finding something growing in the most unusual places (pine trees springing from solid rock, for instance), mushrooms sprouting from trees or piles of firewood, both wild and beautifully cultivated flowers around the property, and seashells. Not to be outdone by the plant life, the animal kingdom put in its two cents' worth with bald eagles soaring, seals honking in the evening hours, squirrels, beavers, even an otter, and the footprints of a moose who managed to stay hidden and away from my camera lens. (I'll get you next time, Bullwinkle.)

I guess what this all leads to is that some of the most beautiful, miraculous, and unusual sights of nature can be found almost anywhere if you look. And sometimes finding them is as simple as walking out your front door and looking down for a few moments before you start your day. As time goes on, you might want to look down a bit more often, finding even more beauty to astound you and soothe your soul. It won't be long before you find yourself looking for nature's beauty automatically.

And it's all free for the discovery in this glorious creation of our Heavenly Father's that we lucky humans call home.

See you along the trail...

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To Love a Weed

I don't have purple hair, nor do I style it the way this pretty little thistle head
has, but if I did, this is what I'd like to look like. And yes, I know that's weird.
We're living in a new house which we love, but it's at the end of a road in a rather new sub-division which is still undergoing aggressive construction. We're the last house on the road at the moment, so the land past our house (to the left as you're looking at the house) and behind it is vacant. I like to tell people we live on the edge of a nature preserve because the rabbits, geese, and who-knows-what-else make their homes there, but in truth, it's just vacant land piled high with dirt, chunks of trees, and other rubble the construction equipment has shoved aside to clean up another day.
The little beauty above is a thistle weed and it's growing on the piles of dirt and rock surrounding our house. I can't get to it without risking life and limb (thank goodness for zoom lenses), but if I could, I'd gather a few for a colorful bouquet. 
It's amazing to me how something as lowly as a common weed can be so beautiful, yet have such little value when compared to the more acceptable flowers we slave over (and pay good money for) in our gardens. If God had never given us anything but the "no maintenance, grow anywhere" weeds to satisfy our desire to beautify our surroundings, we would be hard-pressed to complain. Take a few thistle heads, some Queen Anne's lace, dandelions, and the wild variations of asters, daisies, and a host of other flowering "weeds," and you've got a luscious, colorful bouquet of God's love for us displayed in even His most modest of creations. 
I wonder how often we overlook an individual because they seem common. If God can love the weeds on this earth, how much more does He love all of His children--young, old, pretty, homely, rich, poor, in good health or bad, black, white, brown, red, yellow, pink, or orange--who cares?
He cares. For all of us. For the hybrids, the old standards, the lush, the wild, the rare, the plentiful, the run-of-the-mill, the powerful, and the weak. Which one are you? 
See you along the trail...                                                                                                                     

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's all in how you look at it...

There are days I feel insignificant and without any real worth. Yes, I can still draw breath and I suppose if I can do that much, I can do more--like walk and talk and eat and work and play. Still, even though I'm blessed to be able to do all that, I feel afloat, disinterested, pitiful, and not anchored to any person or any purpose. I'm adrift, alone and without purpose.

Or do I just think I am?

On a walk down the nature trail at the Discovery Center at Murfree Spring in Murfreesboro, Tennesse, I noticed this little guy swimming his teensy-weensy turtle heart out in the mud and muck of a pollen-encrusted pond. He couldn't have been two inches long from the tip of his nose to the end of his pointy little tail.

This little guy loves his life and makes the most of it despite
his less than ideal surroundings. Too bad I can't say the same about
myself some of the time. Lord, forgive me. 
Now there, I thought to myself, is someone who truly is insignificant. I stopped to watch him for a while and noticed something strange. He didn't act insignificant. Even though he puddled around in murky water laden with twigs, dead leaves, and other detritus of winter past and early spring, he acted as though he owned the place. He swam with purpose (at least to my eyes), and did his best (or her best--hard to tell) to climb rocks or logs that got in his way. If he couldn't do it on the first attempt, he tried until he made it. I detected no whining, no complaining, and no self-pity. (Of course, I'm not familiar with what whining, complaining or self-pity looks like in a turtle, but I'm going to give this little guy the benefit of the doubt.) Despite his size and, I suppose, relative youth, he made the most of what his life consisted of--greenish water, obstacles he had to climb over or scramble up to enjoy, a hard shell on his back, and scrawny little legs. Not much to work with to make a wonderful life, is it?

To us, I suppose it wouldn't be. But to him, it's the life he's been given and he seems to be very content with it. I wondered if he ever dreamed of a clear pond, a ramp up to his sunning perch, food that wasn't waterlogged or from the insect world. Maybe, but somehow I doubt it. I think he accepted what he had and enjoyed it to the best of his ability.

I think I should do that more often. I've been given far, far more than so many people on this earth. I live in the best country the world has ever known where I'm free to worship my God without worrying about being ambushed, beheaded, or otherwise persecuted. I have plenty of food and fresh water, a clean and safe home, decent clothes, transportation, good medical care, a loving extended family, the sun in the daytime, and the moon and stars at night.

I might feel alone, but that's because I allow myself to feel that way. Next time I do, I'm going to think about this little turtle and be glad I don't live in a pollen-, bug-, leaf-filled pond of green water with worms for dinner.

See you along the trail...