Friday, September 25, 2015

Pulling New Weeds

Some of you dear blog readers may remember how much I enjoy pulling weeds.  Yanking those ugly vegetative intruders out of garden or flower bed is one of my favorite outdoor sports!  When I spend several hours at this task, I feel as if I have struck a blow against evil in the world – or at least the garden! – and it gives me a great sense of accomplishment.

So I grieved a bit when we moved into a condominium where outside maintenance is cared for by others.  “No more weeds to pull,” I thought sadly.  On our daily walks I kept noticing the weeds growing in flower beds in public places and it was all I could do to restrain myself from weeding on public property.

However, there’s good news.  The second week we were here in Westerville, the church had scheduled a workday for the coming Saturday.  We went, and Bruce got busily involved in some cleaning and maintenance projects inside the building.  Some workers were cutting down dead trees in the woods area behind the building.  Others were building and installing benches for bird watching around the prairie area in the front of the church property.

I looked around for a task I could do and I spotted a flower bed, long neglected and nearly overgrown!  So I pulled on my garden gloves and set to work.  Some of the weeds were taller than I am.  What a joy to pull or dig them out and discover flowers hiding behind them and good fertile soil beneath!

There were lots of thistles – which reminded me of the grass burrs of south Texas!  There were long strings of a weedy vine that climbed up and over everything in its path – rather like kudzu but not quite as aggressive.  There were roots and stems of long dead shrubs and trees, and grasses of many different types.  It was like a party for this weed-pulling enthusiast!

Bruce came to inform me that it was time for lunch.  I had been working for 2 and a half hours, but I wasn’t done yet!  I didn’t want to quit until I had rescued all the flowers and had completed my job.  He bribed me away from my work with two promises: First, lunch out.  Second, we’d come back and finish the job as soon as possible!

I helped carry off the mountain of vegetation I had removed from the flower bed.  Then  reluctantly I took off my gardening gloves and put away my digging and cutting tools.  Lunch out is even more attractive to me than pulling weeds, so off we went to the nearest Subway restaurant.  But my sadness had lifted because I had found new weeds to pull.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

If it ain't true, it oughta' be!

Social science has finally found the key to happiness!  A recent research study has found that the most accurate indicator for happiness in life is membership in a faith community and adherence to the values taught by the faith.  A relationship with a loving Supreme Being gives meaning and purpose to life, hope and courage in times of stress or loss, and serenity as the end of life approaches.  Some of us have known that for many years out of our own personal experience!

I was born into the lap of the church – and there I grew up!  I was loved and cared for, encouraged, enjoyed community, and responded to challenges.  I was given freedom to ask questions and pursue answers that were different than those others had discovered.

I remember the days when church benches were full on Sunday mornings, and activities continued through the week.  The spiritual realities of life were respected and honored.  Faith was not just a personal pilgrimage but a journey with treasured companions.

Now, in the seventh decade of my life, things have changed.  Many church benches are empty and I see more and more of my society rushing from task to task.  Folks run from one entertainment to another without time or interest in the movement of the Holy Spirit.

An atmosphere of cynicism and doubt has poisoned many searches for truth.  “You can’t prove God exists,” they challenge.  “I can’t see, hear, smell or touch God so why should I believe in God?”  “I’m a self-made person.  What do I need God for?”  “ I just can’t believe any more that all those old stories about Jesus are true.  I mean all that Bible stuff about kindness and forgiveness, and meekness and humility just isn’t realistic in today’s world.”

That may indeed be an accurate description of our 21st century society.  And it is quite possible that some of the tenets of faith people have been taught are not true.  But our society craves happiness, hope, meaning, compassion, community, and peace.  These are the gifts of a loving  Creative Power above and beyond us and the tangible things of our lives.  Now even social science research agrees: there is a positive connection between happiness and faith in God!

So, to all the cynics, nay-sayers, atheists, agnostics, skeptics, and doubters, if  God – and God’s incarnation in Jesus – ain’t true, it oughta’ be!

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Dangers of Bicycling in Westerville

Westerville, Ohio is certainly the most bicycle-friendly town we have ever lived in!  It has a well-designed system of bike/walk trails that reach nearly every place within the city and some scenic areas outside of town.

Fortunately for us, our new condo is located just about half a block from one of those trails! So, of course, we had to get out our bikes, dust them off, put air in the tires, and try out our local bike trail.  It is great!  Nice road surface, protected street crossings, no major hills, and absolutely no vehicular traffic!  Despite a few muscles painfully protesting being roused out of retirement, we thought we had found The Promised Land for bicyclists.

"Our" trail runs along the edge of Westerville South High School athletic fields, behind the post office, along the back side of the city building and the library. We ventured out a little farther from home each time we rode.  I always followed Bruce since he seemed to know his way around on the bike trails and I hadn't yet found time to study the map of them.

One evening we explored a little neighborhood park a mile or so north of home.  On another ride, we exited off "our" trail and rode along a trail beside a very busy street.   Another two-wheeled excursion took us across town to the Westerville Community Center several miles from home.

On one fateful afternoon we rode north toward a shopping center.  I had no idea of where we were or where we were going.  I just blindly followed my guide.  At one point, Bruce left the bike trail and crossed the street to the opposite sidewalk.  "That's dumb," I thought "when you have a perfectly good protected bike trail to ride on!"  So, I did not follow his lead but continued on the bike trail on "my" side of the street.

At the corner, I had to wait to cross because the traffic light was red.  I lost track of Bruce amongst the orange barrels of construction at that intersection, but I assumed that he was waiting for me to cross and join him.

As the light turned green, suddenly I saw him, red T-shirt, jean shorts and bike helmet, riding toward me, speeding past me and on down the trail behind me!  By the time I got turned around, remounted my bike seat, and hit the pedals, he was far ahead of me.  "How rude" I thought, "not to even slow down and give me a chance to catch up with him."

The faster I pedaled, the madder I got, as he steadily pulled away from me, almost out of view!   At the next intersection I lost sight of him entirely!  I stopped, angry and entirely confused: I did not know where I was or how to get home and I had no map either on paper or in my head!  Now what?

I was reaching for my cell phone when I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Do you know where you are?" it asked.  "And where in the world were you going so fast?"  It was Bruce!

"I was trying to catch up with you," I retorted.  "Don't you ever do that to me again, lead me out to an unfamiliar place, then take off so fast I can't catch up with you, in a totally strange place with no way to get home!"

"What are you talking about?" he asked with a very confused look on his face.

"I'm talking about what you just did to me, leaving me in the dust, lost and alone in a place I've never been before!  Don't you EVER do that to me again!"

There was a lengthy silence.  Then he asked, "Who were you following?  It wasn't me because I was waiting for you back at the traffic light when I saw you turn around and take off like a bat out of hell.  I couldn't figure out where you were going, so I followed you, and I could barely keep you in sight, you were going so fast."

"Well, then, who was I following?" I asked perplexed.  "I was sure it was you.  He had on a red T-shirt, jean shorts and a bike helmet, just like you.  But, I confess, it's not like you to go so fast as to lose me in a strange place.  So it really wasn't you after all?"

"No, my dear, it wasn't me," he reassured me as my temper cooled.  "And I'm so glad that you couldn't catch that strange man in the red T-shirt that you were chasing.  If you had, I might have lost you forever!"

Yes, biking in Westerville is great - if you follow the right person!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Running Into Old Age

My favorite definition of old age says that “it is my current age plus ten years”!  That understanding assures us that none of us ever will reach that dreaded stage of life.

However, it was about ten years ago when I first noticed it!  About the time I retired, I discovered that an afternoon nap cured the after-lunch drowsiness that had plagued me for years.  When I began indulging in a regular afternoon nap, that’s when my life began sliding slowly downhill!

A few tasks I used to be able to do without a second thought gradually became difficult, like getting up off the floor.  Days that used to contain 24 hours seemed to have shrunk in length as they flew by because every task took longer than it used to!  Night-time trips to the bathroom increased in number.  Wrinkles puckered up my body in strange ways, and the mirror reflected back images of graying hair.

What was happening to me?  I was running into old age!  The aging process only rarely wipes us out all at once.  It’s more gradual.  Today my back aches; yesterday it was my knees.  Last week I was short of breath; today I have an earache.  Next week I’m scheduled to give an hour’s lecture on my favorite subject, but today I can’t even remember whether or not I’ve taken my morning pills!

Those were the days when I had run into some of the previews of old age.  But, once in awhile, old age runs into us and nearly knocks us over!  This year was one of those days!  Energy was nil; another abcessed tooth had to be pulled; pain problems I thought were solved long ago  came back to haunt me.

A long series of medical tests on my soul-mate revealed nothing serious despite original concerns.  We were grateful, of course.  But that whole temporary confinement in the healthcare system reminded us both that someday the pain might not get better, and the diagnostic tests might reveal a real problem!  We paused to consider the long-term probabilities of these “health-scare” events.  We had run into old age!  Now what?

As we began our annual spring pilgrimage north from south Texas to the mid-West, we noticed that certain tasks were taking longer than they used to.  Setting up in a new campground each afternoon and packing up each morning to get on our way seemed more like work and less like the fun it used to be.  The miles seemed longer; the potholes deeper; the truck seats harder, and the nights shorter.  Even the scenery was not as beautiful as it had been over the years.  It was time for a change.  We had run into old age, but we were determined not to sink silently into its depths!

So, as soon as possible, when we got to our destination in Ohio, we found an RV Park close to a lovely MetroPark, and we started walking.  Morning and evening we walk; sometimes only a mile and a half but usually three miles each time.  We can’t really run anymore, but we walk briskly, steadily, and regularly.

We take time as we walk to enjoy the wildflowers, the deer, the bison, the little garter snake sunning itself; the “croak” of the bullfrog hiding among the the cattails; the red-tailed hawk sitting high on a utility pole; the cotton-tails of the rabbits startled by our footsteps.

As we’ve walked, we have bought a condo, shopped for furniture, planned for a smaller new vehicle, worshiped with a new church family, and visited twice with our son an hour’s drive away.  Sometimes we discuss the problems of the world as we walk, but we haven’t solved any of them yet!

No, we’re not really running into old age but neither are we letting it run us down!  We’ll keep moving ahead at our own determined pace into whatever old age has in store for us in the days that are coming.  Oh, and by the way, our new condo is located on a bike trail, so we may soon speed up our journey into the future.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cataloochee Valley in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Cataloochee is a beautiful valley in the midst of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in western North Carolina.    We had spent the morning at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, in Cherokee, NC.   After lunch we traveled on the Blue Ridge Parkway where we encountered the following view.

We left the Blue Ridge Parkway in Maggie Valley and headed north toward I-40 on Route 276.  Just two miles south of I-40 we turned onto Cove Creek Road having been warned that the road to Cataloochee Valley is a winding, gravel road that has some steep drop offs with no guard rails.  After eleven miles of winding roads over the mountain we arrived in the Cataloochee Valley.

Before long we came upon a large open meadow area and saw several dozen cars stopped along the roadway.   Sure enough there was a male elk standing out in the open keeping his eye on several females not too far away.   (Of course I had forgotten the camera with the good zoom lens!)

Of course the females were ignoring him completely as they munched on the fresh grass.

The Caldwell Place -- built 1903
 A variety of historic buildings have been preserved in the valley including two churches, a school, several homes, and outbuilding.   Following Indian trails, white settlers pushed into the valley in the early 1800s.   By 1910 this isolated valley was once home to some 1200 people.   However, by 1938 all but a few residents had moved out to make way for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Barn at the Caldwell Place
Just a short distance beyond the Caldwell place we encountered more elk.   This time a male who was too deep in the brush for a photo blessed us with the unforgettable sound of his bugling.  Hint -- you too can hear the elk bugle by clicking on this link:

In addition to the elk we saw dozens of wild turkeys.   Cataloochee is indeed a beautiful place.

Smoky Mountain Folk Festival

The 45th Annual Smoky Mountain Folk Festival was held on September 4 and 5.  The main show was on the grand stage of Stuart Auditorium overlooking the lake at Lake Junaluska Assembly, near Ashville, NC.  The two night festival features musicians from Haywood County and many surrounding areas of western North Carolina.  We were able to enjoy a variety of the region's finest fiddlers, banjo players, string bands, ballad singers, dance teams, and folk ensembles.

One of many clogging groups.

The Trantham Family

The Cockman Family

Stuart Auditorium (round building toward the right) in the
Great Smoky Mountains of western North Carolina.