Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Caves and Buffalo – Detail in the Connection

Yesterday was spent touring Wind Cave, the world’s fifth largest explored cave system and home to a very fragile mineral formation called box work.  This particular cave is also home to the creation myth belonging to several Native American tribes.  The cave contains its own ventilation system, and is called Wind Cave appropriately because it is a windy cave.  The first natural entrance that is known to have been used was found because of the windy air moving through and out of the caverns.  Some tribes also believe that this cave was where life came from, both that of buffalo and of people.  The connectedness of the buffalo and the people demonstrates how interdependent the tribe and herd were. 
The ranger tour guide demonstrates the cave at the original entrance.

Boxwork at Wind Cave
Venturing down 300 steps, to wind up 20 stories below the ground in a multi-layered cave formation was a wonderful way to see a different part of the Black Hills.  Formations made by water and limestone have left patterns that reminded me of a coral reef.  Swirls, flakes, lines, fins, and paper thin waffles of mineral deposits are seen at different colors at different levels, they are visible in a carefully constructed lighted path constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  Carefully explored, so as not to break or disturb the formations, the Wind Cave system is still being explored, miles and miles of caves to map below the surface of the Black Hills.

Riding an elevator back out of the cave, the doors open back to bright sunshine.  Above the ground, the prairie dogs continue to bark their warnings, the buffalo to wallow in the bright red mud, and the antelope to munch on the new green grass.  The connectedness of the plants, animals, and geology form an intricate succession of events that make the nature here work in its appropriate sequence, creating sustainability. 

The detail and connectedness of this all struck me in the last large room in the cave tour.  Large slabs of rock on the floor looked as if the architecturally chosen materials used in the construction of the Sphinx had been repurposed here.  Then, I started noticing the smaller details of the boxwork and other crystal like formations.  In the darkness of a cave, I thought of the creator of the cave, the prairie above, and everything in between; it was a great reminder of the details created on purpose and with purpose.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

Fire Ecology

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, the Ponderosa Pine Trees seem to scrape the skies, standing tall and singing like instruments in a giant wind garden.  Scraped to ooze their yellow sap by passing buffalo and strongly planted with impressive root systems, the trees reach skyward in determined growing attempts.  These trees, part of a delicate ecological balance, partner in a process with forest fires.  We don’t see many forest fires in Iowa, at least not anything like what I might see on television while sitting in a recently flooded Iowa river town.  Watching the news about forest fires, the television crews tend to focus rightly on the families and businesses impacted.  But, it is easy to miss another story that is commencing with the fire sweeping through, initiating a new process of growth.  The germination of this particular tree, the Ponderosa pine, requires the natural fire process to germinate new trees.   The seeds require the high heats of a sweeping fire to awaken, as it were, and begin their own sky sweeping growth and development process.  Nitrogen is put back into the soil, dead undergrowth is burned off, and the forest floor is opened up to new life.  It is a destructive process of renewal. 

In passing through the Black Hills a few years ago, I remember seeing the destruction of the fire across the hills.  Charred bark, blackened ground, and dead undergrowth scarred the once green landscape.  It was sad to see the things that were vibrant and lush only shortly before, now charred and sooty as remnants of the damage left by the fire.  Time has passed and now when I look on those same steep slopes, they are carpeted with new pine trees, several feet high and thick in the trunks.  A fresh green is the overwhelming color on the hills, and I can see where new flowers and plants are starting to form again.  The dead lifeless look of the fire area has been turned into a nursery augmenting the current mature forest population.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to the cycles of fire ecology, the processes can teach us about other things as well.  Perched on the high plains, just inside the borders of South Dakota, there is a tiny town named Ardmore.  Admore - a ghost town. 
Driving through this place was outlandishly strange; it was as if everyone had just walked away one day and left vehicles, campers, homes, furniture, etc… behind.  The buildings are in the decaying process, neglected yards are covered in saplings and tall prairie grasses, a sense of emptiness has settled over the space.  What once was a small community is now abandoned to the prairie; burned if you will by the fires of economics.  There was no good source of income, no long-term way this town worked, and a proverbial forest fire of economics has ended its life.  The death of a town is something that I can’t help but look at with a sort of morbid fascination. But, my real interest, are the people and what became of them.  Is the loss still mourned?  Have they found that after the initial char and soot that the burns have healed and they are stronger and ready for new growth? 

We all experience fires in our life, some of them may even be forest fires outside our door.  They sweep through with intensity, and seem to completely devastate the landscape.  What once at least appeared to the casual outside viewer like it was fairly in order and okay has turned to nothing but ash and bareness.  But, we who are Christ followers can trust in the growth that comes from the fires’ destruction.  Regardless if it is moving from a town because of economic fires or the ruin of forest fires, or if it is looking around your life and feeling that it is littered with charred remains, we can look with hope at the devastation.  We have a different kind of fire ecology, the kind where hope remains and good new growth can come from the perceived ruin.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

In the Land of Buffalo

Yesterday, travels took me from Norfolk, Nebraska to Custer, South Dakota.  Passing through on Highway 20, small towns would pop up and then disappear again.  In the more thriving communities, little restaurants, crowded with locals thus denoting the presence of good food, appear in the downtowns.  Gas stations, a general store, an auto parts place, and granaries are the most common monuments to a population.  In between these places where between 30 and 3,000 gather and call home, the grasslands sweep.  The heart of Nebraska, not the land of the flat fields some might imagine, holds miles of cattle country.  Dotted with herds of cattle, horses, and a few trees, bluffs create complex patterns of light and dark – playing with shadows created by the spring sun. 

This is an austere land.  It is not the gentle slopes of the Appalachian foothills or the relaxing sounds of the river slapping against the shore.  The wind whips through the grasses, moving them like a sea of reeds.  Snow is making its last stand against the warmth of the earth and sun by melting so slowly into the soil.  Cattle gather around feeding troughs, and windmill powered water tubs.  New spring calves follow their mommas, close enough to run to the safety and comfort of her side, and yet far enough to do a little exploring of their new world.  Farmers and ranchers are out working on repairing fences, helping with the birthing of spring calves, and preparing fields for the new growing season. 

Rocky buttes start showing themselves, severe and beautiful testimonials to the strong bones of the land.  Pines adhere themselves to little soil, forming braided roots that cling to the anchoring materials.  Growing so slow and powerful over the rock itself to split and move the surface away for new growth.  Craggy bluffs and box canyons hold hiding spots for the antelope, and wayward cattle that simply don’t care to participate in the cattle drives.  Antelope, their white and brown coloring stands out to the eye as a color slightly out of place.  One, then two, eleven, fifteen – there they are out among the cattle.  Horse tails are caught in the wind and blown aside softly, creating beautiful images of how the wind moves.

This land was once filled with herds of buffalo.  They moved along the grass lands and created a dark contrast of color from the light prairie grasses and their coffee colored fur.  Decorated with the seeds of different flowers and painted with the red mud on their hooves and heads from scratching on the ground, I can imagine them sallying forth across the land, moving in groups of thousands.  It is the land that supports strong animals, ones that can survive and thrive in severe conditions.  I am in the land of buffalo. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Logo Says Relax

I am sitting in the lobby at the Hampton Inn in Norfolk, Nebraska, working on relaxing.  Working on relaxing, it seems like a paradox but it can be hard to slow down.  Coffee and yogurt beside my computer, a comfy couch to sit on, and complimentary Wi-Fi; it would seem that relaxation would be a no-brainer.  But, when I run at a certain speed for so long, I find it difficult to slow down and really relax.  Life gets busy, obligations and events pile onto the calendar and create pyramids of ink on carefully marked up days.  They are great obligations and events, things I want to be at and participate in.  When you live by a calendars (yes that is with an s), and a clock, it can be hard to change pace.  Vacation, much wanted and looked forward to, is finally here!  Packing up yesterday, farewells were said to the pups and hellos said to the road.  With the final destination of South Dakota in mind, it was a good day to start the process of relaxation.

But this is vacation – it is all about pace change!  Yesterday, at a rest stop in Nebraska, the grasses were being caught by the wind and whispering a soothing song that speaks of a quiet earth, coming alive with spring growth.  Birds fluttered in and about a pine tree, adding a flutter of soft rhythms to the ongoing syncopated grass percussion.  The land is being worked, prepared for a new year of growth.  The newness of leaves is punctuated by their softness and beautiful bright green color.  I stopped and tried to take this in, breathe in the sounds and smells and sights; as if imbibing myself with the waking up song of the deep bones of the earth, the slow and methodical process of spring.

I started with mentioning the hotel here in Norfolk.  It’s very nice by the way, clean and a friendly staff.  Without my normal alarm clock of the puppy jumping on me to go out, I was still wide awake by the normal time and debated how to and if to go back to sleep.  I gave up, came on down to the lobby.  It’s my first day to sleep in a bit, and no sleeping in takes place.  But that’s okay, it takes time to relax and unwind.  And here at the hotel, I am reminded of that word, “Relax,” in logos on coffee cups, soap, and general branding materials. 

I think I will thank you very much!  That way I can look forward to jumping back into the events on the calendar with new energy. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

That is Not Your Toilet Paper ~ and Other Sounds of Home

You never know what you will hear in my house.  Laughter is heard often, music, and then something like “That is not your toilet paper.”  The last is spoken to the puppy who thinks that toilet paper looks like a party streamer on a cardboard roll.   A home can hold many different sounds; kitchen sounds of meals being prepared and shared, favorite games and television shows, pets, getting ready to leave for the day, and coming home.  Getting along sounds and disagreement sounds. 

There are sounds that should never find themselves in a home, the sounds of terror, abuse, and infliction of harm.  We will be participating in a pay-it-forward project June 8 to help a place that changes the sounds from harm to home for young boys, the Miracles Can Happen Boys Ranch.  Whether the harm is from familial hurts or self-inflicted, this is a place where boys are taken into a loving home and brought up with a sense of worth and Christian values. 

What is a pay-it-forward project?  Well, seed money is received to go toward something that will help raise additional funds.  Then, the monies raised are donated to the boys ranch.  My mom was so excited when this opportunity came up, and went up with the idea of a concert where donations are taken for the ranch. 

Now that the date and time and location are set, all that is left is the music, right?  Well, there is a little more to it than that – and I’ll keep adding some updates from time to time here.  In the meanwhile, check out the flyer, add the event to your calendar, and we hope to see you there. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Patterns of Thought

My head hits the pillow and before I fall asleep, my normal routine is a review of the day and any big events.  I often find myself thinking of things I need to do tomorrow, making a mental list.  Night is when thoughts can get stuck easier, playing over and over in my mind.  Morning is fresh and between the business of getting ready for work and the new day, my thoughts take a decidedly different pattern.  But, it is interesting how morning thoughts and night time thoughts are patterned differently.

Morning thoughts are decidedly more practical and task driven.  Take the dogs out, coffee in the cup, creamer too, get ready for work, and those are the thoughts that are pretty much lined up in my head.  After the coffee clears out the morning cobwebs, thoughts still tend to stay practical.  To do lists, notebooks to jot down things I need to remember to do, and calendars are the order of the day. 

But night time is another structure of thought all together.  As the day winds down, thoughts leave the calendar structure of the day and become more abstract.  It is this time when I find that in the quiet of bed time, my mind can still be whirring and need additional quiet to stop.  It may be a moment during the day, a note from a friend that made me smile.  Thoughts could take song from the sparrows singing in chorus in the bush behind the kitchen.  Memories of family moments, like Fourth of July picnics and Christmas celebrations, can bring a smile as I remember and drift off to sleep.  Dreams of future plans and hopes take shape in thought and reform themselves over and over. 

The do-over wishes sometime creep in; hurts or words that have cut will also make themselves known.  Like a fever that has disappeared during the day, to reassert itself at night, I try not to let those get stuck, though sometimes I am not so successful.  Worries can creep in, taking what should be a time to relax and before I know it I am squirming about, my shoulders tensed up to my chin and sleep makes itself scarce.  Go away little worry, stop poking at me, stop the replay of the words over that do not help!  I was thinking not so much of a specific instance last night, but how vulnerability to these kinds of things seems to increase at night.  

Patterns of thought, morning and night, the patterns change.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Pelican Season

They wing their way through the Mississippi River area once a year, as part of a migration pattern.  The American White Pelicans land here in Iowa for a short time and are beautiful to see.  I have been enjoying watching these pelicans fly about, showing off their bright white feathers against the dark brown of trees that have not leafed out yet.  Landing with amazing skill onto the river, I would see both large groupings of pelicans and individuals floating down the river. 

Last Saturday dawned bright and clear.  Sunshine at last!  I really wanted to go back and take pictures of the pelicans in the sunshine.  (Not that the cloudy days have stopped me).   But, where did the pelicans go?  The beautiful birds must have taken advantage of the beautiful day to travel along to another spot. 

I’m glad I didn’t wait for the sun to come out to take pictures.  Pelicans only stay for a short season.  Like pelicans, you can’t wait always wait for the perfect moment – sometimes you have to make the moment.

Friday, April 19, 2013


It is not the first time Boston has been left feeling unsettled, in the midst of tension of protecting one’s family and self from harm as well as a sense of defiance against fear.  Historic Boston is known for a population that standing firmly with strength for what they believe is right.  Again, Boston is standing once again, standing for the law enforcement community and standing against fear.
I am a lover of history, and when I think of Boston that is so rich in history, Abigail Adams is one of the first that come to my mind.  She wrote letters to her husband, John Adams, and shared with him the experiences that they were going through at the time.  She writes of her “heart bursting, and the need to vent with her pen.”  Their beloved home was in the center of a conflict.
Abigail wrote of standing on a bluff and watching the conflict below as it occurred.   That is a little how I feel watching the news this morning.  Not in the immediate conflict, but as an observer who cannot control where the pieces are falling.  Prayers go out for the police officer, the victims, and the families and friends who will grieve the loss for the rest of their lives.  For though I cannot control how this will play-out, I can pray that God will not only end this without further bloodshed and that the healer will start the healing process. 
Heal Boston, mend, and continue to stand strong.  You are not standing alone.  

Monday, April 15, 2013

Standing in the Gap for Me

A horrible thing happened today in Boston, one or two or a small number decided to attack a much larger number through explosives and through fear.  On a day celebrating the patriots of Massachusetts, at an event that inspires many around the globe to strive for a lofty goal, this terrible thing occurred.  We don’t even really know the details yet.  We don’t really know yet what the fall-out will be, who will be held responsible, or what attempts to legislate a stop of evil intent this will inspire. 

What we do know is that it is in this, this war where the front line is anywhere and everywhere, that we all must take a stand.  We must all stand up and realize that though our methods and philosophies may not agree, we are not accepting this behavior.   Even more, we must not lose hope.  We are not alone in this, and this is not something unique in our time. 

Ezekiel wrote of how God, angered at the decisions that Israel was making, finally had had enough.  Intent on pouring out just anger against the terrible things that were occurring, in effect saying “stop” I have had enough.  Even then, at the moment of anger, God looked for someone among the Israelites who could “stand before him in the gap.”  He was looking for a way to save them.

Today, we have someone to stand in the gap.  Jesus stands in the gap!  So that even when horrors occur, terrible tragedies; we do not have to lose hope.  Someone stands in the gap for me and wants to for you as well.  In the everyday neighborhood trenches, in the meeting rooms, classrooms, and commuter trains; in the births, marriages, and deaths; in the tragedies and in the triumphs.  

Ezekiel 22

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Who We Are - Siblings

I was recently introduced to the world of Duck Dynasty, the family show on A&E.  After several hours of laughing at the antics of this family, I have grown to appreciate how honest they are as a family and how much they value their culture of “redneck-isms”.  I think it’s pretty brave to open up your business life to a camera crew, let alone your family life, to those who are going to watch and comment – like I am.  One of the things I noticed that the employees on camera are also sitting with them at the dinner table, family meal times.  These people have become more than employees – they are kin. 
I’m an only child.  When I was a little girl, I used to tell people that my mom was going to get me a baby brother or sister.  That didn’t happen quite as I had planned as a child.  But, over the years God has placed people in my path that have become family.  Though not blood relations, I have been blessed with two sisters and two brothers.  I cannot tell you the joy and comfort it is to have this network in my life, especially when going through hard times or wanting to share the great moments.  There are distinct memories that go along with each of these people.  And the blessing only grows as I get to watch their children grow up and be part of those lives as well.  Singing together, cooking together, talking and laughing until my voice is gone, just hanging out, checking on each other, going to school events, helping support each other and be there for each other.  An only child, away from the main body of family most of my life can be lonely, especially when we moved.  This group has been a comfort to me in many ways.
Kin is important, whether or not they are blood relatives.  They add a new dynamic to my life.  They are there when I need them, and I want to be there when they need me.  And hey, I finally got my desire that I used to tell the store clerks – I have sisters and brothers! And that means a niece and two nephews to love on as well!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New Leaves

We had our first spring rain a few days ago.  With a pro-longed drought and not nearly enough snow to alleviate the dryness, I welcome the sound of the water falling.  Splat, splat, splat on the skylight; what a wonderful sound to my ears; a few streaks of lightning framed the sky for moments like a brilliant photographers flash.  The dirt, dust, and ash that had been forming minute clouds down that traveled down the driveway were tamped back down with the moisture. 

I have thought that the change from no leaves, to little buds, to the first tentative green leaves, to full blown summery green leaves seems like a magical thing.  Somehow it goes from shades of tan, grey, and white (with any remaining snow), to a light green haze and then – POOF – there are leaves!  How did that happen?  I want to sit up some night, sitting at a bonfire, and watch for leaves to make their appearance.

These little green dots on the landscape make me think of what areas in my life might be in winter dormancy.  What needs a spring thaw to bud and form new shoots?  Hummm…. Spring thoughts can be dangerous. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Worship Comes in Many Sizes, Colors, and Sounds

I’m a musical person, singing for just about any reason and at any time.  This includes grocery stores, gas stations, home, work, or just walking down the sidewalk.  As much as I love music and to worship my God through music, I love how there are beautiful elements of worship all around us.  Like a banner spread across the sky, the scarlet, crimson, blue, and tangerine oranges coloring a sunset paint an extravagant and elegant view of praise.  The way the feathers on an eagle wing bends as it cuts through the air, showing worship in the subtleties of creation, serves as an illustration.  It is the sparrows in the bush outside the kitchen, singing their songs that speak to my heart, I praise with them in their songs.  It is the cardinal in the snow bush, puffing up to hold in warmth and creating such a striking view in the snow.  It is the first greening of the spring moss as the snow crystals start melting.  It is the coo of a dove and the laugh of a baby.  It is the first daffodil of spring, one of a host to bloom.  It is the sound of a family laughing, of work being accomplished, of efforts being made, and hurts being healed.  Worship is all of this and so much more.

These words are written out on a post-it at my desk; not on a fancy plaque or special piece of art, just a little yellow post-it.  “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”  These words in Colossians 3 are my reminder of how worship is not a one size, sound, color sort of act.  It is so much bigger!  These are just a few of things that remind m-e of and help me celebrate Jesus.