Spring

It’s been Spring for a month now. The Elm trees close to us on the golf course are fully leafed out and the Honey Locust trees along our patio wall are starting to make shade and those long seed pods on them that fall all over the patio all winter are just beginning to form. The patio pots and flower beds are showing color – it’s a pleasant place to sit afternoons and evenings. The water flowing from pot to pot and the robins, finches and doves visiting the bird bath are constant entertainment. Those orange and purple violas below are celebrating our Clemson Tiger national football championship.

 

I suppose that if pinned down, Fall would be the season I would name as favorite. But Spring is the time of year when the spirit within stirs with hope for renewal. It is not just grass and trees and shrubs and flowers that sprout and green and bloom at Spring. There is a stirring within us also that we sense not only in ourselves, but also in a spirit of anticipation recognized in many we encounter.

The tin dancing girls were left by the prior owner of the house – we put in the block terraces over the winter. We found the tin decorative sun you see between the girls underneath some mulch we were moving – we hung it on the stucco wall and put a pot of ornamental grass beneath. We’re hoping the nursery will get some New Guinea Impatiens soon to plant in the flower bed at the foot of the girls. You can make out a tin Kokopelli statue with his flute we received as a Christmas present at the left of the picture, on the terrace behind a desert sage we put in a pot a couple weeks ago. It’s a winsome scene that brings a smile and chuckle to me at times.

Deuteronomy 28 contains words from Moses to the nation of Israel as they are about to leave the years in the wilderness and enter the promised land. In verse 12 the words speak of the blessings God will bring on their new land,

“The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands.”

The anticipation of the blessing of bounty is fulfilled in Spring in the high desert where we live. The melting snow held high in the mountain ranges of the San Juan’s and Sangre de Christo fill the banks of the Rio Grande. The water is shared in the river valley by the farms and residences and the trees and fields and gardens turn green. The land is worked by those who love it. The new life we see is as if all we’ve been working for is being fulfilled before our eyes. Dreariness fades and hope is enlivened. Life’s circumstances may not change, but Spring brightens the perspective we see them in as each day adds renewal of life to behold – changes all around us, too beautiful to ignore.

We’ve lived through a Fall, Winter and now Spring in this New Mexico high desert climate. We couldn’t be happier so far – Summer is coming – it’s hot and dry here in Summer – we’ll see how it works out.


 

mass ascension

New Mexico is the center of the world for hot air ballooning. The October Balloon Festival in Albuquerque is world famous and worthy of a trip from anywhere to enjoy. Belen’s local festival on the weekend after St Patrick’s day is much smaller, but still a great way to spend an early Saturday morning.

We first saw a balloon festival in Pagosa Springs in the year 2000. Pagosa has both a Spring and a Fall festival. It seems like about 30 balloons attend – many of them making the drive up from New Mexico – the bright colored balloons ascending with a backdrop of the San Juan Mountains and River amongst the Ponderosa pines is something special.

The Belen St Patrick’s weekend festival has been drawing balloons for a number of years. They expected 60 balloons this year, and in person, it seemed like there were at least that many. The turnout of townspeople was huge. It was a perfect weather, blue sky, clear and warm March 18 morning. The mass ascension honored a long-time participant who died recently by allowing his Smoky the Bear balloon to inflate and ascend first.

We live in an incredible time when the resources and abundance of a land enable just normal people in a little, out of the way town like Belen, to enjoy and share and participate in the wonder and beauty of others’ hobbies and interests.

milestones

Spring has warmed the earth enough so it is easy again to sit out as the sun sets out beyond the desert floor. The back patio is a work in progress as I faithfully fill the bird bath each day – the waterfall fountain is running again – the terraced flower beds are built and the drip irrigation is in place – the violas at the nursery called out to us, so a section is planted with their yellow and purple and orange blooms. But the nurseries make us wait a little longer for the showy flowers and plants which won’t stand a frost. The bare elm trees need just a little longer to bud out their leaves – they created a framework as last night’s sunset glowed through the bare branches.

New springtime’s and birthdays and anniversaries and holidays become a little dearer it seems with each passing year. Maybe because the memories attached to the special days keep piling up – maybe because there is an inner realization that there are fewer and fewer of those special times left to make memories as the years’ pass. Today is the 48th wedding anniversary for Darlene and me. I told her she’d been married to the same man for over 70% of her lifetime. The realization of that as both blessing and accomplishment might not mean much to those who are younger.

We drove up to Albuquerque to Kasey’s Steak House for an early dinner. We got their wonderful house made chips and French onion dip and then a wedge salad with real bacon bits, blue cheese crumbles and cherry tomatoes. For entrees, we both got their coffee rubbed steak, laid down over creamy and buttery mashers with crispy, just fried onion strings on top and a balsamic reduction drizzled over all. We finished the celebration off with their wonderful bread pudding smothered with a rich, sweet whisky sauce and homemade ice cream.

The 48 years have been good ones for me – for lots of reasons – but the ingredient making good in them that has always been the constant has been the quiet and steadfast and patient and keep-after-it spirit that Darlene has brought to our family. She has never wavered – rarely complained – has put up with crazy schemes and ventures; more than enough of them failures – yet never looked back – always pitching in with a view to the future. So, 48 years are done – another milestone – I’m so thankful for those years and for Darlene. We don’t know either how many or what future milestones the years will bring – but let them be – faith teaches we are more than conquerors. Together may our intentions be always good and causes just – may the days pass in a bond of love and peace, and may our actions serve to accomplish the purposes made to be our part.

amaryllis

Darlene received an amaryllis bulb planted in a small pot from Jessica on Christmas Day. We brought it back to New Mexico and Darlene placed it on a shelf by the end wall of our living area, next to some big windows which separate the living area from the sun room where my office is located. The windows give it a lot of indirect light, but it only receives direct light for a very few minutes at the very end of the day as the sun sets. The pot it grows in is very small – a pint or a little more of planting mix is all that it holds. It has grown since Christmas in leaps and bounds – the growth noticeable day by day. We’ve forgotten to water it on a couple of occasions – it protested by drooping way down hanging its leaves and stalk down on the shelf. But, it is resilient, and some water brings it back to life each time. The 4 blooms you see opened a couple of days ago. I’m surprised at how tall and strong the stalk is – over 2 feet supporting those beautiful, big red flower blooms.

Our natural world amazes over and over – a small bulb, content to live out its purpose, in just a little dirt, with some water, grows into this beauty. We get to stand back and enjoy the show by just watching and waiting for 5 weeks or so. The powers of creation teach us over and over that a lot can be done with just a little. It’s a message that is shouted at us in many ways. If we can accept and learn to be content with living out our purpose, the powers of creation can do a lot with just a little.

golfing

We bought a condominium on the 10th fairway of the Tierra del Sol golf course when we moved to Belen, NM last September. Sometimes one thinks of a golf course condo as expensive and fancy – not so ours – it’s very modest and small. I’ve grown to love the setting of our home, though. We have a view across to the desert on the other side of the valley and the fairway beyond the back patio gives a feeling of open space. Here’s a picture of the 10th green about 50 yards from our patio, taken tonight as the sun was setting.

We started walking about two months ago, in the afternoons after we eat our late lunch/dinner at 2:00 PM or so. We’ve been consistent, averaging 3 to 4 times a week – 1 ½ to 2 miles each time. About 3 weeks ago, we decided if we’re going to be out walking on a golf course why not have clubs and a ball and play golf while we are at it. We reasoned that we would not only get the benefits from walking, but also some upper body exercise. So, we bought clubs and push carts and a pass for the course. We call down to the starter, and ask if there is anyone down beyond the dog-leg on the 10th tee. If not, we walk up to the 11th tee and start, then play the 10th hole to finish the nine – ending up just a few feet from our back patio.

They play golf all winter here – you can see the grass still has some green in it, even at the end of January. We have some cold days – last week was high 30s and low 40s for 5 days in a row. But that is not the norm. Today was 54 degrees – the sun is so warm here at 4,900 ft. altitude in the clear, dry air. We played today in long sleeve t-shirts – it was perfect.

I’ve played golf since the college years. It’s a great game, but can be frustrating. I’ve bought and then given away clubs several times believing playing days were over. This time, the frustration level is way down – it’s been 10 years since we played last – aging has a way of making one more relaxed about things – golf is apparently one of those things – we’re both terrible golfers – so bad we don’t keep score – but, regardless, I’m having a really good time at it. We’re careful to stay out of the way of the real golfers.

When I walk our back nine down the middle of the fairways the distance is almost exactly 2 miles. Last Friday when I played those same nine holes I walked 3.05 miles. What I would like to know is why that little white ball does not like the middle of the fairway? – zig and zag – lol.

and there was morning, 1/16/2017

The rain began about bedtime Saturday evening – it continued through the night and then off and on all day Sunday. It was a good rain for this New Mexico desert. This Monday morning – as dawn breaks – the air is crystal clear – looking to the west – just a few clouds are seen remaining from the storm.

There is just a small cloud that shrouds the top of my standalone, out west mountain that rises out of the high desert floor. You can see snow on the peak that the storm left. The edge of the 10th fairway ends in an undeveloped field that separates it from the out of sight 18th fairway and green. The clubhouse is seen sitting beyond, between the bare branched elm trees. Beyond the clubhouse, the front nine drops off toward the Rio Grande River and the river valley, which has a layer of mist covering it this crisp, clear-aired morning. The mist has an unusual bluish tint – the layer of mist is unusual in this dry climate. My thermometer says it’s 31 degrees outside as I write. The sunlit desert bluff seen above the mist defines the western edge of our river valley – the sun lights the bluff and the distant, lone mountain first in the early morning – then the sunlight moves back toward us as it rises above the mountains behind us. The shadows on the desert bluff shift continuously as the morning sun rises higher and higher. A small gaggle of Canadian Geese feed on the fairway grass just to the right of the camera view.

Yesterday evening as I was reading a book by Tim Keller before going to bed he quoted author, Isak Dinesen from her book Out of Africa:

“Pride is faith in the idea God had when he made us. A person who has grasped this is conscious of the idea and aspires to realize it. He does not aspire to happiness or comfort, which may be irrelevant to God’s idea for him. His success is the idea of God, successfully followed through, and he is in love with his destiny.”

Keller was writing about self-identity being adopted out of a faith that we are created with purpose. Dinesen uses a word bigger than I normally want to get my arms around when she talks about a life aimed toward a destiny. Still, aren’t we able to live out a Monday with feelings of vigor and anticipation and joy if we sense that those things we do have a meaning as part of an accomplishing of something bigger than ourselves. There is something about a clear-aired morning vista of a snow-covered mountain, framed by a sunlit desert bluff, above a mist covered river valley that gives a sense that life lived with words like faith and purpose and destiny can be embraced as the way to go – irrational? – maybe – but why else would a morning look this glorious, the morning after reading someone tell me I have a destiny, if it weren’t affirmation? Well – OK – maybe it’s not affirmation, but I like the feel of faith and purpose and destiny, regardless.

college football

We lived in various towns and cities in Utah, California and Colorado before moving to the Upstate of South Carolina in 2008. College football was never a big deal in any of those places we lived before South Carolina. There were teams in all of those places and fans, of course, and a newspaper article about each of the games, but college football was not really part of the culture or something we talked about very much.

The first thing I noticed when driving through Clemson when we moved to the Upstate was orange tiger paws painted on the road in various places and bank buildings painted orange and purple. Our first Sunday attending worship at the Clemson Church of Christ there were several church goers wearing Clemson orange shirts. We lived in adjoining towns to Clemson while in South Carolina for eight years. We quickly found out that Clemson football was not only a serious part of the culture, but maybe more accurately described as a religion – lol.

We were quickly drawn in to the fandom and spirit of things – the excitement and community closeness associated with Clemson football is part of what made our 8 years in South Carolina memorable and special. We were able to attend several games in the stadium called Death Valley while living there – it’s an experience – the crush of people and excitement on game day with 80,000 in the stadium and tailgaters in every square inch of space surrounding is overwhelming. We moved away from South Carolina in early September, but we’ve found ourselves searching out the Clemson game on TV each week all season and cheering them on. We hope it is OK to still be Clemson Tiger fans even though we moved 1,600 miles to the west.

Dabo Swinney became head coach at Clemson in mid-season the year we moved to the Upstate. Since then he built a program that seems to radiate positives in lots of ways. Institutions often disappoint me with the ways they wield and sustain power. Not so for Clemson football – the sense in the community is that it operates with a true regard for the good of the players, the university and the community. It’s a program about winning, but it seems guided by core values that are held in higher regard than winning. I always liked that, and I hope that assessment is true.

So, it was really exciting when Renfrow caught that 2 yard pass from Deshaun Watson in the end zone with 2 seconds left for the game winning touchdown Monday night. Wow – national champions. Best of all it just feels like they deserved the win and the championship. Congratulations Clemson Tigers – from two fans way out West.

and there was evening, 2017

It is New Year’s Day evening – Happy New Year, everyone. Put up with me as a picture of another sunset is posted. It is the first sunset of 2017. Yesterday’s rain clouds partially cleared as afternoon turned to evening – the sky becoming beautifully clear as the sun dropped below and in contrast to the horizon and the dark gray of the remaining clouds – the tinges of orange at the bottom of the clouds almost surreal. The sky was so clear there was the sense that you could see all the way to the Pacific Ocean if somehow the earth’s curve would get out of the way – a perfect evening sky for a new year’s beginning.

A week ago we celebrated Christmas Day with family in Grand Junction, CO. It was a wonderful day with lots of people and noise and laughter and commotion. Today in contrast, a week later, it is New Year’s Day 2017 – we are home – it is quiet and peaceful – just us – a wonderful day also. We worshipped with our church family this morning – class and worship service – the sermon was about a new year and purposefully setting goals with meaning; about living in a world where we are supposed to be, and understanding that our good makes a difference – it fit the day and it fit those things good we should have on our mind as we look forward on the first day of a new year.

We returned home from church services to a beef rib roast we had put in a marinade bag with oil and a little port and garlic and pepper and rosemary. I lit the propane smoker and turned the fire up as high as it would go and put hickory chips in the smoker trays and 2 hours later we enjoyed a feast fit for kings.

Regardless of our particular pessimism or optimism about the political changes which will occur in 2017 – in my circle of family and friends those feelings are more diverse than I’ve ever experienced – regardless of that, on a new year’s day when we are so blessed, there is reason for looking forward with a sense that the good we are already enjoying can be leveraged and managed to enable more good and happiness in our world. The ability to help spread good is more in our hands than in our leader’s hands. We can just keep counting and appreciating our own blessings, as we turn our vision outward – not hording or fencing those blessings in, but using them to serve common good. Maybe 2017 will be an especially important year for that – one where we look to our own caring and serving as the real source and hope for good for others.

Christmas presents

For all of my life at Christmas time it has been our family tradition to exchange gifts with one another. I have always loved the tradition. As a youngster, it was mostly receiving from my parents and grandparents – it was a joy to sit down on Christmas morning and unwrap clothes and toys – maybe some gifts that were expected, but often some pleasant surprises were hiding under the wrappings. There wasn’t much giving from my end back then for lack of resources, but those who gave to me didn’t seem to mind – in fact it seemed like they were just as excited about my unwrapping of presents as I was.

As time went on and I became a parent myself the roles changed, of course. My turn to be Santa Claus and watch little ones open presents with glee on their faces hoping for that special thing their hearts were set on. Probably it is parenting that teaches us the beauty of and pleasure from giving more than any other experience in life. A parent comes to understand that giving brings happiness even without an exchange. The joy in the hearts of sons and daughters and grandchildren from receiving becomes your own joy – it translates, somehow – it translates in a way that even multiplies the good feeling and we become more greatly blessed than our children as they play with that special toy.

This Christmas for the first time in a few years we were able to spend Christmas day with most of our grandchildren. You can see they are getting pretty well grown up. Three of the seven we were with are living out on their own and a fourth has a part time job as he attends high school. These four were givers this year as well as receivers. I watched as others opened gifts they had purchased. You could see the anticipation in their faces as the gift was unwrapped as they wondered if the gift would be received as special or not. You could see a little relief and the smiles of joy as the smiles and thank you’s and expressions of the gift being special were rendered. A transition takes place in us – those who grew up being receivers discover that giving feels good also. Many things change in the world as time marches forward. Isn’t it neat that some of the best things don’t change? In Acts 20 Paul quotes Jesus himself as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The generations pass by and by – it won’t be very many years until my generation passes – yet certain things which are at their core, good, remain and are a blessing to every generation. There is great hope in that fact. There is a peace that comes from believing that there is more going on around us than the surviving of those who are the fittest. Christmas shows us that though giving is not an act advancing the competition of survival – it is an act which makes life worth living – and what would life be without those kinds of things?

Thanks to all for making Christmas day very special this year – to the Grand Junction Church of Christ and Doug Clayton for the worship and wonderful Christmas sermon – to Jessica for the planning and pulling everything together – to Matthew for the place to stay – to Sierra for the work in allowing her place to be Christmas central and for her cooking those green chile breakfast burritos and Christmas dinner – and to Joe for smoking that great brisket ( the best I’ve ever eaten) – and to all my family for the presents and for just being family.

Grand Canyon

I was 50 years old before visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time, even though I’d lived in striking distance most of my life. Dave Sherrill and I had ridden to Flagstaff from Grand Junction on our motorcycles for Memorial Day weekend. We got up early one of the mornings while there and rode to the Canyon. I was awe struck by the visit that day and the reaction when returning many times since is the always the same. This is our second visit in the year 2016. We enjoyed a day there from a stay in Flagstaff with Aaron and family and Jessica and family in June. I want to share some photos though they never do justice to what we saw.

We got up early and drove up Oak Creek Canyon from Sedona in the morning darkness to Flagstaff and then down Highway 180 to the Park. We arrived about 8:15 – the winter sun on this day of the Winter Solstice was still low in the morning sky. It was mostly cloudy with the sun breaking through here and there – the combination of shadows from the canyon formations on themselves and the shadows from the sun peeking in and out from behind clouds gave the views from the overlooks a sense of depth I’d not experienced in other visits.

The temperature was in the mid-20s as we stopped at the first overlook on the spur to Hermit’s Rest. It felt chilly with a slight breeze. The Park road to Hermit’s Rest was open to personal autos this visit. Most visits the overlooks on this road can only be accessed on shuttle buses that run every few minutes. On those visits, you exit the bus with a group at the overlooks you choose, spend the time there you want and then catch another shuttle to the next one. A visit with access by your own vehicle is very nice. There’s a measure of freedom and convenience that the shuttle buses don’t provide. We were almost by ourselves on the overlooks in the early morning cold – the Park became busier later as the sun warmed the air into the 50s by the time we left. There are a number of overlooks with places to park on this road which is 12 miles long – it begins close to the center of action at the village by the train station. There is a walking trail which connects all the overlooks. We walked the trail from Hermit’s Rest back toward the Pima overlook for a mile and return. We saw only one other group on the entire walk – a large family of visitors from the Middle East who, though I didn’t understand their words, were smiling and laughing and taking pictures and being amazed just as we were.

Each visit to the Park renews a sense of reverence which seems to engulf as you look out at the landscape. The vastness – the myriad of shapes carved by the elements in rock – the manifestation of the power of natural forces working over time – the realization that creation exists in a continuum – that beauty and wonder are worked by submitting to the forces of their existence – that good things were created and exist not in isolation, but in mutual cooperation. The wonders of the Grand Canyon are evidence that good has always existed – we don’t have to create good – it comes from aligning ourselves and joining with forces that have always been its subsistence. The experience is intensely spiritual. I’m sure this sense is not just in me – it is seen over and over in the faces and eyes of the visitors encountered during a day at the Park. The sense of reverence is a blessing – as much as the experience shouts my insignificance; it also proves that even in seeming helplessness each element exists with purpose.

We hope to be back to the Grand Canyon someday. It will continue to beckon our return.