I like sitting by the campfire late at night. JoAnne likes to read, sometimes even sitting in the car to get away from the bugs or the rain. Both of us love to canoe around the lake. I nearly finished one book this year. JoAnne pulls out her recorder and plays folk songs, gospel choruses and patriotic tunes by ear at the campfire. I roast marshmallows for s’mores.
For us camping is an Rx of sorts. Being a pastor is a very public vocation. So as part of our vacation time JoAnne and I try to get apart in the Adirondack Mountains. Getting alone as a couple like this provides a good antidote to the high level of people time that is normal for pastoral life. It gives time to process, time for extended devotions, and time to read. We always find it a bonding experience too. Whether it’s canoeing as a tandem, setting up camp together, enjoying a meal out at our favorite Italian restaurant in the Village of Tupper Lake, eating ice cream at Hoss’s, or holding hands watching the stars, we find ourselves drawn closer together in the Adirondacks.
This year we camped again at Lake Eaton State Park just Northwest of Long Lake, NY http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24464.html . Even though we had multiple rainstorms, we still had a great time. I had just finished sealing the tent fly again when the first downpour came. Amazingly, it didn’t rain during campfire times at all and I was able to gather wood at the right stage of dryness so that it would burn in spite of the dampness. But it did rain at suppertime twice. Trying to cook in a rainstorm is the pits so we ate out for supper both evenings; chili dogs and ice-cream at a corner stand one night and Italian at Little Italy the next http://littleitalypizzeriainc.com/Tupper_Lake__NY.html .
Probably the highlight of the vacation was the trip to the Wide Center in Tupper Lake. We highly recommend it http://www.wildcenter.org/ . They have a new section called the Wild Walk that has been a huge success. Thirty-five thousand people have visited the center in the twenty days since the Wild Walk opened. We took the walk and highly recommend it. The people who conceived this place have great imagination and make it so much fun for children. This year the theater inside featured an award winning film about climate change.
Written June 1, 2015
Looking for unexpected beauty
As you know, I like to walk. When I walk, I look for beauty and joy. Today, on vacation, I walked out toward the beach, there was a wild yellow daisy flower in bloom in the sand dunes. It was beautiful! I learned by online research that its name is beach dune daisy (Helianthus debilis). Finding beauty in unexpected places is a habit I try to cultivate. When such a serendipity happens, it always makes me philosophical too because I think the experience confirms one of my maxims for life.
“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”
One’s approach to a walk is a clue to how you live
I’ve observed in this regard that one can learn much about a person’s approach to life from the way they approach a trail walk.
- I meet some people who are always walking with friends. That tells me that they are people-persons who are energized as much by the conversation as by the walk. I bet they appreciate connectedness in other areas of life too.
- Other walkers and runners are always alone. There might be many reasons but at the very least they don’t mind being alone. More probably, like me, they relish it as a time for thinking or just drinking in from nature or perhaps praying, as I sometimes do. These kind of people find joy in times of quiet.
- Some people out on the trails are out more to “get the job done,” the task of getting in their exercise, that is. They usually have earbuds and don’t want to even give you the time of day lest you delay them. I imagine they are very task oriented people in other phases of life as well. I always pity them in a way as they miss so much by seldom stopping to look or listen. I’ve observed that it is hard for very task-oriented people to find a rhythm in life that includes time for contemplation. But they might reply to me that they enjoy the physical high that comes from aerobic exercise.
Have you noticed that people view the conditions for walking differently too.
- I comment to some about the day and they will always be enthusiastic about what a great day it is to walk, even on winter days. These have learned to enjoy the moment.
- Other people find something wrong on the best of days; they may note the bugs or the heat or the cold or the rough trail or too many bicyclers or doggy dodo or whatever. Though, frankly, those kind are usually not consistent walkers.
There’s a difference in what is appreciated on the walk too.
- Some are always observing whatever nature has to offer that day.
- Others are not observant of nature at all.
- Some may be only looking for deer and so most days they are disappointed as one only very occasionally sees one while on the trail.
Appreciate the joys the moment brings
It’s the same in life. Some are constantly discovering new blessings in different areas of their lives. Other people seem only to be able to focus on troubles; the bugs and poison ivy patches of life seem to be everywhere for them. Still others are looking only for one or two kinds of rewards in life so they are frequently disappointed as usually the kinds of things they look for are infrequent occurrences.
Michael Cannon Loehrer put it this way, “If people only allow their hearts to enjoy what delights them, they will soon become bored most of the time. If we train our hearts to find joy in drudgery, we will rest content with whatever comes our way and our lives will remain on an even keel. Complainers bounce between ever increasing extremes of delight and despair” (From the book “Porch Talk with Gramps on Parenting: A Framework for a Functional Family”).
For example, I love to observe birds. And thankfully spring days like we have been having in May are the peak of the season for that. But not every day or every walk is ideal for bird watching. For example, one day, I forgot the binoculars. Don’t ask me how, but it happened. So I watched for what I could see with the naked eye. I peeked over the bridge over Salmon Creek and thought I saw movement. So I moved to the other side and had the privilege of watching a young mink forage along the edge of the stream for five or ten minutes, a once in a lifetime event. If I had remembered the binoculars I probably would not have looked in the streambed. I chose to enjoy what was available and was rewarded.
Another day it was windy and my walk happened midday, neither of which is best for birding. But the sun was out and so were the reptiles. That day a tree frog hopped across my path and I saw a black snake sunning himself on the edge of the road. I took pictures of both. I chose to watch what was moving and enjoyed the walk more for it. Choosing to look for the joys a moment offers is a great habit to cultivate. As I say:
“Always be looking for and appreciate unexpected sparks of joy!”
I’m posting a few pictures of things I’ve seen on walks, especially flowers found in unlikely places or trees growing in unusual forms. I call this gallery “Serendipities.”
I’ve been walking in our neighborhood for about 17 months now. I see lots of fascinating and beautiful things because I look for them. I’ve found picturesque stream crossings, a hidden falls, and a mountain overlook. Until today, the only large wildlife I’ve seen were deer. But nature has a way of surprising you.
I’m not particularly quiet as I use a walking stick and it clunks on the pavement or the snowy mountain path as I go. Today was no exception. I wasn’t even away from the houses yet on Broad Hill Rd. and there on my right just over the guardrail was a flock of turkeys. I stopped in my tracks, expecting the usually skittish birds to immediately fly away. But they did not. They just meandered in the other direction. So I took their pictures. Then, I tried to be quiet, and, assisted by the terrain, I walked back in the direction they were going, popping over to the creek bank to spy on them and taking more pictures. Two cars went by and still they did not spook. As both I and the flock approached the bridge, it became clear that they intended to cross in front of me. I just stopped and waited. After a few moments hesitation, they did just that. I took photos without scaring them.
I finished my walk up the hill and back down and then headed home. As I started up the knoll toward our house, there was the flock crossing Simsbury road in front of me again. Again I followed them without spooking them and took several more pictures.
Here is a selection from my unusual winter walk. I put in a couple in the middle of the snowy top of the hill, including a selfie of me.
“When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mt 6:6 NIV).
“The first thing the Lord teaches his disciples is that they must have a secret place for prayer; every one must have a solitary spot where he can be alone with his God. Every teacher must have a schoolroom.” [Andrew Murray, With Christ is the School of Prayer p. 23]
Make plans now to refresh your quiet time
One of the first planning tasks of the New Year for me is to plan what I will do during my devotional times each day. I find that if one always does the same things, then quiet time gets boring and fails to inspire as it should. If time alone with God is to be fresh and renewing, then I need to renew the plan that I use at least every year. Most of us think about starting things in the New Year, and most devotional books begin in January, so January is usually a good time for starting a new devotional plan.
Quiet time basics
There are several related basic considerations. How much time am I able to spend? What will my Bible reading plan be? What enhancements will help me at this time? If I am planning a more ambitious reading program like reading the Bible through in one year, I may chose a devotional guide such as Your Daily Walk from Walk Through the Bible Ministries. It is designed to encourage and assist in just such a plan. Or perhaps I want to coordinate my readings with a devotional book I am using. One of the best of this type for a longer devotional time that I have used is A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants by Upper Room. Another great plan that works for shorter time frames is to find a devotional book by a classic author that you enjoy. I have greatly profited from more than one devotional by E. Stanley Jones (no relation), the most recent being 365 Days with E. Stanley Jones, Mary Ruth Howes, editor. You can also use a short booklet such as “Daily Bread” or “The Upper Room.” If I have a Bible reading plan that is not related to a devotional, I might not use a dated devotional book but instead read a chapter from an inspirational book, either classic or contemporary. Three contemporary ones I highly recommend are Secrets of the Vine by Bruce Wilkinson, Fresh Faith by Jim Cymbala and Listening for God by Marilyn Hontz. This coming year I will be continuing my repeated reading of the Psalms and then moving to the NT, followed by starting again in the OT. For my extra reading I have chosen a book called Rooted in Faith, Meditations from the Reformers, Compiled and edited by Bernard Bangley.
Setting is important
Another important matter is the setting Continue reading “A Plan for Quiet Times Alone with God in the New Year”
If you ask me the proverbial question, “Is the glass half empty or half-full?” I’m the kind of guy who always answers, “Half-full of course!” Count your blessings. So, while I could talk about things we miss from New York, my mind tends to focus instead on what I am finding delightful about living in Connecticut. Here’s a partial list.
- Number one is spending so much more time with our daughter, son-in-law and wonderful little grandson Sam. He loves holding my hand and walking around the house at this stage. I better enjoy it while it lasts. He is so huggable. Now I see him about three times per week on the average. JoAnne watches him two days per week and loves it. She is a great Grandma, and a very creative care-giver for Sam.
- The church God has given us to serve in our semi-retirement, Copper Hill UMC, is a joy. I love country churches with history. This one was organized in 1816 and we have already met many delightful new friends who are receiving our ministry with joy too.
- I wear jeans and T shirts a lot more. While I was working full-time, I only wore such relaxed apparel for an occasional gardening stint or when on vacation in the Adirondacks. Now I get to wear it multiple times per week. It feels good.
- There is more sunshine. After all, Syracuse is tied with Portland, OR for most number of cloudy days so I should have expected it. But this year, even the folks from CT are saying the weather has been great so I think it has been unusually nice. We are loving it.
- I am walking more. The parsonage is about 15 minutes’ walk from a forest preserve with a great uphill trail that has been providing good exercise. So far I’ve only lost about 5 pounds but I’m in much better shape. We have lots of good conversations with people we meet along the way too.
- Since I am a history buff, I’m loving living where the timeline of local history commonly stretches back another 100 years to 150 years compared to Western NY. This area of Connecticut began to be settled in the late 1600’s. For a history buff, it’s like adding one-third more stuff to the pages. Instead of 2 centuries of local history, there are three.
- The area of CT where our parsonage is located is very rocky. Our lawn has rock ledges and walls. Our cellar is a rock foundation. Walking in the forest preserve, we see huge rock outcroppings. It reminds us some of the Adirondacks where we often vacationed when we lived in Syracuse. I had a rock collection as a kid too.
- God has blessed us with a parsonage that fits us very well. JoAnne and I both have separate roomy offices in it, something we probably could not have afforded if we had purchased a home. It has lawn and garden spots, a garage, and bedroom space for guests too. It has also provided more than enough DIY projects to keep me happy.
We love walking
JoAnne and I love walking at Green Lakes. It’s good exercise, it’s calming to the spirit, and there is just something about nature that invigorates. I think God made it that way. If we are walking together, we can talk over things. If she has gone on ahead to conquer more territory, I often pray as I walk. I enjoy greeting the other people walking and occasionally, I’m privileged to pet a dog or two as well.
Lots of animals and birds to see
We have observed all kinds of creatures while walking; deer are regulars—four at once on this walk. As a bird-watcher I’ve observed many birds there too—owls, pileated woodpeckers, a pheasant, wild turkey, crows, ravens, vultures, geese, to name the bigger birds. Probably the rarest ones for this area that I’ve seen were an orchard oriole and a fox sparrow. This past summer I was overjoyed to spot a scarlet tanager in full color.
Fall pictures on the path by Round Lake
Speaking of full color, fall is such a gorgeous time to walk in the falling leaves. Here are some pictures I snapped with my old Kodak digital. It has such blue blues.
Once a year or so, JoAnne and I like to return to another place we remember from our youth, Stony Brook State Park. It contains a glass-clear stream that tumbles down an impressive glen. It is located between Arkport and Dansville, NY and it can also be easily reached by going over the hill from Haskinville. So my home church often held its annual Sunday School picnic there. This entrancing park was also the site of a very special double date when JoAnne and I were in college. Last week, JoAnne and I took a few hours off to visit it while we were visiting our parents. We discovered to our sadness that it is one of the state parks that have been partially shut down by the NY state budget crisis. What a loss to the Hornell-Dansville and eastern Alleghany County area. It is a little gem. I recently saw a copy of an antique postcard showing the Pittsburg, Shawmut and Northern Railroad Bridge that crossed the top of the glen years before I was born.
JoAnne and I took time to visit Verona Beach State park for a quiet picnic. The lake was calm, the sun bright and the park sparsely populated except for the camping area. It’s so close to Sylan Beach for miniature golf, or ice cream too. The park is very well kept this year as well. I take the binoculars to watch the birds and the boats. JoAnne sketches. I don’t recommend feeding the gulls–you’ll have more than you ever want to see coming around very quickly.