Good Gifts

Gift giving isn’t much a part of our American culture. I’m not really sure why, but generally speaking we don’t give gifts unless it is reciprocal – For instance, at Christmastime, or for a specific reason, such as birthdays. But Anna surprised me the other night by gifting me little Ember, one of her precious cats! It has been probably close to 10 years since I had my own pet, and this cat just tickles me.  Part of Anna’s rationale was that the two boy cats, the more gregarious of the fleet, get a lot of attention while little Ember, who is shy and rather flighty, doesn’t get nearly enough. She is afraid of the dogs, so she won’t volunteer to come into our house unless the coast is completely clear, and her mom has disowned her. Ember’s two best friends are her brother and Ginger, the yellow stray we’ve semi-adopted. Anna figured rightly that I would love on little Ember. IMG_2730The mark of a good friend (or sister) is knowing how to give good gifts, and this was possibly the sweetest gift she could have given me. I’ve always had a soft spot for this particular kitten – She was the smallest of the litter of two, and her big brother would often push her off the teat and leave her meowing pitifully. She was very funny looking as a baby, with strange coloring and huge bat-like ears and an oddly-proportioned face, but she has turned into quite the distinctive little tortoiseshell cat. Ironically, she is also the kitten I named!

Good gifts.

Laura Elizabeth

 

Snow and Puppies

And the winter continues! Springtime seemed to be well on its way last week and early this week, with record breaking or nearly record breaking temperatures, but winter is not yet gone. It snowed most of the day yesterday, and got heavier into the evening. There was probably a good 8 inches on my truck this morning, and good deep snow all the way up the driveway! Beautiful!IMG_3158IMG_3150Yesterday afternoon we played out in the snow with the dogs for a little while, trying to get Trixie and Opal better acquainted. Trixie is such a puppy-at-heart still, with all the rambunctious energy of a puppy but with the size and strength of an adult dog. She doesn’t have an aggressive bone in her body, but we don’t quite trust her to play nicely with Opal. She just gets so excited and bowls Opal over and tramples on her, until Opal turns into a shrieking frenzy with her tail between her legs. Opal’s reaction to Trixie was a comical blend of cowardice and puppy indignation. She is a bit of a drama queen.
IMG_3130We finally put Trixie on her cable so she would be limited but could still interact with Opal. Opal figured out that she could easily get out of Trixie’s reach, but would come primly to just within Trixie’s reach and allow Trixie to nose her around a little bit before running off. We’re pretty sure Opal is going to be the dominant dog of the pair, if she isn’t already. IMG_3143Snow and puppies. Not a bad deal.

Laura Elizabeth

Messages in Bottles

Rummaging around in a 70-year-old garbage pile is probably not considered socially acceptable. I was thinking about that as I trudged out to the ravine with spades and a large bucket, pulling strands of old barbed wire out of the grass as I went along. Those will be for craft projects. But the trash pile was even better than anticipated, since I seem to have found the “source” pile! I learned a few things about the person who lived here – Pretty sure he drank whiskey and he had false teeth. No, I did not find the teeth. But I found a couple tins of false teeth cleaner! IMG_3033The pile is made up mostly of rusty old tin cans, but digging around we pulled out some interesting-looking glass bottles, a teacup with moss growing inside, an old enamelware bowl, rusted license plates from the 1930s and 1950s, and the head of a pitch fork. It is interesting to think about all the life that has been lived on the family place, people we never knew, people we aren’t related to. Mining, homesteading…living.  IMG_3076My mom wanted to know if I was ready to throw away all the trash I had brought home. Well, not really! I have ideas for some of these things. Someone else may have cast them off, but they will be added to my collection of “treasures.” As they say, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”IMG_3080These bottles and the whole notion of treasures bring a number of ideas to mind – How often do we recognize as a treasure only that which has intrinsic worth, or worth that has been assigned materially? How seldom do we recognize as a treasure that which is worthless by material standards, but which has value beyond reckoning?  Phrases like “rags to riches” call to mind a Cinderella-type story. Ashes to diamonds…Caterpillars to butterflies. Those phrases resonate with us. Maybe because our Creator put that longing on our hearts, a longing for transformation. And I suppose those are descriptive of the earth-to-Heaven part of the Salvation story. The Salvation story is the adventure of all adventures, the romance of all romances, the rescue of all rescues, the transformation of all transformations, the Bible being the Saga of the story of Salvation. We don’t belong to this world. Read Genesis. We don’t belong here. But what about “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” That is a different kind of transformation. The difference between the trash and the treasure isn’t what it is, but whose it is.
IMG_3101These bottles were nothing special when they were in the junk heap, and they’re still nothing special – Except that they belong to me and I happen to think they’re nice. In a sense, isn’t that the story of the Christian? Yes, Biblically there is a heart change that happens at Salvation and we are fundamentally transformed in one sense, and then are progressively transformed throughout our earthly life, and will then be gloriously transformed after death. Change is a result of genuine Salvation. So don’t misunderstand what I’m saying! Yes, there is a change. Ezekiel 36:26 reads: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a new heart.” But at the moment of Salvation, God doesn’t magically transform our circumstances or our flaws or our sins or our pain or our struggles. He doesn’t suddenly make us angelic creatures that deserve passage into Heaven by our own merit. We have no merit of our own! I was a wretched sinner before I was saved, and I am still a wretched sinner now. I still have a sin nature. I struggle with doubt, fear, pride, gossip, lust, and on and on. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make those things go away automatically. Sometimes, I think it actually intensifies those things, because with the heart change comes a knowledge that the “old way of life” is no longer acceptable, and then ensues the struggle against sin nature. Paul the Apostle recognized this all too well, and cried out in the book of Romans: “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” IMG_3087 The Christian is a lot like those bottles and rusted metal. Nothing changed when I pulled them out of the junk heap. They weren’t treasures then and they aren’t treasures now. They aren’t worth anything to anyone. Except to me. Not because they changed. But because they are mine. I have given them meaning. In the same way, God doesn’t change what we are. He changes Whose we are. He gives us His Spirit, and the strength to change. He gives us a new heart. He puts His stamp upon us. He gives us meaning. IMG_3066He makes us treasures. His treasures.

Laura Elizabeth

Hiking | Roughlock Trail

After our adventure with the Community Caves, we ended up in Savoy at the Roughlock Trail trailhead. Roughlock Trail is only a mile long, and it borders Little Spearfish Creek on one side, while the road winds its way on the other side. The road is closed to “wheeled vehicles” (not snow machines) during winter months, so we hiked in on the road, which was a slushy, muddy mess.
IMG_2987IMG_2989The road in is an easy hike, without any steep grades and many gorgeous vistas of the soaring rock formations. So much beauty to marvel at! The greenest water plants were thriving in the frigid water, and little gems of rosehips still glimmered on their thorny stems, intermingled with the red bark of dogwood.  And what a cloudless, blue sky! Jake insisted it was a Colorado blue sky, but Sarah pointed out that this is indeed South Dakota, making it, of course, a South Dakota blue sky! In the summer, the trail would be preferable to the road, but without vehicles the road was a beautiful, open walk.
IMG_3000Then of course there is the destination: Roughlock Falls is one of the more famous of the waterfalls in Spearfish Canyon, and possibly the most spectacular, with the tiered waterfall and lush greenery, even in the winter. Walking paths and boardwalks around the waterfall make for very easy access, and picnicking areas create a great destination spot. Of course, in the summer, this means lots of tourist traffic, but the Falls are most definitely worth a little traffic. There are no natural lakes in the Black Hills, but we have some awe-inspiring waterfalls. IMG_3013eWe came back on the Roughlock Trail, which we think was actually quicker than taking the road, in spite of the layer of ice on the top. We slid most of the way back, occasionally losing control and having to hurtle ourselves into snowdrifts or grab onto trees to keep from face planting. YakTrax would have been fantastic. The trail itself (without ice) is well maintained and a nice level grade overall with a few ups and downs, and a couple of benches along the way if you need to sit and rest. It isn’t at all strenuous. The trail is more enclosed than the road, so if picture-taking is your aim, you might find those landscape shots a little harder to get. I imagine in the spring and summer there are abundant wildflowers! That is certainly the case up around the falls, so I’m sure the trail boasts plenty of little jewels of that sort.

A worthwhile short hike.

Laura Elizabeth

Hiking | Community Caves

The hike today to the well-kept secret of the Community Caves in Spearfish Canyon just took its place as the most exciting hike I’ve ever done. Sarah, Jake and I were discussing this on our way back down, and “foolhardy” was the choice word we selected for this hike. In all fairness, none of us had tried this hike before so we didn’t have a perspective on what it would be like in the winter and (just to be sure, I googled Community Caves while writing this review) other hiking reviews don’t say much about winter conditions, other than that it is beautiful and crampons are recommended. So this hiking review comes with some serious conditions applied to it. Please read to the end.
IMG_2960eThe Community Caves are located off the Spearfish Canyon Scenic Byway, 2.7 miles south of Spearfish. In the winter, the ice formations can be seen from the road and look deceptively small. Parking is at a pullout just after mile marker 13. The trailhead is across the road from the pullout and crosses Spearfish Creek.IMG_2900eThe hike is short, no more than a half mile from the trailhead to the caves, but if anyone tells you it is an easy hike, they are pulling your leg or haven’t ever hiked it before. Granted, it would be a lot easier in the summer without a sheet of ice for a trail, but this still is a strenuous, though short, hike in. The brunt of the trail is up what appeared to be a gravel and boulder slide, a very steep creekbed, and the last 20 feet or so is even steeper and muddy. It isn’t a hike. It is a scramble. Even in the summer, this would not be recommended for children. Some reviews suggest hesitantly that it might not be good for children, but unless you have hiked it already and know your kids can handle it, do not try it. Or be prepared to turn around. I also wouldn’t recommend you try taking a dog on this hike, for that matter.IMG_2905ePerhaps the sheet of ice for a trail should have deterred us, but one doesn’t drive 2 hours to get to a trailhead only to turn back because of ice. I mean, its winter – What do you expect? The trail got steeper and slicker, but the ice formations loomed above us and there were other climbers ahead of us, so it couldn’t be too bad, right?IMG_2906e Fortunately, the little tops of rocks sticking above the ice actually made decent footholds, but one wrong step and it would have been a bumpy slide to the bottom…So we plowed on ahead and made it to within 20 feet of the top before we were stopped by the ice. The patch where Jake is standing in the above picture is the furthest we could get going straight up. Jake’s handy rope got us across the icy stretch and we scrambled up the muddy slope into the shadow of the Cave chamber. It was incredible. IMG_2919eI had heard that it was beautiful, but pictures don’t do it justice. That much ice really does appear blue in the shadows! Pigeons chortled to themselves in the recesses of the cave, and ice pillars fed by trickles of water grew on the back wall of the cave. There were remnants of a campfire. A massive wall of ice enclosed one end of the cave, forming a dim, blue chamber. It really was stunning. IMG_2937eAlthough the entire hike is slick, the main danger issue isn’t the ice on the ground – That just requires caution, careful footing, and being very deliberate about where you put your feet. The main issue was the ice up in the air, supposedly attached to the canyon wall. The hike back down went pretty well until we heard a giant crack and basketball-sized clumps of ice came flying right at us. There was a whole ravine of area that the clumps could have flown at, but of course they flew right at our three selves, and we were in enough of a precarious position that we couldn’t duck or move. I took one on the leg and another square between my shoulder blades, and Sarah spent the next five minutes fishing a clump of mud out of her eye. Miraculously, no one was hurt! We quit dawdling (if we even had been at that point) and got down as quickly as we safely (?) could.

Lessons learned from today’s hike:

1) Do not hike this after a period of thaw. While this seems rather obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t so obvious going in, but melting giant pillars of ice  become crashing boulders of ice when the temperatures rise. Who would’a thought…

2) Take some rope. Jake actually left his rope tied to a tree, and there was already another one there, so we were able to get back down the worst part. But do yourself a favor and take some rope anyway, just in case.

3) Take gloves, even if the weather is nice (but refer back to #1. If it is nice enough to go without gloves in the winter, it is too nice to do the hike anyway). Gloves, because of #2.

4) Seriously, wear good shoes. There were some other young people up there today in completely inappropriate footwear. Even in the summer, wear good hiking boots. In the winter, take crampons or YakTrax or something. We didn’t.

5) Don’t hike alone. Although generally not recommended to hike solo, for this it really would be foolish to hike it alone.IMG_2959eIn spite of the foolhardy nature of this hike, we made it out alive and have great pictures to show for it. Coming down was (surprisingly) the easy part, given how slick it was. We all were picturing sliding the whole way on our rear ends. We made it down without incident and very relieved. No broken bones or heads. It is worth the scramble to see it. Just please don’t do it after a thaw.

Laura Elizabeth

Simple Joys

Winter is a time of brief, fleeting moments of dazzling beauty, of sights and sounds and silences that come and go with as little permanence as a snowflake, but with the brilliance of a diamond. That overwhelming moment is gone in an instant, leaving only the impression on one’s mind. The enchantment of the first snowfall melts in a few hours. The power of a blizzard wears itself out in a day. The snow cover of two months melts in two days. The leaden, snow-laden skies give way to cloudless blue, and winter breezes turn warm and then cold again. How changeable the season is!
IMG_2859eMom and I were able to thoroughly enjoy the delights of the changeable season today – It was strange to be hiking in short sleeves, with 70-degree temperatures and warm, sweet breezes, while trudging through 10-inch drifts and getting snow in our boots! Trixie, ever the snow puppy, pranced and raced and disappeared, entirely in her element. I would call her, only to look around and find her sprawled in a patch of snow, eating it and rolling in it and burying her face in it. A dog’s simple pleasures.
IMG_2877ePart of the delight of winter is the joy of seeing things in ways we aren’t accustomed to in the rest of the year, particularly in the summer and spring. Those months are full to bursting with new life, and my attention is so drawn from color to color, from the new blossom like stained glass in the sunlight to the bluebirds on the wire overhead to the new fawns with their unmistakable freckles to the brilliant blue of sky and green of grass. But in the winter, you have to look with different eyes. Then you can see the watercolor painting in the snowfall, the etched crystal work in the frosty window or frozen creek, the tapestry of spun gold in the grasses, the white jewels in the snowdrift.
IMG_2885eWe were nearing home, walking through an ancient creekbed, when we caught sight of an old bucket, rusted through and almost flattened, and nearby were a bunch of tin cans and some broken glass. I was thrilled. We had found a junk pile from the homesteading or mining days, of which our place saw a good deal! The whole property is pocketed with old mining pits, remnants of bygone days. We dug around a little in the grass, and found four intact glass jars and bottles, and a white enamel pot, which unfortunately is frozen stiff in the dirt. It looks to be in one piece. As soon as it warms up in the spring and the ground thaws out, I want to dig around and see what else was discarded! Who knows how many times we’ve walked past this junk pile in the summer and never saw it for the tall grass! IMG_2887eSimple joys on a glorious winter day.

Laura Elizabeth