Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #5

It doesn’t get much better than sitting on the deck in the evening eating a quiet dinner, with Amulet Peak and the Chugach Range towering – and I mean towering – into the sky across the river, clouds tangling in the valleys, watching the play of sunlight. What a sight. The first two days this week were rainy and cloudy, and only occasionally could I see the tip top of Amulet peaking through a tear in the clouds. But the past couple of days, the view has been a wonderful sight. While out in the garden, the mountains are visible across the river, and Victory Peak up behind us, and even when walking along the road, Amulet can be glimpsed through breaks in the trees. The mountains are so…big.
IMG_9335eIMG_9299eThere is so much sunlight. Almost too much. The wildflowers thrive in the almost-24-hour daylight and the moist climate. The foliage is thick and lush. The creeks are muddy and swift. Aunt Sandy and I have spent a lot of time out in her gardens, and one of my particular projects was cleaning up her large raised garden bed. How fun to get it looking neat and tidy, clearing out the old, dead foliage, getting the weeds and moss pulled and scraped off the soil, applying lime to keep the moss at bay, and spreading a new layer of rich, black compost on top! I have to say, gardening is a lot more pleasant in temperatures of 60-70 degrees, rather than in temperatures of 80-100 degrees. IMG_9274eIMG_9198eGolden retriever Kaiah has been a delightful, albeit rather ditzy, buddy to have around, and she is a good company-keeper. She tags along when I run down the road to take something to the guest cabins, or get the mail, or when I’m in the garden. Everything is a game to her. Basically she’s an 8-year-old puppy. And somehow she thinks she can challenge a moose and not get put in her place! I was at the house by myself two nights ago and heard her barking ferociously, so I ran to the front window, and there she was, practically underneath an unhappy moose! So I ran to the front door and shouted at her, and she came, trembling and scared, but somehow it doesn’t keep her from doing it the next time.
IMG_9217eA few nights ago after dinner, Uncle Dan and I went to a job site of his, which overlooks the Matanuska Glacier. Another almost overwhelming sight. So much ice, sprawling through the valley and out of sight between mountains. And yet it looks minuscule, unimportant next to the mountains. Mountains are perspective-givers. IMG_9384eWhat a wonderful Creator God, to have spoken this world into existence! From the beauty of landscape, to the delicate intricacies of flowers, to the special bonds He lets us enjoy with His animal creatures, to the purpose and meaning of honest work, He has blessed us so richly, to be able to enjoy all of this, and to try to process all of it. God, help us not to take it for granted, but to give glory to You!

 

Heavenward

I walk the woods in the evening – my woods, I tell myself – the familiar trails, dear to me and near to my heart, winding through old creekbeds, beneath towering pines and wizened oaks, along hillsides sparkling with white chokecherry blossoms. Treading the same way again, my heart thrills. Each step is a delight. Each breath of the cool evening air tastes sweet. I want to pour the coolness over my head and drink of the freshness. It is familiar, so familiar, every step is one I’ve experienced before, each tree and flower and perfume of evening – but it is new, always new.
IMG_7227eWith the earth comforting beneath my feet, grasses growing tall to above knee-height, trees leafing out in their array of green, my heart is drawn upwards, Heavenwards. These woods are my sanctuary. I find that my time alone while hiking becomes my time alone with the LORD, since I can’t imagine walking these woods and not being struck to the heart by how good God must be to have created so much beauty for us to enjoy. He didn’t need to create beauty. God could have allowed sin to completely wipe out the beauty on this earth. But He didn’t. And it is wonderful. Even in this fallen state, His beauty is reflected in His Creation.
IMG_7015eMy heart breaks with joy. Have you ever felt that? My heart breaks and soars, and I murmur Oh, my! Again and again. Oh, my. My eye is drawn here and there – to a splash of color from a larkspur violet or a shooting star or a bluebell, to the wild white and lavender of crazyweed, to the little golden blossoms of wild currant or the coral of columbine or the dark blue-eyed grass, or the pale birch trees on a north-facing hillside of emerald moss. A gleam of sunlight through the trees on the next hilltop melts me, but I know my camera couldn’t do it justice, so I don’t even try. My heart breaks with joy – there is too much, too much, too much. How can a human creature take in so much beauty and goodness and majesty, and not be overwhelmed? And if I cannot understand Creation, how can I possibly understand its God?
IMG_7150eThe too-familiar sights, the amber scents of pine resin and the fresh earthy perfume of green life or the sweet evening air, the lullaby of wind in the pines – so many memories and impressions left over, brought back by glimpses or tastes of the familiar, the familiar that never seems to change. I remember my childhood, our visits here, my heart’s longing for this place. I remember past joys, and revel in present joys. Then my heart breaks with grief. Because I know that one day this place won’t be here for me. One day it will be sold and divided into lots and developed, and I weep at that thought, dropping tears on the grassy path. How harsh it feels – to be brought to live in the place I love most in the world, but knowing that it may not be here, a mere few years from this time. This place may only be land, and I know that, but it holds and brings back so many wonderful memories. It is a place that is part of my childhood, part of my dearest memories.
IMG_7156eThen I repent. How could I have the audacity to challenge God’s goodness and His Providence by weeping over what He may someday in His sovereignty take away from me? If that day comes, I don’t believe tears will be wrong, but weeping now and letting even a moment of joy be spoiled by what God may in His love give to me or take from me – that is wrong. I pray for contentment and peace in my knowledge that God is good. I remind myself that God only does that which is for the good of His children and for His glory. I remind myself that He only gives good gifts, and He is a loving Father, not a cruel taskmaster. If a gift is good in the giving, it is also good when He in His sovereignty removes it. If He removes a blessing and strips me of something I sinfully think is necessary for my happiness, I know He does it for my good, not to punish. If He takes something from me that I love, He does it for my good, not out of malice. Whether or not I comprehend it, it is for my good. At the very least, pain allows me to experience the sweetness of God’s comfort. One day, I’ll understand. But for now I need to be content to not understand and to take comfort in the things I do understand – that God is a loving God, a generous God, a compassionate and comforting God – and He always provides. Not necessarily how I in my humanness want Him to provide, certainly, but if God is good, His Providence is as well, and I cannot challenge it.  And so even in my tears, I thank Him. Even in my tears, this place draws me Heavenward. And then my heart lifts and I savor a soul-deep peace, content to enjoy however many days and years I have left to enjoy this. Few or many, they are a gift. How sad to spoil them with misplaced regret.
IMG_7182eThe low rumble of distant thunder tells of a coming storm, and the clouds are bright in the west, shining flame-like through the trees. The crimson and coral turn to slate and blue. The golden sunlight disappears beyond the horizon and banks of heavy clouds. The rain will come.
IMG_7223eHow can I not gaze Heavenward?

Hiking | The Meeker Ranch

Once again we spent a Sunday afternoon haunting beautiful ruins in beautiful country. The Meeker Ranch is an historic site now owned by the Forest Service, east and north of Custer, SD. It dates back to the 1880s, and was built by Frank Cunningham Meeker, who, according to the Black Hills and Badlands website, was a member of the Pony Express, which ran for a couple of years along the Cheyenne-Deadwood Stage line. Frank Meeker named his idyllic 278-acre spread “Willow Creek.” The ranch passed through several ownerships over the years, finally coming into Forest Service possession in 2004. They undertook restoration and preservation of the ranch when acclaimed watercolor artist Jon Crane helped lobby against the slated demolition of the structures. This breathtaking historic site has been the target of some vandalism in the past, but overall is beautifully preserved.IMG_6640e Inside the main ranch house, there are still shreds of curtains, canisters of coffee (these people were obviously coffee-drinkers!), hangers in the closet, old newspapers and magazines, and wallpaper on the walls.  Glass sparkles in shards on the floor, whole jars littered among the wreckage. It must have been a lovely, fashionable home in its prime, and now just wisps of the memories cling here and there around the walls.IMG_6655eIMG_6844eIMG_6696eIMG_6733eIMG_6685eIMG_6693eIMG_6721eIMG_6740eIMG_6759eAround the homestead, perched on the hillside in among massive boulders and rock outcroppings, other structures cling tenaciously. The barn fittingly presides over the other structures, towering above them in wonderful condition, while the others have fallen into some level of decay. Buildings out here, scattered through the Hills, are so old and rugged that they seem to have sprung from the ground, rather than to have been built upon it. They belong where they are.
IMG_6794eIMG_6781eIMG_6855eFrogs were singing in the little marsh below the house, singing and trilling so loudly it was almost uncomfortable – What a beautiful summery sound! The scent of pine resin was heavy in places, another sign of summer-to-come. Every time I get a breath of resin in the warm sunlight, a wave of nostalgia breaks over my soul, wrapped up in the beautiful memories I’ve treasured since childhood, of this place I now get to call home. Wildflowers were blooming along the short trail, little goldenpeas and pussy toes and even a few long spur violets. Springtime is truly here! IMG_6873eTo get there, head north out of Custer on Sylvan Lake Road. Take a right on Willow Creek Road. After a couple of miles, the road will become considerably rougher and narrower, so don’t take a vehicle with low clearance. After about a half a mile on this stretch, there is a Forest Service gate and some parking space. The Forest Service access road continues beyond the gate, and is about a half mile hike to the ranch.

A stunning piece of history.

 

The Living Vine

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” ~John 15:4-5IMG_5956eOver the last few weeks, I watched the plum and apple trees for blossoms. We have had some heavy frosts, and I was concerned the buds may have gotten frozen off or even that parts of the tree could have been killed by the winter’s cold. But today, I saw a white mist clinging around the plum tree – bountiful pale flower clusters. The tree is alive. The flowers are the precursors to harvest. They evidence life and health.

“Abide in me,” Christ said. “I am the vine; you are the branches.” He encouraged and admonished his disciples to rest in him, to bear fruit. Healthy fruit comes from a thriving branch. A thriving branch only comes from a living Vine. Bear much fruit. He told this to his disciples, men who had sacrificed everything for him to follow him and participate in his ministry.  And then he was executed like a common criminal.

Resurrection Sunday comes and goes every year, and we hear the same message every year: He is risen!  “He is risen indeed!” we respond. We can go through the motions of celebrating Resurrection Sunday as if the Resurrection were old hat. Perhaps we even feel a little sheepish, maybe a little too counter-cultural with all of the empty tomb and back-from-the-dead talk. Not to mention, Easter has been so commercialized, all the plastic eggs and chocolate bunnies and pastel colored paper shreds. We lose our wonder in the colorful array of secular trappings, the childish nature of the eggs and bunnies and cute chocolates. Maybe we wearily approach the bustle and expectations surrounding Easter, and question the significance of setting aside a day like this. Maybe in the whirlwind of “celebration,” we forget Who and Why.

Because Christ is alive, and perhaps that more than any other truth in Scripture is what must be dear and real to us. Christ is alive, and he is sitting at the right hand of the Throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Through his life, death, and resurrection he has given us the right to become Children of God (John 1:11-13), to be reconciled to our Heavenly Father (Romans 5:10). It isn’t through his life and death, but through his life, death, AND resurrection. Because if Christ hadn’t risen, then he is no better of a sacrifice than the Passover lambs or the sin offerings, then he is no better of a king than King David or King Josiah, then he is no better of a prophet than Moses, no better of a father than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, no better of a priest than Aaron. They each in their own way foreshadowed the coming of and our need for a Savior – the Lamb, the Sacrifice, the Prophet, the Priest, the King, the Father of Many Nations. But they had no power over death. They each died. But Christ did not. And that is of utmost importance.

For the Christian, everything hinges on the Resurrection, everything we say we believe, everything we say we hope for. If the Resurrection did not happen, then we have hoped entirely in vain, and all Christ’s commandments about abiding in him are null. In fact, if Christ didn’t rise again on the third day, then the entire Bible is a pack of lies. That is how important the Resurrection is. It isn’t just an interesting anecdote. It is Biblical record that is absolutely vital to faith. Because our hope hinges on Christ’s power over death. If he, the “resurrection and the life,” has no power over his own life, how can he promise life to us? (John 11:25-26 and John 10:17-18)

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied,” Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15.  The Bible has no merit if the Resurrection didn’t happen, because the entire Bible depends upon the Resurrection for its completeness. Without the Resurrection, then everything from Genesis onward is pointless and fraudulent. Without the Resurrection, there is no hope, there is no life. Without the Resurrection, then our Vine, the Vine from which we are supposed to draw sustenance, is dead.  If he is the Vine and he is dead, we are unable to bear the fruit we were commanded by him to cultivate. If he is the Vine, and if he is dead, then our faith is a dead faith, sealed in the tomb along with the man who claimed to be God Himself.

But that is not what we believe. That is not the end of our faith.  Because Christ’s story didn’t end at the  tomb. “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,” Paul continued in Corinthians. Because the next morning, the tomb was empty. Gloriously empty.

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So Peter went out with the other disciple, and they were going toward the tomb.  Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.  And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there,  and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;  for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.  Then the disciples went back to their homes.

 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”  Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her. ~John 20: 1-18

So, abide in me. Christ is alive, and only because of the Resurrection are we able to truly abide in him. We are not part of a dead Vine. We are part of a Living Vine, a Vine which is bearing bountiful, beautiful fruit and has been bearing fruit for thousands of years. The ax of false doctrine and the winds of persecution and the fire of the culture have no power against our Vine. It is in perpetual flower, perpetual fruit-bearing. We have something to be excited about on this wonderful day! We have a faith that springs from and abides in Christ, and he is alive today. Reflect on that truth and revel in that hope.

 


 

 

He is Risen!

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”  So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” Matthew 28: 1-10IMG_5893eChrist went ahead of his disciples to Galilee, and has now gone ahead of us to Heaven – And we will see him there.

Happy Resurrection Day!

Ghost towns

After our short trek to the unnamed ghost town or homestead site on Sunday, and having our visit shortened by rain, we knew we wanted to spend some more time looking around there. We picked Tuesday as the day of choice, little knowing that we would end up enjoying all the variety of Black Hills weather in one day! Not that that would have deterred us, of course! Living in the Hills, one really does get used to very rapid changes in weather, sometimes rapid changes in one area, other times rapid changes due to, for instance, driving over the mountains. IMG_5178Sarah and I took Playhouse Road into Custer, partly for the scenery, partly because it actually is quicker than going over Mt. Rushmore, and the higher the elevation, the snowier it got. Boy, were the trees lovely to see! We met up with a friend in Custer, and drove down towards Pringle, seemingly leaving the snow behind. We poked around in the ruins for an hour or so, turning up pieces of a child’s skate, the top deal of a hand-cranked ice cream maker, the lid of a pressure canner, and lots of blue glass insulators. As much as I would have loved to “collect” them, we dutifully left them behind. I love blue insulators. But a $20,000 fine is a pretty good deterrent. However, it is too bad that cows and elk and weather don’t leave the artifacts alone, evidenced by the shards of glass everywhere. In another ten years of cows, elk, and weather, the artifacts will be all but gone.IMG_5261eWe examined the root cellar more closely, and realized that glass jars and bottles were built into the walls. Some of the bottles were identical to ones I found in our junk piles. Not sure the purpose of building bottles into the walls, but that is something we want to learn about. IMG_5239eWhen rummaging in the remnants of long-gone ghost towns and homes, it can be easy to compartmentalize those locations as being purely “historical.” As if the historical artifacts just planted themselves there, and weren’t put there by a living person. It is so easy to forget that these were places that were bubbling with life. These were homes, busy homes, built by people who knew the meaning of the word “work.” Whether dating to the first gold rush or the homestead and mining years of the early to mid 1900s, these people were true pioneers and adventurers, in ways we can’t even comprehend now.
IMG_5213eWe stayed for about an hour, findings other odds and ends, guessing what the structures might have been, marveling at a giant spreading aspen, so wizened that the bark on the lower trunk looked like an oak or cottonwood. I wonder how much smaller that tree was, when the homestead was being lived on.  The trees down the valley turned grey with approaching snow, and the squall blew in. Rain on Sunday, snow on Tuesday.
IMG_5280eIMG_5282eAs we drove down to our family property south of Pringle, near Argyle, it was still snowing in quite a winterly fashion, but cleared up when we headed west to the property. How variable the weather can be, from place to place and hour to hour! The following two pictures were taken the same afternoon, the first on our hike in to the Box Canyon, and the second on the hike back out, just a couple hours apart.
IMG_5313eIMG_5552eWe enjoyed the scenery, the history, the warm sun, the pasque flowers (well, I did, anyway), and Jake flew his drone over the Box Canyon and Spring-on-Hills Stage Stop. The stage stop dates back to the gold rush days, and was only in use for 2-3 years. IMG_5434eIMG_5336eThis stop would have fallen out of use as a regular stage stop when the entire route was re-routed west of Custer, due to dangerous conditions in this area. It probably continued to be used by immigrants and adventurers who chose to pass this way, but the stage itself was routed further west. All that is left are some foundations and a caving-in dugout. I remember the dugout being intact when I was a kid, but the heavy rain we had a couple of summers ago in particular brought the roof down. There are still old jars inside – Perhaps someone at sometime lived in the dugout, or maybe it was only ever used as a cellar. Who knows.
IMG_5334eThe clouds cleared off and the wind picked up a bit as well, making the drone flying some tricky business. On our hike back out, we saw a herd of antelope in the distance, which for me is always fun, since we don’t have antelope in the Hills. There was also a crazy coyote running around, and lots of bluebirds. I was also fortunate enough to find a patch of Easter daisies, one of the flowers I was hoping to see, since now is their time of year!
IMG_5518eIMG_5573eWe made one last stop on our way back to Custer, to explore some old cabins near the side of the road. We hit the valley right as the sun was getting low in the sky. Furniture and shoes still mouldered in the houses, and swallows had taken up residence. The pump still pumped water. Coat hooks still hung on the walls. A bedframe gleamed in the light from a window. How the past lingers, even as time marches on.
IMG_5595eIMG_5619eIt is rare that we are able to slate a whole day for hiking and exploration. Time marches on. But sometimes you just have to take a whole day to enjoy it.