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?

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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

Winter Lives

Yes, there is life in winter. And what life!
IMG_9279Even in the winter, when the greenness of summer passes into slumber and the chill and silence settles in, even when the waking months of the growing seasons are long past, there is a life that lurks in wintertime, and not too hidden from our eyes.  It is a quiet life, but a rollicking merriment, like peals of distant bells or a silent glint of laughter in smiling eyes. It is seen in the way the spider threads tangle up the slanting sun with the dried heads of bee balm. It is seen in the way the sunlight catches just so on ice crystals on a frozen stream.  It is seen in the clear blue of icicles, or the swirling eddies of freshly fallen snow.IMG_9293The days are short and shorter, but moonlight casts her spell. What is more alive than a winter moon over a snow-gleaming landscape, the frost glinting and sparkling like innumerable  stars fallen to earth? On a clear night, only the brightest of the heavenly stars can be seen, but every meadow becomes a new star field under the light of the waking moon. IMG_9245Deer and antelope and bison are heedless of the cold, rooting contentedly in the snowy grass, with blankets of snow resting on their backs. Clouds of warmth swirl from the mouths of anything that breathes. Creatures that were scruffy in the spring and summer are now fat and sleek. They have prepared for winter, and they accept it. IMG_9232Every sound rings through the crystal-cold air. There are the diminutive footprints and tail prints of mice, scampering over otherwise untouched snow, and careful footprints of deer. Golden grasses sway above the white of the snow. There are the memories of last summer’s wild roses. IMG_9296Spring will come again. But for now, winter lives.

Laura Elizabeth

Old Rockerville Sunrise

On the way to work, I made a short detour to drive through old Rockerville. In the early morning light, Rockerville still slumbered. This old mining town had its heyday in the gold rush years, but those years are long gone. Just the memory remains. How fast the present passes into memory!
Old RockervilleA forest of Queen Anne’s Lace sparkled in the waking light, and a cat groomed herself on the porch of an old tumbledown storefront. A few people still live in the area of Old Rockerville, and a single restaurant is a favorite local stop. The past and present mingle in this place.
Old RockervilleHow many miners made and lost their fortunes in this place so long ago, yet not so long ago? What sort of men were they who spent their best years breaking their backs for a myth of easy riches, or breaking other men’s backs because the other men believed the myth? What professions did they leave to come mine placer gold at a rough and wild gold camp? How many drifted from one gold camp to another, and how many put their roots down and attempted to build up a life for themselves, and perhaps for a wife and children? Where were they born? And where did they die? Old RockervilleWhere are they now? Where will you be, 100 years from now? Who will remember you, and what will you be remembered for? What will the point of your life have been? Whom are you serving?

“All flesh is like grass
    and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
    and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 1 Peter 1:24-25

The world tells me that today is the only day that matters, and that I am the only person that should matter to me. But the Bible tells me that every day matters, into eternity, and that what I do with each day matters. Do I serve myself, or do I serve Yahweh, Christ, the Risen King? The Bible tells that the person of Jesus Christ is of eternal importance. This life will fade away, and all will one day face our Maker.

“…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

Laura Elizabeth

Badlands at Sunset

Whenever Uncle Scott comes to visit, the girls and I do our best to monopolize his time. It didn’t take much convincing to get him to do a Badlands trip with us, and we just managed to squeeze it in on Sunday evening. What a gorgeous evening for it!
IMG_9311IMG_9273Hwy. 44 from Rapid City to Interior is a beautiful drive in and of itself, with distant views of the Badlands, and glimpses of homesteads and ranches still weathering the climate of the region and thriving amid scrubby grass and hardly a stick of timber. As the Badlands drew near, we were greeted by cheery signs like this one:
IMG_8032We ate at the lodge restaurant near the intersection of the Interior and Badlands Loop roads, a popular spot. By the time we got back on the road, we were nearing the photographic golden hour. The Badlands were glowing in the sinking sun, and our leisurely drive became more eager.
IMG_9324IMG_9314IMG_9306Gazing over the racing landscape, it was like being on another planet, swallowed in the vastness and openness and awesome fierceness of that strange and wonderful place. Amazing how such hostility and such beauty can meet in such magnificence.
IMG_9351IMG_9370The sun set in a blaze of glory over the jagged ridges. The song of the coyotes rang softly in the valleys, and big horned sheep scrambled on the shadowed slopes. Nighthawks dipped and dived, and then the sun was gone and dusk crept in. Harney Peak, miles and miles away, rose out of the prairie like a sentinel, keeping watch over everything within its gaze. I love that mountain.
IMG_9399We drove home in the dark, the stars shining brighter and brighter as the sky grew blacker and blacker. What a beautiful evening, enjoying the wonders of God’s Creation, the glories of the Heavens, and the joy of fellowship and family.

Laura Elizabeth

Strawberry Moon

Tonight marks the beginning of summer, and for the first time since 1967, June’s full moon, the Strawberry Moon, coincided with summer solstice. This event hasn’t occurred in the Northern Hemisphere in nearly 70 years!
IMG_6557Instead of settling down to read and write at a reasonable hour this evening, the night drew me out.  It was an evening meant for marveling at the heavens, chilly to the point of needing a fleece, quiet and still, hardly a breeze. The moonlight drowned out all but the brightest of the stars, and clouds like gossamer swept through the sky.
IMG_6593A beautiful evening. The perfect way to ring in the summer.Laura Elizabeth