August 2020

What time is it?

At the end of the nineteenth century, America’s railroads began using a standardized time system involving four time zones. Within each time zone, clocks were synchronized. The concept was new and revolutionary for many people. Prior to the standardization, each community had its own time. In many communities, the local authority on time was a jeweler, who possessed the skills to work on watch and clocks and who might own an expensive chronometer which was an accurate way of measuring time. Local observations also were used to determine noon by measuring the highest point of the sun’s path across the sky. Time was completely relative. You checked the time of the place where you were. Railroad travel challenged the idea. The ability to travel hundreds of miles in a relatively short amount of time meant that people wanted to know what time it might be in a distant place. The departure and arrival times of the train had to be made predictable, and, in the case of cross continent travel, the question arose of what time it was on the train. Did the time at the departure point persist for the entire journey? At what point does the train “switch” to the time at the arrival point?

All of this was long before I was born and so I accepted time zones as a way of thinking about time. My parents were pilots and we traveled across time zones. I clearly remember a trip our family took when I was a child where we took off in mountain time, crossed central time in flight and landed in eastern time. The two hour difference was impressive. Big Timber, Montana to Indianapolis, Indiana was a long leg for our family’s airplane, and it made it possible for us to make Washington, DC in a single day. We, of course, arrived with our internal clocks still aligned with Mountain Time and stayed up a lot later than our usual bedtime.

The concept of time was on my mind once again yesterday as I participated in a two hour Zoom meeting with participants from Portland, Oregon and Daytona Beach, Florida. When it was 4 pm here, it was 3 in Oregon and 6 in Florida. Somehow the experience reminded me of the days when we would tune in particular television shows with an awareness of the difference of the time zones. The CBS Evening News, for example, was live across the nation, so we were used to all watching at the same time, which meant a different time on the west coast from the time on the east coast.

We’ve adjusted to the concept of time zones. In the case of our family, we think not only in terms of the time of day, but also which day it is. Our daughter lives in Japan and we speak by Skype or FaceTime on a regular basis. We get a kick out of talking to tomorrow. When our grandson was born, I announced to friends, “Our daughter just had a baby tomorrow!” The joke in our family is that we found out about his birth before his birthday.

We have a nephew who has traveled around the world going in one direction. He went from the United States to Europe and on to Asia and returned by crossing the International Date line while flying home across the Pacific. Unlike us, who have “lost” a day going one direction and then “gained” it back returning in the opposite direction, he only crossed the date line once, gaining a day. I joke with him that as a result he should now celebrate his birthday one day earlier, as he really hasn’t lived as many days as reported by a calendar. Of course the flaw in that rationale is that it doesn’t hold up if you count hours gained by traveling east. In reality, he has experienced the same amount of time as if he had not traveled.

Back in the time when people were just adjusting their thinking to accept the concept of universal time, Albert Einstein was thinking about time from a much bigger perspective. What would be the nature of time if one could travel huge distances in space? If it were possible to travel faster than the speed of light, could you travel backwards or forward in time? Since it takes time for light to travel through space, the farther we look into space the farther into the past are the events we are observing. This couples conceptualization eventually led Einstein to develop and refine his theories of special and general relativity.

Given the complexity of time and of our understanding of how it works, it shouldn’t surprise us that times reported in the Bible don’t always align with our way of thinking. According to the Bible, Methuselah, son of Enoch and grandfather of Noah, lived to the ripe old age of 969. Noah is said to have lived 350 years after the flood. Moses is reported to have lived to the age of 120, which is two years less than the oldest documented person. Jeanne Calmet, who died in 1997 at the age of 122 years and 164 days, set a record for the length of a human life with an officially recorded birth and death date.

We live our lives thinking mostly of much shorter spans of time. We know that there is a finite number of days remaining in our lives. At my age it is fairly certain that the number of days I have already experienced is more than the number of days in my personal future. That knowledge gives time a certain value. I am less patient with wasting time than once was the case. On the other hand, I am more able to take time to reflect and think than at certain other points in my life. I value being as much as I value doing even though there are days when I am frustrated by my lack of accomplishments.

So when I rise in the middle of the night to write in my journal, as is the case this morning, I have to accept that I really don’t know what time it is. I’ll probably go back to bed for a while and when I wake it will still be today.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Walking in the rain

Late last fall we began walking every day for exercise. We started by doing laps in the church parking lot. Soon we were walking around the neighborhood and these days we usually walk at least a couple of miles, often in area parks or on trails in our community. We have found several walks where there are few other people and we feel safe. In the winter we often walked around our lunch hour, sometimes walking about a mile to a cafe for lunch, taking a break for lunch and then walking back. As the weather warmed up and the days lengthened, we started walking in the evening. These days we generally walk after supper and we haven’t been in too much of a hurry to get out, knowing that we have time in the evening. Along with the cool of the evening we have enjoyed some nice sunsets.

Last night we visited with our daughter over the computer after we had done the supper dishes and we headed out for our walk a bit late. We’ve gotten pretty good at watching the storms and avoiding getting caught in them, but the rain showers in Rapid City last night were a bit difficult to predict. We couldn’t tell, for a while, which direction they were going. As a result we got caught by the rain before we got back to our car. It wasn’t the driving rain of a huge thundershower that we can get around here - at least not before we finished our walk. We got a little wet, but the evening was warm and we were not uncomfortable. Although there was a bit of rain on the walkways, puddles had not yet began to form by the time we were in the car.

Then the rain really began to fall. Those who live in South Dakota know the routine. It is dark because of the clouds and the rain falls so hard that you have the windshield wipers going as fast as they will go and you are straining a bit to see the lines on the road as you drive. You slow down because it is possible to hydroplane in some of the deeper puddles that quickly form. I backed the car into the driveway to make for the shortest run into the house and we sat inside listening to the rain on the roof as it turned to tiny hail and back to rain before the storm passed.

I commented to Susan as we were walking, before the rain began to fall really hard, that this was a different kind of rain than we will be walking in once we move to the Pacific northwest. We are planning a move to a different climactic zone than anyplace we’ve ever lived. We’ve visited the region a lot over the years and one of my jokes about those who live in Seattle or Portland is that they don’t seem to know that it is raining. I’ve walked down a Portland street with my umbrella keeping my head dry and noticed that I’m the only one with an umbrella. It wasn’t raining hard enough for the locals to feel the need to put theirs up. The locals learn to wear jackets that shed water in their everyday life. We often don’t feel the need for a raincoat at all around here.

In terms of annual rainfall, we are not moving to the wettest part of Washington. The average rainfall in Mount Vernon, Washington is about double that of Rapid City. Our son and his family used to live in Olympia, where it is nearly double that of Mount Vernon. Washington, however, is a very diverse state when it comes to rainfall. There are places in Central and Eastern Washington where the annual rainfall is half that of Rapid City. Mount Vernon, however, is on the edge of what is called the temperate rainforest. That means our grandkids can find pacific tree frogs in their yard. They also have slugs. We don’t see any slugs in our yard. Things will be different for us.

Many years ago, I was chaperoning a group of teens from Idaho and Oregon at a national church meeting in Texas. One evening there was a giant thunderstorm. I had trouble getting the youth to stay in a sheltered area to watch the storm. They were fascinated by the gigantic thunder clouds, the nearby lighting strikes, and the intensity of the storm. Having lived in the midwest, none of that weather was a surprise to me and I understood the danger of the storm and didn’t need to be outside to experience the rain. I was surprised that the storm held such fascination for the young people. I’m thinking that a real spring blizzard might be quite an experience for those same youth.

We, however, are not youth any more. And we have traveled quite a bit. We’ve seen how the skies can open up and dump inches and inches of rain during the wet season in Costa Rica. We’ve been to the dry outback in Australia. We’ve experienced temperate rainforest both in the Pacific Northwest and in Japan. And we’ve gotten wet walking in the rain a few times. Another of my joke lines is that we’ve tested ourselves and found out that we are waterproof. Getting wet doesn’t make us melt or wilt. And although it can be uncomfortable to be caught out in the rain without proper gear, it isn’t life threatening in the way that getting caught ill prepared in a blizzard or sub zero temperatures can become. Every place has its unique challenges in terms of weather and people are remarkably able to adjust to many different types of weather.

We will adapt to the weather in our new home once we have made the move. We may even invest in some different gear for walking in the rain. If we are going to keep up our routine, we will need to be willing to do so on some days.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Boats

When our family arrived in Rapid City in the summer of 1995, we were quite a caravan. I was driving our Mitsubishi Montero with a canoe and bicycles on the roof. I was towing our camping trailer and the car sat a bit low on its springs. Behind me, Susan was driving our Chevrolet Astro Van, with 140,000 miles on the odometer and a leak in the transmission. It was fresh out of the shop with a new radiator, an event that affected the timing of our arrival. Inside of our vehicles, in addition to our family of four were two friends visiting from Australia.

I thought of that day yesterday as we drove into Rapid City in our pickup truck, which was practically empty. The truck gets good fuel mileage when it is empty and we had driven from Billings, Montana without the need for a fuel stop. What was on my mind, however, was the simple fact that I was coming to South Dakota without any boat for the first time in over a quarter of a century. We took the last of our cables and kayaks to Washington on this trip. For the first time in a long time I don’t have a boat if I wake up on the perfect morning to go to the lake.

Back in 1995, we owned only one canoe. It is a nice boat - a 16’ wood strip canoe, made from scratch. I cut the strips on an old Sears table saw. I didn’t have a planer, so they were a bit uneven in thickness. I didn’t have a router table, so they weren’t cut cove and bead, but rather each strip had been trimmed to fit with a hand plane. There are a couple of gaps where the wood didn’t fit perfectly, filled in with epoxy to keep the boat water tight. That boat had already seen some adventures, including paddling on Payette Lake, the Snake River, and Lucky Peak Lake in Idaho. It had been on a river float on the Yellowstone in Montana, including a swamping that dumped my wife, my daughter and me into the river.

By 1998, when our family took a vacation and visited the Seattle area and Whidby Island, we had a different boat with us. I had made a smaller “Wee Lassie” canoe out of inexpensive fence-grade cedar obtained at a lumber yard in Rapid City. The little boat had its first water trials in Sheridan Lake and paddled very well. I put a seat low in the center of the boat and usually paddled it with a double paddle. While out in the Pacific northwest I took my brother for a ride in that boat on the Puget Sound. It was a very calm day, but with the two of us in the little boat there wasn’t much freeboard. I was a bit jealous of the kayakers in the water, a feeling that prompted me to build a kayak the next year.

You can see the pattern emerging. After the kayak, I built another tandem canoe. Then there was the opportunity to restore a wood and canvas canoe, the purchase of a small recreational kayak during a visit to the Old Town factory in Orono Maine in 2007, and a skin-on-frame kayak launched later that same year. When our grandson was born, I wasn’t sure how comfortable his parents would be with him riding in a canoe, so I built a 15’ rowboat. The Chester Yawl handles beautifully and has been paddled in the Puget Sound many times as well as in a lot of lakes. Our grandson’s name is Elliot and “Mister E” with a double meaning intended was just the right name for that boat. Along the way I picked up a couple of whitewater boats, a kayak and a canoe. When our first granddaughter was born, a boat in her honor seemed in order and I started a long and slow project of an expedition kayak that is now nearing completion. I’m getting behind, however. We now have two more grandchildren, so perhaps there are more boat projects in the future. You can see how the boats multiplied over the years. At some point we purchased a trailer and an eight boat rack so that we could haul a group of boats safely.

But I have hauled all of my boats to Washington. They are in a storage facility near our son’s home. I have no boats in South Dakota. I guess that means I’m committed to this move.

During the next couple of months I need to be focused on completing that move, which means working at packing and getting the house ready to sell, taking care of the details of a home sale, loading a truck with the rest of our possessions and making at least one more round trip from South Dakota to Washington. There is a lot of work and not much time for play. And there are other ways to have fun at the lake besides paddling. Still, it just feels a bit strange to be here without any boat in my garage. This is the first time since just after we moved into this house that there hasn’t been a boat hanging from the rafters. The garage looks a bit empty even though it is filled with a car and items being staged for our move.

I subscribe to a small magazine called “Messing About in Boats.” It is a monthly magazine, printed in black and white and filled with stories of people who like to build, repair, restore, paddle and sail boats. Most of the articles are about people who are woking with limited budgets and learning how to make do with the supplies at hand. There are a surprising amount of articles about people, mostly men, who collect a few too many boats and who need to go about the process of reducing their inventory. That will be a challenge of the next phase of my life. I did succeed in giving away one of my canoes this year.

Still, after we have moved and when we are ready to come back to South Dakota for a visit, you’ll be able to see me coming. I’ll be the one with at least one canoe of the roof of my rig.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

A walk down memory lane

It was a smoky drive across Montana yesterday. The smoke is mostly coming from the Lolo fire complex in Idaho, but there is also smoke from the Rim fire in California. For most of the drive we could see some of the nearby mountains, but they were clouded in smoky haze. The farther peaks weren’t visible at all. It is strange for us to have smoke all the way across Montana. The skies were also cloudy for much of our drive and we encountered rain a few times as we made our way across. Even the rain didn’t take the smoke out of the air, however. Researchers tell us that the fires are getting bigger and more intense than was the case in previous years, all part of the worldwide trend of global warming. The smoke make us sneeze and gives us a bit of congestion, symptoms that no one wants to be experiencing in the time of Covid-19. We have experienced good health after the scare with Susan’s hospitalization last fall and are trying what we are able to stay healthy. We have been being very careful in our travels to avoid close contact with anyone except family members we know are healthy. Since others are experiencing the smoke irritation, we are confident that it is what is going on with us as well.

Today we head home and hope that we will experience clearing skies as we go.

I went for a walk in Red Lodge last evening. I took an hour or so to walk around a town that used to be quite familiar to me. My paternal grandparents lived here during much of my childhood. My grandfather had abandoned the farm in North Dakota in the early forties, after surviving the great depression. He decided that the automobile was the future of the economy and operated a service station in Billings for a few years before purchasing a station in Red Lodge which he operated until his retirement. They continued to live in the big house in Red Lodge for several years before health forced a move back to Billings to be closer to doctors.

As I walked, I imagined that I was walking the same streets that my grandfather walked in the early days of his retirement. He used to walk down town for a cup of coffee many days and I can still locate the house in which they lived, though it is now painted red after decades of being white with green shutters. Like many small towns, Red Lodge didn’t have formal zoning during much of its development so not every house has sidewalks and the sidewalks that do exist aren’t completely consistent in width or in distance from the street. Waling involves a bit of walking on the streets and then going back to the sidewalks. It seems quite natural to me and the town feels in some ways like little has changed over the years.

Many of our visits when I was a kid involved arriving by airplane as my father regularly flew fire patrols over Yellowstone National Park and the Gallitan National Forest. A swing by Red Lodge was easy after a trip over the Park. That meant that once we were on the ground we were walking where we wanted to go. Our trips usually only involved a walk down the hill from the airport to my grandparents’ house, but sometimes also included a walk downtown for some errand. Sometimes, I would walk around town by myself while the adults visited.

I felt right at home walking around the town. It has grown a bit since those days. There are quite a few new houses, especially on the outskirts of the town, but I walked through the old neighborhoods where the houses looked much the same and the feel was very similar to how it had been when I was a child. In fact, it was easier to remember being a child than it was to imagine myself being the age that my grandfather was when I used to visit, though I now have become the age of my grandparents when they lived in this town.

Like many who survived the Great Depression as adults, my grandfather was skilled in a lot of different areas. He collected rags and made beautiful braided rag rugs in the basement of their home. The rungs were mostly given as gifts, but he would sell a few from time to time at fairs and markets. He was mechanically savvy and could diagnose and repair many problems with cars, skills that came from years of pumping gas, washing windshields and checking oil and tires. He could change tires on a wheel with a couple of hand irons and without the use of the machines that you now see in tire shops. He could adjust a carburetor and set the gap of points and plugs using a homemade feeler gauge. He was a fairly good carpenter and did most of his own home repairs. I have his wood planes and I can remember playing with the curls of wood that came off of those planes when he helped my dad add a second story to our home. I was very young at the time and I suspect that playing with his hammers and the wood curls is one of my oldest memories.

He hasn’t lived in Red Lodge for more than 50 years now and folks around here don’t remember him. Part of the building that was his gas station is still standing, but it hasn’t ben a gas station for many years. Some of the buildings that were part of the old Red Lodge zoo are still standing, but there is little other evidence of the bears, deer, elk, antelope, wolves, beavers, and other small mammals that were caged there. The zoo was not large and the enclosures were not sufficient for the animals and it is a good thing that it has closed, but it was part of so many visits to the area that it lingers in my memory.

I walked by the cabin my in-laws owned here for a few years. It was the destination of our honeymoon when we had only a couple of days and not much money.

The town is full of memories which are part of the treasures of this phase of my life. It was a fun walk down memory lane to stretch my legs after a day of driving. If only the air had not smelled of smoke.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Being a minister

A random conversation with a near stranger: “What work did you do before you retired?” I was a pastor - a minister serving congregations.” “Oh. You must have seen this coronavirus coming.” I didn’t know how to respond to that comment. Actually, being a minister gives one no special insight on the future. Prediction is not one of the special skills taught in theological seminary. I don’t even know wha that person thinks about the church or the job of a minister that prompted the comment.

There are some infectious disease doctors who did predict that a major pandemic was coming. There was real concern over bird flue, SARS and MERS all of which posed significant threats, but didn’t turn out to be the global pandemic that Covid-19 has become. Medical experts know that viruses mutate very quickly and that the world is so interconnected that they can spread at alarming speeds. They also know that public health and health education have not been priorities for governmental funding and action and that many countries, the United States included, are especially vulnerable.

Had I spent my career as an infectious disease specialist it might have made sense to assume that I had some inside information on the current pandemic. As a minister, however, I have never had information about infection, illness or treatment that others lack.

The Bible contains many stories fo Jesus healing those who were sick. Some readers of the bible assume that he had some kind of magical healing powers that were passed on to leaders of churches. As a pastor I did spend significant time praying with and for those who were ill. I still do have many sick people on my prayer list. Over the centuries the church as invested significantly in hospitals, medical colleges and other health care ministries. We see the art and science of healing as a path of service - a vocation - to which people are called by God. We understand that caring for those who are injured or ill is an important function. Many hospitals around the world were started by Christian people and Christian organizations. Hospitals and those who work at them, however, don’t have magical healing powers. And they don’t have magical powers to see and predict the future.

One of the realities of being a minister is that there are a lot of people who don’t understand the nature of the job. They see ministers in our public functions of leading worship, officiating at weddings and funerals, and the like and assume that those functions are the only things that ministers do. They see it as a kind of easy job that mostly involves public speaking. Others get a glimpse of us at work when we visit those who are sick and think that we are a kind of counselor who can be summoned when no one else knows what to say or how to comfort another person. Being a minister does involve spending time with those who are ill and with those who are grieving.

I suspect, however, that there are some people, even those who are active church members, who don’t fully understand the nature of the job. A minister has responsibilities for the institutional health of a complex organization. We spend significant time working with budgets, raising funds, and managing an institution. We have to understand how buildings function and how to arrange repairs when things are broken. We have to be responsible with record keeping and make sure that reports are filed correctly. Ministers have to keep up with technology and manage communications in a changing world. We were using email before most of the members of our congregations and we had to learn how to use social media effectively.

The coming of the pandemic meant that we had to reinvent the way we did work. After generations of face-to-face ministry and practicing the ministry of presence, we had to step up our use of the telephone and social media to keep in touch with people. With the closing of public worship spaces, we needed to find ways to bring worship to those we serve. I broadcast daily prayers, turning something that had been private into a public experience in order to provide a connection with the people I served.

The bottom line is that my vocation is one that is not understood by some of the people.

We are currently visiting a niece and her family. They are forging a meaningful life with three lovely children whose care is balanced between a mother who is a nurse who works 12-hour shifts, a father who is now working remotely from home, and a woman who is paid to provide some child care. The parents are hard workers and have invested a lot in fixing up their house and providing a loving home for their children. Both parents are comfortable with their caregiving responsibilities and are good with the children. They are not involved in a church and have formed a community of friends who support one another. Visiting them it is clear that they don’t really understand the work that we did or the nature of our retirement. Both of them can imagine not having to go to work so many hours and they can think of lots of things that they would do if they didn’t have to work for a living. Neither understands how we miss the work that was the center of our lives and how we are reinventing our lives in this new phase.

That is no problem. They don’t have to understand us. That is one of the benefits of family. We love and accept each other even though we don’t understand. It is good to be with them. I know that they will never fully understand the work we did and that they will have some misconceptions about what ministers believe and what we do.

I won’t be starting a campaign for people to understand ministers. For now I am content to try to be a loving and caring person to each one I meet. Like the work I did when I was active in my career, my presence is stronger than my words. A minister is who I am more than what I say.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Mountain Passes

northcascadeswahighway20
People at both ends of our summer trips (South Dakota and Washington) comment on the distance we have been traveling. “That’s a long way from here!” They are a bit surprised that we have made the round trip almost every year that we have lived in South Dakota. My sister and my mother both lived in Portland Oregon for a few years and, in 1999 our son started college in Forest Grove, Oregon, so in the early years we went to Oregon. I do have a brother who lives in Washington, however, so we extended our Oregon trips to Washington some of the time. Since 2006 our son and daughter-in-law have lived in western Washington, and, in 2011 our first grandson was born there, so we’ve made regular trips part of our life. Although this summer is a bit different, as we are heading to South Dakota after our second trip and we expect to make one more round trip and a final one-way trip by mid October.

Sometimes when I talk about the trip, I describe it in terms of the number of mountain passes. In general, to get from Rapid City, South Dakota to Mount Vernon, Washington, one has to cross 5 mountain passes, 6 if you count Camps Pass in Southwestern Montana, which isn’t exactly a high mountain pass. There are different passes that can be taken, depending on which road is chosen to cross the state of Washington.

This trip, we crossed Washington on the high line, near Canada on Washington Route 2. That gives us three additional passes to add to our list, making the total of 10 for this trip. Five of them are now behind us. We have enjoyed four routes across the state. From north to south they are Washington 20, US 2, Interstate 90 and US 12.

Leaving Mount Vernon yesterday we headed up Washington 20. The highway officially begins at Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula and crosses two islands, Whidbey and Fildago before heading across Skagit County into the Cascade Mountains. The highway crosses North Cascades National Park, home to gray wolves and grizzly bears as well as abundant birds and small mammals. North Cascade Highway has the reputation of being the oldest and the newest highway across the Cascade mountains. Originally begun in the 1890’s as a wagon route to ship minerals from mines in the mountains, it was abandoned after floods and landslides kept wiping out the road. Interest int the road was renewed in the 1940’s and construction on the current route was begun in 1959, with the rough road crossing completed in 1968 and finally opened to traffic in 1972. The highway is generally closed between November and April due to heavy snowfall. The route across the Cascades is dramatic and beautiful with sawtooth mountains all around. There are twin passes, Washington at 5476 feet above sea level and four miles later another pass, Rainy, which is the same elevation. It is a significant climb to the passes given that we started our trip at just 180 feet above sea level. There is a gorgeous lookout with great vistas at Rainy Pass.

Down from Rainy Pass, we went through the towns of Winthrop and Twisp before heading up to the next pass, Loup Loup at 4020 between Twisp and Okanogan. Wandering through the high country the next pass is Wauconda at 4310. Crossing that pass sparked conversation about Wakanda, the fictional country from comic books featured in the movie Black Panther. I’m pretty sure that Wauconda, Washington doesn’t have much in common with Wakanda.

Our last and highest pass of the day yesterday was Sherman Pass at 5574 feet above sea level. There is a lookout that has educational information about historic and recent fires and another lookout at the top of the pass with a short 10-minute walking trail. Both feature clean restrooms and make for interesting stops.

We spent the night in Chehalis, a community with a United Church of Christ right on the main highway through town. We knew of this community before we had visited it as Lynne Hinton, one of the scholars in residence during our 2006 sabbatical later served an interim position in Chehalis.

Today will serve up just two mountain passes. 4th of July Pass, east of Coeur d’Alene Lake in Idaho is the lowest pass of our trip at just 3173 feet. Lookout Pass is a longer pull up to 4711 feet on the Idaho-Montana border. We plan to visit a niece and her family in Missoula this evening before heading on east tomorrow.

At that point we will still be west of the Continental Divide, so Thursday’s travel will include two major passes. We’ll cross the divide just past Butte at Homestake pass at 6329 feet, the highest pass of our trip. After that, Bozeman Pass at 5702 puts us into my home territory, or at least the territory of my birth. When I was in high school, I drove over the Bozeman Pass every week for trumpet lessons. Although there has been some reconstruction of the road since those days, it is very familiar to me. Our plan is to stay with family in Red Lodge that night, where the elevation is 5568, nearly as high as the pass.

From there, as they say, it is all down hill. We’ll have the little bump of Camp’s Pass at 3924 feet, which seems no more steep or hard than the hills near Ashland. Rapid City is 3202 and our home is about the same height as Camp’s Pass.

We grew up in the mountains and enjoy traveling over the passes. When we travel on US 2 the passes are the same after this point in our trip. We pass just one, Stephens at 4061 to get to eastern Washington. If we travel on Interstate 90, we cross the Cascades at Snoqualmie at 3022. On US 12, the Cascade Pass is White Pass at 4500 feet. On that route we pass between Idaho and Montana at Lolo Pass. The road is winding, and the pass is 5233, but there is just the single pass instead of two as is the case on the other routes, making the most southern also the route with the fewest passes to cross.

In the winter, snow and ice are factors in passing over the mountains. In the summer, construction can be a deciding factor in which route to pursue. On that score, Interstate 90 seems to be the worst this summer. We’ve driven it once, and that will probably be our only trip on that road. US 2 and Washington 20 have the smallest amount of construction this year, but the extra passes favor US 2 as the route to take with the moving truck. We’ll see as the days for that trip approach.

As our friend and mentor Ross Snyder wrote, “Our life is a a mountain, with valleys between, and spiraling paths through the mixed-up ravines.”

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Life adventures

I have been a strong supporter of sabbaticals for professionals. The standard in academics is different from that in other professions, but sabbaticals for pastors have been common for all of our careers. The Lily Endowment has conducted extensive research into clergy sabbaticals and has concluded that they strengthen the relationship between pastor and parish and renew energy and spirit for ministry. The Endowment continues to support clergy sabbaticals through clergy renewal grants to congregations. Although I have worked with each call of our ministry to develop sabbatical plans and policies that serve the church, the first two parishes that we served were not able to grant sabbatical leave to us. We were able to negotiate a couple of extra weeks for continuing education some years, but that was about it until we began to serve in Rapid City. Over the twenty five years of our service there, I was able to take four sabbaticals, in 2001, 2006, 2010 and 2018. Although the church policy allows for sabbatical after five years of service, the timing of the sabbaticals is influenced by many other factors including the mission and programs of the church and the personal needs of the family. For example, our 2010 sabbatical was timed to allow for sabbatical funds, saved by the congregation, to be used to support the hiring of a new minister for the congregation. The policy at 1st Congregational United Church of Christ allows for a sabbatical of three months at full salary after five years of service. The congregation sets aside funds each year to pay for the expenses of the sabbatical, primarily the costs of interim pastoral leadership while the pastor is away. We paid our own expenses for travel and study during our sabbaticals with the exception of the 2006 sabbatical, which was funded by a grant from the Lily Endowment.

As a result, I have a feel for what it is like to take a three-month break from work. Three months is enough time to fully disengage from the routines of daily work and to focus energies on rest and renewal. Each time I went on a sabbatical, I returned with fresh energy and enthusiasm for the work of the church. And each sabbatical included the process of gearing up for the return to work.

Although it has only been a couple of years since our last sabbatical, it feels very much like we have been on sabbatical this summer. As we come to the end of our second month of retirement, I am sure that the reality of being retired hasn’t yet sunk into my life. I know in my head that things are different, but I also know that it will take more than a few months to discover a new pace and a new way of being.

The pandemic also has had an impact on how we feel and how we have been acting during our retirement. In the past vacations and sabbaticals included opportunities to worship as members of different congregations. I would listen to sermons instead of deliver them. I would participate in liturgy as a congregant rather than a worship leader. Although I might occasionally trip up and read the “leader” part in a litany, I enjoyed the opportunity to worship without having to be the leader. During the pandemic, however, we have been worshiping online over social media, which is definitely not the same as being int he midst of a congregation.

It isn’t just worship. We have been traveling quite a bit during this phase of our retirement. We are heading home to South Dakota today after our second trip to Washington State. We had planned to travel at a slower pace in retirement, taking more time to stop and hike and explore the beautiful country through which we are traveling. However, in a time when travel is discouraged and contact with others must be strictly controlled, it is easier to simply make our miles and not stop as often. A fuel stop is often just that, a few minutes to add fuel to the truck. We have been packing our meals or eating carry-out rather than risking contact with strangers. We do stop and take walks as we travel, but even that requires planning and care to make sure that we are being safe.

And we are getting used to wearing face coverings. Yesterday I read a sign on a store that said, “Face masks required for service.” It was right next to a sign that said, “Shirts and shoes required.” I guess the establishment had not yet found it necessary to put up a sign requiring pants, thought I suspect that they would be reluctant to serve someone wearing a face mask, shirt, and shoes but no pants. I watched construction workers installing a new septic system and they were wearing masks as they operated the machines and as they installed the plumbing. Fortunately the day wasn’t too hot, but I’m sure they have been wearing masks all summer long.

We have obtained several face masks so that we can wash them regularly, and we are getting used to wearing them whenever we are out in public, but it will take more time before they feel natural to us. Still, doing what we can to help prevent the spread of the virus is important to us, so we are doing our best.

I keep saying, “We are living in strange times.” There is a lot of uncertainty in our communities as the effects of the pandemic stretch out. At a time when back to school is the norm, there is nothing normal about the various plans that school districts have developed. Some are organized and have done a good job of communicating with students. Others are struggling to meet the minimum needs of some students. Many students have lost contact with their schools and are receiving no education. Although school districts have had six months to adjust, they have a lot more work to do before we can have a sense that all children have access to education.

I don’t know how much of my unsettled feelings are coming from retirement and how much from the pandemic, but unsettled is a good description of my life right now. Our grandson said last night, “I like the adventure of finding out what is going to happen.” I hope I can match a bit of his enthusiasm. Life is an adventure.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Families

We were having a conversation recently about how different families are in their configurations and the differences in the length of generations in families. Both of us were born when our parents were in their thirties and we were in our thirties when our children were born, and our sixties when our grandchildren were born, so we tend to think that such separation is the norm. However, my family of origin is large and spread out due, in part to the addition of children by adoption. My oldest sister was seven when she was adopted and she had her first child when she was young. She and my mother were pregnant at the same time and my brother was an uncle when he was born. By the time we had our son, my mother was already a great grandmother.

We have friends whose baby was born when her father was in his forties and he was the last child of his mother, also born when she was in her forties. Their baby’s grandmother is in her eighties. We know others who have become grandmothers in their forties.

Then there are the many different configurations of families that occur through divorce and remarriage. We know a blended family with a high school graduate on one end and an infant on the other. The children in the family are “yours” “mine” and “ours.” In our church family we have single mothers and single fathers and reconfigured families and traditional families (whatever that might mean) and families with a lot of children and families with a single child.

This great variety isn’t something that we invented. If you read through the bible, you’ll find families with multiple mothers and step children growing up as a single unit. There are widows who have children and daughters-in-law who become part of their in-laws families even after their husbands pass away. The genealogies of the bible contain adopted and grafted family members as well as direct descendants. There are women raising children alone and at least one story of a grandparent raising a grandchild. There is no single type of family that is a typical biblical family.

As a result, we were comfortable raising our children living hundreds of miles from their grandparents. We knew that we would always have elders in our church family who would act as grandparents to our children in addition to our parents, who continued to provide love and support for our children. Our children loved their regular visits from and to their grandparents and felt at home in their grandparents home. When our children grew up they didn’t feel a need to remain in the place where we lived. Our first grandchild was born more than a thousand miles from our home. Our youngest grandchild was born in Japan and hasn’t ever lived on the same continent as his grandparents.

Still there is a deep hunger to be with our children and grandchildren. Our grandchildren who live in Washington know our camper better than our home. Two of them are sleeping in our camper as i write and they have spent as many nights in our camper as they have in their own beds whenever we have visited. The third was here for story time before heading home to sleep and will be over for breakfast in a few hours. Having the camper in the yard and the children floating back and forth seems as natural as anything.

When we began to think about retirement, one of the first conversations we had was about where we might live. During our active careers we lived where the church called us. We knew that we would be distant from family because of our choice of career. We were so fortunate that we each had one parent who chose to live near to us when they neared the end of their lives, so it seemed natural that we would move to be nearer our children when we were able to make a choice about where to live.

That is easier said than done. We live in a mobile society. Our daughter’s husband is pursuing a career in the Air Force and they will move sometime in the next year. They likely will make more moves before settling on a permanent home. Our son, in whose yard we are currently camping, is looking towards a slightly larger home on a larger lot. With the increase of telecommuting as a part of the modern workplace they need an office room in their house, something their current home does not have. As they grow more and more of the food for their family they have used up most of the land around their home for garden. Although they are enjoying the fruit trees they have planted and each day we eat well from the garden, they can envision having more room for plants and animals. Right now the plan is for them to see if the current home will sell and they can make a move while interest rates are low. It is likely that they will purchase a different house before we sell our house and find a new home to purchase.

Add to that the complications of the pandemic which seems to be rapidly spreading with recent increases in infection rates back in South Dakota and changes in jobs and the way that people are working. Then there is the uncertainty about schools. Our son and daughter in law have been home schooling for six months now, not by choice, but because their schools closed in the spring. It is uncertain how much face-to-face schooling will take place. If the move to a new home means a change of schools, it might be much less dramatic than would have been the case when the children were attending school every day.

We’ve been talking about what it means to live in uncertain times. It certainly is something that people of faith have endured int the past. Just like lots of different families, the bible is filled with families on the move and adapting to the whims of kings and governors and changes in the weather as well as the spread of illness.

It is a good time to be flexible and to shed some of our notions about what is normal. We are fortunate to have open options and a future that might take many different shapes.

As I keep saying, at least we aren’t getting bored.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Clear Lake, Washington

This part of Washington is dotted with small communities. If you follow any state highway around here you will encounter a small tow every few miles. Not all of the towns are officially incorporated as such. Where our son lives has a Mount Vernon Address but is within the area known as Clear Lake. Clear Lake is unincorporated, but has a small downtown area with a bar, a church, a grocery store of sorts, a school and a post office. There are other buildings that used to house a bank, another church, and other businesses. Some have been converted into homes. According to the US Census, Clear Lake is a Census Designated Place with just over 1,000 residents. It is only 4 miles to Sedro-Woolley, which has 12,000 residents. Sedro-Woolley practically runs into Burlington, a town of 9,000. Head in another direction, and Clear Lake is only 8 miles from down town Mount Vernon, which has 36,000 residents and is right across the river from Burlington. There are a lot of people in a fairly small area, but it still has a definite rural flavor as soon as you get out of the downtown areas of the communities.

Clear Lake has its own story and its own distinct feel. The Post Office has been operating since 1891, a year after the railroad reached the area. The railroad is no longer operating here, but there are lots of pictures in the town museum that show scenes of a bustling company town. From the end of the 19th century up until near the middle of the 20th century, the Clear Lake Lumber Company was the town’s major employer. The company started with a small shingle mill on the shore of Clear Lake, on a small piece of land between Clear Lake and Mud Lake. In those days the area was heavily forested with Cedar, Douglas Fir, Spruce and Hemlock. The shingle plant took several days to turn a cedar tree into shingles for roofs and siding on homes in Seattle. The market was booming and the raw materials were very easy to obtain. After a while, the cedar trees right next to the lake that could be floated to the plant were cut. The business expanded to harvest construction lumber from the other varieties of trees. They also used teams of horses to expand the area for the logging.

The more trees that were cut, the more the area between the two lakes was prone to flooding. It is only a couple of miles to the Skagit River where seasonal flooding often disrupted the railroad, sometimes forcing the lumber company to slow production for a while. Eventually the buildings of the lumber company became inundated. Meanwhile the cost of obtaining raw timber increased as the trees in the immediate area were cut. Eventually the market shifted and the lumber mill shut down.

The proximity of the community to the neighboring towns meant that it still was a good place to live. Eventually the school was incorporated into the Sedro-Woolley system and continues to operate as an elementary school.

The area where the shingle and lumber mill once operated is now a small industrial park with shops for a trucking company, warehouse space for a few other companies and a row of covered rental storage space. A couple of different companies rent space to park vehicles there as well. The land that once was heavily forested has become hay land, with a few horses and cattle grazing in the meadows during at least part of the year.

The territory is still prone to flooding and many homes in the area require flood insurance in order to qualify for mortgages. A few have water in their basements every year. Others are set up high on block foundations with the living area 6 or more feet above the ground level. People who live here are used to water. They live here in part because it is incredibly beautiful. The view across the lake to the mountains is dramatic. The sunsets are glorious. The ground is fertile and gardening is easy. Land is less expensive than in the cities and the people can spread out a bit more. On days when the water isn’t rising you can well understand why people built homes here.

Coastal areas around the world all have their unique relationships with water. With the rise of global sea levels flooding will continue to be an issue for those who choose to live in low lying areas. Some have simply chosen to go up onto the hills or into the mountains to find dry places to live. Here in Western Washington, that is a live option. Mountains rise steeply to the east and there are a lot of homes in the lower slopes that are high enough to be out of the flood plain.

There are more than a few people who are willing to put up with a commute in order to live a more rural lifestyle. They get in their cars and drive into the cities, some as far as Seattle, for their jobs and then get in their cars and drive back in the evening, enduring traffic jams. Last week there was need for emergency construction on Interstate 94 and a lane had to be temporally closed. Although a detour was established, the traffic began to back up and it created over a dozen miles of stop and go traffic. It was a mess.

The pandemic, however, has opened up a new way of looking at work. More and more people are considering working remotely for at least part of their job. Others are adapting to less work and more self-sufficiency, growing more of their food and learning to live with less income. It will likely be a big change in the economy of the area.

But this area has always been in transition. The lumber company was only dominant for a few decades, then the economy shifted. The railroad was a major employer until it wasn’t. The people are adaptable and resilient.

Still, as someone looking to move to the general area, it is hard to know what is the right thing to do and the right place to live. There are a lot of options. I’m not one for the flooding, so we’ll probably end up on a hill, as is our home in Rapid City. For now, we are simply considering our options and taking time to make a decision.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Carving

I’ve never been very good at carving. I remember several attempts at carving a block of soap when I was a kid. There was a simple set of instructions for carving a dog out of a block of soap in a book that we had. I tried it. It did not look like a dog. Then there were the huge differences between the sleek race car of my imagination and the awkward asymmetrical result of my attempts to make a pinewood derby racer. One of the first jobs I did with my pocket knife when I received it from my father was to sharpen willow sticks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows on the fire. I was fairly competent at that task. But I couldn’t carve anything to look like what I imagined.

My Uncle Ted was very skilled at sharpening knives. He used to sharpen knives, chisels, scissors, and other tools as he sat behind the parts counter in my dad’s shop between customers. Everyone knew that Uncle Ted could take a piece of steel and make it cut well. Folks brought their tools to him for a keen edge. The display board of pocket knives in the store was an effective sales tool. More effective was the old parts guy sitting next to it putting a razor’s edge on the knives. We sold a lot of knives in those days. But I didn’t learn to carve.

Although I couldn’t carve anything meaningful when it came to 3-dimensional sculpture, I did learn to carve a chicken or a turkey. One year, when we lived in Chicago, we made a big turkey dinner for a few students who lived too far away from home to go home for Thanksgiving. One of our guests was a man whose father operated a restaurant. He really knew how to carve poultry. He taught me how to debone and carve a turkey into neat slices. I practiced whenever we served a turkey. We served quite a few turkey dinners when we managed the church camp and I got pretty good at it. There was no sense of creating art, but I did know how to avoid wasting good food.

About the same time, when we were managing the church camp, I started getting creative with cutting up watermelon. Instead of a straight line, making the first cut a series of zig zags resulted in a pretty division of the melon. I’d pre-score a couple of melons and then make it look like I could break them in half into beautiful creations. Add a bit of storytelling and a touch of drama and as they say, the meal is 90% presentation.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of fun carving melons. I don’t know when I began, but about once a year or so, I find a small watermelon that is just right to carve a basket. I take the melon out with a spoon or melon baller and make a fruit salad to go in the carved “basket.” It makes a nice centerpiece for a summer dinner. I always get a few compliments when I do it.

Yesterday seemed to be the right day for such an adventure. There are blackberries, huckleberries and strawberries ripe and ready for picking within a few feet of where we have our camper parked. Peaches are ripe on the tree and in the fruit stands in town. We had a few fresh pears to add to the mix. We picked up a suitable watermelon from the store and stopped on our way home to purchase sweet corn out of the back of a pickup, fresh from the fields. And we had fresh salmon in our refrigerator. There are some advantages to being so close to the coast. Seafood can be purchased fresh at the market the same day the boat is unloaded just 25 miles away. No trip on the airline. No need for the freezer. We had all of the makings for a feast and we enjoyed our dinner with relish.

The nine year old focused on the corn. He ate two large ears of corn with butter dripping from them. They were sweet and juicy and he said it was his favorite part of the meal. The six year old launched into the baked salmon declaring, “I love meat!” She often has to be persuaded to consume protein at her meals. “Just two bites, please!” Last night she didn’t need any encouragement. She ate an adult-sized portion and asked for more. The three year old ate fruit salad until her mother finally said, “That’s enough fruit for you for tonight.”

Grandpa was beaming because the grandchildren were enjoying the dinner. Mom was happy because she didn’t have to cook that night and could get some other chores completed. The family was well fed and happy and by the time the dishes were done it was nearly time for brushing teeth and reading stories.

Reading stories is another part of family life that I really enjoy. I’ve read several children’s stories so many times that I have them memorized. Our grandchildren are young enough that they think their grandfather does a pretty good voice for Grover in “The Monster at the End of This Book.” Even the nine year old pauses in his own reading to listen when I read. I’ve read “Fred and Ted go Camping” enough to read it even when small hands are covering the words on the page.

Among the possessions I have packed to prepare for our move are a set of precision carving knives that once belonged to my Uncle Ted. They are sharp. He taught me well how to keep my tools sharp. As I packed them I thought that I don’t remember anything that he ever carved, even though he had a good set of sharp knives. I’ve had them for more than 40 years and I haven’t carved anything much, either. And I still haven’t turned a bar of soap into a dog. But give me a watermelon and some time with my grandkids and I’ll carve a memory that will last a lifetime.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Imagining and anticipating

Near the end of the summer of 1974 we loaded our household into the back of a half ton pickup and then loaded the pickup into the box of a two ton truck. Two of us took turns driving the big truck to Mankato, Minnesota. The morning after we arrived, we unloaded the pickup and I drove it into Chicago where I unloaded its contents into a storage area in the basement of the apartment building where we were going to live. I got to see an apartment in the building, but it wasn’t the one into which we were moving. It wouldn’t be available for another week or so. Then I headed back to Mankato with the pickup. During the day and a half that I was away the truck had been loaded with the household goods of a new employee of my father’s business. I drove the truck back to Montana with their possessions. It was the start of a grand adventure for us.

The next phase was for us to load our clothing and a few other personal items into our little car and head out to Chicago. I had a gas station credit card and a bit of our summer earnings in my wallet. These were in the days of the 55 mph national speed limit and our car had a range of around 150 miles on a tank of gas, so we’d stop every three hours and stretch our legs. We stayed with relatives in North Dakota and Minnesota on our way to Chicago and started each day early. I’ll never forget the feeling of driving into Chicago. As the traffic increased so did our excitement about moving to a new place. Although I had made the trip with our things, I had not had any time to explore the city and I didn’t even know my way around the campus of the University of Chicago, where we would live.

Our apartment had been assigned to us by the housing office of the seminary. In those days it was expected that all seminary students would be resident students for at least three years. So there was no need to search for a place to live. The seminary had a dormitory for single students and an apartment building for married students. It had a preschool for young children and parents of older children had access to a nearby school of the Chicago Public School system of the University’s private lab school.

We settled into our apartment. We didn’t have many possessions and the apartment was furnished. The only piece of furniture we had was a desk. We unpacked our kitchen items, filled up the closet in the bedroom and set up our typewriter on the desk. We had two kitchen appliances: a coffee maker and a popcorn popper.

Moving is much more complex for us more than four decades later. We own quite a few more possessions. And we don’t have a housing office to assign us an apartment. We’ve been looking at potential rental homes on the Internet and we’ve driven by a few of them, but we have to get the timing right. We don’t want to have to pay rent before we actually arrive, so we are juggling the schedule of our move with the autumn weather. We don’t have the same kind of deadlines that we had in our student days, but we would like to be settled before the weather turns bad in the high country. There are five mountain passes between our home in South Dakota and our new home. We’d like to go over them on dry roads if possible.

We won’t be borrowing a truck from my father for the trip. The rental truck has to be reserved and the trip needs to be made within the time guidelines of the company that owns it. There is a fair amount of logistics to work out, including the simple fact that it is hard to estimate how big of a truck we will need.

Still, there is an excitement about planning a move to a new home and a new phase of our life that is familiar. We lived in Chicago for four years and then moved to North Dakota. After seven years we moved to Idaho, where we lived for ten. We’ve lived in South Dakota for twenty-five years, so it has been a while since we have packed up our household.

Some of the process, however, is the same as it was when we moved to Chicago. We have to decide what to take and what to leave behind. We have a limited amount of space to load our things and we have a deadline, though this year’s deadline isn’t as rigid as the first day of classes in a formal school. We’ll probably plan to move into our new to us place on or around the first of a month, so we’ll have a specific date on a lease when we move. Our original plan had been to move our things to a storage unit and live in our camper while we searched for a place to rent, but it appears that it is easier to rent a house than a storage unit. The rental storage units all seem to have waiting lists and are uncertain when they will be available. In these uncertain times it seems that there are a lot of families on the move. And it is likely that we aren’t the only ones who have collected more possessions than we need.

Every move has a time of planning and imagining. We don’t know exactly where we will live. We haven’t selected a house yet. We have a sense of the general neighborhood where we want to rent and we’ve even looked at some homes that we might consider purchasing. But the market changes every week and the specific homes that are available will be different a month from now when we hope to be close to signing a lease.

This is a season of anticipation and imagination as we wonder “what if?” Soon it will be a season of reality as we begin to feel “Here we go!” Fortunately we know that when we finally open the door to our new home we will be together to share yet another adventure.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The Post Office

When I had a brand-new driver’s license, I was told a story about a man who, after imbibing too much at a local watering hole, drove home. On the way, he managed to knock over a dozen or more mailboxes along the rural road. The way I heard the story is that destroying mailboxes is a federal crime and that he spent time in the penitentiary as a result. It was just one of many stories that I heard about how important it was not to mess with the mail. In our household, it was forbidden to open a piece of mail that was not addressed to you. Most of the letters were addressed to our father or our mother and we didn’t think of opening them. Once in a while a letter or card from a grandmother or aunt would arrive and we would feel very special to have our own letter to open and read.

There were more stories. We heard about the secretary who was sent to pick up the mail and dropped some of it on a windy day. A check was lost in the process and created a lot of extra work and might have cost the business needed income. We would accompany a parent to the post office to pick up the mail and see someone sorting mail at the post office and were told that it was a dangerous practice. In our home the mail went directly to a desk and was sorted there. At our father’s office the same happened.

We weren’t allowed to pick up the mail until we were teenagers and then it was a grave responsibility.

In school we learned about the Pony Express and the deprivations that riders endured to make sure that the mail was delivered on time. Our father once took us to the train station very early in the morning so that we could witness the exchange of mailbags as the train went through town without stopping. We learned about APO (Army Post Office), FPO (Fleet Post Office), and DPO (Diplomatic Post Office) addresses. We were taught that the US Postal Service operates worldwide and is a critical link between those serving in distant locations and those at home. We heard stories of how letters sustained soldiers in the trenches in World War I and provided links between those serving and their families at home. We learned of how our mother and father corresponded when he was away serving in the military before they were married and how letters were an important part of their romance.

When I went away to college, there were mailboxes in the Student Union Building. It was the first time in my life that I had my own mailbox. I checked it six days a week even though I didn’t receive that much mail.

For most of my life we have received our mail in a postal box rather than home delivery. It is simply the result of the places where we have lived. It has also become my preference. I like the process of checking the mailbox even though the bulk of our mail these days is advertising. Over the years I have received a lot of mail from carpet cleaning services and more than enough from car dealers. I routinely receive discount coupons for service for my vehicle a few days after I have had that service performed.

I have never thought of the Post Office as a business, though I understand that it takes money to run the operation and that there are business practices that must be employed to make the system work. The Post Office is a service. It is one of the things that we band together to have in our lives. Government exists to provide services that we are not able to provide by ourselves. No state could operate its own world-wide letter and package delivery service. It is a job for the federal government.

I find it distressing that the Post Office has become a political football. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me because in an era of intense polarization almost everything becomes politicized. But I never expected the Post Office to become the object of such processes. I thought we all agreed that having reliable mail delivery is an essential governmental service in a modern country.

I understand that communications are rapidly changing. We do a lot more correspondence by electronic mail than by postal mail. From my perspective the US Postal Service should have been involved early on in the process of electronic communications. Imagine what it would be like if we had considered reliable high speed Internet to be as essential for every person in the United States just like we have considered reliable mail delivery to be an essential service. The pandemic has made the digital divide more obvious. Overcoming that inequality will require a serious national effort, something that is particularly challenging in a time of legislative dysfunction.

The words "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds" have long been associated with the American postal worker. Though not an official creed or motto of the United States Postal Service, the Postal Service acknowledges it as an informal motto along with Charles W. Eliot's poem "The Letter.”

Those words have their origins deep in history. More than 400 years before Christ the Greek historian Herodotus wrote about messengers who could not be delayed by the weather in similar words to the modern postal motto. Delivering messages is a long-established mark of an enlightened society.

When I retired, I turned in all of my keys to the church. What I had left was a house key and the key to our mailbox. A ring with only two keys was a radical departure from the way things had been, but it also demonstrated the importance of those two keys.

Now, as has long been the case, the US Post Office is a critical institution in our society. Though we may differ on how it should be run, we can agree that we need to have a robust postal service for generations to come.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Work

Yesterday I got the boats and tools into storage and finally have an empty pickup. At the bottom of the pile in the pickup were my sledge hammers and splitting maul. I even had a wedge. There was a dump trailer load of birch, cut into fireplace lengths that needed to be split, so I took up the maul and wedge and split a couple of the logs. I had no intention of doing the whole pile, as our son had arranged to borrow a splitter from a neighbor and the job was relegated to the weekend. I don’t remember ever splitting birch before. It is an interesting hardwood. The wood was fairly dry and the logs I chose split tough on the first pass, but after that they split nicely into wedges, mostly with a single pass of the maul.

The neighbor saw me splitting and rushed over with his splitter. As he delivered it, he said, “I don’t want to leave it here next to the street where it might get stolen, so when I hear it turned off, I’ll come back and pick it up.

That did it. I was committed. Three tanks of gas, nearly two quarts of water, and four hours later, I finally got through the last log. Sure enough, the neighbor had been watching from across the street and was over with his lawn tractor to pick up the splitter before I got it shut down and the tank filled with gas. Whenever there was a branch, the logs were gnarly and as tough and stringy as cottonwood, but most of the logs split nicely into a huge pile of wood that should nearly fill one of the woodsheds. It was a good piece of work and it was great of the neighbor to lend us the splitter.

Fortunately, our son got home from work when I still had a dozen or so logs to split and he ran the splitter and sped up the process at the very end.

I can feel it in my hands and shoulders this morning. Those were heavy logs.

We went through a lot of firewood when I was growing up. My dad finally got a really big log splitter, but not until after I was in college. That machine worked off of the hydraulics of a farm tractor and would split anything. It was a bit slow, but it never failed to push the head through any log that we tried. Prior to that splitter, I split a bit of firewood with the maul and wedge. At home we burned a lot of slabs from a lumber mill, which didn’t need to be split, just cut to length. But for two summers as camp manager, I split a lot of wood by hand. I’d split for a half hour or more every morning. I built up the muscles in my arms and shoulders and I learned to swing the maul without going long and breaking the handle. I’ve still got the touch with the maul. I know how to let the weight of the tool do the work, but hand splitting takes a long time. I certainly would not have finished that pile of wood in a week were I splitting it by hand.

I don’t think that there are many ministers who have the opportunity to split firewood as a hobby. It was a distinction that I enjoyed about being pastor of 1st Congregational UCC in Rapid City, SD. In fact I’ve been stopping by from time to time to volunteer a couple of hours with the Woodchucks. Mostly I’ve been exercising my chainsaw cutting logs to length, but I get my hand in with the splitting and stacking as well.

A happy life is a balance of intellectual and physical work. In fact, I believe that I think more clearly when I have been doing physical work. Unloading bench tools from my truck, taking boats off of the trailer and putting them back on the rack after it is unloaded, splitting wood. I found enough physical activity to make myself tired enough to sleep through the night. In fact, I’m late enough with this journal entry that folks in other time zones may be wondering why it isn’t posted yet.

But I feel good. It is a blessing to be able to do some real work and feel like I can still accomplish some tasks. I’m used to helping out around our son’s place, doing a few repair jobs, painting a bit, and helping in the garden and with the chickens. The chickens really aren’t much work aside from an occasional escape from their enclosure. Even when they get out they don’t wander far and they are easy to catch and pick up as long as you don’t chase or lunge at them. Yea, we raised chickens when I was a kid, too. Five layers isn’t much of a flock and I know that since the kids have named these birds we won’t have to butcher them in the fall. That’s the one part of chickens that I really, REALLY, don’t like. When I went away for my first semester of college I was pretty homesick, but I didn’t go home for a weekend visit, even though it was just 80 miles away, until i was certain that the last of the chickens were in the freezer. I considered it to be an appropriate balance of intellectual and physical work to leave the processing of chickens to my little brothers.

I know that there is a lot of work left back in South Dakota and we’ll be back in the thick of it in just over a week. Before long we’ll be loading furniture into a truck for the trek west, though as of today we haven’t yet selected a place to rent. We’ve looked at a few, but aren’t quit ready to make the commitment.

In the meantime, there’s over cord of firewood in a pile in the yard that needs to be stacked in the shed.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Huckleberries

The temperate rainforests of the pacific northwest are filled with blackberries. The thorny vines grow wild almost everywhere that they aren’t cut back including along ditch banks, fence lines and alongside roads. It is easy to find plenty of places to pick the rich, juicy fruit. You have to be careful of the sharp thorns, but once you get used to it, it is not difficult to fill your container with wonderful fruit. In general, there are a lot of berries around us whenever we visit. In addition to the blackberries, there are plenty of farms around that offer you pick berries at reasonable prices. With three children to help with the task, we can gather large quantities of fruit for the freezer in a half day. We’ve picked raspberries and blueberries on several occasions with our grandchildren. They have many productive strawberry plants in their yard that supply over a long season, so they don’t have to travel to harvest a lot of fruit.

Our son and daughter in law have a small chest freezer that is dedicated to fruit and it is filled to brimming with all kinds of berries. They continue to develop their garden and have planted a lot of berries and the raspberry and blueberry production will increase in years to come.

There is a berry, however, that I have long prized over all of the others. Huckleberries are the state fruit of Idaho, a place where we lived for a decade, but I remember them from my childhood as the product of the high country. Technically they are a sub-alpine plant, found on the high slopes, but not the top of mountains. They can be found in bogs or damp places as well as in the undergrowth of the large trees of the pacific northwest. People can be very protective of their huckleberry patches and you have to be a bit careful if you want to pick them. Most importantly, the bears love the huckleberries and responsible pickers always keep an eye out for their competition and have a safe exit planned when picking the berries.

Huckleberries have become a favorite of tourists. As we have traveled from South Dakota to Washington and/or Oregon for many years, we have our favorite places to stop for a huckleberry milkshake and know where to pick up huckleberry preserves and jam. We’ve also, on occasion, purchased a pint or quart of frozen huckleberries. We know that the price is high, but they can go a long way as special treats added to pancakes and used as topping for ice cream.

After the eruption of Mount St. Helens in the spring of 1980, one of the first plants to reappear were huckleberries. Apparently the volcanic soil was just right for the lush berries. The common folklore is that the only reliable source of huckleberries is to hike in the mountains. It doesn’t hurt to have a lot of local knowledge about the best places to go and pick the fruit.

I was told that huckleberries don’t do well in gardens. The plants are difficult to cultivate and though many people have tried to transplant huckleberries from the mountains to their home gardens, they don’t do well. Huckleberries need acidic soil and the right amount of shade and water and growing them is a difficult challenge. They love volcanic soil and grow as high as 10,000 feet and above.

However, our daughter-in-law has found huckleberry plants that are thriving in her garden. They aren’t quite the same as the ones with which I am familiar with from hiking in the mountains, but they are very close. Her plants aren’t as thick and don’t have as many leaves as we see in the high country, but they are producing more berries than we can pick. The berries are tiny and it takes time to pick them, but I manage to pick a couple of cups each day, choosing times when the plants are in the shade. Their garden isn’t in the high country - quite the opposite. It is in the greater Skagit basin, which is an area that used to be flooded by the river years ago. The Skagit comes directly from the high country of the North Cascade Mountains and carries lots of rock dust from the high country including, I assume, plenty of volcanic soil. But their home is only a few miles from the ocean at about 180 feet above sea level, far from the altitude of the cascade peaks that we can see in the distance. Still, there are these huckleberry plants growing in their garden.

Our grandchildren all love fruit and they are used to being able to pick strawberries and blackberries whenever they want a snack. They’ve learned to judge when the berries are the sweetest and pick the ripe fruit at will. Their grandpa also enjoys the bounty of the garden, but my special corner is where the huckleberries grow. The rest of the family isn’t too fond of the huckleberries and I’ve noticed that they haven’t been picking them to preserve. However, I’ve managed to put aside a few of them in our freezer in the camper and I’ll be able to store them in our son’s freezer until we are able to get our household moved. I have visions of perhaps one day having a few of the plants in my back yard once we get settled.

Each place that we have lived has had its own special local foods. The pheasants and buffalo in our freezer at home are easy for us to obtain. Even though I am not a hunter, I have friends who hunt and who make regular gifts of pheasants to us. Rapid City has a couple of places to buy fresh buffalo meat and we often have a supply in our freezer. The lakes and streams of the hills produce fish and we enjoy the food of our region. Now that we are considering a move, we will need to learn local sources for food and will be close enough to the ocean to have access to seafood. I’m looking forward to learning about local foods.

And I’m enjoying the huckleberries right out the door of the camper. I’m probably getting spoiled, but i do like huckleberry pancakes for breakfast.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Muddy boots and muddy kids

I don’t know the proper name for the footwear but I call them muck boots. Our three oldest grandchildren each have a pair of the rubber slip-on boots that are great for splashing in mud puddles and exploring damp and swampy places. I’ve been thinking of obtaining a pair for myself one of these days. It seems so handy to have a pair of waterproof boots for exploring the areas next to the lake or river or just dealing with rainy days and muddy fields.

However, I have spent considerable time with the garden hose in the last couple of days washing out sand and mud from the insides of those boots. It seems that one of the rules of childhood is that whenever walking in the mud there must be a place where it is deep enough to run in the top of the boots. Having muck boots for 3- 6- and 9-year-olds seems to not be a recipe for dry feet.

Before lunch yesterday the oldest one and I were having a conversation. He was stripped down to his underwear, covered in mud from head to toe, waiting for his sister to finish her shower so he could wash up. He was explaining how they were walking in the mud and found some places where they sunk in way deeper than they expected. I pointed out that it is a long ways from the top of his boots to his waist. That didn’t seem to make much sense to him as he was already expecting to get into the mud deeper than the top of his boots when they went down to the water’s edge. The lake is very shallow in the place where they went, filled with water lilies and I remember doing a bit of wading there myself earlier in the summer when we rowed into that place with our little boat. I didn’t have mud up to my waist, but then I’m taller than he.

I’m beginning to understand why our camper has an outside shower installed on it. It would be a valuable device to have when raising three children.

Meanwhile the guinea pig had been moved to a bedroom that has an air conditioner for a more luxurious life for the animal. I don’t know why that struck me as funny, except that I grew up without air conditioning and we didn’t have an air conditioner in our home until our children were in their teens. I don’t know much about it, but the pet seems to be healthy and happy.

I know it hasn’t been that long since we were raising our children, but I marvel at the energy of our son and daughter in law. They are up in the morning before the children getting things ready and they are awake after the children go to bed at night. I’m thinking about a nap as soon as lunchtime rolls around. I remember when getting an occasional nap, maybe once a week, was a great luxury. These days I take a break nearly every day.

It isn’t just the extra showers that consume a parent’s time. Raising children is a constant process of wiping up the spilled water when the glass turns over during a meal, cleaning up the floor when the little one is a bit careless with her food, a constant process of repairing broken toys and broken items around the house. I got a chuckle out of the parents talking to each other while making shopping lists. One headed to the grocery store with two daughters, the other to the hardware store with the son, each with a list of essential items needed to get through the day. I went along with the hardware store run where the paint had to be matched for a touch up and the range hood filter had to be exactly the right size. I marveled that our son could eyeball the o-rings and buy just the right size. I usually end up buying an assortment to get the right one, but he’s replaced that o ring before and knows what is required. There is a story behind the need for a new stopper for the bathroom sink, and a reason why their household goes through so many zip ties.

In the evening, after everyone has been fed supper, the fence is moved so the chickens will have new territory this week, tomatoes and berries are picked from the garden and brought into the house. There are a few more ripe items in the garden as well. Plants need to be watered after a hot day. Then there are teeth to brush and stories to read and children to be tucked into their beds with the proper blankets and stuffed animals. I’m impressed with the amount of bedding and stuffed animals that need to be moved when the grandchildren have “sleep over” at the camper every other night.

I love the energy and pace of family life with our grandchildren but am aware that being parents of three energetic children is a job for those who are a bit younger and stronger than I. I’m ready for bed after a day with the children. And our visit is on the weekend when there are no home school lessons to be completed and the kids’ chores are limited to putting away freshly laundered clothes. I think the washing machine runs full time at that house.

As we headed back to our camper after a full day, I thought of all of the day’s adventures as I walked past the row of muck boots all upside down drying on the steps to the back door. They’ll be ready for new adventures today and so will the children. I guess that there is no particular reason for me to rush out to get a pair for myself. It isn’t like i could keep up with the kids even if I had my own boots.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Grandpa's day

It was a busy summer day. After breakfast we picked produce from the garden. There were blackberries and strawberries and grandpa’s favorite huckleberries. There were tomatoes and a few vegetables. Some of the berries got put into a dish for supper. Some went directly into the mouths of the pickers. The grandkids played in the camper with grandma while their father and I made a few repairs in a bathroom. There was dress-up, with some lovely hats and wild costumes, There were cars and trucks to play and a tea party with tiny dishes. There were stories and lots of laughter. Then we loaded up in the car for a walk across a park and onto a big sandbar in the river. The river carries a lot of rock dust from the glaciers in the mountains and the sand is very fine and just right for castles and digging trenches to fill with water. Pretty soon the kids were covered in sand and mud and even tough they would rinse off in the shallow water at the edge of the river there was enough sand brought home with them at lunchtime that mudroom was a literal description of the utility room at the entrance of the house. We swept up the sand and fed the kids. Grandpa was dragging just a bit and very ready for a short nap before afternoon activities. Supper was hot dogs on the grill with carrot sticks and fresh fruit from the garden. In addition to the berries, they have lots of peaches this year. After supper there was time for a short walk and then it was getting dark. There were baths and stories and tired kids went to sleep quickly in the camper with grandma and grandpa.

The amazing thing about all of this is that when we aren’t missing the parents of these three grandchildren find time to keep house, have jobs and homeschool during the pandemic. I don’t know how they do it. When we are visiting it seems like it takes all four adults just to keep track of three kids. The garden is high and there are sunflowers twice as tall as an adult. The kids dart in and out. They have taken some child-sized furniture to the wood shed, where they play games. They love to run across the field adjacent to the garden. The hay has been cut and baled and the grass is once again short enough to get some speed when they are running and playing their games. Grandpa got in his 10,000 steps just following children around, but he doesn’t know how the parents keep up.

Every evening the family has a ritual of everyone saying what they are thankful for. I’m always thankful for healthy and delightful grandchildren, and for the bounty of the garden and the love of parents. But there are individual moments that stand out each day.

Walking hand in hand with a granddaughter who says to me, “I really, really, REALLY, like people who have campers . . . and boats!” trying to keep up with a grandson running across the field to show me a new dock that has been installed on the lakeshore, watching the little one half buried in mud at the riverside, knowing that she is going to need to be carried part of the way back to the car, mud and all, even dumping sand out of boots and shoes after an adventure - every day is filled with moment after moment of joy and learning and growing.

I realize that I don’t have the energy I once did, but I do pretty good at keeping up.

And this morning is Sunday. I know that three grandchildren are expecting pancakes for breakfast and I’ve got enough huckleberries in the refrigerator to make them special. And Sunday is family day for this gang. It is the only day of the week when one of their parents doesn’t have to go off to work. I don’t know what the adventure will be, but there will be time for a drive or a walk or a visit to someplace new. There will be family meals and time for kids to play. We’ll catch church online, but unlike the days when church activities took all of Sunday for us, it will be part of a day with a lot of other activities. Online church doesn’t fill all of our spiritual needs, but it provides a bit of connection with our new faith family.

Life is good. Life is really good.

And, for us, it feels like the beginning of a new chapter. This particular visit will be short - just a week - but as our granddaughter told us at supper last night, “You come and then you go back and then you come again and then you’ll go back again and then you’ll come!” We know we have more work to do at home and we’ll probably make a couple more trips before we are fully moved, but this trip feels different than previous trips. We will be renting a place to store the canoes, kayaks and tools that we brought. Another trip will be with a big truck with most of our furniture and other belongings. Even though we haven’t yet rented an apartment, we have a sense that we are beginning to move our household.

Importantly for us, every trip is filled with time with grandchildren who constantly remind us of why this is a good move for us. Being with them at this stage of their lives is energizing and delightful. It is a grand luxury for us to have time to watch them grow and be a part of their lives.

Yesterday, before breakfast we were greeted with a great big six-year-old grin missing two front teeth. She had already lost two bottom teeth and now there is a gap in her smile that was bigger than the day before. We also saw the bounty of four dollar coins. One for each of the teeth that had been lost. We learned from her brother that the tooth fairy makes visits to the camper as well as their home, but it is a good thing that their dad is prepared for his role as assistant to the fairy. Grandpa doesn’t always have the right coins on hand. Then again there is still a younger grandchild coming along. By the time she starts to lose her teeth perhaps grandpa will be better prepared.

There is lots for grandpa to learn for this new part of his life.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Brief stop on a journey

funky motel
One of the most wonderful feelings in the world is being greeted by three grandchildren. “I missed you!” one exclaims as you are embraced by all three at once. The weariness of travel drops away as the excitement of the greeting overwhelms. Years ago, when I was working with a program called International Pilgrimages with Youth, I wrote about the process of travel. In addition to the journey itself, there are the process of departure and of return. For the program I wrote liturgies for those events that were used in churches across the USA as pilgrims departed and returned. In our family, we have developed our own rituals of departure and return. We joke about the four step Minnesota goodbye, adapted from an old radio show. First you say good bye inside the house. Then everyone goes outside and you say good bye at the doorway. Next you say goodbye out next to the vehicle, before you get again and the fourth stage is to get in the vehicle, roll down the windows, and say good bye again. We observe a similar process when we leave our family. We say good bye and thank you over and over again.

Returning is also a process of greeting and storytelling and reconnecting. The joy of the reunion is definitely one of the joys of travel. This summer will be unique in our lives as we are making multiple trips to our grandchildren’s home. Our camper is parked in their yard, so we have a place to stay when we come. We are in the process of moving, but that isn’t a single trip for us this time. We will be returning to Rapid City in a week and coming back in another six weeks or so.

We are used to journeys that involve a process of departure, travel, destination and return. But there is already a sense in this summer’s travel that we have a home at both ends of the journey. And there will be a final trip in the late fall when we won’t go back to Rapid City and we transfer the point of our initial departure to a new home. There is already a sense of having a home at both ends of the trip to the travel we are doing.

Each trip, however, is different. First of all, there are a lot of choices about which roads to take. There is a speed and efficiency about traveling on the Interstate of which we take advantage from time to time. Most of the time, however, we prefer to travel at a slower speed and we enjoy slowing down and driving through towns as opposed to going around them at a high rate of speed. We are often pulling a trailer, which is easier done at a slower pace and we enjoy looking at the towns and the people along our journey. When you travel that way, you develop a style of making stops in different places each trip and looking at different things.

The night before last, we found a small motel in Davenport, Washington. It is a town we’ve driven through several times, but never stopped. It is only 35 miles west of Spokane. Since we usually make a fuel stop in Spokane, we consider it to be a bit too close for another stop. However on this trip we had altered our usual fuel stops and we didn’t need fuel when we drove through Spokane, so we kept going. Driving straight west in the evening, however, lined up the sun right in our eyes and we decided to call it good enough and find a place to stop. Davenport has at least two motels, both independent with no fancy signs or advertisements or fancy amenities. Both have been around for a long time and have developed a certain character that you won’t find in a chain hotel near the Interstate. It is good enough for us and we appreciate the lower prices of this type of motel.

We had a comfortable room that had been well cleaned. It was all we needed. The place was quiet and we got a good night’s sleep. After we found our room, we walked around the town and found a restaurant with carry out service for supper. Davenport, Washington, is a town that you can walk around in an evening stroll. The hospital is adding a new wing. The Lincoln County Courthouse is at the top of the tallest hill in town. Downtown, is literally “down” from the center of government. A few of the side streets have sidewalks, but not all of them. There is an inviting park with picnic tables and places to sit and a familiar feel that is common to small towns in farm country with the feed store, tire store, and co-op all located close to each other.

We didn’t run into other people out walking. The few locals we saw were in their cars with destinations in mind. It was a peaceful place to pause for the night.

Like other places there were signs of political divisions. Yard signs indicated the political leanings of the families and they were not all in agreement. It is hard to tell how deep those divisions are, but we suspect by what we saw that there are common causes that bind the people together disagreements and all. Rural hospitals are struggling to survive all across the country. The fact that there is new construction at the hospital is a sign that the community has pulled together with its support of their hospital.

Soon, however, a new day came and we were on the road. We won’t likely stop in that place again, but it was fun to think the folk who live there and look at the world from a different perspective. We won’t be calling that place home, but it is home to some folk and we enjoyed our brief visit. Whenever we drive through the town in the future, we’ll look for that funky motel where we stayed and tell stories of our visit.

It is the stories, after all, that are the best souvenirs of all.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Peanut butter and bagels

One time, years ago, we we heading out on a multi-state trip. Our children were just becoming adults and we were making a trip with just the two of us. We were tent camping on that trip, trying to travel light and not spend too much money. Our first stop was with family in Montana before heading down through Wyoming and Utah. As is often the case when visiting family, we got a late start and decided to head out without having stocked up on groceries. We had a few things with us and planned to stop at a grocery store to stock up on other things. Running late, we stopped for gas at a store that had a few convenience items. There weren’t many groceries available, but we got a jar of peanut butter. We had just been given a bag of bagels, and we knew that would get us on the road. A couple of hours later we stopped for lunch by a beautiful mountain lake, a lake we had visited on our honeymoon, and had a delicious meal of peanut butter and bagels.

Ever since that trip, we have made peanut butter and bagels a staple of our travels. A bag of bagels is a half dozen, which is just right for three days’ lunch for the two of us. Peanut butter and bagels travel extremely well. You don’t have to worry about protecting the bread from being crushed when thrown in with other groceries. You don’t need a cooler to keep the peanut butter. Add a little water or ice tea, which we do carry in a cooler and it is a meal that can be eaten at any rest stop or wayside.

When we travel we occasionally eat meals from restaurants. In this time of pandemic carry-out seems to be the norm. But we can make a lot of miles and go a lot of days with few supplies. When we are pulling our camper, we have a refrigerator and have access to many of the groceries and supplies we would have at home. When we do not have our camper, we usually take along a small cooler. A couple of half gallon milk cartons, rinsed out and filled with water then put in the freezer will keep our cooler going for at least three days - about the same amount of time a bag of bagels will last us and about the same amount of time we take to drive the distance to where our son and his family live. Stick a carton of yogurt in the cooler and a box of cereal in the food box and we have breakfasts and lunches for the trip.

I doubt that many other couples would consider peanut butter bagels as a romantic lunch, but we’ve been traveling this way for so many years and we have so many great memories of trips together that stopping for lunch puts us in a good mood wherever we are traveling. These days we don’t travel quite as many miles per day and we try to get in 15 or 20 minutes of walking with each stop so that we don’t end the day being stiff from the travel, so we try to look for rest areas or wayside stops that have a bit of room to take a hike. Often places that are labeled “fishing access” have sort trails alongside rivers or creeks that are interesting. Yesterday we stopped in a place where there was a narrow path through heavy underbrush leading toward a river. The trail wasn’t very long, so we wandered around on as many paths as we could find for a few minutes. As we were walking, I commented that we were being adventurous walking through underbrush when the rest area we just left had bear-resistant garbage cans. We did not see a bear, but thought that Bearmouth was an appropriate name for the place. That conversation got us to thinking about another rest area where we have stopped many times that has a sign advising people to stay on the sidewalks because there have been rattlesnakes in the area. We have never seen a snake in that place, but wonder if the snakes can read the signs and know to avoid the sidewalks. It seems to me like there could be some cool mornings when a sunny sidewalk would be a place a snake might seek out to warm up in the sun.

We’ve avoided dangerous encounters with animals in our travels. A bit of common sense and some understanding of wild creatures doesn’t take a lot of thinking. Usually when we read of people getting into trouble with animals, we wonder what they were thinking. Yesterday we noted at a woman had gotten off her motorcycle and walked into a herd of buffalo to take a picture of a calf. An adult animal, perhaps the mother of the calf, gored her and swung her around leaving her unconscious on the ground. We don’t know the details, but we know that buffalo are a lot faster than most people expect and that they are powerful animals. We also know that the area where the incident occurred has lots of signs warning tourists about the danger of leaving your vehicle when you are around buffalo. Still, on a fairly regular basis, we read of tourists who are injured when they think the rules don’t apply to them.

A little common sense goes a long way. There are plenty of wild animals that are best observed from a safe distance. Most don’t attack humans unless humans get into their way or appear to be threatening them or their offspring. Snakes don’t chase people. If you remain aware and look where you step, you’ll usually avoid a dangerous encounter.

My advice is to grab a jar of peanut butter and a bag of bagels. Get a reusable bottle to carry your water and head out. We live in a beautiful world with lots to see. Adventure is all around. And you don’t need a lot of money or fancy equipment to have a good time as long as you are willing to do a bit of walking.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Hauling boats

canoeskayaks on trailer
We’re on the road again, in Montana at my sister’s place on our way to Washington with an interesting load. The truck is mostly filled with tools that I use when I am making boats. Behind is a trailer with four canoes and four kayaks. I have the numbers in my head because I made six of those boats and I know them intimately. I have them in my head because traveling with boats means that you need to stop at boat inspection stations that the state departments of fish and game have set up to prevent the spread of invasive species. Boasts must be cleaned and inspected when traveling from one body of water to another. We were inspected twice yesterday and we will be inspected three more times before we reach our destination. For the most part the boat inspectors are boat people themselves, so I get a lot of positive comments about my boats. It is a rather impressive sight to see them all together. The two boats that I did not make myself are kind of speciality boats, one whitewater canoe and one whitewater kayak. People can see from their shapes and use why such a boat would be much more difficult to make and why modern plastics work better than wood for their function. Despite the fact that both of those boats are red, however, they don’t steal the show on my trailer. The theme of my boats is varnished wood and people appreciate the handcrafted craft and are quick with compliments. Going anywhere with home made boats makes starting conversations easy. It is a rather impressive load.

Winding down last night in a little cabin by the river with the clouds drifting by the moon and the stars appearing in the spaces between the clouds, I was thinking about how I got to this place. After all, it doesn’t really make sense for me to be the owner of 10 boats. I previously hauled two additional boats out to Washington. I haven’t used 10 boats in the same summer ever in my life. They kind of rotate, depending on what kind of paddling I am doing. And I have become old enough that whitewater paddling is mostly a thing of my past, not a practice of my future. What is more, I did get rid of one of my boats this past spring, so for a while I owned even more.

I justify the move in part because we have grandchildren. The boats will be used by others. They aren’t just for my pleasure.

On the trailer is the first canoe I ever owned. I was active in our church’s camp at Pilgrim Cove in Idaho. The camp owned four or five canoes and I loved to paddle them around the lake when I was at camp. They were older fiberglass canoes and they were heavy. They were stable for the campers to paddle and would carry a heavy load. The camp program when we arrived didn’t really emphasize boating for more than afternoon recreation time. Over the years a group of us developed a true waterspouts program. For a week campers would come and participate in structured learning. We’d make sure that every camper was CPR certified and had been trained in water safety. We had instruction in paddling canoes, sailing windsurf boards, and small boat sailing. We ended the week with a whitewater raft trip for all of the campers. The camp was wildly successful. We began chartering a bus to transport youth from Portland, Oregon to participate. We had our own t-shirts each year and it wasn’t difficult to recruit adult leaders for the camp. I always had an EMT at the camp and a pastor who served as chaplain.

Putting together the camp meant that I learned the exact cost of boats as I had to help the camp obtain new canoes, wind surf boards and sailboats. I did a lot of “horse trading” and facilitated the donation of a couple of craft. I found used boats that fit the camp’s fleet and built up the storage space to accommodate the additions.

I also developed a desire to have my own boat to use during the other times of the year and when I visited other waters. With a young and growing family, a new boat simply didn’t fit into our budget. I had learned about a source for boat plans in my work for the camp and plans didn’t cost that much money. I ordered a set of plans for a canoe and before long I had set up building forms on the back patio of our home and was scavenging lumber yards for pieces of cedar and cutting strips on an old table saw that had belonged to Susan’s grandfather. Before long it started to look like a boat. When I launched it at a reservoir it floated and didn’t leak. That boat has traveled a lot with our family. It has been down the Yellowstone River in Montana and dipped into lakes across the Northwest and part of the midwest. I obtained a used mast and sail and built a mast step, leeboards and a rudder for the boat. It is one of the boats on the trailer headed for Washington. It is one of the boats that the inspectors check out when we stop at their stations.

There are stories for each of the boats on the trailer. There are many different kinds of boat builders. Some build because, like me, they want a boat. They are interested in paddling or sailing and so they are focused on using the boat. Some build because the like the process of building. They enjoy joining wood, cutting and carving and sanding until each piece fits perfectly. I think I’m a bit of both. I enjoy paddling and intend to do a lot more of it in my retirement years. But I also enjoy building. I’m not only moving my boats, but also my tools, even though I don’t yet know whether or not I will have a place to build or store boats. I know I will have to get rid of some of the boats. I have too many.

For now, however, I have to admit there is a bit of pride when someone asks, “Did you make those?” I usually say, “Yup! It isn’t as hard as it looks.” The hard part isn’t making the boat. It is figuring out how to pass it on to someone else who wants a boat.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Changing lives

Early in our marriage, we spent two summers as managers and cooks at Camp Mimanagish, the summer camp of the Montana-Northern Wyoming Conference of the United Church of Christ. The camp is in an isolated location deep in the Boulder Valley in south central Montana. When we were managers it was more than 20 miles on rough, rocky roads to get to the nearest telephone. We had a modern shower house, but none of the cabins had bathrooms and there were two areas of camp that still had pit toilets. Our time as managers and cooks were the last two summers with an old “temporary” dining hall that had been constructed in the 1930’s out of sawmill offcuts. You could see daylight through the walls and the floors had gaps like an outdoor deck. It was remote, primitive camping at its best. We could provide campers with a true wilderness experience. Because of the remote location, we had a nurse on staff at all times and had equipment to stabilize and transport in the case that a camper would become ill or injured. Fortunately, in our time, we did not have any major illnesses or injuries.

I had grown up at the camp, having spent part of every summer of my life there. My mother was camp nurse the summer I was born and our whole family was at camp for a week when I was around two months old. We went back every summer. I have many lifelong friendships that began at camp, including my marriage. We met at camp. A popular slogan over the years has been “Church Camp Changes Lives.” It is certainly true for me.

I remember a lot of the campers from our years as managers. John was easy to remember because of his wild curly red hair. He had a personality to match. He was enthusiastic about almost everything. He was especially enthusiastic about songs and skits. Unlike some of the campers with whom we’ve lost contact, we have run into John from time to time over the years. He attended the same college as us, though he showed up after we had graduated. His wife became a UCC minister and he shows up, from time to time, at UCC functions and events, usually with his guitar and a song to match his red hair.

John has been very active at N-Sid-Sen Camp and Retreat Center, operated by the Pacific Northwest Conference. It is one of two camp facilities that are a part of that conference. Pilgrim Firs, located in the lush temperate rainforest of the Olympic peninsula, is closest to Seattle. N-Sid-Sen is located on the shores of Lake Coeur D;Alene in North Idaho. In addition to providing leadership for camps, John is the designer of the camp web site.

Like all Conferences with camps, he Washington-North Idaho Conference has been challenged by the novel coronavirus pandemic. All of the the in-person summer camps had to be cancelled for the 2020 season. The lack of income from the camps threatened the ability of the conference to continue to operate them. An emergency fund-raising campaign has produced $182,000 towards the $200,000 goal to help keep the camps afloat. N-Sid-Sen is making individual cabins available for family clusters on a limited basis. Pilgrim Firs is operating as an emergency shelter for families displaced by virus-related closures and layoffs. The conference is working hard to keep its camps serving the community.

Last week we tuned in for Camp Sunday with First Congregational United Church of Christ in Bellingham. Part of the service were video clips from “Camp No Camp” a summer video program reaching out to those who would have attended camp in person. The videos provide a reminder of camp programs and the comments section provides opportunities for campers to connect with one another. There in the midst of several of the videos was John, the camper from the days long ago, with his guitar and with the red hair that makes him so easy to identify.

I wrote a comment about the memories of John stirred by seeing him being a camp leader and received a reply from him expressing gratitude for having been a part of his life and the formation of his dedication to camp programs.

One of the joys of this phase of my life is that I have a little time to reflect on the past. I’ve gotten to know a lot of young people through my participation in a variety of church camps: Mimanagish, Pilgrim Park, Pilgrim Cove, Camp Adams, Placerville and others. I’ve watched young people as they experiment in a safe environment with what kind of adults they want to become. I’ve witnessed profound discoveries of faith and powerful experiences of the closeness of God. I’ve watched community form quickly and last for a lifetime. Through all of the years there have been a lot of young people who grew up and became adults and leaders in their communities and in their churches.

Sometimes I feel like it all has gone by so quickly that it will soon be forgotten. I wonder if I have made any impact at all. There are a lot of people who met me and knew me for a week and then went on with the rest of their lives.

Then I run into someone like John, who is clearly continuing the camp tradition, singing the camp songs and touching the lives of others in meaningful ways four decades after we spend a week together at camp. And I’m not the only one who remembers that week. It reminds me that camp changes lives. All of those dishes washed, firewood split, bathrooms scrubbed, repairs made, groceries hauled, meals prepared, campfires tended, chapel services planned, programs imagined, and youth supervised seem to be worth it.

We never know what a difference we have made in another’s life. The power of community, however, continues to be critical to so many. Changing lives continues to be a camp tradition in changing times.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Meeting folks on the trail

We were hiking up a forest trail yesterday. It wasn’t one of the wide community paths where it is easy to pass another person, but a narrow, single-person trail that winds through the trees. We don’t encounter too many people on those paths, but when we do, we pull our masks up over our faces and try to find a place to step a few feet off of the path to allow the other to pass. It is not a problem and we feel that we can safely walk on these paths that are close to town without undue risk. Yesterday as we walked up the path we encountered a woman who was walking a pet pig. This wasn’t any miniature creature, but a full-sized animal. It wasn’t the biggest hog like you might encounter at the state fair, but a substantial creature nonetheless. I mean there was enough pig there for ham dinners for a couple of families, with enough left over for enough bacon for a softball team breakfast, and probably enough remaining for bratwurst for the company picnic, if you know what I mean. Of course this particular pig didn’t appear headed for the meat packing plant anytime soon. We could tell by the way the woman crouched down to calm the animal as we passed that the creature in the harness on a short leash was precious to her. “You’ve got a fine pig there,” I commented. She thanked me for the compliment. I suppose the woman is able to pick up the pig to put it in her car, but I think that would be a significant challenge for her.

Farther along our walk, in a place that was closer to the parking lot we saw another woman. This woman had two dogs. These were not big animals. We have a couple of different friends who have chihuahuas, so I know a little about the breed. These were at least part chihuahua. Chihuahuas come in short har and long hair. These had long hair, but they were really small dogs. You know what I mean. These dogs were smaller than the tom cat who used to curl up on my lap when our kids were teenagers. The woman walking the two dogs was, to be blunt, larger than the woman who was walking her pet pig. I don’t mean to be crude, but lets just say that although the woman with the two little dogs was technically complying with the leash rules by having leashes attached to the collars of her dogs, she would have been challenged were she to need to bend over and actually grab the other end of the leashes. On the other hand, the substantial woman probably would have no problem picking up a dog under each arm. The dogs were keeping close to the owner and posed no threat to others walking on the trail.

We see lots of non-human animals on our walks. We frequently see rabbits alongside the trail and we’ve glimpsed foxes and deer and wild turkeys. We see squirrels and chipmunks and lots of different birds as we walk. This time of the year we know to be alert for rattlesnakes in the area, though we haven’t encountered any this year. We enjoy seeing butterflies and beetles and and spiderwebs and a variety of different insects. Certainly pet dogs are very common on the trails we hike. Dogs, for the most part, haven’t heard about the novel coronavirus and don’t feel compelled to practice physical distancing. They strain at their leashes to great each oncoming walker. I’m not afraid of dogs and usually appreciate the friendly greetings, often bending over to give them a pat on the head of a scratch behind the ears.

I’m no expert on pigs, so I don’t know if the pig was expecting a greeting from me as I passed. At any rate I didn’t offer my hand as I went by. The chihuahuas were a bit farther away and moving in a different direction, so I didn’t have a chance to greet them. I would, however, have been reluctant. Those yappy, snappy little dogs are difficult to read and they have sharp teeth.

It was a beautiful evening last night and there were a lot of people out enjoying the various trails and walks in the city. With the crush of people from the motorcycle rally, we are being very careful to consider where we go for our daily walks and, for the most part, it isn’t difficult to find places where there are not very many people. I learned early on, growing up near Yellowstone National Park that despite the crush of crowds, you rarely have to walk more than a half mile off of the road in order to be alone. And it appears that the majority of the bikers who have come to the hills didn’t come for the opportunity to hike on some of our lovely forest trails.

We, on the other hand, haven’t felt much of a pull to get our wrist bands and head out to the Buffalo Chip for the “Best Party Anywhere.” Somehow a 10-day party with copious amounts of alcohol just isn’t on our list of things to do this year. We’ll miss the concerts, races, rides, motorcycle shows, vendor shops, food stalls, beauty pageant, and contests that are a part of the event this year. Come to think of it, we’ve missed all of those things that 25 other summers that we’ve lived in the hills. At least we’re consistent.

We didn’t move to the hills for the crowds, but we do enjoy a bit of people watching, so when the hills fill up with guests, we often get a kick out of observing the folks who come. The rally often attracts a very diverse crowd and some fairly wild beards and haircuts as well as some rather innovative costumes.

This year, however, one of the most memorable encounters was with a lady and her hog on the hiking trail. it is, after all, the annual gathering of Hogs in Sturgis.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Strange times continue

We had a lovely conversation with a friend in Australia yesterday. Well, actually it was today for him. We’ve gotten used to the strangeness of time zones in recent years with friends in Australia and a daughter in Japan. It is a bit interesting to talk to someone on video chat who is on the other side of the world and think about how it is one day here and another there. The technology of cell phones and video chat makes conversation with others very convenient and inexpensive.

We knew that Australia has very strict lockdown orders in place in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and were curious about how it was affecting the day to day lives of those who live there. Our friend lives in Melbourne which is the Australian state with the most reported cases and the highest number of fatalities. Australia has had 295 deaths from the virus of which 228 have been in the state of Victoria, so where our friend lives is definitely a hot spot for Australia. It is nearly impossible to compare their situation to ours because Victoria has a much bigger population than South Dakota. There are nearly 6 million people in Victoria, with 5 million of them being in Melbourne. South Dakota has just 885,000 people, and we’ve had 146 deaths, so the per capita death rate here is much higher than anywhere in Australia.

The lockdown in Melbourne is serious business. There is an absolute curfew at night and during the day people are allowed to go no more than 4 km from their homes (about 2 1/2 miles) when walking. There is a strict mask requirement for all activities outside of the home. Shopping is allowed only once per week. The fine for violations is $1,600 Australian dollars (over $1,000 US). Those who are essential workers must have work permits to show authorities. Our friend is a retired minister, still very active in their church, so has the ability to travel more than some because of his work in the church.

Like any other friends who have known each other for decades, our conversations flit from one subject to another. Soon he was asking about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. He has visited our home in South Dakota several times and has witnessed the rally first hand on more than one visit, so he knows what it is like. He has seen how the motorcycles are parked and how the people congregate at the various concert venues and vendor stalls. Still, thee is a lot of interest in this year’s rally because it has made headlines around the world as the largest public gathering in the world since the beginning of the pandemic. In most of the world it is being reported as a potential super spreader event. It is front page news in far away places, including Australia.

We have been sticking fairly close to home, but of course are nowhere near as restricted as the people of Melbourne. Most days we drive more than 5 miles to get to a trailhead for our daily walks. Most days we walk more than the 4 km allowed for our friends. We have no intention of attending any rally events or even going to the most crowded places such as Sturgis or Deadwood. However, a week ago we drove through Hill City on our way to a hiking trail in the hills and we saw first hand how the bikes were parked and the people congregated on the streets there. And we’ve watched the groups of motorcycles who are making their way up the road behind our house despite the fact that it is under construction and there is a sign less than a mile from our home that says, “Rough road ahead. Motorcycles consider alternate route.” As usual during the rally, we can hear the rumble of motorcycles in the background nearly every place we go.

There are definitely fewer people attending the rally than usual. We never get the numbers until after the rally is over. It is impossible to count the people because they are constantly moving, riding their bikes through the hills. Attendance estimates are based on a formula of actual counts at particular attractions, such as Mount Rushmore, highway counts, sales tax revenue, and other indicators. The 75th Anniversary Rally in 2015 drew nearly 750.000 and 2020 was originally forecast to set a new record as it is the 80th Anniversary. However, the current estimate is that about half of a typical year, perhaps 250.000 will be the count. That still means that one third of the vehicles on the roads in our part of the state are motorcycles this week.

It is our plan to travel out to Washington this week. We have our canoes and kayaks loaded on our trailer and plan to make a trip to haul some of our possessions out there in anticipation of a move in a couple of months. We are, however, concerned about how we will be received as we travel. Our South Dakota license plates will identify us as being from the place that may be a super spreader event. The fact that we are traveling with boats means that we will have to stop for boat inspections 5 times. It isn’t just corona virus our neighbors don’t want to spread. Zebra mussels and other invasive aquatic species also make South Dakotans suspect when we travel with boats. I guess we will see what the reaction is as we travel. Our plan is to minimize contact with others as we go. We know we are healthy. Susan had a virus test just over a week ago and the results were negative and we’ve been isolating a great deal throughout the pandemic. We are careful about covering our faces and keeping our distance. Still, no venture in life is free from risk. We try to take the precautions we are able to protect others and ourselves, but we continue to venture out and pursue our lives.

After talking with our Australian friends it is clear to us that those in other places consider our place to be among the most dangerous in the world for the virus. There are a lot of people looking at the rally with fearful eyes.

I guess it is a good thing we aren’t traveling by motorcycle.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Letters of condolence

Years ago we briefly participated in a group of United Church of Christ clergy couples. We were aware that there was something unique about being in a couple where both partners were ministers. We thought that such a group could provide support and also a forum to discuss some of the unique challenges of sharing a marriage and a career. As it turned out, we discovered, relatively soon, that we didn’t really have much in common with the other couples in the group. We didn’t live in the same region of the country. We didn’t have similar career paths. We didn’t have the same kind of relationships. We didn’t have the same working styles. We have kept touch with some of the people in the group over the years. Of the couples in that group we are the only ones who continued as a clergy couple for all of our career. Most of the couples in the group divorced. In the remaining ones, with us being the only exception, one partner left the ministry and pursued a different career. To our knowledge we are the only clergy couple in the United Church of Christ who have served our entire careers as a clergy couple. And, unlike all of the other clergy couples we know in any denomination, we are the only ones who served the same congregation for our entire careers. 42 years in three parishes makes us the longest-serving clergy couple we know. I’m not sure what that distinction means, but it has been a very good life for us.

Along the way we have made friends with a lot of other couples who have strong marriages. And we have made friends with a lot of pastors who have faithfully served their congregations over the span of their lives. We seem to have more in common with couples who have strong and long-lasting marriages than we do with those who are both ministers. And we seem to have more in common with ministers who serve long pastorates and don’t move too often than we do with those who go from parish to parish, serving in a lot of different settings over the span of their careers.

In the past couple of weeks two couples we know have experienced the death of one of the partners. One of the deceased partners was a bit younger than us. He was the husband of a minister who is actively serving the church. He was very proud to be the spouse of a clergy person and worked hard to support his wife’s career while working hard at his own. In the other couple, the partner who died was the clergy person. He served a long career in several different settings of the church. Both couples were the kind of people that we knew primarily as couples. Most of the time we saw them together. Our relationship was with the couple.

As so I am left struggling to write an appropriate letter of condolences to the surviving spouse. As jobs go, I am acutely aware that my role is no where near as difficult as that of the spouse who has lost her partner. In both cases the husband was the first to die, leaving behind a widow.

It is a simple truth that for most couples one dies first and the surviving spouse is left with a journey of grief as they continue through the rest of their live. You can think about it in theory, but it is not something that you can fully imagine before it occurs. As a result it would be silly for me to pretend that I understand what these widows are going through. Their journeys of grief are unique, just as their relationships with their husbands were unique.

I often delay writing letters of condolence. It is a pattern I developed as an active minister. I would focus on care of the survivors and planning a meaningful funeral service in the immediate aftermath of a death. Only later, after the funeral was finished and the other friends had gone back to their lives, did I get around to writing a letter. I’ve felt that this is not a bad pattern. In the busyness of planning a funeral, calling friends and relatives to notify them of the death, dealing with all of the tasks of insurance and other business one more letter can just be another burden. A few weeks later as things begin to settle down and thank you notes have been written and loneliness begins to deepen a letter with a memory or two can be savored. At least that is the excuse I use to justify my procrastination.

Finding the right words is a challenge for me even after years of helping others with their grief and loss. I know that memories are precious friends in times of grief, and I like to share one or two memories that are unique to the relationship I had with the person who died. I also know that words are not the primary tools for dealing with grief and so I try not to use too many words. It is a bit as I imagine writing poetry might be. You put down a bunch of words and then start removing words until what is left is direct and to the point. It is an exercise that is quite different from the way I write my journal entries.

Perhaps that is one of the changes in my life that is appropriate for this phase of retirement. As I adjust to a new way of living, during which every Sunday is a challenge of adjustment, perhaps Sundays can be a day of drawing closer to others, taking time to write those special letters, and reaching out to others. I don’t know if my Sunday malaise is primarily due to retirement or due to the pandemic that makes forming community such a challenge. Whatever the case, I know that Sundays are a challenge for me and a time when I catch myself grieving the end of my career.

So today might be just the right day to write letters to friends whose pain and grief is much deeper than my own. Walking together with others in their grief is a meaningful and powerful way to live.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Thinking of South Africa

When we moved to Chicago I knew almost nothing about the country of South Africa. I had a little bit of knowledge of Rhodesia, now known as Zimbabwe, because our family had befriended a student from that country who attended Rocky Mountain College and we knew a family from our church conference who had served in a mission in that country. It seemed distant and exotic and very, very different from our lives in the United States. But South Africa was a place whose name I barely knew. I got an education quickly from the students at our theological seminary. In those days, Chicago Theological Seminary had a special relationship with church leaders in South Africa. Despite the terrible and unjust system of the apartheid system in that country, the seminary was successful in keeping a steady stream of students who were able to leave that country for three or four years to pursue the study of academic theology in the United States. Among the first people we met when we moved into our apartment building were the children of a family from South Africa. Their father, Bonganjalo Goba, had already distinguished himself as a minister in the Benoni Circuit in South Africa. After completing his Master of Theology degree at Chicago Theological Seminary he went on to earn a second Masters degree at the University of Chicago and his Ph.D. from Chicago Theological Seminary. He went on to serve as a minister, professor, academic dean and church leader in both the United States and South Africa. Bonganjalo was very committed to the anti-apartheid struggle in his country and later in the post-apartheid transition to democracy.

We also became friends with Allister Rundle, who went on to lead reconciliation efforts in the Methodist Church in Cape Town. Through these and other friends we made in our time in Chicago we began the process of becoming more educated about the country of South Africa and its struggles for justice and equity for all citizens. We made life long friendships and have a sense of connection to that far-away place that we have never been able to visit. Even though some of our South African friends have now passed away, we still have a sense of connection.

As I sort through books and choose a few to pack to go with us there are many that I have read and I have no intention of reading again. There are others that I used when I was actively working but now no longer need. I’ve already sorted through the books that were win my study at the church. In the process I gave away two thirds of those books - more than six boxes. I’m trying to apply a similar standard to the books in our home, giving away most and retaining only a few treasured volumes. It is a process that I cannot do without going through the books one at at a time. In that process, I came across a paperback copy of Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. The book by a Brazilian educator was fairly new in the days we were in Chicago and spelled out a contrast between education as a practice of freedom and education as a practice of oppression. The copy we have was a gift from a South African Student who was sorting through his library as he prepared to return to his home country from the United States after earning his doctorate. He had to sort through his books knowing that he could only afford to ship a few precious volumes. He also had to sort through them because it would do him no good to attempt to bring home with him books that were banned in South Africa. Freire’s book was among those that would get him into trouble if it were among his belongings when he got off the airplane in his home country. The book became one of my valued possessions.

For the record, it is now packed into one of the boxes that is going with us when we move.

It is winter in South Africa. In Johannesburg, people are always a bit uncertain how to dress. There is no precipitation on the high plains at this time of the year. It can be terribly warm in the sunshine and equally cold in the shade. The extremes of the weather are a good metaphor for the politics of a nation that has wrestled with seemingly irreconcilable extremes for decades.

When the coronavirus first appeared in South Africa, the government enacted some of the toughest lockdown restrictions in the world. Borders and schools were shut. The economy ground to a sudden halt. The sale of alcohol was banned. People were to stay at home and self isolate. In the suburbs they did. In the shacks of the over-crowded townships it wasn’t possible to isolate. But the restrictions seemed to be working. People complied to the best of their ability, though the process of home brewing beer increased a great deal with the ban on alcohol sales. And every night folks would blow their vuvuzelas - those plastic horns made famous during the olympics, but long a part of South Africa. (For the record, my vuvuzela won’t be moving with us.) The infection rate fell - at first.

But South Africa is ripe with corruption. Those with money and power were exempted from the rules or chose not to observe them. Those without money and power had no choice except to continue to live in terribly overcrowded conditions. Infections started to rise. Restrictions were eased in an attempt to revive the economy. The cost of face masks and other PPE experienced hyper inflation with markups of as much as 900%. Food parcels meant for the poor were stolen by those in power. Contracts helped line the pockets of well-connected politicians. Over a half million South Africans have now been infected and although the rate is now declining again, there is no end in sight for those who are suffering and those who are grieving.

As a distraction from the social and medical experiment of our state playing host to the largest public gathering in the world since the pandemic began, I’ve been reading of South Africa, staying home, and hoping that the infection doesn’t run rampant in the streets of Sturgis and Deadwood, which right now are as overcrowded as the townships in South Africa.

South Africa seems to always muddle through its crises. I hope we can do the same.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Wasted space

Yesterday my wife had a small medical procedure. The actual procedure took less than a minute but we spent about three hours in order to go through the screening at the door of the facility, the paperwork to make sure that insurance reimbursements were in place, the education about the procedure and the consent forms, the preparation for the procedure, the meeting with the Physician’s Assistant and then the meeting with the doctor, waiting for the dismissal paperwork to be completed, etc. etc. In terms of our time, it wasn’t the most efficient of processes. American consumers, however, have become quite adjusted to physician-centered medicine. Most medical facilities have been physically designed with a large percentage of the space consumed by waiting rooms. Line up the patients and have them wait so that the physician doesn’t ever have to wait. As they say, time is money, and the system is terribly inefficient in terms of money, but that is a topic for another day.

As we went through the process, I was feeling fortunate that the facility had recently modified its visitation policies so that I could accompany my wife. At least she had someone to talk with as we waited again and again for various parts of the process. I didn’t have the worry of waiting and waiting for hours when I knew that it was a simple, quick procedure. As we waited, I couldn’t help but think about how the pandemic is already shifting the use of space. If it turns out to be true that the pandemic is the result of an increase in the pace of mutation of viruses and that once treatments and vaccines are developed for this particular virus, other viruses will follow and we need to shift our culture. The dramatic shift in the use of spaces in our regional medical center is already apparent. The center is in the midst of construction of a huge multi-million expansion. Less than 50% of the hospital is patient rooms. The rest is devoted to offices and laboratories and speciality diagnostic tools and hallways and entrances and waiting rooms.

There are a LOT of waiting rooms in a modern hospital. Except waiting rooms are not considered to be a good thing during a pandemic. Here are just a few of the things I observed yesterday:

The facility has two large entrances, not counting the Emergency entrance and various entrances for employees. Both are dramatic with high ceilings and huge walls of glass. Both were designed with multiple waiting areas. There are gift shops, coffee shops and other amenities. All of those waiting areas are currently closed. The gift and coffee shops are closed. The volunteer desks are closed. The chapel is closed. In place of those things, all people coming into the facility through those entrances are met by a screener before they enter the facility. The screener takes temperatures and asks a few questions. Those who do not have essential business are turned away. Then there are more screeners. Most are working standing up behind temporary tables with equipment. Furniture has been grouped together and is being temporarily stored now that no one lingers in the entrances.

Every diagnostic area in the hospital has its own eating room. There is a waiting room for family members of those having surgery. It is closed and not in use. There is a waiting room for those who will receive lab draws. It has half of the furniture removed and the people spread out. The same is true of waiting rooms for infusion, CT scans, Cardiac procedures, and dozens of other diagnostic and treatment areas. Hundreds and hundreds of chairs, designed for people to sit in waiting rooms are in “temporary” storage.

We spent most of our time waiting yesterday in a treatment room. You can isolate people in treatment rooms.

As we went through the process I couldn’t help but think about how a medical facility could be designed to keep people moving through the process of treatment and care without the need for such inefficient use of space. I wonder what percentage of medical facility space is being used for furniture storage in our country today. I suspect that it is fairly high. I wonder how many rooms that used to be waiting rooms are currently simply not being used. Medical buildings are among the most expensive buildings constructed in modern societies. The cost per square foot is higher than almost any other type of construction. In the middle ages the most expensive buildings were cathedrals. These days our “cathedrals” are all hospitals and medical offices.

It would be interesting to chart the flow of people through the regional medical facility. Most enter and exit by the same door. Once inside the facility, with the new regulations, virtually everyone is escorted by a staff member everywhere they go. We spent all of our time on the first two floors of a ten-story structure yesterday an still walked over half a mile. Assuming that our escorts were doubling the mileage, walking one way with no one to escort, that is a lot of mileage. Still, the hallways of the building were nearly empty. Not only is a huge amount of the hospital devoted to waiting rooms, another huge amount of building is devoted to hallways. All of those hallways, even those on floors with no patient treatment rooms, are large enough for two hospital beds to pass without interference. If you figure the lighting, heating and air conditioning, janitorial services and other costs of maintaining space, you begin to understand why the cost of medical care is as high as it is.

In the years to come, architects will be confronted with the challenge of designing more efficient uses of space. Many will be tasked with remodeling existing buildings so that less space is wasted and the flow of people through those spaces is more efficient. For now, however, our model of patient care involves a lot of huge and expensive waste.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Ringing bells

It is always a bit tricky when you are talking about what time it is or even what day it is when you think of the world as a whole. Japan is 15 hours ahead of Mountain Daylight time, so when we talk to our daughter in the evening, it is the next morning in Japan. We have had some fun with the time change. Our grandson was born in the morning in Japan, so we received the news in the evening here. I said to the people in a meeting I attended that evening, “Our daughter just had a baby tomorrow morning!” Although his birthday is July 12, we knew of his birth on July 11.

In general, we have recognized August 6 wherever we are as the day of commemoration of the detonation of a nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Last evening, however, we rang bells in commemoration at 5:15 p.m. local time to correspond with the actual time of the blast. Last evening, I accompanied members of 1st Congregational Church who are also, like us, members of Rapid City’s Japan Sister City group, as we rang the bell at the church. One of the tasks I had neglected when I left as pastor of the church, was teaching others how to manually ring the bell, so I agreed to go over and assist and teach about the bell, which, as usual, was a bit glitchy, but did ring a half dozen times.

Hiroshima was an important military target during World War II. It was an important industrial and shipping area and home to the Second General Army, which was responsible for the defense of southern Japan. The Second General Army consisted of 400,000 men, but most of them were in Kyushu at the time anticipating an invasion of the island.

The bomb, the first of only two atomic bombs ever used in warfare, detonated over the city. The force of the blast was vertical at the center of the blast, which allowed the structure of a few reinforced concrete buildings, designed to withstand earthquakes, to survive. Most notable is the dome over the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, now commonly known as the A-bomb dome. Due to a cross wind, the center of the blast was slightly off target and the explosion was almost directly over the Shima Surgiclal Clinic. An intense firestorm followed the blast as wood frame and paper houses burned. Fire barriers were ineffective in preventing the fires.

An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 civilians were killed by the blast and firestorm with an equal number injured. Nearly 70% of the buildings in the city were destroyed. The mayor of the city was killed. An estimated 90% of the doctors and 93% of the nurses in the city were killed.

Although there has been some debate about the use of atomic weapons at the end of World War II, such conversations do not change the fact that decisions were made in the midst of a brutal world war that had already claimed the lives of millions. World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. With an estimated total of 70 - 85 million casualties about 3% of the world population at the time. With such death and destruction, it is meaningless to try to compare the suffering of one group of people to that of another. The total of 3.1 million Japanese casualties is enormous, but small compared to 24 million deaths of citizens of the Soviet Union. It was a terrible war with huge casualties and atrocities nearly beyond imagination.

It is a simple fact that the bombs were dropped. One over Hiroshima and one over Nagasaki three days later. Six days later, Japan surrendered to the Allies and the war came to an end.

We were blessed to be able to visit Hiroshima in 2018 while on sabbatical. We were able to spend most of a day exploring the peace park that has been constructed in the area around the center of the blast and to see how the city has been rebuilt with a monument to world peace at its center. A museum contains artifacts and tells the story of the bombing and the aftermath in the city. A large park, filled with trees and shade, provides an opportunity for visitors to reflect on the history of the war and to imagine the possibilities of peace. I was a bit surprised as how emotional it was for me to be in Hiroshima and once again be reminded of the events that occurred just prior to my time on this earth. Fortunately no nation has used such weapons in war since, though we grew up under the shadow of the treat of nuclear war and we live in a time of increased threats of war.

The simple acts of ringing bells and recalling the events of the history of the world are important. As the philosopher George Santayana has been quoted over the years, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Remembering is an important part of human development. So we joined with people all around the world and rang bells last evening. The sounds soon faded from our community. Some who heard the ringing bells did not know the reason they were ringing. We didn’t ring the bells to make a statement to others, but rather to remind ourselves of the history of our world and of our role in building its future. We rang bells to remember the pain and loss and grief that war produces. We rang bells as a sign of unity with the victims and those who continue to grieve. We rang bells to dedicate ourselves to living lives of peace with our neighbors all around the world.

As the bells were ringing, I remembered walking up to the Peace Bell near the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima. The large Japanese bell hangs in a small open-sided structure. Visitors are encouraged to ring the bell for world peace and we took our turn to ring the bell, its loud tolling ringing throughout the Park. May it continue to ring.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Reading

When our daughter was an infant cable television came to our town. We were living in rural North Dakota at the time and I didn’t think much about it. My home town, where I grew up, had developed a local cable television system when I was a child. We lived far from commercial broadcasters and the only way to get television signals was to have a huge tower on the hill that received television from 80 miles away and then transmitted it over a cable system to the town. Since we had a tower on the hill and the cable system, the owners of the system also put a television camera on a weather station installed on the tower. We had our own weather channel that displayed time, temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction. Whenever we turned to that channel and the windspeed was displaying zero, we knew that the wind had been so strong that it blew the anemometer off of the tower again.

At any rate it happened that at the time that cable television came to our town in North Dakota our church was in the process of installing new siding on the parsonage. With all of the siding removed from the building, it was an easy task to wire the house for cable TV. We weren’t big watchers of television, but it was figured that the next pastor might be, so cables were run to the kitchen, living room and master bedroom. When we had moved into the parsonage it became known throughout the church that we didn’t own a television set and members of the congregation kept offering us their old sets when they got new ones. We accepted one such offer, but didn’t watch television too much.

However, on occasion I would watch a bit of television when I was up in the middle of the night changing, feeding and settling our daughter back to sleep. She wasn’t one for sleeping all through the night and she suffered from earaches from time to time, so there were plenty of nights when getting her settled was a challenge. I struggled to remain awake as I held her and gave her a bottle. One night I turned on the television and found a channel that was playing reruns of the sitcom M*A*S*H. The show had run its last episode just three days after our daughter’s birth. Over the next few months I watched a lot of episodes from past 11 seasons. It was probably the time in my life when I watched the most television, even if you count my current tendency to watch a couple of YouTube videos nearly every day.

What i remember about that time in my life is that I was too tired to read as much as I wanted. Getting up in the night with the baby, trying to juggle my job as a pastor, caring for the baby and her 2 1/2 year old brother, scrambling at a variety of part time jobs to supplement the modest income of a pastor in a small church in a small town, I was constantly a bit short on sleep. I know that memories change as we go through life, but I remember it as a season of not reading as much as was my custom.

It wasn’t the first time, I struggled with a balance of sleeping and reading. When I started college, I went off with the habit of reading myself to sleep every night. I read novels and short stories and whatever I could find. It didn’t bother me that I would wake up with my head in a book and my glasses slightly out of kilter. Then I went to college and my reading load went up a great deal and I needed to retain the information from the books I was reading. I had to shed the habit of falling asleep when I read. I stopped reading in bed. I made up different ways to keeping myself focused when I read that included pinching myself on the inside of my elbows. I made it work.

Throughout my life, my ideal of vacation or having time to myself included reading whatever I wanted. I have always maintained lists of things I want to read when I have time. I love bookstores and libraries. I have gotten pretty good at finding things to read with my tablet computer. I generally have a book “on hold” in the library’s ebook department. So I imagined that retirement would mean that I would be able to read wherever I wanted, or at least that I could read a lot more.

Now, decades after all of those experiences, I have come to that moment and I have discovered that I am not reading nearly as much as I thought I would. Just a couple of weeks ago, I had to renew a book at the library, something that isn’t common with me. I can read nearly any book in a two-week timeframe. I still read every day, and I’ve got a couple of magazines that I read cover to cover every issue. I have a couple of books on hand that I am reading, but I’m not spending the amount of time reading that I thought I would. I even catch myself watching youtube on the computer when I could have been reading a book. It is different from when our daughter was an infant. I could stay awake to read. I have the time to read and I’m not taking advantage of the opportunity.

I continue to surprise myself. I know that this particular phase of my life is temporary. We’ll get through the process of moving and I’ll have a new home and a new set of activities. I suspect that there will be plenty of things that need to be done and I won’t have all of the time in the world, but I know I will make time for reading. I always have.

The thing about me and reading is the more I read the more I want to read. There are entire libraries filled with opportunities for the years to come. Boredom won’t be a problem.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Herman Melville

One of the joys of a long marriage is that there are plenty of topics of conversation that we have covered in the past often enough that we know what the other is about to say. We have little in jokes about topics that mean little to others yet to us are signs that we know each other. In general, I dd not take advantage of high school in the ways that Susan did. She was a good student in high school and took advanced placement classes, graduating near the top of her class in a large urban high school. I learned to become a good student, but mostly after high school. In many ways I did the bare minimum to get by, earning average grades and leaving high school at the end of my junior year. As a result it surprised me to learn that she never read the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

I have teased her for years that her education cannot be complete until she reads the novel. She, of course, knows the general plot of the novel. Captain Ahab goes on the search for revenge against a great whale that he believes is responsible for his having lost his foot. The story is narrated by a sailor named Ishmael. She doesn’t see the need to read a novel that was published in 1851, at the height of the US whaling industry and a century before she was born. I was surprised to learn that she wasn’t required to read the book, which was a part of what I considered to be the catalogue of books that all high school students read. I actually hadn’t minded reading the book that much.

The novel is a very complex book. Melville draws on complex areas of human study including zoology, astronomy, law, economics, mythology, philosophy and teachings from a wide range of different religious and cultural traditions. Melville himself having served as a sailor on whaling ships had a wide interest in other human ventures. At one point Ishmael quotes Plato and expounds on the history of philosophy. The book has a unique writing style as well as its subject matter. In one monologue, Ahab challenges Moby Dick in Shakespearean style: “Towards thee I roll, though all destroying, but unconquering whale. To the last I grapple with thee. From hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.” Another chapter is written as the script of a play. The ship’s crew is multi-ethnic with African and Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese and Tahitian sailors on a ship based in Nantucket in the United States.

Of course, Susan is a well-educated woman who continues to read extensively. She can converse intelligently on a wide range of subjects and though I don’t admit it to her, she probably does not need to read the novel, which can be boring at times. So much has been written about the book that she already has sufficient knowledge of it and its ideas.

Still, it has been a fun, recurring conversation between the two of us.

Then, last week, sorting through the shelves and boxes of books that have adorned our home for decades, I came across a box of books that I had brought home from my mother’s cabin. Among the books were additional novels by Melville: White Jacket, Typee, Bartelby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno and Billy Bud. I have not read any of them. Our task is sorting. We have committed ourselves to the discipline of moving only a small fraction of the books we own. I’ve already donated eight boxes of books and expect to shed even more before moving day. It should be easy for me to place a small collection of paperback novels tin a box to go to the mission. Strangely, however, those books have gone in and out of the box to give away three or four times in the past few days. Right now they are sitting on the corner of my desk, but there is a space just right to receive the books in a box ready to be taken with other items to be given away.

There is no problem with giving away any of the books in our collection. Our son is a librarian. We have access to any books we want. I am becoming accomplished at finding books to read on my tablet computer and I have a list of books that I want to read that is much longer than the rest of my life. If I want to read any of these Melville novels, I can easily access them through the library. I don’t have to remember their titles. Melville is famous and he was a prolific author. He wrote 11 novels, 17 short stories. He published five collections of poetry and numerous articles in magazines that there still available on the Internet. I could devote a year to reading Melville, but I know I will not.

The books, however, hold much more potential for fun for me. One idea that came to mind that I won’t pursue now that I am writing it in my journal which Susan reads, is to pack them away and wrap one book at a time and give it to her for her birthday for several years to come. It would allow the extension of the joke and provide more laughter and good natured conversation for us in years to come. Probably the joke would become old before the books were given. More likely I would forget where I put the books and not be able to find them when here birthday rolls around.

I suspect that I may one day read more of Melville. Frankly, I think I’d like to pick up a book of his poems rather than another novel. I have a sense of his style as a novelist and wonder about his poetry. Does he experiment with style in poetry as freely as he does in the novel? There is one short story, however, that I suspect I will never read. It is titled, “The Paradise of Bachelors.” I’m enjoying the paradise of married life far too much to have any interest in the life of a bachelor.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Crowds are gathering

In preparation for a minor outpatient medical procedure we are practicing strict isolation for a few more days. As a result we decided to head a bit higher into the hills to walk yesterday, where we knew we would be away from other people. we encountered only a half dozen others during our walk and they were careful to maintain distance. In addition to beautiful weather, our walk was enhanced by the solitude of the hills. As we wound our way along the Mickelson Trail, we were surrounded by wildflowers that are a product of the slightly higher elevation. Summer is short and sweet in the high country. It is also intense and vibrant.

Between our home and our hiking spot we went through Hill City. I don’t know if South Dakota is unique in how cities and towns are named, but we have a lot of places that add the name “city” to their official location name. We have Rapid City, North Sioux City, Hill City, Big Stone City, Central City, Claire City, Mound City, Garden City, Lake City and Prairie City. Most of them probably wouldn’t be considered to be “cities” in other parts of the world. After all, Prairie City is unincorporated and has about 20 residents. Hill City has only about a thousand. Rapid City is the only one with more than 3,000 with a whopping 77,503, which isn’t a “big” city in other states.

Nonetheless, we like Hill City, our close neighbor to the southwest of our home. It is the home of the 1880’s Train, a fun ride and a great attraction for guests who come to visit. Hill City is also the oldest existing community in our county, organized before Rapid City. We decided to take a quick drive down main street to see if there were any motorcycles in the build-up to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which officially begins on August 7. In a typical year, the hills fill up with motorcycles a couple of weeks before the rally and remain full of bikes for a couple of weeks afterward. The towns in the hills have motorcycles lining main street parked as closely as possible and the sidewalks are filled with riders who are checking out the shops and the vendors who are set up on nearly every available space. Of course 2020 is not a typical year.

There were, however, plenty of motorcycles parked on main street in Hill City yesterday. The beautiful weather invited riders to go out and explore the beautiful winding roads of the hills and Hill City is a good place to take a break and get an ice cream and talk with other riders. We knew, before we got to Hill City that there would be plenty of bikes, because we had seen them on the road and there were plenty of bikes parked and people wandering through the tents and shelters where highways 385 and 16 come together before you get to Hill City.

The City of Sturgis, which is incorporated as a city and boasts nearly 7,000 residents, bills the annual motorcycle rally as “10 days/nights of riding, food and music.” The decision was made, in the late spring, to proceed with the rally despite the pandemic. 2020 is the 80th annual rally and anniversary years usually bring big numbers. The 75th event in 2015 boasted more than 750,000 people. If you just do the math on that one, putting more than 100 times the population of any town or city will result in a bit of crowding and a bit of overflow. No matter how crowded some of the concert venues became, there were lots of people in all of the nearby towns that August. There is always plenty of spillover when there is a rally. And, of course, people who are drawn to a motorcycle rally love to ride their bikes and so they don’t want to stay in town all of the time. The hills offer some great roads for motorcycles and the rally attendees take advantage of those roads for organized rides as well as independent trips.

So we are headed into a couple of weeks where a whole lot of people won’t be practicing physical distancing in the hills. And we weren’t seeing many face coverings as we drove down main street in Hill City last week.

All of that means that practicing strict isolation will be a challenge for us this week. It isn’t hard for us to stay at home. We have plenty of groceries in the freezer and pantry. We don’t need to go shopping. But Susan’s procedure will take place at Monument Health, the largest hospital in the region on the day before the official start of the rally. With the total population of the entire region at less than 200,000, our regional hospital is big enough to provide a full range of medical services, including outpatient surgery. There are certain types of care, such as cardiac care where the hospital serves an area with a radius of about 250 miles. Most of that space isn’t heavily populated, so it is possible that the hospital’s primary service area includes 250.000 people. Invite guests at the rate of the 2015 rally and that quadruples the number of people that the hospital needs to serve. And, three quarters of those people are riding motorcycles on winding roads, most of them not wearing helmets. You get the picture. No one who works at the hospital gets to go on vacation during the rally.

Since it can take a couple of weeks for a coronavirus infection to express itself in symptoms, it is likely that a spike in infections as a result of the rally will result in many people not knowing they are infected until after they have gone home and the hills have returned to our usual population. For those of us who live here, however, being diligent and doing what we can to avoid infection means staying away from crowds. And the crowds are starting to gather all over the hills.

So be careful out there. Wash your hands, cover your face, and avoid touching your face. We will be staying at home and hoping for the best.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

Church in changing times

In 2008 Phyllis Tickle published a book entitled “The Great Emergence” in which she spoke of massive transitions that have come along about every 500 years in the history of the church and provide for upheaval in church and society. Tickle uses the analogy of a rummage sale to make her point. Every 500 years or so the church has a big rummage sale and gets rid of a lot of clutter. In the book she argues that we are now experiencing one of those massive events.

I belong to a group of clergy who read the book together and discussed it at length. There was general agreement that indeed we are experiencing a major upheaval in church and society. We recounted how the printing press played a pivotal role in the Protestant Reformation. Once people could have a copy of the Bible in their own hands, they were freed to read and interpret it themselves and were less dependent upon a church hierarchy to give them an official version of the meaning of faith.

Somewhere in our conversations one of my colleagues said something that reminded me of a conversation I had participated in many years earlier in which we were discussing television evangelists. Someone was arguing that the mainline church had missed the boat when it came to television and should have been quicker to take up the media. I remember arguing that the cost of production-quality television was simply too expansive. To have embraced television as the primary media of Christianity would have meant that millions and millions of dollars would be diverted from mission and ministry to media. The mainline church, I argued, would have sent itself to oblivion and ceased its ministry through such extravagance. The counter argument was that television produced positive revenue. The televangelists were getting rich off of their sermons. It was one of those conversations that doesn’t end in a resolution, but I remember thinking that I didn’t have any desire to be a televangelist and the work of such a person didn’t resemble at all what I thought of as ministry. I didn’t want my professional life to be caught up with staff meetings and production meetings and lighting checks and sound checks and rehearsals. I didn’t want worship to be dominated by entertainment-quality music and the role of the pastor reduced to being a kind of master of ceremonies. I didn’t want to have to work to the clock to the extent that long readings of scripture were eliminated and the preacher abandoned the lectionary for a couple of short quotes of scripture. I didn’t want to have the same theme for worship every week: the only way to escape eternal punishment in hell is to declare Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

In later conversations, I would simply say that my career involved doing a lot of work that the televangelists don’t do. I provided the face-to-face counseling, I comforted the grieving and performed the funerals. I officiated at the weddings and dedicated the children. I held the hands of the sick and dying. I prayed with those who were troubled. I did all kinds of work that televangelists never did with their media-focused ministry.

Given all of the conversations and thoughts of over four decades of ordained ministry, it doesn’t surprise me that there are a few voices in today’s society who will say that online is the future of Christian worship. The cite the low cost of producing online worship and point to the few who have garnered huge groups of subscribers and followers and predict that the future is media focused and that institutional churches with their insistence on in person worship and meeting together at the same time are relics of a fading past.

In a sense, it might be true. Retiring has quickly made me feel like I am a relic of a fading past. It is obvious that the pandemic has forced a radical shift in the way that churches constitute themselves and most congregations have embraced online worship as one of the components of their ministry. As a worshiper, however, I have to say that watching others engage in a form of worship on a computer screen is spiritually unsatisfying. It doesn’t feel like the development of meaningful relationships. Also, quite frankly, it feels like congregational leaders are putting less energy and effort into creating meaningful worship. Much of what I have seen online has been a bit thrown together with less than professional editing and sudden transitions. It is hard to feel like you are praying with others when the screen image is stock footage of sped up clouds moving across a blue sky or a close-up of a somewhat contorted face of someone trying to keep their eyes closed to show that they are not reading the prayer from notes. After a career of carefully choosing the words of prayers and producing thousands of prayer manuscripts, I think that there is still value in crafting language to express the concerns of a community rather than speaking only of one’s personal concerns in prayer.

Somehow having a video posted on the Internet that I can watch at any tome from any place is a poor substitute for gathering for worship where we pray together, hear scripture together, listen to a choir together and build community together.

One of our professors often said, “You can’t be the body of Christ all by yourself.” Often, when I am watching worship online, I feel very lonely and isolated. I don’t feel like I am connecting to a community. I don’t feel like we are being the body of Christ - the church.

I suppose it is possible that I am simply a product of the past. As a minister who spent his entire career focusing on relationships and building community through in-person ministry, I am not at home in the Internet age. As a seeker of wisdom and truth, I don’t know my way around a post-truth culture. If so, I’m comfortable with that. Just as I allowed television to pass me by so that I could minister in the midst of a congregation, I am not worried about the Internet leaving me behind. I suspect that there are still many ways that I can serve people while others figure out the future of online worship.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!

The city meets wild lands

rc hike1
Shortly before we left Idaho for South Dakota, we had a conversation with our friend Chris about our plans. Chris worked for the USDA Forest Service. Most of the time he worked on mapping and planning for the management of National Forests, based in Boise, Idaho. But, as was true of many of his colleagues, he could be summoned and reassigned at a moment’s notice by the Interagency Fire Center, which was also located in Boise. The Interagency Fire Center deploys personnel and material resources to large wildfires wherever they happen in the United States. Chris had to be trained not only for making maps and preparing planning documents for forest management, he also had to be trained for deploying and managing resources for fighting large fires in a wide variety of different terrains, settings and situations. Our conversation with Chris included his telling of a recent training that he had participated in that focused on the urban wild lands interface. Fighting a fire in a forest requires a particular set of skills, training and equipment. Fighting a fire in an urban neighborhood requires a different set of skills, training and equipment. I paid attention to what Chris was saying because we had just purchased a home that was on the edge of the forest, not far from National Forest land. Chris was familiar with the name of our subdivision, Countryside and told us that the neighborhood was featured in one of the training films that he had just watched.

Over the years since that time, we have grown to deeply appreciate the interface of urban areas and wild lands that is Rapid City. Rapid City is located right where the Black Hills meet the prairie. As the city continued to grow after a devastating flood in 1972, more and more private homes were built into the hills on the western side of the city. Leaving a flood control green space alongside the creek, the city stretched itself out into the hills and also onto the prairie to the East. Our home is in a neighborhood that for most of the time we’ve lived here was outside of the city limits. Since we have been annexed, the cul-de-sac at the end of our street is the farthest the city stretches in that direction. Beyond that, private land continues for a short distance, but it is not highly developed and soon the National Forest begins. We have known that there is a risk of wildfire sweeping across the forest and into our neighborhood and have tried to be responsible in the maintenance of our property to prevent wildfire from starting here and to make it easy for firefighters to defend the structure were a fire to come.

city hiking trail
The urban-wild land interface is not just about preventing and fighting fire. It also provides for some dramatic and wonderful places to live. In our community, we have deer and wild turkeys and red foxes as neighbors. Our trees fill with tanagers and mountain bluebirds and cedar waxwings. We are visited by pinion jays and an occasional eagle. It is a wonderful place to live.

It is not just private homeowners who have access to wild lands, however. Rapid City has many points for very easy public access to the wild places within the city.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is just a week away and although we know that the numbers of guests will be lower than many other years due to the pandemic, we are bracing for an influx of people who will travel to the hills to share some of the beauty of the place where we live. They will be spreading out, spending less time at concerts and the shops of vendors and more time out riding in the hills with plenty of physical distance. Preparing for the influx of guests comes naturally to those of us who have lived here for a while. Friends and family members who live in other places love to come to the hills and most of the time we are glad to see them. We take them to Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore National Monument. We show them Crazy Horse and drive the wildlife loop in Custer State Park. We tell them about Bear Country and Reptile Gardens and the 1880’s Train. We let them know about boating on Pactola or Sheridan Lake. We tell them about hiking the Mickelson and Centennial Trails.

We don’t, however, tell them about some of the secret places right in our city. Since we have been observing the discipline of a 2 - 5 mile walk every day, we have discovered more of the urban wild lands interface that Rapid City has to offer. Last night we drove from the edge of the city to near its downtown center, parked our car and walked right into wild land. We had the trail mostly to ourselves and soon we were on a side path that wound through the forest with no other users. We had the hillside and the exquisite views to ourselves for a little while. The place where we were walking is all public access. Our car was parked in a free public parking lot. The pictures that appear with this journal entry were all taken within the city limits within a half mile of a major city street. The shape of the hills and the presence of the trees isolated us from the street noise as we walked. The peace of the evening was just what we needed after a busy day of sorting and packing and feeling like we are in the midst of a job that is bigger than we are.

moonoverrapid
The interface of wild lands and urban lands is particularly gentle in Rapid City. There are multiple access points to natural beauty and over 100 miles of trails within the city. There are neighborhoods that are tucked into the hills that would surprise others of his close they are to urban services. It is a good place to live and although we welcome guests and love to have visitors, there are a few secrets that we keep to ourselves. Some of the treasures of our home are reserved for peace and solitude.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!