The chicks are in!

On Wednesday, the Lenten study group at our church was meeting over Zoom. Our facilitator asked us to share one thing about Holy Week that we remembered as part of our introductions. I have so many Holy Week memories that it was hard for me to give a single memory as an example. Maundy Thursday services came to mind, but it was more of a category than a single memory. When it was my turn, I shared a Maundy Thursday memory. After class, I started to think of decades of Lenten Memories. It wasn’t just Holy Week, but rather the entire season that sparks memory upon memory, layer upon layer. My memories are not just of church events, but because I was raised in a family that was active in church, the memories of church blend with other memories of the season.

One of my Lenten memories is the birth of donkey colts. My father was a bit of a hobby farmer. We usually had a few animals even though our income came from providing services to farmers, not from being farmers ourselves. We raised a few donkeys back when the US Forest Service bought donkeys for trail work in the high country. Dad tried to have a new donkey colt for Palm Sunday each year. The gestation period for a Spanish burro is about a year and can vary quite a bit. Generally a Jenny produces a single colt every other year, with breeding and birthing taking place in the same general season. Palm Sunday, however, moves around the calendar, falling between March 15 and April 18. Some years we got lucky and had a young colt for Palm Sunday and some years we didn’t. On year, the colt was born on Easter. We named her Hallelujah, which quickly got shortened to Lulu.

Another Lenten memory that mixes the secular with church in my mind is the arrival of the year’s chicks. We tried to have chicks in stock at the store. Nearly every year a few were sold individually to folks around town as part of Easter baskets. A few of them would raise their chick, but most of them ended up bringing the chicks back to our store. We raised whatever chicks went unsold for the freezer, so we had chickens from the spring through the fall, but didn’t keep them over the winter. The day the chicks arrived in the spring was always an exciting day. At least once it landed on a Saturday when we didn’t have school and I got to go with my dad to the post office to pick up the chicks first thing in the morning. The chicks arrived at the post office by truck during the night and the postmaster was eager to have them picked up. There were a few other big customers on chick day, notably the Hutterite colony up north, but we received several cartons of peeping masses of chicks. We took the chicks to the shop where we had a stock tank filled with bedding material, wood shavings and a bit of hay. There were heat lamps suspended over the stock tank to keep the chicks warm. We mixed up a powdered supplement with water and filled the waterers in the stock tank. Then the chicks came out of the cartons one by one. We held their beaks in the water until they took a swallow, then released that chick in the stock tank and took the next one from the carton. Dad could do two at a time, one in each hand, but I couldn’t make their beaks go in the water unless I handled them one at a time.

Well, the chicks came in yesterday. Not cartons and cartons of chicks, just a dozen. Here, the feed store takes advance orders and tries to get the customers to pick them up the same day they arrive. Chicks still travel in the mail along with other parcels. Last year our son’s family got six laying chickens. As is not unusual, five turned out to be hens and one was a rooster. The rooster found a new home after being listed on Craigslist for a few days. The hens produce eggs for the household. This year, they added a dozen to the flock. The feed store is in the town where we live, so the chicks and our grandchildren came to our house for a few hours in preparation for the trip to the farm. We set up a heat lamp and set up our brooder in a moving box. The chicks got their beaks dipped and then were left to feed while the children played and their mom tried to catch up on a bit of work. I know that I have a “no pets” clause in my lease agreement, but no damage occurred to the house during the temporary visit and these aren’t technically pets because they will be raised to be working birds, producing eggs for the family.

Our nineteen-month-old grandson was absolutely fascinated by the chicks. He required constant supervision whenever he was in the room with the chicks. The heat lamp was too hot to touch and the chicks were too little and fragile for his tiny hands. We held a couple so he could touch their down. Like the rest of us the song of their cheeping drew him to the brooder box.

I don’t know if he will remember the day the chicks arrived. I can’t place memories from that early in my life. My earliest memory comes from when I was about a year older than he is now. Certainly his cousins will remember the arrival of chicks, but they may not remember individual years, but the year that the chicks visited grandma and grandpa on their way to the farm may be distinct form other years when they look back. I don’t know if any of them will make a connection between Lent and the arrival of the chicks.

But they will remember that tiny birds need constant care. They will remember that life has cycles with a season for the chicks to arrive and a season for grown chickens to produce eggs for the table.

And the chicks sparked plenty of memories for grandpa, who this year can just watch and occasionally help feed the chickens with the real work of caring for the tiny birds falling to the younger generations. The brooder was moved to the farm and my house was quiet by the time I headed for bed to dream and remember.

Sacred places

In 2006, with a grant from the Lily Foundation, we were able to take a sabbatical that focused on sacred spaces. Like many Lily Clergy Renewal grants, our adventure included a significant amount of travel. We explored some of the Canadian west, from the Rockies to the coast, reading stories of the indigenous people and visiting beautiful places. We traveled with friends around Australia, visiting Uluru and other sites in the center of the continent as well as spending time on the island of Tasmania. We listened to the stories of special places that had been recognized by people as sacred for thousands of years.

In preparation for that sabbatical, I made a few pilgrimages to sacred places that were close to our home in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The hills have been known as sacred to a dozen or more tribes for as long as we have recorded history of the place. It is easy to see why people saw the places as sacred. Bear Butte, also known as Paha Mato, stands a bit away from the main hills. A climb to its top winds around the butte, past tobacco ties in the brush and above sweat lodges constructed on the slopes. For Lakota people it is a place of vision where young people went to discover their vocation. It continues to be a place for clarifying prayer. From the top of the butte there is a spectacular view of the hills to the south and the plains to the north. On a clear day you can see three states.

At Mato Tipi, also known as Devil’s Tower, visitors are respectfully requested to refrain from climbing. The rock monolith is traditionally experienced by walking around it. You can see from miles away how it became an important meeting place for semi-nomadic people who followed the buffalo. It was easy to describe, even to someone who had not previously seen it. It is a unique feature in a big land.

Climbing to the top of Black Elk Peak affords a way of sensing the geography and geology of the Black Hills. It helps one to understand why so many generations of people saw the hills not as a place to own or stay permanently, but as a place to go to renew the spirit and get a sense of one’s place in the world.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to live in the hills for a quarter of a century, to have had deer and turkeys for neighbors and the wind in the pine trees to lull me to sleep at night. I was blessed to be able to walk on paths that wandered through the trees and to climb to vistas where I could see for miles.

Just up the street from the church where we worked for those years is a narrow path that leads up the side of a ridge called Skyline. The view from the top of the ridge allows a look at the western and eastern sides of Rapid City from above. We became familiar with walking on the trails in a wilderness park that was developed to preserve some of the land from development. Memories of walking there and having access to that beautiful place to restore my perspective in the midst of a job that was at times stressful will remain with me for all of my life.

I was thinking of some of the high places in the hills, and some of the walks that lead to places of vista yesterday as we were taking a walk around Little Mountain. Little Mountain is a hill in Mount Vernon that is preserved as a wilderness park for hiking and biking. There is a road that goes to the top and miles of trails that wind around the hill. It reminds me of Skyline in Rapid City, but there are some significant differences. The trees are taller. There are ferns and dense undergrowth. At the top of Little Mountain, on a clear day, you can see snow-capped mountains to the north and east rising ten thousand feet above the city. And, when you look to the east you can see the ocean, dotted with islands, themselves with striking hills and mountains.

I enjoy making photographs, but I have never been able to create photographs that fully capture the places I have visited. The beauty of the places exceeds the images that I am able to record. Still, I enjoy looking at the pictures we have taken and I came away from our walk yesterday with more pictures to enjoy.

There is something in the human spirit that is renewed by the beauty of the world. A stunning sunrise or sunset can give fresh energy to a time of day when one feels drowsy. The climb to a vista can help one rediscover a place in the world and the calling for one’s life. Our eyes allow us to perceive a particular part of the spectrum of light and color that we behold as beauty. Sight and sound and smell combine as a single sensation instead of distinct experiences. A sip of water tastes glorious when partaken in a place of beauty. The touch of a hand becomes a sacrament. We don’t have the language to describe the sensations and so we call the place holy.

One of the benefits of having lived for many decades is the knowledge that there is great beauty in many places. Comparison fails. It is not that one place is more or less beautiful than another, but rather that when we approach the world with open eyes and open arms it rushes at us with beauty in different ways in different places. Seeing the mountains and the ocean from a single vantage point is a refreshing experience, but no more or less beautiful than kneeling next to the first pasque flower emerging from the prairie or watching the buffalo cross the badlands.

Fortunately for us there are prayers that do not require words and praise that doesn’t require loud noises. For we are surrounded by the beauty of sacred places.

Milk and butter

In the late 1950’s our father expanded his business. His primary business was aviation. Both of my parents were pilots and our father ran the airport in our small town. He did whatever it took to earn money with airplanes, including selling them, maintaining them, flying charter, flying agricultural applications, running an air ambulance service, flying fire patrol, flight instruction, flying game counts, and providing aviation services to the National Forest Service and the National Parks. The operation was fairly small, but he usually had a couple of other pilots and a mechanic working for him. The expansion took him in a more land-based direction. He bought a local farm supply store that included a John Deere farm implement franchise and the local Purina Chows warehouse/dealership. Among the products handled in the Farm Supply Store were tools and general hardware as well as Delaval Cream Separators.

My first jobs in the Farm Supply store included sweeping the feed warehouse and some elementary assembly of items for display in the shop. The business was based on service and it was common for our father to go to the store after hours or on Sundays to provide necessary parts or service to get a farmer back into the field. One day he took me along on a late afternoon visit to a local dairy where they had a Delaval milking system. There was some problem with the milkers and the farmer was forced to hand milk his cows. For the next couple of days while we waited for the parts to be express shipped, we went to that farm morning and evening and helped with the milking. My uncle had a single dairy cow and milked by hand, but I had never before had the chore of milking. My father was patient as he taught me, but the whole farm was under pressure with the milkers down and everyone had to chip in. I was small and inexperienced with getting the cows moved from place to place, so I was assigned to washing and milking.

A couple of decades later, when I was a young pastor, a young man near my age who married into our church graduated with a BS in agriculture from college and set about getting started in farming and ranching. With limited funds, but strong backing from his farm family, he began a dairy operation. I became friends with him and watched as he worked hard, seven days a week, to launch his business. Times were tough and the farm crisis of the 1980’s left him without the ability to continue his dairy business. He had to seek off-farm income and has ended up with a very successful career in agricultural property management and real estate. His story was part of a bigger national picture that ended up with much of the dairy industry being controlled by very few big corporations. In about 30 years our country had gone from family farms and local small dairies to big corporations and very few locally owned and controlled creameries. These days it is hard to follow the path that milk takes from farm to the grocery store and in most cases it involves a lot of trucking including interstate transportation. Most of the milk we drink comes from large production dairy farms with thousands of head of cattle.

That history is part of what made it possible for our son to become the owner of a small farm. The farm where his family now lives once was the center of a 50-head herd of dairy cattle run by a single family. They put up a huge barn and invested in the equipment to milk their cattle. They put up their own hay and hauled their own manure. And, like other similarly-sized dairy operations, they didn’t survive the agricultural economics of the 1980’s. At first land was sold to keep the operation solvent. They no longer had the acreage to produce all of their own hay and had to purchase hay. Then decades of hard work began to take their toll. The family no longer had a younger generation willing to endure the hardships of raising dairy cattle. The cattle and the home place, along with the dairy barn were sold. For the last three decades the home place and the ten acres that surround it have been basically a hobby farm for families whose primary income comes from off-farm sources.

I was thinking of the changes in the dairy industry in my lifetime as I have been reading online about Canada’s recent butter crisis.The Covid pandemic has produced a large spike in demand for butter in Canada. Sales of butter were up 12% last year and remain strong this year. Along with the increased demand has been an increase in price and, to the horror of Canadian foodies and cooks, a change in the consistency of the butter sold in grocery stores. It no longer softens as much at room temperature. It is harder to spread. Similar reports have been made about butter in the United States.

The main change is that as demand has been increasing, dairy farmers are using more supplemental feeds to boost production. Among the substances fed to dairy cows is feed enriched with palm oil. It is likely that palm oil is a factor in the change in the consistency of production butter. Think about it. Palm oil isn’t exactly a product of Canada. Had it been Canola, I would have understood. Palm oil comes from the tropics.

The world is more complex than it was when a family raised hay on their land, fed the hay to cows, milked the cows, and took the milk to a local creamery for processing. It is far more complex than it was when the cream was separated and the butter churned by hand. The milk and other diary products we consume involve international trade and shipping networks.

I’d encourage my son to get a dairy cow but then I remember how hard it was to milk by hand for just a few days. I’m guessing that we’ll be purchasing our butter from the grocery store for the foreseeable future. Even if the butter is harder to spread, the work load is much more manageable.

I don't understand

Some days I start with an idea or theme for my daily essay. Some days I have several different possible topics, but none of the topics individually is worth an entire 1,000 words. Today seems to be one of those days for a journal entry that rabbles through several different topics. However, since it isn’t yet written, I don’t know for sure. Here goes:

I’m trying to remember the doctor’s exact words. I can remember his name. I know who the attending nurse was and she is still our friend all these years later. But I don’t remember which one of them said it, or exactly what words were said. I think it might have been the nurse who said, “You have a beautiful baby boy.” Those moments are a bit of a blur in my memory for some reason. We had been up all night without sleep. It was shortly after noon on a Sunday. It was the first, though not the last, time one of our children had caused me to miss a Sunday service, and since we were serving two churches at the time, I had missed two services and was just an hour away from missing the third. I was not worried about that. Our first child had arrived and, according to the plans we had made, would be named Isaac. We had narrowed the choice down to two names, one for a boy and another for a girl. We did not know the gender until a medical attendant viewed the anatomy as he was delivered and cleaned up. It was before prenatal care included multiple ultrasound procedures and in-utero pictures that could be sent over cell phones. I am sure we would have been as joyous had the child been a girl. We certainly were 2 1/2 years later when our daughter came to our family.

There was no gender reveal party. We had several baby outfits that were neutral colors and could be worn by either gender. I had bought a box of Baby Ruth candy bars to hand out to all my friends in celebration of the birth. I didn’t smoke and couldn’t justify spending money on cigars, which were the tradition. The fact that we knew in advance that the child would not be named Ruth didn’t deter me one bit. Babe Ruth was a man, so the candy bar could be used regardless of the gender of the child.

The idea of announcing the gender of our child with a party and an explosion never entered my mind. I had never heard of a gender reveal party. It is a good thing. It spared me a brush with death, or at least getting sued.

A father-t0-be from New York state has died after a device he was building for his child’s gender reveal party exploded, according to a story on the BBC website. The blast killed Christopher Pekny and landed his brother in the hospital with injuries.

A man from Michigan was killed earlier this month after he was struck by shrapnel from a home made cannon fired during a baby shower. Gender reveal parties have been blamed for wildfires in Arizona in 2017 and last September in California.

No persons were injured and no fires resulted from the revelations of the genders of either of our children. The same is true of all of our grandchildren, though we were informed of gender before their births.

I have subscribed to one channel on Twitch. I don’t know much about social media. I do watch videos on YouTube from time to time, but I didn’t even know that Twitch existed until my sister got me hooked on watching my nephew, her son, on his channel on Twitch. I have to admit that it is entertaining to watch him. What he does is play video games in front of a green screen so what you see is him in the bottom corner of a video game. He makes comments on the game and responds to comments written by viewers as he plays the game. He interacts with his wife and pets as he plays the game. He makes jokes as he plays the game. I’m not really into video games. I played Pong on a computer a few times. Our son had a game system when he was a teen and I played Mario Kart several times, though I never got very good at it.

Just like I don’t understand gender reveal parties and why pyrotechnics are required, I don’t understand how someone can pursue playing video games as a career. Somehow, the thousands of followers who watch my nephew play games and enjoy his banter and tune in night after night generate money for the channel. There is ad revenue and a way for people to give money to the channel. I really don’t know how all of it works. I haven’t gotten beyond my free membership and the occasional typed comment to let my nephew know I’m watching. But he earns money from the process and has continued to increase his investments in computers and equipment to make the channel more interesting.

If you take my nephew’s vocation and the one from which I just retired and put them together what you get is Reverend Simon Archer, a Church of England Vicar who, in addition to live streaming services, streams video games on social media. He invites people to watch and plays some games that are way more violent than the ones my nephew plays. While the vicar plays, he chats with viewers about all sorts of different subjects including faith and offering support for those who have problems. He says he was called by God to create the virtual church of chat. I have absolutely no idea how you can offer spiritual advice while running a game controller with a “trigger” that causes a video image of a person to “shoot” other video images and show bullets flying and people dying.

There are plenty of things about the world today that I simply don’t understand. The silly thing is that I don’t even have any desire to solve those mysteries.


In 2011, inspired by the birth of our first grandchild, I started construction of a row boat. My rationale was that his parents would be more comfortable if he could ride in a boat that was more stable than a canoe for his first trip in a boat. I completed the construction of the boat in 2012 and he had his first ride, with his father and me, around the edges of the Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington, where his family lived at the time.

I chose the design of my boat carefully. I wanted a stable craft, but also one that had a traditional appearance. I also wanted a boat that I could handle solo, including loading and unloading it from the rack on a pickup truck. I chose the Chester Yawl, designed by John Harris. The boat can carry quite a load. It is rated for 450 pounds. Yet it is light enough that I can move it about on a set of wheels and, with a bit of care, turn it over and load it on the rack on my pickup. That takes a bit of work, so I usually roll it onto a utility trailer when heading for the water. I finished my boat to workboat standards, with a painted hull and bright interior. It is fitted with moveable rowing seats, adapted from a design my L. Francis Herreshoff. I installed oar locks mid ship for solo rowing and two more pairs for double rowing.

Some people who have seen my boat have referred to it as a wherry, but technically it is a yawl. Yawl is a term often used to refer to a sail rig, but its earlier historic use was for the boat carried on board a larger ship for the captain’s use to go back and forth to shore on errands. Harris’ design is inspired by the Whitehall boats of New England and has a delightful wineglass transom. My boat has its name, “Mister E” on its transom. The pun is intended. Our grandson, Elliot, is now ten years old. He continues to be a wonderful mystery for our family. He’s been through a number of different life jackets as he has grown up, but he has retained his interest in boats and boating. He now paddles a small kayak solo when we have time to head to the lake.

Since July of 2012, when the Mister E was first launched, I have had time to explore the joys of rowing. I’m not what you would call an experienced rower, but I’ve gained basic competency and can maneuver the boat when rowing on calm waters. It’s been in saltwater where we’ve rowed close to shore, but most of the time I’ve rowed it in small lakes. With my spoon blade oars, carved by Shaw and Tenney, I can obtain a good glide from the boat and can make good headway while getting plenty of healthy exercise.

The truth, however, is that the boat has sat unused for more than a year. It didn’t touch the water in 2020. The processes of retirement and moving distracted me from my usual trips to the lake. I have promised myself that 2021 will be different.

People have done amazing things in rowboats. Jasmine Harrison, a 21-year-old swimming teacher from Yorkshire in England, became the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean when she arrived in Antigua on Saturday. It took her 70 days to complete the trip. She didn’t have the traditional loneliness of long distance solo rowers because she carried a satellite phone and was able to speak to her mother daily during her epic journey. Who knows how long her record will stand, but you can count on a younger woman to challenger her feat some time.

Lee Spencer rowed across the Atlantic in 60 days early in 2019, shattering the previous record for crossing the ocean continent to continent. The former Royal Marine has a prosthetic right leg having lost his and making his accomplishment even more amazing.

Back in 2015, 53-year-old John Beeden rowed solo across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Australia. He had previously rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean the year that I started building my rowboat.

Of course these and other record-setting rowers didn’t achieve their feats in a simple boat like mine. They had special machines and used sliding seats for more efficiency in their rowing. I have no aspirations for going long distances or setting any records. I’m happy just rowing around a harbor or lake for pleasure. My boat has plenty of capacity to go on short journeys and could be used for camp cruising. It could easily carry a tent and food and one person could sleep aboard. But I’d prefer a canoe for than kind of journey. In a canoe I get to face the direction I’m going. A paddle takes less energy than a pair of oars. I find a canoe better suited to going long distances. However, I really enjoy my little yawl and hope to keep paddling it for many years to come.

Due to waterfowl hunting, many lakes in our area are closed to recreational boating until the end of February. However, Birch Bay is just 5 miles from our son’s farm where the boat is currently stored in his barn. It would be a simple thing to head out for a row on any day when the weather is cooperating. Although there are areas along the Salish Sea that require local knowledge as the many islands affect currents and tides, Birch Bay is a good place for a quiet and safe solo paddle within sight of land.

The boat needs one small repair before it is ready to hit the water. I could accomplish that in 20 minutes. My goal is to get that repair done tomorrow when I am at the farm. After that I’ll have no excuse to keep me off of the water. It will be good to have oars in hand once again.