Late season paddle

fall paddle on Sheridan Lake
There was a small rim of skim ice along the shore of the lake as I launched my kayak yesterday. The air temperature was above 40 degrees and later neared 50 degrees but the water temperature is dropping. It is always hard to predict when ice up will come to the lake. A little skim ice around the edge is a long ways from a frozen lake and I’m sure that the ice was all gone by the end of the afternoon. Still, the ice is a sign that winter is on its way.

There is a problem with paddling on days like yesterday and it isn’t what someone who doesn’t paddle might expect. The problem is that I get too warm very easily. When I paddle, I always need to have a plan for self rescue if some unthinkable problem should arise. I always have contingency plans to keep myself safe. That means I have to be able to survive a wet exit. Were the kayak to roll inverted, a situation that is nearly impossible given the particular boat I was paddling yesterday, and were I to be unable to right the boat without exiting it, I would find myself in the water. Surviving a wet exit would be a tricky adventure without proper preparation.

Cold water carries heat away from the body 25 times faster than air of the same temperature. As a result the body core begins to lose heat to the outside environment. This cooling leads quickly to loss of dexterity, disorientation, unconsciousness and ultimately death. Once the water temperature dips below 50 degrees, a person with no protective clothing has a loss of dexterity in under 5 minutes and will be unconscious within 30 minutes. That is less than half of the amount of time that you have when the water is over 50 degrees. People have survived with proper flotation for up to six hours in water above 50 degrees. For the sake of planning, a kayaker needs to consider not the maximum survival time, but rather the point of loss of dexterity, because once dexterity is lost, reentry into a boat becomes impossible. Clambering up a steep bank may also be beyond the capacity of a boater who has been in the water too long.

In addition, getting out of the lake isn’t an absolute guarantee of survival. Once core temperature has begun to drop, steady decline in temperature continues after the person is removed from the water.

You get the picture. Paddling in a mountain lake without protective clothing can quickly lead to disaster even if the paddler remains close to shore.

So, I wear protective clothing when I paddle. I have to dress with enough protection to allow for dexterity to remain for the amount of time it would take me to get out of the lake and to walk to shelter, which is most likely my car on a day when there are no others at the lake, and still have enough dexterity to use a key in the door lock, start the car and turn on the heater. That means neoprene socks under insulated paddling booties, a layer of hydroskin that seals from the tip of my toes to my neckline, leaving only my hands and head uncovered, waterproof pants and paddling jacket with velcro closures at the waist and an elastic band holding the spray skirt to my waist over both the top and pants. I also have gloves with a water tight seal to the arms of my jacket, and a knitted stocking cap covered by two different hoods. OK, that is too much for paddling on a day like yesterday, so I quickly shed my gloves, carefully tucking them into my life jacket so that i could put them on quickly were I to make a wet exit. I also removed the hoods from my head to allow some cooling to occur there. But underneath all of that waterproof clothing, I’m sweating and, you get it, sweat is water, and it is wicking body temperature away from me.

The margin of safety on a day like yesterday is extremely wide and all of the clothing is probably overkill, but I’ve seen the statistics on survival in cold water and if you love paddling as much as i do, you are willing to endure a bit of discomfort in order to achieve a long paddling season. The reward of having the lake to myself and the space for quiet contemplation is very high and worth all of the layers and preparation.

The day was calm and there was no danger of capsize anywhere during my paddle and I was home with the boat back in storage a half hour after I pulled the boat from the water. With any luck, I’ll get the boat in the water next week. Weather doesn’t look too good for Monday, but if you add one more week, it will be December - not bad for a paddler in South Dakota.

When I got back home I looked back in my journal. My first paddle of 2016 was on March 7. There was a lot of floating ice on the lake that day, but the edges had opened up enough to allow paddling most of the way around the lake. I took a plastic boat on that day so that I wouldn’t have to worry about scratches if I got next to the ice and at one point even pushed my little boat up on top of the ice for a few minutes. Early March to late November isn’t bad for a paddling season in country where there are ice fishermen who can’t wait for the water to get solid enough for them to venture out with their snow machines and temporary shelters.

All of this takes place within a dozen miles of my home. I am aware of how fortunate I am to have access to such superb recreation just around the corner.

I’ve always said that I don’t mind winter, and it is true that there are wonderful charms when things turn very cold. Still, if I’m able to paddle into December this year I’ll be setting a personal record for the most days paddled in a single season. Not bad for a guy with a full time job!

Copyright (c) 2016 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!

Made for relationship

I started my day by staring out the east window as the waning crescent of the moon. We’ve still got four or five days until the new moon, so there is still quite a bit of light reflected. It is a beautiful orb. Along the edge where the illuminated portion meets the dark side the craters and mountains cast long shadows making them easier to observe.

In the wee hours I sometimes have the impression that I am the only one awake and looking at the beauty of the world. Of course I know that this is not true, but there is a sense of private blessing in the beauty that surrounds me. It is a day off for me, a rare time of Sabbath in a busy and hectic schedule. I don’t often stay away from my email two days in a row and I know that there will be an extended mountain of junk in my inbox when I take time to catch up, but I’m grateful for the peacefulness of a holiday that gives me extra time to look at the world.

Yesterday afternoon a small group of us took a short walk in the woods near our friends’ home, a place were we have often walked. The path leads up to the crest of the hill where there is a beautiful view of the valley spreading below and the higher hills in the distance. Someone has erected a small shrine there with a bench, a cross and a small statue of Mary the mother of Jesus. We can tell that it is still regularly maintained by the bits of new paint and additions of plastic flowers or other items from time to time. In the eyes of someone that we don’t know it is a sacred place. Who knows what earnest prayers have been prayed from that vantage point?

It gives me a different perspective to think that the beauty I witness is being witnessed by others who are unseen by and unknown to me. It seems to point to another important truth: we are not alone.

I get other reminders of that truth in different ways. From time to time different readers of my journal will drop me a note. They always come as a bit of a surprise and joy to me. I know rationally that people read what I write. The whole point of publishing to the web is to make my words public - to share them. But sometimes I forget about the people who read what I have to say. I rise in the wee hours of the morning and write because I can’t really figure out another way to live my life. I feel compelled to write in order to express and understand the dynamics of my life. I wrote before I decided to publish the blog with very little thought about who might read my words. Now that I have been writing publicly for a decade I am still guilty of writing without much thought to my readers.

The bottom line, however, is that we have been created for relationship. My inner drive to write is also an inner drive to share. The words that I cannot keep inside are not meant to be mine alone. The beauty of the moon, the glory of the setting sun over the hills, the awe inspired by our creation are not mine alone. They are to be shared.

Because my life is one of working with others, I sometimes have a tendency to be a bit of a recluse on my days off. My family noticed this early in my career as a pastor. I remember commenting to my mother many years ago that a gathering of my family was so much like the work I do every day that I couldn’t tell I was on vacation if I spent my time off trying to understand the dynamics of my brothers and sisters. Throw in a couple of my cousins and I’m completely snowed and soon feel the urge to run away and hide.

Still, I don’t hate my family. I long for time with them. I want to listen to the stories of their lives and the things that are most important to them. I grew up with these people and they are a part of my life no matter how far apart we live or how infrequently we spend time together. As one of the stories of creation from Genesis puts it, “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone.’”

It is not good to be alone. We were created for relationship.

Or to put it another way, we need one another.

Throughout the history of the Christian Church there have been many mystics and other seekers who have given in to the urge to move away from society. Hermits, ascetics and monks have sought lonely places to explore their faith and deepen their relationship with God. Their stories have provided inspiration and theological clarity for generations of Christians. Similarly there are those who practice other faiths who have gone off by themselves and lived in remote locations for the purpose of spiritual quest.

If you study their writings, however, you discover an intense sense of justice and service to others that continually emerges. Taking time alone and apart from others seems to produce a heightened awareness and concern for the well being of those others.

Even as I seek out and revel in my days off when I stay at home and don’t venture into the mix and pace of every day life, I’m thinking of those I am called to serve. Don’t look for me at any of the Black Friday sales today. I’m likely to be at home with a book or in my yard catching up on chores. I might even take some of my time to clear out a bit of the mess in my garage. But I will be thinking of those I am called to serve and I plan to be back on the job with renewed energy and enthusiasm by tomorrow.

Copyright (c) 2016 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!


Dignity Sculpture
The culture of our area has been shaped by art. Rapid City is probably best known for its proximity to Mount Rushmore, where the faces of four presidents are carved into the mountain. Not far away is the Crazy Horse carving, a giant, three-dimensional carving of an entire mountain. Our city is filled with public art, with sculptures on many downtown street corners, and numerous other public works of art. The church has a long history of being a patron of the arts. Many classical works of music, painting, sculpture, theatre and other arts have religious themes. Art is known to inspire and to lead people to thinking of topics and issues that are beyond themselves.

On our recent vacation, we stopped going and coming to spend time with a new public sculpture that is located on the bluffs of the Missouri River near Chamberlain. Titled “Dignity” the metal sculpture by South Dakota Artist Laureate Dale Lamphere, stands 50 feet tall and depicts a Lakota woman with a Star Quilt billowing behind her.

As is true with all art, it takes time to take it all in.

Before going farther, it is important to note that South Dakota’s newest landmark had its origins in the deep generosity of Norm and Enable McKie. They commissioned the sculpture as a gift to the people of South Dakota. Working with landscape architect Patrick Wyss the dream is to develop a park for South Dakotans and our visitors to use for years to come. The artists’s statement describes some of the goals of the piece:

“Dignity represents the courage, perseverance and wisdom of the Lakota and Dakota culture in South Dakota. My hope is that the sculpture might serve as a symbol of respect and promise for the future.”

In a way, it has been interesting to have waited over a month from the dedication celebration to make our first visit. We have heard lots of comment and conversation from friends and acquaintances about the sculpture before seeing it with our own eyes.

The comments didn’t fully prepare us for the experience of looking at the remarkable piece of art. People have spoken of size and scale. They have mentioned the star quilt with its colors. They have reported on how it changes with the light of different times of day. They have commented on the LED lights that add to its nighttime appearance. But not many have spoken to me about the beauty of the sculpture. The face and features of the woman are impressive and, simply, beautiful. I hadn’t expected to be so taken with that aspect.

There will, of course, be critics. Some ask why she is facing the direction that she faces - just a little bit south of East. I suspect that on the average blustery day, standing atop those bluffs, I might face exactly the same direction, turning my back to the wind. The sculpture, however depicts a star quilt billowing away from the woman, as if the wind were blowing almost exactly the opposite direction of the prevailing. No worries, this is South Dakota. There will be days when the wind will shift to the southeast and line up with the sculpture. Some say that she is facing the sunrise, which is appropriate for a sculpture dedicated to the future of the state and its people. I’ve heard that she has turned her back on the town of Chamberlain. The bottom line is that a three-dimensional sculpture of a woman has to face some direction. As it is, it makes a wonderful impression from the parking lot and park area in which it is situated. Because there is also an older structure that is reminiscent of a Lakota tipi in the area which is of a smaller scale, it makes sense for the new sculpture to be a ways from that tipi so when they are viewed together one doesn’t dominate the other.

As to the cultural appropriateness of the sculpture, I am not qualified to comment and will wait to hear from others about their opinions. What I do know is that Lakota and Dakota culture is not a fixed entity forever frozen in time. It changes and evolves. The tradition of star quilts, which we see in all kinds of celebrations from honoring ceremonies to funerals, is something that came after reservation times. Quilting wasn’t an indigenous art, but rather one that has its roots in Europe. In contemporary Lakota culture, however, the quilts carry deep meaning and have been fully incorporated into the lives of the people. The woman depicted in the sculpture is wearing traditional dress - something seen only at pow wows and special ceremonies these days, but somehow it seems to fit very well to combine the traditional dress with the quilt. A historian would have trouble placing the sculpture in a particular moment of time, but perhaps its value to present and future generations is its ability to span time and not be connected to a particular date and place. It does have a transcendent quality. After all it is ten times as big as a living human person. From most angles of viewing one is looking up at the face of the woman.

For now, I feel a sense of gratitude to the generosity of the McKie family and a sense of appreciation for the vision of Dale Lamphere. Dignity is an incredible and memorable piece of outdoor art that will be a part of the story of our state for generations to come. I hope that we, who live and work in this place can aspire to some of the courage, perseverance and wisdom that it depicts. Perhaps the sculpture is just the inspiration we need.

Art enables us to express ideas and concepts that are beyond words and art such as this sculpture, designed to last for long periods of time, can have different meanings to different viewers. I know that I will be asking others what they think of the sculpture for years to come and listening with joy to their responses.

Copyright (c) 2016 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!

Sounds of this place

Knob Noster State Park
As consciousness seeps into my mind, I listen to the world and remember where I am. The sounds in this place are different than home. They are different from any place that I have lived. I’ve known the sound of the wind in the pine trees for decades now. Wind blowing through these tress, however, sounds much different. The sound reminds me of the season. It is autumn. There is a rich carpet of fallen leaves coating everything several inches deep. The dry leaves swirl and blow around in the wind. There are, however, still plenty of leaves on the trees. I grew up with cottonwood trees and their sound, but the cottonwood trees carry their leaves higher off of the ground and those leaves are relatively small when they fall. Here, in a grove of oak and maples and several other varieties of trees whose names I do not know, there is a sense of being surrounded by leaves. There is a constant pitter patter of leaves falling, softer leaves landing on the crisp, dry leaves that occupy the ground. Other sounds creep into my consciousness: the thump of acorns when they land on the roof of the camper; the crunch of a small animal crawling across the ground. We’ve seen both raccoons and opossum exploring the area in the dusky shadows.

I have to concentrate to tell whether or not it is raining. It is not. The sounds mostly have to do with leaves.

There is an abundance of leaves in this forest that reminds me of the abundances of other signs of life in other places. Nature is generous with its quantities.

Knob Noster State Park is a tranquil retreat of open oak woodland with a few patches of prairie along both sides of the meandering Clearfork Creek. The park has many different trails for day hikes and plenty of space to spread out and enjoy the tranquility. We’ve stayed here before. The park also features an oxbow slough, which has been officially designated as Pin Oak Slough Natural Area. 

The sounds of nature aren’t the only sounds of this place. Although we are set back off of the highway far enough to be removed from its constant whine of tires on pavement, we can occasionally hear a particularly loud car or truck passing. In the night I woke to the sound of the giant jet bombers taking off from Whiteman Air Force Base which is just a short distance east of our campsite. In a couple of hours, reveille and first call will sound from the loudspeakers at the base and we will hear the bugle sounds from our campsite. Most evenings we are out with our daughter and son in law and arrive after taps have sounded, but we’ve heard that evening song as well when we’ve camped here before.

Knob Noster is a bit of a funny name. I guess it means “our hill,” but it is a jumble of a colloquial, folk name for a hill, “knob,” and the formal Latin for “our.” There are a couple of somewhat prominent small hills northeast of town, and I suppose that it is from one of those that the town took its name. Settled in the mid nineteenth century, the town was mostly a small farming community until the construction of Whiteman Air Force Base. Begun during the buildup to World War II, the field was originally named Sedalia Army Air Base and was a training ground for glider pilots in an area known as blue flats because of the color of the soil. Sedalia is the name of the large town to the east.

Knob Noster State Park sits down a bit from the town in an area that probably wasn’t very productive for farming and was left forested as settlement surrounded it. We have tended to stay here in the fall, so we don’t know all of its seasons, but one can imagine that there is rich soil under the carpet of leaves. It probably doesn’t have the blue color that lent its name to the natural prairie fields where the base was located. I imagine rich dark loam, the product of years of decaying leaves. It provides for healthy trees and supports a community of wildlife that includes deer as well as several different small mammals. When we walk about in the day, we can hear frogs singing in the wetlands as well.

The land we set aside as parks is one of the treasures of this nation. We’ve found state parks to be good managers of land in general. As we’ve traveled around, we’ve learned to look for state parks as places to camp. We’re not as attracted to the modern camping resorts with all of their amenities. We don’t seem to need swimming pools, playgrounds, activity buildings, mini golf and wagon rides, though we understand their attraction for families. We’re happy with a little more space between campers and the sounds of nature to surround us.

Camping barely describes our experience in our current camper. We have a comfortable bed that says made up as we travel down the road. We have ducted air conditioning and a furnace that takes the chill off as well as a complete kitchen and bathroom. It is a far cry from our days of sleeping in a tent and cooking outdoors with a pit toilet a short walk away. This campground has modern toilets and warm showers available in several locations. Even tent camping is pretty comfortable in this setting.

It is a fine place for a bit of vacation. The gentle sounds of the trees and leaves are soothing and the quiet affords us time for contemplation and reflection. The closeness of our family nurtures our spirits as well.

I sleep well in this place even though the sounds are not completely familiar. And if it takes me a minute to become orientated when I wake, that is a good thing, too. It reminds me that I am not at home and each day is a new adventure. Soon enough we’ll head back and put the camper in storage for the winter. For now, I am grateful for the luxury of this place.

Copyright (c) 2016 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!


Lakeshore from kayak
I don’t read much of the print newspaper these days. I get most of my news from websites, many of them posted by newspapers.When our print newspaper arrives, I scan the headlines, usually having read the articles online. I read the obituaries and the comics and occasionally something else catches my eye that I had missed while reading the online articles. I can remember when the Sunday newspaper was a big deal in our house. We’d read a bit of it before worship in the morning and then save it for reading later in the day. Some weeks, we’d have bits of the paper around for a couple of days while we finished reading and passed articles back and forth. There just isn’t that much in the Sunday paper any more. I usually have seen all I need before breakfast and it is in the recycling bin early in the day. The magazine in our Sunday paper is called “Parade” and it used to have a few articles worth reading. I also would have a couple of cartoons and I got into the habit of paging through the magazine each week. These days the magazine is very short and mostly advertisements. Most weeks it is not even sorted out from the other ads that make their way to the recycling bin unread.

However, someone commented to me about an article in Parade this week, so I fished it out and read the article. While not great journalism, it did provide a starting point for a bit of reflection. The article was about the health benefits of feeling awe or being awestruck. Based on a project of the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab in which researchers have discovered that shared awe strengthens relationships, the experience of awe soothes frayed emotions, people gain fresh perspectives, and happiness and joy increase.

Researchers documented a decrease in cytokines, a marker of inflation, in those who frequently experience awe.

I don’t mean to be condescending, but . . . duh. I don’t think it takes a Templeton grant an three years of study to state the obvious. I’ve known instinctively the positive effects of the experience of awe for most of my life.

Read Psalm 8. The power of awe has been noted in literature for thousands of years.

Sometimes, however, we have to re-discover things that the ancients understood better than our present generation. Because it is difficult to quantify and explain in mathematical terms, religious experience has been discounted by some scientific investigators. I don’t really mind the fact that the researchers in Berkeley are reluctant to describe their research in religious terms because I know what they are talking about whether or not they are comfortable with theological language.

We are made for relationship with God - with that which is beyond.

I had a few moments for recreation yesterday and, as is my custom, I was sitting in my kayak at the lake. I was listening the the geese who are noisily forming their flocks for migration, and looking at the colors of the shoreline. I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures. The source of my awe at the moment was the visual tricks being played by the reflection in the water. It was calm and the glassy surface of the water was producing a visual image of the trees and hills. Except the trees and hills are three dimensional. They have distance and height and depth. The image on the surface of the water was flat. In my kayak, I sit almost exactly at water level, with the boat only a couple of inches below the surface. From where I sat to the shore was completely flat, then the shoreline rose toward the hill beyond. What I saw, however, seemed different from the reality I knew existed. My eyes wanted to report that the boat was pointed uphill, not level and that the inverted images of trees in the water were somehow upside-down.

As I write this morning, I know that I am not able to describe the feeling. That is the thing about being awestruck. You have encountered that which is beyond words and though words are the tools of description that we have we know that there is more than we will be able to say.

As I went through the rest of the day, enjoying yet another gloriously warm and bright fall day in the hills and appreciating the brilliant colors and fresh smells, I kept remembering the feeling of sitting on the lake in the morning.

I have friends who are accomplished with mathematics and theoretical physics and other scientific pursuits and though they do not use religious language in describing their professional studies, there is a tone of voice I have heard when they describe some of their discoveries. Mathematicians are, from time to time, awed by the beauty and precision of complex formulas. Physicists are awed by the intricacies of the inner workings of the universe. I can hear it in their words as they speak. And I know that they, like me, are unable to find words to describe the experience of beauty they experience. They have encountered that which is beyond and experienced that which cannot be described.

There are many different ways to experience the in flowing of sensations that overwhelm and cause awe. Hikers achieve a particular vista and see a fresh perspective. Astronauts look back at the earth and see its wholeness. Whale watchers experience a sudden breach of the magnificent mammals and are impressed by their size, power and agility. Firefighters experience the raw power and life-like behavior of flames. Pilots watch a rainbow form above the clouds. Doctors marvel at the inner workings of the human body. Parents and grandparents are overwhelmed at the sight of a newborn baby.

The gift of awe is readily available for those who take time to ponder this world. Not every gift of awe, however, demands words. While we may try, with prose and poetry to say something significant, there is yet another response to awe that is very appropriate: silence.

Copyright (c) 2016 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!