Lessons from an Old Tree
Some sights put a perspective on life. This Cottonwood tree at Soledad RV park provided shade and shelter while Christ walked the earth. After a glorious life of service, all that remains is this crumbling, insect sanctuary. Even in its decay, it finds purpose.
A long-time worker at the park told me limbs cut high off the main trunk were 2 ½ feet in diameter. She didn’t tell me how tall the tree was before it finally succumbed to weather and insect invasion, but she showed me a picture of men standing on the remains of gigantic, limbed branches several stores above the ground.
One weather-grayed, dried log sits not far from the stump. It quite possibly was once part of the towering tree and is now being used as a base for a work bench. In times past, it had a lofty, swaying home that stretched with life into the sky. Now it sits immoveable on the damp ground, a humble servant not given much thought or consideration except for its utility of service.
The tree, even in its death and dismemberment, speaks loudy: a visual reminder of the passage of time and life’s purpose.
Long after the tree grew and graced the sky, long after it was domicile to countless generations of song birds, long after deer nestled securely under its sheltering boughs, but before the tree was destroyed by time and insects, the rangers considered making a hobbit home of the trunk’s base. But that was not to be the tree’s destiny. Men plan, God winks. So now these humble remains of a once proud giant shelter and house burrowing insects.
As I ponder the sight, I sense that service and purpose is not always found in the heights of metaphorical swaying treetops but also in the dirt and mud of the invisibly mundane. Intellectually I reflect that none is to be counted more valuable; none discounted or disdained if God deems it so. Yet, as I look to the sky, I admit to preferring the tree top experience over one found in decaying debris like that beneath my feet. I realize I still have much to learn about submission. I’m thankful His grace will be sufficient to overcome my inadequacy. I have the gift of not knowing the future, but the larger gift of knowing the one who controls it.
There were several other trees and remains of trees nearby that have or had similar diameters, but I don’t think they are or were quite as large as what the submissive tree once was. I tried counting growth rings on a stump that was close to four feet in diameter. It had to be centuries old, but the growth rings were too difficult to clearly decipher on the grayed, weathered stump. The lack of distinction of its fading lines reminded me that my lifetime on this sphere is truly but a fleeting moment in time.
I find both instruction and solace in these lessons. Despite the aches and pains that accompany this graying head and increasingly wrinkled envelop, I can count on divine direction and perfect purpose. Of course, I am weak and hope for a calling to continued comfort. But whether it be soaring heights or invisible allotment, my prayer is to be faithful to His call, humble in His service, and until it’s time to cast off this shell for consumption by the red wrigglers burrowing below my feet, with His help to find joy in whatever purpose I am called.
Another Mystery Solved
Most everyone remembers the Road Runner cartoon in which Wile E. Coyote suffers mishap after mishap as he tries to trap the ever-annoying Road Runner. Famous for his “Beep! Beep!” as he jumps and takes off in a cloud of dust, the Road Runner may have earned the title spot light, but I always admired the coyote’s creativity and the imaginative methods he invented, with the help of ACME delivery, to capture his antithesis – but that’s just me. I always thought it a mystery as to even why the coyote spent so much time and energy in what was always a fruitless cause.
One bright, sunny morning while having my breakfast in the City of Rocks, New Mexico, a road runner, a real road runner, scurried into my camp and did a curious dance around the campsite. He, or she, came so close I expected her/him to snatch my meal and run. This curious little bird, about the size of a small chicken but larger than a Ginny hen, showed no fear as s/he examined the site and possibly sized up the meal potential it offered.
After parading around the campsite and scurrying around Manna without finding a morsel, s/he took off into the desert, almost as fast as its cartoon persona, but minus the “Beep! Beep!” Maybe Wile E. was just tired of having his lunch stolen!
Ah – another of life’s mysteries solved.
Touring a Battleship at Baton Rouge
I spent part a day recently touring a battleship where I met up with a local history buff, Rich (Recardo translated into Richard and shortened to Rich). Rich had taken the day off work and was convinced, as was I that the “coincidence” we meet was a blessing to both of us. Rich took the day off to remember a son he’d lost 20 years ago to the day and a brother he’d lost in Afghanistan. The relative he was to meet didn’t show up, so we spent the afternoon together. Rich was not only knowledgeable; he was a patient and engaging teacher that allowed me to videotape some of his explanations of parts of the ship I would have not understood without his insight. You can see some of his explanations on my YouTube channel: Retired Pilgrim.
Oddly, the USS Kidd has a pirate painted on its number one smokestack. Although the ship was named after Admiral Kidd, the crew relished the tales of the famous pirate, Captain William Kidd, and called themselves the pirates of the Pacific. The ship sailed and battled in both the Second World War and the Korean War.
Many men were cramped into its quarters as seen on the YouTube video. Enlisted men shared bunks on shifts on bunks that were three bunks tall. There wasn’t much room to turn. Privacy was unknown. In addition to their bunks, they shared lines of sinks and toilets.
Officers had glamorous quarters in comparison, but still quite cramped by modern standards. A few high-ranking officers even had their own toilet and sink.
The ship was made for battle and as such was loaded with guns and torpedoes. I was surprised to learn that, even in the second world war, all but two of the guns were computer driven from a central room.
Much more information and pictures are on the YouTube video. Should you have the opportunity to visit the museum and battleship, it is well worth the time and effort.
Debbie, Pedestrian Camper
She calls herself a “pedestrian camper”. Society, in increasingly negative connotations, would call her “homeless”, “hobo”, or even “tramp”. I’ll call her “Debbie”.
She and I met in the back-parking lot of Walmart near where people come to have their vehicles checked and maintained, and I had recently changed the inner tube of my bicycle. I was wearing a short shelve light shirt and Debbie was bundled in many layers and had a large, very large, bundle strapped to her back. Despite the heat, her head was wrapped in what might have been a bandanna topped with a brimmed hat. Her age could have been anywhere from 30 to 50. It really didn’t matter. We were just two people who sat on a curb in the shade of a tree sharing a beautiful day and each other’s company.
As our conversation grew, I learned Debbie read widely. Her speech and choice of words confirmed a well-read, deep thinking mind. She spoke eloquently and in depth of several of her most inspiring books and gave a short synopsis of a couple of good reads she recommended. Although she said she wasn’t a local, she knew the hours and location of the local library and spent much time there.
We talked about several topics until I grew bold enough to ask where she slept at night. The nights were quite cool, if not cold. She said she looked for a quiet place, usually behind a store and under a tree if possible. She wanted somewhere sheltered where no one would normally look, and she could feel relatively safe. She pointed to a sliver of grass under a tree near a fence as a possible site. As far as cold nights, she said she didn’t have enough blankets and only had a tarp for a covering, so yes, she was cold. It was a harsh life.
She, as matter of fact, said she once had an RV, then a pop-up trailer, but now, not even a tent in which to huddle in bad weather. Rain was the worst. Even so, she chose to think of herself and her circumstances in positive terms. Life had had its blows, but she was accepting, resilient and uncomplaining, enjoying the day as it was given. She was a walking lesson in thankfulness.
We sat on the concrete curb and talked for quite a while, two newfound friends encouraging and uplifting one another while sharing moments together on a beautiful, sunny day. I was grateful to get to know her, if only fleetingly.
Later, alone as the night closed in, I wondered how and where she might have found her “home” for the night, and whether she was warm enough. I prayed she would be safe.
The City of Rocks, New Mexico
The City of Rocks National Park in New Mexico is a geological marvel. The rock formations were caused by a VERY large volcanic eruption – 1000 times larger than Mount Saint Helens eruption on May 18, 1980. Even though we lived thousand of kilometers away, I remember wiping away centimeters of ashy dust from my parked vehicle over the space of a week or two when Mount Saint Helen’s blew its top, and that explosion happened quickly. The volcanic eruptions that formed the City of Rocks would have taken months to years to subside and would have left the sky darkened and the air unbreathable for a long time.
Those who study such things say the magma that produced the eruption was probably 6 to 15 km (3.7 to 9.3 miles) below the earth’s surface. A conduit formed between the molten magma and the earth’s surface allowed the magma to escape through a volcanic vent. They believe the main phase of the eruption was the most violent and began forming what is commonly known as the Kneeling Nun Tuff, of which the City of Rocks is part. They calculate that close to 240 CUBIC MILES of volcanic pumice, ash and gas rained out of the sky. As the volcano’s vent blew wider more and more magma spewed forth allowing increasing amounts of volcanic material to erup quickly and then move as a large, hot, turbulent cloud depositing volcanic material as far as 200 km. (125 miles) away. Imagine throwing rocks the size of those in the City of Rocks for 200 kms! But it did just that in what geologist cal the “Ignimbrite eruption” phase. When this very hot material fell, it compacted to form the dense rocks of the City of Rocks and others in the surrounding areas. The residual heat from the magma ws so hot it produced thermal areas and hot springs like Yellowstone National Park and even on just down the road from the City of Rocks.
The columns, or pinnacles, of rocks the City of Rocks likely were deposited after the main explosion. These massive columns are heavily pitted and although they look like separate rocks, I scratched the soil and found it had little depth before reaching solid rock. This must be why the desert is so dangerous in a rainstorm. The water has no place to go other than in a quick moving, dangerous wash area.
When these columns started cooling, cracks formed perpendicular joints to the ground surface. The cooling joints widened by erosion caused by freezing and thawing and wind that also allowed vegetation to take hold. The vegetation put down roots and along with vegetative acids widen the cracks even further. Eventually the erosion processes striped finer sized material from the rocks and produced the material that covers the desert floor with a rock dense sand. In times of high wind, dust storms close down highways, cover everything in a fine grit and must make breathing difficult.
The desert around the City of Rocks is a beautiful place with its own charm, but I’m beginning to think it has bi-polar tendencies. The days can be searing hot and the nights bitter cold, and the vegetation that grows in abundance is appealing to the eye, but prickly and sharp to the touch. It’s a landscape very different from my native home within the Boreal Forest, but one in which the majesty, creativity and power of God is bare for all to see and experience.
I Met An Angel
I met an angel, probably more than one, but this particular one wore heart-shaped sunglasses and stood under five feet tall. For all her small stature, she was a bundle of energy and blessings. I met her in, of all places, a washroom in a rest area off Inner State 10 in northern Texas.
I’d just finished talking to a fellow I’ll call John who was in a “pickle”. He was driving a small car with a larger sticker on the back announcing, “In GOD we trust”. It was large, really large. You couldn’t miss it! I knew that was a saying but once I got talking to John, I knew he meant it.
John approached my van when I pulled in behind him. That’s when he saw my licence plate cover that said I lived for Jesus. It was then he realized I wasn’t the vehicle he was waiting for, but nevertheless, since he was almost at my door, he came to apologize for his hasty approach and started telling me why he thought I was the person he was waiting for, which I was not.
On this long highway that had few towns that were miles apart, he was running on fumes and was grateful for a safe place to pull over. He’d called Triple A to bring gas and was waiting for them to come from 200 miles away. (There was a town 50 miles away, so I didn’t understand why they were coming from so far away.)
As we talked, I learned he was living on faith as he felt called to help reunite wayward fathers with their children through the gospel. Call it a divine appointment – because I don’t believe in coincidence – I had a gallon of gas that I kept for using with my generator. I offered John the gas; he thanked me but said the Triple A gas must be on its way. When our conversation ended, John got back in his car to wait and I went to use the facilities.
That’s where I met my angel. She was enthusiastically cleaning the stalls and naturally we struck up a conversation. I told her about John’s problem, and she insisted I bring her to him. So, I did. I think if I hadn’t, she would have dragged me.
She herded John out of his car and told him the sheriff often brought gas for people stranded; Triple A would cost a fortune; and she had the sheriff’s number for him to call. She also informed him there was a small town 14 miles further up the highway that sold gas. John was still reluctant. He thought his car was so depleted of fuel he wouldn’t make 14 miles even with my gas.
My angel, now our angel, again insisted he call Triple A. She was a force to be reckoned with, highly recommending he cancel what would have been a most expensive fill-up with no guarantee that it was even coming that day. She eventually coaxed him to take me up on the offer of my gas, and finally, at her urging, he complied, saving himself what could have been hundreds of dollars better used to support his self-funded ministry.
Angels pop up everywhere. God placed this one, with the heart-shaped sunglasses, on a lonely interstate. And we, and hopefully others, were blessed that He did.
Desert Fashion Sense
Those who know me, know I haven’t got much fashion sense. I didn’t need it when I lived on the farm: the cows didn’t care and if my clothing was functional, that was fine with me. When I moved off the farm to more peopled surroundings, things changed. If it wasn’t for my sister’s guidance, I would wear the wrong colours for my skin tone, wrong styles for my body type, and, well…just wrong everything.
So…here I am in the desert of New Mexico. It can be freezing cold at night and osculate from searing hot to “Boy! It’s chilly!” several times throughout the day.
For instance, this morning I exited Manna wearing a toque, two different coloured sweaters, a non-matching plaid shirt (even I knew this) and long pants. An hour later I changed into a swimsuit, no socks, but still with my dust-covered, leather shoes on to protect me from the burrs and thorns that are constantly threatening to engage their thorny spikes into anywhere my body was exposed.
Think about the sight I must have been wearing a bright blue swimsuit in a desert where there isn’t a body of water anywhere near here. But I digress.
An hour later, the colour of my lips was starting to match my swimsuit, so it was back to the long pants … but only one sweater. I don’t know if the ensemble matched and to be truthful, I didn’t care. When I had lunch, I was glad to sit next to the stove.
Not long after, the sun began beating down once again, so I rolled up my pants to knee high and ditched the sweater for a thin pullover. I kept my socks on beneath my once polished shoes that were so dusty, I couldn’t see what colour they were. I would have cleaned them but after a few steps no one would have known it. The desert is really, really dusty.
Still, this outfit became too warm, so the long pants traded places with some shorts, no socks, (but I still kept the needed shoes which rattled around without socks). I know it won’t be long before I once again dig out the long pants and a sweater or two, matched or not. I’m wearing out my clothing. With all this constant changing, it’s as if I’m on a fashion(less) runway!
There is one big positive though. My wonderful sister, who I love with all my heart, is too far away to see the fashion mess I’ve become – once again.
The Day Walmart Shut Down
I love chatting with people. You never know what you’ll find out. Recently I met Rose, who was cleaning the washroom rest room of a Walmart. Not where one might generally strike up a conversation, but we were so engaged the location didn’t matter. Of course, with the Polar-coaster weather we were having at the time, the topic of possible snow came up in our conversation. This topic really got Rose going.
Her eyes widened and she hopped from one foot to the other as she remembered the time they got snow, not much, but enough to just cover the ground. (So, by Canadian standards it was a dusting of snow hardly worth brushing aside.)
With arms waving for emphasis, as she told it, that day the fire alarms went off and with alarms blaring, she and all the other employees had to get all the customers out. Some were in a panic. Without question, everyone had to get out. Fire trucks came blazing into the lot and onlookers turned blue as they stood in the freezing cold. They shivered and shook, but were not allowed to go back into the store until the fire department gave the all clear. For people not used to standing in the cold without warning it seemed like a lifetime.
So, what set off the alarm on the day Walmart was shut down? Snow. And not much of it. Imagine if a mere dusting of snow shut down stores in Canada!
We expect others to understand what we mean when we use common words, but it just isn’t so! Language can be so complicated.
I recently went into a library and asked where I would find the washroom. That’s a simple request, is it not?
Well…the librarian looked at me as if I had two heads and neither of them did much thinking. She then said the library didn’t have a washroom, and in a sympathetic voice one might use on a very small, confused child she added, “Most libraries don’t.”
I must have stood there looking dazed (and thus likely confirming her opinion of my two-headedness emptiness).
I don’t know about you, but every library I’ve been in has at least one washroom! Sometimes they’re locked. And sometimes they’re hidden around a corner, but they are there. Somewhere.
As I stood their thinking (yes, at least one of those heads could muster a thought), another librarian happened by and asked if she could help me. Boy, could I use some help! I ventured to ask about a washroom. The first librarian was in ear shot as she directed me to what obviously the library washrooms. As I left, I overheard, “She’s Canadian.”
Once business was taken care of, I asked the second librarian, “How you know I was a Canadian?”
For starters, she was too, and she had her own story to tell about washrooms.
Early in her move to the States she asked a neighbour to use their washroom. She said the neighbour was surprised but had her follow as she led the way … to the laundry room.
So, my lesson for the day: Washrooms (in the States) are for washing clothing and Rest Rooms, in which you don’t generally rest, are… well, you know, they’re washrooms.
Maybe we are so delicate minded we refuse to call a spade a spade when it comes to the need to answer nature’s call. Perhaps we could rename the facilities the “Pee n’ Poop Room”, then everyone would know what we are talking about and the actual use of the room would be certain. I doubt if the new moniker would fly, but you never know. Language and communication is just soooo complicated.
Nevertheless, with my newfound knowledge in hand, I now know when nature calls while I’m on my travels south of the border, I’ll at least be asking for the right room.
Anyone want a pop?