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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

I expected colder temps as I set out for the mountains at 4 am.  What I failed to expect was that the calm where I lived would be replaced by 15 – 20 mph winds.  Fortunately I dressed warm and for the most part I was comfortable.  The hike from 5500 feet to 6000 feet also kept the blood pumping which meant for the first hour I was relatively comfortable.

Shining Rock in the Pisgah National Forest was created as one of the original federal Wilderness Areas when that designation was established in 1964.  The high mountain range consists of a concentrated number of mountain peaks in western North Carolina with several over 5000 feet and three, including Black Balsam Knob, over 6000 feet in elevation.  Surrounded by thickly forested mountains slopes the closest town, Brevard, NC is some 20+ miles south.

As I emerged from my car near the trailhead I was stunned by the vast number of stars visible this far from manmade lights other than those I had just turned off.  Since the moon had set, the stars had the stage all to themselves, and what a performance they gave.  For the second time in two weeks I caught the glimpse of a shooting star as it’s long and invisible existence came to a brief, yet fiery end colliding with the earth’s atmosphere.  The wind was howling as I entered the 200 meters of trail running through the strip of fir trees just off the service road.  I prayed a prayer of thanks for the folks who had laid white rock on the trail through the trees.  It would have been very easy to lose the trail without it.

Breaking through the trees, the expansive view opened to the first hints of light on the horizon.  An hour before the official sunrise, I had time to soak in the immensity and grandeur of the night.  Even without the moon, the stars were bright enough to give a sense of shape and flow to the land.  The dark shape of the mountain rising to my left and the swaying form of the trees I had emerged from falling off to my right were silhouetted against millions of stars.  Toward the eastern horizon the hint of color slowly grew with one bright star shining above the brightest point.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.

Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Psalm 19:1-4a

Creation speaks if we listen.  It is not loud or demanding, but more of a gentle whisper… most of the time.  The message is one of beauty, power, and majesty.  From the top of a cold, windy mountain bald far from civilization I knew the creator’s presence not as in an artist’s work created and left behind, but in a world that He Himself fills and sustains.  God – the Almighty, was there on the mountain and my spirit soared to embrace His loving presence.

Another thought came.  When I look at creation, I realize the utter emptiness of an atheistic point of view.  The belief that all of this – the sun, the moon, the stars, earth and the exact combination of so many variables necessary to sustain life, just happened in a cosmic accident, is far too hard to believe.  That all of this came from nothing is the definition of foolishness.  I don’t make light of the fact that there is much we do not know about life and the universe.  There are mysteries that we mere mortals do not and may not ever know.  But evidence and logic make an indisputable case of an intelligent designer and creator.

As the sun rose I realized that winter had come to the high places.  The trees were all bare and the grass-covered bald was colored in various browns and greys.  As a lover of light and color, the view through the photographer’s lens was much closer to bleak winter than the festive fall I had hoped to capture.

I hiked to the top of Black Balsam Knob.  By this time I had been out in the wind for a couple hours.  Being stationary while trying to snap long exposure shots, the chill had seeped through my gloves.  The fleece-lined jeans were doing their job and my son’s borrowed yarmulke had my head toasty, but I realized my fingers were numbingly cold.  The intensity of the wind made it a challenge to get my fingers warm.  Frost-bite was suddenly a concern.  I looked for shelter, but the trees were about a mile back down the trail over the open mountain ridge.  I had selected the rock out-cropping I was standing by to serve as a foreground element in a few shots.  I suddenly remembered David and Elijah taking refuge in the cleft of a rock.  Sliding down the lee side of the rock from the wind I found immediate relief.  As an added bonus the morning sun was now hitting me without the wind stealing it’s warmth.

Sitting beside the rock I was aware of warmth emanating from within as well as from outside.  The physical rock behind which I sheltered brought to mind the Rock Who is my forever shelter – Jesus Christ.  I had felt His presence the entire time on the mountain, but as the winds swept over and around the rock, I thought of the challenging times of my life when He walked me through.  Sometimes He had to carry me.  Always, His strength was able to supply what I lacked.  With a smile on my face I rested in the relative warmth of the sun and the eternal warmth of the Son.

I did manage to find some color at the lower elevations.  The following shots are some of my favorites of the day.

At mid-afternoon I found myself standing on Caesar’s Head overlooking the Blue Ridge escarpment falling off into the South Carolina piedmont.  A couple hawks and then buzzards flew by, but I did not see any of the Peregrine Falcons I had hoped for.  It was fine though because the view, like so many this day, inspired yet another thought, this time from Isaiah.

“Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Isaiah 40:28-31

It’s fitting that the last act of this trip was to make two new friends with whom I shared not only the view off the mountain, but a faith in the Lord.  As we stood there and chatted, we realized that we had been inspired by the view in a very similar manner – with wonder and praise for the Creator of such beauty.  We were standing on a different rock outcropping than my Black Balsam Knob, but since rock was a common thread running through this day, I enjoyed the thought that my two new friends and I were knit together as family because of our common faith in the Rock.  And that Rock’s name is Jesus.

I hope you enjoy the pics.  But even more I hope you are encouraged by the truths the Lord has given to us… to you every bit as much as to me.

“Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:8

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:37-39

Be blessed today and be a blessing!

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A friend of mine introduced me to trail running a couple years ago.  It combines two of my favorite activities – running for fitness and hiking in the outdoors.  I definitely prefer trails to running on the road.  However there are more opportunities for mishaps in trail running.  My experience after 15 or so solo trail runs, there are also numerous opportunities for “life lessons” while on the trail.  I had a number of life lessons reinforced in a single run this week.

There is a state park between the plant where I am working and my hotel.  Morrow Mountain State park is a rolling, wooded haven for deer, squirrels, lizards, and more in central North Carolina.  I’ve hiked and run there a number of times and I enjoy the peaceful solitude.  On the trails I have encountered few other travelers although the trails appear fairly well travelled.

Trail running in West Virginia last week I slightly tweeked my ankle, so I was a little apprehensive considering this trail run.  The Morrow Mountain trails are very rocky with a plethora of tree roots providing trip and ankle-rolling hazards.  For this reason I made sure I told two folks at the plant my plans.  In the back of my mind I thought, “In case I don’t show up at work tomorrow, they will know where to send a search party.”  Both gentlemen shared stories about adventures at Morrow Mountain with snakes and ticks being a predominant theme.

When I pulled into the open field that serves as the parking lot I was only slightly surprised there were no other vehicles.  While this is the parking lot for the horse trailers as well as the start of a hiking only trail, my sense is that is primarily a summer and weekend activity.  My plan was to run about 4 miles.  Looking at the map I made a plan to start on the hiking trail for about a mile, jump onto a cross-over hiking trail for about a half mile, then pick up the short loop horse trail for the remainder of the run.  At the last minute I folded up the map and slipped it in my pocket.  I’m glad I did.

I set off and I had to remain focused on the number of roots and rocks in my path.  The hiking trail was neither smooth nor level.  My hyper-caution was making the run less fun.  When I first began trail running I was amazed to learn that trail running really only took a little greater attention to the trail than street running.  However since I had tweeked my ankle last week, I was too focused on the trail and I was overthinking my steps.  Life lesson #1 It is easy to slip into the need to control everything.  We can’t.  Trying to do so will rob the enjoyment out of life.  Trust God and the instincts He has given us.  Prudence is to listen to the Lord and walk (or jog) in wisdom.  I stopped after about 1/3 mile, stretched, and made my mind up to run more naturally and quit trying to plan every step.  It was mentally fatiguing and, as I had experienced in the past, unnecessary.  Running after that was much better.

After about a mile I was to jump on a cross-over trail.  I didn’t notice the cross-over when I first passed it since it was on a steep downhill descent.  I overshot it by half a mile.  When I realized my mistake I cringed.  If I kept to my original plan, them my run just became a 5 mile run instead of a 4 mile run.  I am a 3 – 4 mile run guy.  It’s been awhile since I ran 5 miles and I wasn’t sure I was up to it.  Life lesson #2 – Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that demand more of us than we think we are able to give.  Sometimes we realize we are headed in the wrong direction.  Seek God’s wisdom, follow His leading, and press on wherever He guides you.  If we find we are heading in the wrong direction, turn around.  He is faithful and true.  He will not abandon His child.

I found the cross-over trail and set off down it.  It was a section of trail that I had not been on before.  I had hiked this trail further ahead where it steeply ascends Morrow Mountain, but this section appeared on the map to run downhill for a ways and cross a couple streams before turning up the mountain.  I had run for a few minutes and crossed at least one stream when I noticed the trail turn up a steep slope.  “On no,” I thought.  “I’ve missed the turn again and now I’m heading up the mountain.”  My recent memory of adding a mile to the run was fresh in my mind.  I did not want to add any more distance to today’s run.  A quick consult of my map and I saw that the trail I wanted shouldn’t be more than 100 yards east of me since I had just crossed that stream.  So I headed off the trail toward what I assumed was the right trail.  Well 100 yards became 200 yards.  When I realized there was no trail, I turned south intending to cross the Bridle trail that showed up on the map.  That was IF my new estimate of my location was correct.  I wandered around in the woods for about 5 minutes with three thoughts.  First was the thought that the trail has to be around here somewhere.  The second and third thoughts were about snakes and ticks.  I’m not sure why that part of my earlier conversation made such an impression.  Life Lesson #3.  Fear is a poor partner in decision-making.  Fear can and will steer you off the proper path if you let it take an inordinate role in making decisions.  Fear has a role.  It can cause us to stop and think through a situation critically.  Once you stop though, use data and rational thinking to make your decision.

I finally stopped and did a serious reconnoiter.  My Boy Scout training kicked in.  Panic was the enemy.  Fear of running too far and driven me off the trail.  Now fear of snakes and ticks were clouding my critical thinking.  And for the first time in several minutes I prayed.  “Lord, I need a little help here.”  Was I lost?  Well, I didn’t know exactly where I was.  But I knew the direction where the trail I had left should be.  I set off in that direction not sure if it had turned away and up the mountain or not, but at that moment getting back to that trail was my best bet.  I had only gone a little ways when I saw movement and color up ahead of me.  It was a hiker, the 2nd and last I would see all evening.  I knew I was headed right direction.  I picked up my pace and soon I was on the right trail.    There was another life lesson here.  Life Lesson #4.  When you lose your way, God is right there with you.  Call to Him.  Ask for help.  Follow His guidance.  Critical thinking is very good.  Prayerful, critical thinking is the best.

My attempt at avoiding adding extra distance to my run added about a half mile.  I was at the point that should have been a little over a mile and I was not too far from 3 miles into my run and I was pretty sure I had at least 2 miles left to run.  I set off again now that I had the trail.  It was familiar and, being predominantly a horse trail, it was wide and smooth.  Life Lesson #5.  Life, like the trail that day, has twists and turns, ups and downs.  The Lord has laid out a path for us.  While the path won’t always be easy, it is the tried and true way to your destination.  Don’t seek to avoid the challenges, but rather face them head on and persevere to the end.

The remainder of the run was relatively uneventful.  I guess I had enough to consider after all the lessons of the day.  As I jogged and prayed I sensed the Father’s presence encouraging me to press on.  Nearing the end of the run was a quarter mile, very steep incline.  I knew it was coming and as I got to the base of it, I simply started walking and gauging my fatigue level.  While tired, I was confident that if I stayed the course I would make it.  And after 5-1/2 miles and a little over an hour I found the parking lot and my car.

Thankfulness for the Lord’s kindness, care, and the life lessons which made a physically demanding run so insightful flooded my soul.  I think I’ll be back… but I will probably hike instead of run…. and I will definitely stay on the trail.

Be blessed today my friend.  And be a blessing to whoever the Lord brings into your life today.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Coastal Redwoods found in Pacific Northwest are the largest, and among the oldest, living things in all creation.  Soaring in excess of 300 feet and with circumferences over 60 feet, these giants of the forest grace the steep slopes of the Pacific Coast for approximately 300 miles from south of San Francisco northward to southern Oregon.  I am visiting this area for the first time this week and thoroughly enjoying the beautiful scenery and lessons learned walking among giants.

Looking up in the Redwood Forest.

Looking up in the Redwood Forest.

On our morning in Klamath, California I woke early to visit the Father in the forest.  Redwoods grow in groves of dozens to hundreds of trees grouped together.  Interestingly, these massive trees do not have deep root systems.  The roots of a 300 foot tall tree will only go 8 feet or so into the soil.  However it will also spread some 500 feet around the base of the tree.  Trees in a grove will intertwine their roots as they spread creating a dense lattice work of roots and soaring trees joined together.  During winter storms with 60 mile per hour winds it is not unusual to see the tops of Redwood tress swaying 15 or more feet side to side and the earth at their base heaving 2 or 3 feet.  Yet because their roots are locked together they don’t topple over.  In fact they thrive.

In the same way, the people of God must be connected to one another in loving fellowship.  We are not made to do life alone.  We are made for godly community.

Another interesting fact about Redwoods is the importance of “tragic” events to their thriving.  Redwood lumber is amazing.  It is resistant to rot and insects and it has very good strength to weight characteristics.  For these reasons and more, Redwood harvesting was a major industry in California in the late 1800’s and into the mid 1900’s.  As timber harvesting became more prevalent and the excesses and damage of poor practices began to manifest themselves, conservation efforts began.  Naturalists were at first stumped with how to propagate these trees.  They had the seeds, but they couldn’t get them to germinate.  Then one year a major fire occurred and viola, the next year there were redwood seedlings everywhere.  It seems the seeds need the heat of the fire to cause them to burst open.

Life from the Roots.

Life from the Roots.

Perpetual twilight under these giant trees.

Perpetual twilight under these giant trees.

I see an obvious parallel in many people’s lives.  They live life trying just to survive, often wrapping themselves into various protective cocoons.  For those who achieve wealth and success, this provides a type of shield from the challenges of life.  For those with more modest means that barrier to life’s difficulties might be to immerse themselves in work, alcohol, or some hobby.  But life and true peace – deep, rich, and full, remains out of reach.  It is a hope or a dream.  Yet I have seen tragedy impact persons in the most amazing ways.  The Lord reaches into the depth of tragedy and brings life, growth, and hope.  Just like the redwood seeds, something painful becomes the pathway to life.

Another observation was the regrowth coming out of redwood stumps.  For the few redwoods that are damaged, many are able to start anew because of the life in the roots.  In fact, during the rainy season the roots of the Redwoods are able to store up to 150 gallons of water per day in anticipation of the coming dry season.  Therefore developing a robust root system is essential for the vitality and longevity of the Redwood.  For the believer this root system is reading and incorporating the Word into our life and learning to live in close communion with the Holy Spirit as our counselor.  Applying the Word by obeying what Jesus said is the best way to develop a root system that will sustain us during the droughts of life.

When we think of spiritual giants we will most often think of Moses, King David, Peter, Paul or a similar spiritual giant.  But the impression the Lord laid on my heart was the widow Jesus referred to for His disciples to consider.  Many persons had placed large sums into the temple treasury, but Jesus pointed out this poor, yet faith-filled, widow as their example.  She, out of her poverty, gave all she had to live on.  How could she do that?  Because she trusted the Lord completely.  Her job was not to focus upon providing for her own needs, but to trust and obey the Lord.

When I return home shortly, I will return to tasks to be done, work to be caught up on, and future plans to be made.  But as I do so I will remember my walk among the giant redwoods.  And I will strive to remember that I walk among giants in faith when I allow the Word of God to fill me, when I apply its truths to my thoughts and actions, when I seek to know Jesus better and when I allow Him to live through me.   We walk among giants, my friend.  Keep the faith and, over time, the Lord will make us giants through our simple obedience.

Be blessed today and be a blessing.

 

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Panorama view of Mount Rainier taken from the top of Plummer Peak.

Panorama view of Mount Rainier taken from the top of Plummer Peak.

I had a spectacular time hiking Mount Rainier this past weekend.  I drove up Friday evening and scouted out Paradise in preparation for an early morning rendezvous with the mountain.  I was at Reflection Lake about 5 am on Saturday striving for the perfect shot as the sun first struck the mountain.  I got some okay shots, but compared to the others I have selected, they don’t quite make the cut.

A little before 6 I hit the Pinnacle Peak Trail which begins across the road from Reflection Lake.  About 15 minutes up the trail I heard coyotes begin howling.  It’s a little unsettling to be alone on the trail and have four coyotes howling just a hundred yards or so ahead of you.  Thoughts of being alone, remote, and surrounded by animals that eat meat… and realizing that to them I am meat, gave me reason to pause.  I considered whether it would be prudent to turn around, but a brief prayer later I felt like the Lord was calling me higher.  And I knew He was more than able to handle the coyotes.

A little further up the trail I was struck by what a wonderful gift the Lord had given me.  My new job was enabling me to hike in the Mount Rainier NP, take lots of photos, and worship Him all in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.  I realized that for most of my life I have been a Martha-like person, always busy DOING.  See Luke 10:38-42.  If I had not had the job change that I have, I would still be slaving away working crazy hours to put away “enough” money to retire in a few years.  The Lord gently reminded me that He is able to supply all our needs.  We don’t know how much is enough, but He does.  The measure that really matters is not how much money we make or have, but how much of US we have surrendered to Jesus.  Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and He commended her for it.  This day as my heart was bursting with gratitude, I realized I was sitting beside Mary… and it was a wonderful place to be.

Pinnacle Peak across the valley from Paradise.  Note the Pinnacle Peak trail up the side of the mountain which is how I got to Plummer Peak.

Pinnacle Peak across the valley from Paradise. Note the Pinnacle Peak trail up the side of the mountain which is how I got to Plummer Peak.

As I continued up the mountain I emerged from the forest out into my first scree field.  You can see the trail I hiked in this picture.  Pinnacle Mountain towered on my left and the jumble of rocks flowed steeply down the mountainside on my right.  The views just kept getting better and better.

This was my original destination until I felt the tug to "come up higher".

This was my original destination until I felt the tug to “come up higher”.

Plummer Mountain was my perch for an early morning devotional.

Plummer Mountain was my perch for an early morning devotional.

The maintained trail ended at the pass between Pinnacle Peak and Plummer Peak.  As I snapped pictures I noticed what looked like a trail heading over the Plummer Peak.  About 20 minutes later I found myself on the very top of the highest rocks you can see on the mountain above.  Whenever I describe a “mountain-top experience” in the future I will think of my time on Plummer Peak.

My mountain top bench where I worshipped the Lord in the beauty of His splendor.

My mountain top bench where I worshipped the Lord in the beauty of His splendor.

One more “coincidence” that comes to mind.  My goal when I set out was to get to the end of the maintained trail, snap some pictures, and come back down to head to Paradise.  However as I neared the top of the maintained trail I met two photographers coming down.  They had been up there to catch the sunrise from the top.  One of them mentioned that he was on the top and got some good panoramas.  Initially I assumed he meant the place I was headed.  As I took pictures I realized he must have meant something higher.  As great as the view was in the saddle, I become convinced by the experience this stranger on the trail shared that there was an even better place to aspire to, a higher place to attain.  So I continued upward.  I searched for the path heading higher.

Our faith journey is like that.  Our experiences of God’s grace shared with others is like the comments I heard from my fellow sojourner who had been somewhere I now desired to go.  Because he shared a good word of what was attainable, I was encouraged to seek and find the path myself… a path blazed by others… a path that I would have struggled mightily to find if it wasn’t for those who had gone before me making a way.

A view from the trail heading up the mountain to Plummer Peak.

A view from the trail heading up the mountain to Plummer Peak.

The shot above is toward the end of the maintained trail.  For some folks this might look a little scary, but believe me, this is a super highway of a trail compared to what was ahead.  As I entered the UNmaintainted trail area, there was enough of a path that I could find my way most of the time.  I only lost the trail once in the high meadow about 100 yards below the summit.

That final trail is a story in itself.  Just below the high meadow the trail became very narrow and steep as it crossed a large scree field.  One mis-step here and you would find yourself (or someone would find your body) hundreds of feet below.  The trail had it’s dangers.

A shot of the scree field as I am about to cross it.

A shot of the scree field as I am about to cross it.

Above this scree field I entered a meadow that you could not see from below.  It was a beautiful place with a great view aimed at Mount Rainier and covered with plenty of bench-high rocks perfect for sitting and meditating.  I got to a high place in the meadow and it appeared that the trail ended so I sat and talked to the Lord for a while.  He spoke through the beauty and wonder of His creation all around me.  It’s amazing how the fatigue and windedness almost immediately evaporated as I took in the stunning beauty.

View from my seat in the high meadow on Plummer Peak.  I thought I was at the end of the trail, but...

View from my seat in the high meadow on Plummer Peak. I thought I was at the end of the trail, but…

As I slipped on my pack and got ready to head down I glanced around and noticed what appeared to be a faint path leading higher.  A hundred or so feet further on it became a distinct trail leading to the top.  Refreshed from my rest and now excited to be heading higher again I pushed on toward the top.

The final trail up to the peak.  That is about a 300 foot drop off the left side of the trail.  The right side was quite steep too, but not like the left.

The final trail up to the peak. That is about a 300 foot drop off the left side of the trail. The right side was quite steep too, but not like the left.

The final leg was very steep and not without a heightened awareness of the danger that lay close at hand.  In fact that is one of the things that I noted several times over the weekend – a very real awareness of the danger, but without fear.  Caution in the approach – yes, but fear was swallowed up in a faith that the Lord was with me leading and guiding every step.

I carefully made my way toward the top on the path above.  When I was within just a few yards of the finish the path was guarded / blocked by several dead trees.  These snags show up all over.  Because of the cool climate, the deterioration rate is rather slow so they may remain for dozens of years.  These snags immediately brought to mind Dol Guldur, the evil lord’s castle in the Hobbit.  But upon further consideration I decided they were simply guardians of a very special place.  To slip through the closely spaced trunks I had to slip off my pack and lay down my trekking poles.  Jesus said something very telling about slipping through a tight space in Matthew 19:24.  “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”  I had to leave my possessions outside to get through.

Guardians at the top of Plummer Peak.

Guardians at the top of Plummer Peak.

A view through the Guardians.

A view through the Guardians.

Once through it was only a dozen or so steps to the top.  I was mesmerized by the stunning view.  A 360 degree spin revealed jagged peaks, deep forested valleys, and the mighty mountain.  The following are a few of those scenes.

A view over the guardians.

A view over the guardians.

Pockets of snow still lingered.  My friends here tell me this mountain usually still has snow at this time of the year.

Pockets of snow still lingered. My friends here tell me the mountain I climbed usually still has snow at this time of the year.

Mount Adams

Mount Adams

Mount St Helens which erupted in 1980.

Mount St Helens which erupted in 1980.

A view back down to where my hike started at Reflection Lake.  A little over 1.5 miles by trail and a little less than 2000 feet below.

A view back down to where my hike started at Reflection Lake. A little over 1.5 miles by trail and a little less than 2000 feet below.

I’ll leave you today with this final shot of the mountain from the top of Plummer Peak.  The time was around 7:30 – 8 am.  The day was just starting and yet I was filled to overflowing with wonder.  What a mighty and creative God we serve!

Mighty Mount Rainier

Mighty Mount Rainier

If you like these pics stay tuned.  I have several other really good shots from the remaining time in Mount Rainier National Park to come.

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