A few years ago, my friend, Roger Trentham, and I had discovered a new stream and couldn't locate it on the map. We decided to call it Bushwhack Creek, for obvious reasons.
This past weekend, I made a similar discovery that I have not yet located on the map, but it was so tough going that I'm calling it "Tough Going Creek"...at least for now. I had been warned against rattlesnakes. The approach is to drop down a vertical slope on either side of a canyon. And, from that point, you just scratch and claw your way upward.
Of course, this reminded me of a life lesson, as is often the case. Very likely we have all fought our way up "Tough Going Creek.” We were warned that the going would be tough and that the way up is to first come down. And, yes, we know the rattlesnakes are there, but we don't look for them. We just keep focused on the goal. So, on those days when you scratch and claw your way along "Tough Going Creek,” just know that there is a reward for those who stay focused, give their all, and who never, never quit.
I took this photo at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, but I post it because of what I was reading this morning from a book that a dear friend just sent to me.
There was a message shared the Sunday after President Lincoln's death by Phillips Brooks, a great man of God. You have to read and think about this, but it is profound in the sense that Pastor Brooks was offended that many thought Lincoln to be moral but not so much an intellectual. So, he wanted to make the point that wisdom that comes from God reflects morality based on God's Word, and those two things combine to make a great leader that is led by God as God blesses a nation. He very eloquently put it this way, "It is the great advantage of such characters as Lincoln's that they unite what God has joined together and what man has put asunder. In him (Lincoln) was vindicated the greatness of real goodness and the goodness of real greatness. The two were one flesh."
I'm praying that America is looking for that kind of man again.
Almost forty years ago, I found that I could go away to quiet places and think without interruption. Maybe I knew that as a boy but wasn't mature enough to understand the benefits. I used to take a beagle or two and sit in the field behind the house to watch the sun go down.
As I spent long periods of time in very isolated places, my thinking turned to praying. and I took every opportunity to get away because it changed who I was. Well, after all these years, it still does and I look for those opportunities daily.
Solace is comfort in times of distress, tension, or disappointment. A favorite verse of mine is found in Isaiah 26:3, "The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, Because he trusts in Thee." I keep visiting the "quiet places"...listening and waiting and trusting.
For many years, I spent time in these cabins during the month of September. The air was crisp and the tundra was a patchwork of color. Looking west, the next organized road is in Siberia. Looking south, 150 miles of the Alaska Range arcs across several million acres of wilderness.
Isolation puts life into perspective. It is not where we live, but where we "come away" to. My classmates remember memorizing a poem in fifth grade that read in part, "What is this life so full of care, we have no time to stand and stare." I never forgot those lines and use them as a call to slow down and think about where I am, who I am or... better put, Whose I am.
Several years ago, I was driving along a very remote, gravel road in the backcountry of Alaska. The sun was in and out as a snow storm threatened this area of open tundra and rugged mountains. I came to the base of a high ridge and looked up as the road switched back and forth to the top. The road was rough, the ruts were deep, and the incline was very steep. Just as I considered turning back, I saw a road sign to my left and at the beginning of the climb. It indicated the curvy switchbacks and the near straight up path ahead. But the real surprise (aside from there even being a road sign in this isolated area) was that while I glanced at the sign, a Gyrfalcon landed right on the tip of it!
Today is a date where our emotions are high and we sense how shaken we were on this date just a few years ago. As I looked for something to say and share, I came to this signpost and it spoke volumes to me about where we are as Americans. There will be much said about history today but the answer is always in "His Story.” Scripture not only suggests, but promises, that our journey is upward, tough, and filled with curves and ruts. Jesus said, "Take up your cross and follow Me." We can focus on the curves or focus on the certainties. I like the victorious stand of that falcon... wings out, backlit in the sunlight, and steady as he perches unshakable. Make your own application, but I am convinced that... if we wake up and keep following upward and onward, we will reach the pinnacle of our goal and the greatest satisfaction will be in the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Over the past three days I have had conversations with several wonderful friends. When you decide that a conversation is a dialogue instead of a monologue, you begin to listen. I hear a lot of plates filled with situations and circumstances, and I wish I could help. One of my friends said to me, "Ken, would you post the most peaceful place you have ever been. I'm up against it and need some solitude."
Well, I didn't make any promises but here is what I have arrived at. I've seen a multitude of peaceful places and I have been in even more peaceful places and missed it. I'll post a photo from far up north as the sun is just about to break on the Alaska Range. A loon was calling in the distance, but you could hear a pin drop it was so quiet. Then, I'll put one up of a bog in Maine when the sun turned the rocks gold and orange, the smell of the woods was rich, and I could hear a moose sloshing in the bog in the far distance.
I was at peace in both of those places, and so many more, but not because of the place. I was at peace because I knew then and know now that I'm never alone. I was at peace because, as my friend Melvin used to say, "When you get it right up and down, it gets right all around." And I was at peace because I have a verse burned in my heart that says, "Be still and know that I am God."
I'm convinced that the only peace in this world is not in this world. Jesus said, "My peace I leave with you."
Several of my good friends are posting photos from Denali National Park since there has been some political attention to changing the name of the mountain. Denali means "the great one" as it pertains to this massive mountain, so Mt. McKinley has been renamed.
It brings back a thousand great memories (none of them political). I first went to Denali in 1976. For fifteen years I took groups to an assortment of cabins 90 miles in the backcountry and at the base of Mt. McKinley. We climbed the ridges, were confronted by grizzlies, herds of caribou, the occasional wolf or wolverine, and many other creatures. But aside from the abundance of wildlife, we were in awe as we walked in the shadow of the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet.
My fondest memory is reflected in this photograph while on my second visit. I walked alone a couple of miles from camp and sat on a ridge above Wonder Lake (great name in itself) to watch the alpenglow light up the mountain after sunset. My thoughts were of "the Great One" ...not the great mountain, but, The Great One, and I was humbled that I was even allowed to witness such an amazing sight made by such an amazing God.
Today, Denali very likely looks like the second photo, as this is the week that I traveled there for 15 years and it is the peak of Autumn color with snow possible any day.
It's almost time to bid the hummingbirds farewell. The males are staging to leave right now and some have moved south since late July. Today the males were especially active. The nectar gives them the energy they need to feast on insects. As insects become more scarce, they move further south with the food. It is amazing to think they fly non-stop for more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. God put a ton of purpose into 3 grams of beauty and I stand in awe of how He has a plan and purpose for everything He made... including you and me.
There are many things about these mountains that can only be understood by getting to know the ole timers up the long, deep hollars. Folks may seem simple (and they are), but they are rich in things that matter like faith in God, love of country, and caring about each other. They haven't lost the art of sitting on the front porch and listening or walking in the woods and taking note of everything around them. Mountain people are shrinking in numbers, but there is a remnant that holds to and shines in tradition and belief.
Personally, I love these folks. I grew up with them and I migrate to them because there are no pretenses and the door (or porch swing) is always open to those with good intentions and no ulterior motive.
One tradition that lingers with mountain folks is their love for their dogs. The kind of dog varies from household to household, but the Plott Hound is the companion of choice to many. In every description of this hound there are four characteristics included: bold, alert, intelligent, and loyal. That makes for a perfect match for the best of mountain people because it parallels their own characteristics. I'm thankful for the next generation that holds true to these attributes... generations of people and plotts.
Every year at this time I begin to think about the special opportunities that I have had with amazing birds. Soon, many of our visitors will make their migration south after having nested and raised their young. This past spring and summer I watched several species of birds and a few that I had not spent time with before.
One new bird for me was the Golden Winged Warbler (the size of a Black-capped Chickadee). He comes here from Central America. Next month he will fly (mostly from northern states like Minnesota) for 3,000 miles to his winter home. Six hundred miles of that migration will be nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico. Birds fascinate me as I get to know about them. This warbler's numbers have decreased 98% in the Appalachians over the past fifty years. I never pass up an opportunity to watch and learn because that opportunity may not come again.
I recommend "Birds Our Teachers" by John Stott for those of you who recognize the Divine plan for God's creatures.