Thursday, December 15, 2016

Loved and Named


"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  Isaiah 49:15  NIV (photo courtesy of Glen Ewart)

Years ago I had a miscarriage.

Our first-born was almost three when I discovered I was pregnant with our second child.  Glen and I were so excited that we did not practice the wisdom of waiting at least a month before announcing our news to friends and family. We told our son, Sean, that he was going to have a baby brother or sister.

We started thinking about names.  I liked Nathaniel for a boy, and Samantha for a girl.

I went in for my first prenatal appointment.  All was well.  I was thinking about car seats and strollers.  I already loved this child and had plans for our future.

About three months into my dreams for our child, I learned I wouldn’t need that stroller or car seat anymore.  There is no future in a miscarriage.

I went to a specialist.  He told me I might have an ectopic pregnancy.

When you first learn that a loved one has died, your response is denial. Facts don’t matter.  I was in denial. I was irrational. When the doctor told me I might have an ectopic pregnancy, I experienced a ray of hope!  Foolishly, I asked, “If the problem is that my baby is growing in the wrong place, can’t you just move it, surgically, into the right place?”

The doctor didn’t laugh at me. He became angry!  Angry that I had the audacity to call my baby a baby!  He yelled at me, “You do NOT have a BABY!  That is TISSUE.  Dead tissue.  It has to be surgically removed!”    

The doctor’s anger actually helped me.  Until that moment I had been fighting back the tears that had been flowing ever since I’d learned that I was miscarrying.  It was tough.  But being told, with anger and scorn, that the person I loved, had named, and with whom I had planned a future, was NOT a person, aroused all my maternal anger.

I lifted my head and straightened my back.  I did not cry.  “That tissue was my baby, whom I loved,” I said.

I scheduled the surgery and I grieved my baby.

God loves us.  None of us are disposable.  Each of us is named. God has plans for our future.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.  My foolish hope that the doctor could change an ectopic pregnancy to a viable one is not foolishness to God.  God moves all of us from death to life.  He grafts us into Christ so that we may live.
peace.jpgThe LORD make his face shine on you   
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
  and give you peace.
Numbers 6:25-26

The other night I had a panic episode as soon as my head hit the pillow.  Unfortunately, this is not unusual.  Panic doesn’t hit me because I am worrying about something, or because I’ve found a spider in my bed, or for any reasonable reason whatsoever.  Panic just hits me because I have faulty neural-wiring.  

The next morning, on my knees, I was praying about this.  I have, over the years, asked God repeatedly to remove this affliction.  The answer - so far - has been, “No.”  That morning I took another tack with God:

“It’s my heart I’m worried about, Lord.  I don’t think it can take this kind of a beating so often.  It’s not healthy!”

I waited, quieting my thoughts, listening for God’s response…

In my mind a picture suddenly appeared.  It was a manger.  It was THE manger, and the infant Jesus was in it. But this manger was not in a cave or a stable or a grotto, as was that first, most famous Bethlehem manger.  This manger was in my heart.

That simple image reminded me that, no matter what my circumstances - even including the state of my health - my heart, full of HIM, is safe.  Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, elections, faulty neural-wiring, etc….  My heart, full of HIM, is safe.  This is a peace that outlasts and overcomes every circumstance.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Isaiah 9:6


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Tidying Up the Amaryllis

Amaryllis - my photo
The Amaryllis was a February gift.  A box of promise.  I didn’t know what to do with it, so I left it in the box until mid March.  My friends encouraged me to open the box, water the bulb, see what would happen; so I did - not expecting much.  I am no green-thumb.

But it grew!  Bright green shoots broke through the dry brown bulb.  Day after day they looked the same - yet, imperceptibly - they lengthened.

They shot straight up, higher and higher, until I had to move them from the kitchen windowsill to the dining room table. They needed the space.  One day in April, there were buds!

Early one morning, when I glanced in to check, three triumphant scarlet trumpets resounded bright and clear from the tall green stalks on my dining room table. Brilliant!  Brilliant!  I exulted, I resounded.

A few more days and another explosion of scarlet from the next stalk… and the third.  Glorious! I photographed them, I beheld them, I was thankful.

They lasted quite a while, lending their bright beauty to the house. Guests complimented them.  I enjoyed them.  But - at last - they began to fade.  Starting with the first blooms, one by one, they shrank and shriveled, until all that was left were the bright green spears in the earthen pot.  Prosaic green life.  Taking up too much space on my table.

Company was coming, I needed room, and it was too early to plant the bulb outside.  In a hurry, I decided to simply cut away all the stalks and leaves.  I hid the bulb away in the basement, hoping it would go dormant and, perhaps, come back next year.  I tidied it up.  

Later, I decided to read about the Amaryllis.  Turns out, the Amaryllis bulb needs the decaying stems and leaves to give it the energy to bloom again.  What I considered unsightly mess, was nourishment for future growth!

I am keeping that bulb, whether or not it blooms again. It is an icon.


May 4, 2016

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

2001 Cross Country Road Trip - Journal Entry 5

August 9, 2001

Glen would like me to tell you that we are averaging about 24.6 miles to the gallon, we’ve gone
10,500 miles, and have at least another 500 to go.  We’ve been to 14 National Parks, 20 states, and 23 different KOAs.  You can talk to Glen when you see him if you want the facts and details of our trip - I’ll continue to fill you in on the important stuff.  Glen says I can tell you that on this trip he, too, has had many feelings…  He’s experienced driving fatigue, hunger, and he’s currently feeling uncomfortable in the triple digit temperatures.  He is beginning to feel excited about getting home – he says that if you can’t be in the West, you might as well be in the East…  there’s no sense being in the Midwest! (Sorry, Midwest - I'm sure it's not true.)

After our breathtaking drive through the Cascades (and exciting!  We were hit head-on by a tire as it exploded from the car that was passing us in the opposite direction!  No one was hurt, and Glen and I were able to skip our afternoon cup of caffeine), Glen enjoyed learning how many cubic yards of concrete are in the Grand Coulee Dam…  I don’t remember, so that’s one of those details you’ll have to get from him.  I find dams uninteresting, except for the torrent of irreverent puns they seem to unleash in our family!  If you can guess it, we probably said it…

There was no holding US back!

The first half of last week we spent with my cousins in Spokane.  My cousin Sarah and her husband Bob invited us to stay with them in their home on Liberty Lake.  Sean and Alyssa were delighted to play with their children, Anika – who is four, and Bekk – who is two.  We didn’t see much of Sean and Alyssa while we were there - they had cousins to play with, a boxer (Willie), and the lake!  Sean and Alyssa are like two river otters – they go from pool to pool to lake and river and ocean…  if there are kids and dogs to play with, life can’t get much better than that!

My cousin Bill lives in Spokane also, with his wife, Annie.  One trait my cousins all have in common is outstanding taste in their spouses.  Bob, Annie, Amanda – they feel just as much like family as my cousins do!  We spent a good chunk of our next day in Spokane at Bill and Annie’s house, where they not only have a dog, but two African Tortoises and a Bull snake!  (Alas, Bill’s rattlesnake died before we came.) Plus, Bill is wonderfully mechanical, so we enjoyed seeing his shop and all his nifty inventions – Sean could have moved in and been right at home!  Annie and I spent some time talking about writing and books, and I mentioned in passing a book I wanted to read some day by one of my favorite authors…  The day we left Spokane I found the book tucked into my visor in the van! Annie is that kind of person…  I decided that I’d like to take all my cousins and their families home with us and have them live next door!  Only thing is, we have to go through Canada on the way home, and I don’t know if we could get the African Tortoises through customs.

My Uncle Steve is my dad’s younger brother.  He and Aunt Peggy are Sarah, Bill and Jim’s parents. Steve and Peggy recently moved to Spokane to live across the street from Sarah and Bob, and I was looking forward to seeing them as well.  Uncle Steve is also my God Father (Episcopalian, not Italian), and he and Peggy have always held a special place in my heart.  Steve and Peggy were to return from LA where they had attended the wedding of a close family friend a few weeks before our arrival.  While they were in LA, Steve’s cancer (last year Steve was diagnosed with lung cancer) spread to his brain, and he had to be hospitalized.  We felt so blessed that he was able to return while we were still in Spokane, and the second night we had the privilege of having dinner with Sarah and Bob and the kids, Bill and Annie, and Uncle Steve and Aunt Peggy.  But Steve was not doing well. We all thought that he was just having difficulty speaking and focusing because of the pain medications he was on, and we left him with Aunt Peggy while the rest of us went out to do some tubing and wake surfing on the lake.

It turned out that Steve’s brain was swelling due to the cancer, and he had to be hospitalized the next day.

I began this trip asking Ecclesiastes questions, questions I wrestled with even before my Aunt and two uncles were besieged by cancer.  My faith has trembled on the precipice of these thoughts for the past year:

 “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: as one dies, so dies the other.  All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal.  Everything is meaningless.  All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.”  Ecclesiastes 3:19-20

“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.  Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.”  Ecclesiastes 9:11-12

During the last year I began experiencing panic attacks and generalized anxiety disorder that have brought me up short and left me breathless.  I started this trip in a fog of fear and all my writing has been a ploy to take my mind off myself.

But the vacation came like birdsong – causing me to lift my eyes from the precipice and be released from the vertigo of fear of death.  It has become a metaphor of life.  (I’m so far-sighted that the only way I can see truth is through the magnifying lens of metaphor and icon!)  Our family has traveled from place to place – more than 20 KOAs and counting!  We have traveled from one glorious National Park to the next…  we have visited with friends and beloved family.

But we move into a place one day and out the next – leaving behind nothing of ourselves except where we have interacted with others in the context of relationship.  Taking with us nothing but memories.  (Well – and some rocks and driftwood and sage!)

It’s with whom we travel that puts our lives in context.  Not where we go or what we get… Ecclesiastes said it best, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!  Also, if two lie down together, they can keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Jesus graciously invited us to travel with Him on this journey.  I watched Uncle Steve and saw that he has had to shed much of what was “his,” yet I see God caring for him through the loving words and touches and ministrations of his family.  I see a generous mercy and redemption of suffering on the horizon.  When I looked into the precipice and saw dry bones and death, God caused me to look again and come to an Ezekiel understanding:  “This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones:  ‘I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.  Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”  Ezekiel 37:5-6   Our job as friends and family sharing the journey together is perhaps to do no more than lift each other up so that we can feel the breath of God.

We took the four kids to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho the day Steve was admitted to the hospital, leaving Sarah and Bob so they could be with Steve and Peggy.  Seeing the blue lake with all the action of boats and water planes and sea gulls through the eyes of two-year-old Bekk was a peaceful gift in a time of anxiety for Steve!  Anika made wondrous creations of seaweed and driftwood with Sean and Alyssa, and kept us in stitches with her impersonations of a famous female pop star!  When we took the children out to eat after a full day at the beach, they ALL behaved with impeccable manners!  I think they each understood that something difficult was happening in the family, and they were helping the grownups in their own intuitive way.

Leaving the next day was extremely difficult.  We stopped by Holy Family Hospital to say goodbye to Steve.  Peggy, Sarah, and Bob were there, and Jim, who had just flown in that morning.  I am grateful for the gift of this family, and even the pain involved with leaving and the grief over Steve’s health; it means we’re all together on the Journey!  We’ll hold each other up as we go.

That day we took a little several-hundred-miles side-trip up to Glacier National Park in Montana.  We arrived at midnight under an almost full moon.  With the clear, vast western sky we could see practically every star in the galaxy! The mountains around us reminded me of the cozy silhouettes of friends stargazing together on the grass.

The next day beauty after beauty unfolded as we traveled through the park.  We took a lovely, winding hiking path through a valley dusted with gentians the color of midnight under a full moon, and a whole array of other wildflowers in pink and yellow and white.  Up so high, the cedars were twisted into those exotic shapes that seem to flow with the lines of the rock.  There were grizzly bear warnings everywhere, but we never got to see one.  Frankly, I was disappointed!  (They get you all
excited with the warnings, but never follow through with actual animals!  The same thing happened to us with rattlesnake warnings at Chimney Rock in Nebraska…  No snakes to be seen anywhere!) We did see two Mountain Goat mamas and their babies hanging out on the side of the mountain, and I was so excited about photographing them that I forgot my fear of heights long enough to stand on the edge of the cliff and take a picture.  With the telephoto I had to remind myself where I was, because I didn’t have much room to back up, and they were very close to me!

Someday we hope to go back to Glacier!  We fell in love with it!  But we had no idea what we were to experience a few hundred miles later in Yellowstone!

“When we see the changes of the day and night, the sun, the moon, the stars in the sky, anyone must realize that it is the work of someone more powerful than man.”  Chased by Bears – Santee Sioux

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  Romans 1:20

My reaction to Yellowstone took me by surprise. None of my favorite authors are from there. Thomas Moran, the famous artist, did much of his work there – glorious Chinese water color-looking paintings of places in the park.  But that wasn’t it.  Perhaps, again, it was the sense of God being so gracious, taking me to a place I’d always hoped to go, WITH my family.

Being in Yellowstone was like being in C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra series.  Otherworldly. Mammoth Hot Springs and the Norris Geyser Basin left you feeling like there wasn’t much earth-skin between you and the molten mantle underneath.  Fumaroles roared like jet-engines as water reached the hot rock masses beneath us, turned to steam, and drove gases with it from the earth through a vent.  Burnt out lodge pole pines ringed the steaming vents and spewing, sparkling geysers, standing ghostly in the white steam that billowed from the landscape.  Mats of heat-loving micro-organisms (Thermopiles) swept green, yellow, and orange swaths over vast white deposits of sinter.

We left that bleak, white, thermal world and passed through lovely forests, along green streams (with an occasional thermal vent and the accompanying steam), through gorges and up mountainsides… back to earth.  A great gift was the sight of a lone Trumpeter Swan dining in a bend of the Yellowstone River!  We spent the night in a huge valley – surrounded by mountains on every side.  It was like sleeping in one of those ashtrays that you made for your parents (even though they didn’t smoke) when you were in third grade – on a giant scale!

More wonders when we woke up next morning…  Exploring Fountain Paint Pot area with its myriad of geysers and bubbling mud pits was like finding one treasure after another after another!  And Midway Geyser Basin – with Excelsior Geyser Crater and Grand Prismatic Spring (the steam over this huge spring is all the colors of the rainbow!) – was a mystical delight!  Our Grand-Finale was Old-Faithful.

We had to wait for Old-Faithful.  She had just finished a display as we arrived, so we had to wait about 80 whole minutes for her next eruption.  It was worth it!  We made friends in the waiting crowd and passed the time pleasantly.  All of us became quiet and reverent when she began to blow!   The crowd hushed and the anticipation crackled, and, suddenly – up burst the most gloriously clean, transparent fountain of water I’ve ever seen!  It rose like seraphim higher and higher into the sunshine above us.  I held my breath.  When it was finished, people did the most endearing human thing… they clapped wildly!  I don’t think there was an adult in the crowd at that moment!  I could have hugged everyone!

That was it…  a powerful Grand-Finale.  It was time to head home.

Our visits to the National Parks have been like sampling Baskin Robbins ice cream with those little pink doll-spoons they give you.  How does one taste Yosemite, Arches, Bryce, Yellowstone or Glacier in a day or even two?  But we know which ones we want big scoops of, the ones we’ll revisit when/if we ever have the opportunity!

That night we spent outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on the banks of the Snake River.  I was stung by a yellow jacket while I was looking for snakes.  (I never did see any snakes – today I may have seen a big dead one on the side of the road – but we couldn’t stop.)  We saw the Grand Tetons from there, and drove through that beautiful park, past those stunning mountains, and on through the rest of Wyoming.  What a beautiful state!  (Although, in Casper we spent the night in a KOA in the midst of gas stations and railroad tracks!  It was 102 degrees, and there was no air-conditioning!)

We picked up the Oregon Trail again, visiting a spot along the Platte River (we stayed by the Platte all day) where you could see ruts from the original trail, and Register Cliffs, where the pioneers would leave their names for posterity.  Sean wanted to see Fort Laramie, so we went there and learned some interesting history – but, again, I was amazed at the injustice done to the Indian Tribes by our government!  We made treaties, but as soon as someone discovered gold within the treaty boundaries, all bets were off!  I’m determined to learn more about this part of our history when I get home…

When we entered Nebraska we visited Chimney Rock and the pioneer museum – which is where they had all the rattlesnake warnings – but no rattlesnakes.  You could definitely understand how Chimney Rock became such an impressive landmark!  It stands tall and dominates the landscape for miles.

Iowa, with its beautiful rolling green hills, made us realize we had left the West behind us and now were truly homeward bound.  We passed through Indiana, Illinois and Michigan at lightning speed as we rushed home for a week long IV Staff Conference in Albany, NY beginning this Sunday. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we will enter Ontario, Canada for a brief visit on our way to Niagara Falls. We’ll spend some time being tourists in our own State and then make the drive to Glen’s mother’s in Clifton Park.  Finally, a week from tomorrow, we will begin the final leg of our 7-week, cross-country journey, when we leave Camp Pinnacle and drive through one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country…the Adirondacks!

With love,

Beverly, Glen, Sean and Alyssa

2001 Cross Country Trip Journal Entry 4

Sunday, July 29, 2001

Still Resounding.

We are driving through the Northern Cascades.  There doesn’t seem to be room enough for the
clouds between mountain and sky, so they lie thick on the mountaintops like cotton in a pill
bottle.  The rivers and streams swirl slate-green with glacial till, and the trees grow mossy and
tall.  Granite giants gaze benignly down upon us as we wend past their furry green knees and
feet.  I’m awed by this generosity of rock and sky, water and tree and flower.  Cascades – of
color and space.  Even the silver bones of trees seem to flow in graceful, hopeful, living lines
on the sides of the mountains; Ezekiel’s bones, waiting for the Creator to speak them alive again.

Last week we reluctantly detoured from the side of the Pacific to explore the Columbia River Gorge and see Mt. Hood.  There were no whales, but the Columbia River Gorge was still a spectacular sight!  We saw our first kite-boarders there – in a spot where the wind is consistently strong and steady.  They hook themselves up to giant kites and “water ski” behind them at 25 miles an hour! Sometimes they are lifted right up out of the water like a bunch of Mary Poppinses.

Mount Hood looks best from a distance.  Once you climb on board it’s just a pile of volcanic dirt with some snow up on top.  Plus, it’s not close to the ocean.  But we enjoyed knowing we were on the Oregon Trail, and Sean and Glen added some stones to the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Cairn. (Hmmm... should they have?)

We followed the Columbia through gorges and past numerous waterfalls until we came to Cape
Disappointment, the end of the Lewis and Clark trail.  We had dinner there on the beach, nestled between two lighthouses.  We weren’t disappointed at all, but apparently Lewis and Clark and Company were, because there was a shortage of fresh food and water at the time they arrived.  We brought our own fresh food and water in the cooler.

The Olympic Peninsula welcomed us the next day with a series of rocky beaches strewn with driftwood and tide pools.  If we hadn’t had a rain forest to explore, we could have spent the entire day on the beach!

Hoh National Rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula was every shade of green.  The water was a milky blue-green from the glaciers where it was born.  (Hard to imagine glacial water running through a RAIN FOREST!)  Air plants hung from the giant trees like green llama hair.  Hidden like great yellow barrettes in the shaggy moss, we discovered Banana Slugs!  These 6-inch creatures were really fascinating – not slimy slugs like our little gray ones back East.  Banana Slugs travel on a trail of mucous, as any slug must, but I’ve known kids who do that, too, so I don’t fault them for it.  Do look twice before you give any tree in the rain forest a hug!

Next morning in Port Angeles, WA, we rose with the sun to catch the ferry for Victoria, Canada.
Never having enough sea, the hour-long ferry ride was a gift!  From the water the view of the mountains of Washington rising out of the thick layer of fog that hovered over the bay was striking. We were going out for a whale-watch from Victoria that day.  We all were praying for whales!

Alyssa said that the Orcas came right up to the boat because God felt sad that she’d stubbed her toe badly the night before, and He was wanting to let her know that He loved her…   The Orcas were so beautiful!  Dolphins, really, not whales – they moved with speed and grace through the water.  They didn’t idle by the boat like I wished they would, but were preoccupied with the business of lunch!

The Orcas travel in large pods (there were about 40 in this one), so we had a wonderful opportunity to view them.  They did swim right alongside and even under our boat!  We learned that the eldest member of that particular pod was a female, 90 years old!  It’s a matriarchal society where each member stays with the community for life.  Some of the family stopped upright in the water for the blink of an eye to check us out.  My heart felt huge – full of Orcas!  They were for me indelible black and white images of God’s largess.

After the whale watch we spent a few hours in Victoria enjoying the beauty of the flowers and totems and the Parliament Building.  The day was crystal clear!  But a wind sprang up in the afternoon that made our ferry ride back a little more exciting than it was in the morning. We were seated with some kind and sensitive people who diverted my attention with funny anecdotes. The ferry was heeled over like a sailboat in waves that were washing right up over the second deck!  Growing up with a sailboat, Glen was in his element, and so were the kids! I love the sea…  but if it’s going to be noisy, I prefer to enjoy it from shore!

It’s been my experience that God always does more than I could ask for or even imagine…  The next day we explored Whidby Island – taking the scenic route round to our friends the Sanford’s, where we would spend the night.  Off a side road we spotted a pair of Bald Eagles!

We stopped at Deception Pass (so named because those who explored the island thought it was a peninsula at first) to explore our last beach and say goodbye to the Pacific.  Some people began to gather and point out to sea.  Shining in the sun, a pod of Orcas flashed past our beach!  Some of them jumped right out of the water!  Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matthew 7:9-11

Joyce and Bea Sanford treated us with great kindness!  I enjoyed chatting with Joyce about our shared enthusiasm for the Christian mystics, and she passed on some great new titles for me to check out.  We arrived in time for her annual peach pie…  What a treat!  John and Zach were away on a father-son camping trip – we were sorry to have missed them, but took good care of their share of the pie!  From the Sanford’s we drove into Seattle on Saturday.  There were three things we wanted to do in Seattle – see Pike’s Market, drink Espresso, and visit the Space Needle.  We did all three – and enjoyed all the sights and sounds of the city.  There was a piano player at Pike’s Market who provided a backdrop of soothing music against the frenzy of the Market.  We drank our espresso as we gazed on heaps of flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, and all varieties of people! What a jumble of color…  Glen, Sean and Alyssa rode to the top of the Space Needle without me.  I learned from my experience with the Great Arch that I prefer to enjoy architecture of that sort from below.

We enjoyed Seattle for much longer than we intended due to most of the roads leading out of the city being closed for an annual parade!

That brings us back to the Cascades…  and the continual parade of beauty before us as we begin our homeward leg of the journey.

Now we’re off!

With love,

Beverly – for all of us

Monday, January 4, 2016

2001 Cross Country Trip - Entry 3

Dear Friends,

"My, my, this Sir Anakin guy, maybe Vader someday later, now he’s just a small fry...  Left his home, kissed his mommy goodbye, saying, 'soon I'm gonna be a Jedi, soon I'm gonna be a Jedi!'"  This Weird Al remake of American Pie has been our anthem since the kids learned it at their cousin Chris's in Fort Collins, CO.  They sing it continuously.  I'll never hear the song again without crying.

It is Sunday, July 22, and we are heading east on route 126 toward Eugene, OR.  Tonight we'll
sleep by the banks of the Columbia River - which means we've got about a three hour drive ahead of us...  and it's after 8 PM right now!  We should have started our eastward venture hours ago, but we've had a time-problem ever since we hit the Pacific Coast last Monday. Each day, as we begin our travels anew, the Pacific beckons us with glorious views and beaches with tide pools and sea lions. We'll step out to explore at, say, 11 AM, but a few moments later, when I realize we have 200 miles left to go that day, it will be 4 PM! This is the first time in a week that we've left the shores of the Pacific, and it's a good thing, otherwise I don't know if we'd ever get back in time for Regional Staff Conference!

Last Monday we explored Yosemite.  What a transition from the soft, lion-colored sides of the
Sierra Nevadas to the deep, secluded greens and mighty granite faces of the park.  Bridal Veil Falls transfixed us with breathtaking cascades of rainbow mists and shifts of the "veil" with the gusting winds.  We enjoyed walking some of the trails in Yosemite, but we took our Mountain Lion and Grizzly Bear precautions seriously.  The day before, when we stopped at a roadside fruit stand, we read the following warning:  BEAR WARNING!!!  The Forest Service has issued a BEAR WARNING in the national forests for this summer.  They're urging everyone to protect themselves by wearing bells and carrying pepper spray.  CAMPERS AND HIKERS should be alert for signs of fresh bear activity.  You should be able to tell the difference between Black Bear dung and Grizzly Bear dung.  Black Bear dung is rather small and round.  Sometimes you can see fresh fruit seeds and/or squirrel fur in it.  Grizzly Bear dung has bells in it, and smells like pepper spray.

Leaving Yosemite with bells and pepper spray all accounted for, we drove through miles of California gold – the sensuous foothills of the Sierra Nevadas – generously dotted with deep shadow-green pine trees twisted into giant bonsais by the eternal winds.  We drove to my cousin Jim’s home in Pebble Beach.

Being from Potsdam, not having a television, and not being golf-ish in any serious fashion, all conspired to leave us unprepared for Pebble Beach and cousin Jim’s house!  Who’s ever heard of 17 Mile Drive in Potsdam?  Who’s ever heard of GOLF?   I’d heard of Carmel, certainly, but didn’t know it was RIGHT THERE.  Not in a book, but DOWN THE STREET!  And seals and sea otters live right off shore – you can SEE them with your own two eyes from the beach!  17 Mile Drive is a lovely twisting coastal road that takes you past plush green golf courses, graceful Spanish-style haciendas (coyly hidden among shrubbery and cedar), and beach after beach lined with wildflowers shore-side, and tide pools ocean-side.  At the end of 17 Mile Drive, for us, was Jim’s house.

The last time Glen remembered seeing Jimmy was when he (Jim) was thirteen and on a trip out East with his family.  None of us had met Jim’s wife, Amanda, or their new baby, Ryan.  The best thing Pebble Beach has going for it is my cousin and his family! We enjoyed our time and our talks with them, and felt that they treated us with graciousness and love.  The tie that connects us – Jim and I have Gramps and Granny Simpson in common  (our dads are brothers) – grows stronger with time, and I enjoyed so much sharing our special memories of them.  Ryan, at just seven months or so, sparkled with laughter and had a wonderful, sunny disposition.  I enjoyed talking with Amanda about books and authors – we share that love - and had fun tossing ideas about philosophy, religion and parenting back and forth with her.

Alyssa particularly enjoyed Sterling and Shady, Jim and Amanda’s frolicsome Weimaranars.  The morning we left we couldn’t find Alyssa, until she came out of their doghouse all tousled and drowsy!  She had been falling asleep in there!

One of my life-long dreams came true while we were staying with Jim and Amanda.  Ever since I read Cannery Row by John Steinbeck I knew I wanted to see “Doc’s” home.  I wanted to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Never in a bazillion years did I think I would actually make it to that raucous, smelly, heavenly place!  I couldn’t believe it when we pulled in and the first thing we saw – besides the big old Cannery Row canneries – was a statue of John Steinbeck.  I was delighted!  “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”  Psalm 16:5-6

The aquarium was a delightful experience for all of us.  We passed the day with sharks, sea otters, eels, sea stars, and all kinds of glorious creatures.  Sean and Alyssa especially enjoyed petting the sting rays.  The staff at the aquarium is dedicated to teaching good stewardship of the sea and its inhabitants, so we all learned lots of good things while we were there.  The whole time all I could think was, “Thank You, thank You, thank You!”

San Francisco couldn’t be done justice by after the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Although one of my favorite authors is from there, she’s not in the John Steinbeck hall of my heart.) We enjoyed it very much – couldn’t believe we were actually there!  Loved the tall, narrow houses festooning the hills like pastel-colored dominoes, and the view of the Bay and Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge. Fisherman’s Wharf was noisy and fishy and fabulous, and tired us right out!  Our favorite thing there was seeing the seals at Pier 36!  They lolled in the sun, relaxed – not spending the day jostled by crowds along the tinselly tourist strip.  We probably just didn’t have the time to see the most wonderful parts of the city.

No matter how tired we felt at any point after this, though, we always had the Pacific on our left to lift our spirits and drive away anxiety and frustration.  From Pebble Beach up into Oregon, that marvelous mystical ocean was with us.  To me the ocean is like an endless magic box – into which God placed lovely gifts for our delight.  Shells – iridescent and fantastical, sea stars, crabs, anemones, sand dollars, smooth warm pebbles of every imaginable color and design, sculpted driftwood…  sea lions, silver fish, sea otters…  Whales!

The West Coast is not any lovelier than the East Coast could be…  But from California to Washington they have passed laws requiring the coast to be kept open for ALL.  Wise stewards, those westerners; I love them for that!  Because in the East you pretty much have to own a piece of the coast to be able to enjoy the glorious siren song of the sea.  Even in places like Pebble Beach and Carmel, everyone was welcome to explore the beaches!

We followed Route 1 along the coast, enjoying the sweep of silver beach and the black monoliths and arches rising from the sands and the sea, as well as many varieties of sea birds and wildflowers and seals.

At the place where we reluctantly had to leave Route 1 for Route 101, we saw our first Redwoods! They are so high – over 300 feet – that looking up their straight red, fuzzy trunks, through swaths of dusty green needles, makes you dizzy!  We tried to drive through one that had a tunnel cut through the living trunk, but our roof rack made us just too high to fit.  Never fear – if you see our pictures some time, we found a way to make it LOOK like we drove through.

Moving right along, the next day we stopped at the Redwood Parks Visitors Center.  They seem to have miles of beach, and that was the day that we stopped at 11AM and left disbelievingly at 4PM. There was a group of Laotians there having the most wonderful time netting smelt right out of the surf!  The grown men were stripped down to their boxers out in the freezing surf (as cold as the orange juice in your refrigerator!) laughing as they hauled out net-fulls of the delicate, silvery fish. Out on the edge of the waves lurked two hungry harbor seals!  They never left the verge of the surf. Before we left I found two warmish, dead smelt that had been overlooked in the sand and threw them out to the patient seals.  They thanked me by coming closer for a photo-op.  An osprey couple also joined in the frothy fray!  What a glorious treat to see them wheel and dive over the noisy swells.

Yesterday we entered Oregon – the first State this trip I’ve not been to before!  Little did I realize it would be my favorite state!  They have made so much of the coast into wildlife reserves – it’s spectacular!  Today we explored more beaches – saw more harbor seals sunning themselves before great stone arches, and had a wonderful seafood dinner in Florence.

Glen bought me a print in Florence that captures the essence of my feeling for the sea.  A small girl kneels on a platform in the middle of the sea.  On her door is a sign that says, “Whale Hugger.”  She is kneeling on the edge of the platform, hugging an Orca.  Behind the Orca, eager, upright and in a straight line, are all the whales of the world – Belugas, the Humpback, the Grey, the Blue, and many more.  It’s a wonderful, whimsical picture – I wish you could all see it!

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.  Psalm 98:7   What a joyous song creation sings when treated with care and enjoyed with respect.  I’m so thankful for this unfolding of wonders.  Giant trees, great beaches, vast canyons…  tiny flowers in the desert, carpets of daisies and sweet peas along the highways…  elk and antelope, bear and lizard, seals and otters… sand dollars and kelp, and children laughing about it all.  Here we are – resounding.  For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  Psalm 100:5

Now, we’re off!


Beverly – for all of us


2001 Cross Country Trip Entry 2

Dear Friends,

I see no reason why any reasonable person needs to visit the bowels of the earth.  In my first report I ended by mentioning that we'd be touring Glenwood Caverns.  This didn't particularly excite me, but I figured it was par for the course, as it was another challenge to my comfort zone.

To get to these caverns we had to drive up and UP and around hairpin curves; places where you can look out of the bus window and see the ground THOUSANDS of feet below!  If you spit your gum out the window, it would land on the BACK of a soaring bird - most likely a vulture.  The cowboys,
pioneers and Indians were smarter to take mules - they're a lot skinnier than the tour buses.

Our tour guide was a high school cheerleader, who punctuated facts and stories about the cave with a high-pitched little “YAY!” and a flutter of hands in the air.  Example: “The entry to the cave when it was first discovered was a tunnel 8 inches in diameter - you had to expel all the air in your lungs in order to move a few inches at a time in the pitch darkness!  YAY!”  (Flutter hands.)  This did not encourage me.

We were spelunking because of the generosity of Glen's Aunt Donna and Uncle Bruce.  These are people that you cannot keep up with - you know - mountain biking types.  Everybody in Aspen is this type of person.  The air is thinner there, so people are more inclined to be crazy...

We entered the cave with family: Donna and Bruce, Donna's sons Chris and Todd, and Chris's wife, Kasuma - who was pregnant, which made me feel better.  If she could do this, I most likely could, too.  Her baby was quite literally being "woven together in the depths of the earth..." (Psalm 139:15b) The cave was cavey - lots of dust and dark, drippy stalactites and ribbons of stuff that looked like bacon.  I felt like we were being digested.

I thought of many psalms as we descended, especially, "If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you."  (Psalm 139:11-12)  That verse was especially comforting when the power went out and we had to stand in pitch black musty old air for eons of seconds!  I felt like God was pulling a practical joke on me at that moment. We made it out alive, with no hordes of tourists trampling over us to claw their way through the steel doors designed to keep the good clean fresh air out of the cave.  I practically kissed the ground when we got back to civilization.
That night we took a little hike in the high desert behind Bruce and Donna's house and had the great privilege of finding a tiny mule deer fawn folded up in the scrub beside the trail.  It amazes me always how generous God is to unfold such wonders before us!

We made it all the way to Leadville the next day (the highest incorporated town in the USA!) as
part of a huge loop we took to tour the Rockies.  Don't publish this abroad, but none of us would recommend Leadville as a tourist destination.  We kept looking at each other and saying, "This is LEAD-ville, all right..." (Now remember - we are from Potsdam.  If anyone from Leadville ever reads this, they will have a good laugh.)

The rest of the trip was fascinating - especially the ghost town at Independence Pass. I could make this report really interesting if I told you about the ghost we saw, but I would be abusing my artistic license, and it might be revoked.

That night Karen and Chris (our family that we'd left in Fort Collins) joined us at Bruce and Donna's. It was good to be able to spend more time with them - it's been so rare for us to see them!

Next day (the 4th of July) Karen, Glen, Donna and Bruce ran a five-mile race in Aspen to sponsor a mentoring program for local kids. (Running with close to a thousand others, Glen finished 35th!... out of 65 in his age group.)  You all know how I would have loved to have joined them, but I sacrificially chose to stay home with the kids so they could sleep in after their day in Leadville.  We joined the runners later for the Aspen parade and lunch at the Elks Lodge that Bruce manages.  It is probably the most attractive old building in Aspen - and the best managed, too!  After lunch we had a trip up Aspen mountain in a gondola (many Aspenites run or bike up this 12,000-plus ft. mountain because they are afraid of heights and refuse to ride in the gondola - probably because of the thin air), where we then hula hooped. Always in motion, we were!

After that we breezed through dinner, a concert in the Benedict Music Tent (Donna works for the Aspen Music Festival and School), and fireworks in the park!  Did I mention that Bruce and Donna are hard to keep up with?  But it was a GLORIOUS 4th - one that we'll always remember!

Christopher and Sean hiked up into the scrub the following day to see what they could see.  Mostly they saw a little mouse that was dying, and they spent a good deal of their time burying it and composing its eulogy.  They took 11 photos of the little thing before it expired.  And they brought home some whitened bones from a deer.  Alyssa stayed home to play with Coco, Bruce and Donna's wonderful dog.  She was pretending to BE a dog most of the time we were there, so it was a good thing that I washed the bones Sean and Chris brought back - because later in the day Alyssa came into the kitchen on all fours with one of those bones IN HER MOUTH!

On Friday we swam at Glenwood Springs with Chris and Karen while Bruce and Donna were at work.  The last time I was there I was thirteen years old!  Some of the surrounding buildings have changed, but the look and feel of the mineral-coated sides of the pool and the whiff every so often of sulfur were just as I'd remembered them.  As I swam I realized that Sean and Alyssa are at least the fourth generation of Simpsons (my side of the family) to swim in this pool, and I smiled.

My big adventure at Glenwood Springs was a sparrow attack just as we were getting ready to leave. He actually attacked from the rear - literally - which afforded comic relief as we said goodbye to Karen and Christopher.  We'll miss them - we had a great time with them!

That night we attended another concert in the Benedict Music Tent with Bruce and Donna - in the middle of the front of the orchestra section!  Again I just couldn't believe all the magic of this trip...  I don't remember who the first composer was, but we were seated directly in front of the pianist, who was everything a pianist should be!  He had long wavy locks, which he shook generously with each measure he played.  He shook his cheeks, too - if you can imagine that (his FACE cheeks - just so you have the right image).  He was an artist!  I was almost afraid he'd explode with emotion because the music was so stirring!  The next composer was Mendelssohn - I remember because they attached literature to the music (or the other way around).  It was his music for Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream."  The narrator was AMAZING!  Between the music, the narrator, and the singers, you could see the whole play in your mind!

There were even more wonderful times with Bruce and Donna after that - which made leaving on Sunday very difficult.  The kids enjoyed sleeping out in the pop-up with Coco every night, and were hoping she could come with us.  She was hoping so, too, and had to be lifted out of our van by Bruce as we prepared to pull out.  Thank you, Bruce and Donna - we love you!  We've got you with us in our hearts!

From Aspen to the canyon lands, and on our own now for many days until we stop in Pebble Beach to see my cousin Jim and his family.  Our plan was to head for Farmington, NM to spend a few days with my Uncle Jack and Aunt Ellie.  Because Ellie is so sick, we had to change that plan so we wouldn't possibly infect her further in her weakened condition.  This has been the one heartbreak of the trip. The other blow was learning of the death of a dear family friend - Herb Barrie - when we arrived at Bruce and Donna's.  Our prayers are with Mrs. Barrie and her family.

Now we were off. (Alyssa punctuates her journal with the phrase, "Now we're off...") Driving through an ever-changing land of vast mountains and mesas, boulders, buttes (maybe the sparrow that attacked me in Glenwood Springs thought my backside was a butte?) and spires.  Reds (iron) and greens (copper), tawny yellows and browns (dirt).  We drove through Grand Junction, because my dad spent much of his youth there, (I wish I'd paid more attention, Dad, when we drove through when I was a child, so I could have shown the kids your house!) up to Colorado National Monument - where we caught lizards.

The landscape changes, and the landscape within the landscape changes.  The mountains become mesas, the mesas become buttes, the buttes become spires, and the spires crumble into piles of rubble. I am reminded that the only permanence is to be found in God.

The desert looks like a vast ocean floor, and in some of the canyons the rock even looks like great sunken hulks!  It's so easy to imagine the sea covering the west, and then the dinosaurs roaming the
land.  It's immense.  Even as we explored Arches National Park last Monday the landscape was changing - thankfully we did not become a permanent part of it!  Glen and the kids hiked up under an arch so I could get a picture of them, and as I focused the camera we all heard a great boulder fall into the canyon from somewhere on the arch!

Sunday and Monday nights we spent in Moab, Utah.  It was there that we learned that we'd arrived during an early monsoon season.  One thing I've always appreciated about being an American is that I didn't think we HAD monsoon seasons anywhere!  But we watched the sky turn livid and lightning strike the mountains all around us before we scurried into our microscopic camping cabin.  We made it inside just before the wind picked up. I thought for sure the van would blow away!  At least it cooled things down a bit - that day we saw the temperature hit 110 degrees!

While in Moab we explored Dead Horse Point State Park.  Legend has it that the cowboys left their poor ponies up on a point a mile above the Colorado River, where there was no water.  Fenced in and desperate, the ponies tried to take a drink from the Colorado, and fell to their deaths.  Stupid cowboys! Nowadays they have a shelter for shade and water fountains up there so the tourists don't make the same mistake the ponies did.

We visited Canyonlands National Park the same day. It was easy to imagine that we were in a little red submarine there because it all looked so underwater and other-worldly!  It was hot still, so we had ice-cream for dinner.  We've been doing this often lately - we're going to have to take our multivitamins faithfully when we get home!

When we left Moab Tuesday morning we took another little side trip (with Glen a side trip can sometimes mean 200 miles - this time it was only about thirty) to see some petroglyphs.  They
really weren't marked, so they weren't touristy - which, again, is what we like best. We found
them in Sego Canyon.  I was awestruck!  These beautiful paintings were made thousands of years before Jesus walked the earth!  Some were younger - made about the same time as when Jesus was here.  This has been one of the best things I've experienced on the whole trip! I felt like we were in a temple - or the way I feel when I'm in Trinity Episcopal Church or St. Mary’s in Potsdam... Reverent. Not because I attach religious significance to the petroglyphs themselves, but because they bear testimony to the fact that humankind have always been "makers," creators made in the image of the Creator.  Artists, all of us, from the beginning.

That day we drove through Capitol Reef National Park and had just time to see more petroglyphs quickly before a lightning storm broke over us.  When the storm passed we picked apricots, which we ate by sandstone sculpture gardens created by floods and winds and time.  We drove route 12 much of the day, and decided that it must be the most beautiful drive in the whole country - right through Escalante National Monument, which looked like the surface of the moon.  We spent the night in a KOA just outside of Bryce Canyon; the nicest KOA yet, surrounded by mountains and juniper trees.

We visited Bryce Canyon the next day - hiked down and enjoyed the hoodoos (sandstone spires) from below as well as above.  Bryce is probably the most beautiful of all the canyons - light seems to emanate from the stone itself.  There are spires, arches, and windows wherever you look - as well as the twisted fragrant junipers everywhere. “I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive.  I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”  Isaiah 41:19-20.

We crossed the Glen Canyon Dam that day, and took a quick detour to swim in Lake Powell (which some people call "Lake Foul," I found out later, to my dismay).  On our way to Flagstaff, where we spent the night, we passed through the Navajo Indian Nation - stopping at a roadside stand to buy some pottery.  This was another memorable experience - the owners of the stand were so kind that they even gave us a traditional wedding vase for Alyssa for free!

An Elk by the side of the road greeted us Thursday morning as we made our way to the Grand
Canyon.  We were glad we went, but have to say that, after all the beautiful canyons we've already been through - especially Bryce and Arches - the Grand Canyon is just BIGGER.

Wherever you look is a VIEW – a panorama, but you can't really touch it.  It's too big to encompass by experience.  What you can touch are the ubiquitous ground squirrels, who are bold beggars – but you really aren’t supposed to…

Next day we slid down Slide Rock in Sedona, AZ.  Truthfully - Glen and the kids slid through the frigid water down the rocks while I took photos and prayed urgently that nobody would get a
concussion.  It was gloriously beautiful - and the last of our cool experiences for a while.

After eating at the same Mexican restaurant in Prescott, AZ that Mom and Dad and I ate at last November (Bill and Annie Simpson's wedding), we headed out for Needles, CA - where it was 110 degrees at 10 PM!  (We did get to see Saguaro Cacti en route, which was very exciting for all of us! But we also boiled our break fluid going down steep grades in the mountainous country, and felt
somewhat hesitant about being stranded in Needles!)

By Grace - we're in Bakersfield as I write.  Our break fluid has been changed - we're safe - and it's only in the high 90s at 8PM.  The kids have spent the afternoon playing in the pool with a boy and girl their age from the Netherlands.  Tomorrow we'll visit the sequoias, and the next day, Yosemite! The children from the Netherlands said we could get bears to come to our cabin in Sequoia by leaving sweet-smelling things like marshmallows or bananas out on our picnic table.  I'll have to watch Sean - he's caught fish, lizards, a dying mouse, and a chipmunk so far. He'd be pretty pleased with himself if he could add a bear to the list!

Now - we're off!


Glen, Beverly, Sean & Alyssa