48-Hour South Dakota Soul Safari

The sunrise greets the guardians of our campground, the American Bison.

It never ceases to amaze me what is possible to see and feel in less than 48 hours. Leaving Denver at 6:45 AM and returning the next evening at  6:00 PM, I managed to feel like I’d been far, far away on a soul safari. Wide open spaces and crepuscular moments will do that for you.

In an attempt to not let this summer slip away like last summer, I packed up the Cranberry Crush with her new tent and headed to South Dakota, a place I visited countless times as a child, but had never truly appreciated as an adult.

My experience blew me away. Not only did I see more than 100 pronghorn antelope (one with its two babies dancing merrily around it), I also saw wild turkeys, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep, and  mountain goats. And I was sung to sleep by the howls of coyotes and the yips of their pups trying to imitate mom and dad. I’ve seen all of these animals before, but not quite like this — and not together. The wide open prairies in a National Park are magical. No fences. No houses. Just animals (and lots of them) roaming about as they wish.

Probably the most moving of all was the peaceful coexistence of camper and bison. The bison seemed to guard the campground. They owned it. And we all kept our respectable distance when they wandered through. Twice on my early morning mountain bike ride, I had to stop and wait for a bison to move before I could continue or wait for a car to come by so I could ride next to it for protection. When 2,000 pounds of bison are between you and your destination, you find another way.

Another spectacular crepuscular moment–sunset at the Sage Creek campground.

I was the first to leave the campground (on my mountain bike) and after carefully dodging bison and a swirling tornado of swallows, I was greeted by wild turkeys at this overlook in the Badlands.

I was moved by the beauty of the land and its creatures. But as I  hiked the popular Notch Trail in Badlands National Park, I was surprised at my emotional reaction as I saw a group of people coming toward us on the trail. They had just come up the steep ladder section and were traversing the narrow trail with a drop off to one side.

Boy Scouts. I knew it immediately.

My husband and I didn’t even need to discuss it. We’d both been around Boy Scouts for so long we can spot a troop a mile away. The boys at the front of the group were skipping over the rocks with ease and getting their buddies to take funny pictures. But as I kept going I witnessed something even more wonderful. The leaders, all three, were at the back of the group helping out one boy who was clearly scared of heights. With gentle encouragement they gave him pointers and blocked his “look down.” I was surprised by my reaction. As soon as I passed the four of them, I couldn’t breath. My heart was in my throat and I felt tears start to well up. My desire to work with youth has always been about this very moment. When I see, in action, adults walking alongside youth during their trials, failures, and successes— it hits me hard and it fires my passion for doing what I do. I was so glad to witness a bit of human nature as beautiful as the spires of rock around us.

My husband looks back at the ladder we climbed to get to the Notch Trail overlook.

An overlook of millions of years of geologic history is always a good way to end the day.

And my trip would not have been complete without a visit to Mt. Rushmore and to Rapid City, birthplace of my mom, and home to my great grandparents.  In a town full of summer tourists, I found my way out to sacred places that mattered most to me and brought them all home, tucked inside as precious memories.

Chapel of the Hills, an exact reproduction of the famous Borgund Stavkirke of Laerdal, Norway, is just a bike ride away down Rapid City, South Dakota’s main city pedestrian path. The meditation trail hidden behind the chapel offers a quite respite.

The last of the original historic terraces, looking out to Mt. Rushmore. Most of the original visitor infrastructure, including the visitor’s center and platform designed by my great grandfather, have been torn out and replaced. You can still see it, though if you watch Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest.

My great grandparents lived in this little house in Rapid City well into their 90s. I can still picture my great grandma sitting in a metal chair on the front porch in her lightweight, summer flower-print dress reciting funny poems and rhymes to me.

Everything Changes

“Mud season” in the mountains — fewer people and an evolving glacial landscape marks time for me.

Some things never change. Not true. Everything changes. Some things just change at a glacial pace. No where helps me grasp this more than my frequent stays in  Breckenridge, Colorado—a town and environment I’ve watched change slowly over my entire life. I’ve watched Uncle Frank’s house turn into the Starbucks on Main Street. I’ve watched ski tickets go from $12 to $120.  I’ve watched restaurants make it and break it. I’ve watched my children turn from toddlers to men.

My sons named this magical place Rock Island more than 15 years ago. It is still the place they run to first when we visit Breckenridge.

Time changes everything. Sometimes we mourn the loss. Other times we rejoice in the new.  As I spent a crepuscular moment this Mother’s Day dawn sitting by a new beaver dam, I was giddy with excitement. I’ve never been able to examine a beaver dam so close before. It was remarkable. Those industrious rodents completely changed the landscape. They made  a whole new environment for a host of other creatures to inhabit. As much as I wanted to see a beaver, I knew my chances were slim, but I was able to watch a muskrat dart happily in and out of his home along the bank.

A stellar crepuscular moment and an amazing change to the stream on the way to Rock Island.

Changes sometimes happen so slowly they are hard to recognize, like the snow eroding away the mountains. Other times they are shockingly quick and life-altering, like this dam. I felt both today, as my feet post-holed into melting snow near Crystal Lake and as I listened to my grown sons now navigate their lives in their own way—a way that will change mine forever. I’m swimming in a new pond. It’s a pond they built for me. It’s different here. Everything changes.

This muskrat (crepuscular) takes advantage of the new pond created by his friend the beaver (nocturnal).

starbucks

It’s still a house, but it’s no longer a home.

 

Crepuscular Moments

Sunrise over the Salt Valley in Arches National Park.

One of my very favorite science words is crepuscular. Being a “word person,” I tend to remember when and where I was when I learned a word. While sitting in Mammology class, my college professor described nocturnal animals (yawn), diurnal animals, and then POW…there it was…crepuscular. The word for animals active at dawn and dusk.

Some crepuscular species:

  • Rabbits
  • Guinea pigs
  • Rats
  • Jaguars
  • Ocelots
  • Lemurs
  • Wombats
  • Hyenas
  • Bobcats
  • Quolls
  • Chinchillas
  • Moose
  • Me!

Bonus words: matutinal (only active at dawn) and vespertine (only active at dusk).

Since then I’ve used the word as often as possible. It is fun and surprising to say.  And over the years I’ve found it is even more fun and surprising to be crepuscular.

My soul is filled in crepuscular moments. Those quiet moments when you are joined by only a few other crepuscular living things. You need not speak to them. You silently give them a nod as you pass by. Crepuscular moments cast dynamic shadows and fleeting colors making everyday objects exude magic and majesty.

Only a few people saw the sun hit these rocks on Saturday morning. Glad I was one of them.

Our lives are pretty full.  Yet we still have two chances everyday to be crepuscular.  Most of us can’t recall our dawn and dusk moments each day, even though we are often “active” during these times—actively helping kids with homework, actively making dinner, or “actively” sleeping. When we actively seek crepuscular moments it is a rare and beautiful choice. It goes against the norm. It makes life feel less crowded. It gives your soul space. It slows down and extends time. Sharing the sunset with your spouse. Watching the light turn mountains into golden monoliths. Sharing a glance with a white-tailed deer. Seeing the open petals of a Morning Glory. We get two crepuscular opportunities every single day. That’s 730 possible incredible soul moments a year.  Awesome.

Sand Dune Arch is crowded with visitors all day. But at dusk, when people pack themselves into restaurants, you can find yourself sitting alone in the soft sand enjoying the moon glow.

Getting Out of the Box and Playing Your Life

This landscape design was part of somebody’s opus. Thank you.

The way we each individually see the world is fascinating to me. And more and more I am seeing the tiny connections our brains make between everything we see and taste and touch. It is the reason I write this blog—to capture one small view of relationships, things, and events that seem related or relevant in my own mind. And with 7 billion brains on this planet, I can only imagine the strange and beautiful connections others make on a daily basis.

Today as my husband and I strolled around a meticulously designed resort in Florida, our breath was taken away by the landscape architecture and man-made waterfalls. What we were looking at was art. The art of placing three palm trees just so as to capture the rays of spotlights at night. The art of being able to see in your mind’s eye what a finished water feature will look like and then architecting it to become your vision. Art. It is all around us. Inspired by natural wonders and then using natural wonders to do something unnaturally new, yet wonderful.

I’ve been pondering art intensely for the past few weeks and making connections between unconnected things. Recently, I watched the movie August Rush and have been haunted by the notion of “feeling the music” everywhere. August was a musical genius who could hear music in everything.  Without any musical instruments in the first decade of his life, he had to figure out what he was feeling. He had to follow his call. And once he discovered how to use his gift, he just wanted to share it, to play it, to let it fill the world. Not be on stage. Not be famous. Not perform. Just play it.

I also read Station Eleven this week. It is a book about people trying to survive after a worldwide pandemic. A group of musicians and actors traveled the crumbling world, not for the glory or applause, but because there was something magnificent they had to share. Something they needed to share.

One of the things I love about writing, and most recently preaching, is not the act of writing or speaking, but the takeaway people receive. The most incredible part to me is when people tell you what they heard through your message and it isn’t what you thought you were saying at all.  They digest it through their own experience, their own gifts, their own story…and it becomes something even more beautiful. Something you couldn’t even imagine.

As I think about what I desire most in this world, it isn’t much different than August. I hunger to bring joy and life to the world through the gifts I’ve been given and share my version of art. I can hardly stop thinking about it every single day. What am I doing every day? How am I using my gifts?

Occasionally I look around and realize I am in a box again. The world puts me there. I put myself there. You can’t climb a mountain in a box. Mountains are dangerous and awesome and moving. Boxes are not. Sometimes I catch myself decorating my box with other people’s art—pictures of mountains—and forgetting that if I just knock down that flimsy cardboard wall, a mountain is standing right in front of me…waiting for me. Waiting for me to embrace my music on my own climb.

I love all the “mountains” I’ve scaled. I have no regrets. Even the ones I never peaked. Maybe especially the ones I’ve never peaked. It has never been about the performance.

What is this music I’m hearing all the time? I know I need to create something. I’ve been chasing it all my life. There is something always calling me.

Six Weeks of Everything

My mom often jokingly tells people I’ve taken “six weeks of everything.” For years I’ve wondered if that was a bad or good thing, like maybe it indicates I can never really work long enough to get good at anything. I’m pretty sure my mom never meant it that way. She likely just thinks it is a funny quirk of my personality that I have an insatiable desire to try things I find intriguing—not necessarily learn them to the point of mastery.

Just a few of the things I can or could get by doing:

  • Sign language
  • Writing children’s books
  • Twirling a baton
  • Speaking German
  • Swing/Salsa/Ballroom dancing
  • Taekwondo
  • Speaking Greek
  • Administering first aid to dogs/cats
  • Archery
  • Juggling
  • Film editing
  • Playing guitar
  • Doing CPR
  • Speaking Spanish
  • Sewing
  • Rock climbing
  • Directing live TV
  • Trapping and stuffing small mammals
  • Playing piano

….and I won’t even bother listing the long list of sports I’ve played or software programs I’ve learned. You get the picture.

Tonight I finished yet another six weeks of something. I can now write code in Ruby, a programming language. Before class, I watched a graduation of students from the coding academy who have spent the last seven grueling months building a marketable skill set. It was inspiring.

I, on the other hand, drove home quietly to no fanfare and without a marketable skill set…just six more weeks of something else behind my yellow Taekwondo belt.

But I’m thrilled.

I love tasting the world and broadening my lens. In fact, I’ve already signed up for my next six weeks…. JavaScript here I come! Then possibly oil painting or scuba diving….hmmmm….there are just so many things to try. I’ve decided that my life anthem must be “Try Everything” by Shikira from the movie Zootopia. It just fits. And it makes me happy when I hear it. It celebrates the trying, not the failing. It celebrates life the way I love to live it.

Be Still My Heart

It’s a beautiful morning to be free.

Eastertime has a special place in my heart, but not for the actual holiday of Easter Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, I like ham and chocolate eggs as much as the next person, but I find this time an opportunity to carve out moments for quiet reflection in the days and sometimes hours leading to that Easter sunrise.

There’s something big in something small and quiet.

Just a couple of weeks ago we played a game with our youth group at church. Adult leaders dressed as a Roman soldiers and the youth pretended to be Christians and ran around the church trying to escape our capture while they looked for the “secret place of worship.”  It was all in good fun, but when we finally all gathered in the small candlelit back room, we discussed the reality of the need for this type of “secret” worship space for early Christians in Rome. Sadly, it still remains a reality in many places all over the world for Christians as well as for people of other faiths.

Just this week my cousin in Africa sent me a picture via email of a small group of people  sitting on her floor in a circle worshiping and studying together. I’d love to share the picture, but for security reasons I cannot. I’m grateful to live in a country where we are ensured the freedom of religion, but even so, like many others, I have still felt the sting of persecution right here.

When we were playing the game, we asked the youth (in our best authoritative Roman soldier voices), “Are you one of those Christians?” They all denied it to escape…for them…all part of the game.  But their “game day” reaction isn’t all that far from reality. It is difficult to share your faith when it could cost you your life, your job, your working relationships, or your friends.

This Easter I quietly climbed a mesa top in the dark and waited for a small group of people to join me —  strangely reminiscent of another gathering long ago in Galilee– and together we watched the world awaken, welcomed the sun, and declared what I believe to be the only true hope there is for this world.

There is something big in something small and quiet.

May we humbly be the love of God in a world that desperately needs love.

Seeing Thestrals

candle

Seeing something there that wasn’t there before.

As I’ve watched my friends grieve the death of those closest to them over the last several years, and more recently just this week, the idea of seeing Thestrals (Harry Potter-inspired magical creatures) suddenly became a lot more “real” to me.  According to the “wizarding world,” Thestrals (scary-looking flying horses) can only be seen by those who have been touched by death.

So is that a good thing or a bad thing? An honor, a blessing, a badge, or a curse?

Definition of a Thestral, according to J.K. Rowling: Manifesting as black, skeletal, bat-winged horses, but invisible to all who have never been truly touched by death, Thestrals have a somewhat macabre reputation. In centuries past the sight of them was regarded as unlucky; they have been hunted and ill-treated for many years, their true nature (which is kindly and gentle) being widely misunderstood. Thestrals are not marks of ill omen, nor (their spooky appearance notwithstanding) are they in any way threatening to humans, always allowing for the fright that the first sight of them tends to give the observer.

Today, a friend of mine preached a sermon on love where he told about the seasons of loss in his life (past, immediate, and future). Those losses were, are, and will be painful, yes, but they can also be an opportunity…an opportunity to give, recognize, and receive love in a deeper way than ever before. The more pain we experience, just maybe, translates to the more love we have the opportunity to experience as well. Strangely true.

Isn’t that just like a Thestral? The fear we have of pain and loss tends to give the pain a bad reputation–a reputation that it has nothing to offer but something evil or scary. Yet something kind and gentle is hidden beneath that scary exterior. And it isn’t until we experience great pain or loss that we are able to see something we’ve never seen before. When we open our eyes and hearts to it, we just might get the opportunity to deeply understand some of the greatest love of all and, in turn, be that kind of love to the world.

Solomon’s Moon

moon

Solomon: Forevermore this is your moon. Thank you for your story.

As I hailed a taxi at the Indianapolis airport on my way to a conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Solomon, my taxi driver. Though he moved to the United States from war torn Eritrea in 1991, his English was still rather broken.

Looking out of my window I spied a gorgeous orange full moon setting just below the horizon. I squealed with excitement, trying to remember the name of this month’s full moon. I finally remembered it was the Worm Moon and I told Solomon about the Algonquin Indians and why they named it so. He told me that in Tigrinya, the name of this kind of full moon was something that sounded like fortuna…which I translated as fortune (in Greek).

My short, mustached driver spent the better part of fifteen minutes explaining how the moon phases worked, using hand movements where his words failed him. He told me that a full moon, like this one, meant rain is coming. I imagined him growing up in Eritrea with his family and the stories of the moon and its weather patterns passed from generation to generation. (Of course, I looked it up when I got to my hotel and found out that scientists have studied the stories and found that there is actually a shred of truth to this lunar weather predictor.)

After the weather report, I told Solomon about our friends the Bahta family who were refugees from Eritrea back when I was in high school and college. Eritrea, a postage stamp of a country in East Africa, endured a horrible civil war.  I told him about Tigisti Bahta, their daughter whom I tutored in English. Tigisti means patience. And she needed a lot of it having me as an English teacher.Solomon said he had also fled to the United States for the same reason. He told me he started out in Washington D.C. and it was difficult because of the crime there. He said to me, “Black, white…it doesn’t matter. Color doesn’t matter. Crime is crime. Wrong is wrong. And I didn’t like it.” He was extremely grateful to meet his sister in Indianapolis and for the peace he has found here. Solomon means peace.

I’ve learned that Eritreans have a different system of naming from most Western countries. Among Christian Eritreans, children are given two names: a secular name at birth and a Christian name when the child is baptized.

I never learned Solomon’s Eritrean name, but I have decided to give him an honorable one —Werḧi, meaning moon. So together his name would mean peace of the moon.

I woke up the next morning to a precipitating sky. Solomon’s moon was right. And I am better for knowing him…. even if it was only for a 30-minute taxi ride.

Oven-Killing Flaming Meatloaf and Sabbath Mode

oven

This is bad…but not as bad as the meatloaf.

A flaming meatloaf blew up my oven. At least that’s how I like to tell the story. However, the truth is the meatloaf was an innocent bystander and the oven decided to self-destruct all on its own.  Flames grew from the element and when the fire department arrived the oven temperature topped at 1000 degrees.

The electric range/oven now sits alone and sad in my garage and a gaping hole still remains, almost a month later, in my kitchen. Researching ovens has taken a backseat to work travel, work projects, volunteer commitments, and family. But today is the day! I am tired of cooking eggs on my barbecue grill and eating cold pizza.

While researching ovens, I discovered an amazing thing –they come with a Sabbath mode. I never knew appliances had Sabbath modes! I kind of thought that’s the mode I have been in since the fire—a break from my oven and range —Sabbath mode.

Turns out Sabbath mode is a feature in many modern home appliances, which is intended to allow the equipment to be used (subject to various constraints) by Shabbat-observant Jews on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.

So how does Sabbath mode work?

Orthodox Jews believe you shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. That includes cooking raw meat by turning on an oven. You can, however, warm up something that is already cooked. In the olden days, starting a fire and doing all the prep for cooking was a lot of work.  So, on the Sabbath, the fire was just kept burning so warming of food could occur without “working” to make a new fire. So, in Sabbath mode on modern ovens, the automatic 12-hour safety shutoff is disabled…thereby keeping the “fire” hot so you don’t have to physically turn the oven on once the Sabbath starts..

So technically (according to Jewish law), I haven’t been working (with my oven) for 25 days. That’s a long Sabbath. Funny thing is…I don’t feel rested. For me modern appliances take away work, not create work. My mom always told me when housework and the world seems overwhelming, start by getting all the machines working for you. It is how I start most weekends. Get something cooking, turn on the washing machine, run the dishwasher and…voila! Within minutes I feel like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice with an army of brooms.

I am happy to report the electric range and oven arrives on Monday. I have a new appreciation for this appliance. For me, I’ll now consider EVERY mode it has a Sabbath mode.

Pareto Principle and Pea Pod Pondering

peapod

What kind of pea pod are you?

I ate peas last night. I haven’t had peas in a long time. They were great and they made me think about Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto who made an amazing discovery in 1896 — the famous 80/20 rule. And it applies to more than just economics.

Yes, it started in Italy when Pareto discovered that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the people. But he didn’t really shout ‘Eureka!’ until he also discovered that in his garden 20% of the pea pods produced 80% of the peas.

Since that time the principle has been verified in all manner of cases.

  • 80% of sales typically come from 20% of the customers.
  • 20% of workers do 80% of the work.
  • 20% of criminals commit 80% of the crimes.
  • 20% of pub-goers consume 80% of the alcohol.
  • We wear 20% of the clothes in our closet and spend 80% of our time with 20% of our friends.
  • 20% of car drivers cause 80% of the accidents.
  • 20% of our time spent on a task leads to 80% of the results.
  • 80% of decisions are made in 20% of the time.

We can’t help it. We are just pea pods.

Should I just give up and start only going to 20% of my meetings and spending 20% of my week at the office? (This is assuming I’m one of the 20% of people that gets 80% of the work done. And I guess that would mean I would only get 80% of the 80% of work that gets done.) Drat. That last 20% of the work is necessary to get 100% of my salary. What a shame the last 20% takes 80% of my life.

What am I to do with this? Can I choose the pea pod I will be? Can I change my percentage and defy the odds?

I won’t speak for you…but this pea pod is going to try to become more efficient.