Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday in the park

If you are ever at a National Park on a Sunday, take a little time to attend a worship service conducted by ACMNP (A Christian Ministry in the National Parks). These inter-denominational services are led by seminarians and college students honing their abilities to lead worship.  They get a lot of help from nature’s most impressive object lessons. 

“No one ever stands in front of Lake McDonald and says ‘Wow, I am awesome,’” Paul from Georgia concluded in his homily. Still waters and green pastures are God’s therapy for us who are over involved with our own needs.
If the heavens declare the glory of God in a national park, then the stand of fire-ravaged tree trunks that circle the lake have a message as well. I regenerate. At water’s edge the forest is greening. A shadow of green pushes its way back into the forest like a watercolorist bringing a sketch to life by adding subtle hues.

 Lightning, the world’s most careless and uncontrollable arsonist, has burned away the pine and cedar duff along with the trees. Now, new light shines in an old dark forest. In the transitional habitat, lodge pole pines that required heat to burst their pods are gaining ground. Song birds increase 200 percent after a forest fire.
Nature gives the best sermons.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


I am blessed to live in a mountain town with the peaks of Yosemite in my backyard. When I go to the Farmer’s Market at funky Mountain Sage – part nursery, part coffee house, part art gallery, occasional music venue for amazing talent – I may not have a choice of vendors of  a vast array of designer vegetables, but I know the back story of most everyone I encounter.

And yet…

I miss access to a state-of-the-art fitness center, easy walking distance to boutiques and museums, the availability of a nearby college or university that hosts artists and writers (no disrespect meant to Columbia College, which turns out firefighters who keep us safe and chefs who tempt our palates at local restaurants).

Closed in by oaks and pines, I yearn for open pastures. Up here on my mountain I long to be gazing across a glacial lake or skimming my eyes over gray coastal tides to lose myself in a horizon that pulls the sky down into Poseidon’s fathomless depth.  I want to light incense in my living room that smells like Montana.
No matter how good it is to be home, I’m always looking forward to the next adventure.   

Monday, July 25, 2011


It’s time for some irreverent musings on travel accommodations. 

Chico Hot Springs
Resorting to an international hotspot

When we first considered vacationing where the buffalo roam, what better place to begin than Chico Hot Springs?  Our “suite” was so named for the prominence of a huge Jacuzzi tub in the center of the bedroom.  Resorts typically offer romantic décor but impractical furnishings.  I couldn’t fit a book on the night table, but as the light was too poor to read by it didn’t matter. A full sound system took up all the space on a counter by the tub. At night, the CD slot cast a bright neon blue light in the room suggestive of pole dancing.  As we had ridden horses, rafted the Yellowstone River and toured the park all in one day, I was too tired for any more activity.

Offerings from Grandma’s organic garden found their way to our table. We loved that.

Olive Branch Inn
Inn consideration of meeting every need

Three generations of our family descended on the Olive Branch Inn in Bozeman and there was room for all, from a closet in which to tuck a tiny pack ‘n player for his nap to a suite retreat for the seniors.  In this case, I could spread a library of books and papers, glasses and small electronics, tea and fruit on the night table.  Small cousins played secret agent, hiding under beds on three levels of the historic home.  Big cousins adopted a rhythm of cooking, cleaning up and storytelling on the patio or around the big dining room table, lazy walks to Front Page for coffee, and field trips to the local attractions. The seniors flitted about like honeybees on the flowers of youth, enjoying the energy.

In Montana, fresh clean water is on tap everywhere you go.  That and clean air are  rights guaranteed in the state constitution, I'm told.

Lake MacDonald
A view with a room

Not an original saying, but appropriate to our fifties-style rooms at the Village Inn at Apgar at the panoramic lakeshore edge of breathtaking Lake MacDonald. Our suite accommodated two couples in a clean, comfortable, scout lodge-like fashion.  Built for easy maintenance with no perceived need to indulge users of modern electronics, all communication with the outside world ceased when we entered Glacier National Park. But who cared?  We were stunned into submission by beauty.

It’s not pretty but it’s clean
Our final night we are hanging out at the Royal 7 Motel on the highway praying for good weather for take-off tomorrow. We dined around the corner at hole-in-the-wall Fresco Café whose chef makes pasta sing opera.

Moving experiences
Now for the irreverent part – our family curse is the stubborn bowel. Sis offered up her remedy – five dried figs a day. Good, but I like my son’s cure better.  He said his poopologist (too funny) prescribes a shot of Jameson’s.  It works!!

some of the clan

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Montana Skies

Truly Montana is big sky country. On a canvas stretched across eternity, clouds charge across the sky like Disney animations on steroids – empty-eyed flying dragons strike at fat furry bears that fly by, nipping at the tails of celestial squirrels. 

Look below and a different drama unfolds. Cavorting through the tall grass a wild black bear forages. It pokes, unconcerned about the people pile-up on the road – anglers for a glimpse of a creature that is cute and uncontrollable, darling and dangerous.  

  In a meadow a lone bison lounges undisturbed, chewing his cud. We joke that although we appreciate his ubiquitous quality – his stolid, preternatural presence – if he gets paid per viewer he will lose to the bear.

It’s the vistas that most enchant me – the lone dwelling settled in a pasture of sweet grass dotted with prairie flax looking like a pointillism masterpiece. A warm speck of life against a majestic snow-capped mountain, it whispers in the wind: Here there is time and space.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Channeling Sarah Winchester

I get Sarah Winchester.  She thought as long as she could hear the sounds of construction in her house, she would never die. I too feel happy when I hear the industrious buzz of worker bees in my house –updating a bathroom or installing fresh carpet that banishes old red wine stains and cat barf we discovered when we moved the piano.
It seems that I wake up every morning to unfinished business. Unlike Sarah, my agenda is not to live in this body, in this house, on this earth for eternity. Still, I feel compelled to wrap things up in an orderly fashion.
I want to put my house in order, literally and figuratively.  I want to finish things – the revision of my novel, my ancestry tree, the pile of photos and photo albums sitting in the corner.
Even though I know it’s a race I won’t win, I want to maintain things. In aerobics the other morning the instructor on our tape encouraged us to let the house go and take better care of the temple – this body we live in. If I took as good care of my body as I do my house, I would look like Queen Esther.
Life seems to have a heavy maintenance schedule. I’ve started considering that when some delightful shelf dweller wants to go home with me. Is it worth the time to learn how to use it, the space to store it and the aggravation of caring for it?  Usually not.
It’s come to my attention that I got way to good at acquisition, and now I can’t get rid of stuff fast enough. Today I tossed a pair of Capri pants because they take too long to iron. Also a pair of vacation pants I bought for my husband so he would look like a stud.  Because he defines “stud” as a surface that doesn’t require a molly bolt, they’ve never been worn. I sorted my Tupperware into square containers and round containers and bagged all the round ones. Square containers without lids are followed their round cousins to the thrift shop.
In the glee of divestiture, I still find I want to start things – not new rooms in my house but new life experiences. I think that’s where Sarah and I part company.  I don’t need any more rooms in my house.  I need room in my life for God to fill with good things.

Monday, July 4, 2011


Singing praise songs in church on a Sunday, I became aware of how like our thought life a praise song plays. I focus my conscious thought on what the words and phrases mean in a song like In Under Your Wing*:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills
For I know where my help comes from
You will sustain my weary soul
For it’s by Your grace I stand here today.

Focused attention forms the melody of my thoughts, but soon I hear a harmony.  It’s the nether song of the muse introducing a contemplative accord or a cognitive dissonance into my praise:

The hills – the peaks of Yosemite were beautiful this morning.  Jesus, why don’t I look up more? We should go into the park next week after the holiday crowd leaves; no, we shouldn’t, we have to get ready for the carpet installation. Focus!

By your grace I stand here today – and, where is everyone else? Attendance is light today. I wonder if the kids bothered with church today. Focus!

Thank you Jesus that I am in this place, with the beauty of your world in my backyard, singing with this praise choir of precious souls. I am blessed.

The harmonic balance of tension and peace give depth to praise in the much the same way that subconscious thought – the kind that comes through the door at our invitation or bursts into our interior rooms unbidden – gives rise to understanding and creativity.

Sometimes my soul yearns to hear a descant. Musically, a descant is a counter melody that floats above the main melody and carries the theme. A counterpoint in the life of the mind might be the still, small voice we all long to hear.

Folk singer John Stewart performed a song called Gold. It had a wistful refrain:
“People out there turning music into gold.” 

Although the gold he yearned for was the money that could be made from music in the right market, this is a beautiful phrase when placed in a different context.  People turn music into gold when they direct their song to God. Perhaps our praise is the gold that paves Heaven’s highways.

*Christy Cooper

Friday, July 1, 2011


I took my first watercolor class yesterday.  Let’s put a frame around that.  I took a watercolor class at the Yosemite Art and Education Center; with my five and seven-year old grandkids (GKs); on a day when sunlight tangoed with the trees in the meadow and the falls spilled snowmelt like a bosomy matron in a bikini.

I’d spent the past two weeks observing the GKs who sponge new experiences with thirsty glee. On this year’s summer visit, they learned to keep a horse’s head up and out of a tempting salad of poison oak and swim without water wings to the platform in the middle of the lake (don’t tell their mom). The boy improved his aim with the BB gun he keeps here and the girl learned to knit. (I will make no comment on gender roles; it was their choice.)

It was interesting to see how differently we all approached the lesson as we sat in the meadow and sketched our view of Half Dome. The five-year-old drew big a teepee-shaped rock in the middle of his paper and then filled in detail around it from his imagination. After the seven-year-old pulled her attention away from the “eeuuuwww” factor of small bugs flying into her face she produced a very credible sketch. I, on the other hand, put pencil to paper and froze.

As I pulled my pencil along the pebbly paper a refrain started up in my head – I am really bad at this.  I pressed on, filling in more detail than is appropriate for a watercolor sketch and assessing my progress at intervals – the perspective is off; the scale of the tree in the foreground is wrong; this looks more like Mt. Fuji than Half Dome.    

We returned from the meadow and pulled out the paints.  At the end of the day, the children each had a drawing they were proud of and I had a soggy piece of paper. They learned the difference between poster paints and water colors.  I learned some life lessons.

Where to begin -- the sky or the grass? No, begin with the focal point. I may make that a daily practice.

A sketch is a roadmap for your painting.  It should be drawn lightly enough to be erased before you add color. It should include notes about color choices. Note to self: what in my life could benefit from an eraser and what needs color?

Blending watercolors is a delicate and mysterious art.  Who knew that gray wasn’t black dumbed down a little with white. “Try pulling in a bit of yellow into that muddy drop, or a little blue, and see what you get,” our teacher suggested. We got thrilling purplish and peachy grays. 

So much to learn – like any art, watercolor must needs be learned from a master and practiced over time.  I wish I’d started earlier. I return to my writing with a fresh perspective.  There are so many rich experiences in life to pull in.