Zion’s Secret Season

After forty-five yers of marriage, I’ve come to realize I’m married to an adventurer. It all started in 1981 when Herb went sky-diving. I was eight months pregnant with our first child at the time. I remember staring into the cloudless sky when he dropped out of the plane. A tidal wave of fear rose within me and I wondered, “What if he doesn’t make it?”

Our responsibilities as parents put a damper on Herb’s adventures. After all, raising kids was enough of an adventure. But now that we’ve retired, we have more time to travel. Last summer, Herb discovered Zion National Park was offering a Christmas in July sale. The drawback to the deal: you had to visit the park in winter. The ad referred to winter as “The Secret Season,” a time when the park is less crowded. Since our other trips to Zion occurred in summer, we thought a February trip would be fun.

About a week before our departure, I checked the weather forecasts for the area. Highs in the fifties and lows in the thirties were predicted. Since we live in Florida, we don’t own a huge amount of winter clothes, but we packed several layers of long sleeve tops and thermal underwear, just in case.

We drove a rental car from Las Vegas to Zion and encountered our first surprise: snow covered everything. After we checked into the lodge, we picked up the key to our cabin. Surprise #2: The lock on the door was frozen. Since it was after five, and the maintenance crew was going home for the night, the management moved us to a different cabin. Breathing a sigh of relief, we hauled our luggage inside, lit the gas fireplace, and discussed our plans for tomorrow. We planned to hike every day for the next four days.

I knew I was in for trouble when we attempted our first hike along the Virgin River. The trail was snow-covered and icy. Herb had borrowed a pair of crampons (ice cleats) from my brother in anticipation of this condition. I had not thought ahead. Instead, I used my hiking poles to stabilize myself on the trail and my hands became very sore. The beautiful scenery along the river helped me forget my pain.

Later that afternoon, we drove to the Zion Adventure Company and bought a pair of crampons I could wear. More snow was forecasted during the overnight hours.

That night, I lay in bed, tossing and turning, all the while dreading tomorrow’s hike up the West Rim Trail to Angel’s Landing. We had hiked this trail in summer, but winter would be different. I imagined what it might be like to lose the trail under all of that snow. What if I stepped off the trail into thin air? The hike has an elevation gain of 1,000 feet and is so dangerous, people have to get a permit. Our permit was for February 26. I looked over at Herb, who was sleeping peacefully. “He doesn’t seem concerned, why am I?” I took comfort seeing him so relaxed, and finally dozed off.

The next morning we awakened to a winter wonderland. The rocks and trees were adorned with fresh white snow. After a hearty breakfast in the lodge dining room, we prepared ourselves for the big hike. I attached the crampons to my hiking boots and stepped onto the snow. All of a sudden my anxiety subsided. I felt comfortable, stable, and ready to begin the four mile strenuous hike.

After the first mile, I started to sweat. I took off one of my layers and tied it around my waist. We pressed on higher and higher up the side of the canyon.

A few hikers had blazed the way before us, and it was easy to see where the trail led. Once again, I appreciated my crampons, because parts of the trail had serious drop-offs. One false move and you were gone!

Danger can arise if hikers are approaching from the opposite direction. Usually the person ascending freezes in place and gives ample room for the descending hiker to pass. I appreciated this, because it gave me time to rest.

At one point I looked up to see a young mother coming toward me. She carried an infant in her pack, and held the hand of a young child. I felt shocked to think they were by themselves, without a father. She said they were turning back, and I thought that was a great idea. ( In fact, I wondered if I should go with them.)

Eventually we reached the part of the trail known as Walter’s Wiggles. Here the trail snakes back and forth, through a series of narrow switchbacks. I felt very tired and stopped several times to catch my breath. I met an elderly man descending from the upper level who encouraged me to keep going. His words inspired me and I pushed myself forward to Scout’s Lookout.

Posing for a photo finish with Herb. (Scout’s Lookout)

Scout’s Lookout usually offers a great view of Zion Canyon. But today visibility was limited because the clouds opened and snow pelted the area. Nearby, a group of four guys dared one another to climb up the chain rope to the top of Angel’s Landing. Common sense ruled. My adventurer husband also decided to turn back since we could only see about twenty feet in front of us.

After a literal pit stop, we turned around and began our descent. The wind blew the snow sideways stinging my face. The temperature had dropped at this higher elevation and I shivered in the cold. The middle layer of clothing I tied around my waist, was wet from the snow. I had one goal in mind: I must get back to the cabin!

A new sense of courage overcame me and I picked up my pace. Descending is always easier but I felt tired, and needed to be careful. The hike down was uneventful and I paused once to take Herb’s picture.

Of all of our hiking vacations, this is one trip I will never forget. Some people are content to visit a time-share at the same time every year. My adventuring husband wants to travel to wild places during unusual seasons. Why did I go? Sigh… the things I do for love. Besides I am always looking for good story material.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my story about Zion’s “Secret Season.” Now, it’s no longer a secret.

A Love Story

When you think of love, what comes to mind? I doubt if you think of the animal kingdom. My friend, Mary, lives in a suburban neighborhood inhabited by peacocks. No one can say for sure how the peacocks came to the area. Mary saw them when she moved in forty-five years ago. Although the flock fluctuates in numbers, she estimates there are over one hundred peacocks now. Mary’s neighbors have different opinions about the birds. Some folks love having them around. Others complain when the peacocks block neighborhood traffic or roost on their roofs.

One day, Mary’s daughter, Kim, discovered a peacock chick on the front lawn. The weakling had been abandoned by its mother. Kim scooped up the baby peacock and carried it to the backyard where her family raises chickens. She opened the coop and gently placed the young peacock inside. What do you think happened? Did the chickens raise a fuss? Did they attack the little peacock?

Quite the opposite. The young chickens welcomed the newcomer. In fact, they huddled around the the baby peacock like it was something they wanted to protect. They didn’t notice that the peacock was different.

The love the chickens demonstrated for the peacock reminds me of the Bible story, Ruth. Due to a devastating famine, an Israelite couple (Elimelech and Naomi) move to a foreign country called Moab. In summary, Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth.) Eventually, Naomi’s husband dies. After that, her two sons pass away. Naomi feels abandoned.

Word gets around that the famine in Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem has ended. Naomi packs her bag and prepares for the journey home. She urges her daughters-in-law to return to their mother’s homes because she has no more sons who can provide for them. Orpah follows Naomi’s advice, but Ruth refuses. “Don’t urge me to leave you or turn from back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16 NIV.)

Ruth’s declaration of love surprises Naomi. If Ruth moves to Bethlehem, she will leave behind her parents, her culture, and her god to go to a foreign land. Why? The only explanation is love. Like the chickens and the peacock, Ruth doesn’t see the differences between herself and Naomi. She only sees their similarities.

The two women set off together. Once they arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth gleans the leftover grain from the barley harvest and shares it with Naomi. Her commitment is rewarded. Soon she remarries and conceives a son.

Love is more than a feeling. It’s an action not hindered by cultural differences or appearance. Love means putting aside your needs in order to help someone else. I still believe love has the power to change lives for the better. Will you be like Ruth in a world which desperately needs love?

The Right Prescription

You’ve been there…remember that day when you answered a call from your doctor and your heart skipped a beat? His or her voice sounded serious as he shared information from your recent lab test. Now you have a new condition, one you hadn’t hoped for.

A few months ago, I learned my earlier diagnosis of osteopenia had advanced to osteoporosis. I felt depressed. Here was one more reminder I am aging. When I met with my doctor in her office, she prescribed a new calcium supplement and a strict regimen of weight-bearing exercise. She emphasized the importance of walking 40 minutes a day, for five days a week. I like to walk. I just don’t like being told I must walk, for how long, and how often. I thought it would be impossible to discipline myself to that degree.

The Florida heat during the month of August was more than I could bear, so I walked indoors on a treadmill (I call it the dreadmill) for the first few weeks of my exercise program. Even though I listened to my favorite playlist, I found the activity boring. I counted the minutes until I ended each session.

By October, the weather cooled and I could comfortably walk outside. I am fortunate to live in an area with several large ponds. These wetlands provide a perfect habitat for my favorite tree, the cypress.

Whether I walk early morning, or late afternoon, I’ve discovered the light is remarkable for photographing the cypress trees. Some people aren’t aware of the fall season in Florida. During November and December, the needle-like cypress leaves change to burnt orange.

Since these trees are deciduous, they lose their leaves a short while later, similar to trees in northern forests.

There are two types of cypress trees. The bald cypress grows to a height of 150 feet. The pond cypress is smaller (80 feet tall). The trees I see on my walks are of pond cypress variety. The pond cypress are less likely to pop up “knees,” and when they do, the knees are much rounder and shorter.

A pond cypress tree in summer. Note the the “knees” in the foreground

The pond is home to a variety of wildlife. Ducks and squirrels feed on cypress seeds. The trees also provide branches for epiphytes (air plants) which produce fruit that birds enjoy. I marvel at the great white egret who adds to the beauty of the scene. I make a game of trying to see how quick I can snap a photo before the bird takes flight.

Many medicines have unpleasant side effects. But there is nothing unpleasant about my time spent near the pond. The experience always has the same side effect, an uplifted spirit. When I see the beauty of creation, I am reminded of our Creator. God designed the world and all living things within it. The cycles and the seasons of the year operate with precision.

Whenever I take my walks, I think, “This is my medicine. I’m following my doctor’s orders and enjoying nature at the same time. This isn’t so bad after all.”

I can’t appreciate the beauty of nature without giving praise to the one who made it. I love these lines from God is in the Small Stuff and it all Matters by Bruce and Stan.

When you see a beautiful painting, praise the artist. When you hear a beautiful song, praise the composer. When you experience beauty in nature, praise the Creator.”

I can’t say I’m thankful for my new diagnosis, but I am grateful for the right prescription to treat my condition physically and emotionally. Are you facing a condition whose treatment requires a lifestyle change? How successful have you been at making the necessary change? Think about turning an unpleasant exercise into one you enjoy by incorporating something you’re passionate about. You might find the right prescription.

Tell Your Story

I’ve been wondering when I might write again. For the past three months my circumstances have not permitted me to rest long enough to string together a sentence… not to mention a blogpost.

Do you know writers who have quit? Maybe you’re one of them. Scripture teaches us to not neglect the gift God has put within each one of us. Perseverance has its benefits.

Perhaps this is a good time to encourage myself and you. Don’t quit. If you are a writer, do whatever it takes to find a time and a place to express yourself. Tell your story. Tell about the reason for the hope within you. Tell of the ways God has turned your losses into gains… because He always does.

I used to write about camping, but this past spring our jeep continued to break down, so we sold both vehicles. The cash from the sale helped us buy a more reliable vehicle. This fall we drove our new car to meet our first grandchild! Seasons change, our needs shift, and life is in a continual state of flux.

What is constant? Only God and his will for us. If you feel my words stirring something within your heart, and you’ve strayed from his purpose for you, it’s time to get back to your first love.

If you are sensing a shift in your interest, it doesn’t mean you should quit writing. Our goals can change over time because we change. This year I felt led to organize a writing group of seniors to meet monthly for critique and fellowship. Together we launched a quarterly creative writing magazine for the residents of our retirement community. Writing is a great tool which can be adapted to the skills and interests of the reader. Whether you write for children or seniors, you can touch readers in all seasons of life.

Sometimes when I finish a project, I feel like I will never write again. It’s a very fearful feeling. For me, starting is the hardest, most challenging part of writing.

Are you stuck for ideas? It might be that you are too busy. Recently, a family member put her house on the market. A realtor advised her to declutter every room because creating space gives a potential buyer the opportunity to envision how they will use the area. In the same way, we as writers need to empty our minds of all the to-do-lists of our day in order to envision a story.

Creativity requires space. A gardener removes the debris from last years flowerbed to prepare the soil for seed. Empty your mind of toxic thoughts which stress your emotions before you write.

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver

Too often writers stress about how their work will be received. Relax and have fun. Play with words. Let your imagination roam. Free-write in a notebook for ten minutes about anything. Write like no one will ever see it. After several days, look back at what you have written that week. Eventually you might discover a new plot for your next book.

Thank you for reading my post. I appreciate your interest and comments.

When Good Intentions Backfire

Like most pet owners, I try to be conscientious about my dog’s health. A few days ago I took Buddy to our vet for a routine checkup. The doctor noticed unusual streaks of white throughout the back fur on his back. She pointed out some broken hairs and a couple of red lesions on his skin. “Has he been biting himself or rubbing on something?”

“Not that I know of,” I responded. “I thought Buddy’s white hairs were a sign of aging. He is twelve years old now.”

She continued to run his fingers through Buddy’s fur. “Well, I’d like to give him an injection for allergies. His skin looks irritated.”

“Sure.” I nodded.

A few minutes later an assistant whisked Buddy to the back room. I heard a doggy “yelp” followed by a human voice, “Poor Buddy.”

The assistant led Buddy back to me. I reached down and gave him a pat on the head. “I’m sorry, little guy.” After some brief instructions, I checked out at the front desk and we went home.

When I walked through our front door I suddenly realized what might have contributed to Buddy’s problem: enthusiastic brushing! Beagles shed like crazy. Over the years I’ve frequently complained about the amount of fur on our floors. My husband, Herb, thought brushing Buddy more often would help.

Beagles have a double coat of fur. In Buddy’s case, the excessive brushing removed the black top coat, revealing the white under coat. The American Kennel Club recommends weekly brushing with a medium bristle brush.

We felt like such bad pet owners. Herb was brushing him every day, and sometimes twice a day in order to help. Clearly the excessive brushing was irritating Buddy’s skin. Sometimes our best intentions can lead to bad results. Buddy paid the price for Herb’s good intentions. (And so did we when I gave the cashier my credit card.)

“I was only trying to help.” This sentence echoes through my mind as I recall numerous incidents when my altruistic nature backfired. One time I emptied the dirt in my daughter’s vacuum cleaner and couldn’t get the machine back together. Another time I dusted Mom’s shelf and broke her favorite knick-knack. I think the greatest gift we can give one another is a big dose of forgiveness when good intentions fail.

What is it about people that make us want to help others? Dr. Michael Tomasello, a developmental psychologist, studied the helping behaviors of toddlers. When an adult pretended to be looking for a lost item, toddlers as young as twelve months old pointed at various objects to help the adult find what he was looking for.

So our good intentions are a touch of the divine within us. Our desire to help is part of human nature and something we are blessed with at birth. Sometimes our good intentions end badly. Even so, bad results can lead to lessons learned, which might not be so bad after all.

When have your good intentions led to bad results? What did you learn in the process? Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Living with Covid 19

Remember the first Jurassic Park movie? My favorite part of the movie was the conversation between Henry Wu and Dr. Ian Malcolm. Mr. Wu stated that the Jurassic Park scientists controlled the chromosomes assigned to dinosaurs and they could not breed on their own. Dr. Malcolm responds with, “Life…uh…finds a way.” And of course, Dr. Malcolm was right.

A similar comment could be made about the Coronavirus. Since Covid made its appearance more than two years ago, governments have tried their best to eradicate it, but the virus won’t quit. Like a dinosaur, Covid is a life form that wants to continue living.

I can’t deny some advancements have occurred, especially regarding testing. Remember when we drove to a specific location and waited for hours in our car to be tested? We were told to immediately quarantine. Then we waited three days or more for the results. Now we can self-administer the Antigen rapid test in our homes, which is definitely more comfortable.

In the past, those who tested positive were required to isolate themselves for ten days. Now we’re told to isolate for five. (As long as we don’t have a fever.)

Looking back, we’ve come a long way. Remember the stay-at-home order of 2020? For weeks we could only leave our home to purchase food. Publix and Target scheduled special morning hours for senior citizens to shop. When we brought our precious commodities home we wiped them down with Clorox before bringing them in the house. During the spring and summer of 2020 we went to extreme measures to make sure Covid would not enter our homes, schools, and places of business.

So here we are in July of 2022. For two years many people have avoided crowds, wore masks, and injected themselves with vaccines and boosters. Yet, the virus marches on. I was late to the party, but I arrived. Three weeks ago, I tested positive.

I’ve heard some folks say, “I tested positive but only had mild symptoms.” I envy those people. Maybe I’m a baby, but Covid was no picnic for me. I kind of knew what to expect because every time I received a booster I spent the next day in bed with flu symptoms. After I contracted the actual virus, I spent four days in bed. The fatigue and brain fog lasted until day twelve. Did I have a different variant of Omicron? I’m not sure.

Like the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, the Coronavirus wants to live. Unfortunately it can only thrive by living in us. By changing into variants the virus continues to outwit us every six months.

Dr. Robert Bollinger of John Hopkins medicine explains that “all RNA viruses mutate over time, some more than others. Flu viruses change often, which is why doctors recommend that you get a new flu vaccine every year. ” The Delta and Omicron variants are classified as variants of concern because they are more likely to cause breakthrough infections or reinfections in those who are vaccinated or previously infected.

Covid 19 and its tribe of variants reveal the weakness of humanity. None of us can expect to live a life free from trials. The following poem by Annie Johnson Flint helps me see that in spite of it all we can rely on God’s strength to carry us when we are weak. Her poem appears in many hymnals.

God has not promised skies always blue,

Flower-strewn pathways all our lives through;

God has not promised sun without rain,

Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.

But God has promised strength for the day,

Rest for the labor, light for the way,

Grace for the trails, help from above,

Unfailing kindness, undying love.

We cannot see God, but we can see his love for us through the actions of others. I am thankful for friends and neighbors who shopped for me, prepared food, and texted encouraging words. Their kindness spoke to me of God’s undying love during my days of quarantine.

The world has grown up over the past two years. We are learning to cope with Covid as we have with other types of flu. “Life…uh…finds a way”

“Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”

Everybody knows dogs like to sleep. Our beagle, Buddy, spends most of his day sleeping. Upon closer examination, he isn’t always in a deep sleep. Sometimes Buddy’s eyes are half open. He’s relaxed, but ready to bound out of bed the minute I start cooking. Did you know the amount of sleep a dog needs is relative to their age?

  • Puppies (0-12 months) need to sleep 18-20 hours a day.
  • Adult dogs (1-5 years) need 8-14 hours a day.
  • Senior dogs (5+years) require 18-20 hours a day.

Buddy is almost twelve years old now, so sleeping is the main event in his life. Just like older humans, senior dogs don’t have as much energy and need to catch some extra Z’s to stay healthy.

Buddy’s routine reminds me of the idiom, “let sleeping dogs lie.” Scholars believe the phrase dates back to the 1300’s, specifically to a sentence written by Geoffery Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde. Here is the phrase in old English:

“It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.”

Clearly, Chaucer knew that if you wake a sleeping hound, he might become aggressive because he wants to protect himself.

“Let sleeping dogs lie” is also a proverb, since the phrase gives advice for wise living. Experience teaches us it is better to ignore a problem, if trying to solve it can cause a greater problem.

Similar advice is offered in the bible. “Like one who seizes a dog by the ears is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own.” Proverbs 26:17. (NIV) My translation—mind your own business and you will be happier.

Think of the times you decided to ignore a problem instead of trying to fix it. Maybe you decided to ignore a co-worker’s annoying habit of talking too loud on the phone. When you made the choice to ignore your co-worker’s behavior, you helped your department unite as a team and finish a project before deadline.

Ignoring the annoying habits of co-workers, family members, and neighbors can lead to building relationships and fostering community among people. Sometimes “waking the sleeping dog” can escalate conflict, and create enemies. How often have we heard of feuds which continued for so long, that both sides forgot how the conflict began?

Whether to let a sleeping dog lie is a matter of inner debate, especially regarding personal relationships. Each of us needs to consider if sharing our opinion can resolve the issue, or create more conflict. Will it help or hurt? Picture yourself six months from now, what regrets might you have if you do not try to solve the problem? Ask yourself if the person who is annoying you really able to change? And must he or she change for your sake?

There’s value in choosing our battles. The Serenity Prayer speaks to this struggle. Here is the full version, written in the 1930’s by Reinhold Neibuhr. 

“God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Sleep well tonight, my friends.

On Writing

When I allow myself

the time

I pick up

the broken pieces of my dreams

and put them together

in lines of poetry.

Then I feel free

because nothing else matters

writing for the sake of writing

with no agenda in mind.

There’s something to be said for writers

Who never forget who they are

who celebrate the gift God has given them

and give thanks.

The Mystery of Canine Language Capabilities

Have you ever wondered how many words a dog knows? When I write about Buddy the Beagle, I tend to humanize his ability to process English. After all, I am a fiction writer. In my stories, Buddy listens intently to his humans and picks up new words from their conversations.

Contrary to my imagination, my real life interactions with Buddy pair words with action. If we’re on a walk and he tries to gobble garbage, “No” is accompanied by a tug on his leash. When I want him to “lie down” or “roll over,” I use hand signals in addition to verbal commands. “Good boy” is usually accompanied by a treat.

Truthfully, my dog reads more into my body language than my actual words. He also recognizes my tone of voice and facial expressions to understand what I mean. If I smile and excitedly say, “Let’s go for a walk,” Buddy trots to the door.

Dogs process speech in much the same way as human infants do between six and fourteen months. With repetition, both dogs and babies associate certain words with actions. Dogs do listen to human speech, but they don’t consider different letter sounds important. A growing vocabulary requires phonetic precision.

All of this makes sense, unless your dog is the smartest dog in the world. A border collie named Chaser proved dogs can differentiate between words. Chaser’s owner, Dr. John Pilley, taught psychology at Wofford U. (no joke)

After he retired from teaching, Dr. Pilley talked to a sheep rancher whose border collie knew how to retrieve specific sheep from the field by their names. When Jeb was told to “go get Millie and Tillie,” the dog picked Millie and Tillie out of a herd of one hundred sheep and brought them back.

When Chaser was two months old, Dr. Pilley started teaching her proper nouns, beginning with a blue ball. He used a strategy called errorless learning, which means setting up an environment in which the subject cannot fail. He would name it, show it to her, say “catch blue” and throw it to her.“He’d put it in front of her and say “find blue.” On the third day, when she could retrieve the ball from another room, he knew it was time to move on to another object. At the end of the fifth month, Chaser had learned forty words and kept them in her long-term memory. During the course of Chaser’s lifetime, she learned one thousand nouns. Dr. Pilley and Chaser changed the field of dog intelligence using the power of play and positive reinforcement.

Reading about Chaser inspires me to start a list of words Buddy knows.

  • cookie
  • carrot
  • treat
  • popcorn
  • kibble
  • bacon

Hmm… are you noticing a pattern? Food is one category of language Buddy understands. And he can always find it. Like many dogs, Buddy is also good at math. I love this quote by Phil Pastoret.

“If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them.”

Are you tuned into your dog’s language abilities? Leave a comment and let me know the details.

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