Doug and Elvira: A Pastoral Tale

Community Presbyterian Church, Cedar City, UT, where this conversation occurred. The congregation moved into a new and much larger facility in 1997.

A slender woman in a business suit stood at my office door. I guessed her age to be in her early fifties, fifteen or so years older than me. She was attractive and well-dressed. I wondered what she was selling. I stood and invited her in. 

“I’m Jeff.  What can I do for you?”  

As I offered my hand, I realized she was shaking. Her rather limp hand clasped mind and, looking down, she asked quietly, “Can we talk?” 

I gestured for her to take a seat as I stepped back behind my desk, sat down, smiled and nodded. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were both destined to be shocked by what would be revealed.

“I’m Elvira’s daughter,” she said.

“Yes, Elvira, she’s a special woman,” I said with a smile.  

In a few months, I had become very acquainted with Elvira. An elderly woman, she shown up at worship one Sunday morning in late 1993 or early 1994. I don’t remember if it was the first Sunday, but she soon starting requesting each week that we pray for her son, Carl.  I included him in our prayers during worship and he remained on the congregation’s prayer list. Over time I learned he lived in Elko, Nevada and was experiencing a relapse of cancer. Elvira was from Nebraska. She now lived in an adult foster home in Cedar City, Utah where I had visited her. The couple who ran the home were happy to see to it that Elvira got to church every Sunday morning and someone from our congregation would give her a ride home. While I was unsure about her living arrangements and her story, she had in a few months become a part of the church’s family.

Sitting in my office, Elvira’s daughter began telling me the story of moving her mother from Nebraska to Utah. At first, Elvira had lived with her daughter and son-in-law at their home in St. George, a town fifty miles south of Cedar City.

“It was a mistake,” she confessed. 

At their age, without children of their own, Elvira was like a child. And she had become a wedge between her and her husband. I sensed Elvira’s daughter experienced guilt for having placed her mother in the home but didn’t know what else she could do.  

“Are there other siblings who could help?” I asked. 

“No,” she said trembling.  

“I know you have a brother who has cancer. Is he Elvira’s only other child?”

“Yes. But my brother has been a problem all along. He was married and had a son, but then left his wife for a man. That’s a sin, but my mother just accepts it.”  

“Well, he’s her son,” I said.  

“Don’t you think that’s a sin?” she asked.

“I didn’t say that,” I responded. “But that’s not the issue. We’re all sinners and to her, he’s also her child, her flesh and blood.”

“He’s always asking my mother for money, and never pays it back.” I could sense she had nothing but disgust for her brother. There was a pause and I waited for her to continue.

“My mother doesn’t have that much, but she he gave him enough for a down payment for that house he and his opera singing lover built in Virginia City.”  

Doug, 1988

My brain exploded. “It couldn’t be,” I thought. Maybe she sensed my reaction for she stopped and, for a moment, we sat quietly.

“Did your brother also go by the name, Doug?”  I finally asked.

She turned white. Her eyes widened. After a moment, she nodded and bowed her head. Finally, she continued. “His name is Carl Douglas. We always called him Carl, but his friends know him as Doug.”

“I know him,” I said, confessing what was now obvious. “I haven’t seen him in three or four years and didn’t know he’d moved to Elko.” 

Memories of Doug flooded my mind. It seemed so ironic I’d been praying for a couple of months for someone I once knew well.

I’d met Doug and Rudi in 1988, right after moving to Virginia City. I was thirty-one years old and a student pastor at a small congregation there for a year. The first week, Doug and Rudi invited me to dinner at their home in the Highlands.  Although they were already living there, the house was still under construction. Doug had done most of the work. Before dinner, they showed me around their home in which the kitchen cabinets still lacked doors and there was much trim to be finished. I had the sense they might be gay, which was confirmed when they showed me their master bedroom. I was nervous, looking in, as I’d never been in a bedroom of someone gay. But I almost laughed. I was amazed at how messy it was, which went against my stereotypical images that I had of how gay men lived.  

First Presbyterian, Christmas 1988. The nativity scene is to the right.

Over the next few months, I got to know them better. Rudi sang at church functions and Doug was our go-to handy man. He built a manger for a nativity display we posted beside the church at Christmas. He had helped me winterize the house I was living in. Later, he’d help design a retaining wall that kept the hill behind the church from encroaching on the sanctuary. By then, though, he was too sick to do the work.

Perhaps my best memory of Doug was from New Year’s Eve, which was a Saturday in 1988. As I practiced my sermon for Sunday that afternoon in the sanctuary, I heard water run under the organ. Upon investigating, I found a crack in the pipe supplying our hot water heating system. I called Doug and he came down immediately with his tools. Together, we spent an hour on our bellies, under the organ, cutting out the damaged pipe with a hacksaw and then soldering in a new piece. We took turns holding the pipe and torch, as we each talked about our plans for the evening. Thanks to our efforts, heat was restored, even though we were both late for our respective parties.

Doug also helped me with my first computer. He ordered the parts and built the computer, showing me how it fit together. This was in January 1989. The computer had 640 kilobytes of RAM, a 30 meg hard drive, and a 5 1/4 floppy disk. He only charged me for the parts. It was still expensive, but about half of what a computer cost in those days (which is more than they cost today). With the coming of a computer, I would never write another sermon by hand.

Me, backcountry skiing outside Virginia City, late December 1988

A few months into the new year, Doug became sick. He had tests and asked me to go with him to the doctor to hear the report. It was cancer, lymphoma. The prognosis wasn’t good. The doctor had tears in his eyes as he talked about the prognosis. 

Doug soon started chemotherapy. On at least one occasion, I drove him to Reno for his treatments. We’d had a pleasant talk heading down the mountain on Geiger Grade. On the way back, Doug was sick and spend much of the trip with his head in a bag. By late summer, when I was leaving to return to seminary, Doug had lost most of his hair, but he was doing better. In the summer of 1992, when I visited Virginia City, I stayed with him and Rudi. Doug had been in remission for over a year. 

Later that year, I’d heard through mutual friends that they had split up. I lost contact with them. 

C Street, Virginia City, December 1988

I’m sure the room was spinning for Doug’s sister as I told her about my time as a student pastor in Virginia City and how Doug had been very involved in that church. We talked for some time that afternoon, as I tried to encourage her to reconcile with her brother.   

I am sure many people would consider this meeting as a coincidence, but I saw God’s hand-written all over it. I had to reconnect with Doug. The phone number Elvira, his mother, had for Doug in Elko no longer worked. I made some calls to friends in Virginia City. No one had heard from Doug in a while, but I was given a phone number for Rudi, who was now living in Las Vegas. Calling him, I was shocked to learn he and his new lover had moved Doug down for Elko. Doug was living with them. He had become so weak that he could no longer care of himself and there was fear he would be homeless. 

A few weeks later, as I was coming back from a trip to California, I stopped in Vegas and visited Doug. He was resting on the couch and remained prone the entire time. I was afraid it would be the last time we’d see each other. I could tell that he was pleased I had stopped and that his mother was in the church I served. I stayed only for an hour as Doug appeared exhausted.  

It turned out that wasn’t the last time that I saw Doug. A few weeks later, in early September, Rudi called and said that Doug had rallied and wanted to come up and to see his mother and me. The day of the reunion of Doug and his mother was hot with not a cloud in the sky. We toured Cedar City and ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant. By the time lunch was over, Doug was tired. Rudi suggested they head back to Vegas. But before they left, as we stood talking in the parking lot, Doug pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to officiate at his funeral. He knew it wouldn’t be long. I assured him it would be an honor.

It was just a week or two later when I received the call that Doug had died. He was 48 years old. I went over to Elvira’s to give her the news. She expected it. She wanted to attend the funeral and hoped her daughter would take her. However, her daughter refused, so I offered to drive Elvira down to Vegas. 

The day we left, her daughter asked us to stop along the way for dinner. She lived only a mile or so off Interstate 15, so it really wasn’t out of the way. I agreed, secretly hoping I could encourage her to attend the funeral, but she remained adamant. After dinner of hash made from a left-over brisket, that was quite good, we left her home in St. George and continued to Vegas. 

As the interstate came out of the Virgin River Gorge, a violent thunderstorm moved through with high winds and blinding lightning that cooled the air from the day’s heat. I slowed down in the driving rain, but it felt as if the storm was cleansing the earth. Elvira and I both marveled at the lightning. That night, we stayed overnight at Rudy’s. Elvira slept in Doug’s old bedroom while I camped out on the couch where Doug had laid when I visited him earlier in the summer.

The next morning, September 30th, I escorted Elvira inside the chapel at the cemetery for one last look at her son. Then they closed the casket. Slowly others gathered. By the time all were present, about a dozen of us, we filled only two rows in the oversized room. Rudi, Doug’s former lover, was there with his new lover. His son had made it.  Hilda, who had also been a student pastor in Virginia City a few years before me and was organizing a new church in Green Valley, a Vegas suburb, was there, as was her husband whom she met in Virginia City. A few women who had been friends with Doug and Rudi rounded out the group. On schedule, the chapel’s organist played music. Hilda and I read scriptures and offered prayers. Then Hilda sang a solo and I preached the homily. 

Afterwards, we made our way out of the cool chapel into the late-summer heat of a Las Vegas morning, stopping at the gravesite. A few words were spoken, and the party broke up.  Elvira and I stopped for lunch and then drove back to Cedar City that afternoon.

Before the end of the year, Elvira moved back to Nebraska, into an assisted living facility. We kept up with each other for a couple of years through Christmas cards, but then her cards stopped coming. I sure she is no longer with us.  However, I am glad to have had the privilege to minister to her and to her son. I just wished her daughter could have found a way to reconnect to her brother before it was too late.  But I learned that I can’t change people and it’s not my job. Instead, I had to care for all three in what limited ways I could.

About the photos:

Several of these pictures was from a photo album given to me by the church when I finished my year. I know I have other pictures of Doug and some with his mother when they made the trip to Cedar City. I am sure I also have others of Rudi. They were probably taken on slides and stored in one of several large tubs in storage. The photo of the old Community Presbyterian Church of Cedar City was taken from the church’s website.

Other Virginia City Stories:

Matt in Virginia City, 1988

Riding the Virginia and Truckee

Christmas Eve on the Comstock, 1988

I have often used stories about my time in Virginia City in sermons. In this recent sermon, I spoke of my uneasiness during my move to Virginia City.

Virginia City (with St. Mary’s in the Mountains in the middle). Photo taken from the Flowery Cemetery, southeast of the town.

Last weekend (A tribute to two friends)

A Bittersweet Trip back to Skidaway

Romerly Marsh from the tower

I spent Saturday morning walking around the north end of Skidaway Island. It is hard to imagine I spent six and a half years here. My walk was a sad one as I recalled two friends from the island who are no longer with us. I had come back at the request of Anna Fay Lohn to talk at her husband, Andy’s, funeral. And last Thursday, as I sat down to write the homily for Andy’s service, I received a text from a friend informing me of the death of another friend, Todd Williams. Andy died of Leukemia, Todd of colon cancer. While I had known of Andy’s illness and talked to him a week before his death, I was unaware of Todd’s illness. I learned from friends that only a few knew he had cancer and only a few knew how sick he was. In this post, I’m going to say something about each.


Todd Williams

Todd on a cold day (I couldn’t find photos of him at the helm, but I know I have some)

Todd was an incredible sailor and our relationship mostly centered around sailboats and the Landings Sail Club. On the porch of the clubhouse, he was one of the most laidback guys. But put him at the tiller of a boat in a race and everything became very intense. He liked to win! He always pushed his crew hard and often there would be heated exchanges between him and the other boats around him. He knew the rules of the water well, but I have also seen him admit when he was wrong. I learned a lot from sailing with him and from competing against him. It was also on his boat that I ruptured my quad tendon in January 2016, when I slipped, with my foot pinned against a block, keeping my leg from bending as I fell backwards. Todd constantly called to check on me as I recovered from surgery. 

Todd’s “Grand Cru” approaching mark

What was probably the last race we competed against each other (the 2020 Hook Race from Hilton Head to the Landings Harbor), Todd’s boat just barely beat us around the sea buoy at the channel marker. With a lack of wind, they’d moved the finish line out into the ocean, cutting out the last 6 or so miles, so we’d be done before dark. About an hour before the end, the wind freshen up. Todd had stayed closed to land and we were further out into the sea, each trying to gain an advantage. When we came to the marker, Todd’s tack was better, as he charged out toward the buoy. He just beat us, but then had to laugh about it as our boat had a much higher handicap than his C&C 33. When the handicap was taken into account, we won, but he still wanted to be first and his boat skills allowed him to take advantage of that last puff of wind. As the light faded, so did the wind, and the two boats motored up the Wilmington River next to each other.  

I talked to Todd when I was in Savannah in October. He had planned to sail with me and a group of others but called to say he wasn’t feeling good. I had no idea he was so sick. We’d also texted back and forth in July when he was sailing the Chicago to Mackinaw race. I was on a friend’s boat in Grand Traverse Bay. We explored meeting on his sail back to Chicago, but wasn’t able to make it happen. 

Todd worked in risk assessment and often traveling to Europe and Asia. He loved the finest things in life, especially food and wine. He arranged the weekend regattas for the Landing Sail Club to almost the end. He is going to be missed on the island and in the sailing world.  On Saturday night, I gathered with members of the club for a bon fire to remember todd.

Photo from the Landings Sail Club Facebook page.
Todd on a moonlight sail, last year.

Andy Lohn

Andy Lohn was one of my best friends on the island (and there are many others who also felt Andy was their best friend, he was that kind of guy). Below is the homily I used for his service. One thing I left out, but was important and didn’t seem appropriate in a homily, was our Friday afternoon/evening “board meetings.” A group of six to eight of us would gather most Fridays for drinks and munchies and to solve the world’s problems! Lots of good conversation were held while nursing a glass of bourbon or scotch. Sadly, I never took any photos of the board meetings (probably because no one wanted the evidence). Here’s my homily: 

Andy Lohn Memorial Service Homily
Skidaway Community Church
John 14:1-6, 16:
January 29, 2022

Andy’s funeral. My homily starts around 18 minutes.

At times like this, it’s not only natural to remember, but healthy. It’s what the Apostle John did as he penned the words I’ve just read. He recalls the most memorable night of his life. John devotes almost a quarter of his gospel to this evening which Jesus and the disciples are together one last time as a family. Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be fearful or worried. He wants them to know that death is not the end, not his death, not ours, not Andy’s. 

I have a hope that when I see Andy again, he’ll be wearing his fire department apron, with Lohn on the butt tag, and standing over a grill. I’m sure he has already volunteered to serve as the master griller for Jesus’ promised banquet in the new kingdom. 

I met Andy through a phone call. He was on the Pastor Nominating Committee at Skidaway Presbyterian and called to see if I was interested in the position. At the time, I had two other church offers on my platter. I planned to accept one of them. I told him this up front. But we continued to talk for a good thirty minutes. We discussed the church, our faith, our families, our interest in the outdoors, and our love for the American West. It was a good conversation. I felt as if we had known each other a lifetime. As we said goodbye, he told me to let them know if I change my mind about those other churches. Obviously, I called back.

Andy was that type of guy. He never met anyone who was a stranger. If they were a stranger, it wasn’t for long. He had the ability to make those around him feel at ease.  And he inspired others. As one friend of Andy’s said, “just being around him, seeing how he interacted with others, made me want to become a better version of myself.” 

To meet Andy, you’d soon find yourself in a meaningful conversation. And he would often, at such time, share his faith. Not in an obnoxious, heavy-handed way, but in a natural, non-threatening manner. Charles Robeson, pastor at Kingdom Life Christian Fellowship, told me he met Andy as an attorney for a real estate deal, but soon they became brothers in Christ. 

I met Charles through Andy. He brought the three of us together to pray over the racial divide in Savannah. As Charles shared with me this week, two things stuck out about Andy: his faith in Christ and his desire to see the community unite beyond racial barriers. 

One of the things most of us appreciated about Andy was his subtle humor. Often, his humor was self-effacing. While Andy would wear suits, he was more comfortable in shorts and flipflops or loafers without socks. Once, after work, when he was comfortably dressed, he introduced Rory, one of his colleagues at the firm, to a group of us. Rory was still decked out in a suit; I think he may have loosened his tie. Pointing to his suit, Andy introduced him as a “real lawyer.” In a way, his humor was one of the ways he made everyone feel comfortable around him. 

Most everyone who hung around with Andy knew of his love to eat, often at dives. Whether it was, as one friend remembers, driving back from a dove hunt and stopping for a late breakfast in a greasy spoon. Or, as another remembers from another trip, stopping at a Mexican restaurant that was stuck behind a store that sold everything from food to cell phones. He and I often meet for lunch at Indian and Vietnamese restaurants. And Andy was also an excellent cook.

Andy strove to bring communities together. Whether it was communities of race, or different countries, or just people from different walks of life, he did what he could to gather people together in the hopes that bridges would be built. He worked hard for Rotary, serving as President and District Governor. He took an active interest in the exchange program, sponsoring a student from Germany, but also supporting others from Sri Lanka and Africa. He even spent several weeks one summer in Germany as a Rotary ambassador. As Paul Meyer, his colleague in law noted, “Andy embodied the Rotary ethos of ‘Service Above Self.’”

Andy’s work in the community extended beyond trying to build bridges. He was also about putting out fires, metaphorically as well as literally. Andy and I joined the fire department at the same time. We went through training together. Whether crawling through a maze or learning to fetch an unresponsive person down a ladder from two stories up, Andy was ready to raring and ready to go. Unfortunately, with hip issues, he had to step back from being an active firefighter, but he continued helping the Skidaway division as its treasurer until he became ill. 

Andy enjoyed being an attorney. His approach with his career was to use the law to do what is right. As his friend and client, Mark Hornsby, told me, “Andy served as my guard rail for getting through business problems.” 

Not only did Andy influence our community in a positive manner, but he also made connections through his work which allowed him to share his faith in Jesus Christ. Paul Meyer, who had the task of cleaning out his office, shared with me a thank you letter Andy received from a client he helped navigate his wife’s illness. The letter ended:

“God has often sent me someone I call, “Jesus with skin on.” You (Andy) fit that bill.
Thank you for your care and concern.”    

Andy: “Jesus with skin on.” If we all could be so gracious. 

One of the paralegals at his firm recalls how Andy would take time to explain the intricacies of the law. Andy worked to end. She continued to talk to him in the hospital several times a week. She imagined him hooked up to tubes and in pain, but he never complained. 

Andy liked being outdoors. Perhaps this came from him growing up in Western Colorado, where he gained “farm skills” and enjoyed the freedom of the outdoors. He enjoyed fishing and bird hunting and was a member of the Forest City Gun Club. A couple of years ago, he purchased a kayak. I was hoping to paddle with him, but he had his hip issues and then I moved. I am glad, though, that after I left, he was able to paddle several times with another friend, Aaron Bibby. 

With all the good Andy strove to do in our community, he was basically a family man. He and Anna Fay created a loving home, where everyone felt welcome. 

Friends of his and Anna Fay introduced the two of them. They were married for 31 years. Andy was so excited when they were expecting Katherine, their first child, that several weeks before her due date, he put the car seat on a counter in the kitchen, with a buckled in Teddy Bear. He was ready to go! When she began her studies at Georgia Tech, Andy proudly put a “Georgia Tech Dad” sticker on his truck. He loved both of his daughters. He was a proud of Caroline’s accomplishments on the tennis court and excited as her faith in Jesus grew. 

He was also proud of his family. While Andy never served in the military, he honored those who did. If you were in his home, I’m sure he told you about his father, a Navy hardhat diver at the end of World War II, or showed you the metals and honors his father-in-law (a colonel in the Army) had earned. He was proud of other family members who served their country including Colonel David Howell, Captain John Tilley, and Sergeant Ken Midcalf (all who are here today). 

Finally, Andy’s faith in his Savior Jesus Christ was solid. He knew the Bible and could draw on its wisdom. He often spoke of how good it felt to study the Scriptures. Others, as we’ve already seen, saw his faith through his life. His brother-in-law Fen commented on his strong faith, saying, “we all should be so blessed.” 

Chili cook-off team (Andy is third from left on back row)

Andy worked hard here at Skidaway Community Church, serving as an Elder and a member of the Pastor Nominating Committee. I will always be grateful for the one Saturday, in which my father was in the hospital in North Carolina. I stopped in to see my dad on my way out of town, as I had to preach here on Sunday. But things weren’t looking good. Suddenly, a team of doctors came in and decided immediate surgery was necessary. I called Andy. I told him my sermon was prepared and asked if he could he preach it for me so I could stay where I was needed. He graciously accepted. If there was anything Andy could do for you, he would. 

Andy’s faith must have played a role in his optimism. He knew he was in God’s hands. He told those at Meyer and Sayers Law, after he was diagnosed with leukemia, that he could have two perspectives. “I can either look down in the mud or look up in the stars. I prefer to look up and see the stars.” As his friend, Sam Eskew, said toward the end of Andy’s life, “You can tell he doesn’t feel well, but he won’t say that. He’s always throwing roses.” 

Andy is no longer with us, but he has gone to that home his Savior has been preparing for him.  

In our gospel reading, we see how Jesus knew on that night of his betrayal what his disciples would be feeling once he left. He shared their apprehension over his leaving, but Jesus also understood he was called for a greater purpose. He comforts his friends by assuring them there are going to be many dwelling places where he’s going, enough for all of them to join him. 

It’s comforting to realize the potential of this promise. Jesus prepares a place for us; he expects us to join him. We can be assured that he has welcomed Andy home, for Andy’s true home was not here on Skidaway Island or in Atlanta or Colorado. Like us, Andy was a pilgrim on earth. He journeyed here for sixty-one years of preparation for his new life with Jesus. 

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” This one sentence ties together Jesus’ entire ministry. This is good news for those of us who belong to a race of people who have lost their way.

Salvation is not our doing. It is a gift of God made possible through the saving work of Jesus Christ who gave his life for the life of the world. Jesus’ words in this passage are not only directed at the disciples. The eleven who remained somewhat faithful are not the only ones who are promised rooms in that heavenly mansion. Because he is the Way and the Truth and the Life, because he died for the life of the world, Jesus’ words apply to us, too.

Jesus’ words provide hope for a better world; a world prepared for Andy, for us, and for all followers of Jesus. Salvation is found in him and him alone. Yet, even with this hope, our pain remains as we remember Andy: a loving husband, a devoted father, and a loyal and optimistic friend. As John recalls Jesus’ words, “You will have pain now; but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice.” Amen.

Taken on my walk around Skidaway on Saturday

I’ve been away (a mostly photo essay)

Two days after Christmas, I headed to Southeastern North Carolina. The 29th was my father’s 85th birthday, and my sister had planned a party that I didn’t want to miss.

My sister presents her carrot cake to my father for his birthday

The weather for the first five days were incredible. On New Year’s Eve, my dad and I paddled from Trail’s End to the south end of Masonboro Island. My brother brought everyone else along in his boat, so that we might have lunch on the island. My daughter was introducing Apple, her new dog to the ocean (I even gave Apple a ride in the kayak).

Apple trying out the water (It’s hard to believe that it was warm enough to be in the water on New Year’s Eve!)

Not my typical paddling style. The high brace was to keep from hitting the dog in my lap.

After an early night on New Year’s Eve, Donna and I headed out to the beach for a New Year’s Sunrise before she and Caroline headed back to the mountains (I was going to stay through January 5). The idea was to watch the first sunrise of the new year, but a fog bank offshore disappointed those waiting for the sunrise along the beach.

Sunrise at the Kure Beach pier

On New Year’s Day, the wind picked up, so Dad and I headed inland and did a black water paddle on Rice’s Creek. We paddled upstream several miles, to where the creek becomes just wider than a kayak. I left my sea kayak at home and used a boat of a friend of my dad (that was 12 feet long instead of 18 feet, making it easier to navigate).

Paddling on Rice’s Creek

A poem written on Rice’s Creek (I’m not sure who’s the one with dark eyes)

The whole world appears in the reflection of the dark waters:
Cypress, tupelo, clumps of mistletoe, puffy clouds and blue sky.
Yet, I cannot see the long just underneath the water,
just as your dark eyes reflect the world while hiding much.

I had planned to either go to Cape Lookout or Masonboro Island to camp for a night or two, but the weather turned rough. We had winds approaching fifty miles an hour on Monday, so we stayed home and I read. On Tuesday, my brother and I went down to scout out an area on the Waccamaw River that he wanted to see about paddling. The weather had turned cold and was freezing, but we dressed warm and covered about 13 miles of the river, starting at Conway, South Carolina to Peachtree Landing. When I lived in Whiteville, in the early 1980s, I had paddled on the Waccamaw several times, between Lake Waccamaw and Pireway. I’d never been on the river in South Carolina.

Running along the lower Waccamaw
Conway now has a nice waterfront
An old log hauler (designed to run on light rail track)
I think these are Ibis in this tree (Kingfishers were the most common birds seen along Rice’s Creek and the Waccamaw)

I came back to the mountains on Wednesday, between two winter storms (one was on Monday and the second on Thursday).

Back home, having missed the first snow of the season in the mountains

“Joy to the World” A History of a Carol

I wrote this article for in 2019, on the 300th anniversary of the hymn, for The Skinnie, a magazine for Skidaway Island. I have slightly altered the text for this blog post.

Issac Watt’s Role

This year, with a young puppy in the house, the tree is locked up

A little over three hundred years ago, in 1719, English hymn-writer Isaac Watts published the words we know today as “Joy to the World.” Today it’s one of the most popular Christmas carols in America, with its hopeful and joyful message. However, “Joy to the World” was not written as a Christmas carol. It would take nearly 120 years before the carol we know was first sung. 

Isaac Watts is perhaps the greatest author of hymns ever. Supposedly, when he was a boy, he complained to his father about church music. Like a good parent, his father suggested that instead of complaining, he should work to make it better. From this challenge Watts, set out to write hymns, a relatively new style of music for Protestant Churches in the early 17th Century. At this time, especially in the English world, the Psalms served as the main source of lyrics for music sung in churches. As a pastor in a dissenting English Church, Watts began writing hymns. While he often drew from the Psalms, upon which he would modernize the language and Christianize the content, he also wrote hymns that reflected a trust in an Almighty God and in a Savior who was willing to die for humanity. Churches in Britain and America quickly adopted Watts’ hymns. These hymns include “I Sing the Mighty Power of God,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “From All that Dwell Below the Skies,” and of course, “Joy to the World.” 

Influence of Psalm 96

“Joy to the World” was based on Psalm 96, a royal Psalm of God’s enthronement as King. King David sings this Psalm, we learn in 1st Chronicles, as he moves the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. At a time in history, nearly a millennia before Christ, most nations had their own gods. Psalm 94 proclaims the God of the Hebrews, the God of Abraham, as reigning not just over the Hebrew people, or just in Jerusalem, but over the world. The God of the Psalmist is supreme throughout the world. God will rule fairly. God will administer justice with equity. God’s deeds are such that all will stand in awe and, along with all that is in heaven and on earth, will sing out in joy. 

Watts took Psalm 96 and tweaked it in a manner that reflects Christ’s second coming. In addition to the three traditional stanzas of the Psalm, which he modified, he added a fourth (which he inserted between the second and third stanzas).

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;

He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, 
Far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.

This stanza reflects Watt’s eschatological hope based on Christ’s return. God reverses the curse of Eden. It was a wonderful poem of the Second Coming. Watt’s titled his piece, “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”

The words for the carol were written three hundred years ago. However, it required more creativity for this poem to became the beloved Christmas Carol we now know.

The Role of George Frederick Handel

The composer for the music who he combined with Watt’s poem was George Frederick Handel of Germany. Handel and Watts were contemporaries and were both living in England at the same time, but the two of them did not work on this carol. The music comes from Handel’s “Messiah,” a popular piece often sung by choirs and in concerts during the Christmas season.  But this adaptation of the two works did not occur for another century and on another continent, long after the deaths of Watts and Handel. 

The Role of Lowell Mason

 Lowell Mason was born in 1792, into a musically talented family in Medfield, Massachusetts. As a child and young man, he learned to play the clarinet, violin, cello, flute, piano and organ and became a choir director in his home town at the age of 17. A few years later, he moved to Savannah, where he worked in a dry-goods store and later in a bank. During this time, he studied under a Frederick Abel, a music teacher from Germany and began to serve as the choir director and organist at Independent Presbyterian Church. Mason helped create the first African-American Sunday School at Savannah’s First Bryan Baptist Church. This was at a time when the education of slaves was condemned throughout the South. 

After returning north, he later served as music director for the well-known abolitionist preacher Lyman Beecher. While working in Savannah, Mason became interested in musical composition and had to travel to Boston in 1922 to have his first collection of arrangements published as there were no publishers in the South with the capacity to print musical fonts. 

         Mason moved to Boston in 1827, where he served as organist and choirmaster for several prominent churches. He worked for a time as music director for the well-known abolitionist preacher, Lyman Beecher. During this era, he became an American proponent for European-styled music. At the time, adherents of the traditional American “shape-note” tradition satirized the European-style as the “Better Music Boys.” However, because of Lowell and others insisted on music education in schools, America eventually adopted the European styled music. 

         Mason was an important figure in music in early America who wrote, arranged, or composed music for hundreds of hymns including “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” He also wrote secular music including the popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”  

         Mason’s most popular tune, however, is “Joy to the World, in which he arranged the words of Isaac Watts’ poem with tunes of Handel to create the popular Christmas carol. “Joy to the World” is considered the most loved carol in America.  Almost every congregation will sing it during the Christmas season and just about every artist who has recorded Christmas Carols have included this hymn in their repertoire. The song is uplifting, as it reflects the Christian hope of a new and peaceful world in which Christ will reign as King.  

         This year, as you hear this song sung on the radio or perhaps in a Candlelight service on Christmas Eve, may you experience joy. 

         For Christmas Eve services along the Blue Ridge, Bluemont will hold its service at 4 PM and Mayberry at 6 PM. Both churches will be celebrating communion and invite you all to attend. 

Meadows of Dan Christmas Parade

Floyd High School Band

Small communities tend to do the best with Christmas parades, and the Meadows of Dan Christmas parade was no exception. The line was long and involved so many people that you would think there wouldn’t be anyone watching. But the street was filled with folks, especially kids with bags as the parade is like Mardi Gras, with people throwing candy (I didn’t see any beads). 

Roger pulls the float into town for the parade
Richard not only helped built the float, he was also the Parade Marshall

Cedar City UT Christmas Parade 1996 (some of those kids now have children as old as they were then)

This year, the good folks at Mayberry Presbyterian Church decided to create a church float. This was a community effort, which I suggested based on something we’d done when I was a pastor in Utah. Shep purchased the 2x4s, most of which he and Richard split into 2x2s. Fred loaned us the trailer. A frame was built with the help of Joey, Mike and Linda, Richard, and Henri. Then Richard and I ran down to a place near Martinsburg, where we were able to obtain the MDF board at $7 a sheet. These we brought back and cut out the windows and doors. A team the consisted of Mike and Linda , Angie and Shep, Richard and Ann painted the rocks and the roof to match the church. Sharon fed us with hot dogs from Jane’s Country Cafe. 

The frame on Fred’s trailer

Painting rocks
Panels drying (notice the real church in the background)

After the panels were try, we screwed the walls and roof to the frame. We taped plastic over the windows, put up a tree inside the church, and taped battery-operated candles onto the windows. 

Steeple Jacks Mona and Norris in front of the float after the parade

At the same time, Norris and Mona were constructing the steeple. If he gets tired of being a financial planner, Norris could have a career as a steeple jack!  We installed the steeple while waiting for the parade to begin, feeling it might be a bit dangerous to drive it the 3 ½ miles to where the parade lined up. We were not sure if the steeple (held on with a few screws) could survived a 45 mile an hour wind.  

For the parade, Roger drove Mike N’s truck, pulling the float. In front of the church, sitting on hay bales, were Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus laying the manger.  Madison and Kegon Played Mary and Joseph with Jesus being played by a Mattel doll. Standing in the seat of the truck, head poked out of the sunroof, was Happy. Dressed as an angel, she harked the coming of the season. She also threw out candy canes with information about our Christmas Eve services and one of the many “legends” of

the candy cane on the back.

Lining up for the parade

The parade was probably two miles long (for a business district that is about two blocks long). Not to be overly proud, but we took first-place. Thanks everyone for your hard work!  (I hope I didn’t forget anyone). 

This year’s Christmas Eve services for the Rock Churches: Bluemont at 4 PM and Mayberry at 6 PM.  There will also be a Christmas Eve program available on our YouTube Channel after 5 PM. If you’re not in our area, please check out the program! Also, if you like it, please like, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.    

Santa waiting to bring up the rear

Saying Goodbye to Color

Mayberry Church Road on the 1st of November

My eyes have feasted on a beautiful colored landscape for the past month. Slowly the trees turned color. But with last week’s heavy frost, the trees are now mostly brown or their leaves have fallen to the earth, to rot into the soil and nourish another season.

I thought I would share some of my favorite photos from this color season, along with two poems. One I wrote on Sunday evening, having done my 4 1/2 mile hike to Laurel Fork and back. Once I climbed my way up out of the hollow and the forest gave way to the hayfields, I was treated to a perfect ecliptic in the sky with four heavenly bodies (a crescent moon, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter) visible. The other poem was written while taking Amtrak’s Crescent (formerly Southern Railroads “Southern Crescent”) from Danville, VA to Atlanta.

Mayberry Church Road in late afternoon


The young moon, just above the horizon,
flirts with Venus as darkness descends.
The red of sunset has faded 
except a thin line just above the trees to the west, 
as Saturn and Jupiter, the only other objects visible
look on with approval.

Venus and the new moon. Saturn and Jupiter would be to the left, behind the oak still clinging to its leaves. Photo taken with an iPhone, handheld.
Laurel Fork early in October, with just a hint of color.

Bear Creek Road in late October

Nursery Road in late afternoon

Asleep on the Southern Crescent

Maturing moon high overhead
fills my compartment with light 
as the blowing whistle up front
announces our fleeting presence,
followed by clanging bells 
and the flashing red lights 
of the crossing guards.

The train snakes into the Carolinas,
with stops, I’m told, in Greensboro, 
High Point, Salisbury, Charlotte, Gastonia,
Spartanburg, Greenville, and Clemson.
But I sleep soundly and wake up in Toccoa, Georgia.

At breakfast, I’ve learned we lost a bit of time
in Charlotte, as they worked on a toilet,
but I never knew anything had happened.

My compartment at daybreak, on my return trip from Atlanta.

Mia, my frequent hiking companion (for short hikes)
The leaves may be gone, but there is still beauty to observe. Early November, behind Nester’s Cemetery.

Trains and Karl Barth

The group

I spent last week at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia with a group organized by the Foundation for Reformed Theology. We gather once a year to discuss agreed upon reading of serious theology. We had last meet in early March 2021 in Austin, Texas. That was the last time I’ve been on a plane. When we departed from home that year, the airport appeared to be dying. We knew our world was in a midst of change. It was good to be back together, even though the world hasn’t completely returned to normal.  

Discussing Barth

This year, our major reading was from Karl Barth’s Christology section in his massive work, Church Dogmatics. In seminary, almost 35 years ago, we had to read some selections of Barth’s writings. Since then, I have only read his revised commentary on Romans, where Barth moved away from 19th liberal theology in the years after the First World War. This summer, in addition to reading the Dogmatics, I also read Christiane Tietz’s new biography of Barth which I reviewed a few months ago.

At best, I have a love/hate relationship with Barth. A brilliant man, it feels as if he wrote down every word that came into his brain. But amidst all the thoughts and ideas, there are often real jewels of ideas. I imagine reading Barth is a bit like mining diamonds.  This time around, I came to appreciate Barth’s footnotes, where he defends his ideas with brilliant exegesis of scripture. 

Traditionally, theologians develop their Christology after outlining the inability of humanity to save itself. Barth flips this idea on its head, first writing about the God who journeyed “into the far country.” Barth wants us to realize that grace always comes before sin. We experience this through Jesus Christ, who Barth also goes into depth to show was God. And God comes and lives among us. When they Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes, they were acknowledging the radicalness of this God who comes to us. Barth builds his theology around Jesus Christ. We must take our focus off our selves (and our pride) and find ourselves connected to a God who comes in a small and insignificant manner. Barth’s ideas continue as he discusses judgment, sin, pride, and the fall. This is a brief explanation of 30-some hours of discussion!

These were seen on my walks around town

Every afternoon, after spending hours talking about Barth, I would take a walk, From the yard signs, you can tell that Decatur is breaking Georgia’s image. Everywhere were signs in support of BLM and civil rights. Even yards that were decorated for Halloween had a message! I also learned that the first ever Waffle House was in the community of Avondale. Now we know who to blame…

Midnight Train to Georgia

Having just driven to Hilton Head, Savannah, then Wilmington, I decided to travel differently. I took the train from Danville, Virginia to Atlanta. This is a section of the route known as the Southern Crescent, which starts in New York and continues to New Orleans. Traveling in a roomette, I boarded the train at 11:20 PM. A waxing moon seemed to hang just outside my window. I fell asleep to the gentle rocking, the faint sound of the engine whistling, and the beeping and flashing lights on the lower guards as we raced through crossings. I woke as the train stopped and looked out the window. We were in Toccoa, Georgia. I had slept through the Carolinas. 

Sadly, however, I learned this train no longer has a dining car. It seems that most of the dining cars on the eastern trains have been removed because they were beyond repair. Breakfast was a microwave affair, and like other affairs, was unsatisfying.

Once arriving in Atlanta, I walked almost a mile, over to the midtown Marta Station. I had packed everything into a backpack, so I was able to easily navigate around the streets (which were all closed for a citywide race). At Marta, the Atlanta area light rail, I took the train to Five Points, where I caught the east line out to Avondale. While I could have taken a bus to the seminary, I again walked.  I was late for church at Columbia Presbyterian, so I spent much of the afternoon walking around the community.  

Eating in the Big City

Piedmont Park

During my week at Columbia, all my big meals of the day were ethnic: Thai (2x), Indian, Korean, Alsace (French), and Vietnamese. On Friday, I met Mike, a friend from Savannah, who was in Atlanta. We spent the afternoon cursing the traffic, walking around Piedmont Park, and eating dinner (Thai), before he dropped me off at the station and headed back south, to home. 

Homeward Bound

Danville, VA

Coming back, the train was late. I was exhausted and ready to crawl into bed. But there was a problem with my printed ticket. As they were rushing to load the train, the conductor finally told me to get aboard and go to the lounge car (which was empty at 1 AM). It turned out, the conductor when I came down never scanned my ticket (I assumed he had). Then, the system had cancelled my trip. Thankfully, there was a roomette (but the attendant had to remake the room as it had just become available).  But by the time the train arrived in Gainesville, our first stop after Atlanta, I was snuggled up in bed. 

I arrived back to the mountains in time to see the leaves at their peak. 

A Walk in the Rain

The Day before the Equinox 

Despite the threat of rain on the last day of summer
I take an evening walk down Laurel Fork Road
noticing the seasonal changes.
along the edge of the hayfield
where the staghorn sumac and dogwoods have turned red. 

The green leaves of the maples and oaks in the forest beyond
have already lost their luster,
while golden rods brighten the ditch banks 
next to Queen Anne, who has rolled her lace into a ball 
ready to stow in the drawer for winter. 

At the cemetery by the Primitive Baptist Church
an eight-point buck stops in the middle of the road,
looking at me for the longest time
as if wondering what I am doing out in this mess
 before jumping off the road and over the gravestones.

The drizzle becomes a rain shortly after passing the church,
but as I leave the payment for gravel, 
the hayfields for the dense woods,
the rain is not as noticeable until a breeze shakes the trees
shedding its accumulated moisture on me.

I continue, zipping up my rain jacket, 
but return earlier than I’d like, in the fading gray,
for there will be no full harvest moon to guide me tonight
as tears now pour from the sky,
each drop pinging off my jacket and into my ears.

Yet, I’m delighted when I get close enough to my lane,
with water running down my bare legs,
 to be greeted by cheerful Halloween faces
painted on the sides of three round haybales
in front of my neighbor’s field. 

My neighbor’s “jack-o-lanterns” taken today in the rain

A Day (and part of a night) on the Fox River

The story below comes from 2007 and appeared in a slightly less edited version in a previous blog. In 2007, I spent a week paddling and fishing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. When living in Michigan, I was up in the UP almost every summer. This was before I switched to digital cameras and, sadly, have no photos. The photo below is of me paddling on the Two-Hearted River, the year before.

On the Two-Hearted River, 2006

Reaching out into the dark waters with his paddle, drawing it toward the boat, Joe pulls the bow out into the river. For a moment, I hold the stern fast against the bank, allowing the current to catch the bow and spin us around and into the fast-flowing stream. It’s almost noon. And hot, Too hot for being this far north. At first, we don’t fish much and make good time, crossing under the highway bridge at Seney. A few minutes later we paddle under the rusty trestle of the Soo Lines. In 1919, when Hemingway visited this river, the line from the ferry at St Ignace on the northern side of the Mackinaw Straits ran all the way to Duluth, Minnesota. Today, the rusty rails of light iron have been severely amputated and stretch only from the main line at Trout Lake to Munising. There’s not much rail traffic left, mostly logs and shipments to and from a paper mill.

Continuing to paddle, we enter “The Spreads” about a mile below the tracks. Trees disappear and like an artery leaving the heart for the body, the river splits into smaller branches, cutting numerous deep channels cutting through tall grass. The channels are lined with shrubs, mostly tag elders, providing shade over the deep holes. We dig out the rods. At one of the bends, Joe, being in the front, pulls a small brook trout out of a hole. I continue to navigate the canoe, getting an occasional chance to fish, but with no luck. After a mile or so, the river comes back together, and the banks rise higher. We’re making good time. Tammarks, hemlocks and jack pines first appear. But as the stream draws us deeper into the northwoods, maples dominate the shoreline standing as sentries at guard. Others have fallen prey to the forces of water, creating log dams along the river providing us with both an obstacle to navigate and an opportunity for good fishing.

This is the country Hemingway describes in his short story, “The Big Two-hearted River.” High wooded ridges overlook a river filled with log dams under which deep holes are carved out. Trout hid in these holes. At first, instead of cursing the obstacles, we seize the opportunity. Approaching a jam, we beach the boat upstream in order not to spook the fish, jump out and fish the holes before portaging the boat over the logs and continuing downstream. This works well and by mid-afternoon, we’re approaching our limit of Brook Trout, a small but tasty native fish.

It’s still hot at six o’clock. Joe and I have caught our limit and, being good friends, offer to help the other two catch theirs. They’ve spent most of the day behind us, often forgoing fishing for swimming. However, we are also beginning to realize that these log dams are slowing our progress. They are now at most every bind. We begin to pass up some good holes to make up time.

At seven, we stop fishing. We’re still pulling over log dams. We haven’t reached the confluence with the East Branch. The deerflies are nasty, swarming around our heads. I zip the legs onto my pants and pull on a long sleeve shirt. A few minutes later, I pull the mosquito netting down over my face. It makes it difficult to see, especially obstacles right below the water line, but the netting provides relief from these deer flies that seem to have an immunity to DEET. Only my hands are exposed and for the next hour, I chum the river with dead deer flies, on one occasion killing four gnawing flies on one hand with a single slap. We’re making good time, having perfected the art of portaging over the log dam. But the East Branch remains elusive. We know we’ll have a good four or five mile paddling from the confluences. 

In the summer, this far north and west in the time zone, the sun sets at 9:30 P.M. I begin to wonder at what point it will be prudent to pull over and make camp for the evening. I decide not to bring the subject up until after the sun is down, knowing that we’d still have a good half hour to gather firewood, clean fish for dinner, and to make as comfortable of a camp as possible. If we camp then, we’d only have six or seven hours of night, and we could get back on the river at first light. We finally pass the East Branch right around sunset and the water level rises and pace quickens. Yet, we still have a lot of river to cover before we reach Germfask, where we’ve dropped a vehicle. I pitch the idea of camping overnight on the bank, informing everyone that I do have some extra food and a lighter stashed away, but no one wants to quit. I’m concerned that in the dark it will be easy to tip a canoe and although I don’t think we have to worry about drowning, I worry about losing equipment, maybe even boats, in the dark.

A half mile past the East Branch, we join up with the Manistique. The river widens and there are fewer obstacles. We paddle furiously. The canoe guidebook suggested this should have be a five or six hour trip, with the author bragging that he made it in 4 ½. I wouldn’t buy a used car from the guy. As the light fades, we continue to paddle, but drop our speed to be extra careful. Right before dark, Joe and I split a energy bar. We haven’t eaten since lunch, nearly seven hours earlier, and I’m still not hungry, but need the energy. A few stars begin to appear. We keep close to one another, staying mostly in the middle of the channel. When my paddle hits the bottom of the river, I realize that it has changed from sand to rock. Occasionally we shoot across a rock garden with small waves splashing on the boat. I spot the pinchers of the constellation Scorpios just above the trees on the southern horizon.

At a little after eleven, we spot a fire up on the bank. It’s surrounded by a group of campers. We hail them and they’re surprised. Someone shines a flashlight at a spot where we can easily get the boats to shore. After pulling the boats on shore, we walk over to their campfire and ask if one of them would be willing to drive us to the car. “I’d love to, man,” one of them said, “but we’re all shit-faced, we’ve been drinking all day.” Looking around, it’s evident he’s telling the truth. Only a few of them are awake, several more are asleep, or more likely passed out, lying next to the fire. Since B’s vehicle is at the bridge, I suggest he and I hike back to get the car. “Maybe we’ll get a ride,” I suggest. We start walking up to the highway and through the town of Germfask. Only two cars pass us, but no one stops. Coming back, we clock it at 1.7 miles from the bridge to the campground. We quickly load the boats onto B’s trailer and drive back into Seney. It’s now midnight.

Not feeling up to cooking up fish, we head to the Seney Bar, the only place open in town. A few patrons sit at the bar, another couple are shooting a game of pool. We asked the bartender if we could get something to eat as we’d just come off the river. He confides that the cook left at 10 but offers to bake us some frozen pizzas. We ordered a couple and some beers. Hearing that we’d just gotten off the river, everyone in the joint begins to ask us about our trip while Joe hustles a few games of pool. One guy suggests he’d allow at least 12 hours for paddling the stretch we did. Someone else digs out a fishing guidebook, whose author suggested to allow 11 hours for just paddling and that if one wanted to fish, to make it a two-day trip. We agreed with that estimation and long to ring the neck of the author of the canoeing guidebook. Now that we’re safe, we laugh and enjoy another beer.

About 1 AM, we head back to the campground north of town. The others sleep in their vehicles. I quickly throw up my bivy tent, crawl in and crash. Five hours later, at 6 AM, I wake to the crash of close lightning. The wind is howling, breaking off limbs, and the clouds open, sending a deluge of rain. I debate making a run for my truck but decided to stay. I was warm and if a bolt hit the tree under which I was sleeping, I’d never know it. I watch the spectacular lightning show for a few moments, then fall back asleep thinking that it was good we didn’t spend the night on the river. 

Reflections on my time away

Detour Reef Light

It was great to get away and it’s good now to be back home. Most of my time away was spent reading and relaxing. Daily, I would take long walks, enjoy coffee on the porch with a book and an eye out for freighters. In the evening, after returning from a walk I would do the same with a bourbon.  The air remained mostly cool and even the days of rain felt good. I preached twice at the Union Presbyterian Church in Detour Village. 

Reading while away

My stack of books (I didn’t get to them all)

My reading varied greatly. I spent a lot of time with the Bible and a couple commentaries on Daniel in preparation for preaching on the book this fall. I finished reading a wonderful book on reading and writing poetry (Gregory Orr’s, A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry). This book had many exercises, some of which I did, leaving notes in my journal such as the poem I printed below. 

I also enjoyed Casey Tygrett’s As I Recall: Discovering the Place of Memories in Our Spiritual Life. Like Orr’s book on poetry, this book had many exercises, of which I did most as a way to ponder memories. Howard Thurman’s Jesus and the Disinherited, was eye opening. Thurman was a classmate and friend of Martin Luther King Jr’s father and this short book written in the 1940s captures the meaning of the gospel for those who lived in a segregated world with many opportunities denied. Another book that I just finished yesterday is Christiane Tiez’s  Karl Barth: A Life in Conflict (Victoria Burnett translator) Barth, probably the most influential 20th Century theologian, best known for his opposition to the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s, provides an insight into how the church should behave when oppressed. This reading fed into my thoughts that arose from my study of Daniel. 

I also read some poetry along with the first half of Richard Lischer’s memoir, Open Secrets: A Memoir of Faith and Discovery. 

Sandhill cranes dropped in for a visit as I read under a tree in the yard

Traveling to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and around the area gave me plenty of time to listen to books on Audible. I began with Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, John Ketchmer, Sailing a Serious Ocean; Sailboats, Storms, Stories and Lessons Learned from 30 Years at Sea, and Carl Hiassen, Tourist Season. Having read many of Larson’s books, Isaac’s Storm lived up to my expectation as he captured both the event of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 along with providing insight into those involved in the storm and into how such storms are created. Ketchmer’s book is a first. I enjoyed it and it provided me with a refresher before sailing.  Hiassen is another favorite author. I have read or listened to eight of his books. This was his first novel and while not as funny as some of his later ones (Skinny Dip remains my favorite), it’s still good and has humorous moments. 

Sightseeing and other activities

I spent two days sailing with a friend in Grand Traverse Bay. We left out of Northport harbor on the Leelanau Peninsula. The first day was rough with 20 knot winds. It was scary when I couldn’t get the main reefed quickly as the lines were dry rotted. Finally, I was able to get it secured and we sailed for a bit that afternoon before enjoying a good meal on the town. On the second day, it was lovely with winds in the 10 to 12 knot range. We sailed out passed Mission Point and up the east side of the bay toward Leelanau Point before coming back to the marina. 

While in the UP, I spent one day on Drummond Island.  There, I enjoyed a morning hike in Maxton Plains.  The plains are an “alvar” landscape, which consist of flat limestone pavement with little soil to provide growth for plants. In the cracks are many different species of grass and flowers along with paper birch and spruce trees. Next time I visit here, I need to bring a bicycle so I can explore more of the plains. After lunch and a visit to the island’s museum, I enjoyed a shorter but refreshing walk under the beech trees of Clyde and Martha Williams Nature Preserve.  To reach to Drummond Island, I took the ferry which was just a block from where I was staying. 

Whitefish Point light & fog horn

I also took another trip to Whitefish Point, a place that many know about from Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  

The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
If they’d put fifteen more miles behind her.

          -Gordon Lightfoot

Leaving the UP, I visited friends from Skidaway on Mullet Lake, then old friends in Grand Rapids and Hastings. There’s never enough time to see everyone.

A poem I wrote in the UP

The freighter
rides low in the water
its screws pushing 70,000 tons of ore
southbound toward Gary or Cleveland.

Behind the stern trail
angry ripples of water, 
a turmoil of whirlpools
and danger for small boats that cut behind too close.

There are people like the freighter,
those who churn the air
and leave a path of emotional distraction.
Like the ship,
they’re best given a wide berth. 

A 1000 foot freighter heading south (go here to see a photo of an older style freighter)