Aug 06, 2013

Starry Night

All my life I've been involved in camping, mostly at Camp Peaceful Pines up in the Sierras. I took this picture there recently and this view is what getting up into the mountains is all about for me.

Oh I enjoy hiking. I like the exercise, the vistas, the sense of accomplishment that comes from scaling a peak, the camraderie of shared struggle.

I like nature. I enjoy the cool water, the fresh air, the scent of pines, the evidence of wildlife everywhere. I love the quiet in the middle of the day when you can hear the wind whispering and the squirrels chattering. But that view is what it's all about.

I enjoy getting away from the distractions and playing in the great outdoors. It's probably a good thing to get out of cell range now and again, to leave the gadgets and electronics at home and enjoy a warm fire, hot chocolate, lazily chatting in lawn chairs in the sun while not doing much of anything. There is value in watching my kids build a dam in the stream or jump excitedly from rock to rock accompanied by constant calls of "look at me!" I remember being a kid at camp myself - exploring, "discovering" wonders in the well trod ground around the camp.

I love a camp kitchen - I'm happy cleaning my cast iron skillets, polishing the great griddle on the stove, sharpening the knives. I don't think anything else I do has quite as much satisfaction as organizing and cooking a high quality meal from scratch for hungry campers - hearing the gratitude and praise that good food administered to a hungry belly naturally evokes (People are always hungry at camp - even when they're eating huge meals. I think its the altitude.) Some of my most enduring happy memories are working summers with my mom or my dad in the kitchen up in the mountains. But that view...

Here's the thing - its not even a good picture. (How do you take a picture that captures the majesty of a night sky? I set my camera on a tiny tripod, set the exposure for 30 seconds and used a delay to take the picture hoping to reduce shakiness. The result was a picture that was nearly black until I processed it and turned up contrast and brightness quite a bit.) But I've seen the original and this picture does for me what a snapshot is supposed to: calls to mind, evokes the emotions of the original...

Up there the night is different. For one thing it actually gets dark. And quiet! We mostly don't know what dark is: darkness unilluminated by headlights, streetlights, porchlights, cell phone screens. And modern life has an unremitting soundtrack: cars, horns, distant sirens and trains. Up at camp when the electric generator shuts off for the night its possible to go out where you can't see a source of artificial illumination and you don't hear a sound.

Over the years I've made friends with the dark and the quiet. It's a slow process but once your body accustoms itself to the shock the once uniform blackness resolves to many shades of gray. Look up - and you can see the silhouettes of the great tree trunks against the night sky. Look around - the granite boulders almost give off a glow. Just give your eyes a chance to adjust to the lack of light and all sorts of details of the night come into focus. And the sound, or the lack of it, soon fades as you become aware - there's the gurgling of the creek, the sound of your own footsteps, perhaps even the beating of your heart if you are very still...

If you'll allow it the night can be a comfortable blanket. A quilt of darkness and silence that doesn't have to be oppressive, doesn't have to be merely endured but can feel ... comfortable and cozy! It makes me aware of myself: Here I am and what I am most conscious of... is me. I can hear my heart beating. I can feel the passage of time with its slow but inexorable drip drip drip of seconds passing by. I am acutely conscious of the texture of the rock I am sitting on, the pain of the great cold of the mountain seeping into my body through the granite. Every breath of wind across my face and every breath I take in response fills my senses. And then I look up at the sky.

The night sky in the mountains is a different sky than the one I know. Up high, above the pollution and haze, above the lights of urban environments, the stars shine with an almost fierce splendor. There are so many! Uncountable yet distinct pinpricks of light and behind them a smear of cloudiness I know to be the Milky Way - space vast beyond comprehension and filled with stars I can't even see.

This is the only place I am conscious of starlight. The stars cast a visible light by which I can dimly see. This is the only place I have been tempted to shield my eyes from the glare of the night sky. And looking up at the intense infinity my sense of self recedes - I am pinprick, a mote on a lump circling a pinprick in that vast night sky.

I've never done much in the way of spiritual disciplines or practices. I have trouble with much that the saints describes as typifying their spiritual life: long prayer, meditation and contemplation. Mindfulness. But a few minutes - or is it hours? - under the stars and the black sky is refreshing to me and provides a rich store of tranquility to draw from when I come down from the hills and go back to my "normal" life.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him?

Psalm 4

May 09, 2013

Dallas Willard Died Today

When I get home I'm going to re-read The Divine Conspiracy

We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel — or one desperate for another life — therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today. Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright.

DW - Hearing God

Apr 22, 2013

Cleaning out the camera

I'm cleaning out the camera. Do I only take pictures of food now?

Yup. (Fried Kale. Good Stuff! Who knew?)

Yes. (Homesick Texan would approve!)


Ok, now to be fair - this was an event. Our Church made and delivered supper to a variety of folk.

Let's see - we did celebrate birthdays.

And we went to the coast.

I guess there's more to life than "Good Eats"!


Mar 12, 2013

Why I am an education anarchist, part 4,423

Offered without comment:

I think the other day I said it was in third grade that the school gave us trouble over Robert. I was wrong, it was actually in first grade. I sent them a kid who could read, write and was working on fractions. Imagine our shock when in our first first grade conference, the teacher informed us that Robert was learning disabled and would probably never learn to read and write. This was particularly surprising since one of her pieces of evidence was a worksheet that consisted of 1+0, 2+0 etc. across the top of which Robert had written in properly spelled words “this is stupid and boring. A number plus zero always equals the number.”

Malice or Incompetence by Sci-Fi authoress Sarah Hoyt


Mar 08, 2013

Happycrow is on fire

I'm still reading my blogs, even though I'm not writing much anymore. Well, check that - I've written a ton lately - but it's all technical stuff, mostly in the form of classes to teach programmers new technologies. What I haven't written much of lately is anything about the cultural/theological/political areas that still fascinate me.

Fortunately not everyone is so moribund. One of my regular reads has been on fire lately: Happycrow is an interesting character with a frequently interesting point of view. Fair warning - if you aren't an X'er you'll probably find him profanely cynical. I like him just fine :)

Advice from his most recent post about demographic/economic trends How to surf the boomer holocaust:

1. If you’ve got a job, save, save, save, save. Or, even more importantly, de-leverage. Get OUT of debt. Ignore the hucksterism about mortgage interest deductions — those are for the upper middle class, not for Random Guy #13. If you make less than six figures and are in a house you can actually afford to live in, you’ll be getting the “standard deduction” anyway. If you make less than six figures and actually have enough mortgage interest to beat the Standard Deduction, you have Too Much House, or are living in a zip code that’s beyond your means — you’re setting yourself up for poverty down the road. Learn this truth: housing is a cost. There’s cost of living, and cost of surviving. They’re two different things: any plan you make should minimize the latter. If you’re paying a third to one-half your paycheck simply for the privelege of taking up space, you’re in trouble. Get the cheapest mortgage you can get in the cheapest house your wife will let you buy, and then KILL IT OFF.

This is good advice - I agree so strongly that I took it about a decade ago!


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