A Glance in the Rearview

Camp in the Ocala National Forest on a fall bikepacking trip.

We’re almost there……2020 is just about in the rearview, and many of us couldn’t be more excited.  It’s been quite a year for natural disasters, social unrest, protests, riots, looting, a presidential election that seemed to fall somewhere between an SNL skit and the circus, and this little disease called COVID-19.  Many schools, churches and business are now empty, folks are working from home and quarantine has taken on a whole new meaning.  We’ve lost loved ones, haven’t been able to gather for holidays, birthdays and other celebrations, and have spent enough time on video conferences to last a lifetime.   

But enough of the bad.  How about the good?  Wait, you say, what good could possibly have come out of 2020?  We’ve had opportunities to work together in our local communities and across the nation to lend a hand when disasters strike.  We’ve been forced to reevaluate how we view social and political issues.  Many of us have probably spent more time with our immediate families since March than we have in the last five years!  We’ve increased support for many local businesses who are there to serve their customers and the community.  From where I sit, these are all good things.  

For me personally, I’ve taken a bit of time to evaluate what my creative endeavors mean to me, and what to share.  For the last number of years, I’ve convinced myself that taking the time to write, capture and create was mostly a waste of time for me.  Then one day, while I was encouraging my 7 year old daughter to never stop drawing or writing, the realization hit me like a freight train.  I’m telling her to do the exact opposite of what I have been doing!  What does that tell her?   

In August of 2019, I lost my daddy.  In the spring of 2020, I wrote a song describing the relationship we had, or rather didn’t have, and the impacts on my efforts now as a father.  I lost my grandmama August of 2020.  I wrote a song for her and sang it at her funeral service.  Both of these songs meant a lot to me, and I think they meant something to other folks as well.  

Taking a break from a spin on the bike at Boggy Creek, Nassau County, Florida.

I’ve spent more time on my bike more this year than I have ever before, and focused on being present on the adventure way more than my pace, mileage or anything else.  I’ve even left my Garmin watch at home a number of times and rode without any means of tracking the ride—and had a doggone blast!  I’ve taken up bikepacking, which consumes more of my mind than it should!  How to pack lighter, smarter, and cut down on what I really ‘need’ when I’m out in the woods, an endeavor seemingly unrelated to life in general but one that in reality couldn’t be more applicable.  

I weigh less today than I have in over 20 years, and am in the best physical shape of my life.  I plan to continue to build on this each day going forward, building on a foundation of solid nutrition, core work, mobility, yoga, and strength training.  I’m planning to increase my mileage on the bike each week and train for some longer distance rides over the next few years, taking it slowly and listening to my body.  

I’m finding more and more that God’s grace is all around me, each and every day.  I continue to wrestle my own troubles, and excavate the junk that has built up inside over the years.  The Lord continues to show me the areas I need to let go of and allow Him to work in, and overwhelms me with His mercy, grace and love.  

What about you?  What has 2020 given you?  Let me know in the comments, or in a note of some other Wherever you might be, whatever you might be doing, take a minute to smell the coffee, and soak it all in.  Life is beautiful.  

Until next time, God bless and stay safe. 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”    Ecclesiastes 3:1  ESV

Intentional Winter Ramblings

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“There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm.  One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from a furnace.”  Aldo Leopold penned these words decades ago reflecting on the crackling fire that warmed his shins on a cold winters day at his Sand County, Wisconsin, farm.  Each time I lay a split of oak upon the andirons, this account comes to mind.  What does this mean for us in a modern world of mobile applications, heaters of every kind, and too many mindless tasks that consume our lives?  Our ancestors didn’t have a choice–a life of leisure was typically short, unproductive, and unfulfilling.

We fill our lives today with all the things we think we should do as “Americans”, and even as “good Christians”.  But what are our intentions?  To live the American dream?  To die with the most toys and highest net worth?  What about working intentionally at every task we undertake to accomplish the calling we have been given?  I believe the Word is clear that we are not to be slothful (Colossians 3:23, Proverbs 20:4, Proverbs 24:30-34, 2 Thessalonians 3:10 are a few verses that come to mind). We can’t, however, rely on our own strength and wisdom (Proverbs 3:5, Matthew 6:25), as they will always be insufficient to meet our needs.

Each time my saw penetrates an oak log, I think forward to the heat it will provide the following winter.  The thought that my work will soon pay off spurs me on through the task, and my heart smiles once the process has come full circle again.  Spiritual obedience also leads to joy, as God uses our obedience to accomplish the results He has already ordained.  Trust Him.  Work hard.  Live in Sabbath rest knowing that the results belong to Him.  Minister to my wife, children and those He has entrusted to my influence, and be intentional about these things.

“Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.  Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest.  How long will you lie there, O sluggard?  When will you arise from your sleep?  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.”  Proverbs 6:6-11.

The oak continues to burn upon the andirons, as the labor of prior months now warms us on a cold February day.  The sleet and ice lay stacked up outside, and more is on the way.  I’m betting the ant is headed back to the wood pile.

Cravings of Fellowship

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted, but this morning finds me with something on my mind that I feel needs to be shared.  My last post was about my daughter, Willow, who turned two last week.  Her imagination and personality continue to grow exponentially, but some things remain the same.

This past weekend, we had a party to celebrate her birthday….Which resulted in a house full of family, laughter, and great memories in the making.  Yesterday morning, the occupancy of the house was once again reduced to the three of us.  I took the day off, and we spent time hanging out together and catching our breath from the busy weekend.

I hear you already asking where this is going….So here we go.  Last night, we decided to have a family movie night.  Willow joined us on the couch as we dimmed the lights and got the popcorn out of the microwave.  She sat in between us, and we placed the bowl of popcorn in her lap.  She clutched the lip of the bowl with one hand, and began to move popcorn from the bowl to her mouth with the other.  She sat still, enjoying fellowship with her parents and a treat for her taste buds.  I don’t know that I have seen her sit that still for that period of time in many moons.

Why did she sit there?  Fellowship.  Hanging out with her parents and just enjoying their company.  Does this sound familiar?  It should.  Romans 8 describes those who belong to Christ as sons and daughters of God, and co-heirs with Christ.  We were created for fellowship with our Heavenly Father, but when is the last time we crawled up in His lap just to sit with Him for a while?

Let’s get rid of the chaos and busy lives for a few minutes…or hours…or days….And enjoy fellowship with our Father.  Be still my soul……

Western Cottonmouth

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A Western Cottonmouth basks in a road in southeast Arkansas.

Here in south Arkansas we are blessed with an abundance of public land to explore and recreate on.  Some of these areas, such as Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge, contain large areas of bottomland hardwood forest that stay wet most of the time. This provides excellent habitat for herpetofauna (snakes and amphibians), who can be seen and heard throughout most of the year in these areas.

One of the most commonly observed (and misunderstood) snakes in this area is the Western Cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorous leucostoma).  These snakes are indeed venomous, but like most wild animals, prefer to be left alone to carry out their daily duties.  Reports of cottonmouth chasing humans to kill them abound, and most folks kill cottonmouth upon sighting.  Many times non-venomous water snakes are mistaken for cottonmouth, and killed in the name of human protection.  Just yesterday I saw a young specimen attempting to cross a road who fled when I attempted to lie prone and photograph him.  Vicious indeed!!

Most folks associate this snake with water-and rightfully so.  They thrive in areas of slow-moving water, and are often encountered while boating or fishing, leading to this association.  While this is generally accurate, they are also regularly observed in upland areas that border their more common aquatic habitats.  I spend a good bit of time traveling gravel roads while working, and often encounter specimens basking in roads or attempting to cross them.

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A cottonmouth creeps through an upland pine forest.

Oddly enough, they are becoming one of my favorite snakes to study and photograph.  Loathed by many, I find them to be fascinating to observe (as with many other things in nature!), and generally experience a bit of a mutual respect when I encounter them.  If they allow, I photograph them for a few minutes, then let them get on their way.  I only wish they enjoyed their encounter with me as much I enjoy each encounter with them….

When nature gives you a flood

This spring has seemed unseasonably cool-of which I won’t complain.  Along with the cool weather, we have received what seems to be an abundance of rainfall this year.  Perhaps it is normal, but it seems atypical to me.  I’m confident that in a few months we’ll be begging for just a drop of rain to fill the rivers, creeks, ponds and lakes.

Floodwaters cover a bottomland hardwood forest near Deep Slough on Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.
Floodwaters cover a bottomland hardwood forest near Deep Slough on Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.

The abundance of water during spring would typically be a good thing for my attempts to photograph herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles), but they haven’t been calling too much just yet.  So what’s a photographer to do?  Shoot what you have, of course!  The rain had forced the Ouachita River out of its banks, leading to road and boat ramp closures, and water in places it normally wouldn’t be found.

The river had risen more than I thought-and presented some interesting navigational challenges. I opted to head out with a friend in his boat instead of my trusty kayak, and immediately was glad I did.  Places that one could walk through with ease a week prior were several feet under water, which led to some interesting compositions.

The message I took home from this trip was to get out and go-even when the conditions aren’t optimal!  You may well witness something for the first and last time (likely), and in my case capture a unique image that might land you a spot in a publication or something even bigger!

This cypress tree thought its branches were safely above the water-which proved not to be the case!
This cypress tree thought its branches were safely above the water-which proved not to be the case!

When I was a young boy, my grandfather would carry me with him to the barber shop to get a haircut. His barber was a shaky-handed, well-aged gentleman who happened to be an excellent fisherman.  I would listen to his fishing stories in awe, always walking away with another potential adventure in my mind.  One day I decided to ask him a simple, but profound question-when was the best time to fish?  I sat eagerly awaiting a detailed, scientific explanation that I never received.  His response was simple.  “Son, the best time to go fishing is any time you can.”

I believe I’ll take that and run with it.

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Spring has sprung!

A film of pollen coats everything beneath the heavens, as the vegetative inhabitants of our world once again attempt to perpetuate their species.  Flowers erupt in an attempt to attract pollinators.  Leaves burst forth from buds on recently awakened branches and stems to produce food.  Winter’s dormancy has once again been evicted from the woods, as organisms young and old begin their annual rituals.

Spring rains fill ephemeral wetlands, and the amphibian world couldn’t be more enthralled that it is time to breed once again.  Spring peepers, treefrogs, chorus frogs and many more make their presence known as daylight fades each day.  Fish begin preparation for the annual spawn, and are hard at work each day preparing beds and attracting mates.

Spring is that blessed season each year when every creature gets a fresh chance to glorify their Creator.  Organisms that once appeared dead prove to be alive once again.  Ephesians 5:17 comes to mind, as we have been awakened through our new life through Christ.  Whether we are looking inside ourselves or at the natural world, this is a chance for all creatures to begin again.

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A Crimson Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia sp.) blooms in a longleaf pine forest in southern Alabama.

So take a minute as you travel through each day to behold the beauty in the simple things in life-a flower in a road ditch, an animal hard at work, or anything else that jumps out from nature.  Don’t miss the opportunity to witness this awakening.