Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gold in the Superstition Mountains

There is a range of mountains in Arizona known as the Superstition Mountains. Long ago, a Dutchman claimed to find a secret cache of gold there, but he died before he could reveal the location of the treasure.

Conversely, the Native Americans have long believed the Superstitions Mountains to be a sacred place. According to legend, the mountains are home to the Thunder God.

Over the past year, I have hiked all over the Superstition Mountains. I haven't found the gold, but I have had a lot of good talks with God. While walking up and down those mountain paths, His voice has whispered to my soul, and it's caused me to make thunderous changes in my life.

And that, to me, is worth more than a fabled treasure.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Legend of the Northern Lights

For the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about the Alaskan salmon run. I know that's a strange thing to admit, but it's true. I was born in Alaska and I always feel the pull to go back. A few years ago, I wrote this short story about salmon and the Northern Lights. I feel like it's time to go home . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Metanoia | A Change of Heart

Walking on a dirt road on Kuala Ranch in Hawaii.
I'm currently working on a novel that has caused me to think a lot about repentance. A little while ago, I was researching repentance and I stumbled upon the word metanoia. The word metanoia means "a transformative change of heart" or a spiritual conversion. The word conversion, itself, means "to turn altogether," or to change direction.

I think, too often, I have confused repentance with a mere change in behaviors. Repentance can certainly include a change in behaviors. But true, deep repentance is much more than that—it is a 180 degree change of heart that fundamentally transforms us. Once transformed, we no longer desire to do certain behaviors.

Throughout my travels, I have frequently taken a path that has led me astray. The realization of my mistake is sometimes embarrassing but always requires a course correction—a turn around.

Metaphorically speaking, we frequently take the wrong paths in life—paths that lead us astray. The full realization of our mistakes is often embarrassing, but the quickest way home is to change accept our mistakes and change our direction—to turn around.

C. S. Lewis put it this way:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Poem As Lovely As a Tree

Walking through the Inner Basin Trail near Flagstaff, Arizona.
I have a great love for trees—particularly deciduous trees, or trees that shed their leaves during the autumn season. The colors are so vivid and beautiful that I've often wondered if the changing of the leaves is a form of visual poetry, written by the Creator Himself.

Years ago, while walking on a trail that led to the Natural Bridge in Virginia, I read a poem by Joyce Kilmer that I've carried with me ever since. It's a simple poem, but quite lovely.


by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Don't Row Your Boat, Set Your Sail

Overlooking the Cook Inlet, near Anchorage, Alaska. 
Last week, I listened to a series of talks on willpower. In this series, the speaker suggested that too often, we waste our time and energy by "rowing [our] boats" instead of "setting [our] sails" and using the natural strength of the wind.

In other words, we tend to rely on our own strength instead of asking for help outside of ourselves and drawing upon that strength—like the strength of our friends and family. Or the unseen strength of the wind—like the strength of our Creator.

. . . interesting thought.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Light of the World

For reasons to great to enumerate, I am sensitive to any reference, or synonym, of the word "light." Whenever light is mentioned in the scriptures, in stories, in history, or in real life, my ears perk up and my mind starts searching for a deeper meaning to its reference. Because whenever light is involved, there's always a deeper meaning.

When you stop and think about it, light is truly a marvelous and miraculous thing. Physically speaking, light literally gives life and its presence has the power to transform our perception of reality. Spiritually speaking, light has those same powers—spiritual light revitalizes our lives and transforms our perceptions of reality.

There is a story, perhaps as old as time itself, of a Being who came down from the heavens and gave to mankind the gift of fire—or the gift of light. The Ancient Greeks knew Him as Prometheus, yet I know Him by a different name. This gift of fire enabled mankind to do marvelous things. With fire, we could make tools, cook food, stay warm, and—perhaps most importantly—find our way in the dark. The gift of fire, or the gift of light, changed everything.

As you read stories, or watch movies, consider the role of light and how it changes the mood, the setting, or even a character's understanding. Then consider the role of light in your own life. Do you feel dark inside? Are you wandering in the wilderness? If so, I know there exists a Being who is always willing to bring light to your life.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving for Squanto

Squanto meets the Pilgrims
This Thanksgiving, I want to publicly declare my gratitude for Squanto, an unsung hero in history. Squanto was a Native American, who, through service, saved countless lives—including my own. And perhaps even yours.

We don't know a lot of details about Squanto, but here's what we do know:

Born in 1585, near the place we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts, Squanto was a member of the Patuxet tribe. In 1605, he and four other Native Americans were captured by the English and taken to England to be slaves. While there, Squanto learned English and tried, numerous times, to return home. In 1619, Squanto joined an exploratory expedition to the New World (led by Captain John Smith) and finally returned to his homeland. Upon his arrival, Squanto learned that a plague (possibly smallpox) had decimated his tribe. After everything that had happened, Squanto had come home to discover that he was, essentially, the last of his people.

It is difficult for me to imagine how Squanto must have felt—to be taken from everything he'd ever known—to be taken from his family—to be brought to a foreign country as a slave. Then, after fourteen years of doing everything he could to return home, he learns that it's all gone—that his family, his friends and all of his people are dead, killed by a European disease.

Squanto left his homeland (which was literally covered with the bones of his people) and joined the Wampanoags, a nearby tribe.

Years later, the Pilgrims, seeking to build a "better country" arrived in the New World and settled on the land that was once Squanto's home (they, themselves, described it as a land littered with bones). The Pilgrims were unprepared for life in the New World and about half of them died during their first winter. For a time, it seemed as though the Pilgrims had no hope.

Then, on March 22, 1621, a miracle happened. The Pilgrims were met by a man named Squanto—a Native American who, miraculously, spoke English. Squanto helped the English recover from the winter, taught them how to plant corn and other crops, and negotiated peace and trading relations with the Wampanoag Confederation. These miraculous acts of service (yes, miraculous) ultimately saved the Pilgrims from certain destruction and led to the formation of the American nation we know today.

Of course, history is always a bit more complicated than that. There were, of course, other factors and considerations involved, and things we just don't know. But it doesn't change the fact that Squanto, a Native American, saved the Pilgrims.

Please stop for a moment and consider the irony: here was a man who, as a direct/indirect result of the English, had lost everything. He had been captured, treated as a slave, and kept from his homeland for fourteen years. Then, after returning home he found that he had lost everything.

And yet, because of Squanto, because of his service to the Pilgrims, a people—and a nation—was saved. We have everything because of a man who lost everything. I, myself, can trace my ancestry back to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Squanto didn't just save them—he saved me. And perhaps he saved someone in your family line—perhaps he saved you.

So, this Thanksgiving—and every Thanksgiving from now on—I express my gratitude for Squanto, the man who saved a nation by serving a people.

This Thanksgiving, consider your own life and think of those whom you might serve. You never know how your service might impact a person, a people, or a nation, for good.

Squanto - Wikipedia.org
An Article on Huffington Post
Tisquantum - Mayflower.org

Friday, November 18, 2016

If You Are On The Right Path, It Will Always Be Uphill

Last week, I hiked the Grand Canyon—from the start of South Kaibab Trail to the end of Bright Angel Trail. It's a grueling, painful hike and it took me about nine or ten hours to complete. Toward the end, I was hiking in the dark and using my headlamp to find my way.

This was my fourth time hiking the Grand Canyon and it was my second time hiking it alone. My wife said I was crazy for doing it (and she may be right) but I really enjoy solitary hiking and I REALLY enjoy hiking the Grand Canyon.

Every time I hike the Grand Canyon (or any difficult trail) I am reminded of a quote by Henry B. Eyring: "If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill."

There is a part of me that wants to contradict that quote. Indeed, the world often fights against it. Perpetual comfort and security seems to be everyone's chief goal. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. It is righteous and needful to provide comfort and security to your families and yourself. But the greatest rewards in life are found at the summit of the most difficult and arduous mountains.

Hiking up the steep incline of the Grand Canyon, I took a break and watched the last rays of the setting sun disappear fade from view. Then, I marveled as the super moon rose and illuminated the sheer cliff of the Grand Canyon. A truly marvelous sight that no photograph of mine could ever fully capture.

Reaching the summit of Bright Angel Trail was a reward, in and of itself—a feeling I would have missed if I had favored comfort and stayed home.

I challenge you to get outside of your comfort zones. Explore the world and travel uphill. The best rewards are always at the summit of your personal mountains.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

DIY Mountain Mural

I do a lot of work for ANASAZI Foundation, a Wilderness Therapy program for at-risk youth and I frequently visit their lobby. Now, as much as I love ANASAZI, I hated their lobby—its main wall was particularly offensive to mine eyes. Every time I thought about it, I would get an Edgar-Allan-Poe-esque twitch.

The wall was driving me mad! Mad, I tell you!

Something had to be done. It was either me or the wall and it CERTAINLY wasn't going to be me! I decided to paint a mountain mural over it. And so, eye-a-twitching, I waited until everyone left work—until it was just me and the wall...

Then, I created THE MOUNTAIN MURAL! ~Thunder clap in the background~

Supplies Needed:

  • Black Paint
  • White Paint
  • Sahara Desert Sand Paint (Wal-Mart)
  • Warm Caramel Paint (Wal-Mart)
  • Lots of Painters Tape (for outlining the mountains)
  • A Few Paint Brushes (for painting the outlines of the mountains)
  • Lots of Rollers (for most of the painting)
  • Paint Trays (in which you roll your rollers)
  • Paint Sticks (for mixing the paint in which you will roll your rollers)
  • Plastic Cover (or something to lay down on the floor to protect it from paint and blood splatter)
  • Candy Bars (This mural will test your stamina. You will require candy bars to provide you with vital energy and essential nutrients.)
  • A Good Sense of Balance (Believe it or not, it is hard to paint a Mountain Mural if you're falling down all the time.)
  • Excuses (You will need many excuses in order to rationalize why it is taking you so BLEEPIN' long! It looked so easy on Pinterest!)

  • DIY Mountain Mural

    Behold the hideous wall! Do not be deceived by the candy cane furniture! There is nothing sweet about this lobby. Behind the furniture are ghastly gouges and disgusting dents. This will not stand. "Mr. Gorbachov, PAINT A PRETTY MOUNTAIN MURAL ON THIS WALL!"

    And it came to pass, that I did kick away the chairs so as to tackle the wall in all of its ugliness. Additionally, I put down some tape so as to paint the frame. I used a plain white paint (from Wal-Mart) with a semi-gloss luster.

    Here, I used a pencil and traced out a few layers of mountains. I didn't use anything as a reference, I just sort of eye-balled it. In some cases, I erased some lines and started over, but for the most part, it was pretty easy. If you want a particular mountain range, go ahead and use a picture as a reference, but I think this works just as well.

    I did have people tell me—when I was half-way to nearly-finished—"Oh, you know what would be cooler than what you're doing? If you did it and it looked like a different set of mountains!"

    I wasn't a fan of those comments.

    I put numbered stickies on the wall to help me keep the mountain ranges separate. Because sometimes, I got lost in these mountains. And not in the enchanting, "The mountains are calling and I must go," kind of way. It was more like, "I'm lost, frustrated, and I'll probably have to eat this couch in order to survive," kind of way. 

    And so begins the most rewarding/frustrating part of the DIY Mountain Mural—painting it! I figured it would take me a really, really, really long time to carefully, tediously, paint around each mountain. So, instead of dealing with that, I used blue painters tape (Wal-Mart) to outline each mountain range.

    As it turns out, it takes a really, really, really long time to carefully, tediously outline each mountain range with blue painters tape. (But it looks really good when you pull off the tape!)

    Technically, this is the first mountain range I painted (if you don't count the white paint I put down as the background). The paint I used is called "Sahara Desert Sand" and I got it from Wal-Mart. Perspective-wise, this mountain range will appear to be the second-farthest back. Taping it off was a beast, but it's nothing compared to the other mountain ranges...

    Here's where I started to paint the mountain range that appears closest to the viewer. I taped it off and used black paint (again, from Wal-Mart). Initially, it was just going to be a stand-alone mountain, but then I got frustrated with how long it was taking made a creative decision to connect it to another set of mountains. (See below). 

    Here is a ~cough~ non-staged photograph ~cough~ of me painting the mountain that is the furthest back. I mixed the Sahara Desert Sand with white paint to lighten it up. If I could, I would travel back in time and tell myself to "Quit now, you fool! This project is going to take WAY more time than you think it is!"

    At which point, my past-self would ask me why I traveled back in time to this moment, and not to when I was in high school, so as to save myself from a bunch of stupid mistakes. Present-self will consider this for a moment and then show past-self the Flux Capacitor and explain to him the complications of time travel. He and I will have a few laughs and order a burger. When asked who will pay for said burger, we both become confused. If one of us pays, then don't both of us pay?

    After waiting for all the other mountain ranges to dry, I taped off these two. But they are not two distinct mountain ranges. They are the same! Behold...

    Oh Sweet Moses! Magic is real! Also and/or I used the "Warm Caramel" paint found at—you guessed it—Wal-Mart. But don't be fooled! The paint tastes NOTHING like warm caramel!!! I learned this the hard way.

    C'mon, you know where this is going. Do I really need to explain it to you?

    For this layer, I mixed the "Warm Caramel" paint with some of the black paint. I call it "Tin Man's Blood."

    Here is where I realized that I didn't want to create two additional shades. What's this? The "Lonely Mountain" has long-lost family? Bring them in! 

    And to think: I could wasted my time creating an additional layer of mountain ranges. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to finish this mural so I can make it home in time for dinner!

    And here be the last mountain range. I call it: "The Three Sisters and Their Weird Brother Who Stands off to the Side." I should probably change that to French, it might sound better: "Les Trois Sœurs et le Frère Maladroit."

    There you have it, folks! A DIY Mountain Mural. I hope this little tutorial was helpful (or at least entertaining). I defeated the wall by painting mountains. How hippie is that?