Thursday, August 23, 2007
By Jr. High I had graduated to the continuously standing turn and was able to move from the bunny hill to riding the "big" lifts up the mountain and skiing the blue (moderate) and green (easy) slopes down the mountain.
My brother would occasionally drive us both up to go skiing in his later high school years. He had received the lion's share of the skiing genes in our family and was therefore a much more adept skier than myself. That being the case, he wasn't satisfied just doing the easier runs on the mountain. I was, as a consequence, taken down many black (hard) runs and various other not so easy trails, much to my dismay and sometimes very vocal displeasure.
On one such skiing trip my brother's friend had come along and the two of them decided to take an unofficial offshoot "run" that ended at a bowl shaped clearing occupied by many large boulders. Thickly blanketed by packed snow this bowl became a amateur ski jumper's paradise. At any moment skiers could be seen flying off the snow encased boulders like flock of super balls randomly bouncing off a floor. My brother and his friend commenced to join this flying circus. I became acutely aware of my lack jumping skills and courage. I slunk around the jumps, attempted to be noticed as little as possible, and felt very humiliated and small.
A very important "feature" of this boulder bowl was the exit. It was a barely one skier wide densely tree lined chute. It went steeply down for about 30 yards and then almost straight up for the last ten feet. And it was the only way back on to the official ski run. My brother took me aside as we were reaching the bottom of the boulder bowl and warned me to completely stop before going into that exit chute, because there was no way to slow down once you were in the chute. He then demonstrated what he was talking about as he exited the bowl.
My injured pride welled up and rejected his warning. Having spent my entire time on that run sulking and not attempting even the smallest jump, I decided that I was not going to do something as silly as stopping before the bowl's exit chute. And I showed him; not only did I not stop, I entered that chute with a good head of steam to spare.
Wow, there really was no way to slow down.
I hit mach speed on the down slope, rocketed up the ledge and then flew into the stratosphere skis pointed to the sky, body parallel to the ground. I had majestically entered the air space of the official ski run below.
My terror kicked in some internal gyroscope which drove my arms and ski poles to windmill wildly and caused my body to slightly tuck forward in the air. Miraculously, my body came up vertically and my skis leveled out horizontally just as if I was skiing over a huge invisible ball in the air.
I was going to land beautifully, and not die!
Just as I was completing my landing check list, with my brother standing just off to the side, one of my windmilling ski poles planted in the snow directly in front of me. Gravity and momentum drove my chin into the handle of the planted pole and knocked me out prone at my brother's feet.
A second later I came to. Because I had blatantly ignored his advice, all I received for my pains was a brief check from him to see that I hadn't separated my head from my shoulders. And then some ribbing for not following instructions.
We then skied down the run to the lift. My head throbbed and ached, my jaw felt like it had been shoved into my face for some reason, and my attitude was worse.
As we reached the lift and got in line there was a ski school in session. A brief glance showed that it was a class of Jr. High "Special Ed" students. They were all in the singles line for the lift.
This particular ski "chair lift" was a double chair. Each chair on the lift was designed to hold two people. The entrance to the lift was roped off to form several lines. Skiers would line up in pairs in each of the lines and take alternating turns getting onto the next chair that came swinging around the large overhead turnstile. If someone was by them self in the double line, a person from the single line could then join them to get the most people going up the lift as possible.
I was the third wheel in this skiing adventure and as such I was usually the single of our group. When I saw the single line filled with the "Special Ed" class I approached the lift in the most unapproachable way possible. When my chair came around I deliberately stood on the near side of the chair to make it very hard for anyone to join me from the skiing class single line.
To my horror they stopped the entire lift, moved me over and sat a boy from the class next to me. I was mortified, my head hurt, my attitude was growing worse by the second and then my new chair mate began to talk. And talk and talk. He told me all about his day skiing and what he was learning and how much fun it was and on and on and on.
I was displaying unusual grace and courtesy by not saying a single word and leaning as far out the other side of the chair as I could. I turned away from him as much as I could manage and gave every non verbal cue I could that I just wasn't interested in his day and couldn't he just shut his mouth and let me sulk in peace.
It didn't work or he didn't notice or he just thought that I looked like I was having a bad day and needed him to cheer me up. Whatever the case, he just kept on excitedly describing to me the glorious day he was having and how much fun he was having skiing. It didn't help that every time I glanced forward I would see my brother and his friend obviously enjoying my plight.
And then it happened. As he was talking, we passed the midway point of the ski lift. There was a small hut and a snowy platform there designed to let people get off midway and only ski the bottom half of the mountain. After the platform passed the ground fell steeply away. We were about ten feet past the midway platform and about an equal distance up in the air when the boy exclaimed "Oh, that's where I'm supposed to get off!" And then he jumped off the lift!
It was surreal. Because the slope was going down where he landed his body wasn't jerked at all. The force of his landing just caused him to lay backward on his skis. He then zoomed down and then up a small slope into a floppy ski fence surrounding a hut and platform that allowed people to get back on the lift and only ski the top half of the mountain.
My prejudice at that point was so great that I didn't even care. I was just relieved that he was gone. When we got off at the top my brother turned to me and said, "So where's your little friend?"
To which I fiercely replied, "He's NOT my friend and he jumped off the lift!"
Ah, the kind and compassionate words of a proud and prejudiced boy.
Proverbs 16:18 (NIV):
18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.
2 Peter 1 (NIV):
5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Our games also always had Rules. Especially our spontaneously imagineered games. The Rules defined what was allowed and not allowed and especially how points were scored. The first Rule of all invented games was that the Rules were to be followed.
Boxing was a simple example of Rules.
One pair of boxing gloves. Not one pair each, one pair total: two gloves. Now these were genuine (sure nuff) boxing gloves with laces to secure each glove on the wrist and forearm, but the hitting portion of each glove was about double the size of the kind that "real" boxer's use. This extra cushion made our gloves more boxing pillows than gloves. Each brother got one of the gloves. I received the right glove and my brother the left. We were both right handed, but he was 3 1/2 years my elder therefore I got the privilege of boxing with my dominant hand.
Our non boxing hands were wrapped in an assortment of socks, head bands, wrist bands and ace bandages. To this day I am unclear as to the purpose of this portion of our equipment, because, as stated next in the Rules, we weren't allowed to hit with the non gloved hand. Weird.
1. No hitting the head of the other person.
2. No hitting with the non gloved hand (no matter how well socked or bandaged it was.)
That was it.
Unlike most games, we had no clear idea how boxing was supposed to be done. We would circle one other and attempt to hit with our one glove. As we were facing one another, my right hand and his left hand were on the same side, so, for the most part, we would just end up hitting the other person's glove. As the gloves were pillow like, little happened. My brother received the worst part however, because the gloves had rather long laces and I was very poor at securing mine. As a result, my glove would have a long tail (like an untied shoe lace). As I punched, my glove's tail would whip around and slap my brother in the face and make him mad.
Boxing was usually uneventful (minus the loose lace), until the day I went insane. Well, not insane really, but I definitely lost my mind and let instinct completely take over. I feinted with my glove hand and then beautifully punched my older, larger, bigger, stronger, faster, brother, square in the head, with my socked-wrist banded-ace bandaged hand.
I had just broken the complete Rules of Boxing in less than a second.
I was a dead man.
Or boy at least.
My brother, already irritated from being whipped with my glove's loose lace went berserk. The Rules of Boxing no longer applied because I had spectacularly broken them all. He was in hot pursuit to pummel me for my sin. And I, who fully realized the error of my ways but was not about to meet my due punishment, took off.
Now our "L" shaped house had all the bedrooms connected via a hallway in the bottom part of the L. The rest of the house was one large "great" room with furniture (couches) and kitchen cabinets left to define the rest of the rooms. We had been boxing in the "living room" area which was the portion of the great room closest to the bedroom hallway and there was a long couch that defined one side of that area. The couch's backside was set away from the wall several feet so as to form a hallway of sorts leading to the bedroom hall and ending at the bathroom door. My bedroom door was an immediate ninety degree turn to the right from the bathroom door.
My survival instincts told me that I would not win a straight line race with my brother so I went around the couch. Although I was slower, I was also smaller so my cornering ability equalled my brothers. We went back and forth around opposite ends of the couch until his impatience took over and he leaped over the couch to get me.
This was my chance, I broke for the bedroom hallway hoping to gain my bedroom and the relative safety of a locked door. But there wasn't time for the ninety degree turn into my bedroom. I dove into the bathroom straight ahead, slammed the door shut behind me and then rolled and jammed my foot into the crack at the bottom of the door to keep it shut. There wasn't time for the door lock.
I was hoping that a little time would help cool down the fury outside my bathroom haven.
The bathroom door was then broken off its hinges and the door with my brother riding it, landed on top of me.
At that point everything changed. Fury and flight were gone. We were now partners and cohorts because we had just broken the house. We looked at each other and the door and hinges with our minds racing. We finally settled on glue. We filled the formerly door screw occupied holes with Elmer's glue. Tipped the door back upright, shoved the screws back into their places, and shut the door.
There ended up being just enough time between the door being broken and mom or dad returning home for the glue to set. It was amazing, the door actually worked! It did kind of drag along the carpet when opened, but actually functioned.
Huge sigh of relief.
Several months later my mom called to us, "Boys, could you come here? The bathroom door just fell off, and your father and I think you had something to do with it..."
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Of the sports in which I was a participant, I was without a doubt the most valuable to my teams in soccer. Especially in my grade school years I scored goals, in bunches. I was good.
When you play sports (especially if you have some success) the playing doesn't stop at the official practice field. If it is basketball and you have a hoop at your house you practice shooting, or play one on one or 21 or horse or anything else you can get someone to play with you. If you play baseball, you play catch or pitch to a pitchback or hit something with a bat.
When you play soccer you kick a ball around, a lot. Occasionally you might get someone to kick it back to you but for the most part you end up dribbling a ball around the yard and then kicking it at or through something and imagining it as a goal (the number of balls popped discourages the use of pine trees for goal posts.)
On this particular day I had been in our front yard for a couple of hours kicking the soccer ball. After some time I had exhausted my interest in dribbling and had settled in on kicking the ball in various ways at our front porch. In this case "porch" was a somewhat loose term for a ground level cement walkway that ran along the front of the house from the driveway to the front door. The walkway was overhung by the roof of the house which was supported with four by four posts. The posts were interconnected by a two to three foot high porch "wall" constructed of two by fours. Our living room had a large picture window which looked out over the porch wall and provided a clear view of the Bookcliffs, a unique "Badlands" type rock and dirt ridge that borders Grand Junction to the north. It also provided my mom with a clear view of my soccer skills as she happened to be walking through the living room that day.
She opened the front door and had the audacity to say, "Don't kick the ball against the front porch, you will kick it through the window."
I was outraged. I had been out there "all morning" and had been kicking the ball against the porch for "over an hour." She just didn't know anything.
My conversation with myself continued as I continued kicking the ball at the porch. My practice finally paid off as I kicked a beautiful shot with power and grace that curved just over the top of the porch and crashed spectacularly through the small window immediately to the right of our living room picture window and the ball came to rest in the middle of our living room.
My mother's standing alongside the enumerable ensembles of prophet mothers worldwide was (yet again) confirmed. At least mom hadn't said "you will kick it through the picture window."
Proverbs 1:8 (NIV):
8 Listen, my son, to your father's instruction and do not forsake your mother's teaching.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Our house had aluminum frame windows with horizontal sliding panes. Notable was that the window latches were Not located on the sills of the windows, but instead were placed vertically in the middle each window's sliding frame. The window latches were spring type levers which, when the window was closed, had a nose designed to catch on a shallow lip of the stationary window frame to lock the window in place. Normally, opening the window required the latch head to be pressed. This rotated the latch nose over the fixed window frame lip and allowed the window to slide (horizontally) open.
A supervised child with idle time can be annoying ("are we there yet?" "I'm bored"):
Danger Level "Green"
An unsupervised child with idle time on his hands is dangerous ("Hmmm, what to do?"):
Danger Level "Yellow"
An unsupervised child with time and a defined purpose is about to break something:
Danger Level "Red Alert"
The problem:Once upon a time, during the days of Jr. High I was a latch key kid. I had the world (or a least a key) on a string. This string was worn around my neck and allowed entry into our house when the school bus deposited me at home after school.
One day, I exited the school bus only to discover that I had forgotten my string! My brother was working out at the high school gym and my parents would be at work for another hour or two. As I stood at the doorway and thought about my plight the Danger Level went from Yellow to Red Alert. I determined that I was not going to just hang out by the house until someone with a key rescued me; I was getting into that house and I had a couple hours on my hands to do it.
The Plan:I cased the house. The back door was locked as well. None of the windows appeared to have been left open. Ok, now what... Hmmm. The light bulb went off in my head. My brother and I had previously discovered an important feature of our home's aluminum windows: they (at least some of the taller ones) could be opened from outside. The highly technical procedure involved carefully applied pressure on the window frame, just opposite the latch. If done correctly, and with a little luck, the movable window frame would bow in just enough to release the latch nose from the window frame lip and the window could then be slid open.
The precursor to the outside motivated window opening procedure was taking the screen off the window. The window screens on our house were held in by metal spring loops that hung on tenaciously when attempting to remove the window screens. The numerous, creatively non-square screens to be seen around our house bore testimony to our initial attempts at this non-normal window opening technique. The bent screens were also the visible reminder that this external window opening procedure was as strictly forbidden as our beach ball wiffle bat game in the sun room.
The red flags slid by my conscience, I was now in the heat of my plan and paid no attention to sense or consequences. I was scouting for likely windows when my eye saw the orchard ladder leaning to the side of a kitchen window. Ah, that was the one. It wasn't a short window over a sink, it was for the kitchen eating area and was one of the taller windows in the house.
I removed the screen (already bent so nobody would notice the extra damage) and mounted the ladder. I leaned far over to my right and pushed with the precise amount of force needed to release the window latch.
That also happened to be the precise amount of force needed to unbalance the ladder. The ladder suddenly shifted and tilted. My precarious balance was violently lost and I was thrown forward into and through the window I was attempting to open. Gravity and the ladder propelled me in a forward turn and my right shoulder and side went through the window and as I fell I completed my turn and landed completely inside the house flat on my back on top of the kitchen table with the majority of the window in large shards flat beneath me.
After the adrenaline rushing through my body calmed to a small avalanche, I, violently trembling, got off the table and began picking up the glass shards and putting them in the garbage. My heart then jumped out of my chest at the sudden sound of the front door opening. And I watched my brother walk in the door.
He evidently didn't stay after school to work out that afternoon.
My father stated afterward that, when he heard what had happened, the only thoughts that had gone through his mind were utter relief and astonishment that I hadn't been cut in half. Looking at the setting, there was not much room for forward momentum. The ladder was flat against the side of the house and I was leaning far out to my right. Truly, gravity and all should have pulled me down on top of the remaining jagged shards sticking up from the bottom of the broken window frame like a glass saw. But instead I was propelled completely through the opening (body, legs, feet and all) and ended up without any significant cuts or injuries that I can remember.
His and my belief was that God had other plans for me and, however it was accomplished, God saved me from myself on that day.
His mercies are new every morning (or afternoon).
Lamentations 3:22 &23 (NIV)
22 Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Sunday, August 5, 2007
But there was also the house. Houses are very interesting edifices. Beginning with concrete and various sizes and flavours of wood and continuing with siding, sheet rock, roofing, wiring, plumbing there's a lot that goes into a house. Oh, and windows, houses have many windows.
Ah, windows. Windows tend to be an afterthought. They are pretty much ignored unless they are dirty, or open when they shouldn't be, or if you are the decorator type and enjoy curtains and blinds and that sort of thing. Or when they are broken, windows are definitely noticed when they are broken.
Broken windows are a pane.
In the life of most houses, the broken window is a very occasional nuisance. Unless some sort of natural disaster strikes (earthquake, hurricane, tornado, etc.) most home windows remain in a relative state of unbrokenness for the life of the house.
Our particular house had lived a life of ease as a single story "L" shaped ranch for years.
Then came the "sun room."
My mom loves plants, and to encourage our family botanist my dad had a sun room built that filled in a portion of the open "L" in our house. It had large slanting floor to ceiling windows making up the south wall, and those adjustable louvre type crank open windows on the east side. Our current house provided the other walls of the room, which included sliding glass doors from the master bedroom which opened into the sun room. It was a room designed for letting in light to grow plants. It contained of a large quantity of glass.
It was also large, square and empty when it was finished. A large empty square space that was begging to be used. My brother and I answered "the call of the room" with "the game." "The game" consisted of two wiffle ball bats and a beach ball. "The game" was beautiful, simple, and we were addicted to it. He had a wall. I had a wall. If the beach ball contacted his wall I got a point, if the beach ball touched my wall he got a point. The beach ball was motivated by the wiffle ball bats. Bats which we held securely in our hands and which were swung with great control and efficiency.
"Held securely", "great control"... any reasonable person should understand the complete care we were taking right? Well mom and dad didn't understand. They forbade us to play this game - when they found out what we were doing. They just didn't understand.
We took this prohibition to be more like guidelines that meant that we weren't to play this when they were present or might find out that we were playing it.
One afternoon we were playing "the game" when my brother's bat swung in a high graceful arc and smashed through one of the two clear glass globe light fixtures which illuminated the room when the sun wasn't shining.
We cleaned up the pieces and shards. And then in true fool sharpening fool logic we decided that since we had already broken something we might as well continue playing and get all the enjoyment we could, because once dad came home dire consequences would happed and "the game' would truly be all over.
So, we continued playing. And a second graceful arc and the second light were obliterated and cleaned up. And then at the height of excitement the bat left my brother's secure grip at a high rate of speed and when through one of the louvred window panes.
I guess we better call dad.
Dad: "So you were playing the game that we expressly forbid you to play?"
Dad: "And you broke a light?"
Dad: "Then you continued playing until you broke another light"
Dad: "Then you continued playing until you broke a window?"
Brother: "That about sums it up"
My brother puts his hand over the mouthpiece and says with a frantic loud whisper, "He's not saying anything!"
Needless to say dad did come home, consequences were meeted out, and we never played "the game" again. But it is a vivid living example to myself of how sin and foolishness is perpetuated:
1. We don't take God at His word (Thou shalt not, truely means don't -ever- do it)
2. We practice deception (if people don't see me do it, it is Ok to do it)
3. Instead of confessing our sin immediately, we just keep doing it
20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm
11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Grand Junction was so named because it is situated at the joining of the Grand (now called the Colorado) and the Gunnison Rivers on what is known as the Western Slope of Colorado.
The area is dominated by the Grand Mesa directly to the East which rises 5500 feet over Grand Junction itself and is the largest flat topped mountain in the world.
The valley itself is a "high desert" about 4500 feet above sea level. The area is home to many orchards.
Begin orchestral music...
Our family bought a house on eight acres in the Orchard Mesa region of the valley with a beautiful view of the Grand Mesa. An orchard occupied around half the property and the vast majority of that orchard was peaches.
I love peaches. And peaches ripe off the tree taste like nothing else on earth. The fresh sweet juiciness contained in a peach, just plucked golden and red off the tree, is something that refreshes my soul...
Orchestral music now interrupted by the sound of a detonating bomb...
Our move to the orchard wasn't about the taste of a peach, the high desert air or a beautiful mountain view.
My father bought an orchard to teach his boys how to work.
And an orchard requires (a lot of) work, which was my dad's whole insidious idea. So to paraphrase Dr. Seuss: someone, Someone was going to have to do all this work, so my dad picked out two someones: my brother and me.
The work began slowly while school was in session. We would have evening and weekend tasks in the orchard: helping to fertilize, prune, and plant and general cleanup.
But when summer came around the Work part of the tasks truly kicked into gear.
And by far the worst orchard Work was thinning peaches.
Peach trees often produce clusters of peaches all touching each other. Left to mature, those clusters will form conjoined small unappetizing bumpy masses of a fruit like substance covered in peach fuzz. In order to get large, round, fully fleshed peaches the extra peaches on the tree must be removed so that there is space for each remaining peach to grow individually (no clusters.) The extraneous peach removal process is called thinning.
There are several thinning methods that are be utilized on fruit trees in general. Among these are spraying the budding trees with a chemical that reduces the number of flowers that form and mechanical thinning in which trees are shook or otherwise manipulated by mechanized contraptions to get rid of the extra fruit. Peaches must be, for the most part, hand thinned. Somebody going tree by tree by tree, branch by branch, limb by limb, peach by peach and individually, with your hands, picking off the clustered peaches.
Hand thinning is a lot of work. Especially when you aren't talking about one or two trees, but hundreds.
When the peaches have grown to roughly the size of a ripe peach's pit, it is thinning time! This also just happens to correspond to the time when the temperature in Grand Junction begins to reflect its desert habitat. And it is All desert.
My brother and I had clearly laid out instructions during the summer. Before dad came home from work (around five in the afternoon) we had to have finished all our chores. Not very complicated, pretty simple, not much left to interpret. During peach thinning "season" our main task was to thin two rows of peach trees a day (something like forty trees.)
Depending on our industriousness this task would take somewhere between two to three hours (although my memory is a little fuzzy on that fact). The mornings are also much cooler then mid afternoon, and so if we got right to it we should be done by about ten to eleven in the morning before the heat of the day was upon us.
We rarely -if ever- got right to it.
We played. We played ping pong, we played basketball, we drove the tractor around, we explored the dirt cliffs overlooking the Colorado River, we built tree houses, you name it - we did it, all before about 2 to 3 in the afternoon. At that point an adrenaline alarm would go off in our bodies. We would look at each other and realize that "Dad was coming home" and rush out to the orchard. We would frantically thin peaches, in the heat of the day (peach fuzz sticks amazingly well to sweaty boys), and typically get done just before dad returned home.
There was one "helper" in our thinning. It was a long pole topped with a heavy rubber half hooked knob. It was used to (gently) tap peach clusters that were out of reach. Done with some skill and patience one could properly thin those out of reach clusters about half the time. The other half would result in knocking all the clustered peaches off the tree. So the knocker was only to be used for "out of reach" clusters.
One summer's day, around noon we received a call from friends with an offer to go water skiing that afternoon.
Water skiing, hmmm, it's hot, really hot, playing in the water, water skiing, hmmm.
One catch: they would need to pick us up in a half hour. We hadn't done any thinning yet. We looked at one another and the industrial engines of our minds began to work. We said, "yes" to the skiing invitation and then rushed to the back shed.
Taking the rubber knocking pole as inspiration, we decided that we would use our own mechanical contraptions to compress our thinning time from two to three hours down to twenty minutes. We deconstructed an old bicycle pump and from it got the T handle with its attached metal piston rod (a Double Ended Knocker!) and got a nine iron out of the golf bag.
We ran to the orchard and thinned those trees in twenty minutes. We finished on time, caught our ride to the lake, and spent the afternoon in watery bliss, absolutely amazed with our inventive genius.
When we came home, dad was standing in the doorway. . . Dad never stood in the doorway.
We looked at each other in great puzzlement. "What do you think is going on with dad?" "I dunno." Dad looked at us in supremely evident fatherly frustration and said, "Gentlemen, let's go out to the orchard."
He took us to the rows of peaches we had just "thinned" that day. Summer evening sunlight softly illuminated utter devastation. We had industriously defoliated all of our assigned rows of peach trees. Broken branches either lay on the ground or hung still half attached to the trees. Nearly all the peaches and over half the leaves from those trees had be removed. Half peaches were clinging to the trees (miss-hits from the nine iron). Dad was speechless for a time (and didn't really need any speeches, our day's work spoke too well for itself).
We were marched back to the house and consequences were measured out that I don't even remember. But I will always remember our astonishment at the damage we had done, the disappointment in my father's countenance, and the realization that actions have consequences.
Proverbs 12 (NIV):
15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
Proverbs 17 (NIV):
21 To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool.
That day my brother and I were fools, and there was no joy in my father.