Sunday, October 26, 2008


I grew up not camping.

Our family would occasionally go to a mountain or lake-side cabin - genuine "cabin" cabins, not mansions on the mountain-side "cabins." But we didn't go to a place, set up a tent and camp overnight. We did hike numerous trails in the Colorado mountains: Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Grand Mesa, and many other random places in between. But they were day hikes, frequently bringing a fishing pole along, and ultimately driving home to sleep in your own bed at night.

As my brother and I grew into our high school and college years we started backpacking. In particular we would trudge ourselves (and as many people as we could convince) each year over Pawnee Pass usually around the first part of July. We would pack all the necessities required for a couple days and nights in the mountains of Colorado on our backs and head for Pawnee Lake - on the other side of the pass.

Now the Pawnee Pass/Lake hike is not particularly long (only about 6ish miles.) And the first two and a half miles are spent walking up a level, beautiful valley by Long Lake and ending at picturesque Lake Isabelle. But after that point the trail proceeds to gain and then loose over two thousand feet in altitude in just over three and a half miles. The trail head begins at just under 10,500 feet, Pawnee Pass tops out at over 12,500 feet and Pawnee Lake is right under 10,900 feet. So after Lake Isabelle, almost a half a mile in altitude is gained in the two miles it takes to reach the high point of the pass, and then over the next mile down to the lake almost all of that altitude is given back again.

The pass itself is a broad half mile long saddle above timberline. Boulders are sporadically strewn about a tundra grass meadow and rocky mountain peaks are pushing toward the heavens as far as the eye can see. It is gorgeous. The first time on the hike is the most interesting. When approaching the Pawnee Lake side of the pass you keep looking for the trail down, and all that is seen is the 'horizon' of the edge of the saddle. Only in the final few feet does it become apparent that the path down to the lake is a dwindling array of switchbacks carved into a tumbled down rock slide/boulder field/cliff face - 1500 feet almost straight down. And way down at the bottom is Pawnee Lake.

Some noteable items from our trips:

Friend Joining Us: "What's that thing you are putting on the bottom of your back packs?"

My Brother: "That would be a sleeping bag"

Friend: "Oh..."

  • I talk non-stop when terrified. My brother doesn't speak when terrified. In my younger days I didn't talk, and my brother couldn't stop. So this was a very interesting phenomena. It became especially apparent during midnight alpine thunderstorms. With lightning flashing so close and loud that the light was blinding in spite of pillows, sleeping bags and hands over our eyes.
  • I can to do the portion of the hike from Lake Isabelle to Pawnee Lake with severe stomach flu (I cannot, however, talk at the same time.)
  • Mountain peaks at dawn, mirrored in a lake still as glass, are breathtaking.
  • Cutthroat trout in a mountain lake are either hungry or they're not.
  • Get over the pass going home before noon. Do not get caught in a thunderstorm at 12,500 feet with a metal frame pack on your back, being the tallest thing within miles.
  • A campfire, however small, is a wonderful source of contentment.
  • It can snow, significantly in the mountains in July.
  • Remember that nylon is very slippery, to wit: If a nylon tent is pitched on a slope. Gravity will inexorably drag a person in a nylon sleeping bag down into a bunched mass at the bottom of the tent. And, after inchworming back up into proper sleeping position, gravity will cause a repeat performance - again and again, over and over, over the course of a night. As a further note: if inchworm's brother is in an identical nylon sleeping bag and hasn't moved the entire night, inchworm will suspiciously/angerly reach under the gravity defying sleeping bag to reveal the sticky foam sleeping pad that is keeping the brother in a blissful stationary sleeping position. Inchworm will then demand, "Turn that thing sideways!" Afterwhich both sleepers stay glued into prime sleeping position to finish out the night.
Anyway, backpacking was all I really ever knew about "camping." So when my wife (when we had three children ages 5, 3 and 2) said "let's go camping." I looked at her in bewilderment. She looked at me and said, "wait, we need to re-define 'camping'."

But that's for another post.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Weekend in the Life of our Back Yard

We got the cover on the pool. This process is not nearly so exicting as getting the cover off. It takes about a half hour (with numerous helpers). All that's really required is to make sure the pool's not currently green and to dump a bottle of algecide in the pool before applying the cover. And I am not sure what's being really implied in the statement, "wow daddy, the pool is really blue."

We did some yard clean-up. I brush hogged the more unkept edge portions of my back yard (i.e. I ran an electric weed trimmer with the help of two 100 foot extension cords.) It's amazing how much ground you can cover with that arrangement. (that could be a little more than 125,000 square feet if you think about it too much. I didn't think about it that much, and didn't cover that much ground either).

In the process of taming my yard near our more well behaved garden, I bashed my head on some low hanging ornamental pear tree limbs. This precipitated a trip to the garage for a pair of large pruning shears and a bow saw. This immediately resulted in a loud and ringing "un-supervised" daddy emergency warning signal to the rest of my family. The close proximity of tree modifying tools and "daddy" tends to result in massive family centered branch removal projects that highly involve my children.

I was greeted (not several minutes later) with a tall glass of water from my nine year old daughter asking, "daddy, mom wants to know if you're being supervised well enough?" A little while after that, this same daughter said, "mommy, I'll finish (name of some bonus chore here), you go out and supervise daddy."

All told I did have about a 15 minute (times 4 children and 2 parents) heap (or is that a passel?) of branches to haul to the burn pile. But, in comparisson to some of my previous Arbor day modification projects, this was a small bundle of twigs. I guess the supervision must have worked to a degree.

I resumed my trimming, got to our south facing fence and promptly ran into an old scrub stump. It was an interesting amalgamation of sucker Maple and Mimosa. Not terribly big on the top, but the same could be said for an iceberg. An hour or two later with the help of a pick axe, a maul, a shovel and a saws-all, I won.

In the process everyone else got to rake and haul leaves and other random bits and chunks of yard debris. Assorted children probably worked the hardest on their haggling skills - trying to get mom to define how much yard work consistituted being "done."

The yard looks much nicer, the pool looks more covered, my back is much sorer and my children are done with yardwork - for last weekend.

Can't wait for camping this weekend.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Musical Truth

A couple months ago I received a call from my mom wanting to know what I thought about a Karaoke singing game that she was thinking about giving as a present to two of my children (who happen to have birthdays about a month apart.) My parents are ardent singers who have a passion for singing. They like singing well, singing harmony, singing with family, singing with friends - they just truly enjoy singing.

It is one of their great sadness's to see the art of singing just not cultivated these days as it was when they were growing up.

My family has been not that different than our American culture in that way. We sing, at church. We sporadically sing at home - having small children "Only a boy named David," "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock," "Six little Ducks that I Once Knew," "Amazing Grace." But we certainly haven't worked on singing and don't really have a particular talent with it. We're not tone deaf, but people certainly don't flock around when they hear us sing either.

My wife and children are also occasionally blessed with my "renditions" of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" or other such highly classical pieces. Especially when I add my own words to them:

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world,
Pink and Purple, Blue and Green they are precious as you've seen
Jesus loves the little children of the world
Periwinkle, Chartreuse too, and a pretty Mid-night Blue
Khaki, Tan and Olive Green, Camo so you can't be seen
Jesus loves the little children of the world

So, a karaoke game? Well... Okay, I am sure the kids would at least somewhat enjoy it.

But the game arrived and was dutifully given on the first of the birthdays. It came with a microphone, and with somewhat less than usual "setting up" on the computer, various hymns, choruses and other more contemporary Christian songs were emerging from the computer's speakers with the words scrolling along in time for a person to sing with.

But then we noticed how the game worked. The words came along on a musical staff, and the computer would show you a little lighted cursor, on that same staff indicating what note you were singing. If the cursor glowed or sparkled orange you were on pitch. When you were on pitch you had a numbered point tally that accumulated. If you were "off " the cursor was blue - and no points accrued. You could watch the cursor raise or lower with your pitch. As the words scrolled across the screen they would be on the note that they were to be sung. If you sang the word with that note the cursor would be bright orange. If you were particularly on pitch the cursor would kind of explode orange and distinctly sparkle. If you didn't, the cursor just stayed blue.

It was humorous to watch myself (and my family) as we initially sang. We would certainly "hit" some of the notes. And we would certainly "miss" many as well. It was particularly humbling when I saw how poorly I "held" my notes. I would be initially "On," sparkling orange and happy and then my voice would crack, wobble, warble or otherwise go off key. And I would watch as the "dumb" cursor displayed my inept singing in patent, flat "blue."

Before you sang a song, the game would even tell you what kind of a score you needed to get Silver, Gold or Platinum distribution.

My first songs were good enough to be "distributed to friends and family."

After our first couple of songs my wife and I "retired" downstairs while the girls kept singing and warbling.

In a few minutes one of my daughters came down mad. Not out of control, but her internal vegetable plate was very well steamed. "I don't like the scores the game gives me."

"Why not?" I asked. She said, "It's not scoring me high enough."

And I laughed. I told her that if you sing well, you will score well. But none of us sings well at this point. I said, "we're all terrible right now."

She backed up and was almost stunned: this child isn't used to being "bad" at anything. "We are?" "Yes," I said. And I explained that with practice and if she and her sister's worked at keeping the note cursor "orange" they would score well. If they didn't, they would score like daddy had.

With a few broccoli knocked off her plate, and with some serious questioning in her face, she trudged up stairs to bed. But over the next few days and weeks she and her sisters worked on their singing, with the help of a little orange musical cursor.

And lo and behold, she and her sisters started to get Silver and Gold and Platinum on their songs.

It was amazing, when you truly sang on pitch, you scored well. When you didn't - you didn't.

It didn't matter how well you thought you sang. It didn't matter how well someone else thought you sang. It only mattered if you were actually on pitch (at the right time.)

The game was and is about musical truth. And that truth wasn't relative, it was absolute.

There's something to be learned from that little musical game. There's what I think, there's what you think. There what I say, there's what you say. There's what I do, there's what you do. But what counts is what is true. If anything I think, say or do isn't true, it is of no worth. If anything you think, say or do isn't true, it is of no worth.

There is Someone who knows what that the true pitch is, and how well we each are singing the song.

And He is also the solution for all our wrong notes.