Saturday, December 12, 2015

The power of touch.....

I'm a firm believer in the power of touch. Sometimes, a genuine touch can be effective in communicating support to a coworker or friend. Handshakes fall into this category as well. But for me, it's the gentle and affectionate touches that - in their silence - speak volumes. 

I'm affectionate with my kids. I am that way because my parents were not affectionate with me. Oh, sure, my mom would hug me occasionally, but that was it. My dad never hugged and never expressed his affection. During my awkward dating years I probably ended budding relationships sooner than I would have liked because I was affectionate with the women I was dating. And even in my marriage, my wife has never been an affectionate person, and when she was, it was a surprise.

Which is the reason I'm affectionate with my kids. With Colin, who's 15 now, that affection manifests itself in frequent fist-bumps, and the occasional boyish "I'm gonna hug you, but in a weird way, 'cause a REAL hug would not be cool."  Audrey, though, is a hugger. She likes to cuddle with me on the couch if we're watching something on TV, and she is always ready to give me a big hug when I get home. With her, too, I like to simply place my hand on the top of her head, gently, as a gesture of my love for her. Sometimes my affection with her does take a form of "cool", like a fist bump. But with both kids, the gesture means the same: I love them, and I know they love me.

Oh, sure. This will all change. When Colin's a grown man, the hugs might actually increase, because he might see the value in the gesture. And I'm sure that on Audrey's wedding day, she'll be holding onto me tightly as I walk her down the aisle. And I hope, for both of them, that they find partners in life who understand that simple power of touch.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

For what it's worth....

I usually try to avoid very hot button issues in my blog posts. But after yesterday's mass shooting in San Bernardino - less than an hour's drive from here (with no traffic), I felt I needed to say something. And it will be unpopular. It won't be offensive, but it might ruffle some feathers.

First, to all of you naive people who say we must "pray for the victims", or "pray for San Bernardino". Just stop it. Prayer is not going to solve this.  As today's New York Daily News published on it's cover "GOD ISN'T FIXING THIS"

To those who think more regulation is going to help, IT'S NOT! No matter what our state or federal lawmakers do or DO NOT do, it won't stop the illegal sale of assault rifles and handguns. 

And that's really the problem. Take a look at Prohibition, meant to eliminate alcohol consumption, which drove alcohol into seedy back rooms and ritzy parties, and gave birth to the legendary Capone empire. It didn't work. Because no matter what we do, there will be those without any ethics or sense of morality that will get and sell those weapons. And if someone wants one bad enough, they probably can get it. Let's face it, there will never be a way to stop this. I'm  not being fatalistic - I'm just seeing how history has been and I'm aware of the political nature of the times. Plus, I'm pragmatic. 

But to me, there is something bigger here that we are truly avoiding, and that's the reason behind these mass shootings. Whether the recent one in Colorado Springs, or Sandy Hook Elementary, or even Columbine High School, there is a systemic problem born of anger, aggression, hatred - things that we cannot control with legislation. We see it on all the social media and web news sites, and even though we don't have cable, I'm sure that the networks and cable news outlets are covering and spinning this, often to sway their viewership. We  have become angry. We have become less caring about our fellow travelers. We are thinking more of ourselves and much less of others. And rather than have a healthy disagreement that uses arguments (not fighting) to make a point, we totally disregard other people's opinions, showing a great deal of disrespect in not engaging intelligently. 

So, what CAN be done? Seriously, I don't have an answer. That was not the purpose of this post. And if the New York Daily News stated that God isn't fixing it, who can?  

We can. 

How do we start? Let's start by showing some respect for other viewpoints and ideologies, rather than dismissing them so easily. Let's not spread rumors or even truths that can lead to a complete breakdown of trust, or even sanity. Let's wait, take a deep breath, get facts (not rhetoric or rumors), and try to understand the other person before we dismiss them so quickly. These are just some ideas, and they are actually much more difficult to implement than legislation. 

But I know I'm going start with my little corner of the world.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A different take on the Paris tragedy....

This entire weekend, ever since the horrendous attacks in Paris that killed over 120 innocent lives, I've seen countless Facebook friends alter their profile photo to indicate their support for France. I've seen images of the Eiffel Tower, and images of various building worldwide, lit in a way to mimic the French flag. And I've seen many words of support and sorrow.

But I've also seen ugliness. I've seen political statements from the right and the left, making commentary about how specific politicians in our country are indirectly responsible for the attacks. That is utter nonsense. I've also seen a few who, obviously in their anger (even though they truly were not affected by it) advocate an immediate and swift military response. This disturbs me. 

Why? Because those who call themselves Christian seem to forget that Christ himself called for us to respond differently when it comes to violence. Matthew 5:43-45 is very clear: 

"You have heard it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy'. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

Wow! That's powerful stuff. 

And I realized today in church that Jesus not only calls on us to pray for those affected by these events, but for those who perpetrated the acts. That's tough. Sure, we want to go in and exact revenge. We would maybe even love to nuke 'em. But that's not the response that we, as Christians, are called to do. We are called to be Christ in this world, and Christ himself commands us to love and pray for our enemies. Is it easy to do? NO! But it's what we're called to do.

Yes, I know that there are thousands of people, both actual victims, relatives of victims, and even those who lived in the area, and they are severely traumatized by what happened. I am not so naive as to flippantly suggest that the answer is as easy as "pray for your enemies".

Yet, maybe the answer is just THAT easy. We are to pray for the terrorists, not just for Paris or the victims. Will those terrorists find the true Love of God if we do? Probably not. And maybe Jesus' words weren't meant to heal the hearts of the ones who did these acts. Maybe, in the act of praying for those men and women who committed these deeds, we can find comfort and peace in ourselves. 

Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, November 14, 2015

For my friend Catherine

Wow, Catherine. I was and am listening, but felt inadequate to respond. I read your post Friday morning, and thought of it all day and into this morning. As you can see on Facebook, I have friends who, even though they don't know you at all, feel compassion and empathy towards you and what you are going through. My words may offer little solace or comfort. Thankfully, though, you and I share a core trust in a Truth, and you are leaning on that now. 

Yet, sometimes, even faith in God can seem inadequate. You want someone PHYSICALLY there - a family member - that can hold your hand, or hold you, and simply - due to that life-long association - provide comfort that goes deep within. It's like the favorite blanket or sweater that you've had since you were young, or in college. It offers something that is intangible, but it is not "alive". However, it represents something that you retreat to when you are cold, or hurt. And it doesn't ask questions or give unsolicited advice. 

While I cannot relate to or even fully understand the pain of not having family, I don't believe you are alone as you feel you are. That may sound condescending, and I don't wish to trivialize what you're feeling. It's real. It hurts. Being alone can be so painful. But it also can be liberating. Just as you quoted 2 Corinthians 12:9, own that verse now. Give yourself time to mourn the loss and losses you've experienced, and maybe, that's best done alone. That is not to be considered an act of weakness. I believe it takes a stronger person to weep, than it does for a weaker person, because the weaker person does not wish to appear weak. A strong person weeps, and understands that in the act of weeping, the pain is voiced and subsequently released, and life moves on. Take ownership of that aloneness, confide in your friends, and weep. 

I think our former pastor John Todd would encourage you to do just that. But he would not advocate retreating into yourself. On the contrary, armed with that Truth that you carry, he'd advocate facing it, and eventually triumphing over it. And, yes, you have friends which can never be truly family, because, as you said, they have their families. But don't discount the value of those friendships. You DO have people to lean on. Maybe not in the literal sense. But they are there. 

I will keep you in my thoughts. 


Saturday, October 24, 2015

A grief observed....

With sincerest apologies to the estate of C.S. Lewis, I am taking quite a liberty using the title of one of his books for a blog post. But last night, I did observe grief - and it was loving, tender, and heartbreaking.

Oni with Audrey, taken in 2013.
We have been blessed for over 5 years to have guinea pigs as part of our family, primarily as pets for the kids, but they are great pets for adults, too. There have been times when Lorrie will say to one of the kids "get me a piggie", and that kid will run and get her one of the pigs that we have. Guinea pigs are very cuddly and affectionate, and are social within their own circle of other piggies. They can also be bullies or domineering towards other piggies. You have to keep male piggies (boars) separated from other males unless they are, well, uh, um....fixed. Piggies are curious, responsive, and purr when petted in a way they like. And the response of the kids to the piggies was wonderful: Troy and Oni were given their own Facebook pages, and the piggies assisted them with homework, became reading buddies, or just lap companions while watching TV. 

Sadly, we lost Troy - one of those first ones we adopted - after 2 years, and even though I wasn't home, Lorrie documented the kid's reaction as Troy slowly slipped away. Then we lost a second piggie, Hank, who went very suddenly. Again, I was not home for that passing. But last night, we lost Troy's original companion, Oni. And this time, I was home. 

In the last few weeks, Oni had been acting like she was nearing the end. We figured out last night that she was 5 years old, and Guinea Pigs have a life expectancy of 4-6 years. She'd been losing chunks of fur for during these last few weeks. But last night, Colin came out to tell me that Oni was acting strange, that she couldn't move well, that she was leaning off to one side. Soon, Audrey brought Oni out, and I could see that she was not doing well at all. We had lost Troy to strokes (Guinea Pigs get strokes and can get pneumonia), and it appeared that this was happening with Oni as well. Her once luxuriant and soft fur was gone, and she was struggling to breathe and to stay up. Audrey lovingly held Oni, tucked Oni under her chin, where Oni tried valiantly to give Audrey what we called "piggie kisses", but Oni couldn't. Then, Oni started to twitch, and Lorrie got a towel and wrapped Oni up in it as a mother wraps a newborn in a blanket. Audrey, who had been crying the whole time, did not wish to hold Oni any longer, and the sweet and loving piggie slowly slipped away, being held and petted by Lorrie. 

As a father, it was tough for me to know how much to console Audrey. But I soon found that I didn't need to be the one who made that decision: Audrey made it for me. She hugged me, and later on cuddled with me as I watched a bit of Netflix. And even though the tears of grief were real for Audrey, she recovered quicker than I expected, and I believe she already has said we need to adopt a new companion for Latte, Oni's cagemate. 

Now, granted, losing a pet is tough, and it cannot in any way compare to losing a spouse, close relative and certainly not a child. But to see how Audrey handled this situation made me realize that she's grown up now - she's 14 - and she's able to understand that life ends, as much as we wish it didn't. She loved Oni very much (she loves ALL animals) and has a empathy with them that makes me realize that Audrey has a good soul. Perhaps that is a result of loving these small creatures of God as much as she does, and understanding how fragile they truly are.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The value of stillness.....

Be Still, and Know that I am God. 
                                               Psalm 46:10

For some reason, during pastor's sermon today, my mind went off on a tangent. Thankfully, his sermons usually hold my attention. But today, I allowed myself to wander. And I thought of something that has deep meaning for me: the value of being still, and allowing God to surround you.

I can think of at least three times in my life where I have experienced the very presence of God. It was something both elusive yet very real. Something concrete but also something fleeting. One of those times was as I was singing with the Pacific Chorale, and in the silence after the final chord of a piece, I was overwhelmed with a Presence that I can only say was God. Another time was when I was standing in a grove of turning aspen trees in northern Arizona. The trees themselves were arranged with an opening, and their branches reaching out as if I was in a chapel. There was only a light breeze and no noise, and I was absolutely alone. In the quiet of that chapel of golden leaves, I dropped to my knees in reverence, knowing I was in His presence. 

Sometimes, I think we as Christians feel the need to "feel" something as a means to validate that God is real to us. I am not fond of contemporary worship. While I agree that it reaches some that would not be comfortable in a more traditional or liturgical environment, I find that its focus is on songs and an emotional response, with a great deal of physical involvement to be something that rings hollow to me. Yes, there are those that would say traditional or liturgical worship is too boring or repetitive, and I would allow them to have that viewpoint. But mine is different. For to me, and maybe many others, you don't exclusively "experience" God in a contemporary service. You don't exclusively experience God in traditional liturgy as well.

Sometimes you experience Him in the silence and stillness. Which is where my mind went to this morning. Particularly, it went to a place that is etched in my soul as another location where God surrounded me.

It was a small room - the sacristy - of the Mission La Purisima Concepcion, one of the famed California missions, and the one that is the most fully restored. When you go to La Purisima, you are surrounded by open fields and low hills. You feel that you have stepped back in time to when the mission was active and alive. Go on a weekday and the place can be empty. And I did go, many years ago, and took my camera into that small room.

It was a small room, in relation to many of the other rooms in the mission. It was just big enough for a bench, and that was it. But as I walked in there, I noticed how the light shown through a single window, and also through the door, which was in direct line with the series of doors that led outside, acting like a spotlight on the solitary bench. The light made it magical. And as I took a couple of images with my big 4x5" camera, I felt something. I felt God was there. My breathing changed. A sense of peace came over me, and a sense of immeasurable Love. I stopped what I was doing and just stood there. Even the bench seemed Holy to me - I didn't want to sit on it. I stood there for moments or minutes - I cannot remember. But to this day, my mind often escapes to that place, for it is yet another place I felt God in. 

The Psalmist knew this as he wrote the passage "Be still, and know that I am God", and knew of the importance of stillness. And today, with the cacophony of noise and intrusion into our lives by work, our families, our commitments and our electronic devices, the need for stillness has never been greater. We need to find that time of stillness, when all we do - is listen.

Sacristy, Bench, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, copyright 2015, John Prothero
4x5" black and white negative, limited prints available 

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Something rediscovered.

Photo Credit: Orange County Register
I have rediscovered something these past few nights. The sheer joy of making music.

In returning to the Pacific Chorale - where I had sung for four brief but wonderful seasons - I have been deep in preparation and performance of the famous Beethoven 9th Symphony as part of the Pacific Symphony's opening week. And through three nights of rehearsals, and now 3 nights of performing, I have rediscovered a core truth of making music:

Make music that does not sacrifice musicality for perfection

One of my fellow Chorale members was commenting about the quality of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra compared to the ensembles "back east". And while I may concede that person's point to an extent (having once sung with the Boston Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Seiji Ozawa is an experience yet to be duplicated), I would not trade any highbrow east coast experience for what I've enjoyed and watched these last few nights. Why?  Because of Carl St. Clair, Artistic Director of the Pacific Symphony.

Photo Credit: Orange County Register
Carl strives for perfection. Rehearsals are meticulous and productive. They have to be. This is not a "full-time" orchestra, but one made up of musicians that teach locally, or work in the Hollywood or L.A. music industry, or maybe play with the Symphony as an avocation - just like I sing with the Pacific Chorale as something I enjoy and benefit from. But what Carl does that is so dynamic is that his rehearsals are less about the technicality of the music, but about the music MAKING. He focuses on the expressiveness of the line, the slight changes of tempo that create a sense of the music being alive. Carl is expressive as a conductor, using his face, hands, fingers, baton and his entire physical being to elicit from the players music - and they respond. Certainly, we as singers respond to Carl. There is a great deal of mutual respect and affection between the singers of the Chorale, and Carl. And it shows in how we perform for him. 

Because the Chorale itself is always striving for the same thing as Carl does: perfection, but not at the sacrifice of making music. And for me, the last few nights of singing and performing MUSIC have been so wonderful, and I am so happy to be in a place where I can do that again.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

So, what IS morality?

I saw something on the local newspaper's website that stopped me and made me think. Anaheim is hosting the California Republican Party Convention, and GOP Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee was there. I don't think I need to tell anyone who Huckabee is, or what his stance is on certain social issues. And I won't mince words in saying that there are many things he says that I object to. But he said something yesterday that I thought was interesting, and worth writing about. He spoke of the need for our country to have a moral code. Of course, my first inclination was that he was going to discuss sexual immorality, or abortion, or the issue of Kim Davis' refusal to grant marriage licenses. But he did not. But even the headline made me think about morality, and what defines it.

First of all, morality is a VERY subjective viewpoint. There are many who enjoy pornographic material, be it printed material, or digital and online material. And there are just as many who find that abhorrent, and wish it to be regulated (and to an extent, it has). The great court battle against Larry Flynt and his magazine "Hustler" was a landmark case in those who found the content of that magazine objectionable and highly pornographic, against the guaranteed 1st Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There are many things that we may agree upon that are immoral: a pedophilic individual who preys upon and commits heinous acts against children; an unscrupulous landlord who evicts a family who is only a month behind on rent; an individual who cuts people off in traffic and flips the bird when he or she is honked at by the driver they cut off. Yes, we're surrounded by immorality. 

But as I read the headline on the newspaper's website that Huckabee was calling for a return to a "moral code", I was deeply concerned that he was going to suggest legislating morality even further. The problem with that idea is that what one person sees as immoral, another may not. I have given you examples above of things that I find immoral, and there are many more things that I may find NOT immoral that some of my Evangelical Christian friends might. But as I thought about this topic of morality, and the possibility of more legislation meant to create a new "Moral Code", I thought about the words of Jesus, spoken so well in Matthew 15. To set that story, Jesus and his followers are approached by the religious leaders, accusing Jesus of allowing his followers to break a tradition of not washing their hands before eating (and yes, that is a good hygienic thing to do). Instead, the turns the tables on the leadership, accusing them of breaking commandments themselves, and then Jesus goes further in verse 11:

" is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." NIV

Jesus is then questioned by Peter as to the meaning of what he'd just said, and Jesus, dealing with the slow-witted Peter explains it further in verses 17-20a:

"Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile a man" NIV

So, even Jesus was telling us that morality is not subjected or regulated, but it it what WE as individuals see and determine. You cannot legislate morality. So how do you get us back to having, as Huckabee put it, a "Moral Code".

You follow the words and actions of Jesus - and you TRULY follow them. 

This country is about to have a visit from Pope Francis, who is becoming very popular with anti-establishment people of all kinds, including liberal and atheist pundits, because Francis isn't preaching "you must not do this, or you must not do that." Francis preaches about our responsibility to be God in this world: to feed the poor, to visit those in prison, to take in the homeless, and more currently, refugees. We are to be the hands, eyes, ears and heart of God to our fellow man. And I truly believe that once we begin to be the hands of God among the least fortunate, through that act of love, we will find that moral code - that moral center. 

Is it easy? NO! Can we start now? YES! Maybe you're not one to bring a homeless person into your own house, but there are things you can do to help those that need help:
  • Give money or food to a local food bank, or volunteer time there
  • Find organizations in your community that help the homeless, and send money or again, volunteer
  • Become active in your church or a civic organization (like the Elks or other organizations) that does philanthropic work
  • Help fund a prison ministry event
  • Give used or even new clothing to various charities that will dole that out. ASK what they need, because sometimes they need basics like socks, underwear, and toiletries
These are just a few suggestions, and I'm sure you can think of more. But, you may ask, how does THIS create that "Moral Code" that Huckabee was talking about. 

It starts creating in YOU a personal Moral Code of of being a better human. And THAT'S how we create a Moral Code in this country - by being God among us all.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fall is coming....

Yes. Fall IS coming. Granted, it doesn't officially start for a couple of more weeks. But for me, as a photographer, I can see it coming. Because to me, the fall light is magical.

Early in the morning the light in itself is "cooler". It's at a slightly different angle than it has been during the summer. Sometimes the air is just a bit cool, or crisp, and that triggers in me the deep love of fall, the colors, the sensations, and all that goes with it. Yes, I love the fall. 

I always found that the best light for photography was during the early part of October. That's when my dad and I, and then me by myself, would take our photography trips. By late October, most of the aspen trees had shed their leaves, and everything become cold and monotone. And as I drive around these days I find myself awakening to the possibility of what the light will hold in store next month.

I do plan to do some photographic work next month, only because I feel I must. I may try to go up the 395 along the eastern Sierra, but I may just see what I can find locally. But whatever I do, light will be a part of it.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What to write about....

Oy! Sometimes, I sit at my computer, thinking "I need to write." Writing has always been a form of self-expression for me. It has allowed me to put down my thoughts in a cohesive manner. It has allowed me to share stories about my life, the people in it, and the places and events that have shaped me. And sometimes, I just "sit" at my computer, staring at the monitor, WANTING to write, but I cannot think of something to say. 

Sometimes, what I want to say I filter out. Perhaps I am going through something intensely personal, but I don't wish to hang out my dirty laundry, so I keep a private journal for that type of writing. I do like to share stories about my dad, a man with whom I had a unique relationship with, and who I miss a great deal. I write about my mom, who is now 91, with dementia, a feeble and faded shell of the loving woman I knew as I grew up. I write about my passions - music and photography. I am so pleased that I am back in the Pacific Chorale, the professional choral group I sang in for a few brief seasons. I hope to remain in it now until I can no longer sing. In fact, as I write this blog, I have the orchestral score for the Beethoven 9th Symphony open on my desk. The Chorale sings this in October, and I'm working on the notes and the German pronunciation. As for my photography, I am thinking of taking a short 3-day trip in October, after the Beethoven concert cycle (which consists of 3 rehearsals and 4 concerts, all in a 7-day span), and go up the 395 along the eastern Sierra, just to do some photography and fishing. I'm planning on buying my wife's Canon 7D and just shooting, and taking along a fishing pole just to relax for a few days.

But there is something I've been thinking of writing about: a short story, based roughly on the trip that we took as a family back in 1971 (or 1972), when we went all the way to Minnesota. I was thinking of treating it as a story about dads and sons, basing the characters on my dad, my brothers and I. I wasn't part of the entire trip, but my mom and I did join my dad and brothers for most of it. I thought that could make not only a good exercise in story telling, but maybe even a good story. 

Fall is coming - and not too soon for me. Granted, here in southern California, our warmest days are approaching. This week we're supposed to be in the mid-90's by week's end. I'm not looking forward to that. October and November tend to be when we have the Santa Ana winds kick in, making the days hot, and the air dusty. Not looking forward to that, either. But there is promise of a strong El Nino coming, which could bring a wet winter. And I AM looking forward to that! Not driving in it, but definitely the desperately-needed water!

Life for me seems to be in an ever-changing yet stable mode these days. I look back at the last nearly 2 years, and I'm surprised I am still in a state of calm. I've had massive life changes and I've taken opportunities and risks that I have never taken before. To me, I keep moving ahead, taking those opportunities as they present themselves, and enjoying life as it presents itself to me. 

There, I wrote something after all......

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who touched me?

Sometimes, hearing one of the stories from the Gospels allows me to picture it vividly in my head. It becomes a movie or YouTube video for me, complete with dialog, characters, and plot. One of my favorites, which was recently read one Sunday in our church, is from the brief and succinct Gospel of Mark, chapter 5. It is the well known story of Jairus' daughter. You know it. Someone is sent to Jesus from Jairus' house, asking for Jesus to come and heal the daughter, and along the way, a woman touches Jesus' garments and is instantly healed.

To me, this is a story of daughters: the story about the healing of Jairus' daughter, which bookends the entire event. And the story of the daughter of God that reaches out for healing in the literal sense, and Jesus' response to her. As I sat in church that day, I began to think of the story fleshed out a bit more, with more dialog, more narrative than what is written in Mark's Gospel. So, allow me to take the well-known story, and retell it as if I was writing it....

Jesus, having crossed the lake in a small boat, had barely stepped out when the crowds, knowing who he was, descended upon him. As word spread through the village that the great healer and teacher was there, people dropped their chores and ran to the lakeside. After all, how often do you see a living prophet and healer? And they drew in so close to him, that he could barely move.

Peter being, well, Peter, started to push people away, acting like a bodyguard to allow Jesus to go through. Soon, he was confronted by someone dressed in fine silk and linen, obviously someone of great stature and importance.

"Please, PLEASE! Let me through! I must see The Teacher!" the man pleaded. Peter gave way, and the man lurched towards Jesus, through the pressing crowd. He stumbled, but allowed that stumble to put him in a place of humility before someone he thought could help. 

Jesus stopped, and looking down, saw someone who was on his knees. As Jesus bent down to lift up the man, the man scrunched himself into a ball, to keep himself humble before this Healer. 

"I am Jairus, Rabbi. I....I have a daughter...she is my only daughter....".  Jairus began to cry, the cry of a man desperate to save someone he dearly loved. "She is dying, Rabbi. I believe that if you could, please, come to my house, and, and....simply...touch her...." he stumbled for words. "She'd...she'd be OK."  He looked up at Jesus, his eyes red and stained by tears and dust, and pleading in themselves. Jesus gently patted Jairus, smiled softly.

"I will come, " Jesus said with assurance. "Please," he continued, lifting Jairus up off the ground with his strong carpenter's hands. "Get up." He smiled at Jairus. "Lead on." 

Many in that crowd felt envious, even jealous, of Jairus. How come HE gets to get Jesus to heal his daughter? Oh, that's right. He's a "leader in the temple". The resentment in the crowd was mixed with curiosity, and they began to all trail along, some of them jeering Jairus for thinking only of himself. Others wondering if Jesus would get there in time (they knew the young girl had been sick and were sure that she'd die before Jesus would get there - serves Jairus right, they thought).

On the fringe of that crowd was a woman, who, even though she was young, looked old, because she'd been subject to bleeding for over 12 years. No doctor had been able to help her, and whatever money she had, she'd spent all on failed cures and remedies. She was considered "unclean" due to her condition, and as she worked her way through the crowd, she used that to her advantage. She wanted to see this Jesus whom she'd heard about. She wanted to see if he MIGHT be able to heal her. - even if all she did was just touch his clothes, it could help. It sure couldn't hurt! She fought valiantly to get close, coming up from behind the group, or coming in from the side. She stumbled, and as she did, she reached out and tugged at the fringe of Jesus' clothing. Her fall was ungraceful, and she landed face down in the dirt. 

But something happened in that millisecond from the touch to the landing. And as she took stock of her pain from the faceplant on the dusty road, she felt a surge, a tickling, that emanated from her fingertips, through her arm, down her torso, to her loins, and finally, out her toes. She felt it. And she knew it. She'd been healed. She tried to push herself up, but there were people literally standing on her hands. With a new vigor, she pushed herself up, and was about to turn and go back through the crowd, when she heard a voice, quiet, yet clear and piercing.

"Who...who touched me?" Jesus had a bewildered look on his face. For a man who claimed to be God, why would he need to ask this question. Jesus raised up his hand, and wagged his finger as he repeated his question. "Who touched me?  Someone...touched me."

Peter laughed, and shook his head. "You're kidding me?! You have all these people around you, and you're asking 'who touched me'?"  Peter, ever tactful, was laughing hard, but stopped when Jesus looked at him with a dead seriousness.

"Someone...." Jesus stated again, "touched me."  The crowd now fell silent, and looked around, wondering which one of them had touched Jesus.  Most of them had touched Jesus, either by body-to-body contact when they were shoved into him, or as they reached out and touched him over the shoulder of one of  Jesus' disciples. 

The woman, timid and afraid, stopped trying to escape. But now, a new boldness, triggered by the healing and her desperation to be healed, took over, and she turned and faced Jesus. When she spoke, though, it wasn't in a small voice, but a voice backed up by confidence and hope.

"I touched you," she said clearly, speaking each word slowly. The crowd parted to give Jesus an avenue to go and chastise this woman. One man was overheard to say, "Oh! This oughta be good!". But Jesus didn't charge her, or come at her with anger. He walked to her, smiling, extended his arms, and enveloped her in a massive bearhug. 

"Oh, my dear sweet daughter," he spoke as he placed his strong and weathered hands on each side of her face, wiping off her tears. In a voice filled with love, compassion, and sheer joy, Jesus said to her "Your faith has healed you. Go with peace, and be freed from your suffering."  Jesus kissed her on her forehead, smiled gently at her, looking deep into her eyes.  Pulling his hands from her face, he turned, and walked on......

Now, I could go on and tell the rest of the story - but I won't. Because, to me, the story is not about Jairus' daughter's healing. The Jairus' daugther story is the setting for the other story: the story of the woman. Seriously, if Jesus was God as he said he was, wouldn't he know who touched him? He full well did. This man of God who could identify demons within a person, who could see into someone's soul, who knew that the woman at the well had multiple husbands - he knew who touched him. So why did he ask?

Because Jesus knew that there was more healing to be done than just the bleeding. He knew that she needed to be healed completely, because the bleeding had led to other sicknesses that weren't visible: a lack of confidence; a fear to be in public; and the sickness of hopelessness. Jesus turned and asked because he knew he needed to engage that woman, to draw her our, and finally, to embolden her. To take away her fear. And she is bold. I don't think that woman timidly admitted to touching Jesus. She did it loudly. She'd been afraid for so long, and now, she was no longer afraid. She knew she'd been healed. That enabled her to take a stand for herself, something she'd never done before. 

For you see, Jesus heals completely. Not just the physical. He heals body, mind and soul. And on that day, 2000 years ago, his healing gift helped two daughters become whole. 

Soli deo gloria

Saturday, July 04, 2015

What does Independence Day mean to me?

Today is July 4th - Independence Day. Today, we as the United States of America celebrate our independence from Great Britain. But it's a day that, for me, has a deeper meaning and significance. 

First of all, I wish to be a Mr. Know-it-All, and correct the millions who say "It was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed."  Nice thought, but it was the day that the Continental Congress, made up of representatives of each of the 13 colonies, adopted the aforementioned Declaration. Now, we must also remember that it was not adopted unanimously: there were dissenters who felt that declaring independence from Great Britain was foolish, and that the war to gain independence from Great Britain - which had been going on for over a year - was doomed to fail (and the reports that Congress regularly received from George Washington in the field surely fed that belief). They didn't want to leave the protection of Great Britain, despite the way they were taxed unfairly (sound familiar) or had to house British troops in their homes (without compensation). They did not wish to make such a major split.

But when you think about it, there was another reason they were hesitant: the sheer MAGNITUDE of what those men were saying in that document, so eloquently written by Jefferson (and heavily eviscerated by Congress to remain as inoffensive to slave owners as possible - sound familiar?), not just calling for independence, but stating that man has rights endowed on him by the Creator - that's when you realize that it was truly a revolutionary document.

You must understand European history, and it's belief in the class system - of hierarchy. The belief in the masses that God favored kings and rulers, then principalities, then aristocracy, until finally you get to the peasants. If you wish to get a spin on this from the comic perspective of Monty Python, the British comedic troupe of the 60's, 70's and 80's, watch this clip from "Monty Python and The Holy Grail".  Europe controlled the then-known world. Great Britain and King George saw the American Colonies as distant people, and their land as a resource for British commerce. They were colonists, and, with some exceptions, rural people. They were subjects of The King, and therefore considered peasants or servants, to be used at the King's pleasure. 

But for men like Jefferson and Franklin, steeped in the Enlightened thinking coming from philosophers such as Locke, Montesquieu and Hume, man was equal, and government was derived from the powers of the People, not from a King or a human authoritative figure. When you read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration, its author, Jefferson, brought these ideas out front as the reason to declare our independence:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.....

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed......

This was a completely new and absolutely revolutionary idea. This stated that all men, regardless of birth or station, are equal. Therefore, it inferred that Kings do not possess unique and entitled rights to rule over the people, that The Creator (notice that Jefferson did not specify the Judeo-Christian "God", but a more natural god, not involved in the daily mechanics of man - which was also a new concept) endowed upon ALL men the ability and the RIGHT to self-govern. 

The men of that Continental Congress read this and, in some respects, were hesitant to sign, since this was not only an act of treason to a seated King, but to the whole concept of Monarchy and God appointed Kingship. This was treason of a high order, treason against accepted norms of society. But some men, like John Adams and other key members of Congress, realized that this was important, and that the people were important. The true idea of Liberty, a Republic, began to form here, and was complete when the Constitution was fleshed out nearly 20 years later. 

So, today - Independence Day - let us look carefully at the document that started it all - read it, dwell on it, think on it, and do so without a biased Fox, MSNBC or Bill Maher-skewed eye. Read it for what is was - and IS!

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Day to Remember, even if we weren't born yet....

Recently, I wrote a post about how I thought the most important - or shall we say, necessary - war was WWII. Many may argue differently, but in my post I tried to point out what this world would have been like if we hadn't won that war.  

While many of us will look at 9/11 as a defining moment in our lives, and say we must "never forget", I feel that as important at that day was, June 6, 1944 was even MORE important. Because that was the day that the Allied Expeditionary Forces stormed the beaches of France, and began the nearly year-long effort to defeat Nazi Germany.

But now, EVERY observance of D-Day is important, because the men that survived that day, and went on to fight in Europe, and came back home, are slowly leaving us. They are assaulting another beach - death. We are losing them. And we MUST remember not just the day - but THEM.

Whenever I see an old man with a baseball cap that has "WWII Veteran", I stop and thank him. I ask him where he served and what he did. And I thank him again. Perhaps I am more attentive to these men, since my own father was of that generation, and he had friends that went to the Pacific and to Europe. And I do not wish to downplay what the veterans of Korea, Vietnam, and other conflicts do and have done. But as we lose these men, I wish to keep our sights on the task that they took on and triumphed in, with great sacrifice.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Travels as a kid.....

Frankly, I don't know why I'm thinking of this topic this morning. Maybe it was because I saw something on Facebook that triggered an old memory. But for some reason, I started to think about a particular kidhood memory.

Now, my dad LOVED to travel, and his preferred method was to drive. When I was too young to join him, he and my two older brothers often travelled to see various family-related places in Colorado or New Mexico. When I was 8, we took our first "family" trip in a rented cab-over camper, visiting the "Grand Loop": Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce. How we got five people in that thing for a weeklong trip, and never KILLED each other, I will never know. But for me, as a kid, the memory of being in the part of the camper that cantilevered over the cab, seeing the open road in front of me, or crawling through the pass-through from the camper to the truck cab - those were strong memories, and ones that I wish I could forge now with my own kids.

After my dad's mom passed in 1970, she left him a large sum of money. She too liked to travel by car and see things, so it was only fitting that my dad went out and purchased a motorhome. We had rented a particular brand called Cortez on a short trip in 1970, so dad went and purchased a used model, a 19-footer (big at the time). I look at photos of it now and think to myself (again) how did we take trips in that thing with all five of us and NOT kill each other! The motorhome was boxy, heavy, had a small Ford truck engine that was NOT suitable for a vehicle that weight, had a 4-speed - and we LOVED it! My dad even commented on how much he enjoyed driving it, and he drove a Thunderbird at the time. He could sit behind the big steering wheel, with the huge front and side windows, and drive for 8-10 hours without fatigue, and enjoy the open road in front of him.

I have many fond memories of the few trips we took in the Cortez. The biggest and most adventurous one was our family trip all the way to Minnesota to see my mom's brother. I was 11, and my mom and I flew to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to meet up with dad and my brothers. We stayed near the Tetons, went up to Yellowstone where we stayed a couple of days, then on to the Custer Battlefield, across into South Dakota to stay with a cousin of my mom's, then into Minnesota. Dad did most of the driving, with mom occasionally helping him, and my oldest brother Donald, who was 18, driving us across the Missouri River. I have memories of frequent hot dog dinners, scrambled egg breakfasts, KOA Kampgrounds, snow in Yellowstone, how cool it was for being summer, and hours and hours of sitting in the double-wide front seat with either my mom, or my brother Jim, watching the highway pass underneath. 

I wish I had the discretionary income not to buy a new motorhome, but to find one of those nearly 50-year old motorhomes and restore it, and then pack up the kids and go. Retrace (to the best of my ability) that long family trip, and enjoy being with the kids. Of course, there'd be fishing along the way, and plenty of photographic opportunities. But just being out there alone would be fun.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What was so special about WWII?

It's Memorial Day weekend, and as I scan Facebook and Twitter, I see many references to what this weekend means for so many people. Overwhelmingly it's about remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice - their very lives - for some cause. This is a time for us as a country to give that collective thank you to all those men - and women - who gave their lives.

But when I look at the wars the United States has engaged in, particularly in the last 100+ years, I find that there are more instances when those lives were sacrificed for something that really was not quite justified. We look at the 2003 Iraq war now with jaded vision, thinking that we should have not gone in there after all. We view our longest active war  - in Afghanistan - almost to the point that we really don't think about it anymore. The Vietnam War was hugely unpopular, and only today do we truly thank those men and women for their service - perhaps out of guilt more than gratitude. Korea is called "The Forgotten War", and technically, it's not over. And the United States was drawn into WWI in Europe, and in doing so, ended that war quickly. So, which war - to me - made the difference? 

Without any doubt, it was WWII. 

While we went into Iraq based on faulty or misrepresented intelligence, there was absolutely no misrepresentation as to our reasons to go into WWII. Granted, there are historical revisionists and conspiracy theorists who will say that Roosevelt KNEW the Japanese were going to attack Pearl Harbor, and he allowed that in order to get the USA into the conflict. Perhaps, but there is no concrete evidence to suggest and confirm that he was complicit in that. But even if he WERE complicit, who could blame  him?

Europe was under the domination of a regime that eliminated the voices of dissention. It was controlled by a set of men bent on complete European, Russian, African and middle-eastern domination - a new "Empire". They had exterminated millions of Jews. The only country standing up to them was the United Kingdom - England mainly. Adolf Hitler was a dictator of the highest degree, and his goals, his hatred, his twisted view of things, made it necessary for the United States to intervene there. Ironically, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, the USA declared war ONLY on Japan. Due to their alliance with Germany, Germany declared war on the USA. Had they not, things could have been vastly different. What would have this world become if Germany had prevailed? 

And let's look at Japan. At that time, Japan was seeking domination of the western Pacific, China and southeast Asia, primarily for raw materials. But they too saw themselves as an Empire, and wished to control these areas under brutal military rule. There was a viciousness in the common Japanese soldier, something that our Army, Marines and Navy found out quite quickly after the fall of the US-held Philippines and the tragic "March to Bataan". Our battles in the southwest Pacific on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa showed us that we were fighting a different type of soldier with a different view of battle. It was horrible. And when it was done, our troops had difficulty in adjusting. But they were united in understanding the reason for fighting the Imperial troops of Japan. And what would the Pacific be like now if Japan had won? In a sense, Japan did, since we buy Japanese cars and for years, the best audio and televisions came from Japan.

WWII was really the ONLY war in the last 100 years that was not ambiguous, or provided any "gray" - it was simple black and white. Our propaganda machine titled Germany and Japan as "The Evil Axis", and in a sense, they truly were.

So on this Memorial Day, yes, we honor all those - even from unpopular wars - who gave their lives. But I particularly wish to remember and honor those who fought in a war that literally saved the world. 

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Carpe diem....

I can't think of anyone who hasn't seen "Dead Poet's Society" that wouldn't be able to quote the famous line spoken by Robin Williams' character - "Carpe Diem - sieze the day". Years ago I took that lesson to heart as a life philosophy, although altered slightly now to this....

Live your life with no regrets
Take opportunities as they are presented to you
Don't let yourself miss out on something that could be good

I can think of many occasions in my personal life where I took this life philosophy to heart. And I remember where it was that I embraced this life philosophy.  

It was 1994, my dad and I were on our last big photography trip together, and on this one night we were in Moab, Utah, just outside Arches National Park. I really wanted to go out and photograph the famous Delicate Arch at sunset. Dad chose not to join me, so I drove to the parking lot, pulled out all my camera gear, and began the mile-and-a-half hike to the arch. About a third of the way in the trail took a long ascent, and my nearly 50-pound bag of gear and 10 pound tripod began to wear on me. I was about to turn back when I thought "I may never get out here for a long time, and I'll regret not having gone out there." So, I kept on, and was rewarded with a beautiful scene: the sun had already gone off the arch, which disappointed me. But the light that bathed the natural amphitheater in a soft pink light made the few images I took exciting. I ended up thanking myself for "forcing" myself to make the hike.  

Since then I have had many instances of opportunities presented - both in my personal and professional life - and I have grasped them. Over my career I've been offered new positions or responsibilities, and I took them. After I was laid off from my employer of 30 years, I took a position within my profession (printing), but in sales - a financial risk and something I'd never done - but I didn't let that stop me. And for 13 months, I felt I was succeeding. Now, I have a new opportunity (ironically with my former employer) to do something new and exciting. I was given a new opportunity, and I have embraced it. 

In my life I've made life choices based on this new philosophy. Many years ago I met my wife, but was hesitant to date her because she was a single mom. But I kept bumping into her, and began to think I might be missing out on something. So, I seized an opportunity, and after 15 years and two kids, I have no regrets.

I fully and firmly believe that when opportunities present themselves to you - take them. Grab a hold of them. Embrace them. These are the times when we grow as people, as human beings.

CARPE DIEM - Sieze the Day!

The reason I sing.....

I saw a couple of posts today on Facebook, and for some reason, in my mind they were linked. One was from a choral music friend of mine about how we need to teach singing in schools again. And the other was from another Facebook friend, wishing her mom an early Mother's Day.

For me, Mother's Day these days is about Lorrie being a great mom to the kids. Her mom and dad's anniversary is this weekend, and they always go out of town. And my own mom is 91, and her dementia is so advanced that she doesn't know who I am anymore.  

And yet, when I read those two posts today, the overwhelming thought I had was that I was taught singing by my mom. She was a singer, and had sung at our church in Glendale long before she married. She was a soprano, and to hear her sing as she washed dishes, or folded laundry, or even as she did her daily devotionals, was a normal part of the life of our house. But more than that, she taught me to sing by the loving way she'd sing to me every night as a child from her mother's beat up and well-used hymnbook. I grew up listening to her soft, clear voice singing such wonderful hymns as "He Comes to the Garden Alone", or "How Great Thou Art", or "Old Rugged Cross".  While most mothers sing lullabies, she sang hymns. And because of that, I started to sing. And I HAVE been singing for over 45 years.  

So, this Mother's Day - well, I can't truly wish her a Happy Mother's Day. But I can continue that gift she gave me - singing.  

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Revisiting M*A*S*H

I was my son's age (14) when I started to watch the TV show "M*A*S*H" in 1975.  It was the series' 4th season, just after Blake and Trapper were gone.  We were introduced to B.J. Hunnicutt and Col. Potter.  My parents and I watched the show every Monday night in it's 9 PM time slot, and I would get home from school and watch the reruns at 4:30 from the San Diego channel.  I learned lines, jabs, quick witticisms, and loved Hawkeye's often Groucho Marx-ish humor.  When Burns left, and the character of Winchester came on, the humor changed, because it wasn't filled with the stupidity of the Burns character.  Much of the slapstick that had been part of the show during Burns' time, left with the character.  Winchester was more formidable.  As the show continued, I found the humor was forced, storylines not very clever, and by the time the show ended, I was disappointed, but not sad.  I had always felt the decline started with the introduction of the Winchester character, even though he was smart, intelligent and sophisticated. But I missed the wacky humor that had been so much a staple of the first 5 seasons.  

However, in watching two episodes today on Netflix, I found something else, something I'd seen, but not really absorbed. The two episodes were "Fallen Idol" and "Images".  In "Fallen Idol", Hawkeye encourages the young and innocent Radar O'Reilly to go to Seoul to, well, get things taken care of. In doing so, Radar is wounded, and Hawkeye feels a great sense of guilt. He gets very drunk, and during surgery has to leave to throw up.  Radar, who's recovering in post-op, talks to and somewhat scolds Hawkeye for getting drunk, and says that a lot of people (mainly Radar himself) look up to Hawkeye. And in Hawkeye's leaving surgery, he let a lot of people down.  The scene is tense, because Hawkeye blows up at Radar, and says several unkind things.  

Now, I'd seen this episode many times, and really, it was not one of my favorites.  But today I saw it differently: I saw it as a wonderful study of character, and more importantly, character development. At the end of the episode, the two close friends reconcile, and while they're over at the local watering hole, Hawkeye trades his beer with Radar's soda.  I really found myself watching the episode intently, because it was such a wonderful job of acting for those two.  Radar "grew  up" in front of my eyes. The episode was written and directed by Alan Alda himself.  

The other episode was called "Images", and it followed "Fallen Idol" chronologically. Over the length of the series, and due to the influence of both Alan Alda (a well known feminist) and Loretta Swit (who played Major Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan"), the character of Houlihan evolved, and the often caustic relationship between she and Hawkeye changed as well.  She was fleshed out more as a woman and as a person.  She dumps Frank Burns for someone else, and he leaves at the end of season 5.  Upon her return from her honeymoon in the first episode of season 6, she confides in Hawkeye and B.J. about something that happened during her honeymoon.  "Hot Lips" is gone.  Margaret is now her name. And in these early episodes of season 6 we see the dynamic between Margaret and Hawkeye change.  In "Images", we see this relationship take a significant step towards that friendship that the two eventually will have. This episode, like "Fallen Idol", was directed and written by Alda, and he briefly explores the evolution between Hawkeye and Margaret from adversaries to friends.

There is a touching scene where Margaret is in the mess tent, and overhears that a small dog that she's been secretly feeding was killed.  She starts to cry, and leaves the mess tent, running into Hawkeye. He senses that she's troubled and offers to help, but she refuses, escaping to her tent. He follows her in, and soon she breaks down. It is a wonderful moment that gives us a sense that Margaret is a real and complex person, and Hawkeye is beginning to understand and appreciate that. Just like the episode with Hawkeye and Radar, this was one that had layers, wonderful acting, and a depth that went beyond the humor.  These episodes both explored key relationships between the characters. That was something Alda wanted to do, and we see season 6 as key to when we really learned who these people were.

Now as I watch M*A*S*H, I can watch it for what it became - a sitcom that had wonderful drama, and real characters.  Yes, it was funny with Burns and Blake, and Trapper as Hawkeye's buddy.  But the introduction of stable and complex B.J. Hunnicutt, and then Winchester, elevated the series into something very unique.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Travels with Father - our trip along The Grand Loop

One of my longtime goals has been to share the stories about the travels I did with my father.  I wrote an introduction back in November of 2013, and you can read that here. I've shared our 1985 trip to Sequoia, King's Canyon and Yosemite, and now here is the journal from our 1986 trip.  Enjoy....

Travels with Father – 1986, Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon

It had seemed to me that the year since our trip together in 1985 had been good.  I was in my 3rd year of full employment at Westamerica Graphics, and the wedding season had been busy with weddings.  I had been shooting weddings now in addition to assisting, so the income was greater.  I had purchased a Volvo turbo station wagon to haul all the lights, background and camera bags that I took to every wedding.  Still living at home, I had a good amount of income.  So this time, I wanted to take a more ambitious trip. 

Dad had been retired now for over 11 years, and our relationship had improved greatly.  I was not yet spending time with him in the darkroom (that would not happen for a few more years), but I was doing a great deal of photography that I would show to him for his commentary and critique.  I was beginning to have a more creative eye, and appreciated his viewpoint and instruction.  As was his method of “teaching”, his criticism was constructive, more of “why don’t you try this next time” rather than “you should have done this”.  My confidence as a photographer was growing.

I teamed up with dad to lay out a trip that would somewhat recreate what our family had done in 1969: the “grand loop” as it’s called.  A trip through the three major national parks on the Colorado Plateau: Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon.  However, we decided to alter the trip slightly, adding the Valley of Fire north of Las Vegas on our way to Zion, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon instead of the South Rim.  I believe we planned a full 10-day trip, because I seem to remember a great deal of time spent in each location. 

As was our custom, a great deal of preparation was made for the trip.  We packed enough clothes for the several days on the road.  We packed both dry and cold food for lunches and snacks.  I made sure that the Volvo had good tires, an oil change, and was in good shape for the nearly 2000 miles we’d drive.  And film.  Plenty of film.  All 35mm slide film.  Kodachrome.  Dad had always liked Kodachrome over its sister Ektachrome because of its red-bias.  We tended to do most of our photography in the mid-day and late afternoons when light is warmer.  So, with ourselves all set, we got up early the next morning, packed up the Volvo, said goodbye to mom, and headed out.

Getting out of the LA Basin was easier back then.  Since the I-15 from the 91 to the Cajon Pass did not exist yet, we had to go through Riverside to the 215, and head north from there.  But even with all that, the traffic was non-existent, and we were zooming up the pass in less than an hour from leaving home.  Our first intended stop was Boulder, the city that is closest to Hoover Dam, and where we stayed the first night on our family trip back in ’69.  However, when we arrived, all hotel accommodations were full.  At least, we thought.  Dad planned the trips to the AAA guidebook, and always booked our rooms in advance.  He did not do so in Boulder, and we did not bother to locate any other rooms there.  It was still early enough in the afternoon that we continued driving to Henderson, where we found a room easily. 

Early morning photography, image by Cliff Prothero
It was up early the next morning, because we wanted to get to the Valley of Fire at sunrise.  I had been there during our trip in ’69, and have vague memories of it.  I knew that dad, Don and Jim had gotten “stuck” there during the big family trip of 1971, but other than that, I had little exposure to it.  We entered in by coming north out of Henderson, skirting the western edge of Lake Mead, and entering the park from the east.  The sunrise was to our backs, rendering all of the red rock in very brilliant tones.  We parked, and started to explore, taking out the cameras.

A word about our equipment here would be in order.  Dad had always been a Nikon man, having a Nikon F during the trip in 1971, and now was using a Nikon F2.  He had an assortment of lenses, but he loved to work with zoom lenses so he could “compose” his shot by zooming in or out.  I had purchased a Canon F1 the year before, and like dad, preferred a zoom lens to help in photographic composition.  I also had a 28mm wide angle, which I liked to use for certain compositions.  To this day I remember how well balanced and solid that Canon F1 was.  We both had tripods, but we both hand-held our cameras except for low-light shots.

Valley of Fire is a beautiful place to photograph in both the early morning and late evening when the light angles are low.  It also has very interesting rock formations that allow the photographer to create very interesting shots, using the natural composition of nature.  I found myself walking around, spending a great deal of time looking at detail and shadow, looking for geometrical shapes.  The weather was pleasant and I did not feel the need to dress too warmly.  We spent a couple of hours there, until our stomachs reminded us that we had not yet eaten breakfast.

We left the park by the eastern road, heading north through Overton and up to I-15, where we turned north to Mesquite.  We drove into the sleepy town (before the casinos had been constructed on the highway), and stopped at a cafĂ© for breakfast.  It was Sunday morning, and I was surprised at all the locals there who were obviously not in church.  I was also surprised at all the cigarette smoke and smoking.  There was no “non-smoking” section here, and it reeked of tobacco.  There were also a few nickel slot machines that were getting quite a bit of brisk business.  Mesquite was the last town along the I-15 corridor in Nevada before you hit the northwestern corner of Arizona, so I was not too surprised at the gambling.  I had an excellent pancake breakfast, despite the acrid smoke.  We soon left sleepy Mesquite, and headed up the I-15 through the corner of Arizona and up into Utah.

I have certain vivid memories of this trip of the landscapes we saw.  I am sure that I had seen them during our trip in ’69, but only being 8 years old at the time, they did not make that much of an impression.  They did now.  The drive through the Virgin River Gorge was spectacular, and to this day it still is awe-inspiring.  Soon we were on the Colorado Plateau, driving through St. George and up to the turn-off for Zion.  The drive was pleasant and un-crowded.  Of
Zion, image by Cliff Prothero
course, it was the first week of October when all of the summer travelers were gone, so it was naturally un-crowded.  We pulled into the town of Springdale, which is the town at the gates to Zion National Park.  Dad had made reservations at an inn called the Bumblebee Inn.  It was mid-day, and we knew we’d be early to check in, but we wanted to anyway.  When we go to the inn it was deserted.  Not as in decrepit and decaying, but no one there.  The office was closed with a note stating that the proprietor was at home watching the Mormon Annual Assembly on TV.  That’s when I realized we were in Mormon country.  There was a note that lodgers should just go down to the rooms, find one of the cleaning staff (who were non-Mormon I assumed), and select a room.  We did so, finding a cleaning lady who let us into a room on the upper floor, right near the stairs where I parked the car, making it easy for us to unload gear.  It was a very nice, very big room with a balcony that overlooked a “stockade” in back. 

This stockade was interesting.  It looked like a movie set that had been built
Image by Cliff Prothero
and stocked with carriages, traps, wagons, stagecoaches, and other vintage items of the “old west”.  I went to explore, but found I could not get in. However, there were gaps in the fencing which allowed me to point my lens through and get some interesting shots.  It turned out that we were the only guests in the inn, which surprised me a bit.  But as we traveled on during this trip, it became apparent that early October was not the preferred travel time for most folk, which suited dad and I very well.

We left our room and drove into the park, stopping at the visitor center for a bit, where I bought a book of David Muench photographs – the first of many of his books that I have, and the first exposure (no pun intended) to this master of landscape photography.  We drove further into Zion, stopping occasionally to take the brief hikes to the various places in the canyon and do photography.  We practically had the place to ourselves, such was the lack of other visitors.  It became very common in our future trips that we’d have places to ourselves.  In the early afternoon we stopped for lunch in a picnic ground near the Zion Lodge.  It was here that we continued our long and unhappy relationship with yellow jackets – those pesky and aggressive wasps that like food.  We put a cup of juice at the far end of our picnic table which drew them away from the rest of our lunch.  Whenever we’d run up against them we’d do this.  Nowadays, I’ll take a slice of lunch meat and toss that away from the table, and I have seen them go after that, literally tearing small pieces out to consume.  After our lunch and more photo time, we returned to Springdale later in the day, had dinner, and retired for the night.  Dad tended to like to go to bed early, so it was early dinners (like at 5 PM), followed by some TV or reading, and then lights out at 9 PM. 
Image by Cliff Prothero

The next day was clear and brisk, and we drove into Zion for more photography and exploration.  We drove up to the end and parked at the Narrows parking lot, where we hiked the paved trail to its end.  The temptation to go on up the Narrows was great, but I wasn't too adventurous yet.  We soon found ourselves having spent a great deal of time in photography and exploration, but we had to go on our way to our next stop, Bryce Canyon

We left the canyon, drove up the switchbacks to the tunnels that led you into the upper reaches of the canyon, where we stopped at the roadside to photograph a stand of red-leafed maples, and the checkerboard mesa.  Then it was on east to Carmel Junction, where we turned north to go up to the turn off to Bryce.  The road was wide open, 2 lanes, and smooth.  The next thing I knew I was going 70 mph, and as we went over the crest of a hill I could see a car parked on the side of the road a couple of hundred yards ahead.  My suspicion was that it was Utah Highway Patrol, and I started to slow.  As we approached it my suspicions were correct, and it was a UHP Mustang.  As I passed, it pulled out, and followed me several yards back.  Unlike the CHP, which rides your tail, this guy was so far back that I wondered if he was really after me.  So, I pulled over, and he did too.  As he approached my window I pulled my wallet and registration out.  He was quite polite, and issued a ticket with dispatch.  I was soon on my way, and vowed to be a little more cautious on my drive. 

Soon we were at Bryce, and checked into the Ruby Inn – the only hotel in the
Enjoying the pond, image by Cliff Prothero
immediate area at the time.  We had a pleasant room, with a small duck pond just outside the door.  We took a drive into the park, going to the main amphitheater stop and taking time to do some photography.  The weather was beginning to look iffy, with clouds beginning to form.  We returned to the inn, and I spent some quiet time on a picnic table next to the pond.  We went to the diner there in the inn, and returned to the room for the night. 

During the course of the night the storm rolled in, and when we woke the next morning the grounds were wet with rainwater.  Dad and I had decided the night before to get up very early for the sunrise, and drive the park road to the south end of the park, where we could get a view of the entire amphitheater.  We got up in the dark, dressed warmly, and drove off.  The road climbed in elevation as we drove, and we ended up at the parking lot with snow all around.  Fresh
Image by Cliff PRothero
snow.  We walked along the trail on the rim just as the sun was coming over the peaks to the east.  We looked to see the morning sun creep along the face of the amphitheater, and took several photographs.  It was very cold – not freezing, but in the 40’s.  The sun bathed the face of the amphitheater, causing the formations to glow and cast dramatic shadows.  We stayed there for several minutes, enjoying the experience until the sun was fully up and the light was not as dramatic.  We went back to the car, then back to the hotel to check out. 

The drive from Bryce west to the main highway, then south through Carmel Junction, down to Kanab, and then to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon still is one of my all-time favorites.  The day was clear, the roads open (and I stayed at or under the speed limit), and the country was glorious in the post rain sunshine.  I remember passing farms and small towns, and seeing the beauty of the area with a great sense of happiness.    The climb up the road to the top of the Kaibab Plateau was stunning.  By the time we reached Jacob Lake we were in the forest, surrounded by ponderosa pines.  The drive continued south out of Jacob Lake, and into areas with broad mountain meadows and aspen trees.  And something else that we would learn is part of traveling in the fall: road construction.  We had to wait for a while, and then be escorted for a bit while the Arizona Dept. of Highways did its pre-winter road work.  But the drive was still beautiful, and soon we were at the gates for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Image by Cliff Prothero
As we drove past the gates and on down, dad became even more quiet than usual, and then pointed out a clearing where several years before him, along with my brothers Donald and Jim, had witnessed a massive accident.  They had been following a logging truck in our motor home, when some idiot in a car pulling a small trailer passed him and was in the process of passing the logging truck, when a car came from the other direction.  The driver of the car pulling the trailer veered into the logging truck, which flew off the road, sailing into the trees, clearing the path that he was now pointing out to me.  The logging truck’s full load of logs continued with the momentum, flattening the cab with the driver inside.  He was trapped for nearly 2 hours before rescue crews could get there to help.  He was dead before he was extracted.  The driver of the car that caused the accident stayed at the scene, and dad recalls the driver fainting when he realized the driver of the logging truck was dead.  After our family had returned from that trip I recall us getting a phone call from the district attorney of the county, getting a deposition from dad as the primary witness.

Our cabin, image by Cliff Prothero
The drive to the rim was wonderful, and when we arrived at the Lodge we secured one of the cabins that dad had reserved for our two-night stay.  The North Rim Lodge was warm and inviting, built with stones and timbers hewn from the area.  There are no “rooms” in the lodge itself, but several cabins from single-room rustic to 2- room nice cabins.  We had the former, which was nice with two double beds, a small bathroom, and a thin wooden door that communicated with the adjoining cabin.  We spent the afternoon exploring, hiking along the narrow Bright Angel Trail (that scared me to death), and witnessed the afternoon sun setting from the west.  The clouds from the storm were high in the sky, creating even more drama.  We had dinner in the cafeteria, and then returned to our cabin for the night, reading until we went to sleep.

The next morning broke clear and crisp, with sounds of chainsaws.  The forest service crews were coming in around the cabins, selectively cutting trees with deft skill.  Dad and I had breakfast in the lodge dining room, and I decided to spend the cool and crisp morning reading “Sherlock Holmes” on the terrace, while dad went and did some solo photography.  After lunch we decided to take the drive out to Point Imperial and Cape Royal.  This was a beautiful side-drive
Image by Cliff Prothero
that led towards the east, and as we drove along my mind’s eye saw in the landscape that Tolkien had described in “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” – and I could see the path that the Ringwraiths had ridden on.  We continued on the Point Imperial, then to Cape Royal.  We returned to the rim, spending the rest of the afternoon relaxing in our cabin and reading.  At one point a small herd of mule deer appeared outside our cabin, and I sat on the stoop and enjoyed them before some idiot whistling loudly came by and scared them away.  We decided to return to the points east for evening photography, but only got as far as Point Imperial.  We returned to dinner in the lodge, and went onto the large outdoor patio to watch a lightning storm over the south rim.  We returned to our cabin as it started to rain. 

That night in the cabin brought one of my funniest memories from any trip we’d taken.  Dad and I were reading, lying on our beds.  My bed backed up to the wall that adjoined the cabin next to ours.  As I’d mentioned, the walls and door were thin, and so it was easy to hear our neighbors – a couple – actively involved in lovemaking.  I kept concentrating on the book I was reading until I heard the unmistakable sound of a fart – a loud fart – followed by a distinct gassy smell.  It was then that the man commented “ah, honey! I HATE when you do that!”  I suppressed my laughter, but dad could still see me laughing and asked what was going on.  I couldn't tell him then, knowing that our neighbors would hear my explanation.  But I did tell him the next day. 

During the night the rains came down, and it offered us a spectacular morning view, with low clouds hugging the temples of the canyon, and the air full of moisture.  It rained on us as we packed the car, and drove from the rim.  The drive out through the meadows was made more beautiful with the rain, and soon we were off the Kaibab and heading down towards eastern part of the Colorado Plateau.  The weather in this part of the Colorado Plateau is predictably unpredictable.  As we left the plateau and headed east to the Marble Canyon, the clouds loomed ahead of us.  By the time we were driving along the Vermillion Cliffs we were experiencing rain.  Not a hard, torrential rain.  We continued on south, towards Flagstaff, where we got a room for the night. 

Oak Creek Canyon
Image by Cliff Prothero
The next morning was beautifully clear, and we headed south out of Flagstaff, on highway 89A, which led us through Oak Creek Canyon (one of my brother Jim’s favorite spots while he went to college in Flagstaff), through Sedona, through Jerome, Prescott, and finally into Wickenburg, where we stopped for the night at the El Rancho Motel, one of our regular stops on our trips.  We ate dinner at one of the local restaurants, then back to our nice room for the night where I watched the Angels in the playoffs.

Our final leg home was from Wickenburg, all the way home to San Clemente.  A wonderful trip, with a great deal of photography, miles, and wonderful time with dad.