Thursday, September 28, 2017

Les mauvaises terres a traverser (The Badlands)

The "flowers" bloomed from earth that looked more like gravel than quality soil. The wispy yellow blooms seemed out of place when set against a jagged and unforgiving landscape. It was a little like pinning a boutonniere on a grungy work shirt. It made you look twice to make sure it wasn't a mirage. 
Our unplanned trip to South Dakota wasn't a tourist trek. We had made the 12-hour drive to be with Randy's brother, Lyle, in the hospital. But on our way back to Kansas, we drove through Badlands National Park.
Closeup, the unyielding land seems anything but beautiful or productive. But the sweeping landscapes of peaks, gullies, buttes and prairies help you overlook the unforgiving soil.
It's another one of those "you've-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it" places. It's also a place where amateur photos just don't capture how beautiful it truly is (kind of like Grand Canyon photos).
But, of course, that didn't keep me from attempt after attempt!

In some places, it looks like I imagine the surface of the moon to be - full of craters and crevices.  But instead of the totally "black hole" of space, a blue fall sky provided the backdrop for the stark environment.
In other places, it was almost as if the rocks formed cathedral spires, like architecture from the natural world.
In fact, architect Frank Lloyd Wright wrote in 1935: "I've been about the world a lot and pretty much over our own country, but I was totally unprepared for that revelation called the Dakota Badlands. What I saw gave me an indescribable sense of mysterious elsewhere - a distant architecture, ethereal ... and an endless supernatural world more spiritual than earth but created out of it."
It's amazing how much the landscape changes from one overlook to the next - from browns, to reds to yellows and tints in between. The Lakota Indians knew the place as mako sica. Early French trappers called the area les mauvaises terres a traverser. Both mean "bad lands."
By mid-September, children are back in school and families aren't on a summer road trip. But there were still plenty of people exploring the terrain - from those on motorcycles to private cars to buses to campers - all of us in awe of God's creation. 

“The Bad Lands grade all the way from those that are almost rolling in character
 to those that are so fantastically broken in form and so bizarre in color
 as to seem hardly properly to belong to this earth.”
— President Theodore Roosevelt

Authorized as Badlands National Monument on March 4, 1929, President Franklin Roosevelt issued a proclamation on January 25, 1939, that established Badlands National Monument. In the late 1960s, Congress passed legislation adding more than 130,000 acres of Oglala Sioux tribal land (used since World War II as a U.S. Air Force bombing and gunnery range) to the Badlands to be managed by the National Park Service. 
An agreement between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the National Park Service governing the management of these lands was signed in 1976. The new Stronghold and Palmer Creek units added lands having significant scenic, scientific and cultural resources, according to the National Park Service. The park consists of nearly 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires blended with the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the United States.

More than 11,000 years of human history pales to the eons old paleontological resources. Badlands National Park contains the world’s richest Oligocene epoch fossil beds, dating 23 to 35 million years old. The evolution of mammal species such as the horse, sheep, rhinoceros and pig are studied in the Badlands formations by scientists.
The only animals we saw were big horn sheep, some of which grazed near the roadways. Well, I take that back. We also saw prairie dog towns, and several photographers flocked to those areas to play hide-and-seek with the rodents. However, I can see prairie dogs as I drive toward WalMart in Hutchinson, so we skipped that stop.
I also imagined a bird perched on top of the rock when I saw this formation.
And I thought an animal could have been crouched inside this "cave."(On the lefthand side of the shot.)
 The Badlands wasn't all massive rock formations. There were also some areas of plains.
But it was time to return to our own home on the Kansas plains. So we left the Badlands behind and hit the road.
Our only tourist stop in Nebraska was a quick gaze from the overlook of the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. And then we headed the car south to our home near the Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Our Mugs Visit Their Mugs

"... let us place there, carved high, as close to heaven as we can, the words of our leaders, their faces, to show posterity what manner of men they were. Then breathe a prayer that these records will endure until the wind and rain alone shall wear them away."
Gutzon Borglum, Mount Rushmore sculptor, 1930

Taken September 19, 2017. Why does my hair always look like the "before" picture?

As a former newspaper Focus editor, I often had to incorporate "mug shots" into the pages I designed. There were people celebrating milestone birthdays, others marking 50 years or more of marriage and young couples just starting on their matrimonial journey.

Mug shots - or the dreaded "grip and grin" shots from a ribbon cutting or awards banquet - weren't the preferred illustration for newspaper editors. We much preferred action shots or unusual angles ... the photos that made the reader stop for a second look. (Of course, those head shots with anniversaries and weddings and such were probably the best read of the section, if I'm honest. People like seeing their friends and family in newsprint.)

But I couldn't resist having a stranger take our "mugs" visiting the "mugs" of a rather famous four guys in American history.  I returned the favor for several fellow tourists.

A trip to Mount Rushmore was not on the docket this September. However, Randy's brother was in the hospital in Rapid City, and Randy wanted to make the trip to South Dakota. After his brother was transferred to Montana for additional rehabilitation, we became tourists for the afternoon.

The day was gray, but the rain held off until after we'd been up and down the steps and trails that gave us different angles to view the monument.
As I looked at this monument carved out of the Black Hills of South Dakota, I kept thinking about what a genius sculptor and artist Gutzon Borglum had to have been. He didn't have any computer models. He didn't have modern equipment. He didn't have state-of-the-art blasting tools. He used a protractor ... yes, a protractor ... to figure out the measurements and dimensions.

And I realized that while Borglum didn't have modern contraptions, he had something much more valuable: He had vision. He could "see" through the layers of rock. And he had the skill and determination and intestinal fortitude to make it happen.
More than 450,000 tons of rock were removed from Mount Rushmore to bring out the four presidential faces. Although about 90 percent of the rock was removed with dynamite, the remaining rock was removed by drilling with jackhammers and wedging the rock off the mountain. The final finishing work on the faces was completed using small jackhammers and facing bits.

As with many monumental projects, not everybody was on the same page at first. In 1923, Doane Robinson, the superintendent of the South Dakota State Historical Society, had envisioned a massive mountain memorial carved from stone so large it would put South Dakota on the map and bring tourists by the carload. Robinson was dreaming of Western figures such as Chief Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, Lewis and Clark and other Western heroes.

But Borglum didn't share that vision. The outspoken sculptor told Robinson that his life's work would not be spent immortalizing regional heroes. Instead, he insisted the work demanded a subject national in nature and timeless in its history.

By selecting four presidential figures for the carving, Borglum wanted to create a reminder of the birth, growth, preservation and development of a nation dedicated to democracy and the pursuit of individual liberty.

In these days when the nation seems so divided, those ideals are worth remembering, don't you think? 
While we were in South Dakota, Randy read an article that said peak beauty for fall foliage was still a week or two away. We did find a little bit of fall color decorating our way.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Painted Ladies Come to the Neighborhood

A bunch of Painted Ladies have come to Stafford County. It may sound like a Red Light District is infiltrating the countryside. But these Painted Ladies are much more genteel.
Painted Lady butterflies – which look similar to monarchs – are flourishing in Central Kansas “exponentially more” than usual, according to Jim Mason, director of Wichita’s Great Plains Nature Center, in a Wichita Eagle interview. Favorable weather conditions in Oklahoma and Texas earlier this year allowed multiple generations of painted ladies to thrive, Mason said. Now they've arrived in Kansas.

Enjoy them while you can, Mason said, because they won’t last long. Unlike monarchs, which have a north-south migration pattern, painted ladies – which have a lifespan of anywhere between two weeks and a month – don’t migrate away from cold temperatures.

“They will just generally go north and breed, lay eggs and die,” Mason said. “Come winter time, whichever ones are left here will perish – then the whole thing starts over again next year.”

It may look like I just waltzed out to the road and quickly got a photo of a Painted Lady in full regalia, spreading her wings and showing off the goods. But it took a whole lot of frames with her wrapped up like a modest lady in her robe - keeping her wings tucked together.
Admittedly, they are pretty with just their "underwear" showing, too. But between their quick movements as they collected nectar and the sunflowers swaying in a warm Kansas breeze, it was not an easy photo shoot.
I also had tried the day before at the Rose of Sharon shrubs we have at our north driveway.
They were modest then, too, though one was willing to share the spotlight with a clouded sulfur "cousin."
I didn't realize I'd gotten a second Painted Lady with her wings spread until I got back to the computer. (See the arrow pointing at the other butterfly.)
It was a Where's Waldo moment, kind of like seeing a yellow clouded sulfur butterfly on a yellow sunflower.
They were equal opportunity nectar gatherers: They liked the flowers in their own color and those in other hues. There could be a lesson there, I suppose.

A Time to Pray

Dear Lord, today I will notice Your hand in the details
that magnify Your love here on earth.
(From my email Guideposts devotional)

Read more here:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Light in Darkness

Last Monday, I was downloading photos from a weekend trip to Manhattan. While I waited, I opened up an email devotional from Guideposts. And there is was:

A Time to Think

Without faith, we are as stained glass windows in the dark.
I knew that my camera included photos of stained glass windows at the Manhattan First United Methodist Church. After a K-State football Saturday, we stayed in Manhattan to attend Grandparents' Day September 10 with Kinley and Brooke at Manhattan First UMC.
Kinley & Brooke got both sets of grandparents - bonus!
Before going to the Fellowship Hall after the service, I took photos of a huge stained glass window at the back of the sanctuary. Manhattan UMC was my home-away-from-church-home while a student at K-State, oh so many years ago. And that window has always been one of my favorites.
Earlier in the service, the grandparents had joined the children at the front for children's time. We got to sing several Sunday School songs, including "This Little Light of Mine."
While singing, I committed a faux pas. I was enthusiastically singing and didn't realize that their version differed from my childhood version and the one I'd taught to young worshipers at Stafford UMC when my kids were little.

It was kind of like that moment when you're saying The Lord's Prayer at a different church and forget that they may say "forgive us our debts" instead of "forgive us our trespasses." I was a little embarrassed, but the leader graciously gave me a smile, and I corrected it in the "Hide it under a bushel - no!" verse.

But as I've looked at those photos of the stained glass later in the week and thought about the devotional, I've looked at my "mistake" a little differently. Stained glass is created when glass is broken into smaller segments, then carefully pieced back together. The final result is a sum bigger than its parts.

And that can describe my life, too. Jesus takes all those broken pieces and puts them together. Then He wants to let his Light shine through me. Does He want us to hide that light under a bushel? No! as the children will gladly tell you.
After the church service, we accompanied the girls to their Sunday School rooms so we could see that part of their church life, too. As we stood in the foyer after delivering them to their classrooms, I snapped a photo of another stained glass window there. When I tried to find information about the history of the windows, I happened across a story on its origin. The window - which is called "The Link" - was "resurrected" when the building addition was completed just a few years ago. This old stained glass window had spent years in a coal bin from an earlier church that was on the site.

For years, the light didn't penetrate the glass. It was in parts and pieces and hidden away in a storage room. It didn't come back to life until hung in a sunny atrium and light shone through.

Across the foyer, there was a pile of cleaning buckets. They were ready to be loaded out and taken to the Great Plains UMC Conference Office. Our UMC Bishop, Ruben Saenz, had challenged Great Plains United Methodists to fill 5,000 buckets which would go to hurricane relief in Texas, Florida, Georgia and other areas impacted by storms.

I didn't count how many buckets were sitting in the foyer. I should have. But there were probably at least 20, and Jill says their church eventually contributed 75 or so. And while we were in Manhattan, our small three-point UMC charge in Stafford County was also collecting buckets and/or contributions of $65 which would fill one kit with cleaning supplies, gloves, clothesline, sponges and more.
The buckets from our 3-point charge were piled into Pastor Nate's vehicle for a trip to Wichita and then on to UMCOR.
Our little church collected 7 filled buckets and enough money to fill 23 more! Along with contributions from St. John and Antrim - the other churches in our three-point charge - there were a total of 9 buckets and enough money for 32 buckets.  

As of Friday, a total of 5,001 buckets had been collected by United Methodist churches - big and small - from across the states of Kansas and Nebraska. I don't think the monetary contributions are included in that count, but the money raised also will go to UMCOR - United Methodist Committee on Relief. In fact, UMCOR uses 100 percent of the donations it receives to help victims. Administrative costs are covered from other church resources. (Compare that to other relief organizations!)
Photo from Great Plains UMC Facebook page (I love that there's a "Let's Do This!" slogan on several of the buckets.
As I've thought about those relief efforts and remembered the stained glass window quote, I've also thought more about the other songs we sang during children's time. One was "Jesus Loves the Little Children." Another was "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

And I remembered another stained glass window photo I'd taken at the Youthville campus many years ago.
In this world that seems so divided and confrontational, it's good to be reminded of the things we can do when we work together ... and when we have the faith to let the Light shine through us. It might come in the form of a cleaning bucket.

A Time to Think

Without faith, we are as stained glass windows in the dark.
And if we forget, all we need to remember are little voices singing, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."