Look for the Cottonwoods

During Spring Break 2020, we visited Big Bend National Park. It was a desolate place. Arid. Red rocks. Sand. The desert isn’t one of my favorite ecosystems.

Still – any fan of nature knows that even in the most extreme places, life finds a way. Even in some of the ugliest terrain there is beauty.

Often, when traveling through the desert you will see clusters of soft green trees – groves seemingly out of nowhere. The first time I saw them from a distance, I assumed they were sagebrush. Instead, they were Cottonwoods. And, cottonwoods in the desert equal hope.

Nomads with parched tongues know to look for cottonwoods, because if there are cottonwoods, there is always water just below the surface. Where there is water, there is life.

These days, we all live in a desert. In a world packed with bad news about COVID-19, racism, riots, and polarizing politics, life can feel incredibly desolate. Like traveling in the heat of the desert with the sun sapping every ounce of energy.

Everyone around us seems to be pointing at the dry dirt, cactuses and desolation. After all, it is easy to see the desert.

But, it takes discipline to look for the cottonwoods. The signs of the good things in life, the water just below the surface, the source of life even when all seems lost.

Which type of person are you these days? When you look around, do you see the arid desert? Or are you one of those people who looks for the cottonwoods?

Day 4: When Plans and the Unexpected Collide

We have one essential rule when we camp (aside from no pooping in the camper): “Plan your trip. Work the plan. Be flexible.”

Sometimes things go wrong.

This year’s trip was an uncommon splurge for our family. We are doing more “commercial” things this year than ever before — Universal Studios Orlando, the Ferry to Dry Tortugas National Park, Kennedy Space Center, a fan boat ride in the Everglades, etc.

Normally, we are highly economical with our trips. We haven’t ever spent more than $1,800 for an entire 3-4-week family vacation. Even then, most of it was fuel.

In each of our trips, something minor went wrong.

Read More »

“Poor Samuel” and what we teach our kids about charity

I was sitting at home in my bedroom recliner pondering a few deep feelings from the week. My youngest, Libbie, wandered in and sprawled on the bed. As the chattiest of our children, she was longing for a conversation. And, when she longs for a conversation, a conversation will happen whether you are ready for it or not.

She looked me in the eyes and said, “Daddy, I feel sad for Samuel. Poor Samuel.”

Read More »

What is a shelter belt, and why are Dakotans so obsessed?

During our 2018 summer trip, we rolled across the hills of South Dakota. As we summited each hill, we saw boundless green land against vivid blue skies. Imagine Tolkien’s Shire minus the Hobbit holes.

It was spectacular. Shamrock green grasses lined emerald rows and were dotted with greenish-yellow mustard flowers. 

In the midst of sprawling green farmland stood modest farm houses with big red barns. One might assume that the barns cost more than most of the houses.

Read More »

Hug Like It’s Your Last

Most people don’t know this about me, but I’m a hugger. If we become friends, the first couple of times I give a courtesy warning, “I’m a hugger, so are you ok if I hug you?”

I’m not talking about those side hugs, or what in my youth was called a church hug where you just kind of acknowledge, “Yeah, we’re sorta friends.”

I’m talking about those “Hi grandma, I haven’t seen you in 3 years” kind of hugs. I’m talking about those “Hey kid, you did a great job in the spelling bee, even if you didn’t win” kind of hugs. I’m talking about those “You mean something to me” kind of hugs.

Read More »