Writer and Photographer
The golden glow of the early morning sun slowly filled the cabin as Harry creaked back and forth in his rocker on the wooden floor. Chauncey, his golden lab, snored on his bed by the crackling fire, curled up on an old sweatshirt Ethan left on his last visit. He reached in his pocket and pulled out the note he had read daily since he received it a month earlier.
“Thank you, Lord,” Harry prayed softly. “Having that boy in my life has been one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. I didn’t realize how lonely I was with Gladys gone and Ethan’s mom remarrying and moving so far away. I don’t know that stirred in his young heart to write me that first time three years ago but having him back in my life sure makes the sunrise brighter and these old bones hurt less.”
Harry adjusted the horn-rimmed glasses on his nose and leaned in to the light of lamp:
“Dear Grandpa Harry,
I am looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with you. We get the whole week off, so I’ll have lots of time to spend with you and Chauncey.
All my friends in my class want to come with me to see you sometime. I told them the story of milking the cow with you the last time I was here and now they all want to milk a cow. Some of them actually thought chocolate milk came from brown cows. They also didn’t know what it meant to do chores like gathering the eggs, haying the horses and cows, cleaning the barn, or getting fresh water to all the animals. In town, we just have pets and no one I know has any daily chores.
Our teacher assigned us 30 Days of Gratitude before Thanksgiving and we were all supposed to share one story each day. I told the class what you said about the more you give thanks the more you find to be thankful for so we’re now going to do it every day for the rest of the year. She said I might as well call mine, “The Grandpa Harry Story Hour,” because most of them are about times I spend with you.
Tell Chauncey I’ll see him soon and I have a new squeaky toy for him.
As Harry folded the note, Chauncey’s tail began to wag, then his ears perked as he heard the floor creaking in the bedroom where Ethan slept. Slowly raising and stretching, the old dog picked up his new moose squeaky toy and made his way to greet Ethan.
“Good morning, Chauncey,” Ethan yawned as he scratched the dog’s ears. “I heard you snoring out all the way out here. I think we are both tired after yesterday. Grandpa Harry sure worked us hard getting up firewood, didn’t he.”
“Firewood heats up you three times,” Harry chuckled. “Once when you cut, once when you split it, then when you burn it.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Grandpa,” Ethan wiped the sleep from his eyes. “What are we going to do today after chores?”
“We’re heading into Yellow Pine for the community feast,” Harry smiled. “Saves me from having to cook plus everyone brings their favorite home cooked dish so it’s the best meal you could possibly eat. Plus, it’s just good to get together will old friends and make new ones.”
“I’m glad I’m here. Mom and Frank usually go over to Frank’s side of the family, but they’re all fighting and not getting together so they were going to the homeless shelter and help serve meals there.”
“That’s a good thing to do but I’m sorry to hear the family isn’t getting along.”
“It doesn’t seem like anyone is getting along anymore, Grandpa. Everybody’s mad at everyone else over something. Was it like that when you were a kid?”
“Oh, folks have been fighting since Cain and Abel, I suppose,” Harry said. “Lot of times, it carries on so long people forgot what started it, but just keep fighting anyway. It appears to me that, if you want to get offended and mad at someone over something, it’s not hard to do. Folks will give you lots of reasons to get angry if you let them. Some don’t mean too, but some do. Offended folks are unhappy folks, and some unhappy people aren’t happy unless they make others unhappy, too, so you gotta keep an eye out for those wanting to rile others. Offended people are like fishermen, they go fishing for others to make offended and angry and you just have to be careful not to take their bait.”
“Well, there sure seems to be a lot of people taking the bait,” Ethan replied sadly. “But you’re a pretty happy person. Surely someone’s offended you.”
“Oh, sure, I’ve been offended and angry lots of times,” Harry chuckled. “But I knew keeping anger in me was like letting a rattlesnake sleep under the covers with me. At some point, it would kill me.”
“So how do you get rid of your anger?”
“When I was a young man, there were two older twin brothers in our community that were as different as night and day. Waldo was a guy that everyone loved to be around and Smitty was so unpleasant that even the local preacher didn’t like him. They looked exactly alike but behaved exactly the opposite of each other and I asked my dad why that was, and he said that being how they were twins, each one had adopted their own set of twin things to guide them by. One chose the twins of gratitude and forgiveness and the other chose the twins of offense and anger.
Harry went on. “It’s almost impossible to be grateful and angry at the same time. Gratitude means you look at the positive, while anger means you look at the negative. And it’s hard to be angry at someone for a long time if you forgive them, whether they ask for it or not. I reckon if Jesus could ask his Father to forgive them that nailed him to the cross, he kind of set a standard I should follow. If my faith doesn’t lead me to be a forgiving person, then I’m missing out on who God wants me to be. And if I’m easily offended, then it won’t take much to turn me into an angry person. I just don’t want to get bit by that rattlesnake.”
“Well, it’s like what you said when we planted the garden last spring,” Ethan understood. “We harvest what we plant. I know one thing; I want to be like you when I grow up. My teacher told me to make sure I brought back more Grandpa Harry stories so she will like the one about Waldo and Smitty a lot.”
“Good,” Harry replied. “Maybe one of these days I can figure out how to get to that big city you live in and meet your classmates. Reckon that would be okay?”
“Oh, yes,” Ethan exclaimed. “And I have the perfect title for a lesson you can teach them for Grandpa Harry Story Hour!”
“Oh, what is that?”
“Don’t be a Smitty!”
I have a small bookshelf designated for books that have changed my worldview; they are like small monuments that mark moments in my history that define who I am and how I think. They are books that, if you were to look at the titles, you would say, “Oh, that’s why Rick’s thinks the way he does.”
Society seems quick to call people out, but what about calling people forth? Calling people out is all negative and says, “I think what you’re doing is wrong and I’m going to put a bullseye on you so people can start shooting at you; me first.” Calling people forth is all positive and says, “I know you; you’re better than that; that’s not who you are, this is who you are.” Calling people forth calls them into the goodness and greatness that they are meant to be. The purpose of calling people out is destruction; the purpose of calling people forth is destiny.
Let me tell you a 3,000-year-old story that gives an example of someone calling another person into their destiny.
David, the little guy that stoned Goliath, had an encounter with a woman who called him forth, rather than calling him out. David was hiding from the jealous King Saul who didn’t like it that David had more pop songs written about him than were written about Saul. Seriously, I’m not making that up; David had cooler songs written about him and Saul didn’t like it.
While hiding in the wilderness, David attracted quite a following of people who were kind of Robin Hood like in protecting people. However, David had all these mouths to feed so he sent a text to a guy named Nabal who owned a LOT of sheep and cattle, whom the writer, Samuel, called “churlish and evil.” David and his guys protected many of those animals, as well as Nabal’s workers, from marauders and rustlers. David wanted to know if Nabal could spare a few to feed his men.
Nabal texted a reply with a laughing emoji and all caps, as if he were yelling: “NO! LOL”
David was furious and decided to go exact revenge on the ingrate. However, the guy’s wife, Abigail – who was apparently drop-dead gorgeous – found out about it and met David halfway. The resulting conversation is fascinating, and you can look it up in I Samuel 25, but I’ll paraphrase.
Abigail: Hi, I’m Nabal’s wife and I hear you and your men are coming to lay some smack down on him and our people. I’ve brought some food and we need to talk.
David: Yes, the ungrateful cur. We’ve been protecting his flocks, for free, and all we asked for was a couple of sheep I can feed the guys and he refuses? I’ll make him pay!
Abigail: I agree, he is an ungrateful cur. I have to live with him, and I don’t like him either, but, David, this is not who you are. You don’t fight battles because you’re trying to get revenge; you fight battles to protect people. You’re the kind of person that fights on God’s side to protect the innocent from the bullies. That’s who you are.
David: Okay, I’ll let him live. Have any more of that food? That’s really good stuff!
Abigail returns to tell her husband what had happened and, when he realized how close he came to being killed, he has a heart attack and dies ten days later.
Abigail didn’t call David out; she called him forth.
I understand David because I’m married to a drop deal gorgeous woman, Christine, who has called me forth on numerous occasions.
There are some takeaways from that I am trying to practice more:
- Identify the positive aspects in a person and build upon them
- Articulate to that person what I see about them that they might not see themselves
- If they are consumed with all the negative, have the courage to remind them, “that’s not who you are; this is who you are.”
- Make the person’s destiny, not their destruction, the reason for my approach.
“Go outside for a better inside!”
Phil Taunton, the legendary Kansas outdoor advocate, coined that phrase which has become one of my favorite maxims for life. Going outside always makes me feel better inside.
While some prefer exotic world travel as a vacation destination, my desire for the perfect vacation is always the same: tent camping in the Rockies. I echo John Muir who said, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.”
I not only enjoy going outside, I need to go outside. It turns out, everyone benefits by getting close to nature. For those who don’t, they are subject to, Nature Deficit Disorder – the idea that people, children especially, need to spend time in the outdoors. Richard Louv, author of the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, tells the story of interviewing a child who told him that he liked playing indoors more than outdoors “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
Thanks to John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt, we have an incredible National Park System that provides access for the public to some of the most pristine and protected places on earth. While many of us in America take that for granted, the history of European feudalism, aristocracy, and land ownership, only the wealthy had access to the most beautiful places.
However, the beauty of democracy is that anyone can enjoy nature at its most glorious display.
What the National Parks don’t provide access too, the State Park System does. In Kansas, where I live, 98% of the land is privately owned and is often posted with “No Trespassing” signs. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks provides public access to some of the most beautiful areas in Kansas. Although a state agency, they are not funded with taxpayer dollars. Instead, they operate entirely on revenue generated from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, camping permits and other usage fees. In addition, thanks to the Pittman-Robertson Act of 1934 which sits aside the 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition to be used for conservation programs, training programs and infrastructure such as state-of-the-art gun ranges. In fact, the resurgence and conservation of wildlife like whitetail deer, turkey and other game animals is funded almost entirely by hunters.
One positive outcome of Covid is that both the National Parks and State Parks have seen an explosive – and, at times, difficult to manage – use of their parks. We recently spent a week in the Rocky Mountain National Park which has resorted a timed-entry system, limiting the number of vehicles allowed into the park.
But you don’t have to go to a national or state park to enjoy the physical and mental health befits of nature. There has been a surge in the last few years, driven by both health and economic benefits, for public access to trails. In Kansas, the Kansas Trails Council has received considerable support by numerous community foundations to build trails in cities, most of which can be found on this map.
While traveling, I frequently use the app, All Tails, to find a trail near me. This is a great way to break up long road trips!
Back to the tent camping: my wife and I recently spent a week in our tent in the Rockies, a tradition that we started on our honeymoon when we backpacked 9 miles up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. We woke up that first morning in September to snow on the ground and 21-degree temperatures. Since then, we’ve replaced the small two-person tent with a ground pad to a large, 10-person tent with an air-up queen-sized mattress. We’re not exactly “roughing it” but we breath pure mountain air 24 hours a day and endure whatever elements nature throws at us.
Here are the reasons I love tent camping:
1. Being in nature 24/7 cleanses my soul like pure mountain water cascading through my veins.
2. Hiking in the mountains and breathing pure mountain air clarifies my purpose and sharpens my “why.”
3. God whispers to me more in nature than anywhere else.
4. I eat healthier because of slow cooking with cast iron Dutch ovens and skillets.
5. Writing flows profusely with pen and pad.
6. I sit at night and watch stars join hands with the moon and dance thru the sky.
7. I read voraciously.
8. I find answers to my deepest questions while gazing into a mesmerizing campfire.
9. Long, uninterrupted conversations with my wife as we put plans to our dreams, laughter to our life and meaning to our memories.
10. There are trout waiting in crystal streams to torment me while I fly fish.
The mountains are calling and I must go. – John Muir