Monday, October 31, 2016

Jack O'Lantern {Reprise}

When adversity carves you open,
Empties out the flesh and fruitfulness
Of life before the knife;
Gouges gaping, jagged wounds
Too severe to scar--

That emptiness carves room for grace
And otherworldly light
To shine salvation into the wounds
Of this dim and frightful night.

Life beyond the knife
Is not extinguished
But aflame
With glory.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.
2 Corinthians 4:6-7, NIV1984

originally shared here in 2012

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Denali National Park {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post includes many photos (sorry, not sorry), so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of Denali National Park.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
Proverbs 19:21, ESV

My mom, loaded down with her Bible study bag

The guys on their morning hike

Our last excursion of the Alaskan adventure was a guided nature tour on a repurposed schoolbus up into the mountains of Denali National Park to see the local wildlife. We had reserved spots on the 4-hour tour, thinking that by the end of the trip that would be all the time on a schoolbus we could manage. The day before the excursion, however, we learned that our intended tour was canceled due to lack of participants. The cruise line offered to upgrade us to the 8-hour tour instead at no charge.

Eight hours on a schoolbus? We discussed it but felt the Lord had rearranged our plans for a reason, so he would give us (and our backs) the stamina for the long drive. Lest you think I exaggerate the character of our transportation, this was our bus:

We had to lower the top windows to get clear shots of anything.
Even if the wildlife had been camera-shy that day, we Texans were pretty excited about snow in September, especially when the temperature was still near 100F back home.

The first animals we saw were a pair of moose. Unfortunately, they were moving so quickly we only had one chance at a photo, and the camera couldn't see the moose in the forest for the trees. (He's the brown blur in the center of the frame. Really, he is.)

The terrain and plants changed, and we stopped for our first break, but the moose were all we had seen. If we had received the tour we had reserved, this would have been the point where we turned around and drove back the way we had come.

Instead, we ascended farther into the mountains and soon met the Alaskan state bird, the willow ptarmigan (or alpine chicken).

The snow fell harder, but our driver spotted something large at the top of a hill:

A grizzly bear.

Our guide said it was foraging for the last remaining wild blueberries in these scrubby bushes before it turned in for its long winter's nap. It was near enough for us to tell it was a large bear, but not near enough for a good photo through the snow.

The next subjects were more cooperative: a whole flock of Dall sheep, named for the scientist who discovered them. These are all ewes and lambs. Even the females of this species have horns.

Our second rest stop, at around the 3-hour mark, proved to be as far up the mountain as the bus could safely go, due to the snow and icy roads farther up.

On the way back, we spotted our friend the grizzly again, and this time he was a little closer:

Around the time I handed my camera (and 300mm lens) back to Amore and slid the upper half of my body back through the bus window into the cabin, I remembered the driver's earlier speech about keeping all arms and legs inside the vehicle because wild animals are, well, wild. If you know me well, you will know I must have been really excited about grizzly photos to completely forget a safety rule.

Then we saw some male Dall sheep, sharpening their curlicue horns:

Then we saw yet another grizzly! This one was briefly stopped in the road in front of the bus. The driver said we might get some really good shots of it if we were all quiet and didn't move quickly so as to shake the bus. As it turns out, grown-ups aren't any better and keeping still and quiet when excited than a classroom of schoolchildren are.

As a consolation prize, we watched the bear cross the river.

The driver told us the pronounced shoulder ridge, clearly visible here, is specific to grizzly bears. 

The remainder of the drive was quiet but still lovely in the dimming light. As we walked from the main lodge back to our rooms, it dawned on me that the most interesting wildlife we saw that day appeared on the part of the trip we hadn't planned to take.

Sometimes when the Lord asks us to do something we fear may be too hard for us, it just feels hard and we have to trust His Word and character that it will be worth it later on. Sometimes, though, He asks us to do more than we think we can because He wants to give us something better--right then--than what we had wanted for ourselves. I don't know about you, but those occasional immediate, visible rewards encourage me in the waiting and trusting Him for the long-term, invisible rewards.

O for grace to trust Him more!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

McKinley Explorer {Lone Star to Last Frontier, 2015}

For the backstory, please see the post, "Courage, Dear Heart!" This post includes many photos, so e-mail readers may prefer to view the Web version of McKinley Explorer.

From McKinley Princess Lodge in Talkeetna, we took a double-decker train, the McKinley Explorer, north to Denali National Park. (The President had visited Alaska less than a month before we did, and at that time he officially announced that the name of the mountain would revert from Mount McKinley to the original Native American name, "Denali," or "Great One.")

We rode upstairs in these cars and ate lunch on the lower level.

The conical structure is a beaver lodge.

This is Hurricane Gulch, the most dramatic view we had, since it was too cloudy to see Denali from the train.

Hurricane Gulch again

Eagle's nest

Beaver dam in progress

Completed beaver dam

The highest point of our rail journey, approximately half a mile above sea level

Not in Texas anymore!

Home away from home for two nights

In one of those unexpectedly lovely travel serendipities, we went to the pizza place on the lodge property for supper after checking in and unpacking. It was Sunday evening, and the Dallas Cowboys were playing their season opener against New York back home. We asked a waiter if he minded changing one of the televisions to that channel so we could see the last quarter of the game. (Ironically, if we had actually been in Dallas, the last quarter of a Sunday night game would have been past our bedtime, so we'd have had to record it and watch it the next day.) Romo led the team in one of his signature eleventh-hour comebacks, and the Cowboys won in the final play of the game. It later proved to be the most exhilarating game of the whole season.

We were surprised to hear one other family in the restaurant cheering and celebrating, too. It turned out they were from San Antonio, and the common sports allegiance led to a pleasant conversation about places back home.

It wasn't a dramatic photo op or an amazing glimpse of wildlife, but it was a sweet little gem of a moment all the same. Coming as it did in the final days of our journey, we welcomed the connection with home and an opportunity to share an experience with our family members there watching the same game at the same time.