Home invasion… Rocky Mountain style

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s calving season in the mountains. Elk are on the move and this morning they were bedded down in the meadow across the road from us. We awoke to the sound of their squeaks and bugling – the soundtrack of late summer in the Rockies.

As the herd awoke and started stirring, they had apparently eyed our handsome stand of grass and figured that the buffet was open. With coffee in one hand and camera in the other, I just started snapping away.

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Categories: mountain life Tags:

Summer storms on McClellan Mountain

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

We decided to play hooky from church today and enjoy the summer day in Colorado. The girls wanted to hit the movies (some ridiculous dance movie sequel), so I loaded up the Land Cruiser and headed west to Georgetown.

After topping off the tank I headed up Guanella Pass Road to get to the trail to Argentine Pass/Waldorf, and the Santiago Mine/McClellan Mountain area. The road is in the Arapaho National Forest and is designated as FS 248.1. There are a few other Forest Service roads that wind in and out but if you stay on 248.1 nearly any 4WD with adequate ground clearance should be fine.

There is a fairly narrow shelf road once you get above around 11,000 feet, but it yields amazing views. It was quite cool on the trail. I got into some early afternoon rain/hail before I got to Santiago mine so I turned back and headed down for the time being, just in case it either got worse or didn’t get better. It gave me a chance to explore the lower sections of FS 248.1B (the “tougher” of the trails; I think this is the way the Rising Sun 4×4 Club went a few weeks ago). This side road requires good ground clearance, careful tire placement, and I thought 4-low made sense. It’s really steep and loose, so the center diff lock came in handy. (Didn’t have to use the rear locker, unfortunately.)

At the Santiago Mine

When the skies cleared a bit I headed back up to Santiago, and then made the hairpin right to head up McClellan Mountain. Fewer and fewer other vehicles as I neared the summit, but found loads of beautiful summer color! The wildflowers were gorgeous, especially cast against the gray skies. Snapped a cool little pika chilling in the rocks. (Look carefully in center of the frame.)

Pose for me, pika!

The clouds started building again near the summit of McClellan, so I didn’t tarry. Fortunately there hadn’t been any thunder or lightning for the better part of an hour so I snapped a few pictures of the splendor below me and then headed back down.

Looking down from the summit of McClellan Mountain

Summer color

When possible I diverted back to 248.1B for a little more of a challenge, a little water, and fewer vehicles. There were a few folks camping but otherwise I had the trail to myself. I had some intermittent sprinkles but besides that, nothing but the landscape to distract me. I did see an abandoned campfire near the “hangman’s tree” up from Santiago. Some morons had left a few signs of their party so I broke out the trash bag and helped out a little.

Rather than queue up on I-70 to head back east I went up and over Guanella. Again, something about the dark skies seemed to make the landscape even more dramatic than usual. I paused for a moment at the summit to let soak in just how fortunate I am to live in the Rockies.

More summer color

Up and over Guanella Pass Road

View from Guanella Pass summit

Life in paradise. 🙂

Categories: Highlanders Tags: , ,

The look

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m sitting in row five, 40,000 feet somewhere above the Oklahoma panhandle on my way back home to Colorado. I’ve just left Oklahoma City to spend Easter weekend with my dad, a new widower. My mom’s birthday was yesterday, Easter Sunday. She would have been 68 this year.

I’m staring at a picture my dad took of her on one of their first dates. Dad was in the Air Force in Shreveport, LA and Mom was a drama major at Centenary College in the same town. My daughter, Lauren, came across this picture as she put together a slide presentation for my mom’s funeral service and I’ve been captivated since I saw it. My dad tells me it’s from an air show at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana, circa 1967.

At once it’s a picture of a woman I never knew and a picture of a woman I know intimately. She’s wearing a pristine white sleeveless dress suitable for Audrey Hepburn. Her arms are folded across her body as she looks over her right shoulder back at the camera. Her dark brown bobbed hair is windblown as she stands on cracked tarmac under a bright blue sky.

I’m struck by her gaze. She has porcelain skin, with bright pink lips slightly pursed under a perfect nose. Broad, high cheekbones frame the eyes… it’s those eyes I can’t escape. They belie curiosity, intelligence, spunk, desire, and a little irritation.

In telling the story behind the picture, my dad said that he took her to the airshow for a date because he was just broke: an enlisted airman doing his time for the military. She doesn’t look impressed by the venue or by the particular idea of an airshow, but she looks a little intrigued, like she’s kind of up for anything.

That look pierces me every time I see it. There is a depth to her eyes that I can’t escape. It’s the look I saw in much later years as we’d share ideas and test each other’s tolerance for our debates during my adulthood. They’re eyes of my kindred soul.

She was restlessly inquisitive. No question was too big, and no answer worth having came easy. Of all she taught me, the lesson I value more than any other is that faith that is not worth questioning is faith that is not worth having.

I see that in that look on the tarmac at Barksdale AFB. It’s a look of skepticism but of a willingness to be persuaded. A little dubious, but curious. A look that says, “I’m not convinced… yet.”

The elegant, beautiful woman on the tarmac is only a couple of years older than my oldest daughter, Lauren. She will be leaving home in a few months to head to college. As I stare into the photo of my beautiful coed mom I can’t help but think of Lauren – a new chapter of her life opening, as a chapter in our lives closes.

I see glimpses of the look in both my girls. The look of expectation, curiosity, electricity.

I love that look.

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Categories: Thoughts Tags: , , , ,

Mandela and Kennedy – marriages

December 9, 2013 Leave a comment

I was asked an interesting question about my analysis of Nelson Mandela’s marriage to his second wife, Winnie, and what I thought that failed marriage meant to his legacy. Specifically, Winnie was widely publicized as advocating for Mandela’s freedom and worked hard in the struggle against apartheid during Mandela’s imprisonment. (She appears to have been quite radical in her practices for liberation. See Telegraph article here, and Reuters here.)

It’s been awhile since I read his autobiography so a fresher reader may have a different take than I, but if I recall correctly, Mandela expressed a great deal of regret about the failure of that marriage. His marriage to Winnie was borne in the resistance movement; the struggle was in the marriage’s DNA. The fight for liberty was always Mandela’s mistress and his personal relationships took the brunt of it. This is, in part, what I meant in the previous post: Mandela would sacrifice anything – himself, his freedom, – and anyone for the cause of freedom. Those sacrifices included his marriages and the relationships with his children. Only when he was well advanced in years did some of those relationships find reconciliation.

During Mandela’s imprisonment, Winnie’s advocacy and actions apparently reached some extremes that contradicted Mr. Mandela’s quest for a peaceful liberty for all. Yes, Mr. Mandela had advocated armed resistance against apartheid, and he headed up the ANC’s militarized efforts in the years leading up to his imprisonment. To call him purely a peaceful activist would be inaccurate. But it seems as though he favored peaceful means to achieve freedom and eschewed the inter-African conflicts among other black Africans that Winnie became involved in through the 1980s and 1990s. Details here, here, here, here, and here.

Mandela spoke very highly of Winnie in his autobiography. But as I read the account, she was always more of his “comrade in arms” than his wife. This may not be fair, and it may not be how she viewed the marriage, but that’s the sense I got from his story. Her actions during his imprisonment show, at a minimum, she was no shrinking daisy; she was an aggressive advocate for liberation, with no apparent fear from violent means. The distance of his imprisonment and the eventual release drove a separation that appears to have been insurmountable. I suspect that her means of pursuing liberty also ran against Mr. Mandela’s tastes, but that their marriage was politically useful for both of them until it was finally dissolved after his election.

Rabbit trail ahead: There is another important distinction worth bearing out. We in a non-tribal Western culture view marriage differently I think than do many indigenous cultures. To understand Mandela’s story requires a reach into a culture that many Anglos don’t relate to. The tribal indigenous cultures of Africa in the mid 20th century are not the same as the urban cultures in Africa today, nor are they the experience of the diverse peoples who comprise western Europe or the United States. The native tribes are indeed very diverse among the various tribes, but the experiences, mores, perspectives on relationships, elevation of children, and many other perspectives are simply different due to time and place.

I don’t know what this means in the context of Mandela’s marriages. He was a highly educated and brilliant man. He was a professional, an amazing debater, and one of the most thoughtful icons of our time. Mandela was, I think, a once-in-a-generation leader. To assume he would view marriages and other interpersonal relationships the same way as we would risks superimposing a personal moral judgement on someone whose culture many of us can’t fully appreciate. It would be much like explaining to an indigenous Chinese person that they have the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Without first-hand experience inside another culture, it’s really hard to make value statements that don’t belie our personal biases.

In the previous Mandela-Kennedy post I referenced that both had great flaws. Looking back I realize that this indeed belies my personal Western bias. But I think there is a big difference in the “failed” marriages of Mandela and the historical view that Kennedy was a poor husband. Although I believe that both men were charismatic leaders who were, by many accounts, catalysts for great change, I haven’t heard stories of Mandela being a philanderer like the stories I’ve heard of Kennedy. Again, I think Mandela’s “mistress” was the struggle to end apartheid, not a physical “other woman.” I’d argue that by any account, Mandela’s mistress was far nobler than any Kennedy ever had.
(By the way, comments are always welcome. I crave thoughtful conversation – virtual or real – when proffered with an open mind.)

Thoughts on Mandela, Kennedy

December 5, 2013 Leave a comment

I was at the Orlando airport drinking pints with a friend when I learned Nelson Mandela died. I had the good fortune to go to South Africa a little over a year ago on business and enjoyed an off afternoon taking in Robben Island. Moved by that experience I picked up a copy of Mandela’s autobiography at the Robben Island bookstore and worked my way through it over the following month.

Mandela’s life was one that humbles the proud, privileged, and self-important. He was a man of humble beginnings who made his way to the city and became a practicing lawyer in Johannesburg as the greatest era of apartheid persecution swelled to consume a nation. He made tremendous sacrifices – many that most of us would deign to make – out of his devotion to liberty for black Africa and to reject injustice. His sacrifices included two marriages and his relationship with nearly all who loved him, but his legacy of those individual sacrifices and the individual sacrifices of others who joined him in the cause of freedom brought a new liberty and a measure of democracy to an oppressed indigenous people.

South Africa has yet to get its feet firmly beneath its nascent democracy. Nearly 20 years in, the nation has foundered in gaining traction and casting off a resentment-based new nepotism that often accompanies a sudden change of fortune and the overturning of a power pyramid. Those previously on the bottom – black Africa – suddenly found themselves on top of the pile, but only as represented by a handful of insiders. In recent years those insiders proved that they are capable of substantial corruption and pocket-lining, suppressing free speech and silencing their critics. The acute pain of the past and solidarity of the movement that brought liberty has obviously faded in the past two decades. The generation has aged and polarized, and the youth who didn’t live the revolution lack personal context and a passion to see the revolution through to completion.

“Madiba”, as his friends called him, was the strongest unifying persona of the era that saw a nation cast off oppression and victimization of native peoples. As a lover of South Africa and a respecter of Nelson Mandela, I fear that the nation will continue to suffer in mediocrity, unmet needs, and broken promises now that Mandela is gone. Like the revolution, his memory and legacy will fade unless a younger generation rises up to finish lifting South Africa to full freedom for all.

I’m sure I’m a bit Pollyannaish on Mandela. He had his detractors, and I’m not South African. I’m perhaps a little more educated than most on the country’s history, but I may be overstepping the bounds of my knowledge or any right to proffer an opinion on South African politics, Nelson Mandela’s legacy, or the progeny of the final end of apartheid. But I see Mandela’s story in a slightly different – and more American – context, too.

On November 22 of this year we observed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Born of great wealth, privilege, and personal connections, Kennedy reshaped the political culture within the United States. At a minimum, he represented a generational and technological shift in our Presidency. The first President to be elected who was born in the 20th century, he was also the first of a new “television generation.” Although he was born into great wealth, he served the U.S. in war and bore injuries that would follow him for the rest of his life. He was also an Irish Catholic in a generation when neither was cool.

Although his detractors are many, history generally remembers Kennedy very fondly, as the beginning of a new era. He didn’t deliver America from a regime of great oppression and didn’t make anywhere near the personal sacrifices Mandela made. But maybe like Mandela, his legacy marked a turning point in history. There were many intervening influences but there may be some merit to an argument that Kennedy’s Presidency laid the groundwork for an era of progressive civil rights that benefited black Americans, and has ultimately increased the rights of women, Native Americans, and the LGBT community today.

I write this as one who is a generation removed from Kennedy’s legacy. My parents were 20 and 17 when Kennedy was killed; I wasn’t born for nearly another decade after Dealey Plaza. My only reference is what I’ve learned from them and from the Kennedy legacy built up in our popular culture and literature. Like the youth who have grown up in a post-apartheid South Africa I can only piece together my model of Kennedy from the experiences, memories, and biases of forebears.

Maybe like Kennedy, the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela will similarly serve as a turning point in South African history. Will his legacy spark a generation that pursues liberty and progressive thought? In 50 years will we see a South Africa that has cast off nepotism and the pursuit of self interest?

Don’t hear (or read) what I’m not saying. American culture and politics are deeply flawed – some say broken. Many believe that progressive thought has exceeded moral bounds and I’m not in a position to argue those points right now. The point I’m making is that Kennedy marked a big shift in how a generation addressed civil rights of those traditionally outside the power structure. I will be interested to see if Mandela does the same for South Africa.

All great leaders have great flaws; Kennedy and Mandela were no exceptions. They were human, and in many ways exhibited the same selfishness and failures of integrity that we all face in our varying degrees at different times in our lives. And these two are likely far more different than they are similar; I get that. But I think that in a way, each of them has the potential to mark a turning point for a nation.

Another seed of a thought: Are leaders the catalysts of change, or are they markers of a greater change waiting to be made? Are they the genesis of a wave, or are they merely the break as the wave builds and rolls? Are they the drivers, or are they just the willing ones who sense the building force, give it voice, and sacrifice themselves (and others) to bring the wave to shore?

Autumn, and Sabbath

November 15, 2013 1 comment

I have found no place on earth more lovely than the Colorado Rocky Mountains in autumn. The aspen leaves have faded and fallen, and we’ve enjoyed our first snows as the Earth moves toward a winter’s rest. The days are shorter, the elk and deer are preparing for their winter gestational cycles, to mature into the young calves of spring. The green grasses of summer crisps brown underfoot, and an occasional fog darkens the days, freezes to the trees, and shimmer like a billion crystals in the pine groves.

As the calendar ebbs and the daylight gets shorter, I find myself in a more contemplative mood, reflecting on another year nearly gone. This year, like many before, has been full of great joys and more than a few frustrations, but in the main it has been a good year. In the “personal improvement” category, I have been able to chalk up a few wins.

First, and perhaps least on my list, I’m ending this year with the best level of physical fitness I’ve ever had. This has been no easy task, as I will likely have ridden 4,000 miles on my bicycle and spent 3-4 days each week in the gym. Coupled with a healthy diet – some say borderline ascetic – I’ve kept a very lean, strong frame.

Second came in the form of a mixed blessing. In April I was replaced as CEO of the company I had run since 2008. I was asked (and accepted) to remain with the company that I have loved for nearly a decade (hired on in 2006) and was able to craft a role more aligned with my talents and passions. I hadn’t realized how much stress I had been under! While I work at least as many hours as before, I came to realize that I want neither the responsibility nor the stress that the guy at the top has to shoulder. I was replaced with a friend, and it’s an honor and joy to serve with him.

Third, and most important, I’ve been able to return to deeper reading and deeper thinking. Carrying less stress and adjusting my calendar a bit, I’ve created space in my life for scripture and other deep readings, prayer, meditation, and much thought. By creating a little margin in my head I’ve been able to get back in touch with some of the disciplines that have brought me much joy in years past.

I recently read a series of short books by Laura Vanderkam that have helped me begin to build the same level of discipline around my schedule that I have had in physical fitness and diet for years. My days start much earlier (and end earlier), but have more structure. The alarm sounds at 5:05 AM and I’m up within a few minutes. Three days a week I’m in the gym for an hour; two days I’m reading by the fire. I get a good two hours of important life done before the sun comes up and the schedule of the day imposes.

I also realized that I have blocks of productive time from 8:00 until around 10:30, which I block for work-related reading, writing, and production. I try and avoid meetings or calls during this period, and I don’t check email. (This has been a huge adjustment in a virtual company where we all work from home!) Around 10:30 or 11:00 I’ll check and process email for a while, and then shut it off when the burning embers of my inbox go back to a smolder. I return any calls, make lunch, and get back to production work or any conference calls I’m essential for.

The afternoon is more of the same, with a block of time followed by the niggling issues of email or phone calls. I hit a bit of a wall around 3:00, but that gives me a chance to pick up a kid from school and handle a few personal errands if necessary. I get another flurry of productivity between 4:00 and 7:00, and by then it’s time to shut down the day and do family time.

The overarching theme here is “rhythm.” Like the turning of seasons or the steady inhale-exhale, I believe we are creatures of rhythm. I also believe that this is part of the spiritual truth embedded in the practice of Sabbath. Wayne Muller notes that the world’s great religions all esteem the notion of Sabbath – or deep rest and rhythm – as a time of contemplation, centering, and removing our minds from the incessant crush of busyness. Whether we practice Sabbath because of a deep religious heritage or for a time of personal re-centering, I’ve become a firm believer in built in intentional seasons of rest.

An easy way I’ve started this is with a no-email-on-Sabbath rule. It may seem frivolous but for a guy whose business life revolves so much around email (plus all the social emails that come into personal accounts) I found it too tempting to check my email when I had no legitimate reason to do so. Sitting in traffic, during a commercial break on family TV night, bored in church, sitting on a chair lift on a snowy afternoon – I’ve bowed to my email inbox in all these places, some of which are too sacred to be interrupted by the shrill call of email. So now, from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday email is strictly forbidden for me.

The first few weeks I tried this I was surprised and disappointed at how addicted I am to my email. Not wanting to have someone else’s expectations sitting unmet in my inbox, I fretted over what is getting stale or how far behind I might be getting as folks continued to lob stuff to me when I wasn’t looking. But after a few weeks it has become not only my new normal; it’s something I eagerly look forward to.

I understand that for many this is milquetoast. “It’s not a REAL Sabbath” folks can legitimately say. I am not keeping a Jewish Sabbath, and I’m not avoiding many other forms of technology in which I can operate and still enjoy rest. But getting the constant stressor and distraction of email out of my life for at least a solid 24 hours each week has made a profound difference in my stress levels and in my mindfulness.

Sabbath is quickly coming on this autumn Friday here in the Rockies; the sun is all but gone by 5:00 PM. As my Cabernet muse beckons, I’ll begin Sabbath with a little reflection on this week nearly gone, and some loose thinking of the new week about to be born. And I’ll do it with a greater level of peace and satisfaction than I’ve had in a long time.

Join me in Sabbath.

The doubt essential to faith

Lesley Hazelton exploring conviction, doubt, and the indelible connection between doubt and faith. Another great story by TED.

Categories: Thoughts Tags: , ,

On process…

The fewer the steps the shorter the path.

I think I made this up, but it sounds kinda Buddist.

Categories: Highlanders Tags: , , ,

On wisdom and good judgement

The church we attend in Golden is spending the month of June going through the ancient Hebrew proverbs in the Christian Old Testament. These proverbs (collected in the book that bears that name) are attributed to King Solomon of Israel, son of David. Solomon is regarded in many Christian and Jewish circles as the wisest man who ever lived.

In order to keep myself on track I’m reading the Proverb that corresponds with the day’s date. So yesterday (4 June) I read Proverbs 4. Today I read Proverbs 5, etc.

So in my reading yesterday I came across an interesting distinction that the author of Proverbs draws between “getting wisdom” and “developing good judgement.” (v. 4). I hadn’t given this much thought before but the author implies that wisdom is something we “get” – we either have it or we don’t. It also implies that it’s something that is received, or given to us by someone else or by circumstances, and not something we can necessarily attain simply by pursuit. By contrast, the author refers to good judgement as something that we are able to develop.

My takeaway from this distinction is that wisdom is what we pursue (as though we are searching for lost gold or silver – see Proverbs 2) and that as we gain wisdom, we develop good judgement. In other words, perhaps good judgement is what we DO with gained wisdom.

The corollary to this in my mind is that the quality of my judgement is dependent on – and an indication of – the quality of my wisdom.

Where Good Ideas Come From

Great exploration about the process of innovation, by Steven Johnson.

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