Independence Day Adventures

Once again, I’m coming back to this blog after too long of a break! But summer has been busier than I anticipated, and sitting in front of a computer screen isn’t super high on my priority list when the weather is gorgeous and there are trails to chase.

However, yesterday’s adventures very specifically deserve an article, in the same vein as a few other of the “near miss report” or “hiking misadventure” articles I’ve written.

The glorious plan was to hike Harney Peak, the highest point east of the Rockies (and consequently the highest point in the Hills) and watch ALL the fireworks. All of them. Rapid City, Custer, I think Hot Springs, and any other private/freelance/illegal displays we’d happen to see. It really was a good plan. But as the afternoon wore on, the sky grew heavier with clouds, and as we drove up to Sylvan Lake and picnicked there with the rest of our friends who were to hike this with us, the rock spires were hazy and faint behind low-lying clouds. We knew there wouldn’t be anything to see from the top of Harney Peak. Except clouds. And I can see clouds anytime I want from the top of Harney Peak. And it doesn’t have to involve hiking up there late in the day, and getting back down in the wee hours of the night. But we figured we’d at least see the flashes from the fireworks, which some of the group actually seemed to think would be as good as seeing the fireworks themselves.
IMG_20190704_185417051_HDRAnyway, we all wanted to hike, so we did. We were armed with rain jackets, plenty of water, some extra layers, cookies, summer sausage, and even a JetBoil and chai tea mix. We were set. None of us was really paying attention to the weather (oops), but as we hiked higher and higher, it grew foggier and foggier. It was a gorgeous hike, absolutely stunning. Trail #4 was more overgrown and green and lush than I’d ever seen it, with wildflowers galore, including spearleaf stonecrop, a little beauty I only discovered this year.
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IMG_0199eWe made excellent time, and as we approached the spur to Little Devil’s Tower, we passed a group of three from St. Louis who had just come from Harney and were on their way down. Fog, fog, and more fog, was the report. Well, clever locals that we were, we continued our hike.IMG_20190704_191849647_HDRIt rained on and off, so our rain jackets went on, then came off, and went on again, and when we were about a mile and a half or two miles from the top, the thunder started. It was faint and unthreatening, and although the recommended caution is to not hike if you can even hear thunder, I’m afraid no one around here would ever hike if we seriously listened to that advice, since it always thunders. Not saying people shouldn’t listen to that advice, obviously, but I’m simply reporting on reality…Anyway, we continued on to the top, and by the time we were out in the open approaching the peak, the lightening was happening pretty fast, and the storm was obviously getting closer, just about on top of us. There was some concern among a few of us, but the firetower was just ahead, just another five or ten minutes away, so we kept on. If we turned around, there was less chance of shelter, lots of snags and widow makers, lots of open ground, no place to hide. The fog was even thicker now, and the sun had set awhile ago.Sure enough, we arrived at the top in good order, and there was absolutely nothing to see. Nothing. One other small group was crazy enough to hike Harney to watch fireworks in the fog (also locals, predictably), arriving at the top just minutes after we did. The fog was thick, and the darkness grew thicker. The lightening was flashing all around, mostly sheet lightening, but the thunder was constant, so that the thunder couldn’t possibly be associated with any particular flash of lightening. A few in our group checked the weather radars, now that cell service was back, and we had a huge storm approaching, including tornado warnings for our area. Oh, joy. We texted family members and let them know we were safe, and would ride out the storm in the firetower. Rapid City had cancelled their fireworks and Custer apparently had shot all theirs off already, ahead of the storm. So much for seeing bursts of light through the clouds.

The storm hit with some impressive force. We had gone to the lower level of the firetower, which is grounded in case of lightening strike and is of solid cinder block construction, and were busy making chai, getting warm and dry, and eating cookies, when the wind kicked up and hail started pinging against the windows, which flickered and flashed ceaselessly with lightening. Lantern light cast comfortably creepy shadows.received_2140918526211436
IMG_0205e We sheltered in place for more than an hour, waiting for the storm to pass. When the main brunt of the storm was beyond us, a handful of our group went upstairs and their exclamations brought everyone up. The heavy fog and clouds had lifted, and we had wonderfully clear views…of everything. We could see the lights of Keystone, Hill City, Custer, Rapid, and more, and the storm played out the most amazing lightening show we could have imagined. It was glorious and terrible and beautiful. The black of night was studded with the gems of the lights of the towns, with just the outlines of hills visible. The darkness was shattered again and again as sheet lightening and bolts lit up the night brighter than day, blinding, dazzling, and for mere moments making the fleeing, scurrying clouds visible as they scuttled across the sky, and lighting up layers and layers of hills. Occasional fireworks were shot off in the distance, and the clouds broke in the west, revealing the most delicate crescent of a golden moon. What a beautiful night, waiting out a storm at the top of Harney Peak with good friends.IMG_0245e
IMG_0218eAt last, there was a true break in the storm, and with another one set to hit in an hour and a half, we packed our bags and began the descent in the dark, our flashlights and headlamps bobbing along comfortably yet eerily in the blackness. It felt like we were the Fellowship of the Ring. Conversations bounced around quietly, there was occasional laughter, sweet friendship, and also a sense of calm urgency to make good time down the trail in case another storm hit. Lightening flickered way off in the lower sky, whenever we had glimpses of the lower sky, and thunder rumbled comfortably. The distance passed quickly in the dark.

It was midnight when we arrived back at the trailhead just as the rain was beginning to come in downpour. We hugged and said our goodbyes, and headed home, tired yet excited, and thankful that we were safe. The Christian radio station was playing the song “10,000 Reasons,” by Matt Redman. We sang along with it quietly, and the words were poignant.

Bless the Lord, oh my soul,
Oh my soul,
Worship His Holy name.
Sing like never before,
Oh my soul,
I’ll worship Your Holy name.
The sun comes up,
It’s a new day dawning;
It’s time to sing Your song again.
Whatever may pass,
And whatever lies before me,
Let me be singing
When the evening comes.
On Independence Day, it is so easy to get caught up in the patriotism and the celebration of freedom and hoping the best for our country. It is good to love one’s nation, and I love America. But the greatest freedom is the freedom that comes in knowing Christ, having our sins forgiven, our hearts changed, our relationship to God restored, and in living a spirit-filled life to please Him. What a way to celebrate the Fourth of July, with Christian brothers and sisters, wondering and marveling at the glory of His Creation, trusting Him for our safety (even in times of poor judgement), reveling in friendship and companionship, enjoying the freedom to worship our great God, and singing praise songs at midnight. And all this is just a foretaste of how glorious Heaven will be. America, I love you, and I pray that Americans would come to be known again as a nation that fears God. But America, you don’t hold a candle to the glory of Heaven, or even to the earthly glory of Christian fellowship, and I’m glad that I have citizenship there.
Soli Deo gloria.

Canada/Alaska Adventure | Entry #11

Happy Independence Day! July 4th can be a hard day to celebrate, with our nation as volatile and starkly divided as it is. But it is refreshing to put all of the politics aside for a day and gather together to celebrate our freedoms, and to honor those who came before us and made those freedoms a reality.IMG_0329eThe Independence Day festivities got a great start at high noon down by the Matanuska River, with a flyover by the Kingdom Air Corps, a local missionary aviation school, as a tribute to our veterans. Check out their website here. They particularly do work in Russia, reaching small, rural communities who have never heard the gospel. A really amazing mission.IMG_0255eIMG_0262eFollowing the flyover was the parade, featuring local horsemen, as well as the various souped-up, brightly-painted wrecker cars for the launch later. The lineup even included an old cop car, complete with siren and lights. Classy. IMG_0289eIMG_0280eIMG_0270eAfter the parade and the food, we all gathered for the event that really draws the crowd – The car launch. It is a totally redneck solution to having too much daylight for fireworks, and it is hilarious fun. The brightly-painted launch vehicles are driven to the top of a bluff and, simple: let fly off a cliff into a small pond at the bottom. Because why not? Who doesn’t get a kick out of watching vehicles hurtling wildly over a bluff, taking out a few trees on the way down? Six automobiles and a snow machine were launched. There’s some great video footage on The Alaska Life Facebook page.
IMG_0393eIMG_0380eIMG_0358e2There are lots of crazy and fun traditions surrounding our national freedom holiday. Some things have meaning behind the tradition, some are just plain fun. But what it all boils down to is that we are glad to be free, and we are thankful for our heritage of freedom, which we only enjoy because of the sacrifices of so many, past and present. And in spite of all that our nation is going through and has gone through, in spite of the hatred and vitriol, the violence, and our self-destructing culture (sorry, Debbie Downer here…but I can’t really state it any other way)…in spite of all that, there still is hope.  Truly. There still are people who believe in freedom as a God-given right, as a right that must be exercised alongside morality, and there still are those who are honorable, peace-loving, peace-seeking, and will fight for what they believe is right. God is not surprised by where our country is at. He is in complete control. God is still God.

“May we think of freedom, not as the right to do as we please, but as the opportunity to do what is right.”

~Peter Marshall

IMG_0308eIMG_0293eI hope you’ve had an encouraging, uplifting Independence Day, were able to spend time with family and friends enjoying Creation and being reminded of the Creator behind it all, the God who has blessed us so richly, in innumerable ways, and Who has given us freedoms here in this country which we enjoy and too often take for granted. But most importantly, God has presented to us the opportunity to gain spiritual freedom, through His Son Christ Jesus. That is true freedom, and it can never be taken away.

Happy Independence Day!

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Independence Day 2016

The Fourth of July is always one of my favorite festive days! We have so much to be thankful for, and it is good to remember and reflect on the blessings our nation has enjoyed since the first colonies were established 400 years ago.IMG_7749In 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Separatists and Strangers,  declaring their resolution to work together in the New World.  The Strangers were adventurers and soldiers, but the Separatists were Protestant men and women and children who were seeking a greater degree of religious freedom, out from under the authority and tyranny of the state-run Anglican church. Their agreement read:

“Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia…”

For the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith! And we are still reaping the rewards of that charter today. Independence Day isn’t just about the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence Day is about our heritage of freedom, particularly our heritage of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, our heritage of heroism and bravery and virtue. Independence Day is about the Pilgrims and their blood, sweat, and tears, shed for “for the Glory of God”. Independence Day is about the glories and tragedies of the American Revolution, which was successful following national submission and repentance and fasting before God.  Independence Day is about “In God We Trust,” and “one Nation under God.” Independence Day is about love for a nation that was founded by men who adhered to the principles that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Independence Day is about Samuel Adams’ words on the day the Declaration was signed: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in Heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.” Independence Day is about men like George Washington, who believed that “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” Independence Day is about John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Independence Day is about the freedom to teach that to our children, to proclaim the truth of freedom in Christ to our families and friends and to total strangers.
Stockade LakeSo what better way to spend Independence Day than with family and friends, enjoying the freedom to assemble with our brothers and sisters of the faith?
Stockade LakeStockade Lake was bustling activity yesterday afternoon, tourists and locals camping and boating and enjoying the beauty of the Black Hills. The beaches were overrun with festive crowds, but our friends had managed to snag a pavilion earlier in the day, so we had a corner of the lake to ourselves.
Osprey over Stockade LakeWe enjoyed osprey and herons and ducks, and very few bothersome insects since it has been so dry. Trixie came with us, of course, and I think she met her match for energy in our friends’ youngest two. Calvin and Laurel couldn’t get enough of her, and I think she liked the attention. After all, they were just about her size!
Stockade LakeIMG_7578The kids swam in the lake, and Sarah brought her kayaks, much to the delight of the boys, so after dinner they hauled the kayaks down to the lake and were pretty much gone for a couple of hours. We all visited and shared good food and fellowship, and were showered on by a little thunderburst that came our way briefly. The storm didn’t last long, and the cool evening wound down to dusk.
IMG_7770Those of us who didn’t mind getting home late headed over to our pastor’s house to watch the Custer fireworks from his family’s backyard. They have a great view of the show, and it seemed like about half our church converged on their home for the evening! Our church is pretty geographically separated, many of us traveling 45 minutes or more to get to church. So those opportunities we have midweek to see one another, to see our brothers and sisters, are cherished dearly. We were treated not only to the fireworks, but also to beautiful lightning from another storm that slowly closed in. We were close enough to still feel the resonating explosions, the far enough away to be able to keep up our conversations. It was fun to hear the burst of applause from the whole town of Custer after the last flares of the finale. Custer’s fireworks are simple in comparison with what other larger towns can afford, but they are no less enjoyed.
IMG_7786We watched the traffic streaming out of town, and then it slowed to a trickle. The noises of the crowd down in Custer quieted. The lightning was flickering and flashing, closer now. Then the rain started gently. It was a good day. We have so much to be thankful for.

Laura Elizabeth