Cheap Renters

A recent Sunday-afternoon hike to Bill Falls (a.k.a. Hippie Hole) reminded me once again of how much ownership people think they have over these places that don’t belong to anyone, yet belong to everyone. As the sounds of loud music and profanity-laced conversation reverberated through the canyon near the Falls, I moved downstream, away from the chaos. It is truly amazing how many bikinis, beer bottles, and profanities hang out at Big Falls when the weather is nice enough for swimming. One reason my favorite time to go is winter. No one else is there.
IMG_4055eWhen I go deeper into God’s country, I want to see God’s order, not man’s chaos. I want to hear the silences and sounds of solitude. I want to smell the freshness of the wilderness, not beer and chlorine (yes, Big Falls actually smelled like chlorine…). I want to hear the music of the creek, not rock music. I don’t want to see garbage clogging up the creek. I don’t want to see broken glass, bottle caps, misplaced sandals, and abandoned pool toys. Essentially, I want to see less of people. More particularly, less of the profanity-spewing, intoxicated, pot-smoking variety. I like going there and seeing people having good, honest fun. But why does “fun” now have to include drugs and alcohol? Honestly, it is no wonder so many of the events for the local search and rescue involve Big Falls. When you combine beer and boulders and deep water, the results are likely to be devastating. As they too often are. We have these beautiful places to enjoy, places that are relatively untouched, and it is a shame that they are overrun during the summer with drugs and alcohol. When I see people with their piles of beer bottles (yes, literally piles), I find myself wondering whether they even care to remember the hike or not.

It is irritating to hike down to arguably one of the most beautiful corners of the Black Hills, with the graceful Falls, the pools of water, the towering granite crags, the mountain goats, the lush foliage in beautiful fall colors…and be greeted with a profane atmosphere that would merge well with a college campus, piles of beer bottles, and exceptionally skimpy swimming suits.

And this dynamic I think we have to blame on locals. Tourists don’t know enough about the area to go there with coolers of beer (the mental image of someone trying to navigate the trail to Big Falls carrying a cooler of beer is hilarious, by the way). So all you local kids who think it is cool to go down there to drink underage and smoke pot, get a life. Leave the Falls alone, so those not into drinking and pot smoking actually feel welcome there. And, just a thought, it might save you a fine or jail time. Sarah and I went to Big Falls much earlier this year, probably in May, and pretty much decided never to go there by ourselves again, at least not without taking a gun with us. The feeling of vulnerability is intimidating, when as females by ourselves we realized that the guys up on the rocks were smoking pot and watching us. At least I had my hefty lens with me. I knew I could do at least a little damage with that.

So please excuse my rant. But these Hills, these scenic spots, do not belong to us. They are on loan to us for a little while. I wish people would quit acting like cheap renters.

Winter Warmth

IMG_5630.1lowrezOne of the best places to be when it is cold out and there is snow on the ground is near a burn pile. When my Uncle Stuart first talked about getting some of the thinning burnt this winter, I hoped I’d be around to help. And when he drove by this morning and said he’d be starting to work on some of the piles, I got bundled up and headed over to the piles.

IMG_5640.lowrezMy uncle already had five of them lit, but barely, and there was an extra pitch fork in the back of the truck. For the next four hours or so, we monitored the burning, started a few more fires, consolidated the piles, and stirred up what was there to make sure everything would burn. The idea is to get everything burnt the first time around, and not have the fire die out before all the fuel has been consumed. While the fire is hot, the pile is left to itself, but when it gets smaller and the fuel has been significantly reduced, it becomes a duck-in-duck-out game, trying to toss smouldering pieces of wood further into the pile without getting your eyelashes singed off. Even when there are no flames, the heat is sometimes unbearable up close. I could never get as close as my uncle could get.

IMG_5632.1lowrezWe lost a few trees in the rain and high winds early this summer, which contributed to the piles, and we saved the 50-foot-tall trunks, to be kept for firewood. Most of what made up the piles was from clearing and land management. Overgrown forests are unhealthy forests, discourage diversity of flora and fauna, are a prime habitat for the pine beetles which wreck havoc on forested land, and are high-risk areas for forest fires. Responsible land management includes clearing out old and unhealthy trees, and thinning areas of too-thick new growth. When people begin to inhabit a region, there is an obligation to care for the land, but this goes beyond aesthetics, and goes far beyond the hands-off approach of some environmentalists. Before people inhabited the Black Hills, wildfires would periodically reset the landscape, eliminating old growth and restarting with new, healthy growth. If you look at comparison pictures from Custer’s expedition to now, it is quite obvious that the forest has spread since then. Now we keep wildfires from taking out entire areas of trees, to the best of our ability, but if we’re going to put out wildfires, then we also need to do the job of the wildfire, and that is to clear out undergrowth and old, unhealthy tree growth.

IMG_5599.1lowrezThis management also helps to prevent the massive destruction we’ve seen in the Hills because of the pine beetle. Probably due in large part to my Grandpa’s and my uncle’s careful management of the home place, we haven’t had any issues with the pine beetle, which has decimated other areas of the Black Hills.  Pretty soon, though, the beetle will run its course and the forest will begin to replace itself. Either people need to responsibly clear and thin the forest to promote a healthy ecosystem, or God’s Creation will do the job itself! Rather fascinating, actually.

Sunny, my uncle’s faith Labrador, tagged along with us, chasing rabbits and eating cow manure. She makes me miss Baby, my other sister’s dog, who is now back in Illinois.

IMG_5646.1lowrezWith the nippy wind blowing and the snow freezing underfoot, the heat from the fires felt wonderful. We monitored seven piles, two of which were good sized, but north of us along the highway, some independent contractors were burning about fifty small slash piles on our place, which were a part of a fuel-reduction program. In that area, which is now more open though still heavy forested, the grass is thick and lush in the summer, and there’s a little hollow where deer are frequently seen. It will be great having the burn piles out of there! They’ve been sitting there for several years now, and just weren’t very attractive.

When I finally came in for lunch, smelling strongly of smoke and the outdoors, it was almost 3:00. The day had flown by. The lingering smell of smoke still hangs in our little valley. It is a comforting smell. It is the smell of warmth in the wintertime.

Laura Elizabeth

A time to celebrate

IMG_5301.lowrezEvery day, winter moves a day closer and Christmas is right around the corner. Traditions and family habits mingle with new ways of doing things, in our new home in the Hills. The smell of cookies baking recalls last year, and the year before, and the year before, and the festive bustle of preparation adds a spice to otherwise ordinary activities. The hymns are sung in church with perhaps a little more gusto than during the rest of the year. “Joy to the World” rings loud in the sanctuary. We have such cause to celebrate! What a beautiful time of year.

IMG_5254.1lowrezOne tradition, though, almost got sidelined this Christmas because of space constraints, but the girls and I raised a cry of opposition – We live in a tiny house, but when it was suggested that we wouldn’t decorate a tree this year…Well, we didn’t hesitate to voice our opinion. So Saturday morning, Dad and I hopped in the truck and went out to cut us down a Christmas tree. It was a chilly, cloudy, breezy December morning, but the trees don’t mind. We were looking for a small tree, one that would sit on top of a table by our window, so it couldn’t be any more than three or four feet tall. We went out to a stand of trees near the highway, and started hunting.

IMG_5265.1lowrezWe cut down about ten trees, I think, trying to find one that would work. If an “environmentalist” had seen us, they probably would have burst an artery. But we called it “thinning.” These little stands of trees reseed and become overgrown in a matter of years, and responsible land maintenance would include thinning them or clearing parts of them completely in the next few years. Some environmentalist efforts in the Black Hills have included leaving the forest entirely alone until it is so overgrown that even animals don’t want to live there (the Norbeck Wildlife Preserve, for instance).  So anyway, we chopped down a passel. There are literally millions of trees on the home place. There isn’t a shortage. There is an over-supply.

IMG_5253.1lowrezWhile Dad and I were looking for the perfect tree, Remington and Dove were nearby. The cold seemed to have gotten into Remington’s blood and made him frisky. He kept coming up close, then galloping off, bucking and kicking and racing circles through the open meadow. Little Dove kept to herself, but watched us. I don’t think the cold worked in her veins the same way it worked in Remington’s.

We took our findings back home and ran the choices by Mom and the girls. The final choice was a somewhat ugly but symmetrical tree, which fits perfectly by the window. We have a long, glorious memory list of trees that were much wider when in the house than they were outside of the house, trees that fell over, trees that we wired to the wall to keep them from falling over, trees that had two points (which one do you put the topper on?), trees with bald spots…This little ugly one fits right in with all the rest of our wonderful Christmas tree memories.

IMG_5332.1lowrezThat evening, we opened boxes of ornaments, like opening boxes of memories – Each one has some sort of memory tied to it. Whether it was a gift from a special friend, or whether it was Mom and Dad’s first Christmas ornament (they got married two days after Christmas, in 1989), or whether it was handmade at a girls’ craft evening, or whether we simply remember laughing at how funny certain ornaments look, each of the ornaments has a memory tied to it. We packed as many strands of Christmas lights on our little tree, as many as we could, and hung as many of the special ornaments as would fit. We made every twig earn its keep.

IMG_5288.lowrezOur Creche is my favorite of our Christmas decorations. When I was little, Dad started buying the pieces of the Creche for Mom, and gave them as Christmas gifts over several years. I loved it as a child, and I love it still – The pieces each look like a watercolor portrait, and the wistful, worshipful expression on Mary’s face is such a beautiful interpretation of the Virgin Mother.

IMG_5295.lowrezChristmastime is possibly my favorite time of year. It is a time to celebrate, to remember, to rejoice, to mourn, to sing and make music to God, to fellowship – Although the cultural view leaves Christ out of Christmas, many still don’t. And, if I may say so, those of us who don’t leave Christ out of Christmas have so much more cause to be joyful, to celebrate, to make merry, than those to whom Christmas is simply a time to spend money and receive presents. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the gift-giving, the tree, the lights, the other traditions. But without Christ as the reason for the celebrating, Christmas would be a dead holiday.  But it isn’t a dead holiday. At Christmas, Christians celebrate the coming of a living Messiah, who came to fulfill the promises in the Old Testament, the promise of a Person who will one day defeat and destroy Satan, the promise of a Blessing which all families of earth can enjoy, the promise of a Davidic King, a King who is reigning now and will reign forever and judge righteously, the promise of a Prince of Peace who will one day return. What a cause to celebrate!

Laura Elizabeth



IMG_4421.1lowrez Dad is a South Dakota native, and he is back in his element. He went out this morning around 7:00, to “look for that buck.” Half an hour later, we got a call saying he had gotten a buck, in a meadow about a half mile from our front door. Talk about efficient. And he’s a dead shot, let me tell you. We’re not positive it was that buck, but we still have another tag left, so maybe we’ll get that buck after all.

Field dressing is something of a nasty business – The carcass is slit from the rib cage down and the entrails are essentially lifted out. They are all contained within a membrane sac and, provided you don’t cut the sac, they come out pretty cleanly. Nevertheless, it is a bloody process. Liver and heart are saved for cooking later, the inside of the carcass is washed out and the entire carcass is hung up to age.

IMG_4418.1lowrezIn Illinois, with all the liberal bureaucracy and socialist gun control, being a legal hunter and firearm owner is challenging, and the hunting part isn’t nearly as simple as a hike from the front door. And you can’t just string the carcass up in your yard when you live in town, at least not in Illinois. I don’t think that is considered particularly socially acceptable.

Hunting is a misunderstood endeavor, by a significant portion of today’s population. When children are taught in schools the evolutionary idea that people are nothing more than a somewhat higher level of animal, why wouldn’t hunting be misunderstood?

IMG_4425.1lowrezBut one only has to look as far as the book of Genesis to see that God gave mankind the job of stewardship of the earth (chapter 1), the command to fill the earth and subdue it (chapters 1 and 9), and permission to eat animals for food (chapter 9) which, I believe, was given with the condition of stewardship. God’s design for “stewardship” doesn’t mean leaving the environment alone, but treating it carefully, responsibly, and as a blessing from God. This includes responsible harvesting of wildlife and fostering healthy wildlife populations.

We aren’t exactly set up for processing the deer ourselves this year, and we need to get our freezer up and running, but we’re all already looking forward to having venison for a change.

Laura Elizabeth