Didn’t Fall With The Fall

I’ve missed the beginning of fall by a day or two, but wanted to re-publish this post I wrote two years ago.

Those that know me know that I don’t really do favorites. I don’t have a favorite color, or a favorite food, or whatever. I recently had trouble accessing a computer account because it asked my favorite color as a security question and I had no idea what I had answered.

But, increasingly, I think fall may be my favorite season. Part of that is pragmatic — I prefer the more agreeable temperature to the heat of summer or the cold of winter. For me, fall is the most likely season to have a day that’s just perfect.

The funny thing, though, is that part of it is for a reason that’s completely irrelevant. Going outside on a day that’s archetypically fall to me, on a day that just feels like fall, I can’t help but be taken back to the feeling of beginning a new school year.

Fall weather takes me back to that feeling, of starting something new, of unlimited possibilities, of anticipation of meeting new people, doing new things, getting a fresh start. Even though it’s been more than a couple of years since I started a new school year, that feeling remains.

And, really, there have been a few times in my adult life that have reinforced that — I graduated from college and moved to Indianola in August, so was very much experiencing the new that fall. Two years later, I moved from Indianola to Houston in early October. I moved back to Huntsville in the month of August, and moved into my house the following fall.

It’s a good feeling, and a good reminder — that, even now, there are unlimited possibilities, fresh starts, and new beginnings; that there are new friends to make, new places to explore and unwritten adventures just waiting around the corner to be had.

Two Roads Diverged


As I am wont to do, I got up and went for a hike on Green Mountain last Friday morning.

I’ve really made a daily hike a priority lately, as a way of keeping discipline while I’m not working, getting some exercise, and having a regular quiet time for prayer or meditation.

That last one is an interesting one. I talk to God a lot on the hiking trail. Sometimes He shares things with me. And sometimes He uses the trail itself, the hiking experience, to teach me things.

There was the time I got on the trail later in the day that I realized, later in the year than I should have, and it got dark while I was still in mid-hike. And on a cloudy night under the tree cover, that’s pretty dark. The trail disappeared into darkness pretty quickly ahead of me, and for a brief moment, I was afraid I was lost. Worst-case scenario, I could have just pointed in the right-ish direction and followed the road noises when I was close enough, but cutting through the underbrush is nasty when you can’t see it. Thankfully, I realized that, while visibility was pretty limited, I could see the next step or two. And, ultimately, that’s all I needed. And, yes, the application for my life was pretty blatant. Stop worrying about the path you can’t see; take the steps you can.

Another time, I hiked in the snow, and lost the trail. I walked on in the direction I thought it was heading, but couldn’t find it again. I tried again, and again. No luck. Finally, I gave up, and turned around to go back. When I did, I saw two trails ahead of me. The one I’d came from, and the way that I was trying to go, which had doubled back at the point the snow obscured it. The message was a little esoteric, but no less fitting for the time — just because you think you’re going forward, it doesn’t mean you are, and sometimes you have to go backward to move on.

The day before the story I’m trying to get around to telling, I’d had another of those hikes. It had started sprinkling. I’d hiked in the rain a few weeks earlier, and had loved it, and so even though I was done and back in my car when it started sprinkling, I got back out and started the trail again. I prayed for some real rain. I decided that I would hike to a certain point, and if it still wasn’t pouring by that point, I would turn around and head back. So I started onto the trail. And it kept sprinkling half-heartedly. And I got about halfway to the point I had decided on, and stopped. I continued to pray for real rain, but all I got was some impressive thunder and unimpressive sprinkles. I was about to turn back. But, as I was about to, I stopped myself. No, I had said, regardless, I was going to keep pushing on to that point. So I did. And it kept sprinkling. But, as I neared that point, after I would have been off the trail if I’d turned back, it started raining in earnest. Beautifully and gloriously. It was an amazing hike. And one I would have missed if I’d given up on rain, given up on my prayer when I was first tempted to.

So, finally, Friday. I was hiking. And I was a little ways into the trail, when I noticed a divergent path. I’d never seen it before. In fact, though I found it again easily and took it a second time Friday, I’ve not seen it since, though I’ve not been really consciously looking at the right time, apparently. It was fresh, laid out with dirt but still rough. There were no official signs yet, but there were orange ribbons tied to trees along the way. So, of course, I followed it. I wanted to know where it went, if it, in fact, went anywhere yet.

And, sure enough, after following it for a bit, the trail ended. There was dirt, and then there was grass and underbrush. But as I turned around to go back, I noticed more orange ribbons tied to trees. So I followed them. At one point, I thought they ended, but, again, spotted them continuing onward at an odd angle, and kept going. Finally, they stopped again. I looked, every way I could think of, but no more ribbons. As I was about to turn around, I looked down — trail. Not fresh trail, worn trail. Looking around again, I realized that I knew exactly where I was.

Right now, with my job situation and other things in my life, I’m off the trail I thought I was following. I’m on a new path, and one that’s not marked particularly well. Friday, I had a choice of whether to follow that trail. In real life, I don’t.

But sometimes, that unmarked trail still takes us where we need to be.

On A LOST Highway



I loved LOST.

I loved its ability to make you wonder.

OK, we know there ARE polar bears on the tropical island. But exactly WHY are there polar bears on the island? Everything was presented matter-of-factly, leaving the audience to wonder exactly what made the highly improbably possible.

And that’s why I love the car on the mountain.

It’s far and away the most interesting thing on my hiking trail — a dilapidated white car, sitting several yards off of the Sugartree Trail on Green Mountain in Huntsville.

It makes no sense at all. Having walked the area many many many times. I have no idea how it got there. And, “how” aside, I have no idea why it got there. It’s completely random, and possibly the closest thing to a LOST mystery I’ve experienced in real life.

I’ve tried treating it as a writing prompt, trying to come up with a backstory that would make it make sense. And I struggle to come up with anything I really like, anything I could really believe, that doesn’t involve someone putting it there to make people wonder why it’s there.

So, after years of walking past it, I remain as clueless as I was the first time.

And, in the age when my “Pocketful of Omniscience” iPhone can give me the answers to just about any question I can think to ask instantaneously, I love the car on the mountain for reminding me that there are some things I just don’t get to know.







No Mo’ Snow

A week ago, I was off work because of the snow.

Today, the high is supposed to be almost 70.

That’s crazy.

I’m hoping it stays more like this week.

I’m tired of the snow.

Actually, I don’t mind the snow, per se. It’s pretty.

I’m tired of the ice. I’m tired of roads being closed. I’m tired of driving through it when the roads aren’t closed. I’m tired of the office shutting down. I’m tired of being stuck on the other side of the mountain from Heather and the boys.

In fact, I’m really tired of being stuck on the other side of the mountain from Heather and the boys. The first day of the biggest snow, I stayed inside and sulked. Didn’t step foot outside my door. Didn’t go look at the snow, much less touch it or play in it. The boys were helping Heather build a snowman, and I couldn’t be there because the roads between us were closed. Sigh.

It’s been amazing how much it’s snowed the last two years. Caden, who just turned five in December, is going to think this is what winter in Huntsville is supposed to be like. He’s in for a disappointment. (Unless, like me, he gets tired of it. Then he’ll be relieved to realize this year isn’t what winter in Huntsville is really like.)

At least I got my taxes filed during the snow day last week. That’s something, right?

How about you? Are you enjoying the incessant weather wonderland this year? Are you ready for the snow to go away? Were things even any different where you live?

The Stars, Like Dust

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “The Night Sky.”

“[God] took [Abraham] outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” — Genesis 15:15.

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” — Genesis 22:17

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” — Psalm 8:3-4

“He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name.” — Psalm 147:4

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

If you drive just a little ways out of Huntsville, you discover something rather cool about the stars.

They twinkle.

It’s a little ironic, because, of course, they don’t really. They don’t twinkle in real life, and if you’re in space, with a clear view of them, they don’t twinkle. But looking up from Earth’s surface, they appear to, because of the distortion of the planet’s atmosphere. Go into a city, however, where there’s even more distortion — lights, pollution, etc. — and they stop twinkling. The “high-resolution” view you need to see the twinkling gets lost.

I noticed the stars twinkling somewhere I was able to see it a few months ago, and it was amazing. Like discovering that a little bit of lost childhood magic was real after all.

But the bigger revelation still is to get even further away from civilization, to get out into the unadulterated darkness of night and see just how dark it really isn’t.

Get far enough away from the lights of civilization, and there are far more stars than you remember there being. Depending on how old you are, depending on where you live, depending on how much attention you pay when you’re on the open highway, there very well be more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life.

I had that experience, too, not that long ago. And I was awed. Truly, truly awed. I had forgotten how glorious the night sky could be.

And it made me realize something. In scripture, the stars, and their number, are used to point to the awesomeness and power and generosity of God. And as a rule, modern man looks up at the night sky, and sees stars that number in the dozens. But someone living at the time the words were first written would have taken something completely different away from those scriptures than we do today. They would have imagined a sky more glorious than we do, a number much higher than we do, and it would have pointed to a God much more magnificent as a result. The lights of our civilization dilute that for us; they dilute our understanding of the wonder of the stars and they dilute our understanding of the wonder of God.

Our civilization does that in countless other ways. Our comforts buffer us from wonder on a daily basis. We miss sunsets in favor of televisions. We miss the dirt beneath our feet in favor of automobiles. We miss so much magic, because we shelter ourselves from it. And as a result, we miss appreciating the Artist behind that magic.

What simpler way to reclaim that magic than with the twinkle, twinkle of a little star?

The Forest For The Trees

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Forests.”

I wanted to do better than my post a couple of weeks ago about Gardening, which was the single worst post I’ve done in this series, but I genuinely had nothing to say about gardening. It’s just not a very me subject.

That post was so frustrating that I was automatically frustrated when I saw that the next topic was Forests, which initially struck me as little better than Gardening in the me-having-something-to-say-about-it area.

My first thought was basically, I have no experience or thoughts about forests that I can write about.

Somewhere in there, Heather offered to write a guest post for this topic that would, in fact, have been awesome, but she also said that she wasn’t going to be able to write it in anywhere near the time I needed to get this series wrapped up anytime soon, so I had to pass, but I really hope that she writes it on her blog, because, as I mentioned, it will be awesome. (I also hope she’ll make good on her guest-post interest before too long.)

My third thought — OK, what else can we do with “forests.” Something figurative? Metaphorical? Hmmm. Forests. Forests. What’ve we got?

Well, there’s the whole “can’t see the forest for the trees” cliché. Anything there? Hmmm.

Hey, wait, what exactly is a forest? Pull out the iPhone, open Dictionary.com, type in forest, and — “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush.” So, when you’re walking through an area that’s basically nothing but trees, that’s a forest? Like all those hours I’ve spent in the last couple of years doing exactly that? All that time has been in forests, and I’m sitting here saying I don’t have any experience with them?

I would like to think of myself as the sort of person who is good at metaphorically seeing the forest for the trees. Having the realization that I can’t even do that literally was a rather good wake-up call.

When I Fall

Welcome to autumn!

I wrote a post last year about it being the first day of fall, and wanted to do so again this year.

In fact, I considered just republishing last year’s post, but it just didn’t seem right.

Oh, sure, there’s all that good sciencey stuff explaining about the first day of fall being the autumnal equinox when Earth’s subsolar point crosses the equator. And my basic feelings about fall (which were also the subject of a Reconstruction post earlier this year) as, moreso than spring, a time of fresh starts and new beginnings still apply this year as well.

That said, yeah, this year, I’m just not feeling it yet. And I think a good bit of that is literal. There’s a particular sort of day I associate with the beginning of fall — sun shining, weather cooler, a slight crisp breeze — and so far, we haven’t had a day that just really struck me as being fall.

And that may be the reason that I’m just not in the same place emotionally, either, but I’m not. It’s harder at the moment seeing this as a time when new beginnings are right around the corner. And that’s not a bad thing at all, I’m going into the fall at a place where I’m actually pretty content with the status quo; I don’t feel quite the need for something new that I did the last three or so autumns.

Who knows, the weather may change soon, and I may get that old fall feeling again.

As it is, I’m just looking forward to seeing a little more color.

Recent Random Pics

Some of these are from my 365project. Others are not.

An Ill Wind (Katrina Musings)

(I originally posted this on my blog last year; I’ve updated it slightly for this year.)

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

Me, at the Walls of Jericho

I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the experience.

I remember being outside that night. I remember the wind and the rain. I remember how glorious it was — the storm was the embodiment of the raw experience of being in nature, with all its power and majesty. I remember the feeling of the driving wind and the pouring rain, and it seeming glorious. I remember enjoying it.

Elsewhere, people were losing their homes. Elsewhere, people were dying.

That night was Monday, August 29, 2005. The day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall. Five years ago today.

Five years ago, Katrina was the most remote thing in the world. Sure, it was a big deal, but not one that affected me. It was a tragedy, but that tragedy was other people’s problem. When I realized where the wind and rain had come from, I felt somewhat guilty that I had enjoyed something — the remnants of Katrina that blew over Huntsville — that had caused such devastation elsewhere, but that was it. It just wasn’t part of my life.

I first felt the wings of the butterfly that weekend, in the smallest of ways, and, looking back on my attitude, the pettiest. We had made plans for friends in Jackson, Miss,. to come visit that weekend. Given the situation in Jackson, which was still without power and would be for a while, where gasoline was a precious commodity when it could be found at all, and where people were, even that far inland, dealing with substantial damage, my friend decided not to come to Huntsville, and to try to help out there instead. And I, I’m ashamed to admit, was annoyed by the inconvenience. In my defense, I still didn’t get it; still didn’t understand the scope and magnitude of what had happened.

I’m also a bit embarrassed to admit that the next time Hurricane Katrina blew into my life, it was in a positive way. My then-wife Nicole got a job on a state contract working with Katrina evacuees in north Alabama. These were people who had been transported out of New Orleans; basically, they all boarded a bus, and were driven up Interstate 65. Along the way, they were dropped off basically randomly based on how many people could be housed in a given location. Based on the luck of the draw, they might end up somewhere like the cities of Birmingham or Huntsville, or they might end up in a small Alabama town somewhere like Cullman. Nicole’s job was to help those people adjust to life after Katrina, either by helping them get settled in Alabama or by helping them move back home. (I joked at the time that her job was to go around and be Tom Petty for her clients: “You don’t have to live like a refugee.”) It was a good job for her, and a contract that paid rather well.

The next significant time Katrina and I crossed paths was in October 2006, when I visited Stennis Space Center, the first time I’d been to the coast since landfall. It was very odd seeing the changes in Biloxi and Gulfport, where I’d visited several times during my Mississippi days. In some ways, it was hard to believe it had already been a year, in others, it was hard to believe it had only been a year. Some buildings looked like they must have immediately after the hurricane, while others (like, of course, casinos) had impressive new structures designed and built from nothing post-Katrina. It was interesting talking to people at Stennis about how their lives had been, and continued to be, different after Katrina.

Katrina would arguably affect my life substantially at least one more time — the hurricane played some role in my ex-fiancée Susanna moving from her family’s home in Louisiana, and thus very possibly some role in her ending up in Huntsville. Without it, who knows whether we would have ever met. And the wings of the butterfly keep flapping …

So why did I start this post with a picture of me hiking? In the picture, I’m holding a hiking stick, one I bought in May 2006 in Jackson, Miss. I was on the only week-long vacation I had then ever taken in my career, the time and money for which were made possible by Nicole’s state contract job. In an independent coffee shop there, I saw the stick for sale — handcrafted from wood felled during Hurricane Katrina. Given the circumstances that had led to us being there, we just had to buy it. At the time, it was just a memento. I never used it as a hiking stick until last April, when I went for my first real hike, a week after Susanna called off our engagement — the wake of a further ill wind that Katrina had helped blow into my life, years later.

The stick is a reminder — of Katrina, specifically, and all the ways it touched my life, and, in general, that no man is an island, of how something that seems completely remote and unconnected can end up changing one’s life in ways you could never anticipate.

And that even when the winds and rains come, it doesn’t mean it can’t be glorious.

Only Life

It’s been a while since I’ve written just a general “what’s going on in life” post, but I’ve written enough topic-specific posts about different things that I thought I should do a catch-all catch-up post.

My brother Jonathan came in fourth place in the election. He was only slightly behind the third place candidate, but both of them were well behind the two candidates who made it into the run-off. He had a pretty decent lead over the bottom four candidates, however. It was, of course, disappointing that things didn’t go better, but he did a good job making a name for himself, and he ran a respectable campaign. The other candidates took him seriously as a contender, and he received some notable endorsements. I don’t know what he has planned for the future, but I think he built up some political capital this summer should he choose to use it.

For the first time in months, we had to cancel an improv show Tuesday night, because only one person showed up. We told him he can use his ticket for a future show, and, as a bonus, used him as a test-market for trying out a new game that we’ll probably bring back out in a couple of weeks. I’ll be in a show tomorrow night at Kenny Mango’s Coffee Shop in Madison (Buy tickets here and save!) and will be playing in the show at Sam & Greg’s next Tuesday. Come check us out!

The mission trip to Costa Rica that I wrote about a while back has been indefinitely postponed.

The deadline for the shuttle book I’m co-authoring has been postponed, but not indefinitely.

I got my Arlo & Janis strip in the mail last week, and it’s awesome.

Heather’s NASA blog has finished its initial pilot phase, and, rather than going into normal operations, is instead going into a second pilot phase in which we test a version with even more awesomeness.

I’ve still only taken my kayak out once. Sad, really. Of course, the weather is getting to a point where it should be more agreeable to do so soon. Probably not this weekend, though.

I’ve worked at Marshall for eight years, as of a week ago today.

OK, I guess that’s enough.