Little Rock Creek Falls

My wife loves adventures, and she has had quite a few.  My life is all the more richer because of the adventures we have shared in the eight years we have been married.  There have been times when I have “caused” adventures for which we didn’t necessarily make plans, but she has usually faced the challenges with enthusiasm and determination.  She is a gracious soul.  One such occasion happened about five years ago when I decided to search for a hiking trail that terminated at a waterfall — one of my favorite outdoor experiences.  I searched through a trail guide and selected one in north central Georgia in the Chattahoochee National Forest.  Little Rock Creek Falls looked beautiful in all the photographs I saw, which perhaps encouraged me to be a bit too dismissive about the descriptions of the trail leading to the falls that described it as being difficult and dangerous with thick underbrush.

Little Rock Creek
Little Rock Creek

For young folks or very athletic, experienced hikers, this trail would not be a problem.  My wife and I are casual hikers.  We are occasional hikers.  We are quite often paved-trail hikers.  Little Rock Creek trail has no pavement.  The length of the trail from the road to the falls is a little less than a mile, and the elevation is consistent; however, the terrain is quite steep and rocky as the trail makes its way along a sharp embankment following the creek.  The understory is beautiful and thick with mountain laurel and rhododendron.  At this stage of our hiking careers, we were not yet using sticks of any kind (we each have two now).  Under normal conditions, we would have considered this to be a moderately difficult hike, but alas, I had the audacity to take my dear wife on this excursion not too long after she had broken her shoulder, which she guarded carefully along the way.  I was nervous the whole time, fearing that she would slip and reinjure her shoulder or break something else trying to protect it as she fell.

Although we should have waited until she was in better shape to make this hike, I can state with certainty that neither of us was disappointed with the terminus of this trail.  It was one of the most secluded and enchanting waterfalls I have ever seen in Georgia.  We did the obligatory selfie shot with the falls behind us, which became profile pictures for both of us on social media for several months.  I apologized to her profusely for selecting such a treacherous trail, especially considering that she was still recovering from an injury.  As usual, she simply said, “I’m fine.”  She is indeed.

Little Rock Creek big falls
Little Rock Creek big falls

Why Trump Troubles Me

When it comes to politics, I am torn between fiscal responsibility and social justice, which seem to collide, even more violently these days. I am torn between my appreciation for capitalism and protecting those on whose bruised shoulders it really stands and not protecting those who all too often abuse it. I struggle with respecting traditions while making sure they aren’t forced on everyone, or worse yet, enforced by law. I am weary of victimization, the slippery slope syndrome, rudeness, hypersensitivity, and too much testosterone in today’s rhetoric.

However, I will express a concern about the election. What happens when all the people who are putting their faith in Donald Trump to “Make America Great Again” end up seeing absolutely no change in Washington if he is elected to the White House? What then? Is he the last great hope for making government efficient again, functional again, respectable again? Or perhaps we will see even more change than we can actually stomach. Trump is accustomed to getting exactly what he wants because he has the money, resources, and temerity to force through an agenda. During so many of his speeches on the campaign trail, Trump will talk about a change he believes his constituents are demanding, and his favorite phrase in those cases is “It’s gonna happen; it’s gonna happen.” But, what happens when he gets to Washington and encounters obstacles far greater than he has ever experienced in the world of business, namely Congress. Negotiation is not his style, as he has made clear over and over. He is not really interested in making deals; his approach is to always have the upper hand, forcing the other side to cave and submit to demands. What tools will be available to him as President to continue this practice? You think Obama abused the executive order privilege? You think Trump will let the Constitution get in his way?

Stalled on the Tracks

For most of my life I have lived in the rural parts of Georgia.  Of course, some would argue that outside of Atlanta, there’s nothing left except rural parts.  During a good portion of their histories, many small-town businesses in Georgia were supplied by railroads.  Rail tracks often ran right through the middle of town, as they still do.  Most of the freight trains no longer stop in these small towns because those businesses are supplied by the trucking industry, but the trains still travel through the towns quite regularly.  Most small Georgia towns will only have one or two places where roads either go over or under tracks; otherwise, vehicular traffic has to stop for trains as they make their way through town.

I can remember as a child being stopped at a railroad crossing in the car with my parents.  It was exciting and fascinating to hear the whistle of the engine, to feel how it shook the ground as it passed by, and to watch the succession of rail cars as they sped through the crossing.  Counting the rail cars and reading the graffiti painted on their exterior walls was great entertainment.  Then I celebrated my sixteenth birthday and started driving.  The novelty of freight cars roaring through town wore off and was replaced by impatience waiting for the train to pass so that I could get where I was going.  Now as I have aged and live with a more hectic schedule, as most of us do, I find myself dreading the sight of the flashing red lights and the descending black and white striped crossbars that indicate the approach of yet another freight train and just one more delay in my already too-busy schedule.  But, even worse, and something that raises my blood pressure to dangerous levels, is when the passing train slows down until it finally comes to a complete stop, blocking the road.  This is a situation that railroad companies avoid if at all possible because some townships have actually filed suit against railroads for causing significant traffic problems with stopped or even stalled trains.

Freight Train
Freight Train

Thinking about how enraged I have been waiting 10-15 minutes for a train to finally move past a crossing, I can’t help but draw comparisons with the current political climate in the U.S.  Our government, especially on the federal and state levels, is like a train stalled on the tracks at a major crossing. People who are from multiple origins and who have many different objectives are on either side of the crossing. They can’t get to the other side. They can’t even see the other side. They are completely separated by this huge obstruction that refuses to move forward and clear the way for the good of everyone involved.  The real frustration comes from the realization that the train operators don’t seem to care at all that they have brought everyone, and everything, to a stand-still.  A train can carry an incredible amount of materials, or people, from one place to another most efficiently, as long as it keeps moving.  When it slows down, or worse yet, stops, the train is useless. If a train can’t deliver, it has totally lost its value.

Where the Grapes are Grown

About six years ago, my wife and I were on a business trip in Savannah, Georgia, with her boss.  We decided to have dinner at one of the best restaurants in the historic section of the city, a place called the Olde Pink House on Abercorn Street.  We didn’t have reservations but were fortunate enough to get a table in the basement bar, where there was a fire blazing in a large fireplace, and the light in the room was soft and low.  It was a very relaxed setting, with an old world kind of atmosphere, which is exactly what one should expect in one of the South’s oldest cities.  Our waiter was quite knowledgeable about their wine selection, so we asked him to decant a nice, dry wine to go with dinner.  He brought the bottle to the table, poured half the contents through the filter into the large decanter, swirled the liquid to release the bouquet, and allowed us to smell the wine before he poured each of us a glass.  I have now forgotten the variety (probably a merlot), but I do remember that it was just about the best glass of wine I had ever tasted.  We asked him about the brand, and he told us it was a Hess.  We had never heard of it, but we were determined to find out more about the winery.

Hess Winery
Entrance to Hess Winery

The Hess Collection winery is in the Mount Veeder area of Napa Valley in California.  Grapes have been cultivated on the property at least as far back as the 1870s.  From 1900 to 1929, the property was owned by Colonel Theodore Gier, who built a three-story building that would eventually hold the Hess Collection’s historic barrel chai and art gallery.  After a few more owners and continued development and expansion through the 20th century, a man named Donald Hess purchased 900 acres on Mount Veeder to begin the Hess Collection.  Over 600 acres are set aside as undeveloped land to support wildlife corridors, fish-friendly farming practices, and biodiversity.  The Hess Collection opened to the public in June, 1989, following a two-year renovation of the facility which includes 13,000 square feet of Donald Hess’s personal contemporary art collection.

In 2011, my wife and I took a fabulous vacation to San Francisco, which included several side trips.  One of our excursions was a drive up to Napa to pay a visit to the Hess Collection winery.  It was magnificent.  In addition to tasting several varieties and buying a case to take home with us, we also visited the incredible art gallery and gardens.  According to the website, “Donald Hess began collecting art in 1966. Today, the Hess Collection houses less than a quarter of a collection that is shown in museums worldwide. His collecting style is a personal endeavor driven by passion rather than monetary investment or current trends. He develops a close dialogue with an artist to better understand what drives him or her to create and he carefully limits his focus as a collector to 20 living artists whose work he faithfully supports long term. As is evident by the caliber of the collection, he collects with the uncanny ability to acquire works by lesser known artists who often go on to become well known and respected in their disciplines. His typical commitment to an artist spans decades and various stages of his career.”

Hess Winery garden
Gardens at Hess Winery

My wife and I drink wine fairly often.  We are nowhere close to being authorities, and we are certainly not wine snobs.  Grocery store brands work fine for us most of the time.  Our favorable impression of the wine we had that evening at the Olde Pink House may have had more to do with the company and the dining experience than the sophistication of our palates, but we liked it enough to search out where the grapes are grown, which gave us an even deeper appreciation for the brand.  The story of Donald Hess and his enterprise, which he has now passed down to the next generations, is a fascinating one.   Seeing the actual vineyards where a great bottle of wine originates presented us with a wonderful moment of connection that I’m sure we will remember for a long time.

The Reading Spot

If you are an avid reader, then you most likely have a favorite place to read.  I have certainly had some nice ones over the decades: a legless chair on the floor in the corner of my room as a teen, a library study room in college, an office in my first house, a recliner in my second house, a comfy chair in the loft overlooking the lake in the first house with my wife, and now an even more comfortable chair in our living room where I can watch the birds feeding with the forest as a backdrop.  There are loads of Pinterest pages devoted to reading spots, blogs that explore their enchantment, and even an Annual Unusual Reading Spot Contest .

Designating a space for reading gives the activity a certain reverence, doesn’t it?  Not that we can’t do something else in that space, but we associate it with the pleasure of being immersed in someone else’s imagination (and our own), research, or advice.  The reading spot becomes a type of sanctuary, where the reader deliberately separates herself from her surroundings, and when she leaves the spot, she is not the same ever again.  Alice is indeed in Wonderland.

I also, through the decades, have developed the habit of rising as early as I can to read. That is to say, I get up as early as I can drag out of bed with enough sleep to function for the day.  I am most alert early in the morning and can focus on the words.  A cup of coffee and a book are the most perfect early-morning companions, aside from my wife, that I can imagine.

God is a Gambler. Who Knew? (Part 2)

(continued from January 29, 2016)

If you tell students that the Book of Job illustrates how human beings are easily dispensable to God, who is quite willing to use them to prove a point, they don’t exactly embrace this vision too comfortably.  Nevertheless, it is difficult to read this story and not come away with a less-than-flattering description of God’s nature.  When God turns Job over to Satan, the evil one goes to work quickly.  In short order, all of Job’s livestock and servants are killed, along with ten of his children.  Poor Job tears his clothes and shaves his head in mourning, but he still blesses God in his prayers, which prompts Satan to return to God to increase the stakes.  To further prove how strong Job’s faith really is, God allows Satan to inflict physical torment on the poor guy.  Afflicted with horrible skin sores, Job is in so much misery that his wife encourages him to curse God, give up the struggle, and die.  Still Job stands fast and continues to honor God.

You can push a person so far though, and Job comes close to reaching his limit.  His close friends offer him philosophical rhetoric to bring him comfort and to explain his horrible predicament, and they even try to convince him that he must have done something to anger God — repent and all will be well.  One of his pals, Elihu, explains that physical suffering helps the victim to comprehend God’s love and forgiveness when he finally is well again, knowing that God has rescued him from misery.  Again, what a disturbing view of God’s relationship to humanity!  Job doesn’t buy it.  He is confident in his righteousness and refuses to admit to uncommitted sins.  Still, he grows weary and finally gets a bit demanding of God, and goes so far as to express his wish that he had never been born.  From an ancient Hebrew perspective, this just may be where he crosses the line and prompts God to blast him with what could be the best poetry in the Bible, even though much is certainly lost in the translation.

Out of a mighty whirlwind, God poses a series of blistering, rhetorical questions to Job, most of which begin with the phrase “Where were you . . . ,” which are designed to show Job how ignorant he is of the majesty of creation and how magnificent God truly is.  After he picks himself up out of a heap, good old Job admits to the limitations of his human knowledge, a response that apparently pleases God.  According to many Biblical scholars, the original story (which is one of the oldest in the Bible) ends at this point.  However, in the Biblical narrative, the plot continues, and God returns Job’s health and even more property than he had before.  God blesses Job with new children and gives him an extremely long life as an added bonus.  Of course, one could argue that property can easily be replaced, but ten children?  In the end, God won the bet and proved Satan wrong, which is the most important thing to remember, right?  As I stated before, a tad disconcerting.

The reason that the Book of Job is so important in Hebrew literature, or any literature for that matter, is because it creatively explores the age-old question of why an omnipotent God allows good people to suffer.  After all, Job isn’t selected as the pawn in this contest between God and Satan because he is bad, but because he is the best.  For modern Christians, especially those who espouse the prosperity gospel so popular in America, Job’s story presents quite a quandary.  If you follow God’s commands and live a life of righteousness, you just may come to ruin as a reward for your faithfulness!  Somehow I doubt Joel Osteen preaches from Job very often — I could be wrong.

Considering that the ancient Hebrews had no concept of personal eternity and were convinced that, as God’s chosen people, they were fulfilling God’s plan for creation and living up to their side of the covenant with God, this story becomes somewhat more palatable for the modern reader.  The Hebrews were commanded by God to be fruitful and multiply, to spread across the land, and to bear witness to God’s preeminence among all other deities.  There is no room in this arrangement for the wish of never having been born.  The survival and well-being of the individual was vastly overshadowed by the importance of the survival and fruition of the Hebrew nation.  The suggestion is that human beings should not dare question God’s divine justice because they cannot possibly appreciate its complexity.

What I find particularly fascinating is how the Book of Job serves as an excellent foreshadow for the coming of Christ and his sacrificial death to save humanity.  Jesus wasn’t chosen to face horrible agony because he was a rotten sinner.  Jesus was sent by God to suffer because he was the spotless lamb.  With all respect and deference to the modern descendants of the Hebrew nation and culture, the story of the New Testament messiah conveniently “resurrects” the suffering servant, who even has his own moments of doubt and questioning in the garden.  This is the same Jesus who charges those who profess to love him to take up their cross and follow him.  I guess you could say that’s just part of the deal.