Sunday, April 29, 2012

"In the Great Outdoors"

As I have mentioned before, I love the outdoors. I was reading my uncle Harvey's blog awhile back (I would give you the link, but I'm too dumb) and he mentioned that the average youngster these days spends 7 minutes a day outside. 7 MINUTES! And that wasn't all; the average youngster also spends 7 hours a day on electronic media. 7 HOURS!!! That's almost a sin. The poor, lousy, flabby, unimaginative average youngster!

When I was young my mama had a hard time getting me up on the five school mornings of the week. But on Sat. (when everyone else in the family liked to sleep in a little extra), I was up soon after daylight and out of the house roaming the woods before anyone else was up.

This past summer had the privilege of going to Northern Idaho for a men's seminar. Northern Idaho is beautiful beyond words. We camped in tents and rode horses each day up the trails into the mountains.

There were eighteen guys on horseback; I'm the second from the front of the line

While on top of the mountains we would have a session together and then spent some "alone" time by ourselves. During this time we were supposed to be contemplating what God was trying to tell us about our character and our spiritual needs.

Takes your breath away!
From the top of this mountain you could see to the west into Washington state, north into Canada, and east into Montana
Later when filling out an evaluation we had to rate the value of the different activities we had done. I said the "alone" time was the least valuable for fulfilling it's intended purpose in my case. I couldn't hear God whispering about my needs (which are many) because all I could hear and see was God shouting at me about the absolutely stunning beauty everywhere you looked.

The taller peaks still had huge snowbanks in places and this was the last week in July. The wildflowers were everywhere and gorgeous. The woods had a heady, heavenly smell like balsam. I left part of my soul out there in those high mountain meadows.
The woods smelled heavenly

This summer I decided I was going to do something about passing along to the next generation this love for God's outdoors. I realize that southern Campbell County isn't northern Idaho but there's still a lot of beauty if you look for it. So I lined up two young friends of mine for some time in the woods this summer.

I sent them an e-mail before our first get-together. It said:

1. To learn to love the outdoors. Most of this younger generation is spending waaay too much time indoors. A house is a good place to eat, sleep, etc. but the best living begins outdoors.
2. To grow in respect, admiration and worship for the CREATOR of the outdoors.
3. To appreciate how all nature works together in harmony to make the earth a hospitable place for mankind.
4. To learn to know trees and other plant life well enough so that a walk thru the woods feels like you're among old friends.
5. To learn to enjoy the solitude of the forest and being quiet long enough to develop your powers of observation.
6. To appreciate beauty wherever it is found, even in the smallest forms. Campbell Co. isn't exactly known for being the most beautiful place on the planet, but there is plenty of beauty all around us if we open up our eyes.
7. To do all of the  above and still maintain a positive energy balance. (in other words, have plenty of good food!)
Also, come prepared to:
Hike steep trails and wade thru creeks. Prepare to get scratched by the briars and poisoned by the poison ivy. Prepare to get mosquito bit, deer fly bit, chigger bit, tick bit, yellow jacket bit, spider bit and snake bit. (well, hopefully not snake bit) In other words , prepare to have a really good time.

This didn't seem to scare them off and we had our second session today. I sent this e-mail out before today's session: (We were planning to canoe but changed our plans because it was too cold)
Young friends,
My plan was for the Lewis and Clark Expedition along with French guide Charbonneau to explore the wilds of the Seneca Creek river basin beginning about 12:30 tomorrow. I wasn't sure if the Seneca Creek leads to the Northwest Passage or not but we were determined to find out. (Sacagawea was staying home; there wasn't room for her in the canoe)
Bring: your notebooks, river shoes, just in case, something to drink on the river or trail and you appetites. (don't think that one will be a problem!)
                                                                Mountain men forever,

A pretty spot on the Seneca
As near as I could figure, we hiked about 4 miles today. Up and down steep slopes. Through the creek once. Well, I waded the creek and carried them over piggyback one at a time. We backpacked our food in and stopped along the creek at a pretty spot to eat. We roasted bratwursts over an open fire. After maybe an hour I was thinking it was about time to begin hiking back out to civilization. One of my young friends was laying by the fire, having just consumed 4 bratwursts,(with buns) one pack of Doritos, assorted roasted marshmallows and a Pepsi. I asked if we were ready to go. He said, " Could I have just a little more time for some more digestion?"

It was a wonderful afternoon in the great outdoors.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"New Life"

We are firmly in the grip of Spring here in southern Virginia. I've seen upwards of a half-century of them and they amaze me every time they come around. Every year I'm amazed anew with the almost endless shades of the color green. The Crayola people don't have anywhere near half enough variations of the color green if you were to want to color the landscape right now.
The hill behind our house

Campbell County isn't especially known for it's beauty, there is always beauty to be found it you have an eye for it. And in the spring it's on every hand. Here are a few photos I took within just a few minutes of each other.
Buttercups, they're everywhere

Buttercup closeup; there's not a glossier yellow anywhere
Clementis; my kind of purple!
To all you flower buffs out there, how many of you can tell me what this one is?

I'm not sure if I'm a typical man in regard to my love of beauty in nature. Several years ago I decided to start putting an arrangement in front of the church every Sunday at Perrows Chapel. It took several months before anyone figured out who was doing it. People were thinking it was probably Verna Good as she is quite a flower lady.  I kept it up for the whole year. It got a little harder during the winter months, but there was always something of beauty available if you had your eyes open. And in the spring instead of trying to decide what to use, you had to decide what NOT to use as there were so  many possibilities.

And there is new life in the animal kingdom as well.The other evening I went over to the bluebird house hoping to get a picture of the little ones, but they had already fledged and left the nest. So I checked the house at Long Island Lumber and the ones there were still in the nest but they looked very nearly ready to leave as well. I wanted a pose with all the little mouths open wide but these chaps were too shy and hunkered down; they wouldn't move a muscle.

And last but not least, there is some new life in the Yoder family! Clifton Samuel was born to Myron and Heidi on April 16th. He gave us a few anxious moments as he refused to get in position to be born (he was laying sideways) and then about the middle of the night Sat.the 14th Heidi had these terrible pains. I was the ambulance driver who took them to the hospital. By the time we left home she was feeling better but Myron said let's not waste any time.

I didn't do anything too wild, but certainly didn't waste any time. I hit 75 a couple times on a few of the long straight stretches and ran the only two lights that were red the whole way to Lynchburg. The doctors checked things out and said everything was fine and sent us back home.

Then Sunday night we head back in again. They had earlier scheduled a c-section for April the 23rd because of the baby laying sideways, but low and behold between Sat. night and Sun. night the  little rascal had turned in the right position to be born after all! I told Mary that I declare he must have my blood; he has the knack for procrastinating 'till the very last minute and still getting the job done.

He was born around eleven Mon. morning. Six lbs. and I think 14 ounces. Don't remember his length but he does have some long fingers. Cute? Yeah, I have to admit he is handsome and cute both.
Clifton Samuel Yoder

 Now I normally am pretty reserved on my compliments on babies. To be honest, I've seen plenty that  I didn't think were cute at all. Shriveled, squashed and the like. I offended most of the local ladies once when I was giving a talk and was comparing babies and baby calves and mentioned in passing that most of the time the calves were cuter.  Nothing against them; (the babies) give them a few months time and they usually grow out of it. But hey, this guy is actually cute for real!

I just hope he doesn't take after me in that regard as well. I started out  halfway cute when I was young but instead of improving like most youngsters I  went downhill from there. Hopefully with the good nutrition and all that's available nowadays he will just get more handsome as the years go by.

Welcome to the world Clifton! We're delighted for the chance to get to know you! May the hand of God rest upon you even as a child.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Finding Things"

First my apologizes to those of you who read this story in an email several months ago. I hadn't started this blog yet and I sorta wanted it "on the record" here. And there may be some who haven't read it. And while Mary had no idea I had sent out that email, I did get her permission to reprint this. So here goes with only a few minor embellishments. (I didn't get her permission for those)

Here is the proclamation I made recently: I NEVER AGAIN WANT TO BE MADE FUN OF FOR NOT BEING ABLE TO "FIND THINGS". All our married life Mary has made fun of me (or been downright disgusted with me) for not being able to "find things". She claims that if my body parts weren't so handily fastened together I'd never be able to find them all at the same time. And she says the closer something is to being right in front of my nose, the  less apt I am to be able to find it. Which is all very strange to me as I've always had better than 20-20 eyesight.  (It came to me later, maybe my nose is blocking out that part of my vision)

Now out in nature I can find things remarkably well. I can drive past an overgrown field and not even be thinking about deer, and I will spot two ears sticking out above the brush at a couple hundred yards. I can be walking across a lawn and find four leaf clovers when I wasn't even looking for them. It's happened to me many times. Back when I was still on the farm I could be disking and spy an arrowhead laying on the ground when I wasn't even thinking about arrowheads.

But finding things in a structured place, like a house, not so much. I've never totally learned the layout of the "stuff" in our kitchen cabinets. In fact, I've always imagined that there is a conspiracy going on behind those closed doors. I open one door to "find something". It's not there. So I close that one and open the next. In that split second of time I think the pots and pans quickly trade places, so that when I open that next door, what I'm looking for isn't there either. Frustrating, to say the least. Here recently we were getting new cabinet doors and there was about a week where we had no doors at all. It was great! For once I could find things!

But let me tell you the story about me and my pants. One day a number of years back we were getting ready to go somewhere and I was characteristically in my usual laid-back Southern style, running right on the bottom minute of being "on time", which happens to be very important to people that are from further north than here. Even just as far north as Harrisonburg makes a tremendous difference on this issue, and it is something that has been a point of contention in our marriage from pretty much day one.

Anyway, Mary says she will go drop something off at someone's house (while I'm getting ready) so we don't have to do it on the way. That way when she gets back I'll hopefully be ready to go and we might still be close to being "on time". (I'm also suspicious that it's less stressful to be out of the house than to have to just sit there and watch me piddling along.

So I'm in the shower, she hollers at me that she's leaving, she'll be back soon, and she's laying out the pants that I'm supposed to wear. ( I also lack the ability to color coordinate clothes, but that's a topic for another day)

Well, the minutes are ticking by and I'm furiously getting ready, and now I'm at the place in the routine that you generally need your pants. I look on the bed. Not there. I make a trip around the house using my best "splatter gaze". ( That's the gaze you use use to find a set of deer ears in a  ten acre field) Nothing. I'm beginning to get a little desperate. If I'm not ready when she gets home my precarious situation just got precariouserer.

I speed up my pilgrimages around the house, even checking in the kitchen. Nooooo luck. And here comes Mary pulling in the lane and I'm still pantless.

Where were they?? Of all places, hanging on a dining room chair. I had been past them 4 or 5 times. If they had been a snake they could have bitten me in the backside. What can I say?????????

BUT, LET ME COME BACK TO MY MAIN STORY!! (and what a story it is)

 There was a sizable check at Long Island Lumber that needed to get to the bank by 2:00 o'clock. I mean sizable enough that if I could have cashed it personally, we could have lived comfortably on it for a couple years. I call Mary. She's going to the dentist. Could she take the check along? Yes, she says. Will you forget to pick it up? No, she says, she will pick it up when she drops off my lunch.

I am just finishing my lunch when my phone rings. It's Mary. She is sobbing. She is distraught. She has done something terrible, she says. My mind is racing; I can't imagine what. I wonder if there are visiting hours in whatever jail she'll be landing in.

It was raining when she left the office so she put the check in a Food Lion bag to keep it from getting wet. She stopped by the dumpster to drop off the trash. There is a vacant pickup parked there that spooks her out so she throws the trash out quickly and glances around the van for anything else that might be trash.(She's a compulsive thrower-awayer)

You guessed it; she threw the Food Lion bag (check enclosed) in the dumpster too! Although she doesn't realize it until she gets to the bank and can't find the check. That's when she calls me.

So we both head for the dumpster. Me from the Long Island end and her from Rustburg. I get to the dumpster first. The coast is clear. Good. Not too much trash has been added since she had been there maybe 20 minutes earlier. No, no one has stopped by to run the ram that squashes the garbage from the hopper into the container.

I work my way down the hopper. I will start at the bottom first. (Mary is a firm believer in throwing her trash as far down as possible. Less likely that someone will get ahold of one of your papers and steal your identity, she says) I gingerly move two big bags to clear a path to the  bottom.

I am entirely focused. I mean, the Luftwaffe could be bombing the nearby metropolis of Gladys and I probably wouldn't even notice. I spot a little pile of cards that remind me of ones I remember seeing in our van. And there is a Food Lion bag laying there beside them. And the check is inside!

I crawl triumphantly out of the dumpster, check in hand, and am almost to the top as the next vehicle pulls down the driveway. Perfect timing. I call Mary. I meet her at Kedron church in Gladys. She is still weeping. I think this time it's from joy and relief. (Sometimes with women it's hard to tell) I am a hero.

She heads back for the bank and the dentist. At the dentist she tells them the whole story and she is still so worked up about it that they send her home without fixing her tooth. And I'm thinking how dreadfully dull my life could have been if I wouldn't have married that woman. And I'm thinking, "in sickness", "in health", and "in the dumpster".

But I also know my hero status won't last forever. Probably for the next 20 times straight she'll be the one finding something for me. I'm thinking what if she happens to not be around at my time of need. And so I'm wondering also how many four leaf clovers it would take to make a nice pair of fig leaf type britches if the need so arises. Or better yet (and quicker) would be thinking deer ears in a ten acre field and a buckskin suit.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"A Tribute to a Good Wife"

I realize that most people wait for someone to die before giving them a tribute. Well, I am of the opinion that a tribute will likely do the most for a person while they are still alive and breathing. And since I have tended to take my good wife for granted too much of the time, it won't hurt me either.

And I'll tell you this also; so far everything I've posted here has been purely my thoughts unedited by any of Mary's opinions. And tonight's post will definitely be that way as she is in Harrisonburg and there is no chance that she will stumble downstairs and look over my shoulder. Actually there's not much chance of that anyway; she's a morning person and is usually all conked out by nine o'clock. Me, not so much. Of course then it's the other way around in the mornings, but that's a topic for another discussion.

Mary grew up in Harrisonburg on the family dairy farm. She claims she was in the barn as one of the main milkers by the time she was ten years old. She says she never ever remembers having enough time to get bored.

She was shy when she started first grade; she cried every morning before going to school from the time school started in the fall until Christmas. After that she seemed to get over the  hump and I haven't noticed it since.

She was always tall for her age. In the fourth grade she was taller than her teacher. By the seventh grade she was all grown up. And me? Well, it's the same old story; not so much.  In the seventh grade she was a foot taller than I and weighed twice as much.(I was 75 Lbs. and 4' 9" tall) Fortunately we didn't learn to know each other until we were nineteen and by then I was finally mostly grown up myself. And for the record, I was always good with the tall. My opinion is that the majority of Mennonite women are stunted; down about 5' 5"somewhere.

Mary's family comes from Old Order Mennonite stock on both her dad and mom's side. The Rodes's tend to be high-strung and outgoing. They're the thoroughbreds of the human race. The Burkholders are quieter and more laid back but are very forthright when they do say something. You usually don't have to wonder what a Burkholder is thinking about you (whether good or bad) because more than likely he will tell you. Mary is a delightful combination of both of these genetic lines.

She has been an above and beyond the call of duty help-meet for 35 years now. To this day I never thought she was any cuter than when she was headed to the barn in her bandanna and Tingley boots. When she knew I was extra busy, here she would come with her cup of hot tea in hand.

Headed for the barn back in '88 or '89
And nobody put  themselves into their children any more than she. She homeschooled them for most of their education. She was determined that son Myron would learn braille since he was nearly blind. The county had a "vision teacher" that would come out once or twice a week for maybe 45 minutes, which isn't a whole lot of time for learning anything. The vision teacher at the time didn't know braille herself so Mary talked her into getting us the information and she proceeded to teach it to herself. Braille has a series of dots for each letter of the alphabet but it takes up an awful lot of space to print every letter out like that. So there are also 200 more combinations that stand for whole words or a series of words.  She got to where she could read it about as good as Myron could, although she was reading it by sight as opposed to Myron reading it with his fingers.

I wonder how many books she read to the children over the years. She is a good reader and could go on for chapters at a time. I remember one cold winter night she was reading "Treasures of the Snow" and as it got later the kids kept begging for her to keep reading. I was  laying on the couch with a cover over my head pretending to be asleep so no one could see me getting emotional at the touching parts of the story.

She and I are about as different as night and day, and living with me has been a trial at times.  When we lived on the farm we raised up all the bull calves (and left them as bulls) till they reached 1,200 lbs. or so. There were maybe forty bulls in a pasture just up the road from the farmhouse. On quiet summer nights (especially full moon ones) you could hear them down the road bellering and generally raising cain. You always hoped they stayed on the right side of the fence.

Sometimes they didn't and it was always a dreaded thing to hear that the "bulls are out!!"  One night we woke up to hear a beller and cattle running past the bedroom window. Mary said right away, "The bulls are out!!" She says that without even opening my eyes I said, "Sometimes cows make noises like that". She also says that if I ever die unexpectedly don't even bother to do an autopsy because she already knows what caused my sudden demise. Its sand in the lungs, from "putting my head in the sand" all these years instead of choosing to face reality.

I'll close with a story that illustrates better than anything her character and personality. I've told her that I will tell this story at her funeral but considering the amount of sand in my lungs already, I better not wait in case I don't get the chance.

Now one thing Mary isn't is gullible. (Just look back at that picture of her going to the barn. Isn't there just something in those eyes that says, "Yeah, right, just go ahead and try to pull something on me.") Our daughter's first husband was quite a smooth and slick character and he said something to the effect that he could pull the wool over my eyes and get me to believe something but "Mrs. Yoder", now she was a different story.

 Anyway, back to my story......... Sometimes in the summer we have "Southwestern" salesmen that come door to door selling  Bible study type books. These guys are usually clean-cut college kids trying to make some money during the summer months.

Mary has always insisted that the first thing they always do is ask you for a drink of water. Then if you let them in and give them a drink, there's something about that that breaks a barrier down or something. It makes  them seem like part of the family and you're more apt to  buy their books. 

So one day a few years ago, (I wasn't at home) a young man knocks on our door. A "Southwestern" young man. Could he come in, he asks, and show her what he has to offer? She says, yes he can as long as he doesn't ask for a drink of water. And she went on to tell  him her theory.

That won't be a problem he says, since he just had several glasses of water  up the road at Esther Bowmans. So he went on showing her the books he had for sale. Somewhere along in the presentation he hesitantly asks, "Ma'am, would you happen to have a bathroom I could use?" Mary says she supposes that is a legitimate request seeing as how he had all those glasses of water at Esthers.

He goes on with his sales pitch and Mary actually does buy a book or two.  Then when he is doing the paperwork she refuses to put all her information on his list because you can look down over it and see who all in the community has bought books along with their personal info.

 So he's finally done and ready to leave. (He probably can't wait to get out the door!) She says, "Sir, you've been asking me all kinds of questions, now could I ask you one?" Well, yes go ahead, he says. She goes on, "Do you happen to like Dr. Pepper?" Well, yes, in fact he does. So she goes and gets him a nice cold one out of the fridge and sends him on his way. Probably the most interesting call he made all day.

I gave Mary a card once some years ago on our anniversary. It said, "Being married to you has been a lot of things but boring hasn't been one of them."

Now don't get me wrong, Mary isn't the only one to have had to endure a few things in this marriage. I've endured a thing or two every now and again. But would I do it  all over again?? You betcha I would.

P.S. As I said, Mary doesn't look over these posts before they are published. In fact some of you will probably read this before she does.  I'll just ask this favor of you; if you don't hear anything out of me for several weeks, would you come looking for me? I may be stuck in the doghouse somewhere.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


All our grandchildren are exceedingly special to me. We first became grandparents in 1999 when Alexis was born to our daughter Laurie. I had a very special relationship to Alexis as she lived with us for seven years and I was the only father figure in her life for most of those years. I thought I would maybe die from missing her so badly when she went back to live with her mama  almost two years ago.

So do I think hard of our daughter? No, I know she was missing Alexis badly herself and it was hard to be apart from her. It was a difficult situation for everyone involved. Life has gone on, and while I still miss her a lot, the awful ache in my heart has subsided. And we see her every week or so.

This is Alexis several years ago in the creek below Crabtree Falls
Ashten was the next one, born to our daughter also.  I was in the room when he was born by c-section; I saw him and held him before his mama did. He is cute as a button, smart as a tack and loves to ride with his Pa-Pa in anything that moves. He was saying "knuckleboom" when other kids his age were still just saying one syllable words. When he comes out he usually asks if I have any "truck books" (logging magazines) he can take home with him. He's a big fan of "Swamp Loggers" on TV.

Ashten's dad is a musician on the side. About a year ago he was playing his guitar one evening and asked Ashten, "Are you going to be a musician when you grow up?" "Nah," Ashten said, "I'm gonna work at the sawmill!"

Now Caleb is the most recent one we are learning to know. But I better write this quick because Caleb is supposed to be getting a baby brother just several weeks from now and he'll no longer be the most recent arrival.

We waited for a long time in the hospital for Caleb to be born. A long labor that finally ended in the doctors doing a c-section. Finally after yet another long wait, son Myron came down the hall with the nurses wheeling Heidi on the stretcher. They stopped where we were in the waiting room and Myron proceeded to announce that they had a son and his name was Caleb Merle.

I have to confess, I felt more than just a little emotion right then. It didn't give me the big head at all. Rather it humbled me. It made me want to be the best Pa-Pa I could be for this little soul that carries my name.

We were buddies right from the start. He was never afraid of me. He was saying Pa-Pa right about the same time he was saying Ma-Ma and Da-Da. I'll tell you one thing that will warm your heart is to walk in church and hear a little guy saying (and not very quietly either) "Pa-Pa, Pa-Pa, Pa-PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Caleb (18 months) just several days ago on an outing with Grams to the library
We live only a couple miles apart and Myron's live right beside the sawmill so I get to see Caleb almost every day. In fact if I miss seeing him one day I'm awfully lonesome for him by the next. He'll come into the office while I'm eating my lunch and say "Pa-Pa, up!" He's wanting to sit on my lap and help eat tidbits from my lunch.

I sometimes watch out the window when Caleb and his mama are walking back home. I get a lump in my throat when I see Heidi stop for a few minutes to let him inspect the Long Island Lumber big truck. I can tell she's gonna let him be a little boy for sure.

I get the biggest lump of all when I've been at Caleb's house when it's time for him to go night-night. It's a pleasant routine. He's all shiny from just having his bath and he's in his 'jamies. The lights in the living room go dim and there's a lullaby instrumental hymn cd quietly playing. Then it's time to cuddle up on dad's big chest with his blanket and "Bup", his favorite stuffed puppy.

It's the absolute picture of serenity and security. It's what every child needs and deserves. I get a lump in my throat just from the beauty of it, but I also feel like crying for all the many children who will never know this kind of love.

Caleb Merle, you are very blest. Sleep well, my son.