Tuesday, December 2, 2008

My sphere of influence grows...

CDBaby, the company which sells my CD's online (and a whopping dozen of them I've sold on line so far!), informed me yesterday that someone in Hawaii had ordered my latest offering. I am intensely curious who in Honolulu would know I exist, let alone pay good money for a CD. Unfortunately, the individual in question chose to remain anonymous, so my curiosity remains unsatisfied.

No matter. My CD's are now halfway across the Pacific. My goal of world domination seems just a little closer.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Morning

It is 8 a.m., and as usual I have already been up a couple hours. Sarah will wake up soon, but for now she is still sleeping, exhausted from building that little body. The chickens are doing whetever it is chickens do out in the yard; a big, smelly dog snores worshipfully at my feet; the sun is bright; there is frost on the lawn and ice on the pond.

I like to get up early. Once the critters are fed, they tend to quiet down, leaving me a few moments to sip my tea and do my thinking in peace. Just for a moment every morning--usually as I'm headed out to feed los pollos estupidos--the first rays of sun light up the peaks while the valley is still dark. I have seen it dozens of times, but it never fails to catch my eye. No matter how rushed I may be, it never fails to make me stop and whisper thanks to the God who made the world so beautiful.

And it never occurs to me to grab the camera until it's over. Just as well. Some sights just don't translate to film.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tiny Things, Enormous Things

According to the latest census data, there are 783,051 Wilsons in the United States. If all goes as planned, around the end of next June there will be 783,052.

(pause to let that sink in just a bit)

We had a bit of a medical scare yesterday. The doctor had reason to believe something was seriously wrong, and had Sarah go in for some emergency tests. Everything was just fine, and although it was a tough afternoon, it turned out to be a blessing: they took an ultrasound, several months before they normally would, and we got to see what is happening in there. The little critter looks sort of like a little oblong light gray blob right now, smaller than a jellybean. But here’s the thing: on the edge of that blob, there was a tiny little white fluttering movement. The beating of a heart.

I’ve seen a lot of amazing things in my life, but that little tiny beating heart about takes the cake. How can something so commonplace be so miraculous? I know this happens thousands of times everyday, and it has happened to some of you numerous times. It’s just that it has never happened to us; it has never happened to this child.

783,052? No. Just one. Just this tiny one...

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
and all your plans will be established.
--Proverbs 16:3

This past weekend we had a guest speaker in church, Russ King from Nashville. Sunday morning he talked about the journey from victim, to survivor, to overcomer. To extremely condense a very rich sermon, the victim is still living in the tragedy, expecting special treatment and/or sympathy. "I'm one of the Hurricane Katrina victims." The survivor no longer expects to be treated special, but still defines him/herself by the tragedy, maybe even takes pride in it: "I'm a hurricane Katrina survivor." The overcomer has incorporated the experience, learned from it, and moved beyond it, thinking of it as an experience, not a tragedy, and refusing to be defined by it. "Oh, why yes, I did live through Huricane Katrina. It was quite an experience..."

Moving from one phase to another is not an entirely natural process: It takes effort, courage, and faith. It is very much like the process of forgiveness: If you still define the person--and your relationship with them--by what he did to you, you have not fully forgiven.

Glued on the dashboard of my truck is a little purple metal plaque with Proverbs 16:3, given to me a very long time ago by a very special person with whom I was parting ways. When I glance at that plaque, as I have just about every day for the past thirteen or so years, I do not think of the person who gave it to me, nor of the exquisite pain of our parting. I think of the God who has established my ways, through that and many other good and bad times.

When all the distractions go away, that really is how I define myself: Not by the triumphs I have savored or the tragedies I have survived, but by the God who is teaching me to overcome both.

Thank you for bringing me this far, Father.

Free Advice

Don't stack your firewood pile up to the rafters on the side of your shed.

Why, you ask?

OK, I'll tell you why: When one of those ridiculously wet, heavy fall snows occurs, the snow will have nowhere to slide off the roof of your shed. And when a thousand pounds or so of wet, heavy snow has no way to go other than down, that's the way it will go, roof or no roof.

Much to the detriment of your shed.

That's why.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Kipling on Common Sense

The following poem was brought to mind by the current financial mess (not to mention the current presidential election). We really never learn, do we?

The Gods of the Copybook Headings by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.
Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place;
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,
They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;
They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "The Wages of Sin is Death."

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "If you don't work you die."

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four—
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man—
There are only four things certain since Social Progress began:
That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool's bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will bum,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Aspen Camping

I got home yesterday and was delighted to find that Sarah had the truck all packed up and ready to go camping! YES! We drove up the Loop Road, and down into what I think is Lower Townsend Creek. God really pulls out all the stops this time of year when it comes to decorating. Rather than make some sad effort to describe it, I'll just save several thousand words and let the pictures do the talking.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Making the Scene


The Woods Tea Company, from Vermont, is my favorite folk band, pulling off sea chanties, Irish tunes, and random goofiness with equal panache. They have had a rough couple years with the loss of two of their band mates, but they continue to make great music.

Several years ago, I learned the Robin Hood song from one of their CD's. It has been a perennial favorite of my kids at South.

So, the other day I was goofing around trying to learn to use some new recording software, and recorded my first graders' warm-up song. It was good for a chuckle. So I emailed it to Howard, the band leader, thinking they might get a kick out of it.

It appears that they did:


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quick Draw at Silas Canyon

I take a break from painfully dull graduate studies to bring you the following overdue update.

Last weekend, Sarah and I went hiking into Silas Canyon. It's a fairly remote region where neither of us had ever been before. It was a suprisingly easy hike, though, and before long we came to Upper Silas Lake, about three or four miles in. We had the whole place to ourselves, and lingered long over a lunch of squashed peanutbutter sandwiches and cold water.

After a while the wind off the peaks got chilly and it was time to move on. We moseyed up the trail, gorging on grouseberries (insanely tiny but intensely delicious) and enjoying the forest. Ah, is there anything quite like the smell of a mountain pine forest in the sunshine? The mountains have air you breathe intentionally, slowly. It tastes different. The drought seems to have finally lifted, and I can't remember the last time I saw this many wildflowers in late August.

Soon the forest began to open up, the grouseberry began to give way to grass, the lodgepoles to fir as we neared timber line.

Crossing a small clearing, I abruptly became aware of the medium-sized, shaggy, black dog in the trail just ahead. I drew breath to mention this to Sarah, as we have had unpleasant experiences with uncontrolled dogs on trails elsewhere. In the moment it took for this to get from brain to mouth, the little voice in my head said, "Um, that ain't a dog."

There is only one critter that size and shape in the mountains, and this was a little one. I immediately started looking for mama, and in a couple seconds spotted a large patch of shaggy brown fur in the bushes. OK, must keep an eye on that one. (Alright, kids, listen closely: these were black bears, ursus amaricanus, which can be brown; furthermore, brown bears, ursus arctos, can be black. Everybody still with me? Good. On with the story) They were twenty, maybe thirty yards away. And about the time I spotted her, she spotted us.

Now, I had immediately grabbed for the camera, hoping to snap a quick picture of a cub before beating a judicious retreat. But when mama took a couple steps our way, it occurred to me (and to my lovely wife) that getting out the bear spray was probably a pretty nifty idea, too.

"It's OK, mama; we'll just be moving along; there's a nice carnivore," I said. Or words to that affect, letting her know what we were lest she should become curious and decide to investigate. One of the cubs had run up a tree; another was still standing in the trail staring at us, as kids are wont to do when they see odd things. Sarah says she saw a third cub, a brown one. Mama stuck her head out of the bushes to get a good look at us.

Now, some wild animals are big. Moose are big. So are elk. But there is a special category of big which relates only vaguely to actual size, a bigness reserved for animals in very close proximity which have both the means and the motive to work severe harm upon one's person.

As mama bear stared me down from a stone's throw away, it occurred to me that she was big.

Big, but fairly agreeable, as it turned out. Having confirmed that we were, in fact, merely annoying hikers, mama turned and started up the trail at a quick walk. Cub #1 was still in the trail staring at us; an annoyed "whoof!" from mom sent him up a tree, too, with exactly the same facial expression human children get when their parents bark at them for doing something stupid.

My picture? Yes, I got it. Here is is. It really isnt' that bad, considering that I was holding the camera at arms length in my off hand, going for the bear spray with the other, all while talking to mama bear and backing up a bolder-strewn trail. I think that oblong, dark blotch in the upper center might be cub #2. I'm not sure where mama is. The old west art of the quick draw in action.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Up at Bible camp, there was a guy whom I will call "Dan."* Dan is an amazing guy. A professional cabinet maker with a deep Arkansas drawl and a reputation for a truly awsome work ethic, Dan is also a servant. He is always among the first to volunteer when there's a job to do, and he was just about always in there cleaning up the mess hall after meal times--get this--even when it wasn't his team's turn! His service is consistant, high quality, and low key; you have to pay attention to catch him at it.

For all of this, Dan is extremely reluctant to receive praise and encouragement. For one thing, he doesn't seem to need it. For another, he is concerned that complements to him diminish the credit given to God and detract from the service of others.

I tend to crave compliments a bit more than I should, but this sort of thing puzzles me when it comes up, as it seems to quite often. In a discussion at church this past Sunday night, we talked about how much is us and how much is God?

All this has me thinking about tools.

As a musician, I value my tools. I have a whole page on my website devoted to my instruments. This might seem odd to a non-musician, but there is a very good reason I love them so much. I consider myself an decent-to-pretty-good player, but here is the thing: A player can only sound as good as his instrument. I have owned enough clunkers to know that even in the hands of a competent player, a piece of trash, at best, will sound like a well-played piece of trash.

So, if someone walks up to me at a gig and says, "That is one sweet sounding whistle," am I offended because their comment detracts from my playing? No! Quite the contrary--I thank the person, and feel rather satisfied that someone has noticed both my good taste in instruments and my ability to do justice to a fine tool.

Jesus once pointed out to his followers, "You did not choose me; I chose you." When we complement the sound of an instrument, we are in truth complementing the musician who chose it and is playing it. When we recognize the service of a brother or sister, we also recognize the Spirit which moves them to service. Perhaps we should give and receive compliments accordingly.

Because here is the other thing: An instrument can only sound as good as its player. It is nothing but a pretty piece of wood or metal until a musician blows into it. That is when it comes alive.

Lord, let me be a reliable, well-tuned instrument through which you can breathe your music into the world.

*because that's his name

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bucket List

Have you seen the movie? It's hard to go wrong with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It was good. Hillarious and sad and thought provoking. Especially thought provoking.

October, 1995. I was 25, student teaching, and a month into a new phase of life: alone again and learning to be OK with that. I had lost something more than a girl I loved, though. I had lost my future, all my dreams. So I took pen and paper and wrote out the inelegantly titled, "Things to Do Before I Die." (I know, "Bucket List" is more fun to say) It was an important thing to do at the time--part of the process of convincing myself that I could do this, that life could go on and be meaningful, maybe even enjoyable.

Back to the present. Watching that movie this afternoon got me to thinking about this, and a short dig through some old notebooks produced the list. Here it is, word for word, with some modern comments. I guess I haven't done too badly.

Things to Do Before I Die. October 31, 1995.
1. Have a bow made for me; become an expert with it.
The first part was easier than the second, I can tell you that.

2. Own a four-wheel-drive.
I traded in the legendary Purple Truck a couple years ago. It was everything I expected.

3. Learn to accompany myself on the guitar, dulcimer, and/or celtic harp.
Doing OK with the guitar. I doubt I'll ever get to the others, but I'm OK with that.

4. Travel to Scotland, Alaska, Taiwan, and maybe, possibly Nepal
I made it to Scotland a few years ago and I'm aching to go back. Alaska is being talked about. Doubt I'll ever make it to Taiwan or Nepal. This makes me sad, but there are other priorities.

5. Climb a really big mountain.
Check. I've climbed three so far, on two different continents no less.

6. Live in the mountains or by the sea.
We're short on sea but long on mountains around here.

7. Climb an oak tree.
I haven't done this one yet, but I planted an oak tree a month ago. Grow, little tree--I'm not gettin' any younger here!

8. See a grizzly bear, wolf, yak in the wild.
Saw my first grizzly in the Tetons just over a year ago, a silver mama with three cubs. Heard a wolf howl the fall before that. I'm having trouble locating any yaks, though.

9. Open my own inn in the foothills.
Ah, my inn. Sarah and I still talk about that dream now and then. It isn't on the current priority list, but who knows?

10. Learn to identify and understand wild plants.
This has been a very fun one, one of the few I've consciously worked on.

11. Sail on an old-fashioned sail boat.
No luck on this one, mostly because there aren't a lot of sailboats in Wyoming.

12. Learn the constelations.
This one isn't happening effortlessly like I hoped it would. I'm just going to have to get to work on it.

13. Be an old man.
For the next nine months I get to officially say, "I'm thirty-seven! I'm not old!" After that, we'll see.

14. Build a log cabin.
Well, we built a scrap lumber chicken coop this summer. I'm sort of working my way up.

15. Someday, somehow, fall in love again.
How did I know to save this one for last? I guess I always had my priorities straight. Sarah and I have been married four years now. I am glad I had so many years alone, if for no other reason than how much it makes me appreciate what it is to be loved by her.

It is fun to see how many of these I have accomplished, and it is tempting to make a new list. But somehow putting "killing an elk with my bow" on the same list with "raise a child who loves God" seems incredibly shallow. Besides, I feel less need than I once did to fill up my future with stuff. We'll just do the best we can, pray for wisdom and love, and see where God takes us.

That's really all I've ever done, anyway.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Saturday saw the ending of another session of Wyoming Bible Camp, where I have served the past several years as Head Counselor. The job description for this position is intentionally vague: The work entails some measure of authority but very few actual duties, allowing me to sort of play free safety and jump in wherever I am needed. If there was ever a job tailor-made for me, this would seem to be it.

It isn't all fun, though. On Thursday, the tougher high school kids went on a long hike, from Worthen down to Sheep Bridge, then all the way down Middle Fork to the trail head. I used to be the Guy who led these hikes. But nowadays, I am the head counselor. It's my job to make sure everything gets covered. So while the younger guys were burning up the trail, baling off the waterfall, and doing deeds of legend to be recounted with much laughter over dinner, I sat on a creeky bunk in cabin six and sang ridiculous songs with preadolescent boys. Yes, with great power comes great responsibility. And sitting there singing "The One Legged Chicken" with the boys, I was struck once again with how little bearing Spiderman has on real life.

Saturday morning it was wrapping up, though. Sleep-deprived mumblings over cold cerial gave way to the required team chores and cabin clean-up, followed by the snapping cameras, the tearful hugs, the joyful goodbyes, and at long last the quiet drive down the mountain. Several of us met for some well-earned quiet time over Tony's Pizza.

Funny thing about an enormous job well done--the lifted responsibility leaves a vacuum which sooner or later gets filled up with goofy jokes and helpless, gut-busting laughter. Throw in a pizza or five and, well, things are about as good as they get.

Until next time...

Monday, July 21, 2008


I have been having very vivid, very odd dreams lately.

My friend Craig and I were waterskiing on a large mountain lake, with an old man from church named Joe driving the speedboat. We were barefoot, and neither of us had waterskied before, but it came quite easy, enough so that I was rather proud to be able to flash the peace sign to the admiring onlookers on shore.

A plantet was discovered with liquid water, a stable climate, and a CO2 atmosphere. Rockets were sent carrying plant seeds, which would sprout into trees, shrubs, and grasses, producing oxygen and rendering the place habitable. But there were no soil fungi, so all the plants died. So rockets were sent carrying soil fungi, which also died because no plant roots had broken up the soil. Once that all got worked out, the plants failed to reproduce because there were no critters to polinate them. So rockets were sent carrying bees, moths, hummingbirds. These didn't make it because by the time they arrived, all the flowering plants had given up, leaving them nothing to eat. And so on.

I learned that a friend of my long-deceased grandma Diemer was alive, well, and in good health and mind, living very near the old ranch in southern Colorado. I was excited to call her and ask her questions about the lives of my maternal ancestors.

And so on and so on. Is something wrong with me, Herr Doktor?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pond Therapy

Last night, we floated around our pond in an inflatable boat.

This is something we have done since we first dug the pond several years ago. Around sunset, we get in the boat and float around until we decide to go in. Sometimes we talk; other times we sing. Occasionally the guitar finds its way into the boat; other times there is just comfortable silence. Stargazing and bat watching tend to happen. The only rule is that nothing stressful or negative is allowed on the pond.

Sarah and I are both convinced that the divorce rate would plummet if every couple had a pond and a row boat.

It has been a very fulfilling summer, but a very frustrating one, too. There has been almost no down-time. Not counting firewood expeditions, we have only been to the mountains twice!! It seems like this summer has been one hard job after another, made more frustrating by my uncanny ability to find every conceivable wrong way to do something before stumbling on the correct way. We're both really, really tired, in a way that couples aren't supposed to be until they have kids.

And we had only done pond therapy twice all summer. The pond is clear and clean (benefits of the new liner) and more beautiful than ever, but the days have left us more in the mood for collapsing into bed than for inflating a boat. Amazing how stress and exhaustion reduce life to mere survival.

But last night, the evening was cool, the chicks were bedded down, the sunset was spectacular, and the work was done for the day. I blew up the boat. We got in and shoved off, and almost immediately the world changed. The waterfall drowned out barking dogs. The water level was low enough that we didn't have to worry about prying eyes. Sarah and I were alone in the world. Alone, and thankful.

We talked about how good it is to have a pond and a boat. How wonderful it is to have water clear enough that we could actually see fish from the boat! How blessed we are to live in a place where we can see the Milky Way from the front yard. How amazing all of our trees and bushes are doing. How good it will be to have fresh eggs and fried chicken all winter, with lots to share. We shared favorite childhood memories, and discussed the amazing spiritual journey from which God seems to have returned us--changed, but safe and sound.

Around ten, the timer turned off the waterfall, and everything was still. Sarah had brought along a flashlight for the walk back to the house, and we got it out and shined it into the clear water. In a couple minutes, the light had attracted a swarm of water fleas. Now, unlike their terrestrial namesakes, these critters are not nasty parasitic insects. What they are is almost-microscopic crustaceans, relatives of those hideous sea creatures we pay lots of money to eat at fancy restaurants. They eat single celled algae, and are thus largely responsible for our crystal-clear water. They, in turn, are good chow for fish, and are thus largely responsible for some rather obese goldfish and minnows.

The baby minnows showed up first, eating the water fleas, darting around in the light. Then we started shining the light all over the pond. Everywhere we pointed it, something amazing. Fat goldfish, deep crimson in the night, some of whom we haven't seen for weeks. Bugs. Even the rocks in the pond look different by flashlight.

Today we cut two loads of firewood. I mowed hay for the chickens. Dirty, hard, hot work. But last night, for a little while, we remembered what all the hard work is for. And for a little while, the world was perfect.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Fast Times at Wilson Manor

I spent most of the day today out in the yard. This has become the normal way of things, much to the detrement of both my graduate GPA and my musical career. Wilson Manor has been undergoing quite a transformation this summer.

Since not much happens in Wyoming without water, we started with the pond. Roberto brought over his big scooper and dug it out, then, with a little help from some extremely good friends, we moved a 900 pound piece of rubber into it. After all the friends went home (smart friends), we moved several tons of rocks into the hole so it would look all nifty. Then we filled it up (it holds water, more or less), threw in some fish to eat mosquitoes, and moved on to the next project.

Trees. New ones. 200 of them. Digging holes on our land feels sort of like scraping paint with a toothpick. So again Rob came to the rescue, punching nice, deep holes through the hard clay with his power auger. After that, planting was easy. We now have lots and lots of cottonwoods, native plums, chokecherries, and junipers, planted in several windbreaks, mostly to protect things that aren’t there yet. Also in the ground are some apricots, sand cherries, and an oak tree. Of course, all of these are very small and don’t look like much…yet.

So, now we have water and trees. How to bring the two together? Last summer I spent around 9 hours per week hauling hoses around the yard. That wasn’t happening again. So this past spring we took several crash courses in drip irrigation. Once the trees were in the ground, we got the equipment and I installed a quarter-mile long drip line. And get this: It works perfectly! Now I go out at bed time, turn on the pump, and wake up in the morning to nice, healthy, well-soaked trees. Getting work done while I sleep. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

So, now we have both planted trees and taken steps to assure they don’t die—something new we’re trying this year. Are we content that soon we will be wallowing in fruit, relishing newfound privacy, slinging our hammock in the shade? Ha.

We had been talking about getting a few chickens for quite a while. A fateful day came when Sarah reported the price of eggs, and we decided to go for it. Just a few, understand, to learn the ropes and get started.

Well, this is getting long, so I’ll make a long story short. One thing led to another, and we are now the proud parents of one hundred twenty four baby chickens. No, that isn’t a typo. They live in a large coop creatively constructed out of recycled scrap wood. Almost all of them are roosters that will go in the freezer as soon as they get big enough to be annoying and/or delicious. We’ll keep the hens for eggs, of course, and one rooster to help keep them safe (and pay back the neighbors for their annoying dogs. Mwuah ha ha ha ha haaaaa!)

Oh, there’s more—the outdoor run for the McNuggets currently under construction, then the raised garden beds, not to mention cutting firewood, painting the coop, spraying noxious weeds, always a favorite. But you know, things are starting to feel reasonably under control around here…