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The ranch foreman drove me around the thousand acres of Texas that he was thrilled to manage. We were bouncing around in a crew buggy touted to work hard and ride smooth. But, the rough ride was not because of the stiff suspension but because of another problem.
Wild hogs have invaded this pristine Texas ranch. At night or early in the morning they began to forage. As a herd of hungry wild animals they go in search of food.
Rooting is a natural behavior of pigs. It is believed that their ability to pick up iron in the dirt keeps them from suffering from anemia. If they discover insects or worms or anything else that is edible they will continue to dig up large areas of land.
This normal but destructive behavior makes wild hogs unwelcome by ranchers. The land that they root up transforms a smooth meadow into a bumpy upturned ground where the grass for grazing cattle is destroyed and ATVs now have a rough go of it. They steal cattle feed, deer feed and make the land difficult for cattle to graze.
The next morning professional pig hunters were brought on to the property. There were four tough looking, seriously equipped and rough talking men who showed up. Each was armed and equipped with the latest in tracking equipment.
Besides the souped up ATV’s these hunters brought seven highly specialized and trained dogs. They had noses ready to track down the pigs and teeth raring to grab some live pork. It was going to be an experience watching these men work.
The motorized machines slid to a halt at the corner of the ranch. Each of the hunters unleashed their dogs. Our convoy of ATV’s followed while the dogs ran and sniffed the air.
It was over an hour of slowly moving through the woods. Suddenly, the still morning air erupted with the baying of dogs. Clearly, they were excited and the sound of their alarm moved quickly in a singular direction.
A pig, one of those destructive creatures was trying to elude capture. This adaptable four-footed animal was using every trick to escape the jaws of the dog pack. It ran out of tricks.
The one who was created in His image and his best friends prevailed. Tenacity, technology and teamwork overcame the base instincts of the beast. One down many more to find and eliminate.
photo credit: brucefong photography
My backyard is relatively unused. During our first few years as homeowners I have used the backyard a few dozen times. Most of the time those were spent on our small 8×10 slab where my smoker/grill is parked.
The grassy well-irrigated lawn does not have my foot prints on it much. Occasionally, I have ventured out there to play around with archery. But, the range is limited to 20 yards so it is not really adequate to that hobby.
Our gardeners use the yard much more than we do. Their use is limited to cutting the grass. Twice we have had them clear out and straighten up our flower beds.
Aesthetic values are first for our yard. We like looking at it from inside of our house. Everything is neat, attractive and pleasing to the eye.
Now, make no mistake, I can imagine a more useful backyard. Move us into the country and take down the wall and fencing and we have a positive improvement. Back up our property line to a massive forest or thousands of acres of undeveloped woods.
Make sure that there are plenty of Oak trees scattered about that will drop innumerable acorns and give the flocks of turkey a place to roost for the night. Allow for groves of low hanging bushes so that the deer have a place to call home. Lease enough acres for gentlemen farmers to plant crops that give pheasants good habitat.
Make sure that there are enough ponds scattered to attract waterfowl, sustain several species of warm water fish and give the beavers challenges to build their dams. Once the dams are built and the lush water grasses flourish, maybe moose will filter into the region. Allow a few deep ravines to carve out a place for elk to roam.
This is a backyard to thoroughly enjoy. God’s creation at its best is just outside of my porch will give decades of entertainment. Living off of the land will not just be a hobby but a choice of life.
On a brisk Autumn day, I could see bundling up, rocking on a chair with a cup of hot cocoa in one hand. Movement catches my eye. Slowly, I bring up my binoculars to my line of sight.
A herd of deer are grazing through the woods. The dominant doe is alert. Behind the herd is a massive buck looking for love. I smile and my dream breaks off because it is time to go to work.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Travel for ministry is not uncommon in my schedule. Most of my time is spent in my home town but air travel is very visible in my calendar. Yet, I still make mistakes.
Sometimes I forget to pack some necessities. Once I forgot socks. At other times I have forgotten toothpaste, toothbrush, razor or comb.
Now, I have a bag with travel items that I keep handy for all of my journeys. So far I have not forgotten that bag. However, I have forgotten to refill several of those important dispensers or replace those empty containers.
I have a check list that helps me. A busy schedule keeps deadlines and departures on the edge. The routine is getting honed to something that is common.
Nevertheless, no matter how hard I try there are danger zones primed for a mistake. When I arrive at the airport parking, my individual world turns into an instantaneous stressful moment. In front of me driver is unsure of where to park, slowing down an entire line of cars. We all are waiting to move into a slot and jump on to the airport shuttle.
Finally, I get to pick a spot while the shuttle moves up. Now, the shuttle and all of its passengers are waiting for me to climb aboard. I grab my bag and don my backpack. Then, I hit my remote to lock the truck and climb into the shuttle and we whisk off to the terminal.
The terminal is ahead while all of us are jostled around the tight turns to enter into the drop-off zone. We are all reaching for our cellphones to check our gates. That is the moment when shock and awe grip my heart.
I forgot my phone.
It is back in my truck. When I left from home I connected it to the power cord to ensure a full charge for the journey. The rushing around to catch the shuttle distracted me.
How can I survive without my cellphone for four days? How would I double-check my schedule, call up my confirmation numbers, make appointments, send text messages to key people or take pictures of the weekend adventure? This was a very unsettling discovery.
Yes, I prayed. I asked God to calm my spirit and sort out this travel wrinkle. Just like the Word promises, He gave me calm.
I smiled. This would be an adventure. He would be there for me and He does not need a cellphone to stay in touch.
Moping around for days about my smashed I-pad glass seemed right to me. Remorse calmly tempers my foolish actions that caused the broken control panel on my high-tech machine. It was that similar feeling that comes when repenting from sin.
On my next day-off I stopped in the nearest Apple store for a repair estimate. This branch store was located in the middle of a major shopping mall. Parking was the biggest challenge.
The crowds in the store the store were shocking. This was a week day and in the middle of the day. Does everyone get a Friday off from work?
Patiently or at least appearing patient I waited my turn. Besides the drive into town, the parking, the long walk and now the standing in line, my day-off had lost nearly two hours. Finally, it was my turn.
The associate or whatever they call these triage workers in blue shirts had a mini-i-pad in hand and had to be a least a decade younger than my own children. She smiled and asked how she could help. I showed her my broken screen.
I was taking it out of my messenger bag to show her but she asked a horrible, terrible most despicable question, “Sir, do you have an appointment?” My heart sank. That thought had never even crossed my mind.
“No.” Undeterred, she made several motions on her screen and said that the earliest appointment that was open was in two hours. Rather than spend my entire morning chasing down options, I asked for an appointment at the end of the day so that I could come back on my way to run my afternoon errands. We settled on a time.
Of course I was prompt for my 4pm appointment. They whisked me right into the shop and seated me at a table. A young, very young associate called my name and I raised my hand.
She assessed the condition of my broken glass screen all of the time entering data on her own mini I-pad. “What’s the cost for the repair?” After I picked myself off the floor, I then asked how much a new unit would cost. It was the same cost as a repair! I thanked her for her help and left the shop.
A google search led me to a repair shop near my office. They repaired my I-pad for a third of the cost. I also bought from them a protective case, easier to hold and set up. Now, I am back in action.
There is a recognizable and unmistakable morning sound that disrupts the deepest slumber. Each one of us has customized that sound with the advent of cellphones and programmable sounds. Nevertheless, we all know the wake-up call of our personal alarm clocks.
Mine sounds loudly at 5:00AM in the morning. Admittedly, there are times when I am awake, waiting for the sound to start my day. But, there are just as many days when the sleep spoiler jars the most peaceful moments of a deep repose.
Now, the fast-paced routine begins. My shower, shave and clean-up climax with my wardrobe selection for the day. Breakfast and lunch are checked off and it is time to climb into our commuter machine.
My bride and I have been alone since we climbed out of bed. Now, we enter the road system at 5.55AM and we are no longer the lonesome duo. Instead, we are mixed into the masses on their way to work into Houston.
Seriously, there are thousands of vehicles merging on to the freeway system. The sky is still dark. Even the sun does not want to rise this early.
Headlights illuminate the black asphalt. Reflectors built into the roads and strategically call attention to road signs. Mostly, it is dark outside, very dark.
Stop-and-go is the best description of the daily commute. Some drivers have their radios blaring. One guy with his custom exhaust system loves to fall back then accelerate quickly so that everyone else can hear the rumble of his loud pipes.
I have a different practice. My bride and I carpool together. We have wonderful conversations on the way into work.
Sometimes we laugh. Other times we discuss an important national or world issue. Many times we are discussing the meaning behind a particularly interesting passage of Scripture.
Of course we have a running commentary on the driving habits of those who are around us. We like the majority of drivers who obey the law and are courteous to others. There is also our common dislike for the impatient driver who is zig zagging in and out of traffic because they are in a rush.
Perhaps the best part of all is the traffic lightens up for us after a brief two mile stretch. That is when we are allowed to enter the HOV lane and dispense with the traffic jam and reach nearly posted speeds all of the way into work. It is more than a small blessing and we are grateful.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Most of the time Norm moves very slowly. He is a big dog and if he moved quickly there would be a lot of stuff that would go flying. More than once I was whipped by his tail.
If something excited Norm and he launched into a frenzy, anything that was not nailed down would be in orbit. Reclining across the room was no problem if Norm thought that I would grant him a good scratch behind the ears or a massage down his ticklish lower back. In a matter of seconds he could close the distance between me and his rug of choice.
Getting to see Norm was a bit of a journey. United Airlines put me on a puddle jumper from Denver to Laramie. It was a dependable aircraft but it moved faster than any dog, even faster than one as big and long-legged as Norm.
At the Denver airport I climbed aboard an Embraer 120 Brasilia. It is a twin-engine turboprop. This spiffy commuter plane seats up to 30 people. It has a top speed of 378 mph.
When the Pratt and Whitney engines fired up, the noise in the cabin bordered on being uncomfortable. The vibration inside the cabin became very noticeable. But, once the powerful engines lifted us into the atmosphere, the noise and shaking calmed down.
What is even faster is the Airbus 319 that whisked me away from Houston. Crowding 134 passengers aboard and winging away at a blistering 511 mph, this jetliner left no doubt what speed is all about. The comfort was splendid and the views were above the clouds.
From the bustling world-class city of 6 million people, to the quiet prairies of Laramie, Wyoming to the cabin where Norm rustled around, speed became less and less of an issue. If Norm could shuffle around on occasion just to get more comfortable, then there was a lesson for me. It was time to take a break from the busy life.
A fast-pace was no longer in order. My heart rate seemed to enjoy the pace of the 8,400 foot elevation just fine. This is relaxation at its finest: slower, more relaxed and restful…ah! Thank you, God.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Along the unimproved roads of the Vedauwoo National Forest are long stretches of boundary fences. They are hewn from the local trees by skillful lumberjacks. These boundaries are not elaborate but instead they are simple in design yet sturdy and durability. Over the years they withstand the brutal weather of the Wyoming wilderness.
These territory markers captivate the eye. I am drawn to follow their endless lengths that disappear into the woods. The forest swallows them up.
Tall grasses lick the lower rails. Foliage from bushes, trees and weeds crowd the guardians of property lines. Yet, with little maintenance these consistent fences just keep on existing, marking off territories and keeping mostly humans from trespassing.
There is a test from the wilds of the backwoods. Can these man-made structures hinder the wildlife and make the existence of the wilderness fauna feel unwanted stress? Will human intrusion strain the wanderings of the beasts of the field?
The prairie goat, Pronghorn Antelope, saunter up to these fences. A herd of these goats then slip underneath them without hesitation. They seem to big to manage this maneuver but having witnessed it many times I am a believer.
Deer hardly blink at these obstacles of split timbers. They can leap over them from a standing position. When God made these graceful creatures, He knew that a jumping ability as well as eyesight, olfactory sensory perception and speed were great assets to them.
Elk for massive and powerful creatures. A fence like these can be jumped over or smashed. They are creatures of determination and know where the bypass areas are.
Small animals like rabbits, badgers, squirrels or chipmunks use the fences as a hiding place or freeway or shady refuge. None of these little creatures whine about any intrusion but instead accept them as part of the terrain. Humans, who are created in the image of God, should be so flexible.
Time marches on and the weather beats against the wooden fences with every passing season. Instead of wearing out the fences change color and sport a weathered look. They actually look better and more fitting with the environment over time.
Man’s intrusion into the wilderness is not always bad. They have been ordered by the Creator to exercise dominion over creation. It is good and right when man enters the world of the woods and leaves a good trail of his visiting the wilderness.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Andy asked if I wanted to join him on an ATV ride through Vedauwoo National Forest. “Sure!” was my initial and only response. It was October and the promise of a sensational vision for a Houstonian was all of the motivation that I needed.
God created our world with an annual weather warning. Before the harsh winds of winter, the brutal blizzards of the mountains and the frigid temperatures of the stormy season He gave us the Autumn. This is the time of the year to count our blessings of the past Spring and the enjoyable invigorating days of the Summer.
The deciduous trees can feel the cold coming long before any mammals can detect anything. Slowly but steadily they turn-off the sap that feeds the life from roots to leaves. The chlorophyll disappears.
Green leaves now turn red, orange or yellow. The forest is rich with the bright colors that entertain but also signal the coming of winter. It is time to hibernate, hunker down by a warm wood fire for the next handful of months.
A cold snap had already visited this 7,000 foot elevation several times. The trees do not fight it. They submit to forces greater than themselves so that in the Spring they can revive and awaken to a new year.
Andy was leading the way. I stopped. He kept riding.
That is when I gratefully snapped a picture of his entering into the wonder of Autumn. There were no freeways filled with vehicles or throngs of crowds rushing to work or air controllers trying to schedule massive airliners on to a crowded runway. Instead, the sound of a smoothly running ATV carrying a good friend through the spectacular woods was a vision exclusively laid out for my eyes.
The Creator was displaying His masterpiece in motion. Add texture and depth to this rainbow of colors and I could feel my soul breathing in deeply the refreshment of life. Every human being should be so blessed.
When I reached for the key to start my ATV, I found myself smiling. Life is busy. It is full of heavy responsibility.
Decisions of major proportions no doubt were piling up on my desk back at the office. People were wondering when they could discuss the next major issue that they were wanting some direction before they pulled the trigger and committed resources. For now they had to wait while I recharged my batteries with the One who called me into His service.
Thanks for the invitation, Andy. It was a fabulous ride.
photo credit: brucefong photography
Busy men always discover the elixir of a momentary break from the heavy responsibilities of their work. Getting away into the country, the woods or the lake can do wonders to rejuvenate the male soul. Hardworking men also learn that joining other men to find that relief is very effective.
It has been three years since I have been able to pal around with a special group of Michigan friends. My life took a surprising turn when I was recruited to my present position of higher education. The newness of the position and the long list of responsibilities were great so I stayed close to my job for two years. Finally, it was time to reconnect with great guys.
Describing the men that I shared a few days of adventures on the plains, in the mountains and through the woods is simple. They are a collection of different kinds of bucks. A men’s retreat described like a herd of wild animals is saying that they are just a bunch of guys.
There are the young bucks who hurried into the cabin. They are a lot of fun, full of energy, always moving, taking on new challenges no matter what the risks. When it is time to eat they have a voracious appetite that defies the possible space of a normal human stomach.
Then, there are the seasoned bucks. Their greying hair or loss of it identify them. They move slower. But, their deliberate speed is not to be confused with weakness. There is an ancient Chinese proverb: “Age and treachery will always win over youth and inexperience.”
The dominant buck is the one who speaks and everyone stops to listen, both young and seasoned alike. He gives direction, outlines the rules and cheers on the accomplishments of the recent activities. While dominant he is the hardest working, doing whatever it takes to insure that all of the other bucks enjoy their time away from busy lives.
Then, there is the most favorite buck of all. All of the bucks know him. He gives fodder for years of stories to be retold and redacted. He is the “little buck”.
From him comes the lesson for all men going to retreat with other men: Don’t make a mistake or the other bucks will never let you live it down. It is all in good fun. God has given each of us His amazing grace and the joy of being eternally forgiven so we in turn give that gift of forgiveness to our brothers from different mothers.
photo credit: brucefong friend photography
For a little time the big city is hundreds of miles away. Instead of horrific traffic, jam-packed calendar and unexpected problems that needed solving I could relax and rest. The venue for this renewal of my spirit is Wyoming. People are fewer and further between than the bustling metropolis that I call home and make an honest living.
Here the airport closes at 8:10PM. Wild animals graze right on the city limits. People smile and nod a greeting to you in the local variety store even though you have never met.
The sounds of a small town are different than the city. Here you can hear yourself think. The conversations that you have with other people are carried on with mouth and ears.
In the morning I got up early. I wanted to see the sun rise. It was splendid. Colors and hues modified by the minute.
Rays from the rising sun chased away shadows and promised warmth for every living creature. Like a spotlight that was caressing the landscape of the vast Wyoming plains, the sun pulled back the curtains of the night showed off what the Creator had done here in this gorgeous state.
Off in the distance are the Rocky Mountains. They are majestic even at this great distance. Snow caps all of the ridges and peaks that stand like a great wall daring anyone who really wants to go West but at their own peril.
High plains desert unfold in front of me. This vast land invites all sorts of wild creatures call this cave a home or that valley a place to forage for food. The racing sunlight pours over the plains making shadows dance, leap and finally disappear.
The sky turns bright blue. A multitude of cloud variations scamper across the heavens. The wind kicks up and shows us why Katharine Lee Bates penned the words, “For amber waves of grain.” It literally looks like the grasses are like a seas of moving waves.
Breath deeply for a moment, hold that breathe of fresh air and then release it. A smile invariably follows after you exhale. God did something special when He made the expanse of the earth.
The Creator must have spent extra time here in Wyoming during Creation. It is a splendid place to remember how big He is and how small we are. If life is weighing you down, take time to look up and see what He has so incredibly made.
Photo credit: brucefong photography