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FullSizeRenderA new friend invited me to enjoy a few days on his ranch.  It was a welcoming invitation that my inner pioneering spirit could not refuse.  Life had built up a myriad of stresses to strain the reservoir that was holding back the enormous bulge.

Before the dam could burst I was on the road for some solitude.  As the miles melted behind me the relaxation already began an amazing sense of relief.  Rejuvenating waves of pressure oozed away and a contentment with a smile emerged in its place.

I dropped my gear off in my room and wandered through the muddy path to meet Paul.  He and I smiled.  Even though it had been some time since we first met, we talked about our last adventure together like it was just a few days in the past.

Paul waved me off and told me to go out and enjoy the ranch.  Now, we laid out a quick strategy.  My camera was in my hands and my boots took me to where I would see the wildlife that lived on his land.

The hot Texas sun was dropping low, just caressing the horizon. Diffused light laid a gentle hue on the grounds around me.  In the tall grass I could see trails of animals that knew these woods much better than me.

As if appearing at the wave of a magician’s wand, a beast strolled into view.  It was a fabulous Corsican Ram.  On its head was a 3/4 curl of powerful horns.

Its coat was Palomino over the top but the underbelly was in a contrasting black.  Speckles of black patched its face.  This ram showed no fear.  But, it did not know that i was present, perched on a platform five feet above the ground.

Every part of this male animal was muscle.  Scratches and scrapes on its horn told of past exploits where it had squared off with lessor rams, beat them into submission and carried on with the spoils of the annual rut.  His offspring would someday wander these woods as well.

The Creator designed this fighting machine.  He proportioned it to launch its entire body into a butting of heads.  Now, it was looking for food, to graze on while one human nearby snapped pictures to remember the moment.  I always think of the word majestic when I see and ram with powerful curled horns.  What comes to your mind?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

FullSizeRenderThe sun broke through the rain clouds.  A vigorous storm drenched the ranch just outside of Gonzales, Texas.  The Ranch Boss and I were riding the range on his ATV.

Four wheel drive did not even hesitate at any barricade whether water, mud or wash.  We bounced over the terrain looking for any work that his ranch hands needed to add to their work lists.  In his mind he had a checklist that he made notations on a scouting trip like this.

One alert was his animals.  There were a lot of beasts on his acreage.  Some of the animals were tough and could withstand almost any kind of adversity.

There were other critters, however, that had some vulnerabilities.  They were smaller.  A predator would easily choose one of these animals for a meal than the beasts that could defend itself in woods.

While we scanned the acres for problems from the storm, we also looked for anything unusual.  The “Oh, oh” that the Ranch Boss uttered caught my attention.  When I looked at him, he just pointed up in the sky, “Gotta believe the birds.”

He threw his ATV into gear and spun the steering wheel.  Our casual scout now had a specific objective in mind.  The vultures spelled death and that was never good news to a rancher.

We bounced through the woods.  He dodged fallen logs, bogs and massive trees.  Our forward progress came to an abrupt end.

The muddy ground made us skid for a long stretch. When we came to a halt, the Ranch Boss did not need to say much.  We both were socked in the face with the wretched stench of rotting flesh.

The vultures have been specifically designed by the Creator to clean up the woods.  When an animal dies, they find it.  Together a flock of these powerful creatures eat up the rotting flesh with relish.

The flies and the maggots wrap up the details.  There is no more need for human intervention.  This is one ranch critter that will no longer roam in the fields.

We made a hasty exit.  What God had design to finish up the circle of life we left to operate without disruption.  Fresh air was just a 50 feet away.

The birds signaled other birds in the area to join them.  These feathered scavengers attracted more of their kind.  A great flock gathered and told any who could see that their morbid work was almost done.

IMG_5191Most of what I do in my profession is deeply satisfying.  Sometimes what I do professionally goes beyond deeply satisfying and enters the world of unbelievably splendid.  This especially happens when people invite me to a location that makes me marvel.

Some friends and I gathered at a ranch not far from Houston.  Busy men rendezvoused over a six-hour span of time.  Some drove a great distance while others just knocked off an hour or so from their office.

The first day of a short retreat was having its intended effect.  Men were relaxing.  De-stressing was happening faster than anyone thought possible.

One after the next men talked about the easing of pressure.  “Just what the doctor ordered,” passed the lips of men carrying major responsibilities.  This ranch was easing the weight of a lot of life.

Once breakfast satisfied our hunger, we strolled outside.  The sun was warm for a February Texas winter.  59 degrees and sunshine is a blessing.

Together we piled into a four person ATV and went for a ride.  Our hosts introduced us to their livestock.  A nice herd of Texas Longhorns took center stage.

Satisfying words described their prize bull, pregnant cows and newborn calves.  Steers looked longingly through their pen fences hoping beyond hope for a better future than the auction yard.  Ranching is a tough business calling for cold calculating decisions.

Then, we rolled up to some of the personality of the ranch.  Three donkeys were grazing lazily at the perimeter of the cattle.  Their role in this menagerie of beasts is fascinating.FullSizeRender

While some poke fun at these creatures, the rancher was seriously elevating their part in the ranching dynamic.  These three critters naturally took on the overwatch duties of the grazing cattle and horses.

I learned that if a coyote or a pack of coyotes entered the pasture and stalked a newborn calf, these tenaciously loyal and protective animals will confront the predators.  If a battle ensues, the donkeys will win.  The predators that would normally frighten off many living creatures have learned to steer clear of these adorable comical creatures.

We received the welcome greeting.  Even though these animals all muscle and fierce protectors, they only showed us their warm and humorous side.  Humans often laugh but rarely learn that these four hoofed beasts are just the opposite of the end of so many jokes.  Hee haw!

photo credit: brucefong photography

Disney World 2014 191There are popular animals out of every collection of beasts on the earth.  When people crowd into a well designed aquarium, many linger at one display or another.  In a zoo it is easy to spot the popular animals because the lines are longer and they move so much slower.

When God made the animals He unleashed His creative side.  Each animal is a wonder.  However, some just make us gaze longer and smile more broadly.

Whether it is in a zoo, a wild game park or even in the African bush, one animal claims the popular appeal.  It stands out above the rest.  People always look up to this beast of the plains.

The ever tall and gentle-looking giraffe wins the nod.  There is no other animal on planet earth that looks like this.  They have the exclusive view of the Savannah.

Their elongated neck is their distinctive claim to fame.  Anyone in a game of Pictionary or Charades is smiling if they draw the card telling them to draw this picture or mime the name from eager house guests.  This is a slam-dunk winner for children learning about animals from board picture books.

Take those same children to the zoo and they need to file through their memory when identifying animals in real life.  But, the giraffe is an easy association for them.  They simply marvel at how tall these creatures are in real life.

Beyond its unique height and distinctive neck is its patchwork on its hide.  At first the pattern evades our attention.  It does what the Creator designed it to do.

Observers do not focus on the huge animal.  Eyesight naturally sees the breakup scheme and nearly miss the creature that is clearly taking up space.  Camouflage is the purpose and the purpose is achieved so well.

Its long legs give this animal the gait that suits its foraging.  In a gallop the giraffe looks ungainly.  Yet, it covers ground with enormous speed.

Perhaps its best asset with its height is a buffet that no other herbivore can compete.  The delectable leaves in the heights of the trees can only be reached by this tallest of plains animals of Africa.  They not only can eat what none others can reach, they have the vantage point to spot other savory options over great distances.

This is a remarkable animal.  It is not an accident of chance that it is like this.  Rather, it is the smile of the Creator, who knew what He was doing.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Israel 2014 IFL 310There are high spiritual points along the tour of Israel.  Every day and at every site there are those deeply personal moments that people will always remember.  But, there are also moments of comic relief that brings a smile to every pilgrim whose feet follows the footsteps of the Savior as well.

On every one of my four tours of the Holy Land, there is a common laughable sparkle moment.  It is  part of the land. Also, it is very much a part of the people of the Land.

The first time a camel is spotted it rouses an immediate interest on our bus.  Every picks their head up and asks, “Where?”  Heads are turning and the eagerness in lives both young and old are interested.

Cameras are set on the ready. Smart phones with built-in cameras are held up with photo or video options ready to launch into action.  All conversations are put on hold and the guide helps everyone orient themselves to the first sighting of this remarkable creature.

Westerners have often joked that the best illustration of what a committee can produce compared to that talented executive is a camel.  The skilled and gifted individual can come up with a plan to build a Chevrolet Corvette but a committee can never be efficient or productive beyond a hodgepodge of connected good ideas or aesthetic appeal and end up with a camel.  That would be a little too rugged of a commentary on this amazing beast.

Israel 2014 IFL 319When God created this animal, He designed endurance like it existed no where else in the animal kingdom.  The camel can go and keep on going even through the roughest of climates.  In the desert this animal is the king.

With its agile movements, personal water reservoir and massive hoof displacement it can travel with a burden through the desert and keep on living.  Caravans learned of this quality and maximized its potential.  Through the arid and sparsely scattered water sources, these animals deliver their cargo over and over again.

Today our guide told us that there are no wild camels.  Even in the desert a camel is owned by someone.  These creatures are highly prized by those whose lives are in the sandy dunes.

Look at the face of a camel.  Do they not have a face that only a mother could love?  They are gentle yet independent.  With their water hump, they always make us pilgrims smile.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

My garage door raised at the push of a button.  The morning of a new day poured in and bathed me with the promise of a great workout.  I love the morning!

I grabbed my bicycle and carried it on to my drive way.  After closing my garage door, I cinched up my riding gloves and buckled my helmet.  With ease I pushed off and mounted my machine breathing in the fresh morning air.

Houston’s heat had not yet claimed the day.  It would not roast the earth here in Texas for a few more hours.  Nor would the humidity climb the ladder until late in the morning.  For now the weather is everything Houston love about living here.

My newness to the area meant that my peddling would lead me from one adventure to the next.  Every place was new to me and a surprise.   Today my route would take me down some of my neighborhood roads that I mentally noted while driving through my new home territory.

The sun was dancing through the mature trees in our neighborhood as I pedaled down the street.  Sprinklers were spraying their last dousing of water over lush lawns.  Birds were busily chirping for their flocks to come join a discover of new berries, seeds or gnat balls.

On a whim I turned right.  A path led off the beaten track along a large long culvert.  There is school child coming in the opposite direction.

She is bearing a backpack, smiling at the new day with a mind filled with school moments.  I paused at the intersection to let her pass.  She with her Southern upbringing, nodded with polite acknowledgment.  That’s when I did a double-take at a sign just off to my right.

Who stops to read a sign while on a workout ride?  We don’t have time to break stride, especially when the sign has lots of words on it.  Surely, drivers would not have the time to read the blurry print while racing by at 40 mph.

But, I read the sign again pausing on a couple of particular words.  Was this a joke?  Could someone have made a geographical error?

But, that little girl come from that direction without any problems.  Hmmm… maybe she is from a long line of alligator hunters.  Whoa, it was time to turn around and choose a different path to finish my morning ride.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

There is something about the road from central California to LA that is unlikable.  It is long, hot, boring, straight, lots of traffic, lots of Chips and the Grapevine.  Of course, who has driven this painful journey and not been shocked by the oder of the Coalinga stock yards?

We loaded up Yoda, did a fun check through our final list and drive two miles to the gas station.  Might as well begin the journey with a short shake down test run.  It would be interesting to see if these Bay Area gasoline prices would be the highest on our journey.

Now, we were really set.  Everything was where it should be.  We set our sights south and blended into the crush of vehicles heading south on 101 to San Jose. 

Even at 10AM the congestion was infamously sluggish.  It was stop and go for miles with no explanation for the slow-downs.  Out of no where the traffic accelerated and we were on our way.

Several times I saw brake lights ahead of me light up like the surprise on a cats face when a dog came into view.  But, there was no canine present, just a patrolling California Highway Patrol car.  Even when we were under the speed limit, people still slammed on their brakes.  There was a sign of a guilty consciences all around me.

Then, we took a country road to head into the valley.  There we would rendezvous with Interstate 5, the big road that poured traffic into the Golden State going North or South.  Along this country highway we paused to look over several fascinating sights. 

One was a local fruit stand.  It had fresh strawberries, multiple types of citrus fruit, cherries of several varieties and plums, nectarines and other varied juicy globes.  We resisted and just enjoyed the color and the aroma.

There were horses grazing in the pasture.  Tiny ponies were what attracted us.  Isn’t there something special about a horse? 

The stallions and mares were out prancing in the fields.  These little colts were in the shade, sleeping and resting away from the hot sun.  Like stars used to the clicking of cameras, our celebrities posed easily for the camera.

A knowledgable Bonsai artist had his creations set up alongside of the road.  His appreciation of these little trees in little pots was self-evident.  Proudly he told of each species and how to care for them. 

If it is the journey that is important, then we are making the most of it.  Stops along the way make for a great memory.  This is starting out to be an amazing adventure of faith and memories.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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