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Monday, July 24th, 2017
8:03 pm - On the meaning of Meaning
In my re-reading of The Lord of the Rings this evening, I came across this statement by Sam Gamgee concerning rope:
Sam did not laugh. 'I may not be much good at climbing, Mr. Frodo,' he said injured tones, 'but I do know something about rope and about knots. It's in the family, as you might say. Why, my grand-dad, and my uncle Andy after him, him that was the Gaffer's eldest brother, he had a rope-walk over by Tighfield many a year. And I put as fast a hitch over the stump as any one could have done, in the Shire or out of it.'

When I first read that fifty years ago, and for many re-readings thereafter, I assumed a rope-walk was a rope stretched between two points, upon which acrobats would walk. Tighfield, I assumed was a village with an annual fair or something, and Uncle Andy would put on exhibitions of his rope walking skill there. It seemed reasonable with the traditional English feel of the Shire; besides, we had already had one example of tightrope walking in the novel, when the Companions of the Ring crossed the Silverlode into Lothlorien over a rope stretched between trees on either bank.

It wasn't until I read Helen Hooven Santmeyer's enormous novel, And Ladies of the Club, some twenty years later, that I learned how wrong I was. One of the families featured in Santmeyer's novel was in the business of making rope. The facility at which one makes rope by hand -- and all rope was made by hand until the practice was industrialized in the 20th Century -- is called a rope-walk.

Rope was typically made in a long -- a very long -- shed. Strands of yarn would be twisted into twine, and then those strands twisted into rope, by hand. The lines would be stretched from one end of the shed to the other, and men would twist it with simple tools -- a hand crank and a bar for tightening -- and as they twisted it, they would be forced to walk toward the other end as the rope was shortened by the twisting. That's what a rope-walk is. Uncle Andy and his father made rope to sell at Tighfield in the Shire. Which explains why Sam told the Elves of Lorien that rope-making was also "in the family."

You'd think that I -- who taught pioneering at summer camp and knew good and well how to make rope -- would know this. But I didn't. Who, today, operates a rope-walk? Nobody. It is an all-but-vanished trade.

Now, the reason this matters has to do with the meaning of Meaning; specifically, with how texts are understood and interpreted. Traditional interpretation would assign my original understanding of Andwise Roper's enterprise as a mistake. My mistake did not damage my enjoyment of The Lord of the Rings very much, since no important point of plot or character hinges on this particular detail, but it was nevertheless a mistake. And when my understanding was enlarged by Santmeyer's novel so that I now understood Tolkien's reference properly, my enjoyment of LOTR was increased. The novel made more sense, and my realization of the Shire within my imagination was clearer. In any case, since the traditional understanding assigns Meaning to the writer, to understand what the writer meant is to be a better reader.

Ah, but this manner of interpretation is NOT what is taught in Literature classes nowadays. A new understanding of where Meaning is derived from is now in vogue -- and those who teach it require that students interpret all texts in this way. It is now said, with all seriousness, that Meaning derives from the reader's experience. What the reader makes of a text is what the text means, not what the writer was trying to communicate. The writer merely provides the raw material from which the reader constructs the work to one's own satisfaction.

This means that you can take some Victorian or Medieval or Classical author, and understand him to endorse all your post-modern values, since that is what you get out of him. Or, you can dismiss everything he has to say as bigoted awfulness, since he obviously does not share your post-modern values. Either way, you're right (this is one of the great advantages to the person writing an article or a thesis). If this seems topsy-turvy to you, that's just because you are not up to date in your literary criticism -- probably because there's something wrong with your own values, bigot and oppressor that you are.

And this is why people can make the Constitution say whatever they want it to say. The same goes for the Bible, or any other authoritative text. I read the words and assign them the meaning I wish them to have, since the reader's authority is dominant over the writer's. If you disagree, it's because you are a bigot and an oppressor. So there.

Trying to argue cases with progressives -- literary, political, or religious -- is exhausting, and you can get your head spun around several times before you're done. Better to identify the root of the argument, and have that out from the beginning.

I believe that the intent of the writer(s) of a text is what determines Meaning. You can disagree with that meaning, if you like. What the writer means may be, in fact, terrible or ugly or evil. But you must first understand what the writer intended to say before either disagreeing with it or citing it in support of your own ideas. This is called exegesis in Biblical studies. Privileging the reader's understanding over the writer's is called eisegesis -- or, in plain talk, baloney. It may be tasty baloney; you may in fact prefer your meaning over the writer's, but you have made a mistake. You are in error. And if your opinion, based upon your reading of whatever text we're talking about, is in error, then the value of what you say is greatly reduced.

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Sunday, July 23rd, 2017
1:01 pm - The search continues
Deanne and I got up early for church again this morning, though not as early as last week. Today's sampling was the country church down the road, which meets at 9:30 a.m. It was a rainy morning as we saddled up and drove down the highway.

The church was small, but well appointed. It felt comfortable, as a place. As a gathering of persons, well, folks were friendly, though some were reserved. There were a couple of boys, ages 9-10 perhaps, who acted as acolytes. They were the only children on this day. Still, there were young adults. The church had an intergenerational feel.

The pastor was technically on vacation, but he got back early, so he was in attendance and led some prayers. The associate pastor -- actually a part-time hospice chaplain -- preached. She was nervous, since I had been her clergy mentor, and she had never preached to me before. I was going to stay incognito, but she outed me before the congregation. Well, that's okay.

On the one hand, everything here was very amateur. The pianist's sense of time was less certain than the one we heard last week at the suburban church. There was a bit of repetition in what was said. It wasn't polished, and it wasn't clever. But it was real. That counts for a lot.

And the Name of Jesus was lifted up. I was reminded, nicely, that I was a sinner in need of grace. Thank you for that. And even better, I was reminded that Jesus had died -- and risen! -- so I wouldn't stay that way.

Various persons in the congregation had bits of praise at sharing time, in addition to prayer requests. Some referenced Scripture: one fellow mentioned that the sermon text of the day was related to what they were studying in the church's mid-week Bible study, which had been echoed at an Emmaus formation he took part in this week. During the sermon, there were some amens. These people take their Bibles seriously, and they take their relationship with Jesus seriously.

I felt quite at home. Country folk take a while to really get to know, but once they accept you, you belong. I could imagine being part of this kind of church. Once they got used to me, my clergy status might not get in the way much. I'm a little more leery of it getting in the way of the pastor and associate. But then, I don't think they'd be too buffaloed by it, and since I'm not looking to horn in on anybody's ministry, it might be okay. Anyway, I think this church remains on the Possibles list.

Next week, we're going to yet another church in the area. Not ready to settle in anywhere yet.

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Tuesday, July 18th, 2017
9:52 pm - Some thoughts on ministry to children and youth
Childhood experiences leave the deepest marks. Just like water that begins to cut a channel, the longer the water flows, the deeper and wider the stream.

Looking back, I realize that by the time I was sixteen, I had already experienced most of the biggest experiences of my life, both good and bad: my dreams and all those magic moments remembered for ever -- that looked like nothing to everyone else, but which were everything to me; yes, and my most painful regrets, too -- the things I have spent fifty years and more trying to come to terms with, wanting them to be different. All the big things that show, all those adult transitions, most of them matter less to me now than things I thought or felt or knew or did between the ages of three and thirteen.

Ministry to and with children and youth isn't about thinking up fun stuff to do. It's not about keeping kids busy. It's about being aware of what is going on inside their minds and souls. It's about a profound respect for what God is doing that you can't see. And it's about communicating grace to those who cannot articulate their pain or fear or regret in certain situations. We do fun stuff and teach lessons and do all kinds of structured things -- but ministry happens in the cracks between the scheduled activities. And it happens when the kid chooses, not the adult: when that young person decides that you have built a sufficient relationship to be someone he or she can tell something to, or hear something from. Sometimes, you never learn the big moment they look back on, that they remember sharing with you -- unless they tell you in after years.

It's not about being cool; it's been a long time since I was cool, in any kid's eyes. It's about being real. And approachable. And it can't be rushed.

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3:53 pm - Thoughts on being unchurched
So, as a retiree from the pastorate, I find myself unchurched again. It's been a long while. Deanne and I finally bestirred ourselves to go to a nearby church last Sunday, to begin the dreaded and uncomfortable job of figuring out how to live out our commitment to Christ.

Honestly, if it weren't for that little, nagging thing -- that commitment -- I wouldn't bother with church at all. Having concluded one very involved congregational relationship, I am in no hurry to start another. I'm enjoying not having to get up and go to anything. And being an introvert, the idea of forcing myself to walk into a whole roomful of strangers is not very attractive.

Not only that, but given the upheaval in The United Methodist Church, a respite from all that is very welcome right now. On the other hand, I'm not very open to a lot of other brands of church, I don't think. If I have to do church, I'd like to find a congenial UMC within easy commute.

Our choices were: 8:45 a.m. traditional service at nearby suburban congregation; 9:30 a.m. service at medium-sized open country church; 10:30 a.m. service at congregation between those two; 11:00 a.m. contemporary service at the nearby suburban congregation. There's also a little family chapel-type UM church nearby, but I didn't check their worship time; I don't know if they even have a credentialed pastor, and I'm not looking to fill the position.

So, we went to the 8:45 a.m. traditional service at the nearby suburban congregation. Strike number one: that's way too early for a regular thing. Strike number two: there were no young people in the service at all. This was the older folk ghetto, the one all the church growth manuals talked about a few years ago. The received wisdom was: Old people will get up early while the young families won't, so put your traditional service first, then Sunday School, then your contemporary service.

Still, there were attractive things about the service. For one thing, I was astonished how many people recognized me -- and more through Scouting than through church. That's a plus. People were friendly and welcoming. The music staff led actual hymns that were well-done. I like the pastor, though I don't know him well. This could be a comfortable fit.

Observations from a newcomer.
1) The announcements went way too long. I don't know people, and I don't know what's going on, so listening to all that in-house stuff just made me impatient to get things going.

2) Protestant worship is so talky. There is no mystery, no awe. We just cover over everything with blather.
Neither of these things is a deal-breaker. But coming cold to the job of church-shopping, instead of being the one shopped, I see them with fresh eyes. If I were pastoring again, I would really try to tighten things up. If you want newcomers to feel comfortable, you need to watch how comfortable you are letting yourselves become. It feels slovenly and un-inclusive, at least without the divine encounter to counterbalance it.

About that divine encounter: I think Christ was on vacation, too. I mean, I went there to meet him, but he seemed to be out somewhere else. In fact, his absence was nearly total.

The sermon mentioned Jesus/Christ exactly once -- in a passing reference to the Rich Young Ruler, whose entry into the sermon was itself only a passing reference to the sermons in the series which preceded this one. This one was from the Old Testament -- which is fine -- but in all the very earnest references to "God has a plan for your life" and the need to be regular in prayer and reading the Bible and participation in church as a means of finding out what that plan is, Jesus apparently plays no part in it. I gotta tell ya: I understand how annoying it is to hear some eevanjellicle braying about Jeezus, Jeezus, but he IS the one who connects us to God. If he is not to be talked about, or even mentioned, why are we here? And why am I listening to your high-energy talk with the cool (if questionably relevant) movie clip, and all that? Desire to serve Jesus is the only thing that got my butt out of my cozy bed to come to your church and endure the social pain of facing a roomful of strangers. Where is he, and what has he got to do with this gathering? You know?

Along those lines, I really have to say that offering prayers "in your name" seems like a dodge. An annoying one. I understand that not all prayers have to use the formula "in Jesus's name." I understand that calling God "Father" is perfectly acceptable. For that matter, direct invocation of the Holy Spirit is also acceptable, as are various Old Testament formulations. But here again, Jesus played no part in the prayers offered in the service. Are we afraid that mentioning Jesus is too divisive? Are we embarrassed to pronounce his name? I'm willing to cut laypersons some slack here, since I generally don't criticize laity for how they pray. But offering public prayer is a professional skill, for which we elders take courses in seminary. Last I heard, Jesus had something to do with how our prayers are received in heaven.

Maybe we came on an "off" Sunday. I'm willing to give this congregation and pastor another dance, though Deanne said she wanted to visit the other places available, and I agreed with her. I still like the pastor. And I kinda like the congregation. But if I decided that that was going to be where we were going to go to church, I don't think I'd be terribly regular about going. I'm willing to put it all on the line for Jesus, but there wasn't enough There there for me to say that I'd be willing to put it on the line for that church, very often.

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Friday, July 14th, 2017
9:57 pm - Hwaet we holbytlan
I'm currently re-reading The Hobbit. I promised myself that after I retired, I would read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings again. I haven't read them for several years.

That said, I have lost count of the actual number of times I've read them all the way through: something over fifty times at least. I first started reading LOTR fifty years ago this summer. It changed my life -- aesthetically, but also spiritually. Aesthetically, I went from a Middle Schooler in love with classical literature, intent on learning Latin, to someone haunted by what C.S. Lewis called "Northerness." My lifelong love affair with ancient English history and literature began there.

But, spiritually, Tolkien's fiction moved me deeply. I didn't know what I'd encountered, but I wanted more of it. Something great and noble and heart-breaking had a-hold of me. As a church orphan starved for something I couldn't identify, I recognized echoes of it here.

I finally realized that repeated re-readings were interfering with my enjoyment of the story. I had read the story so often that when I read, I now had the story playing in my head, moving at a different speed from my eyes tracking the lines on the page. I had to step back. Now, I only re-read the tale on selected occasions, and I block out time to pay close attention. It's like a literary pilgrimage for me, a homecoming of sorts.

Still, my youthful over-reading had its uses. When I went off to grad school to start my PhD, I had to pass two research proficiencies. One could be a foreign language. So, I determined to take the German language test my first semester back in school. It had been thirteen years since I had taken German as an undergraduate. In order to polish my skills back up, I ordered the German language translation of The Lord of the Rings -- Der Herr der Ringe -- from the publisher in Stuttgart. I spent all summer trying to hack my way through as much as I could. I read rapidly, without looking up unknown words. Since I had the English text playing like a tape in my head, it was almost as if I had an interlinear edition. It helped greatly, and I passed my German proficiency exam on schedule. : )

When Fred Curry, my best friend from my youth, died unexpectedly a few years ago, his daughters invited those attending his passing party to write notes concerning Fred and place them in a jar. They were discombobulated when they found mine. It was written in Elvish Tengwar script, which I had taught myself as a teenager. They couldn't make heads or tails of it, but I knew Fred could have. It read, Elen sila lumenn omentielvo. Namarie! Translated from the original Elvish, that means, "A star shines on the hour of our meeting. Farewell!"

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5:31 pm - Doo doo doo lookin' out my backdoor
Just got back from a quick overnight trip to Wilderstead. Brought back a few block to complete the firepit in the backyard here at Tapp Rd.

Now, I need to plan a cookout.

Firepit

New firepit
Ready for use

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Wednesday, July 12th, 2017
5:21 pm - We are not amused
Hera was spending this bright morning snoozing. She woke up to give me a haughty glance while I took her picture.

CIMG6553

Her Majesty
Hera has claimed this pillow

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Friday, July 7th, 2017
12:03 pm - ANNOUNCING!
Indiana Conference, The United Methodist Church
Scouting Retreat
Camp Indicoso, September 22-24, 2017



What is this event?
It’s a weekend of fun, training, and spiritual activity with youth and adults involved in our ministry of Civic Youth-Serving Agencies/Scouting. The retreat is sponsored by the Indiana Annual Conference of The UMC.

Where is it?
Camp Indicoso, 1558 Siebolt Quarry Rd., Springville, Indiana.

Who may attend?
Youth 5th Grade and up, as well as adult volunteers and pastors.

Youth and adult volunteers must be registered in one of the various program agencies we work with: Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, 4-H, Camp Fire, American Heritage Girls, Trail Life. Pastors need not be currently registered in any of these programs.

Non-UM youth and adult volunteers are welcome to participate. The standards of teaching and religious practice, however, will be those of The United Methodist Church.

Youth and adult volunteers may register as part of a unit or as individuals.

Registration is limited to the first 100 participants.


How much does it cost?
The cost is $35 per person for those bringing their own tents. The cost is $45 per person for those who wish to stay in the cabins at Indicoso. The cost covers all program, including meals, event patch, and adventure activities.

What will we do?
We will pray together, play together, eat great food, learn about one’s personal relationship with God and also about how to do scouting as ministry in the church.

Everybody will get to do two (2) of the following three (3) adventures activities: Giant Swing; Zip-line; Challenge Course.

Everybody will also choose three (3) of the following five workshops. For Youth: The Spiritual Life of the Unit; Leading Worship; Religious Emblems and Awards; Service Projects and Missions; Methods of Personal Prayer; Craft Time. For Adult Volunteers and Pastors: Making Disciples Through Scouting; Resources for Scouting Ministry; Religious Emblems and Awards; The Spiritual Life of the Unit; Service Projects and Missions; Craft Time.

And everybody will also get an open period to play games and sports.

For your greater benefit . . .
We ask that all cell phones and electronic media be put away during program times. Yes, that means adults, too. You can’t pay attention to God and each other if you’re distracted. Wait until you get some personal time during the weekend.

How do we register?
The Indiana UM Pathfinder, Inc., is handling the paperwork for this event on the Conference Committee’s behalf. Send the completed registration form and payment to:

Scouting Retreat
The Pathfinder
PO Box 548
Ellettsville, IN 47429

Registration form is needed for each participant. It's a two-pager, here reproduced in JPEG format.

retreat reg form pg 1
Retreat Reg Form Pg 1

retreat reg form pg 2
Retreat Reg Form Pg 2

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Tuesday, July 4th, 2017
4:10 pm - Day 4 of Retirement
I went out to Wilderstead for the day yesterday. It's a jungle out there. What with all the rain we had earlier in the year, the road was overgrown. The erosion channels in the road from all the downpours were also evident.

I started by inventorying tasks to be done. While checking out my building site, I found this baby in the tall grass.

Box turtle

Box turtle
Wilderstead

Next, I started cleaning up the building site. I hadn't done anything to it since last November, when I finished just ahead of the snow (what snow we had). I was too busy this spring to do any work. I got about half the site cleared of the straw and muck; then, the sun began pouring heat down over the hill. By 12:30, I couldn't stand it any more and had to go cool off. Next time, I need to go over in the evening and tackle work on the building site in the cool of the morning.

I went into town to eat lunch and buy some stuff at Lowe's. Then I returned and worked on some road repair. I also sprayed my entire road with Roundup. Next time I go, I'll have to take my trimmer mower, too, and spruce up the most-used areas.

The sheer number of tasks I need to be working on is overwhelming. Discouraging, even. But the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. It's why I retired at this time. Meanwhile, back at home, I've had a couple of dizzy spells and I'm doing a lot of napping. My body is getting used to retirement, too, it seems. And it will not be denied any longer.

I spent years making demands on myself physically, over-riding my body's needs. When I realized I couldn't get as much done in a day as I once did, no matter how hard I worked, I found myself using more and more energy even to do that much. I lived on adrenaline and caffeine and willpower.

The last couple of years, Deanne and I have lived in fewer rooms than we physically occupied. I wore the same round of clothes over and over because it took too much mental energy to sort through the rest of my closet. I did fewer fun things for myself. Work took everything I had. And, of course, when I made the decision to retire, I made up a list of final goals -- promises to be paid off, projects to be finished, things I wanted to do before I left -- and then did every one of them. There was no time or energy left for anything else. I got it. All. Done.

I'm glad I did that. I finished strong. But now, I realize it's going to be some time before I can focus my energies onto what I need to do next. I've got to refill my tank before I can call upon my body to respond. It may be that I "lose" most of this summer before I can really get rolling out in the holler. Well, let it be so.

Ever since I got back from Switzerland, I've been looking for my calendar. It is apparently in the black hole with everything else we can't find. Or maybe God has been hiding it from me, and will reveal it to me when I'm ready to be organized again. Right now, it's enough to ride the wave of each day, and just do what comes to hand.

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Thursday, June 29th, 2017
9:42 pm - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Seven
Last licks

Sunday, 6/18


We acquired some new neighbors while we were up in the mountains. Right next to us was a tent with two teen-aged German-speaking girls. T.C. was a little surprised at the Bustenhalter hanging off the tentpole in the morning. Notions of modesty differ from culture to culture; drying your underwear this way wasn't a big deal to them.

Flying your flag

Flying your flag
Move along, nothing to see

Sunlight on a lone tent

Sunlight on a lone tent
God is smiling on the camp

It was a delightfully slow morning. It being Sunday, we put on our best uniforming and went to church in the village. We got there just as the service was starting.

There was a baptism. The fact that there was a baby being sprinkled probably seemed as odd to T.C. as the fact that the service was in German. Later on, I asked Alane if she understood what the baby's name was. Yes, she said, it was Freeda. No, I replied, Friede means "peace" in German. The baby's name was Nola.

The first part of the service was in the local dialect -- called Schwyzerdütsch by some -- but when the time came to preach, the pastor ascended the pulpit and read the Bible and preached in standard Hochdeutsch. I could understand much of that, but the local dialect was a burr of musical sounds I couldn't break apart into words. The Scripture reading was from the book of Ruth. He had a lot to say about Flüchtlinge, and about being strangers far from home. I mentally translated that as "exiles." Talking with him later outdoors, he corrected me. It means "refugees." That Sunday was Refugee Sunday all over Europe, apparently -- or at least, among the Swiss Reformed congregations.

There were lots of hymns, with good tunes. I enjoyed singing them. At the conclusion of the service, the pastor gave the benediction and walked out the door. We thought it was time to go, but the congregation all stayed seated throughout the long organ postlude. When it finally came to an end, they all applauded the organist -- and then got up to leave.

We walked slowly back to KISC, looking for someplace to do lunch. Though we wanted something Swiss, we finally settled on the pizzeria. There, we found that Swiss pizza is something a little different. We each had a personal pizza, prepared to order. The waiter warned us that in Switzerland, "pepperoni" doesn't mean spicy sausage, but what we would call sliced bell peppers. It was all very good, and dessert was ice cream (sorbet in T.J.'s case).

At the pizzeria

At the pizzeria
A delightful lunch

Returning to camp

Returning to camp
Just never get tired of looking at mountains

Back at KISC, we got word that T.C.'s phone had been found -- or, at least, a phone had been found. I confirmed our return airline flights. And we decided to return to Geneva by way of Brig. That way we could say we went through the Lötschberg Tunnel. Things were coming together.

T.C. asked me if this had been a good retirement trip. Has it ever! I told him that sometimes I can feel God at work on a trip. I certainly felt that in 2000-2001 when putting together our Trip of the Millennium to Tanzania, but not the next time I went. Most of the time, I told him, God expects you to apply yourself and make good judgments and sweat it out. But sometimes -- sometimes -- you can feel the flow of God's Spirit moving all about you, and you know -- you just know -- that you are in the very center of God's will, and everything will work out okay.

KISC has a full-fledged Finnish sauna building -- a gift from the Finnish National Scouting Committee years ago. I rented it for the evening. We built a fire in its stove before supper and immediately afterwards, I stoked it up as hot as I could get it. Meanwhile, T.C. got his phone back at supper, and everything was good on that score.

Getting steamed

Getting steamed
Something special

I was really looking forward to the sauna. I had built Indian sweat lodges before in various camps. A good steam bath will clear out all your pores and re-condition your body and soul. We gathered in the innermost room by the stove. Alane was uncomfortable with the heat, even before we added water to the hot rocks. She moved to the outer steam room. After the first dousing, she went to the outer room where you leave your outer garments and waited for us. We three guys steamed ourselves dry. We poured bucket after bucket of water on the hot coals until we couldn't stand it any more. Then we went next door to the shower house and each stood in a shower stall and hit the COLD water.

"How long do we stay under the water?" asked T.C. "Until it starts to feel cold," I said. Afterward, we were light as feathers. Ahh.

The next day, T.C. and T.J. wanted to go swim in the Oeschinensee. I wasn't happy about going back. We would spend a lot of money to indulge them via cable car. But as long as we were back in time for lunch, I'd go along with it. We decided we wanted to go to the super-traditional Swiss restaurant across from the 4-Star (and owned by the same) and get fondue for lunch.

Monday, 6/19

At breakfast the next morning, T.C. said to me, in an insinuating manner, "Don't you just hate it when you wake up and your hair is everywhere?" Unruffled, I replied, "Ya hate it a lot worse when you wake up and your hair is nowhere."

We went through the checkout drill. I decided that the first three English phrases a pinkie must learn, if not a native English speaker, must be, "Cool!" "OK" and "No problem."

I asked about the interesting knot that the pinkies wore on their neckerchiefs. I was told it's called the Friendship Knot. You're not supposed to tie it yourself; you're supposed to tie it on somebody else's neckerchief when you've made a new friend. One of the pinkies -- a young man from Denmark -- told me that uniforms have fallen out of favor in much of Europe. Not practical, he said. So a Scout t-shirt or polo with a neckerchief serves as universal Scout wear.

We hustled ourselves over to the foot of the Gondelbahn, where we paid an eye-watering amount for return tickets, in order for our guys to fulfill the suggestion that they go jump in the lake. I endured some mild kidding about riding up, which I supposed I deserved. I had told them beforehand that I don't like cable cars. But I sure wasn't going to walk up that doggone valley again. At the top, we caught the tour bus to the Oeschinensee, and there, T.C. and T.J. took the plunge.

Oeschinnensee again

Oeschinensee again
Cows were roaming everywhere this time

Getting wet

Getting wet
It's official now

We took the tour bus back to the Gondelbahn and the cable car to the road. We walked back to town and grabbed a bus to the Rüdihus. We were just in time. It was 1:45, and the kitchen was due to close in 15 minutes.

The Rüdihus staff all wear traditional Swiss costume. Fondue is a specialty, but they also do wine and cheese tastings, parties, etc. I had noticed the number of houseflies all over the valley -- a function of the cows that graze everywhere, I suppose. The windows were open, which meant that the flies are very much a part of high-end traditional dining.

The fondue was excellent. T.C. ordered a plain cheese fondue. T.J. and I shared a big one with speck (bacon, of a sort) and onions. Alane had one with morels in it. We dipped hunks of rye bread in it. We drank iced tea -- but what iced tea! We asked what was in it, and we were told it was just "Swiss Ice Tea." I think they sweetened it with something like elderflower syrup, rather than sugar. It was delightful.

T.C. suggested we do fondue for the crackerbarrel at the Winter Rendezvous. Hmmm . . . Alane said they'd just criticize it for being bad nacho cheese and wonder where the chips were.

Fondue at the Ruedihus

Fondue at the Rüdihus
Traditional Swiss cuisine

Well, it was magnificent, but it was also very pricey. Our meal cost us 154 CHF -- about the same for a simple lunch as the fancy meal at die Krone. Still, it's all part of the adventure. Glad we did it.

Back at camp, we grabbed our stuff, waited for the bus, then waited for our train. Then we were off through the tunnel. While waiting for the train, I went looking for something to read in a little kiosk there. I expected only stuff in German, and that was all right, but all the German language novels were "moderns," i.e., boring. so I bought some German language comic books: Asterix und der Kupferkessel and a big Disney collection. Scrooge McDuck in German is called Dagobert Duck, by the way.

The high tunnel passed quickly through the mountains and then began to descend slowly down the side of the same mountains to Brig. We changed there for Geneva. Once we reached Lac Leman again, we passed through Vevey. I told the Crew that this town's namesake is Vevay, Indiana. Vevay is the county seat of Switzerland County, Indiana. It was settled and named by Swiss immigrants who liked its hills.

The train's terminus was at the Geneva airport. Everybody got off. We struggled with our luggage into the main lobby of the airport and looked around for somewhere to crash for the night. A Swiss-Canadian "ambassador" for KISC had warned us that we might get hassled by the police there, but it looked to me as if half of Geneva had decided to spend the night at the airport. We immediately met a lady from St. John's, Newfoundland, who was trying to get home from her son's wedding.

We were staying in the airport because our flight left at 7:05 a.m. the next morning, and we needed to check in two hours prior to that. So, we were in for an uncomfortable night, but you do what you have to do.

I read some in my German language comic books. I had thought comics would be simple reading, but it turns out, they're very difficult. Comic book language is highly compressed and highly colloquial. They're actually a workout for someone who isn't a native speaker/reader. But I enjoyed them.

Going home

Going home
Never mind the discomfort, you can always sleep on the plane

Tuesday, 6/20

I was up at 4:00 a.m. I had really overtaxed my legs -- especially my right one -- the day before. Now, a night spent in a chair with my legs dangling down had made my foot and ankle swell severely. On top of everything, I had had to quit taking my aspirin and Celebrex two days before because of some upcoming medical tests after I got back home. I was hurting.

I noticed that the people in the shops at the Geneva airport spoke less English and were less friendly than the shop people in German-speaking Switzerland. Maybe I just caught these on a bad day. Who knows.

I was pleased to see that Turkish Airlines did not charge us for our extra bag! One up on United! And . . . T.J. got stopped going through security. For what, we never did find out. But eventually, they waved him through.

Seating was very cramped on the shorter flight to Istanbul. The swelling, especially in my right leg, was very painful. Had to get up and move. T.C. had an extra seat by him, so I sat there and massaged my leg to get the blood moving.

Istanbul was a big airport. U.S.-bound flights were all at the far end. We went through multiple layers of security. There was the initial transfer-screening, then two more document checks, then a luggage and personal check where they swabbed our hands and wanded every compartment of our carry-on luggage. We had to take off our shoes, too. Then Alane had to have her camera checked through separately (which none of the rest of us had to). We never could figure out why. Oh, well. As my friend Zach told me, Turkish security is no joke.

T.J. was dying for a hamburger, and a little restaurant there made him a good one. I had a Gösleme -- sort of a floury tortilla rolled up with cheese in it.

Then came our long flight: Istanbul to Chicago. Turkish Airlines had great food and lots of swag to give away. Repeated drink service, too. Seats were reasonably wide and comfortable, even with my aching legs. I'm a fan, now.

At O'Hare, we didn't have to open our bags again as they went through Customs, but we did have to go through several screening steps (again). We ate American food at a restaurant. Beef tasted good after so much time in Switzerland. There are lots of cows there, but they're all dairy cattle. Pork, pastry, cheese, and chocolate are Switzerland on a plate. But there comes a time when you want a hamburger and fries.

And then came our little hopper flight to Indianapolis. Kara met us there. We grabbed our luggage and drove back to Ellettsville. My truck was waiting at the parsonage where I left it. I drove home and got in the door about 1:30 a.m. Our wonderful Swiss adventure was over, and I was home and dry.

God be praised for it.

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8:27 pm - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Six
Mountain Secrets

Samstag, 17 Juni


I woke in the night and had to go to the bathroom. When I got snuggled back down in my sleeping bag liner, I couldn't get back to sleep. I am mere feet from the edge of a cliff, I thought. Now, yeah, I was in a very solid stone hut that had stood there for 115 years. I was in no danger. I knew that. But I had a very hard time convincing my acrophobic lizard brain that it was okay that I was right on the brink of a cliff.

Eventually, I did fall asleep. But I was up early in the hut, as usual when we're on a trek. Various cards hung on a wall by the kitchen, and I read through them. One said,
Ich fühle mich, als könnte ich
Bäume ausreissen!
Also kleine Bäume. Veilleicht Bambus.
Oder Blumen. Na gut.
Gras. Gras geht.
Auf Englisch that reads,
I feel as if I could
UPROOT TREES!
Well, small trees. Maybe bamboo.
Or flowers. Yeah.
Grass. Grass counts.


Early morning Moon over the mountain shoulder

Early morning Moon over the mountain shoulder
The Moon doesn't seem so far away up here

Fruetigen

Frutigen
Breathtaking view

We had the usual Swiss breakfast and said our good-byes. By 8:52 we were off down the mountain. We were in good form and determined to make good time. It's a lot less tiring to go down the mountain, be it noted, but it hurts just as much. Just different muscles to be abused.

Heading back down

Heading back down
Watch your step

Kandersteg

Kandersteg
Yo-de-lay-de-hoo!

After two hours of hiking down we got to the sign that said it was only an hour and fifteen minutes up to the hut. Man, we're slow Flatlanders. Time for a packs-off break. Find a potty path. Take painkillers. Then, it's off again, this time heading for the Oeschinensee. Various mountain streams leap and burble across our path.

Bridge

Bridge
Crossing the stream

Falling water

Falling water
A view uphill from the bridge

We came to a warning sign. There was a need for it. We had to spider climb down a ravine while holding onto a cable driven into the rock face. The locals walked up and down this as if it was nothing. I don't suppose we were in danger of much beyond skinned knees and hands if we'd slipped, but still, I wasn't planning on slipping. I thought to myself, there is adventure -- and then there are the Disney-fied faux adventures that most Scout camps offer. I like my comforts, but man, it's cool to get out and touch the edge of the raw for myself. And that's what we offer in our brand of Venturing.

Achtung!

Achtung!
Warning!

At 12:32 we reached the road between Kandersteg and Oeschinensee and stopped for lunch. The sign said it was two hours up (we took four hours going down). Oy. A mom with an eleven-year-old son came up, preparing to hike up. She asked if we had a plaster. Her son was wearing blisters on both his heels. We, of course, had a full first aid kit with us. I would have fixed his feet fit for the day, but Mom fixed 'em her way. Her prerogative. She was very grateful. We were glad to have done our Good Turn for the day.

By 1:10, we were off to the Oeschinensee, a glacial lake up there somewhere. The road rose steadily, brutally. It rose about 500 feet in the space of barely a mile. We had to caterpillar it. Having descended several hundred meters already, this is the point at which we decided that the Swiss national motto must be "Uphill both ways" (Beideweg Bergaufwärts).

Up again

Up some more
Oh, be joyful

Just when we were about ready to drop -- and still the road rose some more -- we suddenly came to an open spot with people . . . eating ice cream. We had discovered a lost civilization on a hidden lake, with a restaurant!

Oeschinnensee

Oeschinensee
Hidden lake, surrounded by mountain cliffs

Paragliders

Paragliders
We watched these guys across the valley all day long

Having restored ourselves with coffee and ice cream, we hopped a little tour bus that ran from the Oeschinensee to the Gondelbahn (cable car). All the sensible people take the Gondelbahn to the top of the hill and then walk down to the Oeschinensee. We were among the very few who walked the whole blinking way up. Ah, but now we would ride down in style.

All aboard the Gondelbahn

All aboard the Gondelbahn
Down at last

We got to the bottom of the valley at 4:30. No bus was available, so we started hoofing it back to Kandersteg. The sign said "15 minutes," and for once it didn't lie. Even as sore as my leg was on asphalt, I could just keep that pace. We caught the bus to KISC in town, and by 5:00, we were back and waiting for dinner.

All seemed well, when T.C. noticed that his phone was missing. He was sure he left it up at the hut. His life was in that phone, and he was all but ready to start walking back up the mountain to get it. The staff at KISC called up to the Doldenhornhütte and were told that new guests had arrived, so they couldn't root through our sleeping room to find his phone. We would have to wait until the next morning to see if it could be found.

While we were up on the mountain, a Scout Troop from BSA's Transatlantic Council had moved in for the week. Also, a bunch of TAC Cub Scouts were in camp, and they would be conducting an Arrow of Light ceremony later on. It was interesting to meet up with so many Americans over there. My reactions to them was -- mixed. I value the experience of going new places and meeting new people, exploring new cultures. TAC is mostly about transplanting the experience of America wherever you go. Each has its virtues, I'm sure, but I had little interest in hanging around with all the other Americans.

We spent some time watching the TAC boys at play. One African-American Cub Scout had a straw hat which he left abandoned on the basketball court. Another boy started to pick it up. We told him to leave it alone, since the other boy would remember to look for it later. After a while, a boy about ten or eleven came over and started talking rapidly to us in a language I couldn't recognize. He was very blond, very blue-eyed, and his words had lots of k's and l's and v's. I figured him for one of the Finnish Scouts who were in camp that week.

I pointed to him and asked, "Suomi?" That's what the Finns call themselves. He nodded. I said we didn't speak Finnish. Could he speak English or German? He said, in English, "a little bit." Then he asked us if the boy's straw hat were "traditional." We said no, it was just a hat to keep the sun out of his eyes.

He seemed satisfied and wandered off. After he left, I suddenly "got" what he was asking. He must have thought the African-American boy was actually an African-African. He wanted to know if his straw hat -- an unusual item to the Finnish boy -- were part of some cultural costume peculiar to his country. Nope. As Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

We had some time left in the evening and walked the rest of the campground, which we hadn't had a chance to do before.

The Tower

The Tower
You can rent quarters in this now, but when the Tunnel was being built, this was the power house for it

Chapel

Chapel
A "place of quiet" (Ort der Stille)

Campfire Ring

Campfire Ring
Cub Scouts gathering

As the day drew to its close, I looked up at the mountains again, and the words of Psalm 144 returned to me.

Touch the mountains that they smoke

Touch the mountains that they smoke
God is with us

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Wednesday, June 28th, 2017
9:27 pm - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Five
Gaining Altitude

Friday, 6/16


We started early. Our plans were to climb up to the Doldenhornhütte and stay overnight. This would be our only serious hiking of the trip.

Clouds were hovering just above the mountains. I couldn't help but remember the line from Psalm 144: "Touch the mountains that they smoke." We talked of climbing Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis in the fog.

T.J. said, "Maybe we can initiate Alane into the Cloudwalkers. We all then decided that we liked that for a nickname for our happy Crew: the Cloudwalkers. I can see a t-shirt with that on it.

We had a shakedown at the picnic table in camp, mostly to keep Alane from packing the kitchen sink. She's a fast learner, though, and the guys are great teachers. Soon we were ready to make our ascent.

I filled out a route card at the Chalet at 9:30. We left camp about 10:00. We walked down to the Waldhotel (the 4-Star place). The mountain trail began just behind there. I was really hurting with my legs on the asphalt, wondering how I would get through the day.

As it turned out, the trail began to climb steeply as soon as we got off the road. Within minutes, I called a halt and started us caterpillaring. This is a technique for a group on steep trails. The rearmost person starts forward. When he passes the third person in front of him, he calls out something, which starts the next person forward. Meanwhile, the person who just called out steps a few yards ahead of the line and steps off the trail until he is ultimately called by the person behind him who has gone to the head of the line. It means that each hiker is resting as much as he is climbing, but the group as a whole makes steady progress upward.

Soon, we were quite a ways above the valley floor. "We're eating this mountain up," I called out. Also, to my delight, I found that my legs didn't hurt. Hiking uphill meant my toes were pointed upward and my Achilles tendons were stretched out as well as if I'd had my personal PT working on them. I did fine this day and the next. O, blessed relief!

The upward trail

The upward trail
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground

Other side of the valley

Other side of the valley
Beauty all around us

More up

More up
We had hours of this

Kandersteg from above

Kandersteg from above
We wuz down thar jest a bit ago

At 11:11, we took our first long break. T.J. got out some dark chocolate (72%!). Alane had been reading about how dark chocolate's oxygenating properties helped you in the mountains. We didn't complain. We started back up at 11:35. We broke for lunch at 12:45, just after turning the corner to peer into the Oeschital. We watched the free base jumpers floating over the Kander valley. at 1:36, we headed back on up the mountain.

It was a joy to hike in the mountains. I didn't notice that I was particularly happier than usual, but T.C. said I was more ecstatic than on any trip he's seen. I dunno. There was a special joy in getting this trip pulled off. It's my last one before retirement, the Last Hurrah with Crew 119, and my twentieth high adventure trip as an Advisor in twenty years. Maybe I was a little exalted.

Alane was attempting to get her phone in place to take a picture while walking on a bit of almost-level ground. Her feet got tangled and she went down in a heap. "Take the picture!" she said, referring, I guess, to whatever it was she was trying to photograph. All of us, upon hearing her say, "take the picture," of course turned our cameras upon her where she lay on the ground in pain. We're helpful that way.

Take the picture!

Take the picture!
Can't cry for laughing

At 2:00 we found a sign, telling us that it was just 1 hour 15 minutes to the Doldenhornhütte. Hah! Like we believe that. I don't know who estimates these things, but he's got to be buffer than most, even among the Swiss.

Shelter of a sort

Shelter of a sort
Thank goodness it wasn't raining

Fruetigen in the distance

Frutigen in the distance
That's the next town down the valley from Kandersteg

Onward and upward

Onward and upward
We managed to get a group photo at one of the benches placed here and there along the trail

We were getting tired of climbing, always climbing. We noticed that we were approaching the big cliff face, where surely the ground must flatten out. Eventually, we caught sight of the hut. It was a couple hundred yards ahead, past a rocky slope of scree. At the low end, there was a sheer drop to -- somewhere. By this time, we had been hiking about six hours -- on a trail rated at 2.5 hours.

"Lies! All lies!" I said. One of the guys said we should put Swiss hiking distances in the book, Lies my Scout leader told me, along with such classics as, "It's just around the corner" and "Oh, it won't hurt."

Almost there

Almost there
Under the mountain shoulder

At last

At last
A sight for sore feet

We hit the porch of the Doldendornhütte at 4:28 -- six and a half hours after leaving KISC. T.J. and T.C. joined me in the traditional five pushups in full pack -- Alane thought we were crazy -- after which we stood up and gave our Crew yell: Rougher! Tougher! Buffer! And the staff came out to offer us cold drinks. We made it.

The door is open

The door is open
Welcome, weary travellers

A well-earned rest

A well-earned rest
Refreshments are served at 1915 meters

The hut was built all out of local stone -- quarried and shaped on site -- over a hundred years ago. We were invited in, but had to take our boots off and wear slippers inside. Everything was very cozy.

Sehr gemuetlich

Sehr gemütlich
Home away from home

Switzerland is dotted with these mountain "huts." They're really more like a Bed & Breakfast that you can only reach by foot. You can hike from one to the next, all over. Supplies are hauled up the side of the mountain on a little private cable tram -- a sort of mountain dumb waiter. The plumbing is modern (though outside).

The hut is maintained by the same 4-Star hotel down in the valley. One staff member had very good English. The cook's English was limited. Another guy had very little. It gave me the opportunity to use my German more. We all got along together fine.

We were shown our sleeping quarters. One is required to bring along a sheet liner for a sleeping bag to stay in the hut, since they can't wash comforters and pillows every day. The hut officially sleeps forty-some, with the main upstairs room holding twenty-four. That's six bedplaces in four large enclosed spaces with mattresses on the floor. Like sleeping in a pile of puppies. There was no place to change clothes to prepare for bed. I was glad it was just us for the night. I gather we were the first overnight guests of the season.

There was a shelf or two of books and games downstairs. We played cards while waiting for dinner. Dinner, when it came, started with an amazing tomato basil soup. T.J. couldn't eat it, but he really, really wanted to. The main course was little meat balls in a green curry sauce and mashed potatoes. The meat balls weren't rolled; they looked like the meat had been ground fine and placed in a piping bag, then snipped as they were pressed out, like gnocchi. I asked what the meat was. They said, Kalbfleisch, but none of them knew what we called it in English. "Veal," I said. I was impressed. Veal is expensive here in the States, and I had never eaten it. It was good. Dessert was meringues with vanilla cream. Yummity yum yum.

View from the WC

View from the WC
The evening is drawing on

There was a copy of Luther’s Bible in the hut. I looked up Psalm 144:5, that had been on my mind all day. It read,
Herr, neige deine Himmel und fahre herab;
rühre die Berge an, daß sie rauchen (Ps. 144:5)

I also did some figuring. KISC is at 1188 meters. Doldendornhütte, 1915 m. That's a 727 m. vertical ascent = c. 800 yds = 2400'. The trail as a whole was about 4.5 km - 3.125 miles horizontal distance. The average slope of the trail is therefore almost 1:7. Wow. We made an overall speed of 1/2 mph for the day's work -- ugh. A tough but rewarding day. Wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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1:21 pm - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Four
Thun und Spiez

Donnerstag, 15 Juni


It was a cool morning. No rain, but rain was expected. This is the day we set aside to take the train to Thun and tour the castle there. We were also going to be looking for some good schnitzel in the evening. We had budgeted for a big meal out.

The sign in the train station said, Abfahrt -- Departure. This led to some low humor. Fahrt is the German for journey or trek. Scouts use it a lot, and it shows up in many travel words. We like to say in our Crew that there's nothing quite as satisfying as a good Fahrt.

We arrived in Thun in about 45 minutes. The train station had pay toilets. Boo. We took a moment to take stock of our surroundings. T.C. and T.J. were bringing a vending machine to my attention. They had already noticed that cannabis was on sale at certain shops in Switzerland, but they were kind of nonplussed by seeing this where anybody could buy it:

Vending machine treat

Vending machine treat
The Alps are higher than you think

The cannabis ice tea offered a fine discussion point about recreational drugs. But we were after more satisfying goodies. We crossed the Aar River (which gave rise to various pirate jokes, as in, Toon be whar the Aarh River meets the big lake) and almost the first thing we came to was a pastry shop. We sampled real Apfelstrudel and a nice macaron. Then it was up the street to a Teeladen (tea shop), where T.J. could buy some herbal tea.

We turned into one of the main streets below the old town, sort of an outdoor shopping mall. A game store presented itself. I went in to shop for gifts. After this, we began to try to get up to the top of the town, where the castle was. We could see the castle, but in the tight little warren of streets, alleys, and covered stairways, we couldn't figure out how to get to it.

How do we get up there?

How do we get up there?
Schloss Thun

Eventually, we worked our way around the whole of the old town and approached the high street from the other side. A long, narrow street at the very top of town rose from west to east. First we came to the Stadtkirche (old city church). A gnomon on the wall hung over a painted sundial that not only gave the hour, but the day within the astrological sign of the month.

Sundial

Sundial
Only works on God's time, not Daylight Savings

Stadtkirche pulpit

Stadtkirche pulpit
I stood in it, to see how it felt

Font

Font
Impressive

From the church it was just a step up to the castle, the entrance to which was through another gift shop. There, I found the perfect gift for Daniel's birthday: a toy crossbow with suction cup darts and a target with William Tell's son on it, apple on his head at the bullseye!

I started into the castle, only to find that I was losing the group. I tried to give a low whistle to get T.C.'s attention, and discovered, to my astonishment, that I seem to have recovered my ability to whistle in the Alps. Weird. After sinus surgery years ago, I lost the fine motor control over my pursed lips necessary to whistle well, but that day, I had no problem.

There were many displays in the castle, which consisted of several large stories. Several out of the way tower rooms had been used as cells for prisoners in times past. Lots of weapons were on display, including some toy ones kids could use for fun. In one room was a Roman milestone. It was just dawning on me how Romanized the Alps were. This was not a frontier zone, this was fully integrated into the Roman Empire, beginning with Julius Caesar's repelling Ariovistus from the lands of the allied Helvetii.

Polearms

Polearms
Halberds and icky-sticks

Thun from the castle battlements

Thun from the castle battlements
The castle dominates the whole valley

Sir Theron

Sir Theron
T.C. finds some armor and a horse

I missed a low step in Thun Castle and went sprawling. Alane rushed up, asking, "How bad? How bad?" Well, nothing was broken, but it was bad juju on my injured right ankle. The step I missed was with my left foot, causing my whole weight to come crashing down on the bad foot. I restrained myself and only gave in to "Cowboy cussing." I believe what I said at the time was, "Mother of Pearl!"

This wouldn't have been so bad, but I did it again down on the street. Stepped off a curb right with my good foot and came down on my bad one, re-re-injuring my right leg. Ouch. I was glad to get on the train again. We moved on up the line to Spiez, looking for dinner.

The train station at Spiez is way high over the actual town, which straggles on down to the Thunsee (Lake Thun). I managed to walk all the way down, though it was very steep. At the park down by the lakeshore we saw two kids throwing an American football in the town swimming pool. That was odd. Next to the pool, there was a greensward, and two others were kicking a rugby ball. And, yeah, there were some kids with a soccer ball, but my notions of what Europeans play to amuse themselves got some serious adjustment all at once in Spiez.

Spiez

Spiez
Pretty lakeshore town

By this point, we were tired, and I was hurting really bad. The sun was broiling us (the threatened rain having departed). We started looking for a bus to schlep us back up the hill to the train station. Alane asked at the town museum. The only transport was a little tour bus in the form of a "train." We approached the conductor to see if we could take it just part-way (the uphill way).

The conductor spoke only limited English; the driver, basically none. Which led me to the point of carrying on the longest conversation in German in my life -- mostly about restaurants. It was great. You have to understand, I took German in college over forty years ago. I have tried to keep up my skills with occasional reading, and I joke and sing in German with the Scouts and Venturers. But right at the point where I should have gone and immersed myself in the language in order to fix its usage in me, I went and fell in love and got married and all that, and this was my first visit to a German-speaking culture. I am enormously proud to say that I managed to speak German with actual German-speakers. I'm sure I made many mistakes, but no more than many foreigners in the U.S. make when they try to speak English. The point is, I did it. I can do it. And over the next couple of days, I became increasingly comfortable doing it. This was the fulfillment of a long-delayed wish of mine.

Our impromptu guide recommended a restaurant called die Krone (The Crown). The little tour train dropped us off right in front of it. We were early for dinner, but no matter. We were ready for some serious dining! We were not to be disappointed.

Die Spargelzeit had just ended the day before. That's the annual season when the asparagus is all coming on at once, and all the restaurants in Germany (and Switzerland, apparently) serve special asparagus dishes. The day we arrived in Kandersteg, the pizzeria in Kandersteg was offering Spargel-pizza, for instance. I was disappointed to have missed it, but the waiter told us there was some white asaparagus soup left, and Alane and I jumped at the chance to get some. Yum!

The specialty of the house was something called Cordon Bleu: a double-wide schnitzel folded over your choice of cheese and other fixins, breaded and fried. Yeah, buddy! We each ordered what sort of Cordon Bleu we liked, with various sides. Then came dessert. T.C. had never had Creme Brulee before. He was overwhelmed. We were stuffed with all kinds of good things.

Cordon Bleu

Cordon Bleu
The king of schnitzels

I think I'm in love

I think I’m in love
The beginning of a beautiful relationship

The Swiss like to take their time eating. Waiters bring the courses slowly, with plenty of time to linger between. Quite unlike the U.S., where the decor is often painted in angry orange in order to disturb the diners and move them along, so others can be served. The bill also takes some time in arriving. When the bill finally came, the waitress had a bottle in her hand and four shot glasses. "A little schnapps to finish off your meal," she said, and she poured us each about a half-shot.

T.C. looked nonplussed. I said to him, "This is brandy." He looked still blank. "It's distilled wine," I said. Still no response. Oh well, I thought, he'll find out. "Cheers!" the waitress said. "Prosit!" I replied, and we all knocked back a small swallow. T.C.'s reaction was hilarious. At first he said, "Oh!" And that was shortly followed by, "Woah!"

"Why didn't you warn me?" he said. Hey, I tried to, but some things you've just got to learn by experience. It didn't stop him from finishing the rest of his schnapps, I noticed. The final cost was 157 CHF for a fine dinner -- about $172, or $43 apiece. Pricey, but worth it.

Finally, we got up from the table in a happy mood and stepped over to the train station. We caught our ride back to Kandersteg and walked back to camp, talking over the day's experiences. Tomorrow, we would hike the mountains!

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7:20 am - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Three
Kandersteg

Wednesday, 6/14


A rainy morning. We got out our rain gear. I was up early, exploring for coffee. None was to be had. I was used to the Advisors Lounge at Philmont, where coffee is available 24/7.

We had set aside this day for exploring Kandersteg village. We needed an easy day. The altitude wasn't that high, but we knew we would be tired and in need of acclimation. After breakfast, we strolled into the village. We passed a 4-star gourmet restaurant. *Boggle*

Walking into town

Walking to town
Rain doesn't stop us

View by the side of the road

View by the side of the road
The mountains get up close and personal here

Kandersteg is a village of 1200 people, at the head of a narrow valley. For all its small size, it has a half dozen or more hotels in it. The Lötschberg Tunnel was originally what brought people here. Completed a century ago, it is the highest rail tunnel in the Swiss system. Now, there are as many tourists as locals, at least during the summer travel season. I can't speak of winter travel, but skiing is a big deal here, so I imagine they stay busy then, too. Though smaller than either, Kandersteg has a feel of Lake Placid or Ambleside.

Lots of Victorinox vendors (Swiss army knives) -- two on the main drag of the village! Two outfitters in town selling mountaineering/camping/backpacking gear, but both were closed on Wednesdays. A lot of businesses were closed on Wednesdays. I'm guessing that as a tourist town, a lot of people work weekends, so they take their days off in the middle of the week.

On the main drag below the train station, we stepped into a cheese shop. They sold not only cheese, but also chocolate and various housewares (like cutting boards and cheese knives). We ate dark chocolate with coffee beans in it for crunch. We also tried an Alpentraum cheese: soft and delicious, like a Butterkäse.

Lunch back at KISC was Moroccan chicken with couscous and fresh-baked pita bread. T.J.'s portion was made without tomatoes. We were impressed. T.J. was very happy. KISC provided him with plenty of food he could eat -- unlike most American Scout camps, KISC took his allergies completely into account. "I'm expanding my food horizons," he said.

Help, my tent exploded

Help, my tent exploded
Alane, drying out and getting organized

Kirche

Kirche
Local parish church

Trains rushed past our campsite every few minutes. There were passenger trains, freight trains, and car trains. The car trains are like ferries on rails: you drive up onto a railcar, put on your parking brake and sit in your vehicle as the train takes you through the tunnel. One of the locals told us that the tunnel reduced the travel time between Kandersteg and Brig from 6-8 hours by road to just one hour by rail.

Car train

Car train
Leave the driving to us

Taking an afternoon nap was a great temptation. We aired out our bedding, took showers, lazed about camp a bit. We went back into town to pick up some knives we were having engraved. We ate more goodies. Ah, cheese, chocolate, pastry -- it's a hard life.

The rain continued intermittently all day and into the evening. We decided to do some laundry. Figuring out foreign appliances was difficult. Using foreign coins was, too: without my glasses and close inspection, I can't immediately tell what I've got in my hand with these unfamiliar coins.

My legs were hurting really badly. My right Achilles tendon has been giving me difficulties for months. Compensating for it has thrown off my other leg and hips. Walking on asphalt was painful. Very tired. We got our laundry done, finally, and knocked off early. It rained all night.

Laundry

Laundry
Do it when you can

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Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
2:06 pm - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part Two
Pfadizentrum

Tuesday, 6/13

Breakfast at the hostel was a minimal affair. I tried Muesli for the first time. The hostel, I think, toasted their own; it tasted like mildly burnt cinnamon toast. There was yogurt, fruit, cheese, bread, butter and jam. There was also some lunchmeat, like salami, which puzzled us.

Two observations: this is what all Swiss breakfasts are like, apparently, since cereal, yogurt, fruit, cheese, bread, and lunchmeat were what we offered every day of our trip. No cooked meat, like, say, bacon. No pancakes or waffles. They never heard of "the full English" in Switzerland, either. The second observation: all cheese in Switzerland is Swiss cheese. Which doesn't mean it's all the same, exactly, but it's all the same type of cheese: yellow, varying degrees of sharpness. We liked our breakfasts in Switzerland, but we got bored with them after a while, I must say.

The weather was hot and fine. We were already in trekking mode, slugging down water constantly. We carried our water bottles everywhere, too. As they say at Philmont, the first response to every situation is, Drink more water. By the time you feel your thirst, you're already dehydrated.

Drink more water

Drink more water
T.J., determined to remain clear and copious

We handed in our sheets and towels, made sure our bill was all straight, and got ready to leave for the train station. I asked where it was (though if I hadn't been so tired, I would have remembered seeing it). I couldn't make out what the receptionist was saying at first -- or at second, either. When I asked her to confirm by repeating what she said, she smiled. Apparently, my pronunciation of Gare Cornavin wasn't very close. Oh well, points for trying.

We wore our full uniforms for our day of travel to the International Scout Centre (Pfadizentrum). Waiting at a bus stop, a middle-aged lady made a joke at our expense in French. Something about, Where was the war? I explained we were Scouts Americains, going to Kandersteg. She sniggered, thinking her snide little joke was original, but I've heard it in American English too many times. *Sigh*

At the station, we hopped a train, hoping it was the right one. We were headed for Bern, where we would have to change trains for Kandersteg. This doesn't sound too complicated or worrisome, except to Americans, especially those who don't live on the East Coast or in Chicago. We're car people; we aren't sure what to do with trains and have to be taught.

If the economics had worked out, I'd have rented a car and driven to Kandersteg. But the Swiss have made rail travel easy and cost-effective. We had Scout Transfer Tickets I had purchased ahead of time, which gave us a cut rate from Geneva to Kandersteg and back. In addition, I had ordered tickets from Kandersteg to Thun for us to use for a day trip later in the week.

Changing trains was a novel experience for us. I wish we hadn't had to do it encumbered by all our gear, but we made it. I also wish we had more time to explore Bern. All I saw of it was its train station. Signs announced trains departing for many interesting locations.

Unfortunate name

Unfortunate name
It's pronounced, "Vonkdorf"

Looking around the train station, I saw a pretzel stand. It was called Brezelkönig. Just what we need, I thought. I like the chewy, salty stadium pretzels. I asked for vier Brezeln out of a pile, and we got -- surprise! -- a soft, sweet pastry pretzel with a hint of almond extract in it. Like a cherry turnover. Revelation! Like I said, Swiss pastry is a wonderful thing.

First encounter with Swiss cuisine

Another encounter with Swiss cuisine
It just keeps getting better

We got on the train to Kandersteg. We passed through Reichenbach -- which is not where the famous Reichenbach Falls are, I'm sad to say. That's another thing to put on our bucket list, though. And we saw snow-clad mountains in the distance. Alane got very excited. She had never been in mountains before. "We don't grow 'em that big in Indiana," she said.

All snazzed up

All snazzed up
T.C. in full uniform

When we got off the train station in Kandersteg, we looked around for a bathroom; also, where to have lunch. We eventually had lunch at the little restaurant at the train station. The goulash soup was very good. In ordering water, we had to make sure to explain we wanted "still water"; if we had just ordered "water," we would have been served mineral water. Adelboden, over in the next valley is a major producer of mineral water.

Oeschital from the train station

Oeschital
The first thing you notice upon descending from the station

Wearing a neckerchief -- or really, anything that identifies you as a Scout -- gets you free bus rides in Kandersteg. So we got on the bus and rode up to the Scout Centre. And there we were, at last. Our eyes devoured everything around us.

KISC

KISC
The Chalet, KISC's headquarters

Kander River

Kander River
Swift and full of glacial runoff, dangerous

Compass

Compass
Pavement below the Chalet steps

Your move

Your move
Just a quick game, then

Kanderstegging

Kanderstegging
Blow-up of a Baden-Powell sketch

Ollave

Ollave
Office cat

We checked in. I paid the balance of our catering and camping bill, along with the costs of the various tours and transportation they had booked for us: all in all, about 1200 CHF. Paying ahead meant that we were controlling our costs. Most of the Crew cash we had on us to spend would go for the few meals out when we had planned to be away from camp, touring. The cash in our personal pockets was for ourselves, alone. I am famous for telling people that our trip budget covers "everything but your Coke and souvenir money."

Katje, a "pinkie" (headquarters staff) from Germany, gave us the orientation tour and showed us where to set up camp. We also shopped a bit in the Chalet Shop. Alane bought a Swiss cowbell -- a ubiquitous item, sold in every shop in Switzerland in various sizes and amounts of decoration. She put it on her daypack so that everywhere she walked, we could hear it tinkling. This immediately gave rise to cowbell jokes, such as, "What this Crew needs is more cowbell."

Our campsite

Our campsite
These tents have been set up under several sets of mountains and hills, in several different countries, by now

We didn't plan anything big for our first afternoon and evening in Kandersteg. We just wanted to settle in and rest up. We learned that people from all over -- including many Americans -- vacation here. We saw many of them, and heard a lot of English spoken. KISC welcomes non-Scouts, too. There was a large group of International School children staying in the Chalet when we arrived, touring about and doing lots of interesting things.

One 9-year-old boy was fascinated by my uniform. I had so many badges! I explained to him that was because I was old; I'd been doing this a long time. One of the school girls wanted to know if being a Scout leader was fun. Yes, I replied. I think she thought I got paid for doing it, like her teachers. We also met a couple from California, who were checking out KISC as a possible destination for their Scout Troop while on a family vacation.

KISC is a long, expensive way from America, and we have a lot of big Scout attractions here, so not a lot of Americans find their way to Kandersteg. But for the rest of the world, this is where it's at.

KISC was begun in 1923, when the Chief Scout of Switzerland informed Lord Baden-Powell that some of the facilities left over from the building of the Lötschberg Tunnel a few years before would make an excellent international meeting site like he had been saying the World Scouting Movement needed. B-P agreed, and the site was purchased. He visited here at least once. British leadership in the World Scouting Movement -- particularly in the early days -- is probably why English is the language of KISC, even though German is the language of the area.

I began to realize that for the Scouts from the rest of the world -- especially the British ones -- Kandersteg is their Philmont. Not only does it have similar mountain programs, buts its place in their imagination is much the same as the place Philmont occupies in American Scouts, even those who have never been there.

The long evening finally began to draw on toward dark. We were tired and went to bed early. Tomorrow, we would be up and exploring.

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7:06 am - UPHILL BOTH WAYS, Part One
First Steps

For over a year now, our happy Crew has been struggling. Venturing Crews tend to be small, tightly-knit groups. Youth come and go, but the core group tends to go through the experience together, aging together as they go. It becomes difficult to add younger members to a mature group, and the rapidly aging group will tend to reach departure point at the same time. "Departure point" means that point at which one's life changes so as not to allow participation any more: graduation from high school and going off to college; falling in love and getting married; or actual aging out at 21.

Crew 119 started to hit serious bumps in early 2016, and we failed to pull off our high adventure plans for that summer. By the beginning of school last summer, I was doubtful that we would last very much longer. Still, I promised the Crew members that if at least two youth committed to a trip -- any trip -- and I had a second adult, we would go anywhere they wanted to go. My only other condition is that we had to go and return by mid-June. (I was already looking ahead to retiring, though I couldn't tell them that at the time.)

Well, one Venturer insisted that the only trip he would be interested in would be to Switzerland -- why, I have no idea. He was supported by another youth. No other strong ideas were mooted. So, Okay, I said. Switzerland it is. Within a few weeks of announcing that, the two who had so insisted decided they didn't want to go. But we had made our announcement, and I had a promise on the board.

I feel very strongly about promises, especially those made to children and youth. I remember all the big dreams of my own youth, and how frustrating it was that no one could help me make them come true. And I remember the big-talking adults, in school and in Scouts and later in church, who would talk about all the things we could do, but somehow we never did. I became determined to never be That Guy, the one who talks big and then disappoints people. After all, if I want people to believe in the promises I give on God's behalf, I figure I'd better be a walking advertisement for kept promises.

Having determined that we were going, I began costing out the trip and we started trying to recruit people to go. The cost for ten days of European adventure was only $2,000 apiece. But still, we asked not only our own remaining Crew members, but the Scouts of our sister Troop, and Scouts from around the District. No takers. I was boggled, but I've been there many times before. I felt like I was giving away diamonds on a street corner, and couldn't find a buyer.

Finally, the group stabilized, at the minimum size of four: T.C., our Crew President, was going. And T.J., who was technically an adult now, but only recently so, would go as our second youth. Alane, one of our Committee members, would be my second adult. And so we got our passports updated, put our money in, and I secured our reservations at Kandersteg International Scout Centre.

Sunday, 6/11

I was up very early. Had to be at the church at 6:30 a.m. We were flying out of Indianapolis on United Airlines to Dulles International, and then overnight to Geneva. Our original itinerary had us flying Turkish Airlines there and back, but we got switched to United for the outbound flights when Turkish canceled one of their flights.

On our way

On our way
Alane, me, T.C., T.J.

We were all in good time. Alane over-packed, but the boys helped her get her stuff ready. All of us are experienced travelers, but this was Alane's first high adventure trip. "Packing light" was a new concept for her.

T.J.'s mom, Kara, drove us to the airport. There was a minor glitch in our ticketing at check-in. This is why you show up two hours early. The lady behind the counter soon had everything straightened out, and we were good to go. We had to pay an extra $100 to check a fifth bag -- the one containing our Crew camping gear -- but I expected that. We were at the gate by 9:06, with a little over an hour to wait before our flight.

I took a half hour nap on the flight to Dulles. They served us lunch. I promptly took another half hour nap. It wasn't just that I was tired from being up early; I had just finished moving from the parsonage into a rented home and doing other frantic things to close down my pastorate. Still, sleeping on planes is a blessing; it helps with the boredom.

I changed a bunch of dollars into Swiss francs at Dulles. The abbreviation for Swiss francs is CHF. The F is obviously for francs, but the CH is a puzzle at first, until you get a look at their money, especially their coins. Switzerland has four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansh). German speakers call their country der Schweiz; French speakers refer to le Suisse; in Italians, it's Svizzera. But apparently their official name, as it appears on their coinage, is Confederatio Helvetica. And they say nobody uses Latin anymore.

We had some time to kill at Dulles, but soon enough, they called for the overnight flight to Geneva. Dinner on the plane offered two choices, both vegetarian. I remembered my first international plane trip in the fall of 2000, when I went to Tanzania all by myself to set up a big Scouting mission trip. I tried several new things on that trip, starting with the food served by the airline. I figured that I was going on an adventure, and that I ought to try new things.

Monday, 6/12

All too soon, we landed in Geneva. It was 7:00 a.m., local time. Considering that Switzerland is six hours ahead of us, that means we were getting ready to start a full day in-country at 1:00 o'clock in the morning by our bodies' time.

Our first challenge was figuring out the public transport system in a foreign country. How do you buy tickets for a bus from a machine, which bus takes you where you want to go, etc. Eventually, we figured it out and took a pair of buses which dumped us on street somewhere near the city center. We asked directions and found our hostel, just a couple blocks away.

Geneva is a French-speaking city. Many people spoke English, and that helped. I remembered enough French pleasantries from my 2014 trip to Congo that I could be polite.

At the hostel, we were given 24-hour bus passes as part of our reservation, which meant we could go anywhere the bus system could take us without having to worry about buying tickets. And with that, we were loose on the town. One of the first places we passed as we walked up the street was a pastry shop. We were feeling a little hollowed out, so we stepped in to get a snack.

We started our official day in Geneva with some very fine quiche. We have become a Crew of foodies, and eating local is part of what we do when we're on an adventure. Swiss pastry is hard to beat, and it made a good start. We also filled our water bottles and looked over the tourist maps we got at the hostel.

The old town across the Rhone seemed to offer the most interesting stuff, so we grabbed a bus to get over there. It deposited us at the base of a hill. Above us, through a tangle of streets, loomed the old St. Peter's Cathedral, which had gone through the Reformation. We set out to find our way to it. Along the way, we discovered a delightful water fountain, a feature we later found repeated in many Swiss towns. The water was potable; the trough was from the days when everybody had horses.

Water fountain

Water fountain
Old town, Geneva

The streets climbed steeply up to the cathedral: a common feature in Switzerland. Everything you want to see is uphill. Getting there will require you to go uphill, both ways. A tangle of streets, of buildings and terraces each higher than the other, finally brought us to a side door of the church. St. Peter's occupies a site which has had a Christian church since the 4th Century. Beneath it, we toured the excavations of several former cathedrals.

St. Peter's Cathedral

St. Peter’s Cathedral
Geneva

Old baptistry beneath the cathedral

Old Baptistry
Beneath St. Peter's foundations

After touring the church and its archaeological museum, we wandered down to the lakeshore. There was a pretty park there, and we window-shopped for souvenirs. The bus line went all the way out to CERN, the European nuclear research facility, so we decided to go out there and say we had seen it.

It was a long trip out to the suburbs. As we passed through the city, I noticed that the buildings were all of a standard type. They were built of cement, with some kind of metal or tile siding above. There would be shops at ground level and about six stories of apartments above that. As we got out into the suburbs, residential blocks of apartments buildings (no ground floor shops) of a dozen or more stories began to appear. All rather drab and functional. Later on, sitting in the hostel dining room, looking at the structural beams made of cement, I realized that the architecture of Geneva reminded me of Dar es Salaam or Morogoro.

There was kind of a park for visiting school children at CERN. We only looked at the big display at the entrance. Then we grabbed the bus before it left us and returned to the city. We got some lunch on the street above our hostel, and then went back to our room. We were all beat. T.C. and T.J. collapsed on the floor without bothering to get into their beds.

Lac Leman

Lac Leman
The heart of Geneva

CERN

CERN
Got any atoms you need smashed?

Worn out

Worn out
Long day, but short on sleep

Next: on to Kandersteg

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Sunday, June 25th, 2017
10:51 pm - Rougher! Tougher! Buffer!
It's been twenty years since my first high adventure trip as an Advisor, and I just completed my twentieth high adventure or Scouting mission trip as an Advisor. I feel greatly blessed and wish I could do them all over again!

Twenty years, twenty high adventure trips/scouting mission projects

Explorer Post 697, Aurora First UMC
Philmont Scout Ranch, 1997
Philmont Scout Ranch, 1998

Venturing Crew 699, Tanner Valley UMC
Isle Royale National Park, 1999
Philmont Scout Ranch, 2000

South Indiana Conference, UMC
Trip of the Millennium to Tanzania 2001

Venturing Crew 699
Isle Royale National Park/Niagara Falls, 2002
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, 2003
Yellowstone National Park, 2003
Adirondacks/NYC/Gettysburg, 2004

Venturing Crew 699/South Indiana Conference, UMC/SI-NAUMS
Three Peaks Adventure to Scotland, England, and Wales 2005

Venturing Crew 699/NAUMS
Mission Adventure to Tanzania 2006

Troop 119, Ellettsville First UMC
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park 2007

Venturing Crew 119, Ellettsville First UMC/NAUMS
Philmont Scout Ranch, 2010

Venturing Crew 119
Isle Royale National Park, 2011

Venturing Crew 119/NAUMS
Philmont Scout Ranch, 2012

Venturing Crew 119
U.K., 2013
Florida Sea Base, 2014

Indiana Annual Conference, UMC
Tenke Jamboree, Dem. Rep. Congo, 2014

Venturing Crew 119
Niagara Falls/Adirondacks/NYC, 2015
Kandersteg, Switzerland, 2017

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8:29 pm - The Last Word
Sermon preached at Ellettsville First United Methodist Church,
June 25, 2017,
being the preacher's last Sunday before retirement.

Hebrews 2:1-13

I’ve called today’s sermon, “The Last Word.” Though I suppose it won't probably be the actual last time I ever preach, yet it certainly is my last time to preach as a pastor under full-time appointment. And I have no other commitments or invitations lined up to preach anywhere else, so, who knows? In any case, it seems to be a good time to look back and take stock over forty-one years of preaching and pastoring.Collapse )

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Tuesday, June 6th, 2017
9:41 am - It's that time again!
Time for the Annual Conference March!
I won't help and you won't help and so we are co-dependent,
in vestments so resplendent,
for un-PC repentant.
We have nothing real to do, but we're loyally attendant
at our Conference.

Oh, we are marching to Euphoria!
Euphoria! Euphoria!
Where the thinking's all done for ya,
at Annual Conference.

Meetings here and meetings there and way too expensive dining,
pointless debate refining,
ministers re-assigning;
meanwhile for another year we see membership declining
in our Conference.

Oh, we are marching to Euphoria!
Euphoria! Euphoria!
Where the thinking's all done for ya,
at Annual Conference.

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Monday, June 5th, 2017
6:42 pm - Let there be light
The windows are up. I am so proud of the youth and adults who made this happen.

Twenty-one youth and nine adults took part. Some cut and ground glass, fitted and soldered. Others gave critical design advice or the use of their special skills or loaned tools and donated materials.

First of all, thanks to Tammie Lawrence for her gift that made this possible.
Congratulations to Harrison, Logan, and Mason, my 2014 confirmation class, who designed this.
And "well done" to everybody who took part.

The complete roster of crafters and helpers:
Youth:
Dylan Clark;
Harrison Cottingham;
Lea Hewitt;
Sergei Holtman;
Stepan Holtman;
Emma Latimer;
Nicholas Latimer;
Tyler Marotz;
Annie Mischler;
Mason Moore;
Zach Nichols;
Evan Oldham;
Jack Oldham;
Alex Pittsford;
Harrison Pittsford;
Abby Pyle;
Ian Slabaugh;
Logan Slabaugh;
Neely Slabaugh;
Anthony Sparks;
Isla Weber.
Adults:
Dick Carl;
Judy Carl;
Keith Clark;
Art Collins;
Steve Cottingham;
Andy Fluke;
Tim Paul;
Jerry Pittsford;
Tiffany Willingham.

18814332_10209264603031372_4827948826762118672_n

Dedication Day
Photo by Cheryl Pittsford

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