It was sunny out, but it was cold. Not that I could feel any sun as I carried the split wood down to the rusty iron fire ring, nestled in a shallow dingle among acres of fir trees – each of them 1 foot wide and 60 feet tall, draped in dangling moss and bristling with widowmakers. I come out here once in a while, usually when it’s cold, to light a big fire in the woods and sit with my maker. There’s no agenda, there’s no plan – it’s just me and my journal, my Bible and my God…and fire.
I don’t get up at 6:00am. I never get up at 6:00am. I make software for a living and one of the reasons I chose that career was because it never ever requires me to get up at 6:00am. But there I was rubbing my eyes and envying my still-snoozing wife. Dressing in the near dark, layering fleece over flannel over cotton and hoping that it would be enough in the frigid November air, I fought against the bulk as I stretched to tie my shoes.
My uncle-in-law lives in northern Washington alongside a slow, chilly creek. The steep-sided valley of scattered lodgepole and aspen was covered in shallow fog and mile upon mile of tawny dry grass as I slipped from the guesthouse and headed for Dave’s front door. A tiny wisp of smoke rising from his chimney told me the coffee was ready and Dave was probably struggling to tie his own oversized shoes. Dave had drawn a late-season tag in a unit adjacent to his own property. It was his first yard in three years and by inviting his inexperienced, suburban nephew along he was taking a certain risk. Nobody ever said so in as many words but it was implicit that my role was to carry binoculars, stay behind the rifle and not ask too many questions.
While I’d grown up in a rural setting, there were no hunters in my family. I was familiar enough with deer but only as highway hazards and I couldn’t tell you if we were dodging whitetail, mulies, or rabid saber-tooth deer on Hwy 18 near Big Bear. I didn’t grow up with any aversion to hunting, no moral conflict over the steaks I ate, but neither did I understand the motivation to hunt. There was a stereotype in my mind, born no doubt of Southern California politics, that hunters were Bud-pounding, monosyllabic Neanderthals. But in fact, that’s a more accurate description of surfers.
By 6:45 Dave and I were climbing a steep dirt road in his Silverado. The rising sun lit the western ridge with brilliant hues of gold and rust while most of the valley still slept in the shadows of the eastern peaks. When we stopped the truck and stepped out into the stiff breeze, I felt as if I’d never seen this country before. Adding to the otherness of it all I stood not in soil but in several inches of fine powder. Fire tore across this slope fifty years ago, thinning the thick pines, making room for the newer aspens, and covering everything in a deep blanket of ash.
With a silent nod toward a distant shape, Dave shouldered his 30-06 and headed north. He’d spotted a doe and she was patiently waiting for her sisters to climb the steep gully she had surmounted. With no pretense of stealth, Dave and I approached to within a quarter-mile before the group of females casually sought higher ground. For the next half-hour we continued in this way, following one group of females or another at a good distance, looking intently for their mates. At the time I was so intent on the next moment and not screwing up Dave’s hunt that I was both hyper-vigalent to everything he was saying but somehow also disconnected – only dimly aware that each lesson, each pointer was more than just casual information – he was also making a deposit into my soul. Dave was giving me a crash course in outdoorsmanship by pointing out details I should notice: the wind, the clouds, the faint deer trails. He would periodically raise his binoculars and survey the sprawling hillside while I dutifully copied his actions, trying to see what he saw. By the time the sun had climbed high enough to light the valley floor, we were approaching a thinly wooded saddle with sunlight streaming through the trees in long, dusty blades. “Look for the sunlight glinting off an antler,” Dave instructed. “That’s the easiest way to spot a buck.”
I was fascinated with the trees, with the light, and with the tracks we found. “See how the toes are splayed out, and the impression of the dew claw?” To me it looked like a pair of quotation marks but I nodded respectfully. “That shows the animal had to be carrying a lot of weight. Probably a buck and a good-sized one too.”
From the driver’s side window woods are just woods and they all look about the same. Sure I could identify a half-dozen varieties of trees, recognize the major geological formations but here I was getting a glimpse of something far more, far deeper. This wasn’t calculated environmental science but wood-wisdom. A druidic knowing of the land and its inhabitants that could only come from sharing the space with fir and fox and the day’s first breath. As much as I was being instructed, I was being mentored.
More than that, I was being initiated.
As I’ve grown and learned and watched my son grow and learn I’m increasingly convinced of something I first read in Wild at Heart: masculinity cannot be learned, it can only be bestowed. And it can’t come from the world of women, no matter how well-intentioned or equipped, it comes only as a kind of substance that a young man eats, almost like a food, from the willing hands of older, more experienced men. It’s an inheritance, a gift and while that could sound exclusive or sexist in the wrong setting, it’s actually healthy.
It’s actually holy.
As we crouched there over the tracks I caught a sudden movement out of the corner of my eye. Bringing the binoculars up, I scanned the hillside and spotted another doe lying in a patch of rabbit brush, twitching her ears and rolling her neck. Following her gaze I quickly spotted four other deer slowly moving up the slope.
“There’s a buck over there,” I whispered to Dave.
“Where?” he said.
“See the dead tree? Look just to the left.”
There was easily a quarter-mile between us, probably more and almost no cover. Longing to engage, I said, “If we get behind that knoll we can close in without any of them seeing us.”
Dave looked at me a long moment, his eyes squinting in an unreadable expression and in that silence I was certain I’d said something obviously stupid.
“We could do that,” he said, “But then we won’t be able to see them either. If they move we won’t know where they went.”
I nodded, just a little crestfallen. Of course – it was a dumb idea.
“Still,” Dave said, inhaling sharply, “it looks like our best chance of getting a clean shot. Let’s do it.”
Without another word he stood up and started toward the tree line. I was partly caught up in what had just happened. Really? You’re going to take my input? We’re going with my plan? But without a word to my insecurity Dave was walking calmly and deliberately while he stopped now and again to watch the distant deer. Trying not to rush, stopping whenever a head would turn or an ear would twitch, we moved behind a small hill. Quickly now we crept across its base toward the dead tree that had helped us spot the buck. Not quite sure how close this detour had brought us; we eased quietly to its crest and took a peek. No deer – just another, lower hill between the courting buck and us.
Faced with open ground and a possibly closing window of opportunity we had to move quickly. Darting between rocks and pines, painfully seeking to make each step on the dry pine needles as silent as possible, my heart was racing. Above us was a large outcropping of basalt and the point of no return. If we reached that rock and found the buck on the other side, the shot would be clean and short and simple. If we poked our heads out to find nothing but sage, the day would be over and Dave would try again tomorrow, without me.
Those last fifty yards seemed like a mile. Every twig that snapped sounded like thunder, every sniff of my nose seemed like a hurricane. I couldn’t believe that I could make such a racket; and it seemed impossible that the radar-dish ears of these animals could miss it. Step be step we closed the distance and I dared to glance around the crumbling stones and what I saw took my breath away. Our blind ascent had brought us up a bare 30 yards from our quarry. The whole group was still lounging around, completely unaware of our presence, and I literally gasped in surprise. In that instant ten gigantic ears swiveled to face me and again I was threatened with the possibility that I had just blown it. Dave’s rifle wasn’t ready and any motion on his part would undoubtedly be seen. So we froze – stock still, trying to stop our tired breath from coming at all and helpless to do anything else we waited for what seemed like an eternity.
Gradually, blessedly, the deer went back to their munching and Dave slowly lifted the Remington to his shoulder. A moment later a sharp crack echoed off the hillside and a four-point buck fell among his escorts. The does stood, bewildered at the sound and only moved off when we stood up and approached them.
I won’t deny that the process of cleaning the animal soured my stomach just a bit but in hindsight it’s the detail that I remember least. The impression of that extraordinary day continues to be the glory of an autumn morning, the wonder of sharing that hillside with wild animals, and the discovery (or re-discovery) that the wilderness is not the border that surrounds and threatens my home and my life, but rather an older, more patient home that has simply grown unfamiliar.
More than that I remember the sense that has stuck around for years after the event and that was the experience of being fathered. Dave’s willingness to invite me up into something that was important to him, something his father shared with him but something he was never able to share with his daughters, was a strong antidote to my own “orphan” wounds. But of course it wasn’t just Dave and I out there but our shared Father in heaven – who was teaching us both. I’d hate to leave the impression that this path of masculinity is somehow inextricably wrapped up in guns and trucks and the spilling of blood, that’s not it at all. But it wrapped up in the exploration of things we don’t know. It’s drawn from the power of learning from God’s creation instead of being constantly surrounded by the handiwork of man. And it’s forged in the bond of one man initiating another into the larger story that we all have to share.
John asked me to write a quick intro to this post partly because I pressured him to write the post. That was because what he said on a phone call one day seemed so crystal clear, so profound and yet so simple, that it just had to be shared. Do you live on the cruise ship or the battleship (a great analogy our friend Gary Barkalow uses to describe how we approach life)? Or more accurately, do you realize yet that the cruise ship is a lie. (Even more so than the cake…)
And it was John’s comment, almost passingly, that he no longer even considered the issue which made him mostly immune to the kind of self-absorbed hang wringing that was plaguing our friend. What you expect determines 90% of what you experience – know now that this is a world at war and so much will make sense almost overnight. -Chris Skaggs
“Life just hasn’t turned out the way I had hoped.” I have heard that from several people lately, often in conversations with friends once the chitchat and small talk turns to deeper things of the heart.
We all have dreams, aspirations and hopes. We keep going through disappointments and detours. Think of all the things you set out to do all those years back as a little child. You were going to save the world with a cape and some spidey underwear, the outlaws were going to fear you as you rode into town with your mighty posse. Nothing was going to stop you from becoming that famous explorer who discovered the cure for whatever ailed society.
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water
that he channels toward all who please him. Proverbs 21:1
But life has a way of killing even the strongest desires…except those that God places in our hearts.
Recently I finished an incredible study of the book of Daniel with my wife Kristine. I thought I knew the story well but as we dove in the details and richness of the story began to form.
Daniel’s life turned out very different than he expected. We get a good description of Daniel in the first chapter. “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.”
As a privileged teen in the royal courts of Israel he had a life ahead of him of promise and stature. He was on the track to a successful life filled with learning, opportunity and leadership.
It all changed though with the Babylon’s invasion and kidnapping. Daniel was among the ones chosen to serve a foreign king because of his giftings.
He spent the rest of his entire life in exile serving godless men. He did it all in the shadow of our mighty God. He constantly kept close to God’s heart and through it found his true calling and desire. And in it he did God’s will.
Many times in the book a scene is played out where Daniel is seeking God on the river bank. It is a picture of a man, face turned toward the holy hill in Jerusalem in a far off Land. God meets Daniel over and over with his own presence and with mighty angels. There is evidence of long times of despair and loneliness, but Daniel never wavers.
What is never seen is Daniel losing heart. He is steadfast in his pursuit of God. And that is the difference. Yes, like every man, I am sure he had his moments of doubt. But I don’t think he let them last long or become deep enough to take root in his outlook on his existence. He knew who he was, and he knew his calling. God did mighty things with him as a result. The events that happened because of Daniel’s faith in God are still rippling out through time. We even received glimpses of the end days and all God has planned because Daniel opened his heart to God instead opening it to despair and resignation.
Life did not turn out the way Daniel planned. I do know that God probably spoke great things to him as a young boy, to a young boy’s heart. We can choose where our hearts wander when detours hit. Do we fall into despair or do we choose to get closer to God?
In those stolen moments with God what is he speaking to your heart? What is he slowly cutting away and revealing? As he whispers, confess to him the plans you have been holding on to. Turn your question away from “who am I” to “Who are you Lord”. Ask him how he can redirect your desires. I know you won’t be disappointed. In fact I know you will be thrilled. He will change the world with you. The truth is that you will find your self. You will realize who you truly are once you find him. Jesus said to his disciples “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
Lets, lose it together.
Paul is telling Timothy what he needs to know and says “…be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” (NIV 2Tim 4:2) It’s a verse I’ve heard many times of course but this last week was, for me, a pretty extreme example of its reality and application. I was on the road to San Francisco on business and spent four days in and around the convention center. I wasn’t carrying a sign or anything that would draw attention to myself or my faith but God had some adventure in mind. In those few days I was engaged in a half-dozen deep, technical, personal conversations about God and “all of that stuff.” There was the genetic cancer scientist on the plane down. There was the Harvard lawyer, ex-hippie AND ex-Christian at the fire pit. There was the Orthodox Jew computer programmer. A very dear and old friend who was a believer back in high-school but now joins the eclectic “us” of atheists. And then there was the very kind older man with a broad smile eating sausages who happened to be a genuine occultist…it was a strange week. Continue Reading…
by Jayson Tidland
I like clouds a lot and God the Father knows this. It is sort of hard to fathom why the creator of the universe cares that much about “our details” but he does. He knows our likes and loves and he often meets us on that level. In the same way, He cares about all the rest too. The good, the bad and the ugly. He wants us to invite him into all those areas.
Do you want exposure to eternal things? If you don’t get anything else from this story, get this…we can invite God into all of “our details.”
“Hide away, in wonder, wild,
These are times, quiet and free.
Father, present with his child,
Space and time bend a knee.
Storms and danger, troubles piled
These are times, quiet and free.
Father, present with his child,
Eternal things for all to see”
A path to cloud nerdiness began almost a year ago for me. Don’t be fooled by the interest though. I started paying a bit more attention the “ordinary things” like clouds. Undoubtedly, my head has been in the clouds but it’s not just the clouds I’m looking for. It’s this thing between me and Papa. Our thing…