Zion Day 2: Sunshine & Solitude

As you can probably tell from my title, I enjoyed our second day in Zion National Park more than our first. After heavy wind and rain the evening before, the skies cleared for an absolutely gorgeous autumn day. This day was a Saturday and the park was even more crowded than the previous day, but somehow we were able to find little pockets of solitude.

We started off the day with the Watchman Trail, which begins right at the visitor center. I thought this trail was going to be packed, but it was surprisingly not bad. We saw other people on the trail, but we were staggered enough that we were able to hike mostly by ourselves. The beginning of the trail briefly meandered by the Virgin River and we saw this handsome heron (who, like the deer, was not scared of us at all).

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We soon began gaining elevation up the mountain. When I was planning our trip, I read that the Watchman Trail had only mediocre views and was only good for filling up a couple extra hours. I have to disagree with that review. This ended up being my favorite trail we did at Zion. It was not crowded, even though the park was, and I thought the views were fantastic the entire way.

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We zig- zagged up switch backs until we eventually made it to a sort of plateau, offering grand views of the red rock mountains and the valley.

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We saw people below us making their way up the switch backs, but we were fortunate enough to have at least 30 minutes alone at the top before anybody else came. The three of us were able to sit quietly, have a snack, rest, and just take it all in. It was the first time I felt like I could actually enjoy the park. I wasn’t rushed, and it was just my little family surrounded by a red rock wonderland.

After a while, we headed back down and spotted a herd of bighorn sheep on the opposite side of the ravine. It is always a special experience to watch wildlife while you are sharing the same space with them, instead of whizzing by in a car.

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After finishing the Watchman Trail, we fetched our car and headed out on the Mt. Carmel Highway, which takes you through a couple of tunnels and accesses the eastern part of the park. We saw another bighorn sheep from the car and we were able to get a better picture of him.

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There was absolutely no parking available for the one short trail in this part of the park, so we skipped it and did our own exploring. This area ended up being my favorite scenery of the whole park. I’ve seen mountains and valleys before, but this was something new. The earth was composed of giant waves of red rock, solidified into all sorts of shapes and varieties. It was almost other- worldly. There were numerous patterns on the rocks, anywhere from swirls to checkerboards.

We didn’t hike any actual trails, but we parked at a couple of pull- outs and explored a little. There were people and cars all around, but nobody was precisely where we were. It wasn’t exactly solitude, but it was close enough. We were able to breathe in and experience this special place on our own terms. The sun’s evening glow on the rocks made the area even more magical.

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Having the opportunity to get away from our everyday lives and see someplace new is a wonderful blessing. It allows for more intimate family time as we were distanced from distractions and chores. Also, seeing a new wonder of creation fills my soul with fresh awe. Knowing that God personally hand- crafted areas such as this for our enjoyment and benefit is truly humbling and gives me ever more to be thankful for.

 

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
    praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.

Zion Day 1: Clouds & Crowds

In mid- November we were able to sneak away for a weekend trip to Zion National Park in southern Utah. After our visit, we left with two equally strong impressions of the park: 1. Zion is very beautiful, and 2. Zion is very crowded. Matt and I had visited Zion 14 years ago so we expected the beauty, but the crowds were not as we remembered.

Our first day there was overcast so the red rocks were not as brilliantly red as they would have been on a sunny day. It was late enough in the season that the park’s shuttle system had just suspended its service so we were on our own to find parking spaces. Parking was tight, but we managed to park at most of the places that we wanted to stop.

First on our itinerary was the Emerald Pools trail. The trail began with a bridge crossing, offering beautiful views of the Virgin River, the red rock mountains, and the last remaining fall leaves.

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The following picture may look serene, but it does not show the hoards of other people on the trail. I didn’t mind the people on the first part of the trail to Lower Emerald Pools, when it was paved and easy. However, the trail became quite a bit rougher going to the Upper Pools. Navigating a rough trail with a 5- year- old while there was a line of people behind us (even though they were quite friendly) was not a super enjoyable experience.

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We eventually made it to Upper Emerald Pools (along with seemingly every other person in Utah). Our reward was a very small pool of water surrounded by sheer red rock cliffs.

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In the picture below, if you look closely, you can make out a small trickle of water. Maybe in the springtime this area is more interesting, with bigger pools of water and more water cascading over the rocks. However, in late autumn things were pretty dry and yet the crowds were still there. I wasn’t too impressed with this one.

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Next up on our agenda was the Riverside Walk. I was prepared for this one to be crowded, as it is an easy paved trail at the end of the park road that lets you get a little bit deeper into the canyon before having to wade in the water.

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It was a pleasant walk, even though it felt a little more like a theme park than a national park (there were groups of people making so much noise it sounded like they were riding a roller coaster). Even with the commotion, we saw numerous mule deer coming down to the river for an evening drink. They are national park deer and not skittish at all so we were able to watch them for a while.

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It was quite cloudy, but at the end of the trail, one mountain flickered in and out of the last remaining evening sunshine. It glowed brilliantly while its neighboring mountains were shrouded in the shade. It gave us a little preview of what the park would look like the following day when the sun was shining.

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On this trip, Matt and I got a first- hand experience of the overcrowding of America’s National Parks, which is becoming a real issue. I have thought about it a little bit, but I am at a loss for what the answer might be. It is good that people want to visit the parks, and it is also good for the parks, up to a point. If nobody ever visited or cared about them, they would never get any funding. However, their infrastructure just cannot support this amount of visitation. And that really does have an affect on the visitor’s experience. They recently announced that they are raising the entrance fee to a few of the parks. If this does deter a few people from visiting, it will only be the people who are very strapped for cash, and that is a real shame.

Personally, after having to share Zion with so many people, it makes me less inclined to visit other national parks. Sure, there are a few that are so iconic and special that there are no replacements for them, such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon. For the most part, though, I think I will be sticking to National Forests, BLM land, and state parks. Living in rural Nevada has spoiled me;  I like a little peace and quiet with my natural splendor.

*Stay tuned for the rest of my trip notes*

Celebration in the Rubies

A couple of weeks ago we took a weekend trip to our nearest “city”, Elko. It is a three hour drive to get to Elko and it’s population is less than 20, 000 people (yep, our town is pretty remote). Our reason for going was pretty important, though. We adopted our son almost two years ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo and he just now officially became a U.S. citizen. We had to travel to Elko to meet with an USCIS officer to pick up his Certificate of Citizenship (Yay!!). We technically could have done it in a day trip, but we took advantage of the opportunity to visit an area we hadn’t seen before- the Ruby Mountains.

The Ruby Mountains got their name when an early explorer found garnet in them and wrongly assumed they were rubies. While the mountain range may be lacking in precious gems, it is most definitely not lacking in beauty.

On our drive to Elko we took a side trip to visit Angel Lake, the only lake in these mountains that can be reached via paved road. Unfortunately, we got there right as the sun was setting behind the mountains. Even though we ended up experiencing the place in the shade and the temperature started to quickly drop, it was still a beautiful sight. It is also a good thing that we went as Angel Lake ended up being the only lake we saw on the trip (spoiler alert).

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The following day we took a breathtaking drive through Lamoille Canyon. We earnestly scanned the mountain slopes for mountain goats and bighorn sheep, but never saw any.

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We reached the end of the road, had a picnic lunch by a pretty creek, and then set out on our hike to Lamoille Lake. The beginning of the trail took us through this cool rocky valley. We headed out into it for a while, mesmerized by the scenery, until we realized we weren’t really on a trail anymore. We backtracked a couple times until we discovered that we were supposed to cross a creek near the beginning of the trail. We lost some time and energy, but we finally found the right way….and that is also when things got tricky.

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The aspen leaves were long gone (which was a shame since there were so many of them). All we had were these red stick plants to add a nice pop of autumn color.

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Just taking a breather on one of our many rest breaks. At least we had a nice sunny rock to sit on this time.

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The Ruby Mountains are the wettest mountain range in Nevada and we soon found how their conditions differed from the mountains in our neck of the woods.

The trail started out at around 9,000 feet and went steadily uphill from there. There was patchy snow from the very beginning, but the patches became increasingly larger and the trail became increasingly steeper. It wasn’t supposed to be that long of a hike, but after over two hours of slogging uphill in the slippery snow and ice, there was still no lake in sight.

At one point Matt was helping me through an especially treacherous section. My feet lost all traction on the slick, melting snow and they slid out from underneath me. If Matt wasn’t holding onto my arms, I would have slid all the way down the trail. I don’t know how, but we managed to get to the side of the trail where there was a snow- free patch and I was finally able to stand upright again. We hiked uphill a bit farther, but my nerves were shot and I eventually admitted my defeat. I was a bit bummed to give up my chance of seeing Lamoille Lake, but it was not like we did not see gorgeous scenery the entire way. So we rested and then started our slip- and- slide descent off the mountain.

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Even though we didn’t reach our destination, we still ventured farther than most people. The parking lot was full of sight- seers, but most of them just strolled through the sunny and warm rocky meadow. We saw hardly anyone anywhere on the trail. (Maybe they were wiser than us, but we had ourselves an adventure!)

All in all we had a great weekend exploring a new area of our state and celebrating our family and Roland’s new citizen status. We fell in love with the rugged beauty of the Ruby Mountains and we definitely want to visit them again (but maybe not quite so late in the season).

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“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature…We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.” 

~Henry David Thoreau

A Perfect Day

It is not often that a perfect day comes around. A day when nobody is sick and everybody is in a good mood, the weather is pleasant and the views are beautiful, and there are no little stressful hiccups along the way. A couple weeks ago we were fortunate enough to have one such day.

When we had our September snowfall, we assumed we missed our chance of going to Great Basin National Park for one last autumn hike. However, a stretch of warm weather melted the snow and opened the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive back up again. We were a little hesitant to go because the snow on the Bristlecone trail on our visit back in June made our hike pretty difficult. This time we tried out the Alpine Lakes trail and we were pleasantly surprised to find that the snow was almost entirely melted (even at 10, 400 feet!).

At the lower elevations of the park road, the aspens were dazzling in their yellow autumn leaves, but as we drove up higher the trees were past their peak and had already begun to lose their leaves. It was interesting to see the seasons change as we gained thousands of feet in elevation.

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The weather was wonderful as we headed out on the Alpine Lakes trail: sunny and hovering right around 60 degrees. It wasn’t a difficult hike, but I could definitely feel the high altitude as we hiked uphill to Stella Lake and Teresa Lake. They were both petite in size (one barely more than a pond), but they were surrounded by grand, snow- covered peaks, creating the most picturesque of settings. It was pure bliss to set myself down on a rock, bask in the sunshine, breathe in the cool air and take in all the beauty surrounding me.

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Roland’s moods are usually the limiting factor on the enjoyment level of our hikes. His whininess and grumpiness can spoil even the most grand of hikes. However, on this day, not one whine came out of him. He kept up with us without a fuss and he was in a happy mood the whole day. Even when he fell down, he cried for just a minute or two and then he was able to move on and get back to enjoying himself, which is no small feat for him.

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If you have met our son, you know he is not a quiet child. There is always some sort of sound coming out of his mouth, whether it is words, songs, or just senseless noises. On our hike back down from the lakes in the darkening woods, I noticed it was perfectly quiet. I turned around and saw Roland was just walking along, playing with a couple sticks AND WASN’T MAKING ANY NOISE! It may not sound like much, but being able to enjoy the quiet serenity of the woods is not something that happens often when you have a kid like mine.

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I soaked it all in and marveled at how everything came together to create a perfect day. Days like that feel like a little sneak peak of what heaven might be like. In the midst of a string of ordinary days, sometimes God will give you a day that feels like a slice of heaven on earth and you can almost hear him whisper, “Don’t worry, there is an eternity of more days like that. Just wait.”

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“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.”

~George Washington Carver

Daily Gratitude

There seems to be quite a bit of turmoil the past couple of months, with the forest fires, earthquakes, hurricanes, and mass shootings. And of course there is the stuff that is always going on somewhere in the world, whether it is on the news or not: corrupt governments, civil unrest, poverty, orphans, disease, and war.

I feel very sheltered and safe living in my small town surrounded by these massive mountains. I know we could have natural disasters here, too, but we aren’t right now. In these times of relative peace I need to remember to be grateful EVERYDAY to God for my normal, day- to- day life. My life definitely does not feel luxurious, but I know it is a luxury to have the free time and the physical ability to go hiking and explore the great outdoors almost every weekend. Sometimes I feel a bit silly writing about my family’s hiking trips while there are so many bigger things happening in the world. Although, I think it is not a useless task to give glory to God for the good in my life and the beauty I see in nature, and that is what I hope I am doing with my blog.

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Last weekend we drove up to Success Summit to view the fall colors. Besides the trees in town, there are not any natural deciduous trees in the valley so we had to take a drive up into the mountains to get our yearly dose of fall foliage. It was a glorious autumn day, with groves of aspen ablaze in gold and amber splendor. Of course our colors can’t compete with the Midwest and East, but our colors come with a majestic mountain backdrop.

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The picture below is not the best, but I thought the golden strip of trees on the mountainside really stood out against the dark green pines and brown soil, creating an interesting design.

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Just taking in the gorgeous mountain and valley view, with a few trees just starting to get their yellow leaves sprinkled in.

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If you see a fallen tree while walking in the woods, and you are a little boy (or a big boy), you have to take the time to walk across it.

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Beautiful autumn. Thank God for days like this.

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My family right now is in a pretty good place. Of course things aren’t perfect. Some days my child’s poor behavior mystifies me. And we always seem to be short on money. And our dog just recently passed away. But that’s just normal life and I am grateful for it. I have lived enough life to know this period won’t last forever. We all have our seasons of strife and suffering. Whether you are having a regular stressful day or your whole life has just been turned upside down, remember you are not alone. God will never abandon you and He will see you through.

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Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

Serendipity

On September 21 (the last official day of summer), we received our first snowfall. Talk about skipping a season. The several inches we received in the valley derailed our plans of going into the mountains to view some fall foliage the following weekend. The forecast was rain, snow and gloom in all directions from town, except for one. So we headed two hours west on “The Loneliest Highway in America” to the Hickison Petroglyphs Recreation Area.

On our 120 mile drive, we drove through numerous valleys and mountain passes. In the valleys we had pleasant, partly cloudy skies, but as we drove over every pass, the clouds became darker and heavier and looked like it could rain or snow at any moment. In fact, on the return trip, the road was wet over one pass and the temperature was right at freezing so we were a bit concerned about ice and, just outside of town, we did drive through a bit of snow. We were cutting it a bit close, weather- wise.

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When we arrived in Hickison, the sun was peeking in and out of the clouds so it alternated between chilly and pleasant and our layers went on and off throughout the afternoon. We must have chosen the wrong trail because we never saw any petroglyphs, but we did see some pretty awesome scenery.

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The landscape we hiked through was adorned with boulders, caves, alcoves and rock cliffs. We walked through this interesting rockscape for a couple miles until the land opened up into a rolling valley. The towering, snow- capped mountains on the other side of the valley seemed to float atop the Earth with the clouds. They were breathtaking.  The place reminded us of pictures we have seen of Mongolia. All that open space, fresh air and beautiful scenery filled my mind and body with the perfect mix of peace and energy.

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On our hike back we lost track of the trail we had been on. As the late afternoon autumn sun hung lower in the sky, we had to backtrack to the last trail marker we had seen (and we wondered why we did not pack a flashlight). By the time we found the main trail again, we were getting tired, but enjoyed the sun’s farewell glow on the surrounding rocks.

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The most notable part of the day was our wildlife sightings. Even with four hours spent in the car, I”d say we were pretty lucky with what we saw. On the drive out, we spotted a coyote scurrying near the roadside and also a couple of pronghorn farther afield. As we were driving back home through a vast valley in the evening, we spotted a mountain lion. Matt slammed on the brakes and pulled off to the side of the road. I hopped out of the car to get a better look and to try to take a picture. The mountain lion and I stared at each other for a second before she turned around and bolted, showing off her long, muscular body as she leaped through the sagebrush. It was an unusual sight to see her in a wide, open valley, but she was very near a herd of wild horses so I think the thought of having a foal for dinner is what lured her out of the mountains. This was my very first mountain lion sighting (even with all the years we lived in Idaho, I never saw one and Matt only saw one once). The experience was very exciting, but entirely too brief.

This was not the day I had planned, but I am so happy that the weather directed our route to Hickison. If the weather conditions had been different, I would have missed my first mountain lion sighting and all the beauty of this area. God’s serendipity planned a better day for us than I ever could have.

 

Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his;
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

From Mundane to Extraordinary

I have lived in seven different states scattered across this country, including all four corners and the middle. The first full year I live in a place is always the most intriguing. I love experiencing a new place as it transitions through the seasons: discovering what flowers bloom in the springtime, watching the water levels of rivers and lakes rise and drop, finding the best patches of fall foliage, and witnessing the first snow flakes fall from the sky.

I have lived in Nevada for 6 months and this is my first autumn in a Southwestern state. I know the area does not support many deciduous trees so I had low expectations for fall color. However, the sagebrush caught me by surprise. These usually mundane green- gray plants that cover our valleys and hillsides are now exploding with brilliant yellow blossoms.

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Sagebrush is prevalent throughout Nevada and it is, not surprisingly, the state’s flower. Driving hours through monotonous sagebrush valleys can make the plant seem ordinary and boring, but they are actually pretty fascinating. Sagebrush contains certain compounds that deter consumption from animals. Pronghorn are the only large herbivore that can tolerate substantial amounts of it. What is really interesting is the plants’ ability to communicate with each other. If one sagebrush plant is getting eaten, it will release chemicals to warn other nearby plants. Those plants will then increase their quantities of the repellent compounds.

Sagebrush isn’t good to eat (they are toxic to the liver and digestive system in humans), but the Native Americans still found them to be quite useful. It was used externally for many purposes, including preventing infections and relieving head aches and other body aches. There are not many resources available while living off the land in the desert, so if one plant surrounds you for hundreds of miles in every direction, I guess you are bound to find a use for it.

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I have driven through areas with sagebrush before moving here, but it must never have been during the early autumn. I am just loving these cheerful, abundant yellow flowers, glowing brightly in the sunshine against the big blue sky. They are the perfect welcoming committee for autumn and I am eager to experience all the nuances of this season in my new home.

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Maybe there is something to be learned from the lowly sagebrush. Something so common and so drab can, for a short time, become something beautiful. God created everything for a purpose, especially his children. We may feel depleted from the daily grind, feeling that we have nothing extraordinary to offer. Our spirits may feel akin to the sagebrush- a tumultuous mix of toxic and medicinal. However, never doubt that God has a plan for you. Even the sagebrush can provide soothing relief and a bit of cheer in a harsh world. We will all have our day in the sun, an opportunity to blossom and live out the purpose that God has called us for.

 

Ephesians 2:10

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

 

 

The Simple Joy of Sunshine

As summer becomes more of a distant memory, these increasingly rare warm and sunny days feel ever more glorious. When the majority of the days now are cloudy, windy, and just plain chilly, I want to soak every ounce of sunshine out of days like this. Walking around without a jacket on a northern Minnesota October day is a gift from God that is to be truly appreciated.

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Roland running off some energy before gymnastics class at Diamond Point Park on Lake Bemidji. Walking with my family along a lake in the lovely sunshine makes my heart happy. I hope these are the kind of memories I carry with me through life (and not the tantrums, the bickering, the chores, the stress…).

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I could sit here and watch the waves and birds and falling leaves all day (on a day like this at least).

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This boy absolutely loves the warm sunshine. (Maybe it has something to do with the fact he lived the first three years of his life in Congo- a climate a bit different than Minnesota). The poor kid does not know what is coming. Enjoy it now, Roland!

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What sunshine is to flowers, smiles are to humanity.

These are but trifles, to be sure;

but scattered along life’s pathway, the good they do is inconceivable.

~Joseph Addison

A View from Above

The peak of autumn foliage is such a fleeting thing. It seems that every year, right when the colors are getting really good, the wind and rain decide to pay a visit and before you know it, all those gold and amber leaves are falling to the ground. It makes it difficult to plan an outing specifically to enjoy the peak of fall color. Between work schedules and weather conditions, we ended up visiting Itasca State Park just a little after the peak started to fade away. Some of the trees were already bare, but it made for pretty leaf- covered paths.

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We took a short walk to the 100- foot- high fire tower. It was a chilly and blustery day so my hands went numb gripping the metal rails as I trudged up the stairs. The height did not really bother me, but the sensation of a strong gust of wind blowing me off the tower was a little unsettling. Roland, our brave boy, did just fine with his daddy’s help.

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We were rewarded with this view from the top of the fire tower.The forest and lakes extended as far as we could see. I thank God that I am able to live near such a great expanse of undeveloped, beautiful land.

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

-Albert Camus

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The wind was really beginning to blow so we quickly descended the tower and hiked down a nearby trail. We came across this picturesque lake and thought it would be a good spot for an autumn family picture.

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Roland and his daddy, enjoying being outdoors together on a lovely autumn day.

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