Epiphany #83

Sometimes God brings people into our lives forever, sometimes it is for a few years, sometimes it’s a season and sometimes it’s a month.

I don’t know why God works the way He does. But I can say this: He knows what we need, and I can say with certainty that He knows how to cross our paths with others so all may mutually benefit.

Thank You, Lord.

The most disturbing thing about Oregon’s loss to Arizona

I wasn't particularly happy to see Arizona Wildcats players celebrating on the Autzen Stadium field.

I wasn’t particularly happy to see Arizona Wildcats players celebrating on the Autzen Stadium field.

I am an Oregon Ducks fan and apologist to the core, and scenes such as the one pictured are seared into my memory because they have happened all too often in recent years. Or have they?

In 2010, Oregon lost the national title game.

In 2011, Oregon lost at home to USC when they had a legitimate shot to become the #2 team in the nation.

In 2012, Oregon lost at home to Stanford when they were the #2 team in the nation and had a clear shot at the national title.

Last year, Oregon lost to both Stanford and Arizona away from home, taking them out of the running for a fifth straight BCS bowl game.

Oregon Ducks fans have endured our fair share of heartbreak over the past few years, being a few plays away from a run at possible multiple national titles. With the exception of the blowout loss to Arizona last year, the Ducks had a good three and a half-year run of playing every team close when it mattered most.

Look at the past five years of Oregon Ducks football: 10-3, 12-1, 12-2, 12-1 and 11-2. Only five conference losses in that entire timespan. That’s a pretty good record.

It’s also grounds for fans being spoiled. We enjoyed the best stretch of success in Ducks history beginning with Mike Bellotti’s last year in 2008, through Chip Kelly’s four years, and to a large degree Mark Helfrich’s first year. The team is 4-1 this year with a narrow loss to Arizona, a game that I attended that was frustrating for me on multiple fronts.

Yes, the team didn’t perform up to expectations, but I’m a bit more upset with the Oregon fan base. I’ve been to a few Ducks games at Autzen and I’ve never seen a worse atmosphere among the fans than I did last Thursday.

The crowd threw out a few boos and I admit I was among them, but that was for several questionable referee calls that, looking back, equally screwed both teams. But to persistently boo a team because they haven’t scored 40 or 50 points in this game? Heaven forbid.

About the only thing I agreed with any fans on was that defensive coordinator Don Pellum’s schemes have not worked for the second week in a row. I am quite scared for the Ducks because the defense has been like a sieve the past two games, nearly giving up yards as if they are donating to The Salvation Army.

Here’s the worst part of Thursday’s game, and it wasn’t on the field. It was a palpable sense of entitlement among the fans, a feeling that we as a collective fan base have become spoiled in seeing consistent blowouts over lesser opponents and don’t know how to stomach adversity. Even worse, there was a pervasive feeling that being a Ducks fan in recent years was okay because it looked cool or is somehow a fashion statement.

Speaking of fashion, the comment an older man at the stadium made that I overheard on my way out after the loss summed it all up: “They weren’t even wearing our school colors.”

I thought about that for awhile and realized the man had a point. The Ducks wore black and pink in honor of breast cancer awareness. That’s noble and all, but to the die-hards and the purists, those that have been Oregon Ducks fans since the days in which three wins were considered a success, uniform schemes like the one foisted upon the public Thursday (it looked atrocious, I thought) seem to be sending a message that the team is more about style and flash than substance.

When it comes to what happens on the field, Oregon ran such an innovative offense over the past few seasons that other teams began to emulate it. Arizona did on Thursday with a wrinkle, and it worked to perfection as they upset the Ducks in Eugene. From my perspective, that win seemed to show me that the innovation has run out on the Ducks’ end — and that’s not a good sign.

If your success is emulated and replicated, you continue to innovate to remain a step ahead, and I don’t know if the Ducks have done that.

Again, that hearkens back to the fact the Ducks have had a tremendous five-year and nearly six-year run. Coach Mark Helfrich is in an unenviable position having to follow Chip Kelly. Heck, I wouldn’t even want to follow Chip into a grocery store because he’d probably be so successful in his shopping endeavors.

Maybe the cold hard truth is the run of success is over. If it is, are the fans going to be okay with it? It would suck, but I know I would be.

In the grander scheme of things, I have begun to get a feeling over the past couple years that people tie their self-worth in way too much with how the sports teams they root for are doing. I love the Ducks and I want them to win a national championship, and maybe the fact the losses are so deflating are a product of a system in which you basically have to run the table to be the champion. Regardless, I’m the same guy whether the Ducks go 1-12 or 12-1 (or in a perfect world, 13-0).

The rest of the Ducks’ season isn’t going to be easy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and to that I say hang on because it’s going to cause all the bandwagon fans to fall off. And that’s okay with me.

Go Ducks, even if they don’t win another game this year.

Time-lapse view of the sun setting over Astoria

A friend and I visited Astoria, Oregon yesterday. We took in the sunset from the Astoria Column and saw this. It was awesome and wonderful.

The entire sunset sequence took about a half-hour, but I’ve created a two-minute time-lapse of it. The backing track is John Beltran’s “Inexorably Tied to You,” from his album “Amazing Things” released in 2012 on Delsin Records.

A difficult, yet necessary, changing of seasons in Year 31

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

The number of leaves falling from the maple tree in my yard will increase exponentially in the coming days and weeks.

Autumn reflects the process of deciduous trees losing their greenery and hunkering down for an upcoming cold season, and my life is going through an autumn of sorts itself.

Autumn is a season of beauty for a short time, as we get to enjoy the colors of leaves turning and the radiance they bring about our neighborhoods. It is a truly gorgeous portion of nature that I enjoy, yet at the same time realize those leaves will be gone as they are dying. Not to mention, the unenviable task remains of cleaning them up so our street doesn’t flood.

The autumn seasons of life — and I believe we have many of them — are similar in function, bringing forth a desire to brace for a season of life that one can feel will be incredibly difficult.

I don’t know how I know that it will be difficult, but I just do. My soul feels it, my body feels it and my mind is making preparations for it.

As such, many changes are taking place.

I’ve been coming to terms with the continued contraction of my social circle. I know a lot of people, but I don’t truly know a lot of people, and that is by choice. That’s not a bad thing, but rather a reflection of what happens in life as some friends who were once close just gravitate further apart simply because of where life is taking them.

It happens to everyone. Friends get married, have children, get involved in things that require intense time commitments (work, anyone?) — and due to all that, end up with a slightly different perspective on life that you once shared before. That slight perspective change brings forth a giant dynamic shift.

As I get older, I seek friendships and relationships that have a meaningful and redeeming value for all parties involved. I am not content to simply have acquaintances that I spend small amounts of time with, but instead I want to be able to benefit them in some way, with a home I receive a blessing in return.

As such, the people I meet and connect with instantly and consistently are much more treasured to me than they would have been in years past. I hold my smaller group of friends in a higher regard than I would have held a large group of friends in my early 20’s, if that makes any remote amount of sense.

Part of this stems from a new facet of life, and that has happened since I learned to live with myself over the past year. I’ve been able to increasingly be okay with not being noticed. Gone are the days of seeking adulation from many, and in their place has swept in an era of being just fine with

This autumn season of my life has me finding myself more content in silence. I’m becoming increasingly okay with grabbing a book, sitting down to read in front of an open window while rain falls down. There’s something cathartic about it.

Speaking of catharsis, I’ve needed a sort of emotional release. I have lately been extending myself too much in activities, work and more — and I’m finding it is perfectly fine to say no to some people who ask me to partake in commitments that would ultimately cause me unneeded amounts of stress, although the tasks I would do could be beneficial to many people.

Being in my 30’s has placed me in an interesting spot. The 30’s are considered by many to be the “prime time” of one’s life, but at the same time you’re expected to make more adult decisions than you ever have. It’s a time that so far has forced me to take a quiet personal inventory and be okay with where life is taking me.

One thing is for sure: I’m not going to enjoy winter, but then again, winter passes and then spring will come afterward. I just hope this winter will be shorter than most.

Travelogue: Coldwater Peak — hey, who’s that mystery guest?

For the second week in a row, I hiked to Coldwater Peak in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument — and for the second time in as many weeks, I did not go alone.

Hiking in the Mount St. Helens area is an awesome experience, which is the reason I’ve done it nine times since April. But when you bring someone with you and the hike involves some great conversation and just time to get to know them, it cranks to 11.

The circumstances were pretty cool: a friend of mine I worked with in Springfield, Missouri came to visit her friend, also from Missouri, who lives not far from me. We all spent some time together on a recent weekend, and I (somewhat nervously) extended an invitation to her friend, who became my friend in relatively short order, to join me for a hike sometime.

It worked, and that hike took place sooner rather than later.

We met up in Kelso on Sunday morning and drove to Johnston Ridge. We promptly hiked six miles to see this:

A familiar view: Mount St. Helens from the Coldwater Peak area.

A familiar view: Mount St. Helens from the Coldwater Peak area.

Over those six miles I came to learn a lot, and I mean a lot, about a fellow believer in Christ. As wonderful as the views were, the conversation was better.

Faith as a basis of an instant common ground brought about some great talks. And as exhausted and short of breath I was, it wasn’t difficult to keep up those conversations.

We stopped for lunch on Coldwater Peak, with lunch being a very gracious term for a granola bar and a Gu energy shot, and we marveled at the scenery.

The Missouri native takes in the views from one of the Northwest's most unique landscapes.

The Missouri native takes in the views from one of the Northwest’s most unique landscapes.

She got out her camera and started snapping, so I figured I’d join in.

My friend Ashley taking a photo of Mount St. Helens from the top of Coldwater Peak.

My friend Ashley taking a photo of Mount St. Helens from the top of Coldwater Peak.

We spent about 30 minutes at the top of the peak, a great idea given the fact we had gained nearly 2,500 feet in elevation. We didn’t sit for long, though — we took the opportunity to scurry around the top of the peak and take in the sights around us.

A wayfinding marker lets you know you're pretty high above the Toutle River Valley.

A wayfinding marker lets you know you’re pretty high above the Toutle River Valley.

The lunchtime view, with a friendly stick pointing the way to Mount Adams.

The lunchtime view, with a friendly stick pointing the way to Mount Adams.

If the way up was a time for some serious conversation, the way back was time to make the communication turn into a festival of laughter. From stories of foibles at church camp to failed sports exploits and more, the time and mileage seemed to pass effortlessly as we laughed, joked and semi-cried our way down the trail.

Never mind the fact there were some steep drop-offs on the trail — I generally don’t recommend doubling over in laughter in precarious places, but what can you do?

The last little bits of sunlight were upon us in the 6 o’clock hour and we were out of water, but it didn’t stop us from continuing to walk along, all the while laughing and stopping to snap some more photos of the mountain’s imposing presence.

Mount St. Helens looms as always.

Mount St. Helens looms as always.

By the time we reached one of the most dangerous points on the trail two miles from Johnston Ridge, the conversation ensured that I wasn’t paying attention to the danger just a couple feet to my left. Funny how my trepidation of that trail changed over just a few hikes.

She's not very scared of the drop-off on one of the most dangerous areas of the trail. In fact, she embraces it.

She’s not very scared of the drop-off. In fact, she embraces it.

The second-best portion of the hike came about a mile from the end of the trail, when the sun dipped below the horizon and began to cast a beautiful purple hue on the volcano, bringing it to life in a whole new light.

The sunset casts the volcano in a different view.

The sunset casts the volcano in a different view.

As for the sunset itself, whoa.

The Sunday sun dips below the clouds, waving the day goodbye in the distance.

The Sunday sun dips below the clouds, waving the day goodbye in the distance.

Most of my recent posts have been about Mount St. Helens and my rediscovery of an area that has inspired me throughout my life. The photos of the area show my absolute love for one of the Northwest’s most unique landscapes that has been a favorite of mine.

But there is something absolutely captivating about being able to experience that with someone who found it equally inspirational, yet in their own way. Being able to enjoy a love of the mountain is great, but being able to do that while forging a friendship over the entirety of a late summer day made yesterday the best hike of 2014.

Travelogue: Norway Pass to Mount Margaret

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake are seen from the Boundary Trail looking from the Mount Margaret Backcountry.

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake are seen from the Boundary Trail looking from the Mount Margaret Backcountry.

Two Saturdays ago, I took a trip to the Mount St. Helens area yet again. But this time I took a different route.

I had never been to the northeast portion of the MSH National Volcanic Monument, so I figured I would try to visit the Windy Ridge area. However, I thought Norway Pass looked like a good area to traipse around for a bit, so I cut that trip off a few miles early and headed to the trailhead.

The trek was about a good 11.5 miles there and back, good enough for some decent elevation gain and a great workout before I had to head back early due to the time of day. I did not have any nighttime equipment with me, otherwise I would have been out there longer.

I don’t have all the time in the world to post about my trip, but AllTrails.com has some good hike reports from people who have done the same hike.

Meanwhile, here are some of my own photos, shot with a 2013 HTC One and edited on my Surface Pro in Lightroom 5.6.

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Needed: People willing to provide a hand up to the disadvantaged

Boxes of food sit as volunteers rush to prepare them at the Centralia Outreach Center on Saturday.

Boxes of food sit as volunteers rush to prepare them at the Centralia Outreach Center on Saturday.

Saturday marked the first time in my life in which I have been completely unable to respond to something someone said to me in a conversation.

Those of you who know me well know that I can usually talk to anyone about anything, and come up with pretty quick responses. Such was the case Saturday, when I volunteered at the Centralia Outreach Center’s monthly food pantry ministry, in which members of Destiny Christian Center, Bethel Church and other churches including mine team up to give food boxes to the underserved and needy in our community.

By 9 a.m., a line of more than 40 people formed around the Destiny building on North Tower Avenue in Centralia. Men, women, kids, teens, you name it — they showed up and waited their turn, and one of my responsibilities was to serve coffee to them with my friend Megan.

We chatted them up and I got to know a few of their names. Some didn’t want to talk, but most of them enjoyed a laugh or two. I was glad to help provide a moment of relief for people that were very obviously down on their luck.

After handing out coffee, I went and helped people carry food boxes to people’s cars in the Destiny parking lot. It was a chance for more conversation: one woman talked about car troubles and what she was doing to fix them, another man talked sports — then came the moment.

I began to carry a box full of food for a young man in a Seattle Seahawks sweatshirt. Couldn’t have been any older than his early 20’s. He had a cigarette in his hand and was generally friendly.

We walked down the sidewalk from the outreach center as I asked him in an upbeat voice, “Where are we going with this?”

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Two days, two centuries: My first-ever Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic

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No one greeted me at the finish line.

Despite the crowds cheering on the sidelines as I rode in a cadre of fellow cyclists into Holladay Park in Portland, the end of a 202-mile, 15-hour cycling journey in the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic was rather anticlimactic as I set my bike down, picked up my finisher badge and moved on.

Instead, it was every single second, every pump of the pedals, every inch forward that made the pilgrimage worthwhile.

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Fourth of July in Pe Ell, Washington

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I chose to spend my Independence Day evening in a town a short way off the beaten path. Pe Ell, Washington is not big by any means, and most people just pass through it on their way to the coast from Chehalis.

But tonight, the town banded together to put on a fireworks show that would rival those of larger cities. A friend and colleague of mine was part of the pyrotechnics team that put on the show — and I must say they did a tremendous job.

Thanks to the good folks at New Harvest Assembly, and all those who donated to make the show possible.

I’ll let the photos take it from here!

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