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Travelogue: Hiking the Boundary Trail to Johnston Ridge Observatory

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

Mount St. Helens is seen from the Johnston Ridge Observatory on Saturday, April 12, 2014.

The weather here in the Pacific Northwest was absolutely gorgeous yesterday, so I traveled to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and took full advantage of it.

I drove from my home in Lewis County to the Hummocks Trail parking area, a trip of roughly an hour and 15 minutes covering 60 or so miles. I set out on the Hummocks Trail before taking an eastward turn on the Boundary Trail to reach my end goal, the Johnston Ridge Observatory. Bear in mind the Observatory is closed until mid-May each year, but hikers are welcome to come on through and utilize the trail system.

I spoke with a friendly staffer from the U.S. Forest Service when I reached the observatory’s parking lot, who noted the extreme lack of snow at a place that normally has a few feet well into May. He and I chatted for a bit and he told me some good routes to take if I ever wanted to hike beyond the observatory. I will within a couple months and will post photos of it when I do.

All in all, the hike was a 12-mile round trip that climbed about 1,800 feet. I took the closed State Route 504 back, with the Forest Service staffer’s permission, which added 2 miles on the return trip. My feet were sore when it was over, but it was well worth it, as you’re about to see.

Here’s the activity summary from Strava:

Photos after the jump!

On the death of snake-handling preacher Jamie Coots

This afternoon, I read about the death of Jamie Coots, a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher made famous by a cable TV show and pastor of a rural Kentucky congregation.

For those who do not know, Jamie Coots was bitten by a snake and died Saturday evening after refusing medical care, according to CNN.

Reactions across the Internet have varied — some ridicule the man and say he had it coming if he was messing around with snakes that long, others just laugh at the absurdity and still others just shake their heads.

(Before you continue, if you’re unfamiliar with snake handling, check out a pretty decent Wikipedia article that explains it a bit.)

I find no humor in the fact a snake-handling preacher died of a snakebite. In fact, my personal reaction was one of great sadness.

First and foremost, death is a very sobering thing. That is a God-breathed human being that has lived on this earth for a time, and now his time has ended. Mr. Coots has left behind a family who will likely grieve for a long time. That is a terrible, terrible thing and my heart goes out to them.

Secondly, and the discussion turns practical here — Mr. Coots died after refusing medical care. Medical professionals were available and on hand to help if they had the okay. They did not. Mr. Coots held on to a belief that God would bring him through, and he held on to it until he died. His death was needless, for all practical purposes.

Thirdly, the Christian faith requires a good deal of common sense. Snake-handling is essentially Russian roulette with a religious fervor, and at some point the bullet is going to fire by random chance. Jesus did not call on us to take chances with our lives to prove His power or grace. In this situation, nothing has been proved and everyone loses.

Fourth, and speaking of everyone losing, the wide circulation of this story across the Internet feeds a negative perception of Christianity as a whole. I know Mr. Coots pastored a somewhat small congregation and it’s obvious to many in the Christian faith that the snake-handling brand of Christianity is not representative of the faith as a whole. But it still “feeds the beast” if you will among nonbelievers, and I can assure you many atheists and non-Christians alike are having a field day with this story.

Fifth, I don’t really see snake-handling as an evangelistic tool. That sounds weird, but the Great Commission from Jesus is to go and make disciples of people in the world. I’m not sure that the death of a preacher who believed that a snake bite would not harm God’s anointed people will bring people to Christ — and I’d venture to guess there are some in his own church that have their own faith shaken from the incident.

And finally, the hits just keep on coming for Christians whose views are not represented by folks like Mr. Coots. It wasn’t long ago that young-earth creationist Ken Ham got absolutely blasted by thousands of people across the Internet, many of whom were Christians who are trying to find a way to reconcile their Creationist view with science. Ham did nobody any favors then, and this story isn’t doing Christianity at large any favors now. Nonbelievers — especially those who have made up their minds that there is no God — have been armed to the teeth recently with reasons to abhor the Christian faith, and it’s people within Christianity that have given them that ammunition. That is a hard pill for me to swallow.

Did Mr. Coots love Jesus? I think it’s pretty obvious from some footage taken of him that he did. Did he lead people to the Lord? It’s very plausible that he did. After all, his church wasn’t all about snake handling. It’s unfortunate, sad and needless that the practice caused the death of a preacher whose life could have continued on to essentially bring more people to the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

On a personal note, I tend to keep things a bit simple with my faith. My faith is grounded in a belief that Jesus Christ simply has a will for each and every one that believes in Him to preach the Gospel, choose self-denial over selfishness, make it to heaven and show others the way to get there too before you breathe your last bit of air.

The less extracurricular stuff, the better. I never liked snakes anyway.

Home never felt so good

The Chronicle building in downtown Centralia, Wash. is illuminated on the evening of Jan. 7, 2013.

The Chronicle building in downtown Centralia, Wash. is illuminated on the evening of Jan. 7, 2013.

I’m home again.

I arrived in Centralia, Washington on Saturday after three days of driving and 31 hours of total time behind the wheel. The journey brought me from Springfield, Mo., on Thursday to a city just over 2,000 miles away — and it puts me 50 miles from full circle once again.

It feels just a little bit surreal that I am actually here. Over my two years in Springfield, I began to foster an intense fondness for the Northwest that I never knew I had. I missed my home like never before, but at the same time I knew I would return someday.

While it feels surreal to be back, it’s been very calm. My return has been carefully planned out, and I’m working once again for the newspaper I once served for two years from early 2010 to early 2012. My first day of my “second term” as a print reporter at The Chronicle went well, with me writing a couple briefs and interviewing a few folks for stories.

It is necessary to take a moment and reflect on my time in Springfield. While I missed the Northwest more than ever, I developed many friendships in the Queen City of the Ozarks that I will carry with me for years. Over a two-year period, I matured greatly and much of that was thanks to friends who were not afraid to speak some sense to me at times (Aaron B., I’m looking at you in particular).

On Sunday, I went to church for the first time in awhile. It was good to be back at Life Center, the church I attended for the majority of my time here a couple years ago. It felt like home instantly, and many of my friends gathered for a dinner later that evening to welcome me back. It was an incredibly warm welcome from them, and it warmed my heart to once again be in the presence of beloved friends.

It feels like Lewis County is much the same way I left it, but with a few positive changes. There are a lot of people here that are working to make the community better, and you can tell their efforts are bearing fruit. There is a lot of work to do to make Centralia great once again, but again there are people here that can get it done.

Yes, I returned here because I missed it and I really missed working for the newspaper. There was nothing quite like being a go-to reporter for your specific beat, and it’s great to fill that role once again. But I also realize this time around that the second iteration of my life in Lewis County carries a higher calling, and that is to reach out to those in need.

I will soon be seeking out some volunteer opportunities to help disadvantaged people in as many capacities as I can. I spoke with my dear friend Holly from Tacoma on the phone yesterday and shared with her that I feel my time here will be different than last time, simply because I feel a tremendous burden on my heart to take my focus off of myself and put my energy into helping others.

My time here in Lewis County will be about putting the greatest lesson I ever learned into action. I look forward to doing so.

It’s great to be home, that’s for sure. I feel a peace about being here, and I know for a fact it is where I’m supposed to be.

Hopefully I’ll be here awhile. A long while.

An icon in Centralia, Washington has passed away

Gordon Aadland reflects at a ceremony for the unveiling of a portrait at Centralia College. / Photo courtesy Flickr user Julie Johnson

Gordon Aadland reflects at a ceremony for the unveiling of a portrait at Centralia College. / Photo courtesy Flickr user Julie Johnson

I am saddened to read that Gordon Aadland of Centralia, Wash., died at age 92 Sunday night.

When someone becomes that advanced in age, you know simply by average human life expectancy that one is not long for this world. But Gordon had been around forever, and I know I for sure thought he would just keep on keeping on.

I came to know Gordon Aadland in my capacity as a business reporter for The Chronicle in Centralia, as he wrote a weekly column that became one of The Chron’s must-reads. It was known as “Saturday’s Child,” and in it he would remember days gone by, opine on life as it were these days and offer words of encouragement or something to make you think.

We met when he walked into the office one day in 2010, stopped by my desk and said hello. Gordon was one of only a few people that was granted access to the newsroom on his own merit, and we loved it when he would stop in.

He asked where I was from, I told him Rainier, Oregon — and he grinned and told me one of his very first teaching jobs was in Rainier in the 1950s. We would talk about the town and how it had changed while still remaining the same old town of 1,700 right on the Columbia River, and it was Gordon who told me that Rainier was home to one Les Tipton, who competed in the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo in track and field.

Not only did Gordon know his history, but he did his best to preserve it in the Twin Cities. I remember his contributions in helping several members of the Chehalis and Centralia communities build a proper memorial to eight girls who died in a factory fire in the Coal Creek area in 1911. “The Girls,” as they were known, were reintroduced into the public eye in 2007 in one of Aadland’s columns — and four years later, through the collective efforts of many, a memorial was constructed in a local cemetery paying tribute to them.

Gordon was also a part of history, having served in World War II. With so many of the Greatest Generation passing on, vital links to our past pass with them.

Gordon Aadland did so much to benefit the Centralia and Chehalis communities. Much of his work was visible, but I would believe a much larger portion of his goodness to the Twin Cities was not. Instead, it was felt by many as he was one of the pillars and sound voices of the community that has seen more than its fair share of hardships.

The Aadland Esplanade, the central walkway at the Centralia College campus, is named after him and his contributions to education. He served the college in innumerable ways and contributed to the successful educations of countless numbers of Lewis County young people.

But my mind keeps going back to those “Saturday’s Child” columns. When I worked as the Friday night editor for the newspaper, helping paginate the content and post it to the Internet, I would always take time to read Gordon’s writings. His way with words and his gentle spirit about whatever subjects he would choose to write about drew me in as a reader, and gave me great insight as to the man people in the community respected and praised.

The Saturday’s Child columns are no more. His visits to the newsroom are but a memory. The sign at Centralia College that points to the walkway bearing his name no longer pays tribute to a living legend of Lewis County.

When I accepted a job here in Springfield, Mo., and moved away from Centralia — I knew full well I would likely never get the chance to speak to Gordon again for the lengths of time we could in the newsroom. My heart is filled with a great sadness when I realize such is indeed the case.

But Gordon Aadland is at peace. He is resting now.

May his memory continue to live on, and may the collections of his writings and fruits of his contributions to society foster grand memories and a desire to impact our communities in an equally positive fashion.

Godspeed and God bless, my good friend

As I write this, a good friend of mine is headed east to Tennessee, where he will plant new roots and walk forward in a major blessing of God upon his life.

My friend Jason moved from Springfield this evening, and it wasn’t easy to see him go.

I believe I was led back to Missouri for three reasons, and Jason was one of them. Our friendship is unique in that we had both lived here in Springfield before — we met at Rocco’s Pizza in Republic in 2007 after he found my blog — moved away, then came back after our lives were individually shaken to the core through tremendous trials.

I recovered from my trials fairly quickly, thank the Lord. But it was tough to see him going through an indescribably tough time in his life when both of us had thought things would get better soon. He simply needed a friend to be there, and I thought I did a serviceable job at that.

I encouraged him until I was blue in the face, and I prayed and prayed and prayed for him without even so much as an answer for one and a half years.

The prayers didn’t stop. I kept calling out to the Lord and kept encouraging him to do so, and I didn’t stop. I still haven’t. Now, just in the past few months — almost on the same timetable as a personal revival of my own — he has grown in leaps and bounds in his faith with Jesus Christ, and a door opened for him to move to Memphis.

When God places people in our lives, he does so for a distinct purpose. He was a blessing to me because he taught me that you keep praying, keep seeking and keep the faith if you don’t get an immediate answer — and even if there really never is an answer.

Before Jason pointed his rented U-Haul east, I gathered with our friend Larry and his friend Amy at Jason’s place. “I feel led to pray for you and send you forth in Jesus’ peace,” I said.

I put my hand on his shoulder, Larry did as well and Amy joined in the prayer. It wasn’t a long prayer, but it certainly was the most fulfilling of all the prayers I had prayed for him in this long journey.

“Lord, we know you don’t start something in our lives and leave it incomplete,” I prayed. “I fully believe and I pray that you will continue this good work and bring your joy, peace and love forth in this move.”

Watching God move in others’ lives is a faith builder for me. It’s definitely exciting.

But tonight it was a bit tough too, as I no longer have that person-to-person connection someone who made it easy just to talk and share my joys and burdens with.

However, I believe God has great things down the road — and hey, if I ever need a place to stay should I choose to visit Memphis…

Jason, thank you for being my friend and helping increase my faith as we walked through life’s journey here in Springfield. Godspeed, and I hope to visit soon.

How I learned the most crucial lesson of my life (Part 3)

At the end of 2001, just after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, I made a decision that would change my life more quickly than I would realize.

I signed my life away — well, four years of it, at least — to the United States Air Force in late 2001, and was promptly given a basic training start date of November 26, 2002. That meant I would have only one year remaining at home in Rainier, Oregon, and that same amount of time to serve my church in Kelso, Wash.

In late 2001, I was not only enjoying my senior year of high school, but I was also beginning to enjoy the church I attended and was called to serve at. Youth ministry is tough in and of itself, but we were making it work alright with next to no money and a small core of youth that would come back every week for Wednesday classes.

Getting them to come to church on Sunday was another matter entirely, though. I could only connect with them when I spoke from the Word for five minutes tops before they would all act up (mind you, these were a group of 13-15 year old guys) and we would have to do some sort of activity outdoors to calm them down. Maybe the fact I was only two years older than the oldest member of our group didn’t help, but I solved that by having an usher sit in on the class.

Counting down my favorite albums of all time

I’ve been wanting to do this for quite awhile, and today it will finally become reality.

I have compiled a list of my 10 favorite albums of all time, ranging from when I was a young child to the present day. Many genres and artists are included — and you’ll probably be intrigued by the fact many of them did not chart on the Billboard 100 or are widely known by vast audiences the world around.

It will go a little something like this: I’ll dedicate a post to each album and count down from 10 to 1 over the next 10 days. You’ll be able to listen to each song from each album in each post to further enhance the experience. Of course, I won’t just post the album and the music, but I’ll explain why they’re relevant to me.

Tonight, #10 comes your way. Get ready!

A visit from a modern-day Cardinals legend

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter throws a pitch in Springfield on July 15, 2013.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter throws a pitch in Springfield on July 15, 2013.

Chris Carpenter needs no introduction here in Missouri.

He’s been a dominant pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals — part of their World Series successes in 2006 and 2011, the 2005 NL Cy Young Winner, and several winning seasons. If there is a modern-day Cardinal legend, Chris Carpenter is it.

That’s why the sadness and shock was felt throughout the Cardinals community when Carpenter didn’t pitch for a large portion of 2012 and the team announced he likely wouldn’t pitch in 2013 due to injury. Losing your staff ace sucks, and Carpenter is as classy a professional as they come, so it was a double gut-punch for Cardinal fans.

But Carpenter resumed throwing in May, and lo and behold — late last week, the team announced he would make a rehab start in Springfield for his first game action of 2013. Springfield is home to the Cardinals’ Double-A squad and has seen a few players make spot rehab starts. It’s not only a great way for them to work their way back up to the major league level, but it’s huge for the local fans who support their St. Louis boys from the other side of the state.

Fans line up in droves outside Hammons Field before gametime on July 15, 2013.

Fans line up in droves outside Hammons Field before gametime on July 15, 2013.

Fanfare for tonight’s game was huge. People lined up outside the gates and made up what was arguably the largest Springfield crowd since the last St. Louis Cardinals vs. Springfield exhibition game in 2012. KMOX radio in St. Louis, the Cardinals flagship station, carried the game live although the MLB Home Run Derby was going on in New York.

Carp’s a BIG DEAL in Cardinal Nation.

Cardinal fans shoot photos of Chris Carpenter as he warms up in the bullpen at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., on July 15, 2013.

Cardinal fans shoot photos of Chris Carpenter as he warms up in the bullpen at Hammons Field in Springfield, Mo., on July 15, 2013.

The first three pitches he threw were strikes. One down, just like that. Over time, he would give up a couple hits here and a couple there, but he got out of the first two innings and received hearty applause each time he went back to the dugout.

The chatter was that he was on a 60-pitch limit, but he was pulled with two outs in the third inning. After 3 runs, Springfield manager Mike Shildt asked for the ball, and Carp walked back to the dugout.

The fans stood. Not just a few. Not most of them. Every one of them stood and applauded Chris Carpenter as he made his way back to the dugout.

And he acknowledged them.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter acknowledges the Springfield fans as he exits the game July 15, 2013. Carpenter was on a rehab assignment and made a start for the AA Springfield Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter acknowledges the Springfield fans as he exits the game July 15, 2013. Carpenter was on a rehab assignment and made a start for the AA Springfield Cardinals.

Moments like this make it easy to see why the Cardinals and their fans have such a connection. The organization from top to bottom is one built with rich tradition, class and a deep respect among players and fans.

In this day and age where so many professional athletes seem to have lost touch with their fanbase, it is neat to see a modern-day Cardinals legend not only pitch here in the Queen City of the Ozarks, but to respectfully and humbly acknowledge the fans in another part of the Show-Me State that are just as rabid as they are in St. Louis.

Tweaking things around in the quest for 3,000 miles

New tires and bar ends

I’ve come a long, long way from the day I first bought my bicycle last February.

Since then, I’ve logged nearly 3,000 miles — 1,885 of which came last year. Cycling around Springfield is a fun thing to do, but I also use it to get in better shape and enhance my sports endurance.

On two rides earlier this week, I decided to put a bit more effort into my cycling and try to reach 15 mph. On a hybrid bike, this is somewhat of a feat as the stock 700x32c tires were still on, my bike weighs 25 pounds and I’m limited as to how fast I can go when I ride on city streets and local Greenway trails.

But, lo and behold, I accomplished my goal not once, but twice:

So then I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be neat if I decided to shoot for something even better than 15 mph from here on out? Doing so, however, would mean either one of two things:

1. Buy a road bike
2. Put thinner tires and bar ends on my bike

A great look at the visual FX of “The Great Gatsby”

The visual imagery in the film The Great Gatsby was incredible, and much of it was thanks to some tireless work from a visual effects team that made the 1920s come to life in a big way.

Chris Godfrey, the visual effects supervisor for the film, shared the above video that shows how many of the scenes were created with computer-generated imagery. It’s a pretty incredible look at just how they came up with the scenes they did.

Godfrey describes the process on the video’s page on Vimeo:

Baz has graciously agreed to let us release this ‘before and afters’ reel to show our peer group the VFX work completed on his film ‘The Great Gatsby’. While this specific reel was the work of Animal Logic (as my primary vendor), in total I worked with 7 vendors including Animal Logic, Rising Sun and Iloura in Australia, ILM in San Francisco and also Prime Focus and Method Vancouver. We also ran an amazing internal SWAT team that completed over 400 shots. Congratulations to all who did such fabulous work on almost 1500 shots.

For those wondering, the song used is Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful.”