Saturday, April 23, 2011

Climbing the Walls

Today I finally got out to practice rappelling in preparation for peregrine falcon season.  I've done a bit of rope work in the past, but I bet it's been 15 years since I've been on a rope.  Add to that some new gear and I definitely needed to get out and practice.

Back in the day

Heading down!

Here I am tying off to the nearest object- a '97 Ford F250 4WD that- imagine!!- was right at the top of the cliff when I stopped to check it out!  How convenient.  Note that I'm tying off in triplicate here:

Tying off to a Ford F250

One of the new items I have is a 300' Bluewater static rope.  I've always used either company ropes or my own dynamic climbing rope and have never had my own rope.  Well, now I do.  

Tossing a brand-new rope off a cliff

First thing I needed to do was re-acquaint myself with my ascenders.  Here I'm hanging off of them while getting ready to switch over to my descender (a Black Diamond ATC).  This was early in the game- later on, I was using my new Petzl Shunt in combination with the ascenders to give me 3 ways of attaching to the rope.  I also have a helmet and it'll be coming out next time I'm out here.

On The Rope Again (Older, Wiser, Fatter, Grayer)
After I got used to being on the rope again, I started using the Shunt in combination with the ATC and liked the way it worked.  If you rig the shunt below the ATC, you have to hold it open to go down the rope.  If you let go- say a rock hits you in the head- the shunt grabs the rope and stops the descent.  I tested it several times and it did great.  In fact, there's so much friction on the rope, between the thick static line, ATC, and shunt that I have to feed the rope in order to descend.

At The Top!

In the above shot, I'm at the top of the little cliff, having used the ascenders to climb up.  In fact, we were there for 2 hours and I never went over the top in the traditional manner- I used the ascenders to climb, switched over to the rappelling gear, descended, and repeated.

At one point, Georgia and I were talking at the bottom and both said "I smell a skunk!"  G walked out a few steps and here came Pepe walking along the base of the cliff.  We persuaded him to take another path.


After a couple of climbs and rappels, we called it a day.  I was happy with the new gear and will definitely be back to this little cliff (and the overhang next to it), to test some more gear.

The Boys Climbed a Bit, Too

Tomorrow's Easter- or more properly- Resurrection Sunday.   Maybe it'll rain.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Book Review- The Reason for God by Timothy Keller

This is one of the books I tossed on my Kindle for the train trip to Washington DC.  I didn’t get as much reading done as I’d hoped and this book was demanding a slow, careful, thoughtful reading so I held it off a bit.   Since the train trip, I’ve been working on it a few pages at a time and thought I might give my impressions of it here on the blog.  First, the fact that I have to digest a few pages at a time says something because I’m normally a very fast reader.  It’s a rare book that makes me slow down.

The opening part of the book is the least interesting to me as I’ve already read so much on and thought so much about the standard apologetics that he discusses there- “One Religion”, “Suffering”, “Christianity is a Straitjacket”, “Injustice”, “A Loving God and Hell”, and so forth.  Those are great topics, of course, but I’ve read entire books on each one.  Where Keller’s book took a turn for the better, for me, was “Part 2- The Reasons for God”.   Here he covers “The Clues of God”, “The Knowledge of God”, “The Problem of Sin”, “Religion and the Gospel”, and so on.   I particularly liked “The Clues of God” and that’s what I’m going to write on this evening.  Plus, I’m not finished with the book!

Keller starts with a story about a Russian astronaut who returned from space and said “I looked for God in space and didn’t see him.”  CS Lewis replied to this by saying “That’s like Hamlet going into his attic and looking for Shakespeare.”  As is often the case, Lewis nailed it with an accurate and amusing metaphor.  Keller goes on to point out something that I’ve also stated- if man is a created being, he can only grasp certain aspects of the creator, specifically the things that the creator chooses to reveal.  In other words, what can Hamlet know of Shakespeare?  All Hamlet knows is his little world.  If he knows anything of William Shakespeare it’s because Bill put it in Hamlet’s mind, in the book.  Likewise, what we know of God is what God chooses to reveal (umm… “revelation” anyone?).   In our minds we like to think differently, of course and we like to think that we’re gonna wiggle out of the little box God has us in.  I don’t see that as any more likely that Hamlet doing the same.

Now we have in the Bible (and in other monotheistic texts, too), case after case of people failing to stand before the presence of God Almighty.  When Moses came down from the mountain, the people couldn’t look at him because he glowed so strongly from the encounter.  God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock when He passed by- to protect Him.   Isaiah fell as a dead man when brought to the temple and said “Woe is me!  I am undone. For my eyes have seen the Lord”.  Gideon feared for his life upon seeing the Angel of God.  Manoah did the same.   Peter asked Jesus to go away for Peter was a sinful man- Peter wasn’t concerned about Jesus, he was concerned about himself!  And then John fell as a dead man upon seeing Jesus in Revelation.  When people say “Oh, if God would just show himself, then I’d believe!”,  I don’t think they understand the Holiness of God.   RC Sproul has an entire book on “The Holiness of God” and it cuts like a knife.

Therefore, what God does, argues Keller, is give clues to his being.  That these clues are apparent was stated by Paul in Romans 1.  Paul further stated that man has no excuse for ignoring these clues and yet he suppresses what he sees and “worships the creation rather than the creator.”  That certainly was my experience when I was working as a biologist and I still see that among falconers, horsemen, and other people who work closely with animals or with the land- so often, those things become their “god”. 

What’s interesting about these clues to me is that individually they still don’t prove the existence of God.  They are simply clues.  For instance, the complexity of DNA and our own bodies is incredible, but it doesn’t prove God.  Irreducible complexity is a fascinating concept, but it doesn’t prove God.  The precision of the universe is staggering but, by itself, it doesn’t prove God.  Art, music, beauty…all amazing things, but they don’t prove God.  However, when taken together, in whole, as a sum, the clues seem obvious- there is something there that is greater than us.  This still doesn’t, of course, point to God Almighty, Yahweh, The God Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Keller readily admits this, as he well should because it’s true.  This is where so many authors stop and this is where Keller is just getting warmed up.

Where Keller heads next is the land of ethics, morals, and values.  This is fun because I like to see people pull together the various disciplines of science, philosophy, art, and religion and try to make a cohesive picture.  In fact, if you're a theologian, I think you almost have to do this. After all, if God is omnipotent, omniscient, and the creator of all things, then "theology"- the study of God- must be prepared to apply or relate every possible discipline to God.  So, I like to see people take a stab at The Big Picture.  What Keller does now is apply ethics, morals, and values to the clues that God leaves and in the process, he makes the case that these point right straight to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Well, I’m tired of typing, you’re tired of reading (no pictures!), so I’ll save more for later.  Better yet, pick up a copy of Keller’s book and read it for yourself. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Oh Peregrine, where art thou?

I spent the first part of this week finishing up stock tanks and getting the windmills on. We picked up 2 tanks that have rusted out bottoms and moved them up to the house where Georgia is using them as gardening containers.  I say that like it’s an easy thing to do, but moving 10’ metal stock tanks is some heavy lifting.   But, we got it done and are moving a little closer to being 100% ready for cattle.

After that was done, it was time to go look for peregrines again.  This might be my last hurrah since the girls need to go to ABQ next week for a home-school convention, leaving me and the boys here to man the fort.  I had a couple of new areas to check and then wanted to go back to one that we visited 2 weeks ago.

Speaking of forts, we were traveling on roads that were totally new to me and in the process I got on a wrong road- to my defense, there are TWO roads with the same name, going the same direction.  We ended up at (cue drumroll....)  Fort Union Monument, which was fine with Georgia and David, both being museum nuts.  And it was a neat museum- we have plans to come back and spend some hours touring the actual fort.

Fort Union

Back on the road again, we drove deeper into northern New Mexico, eventually arriving in the area I wanted to look at.  After a few duds, we found another cliff, glassed it, and ta-da!!!  Two peregrines sitting up at the top in the snags.  We watched them for awhile and then drove on to our next destination-  [Unnamed City]

[Interesting Photo Removed]

Arrived, set up camp, and drove around looking at cliffs.  We walked to the exact spot we’d previously and unsuccessfully glassed .  After a minute, Georgia exclaimed “There’s a bird!”  and sure ‘nuff, at the top of the cliff, with its back to us- making it nearly invisible until it turned its head, just like the Pterodactyl in Jurassic Park III- was an adult peregrine.  Now, up to this point, Georgia has first spotted all of our 5 peregrines!  I needed to get busy, so I scanned the cliff and found a little white dot that, under 30x on the scope, turned out to be… another peregrine!  Great!!  These birds did nothing but sit on the cliff, so after a bit, we headed on down to camp and a good night’s sleep in our Coleman pop-up camper.

An adult redtail perched on cliff top. Wish they were all this obvious.

Next day, we surveyed some more cliffs and found an active golden eagle nest and a redtailed hawk defending a large chunk of rock, putting both of those sites out of contention.  The rest of the day was spent working our way back home.  The biggest adventure was a road that popped up while we were working our way north to another town.  It was marked and was nicely paved, so we took it.  Well…the pavement gave way after 4-5 miles and then it went dirt.  Nice dirt, though, with a good hard packed gravel surface.  Another 4-5 miles and that turned into rocky road (and not the ice cream, either).  Another 4-5 miles and it got narrower.  I’ve been on jeep trails that were better- remember, I'm pulling a Coleman camper here!  We soldiered on, though, and actually passed a couple of cliffs, one of which held another active golden eagle nest.  We eventually came out onto pavement again, all our tires intact and full of air. 

New Mexico is just one big desert

Our tally of peregrines now stands at 3 pairs for 840 mi driven.  Nesting activity hasn’t really started yet, although it will any day now.  I’ll now wait until mid-May when there’s a possibility of chicks and start looking for the actual nest site.  At that point, I’ll have to decide whether or not the site is accessible (.ie can I rappel into it?)  In the meantime, I’ll be spending time on a rope, practicing rappelling and ascending.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Shoveling …um… mud

I’m getting ready for incoming cattle here on the high plains and that means making sure that water and fences are up and in good shape.  Our water is supplied by several sources- natural ponds, windmills, and an electric well pipeline.  One of the things I need to do for the mills and pipeline is clean out the stock tanks.  They’ll accumulate dirt, moss, and, well, cow poo.  Cows don’t think anything about pooping in the water they drink and it can build up in the tank, esp over several years.   Thus, we clean ‘em out, generally every years, but every 2 years at least.

What I have to do is first get the tank dry.  Usually this means just letting the water evaporate all winter but it can also mean pumping the tank dry.  I pumped 2 tanks last Weds and let them sit for several days.  Today, me and the boys went out to check on those and a couple more and get the mud out.

This here is a windmill

Once the inside of the tank is fairly dry, it's time to get in and shovel.  There was a lot of moss last year and therefore the tanks didn't get very dry as moisture hid out beneath the moss.   Also in the mud were parasites- flat worms, red worms, and so forth.  Cleaning the tanks out will  help knock those down a little bit.

Me and Derek are shoveling "stuff"

Look how thick and matted this moss is!
A flatworm in the mud.  These are cattle parasites.
A raven skull.  Probably a chick that didn't make it.
Last week, I mentioned that I'm really not much of a traveling man.  You know why?  Because I get sick, that's why!  Look at poor David on our DC trip!  I managed to escape that one, barely, but Mom and Lil' Bro all came down with whatever David had.  And now, a week back from our Grand Canyon escapade, Mom and I both have hacking, deep in the lung, coughs.  I can barely talk and I'm supposed to be in the pulpit tomorrow.  I'll probably pull thru, but I'll be glad when this latest sickness is over.  I will say this- working outside today helped a bunch.

I’m finishing up a series for KLMX radio that I have to record tomorrow and get to the station by tomorrow evening.  I’m on the radio every 5 weeks as part of the local “Ministerial Alliance”.  Last time I was on, I started on the “Minor Prophets”, covering Amos, Joel, Hosea, Obadiah, and Jonah.  This time, I’m looking at Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Haggai.  If you’re interested, you can find the text of the messages on the church website ( under Sermons-Text). 

That's about it for today.
All of today's pictures taken by David!