Because Kansas

Touching down on the sizzling tarmac in Wichita, Kansas two weeks ago felt like coming home. While I was a little apprehensive for the upcoming two weeks of intense choir tour with Oasis Chorale, I was excited to be returning to Hutchinson, KS, home of my young college adventures (some of which you can read about on very old posts here.)

IMG_9184.JPG

For the past seven years, I’ve spent time every summer singing with the Oasis Chorale, a 40-member Anabaptist a capella choir. This year’s tour started and stopped in Hutchinson, KS, the same town that’s home to Hutchinson Community College, from which I earned my Associate of Arts degree before transferring to The Ohio State University. Moving half-way across the country as a 20-year-old to attend a community college is among one of the weirder decisions I’ve ever made, but it also stands as one of the best decisions, for the Mennonite community there is one of my absolute favorites, and it was my pleasure to call Hutch home for two years.

20180708_192303.jpg

Driving from Wichita to Hutch and passing miles of razor flat, wide-open green fields, the sun burning through the pale blue sky and humid, windy air, I giggled in glee, “You can see for miles! You can see the horizon! I can finally breathe deeply again!”

While most easterners and Mid-westerners have driven through Kansas, few of them have come to love the plains, and find beauty in them, like I do. I don’t have much of a chance; I was born in Plain City, Ohio, named so for its extremely flat geography. And I do. I love the plains. There’s something about the sunsets, the miles of fields, and (in Kansas) the unrelenting wind, that I find deeply comforting.

Waves of memories came pouring over me as we sailed down highway 96, past the “honking tree,” and past Yoder, KS, the tiny town where I worked during college. We turned on highway 50, heading toward Pleasantview, following the familiar railroad tracks, and I had a flashback to driving home late one night in tornado-like conditions, all alone on the open road, save for a railroad engineer and the piercing headlight of his long black train.

I hopped out of the van into the warm, windy air and breathed deeply again, an impossibly large smile on my face.

IMG_8904.jpg

The next few days became a blur of Oasis Chorale ritual—warm-ups, arpeggios, vocal fry (“Less pitch! Less pitch!”), finding space, unifying vowel, working pieces start-and-stop mode, and recording an entire hymns album (apart from our choral rep for tour), all the while darting in and out of Hutchinson, with its wide western street grids and period homes. I even managed to drag my choir buddies to Metro, the coffee shop I visited every week during my first two years of college.

20180703_202534.jpg

Reconnecting with Kansans, I was pleasantly reminded why I love them so much. You know how in every Mennonite Sunday school class there’s at least one lady who is refreshingly honest, unforgivingly practical, sharp as a tack, and very forthright, with absolutely no qualms about calling a spade a spade? Multiply that lady by ten, and that’s basically Kansas. (Readers of Shasta’s Fog will know how I can appreciate those qualities and find them more useful than the guarded, calculated East.)

How fantastic to share with them in song at our first Hutchinson concert, for which, miracle of all miracles, I had my breath under me. (For all our rehearsal days, I just could not make my breath work, but right before concert, my breath returned, and I enjoyed the full concert with, well, another smile on my face.)

Recording over, we began tour with a workshop with Dr. Bartel, a professor at Friends University, and the president of the Kansas Choral Directors Association. Great feedback, including small things like how to sing the word “the.” We were throwing it away, not giving it (and other words) “is-ness.” Such a small detail, but choral musicians know that these tiny significances matter.

Another tour highlight was our choir’s pre-concert chat in Illinois with Westminster student Douglas Byler, composer of this year’s new commission “The Spirit of the Lord.”

1.jpg
pc: Jason Martin

And our second IL concert featured these special guests, my baby nieces!

0708181819h.jpg
Meeting baby Holly for the first time.

We spent our day off in St. Louis, and furiously googling free things to do, I found that St. Louis is home to the Cathedral Basilica, the largest mosaic-ceiled building in the world. It was stunning.

20180709_155023.jpg

A small group of us began our adventures at Kaldi’s, a glass-walled coffee shop nestled beneath Citygarden’s trees, and we enjoyed gluten-free dining.

20180709_131343.jpg

Next, we maneuvered the city bus system for a 30-minute ride to the Basilica. It was then that I discovered St. Louis to be one of the friendliest cities I’ve visited. Our bus driver got out of his bus at the bus exchange to point us to the correct bus to the Basilica, and he let my friend ride for free when she only had a $20 and no change. He also added an extra hour to our bus passes. The Basilica’s tour guide offered tacky jokes and an amazing amount of history for the overwhelming mosaics.

20180709_155055.jpg

20180709_154511.jpg
Not a painting; a literal mosaic. (!)

Dinner was at Three Sixty, the restaurant atop the Hilton, where we had a (warm) view of the entire city and the famous St. Louis arch.

20180709_184901.jpg

20180709_194656_HDR.jpg

The next morning, our choir slipped inside the Old Courthouse, just a few blocks from our hotel, location of the famous Dred Scott trials, who sued the federal government for his freedom. Permitted by a security guard to perform a single choral piece beneath the famous dome, we sang Hawley’s “Not One Sparrow” in dedication to the historical significance of the courthouse.

Old_Courthouse_St_Louis_dome_82.jpg
pc: Wikipedia Commons

Not one sparrow is forgotten
Even the raven God will feed
And the lily of the valley
From His bounty hath its need
Then shall I not trust Thee, Father
In thy mercy have a share
And through faith and prayer, my Savior
Rest in thy protecting care?

Most of tour, however, is a rat race of hydrating properly, eating properly, guarding your rest like nobody’s business, focused personal rehearsal and memory work on the bus (outside of group rehearsal), and stealing as many gummy bears as possible from the basses. (Gummies = OC’s candy of choice. The urban legend? They’re good for your throat.)

Another immensely rewarding experience was performing a set of songs at the Kansas Choral Directors Association convention in Topeka, KS to a congregation of choir directors, musicians, and All-State high school choir kids. It’s one thing to share your gift with local church audiences; it’s another thing to perform for a room-full of musicians. (You can catch this performance over at OC’s facebook page.)

1 (1).jpg

The other side of Oasis Chorale is collaborating with local choirs, meeting hosts, making new friends, and net-working. Performing in the green-hued, hundred-year-old sanctuary of First Christian Church in Fulton, MO, I met a lovely elderly lady who reminisced about the congregation’s past:

“It’s changed so much. Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s our church was so full, you couldn’t find a seat. There was a women’s college in town, and the girls were required to attend church. Wherever the girls went, the boys showed up! But it’s changed so much. It’s not near as full.”

At a local Hutch concert, I also reconnected with middlewestpenandpage after we had worked together in KS seven years ago!

One of the most inspiring moments of tour was meeting Dr. Jana Nisly, to whom was dedicated our commissioned piece, “The Spirit of the Lord.” Director of La Clinica de las Buenas Nuevas in rural El Salvador for 25 years, Dr. Nisly has held Luke 4:18-19 as her clinic’s motto, and this text was adapted by Douglas Byler for the new commission.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor,
He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted,
To preach deliverance to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are bruised
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

IMG_9098.jpg

It was a pleasure to meet Dr. Nisly, to be regaled by doctor stories over a meal, and to hear the mission of her work: “The poor are disregarded in the medical field in El Salvador. To be able to touch them, to treat them, to listen to them… there is no greater joy.” And in her Kansan way, she added, “Now, there’s also nothing more tiring, and it’s too much for me!”

20180715_182148.jpg

Slowly and quietly the circling gyre of tour floated to the ground, and we found ourselves at our last concert in Wichita, surrounded by friends, family, and the lovely folks at Eastminster Presbyterian. We performed our last concert as the western sun sparkled through the stained-glass windows. We swallowed our emotions, encouraged to perform “just another concert.” I had the most freedom of breath in that concert that I experienced all of tour.

37153872_10155972956638802_125140263080296448_n.jpg

The community of Oasis Chorale is something that amazes me. every. year. It’s a stunning moment to prep breath, vowel, and space, and to be backed by (but also to lead) thousands of vocal muscles that synchronize into a thunderous, unified downbeat of “All Hail.” I don’t take this richness for granted. Nor the spontaneous bus conversations about theology and vocation. Nor can I ignore how singing in choir is a metaphor for the way in which God wants to lead us into more perfect beauty. The experience of being led, and of following, of disciplined rehearsal, of vulnerability and trust within the community of choir mid-concert, and of flexibility to follow new gestures that can only come through the growth of being together… these are things which somehow mimic community led by the Spirit.

IMG_9121.jpg

Besides this metaphor is the actual musical beauty of my extremely talented friends, whose music-making, in rare moments, makes me feel that dull, physical ache, that only true beauty can. For we know that we are not made for here. As C.S. Lewis says, “We do not merely want to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.” It seems that every summer there is at least one memorable solitary moment in which I experience this ache for beauty, a beauty, it seems, that I cannot inhabit. Lewis goes on: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in the world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

We singers regularly discuss the chasm there seems to be between our beautiful two weeks of music-making every summer and the “real world,” as it were, or our vocations, which are more closely touched with earth’s brokenness. It’s therefore a grace to perform, to worship, and to inhabit these texts every evening. Yet we would be remiss to make it all about art. Our director gently reminded us to take time daily to know who we are apart from the choir, apart from the music.

Our pitiful goodbyes being said, we flew home this week, but not before I had one amazing day-on-the-town in good ole’ Hutchinson. My friend Trish and I took a gander around campus, and warm memories washed over me as I walked through Lockman Hall, the campus building where I worked as English Department Scholar, discovered my love of literature, took the hardest exam of my college career (World Mythology), and met some of the finest and most caring English instructors. It’s summer, so professors were out, but I penciled in a note to a professor, met the new secretary, and walked all my favorite routes, including the short-cut across the tennis court.

20180716_151558_HDR.jpg

My ramble across the empty campus was one of the most healing walks of my life. To remember dropping down into Kansas as a shy, scared Mennonite kid in order to maneuver what felt like the impossible unknown, and to look back now… I see that what was, at the time, one of the scariest decisions I had ever made, was one of the safest decisions. While at the time it seemed risky, I now know beyond the shadow of a doubt that enrolling in college in Kansas was unquestionably the best, and safest, decision for me. My experience with faculty and students at Hutchinson Community College and my interaction with the Mennonite community in Hutch unquestionably impacted the person I have become. Kansas was exactly where God wanted me.

20180716_151117.jpg

My day in Hutch ended with one of my favorite iconically Kansan experiences… a night walk on Kansas dirt roads. My friend and I quietly crunched over sand and gravel, in the darkness, breathing deep breaths of sweet hay, and dust, til we reached Trails West, the only paved road for miles, and we lay down in the middle of the empty road, with our backs on the warm pavement, staring through the darkness at stars, the moon, and shooting stars and fireflies, and talking about all the secret things that girls talk about.

The next morning I rose early before my flight to make my last Kansas dream come true—a run down West Mills, my familiar running route, the dirt road where I became a runner. Trish and I ignored the distant thunder and lightning in the gray summer morning, as we jogged down the lane to the dirt road and headed west.

In one sense, Kansas, and its big sky, is a place where you can think more clearly. You feel closer to God because there’s nothing between the you, the prairie, and the open sky. It is at the same time safe, and terrifying. Lonely, yet inspiring.

With the rolling wind at my back and the miles-wide gray thunderclouds pregnant with lightning resting low above the shadow green fields, I picked my feet up faster, grinding them along the top of the dirt road. I ran on, in freedom, stopping only to spin and spin in absolute joy.

Springtime in Quebec, Part 2

Last time I ended by discussing language politics in French-speaking Québec, so I thought it would be appropriate to start with a few visual representations of those politics, in Quèbec’s Old City.

DSC_2369

Here is the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, the first Anglican church in Québec. In 1804, the Brits were sure to build its spire just a few feet higher than the neighboring Catholic Notre-Dame de Québec. French Quebecers: “We can take a hint.”

Holy Trinity held Easter services in both English and French, but Notre-Dame de Québec’s services were entirely in French. Deciding between the two, we decided “when in Rome”… and found ourselves at a French-speaking Holy Saturday evening service. (I took my English Bible along for some hard-core liturgical sword drills.) The service was exactly what I hoped it would be—lowly lit, contemplative, bathed in music and a few bells, and filled with joy.

20170415_220549

20170415_220519

Il n’est pas ici, car il est ressuscité, comme il l’avait dit!

Obviously, the French component made it quite the adventure as I’m already non-Catholic and therefore unfamiliar with service traditions, but my friends as I managed to participate somewhat, following along in the readings. The only really awkward moment was when we got to what was called the échange de la paix (exchanging of the peace). Immediately, I remembered that in some conservative Anglican traditions, this is equivalent to the holy kiss (is it for the Catholics??!!), so when the French-speaking young woman in front of me turned around and leaned toward me, I visibly started, unsure if this complete stranger would be kissing or hugging me!

(She shook my hand.)

Another French/English side-by-side pair in Old City are two prominent libraries, the Maison de la Littérature, and the Morrin Centre. (Can ya guess which one is for books printed in English?) Our tour guide explained, though, that the beauty of these two side-by-side libraries is that it represents how the two languages can coexist alongside each other.

DSC_5917

An old sofa in the Morrin Center featured this adorable sign: Ce divan est probablement plus vieux que votre grand-mère. S.V.P. vous asseoir aussi dèlicatement que vous le feriez sur ses genoux.

“This sofa is probably older than your grandmother. Please sit down gently, as you would on her knees.”

The afternoon we visited, I spent time reading devotional poetry by John Donne and found this gem in his Holy Sonnets.

DSC_2389

Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore,
Laments and mourns in Germany and here?
Sleeps she a thousand, then peeps up one year?
Is she self-truth, and errs? now new, now outwore?
Doth she, and did she, and shall she evermore
On one, on seven, or on no hill appear?
Dwells she with us, or like adventuring knights
First travel we to seek, and then make love?
Betray, kind husband, thy spouse to our sights,
And let mine amorous soul court thy mild dove,
Who is most true and pleasing to thee then
When she is embraced and open to most men.

Welcome, by the way, to Old City, the part of Québec City that’s voted one of the “Most Romantic Cities” world-wide.

DSC_2413

DSC_2350

DSC_2349

DSC_2351

DSC_2362

First, you have the Chateau Frontenac, which is described as the most photographed hotel in the world. We were told that you have to take at LEAST thirty-five pictures of this hotel. I did my best.

DSC_2404

DSC_2419

DSC_2469

This romantic city also delights in its food. I enjoyed Cochon Dingue’s (The Crazy Pig’s) French onion soup, and another time I had a duck terrine starter, salmon tartare (for the first time!), and a lovely little complimentary dessert.

20170414_123138-2

20170414_134615

One morning, I tried a delicious crepe made of asparagus, prosciutto, and brie, topped with a side of local maple syrup. (Quèbec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup!) Don’t get me started talking about poutine, eggs benedict, macaroons, and croissants. (I obviously ended Lent in gastro-heaven.)

Also home to the talented Cirque du Soleil, we found this sculpture + poem welcoming us to the city.

DSC_2393

“To you,
Coming from here or elsewhere,
Day or night
Summer or winter
Welcome.”

Hee hee, our tour guide told us, “We have only two seasons, summer and winter. And summer is the nicest week of the year.” While we were blessed with gorgeous sunny days during our short visit, we certainly felt winter’s chill in the shade of stone in the afternoons and in the St. Lawrence River’s mist during our ferry ride.

DSC_6013

DSC_2460

If I had to summarize my trip in one sentence, I would write, “You should go.”

DSC_2331

DSC_2445

But if you want something a little more poetical, I’d probably whisper something about

“Europe’s old city,
cigarette smoke and cologne on cold cobblestones,
boots and mittens on marble stone,
bright sun on blue skies and dirty snow,
marathoners running,
church bells and waterfalls laughing,
St. Lawrence River mist,
and French accents on chocolate croissants, spicy peppers, and cooked fish.”

Springtime in Quebec, Part 1

Ever wanted to visit Europe but didn’t have the cash for a plane ticket? Quebec is the spot for you! Shasta’s Fog visited this charming French-speaking province for spring break this year, so I wanted to share some trip highlights for anyone needing a beautiful getaway on THIS side of the pond.

DSC_5819

How is Quebec still so French, you may ask? To be honest, it’s kind of the Americans fault.

Quebec City was founded in 1608 by the French explorer Samuel de Champlain, and while France’s presence continued in Quebec for 150 years, in 1759, France ceded its control of North American possessions to Great Britain after a few battles and the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Quebecois were not exactly ecstatic about their new rulers, and Great Britain became a little nervous about this due to the unrest in its southern colonies (hello, rebellious American colonies!). Great Britain was afraid that unhappy French Quebecers would start up a rebellion and join the Americans, so they supplied the “Quebec Act” to pacify all French-speaking Canadian subjects—recognizing and promoting French language and French culture, allowing them to keep French civil law, and offering freedom of religion (allowing them to remain Catholic). Shockingly, England was saying, “Yes, BE CATHOLIC, ye Quebecers. Be French. Be ANYthing except American!” And Quebec was happy, and stayed ish-French. And a good thing too because now we Americans can go on vacation and eat croissants and macaroons, and enjoy rich French heritage without crossing that annoyingly large ocean.

DSC_2288

Our first stop was Montréal, and we visited the Notre-Dame Basilica, decorated in the Gothic Revival style in the 1880s. Fun fact: Celine Dion (native to Quebec) got married here.

DSC_2317

My friends and I had terribly much fun dashing into as many bakeries as possible. This one called the Crew Collective is a co-working space housed in the 1920s headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. (Little bit of gold Art Deco for the win.) Eggcellent Americano and croissant. Or as the French say, “Ameri-ken-oh.”

DSC_2282

DSC_5788

We were also sure to visit the Maison Christian Faure Patisserie, where the “Best Pastry Chef in the World” hosts curious travelers. I ate an éclair for breakfast. I do not even apologize.

20170413_101953

IMG_5052
PC: @lorida.burk

20170413_151734

Besides the city’s amazing architecture, I also enjoyed fun street style, though most of the time, I was too slow on the draw with my camera.

DSC_2311
Girl, work it.
DSC_2327
’90s was big.
DSC_2310
“Today in microfashion…”
DSC_2313
And a Satan suit, for good measure. (??)

When I got home, my mother asked me, “But what did you eat BESIDES pastries?”

…I admit I had to think for a bit.
Obviously, poutine, since Quebec is famous for it. At Montreal’s famous La Banquise, I had the original—fries, covered in cheese curds and gravy!

20170413_125210

20170413_133009
You know you’re in Canada when there are outdoor heaters for patio seating.

Another Quebecian delight we discovered was dipped ice cream cones. I’ve never had a dipped cone where the chocolate is so thick and so flavorful!

20170415_161344

We lodged well in two Airbnbs, one night in Montreal and three nights in Quebec City. Recommend!

20170413_085918

20170416_085020

20170413_085647
NW view from our 9th floor apartment in Montreal.
DSC_2308
NE view: old + new

One thing that worried me was the language barrier, especially since we had heard about how strong the French language politics are in Quebec.

DSC_2295
Marc-André J Fortier’s “The English Pug and the French Poodle,” featuring a woman dressed in the French-designer Coco Chanel, lifting her nose in disdain toward a Canadian bank, representing the influence of the English.

But a very nice waitress at Creperie Bretonne Ty-Breiz allayed our fears. Unbothered by our Nutella crepe instagramming and delighted giggles, she acknowledged that food is art, and in her French accent, said it is “the art of making friends.” She told us that Quebecers know English, and they’ll use it with you. She said, “Maybe a few won’t speak English, but they are 5%, and they are stubborn.” Three hours away in Quebec City, our tour guide Sam from afreetourofquebec.com told us the same thing. “In Old City, they’ll speak English to you! They know English. Outside of the city, they’ll speak the English that they know,” he smiled. His wry statement indicated that while many Quebecers are willing to use English, their English skills are not all the same.

But we found it to be true that Quebecois used English. Most restaurant servers and shop owners easily switched to French-accented English, and the only awkwardness that occurred was our own fault, when we failed to produce a polite French “Bonjour” greeting, or awkwardly stared at rattled French, rather than announcing, “Désolé, je ne parle pas François.”

IMG_5004

This is my taste of Montreal! Stop by later this week for “Springtime in Québec, Part 2” to hear about our time in Québec City!

Hi, It’s Nice to Meet You

Hello all! The calendar reading March 14th leaves me scratching my head for two reasons—how has winter steamed by so quickly, and how am I ever going to dig my little VW out of a FOOT of snow?! (Winter storm Stella’s been a doozy!)

Today I want to welcome the newcomers to Shasta’s Fog! A few of you are showing up for the first time, and today I’d like to discuss four types of posts you can expect from Shasta’s Fog in the future. (And for faithful readers, this post is for any of you who haven’t had a chance to read my recently updated About page!)

1. One type of post I usually write is literary in nature. (Last year 50% of my posts were in some way related to literature or poetry!) These posts are normally the brain-child of literature I’m currently teaching (I’m a high school AP lit teacher), books I’m currently reading, poems I’m pondering, or poems I’m writing.

My most recent literary post included thoughts on C. S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, and if I were to write a literary post right now, I might include a poem I wrote sitting in a graveyard by the North Sea in England, after a 5 a.m. jaunt along the cliffs, past the bombed out Whitby Abbey, a strong monument to the history of monastic life, English poetry (Caedmon DID live there after all), and the church of England.

(I found this poem after digging through my 2014 U.K. photos and journals, which I was perusing in order to co-teach a mini-term called “Urban Exploration.” Every winter, my school cancels all classes for 7th-12th grades for one week and hosts a week of Mini-terms, where students can take career-oriented or personal interest classes.)

Whitby

Fair morning whispers to the child of light.
She rises early who farewells the night.
Pink sky, brown rooster—white, the gulls which cry,
salt wind, green cliff, stone monument nearby
wet grass, thick wheat, stone pathway for her feet
small bird, fat slugs, three snails—all these do meet
the sun above the cliffs at Whitby’s shore,
smooth North Sea, tugboats, church bells, gates, and more.
Light’s morning glimmers, puzzling beauty’s flash
amiss—“For safety, stay on this, the path.”

2. The second type of post I write is spiritual in nature, though many of these posts are literary posts in disguise. (For example, I discussed N. T. Wright’s book After You Believe, but it felt more like a personal spiritual credo than anything else.)

If I were to write a post relating to spirituality today, I would write about my foray into observing Lent, how I’m observing the Episcopalian kind this year (mainly because they get to cheat on Sundays), how I eagerly champion the virtues of Lenten fasts in all my literature classes, and how that basically flows from two agendas: (1) It is my personal agenda to increase all hype around the Easter holiday because it is excruciatingly under-celebrated in most Christian circles, which in no way relates to the God-created fasting and feasting tradition of Old Testament Judaism, nor to what I imagine God intends for healthy faith communities today, and (2) I basically just don’t want to be the only one walking around admitting that I actually am addicted to Netflix, Youtube, and snacking. You have vices too.

3. The third type of post I write is travel posts. I recently traveled to Central America and posted some photos and poetry related to Nicaragua.

IMG_20170203_171615_160.jpg

Upcoming travel posts will be in honor of my personal conviction to properly celebrate the Easter holy day, as I will be celebrating in community by traveling with friends to a new city—Québec City! Let the party begin! (Not that breaking my fast there will necessarily include Netflix or Youtube, but it may include some exquisitely divine food (poutine and macaroons!), architectural wonders, crisp river walks, and a cathedral Easter service.

4. Last but not least, I also write about cultural issues, including but not limited to:

(1) those issues relating to geography (Pennsylvania: a place to where all women wear maroon, guys still wear deck shoes even though everyone else stopped wearing Sperry’s in 2012, and where chip aisles do not exist and only pretzels are munched!)

Sarcasm.jpg

(2) issues relating to Anabaptism (including snarky posts about Mennonite culture), and

(3) those issues relating to singleness and marriage (you all seemed to really like [and really hate] this post).

If I were to write a cultural post today, I would write about some thoughts I’ve been thinking relating to single women in the church and this idea that all women ought to submit to all men in general, whether on a committee, whether at a job, whether at a hardware store, or on a co-ed soccer team. (Here it goes. Friends and family: keep your fire extinguishers nearby.)

Deep breath.

The cultural milieu in which I find myself has this unstated (and sometimes stated) belief that all women must submit to all men. Were I to write a post about this cultural topic, I would (1) take a close look at the Scriptures from which this application is normally derived, (2) I would note when those Scriptures are speaking to women in marriage relationships and when they are not, and then ask if there are any “submitting” passages left over, (3) and then I would ask my favorite current question: “Why are some people so intent on making sure that all women (single or married) know their place as “submitters” when, in my experience, single women in the church do not practically live under any especial authority that differs from that of married men in the church?” Because that would be a fun conversation (though one probably best had in person).

So there you have it, new readers! Feel free to use my blog’s category guide as well to find content most suited to you: Teach (education topics), Read (books and literary posts), and Travel (cultural posts).

I look forward to reading your feedback, and I welcome suggestions for new posts in the comments!

Nicaragua: An Oral Photograph

I didn’t take a picture of bike taxis or red motorcycles, Nicas riding double, triple, or of tanned faces staring out of full, dusty buses.

I didn’t take a picture of clay roof tiles, bright pink walls, turquoise paint, sky blue everything, pottery-colored walls, emerald, yellow, brown ones too.

dsc_2241

I didn’t take a picture of animal flesh, hanging in market, the dark stalls under roofs, to protect in rainy season, narrow aisles, of a man spinning his knife-sharpening wheel, sparks flying into the soft cotton of his shirt, under the hanging canastas, piñatas, effigies.

dsc_1956

I didn’t take a picture of ladies’ beautiful,manicured feet, nor my culturally-inappropriate dirty ones.

dsc_1995

I didn’t take a picture of stepping through dimly-lit hallways into melon-colored rooms where exhausted mamas clutched tiny newborns, and baby bundles and Antorches that we gave them, and glowing fathers, lying with women on single beds, five families in one clinic room, murmuring gracias.

I didn’t take a picture of córdobas, gym-sacks, mochilas, and back-packs.

I didn’t take a picture of the Nica lady, who daily paraded by the front gate, head laden, nasal voice selling comidas.

I didn’t take a picture of tiny, heaped, road-side fires, small ash heaps sending smoke into my nostrils.

I didn’t take a picture of roosters crowing, of lavender sunrises, of reading Scripture early on quiet hammocks.

I didn’t take a picture of dumping Nicaraguan coffee into a pot, cement countertops, drying dishes with rags, of setting out fresh bananas, slicing papaya and scooping out the moist black seeds and tasting fruity flesh, of sweat rolling down my back and legs at 9:00 a.m.

I didn’t take a picture of tacos, Ricardo chicken, chilaquiles, hamburguesas, or Fresca. Of water in a bag, jello in a bag, rice in a bag, plantains sold by a girl in Central, topped with cabbage and dressing, so sweet.

dsc_2029

I didn’t take a picture of a Catholic funeral we barged through at Catedral, the confused old Nicaraguan woman muttering to us about a boat in the street, the girls flocking into world’s most beautiful McDonalds, and me not buying any because WAIT. Are the missionaries buying ice cream?

dsc_2057

dsc_1964

I didn’t take a picture of the ugly Santa pictures, curiously covering holes on the back of the bald bus, wind whipping our hair to Latin rhythms, beats.

dsc_2043

dsc_2047

I didn’t take a picture of boarding a 12 passenger van forty times, of policía with batons, of homeless people sleeping on cement, of a well-dressed woman on a motorcycle.

I didn’t take a picture of gringo tourists, sun-tanned legs embarrassingly naked, of an americano scoffing, and my pride at her acculturation.

I didn’t take a picture of a university man in crisp khakis and a beret reciting love poetry to my friends and me in Central.

dsc_2052

I didn’t take a picture of the English-speaking man on top of Catedral, who was surprised to find that Mennonites live in León.

dsc_2070

dsc_2085

dsc_2071

dsc_2075

dsc_2078

dsc_2080

I didn’t take a picture of the jewelry vendor in the shade under the flowering yellow tree in Central, the only time I tried to barter, him laughing at me, because it’s real turquoise, doesn’t even scratch with a pliers. Doscientos, por favor.

I didn’t take a picture of Nicaraguan children singing Spanish hymns, of girls teaching me “Choco-choco-la-la” hand games, of playing kickball in the street with a small ball, of six o-clock sunsets.

I didn’t take a picture of William and me exchanging verses, in line at four-square, the kind I played in grade school, when I made a boy cry. Jehová es mi pastor, nada me faltará, Mas Jehová Dios llamó el hombre, y le dijo, ¿Dónde estás tú?

I didn’t take a picture of the Nicaraguan man whose bicycle screeched to a halt and our soccer ball rolled right up to his front tire, resulting in a glare.

dsc_2256

I didn’t take a picture of Yolanda, Yessenia, Selena, Karina, Julio, Omar, y David.

I didn’t take a picture of missionary men, preaching in Spanish, of missionary mothers and their flocks, their quiet tables, of their cares behind kind eyes, of south-facing blue kitchens, opened to little courtyards and plants, just like the one from Prada to Nada.

I didn’t take a picture of chickens, a small Nebraskan boy clutching his chicken, like his father must have clutched wheat, nor his sandy smile.

I didn’t take a picture of Moron, the missionary cat, nor Pip.

I didn’t take a picture of cows in the road on the way to Cerro Negro, bells ringing, horns in a filed line, wood loads in the carts.

I didn’t take a picture of my hand pressed into the darkened soil on Cerro Negro, and it springing back as the sulfur steam heated the earth, my skin.

dsc_2108

dsc_2114

dsc_2144

dsc_2150

dsc_2152

dsc_2165

dsc_2171

I didn’t take a picture of a scorpion I tried to kill, the ant farm in the cabinet I cleaned.

dsc_1999

I didn’t take a picture of narrating “El foso de los leones,” of working with a missionary to tweak the Google translated script, and his 8-year-old daughter surprising us both with her translation skills.

I didn’t take a picture of a woman sweeping her dirt in the Nicaraguan equivalent of the Projects, or her glare when I forgot my face, shocked at her neighbor’s smoky, chimney-less house, and turned, and locked eyes.

I didn’t take a picture of pulling a number at the meat counter of a grocery, ordering “cuatro pechugas con alas.”

I didn’t take a picture of painting a little boy’s sticky face who must have had a snack earlier. “El fin. Eres un gato.”

dsc_2250

dsc_2001

I didn’t take a picture of a beautiful young girl, shyly hiding her smile, at her gate, waiting for the Pied Piper of Hamlin to take her to children’s church.

I didn’t take a picture of Raquel pulling a dictionary out of her gym sack to look up embutidos (means sausages).

I didn’t take a picture of houses with dirt floors.

I didn’t take a picture of León’s zoo, or spider monkeys, and the one whose hairy palm I held, fed a banana.

I didn’t take a picture of the senior girls playing the ukulele, Lancaster caramels melting in our mouths, lying on sandy beach towels.

dsc_2189

I didn’t take a picture of bobbing in the powerful Pacific waves, white-washed pinks, blues, and grays reflecting off the golden foam, salt water in my mouth, the sun ducking behind clouds, swimming and swimming, silence…

dsc_2212

I didn’t take a picture of the drunk man, tottering under the orange street light toward the line of children, seated on a cement embankment, waiting for church to begin, moved along by a missionary.

I didn’t take a picture of the Spanish social kiss, warmly given after el culto. Dios te bendiga.

I didn’t take a picture of my heart, congealing on the sidewalks, of it bubbling in the sunshine, or cooling in the Poneloya ocean, moistened by wave after wave… Of it being pried apart, and a new, fresh memory being lovingly planted, like an unsuspecting oyster, tossed on the beach, a piece of sand finding its way inside…

Who knows what pearl may grow from this beautiful, divine irritation.

My Ancestors, Singing, and Oasis Chorale

So the last three weeks have been FANTABULOUS.

I spent a weekend at a family reunion in southern Virginia. In case you don’t know, a Good family reunion consists of:

  1. Exquisite four-part hymn singing.
    How am I blessed with this heritage?

  1. Obligatory “Good” puns.
    “It’s ‘Good’ you made it.”
    “It’s a ‘Good’ reunion this year.”
    “These are my ‘Good’ relatives.”
    wp-image-1233931652jpeg.jpeg
  1. Meticulous research and history prepared by our family historian, Evelyn Bear, who traced our family tree as far back as the 1500s to our Swiss roots THROUGH FOUR LINES (the Resslers, Goods, Brennemans, and Hubers). The Brennemans and Goods were Swiss Anabaptists who emigrated to America through Germany due to religious persecution, settling in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (of all places!), Melchior Brenneman in 1709, and 20-year-old Jacob Good on the ship Samuel in 1732. (Surprise, surprise, I now live in the land of my ancestors! Except both families moved to the Shenandoah Valley several years later.)
20160723_181657~2
Clockwise: My great-grandparents’ wedding photo (1904), their 50th wedding anniversary, my mother’s baby picture, my mother’s family in 1951, my grandparents’ 40th wedding anniversary.
  1. Fabulous coffee prepared on the spot by my coffee connoisseur cousin Paul Yates.
    Vanilla rosemary latte, anyone? (He creates his own rosemary syrup.)
wp-image-1090150961jpeg.jpeg
With my mama.
wp-image-1633598927jpeg.jpeg
There was also lots of niece-squishing.

I then drove north to the Shenandoah Valley to meet my favorite people, the Oasis Chorale, for our annual summer tour. This year we toured Virginia and the Carolinas and additionally recorded a second hymns project in conjunction with John D. Martin’s new Hymns of the Church. (Recordings will be available in October! Click here or here for up-to-date information regarding new musical releases.)

13709924_10153907622378802_7618463285457050192_n
Photo by Erin Martin.

wp-1469320023868.jpeg

It’s no point trying to put into words what the experience of Oasis Chorale means to me, but I will try.

First, it is community. The more I sing with this choir, the more I come to love its individual members, the camaraderie that ensues, the spontaneous philosophical and theological discussions that we inevitably find ourselves in, and the way that we care for each other. People who aren’t conservative Mennonite may not be able to tell, but Oasis Chorale is actually extremely diverse. Our members come from a wide variety of Anabaptist, educational, and musical backgrounds, each with our individual experiences of Anabaptist communities and unique musical experiences within those communities. There is such strength in this diversity. For one, I think we are better equipped to minister to wider varieties of congregations. Second, it enables us to learn from and to support each other in our varying church, musical, and educational contexts.

THIS IS NOT TO SAY that Oasis Chorale is not first and foremost concerned about performing choral music well. It most certainly is.


You better have your pitches and rhythms learned. Along with your consonants, vowels, body alignment, proper breathing technique, appropriate tone, lifted soft palate, sense of line, inflection, suitable syllable stress, bright eyes, all performed with a sense of wonder.

But to me, Oasis is more than just a choir that sings beautiful music well. It’s a choir that strengthens its members for service beyond just a two-week summer tour. It encourages and refreshes singers, musicians, song leaders, artists (also a huffing lot of teachers) to pursue beauty and truth the REST of the year. This happens due to having a visionary conductor who expects discipline and personal musical growth (which is possible both within and without the choir) and who regularly invites us to contemplate the poetry of musical texts and the truth expressed therein. This emphasis on discipline and thoughtfulness is a haven for me.

Getting to be immersed in this convivial, contemplative, Christian community is something for which I thank God.
Every.
Year.

As a choir, we visited colonial Williamsburg this year and performed a candlelit concert in the historic Bruton Parish church. Definitely a highlight!

wp-image-1390451627jpeg.jpeg

13680640_10153907590938802_740280146283685514_n
Performing by candlelight in the historic Bruton Parish Church in colonial Williamsburg. Photo by Erin Martin.

One line from a hymn we recorded this year captured my attention and expresses a very particular worldview which I personally think aligns with the mission of Oasis Chorale:

“Crown Him the Lord of peace;
Whose pow’r a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease,
Absorbed in prayer and praise.”

For these things, we sing.

Amen.

Pardon Me, Lancaster

Have you ever wondered what happens when your most average Mennonite visits Lancaster, the hippest “Mennonite” city on the planet? THIS. A series of apologies for showing up in public. And some pretty lame Instagrams.

I offer my apologies to all the truly trendy Lancaster city-dwellers. You must know that I’m not actually trying to fit in. (I’m one beanie and one pair of ankle booties short.)

Also, I showed up in public at one of your meeting houses with, of all things, Fyodor Dostoevsky.

IMG_20160322_162628.jpg

In this case, I should actually apologize to Russia.
Dostoevsky: Lancaster can’t even take you seriously. In fact, Lancaster, I have a question for you:

Lanc

Anyway, City of Lancaster! I visited! Apparently, it was kind of a big deal for you.

So pardon me.
*disgruntled huff
*situates skirt

One thing: it’s really not fair dropping me off and leaving me to figure you out for myself because I can’t tell your fake “English” from your real ones. I can’t tell who’s a “J.O.” (that’s northern Indiana dialect for “Jumped Over,” meaning those Amish who have “jumped over” the fence to the other side: being non-Amish.)

Lanc2

You see, Lancaster, I’m an expert at picking out the “J.O’s” in Indiana. When my family (who does not live among the Amish) comes to visit me, they are surprised when I point at modern-looking teens walking around town and point out that they’re actually Amish youths, dressed up in their rumspringa clothes. My family sees a hipster, a prep, and a jock, but I see “Sadie Miller,” “Ida Hoffstettder,” and “Ray’s Johnny.” …Also, I can pick out  Mennonite and Amish J.O.’s on social media.

Lanc5

No really, I’m pretty good. In this line, you see two people: an Amish lady plus a schlepped-up high school kid. But I know for a fact: it’s mother and daughter.

20150305_183217
#fact
#J.O.
#rumspringa

But in Lancaster, I can’t tell! Is that tattooed barista a closet Mennonite? Is that homeless guy actually an Amish hipster? Is the immaculately tailored businessman actually a wealthy Mennonite in disguise? How does one tell? It’s very unfair not to let me in on all your secrets.

I’ll tell you, Lancaster, that I started exploring at the Main Street Exchange, that Mennonite mecca of modest clothing goods. Off of 322 in Blue Ball, PA, Main Street Exchange is every Mennonite girl’s dream. Racks and racks of gorgeous, modest skirts. A-line, denim, maxi, and pencil. Tube, pleated, and midi. It’s all there. And artfully arranged, differentiated by style, texture, and material.

And so Lancaster, to try to fit in, I Instagrammed. (Don’t laugh.)

Lanc7.jpg

Next, I headed off to Rachel’s Crepery, where I’ve made pilgrimages in the past.

Lanc8.jpg

I was seated next to a light-colored brick fireplace and a curiously large palm. I hugged my mug of coffee, anticipating my Greek Omelette crepe. The blue skies and sunshine streaming in the window, my crepe, and my cheerful waitress did not disappoint. (You know, some businesses know how to hire workers who are unequivocally delighted to serve everyone who enters, no matter how dour and dawdy they are. Rachel’s Crepery in Lancaster and Jeni’s Ice Cream in Columbus, Ohio are two companies who do this.) My waitress smiled at me,  even though I was wearing a shirt from last season! Good job, Lancaster.

I would have photographed my crepe, but:

Lanc6

Next, I scouted out a runing shoe store to look for new trainers. (NEW BALANCE FRIENDZ: HAVE YOU SEEN THE NEW 1080s?!!!) The shoes are turning out to be rather elusive, however, and I didn’t even find them.) Soon, I had the abrupt realization that I was shopping for athletic wear in LANCASTER.

Lanc10.jpg

I’m pretty sure no one in Lancaster even wears athletic shoes.That, for you, would be so… basic. So much for trying. (See, even when I try to be Lancaster-y, I can’t even.)

Wow. Also. Sorry, Lancaster! You guys have a LOT of rules about using credit cards! Several times people gave me the evil eye for whipping out my plastic. I’m sorry. In the rest of the world, we use credit cards for the tiniest of purchases, and no one charges our businesses exorbitant fees for processing. I mean, I can deal with your policies, but I’ll have to get used to it?

By this time, I was ready for more caffeine. Now, there were like a hundred hip coffee shops to choose from in Lancaster city.

Lanc4

Obviously, I chose Prince Street Café because it’s so… central. Even though it’s kind of… basic. So I paid $3 to in Prince Street Café next to three “Chinese” men, a chemistry “student,” and a “guy” with a meticulously groomed mustache. (Not buying it. They were probably all just Amish.) I spent the rest of my afternoon in Lancaster reading Dostoevsky, but, in an attempt to fit in with the locals, I religiously kept checking Instagram. I didn’t TAKE that many Instagrams because I mean, I know that my photography isn’t that well composed, I know that it’s not white enough, and I know that you, Lancaster, would be embarrassed if I tagged you in pictures of my embarrassingly Midwestern self.

So, you’re welcome.

Soon, I left the city, heading south on 81, excited for my next stop, several states away. Later, I ended up stranded for over an hour in a traffic jam behind a car in which a man was stuck in the trunk and was trying to get out. I decided that it was highly metaphorical of my day in Lancaster city.

IMG_20160322_213841.jpg

Just kidding. (But thanks for reading.)
Peace, love, and authenticity to all.

The Post About Fear

My weekend adventuring found me smack-dab between wall-to-wall revelers at Chicago’s 20th annual Christkindlmarkt, an outdoor German Christmas market. Choosing not to brave the crowds alone, I invited my parents and sister to join me Saturday morning at this festive event, held on weekends throughout the month of December. I’ve always wanted to go, and this year I finally made it happen! I warned my family ahead of time about the weekend crowds, but even I was not prepared for the land-locked, stock-still standing in droves, and the bumping, inching, moving, but it was all cool because ALL THE SAUSAGES and ALL THE CHOCOLATE!

IMG_20151205_124747

I’ve mentioned before on my blog my crush on Germany (it’s where my parents fell in love) and how tiny bits of German culture have found their way into our family. Needless to say, we all enjoyed browsing vendors of authentic German goods, from nativities, to ornaments, to German Christmas pyramids (a beloved tradition of my childhood), to cuckoo clocks, and other hand-carved crafts. And of course we enjoyed fresh Bavarian soft pretzels, German marzipan, and sausage and sauerkraut! (All in all, a bit kitschy, but a good kitschy.)

Despite the crowds, my family did great! We all agreed that reserved parking was the way to go! (Thank you SpotHero App!) Ahead of time, I was able to procure for us a cheap parking space within one minute walking distance of the festival. (Located beneath the Block Thirty-Seven mall, we also had easy access to public restrooms.)

IMG_20151205_113206~2

These are literally the only three pictures I took. There were so many people, I could barely even raise my arms to get my smartphone in the air.

IMG_20151205_124714

But this is the post that’s not about Christkindlmarkt, but rather about fear. Because, honestly, I have to admit that my family was a little nervous about being in a large crowd like that in a major American city, considering recent current events. My family and I mentioned it before we went. Would we be safe if we go? I knew we would be less than two blocks from the location of last week’s Chicago protests (where three people were arrested). And considering other current event headlines… could it be possible that even Chicago could be the location of a terrorist attack at some point? (Normally, I’m not a very anxious person in large cities, but I have to admit that I did think about it before I went.) And the crowded spaces didn’t help either.

Interestingly, though not surprisingly, a piece of music offered a brilliant contrast to these fears and suspicions.

Creeping past yet another wooden food booth offering German sweet dumplings and bratwurst, I tuned into the holiday melody pouring out of the speaker of the tiny stand: Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Faith of our Fathers,” his respectable baritone and cheery orchestra weaving in and around the bobbing bevy of gray hats, black coats, and warm cheeks. My sister and I unconsciously began humming the familiar alto line… And as the lines of humans pushed me up against a wrought iron gate (behind which were free, liberated fat gray pigeons pecking at nothing, really), I thought about the words to that nineteenth-century hymn. Those words spoke to me in the midst of that slow-moving, confining crowd.

It spoke to me and to my questions of: What is the answer to all this violence? What is the hope for humankind? What shall we do for this injured and battered world? (Because I’m living a little heaven right now compared to the people of San Bernadino or compared to displaced Middle Eastern refugees.) What answers do I have for others? What answers do I have, especially in this world of bitter reactions to religious answers? What message do I have for the conflicts that seemingly abound on every front? Where, more and more, religion is aligned with fanaticism? And where fanaticism is aligned with violence, carnage, and death? Or where it seems that one cannot make any claim (especially about the relevance of God in these issues) without getting bitterly struck down?

The hymn spoke of something deep. Of a faith that gives resilience during times of antagonism. Of a love that is stronger than death. Of a love for our fearful friends and also our hostile enemies. Of a faith that gives one courage to follow one’s conscience. Of a faith that sometimes uses words. And of a love that always uses action.

(Interestingly, this hymn comes to us from a rather awkward time in Christian history, during the martyrdom of Catholics by the Church of England, beginning with Henry VIII. Inspired to memorialize these shattering, appalling events, Frederick Faber penned this memorable hymn in 1849.)

I can’t think of a more hopeless history, than of the church fighting with itself. Fighting with itself unto death. What despair these events must have initiated.

Perhaps this hymn has something to say about the multiplicity of conflicts in which we find ourselves today. (I’m thinking of the conflicts of politics, the conflicts of race and class, the conflicts of spirituality and nonspirituality, and the ultimate inner conflict between God and godlessness.) Yet instead of despair, these words offer hope (though it may seem harsh in its solidarity).

Faith of our Fathers! living still
In spite of dungeon, fire, and sword:
Oh, how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word.
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Our Fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free:
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them, could die for thee!
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

Faith of our Fathers! we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife:
And preach thee too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life:
Faith of our Fathers! Holy Faith!
We will be true to thee till death.

This tune floated above the faces of the crowd that slipped past, and as I searched their expressionless, multiethnic faces, I hummed the alto line, and I became strangely proud. Proud to be a Christian. Proud of my faith. Proud that I am celebrating Christmas. Proud that I partake of a faith, that, truly expressed, loves instead of hates. Proud that I serve a God of mercy, Who teaches me mercy (even though I am a slow learner).

It is this faith and perfect love that casts out fear.

And as sour smells of Glühwein and spicy scents of sausages punctuated the air, and as little families formed human chains midst the puzzles of shoulders, as college students laughed raucously, as inexpressive elderly couples munched on potato pancakes, and as strangers pushed and shoved past, this realization of the surety of love casting out fear brought a moment of peace. And I smiled.

Crypt Lake Trail: Thrill of the Rockies

When my friends and I planned our southern Alberta Rocky Mountain vacation, we were pretty laid-back about which activities to do, except for one: the Crypt Lake Trail. We knew we would be camping at Beaver Mines Lake Campground in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, and we were looking for an epic hike to conquer between kabob-roasting and kayaking. When we heard about the Crypt Lake Hike in Waterton Lakes National Park, we were sold.

IMG_1695

The Crypt Lake Trail was voted “Canada’s Best Hike” in 1982, and National Geographic rated the hike among the top twenty of the “World’s Best Hikes” in the “Thrilling Trails” category in 2014. Note it says world’s best, folks. World’s. This thrill was to be ours.

IMG_1626Julia
What views! Credit: Julia Shank

DSC_1798

What sets the Crypt Lake Trail apart from other hikes is its beauty, its wildlife, and its exciting trail features (guaranteed to get your heart pumping).

B E A U T Y
The 10.8 mile Crypt Lake Trail, featuring a 2300 ft. elevation gain, is accessed by a 15 minute ferry ride across the beautiful Upper Waterton Lake (emerald and shining are two appropriate descriptors here). Some of the trail features include numerous waterfalls, noticeable scenery changes with gains in elevation, and intimate views of the Canadian Rockies.

DSC_1817
A light hail falling on Crypt Lake.
IMG_1594Julia
Our ferry. Credit: Julia Shank
DSC_1805
…Waterfalls along the trail…
IMG_1614Julia
Credit: Julia Shank

DSC_1814

IMG_1623Julia
We enjoyed the changes in scenery as we climbed higher into the Rockies. Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_1636Julia
My friend Amy posing with a fun drifty-wood thing. Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_9042Amy
Credit: Amy Gillett

W I L D L I F E
One of the thrilling features of the Crypt Lake Trail is that it is prime bear country. (Thrilling and a little terrifying to this Midwestern flatlander). We also began the hike with the knowledge that a cougar had attacked a teenage girl in Waterton Lakes National Park only just last year. This knowledge made us pretty aware of our surroundings. Not to mention the necessity of letting out a hearty “Hey-o! HEY-o!” everyone now and again, just to let the bears know we were in the neighborhood. (Sort of like ringing their doorbell. They don’t like to be spooked any more than we do.) Besides hollering, we weren’t exactly sure what we would do if we encountered a bear. A grizzled Canadian fisherman we had met the day before when we were kayaking gave us at least one tip: “Back away slowly, and don’t make eye contact.” Alas, we saw no bearkind, but this did not keep the bears from depositing their dung, twice, upon our trail. I mean, they could have pooped anywhere in the forest. But no, they had to do it on the trail. I took this kind of as a hint. “We are leaving this here so that you freak out.” –Bears, pooping. We also saw quite a variety of birds, and even a marmot. On our mid-June hike, mountain wildflowers were blooming, peeking out of their buds, as the last bits of snow melted in the warm summer sun.

IMG_1663Julia
Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_9088Amy
Credit: Amy Gillett
IMG_9060Amy
The trail only opening a week before, we saw traces, yet, of melting snow. Credit: Amy Gillett

DSC_1845

O B S T A C L E S
Perhaps Crypt Lake Trail’s “thrilling” status is due to the various obstacles hikers encounter. Whether it’s crossing a running stream, climbing through a cave, or skirting a cliff while hanging on to a cable, there are many exciting moments. A grown adult man said, “Basically, I got to the point where I just focused on the mountain and did not look down.” A fear of heights is not recommended for this trail.

IMG_9040Amy
Julia crossing a stream. Credit: Amy Gillett
IMG_1627Julia
Approaching the mouth of the cave. Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_9047Amy
Do not look down. Credit: Amy Gillett
IMG_1681Julia
Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_9076Amy
Credit: Amy Gillett
DSC_1830
Only a liiiiittle steep.
IMG_1632Julia
Credit: Julia Shank
IMG_1670Julia
A little windy here! Credit: Julia Shank

Another thrill of the trail is that there is a bit of a time factor. For most of June, only one ferry runs between Waterton and the Crypt Lake trail head, leaving promptly at 10:00 a.m. and returning at 5:30 p.m. My friends and I happened to miss a turn on our way from Beaver Mines to Waterton, leaving us only seven minutes to buy tickets and board the boat! Thankfully, it was early enough in the season that there were still tickets available. When we arrived at the trail head, we re-packed our backpack and took potty breaks near the shore. This meant that our group was the last group to set out (around 10:30). While I enjoyed our solitude at the back of the pack of hikers, I was a little pensive about reaching the summit on time. The hike can take 2.5 to 3 hours one way, not counting hydration breaks and photo shoots, which, for my friends and me were quite numerous. (Our time was 3 hours, 11 minutes.) This left us about 30 minutes at Crypt Lake for lunch, bathroom breaks, and exploring. One gains a little extra time on the descent. Nevertheless, you really don’t want to miss the ferry back to Waterton, unless you’ve packed your down-filled parka, a flashlight, and a bedtime story book. Goldilocks and the Three Bears might be appropriate. The announcer on the ferry had announced as we were approaching the trail head, “We’ll be arriving soon, dropping you off, and picking up whoever didn’t make it back to the boat last night.” We took that to mean: be on time this evening. Anyway, the hiking time is totally doable, but it’s probably best to keep an eye on your watch.

T I P S
Here are some tips to make you fully prepared for the hike.
1. The Waterton Shoreline Cruise’s boatman’s speech is pretty informative. Listen up for history, interesting facts, and pertinent trail advice. He also might allay your fears regarding bears.

IMG_1590Julia
Credit: Julia Shank

2. However, don’t be careless regarding bears. Take bear spray, a form of pepper spray designed for aggressive bears in the wild. The boatman and some other hikers downplayed the possibility of bear sightings, but my friends and I decided we couldn’t be too careful. And the majority of other hikers thought the same. We saw a total of five cans of bear spray among the ranks.
3. Toilet paper. It’s really okay. You can rough it behind that tree.
4. Take enough liquids. We took one water bottle plus one Gatorade per person, stuffing them into a single backpack along with bug spray, sunscreen, ridiculous amounts of trail food, a camera, and flip flops (in case we needed to ford a raging stream). Rushing on to the boat with five minutes to spare, the ferry man looked at our single backpack and asked where our other packs were. “We only have one pack,” we said. He shook his head, “How much water do you have? You should have 3 liters a piece. It’s a warm one out there today.” We ducked our heads and hopped onto the ferry. “Ch. ‘Warm.’” I laughed. “Maybe for Canadians!” Honestly, though, we did find ourselves conserving our water. It would have been best to take a few more bottles with us.
5. Take a watch so that you can keep track of time. I took my fancy runner’s GPS watch which was very useful for keeping track of time and distance.

IMG_1638Julia
Resting hikers eating lunch by Crypt Lake. Credit: Julia Shank

I find that being fully prepared means that you will be better able to enjoy the delights of the trail.

DSC_1842

And this trail affords many: the delicious scent of alpine air, the curious existence of mountain wildflowers, the rushing roar of steep waterfalls, hair-raising moments using the cable on the cliff, warm sun and abrupt clouds, and miles of mountains and scraggy rocks and green trees. If you sometime find yourself in the southern Alberta, I guarantee you won’t regret taking this thrilling hike in the Canadian Rockies.

IMG_9055Amy
Credit: Amy Gillett
IMG_1689Julia
Credit: Julia Shank

In Which I Post Pretty Pictures From My Vacation in the Canadian Rockies

For an end-of-the-teaching-year gift, God wrapped up a package in wind-tousled bows and pine-scented paper, stamped it “Alberta,” and left it at the base of a beautiful mountain. Folks, vacation is good for the soul.

I recently returned from Canada where I spent time camping in the Rocky Mountains and celebrating with friends in the nearby Alberta prairies.

DSC_1805

DSC_1898

DSC_1778

My first hostess was my beautiful cousin Ginger, who moved to Alberta three years ago from warm southern Virginia. She and her husband graciously hosted me amid moving boxes while introducing me to many interesting Canadian things.

DSC_1764

DSC_1760

Did I mention that they roast their own coffee? Ginger’s uncle brings back coffee beans from his trips abroad, and Edward roasts them to perfection. At this house, I drank some of the best coffee I’ve had in years.

DSC_1732

Their darling daughter Addison, who wears her hooded sweater backwards because We Are Two.

DSC_1728

Tried poutine, a wonderful Canadian delicacy: French fries and cheese curds, smothered in gravy. This stomachache is available for purchase at most Canadian restaurants. Yum!

My cousin was also able to get me a tour of a Hutterite colony. Hutterites, a unique religious sect living a communal lifestyle, are quite prevalent in southern Alberta.

DSC_1751

Dining hall: Men sit on the left, women sit on the right at meal times. 110 people live on this colony.

DSC_1755

Part of the *TEN ACRE* garden that the small Hutterite colony farms. The 18-year-old Hutterite tour guide told us, “We have about an acre of garlic, and my dad says that alone is a $45,000 crop.” #wow

For the next portion of my trip, I met up with some of my old Bible School chums for a week of camping and active adventures.

DSC_1780

The characters:
Amy: Canadian. Lover of God, Gage (her husband), cats, coffee, and coulees. Also probably one of the most passionate nurses I know.

Julia: from Virginia, married to Sheldon (who likes to golf). This girl can always make me laugh. She’s funny, friendly, outgoing, and always ready for an adventure. She’s usually singing, and things you might hear her talking about include her family, her church, volleyball, and health. (Did you know that coconut oil is really great on your skin?)

We spent the first two days camping in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. Arriving on a Thursday, we had our pick of choice campsites amid the Canadian pines. Our campsite was a short walk from Beaver Mines Lake. Girl-camping aside, we did not resort to “glamping” or “glamorous camping,” as one might assume. We chopped our own wood and set up our tents and unloaded our own kayaks, thank you very much.

IMG_9117

DSC_1789
Kayaing. (And practically posing for National Geographic. Is not this location incredible?)
DSC_1782
Photo credit: Amy Gillett

DSC_1798

Hiking to Crypt Lake, an exciting adventure deserving of its own post, which is forth-coming.

DSC_1814

DSC_1833

IMG_9047
A steep section of the Crypt Lake hike. Approaching the cave.
DSC_1845
Mountain wildflowers.
IMG_9109
Sitting by the lake at 11:00 p.m. Days are much longer in the North. Photo credit: Amy Gillett
IMG_9107
Chicken kabobs. And magazines.
IMG_9113
Brewing Tim Hortons coffee. Of course. It’s Canada! Photo credit: Amy Gillett
DSC_1873
The view from our campsite.
IMG_9116
These girls tho.
IMG_9103
Posing with wildlife!
IMG_9105
Stupid deer stuck out its tongue at me.

We returned from the Rockies to Lethbridge, a university town in southern Alberta, home to an amazing geographical feature called “coulees.” I describe coulees as inverted hills. The flat Alberta prairie stretches unendingly, then suddenly dips down in these upside-down hills. Some coulees have water flowing through them. They are rather beautiful, and Amy took us on several coulee walks.

IMG_9121

IMG_9124

In Lethbridge, Amy also treated us to Spudnuts, donuts made from potato flour. I loved this adorable shop.

DSC_1767

IMG_8991

DSC_1769

Time at home…

IMG_8992
Getting pretty with Finn, Amy’s (thirsty) 16.8 pound rare white Burmese mountain cat.
IMG_9150
Making Honduran enchiladas with Julia for Amy’s family. Photo credit: Amy Gillett

I’ve never gone on a vacation where I’ve played so many sports. We went kayaking, hiking, walking, swimming, played tennis, and even played a round a golf!

DSC_1877

DSC_1879
Hey, I never claimed to be Venus Williams.
IMG_9159
Magrath Golf Club. Amy worked it out so we could get in for free! Hee hee.
DSC_1884
Each golf cart is equipped with an iPad informing you of which hole you’re on, what is par, and any pertinent golfing tips. #Swanky
IMG_9173
Golf class in college really paid off. #not
IMG_9187
So much laughing every day.

The Sunday after camping I commented that all that hiking and mountain air made me feel so good… that I feel like I can truly take a deep breath for the first time in months.

DSC_1826

DSC_1851

Last week was an extremely happy trip with life-long friends.

DSC_1864

My heart is full.