Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy birthday NPS!

Today, our National Parks Service turns 100 years old.  We had national parks years before the “Service” began in 1916.  Today they manage the 58 National Parks along with a host of other sites.  I’ve been to 23 of the National Parks.  Sixteen of these, I have camped in and twelve I’ve backpacked or overnight canoed in.  These are the parks I’ve visited:  Arches, Badlands, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Death Valley, Everglades, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Basin, Great Smoky Mountains, Isle Royale, Kings Canyon, Lassen Volcanic, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest, Redwood, Rocky Mountains, Sequoia, Shenandoah, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Zion.

The Park Service does more than administer National Parks.  There are many wonderful National Monuments (I used to live just down from Cedar Breaks and Devils Tower is down right spooky).  There are also National Seashores, such as Cumberland Island which was where I spent the fist half of this week.  There are many other wonderful seashores and lake shores they operate which I have enjoyed (Point Reyes, California; Cape Hatteras and Lookout in North Carolina; Picture Rocks and Sleep Bear Sand Dunes in Michigan).  They also maintain historical battlefields, presidential museums, and a host of other sites. 

Happy birthday, NPS!  

Parting Shot: Sunset at Cumberland National Seashore

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Heat, Volunteer Firefighting, and a moonlight paddle

It has been a hot summer.  July was the second hottest since they started keeping records in Savannah and the average temperature of the month was 86.1 F.  We have had nearly 60 straight days of 90 degrees or above.  It has also been humid, often at 90%, yet the humidity hasn’t resulted in much rain.  We’ve only had a little over an inch in all of July and about the same in August.  Everything is dry.  Those south of Jacksonville or just to the north or a bit inland have been getting rain.  But the warm landmass have created strong sea breezes that keeps the moisture from reaching us along the coast.
Photo by another volunteer
On top of the heat, life this summer has been a bit chaotic as a volunteer fireman.  We have had numerous calls into homes where the air conditioning air handler motors have burned up and filled the home with smoke.  Thankfully, no one has been hurt (although without air conditioning in this climate, they run the risk of burning up with a fire).  But last Wednesday, we had a call that I didn’t want to hear.  My pager went off at 4:25 AM.  The dispatcher announced that a neighbor had called in that his house was fully engulfed.   Although the fire was on the island I live, it was a good six miles from my house.  I arrived after the first trucks, but the house was already gone with the roof caving in.  We were there for seven hours.  At first, it was putting out grass fires that threatened neighbors, while trying to keep the fire cooled as it burned.  Once the fire was contained, we were able to put it down, but only with a lot of water. 

Photo by another volunteer,
shooting water over the creek 
The past week, we’ve had many calls for smoke and a fire.  A hammock (a high sandy place in the middle of a marsh where there are trees (pines, live oaks, myrtles, palmettos, etc) has been burning and every wind shift we get a call.  The hammock is about a 100 yards from a Continuing Care development and on Monday night, when it was burning on the side of the development and spreading sparks, someone through we should try to do something.  We set a line out into the marsh on the edge of a deep creek separates the hammock from the mainland.  We poured water through a blitz nozzle that could shoot several hundred feet.   We had two trucks and I manned the hydrant, filling one truck while the other was employed in pumping water.  We cooled the fire a bit, but we were unable to put it out.  That’ll have to wait for rain.  We poured water for about an hour and when I got home, my T-shirt was soaked with sweet.  The fire continues to burn, but not as hot as much of the undergrowth is already consumed. 

Preparing to head out
On Tuesday evening, another volunteer and I decided we’d check it out while enjoying a moonlight paddle.  At the last minute, the other guy wasn’t able to make it, so I went by myself.   I put in at Butterbean Beach at sunset and paddled up the Intracoastal Waterway.   The moon, as it was a few days before full, was above the horizon and rising.  Bottlenose dolphins greeted me as I paddled out through the bridge and toward the creek running up toward the hammock.  As the light faded, you could see a bit of smoke from the hammock.  The moon’s rays shimmered as I paddled up into the creek.  The fire was laying down.  The night before the flames were jumping up five or ten feet.  This evening, there were only a few small visible flames that looked like campfires.  What was neat was seeing the vortexes of dead pines, which were burning from cavities inside the trees and spewing out sparks.  After paddling around the hammock, I returned back to the waterway.  Stars were beginning to come out, although dimly with the bright moon.
Approaching the smoking hammock
I could faintly make out the Big Dipper, the North Star, and Cassiopeia to the north.  When I turned around, and headed back south, I could see all of Scorpius including his tail above the southern horizon.   To the east was Sagittarius, the archer, his bow drawn as he chases the scorpion from the sky.  Fish jumped around my boat.  I paddle down to Pigeon Island, then turn around and head back toward my car.   It’s been a nice evening and as long as I’m on the water, there are no worries…

Today, I washed my bunker gear and tomorrow, I leave to help move my daughter into her college dorm.  :(  

Monday, August 08, 2016

iGods (A Book Review)

Craig Detweiler, iGods: How Technology shapes our Spiritual and Social Lives (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2013), 246 pages.  Endnotes and an index.
 This is an enlightening book.  A substantial part of the book is an overview of the rise of computer giants in the internet age.  But as the history of these organizations (Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook and a few others) are discussed, the author delves into the social and theological implications of this shift in technology.  Detweiler does not condemn the rapid advance in technology nor does he just focus on the negative side of the internet.  He celebrates the positive impact of much of this technology and how it helps us handle the vast amount of information available.  He reminds us that God was the first technological genius when, at creation, he brought order into the chaos (something the Google does with every search).  Using a Greek word study of tekton (the word translated as carpenter in the New Testament), Detweiler reminds us that Jesus was essentially involved in the technology of his age.  We’re not to be afraid of technology.  Yet, at the same time, he feels a need to put the “iGods” in their proper place.  He reminds his readers of their purpose and limitations.  Although we have a tendency to place “blind trust” in technology, we must remember that our trust and faith belong to another realm.
Detweiler, in digging into the human call in Genesis to “cultivate,” reminds us of our need to organize.  Our use of technology is linked to our calling by God.  But we have to be careful.  Thanks to the iPhone, as one of Detweiler’s sources points out, “we have evolved from a culture of instant gratification to one of constant gratification.” Today, we’re “tempted to relate to the iPhone rather than the world.” (65)  Have we replaced God with Google’s algorithms?  Will “I’ll google it” replace “I’ll pray about it”? (117)  Can we really trust Google when our own search history leads to “confirmation bias” and our self-selecting of friends on Facebook supports our own ideas about the world.  In this manner, instead of this technology leading to a more open society, we feed our own biases.  Although there is a “democracy” to Facebook (freedom to like comments), it also results in targeted marketing.  In the end, social media supports the “hyper-partisanship in Washington” and can lead to our own “faith bubbles.”. (122-3)
The “Google Doctrine” may be changing the world, but it’s not as free as one might think.  Although social media has helped spur revolution and the downfall of brutal dictators, such brutes have caught on.  Misinformation is a problem.  A study of the 2011 protests in Russia found that half the tweets sent out were by “bots” used by the government to counter the protests. (193).  While Twitter is often condemned for being too short to have said anything meaningful, Detweiler reminds us that in a world where we are drowning in information, there is something refreshing about reducing ideas to their simple base (“an electronic haiku”).  Humorously, he links Twitter to the book of Proverbs in the Bible, which he refers to as the “original Twitterverse” (184)
Detweiler reminds his readers of our need for “Sabbaths.”  We need to step away from social media as a way to remind ourselves what is important.  Although the “iGods” taunt us with faster speeds, we should remember that the Bible lifts up the virtue of patience.   We should “celebrate technology as a gift, but resist the temptation to prostrate ourselves before it.” (225)
Although some will find this book deep, it is well-written and should be read by anyone wanting to understand the implications of this new technological world.   Detweiler quotes theologians, sociologists, historians, and philosophers.  However, the reading is not easy.  I am sure many, especially those who may not be comfortable in the many disciplines from which he draws, may find the way Detweiler shifts from one paragraph to the next from a discussion of technology to theological to issues of faith or social importance a bit confusing.

Friday, August 05, 2016

Visual glimpses of the past month

A late afternoon sail

Paddling around Little Tybee Island
A "problem alligator" from a friend's pond

Modern Rum Running?

Joe's Fork: In June, I wrote about this creek

Masonboro Island: back where I grew up

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Savannah Bananas: A Night at the Ball Park

 Last year Savannah lost its minor league team when the Sand Gnats moved to Columbia, South Carolina. It's no longer just the major league teams that chase new stadiums and Columbia provided one for the Sand Gnats.  I'd like to know whoever thought it a good idea to call a Single A baseball club the name of one of Savannah's nastiest residents?  In Savannah, the Sand Gnats played in the "historic Grayson Stadium" which has been around for 90 or so years. I know the stadium may not be up to snuff for professional ball players, but I like it.  You're close to the action.  There are large overhead fans that cools the fans below.  There's plenty of shade in the main seating areas.  And the best, the food and beer is cheaper than at a major league game. Watching a game in Grayson is a nice experience.  I was heartbroken to learn that the Sand Gnats were moving, but figured good riddance.  Sadly, they left the sand gnats behind when they packed up their bats and swept out the locker rooms.  Baseball appeared to be a thing of the past in Savannah.

The owner promoting the team
But up steps a young local businessman with the idea of a new team, the Savannah Bananas.  They are not exactly a minor league team. The players are all also college students and play for college teams.  They are a part of the "Coastal Plain League," a name borrowed from an old "Class D" minor league (a notch down from Single A).  The league stretches from Virginia to Georgia and two of my old locales support teams (the Petersburg Generals and the Wilmington Sharks).  The college players who make up these teams are hoping for a chance at the pros, and this gives them a venue to play once the college season is done.  They have a rather short season (mid-June to mid-August and play 24 home games.  This past Thursday night I went with a group from church to see this new team.  The owner is a marketing genius.  Last year, there'd be 1000 people on a good night to watch the Sand Gnats.  This year, they've been selling out with 4000 or more fans.  The food is even cheaper than last year (for a group, you can get a $15 a ticket that includes an all-you-can-eat wristband allowing you to munch out on hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, hamburgers, popcorn, cookies and soft drinks).  

The King of Potassium

The mascot is the "World's Strongest Banana," also known as the "King of Potassium."  The owner pranced around in a yellow tux, obviously enjoying the crowd.  Crews in banana costumes swept the infield, stopping at second base to dance.  Between one inning, there was a "catch the banana in the pants" stunt, that pitted two fans wearing over-sized pants trying to catch tossed bananas.  I don't think they can brag that no bananas were harmed in that stunt and there may have been other damages.  I hope the contestants were wearing cups.  And there was a little baseball mixed into the night's entertainment.  I was wanting the Asheboro Copperheads to slip on a banana, but sadly they made banana pudding, peeling the local team 6-4.  What's a baseball post without a few cliches!

I am up in North Carolina for a week with limited internet access, so I'll catch back up when I return.  I'm posting this from a coffee shop in Carthage.