Friday, August 19, 2011

Why? 'Cause!

    In the summer of 2000, I think it was, I spent a week in Carpenteria, CA.  Carpenteria is just a few miles east of Santa Barbara.  I was there, with wife and daughter, for a week as a "campground chaplain" at the state park.  There weren't a lot of responsibilities (mostly "being present"), and, thus, a lot of free time.  One day we all went into Santa Barbara to (a) go to the zoo, and (b) ride our bikes on the wonderful bike path along the coast.  The zoo was wonderful, and so was the bike ride.
      What we began to notice however, as we were riding west along the beach, is that there were dozens of cyclists riding east.  It was a collection of riders the likes of which I'd never seen.  Men and women outlandishly attired (for cycling anyway); feathers in helmets; squeaky toys on their handlebars, and they all had "race numbers" on their bikes.  And the stream seemed never-ending.  I finally got up the nerve to ask one of them what they were doing, and he replied, "The San Francisco - Los Angeles AIDS ride".  I asked how far they had ridden that day, "About 60 miles".  I forget how many riders participated that year, maybe several thousand.  I was blown away -- not only by how much work it would take to ride 585 miles over a week's time, but also by the commitment to change the world that the riders had.  I doubted I could do it -- both in terms of strength or fund-raising . . . but, oh, did I want to.
      Five years later, I was riding along that same path, having pedaled some 60 miles that day, on my way to Los Angeles.  I was strong enough, and I had been extraordinarily fortunate in raising more-than-sufficient funds to qualify for the ride (the funds to help with AIDS research).  That week remains one of the major highlights of my life in oh-so-many ways.  It was a highlight because I worked to make it so; I was committed.
      Those memories came flooding back as I read an article from a recent New Yorker that a cycling buddy sent me (Thanks, Jim!).  It tells the story of Team Rwanda and some of its riders, as well as their entry in the Tour of Rwanda.  It was the story of inspiration, hard work and success in a country where hope was a rare commodity -- almost as rare as state-of-the-art racing bicycles (the story tells of "Flintstonean scooters", with wooden machete-hewn wheels).  Yet the riders, and the team as a whole, had a dream to make a difference.  The cause of Rwanda's future has been something that drives them on; their desire is great.
      Circumstances don't always let us do everything we want, or feel is valuable.  The hurdles which the Rwandan cyclists have had to surmount didn't deter them.  It took me several years of training and planning to do my "big ride."  Inspiration-some may term it a "calling"-helps us deal with those pesky circumstances:  if it's important enough, we can work to make it happen.  Our "yes" to the big call can cancel out a lot of lesser "no's".   "Why do you want to do THAT???"  "'Cause!"



Friday, August 5, 2011

Common Yarrow or Northern Bedstraw?

It was a dark and stormy afternoon . . . no, really!  Tuesday afternoon at Colorado’s Golden Gate Canyon State Park was characterized by multiple rain-storms.  It was not ideal tent-camping weather.  Our tent was weather-proof, and the canopy over the picnic-table kept our cooking area dry.  On the other hand, we couldn’t venture far from camp.  Between downpours, my son trotted down to the little creek to float bits and pieces of wood down the increasingly quick current.  I, on the other hand, would wander around the campground, camera in hand, to look at the amazing variety of wildflowers that surrounded us.

I was amazed by the number of different kinds of plants; there must have been twenty to thirty different species within a 50’ radius of our fire-ring.  I’m no expert at botany.  My parents were pretty devoted wildflower people – identifying and photographing teeny little plants in the short grasses on mountainsides.  I dutifully went along – but not much of their passion stuck (at least the details of the plants).  So, a sojourn in the mountains this week brought back a lot of memories and an appreciation of the details associated with identifying the flowers.

There are a lot of plants that look similar!  The one above is known as “Northern Bedstraw”.  It was named/featured on a nature walk at the Visitor’s Center, but it was NOT in my Wildflowers of Colorado field guide.  What that book does contain are a lot of flowers that are similar, from “Common Yarrow” to “Cowbane” to “Caraway” – even “Cow Parsnip”!  I was able to eliminate pretty much all contenders except “Yarrow.”  To an experienced eye, there were probably many differences; I only noticed one frustratingly major one:  the leaves were different on the mystery plant.  And, in our campsite, the overwhelming majority of plants were Common Yarrow.

If I’d assumed, through a cursory glance over all of the white-clustered flowers, that they were all the same, I’d have missed the glory of Northern Bedstraw!*  Circumstances were such that I had the (almost necessary) luxury of delving a bit deeper into the wonders of wildflowers.  And I was reminded that our human tendency to “lump” – whether wildflowers, or people – can blind us to the significant, wonderful, differences found in creation, or human society.   It takes some discipline, but yields great rewards!



*  And, yes, early settlers used the plant as mattress-stuffing, finding it more resilient than regular straw!