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After a week of repeating snow storms the clouds have once again been driven out by a welcomed high pressure system turning the sky to a bright deep blue.  The crystallized landscape is beautiful without question, but the tradeoff has been temperatures recording in the single digits even at midday. The wind that accompanied the change of weather has caused a chill factor that I don’t personal know how to factor but can testify as being somewhat brutal to any exposed skin.  For example, I walked out earlier this morning to take a few pictures thinking that a sweatshirt would be adequate for my short outing only to return to the fireplace within minutes to thaw out my gloveless fingers.   These few pictures can’t do the chill factor justice, nor the beauty but they might show a bit of why I feel so blessed this morning sitting here with a hot cup of coffee, a warm fire and a big double-pained window to gaze out of.

Like so much of our nation Idaho has experienced the sudden and profound shock of winter.  Skiers celebrated as the local slopes opened for Thanksgiving only to have a continuing chain of storms build on its initial two foot base.   The sudden and early changes in the weather pushed elk and deer herds out of the back country to lower lying winter ranges.  In the past few weeks evidence of their passing can be clearly seen by the tracks which trail across the drifted slopes of Timber Butte. Squaw Butte to the West is again sculptured by windblown snow and ice that accentuated its jagged outcroppings and ridges and our pond has already formed a sheet of nearly skate-able ice.

Winter is here again and with it all the challenges that it demands.  Challenges like the constant clearing of our quarter mile driveway, chaining up and maintaining the tractors so they can stay mobile after each fresh dump of snow and the constant thawing of watering troughs for all our barnyard friends.  There are other jobs too, although not so pressing.  Jobs like stringing Christmas lights, hanging wreaths and preparing the house yet again to commemorate and celebrate the joy and wonder of our Savior’s birth.

Every new season brings with it new sets of challenges but more than that, a unique spiritual message characteristic to itself.  I believe the fresh winter snows speaks of renewal and the cleaning and purity that only God can provide.  Even though there are always tasks that need doing  winter isn’t so much a time to accomplish as it is a time to sit by a fire and reflect; giving thanks the accomplishments of the past spring, summer and fall as well as to contemplate the seasons to come.

For me it is a gift to live where the seasons are distinct because they are a testimony to the reality and the nature of God. The Bible even says, “Yet he (God) has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”  [Acts 14:17]

It’s a known fact that being connected to the land is an advantage to a human soul that longs to be connected to God. The Apostle Paul once said that God reveals himself through all that he created. He said, “But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse (from not knowing God).” (Romans 1:20 – The Message)

 I was thinking about this during the hay harvest last summer. I considered the pressure a farmer often feels when it comes time to gather up his hay after baling it in the field. Every year I feel a sense of urgency getting it out of the field and under protection before an unexpected thunder storm rumbles out of nowhere and ruins it. A drenching rain can easily damage fresh cut hay. Moisture causes mildew to grow in the bale; mildew creates heat; the increase of heat can eventually cause the hay to combust into flames which has caused many a barn to burn to the ground. The harvest can be a tricky matter and every farmer I know has, at one point or another, felt a sense of urgency when it comes time to get his ripened crop out of the field.

 Jesus once spoke of this urgency when he asked,” Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’?” Then he said, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life” (Mark 4:25). He told them not to procrastinate when it came time for harvest.

Friends and family to the rescue

 In July we cut and baled about thirty-five acres of dry land hay. We don’t have the water to irrigate our fields up here at Timber Butte so we only get one cutting a year. If it is ruined we are without hay for the coming winter which causes a major hardship. Generally we hay during June but this past year we had an unusually wet spring and were forced to postpone the harvest for several weeks in order to be assured the field would be dry enough. Even July turned out to be cooler than normal and our local weather remained unstable. Timing is crucial in the harvest. My old friend Duncan showed up for his third year of helping me cut, rack and maintain my relic farm equipment. This year another friend, Jim Davis, joined us helping to keep everything in repair. Things went fairly smoothly, with the exception of a major baler breakdown. That is until it came time to get the hay bales out of the field. That morning the sky turned dark and the weather man again predicted a cloudburst of rain. To my relief our kids came to the rescue bucking hay out of the open fields under the cover of our hayshed.

 When Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” I think I know, at least a little, about what he meant. The harvest he spoke of however was far more concerning than our insignificant hay crop.

We live in a critical time in human history. For anyone who has eyes to see it, there is a massive storm building on the horizon and it is swiftly approaching. 

We live during a unique season – in a period of grace between the first and second coming of Christ. His first coming provided the provision for the harvest of men’s souls, but the second, the one that is yet to come, will bring judgment and the separation of good and evil on the earth. The harvest he was speaking of is the ingathering of the righteous, those who have chosen salvation by choosing him. This moment of final choice for eternity is clearly brewing like a gathering storm on the horizon. Nearly everything he said would happen before his coming has either already taken place or is happening. One has to be in a total state of denial not to see that the world is in a rapid state of global change. As Jesus said, the harvest is ripe and ready and only requires a people to take it seriously. The harvesters he spoke of are those who refuse to sit on the side lines with attitudes of contentment or complacency thinking that everything will always remain the same as it always has (1 Peter 3:3). Rather, they are the ones willing and ready to lay everything aside for the sake of getting out into the field before the storm comes and it is too late. 

 As a whole, farmers have always been known for their natural faith. I think this is because year by year we are faced with the reality of inevitable changes in nature. We are people who understand we can’t procrastinate when it comes to the harvest. Because we live with nature, we innately understand the power of God and the character of his nature because we know how dependent we are on it. The idea of the urgency of harvest is not a new thought to us, nor is the crucial need for a willing workforce when it’s ready. In the same way, if we are truly authentic followers of Christ, we also are called to his field and must have attitudes that are no different.

At what point does a decree become official by which a repeating event becomes a tradition?  I frankly don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t really matter anyway, but if I have the authority to do so then; I decree that The Annual Timber Butte Pumpkin Carving Party is now tradition. 

I suppose most every tradition is started unintentionally or without the forethought that it would carry on year after year.   I’m quite sure the Pilgrim’s didn’t sit down to the first Thanksgiving dinner realizing that what they were doing would carry on for generations to come  eventually turning into a major national holiday.  Thanksgiving was simply a meal birthed out of thankful hearts. They were celebrating the fact that they were still alive after a year of dreadful suffering and struggle.  It was just the natural thing to do at the time and for that matter it still is.

Now please don’t think that I equate the annual pumpkin carving party with Thanksgiving by any means, it’s just that I was pondering the concept of what make’s a tradition a tradition.  Like, how many times does an event have to repeat itself before it is tradition?  The dictionary defines tradition as  “The passing down of elements or behaviors of a culture from generation to generation”  which makes me think the “Annual Timber Butte Pumpkin Carving Party” qualifies.

 A year ago Nancy and I grew an over abundance of large pumpkins in our garden.  It was only natural that we wanted to put them to good use. We made pumpkin pies and pumpkin pizza out of the smaller ones, but saved the larger ones for carving.  We naturally thought of our granddaughter Hope when it came to the idea of Jack-O-Lanterns, and of our daughter Kate when it came to creative cooking ideas and so we invited them out to the ranch for a day of homemaking.  Hope brought a friend as she often does and so the day felt more like an event than just another get-together.  (See entry #126 – Oct. 11, 2009 – category – Country Living Reflections) (For pumpkin pizza recopies see Entry #131 – November 6th 09 Category – Homemaking).

 We had so much fun we decided to repeat the event this year and invite more of Hope’s friends to join us. We moved the carving part of the party outside for obvious reasons. Clean up on the driveway would involve my power washer instead of scrubbing the kitchen floor on hands and knees like the year before.  We also incorporated some power tools this year like a power drill keyhole saw which we used to cut out the eyes and mouth and a saber saw used to cut out the top and other creative shapes. We even used my shop-vac to suck out the seeds and guts.  Kate saved the seeds for roasting and the rest was fed to the on looking chickens.  

 Needless to say everyone went home with a carved pumpkin for their front porch and a memory of a harvest party not easily forgotten. After the second annual picture was taken it was decreed that we could do it again next year with greater convictions of creative designs and carving methods. After all, it’s a tradition.

It’s been a late Fall here at the base of Timber Butte. I can hardly believe we are still able to harvest the last of the green tomatoes in November.  It’s unheard of. The weather man promises a change next week, but today the thermometer is forecasted to reach into record breaking high temperatures.  It is hard to decide to fret over the idea of an abnormally changing climate or just saddle a couple of horses and take Nancy on one last ride around the butte being thankful for such a beautiful warm Fall day.

There is a simple satisfaction knowing that the barn is full of hay, the wood pile has been stacked undercover and all the vulnerable water lines have once again been drained and winterized in preparation for the frigid temperatures and

On the top of Timber Butte

snowpack that will surely come soon.  I know there is probably more I could do in preparation for the inevitable, there always is, but after a point of doing one’s diligence it somehow seems wiser to call it good and saddle the horses as a statement of thanksgiving for a productive summer and the provision to face the changes that are out of human control.

When I feel uncertain about what the future might bring I try to remember and practice the words of Jesus in Matthew 6 where he said, – “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ”

It has been nearly two months since I have made an entry on the Timber Butte Homestead blog site but it hasn’t been for lack of things to write about.   This has been such an eventful summer that I found it difficult to put aside the time to document it.   In June our son Brook was married to our new daughter in law Andrea and as I previously reported we hosted a sit down dinner in the barn for some sixty people after a major barn clean up and painting party. What a blessing that was.

 During the first weeks of July I took two weeks off from my normal work schedule to put up our year’s supply of hay. A job I could have never accomplished without the help of friends and family who not only helped keep the mower and bailer running, but bucked hay from the field to the barns. 

Nancy worked endless hours weeding, watering, harvesting and fighting to organically repel wave after wave of new grasshoppers. Even with the grasshopper battle our garden has been as beautiful as any we have ever grown. The root crops of potatoes and onions were especially amazing. With the help of my friend Rand Thompson I added a top rail to the ten foot deer proof garden fence which not only improved its looks, but made it a lot more functional. 

We finally got around to planting a lawn which not only made things look more established but gave us a better fire barrier around the house.  We also completed the first phase of our new vineyard as well, which required another learning curve. (More on what we have learned about grapes later.)

One of the great joys of the summer has been to host several pairs of swallows that discovered our homestead as a place to nest and raise their young. They decided that the barn, hay shed and house were a good place to construct their mud nests and in some of them they raised two different hatches. This has been a delight to watch but also a feeling of responsibility protecting their babies during their solo flights from Max and Pat the cats.

Nancy acquired sixteen new Bard Rock chickens from our friends, Tim and Tempe, and commissioned me to help her build another chicken house and run which out classed the duck run we had built in early June.  She is talking about eventually putting bird runs clear around the garden as part of her war strategy against the grasshoppers. 

One thing that occupied us the most all summer was our battle to save our horse Dusty. With the help of our friends Paul and Sheila Hudson we had trailered him to a vet in southern Idaho in hopes of a solution to a chronic foot injury we have been fighting for some ten years. We spent most of the summer doctoring him only to lose the battle for his life last week.  He was buried on a knob above the ranch which brought sorrow to everyone who had known him.  He was a wonderful and amazing animal who gave us great joy for some sixteen years.  Craig our neighbor has been fighting a similar battle with a chronic infection that has kept him bedridden for almost a year.   Many of the neighbors have jumped in to help him get in his hay and keep his ranch operating. He has been a wonderful friend and farming mentor to us and we continually pray for his healing.  

All in all it has been a productive summer, even a rich one, but surely not one of ease.  We have fought a grasshopper war, mourned the death of an animal that we all loved, been on an extreme learning curve on many fronts and worked most evenings until dark.  Nancy’s and my vision for all the Lord wants to do here has never faded however and because of it we have pressed through and have never lost our hearts of thankfulness and of the deep feeling of being blessed.

A few weeks ago I passed the chicken coup while walking out to feed the horses.  It was a mild evening and the air was fresh and calm until a ruckus suddenly broke the serenity of the moment.  On the back side of the chicken coup I heard Nancy yelling in anger saying things like, “If you want a piece of me big boy come and get it!!!”   Frankly it was alarming until I realized she was yelling at Theodore the rooster who had attacked her for the third time that week.  He used to be such a sweet rooster, but in recent months had started listening and responding to the voice of his bad angel who must have been telling him to get in touch with his testosterone.

As you may remember, Theodore was an orphaned rooster that had found me one day while I was collecting rocks out in the middle of nowhere.  He was mysteriously sitting under a bush half starved when I first spotted him and he immediately came to me for rescue when I stretched my hand in his direction.  He literally jumped into my arms. (See Entry #91 – June 9th, 2009 – “Our new mystery friend”)  I brought him home and Nancy, being who she is made a special place for him to recuperate.  She had lovingly cared for him and protected him from the other chickens until he was finally strong enough to hold his own.  For months he was docile and friendly letting anyone pick him up and lovingly hold him in their arms.  It took awhile for us to even figure out what kind of a bird he was much less his sex.  He was always different than the other chickens and for a long time unaccepted, especially by the older rooster.

Theodore during his adolescence

Early one morning I approached the coup before daylight with the feed bucket, and as I cracked opened the door I heard an adolescent sounding crow.  As I turned on the light I spotted Theodore sitting on a high perch looking somehow different.   I think the noise that came out of him was as surprising to him as it was to me. From that day on he started to change.  He had gotten in touch with his masculinity and within weeks was choosing off the older dominate rooster.  Actually it was kind of sad. Not only had we lost our sweet little pet, but our older rooster who had taken his job running the roost with dignity was overpowered by Theodore’s new aggressive urges.   Theodore was now the king of the harem and it soon went to his head.  Unlike the older rooster (who eventually died of a broken spirit) Theodore could fly.  He could fly not only to the top of the coup fence (his new found place of superiority), but over the fence where he was not afraid to challenge dogs, cats, innocent children and to his demise, Nancy and I.

Even Lily fears Theodore

Even Lily our Labrador became intimidated by him and our granddaughter Hope started to arm herself with sticks and garden tools when walking across the barnyard.   One day Theodore even chased a thirty year old friend of our son Brook into the back of his pickup truck. He was trembling in fear while avoiding the macho young rooster’s aggressiveness (at least that’s how Brook and his other buddies related the story to me.)   That’s when Nancy had enough.  Theodore was either going into the stew pot or going to receive some serious therapy.

Theodore learns not to mess with Nancy

Nancy soon learned that fighting fire with fire only made the problem worse. For example, kicking and hitting him over the head with a feed bucket in response to his spurring charges only seemed to make him meaner, feeling justified for his sneaky stealth attacks.  Theodore always attacked when you least expected it.  Not knowing where else to go for help Nancy finally resorted to the internet.  As amazing as it seemed to me she actually discovered an article on taming mean roosters.  It had been written by an old farmer who evidently had had the same dilemma.  Anyway, for the past two weeks she has been catching Theodore any time he even gets that sly devious look in his eyes.  She holds him tight in her arms and taking her index finger presses down his beak into his chest holding him in submission for up to ten minutes at a time.  I don’t know if it will work, but it’s her best effort to save him from sure death and her from the trauma of losing her cool and ringing his poor little rooster neck in a fit of unladylike rage.

The following is a great article on taming mean roosters:

When I built the horse barn I hadn’t dreamt it would one day become the place that we would host a rehearsal dinner party to celebrate the wedding of our son Brook and new daughter Andrea.  Last Friday evening however, over fifty people sat down to eat a wonderful meal together while a live Bluegrass band played in the hayloft above. 

A few months before when Brook asked about the possibility of using the barn for such an occasion we naturally jumped at the idea.  We hadn’t guessed at the time that June would be one of the wettest in recent history.  Literally an hour before the party started on Friday evening a lightning storm blew through bringing with it not only the crashing of thunder but a torrential downpour of driving rain.  I also hadn’t considered the idea that the invitation list might grow at the last minute to be more folks than our four horse barn

The High Desert Bluegrass Band

could possibly accommodate.  The fact of the matter was, we were all so excited for the occasion our enthusiasm would override any obstruction.  We were blessed to be asked and started to plan the event right away.  Nancy figured out the food and I started to clean out the barn. With some great help I shoveled out a mountain of manure which had been accumulating all winter and even painted all of the interior walls. (See entry’s #167 & 162)  The day of the dinner we had fun doing the finish work with some wonderful old friends who have known and loved our kids for years.   We covered the floor with wood shavings, set up tables and decorated them.  In the end nearly sixty people comfortably sat down to the BBQ dinner.  

Rand Thompson and the High Desert Bluegrass Band set up in the hayloft and played through-out the entire evening.  Not only did the night turn out to be a joyous celebration, but the rain and wind moved on leaving behind only the cool fresh smell of spring in the air.  When the evening ended we all recognized that God had blessed the night and the marriage covenant which was about to be made between Brook and his beautiful bride Andrea.

Every time I turn around these days Nancy is raising or growing something new in our bathtub.  First it was two kittens who she named Mercy & Gracie, then seedlings for the vegetable garden, and now three small Rouen ducklings she has named Daisy, Lazy & Hazy.  Responding to her grandmother instinct I notice she constantly ventures into the local feed store and heads straight to the bins and cages of live baby things; little chicks, geese, rabbits, ducklings, puppies, or anything else that is peeping or meowing out for a loving mother figure.  That’s what happened with the kittens last winter. As she walked by their cage a small Siamese kitten slyly reached his tiny paw through the wire of the cage that imprisoned him and gently touched Nancy’s passing arm.  As you can imagine her heart melted like wax and in a moment of weakness he was in her arms. Not wanting to separate him from his fuzzy and equally cute twin sister she brought both kittens home and prepared a cozy bed for them in the master bath tub.  His original name was Mercy but later was renamed Mad-Max (due to a significant puberty behavioral and attitudinal personality change). When challenged on what we were going to do with two new cats Nancy’s only response was that they were free.  Free that is until she had to purchase a state of the arc litter-box, a matching set of food & water dishes and the half dozen toys needed to keep them from becoming bored, not to mention the additional expense of neutering Mad-Max and giving him a plethora of kitty shots, worming medication, etc. etc.   Realizing that having two kittens in the house along with Lily was a bit much;   Nancy gave Max’s sister to a friend’s granddaughters who desperately feel in love with Gracie (much to our relief).

Now, about the ducklings.  Again it was a stop for feed at D&B Feed and Farm Supplies, a stop we frequently make on our way home from work.  For several weeks I noticed Nancy eyeing a large feed trough filled with peeping ducklings and new born chicks.  Week by week I watched as she fell deeper in love with the ducklings. She kept commenting about their tiny bills and webbed feet which I knew was a bad sign. She also commented on the fact that they were gradually being sold off and were decreased in number every time she stopped by the store – that was another bad sign.  For a while I managed to talk her out of taking them home by reminding her that although we had a large half acre pond below the house we didn’t have a duck house or pen to protect them from the coyotes, skunks, raccoons, bobcats and foxes that called Timber Butte their home.  My strategy was working pretty well until she spotted a copy of Hobby Farms Magazine on a rack by the cashiers counter as we were leaving the store.  As only providence could have it the magazine had a

Mad-Max meets Daisy, or is it Lazy

portrait of a Rouen duckling on the cover that was identical to the ones being sold. Nancy knew at once that it was in fact the hand of the Lord telling her she must take the remaining ducklings home.  As you might guess, the rest was history.

Once again the master bathtub no longer belongs to the master (that would be me) but rather is now a duck habitat filled with wood chips, a poultry feeder and waterier.  Daisy, Lazy and Hazy are a content part of the family as plans are being drawn up for our future duck pen and house.  It’s just the way things work here at Timber Butte Homestead and as tough as I sound Mad-Max contently lays on my lap every morning as I drink hot coffee and have my quiet time. He has become my good friend and has even accepted the ducklings as something more than a convenient snack.

Our new book now released by Baker Book Publishing

Last week Baker Books officially released Rooted in Good Soil, a book that I had labored over for nearly a year. It tells the story in a rather unusual way of what I would call the organic Christian journey to maturity and fruitfulness. At the same time as the book was released I was invited to spend three days with some pastor couples and leaders at a retreat center in the heart of Montana. Most of them are old friends who have been faithfully serving in cities and rural towns of Montana for years. They are special people who Nancy and I have grown to love but haven’t had the chance to spend time with for a long time. They asked me to come teach the new things God had been doing through our ministry and the books I have been writing.  As I prepared for what I believed would be a rich time of renewing old relationships it was in my heart to be a blessing in their lives if possible with my short visit.

While driving to the airport early in the morning to catch my plane I prayed and asked the Lord for a fresh message that would be both helpful and relevant not only for the ministries they lead but for their individual lives as well. I was weaving down the canyon road out of our hills towards the interstate just as the early morning light was breaking over the distant eastern mountains. As I prayed I began to hum an old children’s song I once sang as a young boy in Sunday school some fifty years before. At first I couldn’t recall the words, but gradually a few of them started to come to memory and I sang what I could remember with a hope that others would follow; but they didn’t. I sang, “Deep and wide, deep and wide, there is a fountain flowing deep and wide.” I sang this one stanza over and over again straining for the remaining lyrics.  I felt certain that if I could recall the words the Lord would use them to show me what it was he wanted me to relate to the Montana pastors. Finally giving up, I called Nancy on my cell phone and ask her to Google the old song on her computer and call me back later with her findings. It wasn’t until I had arrived at the Boise airport and checked through security that Nancy’s return call came informing me that she had in fact succeeded finding the old song but that there were no additional lyrics. The entirety of the song was, “Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide”. That was all there was to it. My first response was disappointment; I was totally bummed and concluded that I hadn’t heard the Lord at all until it struck me that this was the message – “deep and wide”.  I was to tell the pastors to go deep and wide and to lead the folks in their churches deep and wide. I know this may sound crazy to many, but in reality there is no greater thing for a Christian to do than to go deep with God for the sake of taking his love and ministry wide. I recalled how I had been hearing so much talk recently concerning the church in America being an inch deep and a mile wide; how that if the truth be known it may not even be a mile wide. This would be especially true if you define the “width” to be more about community and worldwide impact rather than the number of people in attendance on any given Sunday.

When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. He said this is the first and greatest commandment and the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37) Learning to love God and to be loved by him is the essence of going deep. Deep Christianity calls for a deep relationship with God. Learning to unconditionally love your neighbor, (especially the non-churched and the poor) is the essence of going wide. As simple as it might seem, to go both deep and wide (and in that order) is the key to authentic Christian faith. I’m convinced it is what God desires and is saying to his people. 

After returning home from my short trip to Montana this simple thought stayed with me. It was in my mind even two days later as I worked up the enriched soil in the garden, forming raised beds and preparing a drip line irrigation system to water the seeds Nancy would soon be planting. I turned the soil over several times as I formed the rows; the first time to break up the compacted ground, and a second time to work in new compost and seasoned manure. Every vegetable gardener knows that the most critical issue in helping a plant to grow to fruitfulness is in the preparation of soil. For the plant to grow tall and wide its roots must first grow deep into the richness of the fertile ground. Establishing deep roots is everything for a healthy plant just as becoming deeply rooted in God’s love is everything for the Christian that wants to experience lasting spiritual maturity. The Apostle Paul once prayed, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”(Eph. 3:18) It is being filled with the “fullness of God” that enables us to not only grasp the love of God, but to take it wide; to take it to a pain-filled and broken world in very real and tangible ways.

Recalling those few words from a childhood song and overlaying them on the heart of the new book I had recently written encouraged and excited me as I got to see my old friends again.  I knew God wanted to do a special thing for them, and that through the sincerity of their lives he would somehow impact the state of Montana.

Winter at TImber Butte Homestead

Winter is not only a confining time but a difficult time to keep things tidy. Winter has a beauty of its own; there is no doubt about it. But, living in snow country has the tendency of being confining and conducive to the buildup of clutter both in the house and barn.  With warmth and lengthening of spring days the time of dormancy lifts and not only brings renewed life to the land, but in a special way to our human spirits as well.  As doors and windows fling open allowing the freshness of the new season to enter in we become simultaneously ready to get out in the fresh air. 

Nancy spring cleans her gardening room

 Spring has a special way of motivating and energizing us to reorganize and clean things up.  Every year it offers us a new beginning; it’s a time to prepare the garden for another growing season, turning over the rows and setting up irrigation line for easy maintenance. It is a time to prepare the green house for fragile plants not yet ready for early planting due to erratic climate changes. It is a time to muck out the barn and mound up a winter’s accumulation of manure in preparation for next year’s compost. It’s also a time to fix broken pipes that had become casualties of the subzero winter temperatures because they had been inadequately drained in the previous fall.  Spring is a time to reorganize and prepare for the animals on the homestead; time to feed the bees and let the chickens out of their coup so they can free range once again.

 Spring cleaning is liberating to the soul.  There is something wonderful about ridding oneself of the chronic buildup of unneeded clutter.  After years of living out this spring cleaning scenario I’ve realized that it must be a common characteristic of our human natures to accumulate unneeded stuff. Unused

Our friend Nathan lends a hand mucking out the barn

possessions have a mysterious way of filling our closet shelves, cluttering drawers, being stuffed under beds and in the once spacious places of garages and barns. I’m speaking of the things that we once believed we needed, but soon cease to have any real functional value. Cleaning out the clutter not only takes deliberate effort but the honesty to admit we really don’t need a lot of extra stuff.  Simplicity is a gift once it is achieved, but it is a gift that requires a deliberate choice and effort to go after it.

 A number of years ago I wrote a book entitled, Small Footprint, Big Handprint – How to live simply and love extravagantly.  It was based on a series I taught which I called, The Biblical Pursuit of a More Simplified Life.  The book and teaching were a challenge for folks to downsize their lives for the sake of upsizing their impact on the world around them. It spoke of a mega spring cleaning of their personal lives, not just for the sake of simplicity, but for the sake of effectiveness in the lives of others.  It illuminated the fact that far too often our

This years manure is next years compost

possessions own us more than we own them.  It showed how things in our lives can encumber us with physical, emotional and even spiritual debt.  God’s intent is that we would not be in bondage from the things of this world but be free and in fact, “free indeed” [John 8:36]. It is in freedom that we then have the liberty to become the people God originally intended us to be.

Fixing pipes that didn't survive the winters freeze

 I don’t want to over spiritualize this “spring cleaning” thing, but I do believe that the reason it feels so wonderful when we choose to do it is because it is a physical picture of a more important spiritual reality.  In our heart of hearts we want to be free from the things that encumber us.  Life has a way of stuffing away the destructive clutter of memories that are unedifying and even painful. These memories start to override God’s goodness and His greater purpose for our lives. They encumber our minds and hearts causing us to lose the freedom we were created to have.  That’s why Jesus said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  It is God’s heart and intention that we experience real freedom.  His provision of Jesus provides the greatest spring cleaning of all – the cleansing of our souls.

We planted potatoes and onions on Monday and they were covered with snow by Thursday, which just happened to be April Fool’s Day.  I’ll admit that I’ve got a bad case of spring fever and the joke was on me. Last week Nancy and I took a walk along the south facing slope of Timber Butte and saw some early flowers peek their heads up in warm protected areas. It put hope in our hearts, but then the weather changed and it was like the proverb states, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Proverb 13:12a) I, for one, am more than ready for a new season. Next Sunday we will celebrate Easter which is all about resurrection and new beginnings.  This is more like the second half of the same proverb, “…but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverb 13:12b)

During this hard season of recession many folks are struggling in a lot of ways.  There is a scary uncertainty in the air not only economically, but on many fronts.  As a pastor I am constantly aware of people’s fears and personal crisis issues. The stresses of life have a way of causing relational struggles in marriages, with friends, employers and extended family.  Even physical health can be affected.  Most everyone I know is ready for a brighter new season in their lives and like the last few weeks up here at Timber Butte we get glimpses of warmer sunnier days to come. But, then on the heels of the temporary hint of spring weather comes another snow or windy hail storm. 

In all of this, the good news always is the same – God is a God of redemption and renewal.  He is a God of new beginnings and fresh new starts.  Romans 1:20 tells us that God reveals his nature through all that he has created and he created changing seasons. Winter will eventually turn spring even if our hope gets deferred a time or two in the process. God’s intent and promise to those who love him is for the gardens of their lives to spring up and grow in the full sunlight and warmth of his presence. In a way you might say this is the message of Easter.  Jesus came to humanity to bring the provision of redemption to anyone who would accept and receive it. For those who choose to praise him he pours out his grace, healing and the promise for new life. Isaiah put it like this, “The Sovereign Lord will show his justice to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise him! His righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, with plants springing up everywhere.”(Isa. 61:11)

Each morning I have the habit of rising early and feeding all of the animals while a pot of coffee brews in the kitchen.  By the time I get back to the house the coffee is freshly perked and the fire is crackling in the soapstone fireplace bringing the house back to a warm temperature. Then I sit in my chair drinking a cup or two of coffee waiting for the morning’s light to gradually illuminate Squaw Butte on the distant western horizon. During this quiet time I am listening for the Lord’s voice in hopes of receiving direction for the approaching day. This has been my routine for as long as I can remember and I have grown to deeply value not only the peace it brings, but the inspiration and clarity for decisions I must make and actions I must take to tackle the challenges the new day will bring.

Sitting there in the early morning darkness the fire’s reflection illuminates a series of hand sculptured tiles inlayed across the hearth. They are tiles my parents had created by a local artist, Dean Estes, for Nancy and me. Dean is not only a gifted sculptor, but a long time family friend who took nearly a year to lovingly sculpture nine wax blocks with images taken from a series of black and white illustrations. They came from a book my dad had written which tells the story of our family’s westward journey by wagon train in the 1800’s. Dean transformed the wax sculptures into individualized clay tiles that he carefully glazed and fired.  Each tile represents a significant event which occurred on the long and difficult passage across the Great Plains and over the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Seeing these images every morning provides me with a reminder of my roots and heritage. They give me courage during seasons when my life becomes overwhelming. Thinking about what those early pioneers willingly chose to do somehow grounds me as a person living in the 21st century – a time when everything feels uncomfortably uncertain.  They challenge me to remember the pioneer spirit and strong values that motivated my early family to risk everything for the sake of a free and wholesome life. They urge me to embrace those values and that spirit for myself.

More and more people are looking for the life that Nancy and I have been seeking as we moved onto Timber Butte. The word sustainability has emerged in recent years to describe a desire to regain the pioneer spirit.  It speaks of breaking away from the confines and the feelings of vulnerability when living a day to day existence that is literally at the mercy of an uncertain social system.  Modern day homesteading (which can take place in the country or the city) is an effort to produce healthier food, drink better water, use renewable energy sources and experience the freedom to raise our families with righteous values for the sake of better and more meaningful lives.  The Apostle Paul once said as he concluded his letter to the Philippians, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about these things.” [Phil 4:8] Although he didn’t say it, I think Paul would agree that we shouldn’t just think about such things, but must have the courage to pursue them as well.

Looking back at my heritage gives me the courage and motivation to break away from status quo. It causes me to strive to recapture the values that must have driven those early pioneers to rethink and restart their lives outside the confines of a social system that no longer focused on what was true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.  They longed for a new way of life and a new beginning, and they were willing to sacrifice to achieve it.  When we lose sight of our heritage it can cause us to flounder and lose our way.  I think of our nation for example; every time we begin to forget the principles and intent of our founding fathers we begin to redefine our values becoming weakened by division.  In doing so we forget who we are and why God once blessed everything we put our hands to. In the end we begin to gravitate towards being a society much like the one our founders rebelled against.  This can be true in our personal lives as well. Looking to the past can help us regain purpose for a preferred and better future. Even the bad things of the past can be used to launch us into a better and more fruitful future.

The old adage, “history repeats itself” generally holds a negative connotation. It is true, many times the child of an alcoholic can become an alcoholic, an abusive person has often been abused, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Our negative past can help us strive towards a positive future.  It is all about looking back and learning not only from the valor of those who went before us, but from their mistakes as well. History will only repeat itself if we ignore and deny the past, refusing to make courageous choices to turn away from the bad so that we might cling to the good.  It is for this very reason that Nancy and I have dedicated our lives to Christ.  Making these kinds of life-changing choices is nothing short of miraculous – it’s something that only God can do. He came to forgive what needed forgiving from our past so we might live in freedom from habits, hurts and the painful memories that paralyze.  What he does is real and tangible, and for this reason faith was a key value for our pioneer ancestors. Regaining that pioneer spirit and the values that accompanied it – this is the hope for the challenges we now face in the 21st century.

Winter has seemed long this year.  It could be my age, or maybe I feel like this every March but forget the feeling of dreariness from the previous year. February was a cold month that brought low, cold clouds rolling up the foothills slowly engulfing us to the point of causing our worldview to become small and bleak.  More than once Nancy and I would spontaneously sing the line from the Broadway play, Annie, “The sun’ll come out tomorrow; bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun!”  Singing it felt encouraging and somehow optimistically prophetic when everything around was so gray.  

Then one day it happened as it always does at this time of year – the clouds lifted taking with them the drabness we felt.  The sun broke through, melting away the remaining snow and allowing the ground to absorb heat and finally thaw.  The air was still crisp but the hope of a new season was renewed and so was our vision for the creation of yet another productive vegetable garden.   

Our friends, Elliot and Marilyn, feeling invigorated by a stretch of warmer weather themselves, offered to lend us a hand for a day.  We graciously accepted and along with our granddaughter, Hope, we spent the better part of a Saturday prepping raised beds in the garden. Elliot and I turned over the soil, reforming the mounded rows while Marilyn and Nancy raked in gypsum and planted Winter Rye grass.  Gypsum helps to loosen the compacted soil while breaking up clay. Winter Rye on the other hand is a green crop that adds nitrogen when spaded into the rows later in the season in preparation for vegetable seeds. 

Hope worked alongside us driving in stakes and stringing lines so Elliot and I could construct the new rows straight and even. As we all labored outside for the day, we used muscles that had been dormant all winter. Although those muscles would let us know about it the next day, our spirits were renewed and revitalized as we enjoyed the fresh air and the beginning preparations for a promised harvest to come. 

If there is a moral or point to this short story it might simply be this: The sun will always come out tomorrow and when it does, it’s not a time to sit but to rise up and act on the renewed hope it will surely bring.  Life is full of seasons, and every season has its purpose.  As King Solomon once said, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven…” [Eccl. 3:1]

A number of years ago I wrote the following article and submitted it to several outdoor magazines.  It was a writing project that I did just for the heck of it. Recently I came upon it and thought I may as well post it on the Timber Butte site. Since Nancy and I have been developing Timber Butte as a sustainable homestead I have hunted much less, not because I don’t still enjoy it, but because our need to fill the freezer with organic meat has been drastically reduced.  I still enjoy hanging out with Pat Armstrong in the mountains however, and hope I never get too old to enjoy wilderness adventures. This story took place nearly twenty years ago.

Pat and I have been close friends for over forty years; years that have been filled with the memories of adventures and tales of experiences in primitive and wild country.  Through the years our times in the mountains have given us a repertoire of tales of mishaps with pack animals, waiting out bad weather in remote camps and big game hunts that oftentimes turned out well.  Our adventures together started in our early 20’s and have now followed us into our 60’s.  We’ve never seen ourselves as great hunters and we’re always surprised when, at the end of the season, the barn is full of hanging quarters of mule deer and elk meat.  Every hunt has given us wonderful memories together, but I’ll never forget the first year Pat and I both managed to get our first big elk bulls together on the same evening.

In many parts of Idaho, elk season begins as deer season ends.  We’d been hunting deer for a couple of days and had finally gotten into some big mule bucks nearly on top of an 8,000 ft. mountain.  We got lucky and both managed to make good shots among a bunch of windblown pines.  We had made a high mountain dry camp earlier that afternoon expecting to spend the night there after an evening hunt. But, because we sensed a storm coming in we decided to skin and hang our meat in a tree, hike out of the mountains that night, and bring Pat’s mules back in a day or two to retrieve it.  As we guessed, it dumped snow all night making us feel fortunate to be back at Pat’s ranch for a hot meal and a warm bed.  The next morning was the opening of elk season so we decided to retrieve our bucks later and spend the day hunting a different area for elk.

Several hours before daylight, in about six inches of fresh new snow, we saddled our horses, loaded the trailer and headed back into the mountains.  We had ridden about six miles up a river drainage when the sun began to cast its first light through the stormy skies. We continued to ride through the morning hours on up through the timbered drainage, which occasionally broke out into open meadows giving us views of descending hillsides laden with stands of birch and aspen.  It was perfect elk country and a beautiful morning.  Every new opening gave us a sense of expectancy as our horses plodded on into the day.  Our plan was to keep riding until we either happened upon an unsuspecting herd, or cut a track worth following.  All too soon it was about three o’clock and neither had happened.

In this area where Pat and I have been hunting the past few years we had rarely seen any other hunters. About 3:30 that afternoon while climbing up a ridge, we ran into two guys on foot who looked all done in.  After a short visit we discovered that they’d been following a wounded bull for over eight miles since early morning.  He had led them on a wild goose chase up and down canyons for the better part of the day taking them deeper and deeper into some really rugged country.   They had no horses and realized that even now they wouldn’t be able to get back to their camp by dark. They believed the bull was barely hurt due to the fact that it continued to run up and down hills without tiring. They were convinced that he would survive whatever minor damage they had inflicted.

When they disappeared over the rise, Pat turned to me and suggested that we return to our horses and back track these boys until we cut that old bull’s tracks.  We decided, if need be we could follow him all night unless it started to snow again and cover over his trail. We hated the thought of leaving a wounded animal to suffer.  And so, without hesitation, we made our way down the mountain to our animals and back-tracked their Sorel boot tracks until we spotted a large bull track near a small icy creek bottom.  After securely tying my horse to pine tree I began scrambling through my saddle bags for a rolled up day pack which I quickly filled with matches, a flashlight, extra batteries, some dried meat, and a few other odds and ends.  I’d hung out with Pat long enough to know that we could very well be on this trail for a long time – and I knew we were a long way from any place that was warm.

It was about two hours before sunset when we came upon a fresh elk bed in the snow.  Sure enough, there as a small spot of blood about two inches wide which assured us that it was indeed the same elk those hunters had been following.  We were encouraged and, although most experienced hunters would counsel differently, we picked up the pace to just short of a jog.  Half a mile later we came to another spot where he had laid down for a breather among some deadfalls.

We were entering a stand of alder when I touched Pat’s shoulder telling him that I was sure I could smell him.  I have a good nose for that and I felt sure we were getting close.  Alder is the worst stuff to negotiate, especially on steep snowy hillsides, and if he didn’t know we were following him before, he surely knew it now.  We fumbled on for a hundred yards until we broke out in an open timbered area that was again littered with deadfalls.  It was there that we got our first glimpse of his rump disappearing through the distant forest some two-hundred yards away.  There was no chance for a shot, but at least we now knew he wasn’t a ghost and really existed.  We were amazed to see that he ran with ease as if in perfect condition.

We walked on, one behind the other.   We had decided that Pat would concentrate on the tracks while I would look at the distant landscape in hopes of getting another glimpse or even a shot.

Another half hour passed and because we were in a densely wooded area we were beginning to lose daylight. We had been traversing the forested hillside for some time when all at once the track abruptly turned down the slope towards the creek bottom.  It was getting on into dusk and after miles of scrambling through the brush and trees I wasn’t at all sure where we were.  I had the distinct feeling that we’d somehow been led in a huge circle.   It wasn’t long before we again approached the creek we had crossed an hour before.  As we did I looked to the other side of the snowy draw to see if I could spot tracks ascending the opposite slope.  There were none that I could see. I reached out to touch Pat’s shoulder to alert him to my discovery just as we were rounding a huge Ponderosa Pine at the creek’s edge.  All at once that old bull was standing right in front of us with his teeth glaring and the whites of his eyes looking angry and mean.  He lowered his six-point rack and charged us, quickly making the hunters the hunted.

It all happened pretty fast, too fast to think if we should run or shoot.  We both shot at the same moment, not even having time to raise our rifles to our shoulders. For a minute it sounded like the Mexican revolution as Winchesters pumped brass into a heap where we stood on that creek banks edge.

The next half hour was spent pulling and pushing our first bull elk out of the frozen creek and up onto dry land and field dressing him before it was too dark to see.  While Pat finished up with the elk I took off and located the horses.  I figured they were somewhere down the drainage but had no idea how far.  I was shocked to discover they were standing where we left them only about two hundred feet away.  We had made a huge circle ending up right where we started.

Pat's barn was full of hanging meet

Wanting to get down the long valley while we still had light we left the bull and started to ride out of the canyon the way we had come.  We would return with the pack animals the next day.  To our great amazement we rounded a corner into an area that exposed an open hillside riding right into a small heard of elk. We leaped off our horses and managed to shoot a second bull that same evening in another fiasco of blazing guns.  In the excitement and confusion our horses ran off with tails in the air, heading for Pat’s trailer some six miles away.  In the end it turned out to be a long day but the barn was full of meat again, and more stories were added to our repertoire of tales that would be remembered and shared by two old friends around many campfires to come.