January 28, 2015


What magic resides in those four letters! Especially since snow appears to be withdrawing from our world. As the global temperature grows hotter and hotter, we see such phenomena as the proverbial “snows of Kilamanjaro” in Africa drying up; even the Iditarod’s thousand-mile sled-dog race was forced to race much of the way on dirt because of so little snow last year; the polar bears in the North struggling to survive as arctic ice-packs melt earlier each year; opening up the long ice-locked Northwest Passage to ships; this melting placing at risk Narwhals–now Killer
Whales can corner them and kill them because there is no longer enough ice to shelter them; even the Himalayas are losing their life-giving snow.

Notice how this week, the entire Northeast all but shut down because an epic blizzard was roaring in. New York City completely shut down (including planes, trains, autos–except for emergency vehicles). 7,000 flights were cancelled. Funny it was to see Matt Lauer and his team walking to work, and he lying down in the middle of Fifth Avenue doing a snow angel in the snow. But instead of two to three feet, the city received only 6.2 inches! All the news people were psyched up for great visuals as their people reported in standing waist-deep in snow; instead, they had to do interviews from so little snow it didn’t even cover their shoe-tops. Of course it was deeper further north.

In Maryland, just the threat of a storm causes school districts to shut down for “snow days” that may or may not be snowy. Here in Colorado’s Front Range, any possibility that there might be a few flakes falling later on in the week is cause for jubilation among weather-forecasters desperate for ratings surges: every so many minutes they tell their listeners that “later on,” they’ll tell them how much snow will fall. Rarely are they right–but listeners like us listen anyway. Especially the kids who love snow days.

As for us, we revel in the sight of falling snow. At night, we’ll sit by the fireplace staring into the flames, offset by staring outside at the floodlight-illumined falling snow. I even enjoy shoveling it–as long as it’s not so deep it all but buries us!

And many people either live here or travel here in order to participate in the annual snowfalls. Interstate 70 out of Denver routinely grinds to a near halt as thousands of skiers head to the mountains.

And what would Christmas stories be without snow? Amazing how many incorporate that element as part of the story-line.

Out our northern windows, we can see the mountains (crowned by Long’s and Meeker peaks) of the Rocky Mountain National Park some eighty miles away. What an incredible difference between late-summer’s brown and winter’s pristine white! Takes one’s breath away just to  at it.


So let’s all treasure snow while we still have it, revel in it whenever we have the chance.

Thank God for snow!



DECEMBER 17, 2014

I suspect watching the Lucy and Desi Christmas special might have had something to do with it. You remember: Lucy’s determination to trim their Christmas tree so it will be perfectly symmetrical. The trimmer being their next-door sidekick: Mr. Mertz. As usual with Lucy, disaster was the result.

Just so, with us: Connie repeatedly urged me to hurry up and cut that perfect little fir tree north of our house. “Hurry, before it snows!” her very words. Like most husbands, I didn’t like being told what to do and when. The TV weather predictors had managed to be wrong so many times already this year, why should this time be different? “Maybe an inch or so in the foothills,” their prognosis.

So I waited. Then slipped and stumbled my way downhill through a foot of very cold and very wet snow. I had to dig down a foot just to get to the fir’s base. Then: a mighty cold job cutting it down and dragging it uphill to the house.

When Connie saw its snowy branches looking oh so Christmasy, she pronounced it a winner: perfectly symmetrical and just the right size.

Out to the garage I went to haul down from the rafters the big state-of-the-art/never-failed-us-yet Christmas tree stand.

Once inside with it, I lowered the tree into the stand. In order to preserve its symmetry I didn’t cut the big lower branches off. Eight stabilizers were screwed in to the tree to guarantee vertical perfection. It looked wonderful, but deep inside its firry heart, it harbored subversive thoughts.

Before we started decorating it, Connie called my attention to the fact that only the four upper stabilizers reached the tree; the four lower ones connected with nothing. I assured her that four would work just fine. Indeed, it appeared I was right. First we decorated it with long strings of colored lights. Finally, with a little rejiggling, it was perfect. Next, I put up scores of beautiful red ornaments. Then we tried out a bedraggled angel to crown the tree; it was quickly replaced by a shimmering red steeple-shaped ornament. We turned the room lights off and the tree lights on. Ah, perfection!

Shortly afterwards, we noticed that the tree was tilting in the wrong direction. I soon fixed it.

In no time at all, Connie called my attention to its tilting in a different direction. We fixed it. And the cycle continued again and again. And I was growing ever more irate.

Finally, I announced that, like it or not, the symmetry would have to be sacrificed. One after another after another, I cut enough low branches so there was a satisfactory thud as the tree hit bottom. All during the process, there was a light rain of ornaments letting go.

But now, we could finally fix the tree once and for all! All I had to do was screw in all eight stabilizers. Trouble was, Connie had filled the stand with water, and the rubber stabilizer connectors kept falling into the water, so I burrowed into the tree, Connie attempting to keep it erect while I fished the rubber connectors out. But now, some of the stabilizers didn’t get to the tree at all, as some were screwed out further than the others, leading to my inability to stabilize the tree. By now, more ornaments rained down—and broke. Including the piece de resistance at the top. And the long snaky electric lights did their utmost to strangle me. I got testy and testier, and howled like a man.

Finally, I left Connie holding the tree up and went out to the garage to corral an earlier vintage tree-stand. In the rafters, I finally found it. One small problem: part of it was missing. Then I remembered hearing, on the opposite side of the garage, something metallic fall behind high stacks of boxes filled with books. So I now had to move a big stack of boxes in order to retrieve the rest of the stand. Much time had passed by then.

So much so that Connie had all but given up on holding the tree upright. More ornaments had fallen.

So now we had to completely undecorate the tree, then lift it out of its original stand, stagger across the front room to the deck, carry the all-too-full water-filled original stand, trying not to spill much, then take it outside and dump the water off the deck.

Then, I lifted up the malevolent tree once again and lowered it into its much smaller stand. And the tree stood up straight and tall. It was quickly tightened in place.

And we got to start all over again.

True, the tree had lost some of its symmetry—-but somehow symmetry didn’t seem important any more. The important thing was: It stood up straight and tall! I concluded that symmetry was overrated anyhow.


April 23, 2014

Much of the Southwest is in drought mode. Even California, the breadbasket of the nation.

Snow and rain. Human life could not live without moisture, consequently millions of people are concerned about climate change. Each year, here in the Colorado Rockies, many worry that this year we won’t have enough moisture for our crops, this year the rivers won’t bring life to counties or states fed by rivers born in the Rockies, this year lack of snow may cut the ski season short, this year our wells may run dry, this year wind and fire may combine to burn up everything we own. The list could go on and on.

But one thing is for sure: we do not take weather for granted. Mankind never has.

In a service club I’m a part of, every week we collect what we call “happy dollars” (which we then donate to our annual literacy campaign). As each of us weighs in on what we are happiest about, almost always weather comes up: if we’ve had a good snowfall or a good rain, invariably at least one member calls attention to it; in the opening invocation, God is usually thanked for whatever moisture comes our way. And when moisture does not come, God is reminded in the invocation that we’d sure appreciate more snow, or more rain.

At the elevation where we live (9,700′), we get lots of snow. In fact, a neighbor and I keep track year by year. Over an eighteen-year period, we have averaged 200-230 inches of snow a year. We’re under normal for this year, but we keep hoping more snow will fall–and if it doesn’t, we’ll hope and pray that God will grant us a long summer monsoon season of rain.

How good God is.

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The snow is falling again as I write these words.  Another reason for living in the Colorado Rockies.  In fact, the two seasons are slugging it out, as the golden aspens (at peak only a week ago) are clearly reluctant to surrender the field to the forces of winter, but they have no choice in the matter given that each season is as inexorable as incoming and receding tides.

We’ve been waiting almost half a year for this moment: when once again it is safe to build a fire in our moss rock fireplace.  If the truth must be told, when we moved back to Colorado in 1996, the real estate agent had been given a list of 30 priorities (what we valued most in our new home).  At the top were: It should feature serenity, a view we’d never tire of, lots of snow, and a wood-burning fireplace.  Today we get to revel in all four.


Our daughter Michelle and agent, Greg Johnson, joined forces two years ago to drag, kicking and screaming all the way, this dinosaur of the ink and paper age, into the new digital age.  “You must blog!  Thus was born the weekly blog, Wednesdays with Dr. Joe,” which has continued unbroken even during that hellish period when an unscrupulous predator hacked into our world and shut us down.  We have no idea how many readers we lost during that traumatic period.

What I have discovered is that blogging is such a new construct that there are few entrenched norms—unlike tweets where a Procrustean Bed of 140 spaces preclude deviation length-wise.  As you have discovered, I joined the ranks of those who prefer the longer format.  It’s really much like the weekly column I wrote once, “Professor Creakygate,” for the students attending Southwestern Adventist University.  Once you establish a rhythm, it’s just a matter of not breaking it.

Given my penchant for longer blog series (the Northwest National Parks, the Southern Caribbean, the Zane Grey convention in Virginia, the Trembling World, and the upcoming series on the Southwest National Parks), I have discovered that long series where I dwell on a subject for months at a time can put my voice into a straitjacket which precludes me from speaking out on hot current issues.  Because of this, I hereby announce that this time, expect periodic breaks; but rest assured, always I will afterwards resume the series topic.


I held back as long as I possibly could—until my agent held my feet to the fire long enough to risk ignition—on adding the tweet dimension to our lives.  On October 1, I started daily tweets, concentrating on quotations chosen from a half century of collecting (hundreds of thousands).  Not just quotations, but quotations that help make sense of this thing called “life.”  Speaking just for myself, this hectic life we live virtually guarantees that we will break down unless we turn to a Higher Power than ourselves and also seek wisdom from others who have learned much from the batterings of the years.  These hard-earned nuggets of thought and insights end up providing us with just enough strength and courage to face each day.  Changes of pace too, for without changes of pace (such as humor) in our thought-processes, we become warped or petrified.

During my 34 years in the classroom, one aspect was a constant: a thought written with chalk on the blackboard each day.  My students looked forward to something new that greeted them each time they came in the door.  Also, I have since discovered that many of them copied those quotes into their notebooks and have lived with them ever since.

I’m an avid collector of quotation compendiums.  Some few I find worth the price; many, if not most, are not (merely quotations flung onto paper, without regard to their relative power or effectiveness).  I don’t know about you, but what I hunger for most are quotes that make me think, that make me re-evaluate my own habits and inter-relationships, that end up making me a different and better person than I was before.

I also realize that we are each fighting off electronic strangulation; so much so that we try something new with great reluctance.  It is my earnest desire that you will find these tweets worth the time it takes to check them out each day.


For years now, my agent has been trying to hammer into my thick head this message:

Our old world (paper and ink-driven) is changing by the nanosecond.  While books are likely to always be with us, they will never reign supreme as they have during the last six centuries.  Like it or not, electronic books will continue to expand their reach.  What this means is that the old templates will no longer work like they once did.  Your persona is no longer captureable just in traditional print.  But rather, you owe it to your “tribe” [people who are kind enough to listen to what you write and what you say] to speak out about life and values multidimensionally: through paper and ink books [75 so far], through public speaking, through media appearances on radio and TV and book-signings, through your blogs, through your tweets, and through all the plethora of new communication technologies.  Only by keeping up with all this as best you can, can your unique voice (your persona) have any chance of remaining alive during coming months and years.

And since I do wish to stay in contact with all of you, I am committed to continuing to create books (traditional and electronic), blogs, and tweets.  Do let me know if all I’ve articulated in this blog makes any kind of sense to you.

* * *

Next week, we will transition through the abstraction of travel toward the Southwest parks and lodges.

* * *


We’ve just returned from our third cruise to America’s last frontier.  Each time we go there, the realization that we’ve but touched the fringes of it sinks deeper.

For it is so vast that travel writers exhaust superlatives in vain attempts to describe it.  After all, it encompasses 580,000 square miles (as large as England, Italy, Spain, and France combined).  It has more shoreline than all the rest of our states combined.  It is blessed with 150,000,000 acres of national parks and forests, wildlife refuges, and other designated preserves; 38 mountain ranges, 3,000 rivers, and 3,000,000 lakes. Of its 15 national parks, only 5 can be accessed by road.  Much of it is barely charted, let alone touched by the human foot.  Indeed, of the 670,000 people who live there (about the number who live in Fort Worth, Texas), almost half of them live in only one city, Anchorage.

And it changes dramatically with the seasons.  That reality became evident during this our first spring visit to Alaska. Especially was it evident in towns such as Juneau and Skagway, that we’d experienced previously only during summer or fall; during those seasons, they seemed to be rather typical semi-frontier coastal towns, but now, in the spring, against the backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains, it felt like we’d suddenly been transported into the Swiss Alps!  It was a magical experience.

But why so few people?  Part of the answer to that question came to me in my research for “A Thousand Miles to Nome” (the fascinating epic story of the Great Serum Run of 1925, when dog-teams alone represented the difference between life and death in that northwesternmost Alaskan town, in the midst of a deadly diphtheria epidemic).  It was in the dead of winter, and ice had cut off all access to the town by sea until May—only by dog-sled teams could the life-saving serum make it through in time.  Of the ten lectures I gave to the SAGE group on board Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas, this was the only lecture open to the entire ship.  In that lecture, I noted that, during winter months, added to the bitter cold and frequent blizzards, it was dark 20 out of every 24 hours—only the hardiest and bravest could stand it.  Offsetting this, of course, in the summer 20 hours of light each day made it difficult to sleep.

Not surprisingly, given our fascination with Alaska, our seventh story anthology of The Good Lord Made Them All series will feature Animals of the North.  It will most likely be released by Pacific Press in January of 2011.