In Which I Relate Past a Adventure, With Photos and Everything

Yes, I know there’s no SEO value to either the title or the content of this post. I’m just going to tell you a story and not try to sell books, okay? (But if you want to hop over to Amazon and buy one or four, I won’t complain.)

On or about May 23, when our son Art and his wife Jennie were visiting us, we took a trip to the Paw Paw Tunnel. (I mentioned a visit there with the grandkids in a blog post earlier this spring.)

At the risk of boring you and taking up too much space, I’ve decided to share some of the information provided by the national park people. The first sign is kind of hard to make out, but you should be able to read the history of the place in the other two, if you feel so inclined:

sign 1 06.20.015 Sign 2 06.20.15 Placard 06.20.15


As shown by the sign below, there’s a trail that goes over the mountain instead of through the tunnel.

sign for Tunnel Trail 06.20.15When we were there with the grandkids, we were a little concerned about that “steep and strenuous” bit, so we just walked through the tunnel, went a little farther (where the kids caught salamanders in the canal and climbed the rock wall and otherwise had fun), then turned around and went back through the tunnel again. But when we were there with Art and Jennie, we decided to take the trail instead.

I didn’t bring my camera that day. Yesterday, though, Craig and I went back and retraced our steps (some of them, anyway) so I could illustrate the story.

This is a national park, and trails and things are pretty well marked. From the parking lot, you go up a path to the C & O Rail Trail, and there’s no question where to go from there:

signs along C & O trail 06.20.15

Because we wanted to go to the Paw Paw Tunnel rather than the town of Paw Paw, West Virginia, we went to the right and followed this trail for about half a mile:

C & O trail to tunnel 06.20.15It’s an easy walk along flat ground, nice and shady. You can’t see from this picture, but the Potomac River is on the right and the remnant of the old canal is on the left.

It was a hot, humid day, and entering the tunnel was a cool relief. In fact, the air temperature grew cooler even before we were inside.

Craig entering the tunnel
Craig entering the tunnel

Using flashlights, we walked through the 3,118-foot-long tunnel. We’ve made the trip often enough now that it felt familiar yesterday. It’s truly an amazing engineering accomplishment. I’m glad the park service has restored it and made it available for people to see.

Here’s a view of it from the other side (below).

Other side of the tunnel 06.20.15After leaving the tunnel, you follow the boardwalk and then it becomes a regular trail again. A short time after that, the Tunnel Trail joins it.

trail on the other side 06.20.15




There’s a sign telling you about the tunnel trail and pointing you in the right direction. So, last month, Art, Jennie, Craig, and I went up the trail, and yesterday, Craig & I did the same.

The tunnel trail took us back the way we’d just come, climbing to the top of that sheer rock face in the pic above, but it was a fairly gradual climb. Nothing “steep and strenuous” right off the bat.

Then we came to an intersection, and the sign was a bit confusing:

horseshoe arrows 06.20.15All four of us looked at it. All four of us said, “Huh?”

The trail continued on past this sign, and a wide gravel road joined it, going the opposite direction from what we wanted to go.

We were all in agreement: keep going straight.

The picture below left shows the trail we took last month; the one on the right is the road-like thing that went the wrong direction. Not only that, but isn’t the narrow path supposed to be the right path, and the wide road the one that leads to death?

the wrong way 06.20.15 this is the right way 06.20.15






I’m happy to report that neither trail lead to our deaths. However, the one we chose last month led to… well, it’s like this.

We followed it up and up and up and up (yes! steep! strenuous!), until… where’d it go? Oh, look, here it is! Take a zig to pick it up again. Climb some more, up and up. Pant, pant, pant… sweat, sweat, sweat. Brush away the gnats that get in the eyes, ears, and mouth. Climb, climb, climb.

Now, where’d that trail go? Anybody see it? Cast about in different directions.. Over here, guys! Climb some more. Where’s Dad? He’s back there resting. Who’s got water? (One of us, at least, had the presence of mind to bring some.)

Dad’s quit gasping quite so desperately, so it looks like he’ll be okay.

Pressing on…

After losing the trail the third or fourth time, it dawned on us that we maybe should have taken the road instead. But we’d meandered around enough that the chances of finding our way back the way we came were pretty slim. Better to keep going and try to figure out how to get back to the car.

I won’t give you a step-by-step description, but we wandered awhile. And, I have to admit, I enjoyed it. I might be the only one of us who did — everyone else was a bit put out by the situation. On second thought, Art might have had fun too, but with him, it’s kind of hard to tell.

After awhile, we found what appeared to be a hunter’s four-wheeler trail, though it didn’t seem to have been used in a couple of years. After a discussion about which way to go, we decided to go the left and see where it took us.

At least it didn’t take us upward again. After awhile, Art & Jennie were a little ahead of us, and Jennie called back, “There’s a road up there — I mean, a real, paved road! But I don’t know what road it is.” I replied, “Any road is good enough for me.”

The fact is, in this part of the country, you can’t ever get seriously lost. It might seem like wilderness, but you can’t go too many miles without coming to a house, a farm, a road, or something. But it had been a long, hot walk, and I wasn’t disappointed to learn there was an end in sight.

So, we came out onto the road, and a sign on a tree across the street caught my eye. What? Does that say what I think it says?

Are You Lost 06.20.15Apparently we weren’t the first people to follow the wrong trail! I don’t know who made the sign, but I’m thankful to whoever it was.

We followed the directions, which were a bit vague, but accurate. Here’s a picture of the dirt road mentioned:

road up the hill 06.20.15The directions said to follow it “to the top of the hill,” and, in fact, it started climbing immediately. Craig asked Art & Jennie if they’d mind going back to get the car for him. “This old man’s climbed enough hills for one day. You can come back and get me.” They agreed and took off up the hill. I waited at the bottom with him.

And waited. And waited.

Turns out it was quite a walk from there. They did, in fact, find the trail at the top of the hill, but it was a long hill, and it was along way back to the parking lot from there. By the time they finally made it back to the car, they were glad to sit down! And we were glad to see them when they came down the road toward us.

And it was the only vehicle we saw the whole time we waited. If we’d been looking for a kind stranger to come along to help, we might have been there till dark.

Craig and I wanted to try it again and do it right this time, so that’s why we went back yesterday. With a camera.

Go ahead and laugh at us for taking the wrong trail. When viewed with the benefit of experience, that horseshoe-shaped arrow on the sign makes sense. But all four of us were confused by it, so it wasn’t just me. Is there a lesson here? I’m not sure, unless it’s that the majority isn’t always right.

Hazy hills of West Virginia as seen from the dirt road going up the hill to the trail (which is in Maryland).
A glimpse of the Potomac River as soon from the road to the trail
A glimpse of the Potomac River as seen from the dirt road — the Potomac marks the boundary between West Virginia and Maryland.
road to the tunnel trail 06.20.15
The road to the trail
The place where the trail meets the road
The place where the trail meets the road
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail
The Potomac as seen from the Paw Paw Tunnel Trail (town of Paw Paw in the background)
The town of Paw Paw as seen from the trail (through a zoom lens)
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail
The tunnel entrance as seen from the trail

Oh, I almost forgot to mention that when you follow the correct trail, it lives up to its “steep and strenuous” reputation (if you’re old like us), but it was a very enjoyable walk. We’ll definitely do it again sometime when it’s cooler out.

Not long after we left the tunnel, though, we started hearing thunder in the distance. First a little, far away, then a little more, a bit closer. It started sprinkling rain before we got to the car, but we never got wet. Except for sweat, which pretty well soaked us — some rain might have felt good! But I wasn’t disappointed that we weren’t caught in the woods by a thunderstorm.

All in all, it was a nice Saturday afternoon.

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Romans 8:31

Old_Oregon_license_platesLast winter, I wrote about some thoughts prompted by a bumper sticker.

Today, on the way home from work I followed a car with a North Carolina license that read GODIS4YU. Or maybe it was GODIS4U, I’m not sure. Either way, it was intended to say “God is for you.”

This got me to wondering if it would be more accurate to say that God is for me, or that I am for God. That is, God is God regardless of anything I think, say, do, or believe; and he created me for the purpose of giving him glory — not so that I might live a smooth, happy life. But I can choose to ignore him if I want.

There was also a sticker or decal or whatever on the car showing a silhouette of a nativity scene, underscoring the license plate’s message: God reached out toward us in a significant way.

Incidentally, at the bottom of the sticker were the words, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” a slogan I don’t particularly like. Why? Because from the beginning, Christmas was a pagan event. It’s not a matter of modern people keeping Christ in Christmas so much as it is the 3rd Century church cramming Christ into a celebration in which he didn’t belong, like a square peg in a round hole. No wonder it’s so hard to keep him there! I understand the “Keep Christ in Christmas” sentiment, but it strikes me as being a bit contorted. I’d rather see something to the effect of “Let’s keep Christ in the forefront of our minds every waking minute and worship him 365 days a year even if he wasn’t born in December.” But that doesn’t have the same ring to it.

SONY DSCAnyway, back to the license plate: While debating the question of whether God is for me or if I am for God, and examining the various facets of the argument instead of thinking about driving (no, I did not get in a wreck while my mind wandered! but I needed an image to illustrate this post), I, um…

…I lost my train of thought. Note to self: you might also find a railroad train image to add.

(…rereading what I’ve written to try to catch the train…) Oh, yeah, that’s it! While debating whether or not I agreed with the license plate’s statement, I thought of an illustration.

For several years, Craig worked closely with a guy whom we’ll call Fred (not his real name), and they were pretty good friends. We were also friends with Fred’s wife Ethel (not her real name either). Then Fred was in a motorcycle accident and sustained permanent brain injuries. After that, he couldn’t drive and couldn’t work, though he still had sufficient use of his body and his faculties that there were many things he still could do. In fact, he probably could have worked somewhere–he just wasn’t able to do what he used to.

file1641276604780Meanwhile, Ethel lost her job because she took off so much time to care for him. So then they were both unemployed.

Craig and I visited him in the hospital right from the beginning, then visited them at home, and did what we could to help and encourage them. But despite the advice of doctors, professional counselors, family, and friends, Fred wouldn’t get off his duff and go anywhere or do anything. All he wanted to do was sleep and drink.

Ethel was a drinker too, and drank more and more the farther downhill her husband slid.

Eventually and reluctantly, we washed our hands of them. When people are determined to continue in their self-destructive behavior despite others’ attempts to help, there’s really not much their friends can do for them.Raveningham Hall (2) cropped

So today, while tailgating the car from North Carolina so I could read the license plate and all the stickers and magnets decorating the car (there were others as well as the ones I’ve mentioned), I thought of how God did everything possible to pull us out of the fire, requiring nothing of us but to accept what he wants to give us. But if we won’t take him up on his offer of redemption, there’s nothing left to be done.

When we choose to turn our backs on God, he allows us stay on the train we’ve chosen (Romans 1:18-32).

I can’t honestly say Craig and I did everything possible to help Fred and Ethel. I do believe that doctors and counselors and family did all they could, and we tried to  help as well though I don’t claim there were no extra miles we might have walked. But it was heartbreaking to see them ruin their lives despite everyone’s efforts.

In God’s case, he truly did do everything possible for mankind. How it must grieve him when we reject him!


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Three UnReviews

I’m uncomfortable writing book reviews. They seem so judgmental.

Review me!
Review me!

Yes, I want people to review my books (hint, hint), but I don’t like giving reviews myself. Is that inconsistent? Lopsided? Self-centered? Probably all of the above.  But that’s the way it is.

In this post, I’ll discuss three books I’ve read recently, but I won’t review them. My intention is merely to share my thoughts/feelings/opinions about them as a reader.

(Umm… isn’t that what a review is? Yes, but don’t confuse me with unwanted observations.)

I tend to collect recommendations of books without noting who recommended a particular title or why. If someone mentions it as being good for a specific reason, I’ll write it down. Then, if I run across it somewhere cheap or free (’cause I’m always cheap), I’ll pick it up on Kindle or print and read it when I have a chance and/or am in the mood.

Not long ago, after finishing a stint as judge in a contest for unpublished writers, I felt the need to cleanse my mind of amateur writing and ingest something crafted with a bit more skill. So I picked a book off my shelf by an author who was recommended as being among the best in the speculative genre. I don’t recall if it was the book itself that was recommended, or merely the author. But at some point, I had acquired The Knight by Gene Wolfe and set it aside for a time when I craved a good fantasy.

The book presented an immediate appeal for two reasons (three, if you count the recommendation): the attractive cover, and author Neil Gaiman’s endorsement: “Gene Wolfe is the smartest, subtlest, most dangerous writer alive today, in genre or out of it. This book [is] important and wonderful.”

I’d read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (another one of those that was recommended by I-forget-who), and I thought it was very well done. Figuring his opinion was worth something, I found the endorsement rather intriguing. Dangerous writing? Important and wonderful? It made me wonder what, in fact, was within that lovely cover.

Take note that Gaiman also said Wolfe is subtle. And he certainly must be–so much so that I failed to get anything “important” or “wonderful” about his writing. And where that “dangerous” comes from, I confess, is way over my head. Apparently I’m as dense as osmium.Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.08.19 AM

However, I do agree that the author knows his craft. The book is a top-notch Faerie story, complete with knights and sword fights, ogres, a dragon, a princess, elves, and intelligent animals. Yeah, it’s pretty much got it all insofar as the genre is concerned. And the writing is stellar. What I thought it lacked was purpose.

I felt no connection with the protagonist and didn’t give a whit what happened to him. I could discern no overarching theme, no illustration of fundamental truths, no believable danger to make my heart rate quicken. Yes, the protagonist was often in peril, but the outcome was never in doubt. And I had no curiosity as to how the story would end. Despite Wolfe’s writing skill, I simply didn’t care about any of it.

I cared so little, in fact, that although it’s actually a story in two parts (the whole thing is called The Wizard and the Knight, and it’s told in two volumes. The Knight is the first, and the story in concludes with The Wizard), I could hardly wait to finish the first just to be done with it. I have no interest in ever reading the second.

By the time I reached the end, I yearned to read something truly enjoyable.

A year ago or so, I thought about an old book I’d read as a kid that I loved to pieces. What I most recalled were the emotions it had aroused within the young me–an “unbearable lightness of being,” a delight that was almost painful in its intensity.

I didn’t figure I’d respond to the book the same way now, as an oldster, but I was curious to read it again to see how it did affect me. So I found it as a free download on Kindle and added it to my to-be-read shelf, where it languished for several months. Now, after finding little to please me in my recent fiction-reading adventures, I deemed it time to dust off the old friend and explore the world of the Limberlost once again.

I believe this is the cover of the book I had as a kid.
I believe this is the cover of the book I had as a kid.

The book is Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything else by the author. I do know I’ll never do it again willingly. And all the warm fuzzies I carried in my heart for this book have been scraped off with the coarse sandpaper of maturity.

How was this book disappointing? Let me count the ways.

One example: the protagonist was orphaned as a baby and raised in an orphanage in Chicago. That’s in Illinois, which, in case you’re not aware (which the author apparently wasn’t), is approximately 3500 miles from Ireland. The reason I mention this is because the character spoke with a thick Irish brogue. Thick as in difficult to read. Which I could forgive, if he’d been raised in Ireland–or raised by Irish parents who never let him out of the house–or had some other excuse to talk that way. How am I supposed to believe he spoke that way because his parents did, when he never knew his parents?

That’s just one of the many glaring impossibilities in the book. Apparently those things didn’t bother readers when the author wrote it in 1904. And they certainly didn’t bother me when I read it as a child in the 1960s. But now, I can’t get past them to enjoy whatever might be worthwhile in the story. If there is anything worthwhile in the story. To my mind, it was implausible from start to finish, riddled with inconsistencies and told in an unappealing style.

So, having gotten that book out of my system once and for all, I turned to a novel that came recommended by two sources. Funny that I don’t remember who the first one was, but the most recent person to recommend it is the friend I’m working with on a nonfiction project. I’d purchased it recently at her suggestion and decided to give it a try without allowing it to sit on the shelf for months or years as I usually do.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 10.51.20 AMYou know how, when you’ve been on your feet a long time and are weary and aching and yearning to sit down? or you’re wilting in the brutal sun and desperately need to get out of the heat? and you’re finally able to go in and rest in a cool, comfortable place, and you lean back and say, “Ahhhh….”? Well, that was my reaction to reading The Scent of Water by Elizabeth Goudge.

The language is beautiful, and I often smiled in appreciation of the skill of it. The story is engaging and sweet without being cloying. Characters are multi-dimensional and lifelike, situations are wholly realistic, and it’s all rich with truth and purpose. My only disappointment was that it ended too soon.

That is to say, it’s everything a good novel should be. Everything I want my books to be.

And here’s the funny thing. When I went to put it on my shelf, I found I already had a copy. Apparently someone else had recommended it earlier, and I’d bought it, shelved it, and forgotten about it. Well, whoever was the first to suggest it has excellent taste.

I realize not everyone will agree with my assessment of these three books, and that’s okay. I know what I like, and can’t speak for anyone else. But if you have good taste like I do, I recommend that you grab yourself a copy of The Scent of Water and drink it in!


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Weird But Fun

goblin-proofingI’ve been mentally composing something for my blog the past day or so,  intending to post it today. But then I ran across this, and I just have to share! The other topic can wait until later.

In case you’ve never heard of it, Abe Books is an online marketplace selling books, most of them used, some rare and/or out of print. If you’re looking for something a little out of the ordinary, Abe’s might be the place to find

Or, if you’d like something greatly out of the ordinary, scope out their fabulous “Weird Book Room.” In fact, even if you’re only in the market for a chuckle, hop over there and browse. I guarantee your visit will make you smile. If not, I’ll refund the full cost of your subscription to my blog, no questions asked.

The covers shown here are a small sample. It just gets better the more titles you scroll through.




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