General News

It has been harvest time here at this old house. I have been making pesto from the small pot of basil growing on the back deck. We also harvested one of the two cherry trees, getting about 2 cups of cherries. After eating a few and sharing a few, I had a little over a cup left. Fortunately, I have a very small pie tin and was able to make a tiny cherry pie to share with friends who dropped by. We have two cherry trees now that we had to cut the maple down a few years ago. It had been trimmed back so far to keep it out of the power lines that it just didn’t look good any more. When they took it down, we discovered rot had begun in the base of the trunk and was working its way up. It’s a good thing we took it down before Mother Nature did in one of our big wind storms. We planted a second pie cherry tree in its place.

We have to net the cherry trees as the fruit begins to develop because the birds will eat every single cherry unless we do. The original cherry tree, for some reason, didn’t put out much of a crop this year. We had a Mother’s Day snow and I think it was just blossoming when that hit. It is a different variety than the new cherry tree though for the life of me, I can’t remember either name. We harvested the new cherry tree for the first time this year after netting it several weeks ago. Last year, it produced a few cherries but we let those go to the birds. John wanted to do a “first fruits” thank offering with it (see Leviticus 23:9-14). It wasn’t exactly the Biblical ritual but it was an awareness of thanksgiving for one of nature’s great marvels, fresh cherries.

Two cups of cherries may not seem like much. The first cherry tree has had years where we get six or eight cups from it, but those two cups of cherries made me ridiculously happy. Maybe because we aren’t really able to grow anything here at this old house. Between a lack of space and wild animals, namely racoons, deer and bears, anything we plant is decimated before we can get to it. In addition to the basil and cherry trees, we have oregano and mint, a grape vine and a rhubarb patch. The grape vine is loaded but the racoons have an uncanny knack of knowing the night before we plan to harvest the next day. They go through and strip the vines bare. The grapes aren’t really on my cooking radar screen because for years, we have ended up with so few of them.

This year, for the first time I can remember, we didn’t get any rhubarb. We had a lot of rain and then it got very hot very fast. The rhubarb was not happy. Also, the patch is about 30 years old. Does rhubarb expire from old age? I don’t know. Usually I make at least one rhubarb custard pie and some chutney. I have also discovered that cherry rhubarb pies are great! Many people are familiar with strawberry rhubarb pie but cherry rhubarb is less common. I like it better; the flavors meld better, in my opinion.

Coming in to the end of July and harvest season, I am reminded of the parable of the Sower and the Seed found in Matthew 13: 1-23. In that story, a man throws seed prodigiously on all kinds of ground. Some never sprouts, some sprouts but withers in the sun due to shallow roots or dies out in overwhelming weed patches. Some produces a great harvest. While Jesus meant this as a metaphor for the spiritual life, it also speaks to life in this old house. We can’t have a vegetable garden because there is no ground to plant it in and the animals will get it all anyway. However, we can rejoice in our herbs, our rhubarb and our cherries. We do what we can, not what we can’t. It makes for a peaceful co-existence in our little corner of creation and some darn good cherry pies and pesto. That feels like a full harvest to me.


In response to those who think that violence is the path to achieving an end, I commit to living in peace with myself and with those I come in contact with.

I commit to ending negative talk, against myself and against others .I will not participate in gossip or hateful conversation.

I commit to living simply, creatively, healthfully. I will not purchase or consume products, as much as possible, that enslave others or harm the earth. I will recycle and engage in other practices that seek to restore nature rather than exploit it whenever I have a choice to do so. I will care for all creatures to the best of my ability.

I will respond to tragedy and violence with prayer and acts of creativity that enrich humanity and uphold the dignity of every human being.

I will not vote for people who run negative campaigns. I will use my voice for compromise and consensus, as much as possible.

I will seek to be joyful and positive in my outlook on life. I will trust that God is at work, through me and others, and that goodness really is stronger than evil.

I will not let death and destruction have the last word because I believe that God bats last. Therefore, I can throw myself fully into the game of life knowing there is meaning and purpose in large and small acts of kindness and honest work.

Valerie Hess

If you would care to join me in this, feel free to share.


“Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.
Victory is ours, victory is ours
through him who loved us.” Desmond Tutu


We got home mid-week. We went to watch our younger daughter run a marathon in Missoula, Montana. It was especially inspiring to watch people who aren’t necessarily “athletic” finish the end of the half marathon. I admire their courage and stamina tremendously. Most people who sign up to do a full marathon have a better sense of what they are doing and so look less like “deer in the headlights” as they near the finish line, even though they have run/walked twice the distance. Those doing the half marathon are often attempting an event like this for the first time. Many are overweight and seeking to jump start a healthier lifestyle. As I say, my hat is off to them all, novices and veteran runners alike.

We also traveled to Glacier National Park to redeem a “weather ruined” trip from several years ago. We had driven from Colorado to Glacier and spent the first night at McDonald Lake. The next morning, as we began to climb Logan Pass, rain and then snow began to fall. By the time we hit the top of the pass where the visitor’s center is, a full blizzard was happening and they were closing Going-to-the-Sun road. We white-knuckled our way down to our hotel at St. Mary’s where we were pinned in our room for over 24 hours by howling winds. The entire campground blew down and women were setting up portable tables in the hotel lobby in an attempt to feed hungry kids. Later in the day, when we attempted at least a walk, John couldn’t stand up in the wind.  We had not brought our passports and so couldn’t even drive to the Canadian section of the park. There was literally nothing to do but read in the room. The next day, we paid the cancellation penalty and drove all the way to Yellowstone National Park where we spent the night at a motel in Jackson Hole. It was sunny and warm there. This time, Logan Pass was perfect weather conditions. The surrounding mountains were beautiful and the visitor’s center open. There were a lot of people up there as well.

The National Parks are a priceless treasure of the American people. They are certainly one of the things this country has done right over the years since its founding. Unfortunately, many are under siege for short-sighted, quick gain reasons. Once they are lost or compromised, it will be hard if not impossible to restore them. It is important for us as individuals and for a nation to honor these untouched places of wilderness and history. If you haven’t been to a national park in a while, or ever, please do yourself a favor and go. They will “restore your soul” (see Psalm 23).

Coming home to this old house is always wonderful but in some ways, it is like “glamping,” the upscale camping that is the new rage. In glamping, you live and sleep close to nature but have more of the amenities of a motel room. This old house fits that bill in many ways. In fact, my husband is fond of saying that living here is his kind of camping! We are pretty in touch with the outside world around us but we have central heat and running, hot water. The magpies are the alarm clock, the house shakes in big winds, and the wildlife keeps us aware of open windows and bird feeder placements. We are even surrounded by Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks land, complete with rangers. Not quite a national park but we get more visitors than Rocky Mountain National Park an hour up the road gets, or so I have heard. Glamping, indeed!

Yet, it is good to see other beautiful parts of America, especially those that are more significantly impacted by climate change. Of the 150 glaciers in Glacier National Park from the early 1900s, only 25 are left and they are going quickly. Pikas, a small mammal and my favorite “farmer,” will soon run out of the cool climate they require as once they hit the top of the mountains, they will have no place else to thrive. It makes me sad. I know it makes God sad as well to see how poorly we steward his creation. Still, there is a lot of beauty left. Please don’t miss it while there is still time to see it, even if it is just in your backyard or down the block at the neighborhood park.  Pika, Stock, For The Winter wallpapers


I learned how to “shut down” this old house last week. I learned how to turn off the water to the house, a process that involves moving the car back, lifting off the metal lid, carefully removing the inner lining, and turning the arrow with the long metal pipe so that the two holes line up. All this happens on knee pads in the middle of rocks and plants. I learned how to turn off the water to the washer and to remove some of the screens so as to close the windows. (We have the original windows in some places and so putting in screens or even opening and shutting some of the windows is not a straight-forward process! It is these original windows that are not at right angles with the floor showing how little is actually  plumb in parts of house.)

One of the outside faucets runs up through a bookcase in the living room. Last winter, it began to freeze so we had to pull some books out to let the heated air circulate around the pipe.

There is a charm to living in an old historic house and there is a cost to it. Mostly, the cost is in paying attention. One needs to be diligent to regular maintenance and knowing which sections of electricity and plumbing can handle what. While we depend on the house to shelter us, we don’t count on it to function like a new house. We don’t assume anything, while trying not to be paranoid.

It is a lot like raising kids. You have to pay attention to their needs, anticipate safety issues, set boundaries but you also can’t “helicopter parent.” At some point, they will get hurt, they will make bad choices. A good parent does all they can to anticipate those moments in advance without smothering. You have to alert your kids to danger, educate them with possible right choices that can be made in situations that can go horribly wrong but in the end, you have to stand back and let them live, let them breathe, let them choose. Sometimes, it is in the dreadful mistakes of life that we learn the most. Sometimes, it is the only way God can finally get our attention.

Turning off the water to the whole house before traveling may be overkill but we never have to worry about a burst pipe when we are gone. Making sure that kids have all the age-appropriate information about a situation may result in a lot of eye-rolling. It can also mean the difference between a good time and a disaster.

Ignorance is never bliss. Education, while time-consuming, is always “cheap insurance.”

The front door at this old house has been getting quite a work-out this week. Our daughter was here and there was more comings-and-goings as she re-connected with the historic summer community. It has been a number of years since she has been able to come in the summer and she immediately fell back into the rhythm of play that happens for increasingly shorter windows of time here. So many forces work against families being able to come for two or three months at a time, as was the tradition of the historic summer community up until the 1990s. We can’t afford to stop and play that long any more.

One thing about a long-term, consistent community is that it offers roots in its traditions. Kick-the-can, ghost stories at Tomato Rock, the 4th of July picnic (the Fritos were great; see last week’s post), the annual tennis tournament: all give a sense of groundedness to life. When people are grounded in a tradition and history, they are more free to develop wings. They can explore and create because they aren’t always trying to find a firm foundation on which to base their lives. The thing about the historic summer community here is that everyone is included, newcomers and long-timers, young and old. You can’t say that about a lot of places in society, including church, these days but that is for another post.

We have one more semi-final game in the annual tennis tournament; the championships are tomorrow (after Sunday school, of course). Anyone can sign up to play, pay their $5 entrance fee ($15 if you want a T-shirt), and be assigned a same skill level partner if they need one. The semi-final match I just finished watching involved two boys, one 10 years old and one a teenager (who won) playing against two women, one a teenager and one 40-something adult. It was a close match (first one to win 8 games); all four played well and a large group of young and old alike cheered for each great point or serve.

There is a subtle movement afoot to undermine this historic summer community. Unfortunately, some of the powers that be here think that community is merely people coming to the Dining Hall for breakfast or to the Auditorium for a concert. While that is a very important aspect of Chautauqua, and always has been, people who have never experienced the “people” side of community find it difficult to understand. It even irritates a few. Those of us who grew up in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s may remember when kids of all ages “ran in herds” all summer long, creating games that everyone played in. All the adults kept an eye on all the kids: feeding them, putting on band-aids when blood appeared, scolding any and all children for bad behavior when necessary. It really was a village raising its young.

That is what we have here today. The adults who have been coming for a long time, some part of multiple generation lineages, love the freedom the kids have to play freely as much as the kids do. Everyone keeps an eye on everyone else’s children, feeding, comforting, correcting as needed. The kids love it. There is little TV watching or computer useage going on, from what I can see; it is simply too fun to be outside, running around, playing games whose rules change daily. A lot of conflict management skill development happens with those kids.

I had a conversation with a long-time Chautauquan at the picnic yesterday. Both of us told stories around the theme of how other adults in this historic summer community showed young people what it meant to behave, dress appropriately when necessary, have manners, respect elders, and play fairly all in the context of (mostly) unstructured summer fun. He commented that it was in the historic summer community where he interacted with non-parental adults that he learned what it meant to “grow up.” As in all communities, there were good and bad examples of “maturity.” Lessons are learned from both sides of that equation.

What will happen to this historic summer community in the future? I don’t know. Community is like wilderness: if you have never experienced it, you don’t know why it needs protecting. C. S. Lewis once used the example of a child playing in mud in a slum refusing an offer for a holiday at the seashore simply because they had no idea what that meant. Wilderness needs to be protected; people need to be intentional about community but if you have never experienced it, community will seem foreign, messy, hard word. As in all communities, we have our “fruits and nuts.” Not everyone likes everybody else, yet, there is a cohesion, a glue that holds us together.

I would urge each of you to find a community. Commit to sticking with it through thick and thin. Get to know the people in it. Host a picnic, have a game tournament of some kind, be there for each other’s kids. In the long run, it can help everyone win in this game we call life.


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