Saturday, October 31, 2009

Breaking News: Aliens Invade Earth

Hours ago,
Alien invaders made their presence known on Earth.
Posing as human beings,
Plotting their treacherous advance,
Yesterday may have been humanity’s last day alone.

Hopefully these invaders can be repelled.
And if not,
Long past are the days of humanity’s supremacy.
Living in these dark days
Of humanity’s possible demise,
We can only hope and pray that
Events will turn our way.
Entering into conflict with these invaders from space,
Never before have earthlings been so challenged.

(Apologies to H.G Wells and Orson Welles)

Friday, October 30, 2009

All Saints Day on Sunday for the First Time in Eleven Years

This year All Saints Days falls on a Sunday. That has not happened since1998, eleven years ago. (Thanks Krystin, for providing the year.)

All saints Day, along with World Communion Sunday, is one of my favorite days in the Church’s Calendar. I look forward to both of them, even more so than Easter or Christmas, perhaps because neither has been commercialized. May they remain to be ignored by Madison Avenue.

By “saints” I do not mean those few officially canonized by the Roman Catholic Church but rather, and at least, all those Christians who have completed their baptism by dying as a confessing Christian and who have thus entered the Church Triumphant. The New Testament, however, especially the writings attributed to Paul, seems to speak of all confessing Christians, including those still living, as “saints.” While in the New Testament “saint” is a synonym for being a follower of Jesus, or in other words, a Christian, in my mind, however, one is not a “saint” until after death, at least for the purposes of All Saints Day.

My quandary this year is whether or not to go back at least two years since this will be the first time as Designated Pastor of North Church Queens (photo of building, right) that All Saints has fallen on a Sunday and last year we did not hold a special All Saints Day worship service. To do so would mean picking up only one additional name. I guess the answer is a no brainer.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

An Awesome Kayak Shop

I am not prone to hyperbole, so when I say that Cape Cod Sea Sports (photo top right) is one of the most awesome kayak shops I have visited, I mean it. The only problem is that owner Jeff Craddock (photo bottom right) bills his family business not as a kayak shop but as a full-service water sports facility. I guess he is right because the shop caters to scuba and snorkeling as well as kayak fishing.

The business was started by Jeff’s dad sixteen years ago in 1993 but Jeff now owns and manages it. While Jeff offers full service, he also offers personalized service, and he knows the sport. Admittedly, when Vicki and I visited his shop we were the only customers on a cold, rainy Wednesday afternoon, so there was no one else for Jeff to service. Our visit probably helped him avoid boredom.

Here is how we ended up at Cape Cod Sea Sports.

Vicki and I, along with our dog Myrrhlyn, were driving back from a short stay on Cape Cod. We had gotten off Route 6 for lunch and were headed back to the main road when I saw brightly colored kayaks off to my left. I made a quick left turn into the parking lot of Cape Cod Sea Sports. We spent some time outside looking at the kayaks before we ever entered the store. Inside we were greeted by a great assortment of paddling accessories as well as scuba and snorkeling gear and kayak fishing gear. We were already glad we had turned off the road and come into the shop before I saw a sign that said something like “visit our kayak warehouse downstairs”. Not seeing any stairs I asked Jeff if the kayak warehouse was open. He said it was, flipped up a plywood floor covering the stairs, turned on the lights, and escorted us down the steps to the largest selection of kayaks and canoes I have ever seen perhaps with the exception of the Jersey Paddler. These boats, however, were out of the weather and out of the sun!

In the full basement below the shop we saw canoes and kayaks, both sit on tops and sit in, recreational and touring, of every shape and size from numerous manufactures. When I turned the corner and saw a composite Necky Chatham 17 with a great SALE price I immediately fell in love. My hopes were dashed when Jeff told me that he had sold it just the night before. Vicki’s paddling heart was strongly moved by the Necky Eliza. While it was for sale, it was not ON SALE. Maybe another day.

When I questioned Jeff about his inventory he explained that what we were looking at would probably last through spring. He expected to move the inventory three times over before the next summer paddling season was over.

In addition to their support of kayaking I am interested in Sea Sports support of snorkeling. I have snorkeled in the Bahamas and a little around the Outer Banks but never as far north as Cape Cod. When I asked Jeff about the snorkeling trips he explained that they cost about $35 and include a naturalist guide. All the trips so far have been from the beach but he is considering trips using kayaks (sit-on-tops I assume) as snorkeling platforms. I like that idea.

It had been about twenty-five years or more since Vicki and I were last on the Cape. This was our first trip since we started kayaking almost ten years ago so we saw the Cape through new eyes, the eyes of kayakers, and we like what we saw. I imagine we will be making a few more trips up to the Cape not only to kayak but also to snorkel.

If you are ever on the Cape Cod and anywhere near the village of Hyannis in the town of Barnstable, be shore to visit Cape Cod Sea Sports, 195 Ridgewood Ave. Until then, visit Jeff’s blog.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

One of the Best Kayaking Books I Have Read

I have had the time to do a little more reading lately, which is why in the past couple of days I have finished reading Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol as well as Sea Kayaker Magazine’s Handbook of Safety and Rescue by Doug Alderson and Michael Pardy (2003 McGraw-Hill). It seems like it took me nearly forever to navigate the 199 pages of Alderson and Pardy’s Handbook of Safety and Rescue but this was one of the best books about kayaking that I have read, and I have read quite a few. This paperback resource is jammed packed with information, diagrams, and charts related to just about every aspect of sea kayaking and I will probably be returning to for years to come. While the texts is not a difficult read, it can be a dense read if one takes the time, like I did, to reflect on the various scenarios and to imagine and think through some of the physical movements of the strokes and rescue techniques. As I read, I found myself thinking back to past paddles involving events and incidents and how they could have been avoided. I also imagined how these events and incidents could have been accidents had it not been for good leadership, experienced paddlers, and a little luck. Hopefully, having read this book, I will not only be a safer paddler, avoiding potential problems by lessoning risk, but if problems do arise, I will have the knowledge to resolve it with minimum difficulty. I highly recommend anyone who paddles on open water buy and read this book.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Lost Symbol

(No Spoiler Here) I read The DaVinci Code before Angels and Demons and liked it better. But I liked the Angels and Demon’s Movie better than The DaVinci Code Movie. Dan Brown’s latest novel combines the cryptic appeal of The DaVinci Code with the action packed fast pace of Angels and Demons with some darker and more violent moments thrown in for effect.

As I read these 505 pages I was aware that I was reading the third installment in a Robert Langdon series as there were references to the events recounted in Angels and Demons as well as The DaVinci Code, but not so many that one needs to read the previous novels first. It also seemed that Dan Brown assumed this novel would be turned into a movie as some of its chapters seemed to be written for the big screen as much as for the mind’s eye.

Although Robert Langdon is the only recurring character, there are numerous recurring plot devices as well as twists and turns reminiscent of the previous two novels. When I read The DaVinci Code I found Brown’s writing fresh and exciting. Not this time.

Having lived near our Nation's Capitol, close enough to make it downtown to the Mall within 90 minutes, my interest perked when I reached Chapter 79 on page 295 as Robert Langdon and the reader arrived at one of my favorite DC landmarks, one I have visited numerous times, exploring most of its public space. I was disappointed more of the novel was not set there. My hunch is that tourism to DC might slightly increase as a result of this novel being published.

As the plot line progressed, forty to fifty pages before the end I could see where it was headed. Being a theologically educated Christian with a strong background in classical and medieval Philosophy, and having read a lot of esoteric literature, I was familiar with most of the symbolism and theories that Brown employed. I was therefore not surprised by the end and was even a little disappointed.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Parallel Paths

I wonder how much of my theology and faith has been influenced by my environmental awareness and love of the natural world, and how much of my love for the natural world and commitment to the environment has been influenced by my Christian faith. My hunch is that they have both influenced each other and developed together in tandem, on parallel paths.

From a theologically informed intellectual viewpoint I must argue that Christianity is a communal faith. A Christian cannot live the Christian life nor worship God as an isolated individual. Christians, by definition, assemble for worship, share bread and cup, and participate in community. On the other hand, from a purely personal viewpoint, I can feel just as close to God, if not closer, on a mountain top, on a wilderness trail, on an exposed rock face, or on open water in a kayak.

Friday, October 16, 2009

NOLS New York City Reunion & Presentation

Over sixty NOLS Alumni, friends and families braved a cold, chilly nor’easter last night to attend the 2009 NOLS New York City Reunion & Presentation hosted by Patagonia SoHo, 101 Wooster Street. The venue was appropriate considering that the presentation by NOLS instructors Rob Walker and Karen Holm (photo top right) featured the pair’s six-month, 1,850-mile kayak traverse of Chilean Patagonia—the first of this spectacular coastal wilderness.

Prior to the official event some local Alums, NOLS staff from Lander, Karen and Rob gathered at nearby Puck Fair, an occasional NOLS Alumni hangout, for drinks, food, and conversation. As we talked I learned that when not working as NOLS instructors with the Wilderness Medicine Institute Rob is an Emergency Room and Life Flight Nurse and Karen teaches 8th grade in Bend Oregon.

Karen and Rob’s program consisted of a 35 minute digitized slide show set to music. Featured images included Chilean coastal flora and fauna, picturesque coastal scenes, portraits of some local inhabitants, and Rob and Karen, both in and out of their Feathercraft K1 Expedition kayaks. According to Rob, the Feathercraft K1 is not only the kayak used by NOLS on its Patagonia Sea Kayaking courses but also the standard kayak in Chilean coastal waters. After the slide presentation Rob and Karen answered questions.

Knowing adequate planning and preparation is the key to safe and successful expeditions; Rob invested two years of reading accounts from people who had paddled in the area and studying maps prior to their own departure. According to Rob there were some historical records of indigenous paddlers travelling the same route. On some of their portages the couple could easily see evidence of previous and numerous portages whiles other portages suggested that Karen and Rob were the first in recent times to make the portage. The couple took all their gear with them from the US to Chile, including their kayaks. They did arrange resupply drops, however.

While Karen and Rob did not paddle every day, their expedition lasted 170 days. They experienced rain on 105 of those days and still averaged over ten miles a day covering a total of 1,850 miles, the entire distance they had intended to paddle. They often paddled for days without seeing another person or boat as only about 50 paddlers are permitted in the waters during the paddling season. While they passed abundant shellfish they did not enjoy a single one, not only because to do so was illegal but also because it could be fatal. In recent years red tides have decimated the local shell fish populations and made shell fish potentially poisonous.

Avoiding dry suits because they thought the suits would not outlast the expedition, the paddlers opted for neoprene under Gore-Tex tops and bottoms. They carried old technology cameras because they reasoned that six months of salt air and humidity would decimate newer electronic cameras. They also carried solar chargers to recharge the batteries for their various electronic devices.

In spite of their Chilean and previous paddling experience, Rob says that neither he nor Karen considers themselves sea kayakers, but rather as adventures who kayak on open waters. Rob's outlook seems to capture the NOLS philosophy of engaging in safe and ecologically responsible wilderness travel, regardless of the location or season.

Before and after the presentation NOLS grads, friends and families reconnected with other area grads, caught up on what’s happening at NOLS, enjoyed hors d’ouvres, non-alcoholic drinks and a raffle (photo second from top right). Newlywed NOLS Alum Chris Saxman (photo third from top right) won the ice ax donated by Eastern Mountain Sports SoHo. I won a Mountain Hard Wear ball-cap style hat.

In addition to NOLS representatives (photo fourth from top right) from Lander, also present at this year’s reunion were representatives of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, Joe Gindoff (photo bottom right) and Jenny Hezel, who passed out literature, spoke briefly about the work and programs of the Conference, and were available to answer questions. Keep your eyes open for future programs and publicity involving both the Trail Conference and the local NOLS Alumni group.

Rumor has it that if a suitable location is secured NOLS will also be offering a weekend Wilderness First Aid Course in the New York metro area, so keep your eyes and ears open for this possibility as well.

Local Alumni should also mark their calendars for a NOLS Alumni hike on October 24 and the NOLS Alumni Holiday party on December 2. Other outings and gatherings are being planned and will be announced through the local list serve which can be joined through a link on the the NOLS Alumni home page.

As always, special acknowledgment and thanks is due Tobey, Lori and Gint, our three local NOLS NYC Alumni volunteer coordinators.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Columbus Day Paddle: An Adventure of Epic Proportions

In 1492
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
517 years to the day
Sebago kayaked Jamaica Bay

On Monday, October 12, 2009, around 11:15 AM, after more than an hour’s planning, preparation and outfitting, eighteen courageous paddlers embarked not in three large galleons but in eighteen small boats from the dock of the Sebago Canoe Club in Brooklyn, New York on an epic voyage of discovery. Led by Anthony “Tony” Pignatello (photo top right), the Corps of Discovery kayaked southward through Paerdegat Basin, under the Belt Parkway, and into the open and treacherous waters of Jamaica Bay, where the water temperature was 60 and the air temperature was 54. An hour later, after an uneventful crossing of the open bay, they landed on an island called by the indigenous people “Canarsie Pol” (photo middle right).

Had the historic Sebago Flag not been inadvertently left behind in the clubhouse, the explorers would have planted it in Canarsie Pol’s sandy soil, claiming the island for the Sebago Canoe Club.

As it was, these hearty men and women of the sea continued their historic trek eastward along the island’s southern shore and shortly after 1:00 PM entered nearby salt marshes in search of the previously elusive “Marsh Passage” (photo bottom right). Having divided the company in half at the southern end of the marshes, two separate scouting parties discovered their separate passages through the watery grasses and reunited at the northern end of the grassy labyrinth. Paddling again as one group, the expedition then kayaked westerly along Canarsie Pol’s northern shore until turning northward for their return trip across the open waters of Jamaica Bay. Successfully navigating across the bay a second time the troupe headed home, making way once again under the Belt Parkway and northward into Paerdegat Basin until, 6.9 miles and 3 1/2 hours after beginning, they arrived back at the Sebago dock around 2:45 PM.

After carrying their kayaks up to the wash racks, washing and storing all their boats and gear, the tried and tested heroic explorers retired into the club house for a feast worthy of Pilgrims. Sausage and hamburgers were grilled by Fran. Beer and wine was drunk. Many fresh delicacies and baked goods were shared and consumed. A good time was had by all.

Surely this ambitious undertaking by the dozen and half kayakers will be hailed for years to come within the halls of the Sebago Canoe Club clubhouse. Songs will be composed and sung. Poems will be written and recited. Statues will be erected. Blogs will be written. Ken Burns will document. Holidays will be named and observed in their honor.

View more photos of this epic adventure here.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Road Trip: Another Wedding and Hawk Mountain

Two out of town weddings in three weeks! At least Chris and Mamta's wedding was closer to home, just west of Allentown, Pennsylvania, not all the way across the Keystone State and into Ohio. Last saturday morning, before the afternoon's outdoor ceremony, I had the opportunity to visit, along with the groom and several other wedding guests, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, an international center for raptor conservation. Since it seems that I have been writing a lot of “shore” and “religion” posts lately; my visit to Hawk Mountain offers me the opportunity to write a “summit” post.

Hawk Mountain was founded in 1934 but I first heard about it around ten years ago from Elaine, the mother of a young man, Doug, which either worked or volunteered there, I now do not remember which. I later heard more about Hawk Mountain and the annual migration count from Doug himself. Ever since then I have longed to visit Hawk Mountain. Last Saturday, thanks to Mamta, Chris and their wedding, my longing was fulfilled.

The Sanctuary was only a few miles from the site of the wedding. Saturday morning several people associated with the wedding boarded a school bus which took us to the site. Once there we hiked the well maintained Lookout Trail first to the South Lookout and then to the North Lookout. The top photo was taken of wedding party (that is groom Chris, standing highest) and other visitors standing atop the North Lookout.

I had not been in the preserve long before it reminded me of what I call a “Western Pennsylvania Wilderness Fragrance” even though we were in eastern, not western Pennsylvania. The aroma is probably an alchemical combination of mountain laurel, cool conglomerate quartzite rock, damp earth, and various decaying organic matter warmed by the sun. If that scent could be bottled I would buy it! It took me back decades to numerous hikes and other wilderness outings in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands and along the Highland’s Chestnut Ridge.

In addition to the familiar smell I saw lots and lots of mountain laurel, the state flower of Pennsylvania. I also saw, and tasted, teaberry, for the first time in nearly a year. I felt rock under my feet and sun on my face. While I did not see many raptors I still enjoyed the view and the brief time we could spend at Hawk Mountain. I wish we could have stayed longer, but alas, there was a wedding waiting. The bottom photo to the right is of Mamta and Chris, and other wedding guests, at the post wedding reception.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

PC(USA) GA Vice Mod Visits NYC Presbytery at the God Box

Earlier today I enjoyed an intimate lunch and conversation with The Reverend Byron Wade (photo top right), Vice Moderator of the 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). So did fourteen other members of New York City Presbytery, including five staff of New York City Presbytery, at least one Clerk of Session, one Candidate Under Care, and several Pastors. Bryon was on the second day of a ten day Vice Moderator’s visit through the Northeast. The day before he had visited in Long Island Presbytery. Later in the evening he was to visit Hudson River Presbytery, and the day after Newark Presbytery. He plans to conclude his visit on Saturday, October 17, when he visits the meeting of the Synod of the North East as it meets at Stony Point Conference Center.

I have attended as an observer a lot of General Assemblies, including the 218th. I have also known some former moderators, but only after they served as moderator. I think this was my first opportunity, in over twenty years of ministry, to enjoy a somewhat intimate meal and conversation with a sitting Vice Moderator or Moderator.

During our conversation I learned that Byron’s former Pastor was the Reverend Isaiah Jones, now a member of the Church Triumphant. I am particularly fond of Isaiah’s hymn Fill My Cup, #350 in the Presbyterian Hymnal and even have a recording of it that Isaiah sent to me. Learning that Isaiah was Bryon’s Pastor means that in my mind Bryon’s stock just went up.

I also learned that Bryon has several New York City connections, including a family member who served as Executive Presbyter, and a former Pastor of the church Byron now serves who is currently serving as Acting Executive Presbyter.

Byron openly compared himself to his good friend and General Assembly Moderator Bruce Reyes-Chow. Byron considers Bruce a “Type A” personality while he sees himself as more laid back. He also considers that compared to Bruce, who is generally progressive, that he is more moderate. I also learned that traditionally the Moderator visits 2/3 of the time and the Vice Moderator visits 1/3 of the time but that Bruce and Byron have agreed to each visit half of the time.

On a side, I noted that of the fifteen members of New York City Presbytery gathered in Cafeteria Room 2 of the God Box that eight were racial ethnic and seven were Anglo, a fair representation of the Presbytery as a whole. Unfortunately there were very few present under the age of forty, maybe only two.

For those wondering what in the world I mean by “The God Box” I mean the building at 475 Riverside Drive in the New York City (photo bottom right). For decades prior to the mid 1980’s the building housed the national offices of the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and still houses the offices of the National Council of Churches as well as national and regional offices of numerous other denominations and church related entities, including the offices of New York City Presbytery. The building offers little if any outside unique architectural qualities and more or less resembles a box, thus the moniker.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another AM Paddle

For the second Tuesday in a row I climbed out of bed earlier than usual in order to go kayaking. Joined by Tony, John W. and Michael (both photos to the right), three of the same four paddlers as last week, we had all arrived at the Sebago Canoe Club by 7:30 AM and we were on the water by 8:15 AM

Last week we paddled west. This week we paddled east, paddling into and exploring Spring Creek and Hendricks Creek. Last season I had explored Spring Creek, more or less a small meandering wilderness oasis populated with various water fowl in spite of flowing under the Belt Parkway. This was my first time in Hendricks Creek, a more urban experience bordered with parkland on the east but a modern sewage treatment plant on the west.

Unlike last week there was little wind and the bay was fairly smooth. Thanks to easily paddling we averaged 3 mph over the 11.8 mile trip, counting a 40 minute break, but easily paddled between 4 to 5 mph when we were actually paddling. Had we stayed in open waters rather than paddling into the creeks our average speed probably would have been 4 mph. The air temperature was 68 by noon and the water temperature was around 62. Thanks to the sun and light wind I was comfortable in chaco's, water shorts, and a long sleeved synthetic shirt under a paddling jacket, but I have a hunch that on my next paddle I will be wearing a wet suit with neoprene booties.

I paddled the club’s blue Impex Montauk. I vaguely remember paddling it before but am not sure when. I found its cockpit smaller than that of the old Wilderness Systems Sealution which I paddled last week but after a few minutes felt very comfortable in it. At 5 feet 8 inches however, I had the foot pegs fully extended, so this would not be a good boat for larger or taller paddlers.

More photos from the trip have been posted on picassa.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Preachers Answer "Who Is Jesus?" Question

At the workshop on Delivering the Gospel in which I recently participated, I preached a four minute segment of a sermon I had earlier preached at North Church Queens in which I asked “Who is Jesus?” The workshop participants answered the question just like those in attendance at North Church. Here are the answers offered by seminary educated and experienced preachers. I asked them to limit their responses to ten words or less.

The very presence of almighty God
God’s living and glorious Word made saving flesh
Jesus was a Palestinian! (Jesus was a Jew!) Karl Barth
Faithful friend who ups life in and around me
Jesus is God’s son our salvation
Jesus is the anointed one for the world, all that is
Jesus: (One with) Heart the size of God
The one wholly in communion with the Holy
Jesus – is my friend. He is God’s Son and my Savior.
Jesus is what moves through the leaves

And your answer in ten words or less?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

About October’s Header Photo

October’s Header Photo features a hazy and grainy view of Old Rag as seen from the nearby Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park. When I lived in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle the AT in SNP was one of my favorite destinations and I climbed Old Rag at least once. It was an impressive climb considering the low elevation (3,291 ft) and close proximity to Washington, DC. When I say I “Climbed” it I do not mean “climb” in the technical sense. Rather, it was a steep walk up with a little scrambling.