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On the Road Again — In the Alps

Eighteen months have passed since our family of four completed our round-the-world adventure.  Being home is wonderful, but our family also loves being on the road together.

One of the delights of traveling together is the sense that the four of us — my wife, son, daughter, and I — are on a special adventure.  We encounter new places and new people, we get lost and find our way, and most importantly, we do it together.

Our wonderful home in Geneva

Our wonderful home in Geneva

After a year-and-a-half at home, we are on the road again.  This time, we are in the Alps.  We are house-sitting for a wonderful family as they take a holiday to Lapland.  They live in Geneva, Switzerland, in a beautiful home with a great view of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc.  And, we are about an hour from ski slopes.

My wife and daughter at the ski lift

My wife and daughter at the ski lift




We hit the slopes on a beautiful day in Avoriaz, France.  The day started out with foggy weather, but by the time our skis touched the snow, the sky was clear and blue.  The snow has not been plentiful this season, and many locals have kindly expressed their concern that our experience may be less than optimal.  For us, though, it was a grand day.

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

My son, daughter, and me in the Alps

Ah!  To be on the road again is a wonderful thing!

To Kill a Mockingbird

Outside Courthouse

Courthouse Museum, Monroeville, Alabama

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books.  I read it many years ago as a teenager, and growing up in a small Southern town, I could relate to many of the characters Harper Lee created.

After reading the book, I saw the movie, and my admiration for Atticus Finch, so ably portrayed by Gregory Peck, increased after seeing the screen adaptation.  As a young adult, I listened to the book on tape while commuting to my first job after graduate school.  Even though I knew the story well, still I cried when the jury found Tom Robinson guilty.  I remember blinking away tears as I drove the streets of Boston after hearing the verdict.  This school year, my son read the book during his English class, and I enjoyed talking with him as he discovered this treasure.

Act One

Act One

One of the highlights of moving to Northwest Florida’s Gulf coast is that I can drive to Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, in about two and a half hours.  A few days ago, our family joined the small crowd making the pilgrimage to Monroeville.  We watched the Mockingbird Players perform the stage version at the Old Courthouse Museum, which this all-volunteer cast has done for twenty-seven years.

The first act took place outside the courthouse, and we were introduced to Scout, Jem, Dill, Calpurnia, Atticus, and their neighbors.  We saw racism grow among the residents.  I was startled to hear the N word used so freely by the characters, and looking around the audience, I wondered how others felt when hearing this offensive term.  We watched fear fester as neighbors talk about Boo Radley.  During the first act, Scout and Jem were amazed by their father’s skill when he shot a rabid dog, and as the act ended, Atticus calmly but courageously faced the lynch mob outside the jail where Tom Robinson was awaiting trial.

Inside Courtroom

Inside Courtroom, which was used from 1904-1962

The second act took place in the courtroom.  Twelve white men were selected to sit on the jury, and the remaining seats were open for the audience.  Our family sat in the grand jury box between the judge’s chair and the prosecutor’s table.  We were able to see the faces of Tom Robinson and his accuser, Mayella Ewell, as the proceedings developed.  We were so close to Atticus Finch as he defended Tom that we could have touched him.  And, of course, we were very close when the jury found Tom guilty.

Grand Jury Box

View from the Grand Jury Box

The second act included Boo Radley saving Scout and Jem, and it concluded with Scout’s growing understanding of life in her town and her father’s courage through it all.  Atticus Finch said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”  Thankfully, sitting in the grand jury box gave us a wonderful view to consider things from the perspectives of Atticus Finch, Mayella Ewell, her father Bob Ewell, and Tom Robinson.

The play runs during April and May of each year, and the quality of the acting is amazing considering that all of the actors volunteer their time and energy.  The cast begins rehearsing in February each year, and they give of themselves until the final performance in late May.

Outside NightWitnessing the play was a highlight of Spring for me, and I especially was delighted to share the experience with my wife and children.  Stuart Richeson played Judge Taylor the night we watched the play.  In the playbill, he said, “The message is timeless – one man determined to do what is right, even though society resists him.”  I agree, and I recommend the play to anyone.

Go Set a Watchman

I have the book! And I’m going to start reading Go Set a Watchman tonight. 

Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, is only about 100 miles and a two-hour drive from my home in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Maycomb — as it’s known in the books — is really close!

I’ve read the reviews, and I’ve listened to the critics on NPR. I know that Atticus Finch is portrayed as a racist, and I know that many other readers have been disappointed. Still, I’m looking forward to reading this book. 

In some ways, I feel a bit like Scout. I was a child when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird just as Scout was a child during Mockingbird’s action. Having grown up in a small town in the southern United States, I could relate to many of the things that Scout, Jem, and Dill encountered. I don’t remember a Boo Radley in my hometown, although there were plenty of characters around whom I felt at least a little uneasy.

And, like Scout, I knew racism. I heard it at school, and I knew the attitudes of many people around town. I saw the different sections in which people with different skin color lived. There was an invisible but very clear color line dividing our town. 

I am thankful that my parents taught me to respect all people regardless of their racial or ethnic background. But I still knew and observed racism. 

I read To Kill a Mockingbird again as an adult. I also listened to the audio book, and although I knew the story — although I knew that Tom Robinson would be falsely found guilty — still I cried when the verdict was announced. How could people treat someone else with such dismissive disdain and searing hatred, I wondered. 
To prepare for Watchman’s release this week, my family watched Mockingbird on Monday night. Gregory Peck was just as calm and determined as always as Atticus Finch . I still felt the pit in my stomach during Tom’s trial. 

And, now I have Watchman. Like Scout in Watchman, I’m older now (though I’m considerably older than Jean Louise in Watchman). I’m sure my perspectives have changed since childhood as Scout’s surely did. 

While other readers have expressed frustration and disappointment with Jean Louise’s portrayal of Atticus, I’m looking forward to it. Much of the disappointment seems driven by people’s desire for a completely good, upright hero without flaws or blemishes. 

I don’t think life happens that way, and I think it is heroic to do the right thing even if one has mixed motives and undesirable qualities. At this point, I think Atticus still is a hero. 

I wonder what I’ll think after reading Go Set a Watchman. 

Now, it’s time to read!

Whales and Seals in South Africa

Shortly after we arrived in the Western Cape of South Africa, we were told that we may be able to see whales during our stay.  The Southern Right Whale spends summer feeding near Antarctica and migrates north in winter for breeding.  September marks the end of winter in South Africa, and we have seen signs of spring all around.

A couple of days after arriving in Yzerfontein, South Africa (the beautiful seaside town that is our home for the month of September), my wife and daughter were enjoying time on the beach, when they spotted something near the town’s dock.  At first, my wife thought it was a rock, but on closer inspection, they saw that it was a whale.  They sped home to gather my son and me, and the four of us went to the dock.  We spent the next forty-five minutes transfixed by the whales.  There were three whales within fifty meters of the dock, and they appeared to be two large adults and one small young whale.  We could see another whale about three hundred meters away.  They seemed to float effortlessly, rising and falling with the waves.  Their mouths came out of the water, and they occasionally fluttered their fins and tails.  It was a sight to behold!Whale

We have seen whales on two other occasions.  Once was while at the West Coast National Park, a beautiful place set on the coast just north of Yzerforntein.  And the second time was from the beach while walking the dogs. A storm was brewing, the winds were strong, and the seas rough. Just off shore — no more than 200 meters — we spotted a whale easily floating in the water. It seemed to take no mind to the storm that was leaving us damp and windblown. And we didn’t mind the cold and damp conditions as we watched this majestic creature.

SealIn addition to whales, I also hoped to spot some seals while in South Africa. We traveled to Robben Island (more about this experience in another blog post), which is named for the seals in the waters near Cape Town. Robben is the Dutch word for seal. As our boat approached the island, we saw eight or ten seals sunning on rocks. It was a nice sight, but I really was hoping to see seals in a more natural setting.

Yesterday, while my daughter and I were walking the dog on the beach, we looked behind us, and we saw a seal on the shore. We stood still for several minutes watching the seal. With Pella the dog securely on the leash, we walked closer to get a better view. As we approached slowly, the seal looked at us for a while before walking into the surf. It started swimming in the water just a few feet offshore. As we walked back home, the seal swam parallel to the shore in the same direction we walked. What a gift in this wonderful town! Seal 2


Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I concluded our time as Pastor of Fernwood Baptist Church, Spartanburg, South Carolina.  We served in this position for five years, and our time was wonderful.  We left because we have sensed a desire to live closer to our family, and we are moving to Florida where we will live close to both sets of our parents and my wife’s brother and his family.  

Unlike many departures, ours was not motivated by frustration, burnout, or anything negative.  We left a place and setting we loved to move to a place and setting where we sense we are supposed to be.

The congregation provided many wonderful occasions to say good-bye.  We shared meals, read cards, enjoyed conversations, and had the great pleasure to say and hear many good words.  On our final Sunday, the congregation hosted a wonderful lunch for us.  When the lunch was over, it finally came time to say good-bye to a group of dear people that we loved very much.

I had thought about so many details related to our departure, but I had not thought about how to finally say good-bye to people.  As the lunch ended, people gathered to extend their good wishes, and I found that I was unable to share words with them.  Instead, I shed tears — lots of tears.  Tears flowed down my cheeks, and many times, I would simply stand with a parishioner — and cry.

Rather than being embarrassed about tears I could not control, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the tears,  They seemed to express what my words could not.

It was a new experience for me, and just one more reason to be grateful for my time with these wonderful people.