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The Gift

It didn’t come from under a Christmas tree. It didn’t come wrapped in colorful paper. It wasn’t even a tangible gift, although it was just as real and wonderful and exciting as the dawn of a new day. The gift was given to me by my father, back in the carefree days of my youth. His gift was a love of the outdoors.

Copyright Mike L. Raether

Some of my best childhood memories are of times spent camping with my family next to a whispering stream, and waking up on crisp mountain mornings to the smell of frying bacon rising from a cast iron pan strategically placed over a cheerful campfire. And then there were those times Dad would wake my little brother and me in the middle of the night for a long drive in the dark to arrive at first light at a trout lake. There we would slide a homemade rowboat from the top of the family bus and into the lake, and push off into the morning mist just as the sun winked above the tops of clean-scented evergreens. Most mornings we would fill stringers with pan-sized trout, gleaming trophies for a kid to take home and proudly share with the rest of the family.

The gift of the love of the outdoors is not something meant to be kept to yourself. It’s meant to be passed on, and it isn’t reduced by the sharing; it multiplies and brings joy to others. I’ve passed the gift along to my children, and they in turn are passing it on to theirs. In all of this the gift has come full circle and returned to me, bringing fresh joy to my life, like wildflowers suddenly encountered along a mountain trail.             

As Priscilla Wayne once noted, “…appreciation is the food of the soul.” What is it about the outdoors you appreciate?

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How Do I Love Thee, My Pack Goat?

The news from the doc wasn’t encouraging.

“You’re done carrying 50 pound packs, splitting wood, and packing out game on your back. You’re wearing out your spine. Keep it up and you’re looking at another back surgery. I don’t want you lifting over 25 pounds.”

Yeah, right. I’m an outdoorsman, okay? Carrying a heavy pack, splitting wood, and packing out game on my back is what I do. But that first surgery hurt much more than carrying a heavy pack, splitting firewood, and carrying out game on my back. I sure didn’t want another back surgery. So…

“Grover” – photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

Enter the pack goat.

For some time I’d been intrigued with the idea of goat packing. Goats have many advantages over other types of pack stock. True, you can’t ride them and they can’t carry as much weight at llamas, mules, and horses but as far as I’m concerned, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.

How do I love thee, my pack goat? Let me count the ways –

  • I don’t need a big stock trailer. Goats can be transported in the back of a pickup, but personally I use a little half ton trailer with extended sides.
  • Goats can carry up to 25% of their weight. My pack goat weighs about 165 and carries about 40 pounds. That’s 40 pounds on his back instead of mine. I like this idea. A lot. As some pack goats can go over 200 pounds, this means 50 pounds or more on their backs instead of yours.
  • I don’t have to shoe my goat or even trim his hooves, as long as we hike enough. A goat’s  hooves wear down pretty fast on a hard trail.
  • I don’t have to pack feed. Goats eat just about anything (except tin cans), although they do like a handful of grain as a treat.
  • Goats usually don’t buck or bite, but they might nibble on your shirttail to see if it’s edible.
  • They’re affectionate, but they have bad breath. Goat burps are stinky. Then again, so are human burps.
  • They’re easy to keep. Currently my pack goat lives in a 16X48’ enclosure using 50 inch tall cattle panels. In addition, he has a little house where he can get out of the weather. I could easily add a couple more goats to this set up.
  • They don’t eat much and their feed doesn’t have to be top quality. Last summer I bought a ton of grass hay for my pack goat and he’s just now getting to the last bale.
  • They don’t drink much water. In fact, they can go for a few days without drinking. Dry camps don’t bother them.
  • Pack goats are usually cheap to buy, but you may have to raise them from kids as trained and experienced pack goats are pretty spendy – if you can even find one for sale.
  • They’re incredibly sure footed; they can go everywhere you go and places you can’t (or won’t) go.
  • They’re recycling machines. Goat raisins make great compost.

There are a number of different breeds of goats, and some are better for packing than others. Alpines, Toggenburgs, and Saanans are all larger breeds that make good pack goats. You’ll want a goat that will weigh a minimum of 160 pounds when mature. Most pack goats are wethers (castrated males). But if you like goat’s milk get a doe for packing and you can have fresh milk in camp.

So – are you ready to do it with a goat?

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Opportunity Lost

It was a great spot. I could see 100 yards in most directions through the Lodgepole Pine that clothed this Montana ridge. It was late October, and the snow was pocked with fresh deer tracks. By the half light of a promising dawn I brushed a few inches of snow off a convenient log, took a seat, and rested the rifle across my knees.

“Graceful Deer” by Dawn Huczek is licensed under CC 4.0. Cropped from original.

I had a buck tag in my pocket, but I wasn’t hunting deer. I had one of the  few cow elk permits for this area and I was out to fill my freezer with some of the finest eating available from the hunter’s woods.

And mixed with those whitetail tracks was elk tracks. From experience I knew that elk fed below me on the grassy, open south face at night and bedded during the day in the tangle of dense downfall and brush on the north face. I was hoping to intercept them on the crest of this east-west ridge.    

I leaned my back against a convenient tree, blew out a frosty sigh and settled in for a wait. After a few minutes I raised a cow elk call to my lips and blew a few enticing notes. I waited, then repeated. I waited some more.

The whitetail buck appeared out of nowhere, as unexpected as a spring snowstorm. Suddenly he was just there, standing barely 30 yards away, eyes boring into me. Apparently he’d crept in to investigate the elk call.

The buck appeared curious, perhaps wondering where I’d come from. I studied his antlers through my binoculars. Nice rack. Not huge, but nice. The main beams were thick and gnarly at their bases. They gracefully swept up and forward and in width stretched out well past his ears. There were just three tines per side but they stood tall and proud, the tallest more than a foot long.       

“I think I’ll let him go.” I lowered my binoculars. I was more than a mile from my truck. It would take all day to get this buck off the mountain, and my elk hunt would be cancelled for the day. I had plenty of season left to fill my buck tag. Four more weeks lay ahead of me. Still, he really was a pretty decent buck…

I raised my binoculars again for another peek while the buck stood as still as a fence post, watching me. I might get a chance at a bigger buck later in the season, but I might not. If I filled my buck tag now, then I could put all my efforts into hunting elk for the rest of the season.

“I think I’ll take him.” Slowly lowering my binoculars, I began easing the rifle up to my shoulder. But the buck had grown tired of the game. Suddenly, without warning he turned, flipped his tail and was gone. I’d looked too much, and waited too long. The opportunity was gone as quickly as a popped balloon.

I continued calling for elk but without success. Late in the day as I descended the mountain, I thought about the drama with the buck. Why had I hesitated? That buck was probably a gift from God, a diamond opportunity to tag out. And I’d missed it.       

I began thinking about some of the other diamond opportunities God has given me that I’ve missed because I’ve hesitated. Not just opportunities to take game, but opportunities in other areas of life.

God is not silent. He calls to us, sometimes even challenges us. And like that buck on that ridge, He often waits patiently while we make up our minds. But also like the buck, He won’t wait forever. If we hesitate too long, the opportunity might turn, flip its tail and flee. Of course, sometimes the opportunities come again. But sometimes they don’t.

By the way – you may be wondering if I ever filled that buck tag. No, I did not…

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

It’s Okay to be a Skeptic

Most people think of skepticism as being negative, but there’s a positive side too. I’m not going to list the negatives, because I don’t want to insult your intelligence. So on to the positives –

First off, we’re not talking about being cynical or condemning.  Cynics can be skeptics, sure, but  cynics are always negative and pessimistic. And as I said, there’s a positive side to skepticism. So now I’ll get to the point.

Skepticism is related to doubt, and the positive about being doubtful is that those who doubt are in many cases just looking for more information. They want to believe, but need more light. Doubters aren’t lemmings; they want reasons to believe.

Did Jesus Christ ever condemn people for having doubts? I look to the Bible as my yardstick, so recently I went to the New Testament to learn about how Jesus related to doubters. Here’s what I found:

Those who persecuted Jesus were in complete denial about His claims. Jesus had no time for the cynics, or those who refused to believe. But He comforted those who doubted, because He knew that the desire for confirmation was root of their doubts .

A couple of cases to consider –

The first: Jesus once said of John the Baptizer that he was the greatest of all those born of women. Yet after John was cast into prison for standing up to King Herod, he suffered doubts. Earlier John had pointed to Jesus as the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29).  But now languishing in a filthy prison he wondered if it had all been in vain. Had he really done the right thing? Was Jesus really the Messiah?

So John sent some of his people to Jesus with the question, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). So how did Jesus respond to John’s faltering faith? He reassured him – basically told John that his efforts were not in vain:

“Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”  (Luke 7:22). John later lost his head (literally) but I’d bet he did so with a smile.

The second: After the resurrection of Jesus Christ, a follower named Thomas had doubts about the resurrection business. He said,  “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25).

Thomas’ comments have earned him the label “doubting Thomas.” But the question is, how did Jesus respond to Thomas’ doubts? The answer is found in John 20:26-27  – “A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.'”

Sometimes it’s okay to have doubts – it just depends on your reasons for doubting. Go ahead – be a skeptic.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Why Haters Hate

Hate: No matter how the story is told, it’s a sad story.

“Stop hating (all way)” by sylvar is licensed under CC 4.0

Why do people hate? Not “just because.” No, not at all. There are reasons behind every form of hatred, and all are ugly.

I came up with four base-level forms of hatred. I call them “base-level” because a lot of ugliness gets built on each one.

  • jealously,
  • a desire to feel superior,
  • a need for attention, and
  • for revenge.

But where does all this hate come from? Some would say from the fallen nature of man, and that’s the larger truth. But the smaller truth is that much of the hatred within us was deposited within us by our parents or through our peers. What kind of an example am I leaving for others?

I grew up in the greater Seattle area, a multicultural mecca where prejudice was pretty much unnamed. But I learned at an early age that not everyone considers others as equals.

For example, I remember one family that moved into my neighborhood from a southern state known for its racial tension. One day their son and I got talking. He told me how much he hated blacks, only he didn’t call them blacks. He used another word. Because I was a mean widdow kid (and a lot bigger than the new kid) I thought it would be great sport to sit on the kid, hold him down, and call him “n” “n” and “n” over and over again. Which I did.

The kid turned so red in the face I thought he was going to stroke out. I finally let him up, me laughing and him sputtering and spitting. This, by the way, ended our fledgling friendship.

As I considered all this, I mused, “Did Jesus ever use the word “hate?” He did, actually.  My favorite passage comes from Matthew 5:43-48 –

“‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect [complete], as your heavenly Father is perfect.'” (NASU, emphasis mine).

Of course, the only way we can become perfect, or complete, is by placing our faith in Jesus as Savior (as in, save me from myself and the consequences of my knucklheadedness). He is the only one Who can teach us to truly love. May we yield to Him, so that He can make us perfect, as He is perfect.

So why do haters hate? Because they don’t know how to love.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Thanks, Sierra Club; I Needed a Good Laugh

I don’t know why the letter found its way into my mailbox. As an outdoorsman I’m a deeply- committed environmentalist, but I’m not a radical environmentalist. So when I found the Sierra Club’s recent fund raising letter in my mail, I settled down for a good laugh.

“DIY dip dye hair” by mommyknows ( Kim Becker) available at https://www.flickr.com/photos/mommyknows/7847448616, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

The letter abounded in scare tactics and alarmist statements, all designed to extract money from my pocket to help support the Sierra Club. They claimed, “…endangered species legislation is under attack… especially with the recent election of Donald Trump…”  The letter identified a number of animals it considers in deep weeds: “…lynx, ocelot, grizzly bear, gray wolf, and wolverine…”

I’m not too familiar with lynx, ocelots, grizzlies or wolverines, but as I live close to the land and deep in the mountains of Western Montana, I’m very familiar with wolves and the problems they cause. So let’s consider wolves and what the Sierra Club has to say about them.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the Endangered Species Act [ESA] protections be removed for the gray wolf in the lower 48 states, allowing this iconic species to become a victim of unlimited hunting, trapping, and poisoning across the United States.”

Unlimited hunting? Really? Hunting is tightly controlled all over the country by game laws in order to protect the resource. Poisoning? Currently the only country that allows poisoning is Russia – and why? Russia has a history of huge problems with wolf predation.

The Sierra Club’s letter continued, “…the wolf is considered fair game for hunting by any method including trapping – a painful, inhumane, and cowardly way to kill.” While it’s true that, at least in Montana wolves can be hunted by many means, including bow, rifle, handgun and shotgun, the picture we’re offered is that of drooling, crazed hunters lusting after a chance to kill a wolf.

What about trapping? I’m not a trapper and I don’t think I’ll ever become one, but it’s a free country. If people want to trap, I say let ’em trap. But what about trapping being “…inhumane and cowardly…”? Traps usually don’t kill; they simply hold an animal until the trapper returns to the trap and dispatches the trapped animal quickly and humanly. In fact, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Website talks at length about the ethics of trapping. Trappers are encouraged to Use dispatching methods that are quick and humane.” And according to Montana trapping regulations, traps must be checked at least every 48 hours.

The Sierra Club letter had more to say about gray wolves: “…when congress removed [ESA] protections for the gray wolf in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in 2011, massive public hunts ensued. Since then more than 1,700 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered.”

Where did they get this figure of “1,700 wolves”?  And “senselessly slaughtered”? Since when is it senseless to destroy a group of animals that are running amok and eating themselves out of house and home? When deer, elk, and pronghorns overpopulate in Montana, hunting regulations are relaxed allowing increased harvests of animals that might starve to death otherwise. And since when is it senseless to kill wolves that are attacking a farmer’s or rancher’s stock?

What about the health of the Northern Rockies’ wolf packs? According to this report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “The NRM [Northern Rocky Mountain] wolf population continues to be robust, stable and self-sustaining. As of December 31, 2015, there were at least 1,704 wolves in 282 packs (including 95 breeding pairs) in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. The wolf population has exceeded recovery goals identified by the Service and partner biologists since 2002. Wolves continue to expand their range westward in eastern Oregon and Washington. An additional 200 wolves in 34 packs (including 19 breeding pairs) were estimated in Oregon and Washington. The total wolf population in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington was estimated to be 1,904 wolves.”

This report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a cooperative effort by the fish and game management  units of Idaho, Wyoming, Oregon, Washington, and Montana with the help of the National Park Service, the Utah Department of Natural Resources, the USDA and seven Native American nations.

What??? No help from the Sierra Club or any other environmental organization? I have to ask, Why not?

The Sierra Club closes with the warning, “…the Trump Administration is …working hand and hand with anti-environment extremists… [and therefore] our work has taken on an added urgency.”

If that isn’t alarmist propaganda I don’t know what is.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not trying to talk you out of supporting the Sierra Club. It’s your money. However, check out the claims before you reach into your pocket. You have a brain. Use it. Think before you drink the Kool-Aid.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply below, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

If You’re Not Like Me, You Suck

He gave me that classic “deer in the headlights” look.

Photo courtesy of Fabrice Florin (IMG_4419.JPG) and Creative Commons

My comment had been unpretentious, or so I thought: “What a sad and boring world it would be if we all looked the same, talked the same, dressed the same,  thought the same; shared the same opinions and likes and dislikes.” He didn’t say a word, but the look on his face spoke clearly –

“I think the world would be a whole lot better if everyone was just like me.”

This is Inauguration Week. On Friday, Trump becomes the president of the United States of America. And the United States of America have never been so ununited. Those on the left are especially unhappy. The tolerant left is no longer so tolerant. Apparently their tolerance only extends toward those who look the same, talk the same, think the same, and share the same opinions as them.

But wait: it’s not just those on the left who are intolerant.  Some on the right are just as critical and judgmental toward those who are different than them.

I was listening to a conservative talk radio program last week. The guest host was busy castigating an American couple for spending thousands of dollars on vet bills to nurse their pup back to health when they could have, in his opinion, better spent their money on helping rescue dogs find homes. The host was really big into rescue dogs, and in his view the world would be a whole lot better if everyone was like him.

About a year ago a relative gave me a book and asked my opinion. What he really wanted was an endorsement of his opinion. But when I gave him my opinion, which differed from his, his head exploded.

There is the division even in our Christian churches. I once attended a church where they worshipped with upraised hands. I wasn’t comfortable raising my hands, so I didn’t. The hand-raisers looked at me like I had a big ugly growth in the center of my forehead. I then tried a church where only a few people raised their hands. Those who didn’t raise their hands looked at those who did like they had cholera.

I dare you: reach out and become a friend to someone who is different than you. Risk engagement with others who may be different than you socially, politically, culturally, or economically. Why should you take my dare? Because this world would not be a better place if everyone was just like you.

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can post a comment right here online, send me an email and more –  

 

Ode to a Hero

What comes to your mind when you think of heroes?

Long ago our heroes were larger than life, such as Donal Grant, the protagonist of George MacDonald’s book of that same name. Donal Grant was a hero, but because I found him to be too good, too perfect, I couldn’t relate to him. superman-295328_640

Fast forward to today’s culture. Today what many of us want is a “wounded healer”, such as that portrayed by Christian Bale as Batman in the film, The Dark Knight. Batman is forced to decide not between right and wrong but between what is good and what is best. In other words, it seems like pragmatism rules in today’s culture.

But the real heroes are not the real heroes. To find the real  heroes we must dig deeper. The real heroes are the ones who support the heroes: the ones who are content to play supporting roles, the ones willing to step aside (or rather come alongside) and let someone else be king.

For example, the real hero of The Lord of the Rings is not Frodo Baggins the Ring Bearer, Gandalf the wizard, or even Aragorn the Exiled King. The real hero of the story is Samwise Gamgee, who encouraged Frodo and helped him accomplish the task given to him.

The real hero of my story, my life’s story, is not me even though I play a central role. The real hero of my story is my wife Katherine, who supports me, counsels me, encourages me, and believes in me so that I can believe in myself.

Happy Anniversary, Katherine.

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

What I Learned from a Dandelion Seed

Courtesy Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25711166
Courtesy Didier Descouens – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25711166

A dandelion seed floated past my window today, riding happily on random puffs of air. I started thinking (always hard for me, and usually dangerous):

The drifting dandelion seed had no idea where it was going or how long it would take to get there. Would it land on a bit of bare earth here in Montana or would it be wafted halfway around the world?  But it didn’t seem to matter to the dandelion seed. It was committed to the journey, however near  or far.

I was reminded of my journey through life. I’ve made plans about going here or there, but in the end, like that dandelion seed, all I’ve ever really done is react. The winds of life take me where they will, and I can only ride the wind.

Oh, but I forget: I can do more than just react. I can trust God. He knows the end of my journey and He will plant me just where He wants me, in His time and in His way.

I can trust God because I’ve come to know Him through His Son Jesus. Through Jesus Christ, I’ve come to know God as trustworthy. I’ve come to know Him as loving. I’ve come to know Him as kind,  that He is “…compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin…” (Exodus 34:6-7, NASU). And I’ve come to know Him as my Great Friend.

But wait, there’s more! I’m interested in your thoughts. You can send me an email, post a comment right here online and more –  

Are You an “Innie” or an “Outie”?

First off, to be clear, we’re not talking about belly buttons here. My title refers to whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.

I happen to be an introvert. I love reading, privacy, and thinking.

The Extrovert's View: "Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here!"
The Extrovert’s View: “Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here!”

I spend a lot of time in my head. I don’t like crowds and you may never see me at a party, because people drain me. I do not like chit-chat, but prefer a deeper interaction with others. I have a handful of close friends with whom I do life, but otherwise I recharge in silence and solitude. On the negative side, I can be viewed as shy or even antisocial.

Extroverts are at home in crowds. In fact, they are usually recharged by interaction with people. For example, I have a extrovert friend who has to have a regular “people fix” or he gets depressed. Accordingly, extroverts tend to have many friends but develop few deep relationships. Extroverts enjoy small talk, and often engage in chit chat just for the sake of communication. While extroverts can be thinkers and planners, they tend more to “thinking on their feet,” or going with their gut instincts.

One personality type is not better than another; they are just different. In a marriage, introverts and extroverts can balance each other. Unfortunately, our culture is oriented towards extroverts. We admire the quick-on-his-feet talker, the one who makes quick decisions, the guy or gal who is bold and outward-focused. We don’t want to wait for the introvert’s advice, even though his advice is usually more thought-out and therefore often avoids the risks of off-the-cuff, knee-jerk decisions.

In her fine book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain has a lots to say about introverts and extroverts. If you are curious, you can take a free online personality test that you might find helpful.

So which are you, an “innie” or an “outie”? And what are your thoughts about the two personality types?