Tuesday, April 24, 2018

--- Talking to strangers ---

                                  The Ross-University Hills branch of the Denver Public Library

This fellow was "cussin' a blue streak" at the dogs below him...or maybe he was just laughing at them. I don't understand squirrel. After all, he could just hop over to the fence next to him and run off.


We are raised being told not to talk to strangers and I'm afraid that we maintain that attitude long after we have become adults.

To be sure, it's sometimes dangerous. I used to walk down mountain dirt roads, see someone on a porch, and strike up a conversation with them. That's not always the safest way to meet people.

But there are plenty of safe ways to interact.

In general, people don't like to talk to strangers in public. I've learned recently that, if a person on a sidewalk or trail is wearing earphones or ear plugs, they may not be listening to anything. It's just a sign that they don't want to interact with you. I didn't know that. I grew up in a time when people greeted each other.

Of course, there are many social groups that are there to bring strangers together, and I do include churches. The church I presently attend is big on bringing strangers into their group. I've been to some where members wouldn't talk to outsiders but that's the exception.

There are groups dedicated to discussion here in Denver. The Socrates Cafe meets on a night that I've already devoted to family activities, but it looks like it would be fun.

I volunteer for a discussion group for international students who are trying to get used to English as a second language. It's one of the highlights of my week. I learn a lot about diverse cultures, hear a lot of world languages, and compare a lot of different ideas and philosophies.

Several of the libraries have a day that they offer coffee, donuts, and conversation. They vary considerably. For one, it's mostly coffee and a newspaper without much conversation. The local library tends to have more discussion. The last time I attended one of these, there was a lot of discussions about local resources, a personal interest of mine.

On the trail, birdwatchers will talk to you anywhere, but most of the random conversations start around rest stations. People who are walking, jogging, or running for exercise won't want to stop and most of the others are trying to get somewhere.

Are there any local discussion groups in your area? If you find yourself looking for a job, services, or some other resource, they might be good places to connect and find out more about your community.

Does a local school, college or community center offer classes for students learning English (or some other language) as a second language. They may also have discussion groups that you can attend. If you are planning to travel, you might find students from that area that could give you some tips about etiquette, attractions, or food.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

--- Mineral to Littleton ---

My first light rail trek took me from Mineral Station at the extreme south end of the C and D lines on the Denver light rail system to Littleton Station, the next stop to the north.

My two "home stations", the ones closest to home, are the University Station, at Denver University, and Englewood Station, which is a couple of miles downhill. I can get on a bus in front of my house and ride to either, which I have begun doing because I find that I haven't recovered completely from my health problems of 2017, and I have begun focusing more on the hikes and less on testing my endurance. In this case, I walked a couple of blocks down the street and boarded a bus that would take me to Englewood Station.

This central hub is interesting in it's own right, being an exhibition site for the Denver Open Air Arts Museum and being located next to the Englewood Civic Center. Shopping centers and restaurants are close by. It also offers a breathtaking view of the Front Range including Mount Evans, Mount Morrison and Waterton Canyon far to the southwest. The light rail parallels the freight rails so, while I wait for my train, I can watch the big trains go by and admire the boxcar graffiti.

                                                       Pictures at Englewood Station

People don't usually talk on trains. I have found that to be a tautology across the country. But, if you encounter a group of effervescent young people, you can often enter the conversation. I was once listening to a group near Denver University, whose talk drifted to the mud around Denver and I inserted that most of it was volcanic, which bought me into a lively discussion of local geology.

This time, it was before noon and the train was lightly populated. I had gotten up early to find it snowing hard, but within the hour, the snow stopped and the sun came out and I was out of my sweater before I got to the train.

Oxford Station - Littleton Station - Mineral Station

The light rail carries sleek, white "space age" trains (except when they are sporting rainbow advertisements). When I was a kid, trains still looked like the freight trains shown below and things that looked like these light rail electric trains were still futuristic and scify. And Denver takes some pains to make the stations aesthetically pleasing. The bridge below passes from Mineral Station over the Sante Fe/CanAm highway to the big park and ride lot, a Seven-Eleven convenience store, and Mary Carter Greenway, my destination.

                                                                 Mineral Station

After a snack at the convenience store, I hit the trail. South Platte Park at this point has displays concerning the disastrous flood of 1965. I head north into the Carson Nature Center. It looks pretty much like other parts of the Mary Carter Greenway, which it is a part of. The biggest difference is that the people that administer the trail offers nature tours of the area - but not today - I'm just walking. The trail follows the South Platte River. It doesn't look very ferocious today.

                                                                   South Platte River

This is a favorite area for water fowl and there are many ducks on the river, including some little reddish brown ducks that I had not seen before and that would not let me get close enough for a good picture. This wasn't a technical hike, so I didn't have my telephoto equipment.

Birds in the Denver area are little jerks. They wait until I get my finger on the shutter release button and they fly.

In the Carson Nature Center, I did see the first nice colony of bryophytes that I've seen since I moved to the Denver area. I will have to go back when I start looking at plants - with my close-up lenses.

Cooley Lake and the other ponds of South Platte Park were reclaimed from an old mining project.

                                                               Cooley Lake

There are many water features, there as much for erosion control as for aesthetics, along the South Platte.

                                                             Rock water feature

Around the Hudson Gardens area is a bridge across the river, a small grove garden commemorating influential community members, and a couple of small parks at streams that flow into the river.

                                                                  Hudson gardens area

Hudson Gardens isn't much to look at yet. It's too cold to get the flowers out and the coffee shop that faces the rail wasn't open when I went by. In the winter, the gardens function more as an event center, featuring a surprising number of big name music groups. The gardens are open to the public, free of admission.

I was hoping to make it to Lucille's Cajun Bistro before they closed but missed it by a few minutes. The smell of biscuits was enticing, but I will have to wait.

Littleton is a picturesque little town. Downtown is laid out in a grid with the streets lined with trees and small shops. There are a few modernistic buildings but, over all, it reminds me of the small town America of my childhood.


The train depot is a coffee shop. I had just eaten when I stopped in, thinking that it was a souvenir shop so I didn't buy anything, but it smelled great, so the next time, I will have to try out the coffee and pastries.

                                                                       Train depot

The actual light rail station is below ground level behind the depot.

                                                                    Littleton Station

Denver likes murals and this one adorns the wall that runs along the train stop. It is a "primitive" representation of the town. Not intended as a term of disrespect, the mural reminds me of work by people like Henri Rousseau, Paul Gauguin, and the early Grandma Moses. This is quite different from the more modern styles at, say, Oxford station , just one stop to the north, or the outdoor art of Englewood Station. Oxford station also has tiles that display the works of school children - drawings about transportation.

A brief train ride, a longer wait for a bus and bus ride, and a short hike then brought me home again. It was quite warm for a day that started with snow.

If you've never taken a train ride, you should try it out. Do people behave differently on a train than on the street or in a bus? Do you feel differently about the people around you on a train?

If you travel on a train regularly, say, as a commuter to work, pay attention to the art and architecture along the railway. Are there common themes or styles?

--- My apologies ---

The need to know is inherent in the human mind. Not "want" - "need". It's a security issue. If there is a question, then there must be an answer and, if that answer isn't forthcoming, then a human will make a best guess and call that the answer. It's at the basis of many of the mental biases that people that study the mind know exists, but most people never even suspect. It's at the basis of most of the isms. We need to know that what we are doing is reasonable. Racism, nationalism, Marxism, Republicanism - we believe what we believe because our group has all the answers and, if it doesn't, then the world becomes a scary place where things can't be firmly established.

Central to a person's worldview is their religion, or lack thereof. Is there a God, or something else out there that we can rely on? What happens to us when we die? Does the world go on forever or is there an end out there somewhere? These are important questions and most of us need to know that we can be confident in the answers we possess.

Can't blame people - the world is a scary place.

But when personal answers won't do - when subjectivity has the reputation of less-than-certainty, for questions this important, we need certain answers, and that means answers informed by objective study.

Most people who study questions like, "Is there a God?" realize that, inconveniently, there is no way to objectively test it. There are subjective answers but God is an individual and not a trained animal that can be called on to do tests. And were a being called God of a mind to do so, there are always ways to explain the test results away.

But, if you take away a person's religious beliefs, the fear is (and it's a real existential fear at the core of a person's being) that the security answers they have about the universe, the validity of their moral decisions, about death, about all of life and relations with others, will simply crumble to dust.

Can't blame people - it's a reasonable fear.

The answer is apologetics. It's an answer that is usually encountered in religious studies and conversations, but it's just as prevalent in secular sciences. I once overheard a group of research scientists. One of them said (almost verbatim - as much as my memory will allow), "We must defend the theory of evolution at all costs."

I believe that what happened to lead to the biological diversity we see in the world today  involved evolution. I believe that, not only because science says so but, also, the Bible tells me so. Phrases used in Genesis sounds surprisingly like evolution. It doesn't say, "let there be animals", it says, "let the earth and the oceans bring forth animals."

But I, for one, don't know. Mainly because I can come up with alternative mechanisms that would lead to the same state of the world today, and, primarily because - I wasn't there to see it.

How quickly "science" forgets that science is based on first hand observation. The further one gets from that first hand experience - historical evolutionary biology, scientific history, quantum physics - the further one gets from science and the nearer one gets to philosophy.

Can't blame people - they need to know.

But there's apologetics.

Science takes observations of the real world and carves out explanations that fit those observations, and science is always ready to let go of the most cherished beliefs if there is a hint that the theories don't fit observed reality.

Apologetics takes what one believes and forces observed reality to conform to it. You can  support any system of beliefs - simply pick and choose your evidence. There are people today, and they're not stupid people, who believe that the world is flat, and their beliefs form a rational and consistent theory of the world. It's easy enough to say that the work that has been done in space is a conspiracy to hoodwink people. You can explain a curved horizon as atmospheric optics.

I am often embarrassed at the tact the church (frankly, all the churches, religions, isms) takes to "prove" that the Bible is inerrant, that God exists, that we have a hope in an afterlife that is - pleasant. They try way too hard. Does anyone outside our circle pay much attention to these arguments. A few, yes. But dig deeper and the telling point is not the arguments (For instance, C. S. Lewis is a major example of an atheist dragged "kicking and screaming" into Christianity. For a detailed account, read his "Surprised by Joy"), but the experience - the personal subjective experience of something that "science" can't quite get at.

Science has it's power. It's a great thing, but at it's best it humbly recognizes it's limits and allows the stage to philosophy, art, literature, history...

Science is objective, but it relies on subjective experiences - observations - to get it  going.

I observe my world and then I test my observations, as far as they can be tested, and from there my worldview springs.

I have a belief. I believe that my subjective experiences give me real grasp on the world, and that's good enough.

How much of your worldview is based on subjective experience and how much on the objective testing of those experiences?

There's a movie starring Tom Cruise called "Eyes Wide Shut." How far can a person move through life and not observe the world around them?

As you explore your world (as I hope you are doing - that's the heart of this blog) and your understanding grows, how much of it would you be willing to let go of if you were to find that it did not adequately explain your experiences?

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

--- Laws 3 ---

In the age of the automobile, the world is still replete with foot trails. My favorite haunt as a kid were the local trails around Stewart's Hill in Valley, Alabama. Later, I looked for variety in the mountain trails of the Southeast. And I am delighted to find so many corridors in Denver set aside for foot traffic.

But different trails are administered by different organizations and the different organizations have different reasons for maintaining trails.

I've used both Rails to Trails trails and the Appalachian Trail and foot paths associated with it back east. Although multi-use, they seem to be focused on making the "great outdoors" accessible to people who want to enjoy it.

Rails to Trails Conservancy (https://www.railstotrails.org) is an interesting organization that buys old, dilapidated railways and converts them into walking trails. If you're in the United States, there is probably one near you.

Denver encourages foot traffic for very utilitarian purposes. Their past with smog is enough motivation to want to cut down on automobile traffic as much as is practical and the foot trails are very much about "point A to point B" transportation. When I lived on Floyd Avenue, Bear Creek Trail was a major byway from areas east and west to Bear Creek Valley and River Point Shopping Centers. The Centennial Trail is not called a "link" for nothing. So, for instance, dogs are welcomed on most of the trails in the Denver area.

Not so for Waterton Canyon. A very strong emphasis there is Colorado Water maintenance traffic to and from Strontia Springs Dam and conservation, particularly of Bighorn sheep. There are signs there prohibiting dogs. Sheep and dogs don't get along.

So, what are your favorite trails and who administers them? Do they post rules and regulations? If they don't have signs on the trail, they may have a website that lists rules and regulations. If not, local, state, and federal government laws apply and, if you don't live in the area, you might be surprised to find that laws there are different from laws where you live.

--- Some developments ---

Religion and politics

It's like shopping - if you see it and want it, you'd better get it then, because there's a good chance it won't be there the next time. Of course, that's not really the way it is but it happens often enough, and would be expected to by pure chance, and is irritating enough that it just makes a lot more noise.

I was looking forward to checking out the Fellowship of Anglo-Saxon Heathenry and now it seems to have disappeared and that seemed to be the only accessible Norse based religion in the Denver area. I'm pretty sure that there are other individual adherents of Asatru, but I've been acquainted with those before - the organized group was provocative - I wanted to know.

I've known three Asatru (everyone I've known associated with Asatru called individual adherents "Asatru", but I don't know if that is formally correct or not) and found them to be personable, if a little gruff. They don't proselytize but are not particularly secretive about their religion. There are many good webpages about the religion so, if you're interested, the information is easily available.

On other fronts, I'm volunteering for a door-to-door canvas for a state political campaign, so I should have some adventures to post on that between now and July.

I've also started exploring the rails around Denver. Transportation is social. It's how we establish face-to-face contact and, in Denver, the rails are at least spatially central. The light rail system connects all parts of the Denver Metro area with a web that ties together bus lines, streets, waterways... For instance, the north-south line from Mineral into downtown Denver parallels both Santa Fe/CanAm highway, the South Platte River, and the Platte River Trail, three of the main arteries for traffic, water distribution, and foot/bicycle traffic in Denver.

My modus operandi is to start at Mineral Station, the southernmost point on the light rail and hike from one station to the next, one link at a time, and then take each rail line clockwise, exploring what goes on around each link.

Mineral Station has been my way station to Waterton Canyon. Today, I walked from there north, instead of south. Now, I've walked all of the Platte River Trail from Mineral Trail to Bear Creek Trail. I'll detail that trip in the next blog.

So, do you know any Asatru or are you an adherent - and what can you tell me?

Have you ever done anything that required you to knock on doors? Did you enjoy it or hate it, and what did you learn about human nature?

Are you going to be active in the upcoming political goings-on? I've heard that our last presidential election saw the smallest turnout of voters in the history of the United States, and a lot of people I know were quite unsatisfied with the results. Do you know how your political machine works? There are many windows into the guts of the machine - you might want to take a peek.

Do you have a light rail or bus system near you? To quote Dr. Suess, "Oh the places you'll go!"

--- Churches on Bear Creek Trail ---

I grew up in the southeastern United States, the area known as the Bible Belt. There was no problem finding a church and, furthermore, if you had a definitive preference as to which denomination of Christianity you wanted to take part in, that church was there. In Selma, I was  a member (and still am) of the First Baptist Church at Lauderdale and Dallas (there were two First Baptist Churches - the other one was the first First Baptist Church in historical succession). On either side was an Episcopal and a Presbyterian church. Across the street was a Methodist church. Within a couple of blocks was a Catholic church.

The church was the center of community life. Local establishments closed on the weekend in reverence of the Lord's Day (Sunday). When evaluating the situation of people who were trying to find resources, my first two questions were, "Do you have family locally?" and "Are you a member of a church?" If both answers were "no," I knew that my job was going to be difficult.

There were nonChristians in the community and they were not outcasts (as they might have been 30 years earlier in my childhood). And WalMart and restaurants around town were open on Sunday. (People had to have a place to socialize after church!) But, generally, Sunday was for worship.

That was where I was throughout most of my life, except that I kept returning to Denver....somehow.

The first time, I visited a friend who was attending the gunsmith school on Colfax. The second time, I passed through Denver on the way back from a construction ministry trip to Great Falls, Montana. The third time, I traveled to Denver to be interviewed for a film on the Beast of Gevaudan. Then, I visited my Were family in Broomfield. It seemed natural that I would end up living in Denver.

In my earlier visits I noticed the general paucity of churches in the Denver area. In fact, I did not see a single church the first three visits to Denver. You could not go to Griffin, LaGrange, Valley, Auburn, or Selma without seeing churches. I also saw that Denver didn't close down on weekends.

After I moved to Denver, I began seeing the churches. They were not as salient a landmark on the countryside as in the southeast, but there were quite a few. Still, I missed the slowing of life on the weekends which provided a mark in the passage of time that I was very used to. And, of course, the church was no longer the center of the community. There was a very good chance that a randomly selected individual from the street was not, in fact, a Christian.

A problem I've met with in finding a local church home is that most of the churches in my area seem to be creedal. One of the tenants of the Baptist denomination is that the individual is responsible for what they will believe and that is between them and their God. It's called "the priesthood of the believer." In a creedal church, the congregation will occasionally stand up and recite their creed. ("Credo" means "I believe" and it is where we get words like "incredible" and "incredulous".) I cannot recite creeds I do not hold and I have always had interdenominational ministries which played down creeds. I am sola scriptura, so I could not hold a traditionalist creed, and I would have to tear the third chapter of John out of my Bible were I to accept a Calvinist creed. Most of the churches in my area seem to be either traditional or Calvinist. So I am still a member of a church in Selma, Alabama.

There are many churches along Bear Creek Trail (or, at least, close enough to drop off the trail to attend a service if you are of the mind). Most are some flavor of Christianity, but there is at least one Buddhist church that I have visited. I'll be talking about Buddhism in Denver in a later blog - there are a few other places I want to visit.

Churches do not just inspire religious interest. As I've said in earlier blogs, they are centerpieces of communities so watching churches can give insight into the workings of a local community. Also, they are obviously works of art. The variety of architecture is fascinating and the stain glass windows and furnishings are rich in symbolism. Despite the gargoyles on the bell tower of the Baptist church I attended in Selma, it was very appropriate for it's environment - the interior decorations featured leaves and acorns of the live oaks that abounded in the area.

Here are pictures of some of the churches along Bear Creek Trail.

The Buddhist Association of Colorado

Harvey Park Christian Church

                                                               Red Rock Baptist Church

Are there many or few churches in your area?
Is there any way that they reflect the history or the atmosphere of their community?
Churches are often set aside as historical sites, such as the church that was close to where I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia that was pocked with bullet holes from the Civil War. Are there any historic churches in your area? Are there any along your favorite trail?
Churches often display plaques memorializing particular people who have been important to their congregations in the past, but the plaques usually mean little to anyone from the outside. Try investigating one or more of these people. What kinds of people are important to church congregations?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

--- Laws 2 ---

So, what's the difference between a rule and a regulation. I looked it up.

A regulation is created by an authoritative governmental body who has the delegated authority to enforce it. A rule is not.

I still get confused because rules can be enforced, usually not as strictly as a regulation. It's against the law to hold up a grocery store and you can expect serious repercussions for doing so. Walking into a grocery store barefoot, even when there are signs forbidding it on the entrance, is not, I think, against the law, but many grocery stores hold it as a rule, and they can kick you out if they catch you doing it. My confusion stems from the fact that, in documents that list rules and regulations, they don't often distinguish the rules from the regulations. I guess you just have to guess.

Anyway -

                                                                  Triangle sign

Ever played rock-paper-scissors? Well, on Bear Creek Trail, horses trump bicycles and hikers, and hikers trump bikers. Actually, it makes sense. Horses can be spooked by things coming up beside them. Their peripheral vision isn't that great to start with. Everybody loses if you spook a horse. Same goes for a bicyclist running over a hiker. And bicyclists can move a lot faster than a hiker to get out of the way.

Bikers can go faster here, though. That would be because it's in the middle of a prairie dog town and you can see what's around you for a long way.

Most of the bikers on Bear Creek, when they are coming up behind you, will say, "On the right." I've gotten over the urge to jump right.

And there's who I contacted to tell me about the rules and regulations thing. If you're traveling to Denver and you want to know about Bear Creek Trail, Lakewood Regional Parks manage the western half. They also have a website, here:


                                                           Map of the western half

                                                                     The rules

Traffic signs happen on trails, too. Some of the topography can be surprising if you're not familiar with your surroundings.

                                                             Curve and downgrade

Honestly, I see the need for people to pick up after their pets (they certainly can't do it for themselves) and providing doggie bags for the purpose is a great thing, but keeping poop (or, sorry, poo) before the public's eye - I wonder if anyone has done research to see if displays like this really does any good.

                                                                 poo signs

A cursory examination of Google Scholar citations on "pet feces" indicate that it's not a good thing to let pet feces just lie around, but I could not find a study on the effectiveness of different programs to change the behavior of pet owners. That sounds like a great graduate study to me.

Here are some of the pictures I took on that alternative trail I wanted to check out. It sorta looks like a desert trail and, technically, Denver is high desert, but it has it's interesting points, including some beautiful views of the Rockies and the countryside to the east. But it didn't turn out to be any easier or quicker. As you can see, it's all up and down.

The trail parallels Morrison Road, which is what gave me the idea that it might offer a straighter shot to Morrison. At one point, it runs alongside a small canal, and connects in several places to the North Park Trail.


But it does ultimately lead to Morrison where I noticed this old fire engine on display for the first time.

                                                        Fire engine in Morrison

And I stopped in at the Mill Street eats for a great burger and shake before returning to the trail.

These two ducks were completely ignoring the signs emphasizing how dangerous this dam across Bear Creek is.

On the way back, clouds were building up in back of the Front Range and there was thunder. Normally, I wouldn't have been that bothered except that this was where I was and the nearest shelter was on top of that hill (Mount Carbon). So I double timed it up the mountain and got to the top just about when the wind hit. The worst of the storm went around to the north, though.

                                                             Mount Carbon

I did stop in at the Visitor Center earlier and found out how Mount Carbon got it's name. It seems that coal and clay for ceramics was, in fact, mined there for a short time. There was even a small town named Cowen and a railroad spur line in the big depression now occupied by Bear Creek Lakes Park. The area where mining took place can still be seen as a trench in the top of the mountain. The Robinson brick company started up in 1910. It closed in 1912. Mt. Carbon school was built earlier in 1878 and taught grades 1 through 8. It closed in 1920.

The mining operation quickly played out and the town was abandoned. The flood of 2013 took out the rest of Cowen and now it really is a ghost of a town.

It sorta reminds me of the Old Cahaba Archaeological Park near Selma, Alabama. I used to call it "the only park where you have to imagine what you see." So, maybe it's not the only place like that. Both places have their draws. You just have to use your imagination if you want to see the towns.

Bear Creek Trail itself runs through two golf courses on the eastern side of Mount Carbon and signs bear witness to the fact that golfers and hikers are mixing, and that golf courses are sometimes private property.

                                                                 golf course signs

I made my way back along the way I came to Wadsworth Boulevard and buses to where the storm finally caught me waiting for a bus at Englewood station. Suddenly very cold and getting wet - I called a Lyft cab and got myself to home.

The moral of that story is: always have alternatives.