A speech and a wedding

Oma helps Veeka on her school work

Tomorrow I climb on a plane at the end of 12 days in the Southwest or Pacific Northwest. On Oct. 11, Veeka and I climbed on a plane in Memphis and several hours later ended up at Oma and Opa’s home in Redmond, the first leg of several trips I’d make. My niece Carley had once offered to babysit Veeka for a week and so I had arrived to take her up on it. The next day, we piled into the rental car and drove over Snoqualmie Pass to Ellensburg, where it was a bit of a challenge to find Carley and Jed’s house in the dark. Married two years ago this month, Carley is almost four months pregnant with a due date on Veeka’s 8th birthday next spring. So it’s good I took Carley up on her offer now! Veeka got introduced to their house and Brutus the dog. Early the next morning, I snuck out of the house to ride back over the pass and on to the airport where I jumped on a plane for Denver, then Albuquerque. For a group of Seventh-day Adventists had invited me to give a speech there and I had decided to come a few days earlier to enjoy New Mexico once more.

The Mongollon range - peaks more than 10,000 feet, north of Silver City

Once I was outside the airport, it was glorious to breathe in the golden sunshine at an altitude a mile high. The light just feels brighter and things are more radiant. I drove to the home of seminary friends Esther-Marie and Robert Nagiel where I stayed the next two days while visiting an Anglican congregation, running up to Santa Fe for an afternoon and meeting an old friend on the new rooftop lounge of Hotel Parq Central, which is new since I was last in Albuquerque. Meanwhile, Veeka was learning how to bake cookies, put on fingernail polish and do all sorts of fun things with Carley. Veeka had long looked forward to spending time with her oldest cousin.

Me at the bottom of the ladder at the Gila cliff dwellings on a lovely October afternoon

The next day, I headed south to Silver City, which is a dreary drive down I-25, then a pretty route through the Black Range to a tiny burg of some 11,000 souls just south of the Gila National Forest, which is three million acres of wilderness. One of my best choices was to visit the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, a journey I almost did not make because I thought I’d seen plenty of ancient Indian dwellings. After all, I’d lived 75 miles from Mesa Verde for a year. But the drive there through the Mimbres Valley was lovely, as was the ascent up the mountains and down onto the plateau where the dwellings are. Of course it was the fall, where the cottonwoods had turned yellow and were brightening up the landscape. Oddly, there were no aspens down that way, only narrow-leafed cottonwoods. The walk up to the cliff dwellings, the helpful conversations with a ranger about the Mongollon tribe and the pretty walk back down the mountain side made for a spectacular day. So did the drive back towards Pinos Altos through the woods. I could have leapt out several times to go on those paths that led off through the bosque.

More Gila cliff dwellings-Indians lived rooms inside the holes on the cliff face

I stayed at the Bear Mountain Lodge– my one luxurious allowance – to enjoy it all and hike around its property in the mornings and eat a leisurely breakfast on the veranda and just rest. Well, not completely – I was still answering emails from Union University and trying to put out any fires there. Their fall break was during the first half of my trip. I was also writing my speeches for the Adventists, as I was not only delivering a keynote address, but giving a workshop as well. Thursday morning, I took the back road (skirting the Arizona state line along Rt 180 up through Reserve and Quemado, then going through the Malpais wilderness until I reached I-40, past more gorgeous mountain ranges and through lovely high-altitude vistas. My little 4-cylinder Toyota was less than happy at being made to drive at 9,000 feet. Note to self: Rent a V-6 engine car next time I do mountains.

Lindsay and Jason RIGHT after they said their vows

Soon it was time to turn in the rental car and head to Hotel Albuquerque, where I was lodged in a very nice suite near Old Town. Dined with the Adventists and the next day spent the morning giving my speeches, then heading for the airport for a tiring flight first to Dallas, then back to Seattle where Oma and Opa and Veeka drove through the rain to pick me up. One thing they had done was to make the little one do her homework so she would not be too dreadfully behind at school. She was as happy as a clam, although the two kitties who live with Oma and Opa have not been too happy at her presence.

Veeka dances with cousin Christina

The next day was my niece Lindsay’s wedding to Jason Comfort, the reason we were there, and it was a lovely event at a place in Everett. The multi-course dinner was to die for and of course Veeka hit the dance floor as soon as she could. A lot of family was there. The next day, a lot of us had lunch together and rested chez Oma and Opa. As I write this, am dreading the long flights back but I’ve discovered a new way to do boarding passes: through my iPhone! It worked like a charm on the way back from NM. But we’ll miss being near family, as Tennessee is so far from truly everyone.