Saturday, September 21, 2013

My Happy Place

Here is a post I made on the Washington Flyfishing board in response to a request to describe my favorite "secret place" among the 100 streams in Washington that I have caught fish in - not asking for a location, just a description.  Here is what I posted.
As we all know, no place is really secret. But I'm sure we all have a happy place or two we return to again and again, both in mind and body. That place where your heart starts beating faster as you round the last bend or crest the hill and you sigh with relief when you see the empty pullout and know you'll have it all to yourself. Here is one of mine.

From the parking area, you look down onto a small stream in a desert canyon, sagebrush hills rising steeply on either side, the crystal clear water slipping over the rounded basalt and falling into deep pools. Upstream of these swimming holes, the little stream flows gently through the overhanging brush and that awful grass, whose leaning stems by summer's end almost touch at the midpoint of the stream, leaving a tiny strip of open water where you must carefully and accurately lay your fly. The scent of mock orange fills the canyon with a heavy sweetness in the stillness of the hot, summer evening. Approaching the first opening in the grass and brush, you look down through the clear water to the moss-covered rocks below. You don't see any fish, but you know they are there; they always are.

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 A little flip of the 3-wt, and the renegade (the only fly to use on this stream) drops at the edge of the current. In an instant, the white hackle disappears in a splash and you bring to hand an 8-inch redband, the parr marks covered by the deep pink stripe down the side. Once, twice, several times more the action is repeated until there are no more takers. Finally you slip into the water, its coolness a relief from the heat of the evening. You turn upstream, and work your way from one pool to the next through a seemingly unending supply of branches, grass, moss covered boulders, and of course, willing fish. None are too large; if one stretches to a foot it is a trophy here, but they are healthy, colorful fish, often with bellies bulging with summer's bounty.

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 All too soon, the sun is gone and it's getting dark, but that next pool is too enticing; just one more fish, again and again, until at last, you realize you are fishing by feel, not sight. With a sigh, you hook the remnants of another renegade onto the loop on your rod and carefully climb up to the trail for a twilight walk back to the car, reminding yourself once again that you ought to bring a headlamp next time...

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 That's one of my happy places to share. Hope it makes you think of one of yours.

Saturday, November 3, 2012


I spent a few hours this week canning applesauce, something I used to do with my brother Rob every year, but I haven't done it since the local grocery store had a special on 48-oz. bottles for $1 each and I bought a shopping cart full.  Commercial applesauce can be good, but I still like homemade better, so I decided it was time to fill a shelf again.  I was planning on picking up some apples while visiting my parents in Wenatchee, but after calling my dad found he had a tree full of Golden Delicious he had been trying to give away.  We picked about 100 pounds, which I figured would get me close to my 40-quart target. 

I figured I'd share a brief pictorial description of how I make applesauce.  I find it takes about one hour per batch of seven quarts if you have someone who will cut and load the apples while you load the jars for processing.  If you are doing it solo, add about 10 to 15 minutes more per batch.

First, equipment.
  1. Large pot for cooking the apples.  I find my pressure canner is the perfect size, cooking enough apples for seven quarts of sauce when it is filled to the top.
  2. Victorio Food Strainer (or similar device).  This thing is great, cranking out seven quarts of sauce in about five minutes, much better than the old handheld strainers.
  3. A 9" x 13" glass pan for catching the sauce.  This fits right under the outlet spout of the Victorio and holds sauce from one hopper full of apples.
  4. Large stainless steel bowl for accumulating the sauce, should be able to hold seven quarts of applesauce.
  5. Canner (I use a steam canner rather than the traditional boiling water bath).
  6. Miscellaneous supplies and tools - cutting board, knife, canning jar funnel, 2 cup glass measuring cup, jars, rags, lids and rings, teapot, etc.
Tools and supplies for making applesauce

Get all the equipment together, fill the canner and teapot with water and get them heating.  Wash the jars and rings, set the rings and lids in a pan ready to cover with boiling water, yup, all the normal canning stuff.

I start by filling my sink up with apples and cold water, letting them soak for a few minutes to soften any crud on them (a.k.a., bird poop); then with a clean kitchen brush I give them a quick scrub under running water, especially around the stem, and pile them on the counter. Wash enough to fill the pressure canner to the top.  Add about 12 cups water to the pressure canner, then quarter the apples and fill the pot all the way to the top.  Leave stems, seeds, core, everything else.  Just cut out any bad spots.
Wash and cut in quarters; don't core
Put the pot on the stove, cover loosely with the lid, and cook on high until it is steaming a lot, then lower to medium.  Cook until the apples are soft.  It takes about 50 minutes to an hour for the first batch, then about 35 for 40 minutes for each subsequent batch.  While the apples are cooking, wash the apples for the next batch.
Pressure canner is the perfect size for cooking; don't tighten the lid!
Remove the pot of apples from the stove and move to the processing area (put it on a wood cutting board if needed to protect the counter.  Using a mesh kitchen strainer or colander, scoop the apples out of the pot and into the Victorio strainer hopper.  Allow some water to drain as needed to get the consistency of applesauce as you like it.  The more water you allow to drain, the thicker your sauce will be.
The saucing station and someone who really likes applesauce
It will take about three hopper fillings to sauce the whole batch.  After processing a hopper full, dump the 9 x 13 pan into the large stainless steel bowl.
The Victorio Strainer in action
This is all that is lost from seven quarts of applesauce
With the apples all sauced, now is the time to pour the boiling water over your lids and rings.  Then move the bowl of sauce to the area where you will fill and lid the jars.  At this time, if you have a helper they can now cut and fill the pot up with apples and get it cooking while you fill the jars.  If you are alone, then get the apples cut and cooking before filling the jars. 
The layout for filling and lidding the jars
Before filling the jars, stir any desired additions into the sauce, like sugar and/or cinnamon.  This time I made it all natural to Carlynn's tastes.  In the past, I think we did 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon for a seven quart batch.  Adjust to taste.  This time, I did add a teaspoon of Fruit Fresh to see if it will keep the sauce from darkening.
In the background you can see how full I fill the jars
Fill the jars to the bottom of the neck of the jar, wipe the rim with a damp rag, screw the lids on hand tight, place in the canner, and process. 
Putting the lids on
I set the timer for 37 minutes with the stove on high, and the canner is shooting out the required full jet of steam by time the 30 minutes processing time starts.  I process a little more than the time given in my Ball Blue Book because I don't reboil the sauce before packing the jars, and it also works out that the next batch of apples should be ready right after I remove the jars when they process for this length of time.
Ready to process in the steam canner
After processing the required time, remove the jars and set aside to cool.  Check the next batch of apples; they should be about soft enough to sauce.  Repeat the above steps until you run out of apples or time.  I did something new this time.  Instead of dumping the liquid remaining after the last batch, I poured it through a kitchen mesh stainer and into a pitcher and recovered some really thick cider, an added benefit! 
One evening's work
In about 4 1/2 hours one evening and 3 hours on Saturday, I put up 38 quarts of applesauce and got about 2 gallons of cider.  Now I get to enjoy for the rest of the year.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Sunday Talk from a Country Song

I thought I'd share a talk given in church earlier this year. On a Sunday when members were asked to bring investigators, they asked me to condense a talk on forgiveness I'd given a couple years ago from 28 minutes to 7 or 8 minutes. I tried, and found it impossible to do, so I wrote another talk to fit the time allotted. I believe it turned out very well.


The other day while driving home from work, I was listening to the radio when the words of a new country song struck me and caused me to reflect. The singer tells in the song of the girl a few houses down the road, with whom he fell in love and asked to marry, and of the response of the girl’s mother to this proposition. “Her momma wants to know if I’m washed in the blood, or just in the water?” (Down the Road, Kenny Chesney) I paused to reflect upon the deeper meaning within this simple verse.

I then thought about something in a book I recently read, where the author related an experience he had teaching the Gospel Doctrine class in his ward. One Sunday, he asked his students, “What does it mean to be a good Mormon?” The answers to this question were typical of what you might expect in such a class – attend church, pay tithing, attend the temple, read scriptures, hold family home evening, do your home and visiting teaching – all the right Sunday School answers. He then asked a second question, “What does it mean to be a good Christian?” The answers received were quite different – love others, care for the poor, give service, treat your family members kindly. He was struck by the fact that the answers were different, for shouldn’t they be the same? (The Cost of Winning: Coming in First Across the Wrong Finish Line, Dean Hughes) And in this story I found what I would define as the difference between being washed in the blood or just in the water.

We can keep the commandment to be baptized, can be washed in the water as it were, but until we are truly changed in our hearts and have no more desire to sin, have we really been washed in His blood? Is it possible to pay our tithing and still be covetous of the things of the world? To read the scriptures every day and not have the word of God written in our hearts? To pray morning and night and not be guided by the voice of the Spirit in our lives? To hold family home evening every week and yet treat each other with harshness in our home? Can we be washed in the water, keeping the outward commandments, without it reaching our inward parts and changing our hearts? (See Jeremiah 31:33)

Let us not misunderstand that keeping His commandments is not important; rather, it is essential – in that the scriptures are abundantly clear. However, the end must not simply be compliance with commands, but becoming more like Christ. Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said,

“The Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts – what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts – what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” (“The Challenge to Become”, Ensign, November 2000, 32)

What does our Father want us to become? We are familiar with the scripture in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect…” (Matt 5:48) and so we might go about trying hard to make all the right deposits in our heavenly account, to perfectly keep every commandment. But take a moment and look at this verse in the context of the verses around it, rather than just alone. It is the concluding verse in a section commanding us to love and do good to everyone, even our enemies, that we may become the children of our Father in Heaven. Perhaps we should consider in this verse the command to love completely, even as our Father in Heaven loves each of His children.

This love is something that must enter into every aspect of our lives, in ways we perhaps don’t often think of. Have you ever noticed in General Conference, at the conclusion of the session, the prophet often gives the admonition to be careful and courteous as we are driving home? We might often think of this as a trite phrase like the “bless us to travel home safely” common in our closing prayers at church, but could there be more to it than that? Might we consider that there actually is a way the Lord would want us to drive? As we stand in the shopping line with our one item in a hurry to get wherever we are going and the old lady in front of us fumbles with her checkbook, searches in her purse for a pen, and steals precious minutes from our life, are our thoughts loving and Christ like? As our young child spills her milk over the table and the floor for the third night in a row, do we wipe away the tears with Kleenex or sandpaper? In our homes, with our children, in our simple day to day interactions with everyone around us, do we allow His love to permeate our lives, to fill our hearts?

In the first part of the fourth chapter of Mosiah, King Benjamin teaches his people how to receive salvation – through faith, repentance, obedience to the commandments, continuing faithful to the end – all the things we are so familiar with. What applies to our discussion here is found as he continues his discourse in the second half of this chapter, where he describes the characteristics of those who have been saved. They will not have a mind to injure one another and will live peaceably with each other. They will care for their children and teach them to walk in the truth and to love one another. They will take care of others, administering to their relief, both temporally and spiritually. They will not judge those less fortunate, but will impart of their substance freely. King Benjamin does not characterize those who are saved by how they are with themselves, but by how they are with others.

Each week we come to church, partake of the sacrament, and listening to the prayer make the covenant that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son. What more is it to take His name upon us than simply to act as he would act, do as he would do, love as he would love? As our lives become, albeit on a small and imperfect scale, a mirror of His, as we work, not just to keep the commandments, but to let them work in us to change our hearts, we will know the joy of His love as we are washed clean in His blood. May we so do, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Rick Merrill
Meadow Springs Ward
March 15, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Noisy Reverence

September 13, 2009 Midland, MI

I love the familiarity of attending church. In whatever city or country it may be, there are some things that always seem the same. The young men in white shirts and ties at the front of the chapel before the meeting trying to determine who is there and if they will need to ask more people to help with the sacrament. A group of young women at the back of the chapel chatting together about whatever young women chat and giggle about. An older sister moving in and out of the pews handing out ward newsletters to those who had arrived early and taken their seats. A mother entering the chapel followed by two young girls in dresses with bows in their hair, finding their way to a place on the back row. Individuals greeting each other as they find their way to an empty bench, people genuinely happy to see each other and to be together.

Somehow I want to believe that heaven will be more about greeting and chatting and finding joy in our personal interactions, than about sitting quietly listening to heavenly prelude. Yes, there is a time for quiet reverence and introspection, and the chapel before church may be one of them, but isn't there also something holy in a people whose hearts are intertwined, who share their lives with each other, who inquire about and look after each other as God would if He were here? Even if there is a bit of noise arising from their joy at meeting together again? I think God will tolerate a little noisy reverence among his children.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Boulder Mountain

July 17, 2009 Boulder Mountain

Some of the crew were pretty worn out after the activities of the last few days, so instead of the hike into Calf Creek Falls, we decided a scenic drive up the Hell's Backbone road between Escalante and Boulder with a picnic up high on Boulder Mountain and a couple fishing stops would be a nice change of pace. The first fishing stop was great (Pine Creek at the lower entrance to The Box). A beautiful little stream full of nice sized little brown trout eager to take a fly. In some places the stream runs along red slickrock faces - pretty cool.

One of many Pine Creek browns

First cast in Pine Creek

We continued up the road where I was hopeful of stopping alongside this creek a few miles further up the mountain for a picnic and a bit more fishing. The car decided otherwise, as we started to overheat and boil over pretty badly when we were just short of the top. After a wait for the engine to cool a little, I turned around and we headed back to Escalante. The only shop in town did a quick check and found the radiator cap didn't hold pressure, but nothing else wrong. Only cost the cost of the new cap. Thanks guys! But I lost a little faith in the old minivan and was a little unsure of going way off the beaten path, so we stuck to the main highway on our way to Capitol Reef. Still an amazingly beautiful drive (I should have stopped to fish Calf Creek though! Another reason to go back some time)

We stayed the night in Bicknell a little ways from Capitol Reef because there was a hotel there with a good deal on a family room (Aquarius Inn, two rooms, kitchen, hide-a-bed for $79/night). I had a fishing license which could do with a little more use and a couple hours of free time, so I found another Pine Creek which appeared to be not too far from Bicknell and took off with Jessica, who was excited to accompany me. With evening time running short, gravel roads became 60 mph highways as I rushed to try and find the creek. It appeared I guessed correctly at all the road forks, as we looked ahead and saw the road approaching what appeared to be a creek in the valley bottom. Or did I find the right stream? It looked more like a small ditch with a little water running beside the road! Well, as I always tell the kids, there is only one way to find out if are fish in a stream - and there were. Jess and I caught about 30 in 45 minutes, all small cutthroats. I could fish streams like this all day! Not a place for those looking for fish with size, but if I'm back in the area, I think I'd try and find out what was just around that bend where the creek turns away from the road.....

Small Pine Creek Cutthroat

Jess still knows how to use a fly rod

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Grosvenor Arch

July 16, 2009 Grosvenor Arch

One more stop after eating early dinner in Escalante and returning to Cannonville, we headed south with the intention of seeing both Grosvenor Arch and the slot canyon of Willis Creek. Since the road was paved nearly halfway to Grosvenor Arch, I figured we could make it there and back pretty fast, then see if we could make it the shorter distance to Willis Creek the same evening. That was an overly optimistic assumption. Shortly after Kodachrome Basin State Park, the road turns to gravel. Shortly after that, it gets pretty rough. I couldn't go more than 10 to 15 mph for much of the 9 miles. After an hour of driving, we arrived in a nice little parking lot with a concrete sidewalk linking the parking lot and arch. The arch is wheelchair accessible, but the road to it is barely car accessible! A quick hike to the base of the arch gives a great view. Then we turned around and returned to Cannonville before dark - no way did I want to drive that road in the dark.

View from Cottonwood Road on the way to Grosvenor Arch

The approach to Grosvenor Arch
Grosvenor Arch close up
The sun setting as we return from Grosvenor Arch

Devils Garden

July 16, 2009 Devils Garden (off Hole-in-the-Rock Road)

Just off Hole-in-the-Rock road over a slight hill so it can't be seen from the road is a little wonderland well worth a short side trip for exploration. We stopped on the way back from Dry Fork Coyote Gulch. Since it was mid-afternoon and very hot, our stay was short, just long enough to wander around and climb on a few formations, find Metate Arch, and move on. The great thing about places like this is that you can climb on, around, and through all of these things - it is like a playground.

Formations in Devil's Garden

More of Devil's Garden

Metate Arch - you have to wander around until you find it (not too hard)

Jess at Devil's Garden