Top of the World

While much of the country is enjoying a refreshing blast of Arctic air to put them in the holiday mood, southeastern Floridians are currently languishing under fair winds and sunny skies, and wondering how they’ll ever manage with temperatures climbing to 80 degrees.

“Look, we’re gonna be in Florida for a few months. As tempting as it is to stay inside and hunker down for the winter, we can’t allow the weather to dictate our lives. We’ve got to get out and stay active. Maybe we should go for a hike,” stated Leah.

“Agreed! In nine months of traveling, we’ve never let the weather interfere with our outdoor plans. So if you’re up for it, we could hike to the observation tower atop Hobe Mountain in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,” I suggested.

“Are you sure?” Leah posited. “It’s been a while since we’ve done anything that strenuous. We could be setting ourselves up for a painful tomorrow.”

While it’s true that we’ve been sedentary lately, and maybe gained a pound or two from Thanksgiving overeating, I thought we could use a legitimate challenge to clear the cobwebs and get the blood pumping in ways when we were performing at our peak.

“C’mon! It’ll be fun. And if it’s too tough to the top, we’ll go as far as we can, and we’ll turn back,” I persuaded.

As a warm-up to our hike, we rode our bicycles to the trailhead parking lot, passing the Loxahatchee River,

Lexahachee River

and two camouflaged sandhill cranes along the way.

sandhill cranes

Apparently, resident Floridians were already deep into their hibernation cycle, as there wasn’t a single car in the lot, or maybe this was the hike that everyone avoids, for fear of over-exertion.

We spotted our destination from a distance,

palm and tower

and checked our water supply to ensure we were carrying enough to stay hydrated.

When we approached the trailhead, we stopped at the sign to get better acquainted with our surroundings.

Hobe Mountain Tower sign

“Are you sure you wanna go through with this?” I queried. “There’s no shame in pedaling away.”

“As long as we’ve made it this far, we should at least try,” Leah opined.

We set out along the boardwalk, traversing the planks, as we ascended the dune.

boardwalk1

We trudged up the risers,

risers2

and caught a glimpse of our target.

boardwalk3

We were nearing the halfway point of our trek, and I couldn’t help but notice Leah’s shallow breathing. Thus far, she had been a real trooper; five minutes had passed since we’d started out, and she hadn’t once complained about her neck and feet. Although, I had to admit, my back and knee were beginning to throb.

tower in the distance4

Fortunately, the park mavens had wisely provided a bench just when we needed it,

bench

giving us a chance to recover, and consider a different strategy for attacking the steeper second half of the hike.

getting closer5

We managed our steps more carefully,

closer still6

pacing ourselves as we approached the tower. From a distance, it seemed so small, but now that we were standing so close, it towered over us. We paused for a moment to appreciate its pine leg supports, the efficiency of its screened porch,

observation tower

and the sophisticated intricacy of its frame lumber construction.

landing

Leah and I took a long look back to see how far we’d come, and we couldn’t help but feel proud of our accomplishment. But it was too soon to gloat.

looking back7

We still had to contend with the tower ascent.

“I’ll bet they have seats up there,” I predicted.

“That would be a good idea, because you never know when you might want to sit,” Leah exclaimed.

“Exactly!” I stated precisely.

tower (2)

Climbing the stairs was faster than I expected; the adrenalin was coursing through our veins in eager anticipation of the view. Once at the top of the tower, the thin air and the expansive vista made us giddy with excitement. At 86 feet above sea level, we were on top of the world.

panorana

All that remained was retracing our steps back to the parking lot. But that would be easy, now that we were riding a Florida high. Although the naysayers would argue that it’s downhill from here.

Cross Beams

Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.

As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.

The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,

exterior choir

and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.

lone star flag

Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,

compound.jpg

but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.

interior1

In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

profile


While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,

cathedral exterior

a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,

buttress (2)

and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

nave

Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.

rose window

The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,

lights

and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.

rose window perch


Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,

cathedral ext

and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.

ceiling of the Narthex (2)

However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.

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Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.

depiction of Pentacost

Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.

depiction of Easter

Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.

Historic Bay


In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

chapel exterior

With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.

chapel 2xt (2)

Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,

chapel alter (2)

the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.

chapel int (2)

However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.

lower level chapels.jpg

The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

stained glass ceiling


Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.

Exterior

Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,

camouflage

and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.

pews and lights

Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.

crossbeams


The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.

St. John exterior

Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.

reference sign

Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,

alter

while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,

pews

to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.

pipe organ

Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.

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Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.

exterior

Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.

historic landmark

A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.

1st temple (3)

After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,

Greek Revival

reminiscent of Greek temples.

peeling ceiling

Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.

pipe organ (2)


The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.

A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.

Amen.