September 30, 2004

Real-time info

I've been impressed by the information available online from the U.S. Geological Survey. It's not your stereotypical government bureaucracy; useful data is available in real time. That's what the web should be about.

The first time I really used the info was during the minor earthquake that rattled our area in Virginia.

More recently, especially with the recent rains from the hurricane remnants passing through our area, I've been going to the USGS for information on water flow in various rivers. Their streamflow data is pretty impressive. In real time, you can see graphs for the cubic feet per second discharge as well as the water depth at the gage.

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September 28, 2004


I recently came across an amazing photo catalog of probably every vehicle in the FDNY, as well has hundreds of other fire departments on the East Coast. If you're a firefighting junkie like me, if you've been to NYC and have seen some odd firefighting rig, or if you have a penchant for the offbeat, this site is for you.

You can see current and previous versions of basically any FDNY engine or truck company as well as current FDNY tow trucks, fuel trucks, training vehicles, reserve vehicles, command post vehicles, and any other special units including tractors. Other NYC agencies with firefighting vehicles and the 10 volunteer fire departments located within NYC limits are also on the site.

Unfortunately, the site doesn't load perfectly in IE or Netscape, so you'll have to work around the odd look. (Enjoy the siren sound or the Bronx dispatch sound clip on the home page.) If you take a look at the site, I hope you're on a high-speed connection...

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September 26, 2004

Into Jeanne's eye

Hurricane researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) flew into the eye of Hurricane Jeanne to collect information about the storm. They brought back some impressive photos of the eyewall, as well as interesting information.

Read NOAA's press release and see photos here: NOAAnews
This is not the first time that crews have flown into hurricane's to gather scientific data, but I thought it was a cool and timely link.

BTW, this is not the discredited photos that were supposedly of Isabel's approach.

Posted by JRC at 09:27 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 24, 2004

Providential whitewater

kayak04 9-23-04.jpg

Each month I'm responsible for an Outdoor page in the newspaper. The week before my last Outdoor page was to run, my story fell through on me.

While I was scrambling to come up with a replacement story, a woman came to the newspaper with some pictures, wondering if we'd be interested. She had pictures of her son and friend whitewater kayaking through the creek in town. They were out when the water was higher from Hurricane Frances.

In the end, I scheduled a time to go out on the Shenandoah River with them to get my own photos and story about whitewater in our area--which is known for its calm waters, not rapids.

I came back with some great photos (only one of which I'll post here), a decent story. Oh, and I was wet. I tried my hand at the kayak pursuit of playboating and got dumped. The only other time I was in a kayak was in Boy Scouts at Lake Hartwell.

When my editor was pleased with the package I put together in the time frame I had, I was able to tell him that it was providential.

The above picture is one of the teens coming up out of the water after rolling his kayak.

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September 23, 2004

Surviving Ivan

Well, I didn't end up having any natural disasters to cover as a result of Ivan a week ago, but we did come under a tornado warning. I've been busy, so I haven't posted since then.

I don't think I'd ever been under a tornado warning, and it was an experience.

I looked out the window. There was no rain. There were clouds, but they weren't unusual--until I noticed up in the clouds as far as I could see were leaves and pieces of leaves floating around. Kinda scary.

Towns around our area were hit by tornados, but none came closer to us than probably 30 miles. The storm that came through our county did have wind shear and circulation, but no tornado developed.

Kudos to meteorologist Topper Shutt at WUSA TV in Washington DC for his coverage. He constantly tracked dangerous cells on Doppler while predicting subdivisions in danger, while talking to eyewitnesses on the phone, etc.

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September 16, 2004

Mankind's not all that smart

I'm about to head out to an "away" football game that's tonight. The schools moved the game up one night because of the potential rains from Ivan. It's amusing to see the constantly-changing forecasts coming out. On one hand they say we're going to be deluged. On the other hand they're saying it will stall over Tennessee and not make it this far.

Guess mankind doesn't know as much as we'd like to believe we do. Makes me glad we have a sovereign God.

P.S. -- If we do get a deluge (tomorrow?), I'll potentially be real busy covering flash-flooding and fun stuff like that.

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September 12, 2004

The Church

Sometimes it seems that those in fundamental circles believe that churches all look the same--on the outside and the people inside. The buildings all look similar and the church bodies all must operate the same way.

In the same vein, the mission field is for missionaries who raise support to work full-time as pastors. That mission field is only across foreign borders, likely overseas. And while that mission work is worthy--God calls people to do that--we seem to forget the needy fields in our own country. Tent-making missions is only for countries with closed borders.

Or is it? Why don't we promote tent-making missions to reach the unsaved within our own borders?

The urban parts of the United States have for the most part been overlooked as suburban churches expand and multiply. After all, cities are dangerous and expensive.

We served for more than two years in New York City with a great burden to reach people as layworkers. Manhattan is filled with people who likely won't darken the doors of a church, but they could be reached by coworkers living godly lives. Althought God has called us from the city, we still have a deep burden for it.

We'd love to see godly young professionals--single, newlywed, or with established families--gain a similar burden and move to inner-city areas. Such people would have a unique ministry potential in their workplace, and they'd be a tremendous asset to the small urban churches. Their jobs would support them, and the Lord would protect them.

We've forgotten that the churches in Acts are urban churches. We've forgotten that the Church is composed of all nationalities and ethnicities. And we've overlooked the fact that cities are the best place to reach any number of nationalities--even people who have come to the United States from closed countries. They still have ties to family members in those countries.

What follows, then, is a description of just one small urban ministry. My goal would be that people see my burden and not be stuck viewing all ministries through the same lens.

The setting
The neighborhood is one of the most elite areas in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The elitism of the professionals and artists who live there makes the area a hot-bed of liberal thinking. Near the end of one historic, photogenic block of brownstone homes sits a discreet museum commemorating the homosexual lifestyle.

All around the neighborhood, anti-Bush stickers adorn just about any flat surface. Many residents have rainbow flags bearing anti-Bush sentiments hanging from windows and fire escapes. Not far from the museum is a synagogue with a lesbian rabbi.

A couple of blocks from the museum lives Lynne Stewart, the woman lawyer who defended the blind sheik Omar Abdul-Rahman. Rahman is in jail for his role in the first attack on the World Trade Center. Stewart is now being tried for helping him communicate with terrorists.

On another block is Farrell's bar. It's a neighborhood icon, where firefighters gather when off-duty. The word on the street is that it is also where terrorists did some of the planning for the first World Trade Center attack.

In the midst of this liberal neighborhood sits a church building built in 1892. It's red brick, with tons of windows. One room has a large window air conditioner; the rest of the building relies on windows and fans to keep cool in the humid New York summer. There is a basement that you can reach by going down a small stairwell with a low ceiling. Members dug the basement by hand (out of bedrock) after the building was built.

With sliding wood/glass panels, the main auditorium could be expanded into a side room and a balcony. Maybe as many as 500 people could fit in that arrangement. Nowadays, though, about 50 to 100 people come for a Sunday morning service.

The sanctuary is beautiful. Stained-glass windows highlight the wooden pews. Much of the room, in fact, is accented with dark wood. In the front, there's a raised platform for the pulpit. The flooring of the platform can be removed to reveal the baptistry.

Above the pulpit is a balcony that is home to a dignified old pipe organ. A system of mirrors is rigged up so the organist can see the song leader in the pulpit. A soaring ceiling provides beautiful acoustics.

The church began as a Sunday School run by two single ladies. The body grew and the church was born a couple years later. The church was built and has been there ever since. Last Sunday attendance was a bit low due to the holiday weekend. But still, New Yorkers came to worship together.

The people
There was Kalvin, a loving single father of an adolescent girl. Kalvin frequently cares for his teenage nephew. When he's not a bodyguard for movie or television productions, he finds work doing construction. The union people in the construction industry don't usually like Kalvin; he works hard and tries to do what's right, and they don't care for that.

The Caribbean-island native is faithful at the church. Sunday, he was glad to share prayer requests about his family. His sister is sick, and many relatives need spiritual help.

Kalvin's brother -- "you know, the one who rides his bike in the neighborhood" -- has a drinking problem, so Kalvin requests prayer for that in a conversation between Sunday School and the morning worship service. But in the next sentence, he takes a lighter approach.

"It's not that I don't drink too. I do," Kalvin says. "But I don't drink alcohol."

There's also Ginny, an "old maid" who's as Greek as could be. She loves the children in the church, and spoils them as much as she can.

Alice was there in her white straw hat, stained pink shirt, and bright flower-print skirt. She probably walked a couple blocks to church. She often does. A dear black lady who's probably about 90, Alice is a bright, active member in the body. Sunday, she was with Marie, another black lady.

Marie is a gracious Southern woman who lives in a boarding home across the street. She wasn't wearing a hat Sunday, but she often does. Instead, she's wearing a scarf around her neck that matches her skirt. Marie used to visit the church periodically. She went to another church, but getting out was hard. So now she crosses the street faithfully to worship nearby.

Karla was there, accompanying the piano on her flute before moving on to do something else in the building during the sermon. Petra came from the building around the corner. She sat in the back left corner as usual. Her Puerto Rican accent is evident as she greets church people.

Nester came in late, sitting just to the left of the middle aisle. Nester, a black man, is impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. His short hair is picture-perfect, his nails nicely trimmed. As the pastor preaches, Nester might grunt as he uses his waist to bob up and down. He might excuse himself during the sermon to visit the restroom, checking with those around him or even with the pastor. Nester's autistic. But he comes faithfully, leaving the home he stays in and walking to church on his own.

In front of Nester sits Randolph. Randolph, from the island of Dominica, is somewhat a loner. For the last several years, he's worked in a factory painting mannekins. He has family, maybe even children, but he seems to be alone in the world. He sits in the pew in blue carpenter jeans and a green plaid shirt, holding his New Testament close to his bearded face to read along with the preacher.

Across the aisle from Randoph are George and Helen. Nobody really knows their last name. Nobody really knows much about them, in fact. They come almost every Sunday morning, always looking bedraggled. George and Helen are Messianic Jews from Russia. There's a language barrier--a rather tall barrier, at that. The couple usually rides their bikes everywhere; they live miles away. They often take large handfuls of tracts, which they pass out during the week. Sometimes they come back mid-week to get more.

Helen sits in the pew in khaki cropped pants, which she has rolled up near her knees. During the hymns, she has the hymnal about an inch from her eyes. George sits next to her in a light dress shirt. He probably doesn't have an undershirt beneath it. During the sermon, the two talk back and forth periodically, translating for each other.

Somewhere in the building is Wilfredo and Yasmine and their kids. Native New Yorkers, Wilfredo and Yasmine met in youth group at pastor's previous church, where he was youth pastor. They went on to attend BJU, and now Wilfredo works in Manhattan while Yasmine homeschools their four kids.

In about a year at this church, Wilfredo has become one of the leaders. A talented pianist, he plays the prelude and special music, among other responsibilities.

Most of these people have been coming for years. There are others, but life is so transient in the city that people come and go frequently.

A typical Sunday
Sundays usually begin at 9:45 a.m. at the church. Well, anywhere from 9:45 to 10:05 a.m. With so many ethnic groups, urban traffic, and the other daily unknowns of city life, services don't always start right on time. It doesn't help that the pastor is often the driver of the church van, driving all over the borough to pick up church people. By about 2:00 p.m., the church day will be complete, with all the normal services crammed into a shorter time span.

After everyone gathers in the Sunday School room, the congregation sings a hymn or two and recites the monthly memory verses. Then more specific classes break up for their Bible classes. At 10:45 a.m., the classes end and preparations begin for the morning worship service.

Slightly after the hour, the 11:00 a.m. worship service begins. There's the normal hymn service, a responsive reading from Ephesians 2:1-10, an offering, and special music. This service also included a special prayer for the health of former President William Clinton as he prepares for heart bypass surgery.

Since the morning began, the church proceedings have been punctuated by street sounds. Cars drive by constantly. When they can't start as soon as they'd like when the light turns green, drivers honk their horns. Down the block, buses whir as they work their routes. Overhead, jets roar over on the flight path into LaGuardia Airport in Queens. From time to time, a passing ambulance drowns everything out during a service. The church is on an avenue that leads right to one of the main hospitals in Brooklyn.

The pastor's sermon from 2 Peter 2 warns against false prophets.

One of the pastor's passions is to preach the Bible in its context. In the general sense, that involves a lot of teaching about Judaism: the Bible is predominantly a Jewish book written to and by Jewish people. In New York, the Jewish population is so large that everyone in the church probably has interactions with Orthodox Jews, so they have a good understanding of the Jewish culture. Knowing that, they understand the difference between living under the law and living in God's grace.

When the sermon comes to a close, the pastor holds a brief invitation. He doesn't prolong it; he doesn't use any emotional tactics. The pastor knows that if the Lord has worked, a person will respond. After two quick stanzas from a hymn, it's time to close in prayer.

As he closes in prayer, pastor asks the Lord's blessing on the food that the congregation is about to eat. Then after he's done, everyone greets each other and moves down the small stairway to the basement for dinner. It's not a special occasion; it's a weekly event. Four teams are responsible to provide the food. One team brings the food each week, and then on a month with five Sundays, everyone pitches in.

This urban ministry has rearranged the Sunday schedule to minister more effectively to its people. After a traditional morning schedule, the church holds a luncheon, followed immediately by an afternoon service. As a result, the elderly women don't have to be out late at night--especially in the winter when it's dark by 5:30 p.m. And those who ride public transportation pay for two trips instead of four.

After the lunch, everyone reconvenes in the main Sunday School room for the afternoon service. By 1:15 p.m., the congregation is answering Bible trivia questions that pastor reads from cards. Some of the questions stump even the adults, and pastor supplies a reference to look up the answer.

There's also hymn singing and reciting the monthly memory verses. Eventually pastor gives a simple Bible lesson. Some Sundays, church people ask questions during the lesson.

Before the church made the change to the afternoon schedule, it was hardly drawing anyone to the evening services. After the switch, attendance improved dramatically. But the move drew criticism from some circles in fundamentalism. Naysayers decried the new schedule as a break with "how it's always been."

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September 11, 2004

9-11 on the web

Here's a collection of a few 9-11 related web pages. (These are external links, and I'm not responsible for their content.)

My blog account: My account of 9-11 and the one-year anniversary.
NYC bloggers: The 9-11 accounts from a community of NYC bloggers.
National Parks on 9-11: How the National Park Service responded to 9-11.
World of Fire Reports remembers: A fire news service posts its 9-11 pager dispatches.

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A new appreciation

I saw the twin towers fall, covered my mouth and nose with a wet paper towel to keep the dust out of my lungs, slept with the windows closed to keep the smoke out of our apartment, then bought newspapers early on 9-12.

One of the first things I saw was a picture of firefighters raising an American flag (not the famous one, though). Since then, I've had a much greater appreciation for the words of our national anthem.


O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner: O, long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,
A home and a country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash'd out their foul footsteps' pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever when free-men shall stand
Between their lov'd home and the war's desolation;
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the heav'n-rescued land
Praise the Pow'r that hath made and preserv'd us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust!”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

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Patriot Day

I remember talk of giving 9-11 a special designation, but I don't remember hearing that the Congress actual did so. But turns out they did. From now on, 9-11 is Patriot's Day. According to President Bush, the American flag should be flown at half mast from sunrise to sunset.

Joint Resolution

Amending title 36, United States Code, to designate September 11 as
Patriot Day. <>

Whereas on September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four civilian
aircraft, crashing two of them into the towers of the World Trade
Center in New York City, and a third into the Pentagon outside
Washington, D.C.;

Whereas the fourth hijacked aircraft crashed in southwestern
Pennsylvania after passengers tried to take control of the aircraft
in order to prevent the hijackers from crashing the aircraft into an
important symbol of democracy and freedom;

Whereas these attacks were by far the deadliest terrorist attacks ever
launched against the United States, killing thousands of innocent
people; and

Whereas in the aftermath of the attacks the people of the United States
stood united in providing support for those in need: Now, therefore,
be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled,


Chapter 1 of title 36, United States Code, is amended by adding at
the end the following new section:

``Sec. 144. Patriot Day

``(a) Designation.--September 11 is Patriot Day.
``(b) Proclamation.--The President is requested to issue each year a
proclamation calling on--
``(1) State and local governments and the people of the
United States to observe Patriot Day with appropriate programs
and activities;
``(2) all departments, agencies, and instrumentalities of
the United States and interested organizations and individuals
to display the flag of the United States at halfstaff on Patriot
Day in honor of the individuals who lost their lives as a result
of the terrorist attacks against the United States that occurred
on September 11, 2001; and
``(3) the people of the United States to observe a moment of
silence on Patriot Day in honor of the individuals who lost
their lives as a result of the terrorist attacks against the
United States that occurred on September 11, 2001.''.

[[Page 115 STAT. 877]]


The table of contents for chapter 1 of title 36, United States Code,
is amended by adding at the end the following new item:

``144. Patriot Day.''.

Approved December 18, 2001.


Oct. 25, considered and passed House.
Nov. 30, considered and passed Senate.

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September 10, 2004


Some NY friends of ours were able to secure guest passes for the Republican National Convention. They made it to Tuesday and Thursday evening's proceedings. Good choices!

I visited with them on Friday morning and heard all about their experiences. They had a fair amount of loot: large guest IDs with holograms and barcodes for security, programs, placeholders for Sen. Frist and someone in the Bush family, one of the large "4 more years" vertical signs, etc.

It wasn't until 2 a.m. that my friends made it home after Bush's speech. When they got on the subway train with the big "4 more years" sign, they sat right next to a protester laden with anti-Bush stuff. What fun...

My friends said Max Lucado led one of the prayers one evening. Another man they couldn't remember prayed a prayer full of Scripture. They appreciated the testimony these men had, unlike Edward Cardinal Egan, who read a formal prayer one night

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Change of pace

Last Thursday and Friday, I was able to take a few days off and piggyback them with Labor Day for almost a week off from the paper. (I have most of two weeks available and I need to use them before January.) Unfortunately, Darla wasn't able to join me because of her new job.

I used the time to go back to NYC for the first time since we moved away more than a year ago. My time was a blessing, having fellowship with NY believers. I ministered to brothers and sisters while they ministered to me. (More later...) I did only a little "tourist" stuff--just watching the sunset from the Brooklyn Bridge. My visit took me through each of the five boroughs, but unfortunately I didn't even set foot in the NYC subway system. (Actually, with the RN Convention goings-on, that might be a good thing.)

I did take my scanner. I caught one FDNY fire -- a boat in a channel off of Jamaica Bay--nothing spectacular.

The trip made a great change of pace for me, but I returned to work on Tuesday with a week's worth of work to get the sports pages out that night.

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September 01, 2004

Cutting-edge art

A few weeks ago, I had a photo assignment to get photos of a man carving wood. When I got to the shoot, I found a man carving sculptures with a chainsaw--something I've been wanting to try someday.

I took photos for some time, talking to the man when he stopped to get enough information for a cutline.

Well, the shoot turned into a whole feature story that I had to write, so I conducted follow-up interviews, and the end product turned into what is arguably my best feature story.

So without further adieu...

Washington man brings chainsaw carving to Luray

By John Collins

Many think of a chainsaw as a rough, powerful tool for clearing trees. But Donald Kieffer’s chainsaw breaks that mold. His chainsaw is all about finesse. It is the main tool in his sculptor’s toolbox.

Kieffer, a descendant from the Spokane Indian tribe in Washington state, has been wielding a chainsaw for almost 30 years. For more than 20 years he was a logger in the pine forests of Washington. For the past 10 years, Kieffer has been using a chainsaw to carve bears, eagles, Indians, frogs, turtles, cowboys and owls out of logs.

About one month ago, Kieffer brought his art to Luray with the help of Lyle Kiszonas. Kieffer has been giving demonstrations on Saturdays in the Virginia Appeal parking lot. The demonstrations are scheduled every Saturday in August. Kieffer also hopes to set up at the Page Valley Agricultural and Industrial Fair next week.

Those who stop to watch Kieffer work quickly catch a whiff of fumes from the two-stroke chainsaw engine. But the aroma of the cedar being carved cuts through the oily fumes. Tan and red curls of sawdust pile up on the tarp below Kieffer’s work area.

Very few blocks of wood fall from the log as Kieffer cuts. Up until the fourth cut on a log, the carving could become anything – an eagle, bear or Indian. That flexibility is something Kieffer enjoys.

“You might not be able to use it as you intended,” Kieffer said.

Even if he were to make a seemingly devastating cut to a carving, Kieffer could still shape the chunk of wood into some sort of sculpture. Very rarely does he discard a carving.

“It’s not a piano,” he said. “It’s a chainsaw carving.”

Kieffer said the unique makeup of each log forces him to be creative. A seam of bark or a piece of metal in a log can keep the final product from being what he intended at the start.

“Some of my most creative pieces were brought on by something in the wood,” Kieffer said.

Back home on the Spokane Reservation, Kieffer usually uses yellow pine for his work. In Page County cedar is the closest equivalent. Kieffer uses wood from dead or dying trees. They have the best moisture content, he said.

Working with cedar is different, Kieffer said. The main difference is the scale of the logs. Using cedar, Kieffer is forced to carve much smaller sculptures than he would back home.

“My biggest one here is like my smallest there,” he said.

The smaller carvings create an interesting dichotomy. They get better with more work, Kieffer has learned.

“If you don’t have much wood, you do more with what you’ve got,” he said.

Many of Kieffer’s locally-carved pieces are two- to three-feet tall. In Washington, Kieffer can carve pieces eight-feet tall.
Kieffer’s saws, small Stihls covered in black paint to avoid free advertising, use a 13-inch bar. The bar and chain can be bought off the rack at a Stihl dealer.

Each of Kieffer’s saws has a different size tip. They range from the size of a quarter to the size of a dime. The dime-sized tip allows for more detail work, but the tight turn the chain makes causes the chain to wear out quicker than on the quarter-sized tip.

Though he’s never had an accident carving, the work still wears on Kieffer. After a lifetime breaking in his own horses on the reservation, Kieffer’s back is suffering some. The vibration from the chainsaw is exhausting. Periodically Kieffer stops to regain full feeling in his hands.

“When you do this five or six days a week for six hours a day, it gets to you,” he said.

But one six-hour day could produce two complete carvings that could fetch at least $100, if not more. That immediate gratification is one of the biggest rewards for Kieffer, who sculpted alabaster before taking up chainsaw sculpture. One of the stone sculptures could take anywhere from 30 to 100 hours to complete.
After using the chainsaw to add the texture of feathers or fur, Kieffer often makes one cut down the back of the sculpture to limit any future cracking.

Then he uses a torch to burn the surface of the carving. Next, he takes wire brush to remove the carbon deposits. The final step is applying wood oil for preservation.

The finished product features light blond areas with deep red highlights from the cedar.

At the Saturday demonstration, Kieffer takes a break from carving an eagle. Later, he will add a bear cub to the carving. He takes out his small yellow ear plugs and sits down to start a fresh Camel Turkish 100 cigarette.

He succinctly sums up his work.

“I just love doing what I’m doing,” he said.

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