Tater Diggin’

I remember digging up potatoes in the garden when I was growing up on our farm in Todd County, Kentucky. Dad had an old “tater digger” that was just about perfect for the job. If my memory is working in nearly correct mode, it had four thick, flat metal tines, spread about an inch-and-a-half apart, with an almost ninety-degree bend about two inches below the spine. The tines extended another eight inches or so below the bend. Just above the bend, a heavy tang was welded to the spine and fastened inside a hollow steel handle that was around four feet long. (I’d guess that handle was probably a piece of old water pipe.) The whole thing was the color of old iron, long weathered and worn smooth on the gripping area.

Using the digger was about as simple as tool use gets. Swing it down hard so the tines jam into the ground at a nearly vertical angle just an inch or two away from where you think the clump of potatoes begins. The handle will be at a fairly low angle with your arms extended. Raise the handle up, forcing the tines to pivot on their bend, lifting the potatoes up out of the soil. There was something magical in raising up food from the ground. Hidden one moment and then plainly visible the next.

Simple, yes. Easy? Not quite.

Doing just one or two hills to grub out a mess of potatoes for one or two meals was not so bad. But as frost approached and it was time for harvesting the whole row, now, that was another matter. Swinging the heavy digger, then bending over and picking up the potatoes. A couple hours of that would have my back aching. Every now and then, I’d stand and stretch, bend as far backwards as I dared, hoping that would help.

It did help, but only for as long as I kept stretching. Bend back into the work and the ache returned instantly. And stayed for a day or two. I don’t know and never wanted to find out if doing that for a couple of weeks would condition me enough that my back wouldn’t hurt like that.

I did find that getting done with the job and not having to do it any more was a pretty good fix. That’s not a bad lesson for a kid to learn: just do it and have it over with. Then, move on. That works for a lot of the things that we know need doing. Sometimes, the dreading of a thing is worse than the thing itself.

Maybe that’s why the Lord advised us to leave tomorrow’s troubles for tomorrow rather than adding them to today’s batch. I don’t think there’s ever been a day that lacked enough of its own.

H. Arnett
11/20/19

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Gardening, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Healing Silence

The Healing Silence

In the long lee of the silent hours,
when all is as quiet as the stars
and even the wind slacks from its strong sendings,

When the only light is the light of the moon,
softened slightly by the high thin veil
of a slowly drifting winter cloud,

When the slightest of shadows
shows your passing
on the frosted grass.

In that moment
when even your thoughts
are heard by God,

Yield to the knowing,
welcome the revealing
and be healed

Of whatever it is
that has stolen sleep
and sent you seeking in the night.

Keep yourself close
to the cleansing quiet,
the searching light,

Always ready for the Promised Rest.

H. Arnett
11/19/19

Posted in Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Community Supper

Being as how we love to sing and don’t mind too much helping out now and again, Randa and I decided we’d pitch in for a fund-raising supper over at South Haven last night. The “God Squad,” a group of teens and tweeners, are working to finance a trip over to the Noah’s Ark replica in northern Kentucky. Apparently, they are trying to arrange some sort of transportation that won’t include hitchhiking eight hundred miles.

So, we joined in with the local superintendent to form the Dorsey Burgess Trio. Dorsey is a heck of a musician and singer who plays guitar and acoustic bass, though rarely at the same time. He also has a great sense of humor. Like many talented artists who have blended formal training with a whale of a lot of time playing bluegrass, he’s quick to pick up a new tune and find a harmony part. In other words, the dude is a lot of fun to perform with.

The God Squad and their fearless leader, Pam Knoffloch, teamed up with another fearless leader, Debbie Ray, who owns the Muffintop Bakery in South Haven. Debbie managed the kitchen crew and they fixed green beans, potatoes and steak with brown gravy. For dessert, there was what I think was a pumpkin or sweet potato cake/pie with a dollop of whipped cream on top. Whatever it was, it was good. I think Dorsey ate three or four pieces of it but I may be exaggerating slightly.

A good crowd showed up and sure seemed to enjoy the meal and our music. Even though we were doing the show without a PA system, I think folks could catch enough of the melody and lyrics to figure out what song we were singing. We mixed in some humor songs, including a really fun parody, “Ghost Chickens in the Sky,” some classic rock and folk, a country song or two, and threw in an old gospel medley for good measure.

We took a break and Pam and her team started awarding door prizes with the grandest prize being a biplane ride claimed by little Cash Dvorak. Then, Richard Theurer began auctioning off donated items. There were handmade Afghans, custom stenciled windows made by Cash’s grandmom, a DeWalt impact driver, giant Rubbermaid patio bench and storage box, a WaterPik water flosser, a good variety of other things and several homemade pies. There was much good-natured banter and Richard is the most entertaining auctioneer I’ve ever watched.

“Keep those hands up, folks; I’ll tell you when to stop,” he quipped. His humor and subtle manipulation kept things going, with some good-natured competition among the audience members. Pam’s husband, Rick, bought a sour cream and raisin pie for fifty bucks. (I think Cash’s great-grandmom might have made it.) A combination hotel and Branson show package brought in over two hundred dollars. Altogether, the combined auction and supper sales brought in seventeen hundred and fifty-two bucks for the young folks! Not bad for a town with a reported population of under four hundred people. The kids had worked hard with the preparing and the serving and as far as I can tell, deserve every penny.

It’s a wonderful thing when folks work together for a good cause and it seems easier to get them working together when they know and love the people they’re trying to help. It wasn’t some ambiguous, dubious purpose. It wasn’t something being done for anonymous, faceless, unknown beneficiaries. These are our kids and grandkids, our neighbors’ kids. The kids we see on teams, in school plays, and in church.

After the auctioning and door prizing, most of the folks were up and milling around. Some leaned against the walls and chatted with each other. Some sat at their tables and conversed. Neighbors being neighbors, visiting and sharing. Socializing and strengthening the ties that help hold a community together. Good folks doing something good together.

H. Arnett
11/18/19

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Walking Along the River Road

With today’s forecast calling for a Siberian Express to flatten out all mercurial indicators across most of the continent, Randa and I decided to take advantage of yesterday’s lovely warmth and go hiking out at Camp Horizon. With the temperature pleasantly near seventy degrees and almost no breeze, we set out.

After cautiously working our way down the limestone bluffs below Inspiration Point, we walked along the lower logging road that runs along the Arkansas River. Hardwood trees spanned the steep bluff up to our left while cottonwood and other lowland varieties filled in whatever sections of the flood plain allowed. Dozens of deadfall trees blackened the spaces where water had stood for too long some decades before.

We followed the trail east until it came to the downward bend at its end and took the steps down the bank and crossed the small ditch. Walking out of the woods into the flat, we saw miles of sand lining the winding course of the Arkansas. We saw some “his and hers” footprints in the mud flats along the edge and wondered if they might belong to the fugitive pair that had eluded local law pursuers a few days earlier. “What’d they do?” Randa asked with a healthy dose of incredulity as we both stared at several hundred feet of flat sand and mud spanning the distance between us and the stream, “Walk across all that to get out to the river and then swim across?”

After a brief bit of speculation, we took a shortcut up the bank and into the flood flat bordering between the river and the logging road. Owing to the late season and a bit of a respite from the rains, the space was mostly weedless and dry. Dead leaves blanketed a flat bed about fifty feet wide and crunched beneath our feet as we walked along parallel to the steep bank leading up to the logging road.

As we walked, I began looking for a way up and out. A tangle of roots exposed by years of erosion stuck out from near the base of a tree. “What about that?” I asked Randa, and then answered myself, “Looks pretty steep.” It was one of those options where you figured you could manage to work your way through it but also knew it would likely take more work than the way seemed worth. We kept walking.

After a while, Randa pointed over, “Looks like we could climb out there.” The bank was still pretty steep but there were some exposed roots we could use to help pull ourselves out.

I paused and then saw another place just a little farther along the low bed. It wasn’t as obvious due to a brief tangle of overhanging branches but it had a lower slope and looked like we could just walk out. We ducked beneath the impeding branches and stepped around a few tiny saplings that had sprouted up from the flood bed. A few steps along a rising edge led us up and out, right onto a well-worn footpath running along the logging road. Less than a quarter mile later, the path led us up an easy slope onto the road.

Sometimes, the closer way off the present path may be too steep, too demanding, too fraught with obstacles even more unpleasant than the ones we already encounter. Keeping our eyes open as we continue may lead us to find an easier and better way to the road we want to travel. In all my walks, saunters, meanderings and wanderings, I have found that some ways are easier than others. But all ways that lead to a higher road have been worth walking.

H. Arnett
11/11/19

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In Memory of Jon Moore–1956-2019

When I first came to Cowley College in September of 2015, a team of maintenance workers showed up at my office the second day I was here. “Anything you need us to do?” Todd Ray asked. I looked around, took stock, and thought for a moment. The visiting area with its round table and chairs seemed a bit small.

“Could ya’ll take out that big credenza that sits behind the desk and then help me move the desk unit over?” The desk unit was a large L-shaped affair, complete with a pull-out keyboard tray and filing drawers. Probably weighed over three hundred pounds. Todd directed in a friendly tone, “We’ll take care of moving this stuff; you just go ahead with something else.”

Within a half-hour, the credenza was gone and the desk pulled back toward that wall. The move created another twenty square feet of space in the visiting area. Perfect.

Among the group of truly pleasant and helpful fellows that showed up to help was Jon Moore.

Jon looked to be about my age, maybe a few years younger. He was slightly taller and maybe twenty or thirty pounds heavier and definitely more solid. His forearms were thick, shoulders full. The way he moved, spoke, and looked at people showed a friendly confidence. A ready smile and eyes that focused on yours when he talked conveyed genuineness, honesty and sincerity. I also got the clear notion that in spite of his soft-spoken manner and kind expression, there was a depth of strength and resolve that you’d prefer be on your side if a situation ever called for such things.

None of the subsequent encounters I had with him failed to reinforce that original impression. After he shifted from the maintenance crew to campus security, he’d stop by my office on his evening rounds. “Hey, Doc, how are you doing? Working late?” We’d chat for a few minutes and then he’d say goodbye and move on and I’d get back to whatever I’d been doing.

No matter where or when I saw him, he was always the same: friendly, genuine, humble and confident. I always felt better after talking with him, even if we spoke for only a moment. I suspect it was largely due to that sense of genuine caring.

Just a couple of months after I resigned my job at the college in 2018, I saw Jon Moore on a backroad out near Camp Horizon.

Mark Flickinger and I were out hiking in the middle of October, training for an excursion to the Grand Canyon. We’d passed an empty pickup truck earlier and had reached our turnaround point and were headed back. As we approached the truck, we saw a man dressed in camos coming out of the field and headed to the truck. It was Jon.

We stopped and shook hands, visited, laughed together in the manner of men who like each other and are truly glad to see each other. There was a hint of rain and the skies to the west were darkening. Mark and I still had about three or four miles to go and so we said goodbye and watched Jon drive away.

“He’s a good guy, isn’t he?” I said. “He sure is,” Mark quickly agreed. A few sprinkles fell on us as we walked toward the overhanging trees and walked beneath them, grateful for the shelter in our passing.

I had no idea that was the last time I’d ever see or speak with Jon. Almost exactly a year later, cancer killed him. I didn’t even know he was sick until another friend told me he’d passed away.

There was so much about Jon I didn’t know. I didn’t know he’d been born in England. I didn’t know he’d worked as a police officer for years before working at Cowley College. I didn’t know where he’d gone to school.

I guess much of what I didn’t know was because I didn’t ask. And I think part of it was because Jon always seemed more interested in other people and in other things than in talking about himself. I know that even though I didn’t know him any better than I did, there is still a hole in my heart today and I wish there was some way that I could tell him how much I respected him and appreciated him.

It is not an easy thing to lose such folks as Jon Moore. The closer they are, the bigger the hole they leave behind. But the good that they bring to the world, the good that they bring to our lives, and the good that they leave behind them in our hearts and memories will eventually help soften the pain of losing them.

H. Arnett
10/30/19

Posted in Death & Dying, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Alive in the Desert

Our guide says that the north rim of the canyon
is a thousand feet higher than here—
though here seems quite high enough to me.
Eighteen miles wide and a mile deep.

Steep walls rise and fall in more colors than I can count.
The horizontal fountain of the Colorado River
reflects a brilliant blue sky as it surges by
and through the rapids—bright ripples of white
voicing thunder that fades
within the deepest folds of aged stone.

I turn away from that to study
tiny yellow flowers flaring in the midst
of stubby branches and rubber leaves,
rings of lichen in a dozen colors on a smooth boulder,
mushroom-like sprouts of sporing moss
stemming their caps up from the browning sponge.

Among a small group of strangers,
I stand at the edge of a ledge
shaped by eons of wind and water.

I marvel at a million minute things,
the vastness and the nearness of all that has been made,
shaped by forces and ways beyond our comprehension,
and know that regardless of size or texture,
no matter how tiny or soft or smooth,
nothing that survives here
is delicate.

H. Arnett
10/28/19

Posted in Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gathering from an Old Orchard

On a crisp second-Saturday morning in October,
Neil has agreed to help me pick up apples.
Though I am nearly fifteen years older,
his hair shows even more gray than mine.
That difference in years has not kept us
from becoming good friends
and I am grateful for good help
and even better company.

Through a few miles
of the curves and hills of northeast Kansas,
we drive my small truck over to the orchard
and down the slight slope to my favorite trees.
Even though the branches are bare
I hope that there are still apples.

Thick fescue sagged by last night’s heavy frost
tangles beneath the hanging branches
of apple trees nearly the age of old men.

This year’s bounty lies hidden beneath the blades:
some already rotted,
some halfway there,
some matted into the soft dirt,
and yet some that are fit for table display.

For cider, it doesn’t much matter, anyway.
Apples that most people wouldn’t even touch
will yield juice that is golden and sweet
and so I tell Neil,
“Unless it’s got mold on it
or is so soft your finger goes through it
when you try to pick it up,
it’s good enough.”

In spite of the stinging nettle
and the stick-tights that make the back
of our gloved hands look like a porcupine’s topside,
we find plenty that are good enough for cider
and some I will save for pies and drying.

We fill our buckets, carry them to the truck,
and dump the apples into the bed.
In forty-five minutes,
we’ve gathered over five hundred pounds.

“Let’s do one more bucket and call that good enough.”

Carrying on the conversation that men carry on
when they think they are done with work,
we walk around the orchard and find one more tree
that has several apples still hanging on its branches.
We pick for a few minutes and I tell Neil we have enough
but he keeps picking for another bit.
He reaches for one last apple and says,
“This might be the one that makes a difference.”

I grin at that and think to myself,
“That’s a mighty good thing to hear
from a man who makes his living
teaching high school kids.”

It will take three hours for the washing,
disinfecting and rinsing,
and then several hours more
for the grinding and pressing
in a hundred-year-old hand-cranked mill.

It takes a lot of work
to turn what was left to rot
into something good and pleasant and sweet.
God’s own work reflected in the labor of our hands.

H. Arnett
10/15/19

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