Frontasauras and the Clogged Gutter

A friend of ours posted a picture last night showing the storm system moving across southern and central Kansas. The radar image definitely had an interesting shape; some said it resembled a dinosaur and others said “giraffe.” Its distinctive, fiery shape with elongated neck and galloping legs took me a step further. I thought it looked like a giraffe from hell.

Whatever fury the radar picture suggested or the system delivered elsewhere, the forecast fell a bit short at our place. We’re not complaining, though! I haven’t yet learned how to be disappointed about not getting seventy-mile-an-hour winds or golf ball-sized hail. We did get some drenching rain for a spell and a slight pattering of momentary hail.

As it frequently does when accumulated sticks, leaves, and hordes of whatever else the elm trees are tired of holding up falls off and clogs the gutters, water was pouring over the edges and making a mess by our porch. As I periodically do during small thunderstorms and other events when the atmosphere and hydrosphere try to merge, I decided to clean out enough of the clog to get things flowing again.

I got the utility step stool that works so well for such occasions and took an extra measure, one I usually forget in all the excitement such opportunities provide; I put on a plastic raincoat.

So here I am in the thunderstorm, with distant flashes of lightning, rolling rumbles of thunder, and great rivers of water pouring from above, standing on a metal-framed contraption, and pulling out handfuls of sticks, leaves, and hordes of whatever else from the corner intersection of the gutter.

I had just about finished when I realized I needed to get at least one more handful and a finishing swipe from the right hand side. As I reached up and twisted slightly, there was a brilliant flash of lightning and a loud boom of thunder. The mere fact that I am writing about it the next morning should be adequate proof that there was no direct interaction between me and said lightning. As to the sudden great rush of water that my gutter work released, that is a rather different story. There were all kinds of direct interaction.

Apparently, I had perfectly aligned myself, having twisted my upper body and head at the exactly proper angle to fashion an amazingly effective plastic funnel from the hood of the rain coat. It were as if someone had emptied a five-gallon bucket of quite refreshing spring water. It poured down around my neck and seemed to fill the entire interior of my rain coat down my right side. My shirt was soaked, my jeans were soaked, my socks were soaked. In fairness, I should point out that my socks were already soaked before this splendid event; I’d been shoeless throughout the entire gutter reclamation project. Just as well as it turned out.

I stepped over onto the porch, folded up the folding utility step stool and set it against the wall on the porch. I looked back to admire the improvement for which I had just sacrificed such comfort and solitude. Water was pouring over the edge of the gutter in pretty much the same spots it had been before. But at least it was falling in a slightly different pattern.

In those times when our efforts fall well short of our intended outcomes, we do well to be tolerant of our own limitations. And be grateful for soft towels and dry clothes. And, especially, for a safe place to sleep, even while the rain is spilling over the gutters.

H. Arnett

Posted in Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Profiles, Remodeling/Construction, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Career Prep

A few of my colleagues from the hospital and I spent the day yesterday at the Career Expo for high school students. Three of us set up our booths in the morning and were joined by the surgical team and another administrator in the afternoon. In addition, there were employees from at least a couple dozen other businesses and colleges. All of us were there to share information about careers and answer questions. Over five hundred area freshmen came by during the day.

Most of the representatives had items to give away, enticements of sorts to draw students to their tables. Some of the kids treated it as a big indoors Trick-or-Treat event, going from one display to another to collect the freebies. Some grabbed handfuls of candy from the big bowls set out.

Being the Grouchy Old Badger that I am, I didn’t bring candy. We had plenty of pens and pencils and some tiny first aid kits (band aids, antiseptic & antibiotic). At her table, our head of radiology set out a big bowl of mandarin oranges. It was still full at the end of the day.

As further evidence of my meanness, I made the kids stand there and at least pretend to interact with me before they got any goodies. Most of them indicated they had no idea of what they wanted to be when they grew up. I met a couple of kids that said they wanted to be surgeons and a couple of prospective engineers.

Several of the thirty or forty that stopped by our table listened carefully and took time to actually look at the materials we had displayed. Large cards listed a few of the non-medical careers and the types of subjects and topics that related to them. For instance, under “Marketing and Public Relations,” I’d listed such things as writing, photography, journalism, graphic design and public speaking. “If you look through that list and think, ‘Oh, those are things I really enjoy doing,’ that might be a career area you should consider,” I offered. “On the other hand, if you see things there and think ‘I hate those!’ then you should probably look for something else.”

Watching all of those young teens finding their way around, I thought back to my own freshmen year. I didn’t have any solid idea at all of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I changed my mind a half-dozen times even after I started college. I’d focused on teaching by the end of my first year at Freed-Hardeman. I shifted stations but stayed in education for over forty years.

As a high school freshmen, I knew how to listen, study, get along with others, do my work and say “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir.” Looking back over all these years, I’m not sure but what those were the things that mattered most.

H. Arnett

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A Slightly Early Easter Story

I spent a few hours last July cutting, tearing, digging, prying and pulling out the base remnants of old shrubs that grew along the southeast wall of our little house in Ark City. The anchoring tendrils of winter creeper left their scars on the cedar siding. It’ll take a fair amount of scraping and grinding and two coats of new paint to finish hiding those marks.

Not being in the proper frame of mind for all that last summer, I opted for planting lilies in that vacated section of ground. Figured maybe some bright blooms might distract the casual passers-by enough that they wouldn’t notice the siding. In order to give the new plants a good go of it in the southern Kansas summer, I poured on a liberal dose of the root starter recommended for transplanting. Some of that stuff you dilute in water that has just the right proportion of the right nutrients, you know.

In spite of such splendid treatment, the Oriental lilies almost immediately began turning yellow. Within two weeks, at least one of them had added a disturbing degree of wilt to accompany the paling color. By the end of a month, all of them but one had died. By September, that one also had given up the ghost, so to speak. The day lilies, living in the same neighborhood, seemed to be doing okay, as long as I watered them every few days.

Short of autopsy, the only thing I could think of in the way of investigating possible explanation was to go back and re-read the instructions on the jug of starter solution. (I may have used the term “re-read” in a somewhat misleading fashion.) Careful review of that little bit of written conveyance certainly yielded at least one strong clue: I had used about ten times the recommended amount.

Once again void of anyone else to blame for my pain and predicament, I lamented the lost plants throughout the rest of the season. Slim is the comfort of the soul who knows the burden of its own shortcomings. Somehow, in spite of such guilt and grief, I managed to make it through the winter.

Two weeks ago, while inspecting the fifty-something plants we’d set out around the house last summer, I checked on the day lilies in that southeast section. They had sprung up from the soil, a lush green of spring’s glad awakening. The blades were already a few inches tall. As I looked along the bed, I also noticed some emerging clumps of different character. Their green took the form of a series of short triangular blades arranged with circular centers. I was right well astounded by what I was seeing!

Every one of those Oriental lilies that I was sure I had killed beyond any hope of resurrection had re-emerged. Some store of hope and life that I could not perceive and could barely believe had laid beneath the surface for all those months and now erupted into undeniable growth and existence. Even when it seems for all that can be seen that we have no reason to hope for good yet to come, it can still spring up from the very soil beneath our feet.

Those who have learned to hold stubbornly to well-founded faith know that hope can yet yield its good fruit, no matter how wilted the stalk and stem of seasons past.

H. Arnett

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

Sports Cliches and Judgment Days

One of the old sports clichés that I grew tired of by the time I was grown was the one about players that either just then or always “gives a hundred-and-ten percent!”

Having been intensely brainwashed by years of math propaganda, I labored under the delusion that one hundred percent was all of something. Outside of some sort of divine interpolation or intervention, if you came up with “more,” that was proof that what you had before wasn’t “all” of whatever it was that you had.

I suspected these “one-ten-ers” had been sandbagging, making their coaches think they’d been giving a hundred percent when actually it was only ninety-one or so. Then, when it really mattered, they’d dig down deeper and offer up that additional tithe they’d been holding back for just such an occasion as this.

I guess it was partially my tendency to selectively over-literalize at work in my little bit of indignation. Might have been that the bigger part of what really bothered me was that I’d have to find several hundred percent to be able to hang with the athletes at mention. Their talent and effort both vastly exceeded my meager combination.

I don’t think it’s all that rare in life that jealousy and envy masquerade as righteous indignation. Pointing out the faults and inconsistencies of others might be rooted in our own insecurities. It’s certainly more fun to “tell it like it is” when we’re looking somewhere other than in the mirror. All these years of my careful and deliberate practice of judging others really isn’t the sort of preparation I need for that time when I find myself standing before the Throne of Judgment.

I reckon we’re all going to believe in mercy then. A hundred-and-ten percent.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Sports | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Late for Church

Driving west on US-166 on a very foggy Sunday morning, we saw a man walking on the shoulder, carrying a large red plastic gas can. At first I figured we didn’t have time to stop and help him because it would make us late for church. Pretty quickly the absurdity of that notion struck me. “We don’t have time to help some stranger because we’re in a hurry to go worship the One who died for him? The One who healed on the Sabbath and taught us the example of ‘The Good Samaritan?'” That struck me as at least amusing and maybe downright ludicrous.

So, we pulled over and offered the guy a ride. He looked to be in his mid-to-late twenties and had the lean look of someone who smoked and might be abusing himself in other ways as well. He was clearly grateful that we had stopped, though. It was about three miles to the gas station over by I-35, a distance covered by car in one-twentieth of the time as by walking. That was still enough time for him to tell us he and his girlfriend had been over at the casino on Saturday night, ran out of gas on their way back to Wichita and had spent the night in the old red pickup truck we’d passed about a mile before we saw him. Randa and I didn’t understand why their truck was four miles east when Wichita was due north on 35 but didn’t say anything about it.

When we got to the station and he got out of the car, he admitted he didn’t have any money. I used my debit card and filled the can. “Thank you so much, I really appreciate this.”

As I was putting the can in the trunk, I asked him if he was sure that gas was all he needed. “I’m really hungry,” he responded, looking down at the ground.

“You coming back this way?” He nodded, “Yeah.” I gave him a bit of money and said, “You can stop here and get more gas and buy you something to eat.” More head nodding and gratitude.

We pulled back onto the highway and headed back the way we’d come. I had Randa call one of our church members and let them know we’d be a bit late. Figured folks would be less likely to panic if they understood the preacher was going to be a bit tardy but would be there.

A few minutes later, we pulled off on the shoulder and eased up close behind the stranded pickup. I popped the trunk lid open and pulled out the can of gas and set it down for the guy. He looked down at the can and then back at me and asked, “Have you got any jumper cables?” “No, I don’t.”

After a slight pause, I looked at him and said, “Man, everything went wrong for you didn’t it?” “Yeah, I guess it did,” he admitted. ” Well, we’ll be all right. Thank you so much for the gas and everything.” As he stuck out his hand, I noticed the streaks of motor grime. I shook it anyway.

I got back in the car and strained to see if anything was coming through the fog. We’d barely gotten through our U-turn when a large pickup without its headlights turned on came barreling out of the fog.

There’s just no explaining the things that people will do, like driving through a heavy fog without their lights on. Admittedly, I’ve never sat in a casino and gambled away my last dollar, knowing that my old truck is low on gas, needs a new battery and I don’t have the money to pay a three-dollar toll. But if I ever did, I would hope that someone else would figure I needed help more than I needed shaming.

That was kind of the whole point that brought Jesus to this world, wasn’t it?

H. Arnett

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Lessons from the Sage

All through the winter,
the long dead stalks have stood
at one angle or another,
mostly tilted in the same direction
though with varying degrees
of successful commitment,
generally leaning toward the north.

In early April,
owing to an unlikely collaboration
of morning rain,
evening sun,
and an especially unlikely inclination
to do something more useful than interesting,
I am pulling up the dead shoots
and raking out the dead leaves—
some caught in the last few days of hard wind
and some that decided to spend the entire winter
matted against the base of sage.

A few months of damp aging
have changed the leaves into that dark mass
of what leaves last are before becoming
something more organic,
something closer to dirt and dust,
a musty changing into the soil
from which they were born.

As I rake away the darkened mat,
I see several pale slender stalks,
shoots of this year’s growth
springing up from the roots,
ghostly white and searching for the light,
using whatever might remain from last year’s store
to bend and push their way through
whatever the winter has laid upon them:
a determined newness doing whatever it takes
to make its way into all that is needed
for growing and being.

Nothing less than that
will survive the weighting darkness.

H. Arnett

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

Better than Oatmeal

Think of someone you know pretty well and really like. Now, imagine seeing that person right at the start of your usual day. Well, maybe not right at the start; probably should wait at least until you’ve gotten out of bed, done your morning grooming and gotten dressed. So, instead, let’s have you imagine seeing that person soon after you’ve left the house.

Right away, you can tell that they’re in a really great mood. They greet you with a big ole genuine smile and a hearty hello. Why it just seems like seeing you was exactly the thing they were hoping for this fine morning. You exchange how-are-ya’s and both of you are smiling on your way to the next part of your day.

Now, just for the awkward pleasure of it, imagine meeting that same person on a different day. They’re in a really lousy mood, looking as if their spouse and their dog both ran off with the same person. As soon as you say hello, they launch into the latest version of All That’s Wrong in My World. Ends up with you wishing you’d taken a different route altogether.

Just to get the slime out of your soul and the chaff out of your heart, go back and re-imagine that first encounter again. Maybe two or three times. You know, the one that left you feeling good about both of you.

Now, let me ask you: which version of yourself do want your friends, neighbors and colleagues to encounter today? Which version will offer others an easier path to making a good day? Which one of your potential selves will help you make a good day?

Okay, how ’bout going with that one, at least for the first eight or nine hours?

H. Arnett

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