The Straightening

Hard rain and strong winds
have a way of upending those things
that are not deeply rooted—
and sometimes even those that are.

Mornings after the summer storms
would cut a swath
through the fields and garden
of our Todd County farm
would find my father
walking along the rows of corn,
lifting the dark green stalks back toward vertical.

Holding the tassel toward heaven,
he’d press his heel down firmly,
first against the windward side—
and sometimes that was enough—
pushing a little extra of earth
to help hold the stalks in place
until the roots had gained a bit more strength,
deepening their grip into denser dirt.

That works right well
when the corn is only leaning a bit,
a suggestion of sorts as to which way
the wind was blowing.

But yesterday’s roughing
has laid these rows of sweet corn
nearly horizontal—
tassels almost touching the earth.
It will take more than a tug
and the push of a single shoe
to stand these shafts back toward the noonday sun.

Not all that is damaged is destroyed
and the joy of a vivid rainbow
misted against the green bluffs
less than a quarter-mile away
in the near dusk breaking of the clouds
is more than enough in fair trade
for clearing away a half-ton 
of broken branches from the Bradford Pear
and re-tightening a few strands of stretched electric wire.

Even in the taking
our Maker often gives as well.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord.


H. Arnett
6/22/22
Posted in Christian Devotions, Farming, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mark Phillips & The Last Ride

Mark Phillips, a long time Kansas community college track coach with an exceptional record, died at the age of 60 in April of 2022. Over the course of his forty-year career, he coached at Cloud County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, Johnson County Community College and finally and probably most notably at Cowley County Community College. He himself had been part of a national championship squad as a runner at Northwest Missouri State University and competed in pole vaulting there as well. As coach, he eventually specialized in throwing, jumping, and sprints, but of course, helped with all events. He was noted as a meticulous planner–of family vacations as well as track meets.

His Facebook page now includes numerous testimonies from former student athletes, colleagues and competitors. They all noted his dedication, support and unflinching honesty and directness. Certainly the most often quoted maxim from Coach Phillips was, “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late, you’re left behind.” Anyone wondering if he was serious only had to show up a minute after the designated departure time (like 6:46 or 7:07). The backside of the bus rolling away even if you were at the edge of the parking lot said, “Yep; he’s serious.”

On the flip side, student athletes also noted his encouragement (“He believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.”) and his uncanny ability to connect with challenging individuals (I thank God for people who are willing to help so many lost kids.”)

One of his former national champion athletes and also a current track coach, Courtney Gougler, provided this information: Coach Phillips won two national championships, 32 Jayhawk Conference titles, 11 regional titles, had 14 top five national finishers, 273 All-Americans, nine individual national champions, three national record holders, and one Olympic festival gold medalist. (Note: Courtney was unable to attend Coach Phillips’ Memorial service because she had qualified to compete in the World Championship Highland Games in Germany that same week.)

Coach Phillips died from ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig disease. It is a debilitating and humiliating disease. It gradually destroys the psychomotor center of the brain. The person gradually loses strength and the ability of voluntary muscle control. It can take the strongest, most vigorous athlete, and turn him or her into a helpless invalid.

Mark was first diagnosed with the disease in 2020. Like many victims, he succumbed gradually, increasingly finding himself unable to do things that he had done routinely before. Among those things that he lost the ability to do was something that he loved very much: riding motorcycles. Specifically, riding Harleys, which he had started doing ten years earlier, having gotten his first Harley when he was fifty years old. He and his wife of thirty-six years, Naomi, loved taking motorcycle trips.

In an effort to help him continue to do something that he loved to do, his sons bought him a Ural dirt bike with sidecar. Mark had assumed that he would drive from Ark City over to the bikers’ rally at Cassoday but instead found himself stashed into the sidecar. Those who know Mark, and maybe even those who don’t, can imagine how disappointing and even upsetting that would have been.

So he and Naomi bought a Can-Am.

A Can-Am is very similar to a motorcycle and yet very different. It looks kind of like a motorized backwards tricycle. From behind the front axle going toward the back, it looks like a motorcycle. The driver operates the gears and the brakes and steers with a handlebar like a motorcycle. The passenger sits behind the driver just like on any motorcycle. But the front consists of two tires mounted on opposite sides of a wide axle that steer similar to the steering of a car.

When Naomi told me about their adventure on Labor Day of 2021, I felt compelled to compose and share at the memorial service my prose poem version of their experience. This is it.

The Last Ride

Any Harley Rider, and just about any other biker, will tell you, even if you don’t ask, that a Can-Am ain’t no Harley.

“Hell, man, it ain’t even a trike! Two wheels in the front and one in the back?! It’s like a little kid riding a bike with two other kids sitting on the handlebars.”

But, what it is, is balanced and you don’t have to worry about it falling over because nearly two years of this damn disease has made you so weak you can’t keep a hawg standing straight up at a stoplight anymore.

And it may not be a Harley (or even a Honda), but you can feel the open air blowing in your beard, and feel the cool of the shade as you pass by near a woods, and you can feel the wind brushing back the hair on your arms and how it still tingles five minutes after you finish your ride.

And it lets you ride with the love of your life when you know you’re already walking in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. And so, you and her plan a secret ride, “Hell no, we ain’t telling the kids! They’d come down here and put a stop to that in a hurry, you can bet on that!”

On the last Labor Day of your life, you back the Can-Am out of the garage and you head down toward Oklahoma. And you feel the wind and you hear the hum of the tires on asphalt. And you smell the end of summer, and even though she has to help hold you up in the crosswinds and there was that one time when the weakness of your grip let the Can-Am drift toward the shoulder, she had to lean up around you and grab the handlerbar and push it back towards center, and you both know now, if not before, this will be your last ride together.

And the years and miles of Harleys fade in memory’s rearview mirror. Yes, those miles and memories may fade, but they do not disappear.

And the mash-up of motorcycles in the garage, and the non-running 74 Nova in the driveway, and the tractor tire dirt bike on the back patio are all part of the shrine, the memorial. Every spot of grease and every drip of oil from the Honda, the Kawasaki, and the sight of the Ural dirt bike side car, and the Can-Am, are all part of who you were and who you still will be in memory.

And it might be that some of us will choose different memories, or just something in addition to, rather than focusing on our way of losing you. Choosing to remember, and celebrate in a hundred different ways, the way you lived even more than the way you died.

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Sowing the Seed

I’ve done several lawn seeding projects over the years, varying from repairing a few patches of bare ground up to several hundred square feet of new seeding. There’s a fair amount of work involved in getting rid of unwanted grass and weeds, prepping the ground, spreading fertilizer, putting down seed, rolling or pressing to ensure good contact between seed and soil. Oftentimes, I’d add mulching, either with straw or peat moss. And then, of course, the watering.

A recent project took me into different territory. Instead of repairing a poor section of lawn or creating a croquet court, I needed to reseed a section of horse pasture. A small section to be honest but definitely larger in scale. When you go from a few hundred square feet to a few thousand, there are considerations. This wasn’t a garden tiller bed prep and it wasn’t going to be throwing a few handfuls of seed around.

My little Kubota tractor worked perfectly for disking up the horse paddock and spreading and working in a ton or so of dried horse manure. A newly acquired antique cultimulcher with its multiple steel rollers and toothed discs did a serviceable job of breaking up dirt clods, smoothing the surface and pressing seed into the dirt. There was one other new tool that I added for this project.

I’d used a small handheld spreader and a small rolling spreader for some of the past seeding jobs. “There’s no way I’m walking over this paddock and pushing that little spreader!” I declared to myself. Instead, I decided to go old school.

I’d recently seen at a local farm store a hand-cranked seeder. Immediately I thought of the old canvas, wood and metal contraption that hung in the garage when I was growing up on our Todd County, Kentucky farm. I also remembered watching Dad sow alfalfa and grass seed with that. In his tan khakis and short-sleeve white shirt, wearing an old brown fedora and workworn leather brogans, he filled up the bag and then shouldered the seeder.

Across the freshly tilled field, he walked briskly, cranking steadily. The seed was held in the upper part of the gadget in a canvas bag that was glued and stapled along its lower edge to a wooden bottom. The seed dropped out through a metering slidegate inserted into the wooden piece. The wider you set the opening, the faster the seed poured out. Match up the size of the opening with the speed of the crank and how fast you walk to determine how thickly the seed was sown.

As Dad cranked, a thin, segmented metal wheel spun around, slinging the seed outward in a wide arc. At full tilt, it spread a swath of seed nearly twenty feet wide. At a good pace, a man could cover a lot of ground with that hand seeder in a day. Or even in an hour. Using the brand new old timey hand seeder that I’d just bought at TSC, it took me less than ten minutes to reseed about ten thousand square feet of paddock.

During the whole time of that project, from hooking up the disk, breaking up the ground and mangling the small patch of tall fescue, spreading the manure and disking some more, through the seeding and the final packing with the cultimulcher, I constantly thought about Dad and the farm back in Todd County. I thought about all the different things I do and have done over the years that I first saw him doing.

I thought about the construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, roofing, concrete forming and finishing, laying concrete blocks and brick. Forming wood, building things, refinishing furniture. I thought about fishing and whistling, sending the border collie into the field to bring up the cows and milking. I thought about plowing, disking, harrowing, cultipacking, and drilling corn. I thought about cutting, raking, baling, and hauling hay, and the smell of fresh cut alfalfa. I thought about reading the Bible, preaching, and teaching Bible classes. I thought about singing old hymns in the car and in the milk barn, listening to the Friday Night Opry Warm-up show on the old radio in the milkshed. Croquet on the yard under the old maple trees. So much of who I am and what I do.

I can’t honestly say that any of those things are things that I deliberately learned so I could be like Dad. Some were things that I didn’t really have any choice about; the farm work had to be done. Some things I did because Dad or someone else needed the help. I think mostly it was because I’ve inherited his nature and therefore many of the things that appealed to him appeal to me.

I take so much pleasure these days in seeing the ways so many of the things that I liked and even admired in my Dad have become part of me. I can’t help wishing that I’d thought of one more thing last Saturday morning. I wish that when I’d strapped on that hand-cranked seeder, I’d have thought to put on my old felt fedora, too.

When it comes to imitating the Father Who Loves Us, details matter.

H. Arnett

6/7/2022

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

The Glory of a Garden

Some of my earliest memories are working in the garden with Mom: helping set up sassafras stick tepee frames for the vining green beans; dropping corn and bean seeds into long rows; forming up hills for planting squash, cucumber, or watermelon. I loved and still love the smell of freshly worked dirt, the feel of my fingers in loose soil.

But the magic, ah, yes, the real magic was in seeing the sprouting.

What else is like the coming forth of new plants? What else matches the exuberant majesty of green seedlings with their flourishing through bare earth? Such wonder, such joy, such promise. Even to this day, some sixty years later, I still elate at the emergence.

Even when I know it’s ridiculously too soon for seed to have sprouted, I still go to my small garden to check and see whether any new eruptions have made their way through the renewing cycle of moisture and warmth that wakes the transforming life within the seed and launches its growing. The reaching up of sprout and vine and the stretching down of root and fiber. Miracle, indeed, springing forth from the seed.

I wonder, and actually rather imagine with some conviction, that God also watches us with similar expectation. Knowing that faith has been sown within us, that Spirit cultivates his good work within us, that the Tendsman exercises diligent care and careful pruning.

Watchful for weeds and wary of the things that devour and destroy, I believe that our Creator moves in our midst to see the growing that testifies of our calling and the purpose of our creation. Sending forth the sun of the soul and the rain that refreshes heart and spirit, richly supplying all that is needed for our provision, so that we may mature and ripen, bearing the fruit of the Spirit and bringing forth seed after our own kind.

I hope that the Lord’s evening walks in the gardens of our lives brings him such satisfaction as I see in the blooms along the rows of this tiny patch of dirt in northeastern Kansas.

H. Arnett

6/3/2022

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The Best of the First

For some reason during a mini-bout of insomnia deep in the night, I found myself thinking about Cain and Abel. Sibling rivalry thing sure got out of hand there!

I’ve heard some speculation over the years about why it was that God was pleased with Abel’s sacrifice but not with Cain’s. The most common one being “Abel offered a meat sacrifice and Cain brought veggies.” I could certainly see that going south as the main entrée at a summer picnic back where I grew up, but I don’t think that’s it.

Like a few other things, it seems there’s no explicit explanation in the scriptures, although the writer of Hebrews (11:4) states that “by faith, Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice.”

Does offering meat require more faith than offering plants? Is that it? No, I don’t think so…

“Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.” (Genesis 4:2-5)

I think the key difference is not in the substance of meat vs. plant but rather in the nature itself of what is sacrificed. Both brought an offering from their own labors. Remember the faith angle? There’s a clue there. Might be subtle but it’s there. Cain brought “some of the fruits” but Abel brought the choicest portions of the firstborn.

Abel sacrificed the very best of the very first that he had. Not “some” of what was left after he was sure that he had plenty for himself.

God was not insulted because Cain offered the fruits of the field. He was not angry because Cain did not shed blood in order to sacrifice to him. God was pleased because Abel came before him and said, in essence, “Lord, even if you give me nothing else, even if the rest of my flock bring forth nothing but weak or even stillborn lambs, you have already blessed me and I trust in your care. You deserve the best of the first because all that I have and all that I will have come from you. I know that you will provide what is sufficient for me.”

Giving God the best of the first and trusting him to always provide for us, that’s pretty cool stuff. Something worth thinking about in the middle of a restless night, for sure.

H. Arnett

6/1/2022

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Gettin’ Old Ain’t Fer Sissies

Today, for the first time in seventeen months, I am able to walk without significant lumbar pain. A few months of prayer and about thirty minutes on the physician's table yesterday getting Epidural Steroid Injections on both the port and starboard side of L5-L6 lumbar vertebrae appears to have made a near miraculous difference. So today I'm giving thanks to all parties involved and glory to the Great Physician. Sometimes the greatest miracles of answered prayer are the humility to submit and the determination to persist.

Throughout most of the early months of this year, there were days that I could not stand or stoop, bend or bow, lurch or lift, twist or turn, sit or lie down, without moving the pain level toward one of those really frowny faces. It has been the first time in my life to experience chronic pain to that degree and I will admit right readily that it did interfere with my sunny disposition, motivation for physical activity, and general outlook and attitude.

I haven't written about it, not because I don't love sympathy, empathy, and righteous pity. I guess it's at least partly because I figure I burned through any reasonable allotments for whining and complaining at least thirty years ago. Even though I only own one pair of stitched Western boots and they still look mighty new after a dozen years, I figured I should at least try to cowboy up for once in my life. Some days I went ahead and did a decent day's work no matter how bad it hurt. Some days I just sat my sorry self in the recliner and watched hour after hour of murder mysteries, Untold Stories of the ER, and binged on Better Call Saul.

One thing that kept me from just living in the hot tub was the emphatic voices imprinted in my mind, "If we ever quit doing just because it hurts, we'll soon not be able to do at all." The source of those voices was my aging parents, both of whom endured degenerative arthritis for at least the last three decades of their lives. Dad would occasionally limp a step or two and twist in just a certain way to get his hip "reset." 

Mom would sometimes nearly pass out from the stabbing pain in her hip and grab for the nearest counter edge or chair back to keep from falling down. She finally got a hip replacement when she was in her upper eighties and doubled down on the rehab exercises. Her doctor was amazed at the pace and degree with which Mom recovered. Absent the chronic pain, she also got a bit of a personality transplant. Constant severe pain tends to make most anyone a bit irritable. At times it made her downright mean. If she'd had the hip replacement done fifteen years earlier, my kids would have had very different memories of her. 

I'm trying to emulate both parents' examples of perseverance and avoid the downgrade on perceived pleasantness to loved ones. I think I managed to mostly limit my alteration to morose with an occasional touch of grumpy and at least two lumps of self-pity with each cup of morning coffee. 

I'm sure hoping and praying this latest intervention is as dramatic as it seems the morning after and lasts for a while. At least long enough for Medicare to approve the next iteration of it. 

Admittedly, my senior self-concept has taken a bit of a hit. I'd assumed for the last twenty years or so that I'd be like my dad and still be doing construction work and cutting my own firewood when I'm ninety. Now, I'm hoping to still be able to walk when I'm seventy. Dad did finally admit, "Getting old is not too bad; getting old and feeble is a different story." Thing is, when he made that concession, he was twenty-five years older than I am now! 

Accepting our mortality has several stages, I reckon. Living with its increasing degrees of manifestation is going to take greater grace and more persistent prayer than what I've been managing. All assistance in that regard will be genuinely appreciated. 



H. Arnett
5/27/2022
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A Reasonable Imitation

I recently helped a friend tear out and replace a ten-by-sixteen-foot section of concrete porch on his hundred-plus-year-old house. The very first thing we had to do was jack up three of the six round wooden columns that support the porch roof and set temporary braces to bear the weight while we did the tear out and then finish the new pour.

Each post rested on a two-inch thick by thirteen-inch square base connected to the column by a turned three-and-a-quarter-inch thick transition piece. These lathe-turned transitions consisted of three individual pieces sandwiched together before the turning. Each finished unit had a rounded-over edge on the top and bottom, connected with a Roman ogee design.

As we began lifting each post, we realized that two of the base and transition pieces were so badly rotted and/or termite damaged that they would have to be replaced. I took the one salvageable unit home to my workshop to use as a pattern. Not having a lathe, I had to improvise a more contrived method of duplication.

Making the square bases was fairly simple; I just had to glue up pieces of two-by-eights and then cut to final size. The round parts were more challenging. After planing each of the three sandwich segments to the desired thickness, I glued and clamped them. Next, I traced out a circle on each piece and cut them on the bandsaw. Then, I sanded the edges using a combination belt/disc sander. After that, I routered the rounded edges on the top and bottom pieces and the ogee profile (as close as I could) on the middle piece.

Once that was done, I glued and clamped the three pieces together. After curing, I glued those onto the square bases and reinforced the assembly with long screws from top and bottom. A generous bead of caulk, shaped by hand, helped form a smooth transition between pieces and create a better illusion of lathe work.

The finished pieces were not exact duplicates of the original pattern but will probably pass casual inspection. My friend B.J. was clearly pleased with my efforts: “Man, I can’t believe you were able to make those!”

In my efforts to pattern my life after the Christ, it’s a given that I’m never going to live up to his example. But I hope to get close enough from time to time that people can at least guess what pattern I’m trying to copy.

H. Arnett

5/16/2022

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In Between Storms

While taking a short break from a woodworking project out in the detached garage this afternoon, I happened to look up at the roof of our two-and-a-half story, hundred-year-old house. I did not like what I saw!

Just to the right of the southwest valley and a few feet below the lower ridge, a six-foot by ten-foot section of shingles had been ripped away by our recent fifty mile-an-hour winds. In one small spot, the black tar paper had been ripped away, too, exposing the plywood decking. I could see the dislodged shingles—most of them in mats of several shingles—caught in the valley just above the flat roof over the back porch.

Being the sharp fellow that I am and not wanting to interrupt my wood project with an asphalt shingle project, I checked the weather forecast. “40% chance of thunderstorms tonight.” Sometimes it takes a whole speech to get me motivated to get up on top of a house. In this case, a single phrase was sufficient. I’d rather spend an hour or two doing an unplanned roof repair than spend a week or two doing an unplanned ceiling replacement.

I didn’t finish fabricating the porch column bases but I did get the roof repaired. I was able to re-use nearly all of the dislodged shingles. Only needed a couple of more to replace the broken ones and I happened to have two in the garage. A few hours later, when the sound of thunder and the pounding of rain on the roof roused me from my nightly slumber, I was glad I’d remembered Clint Eastwood: “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

Life has a way of reshuffling our agendas without prior notice and a key part of adulting is being able to switch over from what we want to do in order to take care of what we need to do. Usually, we’ll have a chance to get back to the want to.

After the storm has passed.

H. Arnett

5/13/22

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Fresh Concrete Ain’t No Place for a Barefoot Contessa!

I was seven years old the first time I saw concrete poured and worked. Sixty-one years later, I am still fascinated by the stuff. What is effectively a liquid can be readily formed and shaped while fresh yet hardens into one of the most durable materials known.

Structures designed by Roman engineers and formed by their tradesmen over two thousand years ago still endure to this day. In fact, according to Berkeley Lab, “… the best Roman concrete was superior to most modern concrete in durability…” and its production generated less adverse environmental effects. (https://newscenter.lbl.gov/2013/06/04/roman-concrete/#:~:text=The%20Romans%20made%20concrete%20by,triggered%20a%20hot%20chemical%20reaction.)

It may surprise some readers to learn that I have no clear memory of the Coliseum being built. Our new house in Todd County is another matter. When workers poured the basement floor in 1961, I watched as they screeded to level the pour. I was fascinated by how the floating process turned the rocky surface into a smooth texture. It still seems magic to me the way a good finisher can bring a polished sheen to the final finish.

While a teenager, I helped with a couple of small sidewalk pours repairs in Browns Grove, Kentucky. In my early twenties, I helped Dad pour a garage floor at my parents’ place about thirty miles away in Hickory. Not having any rubber boots and not wanting to ruin my shoes, I opted to work barefoot. Dad was skeptical as to whether or not that was a good idea; he had rubber boots.

After a few hours of wading around in fresh concrete, I rinsed my legs and feet off with a garden hose. Then Dad and I went bass fishing at Kelvie Nicholson’s pond. As was my usual fashion, I waded around the perimeter, working A Texas-rigged plastic worm along the cover at the edges of the pond and catching several largemouth bass.

The next morning, I woke up with painful red sores splotching both feet. And, in spite of having taken a shower as soon as I got home the night before, my toenails were still the color of the mud in Mister Kelvie’s pond!

I read later that fresh concrete can be extremely alkaline (pH levels of 12 or higher; anything above 7 is the opposite of acidic). At that level, it becomes caustic. Even though it doesn’t burn immediately like acid would, it definitely causes damage.

I also discovered that it causes toenails to become soft, porous, and absorbent! The alkaline burns healed within a couple of weeks, but my custom-colored pedicure was another matter. I watched for nearly a year as those orange-ish crescents grew their way out, finally clipping away the last visible vestige of that whole experience. I haven’t worked concrete while barefooted since then.

I was reminded of that long-ago episode just two days ago. When I was letting my friend B.J. help me pour his new porch floor section on Monday, he told me he didn’t have any rubber boots. “I guess I could work barefoot,” he suggested.

I’m still trying to figure out why I didn’t just go ahead and tell him, “Yeah, that should work. It’ll be easy to wash off later.” Maybe I have learned a little empathy after all. That Golden Rule thing is a doozie, isn’t it?

H. Arnett

5/11/2022

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Above the Void

A long time ago, at a house not far away, someone poured a concrete slab over a wooden porch floor. Reinforced with woven wire and a few pieces of metal pipe, it was tied into the foundation of the house with reinforcing pipe. A concrete foundation supported its outside edge. A few pieces of pipe tied the south section of the porch slab into the center section of concrete, which was itself poured to repair an earlier version.

Underneath the southern slab, three wooden joists nearly sixteen feet long supported the ten-foot span between the other section of concrete and the perimeter foundation. At least two natural functions over time conspired together against the slab. One was an alternating cycle of drought and heavy rains.

An extended period of severe drought can turn soil and subsoil into dust or powder. If the drought continues long enough, that change can happen several feet below the surface. Absent sufficient moisture to bind the particles together, even clay loses much of its load-bearing capacity. Imagine a concrete footer resting on three feet of uncompressed talcum powder. This causes foundations to sink and settle. And break. Then, a period of sustained heavy rain can cause erosion and further settling of the soil, creating voids beneath the foundation. More settling and more breaks.

In this particular case, the southeast corner of the porch foundation sank three inches. Thanks to the reinforcing metal and the integrity of the concrete, the porch slab no longer rested on the foundation but suspended an inch or two above it like a cantilevered beam. Randa’s grandmother would have said, “There’s a crack under that porch big enough to throw a cat through!”

During the same decades of subterranean soil malfeasance, other mischief was afoot above ground. Shielded from light and sustained by trapped moisture beneath the slab, termites feasted at length—and breadth—upon the untreated timbers below the floor slab. Eventually there was nothing left of the joists but a few handfuls of spongy strands of cellulose. Near the north foundation wall, a piece of oak two inches thick, fifteen inches wide and less than two feet long was the only thing remaining that gave any indication of the support that had once been beneath the porch.

At some point, the entire weight of the north edge of the slab transferred to the pieces of small pipe embedded in the concrete. Those few pieces were no match for the four or five thousand pounds of weight along that edge of the concrete. Some of the pipe broke through the bottom of the adjoining concrete slab and the other pipes bent and sagged. The entire section dropped from two to three inches along that northern joint and completely broke free from the walls of the house forming the slab’s northeast corner.

It is dramatic testimony to the power of re-mesh and rebar, and properly mixed and cured concrete, that the slab held in place for years, suspended fifteen-to-eighteen inches above the ground. Supported only on the western and southern perimeters, it cracked but never buckled.

From all appearances, it looked like a solid slab with only superficial cracks. Only after a friend and I jackhammered away enough chunks along the west end to give us a view underneath could we tell the true status. It was quite sobering to realize that the slab we were standing on while operating a fifty-pound jackhammer was supported by… well… nothing. As we worked our way from the west end to the east end, chiseling off heavy chunks of concrete, we kept pulling out pieces of rotted wood from underneath the floor.

Life and the Lord have a way of testing us to the core. Whatever is subject to corruption will one day have its veneer stripped away and be exposed for its true nature. Both character and culture must be built upon something more solid than appearance and pretense. Otherwise, they become illusion and self-contradiction.

No matter how stern the stuff of the exterior or how shiny the finish, it must rest upon a foundation more solid than itself. Or else it will collapse.

H. Arnett

5/9/2022

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