Bike & Hike

Sometime in the afternoon, that cold gray shroud gave way to sunshine. The temperature edged into the upper fifties and the wind eased off to a slight breeze. It was such a fine evening I decided a bike ride would be just about a perfect transition from the work day to an evening of small home projects. Having ridden a few hundred miles over the past couple of years without any significant complications, I decided to leave my cell phone at home. Randa was a couple hundred miles away in Oklahoma anyway, so what difference would it make?

I made it up the big hill bordering Highland Avenue without any warning signs of a heart attack. That was so encouraging I pedaled on over to Summit and headed north toward Hackney. Just past the light at Skyline, I planned to hit the wide shoulder that makes US-77 such a good route to ride. I noticed the pavement was almost completely covered with sand and gravel and attributed that to snow treatments a month or so earlier.

Sand and gravel over asphalt doth not a biker’s haven make. It is more the stuff of crashing slides and road rash.

On the other hand, I had no intention of riding in the lane where the speed limit would soon shift to seventy miles an hour. So, I drifted over onto the shoulder and watched carefully for larger bits of gravel and stone. Within a minute, I head the telltale clicking that indicated I had a piece of gravel stuck in the tread of the tire.

A couple miles later, just before 242nd Road, I decided I’d heard enough of that clicking. I stopped and rolled forward a few more inches until the offending bit of limestone was easily accessible. I leaned over the handlebars and tried to pluck it out. Easy plucking wasn’t an option, so I gripped and pulled a bit harder. “Man, that thing is really wedged in there!” I thought.

Taking a tighter grip, I pulled and twisted to leverage the piece out of the tread. At the very instant I realized “Hey, if this thing is stuck in that tight maybe it’s not just stuck in the tread,” I managed to pull it loose. In that same micro-second of realization, I wished I hadn’t.

A sickening sound of hissing air and an almost instantaneous slumping of the tire assured me that I had indeed given myself the opportunity to test out my little trouble kit. From the small zippered bag hung under the seat, I pulled out the can of instant tire repair that I’d been saving for a few hundred miles of riding on the backroads of Cowley County.

The directions, which I followed carefully, assured me that the Wonderful Inflating Foam would seal the leak, pressurize the tire and send me happily on my way. After a half-dozen attempts accomplished nothing more than a mess of foam on the outside of the tire, and also on the spokes, grass and my hands, I gave up.

It was a lovely evening and I was truly grateful that I was only three miles from home. Although I wished I’d just left the rock alone and headed back at that point, I was glad this hadn’t happened when I was eight or nine miles from home.

Sometimes our idea of intervention doesn’t work out quite as well as we had hoped. Sometimes fixing what we think is the problem creates a bigger problem. Even though it might be quite true that we have to pop the rock out of the tire, some moments are better than others for rock popping. Sometimes our ability to do one thing or another may exceed the wisdom that we exercise in the choosing of the thing.

On the other hand, there are certainly worse consequences than walking three miles on a beautiful spring evening.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Living, Exercise, Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Riding the Long Hills and Singing in the Dark

I remember riding the rolling hills of western Kentucky. Sometimes the slopes seemed long and low, sometimes steeper. Most of the trips I remember were from our home in eastern Todd County between Pembroke and Elkton over to Horton’s Chapel in Muhlenberg County. That’s where Dad preached for several years in my pre and early adolescence.

There were a couple of spots on that route where the hill was steep enough that cresting the top at road speed would give you that sweet little roller coaster lift of your stomach and other parts. I sometimes imagined going over those hills at eighty miles-an-hour and wondered if all four wheels would actually leave the ground. We moved away before I was old enough to check that but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of my older brothers could testify regarding the matter.

Apart from that small thrill, some of my favorite memories go back to those rides. Especially the ones in the dark.

Much of the time, it was just Dad and me on those preaching trips. Every Sunday morning, after the early milking and the cleaning up afterward, we’d head over to Horton’s Chapel Church of Christ. Mom and Paul would often stay at home to do the evening milking. Dad and I would spend the afternoon with one of the church families who would feed us dinner and supper.

After evening services, we’d head back home.

I loved the smells of the fields and farms: fresh cut hay, tasseling corn, honeysuckle. Sometimes, I’d stick my arm out the window and pretend my hand was an airplane. Tilting up or down, curving to one side or another. Sometimes Dad would tune in a ballgame on the radio, sometimes catch the news. Sometimes he’d turn off the radio and we’d sing church songs. Old hymns and some not as old.

We’d sing “The Old Rugged Cross,” “Tell Me the Old, Old Story,” or one of a hundred others. Dad was a good singer. He didn’t have an amazing voice but it was strong and solid and he never missed a note, whether he was singing lead or bass. (In his later years, the voice faltered a bit and he sometimes was off key, possibly a combination of old age and impaired hearing.) He also knew how to read shape notes and could sing some tunes by the names of the notes: “Mi, mi, ra, do; ra, ra, ra, ti, fa…” I may be wrong, but I think that was the start of “Leaning on Jesus.”

Whether my shape note recollection is accurate or not, I am quite sure that all those hours of a Capella music in the car helped me with more than learning how to sing. Those old hymns reinforced doctrine, offered encouragement and brought about an early awareness regarding mortality and accountability. To this day, I still find comfort and familiarity in them. And the singing gave Dad and me a closeness that I would seldom experience in any other way with him.

Headed through the night on our way home, able to see only a few hundred feet in front of us, we drove down those long slopes into the low parts along the creeks and ditches. With woods lining both sides of the road and the stars a vast canopy over us, we’d sing “We Are Going Down the Valley” through those darkest stretches, knowing that we’d soon be home.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Family, Metaphysical Reflection, Music, Poetic Contemplations, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Think Not Too Lightly of Life’s Little Things

In that sleepy grog of morning’s first few minutes,
I noticed several slender bars
of very soft light
slatted across the tiles of the bathroom floor.

Curious as to the source,
I looked through the blinds of the window
at what I thought
would be the right height and angle.

Sure enough, barely visible
through the black-bent tangle
of the elm’s biggest branches,
shone the slightest bit of the moon.

If we are willing to see it,
and have both the mind and the means to watch,
we find that the least swatch of light
has some effect on the darkness that seems to surround us.

Even the glow of a waning moon
fading through the darkest branches
may chance to place some small light
on the path of another’s journey.

H. Arnett

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

The Fine Art of Apology

I don’t remember exactly when it was that I made my first mistake but I’d reckon I wasn’t terribly old. For the sake of this momentary discussion, I’m omitting such things as waking up at an awkward hour when my dairy-farming father was trying to enjoy one of his few hours of regular sleep. Might as well skip forward a few months and also exclude those first few efforts at putting on my own shoes and getting right and left mixed up. Actually, it probably wasn’t so much a matter of getting them mixed up as not having quite figured out what the subtle differences were between the two. Nowadays, of course, it seems a lot simpler to see at least some of the differences between right and left, what with all the hollering folks do about those two. Frankly, I’m still pretty happy with being able to get Shoe One and Shoe Two on their respective sides of the Great Divide.

Not only can I not remember that first mistake, I also can’t remember exactly when it was that I learned what to do about it. Whether it struck me that way at the time or not, the proper response seems remarkably simple to me now: admit it, apologize for it, make it right—if you can, and move on. Over the past several decades, I’ve made so many mistakes that I’ve gotten pretty darn good at that admitting and apologizing thing. Now, it was never my ambition to become good at it, just seemed inevitable given the excessive degree of humanity which manifested itself in me. In spite of that, I have to admit being more than a little puzzled at the lack of skill I have seen in a few other people.

Maybe it’s the simplicity of it that makes it so confoundably hard for some folks to follow the process. They can squirm around, stare at the ground and the sky at the same time, find fourteen other folks to blame and twice that many excuses to make. Or they’ve just got some slimy slick way of making it sound like there really wasn’t a mistake or else we’re just too blasted stupid to comprehend the true nature of the situation. “I assure you that a few billion gallons of crude oil actually has a beneficial effect on the aquatic environment… if you could actually understand the science involved.”

Some interchange on whether the foundation of that sort of response is due to pride or prejudice or psychiatric impairment might make for a few hours of interesting discussion in the lobbies and cubbyholes of some psychological society meeting somewhere. I’d guess there’d be at least as many different opinions as there are people present. Introduce particular libations into the equation and the number of expressed opinions would likely increase since what some people claim they believe seems to vary with the level of intoxification, err, inebriation, I mean.

Regardless of the explanations and modes of persuasion, here’s my more or less bottom line on the whole making and taking ownership on mistakes: to the full degree possible, have nothing at all to do with people who won’t or can’t admit being wrong. Anyone who has a problem apologizing for having “oopsed” on something should never be allowed to be in charge of anything or anybody. If you have to work with someone like that, you’ll probably earn your Really Totally Aggravated Merit Badge in fairly short order. If you have to work for someone like that, Boy Howdy! Ought to be a monetary award for each week you manage to do your job without accruing any assault charges!

It’s a bit maddening to have various aspects of our lives controlled by folks who never acquired the humble talent of admitting mistakes, bad choices or wrong decisions. Unless you love seeing how many shades of red, blue or purple you can make show up in the mirror, don’t hold your breath waiting for them to change. You’re more likely to see positive progress in politics.

What you can do though, that will help you, them and all of us: pray for ’em. Just as if you really meant it.

H. Arnett

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

Something Deeper, Stronger, Better

There’s something in the sound of a familiar voice,
something in the sight of a smiling face,
something in the feel of a gentle hand
laid lightly upon the shoulder in passing.

There’s something in the view of bright sky beyond the horizon,
something in the way the light breaks through the edges
of the last dark clouds trailing the end of the storm,
something that seems like hope forming in the aftermath.

There’s something about the caring of strangers,
willing to share in both the danger and the recovery,
the effort of many miles traveled
and the bringing of those things so needed for the healing.

There’s something in us that runs deeper than arguments,
that’s stronger than opinions,
something deep and moving, strong and giving,
something that makes the living in a world like this


Something given from the Source,
something bearing the very image of our Creator,
something made very real in the offering of our Redeemer,
something that moves in all that is truly good, pure, righteous, and holy:

something called “Love.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

An Old Farmer Takes Stock of Loss

Some days, they say,
are really good for taking stock
of all the things
that have gone just the way
you hoped they would go.
“Count your blessings
and be grateful.”

Other times, we might find,
are just right for thought and care
of the things from which
we have been spared,
“Looked like it was headed straight for us
but for some reason
it took a late turn
and went right around.”

I reckon
that even when it feels
like we have surely been cursed,
there’s hardly anything
that couldn’t have been worse.
“I’m just glad we all made it out alive
and are still standing here today
instead of getting swept away and drowned.”

And some have found
that any day
when we have been blessed more than others—
whether by what came or by what didn’t—
is a very good day
for using what we have gained
to help relieve the pain
of those not so blessed.

“I’m eighty-five-years-old
and I’ve never known a time
that I couldn’t find somebody
that had it worse than me.
There’s always someone
that needs the help
if we’re just willing to give it.”

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , ,

The Inertia of Sadness

It might be that something as simple
as raking leaves
might be the very thing
that brings about some hint of change,
some notion that finally stops
the downward motion
of the last few weeks—or months—
that seeping sense of denser gravity
that drains away all but duty.

Desire lost its fire somewhere between
dream and drudgery.
It might have started with nothing more
than a parking space at Wal-Mart
that looked empty
until you got right there ready to pull in
and only then could see
the nearly new car parked across four spaces.

And then someone at Medicare
decides that you have to pay
three months retroactive
and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas—
after collecting your COBRA payments
for six months—informs you that they
are cancelling your insurance—also retroactive—
and you’ll have to pay back
everything they’ve paid for the last three months.

And somewhere in that helpless anger
you know that the only way
to escape the danger is to focus
on what you can change
that won’t land you in prison.

And so you find yourself
raking up the leaves
that have matted the grass
for the past five months,
and realize that it actually is a lovely day
and you like the way the lawn looks now:
a fresh bit of green and the texture of fresh earth.

In might not be a new birth
but there is certainly something
welcome and refreshing
in having done a thing that needed doing
and you will lie down tonight,
warm and grateful
that you were able to rake leaves today
and not lie rotting underneath them.

H. Arnett

Posted in Metaphysical Reflection, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments