Be Still and Know

There’s something about the way

early morning sun

shines on green grass,

glistening the drops of dew

like millions of tiny mirrors

sparkling in the stillness

before the day’s duties of life

take over my thinking and doing.

I think I’ll stand right here

for just a moment,

looking at how a peaceful sun

slants through some of the spring leaves

of Crimson King and sugar maple

hanging down toward the lawn.

Ah, what a gentle, fine beginning

to the day the Lord has made.

I believe I’ll spend just a bit more time

studying the lines and shadows of the old spruce

stretching across the gravel drive

and leave the doing for later.

H. Arnett

5/5/2021

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Love Like Gentle Rain

Three days of soft showers

soaked the surface of the earth,

stoking April’s glad green

into a lush sheen that promised pastures

knee high to Black Angus,

Polled Shorthorns, Charolais,

and whatever else grazes its way

across the rolling plains of the Flint Hills.

I love it when it comes this way,

the gentle days of slow-paced rain,

easing the soreness in seams of dirt,

soothing the aching hurt of surface soil,

rather than the outbursts of surging storm

that form the maddening torrents

that go rumbling and rushing,

swirling and scouring their way across the slopes,

turning slight draws into ditches,

ditches into gullies,

gullies into ravines,

clawing through the lean, fertile soil,

even digging through thin sod at times.

Thick, brown boils of water

etch the stone of upland streams,

tumbling toward their dark union

and mad dreams with mud bottom rivers

in the black nights that follow the storm.

I will take whatever rain we can get,

the needed sustenance of garden and grain,

and bless the Lord Who Gives and Who Takes Away.

But I love these days of gentle rain

and soft showers that fall for hours,

nourishing the promise of harvest and flowers.

H. Arnett

5/4/2021

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A Good Hike, Unruined

Randa and I hiked in Bluff Woods (northeast Missouri) yesterday. There are some pretty steep slopes in them thar hills and we spent a while scouring them for morel mushrooms. Although the temperatures have been ideal, we have had less than half the usual rainfall for the month of April. Thunderstorms brought highly localized heavy rains but the terrain we traipsed over appeared to have missed out on those. Even when I scratched down through loosely packed leaves, the ground was dry. Not great conditions for an abundance of late season morels.

I remembered Mark Twain’s claim that “Golf is a good walk, ruined,” and wondered if he might feel the same about hunting morel mushrooms. However, in a similar way that one good shot turns a bad day of golf into a good day, finding a single six-inch tall morel takes away most of the sting of disappointment.

On the other hand, walking amidst the native hardwoods, seeing the white blossoms of Mayapples and the blue clusters of Sweet Williams, following the flitting of a white-and-blue swallowtail butterfly, hearing the twittering of unseen birds, and spotting the occasional snail easing its way across the ground cover is reason enough to hike the woods. Add in the beauty of an upland stream gently working its way across worn stones, and the feel of fresh air, and you’ve got plenty of reason to spend an hour or two reminding those leg muscles what they’re capable of.

There have been too many times when I’ve allowed my walks in this world to be ruined by my own imposed goals and contrived expectations. Some of the most interesting and stimulating conversations I’ve ever had were job interviews where the committees ended up selecting other candidates. We always have the option of valuing the experiences above our disappointment with the outcome.

And, by the way, coming out alive and in good shape, with good memories to boot, is a pretty good outcome.

H. Arnett

5/3/2021

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Career Changes

I guess it’s been almost twenty-five years now since I started wearing glasses. Seems like there might have been a clue or two—having to hold the book a little farther away or leave the newspaper on the desk and read it while standing. Subtle little hints…

But I remember clearly the convincing event that led to my first pair of reading glasses. It was a sort of electro-mechanical thing: removing my son’s CD player from his car before he sold it.

Twisted around, halfway upside down, my rear end in the seat and my shoulders on the floorboard, I was removing the screws that held it mounted underneath the dash of his ’86 Chevy Celebrity. I kept knocking the back of my head against the floor. Why? Simple. I was trying to get my eyes far enough way from the screws so that I could get a focused image.

Apparently, it was going to take more than an old Johnny Nash song for me to see clearly again. Even after the rain was gone. When it came to having to cut a hole in the floorboard or get a pair of glasses, I opted for the glasses.

“Well,” I lamented to myself, “there goes my career stealing stereos… Can’t take the risk of dropping my glasses and thus leaving evidence at the crime scene!” Fortunately, I was able to fall back on my career at that time as a school principal.

Generally, recognizing the true nature of our limitations usually makes us more accepting of the necessary accommodations. Sometimes, I reckon its economics that makes us resist the spending the money that makes things better for us. Most often, I suspect, it’s more a matter of pride.

H. Arnett

4/30/2021

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Tough Plantings

Tough Plantings

In consideration of location for a tiny garden, I considered hours of daily sunlight, availability of supplemental moisture via garden hose, lack of interference with horse activities and interactions, needs and preferences of our esteemed canine, and necessary traffic areas for guests, deliveries, and our own motor vehicle excursions, including the need of an area for parking and maneuvering the horse trailer.

Regrettably, availability of deep, fertile topsoil was one of the small sacrifices. The only such areas on our little estate here are either surrounded by trees on at least three sides or else right in the middle of prime lawn space.

And so it was that yesterday found me prepping the small area conveniently contained within the side circle drive we created for parking and reorienting the horse trailer. It’s actually quite perfect as a garden spot except for one small drawback: the whole area used to be a parking lot.

For several years this place was a bed and breakfast and is actually quite the setting for such a thing: ready access to main highway, lovely shade trees and accenting evergreens, two-and-a-half story house sitting right near the top of the hill.

Over the years, natural forces deposited a thin layer of soil over the three inches of well-packed gravel that formed the parking area for the convenience of overnight, retreat, and breakfast buffet guests. An assortment of grasses and weeds created a facade of green. But, underneath that facade, that densely packed layer of crushed limestone lay quiet and unrepentant, waiting for just such a day as yesterday.

The day before, Randa and I bought two dozen tomato and pepper plants at Fleek’s Nursery/Greenhouse, conveniently located next door to our place. We needed two dozen holes for planting them. At our place in Arkansas City, I’d just take a garden trowel and dig the holes in what seemed like a foot or more of good topsoil. Take about thirty minutes for the whole deal.

Yesterday’s project involved a heavy iron “spud bar” (a seven-foot forged steel rod with a long, flat, tapered end for busting rocks) and post hole digger. Use the post hole digger to clear off the thin layer of dirt, then use the spud bar to bust through and loosen up the layer of hard-packed gravel, then use the digger again to cut down a foot or more into the clay subsoil below. (Apparently, they’d cleared off all the topsoil in grading for the parking lot.)

Including rest breaks, it took about six hours to set out those two dozen plants. That included hauling over a mix of sand, soil and composted horse manure and shoveling a generous amount of that into each hole. I fertilized each plant carefully, watered generously and set in metal tomato cages around all of the tomato plants.

I’m not sure how this experiment is going to turn out. It might be a colossal failure, a grim daily reminder of the futility of defying natural circumstances. It has certainly been a lot more work than I’ve ever put into planting a garden before. I’m fairly sure it’s going to take more watering than customary, even if we have regular rains.

But I also know this: it’s not going to take very many home-grown tomatoes to convince me it was worth every effort. I think that’s why the ancient writers urged us that while we are laboring and enduring our way through the efforts and obstacles of this life, it is good to keep ourselves focused on the ultimate rewards.

H. Arnett

4/29/21

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Improving the Foundation

Our fully enclosed back porch sits on a concrete slab that is surrounded on its two exterior sides by another concrete slab. We call that exterior slab a patio. Not because of its extrinsic beauty but calling it a patio seems more convenient than calling it “that big slab of flat concrete that surrounds or porch on its two exterior sides.”

There is a crack or seam buffering the two aforementioned concrete slabs. Since we’ve had issues with water seeping into the basement in the general vicinity, I thought filling that seam with special caulking might help reduce the frequency of this particular annoyance. So, I started cleaning the joints last weekend, figuring that might increase the likelihood of a successful bond between the concrete and the caulk.

With the pressure set at around one-hundred-and-ten psi, I used my air compressor to blast out the collected bits of leaves, stems, sticks, sand and grit that had accumulated. While doing that, I noticed some sagging pieces of yellow fiberglass insulation at the southwest corner where the patio joins the main part of the house. “Probably some insulation that has fallen down from behind the vinyl siding,” I figured.

I figured wrong.

As it turns out, there was a sizable wad of wet insulation that had been stuffed into a hole where there was supposed to be a foundation block. This house, which seems to be impressively sound and solid over one hundred years after it was built, is supported by what look to be ceramic construction blocks made of terra cotta tile. The hollow core blocks are about six inches wide, six inches tall, and twelve inches long. As long as they remain intact, which most of them appear to be, they are apparently quite strong.

When one gets broken, that quality seems to diminish considerably. In case you’re wondering, stuffing the cavity with fiberglass insulation is not a structurally viable option. I found that a small batch of concrete seems to be a considerably superior solution. Much better at supporting weight and keeping varmints and critters out. Even though it wasn’t easy getting it into the hole with only two inches of vertical access space between the bottom of the siding and the concrete apron.

Ease of repair shouldn’t be the controlling factor when it comes to addressing the deficiencies on which we are building our lives. Insulation is a wonderful invention saving us a lot of money on energy bills and keeping us comfortable during the thermal variations of our climate. But it is worse than worthless as a substitute for a foundation. It takes more than blocking out the cold to keep a house—or a life—on solid ground.

H. Arnett

4/28/21

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The First Warm Evening of Spring

On April’s first warm evening in northeast Kansas,

just one week after two nights of hard freeze

and over four inches of heavy snow

put a half-day’s glow on the budding sheen

of spring’s full green,

We sat on the concrete patio,

facing the sun as it settled into day’s end

behind the silhouettes of the neighbor’s barn

and a thin stand of locust trees lacing the horizon

along the line of a low ridge.

With a long-haired dog of gentle disposition

and dignified posture

politely waiting for some spicy bit,

we spooned bites of warmed-over chili,

sipped dark beer from frozen mugs,

and shared bites of crisp crackers with Layla.

We talked about friends and horses,

pastures and fences,

and the stubborn profligacy of chives

that have thrived in the seams between

the sidewalk and the laid stone edges of the planters,

and the way those little bits of root bulbs

lock them in below the surface,

making pulling them up darn near impossible.

Too much of something

you once wanted

can eventually get on your nerves

and even, maybe, become a bit of a scourge.

It is good to be careful

what sort of things you sow into a shared life

and good to stand in the shadows

in gentle embrace with your wife,

admiring the quiet beauty

of a full moon shining through a tall spruce

on the first warm evening of God’s good spring.

H. Arnett

4/27/21

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Blooms After the Freeze

After a couple of nights of frost warning, things got a bit more challenging for the gardening, orcharding and landscaping folks in these parts last week; we had two consecutive nights of hard freeze, one of which was accompanied by over four inches of snow. (No, that is not normal for mid-April in northeast Kansas.)

My friends’ tomato plants and a couple of their ornamentals took a beating. A fatal beating as it turns out. Even though I’m no horticulturist, I know that when plants wilt into a dirty dishrag shape and turn black, it’s over for them.

But the nursery sections at the box stores and nurseries still have plenty of plants in stock and they replaced the tomato plants. Not sure yet what they’re going to do about the Looks Like Bougainvillea But It’s Not plant. I’m sure they’ll figure out something.

As to my own figuring, I thought, “Well, there goes this year’s peach crop.” (I tried being an optimist several years back but I got tired of being wrong so much of the time.) But when I looked out the back stairs window yesterday morning, I saw several new blooms have opened up on the peach tree. I think maybe that layer of snow actually insulated the buds from the cold.

God has a way of bringing us through the setbacks and disappointments in our lives. I’ve noticed that in most cases the trauma I actually suffered is less severe than what I expected. And in all cases, his grace brings healing to those who are willing to cooperate with the project.

H. Arnett

4/26/21

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The Angel Bump

I guess there is a huge variety of times when we need a little extra help from our Creator. Sometimes it’s a severe illness, sometimes it’s a tragedy, sometimes it’s a perplexing life situation. And then, at least for some of us, it might be a plumbing project.

I’d been working for three weeks on replacing all of the main drain pipes for our 1917 model Craftsman style house. The cast iron pipes under the concrete basement floor were badly corroded and had even partially collapsed in a couple of sections. Several of the ceramic pipe sections—called “clay tile” by some folks—had sunk slightly, creating low sections with recurring blockages. The entire one-hundred-and-eighty-five foot long line had been invaded by tree roots. So… after paying for five service calls in four weeks, we decided it was time for drastic action.

During a record-setting bitter freeze in February of 2021, I’d finished the basement section, cutting through the concrete and digging down to remove the old pipe and replace it with new PVC plastic pipe. Now on a warm and windy March day, my friend BJ was helping me finish up the outside line. Working in a twenty-four inch wide trench nearly ninety feet long that sloped from six feet to nine feet deep, we worked to connect the last section of four-inch PVC pipe.

The glue used to join plastic pipe sets up quickly and once it sets, it’s generally impossible to separate the joint. We’re talking a matter of seconds here, folks. When you’re working with one end “open” or “free,” it’s not a big deal. But in those situations when you have to connect a piece in between two fixed pieces, it’s a bit tricky. After applying primer to all four joint sections (the inner and outer surface at both joints), you then apply glue to all four surfaces, put the pieces together and rotate slightly to spread the glue. That last part has to be completed in five-to-ten seconds.

Our last joint required us to slip in an eight-inch section of pipe into two angled joints. “As soon as I get this into place,” I told my friend, “I need you to help me pull it slightly forward and then rotate it.”

I swabbed all surfaces with the purple primer and then the glue. I quickly tucked one end into one joint and had the other end almost into the second joint. “Almost” isn’t worth much in PVC connections. The edge of the pipe section was stuck against the edge of the joint. The first end had already started to thicken and set.

My exclamation of “No!” was both prayer and consternation. I hit the stubborn spot sharply with the edge of my fist. The whole piece suddenly popped into place. That in itself was pretty cool but something else happened for which I have no natural explanation. The first end loosened and the piece slid forward about three-quarters of an inch into perfectly balanced position between the two joints. We quickly rotated the piece slightly and it was done.

The new sewer line was finished! We were elated. But BJ and I did not take all the credit. “Sure was nice to have that angel bump there on that last piece,” I noted. “Yes, it was,” he nodded.

You know what I mean, right? Those situations when you just don’t have enough of whatever you need to deal with something, do something or maybe have to do without something and then, all at once, you do have what you need? Wisdom, faith, strength, acceptance, whatever. Something happens, somebody shows up, something happens and then suddenly, things work out. Yep, that’s it. That’s the angel bump that little extra thing that gets you over the hump or through the tunnel. It’s pretty awesome, really. Even if it’s just a piece of pipe fitting into place.

Especially when it’s the piece of pipe that means you can start using your indoor bathrooms again.

H. Arnett

3/22/21

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Intentional Thoughts

I think it is grand the way that a few days

of sunshine and sixties

can so keenly dull the edge of memory

that just two weeks ago

our morning temperature reading

was at minus twenty-one.

It is a nice thing and a good habit to fix

of so quickly letting go

of life’s harshest moments

and cherishing the memories

of friends around a warm fire

on a still evening

with the smoke drifting ever so slightly

while flames weave their way

around the edges of well-seasoned wood.

There is always good for the taking,

the making of good moments,

and the deliberate remembering

of the good life has brought us

while not forgetting the lessons it has taught us.

We ought to be right careful

that in our recollections

we more deliberately rehearse

the better rather than the worse.

H. Arnett

3/4/21

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