On a whim…

Life without whimsy is not much of a life at all; without it, a walk in the dark is no laughing matter.

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Chicken… really?

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OK, now for something a little different. Well, ok, a lot different. My favorite niece has asked me, “Should I keep chickens?” Actually, she said that the new home she is buying in an upscale community has a coop with tenants. She wants to know if keeping them is “over her head?”  You bet! But there’s more to it than that. I already have a vision of the scene and I cherish the opportunity for her to bring that dream to reality. Here’s what I have told her so far.Chicken for dinner?

According to her there are a dozen chickens so in many ways, 12 are no worse than having two or three in terms of effort. It’s more a question of the ‘net effect’. For example she can expect to average around 6 eggs per day if they are laying well.  In fact, I think chicken breeds lay one egg about every 27 hours.  (I am sure my daughter Maribeth will correct me). Of greater significance than eggs is ‘poop’.  Oh boy!  Years ago I kept two dozen Rhode Island Reds. They were great layers (and poopers).

I had converted an old tin utility shed into their coop and kept a bed of sawdust on the floor to reduce the effort to collect poop, er, droppings. The shed was WAY back on the edge of the property (nearly 100 yards from the house). Soon I found that the, ahem, droppings were heavy; Shoveling them out was a bigger chore than I expected.  (By the way, is cleaning out a coop like cleaning out a stall? If so, was I mucking the coop? That sounds far more disgusting!  Anyway, I digress from my primary digression… ) It was too much work to haul the manure from the coop to the garden. Besides, in my ignorance, I thought it was too ‘fresh’ and would burn my precious plants. I needed a simple solution and I found one.

I just piled up the waste near the path that led from the house to the coop. Quite a pile, or piles, they turned out to be. The blended wood shavings (sawdust) and fresh manure seemed made for each other and from a distance it looked like I had a lovely stone wall lining the path down to the coop. My late wife, Beth, did not find the “stone wall” charming from any distance but I, as usual, had a vision that was not firmly rooted in reality. I forged ahead with my birds; I was a keeper of poultry, a rooster rancher, a hen hustler, a . . . well you get the point. I was proud of my pioneering spirit and self sufficiency.

One day some old friends not seen in years came to visit. Jim and his wife, Tina Cunningham, were from a neighboring state and they adored my late wife while graciously tolerating me. The afternoon was filled with conversation devoted to catching up and narrowing the gap of years that separated us. Meanwhile I, absorbed in my new found self sufficiency, was eager to ‘move on’ and invite them on a tour of my chicken chalet. I waited as long as I thought I could stand it and finally prevailed on them to follow me across the lawn, to a muddy path lined by my ‘charming’ stones to the the coop.

Jim had on a pair of Allen-Edmonds loafers. Those fine shoes with their leather soles didn’t belong on the muddy path. So I pointed to the margin where the grass, a bit long, offered the assurance of a drier trek. Instead, Jim, spry for a man in his seventh decade, leapt instead to the nearest stone… and thrust his right foot clear through.

Poor Jim, clearly unsettled by the nature of my rocks, felt his understanding of the material universe unraveling. Maybe, he reasoned in a nano second, his right foot was already passing through the earth’s mantle and descending toward the core. Indeed, his dexterity on one foot was beautiful as he elegantly leapt again… to another stone with his left foot.

Seemingly, he had acquired a ghost like capacity to pass through solid granite; He leapt again, and again. Each foot preceded the next, one stone at a time, until he transited the entire length of the adjacent path. Gasping for breath while grasping for an explanation he struggled to speak; How, what, who… why, Jim sputtered without resolution, without explanation… ever.

I never heard from Jim again after that day. I remember little of the aftermath other than it was filled with finding spare socks, clearing ‘granite manure’ from his sad shoes. I have vague memories of the fierce looks from Beth in response to my belated apologies and clumsy attempts to suggest she find some humor in the moment.

Since then I have often wondered how Jim, or anyone, from the coastal plain of Georgia or the sandy flatland of Florida could imagine a path lined by a New England stone fence could find its way to the marshy verge of my yard? One thing I have never forgotten is this: if you keep chickens you better plan for the prodigious production of poultry poop.

Yes indeed, dear niece, chickens need food, water, extra light in winter, and occasionally need to be treated for minor things.  But of all the things you consider consider this: You may enjoy eggs benedict for breakfast. Perhaps you will find an Emeril Lagasse recipe for a quiche, but for poop, well for that you need a plan all your own.

Written by David Wilkerson

14 March 2012 at 5:38 pm

Melville, Moby, and me…

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Remember the books we were supposed to read when we were in middle school or high school? Books that, if they were food, seemed as palatable as sawdust? I can think of many of these unread-never-to-be-read books. Recently my grandson started complaining about a book, “I don’t understand it. I don’t know the words.” These observations should be translated: “It is boring. I don’t like it.” In response to dictums and ultimatums, vainly intended to compel him to read, he resorted well honed avoidance mechanisms. “Oh, Poppa, I can’t read it now… I need to do long division first.”  or “I really need to get to bed early, Poppa, it’s going to be a busy day tomorrow.” One of these was very inventive, “The book is so very good that I like to read small parts. That way I can enjoy it longer.”  Yeah, right, lots and lots longer.

So, I reasoned, how can I insist he read his book when there are books that I find opaque? And I thought, of all the books I, as a self proclaimed book worm, would never choose to read. What book would become my second choice if it were set as an alternative to water boarding? Yep, you guessed, “Moby Dick”.  For all of my teen age and adult life “Moby Dick or The Great White Whale” has been near the top of this list. Unfazed by related movie scripts or fame of the book it seemed more broodingly malevolent than the eye of any Great White Whale. It was to that book I resorted. “Son, I am going to read a very long and very boring book. I am doing this because I know that misery loves company. You and your book certainly seem in need of companionship so here I come.” And indeed, he resumed reading.

We found ourselves sitting together during a wintery afternoon while on vacation. If he sensed that my eyes were wandering from the book to my email he would challenge me, “Poppa, are  you reading?” Oh the tedious chore of Melville’s opening paragraphs! They seemed to confirm the fear on which my loathing was built. But I persisted; the boy’s eyes were ever upon me. Then, a strange thing happened. the book, that is the characters, became interesting. Ishmael, Queequeg, Starbuck, and Ahab seemed alive with interest. Alas as their interest grew, my dislike of the book faded. I grew to fear that my plan was failing. My revulsion became a transparent ruse. Now, though he continues to watch me, he reads less. I suppose he thinks, “After all, Poppa likes his book (now).”  Like an mouse upset by a plough, the quality of Melville’s writing has proved to be unexpected though not entirely unwelcome. Is there a lesson here?

Oh, perhaps I could say something like, “See son, if you stick with a book you will soon come to like it.” or, “Well now, even a boring book has its moments.”  Alas, the real lesson is not for him but for me. Never try to outsmart a child at a child’s game. That would be like trying to harpoon Moby Dick and some of us know how that turned out.

Written by David Wilkerson

8 March 2012 at 12:51 pm

Posted in Writing

Tagged with , ,

A New Project?

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One of my daughters suggested I should write non-fiction. She says she likes the way I write about people I know. A book of vignettes, she said, would suit my style. ImagePondering this I realize that most of the people I write about are dead. I somehow doubt that many will happily seek membership in my list. But what if I did that? When people recognize themselves in fiction it is one thing but when they recognize themselves elsewhere it’s another. Maybe the stories are not so much about ‘them’ as they are about what ‘they’ mean to me. I wonder how others deal with this and I am not thinking of the political crop of “kiss and tell” exploitation. Surely there are others whose story of their on life really consists of intersections with others. Ordinary people whose ordinary paths cross and through the alchemy of chance extraordinary moments of hope and grace are achieved. Yeah, maybe I will do just that. Besides, if I keep writing about hope and grace people may assume it must be fiction after all.

Written by David Wilkerson

28 February 2012 at 7:16 pm

Posted in Writing

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Under Used Talent: Absent Without Leave

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Sitting in church while the words of the gospel lesson wafted about something clobbered me on the head; the under used talent. Momentarily stunned into a moment of reflection I wondered, how often have I sat glumly listening as someone else preached? Even now, days after that Sunday, I find myself retracing events that led from my tenure as senior minister of a large church to the moment when, as a ubiquitous presence in the pew, I was struck by a word flitting about the sanctuary.

When I retired from ministry I was weary. I needed rest. My need for an extended respite was due, at least in part, to choices I made. After all, I took upon myself more than I should have. Now, in retrospect, this is self-evident. I rarely, if ever took vacation. I preached two different sermons every week, conducted two other worship services, and attended to the pastoral needs of a pretty good sized congregation. And there was more. At the time, though, it seemed I had no choice. The end began just after Thanksgiving a number of years ago.

My wife died on a Saturday. It was unexpected. She was gone from us only hours after I called the church officers to inform them I would be late returning from our annual holiday. The aftermath was jumbled. From her parents home I clumsily began making funeral arrangements while struggling with how I could comfort our children. I had not rehearsed what I would do “if or when something happened” and I felt eerily disconnected as though I were talking of and tending to the needs of someone else. I conducted her funeral on Tuesday. Time seemed to accelerate. On Friday of that same week I conducted another funeral. This was for a member who had been a friend to my family during my wife’s illness. Again time skidded and a few days later I preached another funeral. The deceased was the son-in-law of another good friend.

In any season so many funerals so close together would have taken a toll but, as Christmas approached, I felt especially bleak. My young children clustered around me and, I suppose, their proximity alone kept me afloat. As the year turned there were more stresses and little relief. I felt estranged from myself and, whether it came as a shock or a relief to my congregation I cannot say, I retired in July at the ripe old age of 41. I had no prospects for work. In the course of one weekend, I remarried (a scandalous act in the minds of many), retired, and moved what was left of my family from the coastal Georgia to New England; a distance of little over a thousand miles by road and by cultural measure a distance of galactic proportions.

I needed a rest but how much; how long; from what? Here I am years later, pondering the past when, more to the point, I should be perplexed by the future. I am transfixed by a word; I am confronted with an under used talent. The sermon had not even begun when my typical Sunday reverie was interrupted. The intrusion reminded me of something. The gospel can break in on its own. I have learned this from my own, too frequent, bouts of homiletical mediocrity. Many times, despite my ineptitude, the gospel launched an incursion into someone’s life. Its message is not always constrained by the skill of the messenger.

How I got ‘here’ has value but only in so far has it contributes meaningfully to what happens next. When I consider the future I feel I am squeezed between two mutually exclusive realities. On the one hand I ‘am’ a preacher. Perhaps one with some talent? On the other hand, I have no pulpit. In the first place, Jeremiah’s words reveal my own existential crisis, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in” New International Version (©1984) In the second place I am filled with self loathing for the jealousy that I wish to deny but must in honesty confess.

Since then I have been greatly blessed to a degree and in ways I do not deserve. Every day I wake to a home filled with people I love and who, in turn love me. I am stunned by the good fortune that I have a job that permits me to care for them. I discover some measure of purpose as a leader of cub scouts. I do not discount that these are all good things but, well, I owe and am capable of much more. And it is a whispering realization that has broken into into an uproar today.

Oh the nuisance a word can cause. I wish to be the un-afflicted comfortable pew warmer but the the gospel won’t let me go. That this nuisance is not ‘good news’ for me does not mean that, in the end, my torment might not be the source of good news for others. So be it. I relinquish the cherished goal of letting my small talent lie fallow. Though the return that may be earned is diminished from small to trivial through years of neglect, I do here with commit myself to speak – or write- and in so doing to preach.

‘This is what the LORD says: See, I am setting before you the way of life and the way of death’.

Amen

Written by David Wilkerson

7 December 2011 at 9:52 pm

Posted in Creativity, epiphany, hope, Writing

Tagged with , , , ,

Keene, NH

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By the time I am in the middle of the day the writing light is dimmed, the leaves of imagination have lost their color, and I am wearied of the notion. Why write at all, I ask? Because there is texture in the world even when there is no color.

The black and white (and tones of gray) to which the world seems reduced is not without interest. It is the observer who has lost interest. I am not ‘extinguished’ but my thirst to create prose has been quenched. I need to kick dust into the air. I must abandon the tiresome business of explaining and reclaim the role of challenger. I will advocate for the unresolved.

The world is awash in disarray, the clutter of leaves at the curb are the hastily abandoned trace of summer’s affair.

Written by David Wilkerson

7 November 2007 at 1:06 pm

Posted in Creativity, Writing

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