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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In high school I wrote a poem. “Sticking feet out the window; tickled by the rain. ”
Teacher said it wasn’t mine because it was good.

Old guy screaming!

Borrowed from Laurel Connections

That would have been a good time to learn to cuss. I didn’t and that’s too bad ’cause the poem was good and it was mine.

Wish I still had that poem. Guess I need to resume digging around in the attic (metaphorically) and find some more, maybe better?

We’ll see. Stick with me ’cause I am going somewhere. Maybe not today, or even tomorrow. But there’s piles of stuff and you might want to read more of it.

But not tonight. It’s late, I am tired, and I have been reading which is a good thing for a writer to do, don’t you think?



Written by David Wilkerson

18 March 2012 at 9:57 pm

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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

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Charting a Course to Manhood

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I was born into the so-called man’s world of the 50s. Mr. & Mrs. Cleaver, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, and Father Knows Best (Jim Anderson), showed me the ropes. Even Lassie taught me that the-man-of-the-house had very specific roles to play: provide for the financial needs of the family, administer domestic justice, maintain the family car, stay out of the kitchen, capture mice, kill spiders, and take out the trash. They seemed to suggest that if I lived according to their vision of the world, all would be well. But, none of them warned me their world was dying.

In my early adulthood I recall sitting at Sunday dinner and being stunned by a future sister-in-law. She stated there were no reasons why women could not be anything they wanted. Actually, I think she dragged out the word, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g, for emphasis. Absurd, thought I, and I jumped in (as usual) to declare that women were hardly fit to be linemen, policemen, or firemen. Now I wonder how I ever thought such a thing. After taking a verbal beating I was reminded of another brash moment from my early childhood.

Across the street was a jalopy owning family with a large collection of kids. They were pronounced by my mother to be “wild children”. I knew them as, “The Mondays”. It was this clan that first introduced me to the power of women.

One day, as my older cousin and I played, “The Mondays” showed up uninvited. In thrall to my slightly older cousin we chose to defend our turf. He took on one of the younger boys and I challenged the oldest Monday, a girl. She must have been ten and I couldn’t have been more than six. More importantly she was much bigger than me. Details are a bit sketchy but I vividly recall telling her I would have no difficulty beating her up because “boys are stronger than girls.” What came next isn’t clear. Respect

I vaguely remember the taste of dirt in my mouth and a bloody nose and I suspect these are among the reasons the details are sketchy. More importantly, and to my embarrassment, I did not learn the key lesson of the day; being a man (or a boy) does not afford an individual any special entitlements.

It wasn’t until later (that moment at a Sunday dinner) when I began to suspect I needed to relearn what it really means to be a man. And, frankly, this process is as yet incomplete. I am trying to sort out what it means to be a man and to teach my son the same. My skull isn’t cracked but there are times when my head (and my heart) hurt. I am estranged from the laughably absurd “Father Knows Best” world of my birth. The world of men has become a pandemonium ranging from testosterone driven excesses of “professional” wrestling to emasculated ambiguities. Charting a course requires a difficult to obtain sense of direction.

Once, when crossing the Atlantic Ocean on an aging “tin can” destroyer, our gyrocompass failed. Only the magnetic compass functioned and it was not reliable. Forced to chart our course apart from the fleet we battled storms that stove in bulkheads, swept away deck fittings, and sent our ship reeling from one wave to the next. To find their way a navigator universally relies upon a “point of reference”. A ship is piloted along coastal waters by observing markers like buoys, lights, and landmarks. But when the horizon recedes and the landless expanse of the sea surrounds him, a mariner must look to a more distant point of reference. Likewise a father, to be a man and a teacher of manhood, must look to a new point of reference. For me, that reference is Jesus.

In the disoriented world of men I am drawn to the scene in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, confounded by a choice to accept impending agony or the plausible doom of humanity, prays, “Let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will by thy will be done.” It is a moment of existential crisis. It is a moment in which character is immutably defined.

Herman Melville, speaks through a preacher, a self defined “pilot of the living God”. He declares, “And if we obey God, we must disobey ourselves; wherein the hardness of obeying God consists.”*

Through that lens we may recognize the crucible of the garden for what it is. To be a man, to be a whole person whose integrity remains intact, there can be no choice other than obedience and yet… Yet this does not deny the need to express an alternative hope; a hope that for a greater purpose must be abandoned. This is a dichotomy that is ever with us; to do that which is good or to do that which is best. For most of us the difference is seldom so clear but the difficulty of making the distinction is always upon us.

A true course to manhood crosses oceans of doubt engaging our minds and hearts. The perennial dichotomy of hope, that is the choice between good and best, is the means by which we discover and prove our manhood. Jesus in the garden guides our moral compass to a true North where might is measured by character, virility is a matter of virtue. To teach our sons to be truthful to themselves and to others, to place the welfare of others above their own, to show compassion, and to teach our sons reverent hope; this is how we and they achieve manhood.

*Moby Dick Or The Whale by Herman Melville. Bookbyte Digital Edition ISBN 978-1-61306-039-1

Written by David Wilkerson

2 March 2012 at 11:12 pm

Posted in character

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Tiny Snowflakes… finally!

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Snow falling finally. Not the pretty flakes, but tiny frozen dandruff. Here in deep southern New Hampshire we’ve had March weather since October 31st. I suppose I should suppress it but I keep thinking there should lyrics for this that are sung to the melody of Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles”.

Tiny snowflakes (tiny snowflakes)
In the breeze (in the breeze). . .

Written by David Wilkerson

29 February 2012 at 2:18 pm

Posted in Who knows?

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