Among the Shadows of Old Boulders

Along the western crest
framing the edge of the Grouse Creek bottoms,
a band of old boulders shoulder their way
down the slope that notes the change
from rolling pasture to flat land.
Some are the size of cows
and some the size of tiny houses,
all abandoned by a few millennia of dirt
washed away and leaving them
to their own hard-faced survivals.

A shrug of smaller rocks blotch their colors
amidst the leaves and stems and sticks,
a mixing of winter colors among the bases
of trees and brush, vines and such.

As I pedaled my way along the river road,
one great boulder caught my eye—
something about the way it stood,
alone, squarish and rugged.
Stepping carefully among the stones
on a rather warm afternoon
on the second Saturday of March,
watchful lest there be some ambitious copperhead,
I took a couple of pictures.

Curious, I slanted uphill and to the side,
still cautious of my stride
and what might be hiding among the leaves.
Ninety degrees away from my first view,
I learned what many never knew,
only seeing from the road and its easy way
of passing by from day to day:

Ten feet wide and fifteen feet tall,
the boulder was less than two feet thick in the middle,
top and bottom mushroomed out into something
that more resembled an hourglass
than a mass of immutable stone,
an illusion, perhaps, but an unmistakable suggestion
that a fierce wind or a slight quake
would make all that nothing more
than a pile of rubble tumbling toward the road ditch.

How often, I wondered, do we look at others
from only that certain view in passing,
and have no idea of life’s loads
held massed above such slender bearings,
heavy cares un-shared, unseen and unknown?

And all the while carefully shifting our own
to keep the thin view from showing
to those who cautiously walk
through the shadows of our passing.

H. Arnett

Posted in Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Humility of Desperation

the very times
when I am in the greatest need
of prayer for stamina, strength and wisdom
I am least inclined to ask.

Some days
on the very days
when I most need the company
of people with honest hearts and strong minds
I am most inclined toward isolation.

There are times
when I find that my pride and anger
push me toward the greatest danger
and I feel the strongest drive
to figure things out
all on my own.

humiliation and desperation
seem to share a common path
and sometimes it is the last man standing
who should have been
the first one kneeling.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Ride after a Long Week

In the aftermath of others’ tragedies—
a church member barely escaped a house burned to the ground
and his wife and daughter-in-law barely escaped a burning car—
and our own near-miss of yard and deck
catching fire when a fifty-mile-an-hour wind
whipped wires from their anchorings,

I rode off into an east wind under gray skies,
layered for the chill but ready
for the comfort of back roads and rivers,
miles of prairie grassland and winding lines of trees,
needing something that seemed like peace
after all the other
and this week of work where other fires
have smoldered for over two years,
and new ones have erupted.

Somewhere near the top of a long hill
toward the eastern edge of Cowley County,
I stopped beside a pasture.

While dozens of Angus stood watching in winter grass,
long dry stems and blades hanging from their mouths,
I studied an old storm shelter less than fifty yards south of the fence
and knew there must have been a house at some time.

The sort of people who moved here over a hundred years ago
did not dig into the dirt for domed shielding
unless it was near enough a home
for a running dive to save their lives
when the skies turned toward killing.

I looked and found a low rectangle of stone and mortar,
the corner barely showing through the sod,
a ten-by-twenty anchoring that had lasted long beyond
the weathering of timbers and the wear of life,
and wondered whether that house, too,
had caught from some ancient grass fire,
or had been abandoned to the winds and storms
after the owners had found
they didn’t have to actually live among the livestock
if the fences were strong enough
and that killing coyotes was easier than watching herds.

Somewhere south and west of Dexter,
in the seventh mile of Grouse Creek Road,
where ancient boulders shoulder the edge of the ridge
running north along the bottoms,
I felt the load ease a bit,
and began thinking more about where I was
than what I had been through.

And knew that I would make it home
in better mind than I had left it.

H. Arnett

Posted in Exercise, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation, Sports, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Fire and Pain

At the end of a week of fire and pain,
I long to gain some higher need,
some place both above and beneath
the press of hurt and anger, fear and grief.

I long for the nearness of hearts
that share a common zeal,
the healing of forgiveness,
and the soothing touch of unhurried conversation.

I long for the quiet ride,
a place of hiding among the shadows
of trees and stones, a holding calmness
in my own solitary drift between trail and path.

I long for the lifting of Spirit,
the quiet Word spoken to the heart,
the soothing sense of Peace and Presence,
the strength of humility and the gentleness of grace.

In the wake of passing trials,
surrounded by denial and faltering assurance,
knowing the true, sure things
whose endurance is beyond storm and ashes,

I will hold to love, hope and faith,
and I will wait for the will of my Redeemer.
Even when I cannot fathom the present moment,
I will trust the coming hours

to the power of him who is able
to keep all things that I have committed
unto him against that Day
when every secret thing shall be revealed.

When hope is received and faith is sight,
I will still hold to the love
which has guided my life
and covered a multitude of sins,

including my own.

H. Arnett

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

Living in the Fire Zone

We have some friends who live out west of Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Nearly eighty miles west. They live on a ranch measured in sections, not acres. I grew up on a two-hundred-and-fifty acre dairy and row-crop farm in western Kentucky. A section being six-hundred-and-forty acres means the ranch our friends live on is a least fifty times larger than our home place. Maybe a hundred times larger, I don’t really know.

What I do know is that they live on the prairie, oceans of grass with dashes of trees and brush. An area naturally formed to the raising of livestock. Those miles of pasture provide grazing for hundreds of thousands of cattle in Kansas and Oklahoma. When it rains.

In the dry seasons and in the times of extended drought, such as now, those miles of dry stems and raspy blades are custom made fire fodder. Fires there, fueled by all that grass and pushed by winds that sometimes topple semis on the freeway, can turn into monstrous force. Something along the order of self-propelled blast furnaces, moving at the speed of wind and generating a killing heat that can top a thousand degrees. The timber frames inside metal-skinned buildings can burst into flames even though the fire itself may have not come within a hundred feet. That sort of power and force can turn a breezy afternoon into Armageddon.

It can start with the spark of an engine, the whipping of power lines rubbing against each other or being torn from a transformer, a cigarette butt tossed out a window, or something similar but more sinister. Dried grass can actually ignite more easily than diesel fuel. And spread like gossip in a small town with a similar capacity for destruction.

And so our friends keep a packet of important papers near the door, the horse trailers hooked to the trucks so horses can be loaded quickly and extra clothes are kept stored in the truck. They know that in spite of all prayers and the heroism of other firefighters, it could come to one trip out and everything left behind turned to ashes before they can return.

It’s a whole different mentality from anything I’ve ever known, having grown up in the green rolling lands of the Bluegrass State. Different than northeastern Kansas, too, which is more similar to western Kentucky than to western Kansas. It is a mindset of pragmatism pushed to harsh reality, of settled priorities and un-negotiated acceptances. A conflicting awareness of vulnerability and of hope that you will have enough notice to do the little that you can.

A recognition that while we make what preparations we may, forces greater than ourselves are at work in our world. We hope that we do not wake to the sound of flames and find that it is our life that is on fire.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Death & Dying, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Sparks and Embers and Raging Winds

I visited with officials at the Winfield Correctional Facility yesterday to discuss possible ways to help both guards and inmates with some of our college programs. Their facility sits on top of a high ridge at the north end of the city. As the chief of security, Major Michael Smith, and I walked from building to building, we encountered blasts of wind in excess of fifty-miles-an-hour. Both the force and the churning changes of wind direction demanded greater than usual effort to maintain balance.

Right before entering the last building we stood on a low promontory at the north end of their campus. Slick shoes and a thin suit do not comprise the best outfit for personal safety and comfort when walking on pea gravel in gale force wind. I cautiously stood at the thin point that looks out over miles and miles of south central Kansas. A couple of times, even though I wasn’t trying to move, the force of the wind nearly drove me backwards. And, of course, the necessary lean of the body to compensate for that driving push becomes a something of a disadvantage when the gust fades quickly.

As I took in the marvelous panoramic view, I thought about what this would be like in such a wind when the temperature was forty or fifty degrees colder. “I bet this is really bitter out here in January,” I yelled to Major Smith, even though he was standing less than six feet away. He nodded, “If there’s any wind blowing anywhere, it’s blowing here.”

Gusts like this in a place as dry as central and western Kansas had the fire danger rating for the day into the “Catastrophic” category. That rating was not purely academic for me.

I’d just gotten a call from Randa that the electric company and fire department were at our house. The wind had ripped a wire loose from the transformer sitting at the northeast corner of our property. According to the fire crew chief, it had then blown against the transformer, arcing and sparking and setting the grass on fire. One neighbor’s storage building burned down completely. His garage had also caught fire but the fire crew extinguished it before it incurred major damage. Six of us owners had wooden fences at least partially damaged and our deck had also caught fire.

By the time I got home, Westar Energy was repairing the wiring and the fire department was finishing up. As we stepped out the back door, I saw smoke still coming up from where one of the railing posts connected to the deck frame. I also noticed small flames licking up a few inches high from the base of the post. Randa had already connected and used a garden hose earlier to help put out the fire so I turned the water on again and started soaking the spot. One of the firefighters noticed that and came over with a real fire hose. With our ready permission, he started ripping off the wooden lattice underpinning and spraying more water.

There is absolutely no doubt that the fast response from the Ark City fire department saved our house and our neighborhood from much more drastic loss and damage. Unfortunately—we learned later that evening—similar efforts thirty-five miles away were not as successful.

In spite of the combined efforts of multiple crews in the face of that raging wind, Pat and Jimmie Moreland’s house was completely destroyed. Virtually everything they owned taken away by an ember and a fierce prairie wind. Our own loss is nothing more than small expense and inconvenience. Theirs is the loss of a lifetime of keepsakes and souvenirs, handmade gifts and pictures of memories and milestones, a thousand cherished items and nearly all they had of this world’s goods, including their clothes and furnishings. It is a numbing shock that usually staggers even the strongest.

They and all who love them are grateful that they are both safe and alive. Grieving the loss of property is not the same as grieving loss of limb or life. But it is still loss and they will need both the comforting presence of those they love and the Loving Presence of the Comforter.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Living, Family, Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast

South of Ark City, just north of the Oklahoma state line, 322nd Road intersects US-77. If you turn west there, you’ll roll out through some pretty flat plains. It’s prairie farm ground mostly, broad fields of dark dirt, some just now greening up with winter wheat after the rain two weeks ago. Otherwise, there’s what’s left of soybean stubble, a pale gray blend that comes from harvest and spending a few months bleaching in winter sun. In some places, chisel plowing has formed rich swaths of soil readied for planting.

Beyond those things, miles of high-tension power line strand north from the wind farms. Tall white towers lift the long blades of turbines high above the fields, above the dark, bare branches of cottonwood, elm and oak and the lines of scrub brush and hedge that edge fields and ditches. At night, the only hint you’ll see of these great machines that harvest the wind is the blinking of their red lights, a warning against the notion of low path flight.

Whether it’s day or night, as you drive along west on 322nd, you’ll likely notice the loud road noise that rough pavement makes against the tires. If you happen to be riding a bike, you’ll notice more than the noise.

I guess I’ve ridden over a hundred miles of Cowley County back roads. None of them are smooth. All of them have rough patches. 322nd is my nominee for Worst Patch of Back Road in the county. I’m not sure what the paving process was but it appears to have been thrown on by the shovelful and then packed by farm implements. In one case, I saw—and felt—the tread marks of tractor tires running across at a ninety-degree angle to the road!

Riding over this on a bike didn’t quite feel like riding over corrugated roofing, more like riding over rough gravel that was cemented in place. My guess is that the topping mix softened a bit in hot weather and took on the tread prints of the heaviest things that rolled over it. I used to think that irreverent farmers ignored the flags and signs of construction crews and just drove right over the stuff before it had time to cool off and harden.

Explanations to the contrary, should you ever decide to take in the view of southwestern Cowley County from the perspective of 322nd Road, I recommend you drive slowly. In a vehicle with excellent suspension, superbly cushioned seats, and exceptional noise-dampening systems. Unless, of course, you are one of those folks gifted with the ability to recognize and appreciate natural beauty even when the journey happens to be a bit bumpy.

Of course, another strategy is to just drive like crazy and get across it in the least amount of time possible. Some things in life seem best approached in that manner. In whatever case, I hope that you reach your destination safely.

H. Arnett

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