The 'BARKING OWL' always has something to say, and like the feathered version, can be either WISE...............or ANNOYING!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Clarity: The Fifth Season

Clarity is often called for, but so is the dog.  And like the dog, once she is outside and roaming, does not necessarily come when beckoned.  My blog group summoned its members to write on the theme of Clarity back on October 10th, and while it seems to have come to most members by now, clarity never comes to me  in Wisconsin until the last week of October!

Winter is beautiful for its bright crisp days when the world is covered in white reflectivity, and nothing can hide from the sun.  With a full moon searchlight overhead enlightening the snow draped world, even the depths of night fail to hide a gopher's meager trail or the owl's furtive flight path from view.  But the glaring brightness of Winter is blinding, and the eye is forced to retreat behind dark shades or to peek out only through narrow slits.

The spring time works like mad to screen and hide the world from view.  We note, and marvel at each new bud stem, and stretching leaf; yet few realize how their vision is being slowly stifled, and every long view abated by another shade of green.

Summer invades to finish the task and every corner is occupied.  Trees spread out and crowd the very sky.  Branches plunder every vista until only leaf and berry and branch and vine are visible.  The low slung corn plants only dotting the black earth of spring become sheafy towers impenetrable to even the mind's eye.

Now the corn is being punished for its obstructionism.  Harvested and contained away for assimilation, the forested acres behind the fields are no longer hidden.  But the trees themselves have reached beyond their supply lines and their shield of leaves is perishing in the dirt and waiting to be entombed by the coming snow.  Berries are gone and vines have withered.  The decorative flowers formerly abiding with the now browning grass no longer distract the eye.

Do not mourn the passing of Spring's green, Summer's sensation, or Fall's peak color.  But get ready for the pre-Winter blooming of Clarity!  It struck this writer suddenly on Thursday the 27th.  Going down the steps of the back deck, and without looking up, the realization that the sky was somehow larger, came to me! The yards and streets of town are wider than before, The woods along the highway actually have trees inside the outer edge.  And some of those mysterious driveways lead to homes now visible through a peninsula of bare trees.

Along with this new vision of my physical world, the season of Clarity has brought other more important insights to mind.

8 months!
While I love and adore my sprouting 8 month old Grandson (because he is so very special!), I suddenly realized that everybody I know is somebody's Grandchild!  In the history of the world there have been only two generations that were not Grandchildren to somebody; Adam and Eve had their own generation all to themselves, and their many children comprised the other.  While these lost the joy of having loving Grandparents, they probably found the greater satisfaction of being Grandparents at some time.

Yes, I've always known that even the darker souls among us are born from a seed that, though corrupted by sin, was originally created in the very image of God.  With clarity, I can now look around and see nothing but lovable Grandkids everywhere I go!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It Was A Saturday

Twelve years ago today.  Do you remember what happened to you that day?  I do.

October 30, 1999

I was adding a dormer to the front of a house that had a gambrel roof above a low pitch front porch roof.  I stood my 8' stepladder on the porch roof, leaned it against the near vertical section of gambrel (barn type) roof and climbed to the top.  You know the label that says "Do not stand on or above this step"?  They probably shouldn't put that underneath one's feet.  I stood on the very top of my ladder, and still I was stretching to install some flashing in the new valley I had created.

Something like this one.
On the other side of the dormer, I had placed a block of wood under Mr. Ladder's feet.  Since I had no problem there,  I figured that the block was superfluous, and went without it this time.  Who wants to be working on a Saturday anyway?  I had places to go, people to see!  Namely, to the hospital for a visit with the ER staff.

The ladder slipped down the roof, dropping me vertically. I almost landed standing on the porch roof with one foot, but more or less bounded off and continued my ride. I fell the rest of the way (another 12' maybe) and landed horizontally face down on the sidewalk!  Kind of like a belly flop into the deep end of an empty pool.  My body more or less bounced off the concrete and I rolled away from the house onto my back.  Just then, the 8' stepladder crashed down onto the space I had just vacated!

I unbuckled my tool belt and laid there taking inventory.  "Yup.  I definitely spilled a few nails!  I know I had more 16 pennies than this in here before!"  I did not like the feel of my shoulder and elbow either, but I was conscious and not bleeding.  At least not on the surface.  Apparently I broke a blood vessel under the skin of my forehead where a massive contusion was speedily developing.

When the homeowner came running out scared stiff, I was able to calm her down and told her what the guys always said:  "It's inevitable Mike", they prophesied,  "Every carpenter falls off a roof sooner or later."  I asked her to bring me a phone, and called my wife to say the inevitable had happened.  The worse was yet to come.  The ambulance ride, with what turned out to be three broken ribs was ...memorable, and the turning and positioning for x-rays was even worse.

My sense of humor, however, was never better, or far worse, depending on whether or not you even have one!  On the table, as they cut all my best Saturday work clothes off of me, a nurse asked when I had my last tetanus shot.  I recalled a joke I had just read in The Reader's Digest and said I had three of them last week.  That was all the brain scan necessary.  Then the doctor barely touched my forehead and that contusion burst and sent a splatter of blood over the whole room.  So, 12 years ago today, that old sidewalk made a mark on me, and I left my mark on the ER; ceiling, floor, and walls!

Fall In Wisconsin: The Survivors

While driving just north of Gillette Wisconsin a few weeks ago, I noticed these harvest survivors huddling together out in a field.  Stricken by their forlorn condition, I stepped across the roadside ditch.  I did not set out to get involved that day, lest I sacrifice my professional objectivity, but like a good photo-journalist I was determined to take some great pictures.   Guess what:  Involved, I got!

While taking a picture of a group off to the west, I heard a shuffling, grassy sound, and then saw that this gang was moving down from the north end of the field!  When they finally noticed me standing there  they all suddenly stopped, and acted planted.   While I was rooting around their feet to convince myself that I actually did see them 'walking', the sheafy group with leaves all akimbo in the next picture (below left) was apparently stalking me.  They appeared from the south so suddenly that I jumped, but luckily pushed the shutter button and caught them in this gangsta pose.  I certainly felt threatened, but held my ground, and when I said something about hot oil and popcorn they all took off running to the west.  The next picture (below right) reveals that when they spread out and run fast, they appeared to be quite emaciated.

When I realized that one of them was hurt, I actually ran after to offer help (so much for my high journalistic intent to remain uninvolved).

This next photo (left) shows the injured one of course, but the final, enlarged shot, reveals so much more detail.

From right to left in the picture below you will see two adult stalks carrying their wounded or sickened row mate, while a third, probably a Doctor of Corn if the intelligent look on his leaves means anything, attends.  Two shorter, perhaps younger siblings are looking on sympathetically, but slumping in helplessness.  Heading quickly for the trees is the rest of the original group. Who can blame them for abandoning their friends?  For all they knew, I was Orville Redanbacher in the flesh!
By this time, I was no longer a reporter or photographer or anything but an enlightened fool.  I took some dramatic pictures of a once in a life time, unheard of agricultural phenomena, to be sure, but failed to switch my camera to video mode!  Any astute analysis of these still shots will certainly prove my claims about the events that day, but without a bona fide YouTube video posted, my credibility will forever remain in grave doubt!  At least I know that my followers will believe my story.........right guys?    Right?  Guys?  So much for popularity.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Safe Haven That Must Be Endured

I was working in someone's back yard the other day, when I heard one of my favorite sounds.

An older couple, not as older as an "older couple" used to be, but maybe 10 or 15 years older than I am now; and living in a quiet squared up neighborhood of modest ranch homes in a small Midwestern town.  They did fairly well over the years it seems for at some point they put in a nice above-ground pool with the commensurate deck and tall privacy fence.  He was a small time entrepreneur and now their four daughters are running the business.  She now watches the growing gang of Grandchildren as needed.

I was there to make the little garden shed a bit more maintenance free and as I wrapped all of the exposed wood with white aluminum, I listened to the neighborhood.

One guy was sitting on his back deck making financial decisions over the phone.  Some birds were decorating the vicinity with song, while the elementary school just across the street was making its regularly scheduled contributions to the tonal culture:  Loud bells, quiet, more bells, kids shouting and laughing, bells, different kids yelling and playing, bells again, quiet.

The wind was fairly strong that day.  I had to keep an eye on my coil stock to make sure it didn't rattle off across the imaginary line in the connected lawns.  The wind was also playing with the family's American flag as it hung over my head on a fifteen foot pole.  Not that I could watch it as I worked, but I was listening.

Like the annoying squeak that even a master guitarist can not always avoid making as he slides his fingers up and down the strings, the display of patriotism sometimes requires a certain endurance.  As the flag spreads and then sinks with the wind, its hardware, the clips on the halyard , swing and clang against the pole.  It's not the beautiful ring of a tuned wind chime, but a definite clink and a hard clunk that must be suffered.  This noisome portion of the symbol can not be rightly separated from the beautiful stars and stripes.  American reality joins the splendor and majesty of high ideals with the conflict and turmoil of debate and consternation.  Our foundational agreement is not that we will all agree, but that we will continually strive to find the optimal policies for the good of all.          

To paraphrase the First Amendment:

To enjoy my freedoms, I will endure yours.

To worship my God, I will have considered yours.
To have my say, I will listen to yours.
To believe in my facts, I will first test yours.

To stand with the flag, I must be patient while its underpinnings clang.  

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Coming Clean: A Ten to One, 55 Word Story

My sister emails her story to the rest of us.
Older brother, sixty something, chimes in with his tale.
They share with good humor and familial concern.
I have my own story to tell:
Waiting on the table, taking meds,
I finally asked my wife.
“Will they begin soon?”
“Are you kidding?
It's done!"


Pictured are two of my seven clean living siblings.  No.  No OTHER pictures will be shown.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Ned Expanded: My Take on Writercize #116--Balancing Act

Thanks to Alana at Writercize for offering these challenging prompts!  My response gave me a chance to expand on my own Ned character from last May's Z to A challenge.  Reading about Ned here first may help a little bit, but no, his secret sin is not revealed yet, in either place.

Ned arrived at the bridge early. Before rush hour even had a chance to get in his way, he was there. It had been a long, long night of trouble and trial and turmoil and sleeplessness. This hadn't been the one rare rough night, but just another in a series. The warmth of the sun had yet to shine on Ned's face this morning, but the cold night air found a way up the valley, through the unfinished deck of the bridge, and right into his clothes.

A week ago Wednesday, Ned had reached the point of no return. He found himself crying out to God, as the father of the possessed boy had cried to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have pity, and help me.” And after the following weekend, when Jesus' challenge to the man (“Everything is possible for one who believes.”) had been echoing in Ned's mind, he continued the same conversation from Mark 9 as if he himself were that real man. “I do believe.....”

Ned stood overlooking the ravine far below, and smiled almost ashamedly now at the rest of that prayer he had borrowed. Always the envy of other guys his age, here he was emulating one of the most mocked characters in the Bible. Who hadn't shaken their head and laughed at the seeming contradiction of the guy who said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

So the struggle and the wrestling with God had carried on until the answer to that broken prayer had broken through this morning. In the red letters of John 16 Ned found “ me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Now with a dozen doughnuts quickly disappearing from the box he had left on the hood of his truck, the guys watched as Ned stood with all of his God-given balance on the outside ledge of that bridge, to give thanks. He closed his eyes for a moment and raised his head slightly to the sky while he quoted back to God the rhetorical question he had found in one of John's letters:  "Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God."

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Writercize 55 Word Challenge: A Story in 10 Successively Reducing Lines

Centuries seem to pass as astronauts listen to their countdown.
Only the most highly trained can withstand the rigor.
Unlike anytime before, all hearts seem to stop.
Nearer to God, they wait and pray.
The big moment finally does arrive.
Down below the rumbling begins.
Overwhelming sound and fury!
"Will we die?"
Not today....


(who will be the first to find the fifty sixth word in the story ?)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Can't Judge a Tree By Its Branches

These lovely trees in my front yard
Are not all that they seem.

Their autumn spree may light the eye;
Delighting as they gleam,

But do not climb their branches,
Or loaf beneath the leaves.
Do not relax against their bark
Or slumber, taking ZZees.

I've been below their reaching roots.
I've seen where they do dwell.
If you insist I will you show, 
But can't I simply tell?

The snake was in my basement dear.

And striking through my pipes.
It came out full of stinking roots.
The plumber too said "Yipes!"

"How did your toilet ever flow?"
Said he, and did he pity us!
Those lovely trees in my front yard,
Are what you call, insidious!

Sunday, October 2, 2011


"Ok, so how do I do it?" asked another brave, but perhaps foolish soul.

"First thing?" I'd say, and my answer was always the same:  "Catch it when you fall!"

I don't know why I bothered.  The front and back ends were already torn wide open and the foam pad freely protruding and falling out.  I guess it was just the force of habit..

"What do you mean, 'WHEN' I fall?" they would always say.  And then they would always fall.  And they always seemed to protect their knees and elbows and faces before even thinking to save my unicycle's beat up seat.

Of course they fell, and of course the self-preservation instinct took precedence over uni-care.  "Aaaarrgh!"  I pretended to be so offended that my student again let my sadly padded seat bang against the hard cement floor in the long basement corridor of our high school.  Then I'd look around quick to see if any priests or otherwise grown up types heard the crash.  Always anxious that maybe Brother Fred would overcome his natural instinct to encourage our youthful exuberance and opt instead for fulfilling his obligation to protect and serve the building. Yet I was continually relieved that my little unicycle riding school was allowed to wreak whatever havoc it would on vinyl and tile.

"One more try for Jim", I might predict, depending on the zeal shown by this latest adventurer.  But with another guy, I might soon be begging him to give it back for a while, because he was persistent and brave and actually learned early to catch it when he fell.  Once that happened, I knew I had a convert and I knew what he would be asking his parents for for Christmas.  The newly acquired and quirky skill of unicycleing would soon be born in another family and neighborhood back home.

When my brother Pat left home to go to this same seminary boarding school, he came back a skilled unicyclist, so my sister and I soon picked it up.  I took Pat's new Christmas present back when I "followed the call", and I passed back the mastery I had gained over balance and precession, to any who would dare.

"Precession?" you say.  Have you noticed that when you are riding your bicycle, you only need concern yourself with balance when you are going very slowly?  The same force exerted through conservation of angular momentum that keeps a spinning top from toppling, and keeps the spinning wheels of a bike from dropping to either side: precession, works for the unicycle as well.  The fore and back balance, however, is accomplished through the peddler as he works to keep his one tire directly between himself and the center of the earth.

Simply being willing to move forward in life tells God that we will trust Him to keep us from falling over, and He does.  He provides the spiritual equivalent of precession.  But if life is like riding a unicycle (Don't forget to "Catch it when you fall!") then we are responsible for the pedalling.  We should move just fast enough or slow enough to keep our lives centered over His will.

No need to call me "Father Miller".  By the time four years of seminary had passed I was aware that I was more interested in being a Dad than a "Father".   And within a year or so of going to a public college, I finally heard the Gospel, and found my spiritual balance.  I would be saved by His Grace (the precession?), and pedal on to be married and raise a family!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

If only to demonstrate the very versatility, I made my icon below larger than most!

Thank you to GPD (Gene Pool Diva) over at DGP (Diminishing Gene Pool) for nominating me for the VBA (Versatile Blogger Award)!  Apparently if you're good at acronyms, you're IN (in)!  BTW, her real nickname is TEG (The Enforcer General), which when translated from the Latin, means Big Sister (BS).

Anyway, in order to receive this award thingy I am supposed to reveal seven things about myself.

1  I went to 12 years of Catholic school (including four years at a high school, boarding school, seminary) but finally heard the Gospel when I was in a public college!

2  I was the master of the unicycle back in the day, but marvel now at the tricks kids do on skateboards and mountain bikes etc.!

3  I have three great kids that can't be beat, but what really just makes me smile, is the thought of my 2 1/3 Grandkids!  (The one third is scheduled for completion and delivery next March)

4  I've done finish carpentry work on 45 million dollar yachts (PJY), but don't even own a canoe.

5  I've been roofing all summer, but my own roof now leaks!

6  Last week I made chili from scratch for the first time in my life, but it is all gone!

7  I seem to start a lot of sentences on a positive note, but then conclude them not with 'ifs' or 'ands', but 'buts'! 

Bonus: 8  I want to write at least one post in the clever style of GPD, but I am going to try!

And now I get to nominate FIFTEEN blogs to receive the VBA.  (If this keeps going at this rate the real award will go to the one blog left UNnominated in the end!)