Across the Abyss

31 10 2014

Dives could afford colored flaxen clothing, garments made with purple only people of the highest rank could possess. He could help himself to sumptuous, gourmet meals three and four times a day.

Eleazar, sickly and desperately poor, could help himself to nothing, and he was thus given the nickname Lazarus. Left at the back gate of the Dives mansion, he begged to share the rich man’s garbage with the pariah dogs.

As it does for all of us, the time came for each of those two to die.

Angels escorted Eleazar to Paradise, where the Patriarch Abraham welcomed him.

Dives found himself lost to the Pit. Allowed to perceive an appearance of Eleazar in the embrace of Abraham at an eternal distance, Dives screamed, “Father! Father Abraham! How can it be that I am here and not there? Am I not your son, too? And a better one?”

“Son,” said Abraham, “does this long-standing Word sound at all familiar? ‘For the poor shall never cease out of the land. Therefore I command thee: thou shalt in thy land open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy.’

“And this Word? ‘He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord; that which he hath given will He pay him again.’

“And this Word? ‘Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.’ ”

“Why this apparition?” Dives cried. “If you must torment me with old words, try tormenting me as well with fresh water. Send Eleazar to flick as little as a drop onto my parched tongue. This flame is hell!”

Abraham, who once upon a time had himself been rich, answered, “Son, remember that you felt right in believing you had a right to your blessings, and to covet the many good things you received. In your self-righteousness, you believed yourself worthy of them. My son Eleazar received no such things, not from you. As my son and our Master makes clear, ‘From the one to whom much has been given, much will be required.’

“Eleazar was gracious enough to allow the dogs to lick his sores. You, however, allowed time for Grace and graciousness to pass squandered. Eleazar is now in comfort, and you are now in agony.

“Furthermore, a great and fathomless abyss exists between you and us. Anyone among us wanting to cross to you cannot do so, and no one from there can do likewise and cross to us.”

Dives wept, “Father Abraham, I beg you! Then send Eleazar to my father’s house and to my five brothers so he can frighten them away from this place of anguish.”

Abraham answered, “The Word of Moses and all the Prophets remains. How many times and in how many ways did they say you shall love your neighbor as yourself? How many times and in how many ways did they reveal the source, the spring, the Spirit of that Love? Your brothers can listen to them.”

“No, father Abraham,” Dives pleaded. “They will not listen. But if someone from the dead goes to haunt them…”

Abraham said, “Son, you know as well as I that people listen only to ghosts they believe do not exist. If people will not listen to Moses and the Prophets speaking as inspired by the Holy Ghost, they will not listen to Someone―my son and our Master—even when He does indeed rise from the dead.”


D. Raymond-Wryhte

(Luke 16:19-31)


Woodcraft 22: The Poker Game

24 10 2014

“There’s no point driving to the house,” Grandfather announced. “That’s been sold.”

“Do you know who bought it?” I asked.

“One of my brother Heinrich’s men, an employee at the mill.”

“But you kept your forest.”

“Yes.  Almost all of it.  Ten acres went with the house to provide a decently shaped parcel with access to the road.”

“How much is left?”

“Not quite three sections.”

“Sections?” I asked.  “Sections of what?”

“Your mother’s father hasn’t explained that to you yet?”

“Not that I recall.”

“A section is a portion of a township.  A township is a portion of U.S. government land measure.  A township is 36 square miles in size, and it contains 36 sections.  Each section is a mile square.  Each section contains 640 acres.”

It took me a while to do the arithmetic in my head, but I was able to calculate the total.  “You have one thousand, nine hundred and twenty acres?”

“Not quite. Subtract the ten acres we sold.”

“Wow!  One thousand, nine hundred and ten acres!”  I looked out the window of the truck with a new interest.  “All forest?”

“For the most part, yes.  There is some marsh, a few ponds, and a number of meadows and glades.”

“How did you get so much?” I asked.  “Grandpa Smith’s farm is only two hundred and forty acres.”  At the time in Wisconsin, that was a pretty good size.

“A quarter section and an eighth,” Grandfather said.

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t do the math for that one.

“My father won the land in a poker game.  That would be your great-grandfather Maynard.”

“A poker game?  Really?”  That sounded more like a scene from one of the many westerns I was still watching on television.  I didn’t know how to play poker.  No one in the family did, either.  We played canasta.

Ja, a poker game.  In 1878.  In Waupaca.  My father was in town with his father, Leupold, on business.  Leupold’s business was selling printing supplies and equipment, even printing presses, which was a good business for a German.  After all, we invented the printed word.”

Grandfather referred to the work of Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century, who developed a system of printing from moveable metal type.  The Chinese, of course, had long been using wooden blocks for printing.  And, nowadays, there is some doubt as to whether Gutenberg’s system originated with him or with the Dutch printer Laurens Janszoon Coster.  Gutenberg, however, had certainly revolutionized printing by proving that books — the Bible had been the first, of course — by proving that books could be machined.  It therefore can at least be said that Germans had developed and commercialized the machined word.

Leupold had been a writer back in the Fatherland.  He was also an Achtundvierziger, someone who had supported ideas of democracy and national unity back in 1848.  The revolutions in parts of German-speaking Europe failed, and he had to emigrate to avoid imprisonment.  To start his life over, he came to America and settled in Milwaukee.  He couldn’t support himself as a writer anymore, at least not fast enough to be able to meet his immediate cost of living, but he did find a job in the printing business.

Germans were settling throughout much of the state, as well as the Midwest, and they wanted to have their own newspapers, journals, and books for churches and schools, shops and farms.   Business went well.  Certainly Leupold’s part in it did.  Eventually, he attracted not only German customers, but also Dutch, Polish, Scandinavian, and even “American”.  As European-American settlements in Wisconsin grew, each developed business enterprises that needed advertising.  As these settlements grew, each developed communities needing access to news and views.  That fostered a demand for printing presses, which put Leupold’s services in demand.

So, as Grandfather said, Leupold and his son, Maynard, visited Waupaca on business.  The business of the day eventually had to end, though.  Evening came, and businesses closed.  Maynard and Leupold stayed at a hotel in town that also housed one of the many saloons in the community.  Leupold didn’t like American beer, and he didn’t like drinking beer the way Americans so often drank it: standing up.  He decided to go on a reconnaissance to explore more of Waupaca and search for more business prospects.

Maynard stayed in the saloon to have a beer.  He hadn’t experienced German beer brewed in Germany, only the brews made by German immigrants in America.  He would drink almost any brand.  So there he stood, drinking whatever was available, bored.

Now, back then, Germans liked to sit at tables big enough to accommodate as many as twelve people where they would sit and talk and argue.  It was said that Germans could not agree on anything, except that the American temperance movement was despicable.

My parents taught me that temperance denotes exercising self-control for the purpose of being moderate.  It means not being given to emotional extremes, and it means not being subject to gross ethical, moral lapses.  A temperate person restrains evil impulses.  A temperate person is even-minded and well-disciplined.  My parents taught me that temperance is a fruit of the Holy Spirit living within, and thus a spiritual person exhibits both strength and grace.

However, the temperance movement gave the word a connotation of abstinence.  Instead of meaning, “Exercise moderation,” it meant, “Don’t do it at all.”  Never ever to take another swallow of beer was a precept too hard for Germans, even many of the most religious, to swallow.

Germans were considered to be most intemperate when it came to the consumption of alcohol.  Making matters worse, they — both men and women — drank much of their alcohol on Sundays.  True: it was a German tradition for families to gather on the Christian day of rest.  On Sunday mornings, they gathered with other German families in church.  On Sunday afternoons, they gathered with other German families in such places as Turner Halls to visit, listen to music, and drink.

Maynard stood there in that Waupaca saloon, with his drink, without his family, on a Tuesday evening in June of 1878.

He saw a table with a number of men seated, drinking and engaged in a social activity.  He walked over.  If he couldn’t join them, perhaps he could just be near enough to watch and listen.

They played poker, a card game of American origin.  Maynard, though German, was also of American origin, having been born in Milwaukee.  As a child, he had many German friends.  As a young man, he had come to make many American friends.  It was, in part, part of doing business.  A few of these friends had taught him the game.

Maynard stood near the table, watching the men play several hands.  Eventually, one of the men asked, “You want to play, stranger?”

Maynard said, “Sure.”

“There’s room. Grab that chair over there.”

Maynard took a seat, and he played for an hour or so.  The men chatted.  They asked Maynard the usual questions: “What’s your name?  Where’re you from?  What d’ya do?”  Maynard answered.  Each of the others provided similar information.  One was a lawyer.  Two were merchants.  One was a land surveyor.  And one was a land speculator.

They played for coins.  That is, they played for coins that, back then, ranged in value from copper through silver to gold.  At first, they played mainly for pennies, nickels, and dimes.  As alcohol consumption waxed and as sense waned, the cents on the table turned to dollars.  And more dollars.

Maynard played well enough to keep in the game, despite having started with little.  Though they prospered, neither he nor his father had yet become prosperous.  But the game, it had so much potential.  These men all seemed to have money, and plenty of it — enough to keep playing hand after hand, win or lose.  If a person could play well enough, he could win far more than a week’s pay, maybe more than a month’s pay, perhaps even several months’ pay, once the contributions of all players were added together.

And then the cards came.  That hand.  That last hand held in both hands that Maynard struggled to keep from trembling with excitement.

Cards went to others that must have excited them, as well.  Table stakes shot up.  No one folded.  Men started betting more than they had in their pockets in the way of cash.  Rings and watches and fobs went onto the table.  The five men could refer to money they had in safes or in the local bank.  They could refer to valuables known to one another stored at home or in offices and shops.  They could write IOUs on slips of paper.

Maynard had nothing other than what had been in his pockets.  But he had the hand!

Leupold walked into the saloon.  Within seconds, he saw his son seated at the table with the five other men.  He walked over.  He looked.  He said, straining to control his voice, “Maynard!”

Maynard turned to look at his father.  “Hello! You’re just in time.”

Leupold leaned toward his son. “Maynard.  What are you doing?”  He spoke softly and in German.

“I am going to win this money,” he answered in German.  “That is, I will win if you will give me more to wager.”

“Gambling, Maynard.  It is not good business.  And these are Yankees.”

Germans used the word to identify and describe certain Americans.  More precisely, the word refers to people who live in or who have had homes in New England: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.  Germans used the word for American émigrés from anywhere back East, and that meant the part of the United States east of the Appalachian Mountains and north of the Potomac River.  Many such people had moved and were moving to Wisconsin to establish new homes and enterprises.

That term enterprise particularly applied to Yankees.  Germans saw many of them as people wanting too much to get rich too quickly. They saw too many of them as impious villains, thieves, and scoundrels.  Of those who professed piety, Germans saw too many of them as frauds and hypocrites.

Yankees saw Germans as being stubborn and stuck-up: arrogant to the point of being imperious.

Germans saw themselves as being steady, meticulous, prudent, and hard-working.  Over time, they persuaded many Americans to believe the same.

Leupold saw that poker game, not as steady work, but as a get-rich-quick scheme.  It was not meticulous work, it was haphazard.  It was not prudent work, it was reckless.  It wasn’t work at all, it was gambling.

Then he saw Maynard’s cards.  Maynard explained, softly and in German, their significance.  Next, in English, he said, “Father, give me your ring, please.”

Leupold looked at his son.  He looked at all the men and at the cards they kept face down on the table.  He looked back at his son.  “Are you sure?” he asked in German.

“Most confident,” came the German answer.

Leupold removed the ring and handed it to his son.  Maynard held it for the others to see.

“What’s that?” the surveyor asked.

“Alexandrite,” Maynard said.


“Alexandrite,” repeated one of the merchants, who worked as a jeweler.  “It’s a gem that comes from Russia.”

“I’ve read about those, I think,” said the lawyer.

The jeweler said, “If that’s what he says it is, it’s worth a lot.”  He held his hand out.

Maynard gave it to him for inspection.

The man studied it carefully.  It put it to his mug of beer and used it to put a tiny scratch in the glass.  He got up from his seat and went to the door of the saloon.  Leupold, of course, followed him.  They went outside into what was left of the summer day where the man held the ring up toward the sky.  Then he removed a small packet of paper from a pocket and held the ring next to it to compare the gem’s color against a white background.  He looked at Leupold.  He returned to the table inside the saloon.

“It sure seems real,” he announced.  He looked at Leupold.  “It sure seems strange, though, for a common salesman to have such a ring as this.  How’d you get it?”

“My mother got it as a young woman from a French officer during the Napoleonic Wars.  He had stolen it in Moscow.  A spoil of war.  That was in 1812.  The French army was in retreat from their disastrous campaign in Russia.  The officer had been wounded during the retreat, was sick, cold, and even malnourished.  There were so many casualties, the French army couldn’t take care of them all.  Somehow, the officer made contact with my mother, and she tried caring for him as best she could.  He died.  Dying, he gave her the ring.  Later, she gave it to me.”

“What’s it worth,” the surveyor asked.

“I don’t know,” the jeweler said.  “We’d have to take it all the way to New York City or Boston to have it assessed properly.”

“Really?” the other merchant said.

The lawyer nodded.  “I wouldn’t be surprised.  I doubt that any jeweler in Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, or Buffalo has seen anything like it.  Maybe Montreal; maybe somebody there would know what to make of it.”

“What do you think?” the speculator asked the jeweler.

“Hundreds.  Thousands of dollars.  Assuming it’s authentic, of course.”

“It is,” Leupold said.

“Then it’s worth more than I have.  An alexandrite that size is worth more than everything I’ve got in my shop.  Nobody around here can afford to even dream about a ring like that.  Most people around here can barely buy gold wedding rings.  Otherwise, it’s a little silver, a little copper, a little bronze, a little brass, some pewter.  Wealthier people buy silver tableware and gold jewelry.  But gem stones?  Mostly garnets and amethysts.”

“And you’re willing to bet that ring?” the speculator asked Maynard.

“What do you have to put up against it?” Maynard asked.

“Nothing,” said the jeweler.  “Not if it means my entire business. I fold.”

“Fold,” said the other merchant.

“Fold,” said the lawyer.

“I’ll see your bet,” said the speculator.

“What have you got to bet?” Maynard asked.

“How about three sections of land outside town?  Nearly two thousand acres.”


“Not that good.  It hasn’t been cleared yet.  But there’s timber.  Lots of timber.  And there’s a lumbering boom on, as you know.”

“Two thousand acres,” Maynard said.

“Not quite,” said the surveyor.  “Three sections.  Eighty acres shy of two thousand.”

“And you’ve seen it?  You’ve been out there?” Maynard asked the surveyor.

“Oh, yes.  I’ve been through there.  It’s timber all right.”

Maynard hesitated.  He had the ring right there on the table.  That land, though, lay elsewhere.  And there were many Yankees who would cheat a “Dutchman” and anyone else fool enough out of land or money or both.

The men at the table were really into the game, however.  They wanted to see the outcome.  And that speculator wanted the ring.  “I’m not afraid to go to New York or Boston with that thing.  Say, I’ll go to London to get my money out of it.  I wouldn’t mind traveling like a gentleman for a while.”

The lawyer said to the speculator, “This young man is from out of town.  He doesn’t know what’s here.  So, why don’t you write down your offer, to include the exact location?  Frank here will add to the description what’s necessary so that anyone in town will know what we all mean, to include the judge.  Right, Frank?”

Frank the surveyor nodded.  “Sure.”

“The other three men here will sign as witnesses.”  The lawyer looked at Maynard.  “And I’ll see to it that you get the land, all right.  All legal and proper.”  He reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard looked at it.  He handed it to his father.

“Ah.  I saw this name on a window here in town,” Leupold said.  “When I was on my walk.”

The jeweler handed the speculator some paper.  The speculator made some notes, then passed the paper to the lawyer.  He looked at it, then handed it to the surveyor.  He looked at it, made a few more notes, then signed it.  He handed it to the jeweler, who read it, signed it, and handed it to the other merchant.  He read it, signed it, and handed it to Maynard.

Maynard read it.  He gave it to his father to read.

“In the Fatherland, this is an estate only those of the so-called nobility would have,” Leupold told his son, again in German.  “A baron at the least.”  He handed the paper back.

Maynard put it on the table underneath the ring.  He looked at the speculator.

The other men smiled and rubbed their hands in anticipation.  “Let’s see those cards now,” said the lawyer.

The speculator laid out one by one an ace, a two, a three, a four, and a five.  All spades.

The surveyor whistled.

Maynard laid out a seven, an eight, a nine, a ten, and a jack.  All hearts.

“I don’t believe it,” the surveyor said.

The speculator leaned back in his chair, put his hands to his face, took them away, and stared at the ceiling.

“Congratulations there, stranger,” the lawyer said.  “Now, I’ll be pleased to earn a little of my money back if you’ll come by my office tomorrow so we can draw up some real papers.”

“And I’ll be glad to earn some money back by surveying your new property,” said the surveyor.

Maynard took the ring and returned it to his father.

The other merchant said to Leupold, “You might come by my hardware store tomorrow, sir.  I could earn a little money back, and you can buy a gun to protect that ring of yours.”

Leupold’s eyebrows went up.

Maynard returned the rings and watches and fobs that were on the table.  He also gave back the IOU slips.  The paper from the speculator and all the cash, Maynard put into his pockets.


woodcraft 7


20 10 2014

Long hosts of sunlight, and the bright wind blows
A tourney-trumpet on the listed hill;
Past is the splendour of the royal rose
And duchess daffodil.

Crowned queen of beauty, in the garden’s space,
Strong daughter of a bitter race and bold,
A ragged beggar with a lovely face,
Reigns the sad marigold.

And I have sought June’s butterfly for days,
To find it like a coreopsis bloom
Amber and seal, rain-murdered ‘neath the blaze
Of this sunflower’s plume.

Here drones the bee; and there sky-daring wings
Voyage blue gulfs of heaven; the last song
The red-bird flings me as adieu, still rings
Upon yon pear-tree’s prong.

No angry sunset brims with rubier red
The bowl of heaven than the days, indeed,
Pour in each blossom of this salvia-bed,
Where each leaf seems to bleed.

And where the wood-gnats dance, like some slight mist,
Above the efforts of the weedy stream,
The girl, October, tired of the tryst,
Dreams a diviner dream.

One foot just dipping the caressing wave,
One knee at languid angle; locks that drown
Hands nut-stained; hazel-eyed, she lies, and grave,
Watching the leaves drift down.

Madison Julius Cawein

willow creek 2

D. Raymond-Wryhte

High Carnival

19 10 2014

The forest holds high carnival today,
And every hillside glows with gold and fire;
Ivy and sumac dress in colors gay,
And oak and maple mask in bright attire.

The hoarded wealth of sober autumn days
In lavish mood for motley garb is spent,
And nature for the while at folly plays,
Knowing the morrow brings a snowy Lent.

Ellis Parker Butler

tree's eye view

Woodcraft 21: A Tree Limb

17 10 2014

Restless even in sleep, I woke early the next morning.  I could tell by the window light that the sun had not yet risen.  I got out of bed and looked out the window to see the morning star yet shining brightly within the rose and indigo of the awakening day.

I dressed and walked out of the bedroom.  Grandfather was up and in the bathroom.  Grandmother was up and in the kitchen.  That was their practice: like my mother’s parents, they went to bed with the chickens and got up with the chickens, even though my father’s parents didn’t have any.   No rooster crowed outdoors, but many songbirds sang loudly.

I walked through the kitchen, heading for the back door.  “My, my, Kurt. You’re up and around early.”

“Good morning, Grandmother. I couldn’t sleep anymore, so I thought I may as well get going.”

“And where are you going?”

“Out back.”

I stepped into the yard, anxious to have a look at the purple ash tree.  Hoping for a miracle, I also sought an answer to my prayers.

I had both heard and read the story of Aaron’s rod.  At some point during the forty years the Hebrew nation spent in the desert, a group representing a large faction of the people protested the authority of Moses and Aaron.  Evidently, this group of 250 leading citizens, as led by three others — Korah, Dathan, and Abiram — accused Moses and Aaron of being dictators, tyrants, despots.  They wanted more say and better representation, to include officiating in the religious rituals, and so they threatened rebellion.

The thing of it was, the Lord is the One in charge, and He doesn’t take kindly to rebels.  He is the King, and He had appointed Moses to be prime minister and Aaron to be archbishop.  So to speak.  In other words, Moses was the leader, and Aaron was the high priest.  An entire constitution of ethical, civil, and religious procedure was being written, which we now call the Mosaic Law.  And that was the way it was to be.  An earthquake came to bury Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.  Fire came to consume the other 250 leaders of the opposition.

And the Lord told Moses, “I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel.”  He told Moses to collect twelve rods from the Hebrew nation, one from each of the elected leaders of the twelve tribes.  The rods were to have the names of each leader inscribed.  He told Moses to place all twelve rods, along with Aaron’s, in the Tabernacle overnight.

By the next morning, as it is written, “Behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.  And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel, and they looked and took every man his rod.  And the Lord said unto Moses, ‘Bring Aaron’s rod again before the testimony to be kept for a token against the rebels, and thou shalt quite take away their murmurings from Me, that they die not’.”

I hoped to see that Grandfather’s tree had also gone from death to life overnight.  I looked, just as the rays of the sun shot from the northeast to shine the tree.  Nothing.  It stood completely wilted.  Dead leaves fell in the breeze to the ground.

I was crestfallen.

Grandfather came out of the house.  He swung on his crutches to the place I stood.  “What’s the matter, Konrad?”

“I prayed for your tree,” I said.  “I was hoping for an answer this morning.”

“Ah.  And do you have an answer?”

I merely pointed at the tree.

Grandfather nodded.  “So I see.”

“I’m sorry, Grandfather.”

We stood together in silence for a time.

Then Grandfather said, “Well.  It’s soon time for breakfast.  Come inside, Konrad.”

“I’m not hungry.”


I shook my head.

“Come with me, then.”

I followed him into the garage.  He went to the work bench, selected a pruning saw, and handed it to me.  “Go and cut the tree down.”


“You heard me, my grandson.  Go and cut the tree down.  Cut it as low to the ground as you can.  Then cut off all the branches above the first fork in the trunk.  That’s above the first fork, not below.”  He handed me a pair of pruning shears.  “Then cut the branches into small pieces and put the slash into the garbage cans near the alley.  Bring the trunk of the tree to me.”

I held both tools, but I stood still and stared at Grandfather.

“Go ahead, Konrad,” he ordered.  “Get to work.”

I went back to the tree, and he went back into the house.

I was waiting for him, sitting in my chair on the patio, when he came out the back door after breakfast.  I stood as he approached.  The trunk of the ash tree leaned against his chair.  Taking it, I held it out to him with both hands.

Grandfather looked at me.  I know he could tell that my eyes had been crying, that he could see the tear stains on my cheeks.  He took the wood and said, “Thank you, Konrad.”  Then he looked at the ash from one end to the other; he hefted it in his hand.  He nodded.  “Have you worked up an appetite for breakfast?” he asked.

“No, sir.”

“I understand.  Well, then.  Go inside and clean up.  Then speak with your grandmother.  Tell her I require a lunch prepared and packed for us.”



“We’re all going on a picnic today?”

“Not all.  You and I.  You and I are going out today.”


“Later.  I’ll tell you later.  Go and help your grandmother make the lunch for us.”

He placed one of his crutches on his patio chair.  With the other crutch and carrying the ash, he hobbled into the garage.

I went into the house.

Grandmother didn’t ask many questions about why Grandfather and I needed a lunch to go.  Perhaps she had long since learned not to ask too many questions of her husband.  I believe, however, that she was pleased we were going to do something.  Something, anything, was good.  She wanted August to liven up, to live life again.

Joanna had gone out to see what Grandfather was doing.  She came in and passed through the kitchen without saying anything.  In a minute, she passed back through carrying a paper grocery bag that seemed to have stuff in it.

“What have you got, Joanna?” Grandmother asked.

“It’s a secret.”

“A secret?”

Joanna went out the door without saying anything else.  We watched her go into the garage.

Mother came into the kitchen.  She had been cleaning the bathroom after everyone’s morning use.

“Something’s going on,” Grandmother said.


“We don’t know yet.”

Joanna stepped out of the garage, closing the door behind her.  She came into the house.  “Grandfather says you are to move our car out of the driveway,” she told Mother.

“What?” Grandmother asked.

“Grandfather says…”

“I know, Joanna.  I heard you.  But why?  What is your grandfather up to?”

“It’s a secret.”  Joanna looked at Mother.

She shrugged and said, “Okay.  I’ll move the car.”

That took only a matter of minutes.  Mother again came to the kitchen and took a stand at the door to the dining room.  Grandmother stood near the sink.  I sat at the table with the lunch near at hand.  Joanna was at the door to the utility room as if she were standing guard, keeping us from going out the back door of the house.  We stared at her.  She just shrugged her shoulders.

Eventually, we heard the rumble of an engine.  It wasn’t the one in Mother’s Chevrolet; she hadn’t left it running on the street.  It came from the garage, and then from outside the garage.  Next we heard the sound of a horn: two honks.

Joanna spun around and ran out the back door.  The rest of us followed.

Outside, we saw Grandfather standing next to his Studebaker pickup truck, it’s engine idling, the door to the driver’s side open.  “Konrad, where’s our lunch?”

I ran into the house, grabbed it, and ran back out.

“Whatever is going on here?” Grandmother demanded.

“Konrad and I are going for a walk, woman.  That’s all.”

“A what?”

“A walk.  You know.  Something I’ve done all my life?”

“A walk.”

“Yes.  Like this.”  Grandfather starting doing just that.  He pulled a staff from the bed of the truck and held it in his left hand.  At the top, there was a crook.  He hooked his thumb over it and held the staff in a firm grip.  He then walked toward us, doing so on a peg somehow attached to his left leg.  He limped, of course, but he walked over to me, took the lunch into his right hand, turned, walked back to the truck, and put the lunch inside the cab.

Joanna clapped.

Grandfather held his right hand out toward me.  “Come along, Konrad.  Get into the truck.”

“But August…” Grandmother began.

Grandfather waved, giving her that pooh-pooh signal.

I walked over, looking at him, and then at his staff.

He held it out so I could have a better look.  “What do you think?”  He held out his left leg and gave his new peg a rap with his new walking stick.

“That’s the ash?”

“It is the ash. I cut the trunk into two pieces. The upper portion I made into this cane.  The lower portion I fashioned into a different kind of tree limb.”

“What do you think?” I asked.  “Father says that artificial limbs are to be made of willow.”

“Your father isn’t here.  And this is what you gave me.  This is better.”

I nodded.

“You made that out of that beat-up ash tree?” Grandmother asked.

“And out of some straps and padding and the rubber off a big plunger.”  That must have been the stuff Joanna carried to the garage, Grandfather having collected it earlier. None of it was visible. Grandfather had everything except the wood inside the left leg of his pants, the cuff folded up and tied with a string at the top of the peg.  “Konrad helped.  He did a lot of the preliminary work.”

I shook my head.

Grandfather put a hand to my shoulder.  “Konrad, allow me to paraphrase something said by Henry David Thoreau.  To see a tree reappear like this, instead of going to the fire or some equally coarse use, is some compensation for having cut it down.  Don’t you agree?”

I didn’t answer.  I didn’t know how to answer.

“I’ll show you.  Get into the truck.”

“Where are you two going?” Grandmother demanded.

“Out.  Back to our forest. Konrad hasn’t yet experienced a virgin stand of trees.”

You’re driving?” Grandmother asked.

“Of course I am.”

“With that peg leg?”

“Why not?”

Mother offered, “August, let’s all go in my Impala.  There’s room in the car, and there’s room in the day.  We can all have an outing, and I’ll drive.”

“Yeah!” Joanna yelled.  “I want to go, too!”

“Granddaughter,” Grandfather said, “I took you rowing on the Fox River and into Lake Winnebago the other day.  Remember?  Now it is time for me to do something with your brother, just the two of us.  You can come along another time.  Soon.”

Joanna nodded.

Grandfather added, “Go into the house and open the refrigerator.  Inside, you’ll find a brown paper bag containing one of your grandmother’s quart-size canning jars.  Bring it to me.”

Joanna ran off.

“At least take the Lark,” Grandmother said.  “It has the automatic transmission.”

“We’ll take the truck,” Grandfather insisted.  “It’ll do better on the forest trails.”

“But your leg…”

“You’ve been wanting me to do something like this for weeks.”

“Your blood sugar…”

“I’ll manage,” Grandfather insisted. “I can do this.”

Joanna brought the bag with the jar in it.  “What’s in it?” she asked.

“Shhh.  Another secret.”


woodcraft 8

Like a Palm

11 10 2014

palm sun day

“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…”  (Psalm 92:12)

Woodcraft 20: Live Wood Friday

9 10 2014

The purple ash tree looked really bad the next morning.

Grandfather had taken his seat on the patio, as usual.  I didn’t.  I stood staring at the tree from that distance for a minute or two, and then I walked over to inspect it more closely.  The color of the leaves could barely be called green.  They were horribly wilted, and I could see brown spots here and there.  The entire tree smelled dry, like the leaf litter of late October.

I walked back to Grandfather, asking, “What’s wrong with that tree?”

“It’s dying.”

I neglected to take a seat next to him.  Instead, I stood staring.  “Dying?  What?  Still not enough water?”  I thought a little.  “Do you have a hose and a sprinkler?  Maybe I should hook that all up and really give it a shower.”

“A shower from a sprinkler won’t do it any good. A shower of rain won’t do it any good.”



“Why not?”

Grandfather said simply, “You’ve killed the tree, my grandson.”

I stood still, petrified.  I looked at him, at his face, at his eyes.  I looked at the tree.  Then I looked back at him.  All I could say was, “What do you mean?”

“The work you performed on the tree.  You cut away all the vascular tissue.  You girdled the trunk from bottom to top. The roots can no longer send water and minerals up to the leaves. The leaves can no longer send sugar and starch down to the roots.”

I shook my head, not in disagreement, but in disbelief.  I didn’t understand.  There was a lot of tree left standing there.  I asked again, “What do you mean?”

“Konrad, trees are not pipes.  Fluid doesn’t flow up and down throughout the entire trunk.  Most of the trunk is, well, timber.  Lumber.  It’s wood.  The part that is living and critical to the tree is between the wood and the bark.”

He pointed to my chair.  “Take a seat.”

I did, though I found it hard to relax.

“You see — or you could have seen in the process of your work if you had gone slowly and carefully, and if you had one of my magnifying glasses with you — a tree trunk has layers.”

“Rings,” I said.  I had seen those often enough in my father’s shop.

“Yes, though there is more to it.  We can easily see the bark of a tree.  It comes in a variety of colors and configurations.  Bark can come in brown, orange, cinnamon, white, gray, greenish.  Bark can look smooth and it can look rough; it can look like scales, plates, strips, sheets, furrows and fissures, even warts.    There is so much variation, in fact, that we can use the bark of a tree to help identify its species.

“Bark, however, comes in layers.  The outermost layer is called the cork.  It is waterproof, and sometimes all but fireproof.  It protects the tree from the weather, from insects, from fungi, and from other damaging agents.  Beneath the cork is the cortex, and beneath that is the cork cambium.  That third layer is the place where cork cells are manufactured.

“Beneath the cork cambium is the innermost bark layer called the phloem.  This is the conduit, the pipeline that carries the sugars and starches from the leaves into the branches, trunk, and roots.

“Next is the vascular cambium.  It’s a very thin layer, only one cell in thickness, yet it is the layer responsible for most of the tree’s growth.  It manufactures phloem cells for the inner bark and xylem cells for the sapwood.

“The sapwood is the next layer in.  It’s the xylem, the conduit, the pipeline for carrying water and chemical nutrients collected by the roots from the soil up into the tree.  Scientists still don’t know how a tree is able to lift so many gallons up dozens, even hundreds of feet against the force of gravity.

“Eventually, the xylem cells become clogged with waste products.  They die by the end of summer and are contributed to the heartwood of the tree.  That’s the part we use for lumber.  While yet in the tree, these cells of cellulose work to support the crown of limbs, branches, twigs in the sky where the leaves can get as much sunlight as possible.

“It is these xylem cells that make the rings of a tree.  The lighter colored wood was produced in the spring of the ring’s year; the darker wood was produced during the summer.

“Finally, at the very center of the tree trunk is the pith, a narrow cylinder of cells that stores food.

“Now, Konrad.  Notice what I said.  The heartwood of a tree is dead cellulose.  It has a function, but not that of transporting food and water throughout the tree.  The living xylem and phloem do that, as perpetually manufactured by the living cambium.  Cut away those layers, and you cut the tree’s throat.  Tie a cable or a rope around the trunk of a tree and leave it there long enough, and you strangle a tree.

“Trees are tough; they’re built to live in tough conditions.  But living trees are not fence posts and telephone poles.  They can’t be whacked and chopped and beaten and mauled and stay healthy.  Trees may live indefinitely, but they can be killed.”

“But Grandfather,” I said with tears coming to my eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt your tree.  I was trying to make it better.  I wanted it to grow straight and tall.  I wanted it to be strong and look good.  I was trying to do something good for you.”

Grandfather nodded.  “I have a hard saying for you, my grandson, one that most people refuse to accept because it hits as hard as a hickory cane.”  He quoted a proverb recorded twice in the Bible, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

I felt both shock and shame, so much so that I began crying openly.

After several minutes, I said through my sobbing, “Is there nothing that can be done?”

“Are you are praying man, Konrad?” Grandfather asked.


“Speak with the Creator, then, the God of Life.  He is the One who knows the ways of all living things, how they live and how they ought to live.  He is the One who tells us how to avoid the ways of death.  He is the One who quickens, who resurrects from death to life.”

I did just that.  And not for a minute or two, either.  I spent the entire day — morning, afternoon, and evening —  in all but unceasing prayer.  I felt so badly about what had happened that I could hardly take any interest in anything else.

I struggled with what to say and how to say it.  As I had said to my grandfather, I was already one who made it a practice to pray.  We as a family prayed before meals, even in public, my father leading.  We usually had a time of family prayer immediately following breakfast.  Mother always tried to have breakfast early enough so that there would be time for all us to have a say before we commenced the day’s activities.  There were individual prayers before going to bed at night.  There were the prayers in church and the prayers in school.

Yet, in all that, I only tended to redundantly repeat myself over and over again. I prayed for my parents, for my father’s work and for his safety, for my sister, for my grandparents, for the church and for the school, for fellow classmates, for the President of the United States … the usual drill, and all in a matter of seconds.  I had not really had occasion, I had not yet felt the need or the desire really to wrestle with God, to commune and converse with God, about anything.  Not the way Moses did.  Or Joshua.  Hannah.  Samuel.  David.  Elijah.  Jeremiah.  Daniel.  Jesus Christ Himself.  Peter and John and Paul and James.  I was young, just a kid.  I lived in a stable family with devoted parents who had a decent income.  I lived in the great state of Wisconsin, the dairy state, the state with the reputation at the time for good, clean, and progressive government.  I lived in the great United States of America, the land of liberty, the land of opportunity, the land of prosperity.

Ah, but now, now there arose a passion, an intense desire to tug at God and implore Him to listen to me, to little me.  I wanted help.  I needed help.  But not just for me.  For my grandfather.  I needed help doing what I couldn’t do, what couldn’t be done.

I wanted God to listen.  In that effort, I went so far as to borrow my grandmother’s Bible: Die Bibel oder die ganze Heilige Schrift des Alten und Neuen Testaments.  Her Bible was printed in German employing a translation based on the work of Martin Luther himself.  Both my grandmother and grandfather read their Bibles in German as well as in English. They still spoke in German, though rarely in the presence of their grandchildren and only occasionally in the presence of their children.

Such discretion had been forced upon them by the American jingoism of World War 1.  That word jingo refers to patriotism taken way too far.  Not only naïve to the point of foolishness, it’s also belligerent to the point of violence.  The late 19th century and the early 20th century was a time characterized, in part, by intense nationalism, even imperialism.  That intensity exploded in World War 1.

We still have places in these Untied States called New England, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, even New Mexico.  There was a time when much of the Midwest was considered New Germany, with Milwaukee its unofficial capital.  Milwaukee was considered Der Deutsche Athen: the German Athens.  The Grunderzeit, or good times, lasted about forty years.

Then, when the United States sided with France and Great Britain and declared war on Germany and its Axis allies, the good times ended.  War was declared on Germans in America.  German farmers reluctant to endorse violence against family members and friends still in the Fatherland got their barns painted yellow.  German books were burned.  The singing of Silent Night was banned.

Names were changed.  Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.  The Deutsche Club became the Wisconsin Club.  Germania, the largest German-language publishing company in the nation and headquarters for the Germania-Herald newspaper, became Milwaukee America.

Speaking and teaching in the German language had already become illegal in schools.  The Bennett Law of the 1890s, a result of nationalistic fervor, had seen to that.  But during the First World War, it became all but illegal to speak German anywhere in public.  Even children would be thrown off buses and expelled from playgrounds if they were heard speaking German.

So, both my father’s parents — who were not married at the time — learned to keep their ethnic language to themselves.

But I heard them speak it together from time to time when they were alone and thought no one was paying any attention.  And I thought that, if it was still important enough to them to speak it and read it, it may be important to God, too.  They read their Bibles in German.  That meant that God spoke to them in German.  Maybe they prayed to God in German, as well.

I thought I should try it.  Maybe God would hear me better if I did.  I knew no German, of course.  I was still trying to learn English.  Nevertheless, I borrowed Grandmother’s Bible.  I looked up Matthew, chapter 6.  I could recognize the Gospel because the German Matthäi  is so similar to the English Matthew.  German numerals match English numerals: they are both Arabic.  I found what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer, starting in verse 9 and continuing through verse 13.  And then I prayed it as best I could.

Now, I had already been taught by my father and my mother that the prayer is not to be employed as a religious ritual, and certainly not as a magic incantation.  They taught me that the prayer is a model, a pattern.  As Jesus said, “After this manner therefore pray ye…”  Think of God as a Father and relate to Him as such.  Revere Him and all that His Name stands for.  Recognize His Kingdom and His Lordship authority.  Be obedient to His will.  Address daily needs.  Confess committed sins.  Forgive sins committed.  Be led away from temptation.  Be delivered from evil and the Evil One. And so on.

I wanted, however, to speak to my heavenly Father in German for the benefit of my earthly grandfather:

Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel, geheileget werde dein Name.  Dein Reich komme.  Dein Wille geschehe wie im Himmel, also auch auf Erden.  Unser täglich Brot gieb uns heute.  Und vergieb uns unsere Schuld, als wir vergeben unsern Schuldigern.  Und führe uns nicht in Bersuchung.  Sondern erlöse uns von dem Uebel.  Denn dein ist das Reich und die Kraft und die Herrlichkeit in Fwigkeit.  Amen.

woodcraft 7