Categories
Bring Them Up

Stupidity Down

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It is inspired both by fiction and non-fiction.


“Where am I even supposed to put this? I can’t hold onto it much longer!” Ivan turned around and said to Helen, “It’s okay. Just set it down right there and we’ll get someone else to take it the rest of the way.” Sophie yelled from across the room, “I don’t know why you all didn’t just listen to me in the first place.”

This was part of a conversation that took place between three rabbits who lived in a nearby hill with a large tree on the top. The name of their burrow was Stupidity Down.

Our story actually tracks four rabbits as they helped the burrow move to a new home. These rabbits were a good representation of their classmates, all with long ears and fluffy tails and a different perspective on how to get along. Their names were Helen, Robert, Ivan, and Sophie.

Helen was the most beautiful doe in all the colony, but she also wasn’t very bright. Sometimes the young bucks would fight for her attention, and one of them named Troy actually lost everything he was growing for her when he accidentally left the garden gate open and a horse trampled the lettuce. That is a whole other story.

Robert was the sneaky one of the bunch. He would ask the other rabbits what they liked, and then he would snatch away as much of it as he could and then act sad with his friends when they couldn’t find their favorite things. In class he would also copy others’ work and then take credit as if it were his own idea.

Ivan, as you can probably tell from his name, was a Russian rabbit. Ivan had a lot of ideas, and most of them weren’t actually that terrible. He was always trying to organize others to do things with him so that they could get more done more quickly, and then they would all get to have more fun. He wasn’t necessarily the smartest rabbit you’ve ever met, but all his friends knew that he cared about them.

Then there was Sophie. She never had an opinion she could keep behind her two front bunny teeth. Sophie’s older siblings had really multiplied, and she had so many nieces and nephews that she was better known in the colony as Aunti-Sophie. Sophie stuck her nose through the fence into everyone else’s business, and the only thing she was really good at was making more work for everyone, including herself.

The burrow had been getting cozier and cozier and some of the bunnies’ fur had been getting rubbed the wrong way. The Council had found a place for them to move but they only had a few months to do it. When the fall came it would be time for harvest and the days would get filled up with gathering food for the long winter months. So summer was it.

One evening the four rabbits met to talk about their plan. Ivan said, “What if we divide up the rooms and each of us can take responsibility for a part?”

Robert replied, “Sure! But could I borrow your iPad, Helen? I want to make a really good list and it would be easier to type it out.” (These were Gen Z rabbits, after all.)

Helen said, “That’s fine with me, but my parents only give me an hour a day for screen time, so I’ll have to ask, then you can use it.”

Helen got permission and handed her iPad to Robert. All four of them put their heads down and started to work on which items needed to be moved. But Robert only appeared to be working. He used Helen’s screen time to play games.

Sophie kept asking Ivan a lot of questions. “How do you decide what to bring and what to leave behind? Am I going to have to carry all of this? Why don’t we just hire moving rabbits?” No matter how Ivan answered, Sophie just argued. “Try to identify the things that you know you’ll need or that you know you really like.” But Sophie said, “If I knew that already why would I be asking you? Which, now that I think about, why am I asking you?” It turns out that there are such things as “Sophie questions,” and all the talking kept all of them from getting very much done.

Later that week it was finally moving day. Ivan had collected all their lists and, after completing Helen’s for her and fixing Sophie’s, he color coded the rooms and the boxes each rabbit was responsible for. He had also hopped through all the tunnels to find the shortest path for each of the others to follow. He clapped his paws and said, “This is going to be a great day! Just follow the signs I put up for you.”

Helen kept having a hard time. She could only carry boxes that were very light, and even then, you could tell where she’d been because of the trail of things that had fallen out. Sophie kept telling Helen what to do. “You’re doing it wrong. Put your paws underneath the edge like this.” Helen tried to think of something to say back to Sophie but just collapsed into a a sad little puddle of hare.

The only thing Sophie herself was better at than Helen was complaining. For all the instructions she gave to the other rabbits, Sophie dropped a box that broke a few bottles of her own perfume. She also put more than a few boxes in the wrong rooms, and complained later that she couldn’t find what she was looking for.

While Sophie was criticizing Helen and Ivan was trying to help, Robert was helping himself by taking things he liked from others’ rooms. He’d grab little toys, or snacks and sweets he saw, and take them to a little hole he’d made in the bank of a nearby stream.

None of the other rabbits saw him. He avoided getting run over by cars as he went back and forth across a small street, but he didn’t avoid being seen by a local farmer. The farmer laid out a trail of baby carrots and caught Robert in a net and locked him in a hutch. Be sure your sneak will find you out.

Ivan wondered where Robert had gone, but he was worn out and glad that the burrow got moved; after a good night of sleep he was ready for more work. Sophie sat alone, but she blamed it on everyone else.

You may not be a rabbit, but you do have a summer, and it will be more blessed and more of a blessing if you learn from what happened in Stupidity Down.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Summer Break for Seeds

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. Good stories are supposed to stand on their own, but it might be helpful to read this 2021 Summer Challenge from Mrs. Bowers first.


The seeds walked out of the co-op after their last day of class. It had been a good school year, unprecedented even. But as good as school can be, the arrival of summer break, even for seeds, is always worth celebrating.

Oakly, Elmer, Bruce, Lerry, Tom, Iris, Rosie, Lily, Heather, and Willow were standing around in the parking lot after the barbecue and got to talking about a comment that their teacher had made in their final Almanac Class. He said that whoever wanted to have a fruitful summer should try to get buried as soon as possible.

Mr. Croft had said it matter of factly, like it was obvious, like it was what they were made to do. It’s not that they hadn’t ever heard a message like this before, but for whatever reason, hearing it this time caused more curiosity, and concern.

Most of the friends weren’t interested in getting so down to earth, nor did they believe that they were being told the truth. Milling around on the surface is way less scary than the dark and soggy soil. School was the time for work and summer was the season for play.

Oakly was the only seed with the faith to see that being buried might produce better things. So while everyone else made plans to binge on sun-fun, he committed to some things he didn’t really want to do.

Oakly woke up a little early every morning and did some seed yoga. You may be wondering what “seed yoga” is, and I understand. Probably the most frequent and foundational movement for seeds is called the downward-facing-dolphin. Like a dolphin flaps her flippers to push water backward, a seed must learn to angle his nose down and push the dirt upward.

After seed yoga he did cardio workouts on a furrowing machine. Some seeds grow just fine scattered in no particular pattern, others do better entrenched together. The furrowing machine let seeds get stronger at getting their groove on.

Oakly also picked up some extra chores at a neighbor’s field. His first project was to push the pebbles from the main part of the field to the perimeter. It was hard work, because rocks are hard, and because some of the rocks were larger than him and all of them were heavier. When he was done clearing a section of all the small stones he could find, he would practice digging hole-slots. Some seeds just aren’t strong enough to drill down into the dirt on their own, so other seeds can scoop out a little cozy niche where weaker seeds can jump in and get their start.

All these workouts and work still didn’t take up all his time so he thought he’d try his hand at growing some fruit. He had heard about a mysterious fruit called a seedless watermelon. As you might imagine, this was a difficult challenge because it still takes a seed to grow a seedless watermelon, but you have to know somebody. Oakly didn’t, he was just a little seed himself.

Maybe the most surprising choice Oakly made was checking out a few books at the local Farmer’s Library. The first books that Oakly chose were not the kind he would usually read. One of the books was about GTP, Getting Things Planted. Another book was about how to find the right field, and had an appendix on whether more sunlight or more shade would give certain seeds a better ROB, Return on Burial.

Then he found some really novel tales. He initially thought that a book called The Lord of the Rings would be about tree-rings, and was a little disappointed until he met Treebeard and the Ents whom Oakly realized were the real heroes of the battle. And he found all sorts of stories about Dryads, stories as old as the Odyssey, as new as Percy Jackson, and cried little seed-tears when he read about what Tirian and Jewel found happening to these living trees in The Last Battle.

In a far corner of the library he found a book about a holiday entirely devoted to tree drip. Not drip like tree sap, but drip like tree swag. And also, the holiday isn’t really about trees, but it includes trees, and how every December pines get decorated with bling, wrapped with necklaces of lights and garland.

Most interesting to Oakly was an ancient book that included a large family tree. He learned that distant cousins many generations ago had provided wood for a family for a boat that spared them and animals of all kinds during a great flood. He read about other relatives who were chosen by the wisest of Eastern kings to become beams and planks in a great temple. And then he came to the chapter where his great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather once became a crossbar that held the Master Gardener for a few hours one Friday.

This Master Gardener was also the Maker of seeds, and had once predicted not that He would climb a tree He had created, but that He would bear it and then be born by it. What was fascinating to Oakly is that this Gardener likened His work to that of a seed. He became like a seed, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

He said this would be His glory, and that just as a seed which is buried brings forth much fruit, so would His death bring much life.

Most seeds want to bear fruit but they don’t want to be buried first. Even for seeds, it takes a kind of faith to see what happens. But the first seed under the ground doesn’t get bloody, he gets blessing.

On a hot June afternoon, years and years later, some human students were eating their hot dogs sitting under Oakly’s branches, enjoying his shade, giving thanks for how Oakly spent himself many summers ago.

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Road Called Aestas

I read the following story for our school’s end of year assembly. It would probably be helpful to read The U.H.’s Hot Tips for Completely Wasting Your Summer first, and it may also be helpful for me to say that what stuck out to me from the U.H.’s article were things such as bed, T.V., and being lazy. : )


There is a road that is only visible for about three months of the year, or twelve weeks if you count more precisely like a pregnant woman. The road is free to all, but not all find it. If they do find it, though, they can see things that other roads don’t pass. Pages could be filled with stories told on this road. Many who have made this journey have been inspired to make things, whether helpful things or beautiful things, and sometimes both. Others have found sweet fruits to carry and taste and share. It is the road called Aestas. As I said, not many find it, and those who do find the entrance, are often blocked by the three-headed dog who guards the gate named Dweebus. 

Dweebus as drawn by Bonnie Bour

You perhaps have heard of Dweebus’ cousin, Cerberus. Cerberus is nicknamed “the hound of Hades,” the three-headed dog who prevents the dead from leaving hell. A man named Dante once toured hell and wrote about seeing Cerberus in the Third Circle watching over the gluttons. Well, Dweebus never could get into eating mud, and he actually didn’t do that well in the heat. He applied instead for a position to guard some thinker’s stone, but he lost that job to a second-cousin named Fluffy, which isn’t really much of a threatening name, but Fluffy got the job anyway. So Dweebus eventually took the position at the Aestus Via. Besides, it gave him nine months a year to chase his tail. 

What many people don’t know is that three-headed dogs have three heads for a reason. Have you ever wondered why people say, “Three heads are better than one”? Well, three-headers can be better at being scary, of course. But each head has its own personality, and often each personality has its own name. The more mellow of these creatures talk among themselves, and talking heads are better at making the days go by faster. 

Dweebus, as I said, was much less mean than other tri-headers in his family, but he still had ways to keep people from entering the Aestas. In fact, each of his three heads had their own tricks for messing with would-be travelers. His names were, I’m told, Ted, Stevie, and Maizie. 

Ted was the head on the right side (looking out from his eyes), and Ted was especially effective during the morning hours. He could almost lay his head flat on the right shoulder, making himself appear to be quite cute, cuddly even. Through his somnolent skills unsuspecting travelers would be covered with a blanket of drowsyness, until they just wanted to lay down. Once they were sufficiently snoozy, he would swing his head as if on a hinge and bite the now torpid traveler. It is never good to get on the wrong side of Ted.

Stevie was the head on the left side (the right side if you were looking at him, but directions get tricky without illustrations). Stevie was a master of evenings and on into the night. There were times when both Ted and Maizie watched Stevie work his spell during the day, but Stevie especially loved when the sun went down. He himself could channel a variety of bemusing and befogging techniques, from the comedic to the dramatic. At times his antics were even cartoonish, while at other times he could talk your head off. When a traveler came to the Aestas gate when Stevie was on, Stevie would hardly take a break. He earned the nickname among his friends as the Drooler of Distraction. Too much time with Stevie and most travelers forgot they even wanted to go anywhere. 

The third head’s name was Mazie. If you were thinking that Mazie sounds like a girl’s name, you’re right. If now you are thinking that I’ve been referring to Dweebus as “him,” you are also correct. But that means you haven’t met very many three-headed dogs in your life; they are weird animals, and now you’ll be less surprised if you do ever meet one. 

As I was saying, the third head was Mazie and she was in the middle between Ted and Stevie. Only on occasions were Ted and Stevie tempted to snap at each other. But Maizie always reminded them about how much they had in common, and mostly what they had in common was her

Ted had his dazing ways, but he worked to please Maizie. It was the same with Stevie’s powers. Though the three of them agreed to go by the collective name Dweebus, everyone knew that the whole attitude of this three-headed being centered on being Maizie. 

She could convince any would be traveler to turn around from the glories of the Aestus and make it seem like it was their own idea. Maizie was a master at argument, wiser than seven sensible men (or one man with seven heads, though I’m not sure any of those exist). I heard that one time her conversation spun a man around so much that he threw up, and then she convinced the poor man to lie down in his own vomit, which is usually something only dogs do. No matter what interests travelers had, or things they wanted to do, after talking with her for a while, everyone just wanted to be Maizie. 

But there is a legend of a lad, I don’t know if he was six or sixteen or somewhere in between, it doesn’t actually matter, who soundly defeated every trick Dweebus tried. His name was Zeke. Zeke didn’t dare do it all on his own. He knew that the three-headed monster had ruined many who sought the glories of the Aestas, so he did the most unimaginable thing in the history of stories: he asked his parents for help. 

It turns out, both his mom and his dad had made it past Dweebus, and had done so many times. In the process of getting tips and tools from his parents, they also encouraged him to seek the counsel of his teachers, and many of them also knew about confronting the dogheads and getting down the road. 

To get past Ted, Zeke’s mom gave him a small bell. It didn’t make a lot of noise, but it was impossible to ignore and just loud enough to interrupt Ted’s hypnotic hold. Ted became so alarmed by the bell that he lost control and Zeke was able to get out of Ted’s pull.

Zeke’s dad offered a couple old school suggestions for outwitting Stevie. One option was simply to keep moving. Stevie, who preferred to stay in one place, wouldn’t be able to keep up. Zeke could run, but Zeke asked his dad if a bike would work, and his dad said a bike was perfect for speeding around Stevie. A bike would also move a traveler down the Via Aestas to meet up with other travelers and explore more sites. If he didn’t want to use a bike, Zeke’s dad had no doubt that he could turn off Stevie’s powers with a ball. The size of the ball didn’t matter, and throwing the ball directly at Stevie was not a good move. But Stevie’s distraction abilities were dwarfed by his distractibility when others seemed to be having more fun. Zeke selected carefully and when Stevie tried to drool on him, Zeke bounced a ball in Stevie’s face and Stevie’s mesmerizing power was turned off. 

Maizie, you might suppose, would be the hardest to get by. Yet she does have a nemesis. The mere mention, let alone sight of this enemy, causes her to foam at the mouth and dart around like a three-headed dog with the center head missing. 

Though Zeke had bested Ted and Stevie, Maizie was sure that he was too immature to get by her. But Zeke pulled out of his pocket the one thing she hadn’t considered: an ant. Ants are very small, but they are quite fearsome, at least by way of analogy. Just the sight of one ant caused Maizie to enter a state of shock. Zeke scratched her behind her ears for a moment and walked through the gate into Aestas.

Down the road called Aestas are great stories to read and songs to listen to. There are lakes for swimming and splashing. There are games to play. There are projects to start, and some to finish. It is a place to find fun and fruit, but you have to get by Dweebus. All you need is just a bell, a ball, and an ant.

Categories
Bring Them Up

Unfinished Stories

Here is a story I wrote for the final assembly. It references a bunch of books our students read this year, so your appreciation may vary.


In the year of our Sayers 71, a small group of children and adults prepared to enter something they called Summer Break. To initiate this sense of freedom they performed a variety of very old rituals. They exchanged ashen colored vestments for royal colored ones, they sang and chanted verse, they ate meat grilled over fire, and many of them sought to hold back tears of exhausted gleefulness. The festivities lasted throughout the afternoon until all the students and teachers said goodbye to one another and loaded up their heavy bags one more time for home.

Only a handful of people returned over the next week to do different sorts of work. Many things were moved around, sorted, counted, and put away. Eventually even those activities came to an end, and the campus became uncommonly quiet.

But if anyone had walked through the now desolate building ten days later, and if they had ears tuned to hear, they would have heard murmurs of discontent, disappointment, and disturbance. The noises came from multiple rooms, usually smaller rooms called Closets in our world, or rooms the size of a closet. Sounds could be heard coming out of beige boxes, off of burdened shelves, and even from stacks that looked like tapered chimneys on the floor. If you had listened closely, you would have heard voices coming from books.

An ominous word had begun to spread among the characters in the books left behind: school was done for the year. Students, and therefore the Readers, were not expected back. This caused no little worry, not because the characters feared to be forgotten, but instead because they feared their stories would be unfinished.

Each assignment came directly from the Ministry of Fiction under the command of the Curriculum Controller for Division 17 in the SnoHoPaNoWe Region. These deployments were a crucial piece of the plan to equip a new army, though they called themselves Students rather than soldiers, which was part of the Ministries’ strategy of inconspicuous conquest. Each character had arrived from the Terra of Truth, the Ordnance Depot of CP, or even the Amazon Arsenal. Each had been recruited to do a specific job. But some of their jobs were only partially done.

Though in most situations it was not the fault of the character, too many of them were left only partway through the plot. The Reader had just left, left the book, and left the story hanging. If you have heard of the land of misfit toys, these were the characters of unfinished books.

A meeting was called of the Committee for the Finishing of Books for Character Squared, or “CFBC2” as the patches abbreviated. Characters were elected to represent the various grades, though not all could make the journey to the far corner of the Desk of the Unruly Headmaster. Some of the characters required extra travel time because when they asked for directions from the local gnomes, the gnomes were drunk on the joy of so much silence without so many laughing students around that good directions were hard to gather.

Presiding over the meeting was Henry York Maccabee. While not the oldest or most mature of Committee Members, it was he, as a seventh son, who was most fit for helping a school seeking to begin its seventh year. Mr. Maccabee had great personal interest in the proceedings because he himself was caught in a dark valley of the shadow of the unfinished, less than a third into the third book of his work. It was only the previous day that his father had left for Endor, his uncle had been taken captive, and his raggant locked in a closet. It was not a good time to stop reading his story. There were rumors that his book would be completed, and so his case was not quite as desperate as some others. Nevertheless his precocious cousin pestered him for a quicker resolution, and young Mr. Maccabee called the assembly to order.

The first to speak was Morris the Moose, who was very angry. Though some students at K-Level had finished the story, others had not, and so he was arguing with Cow again and hearing her complain that she was not in fact a moose even though she had four legs, a tail, and things on her head. Morris yelled above the crowd, since yelling was a thing he did, “It’s maddening to be stuck here. I’m tired of making moosetakes, and just want to see myself in the stream again. But what if the stream dries up in the summer sun before I can see my reflection?“

Representing Level Half (those under the “1/2” symbol) were Uncle Nick and Uncle Pete, along with Mr. Gump and his seven hump Wump. Granny and Grandpa Amos stayed in their walls to watch Baby Betsy, and the Red Fish and Blue Fish were trying to figure out along with One Fish and Two Fish if a Yink really does like to wink and drink ink that is pink. The Littles and the Seuss families were phonetically and poetically up in personified arms about not getting to their ends.

On behalf of TertiaQuarto, the brave squirrelmaiden Triss had traveled by herself. Though she had already tried many things, including a party with treats and costumes, she still could not get readers to send she and her friends to Riftgard to free the slaves of the ferret king, King Agarnu (who was a second cousin to Gary Gnu). Triss had not yet figured out the riddle and needed to find a good sword. “Why won’t they finish the story?” She cried. “We can defeat the Ratguards and the King if someone would just turn the pages!”

A guy named Guy spoke next. “We have traveled 451 miles, as the pages turn, to represent the High Grammerers of Eejitsland. They have been so busy that they have left a fire burning that must be put out or great libraries of the world will be destroyed.” His traveling companion, a Mr. Underhill, explained that some fires can be very beneficial, even necessary, but that humanity is doomed if they destroy the wrong items.

The next to present were those speaking on behalf of the Logicians and the Rhetoricians. More of these characters came to make a case for themselves because they knew how important their work was, and they even argued among themselves whose story was most important as they rode together on a six-story bus. One was named Pilgrim, and despite his name, he did not desire an endless journey but rather sought the end of his journey. There were two Toms, both headed south on rivers for different reasons and neither with all their plot lines tied to the shore. There was a Mr. Gatsby, who’s story was short, and meaningless, but regardless, he wanted to get to his party. There was also a Mr. Ahab and a Miss Emma, who hadn’t met each other prior to the trip but shared a fate of still not finding what they were looking for. “Perhaps that has happened to you, too,” they said.

With the cast assembled on the Headmaster’s desk Henry called for proposals on how to encourage the readers to finish more of these books. This was an urgent mission for two reasons. If the books remained unread, some characters would be in plot purgatory. Mr. Ahab would be getting more mad, but no nearer to his catch. Henry himself would never know how his family was or what witchery Nimiane would commit.

Mr. Underhill proposed the use of a very old game. He said, “My uncle had a saying. ‘I haven’t read half as many books as well as I should like; and I like less than half of the books as well as they deserve.’ In order to promote more page turning he developed a game named after himself called Bilbo. He later changed it to ‘Bingo’ because he liked the ring of it better. Let the readers cross out various symbols in rows and columns and earn prizes for completing books.”

Triss urged that a proclamation from the U.H. be sent directly to all the concerned parties over invisible wires buried under ground. Most of the characters were not familiar with such technology, but were happy to see an example program from the U.H. Pilgrim similarly advised that a sort of allegory be narrated about the dangers for all involved of not finishing stories as well as the rewards of reading to the ends.

Mr. Gatsby recommended that a spectacular car crash could take out an electrical transformer leaving entire neighborhoods without power for long stretches. Kids without access to telescreens and digital games might be desperate enough to read. A small Seuss said, “From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere. Send them to the lake, reading on the shore is great. Any sort of trip, packing a book will be hip.”

The characters were now refreshed with hope, both that their stories might be finished soon and that the stories of their readers’ lives would be back on track. As they said their farewells and headed back to their closet or cubby or classroom, they said to one another, “This may be the best summer of our Sayers yet.”

Categories
Bring Them Up

Boy, Was I Bored

I read the following short story at our school’s year-end assembly last Friday. It was inspired by three things:

  1. The start of summer break
  2. This quote from Robert Capon: “boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”
  3. My favorite book as a kid: Boy, Was I Mad

Now here’s my version.


It was late one Wednesday morning, and boy, was I bored.

Summer break had started out fun. I would sleep in, have a bowl of Captain Crunch when I finally woke up, then go with my mom on a bunch of errands that she’d been holding off doing till school was out. When I got home I’d play in the sprinkler, or shoot the basketball, ride my bike around the neighborhood, or put together some Legos.

All of that entertained me for the first two days, but then, boy, was I bored. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I decided to take off. I made myself a PB&J, grabbed a pocketful of pretzels, and walked out the front door in search of something to fix my boredom.

About a mile from home I was passing by the house of my good friend Pete. We go to school together. He was in his front yard throwing the baseball with his younger brother and asked me what I was doing. I told him: I was bored. There was nothing any good to do, nothing any good to see, so I was on the look out for something impressive, something exciting. He said he didn’t know of anything like that, but tossed me a mitt and said I could play catch with them if I wanted.

It’s sort of cool to think about how a little applied force causes a ball to fight gravity for a while. And if you flick the ball just right you can get the seams to catch the air and make the ball start out right and end up three feet to the left. Pete’s dad had recently taught him how to throw a knuckleball, and told him that “lateral deviations and the wavelengths affect the the unsteadiness of lift forces that can produce a change in lateral directions. The obtention of a large knuckle effect requires the ball to be launched in a particular range of initial velocities corresponding to the drag crisis of the ball.” [see Physics of knuckleballs] I don’t know what any of that means, but it sure is crazy to watch the ball dance and zigzag. We were having a lot of fun until my arm started to get sore, and then I remembered how bored I was, so I said goodbye.

Not too far from Pete’s they’re building a brand new five-story hotel. We’ve driven by that place a bunch of times when it was just trees and signs, but today they were leveling the dirt with some of the biggest machines I’d ever seen. I stopped and watched through the fence for a while when one of the workers came over and asked if I wanted a closer look. He opened the gate and let me in and yelled up to one of the driver’s. “Hey, give this kid a ride.” He gave me a hard hat and told me to climb up.

It was pretty great riding on that bulldozer. We were pushing tons of dirt, making high piles disappear into low spots. I could see front loaders scooping up big rocks, and a special truck was pouring concrete in the shape of a curb as it was coming out the chute. The curb started to form a driveway as it connected to the main road and it seemed like it was done in no time. I thought it would be great to make stuff like that someday, until I remembered how bored I was, and I took off.

I headed down toward the city park where I hoped something good might be happening. It was getting hot so I sat down in the shade of a big tree to cool off for a few minutes. While I was staring up at the sky, feeling down because of how bored I was, I noticed that there were a bunch of different clouds. There were some stratus clouds that seemed close to me, stretched out like a thin cotton blanket. To the east some wispy clouds even higher in the sky looked like the tail of a horse, I think they’re called cirrus clouds. To the west there was a tall, dark, and pudgy cloud made up of some fancy Latin words I’ve heard my older sister say. They looked like they might rain later. But I was bored, so I left.

When I got to the park there were a lot of kids running around. I recognized my friend Jill and said, “Hey,” as she walked by. She was headed over to the ice cream truck and asked if I wanted some too. I don’t usually like to tag along with girls, but I do like ice cream, so I said, “Sure.”

When we got to the truck the guy had about 80 different treats to choose from. It’s kind of hard to believe. Who even invented all those flavors and combinations? And who figured out how to put a freezer on wheels and keep everything so cold?

I guess I must have said my questions out loud because Jill asked some questions back. But then she answered herself. “Have you ever wondered how they get the milk ready for us to drink? My teacher told our class all about pasteurization. Since it usually takes a few days or weeks from when they milk a cow to when we drink it, they run the milk through hot pipes or between metal plates heated to more than 160 Fahrenheit for 15 seconds. It kills all the disease causing microbes without removing all the micro organisms. Isn’t it amazing that we can do that?”

I remembered hearing once about Louis Pasteur, and I’ll admit that it is actually sort of impressive to drink milk or eat cheese or ice cream from a cow on some farm in Nebraska. More than that, it’s just tasty what comes from cows. I think I’ll have a cow someday when I grow up. But then I remembered how bored I was.

I was almost out of the park when I saw my school principal walking around staring closely at the ground. He looked up and saw me and said, “Hi, Robby.” I said, “Hi.” Then he said, “How’s your summer break been so far?” And I said, “Boring.” He replied, “Well, that’s too bad,” and went back to looking at the ground.

It surprised me a little that he didn’t give me a speech about being bored, but it was even more surprising that he kept pacing and staring at the ground. So I asked, “What are you doing?” He said, “Looking for sticks.” That sounded even more boring than my day had been, but he just kept on looking. After another minute or I asked, “Why are you looking for sticks? To make a fire?” He said, “No, to make arrows. Come over and help me look.”

He told me that certain sticks can become great arrows that fly far and straight, then he showed me what to look for: not too thick or narrow, not too crooked but they don’t have to be perfect either. After we found a few more good ones we went over to a table where he had some tools. He let me borrow his knife to whittle off the bark, then he showed me a pile he had already prepared. I’ve never looked so closely at sticks before. He explained how to bundle and dry and straighten sticks, how to attach feathers to the end, and he even let me shoot at a milk jug with a bow he’d made himself. I thought, I think I’ll make my own bow and arrows when I grow up, too.

My principal said he had to go home and said goodbye. I said “Thanks” and “Bye” and started walking home. I was wondering if there were any good sticks in our yard when I walked into the house and remembered, “What am I doing? I forgot how bored I was!”

But something smelled good. It was homemade pizza night, and I could see that dinner was already on the table and the food was still steaming. My dad prayed for the meal and gave thanks for all God had given like he usually does, but I was thinking back about how many things I’d seen that day to be thankful for. While we were eating I told my dad and mom about my day and how stupid I felt for being so bored. My mom said something about how boredom keeps us from seeing beauty, and how opening our eyes just a little makes it almost impossible to be bored.

After dinner I took a hot bath then got in bed. I was really tired. It was a good day, that day when I was bored.

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Forgotten Planet

Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.


On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.

In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.

Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.

Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”

Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.

Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”

Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”

Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”

“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”

Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”

“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.

Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.

Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”

Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.

There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.

The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”

And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)

The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”

Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”

And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.

Categories
Bring Them Up

More Fruitful Than Treebeard

I gave the following address at our year-end assembly last Friday.


If you’ve read The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, you no doubt remember Treebeard. He’s a great character, helpful, slow to decide and to speak and to move, but full of conviction. He also offered tasty things to drink to guests. I’m sure his beard was quite a beauty (it was part of his name after all) and have tried to model my beard accordingly.

Treebeard lived in another world but some seeds of his kind have been brought into ours. I’ve seen some of the seeds. I’ve even seen some of the saplings, though I’ve only seen a few full-grown trees. They aren’t exactly ents, but they are descend-ents. A few of these trees live in the woods though most are city dwellers. Unlike ents, these trees put down roots to stay. They don’t have mouths but they talk. Their branches don’t move but they go all over the place.

With the right care, over time the trees grow and their branches wind through the windows and doors of whatever building they’re near. Eventually the limbs will lengthen throughout a whole house, winding through hallways and up stairs and elbowing themselves into every room. You can try to trace the tributaries back to the trunk, but you can’t really tell the twists apart, nor, strangely, do you really want to. Rather than upset the owner or cause him to think that it’s time to prune the tree, the growth of the tree makes him happy. When the boughs get bigger it doesn’t squeeze the space, it actually seems to make everything bigger. The one’s I’ve seen have been quite magical.

In the kitchen, the branches grow pomicultural pleasures. You can see reds, yellows, oranges. You can taste sweet like grapes, sour like lemons, and salty like tomatoes. The fruit can be squeezed into so many juices and baked into so many pies and sliced over so many bowls of cereal. Whether breakfast or dinner or snacks, the tree gladly shares its yield and makes the table a place of laughter and satisfaction.

In the family room, the tree blooms into many flowers with a medley of shapes, sizes, and smells. It’s an indoor garden, with scents that remind you of lavender and lilac but different. Your nose makes you think of rain on dirt, but somehow clean. It seems almost every day as if there are new subjects for entertainments, a new eyeful to see and study. Visitors and family alike enjoy the show.

In the bedrooms, the tree makes the most comfortable resting places. Sons and daughters have their own spots, soft like futons of feathers, with full-body leaf blankets that breathe for crispy-cool summer nights and warm on the wintry ones.

Of course, outside the house the tree springs to the sky; you feel like you can climb it into giant clouds. It also furnishes swank shade. The only tension under its care is in the hammock. Otherwise it’s a glass of lemonade, a novel, or a nap. The greatest parties are thrown under trees like these.

At this point I must confess that I’m so unskilled at thinking imaginatively that the story above is more of an illustration. I’m also so impatient of a fiction attempter that I feel the need to explain and encourage non-fiction style.

I have seen such trees, but we don’t call them trees. These trees are magical, though, maybe more accurately, they are supernatural. The seeds exist. Each one of you students have received this seed, but it is something inside of you that causes you to grow. You are the tree and your education as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ is the seed, the sunshine, the water. You are growing and your life branches out through all the house. As you leave these school walls for the summer, you will continue to grow and change every room you enter.

Your branches flower with Narnian colors. Your branches smell like Uncle Frank, Fat Frank the fairy, the Chestnut King, and Henry York’s baseball mitt. Your branches have walked with Pilgrim to the Celestial City and walked with Hitler into Moral Insanity. Your branches have attended to the principles of Independence and the perils of Revolution. When the breeze blows through your leaves it sounds like the song of Genesis through Joshua or man’s chief end. You’ve gotten moody about verbs and scrambled ham and eggs in Latin poetry. Your branches have sounded out phonograms, found 800 word essays on blank screens, chased levels of letters on a keyboard, read a book about How to Read a Book, and experienced a millions of dollars Music Project. These are great things that put Gatsby’s life to shame.

When you walk into the kitchen or sit down at the dinner table, you flavor family conversations. You tell stories and jokes and make observations and bring laughter all around. In the living room you play games and watch shows, but you add context that the Kratt brothers can’t. In your bedroom you go to sleep with dreams of great things. And outside you become a source of games and merrymaking. You aren’t the fussy or boring or bullying kid on your street. Others seek your driveway or front yard for protection and a party. Neighbors light up when you go out to play.

This is not a way to think about your life that is make-believe.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3, ESV)

So now is your summer break from school. But it is a season for you to continue to grow and flourish with more fruit than Treebeard.

Categories
Bring Them Up

The Door

I gave the following address at our end-of-year assembly on June 5th.


This year Mr. Sarr, Mr. Bowers, and myself (on Thursdays) read for you 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire during lunch. The Chestnut King is next and I’m sure it’s first in the queue for lunch breaks next year. N.D. Wilson’s trilogy works wonders for the imagination and I wonder if any of you have tried out the cupboards at your house to see if they lead anywhere amazing.

Henry York discovered a route to other worlds by accident. Then he learned how to go where he wanted with the help of Grandfather’s journals. If he set both compass locks in his room to the right numbers, then the back of the cupboard in Grandfather’s bedroom opened to whole chapters of stories. Badon Hill. Byzantium. FitzFaeren. Endor. Beautiful places. Bad places. Places for battle. Places of roots.

The Chronicles of Narnia tap a similar other-worldly vein. To get to Narnia at first, Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy pressed through the back of a wardrobe. They couldn’t always get it to open. Sometimes the way was blocked. But Narnia held lifetimes of stories.

Wouldn’t you like to have one of these cupboards or closets in your house? Or at least know a friend who did? What if you didn’t have to wait for plaster to fall from the wall and find it by accident? What if you could go any and every time you wanted?

I am not asking these questions to tease you. I do want work up your hopes, but not in order to crush them. I’m not trying to trick you so that I can tell you to: “Grow up. Stop day-dreaming for make-believe places. Start living in the real world.” I am asking these questions because, if you’re interested, I might be able to help.

I’ve been doing some reading and I’ve been doing some looking around. I found the door. It’s here, at the school. If you want, I’ll tell you where it is and, if you want, you can go through it and spend your entire summer break in another world. You can live like Henry York Maccabee or Penelope or Anastasia or Uncle Frank or Aunt Dotty. Do you want to know which door it is?

It’s that one. [Ed. Note: Any ol’ door will work. At this point in my address I pointed to our customary point of entrance and exit.]

“Now wait a minute,” one of you says, “I’ve gone out that door over a hundred times this last year. That door leads to a concrete sidewalk and an asphalt parking lot.” You’re right. But maybe you’re not looking at it quite right.

The reality is that the greatest adventures are not the ones you choose but the ones that God writes for you. The best stories aren’t always the ones that shock you like sticking a paperclip in an electrical socket, but they will still put a charge into you. Will you see it? That’s the question.

G. K. Chesterton helps us to tumble our mental combination locks into the right place.

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered. (All Things Considered, 41)

This springs from an essay he wrote titled, “On Running after One’s Hat.” Men think that chasing their hat in the wind is a headache, a hassle, a bother. Why? Why not see it as a delightful and fun game? Why not join the game and play? Do you suppose that once you walk out that door, something (or someone) will be a bother to you at some point this summer? If yes, then you are ready for an adventure.

In another essay (“On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family”) Chesterton observes,

A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of a novel. But if he had control over everything there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. (Heretics, 83)

The things are that out of our control make for the great stories. Gilbert argues that the most out-of-our-control elements, (so, according to him, the place where stories come alive), are found on our street, with our neighbors and with our family. Think about your family first.

When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we also step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which could do without us, into a world which we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family, we step into a fairy-tale. (82)

He also addresses why it is so much more exciting to live on our own streets then to take a trip to Timbuktu in search of adventure. Some men (and kids) want to travel, want to explore far-off places thinking that there they will find thrill and escape boredom. A boy such as that

says he is fleeing from his street because it’s dull; he is lying. He is really fleeing because it is a great deal too exciting. It is exciting because it is exacting. It is exacting because it is alive. (78)

The real adventure is living with and interacting with the ones you can’t get away from. The stuff of stories is loving your neighbor, the ones out your own front door.

We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbor. (79)

God also makes your brother. And your sister. And your mom and dad. God will appoint each of you to backseats of cars or on benches around kitchen tables with beings who will live forever. That’s wild. There is a catch, though. You only have a short time to enjoy the ride.

You will go out that door and away from school for three months. What stories will you have to tell when you return? Epic love for those who weren’t kind to you? Heroic endurance of cleaning your room until every thumb’s width is organized? Poetic joy, a Tolkien like song about your faithfulness to obey your parents?

May God protect you and bless the pages of your summer chapter, raggants included.