Through the Back Forty

The old four hundred screamed through the rain.
Throttle flat and stick to his right knee,
He held on to the wheel, white knuckled,
For the back roads sought to throw him.

The call came in by the crackling two-way,
Twenty head spooked and out in the wild.
But the crash of metal and yell of pain,
Signed off the man beyond the squelch.

A flash of light lit the puddles ahead,
He could feel the thunder in his chest,
The wagon towed, bounced erratic,
But panic in his heart muted it all.

The upper eighty was four miles out,
An eternity at the speed of nineteen fifty.
He stood on the right brake and spun the yoke,
To wrangle the red through the row of lilacs.

The wagon threw its pin and tumbled loose,
So much less to pull through the mud.
His face carved through rain and wind,
And the tire’s throw couldn’t catch him.

Almost there.
Past the pivot.
Almost there.
Past the silo.
Almost there.

The hazy, grey lit up again,
With a brilliant flash above,
He saw the toppled, mangled gate,
And the crumpled, still figure beneath.

Pulling the throttle to stand,
He swung a leg over the seat to the hitch,
Stepped off and the tractor left him,
To find it’s own place in the storm.

He threw the bent Tarter like straw,
And knelt in the muck by the man.
Hoarse, he yelled through fear, “dad?”
And braced for the world to end.

But the man’s eyes opened, squinting,
Then weakly said, “I’m ok. Get yer mom.”
And all of the cold, pelting rain,
Now stung and roared around them.

Colony of Lost Surveyors

“That’s a lot of human organs,” remarked the pirate trader surveying the rows upon rows of boxes piled up in the colony warehouse.

“Yeah,” sighed York, the middle aged medical assistant turned medical butcher, “It’s a vicious cycle, all this.”

The pirate trader lifted an eyebrow over his bionic eye. He was no stranger in the trade of slaves and valuable bits of them, “Cycle? What do ye mean?”

“Well, you see all this product, as you know, is worth a fortune,” York gestured to the contents of the warehouse.

“Aye,” agreed the pirate.

“Thing with a fortune is, people of ill intentions often try to steal it. So, we had to put in a state of the art turret system.” York pointed at the dozens of red robotic eyes staring at them over their attached gun barrels.

The pirate trader had noticed them on his way in and knew he should be on his best behavior.

York continued dispassionately, “The bodies of raiders were piling up and it seemed such a waste to bury fresh organs. We sell the body parts which increases our wealth, which in turn brings more bandits. A cycle.”

“If ye have so much trouble with bandits, why don’t ya take yer money and go to one of them fancy glitter worlds?” the pirate trader was intrigued.

“We would, but we spend most of our money on turret upgrades and repairs. Also, there’s the problem of the pigs.”

“The what now?”

“The pigs,” York put up his hand to placate more questions, “The volume of organs coming through here was overwhelming our residents. So, some enterprising people started training the pigs to haul and sort the organs. Turns out pigs are exceptional at determining a spleen from a liver or even a left kidney from a right, simply by the smell. This allowed us triple our throughput. Trouble is pigs are gluttonous creatures and there wasn’t enough food for both them and us, so we started feeding them the scraps.”

“The scraps… from the raiders?” the pirate trader caught himself snarling with disgust.

York shrugged, “It was the only way. But now the pigs have a taste for people. If we tried to shut down operations now, the ravenous monsters outnumber us now and would devour everyone before we could load the first colonist onto the ship. So, we’re stuck.”

“Huh.  Well, uh… I’m all loaded up. Here’s yer payment, ” the pirate trader handed a stack of silver bars to York. “And I’m off.” He wasted no time jumping into the cockpit of his craft, powered up, and blasted back off into the serenity of space. He’d been to some of the seediest parts of the galaxy and traded with some of the worst people in quest for profit, but he didn’t care how cheap the merchandise was he’d never be going back to Pork Hill.

— This story was inspired by a play-through of the video game Rimworld.


About a year later, York was summoned to a peace talk with a group of raiders.  The talks were a huge success.  Land rights were agreed to and the bandits awarded the colony with a large boon of silver.  York’s spirits were uncharacteristically high as he mad the long journey home.

After this, the details are sketchy, as no living witness could speak to what happened.  York was an avowed pacifist.  He would not use violence in anyway, even to defend himself.  In retrospect, it was foolish to let him go to the peace talks on his own, but it was generally agreed that he could make his way to the talks with more stealth and less trouble this way.  The search party found York’s body, bled to death from tiny little scratches all over his body.  They also found he had run in circles for what must have been hours.  Finally, they found small foot prints around the body.  It was understood that York had been doggedly chased and killed by a rabid chinchilla.

One interesting thing they did not find on York’s body, the silver payment from the raiders.  Nothing could be proven as to the raiders’ involvement, but the raids continued the following season anyway and so did the organ harvest.

When York’s favored pig heard of his passing, it wandered sadly around the colony until it starved to death.  Both were mourned at least a week by York’s wife.

Alas, poor York.

Software Development Allegory

8am Monday morning. You arrive at work to metaphorically walk down the empty hallway that represents the clearly defined project before you.  All you have to do is walk the length of the hallway, metaphorically, to get through the day.

There are doors along the hallway and the first one you reach bursts open and an avalanche of paper pours out, engulfing you.  While you’re trying to dig yourself out, Janine stops by to spread the latest gossip.  The only thing more disturbing about Janine’s NSA-level of knowledge on everyone’s personal lives, is how readily she distributes the most sensational bits.  She distracts you for a good hour before she must return to the rumor mill.

Finely, you extract yourself from the heaped documents, which gives Lewis the opportunity to “ask you a quick question”.  He drags you to his office, the opposite way down the hallway, and proceeds to give you the entire history of acoustical resonance before finally asking you if you can hear a weird ticking coming from the vent.  You do hear something, its not your job to fix it, but you’re a sucker and you open the vent.

3 hours later, after crawling through the oldest, deepest labyrinths of the HVAC system, you arrive at the vent to Jerry’s office.  Jerry has placed a metronome in the vent “because it seemed better that way.”  You don’t ask questions, you’ve learned not to ask.  You inform Jerry the next metronome will be shoved into a very special place of his.

This is when the fire alarm goes off.  You follow the billowing smoke to the kitchen where people are running to and fro screaming.  You spot the source of the smoke and panic coming from the microwave.  Someone has packed 27 microwave popcorn packets into the electric oven and set it to run for 4 hours.  You press stop button and ask who did this, but by this time everyone has already wandered off, disinterested from the lack of drama in the last .75 seconds.

At this point, the boss enters the kitchen and angrily tells you that the smell of burnt popcorn is putting off the clients in the board room and you better do something about it.  No, he doesn’t care you didn’t do it, just fix it.  While removing the charred remains of Redenbacher’s Variety Pack from the microwave, you notice a hive of wasps behind the fridge.  You think about fixing that too, but the insects aren’t currently hurting anyone and decide to leave it.

You arrive back to the hallway, exhausted.  Finally, back to where you were started at the beginning of the day.  There’s still time, you can do this, you can get to the end, you tell yourself. You walk, distraction free, to with in a few steps of the goal.  As if on queue, that’s when Clark, head of sales, leans out of his office and yells “Think fast!” You are just able to register what looks like an anvil as it collides into your chest sending you flying.  You blast backward through several offices before erupting through a window, tumble across a street and smash through the wall into another building.  You land amid a shower of sheet rock and glass at the beginning of a new empty hallway.  The dust begins to settle, you sigh,  pick up your anvil, and realize it’s going to be another long one tonight.

What You Really Are

You are not an intangible soul created by divinity for a purpose.  There is no substance to these myths.

You are not the matter that makes you up at this moment.  You shed and gain matter throughout your life with out losing yourself.

You are information.  A dynamic pattern emergent from a complex interaction of chemical processes that have run continuously, uninterrupted, for the last four billion years.  Like a wave on a lake.

Your individual wave moves through space and time and matter, changing as the environment affects you.

What makes “you” has less to do with the momentary shape of your wave, but the continuity of it’s pattern from its formation. You are the only thing to have been born and lived in the places and times you have.  That is you.

One day, your wave will wash against the shore and the pattern will be lost.  It’s nigh unavoidable, there’s no where else for a have to go. But as long as the lake has water, there will be more waves that follow.

Author Spotlight

Over a year ago, my sister-in-law announced that a novel she had been working on was being picked up by a publisher.  The surprise wasn’t that she was being published; no, it was that she was even writing a book to begin with.  She’s a person that excels at nearly everything she does yet modest at every turn.  I knew she was an accomplished quilter, a terrific mother, a dutiful worker all around, but I didn’t know she was a writer until she pulled out the news of her authorship.  Even now a year later she continues to write a blog and hone her craft.  I couldn’t be happier to have her as part of our family.  Check out Megan Kiffmeyer‘s blog and take a look at her book, Moving On.

Winter Revelation

The pickup slid down the ice covered road toward a disused stone bridge for an uncomfortable amount of time before finally coming to rest on a patch of crunchy snow.  My knuckles were still white, gripped securely to the passenger door’s armrest.  I looked over at Bill behind the steering wheel, grinning mischievously and Mary next to him expressing an emotion somewhere between Bill’s mad glee and my own masked terror.  Bill was a man’s man.  A guide and woodsman, suited to living most of his hours outdoors.  He was was the kind of guy you wanted with you if you were miles down an abandoned woodland road in the dead of winter; which happened to be exactly where he had taken us.  Mary was the kind of girl you could find yourself driving 5 hours north, through a blizzard, between logging trucks and into Canada, where they made you wait for an hour to do a background check on you, just for a weekend visit.

Mary and I had been pen-pals since we met through my cousin a year ago.  She was smart and silly, loved to laugh and could find a silver lining in a black hole.  We emailed each other every day discussing everything from her new teaching gig to wondrous things like bucky tubes and solar flares.   When she invited me up for the weekend to see where she lived, I didn’t hesitate.  I thought maybe, just maybe we’d hit it off and we’d fall madly in love and spend the rest of our days together.  That’s why it came as an unwelcome surprise when she asked me if I thought Bill, whom I had met the first night I arrived in the little town on the north side of Lake Superior, would be a good boyfriend.  We were driving to her church when she asked about him and admitted she really liked him; like-liked him.

It felt like the floor under me gave way.  I had no real reason to feel that way, I had never told Mary my feelings, but I was heartbroken anyway.  And it was further humiliation the following day when she suggested we let Bill take us on a tour of the area, since he was a guide and knew lots of cool places.  And that’s how we ended up on a snowy, forgotten stone bridge that spanned a deep froze chasm.

It was a pretty place, for sure.  Bill told us it was part of the old intercontinental highway before they put in the freeways.  He was as knowledgeable as he was rugged, that bastard.

He pointed at a 12ft tall rocky cliff and said there was something else he wanted to show us over it.

“Up the rocks?” I questioned.  The tallest structure I had climbed in five years was a flight of stairs.  Not only that, but I had only brought one pair of new dress shoes with me.  I wasn’t expecting to hike in the woods, let alone scale a rock-face.

“Yeah, don’t worry, I’ll help you up,” Bill said it in a kind unassuming way, but I heard “You’re out of your depth, city-boy.  Mary is MINE! MWA HA AHAHAH”.  After that, he bounded up the wall like a mountain goat trying out for the NBA.  He lay down in the snow and held his hand out for Mary.  After she made it up, I was determined to make it up without help, but the cold, hardened rubber of my new shoes betrayed me and I nearly fell off near the top.  Bill grabbed my arm and I scrambled indignantly to the snowy ground above.

I brushed myself off and mumbled “Thanks” under my breath.  Bill just gave me a warm grin and led on.  Stabbing me in the spleen wouldn’t have hurt as much.  The snow on the hill was about six inches deep and as we walked through the small pines, my shoes filled with melting slush and my pant legs soaked in the cold water.  We marched into the wilderness until I was huffing and red in the face.  We came out of the trees on top of a sixty foot cliff overlooking the frozen Lake Superior.  The sun was setting  and the sky was pink and orange, which painted the lake ice similarly only interrupted by deep blue shadows projected by the drifts of snow.  The air was crisp and still and the whole thing felt like a dream. If I live for a thousand more years I may never see anything as beautiful again.

I didn’t notice when Bill and Mary moved on, I was entranced.  I could feel the heart ache and jealousy I had been feeling melt away in the presence of a view so much bigger than I was.  A calmness washed over me and allowed me to think clearly.  Then I heard Mary calling my name from some distant place through the trees.

I tromped through the forest, my feet numb, my fingers freezing and my cheeks burning and came upon Bill and Mary sitting next to each on a log.  Bill, using his man powers, had somehow conjured a small fire that burned despite the deep snow.  Exhausted, I sat in a small fir near by.

“So what do you think?” Bill asked me.

“It’s beautiful.” I spoke quietly, still mesmerized.

“I think it’s amazing to think God created all of this. The trees, the air, the water.  Do you believe in God?” Bill posed the question as if it were a test.

I had been brought up Catholic, but after the age of eight, the idea of a super being pulling all the strings in the world never sat well with me.  By the time I was confirmed into the church, I had effectively lost faith.  I had no need to accept a story that couldn’t be backed up.  But through college and my early twenties, I avoided thinking about it.  For years I had simply ignored the concept.   But there I was, sitting in that poor fir tree, cold and tired and I thought about the scene I had viewed of the lake.  How the axial tilt of the earth chilled the air and had ordered the water molecules into crystalline structures that were able to reflect light to make it shimmer.  I remembered the different wavelengths of light that caused us to see reds and oranges and pinks from the sun as it scattered in our atmosphere.  And the very photons themselves, created in the core of the sun thousands of years ago, escaping to make a quick 8 minute run to earth and create the image I saw.  Where was God in all of that?   I had never before said anything out loud about what I truly did or didn’t believe.  Until that moment.

“No, I don’t believe in God.”  The conviction in my voice surprised me.  I knew Mary was religious and Bill too, but I wasn’t going to lie to fit in or to try to impress a girl.  I don’t remember the rest of the conversation after that, but the coming night interrupted it and we were forced to tromp back through the trees, down the small rock-face and slowly back up the abandoned, icy road that took us there.

In the days and months following, I felt I understood myself better.  That simple honest admission on top of a wintery hill in the middle of nowhere about what I didn’t believe allowed me to later analyze what it was I did believe and why.  It changed how I looked at life.

Mary and I wrote less and less.  At some point she told me that my staying there that weekend made Bill jealous enough to ask her out on a real date.  I won’t lie, it did stoke my ego a little to think Bill was at least a little jealous of me.  Not long after they got married.  While that weekend didn’t go as I planned, I got more out of it than I expected.  And as I look back, it stands out as one of those small moments that make the biggest impact in your life.