Dank Sunrise (1972)


Dank Sunrise (1972)[1]

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Cold rain plummets through a dense veil of vibrating pines to shatter against lichen covered stone, lost on a forgotten mountain ridge abandoned by time to grow into dust. Soil braced rock remains silent listening to the moaning of each pine spiced bead contributing its loneliness to a stream of tears. An unforgiving wind shuffles a dull mist among the evergreens as it hastens to a distant shower. Splinter white limbs lie shivering, raped by an early winter ice storm in this dark season.

Propped up beneath an apex of lifeless stone with his back adjacent to a leafless white oak, an unstirring youth sits staring into the bleak environment. An inanimate individual, he is prodded by the dank sunrise to awaken. Untouched by the selfish wind, his eyes are open solely to the wetting of the pounding rain: yet they speak of a unique pilgrimage, a venture into the soul.

In the fluid sunlight of a late May morn Tamen clears the soft brown hair from his eyes as he wanders into the low thick blueberry and shaggy laurel of a woodland pasture. A pair of head-bobbing turtle dove take wing disturbed by the passing of the inquiring stranger near their hidden perch in the underbrush. Tamen is attracted to a small hillside clearing by a myriad of bright-colored insects producing the resonance of a crafted lute. Wading among the flowering blue-green grasses with a warm breeze bathing his tanned face, he uncovers a path well scored with radiant-textured dandies and winding rasberries leading up the life-lit meadow into the pines.

Over fallen timber, across dry rock ledges, and through clear scented mountain runs, the peaceful path leads Tamen through remnants of quieter timess when wise men hoed the fields together and hunted with each other the woodlands in preparation for the clouded seasons. Below whistling caverns and whispering white pine, he passes experiencing the unselfish melodies of nature’s conscience which has been unheard by generations of self-isolated men. Up the moutain’s slope to the ridge, the beauteous trail terminates in the reflections of the mineral water of a crystal pool.

The cool serenity of the pool invites the sojourner to relax securely at the water’s skirt. Peering down with the expressive innocence of an infant at play, Tamen is attentive to the life-painted images dancing on the wavering liquid. In its reflections he sees an unfamiliar child skipping alone in the March sunlight on a field of fresh-green rye grass. First in silent amazement, then with tears in his eyes, Tamen watches the shining adolescent grow in life into a man of his own image. Tamen, awakened in this natural solitude, is quiet with himself.

a window opens       clouds thicken
light implodes          motion freezes
ice melts                a crow sings

[1] This vignette won second place in a 1972 Parkdale Senior High School (http://www1.pgcps.org/parkdale) literary contest.

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The Daily Work Roster


The Daily Work Roster

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Before a young person can go off and conquer the world, they must be potty trained, learn to walk and talk, and be able to take care of themselves. One of the rites of passage along the way is summer camp. The camp to end all camps, if you are a Boy Scout, is Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, New Mexico.

Philmont is not just any camp. Philmont Scout Ranch consists of 214 square miles of almost pristine wilderness—mountains and ranchland and woods—in the northern New Mexico donated over the period from 1938 to 1942 to the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) by oil tycoon Waite Phillips. In the confines of the ranch are authentic gold mines, outlaw hideouts, Apache and Ute Indian heritage sites, a B-24 crash site, dinosaur excavation sites, and hunting lodges previously employed by America’s rich and famous. Wildlife include scorpions, tarantulas, freshwater fish, eagles, rattlesnakes, deer, elk, coyote, antelope, mountain lion, buffalo, beaver, wild turkey, and bear.[1] You get the idea—Philmont is a super camp.

As I was to learn, Philmont tests the Scout Motto, “Be Prepared,” as well as any camp. Gathering firewood by myself one evening, I was reminded why walking alone in the woods was a really bad idea—only about a hundred yards from our campsite I found a deer carcass freshly torn into bloody pieces.  During our eleven days at Philmont in July 1968, we had many other challenges.  We saddled Harlan’s burros, rode horses, shot skeet, forded the Cimarron River, repelled down Cimarroncito’s rock ledges, contended with midnight bear raids, and walked 500 feet into the Cyphers gold mine (and turned the lights out). We sought to be real men and do manly stuff, and Philmont obliged.

But many times Philmont’s greatest challenges were problems that we brought with us. I should know. As duly elected crew leader, I was responsible for coordinating daily schedules. Tents needed to put up and taken down; firewood needed to be gathered; water acquired and often purified; and meals cooked. We had an experienced group of scouts and these activities went like clockwork during our shakedown backpacking trip near Catoctin Mountain in Maryland. Five days into Philmont and the clockwork started breaking down—volunteers started malingering and open rebellion soon followed. Too late, the crew leader had to draw up a work roster on scarce paper and my leadership credibility crumbled.

Things got worse.

Several years earlier at Ocean City, Maryland I injured my back riding waves with an inner tube mattress on the beach. On a good wave, my mattress got too far in front of a large wave and I plunged head first over the wave. I landed on my face and the wave threw my legs over my back. I was paralyzed for several minutes unable to get up and nearly drowned before slowly crawling out of the water on my stomach. No one saw me; no one came running. This back injury has haunted me ever since.

At Philmont, after several days of backpacking my back gave out and it was all that I could do just to walk. My pain was so intense that the adults debated helicoptering me out. I became a liability for the team and the guys resented having to slow down for me. Worse, we hiked each day with a deadline—afternoon rain was avoidable only once tents were pitched; if we were late in making camp, freezing rain soaked us and our gear. Even though several of the scouts were family friends, the stress of the long days, the rigorous backpacking, and the skimpy trail meals at Philmont brought out the worst in people—for the remainder of the trip I was harshly ridiculed at every turn.

At Philmont, my dreams of western adventure and my concepts of self-sufficiency morphed into a struggle to survive. Nothing about my background and nothing I could do made up for a weakened back and the mundane challenges of eleven days on the trail. My dependence on the team and their respect for me hung on conditions outside my control.

Still, life went on and several highlights of the trip were yet to come.

One such highlight came when we returned to camp headquarters and discovered the Tooth Of Time Traders commissary. There on sale at the commissary we found the belts, belt buckles, jackets, and patches that proved that allowed us to brag about our Philmont experiences when we returned home.

In the commissary, for example, I bought a coveted copy of Robert Baden-Powell’s book, Scouting for Boys (1908), which began the scouting movement in Great Britain. In the military, Powell distinguished himself as a general during the Second Boer War in South Africa (1899).[2] When his military days were over, he noticed that young men were growing up undisciplined and unprepared for the vigor of adult life. Powell saw this problem limiting Britain’s military preparedness and he envisioned the Boy Scouts as a solution. Later, I gifted this book to my Scoutmaster (and early mentor) when he retired after many years of scouting service.

Another highlight was our visit on the bus trip home to the Koshare Indian Museum in La Junta, Colorado. The museum featured many Indian handicrafts and, as we were told, the Koshare Indians were, in fact, Boy Scout troop 232 which focuses on studying Indian dances and customs.[3] The troop danced for us in traditional Indian attire and explained to us that Koshare means clown or “delight-maker” in the Hopi Indian language.  And delighted we were.

[1] http://www.scouting.org/Philmont.aspx.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Baden-Powell,_1st_Baron_Baden-Powell.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Koshare_Indian_Museum_and_Dancers.

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The Owl

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Prov 12:18)

The Owl

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In eleventh grade I wanted to learn to type. I loved to write letters and often composed my letters with the flourish of a fountain pen, but I was embarrassed that I could only hunt and peck on a typewriter. I envied my Dad who composed his dissertation on an Underwood Manual and now was able to type letters using all the proper keystrokes. For me, typing had caché; typing was professional; I wanted to learn to type.

Parkdale Senior High School [1] offered a typing class for aspiring secretaries, not for students in the college track. When I asked to sign up for the class, my guidance counselor frowned and consented to enroll me only after considerable prodding. Even then, a problem arose because typing was a one-semester course and I needed to choose another one-semester course for the other semester. Reluctantly, I signed up for note-taking. I had no interest or use for note-taking but I rationalized that
at least I was learning to type.

The note-taking class proceeded without a hitch but halfway through the semester my counselor informed me that I had been bumped out of the typing class. In its place, I was enrolled in a psychology class—ugh. What would I ever do with psychology? Psychology?

Psychology started in the new semester with little fanfare. Students enjoyed it because the class had no textbook and no homework. We met for 50 minutes a day sitting in a big circle and just talked. The latest rage in 1971 pop psychology was neither Dale Carnegie nor B.F.Skinner; it was group therapy. In group therapy, everyone got their say, but the price of speaking your mind was that you had to listen to everyone else’s feedback. With more than 20 students in this class, feedback could take a while.

Psychology class was definitely a class off track. I knew almost none of the students from any previous class; the few that I knew were from my gym class. Although at the time I thought of them mostly as strangers, I suspect that these were the students who aspired to the typing and shop classes that my counselor refused to enroll me in. In a graduating class of 750 where half the students did not graduate, a lot of strangers wandered the halls.

One of those strangers—Bill—stood out. Bill was tall and gruff and wore work outfits with plaid shirts. Now, I enjoyed plaid shirts myself and took a ration of grief for wearing blue jeans and boots to school before either were fashionable, but Bill also looked mean—like walk down the other side of the street kind of mean. In fact, on a bad day I might have been afraid of him.

One day in class our assignment was to pick the name of a person out of a hat, compare that person with an animal, and explain why that animal provided a reasonable comparison. I still remember the panic—think of the potential embarrassment—think of the new nickname around school—what was that teacher thinking? As we took our turns, we dreaded the potential for public derision that an animal name might hold for us.[2]

When Bill picked my name, I tensed up. What would he say? How would I respond? But, he quietly said that I was smart like an owl…With those words, my image of him changed—he did not seem so mean after all. I wondered: who is this guy? Over the next few weeks, the stranger that I had observed became a friend that I knew. Later, when I class ended, I missed seeing and talking with him.

Funny, I cannot remember whose name I picked that day.


Carnegie, Dale. 1981. How to Win Friends and Influence People (Orig pub 1936). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Skinner, B.F. 1971. Beyond Freedom and Dignity. New York: Bantam Books/Vintage Books.

[1] http://www1.pgcps.org/Parkdale.

[2] Public derision was a real possibility. The “flying finkle finger of fate award” was an example made famous by a television show (1968) called Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aYG6L9jcFOE).

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The Detour

Called Along the Way

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

When the pickup slowed and the driver looked over at me, I saw only the gun rack. He pulled over ahead of me, got out, and waved me over. I slowed my bicycle and stopped behind the pickup, leaning on one foot—300 hundred miles from home, off my route, and all alone, I felt vulnerable—scared that I might end up like the two bikers in Easy Rider—shotgunned to death.[1] Only in August 1972, I was not motorcycling drugs from California to Florida; I was cycling from Washington DC to start college in Indiana.

“Why did you leave route 50?” His question stoked my anxiety: this guy had obviously followed me for at least the hour trip down route 19 from Clarksburg.

“Route 50 forbids bicycles west of Bridgeport.” I answered. Actually, where route 50 divided into a four-lane highway, the big, green sign had written in white letters: pedestrians, bicycles, motor-driven cycles—prohibited. Elaborating, I continued: “I was detouring south to route 119 where I could continue west.” 

He laughed: “We had 10 bicyclists ride through here last week. Nobody cares about that sign…”

“Really? Thanks for the tip.” I responded as the driver returned to his truck.

This gun-rack angel just saved me from a difficult detour and perhaps an extra day’s travel, I figured as he drove off. Still, I was more than an hour’s ride south of Clarksburg, unfamiliar with the area west of route 19, and without a topographical map in the mountains of West Virginia. Studying the traffic map that I had, I could see that local roads could be used to jog over to route 50 at Salem, about 18 miles off—as the crow flies. Just the sort of challenge that Eagle Scouts enjoy, I thought to myself.

With an official BSA[2] yucca backpack slung over the handlebars, I cycled up route 33 that cuts off route 19, Milfort Street, along Sycamore Creek. As the road ascended uphill into the woods, the grading became progressively rougher. Pavement gave way to gravel, which gave way to dirt which gave way to stones, which gave way to transmission-eating boulders. Walking my bike through shaded, old-growth oaks among the boulders at least gave relief from the morning heat.

As the grading improved and I found myself passing tin-roofed shacks—not abandoned, not maintained, just depressing to look at—I found myself in the Appalachia mentioned on television only during election years and then only in passing. Curious locals asked only—”where y’a headed?” —but must have questioned my sanity as I panted up the hill that morning on a 3-speed bike built mostly for city streets.

My thoughts wandered, focused partly on the war—far off in Southeast Asia, yet ever-present in political rallies, school discussions, and family feuds.

My thoughts wandered, focused partly on the endless hillside that I walked more than peddled. By my fourth day on the road I was used to the sunburn, but relieving my hunger would have to wait until I returned to a more populated area. And I hoped that my canteen water would last until I got there.

My thoughts wandered, focused mainly on a friend I desperately wanted to see and foolishly visited my first night out at a camp west of Winchester, Virginia…Now that my foolishness had legs, the remainder of the trip—like life itself—seemed pointless and cruel. Late in the morning and graciously before I lost my mind, the hillside peaked at the ridge and the grading upgraded to macadam[3] for the first time since leaving route 19.

With the ridge, my thoughts quickened. Gone were the oak trees, the dirt road, and Appalachian poverty—they seemed to melt away like the morning mist in afternoon sun. Present now were bluegrass fields neatly grazed, white boarded fences, and country homes with expansive porches—the only thing missing was an icy cold, root beer. As my bike picked up speed gliding down the hill, a black lab on one porch began to take interest and sounded off as he ran down the yard. I paid little attention, continuing to accelerate. What dog can run 40 miles an hour? I thought, more focused on enjoying the breeze as I picked up speed.

Suddenly, I heard growls as the dog snapped at my left foot—this stupid dog was giving serious chase! Still accelerating, I moved my left foot over to stand with both feet on the right peddle. The dog had seen that trick before and moved to snap at me on the right side. Still accelerating, I moved both feet back over to the left peddle. Before the dog could respond, the road veered sharply to the left. Being on the left peddle, I could not lean into it—I was going too fast, could not break, and ran off the right side of the road into the ditch.

My front wheel slid into a roadside sewer and pitched me over the handlebars. I hit the ground on the other side of the ditch hard—sliding and rolling another 20-30 feet.  I came to a stop face down:  Stunned…Sweating…Speechless…I did not look up; I did not get up; I just lay there barely conscious. No one came running; no one noticed my accident at all.

Finally, I turned my head to see where I was. The dog stood on the road just looking at me. When he saw me look up, he wagged his tail, and wandered off. At that point, I smelled the sewage and sat up not understanding my situation.

I got up and examined my bike. I was sure that it had been ruined, but the front wheel was hardly bent at all. I pulled up a few weeds to clean off the sewage, but I could do nothing about the smell.

I don’t remember much about the trip down route 31 to route 28 and up to Patterson Fork Road that took me into Salem. I remember the heat, the exhaustion, and the hunger; I also remember the anxious desire to call my parents—my emergency dime was ready for action. As I drew closer to Salem, however, I resolved to find a restaurant, to get cleaned up, and to eat lunch before deciding what to do next.

I was feeling sorry for myself as I washed up and got rid of the smell. But my other senses returned as I enjoyed a home-cooked hamburger with fries and that slice of apple pie a la mode. With every bite, I forgot more—more about the dog, more about the foolishness, and more about that irritating smell. Soon, I reflected on the unlikely intervention of that gun-rack angel and I remembered my mileage goal for the day. After lunch, I reported home on my progress, got back on my bike, and cycled on to Ohio.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easy_Rider.

[2] BSA is short for Boy Scouts of America.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macadam

The Detou

Also see:

Preface to a Life in Tension

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Release_2020

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The Gauntlet

ShipOfFools_web_10042015How do you get through your day?

Too often we want to hide from our mornings seeing them as simply another challenge of running the gauntlet—running between lines of vicious people anxious to strike us with whips or sticks as we run, walk, or crawl between them.[1]

Too often we want to pull the covers over our heads and reach out only to grab the television remote or another handful of bonbons.

Too often we simply lack the energy or desire just to be.

How do you get through your day?

I posed this question to people that I run into every day. Maria, an aquatics director at the pool where I swim opined: “When I hit a rough patch, I look to what comes next. I am always looking ahead to the next item in my schedule.” David, a chaplain who works with emergency responders, sees prayer, family support, and being mindful of the presence and contribution of others as important in getting through the day. Suzanne, an hospice nurse and American Buddhist, meditates throughout the day and keeps moving with a diet rich in fruit. Amy and Edwin look beyond circumstances—the call—to find strength to meet the day’s challenges. Edwin, a pastor, asks: “can I offer witness even when I mess up?”

Let me turn to each of these perspectives as they each provide insight into getting through the day.

Maria’s Perspective. One way we get through the day is to rely on habits to structure our time and keep us focused on positive activities. Habits like getting up, taking a shower, having daily devotions, exercising, going to work, eating meals, and going to bed at the same time each day are routine. Things that, for most of us, our mothers encouraged us to do and we accepted them without question.

It is no accident that boarding schools, military organizations, and religious orders all prescribe disciplined daily routines. These routines give meaning to life, promote healthy lifestyles, and build esprit de corps—feelings of pride, community, and group loyalty. Good habits can be reinforced by positive choices in clothing, grooming, and musical affinities.

The classic example of a meaningful life through structure is the monastic life. In the fifth century, Benedict of Nursia (2009) wrote a book outlining rules to govern the disciplined life of monks in his order. Benedict’s rule specified all aspects of monastic life—meals, work, living space, worship, but the focus of his rule was on daily prayer (the breviary) which was held every 3 hours day and night.[2] Interestingly, the discipline established in Europe’s monasteries in the Middle Ages led to the later development of universities and modern institutions, such as the corporation, military organizations, and hospitals.

David and Suzanne’s Perspective. In working as a chaplain, I practiced self-care through constant prayer and things like eating properly and regular exercise. Religious music and faith symbols also provided comfort while walking with people in pain. For many people, the music of our youth—most often religious music—reminds us of a time in life when we enjoyed the uncomplicated warmth and security of family.

Musical reminders—not just religious music—can bring real healing. For example, when working as a chaplain in an Alzheimer’s unit, I met an older man, James, who used to wander up and down the halls all day muttering to himself—he spoke nothing but gibberish. One day I invited James to hear a jazz saxophonist play—he was delighted. While the nurses resisted my taking him, when the music started he stood up, began dancing to the music, and invited several women to join him. More importantly, he began speaking in complete sentences and offered real conversation: the music helped him center and he remained cogent for several weeks.

Amy and Edwin’s Perspective. For many of us, getting through the day means accepting the morning gauntlet as part of our calling and identity.

A gauntlet story figured prominently in the Battle of Balaclava, fought on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War. British cavalry were mistakenly sent to attack a heavily defended Russian gun position at the east end of North valley. Both sides of the valley, the Causeway Heights to the south and the Fedioukine Heights to the north, were well defended. As the attack unfolded, senior officers realized the orders were mistaken and, believing the attack would fail, they withheld reinforcements. The advance cavalry unit, known as the Light Brigade, galloped down the valley alone prosecuting the attack in spite of cannon fire from three sides, punishing losses, and no support from the remainder of their division. Overtaking the Russian position at the end of the valley to everyone’s surprise, the Light Brigade had to turn and fight their way back out, as other Russian units worked to surround them. Of the 666 taking part in the charge, 110 were killed, 129 wounded, and 32 taken prisoner.[3]

A poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson called—The Charge of the Light Brigade—recorded the battle with these words:[4]


Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them

Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so well

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.[5]


The Charge of the Light Brigade was a military disaster, but it became a symbol of gallantry for generations of young men.

In closing, the next time you lack energy in the morning and want to pull the covers over your head, remember the charge of the Light Brigade and the day that the gauntlet gave up the glory.



Benedict of Nursia (Saint). 2009. The Holy Rule of St. Benedict (Orig pub 547). Translated by Boniface Verheyen (1949), OSB of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas (Kindle Edition).

Wynne, John J. 2013. The Jesuit Martyrs of North America (Orig Pub 1925 by Universal Knowledge Foundation). Literary Licensing, LLC


[1] Self-pity is a horrible thing. Running the gauntlet was the fate of an early Jesuit missionary, Isaac Jogues, in 1641 to the Mohawk, Heron, and Iroquois peoples of New York and Canada who was later canonized as one of the first saints in North America (Wynne 2013, 163).

[2] Matins (12 midnight), Lauds (3 a.m.), Prime (6 a.m.), Terce (9 a.m.), Sext (12 noon), None (3 p.m.), Vespers (6 p.m.), and Compline (9 p.m.).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Balaclava.

[4] The Charge of the Light Brigade is also the subject of a 1936 Warner Brothers film starring Erol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland directed by Michael Curtiz.

[5] Some hear echoes of Psalm 23 in stanza five. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174586.

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Joy Riding

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!”
 (Ps 25:7 ESV)

My scoutmaster used to say that God has a special place in his heart for drunks and foolish kids. Usually, he accompanied this expression with a story of mindless driving from his youth, but perhaps the adults present heard the expression a bit differently—our camping trips often included dragging along a case of Jack Daniels which mysteriously disappeared by weekend’s end. One way or the other, it was when I learned to drive that I started to appreciate the wisdom in his words.

A case in point was my friend, Bob, who I knew my senior year at Parkdale Senior High School. Bob used to invite me after school to go joy driving with a friend of his who owned a old Plymouth Valiant hand-painted in battlefield camouflage colors—dark green, brown, and gray. This friend loved to drive around curvy county roads as fast as he could. And while we were zipping around the back roads of Prince George’s County he regaled us with stories about police chases and other teenage folly. Never mind that a credibility gap existed between the stories that he told and the horsepower of the old Valiant—they were good stories and we enjoyed our time together.

Up to a point, I was the ideal driving student. I read the textbook cover to cover and scored grades high enough that my instructor used my test scores to curve class grades. However, I did less well once we started driving—the mechanics of driving required other, more mechanical skills which were new to me. Still, when I took the Maryland driver’s test, unlike many of my peers I passed the test on the first attempt.

My experience joy riding and my driving class results never seemed to intersect. Oh, I watched the gory videos of highway accidents produced by the Ohio State Police, but a driver’s license symbolized adulthood and freedom—why were nasty accidents in Ohio even relevant? After all, this was the 1970s—we now had cars newly equipped with seat beats and being a smart guy I always bucked up.

Because I was a serious student and generally responsible young person, my parents generously allowed me to drive more than many of my friends. I seldom abused their trust.

But, at one point a friend set me up with a date one evening and the four of us went together to see a movie. On the way, I entertained my guests by taking them joy riding through Greenbelt Park. Back then, the park was still open at night and the road was unlit; it curved up and down the many hills through the woods providing a perfect night-time roller coaster. So I turned off the car lights and drove in the dark through the park  to the screams of my companions.

The movie was okay, but before it was over it became obvious that my role that evening was more as chauffeur and less as eligible bachelor—I was hurt and offended. To express my pain, on the way home I took off my seat belt which proceeded to buzz—it buzzed and buzzed and buzzed to the distress of my companions and my own delight…

I almost always buckle up my seat belt.

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The Camera

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.

(Prov. 3:5)

The Camera

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At age fourteen in the fall of 1967, I began carrying the Daily News to earn money to attend Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico [1] . Because the guys I knew with daily routes seemed older and tougher than me, I feared that I could not handle a daily route and continued to deliver the Prince George’s Post (a weekly paper) as a backupthe Daily News was a serious paper. Not knowing the cost of the camp and buying the required gear—a fancy backpack, a larger canteen, a compass, and a lot of little things—that I did not own, I also feared that I would not earn enough money. In the end, my fears were exaggerated—I earned more than enough to pay for the ticket and the equipment. In fact, I had enough money left over that I was able to buy a range-finder, 35 mm camera—just like my Dad’s.

This camera was neat, but it had smaller aperture and better winding mechanism than my Dad’s camera.  A smaller aperture—1.7 mm verses 2.2 mm—allowed taking sharper pictures. The lever-action, film winding mechanism was faster than the older method which relied on twisting a knob with your index finger and thumb—it was tedious to twist film.

Film—1968 was all about film.

Video clips of Vietnam entered our living room every evening at 6 p.m. On the news, we saw the bodies being displayed, villages being burned, GIs fighting gun battles, and Green Berets jumping out of helicopters in rice paddies. At the time, it all seemed as normal as Hamburger Helper and Jello pudding.

Normal was shattered when the Viet Cong launched the Tet Offensive [2] in January. By March President LBJ [3] was quoting William Tecumseh Sherman: “If nominated, I will not run; if elected, I will not serve.” [4] His March 31 speech shocked everyone and transformed a sleepy presidential election into a horse race. It did not, however, end the war.

Tet exposed American military invincibility as a myth—right there on the evening news. The aura of victory in the Second World War finally faded flat—no one repeated the words, but the images were plain and clear and obvious. GIs died every night on television in a war that would not end and could not be won in the neat little box it had been made for it. No one in authority admitted the obvious truth so the fighting continued.

Television coverage of the war fascinated me: I watched every war movie available and aspired to becoming a fighter pilot.  During those days, I studied aviation, howto books on flying, and learned navigation—especially map reading. But I became increasingly conflicted between my ambitions to become a pilot and my religious beliefs—why did the United States care about Vietnam?  The futility of the war grew more obvious every day—if Vietnam was important why was the military restricted from pulling out all the stops?  If it was a just war, why were religious leaders protesting it?

I could not vote in 1968, but I handed out flyers at the county fair in Upper Marlboro for Richard Nixon—the peace candidate who had a secret plan to end the war. We were so excited, so proud that Nixon picked our Governor, Ted Agnew [5], as his running mate. It was thrilling to see Agnew with the President on the news.

With my new camera, in my own way I felt like a television journalist. My creative interest was people; I mostly took candid shots of friends and family, and mostly in black and white. I loved to develop my own film, cropping and enhancing my photographs in the darkroom.

One exception to my focus on photographing people was my fascination with open windows. Many of my photographs featured windows open to the sunlight and green oaks outside our church.  Open windows symbolized freedom and I felt closer to God in the great outdoors—hiking and camping, even in the dead of winter.

Sammi noticed my interest in photography.

Sammi invited me to photograph THE annual youth group retreat in June. It was after the church strawberry festival and after school let out at a camp with cabins and bunk beds on the Chesapeake bay. I had a job—I had to bring plenty of color film (black and white would not do) and I had to know what and who and when to photograph—because I was the official retreat photographer.

Against this backdrop, photographing Philmont became less important. I remember Philmont—not for the pictures, not for the bears, not for the sore feet, but for a radio broadcast from the moon on July 20th. We listened from the steps of a ranger station on top of a mountain in New Mexico. When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took small steps in a big way.[6]

That I remember.


[1] http://www.scouting.org/Philmont.aspx.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive (January 30, 1968).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_1968 (LBJ withdraws March 31, 1968).

[4] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williamtec101113.html#xu80Y4iWW2KgAcXj.99

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiro_Agnew.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_landing (July 20, 1968).

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Personal Fitness Merit Badge

ShipOfFools_web_10042015do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.
So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19-20)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

As a young adult I was prouder of becoming an Eagle Scout than of earning a doctorate. An important reason was that I succeeded in completing personal fitness merit badge.

I did not consider myself athletic in seventh grade. Although in grade school I played on a baseball team and had lots of natural talent, that talent mostly went to waste. By seventh grade, I felt dumpy, was no good at dancing, and mostly felt picked on by bullies.

In my troop, I earned more badges than anyone, but I kept putting off personal fitness merit badge—it was a chore; it did not fit my self image; I had no clue how to become fit. Besides, I reasoned, no one expected me to become an Eagle Scout—no one in Troop 1022 had ever done it.

At some point, I discovered Dr. Cooper’s book:  Aerobics.[1] He was cool—he was an Air Force doctor and was on television. He said that you could become fit by doing any exercise that you wanted; all you had to do was earn enough points every week doing different exercises. So I started jogging because jogging earned more points than other exercises.

One day during gym class I started running around the goal posts. I ran about 6 or 7 times around the goal posts before my physical education teacher stopped me and asked me if something was wrong. The same thing happened the first time I jogged down Good Luck Road: a driver pulled over and asked if I needed a ride. No one had a clue what I was doing—the idea of  running for  exercise in 1967 was novel and it sounded crazy to most people.

Crazy or not, I earned personal fitness merit badge.  The other badges came easy.


Cooper, Kenneth H. 1977. The Aerobics Way. New York: Bantam Books.


[1] This edition of The Aerobics Way was my second copy. I read the first one in 1966 or 1967.

Personal Fitness Merit Badge


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Shaken and Stirred

ShipOfFools_web_10042015Blessed 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. (Ps 1:1-2 ESV)

Shaken and Stirred

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Seventh grade was different.

Instead of having a teacher, a classroom, and a desk, you had a bell and a locker. When the bell rang, you moved from one class to another. Because of the constant motion, you couldn’t leave your books and stuff in your desk so books, notes, and personal items were stored in the locker.

School started with a bell.

Before the bell, we lined up outside the doors and just waited. At one point, friends and I went in early to drop off and pick up things in our locker but the vice principal (VP) caught us. He slammed one of our lockers shut and we took off running—no body wanted to be caught by the VP.

All day screams could be heard coming out of the VP’s office. He spent the day wandering the halls, catching rule breakers, and reminding them of the rules with a paddle that hung on his wall.

I never visited the VP’s office, but in fourth grade I visited the principal’s office.

My trip to the principal’s office started when Michael and his gang grabbed my kickball at recess. A bloody fight broke out between me, Michael, and his gang over the ball. It was unfortunate because Michael, who used to be a friend and a good student in third grade, gave up on his studies when he started hanging with this gang. Later in middle school, he carved wooden knives in shop and threatened everyone, even the teacher. In high school, he entered juvenil detention never to return. But, that day in fourth grade—when Michael and his gang grabbed my kickball—we were sent us to the principal’s office together a bloody mess. After the nurse cleaned us up, we were all sent home.

No, I never visited the VP’s office. I learned to keep the rules, not the VP, but from Mr. B.

I remember Mr. B’s civics class, in part, because he wore a crew cut and told great stories—but that is not the main reason why I remember Mr. B’s civics class.

One day while Mr. B was writing on the board I shot a spit ball at a guy and it landed at Mr. B’s feet. Now, Mr. B must have been having a bad day because he went nuts. He turned around, grabbed the student in front of me, picked him up by the shoulders, and shook him like a rag doll. For the rest of the period, nothing more was said; the class was silent.

Now silence can be golden. At a time when so much hung in the balance, I gave up on spit balls and didn’t need any longer to be reminded of the rules.

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ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. (Exod 20:8 ESV)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

More than a snack, coffee time was once an institution where some of my fondest memories of family life took place.

On weekdays, at 9 a.m., at 3 p.m., and around 8 p.m., grandma prepared coffee for the adults, cocoa for the kids, and goodies for everyone. The goodies included homemade lemon bars, chocolate chip cookies, or strawberry short cake topped with ice cream. Choice, we always got a choice.

Whether you were knitting, feeding the calves, or pulling weeds in the garden, everyone stopped what they were doing, came in the house, got cleaned up, and talked.  No one was excluded; everyone was invited; conversation was required.

Coffee time on Sundays was always more involved. No one dared to skip Sunday school in Grandma Gertrude’s house (or leave before lunch). So we were in church at 9:15 a.m. and Sunday school included a break for snacks. After church, we normally changed from our Sunday best into more comfortable clothes before lunch. One thing would lead to another. Being kids, by the time we were called, we were off hiding in the attic or chasing each other around the yard. Lunch would not be on our minds—the adults would bribe us to come to lunch with reminders of coffee time.

These Sunday coffee times might be delayed until after the cuckoo clock chimed at 4 p.m. A late coffee time almost always involved better snacks, fold up trays being brought out, and breaking out the card tables—who knows, we might even move on to board games. On occasion, the piano might be played and ice cream churned by hand—“kids today are so spoiled by that store-bought ice cream”, we were told.

A more formal coffee time on Sundays occurred when birthdays were celebrated. These get togethers were common because both grandpa and grandma came from Dutch families with eight siblings, all of whom lived in or around Pella, Iowa.[1] Oskaloosa, where my grandparents lived, was more of a family outpost, but remained within driving distance of the “Pella crowd”. Formalities took the form of a distinctive routine, which moved from greetings, to eating, to discussions and game boards, and then to goodbyes. This would involve a leisurely three or four hours—no one was in a hurry. And everyone kept on their Sunday best.

The greeting phase involved meeting people as they came in. After the formal greetings, the women gathered in the kitchen to properly set out the signature dishes, such as grandma’s steaming hot, chicken and noodles. Meanwhile, the men sat in the living room talking about the latest news or market prices for corn, soybeans, hogs, or cattle. The kids might run this way or that, but often we retreated to the basement to horse around without soiling our clothes, as might be suggested now and then.

Eating phase always started with a blessing for the food. If my uncle John were present, we might be treated to a few introductions and announcements (or a scripture reading) followed by a pastoral prayer. Otherwise, Grandpa Frank simply gave thanks.

Having blessed the food, we would grab a plate and snake around the kitchen helping themselves to the sandwiches, casseroles, apple sauce, and potato salad. A lime or strawberry punch was normally iced in a crystal bowl, ladled with a crystal dipper, and enjoyed in a crystal cup. Then, the adult assembled in the living room seated in front of a folding up tray with their plates and cups carefully balanced. Meanwhile the kids sat around the kitchen table and ate together unsupervised. Coffee was served later with the dessert.

The end of dessert marked the beginning of discussions. These could get pointed. My great uncle John, the local county commissioner, frequently chided me about the cushy government job that I would get after graduation. Of course, I had other ideas. At one point in my sophomore year, for example, I announced my intention to study comparative literature, instead of agricultural economics like my dad. The room went silent. After a couple of embarrassing seconds someone inquired: “What is comparative literature?” With questions like that, it did not take me long—before my next visit—to figure out what I really wanted to study.

Discussions were not always in earnest. “You have heard, of course, about that new government program that they cooked up in Washington? In the future, social security checks will be issued along with a prescription for birth control pills”…ah-huh.

Discussion was mandatory; board games were not. When discussion began to wind down, those not interested in playing hearts, dominos, or, some other such thing, headed for the door. It was as regular as grandpa’s daily bowl of All Bran cereal soaked with chocolate milk. Goodbyes then proceeded until everyone had said goodbye to everyone else. Weather permitting, the goodbyes included walking the most distant travelers out to their cars.

As the years went by, coffee time slowly died out.

My parents struggled to imitate coffee time when my grandparents would visit, but practice makes perfect and neglect leaves one neglectful. Interruptions during attempts at coffee time made conversation difficult; activities likewise cut into the leisure time. On the farm, a Christmas might last for two weeks; in the city, Christmas became a meal and afternoon discussion. We aspired to being relaxed and hospitable, but strived ever more diligently to keep our jobs, pay our bills, and advance our careers in the face of ever easier downward mobility. As my grandparents aged, travel distances seemed longer, schedules got more involved, and visits became rare.

Coffee time lived on during visits to Iowa. When my grandfather turned 90, he lost his driver’s license. So when I visited, Frank often requested that I drive him from Oskaloosa to Pella to visit his younger sister, Nelly, who was the family historian and a live wire—it was always Nelly who said what was on everyone else’s mind. A quick call and Nelly would invite some of the Pella crowd over to her place for coffee. Thirty minutes later on our arrival, out came the folding trays, the home-made snacks, and the coffee.

Born in 1898, Frank journeyed through three centuries during his 102 years. With his passing, Oskaloosa dropped off my itinerary. Since then, the chore of travel has become unbearable and the memory of coffee time much more elusive.

Coffee time lives on in the Hiemstra family picnic the first Saturday of August each year in Pella’s West Market Park. Picnic tables shaded under an open shelter are cool and inviting, as are the relatives that I still know and cherish. The coffee and the snacks are the same, but the folding trays, the leisure time together, and my grandparents are no longer with us.

More than a snack, coffee time (or Kaffietijd as the old folks would say) was a palace in time[2] that lives on in the memory of my youth.


Heschel, Abraham Joshua. 1951. The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.


[1] Pella was settled in 1847 by Dutch immigrants (http://www.CityOfPella.com).

[2] Cite from Heschel (1951, 12). Heschel (1951, 6) writes: “The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography.”


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