Recipe by Dikkon Eberhart
1 13’ Whitehall Pulling Boat, with anchor
1 match – just 1
coupla potatoes and a chunk of butter; salt
Mise en scene:
Don’t burn your fingers when you grub the potatoes from the ash, open them, and, while they drip with butter, you eat them in the dark.
Pour water on the coals until they are really out. Toss everything into the boat. Drag the boat down the beach to the sea. Wade out beside her and pull her farther until she’s afloat. Stare off for a time at the black horizon.
Await revelation. What if I ask her? Maybe I’ll dare.
By Dikkon Eberhart
The title of this post is a line from Flux, a poem of my father’s.
Flux has stuck by me during my adult years, not because of any verbal magnificence it possesses—deliberately it possesses none—but because of its insinuation and acknowledgement of enigma.
The next two following lines are--
There is a somber, imponderable fate.
Enigma rules and the heart has no certainty.
Dad continues in this poem, using brief snippets of a few lines, to cite one imponderable event after another. As an example--
The boy, in his first hour on his motorbike,
Met death in a head on collision,
His dog stood silent beside the young corpse.
So, Dad offers no release for the reader. His poem informs us that the imponderable dominates in life, and, therefore, that life is stranger than any of us expected.
My life has been stranger than I expected. Not imponderable. But improbable.
I ponder this matter because I have written a memoir. The memoir is jauntily titled, using imponderables--The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told.
As is the nature of memoir, my book is an attempt to understand myself and my life's experience. It is an attempt to make order from what Dad terms the imponderable—indeed to provide certainty for the heart, which Dad’s poem denies is available.
I wrote my memoir to acknowledge that the circumstances of my life are stranger than I expected, and yet I seek to order the strangeness.
There is a point, I believe, in the strangeness. Not only is there a point, I believe, but I go farther than that. I believe the strangeness is deliberate. I believe my life has been infused with strangeness for a purpose. I was sixty years old when I learned what that purpose is. Then I wrote my memoir.
I'm seventy now. If anything, I have become more certain of the existence of the purpose although the purpose is stranger than ever I expected.
My publisher has the professional responsibility to determine the demographics and the psychographics of the primary reader of a memoir such as mine. All very well. However, beyond mere statistics, I believe the person who reads my memoir may read it with that same sense of the imponderable about life as my dad expressed in his poem.
Like me, that reader may find that life is stranger than any of us expected. But what I hope that person may ask next is the more important question. “Yes, but what is the purpose of that strangeness?”
Now, I am a Christian. The Lord's purpose that we should ponder the strangeness of our lives is that we might engage with Him in His working out of our lives, for His glory.
At my age of sixteen, I pondered questions such as that.
Back then, on any afternoon on the coast of Maine when nothing else pressed Dad and me—and when the sun was strong and the wind was light and the tide was low—he and I might offer to take Grandmother and her house guests, the German Readers, out onto Penobscot Bay.
Grandmother and her German Readers enjoyed it when we took them aboard Dad’s cabin cruiser to the outer ledges of the bay so they could view the seals. Grandmother’s half dozen or so German Readers came to Maine during two weeks every summer for relief from Boston’s heat and to keep up in their former language. Generally, they used 19th century family sagas and romances, which they read to one another as they sat and knitted in the evenings. Aboard the boat, however, they would exclaim and be cheerful at the playfulness of the seals, while I passed around little cups of sherry and a tray of Ritz crackers which had experienced more humidity than was good for them.
At my age of sixteen, I was impressed by the German Readers.
For example, it was not easy to bring them aboard. Dad and I would power the cruiser over to Grandmother’s—her house was nestled just back from a wide rock with her beach down below. She had no dock. Dad would lie-to in the boat about fifty yards off as I ran the launch back and forth to the beach and brought these ancient ladies off shore two or three at a time.
They would need to wade into the surf before clambering into the launch, and then, when I pulled up alongside the cruiser and each boat rocked on the sea, they would need to climb aboard over the gunwale. The boarding ladder had three steps. A lot of leg swinging was needed, up and over the side, and balancing on the after deck, before each lady was safe to totter to a bench and to sit down. Usually, all this was accomplished while wearing a loose skirt.
I had known these ladies my entire life. They were all in their seventies by then—widows, gemutlich. Most of them represented families that had been in American for several generations at least. But two, as I recall it, had immigrated to our country with husband and children in the 1930s.
Deeply cultured Germany—imponderably—in the 1930s was becoming a place where it was not a good place to be.
At my age of sixteen, I ran barefoot over any boat in any sea. For me, there was no place near, in, on, or under the sea that was not a good place to be.
But I remember an imponderable regarding these ladies which emerged for me at my age of sixteen. As I became stronger and more flexible, these companions of my Grandmother became weaker and stiffer…and yet they waded, and they climbed, and they tottered bravely upon the deck just the same.
I didn’t know anything about this business of being in one’s seventies. I couldn’t conceive of it. Now and then, though, I felt their eyes bearing upon me thoughtfully, I, who was my Grandmother’s first grandchild. I, who was so much the spit and image of my father. I, who ran barefoot over any boat in any sea.
The ladies seemed to me to be weighty with how strange their lives had been, stranger than any of them expected. I could not articulate this weightiness which showed in their eyes. I sensed it but could not fathom it.
What point had they found? Was it similar to what I have found now?
The German readers did not caution me about my life to come—how could they? My life was imponderable, its strangeness yet to be revealed.
But I do not think that any one of them—were she alive today to discover that I have written my life down in order to make literary and theological order out of my own personal flux—I do not think that any one of them would find that fact improbable.
The man was on top of the world. Or on top of New Hampshire. Or, merely, on top of New Hampshire’s Mount Sunapee.
He sat on the deck of the summit lodge with a 360 degree view, interrupted in a few directions by clumps of trees, and in one direction by the mechanism of the ski lift. The sun was warm, for February. There was little wind; the ski runs were well groomed. It was a Wednesday. School vacation week had brought families to the mountain, the man’s family included. At the moment, though, he was alone.
He was exhausted by the blandishment of the present time.
During vacations, many persons desire to drop out of the present, the man included. In a week, the same public arguments and scandals and breathless excitements will once again nail them all to the—might the man say ‘to the Cross’?—of the present moment. But vacation offers a momentary cessation of the noise.
“I’m looking even more like my father,” the man had said to his wife that morning, after shaving.
“Yes, you are.”
The man’s father had died twenty months before at age one hundred and one. The man’s father had been a poet—highly regarded, internationally lauded—whose fame had then faded before his own demise. But the father had possessed the toughness to hold stubbornly to life.
“You know the critics?” his father, sitting in the sun at age ninety-nine, had asked him.
“They’re all dead.”
His father had smiled. “And I’m not.”
After the man’s father reached a high place at age one hundred, he continued to push life’s rock uphill for one more year.
The man missed his father fiercely. Often, when he was driving alone, he put into the CD player a spiritual which promised that those who are separated by Jordan will one day find each other on the other side.
Also, his father had been a skier. In his father’s day, athletes ascended mountains by strapping sealskins to the bottom of their skis and walking there. A day might be occupied by a long climb, stopping now and then for a breather, a swig from a flask, and a refreshing pipe when the view inspired. There would be a picnic in the snow at the top, and then would come the reward at the end of the day—that one, long, delightful schuss back downhill again.
Today, of course, we use a speedy chairlift to carry us through the air to the top of the mountain, and we are able to enjoy a score of downhill runs in the time that the man’s father had experienced one.
Mechanical devises nowadays truly do make life’s uphills easier to master than was the case a mere century ago. But that does not justify chronological snobbery, as C.S. Lewis called it, our unexamined assumption that things of the past ought to remain in the past and ought not to trouble us cleverer moderns. Our chronological arrogance allows us—or so we think—to dismiss the truth that things of the past had their own integrity in terms of their own time. We are allowed—or so we think—to judge the things of the past in terms of what we believe are our more enlightened modern insights.
The man was sixty, and he was feeling about his own past a new weightiness. There were now accretions upon him. They were the results of life assumptions, relevant to himself in years before, of the events and philosophies and choices by which he had lived. He was beginning to experience the old person’s anxiety that these important events and philosophies and choices were hidden from young adults of the present.
What must the burden of the past have been on his father at age one hundred? That man could reach back nearly to the Boer War. The Boer War! Scarcely anyone today has even heard of it, but it was a bellwether of its time.
Lounging in the winter sun on his New Hampshire deck, the man thought back through forty of his own years, and he remembered himself on the deck of another summit lodge such as this one, but on the other side of the world. Then, he had been high in the Bernese Alps, enjoying the same mid-winter ambiance as today, except that the mountainscape was limitless—dazzling alpine peaks, stretching all the way into Italy, with the Jungfrau as a magnet to the eye.
On the deck with him were skiers who had taken the train up the valley from Schoenreid to the base of the funicular car. Then the funicular car had carried the merry group to the summit, where they had debouched upon the deck of the summit lodge and now sat in the sun, drinking beer or schnapps, and eating fat sausages with sauerkraut.
As compared with the present day, no ski garment worn by anyone on that long-ago deck was an advertisement.
The man’s father came along the deck and sat down next to him. “Just like in the 1920s,” he said, and then he laughed, “Except in those days we needed to climb up, and once we got above the tree line, it was harder.”
“There wasn’t any way to know which route across the snow fields was safe. If you were the first to cross.” He filled and lit his pipe. “And we always wanted to be the first to cross.”
The man had a vision of his father as Nick Adams, from Hemingway’s Cross-County Snow, but as a Nick touched more closely by the muse than Nick the brawler ever was.
“In those days, were you ever here, right here?”
“Above this valley, yes, but lower down,” he gestured down-valley, “by the Diableret Glacier.” His father mused a bit and then said, “You know, if we time our runs right, we could make it there today. It means skiing the snow fields above Saanen and Saanenmoser. Then we could ski back down to Gstaad and take the train back up the valley to Schoenreid for dinner.”
And was there ever anything more romantic sounding than that?
As it happened, the man and his father didn’t make it all the way to the Diableret. His father was more comfortable with a slower series of runs, and they ended by dropping down out of the snow fields and into the trees above Saanenmoser. So the up-valley train ride was shorter, and they were early for dinner, and the man’s mother was pleased.
The man’s memory up there on top of New Hampshire could take him back only forty years, to the 1960s, to the conflicts he had himself lived through, for good or ill. But when his father had been young and was skiing the Diableret, back in the 1920s, the lessons his father was concerned about came from another great conflict so recently ended—from The Great War.
The French speakers were wounded and vengeful; the German speakers were resentful and truculent; the English speakers (except some of them like Churchill) were hoping conflict itself would go away; the Russian speakers were saying nothing at all because they sagged under the Bolshevik weight and were silenced. And the Americans were ascendant…and talking all the time.
Less and less was privacy valued in society. Taste was for publicity, and human aspiration and salvation was adjusted now in political terms—what can government do about man’s lot, how can government use humankind for its own glory? And Christianity was no longer the one world religion that was generally understood in the West to be true.
But the man’s father had his own father—the man’s grandfather—back in the 19th century. The lessons learned by the adults of that 19th century time concerned what had happened in their own pasts.
Big were colonialism, its pros and cons, and also rationalism’s challenge to religion. Manifest Destiny was, indeed, still manifest. Explosions were occurring in what was later to be called psychology, physics was bending time and finding that light has gravity, and cubism, Dadaism, and other movements of the artistic avant-garde were delighting or affronting, depending. The big storm that rumbled over the horizon was the fight between capitalism and communism. That would have its hellish impact later…but only after the democracies finally decided to fight back against their own destruction and defeat fascism. Then they could turn to communism.
Yet, as the man mused in his silent space atop that New Hampshire mountain (he had recently re-read a good deal of C. S. Lewis…together with the Gospel of John), there’s a longer perspective as well, and it was there in the man’s father’s day, as well as in the day of his father’s father, too.
There is an even greater Father still, and He saw the universe at its beginning, knows its present, and understands its future. He isn’t compelled by chronological snobbery; he has not our limited human perspective. What all persons struggle with today is no different from what persons struggled with in ages gone by. All persons climbed through life, up their snow fields, and they took their looks from their summits all around.
We today are also comfortable with the sins we have chosen, until we learn to ski with the Father.
The man walked down to the snow, stamped into his skis, and pushed off for the long run home.
Once, in Detroit, when my last sales appointment of the day cancelled, I went to the zoo.
Detroit has a good zoo, with lots to look at and to admire. One of the things they have is a lion house. That is, there is an outside yard for the lions, with rocks and a cliff, and with grass and trees. There is also an inside house for the lions to retreat into, which is through a crevice in the cliff where the cliff comes down.
Visitors may watch the lions outside, but they may also go into the lions’ inside lair and watch the big cats there, too.
I stood for a long time outside, pressed against the fence around the lion’s yard, watching the lions as they sauntered or lay still. I had owned lots of cats in my life, and, while I watched the lions, I entertained myself with the assurance that I held a deep appreciation for cats as a species, and that enjoyed a canny level of communication with them.
Most noteworthy among the lions was one magnificent male at the height of his nobility and kingliness. Perhaps eight feet long, with rippling muscles at the shoulders and hips, his regal head was topped with a full mane of black hair. His tail was a whip with which to express his emotion.
The favorite among my own cats had been Beamish. A magnificent male in his house-cat’s own right, Beamish possessed the strength and dexterity, from a sitting position, next to an open door, suddenly to spring into the air and to land, balanced perfectly, on the top edge of the door itself, without his landing causing the door to swing at all.
While I remembered Beamish, my big male lion occupied the rest of my attention. I ranged back and forth along the lion cage fence, trying to stay close to him as he surveyed the scene and kept the lionesses under the strictness of his eye. In time, though, he grew weary of this entertainment and made his way to the crevice into the cliff and went inside.
I followed him inside and discovered that I could get nearer to him inside than outside. Now, he was in a vertically barred cage, alone for the moment. There was a single horizontal railing keeping me away from the cage. The gap between the railing and the cage was about eight feet. When outside, I had been about forty feet away from my lion. Now, I was standing next to him!
Here—I thought—was Beamish, but in his wildest imagining. Here was Beamish into whose eyes I had often stared, nose to nose, sometimes for ten minutes at a time, neither one of us blinking. In those minutes of communication, it had seemed to me that Beamish and I were both drinking in the holy similitude of our natures. Of course, the unenlightened might deny the brotherhood of Beamish and I and speak of differences between species, but we knew better, we did.
Just so did I now stare into the eyes of my lion.
Here was a lion of Daniel’s command!
Due to our depth of sharing of all that is weighty in God’s universe, we two—my lion and I—we knew things together. My lion had the power of savagery, but we knew things together, he and I. If the need had arisen, I knew he would have muted his savagery, and he would have lain his chin on his forepaws and purred at me, and he would have allowed me to stroke his nose.
We two Romantics, my lion and me, we certainly knew how Keats or Shelley should have written of us, or how the German Romantics should have painted us. They should have shown us urgent in a swirl of cloudy fog, atop a crag, with our eyes staring into a vastness of cosmic possibility.
Even now, my lion and I, we held one another’s eyes in affection and—dare I saw it, reader—in love!
Perhaps, even, here in my lion at the zoo was the very type of Aslan, as C.S. Lewis had known him—Aslan himself, the Christ of Narnia, who loved the children so. Perhaps here before me was the very nobility that called for a self-sacrifice of such purity and of such literary and artistic absoluteness as, finally, to thaw the witch and to turn all Narnain captives free.
Yes, I thought to myself, yes, I can see it now, there in the eye of my lion.
Oh—I gave a figurative toss of my hand--what of his bars?
Did not we, all of us, have bars of our own? Was it so very big a thing in the cosmos that I should be able to walk away from his lion house any time that I wished, when he could not do the same?
From his eye, I understood that he, too, saw our fates as the Romantic puzzlers they were. We were fellow travelers on God’s green earth, he and I, and I was pleased to learn that we each took these puzzlers with the sardonic humor to which they were entitled.
Then my lion “spoke” to me!
At the very height of our conversation, my lion turned his head, turned around, shifted his tail aside, and shot a long stream of hot urine between the bars and accurately across the front of my shirt.
Note to self: Dikkon, remember to distinguish reality from poetry.