Friday, December 7, 2018

A Part of the Mechanism

A Part of the Mechanism              

By John W. Vander Velden


I have always been fascinated by how things work. The way individual pieces move in coordination with one another. It came in handy all the years I farmed. An example: I operated a machine called an “automatic bale wagon”. A machine that picked bales off the ground and arranged and stacked 103 on its bed and then placed that stack in the barn—for the most part by itself. At first glance it appeared a very complex device of hydraulics, chains, and many trip mechanisms. But it became important that I understood the purpose for each part of the mechanism.
For when it worked it worked wonderfully, but when it didn’t it was up to me to figure out which particular piece needed repair or adjustment. I handled more than a hundred thousand of bales with that red machine and learned a great deal along the way.
Recent events have led me to thinkin’. A dangerous use of time perhaps. But I have wondered about my place in things. My part in the mechanism of the world I share with you. I wonder if I, like those hoses and levers of my bale wagon, am humming along doing what I should as I should, or if I am that suborn valve that would fail at the most inopportune moment. Am I in need of an adjustment—today.
I know I am not the one that determines such things, for I am not the one operating the mechanism—just a piece of the machine that is bouncing along the universe. God is in charge of this machine that you and I share. But when I think of all the things I have over the years repaired, the gears and bearing, belts and motors, plumbing and electrical, I imagine myself among them in a grander wider mechanism. When I think about the things I do, and the things I avoid doing, I wonder if I am a useful part of the machine or just taking up space.
Something happened yesterday that brought these thoughts to the front of my mind. An action I took that I may not have been prepared to deal with, but I injected myself into the situation because I could not just walk passed and ignore it. Some might have seen my action as intrusive. Others as noble. But I see it as neither, I did what I did because it was who I am.
In the end I may not have been any help at all, but I tried and sometimes trying is enough.
You see I’m just part of the mechanism.

(435 Words) 12/7/2018


Saturday, November 17, 2018



By John W. Vander Velden


Why do we feel that we are supposed to be happy all the time…like it’s our right or something?  But we have been lied to, snookered, fooled.  Let’s not go into the imaginable possibility that anyone can be giddy 24-7-52-FOREVER.  Rather as we look at our own lives when difficulties, and disappointments come our way, and joy seems to take a back seat, we feel cheated.  Don’t we deserve to be happy…all the time…surely it is in the constitution?  You know one of the amendments…
But how do we measure…happy or happiness?  What ruler can we use, or maybe it takes a measuring glass of some sort.  Isn’t happiness a state of mind…something intangible yet real?  Doesn’t joy need contrast to give it value? 
Perhaps that is why it is said that artist tend to be melancholy.  Maybe because they feel a bit more than others…see things differently than the masses.  Now I don’t recommend depression, it is something I face, and those that deal with that darkness understand just how dark it can be.  But just as light needs darkness to give it value, joy needs moments of un-joy.  For life…the real deal…is filled with a mix of good times and, well, bad.  The world is not a perfect place, and we are not perfect people, and living our imperfect lives in this imperfect place cannot give us perfect bliss.
The desire to be happy all the time is unrealistic…but more, it is just plain unhealthy.  It is great to carry a positive attitude.  Wonderful to be cheerful.  Grand to go about smiling.  But even the highways we drive on vacation have potholes.  We need to deal with the bumps, but the bumps do not make journey impossible.  They just help us enjoy the better portions of the road all the more.  To accept that there are times when we are sad…and that’s alright…it is an important step….providing we do not allow sadness to swallow us. 
So many things in our lives are a matter of balance.  Understanding the weight on either side of the scale helps keep things level.  So recognizing we will not be happy…all the time…recognizing that days come when sadness exists…and seeing the balance.  Sometimes the scale appears to lean one direction or the other, but with the right attitude in the end things will even out.  We need to be patient.
In this matter, I try to live by a simple rule…laugh often…smile whenever I can…and cry when I need to.  Sounds easy enough…but not everything is as simple as it sounds…but the balance is worth the effort.  For I accept the melancholy moments, they make the joy filled days shine!

(464 Words) 11/10/2018



Saturday, October 27, 2018

Among the Trees

Among The Trees 
By John W. Vander Velden 

I’ve lived my whole life on this farm.  My grandpa bought it in the twenties, it’s as much a part of the family as my Great Aunt Joan.  After my father took over the place, the first bit of land he added was an eighty-acre parcel that banked against the Salley River to the north.  He bought other pieces during his care of this place, as have I.  The farm is near a thousand acres now a days, but I can remember stories told me my whole life about that north piece, the land along the river.
I was just a boy when I first heard about the house among the trees.  The thing was dad bought that land for the thirty acres of loam it contained.  He gave little thought to the wood that covered more than half, an out of the way place few went.  As a boy I wandered out to those trees, a good long hard walk from our house, and I thought about what Mr. Gaines told me years before.
The trees there are tall and old like none I’d seen anywhere else.  I’ve been told that wood contains some of the last old forest hardwood in the state.  I wouldn’t know.  But years ago when I pushed through the brambles to get within the shade of that forest I saw no house, big or small.  But near the center, even though it was within the deep shade of the tall canopy above, was a thicket.  A large patch of hawthorn that made an impenetrable mass.
Now my grandsons have walked beneath those trees upon soil my feet have rarely trod for nearly fifty years. Even so they go there seldom.  It is not the distance, almost a mile across farmland, that keeps them away.  It s not that they avoid the outdoors, for both have a deep love of nature.  I heard a hint of why they wandered others places at dinner just last month.  Mike said, “there’s something creepy among those trees, grandpa.”  He shook his head, “it makes my skin crawl.” His younger brother Lee nodded.
I’d like to have said there was nothing to fear in them woods, but fact is I’d had those same feelings myself, each time I go among those trees.
It’s my son Robert’s farm now, but I help when I can.  The weather’s been cold this October and harvest begun early.  The other day while I helped him run corn in that back field, while the sky was the deepest blue and no cloud in sight, a small wisp of smoke rose out from among those trees.  If a body would have closed their eyes and breathed three times slowly before reopening them, they would have missed it entirely.  But I saw it and made my way into that wood that stands along the banks of the Salley River. It took a bit but I came to that Hawthorn brush and I knew.  I don’t know how I knew the smoke had come from inside that thorn blocked way, but I did.
I stood afront that bunch of brambles.  Not a leaf remained, only trunk, branch, thorn, and the red berries the birds love.  The Hawthorns heavy wit em.  That’s when I notice how quiet it was, just the breeze through the trees high above. Not a bird to be seen or heard.  Weren’t no squirrels about either.
As I stared at those thorny berry covered branches and a wonderin’ where the birds and squirrels might be I saw it.  There was an old house within that brambled mess.  I shook my head, couldn’t believe what I was a seein’ but sure enough a wood frame house had been completely surrounded by the trees.
I come back with some loppers and a chain saw the next day and me and Mike we cut us a hole through them branches and found the front door. How long them trees had swallowed up the place I could not guess, but it was strange that none of those Hawthorns or any other plants for that matter grew in a way that actually touched the house.  They grew complete around and above it but not a twig brushed against the siding or roof.
Mike told me we ought to forget that we found the house and just pick up our stuff and go.  But I said, “Now just wait a minute Mike, all we got here is some old house.”  Though I must admit that things seemed more than a bit odd.
“If you don’t mind,” Mike said then, “I’ll just wait out there.” He pointed to the space beyond. I nodded and carefully went up the steps surprised the wood held me.  I carefully placed one foot afront the other and crossed the porch to the door.
Once the house had been painted, white it seemed though so little remained of the yellowed covering, it was hard ta tell. The windows that faced the porch were full paned, not a single glass of the six light on each was broken. I took hold of the doorknob drew a breath and gave it a gentle turn. Surprised the door opened smoothly without a single creak.  But that weren’t nothing to the shock I found when I stepped inside.  Expecting a dark place full of dust and dirt and broken down stuff all over I found nothing of the kind.  It was all clean, and everything was just like a body lived there.  Not a spider’s web or dust bunny to be found.  It caused me to stop a minute and draw a breath, while my eyes became adjusted to the dimness.
There were rugs on the floor, a coupe of overstuffed chairs in the parlor as well as a sofa. Tables and oil lamps stood in their places, a magazine dated October 15, 1897 lay on the top of a table next to one of the chairs. And everything was, like I said, clean as if expectin’ company.
I looked back glad ta see the door yet stood wide open and wonderin’ if I was dreaming.  I didn’t climb the stairs, but made my way to the kitchen. Dishes were washed and put away, still sparkling clean in the cupboard.  The sink was empty, and the hand pump was primed and workin’. But the oddest thing of all was the cook stove…still warm.
I’d seen enough and glad Mike hadn’t followed.  His eyes said it all, as I come out just as fast as these old legs would carry me. “We’d best be going I told him as I picked up the chain saw, and pointed for him to grab the ax and loppers.
The door shut with a loud bang as we turned to leave.  I looked over my shoulder stopped just a second certain I could see the branches growin’ right before my eyes.  I shook my head as I hurried the boy ahead of me and we rushed out to my truck parked just beyond the forest’s edge.
We’d been home in a flash, but the fool thing wouldn’t start.  I tried again and again until the battery gave up the ghost.
The walk home was long for these tired old bones, but I had no real answers for the boy’s questions as we made our way across the open country.  I couldn’t say why, but the further we got from that wood the better I felt.  It was a silly notion to be sure.
The next day my boy Robert took us back with jumper cables and chain if that were ta fail, but the truck was gone, just gone. That was when I told my son of what we had found, of the house surrounded but not touched by the thorny Hawthorns, and what I found inside.  He looked at me like I’d lost my mind.  Truth is, if someone had told me a yarn like that I’d thought the same thing. But the truck was gone and the only tracks, other than the ones we made a commin’ headed across the rows of harvested corn stalks off toward the west fence line.
We followed those treads bouncing over thousands of rows. At the edge of the farm the tracks went on across the Mitchel’s, cutting a diagonal across the still standing soybeans. We sat there a shakin’ our heads and a lookin’, wondering who took my old truck and where they were a bound.
The next day Sherriff Andrew Dodson come pullin’ in to the farm. I’d expected him to bring us new about the Ford I’d reported stole. “Glen we they found your truck,” he said his eyes focused on me hard. “It was in Gillan’s pasture.  You know the Gilllan Farm?”
“Heard of them, they dairy over west edge of the county.” I was a wondering why somebody would take my truck there.
Sherriff Dodson shook his head. “It seems the truck run out of gas tearing up the fences and the pasture too.” He tilted his head slightly, drawing down his left eyelid halfway. “But that’s not the strangest part.”
“The strangest part?” I asked. It seemed to me that takin’ a guy’s truck fifteen miles across country only to drive around some farmer’s field until it didn’t go no more was just plain weird.
“The Gillans called saying that, what was left of their herd had run off. That I should stop by and have a look see.”
I blinked. “Left of their herd?”
The Sheriff nodded firmly. “Carl, it was an awful sight, six cows scattered across the field blood and hide all over the battered front of that brown truck of yours.”
“He use my truck to run down milk cows?”
Again he nodded. “Like nothing I ever saw before.”
It nearly knocked me off my feet. I shook my head not able to believe what I was a hearin’.
“Spent the day helping Joe and Jack Gillan find the rest.” Sheriff Dodson went on. “Joe told me this morning that though the truck is hauled away and the fences are fixed, none of the cattle will go out in the pasture again.” The Sheriff pursed his lips. “He’s blaming you.”
“Blaming me?”
“I don’t see any grounds, but be warned, Joseph is might angry.” Sheriff Dodson look around the farm. “Your truck is in impound. We’ll do our best to figure out who took it.” He turned to look at me. “What do you want us to do with your ford truck when we’re done?”
“It’s old and not worth much, I’ll come down Sheriff, and look it over. Decide then.”
But my old truck and those slaughtered cows were not the end of things. For that same night someone took off with Herman Stoke’s Massey Ferguson tractor. Drove it through Albert Morrison’s shed and set fire to it in a neighbor’s corn field. It took units from three departments to keep the blaze from spreadin’. 

Later a Mr. Kline was woke when somebody stole his Buick LeSabere right out of his garage. He said the racket of that Buick backing right through the closed overhead woke him and the misses. When he got to the window he saw it tearing across the yard and disappear in the darkness. That old Buick was pretty beat up when they found it stuck in a bean field a few farms over.
But that night had not yet ended when a couple of teenagers parked on an out-of–the-way dirt road in Handlin County got their romancin’ interrupted by a great big green John Deere Combine that come a roarin’ across the field their way. Bouncin through standing corn without its lights, twelve rows just plugged with stalks stacked most of the way up to the cab, the diesel a screamin’ as the machine came at them in road gear. I don’t s’spect anyone’ll be courtin’ on that stretch of gravel anytime soon.
If a body were to look down across the country the next day they would see a near straight line of mayhem from the trees on Salley River west south west to where they found that John Deere nosed into a ditch in west Handlin County. A path of destruction like that of a twister.  Everybody’s scratchin’ their head on what exactly happened that night.
Days later Mike and I went back to that woods at the north edge of the farm, those trees along the Salley. It was broad daylight, ‘cause nobody with good sense would go there at night. We came near that old abandoned house that had been swallowed up.  The front door stood open and anglely, tore loose from its top hinge.  It was then I decided that those Hawthorns did mean to keep me or others out, but to hold something evil locked away.  I guess I feel guilty that I am responsible for helpin’ whatever evil had been held there among the trees.  

11/10/2018 (2182 Words)


Saturday, September 22, 2018

I Am Surprised

I Am Surprised

By John W. Vander Velden

When I stand where I stand and look about my world, surveying my place in it all, I am left wondering.  If I take the time to consider all my successes and failures, I find myself surprised at the place I find
I understand that step by step, forward and backward as well, my journey has shaped me into who I have become.  Along the way I have always felt it my obligation to take my advances with humility while accepting responsibility for my failings, for I understand that I am but human.  Acknowledging that if I have any talents at all, they are the results of gifts given for my use by a power far beyond me.  While honestly recognizing my weakness helps me to accept mistakes made by others.  And so I tend to judge those around me less harshly than I judge myself. 
Yet when I survey where I am surprised.
Though I often dwell on all the unfulfilled aspirations, the years spent with only modest progress, I need to stop and look at the whole of it.   For if I consider the things I have done, the places I have seen, the work I have accomplished, the people I have met...I am astonished.
So I look forward and cannot know what lies ahead, but if what lies behind is any indication, when I scan the place I will stand one day in the future...I will be surprised...
For my GOD has brought me this far, and HE will carry me through all my tomorrows...that that won’t surprise me a bit.

9-22-2018 (269 Words)  

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Elizabeth's Journey an Update

There are those that do their best work when facing a deadline.  Some who need a target to drive them to get the work done.  I am not among those folks

When “Misty Creek” was released I set a timetable for the completion of the sequel, “Elizabeth’s Journey”, 18 months.  I had a draft and was well into the first revise believing that goal was easily attainable…Silly me.  But life has too many demand and the work required was far more than I anticipated.

When the revised draft returned from my editor, I was surprised by the thousands of comments, many positive, but most raising questions I had not asked myself.  Just because I understood the character’s motivation does not mean it is clear to the reader.  I had expected to finish this revise in four months…September 5th.

Well it is September 5th and to put it mildly the revision is not finished.  In truth I am happy that I have reached halfway through that endeavor.  But the revision is not the final work required.  Though there is much left to do before I have molded earlier drafts into the final, progress is being made.  For those that have read “Misty Creek” and long for the next part of Elizabeth’s story I ask for patience.  I must strive to my best to make “Elizabeth’s Journey” a worthy sequel.

So for all of you that have read “Misty Creek” or are friends of this author, I have decided to give you updates, weekly when possible.  So stay tuned....  


Saturday, August 25, 2018

A New Traveling Friend

A New Traveling Friend                   

By John W. Vander Velden

When it comes to traveling I guess I’m old school.  Maybe you don’t know what I mean.  Well when I plan a trip, I get out the atlas, remember those, and go over the route.  I take some time before we leave and write down a list of roads and directions and hand them to Jackie my navigator.  But we did things a bit different this summer.  We invited a friend to come along.  I think her name is Alexia.
Alexia doesn’t take much room in the car.  She rides inside my tablet.  But she has very strong opinions and voices them at any moment whether you’re ready to hear them or not.  There are times she is downright rude.  But overall not obnoxious.  Sometimes she rides on Jackie’s lap diligently tracking our progress.  “In one thousand feet turn right on to exit 283A, stay right at the fork and…”  Ooops, I missed that exit.  No problem, if Alexia is one thing she is patient…and persistent.  “In one half mile take exit 284A turn right make a U-turn…” Yeah...maybe.
But all-in-all Alexia is true enough that I come to depend upon her…maybe too much.  Throw the atlas in the back seat, give Alexia an address and off we go.
But sometimes we have a conflict with her.  Friends do that you know.  There are times I would want to travel by a route Alexia feels is less efficient.  Then her persistence becomes a bit annoying.  “Turn right make a U-turn...” “At the next road and make a U-turn...”  You expect the voice to say, “for crying out loud, go back.”  Now, now, now, Alexia, time for your nap.
Jackie puts the dear friend to sleep and sets her on the back seat as we trundle along only to hear her instructions, “turn right and make a U-turn,” her voice calls out from behind us.  Talk about a backseat driver!
Yet it astonishes me how she knows EXACTLY where we are.  It’s not to within a mile or quarter mile for that matter, it is within feet.  FREAKY!  Even when the wi-fi is off, it’s like the car talks to her in their own secret digital GPS language as we watch our progress on the screen.
So Alexia like all friends has some good points and well...other points.  To get the most out our friendship I overlook the annoying aspects of her personality.  I also have to accept her knowing our every move.  A bit voyeur-ish don’t you think.  But I ignore those quirks because Alexia is our friend… 

(431 Words) 8/21/2018

Friday, August 10, 2018

Summer Wind/More Than Clouds

The Summer Wind 

By John W. Vander Velden

The hot air in motion…a summer wind.  From where it comes?  To where it goes?  Do we take the time to consider?  It is after all just a summer wind.  The breeze that rearranges our hair that makes the heat almost bearable…nothing more.  Yet the sun bears upon me.  As I wipe my brow and adjust my cap, sweat stinging my eyes and causing my shirt to cling, I reflect.  Watching shadows pass over the open land while the wind chases the high puffy white clouds across the pale sky.  Reminded of my own journey, of life’s wind scurrying me along.  Few know or care where that journey began, only God knows the road ahead.  No, I am like the summer’s wind.  Some will notice my presence others will ignore.  But as I pass I must do what I can…to love…to laugh…and to care.  For just as the hot breath of summer moves on and does not return…so must I.  

(166 Words) Posted 9/7/2012
More than Clouds    
By John W. Vander Velden

Have you taken the time lately, on a lazy hot summer’s evening to look at the sky?  Often great masses of white float casually on the breeze.  Do you see…truly see…see more than clouds?  Oh, a childish pursuit, you say…. Reserved for the young or foolish dreamers, you say…. For the responsible, time wasted, you say….  Perhaps.  Maybe we are surrounded by walls blinding our vision.  Walls, of time clocks, bills, promises, future plans, that limit our view.  Our focus upon reality…is there more?  For the world hurls reality in our face…the news…TV…at work…at home…all around, numbed yet feeling strangely content.  Secure that we understand the facts and facts are all that matter…facts make us wise.  Foolish to see great sailing ships, castles, or grand ranges of white and gray mountains; ever changing as leisurely they drift past.  Life is too intense…too demanding.  We are grownups…met our obligations…made the sacrifices.  But have we surrendered the ability to see more than clouds?
(168 Words) Posted 8/24/2012