Shepherd’s Winter – Part 1

This story has 33 episodes. One will be posted each day. 

thUGSKY6BWFirst Visit

Shepherd first set foot on his property in Alaska early spring when the ground had not yet thawed completely. He dug a well, cut timber, and cleared a space for his house. He slept in the bed of his truck cradling a rife.

By mid summer the cabin was complete; a kitchen and dinning room to the left of the font door, to the right a living room and a closed off bedroom to the rear. There was a loft above the kitchen and bedroom. A fireplace was built from rock gathered from a stream bed and sat in the center of the cabin.

During the entire building phase Shepherd always had the feeling something or someone was watching. He speculated it may be an animal doing so out of curiosity and waiting for a moment of weakness. He discounted it may be human. His property was three miles from any beaten road and a pathway to his home was constructed only by him; no one else knew of its existence.

Shepherd was never more than 8 to 10 feet from his rifle and if the rifle was not with him he had Colt .45 revolver strapped to his side. For one of the very reasons he moved to Alaska he was now dreading; he did not want to worry or be in fear of others intruding.

This was all prompted by a number break-ins to his apartment in New York City and a mugging just outside his apartment building by three teenagers two years earlier.

He had enough. He sold his interest in a business, cleared out his savings, and sold his stocks. He told a friend he’d “rather die at the mouth of a grizzly than the gunshot or blade of a thug.”

Shepherd strung barbed wire from tree to tree around the parameter of his cabin. He attached cowbells to sound a warning.

It was a busy summer he had little time to grow and store food. He drove his jeep through the thick bush of the pathway that led to a dirt road and eventually to Ruby.

He loaded with provisions and returned.

Shepherd drove the jeep to the edge of the property. He climbed from the jeep, unhooked the barbed wire, drove past, and hooked it again. Shepherd drove toward the cabin and slowed. A man sat on a stump. A rifle laid across his lap. He was native.

Shepherd stopped about 50 feet from the man. He grabbed his rifle and swung his legs from the jeep and walked toward the man. The man rose allowing the rifle to fall along side him as he held it by the butt.

He was a short stout man with deep valleys etched in his face. His eyes were small and piercing.

“Can I help ya?” Shepherd said.

“I walked this way and needed a place to rest,” the man said. “I was tracking an elk.”

“My name is Shepherd,” Shepherd extended his hand.

The man grasp Shepherd’s hand. “My name is Daniel. You have a fine cabin.”

“Thank you,” Shepherd said.

“You plan on staying the winter?” Daniel said.

“This is my home,” Shepherd said.

“You from New York?” Daniel said.

“The accent?” Shepherd said.

“Yes,” Daniel said, “I went there when I was in the Army.”

“I had to get out of the city,” Shepherd said.

“Ha,” Daniel said, “Little extreme, wouldn’t the Catskills be just as good?”

Shepherd grinned. “It would have taken me two years and a bribe to get a building permit.”

“Yeah,” Daniel said. “Life is simple in that way, but here you got to track your meat. You got meat?”

“Canned,” Shepherd said. “I was too busy building to go hunting.”

“You will have the learn to live from the land,” Daniel said. “This can be a cruel place and unforgiving.”

“Thanks, Daniel,” Shepherd said, “I will remember those words.”

“When I was in New York City someone said that to me also,” Daniel said.

“Daniel,” Shepherd said smiling. “There is no elk, is there?”

Daniel smiled. “Would you have believed I needed a cup of sugar?”

“Where do you live?” Shepherd said.

“Follow the stream that passes just down the slope to the river and go north,” Daniel said. “I have a house one mile from where the stream and the river meet.”

“Do you have a family?” Shepherd said.

“Wife, two boys, one girl,” Daniel said.

“You came a long way for no elk,” Shepherd said. “Have a meal with me.”

“Well, I am hungry,” Daniel said.

“When was the last time you had hot dogs and sauerkraut?” Shepherd said.

“Once,” Daniel said. “When in New York, a street vender.”

“My mother has a special way of making it,” Shepherd said. “She adds bits of pork sausage in the kraut. I trapped a squirrel two days ago and made squirrel sausage.”

“How does it taste?” Daniel said.

Shepherd motioned with his head toward the cabin. “Let’s go find out.”

As they walked to the cabin Daniel remarked, “That is good, you have plenty of wood. If you starve you will starve warm.”

Shepherd looked at him and squinted on eye.

“That is a joke,” Daniel said.

“If not for the possibility of being true it would not be funny,” Shepherd said.

“You will do fine,” Daniel said. “I will see you make it. A rotting body attracts bears.”

(Continued tomorrow.)


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Mom’s and Dad’s Favorite Song – A Love Song

Musical Marker

We all have songs that remind us of specific periods and events in our lives. Twenty years from now, which song will remind you of the summer of 2014?

(On July 15 of this year my mother’s funeral was held. She was 100 years old. This story was read at her funeral.)

When I hear Now Is the Hour I think of Mom, Dad, and ocean sunsets.

When I hear Now Is the Hour I think of Mom, Dad, and ocean sunsets.

Every now and then Mom and Dad broke into a song. It was always the same song. It probably reminded them of the time when Dad was not at home during the WW II. The song was Now Is the Hour.

Mom and Dad didn’t have good voices, but there was something about them singing it that comforted me. It was probably because it comforted them.

The song had been around for a couple of decades until recorded by Bing Crosby first in ‘47. Mom and Dad probably heard it at dances or on live radio. Mom said it was popular during the war. The song was a reminder of the uncertainty of war. It was a forlorn period when they were apart.

Although Mom’s and Dad’s marriage was stormy when they sung that song I knew they were thinking of each other.

One particular night I remember distinctly from the others. I was in the living room playing with some toys on the floor. The year was about 1953. Mom was in the kitchen preparing supper. The song came over the radio and Mom started singing. At that time in Mom’s life I think she was struggling with the reality of a bad marriage. The song took her away for a while.

A mother’s voice, no matter how off key or shrill, is the one that comforts you and lets you know all is well. I still hear it. There was a painful almost tearful cry in her voice when she sang it. When she sang it, and only her, it made me think of a thousand lonely sunsets. It will be with me until my last day.

Here is that song by Margaret Whiting;


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Dad and The Pastor: Knowing The Man - Part 17

(Continued from yesterday.)

“Ellsworth Bowden and I were respectful combatants on the battle field of theological differences. But he was a phony.”

There was a gasp from the audience. I looked at Mrs. Bowden. She didn’t blink an eye. In fact, she even gave a slight smile of approval.”

“Ellsworth Bowden strutted about like some intellectual snob, but at heart he was a farmer. Until this day I thought it was the discussions he enjoyed with me. It wasn’t, he liked being on the farm. I think all along he wanted me to ask him to plow a field or hoist some hay, or even shovel manure.”

“Ellsworth Bowden could walk the campus and hallways of Princeton and speak the language of the elite, but at heart he was a farm boy.”

“I don’t know how Ellsworth wanted to be remembered. I think he would leave that to each of us to figure for ourselves, but the only one in this room that it matters to is

Mrs. Bowden; it’s how she remembers him. And I look at her today, right now, she smiles. That is all we need to know about Ellsworth Bowden; he left his wife with a smile.”

“That’s what I’m going to do from now on when I think about him; I’m going to smile.”

Dad smiled at Mrs. Bowden than looked at everyone. Dad nodded to the funeral director and he began to show everyone out.

Dad politely grasp Mrs. Bowden’s hand. “Will you be having supper with us this evening?”

“Sure,” Mrs. Bowden said. “Do you have the apple cider that Ellie went on about?”

“We have some fresh squeezed,” Mom said.

Mom went with Mrs. Bowden and Dad and I headed to the car alone. Everyone who attended the funeral remained in the parking lot. Dad received handshakes from everyone.

He was about to get into our car when a short man in a blue suit called out, “Tenny!”

Dad turned around.

“Jim Turner,” the man said. “We used to run around together in our wayward youth.”

“Shhh,” Dad said and smiled. “My wife and son.”

“Nice of you to honor Pastor Bowden in that way,” Turner said.

“Thanks,” Dad said. “He was a good man.”

“We were advised not to come by the church board,” Turner said.

“I figured as much,” Dad said.

“But everyone got a letter from Pastor Bowden,” Turner said. “It appears he wrote, addressed, and stamped letters to everyone and left them with his lawyer to mail at his death.”

“That’s interesting,” Dad said. “Thanks for passing that on.” Dad shook his hand. “We’ll talk some other time, Jim. I got some things to do on the farm.”

Dad and I pulled from the parking lot and turned toward home.

“An old friend,” Dad said. “Good man.”

“You did a good job today, Dad,” I said. “Bowden knew you wouldn’t speak in the church. He wrote everyone to come to the funeral home.”

“Seems like he knew me better than I knew him,” Dad said. “All this time he was sizing me up. That’s amazing and I thought I knew him.”

“You really liked him, didn’t you?” I said.

“Oh yeah!” Dad said. “Just because we raised our voices a bit and he stormed away without a goodbye only means our convictions are tested beyond our restraint for civility.”

“But you always managed to remain cool,” I said.

“Well,” Dad smiled, “Bowden left in time.”

We drove for a while and were nearly home. “What have you learned?” Dad said.

“You said something a little while back,” I said. “You seemed disappointed that Bowden knew you better than you knew him.”

“It seems like I missed all the clues,” Dad said.

“But didn’t you tell me once that a man of principle is predictable, because he always does the right thing?” I said.

Dad paused. We turned in the driveway to our home. He turned off the car and just as I was about to open the car door Dad rested his hand on my arm. “Thanks, son.”

The End

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A Miserable Childhood

Adult Visions

As a kid, you must have imagined what it was like to be an adult. Now that you’re a grownup (or becoming one), how far off was your idea of adult life?

When a child I thought all decisions my parents made that did not conform to my world-view was selfishness on their part. Decisions made contrary to my view were made for the soul purpose of making my life miserable. I suspected parents wanted nothing more for their children than to have a dull and miserable childhood.  I thought the decision making process started with, ‘what will make him the most miserable’ and mom and dad worked there way back from there.

As an adult having three children I can confirm all of the above as true.



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Dad and The Pastor; Dad Reads The Pastor’s Letter - Part 16

(Continued from yesterday.)

There was a commotion from the back of the room. A cool breeze rushed in. Dad looked up. Mrs. Bowden, Mom, and I turned around. People were streaming in and the room eventually became cramped.

“Mr. Tennyson,” the funeral director said. “May I have a moment with you.”

A half hour later Bowden’s coffin was moved to the largest room. The funeral home was packed. People were standing in the lobby and in the parking lot.

I was nervous for Dad, but there was this calm over him that came only after a hard rain when the crops were in.

“Mrs. Bowden wishes to thank all of you for coming today,” Dad said. He smiled once again at Mrs. Bowden.

“My name is Martin Tennyson. Some of you know me, some of you don’t. Not until this day did I know Ellsworth Bowden.”

“There were two sides to Ellsworth. Two men struggling inside his conscience. One man was humble, kind, compassionate, and true. The other man doubted.”

Dad pulled an envelope from his suit’s inside lapel pocket. “Bowden gave me this a month ago and told me to read it at his funeral.”

Dad tore open the envelope. He opened the letter. “It is not often, if ever, a man has the opportunity to preach at his own funeral.”

“I met Tennyson many years ago. He may not know it now nor knew it then, but I liked him.”

“In the past three years we have had many informal discussions about, life, death, the Bible, theology, farming, and what ever the wind blew our way, but it focused mainly on the Bible, theology, and the church.”

“Many years ago I made a decision to serve the needs of the people in the church although my reason and logic dictated, in strong terms, the church as an organization was built for the sole purpose of providing a comfortable living for itself only.”

“Doctrines, teaching, and liturgy was out of touch with the Bible’s clear and simple truths. The church had created a labyrinth of policies, edicts, and epistles that confused and confounded even the best of minds. For many here today this will make little difference in how you view the church or your lives.”

“Over the past three years Tennyson and I argued strenuously about church doctrine. At first it angered me. He was a farmer and had managed to pull himself from the quicksand of teachings that in themselves made sense to only the ill-informed.”

“At this point, Tennyson, tell everybody not according to church doctrine, but according to the Bible where I am.”

Dad looked up from the letter. “In the book of Ecclesiastes it states the dead are not anywhere. They are not conscience. Jesus likened death to sleep. This thinking and this thinking only makes the resurrection logical. If one goes to heaven immediately why does the Bible speak of the resurrection in the last day?”

Dad looked down at the letter, smiled, and read. “It says, ‘Thank you, Tennyson.’” Dad continued. “Next, Tennyson, tell them about the trinity.”

“Bowden argued for the trinity and I argued against it,” Dad spoke. “The scriptures plainly and simply point out and illustrate the relationship between the father and the son is like a father and a son. The father is the progenitor of a son; one is creator the other is created. Jesus never claimed to be equal or the same. In fact, he said there were things the father knew that he did not.”

Dad looked back at the letter. “It reads, ‘Thank you, Tennyson, now tell them about hell.’” Dad looked up at the attendees. “Hell is not a place or concept found in the Bible. Jesus at times referred to a garbage dump outside the city of Jerusalem to illustrate complete destruction. How can one possibly fathom a loving God torturing people forever and ever? In many cases in the Bible the word hell is better translated grave or pit.”

Dad looked down at the letter again and read, “Thanks you, Tennyson, now tell them about the soul.”

“The soul in most instances in the Bible is a breather,” Dad said. “Once it stops breathing it is no longer exists. The Bible does not indicate that something survives death, yet it assures us of life again. How this is done is likely just as miraculous as the creation of life itself. If we believe God can create man from the dust of the ground, what little effort is needed to recreate a life that had lived and died from the same dust?”

Dad looked down at the letter again and read, “Thank you, Tennyson, you are nearly done; now you may say some words about me and don’t preach me into heaven!”

Dad smiled. “Well you heard what the man said.” Dad breathed deep. He closed his eyes for a moment. I knew he was saying a quick prayer. He smiled and began to speak.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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A Fight To Detroit

thM9AP45P5Middle Seat

It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?

A little better than a week ago I was on a plane to Detroit.

The day before a call was received from hospice care; it was likely my mother would not live beyond three or four days. Tickets were purchased for the next day.

Early the next day a niece called; she said it was not likely I could make it home before Mom died. She handed Mom the phone. I told her I would see her later and she should just relax. I told her I loved her and that was the end of the conversation. Ten minutes later my niece called back, Mom died three minutes after saying goodbye.

The flight would be somber, filled with memories, tears, and grief.

The plane flew from Boise to Denver where a connection was made for a flight from there to Detroit.

On the flight to Detroit a woman sat next to me. Before the plane was airborne she asked my final destination.

“Detroit,” I said sensing a chatty flight.

She forced a smile. “Me too. Visiting family?”

“Sort of,” I said. “My mother passed this morning.”

Her face lost expression.

“Is something wrong?” I said.

“I’m going to Detroit for my son’s funeral,” she said. “I’m so sorry about your mother.”

“She was 100,” I said. “She had a good life. How old was your son?”

“29,” she said.

My mourning could not possibly be as much as hers.

“Tell me about him,” I said.

And she did.

Towards the end of the flight I shared a couple of comforting scriptures from the Bible. The reality is that by listening to her and the scriptures read, I was the one comforted. (Job 14; Acts 24:15; Revelation 21:3, 4)




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Dad and The Pastor; Meeting The Pastor’s Widow – Part 15

(Continued from yesterday.)

Dad drove to the funeral home with Mom and I. We didn’t say much. I just looked out the window and Mom and Dad talked about having some beef slaughtered and packaged.

Dad pulled into the parking lot of the funeral home.

“We must really be early,” Mom said.

Dad looked at his watch. “The funeral starts is 20 minutes. It looks like everyone whose going to be here is already here.”

“It looks like the employees of the funeral home and that’s it,” Mom said.

“I never thought for a moment I’d pack the place out,” Dad said.

We walked into a small room. Bowden’s coffin was in a corner. There were perhaps a half dozen flower arrangements and that was it. A lectern was to the left of the coffin. Only one person was there. It was Bowden’s widow. She sat in the front row. She wore black and dabbed her eyes.

“Mrs. Bowden,” Dad said.

She looked up through her red puffy eyes.

“I’m Martin Tennyson. This is my wife Laura and my son Quinn.”

“Thanks so much,” she said. “Ellie thought so much of you. He talked about your family quite often. He used to say if he had it to do all over again he’d like to be a farmer.”

“He’d have been a good one,” Dad said.

“That’s how I met Ellie,” Mrs. Bowden said. “4H years ago. I never wanted the ministry. I suppose he told you all about that.”

“In his own way,” Dad said. “I think I’m going up to the casket for a moment if you don’t mind, Mrs. Bowden.” Dad nodded at Mom and me. “Perhaps you, Laura, and

Quinn can get to know each other.”

Dad stood at the coffin with his head bowed. A tear fell from his eye. He mumbled a prayer to himself and stared at the wall behind the coffin. I never saw Dad look like that before. He was so peaceful he appeared angelic.

The funeral director approached him and whispered into his ear. Dad glanced at his watch.

Dad turned to Mom and I. “Why not sit on each side of Mrs. Bowden we are going to begin in a moment.”

“Mrs. Bowden,” Dad said. “Is there anything special you want me to mention?”

Mrs. Bowden turned to see the room empty. She looked at Dad. “I thought you might say he deeply cared for the parishioners and often paced the floor worrying about their problems, but it seems like there is no one here to hear that. Did you know that Mr. Tennyson?”

“No,” Dad said.

“You probably thought he was a stuffy, arrogant, windbag,” Mrs. Bowden said.

Dad smiled. “Yes, I did.”

“That’s okay,” Mrs. Bowden said. “I called him that a time or two, but that was not the real Ellsworth. He was kind, and funny, and really down to earth. He put on so much.”

“I guess those are things I didn’t know,” Mrs. Bowden said.

“You are quite remarkable, Mr. Tennyson,” Mrs. Bowden said.

Dad smiled. “How’s that?”

“In spite of how he treated you, you are still willing to speak at his funeral,” Mrs. Bowden said. “He said that’s the kind of man you were.”

From the back of the room the funeral director cleared his throat. Dad looked at his watch again. “It’s time to start,” Dad said.

Dad stood behind the pulpit. He scratched next to his nose, a habit when Dad was nervous. He cleared his throat and smiled at Mrs. Bowden.

(Continued tomorrow.)

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