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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Twilight Years of Life (07/02/09)

TITLE: The Old Man Oak
By Jim McWhinnie


“The faithful are like oak trees planted by the river.” - Psalm 1

From the barn to the river was a journey not all that far, but it was just far enough to take a soul to where a soul needed to be. I once made that journey with an old man I deeply loved, and I have made that journey a thousand times since.

I loved opening that big, red, barn door, a mere everyday task for a grown man, but a mighty task for a young boy trying to be like his grandfather. On that morning, the old man retrieved a shovel from its place deep within the shadows of that barn. And that same old man brought with him a rusty can filled with two gallons of good earth and in that good earth was sprouting an oak-sapling. The old man carried the shovel and I carried the would-be tree.

It took about thirty minutes of footsteps to cross the back pasture, through the maple woods, down the slope of Hunter's Hill, across Gould's Meadow, and finally to the banks of the slow and broad part of the Chateauguay River Like five sturdy brothers, five oaks stood in a line along that stretch of the river - five oaks, five brothers, four uncles and my father. The far end of the line would be my place in this world, the place for my young oak to grow old.

But before we worked, before we added one more tree to the Creation, we sat for the task of getting lost in time, in that realm of forever that hides between the tick and the tock of the clock of life. We listened; an old man listened for dreams coming to life in a springtime spirit; a young boy listened for what-might-have-been in a November soul.

"You have to listen for the old man in the oak," my grandfather whispered to me in somber, reverent tones. "Listen. Can you hear the old man groan?"

I nodded, more out of the hope that I had heard him groan than because I actually had.

"If you listen, he'll tell you what's been going on down here by the river, in the lazy of the day or in the prowl of the night. But you have to listen . . . listen deep, listen long, listen slow."

I had to ask, though I tried not to ask, "What does the old man say?"

"Different things to different souls. I am not sure what the old man says to other folks, but to me, he lets me in on the secrets of the way things are and the way things could be, would be and ought to be. For oak trees, there is no might be about life, that's for souls like you and me who live out here, in the walkabout world. For oak trees, life simply happens; for us walk-abouters, life is created."

"Oh," I said, hoping that all his words would begin to make sense when they all had settled in my remembering place. But for now, I just kept listening with my ear leaning toward the grizzly, gray bark of this magical tree.

As my grandfather recounted his recollections of his conversations with the old man in the oak, I began to realize that he was not spinning yarns from the fancy of his imaginations, he was letting me in on the secret that he had come upon a long time ago, down here by the river, by the river that had always flowed.

And as my grandfather's voice strolled me further and further into the distant realms, I could begin to hear the old man in the oak, quietly at first, like the sound the wind makes when it freshens to life through the tops of the pines. Muffled, at first, then a little closer, a little clearer, until the old man's voice emerged from the oak, to enwrap us with a voice that was filled with the smoke of an October fire.

"Boy, where have you been?" At first, I thought he must have been talking to me. ... but he wasn't. He was talking to my grandfather and I was but listening in.

Now I am the weathered and worn, old November soul who sits in the shade of his oak tree. I sit here listening with my wide-eyed granddaughters for the voice of the old man in the oak while the river of life keeps flowing by.

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This article has been read 1072 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Debra Martinez07/09/09
Your poetic language was lovely. It gave me wonderful pictures to ponder. Thanks.
Virgil Youngblood 07/09/09
I enjoyed everything about this story. Great job.
c clemons07/10/09
Good writing skill.
Genia Gilbert07/10/09
This held my attention, gave me a sense of continuing life and family. Good descriptive writing.
Charla Diehl 07/11/09
Liked the tradition of each generation's planting of an oak and the sharing of their lives together as they acquired their November souls.
Anita van der Elst07/12/09
My favorite line: "in the lazy of the day or in the prowl of the night." Poetic & picturesque. Lovely piece.
Connie Dixon07/12/09
Yes, great descriptions with this piece. I love your development of the verse from Psalm 1. Great writing!
Mariane Holbrook 07/12/09
Remember the ice-breaker in social events: "If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you want to be?" Whenever I look at another oak tree, I'll remember your piece. A great Challenge entry!
Catrina Bradley 07/12/09
I'll be looking for this one at the top of the list. You have a masterful way with words. The voice is unique and full of character. The topic is subtle, but undeniably spot on. Well done!
Joy Faire Stewart07/13/09
I was going to mention several of my favorite lines, but there are too many. Beautiful!
Melanie Kerr 07/13/09
The message of listening deep, listening long and listening slow is something we all need to do.
Mona Purvis07/13/09
Jim, I would come to the FW Challenge just to read your entry if I never had the time to get to others. Watms my soul and stays with me. Just very special.
Carol Slider 07/13/09
This is a lovely story, so poetic and evocative. Very well done!
Patricia Herchenroether07/13/09
Very beautiful and thought-provoking. You painted a lovely picture; I will look forward to your entries.
Chely Roach07/13/09
Poetic and lovely. Very stong writing. Wonderfully powerful.Loved it!
Bryan Ridenour07/13/09
Powerful writing...awesome entry...well done
Sonya Leigh07/14/09
Wow! Look at all these golden boxes! This is the kind of entry we've all grown accustomed to reading from you, Jim. Your story so sparkles of a slower, more consummate time in life. It warms us to the core and makes us wish we'd all been your neighbors growing up. Great job.
Kristen Hester07/18/09
Excellent writing. Wow!
Jan Ackerson 10/02/09
Jim, I'm going to feature this piece on the Front Page Showcase for the week of October 5th. Look for it on the FaithWriters home page...and congratulations1
Joy Faire Stewart10/05/09
I loved this the first time I read it and enjoyed it even more the second. Your poetic writing is beautiful with a thoughtful message. Congratulations on being featured this week. Well deserved!
Rita Garcia10/11/09
Wonderful from start to finish! Congrats on being showcased!