Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Mercy of Moonlight

During five full days without electricity (and thus without water from our well) after widespread windstorms in Pennsylvania and Ohio, we have lived a bit of an adventure. A commiserating friend suggested that at least we will have a lower electricity bill this month. But I think there's more good than that to come out of the week.

It was good to slow down and just "wait" at times. I had several periods of that during the week--like at first when we thought the power would be back within hours, or after I'd gotten all the perishing food dealt with and had only to wait until it was time to drive to town to make a dinner. And then I could get through a good chunk of Bible study or math with a son, or set a sparrow free that a daughter had rescued as a fledgling two months ago, or read a light novel myself, or have a long talk with another daughter about *The City of God.*

It was good to have offers of help that I know were sincere, and only a few of which we could take advantage of, though it's a little chilling when some people ask how you're doing and have a too-bright smile on, as if they're eager to hear of your discomforts.

It was good to enjoy a shower when I got one the first, third, and fourth days, and to do the dishes with small trickles of water from a pitcher and from a kettle the fourth day. It was good to enjoy the scrambled eggs my husband insisted on making for us on the propane ring the fifth day.

It was good to bask on the porch--front or back--and just enjoy the sunshine and breezes; we marveled at the wind storm the first night, too, until some of the gusts showed their frightening power.

It was good to share the church kitchen with others without power, and to create pleasant, orderly meals out of the chaos of thawing and cooking. It was good to create a vat of chicken and sausage gumbo to be frozen in batches for the future.

It was good to enjoy the smell of matches and candles and to live "pioneer evenings" thinking about Lincoln reading in such an atmosphere (I waited to try to read until Thursday when we borrowed a kerosene lantern).

It was good to get a toilet flushed with the aid of a five-gallon bucket of water. It was good to keep ice in a cooler and to serve two children chilled pudding cups with the last of a can of whipped cream and a sprinkle of nutmeg the fifth day.

It was good to give people the opportunity to share and offer hospitality and equipment, as those who did did it with such ease and good will and cheerfulness--one called me on the phone the fifth day to pester me to bring over my laundry!

It was good to have so much of the world around us electrified, so that we could drive a few miles to campus to use computers or some of us to shower and shave, and so that others COULD offer us help.

When I got word last evening that the power was restored, it was good to share the news with one who had lived the same sort of week and to have a spontaneous hug of celebration.

It was good to know the graciousness of God in the midst of inconvenience (for that was all it was for us, really): We had ideal weather for such a week--sunshine and temperatures ranging from the 40s to the 70s, and what I came to think of as His gracious timing in a full moon all week--the Mercy of Moonlight.

Moonlight made it easier to navigate in a pitch-black house at night, to fumble to the candle or flashlight. Moonlight cheered our arrival at home each evening for bed (after we'd whiled away some darkness in the realm of electricity). Moonlight spared us the fear that might have otherwise closed in, gently reminding us of the goodness of our God and showing us that nighttime is just the same as day, only seemingly less in our control--it is all in His control.

Moonlight revealed much in its tender, comforting way. Did you notice it?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A Good Assignment--Imitating a Narrative

This Progymnasmata Narrative assignment includes several exercises you can . . . well, imitate . . . to work with a narrative. This version is from my Great Books Writing Workshop: Modernity.

From Greenmantle, by John Buchan, 1916

Hertfordshire, United Kingdom: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1994

The introduction to this edition notes that “John Buchan wrote this swashbuckling tale of high adventure between February and June 1916 when serving as a Major in the Intelligence Corps in France during the First World War.” The hero of the tale, Richard Hannay, is sent as a spy on behalf of Great Britain to uncover and foil a plot by the Germans“to invoke a Jihad or Holy War amongst Muslims in the Near East against the British.” In this selection, a little over halfway through the novel, Richard Hannay and his companion Peter are on horseback, finding their way through pitch darkness in a land unfamiliar to Richard. Though it is a narrative, the piece shows how a narrative can create an overall atmosphere or description. Each step through the darkness emphasizes how dark it really is.

We had to trust to Peter’s instinct. I asked him where our line lay, and he sat very still for a minute sniffing the air. Then he pointed the direction. It wasn’t what I would have taken myself, but on a point like that he was pretty near infallible.

Presently we came to a long slope which cheered me. But at the top there was no light visible anywhere—only a black void like the inside of a shell. As I stared into the gloom it seemed to me that there were patches of deeper darkness that might be woods.

“There is a house half-left in front of us,” said Peter.

I peered till my eyes ached and saw nothing.

“Well, for Heaven’s sake, guide me to it,” I said, and with Peter in front we set off down the hill.

It was a wild journey, for darkness clung as close to us as a vest. Twice we stepped into patches of bog, and once my horse saved himself by a hair from going forward into a gravel pit. We got tangled up in strands of wire, and often found ourselves rubbing our noses against tree trunks. Several times I had to get down and make a gap in barricades of loose stones. But after a ridiculous amount of slipping and stumbling we finally struck what seemed the level of a road, and a piece of special darkness in front which turned out to be a high wall.

I argued that all mortal walls had doors, so we set to groping along it, and presently found a gap. There was an old iron gate on broken hinges, which we easily pushed open, and found ourselves on a back path to some house. It was clearly disused, for masses of rotting leaves covered it, and by the feel of it underfoot it was grassgrown.

We were dismounted now, leading our horses, and after about fifty yards the path ceased and came out on a well-made carriage drive. So, at least, we guessed, for the place was as black as pitch. Evidently the house couldn’t be far off, but in which direction I hadn’t a notion.

(pp. 132-133; 364 words )


Answer the journalist’s or even military intelligence reporter’s questions about this narrative.

Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

Condense the 364 words of the main narrative to about 100-150 words. Think about getting “just the facts” for an intelligence report.

Submit your version as “Part 1—Condensed”


Expand the narrative again to a solid 250 words from your condensed version, without looking at Buchan’s original, and create your own details to convey that sense of darkness Richard Hannay reports.

Submit your version as “Part 2—Expanded”

Anaerobic (Optional)

Create a similar narrative to Buchan’s to convey in a series of events a pervading impression. Below are some suggestions to get you started, but try to create something original if you can. Use about 250-300 words.

  • Enter a familiar room occupied by people of longstanding habits and find something that’s just out of place, something wrong in the atmosphere. Use details in the room, discovered over time as you look around or walk around, to convey that feeling. This is a great opportunity to use the comparative mode: instead of…although…
  • Tell how a young person discovers bit by bit in a particular interaction that another person is in love with him or her.
  • Trace the excitement or dread of a journey (like the one above), as the traveler gets closer and closer to the destination.

I hope you can make good use of this assignment, and perhaps I have interested you in Buchan's fine work!