Dead Men Tell Tales

Are you ready to learn what the life is all about? I recommend Jeffry Zaslow and Randy Pausch’s small book The Last Lecture. After reading the book, watch the lecture on YouTube. The order is important—a one-two punch to the soul’s solar plexus.

Randy, a young university professor and father, was living with fatal liver cancer. He delivered the lecture on September 18, 2007 at Carnegie Mellon University and died on July 25, 2008.

It is not a sob story, but a more poignant reading encounter you are not likely to find. The 2012 edition features a foreword by Randy’s widow, Jai, reflecting on life after Randy’s death

Given my age, I read only books that cause me occasionally to pause and think. Even mysteries and fun fiction can have depth. I’ll live with The Last Lecture a long time.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

A Light in the Night, Conclusion

The Allagash runs north toward Canada. For five days we had enjoyed a following breeze. Buy by late afternoon the final day the sky darkened and a brisk north wind hit us in the face. Rain was certain. Willie wore cutoffs and a T; I wore jeans, a T, and a baseball cap. Our sweatshirts and rain gear were in a canoe far ahead. Thunder rumbled as the front swept in, dropping the temperature 40 degrees in minutes. I dug with my paddle, fighting the headwind. Then the rain became a downpour. Lightning crackled. Willie put down his paddle to hug himself for warmth. I was as cold as I care to be. At one point, we paused to dump water from our canoe. Willie shivered violently but there was nothing I could do for him. The river ran though deep woods in the gathering dark. The front passed, the rain stopped, and the wind calmed; but it got colder by the minute.

It became increasingly difficult to pick a course in the boulder-strewn waters and I couldn’t risk a dump-over in the dark. I had no idea how far we had to go. I called to Willie “If we don’t reach the guys soon, we’ll have to pull out until daylight. It’s OK. I’ll keep you warm.” I had no idea how I could do that. We drifted in silence, straining to see our way. I faced a hard decision. One more bend and we would have to pull out.

The bend came, and far down a straight stretch I thought I saw a glimmer of light. I paddled with renewed energy and the glimmer became a Coleman lantern hung on a branch over the river! Up the steep bank, a campfire reflected off the firs. Hello camp! I called.

Eager hands steadied our canoe and helped us up the bank where hot chocolate and warm sleeping bags waited. I prayed with a great fervor that night.

I never saw Willie again, but I’d like to find him and thank him for what he taught me that dark night on the Allagash.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

A Light in the Night

 

 

Note: Reader interest is high, so I decided to print the whole Allagash story as it appears in the Story Tree. Sonny’s real name was Willie. Here’s Part One:

It was our last day on the river and we were the last canoe. The Allagash was low, the temperature uncommonly high for Northern Maine—90 plus. My bow paddler was distressingly slow. I’d yell hard right and we’d be on the rock before he decided which side was right. None of the campers wanted to paddle with Willie.

We’d been drifting, swimming, and goofing off for five days; a dozen boys and two men. I chose Willie for my partner out of compassion. I generally bring up the rear on the trail or water to make sure no one gets left behind, and Willie assured me that position.

He was 12, maybe 13, from a foster home. Short sandy hair, brown eyes, scrawny; he read poorly but could he talk! He chattered away, seamlessly moving from one topic to another, delighted to have a listener. “See that duck?” he said, pointing to the sky. “No, in the clouds.” I saw no duck, but I noted the clouds were thickening. “Wish I had my camera,” said Willie. “Why?” I asked, looking skyward. “No, down the river.” There in the shallows stood a buck with a huge rack in velvet. He watched us approach then ambled into the woods. Willie paddled quietly a while.

Willie spoke again: “Cap, were you ever scared?” “Sure, lots of times.” “I mean really, really scared.” “I guess so,” I replied, wondering where this was going. “I was really scared today,” said Willie. I had paddled with him since morning and nothing scary had happened. “Tell me about it,” I said. “Remember when we stopped to eat and you asked us to tell about Jesus?”

We had rendezvoused on a sandbar for lunch and devotions. I asked the kids to tell what they had learned on the trip and how they met the Lord. Last-day excitement ran high so responses were meager, and we pushed off for our last stretch of river with some distance to go. Nothing scary had happened.

“I wanted to tell how I met Jesus,” said Willie. “I have a Bible but I don’t read good. I wanted to say something, but the kids always laugh at me. I got really, really scared.”

That tore at my soul: a boy pouring his heart out to a friend. Guilt for my impatience swept over me. I wanted to hug Willie and tell him I cared. We paddled silently for a long time.

We’ll pick up the story next time.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Life Changers 1 Sonny, My Bow Paddle on the Allagash

 

I have a rare privilege: I’m older than dirt yet I remain reasonably healthy and my memory reaches back to early childhood. My wits function fairly well. Some would consider me poor but I have everything I need and a little extra. Best of all, I have many friends, including the girl from 313, who changed my life. An unlikely story you can read at www.lloydsstorytree.com. Hunt out Epilog.

It occurred to me that many major changes in my life came about through unlikely encounters, like the day on the Allagash in Northern Maine I spent in a canoe with a thin, challenged kid we’ll call Sonny.

We had paddled five days through unseasonably hot weather, appreciating a following breeze. Now we had reached on our last day with miles to cover before nightfall. Sonny was my bow paddler—no one else wanted his company. He was an inept paddler and talked incessantly about trivia. Sonny was the youngest in the group, a foster boy.

To ease our load, I had tossed our personal packs in another canoe but we still lagged far behind, bouncing off too many hidden boulders. For the whole story, hunt out A Light in the Night, June 22, 2014, on the Story Tree website (see above). By midafternoon, clouds darkened the sky and a cold wind hi us in the face, further slowing our pace. The temperature dropped 30 degrees in minutes and we paddled in shorts and tee-shirts. Sonny put down his paddle and hugged himself to keep warm.

Suddenly, a lightening crack followed by a downpour. Good sense dictated we look for shelter in the heavy woods but we had miles to go. Then rainwater sloshing in our canoe forced us ashore. We sought shelter under our overturned canoe, but every mosquito in Maine joined us. We returned to the river as evening darkness crept over us.

We’ll pick up the story tomorrow.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

The Hammer, Paul Boskoffsky

One year at the close of the Becharof camping season, I stayed behind to batten down the camp. The day was clear and breezy, ideal for flying, so after finishing my work I decided to cross the lake and check out the beach near the Gas Rocks for a possible camper overnight. Flying campers over would save a long boat trip across the lake, which can get rough.

My Super Cub was small but it was great for beach landings. I buzzed the beach and it looked fine. I landed smooth, but then I made a mistake: I forgot to raise the flaps before I turned the plane. The wind caught a wing and nosed me. I hit the switch, but not in time. The prop bit gravel. I climbed out, pulled down the tail, and checked the prop. It was slightly bent. Now what!

I was OK, but it was too far to walk out, and my family and friends would worry when I didn’t get home. I knew search planes would never think to cross the lake. The only thing to do was try to fix the prop. I always carry a tool kit, and after getting the prop off, I felt I could straighten it with the right tool. But the hand axe from my tool kit was too light. OK. Find a large rock.

For two hours I walked the beach in both directions and found only small stones tumbled smooth by the surf. It was a real predicament. I grew desperate. I prayed out loud, “Lord, please help me!” As I walked toward the plane thinking what to do, I saw an old stick poking up from the tundra at the beach edge. I pulled on it—I don’t know why—and to my amazement, on the other end was a geologist’s hammer. I lifted it high and shouted, “Thank you Lord!”

The hammer was just right. I made a bed in the sand, worked gently on the prop, eyeballed it, and put it back on the plane. Nervously, I cranked the engine. It fired and ran smooth! I flew home rejoicing.

I still have the prop and I keep the miracle hammer on my bookcase to remind me of God’s love and provision. He put the hammer at just the right place, waiting for me. It had been there long years, swept by many storms. The handle was nearly rotted off.

People ask how a hammer like that could have got to such an out of the way place. I can only guess, but many years ago, oil prospectors explored that region. Perhaps a prospector lost his hammer. He sure picked a handy place to lose it

Thanks, Paul

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

 

The Guide Who Could Call Up Moose

In response to my Facebook camping stores, Joe Grove wrote an only-in-Alaska camping yarn from his years there, stirring a host of tales in my heart. My favorite Alaska stories relate to Paul Boskoffsky, Aleut elder and dear friend. (If you haven’t read Paul’s miracle hammer story, you need to.) He told me the following tale over coffee on a stormy day at Becharof Bible Camp

In his younger days, Paul worked for a master guide on moose and bear hunt in his boyhood country. The clients in the story were an older man and his grown son. They took a bear but had yet to see moose.

Paul left the base camp alone one morning to scout. Climbing the hillside, he scanned the tundra and spotted two respectable bulls bedding down. Paul knew moose; they would stay put. He located a downwind approach that would put the hunters within rifle range with low risk of alerting the moose. Returning to the hunters, he announced, “We’ll get our moose today.”

The skeptical hunters followed Paul to a spot within rifle range. Paul whispered to the older man, “You take the one on the right.”  Not a moose was in sight. “Get ready,” Paul whispered. The hunters worked shells into their rifles.  “Are you ready?” Paul whispered. Then, stepping forward, he yelled, “OK Moose. You can stand up now.”

Two shots, two moose, two dumbfounded hunters. You can imagine the stories they told back home.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

A Boy and a Canoe

From 1962 to 1972 I was privileged to share God’s love with men and boys through wilderness treks from Maine to Alaska. I witnessed the Creator changing lives.

One morning a lone canoeist paddled toward my camp. Nosing his canoe to the gravel he said, “Cap, I just wanted to tell you…”  He groped for words.  “Last night, at the campfire, when you talked about  giving  your life to God, well, it was dark and I guess you couldn’t see me, but I lifted my hand like you said, to tell God I would be his for whatever he asked.”  He looked up. “Thanks, Cap,” and pushed off. I don’t recall his identity, but I can’t forget the moment.

At evening campfire in the Washington Cascades, a father sitting by young son spoke, his voice cropped by emotion.  “During reflection time today, I settled an issue. There’s been…a problem. It would have destroyed me. I signed up for this trip to get away, to think.” He hugged his boy. “Thank you.”

What issue?  It doesn’t matter. A host of men have issues and many find no escape even though they know God. They spend the rest of their lives eaten by hollow remorse.

Conference headquarters colleagues not given to the wilderness considered my trail program little more than recreation. One friend asked, “How much time can you give to spiritual things on a canoe trip?”  To him, spiritual meant prayer meeting, Bible class, and chapel. He lived  the dreadful dichotomy that divides life into two  parts: spiritual and everything else. I hold every moment be equally spiritual. Jesus who said I’ll never leave or forsake you doesn’t check out after Morning Prayer.

My trail devotions knit each day together. Jesus paddled with us stroke be stroke and hiked step by step.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

A Boy and a Trout

A challenging wilderness experience does more to equip a kid for basic living than anything else we can provide. I base that on a long-held belief that persons removed from direct involvement with the necessities of life suffer damage to their souls. Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation—necessities for life–just happen for most. You find then all on the wilderness trail.

A group of dads and sons joined me at the Box Y Ranch in Wyoming for a week of trail riding adventure. I took Willie, a shy, small, lad, under my wing. Slow and inept, his parents sheltered him.  In midweek, we set up a base camp in Blind Bull Canyon near a trout stream. I asked Willie to stay behind to help me while the others rode off for the day. I wanted time alone with him.

I taught him to rig a fly rod and we worked through heavy brush to a small pool in the creek—no small feat carrying a fly rod. He looped a wriggling worm on a #6 hook as I whispered instructions (trout are easily spooked). Willie swung the bait over the pool and let it drop. Wham! A respectable cutthroat trout hit the worm.  Willie gave a mighty heave, depositing the trout 10 feet back in the brush.

Moving faster than he ever had, the lad pounced on the trout, holding it high, his eyes glistening. We hiked back to the campsite, where I taught him how to dress the trout and kindle a fire. We plopped the trout in sizzling bacon grease. I can still see Willie shuffling the crisp, brown morsel hand to hand, blowing on it. He had not washed since worming the hook. But what did that matter in the mountains alone a friend? Willie ate the trout down to a wispy skeleton.

If Willie still lives, he is middle-aged, and I’m sure he remembers that golden morning on Blind Bull Creek with Cap Matt.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Tale of the Woolly Mammoth Tooth

The cover photo of memoir book six shows two huge leg bones and two teeth—one large, one small—framing my father’s open Bible. The large tooth got me in trouble—and gave me a title for my new book: How Do You Know That’s a Tooth?

It was church picnic Sunday. I was preaching for our vacationing pastor. As I often did, I called the kids to the platform for a story before they escaped to children’s church. My prop was a large, black, fossil tooth Roger Green bulldozed up at his Alaska goldmine.

As I told the story, the kids passed the fossil among them. I closed  with these words: “The Woolly Mammoth that owned this tooth died about 16,000 years ago, the time of the last glacier.”

I lit a fire! A cluster of older women huddled. They were committed to a 4,004 B.C. creation.  Mattson was spreading heresy!

Unaware of the fire, I took the tooth to the picnic, thinking older folks might like to see it. Placing it on the watermelon table, I stood by. No one came!  Finally an older, unsmiling woman approached. Ignoring the tooth, she chose a slice of melon. What do you think of my tooth? I said. She growled: How do you know that’s a tooth?

Old Grandpa Lloyd

A Methodist at Heart

In 1932, brother John was born. Mother wasn’t feeling perky, interrupting regular attendance at Bethel Baptist and sister Hazel and I began a weekly Sunday walk to Lester Park Methodist, where many school friends attended. For six life-shaping years, I was Methodist.

Friendship soon formed. I joined Mrs. Smith’s boys’ choir. At age 12 I joined Troop 18. I became a Star Scout, Patrol Leader, and Bugler. A friend of kids, Lucy Watson appointed me president of the Junior Oxford League. She encouraged me and Hazel to attend Red Rock Campmeeting in South St. Paul, where I knelt at a plank altar and professed faith in Jesus.

Life was good at Lester Park Methodist until a crotchety new pastor arrived. Noting my many church involvements, he declared I had to become a member, which involved baptism. When I announced that at home, my Baptist parents sprang into action. I was properly baptized at Bethel Baptist on April 14, 1938, thus ending my Methodist career.

Last week a Duluth Tribune photo and story announced Lester Park Methodist’s closure after 129 years of Ministry. The handsome brown brick building at 54th and Superior Street looks lonely. I’ll always be a Methodist at heart.

Old Grandpa Lloyd