Just the Other Day: Are You Talking to Me?

I try to walk two miles each day. It’s good for me on so many different levels. I wish I had better self-discipline to walk every day, especially when traveling. Walking is easy to do when I’m at home. I just set the treadmill to run at four-miles-per hour, jump on, and in thirty minutes I’ve done my walk. It’s hard to gauge the distance when walking outdoors. Without a machine setting the pace, my speed varies and I think it takes closer to forty minutes to walk the desired distance.


When I do walk outside, I find it’s better to have June Bug on her leash with me. She’s good company and being a spirited, energetic dog, she is a fast walker. Pulling me along at her pace, I rely on June to assure I have covered two miles in forty minutes.


One particular trip, I was driving on a quiet highway in eastern Colorado, headed for home. I took notice when I passed mile marker 210, on the side of the road. I smiled, thinking, if I stop at the next marker, 211, then walk between the two signs, I would get my full two-mile walk and the distance would be measured. That’s what I would do.


I let off the accelerator and began to slow down, eventually pulling over to the side of the road. Moving off the paved shoulder, I parked in the grass on the edge of the ditch, to keep my pickup a safe distance from traffic. With the truck stopped, the motor shut off and seeing a grassy area just outside the window, June began to bounce around the cab, assuming an adventure was at hand.


It was a good day for such an undertaking: at 52° the sun was shining and the sky was blue. The eastern side of this state is flat and agricultural; brown hayfields lined both sides of the road. They would soon turn green with the coming of spring. This far from the mountains, the area looked more like Iowa than Colorado.


Back home on the Northshore, the temperatures were in the single digits and tall snowbanks lined the sides of every road. Weather at the homestead has often been sub-zero lately. Because her feet get too cold, I haven’t been able to take June on a descent walk outside for a long time. This day was a welcome break from the Minnesota winter and I would take advantage of it to treat my dog to a walk in the fresh air.


Being as mild as it was, I decided to wear a flannel shirt without a coat, although I would still wear my favorite stocking cap to protect my ears from the wind. I considered letting June run without her leash, but we were on the side of a highway and there was still some traffic going by at highway speeds. Besides, June would need the leash to pull me along; helping me stay on pace. I planned to time our walk, to see how long it took to cover two measured miles.


While June stood in the backseat of the truck, I clipped the leash to her collar and said, “Come on Bugs, let’s go for a walk.” She jumped right out to the ground, where she went berserk sniffing the grass, curious about every scent left by other animals. I checked the time on my phone; it was 11:57 a.m. I would give her until the top of the hour to sniff about and take her potty break.


At 11:00, I called, “Come on June Bug. Let’s go.” The first thing she did was run on the opposite side of the mile marker post from me, catching her leash. “Go around.” I told her. She’s such a smart dog, she ran right back to the post, returning to me on the correct side. We didn’t get very far into the walk before June stopped again. She would sniff things, as I kept walking, until the retractable leash was taught, then she would sprint past me to the end of the leash, to find more things that needed to be sniffed. It’s a process that repeats itself, back and forth, over and over again on our walks. At one point, it was June who wanted to keep walking, but I found something interesting I wanted to look at.


June was tugging on her leash, so I picked up the piece and carried it with me. It was a tension spring for an old drum brake, off a tractor or something. It had two springs, one on each end, with a shaft the middle. The shaft had a stop, similar to the head of a nail, on each end that allowed the spring unit to be connected between to two brake shoes. This kept the shoes off the drum, until the brakes were applied. It was a cool looking, rusty old piece. I thought I would take it home to hang a basket with a green plant – maybe in the bay window at home. I carried the piece for a while as we walked. Pretty soon I said to myself, “You’re collecting junk you don’t need. Leave it here.” I dropped it back on the paved shoulder where I found it.


After I dropped it, I thought someone might run over it, possibly damaging their tire. I set the steel piece just off the edge of the blacktop in that little six-inch space of rocks where the pavement ends and before the grass starts. June tugged on the leash as if to say, “Come on!”


We walked farther down the road. In the farm field to my left, there was an old phone pole laying in the taller grass. It still had the insulator on top. Not one of the really old blue or green glass insulators, but a two-tone brown and tan one. It was much larger than the old glass type – probably from the seventies. Anyway, it was cool and I wanted to keep it. June and I walked down through the taller grass in the ditch. I dropped the retractable end of her leash. “Wait here.” I said.


I climbed over the barbed wire fence and walked to the old phone pole. The bracket that held the ceramic piece was bolted all the way through the pole. I unscrewed the insulator from its mount and turned to leave the field. June startled me. She was standing next to me. “How did you get in here?” I asked. She said, “Dad, I’m a dog not a cow. I walked under the wires on the fence. Can we go now?” “Sure, Bugs.” I said and we left the field to continue walking toward mile marker 210, with me carrying the big insulator.


After we reached the marker post, we turned to start walking back to the truck. The ceramic piece was getting heavy. I switched hands and noticed the weather seemed to be getting warmer. I was starting to sweat a little, so I took off my stocking cap, tucking it into my back pocket. June gave a tug on the leash, “Come on, Dad.” We picked up the pace. June continued sniffing things as we went, but we were making good time and soon rounded mile marker 210.


We walked quite a stretch on our return before I stopped again. I found a triangular, flat steel thing in the road. It too was rusty, with serrated edges on two sides and flat across the back. I was pretty sure it was a blade from a sickle mower. I thought it was neat, but had no idea what I would do with it. June gave me an odd look, “Dad, are you collecting junk again?” She asked. “No.” I replied, “One never knows when he’ll need on of these.” I put it in my back pocket. When I did, I noticed my hat was missing. I looked around but it wasn’t near.


Still carrying the insulator, I used my hand with the dog leash to shade my eyes from the sun. Squinting, I looked down the road behind me. I could see the hat on the shoulder of the road about a quarter mile behind us. It was about the same place where we crossed the fence to get the phone pole. I didn’t feel like walking all the way back to get it, but it was my favorite hat. June asked, “What are you going to do?” “We’ll walk to the truck, then drive back to get it.” “Good thinking, Dad.” She complimented, I knew she was getting tired. “That’s why I get paid the big bucks, June. The really big bucks.” I said snickering, as we kept walking.


Not too much farther up the road, I came across the tension spring again. It was back up on the paved part of the shoulder, still by the reflector post where I had set it down off the asphalt. It laid perpendicular to my path, as if it was blocking my way That was really strange.


I checked along the edge where I set it before to make sure there weren’t two of these tension springs. There were not. I looked up and down the highway to see if someone was there messing with me. No one was there and this spring was too heavy to have blown back up on the shoulder – especially with a two or three-inch lip from the gravel up to the pavement. I figured I was meant to keep this piece, so I picked it up to take home. With June’s leash and the spring in my right hand, and the insulator in my left, we continued back to the truck. I laughed, thinking, I’m out of hands, I hope I don’t find any other cool stuff.


I set the three pieces on the back floor, then I looked in both the cab and box for any kind of a wrench. If I could loosen those nuts and bolts on the pole, I could get the bracket for the insulator. I didn’t find the tool I was looking for, so we drove back to get my hat. As I suspected, it was right where the phone pole was laying in the field. I stopped the truck. Looking at the pole, I wondered; those old poles shrink over time. Maybe the bolts would be loose enough, I could remove the nuts by hand. As long as I was already there, I crossed the fence to check it out. The bolts were way too tight, but I had another idea.


The farmer had the pole cut up in sections and pushed to the side of the field. Maybe I could just take the whole top section. The grass had grown up around the pole laying in the field and was holding it down. As I tried to clear some of the grass, I found a second insulator that was nearly buried in the dirt. After digging it out and carrying it to the fence line, I continued my efforts to free the pole. “Well, I’ll be…” I said aloud, kneeling down. I found the third insulator, deep in the growth as well. The last two pieces I found were each still attached to a small block of wood that was the cross bar on the phone pole. They had been cut loose with a chain saw. How cool is that? Now if I can get the pole, I’ll have the whole circuit.


It took a little work, but I freed the pole, carried it to the edge of the field, and tossed it over the fence to the other side where the two insulators laid. Opening the tailgate, I put the two smaller pieces in the truck, then went back for the pole. I carried it up the hill from the ditch, lifting it up into the bed. It was too long for the tailgate to close. “Stupid five-foot box!” I complained. I love the four-door pickup, but I’ve never liked these short boxes.


By laying the pole diagonally across the floor, I was able to get it in all the way and close the gate. Pretty smitten with myself, I climbed into the cab, started the truck and got ready to pull away. I shifted the transmission back in park, jumped out, ran about ten feet in front of the truck, retrieved my hat, then returned to the driver’s seat and headed down the road.


While I was driving, I began thinking about the treasures I found. The insulators are used to hold live electrical lines. If those lines connect with ground, they’ll short out, blow a fuse and become dead wires. One might conclude they insulate life from death. It takes all three wires to make a 240-volt circuit – the three separate wires, make one circuit. Hmm. The wires were mounted high upon a pole with a cross bar. Boy does that bring some things to mind.


I considered the first piece I found, the tension spring. It’s made up of three individual components; a spring on each end and a shaft in the middle, holding them together. The three pieces make one unit. Okay, this now had my attention. What about the sickle mower blade? A triangle with three sides that make one shape. There was clearly a message here.


Having trouble finding the message, I called my cousin, telling her my story. “What do you think this means?” I asked her. Robin responded, “I think God is telling you something.” “Indeed,” I agreed, “but what is He trying to tell me?”


Robin paused for a moment. “You’ve been praying a lot lately. Have your prayers been answered?” she asked. “No, not yet.” I replied. “Maybe it’s God’s way of saying, I’m still here.” “Yes, but why three signs?” I questioned.


Just then, it all made sense. It was the Father in the tension spring telling me, “I’m still here listening. I hear you – keep praying.” The Son was in the insulators and wood pole saying, “I am at your side. I haven’t left you – keep praying.” The Holy Spirit was in that triangular blade, calling out, “Follow me. I will point the way for you – keep praying.” I was humbled beyond words.


I shared the experience with my brother, Gerard, asking what he made of it. He asked, “When you threw the spring to the side of the road, were you rejecting someone?” “I didn’t reject Him,” I insisted, “I just didn’t recognize Him.”  Then my brother challenged me, “So, you’re telling me, you carried six-feet of a phone pole, up the hill, by yourself.” “Yes, I did. Why does that seem so unlikely?” I questioned. Gerard answered, “I would think that pole would have been very heavy – too heavy for one man to throw over a fence, then, carry alone.” Then he suggested, “Perhaps someone else carried the wood up that hill for you.” Gerard’s message was clear, and again, humbling. Still, who would have thought spiritual messages could come from, well, just things?


With the season of Lent upon us and Easter on the way, I’ve been thinking more about our walk in Colorado that day, and what came from it. Forgetting to check the clock when we finished, I had no idea how long we had been walking. With all our stops, the time would not have been accurate, anyway. The next time June and I go for a walk outdoors, I’ll still depend on her to keep us on pace for a forty-minute, two-mile walk. The next time I find an inanimate object that seems to be sending a message, I’ll stop to ask, “Are you talking to me?”