Thursday, July 19, 2007

Faith Works 7-28-07
Jeff Gill

Kneading a Symbol

On the south side of Courthouse Square, Great Harvest Bread Company offers their wares, mostly baked.

The Little Guy always badgers me to go in, which we usually do when he’s in tow and I’m heading just above them to the Licking County Coalition for Housing (did I mention they have a golf event Aug. 25 at Raccoon Int’l? No? Well, there we are . . .).

Smells are free, as are slices, which is my son’s primary motivation, but he wants to take a loaf home. The choice, though, can take . . . OK, I won’t run the risk of exaggerating, but it does seem quite a while.

I’ll ask him what he thinks Mom would like, which can be a struggle to translate into “what I like, but she probably would, wouldn’t she?” Fortunately for him, the Lovely Wife likes pretty much anything that’s a baked good.

(When I mentioned to her that some had been grousing about the trend at many Farmer’s Markets to have a predominance of baked goods instead of produce, she replied “And the problem is?”)

The very kind lady behind the counter, quick to cut a slice even before you ask, knows her whole grains and semolinas and yeast varieties. I do not, but bread as a final product is of interest to pretty much anyone who likes to eat and thinks a bit about what it is they’re putting in their mouths.

They had some pepperoni rolls that day, which she admitted were rolled up and baked around sliced discs of pepperoni sausage; I told her about Fairmont, West Virginia, where we lived when LG was born, proudly home of the pepperoni roll. The claim there is that it was an ideal way to make lunch for coal miners, indestructible and easy to eat in the dark with dirty hands. Their pepperoni was not in slices, but in rods, square lengths of sausage, three in each hand-sized pepperoni roll, and a rugged crust.

She replied with the Cornish pastie, a dough round flipped over a stuffing of ground meat, carrots, nowadays celery, but traditionally with cubed rutabaga. I’d had pasties at Mackinac City, where a restaurant and museum honor the Cornish and Devon ironworkers who 50 years ago this summer built the Mackinac Straits Bridge, “Mighty Mac.” (And I learned when I got home and checked on-line that it burned down two years ago, but is being newly raised out on the edge of Mackinac City just in time for the golden anniversary celebrations!)

The Little Guy finally came up with Cinnamon Chip Loaf, a hunk of bread about the size and shape of his head, but softer. The label says “great for French toast,” but dipping this stuff in batter and frying it seems redundant. We just slice it and eat it.

Bread was once an everyday part of most households, with mounds of flour on the counter, bowls with rising dough on the sideboard under a tea towel, and often a fresh loaf coming out of the oven, flaking crust and delightful smell covering the kitchen.

Now we see making bread as an artisanal experience, a special event often facilitated by a gadget looking like R2-D2’s little brother next to the food processor, which pops out a globe of admittedly tasty bread.

For most of the religious traditions in Licking County, bread is part of the ceremonial life and at the heart of worship. Some of the immediate power of that presence came from the place bread held in the home, in the everyday: a piece of mild magic summoned up by those you knew well, dough swelling to twice its size and more, crust adjoining soft networks of bubbles outlined in bread, crushable back down to the inevitable pellets made by children around the world from whatever the local specialty.

The staff of life, the most mundane of meals, a trick unveiled on the most important stage of any child’s life, the dinner table. The loaf so lovely and whole, that must be broken and cut and sliced so all may eat.

Making bread can be a religious experience, some say; I’d say that appreciating our daily bread surely is, and getting a bit closer to how it comes to be makes that appreciation turn into actual thankfulness.

Which would be the best thing since, uh, sliced bread.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he’s partial to Irish soda bread, rhapsodies to yeast aside. Share your recipe with him at
Notes From My Knapsack 7-29-07
Jeff Gill

Engineers Can Be Poets, Often In Steel

Way back when, 50 years ago when Howard LeFevre was just fifty years old, a fellow named David B. Steinman built a bridge.
Little Davey grew up literally in shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, and as he went to school and graduated from Columbia, he wanted to build bridges.

The first work credited in his portfolio is a Boy Scout pioneering project near Moscow, Idaho, where he first taught engineering and did some scoutmastering, combining the two into a bridge over a creek larger than any the boys had built before.

Though the BSA was only 2 years old at the time.

Steinman went on to design and consult on his own, even helping supervise a renovation of his beloved Brooklyn Bridge, of which he wrote: “A bridge is a poem stretched across a river, a symphony of stone and steel” since David Steinman was a poet, inspired as much by Roebling’s architecture as by Shakespeare.

He was asked to consult on a bridge over the Tacoma Narrows in Washington state, and on reviewing the plans, said “when the wind picks up that structure will shake itself to bits.” His was the minority report, and filed accordingly.

They pulled Steinman’s file out when the Tacoma Narrows Bridge went from the joking tag “Galloping Gertie” for the resonance up-down wobble it always had, to a near-tragedy as Galloping Gertie shook herself (and one frightened dog trapped in the middle) to death, at least taking long enough to allow all the vehicle drivers to crawl off and for a local photo shop owner to make one of the most famous home movies ever seen.

If Steinman, the poet-engineer, had gotten that right, then the Michigan state government, wanting to connect their upper and lower peninsulae with an unprecedented, record-setting bridge, wanted him to design a bridge for the even windier Mackinac Straits.

1953 they hired him, and 1957 they honored him. “Mighty Mac” was built to withstand winds of over 350 miles per hour, which meant even the governor and senators could safely give speeches from the center span.

What makes Mighty Mac safe in high winds is also what makes it almost impossible for some to drive the five miles from shore to shore. The decking is steel mesh, meaning you can (as a passenger) look over the side and right through down to Lake Michigan 200 feet below (and another 200 feet of water below that). This is effect is either exhilarating or terrifying, though as a driver, why are you looking down, anyhow?

But the state highway folks keep a crew of people around to drive you across is you ask at the toll booth, and the last time we were there, one told me a fellow had to be driven across every month some years ago, and it bothered him so much that they had to lay a blanket over him lying down flat on the backseat. It’s a service they provide for free, or at least included in the toll.

Checking my facts on-line, I see that one of my favorite Eagle Scouts, Mike Rowe, will feature Mighty Mac on her 50th birthday in his show “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel. Painting this bridge, like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, never ends – you finish at one end, and just go back to the beginning and start over.

If you’ve vacationed in the Straits area, eaten Island fudge, or just passed through on your way to Sault-Ste-Marie and O Canada, you know what an amazing sight the bridge is, both far away and nearby. The towers are just under the height of the Washington Monument, catching clouds or sticking out of morning fog, while vast cargo vessels are dwarfed by passing under her.

The Lovely Wife and I honeymooned in its shadow 22 years ago, and we’ve since had occasion to take the Little Guy to visit, but a trip this summer didn’t work out, more’s the pity.

If you want to see the bridge, just go to the official website of the Mackinac Bridge Authority,, or check out their friends at You can see a live webcam, fog, rain, and all, plus pictures of bright sunshine or icebound in snow. Looking at David Steinman’s greatest poem is like a quick vacation in itself.

Oh, and I wouldn’t have known of the poet in the engineer, except that at Bethany College, just above Wheeling WV, the theater complex, not the engineering building, was given by the family in his honor, where a painting hangs in the lounge of David, with his background of course being: The Mighty Mac.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he wishes he had space to talk about Fort Michilimackinac, too! Share your vacation or anniversary tales at
Faith Works 7-21-07
Jeff Gill

Sixty Years of . . . Faith, and Speculation

Not to get into my own odd schedule and habits too much, but when circumstances have me up after midnight, I will always tune into the Art Bell “Coast-to-Coast AM” radio show.

For those of you who actually sleep after midnight, a course of action I heartily recommend, a little explanation is called for. Art is a long time radio host who started out in the mold of Larry King, and steadily increased his percentage of guests who were focused on the paranormal and extraterrestrial affairs until that pretty much became the show.

He got spooked enough by some of his guests that he retired a ways back, then returned, sharing hosting duties with his replacement, George Noory.

George is now the regular weeknight host, and with the birth of a new child Art is only an occasional fill-in on weekends, but he’s been back for a very important anniversary in the “Coast-to-Coast AM” world.

60 years ago this month, outside of Roswell, New Mexico, something happened. The Air Force says Project Mogul lost some balloons, and UFO adherents say we had visitors from outer space.

“Independence Day” was a straight-faced take on what many believe, which is that our government had tucked away in storage alien spacecraft, or at least parts, and possibly even some alien corpses which we’ve autopsied.

Yes, the infamous “Alien Autopsy” videos have been revealed as a hoax, but some in the UFO community argue that the hoax was helped along by the government to cover up and discredit information that there was an alien autopsy, just not the one we’ve seen.

Apparently, just in time for the July 7, 1947 anniversary, one of the last witnesses to whatever was originally seen passed away, and left a posthumous confession that supported the alien accident theorists.

What I heard on the radio was kind of touching, and kind of sad. It was a long series of older adults, insisting that their parents who were young adults 60 years ago, were good people and honest, who never would have changed their stories for personal gain.

I believe them. Well, I believe their assertions that personal gain and advancement never motivated their “greatest generation” parents, I really do. But there is a 60 year series of articles and newsletters and books and websites that shows most of them did tell different stories at different times under different circumstances, which is why this story won’t go away.

They did change their accounts, in major details and small, and the fact that one of them chose to make a final set of claims after death (themselves not in line with earlier statements for and against the UFO theory) doesn’t mean I’m required to accept that last document as fact, or “disgrace one of the finest Americans who ever lived.”

He was no doubt a wonderful man, but what did he see in the New Mexico desert in 1947, and what was he told to do by authorities? People of good will can disagree, but my money is on the weather balloons. Sorry.

So why do I still listen? Largely, because so many of my fellow citizens firmly believe that the government is covering up a crashed flying saucer in their keeping (and most say it ended up in Ohio, at Wright-Patterson AFB!). Partly, because the nature of the conversation drinks so deeply at the wells of faith. They believe, or in the words of Fox Mulder, “I want to believe,” and their greetings and conversations with George and Art and across the transcontinental phone lines sound like the back of a church after a wedding or funeral: “Hey, Bob, haven’t talked to you for a while,” “Nah, I’ve been busy, taking care of my mother after her surgery; have you been doing your lectures much?” “Sure, mostly in California, but I get over to Nevada from time to time.”

The Roswell enthusiasts are a community, and they know each other by name, know their families, and they’ve even had two major schisms, making them just like most mainline denominations in American life (there’s the Socorro school and the anti-Socorrans, and I forget the other).

Some of what they claim makes me chuckle; then I remember that some of what I believe (healing, resurrection, eternity) makes the clever kids chuckle at me. How do I make my truth claims in ways that are the same as the Roswellians, and how can I do better?

Which is why the next time I have to make a drive after midnight, the radio will drift over to Art or George or whoever is hosting, and I’ll listen intently. They want to believe, but in what?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; convince him of your close encounter of the third (or second, or first even) kind at
Sentinel Letter to the Editor -- 26 July 07

“On my honor, I will do my best”

For nearly a century, young people around central Ohio and here in Licking County have said those words as a promise, the Scout Promise, rooted in the World Scouting Movement founded by Robert Baden-Powell.

“To do my duty, to God, and my country”

Wednesday morning, August 1, at 8:00 am in England, on the shores of Brownsea Island where Scouting’s first campout took place (a test run of the system B-P had dreamt up), thousands will say the Scout Promise of their nation’s Scout organization together.

“To obey the Scout law, to help other people at all times”

In each time zone, hour by hour around the globe, at 8 am all Scouts, past and present, are invited by the World Scouting Movement to gather in a public place and simply say their Scout Promise together. From 22 boys and 3 men on August 1 in 1907, Scouting today is found in 216 nations with over 38 million members, male and female.

The Boy Scouts of America include Cub Scout packs for 1st through 5th grade, Boy Scout troops to age 18, and Venturing crews for young men and women ages 14 to 21. Girl Scouting shares the same roots, extending to this country through a friend of Baden-Powell’s, Juliette Low, who began the GSA in Savannah, GA in 1912.

But it all traces back to those first four patrols, the original Brownsea troop of Scouts, trying out advancement that is measured against one’s own growth, not in competition to defeat another, trying out teamwork as patrols, with each youth getting a chance to experience leadership in practice. They sang songs by campfires, learned constellations in the night sky, and slept out in tents.

To salute those beginnings, Granville area Scouts and scouters, past and present, are invited to join in Opera House Park by 8:00 am on August 1, where we will greet the new day and Scouting’s second century by saying our respective Scout Promises together. St. Luke’s Parish Hall will provide a weather backup (“Be Prepared” is our motto, you know), and wherever Scouts gather, coffee is very likely to be served. Please come join us!

Jeff Gill
Asst. Cubmaster
Granville Super Pack 3

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Notes From My Knapsack 7-22-07
Jeff Gill

Who You Callin’ a Weed?

Jolting up from almost every roadway and curb in the area, suddenly appearing, bristly and stalky small shrubs, covered with light blue flowers: they are chicory.

If you’ve had the pleasure of New Orleans region hospitality, and drunk the coffee, you’ve ingested a bit of those plants.

Chicory, they say, goes back to Andrew Jackson and the Battle of N’Orlins, when pirate captain Jean Lafitte could not smuggle in coffee anymore when Admiral Cochrane of the Royal Navy blockaded the port.

So they roasted and ground the root of chicory, and brewed up their own version cut half and half with the dwindling coffee beans. And they never stopped.

The coffee content is higher, to be sure, but the savory tang in a Louisiana (or parts of Tennessee) cuppa joe comes from the plant with those beautiful azure flowers, which are no doubt being sworn at this very moment by folks with weed whackers.

Chicory is a native plant, and along with the now erupting goldenrod shoots and the early stems of my beloved ironweed, they dominate the later summer in ditches and medians and other less heavily tended open areas. What dry weather and harsh conditions do to lawn grass is where the long-time local plants thrive, along with a fair measure of invaders like dandelions and garlic mustard.

More sadly, chicory is the first of the series of blossoms that announce the latter half of summer, from post-fireworks chicory to mid-August’s gold and purple of goldenrod and ironweed, to the profusion of asters and michaelmas daisies from Labor Day. Asters are the little star shaped flower all up and down the last tall growth of the summer, from the Greek “aster” for star, and the Native Americans knew it as the herald of first frost.

In my neighborhood, the deer are not only so hungry but thirsty enough to eat sedum and peony, hosta and um, some other plant I’m not sure of. But they’re eating stuff I’ve never seen them go for, leaving only the basil and boxwood alone.

The marigolds, though, are showing their central American roots by just shouting their silly orange heads off in the heat, barely wilting even when we forget to water (when I forget to water; the Lovely Wife never forgets when she’s home). Deer apparently won’t touch them, though the idea that they don’t eat what’s next to them has been refuted by events the last few summers.

We’re thinking about a whole garden of marigolds, basil, and lavendar next year.

Now, when you’re talking about native plants, the amazing thing is that most of what makes up the green in an average lawn right now has only been in this country less than a few centuries. Dandelions, plantain, clover, most daisies, a fair amount of the grasses, and of course crabgrass are all introduced species, landing somewhere in the wake of the Jamestown settlers in 1607.

Actually, some botanists think it likely they came ashore when the early ships shoveled their ballast of gravel and dirt from Portsmouth and the Thames estuary off onto the shore in Virginia, to make room for loads of tobacco heading back home. The dirt harbored the seeds which germinated and, um, spread.

At any rate, chicory’s blue splatter along the roadways reminds us that summer is halfway (culturally, anyhow, not astronomical summer). Make the most of what we have left, which is quite a bit!

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he tends to just let stuff grow in his lawn. Ask him about an odd plant by your curb at