Whiskey Barrel Spring

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I detect that I am not alone in my impatience for Spring to arrive. The news reports a prosecutor attempting to bring capital charges against Punxsutawney Phil, that mantic marmot, that ultimate rodent of augury,  whose visual acuity presumably presages a hastened vernal visitation. And he blew it this year. So…he dies.

Somehow, it even seems like Lent is taking longer, mainly because for the first time in many years, I’ve done nothing to observe Lent. No reading project, no prayer covenant, no abstinence, no nothing. Those things, which usually have me thinking in terms of “Lent, Day X” make the transition from winter to Spring easier to weather. But this year, I had no inspiration to observe Lent. I know. Bad Protestant. A throwback to my Jesus-Freak hippy for Christ we-don’t-need-no-steekin’-liturgy roots.

So our choices have been either bitter cold with blowing sleet and snow, or moderate temperatures with driving rain and decapitating wind.

Some things take time. A couple years ago, for our anniversary, Angie and I drove about 60 miles over to Bardstown, a lovely little town with a lot of shops and streets that seem to want us to walk into them. Bardstown is famous for the “My Old Kentucky Home” State Park and historical center, which memorializes the life of Stephen…Foster (Tombstone moment only barely avoided!) But that was not our destination. Nor was the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, home to spiritual writer Thomas Merton and I hope one day, scene for a personal prayer retreat for me. Merton was in possession of one of those whiskey-barrel-staircase-1amazing, great souls. I hope one day to visit there, open up a new wing on my own shriveled soul.

Maybe some Lent…

We would have enjoyed also running over to Nerinx and Loretto, just a few miles away, the home of the Sisters of Loretto, who joined a mission work in Santa Fe, New Mexico where their famous “Loretto Chapel” is home to a mysterious and beautiful spiral staircase, one with no external means of support. But alas, our destination was more secular than that!

We rode the “Old Kentucky Dinner Train,” a completely refurbished train from the 1940’s. The three dining cars now have elegant tables, dark wood walls, suspended lighting, and passengers enjoy a 2.5 hour trip across the bluegrass, past old train depots, distilleries, which used to be part of Kentucky’s economic backbone, and of course, across our lovely woods, rock fences and streams of the bluegrass.

The pace was slow. Chugging slowly through the bluegrass is a treat in itself. We Kentuckians forget the understated, subversive loveliness of our rolling hills, forests, limestone cliffs, frisking horses and farms with their plank fences and drystone masonry rock walls…only rarely interrupted whiskey-barrel-dump-1by a junk car on blocks or old sofa left to die. Even the distilleries remind us of an old-world kind of craft. Distilleries came to Kentucky when persecuted Catholics, skilled in the distilling arts, came to Kentucky in the late 18th century looking for peace, and for limestone water and plentiful white-oak for barrels. The bourbon, clear when first distilled, must age in virgin white-oak barrels for at least seven years. The white-oak imparts to the liquid the caramel color and, I’m told, a distinctive taste.

Which put me in mind of…how impatient we have become. We want everything right now. Spanking new, in shrink-wrap. And we want more. How many things in our lives require at least seven years before we would even imagine using them? The great whiskey-barrel soul of Thomas Merton took time to age and ripen, as did the servant hearts of the Sisters of Loretto. The craftsmanship of that mysterious spiral staircase was the fruit of a lifetime of labor. Such, like Kentucky’s famous spirits, cannot be mass produced.

Also…if for some reason, we wanted more of this bourbon, you can’t just “make more.” What you drink today was “made” seven or more years ago. If they “make more” this year, it won’t be available for seven years. It’s inherently limited. There’s no whiskey-barrel-planter-1“ramping up production to meet rising demand.” We have to conserve it, and wait for it. The Makers Mark folks tried to increase supply by reducing the content of the actual bourbon by just a couple percentage points…and faced an outcry!

And those barrels…they are used only one time for bourbon, then turned to other uses. You can soak a barrel, warm it, and extract a unique spirit from the wood fibers, but that’s the end. The makers care that much about the perfection of their spirits. We have one of those barrels in our back yard, cut in half, serving as a planter.

Our flowers in that barrel, though lifeless now, become unusually chipper with the warm Spring rains…even the cats lap water out of it and seem happier…don’t know why…

I wish we had more things in our lives that resulted from old-world care, patience, and passion for getting things “just right,” a willingness to wait, let time and good work have their effects.

When Spring comes…I’ll be ready.

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I’m 60 years old, professor of Old Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I love my wife of 36 years, my three adult children and children-in-law. I love our three horses, two cats, and whatever other creatures decide to call our place home. I hate mowing grass, hanging pictures or shelves, or anything involving punching or drilling holes in walls. I love my job of studying and teaching the Old Testament. I’ve recently contracted a fierce interest in archaeology. I also enjoy guitars, jazz, vintage firearms, airplanes, photography, drystone masonry and, visiting the lands of the Bible.

1 COMMENT

  1. I sat in on an adult “small group” (of nearly 30 people!) earlier this month and several brought of facebook indirectly when revealing struggles with envy. One mentioned seeing all that her ex-husband was doing that was fun and wanting that (but not him) and another mentioned how much it hurt her to see how her sister outshown her even as an adult. One person actually said this “How do people have so many Facebook friends? I wish I had more Facebook friends.” If I were to judge based on peoples’ hearts, and to be fair my own, I would be inclined to believe that Facebook may be more negative than good…

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