Monthly Archives: February 2015

WINGSPREAD E-magazine February 28, 2015

An E-magazine dedicated to writing about spreading wings in a complex world


1. E-zine subscription info.–Insure you’ll always receive Wingspread.
2. Fun at the Dunn Bros. Wingspread reading event
3. Newest article: Part II: Heating Bellefonte House
4. Writer’s Corner
5. Favorite quotes and books

Subscribe  Click here to subscribe to Wingspread  E-magazine (free), sent direct to your email inbox, about twice a month. You will receive a free article for subscribing. Please share this URL with interested friends, “like” it on Facebook, retweet on Twitter, etc.

Wingspread is a memoir about how childhood faith led to mission bush-piloting in South America. Buy it here: (or at Barnes and Noble,, etc.)  See pics related to Wingspread:

Signing event: We had a fun time on Wednesday at our Dunn Bros. book-signing event. I read a few excerpts, sold a few books, and we talked about the joy of writing. Wish you could have been there!

New article:  Heating Bellefonte House
We moved into Bellefonte House in the humid heat of August. But we knew that cold winter was coming. The house had radiators whose pipes went nowhere—the furnace was missing. The wooden coal bin in the basement was empty. How would we keep warm in winter? …
Read more here:   (*Request: Please leave a comment on the website after reading this article. Thanks.)

 Writer’s Corner:  

Some ideas to help you edit your own stories:

  • Be consistent. When you spell a word, when you use italics, and when you hyphenate.
  • In dialogue, each new speaker gets a new paragraph.
  • Cut out every word that does not do any work.
  • Make your formatting consistent: paragraphing, line spacing, use of subheadings, font, ellipses.
  • Be consistent with comma use (in series, after clauses, etc.)
  • You may wish to put your own thoughts in italics (“I looked at him and wondered, Does he know how silly he looks?”)
  • Write out numbers less than 10 (“three”)

Here are some “dead” words. Cut these out: 

a bit
a lot
in a sense
the fact is
as a matter of fact
in reality
in order to
one of the most
pretty much
kind of
sort of
the thing is

Wondering how to clean up your writing? Read my “How to revise an article” at:

Writer’s Word of the week:  epigram
A pithy saying or quote. A short poem with a surprising twist. Use an epigram at the beginning of your piece to surprise or provoke. (Example: “When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.” Mae West)

Favorite quotes:

♠   Copy from one, it’s plagiarism; copy from two, it’s research. Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)

♠   Writing is easy; you just stare at a blank piece of paper until drops of blood appear on your forehead.

♠   Rewriting is like rubbing a dusty window with a cloth. The more you rub the clearer the vision on the other side becomes.   Donald M. Murray

♠  Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.   T. S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Good books on writing:

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
Joseph Williams, Style: The basics of clarity and grace
Judith Barrington, Writing the Memoir

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Follow “james hurd” on Facebook, or “@hurdjp” on Twitter

If you wish to unsubscribe from this Wingspread Ezine, send a note to and say in the subject line: “unsubscribe.” (I won’t feel bad, promise!) Thanks.

Heating Bellefonte House

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

We moved into our 100-year-old Bellefonte House in Pennsylvania in the enervating heat of August, but we knew that cold winter was coming. The house windows were single-paned, and the radiators weren’t connected to anything. The furnace was missing, and the wooden coal bin in the basement stood empty. How would we keep warm this winter?

My childhood house in California had no furnace. In the morning chill we kids would run into the kitchen in our jammies, sit on a bench, and put our bare toes on the open oven door to soak up the heat. Or Dad would say, “Bring out the heater and hook the rubber hose to the gas jet.” And, “Always be sure to turn the jet off before you unhook it.” We never owned a fire extinguisher.

But here, it’s bitter winter in Bellefonte House, and the water pipes in the lower bathroom freeze. We set a small space heater near the pipes and let the faucet drip to keep the pipes open.

So we feel forced to enter the world of wood heating. We buy an airtight, freestanding stove, place it in the parlor on a heavy piece of slate, and connect it with a stainless steel pipe into the tall chimney. I enjoy bellying up to the hot stove on cold winter mornings. We run a duct from the parlor to carry heat across to the kitchen, and block off the stairway with blankets to keep the heat from all going to the upper story. I bank the fire at night, and in the mornings when the house temperature drops into the fifties, I jump out of bed and run down to add wood to the dying embers, carefully extinguishing any coals that bounce out onto the rug. On the coldest nights, the whole family forsakes the bedrooms to sleep together next to the woodstove, cuddled up in blankets.

Aping our pioneer forebears, we venture into the vast Pennsylvania forests to cut wood, but after several spectacular failures (like when we chainsawed through a rock) we decide that buying wood at forty-five dollars a cord isn’t too bad. People who know warn us, “Ask for a full cord of cured oak; don’t accept ‘a pickup load’ or a ‘rick’ or a ‘face cord.’”

The woodsman stops down below our house, his stake truck filled with oak logs in twenty-foot lengths, twelve inches in diameter. He yells up, “Where do ya want ’em?”

“Up here on the bank beside the house.”

The truck engine powers the hydraulic Anderson Arm which the woodsman uses to seize several logs at a time, lifting them from street level up onto our front lawn, avoiding the low-hanging electric wires. That afternoon, my rented chainsaw rips through the bark and wood to cut the logs into fifteen-inch lengths. I smell the pungent pitch. Then I swing a splitting maul to split the larger-diameter logs. Kimberly, Tim, and Jennifer (she’s three years old) help carry the firewood onto our front porch and stack it against the house.

“Why do we have to do this?” they whine. Clearly, this task is more fulfilling to me than to the children. I withhold my lecture about frostbite and death by freezing. We learn new words, such as rick, chimney brush, and creosote (you can smell it in the smoke rising up the chimney). We do not know that our chimney has no liner, that the mortar is crumbling between the bricks, or that the smoke has deposited thick layers of creosote on the insides of the bricks.

One morning our neighbor Mr. Witmer knocks on our door and yells, “There’s fire shooting out of your chimney!”

I run upstairs, smelling smoke. Tim jumps out of bed and says, “Daddy, there’s smoke coming out of my walls.”

The creosote must’ve caught fire. Are the walls burning? The whole house is going to burn down! We call the fire department and things begin to spiral out of control. We gather all the children and run out of the house, shivering in the cold. I watch as the fire marshal runs upstairs and yells down, “There’s smoke in the bedrooms!” Five eager men pull a huge fire hose into our front door, but the fire marshal stops them just before they flood the whole house. They use a chemical to staunch the flames and the holocaust quiets down.

After they leave I wonder, Have I been too casual about the safety of my family? We review our fire escape routes and invest in two smoke alarms.

I tell Barbara, “We can’t use the chimney again—it doesn’t have any liner, and pieces of mortar are falling out of the cracks.” But what to do? We turn on the costly electric baseboard heaters. We consider vivisecting and rebuilding the chimney.

But Barbara says, “Let’s build a new chimney over on the family room side. That would put more heat where we need it.”

I tell her, “That’s impossible.”

But of course, we end up building the chimney, an act I later refer to as our “Red Sea experience.” I call my friend Rich Kutch: “Could you come over and help? I’m afraid I won’t get this done before winter.” Truth is, I need his encouragement as much as his labor.

The day comes when we begin the construction, pouring a concrete foundation thirty inches down, below the frost line. You can hear the scraping of trowels as block by block the cement-block chimney rises. We install ceramic sections of masonry liner inside, and pierce a hole in the house wall to insert a triple stainless steel neck that connects the ceramic chimney liner to the woodstove.

As the scaffolding rises, we lash it to the house with straps to steady it. Two-by-twelve planks lie across the steel tubing to form a platform to stand on. We use a wheelbarrow to mix up batch after batch of cement. Barbara employs our laughable rope and pulley system to raise each seventy-pound chimney block. The blocks scratch my hands when I grab them up above.

I lie awake nights wondering how we’re going to finish the chimney. I dream of falling from the scaffolding, or of a block toppling down onto Barbara. I wake up in the morning sweaty, with no joy, thinking about the Impossible Task.

In spite of all these challenges, we finally cut a notch in the eaves to pass the chimney up through the roof peak, cement the top block in place, and install the chimney cap. Only after we’re done, I discover I’ve botched the job—the chimney follows the contour of the crooked house wall. I hope it will hold together.

Barbara decorates a “chimney cake,” and we invite the Kutches and our other helpers to come celebrate the finished chimney. During all our years living in Bellefonte House we will heat with wood.

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Early this particular morning it’s fifty-five degrees inside, and I shiver as I throw on a robe and creep downstairs. I open the stove door, smell the dead ashes, and begin putting in kindling, newspaper, and wood chips to try to relight the fire. It soon blazes up, but instead of rising, the choking smoke blows out into my face. Creosote must be blocking the chimney! The house temperature drops. We turn on the oven in the kitchen. We even turn on the electric heating strips.

I’ll have to go up on the roof and take a look. Outside, snow lies deep on the ground. I lean our heavy wooden extension ladder against the thirty-foot-high roof eaves and carry up three two-by-fours, some nails, a hammer, and a big rock. At the top of the ladder, I nail one two-by-four to the side rail of the ladder, and shimmy along it over the ice-sheeted roof up to the ridgeline. Barbara gazes up from below. I think, What am I doing up here, thirty-five feet above the ground? I balance myself on the ridge and drop the rock down the chimney. Thunk—it hits something solid and stops. Barbara checks the clean-out door below—no rock. The creosote must be blocking the chimney!

Balancing on the roof ridge, I nail the remaining two-by-fours end-to-end and shove them into the chimney to break the creosote loose. I hear the rock drop free. Then we completely clean out the chimney using a stiff wire chimney brush tied in the middle of a long rope, I above and Barbara below at the clean-out door, seesawing the rope up and down. This works better for me than for Barbara—she emerges with a black face. With the chimney cleared, the stove lights immediately.

*          *          *

It’s now thirty years later, we’re on a family vacation, and we decide to drive by our beloved Bellefonte House. The crooked-built chimney still stands, looking eternal as it enters the twenty-first century, now wearing a patina of vinyl siding that covers the unseemly cement blocks. I take a memorial picture of our grown children sitting on the front steps with their kids sitting beside them.

In our memory, the house on the hill was a dowager duchess, having seen better days but still standing proud. We reveled in its large parlor, broad stairs, high ceilings, full porch, and heavy woodwork—features we would never again see in a home.

It’s strange how little money has to do with happiness. Here in Bellefonte House we shared the daily joys of food, rest, play, and work. Here I completed my PhD program. The kids laughed at the little squeaks their guinea pigs made in cages in the yard. They played house here, held “weddings” on the front porch, and explored the nooks and crannies of the attic. We celebrated birthdays, and from here, Kimberly and Timothy left for their first day of kindergarten. Here we entertained relatives and countless guests. At Bellefonte Courthouse Tim and Jeny became naturalized US citizens.

How does one discern God’s will? We didn’t choose Bellefonte house—it was chosen for us. When we moved there I had dark doubts, and yet somehow felt that God had given us this place. It represented to us much more than shelter—it served as a womb where we raised our young family and, I hope, gave witness to God’s love.

In Bellefonte House we learned to weather the winter with a large woodstove. The cold, forlorn house on the hill warmed to us, nurtured us, and became a place of joy.

WINGSPREAD Ezine, February 15, 2015

An E-magazine dedicated to writing about faith and flying in a complex world

1. Ezine subscription info.
2. Wingspread reading and signing event
3. New  article: Valentines Alligator Hunt
4. Writer’s Corner
5. Favorite quotes and books


Subscribe  to this Wingspread  E-magazine (free), sent direct to your email inbox, about twice a month. Click here to subscribe. You will receive a free article for subscribing. Please share this URL with interested friends, “like” it on Facebook, retweet on Twitter, etc.

Wingspread: Of Faith and Flying: Reading and signing event:
Wednesday, Feb. 25th 6-8 p.m. Dunn Bros. Coffee Shop, Northdale & Foley Blvds., Coon Rapids, MN. All are welcome!

Wingspread is a memoir about how childhood faith led to mission bush-piloting in South America.
Buy it here:  (or at Barnes and Noble,, etc.)  See pics related to Wingspread:

New article: Valentines Alligator Hunt
It’s Valentines Day in the States, and tonight Barbara and I have ventured deep into the Venezuelan rainforest. Will this be the night we get engaged? …

Read more here:
(*Request: Please leave a comment on the website after reading this article. Thanks.)


Writer’s Corner:  

Some ideas to help you revise your own stories:

  • Think about one single person as a target audience. How would she/he read your story?
  • Is your story cohesive? That is, is it about one thing? Does each paragraph point to the one single topic? If it’s about two things, write two stories.
  • Can you add dialogue to your story? Readers like dialogue.
  • Make certain every word does its work. If it doesn’t, cut it. You should easily be able to cut your story by 10%. A good rule is, the fewer words you use, the greater impact they will have.

Wondering how to clean up your writing? Read my “How to revise an article” at:

Writer’s Word of the week:  nominalization

Generally, nominalizations end in: -ion, -ness, -ance, -ence, -ness. These suffixes turn a word into a noun, a “dead” noun. A good rule: Go through your story and turn these words into powerful verbs. Example: “The assembly line used automation.” Change this to: “The factory owners automated the assembly line.”


Favorite quotes:

♠   A story is the shortest distance between a person and the truth.

Fr. De Mello

♠   Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.
Groucho Marx

♠   The Good News of the gospel, therefore, is not that God came to take our suffering away, but that God wanted to become part of it.
Henri Nouwen

♠   He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)

♠   Thank you for sending me a copy of your book – I’ll waste no time reading it.

Moses Hadas (1900-1966)


My all-time favorite books on writing:

William Zissner, On Writing Well.

Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write

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Follow “james hurd” on Facebook, or “@hurdjp” on Twitter

If you wish to unsubscribe from this Wingspread Ezine, send a note to and say in the subject line: “unsubscribe.” (I won’t feel bad, promise!) Thanks.

Valentines Alligator Hunt

It’s Valentine’s Day in the States, and tonight Barbara and I have ventured deep into the Venezuelan rainforest. Will this be the night we get engaged?

Barbara has come down to Venezuela from Costa Rica for a ten-day visit. I wanted to fly her in the mission plane to see some of the airstrips I fly into, and to meet some of the missionaries. Earlier today we flew into Tama Tama, the remote jungle headquarters of the New Tribes Mission. Tama Tama sits on the Orinoco River, 600 miles up from the river mouth. We were welcomed with biting gnats, and enervating heat and humidity. Now we have flown farther upriver and landed at the Yanomamo Indian village of Coshilowateri.

Earlier this afternoon, Gary Dawson had pointed to his dugout canoe and asked us, “Wanna go alligator hunting and collect some turtle eggs?”

We said “Yes; of course!” What were we thinking?

 The dugout canoe is a cigar-shaped affair made out of a hardwood tree trunk, carefully adzed out and control-burned to leave a hermetic hull of wood with a narrowed prow to help it slip through the water. It weighs several hundred pounds empty. Its thick wooden bottom helps defend against sharp rocks in shallow streams. The Yanomamo propel their dugouts with paddle power, but ours has an outboard motor.

 We start our trip with a little sliver of moon, not enough to illuminate our path. The dugout carries us through the night jungle on the wind-wrinkled waters of the Padamo, a twisting tunnel of a river, with 100-foot trees towering on each side. We see no sign of civilized life—no boat docks, no electric lights, and no people. Just the dark, sinuous river. Gary sits at the rear, managing the outboard motor, his sister beside him. He’s about 18, skinny, sandy-haired, wearing just a tee shirt and an old pair of jeans. No shoes. He speaks Yanomamo better than any non-Yanomamo I know, and acts completely at home here on the river. A young Yanomamo boy, Jose, wearing only a G-string and a bit of body paint, sits in the prow searching the blackness ahead for dangerous rocks floating logs, and sandbars. Barbara and I cuddle near the middle where we’re perched on a narrow board wedged between the gunwales. Barbara seems willing to go anywhere with me—is it love?

The sandbars loom up out of the darkness. José says, “Por alli,” pointing toward a promising sandbar. We stop to find some turtle eggs. The eggs look like tiny dinosaur eggs—perfect ellipses. Gary says, “Don’t take ‘em all; leave a few.”

We get back in the dugout and launch. As José shines a powerful flashlight over the water, Gary tells us, “The ‘alligators’ are really caimans—they can grow ten feet long, and are covered with a nobbly skin tougher than leather. Their jaws can crush a large dog in one bite. They’re lying submerged in the river. Look for their red, beady eyes right above water level. They gleam like red reflectors when the flashlight beam hits them.”

Suddenly Jose points out two red reflectors just above the water—unblinking, motionless. Gary cuts the motor, stands up in the boat, and fires his shotgun. The gator thrashes violently, spraying water for 20 feet, agonizing, out of control, and then after a while it lies limp. We paddle over and pull it into the narrow canoe, crimsoning the boat floor. It’s eight feet long, and the powerful tail quivers under our board seat. An hour later Barbara screams and throws her arms around me when the gator opens its toothy jaws in a dying reflex.

 Mile after mile, Gary stares into the dark wall of trees. Then we see two white, unblinking eyes staring at us—eyes wide apart. What is it? Gary motions for silence and we cut the motor and paddle the canoe up against the bank. I wonder, What if he botches the shot? Will the eyes jump into the boat? Gary loads a slug into his shotgun, but just as he raises his shotgun, the eyes disappear. He says, “Probably a tigre.”

It’s now midnight, and we’re almost down to where the Padamo empties into the mighty Orinoco, second-largest river in South America. I look back upriver and see a pinpoint of light. We kill the motor and hear the high-pitched drone of another outboard motor. As the light grows brighter, Gary shouts, “It’s my dad. He’s worried we’ve been out so long, and is searching for us along the river.”

Joe Dawson says, “We were kind of worried about you. It’s so dark, and it’s late.” We motor back to  Coshilowateri.

Lots of excitement on this Valentines Day, but no engagement—the dugout was too populated and we had no opportunity. The next day Barbara and I will fly to the Parima hills on the Brazilian border where we will overnight in missionary housing, just a few hundred yards from Niayobateri, a Yanomamo village. At 11:00 that evening, Barbara and I will walk out onto the grass airstrip and I will ask her to marry me.