Saturday, December 27, 2014

Re-tire-ment





The online etymology dictionary tells us this about the word "retirement":
  
retire (v.)
1530s, of armies, "to retreat," from Middle French retirer "to withdraw (something)," from re- "back" + old French tirer "to draw" (see tirade).  

Meaning "to withdraw" to some place, especially for the sake of privacy, is recorded from 1530s; sense of "leave an occupation" first attested 1640s (implied in retirement).  Meaning "to leave company and go to bed" is from the 1660s.  

I suppose retirement is a little of all those things.  Now, with nearly a full year under my belt, I wish I had volumes of wise thoughts and profound suggestions for those of you a year or a decade or several decades from retirement.  Heck, I'd settle for being able to provide a few words of wisdom, but, unfortunately, deeper wisdom isn't something I can claim as a result of retirement.

I have retreated a bit.  But to an introvert, that's not only natural, but it feels welcoming as well.  Withdraw?  I suppose.  Though I would prefer the word "redraw" if there's such a word...as in redrawing priorities.  

What have I missed...being retired and all?  

I would quickly say the "social" side of being employed.  It likely makes some people smile, and others cringe, to realize and be comfortable with the fact that the majority of your life is spent with your co-workers.  Your waking life anyway.  If you do the math, you've got at least eight hours a day "at work," eight hours a day sleeping, and then the rest of the time is divided between non-work friends and social activities, traveling (sometimes for work) and family.  And let me be quick to say that spending the time with these "work people" isn't a bad thing.  I'd argue that much of who you are at the end of your work life is molded by these folks - your work family.  That will be where the majority of your memories lie, like it or not.

What else have I missed?

Well...the paycheck was pretty darn nice.  I realize that many of you work for the sheer pleasure of it.  Me?  I worked for the moolah.  Fortunately, I enjoyed what I did, so getting paid for something you enjoy doing is definitely a blessing.

What else?

A sense of productivity.  Which, I readily admit, can be satisfactorily replaced if I get off my rear end and do some or all of the things I said I was going to do when I retired.  But, let me say this, it's been nice to be lazy.  To have no goals to hit.  To have no objectives to meet or exceed.  To have no responsibility toward anyone but myself and those close to me.  I figure that I owed myself a year of that.

There is one thing I can tell you without hesitation.  And this is something that has been percolating for the entire first year of my retirement.  Something that has risen to the surface in all its glory and splendor.  (the caveat here is that I don't expect any of you to accept this at my face value...you'll probably have to experience it for yourselves.)  It's not deep.  It's not wise.  It's just fact.  

It is a waste of good brain cells to worry about whether you will have "enough money." You likely will, and, if you don't, folks are standing in line to hire the cheapest labor known in modern times:  Baby Boomer retirees.  What you will come to realize is that your continuing prayer will be that you will have enough time.  Enough time to, in a fully unencumbered way, enjoy waking each morning to a fresh day...a brand new number on the calendar...a newly printed lease on life, with the ink still wet and glistening like morning dew.  Enough time to laugh at the silly things that you once thought were so serious and important.  Enough time to radiate in the smiles of friends and family.  Enough time to curl up with a good book; take long, ground-grabbing strides though the woods or along the river; hold tightly to the hand of someone you love; or sit quietly at the ocean or atop a ridge or in a comfortable chair and just luxuriate in the glory of God.

Let me repeat...it ain't about the money.  It's about the time.  

Instead of dollars and cents, make my currency days and months and years.

One more thing.  If you're really up for a challenge, go and ahead and start practicing some of those retirement activities now...you know, the ones that don't require a red cent to enjoy.  And that bring priceless joy to your life.  Go ahead and practice a little unencumberedness.  It'll give you a leg up when your retirement genie knocks on the door.  

Sort of a preview of coming distractions.

Happy New Year - all.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Eve ramblings





At the farm this morning, a seasonal chill slowly gave way to an optimistic fried-egg sun simmering on an icy blue sky.  The weak attempt of a frost from the night before surrendered, turning to a harmless dew that produced thousands of quivering rainbows in the diamond strewn grass.  Coat weather slowly evolved to jacket weather and finally to shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows.

Casper and Jelly Belly, freed from the confines of the farmhouse, took a constitutional hike, fanning out across the tufted fields before returning to the yard to wallow in the crisp air and upon the moderating lawn.  The sun caught the brilliance of their black cat hair which, delightfully, reflected as pure silver.  B-Man, 'Stache, White Kitty, and Cali Cat wandered cautiously from the stalls of the nearly two hundred year old barn, finding their own patch of sunshine in which to preen and groom the morning away.  Momma Kitty remained staunchly solitary, patroling the edge of the woods, with careful posture and watchful eye for whichever one of her rivals might decide to swoop upon her unannounced and most certainly unwelcome.

I have a friend who jokingly claims that I have a cat ranch.  It often occurs to me that he might be correct.

With great effort and no small amount of back strain, I moved the headstones of Benji, Gidget, and Little One closer to Shirley's gravesite.  It was just one more small repair job sitting around waiting to be done since the April tornado.  Their graves remain in the backyard of Mom's former house, unbeknownst to the new occupants.  No harm, no foul.  I certainly couldn't move their graves, but I could at least preserve the headstones, and, at least to my way of thinking, their memories.  Kelsie's ashes are with Mom, just as she requested...just about every week for two years prior to her death.  If you were one of Margie's dogs, you never got treated "like a dog."

For many, Thanksgiving is being with families or missing the families they want to be with.  Maybe both.  For me, Thanksgiving is remembering the old days...the days when my parents were younger than I now am and my grandparents were...well...not much older than my current age.  And there are new generations creating their own versions of the old days.  I'm just not.  Though I think of my parents often, it's on the holidays that I think about them the most.  And missing them becomes most acute.

I inherited my Mom's love for animals.  Heck, let's be honest.  I inherited her fanaticism for animals.  Take Little One, for example.  She was part of an odd threesome that Mom discovered one day on the way to the farm.  There was an old abandoned school house that squatted several yards off the dirt road, becoming a makeshift haven for three odd fellows:  a dog, a cat, and a rooster.  Those three were the best of friends, you never saw one without seeing them all, and, as did every animal that came into contact with my mother, they took to her.  It probably helped that she stopped every day to feed them.  The three amigos preferred to take their meals together, so my mother would open a can of cat food, a can of dog food, and spread a handful of chicken feed, each and every day, rain or shine, sleet, snow, or sun, and provide them with a comforting audience while they chowed down.  There were no days off, no holidays, no every other Sunday.  Each day, they listened for Mom's Jeep and were lined up and ready to dine before the dust settled under her tires.  Unfortunately, mankind intervened, and some not so nice fellows shot the cat and the rooster, but the dog managed to escape.  Mom found the cat and rooster and gave them a proper burial.  Little One got to go home in the Jeep.

Kelsie was found on a sub-freezing January day at the end of the long driveway that winds to the farmhouse.  She lay beneath a dead sibling.  Kelsie was also assumed dead but when Mom placed the tiny pup in the palm of her hand, she noticed just the slightest of movement.  Wrapping the little ice cube of a puppy in her sweater, she hurried her back to the farmhouse and performed a famous Margie Miracle.  Kelsie grew to weigh sixty pounds and lived another ten years.

Our four-legged friends have similar stories.  Casper and Jelly Belly were on death row at the Animal Shelter, hours away from the dreaded walk.  B-Man, 'Stache, White Kitty, and Cali Cat were holed up under the porch of a building on busy Highway 64 probably only days away from death by speeding car.  Or hungry coyote.  Or callous human.  And some of you already know that we caught some beings, questionably human, tossing Momma Kitty and three kittens out into the woods from the trunk of a car.

There was not even the mew of a cat at the farm this morning.  Other than two loud shots from across the river, likely fired at some unsuspecting deer, the only sounds I can easily recall are the raspy rattle of the breeze through brittle leaves and the thumps and bumps of an industrious woodpecker, searching for some tasty morsel just beneath the outer layer of bark of an ancient, rotting elm.  This was a morning in which the whole landscape seemed to be anointed with the Balm of Gilead.  Not one shred of the hate and anger and rage that is running rampant in other parts of the country and world wormed its way into the late autumn peacefulness of this part of rural Tennessee.

And I was thankful for that.

I was also thankful for my ancestors who decided to settle among acres of woods and pastures along the Elk River and worked and managed those acres through hard times and times of plenty.  I was thankful for a mother who had a sweet, angelic connection with nature and animals and a father who tolerated, and even at times, shared it.  I am thankful for grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and the Thanksgiving feasts of the past.  I am thankful for tradition because, in frequently troubled times like these, tradition is a tangible and accessible branch jutting from an otherwise steep and stony precipice.  The saving grace, if you will.

I'm even thankful for that perservering woodpecker whose percussion lent excellent accompaniment to the leaf stirring breezes as well as sweet accentuation to the light, heavenly silence of this wonderful Thanksgiving Eve.

And I thank God for allowing me to not only experience a wonderful, soul-enriching morning, but to have the good sense to realize how blessed I am for the experience.   And for comprehending how rare and sacred these simple pleasures are.

I wish something just as rare and sacred for all of you.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Through a glass darkly...



Personal spiritual leanings aside, you can't help but be taken by the beauty of Saint Paul's writings.  Like a two-year-old to a cat's tail, I've always been drawn to one line in particular:  "For now we see through a glass, darkly:  now I know in part: but then I shall know even as also I am known."

Words have always held me captive, much like the early bubble lights on my first Christmas trees or, as in this very moment, the constant ebb and flow of waves against the unyielding beach.  I like the way you can weave words together like a hippie bracelet, picking and choosing from a pile of mismatched baubles, eventually tying the lovely chaos into a splendid whole.  An absolute potpourri of stones, gems, and what-nots that becomes an instant treasure.  When I come across a group of words woven into a delightful sentence or group of sentences, especially with an odd button or stone as the centerpiece, I get a little giddy.

I have to face it.  I'm irretrievably obsessed with with the "glass, darkly" part.  I'm even intrigued by the comma.  I'm not certain it appears in all translations, but it does in mine.  And I like it there and don't anyone dare take it away.  Because that just adds to the sweet mystery that lingers just on the palatable edge of discovery.  Those seven words create a universe for me - something that can't be sufficiently explored in a lifetime.  In a human lifetime, anyway.

And I wonder, as enlightened as Paul was (that fall on the road to Damascus was much longer than the distance from his horse's back to the ground), I wonder if he divinely knew that he was just scarcely nicking the surface of what I consider a bonafide example of God's sense of irony and maybe the keystone of His sense of humor:  science.

Stay with me here.

Let's consider the most obvious opposite of dark.   Light.  And let's agree that everything in the great beyond that can be seen today (and that's a bunch, thank you Edwin Hubble) still comprises only 4% of the universe.  Only 4%!  And let's concede that the scientists among us likely know about as much about space, outward and inward, as Paul did about Christianity as he stumbled toward Damascus.  So 96% of what we consider "the universe" is dark.  Dark.  Dark energy, dark matter...unseen, and to be frank, doggedly incomprehensible.

Which kicks us back to Paul for just a second when he says in his second letter to the Corinthians (good thing those folks in Corinth were so recalcitrant or we'd have had only one letter): "We live by faith, not by sight."

Whew...Paul!  If you only knew what you didn't know!

Now, to better appreciate God's sense of irony,  let's consider that He created electromagnetic radiation, aka light, but then He equipped us with eyes that can "see" less than a millionth of one percent of the electromagnetic spectrum.  Visible light.  Now, that needs to soak in a minute.  Less than a millionth of one percent.  What goes unseen, quite frankly, is incomprehensible but is known to exist.

And I should leave this alone, but I can't:  Paul was blinded by what?  The light!  Now am I crazy (don't answer that) or is all of this starting to feel related?  Here's the man who thought he knew it all, he gets knocked flat to the ground, blind as a bat, by a light, and then goes on some time later to write the pure poetry of I Corinthians.  Which includes the revelation that, compared to faith, sight isn't all that relevant anyway.

You know...we do.  See though a glass.  Darkly.

And that gives me immense comfort.

I have people close to me and people who have been passing acquaintances and people I've only heard about or read about who have either shared the commonality of death or who are sharing the commonality of serious physical, mental and/or emotional struggle.  They have been no strangers to dark places.  We will all walk that valley one day.  And I'd like to think that what we have waiting for us on the other side is at least 96% of the wonder and beauty of this strange and mysterious existence as well as that 99.99999999+% of light that we cannot see.  I simply don't believe God made it not to have us experience it.

Is the glass we see darkly through simply our eyes...those poor limited orbs that seem to fail a little more each year?   Are our eyes such primitive tools - and even after all these centuries of devising ways to "see" more, after all the inventions to see billions of miles into space or billions of atoms inwardly - will we always be able to see only darkly?

Or is the dark glass an expression of our earthly existence - the side of the glass we live on?  The side that can be maddeningly opaque.

There are estimated to be 17 billion Earth-sized planets in our galaxy.  And though we will never get scientists to absolutely agree on everything, it's thought that there are between 100 and 200 billion galaxies in our known universe.  Look, God doesn't mess around...when He creates, He creates.

And, maybe, just maybe, that's where the answers are to all the frustrating questions we ask over and over.  Like: why do bad things happen to good people?  Or why does pain and suffering exist?  Or what's the purpose of all of this?  You know...I'm sure those answers are tucked away somewhere in that 99.99999999+%.  Somewhere between here and Damascus.  Somewhere in this vast universe that likely, from what we can comprehend, sits on the head of a pin.  In the meantime, I'll let my faith begin where my sight ends.  Yeah, that sounds like a plan.  Because, when it comes down to it, that's all I know to do.






Monday, October 20, 2014

Horizons



I look out this morning to find a horizon drawn by God's straight-edge.  Put a level on it and the bubble would be right square in the middle...I'd bet on it.  Ocean horizons are defined and dependable.  They are predictable.  They are set and unchangeable.

No they're not.

It's estimated that a six foot tall person with his feet firmly planted in the sand will be able to see out to sea for three miles, and then the earth will rudely curve itself out of the picture.  Should he climb the lifeguard tower, the horizon moves out to around five miles.  From the patio of a Gulf front condo-say on the 10th floor-the ocean's horizon gets really gnarly, somewhere close to twelve miles out.

Where, pray tell, is this all going?  Well, we'll just keep poking at it and see what pops out.

Let's start with Robert Browning, a 19th century English poet, married to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a bit of a fox if I may say so.  And it was from inspiration of that foxy lady, I suppose, that spawned the lines:  "Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be."  From another work, he gives us: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?"

As I sit here immersed in the white noise of the waves, fifty yards from the slow boil of the tide in the Gulf of Mexico, perched some forty feet above the beach, my horizon teases me from a distance of eight miles.  When, last evening, I stood at ocean's edge, I was limited to a panorama of three miles.  (And, by the way, if you wondered why you had to suffer through the scribblings of Pythagoras in high school geometry, you can't get to these numbers without his theorem.)

But let's keep going.  In order to gain that extra five miles to the brink of the horizon, I had to do work.  I had to experience some level of accomplishment.  And that accomplishment came a some sacrifice.  In the most basic sense, I had to drag luggage and food and every Apple device ever created up a couple of flights of stairs and stow all of it in the condo.  I distinctly remember sweating.  Profusely.  Shouldn't be a big deal but when Bobby Browning invited us to grow old with him, I'm not sure that he was doing a ton of step climbing.  At a secondary level, I had to work for many years and do the correct things around planning for the future so that one day I would be able to meet the financial obligations of a week on the Gulf coast.  Not exactly up to the standard of challenges faced by Warren Buffet, but something beyond a Christmas savings account at the local bank.  Regardless, let's be honest...we're still at the most basic level of meeting obligations and being even remotely diligent.

I could stair-step us right along at this point, but I think I'll just get to it.  Our horizon is nothing more than our reach.  And no matter who we are, we do have the ability to reach as far as we possibly can.  Sometimes we choose to reach...I mean really stretch it out there...and sometimes we simply decide to go for only that which is within arm's length.  It's our choice.  That simple.

So the question is:  is there really a discernible difference between seeing three miles of emerald green and agate blue versus eight miles?  I mean, the sea is the sea, isn't it?

Well, my answer is yes.  The sea is the sea.  And, yes.  There is a difference.  You can continue to climb after your legs buckle, you can choose to reach higher and longer, you can fight harder, and you can maintain a death grip on every foot...every inch...that you attain.  Because that extended horizon means a few more precious seconds of that delicious sunset - that melting ice cream sundae overflowing with cherry and strawberry sky and whipped cream clouds.  It's being able to see that magnificent ship steaming eastwardly six miles from shore, the ship that's not even a figment of your imagination when you limit yourself to three miles of horizon.  You have another zillion gallons of emerald sea for your eyes to relish before it meets that bank of clouds along God's razor-fine straight-edge.  It's the opportunity for another drop of satisfaction, another small bite of life...one more verse of your favorite song.

In the end, when you find yourself blessed to have lived a life that has recognized the value of conscious, dedicated effort, that is a gift in itself.  The bonus is having that prolonged reach being rewarded by an extraordinary grasp that we pray we will find a way to be worthy of.

I watch two seagulls breakfasting in the foam of the ebbing tide.  The breeze has picked up, ruffling the feathers of a persnickety blue heron.  The casual dining partners skitter back and forth devouring random treats.   Their horizon, according to Pythagoras, is less than a mile.  Poor birds.  Much less then a mile.  But, after a while, when they take wing with full stomachs and wet, sticky feet, they climb the currents of the sea breeze with amazing ease.  Higher and higher they go, until they are two indistinct dots against the blazing blue sky.  And I think, my God...they have the power to create an endless horizon - no limits, no ending!  And I believe it is just that, my friends, that Robert Browning was referring to when he said that the best is yet to be.  And, yes, yes, yes.  That is what a heaven's for.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

It's cloud illusions I recall...



So...who would have guessed?  iCloud isn't secure.  Really?  It's a cloud, folks.  Shouldn't that tell us something right away?  There are no real walls, no solid steel doors with multiple locks.  No twenty-four hour security cameras monitored by multiple shifts of armed guards.

It's just a friendly little "cloud" loaded with tetrabyte upon tetrabyte of information, ready to hail down on you at any given moment.  Ready to experience a cloudburst.  And all the thunder and lightning that go with it.

But there is hope.  A bit complicated and hard to follow, however.  Sort of a mysterious, difficult-to-access solution.  But here it is, revealed for the first time by your humble blogger:  Don't upload anything that you wouldn't want downloaded.  Don't upload anything that might cause you discomfort, concern, or embarrassment in the future.  Try to keep your itchy little finger off the buttons.

Especially photos, and, sticking with that genre - especially, especially selfies.  Photos taken in mirrors.  Photos taken by your current significant other.  With extra caution if their status is about to change from "current" to "past."  And, yes, dear reader, photos that show you in all the glamour and glory of your most recently acquired birthday suit.

Folks, your private parts are only private if you choose to keep them that way.  So Jennifer, Kim, Ariana, Kirsten - all of you famous, fine-bodied beauties - stop taking multiple pictures of yourself half dressed or not dressed.  And if snapping semi-nude or nude selfies is an uncontrollable, incurable addiction, then stop uploading them.  Stop storing them in the cloud.  Any cloud.  Or get over the fact that everyone on this globe has now had all the mystery removed.

And if anybody else... you...or you...or you...is so inclined to flash your flesh, then understand that iCloud, that fluffy little storage warehouse in the sky, can suddenly turn into the number one distributor of iCandy.

It's sort of upload at your own risk.  And, if nothing else, remember Sir Isaac Newton's age-old maxim:  "What goes up, must come down."  And, odd, isn't it, the folk tale connected to this quote insists that he was sitting under a tree when he came up with that little core of wisdom.  That little seed of smarts.  That stem of understanding.

Yep, you got it.  The tree he was lounging under:  none other than an Apple tree.

Ain't life great!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin, Lauren, and the ocean


I suppose there are people who don't like the ocean.  I don't recall meeting one.  I've heard people prefer a mountain vacation over a beach vacation.  I've heard people say that they can't go deep sea fishing because they get seasick.  I've heard people say that they don't like the feel of salt water drying on their skin.  But not liking the ocean...can't say that I've heard that claimed.

As we wind down our latest trip to the Gulf, I'm struck with the sense that time has been suspended. When nearly every waking moment and all sleeping moments are filled with the surf rhythmically and methodically slapping the shore, I suspect hypnosis occurs.  I like the sound.  It's original.  It becomes so common after a while that I only notice it when I don't hear it.  When we are away having a meal or cruising the aisles of the Walmart SuperCenter a few miles away.  Normal everyday sounds become...well...normal.  I'm thinking that after a few days, one might just come to depend upon that sound (along with the shrieks of gulls and sunburned toddlers).  A audible addiction.

I told a friend this week that I believe that the sound of the surf is so appealing because it mimics the sound of the womb.  That I was certain that as our hearing developed, every time our mother shifted in her chair or walked to the kitchen for a sweet or salty snack, we would hear the sound of rolling water...the lullaby of the surf.  She said she's pretty certain that it's much more of a "gloop, gloop, gloop," sound.  I thanked her for that image and for virtually destroying years of romantic notions about my nine months in the womb.

But, in a way, time is suspended at the beach.  Things happen, we see snippets of news.  We read headlines.  But the ocean whispers for us to not fixate on those things. Stay chilled.  Relax.  Relax.  Relax.  Listen to my voice.

So, when we return to our home tomorrow, we can re-contemplate what has occurred while we luxuriated under the spell of the Gulf of Mexico.  We can re-examine the death of Robin Williams and properly grieve the passing of a shooting star, a true comet of talent, moving so fast and burning so brightly.  And having such a wide path that, for years to come, we'll still have wonderful Robin Williams sparks showering around us, keeping us amazed and amused.

We can think about the passing of the beautiful Lauren Bacall, a woman who defined sexy for me before I knew what sexy was.  And fully clothed at that.  How she shared the screen with THE motion picture icon and held her own.  Heck, she didn't just hold her own.  She stole the whole darn movie in that one scene.  "You do know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."  It still makes me feel light-headed.  She does too.

I haven't seen the news today.  I don't know if there was the death of a third celebrity, as the old superstition goes.  I hope not.  But if there was, I believe that that voice, as well as the voices of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, was not silenced, but rather became a part of the hum and murmur of the surf.  Just another set of voices, personalized frequencies, to add to millions of other voices from the near and distant past to contribute to one of the most pleasing sounds in the world.  I believe that their drops of essence become a part of an ocean of essence.  The tangy scent of salt on the breeze, the marching swells of turquoise and emerald waters, the slow and easy birth of the sun every morning, and, several hours later,  the western sky becoming a strawberry sundae mess as gentle evening reaches out to draw us near.

Another kind of evening drew Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall near this week.  And I pray that they have encountered another womb, another hypnotic drumming of life, another world in which to give and receive laughter and tears.  Laughter strikingly similar to the shrieks of gulls and sunburned toddlers.  Tears akin to the taste of the ocean on the tongue.  Newly released droplets in the shimmering ocean spray.  Newly released meteors showering across the night sky.   Newly released souls gently rising and falling on an eternal sea held afloat by the hand of God.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Intuition



Well...after eight years of impeccable service, our '97 4Runner had a spell today.  As I write this, I wait to hear the news from the shop.  My intuition tells me that the timing belt broke.  Of course, this is what I call useless intuition.  If I had heeded a piece of useful intuition, a tidbit that has been interjecting itself into my thought process for two weeks now, I wouldn't be having this problem.  That piece of useful intuition that bombarded my brain for days was:  it's time to replace the timing belt on the 4Runner.

Intuition is a wonderful thing.  Unfortunately, it's also a close companion with Monday morning quarterbacking.  In other words, I seldom think about intuition until I fail to follow it.  Then I realize all those thoughts I've been having about something...thoughts that tend to the nagging side...were meant to be helpful.  I do remember a time about 42 years ago when my young family at the time was traveling between Fayetteville and Chattanooga.  The only way to get there was to go up what is known as Monteagle Mountain: two lanes and curvy.  Anyway, something told me to pull over on the side of the road prior to the ascent.  So, I pulled my little robin egg blue Maverick to the side and sat there for several minutes.  Finally, a tractor trailer came down the mountain and passed us.  Something told me it was okay to continue, so I pulled back onto the highway and started up the mountain.  As I drove along, I noticed serious damage on both sides of the road...trees down, rocks scraped, and lots of black rubber marks on the asphalt.

It was obvious that the tractor trailer I had watched exit the mountain had been a runaway and had careened back and forth along that road for about three miles.  Long enough, heavy enough, and fast enough to gobble up and spit out a little robin egg blue Maverick with a young couple and a two year old inside.

Yeah, intuition is interesting.  Take Aeschylus, for example.  A Greek tragedian of the likes of Sophocles and Euripides, living somewhere around 500 B.C and a veteran of the Persian Wars.  You can still read his stuff if you're interested.  "Prometheus Bound" is my favorite.

Anyway, Aeschylus spent the last years of his life outdoors because of his intuition telling him that he was going to be killed by a falling object.  In fact, it had been prophesied, so his intuition had pretty decent backing.  So old Aeschylus is sitting outside one day, as far from the trees and boulders as he could get, leaning back and thinking about his next tragedy and getting some sun on his face, when an eagle flew overhead.  Seems like mister eagle had just managed to snag a nice, fat tortoise for his lunch and was looking for a big round rock to drop it on to crack the shell.  When he spotted what he thought was the perfect turtle shell cracking rock, he let go with the skill of an ace bomber in a B57.

Yes, the eagle had spotted Aeschylus' shiny bald head and the intuitive tragedian suffered death by turtle.

Really great intuition.  Really bad timing.

Like me...really great intuition...really bad timing belt.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Needlework



When I was small (a nice old fashioned way of saying "when I was very young"), my grandmother would hand me a needle and a spool of thread and ask me to thread the needle for her.  She claimed that she just couldn't see that well anymore and that her hands and fingers refused to mind her.  As a matter of fact, she was several years younger at that time than I am now.  When she would ask me to do that, something told me that she could thread a needle as well as she ever could and that she was just being kind and giving a bored little kid something to do.  Something to make him feel good.  Something to make him feel helpful and important.  She was good about things like that.  So I dutifully took the needle and thread, bit off the length she needed, wet the threading end between my lips, twisted it with my thumb and forefinger down to the smallest finite size possible, and expertly pierced the eye of the needle with the end of the thread.  I let the needle slide to the halfway point of the thread's length and tied the end.  On first try.  "There," I would say, "all done."

My grandmother would smile and tell me thank you.  And that she was proud of me.

As I sat on the screened-in back porch of the farm this morning, attempting to rig my new rod and reel, I saw things a little differently.  I saw things through her failing eyes.  Getting the line through the eye of the swivel, twisting it a few times before looping it back through the eye again, attempting to tie the monofilament into a tight knot, and attaching the weight and the hook, I realized that, even with glasses, my eyesight was passable at best and that my hands and fingers refused to mind the commands of my brain.  Clumsy sausages on chunks of ham.  Finally, I had it rigged to my satisfaction and I said to no one in particular, "There.  All done."

But you know what?  There was a bobwhite calling every few seconds, an unseasonably cool July breeze was ruffling the leaves and carressing my face, and Jelly Belly had found her favorite position in my lap and was snuggly settled into it.  From a limb of the stubborn old hackberry that survived the April tornado, a bright red hummingbird feeder swayed back and forth, alerting me to the fact that it needed a fresh helping of sugar water.  Its immediate neighbor, the wind chimes, chinged, changed, and chunged a variant melody.  Forty acres of teenage corn danced the shimmy while the glassy blue sky dared even a wisp of cloud to intrude upon its vast perfection.

Yeah, the eyes...the hands...those doggone out-of-warranty body parts...grumbled quietly of age and passing time.  Joints creak and crackle.  Pain visits like a irritating uncle.  The body aging ain't no tea party.

But, my God!  What a wonderful morning it was!  What a pleasure to be alive!  Did my free and timeless soul not sing out with unadulterated joy?  Did not my spirit celebrate like a weaned puppy on its first jaunt in the vast and uncharted outdoors?  Did my winged psyche not soar into that glorious and perfect sky and pierce an invisible and diaphanous membrane giving me a brief but glorious glint of heaven.

Yes, yes, and yes.

I threaded that needle this morning.  On first try.  My grandmother would have smiled.  She would have been proud.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Crawl



I don't know.  I really don't.

 I certainly don't think I'm a communist or a socialist.  I do believe in free enterprise and letting the market determine the economy.  Supply and demand and all that rot.  I don't think I'm either liberal or conservative...it probably depends on the issue, and, even at that, it finally is laid upon the beholder's perception of me and the cause celebre.  But I had two items juxtaposed upon my psyche recently, and, for the life of me, I can't shake what has settled itself upon my mind and heart as, at best, disparity, and, at worst, insanity.

North West, the infant brought into this world by the coupling of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, celebrated her first birthday recently.  I'm sure she's a nice enough little girl and my angst has nothing to do with her personally.  The birthday celebration was held on the grounds of Aunt Kourtney's multi-million dollar digs in Calabasas, CA and included 150 guests.  There were teepees for hair-braiding, karaoke, and a Ferris wheel.  Not a little party rental Ferris wheel but one that would do a county fair proud. There was the traditional bouncy house and a customized basketball court.  Costumed adult guests sipped adult beverages and the kids had every sugar frenzy goody within arm's reach at all times.

I wouldn't even venture a guess at what this whole shebang cost Double K (maybe low six figures?) but I feel pretty confident that little Miss North West will not remember a micro-second of the day.  And all of her nicely wrapped presents will be as forgotten as the weather that day in a very short while.

The same day I read that article, I watched a special on HBO about illegal kidney trafficking.  One of the people featured was a middle-aged man in Manila who had approached a broker about selling one of his kidneys for $2500.  Why?  Because he and his family live in the crawl space below a friend's hovel and his teenage boys were reaching an age in which he would like for them to be able to stand up while at home.  Do you understand that?  He was going to use the money to build a simple place for his family to live.  So he could have electricity.  And maybe running water.  So his kids could stand straight up.  So his children did not have to crawl and squat and duck while maneuvering around what was being called "home" at the time.

He and his family live in the donated confines a freaking crawl space!  Of a shack that's falling apart!

Unfortunately, he was competing against a younger Filipino who had several kids who didn't have enough food to eat or sufficient clothing, and the younger kidney won out, condemning the other man's kids to continue to stoop their way through life.  Why the broker couldn't take both kidneys is a mystery to me but that's probably another story.

I won't venture a guess at how uncomfortable it is to live in the crawl space of a tottering shack,  but I'm certain that those young men will remember for the rest of their lives having to spend their teenage years trying to keep from hitting their heads on the floor joists of a dank, smelly enclosure.

Which leaves me to wonder if, as I read from time to time, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider.  And, if it is, what, if anything, is the consequence?  Should the gap be embraced as a shining monument to the existence of capitalism?  Should the separation of net worth be saluted as proof that free enterprise exists?  Is this a textbook example of survival of the economic fittest?

And is it unfair of me to feel disdain toward over-the-top, theatrical birthday celebrations for one-year-olds?  Perhaps.  I'll work on it.

Then again, would it be so awful to wish that Kanye and Kim, instead of renting the Ferris Wheel, had given little North a card that said that they, on her behalf, had donated $2500 to a family in Manila and that because of that small, but heart-felt gesture of generosity, there's now a family able to live in a house with electricity and running water and room to stand up straight?  Would it be so bad to imagine that when little North reached the appropriate age, she would have something really good to reflect upon and feel good about?

And should I stop fixating on the irony that North and the young Filipinos are both in a crawling phase of life with the innate desire to walk upright?  With the future extremely bright for one and extremely limited for the other?

Too many questions.  With too few answers.

Yep.

I don't know.  I really don't.


Friday, May 9, 2014

A single candle




On the evening of April 28th, an F3 tornado barreled its way through a large portion of Lincoln County, Tennessee.  Two human lives were lost.  Animals perished.  Property was destroyed.  When it swooped northward from the Big Cut area and crossed the Elk River, it had its way with the Gray Farm, now divided into two parts between my brother and myself.  It took thousands of trees - old growth trees, trees that were standing when the farm was established somewhere around 1840.  It wiped out every fence line.  It looked like a bombing scene from a war movie.

They say that anger is rooted in either hurt or fear or both.  My anger springs from a deep sense of hurt, not for myself, but for "the farm."  That acreage is not an inanimate object.  It is much more than trees and river and pastures and woods.  It is much more than a farmhouse and some barns and sheds.  It is a member of the family.  And it was brutally raped by a funnel cloud that made its way from the sky and found things to destroy on the ground.  The farm was beaten and raped and left for dead while that ugly blast of wind continued north and chewed up more beauty, more innocence, and harmed more lives in its path.

I am very capable of hating that tornado.  I'm very capable of being angry at the entity that we refer to as Mother Nature.  There was a Chiffon margarine commercial in the 70s that reminded us that it's not nice to fool mother nature.  It pictured a smiling middle aged woman dressed all sweet and chiffony with a wreath of flowers in her hair.  Everything is hunky dory until the insufferable wench discovers that it's not butter that has made everything taste so nice, but rather margarine.  When she discovers she has been fooled, she unleashes her wrath at everything within reach.

Well, Mother Nature, you won the battle with your little F3, but you didn't win the war.

I've spent way too much time mourning the loss of leafy beauty that has taken almost two centuries of creation.  I've over-comtemplated how two centuries of growth can be taken out in two minutes of rotating winds.  I've gazed at 180 acres of devastation through brimming eyes for too many days now.  It's time to stop mourning.

It has been said many times that it's better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.  There's also a parable in Matthew about wheat and weeds.  Simply, an enemy comes and plants weeds among the good wheat seed in a field.  The workers ask the owner if they should pull up the weeds.  The owner responds that to pull up the weeds would destroy much of the wheat.  A better plan is to let them grow together until harvest time and then the weeds can be gathered and burned and the wheat can be harvested.  It's a matter of whether we place our thoughts and focus around the wheat or the weeds.  I need to choose the wheat.  I need to light a candle.

Today I hope to start healing as the land heals.  A track hoe and a bulldozer are slowly but surely gathering the devastated remains in piles. When diesel fuel is applied,  the piles become pyres.  When you are right upon them, the flames are huge and the heat is immense.  But, at night, when you sit on the back porch and watch the piles continue to burn, the distance diminishes the size of the flame.  If you're far enough away, it glows like the light of a candle.  We will light several candles and one day, in the not so distant future, corn rather than wheat will spring from the cleared fields.  The trees will be gone for generations but the beautiful rolling contours will be visible until the trees return.  Many years will have passed and I can only hope and pray that others will continue to love the farm as I do and that they will spend the appropriate amount of time loving and nurturing the land.  I sincerely hope they will see the wheat and light a candle.






Monday, April 28, 2014

Weathering the weather


It's on, folks!  Tornado season, at least in the Twister Belt of the United States, is here.  And if the states of the Southeast are in the buckle of the belt, then I'm pretty sure the little county in Tennessee I sit in is the prong.  There's about five or six counties in central northern Alabama bordered by three counties in southern central Tennessee, and Lincoln County sits squarely between the other two.  And Fayetteville is pretty much dead center Lincoln County.  Yep, I'm pretty certain that we are the prong.

I suspect that all media programming this evening will be interrupted by solemn looking and speaking men and women with huge radar screens of reds and yellows and purples and they will be talking about supercells and hooks and vertical wind shear.  In fact, the most likely scenario will be that weather alerts will be interrupted by five minute segments of regular programming.

Listen.  I'm not trying to minimize this.  I just think we all did a lot better when we knew a lot less.  I know that tornadoes do a ton of property damage every year, all over the country, and that many people lose their lives to them.  But having to sit and listen to weather men and women...excuse me...meteorologists...induce their audiences into a frenzy of fear seems counterproductive.  Especially if you consider that the chances of a particular house in a tornado prone area has only around a one in 10 million chance of being struck.  (Please don't hold me to my statistics.  I'm not a statistician, as my close friends will tell you.  But I do consult several choices before reaching a conclusion.  Thank you, Google.)

When I was a kid, I barely remember how much information we received about violent weather.  Of course, that had to travel via Pony Express and then, later, telegraph, so that's understandable.  I'm pretty sure that I simply consulted my parents or grandparents as to their opinion, and I don't really remember anyone freaking out or being even mildly concerned about it.  There was a great deal more conversation around what weather had occurred the day before than what weather would occur later in the day or tomorrow.

But...

... if I put my cavalier attitude aside for a moment and look into facts instead of the vacuum of my skull, I discover enough information to cause a few beads of sweat to trickle from my armpits.

 On February 29, 1952, an F-4 (207-260 mph winds) struck Fayetteville, Tennessee and was on the ground continuously for seven miles.  It destroyed 139 homes, wreaked major damage to 152 more, and took two lives.  One hundred and sixty-six people were injured.  This was the 4th tornado that followed more or less a similar track over a 100 year period.

On April 29, 1974, two F5s slammed into the Fayetteville and surrounding area, taking six lives in Tennessee and destroying over 1000 buildings.

In all, around 40 tornadoes have toggled the prong of the Twister Belt since 1890.

Uh...that's about one every three years.  Looking more closely, there have been 15 since 2000.

So, listen...instead of me sitting here on the south side of the house and typing away at this keyboard as the sky turns to heavy lead all above me,  I'll cozy up to the TV and find me some really wise meteorologists to spend some time with.  With my wife, the leashes for my dogs, and a fully charged iPhone with a flashlight app.

You see, Toto, we aren't in Kansas anymore.  But we are in Tennessee, right square in the doggone prong of the Twister Belt.  And that's close enough for me.

                          *******************************************

Update:  11:28 p.m. CDT...a large tornado touched down in Kelso, TN this evening at around 8:45.  The family farm of 175 years took a direct hit.  Early reports from Ryan and Callie Hardiman, our co-farmers, is that the buildings didn't suffer a great deal of damage...just some fallen trees.  However, and this is in the dark of night, it appears that the land...the trees, the fields, the pastures, the bottom...was devastated.  Many head of cattle and calves are unaccounted for.  I try not to be angry.  I try not to be hurt.  I try to put this in the perspective that there has been a lot of devastation over the past couple of days with more on the menu tomorrow.  I try to put it in the perspective that lives have been lost.  I try to be thankful.  As soon as first light appears tomorrow, Geri and I will try to make our way to the farm.  We believe our domestic animals are fine.  We believe that there is superficial house and barn damage that can be repaired.  We fear for the cows and cattle.  But I most am dreading the moment my eyes first encounter the devastated land, the century old trees cut down to trunk size or completely pulled up by their roots.  I'm dreading gazing upon the ravaged beauty of "the farm," a sight that has brought me many years of joy and peace.  And I will probably be angry.  And more than sad.  I'll just try to make it short and not wallow in it.  And get busy trying to put things back together again.

Damn tornadoes.

Monday, April 21, 2014

He's back!!!



Okay...so I'm down to zero page views today.  I was wondering how long it would take for people to stop checking in to see if the lazy, retired guy had posted anything on his blog.  Man!  You are so right!  I am really starting to get this lazy thing down.

But, let's back up just a bit.  Last week I dedicated four whole days to manual labor at the farm.  And I'm talking some tough labor.  With Geri as my number one assistant.  We pulled up ten shrubs that had been rooting for 10 years and replaced them with rock.  Little rocks, medium rocks, big rocks.  Rocks from 50 pound bags (called river rocks and egg rocks) along with rocks from our fields.  In fact, a total of 24 bags of rocks and probably 75 miscellaneous rocks from around the farm.  Looks pretty darn good if we must say so ourselves.  And I discovered several muscles I didn't know existed.

So, Doug...if you do a little manual labor, then the rule is...the law states...you can't write a sentence or two in a blog.  Gray's Law of Nothing Matters.  Well.  Maybe.  I guess I could have typed for a minute or two..  I just chose not to.

As an aside,  a possum update.  There is no possum update.  Haven't seen hide nor hair of the critter in a couple of weeks.  Haven't seen any signs of him cleaning up the cats' leftovers.  Saw a dead one in the road near the farm but it was too small to be "him."  Speaking of dead possums in the road, when it comes to roadkill, there's a solid 50/50 chance it's going to be a possum.  We've all seen other animals...tons of them...but if we're going to be honest with ourselves, possums dominate.  If roadkill was a casino game, the house would have the possum.  And knowing how the casinos like to stack the odds, they would probably make the armadillo a house bet also.  Sort of like the zero and the double zero on the roulette wheel.

Speaking of critters, we've saved a couple since we last talked.  Another bird, a robin this time, thought it would be fun to commit suicide by slamming full speed into our picture window (yes, it is a picture window and yes, they probably don't make them anymore, and, yes,  if they did, they certainly could find something more exciting to call it than a picture window).  Geri provided healing touch for several minutes and I provided a bird house with a nice open front porch for it to recover in till the point it was ready to fly away.  Much to our cats' chagrin.  The other was a baby bunny.  I flushed it from a nest doing some manual labor - there's that term again - around the house "in town" and of all the places it could run, it headed straight toward the swimming pool.  Right under the fence and straight into the pool.  Wham, bam, thank you Sam.  Of course, it didn't know there was a pool there.  I mean, who would stick a pool in the middle of a perfectly good yard.  I was preparing to shuck shoes and pants and hit the 50 degree water but, luckily, it swam around the edges (trying to find a place to pull out) and I was able to reach in and scoop the little son of a gun out.  A few minutes in the sun drying off and some human encouragement and it was as good as new.  I relocated it to our back pasture and wished it a happy Easter.

Well...enough of this!  While I don't have a lot to say right now, I've got a couple of blogs starting to bubble.  One happy...one sad.  Both necessary.

As for all you readers who are heading into the sunset:  Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane!


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tempus fugit



Time flies, as they say.  Though they've got it wrong.  "Tempus fugit" is Latin for "time flees."  Flies, flees...what's the difference, Doug?  There you go wanting to split hairs.

I admit that time does fly.  And we fly along with it.  How fast are we flying, you ask.  Well, faster than I'm comfortable with.  Let's look at one of the slowest moving things in our lives.  A day and a night, which we have labeled "24 hours."  Yep...it takes earth a whole 24 hours to spin on its axis and sometimes that is excruciatingly slow for us.  Sometimes it passes too fast as in "where in the world did this day go?"  But if you look at it relative, Einstein, to our measurement of speed, it takes on a new perspective.  If you were to suspend yourself above the earth's equator, it would still take 24 hours for you to watch it make one complete rotation, but you would be watching 25,000 miles pass by below you.  At just over 1000 miles per hour.  Hmmm....sure doesn't feel that fast does it?

Now, that's just the baby of speed.  Let's look at our trip around the sun.  Takes a whole dang year, doesn't it.  And, the phenomenon of aging and time passing faster aside, that's 364 1/4 days anyway you tilt it.  Although earth is a mere 93 million miles from the sun, its orbit distance is just under 585 million miles, which means we're zipping along at around 67,000 miles per hour.  That's a lot faster than a speeding bullet (6336 mph) and I'm pretty sure that even Superman can't go that fast.

Bear with me another minute or two because I'm almost done here.

I've always wondered why we don't feel these speeds?  I mean, they're mind-boggling speeds.  Agree?  Well, I understand that it's the same principle as when you're moving along in a car on a smooth road at 60 mph.  You don't feel the movement.  Unless there is an acceleration or deceleration.  So, since the earth's rotation and orbit is at a constant speed, we don't feel like we're moving.  And I know that you hope and pray as much as I do that we don't have any  sudden accelerations or decelerations.  That would probably mark a big day in our lives.

I won't go into the fact that our solar system is moving within our Milky Way galaxy at the rate of over 40 million miles per hour and that our galaxy is moving even faster than that.  That's not really what I wanted to say anyway.

I just wanted to make a quick statement about tempus fugit.  Time fleeing.  When my father was in his last days, as he lay in the hospital bed for the last time, I went to his side and asked if there was anything I could get him.  Was there anything that he wanted.  Anything.  His answer has stuck with me ever since and will stick with me for the rest of my life.  His head slowly turned toward me and he said in a quiet voice: "More time.  I want more time."

I couldn't give him that.  But in those words he gave me a gift.  I should use it more often than I do because it's precious and irreplaceable.  It's the knowledge that we need to take advantage of every second we have on this hurdling planet.  We should grasp every hour, every day as we shoot through space, and life, at breakneck speeds.  And if much wiser folks than me say that time flees, I need to believe them.  And I need to chase it with every ounce of strength in my body and with every thread of my soul.  I need to chase it so hard that it's constantly looking over its shoulder and wondering who in the hell is that lunatic on its heels.  It can flee all it wants, but I'm not going to sit idly by and watch it disappear over the horizon.

Tempus fugit, baby.  Move out of my way.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Free at last


Today, I had a sense of freedom that I haven't experienced very often, if ever.  Perhaps it was just all the planets and stars aligning.  Perhaps it was the first really spring feeling day in southern Tennessee.  Perhaps I just got caught up on my sleep.  Finally.

Who knows.

Regardless, it was a good day.  A simple day but a good day.

Gorgeous ruled the farm this morning.  And I actually accomplished something on my physical "to do" list.  Burn barrel duty.  I got that baby up to 451 degrees Fahrenheit and demolished around 150 pounds of paper.  Accumulated for over ten years.  For anyone interested, the secret of burn barrel success is to vent it and stir it often.

I vented it with my .22 lever action.  Since I'm apparently not going to get another shot at the possum (his nickname is now Grey Ghost since I can't seem to ever catch him cleaning up the cats' leftovers), I thought I would fire a few rounds at the virgin burn barrel.  Caused the cats to head for cover for about thirty minutes, but the vent system worked perfectly.

Headed home smelling all smokey and gave Emerald and Baylee a nice workout on their leashes.  They have a great fenced in area, replete with pool and hot tub, but they tend to spend their free hours on the couch.  So we traversed 4.8 acres of the 5 with them, knocking some ell-bees off Baylee and off me.

After a shower, lunch.

After lunch, Walmart.  (Hey, don't act like you don't go to Walmart.)  I have to admit that I've become one of those old guys I used to simultaneously pity and snicker at...the ones that you see pushing the carts while their old lady (I'm pretty sure Geri doesn't read my blog) pulls things off the shelves.  Now here's the tie-in to the burn barrel story.  I stopped by sporting goods to replenish my .22s.  Haven't bought any in about four years. Guess I haven't been watching the news.  Not only did Walmart not have any .22 shells, they don't expect any for several weeks and only a handful at that time which they will sell in 20 minutes.  Gee whiz, when did us idiotic human being start hoarding .22 shells? He said after Sandy Hook.  Afraid the government is going to ban ammo.  Okay.  I get it.  But what the hell am I supposed to use to put vent holes in my burn barrels?  Or shoot at and miss malicious marsupials.

After Walmart, we went to a couple of cemeteries and walked around.  Saw some great-great and great relatives.  Or at least their final resting places.  Does one good to visit those silent cities every so often.

Finally, home.  With the feeling of freedom as alive as it was when I awoke.  So, for all those people who ask me how I like retirement, which is everyone all the time, the answer is I love it.  I don't think I like the word "retirement" however.  For right now, "self unemployed" will do.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Good Ole Days



The Judds did a song called "Grandpa" some time ago and it's been covered by many artists since, with the Isaacs doing a particularly good job.  The premise of the song is a familiar one:  a nostalgic look at the past and how we, as common folks, conducted ourselves in days gone by.  There's nothing wrong with nostalgia, just as there's nothing wrong with sentimentality.  Of course there's editors and critics and just ordinary citizens who give sentimentality a bad name, pronouncing it unfit for writing, reading, and just general human consumption.  I say, "Screw you," and that sentimentality has its place in literature, music, art, and, doggone it, even commerce, if you can squeeze it in.  And nostalgia is definitely a first cousin to sentimentality.

But let's get back on point and that is "the good ole days."  And Grandpa.

Unfortunately, neither of my grandfathers was real keen on sitting around and reminiscing about the past.  They likely didn't have the time or didn't want to use the time to chat with their curious grandson about how things used to be.  Might be a darn good reason for that also.  See,  I doubt that things were all that great for either of them growing up.  Lots of hard farm labor.  From the time either of them was old enough to walk, they were old enough to work.  My paternal grandfather was one of eight or nine kids - I lose track - two of whom were boys.  Probably not what his dad had in mind, given that one of the reasons you had big families back in the day was to support the labor pool.  The hard work must have "took," though, because I seldom saw Pa Gray when he wasn't working.  During my lifetime, he was a grocer, and a farmer on the side. It was up at at 'em at 5:30 every morning, come rain or shine, open the general store, sprinkle kerosene on the floor before sweeping it, take out the trash and burn it, stock groceries, wait on customers, and browse an article or two from Progressive Farmer or Readers Digest or the Grit when the store was empty.

If that wasn't enough, when he went home in the spring and summer days for his hot, fresh lunch, he would eat between garden work, having not one, but two, gardens going at the same time.  And at least four or five days a week, he would jump into his old '52 GMC and go "across the river" to the farm and check on the cattle.  We're talking seven days a week.  Fifty-two weeks a year.

My maternal grandfather ran a milk route.  Getting milk to your refrigerator in his days was a little more involved than it is today.  His job was to run his country route in his rattly stake body truck and visit all the farms that had milked any number of cows that day, pick up the heavy milk cans, and deliver them to the local milk plant for processing.  Bordens, in this case.  As his sons grew up and were able to help they did.  Hard, back-breaking labor, weather be damned.

I say all of this not because I don't think that either of them viewed their lives as something less than the good ole days but rather because I don't personally see it that way.  I'm sure that my hindsight isn't that acute however.  It's just when I think of my labors, mostly behind a desk, in front of a computer, or out of an air-conditioned vehicle, what they did appears to be much tougher, and for much less compensation.  Looking at it another way, which sounds harder?  Hoeing 20 sixty foot rows of vegetables under the hot noon sun or walking thirty feet to retrieve something from the printer?  Heaving a hundred pound milk can onto the back or pulling data for a report?

 I'm not saying that we're soft.  Wait.  Yes I am.  We're soft.  And it's easy for us to romanticize the "good ole days," make a point of being nostalgic, and just generally reeking with sentiment over the past.  What I think is truly valid here is that any day is a good ole day.  Any day that we're blessed with the ability to enjoy life and our surroundings and other people is a good ole day.  Any day when we have the ability to equal or surpass our potential as homo sapiens is a good ole day.

I'm not a grandpa, won't ever be a grandpa, but I can certainly hope to have as full of a life as my grandfathers did.  Pa Shug, my maternal grandfather, passed early.  However, looking at all the pictures of him grinning and holding up 40 and 50 pound catfish, I'm pretty sure he squeezed life for all it was worth.  It wasn't all milk cans and dusty country roads.  Pa Gray lived into his early 90s and was a grocer and gentleman farmer between 60 and 70 years.  I never heard a complaint fall from his mouth.  He wasn't sick a day in his life and his worst habit was chewing the end of a Roi Tan or Prince Edward cigar and maybe having a snort or two on holidays.

So Grandpa - either of them -  didn't feel compelled to tell their curious grandson about the good ole days but I was at least smart enough to take note of what was going on at the time.  And possessing enough kiddie wisdom to file it away in my brain for further consideration down the road.

  Now, Grandma...that was a different story.




Thursday, March 13, 2014

All Spaced Out



Shakespeare might have written:

Alas, poor Pluto, we knew him Horatio; when he was a planet full; though tiny icy sphere he had pedigree in the Heavens.  Though flung furtherest afar, a simple dot, a flea on Neptune's knee, nonetheless we paid homage to him and his five moons.  Now, Horatio, he dons the dress of the dwarf, a cuckolded planet, a plutoid if you dare, while us poor mortals who once claimed nine, must now make do with eight.

Sorry, Will.  I know you could have done a much better job giving notice of Pluto's ignominious delegation to a dwarf planet.  I'm not certain why we felt it necessary to strip Pluto of planet status.  You'd think the guy would have been grandfathered in after all these years.  Let's face it, he'd been around since 1930 and we were all quite content as fifth graders to triumphantly name him last as we recited the nine planets in our solar system.  Maybe it's just me, but there was something magic about nine.  (I've always been partial to anything divisible by three.)  Eight planets and the sun just doesn't do it for me.  And honestly, he was one of the easiest to remember in order of distance from the sun.  I always got hung up around Neptune and Saturn.

But I digress.

What we did to Pluto would be akin to removing Doc from Dwarf status just because he was the only dwarf who had a name that didn't describe a disposition or mood.  The original Snow White movie was released in 1938, so Pluto had seniority on Doc.  I happen to think that Walt Disney had better judgement and a much higher degree of emotional intelligence than the International Astronomical Union.  He knew that "Snow White and the Six Dwarfs" would be a day late and a dwarf short.  (Oooooh...that was bad...real bad.)

That said, Pluto will soon have a visitor.  The space probe New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015.  July 14, 2015 if all goes as planned.  Interestingly, New Horizons was launched in 2006, just before the IAU decided to embarrass Pluto, and has zipped along at the pace of just over 36,000 miles per hour since launch.  Sort of a long way and a short time to get there, at least from the perspective of our 13.2 billion year old galaxy. I wonder if NASA had waited a few months to when Pluto was canned as a planet if they would have spent those billions of dollars to visit a plutoid.  I wonder if maybe they might have had New Horizons dip and weave through the belt of Saturn, do a quick flyover of Neptune, and then pull a u-ey and head back home?

We will never know.  I think it would be great if the probe got to Pluto and discovered that though it was small, the dwarf formally known as a planet had more character than Venus and more spunk than Mercury, hidden attributes to the point that it deserved to be reinstated to full planet status.  A formal apology would be issued by the IAU guys and NASA would be exonerated in its decision to send a probe about three billion miles to inspect a chunk of dirty ice.

I think that would be neat, don't you?  Exactly what the Doc ordered.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Disappearing act


                                                                    Image may be subject to copyright                    

I was reading an article in the "New Yorker" yesterday that set me thinking once again on the subject of aging.  Not that I'm obsessed with it or anything...wait...maybe I am...just a little.  Though obsession might be too strong a word.  Let's just say that aging crosses my mind more often that it has in the past.  Perhaps taking that big step called Retirement has a lot to do with it.  Also, anything crossing my mind these days is a good thing.

For several years now, I've suspected that we become more invisible as we grow older.  I'm sure I'm not the first, or the last, to make that observation, but it is a really intriguing phenomenon.  If you are a person of age, the next time to go to an especially robust public place or event, notice who's not noticing you.  It's as if you don't really exist.  Your existence is marginal at best.  Or attempt a conversation with a stranger.  They will look at you, well, strangely.  Or be in a group of younger people discussing any topic -  politics, sex, fly fishing - and make a comment and take note of the level of credibility your statement rises to.  It's as if they hear a stray, somewhat annoying sound...like the buzzing of a mosquito.  They pause a moment, look toward the ceiling, and then resume their conversation.

I suspect that eventually, if we live long enough, we will disappear altogether.  And that might not be all bad.  When I was a kid - Mount Rushmore only had two presidents - there was a popular TV show called "Topper."  God bless you if you remember it.  The premise was this:  Cosmo Topper, played by Leo G. Carroll, was a banker with a wife named Henrietta and they lived in a mansion once owned by a couple, George and Marion Kirby.  George and Marion had met early and untimely deaths in an avalanche.  A Saint Bernard by the name of Neil had tried to rescue them but had expired as well.  Now the couple and the Saint Bernard haunted the mansion, though in a very friendly way.  Topper was the only one able to see the ghosts and that was the core of the premise of the sitcom.  George and Marion really made life interesting for Topper's otherwise dull life.  With their antics and pranks, they attempted to get the old boy to loosen up, if you will.  (And a side note, Marion was a looker!  Google Anne Jeffreys.  Lots of adolescent fantasies there.)

Anyway, being invisible definitely has its advantages.  You can get away with things that  visible people cannot.  You can come and go more freely than visible people.  Like if you get bored at a party you can leave and not only will people not realize you've left, they tend to forget you were ever there in the first place.

You can pass gas and blame it on the dog, though I know folks who don't think you have to be invisible to do that.  I highly suspect you can shoplift at random and never get caught.  You can move to the front of the line without anyone taking offense because obviously you're either invisible or senile.  Endless, endless possibilities.


So I'm not sad about becoming less visible and more invisible.  I'm not happy about it.  I'm nothing about it.  It's an invisible entity to me.  It's just happens to be the culmination of a suspicion that I've had for many years now.  I think it began in my early 50s.  Maybe it bugged me then; I don't remember.  (I remember the early 1950s much better than I remember my early 50s.)  This is where I am with it:  It's sort of like we all have our time in the sun.  Our time to be visible.  Our time to reap.  Our time to make a mark and be noticed.  Hopefully in a positive vein.  

I'm okay with entering the diaphanous dimension.  The pellucid plain.  The land of limpid.  I intend to do it with flash, class, and aplomb.  I'm going to take my invisibility and embrace it.  I'm going to run with it.  Or at least limp along at a decent pace.

And if the invisible world contains the like of ladies that look like Anne Jeffreys, sign me up for overtime.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Shirley



I began my annual office clean-up today, a chore fortunately and unfortunately created by the need to gather all my tax information, and, as usual, I spent way too much time browsing through what I call "fresh finds."  Fresh finds is just another way of saying that I have once again run across something I forgot I had.

Today, it turns out, is the 20th anniversary of the passing of Shirley, a wonderful little black and white Shitzu that Geri and I had.  I selfishly include myself in the relationship, although I only had around a quarter of the time with Shirley that Geri did.  It was tough when she passed.  I'm sure many, if not most, of you have been there.

Two days later - we were living in Nashville at the time - we picked Shirley's remains up from the vet.   She was in the little wooden box Geri had picked for her years before, and she was with "her man."  (That's a story Geri can tell.)  We drove to the farm in Kelso - Mom and Dad were still alive and farming away - and laid Shirley to rest.

It's hard to believe it was twenty years ago.  The fresh find I stumbled upon today was a tribute I wrote to her.  It was published in the "Milan Leader" since Shirley was a Michigan girl by birth, like her Momma Geri.  But she was also a solid Tennessee transplant.  Like her Momma Geri.  Shirley was "The Dog of Your Lifetime" for Geri.  And for me too.  Memories of her still bring a simultaneous smile and tear.

 I wouldn't mind bringing a simultaneous smile and tear when people think of me one day.  I think that would be one heck of a heritage, doggone it.  Here's to you, Shirley.

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She sleeps now beneath the sheltering branches of a gnarled and aging cedar.  With a shovel we chopped away at roots that ran for yards, roots that the cedar did not need as much as we needed the spot they occupied.  We dug with care, each scoop taken as gentle preparation for our loved one's final place of rest.  And we lifted the small wooden box that held her tiny, still body and lowered it kindly and carefully in her now special place.  On the lid of the box we placed a rose we each had kissed, then blanket after blanket of clay and loam.  And then it was complete.  The trip that had begun almost 119 years ago, in doggie math, seventeen years ago for Geri, and four years ago for me, had reached an end.  But now, our time with Shirley, our "Momma Dirl," seemed as brief as a lightning flash.

Shirley left this life on March 10, 1994 in the kind and knowing hands of Dr. Charles Beauchamp, who understood what it meant to give up a wonderful pet.  We chose the serenity of my parents' farm in Lincoln County as our place of and for tribute.  And on March 12, under God's blue skies and sunshine, to the rushing of light breezes in high cedar boughs, we stood heart-deep in grief and memory.  To the north, along the creek, a mourning dove lent her song to our sadness.  To the south and the river, a crow protested some sudden annoyance.  A cow searching for her stray calf bellowed, waited for a familiar bleat, and cried out again.  The sweetness of hay from the century old barn caught the breeze and mixed with the richness of the countryside coming to life beneath our feet and above our heads.

The newness of life without Shirley is very difficult to bear.  Instead of the weight of the loss, we try to concentrate on the seventeen years of a Shitzu's brand of joy.  Now it is important to remember and realize the things Shirley taught us - especially the grace with which she accepted her burdens and how she bore the infirmities of old age, still giving joy and lending comfort to us, her caretakers.  How she accepted what each day presented her, some better, some worse, the last several wavering somewhere between continuing or stopping.

Shirley taught us patience in the way she waited for us to wait on her, passing long days in the house, moving from room to room, marking time until companionship and supper. She taught us courage as she dealt with the aches and pains of canine senior citizenry, eyesight and hearing going slowly, arthritis claiming her little bones.  She gave us an appreciation of simplicity, showing contentment in her plain, slow lifestyle, finding pleasure in an occasional taste of "table food," a nice long afternoon nap, or a short walk in the outdoors.

Today we seek for time to go backwards to when Shirley was with us.  We mourn with hearts made heavy with the molten lead of grief.  Tomorrow we will still miss her soft paw-steps; her sneezes; her lifted-tail, rolling prance.  Next week we will think we hear her bark or see her in a shadow that flashes across a room.  In a month, we will still hold our breath in the dark and listen for her quiet breathing or whistling snores.

We will go to her place in the country and set a white fence and a smooth stone.  We will plant grass and flowers and sit in the shade of the big cedar and talk with her, tell her we miss her, and relate our recent life changes and challenges.  Hopefully, we will mostly rejoice in the knowing of Shirley.  We will remember the lessons we know now and revel in those that will come.

Though we will wonder at what price the joy, we will come to learn that the answer is that joy costs us only when we mark it with the price of grief.  That's not what Shirley would have done.  She would have just rejoiced in the moment.

Thank you, Shirley.  We love you so much.
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Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Demolition Squad



If there's one thing that makes you appreciate a good, ole possum, it's a raucous gang of raccoons.  You talk about about wreaking total havoc!  A couple of days ago, I left the top off the chest in Mamma Kitty's shed, and a raccoon(s) had methodically opened every pop-top can of cat food and devoured it.  Licked the cans shiny clean.  Yesterday, a gang of raccoons had managed to undo the clasp on the chest where we keep the food for the "restaurant cats," aka the cats we rescued from the restaurant on the highway in Kelso, and squeeze through the opening they had attained.  They took the top off the bucket that holds the dry food but opted to escape to the woods with a super size bag of kitty treats instead of eating the dry food in the bucket.  After cleaning up the mess, I thought I had solved the issue by removing the dry food and double-clasping the latch.

Today...well you can see the photo and get the picture.  Total destruction.  It looked like the remnants of an angry mob scene.  How do I know it's raccoons?  A few reasons.  I've seen the results of their raids before.  They are the only animal smart enough to undo a clasp that I have trouble getting off and on.  And they left their guilty little footprints in the water bowl.

Both chests were thrown around like in a tornado.  One chest was carried a good twenty feet.  The two or three cans of wet food were opened with surgical precision and, again, eaten to the shiny bottom of the cans.  They tore a few paper towels to shreds (I'm sure they weren't trying to clean their grimy faces) and, inexplicably, stole the rest of the roll. I have no idea where they took it.  Or why.

They are nasty.  I mean not just nasty acting, but NASTY.  Dirty.  Stinky.  And they will poop a pound for every ounce of food they ingest.  And they'll poop it anywhere, everywhere, anytime.

Yeah, you can say all you want about how cute the little masked devils can be, but once you've experienced their nuclear reactor explosion, you definitely will put a possum lower on the list of critters to find a better home for (a euphemism for those of you who believe that death by high powered rifle or shotgun is not an option).

So, here's to Mr. O, the pudgy little slow-moving, dainty eating, leave-no-mess critter.  You, my friend, are off the hook.  At least for the time being.

For you fast-moving, voracious, filthy, dynamite-in-fur gangsters, the war is on!  And I'm bringing the heavy artillery.  So lie up in my barn loft this evening and giggle the night away, high five your little paws all you want, plan your next raid and food fight, because, starting tomorrow, you are Public Enemy Number One.

It's on, folks.  It's on.