Reality Check

I woke up in a bad mood this morning. One of those, “better stay out of my way if you know what’s good for you” dispositions. This tendency is not uncommon on my daddy’s side of the family. Must be something genetic. We refer to it as being in a “Clifton” mood.

I met a fellow forester to begin the day’s work bright and early.

He asked me how I was doing. Big mistake.

I snapped an answer. “I guess I’m doing O.K., considering the fact that it feels like it is already 110 degrees and we haven’t even left the truck yet.”

He paused for a moment, as if deep in thought.

He said “Well, Ray, it is late July, and this is Alabama. What exactly were you expecting this morning?”

Enough said. Sometimes plain spoken words are enough to bring a man back to reality.

Rain on Me

It’s been a long, hot week. Temperatures in the upper 90’s and humidity about the same level.

As I type this, we are getting a nice rain shower. But it is occurring with full sunshine.

Sun shining brightly, rain pouring down.

When I was a young urchin and that happened, my momma would always say “the Devil’s beatin’ his wife.” I don’t know if that’s an old Southern expression or just a family thing. Could be either. My maternal grandfather loved little songs, jokes, and stories.

I don’t even know if the Devil has a wife. If he does, I’m sure she could use a good beating.

I can’t wait for my P.C. and feminist friends to comment on that last line.

Dog Days

“Rooster, I’m shot to pieces.” Robert Duvall, in True Grit

Last year I wrote about the “Dog Days of Summer.” You can read those musings here.

The Dog Days are pretty intense this year. The heat and the lack of rain we’ve had in central Alabama is making it pretty tough on the animal kingdom.

I know the Dog Days are proving difficult for me. A few days ago, I wrote a piece about my backyard encounter with a yellow jacket nest. Since then, I’ve had two more encounters with yellow jackets in the woods. That’s three angry nests in five days.

If you are keeping score, that’s YELLOW JACKETS 16, CLIFTON 0.

Hurry Fall. I’m shot to pieces.

How Long to the Point of No Return?

At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees.
I did not notice the passers by,
And they did not notice me.

–U2, “Moment of Surrender.”

I saw a kid today walking along the side of the highway. Maybe seventeen, eighteen years old. No shirt on, angry expression on his face, can of beer in his hand. It was 7:30 a.m.

I spent the rest of the day working in the woods–forester stuff. Woods work lends itself to reflection, and occasionally deep thinking. It’s quiet, lonely work, but this makes it conducive to thought. Most of the foresters I know are closet philosophers as a result. My mind kept returning to the kid.

We talk a lot about “choice” in the United States. The “right” to choose, or the “consequences” of choice, loosely and glibly saying things like “you can be anything you want to be if you just set your mind to it” or “you can be president of the United States someday if you want to.”

I don’t know about all that. I think sometimes your choices are limited, are already made for you, and you are left to work with the hand you’ve been dealt.

What about the kid? I kept wondering “is there a definitive point, a defining moment, a specific instance in time, when a conscious decision is made by someone that this is the way my life is going to be?” A point of realization–an awakening–that has the potential to define the rest of your life.

A point when this young kid thought “there’s no future for me.”

A point when a child with a deformity realizes that people look away when he comes into a room.

A point when an orphan decides “nobody really loves me.”

A point when a couple decides “this relationship just isn’t worth saving.”

A point when an old person realizes they’re going to die alone.

If there is such a point, and I believe there must be, it is one of the great tragedies of life.

I hope that I can somehow help one person I encounter to never reach this point of no return.

I hope you’ll at least think about joining me.

Go Ahead, Make My Day


There are lots of great things about living in Alabama. We also have our share of plagues. Part of the curse of the original couple being thrown out of the Garden, I suppose.

I encountered one of the major ones yesterday.

I was doing a little Saturday afternoon grass cutting. I felt something hit me in the back, right between the shoulder blades.

My mind did not process the warning. Dang, I thought, that hurts. Something bit me.

I made another pass on the long stretch I was mowing. Something grazed my cheek. It stung a little. Felt like a rock chip or some other piece of debris had flown up from the mower. Mind still not processing the information it was receiving.

I shut off the mower at the end of the turn and got off to investigate. My two Boxers, probably thinking that an afternoon jaunt was forthcoming, came bounding up to join me.

We walked about twenty yards and I discovered the source of my problem. I had run over the entrance hole of a large yellow jacket nest. They were boiling out of the ground.

I was already too close. Since they attack en mass, I was hit five times before I even had the chance to move. My male Boxer didn’t fair much better. He stood and snapped at the air a few seconds before retreating. The female ran, right away. Females tend to be more intelligent when faced with danger, choosing flight over fight, be they human or canine.

I began to swell around the stings almost immediately. I suppose multiple encounters over the years are finally taking a toll, and I can look forward to increased sensitivity in my old age. Not good news for a forester.

Grass cutting ended for the day.

I returned to the scene of the crime at dusk, when the offenders had returned to their home for their evening siesta. A little gas poured down the hole dispatched the colony to yellow jacket hell. Usually a live and let live kind of guy, I can be a nasty enemy when attacked.

I’ll get back to my grass cutting later today. Maybe I’ll find some other plague, a fire ant bed or a rattle snake, to do battle with.

You feeling lucky, punk?

The World Cup

Is it just me?

Surely millions of world citizens can’t be wrong, can they?

I’m talking about the just completed World Cup soccer championship. I watched some of the matches this year on television, including most of the championship game.

My assessment? Like watching paint dry. Like watching grass grow. Like watching water freeze.

Please don’t tell me that I’m just a North American and I don’t understand the rules of the game or the intricacies of the sport. I understand them just fine, thank you.

Please don’t tell me that it’s the most popular sport in the world and therefore I’m unenlightened. Poverty is very common most places in the world, but I’m not going to become a fan of that either.

I do admire the skills that the great teams and players possess. They do things with their feet that I can’t do. The passing and ball movement on the really good teams is remarkable (I do not include the U.S. in the list of great teams). I admire the athleticism. But hours of playing with no score (and on occasion, actually finally scoring and the goal being taken away, as it was in Great Britain’s match)? Please world citizens, rethink your game.

Lose the overtime (or extra time, as it is properly termed). Lighten up on the offside rule so somebody can actually score a goal every now and then. Play sixty minutes and go directly to the one on one player versus goal keeper kicks–now that’s worth watching. Too bad I’ve hung myself long before that ever happens in a game.

My verdict: fun to play, murder to watch.

And I couldn’t even get a decent nap with those stupid horns blowing. I kept dreaming about giant bees.

Miguel

I have a friend who is Mexican. He immigrated (legally) to the States years ago. He is living the “American dream” that most immigrants probably have in mind when they leave their homeland and come to this country.

He owns a thriving restaurant in town. It is a family operation–his wife, children, and their spouses all work there as well. He owns a nice home, a beautiful farm, and several late-model vehicles. He works constantly, either at the restaurant or his farm, and everything he owns is neat, clean, and generally well-done.

He is a shrewd businessman. I have sold him a couple of properties over the last few years. He is one of those rare individuals that can take a piece of raw land and transform it into a “showplace” that is worth much more than what he paid for it.

In spite of his success, he is confronted with American-style racism on a daily basis.

He takes it all in stride–laughs it off with a good-natured optimism. I admire this, as I would not if I were in his situation.

I have heard the whispered comments about him. “He probably is involved with the drug trade–nobody can do that well with a restaurant.” This in spite of the fact that one can hardly ever get a table in his place without a wait. It is usually the well-heeled who make this comment. I always respond “that’s funny you should say that, because that’s what people say about you.” That at least gives them something to think about.

Other times it is more blatant. Like the time he stopped at a marina to buy a new boat. It was noon, and the proprietor was out to lunch. Someone called the police because there was a Mexican prowling the lot. It took about thirty minutes of explanation and paperwork to avoid a trip to jail on that occasion.

As I said, he laughs all this off. I once showed him a nice farm that had an old farm-house on the property. I explained that the house was a “life estate”, which meant that the current occupant, an old man, had the right to live in the house until he died. At his death, ownership of the house would revert to the buyer of the property. His farm manager said something to him in Spanish, and they both laughed. When I asked what was so funny, he said “my friend say that maybe we shouldn’t buy this one. If something happen to the old man, they say the Mexicans did it.”

Then there was the time he bought a nice farm in a neighboring county. He was out along the road with some workers, supervising the installation of a new fence. One of his new neighbors pulled up in a car and rolled the window down. She asked “Where’s your boss?” He played along. “He’s not here, how can I help you?” She said, “I might be interested in selling him my property to go along with what he’s bought here.” He said, “How much do you want for it?” She said “YOU couldn’t afford it.” He laughed. “Well tell me what you want for it, I might surprise you.” She snapped, “Just tell your boss man to call me,” and sped away. He had me call her for the price. I resisted the urge to tell her what a fool she was.

He could be angry and bitter from all this. Years of hard work and sacrifice dismissed because of his appearance. Instead, he laughs–all the way to the bank.