Down from the Attic

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When you last visited I had written about my old work clothes.

Let me get a little personal here, which I never intend to do except in a metaphorical sense.

I’m unpacking the old work clothes (figuratively) and heading back out to the woods.  I start tomorrow, which happens to be April Fool’s Day.  If that’s not a metaphor it’s certainly an irony.

The forests of Alabama are a Siren song for me.  Being a forester is not easy work or even fun work all the time.  I expect to get hot in summer, cold in winter, and enjoy the combined four weeks we call fall and spring.  I eagerly anticipate sunrises and sunsets, pouring rain, muddy boots, and briar patches.  I can’t wait to get back in the woods instead of just seeing them pass by on the sides of the highways.

I’ve discovered that it’s what I need to really be alive again.  Not just breathing.  Living.

I’ve spent over three years working for a non-profit trade association, alternating between sitting in an office and burning up the highways in attempt to help loggers survive a lousy economy and a government (Federal, State, and Local) that seems to be hell-bent on eliminating their profession.  I’ve talked, written, and politicked.  I’m not sure that I accomplished much, and that’s unfortunate, because loggers are worth saving.  They are, by and large, among the last of the true mom-and-pop businesses left in the U.S.  They are, by and large, some of the finest people I have met.

Now I’ll only work with a few.  But they will be my few, and I’ll work to help them thrive.

I expect that there will be some (mainly those who long for an office job) who will think I’ve lost my mind.  They believe the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.

Sometimes it is.

But sometimes it’s only that way because they use more fertilizer.

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Work Clothes (Revisted)

This post first appeared in January of 2011.  I offer it again for your consideration, and as a set-up for my next post.

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The pile of clothes sits on the floor at the foot of my bed, where they have been neatly stacked for two weeks. I look at them each day, but have not stooped down to pick them up. Sometimes I give them a nod, the way we do here in the South when we pass someone we know only casually, a silent acknowledgement of respect.

Their previous home was on the floor in the closet, next to my work boots. Relegated there by the Redhead, they were not considered to be good enough to cohabitate with  other clothes. A forced segregation, the white trash kept down at floor level while the more cultured and fortunate apparel lived higher up on their hangers with more room to breathe. Such an arrangement is not unheard of in these parts. “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”, as one Alabamian put it back in 1963. The Redhead adopted this philosophy with this stack, and it seemed to work well enough in the confines of a shared closet with limited space.

This pile is the collection of my “woods clothes,” garments I have worn day-in and day-out for the last couple of years. Jeans and canvas pants, t-shirts and Polo’s, each with a story — a tale recorded in stains and smells, most of which are so ingrained in the fabric that their collective tales cannot be removed by repeated washing.

Blood stains, type O positive. This is my blood, shed for you, courtesy of barbed wire, green brier, and blackberry vine. Hikes through wild thickets and cane break bottoms where the good timber resides. Roads that had to be crossed to see what was on the other side.

Smells: sweat, diesel, oil, gasoline and turpentine. Liquid fuels that almost invisibly transport food and fiber to homes. Your toilet paper does not magically appear at Walmart, nor does your lumber at Home Depot.  Flooring and furniture does not materialize on a showroom floor. These are only stops along the arduous journey from stump to consumer.

These clothes of mine will no longer be worn every day. I have taken a new job in forestry, one that will be less sweat and more thought. I will be assisting a fine team of men and women in promoting forestry in Alabama through the Alabama Forestry Association, a job that requires less woods time and more face time. More meeting, speaking, and writing, and less solitude. It will present a new set of challenges, but will also result in a different set of rewards. There will still be pressures, but pressures of a different sort.

My work clothes have been singled out for disposal. The Redhead has made a silent declaration that my woods days are over.

But I believe I may hang onto them for a while–maybe box them up and put them in the attic–out of sight, out of her mind, so to speak.

I have never been the sort of man to give up on a garment just because it has a little age and wear and tear on it. Besides, the call of the woods is a Siren song, and you just never know when you may head back out.

Intensity

Woman shopping

Intensity is not a characteristic limited to men.  Linebackers and turkey hunters have it, for sure, but I’ve seen little to compare with a woman who is shopping.

A while back my mother stopped by the local grocery store to pick up a few items.  As she hurried along she happened to notice an elderly lady further down the aisle who was so engrossed in her selections that she had failed to notice she had developed, shall we say, a fashion problem:  her underwear had fallen down and was wrapped around one ankle.  She watched as the lady selected an item, put it in her cart, and advanced further down the aisle, oblivious to the fact that she was dragging her voluminous bloomers behind her.

Obviously this presented a socially awkward dilemma.  Should she approach the poor lady and point out the problem, or simply let her go on her merry way and face potential ridicule?

I should pause for a moment here to acknowledge the fact that those who read this yarn and know me personally already know what I would have done.  Clifton blood is not known for care with the spoken word.  Tact is not in our DNA.  I would have tapped her on the shoulder and said “Hey lady, you’ve dropped your drawers*.  Better pick ’em up before you trip and break your neck.”

Now being a Clifton by writ and not by blood, my mother has more verbal kindness and social grace.  She followed the lady a little further, hoping that she would discover the problem of her own accord.  When it became obvious that she wasn’t going to, she approached her and quietly said “Excuse me, ma’am, but I believe you have something stuck to your shoe.”

The shopper never missed a beat.  She stepped out of the offending garment, scooped it up, and put it in her purse.  Went back to her shopping without missing a beat.

Peyton Manning never called an audible that well.

 

*”Drawers” is a good old southern word for “underwear.”  I still use it, especially with the younger crowd, because it shocks them.

As a young man, I still remember a time when a doctor in my small southern town told me to “Drop your drawers so I can check you for a hernia.”  I’d never want to hear that now as a middle-aged man, because I know I’d be “getting checked” for something else.

Between the Lines

 

The thought that will become the next keystroke lies hidden somewhere in the void between the lines.  A pause of unknown duration, a caesura that might be minutes or days before the beat resumes.  Plenty of space for the “if’s, ands, and buts” that will muddy the pure crystal waters of the stream of thought.

See the signs and wait.  The swelling of the bud.  Daffodils around the ruins of the old house places, clustered in clumps around the old pecan or walnut in the side yard.  The return of the robin and the thunder of a gobble in the first feeble light of dawn. Yellow jasmine blooming on the naked branches along the roadsides.

But not all signs and wonders are truth.  Pharaoh’s magicians matched Moses, serpent for serpent.  Today’s bloom in the warmth of 68 degrees will lie withered on the cold ground tomorrow.

One morning soon the unseen Finger will flip the switch yet again, and life will renew.  The stark contrast of black and white will become Kodachrome that gives us dreams of summer.

Until that morning, I watch, reveling in the strange beauty that lies in the pause between the lines.