Blessings from the Sky

the balloon

I find them more frequently than you would imagine.

Singular apparitions in the deep woods where I walk.  On the ridges among the pines, or in the hardwood creek bottoms among towering oaks and poplars.  Often far from paved roads.  Away from the houses, miles from any town.

They drop down silently from the Alabama sky.  Drift in on currents that I cannot see but only feel.  Softly land in wild places among the trees and woodland creatures.

A bit of colorful foil, adorned with a pretty ribbon, once filled with helium.  The modern-day version of a bouquet of flowers with a hand-written card.

The messages vary.

“Happy Birthday!”

“Be My Valentine.”

“Happy Graduation!”

“Get Well Soon.”

Sentiments of congratulation, care, or concern, now lost to the four corners.

Each represents a unique story, one that I will never know.  I let my imagination wander to fill in the missing lines.

Whose birthday was it?  Were they in the joys of youth, or facing the loneliness of out-living all their loved ones?

Are they truly loved, or were the words simply a cheap token of false sentiment.

Will they get well?

Was the blessing offered rejected and released to the winds, or did it simply escape from careless fingers?

I will never know.

Little blessings from above, drifting down to earth.

Each of us must choose our own response.

Jeep Family Values

jeep 2

I like Jeeps.  Have since I was a kid, even though I never drove or even rode in one until I bought my first in 2007.  A 1995 model, she was intended to be a “spare vehicle” — something to drive on the weekend, or when my pickup truck was in the shop.

Coincidentally, 2007 was the last year that I had any “spare” money.  The economic crash of 2008 and some poor career decisions have not been good to my net worth.  The spare became the primary vehicle a few months ago.

When I say Jeep I mean “Wrangler,” the vehicle in the photo above.  It’s based on the military work-horse that moved U.S. troops from Point A to Point B in World War II.  The first commercial version became available in 1944 and was dubbed the “C.J.” which stood for “Civilian Jeep.”

Other models are available under the name Jeep, including one that looks something like what we called a “station wagon” when I was a kid.  Another is a puny little car-like thing called a “Liberty.”

Patrick Henry once said “Give me liberty or give me death!”  Well Pat, if I had to drive a Liberty I reckon I would give death some serious consideration.

The real Jeep is a no frills vehicle.  Pretty basic equipment like manual transmission, no air conditioner (at least in mine), vinyl seats, and a heater that will roast a chicken in five minutes or less.  Easy to work on, a big plus for a man like me who is admittedly mechanically challenged.  And they make so many after-market accessories that a Jeep can be customized to reflect any individual’s personal taste.

On the flip side they are drafty, noisy (with or without the top) and ride like a buckboard wagon on the highway.  As the Redhead is fond of saying “Let’s not take the Jeep — that thing will beat us to death.”

But they are sweet as granny’s tea in the woods.  They go up, down, around, or through almost anything you encounter.

What I didn’t expect when I bought that first one is that Jeep owners apparently consider themselves to be some sort of family.  I never meet a Jeep coming or going in which the driver does not give me a wave.  And of course I wave back.  Don’t know when or why this came to be.  I suppose it’s just a Jeep thing that you wouldn’t understand.  I’m still not exactly sure that I do.

I’m not bothered by the gesture.  In the Alabama of my youth, country folk always waved when their vehicles met.  It was a nice custom, one that I wish would make a comeback.  A polite acknowledgement of the kinship of mankind, a time when folks didn’t ride around angry and self-absorbed.  No texting or web surfing while driving.  No cursing at other drivers.  No obscene gestures.  No road rage.

Sadly my trusty old ’95 bit the dust a couple of months ago.  A college kid with a cell phone and a short attention span pulled-out in front of me.  I didn’t even have time to hit the brakes.  Thankfully neither of us were hurt, but both vehicles were total losses.

The bright side was that the insurance company paid me nearly a grand more than I originally paid for her.  Try to pull that off with a Prius.

The replacement is a 2007, so I’m slowly making progress toward the present.  At this rate I may get a current year model sometime around 2050.

Time marches on, or bounces along if you drive a Jeep.

So if you’re looking for me today you might check an old Alabama back road.  I’ll be the one in my “new” old Jeep, grinning and waving at any of my extended family along the way.

 

 

Write What You Know

I wrote some fiction the other day.  It was a 3500-word short story, a slight departure from the usual fare on this site.  I was excited.  It was a rough draft and needed a lot more work, but I thought the bones were in place to flesh out a pretty good piece.

I presented it the Redhead* for an opinion and went on to something else.

It took her five minutes to deliver the verdict.

“I like this the least of anything you’ve ever written.”

“Huh?  What?  How come?”

“It’s just not you.  I like the stuff you write about trees and woods and country people.  You know, that kind of thing you write.”

I’ve been typecast.

Or perhaps she has a point — creative nonfiction is what I do best.  So I guess I’ll just continue to plod along, telling mostly-true stories I’ve encountered along my way.  I say “mostly-true” because that’s the “creative” in creative nonfiction.  I take liberties with a story sometimes when it suits me, or if it improves the story I’m telling.

That being said, or written as it were, I’ve noticed I have some new readers lately (thanks, social media).  I know that these folks aren’t going to wade through 300+ posts, so I’ve selected a few from the past that I hope you will like — and not all of them are about trees and country folk.

Good Country People

Haircuts and Memories

Biscuit Man

The Lover

Delta (my most read piece, only because it made half an Alabama county angry for reasons I still don’t quite fully understand).

The Farm

I’ll Fly Away.

As always, thanks for stopping by.

 

  • “The Redhead” is my wife.  I’m careful about using actual names in my writing — might get sued, or not get supper in this particular case.

Fear and Loathing in Alabama

lone-star-tick

Forestry has been my profession for 26 years.  When people find that I’ve spent a considerable part of my life romping through the woods, the question I’m asked most often is “aren’t you afraid of snakes?”

My answer is “yes and no.”

I’ve had surprisingly few close encounters with snakes.  The truth is I don’t really look for them.  I wear snake bite-proof boots or chaps (now there’s a great job:  snake boot tester) that provide a sense of security that I’m protected — at least from the knees down.  I’ve never been struck, although there have been many occasions that I’ve been in such thick brush that it would be hard to tell if I was.

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some close encounters.  This past summer I put my foot down within inches of a large timber-rattler, which never coiled, rattled, or even moved.  I admit I was unnerved, but not enough to prevent me from finishing that day’s work.  The real scare came about a minute later, when some idiot called me on my cell phone, which happened to be set to “vibrate” and was in my pants pocket.

I’m glad no one was around to see my high-jump.

I think that snakes and I have come to an agreement — I won’t crush your head if you don’t bruise my heal.  I never kill a snake, even a poisonous one, unless I encounter it in a place where it might endanger a loved-one, like in my garden or around the house.  It’s a live and let live arrangement, and so far it’s worked out just fine.

What this forester really fears are ticks.

Ticks carry some nasty diseases, and recent surveys (there’s another great job:  tick-counter) indicate that the tick population is on the rise.  Ticks are at endemic levels in several Alabama counties that I frequent.  The reasons for this are probably more complicated than I know, but I suspect it’s due to less fire in the woods (ticks thrive in heavy brush that was once constrained by fire).  I do know this:  more ticks mean more exposure.  I don’t like the odds.

One of the worst tick-borne illnesses is Lyme disease, a debilitating condition that mimics rheumatoid arthritis.  Doctors often misdiagnose the symptoms as a bad case of the flu or some other viral infection until the real damage is done.

I know two foresters who have Lyme disease.  Both live with constant joint pain and face a lifetime of large doses of antibiotics.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s a new tick-borne  disease that has begun to make an appearance in Alabama.  It’s currently called “Alpha-Gal,” and it’s effect is a severe  allergic reaction to all red meat, meaning that those who contract this disease from the Lone Star tick can never eat red meat again.

If I get that one I’m a dead man.  Seventy-five percent of my diet would instantly vanish.

I’m not sure life would be worth living anyway.