The Old Man, the Chihuahua, and Jesus in the Woods


Back in my younger days I bought a tract of timber from an old man.  Just as a side note and for your education in the intricacies of forestry parlance,  anyone associated with the timber business refers to  a parcel of wooded land as a “tract,” as in “that’s a nice tract of wood.”  It’s pronounced “track,” and I suspect a good many of them would spell it that way.

But I digress.

I had just moved a logger onto the tract when the owner drove up.  He was 80 years old if he was a day, an old man dressed in old man work clothes:  khaki pants, matching khaki shirt, red and black plaid hunting jacket, and a cap with ear flaps.  Looked like he might have just stepped off the cover of a 1957 edition of Outdoor Life.  His car was also from the 50’s, a Rambler I believe, and it was as neat as the creases on those khaki pants.  I initially thought “bless his heart, this poor fellow has come today  because this land is dear to him.  He probably got it from his father, who managed to scrape up enough share-cropper dollars to buy it just before the Great Depression,  and he wants to take a last look at the trees he and his poor old dad planted together right after he got home from the Big War.”

I would later discover that he owned a couple of thousand acres and had more money than Carter had little pills (Google it, youngsters).  I’ve got more imagination than sense sometimes.

He motioned me over to the passenger window.  “Hop in, young fellow, I want to show you some things before you get started.”

Now at this point in the story I should mention that there was a chihuahua in the back seat of the Rambler, who looked to be about as old as the man (in dog years, of course).  I should also mention that he was in a rage, barking and snarling and flinging himself against the rear passenger window.

I’m not a person who has any fear of dogs.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a healthy respect for a snarling one with a murderous look in his bugged-out eyes, even if he does weigh 15 pounds and barks with a Mexican accent.

I hesitated.  “Is your dog going to bite me?”

“No, son, get in.  Jasper, hush that up now, you hear.”

Jasper was apparently bilingual, as he did calm down slightly.  But as soon as I got in he jumped to the top of the front seat, where he hunkered down facing me.

We rode around in that Rambler for 20 minutes as the old man pointed to this and that.  We bounced down roads and pig trails that I wouldn’t have attempted in a four-wheel drive pickup.

I said “yes sir” a lot, but my eyes were straight ahead and I was trying not to flinch.  That chihuahua’s nose was one-inch from my cheek, and he was growling the entire time — one of those breathing, inhale/exhale growls, indicating murderous intent.   I knew if I made one move my left ear was gone.  I was focused.

We eventually made it back, my face still intact.

The next day I called the logger to see how things were going.  He said “this is some good wood” (more forestry parlance), “but I’m afraid we’re going to accidentally kill that old man.  He stays out here all the time watching us work.  We’ve had several close calls.  He just walks up around the equipment out of nowhere.  I almost cut a tree down on him this morning.”

I promised I’d come by the next morning and talk to him about the dangers of logging equipment.  Make sure he understood.

Let me digress a bit and tell you a little about this logger.  Eddy had found Jesus at a Pentecostal tent revival a couple of months before, and he was as excited about his new-found faith as any man I’d ever met.  Within a week, his entire crew had joined the flock as a result of his preaching.  He invited me to his church, “the West Georgia Assembly of Signs Following,” where the Spirit was working.  People were speaking in strange tongues, being healed of various afflictions, and sometimes were “slain in the Spirit.”  There were no timber rattlers being passed around, so I guess all the signs following were not yet on display.*

Once Eddy asked me if I had ever been slain in the Spirit?

I said I didn’t think I had.

“Well, you ought to come to one of our Saturday night services.  It happened to me a couple of weeks ago.  It was like being hit by a bolt of lightning.  I came slam out of my shoes.”

I smiled and nodded.  Didn’t say anything.  Never had any desire to be struck by lightning.  Try to avoid it most days.

Back to the story.  The next day I came out to talk to the old man, but he was nowhere to be found.

I stopped Eddy and asked if he had been out to the job that morning.

“Oh yes, he left about an hour ago.  I asked him if he knew Jesus, and he said ‘No, I don’t want any part of religion.’  So I radioed all my men and got them to come in.  We formed a circle around him and prayed for his eyes to be opened by the Spirit, but he just jumped in his car and left.”

Funny thing, we never saw that old man again.

Probably just afraid of lightning.


* The Bible, Mark 16:17-18.


Spring in Alabama


It begins with subtlety.

Red maples blooming on the right-of-way along highways, a stark contrast with hues of grey that have dominated the landscape through the chill of winter.  The redbud is close  behind, purple blossoms joining the first splatter of color on the Master Artist’s canvas.  The daffodil and dogwood follow.

Only days now until a riot of green breaks out through hills and hollows.

Until then we wait, balanced on the edge of a Bowie knife.  All change is chance — step right up and spin the wheel.  Speculation is risk, and the wound is deeper when the odds are higher.  Roll them bones until you crap-out.

The warm days put a bounce in our step.  The fever awakens, the sap begins to rise.

The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, although she is standing and clearing her throat.

Certainty dictates that the cold air will return with vengeance, marching down from the north like Sherman’s push to the sea.

The battle between north and south is not without casualty.  Lines are drawn.  Sirens blare in the darkness of night.  Doppler radar images in hues of yellow and red interrupt our regularly scheduled program.  Technology warns, but it cannot always outwit Mother.

Whirlwinds drop from the sky.  Destruction is seemingly random.  Families huddle in hallways.  Some pray while others curse.  One house destroyed, the next untouched.  One tree twisted and snapped here, a broad swath through the forest there.  Poor and rich.  Towns and farms.  Young and old.  The evil and the just.

Still we wait with child-like expectancy for the warmth and beauty that is to come, knowing that danger will pass when the hickory finally bears its green leaf.