Friday, November 25, 2005

Stalking the Wily Mistletoe

It's the time of year when those of us with a traditional leaning (at least in the Southern U.S.) go out and gather the necessary accompaniments to the celebration of the holidays: a Christmas tree, evergreen branches, holly, and mistletoe.

My wife is from Wisconsin, bless her heart. Last year was her first time to live out the entire gamut of the seasons in a Southern clime, and she reveled in it. When Christmas time came near, I told her of the necessity of going out and gathering mistletoe. (I had been pointing out to her the clumps growing high in the oaks and sycamore, ever since the leaves had fallen enough to make the mistletoe visible.)

She looked at me with surprise. "How do you get it?" she asked me. "Those branches look too thin to climb out onto!"

"You shoot it down," I replied. To which serious answer she laughed and refused to believe me. I told her to confirm it by asking someone else. So the next time we were at my parents' house, she turned to my father and asked, "Charlie, how do you get mistletoe?"

He promply replied, "You shoot it down." Her lower jaw dropped and I grinned. She had equated "mistletoe shooting" with "snipe hunting", I believe - a mythical occupation used to confound and trick the unwary.

The following weekend we went to my Aunt Jewel's home in a nearby pastoral community and took shotguns and small-caliber rifles with us. We took careful aim and brought down several trophy branches of mistletoe, while my wife mostly shook her head at the doings of the strange Southerners. I finally convinced her to take a shot, but she only managed to bag a few small twigs.

Anyway, this year she began talking about the "Annual Mistletoe Hunt" a couple of weeks ago, and today we went to another location to fetch home the high-dwelling plant. We managed to collect two grocery bags of it, and much of it is going to be shipped home to her relatives in Wisconsin, who had never heard of such an event. To quote my wife, "The only time I had ever seen mistletoe was hanging in a little cellophane bag, next to the cashier at the store." They didn't believe her last year, until she sent them several photos of the mighty mistletoe hunters, bringing down their prey.

And as you can see, it works - even if it isn't cut down by Druids wielding golden sickles.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Abundance of Rain

This past summer and early fall have been mostly very dry. I suppose this is true across much of the Southern Appalachians and the Cumberland Mountains, because everyone I know says the leaf-peeper season is suffering greatly. The dry weeks have caused the leaves to turn brown prematurely, instead of passing through their normal lovely red, gold and bronze phases. I know it has been that way here.

My wife and I are trying very hard to cover some bulldozer-ravaged soil that the previous owner of the land created, and for a quick fix we have planted winter rye down a long, sloping draw that has tremendous potential for erosion if something doesn't hold the soil in place. My wife has also spent many hours tediously hand-planting English ivy on the upper hillside above our driveway, to inhibit erosion there while providing a more scenic view than the Japanese honeysuckle gives to it.

We have worried much about the dryness of the soil, but had confidence (faith??) that the rains would come eventually. Well, they have.

The last two, almost three, days have been rain, rain and yes, some more rain. I really like the rain. Some of my most pleasant sleeping is spent with soft Celtic music playing in the background, while the raindrops beat out an accompanying syncopated rhythm on the roof and windows. Problematically, when the rain continues all day long, I always seem to be sleepy.

My caffeine intake has increased dramatically in the last couple of days. It's either that or fall asleep over my keyboard.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Corporate greed and the human condition

A few years ago, my mother had an accident at the WalMart where she worked as the Personnel Officer. She was coming down some stairs, and someone had spilled oil on the steps, then attempted to clean the oil with a wet mop. My mother hit the oil-and-water-slickened painted concrete steps, and fell down the stairs, injuring her back, arm, and hip. She became permanently disabled, in constant pain. She has had numerous surgeries and torturous treatments to try to fix this problem, but nothing works, and according to the doctors, nothing will ever work. She will be in pain, or doped up, for the rest of her life.

Now, stuff happens. That's the way life is. My parents are not strangers to suffering, having lost one adult child to a car accident, and almost losing another (me) to a car accident when I was four years old. Their house burned down when I was four, too. Life hasn't been kind, but they are survivors.

But WalMart - the Corporate Great Satan - has been doing nothing but trying to stop her disability payments for years, ever since the accident. The latest episode has them taking my parents to court to stop payments to her, medical care payments, and payments to my father for providing full-time care, because she has reached the age of 65.

My mother and father had their lives irrevocably altered by this incident which disabled my mother. She was always a lively, dynamic, hard-working woman. She loved walking in the fields beside their home, working in her flower beds, playing with her grandchildren. But all of that changed in an instant.

Now, she must take pain medication every day. She has a very sensitive system, so the kinds of medication she can tolerate are limited. She has to take special sleeping medication because the pain medication causes her to have nightmares. Her memory is fading - she will often repeat herself many times when telling things, because the medication simply causes her to forget. She has a special lift chair now. She can't sit for more than about thirty minutes at a time without getting up and walking around to relieve the pain, yet walking for very long causes her agony, too. She has had over fifty epidural spinal injections over the last six years, when doctors recommend that the safe level of such injections is no more than two per year.

Her nerves have been affected by the pain medication, the surgery and the implanting of a neural stimulating device in her spine to combat the pain, so that now she cannot bear a loud noise without being reduced to a quivering mass. They had to buy a special vehicle, expensive, to carry her motorized wheelchair around. The motorhome they had purchased before sits mostly unused, because the trips they had planned on after retirement are too much of a strain on both her physical condition and their modest income.

I am NOT recounting all the suffering, all the sleepless nights, all the tears, all the pain, all the craziness that my father and mother have had to endure because of this - the endless rounds of questioning at hearings until my mother broke down in tears. I am, as it were, only hitting the lowlights.

Now, the wheedling, supercilious, $250 per hour %@#*&!! lawyers who work for WalMart want to try to take away my parents support and stop paying for her constant medical care. Is this a great country or what???

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Adventures in forestry

A few weeks ago, my wife and I finally got the time and inclination concurrently to do something that has needed doing for quite some time: clear out some trees on our property that are either in the way or present a danger. There was one that was dead but still sound, and there were two rotten ones.

After having a fair amount of ease with these (my wife didn't have any idea of my expertise with a chainsaw, I suppose!), we decided to go up onto the bluff right behind our house and take down some small ones that were growing right on the edge.

I did the proper things, you know. For instance, I tied a guide rope to the tree, and ran it around another tree, so my wife could pull on the rope without being in danger of the tree falling toward her. I notched the tree deeply in the exact direction I wanted it to fall. I then started cutting on the other side of the tree trunk.

When I was almost through the tree, it began to creak and fall. The problem was, it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do!! Instead of falling in the direction of the notch, and the direction of the guide rope, it was falling right toward my wife!

Remember, this tree was right on the edge of a little bluff. I looked up. I saw it falling in the wrong direction. My mind didn't register that the tree was falling at an extremely slow speed. I shouted, quickly stood upright... and stepped right over the edge of the bluff, with a running chainsaw in my hand.

(Here is where you are supposed to go "Oh my God!" and clap your hand over your mouth or something like that.)

I feel about 5 feet and bounced off the wall of the bluff, using my shoulder and elbow as a pivot point. Then I fell another five feet onto my buttocks, and rolled over into a position on my knees... with the still running chainsaw held as far away from my body as possible!

The thought running through my mind as I fell? Well, it honestly was, "Oh, good grief, I'm going to fall on the raspberries!" We had planted raspberries on that slope, and I didn't want to crush them, I guess. I missed hitting an upright, 2-foot-tall wooden stake by about six inches.

Lara came running over to the edge of the bluff, unharmed by the falling tree, and looked down in horror. I was on my knees, with my hands outstretched, saying, "I'm OK, I'm OK!"

Suffice to say, I was very sore that night, and for a couple of days afterward. I lost some skin on my right elbow, and still have some residual soreness, but other than that I'm in remarkably good shape for what happened.

I really gave Lara, and I suppose my guardian angel, quite a fright. Thankfully they were both on the job.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Looking up at the mountain

Well, here I am, a basically unemployed consultant who really wants to be a writer. What is basically unemployed? Well, basically, I'm unemployed. I became tired of being away from home on these 8-10 week assignments, working at stuff I really hate even though I'm very good at it. I asked my employer (who shall remain nameless, and often clueless) for assignments that were closer to home, or shorter in duration.

They don't exist, apparently. So we had a parting of the ways. I'm at that point in my life where I have realized that making the most possible money isn't the best use of my time. My wife and I met late in life, so we already don't have as much time to spend together, by default. I have no desire to lose more of those 0h-so-precious days while I'm still fit enough and sane enough to enjoy them.

Ergo, my wonderful wife is being very supportive at my attempt to do full-time what I have only tried to do on a part-time basis before now: write. And believe me, if you have not tried to make a living as a writer, you have no idea how much looking up at the mountain you do. There's a lot of walking uphill.

On a more positive and real-world note, we recently bought property that includes a small mountain (OK, a glorified hill, but gimme a break here!) The view from there is fantastic - I can literally see into two other counties at least, and when the rest of the leaves fall from the trees, possibly into three! We are planning a new house on the highest point of the property, with a nice observation deck on the second story to make the view even better. My lack of employment makes it much slower to accomplish, true, but we have a very solid and wonderful dream.

We have pitched a tent on that highest point, and have taken lawn furniture up there. So, when we get discouraged about our dreams, we walk up the mountain and sit there. We look at the geese flying overhead, at the view of the rolling hills covered with trees that go into the distance. We sit there at night and watch the stars dance overhead. Sometimes, we lie there on our backs on a blanket, looking up at the sky and trying to fathom the mind of God.

There must be a reason the ancients built their temples and groves of worship on the high places.