Archive for October, 2007

It Ain’t Halloween Without a Haint

October 31, 2007

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Happy Halloween to you and yours!

If you were sauntering along the quarter-mile path we made to meander through our back woods, just as you reached the bottom, first you’d see the big bench we built down there.  It’s where we like to sit and dream (a lot) and cry (sometimes) and watch the shy wood thrushes (my favorite bird).  Then, you might gasp in horror and scream as you espy this fellow on the old dead stump to your right. 

Yes, be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Who is he?  I’ll leave it to you to decide.  Is he that errant hunter who shot his gun just a little too close to our house?  Is he the tourist from Charlotte who owns the million dollar vacation house near us and thinks that entitles him to trespass on anyone’s land because he is a Big Shot?  Is he the guy I caught stealing my ginseng?

Only the animals and trees and spirits of the forest know for sure.  And they’re not telling.  And neither shall I.   Bwaahahahaha!

Don’t Hate Me Because I’m…Sensible!

October 28, 2007

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I was driving through the parking lot of a local shopping center the other day, when I noticed a young guy in a maroon car with his brake lights on, obviously about to back out of the parking space ahead of me.  Initially, I slowed, but then when I saw him look straight at me, I figured he was waiting for me to pass by.  But just as I drew near, he abruptly backed out, right in front of me.  So I slammed on my brakes and pulled slightly to the right to avoid a collision.  My groceries, which were in the seat beside me, slid to the floor.

I muttered a few choice phrases and stared hard at the back of his car.  He was taking him own sweet time about accelerating.  So that gave me plenty of time to read his bumper sticker. 

I Hate Your Camry!

Despite my irritation, I laughed out loud.  As it happens, I drive a Camry.  I was driving it that day.  But the idea that anyone could hate a Camry was ludicrous to me.  Camrys just seem so innocuous and inoffensive.  How could anyone hate them?  It’s almost like hating…I dunno…a golden retriever.   You know—they’re reliable; friendly; largish, but they don’t eat that much; and you see them everywhere.  Yep, just your basic golden retriever of a car. 
 
I mean, it’s not like I was driving a Hummer or something.  That I could understand.  But a Camry?  Maybe he has some stereotype of a Camry driver in his mind.  Maybe it symbolizes something to him.  But I’m not sure what.  Dullness?  Conservatism?  Thriftiness?  Old age?   Well, I am a middle-aged, thrifty, sometimes dull moderate-leaning-to-the-left, so I guess there could be some validity in that stereotype.

But I bet you’re wondering—what was he driving?  A Civic?  A Miata?  Some other zippy, sporty, little car?  No indeed.  He was driving a… Buick Regal.  Which is basically just an American Camry.   I mean, my goodness, I don’t like to stereotype, but if you were playing one of those match games where you draw a line from a word in one column and its closest match in the second, and you saw the word “Buick” in column one and “Conservative Senior Citizen” in column two…well…would there be any question?

I wish I could have a word or two with that young whippersnapper.  A nice, motherly chat.  I’d talk to him about the futility and folly of hatred, about his lack of driving skills and judgment, and about the fact that it would have been far more prudent to get a Camry.  Better reliability, better crash rating, and an all-around better car.

I would remind him that he, too, will be old someday.  Because I think that what his bumper sticker is all about—he’s afraid he’s going to turn into his dad.  Or his grandpa.  But someday he, too, will be old, thrifty, and a little dull.  And he, too, will love the way his Camry glides along, a smooth and reliable ride, insulating him from young whippersnappers who would hate him just because he’s…sensible.

Friday Fact: The Hapless Flight to Bright Lights at Night

October 26, 2007

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Photo from http://insects.tamu.edu/

I often have the experience, when I learn a new fact that makes my eyes widen with excitement, of eagerly relating the fact to a friend only to have them smile politely and stifle a yawn.  That’s when I realize that they already know what I just learned, and that, in fact, it is probably common knowledge for almost everyone in the free world but me.  But that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm very much at all.  This is probably one of those facts, but I’ll tell it anyway because…well, because it thrilled me. 

One of the best things about living in the mountains for me is being able to leave our windows open in the summer.  It’s particularly wonderful because we get to listen to all the sounds of the forest at night—the haunting calls of owls, the mournful howling of coyotes, and the snorts of deer (while they’re eating our plants, no doubt).  And when we have the lights on in a room, one sound we hear is the thump, thump, thump of moths repeatedly hurling themselves against the screen.  I have often wondered why they are drawn to light and why they are so persistent, though it often leads to their demise.  My daughter Ariel still has lovely luna moth wings that she found, as a child, under a street light, where the poor moths were apparently drawn to the bright light.

Well, the theory held by most entomologists is that the male moths mistake the artificial lights glowing in our streets and homes for the…moon.  They can’t see very well, so they rely on the moon to navigate in a straight line by keeping the moonrays at an angle as they fly out in search of a mate.  And the reason they seem a bit demented in the way they constantly fling themselves against our screen or our porch light is that they become disoriented because it is impossible to use the rays from porch or room lights to navigate, so they lose their bearings. 

Hmm…they are definitely not the only living creatures to lose their bearings in search of love, but it is certainly unfortunate that so many die in the attempt. 

Check out this great story in the Mountain Xpress about an Asheville man and his “night visitors.”

The Hazards of a Hug (or When Bear Hugs Get a Little Hairy)

October 23, 2007

Warning:  Boring, whiny, self-indulgent post ahead.

I mentioned briefly in my last post that I had sustained a “small” injury.  Well, it was small in terms of the actual body part injured, but since that body part seems to be rubbing up against a nerve ending, it turns out to be large in terms of pain, which is getting worse instead of better. 

Hence, this post.  Those that know me well know that I have a very hard time asking for help, so the fact that I’m writing this is some measure of my desperation.  At the risk of boring you to tears, I thought I’d fling this into cyberspace and see what comes back.  Hopefully, this will be my first and last post seeking free medical advice.   :)

The way it happened is almost comic.  My brother and his wife had come to visit and were taking their leave.  We were out on the porch taking last-minute pictures and giving big hugs in the way of long, long goodbyes that Southerners are prone to.  Janet and I were giving each other a big, ole bear hug, when I felt something go Thwack in my chest.  It felt sort of like a fan belt broke loose—it hit my chest with that much force.

In fact, Janet felt it too and jumped back.  I clutched my chest in amazement.  She looked so stricken that my first words were to reassure her that it was nothing she had done.  Then I thought, “What in the hell was that?”

It did hurt, but mainly when I breathed deeply—at first.  And, no, the Thwack was not the sound like a rib breaking would make.  It was more of a big Snap against my chest, like a giant rubber band.

Here’s where I tell you that I have a well-earned aversion to doctors.  Except for when I clearly have a raging infection that only antibiotics will cure, I always take the Wait-and-See approach.  Our bodies have wondrous self-healing properties.

But now I’m hurting more than I did at first.  I am even considering taking the ancient Darvocet I found in our cabinet.  And I’m real stoical about pain.   (Endured long and difficult labors with natural childbirth without so much as a Tylenol or cuss word—twice).   But it hurts when I bend over, it hurts when I breathe, it hurts when I push or pull with my left arm, and it hurts when I rise up from lying down.  And not just in my chest.  Because of the compressed nerve, I think, it hurts both in my back and in my shoulder.  It’s sort of like someone keeps running me through with a sword. 

So I did Internet research and finally came up with a pretty certain diagnosis—I have  “slipping rib syndrome.”  I know, it sounds kind of silly, but that’s what they call it.  Apparently, one or two of my ribs have pulled away from the ligaments that usually hold them in place and the cartilage tip of the ribs are slipping upward and impinging on the intercostal nerves.  So my ribs are literally getting on my nerves.

I believe this is the result of a long-ago injury to my chest and rib area when I was taking care of my Mama.  She had Lou Gehrig’s Disease and was in a wheelchair.  I often had to lift her when other measures weren’t effective.  She weighed about 160 pounds, and I recall feeling something tear in my chest and hurt afterwards once when I lifted her.  So I think the seeds were sown then for this injury, and the chickens have come home to roost.  (Is that a mixed metaphor, or what?!)

Anyway, the purpose of this long and dull post is to find out if anybody out there has any clue what I should do to hasten the healing and ease the pain.  (If you’re still awake and reading, that is).  I’ve been taking the maximum Excedrin, as well as Valerian to relax my muscles and Glucosamine and Chondroitin to build up cartilage and connective tissue.  And when I am able to do so, I’ve been applying heat to the area. 

Please forgive me for whining.  And for one of the worst mixed metaphors ever in the history of blogging.  Apparently, being unable to breathe deeply has starved my brain of oxygen.  But I know you understand.   :)

A Warm Welcome to Cool Autumn

October 21, 2007

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(Scene from our deck-the play of light and fog in autumn)

Now that I’ve bid farewell to summer, I thought it would be appropriate to say a happy hello to autumn.  Hello, autumn!

Fall has always been my favorite time of year.  I have never seen it as an ending.  For me, it symbolized a fresh start—the beginning of a new school year, full of promise and new possibilities.  New pencils, new teachers, and a new cold-weather outfit that I always wore on the first day of school no matter how hot it was.  So the start of school for me is forever associated with the smell of new wax on schoolroom floors and the scratchy prickle of wool on my hot and sweaty neck.

And the cool, crisp autumn air makes me frisky as a new pup (even now, as an old pup).  I always feel as though I’ve been reborn in fall.   I love, too, snuggling under quilts piled so heavy you can barely move and the smell of thick soup or stew simmering in the crockpot.

So here is my photographic ode to fall.  I should confess: most of these are from last year.  We had every intention of hiking the hills this weekend and sharing what we witnessed with you, my kind readers.  But I had a small unexpected injury that has curtailed my hiking for a while.  So I hope you don’t mind a recycled, year-old fall!  ( Most of these were taken at our home).  For some really amazing fall pictures, be sure to check out Blue Ridge Blog.  My friend Wesley has some lovely ones, too, at Blue Ridge Dreaming  ( like this one.)

Welcome, autumn.  We’re so glad you’re here.

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Our back woods at the end of the day

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The great big maple in back of our house

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The same maple from a different perspective

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Dogwood and a golden tree illuminated

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Leaves seen close.

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Bright red berries of our mountain ash tree

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Yes, the sky really was that blue yesterday!

Friday Fact: The Wondrous Way that Waxwings Woo

October 19, 2007

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My Friday Fact this week was inspired by an exquisite bit of grace that my husband Tom experienced about 18 years ago.

 I was changing a diaper, I think, when I heard Tom say, “Oh my God!”  My heart sank.  At the time, we lived in a house built in 1907, and something was always falling apart or failing or malfunctioning.  And “oh my God” was our typical reaction (but it was really more of a prayer than a curse).   So I finished changing the diaper and went out, filled with dread, to the little screen porch where Tom was standing.  

But his face was lit up as he told me what he had just seen   Our cedar tree had been completely filled with cedar waxwings which, as you can see from the picture above, are beautiful birds.  Not only that, but the late afternoon sun had set the tree and the waxwings aglow.  But he only saw them for a moment before the entire flock took off—arising in a golden spiral around the tree.  It lasted all of a minute, but Tom still talks about it to this day.

Cedar waxwings eat flower petals and insects, but they love berries the best, which is almost certainly what they were eating the day Tom saw them in the cedar.  In fact, sometimes when berries ferment, the waxwings eat so many that they become tipsy and actually fall out of trees drunk and must sober up before they can fly! 

They are very social birds and nest in colonies.  Cedar waxwings have been observed lined up on a tree branch, passing berries to each other along the row until every bird has its share of berries.  When males and females court, they like to play a game where they pass flower petals back and forth to each other.

Oh my.  I sure would like to see THAT.

Farewell to Summer

October 16, 2007

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 (Bull Thistles on Our Hike Up a Mountain)

It’s finally beginning to look like autumn here at our mountain homestead.  We pull sweaters from our closet that smell faintly of cedar and draw up the quilt from the foot of the bed, shivering deliciously in the chill night air.
 
So it’s time to say adieu to summer.  And I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go.  It’s become like a loud, obnoxious, oppressive guest who overstays their welcome.  The weather here this year for both spring and summer was volatile and strange.  And oddly, the events of our summer seemed to somehow mirror the weather.

So I’d like to say to summer:  Thank you for coming.  We enjoyed your visit in many ways and hope you’ll stop by again next year.  Are you sure you’ve packed everything?  Can we help you carry your bags to the car?  Don’t let the door hit you on the way out!

But our family really did enjoy summer’s visit in some ways.  We took some wonderful hikes; we rediscovered the joys of eating orange creamsicles while we sat and talked on our porch after a long, hot walk; and our beloved coneflowers and black-eyed susans managed to bloom, despite the drought.  So,  here, in pictures, are a few of our summer delights. 

Sayonara, summer.

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Ariel going down the mountain on our hike

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Coneflower in the morning

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Monarch caterpillar on milkweed

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Monarch on Mr. Hendrix’s butterfly bush

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Hiking down the Knob

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Maple leaves on our rainy hike

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Black-eyed susans in the early morning light

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Moss in the dappled forest light

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Swallowtail on the bull thistles in my side yard

The Faces That Launched a Thousand Quips

October 14, 2007

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The Nut Family Climbs a Mountain to See the Pretty Leaves.

Feeling a little blue?  I’ve got just the thing.  Cheapest therapy your $6.95 can buy.  It’s  Googly Eyes by the editors of Klutz.  Not only is the book a hoot, with hilarious pictures and clever captions, but it comes with oodles of googly eyes.  (Wow, that phrase is really fun to say!)  Yes, you too can instantly bring common, ordinary household objects alive!  Be the life of the party!  Thrill to the silliness!

It is particularly fun to surreptitiously apply these little googly eyes to items in the homes of friends and family for them to find later after you are gone.  I like to imagine someone finding them after a long, hard day at work and laughing out loud with delight.   (One important caveat:  You shouldn’t have these in a home with children present under the age of three.  The googly eyes are definitely a choking hazard.)

Below are the pictures I took of my own googly-eyed critters.  Yes, those are my groaningly silly captions, with the name of the transformed ordinary object below it.  (I make no apologies for my puns! Read at your own risk!)  The pictures (and captions) in the book are even funnier than mine, but it was more fun to come up with my own, even if they’re not as humorous.  At least they made us laugh.  A lot.  But then, we are easily amused.

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Leaf me alone!

(Leaf.  Duh.)

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Its bark is worse than its bite.

(Knot in tree)

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A flowering friendship.

(A coneflower.  Duh again.)

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“I’ve just gone to seed.”

(Dead coneflower.)

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An enlightened fellow.

(Lamp.)

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Just handle it!

(car door handle)

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I am knot!

(Knot. In tree.)

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I’m a little gaseous!

(Propane tank cover.)

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Oooh, my eyes are watering!

(Watering can.)

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Hair today; gone tomorrow!

(Downy seeds of bull thistle.)

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You turn me on!

(That’s right.  A lamp)

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A well-matched pair!

(Salt and Pepper shakers)

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Orange-Crested Sharp-Beaked Cutterbird

(Umm…scissors)

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Socket to me!

(O.K.  I’ll let you guess on this one.  Hee, hee)


 

Friday Fact: The Tough, Tough Love of the Mallee Mom

October 12, 2007

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The mallee fowl of southern Australia is one hard working critter.  Both the hen and the cock spend most of their waking hours building and maintaining an enormous, ingenious incubator for their eggs.

Though they are only the size of small chickens, this intrepid couple digs a pit two to three feet deep and over ten feet in diameter! They fill the hole with leaves, twigs, and bark and wait for rain to soak the mulch, then cover it with sand.

This compost soon begins to decompose and heat up.  The cock actually uses his beak to check the temperature (mallee fowl are also called “thermometer birds”).  When it reaches the magic number of 91 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time for the hen to lay the first egg. mallee-fowl-nest.jpg Her mate digs into the mound, tenderly places the egg into it, and then rebuilds it around the egg.  It’s his job, also, to keep the temperature stable by a continuous process of uncovering, then covering the eggs according to the weather. 

And since the hen lays an egg a week, there is a seemingly never-ending process going on of eggs being laid and eggs hatching out and covering and uncovering and building and rebuilding.  Makes our eight-hour work days seem like a piece of cake, doesn’t it?

But here’s the kicker:  After all the tender loving care Mama and Daddy Mallee Fowl give their eggs, once the chicks hatch out, they are on their own. Completely. 

It’s an understatement to say that Baby Mallee Fowl has a difficult beginning.  First of all, after they hatch out, they must dig their own way to the surface of the incubator mound, usually through as much as three feet of soil, to reach open air.  Sometimes it takes as much as 15 hours!baby-mallee.jpg  Then, and I quote here from the book, “they stagger to the nearest bush to rest and take shelter.”

Poor little guys.  And after all this, you’d think Mama and Daddy would take them under their wings.  Nope.  Mama and Daddy completely ignore them.  I mean, these babies are kicked into the street!  They actually learn to fly in just 24 hours.

Yeah, can’t you just hear the Mama and Daddy saying, “Look, junior, we worked our beaks and claws to the bone making a home for you as a young egg and what thanks do we get? You just want more!  You’re outta here!”

Not surprisingly, only a very small percentage of the chicks survive.  But those that do survive their tough beginning have a long life of endless egg laying and egg tending and hole-digging and incubator building and incubator maintaining to look forward to. 

*Sigh*

It’s a hard-knock life.

The Deep and Hidden Chambers of the Human Heart

October 9, 2007

When I began to think about having my own blog, I read a bit of advice about how to start one, how to keep it going, and how to increase visits to your site.  One thing I heard consistently is that one should have a “target” audience.  That is, blogs should have a predominant theme—be it parenting, politics, sports, or popular culture.

I knew then I was in trouble.  For one thing, my interests vary widely, and the thoughts that rumble through my head, like a runaway circus train, reflect that. And, naturally, those thoughts sometimes end up in my posts. In other words, sometimes it’s the lions that escape from the circus train; sometimes, it’s the clowns.  Besides, the blogs I like the best tend to be about a little bit of everything.

But some of you may have noticed that my posts tend to swing in a very wide arc—from happy to homicidal, from touchy-feely to just plain touchy.  Perhaps you’ve thought I should rename my blog Dr.Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.  Maybe you’ve thought that the menopause I wrote about here was making me a little…moody. 

Well, no.  My kids and husband will tell you that I’m actually a very even-tempered person (perhaps even to the point of boredom) —not prone to moodiness at all.  But clearly, there is a dichotomy here. 

Years ago, I used to read the comic Cathy (back when she was a single girl and so was I). Once, describing herself, she said:  Brain of a cynic; heart of a Precious Moments figurine. Heh.  That’s me.  OK, I don’t really care for the Precious Moments figurines, but you get the idea.
 
Long story short:  The past twenty years have been very, very hard.  I have no desire to rehash it all here, and I’m sure you have no desire to read it.  So, trust me on this:  We’ve been rode hard and put up wet. 

So, I’m angry.  I’m sad.  And weary to the bone.  And sometimes I veer dangerously close to misanthropy.  But somewhere, in the deepest chambers of my heart, is the spirit of a cockeyed optimist.  There are so many things in my life to be grateful for.  And I am.

Though I am angry at God, I see Him everywhere.  Especially in nature, so that explains my sometimes enraptured essays on the natural world.  What I’m working on is seeing God in other people.  That’s hard for me right now. 

I pray every day that God will heal my brokenness.  I know He understands and forgives me for my anger.  After all, the Kingdom of God is for everyone.  Especially the brokenhearted.  In Isaiah 61, the prophet speaks of Jesus coming to “bind up the brokenhearted.”   In Psalm 34, I am reassured to know that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  And Lord knows, I’m crushed in spirit.
 
So, please bear with me. Some people drink to deal with pain, some smoke, some take Valium.  I write. Sometimes sweet, sometimes bitter.  But always the truth, as I see it.  It eases my heart and quiets my mind.  Jesus said that the truth will set you free, so my writing has to be honest and true if I’m ever going to loosen these chains that bind my heart.  So, for now…I’ll keep ranting.  I’ll keep raving.  I’ll keep rhapsodizing. 

I hope you keep reading.


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