Monday, September 20, 2004

You know, in spite of my beloved country being in the hands of crazy people, I feel pretty good. Every day, you have to leave some things undone, and I managed to get quite a few things left until next time. Yesterday, I left about half of next winter's wood waiting stacked up beside the clearing we just made on the mountainside. Sometime in the next twelve months I have to finish cutting it up to stove length, split it, and bring it down to the house. I'm ready for this winter, though, if we have one. In today's global climate disruption, one never knows about such things. The old signs and sayings don't work nowadays, so even though we had all the seed washed off the field by hurricane Ivan, we can still replant this fall, and the date gets later and later in the year. My neighbor, who gave up the banking business to run a bulldozer, says he can't butcher his hogs on Thanksgiving any more; too hot! We just carry on and feel good at the end of the day washing off the dirt from the day's labors, and putting ice on the various body parts that hurt. A glass of wine is an excellent ice pack for the mind. My neighbor the bulldozer driver says he's got pokeberry wine working, and it's real good for the arthritis. When I ask him if he's worried about the toxic effects he said there'd be a lot more dead birds lying around if that were so. It's better not to think too hard at such times, and just let the ice pasks work their magic.

It seems like every one has some personal experience with climate change and what is known in scientific circles as "The End of Nature". It's mostly all about us from now on. Mother Nature is on the run, fer sure. We'll take the hogs to someplace with a butchering cooler and keep eating bacon as long as it lasts.

Humans have no limits when it comes to how badly they can mess things up. They would have no limits in what they could fix if they would only give it a shot. I kayaked the stream in my yard twice on Saturday with my wife and kids. All the way along the banks I kept being drawn to the Hemlock trees. They will most likely be gone before my children can show them to their children in spite of heroic efforts by scientists and environmentalists. Greedy plant nursery operators brought young trees infected with a devastating insect pest, in from a foreign country. In doing this thing they have written the death warrant for the most perfect of trees lining our streams...A tree that looks for all the world like a child's vision of a Christmas tree. I would heed the words of Jesus who is quoted as saying, Forgive them...they know not what they do!", except that they do know, so I don't forgive them!

The Eastern United States was home to a most beautiful deciduous tree that dominated the Smoky mountains, providing superior lumber and food. It is the American Chestnut. It has been destroyed by a fungus brought in by greedy plant nurserymen. I have made things, jewelry boxes and cabins, from chestnut wood that had been buried for decades below the sediment on creek banks. The logs that my wood came from were excavated when someone wanted to build a pond, having washed down and been covered up when billions of the trees died and left the soil defenseless to erosion in fthe face of winter's rain. If you are ever in Mountain City Georgia, I think you might enjoy a tour of the Hambidge Center. I was the handyman there a long time ago. It is an Artist's retreat that has several old chestnut buildings. The warmth of the wood is undescribable, as you walk through a weaving workshop. There is no finish on the wood walls, but they look like some rich man just paid exorbitantly to acheive that perfect look for his study. When I was working here, they raised sheep of different colors and searched for higher consciousness through weaving. A bunch of women ran the place and I needed the paycheck. One of the hardest thing I ever did was to stand by and watch a woman who said she was an interior decorator paint a chestnut wall orange. I have not forgiven her, either.

So we lost the Chestnut and now we will lose the American Hemlock. It will greivously change the ecosystem of my creek and its tributaries. I cannot fathom how much, but the forest surface below a hemlock grove will be loss enough to grieve. These places draw me in and hold me. Rooms in the forest that make me thinks of mythological creatures sitting together and talking about mystical things. I once sat under an large Hemlock in an elven bower and watched the world grow dark at day's end. A screech owl studied me, sure that I was not supposed to be there and quite in the way of his crepuscular hunt. I made tiny scratching noises in the leaves with one finger to keep him around. He circled me, hopping from shrub to shrub until he decided there was nothing for supper anywhere close to this big oaf who had taken over the hunting grounds. I would have given much to have had night vision at that point in time. To see the owl's eyes grow alert and focus his ears on my curious noise. We will say goodbye to these fairy land experiences sometime in the next thirty years if things go as we fear. Our future ghosts will only live in urban settings. Grendel and Leprichans amidst the dumpsters.

But I lay awake last night thinking it was a good day anyhow. Tired and achy, getting older, wondering how much these old war wounds are going to hurt when I really do get old? I hit the double nickel in two and a half weeks. I shoulda taken better care of my parts... they complain too much, nowadays. There's lots to do tomorrow, so shut up and leave me alone for a little sleep. I want to have an owl dream of what could be.



Sunday, September 19, 2004

It is a paddler's dream to have days like Saturday. Seventy degrees, sunny, high water, and my kids to show me up for the old man I have become. Gotta love it!

We have watched an immature bald eagle get his color over the summer. In the strong winds of Ivan's aftermath, we watched as the freshly decorated bird worked its way along the ridge line against the wind. They are masterful aviators and you could see it using the swirling eddies against the edge of the gorge to head up stream. I made a joke about the floods we've been through "drowning fish" and it seems like that is true to an extent. The Eagles have found easy meals as fish were left high and dry in the receding water.

There are downed trees everywhere, and the water got high enough to wash out the railroad that runs along Highway 27 headed toward Chattanooga. I was amused by the bass boat being used to evacuate folks from a mobile home resting crookedly in the flood plain of the Piney River in Spring City. It was about a half a mile from the normal banks of the lake. Let's see, you put a trailer next to a river and wait for the ten year high water mark. Sounds like good judgement to me. These folks just might be the strategists the Bush administration is looking for to finish the job in Fallujah. At least they are positive there will be a disaster, the only question is when?

I keep getting new insight into human judgement. Our house sits part way up the gorge, 250 feet above the water in White's Creek. As we were buying the land back in the winter of 92-93 there was a pretty good flood that wash our neighbor's mobile home of its blocks. They were inside at the time and the water eventually rose to leave them about three feet of air near the ceiling to breathe. Four adults and a baby in its mother's arms waited to possibly die as the trailer floated around in the current, held from washing downstream by the electric cable attached to the power pole in the yard, and absolutely nothing else except a telephone wire. They talked on the phone with the folks who were trying to get to them during the night. Not a cell phone but the normal old phone connected by an old fashioned cord. It never went out through the whole ordeal. Rescuers waited in the rain watching the current crash through the trees in the direction of the trailer and its occupants and waited for dawn's light to see how bad the situation was.

I think about what would have happened if the power cable had come loose. There are only three 3/8 inch bolts that pinch the wires in place in the electrical box. This is plenty to protect against squirrels but not the force of a flood. If one of these friction connections had given up, the others would have gone too. The trailer would have rolled over and over in the flood water until it hit something big enough to stop it. There are lots of trees along the bank but the tralier was only 20 yards from a main channel. Suppose it made it that far? It would have washed past the remains of one of the old bridges that washed away in the flood back in the forties. Then it would have washed past the carcass of the Studebaker Commander that sits in the woods where it washed in high water during the 70's. If every thing worked out just right, the mobile home could have floated right by the monument they put up that has the names of twenty seven or eight boy scouts, scout masters and other folks who died in 1929 in that flood...the one that erased the town of Glen Alice, Tennessee from the face of the earth, if not from the Rand McNally map lying next to me on the table. There is still a five by five slab of concrete that is all that is left of the Glen Alice Post Office which was essentially the town back then. Everything else went down the Tennessee river.

Well does any body ever learn anything? Maybe not.

The folks who were getting rescued by the bass boat, didn't learn. The folks who were talking on the phone through the longest night of their lives were saved at first light the next morning. As I write this, their son and his family are getting ready for church inside a trailer that sits in exactly the same spot as the one that washed away twelve years ago.

I will go down sometime and check on the Studebaker and see how it is doing.

We never learn, it appears.



Wednesday, September 15, 2004

This is a glorious time of year!

Well, in my universe all times are glorious, but I am personally equipped to enjoy some days more than others and the last few have landed square on my happy spot. The body has trouble keeping up with the surge of activity brought on by 59 degree mornings, but like my son Thomas says, "That's why aspirin comes in big bottles!" I have big bottles on hand of the aging, has been, wannabe, athlete's two main food groups...Aspirin and red wine. If the temps drop just ten more degrees, the hot tub becomes the heaven I probably don't deserve.

We have another hurricane headed our way up here in Tennessee. Number six is aimed at the bottom end of Florida before number five can finish off the pan handle. It is at times like this that people like me like to point out that New Orleans is mostly ten feet below sea level and has a storm with a fifteen foot surge pooking along inside headed that way. Stupid stupid Army Core of Engineers made this possible by failing to point out the inevitable to 200 years worth of developer greed. At least they could have said, "You'll be sorry..." somewhere along the way, as they spent billions to keep the Mississippi River out of it's natural course and destroyed the Delta in the process. Along with that, they destroyed the livelihood of thousands of fishermen and whole industries that caught the bounty of the bayous and provided the rich and wholesome food New Orleans is famous for. The Delta is sinking fast. Lot's of it are gone but if Ivan can land just right...Well even I won't wish for that, even though it would serve a few folks right. I just hope the French Quarter survives.

The French Quarter is built on the only high ground on the waterfront. Boy, those French are really dumb, aren't they? Pointing out what a stupid thing it is to start a war in Iraq and building towns on high ground...They seem to piss every body off by saying things that are are 100 percent true at precisely the most inopportune moments...Hmm, I must have a bit of French DNA diluting the purebred English, Scotch Irish, mulatto redneck American blood coursing through my only partially clogged arteries. The Ambassador to the United Nations from France stood up and pointed out an uncomfortable fact about the document that Colin Powell had just presented to the General Assembly proving that Saddam was trying to buy niclear weapons material from Niger...The uncomfortable fact was that Colin Powell's document was a forgery!

Damn those French! They must be cowards, right? They didn't want to start a stupid war that can't possibly be won for reasons that are obvious lies, right? Cowards?

Maybe we have the wrong definition of what a coward is. Maybe a coward is someone who lies to get other people to do bad things for them. Maybe a Coward is someone who does those bad things knowing they are wrong and based on lies. Colin Powell spent one and a half hours standing up in front of the United Nations General Assembly presenting a slickly done presentation "proving" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was going to use them. George W. Bush made a famous scare speech warning that anyone who did not believe Saddam had Weapons of mass destruction could be proven wrong by a "Mushroom Cloud!" The Prime Minister of France said he did not believe Saddam had these weapons, A preemptive war with Iraq is a mistake. This week, Colin Powell said something after 1006 American soldiers have been killed. He said it after thousands of Americans have been wounded and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians have been killed. What he said was this:

"It is unlikely that we will ever find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq."

Oops! 1006 Americans have died bravely for the wrong reason.

They died in the service of our President George who is supposed to be a brave man, after all. He bravely used all his Daddy's pull to get out of danger when it was his turn to fight for his country. He bravely quit going to the marching drills he was supposed to attend after losing his flight status for not passing the drug test he would have taken had he "Bravely" shown up for his physical examination. Personally, I don't think what a man did thirty years ago should be held against him, so let's let bygones be bye, shall we? I say a man has time to be brave every second of every day. George has the chance to be brave when he steps out to face reporters at a Press conference. A coward wouldn't do that unless he had the questions given to him three days in advance...Just like in college, George?

George had a very well known chance to be brave when his aide whispered into his ear,

"Sir, America is under attack!"

He had the chance to be brave for the famous seven minutes he sat there with his eyes darting back and forth, Looking less like the leader of the free world than a man trying not to wet himself. (Doubt me? look at the tape and make your own decision! Your chance to be brave might simply be watching Fahrenheit 9-11 before you vote!)

I remember what I did, the instant I found out about the first plane flying into the World Trade Towers. I immediately changed my plans and started trying to find out what was going on and what it meant. While I was going to the Reuters web site to learn more, the Man in charge was reading a book about a goat. We were both scared, the President and I, but I needed him to spring into action because that is his job! I would have done that and you, dear reader, would have done that, but the one man on earth whose job it was to act... didn't!

Now, in spite of spending one and a half Trillion Dollars we don't have, our economy is sputtering, unable to get the traction it needs to produce enough jobs for our work force.

In spite of the fact that 70% of Americans favor the assault weapon ban, the President's man in the Senate says it is the "Will of the People" that it expire.

In spite of the fact that Millions of Americans can not afford health care insurance, the President says it will cost too much to help American Citizen. We can't divert money from the war.

In Spite of the fact that our environment shows growing signs of getting sicker and sicker, our President backs further and deeper destruction of the earths natural processes.

In spite of the fact that the average American's earnings went up by five thousand dollars a year under Bill Clinton and have gone down by nearly two thousand dollars under Bush, our President says things are great for those who count. You know, the "Owners" he is so fond of in his fantasy world of the Ownership society! That is the world where George and his friends own all the stuff and you flip burgers at your "factory" job.

Well the chance to be brave gets passed around and maybe it is our turn. All I know is that the one guy in the whole world, we, as Americans, have to count on has not once, not ever, stepped up and been brave. He has always hid behind his Daddy. his momma, or that plastic turkey last Christmas. He won't face an open Press conference, he wouldn't testify for the 9-11 Commission under oath or without Dick Cheney as his keeper, and now he is doing his best to avoid Presidential debates. George 'Bush is only the second President in US history to abandon the White House when America was under attack. Before that, he sat frozen in front of a room of grade school children, and then, in America's moment of greatest need, George W. Bush spent another 20 minutes getting his picture taken. Brave? I don't think so!

Why don't we as Americans call him out?

Hey, George! Why don't you come out and face America? If you've got what it takes to lead us, we'll know, and if you don't?

We'll know that too!

Courage, Americans! It is your time,now!


Oh yeah, and by the way, the French were right about this war being unwinnable!

Fact is, Bush has lost the war in Iraq. Let's face up to it and figure out what to do now.

"Events in two Sunni Muslim cities that stand astride the crucial western approaches to Baghdad have moved significantly against American plans to build a secular democracy in Iraq."

"Both the cities, Fallujah and Ramadi, and much of Anbar Province, are now controlled by fundamentalist militias .... "

"American efforts to build a government structure around former Ba'ath Party stalwarts ... have collapsed. Instead, the former Hussein loyalists, under threat of beheadings, kidnappings and humiliation, have mostly resigned or defected to the fundamentalists, or been killed. Enforcers for the old government, including former Republican Guard officers, have put themselves in the service of fundamentalist clerics they once tortured at Abu Ghraib."

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Thursday, September 09, 2004

Pigs and hogs

Fervent readers of my epistles (maybe that should be "fevered" readers) will remember the garden patch found by a 15 year old turkey hunter on the family farm. There's more to the story. The guy, who got snagged for having a well worn foot trail from the errant garden back to his own house, which connected to several other finely kept gardens, some on his own land, has an uncle. The uncle seems to have gotten himself lost. He got lost just before all the police in the world stopped in to visit his house. I'm sure it was just a social visit to sell tickets to the Al JeZeera Shrine Temple's barbecue benefit for the sheriff's Department, but Uncle Titus was feeling a bit reclusive at that moment and took off. After they got over getting their feelings hurt, the officers looked around and were puzzled as to why someone would leave Five Million dollars worth of pot and lots of cash sitting at home, all lonely and everything, without even inviting the policemen inside to share in Nature's bounteous harvest. That just ain't neighborly and Uncle Titus is in the big social doghouse in Rhea County Tennessee.

He would be in fine company, alongside the County Commissioners who voted to not allow gay people into Rhea County. Rhea County is now Gay Pride Central, with all sorts of really fun marches and demonstrations going on. Turns out that 75% of the people in the county have a gay friend, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, son, or daughter, and the other 25% are lying. The commissioners quickly met again and rescinded the vote, saying they were confused. Everybody around here pretty much agrees with that assessment. I don't think Uncle Titus is all that confused, but he sure is in trouble.

My friend Matt has a saying he likes to throw out concerning bidness deals. "Pigs get fat, Hogs get slaughtered!" Uncle Titus has his name on over twenty parcels of land, some of them pretty large, and several lying right next to Steve's family farm. Titus bought a few of them last year for a good bit of money, which is kinda odd because Uncle Titus only reported about $20,000 in income on his taxes according to the local sheriff. He didn't seem to have a job that would pay what is roughly the yearly income of the Assistant Manager at Hardee's. It is, however, a good bit more than the prospective starting salary of a University of Tennessee graduate with a degree in exercise Physiology, and the sheriff got to wondering about that. The entrepreneurial spirit "Done took over old Titus!" was all the sheriff could come up with. In this part of the country "The Spirit" takes over a lot of folks, just not that one. Titus shoulda quit while he was just a pig!

We don't know where Uncle Titus is. These danged hurricanes are pounding all the usual refuges, like Florida and Jamaica. I know God is really punishing Florida for not counting the votes, but what the heck did Jamaica do? Uncle Titus could disappear into the wilds of Mississippi but now Hurricane Ivan may have a bead on that state too. Anybody that knows much about Mississippi has to wonder why God doesn't just park one on top of the state and leave it... So anyway, Titus has to head somewhere else.

We figure the sheriff found what there was of the cash left behind, and frankly we think there was a whole lot more. Titus is an enterprising fellow, so we figure he's headed out to the borderlands where the last Cracker Barrel restaurant sits gleaming in the evening sun, paying cash for everything.

Just one more crop of corn was all that hog wanted. Think about that, next time you see pork chops on the menu at Cracker Barrel.