Friday Firesmith – Of Water and Trees

Twenty something years ago when I first moved out here, one of the big live oak trees near the old dog kennel had a decided lean to it. Oaks will do this, and they’ll hang around forever leaning at an angle that defies physics and understanding. Yet this one was too close to the lowest spot on the property, and after months of above average rainfall and standing water, things got weird. 

A tree in the woods

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We had eleven inches of rainfall in six hours.

I went outside and looked at the tree. Was it leaning even more? I put my rubber boots on and went out to check. Dammmmmnnnn. It was leaning more. And I could hear it groaning, too. 

I went inside and heard it fall. The tree was down, dying slow, and nothing could be done about it. Hundreds of years of growth were wiped out in an instant. 

A large tree with a fallen branch

The whole area was underwater, and the driveway was flooded. 

A road with water in the middle

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However, this area is no stranger to water. The people who live here are not easily spooked by weather events. The driveway was crafted by men who knew how to create a hard base in case of flooding, and the pond has a flood pipe. The water came up, we met in our rubber boots and joked about gathering the animals. 

Despair is not unknown in this part of the world, but the weather isn’t anything to wail about. It is what it is when it is, and nothing you say or do will alter it. The water was here, trees were down, and we were all still alive. Nothing had happened time would not fix. My neighbors had plans to visit their family in Virginia and away they went. The water would be here when they returned. 

I had work to do, and begin trying to cut a path past the top of the downed tree. Once I did that, I would have a path to the woods to leave the branches I cut. True, the water was chest high in places, but you can only get so wet.

A fallen tree in the woods

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The path is blocked. 

A cart in the woods

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The path is cleared! (Kind of, sort of) 

As I write this, the main body of the tree, and the largest limbs are still in the way. The plan is to cut a path into the woods, but to leave most of the tree on the ground, to return to the earth in its time. We have room to work, but no one wants to wade into water to use a chainsaw, so we will wait. Being impatient with tree cutting sounds like an easy way to get hurt, and no one wants that, either. None of us are young anymore, and some of us have some age. 

This is no disaster, no trial on our souls, no. This is life in the woods when a tree falls. This is what we signed up for when we moved away from civilization. The world here is as it is. We are not helpless nor are we easily daunted by hard work. 

I lost a Live Oak that will never be replaced. Few are planted, fewer are protected, and the world is diminished with each giant that falls. To me, this is the only tragedy here. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Lilith Anne the Muttress of All the Magnolias

Lilith and I meeting in 2012

Lilith Anne began slowing down a couple of years ago. The decline was almost unnoticeable, but one day, she doubled back to the house instead of following me and the rest of the pack into the woods, as we would do when I got home. It was on these daily trips Lilith would bring me a magnolia leaf she had found. Always a magnolia, and she would never hand it over until we were back at the house. I stopped getting leaves from her. She stopped running and playing with the other dogs, and this too was a slow process. 

Lilith has never been one to get her feet wet or go out into the rain, but she started peeing on the deck instead of going into the yard, and then one day, she peed in the house. Mobility decreased slowly, but in the last six months, things began to simply fall apart. 

A fungal skin infection refused to respond to treatment, and I was bathing her every other day. She stopped eating. When she could no longer get on the bed I would help her up, and then I started helping her down. Finally, Lilith stopped wanting to get on the bed, and then she stopped getting on the sofa. The two dog beds we had in the house, one in the living room and the other in my bedroom, became all the exercise Lilith could handle, going from one to the other. 

Lilith, the Bringer of Magnolia Leaves

Last month, Lilith stopped pooping and was in a great deal of discomfort. I took her to the vet’s and expected the worst. They did ex-rays and found a pinched nerve in her back that was making pooping painful and difficult. A host of medications to address this issue, as well as a UTI, and a little hope was what they gave us. In two weeks, the vet said, she might be better. Not would be better, not will be better, but might be. Maybe. I was given two weeks more with my dog, and I knew it. 

Lilith didn’t respond well to the meds. She peed on herself now, while she was walking, or sleeping. We tried putting diapers on her with limited success. But Lilith no longer had any quality of life. She ate when it was tuna or cooked eggs, but her mobility was almost gone. Two days before I was supposed to take her back in I called them and scheduled Lilith to be put to sleep. 

When we arrived the cheerful woman at the desk stopped smiling. She looked at the screen and looked at me. “Yes sir, we’ll get Lilith in immediately.” 

They took Lilith in, put a port in her right front leg, and she and I lay on the floor alone together for thirty minutes, saying goodbye, getting her ears petted, and letting her know she was loved. The vet came in, told me to take all the time we needed, but Lilith was tired, she hurt, and she wanted to go. 

As I held her head in my hand, the first injection eased Lilith into sleep. The next stopped her heart. I held her as long as I could, then I let Lilith go. 

She’s buried under some young magnolia trees in the woods. 

Take Care,

Mike

Lilith at the end

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Firesmith Curse

Television has never held the sway over me that it has many of the people I’ve known. My sister and her roommate in college scheduled classes around the soap, “Days of Our Lives.” One day, I went to their apartment to find them both in tears. I thought a relative or a friend had died, but it was a character on the soap. 

I’ve known people who wouldn’t leave their house when a television program they liked was about to air. One of my friends played “Seinfeld” reruns as background noise almost nonstop. 

Then came binging. People would watch television for hours and hours because they found a series they liked and had to watch the next episode. I knew someone who watched “Lost” from beginning to end, and after spending that much of their life on the show, the whole plot didn’t make any sense at all. 

“Game of Thrones” devoured the lives of people and I would go on social media and say things like, “Hey, I heard the dwarf was killed,” or “Shame about the dragon girl dying,” and people would rage against me when they discovered I was lying. 

“The Walking Dead” cost me more than a few friends when I mentioned the guy with the crossbow being eaten, which never happened, and then when I posted, “Has anyone seen Glenn? Tell him to keep an eye out for me,” that caused people I had known for a while to stop speaking to me. 

Mostly, however, my experience with television series has been one of The Curse. Never heard of it? The Curse states that any series I watch dies. “Firefly” dead after one season. “The Witcher” dead after two seasons. (Yeah, it’s supposed to return, but that was last year, and filming hasn’t begun) and “Mindhunter” dead after two seasons. They say it’s coming back, too, but not filming as of yet. 

I could have saved the world a lot of trouble by hitting GOT or TWD at season one and killing them both. 

At the end of the day, television programs come and go. I wasn’t outraged over the end of GOT like some people were. It took me a long time to finish the series because it’s hard for me to watch one after another, unless I’m with someone who really likes the show. 

Right now, the only series I want to watch is Outlander. I watched a few episodes, really liked them, and want to get back to it. The writing is good, the scenery is great, the back and forth between times is solid, but I think I’ll wait until the last season, just in case. 

There’s no reason to think the Firesmith Curse won’t kill a series late in life. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Everyday Racism

Right outside Columbia, Alabama, was a natural spring that flowed up from the ground. In the 1950s, the city of Columbia and the county government built concrete walls around the spring and created a beautiful pool where anyone could go to enjoy the crystal clear, blue-tinted water during hot weather. That is, as long as the swimmers were white. 

When desegregation arrived in the early 1970s, they tried to sell the land to a private owner, but that plan failed. Someone dynamited the pool, and they filled it in. The spring ceased to flow.  

Early County Georgia had a long-running tradition of the Annual Easter Egg Hunt at Kolomoki Mounds State Park. Hundreds of people would show up on Easter morning, and their kids would tramp through a roped-off area in the planted pines to find hundreds of colored eggs. This tradition, too, ceased when desegregation arrived. 

Many of the county and town-sponsored events I remember when being a kid was all I did, evaporated and were forgotten after 1970. The city pool we lived next to when I was little has long since been demolished. 

It’s hard to believe that was fifty-three years ago. 

I sat down with a young man last Saturday morning and talked about racism now and then, and he sat in shock when I told him what I remembered. He’s twenty-five and has been told these same stories by members of his own family, but at the same time, he never spoke with a white person about how life was before desegregation. After all this time, people with different skin colors don’t sit and talk about what was, and how it came to be.

Of course, the world he lives in doesn’t always look any different than the one I grew up in. He’s been pulled over for “failure to maintain lane” more times than I knew existed. This, apparently, is what some cops use as an excuse to pull over a black man they think might be up to no good. 

I tell him about Nick Paige, a man I worked with who woke up one night with two cops inside his apartment, one of them holding a pistol in his face. They were looking for the guy who rented the apartment before him. Nick, in his own bed, naked and terrified, had no idea what or who they were talking about. After being arrested for not having the proper ID, he was released. Nick moved out of Valdosta within a month. 

We both agreed things are better now, but we both are uneasy about the future. Everyday racism seems to be a little more normal than it once was. People are saying things and doing things that were so 1950s. He has a four-year-old daughter. In twenty years, what will her world look like, and what can he do to make sure it’s better than the world he lives in now? 

I grew up in a world where racism was the law and socially acceptable, and everyone thought it was normal and right. 

I’d like to take this time to say it isn’t, and it never was. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Take Out or Drive Away

I went to a restaurant the other day to pick up some lunch for a friend who just had an operation and can’t drive yet. This is the second time I’ve done this in a month, and each time it seems that things are a little stranger than I remember restaurants being. 

Clearly, I do not get out much. And when I go out, I usually hit places I’ve visited many times before. This makes sense. I like what I like. 

The first trip in was to a Chinese place who hired a young woman who doesn’t speak English. I’m from Georgia, no one who is native to this state speaks English very well anyway. Between the two of us, it took about ten minutes of a near conversation for her to get my order right. It also took the manager intervening. The manager told me most people call in, even though there were a few people sitting inside already. 

The next visit to a new place found me walking in and someone asking me if I called in an order. Then they asked me if I wanted to use the drive-through while I was standing in the restaurant, where there are tables and chairs. Other people came in, too. But the overall experience was that they wanted me to call in an order, use the drive-through, or have it delivered. 

Again, this makes sense, at least from the point of view of the restaurant. No customers inside means less clean up. It means less interaction with people. It means no one infected with a disease comes in and spreads germs. If people order online, then unless the order is botched, there’s no need for communication at all, especially if they pay online, too. 

The problem with this is if I am in town, and stop by an open restaurant I expect them to be able to handle whatever I order with some sort of competency. If they are only doing online or call in, fine, so be it, but if the sign says open, and I walk in, they shouldn’t act as if I’m bothering them. 

That will keep me from going back, and it will also get them a nasty review online. 

Dining in America seems to be changing. It’s as expensive to get fast food as real food these days, yet fast food corporations are swimming in record profits. I do not understand this. Why are people paying that sort of price for junk?  Chain restaurants are pushing people to order online and pick their food up or have it delivered, but it’s getting more expensive to do this as well. 

There was a time when every town had one or two restaurants, and no one really ate out much at all. Weekends, dates, and special occasions, but people rarely ate out more than once a week, usually just a couple of times a month. 

It’s getting to the point the fun is gone. Eating restaurant food once was a treat and now it’s a slog trying to get an order right. I’m a pretty good cook, and I don’t like going out to begin with. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – Write the Great American Novel Hal

When I started writing in 1992, my use of word-processing software and a keyboard led to discussions with other writers. As they had never, not once, ever used a typewriter to write their work but laboriously put actual ink to paper, I could not possibly understand what they went through to produce a sentence which had to be pristine in every way in order to be preserved. 

Indeed, they went on to say handwritten writing was the only real and true writing, for it cost in ink and in paper, so the very process was expensive. The time it took was more dear to the writer than a file that could be deleted or modified willy-nilly. 

Even with a typewriter, speed was the only true advantage. Typing gave editors the ability to read the writing easily, so those with great handwriting had spent time honing their penmanship for no good reason, which was a crime. 

Computers, with word processing, was akin to eating out of a can, the Luddites informed me. 

We should have seen AI coming and with it, how writing would change just as surely as music and movies have changed. Music was once played on instruments, singers sang, and people listened or they did not. But with autotune, computers cleaning up the music, and tracks being made to play at other times, two people can sing a number one record and never meet. They may never know who played the instruments. Movies with computer-generated content may have actors that never existed at all in the form we see them on the screen. 

I thought writing would be immune to all this when I started writing, but I had been wrong about technology before. Educators are now trying to decide if the information contained in an essay is enough, or if the student ought to have done the actual writing, and trying to tell if it’s written by AI or human is getting harder. Movie writers went on strike to keep AI from writing movie scripts, but I think in the end, they will fail. 

Why would anyone pay a writer for a book when they can get a book written by AI for free? Paint artists will die out, for AI can produce art with stunning vistas and realistic portraits at little or no cost. 

And I am guilty of using the computer for spell-checking and grammar. The AI authors are taking it a step, a big step, further, but I can see the Luddites laughing at me now. I was writing this morning before the sun came up, and as I wrote, I wondered if this was akin to a blacksmith hammering away at a horseshoe while listening to the sound of a car engine as it drove by. Is the very device I use to write the same one someone will use to write the Great American Novel using AI? 

In the end, I doubt the ink slingers will fare any better than any other medium which can be taken over by computers. We live in a world where consumers expect to be fed their entertainment and content by computers. 

They will be, even if I am sitting on the sidelines, typing away for an audience of the cat. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Flaming Hot Dogs of Freedom

Dawn is still three hours away, the dogs have been fed, and the cat is now asleep on the top of the bookcase. I’ve opened a window, and cool air creeps in, along with the night sounds of South Georgia. A thick fog has eased up from the ground; dew has fallen, so the sound of water dripping from the roof, like someone idly playing the piano in the background, comes in. A few night birds are hunting, and a brace of amphibians in the pond are calling, but the world is mostly silent at this time of night. 

Years ago, no, decades ago, the boys in the neighborhood would camp out in the field, and we would have freedom and autonomy, and the night. Stars grew more thickly back then, a milky, dusty, and magnificent sight, and people were fewer, and safer. We could hear the sound of the clock’s bell at the courthouse bonging and we would wait for it. Each hour was deeper into the night, and then into the morning. Midnight was magical and forbidden. No one stayed up until midnight, yet there we were, whispering the numbers as the bell’s deep voice sounded, one, two, three, four, five, six, and finally, twelve. 

We had a small fire, would burn our meager store of wood too early, roast marshmallows and hotdogs, and drink far too many Cokes from glass bottles, saving each one for the deposit. But after the fire had died out, after midnight, after the excitement of having no parents and no supervision began to fade, all we really had was the night sky, and one another. 

No one could imagine having lived anywhere else, no one could imagine a different world, even though we tried. Mountains, deserts, Japan, and the moon were places we would all like to live, but even in this wildness of our own fire and own time, we could still see the street lights of the neighborhood easily and were tethered even if we couldn’t feel it. 

Each season was school or pool, and no one ever felt any older than they did the year before, until they did. As children of the late sixties and early seventies, we were taught our parents and teachers knew everything, but when divorce hit, no one knew anything at all. 

At some point in time, we were all there, giggling, burning hotdogs over an open fire, the sky above us ablaze with starlight, and the night easing as slowly by then as it does now, a vast black, endless river reflecting our lives, and we could not see it. Then one day, and none of us can remember it, the last time we were all there occurred, and that, too, we did not realize. Then the day arrived, none of us were there, and other children crept in with their own memories awaiting them, and they would not realize the same things we did not. 

The dogs in the room with me at this moment, and the one cat asleep on top of the bookcase, will be gone one day, and one early morning, I will write for the last time, and perhaps, I will not know. Maybe it is this time. Maybe now has arrived.  

This is life, just as it always has been, and it will be, and it is, in its own right, as glorious as the stars. 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Pond of Grief and Light

The hardest part about getting the kayak into the pond beside the house is talking the dogs into staying put, and silent. Clearly, something is going on in the yard, I’m in the yard, so the dogs ought to be involved. Not this Sunday morning, dear mutts, no. 

The sun hasn’t broken the horizon as I slip into the red-black water of the pond. This is one of the few years the water is deep enough to use even a kayak here. But rain, more rain, and one hurricane flooded the compost complex and filled the pond. 

I paddle towards the brightest spot above the trees, and glide to a stop. The world is silent. 

The wind eases me to one side, slowly, almost imperceptible, and the air is cold. I’m wearing a long sleeve shirt but no coat, for water is dangerous if it’s over your head. I know what to do if the kayak rolls, and I know to leave this thing and get out of the water if it comes to that. It won’t, I know, this glass- still pond, shallow and safe, but I always have a plan. 

The world awakens slowly. Crows pass overhead, cawing and winging their way northward, where and why I do not know. A woodpecker hammers away, and a Kingfisher scolds me for the interruption. A friend of mine is in the hospital with heart trouble. A friend of hers died in a car wreck, and the shock nearly killed her. Grief.  You feel it as a child when a pet dies, or worse, a grandparent, and after that, life serves up grief on an irregular basis. 

The sun rises slowly, the shadows being pushed away now, and the sky brightens. The day begins east of here, and as I use the paddle to gently thwart the breeze, some photos appear and ask to be captured. 

A sunset over a body of water

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Photography, someone once told me, is nothing at all but how you experience the light. I feel it this morning, the blast of the sunrise appearing in the darkness of the woods, and the sky. My friend will be okay, at least in the way that she will keep living, keep doing the things she does, only wounded, again, as we all are. Living, I think, is nothing but how you experience loss. 

Trees reach skyward, their shadows and the sun’s light creating contrast that desires nothing but the lens. I breathe in the cold, still shadowed, my fingers numb, my feet damp and hurting, but life, and beauty is found here. This place, in the middle of the pond, with the red maples, the live oaks, and the tall pines, all bear witness to the act of a heartbeat, seeking, reaching, desperate to find any meager salve to apply to a soul that aches. Being on the water and art is such a salve. 

The sun rears over the horizon, a shaft of pure light races across the pond, too bright to be captured, too much for the human eye, but a benison for the heart. I paddle back slowly, slowly, allowing the glide to degrade before pushing again. The contrast between night and day can be found at dawn. The contrast between life and death is found in grief, and the darker the pain, the brighter the life, the greater the loss, the deeper the love. In this, all of this, life is beautiful. 

Greif never kills love but shows it in a light only one heart can truly see.

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.

Friday Firesmith – The Moon, a Cat, and I Write for You

A large tree in the woods

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At six o’clock this morning I have a Pilates class and after, trying to figure out if we were going to work. There is some sort of debate as to if it was dry enough in the wet places, and all of this is tiring. The moon is nowhere visible in the sky, but I know tonight it will be bright enough to illuminate the woods, and the silver light will wash the world in ethereal thoughts. I yearn for the moon’s light, yet the day must evaporate first. 

A woman who lives near the project asks me if her yard will be restored to the condition it once was, for a truck pulled into her yard and left deep grooves. Fate is with me, for the contractor has planned to do just that, so it appears we responded to her, personally, and she beams with delight. She also gives me a bag of freshly cut mint.  

The day wears on, and I finally return home, managing the dogs who missed me, the cat who meows at me, and the writing who has been haloing my mind all day. A sprig of mint lies near, the fresh smell lifting my spirit. 

A simple day, random thoughts, the surprise of mint, the hours spent yearning for writing, and all the while, a constant stream of humans in plastic and metal boxes speed past. Are they going home to dogs, cats, and food? Is someone waiting for them? Will the busy woman who nearly runs off the road looking at her phone arrive home, take a shower, share alcohol with a man she desires, and in the moonlight flooding the land this night, will she become pregnant with her first child? 

This does happen every day, does it not? 

She won’t know it for at least a few weeks, maybe longer, and then count back to when it might have occurred, and someone who has no idea, will be the first she tells. The man who, like most men, concerns themselves with the act itself, and not the moon, and certainly not the consequences, will have egg beaters inside his mind for a while, weighing the fact of having a child, and seeing life as he’s known it evaporate before him one day at a time. 

This happens anyway, to all of us; our life dissipates every day, but in more subtle ways that the moon could teach us, were we cognizant. 

In due time, the sun retreats, slowly, draining light from the ground first, then the sky, and then Venus appears, leading stars into the sky. The moon advances, the tide of pale light reaching deeper and deeper into the woods, the fields, and finally, the window of my room. The cat in his tree is illuminated, and the dogs sleep peacefully, so only the silhouette of the cat and the writer, who is owned by the cat, see the night. 

Look up at the moon tonight. The light growing less now, the surface crescenting soon, the presence being diminished by the age old dance between the earth, the moon, and the soon, continuing same as it ever was. 

The moon, the cat, and I write to you about this. 

A tree with a heart shaped hole in it

Take Care,

Mike

Friday Firesmith – The Man Who Loved Women

Terry was one of those guys everyone loved. No matter who was around, Terry could charm them, and he never forgot a joke. Even though he worked in construction management, his hair was always perfect, his clothes ironed and immaculate, and his truck was spotless. 

He hadn’t always lived this way. As a child his family was impoverished, and one of Terry’s favorite stories was the day he arrived in class at school wearing one shoe. 

“Terry, did you lose a shoe?” the teacher asked. 

“No ma’am, I found one!” Terry said happily. 

Terry was fifteen years older than I, and his family sometimes sent their kids to school without shoes, without coats or jackets, without lunch money or lunch, and that was the way it was. There was a free lunch program but Terry’s father wasn’t going to allow his kids to be on welfare. 

The big break came when Terry got a job after school working with a land surveyor. The man who hired Terry taught him how to survey, and taught him how to drink. This led to Terry having enough money for a car, dates, and Terry discovered women. He became quite the ladies’ man, got married young, she divorced him after their baby arrived, a daughter, and Terry vowed to never marry again. 

Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony. Terry was doing quite well with his side gig and his regular job in construction. His presence at the bars was epic, and legendary. Life was rocking along just fine, but one day a county commissioner called the headquarters of Terry’s construction job and claimed Terry had gone to a motel on company time with a married woman. It was, in point of fact, the commissioner’s wife. 

Now the man in charge of the headquarters had a dual reputation. The first was he ran a tight ship with no allowances for misconduct. The second was he couldn’t keep his own pants zipped up on his best days. Terry hadn’t done anything anyone could prove, so he wasn’t going to get fired, but from that point on, he never got another promotion. 

What really sucked about all of this, is Terry was the go-to guy when it came to solving construction problems, and when complex projects arose his name was always mentioned. Yet his reputation of drinking and for disappearing from projects to visit women he knew haunted him. I worked with him for many years and never saw him take a drink on the job. Did he sometimes leave and no one knew where he was? Yes, but that doesn’t speak to what he was doing. No cell phones existed. For all we knew he was on the job, just not where we could see him. 

Terry married again, late in life, and the last time I saw him he was in his seventies and getting quite elderly acting. I almost asked him about the commissioner’s wife, but decided against it. 

Did you have a charmer where you work(ed)? 

Take Care,

Mike

Mike writes regularly at his site:  The Hickory Head Hermit.

Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.