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.

Friday Firesmith –

“Loving an alligator, building their nests right on the ground,

Loving an alligator, putting their eggs in a great big mound” -Apologies to Aerosmith. 

I remember when my father caught an alligator and brought it home. Alligators were rare in the late 1960s. Other than this one, and the small one he caught, I saw two or three alligators in the wild as a child, and I spent a lot of time in the wild. 

We were feral teenagers and swam in the Chattahoochee  River, jumping off both the river bridge and the train trestle .Sometimes at night, even. Alcohol fueled bravado, and the fear of not being able to do what others had done, pushed us ever so much closer to some act of physical strength or daring that would kill or maim us. It’s odd, and ironic in a sense that few can truly appreciate, it was smoking, cancer, that killed so many of us. A habit stolen from our parents, who were dull and frightened people when we looked at them through younger eyes, but who would also lend us the very item that caused our deaths. It was not fast cars, or running water, or venomous snakes, or that damn dope. I buried my best friend after he died of lung cancer in 2015. The first cigarettes we smoked were stolen from his father. 

I joined the Army in 1983. At that point in time, the American Alligator was still rare, and uncommon. Sighting in the wild were of smaller gators, and none of them were large at all. Suddenly, between 1983 and 1990, it seems as if the population of alligators in Georgia went from being rare, to uncommon, to frequent, to daily. In 1992 I went riding on a Jet Ski with a woman I had gone to high school with, and we spotted several, with more than a couple of larger alligators, in places we once swam. The woman saw a particularly large one, long, heavy, muscular and clearly well fed, lying on the riverbank. She eased the jet ski at an idle towards the monster and we were a few feet from it before it eased into the water, not in a panic, as we were used to seeing them flee. 

Taking what random people tell you about wildlife is intentional gullibility. I’ve heard tales of sixteen feet long Alligators and those who were strong enough, and aggressive enough, to sink boats moving fast. I’ve seen one or two in my life who were over ten feet long. Most that are big are pushing closer to eight feet. But at the end of all things scaley, eight feet of Alligator is more lizard than you want or need. Anything at six feet or better, will hurt you if you’re unlucky enough, or stupid enough, to be close enough. There is no reason for this.  

Here’s the one word of truth on the American Alligator: You are in no danger of being attacked by an alligator unless you are too close to a nest, or if people have fed it. Once an alligator gets used to humans feeding it, then people become a food source. Their brains are the size of walnuts. They do not have the wherewithal to understand people are not the food. 

Give wild animals the respect they deserve, and don’t feed them. 

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 – Not All Men But Yes All Women

It seemed simple enough. A friend of mine posted on social media, “All women have a scary story about men.” 

The conversation then went off in a few different directions. The strongest and most popular thread was how many women had multiple stories about scary encounters with men. Then there was the thread that covered how young they were the first time a man said or did something that made them feel uncomfortable. This was by far the most cringy thread because some of these women were preteens when a family relative, or a friend of their father’s, or even their father, did or said something totally inappropriate. 

Then there was the thread where they told someone or called the police, and nothing happened at all. 

Of course, there were a couple of guys who waded into the fray and said they had some pretty scary stories about women, too. I genuinely do not think they understood the assignment. Or maybe they did, and this was their way of trying to make it look like it happens to everyone for their own reasons. 

Both were older white guys, by the way. 

Neither of them expected their comments to be taken as heresy. Neither of them understood what was happening. Both of them tried to defend their stories as evidence that dating women could be as scary as what women went through dating men. 

Neither of them understood why things had gone horribly, horribly, wrong. 

I know one of the guys. I tried to, inasmuch as I could, to put the fire out. 

First, I pointed out no one, except him and the other guy, was talking about dating. The discussion was about scary stories women had about men. This ranged from all periods of life not just social situations. If you picked up a woman in a bar and things went south that was quite different than a woman whose professor offered her an excellent grade in exchange for sex. 

It was different than when a woman’s landlord offered her free rent for sex. 

It was different than when a woman got into an Uber with a driver who drove around the block once trying to get her to go out with him. 

It was different than the girl whose uncle jumped into the pool with her, and she barely escaped with her bathing suit intact. 

The stories that women have about scary men range from the time they are little girls into adulthood and well beyond. 

I offered to trade books with him. I told him I would give him my copy of Rachel Synder’s, “No Visible Bruises,” for a book about the domestic violence men face in America. 

Again, he didn’t understand what was being said. 

Men flat don’t get it. They don’t understand there is a problem or what the problem might be. They live in a world where something is happening right in front of them all of the time, yet they can’t seem to see it, hear it, or grasp who it is that is screaming. 

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 Weather in Georgia

As I write this on a Wednesday morning, the temperature outside on the 24th of January is 62F. A week ago, the low was 23F. In over twenty years of living here in Hickory Head, the back of the property had flooded twice. It’s flooded once in the last six months but has been underwater now for the last three months or so. I have literally used a kayak to check out the pile of brush in the firepit, which is over five feet tall. Only a couple of feet are above the surface at this point. I can’t get to my compost pile in knee boots anymore without getting water in them. 

Moving the compost pile to higher ground is going to be an experience. I hauled ten cubic yards out of that pile last spring and hoped to do the same this season. That was dry compost. Moving wet stuff is going to take some doing. 

Flood doesn’t bother me as much as fire might. Water is inconvenient as hell, but I’m not losing all my trees to it. I’m going to lose a red maple that popped up once I fenced in the back acre, and I hate that, because it was the first tree that grew in a place where there were no trees. Cardinals built a nest in it when it was small, and I felt as if in some way, by fencing in the area, letting the dogs roam it free, and therefore keeping the deer out, I had helped reforest the area. 

That tree has five feet of water covering its trunk now. I do not think it will survive this. 

I set fire to the pile of stuff in the firepit months ago, and the reflection of fire on the water was awesome. The hurricane hit, I tripled the size of the pile, and then the rain moved in. The firepit area flooded more deeply, the compost complex flooded completely, and then the water advanced into the yard. The man who delivered my shed a few years ago seemed perplexed I wanted it three feet off the ground. That three feet looks sweet right now. 

I remember after I burned the pile in the water how cool it looked, but at the same time, I saw a water snake fleeing the scene. Now, the thing looks like a beaver lodge, and the weather is much cooler. I took the kayak out to the pile, poked around, and a Wren had built a nest there. But Wrens build nests anywhere and everywhere. I like Wrens muchly. 

I asked some wildlife people about the pile, what could be in it this time of year, and drumroll for a new word, they told me it was likely a hibernaculum. This is a place where animals go to hibernate. They told me I likely had a bunch of snakes, frogs, salamanders, and that sort of thing bedded down for the winter. So the cool photos of fire in the water won’t happen. 

It’s supposed to be 82F tomorrow. I wonder if the water snakes will come out and sun? 

Take Care,

Mike

A pile of logs in the woods

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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 – Cold Dawn

It’s 29 degrees as I write this, not nearly as cold, and not even close to as brutal as places where my far flung cyber friends dwell. A photo of a woman, slim, and dressed in a bikini, walking out to a tree in her yard on a dare, as the world is white with ice and snow, has surfaced on social media. I wouldn’t do that, for silly in a bikini would be me. But long past are the days I will be cold on a bet, and it takes some doing to get me out in weather now. 

My nearest neighbor was checking his yard pipes, and as he turned the faucet on, the pipe broke underground at the base. It was four in the afternoon, and the sun was already sinking low. We came together quickly, as people who remember what neighbors ought to do and will do. Between the two of us, we had the parts we needed: the hole was bailed out of water, the Frankenstein of plumber pieces was glued into place, and I put a firm foot on it to hold it for fifteen minutes. This was the neighbor who helped me fix a pipe Christmas two years ago. The glue was from the same batch we used then. This weekend I will babysit their cat as they travel. This is the way of things here. 

The pipe repair holds under pressure, and we add some wood shavings to one of mine encased in a PVP pipe. Darkness is upon us, so everyone goes home and stays warm now. All that can be done has been done, and all is well. 

But the cold does not release the ready. It has settled in for two days now, and yes, that is a long time here in the deepest part of the Deep South. The dogs go out with reluctance and come back in enthusiastic. No running through the flooded areas to cool their bellies, and no hunting for these tame wolves. They want to be lap dogs now and sleep on the bed. 

The cold closes in, and we all are warm and safe and dry. It’s good writing weather, and one of my personal theories is great winters make great writers. The cold forces a person inward, towards drink or towards ink, and I’m not drinking right now. 

Now, gentle readers, this Thursday morning in January, the cold dawn awakens the day, colorless and without relief in sight. Yet it does rise, and each day is one dawn closer to Spring and warmer weather. We need only to wait and watch, and all things will arrive in their own time and leave once again, like each dawn and each day. 

Do not despair of the cold, or the heat, or darkness. All in the time we have been given will be as it should, we have only to live to see it. 

A tree next to a body of water

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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 – Sports and Games

I started playing chess when I was twelve, and I likely would have been a pretty good player had I lived anywhere but in South Georgia. Chess computers were not available until the early 80s and they didn’t get good enough to beat me until the mid 80s. I met my first serious competition with human players about that same time, and I was nowhere near their level. Online chess became a thing about the same time I started losing interest in the game. My friend Curt, who I taught to play chess, and his son, Daniel, who we both taught, got good enough to beat both of us, and I am still proud of that. But I haven’t played in years now. 

I wanted to be a football player when I grew up. I never grew up, so that was a problem, but also weighed in at a whopping one hundred and ten pounds when I graduated from high school in 1979. In sandlot football, I was a relentless chaser of quarterbacks. Fast and stealthy, I was always the first player chosen because if you wanted to throw the ball, I could catch it, and if you wanted to have time to throw it, you couldn’t survive with me in the backfield with you. I miss playing tackle football more than I miss anything else about being young. 

I was a good enough player to have made any tennis team, but our high school didn’t get a team until my senior year. I was fast, relentless, and accurate. Some guy in the army claiming to have just missed playing in the Olympics dared me to try to hit one of his serves. I slapped it back at him, past him, and he threw a fit. I also beat him at chess. 

At sixty-three, I do Pilates, Yoga, and a little running, and a lot of walking. I hit the weights often enough to say I do, and I want to get into the pool when it warms up. But as far as sports with other people where balls are hit or people are hit, I think those days are over now. 

One thing that’s a surprise is how my interest in professional and college sports is waning. NFL football has gotten to the point it is one step away from flag football. I used to hit quarterbacks in sandlot harder than they’re hitting in the NFL. Quarterbacks are overrated, overpaid, and overprotected. But they’ve geared the game towards passing and scoring, so outside linebackers like I wanted to be are becoming extinct, and those who are still playing are handicapped by the rules protecting quarterbacks from playing football. 

College football will follow the same path, I assume. They’re putting more money into college ball now, and the players ought to get paid, but let’s not forget they are supposed to be going to college. 

I wonder if as many people laughed when they read that last line, as I thought they would. 

In the end, what once sparked my interest now doesn’t so much, but writing, music, dogs, one cat, and of course, nature. 

I see this as an improvement. 

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 – New Year New Me bwahahahahaha

Ah, the first Friday Firesmith of 2024! Wow, 2023 was a blast. So back when 2022 was turning into 2023, I loaded my gym bag and earbuds and hit the Y. I’ve been a member now for years, and it’s this time of year that looks exactly like last year, and every year before that one.

It’s one of the three waves of New People. Valentine’s Day and Beach Body Time are the other two.

It’s the first wave, and the tsunami of the most unsuccessful. It’s the largest influx, and to get through this, resident gym rats have to start earlier, to beat the crowd. This is the “New Year, New Me” crowd who think if they work themselves into sweating and panting, injuring their body in the process, they will be in better shape and lose weight.

Their optimism is adorable, as well as their hundred-dollar shoes and nice gym clothes. We can spot them right off the bat. They enter the weight room confident they can regain the form they had twenty years ago in just a few minutes. Used to bench two hundred pounds, did you? And now one hundred feels like the bar might be adding more pounds than before? Hmmm, how did that happen? Gosh, must be that bar.

But the cardio section, with treadmills and stair machines, is where it’s at for your viewing pleasure. It’s here you find some guy that ran track in high school mounting a machine he’s never seen, with buttons and lights, and he’s suddenly unsure. How fast did he run? How fast can he go now? He figures seven or eight out of ten is possible. The belt begins to roll, and for a brief moment in time, he’s up and running, galloping in fact, cue the soundtrack to Chariot of the Gods, but his twenty seconds of glory fades. The belt rolls on. The decade between his body being fit and this moment is filled with sloth, alcohol, bad food, and binge watching. His body revolts. He reaches for the button, hits the wrong one, speeds up, yelps in terror, then hits the kill button, which was designed for people like him in mind, and the belt slows to a stop. He checks his Apple watch. He has run nearly a tenth of a tenth of a mile. His pulse rate is triple what it should be. He’s panting, and frightened. What the hell happened to him?

The worst thing that can happen, happens. A young woman in a tight outfit gets on the machine next to him and hums along at a pace that suggests she’s part gazelle. He tries again. He peeks over at her speed to match it. Sixteen seconds later, he’s turned red, then blue, and has to stop. He gulps water out of his new stainless steel bottle as if it were filled from the Fountain of Youth. It was not.

In the locker room, three or four other men just like him are sitting half naked, and in total silence, staring into space. But as bad as defeat tastes right now, tomorrow morning they won’t be able to crawl out of bed to the nearest bottle of aspirin. They’ll abandon their membership for watching exercise videos and hoping osmosis will work.

I crank up the treadmill and set it on a fast walk. An hour later, I feel great. I might hit a Yoga class or do some light weights. I’ll survive myself, and my body will reward me for my efforts. This isn’t New Year, New Me. This is a timeless quest to stay fit at a steady pace.

Take Better 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 Twiyear Zone

This is the time of year, between New Year’s and Christmas, we shall refer to as the “Twiyear Zone.” It’s a time where true holidays are over, but no one is in school, or working. People are done shopping but not done returning. People have overindulged to the point of every meal becoming a near death experience, but they haven’t cranked up that new gym membership yet, and those who have been going for years haven’t returned. In short, no one is doing anything right now, but no one knows what to do, either. People are very strange right now.

Yesterday, I got behind a guy at the grocery store who had all his stuff rang up and bagged up, and ready to go. Two carts worth. All he needed was money. He was on his cell phone talking to someone, so I picked my stuff up and moved to the next counter. The woman there abandoned her position to go look for one more item. The third and last counter was occupied by a customer buying a pair of twenty-ounce soft drinks. She wanted to pay for one with cash and the other with a credit card. The two items were the same price. The woman stuck her credit card into the machine, the cashier rang it up, and the customer melted down. The soft drink she wanted to pay via cash was the one the cashier and rang up on the card. The cashier explained they were the same price. The woman melted even more. A manager had to come and undo the transaction, and he explained they were the same price. At that point I looked over, and neither of the other lines had moved. I considered going to get a twelve pack but I would have lost my place in line. 

Finally, the woman’s transaction was cancelled, and she was twelve cents short of cash to buy the soft drink with cash. So she put it on her card. 

Outside, I saw the man who had clogged up one counter by not having any money to pay for two carts worth of stuff on his cell. The cashier had followed him out, and was telling him to pay up or they were going to restock the stuff in the carts. 

“Just wait a damn minute,” he said, and at that point it was time for me to put some distance between me and people. 

The pond isn’t large, but the kayak and I do not care. It’s black water, and plants, and the sky, and it is not people. The trees surrounding the pond are ancient, and care not for soft drinks or credit cards. They breathe, and drink rain, and devour sunlight, and they are. Live Oaks are still fully clothed, and were it ten degrees warmer I might not be. The kayak is silent as we drift, eased by the breeze, caught in the lily pads, yet inching forward into a timeless awe of nature. 

Take Care,

Mike