Wednesday, July 1, 2015

18





The day I turned eighteen on November the ninth, nineteen seventy-eight, I went and bought by first legal case of beer. With me was the first girl I ever fell in love with, but sitting next to me was the girl I was currently in love with, a redhead of the truest form. Love isn’t a strong enough word for how I felt for her when I turned eighteen but because Alice Cooper had a song titled “Eighteen” I felt connected to a much larger Universe. We dropped my first love off and then my current love and I parked the car in the woods and had sex that causes me to wonder about those of that age I know now. Surely, I think to myself sometimes, that sweet little eighteen year old that rescues dogs couldn’t possibly know the same sort of insane and wonderful passion that the sixteen year old and I found in the front seat of a car parked in the woods on my birthday, so many years ago. Yet I know it is more likely than not, for the drive to love in every imaginable and physical manner is strongest in the young and they are discovering frontiers they never imagined existed. We did. They will, too. I hope they have as much fun as we did that day. I remember the redheaded girl tell me she loved me that day. I think I can remember every time she said those words. In less than a year she would be pregnant and married but not to me. I had no idea of the changes that were coming in her life, no pun intended, but they were a lot more dramatic than those I would see, at that time in my life, at eighteen.



That night I put on my headphones and listened to an eight track tape over and over and over again. Eighteen, eighteen, eighteen, I’m eighteen and I love it.

It’s harder to imagine a more different scene once the next eighteen years passed. I was thirty-six, eighteen twice, and a woman I loved, a redhead of the truest form, had broken up with me. I lived in a tiny apartment with no dogs and a dead end and hard job. I hated the apartment and I hated the job and I hated the idea that I might never leave that place, even though I would in less than six months. I had no idea that my life was about to change and change for the better. I also didn’t listen to Alice Cooper anymore. That was kinda sad because Alice Cooper was really fresh and edgy back in the day. The woman recently gone had found love with an old friend of mine and that made it worse, really, but what I didn’t know is that in about a year I would be dating his ex-fiancĂ©’. There were changes unseen in my life. Much more so than when I was eighteen, once.

To have lived long enough to see eighteen for the third time I a lot longer than most would have given me at eighteen, once. Both of the redheads, of the truest form, are gone, a part of my past that I cannot look back at again, you know. One is a grandmother by now, I think. The other I have not heard from in over eighteen years. I wonder if my eighteenth birthday was as memorable to her as it was to me. I strongly doubt it.

But at eighteen three, ah, now that’s an interesting age. I didn’t realize it until I checked the math today, and no, I won’t tell you way, stop asking, but when I realized that two thirds of my life ago I was eighteen it tickled me somewhat. Eighteen seemed like such a milestone, such a really big deal to me back then. I could legally buy beer! I could vote! Oh boy! I would rent hotel rooms on the beach and I could …

The eighteen years went by.

All the things that seemed to incredible at the first eighteen seemed so, well, ordinary by eighteen, again. I had fallen into a rut in many ways in my life and I remember when I packed my stuff and left the small apartment how I felt like I was leaving a life behind that I would never look back at again and enjoy. I was wrong, of course, because there were many great writing ideas born in that apartment as well as more than a few great memories.

Now at Eighteen Thrice, eighteen years goes by a lot faster than I could have ever imagined. I feel as if right now, I am a better writer than I was eighteen years ago. I have lived with many dogs since then and have loved great ones. The dog thing, I think that was what was missing at Eighteen 2.0. Life really isn’t the same without a dog or three. The time I spent with Bert and Sam and Lucas did not add up to be eighteen, but in dog years it was eighteen many times over. If love is measured in the multiples of joy just those three dogs gave me eighteen million years’ worth.

Pick a random number, any random number, and look back. Eighteen is arbitrary and that’s okay, really it is, for a lot happens, or doesn’t happen, in eighteen years, and that’s okay, too. It’s not those eighteen years that will define you but how you live afterwards, always, the future, not the past. Eighteen will come and go, as we all will, and then one day you will not have eighteen more years. That, too, will be okay. There will come a day you will have been gone for eighteen years. There will come a day that someone related to you in some way will remember you eighteen years later. Or eighteen twice, or eighteen three times or more.

You can only hope that person is grinning when they remember you.

Take Care,

Mike


The Axe and The Dawn (Part Two)




I has an odd night of fragmented dreams but at least I was sleeping. I had worked myself into a state of exhaustion and soreness trying to take down part of a tree with an axe and I thought I did very well indeed. There’s something to be said about the sort of exhaustion that comes with hard work. Saturday, I spent the day at work trying to tie down the end of the month stuff and when I got home I was totally spent emotionally and mentally. It’s hard to get into the shower and wash that away. But spend quality time with some hand tools and I promise that when you finally do get into the shower, sweat, dirt, and maybe a little blood will be all that needs to be cleansed from your soul.

I was tired, really and truly and honestly tired when I woke up this morning but my body felt ready. I had done some Yoga exercises after cutting the tree down and I felt like I could at the very least get the largest piece moved. That sort of thing doesn’t daunt me at all even though I don’t own a tractor and can’t lay hands on one on a bet. If I had to bet I would guess the biggest piece of wood weighs at least seven or eight hundred pounds. That sounds big and heavy but the Laws Of Physics tells me quite a few things about this mass. It tells me that if I can get a lever under it I can move it. It tells me that if I can get a roller under it I can move it. It tells me that if I can get the piece unbalanced I can rock it, tilt it, turn it, and sometimes even spin it around. I’m a very small mammal in a very large world. But there are Laws.

The trick to cutting wood is to cut chunks of woods not pie or wedge shaped pieces. As you cut you’re going to eventually wind up with that sharp angle cut but save yourself some very hard work and begin opening up the cut wide, not narrow. If you go too skinny too soon you’ll wind up with this ravine in the wood when you ought to have a canyon. It look like it’s a lot more work but it isn’t. Also, learn to sharpen an axe and do not be afraid to stop and take the time to sharpen it when you’re cutting. A sharp axe is half the battle. Sitting down with some water and a sharpening tool is a great time to recover from what is really hard work.


Everyone likes their meat with some salt on it and the insects of Hickory Head are no exception. I’ve got a dozen bites in two days and the two on the front left side of my neck look like I was bitten by vampire yellow flies. There’s more than a few welts on my hands and of course there are those obligatory bites at the beltline that leave a maddening itch. Benadryl gel is a magical thing that soothes all bites and stings. But while working in the woods the insects are the toll keepers. Any anti-insect spray is swept away by the rising salt water tide of sweat and heat. They are there like medical students, taking blood samples, giving injections, inspecting the body and all the while feasting on flesh that will take part of the woods away, leaving a bare spot where a tree once stood.

The tree is hollow and rotted down the main branch that fell. I’m pretty sure that if this year had not felled it the next would have. Many years ago, so many I cannot remember how old I was, only that I was very small, there was a tree, a giant Oak, a sprawling and towering creature that seemed unearthly to me. We would only pass the tree on the way to my grandmother’s house and each time the tree was there, timeless and eternal, as if it were some sentinel watching over travelers. One day as we passed the tree it lay split into two pieces as if a giant knife had rendered it. From that point on each trip saw the tree diminished a little more as it returned slowly to the earth. I’m not sure I could find the spot where the tree once stood. I wonder how many others remembered that tree and mourned its death as I did.


I’m always surprised at how well built trees are. There’s solid wood there, tough and rigid, but the limbs are alive and springy, the leaves are as fragile as paper, and the bark as rough as, well, bark. From an engineering point of view there are vast arrays of solar collectors that reach into the sky so very slowly getting higher each year but with the inevitability of falling rain. Higher and higher the branches go, the limbs grow thicker, some break, some are broken, but the trees reach ever higher still, and spread out even wider until one day a small child will arrive and wonder at the magnificence of that tree.

Large or small, young or old, Oak or pine, living or dead, all of the trees I live with leave me with that sense of wonder still. The pine tree in the back of the property is like a column of scaly life that soars above all other trees in the area, slender and curvy. There are Oaks whose branches are equally curved but they more resemble dancers than statues. There are tiny saplings and young trees who are just arriving at the height above my head now, some of them not yet sprouted when I arrived here. I once looked down to avoid stepping upon them as they were still half out of the acorn but now they look down as I walk through their shade. One day, perhaps, there will be trees looking down upon my body as it is lowered into a simple hole in the ground. I wish to return to the Earth from which I came, and I hope to reborn a tree.

Take Care,

Mike

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Axe and the Dawn.

The morning sky as work begins. 

I’m pretty good with an axe. It comes from very long years of chopping wood when I was a kid and then moving out into the woods where trees die of natural causes, fall down, and go boom. I do own a chainsaw and I can use it with reasonable proficiency but I intend to have some down time, some time alone, and this means no chainsaw. I have never cut myself with an axe, at least not badly, and honestly, I’ve never cut myself with a chainsaw. But I have seen what accidents with chainsaws look like, and trust me, you do not want to be the better part of an hour away from an Emergency Room with a cut from a chainsaw. I certainly don’t. Oh, and by the way, I just want to cut this tree up with an axe. 

I saw this coming, no pun intended, because the tree, even though it was really very green and bushy, had a black spot on it that meant there was some rot inside. All the rains we’ve had this year have meant fuller limbs, more leaves, more new growth, and some trees just cannot handle it. They break. They die. And this one broke in half with the top half crashing down in the fence and blocking the trail. But the thick part of the tree was still connected to the trunk so it left sort of a wooden Sword Of Damocles hanging over the dogs as they trod the trail. 


Tanya the Destroyer passes fearlessly under the Broken Tree!



This sort of thing is plenty weird. It may fall in five minutes or it may be there a year from now. I couldn’t tell what was keeping it connected but I couldn’t push it over either. It was time to break out the axe, the bush hook, two six inch pieces of PVC pipe and a couple of round fence posts.

Hey! I got this, relax!

The bushy stuff has to go first. I have to get down to the bare bones of the main limb by trimming away the branches. The bush hook is good for everything less than firewood size and it goes quickly. I have to cross the fence onto my neighbor’s property so I clear away some of the fenceline for him. I know how to keep a bush hook sharp so it goes quickly even in the heat. I haul all the bushy and springy stuff to the firepit and the pile grows. About half an hour later I’m down to one large branch that’s about ten feet long and the axe makes its first appearance. I know how to sharpen an axe, too, and the branch is separated from the main trunk very quickly. I end over end it to the firepit and then the real work has to begin.

Tanya inspects the firepit before the new arrivals


The photo above is the before shot of the firepit and the one below is the firepit after the first day of Axing. 

Lilith and Tanya inspect the work 


The first cut
I think one cut on the firewood sized main trunk will cause the rest of the tree to come down. I might, or might not, be right. I’ve learned to have patience with this sort of thing. I start the cut plenty wide and large chunks of woods vacate when the axe head hits. I’m impressed with my progress. I’m also impressed that the middle part of the tree is rotten and hollow. That makes my job so much easier. I hack away but much to my surprise, the piece I’m cutting doesn’t affect the arch. It breaks away, the end of the tree falls forward, but the end is still connected to the trunk. I have to make yet another cut to get the arch to fall! 






By that time, I’m getting spent. It’s ninety degrees out and the humidity is brutal. I’m panting. I’m sweating from every pore. And I am happy. This is the best work out ever! But the arch has to fall. This is a Quest. I must die if the arch does not fall!








The second cut on the main trunk

































I'm sweating gallons and I'm exhausted. Worse and worse, the branch shifts, turns, but doesn't break or fall. Finally, the cut is complete. After some huffing and puff the arch falls and the dogs are all safe! 
In the background, Tanya flees the fallen arch!


End Axe One, Scene One! 


Tuesday morning see one cut and a lot of hauling.  


I have to cut this piece in half to get it to move, but no worries. After that, everything gets put on the rollers and is rolled nearly without effort to the firepit. 





All the big stuff has been moved, all the little stuff has been moved, and all in all, everything that needs to be out into the firepit is there. All I needs was an axe, a bushhook, two pieces of PVC and two fence posts! 

And a lot of sweat. 

Take Care,
Mike




Monday, June 29, 2015

Someone Else's Dream




There’s a dream I’ve been having lately, reoccurring but spotty as hell. In the dream I’m walking down a field road and it’s overgrown and thick enough to slow me down but not overly so. It’s Spring and I can smell the plants growing and hear the birds singing. It’s a beautiful day, or it had been the two or three times I’ve had the dream. I’m walking along and there’s a slight rise in the land and as I top the rise I see a young man, maybe in his thirties, who is standing at the bottom of this slight hill, and he’s all sorts of out of sorts.

He’s has no idea where he is or for that matter, who he is, or why he’s here. He can speak English, certainly, but then it occurs to me that I am not aware of what language I speak until I pay attention to it. If Russian was suddenly my native tongue would I realize it? I have no idea what makes me think of this while I’m trying to help the young man, but I do.

Back to the very agitated young man.


He’s got longish hair but not overly so but he does keep brushing it back away from his eyes even when it isn’t there. His hair is jet black with no hint of grey yet and he’s got dark eyes. He’s wearing a long sleeve knitted sweater as if he’s dressed for much colder weather than what’s here, wherever here might be. I simplify things for him a bit; I show him the tracks my boots have made in the dirt going back uphill. He looks at the bottom of his shoes and then we search for which direction he came from. Nothing.

“You’re part of my dream” I tell him. That goes over really well.

So he tell me that he’s a real person and that I am part of his dream, but he has to admit that I left footprints and he didn’t. That’s one for the home team. I also remember who I am and I know where I am, kinda. And I’m dressed for the weather and he isn’t. I feel much better about all of this than the young man does. But then he asks me if I know I am dreaming why don’t I wake up? I rarely don’t know I’m dreaming, to some degree and rarely does this wake me up.

The young man turns and runs away, full gallop, trips, spins and then falls on his back, rolls up, and runs away some more. I stand there and watch all of this but soon enough he’s gone and out of sight. I keep walking, because now I am pretty sure I’m going to wake up. The dream feels less real and some of the background is fading away from me. The birds are gone and the scent of flowers is missing down.

“What if you’re wrong?” And there he is as if he never left.
“What if you’re part of my dream?” he asks and I have to admit I have no answers to his questions.

So we both sit down together and try to figure out which one of us doesn’t exist. The fact that he remembers nothing of who he is and I can remember my name says a lot. I run through common names for guys in America, and it is odd that I keep thinking he’s foreign, but nothing rings a bell. He asks me where I live and I tell him that we’re in a place called Hickory Head, in South Georgia, but he’s drawing a blank there. I ask him what he expects to see here and he’s lost at that question.

We sit in silence and I can smell things again and hear things again as well. Is this a younger version of myself? No, the hair is too thick. I was going bald in my twenties. Is this a younger version of someone I knew? He looks oddly familiar. But I would have remembered someone so agitated.

“So this is it?” he asks and I have no idea what he’s saying.
“No, really, if I am part of your dream is this the best you can do?” He stands up and looks around. “Your mind invents me and all it can do is have me lost in this goddamn field?”

Whoa.

I never thought about it. I never thought that maybe my dreams might demand more from me than whatever was going on. I start to apologize and wonder what I’m apologizing for. I’m sorry I’m not more creative when I’m asleep? Sorry Kate Upton isn’t here serving tea? (Truly!) Or that he and I aren’t on the space shuttle talking about existence while landing on the moon?


Believe it or not, I have had this discussion with myself. I’ve had sex dreams with women I’ve known, some of them with women who aren’t interested in me as far as I know, and it’s more than a little disconcerting to talk to a woman awake when I was naked with her in my sleep less than a day ago. I always feel a little strange waking up from those dreams as if it’s an invasion of their privacy.

Really, though, the young man has a point, if this is my dream is this the best I get? I could have any number of exciting dreams but I’m talking to a figment of my imagination who is have an existential meltdown. Does this seem right to you, Jubal Early?


The young man walks around hugging his arms around his sides. “I’ve got to go.” He tells me this as he walks off. “At least give me a damn name next time.”

I watch as he walks away, down the same path he ran earlier and I have no idea how he got back to where we were so quickly. I turn and walk away and hear the sounds of birds, smell the scent of wet dogs, and realize Tyger Linn has just leapt upon the bed and wanted breakfast.

The young man disappears and he is forever nameless.

Take Care,

Mike

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Windstream Minus Three Days




Someone from Windstream called me and they want to come out and look at the problem. I’m all for it but I’m not going to skip out on work for them to give me a four hour window of possible service so we agreed to meet Wednesday. I have mixed emotions about all of this because I think I can live without them but if I could get internet worth paying for I would. So we’re going to see what they can do Wednesday and if they can get me they promised it will be a done deal. If they cannot it will be equally as done.

I find myself losing my emotional connection to Facebook after just three days of sporadic use. When I can access the net there’s already a million things I want to do and with a limited amount of time there is just so little left over for trying to find out what someone ate for lunch today. I am also losing touch with people in Dog Rescue and that’s a bad thing. Social Media was born to serve those who serve the lives of dogs and other pets. I miss reading about those people who rescue to the point of being a borderline hoarding suspect. (You know who you are!)

I use to get about fifty notifications every morning in my inbox from people commenting on things I had liked or commented on and that’s down to less than a dozen in the last three days. The closest analogy I can think of for this is a man who counts his empty beer bottles and after slacking off realizes that he really was drinking too much.

There’s a couple of people I haven’t interacted with in three days and I miss reading those people. Of all the practical uses of the internet and social media, one of the fringe benefits is being able to interact with people from foreign countries like, England, Russia, and California. The Russians I have met have all been very fascinating people who are living in very interesting times in that country. If I had to comment on my English speaking friends in Canada I would tell you they are a thoughtful and kind group of people, but I could quite easily be speaking of the Russians who I suspect need Google to translate some of what I write as I need that service to speak to them. Yet I find the Russians a people very much worth the effort of trying to understand. I think we should all try harder to understand people in places very unlike where we live.

It’s an imperfect tool, Google Translate and I remember the first translation site I ever saw, Babel Fish, which was really imperfect, but it would get you into the ball park. GT does it a little better and I like to follow threads on FB where the Russians are talking about something or nothing. The alphabet is something called Cyrillic and so there’s no trying to piece together the words at all from experience with English. But there are some words in Cyrillic and therefore Russian I’m beginning to see reappear or reoccur and that’s a start.

Whatever else you can say about the internet the fact that it gives ordinary people access to how other ordinary people’s lives in astounding. I know people in nearly every state in America, quite a few in English speaking places, and a half dozen or so in places where English is a second language, at best. The idea that I can watch a home video filmed in California or Ohio or Moscow is an amazing thing if you think about it. I can see photos of people in their homes with their pets and kids, and I even know a lot of children and pets by their names. These kids are going to grow up knowing they have access to other people everywhere. That is truly amazing.

The idea of knowing people, reading about their lives, discovering that there are many different ways to live, is breathtaking. But we also now have the ways and means to listen to music made by people we might not have ever heard of before were it not for the net. We get to read fiction written by people we would have never discovered. We get to experience art in a medium that wasn’t even dreamed of twenty-five years ago. The human experience is now global in a way that ought to make us stop with wonder.

When we aren’t look at photos of cats with terrible English captions.


In my life I have had two dreams where I was at the very dawn of writing becoming a widespread medium. The first dream I was sitting next to a man who, despite the grave misgivings of other men he respected and maybe even revered, had planned to teach writing to as many people as he could. The next dream I was the person chosen to teach writing to others while it was still in its infancy. The thrill of expressing ideas to other human beings without those people even being able to see the person doing the thinking was truly incredible. I just wish I would have been able to invent the sarcasm font while I was at it.

So here’s the thing and there is really no getting around it; the internet rocks. At the same time, as we spread ourselves out into the ether we manage to ignore the here and now. We spend so much time at the keyboard interacting with people in faraway places our next door neighbors become invisible strangers.

I think having limited access to the net might be the best thing that has happened to me in a while. If they can’t or won’t give me what I want, I might just sit it out and try to figure out what I did with my time before some cute farmer’s daughter in Nebraska enthralled me with her stories about chopping ice so the cows could drink water in the dead of winter.

But you have to admit, after seeing photos of that, it’s hard to go back to being fascinated by what’s happening here.

Take Care,

Mike

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Windstream Minus One Day



So far it looks a lot like this:  If I want to get something done early in the day I have to get up in time to hit Starbucks before I go to work. If I want to get something done at the end of the day I have to get off work in time to get to the library before it closes. Those rare lunch hours that someone doesn’t want to monopolize my time I can hit Wendy’s. Oddly, after Day One of No Windstream, I find myself being more productive with what little time I have access to the internet.

The problems with Windstream were like having a leak in a hose on your car. It wasn’t really bad at first, just mildly annoying. Streaming video was the first part of the service to really bottom out and regular videos began spent more time “buffering” than playing. Okay, so I gave up on that. Then streaming music began to short out on a more and more regular basis and my internet music went the way of video. Then websites began to take dial-up times to load and that was about it. When photos started timing out I knew it was time to drop Windstream.

I’ve looked into Hughes Net but the customer reviews aren’t as happy as I would like. There seems to be a good sprinkling of positive reviews as well as an equal number of people, like myself, who would rather do without than pay for one more day of truly slow internet service. I’m going to take my time looking because believe it or not, losing my home internet service hasn’t been the end of the world as some might think it would be.

I miss my daily comics. There’s about fifteen that I follow, did follow that is, but it’s not like anyone ever died of “Pearls Before Swine” withdrawal. I do miss “Questionable Content” and “Overboard” but again, it isn’t lowering my quality of life. Face Book, that time suck that people love to hate and hate to love, isn’t totally gone but I have to watch my data plan and make sure liking someone’s cute dog photos doesn’t cost me my house.  So this is which way the pressure lies.

There’s a bit of research I must do when I write. I’ve started making lists of things I want to take the time to search for, hit a place with free wifi then find the most likely site that will help, cut the article out, past it into Word, and read it later, offline. It’s clunky but it’s free. This sucks but it is still better than poring through hardcovers like people used to have to do before the internet.

The upside is without the internet I am doing more writing, at least on Windstream, Minus One Day. And I still own a small library of reference material. I looked up a word in a real dictionary today and realized I missed doing that. I can still navigate the hardcover even if I can’t

Another downside is my devices, my Kindle, my phone, and my computer, aren’t synched anymore. If I read part of a book on my computer and then pick my Kindle up later I have to search manually for the right page number. That seems awfully small as I read it here now.


Another upside is that I am no longer spending as much time, or money, on Amazon. I’m pretty sure I won’t forget birthdays or things like that but not having instant access to shopping seems to be a good thing at this moment.


Right now, I would have to say that I’m feeling anger more than anything else. I spend more than a decade having landline service and internet with Windstream. Yet when they couldn’t provide the service I was paying for they seemed more than happy to simply cut the cord and walk away. They’re the longest running, they were the longest running, service provider that I had for any of my home utilities except electricity. Hell, having a land line out this far was a challenge there for a while, but their service department always came through, eventually. Even last December, when it was raining an inch an hour I still had fairly decent internet service most of the day. But the last month or so? Wow! Things have never sucked that bad before.

I just cannot shake the feeling this was Windstream’s way of getting rid of customers in out of the way places. It’s like home delivery of newspapers; back in the day when everyone read the newspaper, before the internet, the newspaper people would deliver to anywhere they could throw a paper, and I was part of that for a long time. I would hire people to throw routes and if a customer wanted a box next to their driveway we got it there the next day! But that was many years ago and now there are places papers don’t, and won’t deliver to anymore. I’m not sure if my theory is correct but I can see the infrastructure needed for the internet being more expensive to maintain for someone living in the woods versus feeding the web to an apartment complex in town. My journey to live further away from civilization may have inadvertently just become more successful thanks to Windstream.

Thanks, Guys!


At Windstream Minus One Day I cannot tell you that I feel a sense of loss. Of course, I’ll have to post this so you can read it at six tomorrow morning at Starbucks but I think they serve coffee there. I’m thinking about getting a hotspot so I can have some access but I have no idea about cost versus value of the product at this point or whether or not it would work way out here. The journey continues. It’s going to be interesting to see if other internet providers begin backing away from the countryside in the name of the bottom line.

Take Care,
Mike