Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Leaner and the Holly Tree.




 Sorry so few photos. It's hard to get good shots in the jungle.
The main trunk

The Leaner on the ground!



In the half century or so I’ve lived in South Georgia I’ve seen snow stick to the ground three times. In 1973, 1977, and in 1988. I’ve been fortunate to be in a different location for all three events and being on my grandmother’s farm in ’73 for my first snowfall ever was incredible. I was the only kid around for miles and miles so I tromped over one hundred acres of pure virgin whiteness all my own. There wasn’t a camera of any kind around so I experienced it rather than recorded it.

For the most part, South Georgia is sub-tropical and right now, in the latter stages of July, we’re in the hottest part of the wettest month. Over a foot of rain has fallen over the past month, half of it in the last week or so, and overall, it’s been one of the wettest years on record. The irony here is that extremely wet weather means more trees will lose big limbs and more tree will fall. They absorb more water in their leaves and branches than they can carry so they split sometimes, or perfectly healthy limbs just crash down to the earth, green and leafy.

I lost half a tree a couple of weeks ago, and got it cleaned up fairly fast. But the day was cloudy and the rain was still falling so even if it was sticky and wet it was a good deal cooler. A limb fell out of an Oak tree in the back part of my property at the beginning of the week and it was a Leaner; one of those limbs that fall but also prop themselves on their parent tree, as if not fully ready to leave yet. The only thing worse than a fallen limb is one that hasn’t quite fallen yet, and the big fear is it will fall on its own schedule and perhaps crush a dog. Again, irony raises Her pretty head because there is nothing worse to try to cut down than a really large limb that is just hanging around, literally.

Back on 2007 I fenced in the back part of my eighty percent of a hectare and allowed Bert and Sam more running room. Bert promptly began to patrol the perimeter, as was his wont, and when Lucas joined us in 2009, he began making paths that split off from the perimeter path that the Elders had made. Lilith Anne joined us in 2012 and she and Lucas made even more paths through the underbrush. The Striped One arrived in 2015, the Cousins just last year, so there’s a lot of paths where there was once leaves and undergrowth. I began cutting vines off the young trees in 2007. One of the first trees I noticed was a very young Holly tree who was covered in vines. I de-vined it and since it’s close to one of the main paths, I’ve watched it grow over the last nine years or so. The branch that fell early in the week missed the Holy tree by less than half a meter.

The easy and safe thing to do would be to cut down the Holly tree as to have a better cutting experience with the limb but I like the Holly tree. I wanted to save it if I could and I was going to at least try. Cutting something large from one side is difficult and awkward. Let’s toss in the fact that it’s a Leaner. And I am working alone. In the Sub-Tropics. In July.

I like using an axe. I like the skill it takes to cut wood with a blade and to shape the cut the way it has to be designed in order for a limb to fall the right way or for a log to be cut into two pieces. The way the human body feels after working out with hand tools is different in some way than the feeling acquired by chain saws and power tools. It’s less invasive, harder, it requires real skill and patience to use an axe. Using an axe means a man has to use his mind as well as his body. And I want to save the Holly tree. The life of the Holly tree becomes a Quest.

The Leaner has some outlier branches that have to go first. I know it’s going to take half a day, at least, to get this thing down, so I pace myself. I have to because the air is thick with moisture and heat. Stinging insects dart back and forth in it like piranha in a jungle stream. But the air isn’t moving, not even sluggishly. There isn’t so much as a faint breeze, not so much as a whisper of the wind, and so sweat pops out of my body and just sits there. I use a bush hook on the lighter stuff and clear away the small limbs that were knocked down. The Holly tree, a meter taller than I am, sticks me a few times. We are joined in this Quest by blood; mine.

The Leaner is held in place at the bottom by two branches; one thick and the other smaller and it has a divide also. Up at the top of the Leaner, the broken part is held by yet another crook between two bigger branches, but one of them, the one that goes forth right over my head, looks diseased and perhaps it will fall too. Over there were there is a Holly tree, it is safer, if the Holly tree was taken down.  Not yet. I have to try.

 The first hour is spent with the smaller stuff and the time goes slow. I take my first break, with my faithful cell phone guardian, someone who cares enough about me to keep up with me when I do this sort of thing, send me texts and making sure I don’t get hit in the head or die of heatstroke. I drink nearly a liter of water and rest for a while.

The smaller support branch goes first. It doesn’t take long and then I look hard at the other one. It’s thick as hell, axe work here, and I attack it as far up as I can, even though it does mean it will be even thicker. I hope that the Leaner, once in motion, might come on down. Thirty minutes later the branch cracks and the Leaner does what I suspected it would do; slip down a little further but it does not fall. Break time. It’s time to think about what’s going to happen next.

As I drink water, sweat, and feel muscles trembling from exertion, I strategize. I have to cut at least a meter high. There’s at least that much of the Leaner still caught in the crook. I have to cut from one side and one side only, maybe a little angle at the underside of the limb, but the branches of the Holly tree are going to make it hard. Here’s the fun part; if the Leaner falls straight down, it then might begin to fall forward. That means there’s a damn good chance the Holly tree will be crushed anyway. Take the damn Holly tree down, Mike. It’s a goner anyway.

I have to try.

Okay, let’s take a comedy break here, shall we? I go out to where the Leaner is and the dogs all go back to lay on the screened in porch and not be bothered by the heat or insects. I’m standing there, wondering where to start, how to start, wondering why I’m being so obstinate about the damn Holly tree, and suddenly there is an explosion. It’s a loud sound, like a semi-truck tire blowing out at high speed. Tyger Linn comes bouncing out of the porch, torpedoes across the deck, and she races out into the woods, barking. Lilith Anne is close behind her. So they’re looking around and I realize they have forgotten I’m there. I pick up the axe and Tyger Linn barks a little at the motion. Lilith takes a couple of steps forward and stops and waits. She doesn’t make a sound but she’s keyed in on where she thought she saw something. Tyger barks, waits, barks, waits, and then I take one foot and rustle around in the leaves. Tyger and Lilith charge the noise, Tyger barking as she’s running and Lilith just coming in hot, and then, oh hai, we knew it was you all along, nothing to see here, what the hell, dad, that wasn’t nice at all.
The Cousins have not left the porch yet, and they don’t.

The main trunk of the Leaner is probably twenty-five centimeters in diameter. I can cut the front, the underside of it, a little of the top, but the Holly side will be impossible to get to with an axe. It takes twenty minutes to get halfway through and I take a break. I can hear the sound of my heartbeat in my ears. My breath comes in gulps and I try to even things out. The heat is building by the minute and the humidity is getting worse. Calm down, dude, you got this. Just breathe. It’s going very slow but it is steady progress, even at the awkward angle. After the break the better part of what’s left goes in less than ten minutes. I hit it hard, as hard as I can with the bush hook, trying to use the extra length for safety and the cut wiggles like a loose tooth. Finally, with the bush hook used as a poke, I push and push, and push, and… the piece I just cut falls, and the Leaner stays right where it is, in midair, caught by the crook of the tree, it does not fall.

Hmmm, Mike, you know, I seem to remember now, yeah, that happened the last TWO TIMES you cut a Leaner. Damn, you’re right. Okay, now we…I take a vine, because I’m a guy and going to get a rope isn’t manly enough for me at this point, and wrap it around the dangling end of the Leaner. The Holly tree’s fate is about to be decided. If this thing falls straight down then the tree will likely be crushed, or at least have its limbs torn off. I pull and the Leaner slips out of the crook, stands straight up as if it’s going to stay that way and then falls two meters to the damn west of the Holly tree.

That’s why you use a vine because you cannot predict which way it will fall.

My back hurts. My wrists are sore. I feel drained. But the Leaner is no more and the Holly tree lives. I spent half a day working on that thing to bring it down and very likely spent twice as much time as I had to because I wouldn’t kill a tree that is neither rare nor in any way special.

But she is my tree.


Take Care,
Mike

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Memory Of Taste



Just the right combination of mustard and catsup and pickle will trigger the memory, and mostly it’s the pickle but it’s not just the pickle. It has to be the precise combination. The pickle has to be slightly cooked but not fired. There has to be everything there or it will not come and it never comes without that combination, never comes on its own accord, and I never have the memory any other way.
I was four, maybe five at the most, and there was a restaurant that served hamburgers, and it didn’t really matter what a restaurant served back then because if you were a kid that was what you were getting. But this was a local place, just outside of town, and because it was the mid 1960’s the parking lot wasn’t paved, and there wasn’t an overabundance of lights. It’s more of a memory fragment than a memory really, just a faded parchment found in the bottom of a stack of faded documents, a few scribbled lines, not indicative of anything to come, no revelations here, nothing of significance, just the taste of pickle, and the memory of smooth tile on the walls on the outside, and of a sky full of stars in the night not overwhelmed by artificial light.
I came back to this place, when I was seventeen, maybe eighteen, and all that was there was a pile of rubble, and not much of that. It was close to the road and I needed a place to hide twelve ounces of pot that I was splitting with someone. I stood in the rain, in the dark, and wonder how I went from looking at the stars from this parking lot to hiding drugs there. A dozen years or so had passed and it seemed odd to have memories that old. I never got caught with the pot, sold it for a good profit, but that was the last time I ever stood in that parking lot, ever.

The highway got bigger, was four laned, the side road near the old restaurant was widened, and now there is no evidence it ever existed at all. I still remember the stars, I’m sure of that memory, and the burger, yes, that was there, but there’s a thousand different things that my mind keeps trying to add or subtract, to gain clarity, and like all memories, all it causes is confusion. There seems to be something in there about toy rings, or trinkets of some sort, and I seem to have remembered that when I was stashing the dope but, again, we’re talking about the memories of a four year old, maybe a five year old, and the memories of a young man who was never sober from the time he entered high school until long after he walked across a stage trying desperately not to fall.

Sometimes I see little kids and I wonder what they’re remembering about that very moment, or if they will at all? I see a homeless man and I wonder if there’s a memory back at some time in his life he was so happy there was no limit to sky and stars and burgers with his family. Then there comes time, disappointment, fear, failure, and that incredibly large sensation that you’ve reached your peak of happiness, before you’re ten years old, and from that point forward in life, things are going to get worse, and the feelings that you were never good enough anyway can only be drowned in alcohol or sent up in smoke.

Now the memory of the taste might well be fifty years old. It reoccurred today and I tried sifting through what I remembered and what might have been a memory, and the attempts of my mind to make it real. I wonder, sometimes, when I see kids with their parents and the kids seem to be having the best time ever, and it’s no big deal, but there they are, and I wonder what it would take for me to feel that happy again, and at what point I stopped trying, or if by trying, for so very long, so many different ways, if I totally missed the point.

Take Care,
Mike

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Coffee and Writing: 7/9/16







The great thing about Summer is it weeds out the weak and the undeserving. True blistering heat will keep human beings inside and that means there’s fewer of them where I want to be. Also, humans, for reasons that escape me, link hot coffee with colder weather, so even though caffeine is a coolant, there are fewer people where I like to write.

There’s a story forming in my head, again, but I’m ignoring it until I’ve finished writing the one I’m on now. I’ve about killed off everyone on the planet and the few survivors are banding together to try to make something work that doesn’t look like what happened before. Odd, isn’t it? When it comes down to a handful of survivors trying to pull together to drag the human species away from extinction, you agree with me automatically that the first thing we would need is a hell of a lot fewer people, wouldn’t you?

Unless you want to sit there in front of your computer and help me cull the humans out, which I suspect would be as uncomfortable as it would be revealing, it’s better to have a device that does this for us, randomly of course, and then we play the hand we’ve been dealt. Imagine a world where there is a bio weapon created in a lab that kills within forty-eight hours or less. It’s highly contagious and the people who mean for it to spread have agents that book themselves on a dozen flights to a dozen cities and then to a dozen more. Everyone who breathes the same air as these people will become infected and infectious. In two days the first people start dying and the rest start freaking out. The survival rate in one person per every million. The dead bodies, the surfaces they touch, and everything around them remain infectious for one year. The plague also kills all the farm animals; cows, chickens, horses, sheep, pigs, and goats. It also kills dogs, cats, and a few more species of mammals.  One out of every one million humans will survive.

Two women from Georgia are holed up in Canada and they remain there for two years. The plague is gone, totally gone, but so are most of the people. And who would be left? The entire population of Georgia would be nine people. Out of that nine, how many too old, too young, too crazy to be of use or help? The entire population of the United States would be about three hundred and forty people. Most scattered out so far that it would be impossible for them to find one another.

Yet people in remote areas who did not have any contact with other people for the year it took for the bioweapon to die out, live on. Small villages, communities on the edge of civilization, those people intentionally off the grid, and First Nation peoples in Canada that had warning not to allow anyone in or out, survive.

The biggest problem is trying to figure out how many viable males and viable females we would need to survive. If the two woman find a village of three hundred people, that means about a third would be two old, so there’s a hundred viable people, fifty of each gender, and as the years pass there will be another hundred coming into the system.

Would it be enough? Would survival of the species be enough to make three hundred people band together and go through rebuilding a society or would there be those who simply gave up, or even those who thought that humans are a really bad idea?


“Excuse me,” a young woman interrupts my writing. “will you plug me in?” and you know, it has to be tough for a woman to approach a guy in public to begin with and suddenly I’m looking at her and I want to ask, “Would you breed with a stranger to save the human species from extinction?” but all she wants is access to the electrical outlet on the wall near me.

But what if a young woman thought we were worth saving? What if she saw our species staring down being an evolutionary footnote and all that we’ve done, what good we’ve done, would be gone forever, and wanted to help make sure that we continued? Surely, in a village of three hundred people there’s someone there she thinks, “Well, I guess he’s better than extinction.” And in history, when pioneers set out and colonies were formed, how many women looked at a man and thought something quite similar to this?

There’s an epiphany in here. When failure means the end of everyone then there’s a certain sanctity to breeding. It’s not just for fun and not just to keep one family alive; it’s having everyone’s eggs in one basket, no pun intended. Babies are an investment, and moreover, children have to be taught things that they will need to know because in a very short time they are going to be all there is. Women have to be protected from dangerous occupations when they’re pregnant and they have to be kept safe to feed babies milk. Suddenly, you get a society formed around stay at home moms and it really does take a village.


Yet in this new nation, formed around three hundred people, with some knowledge there are some other people out there, very few, so very few, what are the laws on immigration? Surely the village needs new people, but how is this gauged? A civil engineer would be great, that is, if there were any real need for roads and bridges and there was the material and time to build. A doctor would be great but would you really need someone with a degree in Public Relations? An airline pilot would be useless but someone capable of flying a single engine float plane might be worth his, or her, weight in fur blankets.

There’s a lot to think about here.

Take Care,
Mike