Friday, December 23, 2011


“And so this is Christmas, and what have we here? “

Today is the day, before the day, of the big night for Santa to fly. For some strange reason I have felt so disconnected with the whole myth, mass retail sales generated hysteria, that this year that I have, for once, totally failed at Christmas hoopla, so far . Long time my favorite time of year with all the trimmings and lights, this time the recent stress of things has been more than I have been able to whip and so…few presents are under a tree, ( a cedar which we nabbed off a friends property around the corner), and my spirit isn’t exactly bright yet, but I remain hopeful for a turn around and feel it coming. It will be what it will be. It always is. It is, and will be soon, Christmas.

We were awoken this morning, not to the sounds of rheindeer on the roof, but to the low rumbling sound of a delivery truck, this time its goods being the blurb book Mark had ordered for this year’s accounting of my scribbling on my blog. He had done the same last year, gathered up all my cyber writing, and had it dumped into hard copy, real pages of words and pictures on real paper. This year’s gathering was not as large as I had not had the time to indulge in the freedom of writing as I had enjoyed the previous year, but here it was, 2011, a year in my life.

Writing a blog has been an interesting project in the past two years that I have posted these journals. Since I was a very little kid, I have written, though have never thought of myself as a writer, and have filled pages and note books full of pages with thoughts and musings, short stories, whatever came into this head of mine and felt somehow it needed to be jotted down. So once again now I see in a hard form, these thoughts from this past year, and read them and remember.

These books that Mark has had published will again be Christmas gifts for folks in the family. They are windows to my soul, and equally mere recordings of the happenings of a life in this place and time, and will perhaps serve to some future generation what life was like, for me, for us, on the farm, and all the inclusive events that make up what we call our days and lives. On one hand I am embarrassed to share but I am reminded that history belongs to those who wrote it down for posterity, and to that end I wonder what my granddaughter, and her children after her, will think when they read these journals long after I am gone. I hope it will give them an insight, to what I am not sure, but perhaps it will help them better know where they came from.

But back to this previously referenced tree that presently stands in our living room. It was not exactly stolen, but it is the first tree that I can remember having not paid anything for. We had asked permission of our friend Ray to cut one off his land and he obliged, and so we did. On Mark’s birthday eve, we took a saw and went off to nab us a tree. We had decided, with our youngest daughter’s suggestion that we refrain from purchasing a fir or spruce tree as par our usual, and go for a cedar, an old school basic, the tree of our childhood Christmases. And so we stalked our 2011 tree, and found it standing in a dried grassy field across from the Interstate exit nearby. Mark sawed it down and loaded it in the truck. Out in the field, what we thought was roughly a six footer or so, once indoors very surprisingly turned out to be more like sixteen feet tall, and nearly touches the open two story ceiling of our living room.

We drank bourbon eggnog and decorated this monster from the floor and from the balcony above it. Its delicate branches made decorating it a bit different from the heavily branched, store bought trees of our past years, as ornaments had to have careful placement to not droop and fall off. To find room for the really heavy ones, some of which I had made by hand out of bread dough over thirty years ago now, they had to find limbs close to the trunk, resulting in a very three dimensional quality to the tree as opposed to the stiff feel of the previous trees. This tree has been graced with old school ice-cicles and is topped with a cloth quilted version of a red tailed hawk, which I sewed about the time I made the ancient dough ornaments and which is the common sight in this part of the state where cedar trees in open fields are the perches for these birds to hunt from. I think it is my favorite tree, of all that we have had in a long time. It has a very nice feel to it, and Jack, the terrier, thinks it is both an ideal water bowl source and a place to hide under.

There are still a couple of things left to wrap, but it will be no where near the opulence of the usual spread of loot. This Christmas is about healing our hearts, and welcoming our new grand child into the traditions of the holidays. These will be new traditions beginning, as the old ones have changed in the course of the past months, and it is time for new ones to take their place. The decisions of whose house to eat which celebratory meal at and at whose home are gifts shared and unwrapped is a bit up for grabs at this point, and will evolve, especially now with the newest member having the biggest say in it all.

And so this is Christmas. It is again the time of sharing, giving, reflection, and for looking forward. It is a moment when grownups can relive childhoods through their recreation of the traditions passed down from previous generations, and pass it all along. We all still want the pony or puppy with the big red bow under the tree and secretly hope that Santa will grant our wishes. One of my favorite ornaments on the tree this year, is a snow globe type thing with a big draft horse pulling a sleigh full of happy folks with a lit up lantern as they perpetually trot through the snow, with writing on the bottom that says, “The joy is in remembering…” This year I will take that more to heart, and savor the season.

Merry to all, and to all, a good year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Greatest Gift

Imagine. Close your eyes and try to remember, the time spent before your own birth, floating in a warm  and watery darkness, protected, fed, free of gravity, hearing the heartbeat of your mother, so close, in a constant and steady rhythm, and having no thought of any other reality other than just being, there. From the time of one’s conception until the time when birth occurs, there is no sense of time. It is before one has any worries. There is no pressure to do this or that, and better, no concept of either worries or pressures. There is no sense of anyone else or any, place, else. It is a moment in space and time that is zen in its pure simplicity and tranquility. It is being in the place of the ultimate security. Cuddled in this womb, and tethered to the woman who carries you, one drifts along, just growing, and waiting without the knowledge of waiting, until the day you are to be born into this world.
At a given time in every gestation, hormones dictate the change is coming, and this watery wonder world life will be over. Contractions begin, and then suddenly this cocoon of darkness is no more and out you are sent into the light of the day into a new existence. This is the beginning of your life, where hours are first counted, then days, then months, and then years become the life span that you are granted. 
It is a brutal awakening to this life, pushed through a narrow channel, and literally cut from your life source. Eyes, that have before, seen nothing, are thrust into a bright and noisy new place, and skin is touched for the first time by hands that dry you and wrap you in cloth. Gravity is now a factor and you have few muscles to control your tiny body. In this new place you are helpless, and must rely on the care of parents, and many others who will teach you, feed you, and nurture you for many years, until you can do it by yourself and repeat the cycle.
Finally, in this moment of your birth, you are placed on the chest of the source of that heartbeat you have listened to for all of the infinity of time that you have spent in that dark world, a place that you can never return to and which is already becoming a fading memory. The warmth of a mother’s skin and the sound of the familiar heartbeat soothes this transition to life and the important issues become simple, to be fed, and go back to sleep, and to keep close to that heartbeat. This was the scene we saw when we walked into the room where my daughter had just delivered our first grand child. 
Last Saturday evening we had been watching a few football games on the tv when Mark got a text from our son in law that they had gone to hospital with contractions and were waiting for more information as to whether they were staying or not. This little bit got our rapt attention as Emily wasn’t due to deliver for another two weeks or so. More information came in that yes indeed she was in real labor and they were staying. Not remembering the progression of how long things took from my past, we quickly consulted the oracle Ipad and got our online medical degrees on the birth timeline and figured the usual nightcap martini might have to wait. 
At midnight we got news that they were figuring on her being another four to six hours before delivery and for us to get some sleep before coming in. We tried. At four am we both could not stand it any longer, tossing and turning, and wondering what was happening across town with our daughter in labor. So up we got and away we drove in the dark of the predawn Sunday. We did note that the roads are pretty empty at that hour which was a good thing as it gave us less things to run into in our sleep deprived stupor.
Once there, we knocked on Emily’s room and quietly went in to see our daughter sitting in her bed, looking like she had just come in from a walk in the park, (instead of what Mark described of how I had looked after delivering Emily, as though I had fought fifteen rounds of a heavy weight fight, and lost.) A proud new dad stood over her and presented us to our new granddaughter.
I know everybody thinks their baby or grand baby is pretty, and personally I think they all look alike at one point, but ours, however, was absolutely THE most gorgeous. We stood there in that moment, taking in the miracle of a new life in this form of this child, in awe, and were mesmerized by watching her taking in her new situation and responding to it all, peacefully laying there, slowly blinking at us.
Days have gone by now, regrettably marred by the unfortunate bit of aspiration by the little baby during her birth , and subsequent pneumonia which prevented her going home yet, and having to be tethered to an IV drip in the NICU ward at the hospital. This greatly disappointed her new parents, and us as well, but considering the situations of the less fortunate premi’s also in the room, little Margaret’s time there was an inconvenience only. Time has passed and soon she will grace her own nursery at her home for the first time, and there will be a new family, together, in their house.
Yesterday when I went to visit little Margaret and her mommy, I got there just before it was time to feed. Margaret was still sleeping peacefully in her new mother’s arms and I took a turn holding while Emily went to stretch her legs for a moment. Alone with this child for the first time, I looked long and deeply at this new life in my hands and felt at such peace.
She began to wiggle a little as the sleep was giving way to hunger and the pacifier she was pulling on in her ridiculously cute, little doll like mouth, was beginning to not cut it any more. I reflexively began to hum to her the first song that came to my mind, this, my first lullaby to my grand daughter, and it was “Amazing Grace”. I got through almost half of a verse before realizing the all of the connections in my brain, and I cried. I wept that my father could not see this child before he left. He could not hear me hum this tune, his favorite song and one of the last he ever heard. The droning notes of the bag piper who played it at his funeral rang in my head. This was the moment the enormity of it all hit me. I, was a grand parent, and now, I do understand.
In life, there is death. It is in its renewal and regeneration by the birth of a child, that the passing of the genes which define the child, serve to connect us to those who have come before us, and which will continue with each following generation. To look at this precious baby girl and see this and realize this shared line of continuity, binds me to her in a way I had never felt nor imagined. It has been a difficult year in so many ways that it is such a blessing now, to be given this lovely gift of a new life. It is, the greatest gift.
Born on her grand uncle Wilson’s birthday, the 4th of December 2011,  we welcome to the clan, our newest member, this wonderful little baby, Margaret Folmar Flowers.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November's Closing

Wow. The end of another month. They just keep slipping by like greased, spinning wheels. I would have to say that the events of the past months of fall have not been the best for me nor my favorites, what with two favorite dogs having died, having a mysteriously caused broken rib, and just recently having my sweet daddy pass away. All this grief and stress has been hard and unrelenting in a bam, bam, bam sort of pummeling that has made mush of my head some days, and others have been better.
I did do a lot of writing the other day and kind of worked out some of the things that I wanted to remember about the events and feelings surrounding my dad’s recent funeral. It was nice to get it out and have it down, if for no one else ever to read, but me some day, when the memories get fuzzy. There were things that needed to be jotted down, so they could be let go of, purged, and released. It felt good, and I fairly instantly, was probably the most relieved and relaxed I have felt in months. I went to bed after dinner that night and fell into a deep coma.
The next morning, which was yesterday, I woke up way too early, in my seriously snoozing self’s opinion, when the alarm chirped on the cell phone, calling Mark and me (as assistant in charge of toting this and that), to a photo shoot he was to do for a retail business. Once up, a problem immediately revealed that our chilly morning wake up and turn the heater on routine wasn’t happening. My usual warm and toasty closet vent was blowing very cold air. Not good.
Outside was in the low thirty degrees and inside was not much better, so a call to our friendly neighbor guy who does hvac work was in order when we returned.  The dogs fed, Jack stuck with his still twice a day insulin shot, dogs out, us bundled up to face the day, then off to town we went. The shoot finished, it was back to the farm for Mark to drop me off to the still very chilly house. I placed a call to the heater man and headed to the barn to feed, still only to feed, with no riding until rib issue is gone.
As to this continuing saga of this stupid broken rib thing of mine, the past month or so of dealing with it and doctors has once again confirmed my lack of faith in the abilities of modern medicine and its quacks in general. Timeline, to review, October 10th I got off the sofa at night and screamed and thought pulled muscle. A week later, after having ridden horses for four painful days, I call my gp doc’s offfice and was told my doc was on vacation, (no surprise there) and they told me to go to emergency room or a clinic. I went to a Doc in the Box place and had xrays done. A clean break was right there to see. I was told to return in a few weeks to re-examine. Once again, weeks later, I called my gp doc for advice, and again I was told to hit the clinic place. My confidence level was a bit low there so I made appointment with a real ortho doc and waited over two hours to be re-xrayed and then was told that I had no such silly fracture and just to take some steroids. No break? Say what? I had seen the plates, the sucker I had seen was cracked clear through. There was no arguing with this very arrogant fellow, so I went away still puzzled.
After talking with a friend who is a radiologist about my mystery broken, and my now newly diagnosed “unbroken” rib and asked him what he thought. He said to go get a cd of the original pictures and bring them to him. Of course the Doc in the Box did not get the exact picture of the view that I had seen of the big rib break, but had sent another view out of the eight or so that had been taken that day. This one, thought, showed the bottom floater rib point fairly well crunched. “There, is a fracture”, he said. I told him about the other plate and since I did not have that evidence, all he could say is that yes indeed, I did have one definitely cracked up one, and most likely another. That was just great, but the bigger question looms, so why does is take an entire cadre of men in white to not get the same diagnosis? It is no wonder why our medical world is in such bad turmoil, and I am not encouraged that it will improve. I wait, and hope that my rib will.
Needing some activity to ward off the day and the coming night’s chilly temps, I spent a large part of the remains of yesterday multitasking and making lasagna, which is to me pure comfort food. Both Jack and Heidi gave me great help with the clean up of all the various pots and pans required to produce such a wonder. Once done, I poured a nice cup of chocolate almond milk, set it on the counter to close the fridge, and proceeded to knock it off the counter top, right onto Jack’s little fuzzy head below it. This of course scared him, as everything does, and he started to scamper away before he smelled the chocolate and he dove into the mess, tongue just licking away. Since dogs aren’t supposed to tolerate the brown stuff very well, I shooed him away and began trying to wipe up the mess with the single most useless, and very cheap, paper towels possible. Meanwhile Jack is circling like a shark, and I notice that he is leaving little Jack chocolate paw prints all over the kitchen floor, having stepped right into the spill.
Finally, the floor clean, and mopped, and Jack’s foot de-chocolated, my hvac man knocked on the door. Diagnosis on this problem was easy and simple and did not require a committee of over educated and unfocused incomp doctors. He said it was a rusted hole in the heat exchanger. Fortunately this little repair is still just barely under the ten year warranty, which was a really good thing, and is not likely to break the piggy, but we will have limited heat tonight and until it can be fixed. So it was a bundled up night inside the house, with warm food for the soul, a nice toasty fire to sit by, and that was just fine with me. As I have learned, it could always be worse.  

Monday, November 28, 2011


The cursor blinks at me, waiting again for my fingers to tell it what to say. I have written so many words in the past two weeks, yet nothing has felt cohesive. There have been many events in my life which have been knocked me pretty hard, but losing my father is the hardest I have had to deal with so far. Most folks who know me, or knew my dad, already know that my dad passed away recently, after his failing health declined to its ultimate ending, and in its end, he was released.

Today marks two weeks since my daddy’s funeral. The passing of the time since then has had absolutely no relevance and no frame work but for numbers passing on the calendar. It is as though time has both stood still, and it has also rushed by in the blink of an eye. This past Thursday was Thanksgiving Day, and the first occasion for our family to celebrate this day, without our patriarch and pillar.

I am not the first to join this fraternity nor will I be the last, as all of us who are born to a mother and father, in due and natural course, will lose these rudders and be set adrift without them. The initiation to this passage can come in many ways, some harder to bear than others, but the result is the same. There is a deep surreality that I have never felt before, unlike any sensation that I have experienced before.

“How are you doing?” This is the question that I have been asked over and over in these past days since my father died. My answer is “fine, thanks” and am, on Level One. There are layers and layers of dealing with grief, and on this Level One, the rational takes over the heart and makes details happen, the act of keeping busy, distracted, keeps oneself pointed away from the abyss of the next level that eventually will find you and leave you, to deal with the emotion that has not been dealt with yet.

I wrote the blog entry “Atlas” over a year ago, and include the link for those who missed it or who know nothing of my father and his life. I also include a link to one of the many articles that were in the newspapers and on line, which give pretty good coverage to the external and public figure that he was. Perhaps they will fill in some gaps.

Thursday, the 10th, was the last time I saw my dad alive. He was sitting in his big overstuffed lounge chair, dressed in khaki pants and a pale green polo shirt. He was insisting, and had been all day, that someone, by golly, had better take him to the bank to cash a check. He said he needed some cash to cover some expenses and was not going to take no for any sort of answer. Any one who knew my father well would understand that he would hound you until you saw it his way. It was easier that way, and so as with most of his requests, it was granted. Someone drove him to the bank, and with mission accomplished, he was content for the day.

Friday morning his caregiver said he arose in a good mood and after breakfast wanted to get in his car and ride the streets of his beloved city that he shepherded as mayor for twenty two years, with a driver of course. Somewhere in the time line I heard that he got to smoke one of his beloved cigars or two, and even got to have a sip of vodka. Again, after lunch he demanded another ride around the town. (This is from a man who had been confined to bed for the previous weeks, and so this new energy was seen as a positive step in his improvement.) Improvement, it was not to be, at all, but a swan song with the last verse. He knew what it was, and he was glad the day had come. He had finished his detail. We learned later the reason for his demanding need to cash that check the previous day. It was to cover the wake that was to come.

Before heading to bed in the evening he stopped at my mother’s office and waved a goodbye to her, said that he loved her and hoped she would not be long behind him. He told mom’s caregiver to take care of his wife. Then he said he was going to bed to die. He had someone mark the day on the  wall calendar as he made his way to his room. Once there, quite loudly the caregiver recounted, he said “Lord, take me.” She left the room after helping him lay down and returned in a few to check on him, and he was gone.

The day was appropriate in many ways. It was the first time someone had decided to honor Veterans on a Friday, and so it was fitting that this brave old soldier would die on the day commemorating all USA veterans. The date was also numerically a novel one that will only repeat itself in another hundred years, as the date was 11-11-11. The rising moon that evening was bright and it was full, and it was closely joined by an equally bright Jupiter with its circling moons. It was a good and memorable day to die, and so it was that this big man, chose this day. My youngest daughter had said some time back that she had thought that her Papa was a strong enough man to will himself to pass when he was ready, and so my daddy proved her right. He was.

I had not known these last things he had said and done that day until later, and was surprised when we got the call early on Friday evening after my spirited Thursday visit with him. We went quickly to my parents’ house and once there I went into his room. He lay quiet and still in his bed, with the look of being in a peaceful slumber, and I half expected a snore. I kissed his head and held his hand and trembled with the realization that this was really the big It. There was no going back from this point on, my daddy, my father, my bigger than life super hero, the person who got me here and took care of me to his end, was now gone, forever. My father had always told me to hold me head up high, but now my head was bowed.

Those of the family who were in town gathered and said our sad and last goodbyes in turn, then held hands around the bed and someone started a prayer. About halfway into the prayer, someone’s cell phone that had been laid on his now death bed, rang. The prayer continued, the call unanswered and the caller remains unknown. In light of several events that have happened in the next passing days, I am not so sure my daddy didn’t have a little something to do with it, looking back now.

We had anticipated his passing for nearly two years as his health had roller coaster ridden into a decline and so were basically prepared for the funeral and had covered many of those type details ahead of time. His life had covered many bases over his long span, and he had influenced great number of people. So we knew that the funeral would be attended by many, so our planning ahead was a good idea, but there still remained thousands more details to cover to pull off both an intimate family farewell and a fitting special event of a memorial service, and so we all got busy riding on that Level One I mentioned earlier, postponing that grief thing and moving forward.

We had planned to have first, a private service for family to include full Honor Guard services from the city, with a twenty one gun solute to honor the veteran that he was, and a kilted bag piper was lined up to play his favorite tune of “Amazing Grace”. The service done was short and very sweet as he would have wanted, after it was finished, the Honor Guard pulled the red, white, and blue flag from the gun metal gray casket and carefully folded until it was a crisp and perfect, and the Captain of the guard knelt to give to my mother. He whispered softly to her of his admiration and of his thanks to my father, whom he had served under on the police force for many years. Then he stood, and very slowly, raised a pristine white glove to a solid solute, his eyes never blinking, staring straight into hers. He turned with a snap and slowly marched to join the line of the others of the Honor Guard who stood in perfect attention on the opposite side of my father’s casket. One of the Guards, who had also served while under dad’s time in office, gave no flinch, but slow tears eased down his cheeks as they all stood there, ramrod straight, eyes straight ahead, “on guard” now for their fallen leader before them.

With a police motorcycle escort flying down the road ahead of us to block the intersections, in a coordinated precision that my father would have much approved of, our family proceeded to the church for the next phase which was to be a Memorial Service which was open to the public and to his many, many admirers and friends. Along the way we noted that every single car we passed was pulled to the side of the road, and pedestrians stopped in their tracks and gave quiet respect to his family passing by. It was humbling to see the city stopped while we moved along, each person honoring this great man.

My father was a brilliant man, his faith in his religion was immense, and his knowledge of the scriptures rivaled many scholars on the subject. We sat again on the front row of this church of his, just as we had done thirty six years ago when my other brother, David had been killed, in the church I had been raised in, but this time without my dad sitting with us. The service again was as he would have wanted, old time hymns, a few scriptures of comfort, a letter was read aloud that had been sent by a long time friend who could not attend, and then an amazingly eloquent eulogy was given by the past governor of our state and who was the last employer of my dad. It was a fitting and touching salutation of a service.

That day has gone by now, and since then, on a different note, a few things have happened which have been quite interesting and somewhat inexplicable like the mystery phone call at the most inopportune time. There was a period of time many years back now, that right after my brother’s death, things would be in a place and then, somehow, get moved with no explanation. Doors got locked and unlocked with equal mystery, etc. and there was a strong feeling that David, my brother was not quite gone just yet. So it is now with my dad's passing on.

The first of such happenings occurred the night after the funeral. Late at night, mom was asleep, and the caregivers on call heard what sounded like a golf ball being bounced down the brick floored hall past the kitchen. They went to see what was going on and found no ball, anywhere, but both definitely had heard it. The lamp in mom’s room flickered for no reason as it had never done, until mom said to turn “Emory” off. The grandfather clock doors were both opened, which requires a key to do so, also with no explanation. Our turn for the unexplainable was at our house.

Mark and I sat the other evening on the sofa, watching a show on the tv, and heard a loud plop behind us in the kitchen. Dogs nearby continued their sleeping and no doors were open to have let in a strong breeze, but there on the floor, well away from any possible place it could have fallen from, was a gift box of single malt scotches, dad’s favorites. We sat there in amazement and tried to make a rational explanation of what we had just witnessed, and there was no way we could. We laughed, and Mark said to the ghost of my father, “Oh, so it’s gonna be like that eh!” Again we laughed, and the comic relief of this gift helped ease the night along.

Last night “Dad” returned again, to my brother, who had been up very late from being awoken to go to my parents’ house to see about an alarm that had been set off, for no apparent reason. Upon finally getting to bed, and about to snooze, my brother said he felt an intense, but benevolent, chill and with eyes closed, saw dad’s face and my brother was given instructions to take care of our mom. Then he disappeared. About this same time period of night, I was sleepless and tossing, with a loop track of “Amazing Grace” going round my head for hours, and then it too stopped.

My father’s body lies deep under red dirt now with a stone to mark his place, but there is still some intangible connection that remains for now, real, imagined, or totally coincidental, but does remain, as a reminder of his intense energy, enormous sense of humor, and of his gentle and caring soul. I will hang on to these and many more memories for as long as I can. He was bigger than life, and, he will always be my daddy.

RIP dad

Thursday, November 10, 2011


The cold front that blew in last night is ripping the remaining leaves from their tree limbs today. The mostly yellow, some red, and brown leaves float past my view from the back porch window, first one direction, and then they change and go the other with the shifting unseen currents that move them. It is chilly today and my ears felt this first sting of the lowered temperature and cool breeze. It is driving me nuts to not be able to climb on a horse or at least take Sunset out with the carriage. My spirit says “yes” and my not quite healed up rib, with every breath I take, says a strongly emphatic “NO”. Reluctantly I wait for my cartilage and bone to repair itself.

The past few days have been adrift in raw emotion. The events of the weekend seem like they happened a few years ago, and yet they are only hours past. What began as an exciting weekend full of anticipation for watching an epic match up in a college football game, got all jarbled up with the concurrent, and totally unexpected decline and finally, euthanasia, of our little terrier, Marley. It began on Thursday afternoon when at feeding time, the black kitty that shares the young horses’ feed was rolling around in the dust as usual and let her guard down about a rare, but possible dog chase. She happened to be very close to the fence and when I threw the hay to the horses Marley went with me and saw the cat right in front of her and could not resist a chase, so off she went. I did not see an encounter as a horse obscured my view, heard no squeal, and the cat ran off to the shrubs to the right and Marley trotted my direction, with a new limp.

On Friday morning I called the vet to see what she might have done and to give her some relief from her discomfort. He quickly assessed she had pulled a knee ligament and gave me some pills to give her and said to keep her quiet. By afternoon she was much better. Then Saturday morning she was worse and I assumed the pain med was not enough, based on her actions. I called the vet again and arranged to pick up a different pain killer and did. She slept most of the afternoon on my chest with the effect of this new drug as we waited the last few hours for the start of the game on tv.

The game began as many had guessed it would, as a royal slug fest, and we were torn between hooting and hollering in reaction, and trying to keep a sleepy Marley quiet as she lay on the sofa with us. We had noticed that Marley was having some strange coordination problems, walking in circles, and twitching which I first assumed was the effect of the stronger sedative now wearing off and pain returning.

It then went down hill rapidly from there and the game’s interest got put on hold. I spent a sleepless night with her on the sofa, hugging her and trying give some comfort in her confusion and pain, feeling the inevitable would come in the morning if not sooner.

As soon as I could contact my vet, we drove her is a stunned silence to the clinic, Mark holding Marley wrapped in a towel in his arms, with tears flowing freely. Ruling many things out to be the cause left that she had had a brain lesion or tumor and was not going to get better and she was relieved of this life with a quick and easy shot.

It happened so fast I am still reeling with the questions of how, why, what did I miss, and was there a correlation with the knee or did the new symptoms of a neurological problem have anything to with it at all, or was a preexisting condition there and we triggered it somehow? Or was a simple coincidence? I will never know. Unresolved guilt and grief do not make for a healthy way to live and I will have to deal with it, and know that the choices made, and the actions and reactions and all the guessing I could do for a life time, will not bring that precious little dog back. Marley lived a very long and very happy life on this farm, never a sick day in her life, ruling as the queen she was until the very, sad, ending.

We buried her next to the also recently departed Lab, Memphis, on the trail on the dam of the little pond. It is almost exactly the same spot where Mark caught the biggest fish to come out of our waters a few weeks ago. I got the scene on video and in it one can see Marley doing what she loved to do most of all in life, trying to lick the fish. Mark had to push her away from this fish because its mouth was so huge it could have taken her in and swam away with her. She was very excited at that moment and very happy and I will remember her there, and in all the vast places that she filled in our farm world.

The pack is down to two dogs now, from our previous four, leaving Jack the might terrorist, and Heidi the Nazi shepherd. With Memphis’ death, there was a big hole in the energy left behind, but now with Marley gone, it is quiet, lonely, and it is like some one turned out a very large and brilliant light leaving an unimaginable and un-fillable void. Marley was without doubt, the coolest, most engaging, definitely the cutest, biggest spirited, pint sized little mop of fur with an attitude that I have ever known and will remain at the top of my list as the Best Dog ever for a long time.

At some point down the distant future I will get another dog, a puppy most likely, to replace some of the pack, but I am not ready yet. For now my other geriatric dogs, will have to try to fill in all the roles left behind from the passing of Memphis and now Marley. They are old too, and their times will be coming in the future, which I hope will be a good distance off, especially in long enough time for poor Mark’s back to heal from the strains of having had to dig now, two graves in the incredibly hard packed dry as concrete clay that makes up the little pond‘s dam. It is heating pad time with advil for him for now.

This all made for quite an emotional weekend, that, and our team lost their game. Personally I am ready for whatever planetary misalignment there is out there, to get back in place and let some easier times be had by all.

RIP Marley

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


That streaking flash that just went by I think was the month of October. I remember at some point in late September looking at my cell phone calendar and noticing that nearly every single day had a dot on it, indicating that there was something planned for that date. Since then, those dates have run together and meshed into a blur, some of those planned events happened, some did not happen, and then there were some that weren’t planned that did happen. In the immortal words of John Lennon “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.” For the past month, this is so true.

October, traditionally for me, has been the month of relief. The long hard grasp of summer has usually slackened and has gone making way for the fun stuff I like to do outside and on the farm, like riding my horses without the stress of the heat and humidity, clearing and planting a winter garden, and tidying the flower beds.

It is also the usual month for my hosting a four day clinic with my dressage guru, Jeff Moore, which entails my being host to many horses and their riders, and Jeff, and trying to make sure that everyone has a safe and good experience during their four day emersion into learning more about how to train their horses. There are several preceding weeks of tidying the farm and setting up arenas, relocating my own horses to accommodate visitors, and various brain numbing things that I do to make the thing happen that no one ever sees or notices, but would, if I didn’t do them. It is very hard work and stressful to pull off, but worth the effort to get the opportunity to ride with such an insightful teacher as Jeff.

This October had a mind of its own however. Somewhere about the second week, as I was readying for the clinic, and doing a myriad of other things to check off my “ to do” list, I spontaneously broke a rib. Well, that was not known at the time, I simply thought I has slipped a rib out of place, pulled a muscle...something, but any had no idea that I had indeed cracked one. Pain is something I can be quite stoic about. Having been a rider for most of my life, and have been in various sports along the way, I have been subject to no small amount of injury and wear and tear. So a new pain was new, but nothing new. So onward I pressed, running through the course of my charted out days, gobbling up Advil when I passed by the kitchen. I managed to ride the four days of the clinic, nearly vomiting at the sharp pain getting on and off the horse, but dealing with it.

It was after the clinic that a friend made me promise I would go get it examined. I did and sure enough the ol’ T10 on the right hung there cracked and dangling in my shadows of my xray, pressing perilously close to my lung. I was fairly stunned at the vision of what I had been running around, riding, moving hay, lunging young enthusiastic horses, and how close I had come to putting that pointed chard into my breathing bag. Now the pain got its deserved attention, and my plans for an enjoyable remaining October get derailed. I was sidelined, still am, and will be until the pain goes away and another picture of the thing says it’s healed. Drat and double drat. I do not like down time and side lines.

My older horses think vacation time is great and have had no problem with not working. The younger ones miss my attention and give me question when I feed them as to why no play time with them. It is very hard to see these days of glorious weather go by after months of hell, and not get to taking advantage of them riding. I have been through this before, though, and I do know that this too, shall pass. I find little comfort in this thought and struggle to find things to occupy my energy, that won’t do further damage, sitting here wrapped up snug with a horse leg wrap.

Halloween marked the end of October and fell on a Monday night this year, but most folks seemed to make a weekend long event out of it. By hideous circumstance I happened to need to go to Walmart on Sunday and was once again marveling at how that anytime I have graced the doors of the giant box of stuff, I always feel that I am the best dressed, and probably the most intelligent, person that I see there. This Sunday though was special. It took me quite a while to realize that what I was marveling over in this melting pot place of social dregs, were folks actually in costume for Halloween, and then it made me giggle that I had so much trouble telling that they were. The young girl who I thought might be handicapped was really doing the zombie thing, totally in character, oozing through the store, eyes glazed, arms out stretched, and feet dragging. It was just another surreal experience in that store and a further reminder of why I try to avoid it.

A very lovely baby shower also closed out the month, for my daughter, who will very soon be delivering our first grand child, a girl whose early nickname was Ninja because of her bouncing around her watery playpen in the sonograms. My daughter grows exponentially now and at lunch yesterday we sat in similar positions with me protecting a rib, and her trying to find a place, anywhere, to eat, breathe, and be comfortable with a still very active little girl kicking and pressing, with no success. I have really not processed this idea of a new person hitting this world soon, that I am connected to as a “grand parent” but I am told that it will hit like a brick when it does. Part of my time spent being on the side line is now making curtains for this future child’s nursery. It is a contemplative activity as I do so, and I remember my time spent before my daughter was born, also sewing and making things to fluff the nest. The cycle repeats, again.

Halloween did provide a first occasion for us, however. We have lived in this house on these acres, far from town and neighborhoods, for about fifteen years and until this Monday night, have never had one single trick or treater. Just as we were about to get our plates for dinner the other night, some lights pulled down the driveway and up to the back door. Mark went to the door and quite surprised, realized some kids were really doing the Halloween thing, asking for candy. Fortunately, I had some small candy bars left over from some I had bought for the recent clinic and was able to oblige them. It also, thankfully, removed the temptation for me to eat these chocolate goodies late at night when my resolve to eat healthy is at its weakest.

With November’s beginning, the firewood pile has been replenished, a few leaves have turned yellow and have fallen, (99% make their way into the pool of course), and I face my closet and wonder how to dress for this season, again. Another of a reoccurring thing is the return of a cat, who has been seen on this farm for many years now, only showing up in the late October, early November time, to share the horse feed that I put out for the young ones. She is a dark calico, always covered in the sandy dust she loves to roll in, as she coyly waits for the horses to allow her close enough to share their grain. For some reason the dogs rarely chase her, and she will stay until spring, hiding in the barn, sitting on my parked carriage, and leaving paw prints in the sand beside the little pond.

Another cup of herbal tea and I am off to finish the curtain project. November looms ahead with little in the way of a real directional path. There are things which will happen, and some that are planned which probably won’t, and most of which I will have little control over, such as the outcome of the biggest football games to happen in memory.

This Saturday, Alabama vs. LSU. All I can say is…..ROOOOOOLLLL TIDE, ROLL.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In the Wake

This is the closing week of September, a day born in a green cast of a thunderstorm with its rolling booms and the sounds of a gentle rain. Finally it is a day to stay inside and get a few things done that fall into the rainy day category. Another cup of tea might help to get it started, maybe.

In the wake of sweet Memphis’s passing on to her next astral plane, the days have not yet resumed any feeling of normalcy. My habits still include her and I still expect her appearance in the typical places I would normally have seen her. I had no idea just how much her being here interacted with my every day goings on in my barn world. Never intrusive, but always there to accept a belly scratch if offered, Memphis was just the happy Buddha that colored my days with her optimism.

She was only one of the dogs to follow and join me whenever I rode my horses out into the woods behind the house or out into the big field below the pond dam. When I rode out yesterday it was my first time out without her since she passed, and it was quiet and lonely without my buddy trotting along side. I catch myself expecting to see her laying at the front of the barn, waiting on me to mount up and go. I also still impulsively go to the feed can to get her feed to put in her silver bowl, and then stop myself and remember that, she is gone.

In reflecting on my own loss of her and how it has affected my mood on the farm, I have watched the rest of the pack and how her disappearance has affected them and how it has changed the hierarchy left behind. They have all reacted differently and positions have changed. Do they know that she died? I do not know that, nor in what concept might they perceive her being gone means. I can’t pretend to think that they miss her in exactly the same way as I do, but in watching them it is clear that her absence has disrupted their patterns and they seem to be at a loss, too.

The shepherd was the only one who directly asked what happened when we brought the body home from the vet. Heidi had raised her nose when we had opened the door to the truck where Memphis’ body lay, now in repose, and gave a worried look. We then went into the house to gather our thoughts about where best to bury the ol’ girl and Heidi rushed in and went directly to the last place where Memphis had lain. There was a blanket under the steps where Memphis spent her last hours here at home, now vacant. Heidi stood on the blanket and scratched it to pull it back as if to reveal Memphis underneath it. She then lay on it herself and nudged it with a serious few bumps with that long nose of hers and again looked as us with those big intelligent eyes, asking the question, “Where did she go?”, but I had no answer for her.

Of the rest of the pack, Marley the mighty Yorkie, was the closest buddy to Memphis and regularly followed the yellow dog across the pond dam behind the barn to the gate that joins our land with our neighbor to go visit their dogs over there. Occasionally though, Marley remained behind and waited for Memphis to go and then come trotting back. Recently Marley has spent long periods of time lying under the big oak at the edge of the pond keeping her eyes toward the trail they used to share, waiting for the yellow dog to return.

Heidi still rules the floor, her bowl, and her bed, but of all the ironies of life, the Jackapotomus, has now put himself in charge of patrol detail and has become first sentry in the line of defense of the home place, barking bravely at the slightest hint of an intruder. This former shy, cowardly little terrier has risen to the self appointed ranks of Alpha. There seems to be a brighter candle burning in the mighty little dog that was not there before. He still cowers at the sound of a bicycle pump, or any type of air hose, and runs to hide, but for the most part Jack is now the Man. There is a swagger to his trot now. The tail is high, and his hairy ears bounce and blow in the wind. At long last, Jack rules, for the most part, and at least in his opinion.

September’s passing also brings a thankful end of summer. The days have begun to lose the misery of the heat, and while the humidity remains for now, it is bearable. Out along the edges of the fields, trying to stay in the shadows of the tree lines, deer are starting to move around getting ready for the rut season coming soon. They also seem to be aware that the yellow dog is gone, who used to chase them out of the yard, and now they brazenly pass through, grazing on the leaves of the pear trees and picking up the wild grapes that have dropped on the patio.

Hummingbirds, in huge numbers, have invaded the area and I have fed our visitors over five pounds of sugar in the past two weeks, and that is even at a low ratio of four to one, of water to sugar. We have never seen the vast numbers of the little buzzers like this year and we have been thoroughly entertained watching them buzzing around the yard, fighting over, and quickly draining, their easy sugar source from our feeder.

Sadly, it also the end of another sugar and water source, from our pear trees. Our pear trees this year were absolutely filled with these hard fruits, so much so that many branches were broken with their weight as they grew. These fruit are a favorite with all of the animals around here, but the horses are particularly fond of them and trot towards the tree when I walk past it so that I can lob a few over the fence to them. The look on their faces as they slobber and crunch on the orbs is one of pure bliss. What once seemed to be an endless supply is over now for this season, and the horses will have to be satisfied with boring carrots as their treats. Jack, too, will miss eating the pears, but it will certainly make keeping his diabetes and insulin under control easier without his supplementing on this yummy sugar source.

September had a full slate and October looms ahead, with many days already filled on the calendar with things to be done. Football season has begun and our team is looking good so far and, hopefully, will prevail through the rest of the season. I also look forward to flannel and fire in the fireplace, and the chillier weather ahead that will bring them on. . Fall, is my favorite season, a closure to the stress of summer, a resolution of sorts that would be nice if it could last a bit longer before passing again into winter. There is a garden to clean out and re-plant, and a last time over with the lawn mower before putting it away for several months time. Seasons continue to come, and then they go, a cycle of perpetual repetition keeping the rhythms of my days.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Sweet Clown Takes her Final Bow


Memphis, our old yellow Lab, has now come to the final days of her life, and her bright smile will soon cease to greet me, ever again. Memphis has in fact, not smiled her bright, showing all of her teeth, with her glimmering eyes and her thumping fat otter tail, for several days now. Last night was particularly hard on her and she spent the night and most of yesterday, withdrawn and sleeping under the steps in the foyer, she laid on her fluffy pillow in the shade, responding to very little.

Memphis had been losing weight very gradually over the past year, but this weekend signaled a major change as she just began to be disinterested in eating. She was led into some nourishment by way of canned chicken, raw eggs, anything that we could coax her into eating. This morning, she absolutely refused to even examine our best offerings, and so, it was time to see the vet.

Her blood markers were not good, and indicated a near total kidney failure. Poor Memphis was reaching a toxic level in her bloodstream that very little could be done for to correct. To give her a little more time I left her at the vet’s to get a flushing of fluids to re-hydrate her somewhat, for one more night, before she takes the big sleep tomorrow.

Tonight she will be offered whatever she might think palatable and we will say our good byes to a great dog and long time friend.

There is no easy way to deal with death. It is a fact that is the same for all of us, crossing all species. The death of a sweet animal, however, who has shared its life with you, who has looked to you for food, shelter, companionship, health, and love is no easier for having had practice in going through it all many times before with others that died before. The fact that I do have an option for Memphis is a good thing, as I have had with other dogs and horses, that instead of letting her slowly starve and become filled with the toxins created by her own internal failings and then die, I can give her a peaceful send off to avoid the suffering that will come with this deteriorating situation. Euthanasia is a cruel angel of mercy. Memphis will calmly go to sleep, and I will cry and miss those sweet eyes and her ever present happiness.

Memphis, I am convinced, is a creature who achieved a level of enlightenment of some sorts, by the path her life took with us some eleven or twelve years ago, when we picked her from a litter of bouncy yellow pups. Chosen as a possible hunting dog to replace another departed yellow Lab, Memphis soon turned out to be a total clown, and played dumb to the point of never having had to do one thing of work in her entire stay here. She was impossible to teach anything to because at the first thing she did that I could reward, was to roll over on her back and wave her legs in the air for me to scratch her white belly, and smile. She just never would be serious. I soon gave up on her education and left her to just be a farm dog, which pleased her just fine.

Left to her own, Memphis was quite an avid and patient hunter, choosing her own prey, with a strong preference for moles that had high squeaky noises for high entertainment value. Possums were found frequently on the front porch with a very nonchalant Memphis laying close by pretending she was oblivious to the get away plans of the not yet dead possum. She also brought in a shoulder and head of a spotted fawn last year and proudly displayed it for the other dogs in the pack to take notice of her prowess.

As a young silly puppy, a period which lasted until last week, well more like until her second birthday, Memphis loved to chew leather, a lot. Living on a horse farm, a dog could easily find oneself tempted by all manner of things hanging on hooks, or laying on benches. I can’t count the leather halters that were victims, and gloves pretty much fall into that category too. There were chair legs, extension cords, boxes left by the brown truck deliveries, seat cushions, and many more things much too numerous to add to the list of the mangled, chewed, and departed. Making it to her third birthday was a milestone. Punishment did nothing to deter this beast of destruction, so we just hung stuff on higher pegs, and hoped she would soon outgrow the silly stage.

Memphis did finally quit the chewing part but never lost her puppy outlook on life. There have been few creatures I have had the pleasure to be around than this totally optimistic, dog, and I will miss her smile and will look for it in all the places she used to lay. I will miss too, how she used to lay against the wall of the house while on the front porch, and she would roll mostly onto her back. Then if she saw you and started wagging her tail she could get some really good rhythms going as her tail whapped onto both the floor and the wall, sounding like a full drum line corp. Any further encouragement got the sounds ridiculously funky. The dog could get a serious groove going with that big tail.

Memphis also liked playing games, with us, and with the shepherd, Heidi. Ball chasing was pretty high up there but the game of messing with the Nazi was more fun. In the evening we would let all the dogs in to spend time with us chilling out. Heidi liked to rule the bed in the living room, and by default, Memphis’s bed was under the stair case close to the front door. Through the course of the night, Memphis would somehow get closer and closer to the living room, and never actually be seen moving. First there was the white foot crossing the threshold, then the next foot, and finally she would somehow ease herself into the room. This game just drove the German crazy because she was defending her rights to rule and Memphis would push the limits of this control freak’s boundary issues, and just smile and play dumb doing it. Memphis never fought because she never had to. She was the real alpha, because no one took her really seriously and she always smiled, and got her way.

What a happy clown. Memphis was always happy, no matter what. Hers has been a pleasant and fairly utopian life, for any creature’s standard, and it has been my pleasure to have known her and shared her time in this existence. How life would be so different if we could all go through life wearing her glasses. In the past few years that have been pretty rough on many fronts for me, it has been a treat to head to the barn on my daily routine, with my pack of dogs, led out by this silly white dog, with her fat wagging tail and eternal optimism. This, will be hard to replace.


The night was not good, not bad, but no change and no miraculous recovery. This morning Memphis did wag her fat tail, but still refuses water and the most tempting of morsels, and there was no smile. The quality of her life is nil, over, and done. Today is the day she will live no more. It is my choice for this, because I can make it. If left to her own, would she really want to live another several days in this pitiful condition? I think not. The Memphis I knew will be asleep, soon, and forever. In my mind and heart she will remain as long as I can remember, and perhaps she will reincarnate into another bouncy puppy for some lucky person to know. I don’t know about that, but wishful thinking never hurts to ponder. Farewell sweet, sweet clown, my Memphis. RIP

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Tooth


The numbing of the left side of my face and mouth is beginning to wear off now and is being replaced with a discovery of a quite sore tongue, whether it was bitten or got in the way of my dentist’s drill, I am not sure. I have just had a temporary crown put on a back tooth that was filled by my childhood dentist some many decades ago, and was now a wreck of cracked mercury filled metal that was going to get worse before getting any better. It was a must do, and so I sat today with my mouth open for two hours, listening to the drills and suction things, tasting a clove flavored substance, and trying to keep my tongue from reflexively getting in the way. Apparently, I was unsuccessful on that front.

It set me remembering previous appointments with dentists in my oral history. My earliest was a Dr. Stewart, who happened to live next door to us, and not so secretly, must have wanted to be a standup comic. Upon, what seemed to be my monthly visits to his office, I would see the puke green front door and the wavy glass block windows of the building and feel the doom of what lay before me long before I entered. From his waiting room of the dreaded horror, I was told to walk a colored line on the floor to the room where the chair and the bright lights awaited their next victim. The little table next to the chair was always neatly covered with sharp pointy tools that were unbearable to look at, and the continual sound of the water that flushed the sink that one was supposed to spit in was not a soothing feature. The walls were filled with wooden cutouts of various childhood fairy tale characters whose images now, for unknown reasons remain as just ghosts hidden behind my mental blockage, lurking but not revealing.

Dr. Stewart would appear after I had been forced into the restricting arms of the chair, holding a mask to put over my face, for me to breathe deeply into, to inhale the perfume of the nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas”. I always tried to hold my breath but was never successful and quickly was turned into a loopy and helpless patient. Not only that, I soon found that I was also an unwilling audience to the doctor’s hidden desire to make folks laugh. It did not work despite his best efforts, nor did the nauseating effect of the “laughing gas” help his cause. Here I was, as I recall sitting there, a little kid with a grown man’s hand in my mouth with tools of serious potential damage, seeing fuzzy images of really creepy fairy tale characters moving around on the wall in front of me, and he starts telling me jokes, and then asks questions too. I mean, what was he thinking? Was he expecting a good belly laugh and a compliment on his drilling technique at the same time? Not.

At some point I outgrew both him and the regularity of my getting cavities, and moved onto other dentists. There was one that decided I needed some shot in my mouth to do something, and he stuck a needle in, not just close to, but right on the nerve. Flames shot up the side of my face and reflexively my fist came up immediately to his face. I did not connect with his surprised mug but it was close, and he was definitely fired as my dentist after that visit. Getting a dentist that does a good job and who doesn’t manage to inflict great pain, and who doesn’t tell jokes on the job, is a difficult part of keeping the whole mouth in reasonable working order. Teeth are an important part of eating and I do like to that a lot, so, maintenance is a required and necessary evil.

It is an interesting thing to reflect on, that this dentistry thing and its practitioners, which brings bad memories and nightmares of the horror to us all, then leads us directly to its application in humor, and I am not referring to my former would be comic, Dr Stewart. In a twisted way, that which scares us, can be made fun of and is a universal release of the tension associated with it.

In the comedy musical, play/movie “Little Shop of Horrors” Steve Martin so brilliantly plays the sadistic villain, and is of course, a dentist. His techniques and the tools used in the movie where the way we really regard them, caricatures of the real thing, huge exaggerated instruments of terror, and we all laughed at seeing them, and cringed. 

The infamous Peter Sellers gave one of my favorite performances of all time, also as dentist. It was in a scene in one of the “Pink Panther” movies where he is in one of his best incognito costumes, this time he is pretending to be a Tyrolean dentist. His job in the scene was to pull a tooth from his insane and unsuspecting former boss, Chief Inspecteur Drefuss, and since he, Peter Sellers’ character Clouseau, had no idea how to really do it, he begins to administer the laughing gas to himself to no good end.

It’s one of the funniest scenes I have ever laughed through, falling down funny, as his plastic nose melts off his face, him cracking various teeth from his patient with a set of pliers, and it is absolutely hilarious in a painful way. It is also, though, that kind of laughing that comes with a deep sympathy for the patient, a gut cringing, guilty to laugh but can’t help it, nervous, don’t let it happen to me feeling. It is a dark and twisted form of humor.


I began to write this the other day, post dentist visit, still feeling the after effects of local anesthesia which somehow got more general, and did a reasonable job of fogging my brain well enough to hide the fact that the next day my tongue really felt like I had licked a chain saw. This recent dental event, though, has gotten me pondering the cultural fascination with teeth, and not just from the humorous side.

From early childhood we are rewarded at the shedding of our baby teeth by a visit from the tooth fairy, (or tooth hornet depending on who is propagating the myth), who kindly takes the tooth and leaves a coin in its place. We smile to show our teeth in a happy greeting. Dogs, and many other animals, show theirs to warn, bite, maim, rip flesh off a carcass, and some of them smile as well when wagging a tail. Peoples have long been knocking out bear teeth and stringing them on necklaces to wear to show stature.

Teeth are a symbol for power, strength, good health, and prowess. A good set can tell much about your lifestyle, age, and self regard, and a bad one tells a lot as well. To this end we will clean them, straighten them, polish and whiten them, floss, gargle, and take bi yearly visits to a person who for strange reasons unknown, has made a career of taking care of your teeth, and, be darned grateful that they did. So we can keep on smiling through the pain.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Yin and The Yang of Paradise

What is a hero? To me a hero, against better judgement, knowing there could be dire consequences to themselves, and because a situation arises that brings few options to the table for solution, the hero acts. Such was the case yesterday. Mark proved to be a hero in what could have been a tragic situation.
The day here in paradise followed the lazy course set by the previous days, he taught his students and I luxuriated in the pleasure of sipping tea and jotting down my blog scribbling. After lunch again with our friends, we sat for a while doing a cross word puzzle by committee. I got to getting itchy about doing something more adventurous for the afternoon and again we mulled over options, finally hitting on the idea of hiking down to a remote water fall nearby, with the name of West Rattlesnake Falls. The name should have given clue, but off we went for a bit of exercise, fresh air, and a chance to see some of the hidden beauty of these hills.
We borrowed some walking sticks at the lodge and drove maybe twenty minutes across a high ridge drive over looking deep valleys below. We crossed over into the state of Tennessee and soon found our pull in for the trail head. Mark and I had been told that this was a two mile in and two mile out hike ahead with a bit of very steep scramble at the end close to the falls. After covering ourselves with an herbal sort of bug repellent to ward off no-see-ums, and other various flying sharks, we marched on down the trail ahead.
It was nice and cool under the canopy of giant yellow poplars and an unidentified orchid like flower paved the side of the trail. Ellen led the way and set the pace, and we all jabbered about this and that along the way. Mark and Tom raked over the upcoming football season, the players, the coaches, and the chances of their favorite teams winning in the fall.
At long last our relatively gentle descent changed to a narrow and very steep trail, where the roots of the beech trees provided much needed steps so that one’s foot didn’t just slide for distance. I had wondered before we came as to how much my right knee was going to take on a hike, after a horse related injury last year, left a nagging twinge to one of the crossing ligaments. So far on the downward journey it was holding up ok, but as I grabbed tree after tree to let myself down the path, I gave serious doubt as to how well it was going to do going back up this incline.
Finally we heard running water and came to a small stream with huge boulders. I noticed two caps sitting on a shrub by the water and we all had a chuckle speculating about who had left them there and why. We had also just recently been chuckling at the prospect of getting seriously hurt in a place like this and how the devil one would get out. With the current health care chaos, we speculated that the forestry service would have to come in and take down the trees surrounding the injured, so that the medivac helicopter could land and retrieve said injured, and then the patient would be flown to a distant hospital, to be followed by a bill for over two million to cover the cost of all above,  plus the replanting of the area that was razed. We laughed and crossed the water and headed towards the tall waterfall to our right that we could just see through the trees and boulders.
Ellen, still our leader, scrambled her way up through a steep pitched path between two halves of an enormous stone. At the top of this the path leveled for a bit, and we paused to assess which direction to take to get up to the base of the fall, as there were several options here. Then Ellen bent over quickly to see something in the edge of her sock and said that she had been stung and wanted someone to come see what it was. When I heard the word “stung” I was already leaving in a hurry. I heard Mark say “There’s the hole”, and then “they are coming out. Run!”.
I was fleeing and fast despite the terrain. I am highly allergic to the stings of bees and hornets and carry an epinephrine pen and a tablet or two of benadryl where ever I go, but I knew that the thought of being in a swarm of what just came out of the earth in front of me would simply kill me. I was running up this root covered steep incline for all I could, and behind me I heard horrific screams from Ellen. She was being stung by the entire nest and from Mark’s retelling later, she had gone into a fetal position with her entire back and legs covered with these super aggressive bugs. More screams, desperate, and in panic, followed. Then Mark started screaming obscenities as well, a continued chorus of “RUN”. They were both getting nailed, and running in my direction, trying to escape this nightmare, and my only choice was to run ahead of them and hope that I could keep up a pace long enough for them to escape the fury of the swarm.
Tom was with me as he had been the last on the trail and was further away from Ellen. We ran and listened, helpless, to the screams of both Mark and Ellen. It was just horrible, not knowing how long it would go on, knowing the pain and terror they were going through, hearing Mark encouraging Ellen to keep moving, and their continued screams. My lungs were burning and I was surely beyond my heart capacity but there was no choice for me but to keep scrambling up this monster of a hill. My knee was no longer at doubt and my adrenaline was pushing me on.
At long last Tom and I made it to the top of our two mile uphill wind sprint and waited. We kept yelling at Mark and Ellen to check their progress as they came up the hill. Finally they were in sight and not looking well. A final check of clothes and backpack showed they still had a few hornets stuck in the fabric of the backpack and with a few swats these were killed, all the time with Mark hollering at me to get as far away as possible. When we felt that we were safe to get into the car we began our trip back to the lodge.
I have long followed my hunches, and on this case, my hunch back at home before we left, to take an entire bottle of Benadryl with me, was a very good thing. Both Mark and Ellen were covered in angry whelps that were swelling fast and so I handed out some to both, hoping that the use of the Epinephrine pen would not be needed if one went into an allergic shock.
Mark was stung over thirty times and Ellen somewhere around eighty. Mark knew he would get stung when he had seen Ellen covered in the swarm, and knew in her panicked situation, that she needed help and did what he could do to get her out of the mess. It was a horrifying situation and proof again that a pleasant day can turn very serious very quickly, and Mark’s quick action to help get her out of there may have saved her from a much more serious ending. Both of them are taking the antihistamine every 4-6 hours still, Mark is still quite itchy and the stings hurt, and Ellen is sick from
the poison and also hurts from her many more whelps.
There is one more hat left on that trail, hers, taken off to swat the bugs, and perhaps we should have taken the other two we had seen as a clue to the danger ahead. In the parking lot before we drove home, I found a cartridge of a bee sting kit, the kind of topical ointment for after the sting. We were not the first apparently to have encountered these pests, and probably won’t be the last. 
Today, I think we will stay in a less adventurous mode. Even paradise has its yin and yang we have seen both now.