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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Place of Balance

Yesterday, began like the others up here at this fabulous lodge, with Mark teaching his eager students and me sitting on the deck writing away listening to the baying hounds that live in the bottom of the valley below. Today there are clouds covering some of the peaks ahead of my view giving the mountains their name sake “smoky” description. The sound of the passing motorcycles on the winding roads below rumble as they pass by.  It is cool and pleasant, again. It is a tough gig to have to be here. Back at home I know the weather is better, if one can call ninety plus heat good in any situation other than a sauna, but it is still hot and humid. But, I jump ahead, let’s go back to yesterday. 
Once Mark had finished filling the class’s head with what to do with camera stuff, we sat on the deck and ate our lunch with our buddies from NC. We chatted about various things and laughed, and then began to give thought as to how to finish the afternoon. While we were still mulling over our prospects for the day, a dash of brown flew over out heads and ran right into a tree in front of us and it gave serious contact with a dove that was just leaving the tree. Both of the forms tumbled through the air.  The dove managed to right itself and flew away a few feathers less than before, but still alive. The accipiter hawk, whether a Sharp Shin or a male Cooper’s Hawk, we really couldn’t tell, flew off unsuccessful on this venture. We had noticed this hawk before and had seen a dash of his before at the Goldfinches on the feeding station, no doubt its feeding station as well as for the finches.
Mark had a bit of a sore head, (perhaps it was from the free flowing martinis the night before, but who am I to speculate) and he went to take a quick snooze. I went to wander around the grounds as I wanted to see how the heirloom tomato plants were doing that had provided the yummy sliced yellow and deep red tomato slices for out dinners on previous nights. I found them in the garden by the tennis courts, huge healthy plants with enormous globes of fruit. I jotted down the names of a few I hadn’t heard of before and will perhaps try them at home next season.
The day was warming up a bit, still in the low eighties so am not complaining, so my thoughts were leaning towards finding some water to sit next to or stick my feet in. Once Sleeping Beauty woke from his restorative snooze, Mark and I piled into the car and headed down the hill in the direction of the closest stream we had seen. We had crossed a bridge over it the day before on the way back from Joyce Kilmer Forest, and I had seen a few cairns left in the water and it had looked like a nice pool to check out.
As we walked down to the stream from the gravel parking lot, it was clear that this was not an ordinary pool in a trout stream. At the top of the pool lay a very large boulder which stretched almost the width of the stream and it channeled the flow into a deep blue hole below the fall. Then the water leveled out into a wide flat pool that meandered for another hundred feet or so before it came to the tail of the pool and spilled over into the next. This was no ordinary pool of water however, as the cairns I had seen from the road were only the tip of the sight before us. We had stumbled into yet another incredible and magic place. Not again one might say, but, oh yes and then some.
In front of us stood perhaps forty or fifty of the most exquisitely placed stacks of rounded stones, all standing scattered over the width and length of the entire pool. The stood before us like the guardian statues that were found guarding some ancient Chinese tomb. Off went the shoes, out came the cameras, and into the water, we went. It was transfixing, mesmerizing, and totally unexpected.
Once close to each sculpture, each revealed an organic personality which changed from any perspective as you moved around them. Some were more sophisticated in their design, but all were amazing and deserving of observation and study. There were a few that stood with balance points so precarious that a butterfly landing on one of the stones in the stack could have upset the cairn and made it fall. It was obvious that a master artist had done some of these, and with the next rain fall the stream would swell and they would all be gone. 
There is fragile beauty to the ephemeral art form that makes the experience take on a feeling that one had better appreciate it for all its worth at this moment in time, because this is, it. You just can’t afford to assume it’s going to be there the next time. This quietly flowing pool with all of these incredible stone sculptures was a Zen garden and brought forth a relaxing and yet energizing mood. We both were stunned, and after photographing them for a while, we sat on a rock in the midst of these magic stones, and just sat and looked. This place had a strong and engaging spirit and was meant to be savored.
Several passing people had walked out onto the huge boulder at the head of the pool and all had asked if we were the artists, and we regrettably had to say no. One fellow with a bright orange shirt politely asked if his sitting on the boulder would interfere with our pictures and when we said no, he sat and also took in the scene for two hours, obviously as moved and amazed as we were.
At some point I went back to the car to get some wine, it being five o’clock somewhere in the world by then. Up drove our friends, who just happened by also looking for a pool of water to cool off by. They too were stunned at the scene and we sat together with our wine, took more photos, and speculated about how this is what a spa experience should be about. This moment did not cost a thing and was deeply rewarding to the spirit.
We went further with this idea. We figured that one could begin with a good stiff hike at the close by forest, that could then lead down to the cooling waters, where one could get a bit of hydro therapy in the moving water, then lay upon the warm boulder, perhaps get a massage thrown in, all in the presence of these magic characters watching over with the soothing background noise of the tumbling waters, this sound, totally real and not piped in on an ipod. Finally,  our souls refreshed, we left these little magic cairns and headed back up the mountain to our home base and an awaiting dinner.
And yet another day, here in paradise.    More shots below.. mine are cell phone shots. Mark will have some really nice ones soon to see. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Adelgids and Goliath

This place is just ridiculous. I am sitting on a small deck on top of a mountain with a cool breeze at my back and wearing a sweater. Hummingbirds are here by the thousands and fly thru the trees and shrubs close by like fighter bombers, and I have gotten a really close look at some of them, their feathers, their eyes, and their very tiny needle shaped beak. I trust their navigational skills are good enough to miss wandering peoples’ faces, like mine. I hope so.
From somewhere down in the valley Goldfinches fly up to the feeders off the front deck of the lodge, looking like the Easter candy “Peeps” on wing, chirping along the way. These finches winter in our area so far south of here and we never get to see these jewel tones lovelies in their full breeding garb of bright, candy yellow, capped off with the dapper black crown and wings. The first time I remember being shown these birds I was blown away at their coloring, and that, for some reason I had never noticed these garishly feathered critters. They had been there and for some reason, I had not seen.
I remember as a kid being aware of several types of birds that were around our yard, Mockingbird, Cardinals, Robins, Sparrows, and very few more beyond this realm of awareness. I had read about hawks in falconry stories, but never figured them to be so close and so prevalent. My eyes were opened in college when my future husband showed me a birding identification book and it opened my eyes to how many bird types there were if I only looked and saw. Once my curiosity was opened to birds, this spread to trees, and bugs, and butterflies, and anything that I could learn more about. Our shelves at home are full of well worn field guides.
I bought another book the other day on the geology of this mountain area I am presently visiting and I am really enjoying studying the rock formations and being able to read their history in the patterns they reveal. These smoky peaks have been lovely green lumps to me before, but now I see them differently, to know that they are among some of the oldest rocks on the planet. Four and half billion years ago the bedrock was formed. Then about halfway between then and now, they were under an ocean, and layered upon another layer of sand covered this rock, finally building pressure from all of this weight until some metamorphic changes occurred to make this sand more rock than sand. At some point later, fissures developed on the ocean floor and the continental plates moved apart, some drifting far away and others collided with others creating giant peaks of exposed raw rock. Millions of years of erosion left fertile valleys below. Such is the story of these lovely green lumps in front of me now, ancient as the time of this planet, majestic and beautiful, and constantly in change.  
Yesterday after Mark had finished his morning lessons with his photo students and had sent them on their ways to play with their cameras to use the things he had taught them, we sat on my favorite little deck overlooking the valley below the lodge and ate our lunches. There was nice cool breeze again at our backs and the air was clean and clear and just felt so good to breathe deeply. The usual tension in my shoulders was melting further and further away.
Our dear friends we had met here at this lodge two years ago are here again, and after lunch was done, we decided to go venture out on a trail for a good hike. We quickly decided on heading to Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, which is not far, and has long been known for its ancient huge yellow poplar trees and hemlocks, huge trees with enormous bases with tops that reach the heavens. We had read somewhere recently that these hemlocks had also been succumbed to the ravages of tiny bugs that were killing them off and that for the safety of the visitors to this forest, they needed to be felled. We were curious to see if this was true and, if so, to see the effect. 
Our initial steps were met with the ravages of a huge stump, splintered and twisted, and beside it lay a giant of a dead tree. There were no signs of chain saws for this damage and it appeared as if a tornado had been the culprit, for this tree and the many many others laying in similar repose. The fallen trees were only along the paths and it made us really wonder at how these giants had been taken down, as it did not look man made. It was too controlled to have been a storm and yet...
We continued our walk around this forest and admired the still standing enormous poplars, whose canopies continue to shade the floor below them. There were gaps in the canopy now where the fallen hemlocks had been, and already the understory was filling in with brambles and soft woods. It will take another several hundred years for these canopy gaps to be filled, and it will not be with hemlocks, but these scars will heal given time. The forest, just like the mountains, are a work in progress, ever changing with the life and death that is the natural course of time. It is sad to see the death part and feel the loss, but the greenery that is already covering these fallen giants will give way to future trees to enhance this lovely forest, and such is the continuing cycle.
As we were wandering along the trail on the way out of the forest we came upon an old friend of mine, who I had hoped to see again in these woods. There it was, still smiling, perhaps not quite as brightly as when first we had met two years ago, but still showing a happy face. Two years ago on Mark's first workshop here we had been wandering through these trees with a bunch of students, and had happened upon this spirit in a fallen tree log. Finding the magic is sometimes allowing it to find you, if you just look and see. It was so good yesterday to see this friend, still smiling among the carnage of his fellow trees, with optimism and hope. I wonder how many pass this image in the tree rings of this log and never see the smile. I hope the smile remains a long time in this wonderful forest.  

Back to the lodge, dinner eaten, and a game of dominoes to kill the evening, we hit the sack for a good night sleep. 
First thing this morning we went to Robert, the owner of the lodge for the answer to the felling of these hemlocks. We were handed a news clipping which revealed that the bug in question, was an aphid like critter, the wooly hemlock adelgid, which had made the tiny holes and tunnels in the bark that we had seen yesterday and which were responsible for these deaths. It was like the small stone that killed Goliath.

The felling was indeed man made, but not by saw. Instead, to make a more natural looking occurrence, the forestry service had used belts of dynamite charges to blow the trunks, making the trees twist and fall, exactly were they wanted them to land. It was a best solution to a sad demise of the end of a species in this forest. 
Mark is now behind me on the front porch of the lodge, patiently teaching the hungry students, repeating, over and over, giving example and explanation. Some will no doubt have sensory overload, but some of it will be caught and used, and make the want-to-be photographers happier with their pictures. The adventure for the day is open, no decisions have been made as to how to spend another day in paradise. It is like being a leaf in the flow of the thousands of mountain streams, we drift without course.       

Below are some more shots of these fabulous poplars still standing.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Atop the Mountain

Mark and I generally travel with ideas of destination in mind but let the path reveal itself as it happens, and so typical to form, we have covered many acres and miles in our past two days in our escape from the hot lands of Alabama, and the responsibilities of home sweet home. Now after five hundred miles we have arrived at our lodge, Snowbird Lodge (near Robbinsville,NC) our base camp for the next week. Mark will teach a workshop and I will have the luxurious chance to be on no time frame other than when meals might happen and adventure is coming up. Bags are unpacked, wine is poured, shoes are off. There will be no agenda, save dinner at seven tonight, and an early sleep.
Perhaps I should recount our yesterday sights and doings, as we were so far into the boonies that there were no cell signals and no wi-fi at most locations. We did find one spot high enough on a mountain to get a signal, but for most it was communication isolation, which all being said, is not a bad way to spend a few days.
After our first night’s culinary caper with the antique car dudes and hamburgers served by the amply girthed maidens in the middle of somewhere east Tennessee, we drifted closer to the north western  gates of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, found a place to light and spent a quiet night. Not too early up, we sought a breakfast at a diner across the highway from the hotel that showed promise.
There were lots of cars and lots of big fat tired Harleys there, and one thing we have learned is that bikers like food, and if they are there it might stand of chance of some nutritional value. Well, that might be pushing it,  and we did figure that it might be difficult to mess up and egg. Our guess was right and between the “papa bear” portion or the “momma bear” portion, which was a paragraph of a listing of everything from and including a serving of country ham, bacon, ribeye steak, with three eggs, grits or potato chunks, gravy, toast or biscuits, and coffee to wash down the gastronomical overload. One could also add a super sized pancake to go with the muffins as well.
It was too much for me and I ordered, what turned out to be, an enormous bowl of oatmeal, of which i finished not half. There were some ladies behind at another table who did venture into the “momma bear” servings when they ordered. They may be there still trying to get that much  food down. After that we headed into the mountains towards Cade’s Cove.
Cade’s Cove is place we love to visit and done so often in the past many years. It is ten mile long valley with a loop road that takes you on a one way road around the perimeter of what used to be a very remote farming village and community in the middle of a circle of tall mountains. It was rich dirt, high in calcium, eroded alluvial soil deposited there over millions of years, and excellent for raising cattle and crops, and enough to keep a family growing. There are several churches built mostly in the mid to late 1800’s, several log structures of varying degrees of skill of workmanship and affluence, vast open fields now growing a bit wild and unkempt with a dashing of Queen Ann’s Lace white flower tops waving in the breeze with the grass heads, and a mill to grind the large quantities of  corn that was once grown there to sustain both human and beasts alike.

While walking around the remains of the mill, which were being refurbished, we met a family playing in the water of the long flume that still directed the flow of water into the turbine which turned the grind stone. There was a mom and dad, and their three girls and upon conversation it turned out that they had made a game of using the flume for afternoon cooling off in the cool waters and also, a way to race boats. 

The dad showed us his hand made wooden tiny boats which each child would chose for a particular race. Brightly painted, they were different shapes, each carefully thought out to be the most competitive in this venue. The dad’s favorite was yellow doughnut shape as his theory was it not getting hung up on rocks and snags as the boats floated to the finish line. 
Each child had picked a winning boat that day and all seemed content to have played with such a simple concept as floating a wooden boat down an old flume, racing beside it as they headed to the finish line. I marveled at the difference of the stimulus of the modern child in our world where computers and x-boxes control their brains, compared to these kids who were out here learning things about the natural world and their environment, turning over rocks to find creatures who live here, too, and enjoying reality of dirt, air, and water. Who is the more lucky, the learned?
The Cove is a return to a place which remains fixed in time, a glimpse of the past, and a place for us to reflect and use this place to reconnect to both a way of simplicity and hardship. This was not a place for the faint of heart when it was settled. Indians, who were beginning to be no so amused at the presence of white man, still were prevalent, as most of it was their home turf. There is also the very real problem of getting there and, most importantly, getting your stuff there. There was no paved road courtesy of the Park system. The remnants of the rough trail could still be seen following the creek bed, that our modern road crossed back and forth on the winding roads over easy paved bridges, their trails crossed rock strewn barres, trails only wide enough for the wheels of a wagon. 
We visited several of the home sites but decided to move on as the day was warm, not as hot as home, but we knew of cooler temps just ahead on our drive, and left the loop road to the bicyclers, and truck loads of sight seers literally loaded in the back of their trucks, sitting atop their coolers and keeping hydrated with various assorted beverages.
We drove up the mountain, winding turn after winding turn, the varieties of deciduous trees giving way to the spirals of the few remaining hemlock, spruce, and fir trees. It was astonishing at the difference in the view of the mountains and valleys and gaps below us when we reached the pinnacle of our destination, Clingman’s Dome. In recent years the pine beetle invasion has become sadly so evident, but now the huge loss of these giants of trees is painfully clear, that their time here is fleeting. The standing white bones of these monuments stood now as reminders of how fragile our time is here, whether tree or human, it is the fact for us all. Nature moves on. 
For the moment however, we parked at the top of a ridge in a parking lot that faced south and west. A thunder storm had already passed the area before we had arrived and a cool breeze was driving folks back to their cars for jackets.  To go from the valley far below at a humid, and relatively warm, eighty something, to now a soothing sixty degrees and breezy, was what we were here for. The view of the mountains surrounding us on this peak loomed in blues and purples, with valleys, gaps, and ridges draped in cool greens.  
We were astonished at the number of foreign accents there were around us. One Japanese young girl was walking along speaking in what sounded to me like a foreign language, (you think?) but I heard her words, among the jibberish i could not follow, “The Great Smoky National Park”. She repeated this phrase in a very excited tone, several times to whoever was listening on the other end of the signal.

It made me think that this Park which we have visited so many times, and have become so familiar with, is a totally new wonder to others from far away. It was a wise move that was made that came to form this area as Park and to preserve it so all could share. I admire the vision and am grateful. 
These mountains are so beautiful, peaceful, and give to the soul a much needed change of perspective. I sigh...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

An Attempt to Vacate, and finally success

The past week was war with the invasion of poltergeists who moved into farm world as we were closing down on the time for us to leave the farm, and sunny south, for our late summer yearly escape from home and heat. First off, our neighbor, who so graciously removes the tall grass from our front field twice a summer, accidentally ran over the main junction of all of the various plumbing lines that go to various barns, and then onto the house. The first clue of a broken pipe disaster was a geyser springing forth under the tire tracks of the monster sized tractor that had swept thru my field with its cutting attachment.  
Sputtering utterances of incoherent profanities, Mark fixed the pipes, after I had bailed the spring out, only later to have the sudden drop in water pressure reveal that the fix had not been a success. This scene repeated itself five times over the next three days, and with the sixth repair, holding our fingers crossed, it would hopefully be the last. 
Then the hot tub motor died. Then the pool pump died. The hot wire fence system was kaput. It was looking for a moment there that getting away on my birthday was not going to be in the cards. We simply could not leave a non functioning farm system to someone who was to care for animals and such in our absence, with no water for the critters and, the thoughts of returning to a pool standing for a summer week with no chlorine gave visions of swimming in primordial soup an undesirable thought. Stuff had to be fixed or there was no leaving. That, is life on the farm.
In order to get out of town, it would take an extra day, no getting away on my birthday, fix things we would, and leave on the next day. My birthday was a work day. All details of maintenance and repair that could be done to maintain function were finally done. I had picked up some major lobsters to console my disappointment at not being in the mountains for my birthday. A bottle of Brut poolside, birthday suit on, then steamed lobsters, and life was getting back to tolerable  again. The next morning we were out of there, despite the looks of betrayal from Heidi, the shepherd, who had known we were up to no good very early on and gave strong disapproval at our notion of escaping without her. Jack, had no idea of our abandoning the pack, and looked fairly happy despite his being covered with some sticky seed pod, like a cockle burr, but not as prickely. It just made him look fairly ridiculous and will require a good dose of scissor use to clean him up, when, I return. 
It actually turned into a mid day escape. We tossed an imaginary coin to decide which route to head north east with. Taking the interstate for the bulk of the hot part, we headed towards Chattanooga, and once there, after waiting in a parking lot on the interstate after they cleaned a wreck up the road some six miles ahead, we opted for the side roads, the road less traveled. Once off, everything changed. It was finally time to relax and take in the scenery.
Flat land finally gave way to long sweeps of rolling hills and off in the distance to the north east we could see the Smokies outline, blue shadows against a purple evening sky. We headed straight towards an almost full moon, just rising above these hills.  Restaurants were at a shortage on this road we took, and it was getting late when we finally found a road side dinner that had lots of folks and old cars in the lot. 
The cars in the lot were of varying vintages from general restored antiques to souped up jalopies, their proud owners in their air brushed t shirts standing by each of their chariots, each car a work of love and time spent on a quest of a romantic dream.
We went into the tiny diner, sat at a floral plastic covered table and we asked the few remaining waiters and waitresses what was good. The hamburger was, we were told. We ordered ours with cheese, and mixed our sides of fries and tater tots. Our choices of drink was coke, or coke. Not wanting a sugar buzz, we pled for water and waited on our culinary experience to begin.
I looked around the room and took in the decorating, tin car tags from all over the US, most from the 70’s adorned the walls. An ancient coke box stood against one wall, and a large man in the kitchen was busy flipping our burgers while young waitresses in bad t-shirts that revealed an ample girth line over tightly waisted low cut jeans, excelling in the form of the classic muffin top, cleaned the tables for the night, and checked their tips for their evenings work. The hamburgers and tots were simple and wonderful. Our entire dinner was less than twelve bucks, and was high on the satisfaction meter. 
We rolled on to the hotel of our improvised destination and called it a night. Tomorrow we will adventure into the park where we will check out Cades Cove and Clingman’s Dome, in no particular order of precedence with no particular goal in mind. We are just floating through, the beginning of a vacation. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A Summer Storm and a Light at the end of the tunnel..

The past few afternoons have had great thunder storms blow throw town and through farm world out here, with some kinder and gentler than others. One several nights ago left huge old oaks laid across the city streets and houses, taking down power lines and left a general good mess of things. We have been lucky out here with no damage and have appreciated the rain and the cooling breezes that come with the storms.

A particularly amazing sky was left in the wake of yesterday's thunder bumpers. The setting sun was reflecting off the bottoms of the massive clouds as the front moved them southwest and it bounced a strange and eerie glow to the world beyond my kitchen window. We went out to see this from the porch and I looked out across the pasture at the horses whose coats were glowing super naturally in this golden light. Then, I noticed a figure I had not seen in a long while, our old friend, the red fluffy tailed fox.

It has been such a long time since we had seen the fox, which used to live in a deep hole behind the composting shavings pile. We used to see it quite frequently and last year the dogs had several run in-ss with the red wily critter and very often the sightings were on rainy days. More recently, like many months worth, we had neither seen nor heard from any of the foxes, and figured them to have moved on, but here now was our friend once again sitting at the fence line at the edge of the woods.The horses were standing fairly close by but paid no notice. Then the fox moved over closer to the horses and slid through the fence by the water tank, into the paddock with Kitty, the queen matriarch of barn world, and her ward, Frank, the yearling colt.

The older horses paid absolutely no attention to this fox at their feet, but Frank was interested and lowered his head and began walking toward the fox. The fox stood its ground and looked back at the advancing colt giving him a seemingly curious posture. Frank finally was close enough to touch the fox and gave the fox a good shove with his nose, to which the fox jumped away a bit but then looked back at the colt. Frank advanced again. This time the fox ran away a few steps and stopped and turned back to look again. The fox had done this with Marley, the terrier, last year playing a game of chase and tag you are it, so I did recognize the game it wanted to play now with Frank.

Frank obligingly trotted after the fox a few steps, head lowered, then stopped. The fox came back towards Frank again and suggested a good romp. They both seemed to really want to play but the difference in languages, I guess, got in the way and Frank got bored and went on away in search of green fodder for his tummy, leaving a disappointed fox to sit and brood.

Mean while, Mark didn’t have his big camera with a long lense and was slowly walking towards this scene going on out in the field to get a closer shot with his cell phone. Once the fox caught a glimpse of this two legged animal approaching, though, off it trotted towards the dark woods. I say trot, but it was more like a floating stream of red, picking up speed until it was flying into a blur, and I had previously worried that my dogs would ever catch it and hurt it. Once the Disney scene went away and the sun’s golden magic on the clouds began to fade as well, we went back into the house with a bit of a feeling of being refreshed at seeing the fox again.

There are so many moments like these that I see, that it makes me wonder how many that are just as entertaining or as magnificently gorgeous, happen in the course of a day that don’t get witnessed. Being a watcher, keeping one’s eyes open, being ready to view is kind of like stalking a magic moment or a scene, but it does pay off. For Mark it is with a camera, and with his knowledge and skills, he is able to replicate the essence of the scene or moment that comes very close to the real thing. My skills with a camera are limited and so most slip away from me and remain ethereal. I try to describe with letters and words, and these are unsatisfying in their short comings too, but I try none the less.

It is almost mid August now and in four weeks or so I will be taking my two youngest horses, Cistine and Frank, to a Keuring, or breed evaluation, in which they will be presented to a jury mostly from Holland. With a runner at their left side the horses will be asked to stand before the scribing jurors to let them evaluate conformation. Then the horses will be walked around an oval, counter clock wise, and then trotted around. This objective sounds easy enough, and it might be, if I lived in a much cooler climate, ran regularly, and the horses had a clue what I was about when I start working them in preparation, trying to cram course this seemingly simple thing into the horse’s brain so that it can trot at the evaluation with the handler as a flawless tandem unit. It is not an easy undertaking.  

I had not planned to take either of these two youngsters to this year’s Keuring, as the work it takes to get them ready takes a lot of enforcing the whole body space issue first at walk and then beginning to run, and at first quite slowly, with these beasts. Usually the first time I change from a walk to a tiny jog, they initially think it’s a game and frolicking time is on. Having anything around the size of a small dog frolicking as it runs with you is one thing, but a yearling colt and a seventeen hand mare are another subject entirely. Again physics of size, motion, and speed are all at play, and not to my advantage in any category.

I worked the mare today, leading her mostly to be like a dog at heel, trying to teach where she is supposed to stay relative to my body. I am to be at her shoulder, reins in right hand, with her marching right with me, turning when I do to either direction, and definitely not trampling me and not racing ahead of me, nor dragging me into the wild yonder. We worked for about thirty minutes and I was whipped. The mare was still quite bright and was happy to keep on jogging and kept a little bounciness to her walk as we walked to her pasture gate to put her away for the day, asking for more fun and games, but thankfully doing it politely.

Cistine always keeps her left eye and left ear totally focused on me when we are working this way, and I hope I can get enough helium out of her balloon that she gives the handler at the Keuring an easy flight. Progress is being made, so maybe I will make it in time with her, if I don’t pass out from exhaustion with the running in this heat. I haven’t even started with the colt. That, should be really fun, and I am saving that for hopefully cooler temps later when we return from our yearly trek to the mountains that is vacation time, coming up soon. I can almost see the other end of the tunnel of the heat of summer, but until cooler temps get here, we will go to them to refresh and recharge.
To vacate, to leave….again.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hazy Reality

From my kitchen window the sun is blazing down on the yard and driveway like in an old western movie, and I hear one of those sixties soundtracks to one show playing in my head. There is no breeze and the thermometer says 98 with a humidity level of 60%. The heat index for the day is expected to be around 105 to 110. It is insane weather to be living and trying to do anything in, and of course, that is precisely when something pretty important to the normal state of things happen that requires one to go out and fight the dragon’s breath. Yesterday was right on course with Murphy’s Law.

Yesterday my day began with a quest to unravel the mysterious workings of my online banking bill pay that according to one computer, mine, said that a company got paid for an insurance premium. So I was surprised recently when I received notice that for non-payment our policy was canceled. That’s when my fun on the phone began.

I began with the insurance company, whose automated system of screening the calls into the right department had me screaming at it, and finally when I did reach a human voice, “Daniel” told me that there was no sign of their having gotten it and therefore my only option was to pay over the phone. The down side then was that he told me coverage on Mark would not resume for twenty four to forty eight hours. I called Mark and told him not to die during this time period. Then I called my bank to find proof of the posted payment shown on my computer.

First I spoke with Shane, then, I was put on hold. I listened to music and waited, for thirty minutes, only to be transferred to Michael, who also put me on perma-hold but kept coming back and saying “sorry”. Next in line was Lisa, then Terry, and then it was back to Lisa, and still there was no finding a resolution to this ethereal check chasing caper. I hung up this charade after playing along for two and a half hours, exhausted and disgusted.

I am beginning to really question what is “real”. The edges in life and how it moves along have become very fuzzy to me. There is too much emphasis on computers, and paperless trails. Green is good, and I like the idea, but trying to find physical proof of an online check payment that only exists on a cyber world plane, and as of yet, remains clouded in a mysterious and unclear place, is a very strange and time consuming business. Being tossed from one disembodied voice to another, being put on hold for an ungodly amount of time, and then to pay them for their services to boot, is crazy.

I was more than a bit ready for some reality after this and gathered up the dogs to go ride in the truck and do some errand running. Errands done, we came back to the farm and I stopped to feed my geriatric mare, Limerick at the little barn. My neighbor from down the street that has hay equipment, lots of cows, and is willing to come cut my tall grass in the fields, roll it up and get it out of here, was presently cutting somewhere below the dam and as I started out the gate where our water meter is. I noticed a large puddle where all of the pipes start their underground journey to the house. His track showed he had run over the shallow pipes, not having known they were there, and now we had a serious problem, no water, and a set of pipes to fix in this insane weather. Mark was not a happy camper with the news, to say the least.

Mr. Murphy stated that if anything can go wrong, it will. It did. After I had bailed the puddle dry to asses the damage, I texted Mark a photo of the debacle, he bought the replaceable parts, and once home, was able to patch the wounded pvc mess back together. We would have to wait for two hours with the water pressure off to see if the new joints held. Drenched in sweat and covered with mud we came back to the house and took refuge in the only water available, the pool. After the sun had set and two hours had elapsed we went to test the fix. He turned the valve on and water instantly blew towards us. Not fixed, and now dark, we headed back to the house to be waterless for the evening to try again in the morning.

Most things on a farm are optional, like when to cut the yard, when to fix a sagging gate, repair some piece of machinery, and the list, regrettably goes on past infinity and beyond. The single thing that simply must be, is available running water. The horses can drain a huge round tank in a day, standing around it in a circle, sweating and drinking. The idea of no water for them is not an option. In the house there is ice to be made for cocktails, there are dishes to be washed (Jack, the terrier can only do so much pre-rinsing), showers to make us clean, and toilets to be flushed. The list goes on, but, point being made, it was a rough evening.

I sit inside now writing, waiting, still with no running water. Our morning attempt at another fix was initially successful, but later, after turning on the sink faucet I noticed a distinct lack of pressure, more of a dribble, and my gloom returned. My inspection showed another blowout but there was too much water to see which joint had not welded. We will have to bail it out again this afternoon when Mark gets home from work, and try again.

Some days are just like that.