Friday, May 25, 2018
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
That night, did you listen outside your window at the soft breeze blowing through the water oak beside the house and wish that you could get just one good breath of that night air? When you went to sleep that night, did your dreams take you back to a time before your body failed you, before your lungs were filled with fibers and dust and smoke? Did you dream of a time back before the mornings when you'd have to go outside at three in the morning to smoke a cigarette and cough until you were able get your breath again? I remember those times before that. I remember when we'd walk the woods all night, following a pack of dogs without stopping for hours. The logs you hefted, stacking them and nailing them in place, they were sometimes more than you could handle after a long day at your regular job. But you did it anyway. I remember how hard you worked building that house for us. How you saved up to buy materials as you had the money, often having to make do with what you had at the moment. Any extra time you had, you put into building that house. You sacrificed more than your share to provide for us a home. I wonder if you knew then, the night before you died, how much I appreciated you.
I know that I put my share of wrinkles on your forehead and white hairs on your head. All the stupid mistakes I made, and all the times I let you down. Maybe I didn't turn out quite as good as you hoped I would, but I did turn out. I know you had an idea of what you thought I should do with my life, and I'm sorry, but I didn't agree with that. You'd have to admit though, I got some good traits from you, one thing, in particular that you valued above everything else-- a deep love for my family. I, like you, will sacrifice anything to provide for my family. I learned that by watching you. I would die for my wife and kids. Like you, too, I'm as stubborn as a jackass. As you always said, You can't tell that boy nothing. You always fussed about how hard-headed I was, where do you think that came from?
In the final years of your life, I spent many long nights crying over you. I worried myself to death over you, taking years off of my own life, trying to save yours. I prayed for you and cursed your name in the same breath. I loved you and I hated you. The man that gave me life was killing me, and I kept on trying to fix you. I know you would have done the same for me. Everyday, in some way, you still effect me. I see you every time I look at my reflection. I hear myself say things, and it's the same thing you would've said, and that drives me crazy. I couldn't escape you then, I can't escape you now. When I least expect it, there you are. Driving down the road, a thought crosses my mind, and I can't see to drive for the tears. When I drive your old truck, I sometimes feel like you're right beside me. When I pass your house, I can still see you sitting on the porch swing, still motioning for me to stop, and I still keep driving on.
I thank you for introducing me to the outdoors, and for encouraging me spend time doing the things that make me happy. Thanks for telling me how you enjoyed something that I wrote. You told me I'd better save those things, you never know, somebody might publish them one day. Momma asked me to write something for your funeral, and that night after everybody went to bed, I wrote a poem for you. I gave it to the preacher man, for him to read. He handed it back to me, said he thought I should read it. After two ativans, I got up in front of all of those people and read it. The preacher didn't have anything that could've topped that. I had everyone in tears. When I had my first poem published, I wanted to call you up and tell you about it. I know you would've been proud. With everything I do, I want to make you proud.Chase will be graduating high school in a few days, and Anna will be getting married this time next year. Aubree will be a third grader and Alivia will be starting kindergarten. You would be so proud. I know you'll be there with me, through every phase of my life.
Right now, as I sit at this keyboard, tears stream down my face. I miss you like crazy, and I wish things could've been different between us. I want you to know that I love you, and that I'm OK. I think I am finally at a place in my life where I can talk about my pain. I now see that it can help people to feel that they're not alone, that it's alright to grieve, that it's alright to be broken. I write as a way to heal, and if what I write could help someone else in some way, I feel like I've succeeded.
I know that I'll see you again some day, and there are so many things that I want to say to you. As for right now I want you to know, most of all, that I am proud to be your son.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
When I was like six, my crazy uncle James showed up at our house during my birthday party. There wasn't many people there, just my mom and dad, brother and sister, and maybe my grandma. When he found out what was going on, he slipped out to his Volkswagen to find a gift for me. James came back with a banana he'd wrapped with a scrap of the Sunday funnies. That gift meant a lot to me, I know that because here I sit 34 years later, relaying the story to you.
This year, on my big 4-0, my wife and kids surprised me with a fishing kayak. I was shocked that they had thought so much of me to buy a cool thing like that for my birthday -- something I could get killed in. I was so shocked and excited when they showed it to me, that it was like I was having one of those out-of-body experiences people talk about. I swear, I felt like I was floating in the air above, watching this whole thing take place.
The gift of the kayak is something I'll remember for the rest of my life, too. It's not the gift itself, but the expression of love from my family that will be what stays with me. All those years ago, my uncle James gave that banana to me, partly as a joke, but also as an honest gesture of love and kindness. Trust me, my wife and kids know how accident-prone I am, so it took a whole lot of blind love to give me something that is potentially dangerous. My kayak is sort-of shaped like a banana, so, as weird as it sounds, I have come full circle.
I remember a few years back, brooding over my past failures and worrying about the future and the direction of my life, turning 40 seemed like more of a deadline than anything. I had so many doubts about who I was and what I was doing with my life. I could feel the pressure building more and more each day.
Truthfully, I was scared. So many questions kept my mind spinning, day in, day out. Had I done enough with my life? Was I doing what I am supposed to be doing, or was I wasting my life chasing things that didn't matter in the BIG picture? I doubted myself, and I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what it was that I was missing out on. Anxiety crept into my life, along with its pathetic roommate, Depression.
For a time, I was a wreck. I couldn't eat, then I'd eat too much. I couldn't sleep, and then all I wanted to do was sleep. My head hurt, my heart hurt, and so did my soul. I was being wrung out like a dirty dish rag, over and over, all day, every day.
I found myself praying constantly, begging for some answers, for some relief. Then, I would get angry because I didn't feel any better afterwards. Why God? I kept asking. You've heard that old saying, that there are no atheists in a foxhole during combat. Live through an internal hell like I did and see who you'll cry out to. It damn sure won't be your psychiatrist.
I didn't know if I could make it any longer. Hell, I didn't know if I even wanted to. There were times when I thought it would be better to be... you know. My mind was sick, very sick. It was the worst time in my life. My milestones were days and weeks and months. I found myself looking through a calender at work one day, counting the months and days since my depression had hit me, reminding myself of how long it had been since the darkest days of my life. Every month that passed, I would do that. I was getting better slowly, and further away from the darkness, but it took a while.
Somewhere along the way, the darkness lifted and I found out that things aren't as bad as my mind made them out to be. I started setting goals for myself again. The main goal I set was to be a better husband and dad. I'm still working on that one. If it hadn't been for my wife and kids, I wouldn't have made it. I decided to live for them, not so much for me. God helped me through those rough times, and I am thankful for each day he's given me, and for a fresh start whenever I need one.
In the back of my mind, there is that worry that I could slip back into the wormhole again. It happens. But I decided two years ago that I wouldn't let fear destroy my life again.
As silly as it sounds, I also set a new goal for myself then, as a way to help chase away the dark side of my psyche. That goal was to get something, anything, published before I turned 40. I guess that this blog was part of that, but it's something that I'm publishing myself, so for some reason, I didn't feel like my goal had been achieved. I realize now how petty that was. When I received an email from the editor of an online literary nature magazine, saying that he wanted to publish my work, I cried like a damn baby. This happened four months before my 40th birthday. I never expected things to happen like that.
Funny thing about goals, they're something you work yourself to death for, and then when that goal is met, you just kinda stand there and say, OK, now what?
Don't get me wrong, I'm proud of myself for what I have been able to do with my poetry and prose; especially proud for someone who has had to teach himself the craft of writing. For a guy who never went to college, I think I'm doing quite well. But reaching my goal is not the end, nor is it the most important thing in my life. Living is.
Now, I have new goals for the next 40 years. Love my wife, my kids, and be thankful for every day I have. You know, make the most out of whatever life throws my way. I'm going to try real hard not to drown in my new kayak. And I'm going to keep writing and sharing what I think are important things in life with you.
Saturday, January 6, 2018
This morning, a thin layer of ice covers the surface of Wildcat Creek. Leaves and bits of bark are suspended in the ice, caught in time, the moment the temperature reached that point when the magic takes place, and water becomes solid. Robins and wrens skate the surface where it is thickest, finding seeds and bits of forage on this 18 degree morn.
Under the surface, life goes on, and particles or silt and dead leaves drift with the slowed current of deeper water. Somewhere buried deep in the mud there, I'm sure there are crayfish, helgramites, and stonefly larvae, waiting on the water to warm to a more tolerable degree.
Green stalks of dog-hobble are held under the surface, encased by the icy grip of frozen water along the creek bank. Oak and persimmon, and beech trees, now standing in water due to beavers work to slow the flow and flood the banks, are surrounded by ice. A red-bellied sap sucker, pecking away on a river birch, has created a dusting of bark and moss on the ice all around the tree.
Dead fall trees, lying crossways from one bank to the other, have gathered leaves and sticks around them, and now the debris is frozen around them, taking on the appearance of solid ground.
Underneath the muddy banks, spew-ice juts out, pushing the mud to the surface to reveal clusters of crystals coming up out of the ground. Small rocks are caught between the clusters, with the smaller ones being caught up and held in the grip of the frozen fingers.
On that note, as I stand here in the trees and record this in my notebook, my fingers are frozen and not working very well. I'm finding it difficult to hold my pen, and my words are beginning to look like the scrawling of a child. I rub my hands together, and cup them, blowing hot air from deep in my lungs, trying to warm them. As I do this, I am watching finches under a laurel bush, flipping through the leaf litter and broken twigs with their tiny feet. Despite the freezing temperatures, life out here on Wildcat Creek goes on like it always has, and I'm heading back inside to warm up a bit.
Saturday, December 30, 2017
Survival of a species is not always pretty, but neither is the other side of things, namely disease and starvation. We all know what it is like to compete for a better job or more pay, or even for a mate in some instances, but what about competing for our own survival? What if we had to find our own food, either foraging for it, or killing something to survive? I don't mean hunting in a sense that we think of now, but the kind where we must take any opportunity to prey on a vulnerable creature, and at the same time, something that would be easy prey for us, so that our exertion of energy is minimum. Most of the time that would mean something sick or injured. Doesn't sound too appetizing, does it?
And then there's the whole surviving the elements thing. That wouldn't exactly be a day at the beach, would it? I get cold now just walking the dog. It is clear to me that I'm not as tough as I thought I was. Those days of sitting in a frozen tree all day, or fishing from a boat in the sleet and snow for striped bass took place long before I started taking blood pressure medicine. I have to wrap up now, and head back in much earlier than before. I used to make fun of my poor grandmother for wearing a sweater around in the summertime, but I'm not laughing anymore. Thankfully, cold snaps are usually short lived in this part of the country. The upstate of South Carolina has all four seasons, so you can at least tell the difference, but the winters are not nearly as harsh as they are just a few hours north.
Yesterday, I watched a squirrel climbing into his bed just before dark. The squirrel put several hours, or even days into building its nest, as do the birds. I have found both nests blown from trees in high winds, but finding something like that is rare. I think whenever this happens, the creatures learn, and when the process begins again, their past mistakes are taken into consideration as they build the new nest. What would it be like to have to build a nest to stay warm? I can hardly build a habitable birdhouse out of plywood. By the time I could construct a debris shelter suitable enough to protect my family and my self from the elements, we would probably die from exposure. The animals and birds have to be expert shelter builders, there is a much smaller margin of error for them.
For all wild creatures, food and warmth are interconnected. A poorly nourished animal will freeze to death in winter, the low caloric intake means body heat loss. Same goes for us, in that to keep our body temperature up in extreme cold, we must take in more calories than we normally would. So while building that shelter, you'd better be eating good, too. I'm thinking that if you were having to build a shelter to stay warm, you wouldn't be running to the IHOP, or any such place. It would be more like attacking that field rat you saw while dragging brush, or even that squirrel building its nest. I would really have to be starving to go for the neighbor's cat, though.
It looks like this year will end cold, and that the New Year will begin cold, as well. My hope is that the cold won't hang around for long, though. I also hope that this year will not be as brutal as this past year was for some people. Just like we learn from the animals, we know what we need to do to survive. we've seen our nests on the ground before, and it's not a good feeling. So this year, lets hunker down, build those nests good and tight and wrap those we love in warmth, no matter the season or weather. Bring someone or something out of the cold, out of the pouring rain and driving wind, and feed them. Our species depends on how much love we have.
Thank you for taking time to read my ramblings through this past year. I'll have more to come, and hopefully the content will get better as we progress. Happy New Year!!!
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
|Standing in the swamp as the sun goes down, and darkness moves in.|
Thursday, October 12, 2017
On our front porch, beside the door, a writing spider built her web. We watched her when she began-- it only took her an hour. This is the third writing spider that has built a snare on our little stoop in the past month. The first two, I kindly removed, for they spun their nets too close for my comfort. I am a tall guy, and I usually catch spider webs right across the face, certainly when they are stretched where my front door opens.
We never kill these yellow beauties, nor the vile looking brown ones that occasionally appear around our house. With the amount of insects hanging around our porch lights at night, we can use all the help we can get. Just the other day, a katydid made a fatal miscalculation and overshot his landing on the porch rail and ended up dinner for our eight-legged gatekeeper.
Moths, grasshoppers, houseflies, and other spiders have fallen prey to her over the last weeks of her tenure. Each capture an interesting display for us of the struggle of the living against certain death. Tangled in her web, each victim unsure of how to escape, but each seemingly knowing what is to come next.
She makes quick work of administering her sleep elixir, then wrapping her food as for safe-keeping until it is time to dine on the rewards of her labor.
The other two spiders-- the ones we had to relocate to the bushes on either side of the porch -- are thriving as well. Everyday they're about their business, though we now watch them from a distance. Their webs are twice as big as the one on my porch. The spider at our door keeps her web to a minimum, as if she knows where her boundaries are. She seems content to coexist with the heavy traffic in and out, all day and half the night.
Earlier today, however, I noticed she wasn't looking well. The bright yellow markings on her back had faded, and are pale and milky, as if she is going to shed her skin. Later, I saw her crawling away from her web: she was crawling sluggishly on the wall toward the hand rail; she looked like she had been left out in the rain. I stroked the back of her abdomen with my forefinger, but she didn't seem to notice.
I'm not sure of what has happened to her, what has caused her to act this way. The spiders in the bushes are just as lively as they ever were, and they have resided here much longer than she has. Could it have been she was attacked by another arachnid, or perhaps by a bee? Maybe it has to do with one of the questionable insects she had partaken in, namely a stinkbug, which there are plenty of those around.
As I stand here now, looking down beside the porch rail, I see our spider balled up on the ground. Her sojourn ended at the bottom of the steps, just out of sight of the beautiful display she had created for our edification. It was as if this creature knew that her time was short, and her work here was finished. Now she has returned to the soil from which she emerged, and we look forward to the next early autumn when an Orb Weaver decides to make our front porch it's home.