The Wilderness

Beyond the fence lay the wilderness. A vast, dense forest primordial in its nature. Uncut and unexplored. Towering ancient trees, untouched by human hands.  At least that’s how it seemed from this side of the fence.

The house is in a small in town subdivision.  There are neighboring houses on either side of this one, and across the street.  But in the back…the wilderness.  The fence may have been erected to keep the prying eyes of neighbors out.  But for my purposes, it was there to keep the doggie in.

Left unattended, nature will eventually overtake anything man has created.  And an untamed wilderness was proving to be the nemesis of the fence. Large trees were standing very close to it.  And their trunks and roots were pressing against the timbers of that divider.  Nature was winning the battle and slowly pushing on the fence and tearing it apart.  It needed repair, and salvation.  Which meant I needed to go to the other side of the fence.  Into the wilderness.

It was going to take what would seem to be an around the world journey to get where I needed to go.  The fence was a solid wall.  No gate.  There was no way to tunnel under it.  And it was too tall to climb over.  I would have to go to the far side of the wilderness, and trek through its entirety, back to the fence.

From the road the forest looked deep and densely covered in underbrush.  But there was a narrow path that had been started.  Judging by the piles of yard debris on either side of this path, I decided that the neighbors had been dumping the cut grass and fallen tree limbs from their yards into the forest.  Breaching the outer layer of the frontier.  I wondered if anyone had ever ventured deeper.

I gathered an assemblage of hand tools for cutting brush and tree limbs.  Machete, hand saw, loppers, and pruning sheers.  I armed myself with a bottle of water to fight off dehydration. And I entered the jungle.

I was dismayed to see almost immediately that there had indeed been other explorers.  Not because I wasn’t the first, but because they had broken a cardinal rule: leave nothing but footprints.  There was a paper towel laying on the forest floor.  Filled with I don’t know what.  As I pressed further I came upon a dumping ground.  A collection of old glass bottles.  Mostly broken and worthless.  Why would this be here I wondered?  Something for further exploration at a later date.

Advancing further toward my goal I encountered a lot of little things that indicated human presence.  Old paint buckets.  Large pieces of concrete that would have been used in constructing a sewer system.  Looks like when the neighborhood was built about twenty years ago the builders had taken their leftovers and dumped them in the woods.  May have been a thinly wooded field back then.

There were a lot of bits and pieces of plastic that looked like they were leftover from landscapers planting shrubs and trees.  Just throw it into the woods.  Cheaper than the landfill.

I finally reached my destination and went to work.  I came upon the remnants of an old fence.  Had this land all once been a farm?  Probably so.  Four hours later I had finished clearing a small area behind the fence.  There were still trees growing up too closely, but I had eliminated the dead ones that had fallen, and the vines and junk shrubs that were overtaking it.  The trees would require professional assistance.  Another day.

Headed back to my exploration vehicle I came across some other bizarre artifacts which I hadn’t seen on my way into the woods.  Leaning up against a tree stood a swimming pool ladder.  Starting to rust but in pretty good shape.  I shook my head in wonderment.  An old tire.  Who would roll one old tire deep into the forest?  But what I encountered next blew me away.  There was a primitive structure.  A campsite.  Some one had built a conical shelter using logs and timbers.  And they had covered it with a green tarp.

That reminded me of my days as a child when we would go into the woods and build forts on the ground, under the ground, and in the trees.  We were pirates.  And explorers.  Cowboys and soldiers.  And we could entertain ourselves endlessly just being in our fortress.  This one looked like it had been abandoned.  But it was definitely of human and modern origin.  A vast civilization had once thrived in these woods.

Now it’s just a vacant lot, unattended by its owners, waiting for someone to come in and develop it. Cut down all the trees and build something.

There are still places on the Earth that are awaiting man’s first entry.  The depths of the oceans and the peaks of isolated mountains.  But we humans have pretty much covered it all. And with us we took our imagination, our hopes and dreams, ambitions and indomitable spirit.  And what have we left behind?  Many amazing things.  But in this particular forest, just a lot of trash. And the shattered dreams of an optimistic explorer.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Sing A Song

Most people like music.  I’d say everyone, but I know that out there somewhere there is someone who doesn’t.  I think maybe it’s my dad.  Ooops, its noise he doesn’t like.  And fortunately for all of us there are a lot of people who are good at making music. All varieties of music with a wide array of instruments and sounds.  Its all good. But some is better.

Over the past several years I’ve been exploring local music, and music overall, much more.  Some of my friends know that I’ve travelled far and wide to hear different sounds.  Some of which I actually like and follow.  Others that I’d never heard before but wasn’t afraid to give a try. There are some really good artists out there.  And some technicians who are still working on getting the right sounds out of their equipment.

I prefer live music.  More spontaneous.  And you get to see the performers.  And the way the crowd interacts with those on stage.  I’m not talking about lip syncing.  I’m sue there are good reasons for musicians to lip sync, but I’m not believing any of it.

There is a very bizarre variant of live music that everyone must have heard of.  And I think it has a bad reputation.  Perhaps deservedly.  Or not. Its karaoke.  You know, the recorded music plays and a live singer does their best to sing along.  It can be fun, but sometimes in a very painful way.  For the audience.

Several of my friends are good singers.  And they often will jump up on stage to sing with a live band.  They are even famous in certain circles.  Because they are good and make the show fun.

In my quest for new experiences I recently dropped into a bar I’d never been to before.  It was karaoke night.  And two of my friends were going to sing.  When we arrived the place was empty.  I was afraid I might have to sing.  But once Ms. D. belted out her first song some folks drifted in from the bar to the stage area.  And the place began to generally fill up for the show.  Mr. M. sang a few tunes to the appreciative audience.

People were singing along.  And dancing.  Having a great time.  And several other folks got up to sing their favorite songs.  Some were a little hard to hear because they weren’t used to using the microphone and had it too far away.  Others were hard to listen to because they genuinely sucked as singers. Sorry folks.  But everyone got at least a polite applause.  And there were big smiles all around.

The crowd listened.  And danced.  More and more people arrived and several of the “stars” got up several times.  Even the DJ got up to sing.

Everyone knows that its fun to sing in the shower. Especially for those among us who don’t think they can sing well.  You’re by yourself.  No one will hear.  Or complain. So let it out and have fun.  Same thing happens in our cars.

But those who perform karaoke, well, I have to say that they just wanna have fun.  And getting up on stage to sing is how they do that.  Maybe they don’t know how good, or bad, they sound.  Maybe they don’t care.  They are getting up there to let it all hang out.

Of course they appreciate it when people show them some love.  Whoops, hollers and loud applause.  And no matter what their talent level, I’ll give ‘em a shout out.  Takes a lot of guts to get up there, even if there is only one person in the audience.  I’ll applaud just for that.  Because I know that I’m never going to get up on stage to sing in front of a crowd. Not even if I had a voice like an angel. So rock on Karaokers!  Not my favorite maybe, but I’ll see you again.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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The Beard

Ya big ape!  That’s a derogatory expression that the kinder and gentler among us might use. It’s a little more civil than saying ya f—ing a—hole or things like that.  I’m sure that true apes would be horribly offended to learn that their name is being taken in vain.

I have to think that this expression is intended to mean that someone is more ape-man than real ape, but either way, an uncivilized human.  After all, evolutionary science says all of us humans are descended from the apes so it makes sense that a less than perfect person, unlike you and I, is less evolved and therefore closer to being an ape.  Now I can’t say if Darwin is correct in his theories because I wasn’t there when the final transition was made.  But I do believe in science, including climate change, and you gotta admit, some of us are pretty hairy.

Parts of me are hairy.  I’m a man so that’s normal to some extent.  I don’t have much facial hair though.  It’s just not there.  In graduate school I sported a horrible little mustache.  I tried to convince myself that I looked so cool. But I knew it looked stupid. And eventually I got rid of it

Ten years later I decided to try it again. With a full beard.  Dark black hair.  And curly too.  But spotty. And thin.  I always think of an Amish farmer’s beard, but shorter, when I look back on that.  Another horrible mess!

And so I shaved.  Every day.  For years and years and years.  Had to be clean cut for work.  As a manager I couldn’t come in looking like I’d been on a three day drunk.  Or even like I’d overslept.  Nope.  Clean shaven, smooth as a baby’s behind every day.

My sideburns were another story though. Every once in a while I’d let them go to the bottom of my ear.  So daring!

When I quit the rat race I didn’t have any constraints on how I looked.  Just my own opinion.  And I kept shaving.  I knew the beard wouldn’t look good.  Again. And I told myself that men wearing those silly little goatees was just a fad.  Looks dumb.

And then I remembered a time when I was in college. I let my sideburns grow all the way down my face until they met each other at my chin.  Then cleaned my chin with a single swipe of the razor.  I have no idea what I was thinking!  And I’m glad there are no pictures of that.

But thinking back on that I decided to let the sideburns go again.  Not quite that long but down to my jawline.  Someone said I looked like a wolverine!  Kinda weird looking.  Certainly unusual.  And then I decided to let the mustache and chin go too.  I was just shaving a little stroke on either side between my chin and my cheek.  But it was still coming in thin.  But now with gray hair.

Now that I had all this hair on my face to work with I figured I could make it into something decent.  Good luck.  There are so many ways to style a beard.  I knew I didn’t want the Duck Dynasty look.  Too long.  But I did always like the Yosemite Sam bigass handlebar look.  Like the cowboys wore.  And Wyatt Earp.  Or maybe the kind the three musketeers wore with curls and twists in the stache.  Need a little more hair for those.

So I settled on what Gillette calls a circle beard.  Mustache that meets a chin piece and forms a circle around your mouth.

Turns out a beard and mustache can look good. But not so much on me.  And the damn thing needs maintenance.  Trim here, touch up there.  The hair gets in your mouth and there are always food crumbs, and other unsavory things, getting caught in there.

This beard started out as a Halloween costume. Or so I said.  But I had no idea what or who I was supposed to be. Elvis?  But I kept it just to see what happened.  Now, four months later, I see what it is.  I could let it go longer, and wax the crap out of it to look like D’Artagnan, but in truth it makes me look more old than distinguished.

One of these days, in the near future, I’ll take it off.  Little by little to see what kind of looks I can get.  And I’ll go back to shaving. I don’t mind shaving.  But maybe not everyday.

Just another experiment in seeing who lives inside my brain I guess.  We all have options…

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Say What?

Bark!  Woof! Grrr!  My dog talks to me all the time.  But, since I’m not fluent in dogspeak, there are a lot of miscommunications. And a lot of one of us just staring at the other with a look on our face like, “why are you so stupid?  Don’t you understand?”

There are a few things I’ve pretty well figured out. Some universal signals.  Bare teeth and growling means run like hell. I’ve never seen my dog get that upset. Deep, loud barking means this is my place and I don’t like you so go away.  Local wildlife gets this treatment frequently.  And of course the old nose in the butt means hi, let’s be friends! That’s just weird.

With so many breeds of dogs, and all of the mixtures that make up the mutt world, I wonder if there is one dog language.  Or is it a lot of dialects?  Or even different languages.  They seem to understand each other pretty well.

The basics I get.  Standing at the door a single bark probably means let me out. And a bark at her food dish means feed me!

It’s all the other odd sounds that I don’t always understand.  She’ll be laying on the floor, or the couch, and let out a moan or groan.  That might be yawning, stretching or just settling into a new position.  Ah! Same kinds of sounds I make.  Or she’ll be snoozing and her legs start to twitch and she starts to let out a series of yips and yaps.  Dreaming.  Catching a ball.  Or a squirrel.

But what does it mean when she stands in the middle of the room and whines?  And adds a couple of yips.  I have to play twenty questions with her.  Wanna go out?  Hungry? Did you lose your toy?  Do you want me to pet you?

Could be any of those things.  We usually figure it out.  When all else fails open the back door and let her out.

During the day I’m up and down constantly.   Let me out.  Let me in.  Out, in. And I’ll go out with her and we’ll toss a ball.  Which she rarely returns.

When I go to bed at night she usually follows me to the bedroom and plops down on the rug at the foot of the bed.  Or stands by the window looking into the darkness. I know she can see stuff out there. Or hear it or smell it.  And almost without fail she will begin to whine, then yip and yap, and then bark to wake me up at the worst possible time.

I want to go out!  Damn dog.  So I let her out knowing that I’ll just have to let her back in within a few minutes. Can’t get any sleep around here! She’ll come back in and lick me. And want me to pet her.  And then go back to sleeping on the carpet.  Or trot off to the softness of the sofa.

She has me trained well.  And lives a good life.  Not perfect but VERY comfortable.  And in spite of the language barrier, and the frustrations it causes on both sides, we seem to be pretty well in sync.  Just because we don’t speak the same language, we can still live in harmony.  She’s a good dog.  Man’s best friend.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Scrap Metal

This is supposed to be a profitable business. And sometimes it actually is.  But it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to rely on to keep a roof over your head or to put food in your mouth.  It’s just enough to keep feeding the antiques shopping addiction.

Buy.  Sell. Trade.  And collect.  The idea is to sell more than you buy.  It doesn’t always work that way.  Any sale is a good sale, but some are better than others.  It’s always really sweet to be able to buy something real cheap and know that you could sell it for two, three or even ten times as much.  At the same time, if I see even a dollar of profit in it I might buy it.  And try to sell it.

The selling part is harder than the buying.

In the past I’ve bought things that I just knew would sell quickly. And held on to them for a long, long time.  They might sit gathering dust in one of my shops. Or in my garage.  Also gathering dust.  Sometimes I’ll put them into my home décor scheme.  Maybe for a little while.  Maybe for a long time.

This particular item was one of those I bought thinking it was fabulous.  And that I could sell it for probably thrice what I paid for it.  Quickly.  Just to be on the safe side, I never buy anything I don’t like myself.  That way, if it doesn’t sell, and I’m stuck with it, it’s still something I like.  But this one was a no brainer.

I found this in an antique shop in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was marked down.  Should have been a hint to me.  But I got it and hauled it home.  It was a mid century dining table and chairs made out of cast aluminum.  The style was maybe not high Mid Century, but the fabric on the chairs certainly was.

So I put it in one of my shops.  And it sat.  So I moved it to my other shop.  And it sat. Even after a couple of price reductions.

A table and four chairs take up a lot of room in an antique mall booth.  Space that I could be using for things that might move faster.  So I moved it back to the house.  Into the garage.  Instead of parking my car in the garage, I had this cool table and chairs.  But I had no use for it other than to sell it.

It went on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Several times each.  I changed the price each time.  Sometimes down, and sometimes up.  A lot of people looked at it.  And a few even said they wanted it.  But no one actually ever came to plop down their money and take it away.

This thing had to go.  And I slashed the price.  Asked for offers.  And I got some stupid offers too.  Surely it had some value as scrap metal.  I was that desperate.  No, I couldn’t do that.  As a last resort I’d move it to the basement and figure out a way to set up a table and chairs down there.  I could always go sit in the basement and stare at the dust balls.

I’m always skeptical when people inquire about something I have for sale on Market Place.  From lots of experience.  But this time I had a good feeling about the person asking about the table and chairs. She said, “I know this is from a long time ago, but is it still available?”  Why that gave me a good feeling I don’t know.  But after answering her in the affirmative, she came back and said she would get her prop master to come get it.  That convinced me.  A real buyer.

When the prop master showed up at my door to get the table and chairs I learned that she was with the local university opera program.  My table and chairs were going high society!  I’ve had several things that turned up in movies.  Little things that are really hard to spot.  But a big table and chairs on stage in an opera! Cool.  I like the opera.  But now I like it even more.

When you know something is valuable, it’s worth holding on to.  Even if it takes forever to find the right buyer.  I hauled this stuff all over the countryside.  And sold it for a bargain basement price.  I might have made a total of ten dollars on it.  But it sure was pretty.  And what a fun adventure.  Now there is a big hole in my garage.  Think of the possibilities!

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Seedlings

This was supposed to be so easy.  Chop, plop, stomp and move on.  That’s how it was done in the videos anyway.  And the expert, standing right next to me, described it the very same way.  Putting this all into action was another story though.

My perfect house sits in the middle of a clearing in a forested property in the country.  Very serene and idyllic.  But there isn’t much landscaping around the house itself.  So I’ve been planting foundation shrubs.  And some trees.  This type of planting takes a lot of work.  Find the perfect location with just enough sunlight.  Dig a big hole, twice the size of the root ball. Carefully put the plant into the hole making sure that the roots are covered, but not too deep.  And look carefully to satisfy yourself that the trunk of the tree or shrub is straight up and down.  Eyeing it from several angles for certainty.  Then fill the hole with an amended, loose and nutrient rich soil. Tamp it down a little, water and mulch. Just like its written on the instructions.  Perfect!

I’ve done that with all of the shrubs and the few trees I’ve planted thus far.  But this new phase of my project called for something a little different.  The forest is filled with oaks and maples and sweet gums. Lots of green in the summer and yellows and browns in the fall.  Grey in the winter.  So I wanted to fill in with some smaller trees.  And some color.  After a little research I decided I could plant dogwoods in the shade of the forest. There would be white flowers in the spring and red leaves in the fall.  Plus the green all summer long.

One or two wasn’t going to be enough.  Not even four or five.  And buying trees at the garden center would add up pretty quickly. Somehow I discovered that the forest service sold seedlings for landowners to use for timbering purposes. You can buy pine seedlings by the thousands!  Cheap. They also had dogwood seedlings. I’d have to buy at least fifty. But at a buck each that was a good deal. So I ordered them in October and they would be available in January.

And indeed, one day in January I got a call saying my seedlings were in and I could come pick them up.   I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  Many years ago I had signed up with the Arbor Club and gotten some free seedlings to plant.  They were each about six inches tall and took forever to grow.  Would my dogwoods be any bigger?

When I arrived the man told me to pull up to the barn and he’d help me load up.  Oh my God! Was I going to get fifty seedlings each six foot tall and in three gallon buckets?  In my van?  He came out with a little bundle about three feet long and six inches around.  My fifty seedlings.  But hey, they were two or three feet tall already.  They grow like crazy.  He told me to stab my shovel into the ground, wiggle it around, stick the tree in and stomp the dirt back down.  Chop.  Plop. Stomp.  Move on.  Only have to do that fifty times.  Easy.

As it turns out…

Trying to figure out the very best location for each seedling took a good deal of thought.  Fifty seems like a lot but I had a lot of forest to cover.  Didn’t want to waste any either.  So I had to get them the right distance apart.  And somewhere that I’d be able to see them in all their glory.  Right here. Oops, move it two inches left.

The ground turned out to be a tad harder than I’d expected.  With all the rain we have had I thought it would be soft and loose.  No.  It had some nice mulch on top from years of decaying leaves, and sandy clay under that. Plus, the top two inches or so was crisscrossed with the roots of nearby trees and weeds and blackberry bushes and whatever else could get in the way.  A simple stab and wiggle didn’t produce the hole I wanted.  Start digging.

The plop part was maybe a little better.  But you still have to hold the trunk of the seedling while you backfill the dirt to make sure that its standing straight up. The stomping part was pretty easy. I was wearing big boots so I could do some stomping.  Except it required something of a delicate touch so as to not crush the roots and smash the soil down so tightly that it was impervious to water.

So instead of chop, plop, and stomp, all in the span of less than a minute, it was a little more involved.  And took considerably longer.  With much more effort.

Fifty trees.  I’ve been at it for two days now and have planted twenty.  It hurts my bad back so I can only do it for about an hour at a time.  Its going to take more than three more days.

It feels good to do this though.  Working outdoors.  Planting trees.  Knowing that the effort I put in today will produce great beauty and pleasure for me to enjoy later on.  Worth every second.

So, even though I should have learned by now that almost nothing ever works out the way it was planned, I have learned that I’m pretty good at adjusting my plans so that just about everything I do works out to my satisfaction.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours

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Squirrely Trees

A sudden crashing sound outside startled me. Even the dog perked up her ears where she was snoozing on the sofa. It was otherwise quiet, except for the howling gusts of wintry wind. I put on my shoes and my coat to go outside. Was there a tree now laying atop my house? Had my car been crushed? October of 2017 saw a giant oak tree uprooted and fallen across my driveway. I’m still cleaning that up.

Nothing unusual in the front yard. Nor the back. No branches on the roof or in the surrounding forest. It hadn’t been the same kind of sound as the October surprise. That was a long, slow creaking and grinding crash as the tree fell and wiped out everything in its path. Including the electrical power lines.  This was much more of a big thunk.

The dog found a ball to play with and lost interest in the noise.  I needed to know if the sky was falling.  So I trained my eyes on anything that could have made such a sound.  Didn’t take long.  There are two chairs in the backyard that sit near the fire pit.  In the late fall it’s nice to sit by the fire.  The chairs are plastic Adirondacks.  I painted them red.  Both of them were laying on their backs.  That would have made a noise.  The plastic chairs would clatter as they hit the flagstone pavers in the area. But that wasn’t the sound I heard.

Further up the driveway, across from the storage building, I noticed something I’d not seen before.  This was new. Its hard to keep up with every stick in the forest, but I knew this, whatever it was, had not been there before.

It almost looked like it was alive.  A squirrel? If it were a squirrel it was the biggest one in the world!  Stretching from the base of the tree, seeming to climb the tree, the thing reached almost three feet up the trunk, trying to climb back to the top.  It looked to me more like a praying mantis than a squirrel. But three feet long?  Holy crap!

Upon closer look, which I very carefully attempted, it turned out that this was not an animal at all.  Turns out its a part of the tree trunk that had fallen from the upper part of the tree. It was actually hollow, dead and rotted from the inside.  Several equally dead branches projecting from the main trunk.  Maybe the tree had been hit by lightning and this part had died. Or maybe it was diseased.  Or maybe the damn squirrels had eaten their way into the tree to make themselves a nest deep in the trunk.  I don’t know.

What’s obvious though is that the log still wants to be in the tree.  Like a ghost refusing to pass on to wherever, lingering to haunt its former home.  This log wants to get back up into the tree to grow.  To survey the landscape around it.  To interact with the other forces of nature passing through every day.

Do trees feel pain when they are injured?  I know they bleed.  They are alive, but are they just a conglomeration of chemicals and atoms? Or do they have a soul?  I don’t know.  And probably never will.  But I believe that everything on the earth has a soul.  The saying goes that the truth is stranger than fiction. And that certainly has been the experience that I’ve had on a number of occasions.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?img_2632

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