Monthly Archives: March 2013

Tree Cemeteries

Wraaaahh! Whruummmm!  Chain saw in the distance.  Which direction?  Maybe more than one.  Every day the chain saws and the grinding.  Still cleaning up the mess.  From the looks of it, they will never get finished.

It was one hell of a Halloween trick in October of 2012.  Superstorm Sandy came ashore in New Jersey and then pummeled the entire East Coast.  The chain saws I hear are those in a small area of Pennsylvania near my parent’s house.  The landscape of their property is greatly changed as I view it five months later.

There are empty spots where trees used to line the front walkway.  A new pile of cut up wood in the barn.  But mostly there are dozens of trees fallen and broken, lying on the ground and atop one another.  What used to be a neat wooded area of apple and maple and oak trees now looks like someone took the contents of several dozen log trucks and dumped them at random in this area.  An impenetrable jumbled mess.

Maybe if I could rent a chain saw, and a log splitter, and a commercial grade tree mulcher and worked eight hours a day for a month I could clear this area.  Less than twenty percent of their property.  Certainly within six months…  maybe.  Wait a minute.  I don’t live in Pennsylvania, I’m visiting for a weekend.  And I have a job I have to go to.  Damn.  It will never get done.

There is one sign of progress in the yard.  Where the walkway meets he driveway, where there used to be two towering fir trees, there is now a nice area of thick mulch.  Freshly ground fir trees from the looks of it.  Hmmmm.

I see these piles of mulch everywhere.  Every home seems to have one in their yard.  Some are the remnants of a single tree.  Others look like a dump truck load, like I used to have to pay for to landscape my yard.  And in still other places there are piles that look as if they were left by the trainload.  I see a house where the entire yard is nothing but mulch.

And yet each home also still has piles of fallen trees.  These aren’t dainty and petite trees.  They are fifty-foot tall trees with hundreds if not thousands of branches.  Six inches, a foot, two and three feet in diameter.  Big ass trees.  Really big!  There are undeveloped tracts of wooded space where no work has been done.  Trees, trees and more trees on the ground.  As if a tornado had gone through and flattened everything.  Most visible as you look at the hillsides. 

My dad told me the neighbors had thirty trees knocked down, neatly, like soldiers marching in rank felled simultaneously.  They were gone now, and a vast emptiness had replaced them.  It will take years for new trees to grow back and fill the voids.  It will take years to clean up the now dead trees.  If we wait long enough they may rot before they can be cut up.

And what of the environmental impact?  Thousands of photosynthesizers no longer at work.  More carbon dioxide into the environment, less oxygen.   Increased global warming?  Not to mention the problems associated with increased water runoff and soil erosion.

It took a long time to create the trees, but only a few moments to take them away.  It’s a sad sight.  If this is what has happened here, I can only imagine the damage caused over the entire area of the East Coast.  It will take forever to clean it up.  I need to get started.

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


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The Estate Sale


Remodeling and modernizing the ancient house, the heirs to the estate were eager to rid the old place of the former inhabitant’s belongings.  The old man had lived in the family homestead for eighty years.  Then he died, leaving behind a lifetime collection of the things that defined him. 

By the time I got there, several hours after the sale had begun, there was no hint of personality.  Just a collection of stuff.  All neatly organized by subject matter.  All of the pots, pans, dishes and glassware were neatly displayed in the kitchen.  Large furniture remained where he had left it.  But not how he left it.  No sign of use.  No indication of the favorite chair in the den.  Coffee mugs piled in a box.  No sense that these had held a warm drink on a cold winter’s night.  Why did he have this one?  Where did he get that one?

He’d been in the military.  And played golf.  At least he had a set of golf clubs.  No sign of his abilities.  Or where he played.  His military uniforms were hung on hangers, displayed on a rack with a variety of other clothing.  Nothing to say the man had been a hero.

There were no photographs. 

Nothing filled the air.  There were no scents.  Perhaps he was a smoker and the home was fumigated.  Did he ever cook?  Cooking smells sometimes linger, trapped in the curtains or carpets throughout the house.  Not here.

To him, this was home.  Perhaps there had been smells.  And photographs.   And the sound of laughter.  A lifetime of memories had filled the home.  Now it was just an uninhabited building filled with a variety of material goods, sold off to the highest bidder.

Perhaps the family had kept the photos and their favorite memories of the old man.  Can’t say for sure.  The evidence of remodeling was everywhere.  Hurry.  They will fill the house with their possessions and it’s walls and rafters will capture their memories.  And hold them long after the next owners do their own remodeling.

Our things define us in life.  Our life defines us in death.

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

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Sometimes, even when the snow is still on the ground, I can go out in the yard and look at the branches of trees and shrubs and find little tiny buds.  I’ll hold the branch in my hand, gently between my forefinger and thumb, and look closely to see if they are there.  This ritual begins in late winter every year, and I know the majority of the trees and shrubs in the yard as if they are old friends.

The buds begin as barely a blip on the surface of the branch.  As my anticipation of a bloom grows, so does the bud.  Weeks pass and I check every plant.  The buds grow larger and larger until I can see the beginnings of the flowers that will soon come forth.

Travelling south this weekend I noticed that the blooms are further along as I proceed until, reaching South Georgia, some of the trees are in full bloom.  The redbud trees are covered in pink and lavender.  Azaleas are full of bounteous color.  Apple and pear trees are covered in white.  And maple trees have reddened branch tips and leaf buds.

Very soon the procession will begin at home.  First the winter jasmine.  Then the forsythia.  Then redbuds and flowering fruit trees like apple, pear and peach.  Then the green leaves of maple and birch and oak.  The flowers have already begun.  Daffodils.  Tulips.  Iris.  And the grass will soon return to green, reawakened from it’s brown in dormancy.

I know it’s all coming because I see the yellow dust.  The pollen that comes from the blooms and chokes the sky with its yellow fog.  It coats the car, and the house.  And everything else that stands still outside.  Noses run and eyes water.  Soon, everything will be green.  And beautiful.  Passing seasons.  Jut like last year. And next year.

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

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The Family Flag

“I’m repping the family flag!”  That’s what the caption said on my daughter’s recent text message.  She’d sent a picture of herself wearing a special t-shirt I had made for her.  It has our family flag on it.

Family flag?  Am I some kind of royal family or something?  No.  An average Joe with a big imagination.  And a penchant for pomp.

For some reason I’ve always liked parades and flags.  Maybe it’s the flair.  Maybe the majesty.  Certainly the romance of it all.  That’s part of the reason I joined the Navy many years ago.  The parades and flags and uniforms.  Glitz and glam.  So I’m a sucker for pretty things.

But back to the family flag.

While I was in the navy, I designed a flag, technically a pennant, with two tails, that I wanted to use to represent my family.  The plan was to fly it at the lake house when I was there.

I’m not an artist, but I was able to use some crayons to get down the basics of it.  I showed it to my wife.  And asked her if she could make it for me with the her Betsy Ross skills.  She laughed, knowing that I come up with some wild ideas.  But she agreed.

I drew it to scale.  Used some architect’s tools for straight lines.  Then I bought the fabrics and some grommets.  I had the flag flying every weekend when we went to the lake.  So much so that after many years it was tattered and torn.  I’d always wanted to put that design on some other items but the sewing bit was too hard.

Modern technology made it all possible.  I took the old flag to a t-shirt shop.  They took a photo with an I-phone.  Stuck it into a computer.  Fixed the image to perfection and screen-printed it onto a t-shirt.  Front and back sides.  Magnificent!

I wanted everyone in the family to have a t-shirt with the flag on it and showed them the one I had made for myself.  My daughter liked it so much that she took mine!  That’s what she was wearing in the picture she texted.  Reppin’ the flag!

I had another one made for me.  And one for my other daughter.  And my dad.  I still have a few more things to have done with the design.  A hat, for one.

Now that’s a way to show some family ties.  To preserve a family legacy.  That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Elixer of Life

Burnt beans.  Who comes up with this stuff?  We must have lost a lot of ancestors to ill-fated experiment s with new foods.  Perhaps at this point in human history we have pretty much exhausted the ranks of new natural plants and animals to experiment with.

Sitting at Dunkin Donuts, sipping on some coffee, I was hoping to find an inspiring story.  Maybe some unique individual would walk in.  Or I’d overhear the conversation of someone with a wildly fantastic tale.  Nothing.  Although I did hear something about a suicidal armadillo form a woman who was on the phone with her insurance agent detailing her automobiles damaging encounter with this crazed beast.

People talk to loudly in public places.  You’ve heard them.  On the phone.  In the elevator.  At the restaurant.  I can’t figure out if they just want everyone to hear about their lives, or if they just don’t realize how loud they are.  Me, I keep my stuff on the quiet side.  Maybe that’s why I don’t understand Facebook and twitter.  But I digress.

The other day I finally had to admit that I was a coffee addict.  I had to go to the doctor first thing in the morning for a breathing test.  No, not a breathalyzer.  A test to measure lung function.  That’s another story but to prepare for the test I had to forego coffee for eight hours prior.  After the test, which I passed with flying colors, I found myself scrambling for a cup of Joe.  I practically dove on the pot to fill my cup.

Looking back, I should have seen the signs.  Wake up in the middle of the night, drink a cup of coffee, go back to sleep.  Drink a cup of fully leaded just before bed, and drift off to sleep effortlessly.  I’ll drink it cold.  Almost always black.  Special occasions call for a touch of cream and sugar substitute.  I don’t care much for powdered cream.  Anytime.  All the time.  Gotta have a semi full cup nearby. And it must be caffeinated.

I learned to think coffee like this in the Navy.  Sailors work long hours.  There are always people on duty.  Around the clock.  And thus, there is always coffee available.  On the ship it was always in a thirty-gallon pot.  Hot.  Black.  Burnt.

If I go to a coffee bar, you know the places, with hundreds of choices for fancy brews, I always order “plain old coffee.”   The barista looks at me funny.  It’s not the caffeine.  Nor the taste.  I just need to know it’s there.

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

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