June Morning

 

It is a June morning here in the South and, just last week, I lost my annual struggle with the female occupants of our house to leave the air conditioning off.  While it is, admittedly, rather warm and humid, I do miss the connectedness that an open window gives me to the out-of-doors.  Just last night I violated common sense rules of energy efficiency and opened an outside door to our bedroom so that I could hear the sounds of a late night rain.

At our cabin in the mountains, we built a replica of a covered bridge over a nearby creek.  Along with the music that the stream provides, it is a great place to spend the night especially if it’s raining.  The tin roof is a drum for the raindrops as they plink their mesmerizing tunes.covered bridge 1

Sleeping inside a sealed up house causes me to miss nighttime sounds.  In the warm spells of late winter, it’s spring peepers.  The season marches on to the tune of Barred Owls, then Crickets, Tree Frogs, and, in mid-summer the lonesome calls of cicadas.  In the last few years, I’ve also become enamored of the chilling yips of coyotes as they comb the countryside in pre-dawn darkness.

 

 

This morning finds me in the vegetable garden at our Kennesaw home attending to the start of what looks like a good year.  To my chagrin, the rain last night, heavier than I thought, beat down most of my sweet corn; however it should recover.  After picking peas, squash, and some dry beans, graying skies march in with thunder.  Not wanting to miss out on the coming precipitation a line from the Beatles’ song rumbles through my head. . . “When the rain comes, they run and hide their heads, they might as well be dead, when the rain comes. . .”).

I get a folding chair and set up in the door opening of my garden shed prepared to shell the recently picked ‘Black Coco’ beans.black beans  Some gardeners would advise to simply leave the pods on the plant until they are completely dry.  However, I am concerned the regular storms we are experiencing may cause the pods to rot.  And so I shell those purple-black legumes rolling like fat and lazy jelly beans into the container on my lap.  The rain picks up in intensity and splatters a cacophony of notes onto the metal roof of my shed; I surround my feet with a bucket barrier to keep the rain from splashing my already dampened shoes.  I can think of no better place to be.

There’s an old country saying that “A summer morning thunderstorm is like an old woman’s dance” and this one is no exception.  In the fifteen or twenty minutes it takes me to shell a quart or so of beans, the rain begins to cease.  I put the beans in a food dehydrator to complete the process of drying that nature has begun and head back out to stake some bamboo that is heavy with new growth and wetness and is leaning out too far over the garden path.  The twine I am carrying is prominently labeled “American Hemp” with a small note just above – “Made in Hungary”.

There is much to enjoy in both the natural and human-made worlds.

 

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This’n’That

annoying car speakersI am willing  to pay top dollar for a device that will discreetly, but effectively, destroy the speakers of those vehicles whose operators believe it necessary for me to hear their music twenty vehicles distant.  Among other distinctive annoyances, my heart becomes confused in proximity to the pounding of the bass and believes it should beat in harmony with that guttural thumping which accompanies such absurdities.

woman doing hand standAlthough I am starting to linger longer at the incontinence section of the pharmacy, I am ahead in the ball game of life.  While I may, at this moment be unknowingly looking at my last pitch, I have already exceeded the average life expectancy, been healthier than most through this point in time, and apparently rank high (as do many Americans) in the overall world financial standing.   Some would say I earned it; some would say I am blessed.  I would say that I have been tree on stump in waterfortunate to have had an opportunity to flower where I was planted.  Selah.

I was excited a few years ago to learn that our trash hauler would begin to take recyclables.  However, their list of acceptable items has begun to dwindle a bit with glass (!) being the most recent victim.

‘Just the facts ma’am!’ :  Headed up I-85 this spring to buy some annuals at a wholesale producer in Buford.  Exited north of the Perimeter turning left and there on the right of the bridge overpass stood a white, bearded male who looked to be in his mid-thirties.  Holding a sign that exclaimed “HONK IF YOU LOVE AMERICA!” in red, white, and blue lettering, he had an assault rifle draped over one shoulder, butt end up with the muzzle pointed down.  The gun included a clip although I had no idea if it was loaded.  Of the several vehicles passing by, one did honk.

The fun thing about being involved in horticulture (as I have for most of my 66 years) is learning and doing something different.  To wit, I recently pruned a spiral formed Boxwood with a pair of scissors as that tool seems the most appropriate for the job.  Matter of fact, I have now done it twice for this same person and will likely do it again.  Interesting.conifer-clipping_with scissors

Seen on the bathroom wall of a local restaurant:  “I know nothing except for the fact of my ignorance.”  Socrates (A truly wise man!)

Seen on the bathroom wall of the Physics Building at UGA in 1969:  “The demands of Nature are non-negotiable!”

Speaking of ignorance, wisdom, and occupations, I have, as any professional does, developed some distinct preferences for tools of the trade.  I remember thinking That is for sissies! the first time I saw a Mantis tiller in use about thirty-five years ago.  I thought that only the ‘manly’ 7 or 8 horse Troy-bilt tillers were appropriate.  Now, in addition to an eight horse rear tined Honda tiller, I own not one, but TWO Mantises.  It seems that others approve too as the field has exploded with very capable competitors in the same small tiller arena.  I find them particularly effective for both small planting bed preparation and for assistance with soil preparation in digging holes.

Sledgehammer

The sledgehammer has a distinct familiarity in your grip even though the amount of time since you’ve used one has allowed the calluses on your hands to soften.  The weight of it is solid, honest, and just the right kind of form that a baseball once had when you tightly wrapped your fingers around it.  Much of the muscle on your big frame has been acquired through decades of repeated use of this and similar tools.  Your hands have slipped and gripped around the handles of innumerable shovels, rakes, and picks as you guided them in their specific tasks.  “If I had a nickel for every hole I’ve dug . . .” you’ve remarked many times as your living has been earned creating room in the earth for plants.

Many have appreciated the creativity you’ve exerted in making those countless holes.  Writing your legacy on the landscape, spacing, width, and depth became the musical notes of your career.  Those lyrics would support the poetry of plants and their songs would make many happy.  For you, the physical effort has proven not only satisfying, but has also yielded an escape valve for the pent-up angst that periodically torments you.

Examining the 10 and 12 pounders you consider their purchase, but experience reminds you that those are for show-offs or jobs requiring only a few blows; repeated use is best managed with the familiar eight pounder.  That particular weight yields consistent results when employed with the combination of proper technique and stamina.  You know this because you have pounded countless spikes as you built timber walls, flailed discarded concrete into crumbled limestone, and, once, impressed a tough carnie at the fair with your prowess ringing the bell five times in a row with a clumsy wooden mallet.

As with any new implement your eyes admire the bright finish on the hickory, while your fingers slide gently up and down the slick, smooth wood.  Your touch is a slow, thoughtful caress as if you feel the grain itself.  You recall your grandmother’s story of her father selling tool handles he had made in Clinton, Tennessee for ten cents each.  His were of unfinished wood, a condition this handle will eventually share as the rigors of everyday use will inevitably grind its sheen into a dull bareness.  But for now it is just tacky enough to allow a firm, satisfying hold as you envision the hammer arcing through the air gaining momentum toward the intended object.  No modern machine can displace the satisfaction that you derive from the simplest of implements.

The steel head is painted bright red and briefly reminds you of a favored childhood fire truck flattened by your father’s foot as it delivered his message of anger.  Along with the scattered pieces your heart began a years long fragmentation of hope.  Long before you reached the age of reason, the impotency of your child’s body had forced you to adopt uncertainty and fear and hide them under the guise of normalcy.  There the physical, emotional, and verbal abuse would lurk in the dark and grow into a moldy anxiety that would linger for decades.  As often as you could, you and your siblings would charade as happy children with only the insightful eye of your grandmother penetrating the ruse.

Growing up was pocked with a constant uncertainty.  The monster could come from any direction at any hour.  And you can never remember the reasons, but you can recall with clarity the stark results.  Except that you were always responsible, being too stupid, too incapable, and of course, too weak.  On the last count you now intend to prove him wrong.  But once again you have forgotten that he always failed to acknowledge your strengths as his power came from focusing on weakness..

With your choice made, you proceed to the check out at the hardware store.  You are only a few minutes’ drive from the cemetery.  If she knew, the clerk would be stunned with the use you intend for your purchase this evening.  But you don’t say anything about your plans and she pleasantly hands you the change before turning to the next customer in line.

You position the hammer carefully; right hand on the handle connected to eight pounds of steel balanced just over your shoulder.  As you walk out the door and towards your truck, it is important for you to demonstrate care with its transport.  You want those who might notice that you have confidence in your ability to handle such a simple tool.  It could be a weapon in careless hands, an instrument of construction or destruction in proper hands.  John Henry you surely ain’t, but you feel a proud kinship with that steel drivin’ man.  He raced an indifferent, callous machine and so have you for decades.  In a short while your reputation for gentleness will be in jeopardy.  What kind of private legacy will you create tonight?

Rain is beginning to fall as you knew it would and that perception gives you additional confidence.  But it is not needed as the feeling that what you intend to do will be incredibly satisfying, no exhilarating.  A madman-like exuberance begins to take over your mind like a drug.  Getting into the truck you place the sledgehammer, heavy end down, on the floorboard next to you, and drive out onto the highway.  Some of the tequila stored under the driver’s seat finds its way into your mouth and reinforces the budding euphoria that develops in less than five miles of busy traffic.  But you see beyond the lights and vehicles, navigating with a purpose supported by a foundation of vengeance.  By the time you have parked on the construction road that passes next to the cemetery, a pounding heart flushes your face.

Now you’re on the bombing run of this mission.  The rain is harder, and dark clouds to the west promise more intense precipitation, but you hardly notice.  You’ve got the target fixation they told you to avoid in flight school.  “Aim carefully, fire, and pull the hell up!” was constantly drummed in gunner training.  But here, the target, the firing, and the aiming are blurred by rising rage into sameness and you don’t care as the alcohol ignites anger.  As your ears begin to burn you feel the increased blood pressure in your head.  Elation and depression collide creating a vacuous emotion that leaves only your eyes focused.  Their intensity would frighten most.  But the toughest of men, just like your father, will yield no ground, and tonight neither will you.

In the gathering darkness it’s only a short walk to the new granite monument.  That typical sized headstone is inscribed with an outsized surname, one that you share.  Your last ounce of caution is expended as you make damn sure you’re not about to deface another’s monument.  Of course you’re right; the inscribed date is only a week old.  The disturbed red clay is marked with the stone cold king that crowns the presence of the impoverished soul that lies buried beneath.  Expletives boil in irritation in your mind as part of you says the moment’s delay for identification wasn’t necessary, but you steamroll that impatience and position yourself for your task.   Intensified by a distant street light, the granite glares at you with its sheen of moisture.  “No problem, mother fucker,” you say out loud to no one except the ghost that yet taunts you.  The words seethe like hissing water through your teeth and lips as the rain streams off your uncovered head.  Thunder rumbles in the distance.  But you’re not bothered by the storm even as it pelts in bigger and bigger drops.

Taking a handkerchief out of your jeans pocket, you wipe the handle on the sledgehammer that so recently resided under the store’s calm lights in a dry display.  Positioning your booted feet at a space slightly wider than your shoulders, you orient your body at a right angle to the mocking stone, and grip the handle tightly while raising it above your head, arms and torso ready to provide the thrust of that short, well-known arc.  Your stance is familiar, but this time your focus is atypical, full of hatred.   As the red painted head gains momentum in its downward swing and passes swiftly just in front of your knees, you think of the time he was there to watch while you blew out your arm pitching along with the chance for a top tier college scholarship.  It was another futile effort to please a man who couldn’t be satisfied.  The destruction of your arm and this blow of the sledgehammer take the same amount of time.  The head of the bright red metal rings hard against the ‘D’ in that surname.  You’re not certain, but it looked like some of the red paint flaked off against the unyielding granite.  The hammer is quickly raised and comes down again with the only apparent result being a high ringing of the meeting between steel and stone.  With the sound of the repeated blows chasing each other in up and down octaves, the noise becomes oddly satisfying as if the dead themselves are keening.  Rising and ringing the blows pierce the silence, making a strange wailing in the cemetery.  After producing several more memory-anguished strokes, you pause to gather your breath that is now coming faster.

Shifting the position of your feet slightly, your brain sends another painful scene before your eyes: the time your sister was beaten while pleading with your father and urinating copiously.  The rain splatters against the granite just as her pee did against the wooden stairs upon which she stood while she begged for a forgiveness that had no merit.  You’ve never heard a more piteous, heart-breaking plea before or since.  Picking up the sledgehammer, you re-double your efforts.

As your breathing intensifies, your muscles begin to warm up despite the cold rain.  The thick stone, however, does not yield to the repeated blows.  You remember his infuriating mantra repeated to you at critical moments: “I’m not going to change!”

He remained true to his word just like this unyielding stone.

How long do those aged muscles and pressurized rage fuel your attack?  Could be minutes or it could be an hour as you’re not sure.  You second guess yourself and think that perhaps the twelve-pounder should have been the weapon of choice.  You briefly consider placing the truck in four-wheel drive and crashing into this obstinate monolith.  But enough common sense remains to know that damage to your vehicle would far exceed any potential satisfaction.

But you persist; you want to prove that you are as tough as he was; you want to hear him apologize, say he loves you.  Those thoughts cascade in a deeply worn groove of expectation.  Is that a crack in the thick, grainy rock?  Are those flecks of mineral that might indicate some change in that stubborn face?  Yet you can still see the certainty that his guarantee to remain pigheaded made upon his enraged countenance.  And he didn’t change just as he vowed, and even with a combination of sweat and rain clouding your eyes, you can tell that the stone is unaltered by your mighty and repeated blows.  The effects of the alcohol have diminished too quickly, chased away by a quivering, cold sobriety.  If blood from a son can’t have an effect on a father’s heart, how much can be expected from a hammer?

Another much more recent memory quickly surfaces.  It is last week, a few days after the funeral, and you are riding in the backseat of your Mustang with your buddy Steve with whom you attended the Air Force Academy.  An old roommate, acting as the designated driver, motors your trio randomly about town.  You and Steve have become drunk in the unbounded expanse of hard liquor while confined in the small backseat.  To your companions, you appear to be sharing a riotous time until you suddenly bend over, abruptly put your head in your hands and begin to sob.  Your grandmother would understand, but the distance imposed by her grave keeps her unaware.

Your hands attempt to hide your sorrow and shame, but the words find their way out through wet fingers.  “Steve, did you know my dad died?”  Of course he didn’t as few knew simply because you had said nothing about it.  What do you make of someone who forever deprived you of any opportunity of satisfaction in this world by putting a .44 caliber bullet in his brain?  Cheated is the best word.  As the car moves slowly over the one lane bridge at the Chattahoochee River, Steve places a stunned hand on your bent back while you heave the contents of your stomach onto the floor mat beneath your feet.  The alcohol-sweet smell of bourbon permeates the car.  After this brief visit, you will never hear from him again.

And just as suddenly as that days ago event, emotions foment in an uncontrollable manner in that stormy cemetery.  Recollections, anger, and rain all mix in an uncertain combination of salt and wetness as you collapse exhausted onto the tombstone.  Drops of water merge with tears of frustration and cascade in disordered succession down your face.  You can’t separate rain from sweat from weeping, but the tears are as plentiful as the blend of raw, salty emotions that course through your gut and lodge in your heart.  A long sobbing wail escapes your mouth.

You release your grip on the sledgehammer and allow the handle to fall alongside the monument.  And it will lay there while you return to your truck, return to the world and the solace of your family, and dry yourself off.  You emerge into a sobriety you’ve not felt before.  It will take some time, but the load will gradually lighten as raindrops and crying erode the hardness.  You will not miss the burden of that inflexible stone.

The hammer has done its job.

If I Were King of the World

First off, I will vote myself in by a landslide garnering at least 90% of the popular vote. I will allow the (remaining) unpopular vote to be divided between Alfred E. Neuman and Vladimir Putin. Upon my conflagration, I promise to enact the following changes:

1) I will require that all roads be lined at least two thirds of their length with trees. As part of my rule, it will be necessary that such vegetation be allowed to develop in a natural fashion. Arcing boughs will extend over the pavement forming periodic green tunnels. Highways will not be designed for speed but for enjoying travel; constructed with long gentle curves that take advantage of every panoramic and pastoral setting. No billboards will be allowed; only informational notices. The formerly ubiquitous Burma Shave signage are to be reinstated along with occasional groupings of picnic tables set in shady groves. Speed limits will be governed by cables buried in the pavement and confined to a leisurely fifty-five miles per hour thus allowing the driver to appreciate scenic pleasures also.Tree lined road

In addition, all means of travel will be required to have those triangular vent windows that were once installed on all vehicles. Then everyone may again enjoy the gush of air across their body as they travel, diminishing the need for air conditioning while allowing outside air in.   By reducing purchases of Abrams battle tanks from all national offense funds, governments can cover these costs.

Mobile phones will be available for use only in genuine emergencies. Travelers’ destinations will become only part of any journey’s gratification as trips will take on more of an aesthetic function.  ‘How long did it take?’ will be displaced by descriptions of how many birds were seen, what kind of clouds sailed the sky, and remembered conversations enjoyed along the way.
Baby image2) As King of the World I’ll also make it an imperative that members of both sexes are schooled and licensed as fit for parenting before being able to conceive. Those opposed to this rule would be among the first groups to be trained. As of this writing, it is much more difficult to purchase a gun, become qualified to be a hairdresser, or spray chemicals into the environment than it is to make babies. Emotional maturity, patience, and the ability to consistently give love and care to a small person will become the qualifying criteria for becoming a parent.  Financial ability will be a very secondary consideration and monetary assistance is to be available for those otherwise qualified. If family and friends are in short supply for the competent parent(s), help will be made available in the form of nannies, foster aunts and uncles, along with those skilled in the inestimable art of growing children.
3) Just after my conflagration, I will make it a requirement that the “Official Language” of each state be the one that was dominant in the year 1500 around the area of the current capitol.  This would help eliminate the periodic concern of cultural pollution that occurs as new waves of immigrants arrive. By popular vote every five years, there would be an option to choose Latin as the non-political, non-secular, non-appropriate language.
4) I will, as King of the World, enjoin  everyone at some point in their life to experience the bliss of a hot air balloon ride. I particularly favor this rule because I’ve yet to partake such a journey myself and I want plenty of amiable companionship on my trip. For those who fear heights, counseling will be made available to provide a period of adjustment. If therapy does not benefit those who fret, then an alternative method of personal giddiness will be encouraged such as sailing, kite flying, or swinging. The underlying purpose is an intent to keep all peoples in routine touch with the gaiety of childhood.

Hot air balloon
5) In addition to the above, I will insist that the currently popular phrase “Respect Life” is broadened beyond Homo sapiens to include all life. To that avail, I will set aside eighty percent of the land surface and ninety-five percent of all water area as private reserves for flora and fauna other than people. Travel through and into those areas is to be carefully monitored and restricted so that complex ecological systems are not disturbed by human footprints. Harvesting of life forms and minerals for human consumption will only be allowed in a manner that respects the environment and preserves any species being affected.  (This includes ticks, sharks, and snakes.)

6)  Use of mobile phones, computers, tablets (any electronic device for that matter) during meal times will be outlawed.  Violators will be zapped by taser-armed drones that will be on continual overhead duty.
7) As King of the World, I will alter the long standing tradition of being born, living, and then dying. Quite simply, I’ll reverse that traditional order so that everyone will come into this world by dying. Then, each person will be able to appreciate all the sentiments, eulogies, and floral arrangements for themselves from their respective funerals.  If such accolades are in short supply (i.e. pallbearers have been paid to carry one’s corpse), then the dearly departed now have a chance to make amends.  Dying into this world will give everyone an opportunity to mend regrets and to do those things we would have done differently “if we just had the chance.”

It will also become permissible for each person to keep their acquired wisdom with them as they became younger; ultimately leaving this world by actually being born. This would help rid our lexicon of that old saying that “Youth is wasted on the young.” Birth is, of course, almost always a joyous occasion and generally a much happier manner in which to depart this earth. As an essential characteristic of this new way of dying and being born, everyone would keep their childhood laughter as a normal way of communicating joy and thus serve as an emotional wellspring of mirth. (I’m confident this would be one of my most popular dicta.)

8) I will make an immediate maxim that narrow-minded thinking must be replaced with open-mindedness. (Sorry, folks, my call as to the description of what constitutes having an open mind.)
9) Unease about money and financial well-being willl naturally be one of the primary concerns in any domain. I will allow each individual a choice between being wealthy or penniless (no more of this middle-class stuff). If one chooses wealth, they could have that experience until they completely (all wealthy trial periods limited to five years!) appreciated riches and then would be required to experience being poor. Once they had mastered (minimum ten year period) the worries of the unfortunate, they then could decide what is best for them in terms of financial well-being. For those not understanding any part of the lesson, it will be mandated that they be required to repeat their prior existence “Groundhog Day” style until they get it ‘right’. As part of this law, any person who has annual income of greater than one million dollars in any given year will be required to place the overage in a lottery system for the poorest folks. Sorry, I know all the multi-millionaires “earned it”, but no loopholes on this one.rich-poor

10) I’ll ask the brightest scientists of the world to come up with brain and penile implants that will negate, inhibit, and prevent imposed views (other than my own), rape, and hurts (verbal, physical, and emotional) to all children under the age of 150 years.
11) Finally, as King of the World, I will confine my reign to a period of no more than one month. By then my improvements will have caused adequate angst, anger, and acrimony, particularly among those who relish such emotions. For these folks, I will mandate the companionship of one ‘I love you unconditionally’ dog. Each of these malcontents will be monitored to see that they are subjected to a five-minute licking (by the dog) twice a day.

Having completed my objectives, I will retire to the mountains of western North Carolina and await my execution my well-meaning zealots.  As part of my last request, I will ask for a brief opportunity (seven days) to enjoy the fruits of my improvements without the additional pressure of having to come up with, and then implement, better ideas.

For my last meal, I will request fried chicken, fried okra, and fried apple pie.  In order that my brain be fried upon my demise, I will also ask for copious amounts of nitrous oxide to be administered by twenty dancing girls.  ( I won’t object if the quantity of female lovelies is increased to twenty-one.)fried chicken dinner

P.S. I’ve also decided that each time there is reasonable precipitation (you know, snow, sleet, hail, or rain) in an area, all humans will be given the option to stop whatever it is that they’re doing, relax in whatever fashion is appropriate for them, and enjoy nature’s interlude.  Choices of where to appreciate this respite (a front porch, under the covers, or in the arms of a lover) will be left up to each individual.

Having spent almost all of my life (before becoming King of the World) planting trees, shrubs, and groundcovers, I will want those elements to be my legacy.  No plaques, memorials, or oil-splattered roadways in my name, PLEASE!  Instead I’ll opt for the hopeful legacy of beauty that those plants will give to future generations.

'Angel' Live Oak in South Carolina

Sense and Responsibility

Another trip to the dentist as a fifty-six year old.  This is one of many in a long line of appointments associated with proper oral care and a continuing effort to retain as many of my diminishing numbers of original teeth as is possible.  This time I am here to have the two caps on my front teeth replaced as the current ones have “done their due” as my grandmother used to say.  During the course of my life, I’ve had the typical amount of dental work done in addition to the periodic replacement of these caps.  Like most people, I’m not ecstatic about going to the dentist, but I learned from an early age to bear up to whatever was necessary while reclining in that chair with that same glaring light that Saul must have received on the road to Damascus.  (Except that I’ve never had a conversion experience in that supposedly comfortable recliner.)

When I was a young boy, an unfortunate event happened that would add to my familiarity with that dreaded environment for the rest of my life.  However, I am getting a little ahead of myself.

Before having a crown done a couple of years ago, I decided to take advantage of the nitrous oxide my dentist’s office offers.  I was curious as much as anything.  Numbing of any areas to be worked on had proven adequate in past procedures.  Numbing in addition, of course, to imagining myself in more pleasant circumstances, a skill I honed early on at funerals.  But this particular time, I discovered that having ‘laughing gas’ lowered my anxiety to the point where I didn’t much care what was being done to me.   I decided that I was ready to trade teeth and enamel for nirvana.

So, this trip, knowing that I am going to have those front teeth worked on, I look forward to the nitrous oxide.  Draping the hose around my shoulder that delivers the glorious intoxicant, the assistant fits plugs into my nostrils.  She reminds me that in order for the gas to be effective, I must breathe in solely through my nose.  With a combination of obedience and anticipation, I carefully follow her instruction.  Soon I begin to feel the effects, my feet tingling slightly, my brain giddy with a light buzz.  After a few minutes, the assistant returns.

“Feeling anything,” she asks, “any tingling or anything?”

“Not yet”, I lie as sincerely as possible.  Because I am a big guy, I am hoping that she will buy my fib and increase the octane.  And she does.  Or maybe she’s just being accommodating.  As long as I get the juice, I don’t really care what her motivations are.

“I’ll turn it up a bit.”  She does so and leaves the room.  I continue to inhale deeply and completely through my nostrils, encouraging every molecule of gas to rush into my bloodstream and add to the developing party atmosphere inside my head.

Lightheaded and carefree seconds add up to fast minutes as my eyelids drift closed.  Suddenly, I am disturbed from my reverie by the dentist who is now leaning over me and explaining what she is going to do.  Hoping I appear lucid, my eyes blink open in response to some long distance call from my foggy brain.  I nod my head.  I’ve heard it all before anyway, and I want to seem like I am fine and not headed towards the moon.  Cautious, I want to avoid any behavior that would betray my mind’s ongoing request for oblivion.

“How’s the gas?  Do you need a little more?” she asks.  In the most piteous, non-eager manner I can muster, I nod my head affirmatively.  I hear her adjusting the dial behind me.  Disguising any external bliss, my internal cells revel in their neuron pathways experiencing a celebration worthy of Mardi Gras.

After what seems like a few more minutes of restrained gaiety, I am feeling most fine.  In acknowledgment, perhaps, of my wasted state, both the assistant and dentist return to begin the formerly dreaded procedure.  As they collaborate in my gaping mouth, I wonder if they are curious about why my two front teeth were knocked out and wouldn’t they like to know?  I feel like blathering away.  The sensible side of my high is still in control (albeit barely) though, and I promptly realize that it would not be professional of them to ask what happened.

But the inane side of my brain persists.  They must be interested . . . . football injury, car wreck, blow to the head from an angry ostrich?  I am dancing my way through an ethereal fog as the relay switches try to make once familiar connections.  I realize that any event that would result in the loss of one’s front teeth would likely not have been pleasurable and polite folks might be curious but not inquisitive.

Encouraged by the loss of brain cells, the thought of acknowledgment persists and takes root in the few remaining coherent parts of my mind.  Maybe I’ll go ahead and tell them!  I struggle with the idea while they wrestle inside my mouth.  I don’t want to appear overly loaded and have them turn down the juice.  Giddiness interbreeding with raw excitement, I am feeling the rush that downhill skiers get when racing just on the edge of control.

Because of my inebriated state, the pathway for glabbing has been lubricated to the point I feel as if I could take on the entire MIT debate team single handed.

I can’t recall the circumstances preceding the loss of my teeth, but I know it had to be my fault.  I am nine or ten years old and the incident itself is yet very clear in my memory.  My mother is standing in the kitchen in our house and for some forgotten reason I have made her very mad.  Turning from the sink, she throws (my mother was a thrower from way back) a fork and I feel the tines as they embed themselves in my left forearm, the odd circumstance of spinning metal biting my skin at just the right angle.  I don’t think the utensil stuck in my flesh very long, but I clearly remember watching the four jagged lightning streaks of blood trickling down my arm before they merge and drip off my wrist.

I don’t recall fear or pain, but there must have been some interest in self-preservation as I remember turning to run away.  Retreating, I get no more than one or two steps before my traction fails on the throw rug covering the hardwood floor.  I hit the unforgiving surface face first and my upper teeth absorb most of the impact.  The two front break with an inverted ‘V’ between them leaving me with the appearance of a molting vampire.  Staring in disbelief, I pick up the broken pieces and look at them in my hand.

My next memory of this specific event is of being at the dentist’s office.  I am trembling with fright, my hands shaking leaves on quivering limbs.  I have caused my parents unneeded financial expense with my mistake.  I cannot escape the continual admonitions of my father of being an error prone, worthless son and will receive further physical retributions from him as affirmation on this and countless other matters.

Noticing my anxiety, the dentist likely realizes that I will not make a very compliant patient.  Saying it will calm my nerves, he gives me a strange-looking green liquid to drink.  I manage to get it down even though my hands feel as though electric current is running through them.  I can’t recall how much it helped, but I did get my first of many sets of caps on those fractured teeth.

However, I am now an adult and have dealt with these sorts of procedures many times.  Of course I don’t need the gas and I really would like to tell the women plying their trade in my wide-open mouth about how I got to be here.  My inhibitions lowered, reckless speech engendered, I give strong consideration to a confession.

“It was really my fault you see . . . .”

But I never tell on myself.

Helium Hope (conclusion)

Near where the blue and green balloons rest exists a small cottage.  Inside sleeps a young boy. Nudged by dawn, he rises to the sound of bird music that is periodically overwhelmed by the crowing of a rooster.  His balled fists rub the sleep from his eyes as he gets up.  Wandering from his bedside, he quietly walks the wooden floor with pattering steps and goes out onto the front porch.  Moving into the yard, both he and the grass are washed with morning light.  His pale blond hair gleams like corn silk.  His belly protrudes in the way that the stomachs of small children do.

He shares this place with his older sister and mother but they are not yet awake.  Their dog greets the boy with a wagging tail, that movement signaling his readiness to go and do whatever the boy wishes.  They meander about the yard in random dots and dashes; an irregularity of looking and learning.  With the curiosity characteristic of the open slate that is his young mind, he plays tag with the dog, makes toys of random objects, and touches everything with either his eyes or fingers.

The red ball that is the rising sun stirs the air.  A breeze rocks the two resting balloons and their movement catches the boy’s attention.  Any remaining sleepiness is instantly forced from his tousled head.  Their presence registers as magic to his blue eyes and his mind immediately recognizes them as a gift.  They become treasures he holds close forever. In weeks and years to come, he will discover additional balloons that were dispersed by the old woman in the surrounding lands.

As he walks his path, her hand provides guidance; her heart gives him courage on dark days; he feels her love when there is none other to be felt.  When reassurance is necessary, he can see her in the heavens a lighthouse of hope for a young boy . . .  an old man.

Helium Hope (continued)

Sailing over a meandering river two of the balloons become targets for a young man with a .22.  Their withered remains collapse into the waters below.  The rest of the colorful melange gradually drift out of sight headed away from the setting sun.  They dance over a tree-draped ridge which forms the rocky backbone against which the river constantly exerts its force. The river and ridge are ancient neighbors accustomed to eons of shared events and sights.  For them, the balloons are at once both exciting and mundane; a brevity of interest amongst millenniums of untold happenings.

Aided by a downdraft, a few of the trees at the top of the ridge make an effort to reach out and capture some of the beauty for themselves as decoration.  Assisted by a clump of mistletoe, an old sycamore manages to hold a pink balloon in its gray and white streaked boughs.  The sycamore sighs happily with its success and, over the next several days, shares its prize with its more diminutive neighbors.  The balloon is gradually handed down through the forest canopy, finally nesting among a clump of Christmas ferns.

Daytime is gently displaced by the rosiness of dusk which itself is gradually transformed into nighttime’s starlit skies.  The breeze which has guided the flight now fades into the still night air as the balloons lose some of their haste.  They, too, rest with the quiet countryside.  Yet, their journey continues, more slowly, over dew covered fields.  Some contain cattle, but they patently ignore the quiet, overhead parade.  As their large jaws grind cuds in a sideways motion, their huge bodies rest on bent legs folded underneath them.

The balloons sail on, their reverie briefly interrupted by the din and glare from a busy roadway below.  However, their height gives them protection from the hurried jostle beneath.  Slowly, but inexorably, the long hours of flight gradually dissipates the gas which has given progress.  As though weary from their long journey and seeking respite, each one begins to randomly lose the altitude which has given them a lofty plane.  Singly, and in small groups, they drift closer and closer to the earth finding anonymous landings in unnamed meadows, forests, and streams.

Two balloons (one blue and one green), regain contact with each other in their dreamy descent.  In their slow, easy drift to earth, they are chosen to gain purchase near a small house.  Their silent approach runs no risk of disturbing the pre-dawn sleep of humans or animals as they descend.  Quietly landing within a short distance of each other, they roll about in the high summer grass as though stretching to ease their fatigue.  Gradually they come to a complete rest, whispering to each other, waiting for the dawn.

The old woman lies awake in her bed, accustomed to years of early rising in order to accomplish the tasks of each day.  Near her home, the river’s currents carry cool night air that caresses the soft warmth of the land.  Their meeting creates a wispy, undulating fog that beckons to the old woman and she walks to it, her uncovered head glistening with dew.  Her lower body is enveloped by the slowly swirling cloud.  She reflects on her long life.  She smiles as her soul loosens its earthly bounds and takes a place in the heavens.  Now a star, the morning songs and calls of birds become a cacophony of greeting, a celebration of this new spirit in the waxing sky.

Although unseen during the bright day, her new position is a lofty realm over the soils she once tread.  And, she is always there; sometimes prominently like the bright star she has become.  Other times, her presence is muted by clouds or sun.

But she is always there.

(To Be Continued).