Helium’s Hope

Wearing shoes of cracked, black leather, an old woman is standing in her yard. The grass about her feet is ankle deep and dark green. Draping in loose folds over her thin, bony frame, a faded blue dress, flecked with white daisies, is testimony to her practicality. The dress itself extends in long, vertical ripples to her calves and the sleeves slip just past her elbows, only just exposing her brown hands that are lined with dark purple veins. The palms of those same hands are etched with gray-white streaks as though lightning itself had traced its explosion on her leathery skin.

Her upturned head is covered with a gingham bonnet, salt-streaked from countless hours in the hot yellow sun. Under her chin, a graceful bow keeps the covering in place. Although her shoulders are gently rounded with age, and her arms seem to protrude stick-like from her body, her tanned and wrinkled face is angled expectantly towards the summer sky.

Glinting with hope, her blue eyes refuse clouding.  Her eyes are following bright ascending objects as they gradually rise towards the milky and azure heavens. Easing through the oak trees about her, a breeze finds its way among the strong limbs made furry by Resurrection Fern which resides in green carpets along their sturdy branches.  From a perch high above, an unseen Wood Thrush sings its melodic song.

To keep her balance, she spreads her feet slightly and concentrates so that her watching may linger as long as possible. Only a minute ago, she released from her careworn grip a sweat-moistened handful of cotton strings to the end of which are tethered bright balloons . . . a merry mixture of rainbow colors gaily ascending in a slow, happy swirl. The breeze that is easing through the oaks, promptly embraces the balloons as they rise. Dividing the gregarious cluster into smaller groups, and, finally, into individuals they swim through the sky in their non-ordered, spiral flights.

Surprised by the too-close pass of a red balloon, a Cooper’s Hawk lashes out with his talons and is further shocked by the loud bang of its abrupt collapse. Wheeling away in fright, the hawk pursues a safer haven while the remaining balloons continue their random drifts. Higher and higher they ascend until the upper air currents sweep them to the east, gradually fading from the old woman’s sight.

Yet her vision extends beyond the horizon over which those balloons disappear. After all, this recent launch has been preceded by countless others over the decades of her life. Her perceptive abilities having been honed by loving and loss, she understands the circle of life.  Her heart swirls with a mixture of emotions . . . including memories of her own children as they progressed from babies to adolescence and beyond; each one growing, rising, and slowly separating from the hands that gave them life and nurturing. As she did with her own, she sends hope along with the milk of human kindness with this new offspring as they take flight.

(TO BE CONTINUED, if you’re interested, of course!)

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Aunt Mollie (conclusion, maybe)

“And, so it happened . . .” just like the passages from Genesis describing the Earth’s creation by God.  A little over two weeks later, the Saturday morning had begun inauspiciously with a thunderstorm.  But just as my great grandfather used to say, “A summer’s morning thunderstorm is like an old woman’s dance.”  The rain and thunder didn’t last long but did leave the air clean smelling along with birds singing their appreciation.   As afternoon approached a breeze dried things out and the skies cleared with expectation for a wake for the not yet departed.

Later, as the four o’clock funeral time approached, Aunt Mollie’s yard and driveway were rather unfilled by ten or twelve kin and friends and three or four autos.  The idea of having a funeral for the living had not exactly caught on like wildfire in Clinton.  Spending time and money on words and flowers for someone who was yet alive just didn’t sit well with most who heard about it.  Several folks complained that they’d just have to do the whole thing all over again when Aunt Mollie did actually depart this realm.

One of Aunt Mollie’s cousins, Jeb Beets caught a ride down from Blowing Springs for the occasion.  He arrived with a tongue that had been liberally lubricated with white lightnin’.  Wandering around with a lopsided grin, he made efforts to move straight ahead, but his internal gyroscopes were skewed and he crabbed sideways usually missing his intended objective.  Blabbering loudly to anyone who would listen, he used the event to reminisce about his brother-in-law who had apparently recently died of a heart attack while having sex with a woman who was not his wife.

“I’ve been wonderin’ if’n he came before he went!” his words delivered with a generous spattering of saliva.  Jeb then cackled gleefully, took another pull from a flask halfway hidden in his bibb overalls, and then slapped his thigh as if that comment was the funniest thing he had ever said.  Needless to say, it didn’t take long for everyone to give him and his alcoholic halo a wide birth.

Jessie (good ‘ol reliable Jessie) did come and was cranking a freezer full of ice cream.  A covered dish was brought by each woman who showed up and Aunt Mollie had fried a huge platter of chicken.  However, it began to dawn on her fairly quickly that her idea of a good time send-off and the reality of the afternoon were markedly different.

After listening to one too many comments about how nice her yard looked and “Oh, isn’t it a pretty day!” and “My, that dress you have on is sooooo beautiful!”, Aunt Molly had a “craw full” of insincerity.  She wanted wailing, regrets, anguish pouring out of prostrate mourners.  Not too long into the proceedings she disappeared inside her house and came out having changed into one of her workday dresses.  Pinching a dip of snuff into her lower lip, she proclaimed that she wasn’t gonna waste no more time on this earth doing something she didn’t care to and anyway, she needed to can some tomatoes and clean out the crock and get some dill pickles started processing.  And, my goodness, did she have enough vinegar for a run?   With that, she strode out to her garden with basket in hand to gather tomatoes and cucumbers, patently ignoring her perplexed, but relieved, funeral guests who began to quickly melt away much like the ice cream that lingered in the now thawing freezer.

After everyone left she told me that the whole thing was a major disappointment similar to the time she got married.  She vowed to live as long as possible in order to avoid “having to go through all that again!”  And, she did, dying over forty years later at the age of 106 on her birthday in late July having spitefully outlived just about all of her contemporaries.  Likely, she would have made it a while longer but she choked on a bit of her cake while a few of us sat on her front porch helping her celebrate another milestone.

In an effort to relieve her strangling, Jessie stood her up and unintentionally slapped her back with a little more force than necessary.  Aged himself, he lost his grip on her arm and she lost her footing, pitching forward off the three foot high porch which had never had a railing.  Landing face first amongst the gladiolus she had planted along the foundation, her brittle neck promptly snapped.

She had the foresight to be wearing that satiny, pink dress she had bought years ago at Millers which had also expired as a business entity.  I remember thinking she looked rather peaceful splayed amongst those red and pink glads.  Unfortunately, she was a little over three months from gaining back the hour she had ‘lost’ in the spring to Daylight Savings Time.

Sitting at her funeral in the Methodist Church (the Baptists were still somewhat petulant about her life long absence), I smiled thinking about her longevity.  My great grandfather used to remark that he had a couple of cousins when he was growing up that lived to be over one hundred.

“My folks used to say that they’ll have to be knocked in the head come Judgment Day!” he recalled.  I found it amusing to think that feisty Aunt Mollie might merit the same treatment from St. Peter.

For me, I missed her grievously.  I learned that loss is not something one gets over, but that it can become something that can be lived with.  Of all the people I have known who have died, Aunt Mollie was one of the few whom I felt really graduated to the next realm.

Whether in my garden or watching roaming chickens, I think of her often.  I wonder if St. Pete was able to cope with her matriculation.

THE END (or Intermission for sure!)

Aunt Mollie (continued)

 

 

In an abrupt, belated alliance with the Women’s Temperance Union, Aunt Mollie decided that the road sign announcing the location of our town’s watering hole had to go.  Even though it had been erected two decades previously just after Prohibition had ended, she felt that its presence offended her and others of like mind.  Listing to one side like a drunken sailor, the sign and its directions were not far from collapsing of their own accord.  The letters “CE” and “OD” had faded, pale ghosts of “ICE COLD”.   But the word “BEER” remained prominent in dark blue letters along with a tilted, frothing mug of suds, making any thirsty passerby able to comprehend the message being conveyed.

A long time neighbor of Aunt Mollie, Ben Jones, lived across the road from her.  The elevation of his dilapidated house allowed him to see most anything happening up and down the two lanes including the sign across the way.  Plopping his huge butt into his remaining rocker, he began the back and forth motion that would take him for a nap.  A few minutes later, with eyes almost closed, he watched with sleepy interest as his neighbor strode out of her driveway with an axe perched on her shoulder. Curiosity aroused him.  What was she up to?  It didn’t take long to find out as she carefully worked her way through weeds and briars and then began to deliver blows to the supporting posts with a righteous punishment.  With barely a drop of perspiration having formed on her brow, the sign collapsed languidly into the surrounding blackberries.

“Hell,” Ben later told the sheriff, “hit didn’t take her more’n five or ten minutes to slay those goddam timbers!”

Aunt Mollie marched back home in triumph coupled with satisfaction.  Placing the axe against the chopping block to await the execution of another chicken, she went out to thin the green beans just emerging in the garden.  Her mind had moved on to other objectives.

Next morning, the sheriff, with warrant in hand sworn out by the tavern owner, arrested her as she hilled the potatoes and weeded the English peas.  Making no resistance, she left calmly with him.  As she did, she glanced over her shoulder at the cold frame next to the wash house and noticed that the spring onions weren’t up enough to merit attention but the lettuce was struggling under-attended and over-grown.

“I need to thin that lettuce right away or I’m gonna lose it all” she proclaimed to no one in particular.  The sheriff glanced uncomfortably at her, holding her arm firmly but gently as he guided her to his car.  Making declarative statements intended for just her ears helped her to remember things.  For others, it reinforced beliefs held about her eccentricity.

Insisting on riding up front with the constable in his official car, she maintained an unruffled, regal disposition as she was taken to be incarcerated.  Word got around town quickly about the incident spreading faster than kudzu on a sunny bank.   A couple of women from the Second Baptist Church (members of the First Baptist congregation elected to “not get involved”) did some arm twisting of their respective husbands and convinced their men to get her released.  There was some initial resistance.  However, their feminine persuasive powers were enhanced by threats of withholding food combined with a dramatic reduction in bed time privileges.

On the scale of demands made upon married men, this was a relatively small request, so Aunt Mollie only spent four hours behind bars.  By then she had eaten lunch courtesy of the County and engaged two fellow prisoners in lengthy conversations.  They had been caught running ‘shine a week earlier as they had failed to share some of their bootlegging with the proper authorities.  She invited them, and they agreed, to come by her place as soon as they were released and have some of her famous country fried steak smothered in gravy.  Later, the incongruence of inviting strangers who had been hauling the product to which she objected, and been briefly jailed, was not lost on some of the locals.  However, Aunt Mollie didn’t see any contradiction at all.

“Those are humin beins, NOT billboards”, she retorted with compassionate logic.

Refusing all offers of assistance, she smoothed the apron on her dress as best could be done, re-pinned the wisps of hair that had managed to escape her bun, and then walked the three and one half miles home as if being jailed and set free from confinement were all part of a normal day.  ‘Normal’ for Aunt Mollie was atypical living for most.

At the end of such an average summer day, I sat on the edge of her front porch enjoying her oatmeal cookies and a glass of milk.   I think I was about thirteen or fourteen and she and I had spent most of the afternoon clearing an area above the chicken house of weeds and brush.  Clucking with enthusiasm, the chickens were appreciative of the disturbed soil and avidly pecking away at any exposed earth.  Watching their movements, I became mesmerized as I enjoyed those delectable cookies.  Transfixed, I sat with an immobility that left red imprints on the back of my legs from the rough wooden planks that decked our favorite sitting spot.  Aunt Mollie rocked slowly in her chair while I focused on slating my burgeoning adolescent appetite.

Being close to dusk, the sun was settling down into a cotton candy bed of rose and pink clouds.  For what seemed like a long while, our sharing of sweets and sunset displaced any talking.  Although no words were spoken, our shared reverie had a plethora of communication for both of us.  With typical suddenness, she broke our mutual silence.

“Y’ever thought about gettin’ a casket?”  Her question caused me to stop chewing abruptly.  Although I was accustomed to her spoken fastballs, this one had whizzed by me before I knew it was being thrown.  I wasn’t mature enough to have the reached the age of reason and balance necessary to parry with an adult, especially one as complex as she.  I swallowed hard.

“I ain’t old enough to need one am I?”

“Are ya puttin’ aside some of the money I give ya for helpin’ me ‘round here?  Are ya still savin’ yur earnins from mowin’ grass and sich?”

“Course I am, Auntie!  That’s how you taught me.  I got ‘most twenty- five dollars in the bank right now!”

“Well, then, ain’t nuthin’ wrong with havin’ a little savins for yur end time neither.  Anywho, I got Joe Hollingsworth (our local mortician) to give me a two fer one deal on solid oak caskets.  Ya might be a bit short for either of ‘em, but you’re still growin’.  Doesn’t hurt to plan for the future.”   Picking up the rusting coffee can next to the rocker, she spat into it, wiped her mouth on her apron, and then concentrated on the waning sun.  As she was focusing her eyes into the distance, she seemed to be talking to the horizon instead of me.    Understandably I found her logic distracting and immediately lost my appetite.  As I pondered her offer, the u-shaped bite I had made out of my cookie grinned back at me.  Before I could respond, she continued.

“Matter of fact, I got the whole thing planned out.”

“What whole thing, Auntie?”  My juvenile mind was trying to keep pace with hers, making a strong effort to find some common ground of understanding.

“The funeral; my funeral.”

I was getting lost fast now.  I looked up at her, blinking and bewildered.  In the nighttime gloaming around us, crickets were beginning their chorus and fireflies were emerging from the grass with their erratic connecting dots of light.  A lone bullfrog gave his throaty call from the creek which flowed by not far away from where we sat.

“When’s it gonna be?”  I didn’t know what else to say.  The surrounding elements of nature were not having their usual soothing effects on my psyche.

“I think I’ma gonna have it in about two weeks.  That’ll give everybody tha’s interested plenty of notice so they’s can be here if they want to.”

Now I was really starting to fall behind with her line of thought.  I felt as though I had agreed to race a sprinter but instead found myself competing with a marathoner. I hadn’t been trained for this sort of event.

“You mean you’re going to have your funeral here . . . at your house?”  Realizing I had placed the cart before the horse, I quickly added “Do you mean you’re gonna be dead in two weeks?” My heart beat fast with dread.  I was incredulous and my still developing voice slipped upwards in part because a lone raisin had lodged against my larynx.  ‘Weeks’ ended up sounding like ‘squeaks’.

Without hesitation, Aunt Mollie handed me the glass of milk sitting by my side and said, “Nope, I don’t plan on that.  I want to be ‘round to enjoy my own funeral.  What good does it do a body, and a dead ‘un at that, to have flowers and tears that ya can’t enjoy if yur stiffened up in a casket?”

As if to add emphasis, she began rocking briskly.  “Nope, I’ve already been down to Miller’s and bought me this purty pink, satiny dress and I’m gonna walk around in it and listen to all those friends of mine tell me how much they are gonna miss me.   Loretta, (who had been instrumental in arranging for her jail release) has one of them record machines.  I’m gonna ask her to play “Whole Lotta Shakin’” by Elvis and “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” by that Sinatra gal.”

At this point in time, I was completely overwhelmed and too confused to know what sort of emotions I should be feeling.  The two or three funerals I had attended were hardly parties and the preachers seemed to devote most of the services to saving the souls of the living.  At one in particular, the fellow being eulogized had been a rascal.  The minister made him a practical saint saying he had agreed to be ‘saved’ on his last day on earth.   I wanted to rattle the box in which he lay and make sure we were considering the same person that I had known.  All sorts of thoughts roiled in my mind, speeding through like moonshiners on an overnight delivery.  But Aunt Mollie continued as though I were right with her.

“I’ll make a stack cake and I’ll get Jessie to bring over his freezer and crank up some homemade peach ice cream.   He’s been getting’ some nice fruits from his orchard up at Blowing Springs.  I gotta remember to get some rock salt.  I can’t expect him to bring everthin.”

While she had certainly never been the depressed sort, I couldn’t recall her looking so happy and unburdened.  She paused and I was able to gain a little ground.   Breathing deeply in an effort to steady my thoughts, I asked, “How you gonna let folks know?  Are you gonna invite a preacher?”  No bigger than a bar of soap, her frame had not darkened the doorway of a church since her husband passed.

Hesitating for a moment as though she had not considered this possibility, she quickly recovered.  Her voice rose an octave or two, passion evident in her words, “Yeah, I’ll invite any pritcher that wants to come, but he ain’t gonna waste MY funeral on hellfire and brimstone!  He can sit ‘round with the rest of us’n’s and act like reglar folks.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

Aunt Mollie

Aunt Mollie

Memories are a patchwork of colors, sizes, and arrangements. In that jumbled assortment of recollections, some pieces repeat themselves throughout the fabric of one’s existence for many reasons. Aunt Mollie is such a redundant presence in the first decades of my life in rural Tennessee.

None of my family was related to her and she was more of a mother figure to many in our community. From the time I was allowed to move about with some degree of freedom, I felt her gravitational pull and soon learned to navigate the quarter mile or so walk from my home to hers.

She was a sweet but independent-minded woman. Married long before I was born, her husband had been killed in an accident at the hosiery mill which provided most of the employment in our county. Their union had produced no children and, seemingly, no regrets as I never heard her speak of him. She treated me with a degree of equality that was absent in the behavior of most adults that I knew. As a youngster her candor caused me some difficulty in understanding her conversation, but I always grasped the genuineness clearly present in her words.

Her style of living would be viewed today as archaic, yet I never thought her preferences as odd simply because those habits were the way by which I knew her. She owned two or three faded, patched gingham dresses. They were clean but the full apron she wore would be flecked with bread crumbs, chicken parts, or black soil from her garden. Those particles from her various activities created mosaics of modern art that would have made Jackson Pollack proud.

She wore her hair in a bun and her chores would, as the day progressed, gradually free wispy puffs in downward drafts like grey and white smoke about her cheeks. She also dipped snuff, its presence marked by a pale brown trickle that crept out of one side of her mouth and disappeared beneath her chin. Along with cash, she kept the tobacco stuffed over her left breast inside her clothing. Keeping several empty JFG coffee cans at strategic sites about her home gave her the convenience of being able to spit the effluent of her habit into those handy reservoirs. The odor of her spittle and the dark brown fluid that collected in those cans gave a sickly sweet smell that was pervasive throughout her home.

The interior of her house was dark, yet to me it felt inviting and a bit mysterious. On the back side, a small screened porch provided a retreat where I felt safe and cozy. She would reinforce my comfort with a few of her oatmeal cookies or a saucer of homemade pimiento cheese and crackers. Her cooking was renowned, although her method of preparing vegetables was the other side of al dente. By the time I was in grammar school, her place had become the center of my small universe.

Somewhere in the alphabet soup of mental issues, Aunt Mollie had drifted from ‘eccentric’ to ‘peculiar’. In that era, most folks accepted others with various forms of dementia and accommodated them in their lives. Part of this tolerance was borne of the fact that institutions were reserved for the desperate or defenseless and spaces simply weren’t available for mid-grade emotional deficiencies.

For example, “Crazy Arthur” lived in town and was viewed by folks much like a wart that exists on one’s hand. He pretended to drive the small section of downtown using the top of a garbage can lid as his steering wheel and his own two feet for propulsion. The locals accepted Arthur’s parking privileges with gentle derision as he placed a few pennies into the meter. He continued this habit until, at the age of thirty-eight, he was punched by an irate out-of-towner from Ohio who thought Arthur was being disrespectful to him. Arthur was rightfully upset that this stranger had run over and then parked on top of his ‘car’.

And then there was the well-known brother and sister in Pop Holler who co-habited in the house they had inherited from their parents. Embarrassed personnel from the county health department would periodically come out to deliver an oblique lecture on incest and separate the two beds that they had pushed together to make one. Then the siblings would stand together at the front door, watch the county people leave, and as soon as the dust had settled on the driveway they would push those beds right back together. So, while Aunt Mollie had slipped a bit in society’s view of normalcy, she was still several categories removed from temperamental and really not much of an exception when compared to some other characters.

It was easy to figure out where Aunt Mollie stood on just about any issue as she didn’t mince words. “Shit fire, and save matches!” she declared in frustration at the post office upon learning that the government was adopting the practice of Daylight Savings Time.
“Those sinators from Washington have forgotten that roosters crow at the crack of dawn and that cows need milkin’ ever day at the same time no matter what hour they want to say it is! That’s messin’ with God’s time!” While Aunt Mollie was not particularly devout in the traditional sense, she knew the value of invoking the Good Lord’s name when applicable.

She was incensed about ‘losing’ an hour in the springtime when the clocks were moved forward. “I’ll be dadgum if’n I’m gonna die before October!” In frustration, she repeated this oath each April along with underscoring her rebelliousness with a refusal to adjust the time on her own clock.

In addition to an expansive garden, she raised chickens. I watched her many times as she severed a hapless bird’s head with an axe, and then held the legs while the decapitated body splattered red blood over the green grass and her hands. Once though, she absentmindedly left the chicken on the grass with green bottle flies slowly circling the white feathered body and walked the two miles to Cas Wallace’s store. Having also forgotten to clean the chicken’s blood from her hands and put on a clean apron, she strode unerringly to the spot where she knew cornmeal was kept and picked up a bag. Approaching the worn wooden counter, she looked Cas straight in the eye as if older women with blood stained hands and aprons were a regular occurrence.

“Put this on my bill, iff’n you don’t mind, Cas.”

Cas had certainly seen many an oddity in his long years, but he right then and there deeply regretted not having closed the store earlier that morning and gone fishing as he had wished. Complying with her request, he kept one eye on her as she sailed through the squeaking screen door and headed back down the dusty road towards her home. But that incident paled in comparison to a couple of years later when she was arrested.

To Be Continued . . .

Mail Sex

I’ll bet that title got several folks’ attention . . .

However, it is that time of year when many of us look forward to the cornucopia of color and content that begin to arrive in our mailboxes.  Enthusiasm, excitement, and enticement build with each delivery by the good ‘ol reliable USPS.  Forgotten are the dog days of August when heat and humidity steamrolled any further interest in just about anything to do with the out-of-doors.  Overlooked are the remaining chores yet to be accomplished to clean up the landscape, re-mulch, and get rid of withered plants from last season.

FullSizeRender (4)What am I talking about?  Gardeners among us know precisely.  It is the highly anticipated arrival of seed and nursery catalogs with their lovely, alluring, specimen-perfect photos and descriptions of seeds and plants.  Some companies accentuate the appeal by having attractive young people smiling into the camera while holding gorgeous fruits or veggies in collecting baskets.  Although casually dressed, these gardeners have no soil stains on their clothing, their brows are void of perspiration, and they smile as though the produce was collected on perfect days sans much effort.  As readers, we blithely succumb to the possibilities suggested in those pictures, happily giving in to the hopes and promises of a new season.  Those images connect our gardening minds with fondness into the soon-to-be future of soil under our fingernails.  Our minds contentedly imagine visions of 100% germination, envious people admiring our luscious gardens, family and friends gathered around the table drooling over fresh vegetables . . .  and, thusly, our drab winter days are brightened with hope.FullSizeRender

And, why is it that we drift into the horticultural equivalent of denial, pushing into the recesses of memory past droughts, the worry over pests and diseases, the sweat and toil associated with gardening?  Partly it is due to the fact that many of us are weary of the cold, short days of winter and partly it is because we can’t wait for the sunny promise of those warm, soft feelings that April brings like a beautiful bride.  Additionally, human nature is such that we can’t resist the competitive urge to do it better than last season.  For some, that includes having the first edible tomato in the neighborhood.  (Hint: 1) start seeds indoors in mid-February or, 2) purchase in May those ridiculously huge three-gallon plants that already have several green, well-formed fruits on them.   Be sure to throw away the $15 receipt before claiming sole effoFullSizeRender (2)rt.)

FullSizeRender (1)Gardening and farming have to be among the most positive and hopeful of human endeavors.  Those activities resonate with our roots on this earth just like the memories of our respective mothers however they manifested themselves into our lives.    I won’t enter into the debates of GMO’s, organic versus non-organic practices, hybrids versus heirlooms, seed-saving versus purchases.  However, I can guarantee you that $100 invested in seeds and plants will yield better results than gambling with the same amount of money, more highs than an equivalent amount of booze, and greater satisfaction than the mixed emotions of watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand-new BMW.

Happy gardening!

Thinking of the Future

Well folks, the conclusion of another year is upon us and these shorter days have given me pause for thoughts about endings and beginnings and all the mixology that goes on in between . . .

For some time now, I have been battling the sinister encroachment of invasive plants onto our four plus acres.  This little isle of land is surrounded by nasty stands of Privet, English Ivy clawing its way up neighboring trees, and sneaking masses of Liriope (a.k.a. “Monkey Grass”).  All form fruit that is valued as food by many species of birds.  In turn, our avian friends vote with their digestive systems in indiscriminate ways, spreading far and wide the progeny of what they’ve consumed.  Not respecting property lines of course, those dastardly offspring methodically make their way onto ‘my’ land.Japanese Privet

“So”, you might say, “what is wrong with plants that provide food for our beleagured feathered friends?”  Well, on that basis alone, mostly nothing, but the dominating characteristics of all the aforementioned plants have a tendency to overwhelm existing natives, including many of our wildflowers.  On ‘my’ plot, Yellow-root, Caseby Trilliums, Hepatica, Uvularia, Anemone are indigenous species who watch this encroachment with trepidation.  (How do I know that plants have emotions and feelings?  It’s easy, just ask one!). Thus, I conduct irregular missions of removal in a battle that I may win for some unknown amount of years.  However, the eventual outcome of domination will be won by these illicit aliens once my presence here ceases to be a factor.  Of course, these sorts of wars are going on all around the planet as (mostly) human activity has spread many life forms beyond their original geographic boundaries.  Aside from Privet, many of you will be familiar with Ebola, for example.invasive species images

Yet, I take some solace in the apparent fact that at least 97% of all organisms that have ever existed on our planet are now extinct.  Given the rapaciousness of human progress (read that as a geometric population growth), I am dubious that we will fall into the skinny three percent or so of long term survivors.  But that, dear reader, is fodder for another post.  So while it does seem that the extended presence of those invasive plants appears to be finite, that thought caused me to wonder what the prospects are for Earth itself.

Googling the question revealed the fairly well known fact that our planet is, among several other possibilities, likely doomed to being burned to a crisp by the death throes of our solar system’s expanding red sun.  It’s all just a matter of time.  One of the sites that popped up proposed that, if humanity acts reasonably quickly (two decades or twenty million years, I don’t know), we can save ourselves by transplanting people to another compatible environment in an infinitely vast universe.  Sounds plausible to me, but I do wonder if English Law will find a foothold on Planet Xanax.

But the  point to which I am building is that I really like living here. Travolta as Michael In the movie ‘Michael’, John Travolta humorously plays a chain smoking, beer drinking, pot bellied version of the archangel, Michael.  Sent back to earth to perform one more good deed before he must return to Heaven permanently, the movie ultimately reaches a sweet, romantic conclusion.  However, I feel the penultimate scene is towards the middle where Travolta’s character is thoughtfully perched in a very pastoral setting somewhere in the American midwest.  Lamenting his temporary status on Terra firma, ‘Michael’ looks longingly over the beauty before him and says, “God, I’m going to miss this place!”  That monologue has stuck in my memory since as it resonates with my feelings for the beauty of the world we do live in.  Boys and  girls, I’m not referring to buildings, or planes, or the newest mega-superstore, all of which soar over “improved” real estate.  Rather, that resonance lies in myriads of ways in the natural world including the migration of Sandhill Cranes, the asymmetrical beauty of the Spurred VioletSpurred Violets (the veins serve as 'landing lights' for pollinating insects!), the ghost-like calls of the Barred Owl, or the thousand year old majesty of a Redwood Tree.Barred OwlBaobab Trees in Madagascar

Aside from the damage we’ve done to our only home for now, it truly makes me sad to think of all this being burned to a crisp even if that event is a few million or billion years in the distance.   Of course, just like what happens here on Earth, there is a beginning and end to everything (and then, other beginnings).  All of us are composed of recycled dinosaur dung, carbon, and for now minute amounts of mercury.  Then we are tossed into that DNA blender of life and rudely thrown out of the womb to begin to make our own way.  (Of course, a diaper change or two along the onset is of significant assistance.)  So, I suspect the elements of this current home will go into the construction of other places for life in ways and situations that seem unfathomable.  I believe it arrogant to think otherwise.  Regardless, it is essentially impossible for our minds to consider our surroundings being substantially different from how they exist now.

And for me, this beautiful Earth (despite all of her scars and wounds) is where I am from and where I want to remain.  Given an opportunity for passage to another world, I’m certain I’ll elect to keep the seat that I have on this boat; anyway, it seems to be the only ship available.  Do make every effort to enjoy the journey and treat our vessel well.boy and leaf in the rain  Away from the smell of fine leather seats, perch on a moss covered stone and open your senses.  Listen to the complexities of living things that exist in our Natural world.  Watch for the subtle progress of flowers, the construction of bird’s nests, the slow, silent blanket of a developing snowfall.  Smell the odors and fragrances that accompany the changing seasons.  Accept weather as not an inconvenience, but rather a nudge from Nature to slow down and enjoy.  There is truly more to life to appreciate than the quickest route to the mall.