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Thursday, January 15, 2015


This morning going out with carrots to see the donkeys, I noticed a paper-thin crust of ice all over the ground. It was slick, though not threatening. It shattered like automobile glass underfoot leaving white footprints on what looked like damp leaves. I leave the leaves of autumn on the ground. Why rake them, put them in plastic bags and take them to the landfill? The leaves are the best fertilizer there is for the ground. The nutrients in a leaf are specific to the tree it fell from. Or so I believe. At home, I'm specifically engaged in growing topsoil. The spot the house is on was bulldozed down to clay to make a smooth place to put up the house. A few rhododendron had been planted around and a line of white pines planted along the edge of the road. It was an ecological disaster in my eyes. I did not know trees well enough then to have the foresight to cut the white pines down while they were small enough to drop easily. They have a way of growing big and then they're not easy to cut down. White pine trunks tend to snap about half way up in winter during ice storms. One missed the roof of the house by so little that a branch sticking out from the trunk held the screen door closed after it landed, such that I could not open that door. Didn't even scratch the screen. The white pines grew, shedding needles every year, setting a base for topsoil to start, something to hold the rain water to keep it from running off. Wild violets volunteered in a mass that made a lawn in early spring. Jewelweed coming up was in seedling stage while the violets were in flower. The jewelweed grew up to my waist with orange orchid-like flowers that look like they evolved specifically for hummingbird beaks. The flower has a reservoir the hummingbirds go to. Their seedpods, a miniature version of the string bean, are spring loaded. Touch one and it flings half a dozen seeds three or four feet in all directions. The old hillbilly name for them is touch-me-nots. Jewelweed is a name new to the mountains. People who grew up on farms played with them in childhood. "Touch-me-nots is all I ever knowed em by." I've heard they're invasive, not good, bad. I'm glad they are. I love them. They cover the ground from house to where car parks in summer. 

Close to forty years later, I've cultivated good topsoil around the house. Since the white pines were cut down, I let every sapling that took up have its chosen space. The area between the house and the road is a small forest. I let the limbs that fall out of trees lay where they fall. A network of small limbs all over the ground catches and holds the autumn leaves that keep the moisture from a rain. I've spread donkey droppings around the rhododendron to give them a boost. The donkeys add to the topsoil. Cultivating living topsoil was my contribution to make the place better for me being here, instead of less. Chickens lived here my first ten years, roosted on a white pine branch, added their contribution to the topsoil in its beginnings. I've let the ground between the house and the road go to forest floor. By now, it's like in the woods. I've placed rocks here and there, as they appear in the woods. Brought home the skeleton of a tree about ten feet long. I dragged it out of the woods, put it in the back of the truck I drove then, brought it home and put it on the ground to give the mini forest a sense of age. Plus, I think they're beautiful and wanted one to look at out the window. Some people want a mountain landscape vista out the window. I want the forest out my windows. If I were to build a new house, I'd buy some "unimproved" land (woods) and clear just enough ground to put the house and driveway on. All sides of the house would be glass sliding doors. In my mind. The driveway would curve back and forth among the trees. None of this is practical and it doesn't matter; it aint gonna happen. I don't want the kind of money it would take to build a new house and maintain it. At lunch, today, with our BROC group, Jean said something to me about winning the lottery. I recoiled in horror. I never enter the lottery for fear of winning. For me, it's not a problem, because I never win anything. If there's a door prize, it won't be me to win it. Maybe I don't have a winning attitude. Maybe I don't care enough. I've seen a few people who could concentrate throwing dice and roll the number they want. Not always, but frequently.

Walking to the donkey fence this morning, I did not see my footprints behind. Noticed the ground was somewhat slippery, though not bad, merely wet. I lifted the blue tarp covering the hay bales. It was coated in a thin sheet of ice that shattered when I moved the tarp. It looked like the ice came from fog in the night, wet air. Later, I saw the ice on the car glass even all the way around. It was the kind of ice that seeps into the pores in the glass, and fuses to the glass, best left to melt, which it did. The dump truck spreading salt drove by last night. This morning the road was clear of ice. I'm grateful to our road maintenance crews. This is the worst kind of ice for driving. Black ice. Looks like a damp spot on the road, like in the shade of a tree. And that's what it is. But frozen smooth as glass. Most often in curves. Out of control without warning, a Nascar moment in (oh shit) real life. I was grateful for the salted road all the way down the mountain this morning. The mud road going down the mountain is slick, not yet slushy, and a thin coat of ice would make it all the more slippery. The car steers in it like a boat, takes a little time to get a grip making a turn. Driving these gravel roads in winter mud is the adventure from hell. I think of Weird Al's song, Nature Trail To Hell. They're not that bad yet. Today the mud road was like an imaginary bobsled run. I saw in news yesterday that some states are outlawing children's sleds. In today's news, a nine year old in Idaho arrested for missing his court date over his arrest for stealing a pack of gum. Zero tolerance in action. Makes me want to stay home all the more. A world that does not allow a child childish actions is not a world I want to live in. It's getting too weird too fast. I feel sorrow for everyone younger than me. I feel glad for myself approaching the jump off point. Goodbye cruel world, I'm off to join the circus. I never dreamed I'd see popular fascism take hold in my lifetime. Only because I didn't want to read the signs going into it for what they pointed to. In retrospect, it's obvious. It's what happens when a nation's only value is money. Mammon is not a benevolent god.

I was thinking earlier today about this being the best time of my life. But for medical research, the scientific method, medical schools, I would not be enjoying donkeys or reading the life of Van Gogh. Otherwise I'd be somebody's baby someplace in the world, learning a new language, learning to walk again, rolling a ball, hearing reggae on mother's sound system, dancing around the house with mommy singing. Baby falls down and cries. Mommy picks baby up and comforts her baby dancing in circles on the kitchen floor singing to her sweetie pie. Being somebody's baby again might not be so bad. Of course, I thank God for this extra time on the tail end of a lifetime I've paid attention to. Thanking God is every day ongoing. It's important to thank the doctors and pharmacists too. I think of the inspirational story of the guy who fell overboard. He was treading water in the ocean praying for God to rescue him. Someone throws him a floating ring. He won't have it, God's going to save him. He drowns. At heaven's door he asks God why he didn't save him. God said, I threw you a floating ring. I cannot say I've been bored in this time of living by prescriptions. It's like playing on a trapeze with a net below. I'm having the best times of my life in these years. All I have to take seriously is keeping bills paid and rendering unto Caesar. I enjoy the people I live among, am grateful for the opportunity to experience mountain culture on the inside, to know some of the people I know and have known. I'm grateful I've lived long enough to realize that the gospels and other scriptures are about getting along with others. Getting along with others is the key to peace of mind. In these mountains I have learned how to successfully get along with others. It's in something I learned in these hills: respect. I learned early that respect is important in these hills. Basic human respect. No more than that is called for. Just the respect for occupying a certain amount of space and being whoever the individual may be. It's not about being praised and held up high. It's just a nod of the head that says, How you doin?  


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