Too many years of getting up early at early thirty, I guess. I am standing in front of my western facing kitchen sink window admiring the moon as I prepare my morning coffee. It is cold and crisp with a strong northern breeze. The waning but bright “La Luna Llena” seems so close that I might be able to reach up and touch it and I have no clue as to why I think of it in Spanish.
I normally don’t have to set an alarm to wake up by five o’clock despite having no special place to be and an icy driveway that would prevent me from going out anyway. This morning my rambling “dream thoughts” awoke me at four thirty along with a puppy dog wanting to go outside.
It is mornings like this that I am glad my “dream puppy” awoke me. Most mornings in a time gone by I would get up at four-thirty so I could run or walk before school. This habit has been hard to break.
This morning as Quigley and Cora attended their ablutions, I braced myself in the chilly wind and looked heavenward into a sky filled with stars. It was wonderful to see and for a moment transported me to an earlier time. It was nice to see Orion was still hunting across the southwestern sky.
I ran or walked early, before school or before the summer heat and humidity. I always knew that if I waited, my labors would not get done and I really didn’t want to feel that elephant sitting on my chest again that I associate with an earlier heart attack.
As scary as the outside darkness could be, even with my “miner’s lamp” style flashlight, I loved running, probably more so walking, on mornings like this…even with the coldest temperatures of the season.
The light cast from the moon was so bright I really didn’t need to use a flashlight. I would climb up the hill on Airline Road and crossover Highway 11 to the drive leading into Lookup Lodge. It was as if the moon was following me, always right over my left shoulder until it disappeared behind the small mountains to the west.
Above me Orion hunted despite the pre-dawn glow of the still unrisen sun. As I chugged, wheezing and gasping, out of what I called the hole and climbed the asphalt path up toward the lake, I always knew that both the moon and Orion would be waiting for me as soon as I topped the next hill and found my way to the eastern side of the lake. I also knew that I would pause, stop timing my run, and admire the scene of the moon setting over the lake.
I miss running and I miss the cold, morning air with its full dose of oxygen. I miss the feeling of accomplishment. I still get up at dark thirty, but I wait until a civilized hour to walk. It isn’t the same, but it is something.
It is time to feed the puppies and a cup of coffee…and my nose is getting numb in the windchill.
If you enjoy historical fiction with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure, try Don Miller’s latest release, Thunder Along the Copperhead. Available for download or in paperback at https://rb.gy/2s3wbx
“During this heatwave, please remember to dress for the body you have, not the body you want.” – Unknown
There was a time when I lived for the sun and joined in with the sunbathing crowd. In high school it might have been the old swimmin’ hole or the pool in Fort Mill or Springs Park…Springmaid Beach on vacation.
Later there was the green grass known as Cromer Beach at Newberry College next to the women’s dorm or Macedonia Beach near the church with the same name on Lake Murry. The local radio station would periodically issue a burn alert accompanied by the ding of an oven timer.
The aroma of Coppertone was heavy in the air. The smell of nubile, young women in bathing suits laying around the pool, rendering in Johnson’s Baby Oil or some coconut butter “tanning lotion”. Young men cannon balling off the diving board trying to get the attention of that certain someone.
There is something about the scent of Coppertone that brings back memories. A black two piece on a deeply tanned, dark-haired senior coed who took pity on a tongue-tied Sophomore one Sunday at Macedonia Beach. Epic.
Now it is about the smell of burning flesh as I have another batch of cancer cells cut from my body and the incision cauterized. “Be sure your sins will find you out.” There will be a time when you must “pay the piper.” When it comes to the sun, I have been found out and the piper continues to insist upon his “cut”.
Now it is more about sitting around the pool under a massive umbrella covered in SP100 with the smell of BBQ rendering in its own fat. Ribs or butts being prepared by someone else. If I have my “druthers” I sit inside in the air conditioning swilling a gin and tonic or Meyer’s Dark Rum and tonic, with a twist of lime…a beer will do but I must get my dose of citrus.
I’ve become the old fart who pontificates about the good old days. Stories embellished from a lifetime mired in the past. The nubile young hanging on my every word are neither as nubile nor young as I remember.
To quote Buffett…again, “One day soon I’ll be a grandpa. All the pretty girls will call me, “Sir”. Now where they’re asking me how things are, soon they’ll ask me how things were.” I hate to tell you Jimmy, we’ve both reached that milepost…and it is in our rear-view mirror.
In addition to losing the skin encasing my body, I don’t sweat well. At any temperature above seventy-five my sweat glands work like Niagara Falls after the spring snow melt. I don’t glisten like a Southern Belle; I gush and continue to gush well after I quit my activity.
I didn’t notice it so much during my younger days. I guess I was too intent on the young females in skimpy bathing suits. I did notice it in the hay, corn, and cotton fields of my youth but then there were no girls about to distract me. There was no scent of Coppertone to inhale, just the scent of “Ode de Don” as certain areas became yeasty with the heat generated from my effort.
I was reminded of this, this past weekend. My walking friend was out of town, and I decided to do our weekly walk without him. During my days running before my knees let me down, Saturdays were what I called LSD runs…you had to be tripping to do them…especially in the summer. No, LSD stood for long, slow distance. For me, during those days of yesteryear, it was usually a ten miler. Now, in real time, it is a five miler, walking.
Due to so much uncluttered time with no one to talk to, I was forced to do something I rarely do…think. What I thought about was how thankful I was to be on the trail this beautiful if humid morning. What made me more thankful were the large numbers of people who appeared to be, like me, refugees from a geriatric ward.
These were “seasoned” men and women who were trying to outride, outrun, or out walk the grim reaper. I was particularly motivated by the much older couple who strolled up the slight incline using walking canes while holding hands. There was a young man who came screaming up the incline on his low-slung hand powered bicycle, useless legs just along for the ride. AMAZING AND MOTIVATING!
I want to apologize to the three older men I met. Not for what I thought or said, but for the fact my jaw went slack and agape when I saw the large expanse of white skin and hair from their shirtless bodies. Guys, I know it was hot and humid, but you should not run without a shirt. In fact, anything you might do without a shirt should be privately contained. “Guys, I apologize for my facial expression, but you looked like three very pale Mr. Potato Heads.“
My tee shirt had gained about a pound of sweat, but I would never take it off in a public place…not even at a pool. I am in fairly good shape…for my age…but have reached the age that I now try to sneak up on mirrors when naked or partially naked.
Despite all the bicep curls I do; my arms are sticklike. Pushups can’t keep my chest from falling into my stomach, sit ups and planks can’t keep my stomach from collapsing into my rear, and I don’t know where my rear is going. I guess into my feet because they are still growing.
My years of sunbathing, waiting for the transistor radio to alert me when to turn are over. So are my ten-mile LSD runs. I still reserve the right to ogle ladies in swimsuits and spandex. The cute little girl, probably thirty plus, who ran by me, her ponytail bouncing, was like a chocolate dessert. She smiled sweetly as she sprinted by, and I watched in appreciation of the female form. It is okay to look if I don’t touch. I would be like an old dog chasing a car. If I caught it, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.
Jimmy Buffett’s ode to aging. “Nothing But a Breeze.”
A simple joy? I ran…I jogged…I shuffled my feet…slowly. Call it what you want but “jogging” seven minutes out of fifty-six brought a river of “good” endorphins and a bit of hard breathing. Little “feel good” opioid peptides that have raised my spirits at a time when my spirits have been quite low.
To think, I sooooo hated running…I still hate the actual act of running.
I flirted with exercise my entire adult life. Flirted like the unsure introvert gazing wishfully at the beautiful homecoming queen from across the room. I’d contemplate asking her to dance and then take a good look in the mirror as I straighten my tie. Why would she be interested in dancing with me?
Similar to the pain of rejection, running was painful. Aching muscles, being short of breath, the queasy stomach after strenuous exercise…and…left to my natural state, I’m basically lazy.
The mirror suggested, “You don’t look like a runner…you are too round, your legs are too short, your feet are too big.” Compared to a thoroughbred horse, I was at best a mule, at worst a donkey…built for carrying burdens not speed.
A birthday gift from hell changed the way I looked at myself in the mirror. I embarked on a running program six weeks after a birthday heart attack in 2006. After the heart attack, I decided the homecoming queen could be damned.
Four stents overcame a life filled with Southern cooking, I completed cardiac rehab and embarked on a walking program. An old school coach, I just didn’t feel the “no pain, no gain.” I needed to hurt…and I did. I needed to pay for those caloric indiscretions of my youth…and I did. I used the “Couch to 5K”1 workout and found the pain to be manageable. I also found there were unforeseen benefits.
My feet were still too big, my legs will always be too short, but I wasn’t as round…sixty-two pounds less round. Those changes or lack thereof were foreseen. It was the changes in my mind I didn’t foresee.
I have battled depression for over forty years and suddenly my broken kaleidoscope of a brain seemed to reset itself. There were days I still battled but the din of battle had quieted. The voices in my head whispered instead of yelling.
There were (are) still days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, but they were less numerous and harsh. I had a reason to get out of bed…my early morning run.
Running for me was like the guy hitting himself in the head with a hammer. It hurt like hell while I did it but, “It felt so good when I stopped.”
I wasn’t satisfied with 5Ks and continued to push through 10Ks and half-marathons. I even wrote down a marathon on my bucket list and began to train. For five or six days a week, I battled my body instead of my mind. I was addicted. I wasn’t fast and would win no races. I might win in my age group if everyone in my age group had died.
My running wasn’t about competing with others it was about competing with myself. My running was about finishing a workout or finishing a race. I could put a 13.1 bumper sticker on my Jeep and look in a mirror and say, “I am a runner!”
And then I wasn’t. On my last run before a half-marathon in 2015, a misstep opened a can of worms. For two years I hobbled through workouts, tried to prepare to run only to reinjure myself until I decided I was being hardheaded and put my pain into a doctor’s hands. A torn meniscus was an issue…also the discovery of early-onset osteoarthritis. “A knee replacement is in your future,” he said. I wish I had never gone. I wish I had never found out.
For two years I have walked or rode a bicycle and mentally bitched over every mile. Walking doesn’t do it for me. Cycling doesn’t blot out the voices in my head no matter how much I crank up the volume. Walking fails to reset my brain.
This winter season has been the worst. The SAD and depression had laid me low until the New Year. I decided to run…jog…shuffle my feet. A different program, a thirty-second jog out of every two and a half minutes the first week, a minute out of three the second, the same next week.2 Twelve weeks to a 5K. I feel like a baby taking his first steps, but I am hopeful. Even my walking days have been…hopeful.
I am also going to be smart. Three days a week only, on the grass, not the pavement, no back to back days no matter how many workouts are rained ut. Good shoes and braces.
I scratched the marathon off my bucket list. It will never happen. I do hope to do a 5K even if it is a walk/run…jog…shuffle. Anything to reset my mind. Anything to keep the negative voices at bay. Anything to repair the broken kaleidoscope. Anything to get my mojo back.
I always hated to run. Some of you will remember…timed forties, perfect plays, home to first, home to second, etc., fitness tests in PE…. All my running was athletically related and involved sprinting. I was never very fast…never very athletic. Snail like but I never left a yucky trail. Football, baseball…I didn’t do basketball. Couldn’t get that huge ball in that tiny ring and there is a bunch of running in basketball…minute drills? No way.
Hundred-yard sprints to end the practice are not fun. They were never intended to be fun. Show me someone who enjoys hundred-yard sprints and I’ll show you a masochist…or someone who pulls wings off flies and plots murder.
I found myself coaching in addition to teaching in the early Seventies and learned that, deep down in my soul, I was a sadist. Marquis de Sade with a whistle and a clipboard. “Men, we’re going to do all the forty-yard sprints in the world…plus one.” “You’re going to run forever…too long? Subtract a minute.” I didn’t do it in a sadistic way per se, sadism was not the goal. I tried to apply reason, never running for the sake of running and interjecting humor into my expectations. Still, deep down…there wassadistic joy seeing my charges puke at my feet. “Look! Eggs! Anyone hungry?”
In the late Sixties, the jogging craze hit. By the mid-Seventies, I had joined it. Not that I was particularly interested in the health effects of jogging…I was in my mid-twenties and indestructible. I was more likely to get my exercise skipping “the light fandango” with a beer in my hand.
I jogged not to get into shape, I was more interested in the good looking, long-legged brunette, teaching peer who wore those minuscule Seventies running shorts over her tight and athletic…you get the idea. I tried to run just hard enough to keep her backside clearly in view. I chased her but I never caught her.
Despite her external motivation, I had no self-motivation and was sporadic with exercise until a heart attack dropped me in my tracks on my fifty-sixth birthday. Great birthday present. A blockage and a stent to correct it and save my life, three more stents a month later, six weeks of rehab and instructions on what to eat…cardboard slathered in cow poop. Nothing from the Southern-fried food groups. I learned to eliminate salt on everything except eggs and grits. I even learned to tolerate oatmeal…with enough fruit and yogurt covering it.
On my days off from rehab I walked. While I enjoyed walking, the effort just didn’t seem to be enough. I was from the “No Pain, No Gain” era. Exercise should have an element of pain involved. Walking was too easy, and I began to run, albeit slowly. Underused lungs and quads screaming, maybe I was a masochist. I don’t pull wings off flies and the only murders I plot are in the books I write.
Five months after my heart attack I ran my first 5K. After six months I had dropped sixty-plus pounds. I was my cardiologist’s dream patient.
Only Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles would ever look at me and say, “He looks like a runner.” Stockily built for comfort not speed, it is best to line me up with a stationary object to make sure I am moving. But I was a runner! I ran races to prove I was and to provide motivation. I needed goals other than beer and pizza after the race and fit women in athletic wear to run behind during it.
I still hated running but it became a mind over matter endeavor. I found it cleared my head and correctly put together the jigsaw puzzle that was my mind. I did it because I could. I did it because I was still alive.
5Ks, 10Ks, Half Marathons…I put a marathon on my bucket list and signed up for one in three months’ time. I didn’t win any races, but I always finished in the top half of my age group. I was proud. I was running against myself and the grim reaper in my rearview mirror.
Four years ago there was a misstep and the pain that came with it…physical and mental pain. For two years I ran, I limped, I quit running to walk…then started the process over only to be hobbled again. I finally went to the doctor. A torn meniscus and early-onset osteoarthritis. Bone rubs on bone in both knees and the orthopedic surgeon shook his head, “Not soon but if you live long enough there will be a knee replacement in your future.” I walked and I walked but I couldn’t jog. For two years I’ve walked or ridden my bike. I wouldn’t do the marathon.
As much as I hated running, I missed running…still miss it…but I don’t miss it as much as I did Monday. Why? Because on Tuesday…I ran. I blame it on the song “Domino” by Van Morrison. When I heard it over my earbuds, I wanted to dance but my dancing is worse than my running and I was on a public road. Rather than having people think I was having a Joe Cocker ‘fit’, I took off jogging. Slowly, smartly and with no pain on the following day. The day after, I ran again. Alternating jogging and walking from mailbox to mailbox or driveway to driveway my lungs screamed but my knees didn’t.
Probably a mile’s worth of jogging split up over three and a half miles. It is a start…it is running.
Both days, I argued with myself the whole time. I was careful but apprehensive, waiting for a familiar twinge of pain. Waiting for the throbbing ache when I finished. Promising myself that if I felt an odd twinge or the throb I would quit and chase the foolish thoughts from my head.
Why am I taking the chance? My “firetrucking” knees hurt when I don’t run. They hurt when I sit around for too long…but they didn’t hurt any worse than they did after a four-mile fitness walk. Still, why I wondered?
“Because I can,” I told myself. Because I want to. Because it allows an old man to dream a bit…to remember. There will be no marathon…maybe, not even a 5K. I may have to be satisfied with a mile jog, but it doesn’t matter. I run because I can. I run because it makes me happy.
I awoke this morning with a twinge…of sciatica. My knees are fine. ‘Iffin’ it ain’t one thing it is a thousand others. I’ll test myself with a short walk and stretch. If all feels good I run/walk a bit on a nice soft athletic field. I’ll be smart…maybe.
The line ‘skipping the light fandango’ comes from the Poco Harum song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. The complete lyric was, “We skipped the light fandango, turned cartwheels cross the floor.”
…And since I’m on music and running kicks, get up, dance and enjoy the day.
There was a time…a time when I ran in the snow. We don’t get much snow here in the foothills of the South Carolina Blue Ridge. You Yankees think we are crazy, running out and grabbing all the bread, milk and toilet paper we can carry. Don’t tell anyone, I think we’re crazy too. Why grab milk and bread when you can just as easily grab Jack Daniels and pulled pork barbeque. I just got off subject, but I do agree with the toilet paper part of the equation.
We are lucky (unlucky?) to receive one or two four-inch snows a year…if that…and we go batshit crazy when we get it. Few of us really know how to drive in it and those who do have to worry about those who don’t. Don’t worry too much though. If you find yourself in the ditch a “good ole” boy with a four by four and a tow rope will be by directly.
I go crazy too but for other reasons. I enjoyed going out in it and running. Years ago, before retirement, I would go out before sunup and tackle it…getting a run in before getting the word school had been canceled. Snowflakes reflecting in the light of my running lamp against the backdrop of the darkness. The way the snow seemed to glow on its own when I cut the lamp off. A man against the elements…no. Putting on my running shoes and going out on a cold morning was “against the elements” enough. There was something about sticking my tongue out allowing snowflakes to land., the muted sounds of the event, even the frozen toes due to the ice buildup on the toes of my shoes.
I can’t run anymore…maybe…I still have hopes and dreams that cause me to hobble out daily. Today I went out and walked my old running trail, up to the top of the hill, down to and around the lake before reversing again. I DID wait until several hours after sunup. It was colder without the exertion of my running but at least my toes didn’t freeze, my thermal hiking boots made sure of that. Sounds were still muted, and I still caught snowflakes on my tongue. The snow was powdery and light, easy to walk in…not good for snowmen or snowball fights but enjoyable to walk in.
A young man riding on his ATV disturbed the silence but was thoughtful enough to stop and ask if would like a ride. I smiled and thanked him. I told him I was enjoying my walk too much to spoil it with a ride. He smiled too before riding on into the white.
It’s been a while. I had signed off on my blog recently. Total silence. I just haven’t been motivated or maybe I’ve just been too depressed. Not clinically depressed…maybe. Just depressed over forest fires, hurricanes, bump stocks, kneeling and a president numbered forty-five. I might should have capitalized that last bit but I just can’t. I decided that if I didn’t have anything positive to say I should brood silently since my social media feed explodes with vitriol with any postings other than pictures of pink flamingoes.
I was also brooding over health issues. My rebelling sixty something year old body. Sciatica, shingles and Afib have reared their ugly heads, all in the last six months despite my best efforts at staying ahead of the grim reaper. Add a dash of early onset arthritis…if it is a sixty-something body can it really be early onset? The grim reaper in my rear view seems to have crept just a bit closer.
Maybe there is a glimmer of hope, with my health, not the other stuff. I ran. Two minutes out of five for a total of twelve minutes. By my reckoning, a little over a mile. Last week it was one minute out of every five, every other day. I’ve improved. I know the real runners are reading this and laughing their asses off. Laugh, I don’t care. I used to run half marathons. I wasn’t fast. I sometimes finished high in my age group but it really didn’t matter. I was running against myself, not anyone else…and then myself got in the way. A knee injury due to a misstep, then sciatica, several times, then clinical depression resurfaced. It became easier to just not run. My goal became just to walk and ride my bicycle…maybe.
I hated running in the Seventies when the jogging craze first took hold. If you looked at my body and played “What’s his Exercise,” running might be the last choice you would be inclined to pick. I did it despite my hatred and body type…for all the wrong reasons. I’ll be honest, I ran because of a tall, long-legged, brunette who looked great in the running shorts of the Seventies. I tried to stay just behind her. She became the carrot on a string for the jackass that I was. I wonder what happened to her? I probably shouldn’t wonder.
I got out of the habit of exercise in the Eighties, then back into it in the Nineties, then out of it in the early Two Thousands…until a couple of months after a heart attack in 2006. Running became my shield against my mortality and my clinical depression. The more I ran the less depressed I was about my health I guess…it did seem to lighten the effects of the depression. I grew to love it…well, tolerate it and felt as if I had missed something if I didn’t do it.
It would be other body parts that would get in my way. I always wanted to run a marathon and kept trying to train for one. Every time my weekly mileage crept into the thirty-mile range, I managed to injure myself. Still this little bit of running today may be the glimmer that I needed. Slow and easy…well may be a 5K in a couple of months…yeah, hope springs eternal. Wish me luck.
Don Miller has written six books, five nonfictional and one fictional novella. Please visit his author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501
I have occasionally written about the denizens I have encountered along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a twenty or so mile track used by runners, hikers, and cyclist here in upstate South Carolina. For those unfamiliar with the Greenville, South Carolina area, the trail follows an old railroad line that was named for one of the denizens I have never seen, the elusive Swamp Rabbit.
When I have written about the Swamp Rabbit it has not been in glowing terms. That’s unfair. The trail itself is wonderful, its some of the people who are not so wonderful. Usually, I ranted because of groups of cyclists riding too fast in large packs. Old men, sans shirts, proudly displaying their lily-white chests and hairy backs, both forced upward against gravity by what one friend called “Mandex”. Just what is that little roll? SOME women wearing lycra sport’s bras and little else…except for the sweetie in white on that very hot and humid day several summers ago. Oh, sweet pea, why are you running so fast? The eight-and-a-half-month pregnant woman, if she was a day, who breezed past me pushing a double stroller, emasculating me as I struggled up that final hill. Yes, I have written about them all.
At 5:30 this morning, I expected to see little of interest except maybe a deer or a possum. It was still quite dark when my friend, Hawk, and I made our turnaround before veering off the trail toward the lake at Furman University. We had seen no one, something that would change as the eastern sky began to lighten with the impending dawn. My headlamp picked up a solitary form walking slowly ahead of us. Leaning on a walking stick, he seemed to be struggling as if attempting to climb a steep hill despite being on the flat ground. He was also naked as the proverbial Jaybird. A knit stocking hat on his head, running shoes and socks on his feet and nothing…absolutely nothing in between. I actually thought he had on one of those new technical one-piece suits…well, I guess it was a one piece, just not a new one and kind of hairy at that. The three women we tried to warn seemed to be quite excited about the prospect of meeting up with him…oops, campus security got there first. Wonder how cold and rough the pavement was on the ole beany weenie as he complied after being asked to lay face down on the pavement.
I knew from the set of his jaw, Hawk was mulling over something, “Did you look?”
“Are you kidding?”
“I just wondered if he was walking that way because he was proud.”
What does possess someone to step out his door and decide, “Well, it’s not too cool. I believe I’ll just take off all my clothes and go for a walk. I will wear a knit cap so I don’t lose too much heat out the top of my head.” Could it have been National Hike Naked Day?
I also wondered why it couldn’t have been the fit young lady in the white lycra…or in this case, without the white lycra.
Being left in the dark can be somewhat dangerous. Then Vice-President George H. W. Bush once paid a visit to South Carolina in the mid-Eighties. I am sure he was on the mid-term campaign trail and for reasons which escape me, he stopped off in Greenville. I was aware of the upcoming elections but was not a very politically savvy person during those days, much more concerned with running an athletic program than concerned about who was attempting to run our country. Yes, I now understand my mistake. Somehow while I wasn’t paying attention we ended up with a choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
During this political stop, my principal failed to inform me “George the runner” and his staff of Secret Service minions would be looking at Sirrine Stadium, home of the Greenville High Red Raiders, as a possible running site. My principal knew but failed to tell me or decided it was a good way to get rid of me. Considering our contentious relationship, and with 20/20 hindsight, I realize it was probably the latter.
During the summer our primary focus was on fields, growing grass; fertilizing it, watering it and then cutting it…repeatedly. On a Friday in mid-July in the mid-Eighties, I drove the school tractor to Sirrine to mow the field as we did three times a week in the summer. As I dismounted the old Ford, I dropped the keys to the gate and bent to pick them up. Straightening I discovered two young gentlemen standing in front of the gate who had not been there milliseconds before. Both were dressed in dark suits, ties, very polished shoes and dark wraparound sunglasses. (Think of the movie Men in Black but better looking than Tommy Lee Jones and much blonder than Will Smith) Considering the time of year, mid-July, the only part of their wardrobe that fit the time of day or the temperature was their sunglasses.
Taken by surprise I stammered “Can I help you?” Both were tall, blond, young and filled out their dark suits quite well. I also found it interesting that they were not sweating in the July sun. They were two fine specimens of the species known as the adult male and I wanted to be nice until the burly blond guy on the right replied to my question with a question, “Who are you?” A question answering a question equals a smart-ass response: “I asked first,” I reminded them. The blond, burly guy on the left smiled broadly and responded, “Our badges trump your question.” Mr. Burly opened his jacket and retrieved his Secret Service credentials flashing them for me to see. I also had a glimpse of a service automatic on his belt and a small automatic weapon hanging from his shoulder. Even with Mel Brooks’ “badges” quote from “Blazing Saddles” running through my head I decided that being a smart ass would not be “prudent” and quickly explained who I was and what I was doing. Burly blond guy on the right explained I would be doing something else until the next day, while burly blond guy on the left nodded his head before speaking into his sleeve and said, “Stand down, he is not a threat.”
With hair standing up on the back of my neck, I quickly left and after parking the tractor, drove to the Corner Pocket for a beer and a hot dog. That seemed like a good something else to do. “Barkeep! Hit me again!” I do wish I had asked if they could have gotten me George’s autograph.
For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf
I found myself walking at five thirty in the morning with my Easter sunrise service still two hours away. Crazy I know, but I also know me well enough to realize I won’t get my exercise done if I wait until the evening. There was a time, in another life, the life before my retirement, when I got up well before dawn to do my running or walking. Up at four thirty and on the pavement by five thirty was the norm with the light of my head lamp bobbing up and down with the motion of my head. People always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of lions and tigers and bears?” “Oh my, …no.” As I walked or ran on the paved service paralleling the creek, dense trees forming a canopy overhead and a fog rising, I was much more afraid of vampires, werewolves, or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.
We do have bears, coyotes, wild cats and “painters,” as the locals call panthers, but they don’t really bother me. I am much more afraid of the local dogs than our wildlife. Well, there was one early morning when I saw eight sets of reddish hued eyes blocking my path. Eight “Mothmen?” Probably not. More likely coyotes judging from their height above the pavement. They turned away but I decided it was a bad day to run. Another morning I had a cardiac “check-up” when a deer resting between the road and stream decided I was a danger and took off crashing through the thicket…as I crashed through the thicket on the other side.
This Easter morning, as I walked back toward my house, I noticed a little white, heart shaped flower next to my path. I thought it was a bit odd. It’s still March and I know of no heart shaped flowers blooming. Still, there it was glowing in the light of my headlamp. As I got closer, I noticed that this “flower” had glowing eyes. A baby possum with a white “heart shaped” face, no more than six inches long, looked up at me. “Gees aren’t you the cutest thing…DAMN YOU TRIED TO BITE MEEEEEEE YOU LITTLE…!” Moments later I heard a rustle in the underbrush and saw two larger glowing eyes peering back at me. Mother or predator? I decided I needed to get back to the house.
We have a pair of gnarled old persimmon trees in our back yard and in the fall their fruit ripens offering a sweet treat to all the possums in the area. I don’t like persimmons. They are either one day away from ripeness or one day past rotten. What is that fuzzy film it leaves on my tongue? YUK!
Unlike me, possums love persimmons and will show up in the fall to eat their fill. Having unwanted guests in the yard drives my blue heeler puppies crazy. Many mornings I have returned from my run to find a gift left for me on the steps leading into my home. Both puppies would stand guard duty under the trees, lying in wait, for a possum to finish eating its sweet treat before making its way down to its fate. Some mornings I would let them out for their bathroom call and later find myself tripping over a dead possum lying in the dining room. They have left me a dozen dead possums… or more likely, one possum “playing dead” twelve separate times. It’s no fun chasing a “suddenly resurrected” possum as it attempts to escape its captors.
One morning I found a large possum lying on the floor with both puppies standing guard and awaiting their doggy treat. She was not leaking blood which is always a good thing but when I picked her up by her tail, I found myself looking at six small heads peeking out of out of “momma” possum’s “carry-all” pouch. Oh man! What am I going to do? As I cradled her, I noticed one eye was open following my every move and proving where the saying “playing possum” comes from. “GOT ME!” I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw her waddling off in the possum equivalent of a sprint after I had released her on the wilderness side of my fence.
Maddie and Tilly no longer bring me possums and I am only slightly happy about it. Maddie has a bad hip and even a possum can outrun her…despite her attempts otherwise. Tilly is blind but, like her sister, it doesn’t stop Tilly from trying either. She amazes me how she can still find that old persimmon tree in the fall. There is nothing wrong with her sense of smell. Every night as the persimmons ripen, she sits herself down underneath the tree, ears at attention, and waits. I love the fact she still waits. I just hope no possum happens to bump into her.
Too many years of getting up early at early thirty I guess. I am standing in front of my western facing kitchen sink window admiring the full moon as I prepare my morning coffee. It is cold and crisp with not even a whisper of a breeze. “La Luna Llena” seems so close that I might be able to reach up and touch it and I have no clue as to why I think of it in Spanish. The moon light is causing the snow that still lays on the ground to glow brightly and seems to brighten my backyard forest, illuminating it in an eerie light.
I normally don’t have to set an alarm to wake up by five o’clock despite having no place special to be and an icy driveway that would prevent me from going out anyway. This morning my rambling “dream thoughts” awoke me at four thirty along with a puppy dog wanting to go outside. It is mornings like this that I am glad my “dream puppy” awoke me. Most mornings in a time gone by I would get up at four-thirty so I could run or walk before school. This habit has been hard to break. I always knew that if I waited, my labors would not get done and I really didn’t want to feel that elephant sitting on my chest again that I associate with an earlier heart attack. As scary as the outside darkness could be, even with my “miner’s lamp” style flash light, I loved running, probably more so walking, on mornings like this…even with the twenty degree temperatures.
The light cast from the full moon was so bright that most of the time I really didn’t need to use a flashlight. I would climb up the hill on Airline Road and crossover Highway 11 to the drive leading into Lookup Lodge. It was as if the moon was following me, always right over my left shoulder until it disappeared behind the small mountains to the west. Above me, and to the east, Orion still hunted despite the pre-dawn glow of the still unrisen sun. As I chugged, wheezing and gasping, out of what I called the hole and climbed the asphalt path up toward the lake, I always knew that both the moon and Orion would be waiting for me as soon as I topped the next hill and found my way to the eastern side of the lake. I also knew that I would pause, stop timing my run, and admire the scene of the setting full moon over the lake.
It is still too icy for me to get out this morning and with an attack of sciatica trying to hang on, I will resist my urge to do so. I think I am going set my alarm for four-thirty tomorrow, just in case. I think there will be enough light from an almost full moon left to make it worth it. If not, it will still be worth it.