Monthly Archives: July 2013
This past week seemed to last forever and was suddenly over, all at the same time.
One thing that struck me as profound was how fast life changes and then it’s gone. My children, now young teens, no longer look for the same adventures at the amusement park rides, yet on the open trails of the forests, we are all children once more. I can still keep up with them, and for the most part, still able to go farther and faster, but that too soon will change. Like the manmade technologies in their lives, they understand, master and manipulate all too easily. Meanwhile, the things of life, the real world around us are still perplexing and often beyond comprehension.
I found myself looking at the outside of a tiny radio station when we drove up to WKXV in Knoxville, TN. Knowing radio stations these days can be virtually anywhere, I knew in advance not to expect anything elaborate with regard to studio size and structure. With the advances in technology, a tiny station like WKXV can broadcast around the world without a transmitting tower anywhere near their station. So it was, when we arrived outside the older brick home, now turned into a radio station, I was reminded of how humble we are and that this was as much or more air time than we should receive in the great big world of media. When we unloaded the van and stepped inside, we found our host and owner, Ted Lowe, greeting us at the door. Shane, the DJ for the afternoon, was already in the middle of a broadcast. The interior of the studio was filled with multiple rooms where live recordings are and evidently have been done quite often; this would be our first.
Ted showed us to what was once a garage area, now turned into what looked like a small church sanctuary. The pulpit was on a raised platform with several folding chairs setting out for the congregational audience to observe while the broadcasts were being aired. This is where my sister and wife sat, while they watched us sing the couple songs we had time to perform following my interview. Later I was painfully reminded, after the show was already taped, that one should always perform a sound check. Unfortunately, the recording taken had the pulpit mic turned way up, making my daughter’s singing much louder than the other mic which my son and I shared. Regardless of the results, the experience for my family and I was one of unexpected adventure and surprise; this would always be our first live radio broadcast, one we will share for many years to come.
Like the rest of the week, it was the unexpected events that will stick with us the longest.
We took a couple days to go to Dollywood, which we took at a casual pace, enjoying as much of the scenery in the park as we did the rides. Each morning, we would go for a short run, and then head out to the park. Each day the drive to and from Pigeon Forge was as enjoyable as was the ultimate destination. With each twist and turn in the windy mountain roads, we found more and more to store away in our minds for future visits.
One such destination was to be Cade’s Cove. However, part of our plan was to go bike riding but upon further inspection, we found that the only days this was feasible were not possible, so we had to scrap our biking excursion and go for the hike we had looked forward too. Originally, we were going to drive around Cade’s Cove and hike from the rest stops along the way. When the day came, we had enough driving for the week and wanted to do more hiking, so we chose the Laurel Falls trail, which was on the road that led into Gatlinburg; another destination we had hoped to achieve on this trip. The trail up to Laurel Falls was 1.3 miles; straight up. The warning signs posted at the entrance warn of potential death from falling and bears. Needless to say, we were fairly warned.
The hike to the top was moderately strenuous. Many times we had to work our way around elderly or handicapped people whom were struggling to reach the summit. The eventual trail’s end landed on the falls, where the cold water was more than refreshing. You could almost feel the ions in the air from the water splashing and cascading down the mountain. We took extra time to enjoy the coolness of the water while my wife headed on back down the mountain, hoping to gain a little distance on us before we too descended. What she didn’t count on was the surprise she found as she rounded one of the curves in the trail; a family of black bears. From what she retold of her adventures, people began to get all crazy with fear when the bears approached, some nearly falling off the trail in their mad rush to escape the approaching beast.
My wife boldly stood her ground.
As the bear approached, grown men crouched behind my wife, taking pictures. Instead of backing away like the rest of the crowd, she stepped forward, becoming the aggressor. The bear soon left the trail and went off into the woods. We knew none of this was going on as we made our descent down the slope; yet as we drew closer, people told us of there still being bears on the trail below. I guess all those years of dealing with my stubbornness, she wasn’t about to let a bear stop her.
Finally, we reached the mile marker where they had told us of the encounter. My wife was nowhere to be found, but the bears were still in the woods nearby, which we were able to observe. The excitement of the moment was brief, but the remainder of the walk down, we made our best bear-calls, often causing oncoming hikers to stop and look for bears up or below the trail. Along with our bear sounds, we continued our “Hoop-laaaa” calls from night before, when we took a late night run to Krispy Kreme donuts. We were in that sugar frenzied state and yelling “Hoop-laaaa” out the window only made sense. Some people even began to echo back our crazy calls; it was a blast.
We were a bit tired, but excited from the adventure when we finally reached the base of the mountain. From there, we drove on into Gatlinburg. Famished, we found a quick bite to eat, and then waited for the afternoon storms to pass before we broke out the instruments and did a little buskin’ on the streets. One Asian gentlemen from Georgia wrote us a $25 check right there on the spot; that was another first; buskin’ for checks. We ended the evening with a late supper at Chik-Fil-A on the ride home.
Like the rest of the week, the book signing was known but the people and stories told and heard during the event were as welcome and unexpected as everything else that had transpired during the week up to that point. On our journey home the following day, we were stopped for two hours on the interstate and had plenty of time to reflect on it all; it was a good feeling and a great journey we had been left with, regardless if we expected it or not. In a way, it made our eventual return home all the more welcome.
Those adventures we most cherish often come from the least expected opportunities; if only we choose to rise to meet them, this is our destiny.
My daughter and I were just about to finish our run yesterday evening when there came the low rumble of thunder from off in the distant. Dark storm clouds had been brewing and rain was falling off and on all throughout the day, so we had caught an opportunity to get a couple miles in before the next downpour began. I thought about our safety and knew that if there was thunder, then somewhere there was lightning. It was this thought that made me hear the words again, “Would you please pass the corn,” ring in my ears once more.
It was nearly forty years ago when we had been gathered at my paternal grandparent’s house for an afternoon dinner and were all gathered around the table. My grandparents didn’t have a fancy dining room, rather the large extended table sat in the kitchen, just an arms length away from the sink. Rain had been falling off and on throughout the day, much like yesterday, so we had decided to make it an afternoon spent indoors. The windows and doors were open as the sweet smell of grandma’s garden just outside the kitchen window wafted fragrances of ripening vegetables that would soon bless our table. Grace had just been performed and the passing of the food around the table had begun. Someone had missed out on the corn and obviously didn’t want to lose any ground so they asked out loud, “Would you please pass the c…?” Before they got the whole word out, there came a blast from above that shook the house, rang our ears and lit up the room all simultaneously.
Somewhat stunned we sat in awe of the power of God.
Before anyone could speak, my two female cousins who had been sitting a few feet away in the front room, came running into the kitchen telling us they had been hit by a blue ball of light that came out of the T.V. They had been watching the television when the lightning struck. They excitedly described that when it blew out the T.V., there came a ball of blue light rolling out of the set, directly toward them. Someone tried to rest their fears by saying it was probably like when someone took your picture and you would still see that bright light in your eyes for a short time afterward. They both adamantly denied this and once again reiterated the blue ball scene. They went on to tell us that the younger cousin had been sitting on the lap of the other and how the ball came straight for them and then passed through their stomachs. We all shook our heads in disbelief but disdained from further questioning in honor of their sanity. Years later, I would learn of this phenomenon known as “St. Elmo’s Fire” and how pilots would often see this happen in aircraft that would take a direct lighting strike while in flight. Often times, the blue ball would dance around the cockpit before finding a ground source to dissipate into. That day, however, we simply disbelievingly questioned the description of those who experienced the event.
The blue ball story had barely ended when someone returned from the front porch and exclaimed to all, “You ought to see the mess on the front porch.” We all leapt from our seats around the table and crowded around the front door, peering out into the scene before us. Thankfully nobody had been sitting outside when the bolt hit. Just a few feet off the front porch stood a giant majestic Sycamore tree. The side of the tree facing the house was now bare and the bark from it had been blasted all over the porch and surrounding yard. Upon further inspection, one of my uncles who had examined the house for any signs of damage explained how one of the guide wires from the T.V. antennae that stood next to the house was grounded to the Sycamore, which was probably one of the reasons it had been hit. Amazed and still somewhat in shock, we slowly made our way back to the kitchen table where our meal still sat, frozen in time, as if on pause. After everyone had made it back, we began in unison to continue where we left off. However, before getting very far someone speculated, as all had heard, that we shouldn’t ask for the, “Shhh,” someone said, “Don’t repeat it, we might take another hit and this one might be worse.” Then a discussion began about was it “corn” or was it “squash” that did it. The final consensus was the “corn” did it. So for the rest of the meal, just to be safe, we asked, “Would you please pass that,” and then would point to the appropriate dish even though corn was very touchy at that point.
While the meal resumed where it had left off, the rain began to come down again and the streams of droplets poured in tiny waterfalls. It added a tranquil sound to the talk around the table where we sat and ate fresh vegetables and other dishes grown or raised on the farm. Unlike today, we were in touch with the world around us, either feeling its effects through the atmosphere or by ingesting the food created therein.
Yesterday, after we finished our run, we took time to cool down, taking off our shoes and socks, letting our feet breathe before finally going inside to shower in the air-conditioned house. Nowadays, with all the windows shut tight and the man-made climate, we are losing touch with our world. The long hot summer days giving way to the cool crisp days of autumn have less significance. On the farm, back in those days with open windows, the summer months were hot even in the shadowed confines of the ancient home, so we moved a little slower, but the fall brought a new time; harvesting and gathering. With the change in season, we began to prepare for the cold winter months. Today in our, “have it now” world, we take less time in preparation from one season to the next. The only similarity is winter, where we are once again confined to the warmth of indoors.
The farther we move away from our connection to the earth, the farther we move away from who we are. Those who control our world would do well to step back in time and live for a short time outside of the man-made world. Maybe then their decisions would have little more foresight into what is truly important.
Today as I sit here writing the rain drops are falling on the skylights above me.
I thank God for rain and thunderstorms for they give us time to pause and reflect on life and days gone by.
Sometimes I yearn for simplicity in living life.
Many years ago, when I was in my early teens, once a week each summer we loaded the push mower, coolers, and grocery bags of clothes into the old Ford pickup, and then headed down south, deep into the wilds of Kentucky to spend time at the old home place located on the banks of the Green River, somewhere near Sebring. I can recall the long, hot drive with the warm summer winds beating us through the open truck windows. Our skin numbed from the open air ride welcomed the slower pace once we neared our destination. The narrow paved roads quickly vanished into gravel trails with ruts separated by grass paths, which eventually lead to what appeared to be an old abandoned house. This was the old home place of my step-mother’s parents. It had no running water, no indoor plumbing and no electricity. There was a two-seater outhouse and hand dug well, all covered by weeds and vines that had accumulated from the previous year. The vegetation would be so overgrown, that from the front gate, there was hardly a dwelling visible. Just outside the dilapidated front gate would unload our weaponry from the truck; mowers, sling blades, axes and hand saws. Then before the sun would set, we would begin our assault. We always worked the first day on the area immediately around the house and make paths to the vital out areas such as the kitchen, well and outhouse. Before getting too involved, we first would cut the path to the kitchen so the women folk could carry in the food and cooking utensils. I never recalled much past this part since I was always hard at work on the jungle outside. What I came to discover was that the reclamation was as much ongoing inside as it was outside, from a year’s worth of emptiness having being replaced by all manner of spider webs, nests and other surprises. We never heard the screams from inside since the lawnmower drowned them out. Outside, we likewise would always encounter some new infestation or pest that had to be dealt with in order to preserve any semblance of civilization, yet we kept the screaming to a minimum.
It would be nearly dark when the call for supper would come. We had another full day’s work ahead but for now, we had fought to reclaim the yard and area immediately around the house. Sweat laden, weary bodies were glad to find a hot plate of food, regardless if we were able to bath or not. This was the first time I had recalled having SOS. for supper. However, instead of the rich man’s version I found in the Air Force years later made with chipped beef, this SOS was simple and plain, made with homemade sausage and whole milk; simple but the best. The biscuits made from scratch were cooked in the old wood stove on the back porch of the old place, which was still functional. We drank cold water dipped from the long thin pipe that was lowered manually by a rope into the hand dug well. The fresh cold water, hot biscuits and SOS made for a meal fit for a king.
Since we had worked to nearly dark, after supper and a quick bucket wash, we would find our bedrolls and claim our sleeping arrangements for the night. My favorite was the whiskey slat hammock that hung between two oak trees in the yard. From the high end, you could lie through the night and watch the barges move up the river, which was just down the hill from the house. The drop off from the yard to the river was so steep that it would appear that you were eye level with the tops of the barges as they forced themselves up river. More than once, I was awakened during the night by a barge operator who had found my bed in their spot lights and felt it necessary to blow their air-horn, which would nearly roll me out of the hammock. I soon found that covering myself with dark blankets was necessary in order to hide my bed from detection of the practical jokers driving the barges. It was the only way of securing a full night’s sleep. Of course, if rain was in the forecast we would pile into the few beds inside the house, like firewood, in head to toe fashion. I still don’t know how we got any sleep other than the fact we would be so exhausted from working to fight the forest during the day, we quite literally fell off to sleep without any effort.
Once we finally reclaimed the property, one swing of the sling blade at a time, we finally had time to enjoy the wonderful old place and the reason for our recovery efforts. The house set on a bluff that overlooked the Green River. The confluence was deep enough to support barge traffic, which was of course already obvious from the hijinks of the barge captains. The drop off from the tree covered yard to the river was very steep, but somehow there had been a small pasture separating the two with a small pole barn that had seen its share of floods. In order to get to the river you had to follow a path from the yard, through the overgrown pasture, past the old pole barn, to the river bank below. This is where we eventually would take our baths. Years later, I would recall these first open air baths while I was building my cabin in North Carolina. There too, I would find the open water bathing refreshing and invigorating. Just knowing you were getting clean and taking the risk of being caught doing so seemed to add an exhilaration all its own; barge captains or not.
The rest of the week was spent either fishing, cooking over an open fire or just finding ways to amuse ourselves without T.V. or any other games; there was never enough room in the truck to pack toys. There was a Mulberry tree in the yard that always seemed to ripen during our stay. Here we would find sweet treats and learn the song and game of “Here we go round the Mulberry bush”. It was games like this that soon took the place of the meaningless board games we had left behind. As the week would progress, we would find more about ourselves and how living in the past could still be fun. We often spent time in the evenings reading from the old Bible that was kept in the house and talking about the stories while sitting around the campfire in the yard.
Here we learned what it meant to live with nothing.
I can remember as a between-meal-treat we were given a slice of loaf bread, with butter spread on it, sprinkled with sugar. If we were lucky, we might get to go into the nearby town and visit the old general store and get a soda. The front of the store was the skinny double-door type, which had the screen door that creaked when you opened it. Inside, it was dark and cool regardless if it was a hot and humid day. If we wanted to go farther south, it required crossing the river. There was no bridge, only a ferry that would run during the day, when the ferry operator was around. The ferry boat was only big enough for two cars, so heavy traffic was never expected. The gravel road to the south wound around from farm to farm through crop lands of corn, soybean and tobacco. We took this trip once, going somewhere that made my step-grandmother cry; an old graveyard where her family was buried. I can recall the solemn silence, the dust and the trip back to the river and the ferry boat ride back to the other side. We never took the trip to the other side of the river after that day.
Although these annual summer retreats were only short periods in my life, I can vividly recall the feeling of having to create something from nothing; knowing that the amenities of life were not at your fingertips and that you had to plan ahead. Everything from the trip to the outhouse, to the next meal, you had to be thinking in stages and not living for the moment as we so often do today. I can be thankful that a part of me remembers those few days each year when we would step back in time and live as our ancestors had generations before us.
To know how simple life can become when all else is removed and to focus on what living truly is; this is one of the most precious gifts we can give ourselves.
When life slows down to a crawl and with it, we can once again find out what really matters most; this is what I yearn.