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Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reflecting on this Snowy Day


“The Snow Man” by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

I remember the hill today, in particular. And I feel a small pit in my heart for I’m not there, the moment has passed.

Today I sit under a warm roof, watching the snowflakes fall delicately on the bare branches. The sky gray, the earth silent. I sit in remembrance of days like this on the hill.

The evening before great anticipation swelled in the house, ready to burst with excitement for a day off and a day of play. Childhood memories are built upon such nights. Procrastinating bedtime in preparation for school the next day but overtly hoping to wake up to mom saying, “No school today!” then back to a warm bed to finish a dream then rise with great vivre.

Maybe pancakes would be made or a steaming bowl of oats but as soon as the energy was gobbled down the time came for the great bundle.

Ah, the great bundle. I dreaded these times. The toil and sweat to prepare three kids for the cold, dressing them in bulky, obstructive snow suits, squeezing their little piggies into rubbery, fleece lined boots while shoving mittens on their little kittens, placing the cherry of a pom-pom hat on their head, remnants of baby hair making one last stance before the strands of time fade to extinction.

The fussing and whining at such an effort. Boy, I was frustrated. Shame I couldn’t savor such fleeting tears.

Then out the door, a wave of arctic air flushing through, waking up whatever senses still lay sleeping. Sleds and saucers gathered and off they went. At this point I was typically still in my pajamas and robe, skating through the snowy, icy driveway in slippers, long enough to get the kiddies set up for some fun on the hill before I returned inside for a grasp at silence.

We lived on quite the hill. Not great topography for a family with three young kids, but when a winter storm hit, our house was the place all the neighbors, young and old, flocked. Life and limb was risked tearing down that hill, sometimes fast and far enough to skirt across the road and down the wooded ditch. Those were fun times, filled with reckless abandonment, liberatingly wild and carefree.

At first I would watch through the frosty window and laugh and giggle from a distance. I’d watch as the kids would fly down the hill, getting smaller and smaller from my line of vision until they’d crash to a stop laughing all the way, then trek back up for another adventure. It looked like such a joy ride and it was! I’d break out the camera and take some shots, then I would drag myself to partake in the fun, reminding myself that such activity would invigorate my aging soul.

It was cold outside but the smiles and excitement from the kids at their mom showing up to be a kid motivated me to brave the elements. And we rode down that hill, dodging trees and gullies. Gathering branches and stones, carrots, old scarves and hats, we built snowmen and named them. Stepping back into my childhood, I became one with my own kids, for that moment and that day, investing in a memory that I didn’t realize would become so etched in my mind.

Time to come in from the storm and have some hot chocolate and bake some cookies. Sipping coco by the fire, cheeks defrosting and pink, mittens hung to dry until a second wind blew by ready to start the winter dance all over again.

Today I sit in my warm, new home on a flat lot perfect for a young family, except when there is snow on the ground and no hill to ride down. And as happy and at peace as I am, I reflect with a dull ache in my heart on those days and times on the hill. All is quiet here.

I longed for today, a day to savor silence, not having to deal with the great dance of a winter bundle and attendance to three dependent, young heartbeats. Today is that day. There are no suits to stuff mittens in kittens and cherries on tops. Visions of hot coco and cookies are saved for another snow fall. This storm is calmer. Yet as calm and as peaceful and as blessed as today is, I have a small ache as I remember the hill and those days. And the memory pleads to ride them once again. If just for a moment.

Today, on this quiet, kid free day, in the warmth of a new life, I pause, close my eyes, take a sip from a phantom vision, knowing and grateful that life is good, then swallow the nostalgia triggered by a gentle flake falling on a tree under a gray, wintery sky.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christmas Card 2015


“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle three things: a rainy day, lost luggage and tangled Christmas tree lights.” Maya Angelou

I know sending out Christmas cards, or “holiday” cards as is the more politically correct terminology, is becoming a dying fashion. However, I am old fashioned and feel strongly about keeping on my massive sized holiday “to-do” list. Yes, I could cut out the practice and save a couple of hundred dollars between stamps and custom ordered picture cards, but I take joy and spirit in creating, chronicling and reminiscing on the past year. I know those I send it to give it a warm glance then toss in the trash, maybe keeping until the season’s end,  but I keep my keepsake card and every year pull out to display and reflect on Christmas’s past.

In the really old days I’d send generic, store bought cards with pictures of sleighs, snow, and Santa. I’ve gone all out with expensive, customized, photo, fold cards that allow more room to write personalized, hand written notes. In the more recent years I’ve settled on the standard, 5 x 7 contemporary photo printed card which is a compromise between the two. I’ve included Christmas letters a few years and write them brimming with pride only to review months later and realize they sound stupid and braggadocio. I always add photos of the kids and sometime I myself am featured, and every now and then the pets make an appearance.

Sometimes I get the cards out on time, sometimes they become a New Year’s greeting. I always get them out and they always have pictures, those are two constants a recipient can always expect.

Last year’s card served to announce to my annual greeting card circle that I married and now have a blended family. We used a wonderful picture taken at our wedding celebration (we eloped!) of our big, happy blended family: seven total, two adults and five kids, at the time ages 6 through 16, three of mine, two teenage daughters of his. One big, happy blended family and a gorgeous card with me in my ivory gown, Kentucky derby party theme dressed crew with a big bouquet of red roses in my hand, fresh spring greenery in the background and all of us looking happily blended.

In response to the card I received many congratulations, and we framed the card in all its beauty and glory. This year I brought out the nicely framed card and displayed it on our foyer entry table next to the nativity scene. Time to create our Christmas card 2015.

Problem with this year was we didn’t have a group photo or photos of all the kids or any pictures of his teenage girls. Our big, happy blended family, in all truthfulness was not happy for everyone. Put it this way, I am a step mom to two teenage step daughters. Teenage, step, and girls. Read between the lines. There was no happy, blended family picture to be taken. I asked Magnum, “What should we do?” The brilliant man that he is suggested we just use a picture of our new home and have that also serve as a moving announcement. Wonderful!

I waited until I decorated the entire exterior to take the perfect shot of our new, festive home. I got a few good shots, along with our two dogs in the foreground lovingly chewing on some of the displayed, holiday arrangements in the urns.

Then I got carried away. I had done such a nice job decorating the interior of the house that I thought it wouldn’t hurt to add a couple of collage photos as well. I added a couple photos of us decorating the tree, (the figures of the younger three kids barely distinguishable), one of the piano with three nutcrackers and a Merry Christmas sign, and another of the foyer table with our card from last year. These were thumb print sized photos but I was satisfied as it represented not just our new home but of the joy taking place inside. In the process I managed to sneak an annual photo of my three kids which I have been doing since their birth while also getting the girls’ photo into the card, albeit a symbolic gesture in the thumb print sized photo of last years’ card next to the nativity scene. I felt like I had created a Christmas miracle.

I ordered 75 cards which totaled $165. I spend a moment reminiscing, proud that I completed Christmas card 2015 and quickly shared my genius with my mother. Her response was lack luster when I described the photo. “Well, don’t you think Magnum would be hurt that his girls aren’t in the card but your kids are?” I said, “What do you mean? They are in the card, in last year’s photo that I took a picture of and included.” To which my mom continued to harp that it wasn’t the same and wasn’t worth hurting feelings. To which I agreed and realized my genius creation was not genius but perhaps thoughtless and insensitive and selfish. Maybe I was a wicked step monster!

So I began to panic. I already ordered the cards. I didn’t think I could cancel the online order. My mother told me to forget about the money and make a new card. I made a last ditch effort to win her over for support by sending her a picture of the card so she could see it wasn’t that bad, so she could see the genius of my creation!

A little side note, I recently sent one of my teenage step daughters a friendly text message.

Technology being what it is, I sent my mom the photo of the card then, somehow when I followed up with my mother to ask her what she thought of the card, my follow up was sent to my step daughter. The text message read something like this: “So what do you think? If you zoom in you can better tell the pics. Is this offensive or hurtful cause girls are missing from photo?”

To which my step daughter responded, “What?” or also interpreted in texting slang, “WTF?”

Holy Christmas, I just created Armageddon! I was just about to pick Magnum up from the airport when I realized this guffaw. I started to panic. As a former special ops, you don’t get much past Magnum. He can read me like a book. I was in a Christmas pickle. First I had to respond to my step daughter before she reached out to her dad for an explanation. It was an honest mistake with sincere intentions but if I couldn’t explain myself then this situation could get out of control fast. Though before I was able to attempt damage control, Magnum was at the car door, tired from an overseas trip. We lovingly greeted one another then he immediately sensed something was wrong which didn’t take a human lie detector to distinguish. My face was beat red, my heart rate was elevated and I blurted out, “I did something very bad!” After an anxiety attack or two I told him about the Christmas card predicament.

Without going into too much detail, it wasn’t as big a deal as I envisioned. Call me a drama queen, I earned it. Magnum was cool and fine but did request I do a more generic card. I took the approach of honesty when explaining my bizarre text to my step daughter. I explained to her that I was just trying to create the perfect blended family Christmas card but didn’t have a recent group shot, and she responded, “Oh, lol.” I was able to cancel my first Christmas card order so that was a relief and, in the end, I created a “nice” moving announcement in the form of a festive, red and green themed Christmas card, wreaths and all. Our dogs Buddy and Daisy were featured and captured destroying my exterior Christmas décor which added an element of humor to such a behind the scenes drama laden card. And believe it or not I got it out BEFORE Christmas! In the end this really was a Christmas miracle.

So if you were one of the lucky ones to receive a lovely holiday greeting from us, there was a lot that went into this year’s card. You never know what goes on behind some people’s closed doors! My hope and wish for 2016’s Christmas card is to display one nice, happily blended family group shot.

Happy New Year! 
 

Original Card
Final Draft
Dogs destroying décor

Friday, October 23, 2015

Marathon Woman


A couple of years ago I ran my first marathon. It almost killed me. In the end, it saved my soul.

I had never been much of a runner. I was a tennis player. Tennis involves very quick foot action, moving side to side with quick sprints. Distance running involves a forward movement, with a steady, enduring pace; two very opposing actions. Therefore, any forward movement presented a challenge for me.

Being a mom of three, with little care for myself, my fitness level was at an all-time low. I needed activity. I joined the YMCA and began with the stair master. Boy could I climb stairs! I was then inspired by my good friend and neighbor, an avid cyclist, to kick it up a notch. She encouraged me to try “spinning” classes. They were hard but I was hooked, and I began to see results.

The Y had a weekly class that incorporated running a mile in-between spinning. My competitive nature got the best of me and, when I couldn’t run as fast or as far as some of the other spinners, I got fired up to try harder. But how? I could barely run a mile.

I posed this question to a fellow spinner and future fitness trainer named Deb. She said, “Every time you run, run a little extra each time.” Sounded simple enough so I tried it and before I realized her small piece of advice was working. I was up to three miles. Three miles became five miles and suddenly I was a runner.

I trained and ran in my first half marathon. My family was waiting for me at the finish line, beaming with pride. My sights were set higher though. The buzz around town was of this mom or that mom training for marathons and I said “Why not me?” So I signed up for the Outerbanks Marathon in North Carolina, scheduled for the fall.

I trained in all conditions, any hour of the day. I ran in the winter, running along a country, hillside road in ice and snow, in 16 degree weather. I’d run in 100 degree temperatures. I’d run before the sun came up. I ran with migraines. I’d fit runs in-between drop offs and kid pick-ups. A few times I ran 11 plus miles on the treadmill. I was an animal! I’d run thirteen miles, come home and do three hours of hard, manual yard work. I did what it took to get my miles.

I ran to music. Every song gave me unique inspiration and drive. The music helped me work out all sorts of thoughts swimming around. They helped me run harder.

Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man”  I believe I've passed the age of consciousness and righteous rage, I've found that just surviving was a noble fight. I once believed in causes too, had my pointless point of view. Life went on no matter who was right or wrong.

The Rolling Stones “Sympathy for the Devil” Pleased to meet you Hope you guess my name What's puzzling you Is the nature of my game

Phil Collins “I Don’t Care Anymore”  'Cause I remember all the times I tried so hard And you laughed in my face 'cause you held all the cards. I don't care anymore. And I really ain't bothered what you think of me 'Cause all I want of you is just a let me be. I don't care anymore d'you hear? I don't care no more

Running wasn’t an addiction, it was my lifeline. My anxiety level was so high I almost couldn’t function. I didn’t know why I had such high anxiety. I was living such a charmed life, the American dream. I had a loyal family, a coveted house, a secure home, and an ornery dog. But I had horrible anxiety, so badly that I thought I was losing my mind. Running helped work out some of this noose around my neck that was suffocating me. I had such obsessive thoughts that would not leave me alone. Something had to give.

One night I woke up from a fitful sleep with more nagging, obsessive thoughts. In a very conscious yet trance like state I walked downstairs to the cell phone, typed in a password that randomly appeared in my head. There before me was the reason for my intense anxiety.

My heart froze and I lost the ability to breathe. I started hyperventilating. All the anxiety of the past two years melted and morphed into a paralyzing and crushing fear. So I ran and I ran and I ran. Music was my companion, my confident. I became stronger with every mile. My confidence grew. I was a champion and could conquer all.

The time had come: Marathon day! I had spent a year training for this moment. The sun was just rising, dew was in the air and on the ground. The crowd of runners were eerily quiet. Perhaps the anticipation of the miles ahead was a deafening thought. I was by myself, no friend or partner to share in the moment, but that did not deter my excitement. The cool, fall sea air was invigorating with the scent of salt and marsh wafting about.

And they’re off! I began at a steady pace staying to the middle of the pack. Stocked with a good supply of mini Snicker bars and watered down Coca Cola per my brother’s advice, I was sure to have enough carbs, energy and hydration to keep me fueled.

While I don’t remember the exact route, I do remember running along the sound then entering the shade of the wooded sand dunes. There were many hills along these dunes which was unexpected for a run along the coast. Entering upon mile 13 I became melancholy realizing the race was half over. I wanted it to go on forever. I felt strong, I felt invincible as I soared.

Then, after a few shots of candy and coke, my digestive system rebelled! Once I answered nature’s call I was back on the road but my legs were left behind me. The pain and exhaustion hit. I could barely walk. My IT band in my hip tensed up shooting pain into my knee and down my calf. My legs were on fire, burning and numb. An inner voice said “Don’t stop. Walk then run, walk then run but don’t stop.”

Edging up to mile 18 I didn’t know if I could go any further. All along the mile marks were icy hot lotion? but I resisted. Now I was desperate and I dove into the jar, plunging my sore, achy muscles into the miraculous goo. It took the edge off and I began to run once again. Mile 19, 20, 21 and then the bridge that looked out onto the sea. I turned and looked at the horizon, gone from sight “I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other. Then, someone at my side says; “There, she is gone!” leaving my load of living freight to my destined port, gone from my sight.” (Henry Van Dyke) I said goodbye, turned away and moved forward.

I turned away from the horizon and ran the final 6.4 miles towards the finish line with Rage Against the Machine “Guerilla Warfare” playing over and over again…

It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime
What better place than here, what better time than now?

All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now
All hell can't stop us now

 

People, strangers were cheering for me, other finishers were receiving hugs from their loved ones, having water poured over their heads as if baptized, jackets trapping warmth.

I did it! I’m liberated and free. This moment is mine to share. Yet there were no hugs from loved ones, no blankets of warmth. I was utterly alone. I was liberated but alone.

I found some random chair in an alley and sat down and began to cry. I cried hard. I cried from exhaustion and I cried from sadness. I was by myself and it was a sad feeling. I was no longer afraid though. I had just finished the race of my life.

My dad reminded me before the race, when I was complaining about my slow pace, that sometimes it’s not about winning or how fast you are. No one ever remembers who wins what marathon. To finish is accomplishment enough.

My dad also reminded me that the first man to run a marathon died after he crossed the finish line.

The next morning I woke up, stood up, threw up and, while collapsing, reached for the phone to dial 911. I was passing out and white lights flickered in my eyes and my body felt like it was drifting away from my soul, I thought, “Gee, the marathon really did kill. Well that was stupid.” I passed out.

After a few seconds of unconsciousness I awoke and swore I’d never do that again. I was a one marathon runner and done. Grateful to have my life, I echoed that cliché verse of “That which does not kill us can only makes us stronger.”

 I am stronger indeed. I am Marathon Woman, hear me roar!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

THE LEGEND OF LAKE MB


 
"If I'm such a legend, then why am I so lonely? Let me tell you, legends are all very well if you've got somebody around who loves you." Judy Garland
 
The morning was cold. Sixteen degrees to be exact. The month was February and a storm was coming deep in the heart of the Piedmont plains of North Carolina. On that crisp, calm morning I was alone. Kids were at school and I had a debt to pay.

I owed my neighbor and best friend Debbie money. Twenty dollars to be exact. Why? I could not tell you. I was always owing her something. Good friends do a lot for a loner like me.

Truth be told I was fixing to end my loneliness. I had met a man. A good man. And while it was cold that morning, my heart was warm from the fire of our love.  After a short but story book courtship,  we were set to be married in a couple of weeks .

When you know, you know and that’s how you know when it’s right. And he was the one for me. Still nerves were getting the best of me. A newly single mom of three charting territory of a new frontier, the whirlwind was all that was on my mind. My head was in the clouds.

Never the less I had a debt to pay so after I dropped the kids off at school I drove my silver Honda Pilot to Debbie’s house. Now this Pilot has a story to tell as well, a story perhaps meant for another day. Suffice it to say, this vehicle represented more than just wheels. It was the first car I purchased since gaining my independence, and it represented freedom and empowerment. Plus, it was a good car and good looking too.

As I pulled into Debbie’s driveway I suspected she wasn’t home. But I was on a mission to pay my debt and maybe, on the off chance, have some coffee talk too. Just in case she wasn’t home, I made the fatal decision to keep my car running so I could make a quick escape. It was really cold and I didn’t want to get into a cold car. Remember a storm was brewing in the distance.

So I kept the car running and put it in neutral, uh, I mean park. I hesitated and was about to reach for my emergency brake as is my usual practice, but I told myself not to be so obsessive, her driveway was flat on the front top so my Pilot was safe.

I rang the bell and no answer. Usually the dogs bark but all was silent. Perhaps Debbie was home after all. So I rang the bell a second time, desperate for some coffee talk with my best friend. I waited for the dogs to announce my visit but still no sound. Just as I was about to head back towards my car, I heard some rustling. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “was my neighbor Marsha trimming bushes? Strange," I thought, though it was clear to me that she must be home working in the yard with all that bush rustling. I found this very odd for a cold morning in February with a storm on the horizon.

I shrugged my shoulders and surrendered to the fact that Debbie wasn’t home and my debt would have to hang on my conscience for another day. As I turned to walk away from the door, the dogs started to bark from inside. Why they stayed so silent to my presence at their door for so long, at the time I did not know, but their barking signaled me to head back to my car.

I began my departure and headed towards the driveway. As I approached the driveway I was perplexed. I paused, scratched my head and glanced to the side in confusion. My car was missing. “Where was my car? It was here but a minute ago? Cars just don’t disappear?”

Then an alarm sounded guiding me towards the bottom of Debbie’s backyard. While her driveway was an uphill climb and flat at the top, her backyard was a decline, laced with large pine trees that segued to a cliff that dropped forty feet into the deep woods. Basically her house sat on a hill.

There, at the base of the backyard, smoke a blazing, alarm blaring and echoing into the woods, was my silver Honda Pilot. There was my empowerment crashed into a large pine that stopped the large SUV from plummeting off the cliff. With its three wheels hanging in the air, the fourth cratered into the earth, smoke pouring from the hood, air bag poking out from the driver’s side, mangled door and side, alarm screaming, it was quite the crime scene.

I was in shock at the sight. “How on earth? What the? Why? How?” Then I began to laugh. The sight was too unbelievable for words and so random and unpredictable I couldn’t help but laugh! What else could I do? I could cry but I was just thankful that no human body was harmed. Still I could not understand how the car would just roll down a "flat" driveway.

I put the pieces together. The rustling I heard was my car driving over Debbie’s shrubs and Adirondack chair. The dogs were at the back window watching the car and started to bark when the car crashed. After I came to my senses, got my wits about me, I viewed the event as a minor life crisis and set in motion what I needed to do to put things right. I needed to first call insurance.  Since my phone was in the Pilot, and I was afraid to approach it lest it explode, I headed next door to Marsha’s house to use her phone to report the accident to my insurance.

Thank goodness for insurance. I explained to them what had happened. Oddly enough, they told me they file claims like this all the time. That made me feel less stupid. Marsha and I laughed together, shaking our heads. And yes, no one was hurt but Debbie and Dave’s backyard was a big, hot mess. Like the elephant in the room, one could not ignore the fact that they had a mangle of metal in the center of their yard, with the survival of their large pine questionable at best.

As Marsha and I gazed out at the crash site we spotted Debbie. In the midst of calling insurance, and laughing off some shock and awe, Debbie came home. She pulled into her driveway and saw the destruction in her backyard. The smoke, the alarm, the car, her tree and she went barreling down her backyard screaming, “Mary Beth, Mary Beth!!” She thought I was in the car and, being the good friend that she is, she was risking her life to save me.

Marsha and I raced to her screaming, “I’m here, I’m here!” Then Debbie was confused then relieved then annoyed. Apparently I had another debt to pay.

While annoyed and adrenaline still flowing, Debbie laughed with me as we waited for the tow truck to arrive. Now while a storm was headed our way, and it was cold outside, really cold, North Carolina weather is wacky. Just the other day it was seventy degrees and rainy so the ground was soft and muddy. The car was at the bottom of a hill with a maze of trees as obstacles. We wondered how the tow truck was going to maneuver this one.

The tow truck arrived and the driver assured us this would not be a problem. So for the next two hours Debbie and I watched as the truck created what would be later lovingly referred to as “Lake MB.” Every time the truck got stuck in the mud, it dug its towing thing to jack the front wheels out of the mud which created a rather deep and wide hole in their backyard; not to mention the pretty gum tree (that's an oxymoron, everyone hates gum trees) it used to brace the truck from rolling into the Pilot.

After a good two hours or so, the tow truck was indeed successful in retrieving my totaled car, not without leaving its mark of not just “Lake MB” but many, many tread marks throughout their backyard.

Once the tow truck driver exited the backyard, he stopped his vehicle to grab one of those flags that mark invisible dog fences. You know, those white, little flags that mark the border of where the dog will get zapped if passed? Debbie had them spread out over the border of her property. Well, the truck driver noticed he was about to run one over so he stopped his truck, got out, pulled it out of the ground, walked over to Debbie and said, “Here, I didn’t want to run this over.”

Debbie just looked at him in disbelief as he handed the flag to her. She looked at the flag, then turned to look at her backyard and said, “Really?”

The ground hardened as flakes began to fall. Debbie and Dave’s backyard hole filled up with snow which later melted into a water feature, aka “Lake MB.” Insurance took care of my car and of their backyard. Turns out I did Debbie and Dave a favor. They were planning on having sod put down in their backyard because they couldn’t get seed to grow. The trees provided too much shade for sun to filter through. They didn’t like that pine and gum tree anyway so were glad to see them go. When spring arrived, "Lake MB" was filled in with dirt, the sod took, sun shone down replacing shade and growth of moss giving way to a nice, green yard. Life was happy at the site of the legend.

I’ve since moved from the neighborhood but my legend lives on. Never do I visit without at least one neighbor putting up a cautionary rope in front of their driveway and someone hollering out at me to put it in park and “don’t forget the brake!"

With the replacement of my car, my debt to Debbie paid, my man was not deterred by this event. We were married a couple of weeks later in a cute little chapel in the mountains of North Carolina. That too is another story worth telling.

We moved to a flat lot, with “The Legend of Lake MB” a distant memory, our new neighbors none the wiser. I guess you could say we drove into the sunset, living  life happily ever after.
 
The End
*disclaimer* For the record, and to my knowledge, the car was in park and must have disengaged.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

"The Art of Sport Clay"


“A man can never have too much red wine, too many books, or too much ammunition.”
Rudyard Kipling

 
A wee week ago or two my husband had a hankering to go shooting; sport clays that is. He invited me to go along and give the sport a try. I had been shooting with him once before and had the unique opportunity to shoot such fine hardware as a WWI Springfield, WWII M1, and special ops guns as a Stehyr Aug, M1, AR15, and a mini M14. My favorite was the Springfield, in case you were wondering, though I am old fashioned by nature so that would be my obvious gravitation. All in all, I was a pretty good shot for a beginner. I found the experience surreal as I had only seen this sort of sport dramatized on film. Not every day you get to go shooting, never mind shooting such a variety of rifles, and shooting with a former Ranger, special ops guy (that’s my husband who would like to jokingly be referred to as Magnum in my blogs or he’ll have to, well you know the saying…)! Shooting was fun once you got the hang of it and I learned that the power behind a gun is not to be taken for granted.

So when Magnum asked if I would like to try sport clays he did not have to twist my arm. However, in an attempt to appeal to my elitist, princess wanna be snobbery that I pretend to own, he went to great lengths to glamourize the outing. “Oh, you know sport clay is a royal sport, that’s what they do on Downton Abbey. This is the sport for the upper class; this is a very refined activity, like fox hunting or croquet. Nothing like a day amongst nature, taking in the fresh air, the birds, a crisp fall day, and then retiring to the lodge with a cigar and brandy. This is a very sophisticated sport. I think you will really like it.”

I didn’t need the sales pitch; I was on board the second he asked me to go. First of all, any opportunity I get to spend with Magnum is a good time; secondly I love the outdoors; and third sport clays is the sport of royalty and I am a princess (see my blog “Princess Dumpster Diver”).

We packed up our car with vests, bullets, a Remington and a Stoeger, and headed to the fields. I was dressed somewhat rugged, wearing my Troxler riding wellies from my mock fox hunting days, some army green comfy pants, a fanny pack of bullets wrapped around my waist, and my hair in a pig tail reading to shoot, my royal garb of blazers and tweed saved for another day.

We arrived at the shooting course out in the North Carolina country. There was indeed a lodge but no one was smoking cigars and sipping brandy; Picture more Duck Dynasty versus Downton Abbey. The bathroom was clean though. We filled out release slips, were briefed on safety (with the number one rule of importance: never point your gun at anyone. Duh!) met our guides and headed out with our guns.

Before we started the course we warmed up on the wobble trap. A wobble trap is a deck that sits about fifteen feet off the ground and is about 5 feet deep by 20 feet wide. The trap, overlooking a field and some woods, is meant to simulate the actual course enabling the shooter to practice targeting the clays.

To paint the picture, the process of the wobble practice goes something like this: Peering out into the woods, you load your gun with two shells, remove the safety, and give the signal for the guides to release the clay “Pull!” A clay disc comes floating from the side, gliding gracefully towards the trees, a steady yet firm hold, eye on the target, pull the trigger and shoot the clay.

“Hey honey, want to go first?” asks Magnum.

“Sure.” I said. After all I was now an experienced shooter after having gone shooting once before. Why not dive in and give it a go. Of course I had never shot a shot gun but how different could it be?

I loaded two shells from my fanny pocket, removed the safety, gave the signal to release the clay, “Pull!” keeping my eye on the target and pulled the trigger.

The kick force from the gun sent me two feet back, spun me around, causing my shoulder to take such a hit I felt as though I had been shot. With a numbing pain running down my arm, slightly in shock from the force, I dropped the gun to grab my arm and in the process, pointed the weapon at my husband. Everyone yelled, “Whoa, drop the gun.” which I proceeded to do but I dropped it right where I was standing and to a degree that the gun was still aiming at Magnum. The force from my dropping the gun on the ground could have triggered the gun to shoot the remaining bullet but fortunately it did not. I quickly came to my senses as I gently placed the gun in the holding bar. Phew, everyone was safe!

I began to tremble, my arm aching and numb. I drew back from the wobble and cussed and said, “I’m done!” I worked to hold back tears as I felt so silly to think I would be cut out for this sport, even worse, that I had almost shot my husband. The man survived a few wars and his wife almost took him down. I took the power of the gun for granted and fired with too much confidence.

Still in pain and shock, I stood back and voluntarily became a spectator as Magnum took the podium. Using the gun I had just shot, the second bullet still remaining, safety off, clay gliding, he aimed and shot. Magnum jumped back a little from the kick. He scratched his head and thought something wasn’t right. The guides also noticed something wasn’t right. The gun shouldn’t have this big a kick. So Magnum and the two guides took a closer look at what was loaded and realized we were shooting turkey shells left over from Magnum’s recent outing of turkey hunting.

Now turkey hunting is another story all together, one I will share when I get the opportunity to go a hunting for turkeys. I have learned though that turkeys are big and mean and require bigger shells. Bigger shells, especially shot from a gun that is not meant to hold bigger shells, packs a big kick. Interpretation, no wonder the gun kicked so much! I was given the wrong shot gun shells and anyone would have encountered the same scenario, pro or novice alike.

Once we all recovered from the shock of the shells, we all had a good laugh and proceeded to the clay course. I felt relieved that I wasn’t as much of a novice as the turkey shells proclaimed and was looking forward to giving the course a try. Shot guns still pack a kick but I was given a vest with more padding and I learned to position the gun a little better to absorb some of the force.

We headed out to the course which is kind of like playing golf. There are stations. After a few stations I began to relax a little more, which apparently is the key to hitting targets. Our guides got a kick, pun of course intended, at my aiming and how close I came on a few occasions. Towards the end I was looking like a pro and I felt like one too.

I didn’t fumble when loading and I didn’t hesitate when shooting. However, I also didn’t hit any clays either. Didn’t matter, I was having fun, enjoying the fresh air, the stroll along the paths, the trees, the cool crisp autumn day, and the time I spent with my husband. I marveled at his accuracy of aim, envisioned him in battle with pride and admiration for the hero he is.

We rounded the corner towards the very last station. If I could have crafted the ending to this story with complete poetic license I could not have crafted it any better. I took my stance, loaded, locked, removed the safety and hollered “Pull!” I was relaxed, took my time as the clay came soaring thirty feet in front of me, gliding gracefully like a bird into the crisp, blue sky. I took my last aim, shot and I hit that clay dead on, shattering it to pieces. What a rush! I screamed and hollered  while everyone around laughed and cheered and agreed this was the way to end the day.

And to think I almost quit earlier that day. Sometimes things get off to a bad, really bad start but if no one gets hurt, or shot, let the show go on, don’t ever quit or you never know what targets you can hit. You may miss that one opportunity for a big break, reaching a bulls eye, or simply just spending a day stopping to smell the roses, allowing life to slow a little amidst the simple pleasures that are always abound.

Boy I had a cherry on my shoulder at the end of the day; my badge of honor. I enjoyed watching it change colors throughout the week and recounting my story to others. Magnum’s birthday is right around the corner and I am planning to get him a membership to the sport clay club, which is actually quite affordable for a royal sport. There we can spend our days like Dukes and Earls and Ladies, shooting clays and then retiring to the lodge by the fire with a cigar and brandy.

Friday, August 22, 2014

THE BATTLE OF PURNELL RIDGE


“I’m mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea’s ass at 200 meters. So why don’t you go hump somebody else’s leg, mutt face, before I push yours in.” Clint Eastwood, from the movie “Heartbreak Ridge”

Now I am not one to retreat from terror. I will not give up my ridge. So with a little time passing from this near death encounter, I continued with my running and strolls but approached the ridge with caution. I would always creep up and peer around the corner to see if Remington was out. I always made sure to arm myself with a pointy limb from a fallen branch nearby in case he should attack. If the coast was clear, I would pass his house walking backwards, limb in hand, watching my back on the defense.

Occasionally his master would be outside and I would kindly ask her to put him inside while I passed her home. I thought I had the situation under control. And then one day there was an act of war.

It was a steamy, humid afternoon in August. I made my way to the ridge and peeked to see if my foe was out. Indeed he was. I hollered for his master to bring him in but received no response. With my habitual limb in hand, I stood for a few moments contemplating my next move. My husband, an Army Ranger, gave me a few pointers on how to protect myself should I encounter such a precarious situation: arm out, ready to knee the aggressor. I thought about this for a few seconds and decided I liked my arm and I’m not a Ranger.

Using my best judgment, I decided to pick another road to run on that fine day. Just as I turned away from the tip of the ridge, Remington spotted me from behind the bushes. Our eyes met and I knew we were in a stand-off. I stood for a moment and started to wave my arms wildly at him. I considered the arm, knee defense, but in that split second I knew my only chance at survival was to run.

I darted towards Purnell Road, the arm leading to Route 1, where cars dictate the speed limit at 60 mph. I had no time to “stop, look, and listen.” I only hoped no cars were passing. My visor flew off my head, my iPod fell from my pocket, my water bottle rolled to the ground. My heart pounding and out of breath, I ran screaming. Across the road lay a ditch four feet wide and five feet deep. I leapt over it, landed, stumbled, almost falling to the ground. I managed to hold on and keep running. All along Remington was on my tail. He knew no boundaries. He chased me onto another property and I could feel his breath at my heels. “This was it,” I thought, “I’m going down.”

And then, by some good grace, he turned and went home.

Shaken and in utter disbelief that this beast hunted me as he did, the woman who’s home I landed on, came out to see if I was OK. She brought me inside and I recounted the story. She told me she fears for her life and that of her dogs, that the dog is vicious and it’s just a matter of time before there’s bloodshed.

I called the dog catcher. This dog had to be stopped. After an investigation, the dog catcher informed me that “it appearz zat youw paperz are noot in orda.” Since I had not reported prior attacks, the dog catcher could only issue a warning to the owners.

After I alerted the neighborhood to this terrorist, I began to hear stories similar to mine. One even included a confession by the master that she feared her son’s dog was not safe.

My fight is not over. I will not give up the ridge. Question is, what should be my next approach? Do I go on the offense, lure him into an attack, report his serial offenses and let justice prevail? Too dangerous and risky. How will time play out this tale? Will Remington turn on his own? Will someone else fall victim to his prey? These are questions of which I have no answer. But I do know this, Remington is a terrorist. He is not a militant dog or a radical pet. I can’t ignore his presence, I tried being his friend. He is terrorizing the street of Purnell Ridge and he knows no boundaries.

Someday peace will be at hand, and I will run on Purnell Ridge again. Dogs only live to be so old. For now though I retreat. That paved road across the street will do just fine.

REMINGTON THE TERRORIST


 
“People who keep dogs are cowards who haven’t got the guts to bite people themselves” August Strindberg

There is a time warp of a road around the corner from where I live. With asphalt and black top paving most of the planet, I have found a respite from modern society. This little gem, practically in my backyard, is called Purnell Ridge.

Purnell Ridge is a vein of a country road where few remain. Traveling deep down Purnell Road, an arm that leads to Capital Boulevard, or more commonly known up and down the east coast as Route 1, one may stumble upon a few of these back country roads. With such names as “Shoe Fly,” “Black Horse,” or my favorite, “Lightning Bug Lane,” they are spots paused in time, untouched and amputated from the reaches of Big Brother. I would caution traveling down some of these roads as “no trespassing” signs and shot guns are partners in preserving such tranquility. However, Purnell Ridge is a little more welcoming, with county zoning of five acres per lot. Civilization is more prevalent on the Ridge, thus certain considerations and expectations apply. With such precedence as no kill zones and shot guns need not apply, trespassing along the road is permitted.

I love visiting Purnell Ridge. A leisurely stroll on a crisp, fall day down the unpaved, sandy colored road, where rain fall carves divots and ruts makes traveling a character trace. Foliage of hundreds of year old trees shade the pathway, and creeks runneth alongside while the sounds of birds, frogs and insects harken melodies to the base of running water.

The seclusion of the road is peaceful, full of solace, and cleansing in nature. Surrounded by lake and woods, there are a few cautions requiring mindfulness. Random copperhead or cotton mouth snake indigenous to the area make rare appearances. Legends told of an existence of bears or coyotes scavenging the woods, though I have yet to site any. Some even claim bob cat lurk in the shadows. But the biggest treat is tiny Toto, the dog, who barrels from his home, barking at your feet, only to roll over for a belly rub.

I love running the Ridge. A mile round trip, hilly and winding, always adds interest to a challenging run. I used Purnell Ridge to add mileage when training for my sole marathon. While not a resident of Purnell Ridge, my home overlooks the woods of this beloved trail and I feel a special kinship developed and nurtured over ten years of my visiting this unique spot. That is until recently.

Seems a rather vicious beast has moved into the neighborhood. Situated at the entrance of Purnell Ridge, he has become the gate keeper. His name is Remington and I don’t like him very much.

One fine day I ran down Purnell Ridge, then I ran up. On my way back up the ridge I was abruptly stopped by a large and juvenile German Shepard that, unlike Toto’s friendly greetings, came charging with loud barks, growls and fangs. I sized him up at about a buck twenty. His hair raised along the spine, ears stretching to the trees, I was more than startled; I froze in a panic.

Thankfully this beast was just out for a stroll with his lady master who quickly called him back before he attacked – me. I am acquaintances with this woman and we chatted as I inquired about her new family pet.

She explained that her good for nothing, slacker, late blooming, leech of a son brought him home. But really the dog is quite friendly.

 I asked of this fine pet’s name. She replied, “Remington, after the gun.”

“Oh, how cute,” I responded and then reached my out my hand as a peacemaking gesture of diplomacy.

You could feel the tension in the air as she quickly shouted, “Don’t. I wouldn’t pet him.” In coincidence with her plea, Remington, the friendly dog, started growling at me, about to pounce. She called him back. I laughed a little nervously and politely said I’d be on my way and that it was nice talking with her.

Time had passed and I had forgotten about Remington. I ran the Ridge with no disturbances other than a welcoming hello from Toto. That is until one day after a run down the Ridge, making my way back up, I encountered Remington. I was just about to pass his territory when I heard him bark. I made sure I steered clear of his boundaries and headed to the far side of the road. But that was not far enough.

Remington is a cruel and evil beast. He was bred to attack and terrorize those not in his pack. He knows no other purpose. I doubt rehabilitation would work with Remington. Could I picture Cesar Milan, “The Dog Whisperer,” finding out what makes him tick?

Cesar’s assessment of Remington would go something like this: “This dog was raised by an overindulged, entitled master. Watch what happens when I rub behind his ears.” As Cesar reaches to stroke Remington, Cesar interprets the dog’s speech.

“What did he say Cesar?” asks the audience.

Cesar responds with a look of fear in his eyes, “He says ‘I vill keel you! RUN!!!!”

Run I did as Remington came charging at me. I did not know what to do! I know you are not supposed to run from dogs or they will run after you but I tried to stand my ground. I waved my arms and started growling back at him with no retreat from Remington. He was getting closer. So I started screaming at the top of my lungs, and ran as fast as I could but he gained so much speed, he was on my tail. And then, just as his snout grazed my ankle, ready to bring me down, my pleas for help were heard, and his owner called him back.

Trembling with fear, shock and awe, tears streaming from my cheeks, I headed home lucky to be alive.

I am not one to retreat from terror. I will not give up my ridge. This is war!

Story to be continued...