Friday, July 27, 2012

Essential Element

Try a Little Love - written by Davy Rasmussen and Michael Santana
Song Lyrics

She cuddles up close to her baby girls as they shiver in the night.  "It's going to be OK", she says to herself.   "I've made it this far. I can't give up now".  It was pitch black in the trunk of the car where she and her two babies where thrown like a bag of old trash.  She can tell from the sound that the tires were making that they were no longer on paved road.   She hit her head on the top of the car as it bounced in and out of a pot hole.  One of the baby girls started to cry and she pulled her in closer.  "Please stop crying.  I know you are hungry.  I promise, we'll eat soon".  The car comes to a stop and the sound of a door slamming sounds like the crack of thunder.  Footsteps quickly come to the trunk, it pops open and then she feels that familiar cold, harsh hand upon her neck and she is ripped from the car and thrown to the ground.  A few seconds later her two crying girls are pitched next to her as she lays still.  She knows to be submissive and not to rise up or say a word.  She lays frozen, hugging the ground,  praying that she and her babies would be spared.   Another crack of thunder, the sounds of tires on gravel, and slowly the red lights of the car and her past drive away.  

She waits until she can only hear the sound of crickets in the night woods and stands up and looks around.  Nothing is familiar except the stars she can see in the sky.  The road only goes two ways, back in the direction the red car lights went, or the other way, and so she begins to walk.
As the sun starts filtering through the trees she sees a little house, snuggled among flowers and decides to rest here, maybe find water or just a quiet, safe spot to sit and love her girls.   That morning, the lady who lived in the little house came outside with a fresh cup of coffee to listen to the birds and say good morning to God and all his wonderful little creatures.    She hears the sound of a cry coming from the side of the porch and walks over to investigate.  There in front of her was a tattered mother and two little girls in need of the most important essential element of life - LOVE.   They hold a gaze into each other's eyes for a long moment.  Words are not spoken, but between their eyes an exchange of trust is given.   The lady slowly reaches down and picks up both the girls and wraps them in her arms.  They still shake from being cold but instantly feel the warmth of her embrace and the love in her touch.  A tear forms in the mothers eyes.  " I am finally safe."

A few days later the lady had the mother and both the baby girls in the tub giving them all a bath.   "I could get use to this" the Mom thinks to herself.  The girls splash each other as the fleas fall off into the soapy water.   "I wish you three could stay here with us forever.  I would love to watch your girls grow up. If my house was just a little bigger.... If my old cat would come out from hiding, I know she would love your girls too...." , the lady rambles on to the Mom as she is drying her off with a towel.   The Mom looks back with understanding eyes.

    The lady promises to keep her and the girls safe, warm and fed as long as it takes to find the place where they can truly call home.  Later that day Mom and the lady sit together beneath the shade of the Mulberry tree and watch the girls play tug of war with an old sock.   The Mom leans over and gives the lady a gentle lick on the hand and says with her eyes,  "All we really have is today and today is good.  Today I am loved by you and my girls are happy. Thank you so much!".  She puts her head on the lady's lap, closes her chocolate brown eyes and finally rests - peacefully.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Winter of Summer

Spring - written by Davy Rasmussen
Song Lyrics

I'm on my way home after doing a few errands in town and as I pull off the interstate, I can see billows of smoke rising into the blue sky in the direction of our small community. "No one would be burning purposely", I thought to myself. The county had issued a ban a week or so before on all outside burning due to the extreme drought we are having this summer. I pass our one truck, volunteer fire department and see it gone and my heart skips a beat. I wind my way a little further along our country roads and that distinct smell creeps into the car as I watch the smoke get closer and closer. By the time I reach our mile long driveway, it becomes quite clear where this fire is burning.

A few weeks earlier I was outside by our garden doing a rain dance. What is it with the weather this year? We have been breaking temperature records every other day and it's been well over a month since any of our flowers or veggies have tasted a raindrop, other than from my water hose. The grass has turned from green to winter brown.  And it's not just us and our tiny existence that seems to be affected by this unbalance. Everything around us is too. The birds are no longer singing. It's too hot and dry for the cocoons of all the butterflies to make it through metamorphosis. The wildlife that we normally see every day have just disappeared. In their place we are being plagued with an unusual number of flying insects, and the stinging type too.  The creeks are dry.  One of our ponds is now completely gone and all you can see are the countless foot prints of deer, raccoon and coyote scavenging for a morsel of water in the mud.

The unbalance seems to be rubbing off on us humans too. Sharon says I've been a bit moody lately.  It does seem like I've been getting frustrated more easily and over the stupidest stuff too.  It's not just me. Just about everyone we run into is seems depressed or is a bit "Debby downer" and complains about something.   The drought and summer heat appears to have dried us all up and has turned all of us into kindling for a wild fire.

My heart lifts a little when I reach my house and see it still standing, but then jumps back into overdrive when I see a firetruck and countless pickups all parked around our barn.   I jump out and sprint to the men all gathered around the firetruck and recognize a few neighbors who work as volunteers in the fire department.   I learn that a fire has broken out on the backside of our hollow and had already burned forty or more acres and was working its way up to the top of our ridge.  They weren't equipped to fight a forest fire and with only 750 gallons of water in their truck, they were there to hopefully stop the fire from taking our home.   The adrenaline-switch kicks in and I hop on the four wheeler and start up the trail, climbing from our valley elevation of 740 feet above sea level up to our ridge top of 1140. Right when I was about to leave I am joined by a couple neighbors who also drove up to see where the smoke was coming from.   Once we reached the top, the smell of burning trees and leaves was so strong, but because the forest was so dense we couldn't see a fire line anywhere. This gave me a temporary relief in knowing that it hadn't made it over the top yet.    In the one area where the smoke appeared to be the strongest, we started walking through the smoke down the other side of the nearly 100% vertical hillside.  I couldn't see fire anywhere, but could smell it everywhere.   Then I hear my Latino neighbor Eric yell " O-ly cheett, O-LY  CHEET  over  here".  I scurry and slide to where he is and see the wall of bright orange climbing the hill towards us.  We get a little closer and the heat and smoke push us back.  Another neighbor yells "there's more over here".   My heart is pounding and sweat is dripping from every pore and the 102 degree day was not making it any easier.   We try to pull the leaves and dried limbs that are uphill from the fire away to make an earth barrier, but as the sparks and embers rise and fall, they were sparking more flames than we could put out.   It becomes obvious that we weren't going to be able to fight this forest fire from the hillside and that the only hope was to return to the ridgetop and declare war here, where it was at least semi level ground.   

I head back to give the volunteer firemen a status on the fire and they give me some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that forest service was at the base of the fire on the other side and working their way around the fire with a dozer and a two person ground crew and the bad news was that the volunteers may have to pull out because there were two other fires burning in the county.  I crank up the tractor with the box blade attachment, more neighbors come to help and thoughtfully brought water to keep us hydrated.  I down a bottle on my way back up the ridge and instantly I feel stronger.   I scraped the entire ridge creating a six foot wide earth barrier while neighbors removed dead limbs.  This would hopefully stop the fire or at least slow it down so we could put it out on foot.   We could hear the bulldozer working his way around the fire, but couldn't see him yet.  One of the blazes was about 150 feet from reaching the top and at this point all we could do was sit, catch our breath, hydrate and wait for it.   Finally we see the yellow of fire service dozer push through the flames, knock down a burning tree and come in front of the fire.   A sigh of relief passes between us.   I climb down to the two forest service fire fighters and tell them about the other blazes we've seen along the ridge and one of them radios to the dozer operator.   I'm drenched in sweat, dirt and ash and felt a little bad saying "damn it's hot and humid today" as I noticed that they were wearing full firefighting gear and had to be 100 times hotter than me.  "Ya know, if it wasn't as humid as it is today,  this fire would have burned a lot faster and probably gotten past us."  They told me.  "It's about 90% contained now and as soon as the  bulldozer finishes the sweep along the ridge, everything should be safe in your hollow, though you may want to come back up here several times through the night to check on things."  Needless to say, I didn't sleep too well that evening and did go back a couple times and watched the embers burn themselves out.   In the still of the forest I sat there feeling mixed emotions.  I felt sad for all the trees, animals and life that was altered or ended.  I was so grateful that our little hollow was untouched.  I felt bad for the neighbor that accidentally started the fire while burning a few boxes and how that one decision will be something they live with for a long while.  I was humbled and overwhelmed with pride when I thought of all my other neighbors that came with water and a helping hand and the volunteers that dropped everything they were doing that day to come and try to protect my home.   I felt a tear form in one of my eyes and before I headed back down to the house for the night I did a little rain dance on top of the ridge.

A day later the rains came.   Temperatures dropped back to the normal summer averages and today after three days of more wonderful, cool, refreshing, delicious, rain, I feel and see the balance return.   The grass is getting greener, the cardinals are singing, the hummingbirds are fighting for the feeders, the wildlife is peaking back at us from the woods and even the strangers that we run into at the grocery store are smiling and are saying things like "Have a lovely day".  It feels like the winter of summer has ended and it's spring once again.  

Friday, July 13, 2012

Through the fog

Lighthouse - written by Davy and Sharon Rasmussen

Song Lyrics

Uncle Carl trout fishing on the Caney Fork River
I could barely see my uncle's back sitting in the front of the canoe as we pushed off from the bank to float the Caney Fork River.  Just when we laughed saying "at least it's not raining",  it begins to drizzle again.  An hour before, when we met at the place where our canoe and fishing trip would end, we sat in the truck as the rain pelted the hood and questioned whether we should take the 5 hour float.  Then a crack of thunder shook the ground and we grinned at each other and said "Let's Go".  We left my truck there and took his, along with the canoe, our fishing gear, a couple peanut butter sandwiches, and paddles 16 miles upstream to begin our annual fishing adventure.   I say adventure -  and they usually are for one reason or the other.  

 The year after my Pop passed away, who was also my uncle's brother, we talked with each other on the phone quite often and would always end the conversation with "We need to go fishing sometime soon".  We'd make a plan to float the river and something would always come up causing us to cancel the trip.  Sometimes it would be something personal or a scheduling conflict.  More often it would be the weather or river conditions.  The Caney Fork is controlled by the TVA and a dam holding back Center Hill lake.  When they are not generating at the dam, the river is a nice, class I, lazy float.  When they are pumping water through the dam, the river transforms into a class II or III and rises over ten feet.   We finally just picked a day on the calendar and said "Rain, shine, generating or not.... we're going" and we did.   Well, the sun worked with us on this day, but the river,  well it wasn't the lazy one that we've floated before.   We stood at the bottom of the dam looking at the rapids whipping past us, feeling the spray of the cold Caney Fork river on our face and had that "what the hell are we about to do" look on our face and pushed off.   We paddled without any words spoken between us for the first fifteen minutes as we realized we may have bit off a little more than we could chew on this one.   Our paddles weren't helping us move forward, the river took care of that,  we just tried to navigate around the rocks and fallen trees that seemed to blur as we passed them.   I tapped into my boy scout memories of white water river canoeing and remembered that when ever the water in the river made a V, that we should point our canoe to it.  We could see a section coming up that would require a bit of navigation and prayers.  My uncle did the power stroke to keep us on course.  I used the J stroke to keep the back end straight.  Suddenly it looked like the current was going to pull us into a fallen birch tree where we would certainly capsize.   I yelled "right side - Draw Stroke" .  We feverishly reached out and paddled on the right and within inches missed the tree.  As the river widened and slowed down a little, we both held up our paddles and let out the rebel "woo hoo - yee haw".   I floated this section of the river several times before, but never when it was the wild and white water Caney Fork.   With the river higher and wider, I couldn't ever really get my bearings.  Even my favorite fishing spots were under water.   It usually was a two to three hour lazy float to where we would pull the canoe out.  After about thirty minutes of our white water adventure we decided that we would start looking for an eddy or some place we could pull the canoe over and cast out a line or two.    Fifteen minutes later as we were floating by at a quick clip, I looked up and yelled to my Uncle "That's my truck!!! - BACK STROKE".    When we finally got to the shore we fell over laughing.  He said " That was the best 45 minute ride ever, let's go do it again!". 

So here we are again, though this time we are on the lower section of the river and a part that neither of us have floated.  They had finished generating a few hours before, though since we were so far down stream, the river was slowly dropping and was still moving along at a quick class I speed.    Since the water in the Caney comes from the bottom of the lake upstream, and the lake is very deep, the water in the river is numbing cold.  Even on a summer day most trout fishermen wear gators to keep the cold water off their skin.  Today the cold water and summer rain are the perfect ingredients for river fog.   It was an eery feeling letting the current pull us along without us knowing or able to see what was ahead.  It was deafly quiet and at times all I could hear was the sound of our paddles going into the water.   Slowly we began hearing something that I couldn't make out at first.  It got loader and we were obviously getting closer and closer to it.  Then it clicked - WHITE WATER!  That's the sound of rapids or water splashing into a boulder, tree or something in our path.   What I would give for a Light House right now.     

Sharon and I at the Nubble Lighthouse in Maine

Five hours later the rain finally stopped, the fog slowly lifted off the river and just in time.  We were just about to pass by my truck.   "BACKSTROKE!"  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Breath in

Where the Cool Winds Blow - written by Davy Rasmussen
Song Lyrics

Do you think we can hear the sounds the earth makes when she breaths? I think I heard the planet inhale and exhale while on my trip along the Maine coastline.  Each time I walk or sit along the shore I can hear it.  It's that moment when the ocean pulls the sea, like a giant gulp of air into her lungs, and draws it back from the shore and then suddenly exhales with a gust of water that comes crashing back against the rocks.  The repetition is as trustworthy as the tick of a clock.  It's so constant and true.  As I lay in bed, I can still faintly hear it in the distance. While I sleep tonight my chest will continue to rise and fall with breath and bring life into my body, without any conscious thought of my own, and so does the sea.  I wake up in the middle of the night and she still is breathing in and breathing out, wave upon wave, bringing life to all that live on this magnificent planet of ours.

We are staying at a cozy bed and breakfast on Deer Isle called Breathing Spaces.   I love the name as it alone recalls in my memory all the wonderful places we have sat on this trip and quietly inhaled the sweet essence of Maine.

There we are sitting on an open deck at a quaint seaside restaurant with lobster boats going in and out of the harbor. The sun finally slips behind the horizon and I inhale that wonderful smell of the steamers still dripping from my chin. There we are on top of the highest peak on the eastern shore. After the hike to the summit my sweat now feels cool and refreshing on my skin as the breeze from the ocean climbs its way up the mountains in Acadia National Park and splashes me in the face.  What a spectacular 360 degree view to inhale.

There we are sitting by a babbling brook that is only a few miles away from meeting and becoming part of the sea. We have a picnic lunch and inhale that wonderful smell of the balsam pine trees enclosing us in our own little fortress of nature. There were so many other breathing places too that will linger in our dreams and memories from this journey along the coast of Maine.  As our plane is about to land back in Tennessee, the pilot informs us that the temperature is a balmy 102 degrees.   How I long now for just one more breath of that cool, Maine, summer, ocean air.