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Number of posts: 23
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By Mike Williams:
It's a dog. It's a plane.
It comes unexpectedly, escalating from a mild trot on an otherwise ho-hum walk into a sudden, full-tilt explosion, and at the end, a soaring leap that seems to have no limits. They might be superheroes, our dogs, bounding across the Grand Canyon, forelegs extended, bodies uncoiling, eyes flashing, fur riffling, ears flapping in the slipstream.
Never mind that Chloe, our 40-pound yellow mix of something or other, is typically hurdling nothing more than a fallen tree or a low rock outcrop impeding one of our routine walks through the woods. Or that for Fred, all 11 pounds of pure Maltese macho, the bottomless chasm he’s leaping is merely the boundary where the hardwood floor ends and the edge of the carpet begins.
The young man wore ragged clothes, beat-up shoes and a scruffy growth of more facial hair than I’ve seen in a long time. He was trudging up Lexington Avenue, a torn rucksack over one shoulder and a battered black guitar case over the other. This small kit seemed likely to be his current sum of belongings in the world. He paused at the corner, looked up at a street sign and pondered which way to go. I was just passing, driving a load of our furniture, books, electronics, linens, towels and endless kitchen and bath gear, bound for our new apartment near my wife’s new job and office.
The sight of him almost sent me off the road.
If you aren’t a golf fan, you’ll probably find this as boring as watching the game on TV. If you are a fan, though, you may, like me, find Rory McIlroy a refreshing spring breeze in a sport that’s been suffering through a long bout of summer doldrums.
I understand that many people think golf is a game for the rich or for pansies. My tri-athlete brother-in-law even scoffs at the notion of calling it a sport, I guess because there are plenty of unfit-looking guys who are good at it and there is no tooth-grinding pain involved, at least not typically.
I got hooked at a young age by family connections. My father was a club pro at our jerry-built, 9-hole course, sculpted from my grandfather’s farm during the Great Depression on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Paw-Paw and his crew apparently did not use gigantic earth-movers to transform the 40 acres of rolling farm fields into fairways. The crop rows were still visible in some of our fairways, and for us kids, bouncing over those furrows in the new-fangled electric carts was even more fun than playing the game.
I don’t know why I like working with my hands. It doesn’t seem to run in my family, a fact that leaves me puzzled. If I didn’t inherit a disposition for it and didn’t get it from hanging around my father’s or my grandfather’s woodshop, just exactly where did it come from?
I guess I’ll never know, making it one of life’s savory mysteries, the kind we can only shake our heads at, marveling at the unexpected pleasures we sometimes stumble across.
My own path to the woodshop has been a stumbling one. I took 7th grade shop class, a nine-week introduction during which I managed to produce one of the ugliest gun racks ever built …
Haiti is the most heart-rending place I have ever seen. Yesterday’s major earthquake, centered just 10 miles from the capital city of Port-au-Prince, means the misery, indignity, hunger and suffering that the vast majority of Haiti’s 9 million residents were already enduring will become even more acute. Which is hard to imagine. If you are already starving and living in a cardboard shack without power, clean water or proper sanitation, it would be worse to have that cardboard shack flattened. But it will be infinitely worse if the slender thread of survival you were clinging to – perhaps gathering scraps of rotted produce somehow overlooked as vendors pack up at dusk in one of the city’s teeming open-air markets – is suddenly broken because that market no longer exists…
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has issued a report detailing the incredible bungling at Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December of 2001. It concludes that Osama bin Laden was there, hiding in the mountains, and America’s leaders – George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld – ignored vigorous requests for reinforcements from the handful of American Special Forces operatives on the ground. Had those reinforcements been sent, bin Laden and the top al Qaeda leadership very likely would’ve been killed or captured, according to Peter Bergen, CNN’s terrorism analyst.
That, of course, is speculation, but Bergen is one of the few – possibly the only – Western journalist who ever managed to interview bin Laden. Common sense and my own experience covering the battle at Tora Bora for Cox Newspapers tells me he’s probably right. But we’ll never know.
Are you backpacking? A lady outfitted with Bermuda shorts, white tennis shoes and wide eyes asked the question as we passed on the trail leading over Round Bald on the Tennessee/North Carolina border. Her husband, nifty in his own Bermuda shorts, didn’t say a thing. By the sharp look and raised eyebrow he cast my way, I’m guessing he was about to ask, “What the hell are you doing out here? And why?” I was wrestling with the same question, and I wasn’t winning. It was an octopus, harassing me with too many arms, and I was trying to fight it off while hauling what felt like two tons on my back. The question of what I’m doing – and why — always dogs my backpacking trips. Head out into the woods hauling 50 pounds on your back, camp in the rain, swallow as many insects as food with dinner, […]
If you care for stunning views and spectacular landscapes, there is no better place in the South than the balds along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Jane and Round balds, along with Grassy Ridge, all north of Roan Mountain, are fabulous expanses of open grassy highlands stretching for hundreds of acres. The views are unparalleled on clear days, with fold after fold of blue-tinged mountain ranges rolling in every direction like a storm-tossed sea. Temperatures in mid-summer can be mild, often chilly, with bracing breezes ramping up to minor gales, sometimes accompanied by wisps of fog or passing cottony clouds that envelope the 5,000-foot-plus summits. You don’t have to be a backpacker to take in these views, either, even though the Appalachian Trail crosses the balds. They are easily accessible from Highway 226 that connects Spruce Pine, N.C. to the Johnson City, Tn. area, requiring only a slightly taxing walk of […]
In a previous post I wrote about the devastation that tiny insects called hemlock woody adelgids are bringing to one of the signature trees of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. On a recent trail-maintenance work trip in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I saw just how bad things are. This photo, looking west-southwest from the summit of Rocky Top, a 5,400 peak located south of Clingman’s Dome, says it all. Most of the gray, dead tree skeletons carpeting the ridge are hemlocks, gone forever. As I noted previously, the park is attempting to save some of the hemlocks by treating them with an insecticide, mostly along roads and in high-visibility areas. This photo shows the sad reality in the backcountry, where widespread treatment would be nearly impossible. Another sad example presented itself in a dark cove (too dark for a decent photo with my limited skills) on our hike into the […]
If Floridians want to see the future, they should look to California. No, not gorgeous mountains, towering redwoods or dramatic, windswept beaches. Thanks to a bill passed by Florida lawmakers this spring and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist on June 1, Florida’s future will be one of more rampant growth, unbridled development and ever-expanding urban sprawl. “With the stroke of a pen, the governor removed the most powerful tools to manage growth, require road improvements and prevent overdevelopment,” the St. Petersburg Times concluded in an editorial, dubbing Crist “Governor Gridlock.” Environmentalists had hoped that Crist would veto the bill, which was pushed by developers and business interests under the guise of stimulating the state’s moribund economy and creating new jobs. But Crist, a Republican with a moderate, even populist image and high approval ratings due in part to his willingness to take on galloping home insurance rates, caved […]
Visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains have been captivated by the scene for decades: gorgeous evergreen trees clustered around the rushing waters of boulder-strewn mountain streams. The trees, in most cases, are hemlocks, their roots snaking impossibly among the lichen-covered rocks and their needle-laden branches framing the streams in postcard perfection. In winter snow, with powder piled deep on both boughs and boulders, the scenes can be breath-taking. Unfortunately, hemlocks are in very real danger of being wiped out. In the past few decades a tiny insect called the “hemlock wooly adelgid” has spread like wildfire from New England to the Carolinas and on into the Georgia mountains, leaving experts worried the trees will go the way of the American chestnut and the Dutch elm. As you might guess, the hemlock tormentors were imported from overseas by humans, coming from Asia, unintentionally, I’m sure. You can spot an infested tree […]
It’s a good thing in life to be humbled now and again. I was surprised, though, when my recent come-uppance came at the hands – and feet and strong backs – of a bunch of agile, jolly sixty- and seventy-somethings. An avid hiker, I volunteered for a week of maintenance work on the Appalachian Trail in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. My legs seasoned from running on the pancake-flat streets of my neighborhood in Florida, my confidence in my backwoods abilities too high for my own good and my backpack brimming with too much stuff, I was sure I’d be able to do my share. I would be no tenderfoot shedding folding chairs and cheap Wal-Mart inflatable mattresses fit for a swimming pool as I made my way up the trail. Bob, Sylvia, Herb and Skywalker – that’s his “trail name” – soon put me in my well-deserved place, but […]
If you love the beach, there’s something you could do to help save it. Of course if you don’t believe in sea-level rise and climate change, don’t bother. Maybe you think getting to drive to the beach in Albany instead of Panama City would be a good thing. I don’t. The skeptics scoff at sea-level rise projections, but it seems in recent years they’re having more trouble denying very detailed scientific reports that have documented things like 10,000-year-old ice sheets retreating at an alarming rate and the Northwest Passage between Canada and the Arctic suddenly opening up for the first time since record-keeping began in 1972. As for our beloved Southern beaches and the Gulf of Mexico, an eye-opening map that shows what sea-level rise might do can be found at: http://geology.com/sea-level-rise/new-orleans.shtml. If you like Jazz-Fest, Café DuMonde and Galatoire’s, this map may convince you to visit New Orleans soon […]
Like Charlie Seabrook, my fellow contributor to “likethedew,” I’m a tree-kisser, too. Some of my fondest memories are of climbing the magnolias at my grandmother’s family place in Mississippi, and of the tree house my brother and I built in the spreading pecan tree in our backyard in Tuscaloosa, a tree planted by my grandfather around the turn of the last century. Even as an adult, I’ve never lost my boyhood love of trees. One of the most fun assignments I ever managed to weasel out of my employers when I was a newspaper reporter was a feature on Peter Jenkins’ recreational tree-climbing school in Atlanta, something you can check out at www.treeclimbing.com. But as much as I love trees, I’ve drawn a line in the sand down in sunny Florida where we live. I now hate palms. Our yard is full of them, and they are devilish, evil things, […]
When George W. Bush was at Yale, he played intra-mural basketball. Decades later, a competitor from those glorified pick-up games could still remember what the man who became our president stood out for most: he played dirty. While most of the other intra-mural players were more interested in a friendly game, Bush threw elbows, shoved other players around beneath the basket and generally evinced a “win at all-costs” attitude that some of the other players found unseemly, according to a profile I read in the New Yorker or some other “liberal” publication. That image has stuck with me, and, in light of revelations in the New York Times about the Bush administration’s rush to adopt harsh interrogation tactics in the crisis following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it resonates even more. Bush’s approach to intramural sports, and, presumably, to life, joined with his famous incuriosity, anti-intellectualism and his absolute self-assurance to […]
If you’ve never seen a launch at Cape Canaveral you’ve missed something: the sight of the giant space shuttle hurtling into the sky is stirring. But if you want to see one you’d better hurry. NASA is phasing out the aging shuttle fleet in September, 2010 and will be transitioning to a new vehicle that will take us back to the moon. But the new vehicle won’t be ready before 2015, at the earliest, and in the meantime we will have no access to the heavens other than by hitching a ride with our Russian partners. As a 20-year resident of Cocoa Beach, I’ll miss being able to walk out in my yard and watch the shuttle leaping into orbit from a launch pad less than 15 miles from my doorstep. The night launches are particularly impressive, with the sky lighting up almost as if the sun were rising from […]
Here I am, two weeks after the end of my newspaper career, wedged between the shrubs and the house, getting jabbed in the back by a surprisingly sharp hibiscus branch, while the mulch is making a pattern of painful, possibly permanent indentions on my kneecaps. I have paint spatters all over my glasses and in my hair. I’m painting the house, a job I’ve put off for about the last five years, but now suddenly have plenty of time for. It is not on the much overdone “Honey-Do” list. I volunteered. It needed it. I’ve always believed in the dignity of manual labor, a certain zen that can come from its discipline and rhythm, but now I’m starting to think there’s something to be said for keeping some things on a strictly philosophical level. Lots of time for reflection on this job. Dip the roller in the bucket. Roll out […]
The windows are open and the air got so crisp last night we had to pull out a blanket. This morning’s walk with the dog was downright chilly, at least for the first block or two, as the air had plunged to something below 60 degrees overnight and a brisk breeze off the ocean made it feel much cooler. It was fabulous, made more so by the fact that it’s probably the last breath of cool air we’ll feel here in Florida until late October or even November. Any day now the veil of heat and humidity will descend. The windows will go down and stay down, the air conditioning will run non-stop for the next five to six months and that damned St. Augustine grass will grow so fast I can actually see it getting bigger by the minute, fat green blades flexing their biceps like 9-year-old boys, laughing […]
A recent report on NPRs “Morning Edition” about efforts by cities to get a piece of the stimulus pie carried an interview with the mayor of Eufaula, Alabama. After duly noting Eufaula’s reputation as one of the best bass-fishing spots in the world, the mayor said what might do his town the most good would be obtaining money to buy their local hospital. Since the 1980s, I believe the mayor noted, the hospital has had 11 different owners. Everybody knows our health care system is in crisis, but few examples better highlight what I think is one of the root causes. I know nothing of this particular hospital or the series of transactions that have seen its ownership change hands at such a dizzying pace, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see something is badly out-of-whack here. Another sign of this comes every time I drive up Interstate […]
It’s just 90 miles from Key West to Havana, but for the past 50 years you’d think the azure waters of the Gulf Stream have been so filled with man-eating sharks that no sane person would risk the journey. Sure, sharks are out there and have ended the dreams and lives of too many Cubans trying to flee their island’s government. But the real sharks blocking commerce and interchange between the two countries have been in Miami, Washington and Havana. Now it looks like change is coming, and maybe soon. The Congressional Black Caucus traveled to Cuba recently and met with the Castro brothers, who both seemed eager for a thawing of the frosty relations between Cuba and the U.S. Perhaps more importantly, Barack Obama has said he’ll relax travel and remittance restrictions on Cuban-American families, restrictions that have been in place for years but were severely tightened by the […]
Sunday it was 65 degrees and the first tender shoots of green were pushing their way up through the leaf litter.
I’m only just learning flowers and birds, so forgive my stumbling attempts at identification. Two of the apple trees were in full bloom, and tiny purple flowers — maybe Liverwort or Larkspur — dotted the field. On the trail along the stream, broad green leaves, possibly Ramps, had sprouted in the rich dirt. I think I spotted a Lady’s Slipper there, too, a juvenile flower tucked in a repose resembling prayer, hanging from a gracefully curved neck.
The trees had inched from dormancy, their stark brown twigs barely showing the first hint of life and color as leaf buds swelled and prepared to pop open. In town and at the lower elevations, a few brave Dogwoods and Serviceberries were already in bloom and several Willows hung with drooping green limbs.
That was Sunday. Tuesday, it was 24 degrees and snowing. Tiny white specks flew in the wind all night, but this morning they’ve turned to fat lazy flakes. Still, there’s only a spotty dusting of maybe an inch here at 3,000 feet. Up on Celo Knob, another 3,000 feet higher, it’s bound to be nearing half a foot, and the mountain’s triangular peak is a stark, frigid white, looking like the opened door of an icebox stuck up in the sky, swathed in more white, either cloud or blowing snow.
Neighbors tell me to get out the Hummingbird feeders because those delicate creatures will arrive within 10 days. The Juncos and Carolina Chickadees have already powered through a five-pound bag of bird seed and are hopping through tiny drifts of snow on the porch this morning, leaving tracks like brave explorers as they peck for the leavings they bypassed earlier, when the feeder was brimming full.
Two turkeys spent the night perched in limbs at eye-level off the bedroom deck, not 50 feet away from where I kept the electric blanket on all night. Now
The park rangers always warn you that the weather in North Carolina’s mountains can change drastically in a short period of time. It’s easy to take the warnings as just so much lawyer-inspired overkill, or a message intended mainly for tourists from Florida wearing Bermuda shorts and tank-tops. But I won’t take the warnings lightly again. Last week I hiked up Mt. Mitchell, at 6,684 feet the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. It’s an altitude my college friends from out West scoff at, and rightly so, as the city of Denver sits nearly that high and the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains rises another 7,000 to 8,000 feet above it in dramatic fashion. Six thousand whole feet, my friends say when I talk about the beauty of the North Carolina mountains. Those are hills, not mountains, they insist. If they had been with me on that hike […]
I’m probably flailing a dead horse, but is it not true that Southerners, far more than our neighbors from other regions, decorate their cars with bumper stickers, decals, emblems and other items proclaiming some sort of statement, political, philosophical or sports-related? It used to be, in my days of growing up in the distant 1960s and 1970s, that a bumper sticker was a bold thing. In Tuscaloosa, most of those stickers proclaimed the glories of the Crimson Tide football team, and most were admittedly boastful but at least decorous. Now you go to a game and thousands of cars have far more than bumper stickers. My least favorite are those little flags that clip onto the roof or at the top of a window and flap like banshees as the Gator or Vol or Dawgs fans blast down the freeway at 80 hoping to get to the stadium early enough […]