Tag Archives: Stories

An Autumnal Rite of Passage

Each autumn, my part of the country is besieged by leaf watchers. Those hearty souls who plan an annual trip up into the mountains in order to witness how the changing fall colors have painted the mountain landscapes.

Typically, the best time for seeing this transformation, and for enduring gridlock on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is in early October .

A couple of months ago, a professor at one of the local universities predicted that this year would be particularly colorful and appear early due to the amount of rain that had fallen during the summer.

Such prognostications are almost always in error and this one proved to be no exception.

A particularly dry period in late August and early September seems to have thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the works. By the second week of October there had been very little color change among the hard woods on the slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains.

During that period, I’m confident that local hotels and inns were filled with disgruntled patrons who had booked their reservations a year ago hoping to be greeted with mountain vistas of flaming reds, bright yellows, and oranges; only to find a palate of mostly green.

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The Falls at Graveyard Fields – October 19th

All is not lost however. A few days of rain and nighttime temperatures which have dropped into the low 40s seems to have done the trick.

Within the last week, the awaited transformation has begun in earnest.

Those who were wise enough to book their reservations for late October or even early November appear to have won this year’s leaf watchers lottery.

The color changes will continue to increase at the higher elevations and slowly progress down into the lowlands over the next few weeks.

Better late than never.

An on-again, off-again blogger

I suppose that publishing a new blog post every six months isn’t exactly the rate of productivity that most bloggers aim to achieve, but it is in fact the span of time which has passed between my last post and this one.

I’m not going to attempt to offer any excuses for this, nor apologize, because I clearly recognize the turmoil that has been my life since last April.

Let it suffice to say that the earlier than expected retirement of my wife, the associated decision to move back to the mountains of North Carolina, managing the work of electricians, painters, plumbers, et. al. in order to get our house ready to go on the market, the listing and sale of the rejuvenated house in four days (rather than the four months we expected that process to take), multiple house hunting trips to find our new home, hiring a moving company, packing everything we own into boxes only to turn around and over a few weeks unpack everything we own, and ultimately the joy of closing on two houses in two days in two different states all has a way of filling a good bit of one’s time for periods up to and including six months.

HomeAnd I didn’t even mention the two or three months it takes to complete all of the changes that are required to turn the new house into “our” place.

It should come as no surprise that I have declared that I will never (voluntarily) move again. I included voluntarily in this statement in order to provide for the possibility that at some point, members of my family may need to take the bull by the horns and put me out to pasture in the, hopefully, distant future. But I can assure you that I will have little, if anything, to do in making that move happen.

I’m here to stay.

A plague on pollen and all other allergens

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In terms of being sensitive to, or even aware of, those mostly invisible foreign irritants which float around in our atmosphere, I led an idyllic childhood.  My brother suffered from recurring bouts of asthma and both my mother and father from seasonal allergies.  I, on the other hand, seemed to be immune to all such maladies.

That is until one fateful Spring day during my freshman year in college.  That was the day that Bobby Bumbles walked into my dorm room carrying a kitten.  His real name was Robert, but due to his proclivity to spontaneously disrupt the general welfare of those with whom he came into contact, Robert became known to all as Bobby Bumbles.  No doubt, he probably still is.

A perfect example of his impact on others was evidenced by his acquisition of the kitten.  No good can come from attempting to discern why he thought that having a kitten in a college dorm would be practical, much less a good idea.  There’s simply no reasonable explanation for that.  Nor is there an acceptable reason for why he began playing with the feline as he sat on my bed; rolling the kitten around, bouncing it on my blanket, and in the process dislodging copious amounts of cat hair, fur, and dander.

Within an hour, I began to feel as if someone had sprinkled tiny particles of sand under my eyelids, my breathing became labored, and a vile and noxious fluid began draining down the back of my throat.  That was the day that I learned that I was allergic to cats.  And I remain so to this day.

Thank you Bobby Bumbles, wherever you are.

I’m fairly sure that the initiation of my cat allergy also served as my personal Pandora’s Box in terms of the advent of other allergies.  Within a year or two, I found that I had become susceptible to various forms of pollen based hay fevers.

At first, my reactions to pollen seemed to occur on an every other year basis and were limited to short-term bouts of itchy and watering eyes, repetitious sneezing fits, and dull headaches.  But within a few years, I also began to develop nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, and tiny but incredibly itchy bumps on my fingers and hands.  A dermatologist told me that these bumps were known as vesicles, that they were related to hay fever, that they can develop within a very few minutes, last several weeks, and were essentially untreatable.

Did I mention that with my ever advancing age, my hay fever is no longer biennial, but now an annual affair?

As noted above, today’s pollen count is 10.1 – High.  I have no idea how that assessment is derived, nor do I want to have it explained.  I’m just glad that it’s less than the 11.0 – Extremely High levels that we’ve had here for the past three or four days.

img_0254I’ve tried using the common over-the-counter allergy medications with limited or no success.  These days, I tend to just stay indoors until the pollen counts subside. 

This has the added benefit of limiting my exposure to those other irritants in the environment such as urban sprawl, endless and unoccupied strip malls, traffic jams, and their basic root cause – people who have absolutely no clue how to drive a car!

Happy days!

 

I Meet My Match

Many years ago, we lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. A long ridge rose up on the outskirts of the small town in which we resided. From where it began, the rise to its highest point was around 3 miles in length. There, the ridge abruptly ended with a rocky outcropping, rapidly dropping away several hundred feet to the valley below. Along the ridge, a meandering and relatively steep two lane road led to the top of the ridge.

It goes without saying that any self-respecting town in which such a geophysical feature is found is also the home of a legend relating the sad tale of a young maiden whose true love had gone off to war, or to sea, or on some such quest.

You probably know the rest of the story. When fate, in one form or another kept her true love from returning, the young maiden, overcome with remorse, met her demise by flinging herself headlong off of said geophysical feature.

The ridge in our town was known as Jump Off Rock and the maiden in the legend associated with it; a Cherokee Indian whose warrior soulmate never returned from battle.

It’s interesting to note that over the last few generations, your average young maiden appears to have been made of tougher stuff or to have come up with more constructive strategies for handling any remorse they may feel in relation to absentee true loves. That’s probably a good thing.

That aside, I had taken up cycling as a means of keeping myself fit. I’d been a jogger for several years, but a hip injury had caused me to cut back on running. When I discovered that pedaling a bike didn’t negatively impact my hip, I hung up my running shorts and replaced them with a pair of black spandex cycling pants and away I went.

The ride up to the top of Jump of Rock became one of my favorite cycling routes. From my home, the round trip to the top of the ridge and back was about 15 miles. The climb up to the rocky outcropping wasn’t comparable to climbing the Pyrenees Mountains in the Tour de France, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it would cause one’s thighs to burn before the top was reached.

One spring afternoon, I completed the climb to the top, pulled my bike over to a grassy area near the outcropping, and was sitting there basking in the internal glow of having once again made the 3-mile assault to the top without having to stop anywhere along the route to catch my breath.

It was then that I noticed an old man hobbling toward me from the other side of the road. He was 85 years old, if he was a day, and was relying heavily on a weathered wooden cane which looked like it had been handmade from a crooked tree limb.

He slowly walked over to where I was relaxing in the grass. For some time he stood there silently gazing at my bike as it lay in the grass between us.

Abruptly, he reached out and began hitting the derailleur on the back wheel of my bike with his gnarly wooden cane. For the uninitiated, the derailleur is the device that allows for the multiple gear changes typically found on modern road bikes. For the record, my bike had 12 gears.

Then in a heavy, guttural German accent he shouted, “What’s that? What’s that!

That’s the derailleur. It allows me to change gears on the bike which makes it easier to pedal when riding up steep slopes like this one.” I explained.

He paused for a moment, shook his head slightly from side to side, and shouted, “One gear! One gear! When I was a boy, my schoolmates and I rode our bicycles from Zurich to Lyon, over the Alps, with only one gear!”

He paused momentarily to catch his breath and clear his throat before adding, “One gear!

Believing that he had sufficiently made his point, the old man silently limped back across the road to his car and drove away; all the while shaking his head.

I sat there for a few moments pondering whether or not I should go over to the rocky outcropping and hurl my bike, myself, or both my bike and myself over the edge.

But realizing that I didn’t want to be found laying at the bottom of the cliff in those spandex biker shorts, I got back on my bike and rode home; a more humble man than the one who had just ascended Jump Off Rock.

Technology is my Friend

A couple of nights back, my wife and I were watching a show on the TV when she made a comment about my aging Apple iPad Mini 2 which happened to be laying on an end table between us. I can’t remember what inspired that topic of conversation, maybe it was a commercial, but to my surprise, she said something along the line of, “You know, maybe it’s time for you to upgrade to a better iPad and then I can have the Mini 2?” She even suggested that I should get one like that which our youngest son had recently acquired.

To be honest, I had been feeling a bit constrained by my iPad Mini 2’s somewhat minuscule 16GB of storage. So it didn’t take a lot of persuasion for me to pursue that line of reasoning. You might say that my reaction was similar to that of the old firehouse horse who, on hearing any alarm, immediately springs into action!

To make a very brief story even shorter, in less than 36 hours, I had in my possession a shiny new iPad Pro with 256GB of storage. I’m still trying to figure out what I did to have been granted such amazing good fortune. If I ever do, I’m going to bottle it and save it for use sometime in the future.

I became a techno-geek years before that terminology was even imagined, so it’ll come as no surprise that I keep up with the latest advancements in computer/tablet technology. I also knew that my son had indicated that since acquiring his, he was now securely joined at the hip to the iPad Pro.

As soon as I opened the box and extracted my copy of this amazing device, I immediately felt it interfacing with my hip as well. I’m fairly confident that I also heard a monotone voice whispering, “Resistence is futile. You have been assimilated.

By itself, going from 16GB of storage to 256GB is a life changing event. It put an end to the revolving door of apps coming and going on my Mini 2 as I came across new, untried applications and uses for that device. With the iPad Pro, I’m now able to install and utilize apps with impunity. But that’s merely scratching the surface of its capabilities.

Some reviewers have indicated that the iPad Pro, along with a Bluetooth or Smart keyboard, can replace the need for a laptop computer. I’m not sure that I’d go that far, but it is a computing powerhouse. For those so inclined, countless reviews of the iPad Pro can be found on YouTube.

Suffice it to say, that I’m thoroughly enjoying the process of getting mine configured for my usage and learning about all that it can do.

Once again, I find myself in techno-geek heaven!

Retirement = Free time …. not necessarily

Before I retired, I never really gave much thought to what I’d be doing with all of the “free time” which retirement was supposed to place at my disposal.  Based on the number of hobbies and pursuits that I have: such as ham radio, reading, photography, writing, etc., I suppose I assumed that I would occupy most of my time in the pursuit of those activities.

After nearly six months of retirement, that’s not been the case.  Bummer? Well, maybe.

raquel-martinez-96648-unsplWe all know that those two evil twins, Accountability and Responsibility, will raise their ugly heads when and where you least expect them!  Paying bills, balancing the checkbook, buying groceries, doing laundry, cutting the grass, running errands around town, and other mundane, yet very necessary tasks, fill as much of my “free time” as those aforementioned hobbies and pursuits.

Quite frankly, I believe that’s the way it should be.

It turns out that retirement is not like being set free on a giant playground with no responsibilities and no time constraints.

That said, I’ve recognized that retirement grants you, and you alone, a great deal of freedom in determining when and how you choose to address those things which still demand your attention and for which you are still responsible.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

It took a while, but over the past few months I’ve come to the conclusion that the greatest reward of retirement is simply having:

           Freedom of choice when it comes to the deciding when to do those
           tasks you need to do versus those activities you want to do.

toa-heftiba-362237-unsplashIf you manage that freedom properly, it’s still possible to find yourself with an abundance of free time to do whatever it might be that you want to do each day; or conversely, to elect to do nothing at all!

And what a joy that last option can be!

I’ve come to believe that success in having an enjoyable and rewarding retirement will be determined by how well individuals balance this new found freedom with their on-going responsibilities.

In retirement, you really do become your own boss and take it from me, that’s real freedom!

That’s why, when others ask how I’m enjoying retirement, I tell them that I feel as if I’m residing in a very pleasant Alternate Universe from the one in which I existed during my working life.

And make no mistake, it’s a very satisfactory universe at that.

Photos by Toa Heftiba and Raquel Martinez on Unsplash

Residing in an Alternate Universe

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I retired recently after being continuously employed for something like 42 years.  I recognize now that while I was actively working, I really didn’t expend much effort in considering the passage of time.

timeDuring those years, management of the here and now aspects of time was a much more immediate concern.  Time was a tool which I carried on my left wrist.  It reminded me that I needed to get to work every day by a certain time.  That I needed to arrive on time for meetings, to find time for lunch each day, to ensure that results were delivered prior to deadlines.

You know the drill; like sands through an hour glass time marches on and there’s no rest for the weary.

There were only a few periods during my career when I felt like those 42 years would never end.  I guess I just didn’t have time for such contemplative, non-value adding musings.

Now that I’m retired, all of those working years seem to have gone by in a flash.  Clearly the perception of time is based on where one is standing as they are considering its passing.

Looking back at my working years, time was very rigid taskmaster populated with a maze of ever expanding benchmarks, most of which were very securely set and which demanded strict adherence.

Now that I’m retired, time has become very fluid, extremely malleable, and only occasionally demanding – and then in a most friendly and wonderfully passive manner. These days I no longer think of time as being carved in stone.  It’s more like having an amiable Pillsbury Dough Boy who looks after my schedule.

I still have things that I plan to do each day, but I hesitate referring to those events as being “on my calendar“.  That implies far too much structure in how I manage my days.

If I want to go to the gym later in the day rather than first thing in the morning, so be it.  I can just as readily sweat at 11:00 am as I can at 7:30 am.  The stamps on those envelopes that I need to mail won’t expire if I wait until tomorrow to go by the Post Office.  And since the local grocery store no longer gives the Senior Citizen discount on Wednesdays (how dare they), I can just as easily restock the pantry on any day of the week!

I’m slowly recognizing that I’ve become a resident in an alternate universe where I control time, rather than it controlling me.  And it’s really quite a nice place to be.

I haven’t broken contact completely with that other universe in which I used to reside, but I find that I’m merely an observer of it, rather than an active participant.

traffic-jamAs I drive around town, particularly during the morning and afternoon rush hours, I realize that I’m awash in a sea of folks dressed in the now standard business casual attire and tightly gripping their steering wheels as they frantically search for any opportunity to gain just one spot ahead of where they find themselves in the endless lines of traffic.  No doubt their minds are swamped with the plethora of reports, meetings, and tasks that are dictating their schedule for the rest of today, tomorrow, and next week.

I suppose that once in a great while one of the residents of that other universe may glance over at me and momentarily wonder, “Why does that old codger look so relaxed and content?”  Apparently, they can’t see the Pillsbury Dough Boy sitting in the passenger seat whimsically wondering what we’re going to do with the rest of the day.

Photos by Rawpixel and Evgeny Tchebotarev on Unsplash