Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences may be related to Dominoes of Revenge. In this particular tale of woe, however, it's hard to say where kharma gets off sometimes.

Following the many blizzards of 2009 and 2010, the shrubbery on the side of my house had suffered some serious beatdowns. I ventured out with broom and hand - Nanook of the North, trudging across the tundra, mile after mile, mindful of the yellow snow while I labored to save a well tended 15 year-old hedge.

Spring came. It became apparent that the hedge had fought its last battle. No amount of propping, cropping or staking was going to save my fine english boxwoods that I had carefully elevated to a serene yet towering bonzai effect. They had to go.
As a lifelong student of the school of hard pruning yet a dedicated conservationist of sorts, I decided to give the stumps a fighting chance. After all, Boxwoods are like American Holly, requiring purposeful eradication or they always come back, a veritable Lernaean Hydra of shrubbery.

I have also been known as "Mr. 90%" for a good part of my existence. When the deed was done the heaps of pruned hedges lay suffocating the lawn below. Well that's alright, I said as I stood back to marvel at my work. I proceeded to go inside and let the lawn fend for itself.

The following weekend the grass needed to be cut. So I decided to make Mrs. Incredible proud and clear the heaps of offending brush, tossing them just beyond the path and into the woods. Mind you, I tend the forest, so in my mind this was a temporary condition allowing me to mow the lawn. But apparently, Mr. 90% was only pushing 93%.

I left for an hour and returned to discover in my absence that Mrs. Incredible felt the need to rectify the situation. There she was, sprawled on the couch, having suffered some indescribable trauma.

(They think this about everyone, by the way)

It seemed the brush needed to be further in the woods. Who knew just beyond where I tossed them was a massive, soon-to-be-pissed-off ground nest of the meanest, nastiest yellow jackets east of the Pecos? Now, having had this experience myself in the past (and also having 6 white-faced hornets stuck under my shirt at the tender age of 6) I knew it was no laughing matter.
At least right away.

Yes, she stepped in it alright. Stung no less than 30 times. She had never been stung in her entire life, so this was pretty serious. But not so serious she would go to the doctor. After all, we had expired Benadryl in the cabinet! And surprisingly, she didn't find it interesting that the yellow jacket can just keep on stingin' till you squash 'em!

Well, it took no less than 2 weeks for the swelling to go down. I'm thinking she's satisfied with the location of the brush now. I know I am.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Greatest Show on Earth

Recently I learned that if one watches much more than 2 hours of television a day, there is a much greater likelihood of being depressed. Not too surprising given the general fare being thrown to the masses, but I suspect even if one is selective in what is being watched, the tendency remains.

Consider also that people that do watch TV probably underestimate the amount they watch. Let's face it - the Jersey Shore here, the Secret Life there, and there you go! Everything after that - Spongebob, educational or otherwise, is adding to the old depression scale...tipping, tipping, and for what? The meter's running.

But we like to live dangerously. After all, the consequences are negative, but neither immediate nor certain, so we roll them bones. And what of those that just leave the TV running in the background? That's gotta count somewhere (like on your electric meter for one place, and for this reason alone one should report to the disintegration chamber).

Lately I have been consciously reducing the amount of television I am exposed to. And the result is surprisingly a lot like what happened when I was no longer exposed to cigarette smoke - I am a lot more sensitive to it and can only take so much. That's telling me something.

"My" Forest in the Fall Sunset. Too involved to take a picture tonight.

So tonight I decided to take in the sunset. In the shade of the house the temperature was perfect. I watched the setting sun paint the oak and sycamore tree leaves golden-green and the breeze danced through the forest. The treetops swayed randomly and the leaves fluttered.

I turned into the sun and watched the ballet of the clouds. There were two distinct levels. Each had its own activity, and the levels moved relative to each other. One level filtered the sun's rays and occasionally the levels would collide. The silver linings would dissipate with the clouds as they expanded and glowed from within.

For those that extract, a lively set of clouds can be quite revealing. A natural Rohrshach test of sorts. I thought how the clouds at sunset create images like dreams - creating space, light and color and their absence. Never really there and the closer examined, the more difficult to define. And then - changed.

Next time you catch yourself mindlessly turning on the TV, or see the sunset streaming color and light, or the clouds rolling gently above or with violence before a storm - watch the show that never reruns. The Greatest Show on Earth.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's not the Heat, it's the Humility

The Fourth of July came as it always does, only this year Your Humble Narrator was scheduled to run the Go Fourth 8k, the 3rd in a series of 5 embarrasments races this year. The World War I Flying Ace was up with the morning sun and checked the horizon. The skies were an ominous red (you know the rhyme) following a violent thunderstorm the night before.

The morning was...sultry. The air thick with humidity, and the temperature - 83F and rising. YHN was undaunted. He would fly this day. How bad could it be?

The Ship of the Desert lazily backed out of the hangar. The course was set for the Custis Trail in Falls Church, VA. Loyal readers may recall my telling of the second race in the Ed Barron series. It was here that I marveled at the methodical and relentless race-walkers and at more than one point, struggled to overtake them.

"Pace Yourself" the voice in my head kept saying (as it also said 2 weeks ago but nobody was listening then either Oh My Brothers.)  Convinced however that I had found enlightenment, I hoped to successfully apply this mantra to the 8k before me, despite the weather, and despite a completely sedentary existence since my last conquest.

(Possibly Alex DeGroot, 1 of only 58 private detectives in the free world in an iron lung. I can't be sure).

The contest opened with the National Anthem bravely played by an asthmatic trumpet player in an iron lung. Props had to be paid for the courage alone, and he did manage to rally the final few bars.

The WWI Flying Ace did not let the exhilaration of the anthem carry him away. He knew it was to be a long campaign, so he went easy on the throttle. He searched in vain for his nemesis - The Red Baron. But the Baron had apparently chosen to fly other theaters, for he was nowhere to be seen. At least he would not avenge his defeat this day.

The marshals had sounded 'FAIR WARNING' - the 4k out was uphill, and at the turn, steep dips. Pace yourself.  The temperature and the humidity continued to rise. Count the will get to the turn easily.  The course climbed through the canopy, the clouds and into the blazing sun. 2k next to a metal sound barrier. No wind. At the 3k pylon, there was to be a water stop...where the hell is the water???

A guy standing in the shade of a bridge advises 'you can turn around here'. THANK YOU. Wait - if that's 4k, there should have been water...where the hell is the water??? That won't be at the 5k either! The World War I Flying Ace checked the gauges. He was not going to make it. And then. I did what you are never supposed to do. I turned to look over my shoulder.

Wait a minute! Is that MY spare tire I'm dragging? Ah the chains forged in life...The steep dips in reverse. Followed by the ascent in reverse.  The chutes were out. Walking began to outnumber "running" as the paces were counted. Perservere. And suddenly, there he was.

The Black Squirrel. He scampered around and eyed me, crossing my path. Now it so happens that I have associated sightings of the Black Squirrel with the memory of my father, just as I associate an overhead plane with that of my mother. I recalled some of his last words to me were "Hang in there, friend."

Renewed, I pushed on. I resumed that "pseudo-jog" pace, just nominally faster than walking and certainly not running. And then. I was PASSED BY A RACE-WALKER. Oh HELL NO I said. Just stay right behind him until the finish line I said. But I couldn't hang in there any longer. 400m to go and I let him get away as I fell to a walk again. I swear he turned on the jets.

When I got to the pavilion, there was no effing water. Then I learned they screwed up the course. It was a 9k. Certain that the race-walker had been dispatched by the Red Baron and was gleefully reporting the massacre, I was left only to rationalize: I just wasn't mentally prepared. I had him through 8k. I'm still hanging in there.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sifting Through The Spoils

Last weekend, Your Humble Narrator took to the skies again, for the Tim Harmon 5k run. Skies were clear and the air crisp and cool. It was almost a certainty the Red Baron would appear. I circled the parking area of the Fairfax Government Center, searching for my quarry. I was not disappointed.

Intimidating? Not to the point of distraction, but as mentioned previously the Red Baron is a machine. A lifetime runner in a state of perpetual readiness. I have never seen him not in the colours. Cool. Disciplined. Patient.

YHN (the Flying Ace) returned to his hangar to don his signature leather helmet and goggles, seeking both courage and hydration. He left the gunner's gloves behind. Perhaps today would be the day. And as it turned out, the dogfight would reach epic proportion before its conclusion.

The Flying Ace had not flown any training missions since their last encounter. A dangerous gamble when one takes to the skies against such a foe, for certainly he had seen as many battles as there were weekends since they last met.

The start was slow. The Flying Ace showed patience. Yet it was before mile 1 that the Red Baron was to inhale the sweet smoke of the Flying Ace's Sopwith Camel. Cautiously, YHN held the throttle steady and took fuel at the first opportunity. He held through the mile 2 pylon and gauged his lead. The salt stung his eyes and his goggles steamed. "You must hang on" he kept repeating to himself.

But with less than a mile to go the dilythium crystals were glowing white hot. "She's breaking up Captain!" Scotty charged from below. The Flying Ace brought the Sopwith to a stall hoping to cool the engines. He tactfully veered into the shaded section of the course, readying for the final push. To his amazement, the finish line came into view and he had yet to be overtaken.

Yes!!! The Flying Ace crossed the finish line in vainglorious victory! (and then coughed, wheezed, and bent over in an attempt to regain normal operating levels). This was followed by a blinded stagger to the chairs. When at last the blood from his eyes was cleared from the inside of his goggles, he lifted his head to see the Red Baron cross the finish line. From the front, for once. The Red Baron casually started talking to some friends, as if he had just gone down the drive for the newspaper.

And to the victor, the spoils!!! The Flying Ace paused to take stock. Sure, the Red Baron probably was just having a bad day (as the Flying Ace had for the previous 12 years). And only one word could describe my performance..."acceptable".

But there was a sense of victory. Not over the Red Baron necessarily, but because I chose to show up that day. I met some friends at the race. The fees went to a good cause. The event was well managed and the Sock Monkeys were rockin' it. So I stopped to take that all in, hoping to meet again. And I realized it is just like all moments in life, only victorious when seen, and always fleeting.