Take a Hike

When the pressures of life start smooshing your head like a vise, when outside forces conspire to turn your stomach into an ulcer factory, hold your head high, take a deep breath and run like hell. That’s what Amadeus and I do, and I swear, it works like a Harry Potter spell.

Where you run is important– obviously, a crack house is not a good destination for stress-relief. Bars are smoky and can be quite expensive. Retail therapy is good if you have money, but if bills are a cause of your distress, it’s not a realistic solution. This is true of Caribbean cruises as well. And hookers.

Our cure for the blues, and our escape from the daily grind is hiking. We literally head for the hills. We throw on our jeans, pack a few sammiches, grab some bottled water and take off.

When the weather’s warm, we fish and camp out. When a chill hits the air, when the leaves turn to fire and start pirouetting  from trees, we hit the trails.

I love doing this. I love the fact that my husband grew up here and knows these hills and valleys like he knows his phone number. We discover new places, and revisit ones that he’s seen and wants to share with me. Seeing the world with him– even these small patches of the world– is one of my greatest pleasures.

Yesterday, we traveled about two hours away, to a fantastic trail head along the Buffalo River, deep in the Ozark Mountains. We took our cameras and clicked over 500 shots between us. What’s funny to me is that, when we get home and unload our SD cards, we discover that a lot of the same things have caught our eye– we often take the same shots at identical angles, at different times. A million things to see on the trail, but the same stuff grabs us. We’re spooky that way.

I wish I’d done this with my children. I wish I could have instilled in them a love of the Great Outdoors, but I never did. I was too busy trying to keep us afloat at the time, and a big backyard or football practice field was as close as we got to nature. I take comfort in the fact that I was raised a big city girl. When I first arrived in the Ozarks, twenty-something years ago, I had to inquire as to whether sheep bit. I couldn’t identify a robin and I thought eggs grew in styrofoam boxes. I was a new bride, and my new groom moved us to a God-forsaken trailer in a God-forsaken pasture, where goats frolicked on the hood of my Volvo, chickens laid eggs in our living room and snakes occasionally greeted me on the porch. For some reason, the marriage didn’t last, and those years didn’t attune me to nature. That came later, when my son and daughter grew up and I had time to consider the things that made me happy. I fell in love with bicycling and bike trails, which led to walking trails which led to hiking and camping and fishing and tree-kissing.  When I met Amadeus, I found someone who loved being outdoors as much as I do, and it’s an integral part of our lives. Maybe there’s hope for my kids yet. Maybe one day, they’ll find solace in nature. I know that at their ages, I’d rather have listened to the Sex Pistols and chugged tequila. As my daughter points out, at this stage of the game, packing a bunch of crap into a car, wrestling with fish and sleeping on the hard ground is not her idea of relaxation.

The beauty of the woods is overwhelming. The shapes and textures of the trees tell us stories. There are boulders as big as A-frames and plants so stubborn they could grow through steel. Every leaf is a masterpiece. Animals are standing around, peeking at us through the brush, though we seldom see them.* Water bubbles up from deep inside the Earth and trickles over silk smooth rocks.  Emerald green moss clings, fungi sprout like lace. Below is the river, as ancient as the world, winding like ribbon around bends and turns. I stop often as we walk the path, breathing the pure air, listening to the sounds of the rushing water and the wind pushing through the leaves. I’m in the moment. I can’t think about anything but the woods. At the same time, my ADD does double time, because everywhere I turn, there are a million treasures– it’s impossible to take it all in.

It’s the most glorious art form. We joke about taking so many photos, but really, I understand why we do it. We’re attempting to capture the thing that’s making our hearts sing. We’re trying to preserve it and take it home with us. Though it’s impossible to recreate through a lens, we try. We sit in our living room and transfer the mementos of the day to our computers. We’re tired and happy, our legs ache in a nice way. As we study each shot, we talk about what we were thinking when we took it– why a particular tree spoke to us, what a cutie the little snail-shell was, how impossible it was to capture the altitude of the trail or the gargantuan size of a rock.

When we hike, we’re enveloped in a soft cloud of serenity and beauty. It rides home with us at the end of the day, and we float on it as we fall asleep at night. We wake up Monday morning, and our worries are greeting us at the door again, but somehow, they just don’t seem as bad.

*One bear sighting and I’ll be simultaneously crying, running, screaming and peeing in my pants.

Dear Gun Owner

Hi, how are you? I’m sitting out here on the patio, beneath a huge oak tree, enjoying the breeze and dodging acorns as I write this. My coffee’s delicious, although I occasionally have to pick small leaves and sticks out of it. Stupid tree.

I started the day by trying to decide what to write about, as is my habit, but as the laptop screen blinked to life, I couldn’t help but notice that a few minutes ago, yet another psychopath went on the rampage. He murdered his former boss and began a chain reaction. During the drama, he was killed, nine people were wounded and the lives of multitudes changed forever. Because, you know, he’d lost his job a year ago and he was bitter. It’s all perfectly logical. Suffer a setback, take down a bunch of people (in this case indirectly– the wounded were all shot by police). Preferably in a crowded social setting, say a school campus, or near a landmark, like the Empire State Building.

We’re required to take a test before we’re allowed to drive, enlist in the service or substitute teach– hell, you have to take a test to clean the bathrooms at Wal-Mart for cripe’s sake. So, I’ve been wondering—why don’t we have to take a test to buy a gun? I’m not talking safety test here—I mean a mental evaluation, a test that’s sent off someplace to determine whether or not a person is fit to pull a trigger. And I’m sorry, Gun Owner, but I know you’re going to tell me that it won’t make any difference—that the crazies will always be able to procure firearms, because people are selling them on the streets like hot dog vendors sell weenies, but the fact of the matter is that lately, these guys in the headlines are purchasing their guns legally and easily. The dollar signs in the sellers’ eyes preclude them from even questioning the stability of the person they’re selling to. Any fool without a felony can purchase a weapon capable of ending a life.

Instead of the slogan reading, “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” why not change it to, “When gun sales  are better monitored, only sane people who don’t shoot strangers in crowded public places will have guns?”  Doesn’t that have a nice ring to it?

We seem to have adopted a Big Whiney Baby attitude about so many things these days. We’ve forgotten how to play together in the sandbox. We’ve lost the art of respectfully listening to the other guy’s point of view. Everyone’s screaming, “Don’t you DARE screw with my thermostat. Don’t mess with my comfort level.” We Big Whiney Babies throw huge tantrums when we don’t get our way, and we sure as hell don’t compromise.

The problem is that we live in a country that’s inhabited by 311,591,917 citizens. And while I’m sure that you, dear Gun Owner, are as sane and intelligent and well-intentioned as Oprah, you could probably travel a mile in any direction to find someone who’s a few french fries short of a Happy Meal. Do you want that person near your loved ones with a loaded weapon? Sure, your spouse can carry one for protection if you aren’t around, but your eight-year-old can’t. Your college-aged son or daughter can’t pack one on campus. Your grandma won’t take one to the hair salon, and remember? There was recently a shooting at one of those establishments as well.

I don’t want to take away your rights. If you feel safer carrying a handgun around, that’s fine. I trust your judgment, and feel confident that you’ll handle it safely. It’s that bozo down the road that I worry about—you know, the one with the apartment arsenal who’s been ordering ammo online the way some of us order pizza, the guy with the unfortunate childhood and the mental disorders who’s somehow fallen through the cracks and has been secretly planning to go down in a blaze of stomach-sickening glory along with as many of his fellow citizens as he can take with him. That was a run-on sentence, but I think you catch my drift.

As a side note, although it’s true that many of these lunatics plan and scheme for months in advance, a lot of murders are heat of the moment. I just don’t understand why it’s such a huge deal to have a fourteen-day waiting period to purchase a gun. When you’re jonesing to buy a car or if the big screen TV you want is on backorder, I’m pretty sure you’re willing to hold out for a week or two to get it. You have impulse control, but bear in mind, some nut jobs don’t. A little time and breathing space could prevent an anger management class dropout  from blowing someone away out of jealousy or rage. Sure, that’s not always going to be the case, but let’s say it prevents one murder a week, a month, a year. Wouldn’t it be worth it? Doesn’t a tiny bit of inconvenience seem insignificant in the Grand Scheme of things?

So, not to upset or offend you, but couldn’t we all just bend a little here? Can’t we all just get together on this? I swear, if I wanted  a gun, and someone required me to take some sort of mental assessment in order to purchase one, or told me I’d have to wait a couple of weeks, I’d be all, “Okay cool, gun bro, I’m down with that,” about it. It wouldn’t anger me, because it’s not about me. It’s about keeping my compadres safe from those who aren’t mentally stable. And you know, I’d do that for them. You don’t give candy to a diabetic. You don’t give a ninety-year-old the car keys. And you don’t give a loaded gun to a lunatic.

I grew up in a household that was heavy on the firearms. My father was an avid gun collector and I seldom saw him at home without one in his hand. He cleaned them and polished them, assembled and disassembled them. He made us kids comb through carpet to find little parts and pieces that he’d drop on the floor. He made his own bullets, and we helped him with that. I spent many a childhood Saturday at the shooting range, and at one point, Dad was co-owner of a gun shop.

But here’s the thing—my father wasn’t mentally stable. He should never have been allowed to own a gun. His father was a madman with impaired judgment who allowed his young son to handle firearms. At age seven, my dad shot a boy in his neighborhood. By age thirteen, he accidentally killed his best friend.

It all screwed my dad up terribly. He became obsessed with guns, as though to prove to himself that he was capable of owning an object that could travel at up to 1700 miles per second and pierce steel. And hearts. He had the skills and the knowledge of a surgeon when it came to using one– it was when to use one that became the issue. He was incapable of making that call. His brain was defective.

I think I’ve told this story on my blog before, but I’m telling it again, because it seems important. When I was a few days old, my mother’s mother drove from Memphis to Florida to meet me. One night, she and my father were sitting in the living room, watching television. Dad was cleaning and polishing a gun, as usual (forget about the fact that there was sometimes no food in the fridge—by God, we always had guns and ammo). Mom walked through the living room as she held me in her arms, and as we crossed my dad’s line of vision, he pulled the trigger. The bullet missed us by millimeters; it blew out the screen of our new TV, and Dad had fired intentionally.

My father was extremely entertained by this—by the terror and confusion and his own infinite power.  He was demonstrating his omnipotence, and took satisfaction in knowing that he determined whether we lived or died. He was proving a point, you see. Years later, he used a gun to commit suicide, which was a tragically fitting end. You’ll probably tell me that it was his right to do so, and on that we can agree.

The Bill of Rights writer-uppers could never in a million years have foreseen the changes that would take place when they penned the words, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms.” In those days, our country was new and we were fairly lawless. Most of the land was wild and untamed. Our forefathers needed those guns to protect their families from people with British accents and ruthless guys with crossed eyes and missing teeth who’d try to take what wasn’t theirs. Also, bears. I imagine that big giant bears roamed around and tried to eat toddlers, and our forefathers needed guns to protect their young’uns. But in those days, our society was smaller and less complicated. No one took psychotropic drugs or joined gangs or stood on rooftops and randomly obliterated people for grins and giggles. My, how times have changed.

To this day, I enjoy going to the shooting range. I don’t do it often, but I love macho-ing out from time to time, seeing if I can blast the center circle of a target to smithereens, and outmarksman-ize whomever I’m there with. My brothers call me Annie Oakley for a reason. I’ve also hunted, and although I usually end up feeling rather silly in those Carhartt coveralls and that gaudy orange hunting vest, I’m not averse to your plugging an animal to supply food, thin out overpopulation and prevent disease.

So, you see, I believe in a person’s right to shoot a gun for sport, to defend house and home, and to hunt animals in order to feed their family. I just believe that guns are too easy for the insane to obtain. You need good judgement and a bit of sanity to handle one properly, and there’s the rub. You’re in your right mind, and I’m in mine (sorta), but there are enough folks who aren’t to fill three-hundred stadiums and it seems crazy in itself for us to make it so easy and effortless for them to massacre people.

I know you probably support the NRA, and that’s swell, but please listen to what I’m saying here. They’re a powerful lobby and they’re going to scream and yell at every opportunity because regardless of these tragedies, that’s what they’re paid for. But no one wants to take away your guns. No one wants to strip you of your rights. Unless of course, you’ve died your hair orange, booby-trapped your house and demonstrated to those who’ve met you that you are incapable of handling a spoon, much less a loaded weapon.

So please, dear Gun Owner, think about that mental evaluation thing, wouldja?

I have to go inside now. I’m feeling a little depressed. And I’m getting bruises from these acorns.

Sincerely yours,

Moonbeam McQueen

I WON!!!!

WOO HOO!!!!!!

A big thanks to everyone who entered and voted in the Dorothy Parkerism contest. The winner, by popular vote, is Moonbeam McQueen, for this entry:
“No one can hold a candle to him, though we’d all like to.”

Congrats, Moonbeam! The host will be contacting you to make arrangements to send you your prize, a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker. Best wishes to all!

A bazillion thanks to everyone who selected my entry!! It’s a nice shot of self-esteem for this writer gal. I don’t think I’ll get the tiara or the roses, but I sure will treasure my copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker. By the way, if you’re a Dorothy fan, her facebook page is excellent!