Little Bastards

I really can’t think of much that I dislike about living in the South…ummmm…summertime humidity and mosquitoes can be found anywhere. Right? Sometimes we Southerners only have two seasons – “damn cold or damn hot” … occurring in just the blink of an eye. An old South Carolina saying tells us a lot about our climate. “If you don’t like the weather now just wait a minute. It will change.” I find this to be true during the spring and fall.

I remember a “damn Yankee” football player from the early 90’s who had joined us from one of the “I” states, Indiana I think, and who, before our first August football practice, explained to me that “I can handle the heat. It gets hot in Indiana, too.” An hour later, after his eyes had rolled back in his head, I was cooling him off with ice water soaked towels and forcing him to take sips of Gatorade. Yes, it does get hot in Indiana but, “It ain’t the heat in the South. It’s the humidity!”

When Linda Gail and I moved into our little “piece of heaven” we had no air conditioning. Open windows and ceiling fans moved warm and humid air and reminded us of our youth…except for the ceiling fans, we did not have during either one of our youths. More concerned with conserving heat during the wintertime, unlike” flat land country” farmhouses, ours had eight-foot ceilings instead of ten footers and late in the day, our lower ceilings would trap heat. A lot of late evenings were spent talking on the porch until it was cool enough to go to bed. A breeze might bring the smell of honeysuckle while we listened to the cicadas and other night sounds. I might enjoy a cigar while staying hydrated with a few adult beverages…until the mosquitoes came for dinner. No matter how much citronella we burned or how many fans we used, the little blood suckers seemed to always find us…and still do.

Mosquitoes are just a fact of life in the South and I praise God they don’t grow to the size of vultures. On a trip to the coast, I remember making an impromptu nature call where the only facility available was an old fire road in the middle of a pine forest off South Carolina’s Highway 17. As I completed my task, I looked down to ensure nothing got caught in the zipper and could see a cloud of mosquitoes attempting to make off with my man part. Itchy and it was in November! F&%K it! I DID zip up too quickly! For some reason, Linda Gail thought it was hilarious until the little vampires who had followed me into the car decided she was sweeter meat than I was. I laughed and I laughed and I laughed.

We have “stinging” insects too. Wasps, hornets, bees, even a little bitty thing that might be called a “no see um” … if I could see um’. Generally, I dislike them all. Specifically, I hate the yellow jacket. The little “bastards!” They are small hornets who build nests underground, under leaves or in hollow stumps. Related to bald-faced hornets and common wasps, they are much faster, more aggressive and make a honey bee sting seem like a French kiss from your beloved. If you step into a yellow jacket’s nest, you will not get stung once but several times and the little bastards will pursue you. Talk about holding a grudge.
The first time I stepped into a nest I got stung a dozen times, all from the knees down. When I finished beating them off of me I found my legs covered in “stinging” whelps that slowly, over a matter of days, turned into itchy, oozing wounds that resembled cigarette burns despite being treated with Linda Gail’s “old time remedy,” chewing tobacco and Arm and Hammer soda. This was also despite initially wearing heavy blue jeans, boots and heavy socks. I say initially because I “shucked” my pants quickly.

Over time I have found it better to wear shorts. You get stung fewer times before being alerted to “run like hounds of hell” are after you and the wounds are not nearly as bad. It’s as if the yellow jackets, when met with “blue jean” resistance, really got pissed off. I stepped into a nest while using my weed eater near the back door of the house one morning. Luckily, I saw the cloud of “little bastards” erupt from their hole and I ran for the safety of our closed in back porch. Yelling, slapping and running, somehow all at the same time, I found my “beloved” slamming the door in my face and screaming, “Don’t bring them in here!” Thank you SOOOOOO very much.

As I related in an earlier story I am not the only one to run afoul of the “little bastards.” One of my goats stuck his nose into a yellow jacket’s nest and received numerous stings to the head and neck. With a leather collar around his neck, the swelling had nowhere to go causing his head to swell, and swell and swell. By the time I rescued him, his head was the size of a basketball and I was afraid he would begin to chock if I did not release him from the collar. As soon as I cut through the collar his head began to “deflate” and I worried that he would die when the poison hit his heart. He didn’t and just went back to eating. Goats are simple creatures…unlike my wife who would have let the goat come in regardless of how many yellow jackets followed him. It’s good to know where I rate on her hierarchy of animals that she loves.

Few things that I hate about the South? I just got my first yellow jacket sting of the summer. Luckily, just one and I have found their little underground lair of pain. I will make the “little bastards” pay when night time falls. I will come calling with my little can of “payback” and for a brief time there will be one less thing to hate about the South.

This is an excerpt from the book “Through the Front Gate”
Don Miller has also written other books which may be purchased or downloaded at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

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RETURN OF THE RED TAILS

I heard a shrill whistle from above and looked up into a late January sky. It was a beautiful January day, warmer than normal although the day felt cooler with a gusty breeze blowing from the northwest. The sky was cloudless and of a deep blue color poems are written about. Circling in the middle of the blue expanse was my red-tailed hawk.

I know she’s not mine any more that I’m hers but it’s the way I think of her…if she is a “her.” I believe she is a her because of her size. She and I met several years ago when I got too near her nest and was dive bombed by either “herself”or her mate. A bright reddish-brown flash had me ducking low to the ground while uttering several expletives as I scurried to safety. For several days, I searched with binoculars until I found her nest high in an oak tree on the high hill behind my house and made a note to stay clear until her clutch had flown.

For the past several January winters, the red tails have returned to make repairs to their nest before beginning their courting flights as the days lengthen in the early spring. Soaring high into the blue sky while twisting and turning, the male makes steep dives around his mate before soaring back into the “romantic” blue sky. Soon they will retreat to their evergreen boudoir in an ancient hemlock tree and their “acte d’amour” will begin for another season as the “circle of life” continues with an egg or three.

I once wasted several cool, early summer mornings watching the red tail teaching her one offspring how to hunt field mice. Standing at the kitchen sink, a wide picture window affords me a view of a small open area between my backyard and one of the streams cutting my property. Sitting on a dead “stick up”, the red tail and her charge would wait patiently for movement, then, after erupting into a violent dive, return to their perch with the bounty of their exertions and share…until that faithful day when they returned and momma hawk brushed the little one aside as if to say “This is mine, it’s time for you to go get your own.” There comes a time when we all must spread our wings and go off to do our own hunting.

My red tails are one of the harbingers of spring I check off as I await my “most wonderful time” of the year. Soon everything will be green and colorful with rebirth. Despite my allergies, mosquitos and the emergence of yellow jackets, it is the “most wonderful time” of the year.

As I knelt in my backyard, digging at some dormant plant needing to be moved, I paused to watch her catching thermals, soaring higher and higher. I realized we had survived one more season. It is a season of rebirth for us all. My grandmother lived for spring. In her nineties, I expected every winter to be her last but every spring she would rally, be re-born like the jonquils, to enjoy her “most wonderful time” of the year. In the February of her ninety-eighth year, winter won out as it will for us all. Until then I will await the return of my red tails, her memory, and my own rally and rebirth. My “most wonderful time.”

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time go to his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf. While there you might like to hit like.

HARBINGERS OF AUTUMN

Despite the thermometer’s reading and the gallons of perspiration I am wringing from my tee-shirt after this morning’s run, FALL IS IN THE AIR. It is just a hint mind you but it is there. Could it be that the humidity is just a bit lower, or the direction of the wind a bit different? I guess it could be the fact I went to a football game this past weekend. In the South at least, fall means football even if the heat index is near one hundred and play must be stopped to dodge a thunderstorm or five. Nothing stops a Southerner’s worship at the altar of the religion known as football.

I have learned over the years that there are more subtle changes taking place. The bees and butterflies are frantically working over anything with a bloom. There seems to be a late summer “weed” that puts off a yellow flower the bees are in love with…frantically in love with. Milkweed is covered with beautiful black, orange and yellow butterflies as are any blooming purple…including cocklebur, beggar lice plants along with the sweet smelling kudzu. Linda Gail, my better half for the past thirty years, and I have different ideas as to what a backyard should look like. I coached for over forty years and believe they should look like well-manicured ball fields. She believes any plant that puts off the smallest bit of color is a flower, no matter what that flower might produce later. Linda Gail also loves morning glories and they must have something to grow up on right? This time of year with all of the activity I guess I am glad I acquiesce to her desires…plus it makes my life much easier in the long run…even if I have to clean up the mess in the winter. At least she lets me cut the kudzu regardless of their long purple blooms and sweet, almost sickly aroma.

My oaks don’t quite have the “leaves of green” they had earlier but they haven’t started to change yet but they do look different. I expect to see vast “V” formations of ducks and geese any time now… right after I walk into a painted spider’s web. The woodpeckers and red birds have returned to my bird feeders. For the past couple of months, they have been more concerned with gathering protein rich bugs for their young and I am sure food has been plentiful. Now they are looking for a handout I guess. They will get one if they can beat the squirrels to it. Poke salad has changed into Pokeweed and “my” mourning doves are anxiously awaiting the purple berries growing from magenta stalks.

As I sat on my front porch enjoying a “post run cigar” which sounds absurd but is one of MY Southern paradoxes. Let’s try again. As I sat on my front porch the bunny born this spring in a heavy patch of periwinkle made an appearance. “Bugs” is still all legs and ears but was attempting to put on some weight by eating some of Linda Gail’s potted plants…until he saw me. “Wascally wabbit!” With my puppies too old and blind to chase him off I guess I better look up what “wabbits” eat so he won’t starve when fall turns to winter. For now, I will just wait for summer to change to fall…which for me at least, is the most wonderful time of the year.

For more unique life stories by Don Miller visit his author’s page at http://goo.gl/lomuQf

LISTENING TO THE DARK

As I left my front gate there is just a hint of pink in the east spawning a prediction that the sun will once again make an appearance. It is still quite dark as I begin my walk. My five miler will be made mostly in the dark. I am attempting to avoid the late July heat which will eventually nudge ninety-five degrees even here in the eastern foothills of the Blue Ridge. I wish I could avoid the humidity which is still quite high at 5:15 this morning. Too soon the humidity will envelope me like a heavy and wet wool blanket. Later I will have to cut grass and will resemble someone who has walked his pet seahorse when my chore is completed.

I think of the old sailor’s proverb, “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning.” There is just a hint of pink on the horizon and despite the humidity, not enough moisture has collected to form even a thunderhead and we are dry to the point of suffering. I don’t believe “pink” is the new “red.”

Twenty-five minutes later I am “glistening” with perspiration at Lake Lookup. It is still dark but I decide to walk the narrow woodland path circling the lake. For unknown reasons, I find myself compelled to silence my music and just listen…to the darkness. At first all I can hear is the normal and incessant roar which has disturbed my hearing since my early adult years. The buzzing is a product of working in a cotton mill during my youth, sans ear protection, and from standing too close to speakers at “hole-in-the wall” juke joints.

As my miner’s lamp cuts through the darkness several bats take advantage of the insects attracted to the cone of light, causing me to duck despite the knowledge the furry flyers have great sonars. There is a haunting “WHO…WHO…WHO” calling out to me from the distant hill crest and the rustle of what I hope are small animals scurrying away through the leaves.

I am surprised at how quiet it is. Not at all like last night with the cicadas “screeching” into the night. I am alone with only the sounds of my footfalls to break the silence…and the bull frogs. Not the deep bass “ribbits” I would have expected, these are more tenor in pitch and produced a sound more like “gah-lup, gah-lup, gah-lup.” The frogs are lined up on the narrow, root strewn lake path facing toward the lake, hoping their breakfast hops or flies by. Instead it is only me and they don’t even move. Frozen by the beam of my light, they glisten green, yellow and black, their little eyes reflecting my light back at me. As I walk on, carp begin to roll close to the lake bank, their splashes causing the only ripples on the still, black surface of the lake…until I scare a beaver swimming in the lake’s small inlet. His tail slap reverberates like a gunshot and evokes the “flight” reflex from me.

It is lighter now but gray is still the dominant color. The gurgling of a small waterfall temporarily drowns out the darkness until I can hear the calls of “early” birds “looking for the worm to catch.” The world is waking up. It is comforting to know the earth is still spinning, continuing it’s trip around the sun. It is a welcomed calm “listening to the dark,” before I face the day.

More nonfiction by Don Miller is available at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM