“TAILS” OF THE SWAMP RABBIT CONTINUED

 

I have occasionally written about the denizens I have encountered along the Swamp Rabbit Trail, a twenty or so mile track used by runners, hikers, and cyclist here in upstate South Carolina.  For those unfamiliar with the Greenville, South Carolina area, the trail follows an old railroad line that was named for one of the denizens I have never seen, the elusive Swamp Rabbit.

When I have written about the Swamp Rabbit it has not been in glowing terms.  That’s unfair.  The trail itself is wonderful, its some of the people who are not so wonderful.  Usually, I ranted because of groups of cyclists riding too fast in large packs.  Old men, sans shirts, proudly displaying their lily-white chests and hairy backs, both forced upward against gravity by what one friend called “Mandex”.  Just what is that little roll?  SOME women wearing lycra sport’s bras and little else…except for the sweetie in white on that very hot and humid day several summers ago.  Oh, sweet pea, why are you running so fast?  The eight-and-a-half-month pregnant woman, if she was a day, who breezed past me pushing a double stroller, emasculating me as I struggled up that final hill. Yes, I have written about them all.

At 5:30 this morning, I expected to see little of interest except maybe a deer or a possum.  It was still quite dark when my friend, Hawk, and I made our turnaround before veering off the trail toward the lake at Furman University.  We had seen no one, something that would change as the eastern sky began to lighten with the impending dawn.  My headlamp picked up a solitary form walking slowly ahead of us.  Leaning on a walking stick, he seemed to be struggling as if attempting to climb a steep hill despite being on the flat ground.  He was also naked as the proverbial Jaybird.  A knit stocking hat on his head, running shoes and socks on his feet and nothing…absolutely nothing in between.  I actually thought he had on one of those new technical one-piece suits…well, I guess it was a one piece, just not a new one and kind of hairy at that.  The three women we tried to warn seemed to be quite excited about the prospect of meeting up with him…oops, campus security got there first.  Wonder how cold and rough the pavement was on the ole beany weenie as he complied after being asked to lay face down on the pavement.

I knew from the set of his jaw, Hawk was mulling over something, “Did you look?”

“Are you kidding?”

“I just wondered if he was walking that way because he was proud.”

What does possess someone to step out his door and decide, “Well, it’s not too cool.  I believe I’ll just take off all my clothes and go for a walk.  I will wear a knit cap so I don’t lose too much heat out the top of my head.”   Could it have been National Hike Naked Day?

I also wondered why it couldn’t have been the fit young lady in the white lycra…or in this case, without the white lycra.

If you enjoyed this, Don Miller has written six books that can be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.  Be sure and follow him there.

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OH THE “HUMIDITY”

I was having a vision of a “Donnie” shaped “Hindenburg” bursting into flames while crashing to the ground or maybe I should be having the Mr. Carlson, Les Nessman moment, “As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.” No that doesn’t fit the story because I despise flying and I am somehow both burning up and drowning in my own…sweat. If I were a Southern lady I would be “glistening.” I’m not even a Southern gentleman, so I am just drowning in my own sweat and the biological process is not functioning as it should. Sweating is not keeping me cool because evaporation is not occurring. Instead it is as if I am running within a thick, heavy and wet wool blanket.

The Yogi Berra voice in my head repeats the quote, “It ain’t the heat it is the humidity.” After thirty-nine years of coaching spring sports, always interrupted with an early spring or late winter snow storm along with many days with wind chills near zero, I swore I would never gripe about summer heat again. I haven’t but I did leave myself an out with the humidity.

Running on roads and paths located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Escarpment can be challenging. I cannot run or walk and get away from hills unless I get in my car and drive somewhere flatter and sometimes I do. I should have done so this morning. Instead it was a half mile up, a half mile down, followed by a mile up, a mile “sorta” flat and then reverse the map…except before reversing the map I was dead or at least in the process of drowning in my own sweat. My feet were squishing inside of my shoes and we won’t discuss what is happening within my “breathable and perspiration wicking” underwear. I am reminded on a young football player who had moved in from one of the “I’’ states in the early nineties. We had discovered that withholding water did not make you stronger, it in fact could make you dead, and were moving to unlimited “rehydration” breaks. During a break I noticed the young man was not rehydrating and told him to drink. He said that he was okay that “It gets hot in the ‘I’ state too you know.” Yeah, but it ain’t the heat….” Fifteen minutes later we were fanning him and covering him with wet and cold towels after his eyes had rolled back in his head.

Several years ago I participated in the Morris Broadband Half Marathon on top of Caesar’s Head at DuPont State Forest or the “Half from Hell” as I like to refer to it. The race is up and down at an altitude I was not used to and to add to my discomfort, twenty degrees warmer than I had trained due to an early spring heat wave that included high humidity. At least the mosquitos and gnats had not come out yet. During the last mile, which was cruelly uphill to the finish, I gathered what little strength I had left to pass a young woman. As I neared her I realized she was in a conversation with herself and it wasn’t a nice conversation. She was using the words f@#$ and motherF@#$ in ways just not meant to go together. As I passed, I asked if she was okay. She responded with “I left f@#$ing Ohio two days ago to run in this Motherf@#$ing race. When I left, it was thirty-two F@#$king degrees. I drove a thousand f@#$ing miles to run in this f@#$ing s^&%.” “Well bless your heart.”

We both finished. I even finished second in my age group although there weren’t that many in my age group foolish enough to run it. An hour and a half later, on the winding road down to the flat lands, I passed out…while driving. Somehow I managed to get the jeep off of the road before doing so and could not figure out why Linda Gail was yelling at me to wake up. Now that was a weird dream that wasn’t. “Oh the ‘humidity’” I guess. I am home now and it has been an hour and half. I guess I am okay…for now, despite not having the energy to go to church. God forgive me for my language, for failing to go to church, for…every other sin I have committed.

A friend of mine in the know says it is better to run in the middle of the day when the temperatures are high but the humidity is low. Something about the heat index I guess. I might try it but do have a few questions for him. “How do you know if you are not a runner, and you are not.” and “When is the humidity ever low for the next three months?”

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

MEETING THE DAY

I am sitting here, coffee in hand, watching for the glow of the impending dawn. I am up for no reason other than I woke up. Every day at 5:00 plus or minus fifteen minutes without setting an alarm. “Bright eyed and bushy tailed” or as a coaching friend used to yell to his charges “Another day in which to excel.” I don’t know about excelling, all I have to do is finish this story, run a bit, cut the backyard and weed in the garden in order to have a successful day. There are other things I need to do but its Friday. Who starts new projects on a Friday? Things have certainly changed since I have retired.

Linda and I greet the day differently. I am up and ready to go. “Hit the decks a running boys!” She on the other hand is “sorta” awake and pissed off about it. Linda Gail likes to ease into the day…over an extended period. “Bring me my coffee and then shut up! Do not talk to me!” Thirty minutes later I check on her…with another cup of coffee to replace the one now cold on her bed side table. Thirty minutes later, she is ready to talk about everything she has been thinking about the last hour. Since our retirement I have decided to use her “ease into the day time” as my exercise time. As you might surmise, I am ready to go to bed about the time Linda Gail is hitting her second wind and fighting sleep like the child that she is. Sometimes I don’t understand how we have survived each other.

The way we meet the day really wasn’t as big an issue when we both worked…well it was when we decided to do our exercise walk…together…before we went to work…in the dark…while she was pissed off. I got up at four-thirty IN THE AM! I would then wake Linda at five-thirty, bring her coffee and a banana and take off for a thirty-minute run with a plan to meet her for a thirty-minute walk at six. That was the plan. Usually I would continue to walk or jog back and forth over the short Airline Road until she showed up…fifteen to thirty minutes late, coffee in hand…and I did not dare make a comment. The one time I commented did not go well. On those mornings she showed up early I knew I better be quiet and just walk. Actually it didn’t matter, any day I should just be quiet and walk until she began to initiate the conversation. “Why are we whispering? Are we afraid we might wake up the bears?”

Linda Gail and I don’t exactly walk for the same reasons. She walks totally for her head to battle depression…with a cup of coffee in her hand and with frequent stops to point out plants, animals or reptiles. In other words, a stroll to “elevate her mind.” I do it for my head too but I also walk for exercise so I have to do double walks. My fitness walks and then her stroll in the park walk. Some mornings I would simply sprint, ha ha, okay, jog away from her and then jog back.

We haven’t been walking together lately. Linda Gail hurt herself playing around on an elliptical and had a flare up of…well…we are not sure. It may just be our age…not on your life…maybe. I’ve missed our walks…not at six IN THE AM, but I have missed them. We finally ventured out to the lake at Look Up Lodge. A nice slow, reasonably flat surface stroll. It proved what I knew, “I have missed our walks.” I have also missed our talks although I did ask if I had her permission to chatter…old habits I guess. Comfortable old habits.

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

AN OLD FIG TREE

Twenty-five years ago I took a cutting from the old fig tree gracing my aunt’s and grandmother’s backyard. It is a “common” fig which needs no male plant to pollinate and for some reason sounds lonely to me. Later I planted another “younger” tree, grown from a cutting from my original tree, which makes it a grandchild of sorts. I seem to be rambling and a bit morose. I should reframe from drinking another adult beverage until I finish this.

My fig trees haven’t done well unless you consider having JUST survived to be doing well. It’s my home’s location and the weather’s timing. Sitting in the foothills of the Blue Ridge I live in the area known both as the “Dark Corner” and the “Thermal Belt.” The name Dark Corner has no bearing upon my fig trees but the Thermal Belt does. Generally, our weather is not as cool as the surrounding areas…except when it is. Every year the weather seems to throw us a curve just after my fig trees have put out their leaves and first fruit. The threat of frost or freezing temperatures sends fruit growers, along with me, into a frenzy of activity and prayer while we attempt to save our plants. Many years my fig trees have been killed all the way back to the roots. Weeks would pass as I checked them daily hoping to see a bit of green after calling family members to ask if they had grown a tree from the original’s cuttings. No one has an original fig tree “relative” but so far my figs have rewarded me with new growth from the roots every time they were killed back despite looking to be in sad shape.

In many ways my fig trees remind me of my grandmother as she battled through the gray months of winter. She only slightly tolerated the winter and only those days she could get outside. My “younger” grandmother attempted to find ways to stay busy on overly cold and gloomy days which were any day she could not get outside. On those sunless and dismal days, Nannie would write her thoughts on spiral bound notebooks and stare out her window or sew. Patchwork quilts seemed to be her preference although she would sometimes use a pattern and create dresses from repurposed “feed sacks.” To the untrained eye the prized cloth scraps making up her quilt seemed to be laid out in a disordered clutter. This was despite her having studied over the bright and irregular patches for hours before placing them just right…the way she wanted them. Many of those oddly matched patches were memories; a part of an old shirt Paw Paw had worn, a favorite dress, or possibly something worn by a child or a grandchild. I wish I had asked her about their meaning but stupid me I never did. In the late winter she would begin to perk up when the mail brought an almanac or a seed catalogue. At least she was planning for the spring.

Later in her life Nannie took up painting. Quite well I might add. A kind of Grandmother Moses, she painted fishing lakes, barns, landscapes, churches and flowers. Knowing my grandmother this choice of subject was not a surprise. Nannie found her new talent by completing a painting my mother had begun before she lost the ability to sit up and hold on to her brushes. In my family a supreme being seems to decree that if we have any talent it will not manifest itself until the “autumn years” of our life. As Nannie went into her winter years’ poor eyesight and arthritis made it harder for her to bounce back but bounce back she did. Just like my fig trees and her spring flowers Nannie always came alive in the spring…until she didn’t at the age of ninety-eight. She died in the cold of February, just short of spring.

I find myself saying things my grandmother might have said and doing things she might have done. These days I don’t tolerate winter any better than she did or my fig trees do. I have taken up writing but I am not sure it is a talent or a curse, especially for those who choose to read my stories. I spent this past winter suffering through sore knees and a bad back to the point of giving up running for nearly four months until spring came with its annual rebirth. It’s now late May and I am running slowly again; answering a Siren’s call I can’t quite ignore. I feel my spirits rising while my fig puts out new growth from its roots reminding me of my grandmother pulling weeds, hoeing between her rows of beans or fishing. Maybe I can keep winter from lasting quite as long or at least protect my fig trees from that last cold snap during early spring. I will also never complain about the heat and humidity of summer again and hope Indian Summer holds on even longer.

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

POSSUMS, PERSSIMON TREES AND PUPPY DOGS

I found myself walking at five thirty in the morning with my Easter sunrise service still two hours away. Crazy I know, but I also know me well enough to realize I won’t get my exercise done if I wait until the evening. There was a time, in another life, the life before my retirement, when I got up well before the crack of dawn to do my running or walking. Up at four thirty and on the pavement by five thirty was the norm with the light of my head lamp bobbing up and down with the motion of my head. People always asked, “Aren’t you afraid of lions and tigers and bears?” “Oh my, …no.” As I walked or ran on the paved service paralleling the creek, dense trees forming a canopy overhead and a fog rising, I was much more afraid of vampires, werewolves or Pennywise the Dancing Clown.

We do have bears, coyotes, wild cats and “painters,” as the locals call panthers, but they don’t really bother me. I am much more afraid of the local dogs than our wildlife. Well there was one early morning when I saw eight sets of reddish hued eyes blocking my path. Eight “Mothmen?” Probably not. More likely coyotes judging from their height above the pavement. They turned away but I decided it was a bad day to run. Another morning I had a cardiac “check-up” when a deer resting between the road and stream decided I was a danger and took off crashing through the thicket…as I crashed through the thicket on the other side.

This Easter morning, as I walked back toward my house, I noticed a little white, heart shaped flower next to my path. I thought it was a bit odd. It’s still March and I know of no heart shaped flowers blooming. Still, there it was glowing in the light of my headlamp. As I got closer I noticed that this “flower” had glowing eyes. A baby possum with a white “heart shaped” face, no more than six inches long, looked up at me. “Gee aren’t you the cutest thing…DAMN YOU TRIED TO BITE MEEEEEEE YOU LITTLE…!” Moments later I heard a rustle in the underbrush and saw two larger glowing eyes peering back at me. Mother or predator? I decided I needed to get back to the house.

We have a pair of gnarled old persimmon trees in our back yard and in the fall their fruit ripens offering a sweet treat to all of the possums in the area. I don’t like persimmons. It seems they are either one day away from ripeness or one day past rotten. What is that fuzzy film it leaves on my tongue? YUK! Unlike me, possums love persimmons and will show up in the fall to eat their fill. Having unwanted guests in the yard drives my blue heeler puppies crazy. Many mornings I have returned from my run to find a gift left for me on the steps leading into my home. Both puppies would stand guard duty under the trees, lying in wait, for a possum to finish eating its sweet treat before making its way down to its fate. Some mornings I would let them out for their bathroom call and later find myself tripping over a dead possum laying in the dining room. They have probably left me a dozen dead possums… or more likely, one possum “playing dead” twelve different times. It’s no fun chasing a “suddenly resurrected” possum as it attempts to escape its captors.

One morning I found a very large possum laying in the floor with both puppies standing guard and awaiting their doggy treat. She was not leaking blood which is always a good thing but when I picked her up by her tail I found myself looking at six very small heads peeking out of out of “momma” possum’s “carry-all” pouch. Oh man! What am I going to do? As I cradled her I noticed one eye was open following my every move and proving where the saying “playing possum” comes from. “GOT ME!” I cannot tell you the relief I felt when I saw her waddling off in the possum equivalent of a sprint after I had released her on the wilderness side of my fence.

Maddie and Tilly no longer bring me possums and I am only slightly happy about it. Maddie has a bad hip and even a possum can out run her…despite her attempts otherwise. Tilly is blind but, like her sister, it doesn’t stop Tilly from trying either. She amazes me how she can still find that old persimmon tree in the fall. I guess there is nothing wrong with her sense of smell. Every night as the persimmons ripen she sits herself down underneath the tree, ears at attention, and waits. I love the fact she still waits. I just hope no possum happens to bump into her.

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

GROWING OLDER GRACELESSLY

Lying in bed I go through the same progression every morning. I wonder if I move, “Am I going to break?” I begin by wiggling, first one little toe, then the other and gradually work my way up. My goal is to get my feet on the ground and stand erect without making the same noises my father made when he was my age…I am now faced with the realization I have out lived my father by five years. That is a sobering thought. My second goal is to check the local obituaries and find that my name is not listed there.

While I am aware of my age, it has not been an issue until recently. For the past year I have battled an arthritic knee that keeps me from running and rocked a vertebra onto my sciatic nerve while splitting wood that, for a month, kept me from doing just about everything else. Bad enough but a conversation with a friend of mine really made me pause to consider the question of my age. Married, hers is a May-December romance. She is May and he is December…which is not true. She is more April and he is more, say, October. With his impending retirement she has suddenly become concerned about her husband’s age or rather what her husband’s age might have in store them both. Seeking enlightenment from me, I was not able to give it. My mind asked “Why is she asking me? I’m not old?” My body answered “You’re three years older than her husband.” Gee, where is my cane?

Today I got to do my “Medicare Wellness Profile.” It included an eye test, whisper test, walking test and questionnaire with such thought provoking questions as “Can you bathe and wash yourself without help?” Yes, and I can wipe my butt to. All went with the normal check of BP, ability to process oxygen and EKG. “You want me to get out of a chair, walk six feet return and sit down again?” Oh me! The nurse in charge said I passed with flying colors until you consider I am being compared to “really old people,” something the old bat pointed out. Funny, I think like a young person but I guess the mirror doesn’t lie. Why couldn’t I have at least had Sam Elliott’s hair?

Forty years ago during the first jogging craze, I began a haphazard exercise regimen. Haphazard in that I would allow anything to get in the way in order to avoid it. Finally getting my mind right in the Early-Nineties, I got into the habit of exercise…until a side lunge put me in the hospital to have cartilage removed. No more lunges of any type. Later a miss step on the baseball field would require the other knee to be scoped for the same reason and in 1999 I had the second of two operations on an arthritic big toe. I found myself out of the habit of exercise and into any habit that involved sitting on a couch and consuming mass quantities of fried foods and beer. Forty pounds later I could not deny what the mirror was showing me. Two hundred and thirty-two pounds on my five foot nine frame could no longer be hidden. I was sloppy fat. On April 8, 2006 I made the decision that I had to make radical life style changes. My realization would be further emphasized the next day.

In a month I will celebrate another birthday and a ten-year anniversary. “Happy birthday to you…How old are you? F@#$ YOU and your horse!” Family had gathered to celebrate my birthday on April 9. Always irreverent, my brother presented me with a birthday card featuring a grim reaper reflected in a car’s rear view mirror and the warning “Objects may be closer than they appear.” Five hours later I found myself hooked up to a gazillion monitors after having just survived a heart attack and having had a catheter and stint surfed into a clogged artery. One month later the original stint would be joined by three more in three different arteries. I was six months away from a loss of seventy pounds and running a 5-K. Yes, it was a radical life style change. My brother was so broken up about the card he had given me, I got it again the next year. It is now framed as a constant reminder of what I am trying to outrun or out walk at least.

For ten years now I have drug myself out of bed and done something. Now at least I wait until the sun is up. At any age, walking, running, cycling, stretching and strength training, I guess it’s all about movement. Moving your ass out of bed and onto something more productive. If I happen to live to be ninety-five I want to be mobile and not in bed…wait. Bed? I just thought of a great way to die…traumatic as it might be for the other individual…or group. I would have to stay in good shape to do it. I believe I will get out of bed in the morning and do what I have been doing for the last ten years.

Move that butt Lard-O! Time’s a wasting!

For great #nonfiction try Don Miller at http://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

EARLY THIRTY

Too many years of getting up early at early thirty I guess. I am standing in front of my western facing kitchen sink window admiring the full moon as I prepare my morning coffee. It is cold and crisp with not even a whisper of a breeze. “La Luna Llena” seems so close that I might be able to reach up and touch it and I have no clue as to why I think of it in Spanish. The moon light is causing the snow that still lays on the ground to glow brightly and seems to brighten my backyard forest, illuminating it in an eerie light.

I normally don’t have to set an alarm to wake up by five o’clock despite having no place special to be and an icy driveway that would prevent me from going out anyway. This morning my rambling “dream thoughts” awoke me at four thirty along with a puppy dog wanting to go outside. It is mornings like this that I am glad my “dream puppy” awoke me. Most mornings in a time gone by I would get up at four-thirty so I could run or walk before school. This habit has been hard to break. I always knew that if I waited, my labors would not get done and I really didn’t want to feel that elephant sitting on my chest again that I associate with an earlier heart attack. As scary as the outside darkness could be, even with my “miner’s lamp” style flash light, I loved running, probably more so walking, on mornings like this…even with the twenty degree temperatures.

The light cast from the full moon was so bright that most of the time I really didn’t need to use a flashlight. I would climb up the hill on Airline Road and crossover Highway 11 to the drive leading into Lookup Lodge. It was as if the moon was following me, always right over my left shoulder until it disappeared behind the small mountains to the west. Above me, and to the east, Orion still hunted despite the pre-dawn glow of the still unrisen sun. As I chugged, wheezing and gasping, out of what I called the hole and climbed the asphalt path up toward the lake, I always knew that both the moon and Orion would be waiting for me as soon as I topped the next hill and found my way to the eastern side of the lake. I also knew that I would pause, stop timing my run, and admire the scene of the setting full moon over the lake.

It is still too icy for me to get out this morning and with an attack of sciatica trying to hang on, I will resist my urge to do so. I think I am going set my alarm for four-thirty tomorrow, just in case. I think there will be enough light from an almost full moon left to make it worth it. If not, it will still be worth it.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS…ALREADY?

It’s the third day of the new year, 2016, and I am already facing a decision. Not an earth shattering one…unless it is. Just a slight adjustment but one I hate to make…despite my New Year’s Resolution #1 that included the admonishment to “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff!” It is a concession to age and oh how I despise making a concession to MY AGE! For over a year now I have battled my arthritic and injured knee and my running. Over the same year I have mulled over my orthopedic surgeon’s prognosis, “There is a knee replacement sometime in your future.” He said other things but for some reason I didn’t hear much after the “knee replacement” part. I probably ought to get some clarification. I did make the decision to put it off as long as possible…which brings me to the decision to discontinue—GASP—running.

Running has been a constant companion since April 9, 2006. I had been a “hit or miss” kind of runner the decade previous…make it more miss than hit, but in 2006 I made the decision that I needed to make a lifestyle change. A heart attack will cause you to contemplate such modifications and, when it occurs on your birthday, remembering the anniversary of your heart attack is that much easier. I really don’t have a problem recalling the feeling of an elephant sitting on my chest and the fear that went with it. Because of that fear I made major alterations that included exercise and a new diet that allowed me to drop sixty-plus pounds. One of those alterations was twice a day bouts of walking and running. Mostly walking but some forty or fifty mile weeks of running thrown in for good measure. Since my injury my bouts are once a day and focus much more on walking than running.

My problem is not with the exercise. I can replace my running with more cycling and fitness walking. I really need to be more consistent with strength training. Maybe a rowing machine or a membership to the Y. Yeah I can do that…but what about my head? I should mention I once suffered from clinical depression…but not since I began running consistently. That’s the small stuff I am sweating. I’m not sure I can out walk my ghosts or the grim reaper. I just know if I don’t stop running I may not be able to out walk anything.

So the decision is made…right? As I walked into church this morning I picked up a bulletin and immediately noticed a runner on the front in starting blocks along with a Bible verse from Hebrews, “Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus.” Okay…looks like their maybe a bit of prayer before my decision is fully made.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach who, in addition to his Blog, has written three books that have drawn heavily from his childhood and years in teaching. They may be downloaded or purchased in paperback at the following links:
“WINNING WAS NEVER THE ONLY THING…” goo.gl/dO1hcX
“FLOPPY PARTS” http://goo.gl/Ot0KIu
“PATHWAYS” http://goo.gl/v7SdkH