Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Night in the Heart of Dixie

I spent a nice Saturday evening with family and friends at the Coosa County Songwriter's Showcase in Weogufka, Alabama. My friend and co-writer Jennifer sang three of our original songs, and although we didn't win the prize for "crowd favorite" (fifty dollars!), it was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, listening to aspiring writers and performers.

There was a nice assortment of singers this go round, from traditional bluegrass to gospel to country. Jennifer sang "The Laptop Song," "If She Takes the TV, I'll know She's Really Gone," and "Long Row to Hoe." The latter we wrote just last week, and I believe it may be our best effort yet.

Jennifer is turning into the "Queen of Country" in Coosa County. She's already booked for the annual "Mule Festival" in April. Mark your calendar. Mules and pretty women just naturally go hand-in-hand, don't you think?

I've got more to say about Coosa County next time. Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Work Clothes

The pile of clothes sits on the floor at the foot of my bed. They have been neatly stacked there for two weeks. I look at them each day, but have not stooped down to pick them up. Sometimes I give them a nod, the way we do here in the South when we pass someone we know only casually, a silent acknowledgement of respect.

These same clothes were previously on the floor in the closet, next to my work boots. They were relegated there by the Redhead, who considered them not good enough to cohabitate with my other clothes. It was a forced segregation, the white trash kept down at floor level while the more cultured and fortunate apparel lived higher up on their hangers with more room to breathe. It was an arrangement not unheard of in these parts. "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever", as one Alabamian put it back in 1963. The Redhead adopted this philosophy with my clothing, and it seemed to work well enough in the confines of a shared closet with limited space.

This pile is the collection of my "woods clothes." These are the clothes I have worn day in and day out for the last couple of years. They consist of jeans and canvas pants, t-shirts and Polo's, and they tell a story. It is a story recorded in stains and smells, most which are so ingrained in the fabric that their collective tales cannot be removed by repeated washing.

There are blood stains, type O positive. This is my blood, shed for you, courtesy of barbed wire, green brier, and blackberry vine. Thickets and cane break bottoms where timber resides. Roads that had to be crossed to see what was on the other side.

There are the smells: sweat, diesel, oil, gasoline and turpentine. The liquid fuels that almost invisibly transport food and fiber to homes. Your toilet paper does not magically appear at Walmart, nor does your lumber at Home Depot. Your flooring and furniture did not materialize on a showroom floor. These are only stops along the arduous journey from stump to consumer.

These clothes of mine will no longer be worn every day. I have taken a new job in forestry, one that will be less sweat and more thought. I will be assisting a fine team of men and women in promoting forestry in Alabama through the Alabama Forestry Association. It will be a job that requires less woods time and more face time. More meeting, speaking, and writing and less solitude. It will present a new set of challenges, but will also result in a different set of rewards. There will still be pressures, but pressures of a different sort.

The clothes have been singled out for disposal. The Redhead has made a silent declaration that my woods days are over.

But I believe I may hang onto them for a while--maybe box them up and put them in the attic--out of sight, out of her mind, so to speak.

I have never been the sort of man to give up on a garment just because it has a little age and wear and tear on it. Besides, the call of the woods is a Siren song, and you just never know when you may head back out.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Football 365

There's a lot about Alabama that can't be fully explained to outsiders. Our obsession with football is one of these things. It is much like a religion.

In this State, most natives are die-hard fans of one of the two big State schools: The University of Alabama or Auburn University. You love one and hate the other. It's a given. You must declare an allegiance, and there is no middle ground. Never mind that you may have never actually graduated, attended, or possibly even visited either school. Every resident is expected to make a definitive choice.

It is a blood feud, this rivalry. Think Hatfields and McCoys; Crips and Bloods; Jews and Arabs. Families are divided. Neighbors may become enemies. All this over a game that will be cussed, discussed, and analyzed for 364 days until it comes around again the next year.

In spite of the pressure to make a choice, there are a very few of us who can go either way. We are considered freaks, so we stay quiet. Football loyalty in Alabama is a lot like politics--if you stand in the middle of the road you are likely to be run over from both directions.

I am one of the freaks. I grew up an Alabama fan. It was during the days of Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, and I was one hundred percent committed to the Crimson Tide. When it came time to go to college, there was only one choice. Academics never even entered into my thought process.

I spent two years at U.A. Then the unthinkable happened. A summer job in forestry led me to change my mind about a career. Forestry isn't available at U.A. The only option was Auburn. It was such a serious decision that I actually went back to the University of Alabama for the Fall semester--just to make sure my thinking on a career change was solid. The idea of going to Auburn was, how shall I say it, repulsive. But I felt I had no choice.

Auburn University turned out to be a great place to go to school. I made a lot of good friends. But it took a long time before I was able to pull for the football team. Even though my diploma said "Auburn University," I still favored the Crimson Tide on Fall Saturdays.

Eventually I saw the foolishness of my situation. I live ten miles from the Auburn campus. Many of my friends went there, and when they were old enough, my children went there. It was not a "Damascus Road" conversion. It was a gradual, but it was a conversion non-the-less.

But unlike most Auburn fans, I wish no ill-will against the Crimson Tide. I still cheer for them every game but one. Their fans are neighbors, friends, co-workers, and even some of my family, too.

Last year Alabama won the National Championship. A player on that team won the coveted Heisman Trophy, the highest individual honor in college football.

This year, the unthinkable happened. Auburn won the National Championship, and an Auburn player won the Heisman.

To my knowledge, no single State has never had this happen.

You would think that all of Alabama would be bursting with pride. Yet both years, approximately half of her citizens are angry or distraught.

Football is a jealous god, demanding constant worship.

I was reminded of this as I listened to a sports talk radio show the day after Auburn's National Championship victory. The Auburn caller asked "How many games do you think we win next year with the players we have coming back?"

Sweet home Alabama. Football 365 days a year.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Apocalypse

Photo by Wendy Hartley in Sylacauga, AL.

When the word "apocalypse" is used today it is usually in reference to a future event. It brings to mind images of war, famine, looting, and anarchy. The traditional use of the word refers not to an event but rather to a thought or vision. It is defined in the dictionary as "a revelation."

Today I had an apocalypse of the apocalypse.

Much of the South, including my beloved Alabama, is about to have what the Weather Channel would label a "weather event" (I hate that term--makes me feel like I should buy a ticket, dress up, and R.S.V.P.). The prediction is for snow and ice tonight and all day tomorrow. Most churches have already canceled evening services, and many schools (including Auburn University) have already announced that they will not be open tomorrow. As I write this, nary a flake or pellet has hit the ground at my homestead.

The cancellations are a good thing. Native Alabamians cannot drive in ice or snow. Ask any transplanted Yankee. An inch of snow paralyzes the State. Ice is even worse. It is an insurance company's nightmare.

Sometimes technology is a good thing. It is nice to have 48 hours notice when you have a hurricane or a major storm bearing down on you. It gives you time to make preparations. Down here we buy milk and bread--all of it. I don't know why, we just do. Perhaps this is Southern survival food, although for me a better choice would be fried chicken and sweet tea. Milk and bread are the first items to disappear from the store shelves.

I am not prone to participate in these shopping frenzies. I am woefully unprepared for disasters of any kind. I have no emergency survival kit, no stock of supplies, no massive amounts of fuel or ammunition laid by. I am apathetic or stupid--you make the call.

I did, however, venture out today. My sweet Honduran "daughter" and her three-week-old baby are going to stay with us for a few days while her husband is away on National Guard duty. Not wishing them to be uncomfortable if the worst happens, I went out to get a few supplies.

This is when I had my revelation--my own personal apocalypse.

There were people everywhere buying anything they could get their hands on. Lines were long and lots of things were already sold out. Batteries, generators, heaters, firewood, and food items were gone or disappearing quickly. All for a storm that might knock out power for a day.

It seems I'm not the only one who is unprepared.

What would happen in a real emergency? It's hard to say, but I'm guessing it would get ugly pretty quickly. Real ugly. The fabric of society would be rent asunder within a few days.

Most of us have become so urbanized, even in the rural South, that we lack the skills to survive even a few days off the grid. We are soft. We are detached. We are helpless.

My apocalypse affected me deeply. I think I'm going to plant a garden this year. Maybe I'll can some vegetables and put a deer or two in the freezer.

After all, when it all hits the fan at some point in the future, I'll need something to go with all this milk and bread.