Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quotes from the Road

The world is all gates, all opportunities,
strings of tension waiting to be struck.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self Defense in the Home

Look around you, if you come face to face with a criminal in your home and you don't have a firearm within immediate reach, what would you use to defend yourself?  (If you think electrical cord to choke your attacker, you have watched way too many movies with Matt Damon in them).  Spontaneous attacks in your home could vary from open hand, firearms, impact or edged weapons.  You'd better have the same things around you to fight back.

Self defense experts will tell you we have six basic physical weapons:
The head

But unless you're Chuck Norris, with the Element of Surprise,  they are not going to be enough.

Your defense starts the moment you face your attacker, not when you get a weapon in hand.  Unless you have a firearm as back up, you are not likely to kill an attacker with either your spatula or your ball point pen. Captain Kirk might fell someone with just one karate chop and  Rambo can kill with just a fighting knife and a backpack of claymores, but your best defense in the home  always will be a firearm that you are trained and proficient with.

Remember though, you are morally, financially and legally responsible for everything that departs the barrel of a firearm under your control and any damage you do to another human with anything else constituting a lethal weapon in the eyes of the courts.  What I present here is some very basic advise for defensive scenarios in the home, and it's geared more towards women who would unlikely be able to fight back with only their bare hands. But should you ever be thrust into an actual situation where you must repel an aggressor in your home,or elsewhere, you must decide, based on federal, state, and local laws, as well as your own ethics, what constitutes a legitimate use of deadly force versus simply removing yourself from the threat or disabling it.

But  I'm going to tell you what I would do, and would instruct my child to do.  When confronted by a bad guy in the home without a firearm you've been trained to use, close at hand, you must use what you can to slow him down or drop him, even if temporarily, in order to escape, control or terminate the attack as quickly as possible. If I can not escape or control, and my life (NOT my property) is threatened, then to terminate includes the use of deadly force, without hesitation.

My first choice comes in .45 acp with hollow points, but that is not always going to be available and stopping someone physiologically with the use of a firearm is not the topic of this post as I've covered that earlier.  However, there are various points on the human body that are quite vulnerable, if struck with even a moderate amount of force, blows that can result in excruciating pain, perhaps enough to disable or seriously injure while you get the heck out of Dodge.  All around you may be items that can be used to facilitate these strikes.

Short of tying someone to a chair and forcing them to watch endless reruns of Jersey Shore, there are three basic ways of causing trauma to humans. Cutting, crushing, and burning.

The last one, burning, is often overlooked in a self defense system.

Hot coffee, boiling liquid. Burns are quite effective in overloading the central nervous system, causing the person to immediately fixate on the pain of the injury instead of what YOU are doing. If someone confronts me in the kitchen, they're going to get a boiling pan of dinner thrown in their face before I can say howdy with the .357 in the kitchen drawer. Heaven help them if they find me burning the sugar on the top of the Crème brûlée with the acetylene torch.

Burns can also  be chemical in nature. There was a widespread email going around about carrying wasp spray as a self defense weapon. The purveyors of that piece of information didn't think much about the legal ramifications of that.  Many jurisdictions specifically prohibit the use of any self defense spray other than pepper spray, the labels  of wasp spray often bearing the words "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling". Certainly, spraying a would-be rapist in the eyes with your bug spray as you're accosted otherwise unarmed in your Petunia bed is one thing.  Carrying a big ole can of Raid in your purse and then using it while in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot is just going to land you in jail most places. I also wouldn't trust my life as to how disabling it would really be.

In my shop, there's a gun on my person or in my pocket.There's also a  Cold Steel Tanto with a 550 cord-wrapped handle in another  pocket. I'd take that over a can of wasp spray.

We've touched on burning (hot hot hot!). That leaves cutting and crushing.

But first we need to talk anatomy. If you believe the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, you need an anatomy lesson.  If you want to learn self defense, you need another one as well.  Combative anatomy.  Simply put, it's knowing enough of the basic design of the human body to stop aggression in the shortest amount of time. Combative anatomy also does not rely on pain compliance either as drugs and alcohol can greatly deaden an attackers perception of pain. A basic knowledge of combative anatomy and the proper mind set can help you deal with threat appropriately and in a way that is not only defensible but is grounded in basic physiology, NOT marketing.

Look at your attackers body like a house, an structure that has to have electricity, plumbing air and walls to house all the good or evil that dwells in it. The body, fundamentally, breaks down into three main systems.  What you have to destroy it with is not what you naturally think of as weapons but tools, situational tools. 

The central nervous system (brain and spine). This is the electrical system, where power is processed and distributed. This should be your primary target, even if you are not able to attack it first.  A crushing blow without something quite hard along the side of the head may well have the same effect as cutting off power to the house. A hard enough blow to the temple can kill.  At the very least, you're going to get an interruption in service. The central nervous system is easily attacked with items you can carry in your hand, the crushing/impact defense.

Next is the structural system (bones muscles ligaments and tendons).  This is the frame of your house. It's often said there are 206 bones in the body.  Actually that number may vary from individual to individual and in the individual themselves throughout their life,  but they all make up our frame.  If the frame is damaged, the motion and locomotion needed to articulate an attack can be greatly inhibited.  Just taking out an elbow or a knee can render one almost helpless.   Both the knee and the elbow joints work most effectively on one plane (hinge joints). Smash the elbow and that arm is pretty much out of the picture for holding a weapon, smash a knee and no one is going to chase you when you retreat. Stomp like hell on the instep of the foot,  as well, is a useful technique to break away from an assailant when grabbed from behind.

The structural system also includes the muscular system. Just as bone needs to be crushed to incapacitate, the muscles must be cut.  Remember though, just having one or more muscles simply cut can have little effect on what the body of your attacker is capable of doing to you.  Cut one strong bicep and he still has another one, with another hand to use the same weapon, as well as two good legs that can run you down if you try to just cut and run.

The structural system is also easily attacked with the open hand, a hand containing a impact tool and the the feet (and they said steel toed shoes would never be fashionable). These are crushing / impact attacks. Your goal is a combination of physiological and central nervous system disruptions likely to break the concentration of your attacker allowing you time to either grab a more suitable weapon to incapacitate or get away if you know he's down for the count.

The circulatory system, the heart arteries and veins that carry blood to and from the heart as well as the respiratory system.  This is the plumbing of the home. The circulatory system is affected by cutting but short of a direct arterial blow, an attack on the circulatory system with a knife edged or impact weapon is going to be the slowest.  Remember, just cutting, in and of itself, unless the blow lays open a key arterial point, such as the brachial, carotoid or femoral artery, is not going to stop your attacker in time to prevent him from doing more serious damage to you.  The body can continue to operate with a surprising amount of blood loss. 

Sure you can choke someone, cutting off respiration, but to do that effectively you usually have to be behind someone, and it also ties up both of your hands.  Not likely the way things are going to play out in a home assault. But never underestimate a good strike to the windpipe (trachea). Under the thyroid cartilage at the base of the throat is a hollowed out area that sits right above the beginning of the thoracic cage. This cage begins at the shoulder blades and ends at the bottom of the ribs. Within this hollow area the trachea is not protected.  A simple push can cause great pain, a forceful blow can case permanent injury or death.

Don't forget the windows of the home, the eyes.  The fingers can do some serious damage to the eyes. When going to my vehicle, in my left hand, which I've done some sparring with so I can control  it about as well as the right one, I have keys, between the fingers, pointed out. That is going to hurt you if I punch you in the eyes with it. Even hitting the bridge of the nose hard, with that (or this big mag flashlight) is going to cause tearing of the eyes, and possible bleeding.

Sure, those coffee burns are distracting  but the only really effective way to damage the body in a close in encounter is to crush or cut it. Unless you are Catwoman, with your own built in claws (not that you could really fight in that skin tight outfit anyway) you need to rely on a crushing attack at least until you can produce a flat edged or ballistic weapon, to take out that most critical part of the human structure if the defense of your life necessitates that step.

In  looking at possible weapons that you can hold in  your hands, they fall into two groups.  Edged and impact (bullets fall into both groups I think, crushing bone and cutting through tissue). 

But if there's an assailant between you and your bullets you'd best come up with Plan B.  And fast.

Look at an item.  If it can cut it's an edged weapon.  If it can smash, it's an impact weapon. Either  can take the contraction of fear and adrenalin you have and exert it onto a small surface area with the resultant trauma consistent with both your force and your selection.  You are looking for weight and a concentration of force  That force is not just in your mind, but it starts at your feet and travels through your hands to the weapon itself.

Crushing attacks can cause immediate incapacitation, unlike cutting attacks which can take from seconds to minutes, and that is a long time when you life is on the line.  So now, with the house safe and quiet,  look around you and think what you would do if you realized that shadow behind you is not Big Orange Cat ready to steal your waffle but a home invader.What are you more likely to have on hand and if seconds mean the difference between life or death, which one are you going to choose first?

It just takes seconds to close the distance between your attacker and you.  If he is in the room and you don't have your hand already on the firearm, it's not likely going to end well.

So there you are, gun on the shelf or in a drawer, where he can't see it, but you can't get it, already down on the floor, fighting for your life.  In reaching around you for something to use, you are more likely to grab an impact weapon. The object of your attention once you do should be the face, head and neck.  On the side of the neck, right above the collarbone is an area  that contains both a sensitive nerve cluster as well as the jugular vein and carotid artery.  Blows to this area can cause great pain, temporary stunning (and possibly death). If you can't get at the face head or neck, and you aren't outsized greatly by your attacker, hit a good blow to the collarbone as well. As I said before,  the hinge joints are vulnerable, particularly when extended all the way out. Downward blows to the kidney area  (should the assailant tackle you by grabbing both of your legs exposing his back) can be momentarily disabling as this area is not supported or protected by the skeletal bones or muscles.

Just as you are looking to take out your attacker,  remember, he may be using the same techniques on you. There's a reason I don't wear  the fashionable hoop style pierced earring, or any dangling earrings or piercings. Outside of good taste, still another reason not to wear face tackle. Grab one of those and yank and the pain is going to disable ME as flesh tears.  I don't wear scarves or necklaces either unless out with a very well armed date night. Why give someone your garrote.  Think about your own body and protect those areas you are aiming for on another.  Eyes up, tuck your chin down into your chest and make sure your knees are slightly bent at all times and that you don't lock  your arms out during a blow.

Think size and space.  A rock, paperweight or such is small and can be easily manipulated.  It also will require more precise placement of blows to be effective.  A larger object is going to require that you naturally swing out further to hit with it.  The bigger the object, the more room you will need to deploy and use it but it may do more damage with a single blow.

Now, with that in mind, walk around your room, pick up various items you might think could be a weapon. How they feel in your hand is a good indication of how effective they will be for that second shot if your first blow fails to do the trick.

If nothing else is present, there is one thing that is often in every room. The often overlooked pen. I'm not talking about a 2 pound heavily machined tactical pen some guys have in their pocket that gets more attention from the TSA than women.  I'm talking your plain, ordinary home or travel metal pen, used to write or tear into the pizza box you ordered instead of the $38 room service hamburger. 

It wouldn't ever be my first choice, but if all I had was a pen between my tighty whities and a rapist, I'd be swinging that pen into his neck like a Singer sewing machine til I could get my Kimber or get away with no chance he's going to be right behind me..

A pen, held like a hammer grip fist, is like a cat swiping at you with its claws (assuming it's a single action kitty as opposed to the double action).  It's a painful diversion, meant to just get you away. Although the judicious use of a pen as weapon can product tight, vascular trauma to the head and face, the physics of its use is such that it's not likely to take anyone out permanently.  Already on the ground?  Think thrusts to the ribs and groin if your own target of opportunity is based on position.

A pen doesn't rely on your weight, body size or momentum, so keep your movements without your own silhouette.  The roundhouse blows seen on TV are easily telegraphed, and even more easy to block, no matter what your weapon. 

Your assailant has a knife. He doesn't know YOU have a knife, even if it's the water proof little plastic one from your last summer camp in the shower. 

A knife is a stealth/deception weapon. Show it just to threaten, and you've already lost. Have it ready, but hidden, even in your palm, behind your shopping bag, in your pocket, on a shelf above their eye view but within easy ready. Big blades look impressive, but are only marginally more deadly than a small palmed razor knife used with confidence. 

To defeat the knife you have to go for the limbs or the intelligence (limited though it may be) that controls it.  The most obvious practical attack is the armed hand or the assailants forearm.  The second would be the upper arm or shoulder.  Both of these targets could allow you to momentarily divert the attack.  Your final goal should be an outright attack to the neck or head of the attacker (control his body before he can destroy yours).

Forget all the movies you have seen.  If you aren't trained in fighting with a flat edged weapon or are experienced only with grating carrots, this is not going to go as easily or cleanly as on TV. I can tell you from observation and training that when on the attack, one tends to stab, when on the retreat and defensive, one tends to stab.  That being said, what you do have to remember is that there are  two things that can keep you alive,

(1) destroy your assailants intention to use the knife to kill you.  If you can't do that. . .
(2) destroy the functionality of the weapon by attacking the forearm, shoulders, head and neck.

Stay in close, moving to his side or back, keeping him off balance, keeping his weapon as far away from you as possible.  Stick to him like glue, any space between you at this point is to HIS advantage giving him space to maneuver the knife or take away your balance.

I'm not going to attempt to teach you the specifics of flat edged weapon defense here, there are many sources of information and professional training in all matters of self defense.  But you need to think about it.  If you are naked and coming out of the shower and someone is standing there with a knife or even just two massive fists and the look of evil in the eyes, you may only have a split second choice, a split second movement to cut off the attack.   Retreat is good but only retreat if you know the threat is NOT able to follow you.  Otherwise you're simply giving your even more enraged attacker  the space to follow you into that often fatal psychological corner of your fear and desperation.

Think. Plan. That little bitty Bersa in the range bag in the back of the closet behind  isn't going to help you. YOU are going to help you. Knowing yourself, running a scenario, planning, you are more likely to keep your head. How you react depends on so many things other than the obvious, sex age, health. It's personality, culture, survival skills. How you react under extreme pressure, any special training skills and past experiences can save you.. Yes, I cry at happy endings in zombie movies but when the things get difficult I can be as tough as a kevlar gumdrop. I've had to be. Survival isn't of the strongest, it's those who keep their head, breaking down what they need to do into the most elemental things. Clausewitz said "Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult." I remember that, and practice the simple things.

Some women will say, don't use a knife, don't own a gun "He'll just take it away from you". This is how I think, this is how I live.  You can do otherwise. You have that choice, in which you abrogate the ancient balances of hunter and hunter. You won't even be that afraid, there in that first moment, propelled by your unerring belief that you are just too good to be a victim, too smart, by god you vote for snappy dressers and drive a Lexus. Then as you look into the eyes of something only those of us who hunt predators have seen, you will know the moment when fear takes you completely. Skin, blood, bones, all will fill with it, memories of childhood innocence, memory of pride, all gone. Nothing left but the fear seeping into every cell. As you wet yourself, your last coherent thought will be sound of pleas for your life as your hands are bound and some thug with gang tattoos drags your 13 year old off to the back room.

Myself. I'll take my gun, my fighters mindset  and I'll take my chances. You can call me paranoid, but I will hold on to that polished lucidity that differs me from the predator. A sense of morality, the power of faith and will, and John Moses Browning. I will protect my life and those I love, and  those innocents for whom I was bound by an oath of office to protect, or I will die trying.


P.S.  Comments are off - I'm not going to have time to be on the computer for a few days for HOTR  as I'm sort of out of pocket work wise for a few days. So, until I'm back on line--- just read and take away from it what you wish; something to discuss it with your family or among your friends.  This wasn't intended as public debate or forum, just some serious things to think about.   

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lab Assistants

I know I'm not supposed to be up on the mattress when Mom washes the sheets.  But if I hide my head in the blanket she can't see me!

And yes, that's duct tape.  Abby decided to de-squeak her favorite toy and sulked for an hour after I put it in the trash.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blinding You with Science

This is a Micro crack in steel as seen through an electron microscope. (Though it appears Partner in Grime photo shopped the saved photo.)  I've vacationed at places that looked like this!

Of course the folks on NCIS wouldn't need an electron microscope. Gibbs would just squint and go "ahh yup - micro-crack", before Abby could even consider micro-cracks at the surface of metals detected and imaged by near-field microwave techniques from the crack-induced variations of the resonance frequency and of the resonant circuit quality factor. I mean really, you have to get this thing solved in an hour WITH commercials.

Fire up the welder Festus, we're off to Ferrous Canyon! You all be safe out there, I headed back to Indy a day early to beat the winter storm barreling down from Canada so I'm not late for work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Night Off - With Ending and UPDATE

I finished Saving Grace after a 10 hour writing marathon yesterday.  It was written half at my crash pad (above) and half at my old house, both places sparking memories.

At 56 Chapters and about 70,000 words-I'm pretty tired and will be working with Gigi, my very talented new editor over the next month on my "free range commas" and such-- so posting and comments will  continue to be light with some old posts coming up for the new readers. Thanks for supporting me through this and for your support of the Book of Barkley-- #7 in sales for genre at Amazon right now.

UPDATE:  Got written notice today that The Book of Barkley is a Finalist at the 2015  International Prize Writer Competition in "Biography and Memoir". The  Final Winner will be determined by popular vote so I'll put that info up when voting starts Feb. 1.  There's some serious prize money (which will be donated to dog rescue) but even better--the winners names and books are televised on World Book Day 5th March 2015.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ireland in Black and White

Just some photos taken  with the point and shoot on a side trip on an overseas assignment I didn't post "live", due to the nature of the trip.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

On Memories - Bull Art

Memories of Big Bro -  Something I wrote last Spring . I just wanted to share again as I look out my window at a wind chime as I  finish the last 10-12 chapters of the second book, of which my brother is an integral part.

When I arrived at Dad's for one of my trips out there early last Spring.   Big Bro took me out to Dad's porch, where there was the melodious tinkling of a wind chime, something Dad and I both love.   But this wasn't the usual cutesy "picked up at a beach gift shop" wind chime.  This was something Big Bro made while he was going through chemo.  He had chemo and radiation at the same time.  With the cancer at Stage Four, it was pretty aggressive. Needless to say, he didn't feel exactly perky.

But like me, he doesn't sit still well.  So, on the days he was well enough to get out, he'd pick up pieces of wood and what not, to add to his collection of things picked up from the beach.  And when he was too weak to walk, he made Bull Art. In the form of wind chimes, for family, for friends.
Bull is his nickname (as well as "the Right Reverand" for his buddies on one submarine).  He's not "artistic", playing normally with things nuclear.  But he still has his goofy side, as do I, signing notes with his little "smiley bull" symbol".
It shows up everywhere, even on a low carb snack he made for someone up at weird hours.

So I simply smiled when I saw his creations, the one pictured, a simple one he made for Dad for an anniversary of sorts. 
The sand dollar brought a knowing glance, as we picked up so many as children, when we'd vacation on the coast each year in a tiny little cabin Dad and Mom rented.  It's all condominiums now, but those were some great memories.  From the looks of this one, it's one we picked up 40 some years ago, that now lay in assorted bowls in all of our homes.
That's my bedroom window there on the left.  I laid awake at odd hours this week, due to the jet lag.  But as I lay quietly, the rest of the house asleep, I loved hearing the sound of that copper tubing, string and ancient wood. I loved seeing it, there on the deck where we could have coffee before Dad woke up.

You see a wind chime, made of rough materials.  I see a symbol; of finding beauty in the face of that which severs one abruptly from the life they knew and did not wish to discard, into a medium we are born to fear, where even our identity can be lost, as hair and flesh fall away. I hear the sound of that which will never be forgotten.  Memory. Family.  Hope.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Night Barkley

As I get a long nap before the even longer drive home - some Barkley memories. I'm hoping to get more done on the new book this weekend- I'd like to finish it up before Dad is gone.  It's it meant to be it will be. Thanks to all of you for your support during a very trying 2014 and for sharing Barkley's story. Barkley's Book has helped sponsor over 20 dogs to find homes after necessary vet care, as well as general donations from $15 to $1500 to many other animal welfare and rescue organizations in their efforts. Helping with fundraising, contacting so many animal organizations (often without any feedback) and sending out letters, flyers, tweets and Facebook inquiries has been exhausting. But the animal groups are starting to hear about his story, and what it can mean for other unwanted or neglected animals and that is so worth it.

For tonight, I am very, very tired.  I miss Barkley and my brother so very much, but life, can still be good, and filled with purpose.
When I came home, he was always in the same spot. Waiting.  Sometimes he would be wagging his tail.  Sometimes I could come in stealthfully, with just a camera and catch him unawares, or even asleep

There is never a dull moment when you have a labrador retriever in the house.


And finally, a Barkley Haiku -

Have a wonderful night whatever you and yours are up to.
love - Brigid

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Amaretto Pecan Pie - When Writers Take a Break to be Bakers

Thirty chapters down - Twenty-something left to go, with my awesome editor, Gigi K,.already started on the first chapters.  But I'm just wore out, after a very long work day--of words or anything else.  So I will leave you with something made for Partner before I left for work.

Amaretto Pecan Pie

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter - melted
1 teaspoon vanilla 1/4 light corn syrup
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 Tablespoons Amaretto (almond flavored liquor)
3 eggs -beaten
1 3/4 cups pecan pieces
1 9 inch unbaked pie crust

Preheat oven to 375 (190 C)

Mix the sugars and butter together in a bowl. Stir in vanilla, Amaretto and beaten eggs, fold in the pecans and pour the mixture into the pie crust.

 Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce heat to 350  F.without opening oven door and bake an additional 30 minutes.

 Allow to cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pointed Thoughts

You know you have a good husband when he'll drive from the Scottish border to a Boots store a hundred miles or so away on the wrong side of the road to bring you home your favorite English bath products and good but cheap European skin creams. He knows he's got a good wife because you won't post the picture on a  lot of girly cosmetic review sites because you just realized that it has your bayonet collection in the background

Monday, January 12, 2015

First Chapters - New Starts

With a weekend of no commute - husband out of town, and a work week that was a mere 50 hours (woot!) I got quite a bit written on the next book, the first time I've been able to write much with the blogs to keep up and family and work commitments.  Thanks for your patience on the limited socializing online while I finish it.

 I originally had written the first chapter, only to find that it was more fitting as the last. Which left me with NO first chapter to start this story. This one has been hard to write - it covers 50 years not 10, and several families, captured in detail but without identifying information as some of it involves people whose privacy I will respect.

 So here it is - Chapter one of "Saving Grace: A Story of Adoption

Chapter 1

She would not have noticed the town that first time, but for the speed trap.  It was a two lane shortcut to the interstate heading North, a sign that says 50 mph and then almost immediately after, one that says 35 mph, as the first building just seems to pop up from the flat landscape like a diorama.  It's not a route normally driven, but with an accident backing up the freeway around the city, this made for a good detour.

There were only a few buildings, a church, a small fire station, a half dozen very old homes, a couple kept in pristine condition, the rest having given up on curb appeal.  There's not much in the way of business, though at some point this was a tiny little hub of activity in this land that was more farm than subdivisions.  There's a pizza store and two antique/craft kind of places, colorful wares on display in the hopes that someone will make a stop.  Normally she would enjoy such places, enjoying the work of things made with one's own hands, the patina that is polished wood.  But one of those is now closed, replaced by a store that sells decorative yard things, all cheap and likely made in China, the other with a closed sign that only draws in the dust. Given the severe cold this winter, what little business they had has likely stayed indoors.

Today was no different. The air is cold. Clear. Sharp. Cutting as a knife to the landscape, flayed and laid bare to the eye under the surgical light of a winter morning. It's hard to believe that just 5 miles south is a bustling community of subdivisions and quickly constructed strip malls.  On this road, in the hesitation that is the slow passage through this community, it could easily be 75 years ago, the structures unchanged, only more weathered. Behind are fields that clutch onto the skeletons of crops that long ago died, miles of bare, windswept trees, and clusters of burrs that stick to everything with a tiny pinprick of pain. It's a once pretty place that is sticking to the landscape as hard as it can, soon to be pulled free with that final stab of cold hurt.

At 10 below wind chill and an obligation to keep, it's another day she does not stop.  It's not lost on her that it's yet another nail in the coffin of what is left of those businesses.

The cold restricts movement, as it propels it, pushing us towards something that will warm us.  The cold, like life, only accentuating that which we cannot sustain. You move forward or you will die.

Given the amount of traffic on this road and the widening of it further on, it's not hard to imagine that soon this town will be gone, the majority of the few buildings so close to the road, but for the church a couple homes with a large yard between house that road, that widening the road to four lanes will be their inevitable end. The for sale signs on the remaining well-kept houses is a literal sign, not just a physical one, the town not having a failure, but a mutiny. The few other houses look as if they are just waiting for someone to show up with a check and a bulldozer, if not abandoned already, sidewalks raised and broken, trash gathering in the cracks like autumn leaves, an old Ford with no engine, guarding the front lawn against postmen and tax collectors.

As she passes that last for sale sign, she can't imagine selling her home, knowing that it will be razed. Even harder is having to walk away from one, simply to save your life.

She had married too young into a Southern Family, who considered themselves as such, even though they lived in what the rest of the country called the Midwest.  I guess it depends on which direction you looked at things, she reckoned, our individual horizons incised in whetted contrast to the circumference of this flat, harsh landscape.

Weather wasn't the only thing that was new to her, coming here from California. But it is what she learned, and quickly.  She learned what was safe to stay out in, and what was not, learning early we are just serfs of the elements, severe weather usually arriving in the late night like a broken king, rushing in, ready to do battle with the sleeping.

The family had a few hardscrabble acres on which rocks were the preferred crop, as well as a growing herd of cattle. It was a small farm, one which wouldn't have sustained them had she not held other jobs. Friends would tell her how lucky she was to have the land and the freedom and she was.  But she realized that in actuality, it's like having two full time jobs, 7 days a week. Add to that family, dogs, cats, an old horse named Elmer and a husband on a medical discharge from the military battling his demons, she couldn't remember a day from that time where she just wasn't tired.

Twenty years in the future,  she'll hear the radio announcer comes on with a "remember this classic from the 80's?" She turns the dial up on the sound, to listen. And she doesn't. Remember. Those years to her were sweat and work, the smell of cow manure, weekend JP4, propane, and the salt of tears; moments of roses and moment of thorns being of equal duration, passing too quickly in recollection.  Looking in the mirror she sees the small lines that indicate her age but she doesn't feel it, it's as if that whole 10 years happened to someone else, endless, alternating days and nights like a vacuum in which no air would come.

Given the choice, would she have taken that time back? Perhaps not, she thinks. We do not cease from the experiences, in the end of experience we arrive back where we started, seeing them as if for the first time, but at a nice safe distance, with wisdom otherwise not gained. It was a time to grow, to learn, to build. She learned how to fix a furnace, and pull a calf from her mother, how to make supper out of almost nothing, the household money squandered on chasing something no one could provide even as she pulled down her shirtsleeves to hide the bruises. She learned how to hold her head up high in a small town buzzing over the gossip that came with that. And she learned when to walk away when the demons finally won.

She recalls one of the last nights there, the Carhart coat and boots she wears today, no different than the ones she looked for that night as the glare of the headlights illuminated the room, It was a cattle truck coming at night so as to reach the stockyards in the morning. She had woken alone to the rattle coming up the road, trying to get a little nap before they arrive, springing like a bow from her bed, aware of her responsibilities. As she donned work clothes and boots, the orange running lights and diesel growl outside of the window reminded her of Martians landing searching the house for signs of human life and the first smile in a long time passed her lips.

All they would find is a lone woman, with boots, a shotgun she knew how to use, and a kitchen that once smelled of cinnamon.

The driver backs around, turning the trailer with a gentle sigh of air brakes, up to the wooden chute there at the barn. Within came the muffled grunt of the cattle that were being sold. Outside of the lumbering truck and its driver and the cattle, they were alone. No cars, no help, the earth hanging suspending in space, cooling, wearing only a thin veil of wood smoke. The wind cut her face, a blade that only stroked the skin, not cutting it, her hands aching as she stroked her thighs with them, trying to stir warmth back into dormant skin.
Oh, how she longed to just go back to bed, the rustle of cotton, the panting whisper of breath, the predation of the night assuming a hundred avatars of dreams. No cows, no work, simply the house, still and quiet, as if marooned in space by the dwindling of day. The truck long gone, the sounds outside fallen to a low fragmentary pitch. A coyote's howl at the indignation of clouds that cover the moon, no other sound made; prey gone into hiding, insects dead with cold, everything else assuming their own mantle of hibernation or hunt.

But there was work to be done.

Hooves rattled in the trailer as it rocked and swayed, cattle moving with the chaos of their own confusion. All that was left was one lone cow, a young one who would go to a neighbor's farm for breeding stock. She stood forlorn in the fog of her own shadow, form turning as insubstantial as mist. She gazed at her as if she knew what was happening, looking at me with that ample, benign abstruseness of cattle or of gods, before turning and vanishing into space.

It's hard to decide which ones to keep and which to let go. Love, life and longing, a helix viewed by eyes that see with hesitant, hungry fire. Decisions. We took from the land that which we needed to survive, giving something back, yet there is still in her that sense of loss, even as she knew it was inevitable, as are so many inevitable things.

The door on the cattle truck closes with a profound finality, isolating them, isolating her, as she watched it drive off. All that is left is to go back into an empty house to curl up in the guest room, the neatly made bed in the master bedroom a paradox within four walls redolent of long abandoned warmth.

The land went to his family, their little farmhouse to be sold, tools replaced by others which would draw their own blood as she learned to live again, amidst hard work, but work that was her calling.  She couldn't bear to watch as it was cleaned and made ready for sale, sun shining in on polished floors as undisturbed as frigid pools, underneath the overhanging branches of shrouded furniture. When she left, she took just one thing with her, to carry in her vehicle as a reminder.

She still works too often out in the cold, and there are still many nights where she only get only a few hours of sleep before going back on duty, watching the world come into a caffeine induced clarity that does not bode well for the sandman. Nights, where she's not woken by the sound of cattle trucks, but by a phone, a voice on the other end speaking with an impersonal dry cadence she knows is more protection than uncaring, and she must quickly pull herself from bed, gathering a black bag and some gear, limbs wooden with the regret of lost slumber.

Sometimes she comes home and simply drops her clothes at the door, too exhausted to put them in the laundry, pouring a finger of whiskey in a glass and flinging it back with a gesture that puts behind her all the suffering she had seen, tossing it back and away, leaving only the taste of smoke on her tongue, a scent that clings to her even after she sheds her clothes.
It's not always an easy life, but it's a good life, she thinks, as that dwindling town fades from her rear-view mirror, her vehicle moving  towards tenacious clusters of farms strung along a lonely river, old barns, listing and tumbling down, gone the way of the ancestors who built them long ago, going West, to dust. The clouds move so quickly she can't catch them with a fast car, grass laid flat in submission. Even the wind turbines seem to lean forward, waving their arms as if losing balance before a fall. A cold front has passed, the wind is howling, isobars dancing cheek to cheek as they move across the map to the northeast. Despite the cold she glances at her reflection in the mirror and sees a smile.  Endings are always beginnings, even as the wind blows.

She is glad she came here to this place, so different from that first ramshackle country home and the large showpiece she bought later, after years of hardship, as if by adding things to your life, you can somehow make up for what was taken away. She'd sold that place at a loss and given away most of her possessions, understanding after the years alone, what made her happy, and it wasn't things, nor the type of people to which that mattered.

Before she gets to the freeway, she crosses what was once an old wagon trail, families heading from out East to further west to more open land and bigger homesteads. There's not much to mark those passages, but for perhaps a historical sign somewhere.  But underneath the soil, are the remains of all that did not finish the journey.   To lighten the load to get through the hills further west, the plains are dotted with the slumbering bones of cherished belongings, offloaded despite the tears of a woman, to ensure they would make their destination. Furniture crafted by sweat and time, an upright piano, left on a low rise by the trail, hopefully to be picked up by someone, before it was forever silent.

Elsewhere, there are the graves, a young woman who didn't survive childbirth on the trail, the very old or the very young, felled by a simple virus or bacteria that prey on those who go hungry too often.  Some of those graves are marked with only a cross, perhaps a young woman's name, a lock of her hair and  her wedding dress, the only thing that will see the Western sunset up close, the red sky curling up like shavings of wood that formed her grave marker.

There are dozens of graves like this on the wagon trails, in deep grass and in low open spaces of land. Nothing left but some stones, or for a few, a wooden cross, the gloss of light on its surface, and shapes of long forgotten shadows on its bark. And with them, those solitary crosses, those remains of household goods, bulky memories too big or too cumbersome to take the rest of the journey. Some pieces end up in a museum, not looking as battered as you expect, as others came and collected them. They appeared almost as if they knew their scheme in things and their place was just where they ended, their destiny meant to be left to wait patiently in the tracks of the wagon, until someone recognized their worth and laid claim to them.

On the way back from work that night, she stopped in that little town but the businesses are all closed, the places silent. From a tree comes the sound of a single mourning dove, the note falling like liquid, taking shape as it descends through the frigid air, only to shatter as it hits unyielding ground. As she walked back to her vehicle in the frozen silence, she had a feeling that come Spring, she would drive here to find the road closed, machinery already tearing up the earth, disturbing the burial site of many a memory. She hoped those that lived away from the road, could adjust to the noise, those that live where the road would lie, find a new path.

Sometimes you make the decision, sometimes it's made for you.  How you respond lies in what you need and the compromises with which you can live. You take what remains that brings you joy and you move forward, she thinks as she pulls her coat closer around her. The winds still blow from west on the prairies, wailing a hymn of our mortality. Our remoteness stands guard over a vulnerability heightened by solitude. Yet in this season between hope of rain and hard winter, comes peace, even as outside, the air stills, windless cold that only heightens her heart's heat.

As she turned back onto the two lane highway, she noticed that the trees branches were glazed with ice so that each branch shone with its own unique brightness, each branch its own work of art, unique and alone.  When people first settled this part of the country their homes were built from these old trees and what precious nails they could spare, doing what they could with what they had, to survive. Sometimes the very things that drew them here, drove them away.  Then they would move on, but not before burning their own homes, to reclaim the nails that would hold them together.

She drove away, a darkened and weathered nail hanging by slender cord from the radio dial and a well-worn picture of a baby, faded by the sun, stained by tears.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Girls Day Out -A Prince of a Day

The freezing rain  moving into the area - Girl's Day out was crammed into just a few hours.  Partner in Grime was away on business - so I stayed in Indy to hang out with my friends and work on a few more chapters for the next book. 
Broad Ripple Brew Pub with Tam.  I got there first so I sipped on some wine while the waiter chit chatted with me, the place pretty empty with the forecast. 

Tam arrived and there was much camera geekery going on with her Olympus OM -PC and my Canon.  She showed me how to do some neat things with one of the settings for the dark lighting in the pub now that I'm ready to venture past "ON" in the world of photography.
More drinks were ordered  These wines are really short, I think I can have another. Then the food.

I had Brewpub pizza with bacon, pineapple, garlic and olives for me (with leftovers for lunch tomorrow as I'm off work and likely not driving with the forecast) and the Mexican White Wings for Tam  - Baked chicken breast strips wrapped in apple wood smoked bacon with slices of fresh jalapeno, deep fried and tossed in BBQ wing sauce. Served with celery, blue cheese, and extra BBQ wing sauce.
We really had the whole room to ourselves but for the music and attentive waiter.  A third glass of wine (did I say they were short glasses, no stem so that's less wine right :-) and another beer were ordered, and the next thing you know Prince's "Kiss" Came on.

Do you know a tall blond and redhead can dance without standing up.  We were bopping around in our chairs to the song when someone popped in the room and smiled-- "Just getting our 80's on!" we said and finished the song. Earworm in the link - no additional charge.

There was the usual catching up to do, conversations on games, and toys and cameras, gladiator yard gnomes and feral deficient spending.  Then it was time to go - I felt sorry for the wait staff-- there was no one in the place - so we each tipped our awesome waiter and he came out and thanked us  profusely  for the double tip - but we were happy to.  Once the freezing rain hit, there would be no more customers before closing but for a couple of folks that might brave out on a giant tauntaun to get a growler of beer since it's a dry state.
After a couple of hours, full of food, it was safe to take a little walk to admire the local ice works, then drive home, the wine worn off, simply contented, happy and full.  The freezing rain had started so I made a beeline for the store to pick up a couple of items I needed to clear a clog in the bathtub - (red hair and lavender bath oil, never a good daily combination), then home to the crash pad.

By the time I rolled in.  Abby was frantic with worry (not).

Good times - ice and all.