Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Letting Go of the Oh Crap Strap

The sky bridge.

     “Warning, warning!  Danger, danger!”  The voice of reason reverberates from my head to my heart to my stomach.  I am staring at a sky bridge, strung from the ground to a platform two stories above my head.  I am belted, clipped and helmeted, but I am still not sure I can make the climb.  In fact the pounding rhythm of my heart belies the fact that this whole zip line thing was my idea.  It seemed like a good way to get beyond my fear of heights, but now I’m not so sure.  A crazily canted rope ladder to the sky is eroding my resolve one panicky heart beat at a time.
     I’ve come to  Banning Mills with my intrepid sister, Meg.  We are together for one of my favorite events of the year—our annual sister trip.  In past years we’ve kayaked the Ashley River, galloped along the white sands of Amelia Island and now here we are perched on the edge of certain death on the rim of a gorge south of Atlanta.
     Meg clips on…. “Transfer 1” Click!  “Transfer 2” Click!  Then she turns and starts up the wobbly stairway to the sky.  It is too late.  I have no choice but to follow her.  I transfer my clips to the overhead wire, my hands shaking so badly that I cannot close them properly.  My mouth is dry, my palms slick with sweat.  Keeping my eyes focused on Meg’s red jacket which is now rising to the heavens above me, I take my first step towards a new adventure. 
     It seems I’ve always been following two steps behind my big sis.  Shy when she was younger, Meg has since been scuba diving, high mountain skiing, and even at one time in her life rappelled down the side of a cliff.
     I finally reach the platform fifty feet above.  Our guide gives us a few more cautionary instructions and then we line up to step off into space.  I am the last to go.  I decide not to close my eyes and gripping my pulley and the “oh crap strap” I step off into thin air.  I soar through the forest canopy to the Hickory tree five hundred yards away.
Meg demonstrating good form- one hand on the pulley, one hand on the "Oh Crap Strap"
     By the third tree, my hands are dry and my heart is beating normally.  I am no longer hugging the tree as I stand on an aerial platform the size of a pizza box with eight other people waiting my turn for the next zip.  By the fifth tree I am picking up speed in my descent and learning the art of braking.  I venture a one-handed ride and practice my cannonball position.  By the ninth tree, I am sorry it has come to an end.   
  After our aerial adventure, Meg and I eat lunch on the porch.  Then we hike down into the gorge and sit on a rock mid-stream.   Zippers (Is that what you call people who ride zip-lines?)  soar through the trees.  We can hear their cables singing as they approach and then disappear over the ridge.  I keep pinching myself.  I can’t believe I actually did it.  When we first pulled up and I saw all those people zooming overhead, it made me so nervous that I refused to watch.  I was afraid that I would chicken out.  Now, the sigh of the pulleys and the quick flight of humans cannon-balling above pulls me into a peaceful trance.   I can’t wait to see what next year’s sister-adventure will be.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Fire in the Hole

     When we returned from our Sunday evening egg delivery, the house had cooled down, so I opened the damper on the back of the stove.  As the flames caught up, I heard a whoosh and then an intense crackling.  Joe stood for a moment listening and then announced, “I think the chimney’s on fire.”
     Twenty three years ago, the first time this happened, I grabbed the phone and began dialing the fire department.  Joe took  the phone from my hands,  closed up the back of the stove and sat down to have a beer while I ran around the house gathering up all my prized possessions in case we had to evacuate.  Apparently, chimney fires were a fairly common woodstove occurrence.  Before calling the volunteer firemen away from their mashed potatoes and gravy, country courtesy required that you try to put out the fire yourself. So, when the stove had cooled a bit we searched for something that Joe could use to knock down the smoldering creosote.  Lacking a long board, we settled on my horse lunge line and an old spade I’d inherited from my grandmother.  We tied the spade to the end of the rope and Joe climbed the ladder to dangle it down the chimney.  The blade swung around knocking creosote loose.  This worked pretty well until we melted the handle of the spade. 
     After twenty years of dealing with stopped up smoke holes I was surprised two years ago when Joe actually handed me the phone.   Flames and sparks were rising from the chimney and after singeing his eyebrows, he decided that it was too hot for us to deal with. All of the firemen are neighbors, so we chatted while they scrambled up and down their ladders.  Dressed in their heavy coats and smoke shields, they hauled up a heavy chain hooked to a steel punch and dropped it down into the fiery pit.  When they were finished, I served my local heroes coffee and cookies before they headed back to their farms.
     Although we clean our chimney every summer, about mid-winter, it usually stops up again. Joe has stood on our slick roof in fifty mile per hour winds, thunderstorms and blizzards.  He said tonight was a piece of cake.  After years of practice, my husband has perfected his technique.  He scrambled up the ladder and I handed him a  fifteen- foot long stick and a chimney sweep’s brush. After punching the stick into the smoking tunnel, Joe swooshed the brush up and down a few times while I shoveled out the hot creosote that clattered down to the clean out hole.  We actually meant to have Scott do this for us when he was home, but forgot to ask him.
     No matter.  The chimney is clean, the smoke is rising, and Joe finished in time to watch Virginia Tech beat Boston College.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Lot of Lambs and a Hardworking Man

     The moon is full and so are the barns.  That extra bit of moon-inspired gravity is hastening the lambing.  Fourteen ewes have dropped thirty-two lambs to the straw in the last week.   The barnyard is full of leggy lambs and Joe’s days are full of work.  He starts each morning with a trip to the lambing barn. That’s where the pregnant ewes spend their nights.  If there are new lambs, then Joe cleans out a stall, adds fresh hay for bedding, carries the lambs in, chases the mama in and then feeds some hay and grain. Sometimes there’s only one ewe nosing a lamb or two around in the straw, but other mornings there might be three ewes and six lambs all jumbled together.  They must be sorted out, but Joe has some tricks up his sleeve.  He pulls the similar looking lambs into separate areas of the barn.  The moms can identify their lambs by smell and sound, so they run around, sniffing and bleating until they’ve claimed their babies.  When all of the new families have been moved into stalls, the rest of the ewes are shooed out to the meadow where they are fed three gallons of grain and two bales of hay.  
      After his stint in the maternity ward, Joe visits the nursery.  Each stall in the bottom of our barn is divided in half to accommodate two sets of ewes and lambs.  He visits each stall, checking on the lambs and gathering up the black rubber water buckets.  After several trips to the water hydrant, all the mamas have fresh water.  Then Joe scoops up five gallons of grain and gives each ewe her breakfast.  If the lambs are new, he dips their umbilical cords in iodine to prevent bacterial infections.  If they are at least a day old and looking healthy, he bands their tails and testicles.  If they’ve been banded for at least a day, then each lamb is painted with a number to match mama’s ear tag. This makes it easier to sort them out later. 
       From the barn, Joe carries two five gallon buckets of grain out to the orchard lot.  That’s where the older lambs and ewes stay until they are turned out to pasture.  He dumps his buckets into the five sided feeders.  Then he fills a trough with water.  After that, Joe climbs into the hay mow and throws down six bales of hay.  When the ewes finish the last of the grain, they get two of the fifty pound bales.  If Joe is lucky, then that’s it for the sheep until suppertime, but more often than not, there’s a ewe in a stall who won’t nurse a lamb, so she must be tied and the lamb held in place to nurse.  Or there is a triplet whose mama didn’t have enough milk.  So Joe goes up to the house, mixes a bottle of milk replacer and then carries it back down to the barn for the hungry baby.
    All of these things happen before Joe goes off to the shop for the day.  They are repeated in the evening, after work, along with feeding all of the cows.  No wonder my husband spends most of his evening after supper napping in his chair.