Monday, October 7, 2013

Great Smoky Mountains: Black Bears and Backpacking

Last weekend, my wife and I backpacked for three days in the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. Mystical and majestic, the mountains seem to sing me a siren's song. I have said it before, but I'll say it again, it is just wondrous to me what God can do.

Backpacking requires that I pack everything I could possibly need into a pack and carry it for an entire journey. It isn't an easy job. By the time I had packed a first aid kit, food, clothes, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillows, stove, tent, and water, my pack weighed in at 34 pounds and Jennie's weighed 17.

It isn't easy talking Jennie into this kind of trip, and I must be some kind of super mediator when you think about it. Somehow, I have the ability to  talk my wife into putting 15-20 pounds on her back and hiking up a steep mountain for six hours straight with the promise of Alfredo noodles and a packet of tuna and a few photo opportunities. Perhaps I should take my magic mediating skills to Washington. All together, our trip was a three day, 15 mile journey.

Though Jennie enjoys the hike once we are out there, she really only goes so I don't have to go by myself. She would admit that she hates everything about it while we are climbing, and I admit that it truly is exhausting. Sweating and out of breath, she mumbles her disdain and occasionally shouts, "Is that bear poop? Oh Paul, I don't want to see any bears.Q" The first day, I can only comfort her with lies: "No honey. That is (insert random animal here) poop. We have nothing to worry about." Admitting that the big pile of berry-seed droppings belongs to a bear would only add to the joys of hearing her worry.

Our first night was spent in a shelter. This night, we shared the shelter with a father and son from Cincinnati, and two brothers from South Carolina, who have hiked together since 1974, and their nephew. All the shelters in the park are three sided with two sleeping platforms, and they accommodate twelve hikers. While hearing and sharing stories with the other hikers, Jennie and I learned about hand-slung chitlins from One of the South Carolina men.  Evidently, hand-slung means they spin it over head to clean the intestines of feces-yuck.

We spent the next night at a tent site next to a roaring mountain creek. We arrived early (around 2pm) and had the site, and the whole mountainside, pretty much to ourselves. Unplugged from technology, we spent the entire afternoon playing Yahtzee, talking, and reading-it was very nice.

Day three has Jennie saying that she can't wait for a shower for the millionth time. Not showering doesn't bother me like it does her, but I admit that I was ripening quite well. We had received news from other hikers that a beehive was a little further down the trail, and this made me nervous. Last year, a hornet's nest had taught me that I have an allergy to bees. This nest was on the first green of a local golf course, and after a fit of punching myself in the ear while trying to rid myself of the winged tasers, I wound up delirious and sitting on the clubhouse floor. Unfortunately, my allergy pin was in the van--not in the backpack.

We packed up and left at daylight and successfully snuck past the bees. Now that the end of the hike was near, I admitted to Jennie that much of the seedy droppings we saw on the trail indeed came from bears. "I knew it!" She said.

If you know me, and most of you don't, I love to tease and aggravate most anyone around me. Approaching a bridge, I decided to tease her a bit. I said, "Wouldn't it be something if right when I stepped on the bridge there was a bear on the other side, and we just stood locked in a staring contest both refusing to give in to the other one? And then the bear dropped one of those seedy piles while he was staring at me, and in an act of defiance I did it too?" I expected to hear Jennie call me an idiot, but instead she screamed and squealed, "Oh my God. There's a bear!" There actually was a bear and her three cubs just off the trail on the other side of the bridge. We backed up and tried to take some pictures, but we were too far away. The park's website suggests holding your pack over head and yelling to run off bears; so, after some yelling and some caveman like dancing with my hiking sticks, the bear and her cubs ran off--so exciting. Thus ended our wild mountain  journey.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Are You a Good Samaritan?

Are You a Good Samaritan?

Now, when I say “Good Samaritan,” I don’t mean the leave a penny on the counter or the I give my spare change to the baseball kids at Wal-Mart kind of Samaritan. I’m talking about the inconvenience yourself, donate your time, help others in need, be a part of a greater cause type of Samaritan. Do you consider yourself a Good Samaritan? Is it something that is important to you?

Besides blessings we receive for following the greatest commandment, charity work has many other benefits: it helps you make new friends and contacts; it increases your social skills; it combats depression; it increases self-confidence; it improves your overall health, and it advances your career. Charity and volunteering generally just makes you happier.

Have you ever been on the receiving end of such good works?  I know I have. Just this past summer, my family and I were hiking and camping in Michigan at Ludington State Park. Ludington is a beautiful park that is butted up to Lake Michigan. At the park, I met Lois Pauley. Lois and her family have camped at Ludington for 37 years, and she is known as the “Waffle Lady.” Eight years ago, she and her family began “Waffle Wednesday.” They would make waffles for the other campers or for whoever happened to show up. They began with a single waffle maker, but the free breakfast has grown so much that she now uses two double-waffle makers and goes through about eighteen pounds of waffle mix at a time.  Meeting passersby and hikers is what she enjoys the most about her breakfasts, and she says that she gains way more than she gives. To help keep track of her multitude of visitors, she keeps a scrapbook full of names, pictures, and park history. My family passed by her site after hiking in from an overnight backpacking trip in the dunes. Passing by, I jokingly asked if the breakfast was for anybody. Without pause she said it was and started making us waffles. The conversation and food was delightful.

Does the charity that you give, be it time or money, benefit all who are involved? Of course it does. Personally speaking, there were times that I and my family needed and benefited from charity programs. If it weren’t for the good people who volunteered their time and their charity, I’m not sure I could have finished college and gone on to teaching. It really made a difference in my family’s lives—what a good service they provided.

Here are a few places where you can be bigger than yourself in our community: The Brazil Food Pantry; the Humane Society; Riley’s Children Hospital; Catholic Food Charities; the Goodwill store; Senior Living Facilities; rotary clubs; libraries; churches; the list just goes on and on.  Wherever you decide to spend your time, make sure that you are having fun. Remember, your time and work should benefit you and the organization you are helping.

What charities have you helped or benefitted from?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Natural Health and Home Remedies

Home Remedies

My Aunt Kathy is up from Missouri, and this weekend her, my mother, and I were speaking of the many spells, concoctions, remedies (tortures) that their mother (my grandmother) subjected my cousins, siblings, and me to in our youths. Anything from a coughs, the flu, spider bites, wasp stings, or a case of head lice was readily cured by something that my grandmother believed would help.

                Many of these home-made cures were staples of the medicine cabinet and they doubled as medicinal and practical purposes. I hated to mention to Grandma that I felt anything less than the utmost of health and vitality. At the mere whisper that my stomach was upset, Grandma would serve me up a sweet but hideous looking glass of prune juice. It looked like the swill at the bottom of a tobacco chewers spit cup, and I must say that as a child, I thought it tasted that way too. The prune juice was meant as a stool softener—constipation was her go to diagnosis. If the prune juice didn’t quench grandma’s taste for inflicting torture, Castor oil did; the oil, a taste I will never, ever, forget was like the oldest, ugliest, and flat out meanest brother of stool softeners . . . it worked beautifully.

Another surefire way to cure an ailment was with Vick’s Vapor Rub. Even if you tried to hide it, grandma could tell by your voice that you had a cold. The white container with a blue lid in her hand, she sat on the edge of the bed and had you sit up. I admit that it was nice and soothing when she would rub some on my chest and under my nose; it made my eyes water a little, and I actually could breathe a little better. However, was it really necessary, Grandma, to make me eat a finger full of this greasy salve? It coated my teeth as I choked it down, making it impossible to sleep for I then had to incessantly swallow for fifteen minutes straight trying to vacate my mouth of that impossible coating.

Sometimes I felt as if Grandma and my mother sat at the window waiting/praying for one of us to fall and scrape a knee. Why else would they consider putting what felt like battery acid on our cuts and scrapes? Walking in the house with a banged up knee, she would grab a bottle of Mercurochrome or iodine and swab it into the open wound. Oh my God, how it burned. Back then I was sure that it would burn completely through my leg, “It burns Grandma!” any one of us would say as she fanned the burning with a magazine. “It’s ok. We used this stuff when I was a little girl and it healed right up,” she would say. I still cannot believe that they endured the same pain in the early 1900s and in turn passed it on to their kids and grandchildren. I know, because they always told me, that people were tougher back then, but give me a break. It seems borderline insane.

Just like all kids, my cousins, siblings, and I loved Easter, Halloween, Christmas, and Valentine’s and all the sweet sugary goodies that our parents allowed us to stuff in our mouths. In the same way that kids think about the present, and not the future when they stand in place and spin in circles, we gorged and gobbled all the sweets we got our hands on. Mom, because of Grandma’s warning, worried about the worms that Grandma assured her would infest our stomachs from eating too much candy. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?—baloney! Grandma used a spoonful of sugar to transparently mask the disgusting taste of turpentine (the kind that cleans paintbrushes). It worked as well as a smile masks a shark.

Bug bites: I was gathering eggs for my Great Uncle Virgil when I was a teenager. Somewhere in the process I was bitten by a spider. A knot the size of a silver-dollar raised on my arm. Upon showing my uncle (who smoked a pipe), he put a big chaw of the pipe tobacco in his mouth and after it was real good and real slobbery, he splatted it onto my arm and wrapped a kerchief around it. I remember watching his spit seep out from underneath the cloth and drip off my arm—yuck—but my arm healed. So again, I guess it worked.

Anyhow, I survived the stomach aches; the stopped up noses eventually cleared up; my knee did heal; I am never and probably never will be malnourished or wormy, and my arm never fell off from the spider bite. So that being said, maybe it worked? What kind of home remedy tortures do you remember?