Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Little Snow

    The snow is falling.  The sky is filled with flakes the size of silver dollars.  The kids are running ahead of me, trying to catch the flakes with their tongues.  A snowball fight breaks out between the three of us as we near our house.  The gray sky is fading to night.  We shake off the snow dust as we enter of the door.  All of our shoes are piled in the hallway.  The giggles fade and it is time for homework.  The house becomes quiet.  I sit awaiting the finished products of math and writing.   Outside the window the snow mesmerizes me.  I catch myself thinking of my mom and dad.  I talked with "Grandpa" earlier today, just checking in.  We talked of the weather, the snow, hunting, and the farm and woods.  It will be a few days before I can return to the farm.  By then the snow will probably be gone.  I wish I could be there today, to sit in the field and listen to the snow pile up across the landscape.  It makes such a delicate noise as it quietly crashes through the trees.  The tiny crunch of the snow as each flake lands on another.  Even now looking out the window, the snow hides the boring, everyday neighborhood.  It paints the city pure again, if only for a little while.  My thoughts are cut short by an overzealous plow truck scraping the white coating from the street.  I move to ready myself for work and check homework.  As I enter the room looking for finished assignments, I catch two kids peering out their windows, hypnotized by the falling flakes.  I do not question their inattention, I am guilty of the same thing.   

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Opening Day

    I am driving home, lost.  Behind me is a trailer loaded with an ATV, camoed and ready to hunt.  The trees blur by and the snow flurries glisten in the headlights.  A disorienting fog sometimes obscures the road until I drive through it and realize that it is actually smoke from the wood stoves exhaling from the hunting cabins alongside the road.  Trucks pass me.  All of them laden with the same cargo as me but  traveling in the opposite direction.  That is when I realize I am driving to our home in the city, but I am lost.
     I know how to get to our house.  I know the directions.  Yet, I feel lost, that I truly am traveling in the wrong direction.  Before I left the woods, I began to feel it, as I heard the echoing booms of rifles being sighted in.  The feeling grew as our dirt road turned into a main artery of travel for strange license plates and ATV's.  The disoriented feeling became almost oppressive as I drove through the wood stove smoke, it's acrid smell stinging my psyche as well as my nostrils.  The air in the car became heavy as we passed the trucks traveling in the opposite direction, heavy with coolers and ATV's and anticipation of the coming morning.  I felt as if I were trying to move underwater, my lungs tightening, as the small cabins lit by lanterns and generators blurred by, their driveways overflowing with trucks and hunters and excitement.
     I am lost on this road, driving away from opening day to go to work, to a job that rarely shows any acknowledgement of achievement, of value, of worth.  Most of my coworkers are not interested in the work, only how to get out of it.  The bosses look to lean on the employees that share a dedicated work ethic, but it is a thankless dedication, rewarded with more work and less understanding for absence.  It does not allow for family or for the soul of an employee, just the grind.  And so I am lost.
     My children in the backseat shoot questions at me as they hunt for their own answers.  They are curious to know why they see children in some of the cabins we pass by.  They want to know the reason behind the kids in the parking lot of the grocery store, decked out in camo, smiling ear to ear, nearly vibrating with excitement.  As we drive and discuss the sights outside our windows, it dawns on me, they understand what is happening in the woods.  They do not understand why they can not be a part of it.  They can not comprehend why their school does not recognize the importance of opening day.  My kids want to know why their school does not understand the importance of tradition, of family, of camaraderie, of lessons of life and death and the life cycle.  They wonder why participating in the food chain is frowned upon by the teachers.  I try to explain that it is partly the fault of the same people that wish to abolish community service from the school system.  Partial blame lies with the people that do not believe that character and integrity and responsibility should be taught in the classroom.  Political correctness always wins out.  The backseat falls silent.  They do not, can not, fully understand.  To them, the whole thing is black and white.  And so I am lost, searching for the answers.
     In the end, I must shoulder the blame.  I am traveling in the wrong direction because I choose to appease my work stresses and willingly avoid using sick time for these important days, days I will not get back.  I am at fault for not allowing my children to have this day in a classroom of a different sort, for not rocking the boat, for not standing by my values.  It is my own fault that I am lost.  I know the way but still choose to drive in the opposite direction.  I truly am lost.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Farm's Foundation

Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
(Part IX)
     In 2004, on the Internet, Tara found a realtor with some property listings.  We called Grandma and Grandpa (Ma and Pa Fearon) and scheduled a viewing.  Grandpa did the fieldwork and the day after Christmas we trucked through the snow to see the hundred acres with two ponds, an 1800-square-foot double wide, barn and hunting cabin.  By April 2005, Grandma and Grandpa were moved in and the next chapter was about to be written.  My fledgling family was but three and one and the whole world was ahead of us.  The old farm was in desperate need of rejuvenation.  We hoped we were up to the task.  We set about cleaning out the old cabin and building bunk beds.  We laid gravel, fixed the fire pit, and began the never ending task of sprucing up.  The flurry of activities was quite similar to a beehive or an ant hill.  There were old ATV and logging trails that needed to be reclaimed.  All the wood from clearing those trails needed to be split.  Trail cams were put out to find treestand hot spots.  Those hot spots needed to be cleared, ladderstands ordered, built and raised.  Grandpa bought a John Deere tractor and began altering the landscape.  It was, and still is, some of the most satisfying work I've ever done (and some of the greatest memories I have made).  I feel whole, complete, working outside on my piece of earth.  People come and go but the woods are always there for me and, hopefully, will be there for my family long after I am gone.
(With the holidays upon us, it is that time already, to put my hunting journal and the memories it contains back on the shelf.  It is time  to attend to the Thanksgiving bird and be with family.  It is time to be in the woods, to be quiet and listen to the world around me.  It is time to make more tales that need to be written in my hunting journal so they are always remembered.  I hope that everyone makes memories during this special time of year and takes a moment to remember some of the people or places that have been memorable upon their path.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Back to the Beginning

Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
(Part VIII)
     Before our new farm, and during those Tioga years, we still chased birds in Jersey and deer in upstate NY.  Pheasant hunting will always be the same, with different characters coming and going.  Stress Mt., NY will always be a source of stories.  The ice years, the years of short sleeves, building sheds in snow squalls, ATV riding in the dark, three-legged deer, Tara seeing and shooting at her first buck, Tony killing his first (a five-point), my first turkeys, night stalking Dad's doe, losing my handmade hunting knife inside Dad's five-pointer, tornadoes in the valley and the epic adventure that followed that twister, the Port-a-John with a view, and my wedding on the mountain.  Some great dreams were hatched back then and some of my greatest memories were made.  That mountain was magic and every moment there was special.  Apex Trucking and the boys from work invaded a couple of times, and still talk about those misadventures.  Memorial Day and Labor Day were weekends that were planned for all year long.  The hunting seasons were more like Christmas.  Once the small house was put in place and the deck built, the kids watched us hunt from the sliding door.  The snow flew, the wind howled, the kids (Madison mostly) pressed their noses to the windows, and we hunted.
     As the memories mounted on top of that hill, our family grew, our dreams grew bigger, and our search for a new, larger tract of land began.  Who would have known?  In hindsight it was clear it was coming.  But with that one resonating shot at Tioga, as the cow elk fell, so did alot of our plans.  With that elk, crumpled at the edge of the fence line, the last shot was fired on our days and trips to Tioga.  After that hunt the taxidermist and butcher we had befriended five years earlier hastily, almost sloppily, churned our efforts into groceries.  He turned our capes over to a new "friend" taxidermist that quickly proceeded to go out of business and take our possessions with him.  Chester and Danny, who always wanted receipts for the groceries and were allergic to sweat and effort, faded from the scene.  Drew, the smoking machine and bane of scent control, lasted long enough to see a bear and then "poof".  Steve M. got old and tired and cranky.  He called it quits when I traded my $70 NJ license and two pheasants for $80 and a 12 bird guided hunt in PA.  Jason, my brother, lingers on the fringe.  He pops in on rare occasions to pretend and play at hunting and fishing, and then he's gone again.  Dusan, isolated and lonely, drank himself into staying home.  Tony and Patty lasted the longest.  His dream of having a real hunting cabin on the opposite side of the property in the valley was one of the reasons we liked our new place.  His dream, however, did not consist of cutting and splitting firewood for that cabin.  In his dream, the trees alongside the trail to that cabin grew away from the trail and policed their own branches.  To all of them, treestands hung themselves and firing lanes simply appeared in the woods, trail cameras walk themselves to scouting areas.  The best part of hunting (and owning a hunting property), the preparation and anticipation, was not part of the picture.  And so, everyone got married, got cold, got old, and lost sight of the most important hunting/fishing/outdoor element: family.
     None of us truly parted ways even though there is a chasm separating us.  There's still times that we get together, all or some of us, and pretend play at hunting as if we were 10 again with sticks as guns.  We'll spend a day or two, have a beer, relive old days gone by, tell the same tales over and over again, laugh and say our good-byes.  In some ways it is quite tragic.  In others, I guess it is the natural way of things.  And so the story of Stress Mt. fades into history and the story of our PA place, Triple F Farm, begins.

Monday, November 19, 2012


Thoughts from a Hunting Journal 
(Part VII)
     These early days also saw the beginning of our annual Tioga trip.  A three hour drive that ended at a high fence hunting preserve.  Let the debate rage over high fence, "canned" hunts but it has always served us well to kick off the coming hunting season and introduce a new hunter to the sport.  The first trip was a 50th birthday present for my father.  He went with my mother and a Colt Python hunting pistol in .357.  It was originally scheduled for a Russian boar mainly for meat for a bar-b-cue but it turned into a nice trophy ram.
      The following year found the family back again.  This time Mom, Dad, and Tara (my new bride).  All going for something.  Mom quickly put down a nice meat hog, followed by Tara's first kill ever, a ram.  Dad ended the day with a red stag that was previously wounded in a rutting fight with another deer.  The day-long hunt was our first attempt at videotaping the hunt and it went surprisingly well.  That first stalk and kill lit the fire of the hunt in Tara that would fuel the future direction of our family; not our current family but the one Tara and I were about to start. The next year brought a new addition to our family, my first daughter.  Madison arrived three short months before our annual trip to Tioga.  I trucked that little peanut in a backpack through the rocky landscape in search of an animal.  That hunt ended with a hog that put more than 100 pounds of meat in the freezer.
      Through five years of visiting Tioga, we, as a family, collected some fine trophy mounts but more importantly some great memories.  The "rustic" hunting lodge, the quiet nights with our new babies, the table talk with other visiting hunters discussing chicken leg bones and tall tales of yesteryear; all forming a foundation for a grander picture of life.  Madison accompanied us everywhere.  Hunting camp would truly become a family affair.  Along with boars and rams and goats, Tara would put a buffalo in the freezer.  Our final trip to Tioga would be in 2005.  By then my second daughter had already been to Tioga and trucked up and down the hills in a backpack.  On her second trip to Tioga, Bailey sat in Grandpa's pick-up bed and watched her mother stalk a cow elk.  Our final preserve hunt ended with a beautiful off-hand shot from Tara's 20 gauge Mossberg. 
      And with that shot, our humble family hunting beginnings ended.  The final tally: four boar, two rams, two goats, a Jacob's ram, a red stag, a buffalo, and a cow elk.  The freezer was full, my novice wife was acquainted with some of the rigors of hunting and road trips, and our new farm was awaiting our return.  Our hunting and outdoor tradition and future seemed well-established and ready to blossom.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stress Mountain

Thoughts from a Hunting Journal
(Part VI)
     In the beginning there were no trails, just field.  There were no bathrooms, just a shovel.  There were no showers, just a creek.  We set up camp under the sun in the middle of the field.  We built a fire pit and mowed out a campsite.  We bought pick-up loads of firewood and trucked them four hours to camp.  Months passed as we camped each weekend and carved out ATV trails that moved our camp out of the middle of that field and into a more sheltered "upper" campsite.
      The first deer season found only my dad and I freezing in the sleet and snow, hunkered down in little spots we had found.  The freezing rain coated us like popsicles.  By lunch time we both had a pretty thick crust of ice coating our hunting jackets and we couldn't move without crunching and cracking.  Lunch was peanut butter and jelly as we found solace in the capped back of Dad's two-wheel-drive S-10.  We spent the night 30 minutes away in a Holiday Inn that smelled like an ashtray with the vent fan squeaking away all night.
      That next spring found us building homemade tree stands at pinch points throughout the property.  The ATV trails were expanded and a campsite was put in the valley.  I met what would be my wife and she quickly put in for her Hunter Education card.  Our first bid at property management was in full swing.  A place in the woods was being built, established, grown.  It would be the fertile ground that gave root some great memories.  It would be a family gathering place.  It would be Stress Mountain.
     With opening day of deer rifle season right around the corner, it is time to once again open the hunting journal and blow the dust off the old deer camp stories.  The next couple of installments to the Gravel Road will continue the "Thoughts from a Hunting Journal" series and allow the fond memories made pursuing wild game to have their day.  Thanks for traveling along with me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Fields of Fall

    I did not spend Veteran's Day with my father as is my tradition.  The day happened to fall on a Monday, a week after election day.  The kids needed to be in school, work needed us back to the grind.  However, the week prior was Fall Recess for the kids and we had taken vacation to be off with the kids.  Our vacation would be spent at the farm, hunting and preparing for the coming winter season.  It's not as glamorous as it sounds but it is a stress reliever, away from the regular grind of petty dramas at my workplace.  It is fresh air and smelling the wet earth, surrounded by clucking chickens and nibbling goats.  It is dirt roads and wooded trails and the smell of woodsmoke.  Most times it is just chores with a beer or two and showing the kids how to drive a tractor or an ATV, or maybe how to change a tire or the oil.  It is a slow-down-and-enjoy-a-slow-cooked-dinner vacation.
       But this time, the kids wanted at least one day if not two to pursue their new hobby, geocaching.  It is a game of treasure hunting using a GPS and downloaded coordinates.  Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, as well as other outdoor-oriented groups and people, both hide and try to discover hidden caches strewn about the world.  Most are hidden in plain sight in local parks and points of interest.  The old caches are usually hidden on some hiking trail off in the woods leading to a scenic overlook or a particularly nice campsite.  Near our farm there are some harder, more remote caches to search for.  These are usually a good hike with an old ammo can at the end of the trail filled with little knick-knacks to trade.  It is a great excuse to get out and go for a walk, and an even better excuse to get Mom and Grandpa to take a break from the everyday chores around the homestead.
       We disguised our mission to Grandpa as a small game hunting trip over on the state game lands.  Mom thought we were going for a short walk in the woods.  Neither knew we were going after an antique cache placed ten years ago about a mile off the old dirt road running through a local hunting grounds.  For me, it was a two-pronged mission, enjoy the day out with the family hiking and being able to carry my favorite single-shot shotgun in the hopes of kicking up a stray pheasant or dashing rabbit with my dad.  The kids loved the idea of fitting two activities into one trip and they hopped into their hiking boots and filled the truck before I could fill a water bottle.  The road was muddy and lonely and perfect.  We caught a glimpse of a six-point buck as we bounced down the trail.  The excitement grew in the backseat.
        When we finally piled out of the truck, the morning fog still had not burnt off and the frost was heavy on the tall grass.  The air made the skin feel alive, with a little bite against the cheeks.  We explored the woods.  The kids initially walked timidly among the wooded trails, cautiously stepping through the grass, expecting something, anything to burst out at any moment.  Half a morning later we were within 500 yards of our goal, according to the kid holding the GPS, and it was all up hill.  My wife, holding her burning back (still toughing out a couple of herniated discs), tied her jacket about her waist, put her head down, and leaned into the mountain, not to be denied and not allowing her children to see her quit.  My oldest set a good pace up through the fields, Grandpa in tow.  My little one kept her mom company, enjoying being out in the hunting woods.  I climbed through the briars and methodically worked the inside edge of the field's woodrow, hoping to flush a bird toward the group, increasing the excitement.
        Leaving the fields and entering the bordering hardwoods, as we neared our final destination, the trees began to exhibit the wrath of the recent weather.  Hurricane Sandy left a path of twisted blow-downs.  The higher we climbed the more the woods looked like a big pile of pick-up-sticks.  The last yards were a hard won battle to the coordinates.  And then, nothing.  We couldn't find the cache, described as a large ammo can hidden at the base of tree in the middle of the pile.  We searched.  We dug.  We moved leaves.  We organized a true grid search.  We sat stunned, out of breath, on a log and sipped water.  We prepared to hike back down the mountain.  I would not quit.  I would not leave without one more good look.  And right there, under an old blow down was our goal.  It was partially buried by run off from the recent storms, looking like a pirate's treasure lost in the woods.  Grandpa grabbed an improvised rock shovel and extracted the can from its hidey hole.  There were smiles and laughter.  We signed the log inside the box, noting that we had been there, left a little memento and stuffed the box back under the tree.
        The hike back to the truck was a bit faster, downhill.  Grandpa was able to force a grouse out into the fall sky.  Everyone enjoyed the sun as we flowed down through the giant field, pointing out deer sign and bear scat to each other.  Veteran's day, for me, came a little early.  I guess nowadays you have to make your own holidays.  And it looks as if a new tradition has been made from an old one.  We hope to do this again next year.  Maybe we will visit this old box every year now.  It gave us more than the little treasures hidden inside.  Before we even opened that box it had given us a little bit of woods magic, if you believe in that sort of thing.  By the end it had given us a perfect fall day.  That box in the woods will hold our memories and in our memories will be an old ammo can.  An ammo can in the woods for a replacement Veteran's Day spent with a veteran surrounded with family.  It sounds almost too perfect.  Maybe there really is such a thing as woods magic.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Forgotten Day

It should be right behind the Fourth of July. It should be held in higher regard than all the rest. There is no reason for it to be forgotten. Parades and ceremonies and fireworks simply are not enough. This is a day to truly be thankful, a day that should be met with football and giant dinners and family gatherings. It is the one day that should never be taken for granted. Today is Veteran's Day.
The company I work for, like most companies theses days, does not recognize today as a day worthy of remembrance. It is a normal Friday. The union, as willing to accept dues as they are to concede recognized holidays, does not consider today a day worth fighting for. I wear the American flag stitched upon my work clothes, but can not recognize the heroes of this country without a sick day. The men and women who have fought and sacrificed for my rights and freedoms are not worthy of a day of recognition according to many, my company, it's customers, Local 807, and most of the rest of country included. The beginning of Summer is more important. The "unofficial" end of Summer is more important. A fictitious fat man in a red suit is more important. Watching a giant ball descend a pole while partying with friends is much more important. The veterans of this country are not as important as these things. However, without them we would not celebrate such frivolous matters.
For many years, I hunted with my father on Veteran's Day. We used to meet in the morning and drive to the Delaware Water Gap and walk the fields there in search of small game, pheasants and squirrels mostly. We never mentioned that it was a holiday. We just walked the woods together. Spending time together was enough, no hoopla. As my parents left New Jersey to reside in the slower pace of Pennsylvania, my father and I still made plans to meet on Veteran's Day to walk the same fields. Times have changed since those youthful hunts. The holiday calendar at work has grown lean on what is considered an important or allowable day off. I, at one time, resorted to sick days to keep the tradition of hunting with my dad on Veteran's Day going. Recently, I have used seniority and vacation to ensure that this day is spent with family.
My father is a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Conflict. He carries many scars of all kinds with him. There were years when those scars took their toll not only on him. I lost some years to those scars, too. The loss was of time and chances to make memories and I refuse to allow that to ever happen again. My children take pride in the fact that their grandfather was a soldier and fought for this country. I will not allow them to lose the opportunity to make memories of time spent with their grandfather. They proudly celebrate this day knowing they are, in some small part, connected to it. It is his day and he should have it. He has surely earned it and continues to earn it, everyday.
My story is only one of thousands, perhaps millions by now. My experiences of the effect of war and the cost of politics and freedom are merely a blade of grass in a meadow of such experiences. All of those stories deserve a place, a day of recognition, a moment to reflect and remember, and a small word of thanks. These stories are attached to lives, to families. They can not be allowed to fade from the memory of a nation. They have sacrificed for every American. They have earned their day.
Who wants to be the one that takes their day away? Who wants to be the one that allows their memories to fade? Who wants to be the one that keeps their stories from being told?

It will not be me. Mine is but a small inconvenience compared to their scarifices. It will not be me.

The above passage was written a year ago.  I intended to put new words to paper today but could not say it better than this.  I did not wish to just rehash old words, so I present it here in its original form.  I am contemplating reposting it annually so as not to forget the most important holiday.  For now, just know, that I will not forget the day and I hope anyone that reads this will not either.  We take too much for granted today without wondering at the price.  Our veterans know that price and should not be forgotten.

Friday, November 9, 2012


    It is amazing how fast the time goes when the time clock is not holding it for ransom.  Without the watchful company eye, time seems to slide right by.  I have been unplugged for five days now, no phone to interrupt the hours, no routine to follow, no daily drama, no truck drivers acting like teenage girls.  After all these years and all the projected stereotypes, who would have thought that at the root of it all truck drivers are merely burly, bearded mean grrrls, ripping each other apart behind turned backs while smiling face to face, drama and PMS, tit-for-tat keeping score, and always trying to get what the other has just because.  It is not the work that is grinding, it is the people and personalities that make it a grind.
     To re-energize, I needed to escape for a while, to shut down, to unplug.  And what better way to do that but with a week in the woods.  I have escaped Sandy, the dreadful hurricane that tore through NJ, and made it to the farm.  Two and a half hours away, I can not hear the complaining from discomfort.  I can only hear the purring of the generator as life continues on without power, a commonplace event.  I can not hear the phone ring, only the song of the birds as I sit in a treestand, not hunting so much as just enjoying watching the woods thrive in front of me, listening to the rustle of the wind through the dry leaves, catching a glimpse of a red-tailed hawk swooping in, securing dinner in it's razor-sharp talons.  The only snippet of news I see is donations of food and clothes made by people from other states being shipped to the unfortunate souls along the Jersey shore.
      In order to leave the everyday completely behind, a trip to upstate NY was in order.  It is a different world completely from the "big city" that I left behind.  Hillside after hillside, we pass the farms neatly cleared of hay, and the interspersed woodlot colored in auburn hues.  We visit Fly Creek Cider Mill to try all the samples laid out through the store.  There are salsas and dips, chips and pretzel sticks, apple cider and apple pie, peanut butter and apple butter and pumpkin butter.  We spend an hour or two sampling everything and filling our carts with favorites that we will bring home for the rest of football season (or should I say snacking season).  Lunch is the next order of business, as if snacking during shopping were not enough.  And the Brewery Ommegang, with its Belgian cafe, tempts us to stop, not just for the crepes and croques but also the Hennepin and the BPA.  You can not call yourself a beer drinker without visiting this hidden gem of a brewery. (During Christmas, the festivities are not to be missed and the rest of the year is filled with other festivals and concerts.  The brewery is more than beer and a worthwhile roadside destination.)
         To keep the non-beer lovers awake, I drive a little further down the road (with a full belly) to the Rustic Ridge Winery.  It is a fledgling vineyard, getting help from established Finger Lakes wineries.  The original tastings are limited, supplemented by offerings from the partner wineries, but the farm views and setting are quaint and help us reminisce of the days we spent in the area on our own piece of land not too far down the road.  We tried to stop at Butternuts, another farm turned brewery that recently started distributing in the city, but they have limited public hours and the working staff did not show any interest in sharing their time or products with sightseers that visit during the week.   The youngest of our group grows restless with all the adult beverages and silly talk of beautiful scenery and rolling hills.  The smells and tastes of the cafe have long since worn off and even the car snacks we bought at the cider mill have grown uninteresting.  I make a few stops along the ride to find a couple of geocaches for the kids to stretch their legs.  Keeping their GPS beeping keeps the kids smiling and while they watch the GPS for the next stop keeps the miles rolling beneath the truck.
           Beer and wine, crackers and wursts, dips and mixes, leaves and fields, miles and miles is just what I needed.  Time in a tree watching the sky change color, watching the birds flit by, watching the wind change the landscape is what was in order.  My only disappointments are that winter storm Athena did not grace us with fresh powder to cause reason to stoke the fireplace and that time has slipped by and my five days of being unplugged has ended.  For these last five days, I have felt nearly human again.  I have met my family again and realized how much I miss them during the other 50 weeks.  Sometimes it is too easy to get tangled in the web of workplace, petty drama and daily grind and forget the great big playground of the world around us.  Get outside and play, even if just for a couple of days.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Society of Selfishness

   I do not prescribe to the notion that I must be "connected" at all times.  An ongoing struggle at work, for me, is the fact I do not enjoy carrying a cell phone.  Having a constant electronic leash is not appealing.  Most of the calls I receive away from the time clock are not good news or congratulations for a job well done or a message saying that the persons now working can handle their jobs.  No, the calls are usually problems that others refuse to handle or possible shortcomings that need to be brought to light immediately or just an available ear that needs to be shouted in at that exact moment.  Is it an attempt to monopolize a worker's time or is it an unawareness to the fact that for some the universe revolves around things other than themselves (most likely a family not their own)?  Most of the problems that need resolution have originated through the actions of other's that also share the belief of the self-centered universe.  I suppose that there lies the root of the issue; the collision of multiple self-centered universes.
     My recent election to Girl Scout camp cook (and all the responsibilities that go with that title chronicled in an earlier post) serves as a prime example.  I had used a vacation day at work, submitted nearly six months in advance in order to allow for plenty of pre-planning to alleviate problems due to my absence.  A slew of reminders throughout the prior work weeks were publicized and the days leading up to my single day of volunteerism were filled with discussions of shift coverage.  The knowledge of my dedication to volunteerism is widespread, easily not a secret, yet somehow the person assigned to cover my work responsibilities did not get the memo and decided that "illness" would over take him on that exact day without any type of notification prior (including a call during the day) to the start of the shift.  The problem quickly became mine, my electronic leash ringing hatefully, as I cooked for 30 Girl Scouts.  The ill employee could not be reached and there would be no interruption to his sickness or comment on his interest in "covering the job" and the added responsibility for the day.  Two self-centered universes collided, a worker unwilling to shoulder a load and a job searching for the available ear, and the only one found was volunteering for a community group.  (Do not be alarmed, as the "ill" employee made a full recovery by the following Monday without the need for any medical intervention.)
      Perhaps it was my own universe that suffered from this inconvenience but it also seems that my universe was the only one giving back some time to others.  Which brings us to another example of this growing society of selfishness.  My daughter, while moving ahead in her school career, has reached double digits in age and a grade in which the work is harder, the computations more complex, and the classroom more accelerated.  Her class, as a whole, was saddled with the extra assignment of completing several hours of community service.  This was an assignment that she was excited about.  She loves her participation in Scouting, embraces helping her grandmother out at the local senior center, raises her voice for a different senior center every holiday season as she carols for the elderly, carries bags of her outgrown clothes to shelters and homes of those less-fortunate than her, and even adopts a family for Christmas, especially enjoying picking out a few choice things for her adopted counter-part.  Yet her excitement of further community endeavors was short-lived as she was given notice by her teacher that mandatory school-based community service projects were to be suspended because some parents felt that it did not contribute to their child's education and held no real value.  My daughter was confused, "How can community service, helping others, have no value?"  Her teacher has had no answer and her parents fight not to expose her to too much cynicism at once (her father already suffers from an overabundance of it and needs not callous his child unnecessarily).  Several self-centered universes combined to collide with the school's policy and create an atmosphere where a student does not need to give back to his/her community but only take care of themselves (and their perceived college applications, even if they are only 5th graders).  The students are now educated in selfishness and new self-centered universes have been born.  I am happy to see that my situation will be perpetuated by future generations.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Breaking Camp

    I was recently elected to the enviable position of Girl Scout camp cook.  I would take on the responsibility of preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner for nearly 30 Girl Scouts and 6 leaders/chaperones.  It is a great honor and privilege to be included in such an undertaking, crafting meals for picky eaters and the children.  My menu needed to be fast to make and serve, hearty and delicious, with food to spare for wayward parents that would not leave or were too lost for the journey home.  My menu consisted of pancakes for breakfast, followed by grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly (grilled or plain), and hot dogs for lunch, and pasta (with red sauce, with butter, with butter and garlic) with chicken nuggets (plain or parmigiana) for dinner.  Our second breakfast would be Dunkin Donuts fresh from the store bought early before anyone was awake.  I tried to keep the meals simple, quick to fix but flavorful.  It was hard pleasing some adults and some of the kids, but overall, most bellies were satisfied.
      If my job had only ended there, my weekend in the wilds of northwestern NJ would have been a relaxing two days of reading and enjoying the fall foliage.  However, my job description was mysteriously expanded to cover nature trail guide, PR photography, music coordinator, ball field monitor, lakefront advisor, and lost parent/logistics recovery specialist.  Not to say that I found any of these job titles daunting, and they did add to the enjoyment and rapid passing of the hours, but I had to sacrifice some quality time with the fresh, quiet air of the woods accompanied by a book.  The tasks given to me were quickly, happily dispensed with and smiles were the best currency.
     For my incredible work ethic and superior skills in the handling of any situation, I was rewarded the bunk bed of honor.  It was located in a cabin down the road a piece, away from the Scouts, through the dark woods, away from the light of the camp fire, nicely perched atop a squeaky old spring, attached to a rickety wooden bunk, squeezed into a drab room with two other bunks.  It was an oasis, away from the rollicking ten-year-olds that refused to sleep and moms growing ever grumpier from the same lack of sleep.  I was able to envelope myself in silence and enjoy my outdoor literature in the dark outdoors.  I felt like a kid at camp again, reading by headlamp in a bed that cut through the quiet with piercing squeaks with every move.  I tried so hard not to make a sound and wake my room mate across the hall (another volunteer and high school classmate-turned father).
      These two days were crammed full of ropes courses, archery, nature hikes, rock skipping at the lake, campfires and bug juice, dump cakes, tug of wars, and woolly buggers.  The only electronics allowed were GPS units for a little geocaching, a secret a few scouts shared with some other, interested scouts.  The lack of phones and Ipods dismayed some, proving to a small degree the importance we, as adults and a society, place on always being connected, but most of the kids were not effected and returned to being kids, playing, screaming, running around, breathing the outside air.  In the end, the weekend was well worth the planning and hard work.  The smiles were huge and the laughter echoed through the woods.  My job is to nitpick the minuses to improve the next experience but it is also to savor the positives, for they far outweigh the others and are much more memorable.  The kids broke camp, cleaned the floors and packed their bags.  Their parents retrieved them on time (an unforeseen miracle) and the cabin and woods once again were silent.  Hopefully, they are awaiting our return next year. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Oh Sandy (Irene the Redux?)

 "Each home we visited swore to make preparations in the future and to invest in some sort of preparedness and emergency strategy. And, as the thunder rolls and I watch the clouds unfold, I wonder if it was merely talk or a true wake-up call. As the rain slowly peters out, I must dress for work. These thoughts will be revisited, as surely as the waters will yet again rise but for now the story is not newsworthy and will shortly be forgotten."

     It seems like years ago when those words were written.  It can not be only a year ago.  Last time was the storm of a lifetime, never to be seen again.  Last time was an event not seen in 100 years and not to be seen for another 100.  And, yet, the wind pounded the side of my house.  The rain stung like cold little needles flung from the clouds.  The popping transformers seemed real enough.  The rising, rushing water looked real, too.  The wiped out beach towns do not seem real but the news says the pictures are true.  The darkness, I can attest, cloaking the Big City and surrounding suburbs was tangible.  The loss of life and property are truly, presently setting in.  But the whines and cries of the frivolous are loudest.      
       Those that had the ways and the time and the knowledge to prepare but smugly sat by, stating that it will never happen again, or it can not happen to me, those are the loudest cries of outrage at the state, the police, the neighbors for having prepared or having power.  They shiver in a cold home of their own making and wait for help not out of necessity but out of weakness borne of laziness, complacency.  They had the means for preparation, learning from the storm of a year ago and blindly went about their daily life, knowing some one else would care for them and when that care did not come fast enough they howled.
        My heart goes out to those that lost everything.  The brutality of Nature displayed on our TV screens sometimes visits us more intimately.  We can not stop the forces of the Earth that carry us through this life.  And so I feel for those left homeless, without anything.  Yet, for the most part, they are the ones carrying on, picking up the pieces and rebuilding, vowing not to be broken by the events but to grow stronger.  For those that can not care for themselves, that truly need a hand, the elderly, the sick, the very young, we as a community must look out for them, prop them on our shoulders and carry them through.  I will happily share with those in need, sacrifice clothing, donate food, go out of my way, but I cringe at the whines of those able-bodied that are inconvenienced at their own hand.
         To complain of no heat when your neighbors huddle beside a fire made from the remnants of their home, to cry of no power when your neighbor has no clothes but what they currently wear, to shudder at the thought of living without a phone for a few hours while others try to fathom living without a loved one lost to the wind.  The voices heard during this crisis were not the people ravaged by the storm stripped of everything, they were the voices of those that sat comfortably (but cold) inside their homes with cellphones charged ready to complain of their discomfort while doing nothing to fix it.
         The trains will run again, the gas pumps will be full, the electric will once more flow freely through the power lines, and life will return to normal.  And while the strong rebuild, others will once again look for shoulders to carry them through the storm and ears to listen to their tales of woe.

"Each home we visited swore to make preparations in the future and to invest in some sort of preparedness and emergency strategy. And, as the thunder rolls and I watch the clouds unfold, I wonder if it was merely talk or a true wake-up call. As the rain slowly peters out, I must dress for work. These thoughts will be revisited, as surely as the waters will yet again rise but for now the story is not newsworthy and will shortly be forgotten."