Serial Shredder

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The riding lawnmower and I do NOT get along.

Whenever I’m paired with it, something gets broken, knocked loose, bent or shredded. This problematic relationship dates back years ago, to its maiden voyage with me: I mowed over a metal jump cup and bent the blade.

Since then, the casualties have been less costly  — tennis balls, kids’ toys, ornamental plants and a few garden hoses. Still, Martin never asks me to cut the grass.

And he’s mystified by my inability to start the mower, despite several tutorials. I guess he figures that ineptitude hobbles my usage.

(And starting it is one reason why I hate the thing. In my defense, the icons are inane. The choke symbol — two hash marks and a diagonal line? It’s meaningless. Equally baffling is the tortoise and hare symbol for the throttle. I never know which lever should be where, and typically the engine fires but doesn’t catch.)

But on Monday, I had a stroke of luck. Martin was bush-hogging with the tractor, creeping along and stopping frequently to scrape seed heads from the radiator or to clear his lungs of the carbon monoxide, billowing from the broken exhaust.

I felt sorry for him, so I shoved the key into the mower’s ignition, toggled the levers this way and that and — for once — the thing growled to life. Success!

I commenced mowing, tracing the fence line, so Martin could witness my good deed. He was nearly done bush-hogging and soon could chill out.

I made one more pass then took a path around the boxwoods. Almost immediately, the engine shrieked and ground to a stop with a violent shudder. I sat on the silent machine as a plume reeking of burnt rubber rose around me. In the distance, the tractor was still chugging along.

I hiked into the field and flagged Martin down.

“So there I was, minding my own business, cutting the grass when suddenly, the hose by the magnolia tree flung itself in front of the mower!” I said, waving my arms for emphasis.

“Another hose?” he asked before surveying the crime scene. “Jesus, Jo! You got the hammock in there, too?”

It’s true, both yard items teamed up in this brutal attack.

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After that, Martin didn’t say much. He rolled around on the ground, stuck his arm beneath the mower, grumbled a lot and finally freed the blades from the tangle of rubber and rope.

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Promising to be more careful, I took off cutting grass before he could say much else.

I was on high-alert for toys near the jungle gym, and that’s why it took a minute to realize that the mower was rearing up on its hind wheels. Perplexed, I pushed the steering levers forward and the mower really popped a wheelie. So I quickly yanked it backwards and it came down, hitting the ground with a bang.

Somehow, I’d snagged the mowing deck on the two-seater swing on the jungle gym.

I quickly glanced around to make sure that Martin was on the tractor, out of sight.

He was standing right behind me, mouth agape.

What could I do?

I peeled out there, taking refuge behind the boxwoods.

I still hate that damn mower, but at least it moves fast.

To Kill a Mockingbird

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In the summer months, birds chatter and chirp all day long and mostly, it’s pleasant background music. White sound.

I hardly notice our barn swallows twittering as they commune on the telephone line. (Though they kick up a clamor when a crow swoops into the barn or a cat slinks by.)

And I don’t mind the bird-brained cardinal who head-butts the hallway window for hours at a time. (The kids call him “Crazy Bird.”)

They’re all fine. It’s the mockingbird that I despise.

Because he never shuts up.

You might believe that a mockingbird sounds nice — trilling through his repertoire of tunes.

And it’s ok… in small doses. But our bird sounds off nonstop, nearly 24 hours a day. With my sleep issues, I’ll often wake to hear his shrill songs. His choice perches are the trees that flank the house. He’s raucous at sunrise, midday when the sun is high, and all through the night.

It borders on noise pollution and some mornings I can’t stop myself from yelling, “Shut Up!” as I cross the yard. He doesn’t miss a beat.

“He sounds like he’s imitating different car alarms,” Martin said one evening, as the bird blared from our magnolia tree.

Apparently, this behavior — unfettered singing all night and day — is normal for unmated males. Females also sing, but they are quieter and less vocal.

Mockingbirds also are intelligent, territorial species. One study found that they can recognize and remember individual people whom they perceive are a threat. They can identify a face in a crowd. (I sure as hell couldn’t tell two mockingbirds apart.)

As for their vocalizations, one website notes that they can imitate more than 30 bird songs in succession, but they also branch out to copy cats, dogs, frogs, squirrels, squeaky brakes, and yes… car alarms.

Apparently fruit is a dietary stable and in those rare moments when our bird isn’t belting out his greatest hits, he’s stuffing his beak with our black raspberries.

Once a male mockingbird finds a mate, his simmers down a bit. I wish this guy would hook up already.

Or take song requests… maybe, “The Sound of Silence.”

The latest update: I sat on this material for 7 to 10 days before publishing it, and since then, our mockingbird has found a girl. He’s now just another bird around the barnyard, and is most vocal when he perches on the telephone line and scolds the cats as they saunter near his nest. 

Clueless on Vacation

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Last week, with two kids shipped off to sleep-away camp in West Virginia, I realized that we could slip away for a few days… if only we pawned off the remaining kid.

Martin and I did just that, and Wednesday, we hit the road for four days and nights. Our first stop: a resort in southern Virginia, a dozen miles shy of the North Carolina line.

We drove for hours down I-81, then plunged into the remote farmland and wilderness of Carroll and Patrick Counties. Our cell phone signal quickly evaporated and GPS struggled to emit directions. Near our destination, we stopped at a country store which offered local fare: homegrown produce, pickled eggs, salted pork, and Confederate emblazoned lawn ornaments.

We were torn between the Confederate flying pig and the racist rooster. Decisions, decisions.

 

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From there, it was just 5 miles to the resort. Or rather, the resort’s security gate — a sturdy, locked gate manned by a guard. A gate keeping out…who? The locals?

No need for a gate. It was another 7 winding miles to the main lodge. The resort, called Primland, sits atop 12,000 pristine acres. Its challenging and picturesque golf course attracts avid fans of the sport. But we were there for the hiking, the view, and the peace and quiet.

And it was peaceful, Alarmingly so. Rarely did we spot more than a few guests at a time, and all the while, the resort staff circled, magically appearing before we asked. They were so attentive, practically sensing what we needed. I soon wondered if this gated and immaculately maintained property was inhabited by zombies — while we and the reclusive guests were the only humans trapped inside. (Lately, I’ve been binging on episodes of the show, “Wayward Pines,” which fueled these thoughts.)

But enough about the creepy quiet and the friendly, overly attentive staff.

The place was fabulous.

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Here’s our room — located not in the lodge, but in one of the many cottages:

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A room with a view:

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After two days of hiking, eating and relaxing, we loaded up the car on Friday and made our way back up I-81. Next stop, the Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. When we left Primland, the staff mentioned “some flooding” at Greenbrier, but that was it. In a cellular silent area, no flash-flood warnings chimed from our phones, and the radio station focused on the recent death of bluegrass legend, Ralph Stanley.

Only when we neared White Sulphur Springs, was the devastation apparent. We spotted fences flattened or uprooted, then mountain slides, and homes surrounded by murky, watery moats. In several places, the road was nibbled away and as we drew closer, we encountered big bites from the asphalt, with rushing water filling the gaps. I skirted around a “road closed” sign and navigated the flooded route  —  which was really quite stupid. But we were oblivious to the extent of the damage.

What was we found was a town of 2,400 torn apart by flooding. Most of the water had receded but the restaurants and shops were clogged with mud and mountainside run-off. Houses were splintered and unmoored from their foundations, and cars hung from trees. The town was darkened without power and telephone poles were sheared off and dangling from their lines. People walked along the road, dazed and in shock.

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When we arrived at the Greenbrier, the security guard chirped, “Checking in?” as if nothing was amiss. But he admitted that the flooding was bad: the area received 9 1/2 inches of rain, sometimes falling at a rate of 2 inches an hour. We pulled up to the dark, hallowed shell of the resort and confirmed that we weren’t checking in. The receptionist was relieved; they were staying open for a night for those unable to travel, but the hotel rooms had no power, the restaurants provided no food, and the casino and golf course were water-logged. We pressed on to Lexington, Virginia and stayed a night there before arriving home.

Here’s the Greenbrier golf course a day before we arrived:

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On that Friday afternoon when we arrived in White Sulphur Springs and took it all in, we were hit with a feeling of alarm. Hadley and Cayden’s camp was just 60 miles away. With cell phone service restored, Martin quickly called the camp. All was well, the staff told us. They received lots of rain, but dodged the storm’s epicenter. And the sun was back out. The kids were unaware of the damage and destruction just one county away.

Blissfully unaware. As kids at camp should be.

 

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