The Last Half Century

Grabbing Fear by the Tail

It’s pretty simple. I don’t like snakes. Some people have a fear of heights. I have a fear of snakes. I’m not exactly sure where this fear originated because I grew up in a colder climate where small garter snakes were the only ones I saw on our farm. I have a hunch it started when my dad bought some property in southern Tennessee.

My dad was a Navy veteran and he loved boating. The land he bought was on a river and he had this idea he would open a marina when he retired. I think I was 13 years old when my dad first took me to visit the property. “Watch for snakes,” my dad told me as we walked through tall grass near the river. “They have rattlers down here,” he added. My eyes instantly grew big as I recalled a picture I saw in the local paper with someone holding a large, eight-foot snake they caught in their garage. “That was no garter snake,” I told myself. My senses were on high alert.

The next day we visited the neighbors who had a house next to my dad’s land. I vividly recall sitting in their living room sipping ice tea as this older man in his 60s began to tell us tales of all his snake encounters. “I shot a big old copper head back in the barn there,” he said between sips of tea as he nodded his head toward the barn behind his house. “It was at least six feet long.” I wondered if the snake grew longer with each telling of the story. That trip made an impression on me.

Fortunately I married a nature lover who is not scared of snakes or most any critter. She rescued me many times after hearing my screams when I uncovered a snake in my garden or in the yard. “It’s just a garter snake,” she would politely smile and reassure me as she picked it up. “Yeah, but it’s still a snake,” I would remind her. Picking up a snake may have seemed like no big deal to her, but to me it’s a pretty heroic act. Pretty gutsy.

Just writing about my fear of snakes is making the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It brings back memories of other snake encounters in the last half century of my life — like the large coiled one I almost stepped on when I was helping portage a canoe over a pile of rocks. Okay, that’s enough of that memory.

More recently I have been working on overcoming my fear of snakes. Last time I visited a zoo I actually walked inside the reptile house. I went up to the glass and forced myself to look at a big snake coiled up under a heat lamp. I looked it straight in the eyes and told myself, “You don’t scare me.” I’m not quite at the point where I would actually pick up a snake by the tail — I’m not sure I’ll ever get there — but I’m making progress. Sometimes you just need to face your fears head on and go from there.

Memories · The Next Half Century

Be Careful!

Last week I went on a simple solo hike through the woods to the lake. It was a beautiful, warm summer day with a clear blue sky — the perfect day to commune with nature and be alone with my thoughts. It ended with yet one more accident to add to the list of reasons why my wife worries about me when I take a hike or start a project around the house. It’s just one more injury on a long list of accidents I’ve logged in my more than half century of living.

My trouble began last week when I finished a short 1 1/2 mile hike through the woods. I started to descend a short hill to the beach and the lake. About half way down I felt my feet slip out from under me and a second later I toppled forward into the sand. It would’ve been a soft landing except on the way down a small tree stump caught my right leg and hit hard against my shin. I stood up on the beach, spit the sand out of my mouth and did the first thing any hiker would do — check to make sure no one saw my clumsy move. They didn’t.

Back at home, my wife gasped when I finally showed her my leg. I assured her the swelling was down considerably since I first incurred the injury. It still looked bad enough to appear broken. A quick trip to the emergency room verified it was not broken, but did confirm my leg was infected. I also learned a memory trick to care for my injured leg — R.I.C.E. rest, ice… elevate. I can’t remember what “C” stands for — even memory tricks can’t help my aging brain.

As I rested, iced… and elevated my leg, I remembered some of the more epic injuries in my life — even though I can’t remember the word for “C”. There was the time when I was five that I was hit by a car. I vividly remember being under the car and the huge bruise on my elbow. The fact I don’t remember seeing the car before it hit me tells you I didn’t look both ways before crossing the street to the playground. Fortunately for me it was in a neighborhood and the car was going slow.

When I was six years old, I jumped off a fence into some tall weeds and found a large spike sticking out of a board. It pierced the calf of my leg and required a trip to the emergency room where my wound was promptly stitched up. It also traumatized my sister who asked why I was being such a crybaby when I ran to the house. One look at my bleeding leg oozing skin tissue promptly answered her question.

Then there was the time, when I was around seven years old, I ran into the kitchen full speed and hit the open refrigerator door head on. The old steel door knocked me out cold. I woke up laying flat on my back on the lawn in our backyard. I recall the look of relief on the faces of my siblings and mom as I looked up at them from the ground.

In fourth grade I was walking to get my coat at the end of the school day and I hit my hand on a sharp corner on a table in the back of the classroom. The resulting cut just below my middle finger was deep enough so I could see my knuckle bone. My teacher almost fainted when I showed her the wound. “Go to the office!” She gasped as she held her mouth. I was taken to our family doctor who stitched up the wound. I am right-handed so for a couple weeks I struggled to complete school work with my left hand. I think because my teacher saw my wound, she pitied me and didn’t make me do all the assignments. My classmates were jealous and I slightly embarrassed by the special treatment — but not enough to enjoy less schoolwork.

Years later I found myself in the emergency room again after I opened the radiator cap on the engine in our car. I had let the car cool down, but was surprised by some pressure on the cap. Coolant sprayed on my face. I quickly ran to our bathroom and jumped in the shower fully clothed to rinse my eyes. When my wife heard the shower, she knew it wasn’t good. She took me to the hospital along with our two year-old daughter. The doctor placed a contact lens type thing in my eyes with a small tube attached and proceeded to irrigate my eyes. My daughter stared at me in amazement as water streamed out of my eyes. “Daddy cry,” she said.

There are many more incidents I could share with you, but you’ve already been generous with your time reading this far. Through it all I am thankful none of them was serious enough to be life-changing. I count my blessings. I’m not exactly proud of my long list of injuries, but it does come in handy as a great conversation starter. For some reason when you talk about your injuries it prompts others to chime in with the gory details about their epic injuries. Which reminds me, I just remembered what that “C”* stands for: “Careful” as in “Be Careful!” I think I wrote that on my forehead, but I can’t see it.

* R.I.C.E. stands for: rest, ice, compression, elevation.

Part of the scenic hike I took last week.
Technology · The Last Half Century · The Next Half Century

Future Self Meets Past Self

I was thinking the other day about what it would be like if my future self visited me when I was in my twenties back in the 1980s. I imagined a conversation something like this:

“Hey, I’m your future self from the year 2020.”

“Whoa, dude! What’s up?” (Apologies to Bill and Ted and their “Excellent Adventure.”)

“Do you want to know how your life turns out?”

“Not really. That’s too scary. How about you tell me something else.”

“Okay. In the future we have smart phones.”

What are you talking about? How can a phone get smart?” My 1980s clueless, land line phone self asks.

“It’s a touchscreen phone that lets you use apps, take pictures, text and surf the Internet.”

“You can surf with your phone in the future? Wow, that must be a pretty big phone.”

“No. You surf the Internet with it.”

“What’s the Internet?”

“Well it’s this global network that let’s you connect with other people around the world.”

“Oh, like making a phone call?”

“Well, you can still do that, but you can also use social media.”

“Social media? In the future the government takes over the media?”

“No, it’s nothing like that. You use online platforms like Facebook to communicate.”

“Facebook? Why would you use a book instead of a phone to talk to people?”

“No, its online social media.”

“The future sounds very strange,” my 1980s self remarks.

“Maybe it’s better if I just leave and wait for you to catch up with me in a few decades. It might be easier to learn this stuff as you go.”

“Yeah, it sounds very complicated. Maybe the world will all make more sense in a few decades.”

“Well…” my future self hesitates.

“Well what?” My past self says with concern.

“Yeah sure, everything will make a lot more sense in a few decades,” my future self responds with a fake smile.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” my 1980s self says. “Things are pretty confusing now. I’m still trying to figure out how to record TV shows with my VCR.”

“Good luck with that,” my future self remarks before he leaves. “See you later, much later.”

“Later dude!” My past self replies as he plays an air guitar.

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No More Righters Needed

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