A Tree in the Wind (Originally posted on Wilderness Wherever, May 11, 2013)

A tree’s life is about balance.

 

Its soil needs moisture but too much can make it fall. It needs the wind to carry its seeds with the hope that they will prosper. If the wind is too strong a tree may break. What a tree needs most is to be left alone by man.

 

Imagine if every seed were allowed to grow. Oaks would flourish if acorns, which the squirrel dutifully buries, were not mowed over twice weekly.  If pine cones were not gathered for bird houses or craft projects they may just do their job. If the disturbance and piling of earth did not create erosion, the soil would not be ripped from under a tree by a simple downpour. We stand in the way of nature. Yet, we are of nature.

 

The wind holds and protects the tree. They dance at night while the cardinals and the squirrels sleep. Leaves flutter, bark bends, and the sinews which hold trunk to earth allow slight movements creating a rhythm unlike any other.

 

A tree may fall by the hand of the wind. When the soil below it can no longer bear its weight. When it reaches an age where it no longer bears seed to carry. When its leaves are a memory and its center is splintered, the wind will come and be a friend–in the end.

 

The same friend which danced with the tree in the night will lay it to rest. May at least one seed have flown, from the branches of an elderly oak to a soil fit for the growth of its legacy. May man leave it alone.

Coffee Shop (Originially posted in Wilderness Wherever, May 5, 2013)

I often hear a bird before I see it. It may be a song, a call, or a desperate attempt at mating. Whatever the motivation behind the sound the result is the grasp of my attention.

The day is beautiful, mild, and extremely sunny. The automobiles are out in droves. The dallying of bodies to and from on-goings is well underway. The human species is progressing in the afternoon of a May day.

Above, below, and in every other direction, the bird species endures. From my aluminum chair, I can identify about a half-dozen types. From turkey buzzards to oven birds they are all on a mission. Some have nests. I see males and females taking turns watching their nest while the other forages for bugs, worms, anything edible for their hatchlings.  The buzzards soar above, too high to cast shadows on the asphalt below but low enough to bring chills down the spine of anything close to the end. Still, others do not have a reason to nest–yet. A beautiful male cardinal calls from a limb nearby. She hears but does not concede to him. She requires more effort than a song.

As they soar over Fords and Hondas, the birds seem oblivious to the lack of wilderness around them. They have adapted. They pay attention to basic survival skills; stay clear of larger objects, work hard to provide for your kind, and stay true to your instincts. Humans progress. Birds endure.

A New Beginning (Original Post from Wilderness Wherever, May 5, 2013)

Last night a thought came to me. It soon grew into an idea.

I am a wilderness seeker. I need the mountains. I need the trees. I need the birds as much as I need air. However, I live thirty minutes from everywhere I need or want to be. I spend more time in my car heading to work, school, or dinner than I get to spend reading, walking, or taking photos of birds or dogwood blooms. I live in Northeast Georgia in a small town called Pendergrass. I work in Buford, which is just north of Atlanta, and spend a good bit of my time in Athens. Wherever I am I look up, down, and around for remnants of nature. I prefer the native unimpaired type, but I will take an invasive tree over none any day. As I commute, the words of Edward Abbey and Aldo Leopold swirl in my head weaving an understanding of the wilderness that was and a longing for what survives. What I find in the cities and through my car’s window is evidence. Evidently, if you look up, down, and around wherever you are, wilderness exists. Although I long for the Smoky Mountains each day I wake, I do not wait until I can be there to appreciate the forest community. The birds who nest in the gutter of a coffee house are just as brave and beautiful, or maybe more so than those in an Appalachian oak.

We all have a dependence upon nature whether we admit it or not. Most of us are not in touch with our emotional attachment to it. In a city, nature has lost the battle. Concrete far outnumbers grass. Signs are much more numerous than trees. It takes an effort to find the wilderness in such a place, but it is there. When you find it, you will enjoy it. When you enjoy it, you may realize how rare it is. Then you may want to protect it.

Changes

I suppose everybody lives several lives. For me, I change on a semi-annual basis. The cycle began when I was a boy. Since then I’ve wanted to be many things. After watching Michael Jackson perform, I wanted to be a singer. I watched Hee-Haw every night whilst playing my Little Tykes drum kit, dreaming of my moment on stage. I read Poe and wanted to write stories. I saw Keiko the whale’s miraculous leap over the rocks in Free Willy and immediately wanted to be a marine biologist. In high school, I realized that all types of biology required talent at science and math that I did not have. I hated the subjects then, but I so wanted to pet whales for a living. From there, I moved on to teaching.

I still want to teach. But the current employers of teachers have lost their cotton-pickin’ minds. I no longer see myself as a professor at a university. I mean, I can see myself in front of a class teaching history, along with how to be a decent human being. But the thought of working as a faculty member at a university under the current conditions are terrifying. I want stability and a healthy portion of autonomy. Those two former facets of higher education dwindle by the minute. Public schools are better, but not by much.

So here I am, thirty-four, a master’s degree in-hand, a lifetime of experiences in management, customer service, and history. I can write a hell of a lot better than I could ten years ago and my research skills are primed. I have dreams and ambitions, but, currently, no place to go. I teeter between the want of any job that will pay me well and give me benefits while also treating me like a human and wanting some job that requires the education I worked so hard for. In the process, I stress out way too much. I am no different than a couple million others these days. That, after all, is the worst part about it. Whatever I want to be is also what they want. For every good job with great benefits and purposeful work, there are hundreds of applicants itching for the chance to prove their worth.

It took me a while, but I did the thing. I graduated cum laude from the University of Georgia. I had a 4.0 in grad school and would have graduated with honors if I wanted to pay for the pleasure, which I did not. I earned the grades, why do I have to pay for the right to say I am “in the club.” With all this said, however, I do not want to complain. This is more of a run-down, a summary of the last two years. In those two years, I neglected this blog and all other passion-based pursuits I once had. I sold my heart to academia and all I got was a t-shirt and a piece of paper. I knew that going in, really. But I wanted to do it anyway, mostly because I never thought I could.

Things change and so have I. It’s a new year and a new beginning. This one, like all the others, is scary as hell. Still, there’s an element of excitement, akin to what base jumpers must feel just before their feet leave the earth. I’d know for sure if I weren’t such a chicken shit.

A part of this new beginning deals with this blog and writing in general. I love working with words. It’s a vestige of my education and the hard work put into hundreds of boring pages over the years. Better yet, I should say the work itself was exciting. The product? Not so much. I have maintained several blogs throughout my life. I compartmentalized them by subject. I only posted blurbs about my work in history here. In another, Wilderness Wherever, I made an attempt at nature writing. Still, in the Compulsive Chronicler, I tried to be broader and more personal. The irony of that one is that I wrote a whopping total of two posts three years ago, which begs the question of how “compulsive” I really think I am.

The truth is I am not that great at sticking with blogs. I write for about two months then assume that I am a hack and stop. I really don’t think I am very different from others in that respect. Along the way, I’ve had to figure out what I am. As in, am I a writer? Or, do I just like to write? There is a difference, I promise you.

I am a writer whether you like it or not. It’s time to start acting like it.

To consolidate my blogs into one site, I will post a series of articles originally written elsewhere. I am now more whole than ever before. Whatever voice I maintain in this ether should represent my self completely. Enjoy and be well.

Heroes

“If everybody was satisfied with himself, there would be no heroes.” – Mark Twain

The more I learn, the more I know history is a funny line of work.

Modern historians rarely grasp the ambition or ability to rise to the prominence of their subjects. Their archives are scant sought. The effect is humans writing about others whose lives are more “important,” more “prominent,” or, simply, more public.

It is human to develop envy, jealousy, or, more dangerously, admiration for a subject. Villains and heroes do not exist in life. Or at least, not like in fairy tales.

In this way, I envy novelists. I have no choice in the matter. I cannot, with good conscience, or hope to keep academic integrity, fictionalize a historical subject. I am bound to evidence, which even in the best or abundant situations is only what was intentionally left behind. “Why are there hundreds of books about Abraham Lincoln but none about his maid?” Because his maid did not see herself as important enough to journal, archive letters, or make public statements.

Often the subjects of history are a personal hero of the author or of a significant amount of the readership. Once passed, historical figures join a pantheon of humanity. They lose their wholeness and become myth. Once immortal, they lose complexity. They lose humanity.

 

 

Knights of Ellijay

Capitol Building, Atlanta

Wednesday, April 23, 2014–

Chivalry is alive.

Yes, that knightly code from the days of Charlemagne France, Medieval times (not the fun-filled dining experience of middle-class Americans), and the pedestalization of Southern women by Southern men who once had no heritage to cling to other than an imaginary noble lineage.

Knights and Ladies, we are. In the spirit of the false King Arthur, we hold this code and protect the weak. The Chilvaric Code, to espouse the virtues of knights and their obligation to defend the honor of the women, children, and elders who had no discernible rights aside from those owned by the men in their lives.

Inherent in the code is the right to defend ourselves and those weaker. The right to bear arms. The right to shoot dead any one who threatens what is held dear.

The right to die  for another man’s possessions is alive and well in Georgia.

A new law of the land was read today.

Firearms are now allowed in bars unless the establishment opts out. Guns are now allowed on public school property unless prohibited by local leadership. They are also allowed on church grounds unless opposed by church leadership. And, as of July 1, 2014, gun permit holders no longer have to submit finger prints for renewal. The State of Georgia is out of the gun regulation business.

An’ throughout the halls of this great nation heads were scratched, praise belted out to the skies, and victims of gun violence shuttered.

I am ashamed of my state today. I know, I know.

We, as Americans, have the right to bear arms!

Yes, by God, we do. During those early, distrustful, near-disastrous days of our founding we only had a militia. There was no standing army. No navy, marines, or air force. We had not yet reached the need for a coast guard, homeland security, or any national defense we now have in our collective possession.

And we should never forget how unreliable that militia was. We may never know how many deserted Washington when he needed them most. We only remember the heroes who stayed and rose into the halls of fame despite a lack of training, pay, proper attire, food, or lodging. The reason an army exists is because a militia was inadequate.

Our right to bear arms in the 1790’s meant the difference between life and death in a relatively lawless land. The right to oppose the inevitable attack from our former motherland. And, lest we forget, the right to defend ourselves from our country, should it succumb to tyranny so near its revolution. Wounds were fresh.

We have the right to kill deer, hogs, and other vermin to provide unnecessary but responsible food for our families.  We have the right to shoot paper targets of our President.

Must we have the right to bear arms whilst we drink our poison, pray for forgiveness, or educate our children?

With a rise in violent attacks in public spaces, why not arm ourselves to protect our families in public?

No nation is spared from terror. No country is immune to disaster. In fact, the more complex our society becomes the greater chance for dissent. We will always have enemies from within and out. Whether we like it or not, horrible things will happen. Good people commit atrocities.

Our country does not have a gun control problem, it has a mental health problem. We create the “monsters” but take no blame for their crimes. In fact, we choose to enact new policies to create a false sense of comfort. Georgia’s new “gun’s everywhere” law is that type of policy.

The arrogance of our state does not lie in our willingness to expand gun allowances, it is in our exceptionalism. We believe ourselves to be too good for bad things to happen. We believe we can prevent Sandy Hook, the Boston bombings, both Fort Hood shootings, Columbine…

We are wrong, unfortunately. We unfairly look to politicians for comfort, answers, and justice. Our political system is too broken to expect so much. As long as it is socially acceptable for our mentally ill to be homeless and our greedy to be powerful, we are asking for dissent. Dissent comes in many forms. I choose words. Adam Lanza chose bullets.

Parents, teachers, friends, and family are the salve against these crimes. We may not be able to prevent disaster, but we can heal. Sandy Hook, Columbine, and other communities are trying to heal. It is the human thing to do. Yet healing is not as sensational as the acts of those broken few who took the lives of so many. It does not warrant press. Old wounds stay open when scabs are incessantly scraped away. People are afraid and want to know they have no reason to fear, even if it is a lie.

Then why, when there are more complex and expensive problems facing our nation and state, is the expansion of gun legislation important enough to execute tax dollars, time, and effort in a packed legislative session?

Money is too obvious. Power, as it relates to money, is more elusive.

The NRA was, as expected, involved in heavy lobbying for this legislation. Also, Georgia Carry, a non-profit organization committed to expanding second amendment strength in Georgia, used the weight and wealth of its paying members to lobby for the bill. Spokesman Jerry Henry, according to Fox News, does not expect an increase in gun sales. Still, many of the organization’s corporate sponsors will now benefit from a decrease in state oversight in firearm sales.

The bill has little directly to do with money. It has everything to do with the strengthening of the ideal of the “right to bear arms” in a time of uncertainty for the firearm industry.  

The NRA and smaller lobby groups, such as Georgia Carry, responded to Sandy Hook with vehement defense of their product. Their campaign worked. In the days immediately following the crimes of Adam Lanza, ammunition could not be kept on the shelves. Firearm sales spiked. Production could not keep up. The powerful increased prominence. Georgia’s firearm manufacturing plants, like Glock, remained in operation. Jobs. Money. Power. Fear. Legislation. All tools of the trade.

On the other side, the bill was opposed by Georgia’s law enforcement, county commissioners, municipal leaders, and the TSA. They feel it makes Georgia unsafe. They do not believe more guns in more places is the answer to our social problems. They fear that having guns in Hartfield-Jackson, one of the busiest airports in the world, is a bad idea.

I happen to agree, not because I am a liberal or an anti-gun man, but because I am one of 95% of Georgians who do not carry a gun and I fear that this bill is a step in the wrong direction–backwards.

Pretend is fun. We can act like we don’t have a government committed to our protection because of the scary times in which we live or our hatred for Obama. We talk of impending revolution as if tyranny has a face and only lives outside of our state. Fear is a more powerful adversary than any government.

Only, the fear we currently subscribe to was not dictated by our elected leaders, it was purported by the companies and action groups who benefit directly from gun legislation and the news agencies rabidly devouring our nation’s integrity for the sake of sensational headlines despite truth, humanity, and historically accurate American values. Those who were sworn to protect us, our law enforcement officers, and community leadership, who have nothing to gain from gun lobbyists, were opposed. This law heavily affects those who were not heeded for the political and profitable benefit of others.

We can feel more capable with steel in our hands. We can lie to ourselves. “This will make us safe. This will prevent disaster. God and gun will protect the righteous.” No matter how much I want to, I cannot believe. Too much has happened to disprove the notion to ignore.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe this bill will change much of our daily lives. If a person wants to buy a gun and shoot a bunch of drunks in a bar, they will. Very few of the weapons used in mass shootings were legally purchased. No, my anger is directed at the blatant display of Good Ol’ Boy politics in this fair state. This law is a ghost of the past and a harbinger of the future.

Today’s signing accompanied a North Georgia creek, the National Anthem, and a prayer. The man who put pen to paper touted nearly two decades of allegiance to the NRA. He was backed by all Republicans in Georgia’s legislature, and a few Democrats, including gubernatorial hopeful Jason Carter. They are my representatives, but they do not represent me.

That creek flowed, although more pure, through antebellum mountains and Cherokee lands rich with gold destined to be the cause of murder and the expansion of this great state. That anthem was written as we defended ourselves against British invasion at Baltimore. God above saw it all and said it was good, I guess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Athens, Hello Somewhere Else?

Rejection. No matter what people say, no matter the compliments, the WTF’s, the tears, outrage, and sorrow, not getting accepted to my first-choice graduate program felt like rejection. I found out late last week that U.G.A. declined my application–a throat punch. My wife and I love Athens more than we can love another place. The place, however, is nothing to cry over. The thought of leaving the people we love is devastating.

Going in to the application process I was aware of the reasons U.G.A. could reject me. They were all departmental, circumstantial, and political. The issues with modern academia were working against me. However, my grades, test scores, extracurricular activities, and talent far exceed the smallest requirements for admission. For two years I aimed for acceptance to this program. I had close relationships with several faculty members, all of which supported and went “to bat” for me. I knew the minimum GRE requirement by heart. I managed my grades to their standards. By the end, I was a product of their department. Yet, I am not a “fit” for their department.

Anger never crossed my mind before writing this post. I am human, after all. Reasons aside, instead of looking forward to a few more years in the best city I know with the best people I know, I have to research moving somewhere less-awesome where I can only hope my wife will be happy as I while grad school devours our time and patience. It is unfair. C’est la vie.

There are many positives. Academically, the other schools I am applying to are better “fits” for me and the work I want to do. This could be the beginning of a great adventure. Twenty years from now, my wife and I will look back and be grateful for our journey. Oh, the people we’ll meet! Oh, the things we’ll see! Oh, the newness of it all!

For now, I am just too bitter to be excited, too angry to feel positive. With each friend I have to tell the news to, a bit of sour milk seeps into my veins and poisons the potential for positivism.

See, I was a great planner. I had 5 yr, 10 yr, and 20 yr plans. When I would be married, when I would have kids… As I grew older, and fewer of those plans came to fruition, I began to believe I was a loser. I lost control. Control was all that mattered.

Now, I know the error of my ways. I live more in the “now” than ever, because tomorrow is not promised. (Insert all other clichés related to the above).

A committee of historians decided that my present life must end. It won’t be the last time. I am too aware of the circumstances surrounding a career in academia to have any hope otherwise. But that doesn’t make it hurt less. In fact, it hurts much more than if I were unqualified. Then, at least, I’d have some say.