All posts by Falme'

Heroes

     When they woke up this fateful morning they were just a bunch of soldiers about to go on a routine patrol. The same thing they did yesterday and the day before and almost everyday for months. The expectation of something happening had faded away long ago. They were not complacent in any way, after all, it was Afghanistan and they were at war but none of them had fired a shot or seen any action in a long while. This was a good thing. So they dutifully patrolled day in and day out enduring the desert heat, the dust, and the parched air. Although they keep keen eyes surveying the land as they rode along in the armored HMMWV (Humvee) their thoughts were of home and family and getting back to them when their deployment was over, which was very soon.

     The Humvee left a thick trail of dust as it sped along on the barren sandy road that led away from base camp. The sound of the well tuned engine was accompanied by all terrain tires digging into the layer of desert sand that lay atop the dirt road. Suddenly, there was no sound at all. The horizon rolled down and to the left then disappeared in a cloud of dust and debris. Images of loved ones from back home were vivid in their mind’s eyes. The soldiers were assaulted by loose gear bouncing around in the vehicle. The sound of nothing had quickly change to intense ringing. Ringing so loud that they could not hear anything else. An Improvised Explosive Device had detonated beneath the vehicle as they passed over it. Instinctively, each man ran through a bodily inventory in their head checking for damage. Only minor bumps, bruises, and superficial cuts. They struggled to dig out from beneath the gear. The vehicle lay on its side and both front and rear windows were still intact so they had to climb up and out of the driver side windows, which fortunately were rolled down, because the doors were crumpled and jammed shut.

     The men quickly armed themselves and secured the area the best they could while one of them radioed for help. No insurgents seemed to be in the area. Reinforcements on the way. The tension was still high and would remain so until help arrived from base. Looking at the toppled vehicle that could have easily been their tomb, the men were reassured that they were part of the greatest army the world had ever seen. The under armor was severely dented. Metal was twisted and torn. The front wheels pointed in opposite directions and fluids leaked from everywhere. A Humvee died so that men could live.

     These brave troops will not die on foreign soil the victims of terrorists who plant bombs on the side of roads in the dark of night. They will be reunited with their loved ones. Some of them will return to battle time and time again answering the call of duty to protect and serve their country. They are American Heroes!

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The Night Sky

You haven’t seen a real night sky until you’ve seen one high up in the mountains, beyond the city lights, beyond any communities, and well out of cell phone range. For someone like myself who has lived in the city all their life the night sky isn’t all that impressive unless there’s a prominent meteor shower or a comet or an unusually bright or colorful moon that night. Living in California’s Sacramento valley, which is around sea level, means we live in a smoggy dust bowl that wreaks havoc on the respiratory system as well as having the wonders of the night sky be obscured from sight.Night_Sky

Every year I looked forward to our summer rafting trips to the Sierra Nevada Mountains where we would camp out in tents under the stars. My first time there was the most memorable. I was fourteen and had no idea how wondrous nature was. I didn’t know that air could have a pleasant smell without some sort of artificial aerosol spray. Trees and flowers and shrubs are nature’s air fresheners and they do an awesome job. My lungs felt as if they had been wiped clean after a lifetime of breathing air that I could see when looking down into the valley from the mountain. I was especially awe stricken when the sun started to slip beneath the horizon and the stars gradually began to flicker in the night sky. At first it was no big deal with only a few of the brightest stars showing themselves. But as the sun finally left the scene the full glory of the cosmos was revealed to me for the first time in my life. I never imagined that there were so many stars out there. My whole life was a deception. The valley smog and dust and city lights had been a huge blind fold, but here I could see.

The Big Dipper was about the only constellation that I knew by name at the time and there it was, big and awesome. There were more stars than anyone could possibly count. It was then that I realized how vast the cosmos really was and how insignificant our tiny little world is in the big picture. I don’t think I slept a wink that night. I just laid in my tent with the top cover open, mosquito net in place, and went on a journey I had never been on before. Small specks of dust burning in the atmosphere, more commonly known as meteor showers, lasted only a few seconds but seemed to come at least every hour. Before then I had only seen them on TV. There were so many stars that, even without the moon and no man made lighting, I could see everything around me.

Although on a rafting trip, and don’t get me wrong the trip down the river crashing through rapids was great, but the awesome view of the Milky Way is what left the biggest impression on me. So much so that for the longest time I resented the city lights and the dusty air of the valley. It’s been years since I’ve seen the night sky in all its splendor and I can’t wait to see it again. If you’re from a big city and THINK you know what a real night sky looks like then I encourage you to get away, far out into the wilderness, if only for one night and see the night sky again for the first time just the way the ancients did.

All Hallows’ Eve

Every October, 31st as the sun sets for the night the streets gradually fill with little ghosts, goblins, zombies, and demons. They roam the neighborhoods visiting house after house armed with bags, buckets, and my favorite, pillow cases. They ring the doorbell and chant, “Trick or treat” in unison to demand that the occupant bestow them with candy or be the victim of a dastardly prank. The houses are adorned with cobwebs and candles. Jack-o-lanterns, perched on the porch with flickering eyes and glowing grins, light the way. Creepy carcsses rise from the dead. Grave stones and gremlins litter the lawn while witches watch from the trees.Halloween house

When I was a kid Halloween was right up there between Christmas and the 4th of July. In the weeks prior to this most evil night, my friends and I would boast about who would bring in the biggest booty, the largest loot, or in other words, more candy than you. Candy collection was a fierce competition, not only for the most candy but for the choicest pieces. Chocolate was of higher value than a box of raisins or an apple. A whole pack of just about anything was better than a single piece of something. Full size beats bite size. And anything edible always trumps a toy. But the ultimate goal, no matter what the treasure, was to fill your bag, bucket, or pillow case to the brim. Often we would double back to the houses with the most generous givers hoping not to be recognized as being a repeat customer.

Preparation for this wicked night was always filled with anguish: What costume would I where this year? (For me the home made costumes were more realistic looking than store bought ones.) What route would yield the most candy the fastest? What group of friends would I travel with? And how do you know when it’s dark enough to begin your quest? Is it OK to start just before the sun goes down or do you simply wait until you see other vampires and mummies on the move? A carefully planned route would ensure that you get the best candy before it’s gone. (There are a lot of other spooks and specters out there after your candy.)

In recent years I’ve noticed a radical costume trend shift. What happened to the crepe paper mummies and the oversized thrift store suits that made for an excellent Frankenstein’s monster, with the addition of a little of Mom’s makeup? In fact, it’s difficult to find a Halloween ghoul at all let alone a self-made one. The trend today has moved away from the freakily frightening and more toward the cute and cuddly. Vampires, witches, and werewolves are being overrun by ladybugs, pixies, and puppy dogs. Some of the older kids don’t even bother dressing up anymore. The threat of “trick” instead of “treat” is almost nonexistent. Doorbells ring, candy is deposited in small pumpkin shaped buckets, and the princesses and pixies calmly move to the next house. Fewer and fewer homes are decorated to their maximum potential which makes for a dull night of haunting when it used to be so much fun. The good old days are all but gone.

Halloween will live on, though. Whether it’s demons or Dora that lurks in the night they will always get their fill of candy and treats on this non-official holiday just for kids.

Rainy Days

When I was a child a rainy school day was something to be dreaded. I hated donning rubber galoshes over my shoes and a bright yellow rain coat and coveralls for the wet trek to school. My mother would bundle me up so tightly that it’s a wonder I don’t have PTSD from it today. Once I waddled off to school and made it safely into the classroom it seemed to take ten whole minutes to strip out of multiple layers of winter protective wear. Having to stay inside the classroom for recess and lunch break was like an unjust prison sentence, though the teacher tried her best to occupy us with indoor games but what we really wanted was to go out and play, rain or no. Then, at the end of the day, donning the gear once more for the soggy trip back home was equally unpleasant. Cold, wet, and gloomy was the outlook for the day from the moment my eyes opened. No going outside to play at the park. No bike riding with friends around the neighborhood. Definitely no playing in the wet grass with all those fallen autumn leaves. Nothing to do except stare out the window at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny.

The early teen years were a little better for the wet weather. By then I was not interested in playing or riding bikes with friends. And who wants to play in a bunch of wet leaves anyway? It was still a bit of a drag when it came to getting around while it was raining with my only real means of transportation being my bicycle or the public transit system. Waiting for a bus that isn’t due to arrive for another thirty minutes, because I just missed the one I was trying to catch, while being pelted by rather large rain drops driven by the wind would make me wish for that rain coat and coveralls, nothing on earth could get me in another pair of galoshes. On the other hand, riding a bike through the wind driven rain presented its own problems; usually because I would almost always be riding into the wind. And have you ever been splashed by a passing car driving through what seems like the only large puddle on that particular stretch of road at the exact moment you happen to there too? But the rain didn’t hamper most activities as a teen. I could still go over to a friend’s house or to the mall if I just had to get out of the house even if it meant getting a little wet. If it happened to be storming, though, I’d probably be left sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny.

When I turned sixteen years old I had my own car and the rain meant nothing to me. Nothing until I realized that most of my friends didn’t have cars and depended more than usual on me to get wherever we were going when it was raining. At least back then gas was cheap! We would pile into my 1976 Datsun and brave anything that Mother Nature could muster up. Whoever was in the front passenger seat would dutifully wipe the inside of the windshield with a rag to keep it clear because the defroster didn’t work (hey, the car was free and twice handed down). The days of sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and wishing that tomorrow would be dry and sunny were over!

As an adult I find myself actually looking forward to rainy days (as long as they come in moderation). Staring at droplets of water falling into puddles is somehow peaceful. The sound of a hard steady rain assaulting the roof top and a fire crackling away in the fireplace sets the stage for a very relaxing evening. I even enjoy the thunder and lightning as it rattles the walls and windows of my house. Sometimes if it’s just a light drizzle I might take a walk in the crisp cleansing drizzly air. The smell of both the coming rain, and just after it has stopped invokes memories of childhood when I used to sit at that window staring at droplets of water falling into puddle and wishing that the next day would be dry and sunny. The memories are far from unpleasant. They send me back to a time of innocents. My options may have been limited on rainy days as a child but then so were my responsibilities. Yes, I still had to go to school in the rain but as an adult, working in the heavy construction industry, mainly concrete, I have to work in it. People think that construction shuts down in the rain. Not so! I’ve been soaked to my skivvies, cold, nose runny, and fingers numb trying to finish a concrete form for the next day’s pour. How I wished to be warm and dry just watching the rain fall through that window instead of having to toil in it.

Rainy days are essential for all of us to survive. We may not like to get wet when we have to go out in it but we appreciate what it brings us; life. It makes our trees grows tall. It cleans the air and washes the summer’s grit and grime from our streets. When the rain stops falling and the sun finally peeks through the gray clouds it leaves us with brilliant colors arced across the sky. Colors that have inspired myths and legends and are chased by children in vain. So next time you find yourself with nothing to do on a rainy day try sitting at the window staring at droplets of water falling into puddles and make a wish that the rain will continue to fall just a little while longer.

A tree that was…And still is!!!!

I thought this post was worth reblogging. It compliments my post “I Am Sequoia” very well.

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The big banyan tree

Nature always fascinates me and giant trees that have lived for hundreds of years are real wonders. They have seen the history in the making and must have witnessed so many wonderful things. There is such a tree, popularly known as the Great Banyan Tree, near the city of Bangalore in Southern India. Spread across an area of around 4 acres, the tree is more than 400 years old and its crown circumference is more than 250 meters wide.

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The maze of aerial roots.

Called the Dodda Alada Mara in the local language, it is hard to imagine that this is just one single tree. The main trunk of the tree is long dead but it is still lush and green, thanks to its thousands of aerial roots, which in themselves appear like huge trunks. The botanical name of the tree is Ficus Benghalensis and the…

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The Creek

I was only trying to get out of the inferno that was my house one July afternoon and maybe catch a breeze if I was lucky. What motivated me to take along my camera I can’t remember. Any other time I would have taken my fishing pole and whatever I could find in the fridge for bait. In the past few years, though, the fishing in the creek, over the levy where I was headed, hadn’t been worth the effort. Maybe I hoped to shoot a bird or butterfly or some other form of suburban wildlife.The Creek

This was my first trip of the summer over the levy to the creek. I fully expected to find a trickle of water lazily flowing through an otherwise parched creek bed, dry overgrown cat tails, and ankle high grass that snapped and crackled under foot. I didn’t. What I found was a lush oasis that snaked for miles through Sacramento’s North side. Not a dry blade or withered leaf could be found. There was no breeze in the world beyond the levy, but here it seemed to skim the water picking up a very pleasant grassy fragrance and gently wiping away the sweat from the tip of my nose.

I sat on the concrete edge of one of the creeks many tributaries. It was obvious that this one had not contributed in a long while. The rusted steel door was all but hidden by creek flora. The weight of my camera hanging from its lanyard around my neck only now caught my attention. I’d almost forgotten it was there. Now, what to shoot? I could have held the camera at arm’s length and snapped in any direction and it would have been an awesome shot. And I did capture lots of stunning moments though I refrained from any haphazard takes.

The landscape across the creek was even more amazing than on my side. It was mirrored off the water’s surface without a ripple. As pleasant as my side of the creek was the other side looked more inviting. More trees. More shade! The early afternoon sun taunted me to find a way across. Though I was dressed for it, wading across was not an option. This was still a creek fed by storm drain run-off loaded with everything imaginable that could find its way into a storm drain. The nearest bridge was about a quarter mile away. I could see it. I could also see there was no easy way to get there. In the past drier years there was a clear path to the bridge. This year it was a path only for fish and tad poles. I decided to be satisfied with the sparsely shaded concrete slab. I could get some great shots either here or there and it wasn’t that hot. (I’m great at excuses.)

After snapping a dozen shots or so I sat quietly and let the other side of levy drift out of my head. I had found a truly tranquil getaway. This was not the same creek that I had plucked sandwich sized blue gill from for the past ten years (when there was enough water to support them). This year the creek would be my little secret not to

be shared. If I invited someone along the tranquility would most assuredly be spoiled. The humming bird sipping nectar not ten feet from me would not appreciate the extra company. There would not be enough shade for another. The buzz of bees pollenating would be muted. I may as well stay in that other place with no cooling breeze and no reflections of oaks. I would not even notice small fish plucking insects from the water’s surface.

A while later the sounds of children making their way over the levy broke the serenity. They came with their sticks and throwing rocks into the calm water distorting the oaks. They came running and jumping and kicking and laughing. The humming bird was lucky to have wings that could whisk him to the other side where peace was still in abundance. My first reaction was anger that such a peaceful place was being overrun by utter disrespect for nature. Then I came to my senses. These children were a part of nature. A very innocent part of it. I myself played by a creek side not unlike this one. I threw rocks into the water and flung sticks across the creek. I imprisoned insects in mayonnaise jars. I did not appreciate or even notice the stunning beauty of it all at the time. And I realized that these kids were unaware or maybe unable to perceive the creek in the same way that I did and maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. To me this place was a sanctuary. A place for peace and quiet. To them it was simply an awesome place to play and explore. It served the same purpose for both; a brief escape from responsibilities.

More people came. This time adults with fishing gear. It then occurred to me that my sanctuary was not my own. It was not here for my pleasure alone. This was nature and should be enjoyed by all who love it. Once I settled with this reality it was easy to integrate the sights and sounds of the people with the sights and sounds of the birds, the bees, and the insects. I visited the creek only a few more times that summer, but none was like that hot July day when I came away with something that changed my perception of the world. From that day until this, I have had the ability to find peace and tranquility almost anywhere and at almost any time.

I never made my way to the other side of the creek. The side that seemed devoid of human presence. I had decided that it was better to be on my side. There were birds and bees and kids and fishermen. This was nature unadulterated.

Worlds Apart

Early one Monday morning Lisa is awaken by her mother. It’s time to get up and prepare for school. Lisa doesn’t want to get out of bed, she was up late last night playing her Nintendo DS. A while later she finally manages to crawl from beneath her blanket, slip on her house shoes and robe, and lazily stride into the kitchen where her mother and father are sitting at the table having coffee. Before she can take a seat at the table her mother commands, “Go brush your teeth, Lisa”. In the bathroom she laces her electric Sponge Bob Square Pants toothbrush with bubble gum flavored paste that is supposed to fight cavities, and brushes her teeth.1377136117777[1]

That same Monday morning Nell is awaken by the crying of her younger brothers. They are a hungry three year old and one year old who depend on their older sister for everything. She throws off her tattered and dirty blanket and wraps them in it to stop their crying. It doesn’t work. From the fly covered kettle that still sits on the fire pit just outside the tent door Nell scoops a bit of cassava root soup with the wooden spoon used to stir the pot and feeds it to her little brothers. A few more scoops and they are quiet… for a while. She takes a few scoops for herself to ease the hunger in her own stomach.

Later that morning Lisa is dressed in her school uniform; tan khakis and a blue Polo. Her stomach is filled with microwaved waffles, scrambled eggs, toast, and orange juice. She doesn’t like the crust on her toast so she carefully peeled it off and left it on the plate for trash along with some of the egg. She wishes her toast didn’t come with the crust, that way she wouldn’t have to bother with peeling it off. With backpack in hand Lisa and her father climb into the family sedan and drive the half mile to her school where she routinely receives the highest marks in her sixth grade class. Lisa has lots of friends in her school and all the teachers know and love her. Last year she made the principal’s list for academic excellence and for perfect attendance. Her father kisses her good-bye and heads off to work.

After feeding her brothers cassava root soup which her mother taught her to make before she and her new husband abandoned the children, Nell lulled them back to sleep so that she could walk the two miles to the river to collect some water. Nell can’t take her brothers with her to the river because she can’t carry the bucket of water on her head and hold their hands at the same time. When she arrives at the river the sun is already very hot and there are people all along the banks collecting water and bathing and washing clothes. Nell knows that she is one of the youngest in the crowd and she knows that it can be dangerous for her so she finds a place near a group of women and away from most of the men. She finds comfort among the women… most of them. The women give her no special greeting but they acknowledge the twelve year old and give those men, who seem to be interested, looks that keep them at bay. Looks that say, “We are watching you so don’t you try anything.” Knee deep in the river, Nell holds an old shirt over the mouth of her bucket to filter the water as she dips it in the river. The shirt will also serve as the buckets cover on her journey home.

Lisa had been waiting all weekend for today to come. Today is when her class is performing their dance recital. They have been practicing for a long time and are eager to perform for their parents. Lisa loves to see her mother and father in the crowd while she’s performing and they have never missed a single recital. They are thinking of enrolling her in a performing arts high school when the time comes but for now they will continue to encourage and cheer her on.

Nell has rested from her trip to the river and must now leave her brothers again to go into the market place to beg and steal. If she didn’t have to care for her brothers she could survive without going to the market, or at least get there earlier before the other children beat her to the best pickings. The market is a dangerous place for a thief adult or child. The merchants will have no mercy on her if she is caught so she only goes once or twice a week. Nell only steals food or small trinkets that she can sell to passersby on the way home. Some of the other kids make a living by picking pockets and working in groups. This is too risky for her, besides she doesn’t like having to steal anyway.

On the way home from the recital Lisa’s reward for an awesome job was a peperoni pizza dinner which she devours, except for the crust. It’s been a long day for her and she is very tired but she fights her sleepiness anyway. In her bed she plays her Nintendo until she falls to sleep to be ready for another day.

Nell can only stay away from her brothers for a short time so nothing will happen to them, so she often has to leave the market empty handed as she does today. She has to feed her brothers and cook more cassava root soup because the kettle is nearly empty. She will use some of the water she collected earlier to bathe the boys before night falls. Nell hates the nighttime because she is small and cannot defend herself against the badness of the night. She prays before bed every night, usually for her mother to return someday.