Thursday, April 12, 2007

Life is...Good?

Things were looking really good.

I mean, really, really good.

I can’t recall the last time I was this happy. From about the time I was just out of high school until I was almost 40 years old, I was self-employed. Sometimes things were okay during those years, but when you own your own (very) small business, you’re always under a lot of stress. When the money’s good (and sometimes it was) you have enough to take some time off and go on a vacation. However, you can rarely do that, as the business often requires your constant presence so that it will continue to run efficiently and profitably.

For almost the past ten years, though, the Federal government has employed me. I have great benefits and decent pay and wonderful vacation time and a 401k, and so on. Things have been relatively good. I have time to do things and to go places. My position is filled when I’m not there, and the government isn’t going anywhere and it’s not going to shut down if I take a couple of weeks off.

When I’m not working for the Postal Service I can either be found writing novels, or reading, or backpacking, or camping and canoeing in a state or national park with my wife and son. I discovered a couple of years ago that I had enough disposable income to buy a travel trailer and a truck to pull it so that it could serve as a base camp for my trips into various hiking locations and wilderness areas.

Last week I was especially happy. I was planning a long vacation with my family to the Florida Keys where we would, among other things, visit the Dry Tortugas National Park. I was really relaxed and looking forward to the trip.

And then something really wonderful happened. Something most writers would see as an excuse to jump for joy and go into rapture. The chance at the brass ring that most people dream about and few see. I won’t say now what it is that happened, but be assured that I’m on needles and pins and will be until I (or my literary agent) gets the official word.

I think of it as a Woody Allen moment. I should be really happy, but now I’m stressed. I was in bliss getting ready for a long vacation, and now my thoughts be sidelined by what might be, what could be, what may very well come to be. It’ll be nagging at me until I get the final word one way or the other.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

While There's Still Time...

A few folk have asked me about the title of this blog. It has nothing to do with the old poison termed hemlock, but rather refers to my favorite trees:

The Eastern and Carolina hemlock.

Go see them while you can.

In several sections of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are stands of hemlock trees that were never cut when lumber companies were hacking their ways through our vast tracts of forest. These trees, while not on the order of California’s redwoods, are nonetheless impressive. To stand amidst them and look up at those evergreen branches, their trunks rising great all around, the ground carpeted in the redred rust of needles shed and coppering on the forest floor... Well, you have to go see it, I guess, to understand the experience. Words are not sufficient.

But if you want to see them, you’d better hurry.

A few decades ago, someone bringing Asian hemlocks to the area around Washington DC introduced a pest called the Hemlock wooly adelgid. A bug. Native to the Old World, this pernicious little whore is of a species that has no males. Like arthropod versions of the Tribble, they’re all female and all born with the ability to eat like a black hole and lay jillions of eggs that hatch into versions of their bitch mommas. America’s hemlocks have no resistance to them, and there is no native beetle to prey on the tiny bitches. So they have had their way with the hemlock forests of America’s east coast. The Park Service is doing what it can to stem the infestations, but it looks as if the hemlock is going to become as extinct as the American chestnut.

So. If you want to see these amazing stands of trees, then you’ll have to visit the Smokies within the next few years. After that, the trunks will still be standing, but they’ll be dead. I’ve asked folk who know where the most impressive stands are located in the park and I’ve been making an effort to see them over the past few years. Biologists are predicting the complete elimination of both the Eastern hemlock and the Carolina hemlock from our forests. If you’ve never seen a hemlock tree, you might not know how beautiful they are. They’re my favorite trees when I’m hiking and backpacking. Instantly recognizable. Always green, branches sheltering, growing very tall. I’ve seen hemlocks over 150 feet tall.

All around us, the Earth is telling us how sick it is. All around us. Our atmosphere is in turmoil, but those who control us claim otherwise. Our forests are sickening, but those who hold domain over them want to cut them down. Our wildlife is vanishing, but those who can help will not allow us to protect that life. The land itself is poisoned, but those who pull the strings won’t let us cleanse that land.

Do yourselves a favor and visit the hemlock forests of the Great Smoky Mountains and the Southeast before the only thing remaining of them are dead, drying husks that once were trees.