Thursday, June 8, 2006

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS AND LOVE

I watch attentively as the eighteen foot aluminum boat slides off the trailer into the green water of Melton Hill Reservoir. It slips effortlessly over the carpeted trailer bunks and slowly floats away on the water. It will soon be tethered to the small boat dock that The Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency has provided for recreational boating. Shortly, I will be driving up the magnificent, primitive lake and enjoying all the natural surroundings that touch the shoreline of this East Tennessee waterway. Normally I would have my companion, Douglas, a gorgeous Golden Retriever, with me. But today I wanted solitude and peace. Douglas can be overly exuberant at times and I wanted my mind free of his presence. I needed to reflect on the recent past. I wanted to weigh judgments made that have affected my life forever. Were the decisions that I made correct or was I simply creating another adventure for myself? Was this move to East Tennessee really a quality of life move or was it my failure to cope with the daily stresses that accompany any man rapidly approaching sixty years old. One can blame the move on a complex, rat race job easy enough. The job paid well enough. Actually I had come up the hard, long way from a line worker to end my career as a Plant Manager. Yes, it took me three times as long as a young college graduate to realize success, but I did it. But over the years the stress and active participation in the manufacturing industry slowly destroyed something inside that I can’t quite put a finger on. Something about contribution and ethics. Something about honesty and integrity. Something about all the things dad and mom instilled in me while growing up suddenly were topics to discuss over lunch at work. Or they were the reasons why this or that didn’t work. And the talk was frequently about “the way it used to be”. Or “you wouldn’t see that happen back then.” Month after month and year after year I watched as employees came and went, some lost to attrition and others cut because someone didn’t know how to arrive at a logical budget. Jobs were lost due to the inexperience of some hot shot college bean cruncher newly hired by the administration to get things under control. As usual, the little guy at the bottom looses. The day finally came when enough was enough and the realization that if I didn’t make a major change in my life now, then I probably wouldn’t. East Tennessee was the destination. More precise; an area close to the Smoky Mountains would be home. If I were going to leave industry in Pennsylvania and take up a new life, then it would be where the sun shines longer and the winters are shorter. I came to rest in Jefferson City, Tennessee in March of 2004. Much of that summer was spent doing the things I love to do. Among them was motorcycling. Every day presented me with new and different destinations. Month after month I would ride to interesting places and meet with new and wonderful people. Much time was spent with a retired friend who resides in Sevierville, Tennessee. The land west of the Smoky Mountains is lake country and it is indeed beautiful. The lakes are huge and appear endless. The attraction was too much. A sixteen foot fishing boat was soon parked on the driveway. The little boat opened up a new avenue for adventure. Much like motorcycling, boating is another means of exploration. Not just fishing but exploration of coves and animal habitat. It is an amazing idea to float over submerged roads and buildings that existed before the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded the country side to fill the reservoirs. Boating was a new frontier that needed examined. And I loved it. Toward the end of summer I was boating on Norris Lake, a lake that lies North and East of Knoxville. I was extracting my boat when a gentleman dressed in a green Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) uniform approached me and asked if I caught anything. I replied that I was just investigating the water and had not fished at all that day. He was a likable fellow and liked to talk. We discussed the outdoors and especially the lakes and the impact that anglers have on the fishery. Ten minutes turned into an hour and a friendship was in the making. It was through this conversation that a seed would be planted that would change my life forever. All facets of my life would be affected. I would find things out about myself I never knew. I would be assimilated into the world of nature and discover the love of my life at the same time. My last love to be sure. Paul informed me that there was a job vacancy in TWRA that as he put it, “would be perfect for you”. The job entailed driving a TWRA government boat on three of the largest lakes in Tennessee on a daily basis collecting biology data and angler surveys. This was for me. After a long ordeal of paper submission, phone calls to the state and to the manager of TWRA in Morristown I finally made the required government list. The result of making the list landed me an interview and job offer, which I accepted. I soon had my uniforms, eighteen foot Runabout Nitro Boat with a one hundred and fifty horsepower motor, government truck and all the necessary paperwork to complete my daily tasks. A prerequisite to the job was a move to within ten miles of one of the lakes I was assigned to. A “fixer upper” house was purchased in Vonore, a town that was located within the required zone. I kept the boat, trailer and government truck at Fort Loudoun State Park. I simply drove there in my personal vehicle and would switch to the government rig and drive to the assigned lake. Life was good. Life was great! My days would find me at sun up driving to either Melton Hill or Fort Loudoun Lakes. My office was the water and surrounding scenery. Summer was lush green. Fall was absolutely stunning. The colored leaves would reflect off the quiet still water as a mirror would reflect an image. Often times tendrils of wispy fog would rise vertically and disappear as the warming sun would make its debut. Then Winter….Cold, grey and angry! The once quiet surface of water is often whipped to froth. White cap waves were present more times than not, reacting to the Northerly winds that would blow down the river channels. Rain turned to snow and the gentle summer showers became winter squalls. It was exciting, thrilling, and wonderful. Each day was an adventure. Each day was thrilling. Each day presented some new anomaly to ponder. But to digress a bit. My new life entailed something new. Something I was not really familiar with. I was lonesome. Long days on the lakes alone allowed much thought. Even after taking pictures of deer swimming across the channel, or the beaver carrying an old rusted garden spade to his home, or the flock of fifty turkeys on the river bank; I experienced moments of boredom. And as the end of Summer came closer, the desire for a partner increased. Enter a new friend! What better friend than a dog. Not just any dog but a water dog. A swimmer. A dog that would be at home sharing the small deck of the government boat. He would have to be a powerful swimmer and have a temperament that would allow him to be a good TWRA emissary to the public. I would look for a Golden Retriever. My search started on the web site “Great Dog Rescue of Knoxville”. There I saw a sweet looking Golden Retriever mix named Romeo. A phone call and resulting discussion explained the whereabouts of Romeo. He was at a sort of puppy half way house that was operated by the owner of a baby clothes business called The Emperor’s Nearly New Clothes located in Greenback, Tennessee. A meeting was arranged and I drove there to meet Romeo. It was a strange surrounding to look for a dog in. But the owner was nice and went to the back to bring out Romeo. He was a sweet little puppy. His flesh was rather loose indicating that his dad may have spent some time in the hound pen at one time or another. It was an interesting point to ponder but of no consequence as Romeo would do just fine. Then the owner, Janet, suggested I look at another little dog she had. Off she went to get him. When she returned she had with her an adorable Golden Retriever pup with a dark brown, narrow blaze that ran vertically up his snout to between his eyes. Closer examination proved that the hair was actually growing in the opposite direction as all the rest of his hair. He was beautiful. He came over and licked my hand and did his puppy moves and I knew he was the one. Janet and I had some discussion about the adoption procedure. A person representing the Great Dog Rescue would drive to my house for an inspection of the property and an interview with me to assure the dog would be cared for properly. In a few days Douglas was brought to me and my new partner was adopted. Something was on my mind, however, that I couldn’t let go of. It was foolish of me to think about it and absolutely ridiculous to even think anything would come of it, but I couldn’t get the girl out of my mind who brought Douglas to the front of the store. Her name was Janet McKnight. She was polite, kind and respective to me as well as to the dogs. It was apparent she loved dogs. She was knowledgeable about the dog “stuff” and had a pretty smile. In fact she was beautiful; a fact I couldn’t help but notice. But it was an observation at that point. I’m almost sixty and she-----looked about thirty maybe. But she had a certain look about her. She appeared to be alone and I wondered how alone. Certainly she would not mind a visit occasionally to see how Douglas is doing. And maybe there was some small thing I could help her with. She would possibly be another friend I could stop and see. Time passed and the friendship led to more. I found myself stopping at her store after leaving the lake at the end of the day. On and on this continued. Janet is a bird watcher and is an expert at identifying the many species prevalent here in Tennessee. She can name them by listening to their calls. An amazing knowledge! She loves all animals and will stop at nothing to defend any innocent creature in need. I started calling her daily from the lake and we would talk not of superficial things like cars, dresses, make-up and the like. We would talk of birds, dogs, fish, cats, vultures and beaver. She was down to earth and valued the things that were important to the planet. After a time the conversations shifted to love and caring. We were compatible. We thought alike. I could feel her heart beat even though she was miles away. She would visit my house in Vonore when she could find the time in her busy schedule. We called them “squeeze days”. The conversations would be about birds and what plants would look good in the yard. We also shared how much we cared about one and other. And tears would flow from my eyes as I watched her drive away down my long driveway. I couldn’t explain that to myself. I had never experienced the feeling. It occurred each time she would leave. Later, she admitted it happened to her too. She has been my strength while here in Tennessee. She has been my friend and she has been more than a friend. She is the one I tell my secrets to and share my thoughts with. She is wonderful. And I found her while looking for Douglas. A total accident. I wasn’t looking. Nor was she. It just happened. Truly, it was that way…… As I drive up the lake I notice the Ring Bill Gulls diving to the water to pick up minnows and shad that are swimming too close to the surface. They are a graceful bird that presents a graceful silhouette when in flight. They remind me of the time when Janet bought a bag of dog feed before going on a boat ride. She told me to drive over to where the gulls were. I did and she tossed hands full of the pellets into the water. The gulls and ducks had a smorgasbord. She said “if your going to feed them, give them something nourishing.” I’ll never forget that day. The cove up ahead is littered with downed trees that beaver have felled. The sharpened stakes that were once trees line the banks on both sides of the cove clear to the water’s edge. Many of the now horizontal trees have had the bark stripped off by the hungry beavers. And there on the bank is a movement. A beaver is scurrying toward the safety of the water. He has been disturbed by my motor, no doubt. It is a privilege to observe this fantastic animal in his natural habitat. I should call Janet on the cell phone and describe the scene. I will as soon as I reach Reactor Turn. Reactor Turn is aptly named for a turn in the Clinch River. A Nuclear Reactor was built on the bank of the river at this turn during the Korean War. It was never activated, but has sat idle to this day. I’ve often wondered what genius was responsible for that waste of tax payer’s dollars. But why burden my thoughts with it? It’s a rather cold day today. I am chilled. Just a little. TWRA is a fine group of people responsible for the hunting and fishing activities in Tennessee. Furthermore they are the governing agency on the waterways of the state. Every agent I have ever met has been a friend of the public as well as a devoted steward to the animals of Tennessee. There is the hunting and fishing elements here, as in all states, who utilize the lands resources and these activities are not popular to all residents. But they exist and TWRA is the agency assigned the task of checks and balances. They are a hearty group of out door people who are dedicated to their work and to the wildlife they are entrusted with. I am proud to have been one of them. Very proud. Yes, I said “have been”. While at TWRA, Douglas made the boat his new home. He quickly learned the commands “get in the boat” and “get in the truck”. It was heart warming to see him bound across the parking lot, trot down the dock and jump into the boat. As I would untie the boat and shove it away from the dock, he would stand tall at the bow of the boat with his muzzle raised and head in the air absorbing all the smells that nature had to offer. He was a free spirit on the boat. No chains, no tethers. Just the beautiful landscape passing by. His head would turn left and right constantly as the boat moved along. His gaze caught everything. Nothing went by unnoticed. He was in his element. He was alive and he was part of nature. He was and is nature. He is beautiful innocence. The government wage for a new TWRA employee is not very high. Actually it is pathetic. The pay borders on poverty wages. The wage is fine as long as one can live without any catastrophic occurrences. Toward the end of my first year with the agency my car developed a problem requiring the replacement of both front axles. Catastrophe!!!! The water well for the house ruptured and muddy water was entering and I could not filter it properly. Catastrophe!!!! This double negative meant I would have to get a loan to make repairs to the car and to drill another well. But how would I pay back the loan on this wage? The writing was on the wall. I would need to get a better paying job. I was sickened at the thought of leaving my lakes. They were precious to me and I felt a part of them. I was absorbed into the very water that make them up. I was part of nature. I tried everything to make the money work. There just wasn’t enough. Many sleepless nights were had thinking about never setting foot on the boat again. Turning in my uniforms would crush me. I worked so hard to be a member of TWRA. Now it was over. I was crushed. The new job I found would start on September 1, 2005. TWRA was over. I would now again be a social participant in the search for the dollar. Smoky Mountain Harley Davidson had a new sales person. As I speed up the lake I think of all the twists and turns my life has taken that have lead me to this current situation. My heart wants my mind to focus on the splendor surrounding me, but events that have recently occurred have directed my thought processes into reminiscing. I have always been an adventurer. A motorcycle ride to British Colombia was not out of the ordinary when I was young. Many trips through the West have been undertaken and completed. Somewhere in the mess that I call “boxed up stuff” are over twenty three hundred photos and slides of motorcycle trips that have taken me to every state in the United States accept Hawaii. There are pictures of every National Park and almost every National Monument. I have lived life fiercely. I have done what I wanted, when I wanted and for however long I wanted. My mid life has been extraordinary. I have done everything while young and healthy that retired folks seek to do today, if they have the health to do it. I have, however, failed in one category. I have not saved enough funds to totally retire. But I have lived! I have experienced more adventures than the average person ever will. Motorcycle travel, back packing, bicycling, cross country skiing, war and love. I have no regrets on the past. And regrets will change nothing. Only the future. That’s all there is. And so a personal relocation has become necessary in order to work the new job. I feel that this relocation shall cause me more grief than anything else ever has in my life. Home ownership has never been a goal for me, yet I have owned two in one year since moving to Tennessee. I am realizing that I have never lived in a house that felt like home since I left the wonderful farm in Scottdale, Pennsylvania. That was home. That was warmth. That was where one wanted to be when on the road, or at war. That was a returning point. “The” destination when “on the way back”. Nothing ever equaled it. Accept Janet’s new property that she calls “Wood Thrush Ridge”. She only recently acquired it. Wood Thrush Ridge is a forty acre tract of land that rises on all sides for three hundred yards and is flat on the top. A huge gray house sits on top where it is relatively level. A driveway runs up the side of the property and back down the other and is bordered by a flat board fence all the way around. A short gravel lane at the back of the house leads to what was once an orchard. Janet still affectionately calls the flat area covered with stunted trees “the orchard”. Wood Thrush Ridge is peaceful. The wind can be heard at night blowing through the trees. Birds sing in the mornings. Her three dogs are old yet comfortable and safe far away from traffic and the noise below. Everytime I drive up there it is like leaving reality. I am so happy for her! She deserves peace and comfort. She is very successful for one so young. I am proud of her. She has faced great adversity in her life and has gained personal success through perseverance and intelligent planning. I am extremely proud of her. But now I have lost her trust and have fallen from her grace. But that is a story that will not be told. The temperature is dropping and the water is becoming choppy. A sharp bank to the left and the boat will be heading back to the dock. I’m probably twelve miles away from the truck. The big ninety horsepower engine has a lot of power yet untouched today. I can feel myself being pushed back into the seat as the throttle is pushed forward and the big engine turns the propeller up to six thousand revolutions per minute. This boat engine combination is capable of forty five miles per hour but on this windy day it would be wise to limit speed to thirty five or forty. When a boat is on plane the front is lofted out of the water so that only the back part of the hull touches the surface. This is called “on plane”. Several distasteful things can occur on a windy day such as this. The worse is if the wind catches the boat on its underside and lifts it to a dangerous attitude to the water. Boats have been known to have their front ends lifted to a near vertical position. Absolute loss of control is the result. I am not in a rush. I, however, do not want to tarry on the lake too long. Cold weather is moving in. I have looked forward to summer when Janet and I could enjoy this boat on hot summer nights. It would be fun to just Anker close to one of the many islands on Melton Hill Lake and eat cheese and sleep lying on top a sleeping bag. I have passed several great spots on this trip. She could observe her water birds and I could enjoy the operation of the boat and look for river otters and beaver. But it won’t happen. None of it. The next right bend in the river will expose the Melton Hill Dam and the little boat dock where the truck is parked. The white caps are higher in conjunction with the increased wind velocity. The boat is lifted high above the water by the swells and falls with a loud thump as it crashes onto the next swell. But the dock is nearing and I can throttle back and allow the boat to settle into the water off plane so it can be idled into the dock area. Care must be taken on stormy water as the waves can push a boat into the dock with dangerous force. The maneuvers are done and the boat is safely parked. All that is required is to back the trailer into the water and drive the boat onto the carpet covered bunks and extract it. The drive out of the park is a pleasant experience. Everything is clean and pristine. There is no garbage lying about. The summer tourists have not and will not arrive for another two months. They are nature’s terrorists and they exact a damning toll on the environment. But they have the dollars and nature must and will endure. The earlier phone conversation with Janet was disturbing. There have been some private issues between us that have been festering for some time. She has been very patient in dealing with the issues and I guess she is growing weary of it all. When she called earlier I was in the boat rounding The Granite Wall and heading toward Reactor Cove. It is always good to hear her sweet voice on the phone. She has the cutest laugh. The laugh always breaks into a sort of chortle. But this time was different. The words “be friends” hangs in my memory. “Be friends”. Simple words. Benign words. Benign? It depends on the context. She has mentioned the idea of diffusing our relationship to that of friendship previous to this conversation. She has her reasons. The phone call was rather short. But this time I knew she was prepared to change the intensity of our relationship. As I drove along the park road, I tried hard not to think about what a “friend” relationship with her would be. The whole idea was foreign and would require much concentration. A quiet time to think would be necessary to deal with this new situation. Janet is the driving force in my life and she is downscaling, deactivating, diffusing, and diluting our relationship. And I can’t blame her. Not at all. A long hard look at myself unveils a person who has been on his own his entire life after both parents passed away. I have never met a partner whom I felt totally at ease with. There has always been some difference. And then there were the motorcycles. So many they can’t be counted. Motorcycle trips to Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, Arizona. Trips to every state and National Park. All on motorcycles over the years. No time for anything but adventure. Adventure after adventure. Back packing trip after back packing trip. Bicycle rides after bicycle rides. Fly Fishing trips back to back and then more adventuresome trips. What woman could stand that? What woman would want that? Short acquaintances were the result. Work was a means to acquire money to take more trips and enjoy adventure from the seat of a motorcycle. The continent was a play ground and I played in it hard. I guess I never received much training or experience handling a relationship in the past. It’s not an excuse for the current state of personal affairs. But it’s a logical reason why I lack the skills to totally satisfy a loving, caring partner. One could say I am greedy with my time. I rather like to think I am conditioned by years of entertaining myself and old habits are hard to break. I have always needed some time totally alone. I pull myself together that way. I enjoy passing time not having to talk or engage in creative conversation. Not always. But sometimes. Try driving around the circumference of the United States in one week alone on a motorcycle. I can do it and not miss the conversation with a fellow rider. Nevertheless, my inattentiveness is threatening to ruin the relationship of a lifetime. Janet is the most thoughtful, caring young lady I have ever met. We have a rare gift of being “almost” totally compatible. I doubt that anyone can be totally and absolutely compatible. But we are close. I have always loved dogs and animals in general. She has enhanced my thoughts and feelings about them. Douglas is not just a dog to me. I do not own him. He is a free spirit and a being that was born innocent. He depends on me to keep him safe and healthy. Before, I would not have thought of a dog in that fashion. Dogs were nice. They were cute and did either cute things or things that would make one angry. But Douglas is my friend. He’s always there with shining eyes and soft fur. He looks up at me and stares which causes me to wonder what I can do to satisfy his want and need. He is my buddy. It was through Janet that I came to appreciate his being and his importance to me in my life. Douglas will impact my life throughout his time with me. Thanks to Janet, I appreciate him more, as I do all animals. I really don’t like returning to this house. It seems as if it is someone else’s house. Its just not home. But I have to back the boat to its spot beside the house. The task is easy. I have backed the TWRA boat into places that many folks would not try to park their truck. This is a snap. I can see Douglas through the window looking out. I always feel bad when I go and leave him at home. He is very used to leaving the house with me for the drive to the green government truck and boat and on to the lake. Every day we enacted the same scenario. And now it breaks my heart to walk out the door in the mornings without him. I always look toward the picture window after starting my truck and see him peering out with his ears up and eyes wide attuned to the world and waiting for me to come and get him. But I don’t. I always back out the driveway and leave without him. No, it isn’t fair. Sitting here I think of Janet. It is difficult to surround the issues with my mind. My thoughts scatter from one part of the subject to another without totally coming to grasps with any of it. All I can think of is “you’re blowing it”. There must be some compromise. There must be some middle ground we both can stand on. But then I realize that a woman like her can not be expected to be satisfied with compromise. Early in the relationship many things were said. Ideas were put into words and the words were endearing. We even admitted that nothing could ever come of the feelings we had for each other. It was impossible to enjoy any kind of relationship together under that existing circumstance. That circumstance need not be discussed here. But it all happened so innocently. Indeed, no part of this relationship is the result of planning. That is what makes it so perfect. Neither party was searching, looking, or even thinking of finding someone; or anyone. The simple face that “we were there” was enough. It happened. And now through my greed for time, distance and my insensitivity for her heart felt feelings are destroying us. It is a heart breaking thought. Truly heartbreaking! Never in a lifetime can two people meet and be so compatible. Hearts can be felt beating from a distance. Thoughts meld together as one. It is my entire fault. And I am powerless it seems to sway her thinking at all anymore. I miss her. Another there will never be. She is truly the one. The only one.