Saturday, April 20, 2013

Snake Dancing

My wife's father was a master woodworker.  Using his many talents, he built us a bedroom suit as a wedding gift. He sculpted a grandfather clock that stands in our den.  A set of wooden hurricane lamps rest on our fireplace mantle.  A wooden mirror frame hangs on our wall.  But, I think his favorite things to build were his bluebird boxes.  He had a love for bluebirds and it is impossible for me to see a bluebird and not think of him.

He built the bluebird boxes with love and care for detail.  He discovered that bluebirds would only nest in a box that was so many inches tall, so many inches deep.  The hole of the bluebird box could not exceed a certain circumference. All of the boxes that he built complied with these set of specification.  But his love for the bluebird was so great that he built the boxes with a hinged top, so that he could open the lid and peer inside to see the mother with her babies.  Over the years he recorded the number of eggs in each box, the number of eggs that hatched, the rate of growth of each baby bluebird, and the time when each baby flew away.  He read somewhere that the babies as adults would return to the box in which they were raised and lay their own eggs in them. So, when the box was empty, he would clean the nest from the box, and await their return.

He passed his love of the bluebird to me and he built two boxes for me that I hung in my backyard.  However, he neglected to tell me two very important things.

First, he did not tell me that the mother bluebird flies out of the box at 100 miles per our when you lift the lid of the box.  So, it is important to stand to the side of the hole rather than in front of the hole when you lift the lid.  But, no worries.  After you do this once you always remember to stand to the side.

The second and most important thing that he did not tell me was that snakes will occasionally climb into the bluebird box and eat all the baby bluebirds.  Had I known this important detail I would have asked him to nail the lids of the box shut.  But I didn't.

So, one beautiful Saturday morning I went into my backyard and walked to the bluebird box to check on the babies.  I stood to one side and carefully opened the lid.  The mother did not fly out, so I figured that she was out gathering food.  I lowered my head to the box and peered inside.  It took one nanosecond for me to realize that I was looking straight down the throat of a black snake.  I slammed the lid down on the box so hard that the box fell off the pole on which it was mounted  and the snake crawled out the hole into the yard.

Then I did something that all human beings have done since the beginning of time when they have had a close encounter with a snake- the snake dance.  I can't explain it.  This movement takes over your body and your arms and legs begin to twist and turn and you shimmy and you shiver and once in a while a sound like a whoop or a hoot will come from deep within your throat.  Anyone seeing this from a distance without knowing about the snake will think you have lost your mind.  When you tell them about the snake it all makes sense and your behavior is seen as perfectly natural.

After I recovered and went inside, my daughter Erin was standing in the kitchen by the window.  "Daddy," she asked, "why were you dancing in the backyard?"  "Well, " I said, " I saw a snake."  And she replied, "Oh, OK.  That explains it."

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cleaning Out the Car

A few years ago my wife, Melanie, was on her way home when a car, traveling in the opposite direction, crossed the center line and struck her car head on.  Fortunately, Melanie's injuries were not serious, but her car was totaled.

Before the car was disposed of, I traveled to the lot where it had been towed so that I could clean it out.  Melanie is a teacher so she always carries a car full of "stuff" for her classes and her children.  Her front and back seats are full of treasurers that, until that time, I had called "trash".  Whenever I rode in the car with her she had to clean out a space for me.  Waiting for her to do this was aggravating and she would never let me do it.  God forbid that I rearrange her papers that were strewn about in what appeared to be a random fashion. This caused some arguments about the virtues of a clean car, which I never won.

I arrived at the lot where a number of other wrecked cars sat looking like some scene from a movie about the end of the world.  And in the middle of them sat Melanie's car; crumpled and broken and dented.  And the full impact of her accident began to creep upon me.  It dawned on me that she was alive by the smallest of margins; a few inches, a half a second, the blink of an eye.

I looked into the interior of her car.  Her "stuff" was scattered about.  I pried the door open and sat down on front the passenger seat.  I began to load her "stuff" into a bag.  I looked at each paper, each pencil, each item connected to her, and suddenly her "stuff" was no longer "trash" but had been transformed into treasure.  And I handled each book, each clipping, each rubber band and piece of cloth as if it were made of gold.

I still tease her about her untidy car.  But I now know, after she has cleaned a spot for me to sit, how lucky I am to be sitting with her among her "trash".

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Tree

There is a tree in a neighborhood near where I used to work.  It is a very large, old tree; tall with a gnarled, thick trunk.  Its limbs are long and winding and as thick as the trunks of most trees.  And on these limbs are scars where old branches had been.  There are old carvings of initials encircled by hearts. Further up is a limb with an old chain sprouting out of it.  The chain, once part of a swing, is now part of the tree and the children who once laughed and swung in its shade are now adults with children of their own.  Near the top of the tree are traces of an old lightening strike and I could see where the top of the tree once died and one of the upper limbs took its place.

This may sound strange, but whenever I was under a lot of stress or was dealing with a problem at work I would take a break from what I was doing and walk over to this tree and I would instantly find comfort and calm.  Something about this tree put all of my problems and worries in perspective for me.  This tree actually spoke to me, not in words, but in a way that nature speaks, through God.  This tree had originally grown in a forest surrounded by other trees.  It had suffered and barely survived when the neighborhood was built.  But from that neighborhood had come children who had played in its limbs, and lovers who had spread a blanket near by in its shade. And as the years passed it had survived hurricanes and thunderstorms and lightening strikes.  Old limbs were replaced with new, the neighborhood was replaced with condos.  A new tire swing was now hanging by a rope on one of its larger limbs.  And now I, standing beneath it, was part of its story and it was part of mine.

After these trips to the tree, my problems did not seem so large or insurmountable. I had learned that the problems of work were but one limb of my life; and if I stepped back just a little I could see the totality of my life.  I could see the limbs of the people I loved; the limbs where childeren played; the limbs of home; the limbs of faith; the limbs that had survived the hurricanes and lightening strikes of the past.   And I was filled with a sense of purpose and hope.

Copyright ©Eric Lanier.  The right to download and store output of the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and materials may not be produced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com