Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free Rocks

All right, we've all had it. An inch and three-quarters of rain should not flood the road, or our gardens, or make off with my impatiens we had just planted, and it certainly shouldn't make off with Linda's footbridge. (It could have made off with Linda, too, but she's OK.)

The problem is that back after Hurricane Ivan, some out of town, and mostly out of state, People Who Claimed To Know Better had a whole bunch of loose rock and dirt dumped along the edges of three or four local creeks. Now, I don't argue that the rock is pretty, white limestone (except for the shale that LOOKED like limestone, most of which has already fallen apart into mud.) The problem is that the engineers who decided how big their riprap should be had no idea of what water can throw around.

Our local creek had a bunch of water to get rid of in January 2005 when an unnamed late-season tropical storm paid a visit. In the process, it picked up the loose small rocks and piled them in the first available low spot...which made a dam across the creek. Now, whenever it rains a fairly normal amount, we get water in places it should never go, and that's aggravating, to put it mildly. I don't blame the rain. It's just trying to get through the hydrologic cycle and all that, and it needs to get to the river from the hilltop. Since it doesn't have a creek bed to use any more, it uses our yards and the middle of the road. That's bad for our nerves, the lawns, the landscaping and my neighbor's swimming pools.

People along the other creeks are every bit as unnerved, annoyed, aggravated and a bunch of other less pleasant words. Over the past four years and change, we've all been trying to get the powers that be to come back and get all their pretty white rocks that are in the wrong place. They've had every excuse you can imagine, ranging from "Those aren't our rocks" to "You don't know where the creek is supposed to be" to "That would be dredging, and dredging is a bad word." First of all, those WERE their rocks. Second, most of us have been here for fifty years and more, and we DO know where the creek is supposed to be, and we have the pictures to prove it. Third, it isn't dredging if you pick up what you dropped, any more than you're scraping up the highway when you pick up litter. The arguments start to sound like the stuff we did when we were little kids: "I don't know whose shoes those are that look exactly like mine, or how they got up on the roof, but somebody else is going to have to take them blame for them falling off and hitting Dad on the head."

The only leeway we have, since we can't use machinery to put back the creek bed, is that we, or anyone else who cares to, are allowed to pick up rocks from the stream by hand and do whatever we, or anyone else, want with them as long as we don't leave them in the flood plain.
They might make interesting novelty items to sell if it weren't for the postage, but using them for pet rocks is about like growing giant sequoias in planters on your patio. There's also the matter of postal employees with hernias from trying to deliver them, so that's probably out. It looks like there are enough of them for, oh, maybe a small castle, if any of us had the right piece of land for it and were expecting a Saxon invasion. We could build flower beds, but we'd have to have room for maybe 27, 841 of them.

We wouldn't want to encourage anyone to pick up heavy objects and hurt themselves, mind you. Rocks can be slippery, even when the water is low, and some vehicles aren't made to haul a lot of extra weight or whatever, so gee whiz, don't do anything that might get you hurt. However, if we come out some morning and find that person or persons unknown have made off with several semi trailer loads of limestone, I doubt any of us would call the authorities, especially the authorities that dumped all that stuff here. The sudden appearance of multiple porchposts, flowerbeds, patios, rock gardens, building foundations, stone houses, freshly ballasted railroad lines or full-scale replicas of the Great Wall of China will be taken as nothing more than strange coincidences. Just don't let us hear any heavy equipment running, and don't claim we told you to do anything dangerous.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Sorry, I'm Not Dead Yet

"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated"--Mark Twain

A couple of years ago, one of my retired coal miner friends was in a restaurant upriver and chanced to mention that he needed to get hold of me and get another copy of my book. The grouchy older man in the next booth turned around. "You can't," he said. "She got divorced and moved away a long time ago."

My friend was a little startled by that, but not nearly as much as he was when he was in the same restaurant the next day and the same guy (who hung out there almost 24/7) yelled "You can't! She's DEAD!"Fortunately, Dan decided to call and see who answered the phone, so he
figured out that Mr. Hangout was telling whoppers, but it hadn't stopped there. Over the next few months, an old friend didn't send a Christmas card, and when I ran into her, seemed really startled. Someone had sent her an obituary with my name on it. My editor thought I was dead, but couldn't remember who had told her so. The best one was a woman who mistook me for my cousin and asked how my husband was doing since he was a widower...and whether he was dating yet. I had to go around all that spring scaring people out of nine years' growth because Mr. Hangout was so busy with his wishful thinking.

After the initial surprise, I took to asking people what they'd heard happened to me. You know, you kind of expect to hear you shuffled off your mortal coil from some regular middle-aged disease or a run of the mill accident. Hoo boy, if I had the kind of life in the stories Mr.
Hangout told, I'd never run out of short story material! The first part of it never varied: I had dumped my husband and kid and run away to...at first it was a little town near here, then it was
Chicago, and eventually it was New Orleans. I got into all kinds of wild adventures, then got killed driving drunk in Hurricane....errrr...Ivan, or maybe it was Katrina, yeah, Katrina, and it happened because I was not only drunk but trying to rescue the contents of my business, which
was...uh, this is a family-type column, and we won't go into that (and I most likely wouldn't have gone into a business like that.)

The details varied, but all of the stories were a heck of a lot more interesting than the truth. Now and then, some of those stories sound like brief and wicked fun. Just think about barreling around the midnight city in a muscle car, wearing one of those outfits Elvira, Mistress of the Dark looks so good in. The rest of the stories always sounded cribbed from a soap opera, the kind where people get married every five minutes, run off to Europe with no apparent qualms about who is feeding their cats, and never have to stand in line at the airport arguing about whether a crochet hook is a deadly weapon. It was even a little flattering to think I could have made
money...errr...doing what he claimed I'd been doing.

But you know what? I'll take real life for as long as I get it. For those who haven't checked in on his column since we used to print the dead tree edition every Tuesday, I still live in the same place with most of the same neighbors, still have the same husband (the only one, 26 years and counting), still have the same offspring, even if he is a teenager now, and still definitely do NOT have the body for those Elvira dresses.

Good Lord willing and the creek doesn't rise (and if you know where we live, you know why we take that literally) I'll check in here every week with my usual train of thought, way off the rails, and I promise not to run off to Chicago with a traveling salesman.