Friday, October 2, 2009

More Tea

In yesterdays post I spaced out the title. It happens frequently. I'm so busy concentrating on the immediate, I ignore my surroundings. I get a phone call while I'm upstairs. I forget that I'm washing breakfast dishes and hot water is running in the sink. The previous owners of this place choose inexpensive whenever they make a decorating decision. The cheap sink has a divider between the two tubs. It's the same height as the outside surface, hence the sink overflows and floods the kitchen.

Three Cups of Tea is the true story of Greg Mortenson's work building a school in the northern reaches of Pakistan. There is much in the story that inspires me. Some parts are more than amazing, such as the mountain scenery. Twenty years previously, an Irish nurse travels the difficult road that Mr. Mortenson drives in a heavily overloaded Bedford truck. She goes by horse-back in winter with a five year old daughter. The ravine below the road is littered with the skeleton of a bus that got too close to the edge. Mortenson, when asked about the dangers of traveling in remote Pakistan, an area famous for banditry, bands of Taliban and Al Qaeda " benefactors", replies that the dangers of traveling the precarious "goat path" or road to Skardu was greater than any terrorist bullet.

The picture above is my five year old daughter gathering sumac berries to make Indian Tea, a natural beverage high in vitamin C. The eldest daughter is standing on the stoop of the 16X33 foot Vietnam era army squad tent which was our home for a year. The birch woods in the background was our backyard. In summer one had to watch for poison ivy growing there. The tent was constructed on a platform made from flooring salvaged from the dance hall of the county fair grounds. The west end was eight feet off the edge of the hill. A small deck with a hickory tree growing through the boards overlooked a ravine and woods.

We had a four wheel drive truck and an old Plymouth with a push button transmission I bought from a fellow teacher before I quit a four year stint as an inner city teacher. I'd signed a two year contract as part of the Teacher Corps. After four years of combat, I was ready for the Driftless region of rural Wisconsin. Bill and Dolly were a mismatched team I bought for inaccessible regions of the 25 acres at the end of a dead end road we called home. Across the road was a commune of 100 individuals living in 5 army tents like ours and a main wood structure that housed 33 people. They lived close to the land. smoked a lot of ditch weed and birthed babies in those tents. I was the ambulance driver.

We had no running water, no electricity and a three bench sauna for bathing purposes. On Saturday nights we'd listen to Prairie Home Companion on our battery powered radio. I'd saved $6000 on my teacher salary of $8100 over the course of 4 years. We made a grand total of $150 that year. Cabin fever, lack of conveniences and arguments over my wife's smoking habit bounced us back to the familiarity of the city. Two months of living with her parents made me desperate for our own place. Thanks to a loan from my mother, we were able to purchase a 3 bedroom home on the edge of the city close to the suburbs. The backyard abutted the Milwaukee River. The first thing I did with the huge backyard was to convert it to a garden.

The backyard was a skating rink in winter and furnished us with fresh vegetables in summer. I installed a 16 foot above ground pool on the upper level of the backyard and then a salvaged Lord and Burnham greenhouse where I grew tomatoes and house plants. I wrote of our life in the woods and submitted the story to the local paper. I don't even remember a rejection letter. Just a manila envelope with the story of " modern day pioneering inside" .

Yeah, I'm asking myself; "Where are you going with this story." The answer. I don't know. I'm repeating the same scenario from years ago, only bigger and better. The neighbors erect a brand new pre-fab chicken house and I look at our metal shed along the south fence line. We poured a new cement floor early on with the intention of raising chickens. Trite but true. Been there, done that before. 1971 to be exact. Five pigs, four Muscovy ducks, 300 chickens, 4 rabbits that become 144 rabbits, a dog and two cats.

A gray, misty, dismal dawn where the photoelectric light still burns brightly at 7:00 am has me restless. The Pooch comes in from a brief tour of the grounds. He touches noses with Mandy. I look out the deck window and realize that I forgot to turn off the gas grill. Mandy likes her breakfast slightly cooked. I don't want to dirty a pan-I hate doing dishes-so I throw a cheap cut of pork on the grill. I'm too lazy to get my muck boots on to walk out on the wet deck. There's an old running shoe in Mandy's toy box without laces. I slip it on and hop on one foot to the grill. When I open the deck door , the dog cat and cat are sitting side by side staring at me. You can tell they're amazed by my antics. I chuckle at their expressions. They chase each other around the house until I separate the two. Mandy falls asleep on"her" chair and the cat leaves for another outdoor tour.

I need some fun.

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