March 14, 2008

The End of Days

Category: News — Ira @ 6:31 pm


“The Ides of March are come.”

—Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar”

March is the cruelest month.

The month of madness, betrayal, rage and pain.

They were in trouble and they knew it. During that summer of 2006. They existed together, but that was all. Their marriage would soon be over as well, barring a miracle. They spoke through the vast distance that separated them. Attended church together. Smiled in public. Even laughed together. Genuinely. People thought, what a nice, well adjusted couple. They so complement each other. But the perception was false and hollow. And they knew it was not true.

They had separated once before, for six months, a few years back. Both had worked on what it took to get back together. Attended counseling sessions. Talked. They reunited on the first day of spring, March 20. And everything went OK for awhile. But something under the surface always rankled, something not right. She was unfulfilled. He did not trust her. Mired in the issues that had separated them, they drifted apart again. The shaky foundations they had built together deteriorated. Over time, into nothing.

The summer drifted by, week by week. They talked now and then. Seriously, about their future, and whether it would be with each other. They attended a relative’s wedding out of state, in June. Hung out with his family.

She’d always wanted to see Valley Forge, so one Saturday morning in late August they packed a picnic basket and went there. Parked and got out. Walked the little paved path that traverses the perimeters of the camp and battlefield. Beautiful day. Windy, though. And unseasonably cool. Clouds obscured the sun for minutes at a time. They walked along, chatting amiably.

At mid-point they found a stone bench. And sat and talked. She told him she was leaving. He already knew. They had discussed it before. He didn’t want her to go, but didn’t know what to say. He knew he couldn’t convince her. She wanted actions, not words. He knew she was unfulfilled. Felt unpursued. She expressed her frustrations that day, clearly. Not in anger, but honestly, with feeling.

Gloom descended on him. He heard her speak, but her words might as well have been spoken in another language.

“I will never be able to be what you want,” he said. “The kind of man you want does not exist. Or marriage either.”

“You won’t, if that’s how you feel,” she said. “You won’t even try.”

He could live without her. He’d seen and experienced hard things before. Brutal life-altering things. Years ago, in another lifetime. Before he’d ever met her. Walked away when he thought it would kill him. It had taught him that when all else was stripped away, in silence or after all the words that could be spoken had been said, each person ultimately stands alone. And walks alone. There was no one he couldn’t live without. No one. He had learned the lesson well. He would survive.

He looked at her, then away. At the people strolling past. He fleetingly wondered what problems they were facing. If any of them could relate to him. He turned back to her.

“I have a lot of faults, I know,” he said simply. “The way you say. But I’m a good man. And you know I’m a good man.”

A white cotton-candy cloud swept across the sun. The air chilled instantly. They got up and walked on into the wind.

The weeks passed. Things were going on. And had been for most of the year. Evil things. He sensed it or should have. But he was bogged in a stupor of depression and despair. So maybe he just chose not to see what became so clear in retrospect. He hunkered down and waited for the day to come. Her plans were made. And she told him. All was set. She would leave in March.

March. The date seemed far away, yet so close. As the days counted down to D-Day, he felt it in the distance like some huge, looming storm. Approaching slowly, moving toward him inexorably, relentlessly.

He feared growing old alone.

They had one major fight, in early January. On a Saturday afternoon. She was packing her things in plastic storage containers she had bought at Wal Mart. He paced about the house, perturbed.

“It’s never going to work,” he said. “You going all the way out there and staying with her. She’s strong-willed. As you are. You two are going to fight. It’ll never work.” He walked back into the room where she was packing.

She was coming to confront him, her face contorted with rage. “Stop it right now,” she screamed. “All you do is walk around saying smug, stupid things. Stop it.” Tears of rage rolled down her cheeks.

He walked into the living room and sat on the couch, shaking. She raged on. He waited until the tirade subsided.

“You are my wife, and I love you,” he said dully. “What am I supposed to do, just sit around and watch you leave? We are married. You are my wife. I am your husband. To me, that means something.”

They both trembled with tension. And anger and frustration and stress. She struggled to control herself.

“You’ve known I am leaving,” she said, more calmly. “And you haven’t done anything to stop it. Now all of a sudden you act like you don’t want me to go.”

“I’ve never wanted you to go,” he retorted. “You know that. You are the one who’s leaving. I’m not.”

She looked at him and the rage seemed to drain from her. She spoke his name, which was unusual. They rarely addressed each other by name anymore.

“Your heart has left this marriage a long time ago,” she said.

He got up without a word and walked out to his truck. He drove around on the back roads aimlessly for an hour.

D-Day minus one. A Wednesday. He went to work as usual, then to the gym. Tried to approach the day as normally as possible. His great fear was that he would break down as she was leaving. He dreaded the actual moment.

She would leave early the next morning. He had arranged to take the day off from work. He would go work out at the gym, then meet a close friend at noon. At a park for a few hours. Just to talk it out. Help him through that fateful day.

She had packed all her things. He helped her carry the plastic storage boxes to the garage, where they would stay until she could come and retrieve them. All the stuff she would take with her was packed in suitcases and bags and boxes.

Evening came and darkness fell. Her car was parked outside, at the end of the short walkway. Pointed toward the road.

Around nine o’clock, she was ready to load. He lugged out the large suitcase and placed it in the trunk. Then stuffed in boxes and bags and jammed the trunk lid down. Then he crammed the back seat with boxes and bags until it was full.

They chatted amiably. He felt strange. Surreal. But he held up.

He knew that when she drove away the next morning, she would never return.

They talked. He asked her to text him when she arrived at her destination. So he’d know she was safe. She said she would.

They went to bed late, after eleven o’clock. She gave him half an Ambien so he could sleep, and took the other half herself. Mercifully, they both fell asleep in minutes.

They slept through the night.

The clattering alarm roused them. He awoke. And realized the date was here. That had loomed so fearfully in his mind for so long.

She got up and he heard her puttering around in the kitchen and the bathroom. Getting ready to leave their home. He lay there in bed. Awake. And numb.

The final moment. She walked through the bedroom doorway.

“I’m ready,” she said.

“Take care,” was all he could think to say. That was all. Nothing profound.

She approached him and stood by the side of the bed. Leaned above him. Placed her arm around him. Said a short prayer. For traveling safety. For herself. For strength. For him. He said nothing.

She walked out of the bedroom. The kitchen light went dark. He heard the porch door shutting softly.

And then she was gone.

He lay there, but sleep did not come again.

After awhile, he got up. Took a shower. Got dressed. An evil pulse throbbed silently through the house, a harbinger of the brutal truths that would emerge in the coming months.

The eastern sky shimmered with the brilliant hues of dawn. The day broke. It would be clear and sunny.

It was March. The cruelest month.

He walked outside alone to face the world.

March 7, 2008

A Tree Falls in New Holland

Category: News — Ira @ 6:07 pm


“I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree……

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.”
—Joyce Kilmer, “Trees”

“The most beautiful thing about a tree is what
you can make from it. Things like baseball bats
and furniture.”
—Rush Limbaugh

They stood there in the front yard, swaying in grand and lordly splendor when we first stopped to tour the house in the spring of 2000. Two giant oaks, standing as sentinels between the house and Rt. 23. Providing a barrier from all the noisy traffic that flows by each day on the clogged highway. A protective barrier between the house that be-came our home and the world.


We bought the house and took possession on May 1. I lived there alone until our wed-ding on August 4, 2000. It would be our home for the next seven years.

When we arrived, the property was in a state of somewhat shoddy disrepair. Ellen almost immediately reworked all the flower beds around the house. Sometime in the second year, we uprooted and burned an unsightly row of shrubs someone had planted on two sides of the house. That area was added to her increasingly colorful flower beds.

The two immense oak trees loomed in the front yard, proud as ever. I was a bit con-cerned because they had both grown out, spreading their enormous limbs directly over Rt. 23, almost entirely over to the other side. The lawyer in me could imagine all sorts of dire scenarios. A trunk-sized limb cracking and breaking during a storm and falling onto the road, right on top of or in front of a tractor-trailer. There would be a massive pileup, people hurt or killed, and unimaginable liability. And we’d lose our home and die in the poorhouse and, oh well, you get the picture.

Although not a tree-hugger, I have always appreciated trees. Especially the big, slow-growing kinds, the ones that stand for generations. They add character to any home. It takes foresight to plant one, and the realization that the one who plants will likely never see the tree in its most splendid adult phase.

In Aylmer, we had two great maple trees in our front yard. Kind of like my oaks here. They were just always there; I suppose they still are. The southern tree was closest to the house. Its branches grew to within a few feet of our upstairs bedroom window. The southern and western winds rustling through the maple leaves provided many a whis-pering lullaby that ushered me into dreamland as a child.

My father planted trees wherever he went. He was not particularly a tiller of the land, but he had a soft spot for trees. He was especially fond of the blue spruce and planted many of them around our home in Aylmer. He planted a row of fast-growing poplars for a windbreak east of the pond. He planted apple trees and grafted other branches onto them. One of his trees bore multiple kinds of apples, yellow and red.

In Bloomfield, he optimistically planted an orchard on a few acres on the east side of a steep hill. Tiny fruit trees of all descriptions. He cultivated the orchard vigorously but sporadically, usually on a Saturday evening after we were done with the horses. I can’t remember that the orchard bore a single apple or peach, at least none that were edible. He didn’t seem to mind; the simple act of planting motivated him and gave him joy.

In 2002, I decided to have the two great oak trees trimmed. Give them a haircut. I called Martin’s Tree Service. The nice man came out and gave me a quote. I gave him the job.

Ellen was home the day the crew arrived. She said a swarm of men, armed with chain saws, climbed up into the trees. Several others stopped the traffic in both directions. The men in the trees furiously cut away at the branches, which fell right onto the road. They stopped cutting after a few minutes. The men on the ground then quickly swept the branches off the road and allowed the traffic to proceed. They then did it all over again, until the trees were trimmed. I was pleased with the job and quit having night-mares about branches falling onto the road and causing accidents.

Then one summer evening a few years ago, a pickup truck pulled into our drive. A burly jovial man got out and introduced himself. He was the Earl Township Road Master, whatever that is. The township was planning on widening the entrance to the side road that goes right by our house. They would need a corner of our lot to do this.

We could deal with that. They would pay us a fair price, the Road Master claimed. But then he continued. The one massive oak tree would have to come down as well.

Blithely ambivalent to this point, I reacted vehemently.

“My tree. No. No. You can’t do that. That tree is probably sixty years old,” I groaned. “Anything but that.”

The Road Master, while sympathetic, did not budge. The tree would have to go. I shut up so he wouldn’t think I was a tree-hugger. I was starting to sound like one.

And so, in August of 2006, another crew converged on our property. They didn’t move quite as fast as the Martin’s Tree Service crew. They marked off a corner of our lot and plowed about with bulldozers and gravel trucks. Before they poured a new curb, they whacked down the proud old oak tree that had stood firmly in our yard for almost two generations. That evening, I dramatically observed a moment of silence beside the forlorn stump that was all that remained. The next day even it was gone.

And then there was one. One lonely lordly tree, standing guard between our house and the world.


The tree seemed sad. I think it missed its friend. Its companion, who had stood there so firmly planted for all those years. They had grown up together, grown old together, faced life side by side. Survived decades of lashing winds and thunderstorms. Swayed in the balmy spring breezes. Provided a canopy of cool shade from the hot summer sun. Cast their leaves to the biting winds as the winter months set in.

Now it was alone.

In the last year, it wept continuously and copiously, dropping increasing amounts of little twigs to the ground. Kept messing up my yard. Every time I mowed, I had to clear the yard, or mulch the little twigs with the new mulcher mower I bought when my old one blew up last summer. But the tree seemed to have as abundant a supply of leaves as it ever had.

Late last year a fairly mild little ice storm rattled through the area. The next morning I saw a mid-sized tree limb on the ground. It had broken from the tree, glanced off the porch roof, and landed in the yard. I borrowed a chain saw the following Saturday and cut up the limb. It made a nice little pile of wood. I set the wood pile beside the road with a “Free” sign on it. The next time I looked, the pile was gone.

Two weeks ago I spent four days at the Harrisburg Horse World Expo, as those who read this blog already know. Another snow and sleet storm swept through while I was gone. This one was big.

After I returned, my upstairs tenant knocked on the door. She claimed a limb had broken from the tree and was hanging dangerously from another limb right above the walkway she uses to reach her car. Convinced she was exaggerating, I walked out with her to take a look.

I almost had a stroke. It was exactly as she claimed. A rather hefty limb had indeed broken off and hung there precariously, swinging in the wind, directly above her walks. Visions of liability and dying in the poorhouse danced in my head again, for the first time in years. I sternly forbade her from using the walks until I could get the limb removed.

I called Martin’s Tree Service right there and then. The nice man promised he would stop by the next day. He did and called me at work.

He could trim the tree, he said. How many years would it have left? Four or five. I hesitated for a moment, trying to imagine my front yard bare and open, with no tree.

“Take it down.” I said.

“I think that’s the right thing to do,” he said kindly.

So the next day they did.

I arrived home that evening to huge chunks of wood strewn about my front yard. They were all that remained of my proud old oak. The crew foreman told me the tree was actually more rotten than it appeared. The bigger limbs would have broken and crash-ed to the ground before long. Taking it down was the right thing to do, he assured me.



Maybe so. But still, it’s a bit tough to absorb the new reality. And there now stands no protective barrier between my home and the world.

I was flying down the interstate last weekend on the way home from West Virginia and my last trade show of the season. Late afternoon and I was tired. Suddenly a little silver car squirted into the traffic from the ramp ahead of me. I stared at it. It looked like someone had placed a large jelly bean into a vise and squeezed it. The narrow oblong contraption trundled along on four wheelbarrow-sized tires protruding from the bottom.

“Now THAT is one ugly little car,” I thought to myself. I pulled up alongside in my powerful, rented Dodge Charger.

It was a hybrid. Brand new, looked like. And I was right, it was one ugly little car. The middle aged, sixties-type gray-haired couple inside peered out, all smug and conde-scending. Liberals, probably. Busy doing their little bit to save the earth. Seeing my appalled stare, the bearded tweed-jacketed driver stepped on the accelerator and the ugly little battery-powered jelly bean skedaddled forward into traffic like a frightened rabbit. It could move, I’ll give it that much.

Now I have nothing against hybrids, other than they are ugly. It’s a free market. If you want to drive one, feel free. Just don’t legislate and force me to do it. And don’t be fooled. You won’t be saving the environment. You won’t be doing anything, other than putzing along in an unsafe jelly bean of a car, showing the world you are a pompous, superior, condescending pain in the you-know-what.

Update on Anne Marie Zook. Anne Marie has finished the first month of her strict nat-ural diet program. She looks and feels fine. Last week, after an MRI scan, the doctor admitted that he could not tell whether what he saw was scar tissue or the brain tumor returning. He had warned Anne Marie that if she didn’t take some sort of conventional treatment (radiation, chemotherapy), another operation would likely be necessary in three months. It’s now been two months, and he can’t see anything to operate on. Which is a good thing.

Her parents, who had been staying with them during the last month, left for their home in British Columbia, Canada last Monday morning.

They are doing well. Paul, Anne Marie, Cody and Adrianna. Living each day with an intensity that most of us cannot fathom. I haven’t seen them lately as much as I’d like because I’ve been out of town the last two weekends. We always laugh a lot when we’re together.

Finally, don’t forget to turn your clocks ahead one hour this Saturday night. Daylight Savings time begins, thanks to the infinite wisdom of our meddling Congress. And you all know how I feel about that.