Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Black Back

number twenty-two

After leaving Greensboro, we enjoyed a short stopover in eastern Kentucky. At least I mostly enjoyed it--I did rough myself up a little. 1,322 words.

[AT LARGE]—We got to the farm in Kentucky at about ten after ten in the pouring morning rain. It had let up a little through the worst of the twisty mountain roads, but was back to pounding us again as we tried to get out of the car. Even the dogs weren’t having any, and where they usually ran at the intruders, barking, this time they just yawned at us dolefully as we rushed the porch they were cozily defending.

Sunshine’s parents were up and about and we spent a little time drinking coffee, and chatting on the porch before it became totally apparent to me that I was going to try to stay awake all day. We’d driven away from Greensboro directly after last call—and after a few packing details—and had been on the road all night. Between my cold making me cough and the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, I hadn’t gotten much more than an hour’s sleep, and that was gonna have to do me. But the farm is beautiful and diverting: there are flowers and bottles and dolls, skulls and very green lushes, the friendly company of Sunshine’s parents Bet and Cecil, and two newly apathetic dogs. There were even kittens. Plus, my surprise on this trip was that Sunshine’s Uncle Bill had flown in from Juneau, Alaska to visit Bet for her birthday (which was Friday), and I was finally getting to meet him.

So after drinking cups of coffee, and showing mom around the farm some, the rain had backed off a little and Bet decided that if she was going to take her traditional birthday hike—already abbreviated, I believe, because we had piled into town—she was going to have to get to it. The first two times I had been asked if I wanted to tag along, I had refused, but at the last minute I decided that I wasn’t going to have much luck staying awake alone in the house, and opted to join them. Mom was opting to crash.

Also, they promised that it would be an easy “walk” instead of a real hike. Because of all the rain, Bet was afraid that the slope to the nearby waterfall, Big Falls, was going to be impossibly muddy. She said that we would better be able to take a less vertical “road” to the runoff creek down from the falls, and then walk along it observing nature. So we headed off thataway. Of course, the easy road was covered over by fallen trees, drug across the path to discourage people on four wheel drive quad-runners from killing themselves off by screeching into the gorge. Fine, I can climb over a bunch of fallen trees. Still, as someone who doesn’t often hike, really, and who had really gotten no sleep, and who, by god, was wearing untested boots (purchased twenty-four hours before, and not taken off since), I am pretty sure I should have been more careful. See, a benign foot-high tree that can be stepped over on one side of a descending forty-five degree path is, like, five feet in the air on the other side, right? And all the trees were pretty slick after the rain. Hopping foolishly from one branch to another, so as to clear the whole mess before coming down on the other side, my boot slipped away form me and I rolled a little and snapped down hard on the right side of my back. I had the unique sensation of knocking the air out of only one lung, huff, then rolled violently out of the fork that had clubbed me, fell to my feet and kept trudging, nonchalantly. But it felt like I might have really damaged myself.

Frankly, it was painful. The fall had scraped me up, and the broken feeling in my back was growing, too. I could move all around, and stretch sideways, and breathe deeply and move my arms around without making it hurt any worse, but I could tell that the pain was gaining on me. I was able to enjoy the rest of the hike, but within the hour, I was already asking to stop, and I think that, yet again, the hike was curtailed because of me (even though I would have been fine with sitting it out and being picked up later when the others returned). Bill showed me a little about the deer tracks he found, and we saw four turtles (you know: or tortoises), and two orange lizards that I can not for the life of me remember what Cecil later told us they were called. It was nice, but again, the, you know, agony.

By the time I had huffed and puffed back up the damn slope road, and over the death tree, my body was really beginning to stiffen-up some, and I couldn’t get over the sensation, somehow bigger than the pain, that something was sorely amiss back there. Returning to the farm, I took a bunch of Bet’s Tylenol, and I started drinking all of Cecil’s beer. Also, I kept trying to get out and walk around stretching it, assuming that it would stiffen less if the muscles were tired. It worked pretty well. I mean, it still hurt, but not enough to keep me in bed or anything.

By the time we got back from eating that night, I was sure that half of my back was a jet black bruise, and was nonplussed to discover one little welt and two tiny scratches. After sleeping out in the Ison family smokehouse, the following morning it still was only scraped, and the teeny welt had gone away, even. Throughout the evening the pain had intensified somewhat, but handfuls of aspirin and a long hot shower worked a little medicine. By later in the day, I had become convinced that I had not actually broken a rib (yet, what was that snapping sound when I landed?), but that I was bruised through my lung to my soul; and still no black back. I didn’t know how bad the pain was going to get, though, and I was sure that I was having a better time of it at the farm that I would be having folded into the rental car, jostling down the freeway. We opted to deviate from our plan, and stay another night.

By the time I headed to bed on Saturday, my beer and aspirin regimen was keeping the advancing stiffness at bay, and the pain had leveled off to where it continues to be. I was a little stunned to see it was snowing outside and when we checked the thermometer, Bill discovered that it had been stuck at 52 degrees: it fell sharply to the lower thirties when he tapped it. I was a little concerned because the smokehouse has no heat, so I slept in my leather jacket and boots. I promised myself that I wasn’t too proud to retreat inside if the cold played hell with my back, but it wasn’t so bad as all that. Next morning, when I woke up, I was happy and only a little stiff, the pain was still evened off, and it was still snowing like hell.

After breakfast, we decided it was time to head off. I figured that I was good to travel so we did. Leaving the farm always sucks, and it continued to snow on us as we made our way through the twisty mountain roads to the highway. My black back handled the riding pretty well, I was not all that uncomfortable because the only motion that seems to hurt, really, even now, is when I cough. Then I feel like I am going to faint from sheer excruciating pain. But, I think I should be able to stay out of the hospital.

At least until after I have gotten to Mexico.

Snow on the Ridge, six days till May. Photo by Author

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