Into the woods

Screenshot 2018-02-28 at 4.52.31 AMA few thoughts before I trade my pillow for rocks and tree roots:

There are several reasons why I picked early March for my solo jaunt along the Appalachian Trail. I didn’t carefully consider all I would miss. I am a college basketball junkie. March is prime time for the sport. I will have no possible way of keeping up with some of the most important games of the season. Unless that is, there is a bear or two with the ESPN app.

My wife made sure to have me read an article on how to avoid snake bites, and what to do if skin does happen to meet fang. There are no hospitals along the Appalachian Trail, and an ambulance would have one heck of a time climbing Blood Mountain. The article advises the victim of a snake bite to remain calm and move away from the snake. I’m not sure how calm I would be, but I’m certainly not going to move toward any snake angry enough to bite me.

For the last month, most of my hikes and walks around town have been accomplished with 35-pounds strapped to my back. For 10 days, I will give my whole world a piggyback ride over steep hill and stream, and I want to be prepared. This has drawn a few curious stares, especially when I rambled down to the neighborhood creek to practice my water purification techniques. I’m glad my wife talked me out of sleeping in the front yard.

There are only a couple of things that concern me about this venture, and one of them is keeping my meals from furry thieves. While camping along the trail, I will have to hang my food supply away from the black bear population. I have 50-feet of rope and absolutely no idea how to tie it. You see, I’m no Boy Scout. If somehow I manage to fake my way into an adequate slip knot, I’ve got to make sure my food bag is dangling in just the right position so a bear can’t reach it from the ground or the tree. I might as well just notify Yogi that there’s a nice plump picnic basket waiting for him.

I’ve taken a peek at the extended weather forecast for the days I’ll spend in the mountains, and it appears somewhat daunting. There is a mention of rain hanging over half of the days I will spend hiking and sleeping out in the elements. There is even talk of snow. Yep. Nighttime temperatures, if the forecast holds, will be in the 30s. My next step is to review the limited wardrobe I plan to carry. Unfortunately, there’s no room in my backpack for a space heater.

My wife is already fully aware that when she picks me up at the end of this venture, I will smell like the hot, rancid center of a landfill. I will not shower for a week-and-a-half. The closest I’ll come to bathing is a quick, daily rub down with a baby wipe. I won’t shave either, but that’s not much of an issue. There are 13-year-olds who will wake up this morning with more facial hair than I can grow in a month. The only thing that will look like a beard will be the cloud of flies following me.

One final thought–

I have absolutely no idea what I’ll encounter between Springer Mountain, Georgia, and the hills of North Carolina. I’m sure there are surprises waiting, and I really hope there are. I want to emphasize the purpose of my trip. It’s a little complicated, but then again, it has a rather simple core. I need to spend some time where it’s just me and God. I need the silence of the night so I can hear His voice. I need peaceful days away from phones and traffic noise so I can focus on His message. I’m dedicating my trip to the memory of my father and my sister and the loss that is still quite heavy. But it is God who will blaze the trail, lift my feet when they’re heavy, and warm me when the ground is soft with snow.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”– Isaiah 52:7



Bumble B

jerry and bEvery workplace has one. 

I’m talking about the co-worker who can cut through the darkness with a smile, a friend who can dissolve stress with a light hearted greeting, a partner in crime who will celebrate the end of the week with a Friday dance-off.

For more than three decades, the ray of sunshine in an often stressful newsroom on Monroe Place went by the name of Birnur Richardson.

We called her “B.” Just B. She immigrated from Turkey, finding her way to WXIA-TV where she began work as an intern in that often stressful newsroom that, in those days, was located on West Peachtree Street. Without complaint, B eagerly tackled each and every task the bosses sent charging toward her. Eventually, WXIA-TV had to offer her full-time work. It was either that, or lose our version of Muhammad Ali– smart, spry, able to punch out tasks with an entertaining bounce.

She could float like a butterfly, but this B had no sting.

I met Birnur in the summer of 1981. We were both interns, both tasked with working the WXIA assignment desk during the weekends. I arrived in the mornings, she took over in the afternoons. We were naive and nervous, and I took the job quite seriously, probably way too seriously. In her good natured style, B would often poke fun of my overstressed attitude and urge me to relax. She became a big sister. Seven years later, I would work my way back to the WXIA newsroom, and there was B, still trying to keep me at ease with her polite ribbing and her big, captivating smile.

Years passed. B drifted to the morning shift, and eventually, so did I. A newsroom can be a solemn, grumpy place at 3 a.m., unless you employ Birnur Richardson. Nothing could faze her. Editing glitches, computer problems, system breakdowns. She handled it all with polite professionalism. And if you had an issue, somehow she would break away from her job of editing two-and-a-half hours of videotape to help. Never, not once, did I ever hear B speak a cross word to anyone. Ever.

Last year, after 35 years at WXIA, Birnur Richardson retired. She went home to spend time with her husband and two children. She seemed quite happy, at peace. Her work family missed her terribly, so when word filtered back that she was sick, we worried. But it seemed she was going to be ok. At least, that’s the way it seemed to me. Part of it is that B didn’t let a whole lot of people know just how sick she really was. Part of it, I’m sure, is my fault. Perhaps I wouldn’t let my mind accept the possibility that cancer was about to claim yet another loved one.

When Birnur Richardson passed away, it was like Interstate 85 had collapsed all over again, only this time, it dropped right on top of my head.

I can’t stop seeing the smile that could cut right through the stress. I can’t stop hearing the song that our morning co-worker Jojo Johnson would sing to Birnur every Friday:

Bumble Bee

Don’t you dare sting me…

And I can’t stop hearing B’s exuberant “Whoo hoo” at the end of each Friday performance.

Since her passing, I’ve heard from people who are long gone from WXIA, but continue to cherish their time working with the effervescent Birnur. Everyone is in total shock. Generations of former co-workers remember her tough but gentle nature, and her joyful approach to each and every situation. We are trying to comfort each other with the the stories of how B treated us all like family.

She was tough. She was smart. She was hard working, but most of all, Birnur Richardson was happy. She lived and worked in a joyful manner that bubbled over, infecting everyone around her.

Once again, cancer leaves its sting.

It won’t erase our joyful memories of the Bumble B who brought a smile instead of a sting.