Ted Kalvitis - Far Muse

It seems that when it comes to the art of writing, I now only have time for works that pay especially well. These usually first appear in this column in their full length of about 1,400 words.

It’s easier and a lot more fun to write freely and then impose any necessary word limit through editing later.

After I trim these stories down to about 800 words, these commissioned works are sold to a national publisher for an amount many times what a smaller regional publisher is able to pay.

Between these, the Hampshire Review publishes some of 500 archived Far Muse installments, editor’s choice. This makes Wednesdays exciting for me because I never know which forgotten work Jim might dig up.

Anyway, I now have a standing order for a monthly Bible-based rural humor story. My assignment in this otherwise largely secular publication; ‘‘Instead of using as many words as possible to emphatically declare nothing in particular, present Bible based information that is both entertaining and useful.”

I’ve long used Bible references because they sound old-timey. If my extensive reading of 19th-Century literature is any indication, it would appear that people really used to talk that way. Bible-related phrases such as “a hunter before the Lord,” “swords into plowshares,” “patience of Job” and “covers a multitude of sins” were universally understood then.

Moreover, who could forget Aunt Polly’s “Land o’ Goshen?” I’ll just be taking it a step further.

So far, “Three Days” (Nov. 11, 2020) and “Give it Back to the Indians” (Dec. 9, 2020) are my first such efforts in this field. I’ll try to make this adventure as painless as possible for Review readers.

“Vine Castles” is the 3rd in this series.

* * *

A young couple crossed our property at some distance from the house. I gave this very little thought until days later when they crossed again and yet again about a week later.

This time, I intercepted them, identified myself as the landowner and asked what their business might be. The woman, apparently the more articulate of the 2, explained that when cares of this life become overwhelming, they go to a special “settin’ place” in order to recover.

In the part of Europe from whence my grandparents hail it is not customary to post land. My grandfather never posted his 170 New Jersey acres though hunting season usually brought countless relatives that we didn’t know we had. So far, I’ve been able to adhere to this tradition.

I bade them to carry on, though I would not be responsible for accidents. I secured my release from liability by secretly recording the conversation with a small pocket tape recorder.

One day when I was sure that they weren’t around, I decided to locate and inspect their little hillbilly meditation garden. If I happened to find litter, our arrangement would be instantly terminated. Instead of litter, what I found launched me into a nostalgic reverie.

By the creek where the vines grow thick, this couple had established a vine castle.

What’s a vine castle? Back in the day, honeysuckle vines would climb to the top of a tree – old apple trees seemed especially suitable – say, about 20 to 30 feet tall, completely engulfing the tree. (In modern times, vine honeysuckle has been largely displaced by the invasive bush variety.)

Lacking sunlight, the vines under this natural canopy die, leaving a totally enclosed hollowed-out area completely concealed from the outside world. Once an entrance was established, a child could crawl inside.

Feeling protected by the opaque vine walls, he could – in the vernacular of the period – tell the world to go and “mind its own beeswax.”

Though the honeysuckle vine castle may be a little hard to find these days, a few invasive plants have stepped up to the plate. Further south, kudzu has taken over entire forest ecosystems. People actually reside under kudzu vine castles.

Locally, multiflora rose – in moist, fertile areas such as river bottom – can grow to vine castle capacity. Multiflora rose takes a little more work than honeysuckle as each dead vine inside must be broken off and removed.

Still, we’re almost certain to encounter a thorn or 2 when sitting down.

We have novelist-turned-agronomist Louis Bromfield to thank for the proliferation of this troublesome bush. Bromfield planted multiflora on Malabar Farm, his Ohio estate. He then touted its value as a natural fence.

Today, multiflora rose is out of control – ol’ Bromfield should have stuck to his books.

Though a distant cousin to the apple, I don’t recommend eating multiflora rose hips. I tried this while pheasant hunting in Iowa. When it comes to “revenge” Montezuma has nothing over multiflora.

Once inside a vine castle, we sense that warm, secure felling. A vine castle will turn a light rain or a moderate wind, but, in reality, it can protect us from little else. It does, however, quite effectively conceal one from sight.

I used to imagine myself as an Indian hiding from the cavalry. A few years and many episodes of Vick Morrow’s “Combat!” later, I would imagine myself as part of a reconnaissance squad securely hidden by the vines from German patrols.

Still later, a vine castle became a place for deep thought. One example is the debate between intelligent design and random chance. I considered the pocket watch parts in a blender illustration. How long would it take for a complete pocket watch, wound and set to the correct time to emerge?

We have about as much chance of butt-texting a symphony.

The answers to such questions are pretty much a no-brainer. This leaves more complex questions such as “Does money and the amassing of material possessions lead to true happiness and security?”

In the Bible, Ecclesiastes 7:12 tells us that money is a “defense” (KJV) or a protection. Sure, it’s always better to confront life’s challenges with a little heft to the wallet rather than broke. Most of us have experienced both, so we know this all too well.

But how much protection can money and possessions actually provide? I’m reminded of the current trend toward elaborate, heavily armed survivalist compounds scattered about these hills. When civilization eventually collapses, these places will supposedly be the last bastions of security,  possibly even taking a stand against governmental forces gone awry.

These refugees blissfully ignore that these facilities could be reduced to rubble using military technology from over 100 years ago. (England’s World War 1 Sopwith Fl “Camel” – though technically a fighter plane – carried 4 25-pound bombs under its fuselage.)

Proverbs 18:11 says; “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit.” The Easy to Read Bible states it; “The rich think their wealth will protect them. They think it is a strong fortress.”

Other translations use “imagination” in place of the King James’s “conceit.”

Though our alarm systems may be state-of-the-art, bears still get in. So much for security. As for true happiness and contentment, the rich are constantly living under worrisome siege conditions. (See 1 Timothy 6:9-10.) I confess that the simple life I once enjoyed has – over the years – somehow quietly escaped me. I’m now somewhere between “a protection” and “a fortified city in my imagination.”

We own real estate in excess of our needs. We keep warm and well fed and can even afford a little wine (quantities are relative – we’re big people) now and then.

This may sound well balanced, but if you try to sell me something or ask me to change a big bill, you’ll find that I’m just about as broke as anyone. This condition is largely due to the taxes and insurance premiums that I must pay in order to hang on to it all.

Money is like a vine castle. Though pleasant, any sense of security, deep satisfaction or contentment is only an illusion.

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