Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

For years I have been thrilled with the shows on Animal Planet. Even though there is considerable film editing before it gets to viewers, there is a grit and grind about the episodes that keeps me in front of the tube. With so much life to be enjoyed, and death that strikes quickly, or slowly, in myriad ways, I connect and understand it for what it is, as most humans do, and it seems so easy to apply many of the situations to humans. Sounds cliché and silly, but it is the cycle of life. However, the saddest occasions for me to watch are the changing of the guard scenes, whether they happen in a pack, pride, troop, herd or any other social structure. The alpha or dominant male that has sired throngs of offspring, protected, directed and, on occasion, provided, has his relatively short reign ended in a usually violent, winner take all showdown.
I have reached a milestone recently that makes me think about the changing of the guard in the animal kingdom.  Actually, I probably reached that point some time back, just never acknowledged it. I went trail riding with my youngest son, 18, on trails that I have ridden many times without incident. That day was different. It was the day chosen, for whatever reason, to be my personal Animal Planet day of reckoning, of awakening and self-assessment. It was a reality check-up. Up to that day I was the dominant male, the king of my domain. I have not been defeated or banished. I am still the father. I am still the alpha male in most respects, but my physical domination has given way in my own changing of the guard episode.

All three of my sons always referred to my strength as “man muscles.” I had, what seemed to them, a system of iron cables and precision pulleys and wenches beneath my skin. Only a few months ago I wore my youngest down in an arm wrestling match. My scrawny arm holding firm, until it was time to finish off his bulk. I think he was slightly shocked, since he works out lifting weights every day, and I do virtually nothing to maintain condition.

Anyway, I led for the first part of our bike ride, then, at the second rest and drink stop, I told him to go first. He offered me some pointers, to make my pedaling easier. I was sucking for air, he was hardly breathing, so I suppose those two rest stops were really for me. It didn’t take long for something unfortunate to happen. From behind, I watched him jump his bike over a small clump of roots, with about a one-foot drop back onto the narrow trail. Who can’t do that? Well, me. I got up speed, reached the roots, jerked up on the handlebars and made the small jump, with only one problem; I landed in the soft sand alongside the eight-inch path. The sand acted like a perfect set of brakes. The bike smashed down on its side, I flew off and skidded a few feet. No harm or injury. Physically. Through the aches and scratches it struck me as funny and I lay there laughing, for nearly a minute, before mounting up and continuing.

It wasn’t even ten minutes before the next mishap. I was pedaling down a small hill, attaining a decent speed, to where my son was waiting at the bottom. When I was several yards away I braked hard, squeezing a bit too strong on the front brake handle, plus I was leaning too far forward with my body and, once again, found a patch of soft sand. My bike did a beautiful cartwheel, catapulting me eight or ten feet onto a hardpan, gravelly area, where I plunked my head against a rock. I was not seriously hurt. Physically. However, I was scuffed, stunned and a little unaware. He came running over to check on me. Again, after getting collected, I laughed, told him I had never fallen before and here I had done it twice in front of him. As I mounted the bike and began pedaling, I started playing in my mind those episodes of dethroned big cats, wild horses, wolves, baboons and more, applying the downfall of each to myself. Yes, my reign of physical dominance was over. I realized I was a finite commodity and took my place behind him as we began the last couple miles back to the truck.

My youngest, our baby, rode ahead slowly, at first, his words of concern, the same words every minute or so, getting smaller and softer as the distance between us increased, “You okay, dad? You okay?”  In my huffing and puffing I responded each time that I was fine. Then, he was no more than a speck, way up ahead, until he disappeared beyond the last bend in the trail, leaving me with my pounding heart, heaving breath, the beauty of  a yellowish late-day light and a concert from the mockingbirds, singing about how lakes go dry, deserts flood and, sometimes, the moon darkens the sun.

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