January 31, 2010
Pine Needles Are Trying to Kill Me
We live in a mountainous community where we’re able to avoid most of the man-made dangers that occur in the big city, but we still have quite a few dangers up here in this neck of the woods; mountain lions, bears, coyotes and pine needles. That’s right. Pine needles.
Now while I haven’t had many sightings of the aforementioned wildlife, I am CONSTANTLY sighting pine needles which are everywhere and, in fact, they are trying to kill me. Let me explain, lest this doesn’t make sense.
In the wintertime, when pine needles first disengage from pine trees, they appear harmless, like most things that are out to get you. They are somewhat fluffy, innocuous, and a nice, soft brown color. Pleasant looking even. Until the first storms hit, then: Whammo! They gather in piles, (or packs if you prefer), which is when they are at their most vicious.
Lone pine needles I can handle, but regrettably, they don’t stay that way for long because they unite and join forces, most often in the middle of the road. That’s when my death-defying driving dexterity kicks in because their mischievous intent becomes clear. They aim to pitch me off the road.
While my maiden name is not Gordon, Andretti or any other racing-related surname, I have learned a thing or two about running the pine needle gauntlet, our northern California version of the Indy 500, sans a safe track to bang into. Our course consists of long, winding, endless roads, bordered by treacherous shoulders of dirt and gravel, pitted next to vertical, heart-stopping drops into soul-sucking ravines. It’s Double Dog Dare Dangerous because, unlike the Indy 500, our exhibition is seasonally placed in the perilous winter months, instead of balmy spring. Navigating through spruce droppings and nature’s detritus is the price of living amongst nature, but vigilance is crucial.
A normal winter’s day often finds me minding my own business, driving serenely and thinking about things that make me happy; spending my husband’s money, the contemplation of non-invasive, youth-inducing surgical procedures and sugar-free Hershey bars when I come upon what appears to be a small, wounded animal. As I slow down to veer around the unlucky beast there is no movement at all which is when I realize it’s a pile of pine needles I need to negotiate around, not roadkill.
The real fun begins when the pace picks up as I am faced with another mound, and yet another, and another. It’s important not to panic. Nearing panic I begin slaloming as though I’m in the Winter Olympics – SUV Division – narrowly averting disaster time and again. At the end of the run my heart is racing, my palms are sweating, the remaining drop of my latté is cooling in its cup holder; however, breathing ensues once again.
Sometimes I’m not so lucky and a pine needle attacker will come upon me when my cat-like reflexes are not able to kick in. (Of course, cats don’t drive, so perhaps that’s a good thing.) That’s when I test the limits of my non-rack and pinion steering, hanging on by a tread. As I attempt to get over the Mt. Everest-sized hump of slippery needle matter I am struck by the fact that it’s amazing more people don’t get into car accidents, by themselves, than are reported.
Navigating fir fringe is an essential talent, but you’d be hard-pressed to translate it into a résumé capability and yet it’s a non-negotiable survival skill in the mountains. As we have now entered, “Beware of Pine Needles” season, I reflect upon the need for a sign with the requisite winding road squiggle, pine tree icons dotted all along it, signaling danger. Perhaps that can be my new cause, the manufacturing and placement of these signs.
Meanwhile, it helps to defer the resultant Ponderosa pressure by turning it all into a game by yelling comments like, “Whoopee!” “Whee!” “Wha-la!” “You can’t get me. I’m the Ginger Bread Man,” while dodging pine hillocks. In this way I embrace the extreme sports aspect of this mountainous pastime that is dodging Tamarack tips and it’s sort of like going over railroad tracks, really, really fast with bald tires. Very fun. Until I lose control. And the train is a comin’….around the mountain…carrying pine trees.
At this juncture, you may be asking: How can an inanimate object be out to get you? All I can say is: Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean pine needles aren’t out to get me.