Floyd Man Becomes Human Scarecrow

They call them accidents: low-probability events that somehow come to pass despite the odds, resulting in personal or property damage, humiliation, and/or law suits. They are less entertaining and more painful when they happen to our own personal selves. And they are especially chilling when, with just a little different trajectory, a bit more force and the momentary distraction of our better angels, our little accidents might result in headlines like the one above.

Said accidents also tend to come totally out of left field–unexpected, impossible (within the bounds of sanity) to prepare oneself for or to protect against; and stunningly inconvenient and often life-redirecting while as much healing occurs only as quickly as bruised self-esteem and inner recuperative processes will allow.

It happened, of all places, in the garden. The garden: The place I go to feel sheltered, safe and separated from all risk and care. Wouldn’t you know.

Victim: I am simply picking the yellow crookneck squash whose fruits wink into maturity at the rate of about one an hour. We cannot neglect them or else we’d wake up of a morning and find the garden a giant wire-basket cornucopia filled to the top with schmoo-shaped soft-skinned, slightly nutritious, mostly tasteless (thank goodness for pepper) squash–the copulating rabbits of the vegetable kingdom.

So I am doing the Garden Twister maneuver wherein one stands with feet awkwardly and carefully placed within the Squash Forest of impossibly large vision-obscuring leaves so as not to damage one of the fecund little shop of horrors specimens. (Do not ask why threat of damage seemed so necessary to avoid, given our love-hate relationship with this particular offender.)

The standing with legs splayed, feet aligned at almost 180 degree diverging directions while squatting slightly–a very interesting kind of garden ballet, actually. This position alone becomes an acrobatic task for someone with proprioceptive response-ability half as chrono-gifted as my own. But wait! Now from that pretzeled position, bend at the waist while also rotating hard left while extending the upper torso, then the right arm reaches for the that one pulsing plump protoplasmic schmoo that has ripened since you first stepped inside the garden only minutes earlier. So far, so good.

Now we come to the low-probability, high impact part.

I lost my balance. Many a bodily-injury accident report begins with those words. What that implies, if I may put on my physical therapist wide-brimmed sun hat, is this. Balance is a precarious and under-appreciated gyroscopic process that occurs constantly below the radar of human awareness. It means that in walking, sitting, standing or gardening, one is able, through a complex of fine-motor responses, to keep their center of gravity over their base of support. To do otherwise is called an accident. I did otherwise.

My leaning center of gravity, in its determination to pick that one throbbing yellow schmoo just out of reach, shifted the tiniest bit beyond my awkwardly-placed ballerina-posing feet that. (See me in a green gardening tutu and bodice.) In an attempt to avoid a fall, thus causing horrible damage to these cherished members of our gardening cast, the body shifts to Code Yellow: Do. Not. Fall. Whatever it takes, reposition your BOS under your COG, you idiot! Without so much as a single nerve impulse of conscious planning, our feet run to get under our displaced  and flailing torsos.

As they say about falling off a tall building, the fall isn’t so bad. It’s the stopping at the bottom that hurts.

My fall went into slow motion. It stopped some frames later when I hit the wall. Well, not so much a wall. A wall would have been preferable to the cut ends of a cattle panel wired high on six foot T-posts. Imagine a blunt 4-foot-tall multi-tined pitchfork aligned exactly with the path of my careening out-of-control self. Who, in a million years, would ever have imagined this as a source of life-threatening injury? That’s why they call them accidents.

I hit this horizontal comb of heavy metal tines going at a good rate of speed. I was, not surprizingly, stunned by the sudden concussion on impact, and by the vague unprocessed sense I was injured. When I realized exactly what had stopped my lurching fall, it occurred to me that the pain on my forehead might be from a wire that had punctured my skull at the temple; that the pain on my chest might be a pneumothorax; and that the tine that hit my leg might have displaced my kneecap. Was I dead? Was I bleeding horribly? Could I ever risk coming to the Garden of a Thousand Cuts again?

I am happy to report that the bruised ego was the worst injury. Second is the six inch laceration almost but not quite requiring stitches along the outside of my left knee. And several other round pokes from the glancing wires that almost pinned me in place like a human scarecrow in my own garden.

Ann was there, saw the whole thing, immediately made it my fault and why didn’t I put something over those lethal wires anyway?

And so I come to you, complete strangers, to empathize with me in my recent trauma and bodily insult. You alone can give me reassurance that I’m not quite ready for The Home, that I can live here in UnAssisted living, that I can go to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses.

And while you’re here, would any of you be willing to take home a pickup load of insipid yellow crookneck Schmoos?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. Do those motorized scooter chairs come with 4 wheel drive?

    That’s probably not the kind of feedback you were looking for… 😉

  2. I think there are probably at least a dozen wires, so if I order a case of something from Villa Appalachia or Chateau Morrisette, that should provide enough corks to have them blunted (along with a few brain cells) by the end of summer. Good plan! See. Out of every dark cloud comes the silver (maybe blanc?) lining.

    And Chris, I’m on it: the GeriChair ATV w Knobby Tires and a handlebar horn, with shuffleboard and checkers sidecars.

  3. Maybe you need to start wearing some protective gear when gardening – shin guards, shoulder pads… helmet…. just sayin’

    And we have our own truck loads of yellow shmoos, (and zucchinis and buttersticvk squash, and pattypans, and cucumbers, etc.) so don’t be bringing them around here! We’ve been taking crates to the food pantry a couple times a week.

  4. Garrison Keillor had a skit many years ago encouraging homeowners to buy protective gear from The FearMonger’s Shoppe. Never know when you might stand up suddenly in a closet and hit your unprotected head on a coat hook. Ouch! Or you might not know your wife moved the coffee table while you were out drinking with the boys. When you sneak in the dark house…Watch those shins!

  5. Good grief!! Knew there were other good reasons for just going to the Farmer’s Market for fresh veggies. Keep us informed about other evils lurking just outside your doors as the harvest progresses!

  6. I could always send you some spoors of blossom end rot…It’s kept my “love” of yellow squash an actual longing this year.

    I like the plan for the case load purchase. Just watch out that you don’t start looking for sharp items to facilitate more cork requirements.

  7. Speaking as the queen of concussions over here on Bent Mtn.- up to 6 by now- you have my total empathy. As for the rest of us- lock your car doors, it is zucchini season!!

  8. You’re in your early 60s – a spring chicken! Accidents happen – that’s why they are called accidents. I hope you heal soon and that you used black pepper to stop the bleeding and raw honey to speed up the healing!

  9. Ouch! Let’s have no more impaling. I too long to stay in unassisted living and to that end my motto is “slowly and carefully” so far so good. (knocks wood) Let me know if you need help with those corks.

  10. You told us how Ann reacted. But, how did the dog react — she could have added to your accident.

    But, really: ouch, ouch, ouch! So sorry.

  11. My Mississippi mother-in-law, God rest her soul, made the yummiest casserole with those yellow schmoos. Lots of cheddar and mayo and pimentoes and onion and butter and bread crumbs. My Yankee second husband and all his relatives have no interest in trying anything with any kind of squash in it. Phooey. I can’t eat one of those casseeroles all by myself!
    I hope the knee fully recovers!!