Excerpts from Hanging by a Thread

by Ronald W. Hull

As I drove into Wheeling on I-80, the radio was playing John Denver's rendition of "Country Roads". It seemed appropriate, John's words were describing a place I hadn't seen or been, West Virginia. "Dark and dusty, painted on the sky, misty taste the Moon beam, teardrops in my eye." 1971

As we started further down the side of the gorge we first encountered loose rock on the slope that was difficult to walk on. I found myself reaching for small trees to keep from sliding. Finally, we came to a vertical drop of over ten feet that blocked our way down. I told Ray I couldn't continue and started back up.

The loose rock was now my enemy. With each step upward I slid back. Hooking higher trees with my arms helped some, but my progress was torturous. Ray had his climbing boots on and made good progress. I didn't. Finally, I stood on the slope exhausted, unable to move up or down, and my left leg started shaking violently. 1971

I finished my doctorate in two and one half years, earning "straight As" in the process. The other students began asking, "How did you do it?" My program plan and dissertation were in demand as a model for other students to follow. I counseled anyone who came to me, hoping to allay their fears, but some inevitably made the mistakes I warned against and took years to finish. 1974

I was in the lead, followed by Tom with the canoe, and Tim with the food pack. About 100 yards up the trail I met a bear coming toward me. He stopped about fifteen feet away and we both stepped off the trail to the left. The rule is get off the trail when you meet a wild animal on its path. A threat of blocking its path could cause a confrontation. The bear looked and I looked. I said, "A bear, Tom, a bear."

.... I raised my arms, lunged forward and yelled "Huhhh!". The bear bounded back into the brush, leapt up a tree in a single bound, all 400 pounds of him, and looked back at us, hanging on to the tree with one paw. He looked comfortable there, about ten feet off the ground, safe from my threat and able to see us well. 1975

I always put snow tires on the car and kept a blanket in the back seat in winter. But I carried no boots, heavy parka, chains, or sand. I had this recurring dream of sliding off the road in a storm, being unable to open the doors in deep snow, and freezing to death before someone found me. The dream didn't stop me from driving alone in horrendous conditions, but it was on my mind. I thought of writing a short story about it, but never did. Steven King did in "Misery", but my thoughts never included a car crash, or a rescue by a diabolical killer. As a teenager, I could conquer winter, dig or push a car out, build a fire, or walk for miles in deep snow. As a paraplegic adult, driving alone at night on a deserted, icy road, I felt vulnerable to conditions of Nature I could not control. As terrible as the thought was, it never kept me from driving out into the cold night. I watched the weather reports. I drove the good roads. I avoided driving where I shouldn't. I was lucky. I needed to be fearless to continue my life; I did not have to be foolish. Late '70s

The hotel was 19th century and the desert dust of the Sahara had seeped in everywhere. We were too tired to sleep, so walked the deserted streets until 2 am to get oriented. We found some bodies, some sleeping, some perhaps dead, before returning to our room. All night long the ancient toilet down the hall, one with an oak seat and a large, high porcelain tank, would noisily fill up with water, then dump with a "whoosh!" so loud that it made it nearly impossible to sleep. By morning, Vitoon was ready to leave the country. 1977

We headed to the edge of the "jungle", where tigers were reputed to roam, but here too the vegetation had been decimated by wood cutters and the dryness of winter. We turned and went back to Dacca to one of the several channels of the Ganges which runs through the city. Everywhere on the channel there were boats in full, white sail. There were pull paths on both sides but the wind enabled all traffic to sail on this day. Even with all this traffic, no motors were heard. It was an eerie and incredible sight rivaling the rickshaws at night. Chowdhury stopped at a warehouse by the river where he often bought fish, but was disappointed because it was closed. We headed home without fish. 1977

That last weekend, we headed south to Hoa Inn, an old railroad hotel on the way to Malaysia. On the way to Hoa Inn, we stopped at some mystical mountains that jutted up sharply from the fertile plain like daggers. A Buddhist wat occupied the wooded area at the base of one of the mountains. There was a large door on the side of the mountain and we entered. Inside, the mountain was nearly hollow, creating a huge cavern and there was a large reclining Buddha. There was also much bat dung and an eerie feeling in the place, filled with intricate passages and high up openings to the sky. .... Far below, I could see a black sitting Buddha. I was looking down on its head like a bird flying over. The trail was too steep for me to enter the mountain, so I headed back. 1977

The Japanese got on the raft all at once. They screamed as it sank in frigid water to waist deep, then came back up. I hung on in relief that we were still floating. The Japanese, cameras in hand, were clearly having a good time on their dangerous adventure. The young woman I was with sat on the bank and sulked. We floated out across the lagoon until we went directly under the falls. I was unprepared for the force of the water and nearly lost my glasses. The view from behind the falls was something the timid souls who didn't take the raft didn't get to see. The trip back down river was swift and anticlimactic. 1977

In the market, little girls were selling bean necklaces. I thought my nieces might like them, so I bargained with a girl for two, down to 25 centavos. When I reached for my money, I had no change. The girl, about seven years old, was very disappointed. Later, I got some change and approached her again in the crowd. This time she was frightened, cried and tried to run from me, probably thinking I was playing a cruel trick. Somehow, I convinced her to stop and listen, confirmed the price, and gave her the money. Her face lit up in delight, having made the sale, and I left knowing that I'd not left her and her family thinking that I was a cruel American who tricked little girls. 1978

It got tougher and tougher to walk, until I was taking only three steps before I had to rest. I was hot from exertion, but the cold wind tore at my exposed arms and face, cooling them from the burning sun. .... So, I sat below one of the largest tufts and lay back and opened my mouth. The cool, pure water dripped, not always from the same spot, into my mouth.

I trotted down the steep trail leading to the shelter and over to the barrel. It was uncovered. Heavy moss clung to the sides, but the water was crystal clear all the way to the mossy bottom. I stuck my face in and drank deep. It would be easy from here.

I started up the trail to the road. About halfway up, I lost my balance and fell backward on the cinders. I rolled, so, although I got a bit dirty, I didn't hurt myself. I got back up on unsteady legs, grateful that I wasn't hurt, and more respectful of the toll the day had taken on my body, and carefully worked my way up to the road. The road and trail were easy going downhill, so I moved along at a good pace. About half way, it got dark and ominous, so I began to worry. I was on the trail and it was a concave of hard-packed mud, smooth and easy to walk on when dry, but possibly a slippery, muddy slide when wet. I knew now why they warned me about the season. I rushed, hoping to get as far as I could before it rained and I'd have to leave the trail for shelter. 1978

The house had white asbestos siding that didn't require painting. But the basement on the lake side beneath the porch formed a concrete block wall ten feet high. There was about two feet of level ground next to the wall, then the yard dropped steeply down to a lower wall. There wasn't enough room to set up the step ladder, so I was forced to lean it, closed, up against the wall. With a roller or large brush and paint pail in my hands, I had to work my way up to the second step from the top to reach the top of the wall. Reaching up from there put strain on my back and legs trying to keep me balanced on the ladder as I struggled to paint with my chest held tight against the wall. At the worst point, above a native laurel about four feet high that bloomed each spring, I lost the fine balance I'd tried to keep, and, paint pail and brush flying, fell backward off the wall, over the laurel and on my back, head down, onto the steep slope below. I slid down the slope, rolled, and came to my knees, unhurt. When I looked up, I'd fallen over ten vertical feet. No one saw what happened. I gathered up my equipment, repositioned the ladder, and climbed back up with a new respect for my luck and that wall. 1978

More promising was a job as Training Director for a pumped storage facility to be built in the Virginia Mountains by Daniel Construction Company. Daniel, then the world's largest construction company, needed someone on site. A campus interview with a former WVU graduate went well, so I was invited to Greenville, SC, to company headquarters. As I reached the airport to return home, the old nemesis arose again. I was told that the job was "too dangerous"... not the work that I would do, but the drive on the mountain road to the site. .... A geek, however experienced and educated, did not present the appearance corporate America wanted in its leaders. 1978

For convenience, the plan had the washer/dryer located at the bedrooms. The kitchen space was designed so that I could move heavy, slippery, or hot items around on the counters to avoid the spills and other small disasters my paralyzed hands often caused. The oven was placed at waist height for the same reason. .... I added closet space in several areas and combined shelving and clothes racks in some for improved use. The basement contained two single car garages with a space between for storage. A lower level provided a space that I could plumb and wire for a small apartment 1979

I developed a circle of friends among some of the faculty and staff, and some of my students. The MBA program had many single Black females seeking opportunities opening to them with an MBA. As a bachelor faculty member who "had rhythm," I was in demand at social events to dance with the young ladies. .... But, after students discovered that my methods did not automatically lead to failing grades and were inherently more fair than the haphazard grading most professors used, the controversy died down. Long hours sitting at all this took its toll, so I took part in social events to get out and get some exercise. I took walks in the woods when I could, and planned to get out of town during major breaks in the school year. 1978-80

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