Wednesday, July 31, 2002

To Bee or not to Bee

Well, just let me go singing the praises of bees as exemplary members the social hymenopterans on Monday, and then have to turn right around and file a complaint against some of their kin two days later!

We have canned 30 quarts of green beans so far, two batches today, then we ran out of canning jars. Ann went to fetch some from the barn this afternoon. When she opened a cardboard box labeled "jars", a buzzing stream of stinging yellow jackets poured her on the shoulder and the dog, who stupidly went and put his muzzle down in the box, twice, on the nose and ear.

You have to take the noxious parts of country living with the good. Doesn't mean I have to like it, and I'll be spraying the nasty beasties with one of those hornet-blasters a couple of times again tomorrow, early and late, before venturing cautiously in to get the jars. I'm going to hate it if I get stung and break my record, this being the first summer in living memory I have not sucked up a yellow-jacket nest out of the ground with the lawnmower. Knock on wood.

UPDATE 8/04/02: Ann did it....sucked the yellow jackets up out of the ground with the lawnmower today. No stings. Lucky gal.

Caught Up in a Whirlwind

It looked like we were going to get a rip-roaring summer storm yesterday. The late afternoon cumulus billowed to the end of the atmosphere, dazzling giants coming from east and west. East was the taller of the two, orange-pink and multi-tiered; West was squat, steel gray and solid-looking. They rumbled defiantly at each other and were ready to do battle exactly over our pasture. Oh I do love a good storm! Always have, as I recall.

My sophomore summer in college, I found myself without a summer job. I had made the bad tactical error of no longer dating the girl whose father had gotten me work for the past several summers. So, I let my fingers do the walking through the Birmingham Yellow Pages, under Laboratories. I figured as a biology major, that this was at least a slightly more likely place to find work than my second choice, Hamburger Restaurants.

I made it all the way to the "L"s before getting a bite. We'll call it Larry's Engineering and Testing Company. I made it past the front desk with my phone pitch and was about to talk with Mr. Executive.

"Yes sir, I am a biology major right now, but I have really been thinking about changing to ****, and experience with your company would help me know more about how ****s think and work". (**** here is where I would substitute the name of the profession relevant to the next laboratory number I was calling, for instance, hematologist, industrial chemist, geneticist. In this case, materials engineers).

He bit, I interviewed in my best gee-whiz college boy manner, and I got the job.
(Here omit the substory about how I ended up in the emergency room with second degree burns on my arms during my second day on the job). Within a week, I was 'offered' the opportunity to serve as a company representative on a major project: testing rock samples from core drillings in the Tennessee River in Scottsboro, Alabama, for a barge unloading station for Revere Copper. Golly Gee!

Mr. Executive says "We'll pay mileage up and back, put you up in a motel, pay for your meals, and you can bring the core samples back every Friday". Man! Me with an expense account. It would be like a paid vacation. And I was eager to get away from former girlfriend, home, and Birmingham anyway. This was gonna be great! And making $1.60 and hour, to boot!

To make me truly know that this adventure was divinely ordained, the week before I was to start my travels, I ran into a distant relative who, providentially, was good friends with the sponsor for the Scottsboro Cheerleaders. She promised to "call her and tell her you will be coming and what a nice young gentleman you are, and she can introduce you to all her girls". Oooh! Da fox gardin' da hen house! James Bond does 'bama'!

Suffice it to say that here is where I perhaps first began to understand the profound truth of what has become my most persistent life bromide: It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

Yep, they 'put me up' the LIBERTY motel, the neon sign blinked incessantly day and night, with a similar sign for the LIBERTY Restaurant, located only two miles of empty road from the moribund heart of downtown Scottsboro in a sweltering southern summer. When I wasn't roasting in the motel room or doing dry heaves in the restaurant, I was working. This involved spending all day in the fierce sun on a small barge equipted with a small and mostly broken drill rig with two very nice, illiterate and oft-innebriated gentlemen. My job primarily was to fish, get a tan, and give the core samples a ride to B'ham every Friday.

This seemed like an absurd thing for Larry's Testing to pay my room and board all week for me to fish. This made a lot more sense after I learned that for every $1.60 they were paying me, they were making $25-30, billing out my time as an on-site 'consultant'. Slick, dudes! So this is how business works! I'm being used and I think I will have the steak for dinner at the Liberty Diner tonight, after all.

So, there I was in Sleepy Scottsboro. Yes, THAT Scottsboro. I did indeed meet and hang out with some of the cheerleaders, several of which shaved their legs and had smaller biceps than me....'travel hopefully vs arriving, and all. Mostly what I did after work was fish in the river from the bank....peaceful, relaxing, mindless...until I was tired enough to sleep, then back to the pulsing LIBERTY LIBERTY LIBERTY until a greasy breakfast to start another day.

Somewhere in here, isn't there a story about a storm? Yes, we're getting there, don't rush me.

Not every day on the barge was boring, and I was getting a fantastic tan. One day while fishing at work, I caught a tremendous soft-shelled turtle. If you have never seen one (which I had not until that moment its shaped appeared closer and closer on the end of my fishing line toward the surface of the green river water as I reeled it in) they look like clay-mation caricatures of a turtle victim of nuclear waste spill. Anyhow, catching the turtle (which one of my co-workers ATE) inspired me to fish in earnest that afternoon, as usual, from the banks of the river in a quiet, out of the way place I had discovered.

It was towards dusk, when the lighting becomes horizontal, reddened by the setting sun shining through earth's dusty skin of air, and the winds typically die toward a tranquil calm. But not on this day. The winds were strong enough that I wasn't able to cast far enough to get to where the bass lived. The sky grew strangely dark in the distance, but with an ominous umber-red cloud just upriver, coming my way. So I headed back to the car, my trusty red VW Beetle, to the LIBERTY and drink an illegal beer (dry county, had to drive over into TN to get it, but trust me, I didn't have anything better to do earlier in the week).

I drove toward the motel across a causeway that was under construction: a road with river on either side, and rip-rap rock to stablize the roadbanks. About half way across, the winds picked up suddenly, blowing the hood of the car up, obstructing my view of the road. Horizontal rain blew in fat drops against the windshield, and I could only see ahead of me by looking between the bottom of the hood and the top of the dashboard...enough to see that there was a place to pull off just ahead, by a construction trailer on the side of the road.

Just I as eased off the road, peeking through the narrow slit of rain-smeared window, I saw the trailer being lifted, buffeted by the winds, now stronger than anything I had ever experienced, and before I could react, the trailer as if in slow motion begins to roll through 180 degrees, ending up on its top, coming down across the front bumper of my car....had I pulled 3 feet further, I would have been in Munchkin land, under a house. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

The car is being pummeled by gravel blowing up off the side of the road; the car itself is rocking left to right, and the powerline overhead is rising and falling like a jumprope, as if it expected the VW to play one-potato two-potato...and the loser inside becomes a high voltage barbeque. Meanwhile, in the river, a small bass boat is being turned in every direction by the wind, is soon overturned and the man and boy who were in it are now hanging on for dear life. Is this a movie or something, 'cause I would sort of be interested to know if our intrepid hero is going to pull out of this one. I was really hoping there was going to be another in the James Bond does Bama series.

As quickly as it had started, it was over. The dark orange cloud, which I now understood to be a tornado, moved off to the north. The sun broke through the clouds, winds calmed, and it was as if it had never happened. Except that the front of my little red chariot was now snaggle-toothed and I had to tie the hood down to the twisted bumper with a yellow fishing stringer.

Battered and shell-shocked, I made my way to town, stopped at the Hardee's for some caloric consolation, and ran into one of the cheerleaders. I played the 'poor me I almost died' card, received the intended attention and sympathy, and soon could hear the 007 theme from "You Only Live Twice" coming somewhere from the north Alabama hills.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Regular Programming Has Been Terporarily Cancelled

Well, I was all set to write about taking the dog to the vet today. Yes, I know you're disappointed, but some other matters have come up. Remind me again tomorrow, and if you're good little bloggermuchkins, I'll tell you a story.

Note some additions to the sidebar AGAIN today. I am happy to add Bene Diction and blogs4god to my linked sites. Both of these sites are well constructed, point to worthwhile matters of faith, and the blogs4god site promises to be an excellent 'meeting place' for faith-friendly bloggers from around the world.

I am pleased that several bloggers thought enough of my 'bee and corn' picture to post links to it. I sort of figured Susanna Cornett would appreciate it, but did not know at the time that she was very familiar with honey-gathering, first-hand. She mentioned sourwood honey, and if you have never had it, you will not understand the salivation reflex it triggered here! Also, Anita Rowland appreciated another couple of my ramblings and reveries.

And to top the day, I was inducted into the Axis of Weevil Defenders of All That is Sacred and Southern Fried. I am humbled to be thought worthy. My son read Terry Oglesby's wonderful, if understated, introduction and welcome this afternoon and said "Dad, those sound like your kind of folks".

I'm afraid may be quite disconcerting to those presently sitting on this august body of bloggers. I have accepted this invitation, however, and am looking forward to my gift pack and to my parking permit, although Agnes at the front desk pressed the security buzzer under her desk when I told her I was now part of the AOW team. I forgive you, honey, bless your little heart, you and me gotta sit down over a sweaty glass of sweet tea and have us a heart to heart after I get my desk arranged.

Now: did I ever tell you about the time I was in a tornado in Scottsboro, Alabama. Maybe tomorrow, chillen, that's enough excitement for this nite, ya hear?

Tiny Links in a Delicate Chain

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee—
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.
Emily Dickenson

I don't imagine the average person on the street has noticed or would much care. Farmers and orchardists know it, and it is front page news for home gardeners. One of their chief agents in pollination for a vast number of fruit, nut, and vegetable crops...the honey essentially lost from the wild. Emily, bees are few.

I was in the garden this morning when the noisy drone of bumblebees caught my attention. They were busy as, well, you know...working the squash blossoms along the ground under the oversized leaves. Many of them carried enough pollen on their back legs that I could see the gold saddlebags from 10 feet away. Seeing pollen sacks on bee legs made me ponder how long it had been since I had watched a honeybee pollinate an apple blossom, or blackberry, or sunflower.

Almost all native honeybee hives are now gone due to infestations since the 1980s with varroa mites (an ectoparasite) and tracheal mites (which live in the insects breathing passages). Enormous numbers of maintained hives are hauled around to orchards and farms to perform the task once done 'naturally'. Honeybees are a childhood memory for me, growing up in the deep south where we went barefoot for 6 months every year, and the clover in the grass lead to several bee stings each summer.

In the midst of my pondering, I happened to look up at the corn tassles to see how tall the stalks were now (over 8 feet!) and...there were at least a dozen honeybees gleaning pollen from the anthers that hang like tiny ocre sausages from the male parts up top. Corn is wind pollinated and doesnt need the bees, but the bees need the pollen as food for their young. There must be at least one surviving hive nearby. I hope to try to follow them home as they leave the corn tomorrow. Early in the morning, backlit by the sun as it comes over the ridge, I should be able to see which direction they head in....making a 'bee-line' for home and honey.

And so, honeybees live with us on Goose Creek. Knowing this, my world is more complete. The buzz of this small and once abundant link in the chain of the natural order of things reminds me of our prairie: a complete and interdependent whole of soil and rain, heat and light, insect and flower. Plus one gardener and his revery.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Solomon in All His Glory...

I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some. Herbert Rappaport

He is happiest who hath power to gather wisdom from a flower. Mary Howitt

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. Thich Nhat Hanh

Nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small it takes time - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time. Georgia O'Keeffe

Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day - like writing a poem, or saying a prayer. Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into.
Henry Ward Beecher

I hate flowers-I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move. Georgia O'Keeffe

Flowers have spoken to me more than I can tell in written words. They are the hieroglyphics of angels, loved by all men for the beauty of the character, though few can decypher even fragments of their meaning. Lydia M. Child

Flowers ... that are so pathetic in their beauty, frail as the clouds, and in their colouring as gorgeous as the heavens... Thomas De Quincey

My wife once planted morning glories in our vegetable garden. They took over the corn and strangled it to death. If she ever does that again, I am going to tie her arms to her sides with baling twine. Fred First

In No Particular Order

I am really having to work on keeping a good attitude with today's heat. Maybe need to go back and read "things I like about summer". Boxer shorts not working for me today. UPDATE: I was looking for respite and found it in the long range forecast: week from today....highs in the lower 70's! YeeeHAAAAAA!

Well, we must be off the radar screen. Yes, blogspot is working; no, nobody's knocking. Good. Maybe people have a life outside their weblogs and computers. However, if one follows the visits curve downward along its present course, by noon Thursday of this week, I will be having negative visitors, and can only think that this means that some of you who have visited are going to be nothing more than a greasy spot on your LazyBoy by sometime later this week. I am very sorry.

We just got back from a walk (even in the heat it helps to be moving into the air; it simulates a breeze). In our usual loop around our valley we heard 7, perhaps 8 Wood Thrushes. Imagine hearing a half dozen or more of these, more or less simultaneously, echoing off the valley walls. (recommend the 253k file...I am using it for an alarm sound! Neat! The real thing is neater!)

The moon was beautiful last night. Once again, I found myself standing out on the walk about 2:00 in the morning, with the soundless summer lightning in the distance, silver-blue moonshadows in water-color silence across the valley. Handy rule: C for Coy, D for Daring. If the shadowy part of the moon makes it look like a C, it is getting smaller; if a D, it is heading toward the full moon. Step outside tonight and see if it is Coy or Daring.

Connie from Pennsylvania, our prayers were answered. And JP from the town of Dunn, Wisconsin, I am most impressed with what has happened in your rural area to preserve and protect precious wetlands and prairie. There is, perhaps, hope for Floyd, if town fathers can gain a 'vision'.

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong we may begin to use it with love and respect." Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

This past week, readers learned that the author of this weblog was 1) a snake handler; 2) an accused shoe thief; 3) an eater of Playdough; 4)a millipede and/or a Crawly Amphibian and 5) 'insane' squasher of email. Maybe I am starting to understand where all my readers have gone. Can't blame'em. I'd steer clear of this place, if I were me.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

My Life of Crime

I guess it is a sign of 'maturity' when you grow attached to things that are old, worn, faded, torn...things that should be replaced with newer, more efficient replacements. Things that you refuse to part with because they have served you well and have been your inanimate companions over the course of years, perhaps decades if you are lucky. Too often, in fact inevitably if given enough time, they will be lost to rot, friction, rust, in the end vanishing down that inexorable slope of order on its way to chaos.

My old boots have been with me now for almost 10 years. I have taken good care of them, sno-sealing, polishing, and cleaning them. Made in Italy, the exact style is no longer available. They can't be replaced.

Our son came in absolutely drenching soaking wet yesterday after being caught out in a glorious storm; it pleased me to watch him and the dog saturated in the joy of an unexpected and much needed soaking, walking home in the knee-high pasture, barely visible through sheets of warm rain. Ah, a kodak moment...until I realized that he was wearing MY BOOTS, and they were way wetter than I have allowed them to get in years. One step closer to their final days. And I begin to think again about shopping for boots. More 'maturity' symptoms here: one thought leads to another, and we are back in the mid seventies, with a boot story:

As the John Lennon bespeckled bearded young Biology guy at the community college, I was seen rather widely around the county with his entourage of granola types, many from the Edgar Cayce Farm in Cedar Springs, out stalking the wild asparagus. Turns out there is a town cop who doesn't much like 'dirty hippies', which I guess I was, by association, and he had stopped me on a couple of occasions in town for very minor 'decal out of date' things, or for nothing in particular. I was just the least bit paranoid, but nothing really worth mentioning. Until one day....

As I left the Anatomy class I had just finished teaching, I was stopped at the door by two well-dressed gentlemen who 'wanted to have a private conversation with me'. Cool. Insurance salesmen, investment brokers, somesuch. We went back to my office and closed the door for a quick speil from these guys just out trying to make a buck, then I would get on to a committee meeting.

"Mr. First, we are investigators from the town Police Department, and we're here to ask you a few questions". Well, that got my attention. "A pair of boots was stolen yesterday from Modern Shoe Store across from the Post Office, and the owner has described the likely thief as someone who fits your description". Uh-oh. Deep do-do. "We know that you were at the scene of the crime because your vehicle was parked in front of the store at the time of the incident."

Okay. Think brain, think brain, think! "Let me see if I have this straight: I'm sure you know that my car was parked there at that time because I paid the parking meter fine...which I suppose I stopped to do before making my get-away with a $20 pair of boots while wearing the $100 pair of boots I am wearing now. This is ridiculous!"

"Mr. First, no body is accusing you of anything. We just need you to come down to the station and appear in a line-up".

Uh, I don't think so. "I am not going to any line-up, and if this **#$@@ continues to harass me, I will sue for defamation of character, and I will OWN ME A SHOE STORE!" This seemed at the moment like it was something I was watching on Perry Mason...couldn't be real life. Could it? I was glad I had seen enough lawyer-sleuth television to know how to play the part of the indignant accused.

They relented. "If you won't come for a line-up, we will need to take a picture and have it available to the shoe store owner and other witnesses. We will get in touch with you if further questioning is needed in the future". I repeated my threats, they left, and I never heard anything more about it. Until...

We moved away from the little town, but returned for a visit to the area several years later. While walking downtown, I ran into an acquaintance of mine, a lawyer who had become town mayor. We chatted a bit, and he said "I was thinking about you just the other day. Did you know that your picture is in the town Mug Book?"

If a couple of guys in suits turn up at my door here on Goose Creek, I'm diving out the back window and making for th' hills. They won't take me alive. And if they ice me, I request that they bury me with my old boots...the ones I paid for...on my cold ol' feet.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Fragments Day in Blogs

Bene Diction points out that there is a rebellion (Part II) afoot at Fragments. First Lynn announced that the gauntlet had been thrown down, and finally, NZ Bear announces (way down at the bottom of the post) that "I have found a way to quash the defiant microbes who dared to stage an uprising a few weeks back: Their ringleader, Lynn, is now a Flappy Bird, and her minion Floyd has already ascended to the level of a Crawly Amphibian".

In the way of clarification, I commented:

Dear Mr. Bear sir...

I am sorry to report that I did not pay my minion dues, and Lynn has had to let me go.

My NAME is Fred (Lynn would have called me IGOR if she had ever realized I was her minion) and I LIVE in Floyd and my weblog has some more F's in it.

I was perfectly happy being a millipede, although it is true I felt slighted as E Coli. However, Crawly Amphibians are good too, and I will need to discover now if I am a Plethodontid lunged salamander who can occasionally venture out over dry land (that would be nice) or must stay hidden under a rock (which would prevent me from adding daily to my weblog).

The microbial insurrection may be quelled for the moment, but now you should never turn your back on a 'spring lizard' or a 'flaccid flamingo'...right Lynn, er MASTER?

In other news, I have been labeled on Quae Nocent Docent as "insane" because I thought enough of my visitors to email them vegetables. Insane is it!? I must say, I resemble that remark!

Meanwhile, tomorrow, I feel another garden tale coming on. Also tomorrow, thank yous to those who have sent emails, comments, smoke signals, theta waves and other forms of communication over the past week to Fragments from Floyd (increasingly referred to on other weblogs as GOOSECREEK. Maybe I should change the name?)

Barn at Dusk

This old barn, along with the house we now live in, was considered to have no value when we first looked at the place three years ago. The first contractor we spoke to suggested we call the fire department, let them use the house and barn for 'practice', then build a modern brick rancher in its place.

What a tragedy that would have been. We suffer too often from what C S Lewis called 'chronological snobbery': the assumption that newer is always better. There is a grace and tranquility that comes about when a well-built old country barn weathers and ages.

Like keeping an album of a growing child through the years, I will have pictures of our old barn as long as we age together. We'll just have to see whose timbers rot out first.

Goose Creek is barely present during this drought, and barely visible in this picture, toward the bottom foreground. We did get some rain yesterday, thank the Lord, and were able to hear the creek noises again last night, for the first time in weeks.

New Model for Blogging Ecosystem Discovered in Central Park!

Oh the joy of discovery! The thrill of recognition! YES! YES! Eureka and so on. New LifeForms have been found among the leaf-litter of the Blogosphere!

Without putting too fine a point on it, I will leave it to your discerning minds to see the amazing and edifying parallels hidden in the following account. Suffice it to say, the microcosm reflects the macrocosm! No longer thought of as single-cellular microbes, lower level bloggers are on the verge of being recognized as the multicellular invertebrate dwellers of the leaf litter... performing a previously unrecognized and essential function in the Scheme of Things. The paradigm has shifted. Read between the lines here, wise reader:

The story begins with the recent discovery of a previously unknown centipede and an a new gnat! What joy! But consider the blog-relevance and deeper meaning contained in the following quotes from the NY Times:

Museum researchers found the new centipede, along with many other tiny beings, in "leaf litter — piles of broken twigs, fungi and decomposing plant and tree leaves mixed with soil. "Leaf litter is perhaps the "richest and most complex community in the woods", said Dr. Eleanor Sterling, director of the natural history museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. It is, she said, "predators, scavengers, vegetarians living together in a very complicated system."

In one year, five tons can pile up in two and a half acres of woods. Invertebrates consume it and keep it from burying the forest, and there they are as numerous as litter. There are, for instance, some 50,000 springtails (an insect) in one square yard of litter, and that is only one of the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of invertebrates found there.

All centipedes are predators with poisonous fangs, and eat any animal they can get their jaws around. The new discovery is no exception. "They're totally mindless killing machines," said Dr. Hoffman, who vastly prefers the more peaceable vegetarian millipedes.

Only 1.5 million of the estimated 10 million to 50 million invertebrates have been identified, Dr. Hoffman said.

"If they rake all the leaves, remove all the fallen twigs and branches, new species — and the regular guys — will not survive," she said. "The whole system will cease to function. We need to appreciate unmanicured nature.

Model synopsis:
The Oak Trees and Tigers and other Top Predators in the Blogosphere send down their crumbs and the picked carcasses of their food sources, their dead leaves and their effluent to the myriad detritavores without backbones, the lower echelons of the food chain keep the blog world from becoming buried in its own humus. These new multicellular creatures are vast in number, infrequently seen, of infinite variety, mostly undiscovered, and various in temperament: from the diminuitively predaceous centipedes, to the flitty superficial springtails, and the plodding but dependable millipedes...and on and on in infinite complexity...forming spheres within spheres of wonderment. Unappreciated, misunderstood, and as necessary as oxygen to the eternal cycle that is the unmanicured nature of the Blogosphere are the newly-discovered invertebrate ranks who live silently just above the microbial sludge.

Be careful where you step, *.pundits: the tiny creatures that keep you alive are underfoot. And some among us are always hungry! Chomp Chomp!

Note: The owner of the present weblog is a slow moving, vegetable-feeding millipede who is content to curl up in a shady place, perhaps in the axil of a cabbage leaf, and contemplate his belly button, not to be taken seriously, mostly. Do millipedes have belly buttons?

Friday, July 26, 2002

(Barely) Macroscopic Weblogs of the World: UNITE!

I am no longer able to contain my silence...this insufferable slight to a slight site must be addressed! To Lynn, of Poet and Peasant, who recently, by inference, included Fragments among the slime at the bottom of the blogosphere: microbes indeed!


I feeled compelled to voice my resentment at the reference by innuendo on behalf of my kindred corpuscles that our weblogs are 'mere microbes' at the bottom of the food chain. That this blogger and associated blogs are AT THE BOTTOM, there can be no debate. But microbes! Please!

Call it hubris, but I consider myself higher than the microbe level, much higher....more on the order of a rotifer, tardigrade, or
gastrotrich....perhaps not sentient in the InstaPundit way, but multicellular, by gosh....way beyond the level of staphlococcus.

And I think I speak for other hierarchy-impaired bloggers who hope one day, after regurgitating the crumbs that trickle down from the Top Feeders above, to one day grow into truly macroscopic creatures....flatworm, flukes, leeches!

Yes, we are small and insignificant, and the higher feeders swallow hundreds of us with their corn flakes every morning, but we ARE NOT MICROBES, and its time we took a stand:

We are M.A.D! Multicellular and Defiant! MADBLOGGERS! All for one and all about nothing in particular!!

There, I feel better. Think I'll go take a bath in a drop of pond water.

Words and Images Where the Sidewalk Ends

Several visitors over the past week have asked about my photography and writing interests and background. Y A W N.....would you like to see my slides from our visit to Dollywood, it won't be any trouble...hold on a second while I get the sheet tacked to the wall here.

I got my first 35mm (Minolta SRT101) in, er... a long time ago, after a class field trip to the Smokies during the wildflower peak month of May. Our little Polaroid had a minimum focal distance of about 4 feet; Miterwort flowers were not even visible as faint dots at that distance.

The first month of marriage (also time of the Snake-in-the-Box story) I spent $200 (my monthly teaching stipend) on the camera and a telephoto lens. Later, added another camera body (SRT202), wide angle and macro. Long story short: I carried this stuff with me everywhere for years...lots of years. Lots of slides (wildflowers, mushrooms, ferns, salamanders, you get the idea) in lots of boxes collecting lots of mold. I loaned my camera to my son for his Bar Harbour trip three years ago (future blog). The camera strap broke while he was in Boston, no more Minolta. Dang. Guess I will finally have to go digital (yippy!).

I purchased a Nikon Coolpix 950 in April, 2000. I lost my first 1000 digital images in April 2001 when my hard drive got wiped while installing a CDRW drive so I could archive my pictures so nothing would happen to them. I love the camera for its design (feels like a 35mm) and for the swivel body. I HAD some great 'from the ground up' shots of various wildflowers that would have been impossible with a fixed camera body.

I would love to post more pictures (a new one coming to Fragments tomorrow morning BTW) but have two concerns you nice, infinitely smart visitors might be able to advise me about:

1) I need more server space to house images. My 'free' 5MB that comes with my internet service is filling up fast. I may have to delete archived images to post new ones soon. Have had PAIR suggested as a server host. Any others you can recommend looking at? If I get a paid server, will consider moving Fragments off of Blogspot, perhaps.

2) What should I do about copyright protection for posted images? Mostly, I post small images that would not do for enlargement. I have had one request for permission to use one of my images on another weblog (posted link soon), and one friend who uses one of my images as a desktop...a nice compliment to the photographer. Should I be worried about posting unwatermarked images? Any experience out there?

Lastly, re writing background: none. Most of what I write on Fragments is family stories, things I want to remember myself or to have my eventual grandchildren know about their old grumpy grandpa. For years I have had snippets of stories and tales running through my head as I drove to work...things that made me chuckle, alone and self-amused, then forgotten for want of a hearer. You, dear unfortunate readers, are now reading my thoughts.

A mind is a terrible thing to paste all over a weblog.

New File Compression Format Discovered!

I think there may be a solution to the bounced vegetables I have been getting back when attempting to send them as email attachments.

Earlier this week (unfortunately, Blogger archives are down A G A I N!... can't grab the link) I mentioned that I was going to try ZIPPING them. This has proven ineffective. I apologise for those to whom yellow squash have been promised. They are now brown and limp from all the bouncing.

Reader Jim from FLA suggests that I try SQUASHING the files instead! Brilliant! Convert them to *.sqa format and they should go out splendidly!

Why didn't I think of that?

And da ol' fox say "He went dattaway!"

I think it is a pretty fair bet that Mr. Norman Solomon is right...we are seeing just the 'small fry' of the current corporate scandal, being led on a merry chase by a manipulated media.

And what does the early facade of investigation look like, you ask? Solomon has some suggestions, based on past scandals that finally came to roost in high places:

* "Damage control keeps the media barking but at bay. The press is so busy chewing on scraps near the outer perimeter that it stays away from the chicken house."

* "Despite all the hand-wringing, the press avoids basic questions that challenge institutional power and not just a few powerful individuals."

* "The scandal comes to light much later than it could have to prevent serious harm."

* "The focus is on scapegoats and fall guys, as though remedial action amounts to handing the public a few heads on a platter."

* "Sources on the inside supply tidbits of information to steer reporters in certain directions -- and away from others. With the media dashing through the woods, these sources keep pointing: 'The scandal went that-a-way!"

I am thinking that I will keep our pitiful, remaining "nest egg" buried in a sock under the chicken house for a few more months until we see where the eggs have gone, and why.

Thursday, July 25, 2002


No, I don't own stock in the company. Just really like the one product I have had from this strangely northern Southern foods company in Columbus Ohio.

Tonight, again, we had Mixed Greens...'with onions, garlic and spices in a savory sauce'. They state that there aim is to produce canned and frozen products that duplicate the fresh, natural taste of foods prepared with the flair of "down-home" Southern cooking.

To die for, I'm talkin' if you like Southern soul food. We were introduced to the greens by one of my wife's friends at work. We were told to 'pour off all the liquid' or even 'rinse them a few times' by the folks who thought the flavor too strong for 'white folk'. NOT! Just right, if you happen to hail from 'bama. We mix bland greens from the garden (Swiss Chard) with the seasoned greens. We have also added them to soup stock and stews.

My gracious, what a week. Fred recommends a television program, confesses to becoming Festus Haggen, and now pimping soul food. What is this world coming to!?

Well, I never knowd THAT!

Well sir, ol' Festus Haggen had quite the interesting life 'fore he scrunched up his ol' whiskery face and played the part on Gunsmoke.

Thanks to our astute reader in the field, Curt-with-a-C, who points out that Ken Curtis once sang with Tommy Dorsey, doing the lead in one song clip you can hear on the net, as well singing with the Sons (including Tumbling Tumbleweeds), then having his own Sons of the Pioneers-type singing group for years.

Curtis owned his own production company in the early 50's, producing and starring in the 3-star (out of 10) "The Attack of the Killer Shrews" (yes, I exaggerate at times, but this one is for real, honest!) which a reviewer on IMDb called "unfair to shrews" and another who states "KILLER SHREWS is memorable to me ... because of the lovely Ingrid Goude as well as the stunt doggies, ridiculously disguised as shrews, that are running amuck with long 'hair blankets' covering their bodies".

The character of Festus was one that Curtis did grudingly, in a bit before Gunsmoke, but then was saddled with for 11 years until the series ended in 1975. He had a varied career and was really a nice looking guy behind the two weeks worth of stubble, the squinty right eye and the nasal whine that sorta makes ya skin crawl.

Now, if I find myself starting to think and talk like Ms. Kitty, I'm in trouble boys, and run fetch Marshall Dillon quick-like cause I think him and me needs to have us a talk before things get outta hand.

Love the One You're With

I am spending a lot of time at home alone these days.

I have often observed in myself a tendency to adopt the speech and behavior mannerisms of those I am around a lot. And I am starting to hear my internal voice sound awful much like Festus Haggen of Gunsmoke.

The old reruns, colorized from the mid sixties, come on at lunch time. I allow myself this hour each day to venture outside my present, tiny reality, into the large lives of solid Gunsmoke characters from Saturday nights, growing up.

(Hey, where is Chester, by the way? Dennis Weaver's name is still on the marquee, but he never shows up in any of the episodes I see. I figure there is some Americans with Disabilities point being made here, since Chester had that frightful hoppity-hop-drag limp, it is probably illegal to show a feigned disability that is so poorly portrayed...something like that...but I digress).

(Nasally:) Th' thang is, fokes, that I'ma kindly gettin' worried-like, cause ya know, I mite some day wanna go out thar and git work agin. Now, this blame ol' place round hyear isa startin' to make me itch justa mite, ya unnerstand? Shore, ah been to college an' all an' ah thank ah could do jus fine back ere in Dodge an' all. But ah don't want them uppidy fokes like Doc Adams gettin' their faces all scrunched up and screwed up anda lookin' at me like ah was some kindofa bumpkin, don't ya see?

Maybe it would help if I shaved this 5-day beard and quit wearing my old broken-down Stetson around the house all day.

Whaddayou thank, dawg?

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

So Excellent a Serpent:
Snake Tails, Part Two

Signing up for the "Snake Class" (as it was called with disdain by those poor misinformed unfortunates who loathed the creatures) happened during the same month that I began graduate school and became a married person. Symbolism here is purely coincidental. I think.

Herpetology 401 was the 'field class' to end them all, as we underclass persons already knew, since, as I have described here earlier, we helped class members with their collections a year in advance of taking the course ourselves. Snake sticks, pillow cases, field guide to the reptiles and amphibians, and a couple of cold (heck, room temp is good too) Pabst. Life don't get no better'n that! Right, Ann? Ann?

Brand new wife Ann is a pharmacy major, the beaker-speak bunsen-burner type; but at least she had grown up 'country' and I'd have to say, she had been quietly tolerant of my curious fascination with things least prior to having to live under the same roof with Snake Man. The marriage of Herp 401 and a new bride was an auspicious beginning for a death-do-we-part relationship. The first time she intimated that perhaps she had made a mistake, I reminded her that there was not a single word in our marriage vows about snakes!

So: we are to be about the business of catching and releasing snakes and their kin for fun and a graduate level grade. The enterprise started off from the git-do with the offering of easy pickings: You may have heard the college-town 12:00 swap shop programs on the radio, where everything from anthropology tests to zinc oxide is offered for sale or swap. We're talking local color here, folks, down in Lee County, Alabama, environs of Auburn U. The Swap-a-thon is a cultural experience.

"Yeah, Don, I got a big ol' snake o' some kind here in th' clothes hamper, anybody wants it, just gimme a call". Don the DJ repeated it, as if holding it up for auction to an eager crowd. I was on it like ugly on a frog. Yes sir, this was EASY POINTS! In a half hour, I was back at Married Students Housing, proud as punch. Had me a four-foot, ten-herp-points gray rat snake in a pillow case! Didn't even get my hands dirty...they were snake-bit a little, but they were clean.

Seeing as how I couldn't take him in for credit with the prof until tomorrow, hmmmmm...we needed a place to house Mr. Elaphe obsoleta spiloides. Aha! This styrofoam ice chest will do, with a couple of Annie's massive pharmacy tomes on top to hold down the lid, cracked just a smidge to let in a little air. And off we went to the Dairy Dee for a couple of celebratory chili dogs and a cherry coke. Yes, this was the way to start off my career as Dr. Doolittle, friend of animals!

The onions from the chili dogs were still strong on our breath when we made the most awful discovery: Snakes Are Strong. Before I could say 'well I'll be danged', Ann is up on the bed, stomping hysterically as if the cussed snake was between the sheets. Calm down, child, its just a little snake!

As I recall, she did have some very opinionated comments about how lonely I was going to be until I got that snake out of her bedroom, yadayadayada. We'll find it, chill out! And I proceeded to look in all the obvious places...under the bed, behind the wardrobe, down amongst our shoes in the closet, that sort of thing.

Forty five minutes later, no snake. I think I suggested that maybe we could just release a couple of lab rats overnight to lure it out of hiding. She's not laughing, dude. AH! I have spotted a really sneaky potential hiding place under the stove. There are some holes near the floor large enough for Mr. Snake, who is somewhat smaller than a grown man's forearm. So, I go to the desk drawer for a pencil to poke with.

Dang! Drawer is...stuck...won't come. Wonder what is hanging it...

At that instant, with Ann looking on, the drawer became suddenly unstuck. In one motion, the drawer pulled out and the snake's front half uncoiled out of the drawer toward my face, like a jack-in-the-box. Dr. Doolittle almost soiled himself. Big time. The startle reflex, on steroids. The snake didn't seem too happy about it, either.

To be honest, I don't remember the fine details that immediately followed, except that we, er I, extricated said bruised snake from the back of the desk and got him back in the cooler. With the lid firmly in place, no cracks, if he dies I'm really sorry, but I'm pretty certain that I will be involuntarily celebate if my new bride EVER sees that snake again.

Next day, SneekySnake goes to Funchess Hall in the pillow case, to be evaluated by the professor so I can get my FREE POINTS! And what happened next, I saw repeated a dozen times over the course of the semester:

I found Dr. Mount in his office, feet propped up on his desk, reading, when in I walk with a squirming something in a yellow pillow case.

"Whatcha got there? Isn't poisonous, is it?" he asks, stupidly trusting that Doolittle knows the difference, as I hand him the bag. "No sir, I don't think so", says I.

And I'm not making this up, as Mr. D. Barry would say: He gets a distant stare in his eyes, all senses focused on his fingertip touch as he reaches without looking into the bag, deeper and deeper. "Whup!" he barks quietly, almost but not quite flenching, as he caresses the snake, so as to identify it by touch alone....and its temperament.

"Hmmmmm...big fella. Keeled scales. Rat snake. Probably gray. These guys are usually not this mean. Whaddya do to him anyway"? he asked. I didn't go into it. Long story, I sez.

And that was that. Had a great semester, got lots of snake-points, and enjoyed married bliss with no repeat offences. Except I never did find the black snake that got out in the Volkswagen, though, come to think of it.

Snake Tails, Part One

Goose Creek Dress Code

Actually, Meryl, yes. The morning attire stays the same when we have weekend guests. Blindfolds are required until after Fred has had his second cup of coffee and the morning walk down to the garden.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002 Prize Winner

The Garden Vegetable Prize goes to Ian of Panchromatica, who is just posting his SECOND POST of his new weblog, and adds his comments to the GARDEN PICTURE. Out of 200+ visitors from Rebecca's Pocket, he is the first to 'sign in' with a comment or email.

I am having some trouble with the vegetable email attachments. I apologise to those for whom this email has bounced. I am considering zipping the package for better success, as I have been getting bounced mail so far.

I am concerned that that yellow squash can only bounce so many times and remain edible. We are working on it.

Meanwhile, congratulations Ian, your veggies are in the mail! And the rest of you...sign up NOW!

Overflow Parking Behind the Barn

Fragments is experiencing a local traffic jam with visitors from Rebecca's Pocket! I thank her for the recent pointer to the picture of our garden and barn. The weblog is getting visits from all over the globe, and I hope the stop here is worth your effort.

So far, out of 200 visits, all have been anonymous. If you come here and feel that I would enjoy seeing your weblog (some common ground of interest, etc), please leave me a comment or send email as I am building my weblog list at Fragments.

Be sure and close the cattle gate when you leave, and wipe your shoes after coming out of the pasture before you go in your house. Never know what you might track in from out here in the boonies.

Dry Wells

I woke up last night around midnight to turn the fan off in our bedroom. First night we have really needed it. It cools things off, of course, but the noise is an unaccustomed barrier that disconnects us from our usual night sounds out the windows. I stepped out onto the porch into the tepid night air before getting back to my dreams.

The earth was silver and still, moonlight coming from over the barn shining lavendar through the thin clouds that veil its full brightness. The who-cooks-for-you call of the Barred Owl, last night very close to the house, tonight was calling from farther down the pasture, near the crook in the ridge where it disappears up the canyon of leaning oaks and white pines along the creek gorge. Crickets and katydids were in full evening voice, sound sine-wave rising, falling, their chorus mesmerizing in its repetitiveness, mantra-like, reassuring.

But there is something missing, and I could not quite say what it is at first, a layer in this night collage that was not in its accustomed place, disjointed.

Then it came to me that there is no water music. The creek now is so low that it is not the predominant background of sound that underlies the other natural noises. The murmur of the creek is a sound we have learned to hear past and don't in a sense hear it, until its source disappears. The creek's silence last night was a noise in itself. All across our region, wells are drying up from the three year drought. Of course it is not the wells that are drying but the very ground water source, the vast waters under the earth that contain the majority of potable water on Earth. When this source goes dry, it takes years, maybe decades to replenish. Some never come back after a sustained drought.

Even in my groggy state, I could not help but make the comparison between our water woes and the current drought and shrinking aquifers of the US Stock Market. I was not able to return to my dreams when I climbed back in bed. We are missing the water, now that the well is dry. Lord give us the rain, and give us wisdom during this drought.

Deuteronomy 28:12  The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Easy Going Down

I can't tell you how excited I am to discover via Susan's site at EasyBakeOven. that Easy Bake version 2 is now out. Makes me remember version one with fond memories.

My daughter, Holli and a friend conspired to pull a fast one on unsuspecting daddy. They patted out some giggly pink-brown cookie-shaped patties of PlayDough and baked them in the Easy Bake, with a plot in mind.

Reading in my LazyBoy, I looked up as the girls came tumbling into the room, falling over themselves to offer me the 'cookies'. You could tell they were about to pee their pants, so I milked it out to prolong the suspense. "Hmmmm! These look really good! Did you girls bake them yourselves? Maybe I should save this for later".

"No daddy, go ahead and eat them now" they chortled, barely able to contain their conspiratorial glee.

I got up from the LazyBoy and fetched a glass of milk from the refrigerator, and came back to nestle into a comfortable cookie-eating position.

I took up the whole mess of cookies and held them greedily, commending the girls on their efforts and telling them "I'm so hungry I think I could eat every one of these right now!" knowing they expected me to realize they were not REAL cookies and end the game soon.

I took the first cookie, stuffed in my mouth, chewed heartily, and swallowed.

The horror! The horror! Their eyeballs bulged as they looked at each other in disbelief.

"Daddy, those were not real cookies! They were PlayDough! Don't eat them!!! Spit it out!!"

The guilt of a trick too well pulled off came over them. I burped, then began to shake, bug-eyed, staring blankly into the distance. There was a pregnant moment there when they were not sure if I was about to croak, or was just jerking them around, as I had been known to do on more than one occasion in their short past. I never did tell them that I almost yakked in getting the dang thing down; but I was determined to show them that the tricked can become the tricker.

My daughter is a mother now, but she has never forgotten this little prank. When it comes her turn soon, do you think she will eat the cookie from the EasyBake?

Scraps from Fragments

Just looking back at the blog week in review. Its too early for spinning a tall tale, so I will just lay out the old weblog scrap book here while I drink my second cup of coffee...

Fragments made some new friends over the course of the past week, and I look forward to getting to know the REAL PEOPLE behind their excellent weblogs. By way of Rebecca Blood of Rebecca's Pocket recommended the contemplative writing at Sainteros, hosted by Kurt B. down in Nashville, and I will likewise suggest you give him a read. His entries are generally quiet and reflective, but this week he is likely putting more thought into cardboard boxes, preparing for a move across town. And to Fragments via Sainteros, a nice comment and link from Francis at Xavier+.

Also this week, to us via a link at Poet and Peasant (where Lynn has unleased a feeding frenzy among us lower microbes in the Blogosphere food chain) comes Dave Trowbridge of Redwood Dragon from California. I think I have talked him into strapping himself at the top of a nearby redwood during a thunderstorm; you might want to read his account of that. Perhaps he can work the experience into one of his forthcoming SciFi stories. Dave has let his beliefs be known, in a kind and articulate manner, for which he has my respect.

Meanwhile, Meryl Y is moved, motivated and marauding the Richmond area, loaded for bear. She has recently LEFT THE CITY (Gasp!) for a visit to the country, and I hope some of those serenity molecules from the corn came home with her. She was kind enough to post a link to one of my SPIDER stories...oh great! You know how many curious souls will come to Fragments, eager for more, more, more details about SPIDERS!

Susanna Cornett is making changes in her weblog organization and focus...seems like a lot of that going on lately. I just had to send her a recent picture of the garden (which she kindly posted a link to) since we have had a bit of a discourse on the country life, and corn in particular. She has had some recent pointers to Silflay Hraka, on the Fragments list for about a month. Bigwig is now on vacation, expect upcoming entries incorporating sand, poop, and cotton candy...don't miss it!

There have been a number of kind comments this week, including encouragement from Joshua Claybourn from Indiana U, editor in chief of the Hoosier Review. And a visit from Donna Rae, who wants a farmhouse with a clothesline one day in Floyd County.

Thanks to all commenters this week, especially on the State of the Weblog (WhyBlog) thing. But hey, don't be so concrete folks. Did anybody really think I would limit my posts to 6 lines! I'm way more loquacious than that, and also verbose, and use too many words, and...

BTW, I sarcastically pulled a couple of DNS addresses from Site Meter in that post...two of them let me know who they were. Hi, and thanks for your visits, I'll know who dropped by now, including Dragonsong from Germany.

Well, it's time for more coffee. And guess I had better get busy putting away all the gloves, undies and shoes the dog brought me this morning. I know he thinks "what a slow learner!"

Pavlov's Dog Biscuit

Don't ya just hate it when kids can't make up their minds what they want to do in life? They wish and wash in college, trying this, sampling that, wasting momma and poppa's hard earned money...'deciding'. Not me, bud. After my fifth curriculum change, I was certain that I wanted to be a biologist. More or less.

One of my romps through academia was as a psych major, for a full year! In the end, the psychological wiring of my profs and fellow students weirded me out, and I went on to, oh, maybe pre-dentistry. But mom and dad's change was not wasted. No sir. I learnt me some psychology, and it is paying big dividends.

We have this largish black cast iron garden bell just outside the back door. And we have this largish Black Laborador Retriever. Problem: large black dog runs off down the creek and won't come home. Solution: pair the ringing of the bell with a positive reinforcement...a yummy puppy treat! Dog associates sound with food, salivates and everything, and comes home.

Fred, you're a genius! It actually works and my wife thinks me brilliant! I admit I feel a bit guilty for taking advantage of a dumb beast who doesn't realize his behavior is being modified by a superior mind, but hey, if he'd been to college, who knows?

Well, even as I type, here comes Buster. He has my Teva in his mouth. "You put that down", I tell him, and he grudingly drops it at my feet. Good dog! So, I guess that's about all there is to this tale, he comes with an item out of wifey's intimate apparel drawer. "Bad dog, drop it!". I will probably be writing more about our pets soon. I have an especially great lost dog story that...

I'm sorry, I don't seem to be able to get anything completed because this dumb dog keeps bringing me items of clothing, et cetera. Actually he does this every morning until I get up and go fetch him a puppy treat.


Sunday, July 21, 2002

Varieties of Religious Experience

We went one night to the Camp Meeting last year. A neighbor invited us. The Piedmont Pentecostal Holiness Church is about three miles from here, in a beautiful setting on the banks of Bottom Creek.

It was a bit of a performance, but there was no snake handling, potions or other bizarre carryings-on you would come to expect from television portrayals of rural southern Christian camp meetings.

While it wasn't my chosen manner of worship, I think God was probably no more displeased and no more amused by this boistrous, demonstrative service than by our more staid and wooden 'frozen chosen' intellectualized Presbyterian Sunday attempt honor Him. I just know He has a Great Sense of Humor, and would rather have our sad or comic attempts at praise and worship than none at all.

Don't Throw Out Your TV...Yet

You won't find this happening often out of this weblog...a TV recommendation! GASP!

We have a TV. It makes a nice notepad where we doodle messages to ourselves in the dust on the screen. But I have a moment of weakness every once in a while; or more recently, an incapacitating episode of back pain, and I plop down with the remotest hope there is something on worth watching. Yesterday, there was.

DO see Door to Door. Next airing on TNT is Sunday, July 28th @ 10:15pm(ET).

Based on a true story, the main character Bill Porter sales on, even (reluctantly) has his own webpage. Afflicted with cerebral palsy, this man refused to be defeated by his handicap, and has touched the lives of many, many 'whole' people, making us realize that it is the soul inside that we should see in our daily encounters with others.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Worlds Apart

I could have been standing in just this spot, one hundred years ago, in a land inhabited only by me and the butterflies. It would not have looked much different, except for the asphalt. The quiet beauty of this place was awesome, humbling. Standing on the edge of the road, I took a few pictures as if in a church. I just stood there for a while, daydreaming, the pioneer-owner of the first pair of white man's eyes to ever see this place.

The road (hidden in the trees, passing through the notch in the center of the picture) meanders along an old farm-to-market wagon lane, in and out, hugging the edge of the dissected valleys, following the fall of Goose Creek down the path of least resistance towards a gentler gradient of the Roanoke Valley. This road was built a century ago, for hooves, not tires. There are hairpin turns aplenty. The rugged 'mountain land' on either side is punctuated here and there by picturesque notches, slips of pasture bordered by towering White Pine, and unpretentious farmhouses, few and far between.

After snapping a few images, I meandered along the road a ways, enjoying the silence here for a bit this morning. And then they came: at first a distant hum, then nearer, a rising and falling chorus of bellows and whines, coming quickly closer and closer. Down this cart path, out left of the middle of nowhere, the Miata and Other Small Brightly Colored Convertibles Club of the Roanoke Valley was having a field day. And at once they were past and out of sight, engines whining as they accelerated into each hairpin turn, brilliant blurs, doppler-fading into the distance, oblivious to anything but the pavement centered in their windshields and the G-force of speed.

A drive in the country. A walk in the country. Two different countries.

Friday, July 19, 2002

Give'm the Finger

In my little sojourn down the mountain today, I passed maybe 3-4 other cars, well, trucks. Every single one of them gave me the finger. But then, you'd have to know where I live.

Back when our son was about three yrs old, he and I were out driving the back roads, probably looking for places to take my biology classes for field trips. I did a lot of escapist travel using that excuse back then, the kids often went with me. I recall encountering a slow moving, oncoming truck heading our way somewhere out on the edge of the county. The driver threw up his index finger and thumb, lifting it just slightly but conspicously from the steering wheel. In reply, I did the same thing.

"Who was that, daddy" Nathan asked.
"Just a neighbor" I told him.
"Did you know him?"
"Well, no. I don't think we knew him".
"Then why did he wave, and why did you wave back?"

Good question. I really wasn't sure. It was just what you did, apparently, when you met someone driving country roads. I think I told Nathan that it was the 'neighborly thing to do'. Of course, city people in cars meet their neighbors on their roads; lots and lots of them, all the time. And they do, indeed, sometimes offer the middle finger of recognition. I have seen it many times, but never on a country road.

I think what it boils down to is this: in the country, where people are relatively few, there is the sense that neighbors, even strangers on a country road, will likely be seeing each other again. We are obliged to each other, and acknowledging the passing of a stranger is a good way of saying 'we belong here, so we belong to each other, be seeing ya again'. Is this just an Appalachian phenomenon? Is it accurate to think that this happens on rural roads everywhere? I would like to think so.

Funny thing: Our son is home between college and the World That Comes Next. Even when he is a passenger in the car with me now, I see his index finger and thumb lift at least a little, every time we pass a neighbor. Some old habits die hard, and sometimes, that's a good thing.

Someplace Cool and Green and Shady

This is the old milldam on Goose Creek, about a quarter mile before it flows together with Bottom Creek to form the South Fork of the Roanoke River.

I combined pleasure with business (feeding a friends rabbits and chickens) this morning, and took the camera along. There is beauty at every turn, if we turn our eyes to it.

Friday: State of the WhyBlog Address

In keeping with the recent theme of umbilical-centered musings, once again we are examining the ground underneath our size 12's, attempting to look back into the eye that examines all but itself, seeking to enter the mind (assumed present) behind Fragments. In typical dispassionate analytical fashion, we shall look at the facts but move quickly on to the unwarranted conclusions...

Duration: about three months since starting Fragments from Floyd. At the time it began, I really had no idea why I needed a blog, or what I would write about. Now, 100 days later, I have no idea why I needed a blog, or what I will write about. This shows stability, perserverance, and a high tolerance for boredom and ambiguity of purpose...important traits in a blogger of the 'lower forms of life' in the Blogosphere, such as the staff and production crew at Fragments.

Style: After considerable mucking about with fonts, backgrounds, and layout, we at Fragments continue to muck about with same. Failing to hear user comments pro or con, we feel free to use chartreuse text on fushia table cells, knowing that permanent night-sweats may result. Hey, you no speak, we no freak. And of course, being timid of heart, while all other successful bloggers have migrated to Moveable Type on dedicated, commercial servers, I continue to 'save money' by shoe-horning our content into a department-store template which is unavailable on most of time, but as my momma taught me, 'for free, take; for buy, waste time'.

Content: How should we describe these pages with proper mock-humility and feigned reticence: I would say that the dust-cover to Fragments would call us "a place where Euell Gibbons meets Uncle Remus". That should be provacatively ambiguous enough to score some visitors, eh? Our statisticians tell us that our average reader stays pouring over a single page load for a luxurious 3 minutes 13 seconds! If you remove multiple daily page loads by the staff of Fragments, that reader-dwell-time is reduced to 0 minutes 35 seconds. Since the projected read time for a typical Fragments entry is 4 minutes, 24 seconds, we have concluded that our faithful readers do consistently read the first 6 lines before clicking over to Meryl or Bigwig or *.pundit. Not bad, really. We are considering a retro-modification to our archives, removing all but the first 6 lines of each entry in Fragments, with the concensus among our staff that no one will notice the changes. One does have to be adaptable to the reading habits of ones readership.

Success: Of course, this can mean only one thing: page loads/unique visitors. (I should mention that the text 'snake-headed fish' from last week has brought unprecedented popularity to our log, and we are thinking of having a repeat episode next week, perhaps changing the text to whatever is at the top of DayPop.) I have just heard the terrible news that poor Meryl Yourish temporarily LOST 200 visitors during her recent move. Poor child, how awful. Get a life, woman! Pardon me, I lost my train of thought. We here at Fragments are not so petty as to base our achievements on such pedestrian measures as "visitors per day". If we were, the mere 20-30 visits each day for the grueling 15 minutes of random association put into these rare tales of slugs and zucchini would be most discouraging. No, it is the QUALITY of our small band of faithful visitors that is the fuel for our persistent efforts. Especially, we would like to thank 195.145.23.*,, and for your faithfulness, but more than that, for just being yourselves, whoever you are.

Plans for the future: As previously mentioned, we are redesigning our format to a 6-line entry length. There will be perhaps 20-30 entries daily (keep those hits coming in), with more plegarism, er linking to people with real weblogs where extremely controversial politically-volatile topics are discussed. This is anticipated to increase our Commenting Frequency, presently at 1 per 20 entries. We have found that our readers don't have opinions to share on topics such as the Music of the Spheres or the state of Fred's digestion. In addition, expect at least half our entries to heap praise on one or more bloggers at the 'top of the food chain', in shameless pimping for Fragments. Darwinian forces are at work here, folks. To resist is futile.

Thanks: A sincere and unsarcastic thank you to such that end up here ON PURPOSE, and even recurrent over the course of a week (that would be YOU, Mom). The foolish farmer of Floyd will continue to air these fractured fairy tales and hope that you walk away with something of value in those first 6 lines. If not, then you can just walk away from Fragments shaking your head, thinking...."there but for the grace of God..."

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Things Are Looking Up

I don't live my life immersed in pithy sayings of my own or others contrivance, for the most part. But I do 'always say' that the quality of my life is directly proportional to the amount of time I am able to spend lying on my back outdoors, looking up. Horizontal on Earth's edge, facing the ultimate boundary of things, brings one to different conclusions than the daily mundane confrontation that brings us face to face with deadlines, warning signs, litter, and images moving on glass screens.

Unfortunately, I too infrequently follow my own advice. Adults have to sneak to do what children do naturally and without suspicion. It is not easy for a 'grown-up' to assume the posture I am prescribing here. I would embarass my children years ago, when we lived in the middle of town. There was their daddy flat of his back on the front walk, or slightly hidden to passing traffic, in the curve of the driveway wall, staring raptly into space, with his hands cradling his head, looking at....clouds? Leave him alone, kids, he is out having an 'attitude adjustment' in his own peculiar way.

Earlier this week I found myself sliding backwards down a slippery slope of despair brought on by a day of unrelenting bad news in the horizontal surface world. In retreat, I slithered out the door into the heat, and poured myself onto the brick walkway behind the house.

Now in shade of late afternoon, the air was cooling but the stones still retained heat from the vertical world of sunlight. Feeling the warmth against my back and bare legs, I began to give up the toxins that had accumulated with time. Time, blessing and curse.

Time: technological...horizontal time; Western time; linear, by the clock; nano-second, calibrated and precise; practical and efficient; time of schedules and deadlines; externally contrived, artificial; the time of commerce, it equals money; amoral and impersonal.

Time: ceremonial...vertical time; aboriginal time before clocks, subsuming more than the now; non-linear, measurement of internal rhythms, without units; time of meditation, daydreams and rapt participation; time of solitude and time linking every soul to all others before and beyond; cultural time, collective, time of frenzied dance and ritual; perhaps time as God knows it.

Lying on one's back under the sky reverses field and ground. This is one way to bring a tired soul face to face with non-linear, extra-cosmic time. Perspective, scale and ratio can be restored for brief moments in this peculiar kind of time, and so it is therapeutic in its own right. But there is also worth in the flat-of-the-back visions themselves; of silhouetted trees against the sky, the heavenlies, the sky itself in all its moods, day and night; and marvelous moving clouds of every imaginable combination of reflected and diaphanous light and texture, pulled, piled and boiling. Creatures traversing that infinite column of one's vision can be wonderous, too, and in some way hopeful, an antidote to the oppression of Western time and the news from our small, sad world.

So, here I lie, at this moment, warm, pliant, with little expectation. The featureless hazy sky given today as a backdrop is at first disappointing. Nothing for me here today, my oppression tells me, and my hope of epiphany plummets back to earth, heavy and inert. Be still, experience the quiet, and wait. And then I see.

Against the cloudless haze, just over the top of the chimney: dragonflies, hatched from sinister aquatic nymphs down there in the creek, they have become airborne, soundless body and wings at right angles, cursors like crosses, patrolling back and forth the same stratum, the same path, predictable and tireless.

And beyond this, another tier in the cosmic dance, chimney swifts occupy the next stratum; higher, coming, going wildly in formation, squadrons of fusiform bodies dart V-shaped, twittering, after insects that I cannot see, they are more than welcome to them. No chimneys for them here, they must roost in large hollow trees which have disappeared from cities, but remain here in our woods. Spending all their day in the air, they even mate on the wing, clumsy and obsolete when standing, rarely, on their vestigial legs.

Above that, see the chevrons of the nighthawks, a dozen coming in eerily from the east, soaring bent-winged, then changing course irratically as if pulled by invisible threads, 'peenting' their hoarse calls of exclamation. And beyond in this vertical tube above me, two disinterested black buzzards chart lopsided spirals, spectators to all below, not even specks to them which might look down on all of us from the jetliners leaving contrails above.

This 'here' where I lie is a point uniquely mine, me, a being seemingly at rest and fixed, self-knowing, while at just this longitude and latitude and moment my body is being carried, passive, speeding in a wobbly curcuit around the oblate spheroid of Earth, itself spinning about the Day Star, an insignificant point of light in a spiral swirling lace of stars innumerable, one of countless such clusters receding away from each other, toward the expanding edge of virgin space and time.

Time. To everything there is a season. A time for looking up, and a time for looking out. A time to lament, a time to rejoice. A time to speculate, and a time to get up off the walkway and go mow the grass.


Please leave your name and email address, and I will gladly send you a dozen Straightneck Prolific Yellow Squash, and a half-bushel of Kentucky Wonder Green Beans as an email attachment.

Sign up NOW for Silver Queen corn, coming in about two weeks. Must have high-speed internet access due to large size of ears.

This we know. The earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth.

This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected.

Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.

We did not weave the web of life; We are merely a strand in it.

Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.

attributed to Chief Noah Seatle

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Garden of Delights

So, here is where all the country-fried vegetable, weed and insect lore that appears in Fragments originates. And no, that is NOT the house in the background.

This is the first garden worth any account that we have had in 15 years of working a combined 80+ hours a week between the two of us. We now have a gardener around to tend it. Me. This is my job. Gardens do not thrive on neglect. We've tried that for 15 years. Trust me.

This one is rather weeny...about a fourth of what we used to have when I was teaching and had most of the summers off. But then there were four mouths to feed, now two. There will be more squash and corn than we can eat, probably also enough tomatoes to can. Gonna be serious about getting in a Fall garden this year, too.

And this year particularly, the garden has served almost the role of a pet. Losing a job, probably a career, it is nice to know I am needed, that my presence is of some benefit to some bunch of creatures somewhere. I do, however, ultimately plan to eat them. Although if anybody rats on me, I will deny it.

Tuesday, 16 July 2002

The News, not anything in particular, just everything in total, has made me weary and sad.

There must be something in the cosmic rays that fall on the godly and the ungodly alike that is making us all, all across the planet, gnaw our own paws off, like distempered dogs. Maybe it has finally happened; maybe today humankind has gone as far as it is going to go, up the long, steep gradient toward order and reason, that long moving wedge, that escalator of events, representing all of human history, its motors driven by invention, inspiration, genius, blood and tears, carrying its riders higher and higher, towards what? Doesn't matter. We're not gonna get there this way. If we keep doing what we have always done, we'll get what we've always got.

So much for the bootstrap theory of social evolution. I never believed in that false God anyway. Imperfect men do not create perfect societies. Neither, Perfect Women. We are lemmings, with the illusion of marching forward, while being carried inexorably backward, downgrade the slippery slope of entropy, headed for the lemming cliffs, falling backwards, all together.

Such is the nature of my angst and sadness, and there seems to be no consolation. A walk down the lane provided no solace. Even a long romp with the dog brought only temporary distraction. Like the psalmist, I find myself "counted among them that go down to the pit" and there is no digging out. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?.

And my dear daughter, hearing this, would drawl, in mock sympathy...

Hey dad, you want any cheese with your WHINE?

Fractured Folk Wisdom

It was time for the patients in the gym to go to their daily visit with the clinical psychologist. This was the routine in the pain management program where I was on staff, but not all our clients were enthusiastic about meeting with the 'shrink'. Mr. Smith had been especially resistant.

Mr. Smith was a simple man with a particuluarly curious abdominal pain complaint (a hernia of some sort, I think) that he described in detail as being "like they was a squirrel tryin' to come up outta ma belly right here, I can even see its little head a pokin' up tryin' to get out, and I hafta take my hand a poke it back down in there". (The staff suggested in our private rounds that perhaps if we offered the rodent it a peanut, it would just come on out, and Mr. Smith could go back to work.) But this is beside the point.

On this particular day, I told Mr. Smith that it was time for group session with the psychologist and he would have to head on down the hall. I expected the typical grousing and stalling. Instead, he brightens up quite unexpectedly, and jumps right up and starts down the hallway.

As he leaves he says to me: "Ya know, I didn't care much for that mental mumbo-jumbo at first. But I tell, ya, I'm starting to believe that there is really something to that GAZEBO EFFECT".

I never see one of those little latticed, peaked-cap, vine covered garden structures but what I wonder if it might not be just what I need to go stand there for a spell and let it work its magic on me. I have my own squirrels too, you know.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

And Noah said to the Lord: "What's Gopher Wood?"...

Let me get this straight: 1973 during a period of extreme warming, the ice melts on the south side of Mt. Ararat. A certain Mr. Crawford buys a copy of the high resolution satellite photo of the area. He spots a large, rectangular shape of something exposed under the retreating ice. Dimensions are approximately those given in Genesis of the Ark of Noah. Within a half mile of the site, stone inscriptions in Sumerian characters are found that are interpreted to say "GOD'S SACRIFICIAL COVENANT OF THE SKY-BRIGHT BOW (RAINBOW), GO FORTH, PROCREATE, AND BE FRUITFUL".

Man, if they get in there and find a boat made of gopher wood and signs of a vast variety of 6000 year old animal dung, there's gonna be a lot of scurrying about for alternate theories to explain away this 'myth' long dismissed as a children's story. Stay tuned...

Thanks to Bigwig for the lead to this story...

An Ounce of Prevention

After a medical near-crisis here Sunday night, a few take-home lessons:

"Out, out, brief candle" is a pretty good statement of human frailty. Permanence is a profound illusion, a lie we must tell ourselves from minute to minute.

It is not good to have a medical emergency when one must follow a parade of at least three cars and a large piece of farm equipment to reach the ER. Talking 16 miles of parade here. No clowns, no bands. Two lane road like varicose veins and no, I mean NO passing.

The cobblers children have no shoes. At our house, the pharmacist's medicine cabinet has no pills. But we will be adding Benedryl. You should too. It's not just for breakfast anymore. This med is helpful with bee sting allergies which can be just annoying, but this and other swellings can be life threatening. Some simple antihistamine can save a life. Just do it.

Live each day as if it might be your last. Be life, for death. They waltz together to music we do not hear.

So Excellent a Serpent:
Snake Tails, Part One

At last, after long years of studying prepared slides and pickled pigs as a biology major, I was getting into the field-intensive part of my undergraduate servitude. Actually, at the time this tale starts, I was anticipating this blessed under-the-sky part of my education by helping an upper-classman friend who was already involved in such field work. My buddy, Ed, and I offered to assist with the accumulation of class points for Kelly if he will, in turn, help us when it is our time, for real. This seemed like a good excuse at the time to venture out with our potato sticks and pillow cases to catch a nice mess of snakes.

The way this worked was that students in Herpetology 401 made a good part of their grade in the class based on their 'collection': Actual frogs, turtles, lizards, salamanders and snakes captured 'in the field', alive and uninjured, properly identified, field location precisely recorded, and presented to the prof (who was getting a book out of our work, it sits on my shelves upstairs today). Then the specimen was to be returned to precisely the point of capture. The more rare or of interest to the prof, the higher the number of points awarded.

I have to confess that, growing up in Birmingham, I was pretty much a city kid. And around my house, the only GOOD snake was a DEAD snake. And I had killed my share. Any slithery beasty near the water must be a Water Moccasin. On dry uplands, must be a Rattler, never mind the fact that there were not any rattles; it could be a trick! I once 'saved' my present wife from the most undeadly of herpetilians: the dreaded Southern Hognose Snake!

How deadly is it, you ask! It eats toads. Deadly to toads. A toad, upon being snatched into the jaws of a hog-nosed snake (also called a Puffing Adder, they do look quite fierce) will inflate itself to its largest size to avoid being swallowed; you would do the same thing in its situation). Well adapted to its preferred meat, the snake has rather long fangs, 'toadstickers', that are well back in its throat. Even if this hapless snake had offered to strike something so large it could not swallow (like human extremities, which they rarely do), chances are no teeth would contact your stupid, ignorant arm. More than that, they are the possums of the snake world. They roll over belly-up when harassed; roll them upright, and they die again, and again. Chopped his head clean off. I da man! Kick a little snake butt! God forgive me!

So, I felt very self-righteous after college training and association with herpetophiles taught me the error of my ways: most snakes are better alive than dead. I was a very pacifist snake hunter and scolded the unwashed for their ignorance. Ed and I were out one day, in a weed choked, flooded county roadside ditch somewhere near Auburn. We had scared up some kind of water snake (and believe me, there are ALL kinds in Alabama. Non poisonous, bad teeth, bad disposition: do not pet) and were mucking about wildly trying to head the thing off before it could hide in the culvert.

About that time, a dust-colored car pulled up slowly, and I got the feeling of being watched. Hey, we are the entertainment! I puffed up like that poor hog-nosed snake, proud to be the macho crocodile hunter, full of snake-savvy and male hormone. This observer was surely impressed. He rolled down his window, to offer his praises.

An elderly grizzled black man pokes his thin face just barely past the glass of a partially lowered window and asks "What you boys doin' there?"

"We're catching snakes to take back to the University", we gloated.

He paused to consider his response. Looking as if he had seen a ghost as he rolled up the window and prepared for a hasty retreat, he said "You boys must be in LEAGUE WIT DA DEBIL!"

I think my dear wife came to share those sentiments about a year later when she married the Snake Man. But more about that later.