Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pennsylvania Mammals

Pennsylvania might rival a rainforest for variety and number of small mammals. Here's a list of over 70. When the creator was drawing these up she was in the zone, the juices were flowing, the drafting board must have been hot from the friction of frenzied sketches, the production line was smokin'. You can picture her as a crazed artist working straight through into her sixth day, unable to sleep, glassy eyed, cigarette in hand; the ideas will not quit.

Here's just a sample:
The skunk. Walk softly and carry a big stick. The skunk goes about its business unafraid, conscious of its power. A harmless looking creature armed with the ability to accurately spray a highly offensive fluid up to 16 feet. An odor so strong humans can smell it a mile downwind. Up close it can make one temporarily blind. What other animal does this? A beautiful animal with black and white striped fur. I'd love to see a skunk, a zebra and a panda riding in a bright red convertible. That would make such a cool photo.

The opossum. Let's make one with a pouch to carry it's young, a marsupial, the only one in North America. It'll be ugly as sin with a pointy nose and teeth and rat like tail. It'll eat anything including its own dead. But then give it a coat so silky the lady in the mink stole is envious. Wait - that's not enough. Make it play dead as its only defense. Scientists still don't quite get this. An involuntary response to attack that makes it go temporarily comatose and an anal gland emit a putrid flesh like smell. That'll make 'em leave you alone.
The porcupine. Hair, fur, hair, fur, I don't know, what else have we got. Needles! That's it! I'll cover it with needles. I'll even put them on the tail so it can smack a dog in the nose with 'em. And I'll put little barbs on them so you can't pull 'em out. Heh, heh. And I'll give it a sweet friendly face and make it waddle like a fat clown. Jesus, seems almost sadistic.
The beaver. Let's see, most of them are living in holes, there must be something else. How 'bout one that takes down trees with its teeth and uses them to build a dome like house. And they'll do it in a pond with an underwater entrance and they'll make the pond too by building dams and hold it all together using mud like mortar. They'll have webbed hind feet and a paddle for a tail. They'll mate for life and store food for the winter. They'll have a beer fridge and.. nah, that's too much. A good artist knows when to quit.

*images from the web

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Lady Luck and the Missing Blade

Accidents are a strange phenomenon. In the aftermath we try to piece the sequence of events back together. What led to this, what was missed, how did this happen, who was to blame? Why didn't I do this instead? Or that? What if..... if only I had....

We've all had them in varying degrees of severity. From pinched fingers and broken bones to those that leave damage for a lifetime. Some are so bizarre and catastrophic that there had to have been something in the air just before their occurrence, something that you think would be perceived with just a little attention.

And maybe this is true for all the ones that didn't happen, countless moments we don't remember. We hesitated. We stopped. We anticipated and stepped aside. We paid attention. The accident didn't happen.

Yesterday I went out to the wood lot to get another load of firewood, work that has a good deal of accident potential. I took down a fairly large standing dead white oak and dropped it right where I planned, a little victory I don't take for granted. Then went about the business of cutting it up and loading the truck.

The first 20" of the butt end was too big for me to lift. I rolled it back up on the stump for a place to work and with a maul buried the one wedge I'd brought. A good start but not enough for stringy white oak. I'd have to come back with another wedge or the splitting maul.

At the house I unloaded the truck. Son Dylan had just arrived and brought with him a splitting tool he prefers, a Fiskars splitting axe. I tried it out on some red oak rounds and was duly impressed. Light in handle and heavy in head with a sharp blade. The wedge like shape keeps it from sticking like a regular axe and often one good swing was cleaving sections from the round. I put it in the truck with another wedge and headed back to the stump.

I freed the wedge and worked a while with the new tool making nice sized billets for the stove. But then there is an instant that I can't quite recall. I am swinging the tool and then it is in the ground between my feet and my ankle bone smarts. I realize the tool has glanced off and was a mere fraction of an inch from embedding the blade in my ankle. I don't know how I missed my mark on the piece I was splitting, I can't picture it. I do know that in that instant it was only Lady Luck standing between me and my carelessness. I get a chill thinking of the damage I could have inflicted.

When splitting wood the axe or maul is raised high above the head and brought down with force. The hand nearest the head slides down the handle. The key to doing this safely is bringing the wrists down near the ground on the follow through so that in case of a miss the head goes into the ground instead of pivoting back to you. I know this. I have demonstrated it to others. Why did I not do this?

This was an accident that didn't happen. A little swelling, a little black and blue. It will be forgotten. Lucky me.

Be careful out there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Farmer Black and His Big Whites

I'm Farmer Black and I've been growing these Big Whites for the last five years. I work for Hyper Genetic Plants, Inc and I have to keep a low profile 'cause I know there are people who don't approve of the work I do what with all the goin' green and buy local and such but, you mark my words, someday when the SHTF those folks will be beggin' for the food I make.

Take these here Big Whites. Why they are a scientific miracle they are. They have this super tough skin, it's almost like some kind of plastic, and it protects the fruit inside so they can be shipped all around the world with no harm done.  And it'll keep fresh as the day you pick 'em for a solid two months. No refrigeration needed. And the best part is when you slice into one you got the reddest, juiciest, sweetest watermelon you have ever tasted. You get just one of these babies and a pig on a spit and you got a picnic for a crowd!

And growin' em? I tell you they are a farmer's dream come true. You see they put out some kinda chemical that kills everything but themselves so you have absolutely no weeds, no competition,  no spraying all those expensive poisonous chemicals or nothing. Them green folks oughta like that. Only problem we still got is it seems to get in the runoff so the farmers downstream are raisin' a stink.

But as soon as we get that little wrinkle worked out we'll let the world in on this wonderful creation. I'm hopin' it's soon too 'cause they tell me then I'll get to work with the Super Whites or maybe even the Gonzo Whites. The Gonzos are 4 times the size of the Bigs and twice as sweet if you can imagine that. Something that sweet be enough to make you beg for lemonade.

Anyway keep your eye on your local grocery 'cause any day now one of my big girls will be sittin' on the floor of your produce section. Yep, any day now, I'm pretty sure.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

My father and mother live nearby in a retirement community. Dad will be 95 on the 30th. He says of the pending birthday, "You can pile the gifts in the corner".

I dropped in on Dad today to deliver some cards and give well wishes. I took this picture. The pictures on the wall are of his father, mother, sister, and grandfather. His father died when Dad was just 9. His sister lives in England.

I consider it a true blessing in my life that I had a father who was a role model but not an overbearing one. He was supportive but not directive, available for counsel but expecting his children to find their own way. He was honest and could be trusted completely.  He was not overly demonstrative in his affections or praise but neither was he critical or judgmental. Raised by a mother who did not believe in corporal punishment he likewise did not strike his children.
And though I don't think many outside the family saw it, he could be very funny. This sense of humor is now what carries him through the trials of old age.

I think it is not uncommon for sons to spend much of their lives trying to win the approval of their fathers. I am grateful my life has not been saddled with this burden.

Thanks for everything Dad.

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Go Fly a Kite

I love this kite. My sister gave it to me for Christmas twenty some years ago. It is hand batik, made by an artist known to my sister's friend. Someone named Sarah who sold them on the craft circuit for a while. It is signed and marked 3/10 meaning #3 in a lot of 10, not dated March year 10. For many years it hung on our wall as art when not in use.

Today was a good day for it, a steady wind around 8 mph. Not too much like last weekend. A very stable kite that goes up easy and meanders back and forth. When the wind stalls it does not dive but kind of floats, waffling, till it's picked up again.

The next time someone tells me to go fly a kite I can say I just did that.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Sunday Chimes

I admired these big chimes for a long time before I bought one. I loved the sound but love the silence too and wondered if I'd regret the purchase. Would it be too much, displacing bird song and crickets, and all the other sounds that grace our place?

But it turns out it takes quite a bit of wind to get them going and the wind it takes makes enough noise in the trees that the subtle sounds are lost to that anyway. The chimes may be silent for a week or more.

This Sunday as the wind blew most the day it sounds like church around here, the ringing gong, the rustling leaves wave upon wave of applause.

Will the congregation please rise?