Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Relatively Speaking...

This big white horse recently moved into the neighborhood. I first noticed him when he was in a pasture next to the road. I so much wanted to stop and pet him but I did not. He is enormous! He is spending the summer in a very large pasture, and I only got these pictures because I have a telephoto lens. The photos do not convey the true size of this guy. I wish I knew more about him. He is beautiful!

Going from a local giant down to one of the tiny frogs that live in my front yard:  I had to stalk this little dude with my camera for a long time before I got a good photo. He is about the size of a fingernail. He and his kin spring about a foot into the air - an enormous jump, considering how small they are! I make the effort to avoid stepping on them.

I do not know what species of frog he is - if he is full grown - why he lives around the house rather than at the edge of the creek - why I never saw anything like this around the other house? I wonder if he is one of the peepers I hear all night long. So many questions, and no where to find the answers!

The toads that live in the dirt under the porch and hang out at the dog water tub are quickly growing large. The dogs completely ignore the toads, and the toads do not seem to care that they have to share a significant portion of real estate and resources the with canines. At some point, I am sure Duke sampled a toad and knows to leave them all alone. Jake surely discovered the same bitter truth. Otherwise, there would not be a single toad living around the front steps.

Yesterday I witnessed a horrific accident when Duke mindlessly stepped on a toad right in front of me. The poor toad was laying belly up in the grass and I thought he was either dead or mortally wounded. After I got both dogs occupied elsewhere, I came back to check on the unfortunate toad. He was still belly up and motionless. Using the machete, I gently and carefully prodded the poor guy, and he came to life enough to at least right himself. His color had gone from the usual black, brown and tan to a greenish yellow. Either he was dying or toads have certain chameleon-like abilities. As I watched, he hopped to safety under the steps. I hope he was unhurt, but getting stepped on by an 80 pound dog cannot be too healthy.

It is amazing the useless things I learn simply by walking to the car every morning. A small toad produces an enormous amount of fecal matter. I see scat on the sidewalk almost every morning, and the toads are the most likely donors! I cannot imagine how many insects they have to eat in order to leave that much manure behind. The foremost question in my mind is why do they have to poop on the sidewalk? You can bet I avoid stepping on that, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

I Photograph the Supermoon - Poorly

Amateur Photographer's Lack of Skill Ruins Another Opportunity.  (Yes, it is an over-exposed super moon.) 

The Sacred Pond Restored

The Super Moon 30 Minutes After Moonrise  - my telescopic lens is so awesome!

Country Road Culture

Every culture produces social norms, societal rules. They cultivate stability and engender civility so we may live in relative peace. There are endless sub-cultures, and each of us belongs to various sets, whether we acknowledge them or not. There are subtle, and not so subtle, pressures for us to conform. There is a sub-culture for people who travel country roads.

The supreme rule of country roads culture is to always drive to the right when cresting a hill. There is no formal enforcement of this rule, of course. The first time you almost crash head-on into your neighbors, you thereafter pay strict attention to that rule. Continue to ignore it, and natural selection will handily cull you from the herd. I grew up on county roads. I learned to drive a car and a motorcycle on gravel roads, so I knew this, but I appreciated the friendly reminder from neighbors who took the time and consideration to first welcome my son and me to the neighborhood. They are very nice folks, but I am sure the purpose of the visit was primarily to deliver the reminder to drive right. It was an act of self-preservation.

My son ignored this cardinal rule until his little sports car met a 4 wheel drive, full sized truck, also ignoring the rule. Both went into the ditches to avoid a crash. The big truck:  unscathed - speeding sports car:  totaled. No one was hurt, though the open beer in the truck may have been spilled.

There are also rules of who pulls over first when approaching a narrow place, like a culvert or a bridge. The informal rule, as I understand it, gives the person going to work first passage. The person heading home from work yields. In case this is a rule I simply imagined, I typically yield going and coming. Tractors, feed trucks, combines and particularly slow drivers normally yield the right of way, which is very considerate. Anyone who moves from the city to the country should know to be tolerant and patient of the fact that the big equipment belongs to people making a living. I always feel a little guilty when the men pull their tractors over to let me pass. I am merely on my way to the cube farm, but they are doing real work, feeding cattle or tending their fields. Their time management is a bit more organic and natural than the 8 to 5 that rules my working life, so perhaps they take pity on all cube farmers racing to beat the clock.

Passing does not happen on county roads except in extreme circumstances.  Tractors, combines, and true lollygaggers like tourists, artists, or photographers will normally pull over and considerately allow you to pass. Unless it has rained at least a good four inches within the last twenty minutes, the dust is so bad that you simply will not follow anyone closely, even if they are driving 20 mph and you are late for work.

Most of the time, people drive as fast as they are comfortable driving, which can be surprisingly fast for the experienced. The higher the speed, the higher and denser the dust cloud. Ah, the dust cloud... destroyer of car interiors and exterior paint. If I see an unprotected and unshielded human being in time, I will slow down to a crawl so as not to engulf them in a horrible cloud of suffocating dirt. If I see my neighbors attempting to enjoy the outdoors - grandchildren riding a pony in the driveway, for instance - I will slow down. If I do not see someone in time and go roaring by, sucking tons of dust behind me, I feel so guilty. I am sure I get cussed, and rightly so. When I am trying to take photos from the side of the road and someone blasts past leaving a dust bowl behind, some cussing and obscenity might occur. Just sayin'.

There are also various forms of sign language in this subculture. The most common sign is the one or two finger wave from the top of the steering wheel. It is an acknowledgement given to just about everyone you meet. If it is someone you know (and like) you can give the fully raised hand in greeting. If a person yields, or allows you to pass, you must give the fully raised hand with a friendly wave denoting "thank you". To fail to acknowledge considerate behavior is exceedingly rude. Waving at every oncoming car is just what you do because chances are, even if they live ten miles down the road, they are your neighbors, or they are friends or relatives of your neighbors, and they will know who you are even if you do not know them.  I can still hear my mother saying of long ago country neighbors who did not wave, "They sure aren't very friendly!" or my father snorting, "Son of a bitch won't even wave!"

An ancient maxim that continues to be relevant and true, even in the 21st century on the gravel country roads of Kansas: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. So, if you are going home after a long day of work, and come face to face with several hundred cows being herded by men and women on horseback, just pull over and turn the car off. If you cannot occasionally spare a few quiet moments out of your busy day, you better not move to the country.
Sometimes, there is no passing!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Early Morning in Late June - The Drive to Work

If you look closely along the horizon line to the left, you can see the fog bank above the Kansas River.  It is visible for miles.  Everything was brilliantly green to my eye, but the camera captured it differently - (unskilled photographer).
Wabaunsee County Speed Bump
The Bountiful and Beautiful Flint Hills
I grudgingly admit civilization can be beautiful.  A little park in one of the oldest sections of Topeka.  This photo is also suffering from my lack of skills.  
Just a tiny peek of the Potwin area, the most beautiful residential area in Topeka.  The houses were built in the 1880's.  This time of year, the enormous old trees bathe the brick streets and manicured lawns in cool blue shade, pierced by the golden early sun.  I genuinely wish I were a better photographer.
In the intersection of each block in Potwin, the city government built round-abouts to prevent the wild young men from racing their horses at break neck speed on the streets.   Truly, some things never change.
And this is my destination, day after day, month after month, year after year.  And, yes, the camera captured everything in perfect lighting...

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A House Attracts "Barnacles", Too

I opened my eyes one morning to see these two granddaddy long legs motionless on the screen. As I observed them, one of the creatures very slowly waved a single, impossibly long and insubstantial leg. I truly have no idea but I assumed it was a gentleman spider wooing a lady spider. Eventually he appeared to be touching one of the female's legs. I had to get ready for work, or I would have continued to watch them.

The next time I checked, only one spider remained. If the female had eaten her mate, as many female spiders do, it had been a speedy meal - poor guy. Maybe his slow leg-waving dance was not the seduction portion of the mating ritual but his patient and careful bid to hypnotize his lady in order to make his escape. They could have also been two critters of the same sex, and the leg waving was some sort of slow motion flexing to avoid aggression.

I marveled over their insubstantial forms, and wondered how they could possibly survive the rigors of life on this hard planet in such fragile bodies. I wondered how they experience their lives in this world. Whatever animates my biomass animates theirs, too. I am guessing they do not have to pay taxes or worry about cube farm politics. It might not be such a hard life to be a granddaddy long legs.

This messy nest right out the front door was the compromise between the birds who thought building a mud nest directly over the front door was a good idea, and me. I did not think it was a good idea whatsoever. Let me tell you, these little birds are industrious! I noticed a big messy spattering of mud on the porch on a Saturday afternoon. It looked as if someone had thrown a mud ball at the door and it splattered all over.  I am slow on the uptake sometimes.  I could not imagine how that had happened or who could have done it.  I had been home all day and had not heard anything hit the house...  A couple of hours later, I realized it was the early stages of a mud nest.

It took more than two weeks of tussling against the force of instinct in the nesting birds.  I would hose the nest away, sometime three times in one day!  There was an enormous amount of dirt involved.  How can tiny beaks carry so much mud in such a short time?  I regretted destroying their hard work, but I was not willing to contend with bird poop and angry bird parents, nor was I going to enter and leave my own home through the garage.

I like these birds because they eat wasps and yellow jackets that also try to build their nests on the front porch.  They are natural stinging insect control.  They decimated an entire colony of wasps that had built what I suspected to be a very large hidden nest directly above the front door in the old house.  They also wiped out the carpenter bees that were slowly destroying the old garage.  As much as I appreciate them, they were simply not welcome to build directly over my front door.  I continued to destroy their efforts, thinking every day they would finally realize their mistake.

I believe one of the two birds was a bit slow on the uptake as well, continuing to build over the front door.  It must have thought the daily failures were due to foundation problems, and worked harder to broaden the base.  Instead of a six inch wide muddy mess, eventually it was an eighteen inch wide muddy mess!  While the nest failure over the door continued, another nest soon began to take shape on the gutter down spout.  It was a workable compromise.  At last the birds stopped their efforts above the door.  Soon the male was bringing insects to his wife as she brooded the eggs.  He used the rain gauge as a staging point.  The babies appeared in a remarkably short amount of time.  Each parent would land on the gauge with its beak full of insects, then fly to the nest.

I hoped I would be home when the babies left the nest but of course, I was not.  I hope they learned to fly almost immediately or Duke may well have helped himself to the babies.  I have waited to see if the nest would be used again this summer, but so far there has been no activity so tomorrow it comes down, too.  I hope they do not build on the house again next year, but I guess it will not hurt anything if they choose this spot again.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

So, I Think I'm Gonna Lose Weight...

I admit I am fat. If I divide the number of pounds by the years I have worked at a desk, it averages to four pounds a year exactly. Sad. I could have easily lost four pounds, repeatedly, and never faced the humiliation as being one of the lazy, undisciplined health liabilities currently being blamed for the health care cost crisis in America - well, fat people like me, and President Obama, and Kathleen Sibelius are blamed. Of course, I did not get fat over all that time. It was after I turned forty that the pounds started packing on. That was when my grandmother's genes kicked in and started turning 200 calories of food into ten goddamned pounds of body fat within fifteen minutes of ingestion, and the warranty on my knees expired.

It is not fun being fat. It is embarrassing when the corporation I work for starts the anti-drug, anti-tobacco, anti-fat campaigns as if fat is a moral failing or an addiction or some other choice you only have to make once. It is embarrassing when people think I am fat because I am simply lazy and have no self control. It is true that I could "watch what I eat" and eventually lose weight. But I am here to tell you that it is NOT easy to lose weight. No human being on this planet wants to be fat (except Sumo wrestlers). If it were easy to lose weight, only Sumos would be fat.

Four years ago, I woke up one morning with an absolute iron clad will power to "do something about my weight". I started writing down the calories of every bite of food I ingested, limiting myself to 1500 calories a day. I stuck to it for almost six months and lost thirty pounds. But I was hungry the entire time. It must be what junkies feel like when they give up heroin - constantly longing for something that shadows all waking and sleeping moments. A year after I stopped smoking I no longer craved a cigarette. A human being cannot stop eating, or reach a point where she no longer craves food. Well, a human being will reach that point - the scientific name of that physical condition is death, Latin for Not Hungry.

After those hard-fought 30 pounds dropped, I woke up one morning to find the iron clad determination had mysteriously vanished. I simply could not continue eating lettuce with a side of air. I began to eat normally and all those hard lost pounds came thundering back, smiling knowingly at me, "We know you missed us!"

So, I sucked it up and bought bigger clothes. The hell with it.

Until I decided to try again, this time with diet and exercise. So, I joined an old lady gym, and go three or four times a week to exercise with the other old ladies, and when I say "old ladies", I mean elderly women. (I even bought an exercise outfit, probably the ugliest outfit in the world, but believe me, fat people are not vain.) I feel like an Olympic athlete when I am working out beside an eighty year old woman. The evil voices in my head say things like "Yeah, bitch, you wish you could do ten leg pumps as quickly as this!" or "Look at that old woman struggling to lift the bar on that machine! HA HA HA HA HA!"

Then a woman my age comes in, someone who is in good physical shape, with dyed hair and lycra exercise pants showing off her tight old rear end, and the evil voices in my head say things like, "Yeah, bitch, you wish your face wasn't all wrinkled up" or "I'll bet she only wears a 36 B cup bra" because you know, my face, being fat, isn't all wrinkled up yet, and Lord knows I do have a set of breasts.

Luckily, those evil voices are just fleeting thoughts in my head, and I do not speak them aloud, at least I do not think I am. I hope I am not saying anything like that to any of those nice women minding their own business beside me in the gym. If I were saying horrible things, I would not be allowed to come back. When I left tonight, the proprietor said "See you tomorrow!" So far, so good.

For three months I have been struggling to eat 1500 calories a day, and I have been going to the gym three or four times a week. I have lost a whopping 4 pounds - all of it from my breasts, apparently. I have not lost any inches either. I have gained inches because, I guess, I am getting muscular beneath the blubber. Working out gives me an appetite. The last couple of weeks I have been cheating on the calories. I am dangerously close to becoming a Sumo wrestler.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Am I in Danger of Bicycles?

Bicycles have been steadily infiltrating my life for the last decade.  It began innocently enough with friends who live in Bend, Oregon.  Visit Sunnysidesports to learn more about their business and biking adventures. They lived far away and posed no immediate danger to my preference for motorized two-wheeled vehicles.  Bicycling is interesting and environmentally safe, but far too much work, I thought to myself.

Next, my son began to ride nature trails hell-bent-for-leather on a mountain bike.  He was born willful, wild and reckless.  I tried not to imagine him wheeling like a maniac up and down and around those blind trails, flying through the air, likely yelling like a rebel.  (There should be a patron saint for the mothers of such sons.)

Sadly, my own daughter purchased a bike designed to ride long distances.  In her customary all-or-nothing fashion, it took a mere matter of weeks for her to persuade the entire family to participate in the famous RAGBRAI, the Registers Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.  (You may refresh your memory here: The Vacation of Disappointment and Despair.)

RAGBRAI started in 1973 when two writers for the Des Moines Register newspaper decided to bicycle across Iowa then write about it.  Though 300 brave souls started that first historic ride across the cornfields, a mere 114 finished.  Noteworthy among those who finished the first RAGBRAI was 83-year-old Clarence Pikard.  He went the distance on a ladies Schwinn, dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, woolen long underwear and a silver pith helmet.  (Safety first!)

And now, this very month, a coworker, one Gary Hamm*, succumbed to the unfathomable torture of bicycling long distances.  This affliction spreads in families with alarming speed.  Mr. Hamm*, who lives in Kansas, infected two of his brothers long distance, one living in Colorado, and one living in Idaho.  It will require serious science to unravel that disease vector!

May 31, 2014, the three Hamm* brothers rode in the Dirty Kanza, a 200 mile race on gravel roads in the beautiful Flint Hills of Kansas.  Educate yourself here: The Dirty Kanza, World's Premier Gravel Grinder!  This race is designed in gradients of torture to satisfy everyone:  200 miles in one day, 100 miles in one day, and the DK Lite FUN Ride, 20 or 50 miles.  How much fun can you endure?

The Hamm* brothers made it a respectable 60 miles, from Emporia to Cottonwood Falls.  They had so much fun that they have already committed to 2015.  In my considered opinion, if they want to go the distance, they must look to Mr. Clarence Pikard's magnificent achievement and don woolen underwear and silver pith helmets.  A ladies Schwinn might be in order, too.

Post Script:  The son and nephew of the Hamm* boys completed the Dirty Kanza 200, coming in 18th of 31 males 29 years or younger.   There is video of him rolling across the finish line like Genghis Khan sacking Eurasia on two wheels.  No pith helmet.

*Hamm is an entirely non-clever pseudonym because I have not asked permission to use his legal name.