Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

bits and pieces

November 16, 2020

This is a picture of my lake at its “lowest point.” Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s before any water collected behind the dam (aside from that bit of ice you see). So this is the water-side of the dam, and at full pool, I would be under 18 feet of water here. See my old truck up among the trees? That white barrel with all of the holes in it is part of the drainage system. It is connected to a pipe that runs under the dam and has a valve on the opposite end. I can open the valve to let water out (though why?). The few times I’ve done this, I’ve seen dozens of small fish come out as well.

I think I told you that my son who lives down the road is moving to a new house in his college town and that my weekends of late have been devoted to either heavy lifting or grandparenting, which can include heavy lifting. Thus I haven’t been able to get out to Roundrock as much as this mild November weather has permitted. Closing is this week though, and the time pressure of all of the work will lessen afterward, so I’m hoping the weather will hang on long enuf for me to get some quality time out there.

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I mentioned here before that I intended to give periodic accounts of my submission effort with Obelus, but I’ve decided against doing that. One of the reasons I lost interest in running, I think, was because I had tried to quantify it too much. Instead of being in the moment as my feet were slapping the pavement, I was recording my runs (with my fancy running watch) and analyzing them afterward, anguishing over a slower pace or a shorter distance or some hill that defeated me. I think it focused me on the deficiencies rather than the overall purpose (which may have been fitness or may have been the pursuit of something outside of my normal). And thus I fear the same thing can happen with documenting my Obelus submission campaign. I don’t know how many queries I’ve sent but I fear that when I start tabulating the inevitably high rejection rate, I’ll get disheartened, which isn’t helpful. So blissful ignorance gets to reign. (Or takes the reins, or rains on me.)

Still, when I read some of the junk that gets published, and the occasional metafiction I find, I feel certain that Obelus does have a place and it’s just a matter of perseverance.

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I can report that my use of white noise (to silence the heartbeat I can hear in my right ear) has been successful. I think I am able to concentrate better without the constant throb. I’ve also stopped actively “listening” to the white noise and it just does its thing in the background. What’s especially interesting is when my writing session ends and I turn it off. Then the silence in the room truly is loud.

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When I’m not writing in the early hours or grandparenting in the others, most of my free time lately has been spent raking: the leaves in my yard and my fingers through my long quarantine hair. The trees around here are mostly finished dropping their leaves — except the oaks, which will dribble leaves all winter but only lose the bulk of them in the spring when the new growth comes out — so my efforts with the rake will stop seeming less futile soon. Still, my two long-haired dogs will find ways to drag leaves (especially the cypress leaves) into the house in their fur. That will be a clean-up task that will last all winter.

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Existential musing: All of my life, when I’ve looked in the mirror, I’ve seen my face. The same face as yesterday and the day before that. Going back to my youth and childhood, probably to when I first recognized myself in the looking glass. Sure, I’ve changed over the years, but the gradual pace of it has allowed me to see the “same” face each new day.

Except now. These days when I look in the mirror, I pause and wonder who it is looking back at me. My quarantine hair touches my collar now and billows out to the side around my neck. This is the longest my hair has ever been in my entire life and it makes me “not recognize” myself in the mirror for a moment.

I have no plans on getting my hair cut soon, and it’s getting time for me to get some of those rubberbandy things girls use to pull their ponytails together. (My eyebrows, on the other had, may get a mowing. They curl down and sometimes catch in my eyelashes, which is annoying.)

back to Roundrock

September 2, 2020

I received a call from the man working on my washing-out spillway that he and his crew were down there last week getting some of the work done. My goal has been to refill the washed out area and then lay a concrete slab over the same to prevent it from ever eroding again.

He said he got about half of the work done and that maybe I didn’t want the other have done.

I’m no concrete expert. Nor can I read a forest to understand how water flows across it. I don’t have years of experience doing the kind of thing I asked this man to do. He suggested we meet at the cabin so he could show me in situ what needed to be done. I said I would be out there on Saturday and would stay until 5:00 p.m. to wait for his visit. (His son had PeeWee football that day, and I suggested the boy’s game had priority over my spillway.)

Rain was falling when we left the house in faraway suburbia Saturday morning, and it rained nearly the entire drive down. When we got to the turn off from the paved road, we had outrun the rain, but while we could still get a signal on our phones, my wife checked the weather map and saw that another huge system was approaching. By the time we drove two miles over the rutted, axle-snapping gravel road to my humble cabin, the rain had caught up with us.

This was fine. It meant I didn’t have to do any of my usual chores, like cutting firewood, cleaning up fallen limbs around the cabin, go looking for snatched marbles, or sling gravel. I could just sit on the porch and watch the rain, which I did. I updated my visit journal. I wrote a letter to a friend. We ate our pieces of fruit for lunch. We watch four ducks (gadwalls?) on the lake, oblivious to the torrents. We talked about this and that. And we waited for the dam man to arrive.

Eventually I decided there was one chore I could undertake. You may recall from my last post that something has chewed a few holes in the ceiling insulation just above the table. Here is a picture of the scene of the crime that I took on Saturday:

I had only noticed this because there were tiny silver shavings on the rug below. That was on the prior visit, and I brought a step ladder on this visit so I could do the repairs.

There were a few more shavings on the rug this time, but nothing substantial. I sprayed the holes with an insecticide, wiped the area clean, then applied a five-inch length of metallic tape over the holes:

I don’t know who the culprits are or if the insecticide will matter to them. I suspect they’ll not chew through this tape, but if they’re still up there, they may chew through another area.

And so I got one chore done. When the rain lessened a bit, I crept through the trees (for what protection they could give me from the rain) down toward the spillway. The repairs were done as the dam man told me, including a bit of on-the-spot engineering. His thought is that the erosion is really being caused, not by lake water rising high enuf to go into the spillway, but by water coming down my road from the ridge to the north and coming into the spillway at a right angle. He said it was likely that this right-angle water would undermine any slab that was there and cause an even bigger (and more expensive) mess.

We do have huge volumes of water come down the road. There is a ditch beside it that can handle the normal flows, but there are often great wads of leaves in the road beside the ditch that have washed out of it because the water went over its banks. The ditch turns away from the lake when it gets nearer to the cabin, but if the volume is great enuf, it ignores that turn, washes over the road, and heads down to the spillway. I’ve dug out the ditch at this turn a couple of times, but it fills with sediment and rocks quickly. I think raising the road at this point might help, but even that won’t always be enuf.

So the on-the-spot engineering the dam man did was to build a berm in the spillway just where the road water would enter it, steering the water into the rocky part of the spillway (rather than across the part with soil that may some day have a protective carpet of grass on it).

Although it rained the entire time we were at the cabin, the flow in that ditch was never more than a trickle because the ground was so dry from a few weeks of drought. The ground was absorbing most of the rain. Had it been otherwise, we might have been able to see the torrent coming down the road ditch (we’ve only seen the evidence of it) and what would happen when it reached the berm in the spillway. But that much water would be scary. The cabin is snug and dry, but getting through the two miles of gravel road to the pavement involves crossing three wet-weather creeks. So if there were enuf rain to overwhelm the roadside ditch by the cabin, we probably would not want to be at the cabin anyway.

The hours passed. The ducks passed on the lake below. We waited. I imagined that the rain would have cancelled the football game and that the dam man would be out earlier, but that didn’t happen. In fact, by 4:45 when we were packing up to go, he still hadn’t arrived.

As we were driving out, the rain stopped. The clouds parted. The sun came out. And the dam man never showed.

woodland battles

August 24, 2020

Not sure why I’ve let a few weeks pass without a fresh post to this humble blog. Nothing compelling to say, I suppose. I’ll try talking about my most recent visit to the cabin in my little bit of forest on the edge of the Missouri Ozarks.

Although it’s been dry for a couple of weeks here in faraway suburbia, Roundrock apparently got some rain shortly before our visit two weekends ago. Various kinds of mushrooms were popping up in the forest and in the gravel around the cabin.

Our agenda for this visit should have been to cut more encroaching limbs from the road leading to the cabin. But the will wasn’t there, and instead we sat in the comfy chairs on the shady porch overlooking the sparkling lake and just enjoyed the solitude.

I did manage to push myself up from that comfy chair eventually, long enuf to shovel several wheelbarrow loads of gravel to another area around the cabin. I had laid the old tarp over the area a couple of months ago to kill the grass and weeds that had been growing there. I removed the tarp last visit (and moved it to another green spot that needs to be gray). I raked the dead plant matter from the uncovered spot and then laid down landscaping fabric (as a weed barrier — not sure how well this actually works). After that I began shoveling gravel into the wheelbarrow to pour it on the landscaping fabric. It took seven loads to cover the area about two inches deep, which I think is probably the minimum needed to thwart seeds from finding the soil and sprouting. (I have something living in the drain pipe I have buried in the gravel behind the cabin, and this beastie chews through the plastic pipe and then pushes aside the gravel above it to make entry/exit holes. I’ve tried a few things to dissuade the beastie, but I suppose my presence a couple of times a month mean little to a full-time resident. Still, when it comes time to spread gravel over these holes, I may have problems with the underground tenants.)

After getting this task done and the tools put away, I returned to the comfy chair to reflect on my work. I watched the hummingbirds at the feeder (a recent and nice addition to our weekends there). I watched the turtles in the lake. The turkey vultures in the sky above. The little gray birds flitting in the trees. And the wasps trying to reconquer the cabin porch. (So far I’m ahead in that battle, having added chemistry to my arsenal, but, again, they’re full-time residents and I am not.)

There are other battles as well.

I found this debris on the rug inside the cabin. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but those bits are metallic. It took me only a few seconds to turn my eyes from the floor to the ceiling, where I saw this:

What you see is the apex of the ceiling above the litter on the floor. The metallic material is an insulating sheathing that the builder wrapped the cabin in before putting on the metal roof and the “log” siding. Something has chewed a hole in the sheathing for whatever buggy purpose it has. My guess is that the insect was trying to get into the cabin from above. The metal roof is ridged every foot or so, I think to add strength to the structure of it as well as ventilation. But the ridges are open to the world at the eaves, and tiny critters can easily enter there to build nests or winter over. (A dark green, metal roof is not a bad solar collector in the winter.) And that’s what I think has happened. Something matured in that ridged area and then for whatever reason chose to tunnel out rather than follow the ridge to the light.

Even standing on a chair, I could not reach the apex of the ceiling, so on my next visit I intend to bring a ladder to get my old self up there. I’ll apply chemistry to the hole and then cover it with a metallic tape. Then we will see.

But there’s another battle being waged outside the cabin too.

You may recall that these marbles stand in for my grands until they can come visit the cabin. (Grand #8 is still in production in St. Louis, but in a couple of weeks that should change.) On recent visits we’ve often found one or two of these marbles missing. Just gone. Not moved a few inches away but vanished. These marbles are easily two inches in diameter, so impossible for a bird and not necessarily easy for a critter to carry off. On our last visit, one was missing again. (The pale one near the top left.) I was mystified. But I think I’ve figured it out. I had walked over to the huge old log down the hill from the cabin to set peanuts on it for the birds and the wood rat who lives in it. As I was walking back to the cabin I saw the pale marble in the leaf litter. This would be about thirty feet from where it had been placed in the gravel. Then I understood. Wood rats are also known as pack rats. In the spring, when the wood rat would clean out its nest, we’d find hundreds of peanut shells outside the back entrance. Among this is often bits of aluminum foil that we sometimes use to cook with over the fire. The wood rat clearly likes shiny things, and the fact that the missing marble was nine-tenths of the way to the wood rat’s lair suggests to me that it is the culprit. And my wife speculated that the lair is probably packed with other, smaller marbles harvested from the gravel. (Except how can the rat appreciate the shiny things in the dark of the log?)

It was a satisfying visit. A little bit of relaxing. A little bit of working. A little bit of puzzle solving. I’m hoping to get back there this coming weekend (if the hurricanes don’t send too much water to the Midwest as they’re forecasted to) because the contractor I’ve hired to repair the spillway has told me this time he’ll really get it done.

bits and pieces

May 13, 2020

When I began working from home in March, it was to be a temporary thing, probably no longer than a couple of weeks. I am still at home, though I moved my workspace from my cold and mildewy basement (the dehumidifier runs almost constantly) to some bonus space in our master bedroom. It’s much better here, especially considering that I am making the work-from-home move permanent. Here are some things I have learned in my ~8 weeks of the experience:

  • I didn’t know mildew could make me physically ill.
  • Houses, and especially their plumbing, make a lot of noise.
  • Lawn mowing in the neighborhood makes a lot of noise.
  • Barking dogs in the neighborhood make a lot of noise.
  • My wife had been watching soap operas during the day when I was at the office and continues now.

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With nowhere else to go (and I pretty much intend to stay isolated through the summer), we’ve visited the cabin nearly every weekend. And if ever we get a break in the rain, I plan to get on my bike.

I hired a man to deliver a load of gravel to the cabin, so that’s given me a new, long-term chore to work on when I’m out there. (Now, if I could just get the other crew to finish work on the spillway . . .)

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The image above is apropos of the age, I think. It’s actually the side of a tissue box, but it illustrates the spread of contagium, don’t you think?

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Work on Omphalos continues. As of this writing I have more than 17,000 words down, and I think I’m about a third of the way through the story I have to tell. So it will be about as long as Ouroboros. It’s a sequel, and because it builds off of Ouroboros, I’m finding little things I need to plant there, which means another rewrite of the earlier work. Omphalos has also been writing itself. I’ve found myself spending whole days writing it, which is not my usual way.

Just a little test

December 13, 2019

I’m using my new iPhone to make this post, just to see how clumsy it is. And it is clumsy, but I managed to upload this picture of my lake from last weekend, so I call it a success.

Update 22DEC19 – Not sure how successful this effort has been. The photo sometimes appears as intended and sometimes is so huge that it doesn’t fit in the window.

bits and pieces

September 9, 2019

This is a photo of a sort of landmark on my neighbor’s land out near my cabin. “If you come to the burned out truck, you missed the turn.” This was a working vehicle when it was parked. When we would come to our cabin, we would see it moved, so we knew he was using it for something. Then we found it looking like this. The story I heard later was that he was doing some controlled burning of the dry grass nearby and pretty much lost control of the fire. (You can see that this sits on a ridge top, thus wind.) So it sat like this for years but then one visit we saw that it was gone. I suppose it was worth something as scrap metal.

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I’ve gotten into a little flame war on Facebook about submission fees for journals. My position is that I will not pay to have my story considered for publication. (We’re all cautioned not to pay to have our novels published, so why should it be different for short stories?) When I see a call for submission that interests me, and I click the link, if I see that there is a submission fee that they “forgot” to include in the text of the call, I graciously add the fee in a comment below. And I’ve found I’m not the only one to do this. My submission-to-acceptance ratio is such that I can’t throw $3 (or as much as $25) in with each story I submit, even if they do pay for published stories.

Some editors have gotten feisty about this, writing at length about their cost of doing business, and I understand that, but I feel that they’re transferring this cost onto the submitter. I don’t make any money doing this either, so why should the funding onus fall on me?

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I was also a little feisty myself when I saw a different call for submission to a magazine I had submitted a story to several years ago. I had never received a response from the magazine, and I logged it as No Response in my tracker. Now I realize this is one way to manage the deluge of responses, but if so, it seems that the publication ought to say so. The same thing happened with a submission to the magazine a year ago. So when I saw their call, I added my comment that I’d never received a response. Factual, if a little embittered. The editor then responded to my comment with a profuse apology and noted that I was not the only one to raise such a concern. He said they are working hard to correct this. Then he sent me a personal message saying the same thing. That was nice, but it wasn’t really necessary.

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Sometimes I think writers are seen as merely commodity producers and revenue streams. (Note: I feel much this way when I go to the doctor.)

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I rode the 26+ mile Indian Creek/Blue River Trail on Saturday. Probably my best ride so far, not only because it was cool in the morning, but because my muscles and heart and lungs seem to be getting on board with the plan. (Just in time for cooler weather when I’ll put the bike away for the season.) On Sunday, I was struck down with a throat cold and wandered the house in a semi-conscious state, when I wasn’t napping. I don’t think the two are related, though I have no idea where I picked up the cold.

random photo Tuesday

August 27, 2019

There are several things you can see in this photo. One is a selection of books from my Philip Roth shelves. I understand The Plot Against America is being made into a film. American Pastoral, The Human Stain, and The Dying Animal have already been done.

Another thing to notice is the relatively fine finish of the table top. This is not a piece of fine furniture; that’s a veneer on top of particle board. But it no longer looks as nice. The grands have all made contributions to its “seasoning.”

The third thing is that Sisyphus bookend. I made that at a several-weekends class at the nearby community college. I’m sure you know the story of Sisyphus from your general knowledge of Greek mythology and/or your familiarity with the writings of Albert Camus. (Right?) I created the form out of wax then dipped it repeatedly in the slurry that then dries and forms a shell around it. The wax is melted out of the shell, and the shell is filled with the molten brass. Then it’s a simple (and satisfying) matter of shattering the shell with a hammer to reveal the work of art within.

Were I to do this again — and I had wanted to make a pair of bookends at the time — I would probably just cast Sisyphus and then attach his hands to one of my round rocks. As a hobby, bronze casting is not cheap.

October blue ~ Skywatch Friday

October 19, 2018

This was the sky recently over the park where I walk my dogs. I’d seen this trick in an art gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico some years ago. “Santa Fe blue” being an actual color, and the sky there being so blue, the clever photographer combined them in a single image.

I’ve also heard of “October blue” as a color, more as a wistful reference than a point on the palette, and I always liked it since I had noticed the skies in October seemingly bluer. Then someone pointed out that this was likely due to lower humidity, and that took all of the romance out of it.

But we’ve had a lot of rain hereabouts so far in October, so an afternoon with clear skies was welcome.

principles and politics

July 4, 2018

On my long-gone blog, Roundrock Journal, I would post some variation of the below each Fourth of July. I came upon this among some files and thought the sentiments still applied

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I remember reading some years ago an observation by a political writer that has stayed with me. People who had never before heard of “hanging chads,” he wrote, suddenly found that they had deep and unshakable opinions about them. That one point seems to crystallize so much of what I think is wrong with contemporary politics.

Too many people, I think, base their principles on their politics when I think you really ought to come to your politics based on your principles. This is what I think or believe. This is what I have observed. This is what my heart tells me. Now which political approach seems best in line with what I value and understand?

Long-time readers of this blog know that I don’t make political posts here. This is a natural history and personal discovery blog, and the very few times I have made oblique political jibes or observations have been so subtle that no one has ever seemed to notice them. (Does that make me an excellent writer or a poor one?)

But today I will make an exception. Here are some of the things I think and believe. Here are some of the things my heart tells me.

  • I believe that every time we do something that limits the rights of others, we make it that much easier for someone else to limit our own rights. Therefore, the best way to protect my own rights is for me to fight to protect the rights of others.
  • I believe that if the racial/ethnic/cultural group I happen to be a part of is some day to be a minority, then I ought to do everything I can to treat existing minorities well since my behavior might serve as an example of how I will be treated.
  • I believe that a society is ultimately judged by how it protects its weakest members.
  • I believe that we are all obligated to provide some form of voluntary, long-term service to our communities and that there are many ways that this can be done.
  • I believe that we should vigorously exercise each of our rights, even to voting in the most obscure local elections, so that no one can take away our rights by asserting that we never used them anyway.
  • I believe that while all of us are entitled to the rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens, very few of us have actually earned them and that we only have them by the good luck of having been born here. Therefore, those who suffer and struggle and fight to share in the benefits of our society may be more entitled to them than I am.
  • I believe that we should read banned books.
  • I will support those who seek to expand the rights we all enjoy and not those who find it necessary to restrict our rights. I do not believe that we must destroy the Constitution in order to save it.

These are some of the things I believe, and I will make my political choices based on them.

off kilter

March 5, 2018

I traveled to and from St. Louis over the weekend to help my son and his wife move into their new apartment. (Larger apartment in the same complex. The moving effort took less time than the drive there.)

I didn’t get any writing done, though eight hours of driving in two days does give me plenty of time for reflection and plot planning. So when I got home yesterday, I was busy making notes on my ideas lest they evaporate from my mind. I’m sure I’ve missed a few, but they generally come back to me.

Anyway, here’s a photo from across the street of the hotel where I stayed:

According to Webster, the word “kilter” is of unknown origin.