Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

a trip to the cabin again (and scruffiness)

June 6, 2017

Yesterday’s post about a misstatement I’d made about my trip to the cabin contained a misstatement. I’d said that I hadn’t done much work, but there was one big, long-postponed project that I did take on — and finish — while I was there.

I’ve had a fire ring in this spot for longer than I’ve had a cabin. I’d made it with a bunch of paving blocks that a friend had given me when he was re-doing his back yard. And that worked well for a decade, but it always looked scruffy to me, and as the ring filled with the ash of countless fires, the downhill side of the blocks was beginning to lean out, in anticipation of falling altogether. I knew for a long time that I needed to rebuild the ring, but I wasn’t too keen on putting in the effort just to reset the paving blocks that looked scruffy.

For months, though, I’ve had a stack of one hundred cottage blocks sitting beside the cabin, for the retaining wall in front of the cabin I’ve been slowly extending. I knew that I could rebuild the ring with those blocks and that it would look better as well as likely work better since each row is offset back a half inch, giving more retaining strength to its structure.

Being ambitionless that day, I thought I would just switch out a few pavers with a few cottage blocks to get a sense of how well it would work and how big the job would be. But I also planned to have a fire that evening, so whatever I did would have to leave a working fire ring.

As you might imagine, it wasn’t as simple as exchanging a few pavers for a few blocks. Soon after I got started, I realized that I would need to do the whole job. The pavers and blocks were different sizes, and they were staggered in placement, so any replacement I did left gaps that not only would allow ash to spill through (or muddy ash if there were a subsequent rain) but would look scruffy! And so I spent the (languor-denied) afternoon rebuilding the fire ring,

  • getting a job done that was long overdue,
  • doing a lot of heavy lifting (that I counted as exercise for that fitness challenge at work),
  • staying off the cabin porch so the phoebe could stay on her nest,
  • and feeling a little better about my sorry self.

Here you see the new fire ring in action:

I wanted the new wall of blocks to be more or less level (the ground here slopes slightly), so I took a lot of care when I was laying the first level, digging out the gravel in some places and supplementing it in others. When I was done, I had a snugly fitting first row, and I was proud of my work. Laying the second level, however, presented a problem.

The blocks have a lip on the back that requires placing each “behind” the one below it by a half inch. I knew this when I started, but I should have done a little math first. By being offset, the diameter of the second level of a circular wall is slightly less than the diameter of the wall below it. And because I had made the wall below it “snug” I found that the last block on the second level wouldn’t fit. It was too wide for the space left in the smaller diameter. This was only by a half inch or so, and some kicking and tugging (and perhaps some colorful language) got it into place, but had I had some foresight, I would have known to build some space in the lower ring to allow for the slightly tighter upper ring.

You can see the old pavers that I salvaged from the original ring in the photo above and below. I’m sure I’ll find some use for them.

Many years ago, my sons’ Scout troop camped at a “historic” camp south of Kansas City. No one at the time bothered to ask what was historic about the place, but I subsequently learned that it was the segregated Scout camp. It was where Kansas City Scouts of color were allowed to go for their week-long summer camp back in the days when Scouting never had an official policy of segregation but had an unchallenged practice of it.

Anyway, there was a fire ring there that was shored up with a rock wall that was more than three feet high. I imagine that contained the ash of thousands of fires. This lit a fire in my brain. What might be in all of that ash? What stories could that fire ring tell of the people gathered around it so many, many times? It inspired me to do the same with the fire ring I have at Roundrock.

And so we burn more than firewood in our ring. I once burned an entire wooden ladder in it. (The critters had gnawed the feet away to the point that it was unstable to use.) The hardware of that long-gone ladder is now mixed with the ash in the fire ring. Similarly, an old deer stand that had fallen out of its tree was fed to the fire, and its screws and nails mix with the ash. (That ladder you see leaning against the tree in the photo above came from that fallen stand. It’s too good to burn, and the critters have not gnawed on it, but I still haven’t found anything to use it for.) When it is time to retire a pair of used-up leather gloves, they go on the fire. (I once pulled a dead buck deer out of my lake — true story — and the gloves I used for that disgusting effort went immediately into the fire!)

We also bring scrap lumber from our house to burn. You can see the tip of a green fence picket in the photo above. For many years my wife had a wooden chair sitting on our front porch in faraway suburbia, but it did not hold up well in the weather and was falling apart, so we took it to the cabin and burned it. (This features in my unpublished story “Fire Sermon.”)

I am slowly building the ash in my fire ring, and I will be thrilled when I have done enuf to add a third layer of blocks to the wall around it. Unfortunately, the diameter of that ring will be even smaller, creating an even bigger challenge when the time comes.



it’s Philip Roth’s birthday today

March 19, 2017

but you probably already knew that!

in touch once again

February 28, 2017

When my sons were in the Scouts and a weekend camping trip fell apart — usually due to the weather — we fathers would joke that there was never a camp out so bad that a few hundred dollars worth of equipment couldn’t fix. (That this equipment tended to be things reserved only for the fathers’ use was one of the reasons I reduced and then ended my involvement.)

And so it happened that over the last weekend — when I was not camping — the household lost connection with the internet. (I know some style manuals call for capitalizing that word, but I ain’t gonna do it!) Usually when this happens we merely unplug the router, count to ten in whatever language is available to us — my son’s new wife was there and speaks four languages, my neighbor speaks five — and then plug it in and surf away.

Not so, this time. All of our messing around with the router and the Apple Time Capsule were fruitless (and futile). The last time this happened, four years ago it turned out, it was the Time Capsule that failed and had to be replaced. Fearing this, we unplugged it and schlepped it over to the Apple Store and, without an appointment, managed to get attention. The device was running, they told us, but it was not receiving or transmitting. Apparently this is common enuf, and the advanced age of the device — four years it was revealed — meant it had lived to the end of its useful life. My wife spread the original cost over the four years and was satisfied that we’d gotten our money’s worth.

Thus for a few hundred dollars we came home with a new Time Capsule, which we plugged in. I followed the directions on the tiny user manual they provided, and soon the household was in touch with the universe again. Painless.

I had once lost an entire novel when the hard drive failed on an earlier computer I had. (I’m pretty sure I could reconstruct it from the pieces scattered here and there in emails and such.) This was when the Apple Time Capsule first entered our lives. It maintains a back up of whatever I ask it to. This allowed me to sleep better at night. The fact that the Time Capsule itself can fail is problematic, of course, but I also back up to Google Drive and even to a thumb drive I keep handy.