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November 30, 2002

Bits and Pieces

~ Quote for the day ~
What humbugs we are, who pretend to live for Beauty, and never see the Dawn!
~ Logan Pearsall Smith ~

*** Pascale goes out on a limb, in a most even handed way, acknowledging that sometimes our enemies can tell us things our 'friends' won't. Even so, the hawks of the blogging world seem to see any admission of shortcomings on the part of our countries' policies or leaders as 'capitulation to the enemy'. To thine own self be true...

[...] Are we hypocrites? Do we tolerate in our friends and allies things we excoriate in our enemies (ignoring UN Resolutions, weapons of mass distruction... )? Yes. We have committed serious crimes in the past, and no doubt some of what we do now will be also judged unfavorably by history. We are vulgar, we are commercial, we are arrogant, and exploiting what can be exploited is all in a day's work for us. We are far from a perfect society, and at present our increasing paranoia is making us increasingly less perfect.
*** And from Peter's Hip Pocket, by way of Rebecca Blood, the question: how much information is enough, and how much of it is appropriately 'filtered'?
Rebecca Blood: "I think that at some point, turning off information is going to be a huge luxury. But it's clear that a shift has occurred. The game is no longer about access to information, it's about access to reliable, pertinent information. Filters will become more and more important. And, at some point, people will start trying to identify what level of information is optimal. My hunch is that there is a rate at which even useful information moves into diminishing returns. At a certain point, the man who knows less is better equipped to make a good decision."

*** And, found via link from Pascale, another wide-ranging smart weblog from Vancouver, mirabilis.com, comes this techno-tale of instant Rosetta Stone interpretation.

Cracking the ancient code of hieroglyphics was once considered one of the greatest feats of cryptology. But thanks to a group of academics from Scotland the secrets of the Pharaohs are set to be revealed in a matter of seconds.

[...] A digital photo of a hieroglyph can be taken with a mobile phone, sent to a computer and translated into English in seconds.

Finally, in researching a Floyd history topic, I ran across this better than usual local cycling piece. It includes some local history, some pictures of 'town' (not very flattering) and the Dry Goods place that was about a mile from our first Floyd Home on the Parkway. This bike trip follows a good bit of our route from Goose Creek to Floyd, on those big occasions when we go to 'town'.

November 29, 2002

My World From Space

Playing the armchair traveler again. Ron, I guess this one is for you, since the last maps were a real yawner. Sorry. This map-lust of mine is longstanding, but more recently related to my newfound interest in the history of place, specifically, my place in southwest Virginia. Understanding where I fit in the TIME events of where I live is what written history can tell me. In the same way maps, in all their forms, can tell me WHERE on Earth I am. Astronomy and cosmology take this another level and give one bearings with our relationship to the universe. Beyond that, and including all that, theology seeks to answer the big WHY. Deep wading.

Ah, the map. The digital image of Western Virginia (large and perhaps slow loading). You can find similar maps of your own state, and I know you'll want to rush right off and do that. I don't imagine a place like Kansas would look very interesting; Colorado, on the other hand, would probably be quite remarkable to a map freak such as me, given its considerable relief (relief constitutes differences in elevation as portrayed by the different colors on the map).

Let me give you a quick tour of the map. Stay awake now.

Green marks the lowest elevation. Note that the piedmont of Virginia and the false-mountains of West Virginia are both about the same elevation. The 'mountain state' indeed. Much of West Virginia consists of 'erosional remnants', not true mountains formed by the colliding of tectonic land masses. West Virginia is technically the 'hill state'. All the roads, railroads and hiways follow the pathway of creeks and rivers that cut their way down into the flat-layered hills. (In the 'true mountains, the layers are all jumbled up like a marble cake). The undisturbed nature of sedimentary beds has made possible the feasibility of 'strip mining' where all the coal, lying in one undisturbed layer, can be mined by simply removing the top of the mountain, dumping that 'overburden' in someone's back yard and creek, and dredging out the coal with monstrous scooping machines. But that's another story.

The Appalachians on this map are generally shown in pink and purple, with the very highest peaks, a light blue. Note that the mountain chain runs northeast to southwest, as this was the angle of collision between two huge floating land masses many hundred million years ago.

Note the broad brownish valley near the upper right corner. This is the Shennandoah that continues southwest, narrowing as it runs past the present town of Lexington, on to the sheltered valley of Roanoke. (The blue Smith Mountain Lake looks like a finger pointing at Roanoke). The left-facing 'thumb' of the lake points directly toward the edge of Floyd County. When we lived on the Parkway before moving to Goose Creek, we could see the lake about 40 miles away, glistening in the early morning sun. The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the crest of the Blue Ridge, dropping down to flat country around Roanoke before rising again toward Peaks of Otter.

Perhaps the most conspicuous feature of the Appalachians from this vantage point in space is the "Ridge and Valley" province, evident as long sinuous parallel ridges (chiefly of resistant rock like sandstone and conglomerate) with narrow valleys of resistant limestone in between. All these substrates represent ancient sea floor material (sand, single-celled diatoms et cetera leaving the calcium carbonate of limestone) laid down in successive layers many thousand feet thick. This geological 'lasagna' was 'rumpled' like a rug being pushed from one edge, creating many wrinkles or folds.

These generally low (3000 ft or less) stringy mountains resulting from this ancient mountain building represented considerable obstacles to western migration, as you might imagine. Finding the Cumberland Gap in far western Virginia where it meets the Kentucky border was as important in its day as landing a man on the moon. This discovery made Daniel Boone a national hero, even though another man, Dr. Thomas Walker, had discovered it some time before. Come to think about it, finding the Gap was more important in practical utility to the lives of the people determined to 'conquer' the untamed and largely unmapped West than leaving footprints on a large, lifeless rock in space.

One last thing: You can see the higest point in Virginia in the blue mass above the word "longitude", right on the VA-NC-TN border. This is the Iron Mountain Range that includes Mt. Rogers. How many wonderful hours and days I have spent on those summits! I know you'll want to follow this high country southwest, onto the North Carolina Digital Map. One day I'll treat you to a tour of that map describing the two places we lived in the NC mountains. I am sure you're giddy with excitement.

November 28, 2002

Family Table

Thanksgiving at Goose Creek 2001

This time, last year. All together. Seated around the table. Holli, Abby and Mike; Ann, my mom, son Nathan. And himself, behind the camera.

This time, this year, all apart: Alabama, Virginia, Wyoming, Vermont.

Wish you were here. Glad you were here. Thinking of you all. More turkey for us!

Thank God for each other, our home(s) and our country. May it remain true to the ideals of those who have sustained through the centuries this traditional day of honoring our nation's roots in hospitality, equality and justice, and doing unto the least of these, our (black, white, red, yellow, or turbaned) brethren (and sisteren) as we would do unto our own loved ones.

Retro and CD update

Update: The Fragments monologue CD is limping along. The Radio Shack microphone is a big improvement over Mr. Dell's. And, following kind comments from readers, I will not be making any attempts to put too high a polish on this, leaving in the hiss and crackle of the woodstove, puppydog noises, and the not infrequent gaffs where I lose my place or try to be extemporaneous, and end up falling all over myself. Everything goes. Got to get this one ready to be a stocking stuffer.

Did I mention that I printed out everything Fragmented since June? It gives me easy pickings when deciding what to include on the CD, not to mention providing a hard copy archive for when the entire Internet implodes, which my hypervigilant and mildly paranoid little helpmate warns me about. More than that, I now have a tangible work I can hold in my hands, a tactile proof of the life I have poured into words over the past months. The heft of it is reassuring, the quality is, well, like real life. There are more than a few stinkers in the bunch.

But: since I expect the blogosphere to be seasonally diverted toward football, family and food for the next several days, I will save the longish posts that pick up some old threads until next week. Meanwhile, I will point you back to a couple of the June entries I read this past week that made me smile. They may be fresh reads to you new or occasional visitors.

  • First, a family heirloom picture of my dear daughter caught in a Kodak Moment that I call Digital Exploration. Daughter was in a bad accident on an icy Wyoming highway this week, and came away with nothing more than a mildly sore neck. We continue to be thankful for her guardian angels, who we now owe hazard pay and overtime.
  • You don't bring me flowers, anymore... is a cautionary tale to husbands and wives: Mind the calendar, and keep a bottle of wine chilled, just in case.
  • And finally, a lament written early during my self-imposed 'free time' away from work. I struggle with the freedom from versus the absence of 'work' during this transitional period in a piece I called Early June in the Summer of our Discontent. This essay was supposed to be read as my first on-air essay, but the radio station person in charge left the station and the reading fell through the cracks. I like it because it elicits the memory of the feel of sweet, fragrant summer air as I sit here in a thick warm bathrobe by the crackling woodstove.

Y'all have a safe and wonderful time with family. Take a walk in the woods. Hug a tree. Be well.

November 27, 2002

15 Minutes of Fame

Fran Mason of Northwest Notes was kind enough to recommend Fragments to MSNBC and we have been posted on Weblog Central under BEST OF BLOGS with the following comments:

Fran from Seattle writes, “One great blog: Fragments from Floyd. He lives in rural Virginia and writes personal essay-type journal entries and lots about the natural world on and around his farm. Photos sometimes!”

In one post, the writer refers to his entries as “veggie tales and backroad belly-button reflections.”

Now that last part, I couldn't have said it any better myself.

Maps, Part One

Would someone please recommend a STABLE operating system! I am feeling like a crash-test dummy with my current cohort of software crashing Win98 or one of its programs (usually the one in which I have entered data but not saved) at least two times daily.

I had intended just to say in my first daily post "Go look at these neat maps" but got loquatious and had a good half-page about the physical geography of Southwest Virginia. I printed it to proof-read (thank goodness) and the program crashed. Now, or eventually, to retype.

Links to the maps that illustrate the longer, future post, I will post here. If interested at all in the topic, come back later for the context. Liska, your place should be visible on the map, print it and put it on your wall as encouragement to hang in there a few more years before moving here to be our neighbor. Ron B, a few clicks on the map to move it northeast, should be able to find your place. Lisa, somewhere on these contours might be the home that is waiting for you. Kurt B, Susann, Meryl, you know a little more about the place and can testify to the fact that you can barely get here from there.

On the topographical map, our place appears in about the center where there are four red dots (I think indicating one of the low-water bridges). Nearby you see the word FORD; this is where we park our truck. No, seriously, our road ran IN the creekbed until 1971; you had to drive through the water fording the creek to get where you were going. Our valley runs north-south along what I call FerdNAnn's Creek. You can see how close the contour lines fall to each other indicating the steepness. Any roads necessarily followed the few creek-worn clefts from the relatively rolling land above, ultimately to markets in the valley to the north, as discussed in the longer upcoming post.

The aerial photo shows another version of the topographical, but it is often difficult to distinguish if a dark zone is a ridge or a valley. Our place is in the lower right corner of the enlarged image (go to the left margin of the map and change map size to medium, I think). This map also gives a good comparison in the upland plateau of Floyd County compared to the highly eroded ravines and steep valleys worn away by water and wind over the eons. Here again, it makes me think of the physical reasons early settlers to the area were attracted to some areas, and repulsed by others (like where we currently live).

So, before the next CPU disaster, share in my cartophilia that contributes some hard data to my curiosity about where I am in space. If you are not interested in maps, you should be, and I just might tell you why one of these days. Consider finding YOUR home (where you live now, where you came from, where you would LIKE to live one day) on the TopoZone or TerraServer maps. It just might give you a new perspective of your WHERE.

November 26, 2002

Regrets. I've Had a Few

If I had life to live over again, I would hope to have more and closer friends.

Picture a pyramid. The broad base measures the vast number of friendships in my early years, full of classmates and neighborhood children I knew so well that their parents felt free to report my misbehavior without apology. I played in their sprinklers, skated on their sidewalks, and they, mine. We took turns spending the night in each others homes, being pestered by siblings perceived as worse and coddled by parents always 'better' than our own. Friendships were many, if not deep, in those days.

Highschool years brought 'them and us' clickishness. I was in the next to the highest echelon, by my reckoning, dating most of the cheerleaders and majorettes, hanging out with the class officers though not one myself. I particularly had a lot of gal friends, and of course, all that ended when one particular one was chosen from the menu. Not a jock, and not in either of our highschool hoodlum fraternities, I still had a close cluster of guy friends I had come up through grammer school with. Our parents knew and liked each other, and most of us were from the same side of First Avenue, the proto-yuppie 'right side' of Birmingham. There was the comraderie of sock hops in the school gym, shared fight songs at Legion Field on cool October Alabama football nights, and then the bitter-sweet rending of graduation.

Constrict the pyramid by 50% after highschool. Maybe more. From there on, the base of the rapidly tapering triangle of the friends-pyramid remains tiny, needle-like into the present. I can't say why. We've moved a good bit over the past years, but have tried to keep in touch with a few people in each location. People just seem so absorbed in their own concerns of family and work that once you leave that immediate envelope of contact, absence and distance seem like a kind of benign death. I have had the best of intentions to not let our friendships die, but they die soon and sure enough.

Somehow, I had always expected the pyramid to be inverted, with friendships accumulating over time, expanding rather than contracting in number. Maybe it is like this for others, I don't know. I envision everyone else having broad and deep frienships, large families, confidants, comrades and chums. Maybe friendships are particularly hard for guys; I hear we have an especially hard time with the male bonding thing. My circle of association is too small to draw any conclusions about statistical norms.

Now here we are, living a reclusive existence imposed by geography, not personal preference to move away from contact with people, empty nesters far from our small families. You can't get here from there. I'm not willing to move to find the missing elements in my life, but I would hope to find a better balance between solitude and community.

I am truly thankful in this season of thanksgiving for abundant blessings, far in excess of what I deserve. It is against this vast cornucopia of good things in my life that this small regret stands in contrast and feels large, empty, like a missing tooth. As we approach semi-retirement, there is now time and place for friends, and when it does happen, sitting up on the porch with friends sharing a glass of wine, listening to the creek, the wind in the trees and the things said and unsaid between us is a true joy.

I am thankful for the 'friendships' made through this weblog and feel they are no less 'real' for the fact that you and I will not likely meet and sit on our porch on a sunny afternoon. I do get to feeling self-absorbed in this largely one-sided 'dialogue' and know that I often fail to say or say well that which is important for me to 'tell' my distant friends. Kindly just blow off the chaff, maybe there will still be left some fragment of meaning and goodness to share in what remains.

Have a full and memorable Thanksgiving Holiday, friends.

Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away. ~Dinah Craik

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half a sorrow. ~Swedish Proverb

November 25, 2002

Creative Nonfiction: Whah?!

I feel like I am a stranger who has wondered, quite intentionally, into a world that has been going on in a prominent way, for decades, in the world of English majors ... a universe that is quite alien to those such as myself who have lived largely in the laboratory or field, and not in the world of words, and the Ivory Towers of academia where words are cared for and fed. It is as if someone came into my biology lab and discovered "OH! Photosynthesis! I wondered how plants did that". Well duh. Doesn't everybody know that!?

Apparently, the genre has gone through a cycle of nomenclature...from New Nonfiction to Literary Journalism, then Narrative Nonfiction and finally, Creative Nonfiction. If I have anything to say at length, this is the bureau drawer in which it will be filed. Boy, do I have a lot to learn, but I think what I have to say may be compatible with this genre, and I will learn by the seat of my pants. I've been at the bottom of the learning curve before. A lot. As I often told my discouraged kids, "everything you do well and easily today, one day you did poorly". Baby steps...baby steps.

For my own sake, let me record some comments that I find helpful in coming to understand what this creative nonfiction thing is all about. Hopefully I will add to this list of cliplets as I go along. Collecting clips is to writing a 'memoir' as making a leaf collection is to understanding botany. Gotta start somewhere. Sigh.

The following from an article describing a journal of Creative Nonfiction called "The Fourth Genre" by Caron Kruth.

[...]revel in the personal and intimate, small details and ordinary occurrences, that can give unexpected and delightful impact or insights into the larger world. In these writings, it is not the events that are necessarily important, but the meanings that the writer and reader derive from them - the 'how', rather than the 'who'.

[...]has freed the ordinary person to write her or his own stories without the notions that previously ensured the genre was dominated by 'great' or 'famous' men writing about their 'great lives and deeds'

[...]ranging from micro-memoir to nature diary, are recurring themes of place and landscape, identity, belonging and not belonging, of the frailty of the physical body and of family and relationships. The more personal memoirs, in keeping with the best examples of the genre, are intimate without being sentimental or self-absorbed. Many of the pieces also consciously examine the importance of memory and the need to reinvent/discover our own stories and connect to those who are close to us.

[...]Other pieces contain surreal imagery, wry and humorous observations, lustful ruminations on the relationship between the writer and his/her muse in the writing process, insightful cultural investigations, dreams and longings, crisp and innovative prose styles and thoughtful explorations of the self and of the 'bigger picture'.

On Appalachia

The Appalachian Regional Commission was created by Congress in 1965 to "support economic and social development in the Appalachian Region". It provides the definitive definition of the region, stating that it encompasses 13 states, and covers 410 counties. It encompasses 23 million people, including all of West Virginia and parts of twelve other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Appalachia covers a 200,000 square mile region, and is said to 'follow the spine of the mountains for 1000 miles', but even a casual look at the ARC map shows that the long, thin backbone of mountains accounts for only the eastern border of the 'region'.

In 1965, one in three Appalachians lived in poverty. The area has been stereotyped by characters in the Sunday comics and in the media from Snuffy Smith to the Dukes of Hazard. Many people still hear "Dueling Banjos" reflexively when they drive speeding past ramshackle mountain cabins that in places cling to marginal homeplaces along the margins of I-81 as it courses up the Great Valley of early western migration.

The people of the region have been categorized generally as dirt-poor, hard-core rural, inbreed, ignorant, reclusive and backward. How this area came to be 'poor backwoods' and associated with these negative characteristics, deserved or not, is something that I will likely gain a better understanding of if I persist in this exercise.

But it is the mountains that snake along the length of the Appalachian region, and from which the region derives its name, that are at the center of my care. I have lived in or near them all my life, and they are the substrate upon which my story could be laid out. I have been "Appalachian" all my life. I am just now starting to acknowledge how deeply these roots go to anchor me to the ancient rock under my feet.

November 24, 2002

Word of Mouth

~ Journal: 25 Nov 2002 ~

Yesterday I replaced my $3.00 pencil-microphone that Mr. Dell so graciously provided -- at no extra charge! -- with my system four years ago with a more-or-less real powered microphone from Radio Shack. Now I don't have to have the microphone actually touching my lips to get the desired decibel recording volume and without hearing those huffing noises with each breath... heavy breathing is very distracting when you are trying to sound natural, casual, and conversational.

Task: Fragments represents the sum total of my written self, less emails, Masters thesis, and a couple of shopping lists. I have the necessary tools to do it, so I am going to select a CD's-worth of my little veggie tales and backroad belly-button reflections to read into my new and improved mic, copy this glop onto a CD, and bestow on the unsuspecting (family) as Christmas gifts. They will make nice, shiny coasters, and should one or more survive after the initial listening, one day latter-day Firstlets can hear ol' Dumpa Dumpy in his own voice. A Legacy, or a travesty. It will remain for history to judge. I do hold the thought, however, that there are two meanings to the term 'burning a CD'.

If I was really creative, and also if I had not waited until the 11th hour to get started on this, as is my tradition with things Christmas, it might have been nice to add some musical transitions between or background behind the spoken words; or to play/sing a few of my 'old standards' with the guitar so as to make listeners think, by comparison, that perhaps the narrated stories are not the worst part of the disk.

To record properly, I will have to wait until the house is quiet... no kettle hissing on the stove, or dog paws ticky-ticking around. I have to get this done this week. Which, considering the season, probably means I'll do it next week. Or later.

November 23, 2002

Of, by, and for...the Corporation

Did you not see this one coming on November 5th? This is just the beginning of the disassembly of air-and-water quality gains made over the last twenty years. With his daddy, it was "blue smoke and mirrors". With little Dubya, just the blue smoke.

Smoke and Mirrors: Under the NSR provision, changes at industrial facilities resulting in significant pollution increases (e.g., 40 tons per year) triggered cleanup obligations. To determine whether pollution increases, a company must compare its pollution before the change, known as its pollution "baseline," with pollution levels after the change. The administration's rule change will allow a facility to pick a fictional pollution baseline that is worse than its actual pollution levels, essentially allowing the facility to pollute more and pretend it is not.

The Dirty Unit Loophole: The Environmental Protection Agency is creating a loophole in NSR requirements called the "clean unit" exemption. Far from being clean, the sole purpose of the exemption is to allow significant increases in air pollution to avoid cleanup and installing state-of-the-art pollution controls that were required under NSR rules.

No PAL of Mine: EPA is adopting a plant-wide applicability limit (PAL) concept that purports to be a 10-year "cap" on pollution covering an entire facility. It will allow facilities to lock in excessive pollution levels -- without having to reduce those levels -- and avoid cleanup under NSR for 10 years and beyond. EPA will not mandate pollution control requirements for new or existing polluting equipment under a PAL. A PAL will last 10 years, allowing pollution decreases that occurred nine years ago to purportedly "offset" actual and significant pollution increases today, thereby avoiding cleanup today.

-- from Natural Resources Defense Council Press Release Nov.22, 2002

Bug's Life: Great FLIK

You can imagine the treat it was for moi, the self-appointed BugMan of the Blogosphere, to stumble across BUG'S LIFE on the Tube of No Return last night.

Entomologically correct and anthropomorphically accurate, all classes of Arthropods are represented. You have to listen quick, the repartee is "G" rated but flies way above the heads of children. The digital animation is spectacular; take a look at the Pixar site telling how they do it.

Getting to be That Time of Year

One day, at a local buffet, a man suddenly called out, "My son's choking! He swallowed a quarter! Help! Please, anyone! Help!"

A man from a nearby table stood up and announced that he was quite xperienced at this sort of thing. He stepped over with almost no look of concern at all, wrapped his hands around the boy's gonads, and squeezed. Out popped the quarter. The man then went back to his table as though nothing had happened.

"Thank you! Thank you!" the father cried. "Are you a paramedic?"

"No," replied the man. "I work for the IRS."

November 22, 2002

Perchance to Dream

On Writing: "I try to leave out the parts that people skip." ~Elmore Leonard

Lucky Fragments readers. The computer ate my homework. I was mid-way writing one of those skippable parts, all about the unnatural history of sleep in this house, and my software froze, mercifully wiping the tale off the face of the Earth. I was writing in this realm because "we" didn't sleep well, once again last night. Consequently, I also flirted all night with the rapid-eye-movement thing, without much success.

Ann torments about her work, her patients, her children, her silverware. I merely go to sleep instantly, and remain asleep soundly and well, given a night free of torment over there on the other half of the bed. When 50% of us are tossing and turning, like last night, I am awake, too, creating metaphors and similies in my superfical half-dreams. Things are happening that are in some intangible way "like" other things; one bizarre X-file-ish thing is happening over in that part of my dreamscape "as if" something else was really happening somewhere else. I turn these characters or situations over and over in my quasi-thoughts trying to make the triumphant association. I never quite grasp them before they dissolve in a moment of restlessness when Ann sighs heavily or shifts from staring at the ceiling to staring out the window at the darkness.

Last night, there was this big machine, see? like the one the gutter guys bring to your house. Feeding into this thing was pure, unformed, raw something-or-other, like the flat aluminum that will be shaped into gutters for your roof; but not that. Coming out the other side was the final product thingy, with form, shape, meaning. The imagery was brilliant! Yes! But this morning, it has slipped like sand through an open hand. Nada.

I have been no more successful arriving at the final high-flying metaphors that my subconscious unwillingly struggles with than I ever was as a young Superman making that exhiliarating final dream-leap into the air. My red spandex shorts always ended up around my knees. I had this one hundreds of times. The ending was never any different. I might as well have pulled the shorts down myself, at that last climactic moment.

Futility can take all sorts of different forms, especially in the wee hours of a sleepless night. Maybe futility is 'like' trying to keep together all those parts of your life that you should have left out of it in the first place. Maybe it's like.... Heck. I don't know. I need a nap.

Writing as Catharsis

Perhaps I flatter myself by assuming that not all of you out there get offers as I have, to become a Regional Distributor for a product called Col*nCleans*ng (I wouldn't want to have a, er, flood of Googlers coming here to Fragments to purchase the product just yet, hence the **s.) These people really want me bad, and are trying to get to me through all my email accounts. My resistance is weakening. I can't hold back the urge much longer.

Yes, I think my shi* may have just come in. Work from home. Provide a wonderful service. Make lots of money. This seems like a no-lose situation, what with this sales pitch straight from their persuasive email ...

  • Cleansing your colon is a 30-day process. Its also very economical at $51.50, for all three products. You may be very surprised at some of the benefits you will receive besides just losing 1-5 lbs of cr*p from your body and brightening your future health.

I'm sure you've known writers who bussed tables, worked construction, or have done other kinds of lower-colonic income-producing work to support their writing. It impresses my sensibilities that producing an income-stream by being a rep for a col*n-flusher has a nice poetic symmetry. I may have found my niche in my new life.

I just wanted you to know, faithful readers. And, ah, it feels good to have gotten that out of my system. I feel 5 lbs lighter already!

November 21, 2002

Life After 50: Confirmed!

See! It's not just my pentageneric hallucination! Greetings to fellow OldieButGoodie, Right Wing Texan. Discovered in a random link-hop, I, of course, had to go see what was going on in my age cohort within the blogosphere. Welcome to the blogroll! Ya'll go visit RWT at Life After Fifty and tell'em Fragmented Fred sent ya.

Scratch and Sniff

It is said that when we get old, we do not remember days, we remember moments.

It may be that there is something in this to explain our experience with smell that makes it so evocative and emotive: the smell of coal permeated everything, coal for the groaning dragon-throated furnace in your uncle's basement where you hid that day from you brother; and just a whiff of the smell of coal carries you back to that exact moment in your life. It is that moment that carries the nostalgic overtones you have bonded to that certain smell. Smell freezes time to a discrete point in our life, and permanently embeds a memory.

And yet, there are other realms of smell ... of buildings, of neighborhoods, even of cities... that are more global and diffuse, reminding us not of moments but of seasons in our lives, periods of years, epochs. I don't understand how smell asserts its influence on our deepest, most primitive brainspaces; but knowing is not important. I do know that we place too low a value on what our noses could tell us about the world, and perhaps this indifference impoverishes us of those moments in our lives at which, had we smelled more deeply, we would remember now more clearly.

It is in the context of the out-of-doors that I am most acutely aware of smells, general and particular, that call forth memories both of moments and of epochs. Outside of walls is where I spend my best hours and have some of my fondest reveries.

There was a time in my life when I tried to teach biology students the importance of taking in nature with the eyes, and with the heart, but also with the nose. It is my hope that this began for them a habit of 'crush and smell' that has enriched their memories of the woods and fields. It is good to imagine that they are now passing along this nose-centered way of seeing things to their children. If so, then I have taught a thing worth knowing.

To Hang an Elephant

They're not proud of it in Erwin, Tennessee. But once upon a time, they hung Murderous Mary, a five-ton cow elephant, by the neck until dead. Why? Depends on if you believe version I, II or III of the story.

It was 1916, and things were changing fast. World War I raged in Europe. Dadaism, ripe with comic derision and irrationality, took hold in artistic circles. Freeform jazz took hold of the American music scene. Margaret Sanger opened the first birth-control clinic. It was a good year for scapegoats. It was a good year to hang an elephant.
-- from Blue Ridge Country Magazine, Roanoke Virginia

November 20, 2002

Did It My Way

There was an elderly country lady used to bring her tottery husband, my patient, to the clinic for rehab. He had had a mild stroke. You could tell they had been married since childhood; they even looked a lot like each other after 50 years of exposure to the same air, same food, and living under the same roof.

She came in just a fussin' one afternoon, givin' him the what-for. He had failed to see the world through her lens that particular day, and she wasn't one bit happy about it, either. Although they were almost each other's first cousin from the looks of 'em, it was their differences that had her so upset that day.

"What is it that he's done to get you all twisted up, Leonora?" I asked. "Walt seems like a pretty laid-back, easy going fella. I can't imagine not getting along with him".

"Laid back?! Why, he's so laid back, that man can lie down right next to a problem and go to sleep!"

Having gotten to know her pretty well, I wanted to tell her that she made me think she could lie down right next to a solution and stay up all night worrying about it. I wanted to tell her that I knew another couple just 'xactly like that. And one of us would be sleeping just fine that night, thank you.

Second Cup of Coffee

image copyright Fred First

Wandering the Olfactory Landscape

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town. Smells detonate softly in our memory like poignant land mines hidden under the weedy mass of years. Hit a tripwire of smell and memories explode all at once. A complex vision leaps out of the undergrowth. ~Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses

Our son is blessed with the questionable benefit of being able to remember the most tedious detail of his obsurd dreams. They are poignant and profound to him, and must be told scene by scene upon rising. We quietly indulge him by listening and trying to attend.

Perhaps it is this way with one's words about the perception of particular and personally important smells. They seem to carry such import and ineffible relevance to our lives, somehow, until we try to grasp it in words. How do I tell another what the smell of new-mown grass or bread baking does to me internally, where it takes me and why? Do I really understand where and why I have been touched by that scent of split oak or ozone? The memory of smell may be dreams told by an idiot, often a memory without words or even images, seen out of the corner of your nose, so to speak. But this experience, I think, is common and runs deep in all of us. It could be an interesting place to focus our thoughts and memories.

It has been a week of interesting aromas here on Goose Creek. I am not sure I am up to the challenge of telling about them, or should even attempt it, knowing the results may sound like our son's early morning accounts of his scrambled noctural ramblings through castles of blue pudding.

November 19, 2002


Yes, I got up, got dressed in every piece of clothing I could lift and carry, and stood outside in the dark for a half-hour this morning with my neck craned overhead, spinning slowly in circles so as to see the whole show above me. My toes are still numb, and I need to find a good physical therapist to do some mobilization on my stiff sky-watchers neck. Was it worth it? Yes indeedy.

What with the setting full moon and the pervasive eastern moisture in the predawn air, dark was a relative term. But it was dark enough. In 30 minutes, I may have seen 200 meteors. Most were zips at the edge of vision. Some were indeed spectacular, lighting up the valley in less than a blink, like a photographic flash; some leaving persistent trails across the sky in the way an artist would dash a perfectly straight line on black canvas with a luminscent pale blue, fine-tipped brush. One split into two, each fragment sizzling off to die dark death extinguished in our protective shield of air that we seldom acknowledge.

I confess I felt somewhat the ambulance chaser. Give me a show, I demanded for my efforts. Dazzle me with special effects. Entertain me. The Leonid Meteor Storm went on with the show. But before it, and after it, with one spectator bundled against the cold of the dark side of the planet, there was moonlight and starlight, creek sounds and the stark silhouette of limb against the heavens.

Will I make a habit of bundling up each morning to stand silent under a quiet sky where stars keep their places. No siree-sir. But this morning I have remembered once again what night is like, and cold, and things moving out there beyond our vision and understanding. This, and another cup of coffee, is all any man can ask.

UPDATE: Oh I am impressed, truly. Pasqale DROVE herself to see the Leonids. Literally. Anybody who can get out of their car into the cold dark is a serious seeker. You go, girl!

Where I'm From

I am coming to appreciate my place as a minority blogger. No, I'm definitely a W.A.S.P. But I write from the Appalachian Mountains. There don't appear to be many bloggers who live here in this bioregion. Not many at all. If we could see from near-space a map of where the purported million bloggers live, I wonder if it would not closely match those satellite images we have seen of North America at night. Where there are thick bands of dazzling light ... in the cities, along the eastern seaboard, in college towns ... there, too, are the bloggers. That leaves very few of us in the empty, black, unlit rural zones of the country.

I am in yet a smaller minority, perhaps, in that not only is my physical presence in these souther Mountains. The Appalachians is also where my heart lives. I make my home here proudly, and by intention ... a perspective I hope to flesh out in some fashion in Fragments in weeks to come. I don't pretend to be or to hope to become an expert in mountain culture, geology, or the history of pioneer migration through this area. But I would like to gain more insight into 'where I am' in this world, physically speaking, and why. So, this theme will surface here, from time to time, perhaps regularly.

Meanwhile, a few simple observations for those who live in other places.

There is a right way and a wrong way to pronounce Appalachian: "apul ach'chun" is correct. "apul aye' chun" is incorrect. To be called by a name mispronounced is to impugn the identity that the bearer has with that name. Think about it. How do you feel if someone mangles your name? It is who you are. Call people by their proper names, and their lands also.

Realize that there is a difference between the social/cultural term 'Appalachia' and the Appalachian Mountains. This may be discussed here in due time. The old stereotypes should give way to more accurate understanding of who it is that lives in Appalachia in the 21st century. L'il Abner and Dukes of Hazard are not proper teachers anymore; they never were, but were accepted as such. I am not suggesting that one cannot still find archtypical Appalachian characters. But they are disappearing in the obituaries every day, and their memories and way of life with them. Some old prejudices and unsavory habits should pass away, but there is much about Appalachia that deserves to live.

All southerners are not Appalachian. There is the lowland South and there is the Mountain South. I live by temperament and by choice in the latter. I am curious to know how this nature of mine came about, and I suspect that these upland surroundings have had no small role to play with who I have become. The pull of the mountains may go back generations before I graced this planet; ancestral roots may have planted me where I have come to grow best.

I am burdened by the gift of a strong sense of place, and it has made for some difficult choices and circumstances in our lives. being where I am, I have given up convenience and proximity to 'stuff' of our culture. But I am living in the heart of God's Country of rural Virginia, and this is my choice, and I am happy in it. I'd like to be able to make you understand why. I first have to find the answers for myself. And maybe that is what writing is ultimately all about.

Wendell Berry said it simply: if you don't know where you are, you don't know who you are.

A ten-point buck just wandered under my window as I was writing that last sentence, and the first snowflakes of the season are falling. I take this as a good omen that our wanderings through Appalachian lore will bring us to a pleasant or at least a reasonable destination. We have all winter to get there, and an infinite number of blank pages here on the computer screen.

November 18, 2002

Canine Condition

A quick update on the strange ordeal with Buster the dog.

After switching him from Tetracycline to Doxycycline almost a week ago, he has been much improved. He no longer acts like he doesn't care if he lives or dies. However, in spite of the largish antibiotics dosing, he continues to show intermittent lameness, and not always in the same leg. Other than a bit of difficulty standing up from lying, and keeping his footing on the hardwood floors, he is as obnoxious as ever.

I never thought I would yearn for him to oh, please, just come run off with my sock, and wouldn't you like to get between my legs when I am trying to split wood? His obnoxiosity is such a good sign!

Woodman, Spare That Truck

We have finally reached that point in the heating season when the kettle on the stove will hiss around the clock. The fire from yesterday will live overnight as coals to rekindle today's, adding just a few twigs and a handful of kindling. We are into the winter ritual of the woodstove, and this seems only natural; the first time I heated a house with wood was a half lifetime ago. We've been through a half-dozen wood stoves in four houses in two states since then. Some details are different. But there is enough sameness in woodgathering that one year's experience seems like merely a continuation from the year before. If we're not burning wood, we are gathering it. There is a certain comfort in that sameness, and enough joy in it that it still seems new.

My experience with woodgathering has been overwhelmingly pleasant. The choice of heating our various houses with wood is testimony of my thorough indoctrination into the country way of doing things, the ruralification of a once-citified young man. I feel certain in the cold gray days ahead, I will find ways to heap praise on the comforting fire that cracks and flickers through the glass stove door a few feet from my desk. But what comes to mind just now, as I think back over the various chapters in my history as a wood-gatherer, are the few times when the risks and dangers of the process made me wonder if I couldn't come to love a nice, safe heat pump instead.

Very soon after moving to Virginia in March long ago, we learned that we weren't in Alabama any more, Toto. The little yellow "Easter dress" we brought from 'bama for little Holli that first spring wouldn't be comfortable in Virginia until late June. The old house we bought after arriving here was frigid. I remember many mornings eating our breakfast cereal while sitting on the only warm radiator in the rambling old house. We soon realized that, even at 17 cents a gallon for fuel oil, we would go broke and never be warm without some supplemental heat. And thus out of necessity, our careers as woodgathers had began. For the first year, we cut 'down and dead' wood by permit from the National Forest with an axe and a 48 inch bow saw. Push, pull, chop, tote, split. Talk about wood heating you twice. But that is not the story I have in mind here.

Our country-wise neighbor took pity on us, and I soon learned by his quiet example to use a chain saw. The back yard began to fill with stacks of firewood. Just seeing it in prim ranks behind the house gave me assurance that there would be warm mornings in our next winter in the house, even across the room from the cast-iron bun-warmers. I often cut wood with Euell, our kind but reticent, pipe-smoking neighbor. He contributed his flatbed truck to haul the wood home; the power-take-off from his tractor made short work of sectioning and splitting our bounty. He was literally a life saver for his clueless and cold new neighbors. But there were a couple of times our wood-cutting comraderie ended in disaster.

We were not far from town, on a friend's land that was being subdivided for housing lots. He had marked a number of smaller trees to be cleared, and offered them to me for firewood. This was easy picking, to be sure, but this was wood on the stump, not the deadfall I was used to cutting up on the ground with my saw in the National Forest. Not to worry. Euell was the master at notching and felling. He could drop'em dead on a dime. I was full of urban admiration at his skill and watched closely to learn by osmosis.

There was another couple guys up on this property cutting that morning, away from us, over toward the pasture. Euell and I moved along felling a tree here and there. I watched as he expertly made the notch to drop a tall, thin hickory down between the tops of two larger trees. I stood back as he started the felling cut. Now, theory goes, the tree is weakened on the side of the notch; then as the felling cut penetrates partially through the thickness opposite the notch, the tree will gradually fall in the direction of the notch, landing precisely where you want it. I had seen him do this a hundred times before and was always impressed by the knowledge he possessed in his hands, wisdom wrought from the country life of this unschooled man.

The theory goes one way, but this tree went quite another. As it began to lean in the intended direction, for reasons known only to the sylvan nymphs, the tree began to twist on its base making a little pirouette of 90 degrees. As it fell in seeming slow-motion, there was not a thing we could do to stop it. Looking in the direction of its unpredicted fall, at the last instant before impact we saw the other guy's pickup truck. Now, this truck was more than a mere truck. The owner had custom-made elaborate side panels that built up both sides of the truck. And were not talking rough boards. These were planed hardwood, fully finished, and heavily lacquered . His name and the name of his farm were painstakingly woodburned into the wood. It was these hand-crafted panels that the treetop came down across in a perfect splintering karate chop.

Some distance away, the owner was oblivious to what had just happened. Euell was nonplussed. He took a draw or two off his pipe and didn't say a thing as we stood there surveying the damage. After a spell, he walked over to the guy and stood behind him, waiting for him to finish the cut he was making on a downed maple. He just kept working. Finally, Euell walks up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. The fellow was startled, of course, and he shut off his saw. Euell says quietly and without expression: "I think we kindly busted up your truck".

The guy's expression as he turned to survey a tree laying across his pet truck, was that of Sylvester the Cat, after Tweety had put his tail in light socket. Human eyes are not naturally anywhere near that size, in real life. He was upset, but civil about it. The good news was that, when Euell told the fellow that he could repair it, it was true. He had the wood, the tools and the know-how to make a fair replacement in short order. Which he did. And all lived happily ever after.

But ever since this experience, I have had a respect for the unpredictable nature of nature, realizing that Mr. Murphy's laws are in full effect, even in the woods. When a tree is about to fall, know that if you plan something so well that nothing can go wrong, it probably will.

Didn't know this was going to take so many words in the telling. I will have to come back soon to the two other calamities I had in mind to tell about. I know you can hardly wait! Oh, and apologies to George Pope Morris for any harm I might bring to his wonderful old poem.

November 17, 2002

That's Funny

Some selections fromMartha Stewarts Guide for Rednecks


1. While ears need to be cleaned regularly, this is a job
that should done in private using one's OWN truck keys.

3. Dirt & grease under the fingernails is a social no-no, as
it tends to detract from a woman's jewelry & alter the taste
of finger foods.


1. Dim your headlights for approaching vehicles; even if the
gun is loaded, and the deer is in sight.

Words Worth

There are many ways in which the thing I am trying in vain to say may be tried in vain to be said ... to be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail, that failure is his world and the shrink from it desertion. —Samuel Beckett

Stay at home in your mind. Don't recite other people's opinions. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Poet is like that wild inheritor of the cloud,
A rider of storms, above the range of arrows and slings;
Exiled on earth, at bay amid the jeering crowd,
He cannot walk for his unmanageable wings.
—from The Albatross by Charles Baudelaire

November 16, 2002

What is it that YOU do?

There is a dash of dread meeting new people these days, because I know 'the question' is bound to come up. We make our introductions perfunctorily. Ann introduces herself. She says we live in Floyd County and that she works at the hospital.

"Are you a nurse?" is the usual retort.

"No, I'm a pharmacist" she explains, and here I know we are coming close to the jumping off place.

"And Fred, what do you do?" Ah. There it is.

There have been very few times in my working life I could not easily answer the question with one of two answers: "I teach at the community college"; or "I'm a physical therapist". Those answers would work for a total of 25 years. During the last six months of non-employment in my past profession, since I am still licensed, I just say that I'm a therapist. It is the path of least resistance. But invariably, our new acquaintance will then want to know "Where do you practice?"

I may yet go back in a half-hearted way to being a therapist. The pay may force me to prostitute myself once more; of this I am not certain. So, in reply to the question I typically say "I'm not doing therapy for a while. I'm home doing some writing".

"Oh, what do you write?" (And I perceive here a subliminal message in their question that says "You really must find something real to do with your life".)

What do I write? I stutter and I stammer. I say something like...

"I'm just pretending to be a writer. I put down most anything that comes to my mind".

Pooh. That's a brush-off, not a satisfying answer to the listener or to me. But what do I say to them in twenty-five words or less? I don't want to be pretend to more than I am, to overstate my claims to 'writing'. On the other hand, I don't want to be flippant; to trivialize this opportunity for creative expression that I am blessed with for this uncertain window of time. Following a path of writing is important to me now. It is a sincere and ernest mission, even if I am wandering in the wilderness and can't say with any precision just where I am in this wandering.

I am growing into an answer. It has something to do with being a meaning-maker. To will to write effectively has to do with needing a fuller discovery of the Ah, the Aha! and the Ha!Ha! in the small circle of life out my door, and maybe to find that, I have to start within my own heart and mind. I'm sorry I can't give you those twenty-five words just yet. I'm still new at this. Ask me again some time. Maybe by then I will know what it is that I do.

Little Sir Ecco

I need order in my capital-L life! My neurons - the internal software - are getting older (yes! it's true!) and they rely more and more on external memory support. I need my information managed, and being linked by the umbilicus these past 10 years to a computer, I use a Personal Information Manager. Ecco Pro is my replacement brain.

I have used this program since 1993. It was one of the first contenders in this realm of desktop software, along with PackRat, which we used at work for a while, until I found Ecco. NetManage stopped supporting it in 1998 or thereabouts. I have protected my install copy as if it were the bones of Uncle Remus. Now, it is available for free to anyone who wants it.

Ecco functions in all "views" (Calendar, PhoneBook and Notepads) on the foundation of the OUTLINE. This is the way I think. The learning curve is not terribly steep and worth the trudge. The example scenarios in the tutorials are probably worth the time. Once an item is entered anywhere in the program, you can find it instantly by a quicksearch, so there is not a lot of demand to think about your categories. It serves as an infinitely customizable database. It sure works for me, and is way less the memory hog that Outlook is. I honestly couldn't get by without it. I have tried other programs (like InfoSelect) and come back again and again to Ecco. Give it a look. If you download it and have questions, give me a shout.

Oh. And I'm curious if anyone can tell me where the TITLE for this entry comes from. No fair GOOGLING!

A Few Simple Questions

What to do with my life. Not the capital-L Life. The one with the little L. What will I do with my morning, since the sun is shining and Buster the dog seems to be up to some exercise. Inside, there are so many piles to deal with on the desk, and in my cluttered capital-L Life. So, outside we will go.

Mindless busywork in the sunshine -- this is the order of the day. There is a rough stack of firewood I stashed away down beyond the garden, old punky chunks so far gone it will be hard to tell what kind of wood they once were. They won't last another season in the weather and be good for anything, but they will throw off some heat before going to cold ash in the woodstove. I can toss a week's winter heat into the back of the truck, and when I get around to it later today, unload it onto the main wood pile near the house. Buster has promised to help.

This is a pleasant kind of task, necessary but not urgent; physical but not brutally so. 'Mindless' is not the right word for this kind of job. These simple physical projects where your hands are busy --loading wood, or pulling weeds, or tying up the tomatoes -- don't require focus of thought or planning, no judgement or opinion. It is in this state of pleasant manual occupation that I seem to have my most entertaining 'thoughts'. While I am distracted by the task at hand, the muses come of their own choosing, not necessarily invited, but welcomed. They find comfortable places to nestle nearby in the warm sun where we chat for a spell. These aren't Nobel Prize visitors, mind you, but generally welcome, none the less.

In the midst of my mindlessness at the woodpile today, one of my muses asked with genuine interest:

"Why are you here?"

The simplicity of the question took me a bit by surprise. I stopped what I was doing and watched the sun flashing silver on the creek for a moment, stalling for time. I considered each word of the question slowly and by itself. Then I asked for some clarification.

"For starters, let's talk about the 'here' in your question. Do you mean why am I standing in this spot doing this task now? Or do you wonder why I am occupying this body instead of someone else? Do you want to know why am I present at just this time in history? Or do you mean how is it that I exist here, today in this particular latitude and longitude on the planet and not some other place, since this is to some degree a matter of choices I have made. By 'here' do you mean in this particular set of circumstances, in this specific state of mind at this moment in time?

"Yes", answered the muse.

"Oh go away and leave me alone. I'm just out getting the dog and me some exercise. I'll see if I can answer your question, but it's going to take a while. I'm pretty certain I can only tell you now why I am loading the truck with wood. Or at least I thought I could. Beyond that, I will have to ponder and I ponder better indoors sitting in my reading chair. I'm not ready to go in just yet. I'm going for a walk. Wanna come along?"

"Yes", answered the muse, brushing leaf litter from her gossamer gown. "But tell me, where are you going?"

Buster growled.

November 15, 2002

Floyd Virginia Online

Hey! That leaf looks familiar!

I will be contributing from time to time to a Floyd County information page called Floyd Virginia Online. I may even send them a few pictures and ramblings that have not seen the light of day at Fragments. Who knows?

I have been asked to encourage 'my friends' to submit essays to appear at this site. Would be good to have some company over there. Pascale? Kurt B? Kurt I? Artichoke Heart? Others? You know you want to. Just imagine the prestige of appearing in association with the Hub of the Southern Mountains: Floyd Virginia. We could put blogs on the map in Floyd County... "a hot bed of word-crazed bloggers congregate in idyllic Southwest Virginia" reads the headline.

Journaling Journey

While looking for paint rollers this week, I stumbled on the only journal I ever maintained, more or less, upstairs in a worn box that says "Fred's Junk". I wrote the first entry on Jan 23, 1974 and the last on 23 Dec 1982. With many lapses all along. I am going to look back through it and see if it tells me anything about who I was then, or why I am the who I am now.

Last entry from almost exactly 20 years ago reads:

Why do I ever abandon the keeping of this journal; and then, why do I ever pick it up again after it sits idle for months? What need, what approach or avoidance requires that I write? What forces sustain or extinguish those urges?

Perhaps the answer to both is frustration.

I fail to start writing because words are imprecise, any words; and especially my words. Then there are words I have the ability and desire to say, but refrain, for fear of...?

And yet I must write; I cannot bear to grow old unrecorded, without a word.

YOU FOLKS get an "A"

WoW! So I am proved wrong. Having thrown out some "whaddaya think about..." questions to deaf ears in the past and getting a pitiful response, I didn't expect the great help you Fragmented Readers have been in suggesting domain name registrars and web hosting services. I do appreciate it, and will be trying to decide what to do over the weekend.

And while I'm at it, I might mention that emails from several of you kind folks, encouraging me in my wrestling-with-writing phase here have been most supportive and well timed. Action at a distance: your thoughts transmitted through your fingers and transformed into 1' and 0's. These dots and dashes then bounce across the cobweb of fiberoptics node to node and end up on my server, then to my harddrive and finally on my screen. Decoded from bits and bytes, then from A's and Z's into words, words into meaning, your meaning and intention the driving force that sent them here in the first place. Isn't communication wonderful, and don't our tools speak volumes about our species and our times? It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. (Hey, I think I'll write a book!)

November 14, 2002

Swan Song

Is Acid Rain Killing Off Wood Thrushes?
Robert Winkler for National Geographic News

Acid rain is old news, but it hasn't gone away. Going away may be one of the more ethereal songs sung outside the human voice...that of the Wood Thrush.

Acid rain, for example, can cause calcium to leach from the soil. The loss of this nutrient jeopardizes the breeding success of birds—to produce a clutch of eggs, a female bird may require up to 15 times more calcium than a pregnant mammal of equivalent size.

[...] In areas where acid rain is most severe, the supplementary calcium-rich foods that female songbirds depend on—snail shells, isopods such as pill bugs, millipedes, and earthworms—may be in short supply. Lacking adequate calcium in their diet, females are more likely to lay eggs that are thin, brittle, and porous. If the weakened eggs can withstand the rigors of incubation, the parent birds will be hard-pressed to meet the very high calcium requirements of their growing nestlings.

[...]Aside from depleting calcium, acid rain in soil can promote increased levels of potentially toxic aluminum, cadmium, and lead. Polluted soil, moreover, may slow the decomposition of leaf litter, which reduces the diversity and abundance of prey.

There is a point of no recovery for entire ecosystems in jeopardy because of the impact of our various wastes. It seems to me that there is some of the same arrogant indifference or blatant disregard for 'the commons' by corporations and nations that we have discussed and condemned in individuals who are disposed to trash the commons... roadsides, parking lots, parks, forests... with litter. There is so much more to lose at the biosphere level if we continue in our indifference to and ignorance of the health of 'the meek'.

The Sky Is Falling: Leonid Storms Predicted

I don't know why I waste keystrokes on you, you bunch of woosie slakers. I know darn well I could tell you the skies would open up and Michelangelo's Hand of God would appear...at 5:30 on a cold November morning...and you'd pull the covers up and roll over for another hunk of blessed oblivion.

Oh. Okay. One more time. Folks, get outside next week and see the Leonid meteor storm. This has the potential for being a big one (Big, you say? How big? Well, observers in the western US in 1966 observed 100,000 meteors per hour!) Forecasts for this one say it may produce as many as 10,000/hr. If you miss this 'meteor storm', just wait. The next would will happen in 2099.

Bad news: full moon. Good news: it will be setting at the best time to view the Leonids, at about 530 a.m. EST on the morning of November 19.

Should I give you a wake-up call? Or, I could send Buster in to wake you up. He comes in at promptly 4:15, and places a wet sock or undergarment next to your face. Very effective.

Homeland Security

image copyright Fred First

November 13, 2002

Early Memory

There are things I think I remember, but only because they have been retold to me, told about me as a very small child, over and over, many times by my mother. Things that happened in my life before I even knew I had one; before I knew there was a me and a now.

Like the time I circumvented the laws of the family (don't get in the sprinkler, it will get your clothes wet) by simply removing all of them and frolicking in the front yard in five o-clock traffic, in the clothes I was born in. I was old enough to know wrong by then, old enough to reason my way around it; maybe old enough to have a true memory of it. I don't know for sure. I claim it as a memory anyway.

There is a more distant infant 'memory' I have been thinking about this morning for reasons I cannot say. And if not a memory, it is still may be a metaphor that persists into the life around me. Like many if not most 'thoughts' this memory of a memory has come into my head unbidden, but not perhaps without reason, not without a place in the context of my half-century old mental landscape.

It is trivial, but it has come to mind, and that alone warrants a ticker-marquee for a moment's attention; and so I shall attend. But only as an exercise. If it wanders back into the weeds and thickets where it came from and leaves nothing in this morning's ramble, that is good, that is okay.

Do you remember flash bulbs? Not the tiny eraser-sized ones that came along just before built-in flashes. I mean the big ones, fat and round, the size of pingpong balls and full of frizzled metal fuzz. They turned lumpy and volcanic after their one great flash, and the photographer ejected them from behind the flashpan, kerplunk onto the ground, more often than not. Yep. I'm that old. And so is this told-memory about the baby-me and the flash bulb.

I know I was the subject of at least a few Kodak moments back in the late 40's because the yellowed images still persist in the bottom of a box, in the hall closet in the house we lived in when I was in high school. They are not there now, but remain just so in memory, and that is good enough for me. The pictures show the early Freddie, fat cheeked, with what hair I had slicked over to the side. I'm dressed doll-fashion in a white shirt, white shorts and thick-soled white shoes, striking an Olin Mills pose.

I am told that I remember this: I am sitting for my first flash picture, or else I have been photographed before but at this particular time I had reached a certain benchmark of semi-awareness, and could also talk just a bit at this moment in time. FLASH! goes the bulky brown camera. I reached out to grasp what I could see before me...a brilliant blazing white orb that stayed in my vision wherever I turned my head. My chubby fingers clutched to hold it, and I said "BALL! BALL!" And everybody laughed.

So: that is the memory. I think I will just let it rest here for a while; or for good. Now, I need to get out into the real world, the world outside my own imaginings, into the realm of solid objects, of gravity and substance. Later I'll ponder if there is any reason to the visions that persist in my rememberings, in my mind's eye for a day or for a half-century. Now, I'm going to make a fire in the woodstove, and then go rake leaves in the wind.

You Heard it Here FIRST!

In light of the recent sweeping Republican victory in the mid-term elections, it has been decided to act on a piece of legistation proposed a year ago, but waiting for just such a shift in momentum to change the name of our country. That's right! In honor of the President (Prezdunt) and by virtue of this soon-to-emerge enactment at the highest levels, this country will be heretofore known as th' (not THE)

Yaniddit Stace of Amerka

November 12, 2002

Pup Report

In absence of children, the dog assumes the role of royalty in our house these days. And the king is unwell. Long live the King.

The 'tick panel' came back negative. False negatives are not uncommon in testing for antibodies to tick-borne antigens. Great. Buster is not responding to Tetracycline. We took it upon ourselves to change him to Doxycycline and will try that for a week. The vet wants to start some more 'rule out' tests for autoimmune disorders. (Did you know dogs get systemic lupus? Weirder than that, in humans with lupus, there is some sign that their dogs 'catch it' suggesting there is an infectious agent involved)? Again, false negatives are common; treatment is of limited effectiveness (massive steroid dosing) and the condition rarely gets much better. We will continue for now hoping the change to a different antibiotic relieves his symptoms.

Meanwhile, Buster continues to be barely able to stand up at times... most of the time, actually. I tossed him a treat yesterday, making sure he didn't have to jump to get it. He jumped slightly anyway, and when his weight came down on the hardwood floor, his four legs splayed out from under him and he hit the floor, then couldn't stand up. Later in the day, he was totally free of symptoms and ran like the wind, his old self again. This is very bizarre and it is really upsetting to see him, not yet four years old, moving like a nursing home patient!

Four years ago, when we were researching breeds (knowing pretty well we were going to get another black lab), we read about the breed: "Labs are gregarious creatures, and like to be involved in all family activities". How often we have remembered that, and considered it an understatement! Now today, Buster isn't able to be involved in any family activities. Just so sad.

Maybe one day years from now we will look back on this time and remember that spell when Buster was sick, and rejoice that he recovered. Maybe we will look back on this time and remember when Buster's health started downhill and he never recovered. You just don't know what the next day will bring, do you? If you've got your health, you've got just about everything, as the old Geritol ad used to say (or was it Carter's Little Liver Pills, or Serutan, or....?)

Shell Game

Once again, the old shell game. Fragments may be moving yet again in the coming months.

Already, the weblog is pushing the 15MB limit on my present (free) server. I can't continue to post images much longer under this ceiling (I have already cut way back) and am looking at 1) a hosting service, which I think I have found for $60/yr for 100MB; and 2) to register a domain for fragments, which I think I have found for $8.95/yr. I haven't a clue about the domain registration, having never done this before.

Anybody have bad experiences with www.web.com as a name registration site? If so, please let me know. Suggest others if you will.

Sigh. Two moves in 4 months! Can you feel my pain? I'll let you know when/if the move is imminent. Wouldn't want to miss even a teeny little Fragment, now would you? Don't answer that.

Birthing the Novel

The nutshell advice of Julie Smith to NaNoWriMo participants, who are writing a 50,000 word 'pretty good' novel during the month of November:




I got the newsletter because I signed up to write the novel. Then I wimped, because I couldn't imagine eating an elephant whole, and I wanted to get it right. Maybe next year.

Good Life, Fertile Soil

I have been outside between showers on this Indian Summer day, to clear away the remnants of our vegetable garden, the first one we've had in years. It felt like a goodbye. It felt like picking up in the guest bedroom when friends or family have left us quiet and hollow after a good visit. Leaning on my rake, I stared unfocused through pale remnants of summer squash and frail vines and roots, remembering our first real garden.

We had moved from a large far-southern city to a small Virginia town, a stop-over for six years until our first country home would reach out and find us. Moving to the farm back then, we left our city pseudo-selves and discovered our true country selves, the persons we had thought ourselves to be all along. It was like a great hello, like meeting ourselves for the first time.

In the country, we had the blessing of enough space and freedom to live... what they used to call elbow room. There was space in the barn and pasture to store my hoarded scraps and remnants of wire and wood. Here on the farm, I could pile high the manure I shoveled from the county stockyard without concern for being upwind of the neighbors' noses. There were no overly-curious or excessively helpful advisors here in the country to tell me "you can't do it like that". We now had the freedom to explore, and the freedom to fail in our own peculiar ways, liberating us from the boogeyman of doing things always in the 'way its gen'lly done'.

I bought a big-wheeled garden cart, and I bought a tiller. From my "Build It Better Yourself" book that I had never used, I made a hay rake from saplings I cut on our own wooded ridge. Our former neighbors would probably say that I did not make it exactly right, but I made it and it felt good in my hands. The huge garden I planted in my ignorance and zeal was large enough to feed Grant's army; there would be washtubs full of organic left-overs, and so I created my first compost pile.

Maybe my favorite memory from that first year of country trial and error was the compost pile. I remember a cool November morning like this one, watching the steam rise up through the slanting sun as it lifted from the mound of hot compost: the heat of decay turning water into vapor. I had read an article in our worn how-to magazines that said you could actually slow-cook a chicken in your compost pile if you tended the pile just right and you coaxed the bacteria to produce enough heat. My pile was plenty hot, and I was proud of that. But I never did cook a chicken in it. Could have if I'd wanted. There were no nosey neighbors around to report our new eccentricities to the rest of town.

By springtime, that steaming hill of corn shucks and melon rinds, grass clippings and bloated squash, plus a hundred other bits of yellow and orange and green from table and garden had transformed miraculously into a rich and dark, sweet-smelling humus. The turnings and waterings, snows and winds, and the workings of a million million agents of change had transmorgrified dead plants into organic food for the next year's vegetables, and these in turn would somehow power the process of building human tissue and powering human thought: the clever chemistry of the country.

It has been twenty years now since that first garden. We moved back to the city again and wandered in the congested wilderness for years before returning recently to the soil that we grow best in. Meanwhile, our children have grown up and moved away, and their parents have imperceptibly weathered and worn, transmuted by the uncertainty of growing constantly on rocky soil into something other than they once were. Different, changed by years, richer in wisdom, perhaps. Throw nothing away; there is something to be saved from all of it. Layer upon layer of hope and regret; birth, death; cold tears and warm sun; freeze, thaw; heaps of memory and experience in bits and pieces. These myriad things from the places and people we have been are altered by the alchemy of time to make a new soil to sink our roots in, and it is good.

We are mature gardeners now, and our nutrient needs have changed. The medium we are growing in here seems to be about the right mix. We have cycled back to living in the country again and for good this time. We had a wonderful garden this year and I have me a fair compost pile. And some day yet, I may see if there is enough heat in it to cook a chicken.

November 11, 2002

Thinking Out Loud

Hmmmm. What to do with the rest of my life?

I want to follow a path that will lead to a future where I can grow in my writing and photography with purpose beyond that of the weblog. I would like once again to have an opportunity to teach and speak, since I gained some experience and proficiency at these things in 12 years of teaching. I want to dig deep into topics that I have a passion for, which includes gaining a fuller understanding of the culture, geography, history, natural history and music of the Appalachians. And, I would like to put knowledge to work for good, here where I live.

I have low enthusiasm for returning to my previous profession, but am not quite ready to roll over and die just yet and feel like my breadth of experience and my skills could be useful beyond the confines of my current cloistered existance. It is nice, but it is not enough. I live 40 minutes from a major university. This university has one of just a few graduate programs in Appalachian studies in the country.

DUH! Today I will make initial inquiries into the Appalachian Studies program at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies at Virginia Tech. AAAArrrggh! Could it be that I will have to take the GRE...for the THIRD TIME!?

Tune in again tomorrow for the next installment in the continuing story of "The Reinvention of Fred". (Significant and divergent plot changes may occur unpredictably on a daily basis.)

Weaving the Spider's Web

What goes around comes around. We may be smarter than we were when this chapter in Isaiah was written in 700 BC, but our hearts have not changed all that much. If this passage could be addressed to one or the other side of the battle in the coming war, which side should hear it? My vote is BOTH.

1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.
3 For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.
Your lips have spoken lies, and your tongue mutters wicked things.
4 No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity.
They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.
5 They hatch the eggs of vipers and spin a spider's web. Whoever eats their eggs will die, and when one is broken, an adder is hatched.
6 Their cobwebs are useless for clothing; they cannot cover themselves with what they make. Their deeds are evil deeds, and acts of violence are in their hands.
7 Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood.
Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways.
8 The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths.
They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace.

Read the rest of the chapter 59 which continues to sound like a condemnation of events happening today. The final chapters of Isaiah describe first God's vengeance against those who have merely paid lip service to him, followed by redemption by the promised Messiah. The final verses of the book...

23 They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the LORD, they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, but dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain," says the LORD.

November 10, 2002

Box of Bones

Interesting to note this article (in the Israeli Insider) claims the recently discovered ossuary that purportedly bears an inscription linking it possibly to James, the brother of Jesus, is a fake (not the box but the 'Jesus' part of the inscription). Searching Google News just now, there are no other reports yet to pick up on this 'fact'. Makes me wonder if this 'expert opinion' crosses ethnic and religious boundaries.

Rise and Fall

The north winds, gusty and erratic yesterday, are consistent, steady, moderate and predictable this morning. A raven takes advantage of a reliable and uniform current, faces into the wind, wings adjusted just so that he can hang motionless against the wind as if painted on the sky. Then, when he takes a notion, turn round with the wind, tuck his wings against his body, and fall like a rock, pulling exuberant out of the dive at the last moment.

I watch him repeat this ballet several times, then come inside, jealous of his world view. That I should learn to in like manner ride the currents of my own life!

Family Ties


I have been living with a shadowy professional and personal identity now for some months. This has been both a blessing, and a curse. The role I might play in this wonderful, absurd comedy of life has become murky, my purpose uncertain, changing, hopeful at times of settling once again on a new foundation. Having my children back home again last week for a few short days, plus the new role of being a grandfather of a newly-sentient twig on our slender family tree has brought back to consciousness and prominence the things I am still a part of, a taste of the soil in which I have been planted on this brief terraine of human wandering.

I have a renewed interest in my family's Appalachian roots, and hope to read, think and write more about this in Fragment's future. During the short cold days of winter, I will spend more time looking at the personal history of our rootedness in these round shouldered mountains. Then, come spring, when colors and movement returns, you can be sure that Natural History will figure prominently here once again in this dog-and-pony show from the wonderful Middle of Nowhere.

November 8, 2002

Carry on Without Me

This will be a low-blogging weekend. We will be heading off to Charlottesville today. Ann has a pharmacy meeting at the Omni. I will be in charge of investigating book stores, museums, libraries and also responsible for determining the very best microbrew (with a very small sampling rate, I assure you).

And, for those of you who expressed your concern... Buster, the Underfoot Dog, is once again underfoot. He seems much better during the past 24 hours, three days into his Tetracycline. He will be spending a couple of days at "Puppy Camp", which he dearly loves, so the vet can observe him. Tick blood panel should be back perhaps by now; negative tests does not mean his condition is not tick-related. Cursed Arthropods (sorry, Artichoke Heart. I don't love them all; and after all, they are NOT insects, are they?)

It promises to be a gorgeous weekend here, back in the upper 60's. Hope you have a bit of Indian Summer where you are, too.

November 7, 2002

Laugh, or Cry?

In my longish lifetime, I have only owned two pair of thick, bulky 'bedroom shoes'...MoonBoots, the kids called the first pair, that lasted almost 10 years, thanks to the miracle of Duct Tape. I am now on pair #2, and, judging by both memory and the archeology of the strata of silver-gray tape covering the very worn previously cloth-covered bottoms, I have had this pair at least six years. Not exactly new. But being the wear-it-til-it-falls-apart person that I am, they are only middle-aged MoonBoots.

So, needless to say, these are as familiar and comfortable to me as, well, an old pair of shoes. I would estimate that I have probably had these Blue Booties on these size 12's for several thousand hours now. And, until today, I swear I have never, ever noticed that they make noise.

I guess it was the unique, highly-focused state of mind I was in at the time. That, too, is not all that uncommon of late. This time, for some odd reason, I heard the sound my bedroom booties make when I walk; and then could NOT block it out, no matter where I went, inside or out. The two black-plastic ball-shaped spring-loaded lock-adjusters on the useless and never used tension cords that snug up the booties have probably always clanked together when I walked, making a tinkling noise, like someone gently striking a dinner fork on a water glass. For some reason, for the first time in these many years, today I heard it, everywhere I went, and there for a while, this was really getting the best of me. I never thought to suspect the sound to come from the ground beneath my feet, so to speak, from my old worn bedroom shoes. Of all things!

Will I ever be able to disregard this tinkle now when I wear my DuctTape Dingos? Will I have to pad the clangers with tape to silence them? Will I ever again consider telling the whole world (you can see in what high regard I hold you Fragments readers!) the next time I have a Senior Moment?

I think NOT.

Tinkerbelle? Is That You?

This is too weird. I think I may finally be losing it. I should keep this kind of thing to myself, probably, but then my threshold for self-disclosure has always been set sort of low. I can hardly make matters worse by revealing this little piece of strangeness.

I confess I am in a bit of a blue funk this morning. Nobody wants to hear me whine, so suffice it to say that I have been pacing all through the house. A lot. I do this as part of my tension-abatement habit when in a an emotional state, good or bad; helps me think, burn nervous energy or channel agitation into my feet, depending on the exact situation. Granted, this state of mind is not the best setting in which to make objective and rational explanations of things around me. Nevertheless...

As I am pacing around with the gears and wheels turning, I notice this little clinking noise. Probably two glasses making contact when I walk into the kitchen, where I heard it first. Hmmm. That's weird. Now I'm in the next room and I can still hear it, as if it is coming always from behind me. Now, in the bed room, just as loud, I am unable to tell where it is coming from.

I never hear it when standing still. The sound is the same in every room...like someone gently tapping a dinner fork against a glass before making a speech. Hello? I'm listening. What IS THE DEAL? I get out my little digital recorder, and walk while recording. Thank GOD! The sound is picked up on the recorder! It is acoustic and not psychic! I guess.

I go out on the back porch for a couple of pieces of firewood. FREAK ME OUT! I can hear it outside...not as strong, but definitely still hear it. I come inside and take off my sweatshirt, thinking maybe there is something stuck to my clothes, which would account for the sound only happening when I move, always being the same intensity and seeming to come from behind me. Nothing there. I am serious as a root canal; I am NOT making this up!

Okaaaaaay.... this has served to totally take my mind off my woes and worries. Only to replace them with this little X-file. If I'm not subsequently TAKEN, I will let you know when I come up with 'the answer' to this one.


Help me here. Please.

I feel some ownership of a little project being undertaken by an acquaintance who, upon learning about weblogs via my Fragments signature in a recent email, has changed his research topic mid-stream in a graduate class he is taking at VA Tech called Digital Cities and Internet Communities. I am only vaguely in touch with his hypothesis, but it does include the assumption that weblogs (which only a couple of his fellow students were even aware of) offer the potential for real community or at least a "sense of community" which he states includes:

Feelings of membership Feelings of influence Fulfillment of needs Shared emotional connection

Can anyone suggest one or more weblogs or other related resources that point to webloging and development of community? In what ways have you found community in the weblog experience? Send any suggestions to me and I will relay to my friend.

Thank you in advance, vast and tightly-knit and deeply-bonded brothers and sisters in the community of Fragments readers, including recent Googlers searching for "hydrant flow test calibrate"; "buried in pigskins"; and "mushroom maggots smell brown cluster". You may think you ended up here by accident, but we have been expecting you. Welcome. Breakfast at 5:00, no smoking, and link back to Fragments; no other rules.

Nature™: You Want Fries With That?

[...] any discussion of commodification today must extend to the cultural economy. It turns out that people are most sensitive to the effects of commodification in the cultural arena. Paradoxically, advertising promotes commodification while simultaneously denying it. Advertising blankets the cash nexus with narratives and signifiers that position the meaning of the commodity within non-commodified relations. For example, ads often place commodities at the center of idyllic familial relations. Just think of the many McDonald's commercials in which dad shares a moment of quality time with his son over a Happy Meal that includes a plastic promo from the latest Disney movie. Imagery of exchange is replaced by a representation of a caring moment between father and child.
Life, love and happiness. Songbirds, baby bears and wilderness: spiffed up, packaged, and sold back to us as product. The term 'commodification' came up recently in discussion of why people litter. Has 'nature' become a commodity, a mere side-show hawked by Amazing Animal maniacs, with life animated out of the living world and fed back between commercials? How are our children 'consuming' the natural world? How can we decrease the distance between our children and ourselves and the nurture and wisdom we should find in contact, real genuine and direct contact, with the land? What ills result from this disconnect between the living realm of forest, field and garden and the commercial world of nature artifice as it is resold back to us, subtly, by the media?

November 6, 2002

Litter: Following the Thread

Thanks to all for your thoughtful and helpful posts on littering. It is an issue that puzzles and concerns me, and I am glad to know there are others out there who struggle to understand this curious aspect of human behavior. It is hard for me not to be personally offended by littering on our road here, but not just there; like many of you, it is the blatant attitude of selfish disregard for others and for 'the land' that most aggravates me about those who litter. I am trying to condemn the litter without despising the litterer; a better understanding here may be helpful.

Some themes emerge from your replies, and I will attempt to lay those out for possible further discussion: (pardon my not giving specific attributions to each of you; I don't litter but I am lazy).

  • Several of you credited your parents, teachers, or the Scouts as teaching you that littering is wrong.
  • You have pointed out that dropping trash in a given spot is not due to lack of convenient recepticles. It is not something that only happens when there is no other place to throw your unwanted 'stuff'.
  • The theme of 'commodification' runs through several of your comments, and I think this is something worthy of further discussion.
  • There is some debate over whether littering is a class-associated behavior among the less educated, less wealthy, those with less control over life in general who don't see themselves as 'belonging' to anything outside themselves. Someone in an email described the insensitivity of a litterer, suggested that 'litterers are illiterate--that is, that they are unable to read the natural world.'
  • Some see littering as a defiant, rebellious act, with hostile, aggressive undercurrents, while others view it as totally mindless and value-neutral, a sign of lack of citizen-maturity to consider consequences of their actions on others, or especially in regard to an abstraction such as 'common land'.
  • The idea of stewardship versus ownership is mentioned by several, and I concur that the concept of 'entrustment' and maintaining an 'inherent integrity in all of creation', looking to the good of others, is an important concept for me. I view 'ownership' as a temporary priviledge and responsibility, a legal illusion, if you will, when it comes to land, things, even 'my' body and 'my' time. (And the Carter Family fades in..."This world is not my home, I'm just a'passin' through...)

Please continue to share your thoughts for purely selfish reasons. I certainly come to see issues differently passing through the filters of other's eyes and experiences and knowledge that exceeds my view from this small world I live in.

There seems not to be a lot of constructive study of this issue and maybe out of this, I can learn to better understand the mentality of those who grace our road with their wrappings, not to mention the discarded large appliances, old tires and rusted car parts. (Around here, we have what I call 'gravity assisted trash disposal' in which you back yer pickup to the edge of the road, and shove all that crap down the side of the bank into the creek. And yes, there is a dumpster just a mile further down the road.)

Dog Days

I am wondering if there is any precedent amongst your pups for anything like the following situation with our 3.5 yr old Black Lab, Buster:

Roughly three weeks ago he started limping slightly on his right back leg. Just a little at times; then more pronounced, then it would go away for a few days. Then come back and be such that he could not touch his paw to the ground, in the mornings, but no symptoms at all later in the day. Then it was his left leg that appeared painful. He has had increasing difficulty getting up from a lying position. Yesterday he only stood up a few times all day long, and I had to bribe him to do that. I have pretty well ruled out an orthopedic injury given his vascillating symptoms. It seems more like a generalized arthralgia and malaise, making me wonder if there is a disease organism at work here.

We took him to the vet yesterday, and are waiting for a 'tick panel' to come back. I am hoping that it is positive for titer to tick antibodies, since this can be treated successfully with a course of antibiotics. It takes 2 to 5 months after being bitten by the disease-carrying tick for the symptoms to come on, so it may have been some time in May, when the little blood suckers were pretty bad. Will let you know what we find out, as this info may be helpful to someone else in our situation.

AND also doggie-related: Look for a dog story by moi (shortened version of this post from August) in the Nov-Dec issue of Pet Life at your local Books A Million. No big deal. It does give me a 'clip' to send with submissions to other magazines, along with the transcript of the radio piece from last week. Gotta start somewhere, eh?

November 5, 2002

Valley View


A panorama of three shots from up behind the house, looking south. October 26, 2002

This is the pasture and these are the ridges I mention so frequently in Fragments. One creek courses through the lower foreground; the roof of the house is just barely visible in the center foreground. The Nameless Creek follows the far edge of the 'Field of Dreams', around the bend and up the gorge to its source.

Taken today, the hillsides would show more somber tones, and recent winds have carried the leaves from the trees on the ridges into the stratosphere and east into Roanoke county.

Trashing of the Commons

It is time to go out today and glean from the roadside; from down in the creek where it is washed up against a boulder in a still pool; from over on the shoulder of the road where the Day Lilies will leaf and bloom again next Spring; from any wide place where a car, or more likely a truck, can pull over for one last swig of Milwaukee Ice or MGD before tossing cans, fast food wrappers, any other unwanted flotsam out of the vehicle and onto the 'commons' as if they owned it. Perhaps they think they do, and maybe that is part of the problem with litter.

Best we get out there now, to remove the litter-spawn before it leads to spontaneous generation of more of the same. Like begats like. Seeing a cluster of Genuine Draft cans is a trigger to add more, the threshold to disabuse one's vehicle of unwanted trash having been lowered by seeing that those who have come this way before were like-minded kindred spirits who also own this roadway, this country, and by gawd, if trash is in their way, it must go out upon impulse, whatever, whenever, no matter.

Last night, a car drove down our single-lane gravel road in the small hours, radio blaring out wide-open gut-thudding percussion, if not entertaining the occupant of the car, at least providing an acoustic massage to his abdominal organs by the sheer volume of it. Being oblivious to the existence of others who might not share his taste in 'music' at this hour, I am pretty sure that this same blissful ignorant was also the one who deposited the Chicken McNuggets wrapper/box/bag further on up our lane last night, with never so much as a twinge of a thought about it.

Are you, like me, just not able to see the world through the eyes of a litterer? I simply cannot go there in my attempts at empathetic projection. To trash public places: can it be a form of hatred or anger against others who live on or own places they do not, or against humanity at large despised for some other reason beyond perhaps even the litterer's own understanding?

Can litter come from self-loathing (since at least here on this road, these same people will drive past their trash and look at it day after day until it becomes mostly hidden by corrosion, road dust and the mercies of roadside weeds)? I doubt this is the case, because this type of person, best I can figure, by nature or by nurture, is likely not offended by the sight of trash any more than they are awed by the grandeur of a magnificent view, or outstanding art, or a moving musical work. Maybe it is a form of aesthetic blindness from birth. But then, I really don't know this; it just seems consistent with such behavior.

I do know that our road is one of the less littered, so that coming upon a fresh deposit is all the more offensive. I also know that we have to show that this is not acceptable by cleaning it up promptly, as angry as it makes me to clean up another's thoughtless misbehavior. We do own this road, in a sense, both the litterer and I. He feels that gives him license to abuse it in any way he chooses. I feel it places a burden on me to maintain this common ground so that the character and value of its natural beauty are not marred by the ugliness of man's ignorant disregard.

Maybe this same pair of disparate lenses makes the world look like two different places to those who want to protect and preserve larger natural areas, species, and resources for the future versus those who perceive that states' and individual rights convey an absolute 'ownership' giving license to unbridled exploitation. This seems to be a confrontation that will be gaining momentum in the near future as more and more struggle with less and less, and blame for our sickened planet seeks a cause. Perhaps the microcosm reflects the macrocosm; gaining an understanding of the psychology of litter may provide some small hints in how to deal with the question of who owns the land and what should be done with it and to it, for the greater or lesser good.

I would love to know what others think about this. Is littering a habit by nature or by nurture? What could be done at our local levels to change this way of thinking, or lack thereof? Will the carrot or the stick get the best results? Is littering related to the larger issues mentioned above?

November 4, 2002

Things I Learned at Day Care

Or... A (Grand)Parenting Refresher Course

At times over the weekend, it was just Dumpa Dumpy (me) and Uncle Nate minding the 21-month-old Abby. It has been a while since I was in charge of a toddler (about 21 years, I reckon) and I am now remembering what it is like to live in that Brave New World.

Wet diapers are self-monitoring and will droop below the knees when full, so avoid the temptation to use the finger dipstick method. And, contrary to my expectations, Abby was not dressed in a 12-hour diaper when her mother left for an overnight trip yesterday. I thought surely, by now, those had been invented. Whadda I know?

Wearing a wet diaper is the adult equivalent of waddling around for hours straddling a wet Wall Street Journal. Hence, the diaperless state is much preferred to the diapered, and once disengaged from the soggy paper product, the semi-naked baby runs much faster through the house and is capable of finding hiding places the diapered are not capable of.

The tiny round-headed farmer from the Fisher-Price Farm Set, although smoother than the tiny cow, still after thirty years in the attic is capable of inflicting a serious stone bruise on the bare heel. And: one piece will always be missing when putting this toy away. Go look under the cushions on the sofa first.

Sitting the baby this weekend, I remembered a rather cruel experiment from freshman psychology: baby monkeys were placed in cages with two surrogate monkey mothers (wire frames and stylized heads with crude monkey faces). One monkey mother was just the bare wire frame and face, but contained a bottle of milk; the other lacked the milk but was covered with a soft fabric. The baby monkeys stayed at the bottle mother just long enough to feed, then immediately rushed to and clung to the cloth-covered monkey mother, showing "the primacy of nurture to sustenance". This recollection gave me new appreciation for the phrase "warm fuzzies" as I watched Abby become frantic when separated for even minutes from her "B", a small teddy-bear head attached to two square feet of blanket. Do we outgrow these needs for soft contact, for security? What form do the objects of these needs for comfort take as adults, I wonder?

Ignorant of the principles of physics, a large dog and a small child will always attempt to occupy the same place at the same time.

If the sipee-cup contains milk, the child will want juice, and conversely.

Minding the toddler is a 25-7 proposition. What is the negative of 'spare time'?

Toddler gives off a sticky emanation that eventually covers all munchkin-accessible surfaces. Theory holds that this is a method of insuring that baby does not miss one square inch in her exploration. If it is not sticky, she has not yet investigated that particular square of floor, desk, wall or cabinet. Buster has a similar mechanism having to do with the uniform propagation of dog hair. Isn't nature wonderful?

Molehills are mountains to a toddler whose step length is a mere 4 inches and balance while standing and walking still requires a wide-based gait (this waddling manner of walking is aided considerably by the presence of the bulky diaper twixt the thighs. You try walking normally with that Wall Street Journal down there). Expect a face-plant approximately every 30 feet on soft and irregular pasture, more often if Buster is with us. Also, when stopping at the edge of the water to throw rocks in the creek, one trip will go two steps beyond the edge of the water. It's just a matter of time.

The harder you work to tire them out so that you can get a nap, the less energy you will have left to deal with the energizing effects your efforts have on them.

November 3, 2002

Various and Sundry

Spaceship looking for secrets of universe

This one is already out there in a test-run this week on a small chunk of rock called AnneFrank. It will eventually snag some dust from a larger meteor and return the first bit of extra-terrestrial material collected by the space program since Apollo 17 in 1972. It will come back to Earth in January 2006.

I hope that when it comes back, the world is such a place that this astronomical feat rates a headline in the World News of the day. Or will we be otherwise distracted by man's inhumanity to man? Still?

Hawks being used to scare off London's pigeons

One of the birds, Buzz, is released from the roof of the Treasury Department at 4am every morning to circle the area.

Several falconers are competing for business in the capital where a yearly contract to keep sites pigeon-free is worth over £40,000.

Science of chronic wasting disease cloaked in mystery

The science of prions meant little in practical terms to state residents before the discovery of chronic wasting disease, or CWD, in the state’s deer herd earlier this year. To date, 42 deer have been identified in Wisconsin with CWD, nearly all wild deer from a 411-square mile zone in Dane and Iowa counties.

“This is a contagious disease that moves from animal to animal,” Aiken said. “It’s not going to stay at a low level for very long.”

Scientists know that mad-cow disease jumped from cattle to humans in the 1990s in Great Britain, where about 140 people have died of Creutzfeldt-Jakob. That outbreak is believed to have resulted from the practice of adding processed tissue from dead cattle infected with the abnormal mad-cow prion to cattle feed.

Could chronic wasting disease make a similar jump to humans who eat infected deer?

The Bush Environmental Record 2002
from the Natural Resources Defense Council

This is a good source of regularly updated links to both the good and bad choices the current administration is making about use and abuse of our natural resources. Stay informed. At base, we are biological creatures before we are economic or political, even though one would think from listening to our current leaders that we had evolved beyond any connection to the natural world whatever. If our basic physiology is abused by our air, water, food and lands, we will make for poor participants in the democratic processes that are supposed to keep this a healthy country for our children. Generally, the Bush Record on care for the environment (which is fast becoming a red flag word) is pretty dismal.

November 2, 2002

Where in the World?

Time for the Saturday morning GeoButton summary for Fragments visitors from the past week:

Top cities for visits this week: Tallahassee, Florida 27; San Francisco, California 25; Markleysburg, Pennsylvania 18; Sarasota, Florida 15; Providence, North Carolina 14. I had to look up Providence, NC, just south of the VA-NC border. Now I know.

Unknown but domestic places, a sampling: Vermillion, South Dakota; Waukesha, Wisconsin; Matawan, New Jersey; Disputanda, Virginia. I wonder if any of these places is as small as Floyd (town, population 400, county, population 14,000).

Imported: Woodlands, Singapore; Lugano, Switzerland; Toowoomba, Australia; Lison, Portugal; Goulburn, Australia; Strasburg, France. There are multiple visits from these far-away places; displaced Americans?

Thanks for the visits, folks. I would love to hear from more of you, at least once, so these unfamiliar places and unfathomable DNS numbers will have a more neighborly ring to them.

I suppose for the pure pundits, the point of a weblog is more giving out opinion and creating ground for argument and discussion. Fragments is a pundit-free zone, mostly; beyond leaving words for my grandchildren here, I would like for the weblog to serve to connect us, here in a very isolated place, to real people in real places, hopefully even in our own state and region (which has not happened yet in the six months of this weblog, with only one or two fairly regular readers that I know of from as close as 100 miles). I confess I am curious how and why visitors come, especially those who come back more than once, suggesting it might not be by accident.

Pardon the rambling. Its a Saturday: might as well close up shop and go get started on the chores. Be well.

November 1, 2002

Pig in a Blanket

This just in: buy stock in pork bellies.

In another development, the popular Russian tabloid Moskovskii Komsomolets published an article saying that rather than returning the bodies of the 50 Chechen rebels killed at the theater to relatives, the government will instruct state security services to wrap the corpses in pigskins and bury them.

The aim is to deter potential Islamic terrorists from future attacks.

Muslim jihad rebels believe they will ascend immediately to heaven as a result of their attacks, but being buried in a pigskin is supposed to prevent that.

Over the River and Thru the Woods

So, being in the smallish "great time to be silver" age cohort in the blogger demographics, I now have this issue that I don't anticipate will find much common ground among Fragments watchers:

What do I want to be called when I become a grandfather?

When else, outside the Witness Protection Program, does one have the opportunity to start fresh with a new name, a new identity even, since I will become known for the first time by the new wee one under that grandfatherly name? This is a matter of considerable weight, as once named, I become that person forever in the mind of our child's child.

Back when our grandaughter was first born 21 months ago, this matter came up, a theoretical concern at the time. Shortly thereafter, I think in the context of a poem I wrote, I referred to Ann and me as Granny Annie and Grampa Grumpy. Now the grandaughter, for the first time this visit, is becoming verbal. And I emphasize 'becoming'.

I am now "Dumpa Dumpy".

Guess my old skinny self is going to be "Dumpy" from here on out. Or maybe "Dumpa". Soon, Dumba, then Dumbo, who can tell. I wonder if it's too late to have her just call me Bubba? Or Gumby?

Any advise from your own fractured grandparental experiences?