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March 29, 2003

Leaving Home, Coming Home

Okay folks. I'm on my way outta here, headed to the still waters. If you're still coming around, which obviously you must be if your reading this, you might snoop around in the archives following this little ditty I submitted in a flailing effort to have it count as one of my four mandatory 'outside class' assignments. I went through the archives hastily and tried to extract those that spoke in some way about 'sense of place'. They are appended in the 'read more about...' at the end of this little bit below. Many of them have images from last summer which I enjoyed seeing again. Browse around, leave me some words to come back to in a few days, 'cause I'm sure I'll have some for you! Back in the saddle Thursday afternoon, bruised and sore and bug-bit with stories to tell.

Maps. I can sit with a map, even of some place that I have never been and will never go, and lose myself in its features and odd place names, imagining what it would be like to be just there, on that mountain top, or down below it in the broad floodplain of a meandering creek. But given a choice, give me a map of a place I know, or have known. Sit me down with a topo of Grayson Highlands State Park where I have not been for years and the memory of the topography finds a resonance in memory for lived moments in just those places between contour lines, and I am reliving time anchored to place.

People these days largely ignore their local geographies beyond the traffic lights and driveways it takes to get them between home, the mall, and work. Given the increasingly frenetic pace of our lives and the progressive pragmatic ugliness of our cities and highways, perhaps it is not unexpected that for so many of us, it is easier to just become numb to the physical setting of where we live. Home, office, mall. Put them anywhere. It doesn't matter. If we do leave home to explore other places, we expect them to dazzle us, entertain us, shock us with theme-park colors and thrills. It's okay if there are 'scenic vistas' along the way, but we are not part of them, those mountains there in the distance like the prop of a diorama. We are nostalgic for the virgin wilderness of our fathers, but only glance at the memory from a distance in a voyeuristic sort of way.

For almost a year, I have been celebrating place. For reasons not entirely known, I have felt compelled to declare what life is like in this place, with these hills and this forest and these two creeks, to chronicle the changes through seasons and birthdays and summer storms and snow. I am growing a collection of images in words and pixels called Fragments from Floyd. It is a journal, and so contains many odd bits of thought and observation and vision. I would submit to you, as an illustration of my own peculiar understanding of place, the following links to archived selections. Taken together as a small sample, they may tell the reader who I am and how I am related to this wonderful place I am blessed to live. I feel compelled to do this, even if not eloquently or fully, somehow in the way of an apology for all those who do not know where they live.

This excerpt from writer Barry Lopez, expresses my hope in this effort I enter each day...

If I were now to visit another country, I would ask my local companion, before I saw any museum of library, and factory or fabled town, to walk me in the country of his or her youth, to tell me the names of things and how, traditionally, they have been fitted together in a community. I would ask for the stories, the voice of memory over the land. I would ask about he history of storms there, the age at the trees, the winter color of the hills. Only then would i Ask to see the museum. I would want first the sense of a real place, to know that I was not inhabiting an idea. I would want to know the lay of the land first, the real geography, and take some measure of the love of it in my companion before I stood before the painting or read works of scholarship. I would want to have something real and remembered against which I might hope to measure their truth.
Barry Lopez, February 1990 Teacher Magazine

Please consider this sample of journal entries as a rough sketch of one man's place in the world, in a hidden valley of a remote part of a small Appalachian county. They are arranged roughly in reverse chronological order.

Our Town: In Floyd We Trust

Slow living

Summer of Our Discontent

Links in a Delicate Chain

Barn at Dusk

On Down the Crick

Varieties of Religious Experience

Worlds Apart

Someplace Cool and Green and Shady

Garden of Delights

The Season of Spiders

A Weed By Any Other Name

In the Shadow of the Buffalo

Every drought ends with a good rain

In Praise of August!

A Time to Fall

Charlotte's Web

Walk at Midnight

Gossamer Days

Trash Run: A Puppydog Tale

Goose Creek: First Night

The Thrill of the Hunt

Good Life, Fertile Soil

Water Music ~ Opus One


It's Beginning to Look

December Snow

Near the Source

From a High Place

Hope Runs Eternal ~ Part Three


Winter Walk Revisited

You Say Potato, I Say Putayter

Fragment Found

Wind of Winter

Rivers Below

Seeds in Snow

Stars, Invisible by Day

Fragments, Well Seasoned

ICE: Figments and Formations

Night Vision

Where I Live

Honor of Wood

The Worth of a Picture

Field of Dreams

March 28, 2003

A Place Remembered

image copyright Fred First

Someday I'll tell the story of the old Crigger place. It was almost home, we dreamed of growing old there. The dream didn't come true, and we gave thanks for unanswered prayer. This old well under a high limestone bluff is one of the spots I would have loved most on the old place. Maybe I always have.

Nitty and Gritty

This is too good to leave in my lonely email, from reader and neighbor Ron Bailey:

I enjoyed the "grits" post. It reminded me of an uncle who claimed that he had once ordered grits in a Baltimore restaurant, and when the waitress (with a VERY puzzled look on her face) asked him "hominy?", he simply said "a bowl full".

Now here's what I can't understand about grits. How can they take that white mushy stuff and turn it into sandpaper? I have a stack of various grades of sandpaper sitting on my porch right now where I'm working on some floor trim. Says right on it that it's 80 grit, 100 grit, 200 grit. How do they know how many grits they're pasting onto the paper backing? Do they do this by hand, one grit at a time?

And then there is that matter of "true grit" (thank you very much, Peggy, I think somehow that's a compliment). How do you tell true grits from false grits? Is there a test? It all boggles the mind, don't it?

GRITS: Nobody Can Eat Just One

We had an emergency last night. The 'nothing was taken out to thaw and we were both fresh out of creative food ideas' kind of emergency. Our crisis meal is typically based on the incredible edible ovum. Tonight, with link sausage, and grits.

You know, I guess I never stopped to ponder that nature and origin of grits, even though as a bamaboy I've eaten my share of 'em. Some of you will have to confess that you've never had the priviledge, bless ya li'l hearts. Well let me tell you what you've missed: grits taste like, well, they taste like... whatever you put on them. Grits are a mere substrate to hold butter, cheese, that sort of thing, having no flavor of their own to speak of. I eat grits because it's a part of my suthun upbringing, but I can't say I really like them as much as the butter and cinnamon we put on them when grits are (is?) pretending to be a quasi-desert. But just what is a 'grit'?

Grits is (are?) a corn product. Take hard corn (field corn called flint or dent corn), strip it from the cob, soak it in baking soda, lime or wood ash. (Here's how to do it, I know you'll want to make your own!) The kernels swell up double or triple-size, creating a form of corn called hominy (which is another tasteless lumpy thing we ate grudgingly as children in my family). Dry the hominy kernels, remove the germ, grind the product into a coarse meal. And you got grits.

And below is very interesting piece of food history about the strange making of hominy. You have to marvel at the things man has done to produce and improve food through the years:

It's interesting that the alkaline soaking process also unbinds necessary niacin in the corn, and has an effect on the protein balance. Though the overall available protein is decreased, the relative availability of the lysine and tryptophan are increased. The alkaline process has been used for centuries where corn was a native food, but in areas where corn was introduced as a new staple, the process was not. Pellagra, a niacin and tryptophan deficiency, became common disease in areas where corn was the main source of food, as in the early South. One has to wonder how ancient civilizations discovered the process which made corn a more balanced source of nutrition.

And I know you'll want to make plans to attend the Gritfest in Warwick, Georgia on April 12, where they will celebrate the recent passage of a new law which states that "Grits are recognized as the official prepared food of the State of Georgia." And of course they will sing the official National Grits Festival song written by a five-year-old boy. (see Jimmy Carter standing with his hand over his heart during the Grits Anthem... brings a lump to your throat, don't it? In the South we do take our food most seriously.

March 27, 2003

Getting my Boat in Gear

I have started to stack and cluster (wife says 'clutter') the upstairs with the necessities for three days cut off from all the amenities I will quickly miss and look forward to seeing again. It's been many years since I was gone camping and away from home for more than a single night, much less three. I recall almost instantly feeling torn between looking forward to being in that special place I was heading and anticipating my return and sleeping in my own soft bed, drinking coffee from the stainless steel pot, and the comfort of the known world inside my house.

I am remembering already how, while Ann says "Go! Have a good time!", she grows quiet and restless, easily impatient over silly things-- her typical indirect way of telling me she's already dreading being the only one to deal with all the nuisances of daily life, and punishing me unintentionally for being the one to leave.

And I have ambivalence about going myself. The world is so very unstable and so much can happen in three days, changing our lives forever in a day. I have some guilt about 'playing' with so much to be done with this school project, in the garden, with the daily drugery of mere existence. And for the first time, I worry about my equipment... the biological software this time, not the pack straps, boots or Whisperlite. Maybe I'll do okay and come back with the physical self confidence I used to have, plus just enough pain to bring back memories of moving through difficult terraine under my own power. I will be taking plenty of Ibuprofen to help me carry off this quest in relative comfort, and a few Valerian because my biological clock will go off, as usual, at 4:15 every morning and I will be faced with the option of getting up alone until sunrise with no campfire, or lying there in the relative warmth of my bag, growing stiffer by the minute, wide awake. Ah outdoor living. Such wonderful agony.

And... a new meaning for 'going to the can', and other rules of the swamp, from my traveling buddy:

A couple of things from the refuge literature on trips: 1. You are required to bring a portable toilet with disposable bags for waste disposal. A coffee can with a small trash bags and a lid will do. These are for during the day if you can't make it to the port a johns at the campsites. 2. Everything is subject to inspection before the trip. 3. No guns. 4. Trash must be packed out. 5. From sunset to sunrise you must remain at the campsite. 6. you must stay on your trails. (Marked canoe trails thru the swamp). 7. You must be on the trails each day by 10 am. What must be carried? flotation device for each person, portable toilet, compass and map (each canoe), flashlights, cookstove and fuel. recommended: extra batteries, trash bags, rope, first aid kit, food plus some extra, foul weather gear, duct tape, spare paddle in each boat, freestanding tents, bailer for each boat, spf 15 or better, 4-6 qts water per person per day.

March 26, 2003

The Velcros at Midnight

Did you ever have one of those nights when you couldn't find a comfortable place for your arms? Like they were somehow the only part of your body of which you are aware, and they are on backwards and no way you lay them... beside you, across your chest, back behind your head... nothing seems to make them happy? I just had one of those nights.

This cycle of brachial unrest started because the mommabear was anxious at bedtime. When she's anxious and not sleeping well she tends to want to spoon excessively. Close formation nested sleeping patterns do not suit me well, because as the nestee, there is then one less degree of freedom, one less choice about where to rest the arm on the side now taken up by the nestor. The nestee lies there with his eyes open, staring at the dark ceiling, listening to the refrigerator defrost, wide awake. While the nestor is thus comforted in this manner and sleeping soundly.

Later: Finally. Asleep. From sheer exhaustion. A deep REM sleep. A pox on the arms, at last I am getting some rest now.

And then: if you've never experienced abject night horror, this will provide the experience. Ask your spouse, in the darkest part of night while you are lying there with your eyes flickering across the back of your eyelids lost in dreams, to do the following: right next to your sleeping head, unfasten a three-strap velcro wrist brace really fast.

There's nothing quite like that sound. Nothing in my repertoire of expected night sounds, the usual bumps in the night, that match this ungodly sound of something being rent asunder near my head. The fear is truly quite invigorating. I find my blood still is surging with adrenalin, and I might actually get a lot done this morning with addition of a little caffeine. If it weren't for wasting your time with details of the dark side of life from the edge of civilization.

(I aced my mid-term so am treating myself to this little indulgence of writing the trivial this morning. Play time's over, schoolboy. Go check those footnotes against the MLA requirements. After you post, of course.)

March 25, 2003

Faint of Heart

I confess. I'm a weenie when it comes to parting with my blood. I can watch surgeries and debride burns myself -- no problems. But let that needle start pulling out my own vital humour, and there goes the neighborhood: ears ring, everything goes white.

They only took about 15cc's today to test for rheumatoid arthritis. Might as well have stuck me like a pig at butchering time. When it was done, seeing as how I was not able to stand up and walk away, I hung my head between my knees, got a little better and sat back up for a few seconds, then right back down, repeating this maneuver four of five times, without being able to shake the feeling of being disappeared.... you know the feeling. Technically speaking, what I had experienced was vasovagal syncope, which sounds a lot more serious than "fainting". How embaraskin'.

Then I remembered this Readers Digest tip I posted a few weeks back. Well friggity frog... it works! Did it once, and walked right outta there.

Out of the Frying Pan...

So, I finally get this monkey off my back and toss in this term paper thingy and get done with the class in early May. What does the boy do? He turns around and signs up for a 'writers workshop' for the first half of June for more self-inflicted pain.

Never been to anything like this. Not one of your higher powered affairs, exactly, but I expect it to be more fun than a sharp stick in the eye. Ever gone to anything of this sort, you writerly types? What should I expect?

March 24, 2003

March Bloom

Image copyright Fred First
This is Coltsfoot, a non-native wildflower that has been 'naturalized' all over the place. I'll have lots to say about it later, when I have lots to say about things in general again.

Happened to see this single flower (actual size about 1" across) nicely illuminated against the shadow of a rock wall just out the back door. I picked it just for you.

Turned Off

The muse is wearing khaki, and frankly, it doesn't do a thing for me.

I much prefer the gossamer gowns.

While You Were Away...

Three Mile Island
March 28, 1979

After three days of backpacking in the Cohutta Wilderness in north Georgia... three days of flooding rains... we turned on the radio when we got back to our cars and listened with our mouths open, as we learned of the worst nuclear power plant disaster in U.S. history.

Somehow, this sense of bewilderment that the world could have changed so drastically while were isolated from the shocks of civilization... it comes back to me, and I wonder: what kind of world will I return to next week? This could be the stuff of fiction...

"The four wet adventurers threw their canoes wearily on top of their cars, and collapsed in the front seats to catch up on what they had, thankfully, missed during their three days sequestered in the midst of the serene and massive swamp. Fred turned on the ignition, then the radio. There was nothing but silence. AM. FM. The entire spectrum was empty. Maybe it was the radio... a short in a fuse, perhaps. Mark turned on his radio to the same, eerie black silence. And they knew the world they left was not the world they would go home to."

Going, Going...

I'm going. To Okefenokee.

Blogging may be irregular or missing from here over the next couple of weeks. My daily gushings seem somehow irreverent, as well as irrelevant as the traffic shift suggests. Between getting organized for the trip and bearing down on this blankety-blank class project (which has become the writing albatross around my neck) I have lost my blogging momentum. I've entered the blog bog.

March 23, 2003

The Worth of a Picture

image copyright Fred First

In the same way that there is disappointingly less in the words than there was, or is, in the thing spoken of, images almost always let me down in the end when it is my purpose to share them with you by this medium. While they may be worth a thousand words, this is of little comfort knowing it would have taken just the perfect finely-ordered ten thousand to begin to say it all.

I'll look back at this image years from now and see it in full-color stereoscopic memory that will pull together all the senses associated with being there. I will remember this place in context of space and time: the barn crossing was just behind me, the steep rocky bluff covered with ferns was to the left. I had come here just at 3:15 knowing that the sun would be pouring only then down the cleft cut by Goose Creek, and the water would glory in a dazzling animated brilliance that I longed to remember, if I could capture it in a picture. I will see this image and know that a week before, floods had scoured the creek to bedrock in places just ahead, tossed around massive boulders, and undercut the bank in front of me. And the next week, I found Hepatica and Trout Lily blooming on the high banks to the right, just there.

The viewer, on the other hand, must imagine depth, must infer the 360 degree context of being there when the shutter was pressed; cannot know the intentions behind the lens, or the expectations, what was hoped for it. In the image, you will only see pixels, while I will remember being.

March 22, 2003

Impacted Journalists

I'm sorry. I know these folks are putting their lives on the line (while simultaneously becoming, some of them, instant celebs) but every time I hear the term "embedded journalist" it puts me to mind of phrases like "impacted colon".

I try to think: If Gary Larsen where here, what could he do with this figure of speech? Hmmmm... I see A Bob-ish member of the press corp pressed between a mattress and box springs (with some characteristic bipedal talking animals standing in the foreground) saying...what? Nah. Too tame. I dunno.

Can you think of any other instances of use of this word to describe a person in any setting? Embedded accountant. Embedded secretary (not gonna go there). Embedded mortician. I think we've added a brand new use to the jargon of the 21st Century. Not that it's any big JDAM deal.

Living in Bizarro World

Interesting. In the face of things beyond... so very far beyond... our ability to comprehend, much less to control, Ann and I are following different paths this morning, each within our own peculiar domain of coping.

She is reorganizing the pantry, putting everything in its place, ordering this one small corner of our tiny realm. Placing like with like, casting off, collecting, structuring according to a vision for how things should be just here within these walls.

I am watching the lighting change moment by moment, waiting for sun to fall on the Resurrection Fern on the bluffs above the creek. I've had an image in mind all during the Winter, and now this variable fern is opening up, and lives again. I will do something creative, come out of time and enter a period of moments of full mindfulness on a thing made without hands, innately beautiful, symmetrical, intricate.

These are the forms our thoughts and energies take, the ways we strive to resist being overcome by the cares of this world, ways to be in the world, but not of it, to rejoice in all things.

And while getting my camera gear ready for this morning's excursion, I find myself humming...

This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven's open door
And I can't feel at home in this world anymore.

This World is Not My Home
J R Baxter, Jr.
1946, Stamps-Baxter Music and Printing Co. in Sentimental Songs.

Alligator Bait: Part Two

Or: From the Blog to the Bog?

The fourth paddler can't go on the Okefenokee trip. There is an empty place for the trip. I have a few hours to make up my list of pro's and con's. Do I have or can I somehow scrounge the gear for three days on the water (read: is there enough of my stuff intact from Nathan's peregrinations with all of it across the globe over the past three years?). And hunkered down in a canoe, paddling in slack water every foot of the 28 miles of the trip, sleeping on the ground (say, where is that Thermarest, Nate?)... can these old bones handle that? And there is the fact that I have this major class project in mid-air. And heck, I'd have to spend 2 and a half days without listening to the news from 'embedded journalists'. Hmmmm. I think I just made up my mind.

Not really. This is quite a conflict of 'goods' and deciding won't be easy. But I confess: I am leaning toward grabbing the golden ring here. Will have to see how it feels after a couple cups of coffee and with the sun shining. To get away with three other guys who are all biology types (I've been told that field guides are mandatory!) and spend time with that other me I'd put away for so long, in a place so alien and awesome (if I may reclaim the non-military use of the word).... There are reasons to give this some careful thought.

What a neat place it is. Check it out.

Inhabited by Indians more than 4,000 years ago, The Okefenokee is one of the most outstanding examples of an ecologically intact swamp in North America. The Okefenokee is a vast peat bog of ancient geologic origin. Once part of the ocean floor, it now ranges in elevation from 103 to 128 feet above sea level. Islands are formed by layers of peat and become the foundation for grasses, shrubs and trees. When stepped on, these islands move a bit, which is why the Indians called the swamp "trembling earth," or "Okefenokee".

Cypress trees over 500 years old, terrestrial orchids and lilies, islands, prairies and wildlife are abundant. Endangered species including red-cockaded woodpecker, wood storks, and the threatened indigo snake can be seen in the swamp. The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States. It contains approximately 396,000 acres of the magnificent 496,000-acre Okefenokee Swamp.

AWE: When Good Words Go to War

Consider: Shock and Terror. Shock and Fear. Or Shock and Dread.

Awe, n. [OE. a[yogh]e, aghe, fr. Icel. agi; akin to AS. ege, [=o]ga, Goth. agis

The emotion inspired by something dreadful and sublime; an undefined sense of the dreadful and the sublime; reverential fear, or solemn wonder; profound reverence.

Please, sirs, give us back the word awe whose darker meaning can indeed speak of dread, and power and overwhelming forboding.

Give us back its meaning that describes that which makes the heart tremble with respect, makes the mind soar fearfully toward the sublime and causes the spirit to ponder, be still and know.

Awe is the heart of wonder, and wonder the beginning of wisdom.

March 21, 2003

Just to Be There

Can't get enough of it? These journalists have weblogs.

Another Time, Maybe

The radio piece that would have aired this morning was pre-empted by war coverage. Ah well.

Farewell to Arms

Well, not the arms--yet. Mostly, the wrists and thumbs. I've passed through the 'ignore it and maybe it'll go away' phase, and have been in the 'work through the pain' period for many months. We've just entered the 'go get an estimate' portion of the rheumatological disorder timeline.

After putting it off as long as I possibly could (ignorance being bliss) I have an appointment with our GP next week. She'll do the blood test for rheumatoid factor, which of course, with a strong family history of RA, I hope very much that this comes back negative. I'll have X-rays, which will show some degenerative changes (osteoarthritis, most likely) in the joints, probably with some osteophyte formation (calcific changes) at the junction of the wrist and thumb.

She'll put me on some anti-inflammatory meds for the tendinitis component, which I will take only intermittently for a short course, and she will probably suggest physical therapy. (I was a therapist in a clinic adjoining her office a few years ago, and she knows I'll walk in having made my own diagnosis and with some very specific requests for referral, if needed).

PT heal thyself: A short course of iontophoresis with dexamethasone sodium phosphate to the right radiocarpal joint (minimum of five treatments) can be done to see if it produces symptomatic reduction at the worst point of pain. If not, the best medical advice I'll get is 'live with it' and 'that'll be $400 with a $20 co-pay'. All the interventions like joint protection, ergonomic changes (in keyboard use, etc) and task rotation ... been there, done that. Without this, my problem would be even worse.

There will be some significant lifestyle changes ahead. I know. I have sat with so many patients facing their own limitations and disabilities, pain and loss of significant life functions due to an injury or impairment. Now, I'm the patient. Now, I'm facing the possibility... the certainty, given enough time... that I'll have to seriously limit and then give up gardening; and cutting my own firewood... these will be major lifestyle losses, to be sure.

To everything there is a season. When the time comes, maybe I'll be ready to let it go.


image copyright Fred First

Won't be long before the spring wildflowers start showing up. In our valley, Hepatica (Liverleaf) and Toothwort are among the first, followed by Bloodroot, seen here (in the one image that survived my hard drive crash; hundreds of other wildflower images didn't fare so well). The flowers of this poppy relative tend to bloom and drop petals quickly when the single leaf is still very small or not yet emerged. After the petals fall off, the sculpted leaf persists and grows large, soaking in the sun and making more roots to fuel the early Spring bloom of the following year.

Break the thick root and it 'bleeds'... quite convincingly. I've seen folks with weak stomachs have to look away from a broken bloodroot. Makes a nice face paint, too, that will last through a couple of washings. The Indians used it for "war paint". How timely.

March 20, 2003

Airing my Eccentricities

I don't know if I will ever reach the point where I am not half-embarassed to reveal my eccentric way of looking at things and by the form this takes in what I write about the mundane features of a life on the periphery. But this reluctance obviously doesn't stop me from laying it out every day in Fragments, and once again, I've 'gone public' and will be reading another 'reflection' on the Roanoke Public Radio station this Friday. You can listen here via ReadAudio, at 6:50 and 8:50 on Friday morning, March 21. (All the more humbling, by contrast, my little bit follows the regular Friday Civil War piece by Virginia Tech's Dr. James Robertson, of "Gods and Generals" fame.)

Life Goes on The Way it Does

Why do the birds go on singing Why do the stars glow above Don't they know it's the end of the world It ended when I lost your love

I wake up in the morning and I wonder
Why everything's the same as it was
I can't understand, no, I can't understand
How life goes on the way it does

Skeeter Davis didn't have the 'recent unpleasantness' in mind with these lyrics, but they have always spoken to me of moments of great loss and the utterly private bereavement that is so bewildering because it is not reflected in things outside us. It seems the world should pause for a moment of silent sorrow because of the emptiness and loss inside.

But the sun will come up, rain will fall in the same way, green grass will appear down along the branch with the warmer days, and birds will sing and build nests. As if they do not know it is the end of a world I used to live in. Meaning and consequence are two uniquely human understandings, both a blessing and a curse, and they lead to moments of profound separation between our private lives and nature outside us. There is no moratorium on the patterns of life beyond and above the affairs of men. The stars still shine tonight and so too should light continue in our small lives here, even in a time of overwhelming darkness.

March 19, 2003

Merciless Mothers in Mesopotamia

If we sent mothers to Bagdad as inspectors... via Redwood Dragon from a anonymous source.

Alligator Bait

Got a call last night from an old Auburn friend (living down the road now in Wytheville) I hadn't heard from in years. Mark is one the masses of Wildlife or Zoology majors now doing something totally unrelated to his training. Eating becomes a habit and we go off and sell ourselves to the non-biological folks who pay us. But Mark, like me, still loves the natural world, though neither one of us gets into it very much anymore for extended periods.

Mark's got a canoe trip planned to the Okeefenokee, called me out of the blue as a possible 4th man backup in case anybody defaults. Man, I'd be tempted. It should be early enough that the no-see-ums and black flies and mosquitoes wouldn't be too awful bad, and the rattlesnakes cool enough not to be up to full speed. The male alligators should be bellowing during early mating season. Ah, the night sounds of frog and insect chorus; the smell of brackish backwaters and the organic mustiness of peat and Spanish moss and the sweet fragrance of water hyacinth and pond lilies. I feel a Walter Mitty coming on...

Meanwhile, I'm finding any possible excuse (the weblog is excellent in this way!) to avoid doing what I ought to be doing: working on my research project, where now I am in the process of describing a working definition of the word CULTURE so I can discuss cultural tourism's role in Floyd County's collective identity. YAWN. I'd rather be canoeing.

Windows We Have Known

Where and when did you first encounter "Windows" for the first time? I came in at 3.1 in October, 1992. It was a gutsy thing to say "let's move away from DOS" into the GUI world, but we gambled that DOS was on its way out. Boy were we right. Check out this timeline of the evolution of Windows, with thanks for the link to Wylieblog, who, rumour has it, will be hosting this week's Carnival of the Vanities. Go see.

Cradle to Grave

Ancient Mesopotamia, modern Iraq: once again, bombing and looting threaten the cradle of civilization
By Melinda Liu and Anne Underwood / NEWSWEEK

In the process of turning Iraq into a sea of glass in the coming weeks/months, consider what will be lost from the "cradle of civilization" in what was ancient Mesopotania.

...In January scholars gave Defense Department officials the names of archeological sites they hoped to spare. ”[The military] had a list of 150,” says McGuire Gibson, professor of Mesopotamian archeology at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. “We gave them over 4,000 more—- but that only covers the 10 to 15 percent of the country we’ve studied.”

...in the featureless plains of southern Iraq, the only high ground consists of the ruins of ancient cities. If the Iraqis make a stand, these mounds, which can be as much as four miles around and 80 feet high, are the natural places to do it.

But there is something to be gained from pre-war desecration of ancient ruins. Something, perhaps, for your mantel:

... Last week on eBay, sellers were offering 4,000-year-old cuneiform-tablet fragments (“Be sure to bid on this fantastic piece of history!”) and a Sumerian silver necklace from 2500 B.C. “There are Iraqi antiquities everywhere you look”...

March 18, 2003

It All Comes Down

I remember as a child
finding at the beach
now and then among the fragments
of conchs and periwinkles and clams
a rounded red-ocre treasure
that was not shell but stone.

I held in my hand
the heart of a handmade brick
made with straw
buffeted in the rocky streambeds
of spring floods polished smooth
tumbling hundreds of miles
in at least as many years
to rest here at the edge of the ocean.

The old chimneys came down
And I tossed the ragged bricks
into our stream crossing years ago.
We find them now well downstream
after the flood of years and finally
it all comes down to the sea.

Music Hath Charms

When we first moved from Alabama to Virginia in 1975, we were little acquainted with blue grass music and fully ignorant of 'mountain music' or what my new musical friends called "old time". During my first few months in Wytheville, a couple of my students invited me to a farm house on the edge of town where college kids had gathered, along with a dozen very country-looking older men in overalls and their wives. This was obviously a crowd that knew each other well, like an extended family. I was the only person there who didn't have an instrument and I felt truly conspicuous as an outsider, like a voyeur.

There I found myself in a strange crowd who enthusiastically played an unfamiliar reel that sounded just like the last one they had just played: a short verse sung by a single voice followed a long sequence of variations on the theme. They went on and on so that the rhythm and patterns of quickly changing chords soaked into your inner soul, over and over like a word repeated in prayer. And that was my first experience with old time traditional Appalachian music...'old-time' music popular from around 1900 through 1930, a blend of the tradition with parlor and vaudeville music, African-American styles, and Minstrel Show tunes.

The above is the first two paragraphs of a short assignment from class. I was just wondering if "old time" music was popular where you live. It quickly became our musical foundation when we first moved to southwest Virginia almost 30 years ago. Born of earlier music, it combined the anglo fiddle with the African instrument, the banjo, and in turn, gave rise to Blue Grass. Let Mike Seeger explain it to you in this article, What is Old Time Music?

March 17, 2003

Oh I Don't Want to Hear It!

Cody Clark is lamenting his name, now 'faux-trendy'.

I'd have died for a name like Cody. or Clark.

Think of what it must have been growing up with a name like mine.

For a while (maybe a whole week vs the single day Cody tried it) I tried to be called by my other name... Blair. At least it didn't alliterate with my last name, I mean, First. But soon to my so-called friends, I became "Blair Fourth" and gave up the identity change.

They say a weird name will either make you or break you. Here in the Fragments front office, the jury is still out on that one.

What it Was, was....

... And I don't know, friends, to this day what it was that they was a'doin' down thar! But I have studied about it. And I think that it's some kindly of a contest where they see which bunchful of them men can take that punkin' and run from one end of that cow pasture to the other, without either gettin' knocked down... or steppin' in somethin'!

It has been before my mind lately (influenced in no small degree by the Appalachian Identities course I'm taking) how southerners, Appalachians, rural folks in general... have been portrayed in the media as inbred bumpkins, simpletons, hicks, hillbillies. In this frame of mind, it came to me yesterday that Andy Griffith has certainly played a significant role in influencing American impressions about the rural south, going back to the early 50's. Matter of fact, he got his first big break into national attention with a satire he wrote from the perspective of a naive backwoods boy come to town, witnessing a football game for the first time. The piece was called "What it was, was football". (You can hear an very short clip of it here). And here, a Mad Magazine recount of the whole thing, with all the original script... what a hoot! Take a look.

In 1958, Griffith starred in "No Time for Sergeants" where Don Knotts appeared briefly for the first time with Griffith, and out of which spun the "Gomer Pile" show (and that's too bad, really, don't you think?)

Anywho... I uz a thinkin' it uz about time that we cum up with a new skit featurin' a politician who don't know nuthin 'bout nuthin, and see, he wanders into that United Nations building where thars lots more just like him, and commences to studyin' what it wuz that they wuzza doin' in thar. We cud call it "What it was, was International Diplomacy". I'm starting on the screenplay, now.

Puppy Love

Buster has a new blogging buddy over at Ron Bailey's River-keeping place. Go see the glamour shot.
Ron, Buster wants to know if Roxie might like to come out to Goose Creek. He says he has found this great place up the valley where he could show her some turkey poop that he rolled in yesterday. There's plenty left if she'd like to join him (although I think maybe this is a guy-thing). Or, there's still a little of that deer carcass buried at the edge of the pasture that he would share with her.

At his request, I'm making Buster a pin-up of Roxie to hang next to his bed.

(He did ask me to ask you if you have any photos of her without her collar on. Of course, I was appalled at the idea, and he later apologized for his impure thoughts. Even so, makes me think maybe I should look under his mattress, if you know what I mean.)


I am cutting some old fallen trees from the side of a hill so steep that, when I put my saw down, it either rolls or slides down the hill. I considered tying a rope at the top of the hill and repelling down with my saw. Good thing, though: the sections of wood tend to tumble and roll right on down to the creek soon as it is cut free.

Image from http://web2.iastate.edu/~bot356/species/species/p_tSpecie/SmilSpec.html
Making a hard job even harder, the hillside is covered with greenbrier. Genus: Smilax. Favorite common name: "Wait-a-minute vine". So called because when passing through a wooded spot where these devil-weeds grow, somebody before long's gonna be saying "Hey. Wait a minute" while they disentangle themselves from this green beast. The vines seem to have the tensile strength of bailing wire and the thorns are tough and sharp. There's no sense trying to hurry through a thick stand of this stuff.

Where I'm cutting, its hard to say if snipping them at the root is a help or a hindrance. Once freed from its roots, a vine seems to be able somehow to attach itself to my shirt or jacket or jeans and trail behind me as I slide awkwardly along the steep pitch, barely able to stand up, even without this extra bedevilment.

Another common name for members of this species is "Catbrier". I didn't understand where this name came from, until, coming in after wrestling with this horrible stuff the other afternoon, my arms looked for all the world like I'd been fighting off a score of mad cats and the cats had won. I'd even been cat-scratched through my jeans.

I have to go back at it, over on the brier-infested hillside, for another couple loads this week. If I wait much longer and it warms up any, I'll be wishing the briers were the worst of it. The cussed yellow jackets will be active, and they seem to be attracted to any movement in the woods that disturbs the leaf litter and exposes fresh soil.

When the wood's all in, it'll be time to think about repairing the deer-damage to the electric fence (there were four in there last night when we came home) and time to get in a gardening frame of mind. It's been a long dang winter.

March 16, 2003

Making a Joyful Noise

Making a Joyful Noise: The Floyd Country Store Friday Night Jubilee

The downtown Floyd enterprise currently known as the Floyd Country Store is a local landmark little changed, visibly, since its construction in 1913. Situated a hundred yards from the county's only traffic light, it served for a half-century or more as a dry-goods general store, selling everything from horse shoe nails to wringer washers and scrub boards. In 1983, the building was purchased by a local farmer and businessman, Freeman Cochran, and the name was changed to Cochrans Store and bore that name for twenty five years. Mr. Cochran, himself a musician and a self-promoting businessman, had a vision for turning the country store into a paying enterprise capitalizing on the local musical talent in the county.

A group of middle-aged country gentlemen were already playing together regularly but privately next door to the store in the back space of the Southern States Feed and Seed. Soon they moved to the larger store for their practice. Most any time business was slow, there was music and a small crowd gathered around the Warm Morning stove with their banjos and fiddles. This regular gathering of amateurs soon went public, encouraged in large part by Mr. Cochran's interests, both musical and financial. Best as anyone can recollect, it was along about 1986 when the Friday Night Cochran's Store Jamboree first became a regular feature in downtown Floyd.

Some things have changed in the store's appearance since it was a general store. The interior of the store is now mostly bare of merchandise, except for some dusty remnants that are more like props of 'authentic' rural economy lining the walls -- old bonnets and small farm implements, a few handmade baskets, and Prince Albert in a can -- and you can still get a decent hotdog, 'made fresh daily' but only on Friday and Saturday nights when the store opens to the public. The shelves that used to cover the main floor have been removed, and there is now an empty space that will accommodate 150 folding metal chairs, row jam packed on row, and most seats filled come Friday nights. Push a few of the front rows to the side, and there is a 100 square foot section of resonant wood flooring that bears the marks of a million heel clicks from ten thousand cloggers on a thousand Floyd Friday nights.

Many of those middle-aged men who jammed with Freeman Cochran in the back of the Feed and Seed are now in their middle and late 70's. They still come every Friday night (and a few women-folk musicians with them) although they mostly leave early. They would no more think of missing a meeting than of neglecting the gathering of themselves together at the Baptist Church on Sunday mornings. The Jamboree, in a sense, is Friday night praise and worship, and the faithful of an earlier generation always turn out. With them and their instruments, they bring that old time religion in their demeanor, by their barely audible banter with the audience. And of course, they unashamedly spread the good news prominently in their music. The crowd is quieted by the telling of a couple of 'good clean jokes' and then hushed with bowed heads, led in prayer for God's blessing in the offering of the musical faith of their fathers, played on the very instruments their fathers played. As much a social gathering as musical, the Jamboree attracts visitors from all over the region and the world. They come to be part of an Appalachian cultural experience that in it's unchanging quality stands in contrast to the fast-moving impermanence of the larger America outside the Floyd city limits.

The Country Store changed ownership last in 1999, and is now owned by two music-loving, enterprising attorneys from North Carolina. They have maintained continuity of the old traditions by virtue of Mr. Roberson's participation as the general manager. He was one of the original owners and has played music in the store since before it became a public event. He has carried over everything as it always has been on Friday nights, even if there are now some benign structural changes to serve the growing crowds of visitors. And now, Saturday nights too, the store is open for music, for a higher ticket price and to a generally younger audience. On a Saturday night, guests from all over the southeast have come to hear out-of-town musical groups with well-known names who will play from the stage, where the night before, the diety was invoked to bless a less refined but unmistakably genuine joyful noise from a former chapter in Floyd's long history of music and community.

Read the piece about the Country Store from the Washington Post, Friday, November 2, 2001

March 15, 2003

Ha Ha Ha

On the weekends (heck. Any day, really) the visits to Fragments are rare enough that new sitemeter records that someone has visited are welcome as rain in May. I noticed this morning that someone had come to Fragments by way of an MSN Search.

"Ann" I hollered into the kitchen" somebody came here from a search for 'bucollic scene' ".

"Isn't that some kind of plague carried by fleas?" she retorted.

If there's anything I hate in response to a silly and pointless statement, it's a witty retort. Very funny.

The Teacher Ate My Homework

The End of Homework : How Homework Disrupts Families, Overburdens Children, and Limits Learning
by Etta Kralovec (Author), John Buell (Author)

Have you heard this debate? Homework is oppressing America's children and their parents and should be abolished.

Certainly a case can be made that homework should not replace excellent classroom instruction or be a form of punishment, and it should be metered out in moderation, balanced against "assignments" that lead a child learner in directions of their intellectual curiosity and in line with a larger vocational and avocational hopes.

There are arguments on both sides of this debate, and homework works greater hardships on some lower-income single-parent families, it is true. Chief among arguments opposed is that homework is taking away American families' quality time together, and usurping time when the student would rather be reading and otherwise exploring material of their own choosing. As I listened to this issue on public radio the other day, I kept waiting for someone to mention perhaps that if children would cut way back on TV watching and computer play, there would be ample time for well-chosen and moderate amounts of homework. This was never mentioned.

Consider these facts from the Center for Media Education:

  • Most children watch an average of 3 to 4 hours of TV per day, approximately 28 hours each week.

  • Watching TV is the #1 after-school activity for 6 to 17 year olds.

  • Each year most children spend about 1500 hours in front of the TV and 900 hours in the classroom.

  • By age 70, most people will have spent about 10 years watching TV.

Should American schools declare and end to homework? Or does this point of view sound as if it might be the snivveling complaint of self-absorbed parents who don't want to be burdened by the academic stressors afflicting their overly-indulged children who'd rather be watching Spongebob Squarepants?

March 14, 2003

Radio Days

Psychic numbness. That's my explanation. A mild form of detached depression that makes everything seem flat, blurry, shades of gray. I drive along to town and my mind, usually bouncing from idea to memory to flash of insight or whimsy, is thinking: nothing. The signs of spring do nothing to arouse any joy. The fact that it is warm enough to turn on the AC in the truck for the first time registers no pleasure that winter is finally over. It is as if the experience of joy, enthusiasm, anticipation, contemplation-- requires a neurohumor that in me has been spent, used up over the past months, exhausted by perpetual assault of the collective psychosis of a world too much with me. I am preparing myself for what lies ahead by pulling in my antennae, raising the shields, calling up steel and novacaine, preparing the emotional tourniquettes, making ready. It is unfamiliar, sad terraine. My hands drive while my mind spins without motion, out of gear.

At last, weary of the internal silence, I turned on the radio-- making sure I punched the third AM button that would carry me directly into nostalgia. Playing: The Fleetwoods --Mr. Blue. Wha-oo-wha-oo. I stuck my head up cautiously from my psychological foxhole, removed my protective helmet and looked off into the haze of years.

I was 11 years old that spring of 1959, and for my birthday I got my first portable transister radio. It was powder-blue and the size of a loaf of bread-- amazingly tiny by the standards of the day -- but heavy enough to require a thick handle on top. This was the perfect gift at the perfect time in my young life. Radio waves had become magical to me, amazed me, stirred my imagination and spoke of future cities buzzing with flying cars and robots and elevated highways winding between mysterious angular buildings.

For a year or more before the new blue portable came along, my tiny red Crystal Rocket Radio, with a gentle pull on the nosecone antenna, could convert the mysterious penetrating frequencies into the play-by-play from a baseball game as far away as Chicago or steely jazz straight from New Orleans. It was an utter marvel to me that invisible waves of energy were beaming through my roof, into me, through me; and with the 'decoder ring' built into a receiver, those imperceptible mystery-waves were transformed by some strange alchemy into this amazing cacophony of music and words and ideas.

Through radio, the world began to take form, full of sound and meaning, pierced with melodies and words I had never heard or thought. The squealing, fading signal coming through the tiny earpiece on a twisted wire told of a future I would be a part of. I called my radio Mr. Blue. This plastic piece of 'information techology' marked the beginning of a hunger to belong to a world beyond my backyard fence.

I'll not put too fine an edge of this. I haven't the energy to flesh it out adequately this morning. Suffice it to say that 10 years after Mr. Blue, I bought a shortwave radio. Still mesmerized by hearing the Babel noise of a shrinking world, I would tweak the digital dials for hours to bring in squealing fading signals from beyond my continent. But I could only listen.

Now, 40 years after Mr. Blue, I am connected to the planet in a way I never would have dreamed in my fantasies of future worlds. Instantaneous connections, immediate 'news', a million squealing Babel-voices at my fingertips, amd mine is one of them.... the information of a thousand civilizations at the touch of a few buttons.

There will be days in the coming weeks when you will hear nothing from me. I will have retreated into my bunker, unable or unwilling to transmit the static that passes for contemplation, fit only for my own company, and unwilling to listen to the world's noise. I still haven't decided, but when I go underground, I'll probably take my oldies radio with me.

A Pox on Thy Loins

Ya gotta love a medium like the internet that will bring you across such wonderful nuggets like this one I browsed across this morning...

More than 2,000 years after Herod the Great succumbed at age 69, doctors have now settled on exactly what killed the king of ancient Judea: chronic kidney disease complicated by a very uncomfortable case of maggot-infested gangrene of the genitals.

March 13, 2003

One Hand Clapping

I once had a friend I described as the kind of person you want to be with when you want to be by yourself.

Tonight, I am this kind of person. So, if you are in need of solitude, join me.

Maybe, in the morning my brain will reinhabit my body.

March 12, 2003

Field of Dreams

image copyright Fred First

Four years ago, March, the old field across from the house was choked with 13-year-old White Pine trees. (You can count the number of whorls of brances and age them in this way.) They had been planted, we were told, to harvest as Christmas trees. Paid for 'by the tree' they were planted way too close together, then neglected and grown tall and spindly in long dreary rows. Each anemic tree wore bare branches almost to the top, starved of light by its nearest neighbors. Rank and file, they grew in monotonous congestion on the only level land in this small mountain valley within our boundaries.

Three years ago, March, the neighbors with the backhoe began the tedious process of pushing the pine treelets over in the sandy bottomland. Twenty feet high, they would soon be too dense and heavy to deal with if we didn't go ahead and remove them. Through the spring and into the summer, as we accumulated little bits of 'extra money', they'd come and doze, then burn another acre when they were brittle and dry. By the fall, the 'pasture' was a rough and bare muddy plane, but we imagined it green and inviting, someday. In October, we bought 300 pounds of rye and scattered it by hand on a cold day, in a strong wind, across the six acres and waited for the rains to come.

The next March, two years ago, the rye came up ever so slowly from the cold ground. Then, with the warm days of May and June, it surged up chest high and our muddy flat began to look like a pasture. In July, the deer at dusk walked into the standing grain, higher than my head, and disappeared into the mist that settled into the valley.

A year ago this month, our neighbor came and put down lime. In May, he broadcast a pasture mix of several grasses and clover, and cut seventeen large round bales from it in the fall. From the far end, we can look back down the long narrow valley over the pasture and see the house and barn, and at night from the middle of the open space, there is more of heaven around me than I can comprehend.

We walk up the pasture, along the creek and back every day... Ann, the dog and I. This green pasture feels as if it has always been just so, waiting for us to find our field of dreams.

Chestnut Roasting on a Open Fire

I told here about a week ago about how I cutup an old barn timber for firewood. I lamented about how bad I felt using it for heat. The old oak beam had served its purpose, and it made a nice quick fire. But it wasn't oak after all, and now I feel even worse about using it for kindling...

It was Chestnut. American Chestnut.

I could tell from the density and weight of the 9 foot 12" round beams that it was not pine. Besides, it had been stacked on its end propped up against a tree at the edge of the pasture now for a couple years, and the ground end of a pine log would have started getting spongy and weak. And when I cut it in sections with the chain saw, the grain was more open like oak, and not yellow-green like poplar. It wasn't until I began to split some of the stove lengths for kindling with the hatchet that I noticed: the long, straight grain that splits so easily along the grain but is tough against it; the golden-yellow color unlike any other wood common around here; and the characteristic little holes that are typical of old "wormy chestnut".

Sorry, I lost where this image came from last week. FFChestnut, you probably know, was once a dominant tree (about 50% of many eastern forests) and provided nuts for food (pigs especially loved chestnuts), wood for rail fences and railroad ties, furniture and tools, and tannins for leather making. Chestnut was the 'supermarket of the backwoods'. The species... not just a large number of trees... the species of American Chestnut succumbed to a fungal pest first noted in the Bronx Zoological Gardens in the early years of the 20th century. By 1920, the trees (that commonly reached 100 feet tall and 5-6 feet in diameter) were all dying and thereafter, new growth would be killed by the same organism that would persist in the roots of the tree.

The wood has amazing tolerance to decay (which is why it made such great split rail fences) and there are still remnants of the fallen giants in the woods here in southwest Virginia. We have found split chestnut rails along our boundary here... 70 or more years old, and still solid enough that we will use them to fashion a crude stacked fence along the road some day. But I had never seen stout timbers of chestnut, so perhaps can be forgiven for not recognizing it at first.

When I discovered it was chestnut, I rescued four pieces from the woodpile. I'll do something creative with them some day... carve something, spin it on a lathe and make a candlestick... if I ever have the tools. The way things will go, I can pretty well predict: I'll put them over in the barn for later, and never get around to working with them. Twenty years from now, one of the kids will find a couple of old chunks of wood stored there for no known reason; but knowing they belonged to mom and dad, they'll leave them be. Twenty years later, the grandchildren will be cleaning out the barn, find four chunks of non-descript wood. And they will toss them into the wood stove.

March 11, 2003

Recess is Over

Discuss why the phrase "Appalachian Identity" is misleading, incorrect or at least problematic. Consider either emic or etic explanations or globalization concepts or both in your answer. Include a discussion of hegemony as well.

Joy! Only one question to go to finish my take-home mid-term. I'm finding that it's not so much fun to write when you must as when you may. And with my science background, I come at this senior level Humanities course like a carpenter trying to build a china cabinet out of two-by-fours and 10-penny nails. I don't have the jargon or sociological way of looking at things to fabricate answers I'm proud of. I have, however, met the bulk requirement so that, even if they're the wrong words, there are enough of them.

Spring break (ha! ha!) is over and I go back to class today. Whimper.

Tempest in a Tiny Town

Meanwhile, back at the ranch... the debate over the fate of Floyd rages on. The decision about the coming of Food Lion Grocery Store (yes, the 60 Minutes Food Lion) continues in an increasingly strident tone. The 'old school' sez hit don't matter who comes to put up shop in Floyd, if they hire anybody paying anything or serve any kind of 'food' that's just dandy and you hippies, if you don't like it that you can't just come in and take over, then maybe you should just move back to Berkeley. Understanding that you don't fight fire with gasoline, hopefully this short letter I wrote that was printed in the Floyd Press last week will throw some water on the impending conflagration. Or not.

Floyd is in an excellent position right now to change in a desirable and focused way. The people of Floyd can have jobs, convenience, revenue, small-town quality and pace of life, and an active and diverse community life; but these can only be obtained if all of us work cooperatively and proactively, while public input is welcomed and before final decisions are made that cannot be easily modified.

How many of our New River Valley communities, I wonder, now wish that they had been more forward-thinking a few years ago as they planned their growth and made the decisions about what they were willing to give up in order to get that growth. Now, for some of those localities, it's too late. In Floyd, though, this is just the right time to work on these opportunities for purposeful change.

The slow pace and rural charm of the town make it attractive to the increasing population of visitors who come to shop and enjoy our music, shops, and restaurants. These visitors seek out Floyd because of it's uniqueness, choosing to come here not for convenience or predictable hamburgers, but because it is not a cookie-cutter reproduction of small towns that have readily welcomed without question the franchised fast foods, shopping strips and growth-at-any-price construction. New industry and businesses of the right kind can be good for Floyd, but I hope we'll always ask if it is consistent with our collective vision for what we all want our town and county to become in the long view of things.

To make this happen, we must find ways for the traditional values, history, arts and crafts, and wisdom of those who have grown up in these gentle hills to be blended with the energy, experience, skills and creativity brought to the county by those who have chosen just this wonderful place to build their lives. The future of the county can be created by shared goals or it can just happen. This is our choice.

March 10, 2003

Sticking ya Neck Out

I don't remember what I was looking for in the Fragments archives when I ran across this interesting image (you may have missed back in December) borrowed from a fellow-Floydian's webpage.

For some reason, it strikes me, seeing this dumb beast who has stuck its neck where it had no business and then couldn't extracate itself from same... that there could well be a poignant and pithy political caption at this particular time.

Can anybody put words into the mouth of Condoleezza Cow?

Earth Mover

Although I have often cursed them on my knees in the garden while inspecting the wilted remains of future vegetables; I've nearly fallen when stepping into 'empty soil' over one of their tunnels; and we've found their green gall bladders on our back porch (thanks to the cat)... never, before yesterday, had I held in my hands a living Eastern Mole. It was a first encounter with the grotesque but somehow charming creature that could have been featured in a B-grade sci-fi movie. What a weird little dude! Buster had found it, and was carrying it around gently in his mouth when I stepped out the back door yesterday. He gave it to me readily.

Eastern Mole from http://www.moletunnel.net/ The velvet-black round-bodied squirming, squeaking insectivore in my (gloved) hands has no eyes (as they live in the dark underground) and no visible external ears (which would only get in the way and fill with dirt as they 'swim' through the soil). The fur is 'hinged' and moves like suede in all directions equally without resistance. The nose (you should see the bizarre snout of the Star-nosed mole!) is short, hairless and blood-red and incredibly sensitive (to vibration? heat? worm chemistry? all of these?) and aids him (in the relative absence of vision or hearing) in finding his favorite foods... earthworms and grubs. But perhaps the most amazing thing about this little chipmunk-sized creature that wiggles in my hands is his front paws!

They are massive in comparison to the size of the body. My hands would be the size of garbage can lids if proportionately sized! The five claws on each 'hand' are likewise grotesquely large and powerful and the limbs are so shortened that the front feet appear to be attached directly to the shoulder. Not only that, but the forelimbs are rotated (compared to most mammals) to enhance their remarkable earth moving abilities. How perfectly adapted this uncommonly seen creature is to his subterranean life that goes on under my very feet!

Having known this little mammal up close and personal now, I'll never demonize moles any more. Except when they tunnel under my tomato plants and ruin the carrots. That's a different matter altogether and it's him or me. I'll trap and bait and I'll stomp the soft earth with my size 12's and I'll even pen the mole-hungry cat in the garden overnight! But maybe I'm just making a mountain out of a... well, you know.

Some amazing mole facts:

  • Because of specialized bone and muscle construction, moles can exert a lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its body weight. (Arlton 1936) As a comparison, a 150 lb. man would be able to exert a 4800 lb. lateral force.
  • "For moles to dig one metre of tunnel requires between 400 and 4,000 times as much energy as does walking for the same distance on the surface." (Vleck 1979 University of Arizona.)
  • A 5 ounce mole will consume 45 to 50 lbs. of worms and insects per year. Godfrey and Crowcroft (1960) Mellanby (1967)
  • A moles surface tunneling or probes can be dug at about 18 feet per hour. A moles speed through existing tunnels is about 80 ft. per minute. Godfrey (1955)
  • Moles contain twice as much blood and twice as much red hemoglobin as other mammals of similar size, allowing the mole to breath easily in its underground environment of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide. (Arlton 1936)

March 9, 2003

Run, Forest!

We were taking our late afternoon puppy walk (which we really know is for the sake of the wife, but dog goes along with this charade) making the loop around the edge of the pasture. This is an easy half-mile walk that follows an old postal road (built in the 20's, still known locally as the 'New Road')up the valley and returns to the house along the creek side of the pasture. There's not 10 feet of elevation change going this way, and at our usual 3 mph pace, this 10 minute walk is generally a peaceful end to the daylight hours here.

We were about half way down the New Road when I saw two black shapes coming down off the ridge almost to the edge of the pasture. I called for Ann, who was walking behind me, to turn around and I called Buster to COME! So much a follower of his nose, there would have been many times he would not have seen them, and we could have turned him around toward the house. Not this time. He had spotted them across the pasture, and he lit full out after them.

As Buster raced toward them, on the bare slope of the ridge, I could now see: these were dogs at least our dog's size (90-100 pounds). Looked like Rottweilers, never seen them before, and if there was a fight, and if these were of a mind to, they could have done some real damage to our buddy Buster. He's still not 100% after his recent unknown condition that has left him with pelvic girdle weakness and with a painful right hind leg. Not only that, he's a pacifist dog, a Floyd home-schooled type, and doesn't believe in violence. It wouldn't have been a fair fight. I had to help!

So, the next thing I know, I find myself running out across the pasture clomping in my hightop rubber barn boots, down into the creek, up the steep slope pushing my way through the briars, calling oh-so-futilely for Buster to come back. Last I'd seen, he and one of the dogs were circling each other menacingly and then all three of them took off up the ridge out of sight. So straight up the 30 degree grade I go like a cross-country runner half my age, oblivious and full of adrenalin, not having a clue what I am going to do if confronted by two hundred pounds of Rottweiller who are attacking me and/or my dog. I didn't even have my usual hiking stick!

By the time I reached the lower logging road where I last saw the dogs running, oxygen debt had caught up with me. Buster! WHEEZE! Buster! WHEEZE! This is what is meant by suckin' wind. Should I encounter mad dogs at that moment, I would've just had to lie down and be dog food.

While I was wheezing and gasping in place, Buster appeared and he was speeding toward me, down the road, his nose to the ground. He raced past me, down the path I had just taken, back down toward the creek, following the scent of three dogs and one rubberlegged geezer in rubber boots. So, down the hill I go, back through the briars, hollering praise to Buster for coming back. "Good Boy, Buster, lets go get a treat!" This will usually turn him in his tracks from whatever he's doing.

Not this time. Just as it looked like he was going to go home with me, he turned around and headed back up the hillside again. I didn't even bother trying to follow him. The legs refused. Meanwhile, Ann had run back to the house and was now hurrying anxiously up the pasture with my .22. (Nevermind that the clip was not in it.) Buster saw her coming, and he came back down the hill, and we wobbled home together just before dark. What a relaxing way to end the day!

Haven't seen the strange black dogs since. But we may want to carry the rifle on our walks for a while... this time, also bullets. And you know, I never was sore like I expected to be. The ol' boy ain't dead yet.

March 8, 2003

Gaining Perspective

This is a neat image of the planet at the day-night zone, even if it was NOT taken by the ill-fated Columbia crew. They saw it, or something like it, that's for sure, and I can imagine how seeing the world 'from a distance' does give one an awe for Earth that we can only imagine.

While your on the Image from Space page above, take a look also at this composite image of an iceberg.

Thanks, Sugarfused, for pointing us to these pix!

North Korea? Fiddledee Dee

Wait a minute. The reason that we are going to invade Iraq now is because they have WMD and pose a 'real threat' at some point to American soil. And if we wait, Iraq will eventually have the capability to reach our shores with a long range missle carrying nuclear, bio or chem agents. Meanwhile...

...Pyongyang is thought to have about 5,000 tons of chemical agents, plus an ample stock of biological agents.

....Experts believe North Korea's secretive chemical weapons program includes thousands of tons each of blistering mustard gas and the sarin nerve agent. North Korea also has unknown quantities of other nerve agents like VX, blood agents, choking gasses and riot control agents.

...Biological agents are thought to include anthrax, cholera and bubonic plague. (from CNN March 3)

And: New York, March. 8. (PTI): North Korean fighter jets that intercepted an unarmed US spy plane over the Sea of Japan last weekend were trying to force the aircraft to land in the Stalinist State and take its crew hostage, a senior American defence official claimed.

We know their nuclear ambitions...and wasn't it just last week that NK tested a long range missle capable of striking the US western coast?

So: Who is the bigger threat to us at this moment? Is it so hard to see why the world doesn't make sense of what Mr. Bush is claiming? I certainly am confused.

Saturday Soapbox

I got one of those massively-forwarded emails last night. This one was recounting "11 things you won't learn in school" that Bill Gates (unlikely but possibly) told a high school class recently. I'll put them all in the MORE link at the bottom of this post, if you're interested. Rule Number 8 elicited a personal reflection that got my blood pressure up a notch and spawned this rant...

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Someone recently asked me why I left teaching after twelve years. I'll give the short answer that includes my reaction to Rule #8.

I was told by the Dean of Instruction to dumb down the Anatomy and Physiology tests, so more of the nursing and med lab students would pass. Why couldn't I do what other teachers at the Community College were doing: give students as many opportunities to take the test as it took for them to pass it. The Dean didn't say this, but he knew it was going on and tacitly condoned this method of making 'successful' graduates we would send out into the 'world of work'.

The Dean reminded me (in a condescending tone) that the Virginia Community College System had an "open door" policy, allowing many first-generation college students the opportunity to get a college education, and failing them in my class was working at cross purposes to the philosophy of the college (read: we lose FTE reimbursement when students flunk out of school).

I suggested to the Dean that perhaps the open door policy was not the way to go for the Nursing and Med Lab Technician programs that required a higher level language skill and the ability to think abstractly and understand scientific concepts. I wondered if we were doing the unprepared student a disservice by allowing her into a program where the chances of failure were high, and a disservice to that student who was adequately prepared but was not able to enroll because that vastly ill-prepared student had gotten through the open door first and filled the last slot in the class.

And I strongly expressed my concerns that we were not preparing these health care workers to face the real world by giving only multiple-guess questions or allowing retakes on the exams until they got it right. What these students know or don't know can kill someone, I told the dean. They have to know the difference between milliliters and millimeters and get it right the first time (I told him, in response to an accusation that my questions were 'tricky').

This same encounter with the dean (two different deans) happened three times over the course of my last three years of my twelve year teaching career. I conceded my standards only in simplifying the sentence structure on my tests. The open door policy remained intact. The attrition rate in A&P remained unchanged. I had dumbed down 'real life' to the point below which I couldn't live with myself, so I left teaching in 1987 and became a student again.

And let me tell you, the physical therapy program I entered had such unreasonably high demands... I thought maybe I'd go to the Dean and see if they couldn't lower the standards a bit; maybe let us retake the tests, reduce the number of muscles in the human body... that sort of thing. Smirk. Actually, the program had quite a different philosophy that I would have advocated for our Community College healthcare programs: The selection up front was amazingly rigorous, so that if you were one of the few accepted into the program, you were deemed capable of getting through it and would get the support you needed to succeed. The faculty would work intensely with any student having difficulty with any of the rigorous demands of the program to address their learning difficulties in a particular topic... let them rethink a problem until they understood it. That approach prepared us for the real world of dealing with infinitely complex issues in human biology.

All of 'Bill Gates Rules....'

To anyone with kids of any age, or anyone who has ever been a kid, here's some advice Bill Gates recently dished out at a high school speech about 11 things they did not learn in school. He talks about how feel-good politically correct teachings created a full generation of kids with no concept of reality and how this concept set them up for failure in the real world.

Rule 1: Life is not fair - get used to it.

Rule 2: The world won't care about your self-esteem. The world will expect you to accomplish something BEFORE you feel good about yourself.

Rule 3: You will NOT make 40 thousand dollars a year right out of high school. You won't be a vice-president with a car phone, until you earn both.

Rule 4: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss. He doesn't have tenure.

Rule 5: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping - they called it opportunity.

Rule 6: If you mess up, it's not your parents' fault, so don't whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 7: Before you were born, your parents weren't as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills,cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you are. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parents' generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they'll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life.

Rule 9: Life is not divided into semesters. You don't get summers off and very few employers are interested in helping you find yourself. Do that on your own time.

Rule 10: Television is NOT real life? In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop and go to jobs.

Rule 11: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one

March 7, 2003

Will There Be More Resignations?

John Brady Kiesling, a veteran U.S. diplomat based in Greece, sent this letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin Powell on Feb. 27.

...Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

[...]When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security and justice for the planet?

Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving administration. But your loyalty to the president goes too far.

Read the whole letter posted yesterday in the Oregonian.

Read a detailed reply regarding this resignation at Foolsblog, posted 03.08.03

More on Ecsher

I intended to put a link to Mr. Escher's work in the previous post. But it really deserves an entry in its own right. This is the best quick link I have found, picturing a good bit of his later work. A more complete gallery is here, with his more recent works in Rooms 3 and 4.

We have a couple of Escher's studio books that go back to late college days. There has always been a mystery and a solace in the visual surprise that he instills in his images, a shock that is sometimes startling or unsettling, at other times a revelation or an inspiration.

If you are to really appreciate the man's genius, get the book out of your library. Sit with a magnifying glass (I did this with 3-yr-old Nathan in my lap one rainy afternoon... messed his head for good!) and take in the detail. Take your time. This exercise will give you a new 'perspective' on perspective and form, and perhaps encourage you to see the ordinary again, for the first time.

Lastly, his work is remarkably mathematical. Read this wonderful explanation of this man and his art from a math point of view that incorporates explanations with the images.

UPDATE: Escher "flythrough" and puzzle (click on download on this page)!

But What Does it Mean?

This image is burning a hole in my brain. Maybe it's my herpetological fascination with the lizards (micro-alligators?) Or more likely, it is the way this sculture from Berlin reminds me of an M C Escher drawing (or a study for same) and the way his images reverberate at some deep place in one's dreams.

This picture was posted in a link at Wood's Lot yesterday. The reference page is in German. Mark offers an 'improved' translation page called GISTING, but I couldn't make it work this morning and had to resort to this gobbledeegook from Google. If anyone knows what the narrative on this page tells about the sculpture, I'd like to know.

BTW, as I scrolled down the page, I was pleasantly surprised to find a link at Wood's Lot from yesterday to a Fragments entry titled Honor of Wood that I wrote a few days ago.

If He Had a Hammer

Consistent with my ambivalent tendencies of increasing concerns combined with decreasing inclination to post about political topics, let me just say that following a recent major speech, I came away with no encouragement that wisdom will prevail and what kept running around in my brain was the truism...

If all you have is a hammer, everythings' gonna look like a nail.

Can You Hear the Seagulls?

I am a student again, and I guess technically, I am on Spring Break. Where do kids from Iowa, say, go on Spring Break? It just occurred to me that not everybody rushes to Myrtle Beach (like folks from around here and from down in NC where we used to live) or to Panama City Beach or Daytona (where my crowd from Birmingham or Auburn would go). What do you do if you have the problem of 'continentality' and are landlocked for a thousand miles? What! No Beach Music in March? It's Spring Break at Virginia Tech, and I'm having urges to hear the surf and some 4-4 shuffling music.

True Beach Music ... the kind you can **SHAG to (provided that unlike me, you can dance) was a Carolina Coast creation back in the mid-40's, so they say. And it's still hot down there. Our little town in western NC had a mid-summer festival, hauled in a hundred tons of beach sand and poured the streets full. There's something in the sand that just makes you want to dance, or pretend to. And it helps to have a warm salty wind, a cool malt beverage and the music of the Tams or the Embers playing loudly in the "pavillion".

Here's one dude that envisions a Beach Music Renaissance. Count me in. Even if I just stand in the sand swaying off-kilter and pretend I'm tall and tan and young and buff. I do, at least, still have my imagination intact. Yes! Wait! I can smell Coppertone! So be young. Be foolish. But be happy...

Schoolkids throughout the Southeast evinced an interest in the music and dance heritage unique to their region. Radio stations responded with Shag and karaoke contests for them, their parents and their grandparents.

People who stood on the sidelines from the 40s--90s, wishing they were dancing, showed new interest in Shag lessons offered by YMCAs and Community Colleges.

Adults in Europe, Australia, the Far East, and South America bought instructional videos to learn more about this dance tantalizingly similar to the jitterbug and bop they grew up on, yet somehow more sensuous, leisurely, and carefree, suiting their desire to dance without overextending muscles away from the gridiron, basketball and volleyball courts for decades.

** The dance term SHAGGING predates Austin Powers by, oh, about 50 years. I suppose there are some southern Baptists who see little difference in the old and the new use of the word, only a matter of angle and with or without music. And sand. Although there may be sand. I think I'll excuse myself now, I've said enuff.

March 6, 2003

Go To Your Phones. Don't Delay!

Easy shipping, immediate delivery! Hundreds of them! They're cute! They're compact! and They're hungry! Don't delay!

You say the word. To the first one of you who asks... they're yours. I can have them out of here and on their way in five minutes, by simply putting a piece of the increasingly useful and versatile duct tape over the hole, a shipping label on the outside, and no return address. Two days: you'll have our vacuum cleaner bag full of Japanese Lady Bugs (and parts thereof).

"The beetles that are in your garden today slept in our window sills last night!"

Build It And They Will Come

Oh joy! Sitting down with the Floyd County Comprehensive Plan for 2000. This ought to be a yawner, I thought, after acquiring it on loan from the County Supervisor last week. I'm going to have to read the thing and make some sense out of it so I can put Floyd's recent demographic changes and tourism goals into the context of the county's overall growth projections (especially as this relates to 'cultural tourism') and use this to say something about the collective 'identity' of the county. This is a large part of my research project I'm doing for 'class'.

I rather hesitate to confess it, but I found (parts of) the Plan fascinating. There are all sorts of narrative histories, maps (oh joy!) and pie charts and figures that are interesting because they are about matters that are real and are relevant to me because I intend to live here for the long haul. Given the recent conflicts over sudden changes thrust upon the county, the Plan interests me because it is the product of intention, an attempt to insure that change here is the consequence of collective creation, not a random, chaotic accident as seems to have already happened to other small bergs in southwest Virginia. But I'm getting on my soapbox here already, and I've a long way to go before I have enough 'data' to reach any meaningful conclusions.

I should know better than to inflict these random Floyd fragments on readers who have bigger things on their minds; but you know my threshold for posting is rather low, and if it feels good to me at 5:00 in the morning when my fingers first hit the keys, off it goes. (You can always just ignore me for a few days until I put up a picture of the dog or something worth looking at. Humor me. Okay?) Putting all this together is a largish part of how I will be spending my time in the next two months, and as you are painfully aware, I tend to write my life in agonizing detail. Anywho...below are just a few of the pieces related to tourism potential for my county taken from the Comprehensive Plan:

  • "Tourism is an $11 billion-plus industry in the Commonwealth of Virginia (Virginia Tourism Corporation, 1999). According to the U. S. Department of the Interior, in 1998 Virginia had more recreational visits (almost 2.3 million) to National Park Service Areas than any other surrounding states. Of the 7 million visitor days to National Park Service areas in Virginia in 1998, more than half (54.9%) were spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • "Of the 217 miles of Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, 40 of those miles are in Floyd County. Mabry Mill, the most photographed site on the Blue Ridge Parkway is located in Floyd County. "

  • "Due in part to its mountains, its natural beauty and its history, Floyd County has grown a rich base of talented, renowned artists and artisans".

  • "Floyd County's many natural and cultural assets and its prime location along the Blue Ridge Parkway have helped make Floyd County one of the fastest growing tourism markets in western Virginia. Tourism revenue in the county increased from 6.3 million in 1995 to $11.1 million in 2000 according to the Virginia Tourism Corporation, a jump of 76%. This far outpaced the growth in Virginia at large" (32% during same time period).

How the county, with its rich population of artistic 'come-heres' will promote and benefit from 'cultural tourism' while maintaining its rural charm and without leaving out the older, more traditional and silent segment of the population ... these are questions I'll be asking.

March 5, 2003

Give Peace a Cozy Cell

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - A man was charged with trespassing in a mall after he refused to take off a T-shirt that said "Peace on Earth" and "Give peace a chance."

Mall security approached Stephen Downs, 61, and his 31-year-old son, Roger, on Monday night after they were spotted wearing the T-shirts at Crossgates Mall in a suburb of Albany, the men said. (link via PhillipCoons.com)

Lord, Grant us Perspective

What he said.

Thanks, Sainteros, for this introspective on perspective. And for reminding us that it is already Ash Wednesday.

Sibling Salad

Our two children will both be in the air this week, flying out of Vermont and North Dakota, coincidentally taking trips at the same time, related to their work or school. In one of those odd synchronicities, both will flying to Philadelphia during the same week, and their trips will overlap on Friday and Saturday. They are planning to spend Friday evening together, brother and sister, as adults.

He is five years younger than his sister, but that doesn't represent the huge power gap that it did long ago. Ann and I spoke of how pleased we were that the kids are making the effort to spend some time together, that they seem genuinely eager to see each other. This despite the fact that they didn't always enjoy one another's company so very much.

Ann and I remembered the one time when we had been away, leaving the kids with a baby-sitter (a neighbor who was only a few years older than our oldest, and we learned later, an accomplice to all sorts of pranks in general and benign abuse to our daughter's baby brother in particular). We came home earlier than expected. The girls had locked trusting and tractable three-year-old Nathan in a wire rabbit cage and were feeding him carrots through the wire.

What if they're sitting in a nice restaurant in downtown Philly on Friday night having dinner. Nate looks down at his salad. His eyes become strangely fixed on the carrot in his salad.

It could get ugly.

The Few, the Cheap, the Frozen

If spring doesn't come about a month early this year, you will read reports of two hermetic individuals found expired, 'by exposure' the obits will read. And the local authorities will scratch their heads and say "Well I swar, Cletus, whatchareckon these two ol' fools wuzza thinkin', propane tankuz full, fair to middlin stack of farwood over yonder and them freezin to death in they own home. Maybe ituz some kinda cult thing, or maybe something like that Lent whar ya give up somethin' you really like. Shame tho".

Ann is too cheap to turn on the gas heat, hearing that prices are going up by 30% and envisioning, in her catastrophist manner, that gas will suddenly become unavailable at any price. And I've declared a thermostat reduction program to conserve what little dry firewood is out there covered up under the tarp. In this house, the rule henceforth is "No fire in the woodstove until you've exhausted all the extra-clothing options and are still showing early hypothermia". Sorry. That's the rule imposed by Goose Creek Homeland Skurity.

So. There'll be a tankful of propane left for anybody that wants it, when we're gone. But don't mess with the firewood. That's my Memorial Marker, and I've asked that it be moved to where they lay me out, instead of a chunk of shiny granite that gives one the false illusion of persistence and permanence, and which would have to be inscribed with words something like...

This old fool froze solid as this stone in his own house. And he still ain't warm

March 4, 2003

Okay. I Give up. Tell me how.

Ron Bailey, I was just sitting here actually pretending to do real work when you sent this baffling thingy along and wrecked my state of blissful mindlessness. Alright! Uncle. I'm skunked.

I've done this trick now maybe 20 times, and it's brought up the right symbol every time.... too high a success rate to be random chance. If I just concentrate on a certain symbol without doing the arithmetic, it doesn't work.

I promise to be very impressed with the smarty that can tell me how this works. And magic is not an acceptable answer. And if you would, get back to me here in the next half hour or so, because I don't think I'll be able to sleep until you figure this out for me! This one's got me weirded out big time!

Carnival Twenty-Something

The Acidman at Gut Rumbles is a day early with this week's posting of Carnival of the Vanities. And can you believe it... it seems he finally has come out of his shell and is callin' em like he sees em, in a creative curmudgeonly sort of way, of course.

What Smells?

The Emperor of Scent post the other day got me thinking more about the role of the unappreciated sense of smell in our lives and memories. I'll come back to this sometime. Meanwhile, here is an interesting chapter from Scents of Time (Copyright 1999 by The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art).

Do you know the eight most influential scents in history?

Can you name even one of the major fragrance families?

I don't know diddley about perfume. But I know what I like and what I remember, and I have strong recollections of the way things smelled as a child. It was about high school memories of fragrance that I was going to write, soon. Meanwhile, do your homework and read this article. There will be a pop test.

PeeKahns. PeeCans. Y'uns is all Nuts

We had us a little go-round a few months back here at Fragments about accents and dialects. 'member? I was pointed toward this interesting piece from Harvard Magazine by the folks over at PhillipCoons.com recently. Your accent and the regionalisms in your speech may be more indelible than you think, even if you can switch into your 'college register' on command, when your crowd of listeners changes.

Vaux's survey results reveal that even widespread pronunciations or words are in fact strikingly distinctive to particular regions. The word "pecan," for example, is pronounced "pee-can" primarily in the northeast. In the rest of the country, "pee-kahn" and "pick-Ahn" prevail. Northerners from Minnesota to Maine say "crayfish"; Southerners along the coast say "crawfish"; and those in the middle call it a "crawdad." With no stigma or obvious geographic affiliation attached, these words are likely to remain part of a person's vocabulary, Vaux says: "We are not consciously aware of many features of our own speech."

Along similar lines, if your family hails from the Original 13 here, your particular dialect may have its roots going back to pre-colonial days, depending on who settled where. I ran across this interesting linguistic map of Pennsylvania in my class research. There are still discernable traces of language differences that are heavily influenced by the Pennsylvania Dutch (which of course is German ... Deutsch, not having to do with Holland as many think) as well as the Scots-Irish.
The dialect's lexicon owes a great deal to the Scotch-Irish frontiersmen who settled Western Pennsylvania and subsequently migrated southward down the Appalachian chain, mixing with Southern settlers from the Piedmont. The common Scotch-Irish base explains why the Midland dialect of the Pittsburgh area shares many similarities with the Southern dialects of the Appalachians such as the distinctive second person plural pronoun y'uns.

I had never heard "y'uns" until we moved north to southwest Virginia. They don't say it thata way in 'bama, y'all.

March 3, 2003

Up from the Ooze

NZ Bear has just updated the "Truth Laid Bear Blogging Ecosystem" after several months of working behind the scenes on the Weblog Metadata Initiative. You go, Bear!

Fragments had once hacked and clawed its way up the food chain to the level of questionable status in the animal kingdom as a Crawly Amphibian. A vertebrate, at least. This was back during the early days that were dominated by a cantakerous and unreliable beast called Blogspot. That, of course, was before wicked Princess Sheila went off her medications and she did wax wroth and threaten to kill the gentle Moveable Beast. Yet, that was in a blog long ago and far, far away.

Now, Fragments is not to be found among the animals with backbones. Nor even among animals with two or more cells! Alas, there you'll find us, far down in the primordial ooze, some 294 feet under the surface with the other Insignificant Microbes of the blogging world, feeding off the detritus that filters down from the posts of the bipedal bloggers up there in the oxygen rich photic zone, their scant leftovers trickling down to the dark, sunless nether reaches of the Sphere of Blogs. Munch. Munch.

If anybody is curious, I'm a anaerobic chemosynthetic gram-negative bacillus. With a beard.

Honor of Wood

Yesterday in the weak sun of early March I split wood for the stove, standing in the thaw of liquid earth that squished like a sponge under my rubber boots. The sun was soon warm enough that after a few minutes of swinging the maul, I was down to the flannel shirt with sleeves rolled up. Here in the heel-end of the woodpile are remnants of wood dry now for more than three years. Sassafras, dogwood, sourwood... this wood did not come from Goose Creek. I moved my woodpile, truckload at a time, when we moved in here in the fall of 1999. Now we're dipping into the wood archives, I know the history of every piece, and I confess I hate to part with it.

This morning, I burned a few pieces of an old barn log that had been notched by hand a hundred or more years ago. The old oak was dry as tinder, cut, I am sure, from these hillsides when the sturdy barn was being built. We had put these logs aside, thinking it would be a shame to burn them. And it is. But they were gradually going to rot and would do no one any good merely decaying along the edge of the pasture. Still, I had regrets in the final cremation of this tangible remnant of lives once lived here, a vestige of families who had built this house and harvested and used the wood from this valley long before we came to know and love it.

Often when I am stoking the woodstove, there is an appreciation and reverence toward wood that is probably similar to the attitude of honor that the Indians voiced toward a deer that they had just killed so that they could feed their families..."I'm sorry to have to burn you now for heat. I honor your strength and your silent steady growth in the forest, the Creators Wisdom you manifest in turning sunlight and carbon into this miraculous substance, wood, that has been so immensely useful to mankind. I have stopped in my splitting to sense from you the essence of Earths own aromas... the astringent medicinal smell of Walnut; cherry wood sweet like the flavor of childhood elixirs; sassafras smooth and spicy like hard stick candy; and oak smelling sour, of November frost with overtones of fungus and smoke. I'll not take your heat for granted now, the stored summer sunshine you give back to my home in winter. I consider wood a gift and a blessing, and I will be the good steward."

The time will come in not so many seasons when I will have to pay somebody else to deliver a winter's worth of fire wood for us. It will not be the same then heating with wood that I know only in a generic sense. That will be like the difference between eating vegetables from our garden out of Mason jars stored in colorful rows in our cellar and "the same" vegetable species trucked in from California, shaken out of a metal can onto our plates. The nutritional content of both is probably about the same, but the homegrown sure tastes of the labor that has gone into it. Purchased firewood will heat me but it will not warm me in the same way as the wood cut, split, stacked and stoked by these willing but slowly failing hands.

No Place Like Home

Last week Rebecca Blood wondered (what! No permalinks? see below) if Fragments was to be put into a 'category' (along with Viviculture which she mentions, but also Notes from a Hillside Farm, Bowen Island Journal, and other similar weblogs that are to one degree or another about 'living in place').... what would they be called, collectively?

:: Nature Writing Resources. While you're in the mood, go say hi to Viviculture and Fragments from Floyd. I need to think of a good name for this type of weblog, which are focused on the rhythms of day-to-day living, with an eye to the natural world. And then add that category to my portal page. [ 02/26/03 ]

Can you come up with a category name for weblogs like Fragments that are mostly, or at least significantly focused on the WHERE of a blogger's life? Frankly, there are not many of us, and I wonder if this says something about the kinds of voices that blogging attracts. Still, even as eccentrics at the margins of the medium, it would be nice to have a space for "Place Blogs" by giving them a creative category label.

My mind wanders into the realm of the silly. How about PLOGS...Place Blogs. Or, Terrablogs. Geoblogs. Enviroblogs. Can we take the Latin 'loco' meaning place and create LOCOBLOGS. Or how 'bout merely "Landscapes". Wouldn't it be nice to drop the dysphonic and gutteral BLOG word altogether everywhere throughout the, well, blogosphere, and come up something less evocative of the sound of pulling your boot out of the mud? But I guess we're probably stuck up to our knees with that one forever.

There does not seem to be a single word to describe weblogs which are journals about one's life and identity as it relates to surroundings. And I suppose this is only even a teeny interest to those few of us who maintain such a focal-local, watching-the-grass-grow kind of weblog... the rural, bucollic nadapundits of the world.

Rebecca... we're working on it.

UPDATE: My bad. Rebecca's little :: is her cryptic permalink. Duh. And, there is now a section in her Webloggia (portal) called (unless or until a replacement category name can be found) Weblogs of Place. Lots of good places to go from the portal here; bookmark it.

March 2, 2003

The Emperor of Scent

Oh joy! Another book to put on my list, eventually purchase, and add to the growing stack that I may someday get around to not just having, but actually read!

The Emperor of Scent sounds like a story right up my alley, or maybe more appropriately, my olfactory pathways. Written by the engaging Chandler Burr (who presented a remarkably interesting interview on the Diane Reems Radio Show a few weeks back), this mystery story is about Luca Turin, a biophysicist, who even as a child, had an uncanny awareness of scents. Now, he smells the scent of money and is betting his theory will spawn myriad new applications in the perfume and flavoring industry... and even have military applications.

The man is a brilliant iconoclast who has proposed a totally new paradigm of how smell... the only scent whose operation still remains an unproven theory... actually works. If he's right, you'll be hearing his name in the Nobel Prize postings one day, and lots of Ivory Tower elites will eat (and probably think they smell) crow.

UPDATE: 3.03.03 (nice date!) There is a brief excerpt of this little Fragment now at All Consuming review of books from blogs.

March 1, 2003

Wee Fainting Spell

In these times of unparalleled angst, I am happy to be able to share with you a take-control measure from none other than the Readers Digest. From the wildly popular journal Circulation comes a new way to ward off fainting. So: the next time you turn on your radio and hear that (fill in the blank with your ultimate horror of choice) and you feel like you are going to pass out, here's what you should do.

The expert advice: Cross your legs and squeeze them together tightly. Yep. That's it. Fainting, or syncope, is a temporary loss of consciousness that occurs when there's not enough oxygen going by the blood to the brain. If this is due to a sudden drop in blood pressure (caused by the psychological shock you've just experience) the leg crossing trick helps raise the pressure, delaying or preventing the fainting spell.

Secondly, it seems to me that the leg squeeze, during this period of maximum stress, may have a second benefit: it may prevent you from... may prevent you from, well... wee-weeing on yourself. (My mother reads Fragments and she told me the other day that she was shocked that I used the vulgar word "pee" in these pages a few weeks ago... she was serious; I asked just to be sure... and so we will be wee-weeing here in the future references, however infrequent, to that particular function.) This better mom?

Let me just ask you, readers. I'm curious. Just how many of you have your mothers reading your weblog? Would it matter if tomorrow mom found all your weblog archives? What do you imagine they would have to say? Would momma be proud? Horrified? Totally weirded out? Yeah, well... what if you used the P-word? Then what!

Talking-to-Myself Saturday

Well, it's Saturday morning and all the happy bloggers are taking the day off. So, I have been informed that the Goose Creek Drivel Prevention Unit will be lowering the Boredom Risk Level at Fragments to fushia... actually the risk remains unchanged, only the potential victims will likely be staying out of yawn's way on a low-visit Saturday. So what odd bits of inanity will I fling from the keyboard this morning, knowing there is a low risk of causing an outbreak of strabismus.

I have eaten not wisely but too well. After three days of cooking for myself (crackers and cheese, coffee ice cream, cereal... all from the healthful "C" food group) whilst Ann stayed put at work during the snowstorm, we met an old friend (as if he were one of many...THE old friend) at the local Greasy Spoon last night and pigged out on a high-LDL meal and split a pitcher of beer (well mostly I split it). Then we wandered downtown to the Floyd Country Store for the Friday Night Jamboree looking for a musician friend who was supposed to be in town last night. Failing that, the only thing we could do was go eat some more... pie ala mode and DeCaf at Oddfellows Cantina. How much can an old heart stand? Also wonder about the liver and other giblets. And note-to-self: pick up some Mylanta. Soon.

Cartoon seen: Viagra Falls Use your imagination.

Oh goodie. Look at all the maps hole-punched and folded up neatly in the Floyd County Comprehensive Plan. This one's interesting: Housing Density. The entire county (383 square miles) is divided into 1-mile squares. Each square is color-coded by density per square mile. Nine are white: no people. The next two levels are 1-8 and 9-18 people per square. In our part of Floyd County there are 21 contiguous squares with 18 or fewer people, and there are actually more low-density squares than that you can't see because the Floyd map ends at the county line only about two miles north of us.

Folks around here (and the county in general) are few and spread out. And yet, the County Administrator told me there are over two million people living within a 75 mile radius of 'downtown' Floyd. I don't know about you, but for me, this seems like the best of both worlds. If we want to rub shoulders with 'civilization' we can get to it (with some considerable effort, especially in a winter like this one... then we can retreat to the sticks!) It would be easy to take for granted our 'alone-ness' and the profound peace of this place... this little square mile that the map tells me we share with no more than 8 other folks and an unstated number of critters and at least a million trees.