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February 28, 2006


One Trick Pony. That's me lately. But don't begrudge the fact that teeny steps toward the endpoint are happening in my relatively unswerving focus. And many of you are part of it, as you have been in ever-changing aggregates of readers and commenters and even visitors here over the past few years.

There is still a need for readers, and thanks to the more than a dozen Fragments friends already reading the pre-press draft. Leave a comment if you'd like a copy. Below, just for those who won't see the document, are some comments about the book from my perspective that might say a few things about what to expect in June, when I have the thing in hand.

I've been looking at books a lot lately--iImagine that!) Many have a first page called "Praise for xyz" or "what readers are saying about abc." It would be nice to fill two pages of reader endorsements, provided of course that the contents warrant them. Well, here's part of my preamble to the Word version some of you may yet volunteer to see:

About: This book is not a book that you can't put down. It is a book you should put down. The hundred pieces were written on a hundred very different days. To read it in one gulp, I think, will not give the reader the subtle flavor of the unfolding through the seasons here. And it is also not the kind of book you can pick up, read one little piece, and know what it is like. The voice, style and topic of each is as different as one day's mood and serendipity is from the next.

What I hope is that some of the tension of the decision to step back from the fast road comes across. It really was a time of unknowns, but a thing I felt strongly that I must do. Memoir accounts for perhaps 15 per cent of the book, but I hope it is enough to put the being here in the context of getting here, then of getting to know the place I had chosen to spend a lot of time. Sense of place was a concept whose name I had not even heard when this adventure started.

Also, I hope that the eye of the photographer, the sensitivity of the poet, and the curiosity of the naturalist-all brought with me from my former lives (except poet only in closet form)--also inform the writing. It did seem to me all along like the daily gathering of blog readers was like leading a field trip, or at other times, like having a conversation on the front porch. Some of the pieces are very conversational. Others, especially those massaged for radio essays or newspaper pieces, are more formal.

Finally, I have invented words your spell-checkers will not like. Audiosphere. Kersplatted--that sort of thing. And I'm prepared to take barbs for manufacturing words. But they serve the author, not the other way 'round. Same goes, mostly, for punctuation in how I use semicolons and dashes in a way that helps me read the piece. Many are for voice, or at least I wrote them and tweaked them and punctuated them in that way. DO REMARK if there is anything you read that trips you up; if you stumble, so will another reader.

February 27, 2006

A Few Good Editors

A Few Good Editors

Image copyright Fred First

More eyes, fewer mistakes. More readings, more "things readers are saying" about the book. I'd appreciate your involvement with this pleasant-arduous endeavor that will become Slow Road Home.

Without too many words, here's what I'm hoping:

...that some of you will be able to read the manuscript (or selections from same) and offer page numbers where you find typos and punctuation errors; that others will be able to offer short paragraphs suitable for a "what readers are saying" section in promotional materials, or if in time, for the back cover of the book. So:

Email me at fred1st at gmail dot com or leave a comment on this post and I will send the 480K file to you via email. I will send the file to the first 35 who request it or until the end of this week. I will bulk email at the end of the day to make it easier for me to keep up with. You have my permission, if you know of writers or readers who you think would appreciate this kind of work, to send the file to them with the same request for error reporting and for endorsements.

The Word doc (still not the very final draft, but close) lacks the nice page layout of the final form, but the pdf of that is about 4 Mb, and some of you have dial-up that will hark up a hairball at a file that size.

I know you're busy. This is a lot to ask. But I've had my Powermilk Biscuits, and they've given me the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. It's crunch time, folks, and I'm jazzed about it. Looks like it's going to happen, and I hope a few of you will be able to contribute your eyes, hearts and fine minds to the work.

Thank so much.

-- Fred

Breaking Down, Backing Up

The rubber on the rear wipers of the Subaru Forester began disintegrating a few months ago. Now, in the month of mud on Goose Creek, a state-maintained if picturesque pigpath of a mountain road, we really need a squirt and a swish every so often to be able to see where we've been out the back window. Well, you'd be amazed at the number of Subaru's in Floyd County that are the same make and year as ours; and every one of them has it's rear wipers falling apart at precisely the same time. So the part is on backorder, as 2004 Foresters across the country go 'round with opaque rear windows, waiting for a fix to the time-to-failure crisis aflicting their wiper blades.

And all of this was aggravation enough, what with the new seepages that have kept long stretches of our road wet and/or frozen now since December and our rear window correspondingly coated in liquid dirt. It's been interesting, being here now going on seven years, to notice how seeps and springs appear one year, vanish and move some new place along the bank, make new quagmires and ice rinks on different parts of our road. I suppose it is much the same way with underground currents as in our creeks that cut new channels, eroding the banks here, turning against a resistant boulder there. Those same forces of flow go on, sight unseen, in rivers of rock underground.

And we were about to encounter one of these new miry quarter miles coming down into Middle Earth yesterday when, odds overwhelmingly to the contrary, we met someone coming our way. And unfortunately, I was going to be the reverse-ee: the ONLY pulloff for four hundred yards was closer to me than to him, upslope, around a sharp curve, with the rocky bank on our left and the edge of the single lane falling off sharply right, into the creek 30 feet below. And I can't see out the back window, covered with the same mud that's been there since the wiper blades fell apart. About all of this, I am a little nervous, Ann is a lot.

The story has a happy ending, of course. We got home just fine. But if I could get my hands on the engineer that designed those self-destructing windshield wipers, I'd rub his face in the good earth of Goose Creek, and send him the bill for the crick in my neck I got sticking my whole upper body out the window while the Queen of Dire Consequences wailed her warnings of certain doom.

February 25, 2006


1. Psychology. Uncontrollable repetition of a particular response, such as a word, phrase, or gesture, despite the absence or cessation of a stimulus, usually caused by brain injury or other organic disorder. 2. The tendency to continue or repeat an act or activity after the cessation of the original stimulus. The act or an instance of persevering; perseverance.

I first heard this term in "group" conferences where we discussed our patients in the pain clinic. The word usually came from our clinical psychologist, Tim, and referred to some odd over-and-over behavior of someone not quite right. I remember it because I think I are it.

Sometimes I get into a conundrum and I can't get out--well, I can, but refuse to, and won't let go til it's whupped. I'm talking little details I can't figure out that I ought to just blow off. They become brainworms and I can't stop until the matter is put to rest. Yesterday it was how to get paragraphs not so far apart in InDesign (I got it, after much trial and more error). And this morning, by serendipity--not that I went looking for it out of need--I find there is an upgrade (not free) to a desktop notes program I used to use but discarded for a new love.

The old and now improved program is TurboNotes version 6. The "old" and not yet abandoned program is Quick Notes Plus. Both have the pluses and their minuses. And instead of doing what I should be doing with the premium hours between the first cup of coffed and my 10:00 meeting this morning, I have been trying to work out if I should upgrade. Shame on me for letting such a wee thing waste so much time! Sometimes I wonder about my sanity. Tim, buddy, where are you?

February 24, 2006

Thinking Ahead

Image copyright Fred First

Sorry I've become somewhat of a one-trick pony of late. I have lots of stories that could be told from work in the clinic, but there's this thing about confidentiality that sort of shoots that in the foot. Even so, some good characters and dialogue go into the archives that, who knows, could find their way into fiction some day, should I ever breach that gap and find myself wandering there. Seems unlikely at this point, but I admit to some temptations that way.

I am a thousand details away from having this thing printed, even as other responsibilities around the house and in the community begin to rise to the surface and demand attention and care. But it's time to start thinking about how, when and where to promote the book so that I don't end up with those extra coffee tables I was talking about yesterday. One thing I need is PayPal set up, and I'm wondering about doing that on another page than Fragments--a page with excerpts, endorsements, and some nice book-related images.

Do me a favor: click over to Near-Time where I've put up a "news item" (which functions like a blog post, complete with comments potential) just to start thinking about alternative spaces for the book. Feedback appreciated!

Meanwhile, InDesign has got me stymied over a small detail: I can't shrink the spaces between paragraphs. Try as I might, nothing seems to make this happen. I'm consulting someone with more experience who can help me over this hurdle, which quite derailed any forward motion for much of Thursday. Sigh. For want of a nail...

Update: Forget commenting on Near-Time: Note: Members of the public will be able to comment only if they have an account at Near-Time. Phooey. That tosses this idea out the window.

February 23, 2006


How does one get permission to use lyrics in a book?

For getting text on the spline in Photoshop, how do I place vertical text, the bottom of whose characters face the back of the book?

Where to store 1000 books, 48 to a carton, 35 pounds to a carton, a block of paper about 4 feet on a side. Sheesh. I hope to do honor to all those trees. I have a friend with dry storage and easy access near Floyd. He has a guest house with no guests. Or I could break the pallet, stack them in two or three places here on the bottom floor, cover each with a table cloth and say we have three new coffee tables in odd places.

How to go about getting ISBN numbers and corresponding bar codes (I have some info on that), then placement in Books in Print or other prominent places. I heard there were places you could submit books for review, but haven't researched that yet.

How to get endorsements of a book that isn't in print yet. I have the almost-final draft converted to pdf (size 690k) this morning--115 pages 11 font 1 inch margins in Word. Hmmm...only 59k words or about 200 pages in the actual book. We cut more than I thought. The draft isn't perfect; line breaks fall in odd places I'll correct in the layout program before the final final draft, and other than the first page, no images yet. Now what? I'd like to get reader feedback before the vault door closes. I'd appreciate some cover endorsements, both from "regular readers" and from the few authors whose names might carry a bit of weight. Not a time to be timid. Or overly aggressive, either. Have Kinkos make 15-20 copies, see what happens. Follow David St. Lawrence's lead and upload for free in part or whole, or what? And when?

Discovery: Duh. I guess it's one of those tools I have never really needed before, like I was talking about earlier today. In Word, from the VIEW menu, click "READING LAYOUT" and the page opens in narrower columns in a two page spread, very easy to read, with left sidebar thumbnails if you want them. I like it.

The Nil Pill

Well, Heck

There goes my placebo effect--a bitter pill to swallow. This large and apparently well-executed study tells me I might as well save my money, and reduce to only two the regular daily pill regimen: one baby aspirin, one multi-vitamin and NO more glucosamine.

Subjects in the study who took Celebrex, one of the cox-2 inhibitors, did get relief from arthritic pain. But then, there's been some bad news about some members of this group lately, and unless you have a tendency for gastric bleeding, there is no reason to take them vs regular Ibuprofen. On a really bad day, I take 600 mg of Motrin and it works. But I try to limit use to a day or two a month.

I had thought perhaps my joints were getting better with the glucosamine. I know there was a good study years ago that showed, yes, oral glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate resulted in a thickening of the joint cartilage. But I guess that was in the good old days. Well heck. And also OUCH.

Hmm. Ever use a common word and suddenly it sounds just really weird? Why do we say OUCH when something hurts? In yet another inelegant segue, let's go word sleuthing! Here's the poop, as it were:

Ouch: First recorded usage in 1837, from Pennsylvania German outch, cry of pain, from Ger. autsch.

To Hammer a Screw

When I was teaching in the Fall, I made changes to the wiki every day, adding assignments, flagging upcoming tests, loading links of related reading matter (that mostly wasn't read.) Then, I moved away from my academic role, and I haven't accessed the wiki once (that's sort of fun to say). It was an immensely useful, free communications tool when the need required it; now, it is a tool gathering dust until it becomes exactly the right tool for the right job again.

That said, I know not many Fragments readers will ever find a use for such things. But for those few who might, I'd suggest you check out Near-Time, that incorporates both the time-relevance of a blog (its news pages, with comments and trackbacks) and the non-linear usefulness of a wiki, complete with a WYSIWYG editor. It encorporates both tags and categories, and allows participation in other users' "spaces" so that you can create a kind of "blogroll" for collaboration. The free account is highly useful. For a fee, you can store files on their servers; without, you can link to files (and images) stored elsewhere. Technical support is responsive and helpful.

Check your tasks, check your tools, give Near-Time a heft and see how it feels in your hand. You might like it. If I go back to the chalkboard in August, I'll probably be using Near-Time. Read about it here and here.

February 22, 2006

Snow, Falling

Image copyright Fred First

The woods are dark and snow appears illumined as it falls, following the verticals of bare poplars on the hillside, flakes falling in perfect perpendicular to the flattened grasses of the pasture, each flake or cluster of quills along its own path and not another as if lowered down, down one by one on invisible threads. Most distant feathers float suspended and, picking out a single one to follow with the eye, it will take an eternity to sizzle to the ground on its immense journey. One from half the distance falls twice as fast, and tufts of flakes just in front of my face zip past in a terrible hurry.

Fragments / Field Notes: First Snow / December 2004

Frazzled in Floyd

I don't seem to be able to find the FLOW this morning. From the hundred subtasks in a dozen larger projects, I can't catch hold of one and follow it to the next in the sequence. Which is why I'm writing my morning ramble instead. Sometimes it helps just to sort things out in piles, and looking around the room reflects that this is just where I'm at this morning. I got so far over the weekend as to sort my scatters into piles--of books here, magazines over there--not a end in itself, but a stopping place until the next impulse of organization sweeps past. So, let me make some piles here.

THE REST OF MY LIFE: What am I going to do over the longer term? The piles: teaching, physical therapy, home projects, and the book. I was offered the Environmental Biology class again in the fall if I want it. I do. And I don't. I just picked up my class evaluations yesterday. While my average scores were higher than the department averages, it was discouraging to find how many of the students felt they needed to be guided by the hand, wanted to do less, couldn't follow directions and blamed me. On the other hand, many said what they liked best was when I stepped out of my academic-professorial role (I physically pretended I was stepping into a different role) in my so-called "Soapbox" performances, which were basically personal rants and diatribes--about littering and personal responsibility, about sustainability versus the throw-away society, about the ecology of bottled water--that sort of thing. I let my hair down, went wide open, then stepped back behind the podium, "off my soapbox." I had no idea that made such an impact. Other good things were the half dozen that said something like "I left class some days and almost wanted to change my major to biology." But the overall tone was discouraging, and makes me wonder if I belong among freshmen.

THE BOOK: I have made the mistake of looking too far ahead toward marketing, sales and distribution and I've spooked myself into cold feet. I have to reign in my vision, keep the blinders on so I only see one immediate and achievable subtask at a time. But I picked the wrong subtask this morning: writing out a "back of a business card" description of what the book is about. This is one of the hardest things I've tried to do. (And btw, reader KimMk who left a comment this morning while I was working on this--I sent you a reply that bounced. Got another email addy?) Otherwise, I am almost through final edits and think I have an idea of how title page, acknowledgement, TOC and all that falls in sequence. I'll be ready to flow my Word Docs into InDesign files and pull those files into an InDesign book, and then see what white space I can fill with black and white images. I'm getting close, but the actual printing of the book is only the beginning! What good are a thousand books stored in the barn (no I won't really) except for mouse bedding? Somehow, I'll have to figure out PayPal and Amazon and book speaking gigs, and... take a breath, fella, you'll hyperventilate.

Oh! It's perfectly calm, and snowing big fat flakes. I have an image and some text in mind. Showing those to you is WITHIN my scope of capabilities right now, and I'll feel better for having ONE THING DONE to completion. I gotta go.

February 21, 2006


Both my 8:00 and 9:00 patients cancelled, and the clinic caught me before I left the house, so I get a bonus blog! Let's see--what awaits in the hopper of earth shattering events from Small Pond...

Okay. It's toot your own horn time, or it might be said that these are two items from our "not dead yet" department. Both are out of my physical therapist clinical personae.

First item: I was making talk with our young baseball player shoulder patient as he did his workout on the weight machines (Body Master, very nice equipment!) He had recently surpassed his prior record in bench press and was gloating a little. All I had to counter were memories of my Nautilus days twenty years ago.

"I remember doing military press with the whole stack, ten reps. I think it was about my body weight at the time, 175 pounds. Bet I can't even get the first plate off the stack at that weight now" I said as I foolishly pulled the pin and put it down toward the bottom of the weight plates.

Why do I set myself up for such failure? But I had to go through with it, so fiddled around finding a comfortable position for my hands, getting my back firmly against the pad, stalling for time. I would at least use good form, even if my attempt was only a red-faced isometric, motionless event. But danged, if the stack didn't move a little with my first effort. And it moved some more. And it went all the way to the top, and back down with control. And the next day, I could still walk!

Secondly, I had asked for a body fat analysis the first time I'd talked with the clinic owner who hired me. "I'd just be curious how far I've slid since those Nautilus days when my body fat was 9%." So, she had the (electrical impedance) machine set up for our baseball player, and had done his test, results: in the low teens. I quailed to think where mine would be these days, ten pounds and two belt notches later. And TA DA! Mine was lower than Mr. Baseball!

Small events from a small pond, yes. But it was encouraging to think I'm not as far spent as I sometimes feel. And these small reinforcements make me want to take better care of what residual function, health and strength I still have. Even if I'm not physically the man I used to be, I ain't dead yet--a lean, mean, blogging machine!

The Shapes That Winter Takes

Image copyright Fred First

Fluted. Filigreed. Lacey. Cancellous. Clear as crystal glass, green as a glacier. Granular and rough over here at the top of this rocky ledge; and just there in the shadow of the bluff, a smooth, flat sheet that protects itself by reflecting the pale pastel light of a weak winter sun. Ice buttons and balls, goblets and goblins that decorate the drab grasses at creek's edge with bright colorless ornaments. Air bubbles under glass move rodent-like downstream in a warren of liquid and crystal.
Fragments, January 2003

Energy Breakthrough: Quickly, Please

President Bush says "Our nation is on the threshold of new energy technology that I think will startle the American people."

Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., questioned Bush's energy policies Monday, saying the administration also supports subsidies for luxury SUVs. *

I don't know if this is what the pres had in mind, but this does indeed look like a breakthrough (at some future date): Spray-On Solar-Power Cells, a product incorporating nanotechnology.

"The plastic material uses nanotechnology and contains the first solar cells able to harness the sun's invisible, infrared rays. The breakthrough has led theorists to predict that plastic solar cells could one day become five times more efficient than current solar cell technology."

What this means is that these collectors could take energy from anything that radiates heat--even in the dark!

You have to wonder how much faster such technologies could be developed if we focused a small fraction on R&D like this instead of spending it making good friends in the middle east. And timing does matter. We need to make this transition ASAP lest we be held hostage by those who hold control over the flow of oil. We need to find ways to run our civilizations that don't foul our nest, and that of our grandchildren. Please Mr. President, let's get our priorities in line.

February 20, 2006

The Next Chapter

If you are a regular blogger, especially of the personal journal variety, I suppose like me, you find a cetain rise and fall, a shift in focus and energies that come and go, with or without apparent causes or connections to what is happening in your career, your writing life or your dreams. Though I seldom write about these turning tides anymore, I think it is important to note them, perhaps try to tie them to the context in which we write, and maybe by so doing, learn a little about ourselves. This is one of those times.

I've lost touch with the blogging energies that once were so important to me every morning. And that's a good thing in that, three years ago, I didn't have anything else demanding my time, my energy, and however many keystrokes I have left in my hands. In the year beginning June 2002, I lived fully in the present moment and found my subjects just outside the door. Now, I am busy with other things--the kind of things, mostly, that I wanted to become engaged in, challenged by and contributing toward in that year of living at home from which the writing was birthed.

In those early months--for the first year, really--I would think on a given morning what stories I wanted to tell or images I would find words for; in the evening when I was too tired to write with any clarity, I'd jot down themes and threads I wanted to include, and go to sleep. And early the next morning when I awoke, a team of kindly elves had stitched the fragments of thought and intent together so I could tell it whole--at least well enough so that I could remember the moment, the day or the feeling of the time. And I have all of this to keep. It has become a most wonderful journal of my times, a personal treasure. I won't stop adding these bits and pieces, but for a time, the midnight stitching my elves have to do is on other cloth, and I have demanded that they stay focused and on task.

This is not an easy thing to ask them, though their raw materials have changed, and right now, they can't make golden slippers from the scraps I leave them at bedtime. No longer do they work exclusively with the senses tuned to wind or moonlight or water sounds; their inventory increased in scope and depth when I returned to teaching in August 2004 and remembered how much I care for this planet as God's creation. My voice could no longer be so self-focused in my small, perfect world. Looking back, with the exception of a few sad commentaries about the Iraq WMD debacle in March, 2003, Fragments has been a false oasis of pastoral tranquility, save for my occasional ruminations about what I was going to do with my life--an issue since resolved, mostly.

Now, the nightly elves have global issues of resource depletion, human ignorance and avarice, public health disasters and mountaintop removal to work with. And in the mornings, when the thing is woven and ready to send off, I know that the blogging audience doesn't want to look at it. I can't tell how many such bolts of cloth I have simply sent to my private folder. And that's okay. It keeps me writing every day, which is a committment to myself I made almost four years ago--a kind of exercise I hope will accomplish many things, only one of which was to open my thought world and perspective to the larger conversation in the blogosphere.

And regarding that conversation: I felt the connections fading a year ago when I started enjoying the "efficiency" of RSS readers to keep up with the fifty or so blogs I followed. I scanned fifty pages and at least as many entries with speed and ease. But I was much less often inclined to click out of the feeds (on FeedDemon, Sage or Bloglines) and go to the browser and leave a comment on the post of interest. I became a virtual lurker, and so did many of my readers of FFF. I no longer knew who had come from any source other than bloglines. It put a distance between writer and reader, but such is the way in a busy world where efficiency and speed are held in high regard.

And so this week, I will abandon rss for blogs, keeping it around perhaps for selected news. I will set up sets of bookmarks or tab groups in FireFox like I used to have, open ten blogs directly at once, read directly, and be more in touch with the page and the author than RSS has let me do. Maybe this will help keep me connected, if not as active a participant as I once was.

So. With this post I've put a placemark for myself, folded the corner of the page, with this random rumination that will let me look back a year from now and remember this one of dozens of shifts in the ebb and flow of writing and reading and blogging and the things that come and go in the small area of focus of my vision. Things seem very good just now, and that the blog has taken a step back somewhat is entirely as it should be. Those elves work for me, they don't run the show, and they are not idle. And eventually, I look forward to sharing what they and their master are working on these cold mornings when not much is going on, blogwise. I am most definitely NOT sleeping late, and I AM drinking too much coffee, so things are pretty much normal in that regard. Just so you know.

February 19, 2006

Patterns in Pines

Image copyright Fred First

I am not sure, but I think the first white pines I ever saw were in a state where pines are like starlings--so abundant and feral the species was nothing to look at twice. Most Alabama pines grew in extensive matrices of rows and columns and were destined to become toilet paper or tossed office memos.

So when I was backpacking in the Sipsey Wilderness in north Alabama, I couldn't believe I was stunned by a pine--the stately straight white pine, unique at first glance because their branches, usually five or six, came off in whorls, one for each year the tree had lived.

They expressed purpose and pattern and seemed they must be the nobility of pines, supreme to the rank and file black pine and domesticated loblolly, slash, long and short leaf varieties that were vulgar and chaotic in branching habit. White pines were once favored for the masts of sailing ships, a purpose worthy of their good form.

Pattern in branches is especially evident when snow blots out the background with white and limbs hold snow. Finding patterns is a human necessity. We find futures in the sift of coffee grounds and tea leaves and alligators overhead in the clouds. I see them in trees in winter, especially in February when the order of spring still seems so far off, and winter is without form and void.

February 17, 2006

One Step Forward...

Two steps back. InDesign is a wonderful, terrible tool, more powerful than a locomotive, more perplexing than a Gordian Knot. Working for a while yesterday with a more knowledgeable friend, I learned about paragraph styles. I think I'm getting close to having a layout I can live with, and sent a copy of that to my printer to see if anything I did will make the factory explode when it comes time to run the presses. I am very pleased with my printer--my, even though I've paid not one cent yet. But "my" in the sense that I am committed to work with them, a very large company with a mom-and-pop care and work ethic. But more about that down the road.

So (mostly) all work and no blog makes Fred a dull boy. Google must have re-crawled the blog this week, and Fragments disappeared overnight! Visits dropped by more than half, visit duration dropped to less than 30 seconds. It's strange, but then strange has been the order of the day for the past six months with the major hacks and rebuilds and such. So, following the apparent rhythm of the larger blogging flow, I may take two steps back and blog less than has been my norm for, oh, these past forty months. Things will cycle back, in time. I've seen it all before, old-timer that I am.

Oh, I should tell the few of you still out there, the ones who visit--or try to visit--via rss feeds. While I cannot get Bloglines to help me fix this, I am now (and you should also be) able to read Fragments using one of these links:

  • http://www.fragmentsfromfloyd.com/atom.xml

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Ranch Annex now has a new metal roof, all the windows and the skylight. I'll take pix over the weekend, though it's nothing to look at, standing in a sea of slush and mud.

February 16, 2006

Snippets for the Multitasking

I just love people. They're the strangest folks I know. I mean really, the things we find to do with our energies is so counterintuitive if this whole show is only about survival. Take StoneFridge, for instance. But then again, it was constructed at the edge of Los Alamos, so perhaps there is some survival value to the effort, after all. Thanks for link to Pratie Place, always a source for the wonderfully strange things that people do and say.

I dunno. It sounds good. But it's from the Great Satan of Software, at least according to some. Check out Windows Defender.

And while I am wearing my writing-about-writers writing hat, let me suggest you check out "Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing: An Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle from the New York Times, Writers on Writing Series." My favorite is rule #10: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Lorianne in a Viking Helmet!

Grist Magazine is running a multipart series on Poverty and the Environment that looks like a good investment in time as a world citizen informed-type person.

Is Your Supply Chain Ready?

This land was your Land, This land is their land

Little Footprints in the Snow

Image copyright Fred First

Andy, you're right. Whipped egg whites, for sure.

February 15, 2006

His Inner Wolf

Image copyright Fred First

I'll tell you the truth: I think this one was dead when he found it. But in his mind, it lived again and again, and was vanquished as many times as resurrected. Twice-baked potatoes. Refried Beans. And the Mole of Many Lives. Tsuga insisted I post one of his more virile images after that embarrasing bathrobe portrait of a week ago. He's a hunter, he wants you to know--in touch with his inner wolf.

Sentance. Fragments.

NO doubt about it: blogging can make a fella a sloppy writer. Publish? No problem. Just hit the SAVE button and your sentance fraggments go to. "And you're misquotations. And your misplaced, punctuations. And your bad grammarical habits. And all your sentences that start with "and". Who's to edit out the entrenched bad tastes that takes the form of just plane bad form?

Now, I've had editors as regular readers of Fragments at times. They would kindly say "er, Fred, I don't think you meant X" or somesuch. One of my first sloppy sometimes right sometimes wrong habits that I was called on was where punctuations go in regard to quotes. Going back over blog entries from 2002, I pretty consistently put periods AFTER the final double quotes like this". Wrong. Or does it depend on the content of the phrase or sentence being quoted?

I bring this up because more recently, I've discovered I must have been 'British' in another lifetime, because without realizing how much I do it, I have used single quotes (so called "sneer quotes") without realizing in Euorpean usage, I'd be right. This side of the pond, wrong. So I have to go back through 70,000 words and fix them.

Right? Wrong? Who makes up these rules is a complex and interesting story, some of which I look forward to reading in the book I mentioned yesterday. Who cares? Readers--at least some--who find a slew of sloppy mistakes one one page in a book and this entirely discredits whatever it is the author is trying to tell them. Don't want that, do we?

So. I may have to subject this pile of pixels and print to the careful eye of a word-by-word editor. I've been convinced I have bad grammar. But grampa wasn't so bad. Sorry. But hey--it's my blog. All I have to do is. Hit the SAVE button like this

February 14, 2006

The Language of Our Work

"When did you first start writing?" I hear the imaginary interviewer asking me, holding a globular microphone in front of my mouth like an ice cream cone, offering me a bite. And in this mock interview, like so many times before, I am entertaining myself with my thoughts as I drive to work. And that fact is the answer to the question. I started writing when I started working.

Not the teaching at the community college; I told my stories then often enough, to my students--at least the stories and yarns that had to do with nature and the environment. I really started writing when I started working in physical therapy; when I drove away from my private life of stories and into a public life where I was only one thing: an objective-scientific, highly discrete, highly focused healer where my stories were left at the door.

I started writing on the way to such a day, creating paragraphs, phrases, metaphors behind the wheel, and when I got inside the doors of the hospital or clinic, they all dissolved like snowflakes in sun. Even so, that was where I started putting words together.
Image copyright Fred First
And so as I drove to my current part-time clinical job the other day, I sulked as I mused my anecdotes to myself, knowing in a half hour, I would become Fred First, PT--no stories, no fragments, no tales of the dog or the creek or the ravages of mountaintop removal. That was the part about this work that I could not take again, full time. It leaves too many words unwritten, too many heartfelt impulses unfulfilled, too little of me at the gut level.

I walked into the clinic, put my satchel down, got out the laptop and was about to lay it down on my two feet of 'desk' space, but there was a small sack with my name on it. Curious. I opened it up. Inside, the evidence that what I have just told you is not entirely true. While working on total hip replacement exercises with an older patient over the couple of weeks I've been a therapist again, we HAVE talked--about her painting, about my writing, about what in the world is going on out there. Inside the little bag, a book: Eats Shoots and Leaves. She had brightened one day when I told her I was an aspiring writer. "You have to read this book" she said. And now she made sure I could.

Language. Yes, it is about the kind of language we use in our work. Teaching, for me, gives voice to it, therapy less so. But these days, I have struck a good balance and find my own voice (which includes photography) on those days when I'm not listening to that of my patients, and totally focused on their well-being and its documentation to keep the bean counters happy. This seems to be about the right mix of head and heart. I am a fortunate fella. Balance is a hard thing to come by.


Image copyright Fred First

It's not just about distance. There is the spin, the acceleration, the release, the follow-through. The mole toss is not a sport of brute strength, oh no. It is a matter of finesse and style, of honor and great tradition. Not to deny that there is great beauty in a toss perfectly executed by an athlete in his prime. Still, it is the breed he represents, not himself in this action shot, a proud moment.

But lest you think this is just a sport for sissies, wait til tomorrow when you'll see how this insectivore fought back. Ladies, look away. You may swoon at the violence. You were warned.

February 13, 2006

Cat Got Your Tongue? Or Maybe Your Brain?

There would be more to be made of this, were I still biology teaching, and if I would let myself venture away from the tasks at hand this morning. Very interesting.

First, consider that parasites are successful, at least partly to the degree that they adapt to their host's habits. But beyond that, some parasites actually CHANGE the behaviour of their host to their own ends.

  • The lancet fluke Dicrocoelium dendriticum forces its ant host to attach to the tips of grass blades, the easier to be eaten. The fluke needs to get into the gut of a grazing animal to complete its life cycle.
  • The fluke Euhaplorchis californiensis causes fish to shimmy and jump so wading birds will grab them and eat them, for the same reason.
  • Hairworms, which live inside grasshoppers, sabotage the grasshopper's central nervous system, forcing them to jump into pools of water, drowning themselves. Hairworms then swim away from their hapless hosts to continue their life cycle.
But could it be that parasites (spread by cat poop) alter human thinking and reason?

Recent evidence suggests that one of the most widely distributed human parasites, Toxoplasmosis (stated here to inhabit about 3 billion of us, mostly subclinically) is associated in some way with one of the most drastically altered human mental states, schizophrenia. Here are some toxoplamosis-schizophrenia connections:

  • Toxoplasma infection is associated with damage to astrocytes, glial cells which surround and support neurons. Schizophrenia is also associated with damage to astrocytes.
  • Pregnant women with high levels of antibodies to Toxoplasma are more likely to give birth to children who will develop schizophrenia.
  • Human cells raised in petri dishes, and infected with Toxoplasma, will respond to drugs like haloperidol; the growth of the parasite stops. Haloperidol is an antipsychotic, used to treat schizophrenia."

And lastly, the drugs used to treat schizophrenia, the chemicals that are at least partially effective at reducing altered mentation, may do so because it turns out, they are toxic to the parasites that live in schizophrenic nerve tissue! Info from Mind Control by Parasites and Link Between Cat Feces and Schizophrenia.

Forests, Past

Image copyright Fred First

...The hemlocks on the ridge are dying: that this makes me sick with sadness is one of my odd sensitivities, I suppose. Yet here is one in view that still has needles enough to hold snow. See the regular, graceful way they spread their dark arms just so? And snow falls flake by flake, in such depth of distance, so matter-of-factly, each a creation of its own predictable unpredictability of form and beauty. Fragments December 2003

February 12, 2006

Solitude and Snow

Image copyright Fred First

There is no quiet quite like that which comes with snow. Each flake reflects its small bit of sound-disturbed air, stopping it short of our ears. Those tiny crystals collectively dampen the invisible wave of sound, even in a place thought silent. How can an open space as quiet as our pasture two hours before dawn be even quieter than it usually is? And yet, when the snow is falling, except for the almost inaudible hiss of the snow itself, the world is mute and still, womblike and at peace with itself.

February 10, 2006


Image copyright Fred First

What am I doing? I have to rush off in the dark to work in a half hour. Instead of packing my lunch, I'm tinkering around in the images from a year ago December. Taken up on our ridge. The valley pasture and Nameless Creek are between the vantage point of this image and the ridge in the background.

This is one of many images of lighting looking for a decent composition, and an image prompt to memory. Sometimes the Kodak moments just can't compare to the lived-in-the-flesh kind. I gotta go.

Let It Snow

Image copyright Fred First

They say it's coming: our first significant snowfall of the year, here almost the middle of February. If it comes, it is likely to stay with us for a while, and change our short and long-term plans. Ann and I will miss the Saturday night performance in Willis for which we've already paid big bucks; be my valentine anyway. The chimney cleaning on Monday and the tree felling later in the week will be postponed indefinitely. We'll have to use the ice-and-snow route out of here for a few weeks until the steeper, more northy ascent out of here is passable again. Just getting in the firewood will be an ordeal if there is 8" of snow on the black plastic tarp. But it could always be worse. We've had a few snows that, by southern standards, have been memorable--for good or bad reasons--and I still can't help getting sort of jazzed when snow is on the way.

What is especially a problem for travel is drifting. This is no problem with a wet snow; it sticks to itself and instead of blowing into deep mounds, it coalesces into a white-shelled mantle with a thick, sharp and abrasive crust. But a dry snow that falls in very cold temperatures can be driven by even moderate winds into amazingly deep drifts. It blows like smoke across the surface, even hours or days after falling, and where it finds a slack in the wind (like between road banks) it loses velocity and falls. And falls.

This picture here is from about 1982. This is, or was, our road. The drifts are much deeper than four year old Nate is tall. (That's our dog, Zachary, trying to get where the kids are, and Holli up on top.) But there were years before we moved to Virginia that are still talked about--the infamous snows of the sixties. That is the time in Wythe County (where this picture was taken) that they had to abandon a school bus during a storm, and then couldn't find it because it became buried in the drifts where it was left. Cattle got out of their pastures because they could walk across the top wires of their fences on the snow. I've seen the pictures.

But the people in these hills take it all in stride. Reminds me of Sharon McCrumb's story of rugged individualism and self-reliance among mountain people. Seems especially fittin' as we anticipate a possible southern blizzard.

If you were on the East Coast in 1960, you may remember that it was a terrible winter. In North Carolina in particular, the March weather was fierce. That month it snowed every Monday. That's much more snow than North Carolina usually gets. With this steady fall, the snow did not melt. It just kept piling up and piling up. The North Carolina transportation department did not have the resources to deal with a snowfall of this magnitude. The accumulation was so great that back in the western mountains of the state, the roads, especially unpaved rural back roads, never got cleared and soon became impassible. People who lived in cabins way back in the coves couldn't get out. Because many of them were elderly, the Red Cross was called in to try to get help to these elderly citizens trapped back there, deep in the mountains.

Two Red Cross workers had heard about an old woman--in her eighties-- who lived in a cabin way back in the hills, and they volunteered to take a jeep to bring help to her. The two volunteers drove up the ice-bound road as far as they could, abandoned the jeep when the road became impassable, got out snow shoes, wrestled them on, and helped each other tramp through the waist-deep snow until, finally, they saw the little curl of chimney smoke up on the ridge that told them they'd found her. They managed to hike to the cabin on the top of the hill, stomped up on the porch, and rapped on the door. Finally the old lady opened it.

The rescuers announced proudly."We're from the Red Cross."

"Oh honey," she replied. "It has been such a hard winter, I don't think I can help you this year."

February 9, 2006

Tutorial Envy

Just a wild hair: anybody have a copy of this program you'd be willing to sell me, now that you are an InDesign expert? A book would cost maybe $50; this 8+ hour video series is twice that, but very well done. I've been through most of the (generously offered) free segments, but really need the 'working with objects' and 'working with text' sections that only come in the retail version.

But $100 bucks...my hobbies and avocations are carrying me deeper and deeper in debt. Although, thanks most likely to a Fragments reader, I did get a check this week for $2.22 from Zazzle. Somebody bought my postage stamps! My ship has landed.

Really, if you want to think barter, maybe I have something you'd want in exchange. How 'bout a free posture and gait analysis? Pretty tempting, yeah? Second option: if you've seen or used a good paper tutorial, I'm possibly thinking to get a book of InDesign lessons. Let me know titles.

Looking for the Bigger Picture

Forgive me yet another retrospective this morning, more thinking out load. I just wanted to consider this enterprise of blogging, of writing, of bringing readers, then new friends into my life. I want to spend a moment considering the differences between now and then, and some few of you have been along for the three, almost four year journey. Can it be that long?

It began in June of 2002, about a month after I quite surprised myself by not rushing back into wage slavery. On a May day I gave my notice and left a profession, not knowing what came next. How and why this decision and its timing meshed with my discovery of the challenge and joy of writing seems providential, looking back. Had I not had the outlet, the way of reaching beyond my isolation that the weblog provided, I think I would have not allowed myself to take the risk of that terrible-wonderful time at home. The sabbatical ultimately lead to so many fruitful personal 'field trips' here, to the images 'in words and pixels' from that first year of writing, to so many friendships and kindnesses shared, and perhaps, to a book.

I own that first year in a way I never would have without the writing; the days are preserved in a kind of amber by having put them down in words. I can see in that archeology the struggle to stay hopeful, to find encouragement, find beauty and purpose every day--even the bad ones. I see my need to be heard and to listen, and to understand both who and where I was, having stepped off the comfortable and familiar and deadening path I had been on. Too many of us can never step away from it. Here in this crisis I had the opportunity of a lifetime that was also at times like a life sentence of house arrest. What would come of it?

At the end of the first year, I stood too close to see where I had been. Backing away, patterns emerge; form comes from apparent chaos in the mosaic of moments, of days and seasons. Now I look back at the daily vignettes from that first year of writing and see three loose and unintentional but personally necessary themes. Each of them yielded landmarks from which I took a bearing towards what came next. In its simplest form, I suppose you could say that to find direction in that period of aloneness through four seasons, I was looking in, looking out and looking back. The first section of the book is organized with these themes that hold each part loosely together.

Looking in: visions in the present; in not taking for granted the wind, the firewood, the water underground, the rainfall, the garden, the creeks, the sounds of summer, the house, the power of imagination, the familiar unnamed smells of the seasons. Exploring these commonplace objects and places seeks to dig below the surface of things too familiar in a hurried life to see them whole.

Looking out: connections with nature--forest, ridge, garden and creek--the realization that my closest neighbors were in feather, leaf and fur. I had an 'aha' moment that first fall which I remember very well: I could take field trips on my own land, and bring others with me through the digital photos and the daily fragments. Connecting with new 'students' and visitors reunited me with my naturalist past. It could happen because I was living--truly and fully living--at home, both remote and instantly connected.

Looking back: our children, the places we've lived, our family pets--the markers of life no less alive because they are past--these make up the foundation on which the present is laid. We go back to places we know when we have lost our way; back to familiar places for solace and courage to go forward.

How unique those times were. But then, all of our days are once-in-a-lifetime. I am thankful to have saved moments from a special year--extraordinary days, indeed.

I know this from my photographer’s experience: any image I take is one of a kind. Each composition in light or in words is unique. The light will never be that color from that angle on that exact configuration of barn, tree or wildflower ever again. And this: that we too often take for granted the extraordinary senses of vision and hearing, touch and smell that are our gifts—opportunities given us by which we could know the familiar beauties too often missed or dismissed in our hurried lives. We have so little time in the present and there is so very much to take in and share. There are wonders all around. From our everyday lives, these familiar things may seem unremarkable to us. But in these precious instants in time, if we keep our eyes open and our hearts ready to know it, there is nothing ordinary.

February 8, 2006

Physician, Heal Thyself

There was a time I would have entered the gym like a kid in a candy store: look at all these wonderful machines! I bet I can lift the whole stack--ten reps, two sets! Instead, I was filled with a kind of dread the first week at the clinic where I'm working two days a week. How far I've come since the Nautilus days, and not in ground gained, fitness-wise. Between the (relatively) sedentary lifestyle and the bad wrists, I do very little lifting of anything larger than a chunk of firewood these days.

Image copyright Fred First But I've been able to do more on the machines than I thought, but it isn't muscle mass I need these days as much as a return to good 'core stability' and flexibility. We have enough hills around here for cardiovascular workout. What I needed, I decided, was something I could and would do at home that would keep my back and legs strong and be a good way to work the abs and maintain flexibility.

If you've never used a 'gym ball' then you'd be amazed at what an effective exercise tool it can be. Why a ball? For many of the exercises, it forms an unstable base that your trunk and leg muscles must constantly adjust for, just the same way they must do dynamically in things you do every day. A fixed bench offers no such challenge. And with the ball for support, there are exercises you can do with elastic bands or light weights that you could only do in your home if you had a weight bench.

For less than $20, a gym ball (Pilates ball, fitness ball, therapy ball) can provide more than 100 exercises that can be tailored to your abilities and fitness goals. We now have one that sits not twenty feet from my desk here. Some of them come with little pumps. Use the sizing charts to decide what ball you need based on your height. Blow them up until you can sit on them and your knees form a 90 degree angle.

There are a number of vendors on the web. Some of them offer illustrations of some of the exercises. Most will come with a poster of exercise illustrations. Similar balls can be purchased at Big Box Stores of all sripes, but I'd prefer 'professional' quality that are designed with higher burst strength for today's more ample exercisers.

February 7, 2006

Pet Peeves

Image copyright Fred First
Three years ago last month, we decided there wasn't enough of the original hardwood floor left in this front room to restore it. But we had to do something: the wind whistled up through the gaps between floorboards and our wood heat wasn't doing the job it should have. So we put down carpet. Buster, the Dog of the House, learned instantly that he should not come down here to the lower level after it was carpeted. His successor, Tsuga, was not so easily trained. We had to barricade the doorless openings with chairs on their sides, or the pine chest that you can see here, shortly before we instituted the (now defunct) honor system. (see also...)

Finally, T-dog learned his lesson, but over time, we were lax in enforcement and rationalized that he was okay down here with us as long as he stayed on the carpet runners in front of the woodstove and in the hall. And from there, he has subsequently claimed the entire carpeted floor. But in the past couple of weeks, his domain has expanded yet again.

His reluctance even now to come down the formerly-forbidden step has taken the form of his standing on the arm of the loveseat on the lower level (on which we two are sitting) with his back feet on the floor on the upper level: he is illegally IN the lower room while technically his feet weren't legally out of bounds on the carpet. Especially when one of us was sitting on the loveseat, he perched there whining his 'gee, dad, you sure look comfortable' whine. But only in the past week or so has he dared to invade. And already now, we can feel him watching with increasing excitement as we even trend toward the loveseat. He loves nothing better than to pile on top of the sitter and hunker down for the long haul. Ann handed me the camera to set for her, then snapped a cozy scene from a one-dog winter morning.

Next thing, Tsuga will be insisting that this ergonomic chair is too big enough for both of us. There's no stopping them. Ann says in heaven, the dogs are the masters. Some of them try on their wings a little early.

February 6, 2006

Timing is Everything

I was looking back over Februarys past in the Fragments archives this morning. Three years ago this month, I remembered as I read, I was taking a course at Virginia Tech in the Appalachian Studies department, driving over three times a week in my quest to find myself on a map recently missing once-familiar landmarks.

And while I was browsing the archives, I saw I'd had a reader from Yemen. The reader had come from a musical rant on Chas Hill's blog. I pop over to see what might have brought someone from Yemen by way of Oklahoma City and see it is via a snippet that Chas quoted from Fragments--from February, 2003, it turns out coincidentally--and particularly about the need for benchmarks: metal plates set in solid rock that permanently orient us to the real world. I recount the experience from one of my drives to campus where I describe some metaphorical benchmarks from the music of an age:

The next song on the oldies station begins with the raucous sounds of seagulls. Not only do I instantaneously know what the song is going to be, but as the first words are sung, I nail the key perfectly, cueing in some unknown way from the unmelodic birdcalls. The Tymes are singing "So Much in Love" and so am I, and it is 1963, a fixed point in memory, rooted and grounded by the music of that sophomoric age. This is a metaphorical benchmark, it occurs to me as we stroll by the sea together under stars twinkling high above, and somehow my body pilots the car safely in the present, under overcast skies heavy with snow. The music of that year, not one particular song but taken all together, is embedded in rock with a brass plate, immutable, known, anchoring that time to this and me to that gangly fifteen-year-old who was becoming me.

There is a kind of cockeyed symmetry about life sometimes. How all this ties in with the here and now, I will have to leave for another hour and another blog post.

Image and Substance

Image copyright Fred First

Today, or at least sometime this week, I'm expecting a response from a half dozen printers to my Request for Quote. While I didn't know totally what I was doing, I duplicated the same ignorance across six printers--giving each the same type, same page count, same size of perfect-bound book to begin the process of deciding who to work with on the project. I will also want to ascertain what their capabilities and costs are for half-tones in graphic illustrations for the book, and then be able to do more serious work turning Framgents images into book graphic chapter dividers and such.

Things are still moving along and I am targeting a book-in-hand date of no later than June 01, about five months from now. I think it's doable, but there are a hundred more details I will need to nudge into place before then.

Glass as Art

I have had the opportunity to broaden my horizons this past week in the world of glass art.

There is a need at the Jacksonville Center to put together some words about three women flameworkers in Floyd. Flameworking? At other times, what these women do was referred to as lampworking. How is all that different (if it indeed is) from glassblowing? I really couldn't even get this article off the ground at all until I did some research, and I can tell you: it was hard to stay focused for the lure of little sideroads on this history of man's (er, and woman's) use of glass and I was especially lured away by the pictures of creative glass art on the net. I had no idea.

It will come as no surprise to those who know my interests that glass jellyfish and flowers caught my eye right away--an early-modern perfection of one aspect of glass work as art. Perhaps you have seen the Ware Collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. I haven't, but if we go back to Boston, I certainly will make a point to, and become one of the 100,000 visitors this museum welcomes every day. These wonders of detail were created by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, beginning in the 1870s. Here are two good pieces about the collection and the creators with images of sea creatures and flowers in glass.

Totally unrelated (I think) to the kind of glasswork I was supposed to be focusing on is the neon glass sculptures on this page (click NEON ART) where my favorites are toward the bottom: Fire Ant and Staghorn Beetle. I want one of these to sit on my beside table as my counterpart for Ann's twinkling battery powered Christmas candle that keeps me awake every night. Imagine waking up to a glowing arachnid just inches from your face in the dark! Maybe I'll put it on HER side of the bed. But that's another story.

One of the three ladies whose work will be highlighted in the magazine article has an extensive gallery of images of her work that I like very much. Do take a look. A lot of it incorporates nature in realistic or impressionist ways. I look forward to seeing her work at the Jacksonville Center, as well as the work of the other two flameworking women of Floyd.

The completed article will contribute to an upcoming issue of FLOW MAGAZINE, a trade magazine for glass art and craft, which is an interesting read as well.

The take-home from this little excursion is this: there are far more interesting people in this county than I will ever even hear of, much less get to know; and two, I will never stop being amazed at the power of the need to create and all the forms it takes. What a uniquely human impulse and gift it is.

February 4, 2006

What's Behind Door Number One?

Image copyright Fred First
A new barn door. Yep, around here, that's a big deal. We wanted to celebrate and show it off, but wife has forbidden me ever to portray her likeness (again) on the blog. So we found this willing lady shopping in the crouton section of the local organic grocery in Floyd and she agreed to pose for us with our dog, in Ann's barn boots, in front of our face-lifted barn. She seemed happy for the work, but grew light-headed when we brought her inside the house--flinching, wincing, having these little seizures every time she looked in a new direction. I guess we overpowered her with country charm, and she left in an awful hurry.

February 3, 2006

A Balmy Day in...February?

Zip Code 24072 for Feb 3

Average high is 44
Average low is 23 (last night's low was 42)
Record high is 55 in 1953
High predicted for today: Upper 50s

What's it like where you live? Enter your zip in the Quick Cast window and scroll down to the "almanac" for your area. How many show near record or record temps forecast for today or in recent days? Just curious.

Dog on Speed

Image copyright Fred First
The pup had a running fit over in the pasture--not that unusual. What WAS unusual was that this time, I had my camera with me (man it feels good to be back out with the camera!) and I was ready for him. However, I got more shots of the front or back half of him than all of him. Guess I'm out of practice.

And since I'm short of time this morning, and since there is no gentle seque into the next thing I wanted to tell you, and since we were talking about public radio, I'll just tell you: I have another little radio piece that broadcasts real time this morning on WVTF (6:55 and 8:55-ish) but since most blog readers like to do things digitally, go to the link to follow. Length of Calling Them By Name is about three and a half minutes, because every time I stopped for a pregnant, Garrison Keillorish breathy pause, they cut the meaningfully dead air out of my four minute essay. I hate it when they do that. Now, if I had my own radio show, I would take the luxury to sigh, and mutter and repeat myself, and...lucky Garrison.

February 2, 2006

Golden Light

Image copyright Fred First

Here again, it was the light that drew me--a golden light, suddenly. The moisture in the angular rays of first light breaks up, prismatic, and just for an instant, a patch of fog catches the amber-gold part of the spectrum. The view of it was full into the light. There would be lens flare. But I would remember.

Now that you are in an imagery frame of mind, take a look at some Floyd County images by photographer Jonathan Kingston posted to AuroraPhotos. Doug and I got to know Jonathan last year from his several photography shoots here in the county. For a couple of the images you will see here, I was there with him. Good memories, for sure.

Efficacy Confirmed. Maybe.

AVI BioPharma reports the testing of a new 'antisense' drug against a variety of viruses, including H5N1.

These confirmations validate our approach to blocking replication of influenza viruses. We now believe that a single NEUGENE drug could be effective against most influenza subtypes, including the H5N1 avian strain," said Patrick L. Iversen, Ph.D., senior vice president of research and development at AVI. "By targeting regions of the viral genetic code that are common to all influenza A subtypes, we expect that our NEUGENE drugs will be effective against avian flu and the far more common influenza A viruses, which kill an average of 35,000 Americans every year.

...The speed with which effective NeuGene drugs can be designed and manufactured exceeds any other modern drug development timeframe. For example, NeuGene compounds targeting SARS, WNV and Ebola were developed within days to weeks of obtaining the appropriate genetic sequences for the viruses.

The 'fact' that this kind of treatment can be generated quickly and has a broader spectrum of effect across genetically different strains is very good thing, if true. No information here on when the availability of this medication can be expected. Human trials against some known variants, especially of avian flu in humans, will occur only in the hot zone at time of need, I'm thinking. But this might be the biggest step in the right direction yet, and it makes me think of all the basic science over all the years since Watson and Crick divulged the 'double helix' so that now we can tailor-make gene-targeted medicine.

By the way, a new resource on avian flu has come on line recently. The site's author is an M.D. and director for a large life insurance company. His perspective seems to come from a rational, middle-of-the-road perspective. The sky isn't falling. There is no wolf. But we'd best watch this carefully.

February 1, 2006

Musical Notes


Another image from the Roanoke Jug Band playing recently in a living room somewhere in Floyd County, Virginia.

For regular features on local music, news and culture, visit the newly unwrapped multimedia webpage at FloydCounty.com.

Rain Gardens: Savings from a Rainy Day

This just makes sense. And almost every home owner can do it. New homes should have rain gardens designed into their landscaping from the git-go. Why send water as fast as possible into the nearest creek with the highest possible burden of pollutants if instead it can enter the water table, cleaned up by the action of soil microbes?

More than half of the rainwater that falls on a typical city block, one with 75 percent or more impervious cover — such as roads or parking lots — will leave as runoff, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. This runoff includes metals, oils, fertilizers and other particulate matter, the Connecticut researchers note. Easy-to-construct rain gardens — shallow depressions in the earth landscaped with hardy shrubs and plants such as chokeberry or winterberry surrounded by bark mulch — offer a simple remedy to this problem, they say.

The gardens are designed to replicate the natural water cycle that existed before roads and other impervious surfaces were constructed, Dietz and Clausen say. As the water collects and soaks into the rain garden, it infiltrates into the ground rather than draining directly into sewers or waterways. The gardens work well year-round, they say.

In their two-year study of roof-water runoff, the researchers found that rain gardens significantly reduced concentrations of nitrates, ammonias, phosphorous and other pollutants reaching storm drains. In addition, design tweaks that allowed polluted rainwater to pool at the bottom of the gardens permitted bacteria in the soil to convert harmful nitrates into nitrogen gas, preventing them from entering the groundwater.

How-To for Rain Gardens (pdf)

Homeowners in many parts of the country are catching on to rain gardens – landscaped areas planted to wild flowers and other native vegetation that soak up rain water, mainly from the roof of a house or other building. The rain garden fills with a few inches of water after a storm and the water slowly filters into the ground rather than running off to a storm drain. Compared to a conventional patch of lawn, a rain garden allows about 30% more water to soak into the ground.

Rain gardens work for us in several ways:

  • Increasing the amount of water that filters into the ground, which recharges local and regional aquifers;

  • Helping protect communities from flooding and drainage problems;

  • Helping protect streams and lakes from pollutants carried by urban stormwater – lawn fertilizers and pesticides, oil and other fluids that leak from cars, and numerous harmful substances that wash off roofs and paved areas;

  • Enhancing the beauty of yards and neighborhoods;

  • Providing valuable habitat for birds, butterflies and many beneficial insects.