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March 31, 2006

One Step Back

Doh! I've been asking for three weeks for somebody from the print department to let me know if there were any changes needed in the cover graphic. No, things look fine, I heard. Until yesterday.

"Uh, there are a few little problems with the cover. The spline needs to be moved 7/8" to the right and you need 1/8 inch more bleed at the top."

Great, printer-folk. This is the kind of thing I could have been working on two weeks ago so that you could actually make good your plan to send my proofs off today. Not gonna happen. Why do complications always happen late in the day and near a weekend? I'll be gone all day today. IF they send back a response to my correct image sent at 4:30 yesterday, it is likely to be the middle of next week before I can clear up what should have been cleared up already and not a wrench in the machinery.

Ah well. Had a pleasant interview with Leslie Shelor of Blue Ridge Gazette yesterday. She had read a good bit of the book, and was very perceptive of the voice and aware of my purpose for the collected vignettes. Her questions arose largely from specific passages in the book, like: "I was struck by your statement that your intended use of your pasture was 'to take spider web pictures.' Tell me more about that." Which, of course, I was happy to do! Next Thursday, Wanda, Floyd Press editor, is coming to the house to do a piece on the book. The two essays I recorded on Wednesday will end with a byline mentioning the book.

So come on, printing folk, let's work together and flow this thing right along. I am making committments I would kinda like to keep.

And thanks to those who have sent checks for first-mailing copies of the book! I have decided to chiefly market by word of mouth and avoid the BigBoxBookStores. So consider cutting and pasting this little signature and sending it to a friend, family or neighbor who you think might enjoy the book. (From the Shameless Commerce Division of Goose Creek Press.)

Slow Road Home ~ A Blue Ridge Book of Days
by Fred First / Goose Creek Press / Floyd, Virginia
website: http://goosecreekpress.pbwiki.com/FrontPage
weblog: http://fragmentsfromfloyd.com
email: fred1st@gmail.com

8-Lane Nightmare: Wake UP, Virginia

If you live in southwest Virginia--any part of the Commonwealth for that matter--please write Governor Kaine and let's stop plans to turn I-81 into an even less safe and more unpleasant experience than it already is.

Learn the options at the RailSolutions page. Click the TAKE ACTION button and craft a quick letter to the Governor during April when there is opportunity for public input. Attend a meeting if you can. Let's not let this Haliburton-dominated bigger hammer plan be foisted upon us.

Here are some of the good things that would come from the 8-lane truck expressway:

  • Air pollution and noise due to the projected doubling and tripling of truck traffic would jump dramatically. Diesel emissions ironically would be trapped by our beautiful ridge and valley topography.
  • Public health would deteriorate as childhood asthma and adult respiratory disease increase in proportion to increased ozone, particulate, and nitrous oxide emissions.
  • The chance for catastrophic accidents would be great, especially if larger trucks with triple trailers are allowed.
  • The beautiful Valley of Virginia and Mountain Empire of Southwest Virginia would forever be marred with soundwalls and a gigantic industrialized highway replete with truck service strip development.
  • Historic sites would be lost or encroached upon.
  • Agriculture and forestry would suffer from loss of land and ozone pollution.
  • Wildlife would be increasingly stressed, it's populations fragmented, resulting in increased danger from vehicle-animal collisions.

Shame on VDOT for sucking up to Big Money. You haven't and you won't get away with it.

Come on, neighbors. Let's get on TRACK on this one, and be heard!

March 30, 2006

Blogging, Books and Bedlam

Well, this orta be interesting: a gathering of bloggers, wannabe bloggers, rabid protestors and who knows what else at Cafe del Sol in the heart of downtown Floyd today. Read all about it over on David St. Lawrence's page, as this is his brain-baby. I know of several folks who will be there that I have known by name only, writers and bloggers among them. Why bother even attempting to set the stage for you, as this event will be one of the--and perhaps THE--most widely live-reported events in the history of the county. So tune in to Ripples during the day for all the blow by blow discussion, debate and debauchery (just kidding, I just needed a third "d") that is sure to come.

Meanwhile (which translated, is to say, I'm too lazy to start a separate post)...I had an interesting experience yesterday in the studio of our local public radio station, WVTF. I went to record a couple of little "Friday essays" and was in the studio at the same time as Jim Minick, frequent radio essayist and author of the popular "Finding a Clear Path." He and I had emailed re my book off and on but never seemed to find time to get together. (Jim's speaking and book signing lineup is mind-boggling and scary as I look down the road.) Anyhow, he was in the studio with the headphones on and the "on the air" light lit red when I got there. When he finished, he asked if he could sit in on the recording of my two little piece. Heck, I didn't care. If I was willing to be heard by the radio audience, I guess one more immediate listener couldn't hurt. We stood in the parking lot and talked afterward for almost an hour. Thanks, Jim, for some good contacts--some of which have already borne fruit!

I had a nightmare last night. I was Lucille Ball. In the cake factory. And they just kept coming. Faster and faster they came, at first I could barely keep up and yet they all went in their little boxes, and I saw them moving away in the back of the bakery truck, off to their hungry recipients. Then, some didn't get their cherries on top. The whipped cream was everywhere. They began to pile up on the floor under the conveyor belt, higher and higher. Through the cherry juice and smears of sweet white froth I could see the words: Slow Road Home. And I woke up in a cold sweat. I. Am. An. Idiot. How do I think I'm going to deal with success? Not that it's a imminent threat, but hey, it could happen. And our dining table (a surface held sacred by some wifely types hear-abouts, and never to be violated by my "junk") will become perpetually laden with tape and mailers, books and lists and spreadsheets. Tra-la. I'll worry about that tomorrow.

Did I tell you? I should expect proofs very soon. If there are no major reworkings (and I don't expect any) then the books will ship by April 14! We're already talking about how big (or rather how small) a truck to transfer them to off of the 18-wheeler that brings them from Michigan. No, we don't happen to have a loading dock here at the house. Yes, a power lift would be nice. The books are coming in boxes of 40-something (at 8 oz a book, that's not too heavy a box) and inside they will be shrink-wrapped five per bundle (thanks David for this tip) and stay nice and fresh even in our summer-damp house. So. Do you see the basis for my nightmare? A house full of books. A table full of books. A schedule full of books. I am host to a self-publisher's parasite: his own book! Chill, Fred. It'll work out. Somehow. You'll see.

March 29, 2006

Venus Ascending

Cloudless and calm, the southern sky above the pasture has just grown lighter than the wooded ridges along the two rims of our valley, rising edges of the cupped hands that hold our lives. Far away, hollow and without direction, an owl says good night as his day ends, and mine begins. I stand attentive, with coffee.

There is contrast now between the fringe of oaks and the blue black space beyond, there, a five minute walk from the front porch to the top of the eastern skyline. And suddenly, a prick of purest light--Venus visible suddenly above our local horizon. It climbs the trees on a slight diagonal, full radiant between trunks, disappearing behind branches, partially, completely, reappearing, higher and higher, winking faintly as it passes behind the smallest bare twigs.

It reaches the top and open blue space, and is free. Venus, the bright and morning star, a climber of trees.

March 28, 2006

Poultrygeist

Image copyright Fred First

What! Is Bird Flu a big problem on Goose Creek? Not on your life. Not with Tsuga, the ever-watchful Bird(flu) Dog, on patrol. Spotting this vector of pestilence trying to sneak out of the barn, Tsuga stood tall in defiance and looked this giant galliform gargoyle in the eye! So, we're in pretty good shape, virologically speaking.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the real H5N1 has spread to 29 new countries in the past seven weeks.

March 27, 2006

In Good Time

Over the weekend, this personal reflection on time appeared at Time Goes By, Ronni Bennett's blog, while she was away. I wanted to bring it home to Fragments so it would become yet another scrap of language and memory in the repository that the weblog has become--an odd junk drawer treasure chest time capsule sort of a thing.

I was, but I was not in time on New Year’s Eve, 1950. Events came and marked time’s passing—Christmases, and especially birthdays—measured by the number of fingers I held up, of candles I blew out and made a wish. But time then held no promise or threat of change in my life. If it moved at all, time parted around me; it moved with imperceptible slowness then and was no enemy.

I was twelve when I first grasped the potential of time’s gravity, and conceived of someday, being “old.” I watched time falling, counted down its hours, then the final seconds of 1959 as the Big Ball descended to welcome a new decade, a number divisible by ten small fingers. That night, I grasped that I stood at risk for more of these decade changes ahead in life. I did the arithmetic: in the auspicious year of 2000, I would be fifty two. For the first time, I looked far ahead into this mystery, dreading vaguely that I might, after all, be moved ahead by time’s current or more likely, that its unspeakable dimension would pass through my body as I held my place firmly in perpetual youth of heart and mind. And hold my place, I intended to do.

Life beyond eternal childhood held no appeal for me; I had returned again and again to watch Peter Pan fly above the clouds in perpetual childhood. I vowed I would become one of the Lost Boys. At that threshold of the sixties, I puckered my face in the mirror, forty years into the future, into a wizened distortion of an incomprehensible evolution to come and tried to imagine aging. I vowed that I would not go peacefully.

And yet, carrots dangled just beyond reach on the infinitely progressing front edge of time—girls, rock and roll, and driving—the kinds of adventure and reward that growing older promised. At fifteen, I was almost ready to put away childish things. Expectations beyond Christmases and birthdays filled a haunting place called The Future. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older, then we wouldn’t have to wait so long” the Beach Boys sang at a high school dance. I understood.

Time was a barrier to be breached, a distance to be crossed between today and everything I thought I might want in my grown-up life to come. I was stuck in the present waiting, with years of sub-adulthood to endure. This odd force like gravity was an adversary, an empty wasteland of plodding youth that, barring a time machine—a recurrent adolescent fantasy—would have to be endured if I was to reach the prize: independence, adventure, amour, and freedom from acne. Adulthood.

Ten fingers later—it came so quickly, looking back—in 1970, I was married and in graduate school. That year my new passion for photography forever changed my view of time. I learned then to savor present moments. Every unique photograph snapped a marker in time, held it in the emulsion of memory, capturing in perfect synchrony that vertical line of precise moment where it intersects the coordinates of particular place.

No two photographic instants were the same, and there was no going back. Time was a moving stream and with my lens I fished from it as days flowed through the faces I knew, past the places I loved, leaving the lived, the known moments bobbing on its smooth surface, receding deeper and deeper, Doppler-like, into a realm that we could photograph, could know just once, just now.

I spent three more decades behind the camera, not wishing I were older, happy for the past, but savoring photographic instants in the present when one face or one flower, one sunset, yet another family pet or one more grandchild’s candle-covered birthday cake filled the viewfinder. And when the year 2000 came, I was still alive—much to the amazement of the freckled twelve-year-old me I could see in memory with such clarity that millennial New Year’s Eve.

And while my twenty-first century face was indeed pleated by laugh lines and crow’s feet, creased like my old first baseman’s glove, it was the face of the same Lost Boy, riding time like a pair of skates, surfing its glassy surface to the vanishing point, standing still but moving through it, moment by precious moment, aging, after all.

Unruffled Grouse

They have startled the starch out of me, bursting up from invisible nowhere near my very feet to vanish through the overstory in a flurry of wings. I have thought myself to be having a thudding pounding heart attack when the hormone-primed made ultra-low-frequency strums with their wings in the mating drumbeats of spring courtship. But until yesterday, I had never seen one closer than fifty feet and never for longer than a split second.

As we pulled up the first quarter mile of Goose Creek's single lane road, there must have been something a bit odd about a rounded pile of leaves on the side of the road--or was it a clump of mud and gravel there on the driver's side of the car? I stopped just when the clump was directly under my window to have a look.

Honestly, at first, I thought I had indeed stopped to look at a clump of leaves. Only when my eye found his did I make out the shape of a perfectly formed, perfectly plump, perfectly cryptic Ruffed Grouse completely motionless not four feet from me. I motioned for Ann from the passenger's side to slowly lean over and look.

My word, look at the variety of feather patterns, all of them the color of dead oak leaves with dapples of sunlight, of last year's cinnamon fern, red-brown and lacey. I had to find the eye to confirm that this patterned clump was truly alive.

"I wonder if he's sick" Ann said about the time I tapped sharply on the window glass. And the bird wandered unruffled down the steep bank of the road above the creek and disappeared into the laurel shade and was gone.

March 26, 2006

Inspired by Imagery

If my creative juices are generated by the visual (as I know to be the case) then we've been through some dry times lately. Of necessity, I've put on blinders to any images other than the pages in front of me. Those days, for a while, are over. I need to regain my larger vision.

Even looking at the images seen through other's eyes can be helpful. Go here. Let the juices flow.

Oooo! Ahhhh!

March 25, 2006

And The Winner Is...

Well. I have finally found the on-switch for inciting comments on this blog at the edge of the known world: give readers two simple choices. Would you prefer a post today about 1) Tsuga or 2) some other yellow lab on Goose Creek?

And the judges final decision for the Author's Bio image is....(may I have the envelope, please)...

Overwhelmingly, number 1. I would have chosen number 2, but only because I am looking at a higher-res version (where there is some sparkle in the eyes vs the dark empty pits in the little low-res image.) However, I like the larger context of image #1 and it is the one I submitted with the book (though I can change it after the proofs come back.) This book is, after all, more about context than author, really, so the image should reflect that.

I will go back and see if I can improve the detail and contrast in the original for #1. And yes, I like the Fragments mugshot, but it is 3 years old, and too small (a crop from a low res image) and not a candidate. All I can tell you is, I am not about to go back out with the tripod for more shots. Today, I would be posing with one knee in the snow. I am not that dedicated.

BTW, the book is at the printers. Hurry up and wait. I'm trying not to nag, as my project has been passed along the book assembly line from my very faithful rep at Edwards Brothers to the folks who handle the submitted project for proofing, then printing. It has been a much more cohesive process than I had imagined, thanks in no small part to my fortuitous (though not at all random) choice of printer. And much more praise there when the book is in hand and I can discuss the process from start to finish.

Time Gone By

Today's post is a long one, and hosted off-site. Ronni Bennett, in her ducks-in-a-row orderliness, has arranged for guest bloggers to cover her fine blog in her absence for a week. Today is my day of pleasant duty over at Time Goes By. Do read all the guest postings, and if you get to the end of the series (today), you can read my reflection that began to take shape on March 01 here at Fragments with the post titled "Wouldn't It Be Nice." I didn't carry this thought as far as I had hoped before I had to send it to Ronni, what with the book editing and all. But as is the usual with blogging for me, this may be the seed kernel of some longer, more elaborate piece to come--a fragment that may become part of a larger whole. Or not.

You younger bloggers, well, you just run along and play, while us elderbloggers compare notes. Or stop by and learn from Ronni's accumulated wisdom how seamlessly (or there may be seams) your present youth will flow with your future elder self like a raindrop becomes a part of the ocean; or like a drop of oil in the same setting--you decide.

March 24, 2006

Bigger Brains for a Shrinking Planet


"Over the last 12 months, more data has been collected than since the beginning of science" states one expert.
And computational brains are necessary to sort it all and make planet-saving predictions about disease, hurricanes, weather patterns and the impact of pollution.

And so the recently convened "Towards 2020 Science" group proposes that computational "science" should become a co-equal partner with the "hard sciences", working hand in hand with geneticists, biologists, meteorologists, geologists and nano-manufacturers in what may amount to a paradigm shift, a knowledge-and-science revolution in the coming decade.

"The weight of human existence on the planet has begun to break down the very systems on which we depend, and it is vital that we increase our knowledge of complex physical and biological systems through scientific advances," said Stephen Emmott, director of Microsoft's scientific research programs in Europe and chairman of the 2020 Science Group. "This report establishes the necessity of applying the cutting edge of computer science to more quickly find solutions to the challenges we are facing."

In addition to presenting these and other findings, the report makes ten recommendations, stressing these needs: to put science and science-based innovation at the top of society's priorities; to reconsider how the scientists of tomorrow are inspired and educated at all age levels; and to find new ways to raise public awareness of the importance of scientific research and raise its profile on the political agenda. Microsoft Research Cambridge will be providing 2.5 million euro to the scientific community through a call for proposals to support new research that specifically addresses the areas outlined by the 2020 Science Group.

Can we get there from here, considering our sad underperformance in science education? Who decides what goes into the computational models? How is this knowledge translated into action? What if the current regime doesn't "believe in" the conservation called for by the model or the existence of dead zones in the ocean, even if the supercomputers show it plainly as the best solution? What if the reports generated by such colossal "intelligence" runs contrary to the corporate bottom line or undermines the platform of the party in power? And what is needed to make us wiser as we get "smarter?" Inquiring but admittedly puny single brains want to know.

This One; Or This?

Image copyright Fred First

Think of it as an optometrist visit. Which image seems best for a bio page: this one, or this one. Again. This one, or this one. And NEITHER is not a choice. This is all the photographer had to work with (camera on tripod, shutter on timer, run, sit (avoid wet ground and sharp rocks) and look natural. Repeat twenty times.

Please leave a number to record your choice. This ship has not quite sailed. And remember, if you eventually own this book, the face that looms out from the last page will be your fault. Choose wisely.

Reminds me (as all things do, ultimately) of something else: Woody Allen's address to the graduates:

"Today, we are at a crossroads. One road leads to hopelessness and despair. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we choose wisely."

A Life Stranger Than Fiction

Second in this year's series of author appearances in Floyd, last night's crowd for Lee Smith set new records. She seems to have been more familiar to the Floyd audience in general than she was to me, but now I've heard her speak, I understand her popularity. Born in Grundy, Virginia--the heart of coal country--she went on to Hollins College in Roanoke, where she met, became friends with, and danced in white go-go boots with her friend and classmate, Annie Dillard, in an all girl band called the Virginia Woolfs. (I so wanted to ask for more details about this factoid!)

Last night, she told the true story of her "trip down river" which forms the experiential basis for her most recent books, The Last Girls. Sixteen girls built a "floating porch" with the purpose of floating 1200 miles down the Mississippi, inspired by their Hollins study of Huck Finn. What a tale.

And how liberating to write fiction, I thought last night. In the way that painting is to photography, fiction is to fact. I envy the painter's option to embellish, to exaggerate, to delete the ugly and accentuate the beauty and the magic of a scene that my camera brings home, powerlines and litter, included. What must it be like to be on the creative throne, conceiving people, towns, histories or futures at will. Could I do it? Why have I not been drawn this direction before, and what is required at this late date, to begin?

I have to tell you, the timing was auspicious. To be inspired to find my own new river float on the same day that, at least symbolically, the non-fiction writing comes to some kind of temporary resolution and I can stick my head up and see what the coming world offers--well, let's keep chewing on the elephant on the plate before we order the next course, shall we?

March 23, 2006

Ten Pages to Go

One Trick Pony here. More of the same.

** ISBN numbers came yesterday, and now one appears on the copyright page of the book. With the ISBN, I could then retrieve the bar code (EAN 10 digit AND new 13 digit variety) and put it on the back cover of the book. Took me some time to figure why I couldn't insert the bar image: it was a tiff (but after that, in parenthesis I finally noticed, it said BITMAP.) The AHA moment: I converted it to grayscale and handled it just fine from there on.

** Yesterday, I got back contact prints of the five small black and white images inside the book. Clarity: great. Contast: not so great. Image levels show full black and it appears so on the screen; on the photopaper contact prints, the blacks are washed out and limpid. Will talk to someone at Edwards Brothers later this morning about this.

** Have been authenticated by PayPal and have attempted to wade through that very complex relationship. A button is up here in a rudimentary fashion, but I'm not sure what's happening. The log-in page still says I need to complete the set-up for Website Payments Standard. At least I'm dealing with these glitches before I really need them reliably in place.

** Question: If I establish a relationship with Barnes and Noble, does this mean I CAN'T sell the books directly (in competition with B&N)? I have homework.

** I will finish my last edit of the text by 9 this morning, then go back through one more time for a visual inspection to be sure there are no screw-ups in pagination and layout. Then, I suppose I'll ship the files off in as final and perfect a shape as I'm going to get them. Hitting the SEND button will be like firing off a manned experimental rocket into space. Will it attain orbit? Will there be enough fuel to get it safely back on the ground again? And will it land softly or crash nose first with its tailfins against the sky, embedded LooneyTunes in the desert with Wile E Coyote standing by, scratching his head?

Overture, curtains, lights
This is it, you'll hit the heights
And oh what heights we'll hit
On with the show this is it

March 22, 2006

Last Big Push

Got notice that the needed info for the back of the book should come today. Got word yesterday that the prepress folks at the printer commended me on the grayscale quality of the five images included in the text, so it looks like they are a "go." If the barcode fits on the back cover space I have for it, I should be able to have the cover and the book files tested and back to me for completion by the first of next week. Then, another few days to get the proofs from them to me by air express, and the go-ahead for the first run, shortly thereafter.

So, today it is nose to the grindstone. I had in mind a picture to post (but ran out of time) from last year's April archive--something to renew my hope of spring, to help me remember the light and radiance of those first glorious green days in April. Won't be long. I'll be back. See ya.

March 21, 2006

Up In Smoke

Image copyright Fred First

Found image, January 06. Why post this particular picture just now? Because I hadn't before, and because I think if I don't get some imagery into this blog again soon, I might just explode. That's all.

(NOTE: the trees and grasses are real. The smoke and flames, courtesy of PhotoShop.)

15 = 21

~ ~ There are fifteen days. And there are fifteen working days. They are not the same. So when the issuing agency said that non-priority ISBN numbers would be delivered in 15 days, I took them literally. Lacking the qualifiers--just a few extra words--fifteen days is two weeks plus a day. Well, that would have been last Friday. No ISBN numbers. And no answers to emails or phone calls to clarify my misassumptions or express my disappointment that such a lofty author-oriented site cannot say with precision what they mean. And all the more disgust that an extra $75 is charged if you your purchase without the two week's ransom. So much for my timeline. Even so, books in hand by June 1 (a date projected with just this kind of glitch built in) seems likely!

~ ~ Ach! Editing one's own words. Thanks to Jim M, who sent a few edits and a few kind words (now on the ReadersSay page) and pointed out to me, as no one else had and as my eyes missed yet again: in the preface, where I talk about the change in the rhythm of my life, I thought I had said, and read over and over that I had said "I stopped wearing my watch" when in fact, I said "I stopping wearing my watch." Now that I think of it, another reviewer DID say "what is this sentence about?" not understanding the verb. I re-read it, saw STOPPED, and went on. Scary stuff.

~ ~ I talked with someone at Barnes and Noble yesterday about establishing a relationship with the chain (and with their wholesalers) to get the book into wider distribution. The trade-off, of course, is that I make only a buck or two, after everyone in the middle takes a cut. The advantage is that many more books might be sold if it is more widely available than by going through one-book-at-a-time distribution out of our dining room. I have to have the book to send them (June 1); then it takes six weeks (or is that six working weeks?) to hear if it has been accepted. That puts it about middle of the summer. That should work.

~ ~ And here is where I wish I had more retail experience. How best to track and record state taxes, net sales, mailing lists (convertible to printable labels) et cetera, without a lot of duplication in two or three different programs? Can it all be done through Access (about which I know next to nothing. Again.) and then imported into Excel for calculating number columns at the end of the tax year? Doh!

March 20, 2006

What Goes Around

I am sorry. Below, a verbatim repost from one year ago less ten days. What I was looking for was the image to this post, entitled Vernal Equinuts (scroll down through the February 2005 archive page to find the image--other images worth a look!) Today, you know, is the first official day of spring, and I am SO SCATTERED! Happens every year this time, as this post reminds me:


Vernal Dreams 30 March 2005

Baby steps. Baby steps. Eat the elephant one bite at a time. Take a deep breath and do the first thing.

This is the sense of what looms at the front of my mind this morning as I face an empty page and a full day, week, month and too-full season ahead.

It has started: the spin into what always becomes the most wonderful-frenzied part of my year. The blur of AprilMay is here--a single hurtling period of riotous overproduction, of too much color and the return of fragrance to warm air. The calendar looms with too many things in both the aesthetic and necessary realms that want and warrant my attention.

It will happen all at once and everywhere at once and I will not want to miss a single new appearance as spring returns life to the valley.

I want to be a passive but careful watcher of spring. AprilMay is here. Be patient. Listen and see. Let it unfold. Savor it.

And just then, the days of being here fill suddenly with responsibilities of living here: overhaul the tiller and the mowers; clean up the woodlot of winter's flotsam; order seeds, prepare the garden; finish outdoor projects halted by snows in February. Get busy! Stay busy, or you'll be overwhelmed and never catch up.

I've said yes to extra projects beyond the usual that come this time of year and realize I might have said yes when I should have said no.

An hour ago in my dreams, I was neck-deep in a warm, still pool. I could feel it around me, soft and green. I pushed away from my hold on the shore, my body floating silently, passively toward the dark depths where shafts of golden sunlight pierced the translucent emerald water. My eyes were open; I would not struggle, would not swim. The warm green would hold me up, and I would watch the underworld life below the surface of the tepid pond; only watch.

And I began to sink.

Sorry, Charlie

Where does one get fish oil? Well, from fish. And this would be my preferred choice for omega-3 fatty acids, a dietary component I'd like to increase. We have a couple of gals who make the trip every week to the coast and back to our area with fresh fish. We can occasionally afford a pound of shrimp or a couple of catfish. But one thing we will not be getting is tuna. Charlie's day in our diet is over, and if you have children or are pregnant, you should consider other sources of Chuck's former goodness for your table. Why?

Coal.

Traveling into the upper atmosphere along with dozens of other nasties (for instance, CO2) coming from the tall stacks of coal burning power plants is mercury. It was an element laid down in the organic deposit millions of years ago when coal was formed. Now, and for the past hundred or more years, it settles out of the air over time, and falls to the ground or water. In the water, anaerobic bacteria in marine sediments convert the inorganic metal into organic methylmercury, which then accumulates in living tissues as it moves up the food chain. And there at the top of the marine feeding pyramid is our poor friend, Charlie. And there is no free-range, farm grown, organic alternative. If you eat tuna, you are ingesting methylmercury. No problem, you say? Consider:

1 in 6 children born every year in the U.S. have been exposed to mercury levels so high that they are potentially at risk for learning disabilities and motor skill impairment.

By eating 6 ounces (1 can) of chunk white tuna per week, a child ingests almost 4 times the EPA's recommended weekly limit for mercury consumption.

... "methylmercury has been shown to paralyze migrating fetal brain cells and halt their cell division. As a result, the architecture of the brain is subtly altered in ways that can lead to learning disabilities, delayed mental development, and shortened attention spans in later childhood."

Not good. And furthermore, 1200 new coal burning power plants are planned for the next two decades. And if you're a pregnant mother in Kentucky or West Virginia, you get to pay twice: mountaintop removal takes it, and tuna gives it back.

March 19, 2006

Ill Winds

The continents would be cooking or freezing without them, the prevailing winds that are the world's mixing machines of weather. I have no quarrels with wind on this grand scale of meteorological plan and purpose. It is the unprevailing and fickle winds up close and personal that I have not learned to make my peace with.

I've tried five times to start in on the wood, to get the trunks of oaks out of the pasture before the orchard grass and clover begin to bolt and rise. Five times since mid-week, I've been thwarted by winds that immediately send fine specks of sawdust to my eyes the instant the chain bites wood. So instead, I split large rounds of oak with the Monster Maul for far longer than I should have, usually alternating between splitting and cutting; and I have the back to prove it this morning.

Now I shouldn't complain, because compared to many places in Floyd County, we are mercifully sheltered from the worst of the winds. We hear it howling and see the ridge top trees leaning away from the strong winds of late winter, but the ridges to the north and west give us pretty good shelter--provided the winds come from the proper direction. To the south and east, we're less protected; and in some combination of velocity and direction, if we had a weather vane, it would wrench violently back and forth from every direction on the compass. If we could see the air, it would be revealed as massive, roiling tendrils licking into the valley, spinning wheels, counterclockwise, clockwise, vertical then horizontal chaos.

This morning, I cleaned out both wood stoves, an onerous task even early in the wood burning season, and abhorrent by mid-March, even on a calm day. Try as I might to predict which way the cloud of ashes would rise when I emptied the ash scoop into the metal can on the front walk, the fine dust and specks pursued me with evil intent no matter how I dodged, and my navy sweat pants are shades of gray.

March 18, 2006

Story in the Name

Someone told me recently that he had just purchased the book What Dreams May Come. I was struck by the title because it pulled me back both to the concrete language of Shakespeare from which it was extracted and to the haunting, unspeakable expectations of the imagined unknown. It drew me in.

I don't know how similarly evocative the title of my book, Slow Road Home, will be for other readers, but thinking back, I've laden it with personal meaning and poignancy. While the title, as I've said in my "business card description" of it, refers to both the journey and the ultimate destination, there is more. It carries back farther in time and into a different personal space than you'll read in the narrative of the book. Perhaps there is some element of memoir, even in the title.

I grew up in the era of Sunday drives. Still in our "church clothes" after lunch at a favorite sit-down restaurant--there were no fast food franchises in those days--we would strike out into the countryside in the family car. Sometimes we had a destination in mind, often frivilous and sometimes contrived on the spot. Other times, we were simply on the road, exploring places where the driver only knew generally where he was. The driver: my father--not a longstanding or significant part of my years beyond adolescence--gained my respect for his uncanny ability to always get us home from places where I thought we were hopelessly lost.

He sometimes made a point of taking a half-dozen random turns that would lead us in directions that even a ten-year-old could tell were not in the direction home.

"Where are we going now?" my brother and I asked, half hoping he could tell us, and other half that he didn't really know himself.

"We're going home the slow way. Let's see where we end up."

And so the slow way home then was a prolonging our exploration for a little longer, and it was a part of the adventure itself. It was both the purpose and the means of learning our way home from whereever we were.

I think I see that now in this book. I started asking four years ago "Where am I going now?" knowing that I didn't know the answer exactly, but having the conviction that there was adventure ahead on the slow road home and that the journey toward the imagined unknown would be as important as finally arriving at the destination.

March 17, 2006

Rural Hygiene

We are now septically clean. Two nice young men in a large new white tank truck came yesterday and did the deed. They dug down to the tank by hand, two men, two shovels, and made me feel quite foolish. While the tank is something like 5' x 10 feet, the lid is only about 18" on a side; I might have been able to dig that out by myself after all. It was such an easy dig--14" through loose soil--that he didn't charge me for digging it up. And even better, he did tell some colorful occupational stories, as you might imagine. I'll spare you the less savory (or should I say less aromatic) of them. You're welcome.

Two tales come to mind with regard to digging up tanks. I'm not the only one who mistakenly thought the whole tank had to be uncovered. In fact, he said, they arrived at one job where the entire 5' x 10' tank had not only been laboriously unearthed, the woman of the house (oooh I think I know this woman) had swept the top spotless clean with a broom!

Another tank they were to clean belonged to a 70-something gentleman back in the hills somewhere nearby. When they arrived, the driver noticed piles of dirt heaped everywhere. The man carried them around back to the septic tank. It was seven feet below soil line, a gaping cavern, and the man had dug it out by hand himself, filling and emptying five gallon buckets til the job was done. I couldn't imagine.

And then, there were septic horror stories of various flavors. Sorry, poor choice of terms. He told about one septic tank installer who regularly put them in backwards. There is a inlet and outlet side to the concrete bunker, the inlet being a couple of inches higher than the outlet to allow the tank to fill unimpeded by rising fluid levels. Makes sense. But apparently, this installer person often reverses them. You can imagine that, after a few years, these hapless homeowners are not going to be happy campers.

So, the deed is done. And as it turns out, just in time. We were at full pond. And now we're good for another five or six years of happy flushing, feeding untold billions of contented bacteria who live underground in the dark, immersed in a veritable feast. Sounds like win-win to me.

March 16, 2006

Friends Don't Let Friends...

...appear in public photographs without airbrushing out the blemishes. David St. Lawrence never goes anywhere without his camera, so be prepared to be caught with food in your mouth, bad posture, or carrying a high powered rifle. (He captured Ann in her green barn boots carrying the bear gun last year, for which she has never forgiven him!) He is a true journalist!

Anywho, Dave got some good shots of Robert Morgan, at least, and tells here a bit about last Thursday night's event. It was time well spent, and as he says, one can learn in subtle or powerful ways, just by hanging out with and listening to the stories and the styles of other writers--especially the successful ones. Morgan's Gap Creek sold over 2 million copies. I'd say that qualifies as success.

The grand finale of this speaker's program will be Barbara Kingsolver in September. I notice they have booked the high school auditorium for her evening. Like, maybe they're expecting a crowd?

Testing, Testing

Will a few of you please click over and see if you can access the pages from a wiki I set up last night? I'm hoping to have another page than Fragments to house the conversation about the book. Blah blah blah book. I don't want to run you off with 24/7 coffee talk about this only thing. Because hey! spring is perking up from underground like a green volcano! There are other things happening on Goose Creek--like getting two mowers and a tiller and a string trimmer ready for summer; ordering garden seeds; getting that load of rotten stable poop from a neighbor; cutting up two cords of wood that lie horizontal in the pasture; and whatever needs doing in the new addition.

So, here's the link to the SlowRoadHome wiki. The site will be very easy to update, and will grow over time. Check out the "what people say" page, with not everything posted there yet; I have a long one that will merit its own page, to be added later today. Notice in the "how to order" page that I'm shipping early orders for free. And there are even a few events in the "upcoming events" page of a Floyd nature.

I think the pages are public and accessible, but please let me know otherwise, and I'll try to fix it.

UPDATE: I think I changed my sidebar without screwing three other things all ta heck. Click on the book cover image and go to the SRH pages!

March 15, 2006

Da Biz

This is where I begin to falter: when the fun, juices-flowing, creative stuff is over and the record keeping, self-promoting, bureaucratic, marketing part begins.

I've never sold anything in my life, other than my services, save for a few odd photos, and once, several bushels of Pontiac potatos from the garden. Do I buy a receipt book to keep up with each book sold mail order or out of hand in a local shop? Do I set up a spreadsheet like I've had, or should I use Quicken, or find some other way of keeping track of what goes out and hopefully, in?

This morning, I'm considering the pros and cons of using a distributor for getting books into stores. I want to be able to tell web readers, radio essay listeners, newspaper readers and others that the book is available in some place they can reach, no matter if they are in Floyd, Bristol, Richmond or Charlottesville. I can't ship bundles to the Barnes and Nobels in all their Virginia locations; but distributors get a cut, the book stores get a cut, and not much is left for the author. And then, some distributors are better for certain kinds of books. Who would work best with mine?

I am only now realizing I probably need a Library of Congress number if I want libraries to find out about and purchase the book. I don't know how many libraries are going to want a first book with a regionally restricted subject matter. Should I wait on that to arrive, delaying the printing, or print a smaller first run and add the LOC number to the second batch?

I'm trying to find the middle ground between chillin' and enjoying the ride and doing the right things at the right time to avoid the "coulda had a V-8" experience after the ink is already dry on the pages. Bear with me. There will be life--even blogging--on the other side of the publication date!

The Image We Carry

Quick: the first image that comes to mind when you hear the word...

China

Let me guess: Chairman Mao; a sea of gray-clad straw-hatted barefoot peasants in a bamboo village; rusted smokestack factories churning out America's precious widgets of commerce.

I've been there--via Google Earth--and even visitation from near-space changed my mental picture of that country. Now, here are some images from closer to the soil, to the people who care, have cared for it for millenia. It does have its beautiful places.

I wonder what mental images come to mind when a Chinese person conjures up scenes from an imagined America. I bet it isn't Yosemite or Big Sur. More like megalopolis traffic snarls; neon highrise hamburger ghettos; consumed corpulent consumers in garish floweredy shirts (made in China.) Ya think?

March 14, 2006

Ready, Willing and ...

Image copyright Fred First Sure, I can do it, I said. So I left the house with a shovel and a pry bar today to dig down to the septic tank cover in preparation for the "honey wagon" coming to clean out the tank. It's been in place for six years now (since the original his-and-hers outhouses were torn down) and with the new plumbing going in for the addition now, we'd be smart to get it done. How hard could it be to dig away 14 inches of loose fill dirt from 30 square feet of flower garden? Harder than it used to be, that's how hard. Mostly pain, little gain. I'll call some outfit that will bring a backhoe and will pay them to do what I can no longer do. The parts are not under warranty any more: the SI joints, the thumbs, the knees.

"Some day, I'll have to buy my firewood" I groused in self pity, soon after throwing in the towel on the septic tank dig. And no sooner had the dismal proposition come to mind than Craig, the Treeman drove up. We'd talked about him taking down a few dead or dying trees that are too large or too complicated for me to drop myself. He was going to wait for a hard freeze so he could pull stuff around with his truck, but we've gone to summertime already and the pasture was dry, so he came on. He spent most of the day here, and when he left, ten pickup loads of hardwood lay along the margin of the pasture, partially cut, with the remainder for me to do. And so, for all practical purposes, I have now purchased the firewood we will burn two winters hence. I've bought what I used to gather for myself. It's come to this.

We are fortunate that today, we can pay to have done what we cannot do ourselves, and that there are capable people around to do the major things that need to be done. But I admit that making these concessions to the impediments and insults of time is a new and unwelcome problem, and I am still in the denial phase. The golden years are going to take some getting used to, and it is likely to be the little things that more and more often go undone. We don't live exactly in a place where there are lots of nice highschool lads around to cut the grass, till the garden, clean the gutters or shovel the winter walk for us in our inevitable, imminent dotterage. The only solution I see is to have more children. I'm going to talk with Ann about that when she gets home from work.

March 13, 2006

Excuse me. Where does this road go?

With a naturalist's curiosity, a photographer's eye, and the heart of one who knows that he lives at last where he belongs, the author of Slow Road Home invites the reader to join him on a field trip through time and place.

The time: a year that followed the sudden realization at fifty-four that his working life had left him unfulfilled in those needs that mattered most. Through mornings of quiet solitude, he came to discover the where of his life--in nature, through the seasons, during an extraordinary time in a beautiful place.

The place: the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, and most especially, one narrow valley along Goose Creek in Floyd County. It was here, home at last, that he first wondered why some places call to us so strongly that we cannot ignore their pull. What does belonging to place mean, and can it be felt fully apart from a reverence for and deep connection with the ordinary just outside the back door?

It is that connection you will find in the particulars of this book--a book to be read the way it was lived: slowly, a day, a moment at a time.

Considering this for the back cover. Thoughts? I'll have a couple of endorsements for the first page inside the front cover, author bio inside the back and this couple of little paragraphs about the book on the back. Those seem like the places a potential reader looks to decide to read or not.

I am thinking that all who intend to send edits have done so, and for those received, very many thanks for making this a healthier offering than it would have been, commas, quotes, spellings and all. For those who thought they might have reviews or quotable comments, the next week will pretty much be the window for that.

I get the ISBN and bar code info on Thursday and should then be able to send in the cover art and book files for final "preflight" testing. We're getting close! Thanks, everyone, for hanging with me through this!

Wildflowers

Tiltomo is a content-based image gallery based on Flickr photos--the millions of them. And when I'm stumped for something to write about, following a theme-based slide gallery is sure to fire off some catalytic memories to get me going.

This page is the starting point for exploring "wildflowers." From there, I ended up at this image of Yellow Ladie's Slipper. Have you ever seen one? They are increasingly rare as their mature forest habitat is converted to lumber, housing developments and office parks at the perimeters of creeping cities.

I could write about the trail I know in Wythe County where this rare orchid grows, about the era of my life when hiking was as necessary as breathing. I could describe the association that orchids have with soil fungi or write about the pollination biology of orchids and of ladie's slipppers, in particular. The pink ones are much more common, and we've had them growing on places we've lived. And there's a whole new line of thinking and writing.

So, if you're a person who does "morning pages" or other writing disciplines, consider simply looking at pictures via Tiltomo. They are worth at least a thousand words.

March 12, 2006

Mysteries

Ann and I climbed far up behind the house yesterday, up through the pines whose branches almost touch now and obscure the steep trail along the south ridge that faces south, out over the pasture. We pulled to the very top, and followed the old wire fence along our boundary ridge that drops off sharply on both sides of its spine. There, tied around the trunk of a dead tree that ended abruptly just above my reach, a silk scarf, folded neatly into a triangular pleat and placed such that its bright colors were visible as the unknown person stood looking out over the distance. A shrine to memory? A tribute to another time at that spot or a person, remembered? We'll never know.

Last night after dinner with friends at their home high above Howell Creek, we set out to take a moonlight walk down their gravel drive, a half mile in the most mature hardwood forest I know. Just as we reached the front walk, the cry of a dozen hounds echoed up out of the creek valley. Lights flashed in the distance through the trees, a half mile away. Coon hunters? Then a rifle crack, small caliber. So much for the coon. But then another shot; the hounds bayed and circled. Another shot, and ten more over the next ten minutes. What could they possibly be shooting at, missing, failing to kill? We'll never know.

March 10, 2006

The Memorable Days of February

From a recent Floyd Press "Road Less Traveled" column, I thought it might still be appropriate in some parts of the world in March.

The month of February is the still point of the year, the most in-between of all the months for me. While January that starts our calendar year is named for Janus, the Roman god of doorways, a two-faced deity who looks both back and ahead, it is February on which the calendar pivots in my mind. And so I find myself looking back to autumn for the memory of things alive, and ahead to the first day that will smell like spring, when the colors return at last.

With each year that passes, I grow more determined to take nothing for granted, to store away as much as I can from each passing season. I turn my senses to full intensity to commit the details of a landscape or a moment to memory, each saved fragment making experience and the past a richer place to be, to have been. For this purpose, I employ three tools: vision, language and smell. I say a little about each of these in two journal entries that follow:

Kodachrome Recollections ~ Found. Upstairs in The Very Back Room-a favorite photograph of three violets. How well I remember: this was one of my very first flower images taken when I was a newly married graduate student. (With my first month's teaching stipend of $200, I bought a camera!)

The month was March, the year, 1970. Place: the outskirts of Auburn, Alabama, a short walk from our apartment. Camera: Minolta SRT 101, with a 200 mm lens mounted on the same tripod I have today.

In the photograph, violet flowers and divided leaves are backlit by a trickling brook; light from the water glints and flashes as it flows. By a pleasant accident more than skill, the slow shutter speed I used created a montage of multiple images of petal and leaf against the flickering light of the stream. The photograph has a surreal mood that I have always liked to remember.

But I have forgotten what lay beyond this little brook; I can't recall how or why I came to be there on that early spring day. I don't remember what it felt like to be twenty-four years old with a new camera or why I wasn't working on my thesis that day. While the camera's vision may be faithful to light and pattern, there is so much of life film cannot record, and in time, the thousand words each image tells grows cold. What would I have said about those violets, and beyond them that day, had I been keeping the words?

It has been a fruitful year of writing the stories that the pictures from Goose Creek cannot tell. What the camera cannot see, the framing in words will gather: the shutter snaps, and one image goes to film, the other to adverbs and adjectives, binding memories in words and pictures.

Scratch and Sniff ~ When we get old, it has been said, we do not remember days, we remember moments. Many of my best kept moments are memories of smell.

Smell stamps moments with memory in ways the other senses cannot. Can you remember from childhood a smell-like new mowed grass, or bread baking-and when it reaches your nose, you are transported instantly back in time? I smell a summer rain on a sidewalk and today, forty years later, just a whiff of it carries me to a summer afternoon of skating in scuffed shoes on cracked pavement. A hint of Jungle Gardenia and I am at the Senior Prom. Smell freezes time to a moment in our lives and permanently embeds a memory.

We aren't taught to value what our noses could tell us about the world, and this indifference makes poorer those moments in our lives at which, had we smelled more intentionally for memory's sake, we might remember now more clearly.

I tried to teach biology students the importance of taking in nature with the eyes, and with the heart, but also with the nose. It is my hope that this began for them a habit of "scratch and sniff" that has gone on to enrich their memories of moments in the mountains or at the shore. I like to imagine that they are now passing along to their children this nose-centered way of knowing things, this way of making and keeping memories.


I return to these stories today to remind myself of the importance of paying attention, of using these tools for memory, because the particulars of any day we are alive are worth remembering--even in the drab, cold month of February.

March 9, 2006

Aging Bodies, Aging Brains

I can't say yesterday's seminar left me with the warm fuzzies, here a month before my 58th birthday. It did, once again, reinforce the role that diet and exercise play in cellular health. The presenter, a faculty person from a medical school in San Antonio, was an expert in the role that free radicals play in the aging process. What we do physically and with regard to our diet are two controllable variables that have enormous impact on the quality and duration of our later decades.

So. I have decided that I want to increase omega-three fatty acids in my diet and metabolism. One patient I had years ago swore by flax oil to control his arthritis symptoms. Does anybody have experience with flax seed or oil so they can recommend a palatable, affordable and effective form of this source of "fish oil?"

Singular or Plural, ya Think?

I need a little focused help here, good folks. Should "begins" near the end of the paragraph below be singular or plural? If you can, support your answer with a justification. I think I know how it SHOULD be, technically, but can't quite settle on it. I'd appreciate your input. Thanks!

Patterns form that we cannot see when we stand too close to the moments that make them. In what follows, I’ve drawn out selections from many mornings of writing, and grouped them in such a way that the shape of where I’ve been, where I live and what I’ve done for a living over the past three years begins to emerge.

March 8, 2006

Random Rumbles

Type Specimen: Today, to fulfill the obligatory continuing ed requirements for my PT license, I'll be sitting all day in a room full of enthralled participants. The topic: Aging Bodies, Aging Brains. Guess who will probably be the oldest person in the room.

The Birds! I have found the plans for a Death Machine. I will make one for every room in the house. They will die. DIE I tell you! I've swallowed <a href="http://ipm.osu.edu/lady/blt1.htm">the last one</a> in my morning coffee.

Adapted: Seen Adaptations, the movie? Read Orchid Hunter on which the movie is oddly based? It is a hard one to follow, not the least reason that the narrator, Charlie Kaufmann (Nicolas Cage) mumbles to himself in a barely audible voice through large chunks of the movie. Point is, there's something there so that I'm tempted to watch it again someday. As you may imagine if you know me, I agree with the book author's claim that the mystery of the living world is held in flowers. Maybe I should just read the book.

Just Chill: I feel like a hapless rabbit frozen in the headlights of an approaching semi. I read ahead. The Self-publishing Manual by Dan Poynter is a must-read for anyone doing what I'm trying to do. The time to read it is six months BEFORE you start, so that you don't close the barn door after all (or at least some) of the cows have wandered over into the neighbor's prize rose garden. What has me frozen in terror is looking at his recommendation of all the places one should send gallery proofs for reviews, for inclusion in lists, and completed books for distribution. He recommends a first order of 3000 books, and 500 go out for free to 500 different places. Imagine the hours of label making, stamp licking, and record keeping! And this all needs to be in place when the book is officially "published" some few months after the book is actually printed an in hand. Baby steps, Fred.

Thanks: To those who are reading, reviewing or editing the book. So far, the edits have been very helpful--both the punctuation suggestions and those that point out logical lapses or chronological stumbling points and such. A few of you have just read it through, though probably at a faster pace than that at which I think it is best read: in installments of one or a few passages a day. I'd still be hopeful for a first page gallery of "what readers are saying", but failing that before printing, any reviews (even short paragraphs) that would encourage a new reader to take the book home will be useful down the road, so please send them--sooner is better, but later is okay too!

Let your mind wander: <a href="http://www.tiltomo.com/index.php?search=wildflower">Guide it along with pictures</a>. Find one that calls to you. Write about the memory that its color, shape or name leads you to remember.

March 7, 2006

Serving Suggestion: Don't

They are being called "the cigarettes of obesity." The evidence is mounting that they may not only contribute to the problem, but in a sense, cause it.

Read this, and do something about it. Love your kids and have hopes for their health futures? Learn the facts, and help them think before they drink.

Make the change. Start today.

The Seeds We Sow

Email received yesterday, a shot in the arm. Maybe some fruits do come from our words and message.

Dear Fred,

I was driving down I-81 a month ago on my way to Atlanta from Cleveland, Ohio, to go to a pottery workshop. Friday morning, surfing for an NPR station. Came across this fellow discoursing about Nature and the importance of studying it. I was nodding my head, and remembering the wildflower course I had taken at Wytheville Community College in the spring of 1978. Well...

Maybe you'll even remember me, since I was thoroughly pregnant and kept having to find a bush to pee behind every time we went near running water! And I did the Mt. Rogers hike in a long dress because I didn't own any maternity pants.

I still consult my wildflower and tree reference guides, and happily have brought up my four sons to be nature lovers. Now I enjoy walking in the woods with my grandchildren and pointing out the early ones - bloodroot, wild ginger, trillium. We are lucky enough to have 3 1/2 acres of old growth oak and beech in a Cleveland suburb...

I wanted to tell you, after all these years, what an impact that class had on me, and how it helped to develop and refine my values about good stewardship of the Earth. I'd love to hear from you. I haven't looked at your website yet, but I'm looking forward to it. Thank goodness I was prepared with pen and paper when it was announced on the air!

B.

March 6, 2006

Snowfallen

Image copyright Fred First

I looked up from the keyboard and discovered it was snowing--big, fat flakes falling perfectly perpendicular to the pasture. So I had to find a snow shot from a few weeks back. It is soon to be a goodbye to winter scenes like this. Now that we've almost outlasted the sleet and slush, I'm getting all nostalgic for it. Just don't let the door hit you in the ice on the way outta here, Winter. You've about overstayed your welcome, and the firewood's getting low.

Corporate Loco

Image copyright Fred First I've wished and I've washed, but I guess I'll call the attorney back today and tell him go ahead with the paperwork to establish a name under which to do business. I guess mostly it is an insurance policy against some whacko sueing me because he swallowed one of my books. He can make claims against the business's assets (or lack thereof) but can't touch my personal assets (or lack thereof.)

So, I suppose I need a logo, and duh--you know there has to be a goose in there somewhere. So here's a freehand first draft: you got it right away, right? The letters "g" and "c" with a goose-ish appearance inside a white egg. Badda bing badda bang.

He's a bit jaggie at this resolution, better at higher res. But even so, I was giddy with excitement to realize that Illustrator was included in the Adobe Suite I installed Saturday night. So first thing yesterday morning, I opened it up and hit a dead end: Bezier curves. If I'm going to produce nice, smooth, scalable vector graphics, I have to come to terms with Monsieur Bezier's maddening anchor points. Later, maybe.

At this very moment, the cover graphic's latest version--in which I try to get the spline position and thickness right--is being s l o w l y emailed to the printer. It is 17MB in photoshop psd format, twice that in the preferred tif format. Google has choked several times lately sending 6 mb files (though it is supposed to send up to 10mb files) so I'm using MailBigFile which seems to work well, and it will send files up to 1 Gb.

So, there you have it: a loco logo is hatched, though he may need to go through some butterfly metamorphosis before he is full grown.

March 5, 2006

(Un)intelligent (In)Design

So much for the thrill of playing the creator. An intelligent creator would set up things so that, in the process of fixing one thing, something else didn't fall apart.

I was one stride from the finish line, adding a photo image to the title page and the four section first pages and all was going well, I thought--until I went back through the whole show and found my odd numbered Part Four title page was now an even numbered page. And simply adding a page to move it shows me the price I am paying for doing manually what should have been done on Master Pages. Doh. I must say, however, that this fallen creator has been pulled up out of the Slough of Despair by a good angel--a Fragments long-time reader who--Ta Da!--works with InDesign every day, and has been too kind in his offer of help. So, salvation most assuredly waits at the end of this lonesome hiway. You DON'T have to walk it by yourself.

Meanwhile, I giddily installed Adobe Creative Suite 2 overnight (it is a monstrous package) and couldn't wait to dive in this morning. And dive I did, only I couldn't wet. While Photoshop CS2 opens normally, after a minute or two, all the menus go gray. Checking on the forums, I'm not the only one with this problem, and so far, nobody seems to know what the solution is. Hello Adobe Persons: I paid for support. I need it very badly just now. I'm in a hurting way if I have to do everything I need to do in the next two weeks on the laptop. But at least there's that option.

So now that I've had my little cry, I think I'll go take some NyQuil and go back to bed. I've been invaded by a rhinovirus--Garrison Keillor's Sixty Second flu he talked about last night--that hits you between dinner and desert. Wham!

Oh! Tomorrow, I will unveil my Corporate logo for Goose Creek Press. Promise not to laugh.

March 3, 2006

Grass In Winter

Image copyright Fred First

Here's a random tweak created from a very uninteresting shot of a grass spike in the snow. I like the effect from whatever I did in Photoshop, but didn't save all the steps and could never reproduce it exactly.

Winter is passing--about two weeks ahead of schedule. Coltsfoot flowers are open just off the back porch. Garlic mustard and columbine leaves are pushing through the cold soil. Lilac buds are visibly swollen. Gradually the northern half of the globe is tilting back toward the sun and already, the plants know.

(Coffee)Table of Contents

Short morning, long day. Before I leave for work, wanted to suggest for those of you reading the manuscript of Slow Road Home that you take a look at the Table of Contents. Reading just the preface where it refers to "parts" and periods of time, that will cause fewer to stumble (hopefully none will with this clarification) with these divisions more clearly laid out, as they are in the TOC. (The link will open or download the file to your hard drive as you choose.)

Edits for the first bit of the book are trickling in, either in the form of "review comments" in Word or by page number with a brief phrase so I can locate it in the larger document. It is amazing how different eyes can pass over the same words and catch or miss the obvious, and likewise amazing that some can catch fine nuances of phraseology that can be made better by changing a single word.

If any of you hope to have reviews--anything from a few sentences or longer--those can wait at least til the end of next week, the middle of the following at the latest. I learned yesterday that it will only take about 30 days from the printer having files completed and in hand until I have books in mine. So, file-ready by late March, and big crate of paper products in my living room (several cloth-draped coffee tables) by late April! We'll see how all that works out.

March 2, 2006

Better Read Than Dead

I love the quirky way blog post titles come to me early in the morning, totally from left field, but they are sometimes a pretty accurate toss to home plate. (Not, however, in this case.)

Yesterday, I stayed home and spent money. I started a digital folder called "Income and Expenses" and so far, there are only expenses. Added yesterday: Adobe Creative Suite to upgrade InDesign, Photoshop and Acrobat Pro. I was able to get this for about 70% off with an academic discount, but still, ouch! And in two weeks, I will own 10 ISBN numbers, one bar code, and one SAN (Standard Address Number)--another $370. Today, I meet with an attorney to set up a corporation to instate my own press identity: Goose Creek Press. That's gotta hurt.

And so, I am committed. I am in the red. And will be. But I've been putting my teaching and PT money away for just this kind of investment, not so much expecting the numbers to build on the profits side of the ledger, but so I could accomplish a personal goal. It is a way of confirming life, of putting down a little stack of rocks on the trail to say I've walked this way. When I'm gone, the money spent on this book project will have vanished, the book will last for a bit longer on a few shelves, and in more attic boxes among a few friends and family. Fred was here and this was his world. I've spent money on dumber things, I suppose.

And let me say a quick thanks to the thirty folks who are (ostensibly) reading this thing now. I've already gotten back some great suggestions, corrections and comments. (Thanks especially to Carl!) The ISBN numbers won't arrive til March 16, and I figure it will be another week beyond that at least before I can have everything ready. So deadline for your input ideally will be sometime the week of March 13. Your participation makes this all the more gratifying. And if you'd like a pre-press copy emailed to you, there is still time! Just leave a comment on this or any other post on Fragments front page and I'll send the file by return email.

Home Improvements

Image copyright Fred First

This is a slice-of-life photo of barn repairs recently completed to address two problems: the corner of the barn had become earth-bermed when the loggers made a new access road beside it in 1994 and it was beginning to rot and the corner of the structure was dropping. Second, the old swing doors were hanging by a hinge, and each weighed at least 150 pounds. We had visions of finding one or the other of us smothered under the barn door with Lassie running to get help.

A down-the-road neighbor does old barn repairs as a paying hobby. It took him almost a year to finish with every detail as he was a very exacting kind of a guy. He lives on a beautiful place, and has invited Ann and me to walk back up his valley in the spring. Apparently somebody has reassembled an old log cabin back up in there, and it sounds like a most picture-esque kind of place, so the Nikon will go along. A friend of his, who often came to "help" (there was lots of leaning-on-your-tool conversation) has offered to use his tractor bucket to scoop me up a heaping truckload of rotting horsebarn bedding for the garden.

So we paid to have this work done, and it was done right. And there will be the added benefits of some new friends, and perhaps a decent garden come spring.

Tape Good Morning, America!

OOH! Special favor, por favor. Any early riser-late worker types among you with Tivo, can you snag "Good Morning America" today (Thursday) for us. Our daughter (tall blonde from SD) is going to be on (probably about 5 seconds, maybe less, but hey--she's our daughter we see once a year!)

She and some girlfriends are spending a few days in New York City, which tells you she is not a chip off this old block. This is her fourth visit. I went there once and it was enough for me to last a lifetime. I felt like Tarzan come to town.

So, if by some miracle you read this, and get it on a CD, we'll send shipping and such. We'll add this to her list of public appearances. She was on a Discovery Channel piece about the Harley Rally in Sturgis last year, filmed sitting on her hunky husband's shoulders, holding hers and his delicious malt beverage. We missed that one. So we gotta catch this one.

March 1, 2006

Wouldn't It Be Nice?

I am thinking about time--about how I've thought about time in my life, going back to the very early years when this small boy lived one very long day at a time, and only birthdays and Christmas let me know of time's rush. Time meant something very different to adults then. I didn't envy them their struggles with deadlines, schedules, calendars and other time-urgent obligations that crept into the dinner conversation.

Over the years of adolescence, early and late teens, and the stages of adulthood, time of course didn't change. But the feel of it, the pull of its current, a sense of its strange dimensions passing through me--these things have changed, and will change again, given a little more of it between the now and the coming of the last trace of it in this older boy's body.

Write about time and aging and your understanding and relationship to both. That is your writing assignment for today.

This is the kind of thing that used to be the bread-and-butter here at Fragments or at other blogs where I hung out in those days. "Let's all write about _____, your memories of it, how it has created milestones in your life. Send in all your paragraphs or short essays, and I'll post them here and we can discuss the topic together."

I'm working on the same assignment, hoping to kill two birds with this one stone: one, perhaps, for the newspaper column, and a copy for a guest blogger slot I have been asked to help with.

You'd better get started. I'm two paragraphs ahead of you.

Bonus Points: Who can tell why I chose the title?