Saturday, January 29, 2005

A Snowy Mystery

Spiraling down gently
How can falling snow
Still remain a mystery

Cursive script of snow
A writing all in white
Falling out the window

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Poetry of Chopping Wood

The feeling of a sharp axe splitting cleanly through an aromatic log in the crisp fall air is something that I never grow tired. I don't get a chance to do it very often anymore since neither my parents nor I use wood heat. Now, one day a year, I'll chop wood for a family friend who's husband died of cancer four years ago so that she may have heat through the relatively mild winters of northern Arkansas. But it is an act that I cherish.

It takes me roughly a couple dozen swings to get into the 'swing' of things where I am limbered up and can accurately hit my mark. I'll pick up my next victim and set it up on the flat and hard surface that I have selected near my woodpile. With trained eyes, I look for the weak spot or the 'sweet' spot where I feel that the axe will slice through. Rotating the log until that spot is perfectly in front of me, I firmly grip the axe and start the backward swing that will eventually rotate through a full circle back to the log. If swung correctly, momentum can do most of the work and very little force needs to be put into the axe, assuming you hit the spot you were aiming at. The force you do apply is on the downward motion of the stroke and your aim is not the top of the log where the axe will first strike but at the bottom where the axe will end up. If done correctly, the log will leap apart as easily as if you had been chopping a soft stick of butter. The second to swings to split the log into fourths follow the same procedure but usually require even less effort due to their smaller size.

As you swing away, you can feel every muscle in your upper body working in unison, turning your body into a mechanical piston, rhythmically chopping away. It is a good feeling and one that you can't duplicate with thousands of dollars of exercise equipment. You lungs seem to expand larger with every breath pulling in that clean crisp fall air that feels dense and full seemingly satisfying a hunger that you never knew existed. Soon the air is filled with the sappy aromas of various woods like nature's own scented candles as the stack grows ever higher. I pace myself much like a diet, not going too fast but keeping up the rhythm, working in the harmony of the outdoors.

Finally, throwing a well-seasoned log onto a fire and standing in front of the fireplace feeling the heat creep through you body, you enjoy the fruits of your labor. The warmth tickles the skin removing the winter chill and then permeates deep into your very marrow and keeps you warm many hours removed. The crackling snaps of the fire mesmerize your hearing as the glowing coals mesmerize your eyes pulling you into the very depths of its heat. Finally breaking the hypnotic bonds, you find a comfortable chair within the range of the radiating heat waves and enjoy a good book while the snow-laden wind howls its fury outside.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Joe Philippines Part 4 (Hey Joe!)

Before my trip to the Philippines, my soon to be wife briefed me on greeting etiquette so that I wouldn't make a total baboon of myself while there. I was so focused on greeting others properly, I was totally unprepared for how they would greet me. As soon as I stepped out of the airport into Manila, Philippines people started calling me 'Joe.' It's not my name, not even close, and for a while I simply thought they were referring to someone else or were saying something in Tagalog that sounded like 'Joe.' Later I would learn that they were indeed calling me Joe.

The American military has been a big presence in the Philippines past and there used to be several military bases there. People grew up seeing these 'G.I. Joe's' walking around hence labeled them as such. I am six foot two inches tall, white skin, short-cropped blond hair and during my vacation there, I tended to where military looking cargo pants so that I had plenty of pockets to stash things. Needless to say, I looked plenty military to the locals and so they inevitably greeted me with a "Hey Joe!" and large smiles.

Every once in awhile, I would get a different greeting from those more hip with the times. One fellow gave me a "Whatzzzzzzz Upppppppppp!" like the beer commercial and several others would give me a "Yo!" that Sly Stallone would be proud of. But my favorite of the entire trip was one young lad who started singing, "Camptown ladies sing that song, do da, do da, Camptown races five miles long......" a song I hadn't heard since my grade school days. Another greeting that stays close to my heart is my wife's Inang (grandmother) referring to me as the tall white guy.

Despite what I tried to do greeting others and how they greeted me, the universal sign always seemed to work best. You simply had to make eye contact, put on a big smile and it really didn't matter what was said.

Friday, January 21, 2005

My Dog the Child Molester

When my dog Ted was going through his what I would call early teen age years, he wanted to hump everything from stray towels (yes it is possible for a dog to hump a towel) to a toy stuffed dog a fifth of his size. I have terrible memories of playing king of the mountain with my father and knowing that not only did you have to topple him off to make it to the top, but also you had to out smart Ted who was waiting at the bottom looking for a leg to grab onto. But one memory of him stands out way beyond all the others and that is what I am about to tell you.

My parents were having a get together of some of their friends and their families at our farm. I was probably ten at the time and we had been playing hide and seek for some time when I heard this blood-curdling scream from behind the house. I being the closest ran around the house and found one of my parent’s friend's four-year-old boy down on his hands and knees with Ted on his back doing his thing. The kid has a look of sheer terror on his face and when he saw me, yelled, "Help me!" Between guffaws of laughter, I pulled Ted off and the kid took off running back to his parents for all he was worth. After I had halfway settled down in my laughter, I walked back to where everyone was talking on the other side of the house and my parents asked me what had happened. The kid was now crying in the arms of his parents. Not knowing what to say I just said my dog was playing a little rough and left it at that. I'm glad the kid's parents didn't know how rough Ted had actually been playing!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Body Retrieval

Two different things caught my attention this week, both related. The first was from an article in Outside magazine about Mount St. Helen (only US active volcano in the lower 48) watchers and their attempt to get the scoop of the impending eruption several months ago that we are still waiting for. In the article, it mentions a reporter who sneaked past the guarded lines, climbed up the volcano, took pictures of the lava dome and then called out for rescue on his cell phone. The second was on the evening news where a woman affected by the giant mudslide in California was being interviewed by the media. She said something to the effect that the government knew about this for ten years since the last slide, failed to do anything about it and now look at the cost of "rescuing" all of the bodies.

How many times have you heard someone say that this has ceased to become a rescue operation and it now a retrieval operation? Where did the concept of retrieving bodies at taxpayer expense come from? Where does it say in our constitution that we the taxpayer must pay for the retrieval of bodies? (Where does it say congress has a right to give our money to other nations destroyed by natural disasters for that matter?) It doesn't and yet people come to expect it. I doubt that anybody has problems condemning the actions of the reporter on the volcano but why don't we condemn the actions of our government retrieving bodies elsewhere? And in the case of bodies that are not yet dead because of their stupidity, why don't we have them give us their credit card number PRIOR to rescue? These are just two more reasons why our country has racked up our largest national debt ever with no means for paying it off in sight.

Yes, I understand that having your loved one's body back can help the grieving process. Yes you have every right to spend as much money as necessary to retrieve your loved one's body. But no, you don't have a right to my or anyone else's money, only your own. If you can't afford it, I'm really sorry but your loved one's body is going to stay under that pile of mud or more recently in Utah, pile of snow. Only in the case where the body might become a public health hazard, should taxpayer funds be used to recover them.

But body retrieval expenses are minimal when compared to the bodies still breathing. Those bodies are the inexperienced people who wander out beyond their safety zone and end up getting lost or pinned down by violent storms. Think about the movie "The Perfect Storm" for a minute, which is a true story. Calculate how much money the coast guard spent on the chopper, refueling plane and fuel, support crew, and life insurance for the crewmember that died? Think about all those hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on a boat of fisherman who knowingly went out into the storm knowing the risks. There was a huge rescue effort after Mount St. Helens blew in the eighties collecting 'some' bodies and survivors who were all knowingly there to watch the volcano erupt. The list could go on and on.

This idea of not retrieving bodies is not a new one. The U.S. Arizona, which was sunk in the attack of Pearl Harbor, still contains the bodies of those that went down with her. There are also examples where we have drawn the line in body retrieval because of the enormous expense such as Mt. Everest or the Titanic. Why can't we set the line to $0.00. Heck, I'll be generous, the government will retrieve anybody with verification of a valid credit card number.

The bottom line is using taxpayer dollars for rescues (due to stupidity) and body retrievals is not an option and shouldn't be done. We are in the business of providing services to the entire population and not a select few. If you are willing to support these services with your tax dollars against the constitution, then a fund can be created for your private donation and without mine.

Pulling the Plug On Cookie

Sometimes life isn't fair especially when death is involved. Cookie worked on the factory floor at my company and I dealt with him off and on as an engineer but we weren't what I would call friends. Strictly business with a couple casual conversations or joking thrown into the mix. Unbeknownst to me, Cookie was on a waiting list for a liver transplant. He had been involved in an accident many years ago in which he was overcome with carbon monoxide and among other things, the carbon monoxide is being blamed for destroying his liver. One other side effect that I was aware of was his writing style. Whenever I had to read something from him, I would almost have to break out a magnifying glass. To him, he felt like he was writing in huge letters but to everyone else, it was super tiny print that was written in perfect form. Another side effect was his voice, which was extremely deep and full of "gravel" since the accident. But it was the liver that was his downfall. Cookie got an infection in his liver and went to the hospital a few weeks ago. The infection spread to his brain and he is now clinically brain dead. They were going to pull the plug on Cookie last night. More than his sudden departure and probably death, what affects me the most is the fairness of it all. Here is a man in his mid 40's who has spent a lifetime working and doesn't get a chance to retire and enjoy the fruits of his labors. We have life all turned around. We should enjoy the first 30 years of our life traveling and doing the things we enjoy, then spend the next 30 working, the next 12 to 16 going to school and whatever you have left, laying around, eating and having someone care for us hand-in-foot.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Breathing In Dad

I heard a story today at work that I couldn't resist repeating.

An uncle of a fellow who works here died and was cremated. His aunt wanted to hold a private ceremony for the burial of the ashes and had a deal where they could bury the urn in the family plot themselves. So they loaded up the truck with the necessary tools and drove to the cemetery. Once there, the dug a whole with a post hole digger and prepared to put the ashes in. The aunt and uncle have one son who in today's politically correct terms in mentally challenged. My co-worker gave the box of ashes to the boy who carried it over to the hole and was about to lower it in with some ribbon. What the co-worker neglected to do in his arrangement of the funeral was to have the box of ashes sealed which evidently is an option. Needless to say, as the boy was lowering the ashes, the lid came off and the whole works tumbled down into the hole. There was a whoomph sound and a cloud of ashes wafted out of the hole. The boy got a direct shot into his face and he started coughing and choking a little in the dust. His eyes then got wide as saucers as he realized that he had just breathed in some of dad. They finally got him settled down and were able to reach down into the whole to retrieve the box. They learned that the ashes had been placed in a plastic bag inside the box and what they had seen was not ashes but regular old dirt.

Anyway, the mental image of the boy thinking he had breathed in some of his dad was pretty funny and I thought I would pass it on for some end of the week humor.

Monday, January 3, 2005

A Tsunami Is a Moronic Disaster

There seems to be nothing like a crisis with a large death toll that can pull America together in unity and make us want to throw our hard earned dollars towards. A major tsunami happened, tens of thousands are dead and you can't go a day without hearing of another fundraiser for the survivors. If you feel so inclined to do so, I say do it, but first ask yourself this question, "are you going to encourage the survivors to rebuild their lives without learning a lesson from all this?

Is there anyone in the world who hasn't heard about hurricanes, tsunamis, floods or earthquakes? Yet people seem to believe that if they build a house, hut, or shanty along the ocean shore, volcano, river or fault zone, they are immune to such things. Have they not heard of such natural events that may afflict these areas? Yet these people keep building, natural disasters destroying, and we keep mourning the losses while throwing large sums of money and actually ENCOURAGING them to rebuild in order to get their lives back together. How smart is that? We should kick them in the butt, encourage them to run into the highlands and yell at them to not come back unless at their own risk.

We citizens of the United States aren't any better when the disaster strikes our own county. How many earthquakes have happened along the Florida coast in my lifetime? Hundreds? Yet is seems like every year, some place there is declared a disaster area and we throw millions of dollars of MY tax money at them for rebuilding. People get flooded out along America's rivers every year and yet, there are always more people willing to build where others left. Why? Because they get financial incentive from insurance companies offering flood insurance and who in turn raise MY premiums to pay for it all.

Natural disaster is somewhat an oxymoronic term. How can those of us not affected declare something that occurs naturally a disaster? It may seem like a disaster to those stupid enough to be involved but shouldn't it be labeled a moronic disaster? One should reasonably expect something natural to happen and take steps to avoid it so not to endanger yourselves or others. For those too stupid to realize that one day a tsunami could come and sweep them from the face of the earth, maybe it is just Mother Nature's way of cleaning out our gene pool. The same thing can be said for those who build near fault zones, volcanoes and rivers.

So why encourage these people in the tsunami zone of destruction or along the coast or Florida or along the Mississippi river or around Mt. Saint Helens to rebuild again by giving them money? Maybe it is time we tax payers say enough is enough. You got yourself into the situation now get yourself out. Both heavily populated United States coastlines are very vulnerable to this type of moronic disaster and I want to be the first to go on record and say, "I told you so!"

Rain, Ice and Rock

All the world's sound had been reduced to the pitter patter of the falling rain slapping the rocks at my feet. I was dry under the sandstone overhang but the air's chill was slowly starting to creep in around my body's perimeter and I knew that soon I would have to start the long hike back to keep warm, but for now I was content to sit where I was and watch the icicles forming on the overhang. The trees nearby groan in the cold wind with their icy burdens but the rocks are holding strong.... for now. Soon the sun would come out and release the bond that joins ice to rock, sending them crashing into the void below to perish in the cold emerald green waters of the Buffalo River while the rock lives to fight another day, another rain. I too, hope to be here another day and watch another battle between rain, ice and rock.

Saturday, January 1, 2005

Natural Entertainment

City folk grow bored fairly quickly when left to their own devices in the country, and they demand entertainment; nature alone is not enough for them.
-John Fraser Hart
The Look of the Land (1975)

Over the years I have found this saying true more often than not. People seem to be uncomfortable when they are taken away from their television, radios, shopping malls, vehicles and thrust out into a world where their mind if forced to focus longer than a thirty minute sitcom. For them, they constantly need to invent sources of entertainment to make the time go by rather than listen as Mother Nature entertains them. A couple of examples:

So many times, when I visit people's houses, I walk inside only to be overwhelmed by the constant noise that exists. In today's world, a television is usually the culprit, running in the background even if no one seems to be watching it. So many times I have gone to a party only to struggle to hold a conversation over a television blaring in the background. Vary rarely if the television is turned off, there is a radio going. Something I have never experienced outside of my home and my parent's home complete silence in the background while entertaining guests. Complete silence however, is really just a term invented by the city folk. For me, I can hear the wind rustling through the trees, the crickets chirping, water dripping from the eaves, the ticking of a clock, the creaking of a settling house, etc. I have never experienced complete silence.

I love to backpack. Sitting around the campfire at night watching the wood being reduced to embers, listening to the snaps and crackles of burning wood, the wind blowing through the trees, watching the stars shining in the sky or the moon playing off the surroundings is what I enjoy most. Numerous guests that have joined my on these forays into the wilderness quickly go crazy with this activity and invent ways to entertain everyone usually with silly word games or by telling every little boring detail of their life. I am a storyteller and like telling tales that I have heard or seen as much as the next person but I don't feel the need to spend all night, every night doing so. Sit back, relax, enjoy your surroundings while you can for soon you will be back in the smoggy city, sitting in your SUV at a stoplight and watching a thirty minutes sitcom on the entertainment center that drops down from the ceiling.

Sometimes I just have to escape it all and leave the group to go out on my own. I like to look for the silhouettes of bats flying through the night sky, spot deer rubs or look at tracks and imagine the story of the animal that passed by. I listen for the sounds around me that are ever present and soak in views that I can replay in times when I too can't get away from the city. Mother nature entertains me in a never-ending show if I but stop, watch and listen.