Saturday, March 29, 2008

Calling upon a neighbor ... too late

This is what I missed this week.

This is not my picture. It is borrowed from

On a heap of humus above a giant boulder, within the woods behind my home, this leafy being dwells. I met it for the first time last year, and the sight made me gasp, it really did. I'm not being overly dramatic. I am truly in love with life, in all its myriad forms -- and this one was new to me. Nowhere else in these woods have I ever seen it.

It raised small, white flowers bravely from the leaf litter into the still-chilly spring air. They gave off a faint, sweet fragrance. I surrounded it with a little border of rocks, so that I could find the spot again.

Scarcely a week later, the flowers were gone and the leaves had wilted.

For this is Saxifraga virginiensis, Early Saxifrage, one of the first wildflowers of spring, and like other ephemereals, its life above ground is oh-so-brief. The roots persist; through summer's heat and winter's worst they wait, for just that moment in the early months of the year to display their floral glory.

Saxifrage means stone-breaker in Latin, for this little beauty loves to grow upon rocky slopes, where no doubt its roots do help, by infinitesimal degrees, to break down even the biggest boulders.

This year, I missed the show. I had been meaning to get back out there to that spot, but I miscalculated, I waitdd too long. And today, when I finally made my way back to the circle of stones, the flowers were already shriveled and yellowed, the leaves wilting away.

So this is not my picture. It is borrowed. Perhaps next year I will take my own.

Disturbing dream

I know that everybody dreams, but I have never met anyone who has such bizzare dreams as I do. I think my brain gets bored at night and conjures these things up for entertainment.

However, sometimes he goes overboard and produces visions that are either scandalous or horrifying.

Last night, I had a confusing and complicated dream that had me back at my old job as a reporter, while still clinging to my current PR job. I did a bunch of odd things during the dream, involving bridges, looking for shoes and visiting a restaurant. Then the dream drew to a close with a very disturbing twist. I was supposed to investigate a building or a treasure deposit in a certain city and a child in the neighborhood showed me where it was.

She went in before me and was bitten by a poisonous snake. She expired right there and the last detail I remember before waking was calling the police.

I do not need or want dreams like this. Nor do I wish to be attacked by spectres of the night, be back in college failing a class that I forgot I signed up for, or to be trying to cross a busy street while my feet are glued to the ground.

What the heck kind of evolutionary advantage is there in a creature having recurrent nightmares? An early human screaming in the night would probably have been tracked down by some nocturnal predator.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The expert comes to visit

LB called about 1:30 p.m. and said he was done with his archaeology program for kids. I directed him to my place and into the woods we went.

I was a little nervous, because I have not been to the slag pile in several months and it is a little tricky to find, deep within the woods. But I had less trouble than I thought. It's a matter almost of instinct, of knowing to venture east at a certain point, then north.

We came to the edge of a steep slope that marks the boundary of the site. I had always assumed it was a natural bank. LB, however, knew immediately that it was the work of man, or rather, of bulldozer.

The young pines that dominate the area, he said, were signs that the soil here was somewhat sterile, as would be expected in an old industrial site.

He climbed up onto the slag pile, examined it, said the whole area was clearly 20th century. I pretty much figured that all along. But still, I am interested to know what portion of the 20th century saw industry here -- and what was done.

Amidst the brush, he pointed out concrete blocks that he suggested were the ruins of a massive conveyor belt. Showed me a chunk of concrete with a heavily burned edge -- said this was probably part of a metal-smelting furnace.

And he stood atop the pile and took a GPS reading. Said he would share it with another expert -- and report their findings to me.

Just when I thought we were done, he ventured into the brush and pointed out a huge "field" of English ivy and an old road.

"A house was in here, most likely, for the ivy to cover this much ground," he said.

Who could have known?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Going slag hunting

I mentioned a few days ago that I was going to visit an archaeological site. It just happens to be the ruins of the first iron foundry on the American continent, built in 1611, upstream from Jamestown, Virginia.

I had a conversation with the guide that day and he has agreed to visit me tomorrow, to be shown a pile of old slag that lies deep within the woodlands near my home. It may be historic, it may not be. Tomorrow, perhaps I shall know for sure.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday report

We enjoyed cool but sunny weather today. After taking Sweetie on an assortment of errands, I returned home, grabbed my shovel and began to dig. I planted bush peas and spinach, as well as snapdragons and petunias out front.

A robin watched me warily as I turned over the soil for the peas. I knew what he wanted: the chance to get at the fresh soil and its tasty collection of upturned worms. I informed the bird that I was going to be around for a while and that if he wanted the worms, he was welcome to them but he would have to put up with my presence.

Voles have eaten my tulip bulbs. Oh well. I'm not liking the suggested solution: to bury broken china around the bulbs. I'd surely lose track of it and end up in the hospital with a nasty laceration -- for I am the type of gardener who must get my hands down into the dirt, break up clods by hand, get a feel for the soil in my own fingers.

The peas, if rabbits don't get to them first, should be delicious with a recipe that I found which blends them with mint and feta cheese -- my favorite kind of cheese.

Tonight I tried to rectify my blog absence of late with excursions to visit Rebecca, Ela and Jean. Tomorrow I'll be knocking at the doors of Chase, Ian, Maria and Janice. You've been warned!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Egyptian evening

They say there's no use lamenting what is gone forever. Still, I feel sorrow not only when I read about some plant or animal vanishing forever, but also at other losses: the extinction of languages, cultures, even a business closing.

I spent last evening immersed in Egyptology. I spent time on that subject years ago before diving into Greece and Rome -- each a world that a lifetime of study will barely touch. I go back now and then, with the limited time that I have.

How I hate time! How I hate the brevity and limitations of this mortal existence. Give me Aladdin's lamp and I would tear free of those chains. I would sup with Socrates and listen to Jenny Lind in a live performance. I would learn Chinese and spend a season as a rice farmer; I would walk across the world, stopping in every city and village long enough to live and love there.

Back to Egyptology. It seems sad to me that such a complex, intellectually rich and long-lasting culture -- from the rituals of Osiris to the mysteries of Isis, from Horus to Min, Maat to Thoth -- is utterly gone, known now only to academic specialists.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I hear the trees a-cryin

Say the word "committee" and people roll their eyes. It's one of those corporate things. It's where ideas and intelligence go to die.

But I am learning these days, the hard way, the value of a committee.

The boss recently asked me to prepare a packet of letters to be mailed out to all the parents in the school district where I work. I didn't think to involve anyone else -- to form one of those aforementioned committees for advice and support.

Neither did I consider that, even though we have a small school district, of 4000 kids, a letter to every parent -- an 11 page letter to every parent -- becomes an enormous project.

It was one hell of a week.

Friday, March 14, 2008

What you know

I don't know you. I don't know your pain. I do not see the broken glass that cuts your soul, the pain that your smile hides.

I do not know of the stormy last words you had with your son, the terror of the lump in your breast, the long battle that your father fought against the disease that stole him from you so young still.

I cannot see what you see when you close your eyes -- the sound of the bombs exploding, the screams of your neighbors as the soldiers poured into your village, the long years you spent as a refugee trying to survive.

I was not with you in that filthy apartment as you stood in the doorway with your teddy bear in your hand and as you watched your mother writhe to the cadence of crack and as you ran and hid so that her boyfriend wouldn't see you and come for you again with sick lust in his eyes.

I have my hidden pains, too, stories I could tell.

In every life, joy is mingled with sorrow.

An explanation

I feel as if I owe the visitors to my blog an explanation for this week. I have literally had work meetings every single night since last Saturday. I come home, make a little dinner, then crawl into bed.

Somehow, I managed to visit Chase March's site, but that was about it. Thank you to all of you who visited here and commented, in spite of my absence.

Can't wait for Saturday! I'm going to visit an archaeological site.

Blogging posts in my future: the laptop culture, spring in my woods, the start of the garden, more Egyptology and more Plutarch, and, of course, my thoughts after visiting YOUR blogs! Also, Algeria, which is the subject of my long-suffering, monthly geographical study project.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


The two most beautiful sounds in the world are a Mother's lullaby and the laughter of children.

This afternoon, after completing an annoying work assignment, I spirited my Niece in law away from all the crabby grownups that were driving Her nuts and we played with a Nerf frisbee for about half an hour outside. And for half an hour She did not stop giggling and laughing as we flung that silly frisbee hither and yon. We spelled Her name with dandelion flowers and searched for rolly pollies and played frisbee some more and She laughed so hard She finally had to dash to the bathroom before She wet Her pants.

Children's laughter is music. Children's joy is good for all of us. I wish there was more of it in the world.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Weird thought of the day

Most of us know that our stomachs are a big sack of acid -- hydrochloric acid, to be exact -- which dissolves our food for us. Cows have even tougher tummies, with sulfuric acid doing the hard work for them.

My question: Once the churning and burning is done, how does the stomach manage to send the used-up food material onwards while retaining the acid that dissolved it?

Cute photo of the day

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Things that suck

"Watch your speed coming home," my Sweetie warned me today. "They're cracking down on speeding on I-95."

They're always cracking down on speeding on I-95, those blue-siren vampires. Always zinging someone who is keeping to himself, no danger to anyone, while the jackrabbits and lane-weavers keep right on their joyful journey of jerk-fullness.

Where were these fine officers this morning when a big truck loaded with scrap crap was hogging the left lane {ILLEGAL!!!), firing debris like bullets across all three lanes of traffic? (UNSECURED LOAD -- ILLEGAL!!!)

Sure enough, even though I stayed as far behind the scofflaw trucker as possible, a good-sized chunk bounced off the roof of my car and scratched right through the paint. I'm just lucky it didn't traject lower and shatter my windshield.

I was so sorely tempted to do what my little brother does when truckers -- and it's just a certain small number of them, I know -- piss him off. He swings in front of them at the first available opportunity and slows waaayy down for a minute or two, which really annoys them.

I really, really considered it. But it wouldn't have done any good. And I would probably have gotten a ticket for obstructing the moron's passage.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Now THIS is a real man!

Paul Clay-Rooks, according to the article below, "doesn't describe himself as a feminist."

But this incredible man has set out on a 200 mile walk from Lynchburg, Virginia, to Washington D.C., to draw attention to the plight of Women half a world away, in Congo.

"This was a gut response to a really serious problem," Clay-Rooks said, according to the article.

In Congo, an epidemic of rapes is destroying Women's lives.

"Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out ... that their reproductive systems are beyond repair," Clay-Rooks said. He hopes through his walk to raise money for a project called "City of Joy," which will combat the problem.

Clay-Rooks is making the walk in spite of an old basketball injury, and has been reported to be in obvious pain as he struggles to complete his journey.

Now THAT is a real man!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Gina's wheels

Two things to know about my state of Virginia:

It has the highest number of personalized license plates of any US state.

The abbreviation for the University of Virginia is U VA.

This morning, I happened to notice a license plate that made me shake my head and wonder: How the blue blazes did THAT one get by the censor?

Apparently, “Gina” must be a big UVA fan. Ergo, her plate read: UVA GINA.

But the person driving the car must have been Gina’s boyfriend, or maybe had stolen the car, being very much a young dude, with sideburns and a backwards-worn baseball cap.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Interesting weblink for the artistic among us

Thank God for good Waitresses

Image from

-- Dedicated to Kat, for whom the profession is a science and an art.

Sweetie and I took our neighbor out for lunch today. He's a lonely man with a lot of disabilities.

He was having trouble reading the menu and getting a little agitated. Finally, he settled on something -- King crab legs. A pound of them. I don't think he had any idea what he was ordering, nor did he realize they would have cost $26. As I struggled for a tactful way to suggest that he might like something else better, the Waitress came to my rescue.

"You really don't get much crab with that," She said, sweetly but without any condescension. "Maybe you would like the Fisherman's platter." And She explained all the good things that said platter offered.

He agreed and I and my wallet breathed a sigh of relief.

Yes, I left Her a nice tip.