Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pool ponderings

I had yesterday off and spent the morning with my Niece at the community pool -- a chance for Her to have some just-for_Her time, away from Her busy, frazzled family.

Surprisingly, I am not burned crispy even though I stayed out there longer than I should have. Who wants to cut a child's precious play time any shorter than is absolutely necessary?

She doesn't swim very well yet, mostly dogpaddles. I would like to teach Her how to actually swim this summer, maybe with the help of a boogie board or something. But it's been so long since I took lessons, even though I am a good swimmer myself, that I'm not sure how great a teacher I will be.

Because I burned myself very seriously as a child a couple times -- I mean shedding skin like a snake, blisters and nausea -- I have to be a little careful with the sun so I cover up with a tshirt usually when I go swimming.

The lifeguards yesterday told me I would have to take the tshirt off to go swimming. I told them I could not. It was a perfectly clean shirt and I'm already a melanoma risk, I don't care to exacerbate it. They backed down this once but said I couldn't do it again. That could be a problem.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Colors of time

The history of a place is not painted in one broad brush-stroke of color, is almost never the tale of one people arriving and adapting in some empty, virgin land. Few if any peoples can truly say they have always been in the place they now call home. (Some fancy word that I cannot now remember describes such a phenomenon -- I want to say ichthyonous or erechthonous or something.)

Most often, the pigments of history blend together: Britons, Angles and Saxons clashing and then finally melding, in the British Isles; Arabs and Copts forming the modern nation of Egypt.

Other times, the colors never meet on the canvas. How much history passed away in the Americas, how many peoples rose and fell from the Aleutians to Patagonia, before ever Christopher Columbus' boot pressed into the New World sand! Some experts are beginning to think that what most of the early Europeans saw in the New World was just a shadow of what had been -- a once vast and teeming multitude of peoples almost totally annihilated by European diseases, within just a few decades.

Tonight I have begun to read the next author in my chronological project: the Roman historian Tacitus. He begins his Annals of Roman History with a brief mention of Augustus Caesar, then of Tiberius and a mutiny in Pannonia.

That caught my attention. Pannonia was the northeast border of the Empire, the land that is today called Hungary. It intrigues me to think of those Roman troops, in their tents, in that land, scheming and cussing and playing dice, doing whatever it is that soldiers do, seven hundred years before Magyars ever rode out of Eurasia to settle in that beautiful place.

The Romans were long gone by then. The two peoples drank from the same Danube (relatively speaking), ascended the same hills, perhaps even sought shade under some of the same venerable old trees, but never knew each other and never met.

Today, now and then, Hungarians still dig up buried Roman coins, and of course, in Budapest are the famous ruins of Aquincum, a Roman settlement.

It's just intriguing to me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Of cool evenings and stinky manure

I am going to take Chase’s advice and start preparing blog entries during my lunch break, to be carried home.

Yesterday, we had some relief from the horrible heat that has been trying very hard to kill us all. I spent the evening digging up potatoes, sorrowing at the dried-up pea plants -- so brief in their sweet glory -- and planting string beans, squash, peppers and carrots.

Ah, there’s nothing like man-handling manure to make for a blissful time.
Anywhere in the yard that I haven’t been keeping alive with the sprinkler is baked as hard as cookie crumbs in a blast furnace. There’s a reason why everything in the South is made of brick. Our soil is naturally of a perfect consistency for the stuff.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pine Barrens

"He don't know the woods. He don't know nothing. He can't even fry a hamburger."

-- A Piney old-timer, dismissing a government outsider, as quoted in The Pine Barrens, by McPhee.

There remain surprises in this world we think we know so well: the ancient, fecund marshlands at the bottom of sun-scorched Iraq; the almost subtropical warmth at England's southern tip; and in every nation, hardy, sometimes mysterious peoples living disconnected from the rest of society.

Such is the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and such are its people. The great cities of Eastern America -- New York City, Philadelphia, Trenton -- surround this place on three sides; the Atlantic Ocean borders it on the east. Its sandy infertility earned it the scorn and disinterest of early settlers and it was mostly left alone whilst a nation grew up around it. Its wilderness still spanned a thousand square miles in 1967. That was when John McPhee wrote his classic, "The Pine Barrens," which I had the pleasure of acquiring this week.

I've never been there, although I did spend some time long ago on former Pine Barren land, in what is now Cape May, N.J.

It is inevitable that some of it would be lost but I hope that we have sense enough today not to destroy what is left of it. It seems to be a special place, a unique place.

a traveler encountered

The hundred-degree heat shimmered on the pavement and at first I thought it was a breeze-blown leaf bouncing across the road.

Then knowledge set in and reflexes, too. I found myself stopping the car so hard by the side of the road that I almost wrenched the gears.

Before I knew it, I was safely back in my car and only then did I realize that my heart was pounding and that I was feeling great relief to have accomplished my sudden mission.

For in my southward travels down this road at the city's edge, I had met an eastward traveling turtle. Perhaps he would have safely crossed this semi-quiet highway, perhaps not.

I wonder if the scorching hot asphalt was hurting his little feet. Perhaps at least that was encouraging him to hurry. Maybe that accounted for his odd little bouncing gait.

I will always remember the sight of him, kicking his little legs as I picked him up and carried him to a field in the direction that he was going. With a turtle, you must always put him down in the direction that he is going or his little instinct compass will cause him to turn and head right back into danger.

I will remember how quickly, for a turtle, he scrambled away into the grass, and how good I felt that I hadn't talked myself out of helping him.

He was big, for a box turtle. They say these creatures can live to be 100 years old, if they don't get run over or eaten. So this little fellow might be as old or older than I am.

He traveled on to his evening agenda and I to mine.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A heartache

From the local news:

The body of a young man was found in the **** river, near **** bridge, last weekend. The person was wearing glasses and a red dress. Foul play is not believed to have been a factor. The possibility of suicide is being investigated.

Oh, young man, my heart aches
for the loss of you
for the loss to the world
for the pain you must have suffered
for the loneliness you must have felt.

Did you keep your secret locked inside
until it became too much to bear?
Or did you try to live out your feelings
in a world that does not understand?

We are all kinds:
believers and wonderers
sunburned tillers of the soil
and dancers in smoky clubs
guys in grimy Levis
girls in glossy gowns
and others for whom their assigned gender role
is like the bars of a cage
is like barbed wire.

You had life to live
You had value like gold
like shining silver
like pearls
like wheat under the prairie sun
like water cool and vital.

We have lost you
too young.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Stereotype or reality?

I can accept that having a certain disability might, by isolating you from others who don't, and by the shared experiences of others who do, give rise to a "culture."

I can accept that people of certain cultures can have common characteristics. Some cultures might value education; others feats of bravado. Thus, persons who have these characteristics would tend to thrive and multiply in this culture, as opposed to people who don't.

But I felt very uncomfortable and something in me raised a red flag when a certain person recently gave me some advice.

Sweetie and I have befriended a Woman who is hearing-impaired. Hearing impaired persons definitely have their own language, their own culture. Like any culture, it has its controversial elements, such as, in some members, resentment towards other members who use lip reading and speak instead of sticking totally to sign language.

Sweetie and I are taking this hearing-impaired person grocery shopping tonight, since She doesn't drive.

The advice that I was given was to beware because if "you give a hearing-impaired person an inch, they will take a mile." In other words, we should expect to be asked to do much more for Her than an occassional grocery trip.


I refuse to believe that being hearing-impaired has any connection to a person acting that way, anymore than if they were Swedish, Baptist or Canadian.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Off to the mountains

Off to the mountains for the weekend with Sweetie.

Will answer your comments and visit your blogs when we return.

Thank you all for being patient this week. Three evening meetings in a row -- no time to do anything. Next week will be better.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Mayonnaise, how I loathe thee!

You were the bane of my childhood, ruining an otherwise delicious bologna sandwich, dripping like bird droppings from the edges of my burger.

I was not a picky child when it came to food, but, oh, I hated you. And no one seemed to understand.

How satisfying it was to learn as I grew up that mayonnaise is about the most unhealthy thing that you can slather on food , short of lead paint. That aficionados of this death-white slime risk food poisoning if they live anywhere south of the Arctic Circle and leave their meal in the sun for more than 30 seconds or so.
How fitting that the biggest fan of mayonnaise should be the botulism germ and that it shares with Count Dracula or your average morgue resident a need for chilling and avoidance of daylight.

I have learned to tolerate small amounts of this pale paste in my food these days, mixed sparingly in pasta salads and such. But I still find myself scraping gobs of it off the bread of my fast food orders.

Now mustard – mustard is golden, the color of royalty. Mayonnaise is the color of an old man’s backside. Mustard has a pleasant, sharp taste, not a greasy, eggy, cloying, artery-plugging nasty flavor. Mustard goes with almost anything other than breakfast cereal.

Mustard comes in scores of varieties, creamy or stone ground – and blended with white wine, cranberries and so many other tasty things. The makers of mayonnaise have tried, half-heartedly, to combine their foul product with other ingredients in vain hopes of increasing their market. So far as I can tell, their effort hasn’t succeeded all that well. Why am I not surprised?

Sunday, June 1, 2008


Blogger is considered a social networking site, and our new, hypersensitive office computers now block it. My blogging will therefore be seriously curtailed, since my work hours are from 7:45 a.m. til usually about 5 p.m. and longer if there's a damned night meeting. And when I get home, it's time to make dinner and then go to bed, so I barely get on the computer at all.

Welcome, June!

We have entered a new month. Country of study will be Argentina. More later.