Change Happens, What Do You Do?

December 18th, 2008

Did you ever have the feeling that the things you are really good at are no longer useful?  Or at least less useful?  I’ve been thinking about that lately.  Take spelling for example. You know, spelling words correctly?  I was always a great speller, and memorized words very easily.  But what good is that now?!  Okay, when I write here I don’t have to check spelling very often.  But it’s not a skill that gets you anywhere… nowadays we have “spell checkers” so whether you know how to spell or not really doesn’t matter.  I don’t use ’em, and if I make a mistake here it’s usually because I hit the wrong key.  But dang… I’ve been outdone by technology. 

And typing?  I guess that’s still useful when writing- I can type pretty fast.  But there are voice translators now… you can just talk into a microphone and the text shows up on the screen.  Of course I can’t type worth a darn on little cell phones or a mobile PDA.  Texting?  Okay I can do that.  It’s kind of a pain.  I’m all thumbs.

Oh, and how about knowing where you are?  Some folks are directionally challenged, but in a strange way I’ve always had an amazing built-in compass.  I know where I am, how to get somewhere, and which way is north, south, etc, at any moment in time no matter where I am.  It’s pretty handy when I’m out in the woods in the middle of nowhere, or cruising a tangle of suburban streets.  I may not know an exact address, but I can always find my way around. 

But these days it seems like a pretty marginal skill.  Everyone’s got a Garmin GPS or onboard nav system in the car.  Put an address in there and it’s like being on autopilot.  You can follow the directions of the GPS-thingy, and not have a freakin’ clue where you are.  It’s magic.  My brother and I once drove from the Black Forest in Germany all through the Bavarian Alps… at night, and simply followed “The Voice.”  

Garmin navigating across the Mackinac Bridge

And I can’t complain- we got one and took it on a trip around Lake Michigan.  We found places that we wouldn’t have even known about without the Garmin, and it made the trip both easier and a lot more fun. 

I used to be really good at tuning up an engine, and fixing mechanical things.  I guess it’s still a handy skill with lawnmowers and such, but I can’t do anything with cars and trucks anymore.  They’re all a mass of wires and computers under the hood these days!

And fixing things just isn’t the same anymore anyway.  It’s usually cheaper to throw something away and buy a new one.  We live in a disposable society, and that seems a shame.  If we take care of things, they used to last.  These days they aren’t meant to last it seems.  But I still like trying to make them last… and squeezing every last drop of utility out of them. 

I’ll waste too much time trying to make something work rather than throw it away and get a new one.  One time I “fixed” a $500 CD stereo… it wouldn’t play CD’s anymore.  I took it apart and adjusted and cleaned all the components really well.  Worked like a charm after that.  I was very proud of myself… but these days that same stereo system costs about $50 at the big box store.   Okay it’s a little old.  But it still works!

Oh, and I did fix our bread maker.  One of those neat machines that makes bread?  That we don’t hardly ever use?  A little kneading paddle stopped working.  My stubborn side made me take the whole thing apart one day after it sat on the shelf for three years… I found a nut had worked loose and the bearing was slipping.  That’s all.  Tightened it up, back together and it works like a charm too.   We still don’t use it, but we can if we want to.

Hey but I’m certainly not stubborn enough to take apart a sewing machine pedal and swap electronic components… I heard a guy named Ron did that recently.  If I can find the link to his site I’ll put it up here… :)  But I was stubborn enough to try and fix an old trimline phone in the barn. You know, one from 30 years ago with a really long cord attached to it?  Sentimental reasons… never mind.

But society is evolving.  We have not only become more mobile, but a lot more social.  Just think of this blog.  There’s a lot of folks reading my wandering thoughts who I’ll never know… but we’re all interacting and I’m sharing this aspect of our lives with a bunch of people.  It is pretty cool.  And there’s a few others I think of as friends that I’ve met only through this form of communication, and I really have no idea who they are.  We’re never really “out of touch” in our life anymore.  Between the internet, email and cell phones… we can almost always talk to people half a world away. 

There was a time I remember being at sea, not having a phone or any ability to communicate beyond writing letters.  Letters that took three weeks to get to someone half way around the world.  And to get a response from them took another three weeks.  You could have an argument that took almost a month and a half… on paper!   It’s weird to even think of such times anymore.  We’ve seen decades of change, especially rapid over the last 15+ years, and it’s still changing fast.  It can be hard to keep up with at times.

Clouds in the sky go by 

Did you see the Wall-E movie?  It’s pretty cute, and makes you think about the future.  At one point there’s this self-contained tourist spaceship that was lost centuries ago, and there’s still people living on it that have “evolved” as humans who don’t actually do anything.  They ride around all day on these automated, floating lounge chairs, sucking on milk shakes…. in space.  They’ve become “weight challenged” and look like big ‘ole chubby dudes with short legs.  Pretty funny.   And sad… it worries me to think we’re on that path somehow.  People these days might grow up thinking they don’t have to actually do much of anything.   They’ll either buy something, have someone (something?) do it for them, or throw it away. 

I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I hope we will always value the human endeavor… our collective experience, knowledge, skills and lessons learned.  I’m a Boomer, part of that enormous generation that’s influencing public policy in so many ways these days.  But I’m kind of near the end of that group so I have a lot of crossover between the generations. 

As much as I lament how technological change seems to make basic living skills less relevant at times, I must also admit that those same changes have made our lives a lot easier.   And a lot better in myriad ways, not the least of which includes life-saving advances in healthcare.  

I’m thankful for the reliability of our vehicles, heating and cooling systems and so many of the other basic things we take for granted each day.  In fact I love technology and all the cool things we can do, and there are aspects of my life that exist solely because of the advances in technology… I can only acknowledge it all with gratitude.  And if we need help with something, it’s usually pretty easy to find someone that can help us with it, at least for a price.

I guess I have to admit that I’m getting older. Changes happens, and we can run from it, or embrace it.  I’ve always enjoyed change, and adapted willingly, embracing the wonders of life as it unfolds.  But it isn’t always easy.  I’ve reached that point where I’m finally seeing the wide gradients of change in my life, and it’s kind of humbling.  

Old reading, but one of my favorite essays is Emerson’s Self Reliance.  It bothers me not to able to take care of things or accomplish things independently.  I’m still kind of stubborn with making things work… it’s just the way I am.   And basic skills do come in handy around the homefront.   Knowledge and skills can bring security, especially when the most basic of human needs are crucial to survival.  Maybe I’m still running on vestigial fumes of generations past.   I just like knowing how to do things, and it bothers me not to be able to do them.   I know it bothers other people too… especially as we grow older.   And if I lived somewhere that I didn’t have to get to tinker with things, I wouldn’t really know what to do with myself.   One of these days that will change too.  I just hope not too much.

Cold, Icy and… Birdy?

December 5th, 2008

I’ve never seen the pond frozen this early in December before.  January and February are the coldest months for us, but waking up to about 16 degrees this morning was downright chilly.  The jet stream is so far south that we’re getting a good bit of that Canadian air this month.  There’s a reason I don’t live in Canada in the winter… I can only imagine how much colder it is up there!

Ice on the pond in December

So there I am, after the morning routine and getting the boy off to school, finally sitting down with a cup of coffee.  My reverie was short-lived, nearly spilling the coffee all over myself after a loud “Whump!” on the window behind me.  I looked out to see a dazed female Cardinal sitting below the window, her head slowly nodding with eyes closed.   I hoped she was not permanently injured, but I also knew she would either die by a) freezing to death after going into shock from the impact in such cold weather, or b) become breakfast for our wandering cat Princess.

So out I go, picking her up and taking her to the porch which was a little warmer at 40 degrees.  I set her down in the sunshine and left her alone for an hour, head still nodding with eyes closed.  But it’s the season for miracles and when I came back later she was alert and eyeing me suspiciously. 

 Female Cardinal

I figured she’d be okay then but went to pick her up and make sure… Zoom!  around the room she goes.  She wasn’t quite ready to acquiesce to such human manhandling.  But after a few flutterings at the window and much pecking at me with that orange beak I finally had her, and took her out to the bird feeder where she promptly flew off to a nearby tree.   I imagine she’ll have a sore neck for a few days, but hopefully she’ll make it.

It’s a too common theme at this time of year with birds flying into windows.  There was another Cardinal in the House one time, but it was a he, near-death, and after spending a night with us, he surprised me by his resilience.  I was even more surprised writing about Nuthatch Nuttiness…  somehow the outdoor world, birds and flying has always been part of my life.  I even worked at the World Bird Sanctuary for a time in my youth, helping to rehabilitate raptors. But that’s another story.

The Bover Kingdom

November 17th, 2008

One of the oddities around Fox Haven in November is the Ladybug Bonanza that takes place every year.  Sure we see ladybugs, or ladybird beetles around throughout the year, but from late October until mid-November there are zillions of them.   So many in fact that they end up both outside and inside the house.  And actually, most of these are not the typical ladybugs that many of us grew up with, but rather the Asian Ladybug.  Apparently these little guys were released around the country from the 1960’s on, and first showed up “in the wild” in the U.S. around 1988.  Since then they have exploded across the country.  They do eat aphids and other pesky bugs, but they’ve also become quite pesky themselves.  There’s just too many and they get everywhere.

Last week there was a great cloud of them behind the house, flying about on a warm day.  And yes, they are cute little critters, except for one small detail.  At this time of year- they bite!  Maybe it’s just because they don’t have other bugs to prey on, but when they land on your arm and crawl around, you’ve just got time to think “How cute…” before going “Owww!” and brushing it away.  It’s not that bad, but who expects to get bitten by a ladybug!?

And at night where do they go?  They return to the Bover Kingdom of course.  What is the Bover Kingdom?  Well, please allow me to digress for a moment.

The young boy loves ladybugs.  He’s still young enough, and innocent enough, to find joy in so many things, including little bugs.  He has always loved ladybugs for some reason.  He delights in their being, their color, their cute little shape. He was a ladybug for Halloween a few years back.  He even has a little “ladybug house” that he uses to gather them up and watch them crawl around.  Oh, and yes- the name.  It’s “Bover”, with a long “o” sound.   At our house they are known as “Bovers” from the name he gave to them years ago as a toddler.  How he came up with that I have no idea, but one day they officially became known as bovers, and we’ve never looked back.

Except for the day he found a dead one on the porch when he was three years old and didn’t really understand the concept of deadness or the opposite of being alive.  I remember it like it was yesterday…  a loud “Daddy! Come here!”  and I dutifully wander over asking “Whatcha got there?”  He points with a chubby little finger and solemnly replies, “Look, a non-moving bover.”

We’re finding a lot of moving and non-moving bovers lately.  But we’ve also finally discovered where they go at this time of year!  They hide.  Anywhere they can.  Which brings us back to our story.  While gathering wood to stack closer to the house yesterday we discovered the Magical Bover Kingdom!  As we picked up one of the last pieces of wood on the bottom of the pile, we revealed the secret chamber of hidden bovers, that place of ALL PLACES for little bovers.  Maybe it was even Bover Heaven.

Ladybugs in November in Missouri

They looked like jewels among the leaves and wood.  Why are they gathered in such a way? For warmth, or laying eggs before succumbing to the freeze of winter?  Maybe they hibernate… I don’t know.  It was pretty to see, and pretty weird.

But at 4:00 am yesterday I also found that they hide on the bottom of firewood.  It wasn’t my fault, honest.  It was dark, I didn’t turn on any lights and I was sleepy…  I was building up the fire in the wood stove and went outside to get a log. A log on the bottom of the wood pile. I brought it in and placed it right into the stove, closed the door as flames engulfed it and sat back to enjoy the warmth… only to see some kind of sparkly, shimmering mass dancing in the fire.   “Hmmm, that’s kind of neat…” I thought.  And it was, up until the moment my eyes opened wide as I realized it was dozens… (okay, hundreds) of little bovers scrambling madly about.  “Aaahhhh! What have I done!?”

They were all over the bottom of that log and quickly became roasted little (sparkly) embers.  Kind of pretty actually but I felt really bad for burning up a bunch of ladybugs.  Oh if my son could see!  In his eyes I would never be the same.

Well later that morning we brought some more logs in… I turned around, remembering them on the hearth, “Noooo!” I screamed, running toward the fire… (not really).  But I did casually mention that there were probably a few critters hiding on that thing.  Remembering our discovery of the day before he immediately ran over and said “Bovers!”  At which time he began to pick them off one by one, finally carrying a handful gently to the door to let them go outside (the fact that it’s going to be 21 degrees F tonight doesn’t matter).

So I grabbed that “bover cleaned” log and put it in the woodstove, meeting his approval.  And we’re a lot more careful about shaking the bovers off the firewood we’re bringing in now.  But the little dudes are really hard to see.  Last night after putting another log in the fire, he yells  “Daddy wait!” as I jump, startled.

“What? What is it?!” I ask, and he says there’s a little bover crawling on the log I just put into the fire.  Or was.  “Where did it go?” he asks.   And trying hard not to smile I say, “Uh… well, it went up the chimney.”  He actually laughed at that one.

On Trees and a Life Before

November 12th, 2008

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

                                             Joyce Kilmer – 1913


 Oak Tree in Autumn


Many of us know of this beautiful poem.  When I think of trees, nothing I’ve read evokes such feeling or understanding for the simple beauty that a tree represents.  My mother had a framed copy of this poem hanging up for years that I’ve always loved, and it was her mothers’ too.   I remember wondering who Joyce Kilmer was, but never really took the time to find out about her.  Today, reading an old book of poems from 1929, I found that Joyce Kilmer was a soldier.

Sergeant Alfred Joyce Kilmer served in the 165th Infantry (69th New York), with the American Expeditionary Force in World War I.  He was born on December 6th, 1886, and killed in action near Ourcy, July 30th, 1918 at the age of 31.  Sargeant Kilmer is buried in France.  As I looked for a little more about him, I found that Joyce Kilmer was a very popular author and poet.  He had planned to continue a career in writing and journalism.  I’m sure many people knew of Joyce Kilmer before I did, and it shows how the passage of time so often leaves the stories of our lives behind.  For Joyce Kilmer, it is the poem “Trees” that people most remember.

Lest anyone think he was too firmly ensconced in sentimentality for nature or trees however,  I laughed when I read that,

… a 1915 interview with Kilmer pointed out that while Kilmer might be widely known for his affection for trees, his affection was certainly not sentimental – the most distinguished feature of Kilmer’s property was a colossal woodpile outside his home. The house stood in the middle of a forest and what lawn it possessed was obtained only after Kilmer had spent months of weekend toil in chopping down trees, pulling up stumps, and splitting logs. Kilmer’s neighbors had difficulty in believing that a man who could do that could also be a poet.”

I see no difficulty in believing that at all, and would like to think his love and connection with trees might have been joined by a practical approach to life.  When I plant a tree, or cut and stack wood for our winter’s fire, I’ll think of him and his poem.  However late, I was glad that I learned more about Joyce Kilmer personally while reading his poems from an old book, in front of a fire on an Autumn day, the day after Veteran’s day.

It was also a surprise, bittersweet and haunting, to know that a poem I’ve always enjoyed and that has brought such beauty and inspiration to so many, was written by someone who endured such hardship, and whose life was cut short so far from home.  Thank you Sergeant Kilmer, for your words and your service.


Fall Football Fun

November 9th, 2008

Cold and crisp this weekend, just perfect for watching football.  The boy and I drove up to the Mizzou Tigers game against K-State- it was a lot of fun.  I remember driving to the Mizzou games back in the 1970’s with my father and brother.  We would bring a bucket of KFC, and sit in the bleachers on Saturday afternoons a couple times a year.  I remember wondering why we drove for a couple hours to watch college football, especially since they always seemed to lose to Nebraska and Oklahoma at the time.  In hindsight I think I understand it was my father’s way of introducing a larger perspective of college for us.  The University of Missouri is a really big school, but I don’t remember being inclined to go there by watching football games!  Honestly I remember it as a lot of fun though, and a chance to do something together.  I think I was also amazed by all the hoopla.  In retrospect it seemed kind of intimidating at the time, and I couldn’t believe so many people would go to one place to scream and yell for a game. 

Come to think of it, after driving up yesterday I’m still amazed, and the boy was too.  We must have seen 50 “tiger tails” hanging out the back of cars on the highway.  The University and surrounding city has grown twice as big it seems, and I did a double take when driving by the schools fundraising sign.  Get this-  the University of Missouri has raised over $1 Billion dollars during their fund drive.  That’s kind of staggering really- they said something at the football game to the effect that they are one of only 19 universities that have achieved that goal in the nation.   I hope that’s a good thing, and that the money can help a lot of folks with educational support.

Finding parking was a hoot, eventually being packed in among fraternity houses, campfires and BBQ grills. The hoopla has been multipled many times over since I attended years ago, especially since the Tigers are nationally ranked these days and the games are televised and played at night (watching the Tigers is a lot more fun than watching the Rams this year…).

I don’t know how many people were in that stadium, but the roar of M-I-Z! … Z-O-U! from both sides was just awesome.  We were sitting pretty high up in 35 degree weather, but it wasn’t too bad.  The boy hung in there, all bundled up, and really enjoyed the half-time show.  Missouri was leading for the win in the 3rd quarter, so we beat the crowds for the long drive home.  It was a good trip, and even included a  short visit with relatives.

Procrastinatus and Shouldering the Boulder

September 23rd, 2008

As summer came to a close this past weekend I found myself catching up on “things to do.”   Sometimes that list of things we want to accomplish is so overwhelming.  But I had to laugh the other day while musing about all the things I hope to do before winter this year.

We were fortunate this summer that the electric utility company has been trimming trees in the area.  Several ice storms over the past few years have knocked out electricity for days at a time in the cold of winter, and trimming the trees back helps protect the electric power lines from damange.  I’ve been watching and trimming a few of our trees where I could, but they were too high and overgrown for me to reach.  Last year some ice laden branches even bowed down our electric lines but fortunately didn’t break them.

One day last week I saw the tree trimmers along the highway down the road, and walked through the woods to talk with them.  We talked about their work and I asked if they could come on the property to trim the electric lines closer to the house, but they didn’t know if or when they would be back.  I planned to call the company and follow up, but lo and behold the next morning they were there! I walked out to see the large trucks and equipment, and one guy high up in a bucket trimming our trees.  Near the driveway there was a familiar message.

Lots of work to do in the country!

They left the sign near the trees overnight and came back the next day to finish up.  As I looked around the landscape that afternoon, I laughed at how appropriate the message was.  It was a stark, bright reminder of how I place myself too often in the mental state of “getting things done” instead of “appreciating what is.”  And in that mental state, either the process becomes too cumbersome, or I go from one job to another seemingly getting much accomplished, but instead spinning the proverbial wheels of my lawn tractor throughout the day.

Other times I’ll walk the property and everywhere I see “Work Area Ahead.”   I look at the weeds, the grass or fallen branches, motors needing repair and see “Here’s Work Too.”  I head inside for something to eat, look out the window and think “More Work Ahead.”  And I wonder if I’ll ever get it all finished.

But what am I trying to finish really?  Why am I in such a hurry?  What is it about the things I plan to do that may keep me from enjoying the beauty of the day or taking my time with something?   All questions I ask myself during either the more lucid, or more exasperated moments.

It must be the same for others whether at the office, business or home.  Maybe it’s our nature, and we have that intrinsic desire to get our work finished, and to achieve things professionally and personally.  Certainly it can be a good thing too, harnessing energy and motivation while seeking achievement and growth.

But if we aren’t careful we find ourselves thinking too much of our “Work” and it becomes an unconscious burden we carry around.  Ultimately, instead of harnessing a more productive energy, we look for subtle ways to avoid thinking about it, and find ourselves immersed in other things to do that are not quite so productive. My old friend Procrastinatus comes to mind.

I’ve often wondered about the human tendency to procrastinate, and perhaps I’m struggling to express some relationship between doing the work we must, procrastination and enjoying life along the way.  But I couldn’t examine the issue any more beautifully than Dr. Stephen Diamond has done recently in Existential and Mythological Perspectives on Procrastination.

“Another existential aspect of procrastination is what I call the Sisyphus syndrome. As punishment by the gods, Sisyphus, if you recall your Greek mythology, was fated to eternally roll a huge rock up a hill each day, only to have it roll back down just as he neared the top.”

“We all share a similar existential fate. We are each required to roll our metaphorical rock–whatever that may be–uphill every day, only to do it all over again tomorrow. It is arduous, difficult, tedious and laborious work.”

“This tedious aspect of life is something many people try to avoid via procrastination. We refuse to accept the difficult, dirty, tedious tasks in life, distracting ourselves instead with more amusing activities so as to avoid them. We avoid shouldering the boulder. But it should be remembered that for existential philosopher Albert Camus, Sisyphus found meaning and even contentment in accepting his fate. As must we all. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it: amor fati. Love your fate.”

I’m not sure about the fate part… and believe we can turn to God for reassurance of our ability to move forward.  But the article explores other aspects of procrastination and our daily life.  The author emphasizes living in the present, and that procrastination is an avoidance of the same.  And he speaks of passionately embracing what we do today.  In whatever way that I rationalize the things I need to do, or the priorities of the day, I know that unfortunately we can often find more exciting things to do rather than the mundane, repetitive tasks that really need done.

Eventually we come back to those things we need to do.  Finally we start in on something, and before we know it we’re musing along immersed in our work, doing more than we expected and perhaps less than we wanted.  But that’s okay, at least we’re living in that moment.  Getting lost in our work can be a good thing, especially if it’s something we enjoy.

When I find myself too consumed with things that “need done,” I look for a way to step back, or into that place of appreciation. I remember how I enjoy things more when the work is finished, with even completion as a short-term goal.  I hope that whatever work I do, I don’t lose the joy and beauty of the moment because of the seeming enormity of it all.

I’ll probably remember that orange sign for a while.  And in so many ways, I’m thankful to be able to work at all.

Cane Pole Fun

September 8th, 2008

After taking care of some chores last night we were looking at the pond and I thought out loud “It looks like a good time for fishing…”  The young boy jumped at the opportunity.  The air was cool and the water calm, and the evening had that late summer peacefulness with the droning of insects in the treetops.

We found his fishing pole in the barn.  Nothing fancy, just a simple cane pole with a hook and a bobber.  He has some other colorful fishing poles with fancy reels and superheroes.  But he appreciates the straight-forward approach to pond fishing with a long cane pole.  You just find a few worms and a good spot on the bank, throw the line a few yards out in the water and sit back and relax.

After getting a few worms from the garden we headed down and picked out a likely spot.  He put the worms on the hook all by himself, and threw the line in the water.  He had just settled down on his stump when Bloop! his bobber plunged under water.  “I got one!” he yells, telling me to “Come here! Come here!”  So I watch the smile on his face as he tussles with the fish and help him to pull it in through the weeds.  

Catching Bass with a cane pole

He’s not too sure about sticking his thumb in that great big maw to get the hook out, but knows the reason they call them Largemouth Bass.  We do it together talking about why the fish has such a big mouth.  He holds a tenuous thumb on the bristle-brush jaw of the fish while I help him take out the hook, and then he throws it back into the water and jumps up clapping his hands.

He catches two more after a while, getting more comfortable with the fish.  We let them go and soon we run out of worms.  “That was fun!” he says as we head back to the house.  It surely was.  He loves that cane pole, and I do too. 

Life and Ice Cream Dreams

August 31st, 2008

Why is it we surround ourselves with living things?   No matter where we choose to live, we seek life in the world around us.  We join with others to begin families, develop friendships and seek things greater than ourselves that inspire us and fire the imagination of the soul.

Sometimes it’s the simple things, and we choose kittens or other creatures to share our lives with.

Kitten drinking milk

Maybe we just appreciate the life that exists in the world, and go see it when we can.  Life is pretty simple when you think about it.  For all that we do, life is really about growth.  And age doesn’t matter.  What happens when something stops growing?   Can something stop growing and still be alive?  I don’t think so, at least not very long. 

Bullfrog at the pond

Sometimes we seek life in growing plants and flowers, and find joy in nature’s abundance.  Whatever choices we make in our lives, we yearn for something more, we seek to make our lives, and the lives around us, matter in some way.  It may be with fame and fortune, or it may be with simple moments and small kindnesses.

Sunflower and a butterfly

A few months ago one of our favorite ice cream stores closed at a nearby small town.  It was run by a family dairy for decades, and the patriarch of the family had passed away.  He could be seen quite often sitting behind the counter, smiling at customers who loved this home-made goodness.   It was his dairy, his ice cream store, and his life.   After he was gone the rest of the family didn’t want to continue operating the ice cream store and it closed.  But I still see his smile when I think of the times we visited, and the smile on my father’s face when he got one of those cones.  I’ve yet to find a butter-pecan quite the same.  What was so special about that place?   I don’t know.  Maybe it was sharing it with family, maybe it was the quaint little store, or maybe it was the ice cream.  Maybe it was all of that and more.

There are many chapters in our lives that close for one reason or another too.  But we don’t stop looking for more.  That seeking and questioning during the journey of our lives is part of our growth, even in the midst of our greatest confusion and challenges.   However complex we try to make it, life is simply about living. 

And maybe life is a little like ice cream too.  So many flavors, so many choices…  Now, what kind of life do you want to have? 

New Discoveries, Old Friends

July 16th, 2008

At least once a week I try to take a closer look at the property to see what might need done.  We all keep lists of “things to do” it seems, but I find it can be discouraging if you’re prone to writing a giant list of “things I would like to do” instead of focusing on what really needs done.  I always tended to write those big lists in the past, but now I’m finding out that as I get older I forget more often… so it all balances out! 

One of the good things about looking around is the chance to discover something you didn’t know about before.  We’ve been by some trees near the young boy’s “secret spot” many times in the past, but never noticed any with fruit.  The boy saw it first the other day, and noticed that red fruit was dropping to the ground.  Turns out it’s a Red Mulberry tree that I never knew we had. 

Red Mulberry tree

I remember thinking this looked like a mulberry, but never saw any fruit on it in the past.  Could it be because of the bees this year?   I don’t really know, but most mulberry fruit turns almost black before falling ripe, so I’m not sure why these were dropping early.  It’s a tall tree so I don’t expect to gather any fruit.  Good for the critters though.

Here’s a picture of some of my best friends in summer- the dragonfly.  These guys may look funny, but they cruise around at high speed looking for other little bugs to eat.  Their favorite?  Mosquitoes.  I’m all for anything that makes a dent in the mosquito population, especially around the water.   Plus it brings back fond memories.

Dragonfly in summer

One time as a kid I was fishing up north one summer with my father and my brother.  That week was my 16th birthday and we had a grand time.  I remember one night that a lone fisherman had not returned from a day on a remote lake, and everyone was worried about him. 

It was very late at night as we sat around the lodge, finally hearing the high pitched whine of a small boat engine approaching in the darkness.  The man tied up and got out, taking a little ribbing for being gone so long.  He was tired and disheveled looking, and said he got lost and then couldn’t get the motor started at sunset.  While he tried to get the motor started, he said he was attacked by giant clouds of mosquitoes and it was awful.  Then he heard this droning noise, and didn’t know what it was.  Before long, he said waves upon waves of enormous dragonflies came cruising to his rescue like attacking fighter jets, darting all throughout the mosquitoes for a good half hour and clearing the air.  He finally got the engine running and found his way home.  That was a pretty neat trip, and a neat birthday. 

Ghostly Shapes in the Pond

July 10th, 2008

For the last few weeks I’ve noticed ripples in the pond on quiet days, usually near the shoreline.  I look for fish quite often, and if it’s a bass or bluegill you can hear the “pop” or “smack” as they find an insect to dine on.   The bullfrogs are calling now also with their slow “baarooom, baaroom” voices.  And when two bullfrogs get together in a mating ritual, it’s like two splashy, flopping critters near the weeds. 

Ripples along the pond shoreline

But the ripples I’ve been seeing were not the same.  The previous two years I stocked a few grass carp as well as koi to help control vegetation and algae in the pond.  And years ago, a previous owner stocked a few of them as well.  Whether it’s luck or the right combination of fish I don’t know, but thus far we have had no blooms of algae or emergent vegetation problems, and the pond has remained much more open and clear. 

My suspicion is that the ripples I’m seeing along the water’s edge are the grass carp feeding.  I’ve let the grass from the shoreline grow long enough to fall over into the water to some degree, and the critters around the pond seem to appreciate it.  Every now and then I see ghostly shapes near the edge of the grass, but was not quite sure what it was.  And I didn’t know for sure if the grass carp I stocked actually survived over the last two years.

But the other day I found out they not only survived, but are apparently thriving.  Here’s picture of one of the ghostly shapes.  See the darker fish in the shadow of the tree?  It’s hard to tell size, but from the distance I took this picture, the fish is close to three feet long.  

Solitary grass carp in pond

And then for the first time ever, I saw a small “school” of three grass carp near the surface and just happened to have the camera nearby.  These are very large fish, easily 2-3 feet.  They didn’t stay for long, and I haven’t seen them since.  When I think I do see them and walk slowly near the pond’s edge to look, they vanish quickly.

School of three grass carp in pond

It’s fascinating to think these have grown so large and overwintered on little to no vegetation, and with the surface of the pond frozen for weeks at a time.  And it’s somewhat unnerving as well.  These are the same species of nuisance fish that have escaped into many midwest rivers over the years.  But these particular grass carp are triploid as well as being land-locked in the pond.  Triploid meaning that they have three sets of chromosomes instead of the normal two, and cannot reproduce. (I always wonder about that, with the quote in mind from Jurassic Park that “nature finds a way”).  However they do require rivers to breed successfully, so these fish won’t increase their population here.  I was also careful not to put too many in our small body of water, because as you can tell they get very large, and are long-lived.  

For now we seem to have a fortunate balance of fish with less vegetation, yet enough to maintain the fertility and biodiversity of the pond.  There’s still healthy bluegill, bass, frog and turtle populations as well, so for now we’ll just see how things work out.  We do fish occasionally, but I doubt we’ll hook one of these monsters.  Then again, I wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway.

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