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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.

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