Returning to: Modern Hazards
I posted this blog back in March of 2017. How I wish it were not still apropos.
I was tootling along in my innocuous Honda minivan, possibly singing, when my life flashed in front of my eyes.
As it does.
A montage of really good stuff, actually. Kind of like the Sports Center Highlights Reel, only the soundtrack wasn't great: just my own voice, repeating a filthy variant of "Oh, fiddlesticks!"
On a sunny morning on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, a late-model muscle-car –– a Shelby or a Mustang (my apologies for blasphemy to the car-guys still reading after three paragraphs) –– almost smoked his tires stopping by the side of the road ahead in the distance.
Flinging open his door, the driver jumped out and assumed the classic shooter's stance: dominant arm outstretched, holding, with the other supporting, legs square, eye to the sight. The tiny, deadly, dark circle of muzzle pointing at me.
It's a testimony to hundreds of thousands of years of evolution that adrenaline hits the system quicker than the brain can process the need for it. I was already ducking a little (as if my steering wheel would offer any real cover!) before the thought of how fiddlestickingly stupid this was as a way to go: death by sniper.
Adrenaline grants the sensation of time dilation. My irritability about gun culture was accompanied almost simultaneously by a fleeting regret about the very LONG list of things left that I'd hoped to accomplish. And the lightning-flash reel of life highlights.
And then, quicker than a blink, I processed the shooter's details: a fit man in a tan uniform, sunglasses hiding half of his dark face, the light shining off what I really, really hoped was a lawman's badge. I hoped that he wasn't a man in the grips of mental illness, uniform or no. And then, the last thing I recognized: the hair-dryer shape of a radar gun.
Half of South Tampa passed before my heart stopped racing like a rabbit.
Still, that dark barrel? Pointing my way? Felt like doom only temporarily averted.
Oh, they say, peering in from the doorway and sniffing gingerly. Oh, I see.
Base Camp –– a slightly tarted up camper-trailer that's perched on a bluff at the Would-Be farm –– has served our housing needs with economy. Five years into this adventure, the initial cost and renovations make Base Camp work out to something like $250 a year.
Well, a couple of things, but the one thing about which I shall complain this day?
An elderly camper trailer has very little insulative chutzpah. Wind whistles through the windows. When it's chilly, an optimist would call it excellent sleeping weather.
But in the morning, when the time comes to emerge from that cozy nest of down-filled comforters, hot-water bottles, and wool blankets?
We've lived through a large home improvement project, but we never hired someone to build from scratch before. Or at this kind of long distance.
It proves a predictably nerve-wracking experience.
I send a check and got a description of the new well (420 feet deep! Dang!) and the pump. Months pass.
The contractor is abstemious with the photos, which might be a strategy for managing his customers.
I send a cheerful, encouraging text: "Don't be afraid to send photos, even if nothing is going on!"
The contractor replies "K!" And maintains radio silence.
For a Christmas present, my sister takes a field trip to the site and snaps some photos.
Late in January, the contractor sends an exciting visual update:
The suspense! The planning! Ooo la la.
Twig is also the name of a genre of decoration. Twig tables. Twig chairs. Twig frames.
Those enormous Adirondack camps, white birchbark stuff, bent willow rustic chairs? All twig.
I picked up a reference book on the subject at the library book sale over the winter and took the instructions at face value.
And then re-measured and cut most of them again, using my trusty loppers and a measuring jig Daddo would have been proud to see.
Precision is not my middle name, but I was quite careful.
Even knowing that the instructions were crap, I couldn't help but bemoan the injustice of it.
Instructions that don't.
Measuring guides that don't.
Reference that isn't.
Eventually I wandered over to the square yard or so of good cell coverage at the Would-Be Farm –– in the middle of the field –– and Googled some help. Huh. Common theme of the Amazon reviews of the book:
By Day 3, I was grimly determined to best the beast. I studied physics in college. I have been making things by hand and by brain for some years now. I will not be thwarted!
I read Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey only after we'd hiked in Arches National park in July.
We started the Devil's Garden trail at 6:30 perhaps –– the sun was up, but the shadows were long when we left the paved trail at Landscape Arch.
Bonus travel tip: Even in the busiest and most popular national parks, we found that by hiking a few hundred yards down nearly any trail*, we could leave most of the seething mass of vacationing humanity behind.
Sad truth: few tourists do more than meander to overlook, snap a photo, and then roar off in an air-conditioned car.
Edward Abbey was right: "What can I tell them? Sealed in their metallic shells like molluscs on wheels, how can I pry the people free? The auto as tin can, the park ranger as opener."
Desert Solitaire p 290.
*Exception to the trail rule? The Narrows at Zion. It was kind of the only game in town after the landslides of 2018 (aside from scaling bare rock faces). That hike –– a wet, awe-inspiring meander up the slot canyon –– did fill up considerably come lunchtime. Early morning or off-season recommended.
So, back to the dusty devilly trail.
Devil's Garden trail is nearly 8 miles there-and-back again. A good scramble up red sandstone rocks, along ledges, through dusty piñon pine groves. We ran into families of deer –– the females showing ribs and the fawns leggy and curious –– a couple of parties of human hikers, lizards of various stripe, intriguing tracks in the sand, and the odd path marker.
Some markers odder than others. To a certain sort of thinker, this is an ambiguous sign:
I read it first as a series of nouns: road + leaf + laundry.
A series of verbs: follows + goes + cleans.
Er, nope. Because, you know, why? But interesting. Return to this thought later, I told myself, tucking the camera back into my pocket.
I stopped for a sip of water a hundred or two hundreds yards later. The words transposed themselves: Trail Wash Leaves.
That seemed nearly probable: maybe the trail had a new name. The National Park people seem to engineer their signage so that visitors can have a more genuine park experience, complete with navigational anxiety and an understanding that maps are imperfect representations of the truth.
Maybe. But probably not.
The pieces fitted together a half mile or more later: Alert, hikers: your trail, which has followed the path of this dried stream-bed –– known locally as a wash or a gulch –– is about to diverge from the stream-bed.
For the rest of the walk, series of words started presenting themselves. Triangular structures, each side a simple word that goes both ways: One can trail one's hand on the trail. One can leave the leaves behind, one can wash the wash.
Stone Ride Ice.
Rein Plant Saddle
Mount Slide Hollow.
Chant Riddle Stop.
Then we arrived back at the start of the trail.
And in the blink of an eye, we were addressing ourselves to pizza and cold beverages and a bookstore on the funky little main drag of Moab.
Pariediolia is the name for the native human tendency to construct faces out of random patterns. Like Arcimaboldo's work, but by chance rather than art.
The word comes from the Greek for something like "wrong image." Spotting the face of St. Lucia on your flatbread pizza –– mental illness notwithstanding –– is bonus in our evolutionary heritage of pattern recognition.
It's related to the way that when confronted with a paper plate decorated with bull's eyes, a wee bitty baby serves up the same charming goo-goo eyes for the plate as he gives to actual human faces. Survival of the most charming.
Which tells me that the point of imagination is to actually and genuinely save your life.
But what's it called when you spot horses everywhere?
A long winter, a late spring.
The shape of the land shows like the ribs of a hungry animal this early in the spring.
Waiting for the arrival of spring, Mr. Linton and I blazed a couple of new trails. It's easier to make a way without having to part that modesty-drape of leaves and grass.
Naming the trails is surprisingly difficult, for what we end up calling them.
Anyway, a few days and a few yellow blazes later, we now we have Dead Possum Trail (named for the skeleton we found, natch) and what I first thought would be Trillium Trail.
Then we noticed this:
So, Broken Wagon Trail it is.
Okay, yes, it's not technically a wagon. Neither is it precisely broken. But Abandoned Hay Rake Trail doesn't have the same ring, does it? Plus Mr. Linton named it, and what he says, goes. Sometimes. This time.
Back to the narrative.
Late spring this year: even the old oaks seemed to be having a hard time waking up.
Go on, turn the news off for a few minutes.
Turn this up, dance around, make a list of all the things you love.
Then, I dunno, maybe consider giving up expressing your outrage for a whole day?
Perhaps take stock of the way the air is moving outside?
Or think about a song that YOU cannot resist. (And by the way, I want to know what song that is...)
The Would-Be Farm: Mystery Plants
During the all-too-brief week we spent on the Would-Be Farm in early July, I decided to postpone the research by getting clear (clear-ish) photos of the latest crop of mystery plants. This is not rocket science, but I am only just skidding into the new century of digital memory.
When I was a googly-eyed junior in high school, being all moony and swoony over my equally googly-eyed boyfriend, our biology teacher, Mr. V. would shake his head at the sight of us two and mutter under his breath, "Two smarts equal dummy."
Oh, Mr. V., even just the one sometimes equals dummy!
Here's a few of the unknowns:
I figured I'd have tons to time to do the research during my months away from the farm. After all, some of these plants are bound to be edible. So far, not so much research, but the winter is still young...
In a Gibsonian twist, this kooky effort to lure customers to buy more is all math; it's called a recommendation engine. I imagine it puff-puff-puffing trying to get up the hill. (P.S., yes, I know he's Canadian.)
Facebook's friend suggestion of the month came with an unremarkable name and a North Country photo. I looked at it for a solid minute, thinking, really? Could it be? The boy who rode my school-bus all those years ago? The ricketty kid who captured flies against the smeared windows of Mrs. Gamble's Bluebird and ate their fresh-plucked wings in what may have been an attempt to impress the girls on the bus? In truth, it did leave an impression.
Again, wow, thanks anyhow!
And don't get me started on the social media's version of "news."
Oh, heckydoodle, it's too late...Believe that when you see another outrageous story about <fill in the heinous-mingus blank> it's not necessarily happening more often.
Perhaps, once upon a cyber time, you clicked and paused for a nanosecond longer on a story in a similar vein. The recommendation engines chug on.
Gah, what a tangled interweb have we wrought. Here's me avoiding it.
Even if you didn't know the name –– a combination of "article" and "list" –– you've probably clicked through one of these short articles. They promise valuable content in a compact package, which seems ideal.
Formula? Take an integer + an over-the-top modifier and noun + a promise and Bob's your uncle. Like this:
27 Times Bacon Has Changed the Course of Modern History (Number 3 Will Make You Swear Off Eating in Restaurants!)
It's kind of addicting, actually, once you get going:
35 Things You Absolutely Need to Know about Roqueford Cheese
The numbers alone make me stop and think. I consider the cabalistic weight of them: are they prime numbers? is it whenever the data ran out?
And I wonder -– is it better to have
17 of the Most Adorable Hedgehog Videos
or 13 of the Most Adorable Hedgehog Videos?
Trick question: There are not EVER enough adorable hedgehog videos in the world.
About the Blog
A lot of ground gets covered on this blog -- from sailboat racing to book suggestions to plain old piffle.
Trying to keep track? Follow me on Facebook or Twitter or if you use an aggregator, click the RSS option below.
Old school? Sign up for the newsletter and I'll shoot you a short e-mail when there's something new.