Archive for the 'Off Topic' Category

Buy Nothing Day

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Once again National Buy Nothing Day has come around. Of course I’m an iconoclast, and I urge you not to participate in the national frenzy of today. C’mon, be a culture jammer. Don’t be a consumer culture casualty. Make a gesture to the world!

No one listens to me, though, so I won’t exhort you any further.

I will point out that one year ago I was exhorting you.

Two years ago I was also exhorting you, though less directly.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Carl Wimar died on this date in 1862 at the age of 36. He was a painter of great promise whose pioneering work among the Plains Indians was among the first to document their lives. His paintings grace the dome of the Old Courthouse in St. Louis.

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

Missouri calendar:

  • Canada goose population at waterfowl areas is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • Engine Number Three of the Pacific Railroad made its first short run on this date in 1852. Several years before the Golden Spike was driven, this train went all the way from St. Louis to the Pacific (Pacific, Missouri that is).

Missouri blue

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I’ll miss the peak color at Roundrock this year, so this photo is as close as I can share with you of the autumn beauty in my forest.

Even so, it’s looking like the dominant color in Missouri this fall may be blue. With that in mind, and with less than a week to the election, I decided to recycle this old post, with a little updating. I hope you find something worthwhile in it.

I remember reading some years ago an observation by a political writer that has stayed with me. People who had never before heard of hanging chads, he wrote, suddenly found that they had deep and unshakable opinions about them. In recent months many voters have found that they suddenly hold similar feelings about “community organizers.” Those points seem to crystallize much of what I think is wrong with contemporary politics.

Too many people, I think, base their principles on their politics when I think you really ought to come to your politics based on your principles. This is what I think or believe. This is what I have observed. This is what my heart tells me. Now which political approach seems best in line with what I value and understand?

Long-time readers of this blog know that I don’t make political posts here. This is a natural history and personal discovery blog, and the very few times I have made oblique political jibes or observations have been so subtle that no one has ever seemed to notice them. (Does that make me an excellent writer or a poor one?)

But today I will again make an exception. Here are some of the things I think and believe. Here are some of the things my heart tells me.

  • I believe that every time we do something that limits the rights of others, we make it that much easier for someone else to limit our own rights. Therefore, the best way to protect my own rights is for me to fight to protect the rights of others.
  • I believe that if the racial/ethnic/cultural group I happen to be a part of is some day to be a minority, then I ought to do everything I can to treat existing minorities well since my behavior might serve as an example of how I could be treated.
  • I believe that a society is ultimately judged by how it protects its weakest members.
  • I believe that we are all obligated to provide some form of voluntary, long-term service to our communities and that there are many ways that this can be done.
  • I believe that we should vigorously exercise each of our rights, even to voting in the most obscure local elections, so that no one can take away our rights by asserting that we never used them anyway.
  • I believe that while all of us are entitled to the rights and privileges we enjoy as citizens, very few of us have actually earned them and that we only have them by the good luck of having been born here. Therefore, those who suffer and struggle and fight to share in the benefits of our society may be more deserving of them than I am.
  • I believe that we should read banned books.
  • I believe that paying taxes is a responsibility to be fulfilled and not a hardship to be dodged.
  • I will support those who seek to expand the rights we all enjoy and not those who find it necessary to restrict our rights. I do not believe that we must destroy the Constitution in order to save it.

These are some of the things I believe, and I have made my political choices based on them.

Missouri calendar:

  • Average day of first frost in southern Missouri.

Today in Missouri history:

  • St. Louisan Henry Armstrong, the only man to hold three boxing championships simultaneously, won the featherweight title on this date in 1937.

A chariot

Monday, October 13th, 2008

Missouri is home to several Amish and Mennonite communities. Roundrock is near one of them, and often on our early morning drives to our woods we will pass a few horse-drawn buggies on the shoulder of the highway.

I took this picture from Prolechariot as we zipped past. (I had slowed down considerably, but the semi behind me didn’t seem to care at the time.)

The Amish are widely admired in this part of Missouri. They are respected for their hard work and craftsmanship, and are often hired to work on construction in the area. There is a cabin not too far from my woods that I’ve been assured will stand up forever because “the Amish built it.” (I haven’t seen the cabin yet, but I’ll take it on faith.)

On a couple of occasions, always in the winter, we have passed more than a dozen of these buggies on the road. One time I counted eighteen in the few minutes it took me to drive by. Later that day when I was returning home, I saw all of those buggies parked in the yard of a house up the hill from the highway. I suppose it was a social or religious gathering if it would bring them out on such a cold day.

Missouri calendar:

  • Columbus Day (observed)
  • Arrival of American wigeon, pintail and gadwall ducks is at its peak.

Today in Missouri history:

  • The first medical surgeon to work in the frontier town of St. Louis was born in Germany on this date in 1854.

Tea interval

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008


When #1 Son came home from Kenya back in December (and he’s still with us) he brought me a bag of Kenyan tea that I promptly overlooked. I thought it was coffee (despite the word “tea” right at the top) and so pushed it around on the kitchen counter for weeks.

Only when we had out-of-town guests recently was it pointed out to me that the plump bag was not coffee (an inferior drink) but ground tea (the drink of the gods).

Finely ground tea, it turns out. When I opened the package I thought it might be instant tea since it was more like powder than the chopped leaves I’m accustomed to brewing with.

I brewed a pot of it last weekend, using much too much of the tea powder and coming up with a dark tea too strong even for my taste. So I cut it with more hot water and diluted it down to a level my overworked taste buds could appreciate. Then I sat at my computer and consumed the whole pot of tea (unsweetened, of course).

When I was in Kenya (it seems a lifetime ago now) my various hosts were alarmed that I did not want sugar in my tea. I was, of course, a strange Westerner to them, and no doubt I had many more, far stranger ways about me. I don’t suppose I’ll ever get back to Africa, but I’ll always have tea!

Missouri calendar:

  • Coyotes breed through March; listen for howling.

Today in Missouri history:

  • German immigrant George Engelmann came to Missouri on this date in 1833. He was a doctor, a botanist, a publisher, and a civic promoter; he is also credited with keeping the only reliable records of weather in the entire Mississippi Valley for the first half of the 19th Century.
  • Director Robert Altman is born in Kansas City on this date in 1925.

Take the waters

Friday, October 19th, 2007


What foul substance is Pablo exposing you to today? Why, it’s medicinal!

On the drive home from our last trip to Roundrock, we diverted (a great distance) from our usual route and stopped in one of the small towns that had once been famous for the healing powers of its mineral springs. (I’m sure Laura knows where I’m talking about.)

Like most states, Missouri had a heyday in the 19th Century and early in the 20th Century when thousands of people would “take the waters” and find real or imagined cures for all sorts of ailments that afflicted them.

Not too far northeast of Kansas City is the town of Excelsior Springs, which has a lovely art deco Hall of Waters (and which is also the home of writer and artist Cathy Johnson, whose books I’ve mentioned here a few times). The curative powers of the waters there were discovered when a young woman with a terrible skin disease first dipped her afflicted legs in the spring pool. Soon after, her skin cleared and, presumably, she was lovely once again. Once word of this spread, everyone came to the town to visit the spa that had sprung up, take mineral baths, get pummeled by masseuse or masseur, and drink from the spring where a woman once lowered her infected flesh. The Hall of Waters is now city hall, though most of the fixtures are still there and you can even sample the varieties of mineral water still taken from the spring. (I’m not sure how that works, but apparently water drawn from different levels in the spring have different mineral content.)

The mineral spring on the (indirect) way home from Roundrock had a similar history. The waters there are filled with iron, and based on the testimonials of several early visitors who drank the nasty stuff and found relief, a similar resort town sprang up. The site of the spring is now a delightful park known for its summer band concerts. The spring water still pours from two pipes set in a stone wall at the lowest point of the park, down a series of steps into a sort of grotto.

Libby and I stopped at a nearby convenience store and bought a bottle of water — for the bottle. We drank the water and then took the empty bottle to the spring and filled it with the cold, cold water. I sampled it. It was like sucking on a piece of iron. A woman who was there with her toddler said that the tap water in the town tastes the same and that, of course, when you grow up with it you get used to it. I would imagine the restaurant business would suffer, at least from the tourist trade. You might be able to get a soda pop from a bottle, but when you poured it over the local ice in your glass, wouldn’t it suddenly taste foul? I don’t even want to think what iced tea there must be like. In this case, it might not remain unsweetened.

The water from the spring, though, was crystal clear. We took it home and put it in our refrigerator where it sat for a week, precipitating. By the end of the week, swirls of rusty orange stuff had accumulated in the bottom of the bottle, as you see above.

Now it so happens that pin oaks don’t grow well in Kansas City soil. (That doesn’t stop the local nurseries from selling them to new homeowners in all of the housing developments going up.) I’m told there isn’t enuf iron in the soil for them to thrive. We have a volunteer pin oak growing in our back yard. The first time we had collected a bottle of water from the spring, I eventually poured it around the base of our pin oak. I expected to wake the next morning to find it had grown a hundred feet tall. (It hadn’t!) But the tree has had good color to its leaves while our neighbors’ trees often look sickly. Did my one application of iron-rich water make the difference? I doubt it. More likely the type of pin oak that would sprout as a volunteer in this soil is one more genetically suited to the site than the store-bought varieties.

But I boasted of this success to my good friend Duff when he commented about two of his pin oaks looking poorly. And so it came to pass that when we were headed home from Roundrock, we took a detour to fetch a small bottle of mineral water straight from the source. I expect a full report.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for spiders ballooning on clear, windy days.


Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Arrrr, y’all!

Missouri calendarrrr:

  • Tree, rough-winged and barn swallows stage in large flocks.

Red in the face

Monday, August 6th, 2007

red face.JPG

Last Friday, in the answers I gave to the Pop Quiz, I mentioned a joke called “Pissing in the Snow.” I had first read of it in a book entitled Pissing in the Snow, which is a collection of Ozark folktales and barely printable jokes. Vance Randolph, the noted Ozark folklorist, made the collection, and while he lived a hand-to-mouth existence all of his life, this book finally brought in lots of money. By then he was living in squalor in the nursing home and didn’t have many years left.

Randolph was considered a scholar by some and an amateur by others. I make no claim either way, but I will give you the unexpurgated “Pissing in the Snow.” (You may want to have the children leave the room.)

This is from the 1976 University of Illinois Press edition:

Told by Frank Hembree, Galena, Mo., April, 1945. He heard it in the late 1890’s. J. L. Russell, Harrison, Ark., spun me the same yarn in 1950; he says it was told near Green Forest, Ark., about 1885.

One time there was two farmers that lived out on the road to Carico. They was always good friends, and Bill’s oldest boy had been a-sparking one of Sam’s daughters. Everything was going fine till the morning they met down by the creek, and Sam was pretty goddam mad. “Bill,” says he, “from now on I don’t want that boy of yours to set foot on my place.”

“Why, what’s he done?” asked the boy’s daddy.

“He pissed in the snow, that’s what he done, right in front of my house!”

“But surely, there ain’t no great harm in that,” Bill says.

“No harm!” hollered Sam. “Hell’s fire, he pissed so it spelled Lucy’s name, right there in the snow!”

“The boy shouldn’t have done that,” says Bill. “But I don’t see nothing so terrible bad about it.”

“Well, by God, I do!” yelled Sam. “There was two sets of tracks! And besides, don’t you think I know my own daughter’s handwriting?”


Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank today.

One Week Later

Saturday, August 4th, 2007


Just a week ago my baby boy* was married to the girl he met and fell in love with in college. It’s hard to think of them as adults, as having their own lives and interests and ambitions. As being separate from me in such an important way. But now they are far away in western Kansas, starting their lives.

Since the wedding was at a botanical garden, the groundskeepers would not allow the throwing of rice (hard to clean up) or bird seed (who knows what might spout?), but they did allow soap bubbles (which, I’ve learned from personal experience can kill a plant if a sufficient number of them come to rest on the leaves). This was a big hit, especially with the little kids among the guests. It didn’t photograph too well, but I think you can get the idea in the photo above.

*Strictly speaking, he is the baby, but he is also the younger twin, so his older brother (and best man) has him beat by only five minutes, which he nonetheless never ceases to bring to everyone’s attention.

Missouri calendar:

  • Pocketbook mussels begin breeding this week.

Wedding Day

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

round rocks:burnt log.JPG

I’m probably running around playing host and fixer and father of the bridegroom and reveler in the day-long nuptials. And I’ll be wearing a black suit!

Perhaps I’ll have pix for you. Gotta go!

Missouri calendar:

  • Wild plums ripen.