Archive for December, 2005

Personal Hygiene

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

Yes, this may not be a subject you are all that interested in learning about. It won’t be, however, too detailed or, um, musky, so venture on, if you dare!

This is more of a report of a year of success than an account of my personal grooming habits.

I am happy to report that I suffered not a single tick for the entire year of 2005. Through a combination of preventative measures and good luck, I managed to remain tick free.

Ticks are a pernicious pest in the Midwest, and Missouri is host to uncounted millions of them. They are blood suckers who attach themselves to your flesh, usually in obscure, hard-to-reach little nooks and crannies, and enjoy their feast. At the least, they are disgusting trespassers. But they can also spread disease. Ugh!

I am a realist about ticks, though, and I’d have to be in order to venture into the woods and fields of Roundrock the way I love. Ticks are a fact of life, even in suburbia, and irrational fear of them is a silly option. In years past, I have sometimes returned from Roundrock to find a tick temporarily embedded in my flesh, but these visits are fleeting. Unlike many people, I have never had a problem plucking a tick — head and all — from my skin and dispatching it. (And when you think about it, nothing is better than a thorough tick check with a loved one!)

This year, however, I’ve managed to free myself from even that little problem. My solution has been two pronged. The first has been practical. For the most part, I have tried to avoid the occasion of ticks. They tend to lurk in grassy and brushy areas. Ticks will wait at the tips of leaves, and when they sense the carbon dioxide of approaching mammals, they will extend their forelegs into a questing position. If your flesh or clothes brush against the tick, it clings and joins the ride. You become their moveable feast.

Well, an obvious solution to that problem is to stay out of tall grass and brush during prime tick season (May through August — though I have seen ticks active even in February). But who wants to do that when you have something as lovely and alluring as Roundrock? The next answer is socks.

Libby and I have put no small amount of effort into finding the perfect Roundrock socks. The goal, which we have mostly achieved, is to have socks that rise high on the calf, with sufficient elastic in the top to bind closely to the skin. We turn down our socks to the tops of our boots, carefully fold our long pant legs about our ankles, then pull the socks over the top of them. Thus we have built what has proven to be an effective barrier to tick invasion. Since nearly all of our tick assaults will begin on our legs, we’re well protected.

Light colored pants also help. Ticks who begin the long march up our legs are more easily spotted (and flicked away) against white or tan fabric than against jeans. A couple of summers at Roundrock will render any light-colored slacks a muddy and stained mess, of course, but if they work, then they will gladly be replaced when the time comes.

Another solution — one that we have found is not only mandatory but absolutely delightful — is swimming. As you know, during the summer months, Libby and I always try to end our day at Roundrock with an hour or two in the lake. This, of course, requires the shedding of our clothes and the laving of our flesh in the cleansing waters of Lake Marguerite. The tick-laden clothes go into a plastic trash bag, to be dealt with later at home. The swimming seems to be sufficient to wash away any ticks (and chiggers) that may have gotten past our first line of defense but have not attached themselves to our skin yet. We generally supplement our swimming solution with a vigorous hot shower, including lots of scrubbing, when we get home.

And there is another, most diabolical means for deterring insect infestation. We treat our pants and socks with a chemical known as permethrin. The night before our trek to Roundrock or Fallen Timbers, we simply spray a water/permethrin mix onto our clothes and let them hang dry. By morning we have a ruthless defense. Permethrin is a type of insect nerve agent that works by contact. When an insect begins to crawl up the fabric of our treated pants, it gets a fatal dose of poison and dies, literally, within inches. By the end of the day, I have often seen dozens of minute chiggers still and lifeless on my pants. Normally these would be swarming north to my waistline, but not with the permethrin defense. Ticks, I presume, also meet this same fate, but being heavier, they fall from my clothes to an anonymous death somewhere in the forest.

Every study I have found (okay, Tjilpi found one that contradicts) regarding the long-term health effects of permethrin on humans has suggested that it is safe to use. If I were to develop some malady fifty years from now, I don’t think that would be a problem since I don’t suppose I’ll still be around fifty years from now.

I am a bit dismissive of Deet as a defense. Somehow this stuff entered the lexicon with the unfortunate and misleading description of “insect repellant.” The fact is, it does not “repel” anything. Deet merely masks the chemical bouquet your body gives off so that insects cannot “smell” you as easily. It does not drive them away. It merely hides you. And given that you must breathe, you’re still giving off all sorts of chemical signals to the pests that will eventually overcome your masking defense.

Deet, in order to work, must come in contact with your skin. The chemical reaction with your body causes a sort of haze to linger over your flesh, and this is the barrier that confuses the insects. Nonetheless, I can’t tell you how many times I have had to hold my tongue when I see people spraying their clothing with Deet, thinking, incorrectly, that it will help protect them. Deet on fabric becomes inert. This is precisely why calling it “insect repellant” is a misnomer. The fabric of your jeans alone will keep the bugs off of your flesh. Adding a bit of pointless chemical to it does nothing for you. (But putting Deet on your skin beneath your clothes is even worse. Not only do insects not venture there anyway, but the protection of the clothing fabric is believed to increase the rate your body absorbes the Deet. It does get absorbed into your body and accumulate in your organs.)

Oh, I could go on. Have you seen those potions that combine sun screen with “insect repellant”? That’s criminal! Deet should be applied as little as possible. Sunscreen, on the other hand, should be applied as frequently as possible. Do you suppose the companies that manufacture this contradictory product don’t know the science behind it? Do you suppose they care?

Well, back to my point. 2005 has been a tick-free year for Pablo. Vigilance, prudent behavior, and our friend chemicals have helped me through the year. Now we’ll see if my hubris will survive 2006.

L-M-S

Friday, December 30th, 2005

If our casual discovery of round rocks at Roundrock is any indication, I suspect there are thousands of them beneath the soil, waiting to be eroded free to wash down the hillsides and fill in my (currently) empty lakebed.

So you would think that I could part with my beloved round rocks more easily when I hand them to folks as gifts. But it is like giving away part of myself, and it takes a great deal of courage for me to do so.

Even when my lovely daughter, Rachel, wanted to take a small one back to Oregon with her, I was sad because I realized that I would never see it again. I’ve personally brought dozens of them home with me to suburbia, but most of them have found their way back to Roundrock, cuz they just seem to belong there.

When the dozer man built our dam, one of his helpers announced to me that our place was full of round rocks and he was able to take dozens of them with him each night. I’ll never see those again, but I hope they found a good home.

The three rocks in the photo are typical of the sizes we commonly find. We have found many that are smaller — the size of golf balls — and a couple of bowling ball sized rocks. What you see, though, is representative of the round rocks at Roundrock, and until you come to see me there, you may just have to be satisfied with pix.

Five Meme

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Jim over at Earth Home Garden tagged me with this meme some time ago (November 1), and I always intended to respond — even though my brain sizzles when I go off topic — but somehow the days passed and the response never came.

Yet here I am, finally getting to the task. (As usual, I won’t be spreading the contagion further, though anyone who cares to play is certainly encouraged.)

Five Pet Peeves
1. People in the grocery store who leave their carts perpendicular in the aisle and then wander off to find some item but who object forcefully if you move their cart to get past.
2. Finding the ice tray empty in the freezer. Someone put it back that way rather than fill it, dammit! (I drink a lot of iced tea — unsweetened — and am a heavy ice user in our household.)
3.Waiting on others. If I can be ready/prepared/on time/whatever, why can’t everyone else?
4. People who assume I agree with them and never consider the possibility that I could have a different thought in my head. Not the arrogant, malicious types but those who have never taken the time to realize that not everyone thinks in the same ruts they do.
5. “Intensive purposes,” “I could care less,” “concerted effort,” “Where are you at?” and other such misguided manglings of meaning.

Five Wild Critters I’d Like To See In The Wild Before I Go (or before they do)
1. Quail at Roundrock
2. Black bear at Roundrock (but only passing through)
3. Mountain lion at Roundrock (again, only passing through)
4. Bald eagle at Roundrock (or a nesting pair beside our lake)
5. Bobcat at Roundrock (they are there, but they are extremely elusive)

Five Moments In My Life That Changed Everything That I’ve Done Since
1. Birth is probably the biggest event to have happened in my life.
2. High school sophomore English class. It established my lifelong interest in writing and literature.
3. Seeing this absolutely gorgeous, long-haired blond woman at the bank where I had just started working. Wow! She was out of my league, but a guy can dream, can’t he? (I married her 25+ years ago.)
4. The births of my four children and the lifetime commitment they meant.
5. The unbidden realization one day that I could actually do just about anything I wanted if I applied myself enuf. That seems vague, I realize, but it has taken a lot of the doubt out of my life.

Five Movies That Are My Life
1. It’s a Wonderful Life – I wish! Not the suicide part but the quiet, positive influence one person can have in others’ lives.
2. To Kill A Mockingbird – Doesn’t everyone want to be Atticus Finch?
3. Return of the King – I know. It’s a fantasy. But I was always attracted to the Samwise Gamgee character. Steady, dependable, focused, plain spoken, true.
4. The Paper Chase – Gee, you can be serious about college?
5. Monty Python and the Holy Grail – ’nuff said.

Big Green Machine

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

Green as in color, not in fuel efficiency.

Once we were sufficiently tired of walking into to Fallen Timbers all those years ago after we had purchased the woody acres (can it be nearly a decade now?), we decided we needed a vehicle that could negotiate the horrible gravel trace through the trees, so a big chunk of cash was found somehow and we purchased this gently used pickup truck. Well, there was nowhere we couldn’t go after we got behind the wheel of this four-wheel-drive tool, and we got busy proving that to ourselves. We’ve never been stuck anywhere, but we did take ourselves into some places of the forest that might not have been all that prudent.

Well, we managed to survive, and mostly we like to get out and walk to wherever we want to reach in the forest anyway.

The truck was down in the pecan plantation when I took this photo. You can see the dam in the background on the left, and the trees on the right were just beginning to turn their fall colors. I think this was the occasion of adding more straw around the baby pecans, as was suggested to us by a Pirate.

You see the good side of the truck in this photo. The other side is a bit more “experienced.” I started this blemishing process by scraping against a stump that was hidden in the brush. This happened less than a week after I had owned the truck. Sigh.

In subsequent years, the passenger side of the truck was sideswiped. Twice! By family members! While it was parked in my driveway! The first time happened when Seth was backing his car (well, my car that he was driving at the time) down the driveway. In his urgency to avoid his mother’s flowerbed, he oversteered and scraped against the side of the truck. I was present at the time, and his assertion “I didn’t do that!” was particularly comical.

I was not present for the second sideswiping. I came out to the truck one day and saw what looked like fresh scraping of the paint on the door. I assumed some yahoo at the grocery store had done it, and part of me hoped his car looked worse than mine (mine having already been pre-stressed). When I mentioned this mishap to someone I know who happens to share my driveway, a confusion of looks came over her face before she burst out that she “didn’t see the truck” there in the driveway. The big green truck in the driveway that had been parking there regularly for years and years.

Well, if I’m coming across as a little smug about all of this, it’s because there is one more tale to tell.

On one of the far-too-infrequent family trips to Roundrock, I had a number of family members in the bed of the truck (including the one who would soon marry my daughter), and I was backing up the hill road from the dam. I thought I would do some fancy turning around, and I whipped the truck to the right, in reverse, and promptly slammed the side of the truck into a tree. I took out the mirror and put a very obvious dent into the front quarter panel. Bad enuf as it was, but with the sons and future son-in-law present as witnesses, the whole thing was quite humbling.

So now Libby and I drive the truck through the meadows, over the roads and rocks, and amidst the brush without too much fretting over the scraping and whipping sounds we hear as we travel along. But, after all, it is a working truck, and I think it’s weathered appearance gives it more “street cred” in the country.

Burial Mound

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

I’m sorry this photo is no better than it is. This is one of the many human-sized mounds on the forest floor at Fallen Timbers, our other bit of woods in the Ozarks. These have proven to be difficult to photograph in any way that shows their shape.

We have perhaps a dozen of these mounds scattered throughout our “40 acre square.” As I noted, they are all human sized, and they are nearly all aligned east to west. There is one smaller mound, and it is set perpendicular to two larger mounds.

When we were last out to Fallen Timbers, I tried taking photos of some of the mounds, hoping to get better representation, but the freshly fallen leaf litter was so thick at the time that you really couldn’t distinguish their shape.

Here is an example of the recent photo I took:

You can make out the green moss growing on the rocks that have been piled to make this mound. The shadow of the tree coming from the top right “humps” a bit when it passes over the mound.

The top photo was taken nearer the end of winter some years ago, when the wind and rain and snowfall have compressed the leaves.

Libby and I will head out to Fallen Timbers later in the season and make another attempt at getting some decent shots of these mounds. They really are interesting features of our land when you’re in their presence.

Remains

Monday, December 26th, 2005

Perhaps more fanciful than the idea that the Osage left behind sign trees and burial mounds is the idea that this is a prehistoric platypus skull. Yet someone I know likes to believe that it is.

Whatever this stone may be, it is sitting on a pile of round rocks on Libby’s Island at Roundrock. Most of the round rocks we see that have holes in them have their holes in what we consider the “bottom” of the stone. How a sphere can have a bottom is best left for a later discussion, but in any case, the hole in this rock is clearly in the “side.” This is not the same stone as depicted in my earlier post. It does sit beside it, though, and sometimes Libby or I will arrange them side by side so that their “snouts” are touching in a gentle kissing manner. Isn’t that precious?

The hole in this stone goes all the way through and emerges on the other side. It is large enuf to admit my finger, though whatever might be living in there could make poking around a bit imprudent. As I recall, there is a loose stone within, and I’ve tried working it out but with no success so far. The hole does look like an eye socket, so at first glance it is reasonable to consider that this might have been a skull. Several people thought that this image was a skull too.

We find such fanciful stones during our casual poking about in the streambed and leaf litter. We never know when we will come across one, and I imagine that there are all sorts of delightful surprises waiting for us as our adventure continues.

Season’s Greetings

Sunday, December 25th, 2005

Such a festive time of the year. Seems a shame to limit ourselves to acknowledging only one holiday. Here are a few that I know about:

Xmas, Boxing Day, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Las Posadas, Ramadan, Solstice, Saturnalia, New Year, Santa Lucia’s Day, St. Nicholas’ Day, Quema del Diablo, La Purisma, Dingaan’s Day/Day of Reconciliation, Emperor’s Birthday, and Johnkanus.

Happy Holidays, however you choose to spend them!

Pablo and Libby

(As a sort of Xmas gift to you all, today is another double-posting day, so if you scroll down you can see my response to one of those memes that are besetting all of us. If you don’t observe Xmas, then consider this a warm and gracious gift to you just for being your fine self!)

Seven Meme

Sunday, December 25th, 2005

Trying to collect my blogging karma, I’m doing yet another meme, but I ain’t passing this one along either.

This is the Seven Meme, and it was inflicted on me by Wayne of Sparkleberry Springs. I’m not sure how to repay the gesture, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something extra special for him.

Anyway, here goes . . .

Seven Things To Do Before I Die:
1. Move to Roundrock full time.
2. Bounce grandchildren on my knees.
3. See Europe, or anything outside of North America. (Kenya?)
4. Find an arrowhead.
5. See the Northern Lights.
6. Publish that novel!
7. Find some small measure of self confidence.

Seven Things I Cannot Do:
1. Vote Republican.
2. Get motivated.
3. Measure and cut lumber.
4. Visualize objects in the 3rd dimension — which is why I can’t carve or sculpt (unlike my friend Duff who is a genius).
5. Lose weight.
6. Find an arrowhead.
7. Live pet free. (Right now we have a dog, a cat, two cockateils, a canary, a goldfish, and a rabbit.)

Seven Things That Attract Me To . . . Blogging:
1. Shiny objects and loud noises
2. A chance to write
3. A chance for instant feedback
4. A great dialog with interesting people
5. To satisfy my obsessive/compulsive disorder
6. Making virtual friends and antagonists
7. Peeking into other people’s lives

Seven Things I Say Most Often:
1. “Indeed!”
2. “Say again?”
3. “Quiet, Max.”
4. “Let’s go out to the woods tomorrow.”
5. “We have too much stuff.”
6. “No, Kit!” (When the cat tries to do something he shouldn’t.)
7. “Did we get today’s mail?” (meaning, “Do I have to go down to the curb to fetch it, or have you already saved me the bother?”)

Seven Books That I Love:
1. The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth
2. The Human Stain by Philip Roth
3. Anything by Iris Murdoch
4. A Country Year by Sue Hubbell
5. Don Quixote by Cervantes
6. The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis
7. The Sherlock Holmes stories and novels

Seven Movies That I Watch Over And Over:
1. To Kill a Mockingbird
2. Fellowship of the Ring
3. The Two Towers
4. Return of the King
5. Forrest Gump
6. Any Harry Potter movie
7. The Office (British version — it’s really like one very long movie)

Five Weird Habits

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

I was tagged by Jude for this meme, and though I vowed never to submit to these again, behold how weak I am. (Don’t worry Wayne and Jim, I haven’t forgotten yer memes. Ladies first, as they say.)

I am supposed to tell you about five habits I have that are weird. I suppose that word “weird” is open to definition, so I’ll just go with what comes to mind.

1. I must be slightly obsessive/compulsive. I get anxious when I don’t have at least half a dozen blog posts already written and queued up for publication. Right now, I’m getting anxious.

2. I can sit for hours and contemplate all of the things that I need to do — really ought to do right away — and yet not take the slightest action to begin doing them.

3. I cannot remember things that are tremendously important at work or wherever, but I can remember specific details about specific rocks or trees or whatever at Roundrock. (This may not be a habit as much as a nutritional deficiency, but as I said, the definition is open.)

4. I cannot not finish reading a book. I always think that any given book, no matter how bad it seems in the middle, might redeem itself by the end (Portnoy’s Complaint, for example — in the very last words). Of the thousands of books I have read, I think I can count on one hand the number I haven’t finished. Most recent: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie.

5. I cannot get myself to write in my paper journal the way I used to. This unfortunate phenomenon predates my entry in the world of blogs, so I cannot give this as my excuse. I have plenty of thoughts and ideas that I need to capture, but I just don’t do it. (See #2 above.) The odd thing is that I used to write pages and pages each day — I reached the point where I needed the feel of the mechanical pencil in my hand — but now I just don’t do it.

Like all interesting people I know, I could go on, but I believe I have fulfilled the spirit of this meme. Now, I’m supposed to send this meme to five other worthy victims, and you can count your very self as one of the lucky five because I did not send it to you!

(Note: Today is double posting day, so be sure to scroll down to the other post below. It’s festive!)

Plaza Lights

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

Here is a festive picture from my hometown, Kansas City.

This is part of the upscale shopping district in town known as The Plaza. This is where everyone brings their out-of-town guests, and it is a nice place to wile away a sunny Saturday afternoon in the spring. The Plaza is full of expensive boutiques and department stores as well as quirky restaurants and four-star dining establishments. (Some consider it the predecessor to shopping malls, but to me, that’s nothing to brag about.)

At holiday time, The Plaza glitzes up a bit by illuminating the thousands of lights on all of the buildings. The switch is thrown on Thanksgiving night, generally by some celebrity, and all of the streets are closed to traffic because they are thronged with people. The lights will burn until New Year’s Day, and they they will go dark again (while crews replace bulbs that were found to be burned out).

When you come to see me in Kansas City, regardless of the season, I’ll be sure to take you to the Plaza.

(I did not take this photo. I snagged it from a state of Missouri page, so I’m hoping it’s in the public domain.)