Archive for December, 2006

Good-bye 2006!

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Dismal December just won’t quit for us at the Roundrock family household.

For those of you following my exhaustive (and exhausting) saga, let me tell you that Libby is still in the hospital. The doctors have failed to get her blood thinners at the proper dosage, and now it looks like it may be another four days.

One little bit of good news has been tempered by one little bit of bad news. The good news is that Libby has finally managed to stop using the oxygen. Her blood saturation levels were able to sustain themselves above 90 percent, so she’s dispensed with the cannula line that was drying out her nose.

The bad news is that she has been moved to a private room because she has developed an intestinal infection from Clostridium dificile difficile. This is a type of bacteria that is common in the human gut, and in normal circumstances, the “good” bacteria are able to keep this “bad” stuff under control. Sadly, she is not under normal circumstances, and the “c diff” has bloomed in her intestines. This is easily treated, and it should pose no threat to her or her prospects for getting out of the hospital. But as long as she has this infection, she is more or less a threat to any roommate she has (and she has had a parade of roommates over the past week). Thus the private room.

Libby is not in any medical danger. Her heart is recovering nicely. Her medicine levels will get established, and the daily blood tests are showing regular, if slow, progress. And this intestinal infection should be whipped shortly.

But it’s just one more damned thing!

_______________

My thanks go to all of you who have sent emails or left comments with your well wishes. I’m really grateful for all of them, and I pass them along to Libby each day when I see her.

If you haven’t seen me commenting on your sites as much lately, well, I suppose you can guess why. This kind of trouble can really wear a fellow out, and I’m not even the sick one. But Libby has long since turned the corner and is out of danger, so all we really need now is endurance so we can get back to some semblance of our regular lives.

Missouri calendar:

  • Hang up next year’s Natural Events Calendar.

Fossil?

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

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We keep finding this bit of stone out at Roundrock. It sits in what would be part of the lake if the lake would only stick around. It is just north of Isla de Peligo. I had found it last winter, marvelled at it, and then tossed it down. On our last trip out with the twins, Aaron found it, marvelled at it, and then tossed it down. I suppose the next time we are there, I should slip it into my backback and bring it home.

When I first found it, I wondered if it might be a native artifact. But if it were, I would expect it to show more smoothness where it would have been shaped, and that doesn’t seem to be the case. Yet how else could it have been formed? It isn’t likely to be an extrusion since I don’t think there has ever been any volcanic activity in this part of Missouri. And besides, it seems to be made of sedimentary fossils, not a homogenous stone of its own.

Do I remember correctly that the Queen of all Blogs, Rurality, had a post with a photo of a rock much like this some months ago?

Does anyone have any ideas? Have you ever seen similar rocks? I invite speculation.

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for goldfinches, cardinals, titmice, chickadees and nuthatches.

Kenyan Sojourn – Part 4 (of 4)

Friday, December 29th, 2006

I had thought all day that if I could simply get to the Nairobi air terminal, I would have some control again. The foreign exchange bureaus were closed by this time, so I couldn’t cash any traveler’s checks, but I had my credit card and I could buy a night in a room or a decent meal or phone calls or even some new clothes if I had to.

My hope, however, was to get on the next flight home. So I marched to the British Airways office to see what could be done. Luck turned in my favor. There was space on the next flight out, and I could make connections that would have me in Kansas City in about 24 hours.

But I would have to pay an extra $100 for the privilege. This wasn’t some hustler shaking me down. This was British Airways policy. Now, $100 is not such a big deal, but remember that British Airways still had one of my bags. I had not had a change of clothes in more than four days. And I was rushing home for a medical emergency. I told the woman that I didn’t feel I ought to have to pay the $100 penalty or bribe or whatever it was. (To tell the truth, I expected to be upgraded to First Class or something for my troubles and inconvenience.) It was soon obvious that I was not dealing with a decision maker, though, and departure time was getting closer and closer as I futilely made my case.

In the end I paid the extra $100, grumbling about a letter I was going to write. Grrrr! Then I went to the check in counter and checked my one, mostly empty bag. The flight was due to leave in a little over an hour, and I thought that I should go back to baggage claim one last time to see if my wayward bag had arrived on the flight into Nairobi that evening. If not, I needed to leave instructions to have the bag sent to my home (should it ever turn up).

But it was there, in a large pile of bags in the middle of the claims area. It had arrived an hour or so before, just in time to be stowed in the baggage hold of another plane to go back where it came from.

So here were my fresh clothes. I wondered if there were some public showers somewhere in the airport, but only for a moment. I still had to check this bag and get myself through security for my flight, and I didn’t think I had the luxury of time. In the end, I didn’t so much as change my shirt. It is just as well that I did not because the line for security was long and the process was slow. We had to pass through X-ray machines three times to get to our gate. The attendants were opening bags more frequently than I had ever seen, and they were questioning everyone. At one point I saw a group of them conferring over a toy wooden snake that a man wanted to carry on the plane. (In the end they let him keep the snake.) All I had with me were my hiking boots with lots of metal grommets and D-rings and my increasingly battered copy of Don Quixote. But the security was extreme, and like that last leg of that matatu ride to the airport, I began to wonder if I wanted to be on this plane.
I began to worry that there was some threat made about this flight I was so eager to get myself onto. The flight was late taking off, but I had a five-hour layover buffer in London, so I thought that if we survived the trip there, I would still be able to make my connection to Chicago.

And we did. Fortunately, the flight was not full, so I was able to seat my quite funky self apart from nearby passengers with sensitive noses. I have learned, however, where passengers with babies are seated on 747s. Some babies fly well. Some scream the entire eight hours of a Nairobi to London flight. I was seated near a screamer.

But I was so exhausted that I didn’t care too much. Nor did I seem to mind watching the same movie I had seen a few days before on my flight to Africa. It passed the time. Don Quixote was not much help with this however. I think I was too fatigued to read because I found myself going over the same sentences again and again, confusing the characters with people I knew, and that couldn’t be right, but I was having trouble deciding what was right.

Somehow, I remember we arrived in London. The Heathrow airport is the one closest to Londontown, and I had originally intended that I would take the Underground into the city and see a museum or garden. But the flight attendants I spoke with about this cautioned me against it. Not only would there be little open at that time of the day (we arrived at about 5:00 a.m. local time) but if I left the terminal I would have to pass through security to return, and I needed to allot about two hours for that delightful process. Thus any sight-seeing I managed to do would be rushed and, they thought, unpleasant. They did have an alternative suggestion though. I did have plenty of time to dash to a nearby hotel and pay for a room so that I could get a shower. Obviously, my state of hygiene had been noticed.

I chose to stay inside the Heathrow terminal, which is like a massive shopping mall that never closes. I thought about treating myself to a fine meal, but nothing much looked good to me, and the reason I was returning home, after all, meant that I should no longer look at eating as a treat. Then I embarked on a quest.

I decided to treat myself to the largest glass of iced tea I could find (unsweetened, of course). There must have been a half dozen restaurants and bars in my part of the terminal, yet not a one of them offered iced tea! I felt like a savage when I asked. Londoners may be great tea drinkers, but putting ice in their tea was clearly something that was not done. Not even the various stores that sold all sorts of pops and energy drinks and overpriced water had bottled tea. In the end I found a Starbucks at the far reaches of the terminal that could brew me a glass for around $5.00. I took it, but I had to wait for a few minutes while they did this clearly unusual thing.

It was delicious!

The time passed, and I made a middle-of-the-night call to my son to let him know when I’d be arriving in Kansas City. Eventually I was on a Chicago-bound flight, once again watching the same movies I had seen less than a week before. I was in an aisle seat, and since were were flying in daylight, I thought I should look out the window to see the passage of the globe beneath us. Alas, the young couple beside me (between me and the window) were engaging in an marathon lip wrestling match, and every time I turned my head that direction, I swiftly turned away to give them some privacy.

I later found, as I walked up and down the aisle to keep fluid from settling in my legs, that there was a window in the door at the back of the plane and I could look out that if I wanted. At one point in our flight we skirted the southern-most tip of Greenland, and I got an eyeful of that rocky and forbidding shore. I don’t think it is a destination for me though.

Chicago was the usual hassle, of course. The place is too busy, and any future trips I take will probably be determined by ensuring I don’t have to make any connections in Chicago. I had to take a shuttle to a different terminal, and since this was my point of entry to the U.S. I had to claim my bags and then pass them through security and recheck them. It might have been nice to change my shirt here as well, but they hustled us down roped lines with no opportunity to find a bathroom for changing. (Thanks again, British Airways.)

I don’t remember much about my flight from Chicago to Kansas City. I had been up for nearly 36 hours straight by then, but I do remember one incident. It was not a full flight, but I had been seated next to some unfortunate young man who was polite but quickly immersed himself in his book. When I returned from the restroom I found that he had moved himself to a couple of rows away from me. (Thanks again, British Airways.)

My twin sons were at the Kansas City airport to greet me, and, astonishingly, my bags were there as well. In that delightful, unguarded way family members have, they assured me that my worries about being a little stinky were well founded.

And then I was home. One vigorous shower was insufficient to wash off five days of equatorial Africa, but I scrubbed mightily. And though I most needed to put my head on a familiar pillow, we went, instead to the hospital to see my lovely wife.

So I am home again. Libby is doing well and is better every day. Friends and family have been sending flowers and heart-healthy food. More help arrives each day. The washing machine runs constantly. I’m confident again that I know what day of the week it is. Some sort of balance is achieved.

I don’t know how soon I’ll be able to visit Roundrock. I think I may make some solo trips before Libby can join me again, but we’ll see how things develop. Priorities change, but responsibilities don’t.

Missouri calendar:

  • Squirrels gather in nests to conserve energy.

Kenyan Sojourn – Part 3 (of 4)

Thursday, December 28th, 2006

We rode a matatu from Seth’s village into the provincial capital, Kisumu. As I remember, this Toyota van had twelve seats. My sister said that at one point we had nineteen passengers.

Our first stop was the British Airways office to see what could be done. Not much, once again. It seems that their fax machine was out of service, and somehow this affected my ability to change my tickets. Eventually, we concluded that I should simply get myself to Nairobi and try to make arrangements there. At the worst, I would spend a night in a hotel where I could get a shower and perhaps rinse out my clothes. (This was the fourth day of wearing the same clothes. In equatorial Africa.)

The airfield in Kisumu had been washed out by a recent flood, so we talked about me taking a matatu even farther away from Nairobi to a city called Eldoret. From there I might be able to fly down to Nairobi in only an hour and be there by mid day. Something about this seemed a little too cobbled together though. And given the haphazard way all of our plans had worked and not worked, we decided against it.

That left only one real option: an express matatu directly to Nairobi. I could expect the drive to take up to eight hours, but there wouldn’t be any stops along the way (one for bathroom break) as would have been the case if I took a conventional bus. So Seth took us back to the matatu staging area and bargained a ride for me and my one bag. (He had emptied the bag of goodies and then loaded some gifts of his own in it for me to take back.)

What a ride! Though it took us a half hour just to weave through the throngs of humanity in the two block staging area, the driver made up for it by losing no time anywhere else. He could squeeze that Toyota van anywhere if it meant gaining a foot or two of progress. At one point on the highway when he needed to get past two cars that were side-by-side on the two lanes, he simply went between them rather than around them. We made it to Nairobi in only six hours. Six hours of perching on an undersized seat in a bobbing and weaving vehicle on a busy and bumpy road. Six hours of reggae.

The normal ride to Nairobi ends at the main bus terminal in the downtown, but my arrangement was to go all the way to the airport. Thus I was the only passenger on the matatu when we left the bus terminal. I still had plenty of time, and I guess the driver realized this because he took a detour and ventured farther into the city and the flowing masses of humanity that never seem to rest in the city. He told me that he had to pick up something, and I thought that maybe he was fetching a package to deliver, making a few extra shillings. But that wasn’t the case.

On some random corner he pulled over and jumped out, leaving me alone in the van. Soon after, four large men climbed aboard the matatu and settled themselves in the seats behind me. I didn’t see any money changing hands, so they didn’t seem like regular passengers. But what were they?

The spoke amongst themselves and with the driver, but they were speaking in Swahili or one of the mother tongues, so I didn’t understand a word of it. They did a good deal of laughing however.

Then an idea crowded its way into my mind. I wasn’t going to the airport. I wasn’t going anywhere that I wanted to go. The situation was perfect. A lone Westerner in a van of young men in a strange place at night. A perfectly helpless person who could be taken anywhere and be powerless to do anything about whatever might happen.

For whatever reason, the roads in Kenya are dotted with police check points. During the drive down from Kisumu we were waived through most but stopped at a few. I’m not sure what was being checked. The police sometimes looked cursorily in the windows but generally not. Once or twice I noticed that paper changed hands. Whatever, as long as we were on the road again.

But now I paid better attention to these check points. We stopped at two more, and I made sure the police saw my face in the van. I hoped that the others in the van saw that the police saw my face. Still, whether we were on the road to the airport or to somewhere else I could not say.

You know how this story ends, of course. The driver did take me to the airport and dropped me off at the British Airways station, wishing me a safe trip and then driving off with his friends for I don’t know where.

But I was still a long way from home.

Missouri calendar:

  • During deep snowfall, bobcats stay in shelters.

Kenyan Sojourn – Part 2 (of 4)

Wednesday, December 27th, 2006

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On the morning of my second full day in Kenya, we gave a call to the British Airways luggage office and received good news. One of the bags had arrived the night before and would be delivered to the hotel that day. Whether it would be my bag with the changes of clothes I was beginning to think more seriously about or whether it would be the bag of clothes and gifts for Seth, they couldn’t say.

The bag never arrived.

We fooled around in Nairobi for the day, and since this was a Sunday, none of the banks were open to cash my traveler’s checks. At the exchange bureaus “the system” was still down, so I had no luck there either. Fortunately, my sister had plenty of Kenyan shillings on hand, so I sponged off of her. When we returned to the hotel that evening, I noticed these elevator buttons for the first time. Seth said this was more or less typical of everything in Kenya, and I was beginning to believe him. (Sorry about the poor quality of the photo.)

On the morning of the third day, we received a call saying that one of the bags was on the way to the hotel, but could we please give the driver directions to get there? No, actually, we could not since we were stangers in this place. I was told that I would have to sign for the bag when it arrived, so, like fools, we sat around the hotel all day long, waiting. The bag finally arrived at about 3:30 in the afternoon. This was a handy thing since we had to get to the train station in a couple of hours to catch our night train to Seth’s rural province, and it was good to have some luggage anyway.

Alas, it was not my clothing but the bag of goodies for Seth.

And no one asked me to sign anything.

Now having worn the same clothes for three days straight, I embarked on the train portion of our trip. Seth was pleased with all of the clothes and toys and western foods I had brought him, and I was pleased that he was pleased. But it was on this train that I got the call from home saying that Libby had to have the emergency heart surgery. She insisted I should finish the remainder of my trip, but you don’t stay married to someone for 27 years without being able to read between the lines.

I resolved then to get back to Kansas City as quickly as it could be arranged, which wasn’t very quickly, it turned out.

I slept poorly on the train, as you might imagine. I thought the gentle rocking would lull me to sleep, and it might have if the train hadn’t stopped every twenty minutes to take on or drop off passengers. Plus the ever-present and permeating smell of the diesel exhaust from the engine assaulted my nostrils the entire night. Seth and my sister made the same complaint in the morning.

The morning did not deliver us to Kisumu, the capital of Seth’s province. We didn’t arrive there until about mid-day, which happened to be Kenyan Independence Day. This meant — you guessed it — the British Airways office there was not open, so I couldn’t make any changes to my tickets then.

Despite the troubles at home, this may have been a good thing. Had I been able to turn around and dash to Nairobi then, I would not have been able to visit Seth’s village and see where he lives and works.

Once we were there I wished my trip thusfar had been turned around. Instead of three days in Nairobi and only one day in his village, I should have organized a flip.

Seth lives in a perfectly adequate house made of concrete blocks. He as four rooms plus a washing area and a “choo” (which is a room with a hole in the floor that you can poor buckets of water into when you need to). Sometimes he has running water. Most of the time he has electricity. His roof keeps him dry. His house is better than most of the others in his village (with the exception of the Catholic bishop’s house, which is a western-style mansion as well as a source of puzzlement for Seth who sees the incongruity of it). The villagers don’t seem to resent Seth’s better accommodations because it is a well known fact among them that we Westerners are soft and unaccustomed to living in the real world. (That really is true on so many levels.) Even so, Seth had to open four locks before we could enter his house. And within the house, every door to every room was locked as well.

We had a fine dinner at his neighbor’s house that evening. Their extended family lives in a sort of compound with at least four houses that I could count. Great grandmother — who is a vigorous 92 years old — lives in a mud and grass hut and seems delighted to have such a fine place. Though she had not a word of English, she shook our hands gleefully and didn’t want to let go. All of the children in the extended family ran around us and considered us a great novelty, and I won their affection by taking pictures of them with my digital camera then showing them the result on the screen. I intend to print those pix and send them to Seth to give to the families.

Eventually we retired for the evening in Seth’s house, and he graciously gave up his bed for me, sleeping on some couch cushions on the hard floor. The next morning we had breakfast with the deputy headmaster at his school. I didn’t get the details, but she seems to be a single parent with at least two children, one of whom has cerebral palsy. Her home was far less fancy than Seth’s, yet she welcomed us into it and fed us well.

Then it was time to get back to the provincial capital and see about getting me home.

Missouri calendar:

  • Orion, Taurus and other winter constellations are visible.

Kenyan Sojourn – Part 1 (of 4)

Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

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I’m a little adrift since I returned home from Africa. I’m not yet adjusted to the time zone/jet lag thing, I think. And while the worry over Libby’s condition is now more or less gone, there is still the care and attention she needs as she heals and when she comes home. Right now there are three adults living in our house, and two more are expected later in the week. The washing machine runs constantly. We must schedule our showers. There is competition for chairs. And so on. But all of that is not really the point of this post.

I’m not sure what is, though. But I thought I would give you my timeline in Kenya as a way to fill in some of the holes of my adventure you may have spotted. (Forgive me if I’m repeating myself.)

I left Kansas City at about 3:00 p.m. on December 7. I flew to Chicago and then on to London, finally arriving in Nairobi on Friday at nearly midnight. (Right now there is a nine hour difference between Nairobi and Kansas City, so I would have landed around 3:00 p.m. on my body’s time clock — thus 24 hours of travel.)

After waiting and waiting and waiting for my bags to appear on the turnstile, I came to the frightful conclusion that they had been lost in transit. I joined the hordes of people at the customer service desk to see what could be done. Not much it turned out. You may recall reading about a tornado in London a couple of weeks ago. In some way, this had caused my luggage to be left behind. Only it was left behind in Chicago, not London. By then I was too exhausted to try to understand. So I filed the paperwork and went on my way. I figured the luggage would take a day to catch up with me.

I met with Seth and my sister out in the lobby and we hired a taxi to take us to the hotel in downtown Nairobi. The hotel was perfectly adequate, and they were quite accommodating, allowing Seth to check in that morning very early so he could hold our room, have a decent shower, and take a long nap.

I slept badly that night, in part because the mattress was so very hard. But the noises of Nairobi, even at night, kept breaking into my slumber. By the third day I could tell when it was time to rise without even opening my eyes because I could smell the increase in auto exhaust from the increasing traffic.

On the first full day in Kenya, we called the airline to see if the luggage had arrived. It had not, but it seems that it had made its way as far as London. So we went on the first of many forced marches that Seth lead. I wanted to see the National Museum where the hominid fossils were. As you may know, certain fundamentalist religious groups are trying to have these fossils removed from display at the museum since their presence conflicts with creationist teachings. I thought I should take the chance to see these before they are suppressed. But I couldn’t. The museum, it turned out, is closed until next year as it undergoes a complete renovation. We did manage to tour the garden near the museum, and that is where I saw the sign above. (I guess my Western upbringing is showing, but doesn’t a sign like this imply that it is perfectly fine to urinate in other public places if no sign is present? Men certainly were.)

Disappointed in plan A, we enacted plan B, which was to visit the Karen Blixen home. If you’ve read Out of Africa or seen the maudlin movie of the same name, you know what I’m talking about. If not, just understand that this was one of my other priority visit sites. The site was a disappointment, though I can’t put my finger on just why. The tour of the home left me with the impression that the site is considered culturally significant simply because it was used as a setting in a Hollywood movie. There was very little discussion of the literary significance of the past resident, which was where my interest was. But I suppose the fact that it has been preserved at all is good.

We had a nice lunch after this, which I recounted in an earlier post, and then we went back to the hotel. The trek back to the hotel took nearly an hour, and we were dropped at the central bus station several miles (it seemed) from our hotel. When we got there, no luggage had arrived, so we sagged onto our hard mattresses and rested. I wrote some postcards, none of which may ever arrive at their destinations I’m told.

Of course the foreign exchange bureaus that I visited could not cash my traveler’s checks because “the system was down.” Nor could our hotel. But the concierge recommended we walk over to the Hilton where there would be no trouble cashing the checks.

Except that there was. Since I was not a guest at the hotel, they would not help me. Fine! Since we were there, we decided to have dinner. I’m not sure what miscommunication caused what happened next, but in a short while we were sitting down to an Italian dinner in Kenya. (It wasn’t very good either.)

Seth met several of his fellow volunteers in the lobby and they chatted for a while. Eventually, we took a taxi back to our own hotel — it being unsafe for whites to be on the streets of Nairobi after dark it seems. And thus ended my first full day in Kenya.

Missouri calendar:

  • Kwanzaa (7 days)

Greetings of the Season

Monday, December 25th, 2006

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It is true that the earth’s axis is the reason for the season, but only in the most literal sense, of course.

This is the time of the year that is holy or special to people all around the world, and it is worthwhile to recognize that. Given the pageant of human cultures, it would be a shame to limit ourselves to acknowledging only one holiday. Here are a few that I know about:

Xmas, Boxing Day, Bridging Day, Chanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Las Posadas, Ramadan, Solstice, Saturnalia, New Year, Feast of Sacrifice, Santa Lucia’s Day, St. Nicholas’ Day, St. Stephan’s Day, St. Etienne’s Day, Rizal, Quema del Diablo, La Purisma, Dingaan’s Day/Day of Reconciliation, Day of Goodwill, Emperor’s Birthday, Newtonmas, Hari Raya Haji, Feast of the Sacrifice, and Johnkanus.

Our celebrations will be more subdued this year for heartfelt reasons, but the new year beckons, and I hope it brings good news.

Happy Holidays, however you choose to spend them!

Pablo and Libby

Missouri calendar:

  • Christmas

Bump in the Road

Sunday, December 24th, 2006

So far, this has turned out to be a pretty crumby December at our house. We’ve had yet another difficulty, but I think we’re past that now too.

Libby was home only for a few days after her heart surgery before she had to be readmitted to the hospital. She has having shortness of breath, and she called her doctor who told her to go straight to the emergency room.

It turned out that she had a blood clot in her calf that had migrated to her lungs. The condition is called a pulmonary embolism, and apparently it was life threatening. Fortunately it was dealt with in time to prevent anything terrible from happening, but even that did not go smoothly.

She was put on a blood thinner called heparin, and it turned out that her body has been manufacturing antibodies to this drug (that’s the current diagnosis, though the blood tests won’t confirm it for several weeks). In some medical way I don’t pretend to understand, this caused her body to make more platelets rather than fewer, meaning the potential for more clots went up rather than down. So they changed the drug and that little mishap seems to be under control.

It is unlikely that she will be out of the hospital before Tuesday at the soonest since they have to get the proper balance of her blood-thinning drugs established, so even though she is no longer at risk, things are a bit somber around our house.

But, hey, happy holidays everyone!

Missouri calendar:

  • Look for woodpeckers at suet feeders: downy, hair, pileated and redbellied.

If you give a wood rat a peanut …

Saturday, December 23rd, 2006

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Those of you with little ones will need no help recognizing the reference I make in my title to this post.

(I think I’ve shown this photo before, but I’m too lazy to go back and find out, so I’ll just abdicate any responsibility.)

I’ve written in the past of my speculation that these little stick structures I find here and there in my forest at Roundrock are the work of wood rats who are defending their nests. (Thanx to future daughter-in-law, Amber, for suggesting this identification. You can find a nicely informative page about the little beasties here.) If you look closely you can see stacks of stix piled in an orderly manner, far more (and far more orderly) than I would expect from natural accumulation.

My point of this ramble is that I’d never seen these little structures until recent years. Granted I’m not as observant as I might be . . . still I’ve hiked all over my woods and seen many things, and I’m fairly certain that I would have seen these little constructs before had they been around.

The first one I found was on the south-facing slope in a bit of broken ledge. I imagine there is a large enuf cavity within to make a nice den, and the two exits had been fortified with these stacked stix. I was so delighted with this find, and the realization that the critters were happy in my forest, that I left a nice pile of peanuts nearby. Was this the first domino in the falling line?

The next spring I found the den shown in the photo above. It’s quite a distance from the first structure, at least in terms of wood rat ranging. Last summer I found one in the cavity that provides our only seep spring at Roundrock (and where, I suspect, a cave may be lurking). So now I’m seeing them where they hadn’t been before. My wonder is that perhaps my wood rat population is exploding at Roundrock. And why would that be?

I wonder if it is because I left that first pile of peanuts by the original den. Highly nutritious, high energy food for the little darlings that tipped the scales. Well, I may be giving myself too much credit since I’ve read that wood rats love acorns from red oaks most of all. This year has been a robust one for acorns in my forest. The critters won’t be needing my help to fill their winter larders now.

Missouri calendar:

  • Beavers feed on sapling reserves.

Incident on a Train

Friday, December 22nd, 2006

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When I was in Kenya, we took the night train from Nairobi up to Kisumu, which is the capital of the province where my son teaches. Though the distance is only about a hundred miles, it is an all-day journey no matter how you arrange it. So Seth had suggested that we take the night train and spend most of that travel time sleeping so that we could devote our waking hours to seeing Africa.

Because there were three of us traveling, we booked two adjoining compartments. To do so, we had to travel first class, but this meant that we wouldn’t have to share a compartment with a stranger in order to fill the extra bed. Along with the first class traveling compartment came both dinner and breakfast as well as bed linens.

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The train embarked from the Nairobi station on time (which surprised Seth), and we were quickly settled in our compartments, watching the outskirts of Nairobi zipping past in the fading light. Part of the reason the train takes all night to travel a mere hundred miles is that it stops at every little hamlet along the way to pick up and discharge passengers. Some of these stops are brief, but others lasted twenty minutes or more.

As we were waiting at one stop — night had fallen by then — sitting in our compartment chatting about whatever, there came a loud wailing and jabbering from down the line. It sounded like a drunk man was getting into an argument with someone. He was so loud and out of control that he sounded as though he was in our car, though we soon learned he was not. Seth instantly pushed the door to our compartment shut and went on casually chatting.

The wailing and jabbering continued, but Seth cautioned us just to mind our own business. Soon the porter came along to tell us that dinner was ready and that we could ajourn to the dining car.

The dining car was an odd place. There were perhaps a dozen battered tables on either side of the aisle, and all but one were filled with Africans — families, old men. There was one table, however that was different from all the others. At the far end of the car an empty table awaited us. It had a linen tablecloth as well as china and cutlery and trays of condiments and various glasses. This was the table reserved for the first class passengers, of course, and we were, apparently, the only first class passengers on the train that night.

We seated ourselves, and soon the dinner courses began. We started with a thick, tasty bread that I might have slathered with butter were I not now trying to eat more sensibly. Then came the soup course. The waiter arrived again with a tureen and a ladle and served us each individually, spooning the vegetable broth soup into our bowls. Then he bowed and stepped away. We took up our soup spoons and began delicately sipping the delicious liquid.

And all of this might have felt like an indulgent treat had we not still been parked in the village station. Just outside our window, the wailing and jabbering man was continuing to carry on. But now I could see the incident better.

The man was rolling on the ground beside his pack of things, screaming and pleading in Swahili. Seth was able to translate his words as something about needing to board the train so that he could go see his mother and father.

Standing over him were two guards carrying automatic weapons.

We were sitting raised above him in the dining car, at a linen-covered table with fine dinner service before us, delicately sipping our tasty soup, and I thought that this was probably how revolutions begin.

Missouri calendar:

  • The Missouri Natural Events Calendar is blank for today.