Apr 21, 2015

What can a Robin do that Requires such Ablution?

What can a Robin possibly do that Requires such Ablution?

Most (late) afternoons you will find me sipping a glass of wine and transplanting seedlings in my small lath house. The lath house is fifteen feet or so from a small pond. Several days ago, lost in thought, and pricking out seedlings, I heard, above the music of Midnight Oil, splashing. Directing my attention to the pond I watched as a Robin bathed itself, bathed itself for four or five minutes. It then flew to a nearby branch, fluffed up its feathers, wiped its beak, and flew away. The next day it returned and repeated the performance. This behavior has continued. My question is: What can a Robin possibly do in 24 hours that requires such ablution?

I’m  reminded of a poem by Leslie Leyland Fields

My Last Banya with You

All afternoon you were chopping wood
for the banya, hauling water
with arms gone long and lean
bucket after bucket up the hill and
you did not stop until
the banya was filled
and the stovepipe burned red until
we were standing naked in our sweat
among only buckets of water
and steam I couldn’t breathe and
you threw water on the rocks
for more steam and more water
on the rocks and you wouldn’t stop
taking my breath and I can’t
see you anymore only steam in the corner
so I left you there.

What did you do

that you have to be so clean?

Apr 7, 2015

The Blooming of Sedum Valens #030613B5b

The Blooming of Sedum Valens #030613B5b

Sedums, for the most part, are low-growing (up to two feet) plants with succulent leaves. There are somewhere around 600 species growing in virtually every habitable place on the planet. In bloom they can make quite a splash as they produce colours in virtually every hue, but even out of bloom they can be quite delightful. With roughly 600 known species the likelihood of discovering one that is unknown to science is problematic. Eventually it comes down to splitting a known or accepted species into two groups. Many times the differences noted are purely based on botany  Thus it is with Sedum valens, a ‘newly’ discovered species from the Snake River Canyon in central Idaho. Morphologically it resembles Sedum borsch and Sedum leibergii, but does have characteristic differences - hence the new species status.

I purchased seeds of Sedum valens (#90214.12) from Alplains (a wonderful purveyor of alpine, arid climate and high altitude seeds, mainly from the central and western United States) in early 2013. They were duly planted on March sixth and germinated, quite well, on March 30th, 24 days later. By June I had 14 plants in pots. In May of 2014 I foolishly planted two in a sunny, gritty part of the garden but investigating today I find no evidence they were ever there. Our winters are simply too damp. Now, unless there are others hiding in the cold frame, I am reduced to one plant. On February 6th of this year I transplanted the survivor to a hypertufa trough and have been watching and waiting to see how it developes. Well, it seems happy, and has produced a flower stalk whose buds seem ready to open. A few weeks of warm, dry weather and it may be fooled into thinking it is growing quietly on a basalt cliffside above the Salmon River and open those closely wrapped petals.

Sedum valens

Plant is two years old and the basal rosette measures 1 1/2 inches in diameter, the flower stalk is 2 3/8 inches tall.

Apr 4, 2015

Typing My Way to Freedom

Typing My Way to Freedom

We were eventually dismissed, and I was led into the office building. It was warm, well-lit, and contained half a dozen desks and other office equipment. I was assigned one of the desks, with a typewriter, and told this was my duty station for the present time, and report here after breakfast each day. I was told to acquaint myself with the typewriter and given a form, or a list, or perhaps it was the local phone book to type, for practice. Then I was left alone to type, dream, and otherwise appear busy until quitting time. There were two, perhaps three sergeants, who I assumed were responsible for running various facets of our, and other training unit, and they were, in retrospect, somewhat stereotypes. Sgt. Brown (not sure this was his name) was a large, amiable, African American, and it was he I reported to, and the one who gave me my orders. The other sergeant, who I interacted with occasionally, was Sgt. Schwartz, or something like that, and yes, he was of German descent, and spoke with a heavy German accent. I was at first (always) intimidated, scared, timorous, etc., when they were around after all, I had just completed boot camp and everything that showed even a flicker of life was automatically addressed as Sir, the idea I might be treated as a human being seemed somewhat alien at the time.

And so, the next morning, after marching to and from breakfast in the dark, I reported for duty. My primary responsibility, other than typing uncountable documents that I never read, was to type the work assignments for the day. I was given a list of all the airmen in my unit, including myself, and a list of the various duties that needed to be preformed. The biggest need was for kitchen help (KP), followed by requests for personal to guard someone or something, or bodies to shovel snow, or spread sand, or unload stock, or to stock stock, or to stand at attention for three hours while someone gave a speech. It was I who assigned the bodies to the daily tasks.

It got worse. There were days when the weather was so atrocious that the daily spiel and propaganda was broadcast via the intercom, no one stepped outside except those who had no choice. I was inside, with the sergeants, looking out the frosted windows. After my ‘mates’ had marched away to their various jobs, their heads wrapped in bath towels for additional protection from the cold, Sgt. Brown said, nonchalantly: “Better grab a donut before Sgt. Schwartz cleans the plate.”

“Shall I make another pot of coffee?” asked Sgt. Schwartz. I still can’t believe I didn’t have to make the coffee!

I even avoided most inspections as I had to be in the office when they were scheduled. So while everyone else was frantically rearranging their footlocker for the umpteenth time or polishing shoes I lay on my bunk reading.
Did I feel guilt? No, I didn’t feel anything. I was simply doing as I was directed; and everyone else was doing as they were directed.

One day the request for bodies exceeded the names on my list and, hoping to make things easier, I added my name to one of the work details. Sgt. Brown exploded. “Isn’t that you? Isn’t that your name you’ve typed on that work list?” I told him I had run out of names. He didn’t call me a fool, but I felt that is what he wanted to say, instead he smiled and said: “When you reach the bottom of the list you simply start over at the top, as long as they are not still working somewhere, but, since you’ve typed in your own name you had better report, and be on time.

I think it was KP in the ‘Foreign Students’ mess hall - and that is a story in itself.

After a couple of weeks our training began and I resumed my life as part of the squadron. During the time I spent in the office I never detected the slightest hint of animosity or jealously at my good fortune, but, it's entirely possible they never realized what 'work' I was doing

Today almost everyone with a computer can type at a reasonable speed, but in the sixties, before the advent of the electric typewriter, and many years before electronic keypads, typing was something very different. You would have to have spent considerable time in front of a manual keyboard to understand.

The ‘Goblet’ narcissus are in bloom, and they are beautiful.

Apr 3, 2015

Underwood, Olivetti, Royal, Smith Corona, Remington, or ?

Underwood, Olivetti, Royal, Smith Corona, Remington, or ?

In high school I took a typing class. I was the only male. That fact meant nothing to me then, or now, I wanted to be a writer, and thought the ability to type quickly and accurately would be an asset, and so it has proved to be. Z’s and x’s always gave me trouble [still do] and lowered my score, but even after subtracting 1 word per minute per mistake from my total I was still in the forty to fifty words per minute range, occasionally reaching sixty, and even seventy plus on occasion, when there weren’t too many z’s or x’s in the copy.

Advance to November, 1961. Boot camp was miserable, as intended, how else to instill unquestioning obedience to directives that make no sense, and rarely have even a shadow of logic in their makeup? So, like millions of other young men (and women) I closed my eyes and muddled through their insanity with little more than gritted teeth and dreams and memories of better days. Then, in January, off to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois for training on the Atlas ICBM. Cold, Snow, Ice. Below zero many times and wind. Bloody nasty weather, especially for a ‘beach-bum’ from southern California.

After processing I was assigned a bunk in one of the numerous barracks and given the rest of the day off to organize my belongings and settle in. There were perhaps fifty or sixty of us, but it could have been less, occupying the bottom floor of the building. We were a unit. We would live and breathe together for several weeks.

Before dawn the following morning reveille had us up, dressed, and out in the street within minutes, where we shivered in the frigid air of January. We stood there, under the floodlights, stiff as dead eels, not an eyelash twitching, waiting. Finally a Sergeant sauntered out of the well-lit office building we were facing, and after berating us for a few minutes about something we probably had not yet done asked: “If anyone here knows how to type step forward.” My heart stumbled, and I cautiously allowed my eyes to move left and right - but no movement of the head. No one had stepped forward, so, reluctantly, I did.

Apr 1, 2015

How a Typewriter Saved my Life

How a Typewriter Saved my Life
[or at least made it tolerable, for awhile]

It was early in October, 1961, and I had just returned from several weeks on-the-road, hitch-hiking from my home in El Monte, California, up through the San Fernando Valley and over the ‘grapevine’ and further north to Fresno. From Fresno I headed east into the Sierra Nevada Mountains (King’s Canyon), but after a delightful week or so of wandering the canyons and climbing pinnacles above Bubb’s Creek, and the Kearsarge Lakes I descended to Zumwalt meadow and caught a series of rides that took me eventually (that’s another story) to San Francisco. I spent July living above the ’Tivoli’ restaurant under a makeshift discarded carpet tent in the heart of Chinatown, walking North Beach, and ‘hanging out’ at City Lights Bookstore, the Enigma coffeehouse, Coits Tower, or the Embarcadero, (too young for Specs or Vesuvio), writing what I thought was monumental poetry on the backs of discarded envelopes. Eventually I realized my pockets were almost empty and there would be no more soup at F….. (I’ve forgotten the name of the cafe but it was something like Ferraros), and so made a hasty, hungry retreat down highway 101, arriving home, after a series of adventures unthinkable today, early one morning to my familiar, welcoming bed.

The next day, or the next, or the one after that, confused and having no particular plan for my future, college applications having been used to light campfires, I enlisted in the United States Air Force.

But let us skip ahead to the significance of the typewriter.