Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tales of a Cold Warrior - Beginning of Beginning

If you've read my Who Is This Guy? entry, then you know that I was active duty army from 1980-1984. After that enlistment, I was in the reserves (active and inactive) until 1986. This series is a description of what happened during that period as best as I can remember. It was a fun / scary / cool part of my life, and definitely left a mark on me. 

I joined the Army before I graduated from high school. There were several reasons for this. Mostly, I really was not ready for college. I had not scored outstanding on the standardized test and did not have notable grades, therefore I was not in line for scholarships. I had not settled on a ‘life direction’ at that point either. Conversely, I had become very active in Army JROTC in high school. Not really for the military aspect, though I was competent enough in those areas (marching, orders, etc.), but I had joined the rifle team and really enjoyed competitive shooting. I was not a natural talent for shooting. Instead, I became competitive by spending many an afternoon, (mostly) motionless, peering down a rifle barrel in the range in the school basement.

It is hard to imagine in today’s environment that our school had a rifle range. A report of a bunch of kids with guns at the school, shooting for hours, now invokes thoughts of an encounter like Columbine. The way rifle teams worked back then (as now) was that they are sponsored by the JROTC units at each school. While all schools had a ROTC element, not all had a range, but those that did had a rifle team. Much like the football team, there was a rotating schedule where we would pack up our guns and gear, and travel to other schools to compete. Our rifles were .22s, made specifically for competitive shooting, with heavy large barrels to negate the minute aiming point changes caused by the heat friction of a fired round. They also had thicker stocks, as well as rails for the attachment of various support accessories allowed by the rules. We were the top team in our area. I wish I could say that it was due to my superior skill, but that was not the case. We did have a ‘natural’ on our team, Scott Manus, who (when he showed up), on more than one occasion shot a perfect match.

There were two ROTC instructors. They were Maj. Rahm and a crusty old master sergeant whose name I do not recall. Maj Rahm, whom I ashamed to say I just discovered  passed on last year, by and large handled the rifle team, while the sergeant handled the drill team. Maj. Rahm shot on one of the Army’s pistol teams, so as an instructor he was invaluable. Oddly enough, he was not really that big an influence on my decision to go into the Army. What ROTC gave me was comfortableness with the military, such that the decision to commit to the next 4 to 6 years was logical and natural.

At that time, the Army was the best branch for someone that wanted a guaranteed career path at the time the enlistment contract was signed. The other services promised they would try to give you the training you indicated you were interested in, but the Army was the only on to guarantee it. So considered my options. I knew I didn't want to go into the combat arms, as I did not have confidence that I had the physical conditioning necessary. A failure at any point there (airborne training, ranger, SF) meant being thrown to to 'leg' troops, which even then, years after the end of Vietnam, had the reputation for societal dregs. Similarly, I was not interested in the more mundane administrative jobs (cook, mechanic), as those did not seem particularly challenging or interesting. During my initial evaluation the Army gave us an intelligence test. Since I scored relatively high on that, my recruiter told me about a new program the Army had established for a direct career path for Counter-Intelligence (CI) Agents.

Prior to then the career path for CI was an unsure thing. If you wanted to go into CI, you had to perform duties in a related field, then apply and compete with others for a training slot. The new path was to give ‘uncredentialed’ agents enough training so they could function as support personnel for full agents. Once the initial training was completed, the CI specialist would be assigned to tactical units where they could do little harm. After that assignment, they would, upon recommendation of their commander, be returned to training and awarded their credentials.

This was all of course all bullshit, but to my younger self brain, being a CI agent with a badge was about the coolest job ever.  It was true that credentialed agents at that time in non-tactical assignments did not wear a uniform, so after getting your badge, your days of wearing green were done.  Beyond the dress code though, the nuts and bolts of the job were decidedly unexciting, though occasionally entertaining, and the same in either environment. I will expand on this thought later. The germane point here is that the thought of being a badge toting spy catcher in the Army was a cool enough draw to pull me in.

Next: Lifting My Hand and Swearing

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How To See It All - Taking The Wide View

Back in the day when I used real film and paper pictures, I used to make panorama pictures by a laborious processing of cutting the pictures and taping them together to (almost) make a panorama picture. I have seen that there are iPhone apps that will take a continuous photo that allows you just pan your phone and capture a single panorama picture. However, the iPhone is still limited to a 5MP camera. If you really want to get a deep depth picture, you have to go to larger capacity camera. Just for fun, I recently picked up a 14MP Vivitar camera on Craigslist for $35. On my first foray using the camera, at various locations I took multiple pictures meaning to manually stitch these together to make a  single panorama. This would allow me to capture the scenes as I saw them, rather than resorting to manual wide angle pictures that would distort the scene.

Not relishing the difficulty of manually doing the stitching, I looked for a tool that was free and would automatically stitch the pictures together. What I found was a tool called Hugin. It is a little terse, but with practice, I was able to stitch panoramas with ease.

A note of caution here. While the tool can work wonders, it does has it's limits for common point recognition. When taking a series of pictures for a panorama, it is important to have a great deal of overlap from one picture to another. If the tool can't find the points, it will prompt you to find common points. This is an awkward process, but sometimes it works out fine. I'll leave those advanced topics for you to explore on your own.

When hugin starts, you see this:
hugin start display

It really is as simple as 1-2-3. First you select your pictures by pressing the 1. Load Images button. This opens a file selection box where you select all the pictures you want to make the panorama from. Once that is done, you will be prompted to enter the the data for your camera.

I did not fool with looking up the specs for the lens of my point and shoot. Instead, I opted to enter in the HFOV and let it calculate the other data. Assuming a normal point & shoot digital camera, with no setting modifications, this value is normally 50 degrees. Once you hit OK there, you press 2. Align on the main page, and the program does it stuff. If all goes well, the processing completes and you are presented with the preview screen.

From this window, you can choose the Projection screen to select equi-rectangular to flatten out the picture if desired, and select crop to remove unwanted edge effects. Once those edits are done, close this window, and select 3 Create Panorama, you will be prompted for a few more file names, and tada! you have a panoramic picture in a TIFF format.

It is worth noting that these TIFF files can get enormous, especially if you are merging 14MP images. Once the TIFF is created, the file can be shrunk by using a conversion program like JPEGView to convert it to a JPEG, which will typically shrink the file to less that a few megs. It is worth noting that in panorama stitching of large files with few alignment points, the tool will occasionally exhaust system resources and hang. The work around is to align fewer files, then align those composites in a separate step.

Once you use the tool a few times, the process becomes amazingly fast. For example, I noted the pictures in this example on a friend's album, downloaded them, ran them through the tool, shrunk the results, and had the resulting panorama in an e-mail in a couple of minutes. I invite you to look at the trail guides for some examples of what these tools can do. It is worth noting that the banner panorama at the top of the blog was done manually several years ago from scans of film pictures taken with a 35mm SLR. We've come a long way baby!

Monday, October 29, 2012

There's a Snake In My Boot!

So a month ago I was meditating on my place in the universe, bacon sandwiches  and the purpose of poodles, when my wife informs me that she is concerned that there might be a gap in at the bottom of the garage door that would permit various small varmints to gain admittance to our house. The concern is that if rodents could gain entry, they would be immediately followed by the next link in the food chain, snakes. Those would of course be followed by cats, and who want's a garage of snake eating cats? I ambled down to take a look at the situation and decided that cooking enough bacon to make a sandwich would be really messy.

To say I didn't give it much more thought would probably be an understatement. I just don't see the garage as much an attraction to varmints, and by extension snakes. Our house is a split level, with the lowest level on one side being the garage. Thus the garage acts as a cold sink for the rest of the house. In summer, this makes it rather pleasant as the A/C intended for the rest of the house will end up in the garage. This unique characteristic is counterbalanced in winter as we use the garage to stage firewood for our wood stove, necessitating constant opening and closing the door between the garage and the warmest room in the house. This allows the completely unnecessary winter heating to efficiently dissipate into frigid night.

Like most suburbanites, we don't really use our garage for cars. In fact, I would venture a guess that people that put their cars in their garage are

  • gazillionaires and have a house that is a garage - like say Jay Leno
  • childless, cash poor, and don't have stuff, deserving our pity, but also having no business owning a house
  • Use the garage as a convenient hobo dismemberment zone when cars are not parked there
  • really, really, snake lovers

Shortly after moving in, I had the brilliant and unique idea to build shelves in the garage to place our stuff on. I know - wacky idea huh? My wife, as she is wont to do, took it to the next level by organizing our stuff into plastic storage bins and placing them on the shelves. Thus our valuable, castoff stuff is secured against the coming Global Apocalypse and the bric-a-brac is preserved in a style that would make the pharaohs green with envy. Seriously, have you ever seen an unwrapped mummy that didn't make you think 'ugh - is that thing green?'

So with no place to find comfort, I don't really worry too much about vermin (or snakes) in the garage. I do have to note that for some reason (perhaps the rise of the devil and his minions), there has been an unusual number of snake sightings in our neighborhood. I suspect that other than the 'rise of evil', the snakes are enjoying the late departing summer weather rather than curling up in their holes away from decent folks like they are supposed to do.

Keeping all that in mind, a few days ago I was stuck by how nice it was and decided to get the kayak out of the garage for one more paddle before putting it up for the winter. I was basing this on the certainty that once again my family will fail to get me a wet suit for my birthday or Christmas. (Are you reading this family?) I go through the usual ritual of loading the kayak in the jeep.

This consist of opening the tailgate, closing the tailgate and opening the passenger door, folding down the passenger seat, putting it back up so I can slide it forward, folding it down again, opening the tailgate, opening the back window, grunting and cursing and lifting the kayak into the jeep, slamming the tailgate, realizing the tie downs are in the trunk, opening the tailgate, getting the tie downs, closing the tailgate, strapping down the kayak, realize that I need to put my wallet & extra keys in the trunk, undoing the tie downs, opening the tailgate, putting the stuff in the trunk, closing the tailgate, tying down the kayak again, etc, etc..

Finally with everything loaded and ready to go, I get in jeep with the bow of the kayak next to me in the passenger seat, and back out of the driveway. As I make the turn at the end of the driveway, I hear an odd scraping noise coming from an indistinct location in the jeep. With a vague feeling of unease, I speed down my road, braking hard as I get to the turn for the main road. This time there is a definite slithering noise, like a scaly creature attempting to gain purchase on some slick surface like, I don't know, a kayak.

Thinking fast, I make an emergency U-turn, briefly pausing as the skittering fall leaves obscure my vision. This maneuver will disorient the serpent, as reptiles swung in a circle quickly become disoriented. I know because I conducted an experiment to prove that theory. I grabbed a deadly viper by the tail, swung it in a circle, and slammed it to the ground. You should have seen how crooked a path it took as it crawled away. Ok - truth: I watched a garden snake crawl away from me once. It's the same principle.

I then accelerated, the G-forces pinning the hell spawn in it's current position by the powerful force of my 4 cylinder engine, preventing it from crawling from the kayak cockpit and biting me in the neck. I skidded hard into my driveway with the idea of slamming the viper into the front of the kayak and further disorienting it. Leaving the engine idling to continue to confuse the reptile, I engaged the emergency brake, and leaped from the jeep. Quickly undoing the tie downs, I pulled the kayak from the jeep, being careful to not place my fingers inside hatch where fangs could reach them.

I then spent the next 10 minutes banging, turning and peering into the kayak. Humm.. No snake. Did it sneak from the kayak while I was diving or distracted? Could it be lurking somewhere in the jeep's interior? A through search of the interior revealed nothing. I then began a more thoughtful analysis of what I had heard. It is just possible that with the back window up what I had heard was sound of leaves bouncing down the street. I suppose it is a mystery that I will never solve.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

War of the Leaves - Opening Gambit (Part 2)

The real first tree offensive started about the first week of October. The trees were obviously watching my mowing patterns, and as soon as I waited just a little too long to mow the grass, they released their opening salvo. Thus the mix of lawn clippings and leaves are hopelessly intermixed and extraction of the leaves from the field of battle is that much more difficult.

Another key strategy of the trees is to place as many leaves as possible in the gutters and roof of the house. This is truly diabolical. If I am foolish enough to get on the roof to clean the gutters, then I will face serious injury by sliding off the roof slick with wet leaves. I am of course not so foolish. That's why I usually draft my son to climb up on the roof as younger bodies tend to bounce better when falling more than 10 feet.

The trees have commented a strategic blunder this year. It appears that they have attempted a first drop while the weather remains balmy and the air calm. Thus I have managed to sweep up most of their foolish forays in a single afternoon. If I am not lured too much by the clarion call of easy kayak fishing, the field of battle will be mine as soon as the rest of the detritus is removed. It remains to be seen how they will follow up. I do see that there is a major storm forecast to hit the east coast, so I expect that if we are the recipient of that blow, the cowardly trees will take advantage of the opening to heap misery upon us.

Reporting from the forward battle lines of the leaf war, your humble reporter, driver, master and commander: Mike C

War of the Leaves – Opening Gambit (Part 1)

As sure as the coming of the Fall, the beginning of the war of the leaves has been joined in my part of Northern Virginia. Every year, I think, “this cannot happen again”, and every year I am lulled into a false sense of security. I tool around my yard once every week, maintaining an acceptable cut of the grass with less than a couple of hours of work a week. Bliss it is. No worries and the endless summer. Just as I get comfortable with this pattern, it starts.
The tree’s opening salvo actually starts in mid-September. The most ‘hatin’ trees in the yard, the mighty oaks, pelt us with its tiny missiles. For what they lack in accuracy, they more than make up in volume. The attack acorns pose a dual threat. The first threat is the obvious bruises, contusions, and welts from the oaks' subsonic high altitude ballistic power projections. They also attempt (mostly unsuccessfully) to take out our cars, which being the best up-armored vehicles commercially available made from 1990-2003, are able to slough off this aggression with ease. Once on the ground, the missiles revert to their passive threat role. They appear to just lie there, but what they are actually doing is coordinating their stealthy movements to gather in key locations such as steps dark locations. Upon detecting the pressure of a human foot, they employ the ‘death roll’, flinging an unsuspecting human to the certain death of a hard cement fall.
 You would think that would be enough, but no, once they have spent themselves on that move, they shatter into thousands of sharp razor like shards to ensnare the unwary bare foot. To add insult to injury, the tree’s allies, the tree rats, gather up the missile remains, take them back to the treetops, and eat them, spitting the unwanted parts out of their diseased mouths onto the heads of passing unsuspecting children.
Due to too nice a day, extended fishing hours, and a late plumber, I will continue this tomorrow..

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vehicular Homicide - Or my Jeep Tries (unsuccessfully) To Kill Me – Part 2

Less than a week after it's first attempt on my life, the jeep tries again. I am documenting it's actions so, in the event it continues on that course and is ultimately successful, there will be some record of what happened.

Here's how it's last attempt went. It all started Thursday morning. In an unusual burst of planning, guile, and luck I had managed to wake particularly early that day. On an ideal weekday I get up at 4:30, get on the road by 5, and at work by 6, thus allowing me to exit the office by 2 and avoid most of the afternoon rush hour traffic.

On this day, I wake at my target time. I exit the house on schedule and stumble out to the jeep. I greet it cautiously as (duh!) we have not exactly been on good terms. “Good morning jeep. Your tires are looking well aired, and, ah good, there are no strange fluids leaking from your underneath. There doesn't seem to be any rain today or last night, so I won't be straining your electrical system by running those annoying wipers. And here's a bonus – I have a good audio book I am listening to on my MP3 player and headphones, so I won't even need to turn on your radio. Unfortunately I will have to use your headlights though as it is still darker the sin out here”.

You see, normally the jeep only begrudgingly allows the use of it's spare electrical power. On those rare days when I have to use the headlights, wipers, radio, and charge my cell phone, it demonstrates it's displeasure with dips of it's power indicator to the discharging side. When I first got the jeep it evinced this proclivity. I had driven it to the park to take a walk. Upon returning from my walk I went to start it and nothing happened. Lights and radio would not come on – the jeep was feigning electrical death as surely as it had been hit by an EMP from outer space. Rather than assuming the slow death of civilization, I decided to show the jeep my displeasure by rapping it's battery connectors sharply with my crescent wrench. It got the message and started right up. I later rewarded it's responsiveness by cleaning it's battery post.

Moving on, I start jeep and did the post start checks. Fuel – ok. Water temp low, but slowly starting to creep up – good. Oil pressure – high, which I’m assured by my mechanic and the internet is normal and have learned to not worry too much about. It will easy back a bit after I get going. I am thinking it's the jeeps way of expressing it's irritation at the rudeness of being asked to start on a cold morning. Electrical, discharging a bit, but that is normal. At this point I realize that I am cold. With Fall fast upon us, the mornings have got progressively colder, and even though I have a sweater on it still is a little uncomfortable. I decide to leave the windows up for now and turn on the heater. I guess it's something about being elemental that attracts people to jeeps, so as a rule jeep drivers will always have at least the driver's window down, regardless of the weather. The stouter ones will take the doors, top, and tailgate off too, staying in that state even when faced with several feet of snow. Conversely, jeep owners who drive around with their windows up are viewed with suspicion. “Are they confused Hummer owners?” we wonder. We wave at them too, but cautiously...

So I rationalize that it is acceptable to leave the windows up until the cab gets heated, as I am unlikely to see any other jeeps this dark morning. I pull out of the driveway, and wind my way through Manassas toward Centreville, happily munching on my egg sandwich and listening to my book, which at that point wasn't too boring or exciting. It is just right for the morning commute. When I got to Centreville, though, the first tickling of nausea hits me. Calling it nausea at that point might be too strong. More of a twinge of distress that I attributed to the too quick consumption of my breakfast sandwich. By the time I hit Chantilly my stomach was rolling, and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead, prompting me to finally roll down the window.

By the time I hit the office parking, my head was woozy. I hadn't lost my lunch, but was close. I managed to stumble to my office, still in denial of the sudden onset flu symptoms. I could only manage to stare blankly at my computer screen, barely able to think. I rationalized that if I could hold on until after rush hour, I would head back home. Then I began to feel better, and after an hour, all of my symptoms had disappeared. With my head clear, I began to analyze what had happened. How was it possible that these flu symptoms could just appear, then fade away so quickly?

I then remembered something my mechanic had mentioned on my last visit. As I was leaving he said, “Hey Mike, you might have an exhaust leak”. At the time I had nodded and noted that I wouldn't worry about it until I had to get it fixed for the next (completely unnecessary government mandated) safety inspection. Googling “exhaust leak nausea” confirmed my suspicions. The jeep had tried to kill me with carbon monoxide poisoning, like some guy in a closed garage with a running car! It was diabolical in it's execution. 

For the drive back to Manassas, I had all the windows down, and for good measure, stuck my head out and took deep breaths whenever the opportunity presented itself. In retrospect, I see my actions were akin to when you are in a car and a noxious emission by one of your fellow travelers causes a stampede for every available window. I can only imagine what my fellow commuters though of me that day. I suppose it appeared that I was in such extreme gastric distress that I, ahem, couldn't stand my own company.

When I got the jeep to the mechanic that evening, he confirmed it. The gasket had degraded and bolts from the catalytic converter had loosened. With the skid plate in place, the leaked exhaust was filtered directly up into the cab. As long as I had the windows down I would feel only a mild discomfort. It therefore was only the act of rolling down my windows that saved me from the jeep's fiendish plot. The issue was easily and quickly resolved with a new gasket, bolts and a token shop fee.

I had a long talk with it the next day after picking it up from the mechanic and I believe that we are back on good terms. It seems to be behaving itself. I will go forward with caution.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Vehicular Homicide - Or my Jeep Tries (unsuccessfully) To Kill Me - Part 1

Twice in a couple of weeks!

Last week I am happily on my way home, doing the usual gas, clutch, brake, shake head; gas, clutch, brake shake fist; gas, clutch, brake, middle finger pattern that I seem to fall into whenever I get stuck in rush hour traffic, when I notice an odd thing about the brake pedal. Each time I depress it, it goes a little further down before the friction kicks in and the jeep begins to slow. I am no Michael Schumacher in my driving habits, with all those skillful alternating braking and and accelerating moves. In an aging (no 'Classic') Jeep I don't need to be. A slight brush of the brake is usually sufficient to give it an idea about what needs to be done, and eventually it will get around to doing it. The only slamming of the accelerator I do is usually to get away from obnoxious low-riders with some stupid rap blaring out. The only slamming of my brakes is to avoid hitting text addled teenagers and mid-thirties hipsters obliviously chatting away as they wonder from lane to lane. So this behavior of my brake mechanism was particularly troubling. As I neared the center of Manassas, I slowed so if I lost control, I would only do minor damage and began to look for a Hummer to run into. Fortunately, my mechanic's location is right there, (Logan's Auto Emporium), so I didn't have to find a Hummer.

Logan is something of a character. He runs a great shop, hires honest mechanics, and is really a nice guy. My wife has nick-named him 'Yoda', which I think he knows about, but probably doesn't like. If you ever meet him, you'll get the reference. So here's how the drop-off went (in my head).

Me: “the space time continuum is no longer connected for this vessel”
Logan: <checking the brake>”The force is truly weak in this one”
Bob:”Don't get cocky kid – you'll be able to jump into hyperdrive in no time”
Weird Guy that used to work in the office: “You know I used to castrate horses for a living?”

Actual conversation:
Me: “The damn thing nearly killed me! The brakes barely work”
Logan:”no problem – Bob will take a look at it and figure it out”
Bob:”Seals are bad in the master cylinder, gotta replace it."
Logan: "Parts will be here in the morning”
Weird Guy that used to work in the office: “You know I used to castrate horses for a living?”

(Actually I haven't seen weird guy for a long time – I think Logan kicked him out when his daughter began working there in the office)

So actually, it was just a failure of an original part that really couldn't be helped. When I bought the Jeep last year, it had 65,000 miles on it. For a vehicle made in 1992, that was fantastic. Unfortunately, there's part that fail due to the wear and tear of miles, and parts that fail due to old age. The master cylinder was the latter. Something of a metaphor for life I guess. I probably should encourage it with words from the Buddha:

All compounded things are subject to decay. Strive with diligence!

P.S – I will write about it's second attempt another time. All is well and I and the jeep were not injured (not that it wasn't trying – i'm thinking I will retaliate by personalizing it's license plate to read “R-SHIRT” and paint a star trek chevron on it's hood)

Have a great weekend! Again, if I go anywhere of note, I will post a trail review. I think my review from last weekend of Bull Run Mountain was pretty good if I do say so myself. I think they are doing their 'haunted mountain' thing there tomorrow night if your interested. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Row, Row, Row, Your Boat - Part 2

Sunday was one of the rare Virginia October days where the temperature went into the high 70’s, the sun was out, and a gentle breeze was blowing. It was the kind of day that if you don’t do something with, you feel guilty for the rest of the week. With the previous week’s bad weather and even worse scheduling on my part, I was past ready to take the kayak out for a paddle around the Occuquan.

Preparing for a paddle is usually pretty quick. Paranoia and an anal attitude makes it a bit longer, especially after my incident this summer where I almost passed out on the water from heat stroke. I transfer my ID and fishing license to a doubly bagged baggie. It is somewhat amusing that I even bother to take these. I don't think that in all the years that I have been fishing I have ever had my ID or license checked by a game officer. On the other hand it would take only one time for that to be a rather expensive mistake. I then put the flies that I will fish with and (now) my bagged camera in my mini tote bag, grab some water and head down to load the boat. 

Loading is by design straightforward. I specifically bought a Perception 9.5 Swifty as it could handle my size and weight, yet fit in the jeep without having to go through the rigmarole of strapping it to the roof. I just fold down the passenger seat, open the back, pop it in, secure the end with a bungee and a pad, hold down the back window with another bungee to keep it from banging, and off I go. Sunday I was a little distracted, so I forgot a couple of key elements of fishing gear - my knife to cut line and my reading glasses so I can see well enough to untangle lines and tie flies on.

As I exited the dock I noticed something was different about the river. The row people had placed flags to mark the center channel. There were a couple of 'coach' boats stationary at the marina entrance, and the river was full of boats. It appears they were have a 'regatta' or day of races. I sat for a while to understand what was going on. At the time, it looked like most of the teams were on their way up river, probably to Fountainhead. The few that were on their way back were more toward the center of the river so as to pass as close as possible to the markers for the shortest distance and time.

I decided that the best strategy was to stay on my side of the river, as there was no way I could obtain the speed necessary to shoot any gaps in the traffic to cross to the other side. Since I fish the shallows anyway, that would put me well away from the race traffic when I reached a likely fishing spot. The wind had picked up, so by staying close to the Prince William side, the bluffs would block me from getting blown into traffic and keep the wind from spoiling my cast.

I paddled to my first fishing spot, unlimbered my pole and prepared to fish. With the first cast, I knew I had a problem. I had tried to extend my tapered leader with some additional leader in an attempt to avoid having to replace a whole tapered leader once I had gone through enough fly changes. Unfortuately, the additional leader combined with a light fly meant that the line would not snap when casting, but kind of fluttered into a landing. Any distance or quality cast was impossible (especially in the stiffening wind). After searching around for my knife and realizing I had forgotten it, I was able to clip off the offending leader neatly enough with my teeth. Unfortunately  at the same time I realized I had forgotten my glasses. I sat there, squinting and trying to tie the fly in the end of the tapered leader for a while, but realizing the futility I gave up, broke the pole back down and stowed it.

I was determined that I still would not waste the day, so I decided to proceed to the turn at Jacobs rock so I could get in some more exercise. Jacobs rock is a dangerous turn in the river where you cannot see around the turn until you are committed to it. The depth of the water is fairly shallow there at the turn, so most fishing boats and rowers do not normally risk running aground by attempting to cut the corner too sharply. That being said, I approached the turn slowly, listening of the yelling and cursing that normally accompany rowing crews, as I could see nothing of the other side of the turn around the river bank. My intention was to go far enough around the turn to see the next bend of the river, then retreat back to marina.

Just as I reached the apex of the turn, I heard the whine of a coxswain's amplified voice and the clank of oars. Reacting quickly I back paddled, burying my aft in the mud of the bank and steadying my position by shoving my paddle into the mud as a makeshift anchor against the rising wind. A heartbeat later, a large crew boat swept into view at full speed, barely missing me, cleaving where I was seconds before. The coxswain avoided looking at me as he knew that a) he shouldn't be that close to the shore, and b) he shouldn't have made that blind turn at full speed. I hung there for a while, a few boat coming uncomfortably close, most safely out in the channel. After a while the traffic thinned out enough that I could make a dash for the relative safety of the wider shallows down stream and made it back to the marina without incident.

I must admit when I had a chance to think about it, I got angry that the race people lacked the foresight to place markers at the turn to force the boats out a ways from the turn so as to avoid the situation that occurred. I don’t' really blame the crews, even though they should have realized that cutting the corner that closely was a dangerous thing to do. I did shoot off a strongly worded e-mail the boat club that operates out of the Sandy Point facility who responded that they would forward my concerns to the race organizers. I would hope to hear back from them. In the back of my head I am thinking that if I don't hear from them, I will mark my calender for next year's race and park myself at that corner and read a book, forcing them all to slow down to go around me. On the other hand I probably should let it go. As the Buddha says:

Holding onto anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. You are the one that gets burned

Rubbing my belly here boss...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Row, Row, Row Your Boat - Part 1

If you are not familiar with the Occuquan, it is perhaps one of the oldest and most overworked bodies of water in the northern Virginia area, coming a close second to the Potomac itself. In simple geological terms, it is the lower half of Bull Run creek, which somehow is renamed to the Occuquan River as it broadens out. ‘Occuquan’ is derived from and Algonquian Doeg Indian word, meaning "at the end of the water". Therefore literally, it is ‘at the end of the water’ river. Yes, Bull Run creek is that Bull Run creek that runs through the Manassas battlefield and supplied the geographical marker that the Yankees used to name the battle (southerners using the more appropriate ‘Battle of Manassas’ moniker for the same actions). Below the Sandy Point dam is the lower Occuquan, which empties into the Potomac.
The earliest documented use of the area that I am aware of is at Wolf Run Shoals ford, Where Washington and Rochambeau marched across it to get to Cornwallis. There is ample evidence of various mills and now destroyed dams along river, with the final dam still being in place just below Sandy Point serving to essentially stop any noticeable flow of the river except after a large rainfall. The ‘reservoir’ part comes in as the dam diverts a lot of the water to supply most of northern Virginia with drinkable water.
Since it is a water supply, Fairfax and Prince William County have established some very tight rules for its use. There is of course no swimming. This is a restriction that I don’t really understand except that since it is a government owned and controlled waterway it must be a liability avoidance measure. It surely is not there to account for the small percentage of people who cannot control their bladder (or other bodily functions) while submerged in water. They also limit motors on boats to less than 10HP or electric. I suppose the thought there is marine oil and gas are probably a real problem for the water purification process, so the less of that there is the better. There is one boat I see occasionally that I think routinely circumvents this law. It is an antique steam powered launch about 15 feet long that is powered by burning wood or coal.  There is no rule for wood powered boats! On the other hand, I have never seen it go very fast, so I suspect that steam engine can’t generate more than a couple of horsepower.
These rules make the Occuquan an ideal location for kayakers and rowing. Since all boats are slow moving, there is usually plenty of time to avoid collisions. Additionally, since the motorboats are low powered, there is usually no turn over risk from large wakes. With little or no current, a paddle up or down stream is an equivalent effort, wind strength or direction notwithstanding. Finally, with miles and miles of navigable water, the only limiting factor is available put in locations and a paddler’s endurance.
There are 6 put in locations for this water (above the dam). They are the Rt. 28 bridge just north east of Yorkshire and  south west of Centreville, Bull Run Marina off Davis Ford Road, below the Lake Jackson dam off of Rt. 234, Fountainhead Park, Lakeridge Park, and Sandy Run Park. In theory you can also put in at the Rt. 29 bridge at the battlefield, Wolf Run Shoals Park, or from Hemlock Park, though I have never seen anyone attempt that. I suspect there are rules that prevent you from launching in the creek at the battlefield, and the carry to the creek at Hemlock and Wolf Run Shoals is about a ½ mile.
The Rt. 28 put in is in a location where Bull Run Creek has current, and the creek quickly becomes clogged up north of there. The closest takeout point is seven or eight miles downstream at Bull Run Marina. The put in there requires no fee.
Bull Run Marina is five miles from Fountainhead, but requires a pass and a key fee to get past the locked gate to the launch point; both fees are jacked up if you are not a resident of Fairfax. In theory you can park across the road from the marina, take the path down south of the Yates Ford bridge, and put in for free there (about 100 yard carry). Again, I have never seen anyone do this. Alternatively you can risk your life and your boat by crossing the busy road on an almost blind curve and putting in at the marina dock (which I have seen people do), but really – who needs that excitement?
The put in below Lake Jackson dam is free, but there is only a couple of legal parking places which are usually used by fisherfolk if the weather is good. While there has been a lot of cleanup, the launch beach still has a pieces of glass in the sand, so good water shoes are required. There may be a current, depending on how much water is coming over the dam and tributaries from recent rain. The closest takeout point from there is Bull Run marina, about 9 miles away, going down the creek, entering the river, then going upstream to the marina.  I have never put in from there.
Fountainhead is probably the most common put in location for the Occuquan. Since it is on the Fairfax side, they charge a jacked up fee for non-residents. They are open year round and rent kayaks and canoes there.
Lakeridge is my usual put in location. The yearly pass is cheap (being on the Prince William side of the river), the marina there is open seasonally, and if they are not open, you don’t really need a pass. It is about a mile downstream to Sandy Point, 3.5-4 miles upstream to Fountainhead. This is the calmest section of the river from a flow perspective. The downside is since the marina is co-located with the rowing club, it can get real busy on the weekends. The club has its own low floating dock, which would be great for entering and exiting a kayak, but I usually just use the marina ramp, as the rowing club discourages other users of their dock, especially while they are there doing their launch & recovery.

I have never even been to the Sandy Point facility. It is ‘row central’ for the Occuquan and of no interest to kayakers as I don’t think they even allow launching from there. From what I can tell, it is a highly regulated place which I find best just to stay away from. I suspect you can’t even park within a reasonable carry distance for a hand launch. Nuff said.
That is my fifty cent tour of the Occuquan. In the next installment, I will actually ramble on about my outing there on Sunday. Until then, fair weather and following seas!

Monday, October 15, 2012


Friday Is Not Amused!

It is counter-intuitive that what is indisputably the most dignified class of pets are more often than not distinguished by their inelegant moments. This was true of the previous cat that I shared a home with, and is true the two four legged jokers that roam the halls of my current palatial estate. Well, actually it's just a split level suburban, but that's certainly not the way those two see it. As indoor cats, the house is their world, and they rule all of it - with the exception of the downstairs rec area, where the slobbering, loud, undignified, and rather slow dogs are allowed to stay (mostly). The mid level living area, where the human food is stored, prepared, and begged for, is shared in an uneasy way that I suspect serves mostly to entertain the cats.

The first cat I recall sharing space with my wife and I obtained from the pound shortly after getting married. While I had all manner of pets while growing up, I had not enjoyed the company of a pet for the previous six years as my Army barracks and subsequent housing domiciles precluded it. My wife did not grow up with animals, so she was ambivalent to the idea. Baubles delighted us both as she was a cat that insisted on being constantly entertained. If she wasn't ambushing feet left inappropriately exposed from underneath the couch or bed sheet  she was clawing your arm off in a battle royal and aggressively exploring her environment. Her most memorable early exploration was almost disastrous (for her). In the middle of the night, I was awakened to plaintive meows and what sounded like an elephant rampaging through the closet. It turned out that she had discovered my fly rod with a fly still attached. Like a fish, she had bitten at the fly, got hooked, and was pulling the pole all over the closet, knocking over boxes and knickknacks in an attempt to escape. The next morning, the vet calmly snipped and extracted the hook protruding from her lip and pronounced her just fine. She had many misadventures after that, none fatal or debilitating, from learning to talk to squirrels that lived in the roof of our apartment, to getting stuck in the walls of our rental home. She died peacefully in our current home, in my wife's arms at the ripe old age of 18 or so, affectionate and connected to the end.

Our current two guys are a bit more reserved. First there is Friday. Friday also came to us from the pound. He has always been my daughter's cat as she picked him out, cared for him, and to this day, remains his slave. His name comes from either the day that we obtained him or a Robinson Crusoe reference, I have never asked or been informed which. In any case he came very close to dying right after we got him. He obtained a cold, which can be very dangerous for any cat, and especially so for a weaker kitten, as cats won't eat if they can't smell. Given his size, the vet only gave him a marginal chance for survival and he had to be force fed with a dropper twice a day. My daughter, determined that he would live, took charge of the feeding, and day be day he got better, until he grew into the bug killing king of the dogs that he is today.

The other cat was obtained on a road trip, shortly after Baubles died. We had stopped on our way home from some distant trip and checked into a motel to get some much needed rest. As there wasn't any food place near the motel still open, we called for pizza. While we were waiting outside, we saw this kitten nosing around the motel parking lot looking for food. When we offered him some pepperoni slices from our pizza, he woofed them down and was more than happy to stay in our room for the night. The next morning, after checking with the motel staff to confirmed the kitten was a stray, we packed the kids and the kitten in the van, and off we went.

When we stopped for gas and a bathroom break, we were careful to not let the kitten get out of the van. However, we were worried about him not having an appropriate place in the van to do his business. I fashioned a halter and leash of sorts out of some string we had so I could 'take him for a walk' at the truck stop. Yeah - sometimes my ideas are amazing and cosmically stupid at the same time!  As soon as the kitten's feet hit the ground he remained motionless for a beat or two, then upon realizing he was UNDER a VAN, surrounded by CARS and GIANT TRUCKS that will KILL him, he went ballistic: lunging against the string, hissing, and biting all at the same time. I realized I had to do something quick before he managed to free himself from my makeshift leash, so I reached into that tiny bundle of fury, grabbed the nape of his neck, and tossed him into the van. The result of that brief contact was that my hand and arm were covered by scratches and a few rather painful kitten teeth shaped bites. I told my wife, "That cat is Psycho!".

The name of course stuck as the kids immediately seconded the 'cool name'. It is fortuitous that I didn't use any of the other flowery language that was flowing through my head at the time. Psycho (or 'Tiger' as my wife calls him when she takes him to the vet as she is too embarrassed to let the vet know his real name) is still pretty skittish. He is affectionate, and, like all the other animals in the house, completely dominated by Friday.

The two of them can occasionally be heard late at night running the halls in a rousing game of chase or teasing the dogs at their gate at the top of the stairs. Some nights it's an irritation.  Mostly though its a comfort - knowing that it is life taken in the moment as only a cat can do.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Texas Tough – Part 2
The following is a paraphrase of a story that my father recounted on my last visit. While I will try to accurately represent what he said, I will admit to embellishing a bit as I can't remember the whole story clearly. I suspect he may have embellished a little too, but the cobwebs of time steal too much of us for that to really matter. The most important parts are accurate (you'll know it when you read it).
Uncle Seth was rich as sin. How he came to that state is a story for another time. There may even be a few folks still out there that don’t want it told, so I won’t – well, maybe later. He had a ranch in northwest Texas which his progeny owns to this day (yeah - I checked). While my father refers to him as ‘uncle’, I still am a bit unclear on the genealogy of the matter. I am thinking ‘great uncle’ is probably more appropriate, though there might be a 'once removed' in there somewhere. That doesn't mean that my father and his parents weren't treated as family. They were invited and attended parties, barbecues, and dances at the ranch on a regular basis.
At this point you are thinking (given that this is Part II of the Texas Tough series) that I am describing an early Texas mob family.  There are parallels as the family helped each other, the more fortunate reached out and helped the less fortunate (when they would accept it - which in my experience  the pro-forma response to help offers in my family is, "no thanks, I can handle this alone" or some such nonsense). Couple that with a moral backbone where found pennies are turned into the local constabulary, and you have the antithesis of a mob family. That is not to say that Uncle Seth did not defend what was his from all comers: from drifters that would be better served by moving on, to giant oil companies who would steal his potential wealth and land.

One of the jobs my father held was to work on a survey crew for a major oil company. Their job was to establish accurate elevation maps of the vast spaces that comprised the then relatively uncharted sections of Texas. While we take such data for granted now, at that time the only way to determine the shape of the land was to go out there and measure it. Of course, over the years, those early surveys have become obsolete as the accuracy of aerial and satellite surveys far surpasses what they could do back then. Be that as it may, the oil companies needed such maps so they could make guesses as to where to drill their test shafts.

So one day my father learned that his crew would be surveying uncle Seth's land. Since he hadn't seen him in a while, he called him up and left a message letting him they would be working his land and that he'd like to see him. The next morning, as they were unpacking their gear at the fence marking the extent of uncle Seth's ranch, my father noticed a man on horseback watching them.  As the picked up their gear and approached the fence, the rider came nearer. Dad realized then that the man was uncle Seth. When the crew saw him they stopped in their tracks.  There was no question who it was as uncle Seth was well know as was his disposition. The crew leader also knew him, and knew that dad was his great nephew.

After introducing himself, Uncle Seth informed the crew, "You're not coming on my land." The crew leader was astounded. As a representative of the oil companies and the sudden wealth they could bestow on the land owners, his crew should have been received with open arms. The problem you see was primarily a lack of manners - the oil company hadn't asked.

With that backing came a certain arrogance on the crew leader's part. He responded, "What are you going to do if we do?". Uncle Seth's reply was to draw his gun, point it in the the general direction of the supervisor, and reply "I'll kill you." Something of a 'castle doctrine', early Texas edition - one man, one horse, one gun. This gave the crew leader something to think about. If he backed down, he would loose face, not get the survey data, and might have trouble with others.

What he did decide to do, was ill advised. The supervisor brought family into it by asking "Well, what if we just send Roland (my dad) over?". Uncle Seth considered that for a few beats and came up with an appropriate answer for this fool. "Him i'll just shoot in the leg". There was only one possible outcome of course - they picked up their gear and returned to their vehicles.

Thus ends my first week of blogging. If I go anywhere this weekend memorable, i'll post a trail report over the weekend. Otherwise won't issue another pontification until Monday. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Doctor Is In (your head!)

For those that have spent any time with me in a shared office or lab, the following revelation will come as no surprise. For everyone else, be warned! What you are about to read will change your life. You will become 'one of the knowing', and thus knowing, you will be shunned and despised. So, in the name of all that you hold dear, stop reading now, click the back button now! If you proceed, they will know. If you want to know the truth – the real truth, read on.

Ok – ready to go ahead? Here is the secret they don't want you to know – dentist are actually aliens! 'What?' you say. 'That's about the silliest thing I’ve ever heard', you think. To my greatest sorrow, I am afraid it's true. And I have proof.

First, consider the dentist chair. It's not quite shaped for a human is it? It has that weird curve that never quite feels right when you are laying in it. That thing that is supposed to to hold your head? It looks more like a brain scanning antenna (which is is!) rather than a comfortable head rest. Have you noticed that the chair seems to rise and lower without the dentist doing anything? That's right, it's controlled by their mind!

Next consider their instruments. First, there's the twisty picks of every size and shape. The bends and turns of those things cannot be processed by the human mind. I challenge you to try this next time you are in a dentist office. Start out by looking at the base of the pick, then try to follow the shaft to the pointy end. It cannot be done! You either end up looking at the base again, obtain a splitting migraine headache, or end up wondering the parking lot of the nearest Walmart, looking for a pole cat named 'Boopsy' (not that I have ever done that despite what some now suppressed police reports might or might not insinuate). Next consider their drills. I mean really! Drills for your head? Need I say more? I could make my whole case on that simple fact alone. As a final point, next time you are in a dentist office, take a good look at the round foot switch they use to turn turn the drills on and off. It looks more suited for a round appendage rather than the human foot. Perhaps a round appendage with tentacles coming out of it!

Now consider the 'x-rays' they take. Usually, it seems like they they are ready for the dentist to view in a few seconds. I don't know about you, but back when I got my pictures developed from film, it usually took at least an hour for them to be processed. My current theory is that their 'x-ray' machine, rather than emitting x-rays, actually sucks memories out of your brain, and that plastic thing cutting into your gums that you are holding in place by biting down on a rubber gasket is actually a lens that is used to precisely focus on a specific cognitive areas.

I know what your thinking. 'I've seen the x-rays – they are real x-rays of teeth.' Fools! Of course they are real x-rays. Here's the dirty little secret – they are all the same! They are bulk manufactured by the mother ships located at the dental supply warehouses! They serve two functions. First, they allow the the dentist to tell you 'look – here, here and here have decay, and we are going to have to do a root canal here, and redo that crown there'. (Side note: why do crowns only last 10 years? Duh – the batteries wear out. Why don't they use solar power? Duh – no one but politicians an hookers leave their mouth open that long – and hookers usually work in the dark) That benefits them in two ways. First, it gives them a chance to fulfill their prime directive – to implant mind control devices into all human. Secondly, it allows them to finance their little operation without having to overtly take over the treasuries of the world. As anyone who has had a root canal can tell you – it's damn expensive. Next you ask 'But what about crime victims that are identified by their dental records?' Idiots! Who makes the identification? Dentist! Why is the identification so easy? Can you say alien RFID's? If you've had a cavity filled, you've been tagged.

Finally, I have to discuss orthodontist. They are, without a doubt, the elite of the aliens. The reason is two fold. First, they are the most integrated into the human psyche. Have you ever met an orthodontist that isn't smooth and likeable? I think not. Secondly, they have the ability to insert the alien mind into the human body! They are uniquely positioned to obtain the prime specimens of human male and female minds and bodies for eventual alien takeover. Think about those kids you knew who had the most complex orthodontia. Generally they came from rich and well connected families (who else could afford it?) The boys were by and large nerdy, indicating brains of sufficient complexity for alien habitation. The girls were also nerdy, but tended to end up as homecoming queens and valedictorians. Yeah – 'Mars needs women' is not just a tag line for a stupid B movie. My theory is the girls are complete aliens by the time the reach their sophomore year in high school. My evidence? Not one of the hot, former orthodontics wearing girls ever went out with me in high school – did they go out with you? Did you ever see them with 'regular' guys? I think not! There isn't any more air tight evidence than that!

So, as you leave the dentist office, weak, and slightly addled, wondering 'what the hell happened in there?' Now you know the sad truth and can join me in weeping for humanity.

Full disclosure: I went to the dentist today for a crown fitting from the world best dentist - Dr. Rao, who recently had the patience to deal with me whining on her home phone for more pain meds to get me through a particularly painful weekend from a nasty tooth infection. She is number one in my book - even if she is an alien that nags me to take care of my teeth!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Texas Tough, Part 1

(I am not sure if this picture is my dad or grandpa- it actually could be either. I am pretty sure it's my grandpa's tractor)

My grandfather was perhaps the toughest man I have ever met. Rumor has it, his father was tougher, but I only knew him as a mellowed old man who gave us kids peppermint, so I can't judge that. On the other hand there is the story of the trick that he played on one of my cousins that supports that conjecture. It seems someone (I am not sure who, probably my grandfather), had been hunting and had bagged a deer. This being a farm in Texas, there was no thought to taking it into town to be processed. No, They dressed it out, then skinned it. Since the weather was cool, this being fall in Texas, they hung the deer carcass on the windmill to let it cure a bit. The windmill was the best location as varmints would not attempt to steal a easy snack that close to the house. 

That afternoon, my uncle and his family arrived from Kentucky for a visit. As they got out, my cousin Alison noticed the deer hanging from the windmill. From what I understand, she had never seen a deer carcass.  An important element to this story is that my uncle has always had very large dogs of the Rhodesian Ridgeback variety. Therefore, the shape of the thing hanging from the windmill defiantly raised her her 6-8 year old suspicions. My great grandfather, in response to her query of “paw-paw, what's that hanging from the windmill?”, had the perfect setup for replying “Why that's one of them dogs that's been wondering around here that we killed. We are going to eat him a little later on today.” That was enough to send her away crying, refusing to eat any of my grandfather's delicious Angus beef at dinner, just in case it was “dog steak”.

No, I have always thought of my grandfather as a tough man. Even at 60+ the amount of work he would do in a day was enough to pole-axe a healthy teenager. It is not unusual for a Texas farmer, but for the kinda of people I see and know these days, it is an impossible amount of work. I didn't even know that he had a softness or any weakness until I spent a summer with my older brother working on his farm. 

That summer we had been sent down to 'help' with the chores, and to provide the additional muscle to assist with building a fence bordering a road he had graded around the edge of his property. It seems that the property behind his place was a 'closed in' farm that did not have any road access except through his property. Now normally this would not have been an issue, but the people that bought the place after he started farming there were a wild lot. There was a lot of drinking, poaching, leaving gates open, and gas stealing. Unfortunately he had to let them drive through as they had an easement that guaranteed them access across his land. Grandpa's solution to this was to use his road grader to plow a road around the edge of his property, then put up a fence to keep them on the road and his cows off of it. 

While the grader and the dozier made to road easy enough to establish, the real problem was building the fence. The problem with building a proper fence (and my grandfather never did anything halfway) was that for a fence, you had to have fence posts – solid wood interspersed with metal: big holes for the wood post, smaller for the metal. Now as anyone from that part of Texas will tell you, you rarely have plain ground to sink a fence post in. Mostly you have a 1-3 inches of dirt on top of a incredibly dense sedimentary rock called Caliche. We started out trying to use a chisel and sledgehammer to bust the holes in that rock so that a post could be cemented into it. Eventually, grandpa brought in a guy with a jack hammer that we used to make the holes. It was hard, dusty, and backbreaking work, but we did it. I have no doubt that unless that land has been subdivided, that fence still stands there, 40 years later, as tight and unbroken as the day we put it in.

One day we got started, but then storm clouds rolled in so we had to quit. I remember we rushed back to the house to get there before the storm broke, as Texas summer storms can be pretty violent. We left the truck at the gate to the yard, and had an impromptu foot race to the house. I remember seeing my older brother quickly pull away and reach the porch on the house before my grandfather and I got half way to the house. Seeing him there, I then looked back to see my grandfather laughing and running behind me, unable to catch up to me with his stiff leg (he had injured it some time earlier that year – the real reason I think we were sent down to help that summer). I had never seen him truly laugh before, and I had never seen him show weakness before either. In that moment, my young mind was blown by seeing both at the same time. To the day that he died, I don't recall ever seeing either again. And yet, when I think of him, I think of him in that moment, and remember him fondly.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going To The Dogs

Growing up, my family had a dog until I was in my teens, of which I only remember two. The first was the family patriarch that died when I was about 6. He was a hound dog named Brownspots. Like all our family pets, Brownspots was a mutt, untrained, and left free to roam when and where he wanted. As I remember, he was named for the spots on his coat, but knowing my father’s wry sense of humor, I suspect the name also was a not so subtle reference to the messes he would leave. We all loved that dog, although I only have vague recollections of him. Sadly, my memory of him now mostly consists of where we buried him. That is not surprising as his loss was my first encounter with death.

The second dog we got quite a bit later and at my behest, a beagle named (I think) Pete. By that time, Memphis required dogs to be locked up and the neighborhood we lived in began to fill up with houses (and cars). Our yard was not fenced and my parents were loath to allow a dog in the house. Therefore, the poor thing ended up chained to a kennel. Eventually, he was given away to someone who could give him a better life. The third dog of my life was one we got about a year after we were married and had purchased our first home (condo). He was an ill disciplined beast when chewed incessantly on things. We of course were overwhelmed with life and kids, and not at all prepared for the relationship that a dog demands, so we ended giving him away.

This raises an interesting point. Being a dog owner is different than being a cat owner. Dogs draw you into their world, making you acknowledge them as a dependent in a way a cat will not. Once you accept the role as their ‘Alfa’, you must respond to that role. That’s not to say cats are superior to a dog, they just establish the relationship in a different manner.

There was one other dog during that period that had a great effect on my life. When I was about 10, I got my first job. There was a weekly ‘free ad’ paper that that paid about two cents a paper for us to deliver throughout the neighborhood. I guess you could call it the ‘Craigslist’ of that era. The rule was that the paper had to be thrown either on the porch or upper driveway. My parents were, by today’s standards, extremely lax. Imagine letting your kid bike around the neighborhood, as far out as a mile or so, going up perfect stranger's driveways or walks, and throwing papers. Not to mention allowing your child to work for what amounted to slave wages! It actually wasn't as bad as it sounds. We could deliver around 150 in a couple of hours, earning about $3 a week. At that time that was enough to keep flush in sodas and comic books. Not to mention it laid the foundation for a solid work ethic.

I still don’t remember all the details, but over the years I have been able to reconstruct what happened. The owners of this particular dog, a Great Dane (whose name I never learned), had chained him in their open garage, which was blocked by a cars filling their relatively short driveway. Being a conscientious delivery boy, I determined that the best way to deliver the paper to the porch, was to thread past the cars, across the open garage (and the unseen dog), to get the paper on the porch. As I pulled in front of the garage, I was greeted with the site of the largest dog in the world going from panting relaxation to full alert at the intrusion of a deadly stranger on his turf. I on the other hand offered a friendly “Hi Doggy!” It is at this point things get a little fuzzy. I think the owners responded to my cries pretty quickly and pulled the dog off of me. Most of me was under my bike, so only my leg was used as a chew toy. Apparently I had the presence of mind to give them my phone number and my parents came to take me to the emergency room where they stitched me up, albeit except for a small sliver which apparently was eaten by the dog. From that point on I remained afraid of dogs until my parents shipped me off for the summer to work in my uncle’s vet hospital. I suspect this was an attempt at therapy to get me over the fear. Regardless of the reason, working with sick and vulnerable dogs cured me. For that I thank my parents and my uncle.

My current dog is a Great Pyrenees mix. He has a kind face and a gentle disposition, making him an almost perfect dog that every kid wants to pet. Unfortunately, he has that breed’s independent disposition, which is to say he is submissive and obeys, as long as there is not something more interesting for him to do or eat. Of course this makes it imperative to keep him well leashed when walking in the woods where there are too many small (and large) furry creatures to chase.  Coming from a herd dog breed, he had moves that would put most NFL running backs to shame while dodging and running. Thus, when he was young, catching him was a difficult feat. He has slowed down quite a bit as he has aged, and currently has a chronic limp that shows no sign of getting better. Fortunately, when he is out for a neighborhood patrol, the years fall away, and you can’t see the limp. That is the eternal innocence of dogs in a big fuzzy package.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

And so it starts...

The first post on your blog should be memorable. I therefore suspect that I am about to disappoint. Having said that, I will get on with it and talk about why I am doing this. In a nutshell, I want to hone my writing skills, and having a blog seems like a good way to do that. My goal is to write five hundred to a thousand words a day, on any subject that happens to pop into my head. This can't help but improve my skills. Note that 1000 words is a goal, as some days I will be lucky to just eek out a couple sentences, if anything at all.

The next thing to worry about in a blog is who will be reading this? The risk of throwing your mind out there is that everyone and anyone can read it, then laugh at (not with) you. I must admit, that prospect makes me nervous. On the other hand, if you are reading this then congratulations, both you and I are worthy of notice. If you are not reading this, I don't know what to tell you – but you don't care anyway so why am I writing for you?

I have included a short (terse) description of myself over on the the “Who Is This Guy” page. Since that, combined with this, more than meets my daily limit, I will stop here and wish you a good day. I was going to end this this with saying 'Hope you come back', but that seems a bit silly, as most people won't read this. So, instead I say:

Is féidir leis an bóthar a reáchtáil réidh roimh tú

(no – I don't speak Irish, but online translators let me pretend I do)