I would have loved to have met Joe Delaney.

 

Finding Joe’s place was dumb luck, really. Most of my attention had been given to the spectacularly rocky coastline of western Nova Scotia. I spotted the hand-lettered sign on the landward side of the road. It bore a cartoonlike head and the legend “Masque Acadie,” and saw what looked like a hundred or so scarecrows staging a demonstration in a field.

 

These are the sorts of things one should not resist.

 

“Back in 1984, my father tried raising a garden here, but the animals, the deer and the rabbits, ate everything up,” said his daughter, Ethel, who had opened a take-out diner and souvenir shop in a converted mobile home at the site of her father’s creation. “So, some neighbors said to my father, why do not you build some scarecrows and keep them away? So, he had some junk sitting around, so he made three, each about six feet tall.”

 

Joe used old clothes, Halloween masks, strips of bright plastic, and a lot of imagination.

 

The morning after the scarecrows went up, two tour buses and several cars stopped while Joe was tending his garden. Some people came out, told him they really liked the scarecrows, and took pictures.

 

“By the end of the summer, he had a dozen scarecrows,” said Ethel.

 

I poked around the little gift shop, and bought a tiny cup of coffee from her. She handed me the change. Ethel said she and Paul opened the little business two years after the tourists started showing up.

 

She wore a lot of makeup, with her eyebrows outlined carefully, the heavy black lines of the pencil leaving an oblong hollow. Ethel was an expressive speaker, and her eyebrows moved a lot. It was hard not to stare.

 

A couple of cars stopped. The people got out, took a few snapshots, dropped a few coins in the collection box that had a little sign saying the money was for the upkeep of Joe’s scarecrows, and drove away. I thought about buying some scarecrow postcards, but changed my mind. I am very cheap.

 

“The year after, he had 30 scarecrows, and the tourists kept coming,” said Ethel, her eyebrows sending semaphore signals of their own. “He had a little workshop out in the back, in the old bus, where he kept making more.”

 

Joe had died of lung cancer about two years earlier, Ethel said.

 

“He was doing real good right up until the end,” said Ethel, in accented English that told me she was more accustomed to French. “Then he got sick and we took him to the ‘ospital, and in just a little while ‘e was gone.”

 

In front of Ethel’s little take-out was one of those bright-colored windmill things, a propeller to catch breeze attached to a mechanism that made a little wooden silhouette of a woodsman make chopping motions with an ax. The blade kept hitting against the novelty’s frame. A stiff breeze blew in from the shore on the other side of the road. The little lumberjack chopped in a frenzy, a little toy maniac in the wind.

 

The same year that Ethel’s take-out went in; a vandal struck one night, destroying all but one of Joe’s scarecrows, whom Joe had named Rory. Ethel, her eyebrows rigid with indignation, said she knows who did it, but has no proof.

 

“It was a man who lives down the road, he left a bar that night after he got drunk and got in a fight. He comes in here sometimes, and I just look at him,” she said.

 

Joe wrote an account of the vandalism as though written by Rory as an eyewitness. The piece was published in one of the area newspapers. After it ran, a lot of people gave Joe money and old clothes so he could recreate his scarecrows. Today, there are about 100.

 

“We put’em away in the winter and bring’em back out in the spring,” Ethel and her eyebrows said. “We try to keep’em looking nice for people.”

 

The collection of U.S. president scarecrows looked a little tattered, but then, so does the office. There were scarecrows sawing logs, scarecrows playing fiddles. Most of them, however, stood in the traditional scarecrow pose, legs spread slightly, arms straight out at the sides, heads staring straight ahead or, sometimes tilted back, staring at the heavens. These latter looked as though they were either praying intensely, or asking God, “Why me?”

 

There were no scarecrows created to look like God providing answers, though there were a couple that looked like they could be televangelists.

 

Somewhere along the way, Ethel said, Joe forgot about the garden. He wasn’t around to ask why he simply kept making scarecrows, even to the exclusion of the garden they were designed to protect. Ethel, her eyebrows arching with pride, said her father’s scarecrows draw 20,000 to 30,000 tourists a year.

 

That’s a lot of coffee, meat pies, muffins, and postcards.

 

But I am not certain. Sure, that’s what keeps Paul and Ethel solvent, but I do not think money was Joe’s first consideration. I looked at the little photo Ethel kept of him, standing out by his workshop. There was a definite impishness in those eyes. I think Joe just kept building scarecrows and putting them out, just to see how many tourists he could lure in. I have a funny feeling he went to his grave bemused at the public’s apparently endless appetite for cute.

 

I finished my coffee, and threw the thimble-sized styrene cup into the trash. Ethel thanked me. Her eyebrows seemed to have dozed off.

 

“Come back and see us again,” she said.

 

I climbed into my van. The crazed lumberjack was taking a breather. A woman over among the scarecrows excitedly asked her husband, he of the white patent leather shoes and matching belt, to take a picture of her standing next to Ronald Reagan. I started the engine and left. A guy can only take so much culture in one dose.

 

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Garden Rain, Late Harvest

October 13, 2013

BURGER TO GO

By T.W. Burger

I sat down on the remains of an old school desk in my garden and watched the rain assault the burn pile, and listened as it drummed on the hood of my slicker.

The pile has been growing for a couple of years; garden waste, scrap lumber, brush and small trees, a couple of tree stumps. I figured it would not do to allow the pile to get any larger, so it was time.

At the end of a long drought, and with the pile only about 10 feet from a whole field of drying soybeans, I needed a rainy day.

I got my wish. The forecast called for two or three days of steady rain. I figured that would do.

It did.

Getting ready to do physical work takes longer than it used to: A brace for the bad ankle, one for each knee, another one for the back, and the aforementioned bright yellow slicker.

The fire crept slyly around the wet pile at first, but eventually its hunger won out and flames reached up eight feet or more. While I kept an eye on it, I began the work of getting the garden ready for winter.

I stripped the few remaining tomatoes, most of them a bright green, and then pulled up the vines.

Thick smoke danced from the fire as it burned down. I stopped my work and hauled half a dozen wheelbarrow loads of trimmings and broken branches from a couple of other spots in the yard and heaped them onto the fire, which roared back into life.

The heat felt good, so I sat on the old desk for a bit, enjoying the warmth, soaked through everywhere the slicker did not cover and under the slicker I was soaked with sweat.

The tomato patch reduced to a rectangle of mud, I moved over to the peppers.

Orange habañeros and long red chilis glowed bright as sparks against the dark compost. I fumbled among the slender stems, careful to leave the still ripening fruit undamaged. I rinsed the dirt off the colorful harvest and laid them in a bucket, and then moved to the former broccoli patch. The groundhogs got to the broccoli before we did, but a kind of strange, hybrid gourd they left alone.

I suspect it was the result of a liaison between a zucchini or winter squash and a pumpkin. The fruits are bright yellow and knobby, but baked and mixed with butter and cinnamon, there is nothing better.

Late Harvest 10-11-2013 6-34-49 PM 2448x3264.49

The garden is almost at an end. A few peppers and squash remain, and if the frost holds off for another week or so, we may get more.

The fire had died back to a sullen glow. I took a manure fork, flipped some unburned material over onto the coals, and piled the new debris on top. The flames found new enthusiasm.

I sat again, swirled about by aromatic smoke, pummeled by rain, sore, but content, my breath condensing in the cool air.

For the most part, the garden is a corpse, to be torn apart and composted or burned, piled with manure, and put into hibernation. There is still much to do.

But not today. I am done. My knees stiff, my back bent like Quasimodo’s, I hoisted my two buckets of color and lurched through the gray and brown garden to the warm house, a hot bath, some aspirin, and a touch of scotch.

As I started the house, the rain started to fall harder, coming down in sheets. I gave one more glance at the fire. It had become a few dark, smoking heaps, no flames visible. I began to think that I should have saved the wood for an ark.

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© 2013 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.

Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.

On a recent rainy Tuesday, I paid a visit to some fossilized bits of dinosaur and one of the people who discovered the bits.

“Bits” here being used advisedly: These bits were small compared to the critter they came from, but pretty doggone big to the rest of us.

The dinosaur debris belonged to one or more individuals of a species called Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, brought out of the New Mexican desert by Robert Sullivan, senior curator in paleontology and geology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Sullivan has spent his summers for the past 30 years working the dinosaur bone-yards in the blank spots on the map to the northwest of Santa Fe and Albuquerque. It is hot, hard work, and the teams are small, only two or three people from each sponsoring group, in this case, The University of Montana’s Museum of the Rockies, and the State Museum of Pennsylvania. That means that only a small number of fossils per season can be dug out of their surrounding stone, prepared, and carried out in knapsacks or on stretchers. It’s got to be something you believe in.

 I am trying to remember how we ever really believed in dinosaurs until the movie Jurassic Park came out. And yet, we did. Even when all we had to rely on were drawings and paintings in National Geographic, the clunky “claymation” monsters in bad science-fiction films, and, of course, our own fevered imaginations, we believed.

I’m no spring chicken, and dinosaurs thundered around in my imagination as long ago as I can remember, without benefit of full-size, full-color, bellowing digital versions of the creatures. I have to guess that people working in the field today spent time as children looking out over a pasture or into a murky forest and imagined vast shadows moving, shaking the ground with each step.

Maybe they still do, looking up from editing research papers, imagining they just caught a shudder of vibration running through the heating ducts, a furtive rustle in the shrubbery outside.

Computer Generated Imagery in films like Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life, starting with the first film in 1993, and several times since in sequels with increasingly lame plots and acting. Well, for the humans, anyway. The acting on the part of the digital dinosaurs seemed top-notch, at least in my book.

With the advent of CGI, the monsters moved with a spontaneity that made one want to sit astride their lumbering backs, or run away squealing. On the other hand, I wonder if seeing them so apparently real has damaged our ability to imagine them. I hope not. We believed, back in those technologically deprived days, because we needed to. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was a need to believe in vast and dramatic lives in a time so distant it implied a hope in a world after our own. Maybe, for those of still children and feeling insignificant and powerless, it was good to populate our spirits with beasts so big as to be undeniable, unstoppable, and inexpressively awesome.

Alamosaurus is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s simply just damned BIG. Two of the recovered pieces are vertebrae, one from back around the beastie’s hips, the other from the lower part of its long, long neck.

The remaining piece is a little less than half of an Alamosaurus’ thigh bone. It’s nearly four feet long, meaning that this bone, from knee to hip, was eight feet long and more than a foot thick.

Bob wouldn’t speculate on the animal’s size because this particular type – long-necked and –tailed herbivore that ambled around on four legs – came in a variety of models that might have enough variation to make scientific guesses about its length, weight, etcetera, just that…guesses.

Even so, the University of Montana put out a graphic showing an estimated comparison between a generalized Alamosaurus and a typical full-grown human male. The other silhouette is a representation of one of the vertebrae found at the New Mexico site.

Feel humbled? You should. The Alamosaurus was one of the biggest creatures ever to walk on land, though there was another, similar herbivore, Argentinosaurus, which was slightly larger. Full-grown, Alamosaurus was more-or-less the length of an Amtrak passenger car.

Nobody has yet found the skull of an Alamosaurus, so nobody can say for sure what it looked like. It likely had a brain the size of a tangerine, so if it were around today it could probably run for public office.

There are a lot of reasons we can be grateful that the real dinosaurs are long gone, I suppose. On the one hand, I really do enjoy picturing one lumbering through the field across the road from my house, chomping and belching its way through the soybeans.

On the other hand, I think keeping something the size of a city bus out of my tomato patch would be a major pain.

Just Deal With It

December 12, 2010

Well, here we go again.

Where I live, in south-central Pennsylvania, we’ve had our first dusting of snow for the season. It was perhaps an inch and all the grocery stores took hits in the bread, milk, egg and toilet paper departments.

The snow came as a punctuation to about a week of temps hereabouts that stayed on the shady side of freezing, with daily highs averaging about 10 degrees below normal, which put a couple of inches of ice across the top of the creek, and an inch of snow across that.

You do what you have to do.

I spent the afternoon cleaning out the garage, by which I mean re-stacking junk from one place to another – I can’t remember the last time I could actually get my car in there – and moving the lawnmowers into the back of the storage shed and making a space for the snowblower. I got the machine fueled and ran it for awhile to make sure everything was kosher, then parked it in its new space, ready to carve its way out to clear things up when we get our first real snow.

A friend in Fairhope, Alabama reported on Facebook just a couple of days ago that they were having snow, which did give me pause. Snow on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is a notable event. Farmers in Florida are taking emergency steps to protect their fruit crops, and the wire services are full of photos showing fountains frozen in Atlanta and dazed Georgians staggering around in what must feel like everything they own, trying to keep warm.

You know, what we here would call our fall wardrobe.

There will be some making wisecracks like “So, where’s your Global Warming now?” and similar remarks. I wish the folks who named the phenomenon had called it Climate Change, which is what it really is. In any case, a cold spell in December is not proof that the climate is or is not changing. The fact that the polar ice caps have retreated further than they have since they formed a kabillion years ago, is.

But, despite snow on the Alabama beaches and fountains frozen in the Peach state, it is, as a climatologist said on CNN recently, only winter, meaning that we should just all get over it and deal.

So, OK, this cold snap might mean nothing, or it might mean we’re in for the worst winter since, well, whenever the last bad one you can remember was.

Button up your house; drag out the sweaters and long underwear, and stop acting like it never happened before. Give some money and clothes to your local shelters so the unlucky don’t freeze to death, and maybe have a little more to eat this winter.

As for me, I’m going to hunker down and wait for the first real sign of spring….the arrival of the seed catalogs sometime in February.
==============================.
© 2010 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Pumpkins, Ahoy!

October 18, 2009

I suppose it was inevitable, in a way.

Look. For one thing, coastal Maine was once famous for its tradition of shipbuilding. In fact, it’s only a short drive to one of the nation’s most famous shipyards in Bath.

For another thing, for all the brevity of the growing season, folks in Maine are crazy for gardening. And, as good modern Americans, they are not immune to the outlook that a thing is made better if it gets made bigger.

Given all that, I suppose growing pumpkins the size of compact cars and turning them into boats makes all the sense in the world.

The Damariscotta Pumpkin Regatta has been held on or about Columbus Day for every one of the past five years, though this is only the second year it has been officially blessed by the town’s government.

It all began with Buzz Pinkham, who owns a nursery, Pinkham’s Plantation.

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

"Admiral" Buzz Pinkham

Buzz, shown here in his latest creation, was trying to think of something to do with a 700-pound pumpkin he had grown to show at a state fair. As he told a local reporter, he decided to try hollowing the pumpkin out, attaching a small outboard, and, putting his trust in gourd, finding out how it would do on the Damariscotta River, which flows into the harbor at Damariscotta.

He wasn’t trying to draw a crowd, he said, “but it’s kind of hard to sneak through town with a 700-pound pumpkin.”

So, a small crowd stood around on the banks of the river while Pinkham noodled around on the river, having a good time.

The next year, a couple of buddies joined Buzz with their own pumpkins, and drew an even bigger crowd.

By the third year, the businesses in town were starting to realize that the informal event was bringing people and those people usually brought their wallets with them, etc., etc.

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about ordinary pumpkins. This lot is a breed apart, hybrid monsters that have been been around, though not so grandly, since the early 1800s. Back then, somebody or some chance intermingled the DNA of a variety of Hubbard squash and a Kabocha pumpkin.

So, for a long time, Cucurbita maxima, to use the monster’s scientific name, were simply an unusually large variety of pumpkin weighing of a couple hundred pounds.

And then came Howard Dill. (A major chord would be appropriate here, if this was a movie.)

Before 1981, the world record for the largest pumpkin stood at an anorexic 460 pounds. Then, Dill, of Nova Scotia, set the world, or the portion of the world that cared, on its collective ear by submitting a pumpkin of almost 500 pounds.

Dill patented his seeds as Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and that breed is credited as the progenitor of the giant pumpkins of today, augmented by an orgy of crossing and re-crossing his variety with other types of pumpkins.

Dill died in May of 2008, at the age of 73.

The result of all this mad cross-breeding has been what must be a peculiarly North American phenomenon, even if they are grown now in other countries. Heck, people in other countries drive Hummers, but it was our idea, for better or worse.

This year’s world record holder is Christy Harp’s 1725-pound Atlantic giant pumpkin, which won the Ohio Valley Giant Pumpkin Growers annual weigh-off just this month. Photos of Ms. Harp, like this one that I swiped off the Internet, show her standing behind what appears to be an orange asteroid.

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

The World's Biggest Pumpkin, 2009 edition

Put that in perspective. That’s about the weight of two Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide motorcycles.

It must be pointed out that these exaggerated pumpkins are, how shall I say it? Unattractive? Butt ugly? I’d love to see one that had been raised in zero gravity. Perhaps it would be, oh, pumpkin-shaped. The really big ones bear an unfortunate resemblance a gargantuan loaf of bread that failed to rise correctly.

My vacation was over couple of days before the actual regatta.

I did manage to hang out for an hour or so at Pinkham’s Plantation while some of the guys were building and carving their squash navy. Buzz wasn’t around, but Bill, Tom Lishness, and one other fellow whose name I did not catch were busily measuring, eyeballing, sawing and scooping.

It is a little alarming how much goop lives inside a 700 pound pumpkin. We’re talking at least a wheelbarrow load or more for each one.

Bill said the little pumpkin he was rigging up for the race weighed in at 860 pounds. He stated, matter-of-factly, that he had actually grown one that weighed more than the 1275-pound state record holder, which loomed a mere 30 feet away, but Bill’s gourd split from its own weight. In the photo, Tom, Bill, and Mr. X, ponder mounting onto an 800-pound-plus pumpkin the transom that will hold the motor.

Pondering the "How-to's"

Pondering the "How-to's"

Lishness, a compact fellow with bright blue eyes and a beard reminiscent of the one on the Travelocity Gnome (one of which was attached to the front of his pumpkin yacht a year or two ago, along with a miniature cannon,) said that in the early days of giant pumpkin contests gourds the size of his and Bill’s would have taken big prizes. Today, if your punkin is smaller than a thousand pounds, nobody remembers your name.

The details of pumpkin nautical architecture would seem simple, on the surface, so to speak. But distinct challenges present themselves.

First, one cannot help but notice that the pumpkin, whatever its dimensions, has not evolved a shape that lends itself to a graceful passage through water. Their roundness makes them prone to a certain vertical indecision, so that any overly enthusiastic motion from the pumpkin operator can result in his immediate demotion to keel.

Tom said the first outboards used on the pumpkins were two- to three-horsepower trolling motors. But, this is America and we all know that means there is no such thing as too much horsepower. From the photo I picked up online, Buzz Pinkham’s pumpkin this year boasted a 25-horsepower Nissan rig.

If I understood Tom correctly, some outfit that sells and repairs snowmobiles and jet-skis is working to develop a pumpkin/jet-ski hybrid. Heady stuff. I hope nobody from Morton-Thiokol, who builds the solid-rocket boosters for the space shuttle, ever gets wind of the regatta.

Of course, there’s no easy way to attach an outboard motor to a pumpkin. The guys figured their way past that by attaching a plywood platform to the top of the pumpkin that gives the motor a little platform, or transom, to hang onto. There’s also a little frame to hold a block of polystyrene for floatation, to counter the weight of the motor. Without it, the pumpkin seems, briefly, to be headed for the sky, and then sinks out of sight.

They sometimes sink out of sight anyway. Tom’s pumpkin betrayed him this year, according to some published accounts.

Better luck next year.
==============================.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

(Note: This is a slightly written version of a column written many years ago.)
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In the King James version of the Bible, the 19th Psalm has it that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shewith His handiwork.”

These deep summer nights, when I watch the spiders harvesting moths snared from their ecstatic loops around the floodlights on the deck, it seems as though He is “shewing” us a dark, fevered Nature unlike the brave, noble version most of us were brought up to believe in.

In an earlier essay I wrote about the praying mantis that lived in a potted plant on the back porch of our apartment in town. I admired her for a number of reasons, not the least of which is her role as a reminder not to become overly sentimental about “nature.”

Most often, when you hear somebody say they love “nature,” what they really mean is they enjoy scenery, the “Nature” that they see in the advertisements for 4X4 vehicles and motor homes.

“Nature,” after all, is the whole package, from the dawn mists around a forest cataract, to the shelled and jointed things humping and dragging their way through the leaf mold. These are what the essayist Loren Eiseley called the “ugly, innocent, necessary” aspects of Nature with a capital “N.”

When I lived in town, I would often say, thoughtlessly, that I missed Nature. It is an absurdity, of course, like standing in a forest and saying I longed to see trees.

French naturalist Henri Fabre (1823-1915) once said his own back yard contained enough nature to keep him busy for a lifetime. I read somewhere else that the typical suburban yard contains some 40,000 spiders of various sizes and species, and a cubic foot of soil from that same yard may contain billions of individual living creatures.

American nature writer Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), described his early interest in nature starting at his grandparents’ farm in Indiana. In his book “Near Horizons,” Teale described tucking himself away into a burrowed-out hollow in a field of rye, to spend hours observing ants, beetles, snakes, and other creatures in their everyday existence. He wrote that returning home that evening was like returning from a “distant voyage of discovery.”

What all this means, if one lives in town, is that one does not need to look far to find a very busy nature; one need only look more closely. Even in my third-floor apartment, surrounded by asphalt and a few houseplants, I still found plenty of things to watch.

The mantis, for example. She is cousin to grasshoppers, cockroaches, crickets and walking sticks. Like other insects, she has just enough brain to operate her angular body and that’s about it. Insects are hard-wired, operating on instinct, each species mass-produced by nature from a single mold.

Once I watched a spider, trying to salvage her web during a powerful storm, mooring one of the stays on a branch of my night-blooming cereus, near the spot where the mantis poised, all patience and severity. In the morning, the abandoned web fluttered in the light breeze.

The next day the mantis, calligraphy against white boards, watched as I walked past, her strange, triangular head pivoting on its ball-and-socket neck.

The next night I sat again, watching as she ate another mantis. The female mantis usually eats its mate. The unfortunate Romeo usually gets his head eaten off during the mating, possibly to prevent him from changing his mind.

This mantis lay horizontally before “my” mantis, clutched in the spiked front legs, being eaten aft to fore. Horribly, the victim continued to gaze about, only mildly interested in the proceedings, its antennae waving a vague semaphore while the clockwork mouth parts of its destroyer munched away.

These are the things that inhabit my summer dreams. The profligacy of insects is necessary but the stuff of pure nightmare. If predation and sheer accident did not kill most of the young, who wriggle and rattle near the bottom of the food chain, we would be wading through seas of the things in a matter of weeks. The clattering females of the thousands of species must each lay eggs by the tens of thousands in order to keep ahead of the mortality curve.

The same day I watched the little act of mantis cannibalism, I watched two dragonflies trying to lay their eggs in the parking lot behind the apartment. Female dragonflies lay their eggs by dipping their tails into the water of ponds and streams.

The dragonfly in flight is a spectacle worth watching; perhaps nothing else in the insect world is so graceful or so swift. Teale, who called them “winged bullets,” said some species can achieve speeds approaching 60 miles per hour. The largest living species reach wingspans of seven inches. Fossilized dragonflies with wingspans of 30 inches have been found.

The dragonflies are almost wholly creatures of the air. They scoop their prey into their clustered legs and eat literally on the wing, letting the drained bodies fall without missing a wing-beat.

For all their grace, they are not bright. The dragonflies in the parking lot tried to lay their eggs on the shiny roofs of automobiles. The hapless bugs flew from car to car, thudding uselessly against the shimmering surfaces.

I can watch this kind of thing for hours, on walks in the woods or along a pond, until I just cannot watch any more, and my uneasy sleep is haunted by hockey-mask faces and Rube Goldberg movements.

After awhile, though, I go back, ever curious. If I have learned anything in my somewhat spotty education, it is that “nature” like “art” is a process, never a finished thing. More importantly, as in art, one cannot begin to learn from it until one casts aside any expectations that it’s all going to be pretty.
==============================.

© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

It is suddenly storm season in my part of the world.

Every couple of days, sometimes more often, big, strident, Old Testament thunderstorms have stomped through, flooding basements, downing trees, darkening whole neighborhoods and just generally smiting and smoting like nobody’s business.

Well, the garden is happy, and the creek is higher than it usually is this time of year.

Mid-August here in south-central Pa. is typically hot, humid and rainless. I’ve seen the creek so dry by this time of the summer that the fish were taking sponge-baths and my watermelons were the size of baseballs and had similar flavor.

So, I grudgingly admit, the rain is at least provisionally welcome.

That is, it’s getting to be a pain in the butt.

My truck doesn’t have A/C, which means when I’m out in a storm I have to close all the windows and just sort of stew in the stale air.

I have an umbrella and a good, bright yellow rain parka. They are inevitably locked up, safe and dry, in the truck, because if it is not raining when I get out of the truck, I don’t give them a thought. It’s the sort of thing that makes me think I should have had special teachers in school, if you take my meaning.

So, Friday, working on a long story that wasn’t showing any signs at all of helping me write it – some stories practically write themselves, you know – all hell broke loose overhead. I jumped online and called up PennDOT’s traffic camera website and took a peek at what the cameras were seeing.

To the north, east, and south, the view was pretty much…not much. All I could see was a few sets of headlights, nothing else. No road, no discernable details on anything.

Guess where my rain gear was.

It was OK, though. By the time I had beaten the story into a semi-readable condition the storm had raged on and was kicking the crap out of the Poconos.

I squeezed into the Dakota and started on the hour drive home, boring through the occasional light shower and dodging morons, keeping the grumpiness meter down on the sunny side of a full glower. It was, after all, Friday.

I was three-quarters of the way home when the rainbow appeared.

The sun had tumbled down off the edge of the cloud cover way out west, sending its beams eastward across their undersides, turning them to a bright apricot. The fresh-washed air teased the trees and cornfields, some lit gold, some in deep shadow.

Due east, the rainbow arced, vivid against black clouds over toward nightfall. Traffic slowed as drivers, including me, kept looking over to the vast curve of light refracted through raindrops. It’s easy to understand why people used to think them magical. Hell, I still do.

And then, the black boil of storm behind the rainbow cracked open with a fiery spider web of lightning, the kind that snakes briefly from cloud to cloud, painting the landscape white for a split second and then it is gone. All of it framed within that rainbow curve.

Within the cars around me, I saw people pointing, slack-jawed with wonder, or laughing. I made eye-contact with some, and we all smiled together.

It was still sprinkling a little, but I rolled my window down anyway. Suddenly, I didn’t mind the wet so very much.

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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

It’s gardening season.

I can tell by the way I hurt.

I mean, it’s the same way I hurt in the fall, when we’ve been putting the garden to bed for the winter, but the weather’s different.

If you’re a gardener, you know what I’m talking about. Aches, stiffness in the back, suspicious popping sounds in the knees. Sensations heightened by winter inactivity and amplified by the number of springs one already has under one’s belt.

It’s the time of year when one’s enjoyment of gardening is more philosophical than actual.

I have only really had a patch of ground to call my own for about 14 years, so this is all still a voyage of discovery for me.

For example, I have learned that moderation is important. I once used my trusty old pickup truck to bring several loads of fresh cow manure to the garden.

It was a LOT of manure. I piled it up maybe two feet high over each bed in the late fall. It was so thick that the tiller got mired in it that spring. Not pretty. Another time I brought in a mountain of sheep manure. For some reason, sheep manure attracks flies like nobody’s business, even in relation to manure from cows and horses. It brought clouds of flies to the neighborhood.

Sheep manure may be great for plants, but it does not grow good relations with neighbors, trust me.

I also learned moderation in what to plant. There really IS such a thing as too many tomato vines. And I once planted a dozen or more zuchinni plants, thinking that would surely be enough.

I was right. People still avoid me in summer, fearful that I will be giving away zuchinni again. At least, I assume it’s the memory of my zuchinni giveaway program, and not the memory of the manure.

I don’t think I’ll ever get to Master Gardener status, which requires, I think, study and tests and stuff. I’m pretty hit-or-miss about gardening. I already have a job. I garden to relax, and because it really is magical to see all that edible stuff arise from my questionable soil and the work of my aching back. It gives me things to think and write about, and things to eat that you really can’t get at your neighborhood Shopping Monster grocery story.

Now…let me know if you’d like some zuchinni.

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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

Spring mulches on

March 1, 2009

We’re at the center of some kind of bird convention.

It’s the sort of thing that happens every now and then in nature, that makes one feel as though something was going on and we missed the memo.

We live south of the historic town of Gettysburg, just above an old dam on Marsh Creek, which flows into the Monocacy River just over the Mason-Dixon Line in Maryland, and thence to the Potomac and the Atlantic. The pond here is about 100 feet across, give or take, and generally shallow. It attracts a lot of waterfowl, expecially in the spring and fall, as they make their way north or south during migration.

Fall is best for observing, because the birds tend to show up in clumps, like tour groups waiting for the bus to take them to the next historic site and buffet.

In the spring they tend to straggle back, traveling more at a mosey than a rush, and in smaller groups. They headed south as the leaves were starting to turn and the fields were browning, and they return as snowdrops stand out against the half-inch of snow we had overnight, and as the daffodils shoulder their way through the dark mulch.

Saturday morning it was a lone common merganser chasing fish for its breakfast. I stood watching for awhile holding one of the cats, who was more interested in me making my way to the container where the cat food is kept.

The merganser was only the beginning, the opening act, so to speak.

Later, coffee in hand, I sat at a window and watched as the new pile of mulch destined for the flower beds swarmed with bluejays, a pileated woodpecker tapped its way around the clematis vine that has climbed up the tv and police-scanner antenna tower, and another group of jays and a northern flicker hopped around in the grass, turning over leaves and pecking around in the litter. All together, there must have been 50 birds or more.

Now and then Amanda, the cat-in-charge, would stalk into the yard and disperse them all, something she apparently believes is her sworn duty. Then, when Amanda would return to her usual perch out of the wind, the birds would reconvene.

This morning I had yet another reminder that spring is just around the corner. Sore muscles, and a stiff back. And half of that mulch pile still there.
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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/

(OK, I wasn’t going to do this thing because I’m oddly shy about doing stuff like this. Helluva position for somebody who compulsively writes expository column, but there it is.)

1. I was born in Sharon, Pa., right on the Ohio line and about 60 miles north of Pittsburgh. When I lived there, as a little boy, it was the capital of The American Dream, a steel town when steel was king. The factory where my dad was an engineer employed 17,000 people. At 4:30, when he got off work, it was like watching a kicked anthill, thousands of people, mostly men, boiling out of the office and plant doors, clogging the streets of the city with cars. Today, Sharon is mostly known for its chicken wings (The Quaker Steak and Lube) and for a vocal group hall of fame.

2. My first job was as an underage laborer for a franchise of Greyhound Moving & Storage. I was 17 with pipestem arms. It was summertime in a Georgia town full of three-story Victorian houses. I got fired after a 200-pound freezer with 100 pounds of meat in it fell on me. I wasn’t hurt, but the owner was afraid I’d sue. The experience almost cured me of the desire to work. My next two jobs were as a donut glazer (and delivery driver) at a bakery, and then as an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant. I got fired from the donut job because I drove the delivery van, respectfully, down the ranks of sailors at a naval facility during the playing of reveille. The visiting admiral was really pissed off. Before I became I reporter, I had worked at 42 different places, doing some colorful things, from picking up road kill to running a garbage company to running the switchboard at a hospital and driving concrete mixers.

3. I got most of my real education on my own, through reading and living and talking to people smarter than I am, whose numbers are legion. I graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Georgia, for what it’s worth. I’m not one of those people who still gets giddy and acts stupid when the football team from the college he left decades ago plays a game. I spent little time on campus outside of classes because I was working, sometimes as many as three jobs at a time while taking 15 hours of courses. So, no, I didn’t enjoy campus life, though I enjoyed some of the classes. I made the dean’s list twice. The first time, I didn’t know what that meant and thought I was in trouble. I’m still not sure how I pulled that off. All told, I was a mediocre scholar, only exerting myself in courses that interested me.

4. I love books and reading, and I’m always battling my TV addiction to have time to indulge myself. I don’t retain what I read as well as I used to. I find that as I get more and more years as a professional writer behind me, the less patient I am with bad writing in books. Bad writing gets between me and the topic or plot. It’s like reading through a chain-link fence. I joined the Goodreads website and have found some really good books by doing that, and have had some good discussions about books. It’s sort of a virtual book-discussion group for people who don’t feel like going out.

5. Sue and I have an embarrassment of cats. They are “owned,” insofar as one can actually “own” a cat, in three layers. We have one cat, Kitten Kaboodle, who lives in the main part of the house and sleeps on my left arm when I’m working on my laptop. That is, when she’s not attacking my feet. In the big room off the deck are seven, Mr. Bit, fat Scooter (aka Rotunda), one-eyed Winkie, Daphne, Chloe, and Sootfoot. Sprite, the seventh, is actually one of the feral outside cats who slipped in one day and hides out in my office. We have  been unable to catch her and put her back outside. Outside it’s more complicated, with a loose affiliation of felines  we feed, though some of them wander up and down the creek bank, mooching off other families. This morning the count was 13.

6. I am an unapologetic atheist, but I have a spiritual nature. This is not as confusing as you might think. At one point in a piece I’ve been working on for more than a year, I remark that “God gave us minds so that we might figure out that he doesn’t exist.”  At the same time, I admire people who have strong faith, because I’ve seen people like that get through some terrible things without being broken. But I think that strength came from within them.

7. At the present, I am just six weeks from my 60th birthday. I am annoyed with myself that I’ve started referring to myself as a geezer. I have even started giving young people advice. Just shoot me. Please. Seriously, other than a few squeaky joints and stuff, I don’t FEEL old. Mostly.

8. While we’re on aging, I was a bookworm with arms like soda straws when I was in my teens, but a summer throwing beer kegs around at a beverage distributor turned that around. Most of the jobs I had until I became a journalist involved moving heavy things from point A to point B. The result of that was that I was in pretty good shape. The result of that, in addition to a couple of motorcycle accidents, falling off a moving train, and this or that, here and there, is my back in X-rays looks like a ruined amusement park. A quarter century sitting in front of computers has done nothing for my boyish figure. I work out at a gym twice a week, job permitting, but I still manage to look more like Junior Samples from the old TV show Hee-Haw than Brad Pitt. This impression is not lessened by the fact that my outfit of choice on weekends involves bib overalls, which I consider the most comfortable item of clothing ever invented.

9. I like to cook, but not if it involves reading a recipe or too many steps or pots. My favorite thing to prepare is a dish I made up years ago that involves chicken, lots of spices and veggies and pita bread or burrito shells. One pot, lots of flavor. I’m not terribly conservative in what I’ll eat, but if given my “druthers,” I’ll take a good hamburger every time. And forget sushi. Where I come from, it’s called “bait.”

10. Fortunately, Sue is an excellent cook and learned a lot of her culinary sorcery during seven years living in Paris. I never know what to expect for supper, and I say that with the most admiration possible.

11. Speaking of food, in 1995 we bought a garden with a house attached. I had never before owned a piece of real estate. I stood in the garden one day with a rock in my hand, realizing that the rock was something like 3 billion years old, give or take, but the law said I owned it. I still find the concept absurd, but it did mean that I could actually have a garden. Gardening is not as successful for me now as it was in the years when I worked out of my home office, before I had a two-hour daily commute. I confess to being a so-so gardener. I don’t deal with the heat as well as I once did. But the garden is a frequent source of columns and constant trigger for things to think about. That means, admittedly, that I spend a lot of my gardening time leaning on some implement and staring into space as the weeds grow merrily along. I try to convince my neighbor Dan that this really IS work for a writer. Dan has another word for it.

12. I grew up in the Deep South, but have no love for heat and humidity. Every year we travel to the coast of Maine for two weeks of reading and relaxing in a little wooden cottage not much bigger than our living room. We go in late September or early October. The local libraries and good restaurants are still open, and we can walk on the shore without stepping over greased tourists.

13. A friend who tagged me with her own “25 things about me” list wrote that she enjoys listening to music but is “often stumped as to who or what that was.” That confession fills me with relief. I’ve always been that way. I listen to a lot of classical music, especially on my iPod at work to drown out the hubbub of the newsroom. I think there are maybe two or three pieces I can recognize. But I’ve never thought of enjoying great music as a trivia game. It’s the music that’s important. If somebody asks me what’s playing, I’m likely to respond “Oh, that’s Dusseldorf’s Carbuncle in nothing flat.”

14. I also like many other kinds of music; though country and western is often funny when it’s not supposed to be, and rap I view as more of a symptom than an art form. And no, that’s not meant as a racist remark. Ugly is ugly. Heavy metal would be impressive if they never showed us photographs of the actual bands. Most of them seem to be skinny chinless white doofi with bad attitudes and worse skin. Drop a Southern boy raised on biscuits and fried chicken into the middle of the group and watch some ass-kicking.

15. For some reason, I can’t understand the words in a lot of music, especially rock n’ roll. Thank God for the Internet. If I want to know what the singers are saying, I can look up the lyrics. I usually avoid doing that because all too often I discover that the lyrics are totally inane or lacking sense. Sense is not always necessary (I mean, it’s rock n’ roll, after all,) but you have to draw the line somewhere.

16. On the other hand, I have a bunch of what they call “world music” on my iPod. None of the songs are in English. In fact, some of the languages I can’t name at all. You’d be surprised how very little it matters. One of the weirdest things I ever heard was somebody rapping in Italian.

17. I have a son. He doesn’t know I exist. The circumstances of his birth would have been scandalous in another time. Today nobody cares, but I’m not proud. The situation included too much rum and not enough judgment. He is 31 and lives in a nice house in a Southern state. As far as I know, he believes that the man who raised him is his father. I would love to know him, but I don’t believe I have the right to land in the middle of his life and tell him he is somebody else.

18. I have lived in a number of fairly exotic places, and all of them were east of the Mississippi. A place doesn’t have to be far away to be strange. I live now just outside of Gettysburg, a place I have often described as “Norman Rockwell on LSD.” I grew up in Athens, Ga., famous as both the home of the University of Georgia and for being to New Wave music what Detroit was to soul music. I worked blue collar jobs for the first 35 years of my life, so I knew Athens the way most of my University friends did not. I lived for a time in public housing, where it was not uncommon to be awakened in the middle of the night by gunfire. I stood at the door of my second-story apartment and watched two men slice one another up with knives.  I also lived in the Mississippi Delta, in the middle of Blues Country. I think of myself as a Southerner in many ways, and my accent comes back when I tell certain stories, when I’ve been drinking, or when I want somebody I’m interviewing to think I’m stupid. Yankees usually think Southerners are dimwits. It’s a mistake.

18. I met Sue on Memorial Day in 1985. I was covering a hot-air balloon race for The Gettysburg Times. From a balloon, no less. We landed in her back yard. We didn’t really get to know one another until years later, but that’s when we met. You can’t make this stuff up.

19. I couldn’t say which season is my favorite. It’s not summer, though there is a lot to like about summer. It’s the other three I can’t make up my mind about. The colors of winter are my favorites. Winter is really the most colorful season, though the colors are all muted and subtle. Maybe that’s what I like about them. Autumn foliage is gorgeous, of course, if bordering on cheesy, and breathtaking. But my favorite thing about autumn is that sense of the world rushing to get everything put away before winter strikes. Leaves off the trees: check. Acorns hidden by squirrels: check. Spring, is maybe the most magical, when everything comes back from the dead, and no matter how many springs I see, each one really is brand-new.

20. Almost every word I write nowadays is on a computer, either on the desktop at work or, more likely, on my own laptop. I have said many times that if reporters still had to use typewriters, I’d still be driving a truck. I make too many mistakes to be a great typist, though I can go pretty fast when inspired. Truth be told, I really like to write, by hand, in a journal. My preference for a writing instrument is a fountain or cartridge pen. I can’t say why, but my penmanship is better with that kind of pen, and for some odd reason, I feel smarter when I use one. Reading back over my journal entries, I can tell you that there is no empirical evidence to support that feeling. Oh, well.

21. I love where I live. We bought the cottage in ’95, when it was almost 75 years old. I don’t know exactly who built it, but the people who have worked on it assure me that the builder was no carpenter. The house sits along Marsh Creek above a dam, so the water is about 100 feet across at this point. The creek has carp the size of torpedoes, all sorts of waterfowl, including blue herons and night herons, the occasional osprey, and every so often, a bald eagle or two. There is also a snapping turtle the size of a TV tray. I think about it when I’m in the creek. Actually I try NOT to think about it when I’m in the creek.

22. We had the house remodeled five years ago. We went a little overboard, but this was The Dream House. Whole weekends can go by and we will scarcely leave the property. Some days it really is hard to peel myself away from here to go sit in a big gray box and write stories. Coming home feels like solid ground under my feet after a long swim.

23. I work for the third largest newspaper in Pennsylvania. Most days I love the job, which is about as good a thing you can say about any job. Some days I’m better at it than others. Some days, I think I should have stuck with driving trucks. Some days, I think my boss does, too.

24. This year I’m celebrating my birthday at the Greenmount Community Fire Co. No. 23. The fire hall is about a quarter mile from my house. No, the fire company is not throwing a party for me; they’re having one of their fund-raising feeds, featuring roast beef and stuff. The tickets are 20 bucks and along with the meal you get a chance to win a gun. I think it’s a high-powered rifle. I was touched to discover that 20 of my friends have asked me to reserve tickets for them. I prefer to think it’s not because they hope to win the gun.

25. I had a pep talk with one of my young colleagues the other day. She’s one of those more recent hires, all of whom are younger than some of my ties. I told her I wished I was 30 again, and not just for the obvious “wait! I was having a good time” reasons. Newspapers are going through a lot of crap lately, and none of them is going to come out of this uproar unscathed. The next five years are going to be ugly. On the upside, I believe that there will always be a need for people who do what we do. All this talk about relying on “citizen journalists” is fine, but the bottom line is that reporters, most of us, anyway, really do have a code of ethics and rules for how we do things, and nobody is harder on us when we slip up than we are ourselves. Once everything settles down and news-reporting catches up to news-gathering, things are going to be interesting and exciting and we can all stop eating so many antidepressants. I really believe that.
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© 2009 Marsh Creek Media, Gettysburg, Pa.
“Burger to Go” is a product of me and my company, Marsh Creek Media and, as such, I am solely responsible for its content.
Check out the two “Burger to Go” blogsites:
https://burger2go.wordpress.com/
http://burger2goclassics.wordpress.com/