Me and Pooch and Daniel Boone

November 21, 2016

From “Never Met a Stranger,” due out soon-ish

 

Me and Pooch and Daniel Boone

Everybody has a secret soup bone.

Murphy had his Laws, Dr. Peter had his Peter Principle, and Pooch had The Great Soup bone.

Allow me to explain.

Years ago, I had this great dog named Pooch. I have not always been clever in the naming of my animal companions. In my own defense, I can tell you that he already had the name when I got him from a couple who couldn’t keep him anymore.

Pooch was friendly, happy without any good reason, and generally useless in a cheerful sort of way. He was a lot like most of my friends back in the day.

He was about one-third German Shepherd, one-third Weimaraner, and one-third marshmallow.

Like any other dog, Pooch’s ancestry went all the way back to the wolf. I think that’s pretty cool. I haven’t looked too far back on my own family tree for fear of what sort of termites and miscreants I might find.

Down inside, you see, Pooch saw himself as a Fearless Beast, a veritable Call-of-The-Wild wolf creature with fangs that would freeze the blood of a grizzly and a howl that would make a saint sweat.

Never mind that Pooch was a neurotic wreck. Never mind that he could let loose a marrow-curdling roar, but only if he knew the person at whom he was roaring.

I started thinking about Pooch today while talking with a friend about hunters. We were laughing about the not-really-very-funny fact that most of the deer hunters who die pursuing their sport do so from falling out of trees or from heart attacks.

Obviously, a person who spends 362 days of the year watching television or flying a desk is going have problems the other three days of the year when he tries to transform himself into Daniel Boone and go ridge-running after The Big One.

A friend and I were wondering why they do it, and I thought about Pooch.

I used to stop off on my way home from work and pick up a soup bone from a butcher I had befriended. Pooch loved to gnaw on the things and growl, and the cats looked at him with respect.

I guess I forgot to mention the cats. My wife and I had sixteen of them. We could not bear to give the kittens away and the females couldn’t bear to say “no,” and we had no money to have them spayed, so we had a lot. By the time the number got up to 24, I had left, but that’s another story, and it had nothing to do with the cats.

Anyway, Pooch would curl up in front of the fireplace and immediately six or eight kittens would curl up all over him. He would look at me as if to say “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be, is it?”

One day, my butcher friend gave me a real treat; most of a cow’s backbone, with one rack of ribs still attached. The doggone thing was about four feet long.

Pooch was cross-eyed with delight.

He carried the gory thing around with him, neck muscles bulging, eyes popping with the effort, now and then uttering fierce little growls. I think he was trying to convince the cats and maybe himself that he’d killed this monstrous, ferocious beast.

The fantasy was pretty easy to put up with for the first few days. But after a while the hapless backbone began to take on a nasty greenish look, and the smell was astounding.

Still, Pooch would pick it up four or five times a day and strut past us, reeking to high heaven, bragging to us in dog-talk about what a fight this thing had put up.

Finally, one day when he was off scaring the wits out of a chipmunk, I took the backbone, which now resembled a prop out of the movie Night of The Living Dead, and dumped it in the Oconee River, which flowed by my back yard.

Pooch searched the woods for that disgusting thing for days. I think he suspected me. He probably thought I was jealous of his hunting prowess.

So, I sit around and shoot the breeze and tell hunting stories, though I can’t even remember the last time I shot a gun. I still like to walk in the woods, but I confess that the hills are steeper than they used to be, and the wind colder.

But sometimes, when the air turns crisp, I find myself staring wistfully at the gun racks in the sporting goods stores, and fight down a desire to go slogging through some of the world’s untamed places. But then I remember Pooch, who carried his fantasy around until it stank, and became a pain in the neck.

Still, I wonder if I could find a coonskin cap in my size.

 

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.

 

==================================

 

I knew right away I was going to like Nate Nicholls when I saw his yard.

I was sightseeing in 2005 on some of the back roads in the area of Maine where I like to vacation, and there it was, inhabited by guys leaning on shovels, giant chickadees, giraffes, assorted frogs, cactus, oversized flowers, and the odd dragon or two.

Everything was made out of junk, scrap metal, propane tanks, rakes, shovels, railroad spikes, nuts, bolts, lengths of rebar, this and that.

I whipped the car onto the shoulder and walked around some, taking photos, hoping the owner would show, but he wasn’t home.

But there was a big, hand-lettered sign. The sign said that the township is telling him that no business in the township can have items for sale unless they are screened from view. So, his sign says, nothing you can see there is for sale. Unless, that is, you look at it through a screen. He provides the screen, of course, a square of framed wire mesh that he made himself.

“Ok,” I said to myself. “I GOTTA meet this guy.”

The next day, I did.

Nate Nicholls was no trained artist. He was a high school dropout, then 43, who eked out a living harvesting and processing wild Maine blueberries, doing odd jobs, and from the occasional sale of a piece of his art.

Turns out, he was born only about 50 miles from where I live, in Lancaster, Pa. He was married and lived with his family in a white wood frame house adjacent to his workshop and his, well, it’s hard to say what it is. Display area, museum, and storage lot. Prop lot for some very strange stage production. Something like that.

Nate, who had collected mostly metal junk for his hobby for years, got serious about welding and bolting odds and ends of stuff together after his mother died about three years before I met him.

“She was artistic. After she passed, I just felt like I had to do something, and this is where it went,” he said.

He also said he got a little ticked off with the local government because they told him he couldn’t keep all that junk in his yard.

“So, I started welding stuff together, and called it art. I said, ‘now it’s art, what are you going to do now?’ “

He said the township didn’t like him very much.

Nate’s prices were arbitrary. He had a steel sheep he made and set the price at $6,000, because he’d seen one made by a famous sculptor priced at that figure.

“And my sheep looks more realistic,” he said with obvious pride.

The sheep, I had to admit, looked pretty darned real. OK, it looked like a sheep in chain mail, but this is art, right? The convention/menagerie in Nicholl’s yard includes people of all shapes and sizes, an elephant, giraffe, one whole red and orange dragon perhaps 10 feet tall hatching babies out of propane tank ‘eggs,’ parts of several other dragons, a self-portrait of the artist, one squid, one octopus, a pair of tiny dogs made from car springs that I would swear were modeled after a pair of miniature poodles I know, any number of birds, lizards…all made from old gears, snowmobile mufflers (great for peacocks and pelican bodies, as it happens,) nuts, bolts, pitchforks, shovels, picks, shears, screwdrivers and chain-link fence.

Nate said he spent a lot of time in scrap yards, and sometimes people just bring stuff for him. One fellow, I believe, provided a couple of tons of railroad spikes, which have evolved into hundreds of tiny figures romping, dancing and marching around Nate’s five-acre property.

Sadly, Nate is not making any more fanciful creatures.

One July day he was welding a small metal frog when his heart failed. He was rushed to the hospital in Damariscotta, but nothing could be done to bring him back. His kids had him cremated and buried his cremains in his sculpture garden, and covered his grave with bouquets of flowers made from gaily-painted flowers fashioned from outdoor spigot handles.

I make a point to stop at Nate’s on every visit to Maine. Sometimes I chat with his son Josh, who lives in the big old house, and sometimes chat with his daughter, Alissa, on Facebook.

Like many artist’s Nate’s life stared back at us from his work. He once had a run-in with the state highway department. They said his stuff was too close to the road. He countered by listing a number of more usual businesses on the same highway who keep their products as close or closer. In honor of the dispute, Nate built a highway department guy leaning on his shovel, a stumpy cigar stuck between his teeth and a woman giving him hell about something.

To celebrate his warm relationship with his township, Nate has a figure carrying a skull around on a platter. He said the head represents a figure from the local government who is sometimes a pain in the butt.

The biggest problem Nate had, aside from his hassles with the local and state government, is that he gets attached to each piece, knows the story behind every part of it, who brought him this spring, that doohickie, and what inspired him to make it. It’s sweet, but it doesn’t help his cash flow.

“I can’t mass produce these things, but if I have only one of a piece, I can’t sell it. And of my very favorite pieces, I can hardly bring myself to sell them at all,” he said.

He did sell stuff, though. He picked up a turtle made of railroad spikes, its shell made from old steel nuts welded together. It was about eight inches across. He said he makes them pretty often, because people walk onto his property and offer him a hundred bucks for one.

He said he figures he could get $10,000 for the 10-foot-tall red-and-orange dragon, babies and eggs included.

At his memorial service Alissa read from a poem Nate left behind:

There really isn’t much difference
between this old man
and a chunk of rusty mooring chain.
I grow weak
from both the weathering of time
and the brine of existence.

Since Nate’s death, his kids have moved some of the sculptures around. Some of the pieces have been stolen, but they are doing the best they can on a limited budget. They want to maintain Nate’s Recycleart Garden Gallery and the garden for as long as they can. The garden is free and open to the public, and they want to keep it that way.
Recycleart sculpture garden and studio
https://www.facebook.com/recyclesculptor

http://recyclesculptor.com/

 May, 1999

I know that when somebody is in a position of power, other folks are always trying to pull them off to the side to give them advice. I do not normally do this, myself, but the more I watch this mess in Kosovo, I want to pull Bill Clinton over and tell him about my old tomcat.

 

Tom could have been the poster-child for stray cats, which is what he was when he found himself adopted into my little family back in Mississippi.

 

After he settled in, he cleaned himself up pretty well, working at his armor-plating of mats until his long fur looked fairly presentable. He was chunky, and looked a little like a mohair cork.

 

Tom was a lot to contend with, about 20 pounds of bad attitude with claws. He as a warlike old cuss who would actually take off across the yard toward any dog he saw coming into his territory.

 

As far as I know, the only thing on this earth he was afraid of was Minsky.

 

Minsky was our little female cat. She was tiny, about half Tom’s size, and excessively cute, with long brindled black and orange fur, and a little three-inch stub of a tail, the result of a close call with a large neighborhood dog.

 

That stub is an important player in our story. It was sharp, and Minsky was in the habit of holding it straight up in the air when she was happy or in heat, which for Minsky usually meant one and the same thing.

 

In an effort to be delicate, let me just say that Minsky suffered from an excess of, er, romance when it came to cats of the opposite sex. In fact, when she went into heat, which seemed to happen every 20 minutes, she became so flirtatious she even embarrassed me.

 

In fact, it was Minsky’s affectionate nature that was Tom’s downfall.

 

One rainy winter night, my wife and I sat reading in bed, enjoying the heat and glow of the industrial-sized open gas heater, which stood against the wall opposite the foot of our brass bed. Minsky, the hussy, was lolling around all over the floor, making odd little cooing noises, and casting steamy glances across the room at Tom.

 

Tom, poor boy, was totally smitten. A passionate creature by nature, he approached matters of the heart with the same verve he used in attacking dogs and small children. Used much of the same technique, too, as I recall.

 

Tensely, he watched Minsky from where he curled on the new bedspread. I watched them both. Minsky was giving an Oscar-grade performance. She lolled. She mewed. She made suggestive remarks.

 

Tom grew more and more…interested.

 

Finally, he dropped to the floor, and crouched into a coiled stance, like a coiled spring ready to let go.

 

A few seconds later, after Minsky uttered one more invitation, that spring exploded into life. Tom launched himself across the little room, to land with all his weight and speed right on top of…that cruel, sharp, rigid little spike of a tail.

 

It was not the sensation he had been expecting.

 

Giving something between a grunt and a yowl, he catapulted himself backwards through the air, performing a lovely parabola from point A, (that would be Minsky,) to point B, (which would be the big gas heater,) which promptly set him on fire.

 

Now a ball of flaming fur, Tom launched himself in the other direction, landing on top of the bed, burning merrily.

 

My wife screamed. I screamed. None of us screamed as much as Tom.

 

Thinking I ought to do something immediately, even if it was wrong, I threw the new bedspread over Tom and wrapped him tight, extinguishing the flames. Tom, not happy with being smothered, proceeded to yowl and shred his way out of the bedspread.

 

My wife, not happy with what was happening to her new bedspread, started to yowl and beat on me with her Bible. Yowling a little myself, I took the whole sorry bundle out the back door and dumped Tom on the ground. He took off, still smoking, into the garden.

 

Minsky, meanwhile, was still looking for companionship. I picked her up and, resisting the urge to drop-kick her, set her down on the ground. She took off after Tom, whose smoke trail was easy to follow, even in the rain.

 

After a few days, things were back to what passed for normal in our household. There was yet another new bedspread on the brass bed. Minsky was calm and, we learned later, pregnant, papa unknown. Tom, however, was a changed cat.

 

Even after his fur grew back out, his lion-like bearing fell away whenever he came into the house. If Minsky came anywhere near him, he slinked around the edges of the room and went to go hide under the couch.

 

This is the cautionary tale I would tell Bill Clinton if I were to advise him about the situation in Kosovo No matter how small and tempting your target, remember there may be sharp and unpleasant surprises lurking in what looked like an easy victory.

 

Now, if he wanted to apply that advice to any other aspect of his life, that is his business.

Jesus

November 8, 2015

It had been an unusually bitter argument.

 

I don’t remember the topic, it was so long ago. We had been drifting apart for years, and we were almost to the end of that process.

 

We were polar opposites, and not in the way that made us more interesting to one another. I was a blue-collar hippy, she was a military officer’s kid. I took any kind of job I could get, she always managed to avoid working anywhere. She had become deeply religious suspiciously quickly after we got together, I wavered between the occult, agnosticism, and downright atheism. She wanted kids. I did not.

 

Post argument, I was lying on my belly on the brass double bed, fuming and staring at the chipped plaster wall.

 

She sat upright, pillows piled behind her, reading her Bible.

 

As I lay there mired in that acidic anger, she suddenly gasped out loud.

 

I switched immediately to protective mode. It just works that way.

 

“What is it, what’s wrong?” I asked.

 

It’s him, she said.

 

“Him who?” I asked, honestly puzzled.

 

“Jesus,” she said, in an ecstatic voice.

 

I lay silent for a while. Then:

 

“Where?”

 

He is standing at the foot of the bed, she explained.

 

By now, I am studying the pale blue walls with great attention. As I saw it, there were only two possible options.

 

One: There was nothing at the foot of the bed but air, and my significant other was nuts.

 

Two: Jesus was standing at the foot of my brass bed and I was in deep doo-doo.

 

It was quite the quandary.

 

I didn’t want to know the answer, to be honest.

 

Understand, that when I am nervous I have a tendency to say the first wisecrack that comes to mind. My knee-jerk reaction is to defuse the situation and get everybody to relax.

 

It really never works, but I do it anyway.

 

Being an atheist who has just been told that the Son of God is standing at the foot of the bed is probably the very definition of a nervous situation.

 

So, I said what could have been the worst possible thing ever.

 

DO YOU TWO WANT TO BE ALONE?

 

I have to remark that her command of the saltier parts of the English vocabulary was stellar for a churchy girl.

 

She excoriated me with little grace but a whole lot of enthusiasm. I mean back seven generations and all the way out to my 3rd cousins, whoever they are.

 

And, for the record, Jesus was not standing at the foot of the bed. But I slept on the couch that night anyway.

By T. W. Burger

There he was, throwing everything out of whack.

He roamed from room to room, weaving erratically, and chaos followed him. Desks sat empty, pens and pencils lay willy-nilly where they had been dropped. Computers hummed vacantly to themselves. Electric typewriters buzzed, abandoned.

There was a kid in the courthouse.

I do not mean the slack-jawed nitwits with their hats on backwards, the ones I usually see up before one of the county’s judges. I mean a rug-rat, a cookie-cruncher, a toddler.

Cute as a bug’s ear, too.

Not that I’m an expert. I have always shied away from having kids. Too selfish, I suppose. Now and then, like when I saw this little guy bonking around inside a couple of courthouse row offices, I get this wistful feeling that, gee, wouldn’t it be nice…..

When that happens, I go visit someone who has teenagers and it goes away.

But there is a thing that happens whenever anybody brings a little one into the courthouse. I call it PMS, or Persistent Mommy Syndrome. (Boy, will I catch hell for this.) Most of the employees in the row offices are women. Anybody brings a tyke there had better be good at sharing.

Everything stops.

Everybody comes over and pokes and coos. The reactions from the kids vary, but I think most of them respond like this one did: Bafflement followed by “died and gone to heaven.”

I watched, frankly, with something approaching envy. Virtually every woman in the place had to take her turn holding the little guy, bouncing him up and down and generally marveling at him.

The kid, of course, was just eating this up.

I made some wisecrack. One of the women suggested I was jealous.

“Somebody did the same thing to you when you were this little and cute,” she said.

Yeah. So how come it doesn’t happen now that I can appreciate it more?

Do not answer that question.

Years from now, as a grown man, this guy will wonder why it is that every time he walks past a courthouse he gets a big smile on his face.

If I were another kind of writer, now would be the time where this column would dutifully grouse and grumble about all those “man-hours” (an interesting term, all things considered) “wasted” fussing over some kid while the paperwork languished, boxes unchecked, corners unstapled, triplicate copies unfiled.

Sorry. You have the wrong guy. The paperwork can wait. Personally, I think the world could use more people with PMS. Maybe if more kids got that kind of attention, I wouldn’t be seeing so many of them standing before the fierce gaze of a judge.

 

© 2014 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/

http://rockthecapital.com

 

Twist and Creak

August 27, 2012

We shuffled and limped into the theater in downtown Gettysburg, men and women of a certain age. Some waggishly wore hippy gear; head-bands, tie-dyed shirts and skirts, and so on. Frankly, the gear looked better on us all a few decades back, but we knew that. Everybody looked excited and eager.

Inside the theater our youth was waiting.

Well, as much of it as remains to us. A Beatles tribute band, “1964-The Tribute,” played at the Majestic, and I thought it would be a lark. It was much more.

When I was a kid, my dad would walk through the house at night, humming old Glenn Miller pieces, sometimes cupping his hands over his mouth and mimicking a trombone solo.

Inevitably, I would roll my eyes, embarrassed, and irritated, somehow. It was music from the distant past, ancient, meaning more than 20 years old. I actually liked Glenn Miller music, but I wasn’t about to admit it. It was of my parents’ world, and therefore not to be trusted.

The theater was packed. There may have been a couple of empty seats, but I couldn’t see them. Even the balcony was full. A sea of geezers, me included, all chatting excitedly. It was an Event.

I had never heard a tribute band before; there are plenty of them, for all sorts of defunct artists, from Mozart to, someday, I suppose, Justin Bieber, if they can find a 12-year-old who can sing. I was not prepared to be impressed.

After all, we live in an age when there is no “Yesterday,” (sorry, Paul). Not in the sense of media, anyway. Time, I thought, was safely tucked away in millions of little electronic pockets, in iPhones, computers, and compact discs, everywhere. Heck, I still have all my original Beatles LPs.

I got my first album from the lads from Liverpool when I was 14 and visiting relatives in western Pennsylvania. It was “With the Beatles.”

There was a record player in my aunt’s basement, and I spent a big chunk of the Christmas visit sitting in that dark space listening to that one album, over and over.

It must have driven the adults mad. But they let me have that.

I am no musicologist, but I have read critiques of the music, especially the tunes penned by Lennon and McCartney, extolling their talent and the impact their work had on music of many varieties from that moment on. If you weren’t around, I can tell you that American pop music just before the so-called “British Invasion” was nothing if not blah.

Though there have been a number of albums, many of them were mere mashups of previous work. According to at least one source, all of the massive effect the Beatles had arose from the core Beatles discography recorded during the 1960s roughly 10 hours of original music. Just 10 hours, a little more than an average American work-day. And only one of the group, George Harrison, could even read music.

Back at the Majestic, theater director Jeffrey W. Gabel came out and did the usual rah-rah stuff about the theater and its funding needs.

And then he introduced the band.

With the wigs and the suits they could pass, sort of, for the original Fab Four. They have been touring for 28 years, but they managed to look a lot younger than they probably felt at the end of the two-hour show.

But. Oh. My. God. The music.

Not exact, mind you. The playing was close enough, but the voices, naturally, not quite the same. Lots of Beatle-y banter in what may actually be a Liverpudlian accent, though the band members actually hail from places like Indiana and Ohio, for god’s sake.

But the difference between the pretenders and the real thing blurred by nostalgia and aging eyesight.

It worked. They started playing and time fell away, except for the creak in my knees when I stood to cheer, clap, and sing.

I surprised myself by knowing almost all the lyrics. I could tell because I was singing them along with everybody else I could see. The cheering at the end of most songs shook the rafters, or whatever is holding the Majestic up other than wealthy donors. “Twist and Shout” nearly resulted in a riot and, I suspect, a couple of coronaries.

Now and then I remembered that I am by profession and inclination an observer, and took time to look around: Row after row of friends, neighbors, people I flat don’t like, and people I just know by sight, all of us in various stages of decrepitude, all of us dancing and creaking in place, transported by a common joy, old faces lit by memory.

Suddenly, I was laughing and singing along, yelling at the top of my lungs, joyful. I didn’t even do that when I was a kid. It’s just that I had this happy energy in me, and there was nothing else to do with it but hurl it out into space, in joy and against time and all that dies.

I have come back to Earth, now. But changed, somehow. Not sure how to describe it. Cleaner, I guess, or at least buffed and waxed and shinier than I was. It’s a good feeling.

I’ve been walking through the house, humming Beatles songs for the past several days, now and then throwing in a Glenn Miller tune. Here’s to you Dad. I get it now.

 

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.

It’s always SOMETHING

November 5, 2011

Some days, I wonder why any of us bother to get up in the morning.

It’s not as though we don’t have enough to worry about, what with the economy in a shambles in just about every place that has an economy. And of course there’s politics, speaking of shambles, with a president on one side whose opinion polls put him somewhere in the neighborhood of a fart in church, and the opposition party offering up a field of candidates who come off as a bad hybrid of Keystone Cops and extras from Night of the Living Dead.

With all this in the air, I go online to read some nature news, thinking that will get me out of the mind-set that the world as we know it is coming to an end.

Big Mistake.

On one website, I learn that a piece of ice twice the size of Philadelphia is cracking off from the Antarctic ice shelf. The crack so far is about 20 miles long and up to 200 feet deep, and growing at a rate of nearly seven feet per day.

And it’s not even caused by “global warming.” I forget just now what the scientific term for the effect is, but it basically means “s**t happens.”

The whole thing is supposed to break off and start drifting around in the open sea later this year or early next year. Earth on the rocks, shaken, not stirred.

Nobody seems all that concerned. Maybe I shouldn’t be either. On the other hand, having a chunk of ice the size of a small South American nation bobbing around in the ocean just doesn’t sound like good news. Twice the size of Philly? At least it will be cleaner.

And then there’s the asteroid.

The news outlets describe it as an “aircraft carrier-sized asteroid, a little over four football fields in diameter.” It will pass by our little old home planet, closer to us than the moon.

And the moon is only about 250,000 miles away.

That sounds like a far piece, but in astronomic terms, that’s like having a bullet pass by your head close enough that you can hear it buzz.

It’s supposed to pass us by this coming Tuesday. Just so you know.

NASA, known for calling the catastrophic explosion of a Delta 2 rocket as “an anomaly,” has classified the asteroid as a “potentially hazardous object.”

There was a time when if NASA said it would be a near miss, I’d relax. But not too long ago, the space agency aimed a satellite at Mars and missed the whole freaking planet, so, yeah, I’m gonna chew my nails just a little bit.

If this asteroid hits, it won’t be the end of the world, but it will bust things up pretty well. It would make a 4,000 megaton blast, (nearly 20,000 times the force of the bomb that fried Nagasaki), a magnitude 7.0 earthquake. If it hits the ocean, it could cause a tsunami 70 feet high. The tsunamis that hit Japan earlier this year were no more than a third that high.

One of the wire service stories said “Encounters of objects this large this close to our planet won’t happen again until the year 2028…” That one will be a wee bit closer than this one. Wonderful.

I closed the laptop and turned on CNN, only to see some goon in a suit dodging questions on his candidacy. I flipped over to the USA Network to an NCIS re-run. Give me over-the-top violence and improbable stunts any day. It beats watching a planet on the rocks and under fire, and anyway, I’d rather see the bad guys get blown away than elected.

Kicking Back

October 5, 2010

A new fire crackles in the Franklin stove, armor against the growing chill.

The writing-for-money stuff has been put away for the day. Time to relax.

This little working harbor with its tiny fleet of lobster boats and a few pleasure craft lie quiet under an overcast sky. The bell buoy at the harbor mouth tolls over and over, promising an unquiet night for those on the open water.

Out in the Gulf of Maine the sea tosses, never easy, and waves smash on the boney coast.

From here, it sounds like breathing.

It has been a vacation of small adventures. Nothing hair-raising. Nothing that would make the papers. Saturday night our friend and neighbor Bob brought over a blueberry pie he had made that afternoon. We dug out the vanilla ice-cream, and an evening of dietary mayhem and great conversation ensued.

Yesterday, we spent an hour or so up in Waldoboro with Nate Nickoll, an artist of endless imagination who has populated his property with dancing figures, dragons, giant ants and frogs and mermaids, even a yellow submarine, all made from scrap metal. Sometimes he sells his creations, if he can bear to part with them.

This morning, I created my first breakfast involving scallops. It was a big hit. There’s no telling what might happen next.

And, no, this column doesn’t have a point, not as it would if I was tackling economics, or man’s inhumanity to man, or my personal glee at the demise of the Hummer. It’s just me taking time to disengage, knock it into neutral, and just be.

You should try it.

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