Labor Pains

Work is sort of settling into a rhythm. I am not entirely sure itʼs a rhythm I am going to enjoy. But my partner and I are making considerable progress, averaging more than twenty traps a day (including two-mile by two-mile squares where we couldnʼt locate a usable ash tree), which she seems to believe is very fine work. On the other hand, the work has me feeling not so fine, physically and intellectually (inflicting some pain and some stress).

All work is stressful. When folks have asked me about retirement, I have almost invariably responded, “Any day spent not working beats every day of work.” And itʼs true. Just knowing I have to get up and get going to the job induces a mental burden that we all accept for granted while working. My retirement interruptus has just made me aware of blissful life without that psychological pressure. Furthermore, the job is just lots of effort. And time.

I had, in anticipation, after my interview back in late February, thought that the (federal-budget-induced) ten-hour days, providing a whole Friday each week just for me and not for work, would be a good thing. I hadnʼt beforehand, however, thought about how physically demanding (at least on an old guy) ten hours in the field would be. (However, currently I would be happy if each day were only ten hours long. So far that hasnʼt yet happened. And the work is wearing me out.)

On Tuesday, I got in my whole ten hours and nearly two more and then did the little daily chores around the house — fixing breakfast (cutting up a grapefruit, not so hard) and making lunch (a couple of salads — most of the work is ripping up lettuce leaves and remembering The Lovely One likes hers with, in order, nuts, berries cheese and then chicken). Finishing, I felt like maybe I too would relax now and watch the final few minutes of the ninety-minute, Gaga-esque episode of Glee that Janet was enjoying (her job has made her endure even more — and progressive — stress than I have been discovering), when I remembered, after an ungentle nudge from my beloved (I told you she was feeling some stress lately) that I had promised to buy necessary groceries after work on Monday, which hadnʼt happened when my ten hours extended toward twelve that evening also. So I wearily redressed in out-of-house attire and headed away to Fareway. (I did feel good to accomplish the promised task.)

Worse, the physical effort is telling on my antique physique (such as it is). My elbows and knuckles have constant hurts (the elbows escalating at times and in certain positions to actual pain, the hands and digits acting up so my typing, as right now, is fifty percent more inaccurate than usual) that keep me from dropping off to sleep and have increased my aspirin/ibuprofen intake (particularly for bedtime). I am, after all, a physical worker in this job, as I was only periodically and briefly as a teacher. (Bah. I just misspelled more than half the words in the previous sentence, including the word “sentence, ” twice, in this parenthetical remark. Symptomatic.)

So I hurt and I feel the stress of having to go to work. Poor, poor pitiful me (or some semblance of those letters nearly randomly scattered or missed — thanks for spell-checking, small miracle these days). I donʼt mean to whine, but itʼs all true, too.

I am weeks/months (meaning issues and issues) behind on my magazine-reading. The stack by my favorite chair in the living room is disgusting (and wonʼt get reduced this weekend). And it keeps growing every time I fetch in the mail. Sigh. I try to read something for pleasure every evening, just as I did in teaching days — my only and minor escape. Again.

And worst of all, my partner likes AM talk radio. I have had to endure the venal and false Tush Rimblow (decipher that one, if necessary) daily. For two solid, self-serving, rant-filled, deceptive and distorted whining, braying hours each afternoon. That mental and spiritual torture may be the heaviest straw of all.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ending It All

Tonight is a landmark for me and for my old (teaching) school. Itʼs the final Andrew High School play. Sad. True.

Iʼll go, of course. After all, I did thirty-two years of Andrew plays. And I had a hand for a little while in helping this one progress. A week ago, I was once again (and, letʼs hope, for the last time) up a ladder setting lights against the ceiling of the school gym (with my blocking using the very edge of the stage and even the nonexistant “pit” in front of the stage, the kids needed to have the ellipsoidals in place once more; plus, now, theyʼll be available to illuminate graduation ceremonies, also the last). For the month of March I was the substitute director. How could I not be there? (Even though The Lovely One has been suffering such unbearable stress in preparation for a bossʼs party that I really should be home to hold her hand tonight. Oh well. Or, perhaps, “Oh, hell.”)

Itʼs the final play because the high school is closing. Population-decrease pressures have brought the hundred-plus year-old school to an end. When one only has eighteen in a class, or fewer (certainly not “less,” of course), such a finality is definitely in sight. And now it has come.

Ironically, it will be a spring play on which the drama program departs. I added the spring plays in my early years at the school, partly from guilt at ceasing to compete in one-act play for IHSSA Large Group (at which we only rarely did very well at state, having vastly less funding than the successful one-act schools and also lacking sufficient rehearsal time during the overloaded schedule of basketball season), partly to permit a freewheeling and outrageous (we hoped) dionysiac performance opportunity (and a venue for my own twisted fairy tales, natch). This show will combine the full-length of the fall productions (none this school year) with the fairy-tale and fracturing frivolity of the (temporarily*) traditional spring shows.

I am looking forward to the experience.

The kids showed immense promise a month ago. I hope they fulfill it tonight, if only for my own sake as a member of the audience. But mostly for their own sakes, as the ultimate performers in the last play in the schoolʼs soon-to-cease history.

As ever and finally, “Break a leg!”

* Only three decades.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

What It Is That I Do

“And just what is it that you do?” some may ask after my stretch of recent posts on the ”new job.”

Good question. One which The Lovely One asked outright on Friday evening, as she sipped a glass of wine and sought to unwind and escape from the complicated toils of work. (The tale of her job lately would provide much more amusement and amazement than my own automotive scampers around the eastern nose of Iowa. But I hesitate to expose her work life here in this presumably public forum. Letʼs just say that sheʼs been excessively busy… and once her boss celebrates his — and his wifeʼs — big joint birthday party, complete with celebrity vocalist, soon, and then heads off for Wilbur Smith county a little later, her rationality may improve.) And itʼs a question I intend to answer for today.

Not me but a more professional trapper placing the trap aloft in an ash*

What I do is to create and place purple cardboard traps to ensnare (hopefully not) emerald ash borers. The bug in question is an Asian invader for which North America offers no native predatory controls. Thus the little metallic green (and metallic maroon) pest has chewed its larval way through the ash groves of western New York and Pennsylvania, all of Ohio and Michigan, eastern Wisconsin and northeastern Illinois and Indiana. A northern piece of Kentucky, abutting Ohio and Indiana is also infested. These states (or the appropriate portions thereof) are on the national Emerald Ash Borer Quarantine, along with West Virginia and the southwesterly portion of Maryland. 

Supposedly the bug entered from Ontario into Michigan and thence to Ohio and through transport of firewood (ash wood containing the eggs or larvae of the pest) and other vectors into the other affected states. Iowa has evidence of the critter in one county (unfortunately, I must say, “so far”), Allamakee. Missouri also has one quarantined county. All the counties in all the states touching the actual boundary of the quarantine (from which no firewood is to be transported, thus the rallying cry of “Burn it where you buy it”) are part of the study in which I am working — to adjudge if the EAB has spread beyond the current quarantine limits.

So what I do is to trap for bugs, seeking to see if I find any emerald ash borers. And hoping, in truth, that I donʼt.

Using a gridded map, dividing our counties into two-mile by two-mile sections, my partner and I seek out ash trees, one per grid, in which to place our traps. Most days, she drives, while I peruse the map and navigate. At a trapping site, she completes the paperwork and computer files about each trap, while I construct the trap and, using my extendable aluminum pole, place the trap aloft in the selected tree. Then we drive on to the next site.

To assemble a trap, we have large (four-foot long by nearly a yard tall) boxes containing flat traps in pairs, each box holding twenty purple waxed cardboard traps. We also have sealed bags of lure (actually at present three kinds of lure), the scent of which will attract bugs, particularly the EAB; metal “spreaders” designed to hold the trap in shape and from which the lure will dangle; metal “hangers” that fit over tree limbs to hold the assembled trap aloft; and bags of plastic zip ties which are also used to keep the trap in its final triangular shape.

At a stop, generally along a roadside, I hop out and go to the back of the GOV to pull out a pair of traps, glued to each other (the exterior of the final trap is very, very sticky — the better with which to hold the bugs that are allured). I separate the two traps, replacing one, gluey side upwards, on the stack of trap boxes remaining, while I fold the other (cleverly avoiding even the slightest touch of the supersticky glue on the outside surfaces) into its tubular/triangular shape, forcing two tabs on one edge into two slots on the opposite side. With an awl, I drill a hole in each folded tab and the backing cardboard and force a plastic zip tie through to hold the contraption together (two holes, one per tab, each filled with a zip tie). Then I fit the spreader into holes in the top of the trap (the prongs on the wire device fit into the middle of each face of the trap. The spreader also has two loops, one turned upward from the trap, the other downward into the trap. I hang a bag of lure (currently three bags, as we have two kinds of lure this year and are also using up old lure from 2010) from the lower loop and then attach the hanger through the upward loop in the spreader. The hanger has a loop atop it, through which I put the hook on my pole and then raise the trap as high as possible and worthwhile (hopefully about two-third the way up the tree) to hook over a mostly horizontal limb.

Meanwhile my partner has completed two documents, one on paper, one digital, to record all the necessary specifics about the location. And then we drive on. Pretty much, I, the “aid” and trainee, am the muscle to her brains.

* You can see: the pole, extended somewhat, the purple trap, assembled, revealing the tabs pierced by zip ties. The hanger is invisibly dangling the trap from the hook at the top of the pole, and the lure is secreted within the hollow (toward the top) of the trap.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


I have had this sort-of-a-poem on ice (meaning a “Draft” here in WordPress world) for at least a year now. With nothing better to post for today, letʼs drag it from its frozen waiting room into the light of digital day. Thirty-six years on.

Weʼre in the hangover period after the Bardʼs Birthday (yesterday), so a bit of verse, however inept and/or bad, seems vaguely in order. The Lovely One and I are celebrating her parentsʼ anniversary (also yesterday) with them today, so maybe a touch of romance is in order as well.

Besides, itʼs been a very long time since I posted a poem.


What subtle secret magic have you worked on me,

dark like dementia, as savage as dreams,
to take all my wonder from being alone and free?

You’ve possessed my heart. I’m void except for screams
of loneliness that shred the armor of life’s routine:
hopes rust, scales that philosophy will never clean
from the baffles of my imprisoned spirit’s schemes.
You have worked the witchcraft which makes you me.

I have no complex incantation which will wean
me, anguished, from your tenderhooks to liberty.
Your spells are potent: you mystically demean
my solitude with this amoral sweet wizardry.

What mephistopholean magic have you worked on me,
now that you are free and I am we?

obviously an aftermath of “Busy Music”

23 September 1975

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Natureʼs Novice Witness

I may just be sick of wildlife by the time this new job wraps early in September. I hope not, although I have the potentially negative opportunity this summer to become overexposed, jaded, to the plant and animal vivacity of eastern Iowa. Or I could take my partnerʼs route…

We havenʼt placed one of our own in a graveyard yet, but weʼve noticed the ashes there…

On Thursday, heading back into the depths of Clinton County on my own to conclude the dayʼs work (a solo effort that accomplished so little I think I may regret having made the effort), I watched a wild turkey cross my path (successfully). And that was on an asphalt road, not the innumerable twists of county gravel and Level B that had been our conduits most of the week. All week long birds had heralded (or fled) our presence. Bluebirds and starlings, turkey vultures, wrens and robins — birds of all kinds have been our companions. Farm dogs and cats, horses, cows of many varieties take the effort to arise and extend their perambulations to include our GOV, us, and our activities. Or else such critters populate our vistas as we drive around searching for that elusive ash tree on which to hang our big purple trap.

As the weather is chill and wet, the bugs have been few, although with the swampy environments in which so many of our traps have gone, I had better be prepared for mosquitoes and innumerable other midwestern insectivora as the weeks progress. So far merely some gnats, a single black midge or something that hovered around the windshield for a few stops and then flew out my window as I lowered it to study the barks of passing trees, searching for our next site. Flies around some of the viler, local convenience stores weʼve visited to relieve our bladders midmorning or midafternoon.

Overall, however, so far, I havenʼt appreciated the wild and domesticated animal life anything nearly as much as my partner, who takes every vista, every bovine cudchewer as a kind of marvel (quite a few even deserving photochemical preservation within her yellow disposable film camera*). She takes a romantic interest in decaying farmsteads, deserted angular and gray grandparental houses, picturesque barns and gradually/glacially imploding, forgotten sheds. She likewise adores modern new gargantuan homes of brick or contemporary never-to-be-painted siding. We even passed a terminal, ancient one-room schoolhouse (perhaps I should take her by the restored one-roomers of my own county as we continue our operation northward).

My own attention is more riveted on learning to discern the varieties of ash from walnut, hackberry and other potentially confusing similar species of tree. Maybe as my personal skills at this new job grow, Iʼll spare some mental energy to enjoy the countryside somewhat more. (Itʼs not like I donʼt heed the objects of her appreciative ejaculations or even draw her observation to some particularly pretty vista or unusual creature[s] I have spotted myself.) Maybe I should even drag my own camera along to record some impressions, digital electronic iota on the flashdrive. I could, after all, use those images here…

I just seem to enjoy the backyard activity here at home more clearly. So far.

This morning, as I stared out the kitchen window while grinding coffee, our cardinal was seated deep within the big forsythia, actively bobbing and also flapping his wings. Trying to scare away others? Trying to allure a mate? Reacting violently to some really bad, perhaps poisonous food (I once watched a ground squirrel thrashing and leaping in the violent throes of arsenical demise, my own dubious accomplishment, and the image has haunted me since)? Meanwhile the other juncos and little birds flittered around, one bigger brown one bathing in the newly restored birdbath, a half dozen mixed others circling the empty feeder. (Itʼs fully spring now. Do I bother with one more forty-pound, seven-dollar bag of seed for the greedy little devils?)

Anyway, there are a few natural considerations in honor of Shakespeareʼs Birthday for today. Happy 447th, everyone!

* Yes, a film camera. Whereʼs she going to develop those photos these days?

And, lest I forget (again), do click the ash picture above for a great Ohio site on tree identification!

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ugly April Day

What an ugly, cold, miserable, windy, rainy day! (And I complain as one who had to be out in it, tagging trees, assembling traps, and as the lightning crackled and popped around us, hanging the purple box kites in trees.) Itʼs after 5:00 in the evening, dark as December (but maybe a pre-Saturnalian afternoon of about 3:20 CST).

In reality, although my partner and I were out and about today, we only put in perhaps two and a half hours. I know because I was at home, settling down to what I actually did do today, not long after 9:30 this morning. We only hung two traps (and thoroughly investigated one gridded four square miles completely to locate no usable ash tree, not even one). As we were trying to wrap up the northwestern quadrant of Clinton County, I donʼt think we even got much more than fifteen miles from home — but as I was the navigator, not the driver, I am not sure about the total miles driven.

I remain the active trapper, putting the sign on the tree (“Do not Disturb. USDA Ash Borer Project…”) and draping/tying a long visible ribbon of fluorescently bright tape nearby to mark the spot for future return visits to check the trapped bugs (or, as The Lovely One might say, “buggage”), assembling the cardboard contraption as the frigid winds howl gouts of rain right up my backside and into the opened rear hatch of the GOV, and with trap a-dangle at the end of the extended pole, attempting to ring a lofty but mostly horizontal branch with the “hanger.” (And successfully untangle the poleʼs hook from the hanger so as to retrieve the pole for future endeavors.) My partner is the mapping/paperwork/computer-file form-filler-outer. And she usually gets out to help hang the trap on the distant end of the pole before I lift it aloft for the savage winds to swoop and swerve.

But today, the gunshot pops of indiscriminate celestial electrical discharges (like an insane photographerʼs flash run randomly amok) followed by earthshaking, gut-rumbling and erratic double-stick snare drum rolls of omnipresent thunder were the straw. The one that broke… My partner called it a day even before I got that second trap in place (perhaps she took pity on the absolutely sodden — drenched from waist to foot  — and bumbling trap handler, me). So we turned right around and went straight back to Our Town, dropping me (and my extendable pole, requiring a painstaking cleansing of the infinitely glutinous goop and grass acquired from too intimate contact with the sticky sides of the traps — gluey to catch and hold the attracted bugs, of course) at home, where I spent my busy day not yet cleaning the pole (but soon — oh, yes, so very soon).

…just a sample

See, my work day was not shortened. Not this day. I had left training with two modules/lessons to complete. And exciting stuff it was, too (scored as utterly more enervating than Defensive Driving had been, significantly more soul-sapping than Visa-prepared lessons on utilization of the governmentʼs fleet cards  — blechh). I had to complete self-education from FEMA.* However, seven hours and two tests later, boy am I informed and approved on such arcana as NIMS, JFO, Incident Action Planning, ICP, Unity of Command, Span of Control, Staging Areas and Helispots, Operations/Logistics/Planning/Financial and Administration Sections, interoperability, Incident Management Teams, Emergency Management Assistance Compacts, resource analysis, Strike Forces, Transfer of Command Procedures, and… And you are not (to quote Mr.Chase, not of the loathed bank variety). Never, by the way, let anyone tell you the military has nothing to do with disaster relief…

And thatʼs how I spent my Tuesday. Online, staring at the big screen, stifling yawns, and forcing my attention to remain as riveted as humanly possible. Even as the rain deluged and rattled against the windows and the siding. And as the mere twenty traps — that we have successfully suspended — thrashed, terpsichored, and tumbled (and hopefully remained essentially in place in what I duly hope are indeed ash trees). But I should be/am now flawlessly FEMA certified (and I never realized before today that signing on to this seasonal job meant me volunteering to save, in my appropriate and delegated lowly role in the Chain of Command, the world in case of disaster).

So it goes. Tomorrowʼs forecast** to be a better day.

* And, demonstrably, in the training materials (not the tests) FEMA had an outright error, clearly contradicted by their own information. (I guess I am lucky that question was not on either test.) Details are available upon request…

** …and not “forecasted” — an irritating unlogism beloved of halfwit weather broadcasters and found today in the FEMA training materials.

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Cold Day at Work

I got to see some supposedly pretty parts of Clinton County today. Unfortunately, I was driving and not observing the natural, rural wonders of eastern Iowa. I did notice one nice vista across a little pond toward some evergreens at an intersection. But since I was mostly driving on gravel roads in a still not-completely-familiar vehicle beneath icy and heavily overcast skies with a good wind (perhaps twenty miles per hour?) blowing its wild way around me, I mostly just studied the layers of excess gravel and the bare black muddy patches of road that would require special navigation. Furthermore, it was cold. I donʼt think we topped forty degrees Fahrenheit all day. And if the air officially got warmer than that, the forceful wind chilled things considerably back into the near-freezing range.

Our Iowa skies were definitely not this blue or clear today…

I worked the morning on my own, as my partner had a medical appointment before she could drive over to Our Town and register at one of our two chain motels (she wisely chose the one which is newer, larger and farther-from-my-house). She had recommended that, rather than pointlessly waiting for her to arrive, I should try to get a trap set (my first entirely on my own) at the local campground on the south end of town. I had checked it out on my way back in on Thursday and knew there were plenty of ash trees out there, some pretty tall and bare of branches until a long way up. I also figured I should contact city hall for formal permission before I just did my thing.

City Hall was quite agreeable, although they insisted they needed no more ash borer information cards or handouts, so I drove straight out to the campground and put up a trap. I had gotten pretty smooth (although I assume, from my partnerʼs perspective, painfully slow yet) assembling the purple cardboard contraption — awling a hole in each side flap through which to thread a plastic, self-locking tie strap; inserting the three prongs of the “spreader” on the top; dangling three bags of lure from the spreader; and then attaching a hook. Back at the office during training (lovely days of sun and pretty decent warmth, now just a bright, faded yearning in my soul), I had not been a star at hanging the assembled trap, using my forty- (?) foot, extendable pole. I got better last Thursday, but I still have trouble keeping the trapʼs hook on the hook at the end of the pole. And itʼs usually a struggle to get the trapʼs hook over a branch high up in a tree (being ashes, these trees have plenty of “junk” branches growing helter-skelter everywhere). However, I got my trap up at the campground and the necessary digital and paper records completed in pretty good time, so I set out to get more traps in the Maquoketa area up.

I actually did five traps before it was time to meet my partner and depart for southerly climes (one county south). Sadly, that number meant I averaged five per hour until noon.

We did better during the afternoon not-quite-five hours, positioning a dozen more — nearly a respectable number (I had heard at training that in the old eight-hour days some people could plan on getting fifteen traps up). It wasnʼt quite five hours because travel time counts, and we needed to get my GOV [see yesterdayʼs post/footnotes] parked by 5:30 (didnʼt quite do that well: mine wound up an eleven-hour day).

However, my first actually full day of work is finished, and I am not (utterly) dead or in (hideous) muscle pain. By my count I only have 192 more such days (or thereabouts) left…

©2011 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.