Nope. I am not “giving in again.” Just reviewing the week no longer in progress.

First, the fortnight-long bout with very minor poison ivy (I really am a whining wimp) is nearly over. The left forearm is nearly smooth again, although it looks right now like I might be left, as usual with so many of lifeʼs little experiences, with a scar. I had figured it was poison ivy (or, new to my knowledge base, parsnips, as suggested on Facebook by one friend noticing the postʼs announcement there), and Ericʼs calm observations seemed to fit the situation (although I was far too late to benefit from the “treatment cream” to minimize the hazardous oilʼs impact). The Lovely One insisted I should treat with Cortaid (as others also recommended) and cover the bumps with a big bandaid (sorry, but like kleenex, the brand name best identifies the general product), so I did for most of the time since the post appeared. Now the area is just red and only slightly topographic, and I feel sure it will be just skin soon.

(Now there was a really selfcentered, selfserving and tedious paragraph.) Thanks, all who tried to provide advice!

Second, my boss did arrive for our shared ride while I checked the status of my traps. He was running late, so our adventure together only lasted about three hours, during which he showed me poison ivy (my recently acquired tree-based nature incompetence interprets the appearance as “boxelder-like leaves in threes”), did all the trap work for me, indicating how I was to search the traps for possible green beetles, and assigned me a change of work for the rest of this past week and the next. It seemed that my partner (“former partner,” I suppose) was somewhat behind setting her massive number of gypsy moth traps (she ceased to partner me in order to begin the gypsy moth trapping with the end of May) so I was to quit my current trap searches and help her finish putting up gypsy moth traps in Linn County.

And so I did. I spent Wednesday and Thursday over in Cedar Rapids, riding along in her van as she took us to the nearly hundred spots where I stapled the moth traps. A nice change of pace for me (and pleasant riding with her again, too, I guess), although I missed my autonomy (as I always do when I am not being autonomous), and I learned new stuff and reviewed my USDA computer skills by entering data for her (as she had done for us with emerald ash borers). Next week that work continues in Scott County.

And thatʼs the week that was, folks. Forty hours on the job spread over five days (Monday was an oil change for the GOV, and today was my final six hours of work for the week, traipsing about western Jackson County finding too many downed or missing traps). And that was all I did, certainly no writing…

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

Life Near the Mississippi

…or Bumbling Ineptitude

Mark Twain did a remarkably clever thing when writing the memoirs of his youthful riverboating days, Life on the Mississippi, recapturing that long absent and nostalgic time when he was learning the multiplex and intimidating skills required of a riverboat pilot. The writer “invented” a “character,” the naïve and bumbling Sam, his younger self caught in the coils of his apprenticeship. (At least this character creation gimmick is what the critics frequently say.) Sam really is a goof, constantly missing the point of his pilot mastersʼ instruction, doing the wrong thing (almost inevitably), and suffering immense frustration at the overhwhelming quantity of learning being imposed on him. Sam is pretty comical, which is of course Twainʼs point, and the young manʼs scatterbrained ineptitude is good for plenty of laughs in the book. (And as I have myself demonstrated on this blog, it is the lot of younger selves to be mocked by their older versions in the good fulness of time.)

Actually, although I have read the book twice, my favorite and most familiar connection to the story is the John Deere-funded movie adaptation on public television from back in the early Eighties, which I showed annually to the American Literature and English III students as part of their Mark Twain units just before they began reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The screenwriter did an incredible job of boiling down Twainʼs meandering and often disconnected recollections (with quite a few supervising pilots) to a straightforward story of the youthful Sam irritating his master Horace Bixby, originally just one of the many pilots from the book. And the actors, exceptionally well cast, did a wonderful job bringing the late 1850s and Twainʼs treasured recollections to life (which is the reason I liked to show it to the students, other than the fact that I love the movie — to permit them to visualize and perhaps even participate in that historical past).

Anything by Twain is highly recommended, Life on the Mississippi ranking very high among all the rest of his writing, right up there with Huckleberry Finn itself, the book Hemingway said was the original source of all American writing. But I bring up the character of Sam for a mostly nonliterary reason. Undergoing training as a novice, even at my doddering and hoary age, for my current job with USDA APHIS PPQ, I notice my behavior and incompentence mimicking the bumbling young Clemens. And I begin to wonder if a halting and frustrated inadequacy isnʼt the rightful and unfortunately necessary lot of trainees.

What the possibly semi-fictional Sam and I have in common is learning by doing on the job under the tutelage of experts who are not themselves teachers. Teachers get trained to be aware of the need to explain (and re-explain and even explain again in a whole different way) concepts and skills to their youthful charges. Workers assigned to train a newbie donʼt have that educational expertise, and so their explanations tend to be slight and even vague. As Mr. Bixby says, both in the book (I think) and the film, “I canʼt explain how, but someday youʼll just know the difference naturally.” That same point covers my training in the recognition of ash trees — a few details (like the tight diamondness of the bark, the opposite branching and not much else) and reassurances that with experience “youʼll just start to get it.”

Iʼm not complaining about the instruction I received, although I am fairly sure my supervisors and partners may have some complaints about my level of acumen and skill (just like the nebbish Sam). I simply recognize what I first experienced in literature being absolutely true in real life. Absolutely and sadly true.

And tomorrow my big boss from Des Moines is coming out to “ride with me.” I am sure thatʼll be an eye-opening experience for him…

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

A Little Help?

The inflammation (or rash?) in question. What do you think, gentle readership?

Closer up…

Sorry about the gruesome physical details (reminiscent of my ingrown toenail post last fall — apologies, I suppose, for that one, too). I will definitely keep this addition to the blog brief. The picture(s) — I donʼt know just how many I am going to attempt,* as none so far do the issue justice — say(s) it all. 

One last look (and further apologies for showing it at all). Click, if you wish, to, um, enlarge the image…

Somehow, some time over the weekend (actually Friday or Saturday), while on the job checking firewood at campgrounds and reaching out about the emerald ash borer to the camping public (and while also taking down to check for bugs about a dozen of my traps, located at said campgrounds, in Dubuque, Jackson and Clinton Counties) I got a…  rash? Infection? Exposure to poison ivy/oak?

As the outbreak on my left arm hasnʼt subsided at all since I noticed it on Sunday, I would sure appreciate anyoneʼs suggestions (of what it might be, of what I could do about it).

It itches and hurts. Janet believes that the number of possibly pussy bumps** may have increased by a few. Cortaid is all we have tried on it so far (the salve does make it cease itching for a while).

Any ideas? Think I need to visit our doctor?

Your suggestions would, as of the time of this writing (Tuesday, early evening), be greatly appreciated. Since I am scheduling the post for Thursday, however, I hope they will all also be too late. Time will, sadly, tell…

* (right now using the built-in camera on the iMac, as I still havenʼt located our digital camera after Memorial Day weekend)

** Her opinion. Not mine. (And apologies yet again for that bit of further — but “tastefully” not boldfaced and italicized, however — gruesome detail, to which this footnote is an appendage, too.)

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

Summer Delight

I worked yesterday, as I had anticipated in yesterday morningʼs post. And, with the temperatures, even early, stabbing toward 100°, I did not forget my water bottle! On the other hand, I barely sucked any water out of it. Not because it wasnʼt warm, although at the first few traps I investigated the early morning temperature was blissfully pleasant (particularly contrasted with the dense, muggy heat in our house, except for the air-conditioned bedroom, that is). Nor did I skip my liquids. I just substituted something more exciting for the water, at least for some of the water.

This could be mine (except I cannot find our camera recently…) Click for the source siteʼs recipe!

Over the past weekend, The Lovely One and I went down to Clinton (not that I am not getting enough of the county and the urban area in my travels for the USDA), mostly so she could shop for a baby shower gift at Target (where the happy parents were registered) and for groceries at Aldi (whom we yet curse for closing the Maquoketa store). Stopping for gas on our way out of town on Sunday (I of course was working on Saturday) at the Caseyʼs down the hill and beyond Fareway (in what used to fondly be our big back yard, the farm field that got developed nearly a decade back*), we elected to buy a couple of new items at the drinks counter inside — iced coffee. The price was incredibly high (although not so steep when compared with a Starbucks Frappuccino, either fresh in a cup or in the little glass bottles…), and Caseyʼs vanilla concoction (the mocha was empty) had a distinctly (and noticeably unpleasant) chemical tang. We drank them down greedily anyway (and the experience was probably the unconscious prompt that made me pick up a flat of Aldi iced coffee bottles at that store).

So on Monday, just for kicks, when I had mixed myself a coffee with creamer in the early morning and then in the heat forgotten to drink it, I turned that big mug into my own iced coffee, using a tad of a fat-free half-and-half product Janet had bought at Wal-Mart a while back (I never can remember to exclude that hyphen/asterisk-or-star that the corporation has now dropped from its name). And the result was really good. Remarkably good. Incredibly good.

Good enough to inspire a recipe post for the old blog. And hereʼs that recipe:

My Own Iced Coffee

  • Brew strong coffee (we use decaf French Roast beans that we grind fresh each day — keeping the beans coldly fresh in the freezer until used; make it strong — the weak tan brews too many people still prefer wonʼt do)
  • Mix in sweetener and creamer (in appropriate amounts, to taste) to the hot coffee
  • Let the creamy coffee cool (even chill it in the refrigerator)
  • Mix in half-and-half (just a wee dram or four)
  • Pour over ice in a glass to enjoy.

We use decaf coffee, a fat-free dry creamer (again a Walmart product these days — cheaper, you know), sugar-substitute (the pink-wrapped stuff, from a huge box from Samʼs Club), and the no-fat half-and-half I mentioned above. So the tasty final product is astonishingly without caloric impact.

I really liked my not-quite-a-creation on Monday, so I made it for Janet to enjoy on her drive to work Tuesday, and she was sufficiently impressed to recommend my idea to her sister (high praise that, indeed). On Tuesday morning, working, I drank my own iced coffee, another attempt with Caseyʼs chemical brew (the mocha was still or again empty) which I bought when purchasing gas for the GOV, and a Starbucks bottled mocha Frappuccino.** Starbucks was the best, I felt, but mine was several parsecs better than Caseyʼs stuff.

Give the (accidental) invention a try over the upcoming long months of summertime sultriness.

(And now I want to expand my idea by creating a genuinely summertime version of a Snowy Evening: simply add Irish Cream instead of the half-and-half! …Maybe, as I am composing yesterday afternoon, natch, thatʼs what I should attempt right now…)

* …and where nests the noxious pit of hellish creosote (still abusing our nostrils, senses and lives) at callous Gasser True Value. Please continue to feel free to let them know what unamicable corporate neighbors they are!

** …which is why I didnʼt consume much of my water (nor did I need more than one restroom stop in five-and-a-half hours, either, so I may have dehydrated a bit).

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

The Job (Again)

I promised yesterday to discuss a few things in future posts. Unlike my usual procedure, Iʼll follow-up on at least one of those “predictions.” Todayʼs topic, like far too many of recent weeks, is work.

Click for a link to an informative site from another state. The traps really do look like this about now, as the bugs and beetles emerge.

I said yesterday that the timing of my job had changed. It has. First, I am for the month of June on my own, sometimes. My former (and future) partner is busy trapping for gypsy moths, an activity at which she was well experienced before the emerald ash borer appeared on our horizons. (Jackson County has, by the way, experienced an outbreak of gypsy moths, predicating a USDA pheromonal intervention soon — meaning that a plane will fly over the county dropping on the woodsy areas minuscule pheromone flakes that confuse the male gypsy moths and leave them unable to find a mate.) Her “other job” leaves me on my own to begin checking all the traps we put up: making sure the traps are still in the trees and pulling them down to investigate what bugs are stuck on the gluey exterior of each of the three purple panels, searching for (but hoping I do not find) emerald ash borers.

However, before that began, I got ordered to the north, Winnesheik County, to help finish setting the traps in that region. And I did. The trip was supposed to take all week, which in my case means four ten-hour days, but we accomplished the task in just two days (good news to me, as I got to come home to my Lovely One). So I spent about two further days, minus driving-home time, restoring traps to their proper places and beginning my survey of what we had done here in Jackson-Clinton-Dubuque counties.

Early the following week my immediate superior, John, rode with me for a day to teach me the basics of examining the traps for bugs (and sadly, helping me relocate half a dozen traps to actual ash trees — apparently my partner isnʼt all that much better than I at recognizing an ash when we see one). Then I began my work on my own, but so far thatʼs only been a couple of days because in June, as I have belatedly discovered, part of the job involves “outreach.”

Outreach and enforcement.*

On Fridays and Saturdays, beginning over the Memorial Day weekend, although I was not able to change our plans and participate then, full-time and seasonal USDA APHIS PPQ employees go out to meet the public in campgrounds around the state (in my case the eastern portion thereof) to spread the word of the emerald scourge and check on firewood. The firewood is important because in reality the only way the borer has spread is through human activity, particularly the transport from infected (and therefore quarantined) areas of firewood (obviously in particular ash wood), nursery stock, and pieces of infected trees (although why anyone would want to transport a stump beats me). Without our movement of borer-infested wood, the little beetle doesnʼt get more than perhaps a mile from the (dying) tree of its birth.

So we tour campgrounds, studying license plates for Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowaʼs Allamakee County (folks from other infested states or regions are less likely as visitors to eastern Iowaʼs campgrounds). And if we notice any such plates, we must look closely to see if we notice any firewood. And if we see firewood at sites with suspect plates, we have to go and ask those (usually out-of-state) campers where the wood came from. And if the wood came from quarantined areas, such as three counties in Wisconsin and all of Illinois and Allamakee County, it must be burned immediately, and my poor boss has to write up a lengthy bit of paperwork on the “incident.”

My first experience with this process was this past Friday and Saturday (perhaps explaining why I didnʼt post my usual weekend addition to the blog — well, “usual” in recent weeks anyway), when John and I rode around Scott, Clinton, Jackson and Clayton counties visiting perhaps a dozen campgrounds.

More such weekends lie ahead.

However, working on Friday and Saturday means I have to change my usual Monday through Thursday of ten-hour days. For a while now, essentially until my partner returns to EAB duties, Iʼm working Wednesday through Saturday. Not what I knew when I signed on, but I have to admit visiting campgrounds is a whole lot easier physically than placing and replacing traps in trees. On the other hand, this change also means I only have two days each week to try to revisit all the traps that my partner and I set over a monthʼs time.

And checking traps is what I will be doing for part of this (so itʼs predicted) near-100° day. I hope I remember my water bottle.

* My least favorite aspect of teaching was having to “play cop” and enforce (sometimes ridiculous) rules. I hope that I do better this summer with rules that seem to make some sense…

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

Cursed Summertime

Itʼs hot. 

This announcement is not news to those of us living in the Midwest (and apparently in many places throughout the country, as record heat made the news shows this morning). But it is hot. 

Not a pretty picture: one heated USDA APHIS PPQ seasonal employee on his day off

Hot enough that I slept in unusual spots last night (the floor for a brief while, until my beloved decided to turn off our overhead fan, believing it was “fighting” with the pedestal fan in the window which was striving to puff something like cool air from outdoors into our bedroom; then on the sofa in our living room, uncomfortably, but at least my restlessness only bothered me and not my soulʼs companion, who actually had to rest fully for work today unlike my modest self whose work experience has undergone a change in timescope — about which more to be told in a post in the future).

Hot enough that I havenʼt really arisen to the level of accomplishing much today. Yet. (And itʼs nearly 5:30 in the swampy afternoon.)

Hot enough that after a quick visit to The Lovely One for lunch (and a brief but unpleasant excursion to pick up a new audio receiver for our stereo system at Best Buy — more on that, meaning both the problem I was attempting to solve and the experience of customer disservice at the store, likely, also sometime soon) I buckled down, sweatfully, and installed the air conditioner in our bedroom for this summer. A quick check on the blog reveals that my annual action comes thirteen days earlier than a year ago, although using the new air-conditioner we were forced to buy a little later last summer. However, tonight, I hope, we can both sleep in relative comfort (the bedroom right now is blissfully at least twenty degrees cooler than the office where I dictate these words*, and I didnʼt even set the machineʼs temperature control very low at all).

* I hesitate to discover the ambient temperature in here lest the knowledge drive me to dissolve even further than the godawful picture reveals me to have done so far today.

And thatʼs the excitement at Casa Wakdjunkaga for now. Not much of a post, but at least Iʼve posted something (and itʼs been quite a while since I last accomplished this unfeat). Perhaps I can do a little better for tomorrow. Right now… itʼs hot.

Finally, disregading the disreputable, disrespecting and snarky quips I might make at the loonie legion of halfwit Climate Change Deniers, I really despise all those weather casters and other folks who were whining about “whereʼs our summer?” even a few days ago (and seemingly nonstop throughout the temperate summers last year and two years before that). Summerʼs here. And itʼs hot.

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