Does Dictation Work?

And wow. It has been a while since I last posted™. I even have another post I began that day on the poetical-composition process which led to that (presumably final) version of the poem, “Aubade in Retrospect” — itʼs mostly complete™ but never appeared. (Mostly complete in that it records the evolving versions but doesnʼt get into why I felt I needed to make the changes I made. Maybe someday — probably, as long-suffering Gentle Readers™ will realize, not soon… )

So what happened? (Other than my usual intermittency of posts™.)

Work happened. My seasonal job, trapping bugs for the Department of Agriculture, started almost right after that post* with the now-usual trip to Des Moines for orientation, testing, acquisition of supplies and re-familiarization with my GOV (thatʼs “Government-Owned Vehicle” for those who need a review from the last two summers). The Lovely One™ and I went out early (she must go along because I bring home my GOV, therefore requiring transportation out there) since she prefers not to drive both out and back in one day. So we had a little one-day minivacation in Des Moines (if any stay in our Fair State Capital™ can be considered a “vacation” at all — Bob Weir having captured the essence of the city in his song “Salt Lake City,” which “really makes Des Moines seem second rate”), enjoying a delicious and different Russian meal and then tasty pub grub before she left me on my own for Sunday evening in a hotel. It was a long, lonely evening™ (even with my multi-thousand-book Kindle library) inspiring some life changes about which you will all have to wait to learn™.

Our Emerald Ash Borer training was May sixth and seventh, and we started to work immediately. As of today, I am almost done putting up the traps.

My first year, I only had a three-county area, right around my home. Last year my region expanded to ten counties and took me out past Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, requiring several nights away from home in two different locations twice a month. This year I add seven more counties (although with fewer traps, just lots of driving), and I have already spent five nights (out of ten workdays) away from home — Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Tama, Coralville and Cedar Rapids — getting to know a variety of hotel rooms in several chains: their luxuries, limitations and idiot-advertising required to access the (falsely) “free” wireless Internet™.

As you will learn, when I (eventually™) upload the information from my smartpen and permit the computer (using MyScript for Livescribe™) to OCR My Horrible Penmanship™, my renewed relationship with hotel rooms has made me thoughtful (at least periodically and not very profoundly) or, minimally, reflective.

And I have been busy™.

You are supposed to notice the earclipped microphone...

Youʼre supposed to notice the earclipped microphone… (this photo itself is a Whole ʼNother Story™ and an enthusiastically  novel experience at that, regardless of self-consciously stern expression)

Those ten-hour days™ really can get long, making me appreciate my Fridays to myself™. I appreciate the time so much that Iʼve fallen-behind-on-correspondence™ (again — my apologies, Aunt Alaire and brother Stephen™) and made no effort — until now, that is — to keep up with the blog™. However, several technological influences (more on those perhaps to come™) rekindled my interest in using Dragon Dictate™ for composition. So I unhooked my little Bluetooth™ microphone from the power and slipped it around my ear, remating it (necessarily after its long rest, unused) with its receiver, and have attempted — successfully, it seems, so far — to dictate words directly into MacJournal™. Without mystery crashes™, strange word insertions™, random cursor malfunctions™ or other typical behaviors of Dictate™ when dictating not into its own text window.

Thus Todayʼs Title™.

However, for now, having proven that my technology works (thanks, Nuance™), I should mow the lawn. Then write some (long-delayed™) letters.

* I had felt that poem and its (so far only private) reflection on its creation was a kind of farewell to winter dormancy™, stirrings of spring™ and a last gasp toward writing before Work™ (and earnings) began.

And No Rewards™ for those Perceptive Few™** who glommed onto Todayʼs Fun Theme™.

** (even publication days, like this, here on Wakdjunkagaʼs Blog™ only garner fewer than fifty hits nowadays)

Alternative Title™ = “Option-2”

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Failed Again

Even the title for this piece failed again (the effing computer having tke over from th keyboard nput — as you can see here — so I had to go back and add the “in” at the end of “Again;” and Iʼll just leave the stinking errors in this parenthetical addendum as evidence of what Appleʼs miserable excuse for technological advancement forces me to endure daily/hourly/every minute and second that the effing computer is on — not that anything Windows-based would do any better, I perceive*).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

Our new faucet. Notice, please, the lovely brushed nickel matching the sink (a novelty here at Wakdjunkagaʼs Abode).

I began this rant on the tenth, intending to mention I had failed (one piece of the total set of failures to which the title refers) to fix our kitchen sink (replacing the faucet) because the original supply lines were too short for the new faucet. I needed 21 and 23 inches of line respectively (cold and hot water), and places in town only sold 20-inch lines. However, real life and time in general have intervened, and thanks to a trip out of town (intentionally for brunch with My Belovedʼs sister and her husband and his sister and her significant other) I got what I needed, which I could have acquired in town it turned out — extension lines. I installed them successfully (so far) with only one hiccup when the cold water leaked the first time around. Wow.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My plumbing job isnʼt pretty, but it works.

My first plumbing job! (Although willing to do just about anything with electricity, thanks to my long noncareer with theatrical lighting and special effects, I have avoided accidentally flooding either our house or any theatrical venue by my plumbing incompetence.) My aged retirement continues to provide new adventures and experiences.

See the moisture (and the meter)?

See the moisture (and the meter)?

Now the only failure involved with that endeavor is that our main valve on the water entering our blessed abode has developed a bit of a leak. Just a little constant moisture down the copper line and wetness all the way to the drain in the basement floor.** But thatʼs before our water meter so… well, allʼs well that costs us nothing, for the time being.

The real failure, to which my nearly week-old title referred, is that my most recent attempt toward publication had just received rejection. Again. (And again and again and again, even though I donʼt keep resubmitting and searching out new market possibilities as I should. Nor even writing all that much either.) I had churned out and polished a brief 5000 words extending my Sepharad story (stories/series) with an adventure for Søren in Córdoba, encountering Lovecraftian horror (and his own weaknesses) as he attempted to earn some cash abetting two quarrelsome students of nigromancy. “Scholarsʼ Folly” (which may give away or, preferably, retrospectively suggest the nature of Sørenʼs climactic slip-up) being crafted for a Mythos market, hasn’t many innate qualities to make it attractive outside the specific anthology for which I wrote it. Sadly.

My own little cover for a short story (that didn't sell)

My own little cover for a short story (that didn’t sell)

Failure again.

Too bad they couldntʼ have rejected me more delicately (or even personally):

Hi,

Thanks for taking the time to sub to OUR LOVECRAFTIAN ANTHOLOGY and for your patience. We are going to pass on this.

Cheers,

THE EDITORS***

At least — good news — I do get to work again trapping bugs for USDA APHIS PPQ this summer. Take that, Sequestration!

And now, maybe to work on some fiction writing…

or else dinner.

* This (forthcoming) thought is not original with me (I believe I read something like this somewhere a long time ago, probably on the internet somewhere/when), however, it remains so utterly valid, I must type it out: Would we tolerate automobiles (or even cell phones, and I don’t mean “smart” ones) that operate as poorly as personal computers do? Admittedly mine (2009 iMac, bought as my last educational purchase at retirement) is now four years old, come June, but my truck is thirteen this year (a decade in my possession).

** I at first wrote “cellar floor,” an inaccurate description of our finished basement.But that slip reminded me that when I was small I read that supposedly (I think according to Robert Frost) the loveliest phrase in English was “cellar door.” Thoughts? Results of your research? Both welcome.

Deliberately so — one side is completely finished, while the other has no ceiling (for property-taxation reduction reasons).

But according to my New York Times link, the loveliness of “cellar door” was evidently H.L. Menckenʼs notion (no bet that we would not have heard about him in elementary school in the Sixties).

*** Detailed information (such as the editorsʼ names and the anthology title) have been altered/omitted to protect the unenthusiastic (and foolish?).

©2013 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Best Laid Plans?

“Looking out my garage door…” at the Trailblazer in the rain (actually the sun is coming out).

Yesterday, almost from the predawn moment I arrived at my government Trailblazer to fetch it home for the dayʼs activities, rain poured from thick, dark skies, persisting all morning, as thunder revved and rumbled all around the atmosphere. Craggy shafts of lightning startled the gray world almost regularly but unpredictably. Although The Lovely One* dutifully headed off for work in her poor, padiddled** Toyota Corolla in the driving downpour, your humble blog host dryly elected to alter my penultimate plans for my seasonal job and leave checking out what few EAB traps I might have accidentally skipped, during the Great Takedown this past month, until the next day — meaning this day, today.

Instead, I sought shelter in our garage, with the big door wide open on the deluge, and packaged my collected hangers into groups of ten and boxed them up. I also worked laboriously to clean dirt and acquired glue from about a dozen or fifteen spreaders (all the rest I had judged clean enough to just pitch in the tangled agglutination of such items in a box in the GOV). Then I gave my faithful pole a final (at least I hope itʼs final) cleaning before starting in to vacuum and scrub the good old GOVʼs pretty dirty interior. The rain had ceased about 11:00, so I wasnʼt risking a wetting from the storm as I dragged our faithful shop vac outside to scour the carpeted and other parts of the vehicleʼs cabin. I knew that chore would be extensive (and not just because I had gotten a lot of dust and stuff into the GOV; it wasnʼt any too clean when I began this job back in April), but two and a half hours was a little more than I had anticipated on just that part of the vehicle clean-up.

That element of my work day drew to an end about 3:30 (as I indicated, quite a bit later than I had imagined), and I spent the next ninety minutes beginning my concluding bookwork — checking trap sheets to be sure I had marked off visits to remove the traps at each site (and struggling to recall to myself that I had done so/could remember something about doing so). I also wanted to count various aspects of my trapping.

The hangers grouped in tens in stacks of fifty — with one stack a few short, of course

Statistically, I now know that I have 244 hangers which I have collected over the takedown process (and I know that some trap sites — less than a dozen, but a significant “some” — didnʼt even have a hanger clinging in a tree when I arrived to take down the — in those cases blown away/fallen/vanished — traps). I canʼt count up the spreaders because theyʼre just a nest of tangled metal devices (much like oneʼs Christmas tree lights seem to become in their box from one year to the next, as my immediate supervisor John remarked at our last meeting). I had never counted how many traps I had actually put up (nor how many remained up as I discovered traps in oaks and hackberries and box elders and elms and walnuts and even a mulberry… and which I didnʼt replace if or when I could not locate an ash in that grid; nor did I yet know just how many of those instances occurred), and I figured I could keep count as I checked over the sheets. I wanted to know a full, accurate total on how many traps I had personally put up (even wrongly), and an enumeration of how many I had visited and revisited and finally removed over the course of this past summer.

Reality didnʼt actually measure up to those plans. First, I didnʼt get through everything in the ninety minutes, so Iʼll be continuing to work with the books before I head out to check the possibly skipped traps this morning. Second, I lost count on both the overall number of traps and in particular the ones that originally were placed in other trees than an ash. So those statistics may just never be calculated or result from some activity on my own, not on government time.

If my plans for today go better than my bookwork plans yesterday, I may even get to continue cleaning the GOV late this afternoon. No matter what, I intend to get it finished and reloaded with unused and collected supplies tomorrow and, except for the return of the vehicle to Des Moines, conclude my seasonal employment for this summer.

At least thatʼs my plan. For now.

* I inserted that asterisk as I dictated this post before play practice yesterday. But why? Surely most of my several dozen readers know who The Lovely One is by now…   

— Oh, yes! Now I remember: I finally figured out how to get idiot Dragon Dictate to insert the words for numbers to one hundred instead of defaulting to digits. So now “The Lovely One” appears correctly when I say, “Cap The Cap Lovely Cap One” instead of becoming irrationally “The Lovely 1.”

** Ah, the sweet scent of youthful experience… In my late childhood and teens, a “padiddle” was a one-eyed car (with one headlight out), as Janetʼs vehicle is right now (and will remain until we get it to our repair guy on Saturday).

And third, the rain was much-needed hereabouts. And gratefully received.

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

Wrapping Up

The trap from our tree, viewed from above, showing: bugs stuck to the exterior, the spreader and the lure depending thereupon. (The hanger is cut off slightly, lying to the left.)

Hmmm…

The month of August is nearly gone with just one little post from me to mark this time, way back on the first of the month. Pretty sad record, that.

Whatʼs up?

Work. Plenty of it.

August is the time for all the purple traps for emerald ash borers to come down, and I have been churning around Clinton, Jackson and eastern Dubuque counties every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all month long trying to get every one of my traps removed and trashed. (Yes, once I have examined the trap to consider each bug stuck thereon this final time, the big purple contraption is nothing but trash — saving the “hardware:” the hanger, which holds the device aloft from a branch, and the spreader, which holds the triangular trapezoid in shape and from which dangle the packets of scent lure which supposedly draw the bugs. In fact, one of the most vital jobs this past month has been lining up or otherwise locating trash bins which will accept all the disassembled and flattened traps — including those at campgrounds and parks, civic and other government offices/facilities and [at least in my case] several cooperative schools and businesses.) And as of today, the job is done. I left the trap in our own front yard for the very last, and after cleaning out the city of Dubuque itself, I came back here and pulled down that one last trap.

Several days of work remain. I still need to go over the trap sheets in comparison/contrast with the official maps of trap sites to ensure that I didnʼt somehow skip one (or two or…). Iʼll focus on that tomorrow, and because I canʼt remember a couple of key sites, I figure the GOV and I will be on the road for at least some (if not most) of the day double-checking and verifying. And I have a collection of several hundred hangers that I need to put in some kind of order (evidently wired together in groups of ten and placed neatly in boxes. Too bad no one told me to save the boxes I started with, since those, having been emptied, are long gone to recycling). And the good old GOV needs a thorough cleaning inside and out before I repack it with leftover supplies and the preserved hardware to take back to Des Moines sometime in the future.

The gypsy moth trappers are still busy far into September, and I could have worked about a week longer myself, if necessary (it wasnʼt). But come Thursday evening, I am finished.

— So why havenʼt I been at least posting a couple of times each week? My torpid nature, naturally. And The Lovely One and I are very busy in the evenings directing a play — One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest* for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. We held auditions early in the month, the seventh and eighth (casting over a long, arduous evening on the ninth), and rehearsals began that Thursday. Weʼve been practicing every weeknight since then (with me desperately trying to get both Act One and Act Two blocked before the necessary rehearsals last week — a triple dose of time and effort). Of course, preparations for the rehearsal period to commence began even earlier than auditions.

And so it goes… until the two weekends of performances — September 23, 24, 25, and September 29 and 30 and October 1 and 2.

Time has been (and will remain) at a minimum, a premium. And I had better be off to Dubuque right now for tonightʼs rehearsal!

* You will have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the cast list (at least it will remain visible until showtimes, I hope).

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

Dirty Work (at and away from The Crossroads)

Thereʼs nothing particularly dirty about this shot (from today). But this is the tree I actually climbed to get the trap about a month ago. It is (I firmly hope) the ONLY tree Iʼll have to climb. (The trap is visible in the photo, but you have to look very closely to discern it in the quite low spot where I rehung the thing and from where I removed it this morning.)

My job is dirty work. I havenʼt mentioned this issue before partly because it didnʼt seem that way back in April when I got started. (I am thinking about “when I got started” as I have begun to take down the traps, beginning with those we first put up.) But even in those (dreamily now?) chilly and rainy days of not-quite-spring-here-on-the-prairie, I was using the “goop” weʼre provided to clean the sticky stuff (Tanglefoot®) on the traps from my fingers and the extendable pole. On a fairly regular basis.

Since those early days, especially as heat has swelled and the dry epoch of summer descended, the roads have become dustbins thick with yellow grit my vehicle plows up into clouds of dense fog-like filth, even as complicated and unreadable medleys of weeds have sprouted (neck-high in some places) in the ditches along those dusty country roads… my work has gotten dirtier. My clothes really require a daily cleaning, partly to remove my own bodily exudation but also the thick layer(s) of accumulated dust and stickiness from traps.

I had thought the worst was two weeks back when temperatures soared to nearly 100° (with — pardon my mentioning it, Tushie Lamebah — heat indices often nearly 120°). And at the end of the aforementioned three weeks of utter aridity. But today, as I began to take down the traps, the filth factor (and the sweat, even though the day topped out just about 92° with the heat index only at 105º) the grimy grunginess hit a new level of ugliness. Taking the traps apart (saving the hardware but eventually folding the purple cardboard into a flat with the glue sides inward* for later disposal) with the glue in a molten state (mixed with bug bodies/parts/guts and windblown dirt) had me cleansing my fingers every single stop.

And the dust puffed in visible waves of billows around me, reverberated from my clothes with every step I took from the back of the GOV to the driverʼs door.

I just wanted to report: my job is dirty work.

And now, as it is not air-conditioned here in the office, I think Iʼll quit and leave this post brief. But dirty.

*  — but only after very, very carefully scrutinizing each peculiar bug — after all, this is the final examination, and I wouldnʼt want to miss anything exciting, however much I donʼt want emerald ash borers around here in my lifetime.

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

All Shook Up!

I am babbling at my computer while summer squash and zucchini are cooking in vegetable broth on the stove (yep, itʼs time for the first squash soup of summer!). For a day off this one hasnʼt been particularly relaxing, primarily because were looking forward to that apparently endless “excessive heat” wave arriving tomorrow. So I did a bunch of chores Iʼd rather not “excessively” sweat my way through — mowing the lawn, cooking this soup (thanks, neighbors to the west, for the veggies), and a few other things.

I had planned to get a blog post up yesterday evening or this morning, but clearly that never happened. In fact the computer didnʼt get turned on today until well after noon. This item won’t be much, but at least itʼs something.

Work has been going fairly well. I should as of Monday be complete on phase two (or should I say phase 2.5+?) of my summer job. The first phase, working with my partner, was getting sticky purple emerald ash borer traps in trees (presumably but not certainly ash trees) all over Clinton, Jackson and eastern Dubuque counties. The “.5” part was me checking on the traps (moving some from walnuts and oaks and box elders and hackberries and… into ashes) and preliminarily on the bugs during the first two-thirds of June, until my boss visited and assigned me to take whatever time required (four days) to help get gypsy moth traps placed in Linn and Scott counties. Then I began working phase two: checking every trap for possible emerald ash borers (and one sample earned a trip to Des Moines for further study — although, thankfully, clearly not itself an emerald ash borer) and resupplying new lure in every trap. Phase three will involve trap removal from all three counties (and of course close observation of each trap before disposal of the bugs we have caught).

Phase three, which is slated for August, begins after I make a flying run back to Des Moines for a computer upgrade (that Iʼm hoping I actually won’t need). I call in Monday morning to discover when I drive out and back.

Real life has more or less been placed on hold for the summer. My nephew (and new niece)ʼs wedding went off very well. The bride and groom both looked elegant and blissful, and my brother Paul did a wonderful job officiating the ceremony. Niece Rachel also did exquisitely handling all the details of the day and made a fine speech herself after the best man and maid of honor. It was also great to visit with Margaret and David and Aunt Alaire. The Lovely One and I even enjoyed our hotel, a Country Inn & Suites much like the one where I stayed in Decorah.

However, real life kicks into a major gear also in August, as Janet and I will be directing a production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. After all my many years of constant play direction for school and community theater, I’m not sure how excited I really am about this project, but if a lot of good people turn up for auditions the first weekend in August, this thing might be fun.

Time is passing. I need to stick my magic mixing wand into the cooling soup to get it ready for supper. Theater also calls tonight as weʼre off to Ohnward Fine Arts Center/Peace Pipe Playersʼ production of All Shook Up. Mustnʼt dawdle.

Break a leg, cast and crews!

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

Another Brief One

I just finished getting my checkbook in order (and discovering that DirecTV had invented/connived/manufactured a $16.08 charge, supposedly “due” on June 29 that they explain nowhere among my various incomprehensible bills on their website — that sort of financial falsity is why I do not wish to permit  corporations unchecked rein/reign in our nation ever. Period). The important stuff (back to the checkbook balancing/verification process) must come first.

I am excited to be anticipating my Lovely Oneʼs return home from work some time after noon today (to learn why, youʼll just have to wait until tomorrow, heh heh). Therefore, this little post will be as advertised in its title, brief.

Work, as I indicated yesterday, has been hectic (fulfilling and fun, too — but taking time and exhausting). Since I last wrote (before yesterday, that is), I have checked traps in all three of my counties, getting all of the big purple trapezoidal boxes, at least briefly, back up in trees. (We had a remarkably windy May-into-June this year, evidently — at least based on the number of blown-down emerald ash borer traps I have replaced* or put back up.) I was also checking on the bugs stuck, living and expired, to the sticky exterior of each trap, searching for (but hoping not to find) an emerald ash borer. I mostly find “click beetles,” flies and a few moths, but I have taken perhaps two dozen samples to be checked by those more experienced and knowledgeable than I.

In late June, once my boss did his ride-along with me (when he did all the work, interestingly; I guess a day out of the office is fun for some, regardless what you have to do here in the field — including stepping high over suddenly installed electric fenceline hedging off a ditch beyond which we had placed a trap in need of checking), I got assigned to help my EAB partner (now working on gypsy moth trapping) finish getting her hundreds of traps placed in Linn and then Scott counties. She found the spots and drew the trapsheet maps while I stapled up the little cardboard boxlets and did the computer files. It made an interesting four days, and Pam acted as tour guide around Cedar Rapids.

Also following boss Robʼs visit, it became time to replenish the lure packets in the traps. I elected to continue northward from where I had left off just checking on the traps (I wanted to ensure that as few as possible were missing from trees still), completing Jackson and my half of Dubuque counties before heading back south (just late Wednesday and yesterday). Naturally, I check each trap for its assortment of bugs, and yesterday my supervisor, John, looked at my samples, helping me realize what I already actually knew — they were click beetles. However, he took one test tube to send along to Des Moines for further scrutiny. The bug wasnʼt an emerald ash borer, but I had found one of its related species.

Work Costume

Todayʼs picture — one of those Janet shot on Independence Day as I examined our home trap — shows me in full working outfit.. The reflective vest is one I had bought years ago for running (it was rather warm for summer mornings) that I dragged out when I realized how close to traffic my work placed me.**  The t-shirt is work-provided and says “Burn It Where You Buy It” on the front, referring to the fact that the emerald ash borer (and several other pests, like the gypsy moth) mostly have spread by human transportation. A typical ash borer doesnʼt on its own get farther than a mile or two from its birth tree. The hat is an old one (from Alaska) that I use to protect my noggin (bald heads do burn, baby, burn, in the sunlight) and shield my eyes when gazing upward, usually directly in line with the sunʼs position somehow. I wear jeans because I get to clamber into and through overgrown ditches regularly, and I already had a minor encounter with poisonous wild herbage. I like carpenters pants in real life, and the leg pockets carry stuff on the job — a pen on each side, my cell phone on the right and some gum on the left. You canʼt see in this shot, but my keys are on a (Guinness) lanyard around my neck, along with my credentials from USDA; once I locked myself out of the GOV back in May, my first day out on my own at all, I have been very careful about those keys. I am actually (not pretendingly/ dramatically) extending my pole upward at a trap, and you can see (part of) the pole in the shot. Also out of frame are my beloved waterproof boots that I wear all day every day on the job.

I had bought the boots at the Bass Outlet store in Wisconsin which we pass (in an outlet mall) on the way to visit Janetʼs sister and her husband. Although supposedly listed at nearly $150, I picked them up for just about twenty bucks. Considering some of the situations into which I have staggered on the job, the original price would not have been too high. I hope they last and last.

I also have rain gear that I paid a lot more than I did for the boots (at Theisenʼs, from Carhartt***). But the Fourth was a warm enough day I wasnʼt going to model those orange bibbed pants and coat for my Beloved to photograph.

And thatʼs what I wear for work (and Iʼve already worn out one pair of pants that ripped out both back pockets from carrying a staple gun — used to attach little signs to the trapped trees). The clothes get washed daily, reserved just for the job because my GOV (like all the seasonalsʼ vehicles) stinks of manuka oil in the lure. Also, I get the sticky residue, from accidentally touching traps, particularly on my pants.

Wasnʼt that exciting? Feel enlightened?  — Thereʼs more to come. Eventually. When I have the time.

* You would think that something as large as the EAB trap is wouldnʼt vanish utterly when blown out of a tree — but about half the time, sadly maybe more, that is exactly what seems to happen. At least to me.

** No one else on our team of seasonal employees wears a reflective vest, but itʼs become a part of the daily costume for this role for me.

*** If you clicked the link and looked at the pants, I also bought the corresponding hooded coat.

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

Still Kicking

I am fairly certain this one is somewhere in Jackson County, the day that the Forest Service was treating woodsy areas for gypsy moths (one of the work stories I have to tell — someday, perhaps soon). Click, of course, for a big version (although at least halved twice from the actual shot).

My “Subscriptions” page here on WordPress just revealed that itʼs been twenty (20!) days since I last posted something to the blog. Sigh.

Perhaps some had thought/hoped ole Wakdjunkaga had expired. Not yet…

I am still alive, just busy working. I even have work news that I just havenʼt had time to post. Lots of work stuff going on (I even got to work on gypsy moth trapping for four days to help out my [now former?] partner in Linn and Scott counties); itʼs the season to restock the lure in the traps (and over the Fourth, The Lovely One got me to take down the trap in our own yard, while wearing my full work regalia, so she could snap some pictures that I intend to share here, hopefully some time before my seasonal work period ends about Labor Day).

I have also been thinking a lot about stories (particularly “Mantorville* although I donʼt know why driving around the back roads of eastern Iowa should inspire me on that subject…**) and even have written (a little). The photo today is one I shot for mood/atmosphere/mapping-plans-for Quetzal County while out working (provided here perhaps just to prove I have been contemplating the writing life).

Friday morning (thatʼd be tomorrow) is my (personal) time, and I will try to complete some post(s?) to remind myself that I do have a blog. (I do, however, need to write to my brother Stephen as well.)

However, right now, my Beloved just arrived home, so this post is finished.

* (Isnʼt anyone gong to suggest an actual title for that eastern Iowa horror story? Ever?)

** ALL locations and characters are imaginary, however, by the way!

©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.

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.