500 Words

An interesting year closes tomorrow night. 

A year ago I was completely involved in my quest to post something daily here on the blog. I did so, and not so surprisingly (at least to me) I havenʼt even posted 150 times this year (considerably less than half the possible days). Things change?

A year ago I had no connection to the USDA nor any awareness of the emerald ash borer. Boy, did that situation change. And I am looking forward to renewing that relationship (both with the bug-hunt and the governmental agency), Congressional asininity permitting.

Last year I was trying to dictate as many words to the computer as I could. Just now I am excited about uploading handwriting into editable text.

A year ago, we had nearly (or more than) a foot of snow on the ground. This year everything is gray and brown — bare and possibly more depressing than a white winter (of course, before the last three years, we went through a phase of winters that often had no snow until January, or very close thereto).

A year ago, thanks to a Christmas gift, I was listening nearly nonstop to the Allman Brothers (again, after an almost forty-year gap). I donʼt think Eat a Peach or Live at the Fillmore has played since April. Lately, not having been able to afford the complete (huge) Europe ʼ72 live Grateful Dead box, I have been listening a lot to the two of those concerts I did purchase. And some new/old Rolling Stones — The Brussels Affair, pretty good music. And (potential blog topic here) Joe Grushecky. Yes, Mozart, Miles Davis and Bob Marley, too. Clapton (in various guises). Bach. A 2011 Christmas gift means Jefferson Airplane, as well.

A year ago I imagined I would have completed my NaNoWriMo 2010 novel, and I just realized I havenʼt added a word in the last twelve months (and my performance for November this year was so crapulous I know I will be discarding just about all those words). Sad.

A year ago I was hopeful that the relatively new phone-line filter Qwest technicians had installed would make my internet experience smooth. As I recently reported — no such luck. (Thanks for nothing, CenturyLink. And by the way, my bill still says I am paying for “high-speed internet with MSN.”  Didnʼt MSN die?*)

I felt pretty self-satisfied, a year ago, and optimistic about myself and my writing. Then I wasted what time I could have given to writing until I was working ten hours a day, on the road. And then I made only feeble efforts to get the gusto back. 

I had no big new yearʼs resolutions in mind a year ago. But I feel as though I had better make some seriously significant changes now (at least I have been getting my large and lazy arse out of bed for some time hitting the streets these past mornings — but weʼll just have to see if that reluctant effort persists).

A year ago things to me looked pleasingly bright. Right now, the view seems pretty bleak.

So why am I smiling?

* MSN did die. I got an e-mail announcement of the demise/change. The software no longer works on Janetʼs Windoze laptop; she has to get her e-mail using Hotmail (on Firefox). The web siteʼs free. To anyone, whether they pay money unnecessarily to CenturyLink or not — disbelievers should just click the link above. (I really do have a long phone call to endure, complaining, soon.)

Okay. With the footnotes, this is definitely more than just 500 words.

And the much-delayed explanation behind this recent flurry of posts is coming tomorrow (really; it would have been today, as previously promised, but I couldnʼt count).

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

Thanksgiving Aftermath

Wow. Nearly the entire month of November has slipped away without even a breath of a post here. I wish I could say that I have been writing diligently for NaNoWriMo, but even though my word-count (now illustrated in the bright new, but sadly belated widget to the right) is pretty close to the norm, I have mostly just wasted my time (still) this month. (And I know full well that a good slew of what I have written and counted toward that total is worthless and I will probably never use it. Sad to say, but bitterly true.)

The box set iTunes is frustrating me about right now.

Anyway, The Lovely One is busily decorating for Christmas today (as per annum), my crapulous iMacʼs optical drive repeatedly refuses to acknowledge or read the final three disks from The Jimi Hendrix Experience Winterland box set (does anyone else think Apple does that — makes their hardware/software refuse to load CDs — deliberately to drive iTunes users to buy/download from that damnable store?*),and I have been raking (yet again — umpteenth time, again) to clear the oak leaves, originating across the street, from our yard. I only got the eastern side and half the back yard raked (and another mostly full truckload of leaves delivered to the dump site) before concluding the windʼs just too strong (damn southerly gale) to keep at it longer — much to your delight/misery, readers.

However, updating my word count with NaNoWriMo today reminded me to see about widgets they provide, and finding many, I placed one into the sidebars. And that procedure made me realize that I havenʼt written a word since the first of the month for good old Wakʼs Blog. So here are a few words.

I do have some parts of a travelogue on our Budapest trip completed, and I will upload those, or words very like those, as a post or two over the next few days, along with some pictures. Otherwise, having not eaten more than some soda crackers — a few with cheese — today, I had better keep this short to be able to help Janet make supper from the leftovers we snatched home from her mother yesterday. (Yum — both for the original Thanksgiving feast and the cold and/or reheated leftovers today and whenever after.)

I hope everyone felt appropriately thankful yesterday, and that those who went shopping all night/today enjoyed themselves (my beloved and I might venture into a store by tomorrow or Sunday). And now I must try to create a Christmas-gift suggestion list for my family, to get in the old e-mail ASAP.

Merry weekend, all!

* Personally, for every time a CD wonʼt load, I schedule not buying anything from the iTunes store. Itʼs around 576 albums I wonʼt buy from Apple right now…

And, yes, any suggestions on how to make the optical drive actually work (and not just kick a valid CD back out) would be gratefully appreciated. ASAP.

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

Free as a Bird (Not)

The poster for our production. It was one thing in which I participated productively yesterday.

Rainʼs moving in…

Of course, the radar has shown that rain closing in all morning, but the front wall of the rainfall has curved around Our County, encompassing Dubuque and a big region south of Interstate 80, but not us. Yet. The forecasters continue to insist it is coming; it will probably be here by the time I get this item composed, edited, illustrated and finally posted for today.

My summer job has ended. Like so many college students I enter September temporarily unemployed. My GOV still needs to be returned to the main office, and that event is currently scheduled for sometime late next month. So Iʼll earn a day or two daysʼ income taking it back and getting debriefed. Unfortunately, The Lovely One will have to take a day off work to drive me home afterwards. Or else I will have to locate other help lest I remain stranded in Urbandale…

Until that trip, I no longer have the ten-hour days encompassing my time and energy.

Fortunately or un-, my time is not yet quite my own. Our play* is busy in rehearsals, currently four nights each week (soon to become five), and I also have some duties during the day to fulfill (now that Iʼm “free”). Like finding some costumes, acquiring or manufacturing sound effects, helping to locate props, and assisting in set construction.

I also need to apply formally to work as a substitute teacher in districts nearby, and at least in Our Town that means about a dozen pages of various forms to complete along with credentials to locate and copy. So thereʼs plenty to do to keep me busy.

But I still find time, fatuously, to create and post material to the blog, like this. And I still want to take time to work on real writing and even give myself a chance to read some things for pleasure. This morning I composed a letter to my brother Stephen, long-overdue, and vague bits and pieces of what I had to tell him kept churning through my mind to become this post. However, now that Iʼm trying to put those same fragments of thoughts into print, Iʼm not sure I really have much to say. So at least this post will be brief.

And maybe I will get this into the electronic æther before the rain arrives.

Thanks for reading…

* I hope some may remember that Janet and I are directing One Flew over the Cuckooʼs Nest for the Grand Opera House in Dubuque. Auditions were held August 7 and 8, with actual rehearsals beginning on the 11th. The performances will begin September 23 through October 2.

©2011 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.

Bugged

Our poor, bugged linden tree — and it had been doing so wonderfully well this year… until last week, that is.

Just over a week ago, home in the evening from a dayʼs work, I looked out our north window in the dining room and noticed that our linden tree looked peculiar in the topmost area. Later, I think that same day, I went around the house watering plants (a mandatory daily activity during our three-week drought, now strangely distant in the past even as rain falls while Iʼm dictating — northern Jackson and Dubuque, not to mention Galena, enduring a horrible thunderstorm-cum-tornado last night) and noticed the peculiarity was a laciness to the leaves, meaning some bug was eating them. The next night the damage had spread, and some gleaming green, chunky bugs flew in my face as I examined the tree — Japanese beetles.

I told Janet about my discovery when she got home from her workout, and she/we decided we had better do something immediately. So she trooped right down to Gasser True Value (yes, although we may hate their excessive accumulation of creosote-soaked, and creosote-fume-emitting, piles of logs, we do appreciate having a hardware store in town, although The Lovely One could just as easily have driven a little further to Theisenʼs), where she grabbed the last remaining Japanese beetle trap. Not calling on my USDA experience whatsoever, I assembled the trap following the directions on the outside of the plastic bag, hanging the bag from one of our tiki torch poles, and let the pheromone do its work.

The pheromone trap, currently about a third full on its third time around.

The trap was to be placed at least thirty feet from foliage (impossible in our yard) and it summoned by scent hordes of horny male beetles seeking sex from further away than just our yard (thus the need to keep the trap in isolation, away from plants, to prevent those erratic bugs from accidentally happening upon other juicy leaves to devour near the trap). We put it at the end of our driveway, since our neighbors had pulled down their one tree several years ago. Boy, shoving the tiki post into the iron ground was a chore and a half (not so much now, when all the dirtʼs turned from skillet hardness to mud).

And the pheromone did work. By the next evening the bag was already almost half-full. And I had to dump the still half-alive mass of churning black insects a day later — an unpleasant chore that I think was made somewhat easier by my experiences searching purple traps for emerald ash borers. Iʼm just not as squeamish about buggy life as I once was.

With the rain beginning last weekend and continuing just about daily this whole week, the beetles have diminished in quantity, and we have only had to empty the trap one more time. So far.

Of course, we are also worried about what those fiendish bugs may have accomplished in their life cycles before we started alluring all the concupiscent males to the pheromone trap. Our concern means weʼre also going to try to spray the tree with insecticide and soapy water and try to treat the ground as well — to eliminate (as many as possible) eggs that have been buried.

This was one time accessing the Internet was a genuine benefit. Neither one of us really knew anything about what to do about Japanese beetles, but a quick search googled out what we needed to know.

If only this were the end of our petty woes…

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

Feeling Simply Rapturous…

Work. 

We finished our territory, my partner and I, this week, wrapping up the last few “grids” in Clinton County (which we had skipped, thanks to floods and such, a few weeks ago) on Tuesday afternoon. We placed nine traps in nine sites in Dubuque County Tuesday morning and then drove south along the river (lovely drive that Highway 52 through Bellevue, so appropriately named) to tour the northeastern portion of our neighbor to the south for our final few traps.

Then I got to revisit the very southernmost portion of Clinton County (again) on Wednesday to actually put traps up on my own (my very first full day of that, and my one and only). During that visit southward, I met the Iowa DNR guy that noticed one of our very first traps had been placed (not my selection) in a hackberry tree (and which I removed to begin this past week). He was really pleasant and assured me that I had indeed selected an ash for the trap I was hanging as he drove up. An amusing farmer with a big mustache also hiked over to ask about the big purple trapezoids, wondering jokingly to himself if they werenʼt some kind of performance art.

Finally, on Thursday I did a heck of a lot of paperwork, particularly a chore I imposed on myself of transferring the dots which indicate our traps to the actual county maps (that I can read, unlike the special USDA APHIS PPQ maps that my partner has littered with her indications). I had anticipated about a half or two-thirds day of work, but instead spent several more than ten hours hunched over portions of maps and respective sheets on individual trap sites (although as I took eye-relieving breaks, I only counted ten). I also arranged my hotel and travel stuff for an upcoming week of work away from home. And the guys redoing our kitchen floor showed up to finish that job (sort of) while I strained over my maps and trap sheets.

Now I start to revisit those traps to check for bug corpses glued to the sticky exterior and attempt to figure out which (if any — pray not) might be emerald ash borers.

However, before I get to do that (on my own) I am transferred for a while (on the road again) to northeastern Iowa to help get the last 45 traps for a county up there done. Thus I get a new partner for a week and new scenery to enjoy, plus a few dozen traps that I will never have to take back down, too. And a few chances to visit with my sister, where she lives, as well.

The weather sounds unimpressive (both cold and rainy) for my extended excursion, but weʼll see (this past week was predicted wet as well, and I never had to don the raingear).

But first, this weekend marks our anniversary! The Lovely One and I will have been wed for twenty-eight brief and rapturuous years tomorrow/Sunday. So we intend to do a little celebrating (and, sigh, shopping). With that said: Time to go!

(After all, if the earth ends today*, as foolish, weakskulled nutjobs predict, the anniversary itself — and my subsequent trip northwards — will never happen. Best to enjoy today. Carpe diem, all!)

* or not, as the linked website instructs us…

 — My apologies to Facebook friends, who have already enjoyed the joke this title repeats today.

©2011 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.