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Self Preservation

Buzzards are really ugly. With their black bodies, their large size and their bald heads they look very sinister. Scary even. And they like to hang around near dead animals.

But that’s their real beauty. They are birds, true, but they are kind of the undertakers of the animal kingdom. A lousy job, but someone has to do it. And they are good at it.

Dead deer, possum, skunk or armadillo on the side of the road? It’ll be gone soon enough thanks to a flock of buzzards. Kinda gross when you think about it. Sharp beaks and claws ripping apart rotting flesh…but that’s their mission in life. And we’d sure be in a mess if they didn’t do their job.

Whenever I see them circling in the sky I have to wonder what they are scouting out. I keep an eye on the dog although she’s really too big for the buzzards to bug. But they made me real nervous one hot afternoon.

The movies like to show buzzards circling around parched cows and half dead cowboys in the desert. The sight of the birds is very ominous. We all know what it means. And on a hot day, after working hard in my yard, I thought I’d lie down on the grass for a few minutes to rest. But then I saw the buzzards gathering overhead. Circling.

I do not know if they saw me and were waiting for a feast. Hopefully it was some squirrel or rabbit in the field. But it made my skin crawl. Would they wait for me to die? Or would they eat me alive? I decided I wouldn’t look as tempting if I were sitting up. So I moved to a lawn chair. And then, indoors.

Now when I see buzzards high above I remind myself to keep moving. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Space Age

To the moon and back. Wow! This year, and almost this very minute, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of men, America’s men, landing and walking on the moon. Damn! The moon! Now there’s a small club!

Before 9/11, the moon landing may be the last event that everyone who was alive remembers. I was twelve. And I remember being in the den in the basement, the bomb shelter, in the middle of the night, surrounded by my family. All of us glued to the black and white television. It was unbelievable.

And it sparked a new chapter in life. I was born as a child of Sputnik. Same year. The beginning of the space race and the heyday of “duck and cover.”

The elementary school I went to, James W. Good, gave us the opportunity to watch all of the space shots on tv. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo. I was always fascinated. And looked forward to the next trip.

Like many young boys I picked up an interest in model rocketry. Estes. We would build the rockets, usually somewhere between six and twelve inches tall, stick an engine in it and press the launch button to watch it soar into the sky, returning gently on its parachute. The boy across the street from me, Johnny Hall, got some bigger rockets and would launch mice in them as experiments. And a couple of guys at school built the biggest rocket of them all. The Saturn 5. That’s the one that launched the moon missions. The model was about four feet tall and took five of the jumbo engines to launch. Watching that launch in the school parking lot was awesome.

I took the dream a little further. In two directions. I believe in extraterrestrial life. And hope to someday meet these beings. And for a long time, while I was in the Navy, I had hoped to be part of an expedition to colonize the moon or Mars.

Call me crazy, or a wild eyed dreamer. Or maybe look at the universe as I do… an infinite space filled with unknown wonder. As my favorite animated character says…to infinity and beyond! Let’s ride, Buzz!  That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

 

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Souvenirs

Memories evoke emotion. Happiness, sadness, fear, love.  The whole spectrum. And what is it that triggers memories? Sights, sounds, and especially scents.

Travelling is an opportunity to make many memories.  How can we preserve them to refer back to in the future?  There are some things that get seared into your brain and you will never forget.  We all have something like that.  One of mine is sitting with a man in Turkey who was proud to call the pile of rocks surrounding us his home.  Gave me new insight about my home and I will never forget the faces and the rocks and the aroma of the fire burning with dinner cooking on it.  The idea of it all…

Other things are preserved through pictures.  Photos we take.  Notes we write along the way.  Somewhere in my house there is a journal detailing a trip made to Germany in 1974. My first major international excursion.

And then there are things that we bring home.  Souvenirs. Everyone has their own idea as to what will be a good reminder.  I try to find something that represents the place and the people living there.  On a recent trip through the American Southwest I collected several pieces of Navajo and Zuni jewelry.  That’s me.  Other people like keychains, postcards, t-shirts or books.  All fine.

So in travelling to New York City, what souvenir would I find?  Well, I ate a pastrami sandwich at a deli.  But I couldn’t bring it back with me.  I took lots of pictures.  One day I’ll actually go back and look at them.  I seared a lot of images into my brain.  The people and lights and buildings.  The Chrysler Building, Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building are all gorgeous. But they don’t fit in a suitcase. I smelled auto and bus exhaust, and food truck cuisine.  In Chinatown I was tempted to buy a fake Rolex watch.  But didn’t.  There were t-shirts galore.  All the sports teams, I heart New York, and one very interesting one that indicated the wearer had a serious dislike for someone out there.  Key chains, ball caps, postcards, books and “art” everywhere. And people buying all of it.

What would I do?  I had several Broadway Playbills, but don’t need to keep a bunch of paper around me. There was my week long subway pass. OK, I’ll tuck that away somewhere. That was a major accomplishment for me, but that’s another story.  I had a couple of maps from tours and ticket stubs from museums.  More paper I don’t need

My kids were looking for something to give me for Fathers Day and I was trying to find it. But it had to be good.  My daughter works in the publishing industry, specifically with libraries around the world.  So a natural stop for us was the New York City Public Library.

Beautiful old building built with the wealth of the late nineteenth century robber barons. They may have been greedy, but they left a few really wonderful things behind for mankind.  Of course this library has a gift shop.  Books yes.  Pencils and keychains, yes.  And t-shirts, hats and calendars.  I let the kids get me a t-shirt.  But then I saw it.  The perfect thing.

There was a sign – “Information and Library Cards.”  Holy smokes!  I’ll get a library card!!!

When I was a kid my dad would take us to the library every Saturday morning.  We’d all look around and grab a book to read.  He wanted us to explore.  And today my kids have library cards.  The library holds all the treasures of the universe.  Maybe not life size or in 3-D, but it has information on every single thing!  And the library card gives you access to all of it.

This, the 53rdStreet branch, with its fabulous scholarly looking building, reading rooms, and collections, did indeed have it all.  And the library card let me have it all too.  So I got one.  Easy.  But the librarian told me that since I lived out of state it was only temporary.  I could access all of this treasure from anywhere in the world on my cell phone or computer.  But only for three months!  The card, however, is made of plastic and will forever remind me to be curious.  And where to go to find all the information.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Magic Movement

Whak-a-mole. Is that even a thing anymore?  You remember, a bunch of furry critters take turns popping up out of a box at random. You, the player, are supposed to whack the little devils with a mallet before they escape back into their hole. That’s kinda what the subway in New York City is like.

It’s not exactly like that because the purpose of the thousands of “moles” popping in and out of the subway is to get from one place to another. Not to get whacked in the head.  And the subway is very good at moving people. It’s almost like magic. Drop down into the system near Times Square and in a matter of minutes you can pop up in another world. Chinatown or Coney Island. Harlem or the Bronx. Brooklyn or Grand Central Station. Out of the bright lights of the city and into the suburbs. Worlds apart. And for just $2.75 you can ride all day. If you don’t pop up and out anytime…

Sure beats a cab. And while walking has multiple rewards, it’s not practical for every trip. The surface buses are part of the system and between the bus and “the train” you can get anywhere. Buy the unlimited pass and ride for a week, anywhere, anytime.  Easy. And not scary.

Next time you’re in the Big Apple, give it a try. You’ll be glad you did. That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Green Pond

The greenscape here is fabulous.  The house sits on about three acres of land which radiates away form the structure as grass and then forest.  In the distance I see fields.  And there as even a pond in the back.  The only problem is that the pond is green too.

The recent rains have greened everything up. The grass is greener and the trees and their leaves have all perked up.  But the pond…what the hell?

The pond actually doesn’t belong to me.  Its on my neighbor’s property.  So while I am privileged to be able to look at it, fish in it and even kayak on it, I rely on him to keep the water clear.  And he does a great job.

This green isn’t some thing that he did.  It’s caused by the rain.  I know that the pond is fed by some springs, and water that comes from another pond upstream.  Which belongs to a third neighbor.   And is surrounded by cattle ranch.

The guy who’s family owns “my” pond makes a daily tour of all of his property every day.  Either on foot or in a golf cart.  He’s a smart guy who know a lot about trees and water and animals.  I know he’s aware of the situation because he sees it every day, just like me.  And he tried to explain it to me once.  There is bad green stuff, and then there is really bad green stuff.  The green stuff floating on the pond is just bad. Not really bad.  He says at least part of its cause is the water coming into the pond from upstream. Which also includes the water that runs off of all the fields up there.  With cows.  I like the cows, and talk to them when they are near the fence along my driveway.

Anyway, my neighbor says unless it’s the really bad green stuff he chooses not to do anything about it.  It will eventually go away.  Until the next hard rain.  But its not my pond.  And I only own my land.  So that’s what I focus on.  But it is an odd sight…

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Danger in the Trees

The dog barked. It was lunchtime on a hot sunshine filled day and I had just sat down to eat. Damn dog! But the bark was an unusual one for my dog that sounded an alarm saying “Warning! Warning! Will Robinson!”

So I got up and went to the window to look out and see what could be going on out there. Living out in the country I see all sorts of things that you might find in the city or suburbs, and some other critters that you probably won’t see anywhere but a rural area.

Sure, there are field mice and rats.  Squirrels and chipmunks.  But there are also raccoons, possums, and armadillos.  And as a special bonus I see deer, and owls, and fox, and egrets.  Not to mention the turtles, frogs and coyotes. Big and small, they all call this home.

None of those things will bother my dog.  Only the coyotes might come close to her size but they stay away from her territory. So I wondered what was out there.

The neighbor comes by every day walking his dog, but my dog loves them and would never bark like she just had.  Sometimes people go down to the lake to fish, but that’s not my property so the dog may bark a greeting, but not a warning.  Visitors to the house get the tail wag and lick treatment so no one was here to knock on my door.

Was it really a trespasser?  A burglar? That would take some real stupidity. From the window I could see the dog standing at the base of an oak tree, looking up.  And then I saw it.  A fat, long black colored snake slithering its way straight up the tree trunk.  I hate snakes!

I’ve seen this one before.  Just a few days ago, in almost the same spot.  But it was on the ground then.  I think it’s a water snake.  Not dangerous.  But I try not to bother it.  I was, however, greatly surprised to see it climbing the tree.  Who knew?

What’s it doing up there?  Maybe its trying to get some sun and going up the tree to keep away from the dog.  Or maybe it knows there is a squirrel’s nest up there somewhere.  Maybe some other reason.  I don’t know.

The dog and I watched it for a few minutes and when it realized that we were being quiet and not trying to get any closer, it just slithered on up the tree.  Then I said good dog, you told me something was here. And we went inside.

My experience with snakes is that they inhabit the ground, rocks, and water.  I’ve seen them in the woods, and in the lake both on the dock and swimming.  I’m aware of them and watch carefully.  I have seen some that would not be kind to me.  But damn, now I have to look up in the trees for snakes falling out!

When you cross the street you look left and right.  When I go in the back yard I’m gonna have to look left and right, as well as up and down.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Instinct Tested

Practice makes perfect.  And when you are out there doing something you’ve done a thousand times before, and done well, it comes to you instinctively.  Piece of cake!  But if someone says to you, “it’s a test.  Show me how you do it,” well, then it becomes somewhat harder.  It’s a mental thing.

Rather than proceed on muscle habit you have to think about every little detail.  First this, then that, unless this is happening.  Keep your eyes peeled at all times.  A thousand thoughts and actions just to accomplish one little task.  It’s a smooth motion on instinct, but a mathematical flow chart in a test.

After riding my scooter for nearly ten years I decided it might be a good idea to get a license for the thing.  You don’t have to have any special credentials to ride one of those little putt putt jobs, but mine is big enough that I need both a license plate, and a motorcycle drivers license.  I don’t just flaunt all the laws I encounter so I have had a motorcycle permit, on and off, over those ten years.  But they only last six months and then you have to go to the State Patrol office to renew it.  So there were times when I didn’t have a license.  Or a permit. Like any other law, you can ignore it, until you get caught.

So I made an appointment to take the road skills test.  The nearest location for taking this test was nearly forty miles away.  Should be a nice little ride I thought.  Google Maps gave me the route.  I had asked the planner to avoid highways.  My scooter is pretty big, but on an uphill climb it may slow to forty nine or fifty miles an hour.  And that’s a little nerve wracking when the cars behind you are approaching at sixty. But what the map planner called no highways just happened to include twenty miles on a federal highway that in places has up to six lanes!  I may have to wing this one.

The Driver’s Services web site says the test will include a safety inspection of the bike and then four riding skills tests.  A slalom course through cones, a U-turn, an emergency stop and an emergency hazard avoidance.    And don’t forget to bring your insurance papers, registration and license for review.

That all sounds really simple.  Any rider does those things all the time.  This is gonna be a snap.

They go on to advise you that you will be scored based on your speed during the test, distances covered to execute the maneuvers, whether you put your foot down for balance at any time or whether your bike stalls out.  And also if you understand and follow all of the instructions the tester gives you.  If you fail the test, you have to wait a few days to retake it.  Just the idea of scoring and failing and waiting makes me nervous.

Ok, so I’m reasonably intelligent, pretty skilled on my bike and confident. Then suddenly I wonder about any kind of rules testing.  My biggest concern was that they would ask me to use hand signals.  I only know two hand signals and neither is official. One is the biker fellowship wave. The other is pointing skyward with my middle finger.

At the test site I have to wait in line even though I have an appointment.  They tell me to move my bike into the line of other test victims.  There is another guy on a scooter who has just finished.  He tells me to just be careful on the slalom portion.  Keep it steady.  Good luck he says.

The tester comes outside and hollers out to anyone who’s listening. Meet me over there by the trailer she says.  There is some confusion as to who she is speaking to, but I finally figure out it’s me. Tension level rises.  Who wants to look like an idiot?

When I get to the meeting place she is nowhere to be seen.  Oh God, this is the following directions part of the test and I’m failing.  Where is she??!!  She has a beautiful spice island accent.  Maybe I misunderstood what she had said.

Here she comes, slowly walking across the parking lot toward me. I can tell she is talking but with my helmet on I can’t understand a word of what she’s saying.  Oh shit, more failing points.  Oh, she’s on her cell phone…

To break the ice I ask her if she rides.  She says something to the effect of hell no.  Never, and she won’t let her husband of kids ride either. She says she doesn’t even like giving the test!

She goes on to tell me that she had one applicant who somehow managed to fall off his bike, roll it over and have the gas cap come off thereby spewing gas all over the place.  She said she passed him on the exam.  So, as long as I don’t kill myself, or the tester, I should pass.

Without any safety inspection, she explains all the aspects of the test and says shell go over them again as we do each individual one. Do I have any questions?  Between the helmet and her accent, and being half deaf anyway, I indicate that I got it! Slalom test.  Six cones lined up spaced in ten foot intervals.  Looks simple.  But balancing and turning in that small space is harder than you might think.  Perfect score.  Part two is start here.  No, I mean start here with your bike pointing THIS way.  Damn.  Make a right turn inside these lines, ride over there, go between these two lines, make a U-turn and stop inside the box over there.  Simple.  Except that the lines I’m supposed to stay inside are only spaced about a tires width apart!!!  Like threading a needle wearing boxing gloves.  I lost two points on that one.  Touched the line somewhere.  Part three. Get moving straight ahead at about fifteen miles an hour.  When I yell stop, stop.  Easy. But the physics of it makes it a little less so.  By the time she yells stop, and I hear it and slam on the brakes, I’ve gone six inches past the line she was aiming for.  Minus one. And finally, at fifteen miles an hour ride to this line and then swerve right.  Now that one was easy.

She tells me to meet her inside.  I passed.  The woman at the counter who will take care of my paperwork tells me everyone gets nervous about the test.  Aw shucks I say, nothing to worry about.  And riding home, new license in my wallet, I don’t feel one bit different.  But now I know that I’m oh-ficial.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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