Friday, February 27, 2009

Weird! Who, me?

Way back in the 1980’s I was working at a citrus ranch on the East side of Imperial Valley.  That was when I decided on a life promise to never live West of where I worked, again.  I’d drive to work with the rising sun in my face, work all day, then enjoy the setting sun in my face on the way home.  One day I was driving the company’s little red Japanese pickup home with a couple of other guys in the cab.  It was mostly cloudy so the sun wasn’t an issue that day, but there were breaks in the clouds, too.  As we drove along I noticed a bright light in the western sky above a big, dark cloud.  It was coming down, but quite slowly.  I am fairly certain it was a meteor and that it was coming nearly towards us, which would give it the illusion of moving very slowly.  We watched it for a couple of minutes until it went behind the cloud, and here comes the fun part.  Suddenly, it came right through the cloud, leaving a clear spot behind, through which we could see blue sky.  The hole continued to grow bigger for a couple of seconds after the light passed through.  Shortly after, the meteor burned up or something, because the light went out.  Now my mind says meteor, and the heat of its entry into the atmosphere made the cloud turn back into water vapor.   We all saw it, so it wasn’t my feeble brain creating things in response to the sun in my eyes, or swamp gas or any of that.

  Well, today I was eating my lunch at home and I turned on Discovery Channel and watched a show about UFOs.  They were describing an incident at the Chicago airport where an object was visible (but not on radar) above one of the concourses, but then it shot up into the sky and left a hole in the clouds through which people could see blue sky.   They claimed that is proof positive it was a UFO, because there is no other explanation for something with enough energy to melt a hole in a cloud.  Wow!  So I saw a UFO after all?  Well, that’s one thing.

Second thing.  I’ve seen very unusual, big, black cats out at the farm where we hunt pigs, and I’ve seen them on 3 separate occasions.  They have a short tail, but are otherwise proportioned more like a cougar.  The bobbed tail says, Bobcat, but I’ve also seen bobcats out there and they are an entirely different kind of cat.  In fact, I’ve been within 4 or 5 feet of a bobcat out there and had a very good look at him, indeed!  I’ve seen these black cats in full sunlight twice, and I’ve seen them up close (20 feet away or so), moving slowly, and out in the open.  There is no doubt about what they are and what they are not, but it leaves me in a curious situation of having observed something unknown to science.  Scientists are all from Kansas (Show me!), and invariably react to reports like mine with disdain.  They always respond with something like, “There is no such thing as a black cougar”, or “All cats look black at night.”, or “I’m sure he thought he saw it, but it was actually just swamp gas nebulizing into a poltrificating storm, causing caustrophying ions in his eyes and making it look black” while giving the impression they really believe it has to do with inbreeding.  

That makes two different, unrelated things where I find myself on the opposite side from scientists, and I desperately don’t want to be there.  Well, I can’t do anything about duplicating a meteor punching a hole through a cloud, so that one has to remain in the category of an interesting tale, but I will probably see a black cat again.  The thing is, I have had an ongoing argument with myself over what to do about it.  The easiest thing would be to shoot one.  But I don’t really want to shoot an unusual animal, even if it does give me scientific credence, because then I would have well and truly earned scientific disdain for having killed a rare animal - one that probably deserves to be on the endangered list.  The other alternative is to photograph it in detail, but there is a big problem with that.  It’s probably about a hundred times harder to get a good photograph than to shoot it, and I am not THAT good at sneaking up on wild predators.  Plus, I don’t have the proper equipment for it, nor the money to buy it, not, frankly, a burning desire to get that far into photography.  So, I guess I’ll just have to remain in that poor, pitiful, unloved and un-believed group of people who are generally labeled as weirdoes.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How disasters come to happen

I’ve always heard that big disasters (the man-made kind, that is) are caused by a series of small mistakes, rather than a big bone-head one.  I’m a believer.  Let me explain.

Tuesday, Liz was hosting a little book-club group at our house.  The fireplace had some ashes in it and she decided it would be nice to have a cheery fire and that would also make it so she didn’t have to clean up the ashes.  Who could argue with logic like that?  I was assigned to provide the wood.  I almost always have some scrap wood laying around, but this time I didn’t have much.  However, I had some logs of osage orange (aka Bois de Arc) I am hoping to turn into beautiful bowls some day, and that some day hadn’t come up in a long time.  So I brought in an 8” log and put it on the fire with enough small stuff to keep it crackling merrily.  The party/book club was a roaring success.  That night I couldn’t sleep and came downstairs to find the place full of smoke.  Osage orange is dense wood and burning it is kind of like burning iron.  It takes a long time.  But through the night that log had burned and burned until the front half of it burned away and the log rolled forward, coming to rest against the screen at the front of the fireplace.  From that position, the smoke didn’t go up the chimney, it went out into the house.  I set it back on the grate and turned on the gas starter to maintain a flow of air up the chimney and went back to bed.  Next morning, Liz wanted to turn off the gas, and I wanted to keep the smoke out of the house (even though it was too late), so we decided the log needed to go outside.  I carried it outside and put it on some bricks in the back yard, then went to work.  Along in the afternoon, I was cutting some molding pieces to frame a doorway, working outside in a fairly brisk wind, but of a very pleasant temperature.  My phone rang and it was Liz’s mother asking me if I was home.  I told her no, I was at work, and she said, “Well, your little shed is on fire.”  That set me back.  I asked her if it was actual smoke and flames fire and she said yes and should she call the fire department.  YES!!!  I mean, “Yes, please.  Right away would be nice.  Do it NOW!”  So the fire department came and tore down my shed and put out the fire.  It seems that some time during the day a piece of the log, fanned by the wind, fell off the bricks and landed in the grass.  Who knew that flat lawn provided enough fuel to sustain a flame?  It did, though.  The grass burned along the edge of the lawn for 8-10 feet just beyond the porch, turned 90 degrees and burned about 15 feet along the edge of some bushes and ignited two paper bags of leaves Liz had raked up a few days before.  The two bags of leaves burned for a while and started the corner of my plastic storage shed on fire.  Meanwhile, the lawn burned in the other direction, spreading out generally and ignited a section of plastic construction fencing I had abandoned on the back lawn temporarily (honest, it was just a project that had to be halted by darkness).  The thin plastic mesh burned amazingly well, including going right over the concrete edging into a bunch of leaf litter under a weeping willow, which was also burning merrily when the fire department arrived.  Amazingly, right next to the fencing was a Harbor Freight 12 ga. extension cord which was not harmed in the slightest by the fire, even though the grass burned all around it on its way to the fencing stuff.  But I digress.  When the fire department (those blessed, intrepid souls) arrived, all started to go well again.  They pulled the front side of my shed down and put out the fire just before it ignited the 2 7-gallon plastic containers of gasoline I keep for the emergency generator.  One of the containers had actually begun to shrink down as the plastic softened – the thing plastic containers do just before they burst into flames.  That would have been bad, but our heroes saved us from that one.  They also put out the fire under the spreading weeping willow tree and they put out the osage orange log.  I have more thanks to offer than those stout-hearted men will ever hear.  My mother-in-law is safe and well on her way to ensuring I never forget a moment’s carelessness and haste.  The shed will be re-built.  The lawn and bushes will grow back.  The bricks are fine, though darkened.

My face is red, but I still have a pillow to rest it on, so all in all, I have no complaints.  But if your spouse ever hosts a little group of book enthusiasts and suggests a cheery fire……

Sunday, February 15, 2009

I watched a TV show the other day about a mountain lion attack on a couple of hikers. It reminded of an experience I had as a young lad. As you know, when I was growing up, my father guided deer hunters in the Fall each year. As a result, the deer season was a big deal for our family. While the dudes were with us, we all focused on filling their tags, but after they were gone, we hunted for ourselves. One year, Jim and I were hunting in the long canyon next to Ebbs Canyon. There were ravines coming down from the highest peak into this canyon and we hunter in them after the first rush was over. There was a lot of country in there with thick rush and the deer would go hide in there.
Well, one morning, Jim and I were riding horses up two adjacent ridges, keeping abreast so that if one kicked out a deer, the other might see it. I think Jim must have gotten hung up in some thick stuff, because I realized we were no longer abreast. I tied the horse and sat on a rock to wait for him. Pretty soon, Jim came into view and I watched him working his way up his ridge. Then I noticed a mountain lion following him, about 50 yards back. Mountain lions are fond of horses, but their riders are often hurt during attacks - a fate I did not want for my brother. So I lifted my rifle and prepared to take a pot-shot at that lion next time it ame into sight. The lion may have seen me move, because it melted into the brush and never came back into sight. Or maybe it smelled the gun Jim was carrying, or maybe it wasn't prepared to take on such a large animal, or maybe it was not hungry - only curious. In any case, Jim entered a large open area about then and the lion did not follow him there.
The thing I remember about this is that I was Jim's protector for a while - a role reversal. I was there, I saw the danger, I had the means to act to save him, and I was interested in doing the job. All through H.S., Jim looked after me and was my protector, but for that few minutes, I looked after him.
It is this role of protector that I've been thinking about lately. It is such a major comfort to have someone to look out for us, but very few of us have such a person with us always. It falls to the Holy Ghost to always be there for us, but there's a catch with that. You have to let him be there. He won't stay if he's not wanted, so we have to have the desire to have him with us. And he won't tolerate the least degree of sin in our minds, so we have to be "in tune" for him to be there. And finally, his constant presence is a gift given to those who have faith, enough faith to repent of our sins, and follow that up with baptism. When we do that, we are given the gift of having the Holy Ghost attend to us at all times - if we remain true.

Friday, February 6, 2009

More owl news

Keith drug me (kicking and screaming all the way) out to the pig-hunting farm Wednesday.  We wanted to see the feeders while there was still corn in them and hopefully see what pigs are coming to them.  I sat in my tree stand again, and I was interested to see if the owl would come back and harass me again.  Along towards evening, I saw him winging along just above the tree tops heading straight for me, but when he got close he suddenly veered away and landed in a tree on the other side of the creek – about 50 yards away.  He flew back to the North after a while and then returned to that same tree, but he never came close to me.  So I think the pressure is off and he is no longer the harbinger of doom.  I find that very reassuring.

  Today, I cut all the rest of the panels I need for the trailer sides, and I started sanding and priming.  I am continuing to make the pieces interlocking so that a single screw might hold 4 or 5 panels securely in place.  It’s a fun way to do it, but it takes longer to do it, this way.  It also makes it harder to paint, because of all the little cutouts and holes.

  I also (reluctantly) applied for jobs at Home Depot and at Lowes.  This is hard for me.  It’s not that I want to quit Clear Sky Handy Men, but we need some steady income.  I hope that I can do both, but there is an excellent chance that they won’t allow their employees to do handyman work on the side, or at least not use the employee discount for it.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


In Harry Potter, owls are just delivery boys, but the Sioux and some other tribes believed that if an owl took notice of you it was a message that you were doomed to die soon. They are equivalent to the Grim Reaper.

A few weeks ago, Keith and I went pig hunting. I sat up in my favorite tree stand and enjoyed a very pleasant evening. A boar even came in, although he came in behind me and I didn’t get a shot. But that’s beside the point. As it was getting dark, an owl flew in and landed in a tree right over the feeder. There are lots of owls in that wood and we see them and hear them hooting all the time, but not usually that close. I enjoyed watching him and he quickly started watching me, too. Then he flew to a tree just behind me. I had to lean way back to watch him, but it was way cool to have him so close. Owls are interesting birds. They have exceptionally large heads to support their extra large eyes that enable them to hunt at night in the woods. Their wings are bent further forward than most birds’ wings, and their feathers have fluffy trailing edges. Those two odd wing attributes make it so they fly silently and it is kind of eerie to see them flying around against the night sky. So that’s why I was studying this owl in the tree behind me. I looked back towards the feeder finally, mostly to give my neck a rest, when the owl left that tree breaking off a branch as he launched. That is really odd – remember all that about how they fly silently? They are all about stealth! He only flew a short ways and landed in another nearby tree, and when he left that one he again broke a branch. He did that for 20-30 minutes before he finally moved off. He landed in trees all around me, watched me for a bit from each perch, then broke a branch off as he flew. I guess I was encroaching in his/her territory, but it was extremely odd behavior for an owl. I enjoyed it all, but it did remind me of the Sioux and their version of the GR. So far, though, I’ve been OK. I haven’t died, yet. Knock, knock.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Who's the worst BLOGger?

I would probably be in line for that honor if it wasn’t for Mark, whose last BLOG was back in the olden days when a young couple bought a bicycle built for two. Still, I have reason for shame with my own. Oh well.

Joe kindly offered to weld up some reinforcement on my beat-up old trailer, so I could put nice, wooden sides on it and make it a thing of honor. He said something about a day or two, about 2 weeks ago. He did a TON of welding on it and it still needed work, so I asked him for some pointers and endeavored to undertake the task myself. Now, back in the olden days when I last welded, the equipment was a bit simpler. In fact, in those days, the Harbor Freight solution to welding was to take a used-up D-cell battery apart to remove the carbon core. You’d sharpen one end of the carbon rod in a pencil sharpener and hook the other end up to a car battery. Ground what you want welded to the other battery terminal and you’d get a welding spark. If you needed to add steel, you’d grab some baling wire. It took a lot of practice to get a decent weld with that level of equipment. But that was then. Joe has a neat, updated welder and it is a lot easier and more forgiving than back in the day. After a few minutes of instruction I took off welding and was able to finish it up. Now, some of my welds are ugly, make that UGLY! But they have steel where they need to be and none of them have broken (so far). So, the trailer is now about a thousand times stronger than it was, it has metal tubing to keep the tail-light wires safe as they run along the bottom, and it isn’t much wider than my Jeep (reducing the chances of collision), even though it has just as much floor area as it did before. I paid $200 and change for it and I bought about $200 worth of steel and parts, but it is now worth something over $1,000. Joe had some MDO which is a weatherproof, high quality plywood used for highway signs. I am making sides from that material and when I’m done it will have arches in the large side pieces with my company logo on it. I have gotten several jobs from people who have seen me at home centers, so I figure if it is easier to see my sign, I will get more of those.

In the photo of the back of the trailer, where I don’t have the deck mounted, yet, you can see the steel tubing we used to build the frame. It is all welded up tight and a coat of primer paint has been applied so it won’t rust if it gets rain on it.

The photo of the front shows how the front panel is arched above the frame. The two sides will also be like that, and I’ll have signs made up that say “Clear Sky Handy Men” and my phone number right under the arches. That way, it will match my Logo.

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t look like much with all the excess MDO piled in the back and the used signs looking like - well, used signs, but paint covers many ills and it will be looking awesome very soon. I’ll post more photos then.