Wednesday, May 28, 2008

scent of spring

Late May and early June are very fragrant here in the country. Honeysuckle grows rampant on the roadsides and perfumes the air, as do blackberry and wild rose.

The blackberry (left) and wild rose (right) vines often grow along side each other, and are similar looking. Their petals are shaped differently, and the wild rose has larger clusters of flowers, as well as being more fragrant. We are lucky to have both growing profusely along the cliffs at the front and back of our property.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

oh what is so rare

I realized a few years back that I like many other people have a tendency to think only about the unusual or extraordinary days as special, and vowed to change. I decided to make sure to notice all the really great, perfect days, ordinary days. The more I paid attention, the more really great days, perfect days I discovered.

Yesterday, Saturday, was another one of those perfect days. The key to a perfect day (in my life) is that its a day that John and I spend doing things together (rather than in our respective home offices). However, it was also spectacularly beautiful -- oh "what is so rare as a day in" May, "when if ever come perfect days?" [Yes, I know the poem says "June"]. Blue skies, clear pure air, mild warmth, and everything all around so very green.

We learned, via our local country weekly paper, that a brand new, six screen movie theatre had been constructed (utilizing a long empty grocery store), about 25 miles (a 40 minute drive) from us in Norton, Virginia. This is a major development for our area.

So on Saturday we took off for the movies to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I discovered C. S. Lewis when I was about 12 and read the Chronicles several times in the next few years. It's something that I come back to every decade and reread again. I'm a Jew and John's a Buddhist, but we both enjoy Lewis's fantasy world, although Prince Caspian was never my favorite and the movie reminded me of why that is -- its basically all one long series of battles with little respite. Nonetheless the movie was beautiful and thrilling, and we both enjoyed it. The new theatre was very nice, with comfortable stadium seating.

Afterwards we stopped at the new Dara Thai restaurant not far from the theatre. Yes, actual people from Thailand in central Appalachia. Fabulous food -- and five different vegetarian entrees from which John could choose. We are definitely going back.

Then, because we don't like to waste any trips these days, we stopped at K-Mart, Lowe's and finally at the big Food City in Wise. Shopping together is fun. We even ran into some friends of ours, Suzanne and Gene, also wandering hand in hand through Lowe's and had a brief visit.

Nothing momentous, nothing spectacular happened, but it was a perfect day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

the future of transportation in the mountains?

Dogwood winter merged imperceptibly into blackberry winter. I'm enjoying the extended cool weather this spring -- especially when I see on the weather channel how extraordinarily hot it is out west. It's been pleasant weather for reading outdoors, walking the dog, and planting tomato plants.

I've also been doing a fair amount of errand running. Among those errands are taking cats to the vet (have to load up two of them in the next 30 minutes), getting routine doctors visits and annual tests out of the way, seasonal shopping trips (gardening, yard and home improvement projects). Given where we live (the-middle-of-no-where-Kentucky), all of these trips require an absolute minimum of 30 miles round trip, others are more like 80 miles round trip. We'd also like to take in a movie or two (at the theatre) in the summer time, and that's at least an 80 to 90 mile round trip.

Now I'm lucky compared to most folks around here. Nine years ago, when I bought a new car, I got a 3-cylinder Chevy Metro that gets between 45 and 50 miles per gallon all the time. During school, I generally buy gas once every two weeks, in summer, it's closer to three weeks. My husband's car gets more like 34 mpg. But he drives his even less often. For the moment, gas prices haven't had much of an effect upon our family. Nor are they likely to be a serious impact on us any time soon. But I am concerned for the future of rural areas and small communities like those in eastern Kentucky.

Urban areas will experience difficulties, but will be able to adjust by shifting to mass transportation, improving pedestrian and bicycle pathways, and other types of adjustments. The density of population in urban areas and the efficiencies of scale that provides will make transitions less costly, and easier to fund in urban areas. Things are likely to be far more dire out here in the mountains.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

memory lane

This week I had the only "work" related thing I had to do between May 6 and June 6. Thursday the 15th, I had to travel 320 miles round trip to the central offices of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, in Versailles, Kentucky [Kentuckians pronounce this towns name as "Ver-sails," not the French "Ver-sigh"] to make a two minute plea not to change the language in a proposal emanating from the curriculum committee I chair. My plea was successful.

Since this was work related, the college gave me a van and credit card for gas, so the travel was free (to me). Driving the college van is a guilty pleasure. Brand new in October 2007, with 8 cylinders under the hood and power everything, it is soooo different from driving my own tiny 3-cylinder, 50 mile per gallon, Chevy Metro. I'd never buy anything like this (even if I could afford it), but it is an occasional treat to drive something that is so much more comfortable and powerful on long trips.

Technically, I could have driven there and back in one day (3 1/2 hours each way). But, even in the luxurious college van, its hard for me to drive that long without developing all kinds of hip, knee and back pains, and sometimes it's hard to stay awake. So I decided to combine pleasure with business, and stayed overnight in Lexington, Kentucky, just a few miles from Versailles on the way back to eastern Kentucky where I live. [Since the overnight was for my convenience, that won't get billed to the college.]

I love Lexington. I lived there for seven and a half years (January 1975 to August 1982) while in graduate school at the University of Kentucky. Even before I moved back to Kentucky in 1996, I would come back to Lexington to visit at least once a year, sometimes more. Lots beautiful things to see, lots of great places to eat, and lots of great shopping. Plus I have a wonderful friend that lives in Lexington.

Sharon was the first person I met when I came to UK in 1975. She was the secretary of the Department of Higher Education where I began my graduate career. [Sharon has long since left UK for a very interesting career in Kentucky state government, climbing to the level of political appointment, and then retiring a few years ago.] Within a week of meeting Sharon, I also met her daughter Stephanie, who was 6 years old at the time. Stephanie is the only child that I have truly been able to watch grow up. Stephanie and I spent lots of time together when I was in graduate school, and I kept coming back to Lexington to visit through out her life. I was able to be there for her wedding. On this trip Sharon showed me the most recent photos of Stephanie's children. Stephanie's daughter is now six, and an absolute dead ringer for her mom at the same age. In an instant I was transported back to that freezing January day, when I climbed into Sharon's car and met Stephanie for the first time.

One of the things I like about the college's van, is that like my own car, it has a jack to plug in an iPod (or other MP3 player). Over the past six months, I've been slowly adding music to my iPod -- mostly by digitizing my album collection, which I'm only about an eighth of the way through. I've created what I call my "life soundtrack" play lists. I have one for "childhood" (up to age 12), then one for "the sixties" (technically '63-'69), one for "college," another for "grad school," one for what I call my "MTV years" ('82-'90), and finally one just called "40 plus."

On this trip I decided to listen to "childhood," which is a mixture of traditional songs and folk songs we sang as a family (Peter, Paul and Mary, the New Christie Minstrels, Pete Seeger) and early rock and roll that we heard on the radio (some Elvis, Chuck Berry, etc.). It's a good play list for the car, because I can sing almost all the words to all the songs. One of the songs on this play list is "Today" (performed by the New Christie Minstrels). This was possibly my favorite song from the time I first heard it well up through college. I can still sing the entire song from memory, but had not thought about it in some time. I hit the back button six or seven times, and listened to the song over and over again. It is still a hauntingly beautiful song. Here are the lyrics:

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine,
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine.
A million tomorrows will all pass away,
ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.

I'll be a dandy, and I'll be a rover,
You'll know who I am by the song that I sing,
I'll feast at your table, I'll sleep in your clover,
Who cares what tomorrow may bring.

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine,
I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine.
A million tomorrows will all pass away,
ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.

I can't be contented with yesterday's glories,
I can't live on promises winter to spring,
Today is my moment and now is my story,
I'll laugh and I'll cry and I'll sing.

Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine,
I'll taste your strawberries,
I'll drink your sweet wine.
A million tomorrows will all pass away,
ere I forget all the joy that is mine today.

The idea of living in the present is desirable and appealing (if difficult to maintain). However, as I listened to the lyrics, I realized that there was also something adolescent about them. At heart, they express an unwillingness to settle down and make commitments. While we can only live one day at a time (keeping that fact firmly in mind is key to many recovery programs), we also do need to make promises and commitments, so that our days are linked to the past and future in a meaningful way.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

senior moments

My poor mom had a bad day. She has become frozen by fear of falling. Certainly at age 85 with a few experiences with tumbles, she has reason to be cautious, but her fear has become pathological. She tried to go shopping at her local Sears store and was overwhelmed by the escalator. Even though she received help from several kind strangers, the experience shook her so much that she left without purchasing what she went to get.

So I was delighted to be able to tell her a story about my day, that made her laugh and realize that "senior moments" can be had at just about any age (I'm 57).

I had an eye appointment this morning, routine follow up from cataract surgery. It was very early, and being rushed I didn't have breakfast. Afterwards, my eyes were too dilated to drive the 15 miles home, so I scooted over to my favorite restaurant, the Pine Mountain Grill, a few blocks away for a hearty breakfast. [I love eating breakfast out - any excuse will do!]

I settled in at my table with coffee, took my hoodie off, and laid it over the back of the chair, and got my planning journal out -- to plan what I wanted to blog about this week. The food arrived and was yummy. When I finished, I stood up, picked up my purse, and then one of my students (an employee at the restaurant) stopped by to say "hi." We chatted for a moment and then I went to the cashier, paid my bill. I noticed a great pair of sunglasses with reading glasses inserts on the gift rack next to the check out and purchased those too. Then I walked out to my car, and went on my way.

Five hours later, 40 miles away shopping at Wal-mart, it suddenly dawned on me -- I left my hoodie on the chair, my journal on the table, and the case for my reading glasses on the counter by the cashier! When I finally reached home at 6 PM, I called the restaurant, and checked -- sure enough all my stuff was sitting in their lost and found at the cashiers post. I'll have to go back and get it tomorrow.

I made quite a production of telling my mom, and she got a good laugh, and it made her feel a little better. So now I know why my day was the way it was!

Monday, May 12, 2008

the joys of rural life

Imagine a tiny amount of irony in the heading for this post!

Today we had our septic tank pumped out. Last time was five years ago. We meant to keep track of where the lid was (and we did remember the general area), but we just couldn't seem to find the right spot. Part of the problem was that we remembered it as being much closer to the surface. So we dug twenty little holes over a 10 foot square area of lawn (it looks like we were attacked by a huge army of moles), and still had to have to professionals find it for us and dig it up.

We swear that this time, we're going to put a big wooden flower planter right on top of the spot, so that five years from now we'll be able to find it again easily.

I actually enjoy (no irony this time) learning about how things work, and observing the the mechanics of different people's jobs. So I spent the entire time outside with the men, watching the progress. The digging part of it is the only part that is really dirty. As they said, they generally prefer it when the home owner does that part -- and we would have if we had been able to find it! Although once the septic tank is open the smell is really rank, the primary work is done by the huge suction pump on the tanker. The man guiding the suction stands well above the tank, guiding a long straight pipe, attached to the flexible tubing from the pump.

We have municipal water (as does our entire neighborhood), but so far there is no sewer service in any of this area of the county. While everyone in our neighborhood has some form of septic system, this is not true of many folks in the county. "Straight pipe" is still found in many parts of Letcher County.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

one of the secrets to happiness

Most of my life I have considered myself a happy person, until quite recently. I'm not sure exactly when I stopped feeling happy most of the time, but I really started to notice it in the last year.

I have always believed that being happy is a choice. I recognize that the choice is nearly impossible for people in the middle of war zones and concentration camps, places where natural disasters have swept away their families and everything they know, or in the midst of terrible illnesses, or devastating financial reversals. Yet, we've all heard stories of individuals in the midst of the most terrible experiences who have chosen to find moments of happiness and joy.

Having, I think, regained some of my lost sense of joy, I have been reflecting on how it is that one chooses happiness. I regret that I have not yet read the Dalai Lama's book on this subject -- it is on my summer reading list -- but I suspect that I am not the first person to discover this.

My discovery -- what makes the difference is one's point of reference, whom or what one chooses for purposes of comparing one's situation.

I was doing housework this morning; I haven't done much housework in the past few years, and its obvious as soon as one enters my house. I choose a 3' x 8' area of the bathroom off our family room. I got scrub brushes, cleaning fluids, cloths, mops, paper towels, and got on my hands and knees. It took me an entire hour. Getting up and down from the floor was really difficult. I have both osteo- and rheumatoid-arthritis, asthma, and I'm obese - to be honest "morbidly" obese. But when I was finished that section of the bathroom was clean -- really, really clean.

When I finished I was exhausted, completely worn out. I sat down and rested, and I started to feel unhappy. I remembered that twenty years ago, I was able to clean an entire 6 room apartment in half a day. Then, suddenly, I remembered a year ago. A year ago, before the rheumatoid arthritis was diagnosed and medication started, while I was also suffering from extreme plantar fasciitis, and a pinched nerver in my hip, and I couldn't walk without a cane or walker. A year ago, I could not get down on the floor -- unless I fell, which I did a few times -- and I couldn't get up without substantial assistance. Yet this year, as difficult as it was I had gotten up and down from the floor six times in the space of an hour all by myself, and while down on the floor I had scrubbed and cleaned. Suddenly I was absolutely giddy with pleasure and a sense of accomplishment.

All it took was a change in my point of reference.

Friday, May 9, 2008

the persistence of traditional roles

My husband is outside mowing the lawn, while I sit inside at the computer. On the one hand, I don't really like mowing the lawn, especially with the gasoline mower, and the grass is too high for the reel (human powered) mower. On the other hand, I am troubled by the fact that my husband feels that he has to be the one to do that task. Particularly at this moment, when it was my idea to take advantage of the brief break in rainy days to finish up the yard, and I had ever intention of getting out the mower and doing the job myself.

Had I been able to just simply get out the mower and get started, I'd be nearly done, and John would still be enjoying doing whatever he was doing in his study. But I had to come inside and find the key to the shed, and that alerted John to my intentions. So he felt he had to take over the task.

We are so non-traditional in many ways. I'm the primary breadwinner, and John's a far better and more regular cook than I am. We both do dishes and laundry and share equally in the huge task of animal care (10 cats and one large attention demanding dog). But I'm the only one who worries about how dirty and dusty the house gets, and John's the one who worries about what the neighbors think about the lawn. At some level, we are still driven by traditional marital roles.

Post script: After finishing the lawn, John came in and when I mentioned this post he said: "Honey, it's not because you are a woman, I just don't trust you to do it right." :)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

pound gap and pine mountain

This morning I took two of my kitties to the vet. The thirteen mile trip takes me from my home in Letcher County Kentucky to the town of Pound in Wise County, Virginia. It was a very pretty spring morning -- lots of mist and lots of fresh greening forests. However, best part of trips to the vet (or any trip over into Wise county) is traveling through the geological marvel of Pound Gap.

Depending upon which source one consults some time between 275 million and 230 million years ago, what is now the north American continent collided with what is now the northwestern edge of Africa. The enormous forces unleashed by this collision caused the earth's surface to buckle, push up, and even break in places. When breaks occurred, pieces of the earth's crust would push up over other pieces forming what are called "thrust" or "over-thrust" faults.

Imagine a thick, flaky, homemade, pie crust lying on a smooth, but not slick surface. Imagine pushing in from one side on that pie crust, causing it to develop ridges and ripples. If you keep pushing some will push up over other, and (if your pie crust is flakey enough) some of the ridges will split. That is what happened to the earth's crust along what is now the Appalachian Mountain chain. The whole of the Appalachian mountain range was created by a series of parallel folds and thrust faults.

The western-most thrust fault created by the pressure of Africa against north America forms part of the border of what is now Kentucky and Virginia. The southeastern piece of crust (the Virginia piece) moved west and slid up and over the northwest rock (the Kentucky piece). The cracking and pushing upward of this western most fault created a great, long mountain ridge line called Pine Mountain that runs from Tennessee through Kentucky all the way to the Breaks Interstate Park on the border between Kentucky and Virginia. Pound Gap is a natural break in that ridge, that provided access (first by trail and wagon track, then by highway) from Kentucky into Virginia (and vice versa).

About 12 years ago, the Virginia and Kentucky highway departments cooperated to expand to four lanes U.S. route 23 connecting Virginia and Kentucky. The road cut created for this construction has been a great boon to students of geology, because it laid bare the thrust fault that created Pine Mountain for all to see. The photo to the right (taken by me few years ago) shows the fault itself -- the left handside of the photo is the Virginia (southeast) side of the fault, the right is the Kentucky (northwest) side. You can see how enormous the geological forces involved must have been, to have compressed and bent under the strata on the Kentucky (northwest side) pressing them under the crust rising up from the Virginia (southeast) side.

Not only did the earth's crust on the Virginia side tilt upward as it slid up and over the Kentucky side crust, but the downward pressure exerted on the Kentucky portion of the crust caused it to tilt also. The effect of the tilting is very visible since the highway construction was completed. The photo to the left shows the Kentucky portion of the crust (to the right or northeast of the fault shown above) that was tilted by downward pressure at the fault. The photo is from the Kentucky Geological Society.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

good night

If you are at all a fan of John Hodgman -- the drool comic of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show and "PC" in the wonderful Apple Mac ads -- you should check out his blog good night.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

the first day of summer vacation

It has been years -- probably 11 years -- since I've had a true "summer vacation." But this year I have an entire month, from May 6 to June 6, that is all mine, with no real obligations to my employer, or any other institution.

It was a perfect day. I did just what I wanted to do all day long. Of course some of the things I wanted to do were necessary -- like feeding the animals, doing a load of laundry, doing a few dishes. However, for the most part, me and Rosie dog, spent the day outside.

I did some sketching, for the first time trying out the small box of pastels I bought 8 months ago (before the Virtual Learning Initiative interrupted my life). I like the quality of these pastels -- more oil than chalk -- but I'm going to need a wider array of colors!

I started reading Lester R. Brown's Plan B 3.0 which details what Brown and the World Watch Institute feel is necessary to prevent the collapse of civilization from the threats of overpopulation, poverty and environmental degradation. I've read the previous edition of Brown's book (Plan B 2.0) and many other books, articles, research reports, blogs, etc. that outline the problems, so I'm focusing on the chapters that discuss solutions this time around. I'll probably have lots to say about this and other readings this summer on Sociological Stew and Blue Island Almanack. But for my personal blog, I just want to note how wonderful and pleasant it was to sit and read exactly what I wanted to read for as long as I wanted. To have the time to pause, think about things, stare off into the woods, and jot down my brilliant (ha!) reflections on the reading.

In addition to reading and note taking, I did some journal writing. I've had so little time to write for the last six months, that when I have, it's gone into my blogs and not my journal. Time to make up for all that.

In the middle of the day, to get the blood stirring, I hauled the reel mower out of the shed and gave 30 minutes over to some vigorous aerobic exercise. A reel mower is the kind that runs entirely on human muscle power. It's good for the small area around the patio, quiet, and definitely gets the heart rate up, and produces some sweat.

As the sun began to go down, I borrowed John's digital camera and tried to capture the wonderful quality of light in our western facing front yard. Evening light in the front yard (right). I love the way the evening sun slants across the grass and back lights the leaves on the maples.