Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Mathematics of Weeds

Soon after moving into our new humble abode, about a decade ago, I was faced with a lawn problem. What I had assumed would be a woodsy view from the south windows, was instead a sea of rocks and mud where the contractor had laid the lateral lines for the septic system.

At the time, buying more sod was out of the question. What with all the unforeseen expenses of a new home, I was broke. Instead, and in keeping with the “natural” look, I opted to plant a field of wildflowers in lieu of grass. No mowing, no fertilizing. What a concept! Weeds? Yeah, there might be a few but hey, weeds are “natural” too, at least in that environment.

When the flowers were blooming, it was beautiful; a riot of color with blues, reds, yellows, and whites. That would last for all of about oh, two months. Then the flowers died off leaving a half acre of ugly brown stems and of course, the weeds. A few seasons later and with new homes springing up around me, all with immaculate lawns,  something had to change. I bit the bullet and had tons of top soil hauled in, sod for the slope, and Bermuda seed for the flat areas. I watered, fertilized, and waited. Time passes and Shazaam, I too have a nice lawn. Well, except for the weeds.

Dealing with 10,000 square feet of weeds is a problem of overwhelming dimension. Instructions for weed killing granules implore you to water after the application for best results. Simple if you can afford either a sprinkling system, a neighborhood lawn boy, or a team of lawn care professionals driving big tank trucks and wearing green coveralls with a logo on the pocket. A half dozen garden hoses with 14 sprinkler heads, not so simple.

My fishing buddy Arnold (also with a big lawn) came up with yet another of his famous sensible solutions.

“We go together and buy a tow-behind sprayer for our lawn tractors,” he says. “We use liquid weed killer. No watering in. Just spray it on and go get a beer.” Hmmm.

The scenario: I stand before the sprayer, my trusty Sears riding lawn mower, and a two gallon container of liquid weed killer from Atwoods in hand. But there’s a problem. Somehow, the mixing instructions have been misplaced. Hmmm.

I go to the Internet for help where I find the product. The formula for the mix reads: 2.66 pints to 40 gallons of water for 1 acre of coverage. I'm looking at 10,000 sq. ft. and a 25 gal sprayer. Hmmm. Can I do the math? One acre equals 43,560 square feet. So... 10,000 sq. ft. is roughly ¼ of that and 2.66 pints at 16 oz. per pint is uh...42.56 oz. and 1/4 of that equals 10.54 oz. Is that right? Close enough.

But there’s no mention of the speed at which the lawn tractor needs to be driven to properly cover the designated area. Obviously, fifth gear will cover it about five times faster than low gear. Trial and errror time? No. I certainly don't want to kill all the grass by overspraying.

Back to the Internet. With further research, I’m shocked to see that my particular concentrate of weed killer is designed not to be delivered by a Sears Lawn tractor, but by AIRPLANE.  And is not for common lawn grasses, but biologically engineered to treat fields of COTTON!

Hell with it. I mix one ounce per gallon, put the tractor in third gear, and spray the crap out of everything. Either I’ll end up with a beautiful green lawn or the damndest crop of cotton you’ve ever seen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Out There

At some point in time a year or more ago and possibly under the influence of a spooker or two, I fired off an email to  Tulsa World outdoor writer, Kelly Bostian. I was protesting the proposed hunting season for black bears in Oklahoma. I suggested to Mr. Bostian that many Oklahomans might enjoy the thrill of seeing (or photographing) a black bear in the wild before all the Bubbas started killing them off in pursuit of testicular titillation.

Instead of blowing me off as a tree hugging, PETA loving, anti-NRA liberal, Mr. Bostian replied with the reasonable suggestion that I read a book called Bloodties by Ted Kerasote. The book, he calmly and patiently explained, dealt with man and his natural ties to hunting, a practice we've been using to feed ourselves since the invention of sharp sticks.

I ordered the book and found Mr. Kerasote to be one of the most talented outdoor writers I have had the privilege of reading. Having personally done a little hunting in the past, I must admit to agreeing with about 90% of Ted's philosophy on the subject. But now, well into my "golden" years,  I prefer to use the camera instead of the gun. That doesn’t mean, however, that I would turn down a freshly fried strip of venison given the opportunity to stick a fork in one. Let’s not get silly about this.

Recently, while searching Amazon for anything worth reading,  I happened to think of Mr. Kerasote and found another of his books that sounded interesting. It was titled Out There: In the Wild in a Wired Age. I have not been disappointed. It relates his adventure of taking a canoe trip down an extremely remote river in Northwest Canada (300 miles from the nearest road). The man is a wordsmith of the highest caliber. You can almost feel the misty rain on your skin, the flow of fast water under the canoe, and the bite of the ubiquitous blackflies and mosquitoes. He writes of the silence:

Only when we go to really quiet country do we notice how shocking silence can be, so thick away from the thrum of civilization that it presses against our flesh like the pressure beneath the sea.

Ted’s travelling companion was more of a traditionalist and carried with him all manner of electronics; GPS, Palm Pilot, and satellite telephone. The mans compulsion to call home and chat loudly with his relatives and buddies every evening begins to wear on Ted’s nerves. The sense being that it was almost sinful, destroying the purity of the surroundings, the human voice echoing up and down the canyons. I could relate to a part of that.

The more I read, the more envious I became of his trip and the many other adventures Kerasote has done in his lifetime. While I spent my youth splicing telephone wires together in stinky Tulsa manholes, he, as a young lad, was exploring exotic jungles in South America and watching grizzlies in Canada. Maybe that’s why I enjoy books of that genre so much, to live vicariously through another man’s amazing experiences in the wild.

On the other hand, there was and is very little chance of drowning, freezing to death, or being eaten by a bear in a Tulsa manhole. But only if the Bubbas can keep the population down.

Ted and his dog Merle

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Home Alone (except for the cats)

You would think that rotator cuff surgery would get you a little TLC at home for more than a few weeks, but no. The Missus, aka Saint Ruth, is off on another mission of mercy, this time to care for one of her cronies with a more recent surgery, a hip replacement. Granted, the poor woman’s needs are greater than mine, understandable, but the bottom line is that I’m left to babysit the cats again. This is not a small task considering the tenderness that lingers around and about the shoulder area. Do I have your sympathy yet? No? Read on.

Let’s start by a review of the cat care instructions, printed out and prominently displayed on the kitchen table. Here they are, word for word. I shit you not.

Divide one can of cat food between all three. Water dish beside the fridge needs to be changed and fresh water put in each day. Blue gets a bedtime treat—it’s the “party bag” mix—give her several. Blue usually doesn’t show up for bedtime until late evening and she’s usually on the front porch. If she doesn’t show up before you go to bed, please put some dry food in a plastic bowl and leave it for her in the garage by her bed. If she sleeps in the utility room, turn on the night light. (yes a freakin’ night light… for a cat!)

Brat cat likes to drink her water out of the sink so fill the bathroom sink 1/3 full. (At last count, there was a minimum of three water bowls conveniently located throughout the household.)

You get the picture now? Cat care at the humble abode is not a simple task. I get a call from the Saint around nine last night before the severe storms were due to rumble in.

“Are all the cats in the house and safe?”

“Um, not exactly.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Blue is still unaccounted for. I called it. No reply. I’m not gonna worry about it.”

“But bad weather is coming. I’d really feel better if all of them were inside.”

“Okay, I’ll take one more look outside before I go to bed.”

There was additional pleading for a thorough search of the grounds. I mumbled something about yeah sure, and hung up.

But as I was shutting down for the night, right on cue, the gray cat called Blue appears on the doorstep. I try to grab her, she runs, only to run head on into her life-long antagonist, the Brat Cat. The chase was on. Crap! Now I can’t find Blue. Why do I care? Because Blue is the cat with the irregular bladder control problem. Blue is confined to solitary whenever she is in the house. Now I’m on my hands and bad knee, still nursing my sore shoulder, and shining a flashlight under the bed and all other known hidey places for cats (cue sympathy music). No Blue. I start isolating rooms, shutting doors to contain the damage (I was reminded of the watertight doors on the Titanic). After several minutes of searching and shouting profanities to all the cat people in the world that allow these creatures to breed, Blue was discovered crouched under the kitchen table whereupon she was unceremoniously thrown in her cell for the night.

I was so pissed that I deliberately didn’t turn on her night light. That’ll show her.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Life Lesson from a Bug

Like most of the lower forty-eight, Oklahoma weather has four seasons, but only two are worth mentioning. One is winter when it’s moderately cold but easily bearable. Unless you’re working outside, put on a lined jacket and you’re good to go. Summer is stifling hot. It sucks up what little energy you stored up from the night before and spews it into a pale and lifeless blue sky. There is no fall. Not enough to brag about anyway. Not like a New England fall with its riot of colors and ubiquitous leaf peepers. We have Blackjack Oak that goes from ordinary green to baby shit brown in the course of a week. Spring? Yes, the sun shines and the green reappears along with dogwood blossoms and the redbud, but so does the gale force winds from the south, stirring up eye-watering pollen, not to mention batches of deadly tornados. Yet, once in a while, on the most rare of occasions, the most perfect of spring days comes along. Today was one of those days.

Ordinary activities, none of which were seriously strenuous, had taken up most of my daylight hours. There was the physical therapy for my shoulder at The House of Pain for most of the morning. Then a little Internet research for an audio amplifier I’ve been thinking about took up a lot more time than I intended. It was somewhere around four p.m. that my thoughts turned to nature and how such a rare day was slipping away from me. Get the camera, I thought, take a drive. Doesn’t much matter where, just do it. I grabbed the camera bag, checked for spare batteries, and made sure I had ample memory cards, got in the pickup…and sat there…thinking. Where to go? A common dilemma. With the price of gas as it is, driving aimlessly around the countryside seemed not only wasteful, but expensive. Knowing full well that you never know what’s out there till you see what’s out there, and yet I couldn’t seem to make a decision. Couldn’t get fired up. Couldn’t make myself put the old tranny in D, and go.

Despite the lack of excessive physical activity since arising at six on this fine day, I realized I was just plain tired. Didn’t take a nap, seldom do, and now, no energy. Making good photos under such conditions is near impossible, at least for me. So, instead of hitting the dusty trail of life and adventure, I drove directly into the garage and shut the door. That act alone was quite depressing. It made me realize how age is creeping up on me and stealing life away.

I grabbed a book (actually a Kindle e-reader), poured myself a spooker, and went outside to the deck to think about things. The red needle on the dinner plate sized thermometer pointed exactly between the 60 and the 80. A slight movement of air from the north rustled the leaves enough to make its presence known but nothing you could call a breeze. My home-made water fixture trickled water into a store bought plastic pool but the pleasing sound was authentic enough to be believable. Beyond that, a Downy Woodpecker half heartedly pecked on a peanut butter suet cake I had hung the day before.

As I took an appreciative sip from the spooker, I noticed an insect of some kind on the glass table before me. The bug was small, not much bigger than an ant, elongated with what looked like tiny silver wings. There was a single round whitish spot on its back. It was moving clockwise, traveling the plastic edging of the table like a narrow highway. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first, but as it made one complete revolution around the perimeter of the table, maybe nine feet total (but miles and miles in bug distance), I began to take an interest. Old White Spot (or Spot for short) continued on its journey for yet another lap, never pausing, never losing its direction, a bug with a purpose. Or perhaps it was just old and confused, like me.

I began to identify with Spot; still healthy enough, able to move around, but only in continuous circles (or in this case, squares) never straying far from the center, and seeing nothing new. Like staying at home, exactly what I was doing. Somewhere between the first and second corner of the fourth lap, He (it had to be a male as it never stopped to ask directions) dropped off the table, or maybe the face of the earth. I never saw it again.

Someday, I thought, in one way or another, just like the bug, we’re all going to drop off the face of the earth. But if we want to enjoy the journey, we simply have to stop going in circles. Get off the path and out of our comfort zone. Tomorrow, I’ll put the old pickup in R, back out of the driveway, and travel my own narrow highway…wherever it leads.

Thanks for the lesson, Spot.

Friday, April 6, 2012

My small tribute to the late great Gilda Radner as Emily Litella

Emily: What’s all this fuss about the right to bare arms? What’s wrong with bare arms anyway? It’s not like showing acres of boobies like some of these young whippersnappers do. There’s nothing sinful about a bare arm people. Okay, so some bare arms are kind of ugly with those splotchy looking brown spots and some are ugh, hairy. Yeah, some are wrinkled and flabby with all that loose flesh doin’ the hangy down thing. But you don’t have to look for Pete’s sake. Just discretely turn away and pretend those arms don’t exist.

Now some of the young boys have big, muscled arms that they bare every chance they get. That’s not so bad, not bad at all. So what’s the big deal about some kind of amendment? What’s that about?

Jane Curtain: Emily, that’s the right to bear arms. Not bare arms. Like a well armed militia. It’s in the constitution Emily.

Emily: Oh, well that’s entirely different. Never mind.

A clip from Gilda and Jane.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Ralph and the Lion

The Tulsa World editorial page beat me to it in the Saturday edition, but I have to weigh in about one of our Oklahoma reprehensives, I mean representatives, Sen. Ralph Shortey R. Oklahoma City. Under the headline: Open-carry Bill Advances, was the following quote:

“Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can evoke in a person. I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion. Turkey’s are bad enough.”

Now I’m thinking, oh that Ralph, there he goes again. what a kidder. That is so funny. But after reading the entire article, I was amazed to find that Mr. Shortey said it with a straight face and was apparently sober at the time.

I know nothing about the frequency or severity of turkey attacks and had no idea just how dangerous they could be despite having several personal encounters in the wild. I would take a photo, say thank you Mr. Turkey, and move on with only a brief acknowledgement from Old Tom. Hard to imagine having to beat one to death with a stick to in order to save your life.

But a mountain lion attack? In Oklahoma? Seriously? Believe it or not, it has happened. In 2002 near Newkirk, OK a “large cat” ran into and knocked down Ms. Karina Jackson while out in a field looking for a lost puppy. "It felt like I got kicked by a horse or a cow,” she said. Deputies confirmed cat like scratches on the woman’s arm. However, there were no witnesses.

Sightings are not as uncommon in the Sooner state as you might think, but I could find no other records of cougar attacks (cougar, mountain lion, puma, same-same). So where does this put the likelihood of being mauled while strolling down a quiet Oklahoma country lane on a beautiful Saturday afternoon singin’ Zip a Dee Doo Dah? My guess is somewhere about the same as winning the recent $700 million plus lottery last Saturday night, or all of Ruth’s household cats suddenly disappearing, abducted by aliens in a UFO for the purpose of some kind of ghastly experiments. Unlikely yeah, but not impossible. And yet, despite the miniscule odds of a cougar attack, ol Ralph feels moved to support open-carry so that we can all emulate Marshall Dillon in Gunsmoke and walk steely-eyed down main street at high noon with big iron on our hip. While I fully support our right to bare bear arms, carrying heat in plain sight and in the public, seems a bit over the top in machismo.

As for Mr. Shortey, are he and his ilk typical of our state’s politicians, the very ones who make the numerous decisions that affect so many Oklahoman’s and our quality of life? Sadly, yes. Is it any wonder we Okies rank so low in so many categories? Gee.

A word of caution. When the open-carry bill passes, and it will, be sure to not make any feline moves or gobbling noises when ol’ Ralph is near. With guns a-blazin’, he will take you out.

(A turkey as seen by Mr. Shortey)