Apr 29, 2009

Two Tidbits

A few days ago SFR, my boss (for the next twenty-five days) and my director were all sitting up front hen-cackling. I was doing my level best to keep my head down and keep working because I was, as usual, about two days behind. Hmmmm...wonder why? I was very exhausted and when I get that bad my filters tend to stop working, so I'd been interjecting little snarky comments throughout the day. Anyway, SFR was naturally regaling us with some backwoods hick story of her family when the conversation turned to crawfish.

SFR immediately switched verbal gears and related a tale of her sister in law who, upon coming to Louisiana for the first time decided that she didn't like eating crawfish because "...they're too small and there's too little reward for all that hard work."

My response? "So's a clitoris, but that's never stopped me before."

I'm surprised I'm still employed.

In other news, AMC TV has decided that they've gone utterly fucking mad. They're making a mini-series based on the 1960's touchstone BBC series "The Prisoner." Having seen some of the clips I'm thinking that even Sir Ian McKellan Himself (who is playing the redoubtable and infinitely replaceable No. 2) isn't going to make this festival of offal worth watching.

See for yourself what happens when people think they can gild a lily. Me, I'm just glad McGoohan died before he had to witness the brutal rape of his masterwork.

Apr 27, 2009

Learning About Myself

This is going to be a tough one to write, but I think it needs to be said. I'll also warn you that if you're easily offended, are a PETA drone or a vegan you need to stop reading now. Also, if you're of a gentle heart or disposition I'll say up front that there are going to be some passages of a graphic nature. You've been warned.

(sorry this is so long, but I need to say this. All of it. Irr)

In the chicken-keeping world, unlike China, roosters are just about useless. A single rooster can protect and service (yes, I used that word) up to ten hens. Further, a hen will lay eggs regardless of the presence of a rooster. I'm surprised at how few people know that, but it's true. You don't find roosters in the big industrial chicken farms, they're simply not necessary. Unless you want baby chicks a rooster is only good for looking pretty, crowing before dawn and in some cases protecting the flock. My local co-op will sell you all the chicks you want, and will exchange any that turn out to be roosters for another chick, they're that unwanted.

As the flock out here grew, we ended up with four roosters. For a flock of thirty hens four is a shade much, especially when two of the roosters were being fairly rough on the hens, and when you consider that we don't want chicks, just eggs. So, as you may know, I've been planning on killing the two rough boys. But, like most plans, it kept getting pushed aside for other more important things.

Oh, I asked around about it, I wasn't idle. My mother recalls her mother shooting chickens destined for the table with a .22 rifle. My grandma must have been one hell of a shot. My maternal grandfather was, I'm told, too gentle-hearted to kill the chickens. I guess I come by it honest. I learned about neck wringing. I learned about chopping off heads. I looked with disgusted eyes at the myriad of chicken processing items I could buy as a small-scale farmer. I learned how the guts were to be removed, and how you process a chicken.

What I didn't learn in all that studying is how hard it is to actually do, emotionally and physically.

In the meantime the 'favourite' hens were getting more and more torn up. If you've never seen chickens have sex, it's like most birds--the male grasps the back of the female's head in his beak, just below her comb and holds her in place while he climbs up on her back. Now, the hen is genetically predisposed, when she feels a rooster digging his claws into her back to squat down on her belly and spreads her wings to give him a flat place to stand. So when I say the favourites were getting torn up I mean that almost half of my hens have no feathers on their backs and the backs of their heads are bare as well.

So, no escaping it. Too many roosters.

You know me. I save spiders. I cherish beetles. When I see a dead squirrel in the road I hurt. The decision to kill two roosters was a tough one to come to, but I determined that if I was good enough to eat meat at my dinner table then I needed to be man enough to kill and prepare an animal that I raised from it's first days. Plus, it was becoming necessary: my hens were being hurt, and they produce our food. We arranged to have a friend of Mrs. I's over, a lady who was raised around hard core country folk and knew how to process a bird. She couldn't, however, help with the killing. Too gentle-hearted.

When Sunday rolled around and the friend arrived it became too late to back out. We all walked out to where the two roosters had been segregated into the smaller yard. Mrs. I and I walked in, Mrs. I who is faster on the draw than I caught one of the two, and that's when the difficulties started. Mrs. I was going to go first, but when she wrapped her hand around the rooster's neck she realised how thick it was, and that it was going to take more strength than she had. A few more minutes of indecision on both our parts and she was too overwhelmed to try, so it fell to me.

The sun was beating down on my head--I'd lost my straw hat somewhere in the yard. I remember how calm I was, how detached. I knew I was about to kill a living thing, but I knew it needed to be done. I held the rooster under my left arm, keeping his very sharp claws out of harm's way. I remembered that you had to swing the bird at least once, to gather momentum, like the fall of a man being hanged--it's not strangulation that kills, it's the neck breaking when the rope pulls taut. I knew I had to whip the bird's head back sharply at the last second, at the bottom of the arc and that would do the trick.

So, not thinking too deeply about it, not hearing the other chickens, I did it. I swung him around twice, a pell-mell of flapping wings and struggling feet. I could feel his neck muscles, far stronger than I would have thought, and the softness of his windpipe, the downy feel of his neck feathers. At the bottom of the second arc I pulled back sharply, hoping desperately to feel some definitive snapping sensation. Nothing, just a horrible twisting. The force of the bird's body being stopped that suddenly pulled its head clean out of my grasp and he hit the ground with a clumsy 'whump,' then began to flop around, wings and feet straining, beating at the ground, beak opening and closing, no noise coming out. I panicked, not sure if I'd done it right, if it was just hurt or actually dead.

I knew for a fact that autonomic reactions in chickens is very common, hence the "chicken with it's head cut off" saying. Simple systems go slowly. I picked it back up and tried to wring its neck the way you wring a dishtowel, twisting, but again, I never felt anything break, just a tension of skin and muscles and that soft give of esophagus. I twisted desperately, certain I'd done the deed, and let the body fall from my hands.

Still the twitching, the stretching of wings and legs. I couldn't help it, I had to be sure, so I had Mrs I's friend get the shovel from the coop and I stabbed down hard at the neck, trying to cleave the head off. It didn't come, but I know for certain I broke the neck then, as most of the frantic activity stopped. I don't think Mrs. I was crying then, but she was close. For myself, I still felt...distant. There was blood smeared all across my palm. I remember looking at it, thinking that I needed to wash my hands when this was done.

I'm not sure where that calm came from. I know part of me was wildly revulsed at what I'd done. I'd just killed a living creature, killed it BADLY and was waiting for my wife to catch the other so I could do it again. I think the part of me that knew it had to be done had overridden the rest of me, making sure that I was going to do it respectfully, as quickly as I could.

Respectful. I was that. After the debacle was long since done and over I realised I should have simply used a hatchet, for it would have been far cleaner. I'd been lead to believe that the neck wringing was fastest and neatest (no blood, which I disproved) but I was wrong. Hindsight, always perfect. But respectful I was. I knew in my heart of hearts that if I was going to sit at my dinner table ever again and eat meat of any sort that it had come to me in a manner far less respectful to the animal than what I was doing. I love these creatures. I give them plentiful food and protection and shelter. I talk to them, give them treats (lettuce, fresh clover, leftover fruit) and they in return give me sustenance from their bodies. I knew that if I had to do this I had to do it right.

The second one was harder, sadly. Mrs. I had to turn away, and I didn't realise until much later that she was crying, shocked to it by what was happening. I told her not to look, and I tried the same technique, tried to spin him faster, give more of a sudden snap at the end. This time, probably due to the blood the bird slipped out of my hand. This time it was far more alive. Just that morning Mrs. I had been joking, after being stuck my briars while picking wild blackberries that the harvest demanded a blood sacrifice in return. The second rooster claimed the sacrifice--my left arm is covered in long bloody scratches from his sharp, kicking claws. Somehow I got him back into my arm and tried the twisting, wringing action again, hoping with a desperate strength to feel some sort of final crack, some indication, but again, nothing.

I twisted a few more times then dropped the bird to the ground, grabbing up the shovel and stabbing desperately at the neck, hoping to see blood, to see the head separate, but again, it refused to part. The autonomic twitching went on, but I knew it was over.

I picked them up, one at a time, saw the droplets of blood soaking into the bare brown earth. I carried them out, and we brought them up to the house to cut their heads off and begin the defeathering and cleaning. That's when the light came on and the friend asked if I had a hatchet and a block. I did, fetching them from the shed, making sure I had the sharp one. A block of firewood sufficed, and we laid the first rooster on the block. She pulled the neck straight, held the wings back and I chopped, hard. The head came clean off, and she held it up by its feet to let a few sluggish droplets of blood drain out.

When the second one's head came off, bright red blood flew. I can only surmise I broke its neck enough to paralyze it, not to kill it. I was mortified, but glad that it was over, and that if it had felt any pain it was gone now. The body jerked again in that autonomic reaction and a few bright drops spattered the left sleeve of my white t-shirt. The friend looked at me with wide, shocked eyes and said in a stage whisper "I don't think it was dead yet." I agreed, and before I could say it myself she said "Don't tell Mrs. I." I agreed, knowing that while I meant well Mrs. I is not a complete fool and would know, but I agreed nonetheless.

The two of them went on with the preparing--dipping the two birds in a boiling pot of water for a fast count of sixty, then carefully plucking the loosened feathers out. Splitting the back, removing the neat package of guts and lungs, intestine and liver and croup. Me, I got the lawn mower out and loaded it in the trailer and headed to the office to cut the grass and smoke a cigar and think about what I'd done. I left the blood-spattered shirt on as a reminder, not a prize. Nor did I take one of the beautiful black and white tail feathers to put in my cap. Again, I wasn't proud of what I'd done, not in the 'show off a prize' sort of pride.

I cut, and thought about what I'd done. I'd proven to myself that I could, in Garrison Keillor's words, "do what needs to be done." If it came to it I could raise an animal with the full knowledge that I was going to kill and eat it. I'd passed an important point in my life, in my progress as a man, as a human. I'd done something that used to be commonplace, and now is a rarity. I'd proven to myself that I was stronger than I thought.

Oh, it bothered me. It still does. The difference lies in the fact that I respect those animals for what they gave me. They gave me their lives, gave me their bodies so that I and my family can have meat on our table. Meat to help sustain us in health. Clean meat, meat that was once an animal raised with love and respect and care, not force-fed in a cage so small it cannot move, locked away from sunlight and fresh air. I don't think I would ever purchase or obtain the free roosters from the co-op simply to save myself a few dollars on chicken in the grocery store, but if it came to it I could do just that, and do it with pride, knowing that I could do what needs to be done. With love, with respect before and after, knowing that it will never be an easy thing for me to do.

I've gained by my actions. I gained a better understanding of what it means to be human, what it means to kill something so that I may live. I gained an understanding of the mountain of animals on which I stand, animals who gave their lives so that I could eat, so I could grow and thrive. I gained knowledge such that I won't ever look at a pork chop or a hamburger patty or a fillet of fish in the same way, either. I'll do so with a deeper understanding of where I stand. I'll do so feeling that life's blood on my hands, and I'll eat it with love and respect for that sacrifice.

Apr 24, 2009

Done And Done

Long story to follow. Short story:

I got it. In one month I go for two weeks intensive training and then I come home and I move into my little home office and I acquire insurance authorization for home health patients for whatever geographic area is assigned me. I'm a Corporate employee now, and don't even have to move from my couch if I don't want to.


Apr 22, 2009

Wot The?

Where have you guys been? I looked around and *POUF* you were gone!

Okay, I've been slacking. My tight focus seems to have gone to Hell in a handbasket. Too many things pulling me in too many directions, and damnit I've missed this place. So, I'm back.

*dusting off the lapels, making sure the crease in my trousers is crisp*

I want to tell you about the spiders today, so if you're queasy then you might want to, oh, I don't know, stop now. Because you see, every person in my office (I shan't say "woman" because that'd be sexist but they are all ladies and are all panic-stricken at the sight of a bug) where was I? Anyway, they all freak right out at the sight of a spider, or roach, or anything with more than two legs that is smaller than a breadbox. Or snakes, which makes me wonder about their sexual lives.

But anyway.

My boss hollered bloody murder today, and I walked over to where she was dancing on tiptoes, pointing at a slightly less tan part of the carpet. Said bit of carpet had black stripes and eight legs, and honestly I had to look pretty hard to see it. When I (yet again) failed to crush it into oblivion for her and instead tried to coax it onto my hand she ran screaming down the hall and I continued to try and rescue my little buddy, finally ending up sort of herding it out the front door.

At one point during the ensuing struggle of colossus versus microscopic survivor the spider bumped into my fingers. The little spider was perhaps in toto the size of a dime, and might have weighed all of a tiny portion of a gram, but it bumped my finger hard enough in its headlong attempt to get away that I could feel it--a sort of gentle tap, at the very edge of sensation. The briefest feeling of bristles and flesh. I smiled a bit and filed that sensation away in the same drawer in my mind as the sound of a butterfly's wings flapping and the first time a wild bird landed on me.

I'm about 99% sure I have the new job. Right now I'm in Waiting Mode, waiting for someone to call me and tell me to report for training May 1st or to tell me not to bother and stop planning to steal as many office supplies as I can fit in a saddlebag. I worry, though, that when I'm gone all the crickets and spiders (there were two today, one twice the size of my first tiny friend) and millipedes and dirt daubers that end up inside the office, panicked and confused will be crushed without a single thought. I think about the rat snakes that will lose their heads to a shovel blow without a passing idea that perhaps that snake would keep the mice in the attic at a lower population if it were left alive. I think of the senseless waste of all those tiny lives.

I don't even have to mention the two to four trains a day that I won't see anymore.

But then I balance my stress levels (decreased, yes, but still present) and my burning desire to have a job that only has a handful of duties rather than my duties and half of my co-worker's duties involved in it against those little sparks of life. I think about sitting at a new desk behind a refurbished laptop in my spare bedroom, converted into a HIPAA-compliant office, looking out my big window at the squirrels in the front yard, and I think about hanging another bird feeder outside that window, so I can watch the wrens and the mourning doves come and go. I think about the spiders and so forth that will be tenderly captured and released from here, and I smile a little bit, and it's easier to move forward.

I was going to say something about this being a transition period, but all of life is a transition period, isn't it? A young man I'd never met before died this morning while trying to change a tire on his Suburban--a car struck him at 60 miles an hour as he stood at the back of his truck to get the spare out. He never regained consciousness. I doubt he ever knew what happened. One moment struggling with getting the spare out and wondering if he'd be late for work and maybe thinking about seeing his girlfriend this weekend and the next he was crushed to a pulp by some fucktard too busy with something else to watch where they were driving. I think about those little bugs, all facets of Life being crushed out of existence with the same off-handed thoughtlessness. I think about how unfair it all is.

I like to think that one day I'll be carried before The Life-Giving Force by a thick carpet of spiders and millipedes and lizards and wasps and serpents and honey bees.

Apr 13, 2009

Notes From A Life

Today at work it drew near quitting time, and I went into my usual routine of dressing for the ride home. One of the RNs sat quietly and watched me put on first my Joe Rocket overpants, then my boots, then my jacket. She's seen me ride for years now, knows I always have a pair of leather gloves and the full-face helmet, too. Today she asked what's apparently been bothering her for a while: "Irrelephant, how far away do you live?"

I finished lacing one boot and said "Four miles," smiling, knowing where this was going. I finished lacing the other as she asked her second question.

"So why do you wear all that stuff?"

I slipped my pants cuffs over my boots, stood up and showed her the pale, unscarred skin on the bottoms of my forearms, my unscarred elbows. Then I reminded her that if it weren't for all this gear (here I gestured at the jacket on the back of my chair and my black nylon pants with the huge lumps of armour at thigh and knees) I'd still be healing from the wreck I had on Black Betty back at the end of October. The wreck that I walked away from with one tiny scratch where a rock got through a thin part of the pants.

Is it that difficult to understand?

I've been called a lot of interesting names in the past, some of which I could even repeat here if I desired to. I've been given epithets that fit and those that don't, by people who know me intimately and by people who couldn't pick me out of a crowd of Asians. I got called something I've never been called, today.

One of our marketers likes to call me up for spelling corrections. She knows I'm a stickler for proper grammar and pronunciation and that I know how to spell words with more than five letters in. Her first words were an apology for bothering me, which I brushed off. She knows full well I don't mind. She asked me how to spell "occasionally," and after I told her she thanked me and then said "Irrelephant, you're the gooderest!"

Of all the mangling and maligning that my mother tongue takes at work I believe I can accept that one with an open heart.

I went to work this morning with a smear of chicken shite down one forearm, on the back where I couldn't see it. No-one pointed it out to me, I only noticed it when dry, flaky bits of it fell on my slacks and I realised what it was--I'd apparently brushed up against the roost this morning while gathering eggs. How I never noticed it is beyond me, but there it is. It made me think, however, about food and food production, and my place in the food chain.

I fully feel there is at least one thing you need to do, both for you AND for your kids if you have them, especially before they are too old: take them to a farm. A real, honest to goodness farm, the kind that you can smell before you actually see it. Let your kids put their hands into a chicken's nest, better yet underneath a broody chicken. Hell, YOU go and do it, too. Learn about it. Watch them for a while. Watch them walk and cluck and go about their day. Go to that nest and put your hand under that chicken and pull out a perfect egg, almost hot from resting under that patient hen's breast. Realise, and let your kids realise that food doesn't all come in tins from the grocery store. Nothing quite makes an impression like having a warm feathered body try to settle itself back over your hand, as though it were fully intending to set it there until it hatches.

Day before yesterday at work a coworker stepped out to smoke. To "take a breathing treatment" as she calls it. Aaaah, medical humour. The window was open, and a waft of tobacco came in. Sweaty Fat Rolls made some childish gagging noises, stirring up more drama. I guess I took a deep breath in (wishing I still smoked cigarettes so I could step out to join the RN) and SFR took the moment to say "Why Irrelephant, YOU don't smoke!"

I looked at her, boys and girls, and I barked "You think you KNOW ME?"

I make a concerted effort not to bring my personal life into my workplace, especially not with the Drama Queen sitting ten feet from me. I know more about her sexual habits, her family, her disease-ridden children, their religion, their gambling, their child-abuse attempts at discipline, et cetera ad nauseum than I could ever possibly want to know. She simply cannot stop talking about herself and hers, and it repulses me. I take it as simply one more reason not to fuel her fire by giving up anything about myself and mine. When she spoke up I was so angry I could have slapped her. How dare she think she knows squat about me?

One more reason to work from home. Phase Three of the interview process passed today. I should know next week.

Apr 12, 2009

Running The Bunny

And no, I ain't talking about the one that brings chocolate and pastel goodies, either.*

I'm talking about lure coursing. Sighthounds of every make and model out chasing three innocent white plastic bags on a very long string tied to a very strong pulley system. Belle made her triumphant return to coursing this past Saturday outside of Cleburne, TX (which sounds a lot like 'cleemon' but isn't nearly as dirty) and she came back with style.

If you've been here for longer than 365 days or so you may remember me trumpeting about Belle earning her JC (Junior Courser) title roughly a year ago in a place called Cleburne, TX. A big ranch, lots of sunshine and heat, and my beautiful girl doing what she does best--run. Well, things being what they are, a year passed before we could attend another lure coursing event. Heat is a major factor, and location is another. Well, time passed and this event came up, and we decided it was time to return to lure coursing, especially since she's earned her "Champion" title in the show ring and has retired from all that foolishness.

A six hour trip to Fort Worth to stay with our mentor Rita and a short hop to the King Ranch outside of Cleburne and Belle was back in action. Now, keep in mind that she's not run a lure but twice before in an organized event, and always by herself. A few laps orbiting me in the back yard do not a 600 yard lure course make. Plus, she's never run in a group before (other than to abuse Remy and Sheba in said backyard.) So naturally what she was going to do was sort of up in the air. Would she run well? Would she run clean? Would her recent devastating bout with pyrometra affect her?

Everything was answered the first time Mrs I. staged her at the starting point with two other Borzoi. A friend of ours, and Belle's litter co-breeder who also owns one of Belle's litter mates saw her standing there at the line with her ears pricked well up and said "She's got her hunting ears on!" When the lure ran away at full speed and the Huntmaster shouted "Tally ho!" she was gone like a bullet. She ran with such power and such focus that it made my blood run fast and my heart pound. If it wasn't bad form I'd have been screaming my fool head off.

Now before I get too much father, let me say this: Lure coursing makes, to me, more sense than the conformation ring. Coursing dogs aren't graded on how pretty they are, how well groomed or by who knows whom. They're graded on how fast they are, how accurate they are at following the 'bunnies,' and how cleanly they run the race (ie not attacking or interfering with their co-competitors.) It's also not a speed race--the winning dog might end up crossing the line last because they followed the lure the entire time, not cheating by cutting across the field to where it's going to be. They're graded on a point system, and the highest point score determines each race's winner.

Well, my baby girl (three years old now!) proved that she has what it takes, in spades. She won her first two races handily, tying for first with another Borzoi for Best of Breed. In the run-off she eeked out a win by a single point, which clinched her the Best of Breed win, a three point major (the scoring runs just like in the confirmation ring.) It had to have been one of the most emotionally taxing things I'd ever watched--she and her competition ran literally nose and nose the entire time, trading the lead back and forth like race car drivers. Only a minute passed during the race but I was wrung out by the time they finished, and the judge gave her the single point on the grounds that the other dog became distracted off the lure for just a moment when the landowner's dog strayed into the coursing field. That simple--the other dog turned away to play for a moment and Belle never blinked.

Watching Belle run is something extraordinary. She is SO focused, so determined to catch that 'bunny.' In one of her first two races she bowled a younger Borzoi completely over when he decided he wanted to course HER instead of the lure, and when she turned sharply after the 'bunny' and he didn't she simply ran over him, sending him ass-over-teakettle, ever missing a beat, never looked away from the lure. I was astounded, thinking for sure fur was going to fly, but no, Belle had other things on her mind. Catching that plastic bag.

After Best of Breed she ran against the next closest breed to hers for a spot at Best In Field, or the best dog out there. The closest to her was an Afghan Hound, and she beat that dog pretty handily. Four races all together, and for the last we'd taken the precaution of wetting down her racing jacket and her fur to help cool her off--the temp was fast rising from the 52 degrees it'd been that morning!

The whole time I'd been watching and photographing her and the other dogs I kept telling myself not to get my hopes wound up to high. Whippets are MAJOR contenders in any lure coursing event, as single-minded as greyhounds and much more agile than almost anything out there. Whippets usually walk away with every Best In Field award, and so I kept reminding myself that it was great--Belle had run beautifully, and had won Best of Breed which in itself is a remarkable feat. We'd gotten to enjoy the company of our mentor and her excellent husband, and had even gotten to see one of Belle's litter mates course. If we left there with just the Best of Breed ribbon and three points toward her field coursing championship then it was a day well spent and richly rewarded.

Plus, try as I might I couldn't get any whisper from the judge's tent about who was on top, points-wise.

When the afternoon was over and the races run we all gathered around the table and applauded and cheered as the names were called and the rosettes handed out. My chest swelled when the cheers went up as the organizer called Belle's name for First Place and Best of Breed, and Mrs. I gathered up the two beautiful rosettes and claimed a pink flamingo toy as Belle's reward, "...because she wore the pink jacket most during the races." Then it came down to it. Best In Field was down to two dogs--Belle and a Whippet. I knew it was going to be a loss, but it was going to be a grand one because she'd done so much in a single day after a year away from racing.

When they called "Belle!" people cheered and applauded, I whooped, and Mrs. I stood there politely clapping, thinking 'How odd, the Whippet's name was Belle too.' We simply didn't expect it, but talk about pride afterward! The huge red, white and blue rosette with the foot-long ribbons was going home with Belle, OUR Belle and no other. Plus, she earned FIVE points instead of three because the Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs present had a five point major available on the field due to the number of dogs present, and the BIF winner takes the highest points _available_ home.

My feet still haven't touched the ground.**

Belle passes a hay ring, focused on the 'bunny.'

Coursing Trio (Second Race)
The second race

Slipping The Hounds (Belle and J/T Runoff)
Mrs. I slips Belle for the Best of Breed runoff

Belle and Afghan Hound (BIF Race)
Belle launches off to outrun an Afghan Hound in the Best In Field race

* Although our 'Easter Egg Chickens' started laying Saturday, Easter Eve...three eggs total, ranging from blue to a blue-green colour. Nature is one crazy old girl.

** And yes, thoughts of Dual Championship, winning a Field Champion title before she runs enough races to be considered a Senior Courser and not just a Junior Courser, and more huge rosettes to hang around her photo are filling my thoughts!

Apr 6, 2009

The Weekend In Pictures

Hell, Time magazine can do it, so I can too. Besides, my brain hurts from too much thinking today.

I took off Friday from work for a Mental Health Day. I don't think I could have made a smarter move. I did just about nothing all day in preparation for a tethered flight David had scheduled for that afternoon in the huge, teeming metropolis that is Pine Prairie, LA. I'll say this for them--their turnout in this tiny podunk town rivaled that of the annual fair.

Skybird (the blue balloon for those of you new to this) is in the repair facility getting the lower third of her envelope replaced and getting her annual FAA recertification, so we've been flying a borrowed balloon, "High Hopes" from a friend of David's in Shreveport.

Day Moon Over High Hopes

The tether was a lot of fun, probably because it wasn't August and because they gave us lots of open room to set up in. No burner time for me, but that's okay, I'm patient as a stone. We managed to fly a good two hours, and everyone went away happy. The promoters comped us some catfish dinners, and the sunset that evening was particularly choice.


I attended Herb Day at the Kent House Saturday morning with Tracy, Weerelephant and Mrs. I. We got there just after they opened at 9am to find that the fifty feet or so of tables covered in herbs were already getting empty FAST. I overheard one of the event organizers say that there were old ladies climbing the fence before 9 just to get in and get first crack at the patchouli, fennel and St. John's Wort. I must have missed the "special herbs" table.

My favourite part of the whole thing? The mid 60's "British Racing Green" Jaguar E-type convertible in the parking lot. Freaking SWEET ride.

E-Type Jaguar 4.2 litre

Granted, it would take a team of dwarves and a bottle of Wesson Oil to get my very Yank frame crammed into that tiny Brit cockpit.

After the Herb Day we brought Tracy out to Zorya Borzoi's training grounds (the backyard) for some Borzoi Fishing. Belle will be going with us to Cleburne, Texas this weekend for some more lure coursing, and I've been having no END of fun letting Sheba and Remy run around in circles chasing plastic bags as practice for their own turn on the coursing track once they turn 12 months old. Sheba is going to be one fast Borzoi, mark my words. And cunning? If her ears were short and pointy I'd call her a weasel. Remy is going to be like Belle: not super fast but strong and determined. Watching both the pups in action is just stunning.

Borzoi Fishing

Then the obligatory after-play drink. Belle took yet another step to becoming a real farm dog, this time by drinking right out of the hose pipe.

Taking A Drink

Sheba, not to be left out tried it too. Much to Belle's disappointment.

Drinking From The Hose-Ur Doin It Wrong
"Drinkin' from the hose--ur doing it wrong."

Gardening has been a lost cause--the ground is still so wet from the recent spring floods that even now, after a week of dry weather I still sink several inches in the soft ground. The floodwaters managed to just about kill off all my lettuces and my Brussels sprouts, but the green onions that I got from my MIL two years ago refuse, as always, to be phased by something as simple as a foot of standing water.

Green Onion Blooms

The ladybugs out there are having a time of it though--seems there's some sort of thistle that grew in my garden patch during the fallow winter months, and now that they are dying it seems to have attracted some bug or other that ladybugs are simply wild over--each little withered black stalk or thistle-seed head has a handful of industrious little red polka-dotted bodies moving across it, which made a nice challenge for me: to capture them photographically.

The most interesting part of it for me was trying to take macro photographs without a macro lens. I had my 70-300 telephoto lens on, which cannot focus on anything that is fewer than five feet from the end of the lens so I found myself setting up each shot with a bizarre process:

  1. locate ladybug subject.
  2. quickly back off six feet or so, without losing sight of the subject
  3. squat down and try to spot the tiny red blob again through the camera's viewfinder
  4. adjust the gross focus ring until subject bug looked giant-sized
  5. wait patiently for the gusting wind to die down enough that the shot would steady

It was usually at that point that the subject would either fall off, take to flight or simply be lost (focally speaking) in a frenzy of whipping grass stalks, and I'd have to start over again.

But as I said earlier--I'm patient as a stone in a creek bed.

This one seems to have gotten confused and ended up on a strand of grass instead.

Riding out the wind storm on a dead thistle leaf.

Apr 4, 2009

Birthday Beatings

Hey, it's Joan's birthday, so everyone go over there and make her feel old...er, ask her about her Social Security check...that is, I meant to say, ah, er, see if you can get written into her will...uhm...AARP...

Okay, just go wish her a happy birthday.