Aug 29, 2010

The Knowledge To Practically Apply Basic Principles of Hydrodynamics In A Real World Situation:

I haz it.

When it rains outside, it's hard to tell from inside my house unless you look out a window or the dogs suddenly demand to be let in and arrive soaked to the skin, grinning and shaking. This house simply doesn't let a lot of noise in. At night storms can come and go and not ever be noted. Last night was not one of those nights, nor was it one of those storms.

Around 5 this morning I lay in bed, warm and safe and dry and deeply asleep until outside it began to sound like Katrina had decided to make her five year anniversary reappearance a day late. Lightning struck two pecan trees in the back yard and violently crashed and boomed every few minutes. A peek out the window revealed a sky that stayed lit with what I think was heat lighting because it was as rapid and jittery as a poor B-movie special effect, sans thunder. The rain? The rain was coming down with such ferocity that it seemed like we had built our house under a waterfall. I could see the silver sheen from each lightning flash reflected in the yard, quickly becoming a near solid sheet of water, and the constant impact of the rain turned it into a constantly-dancing sheet of tiny mountain peaks and valleys.

I could have gone into the garage and watched it for hours, truth be told.  And after it had passed I could have stayed even longer.  There's something about running water that enthralls me. Be it the ocean and its ceaseless tides, the roar of clear mountain water over rocks in a river, the meandering flow of icy cold spring water down a pebbled creek bed or the ponderously slow movement of a muddy bayou, running water draws me like iron fragments to a lodestone.

When I was a little kid, a yard-filling quantity of rain would mean that I would be spending the entire next day knee-deep in the ditches with a semi-straight stick used as a gondolier's pole and a piece of interestingly decayed post used as a boat. I'd be most of the day wading around in the currents and eddies of the ditches around the house, directing my imaginary sailors on their way into every bay, inlet and white water I could get it fit into. Some part of me would be watching the water run brown from the fields, mixing with the clear runoff from the yard, and all tumbling excitedly down the various bends until it ran off our property and into the neighbor's ditch. When my craft reached that point I'd turn my ponderous wooden ship about, fire up the engines and push our way back upriver, the water breaking excitingly over the bow until I could find a spot where my deep draft ship could turn again, and point her nose back into the rills that would pull her inexorably downriver.

This morning though, a boat wasn't primary on my mind. Dealing with the inevitable mess after a huge rain storm was. The culverts were clogged with detritus--pine needles, bits of bark, squirrel-gnawed cones, dead leaves, branches and a vast Sargasso Sea of grass clippings thanks to yours truly working so hard to mow Saturday. A quick glance down to the other end of our little country lane showed me just how much rain had fallen in a very short time--the road was sheeted over with water in the two lowest places, which means the people foolish enough to buy the brand new crackerjack-box houses that were built in a low-lying ex-cotton field had, if wise, already stacked sandbags in front of their doors and were ready with pumps and buckets and towels inside. Trucks and cars were stopped in the street door to door; homeowners who were not smart enough to ask anyone who'd lived here more than two years if this was a flood-prone area, and surly husbands living the country life were patrolling up and down the lane on four-wheelers, as though burning up some gas and making a useless racket would help the water evacuate their home theaters and their now-sunken living rooms.

But, that wasn't important either. Damage done, and honestly, not my problem. My own house doesn't flood, wisely being situated a number of feet above the low fields and having wide ditches. What was important to me was clearing my wide ditches out so the water could move...well, to be quite frank, could move down there to those flooded houses and that massive slue of a former field, where it has always gone. Water as we all know is going to seek out the lowest place to be, and I had every intent to make sure what amount was standing in my yard would be allowed to join its hydrous kith and kin down at the low end of Schoolhouse Rd.
So, out came the rake and the shovel, and I got to work pulling sodden piles of organic waste out of culverts and the ditch across the frontage of my house and my uncle's house next door. The water had just receded from the level of my driveway, and pulling out forty cubic yards of drowned pine tree waste started the water flowing rapidly and I could see that it had dropped off a bit even as I worked. I waded into the ditch knees-deep with the shovel and started digging out soaking wet mulch, rotten leaves the colour of peat, all sitting in the bottom of the ditch slowly composting into the soil. Piling it on the ditch banks the water sped up more and more until the water started to surpass my knees and threaten my shorts, and the miniature river between my ditch banks began to gurgle and rill in earnest, passing over exposed pine tree roots and tiny crescent-shaped bays where my shovel had bit deeper than I intended.

The once-clear water was running rich brown as well, looking for all the world like a child's 1/48th scale model of the Red River, all clay and rich sediment. I'm sure my neighbor, his own low-lying trailer situated in, of all places, a corner of his father's low-lying cotton field will appreciate the rich brown stain of clay that will no doubt be left after the water finally leaves his yard in a day or so. I'm certain he'll love the acre-wide, solid sheet of pine cones, bits of branches, grass clippings and sodden leaves that were disturbed and washed downriver from my own ditch, as chained to the natural power of running water as any antediluvian patriarch.

Hey, not my fault. If the lazy, drug-abusing wife-beating piece of shite had gotten up this morning he easily could have cleared his own (underwater) driveway and culvert of the filth that was already there, thereby allowing the water to leave his own yard much faster. Heck, I slept in VERY late this morning, until almost 9am, so he had plenty of time, and I know full well he slept a lot less easy than I did in his single-wide.

Regardless, the water has subsided now. The fiercely dry ground drank up the flood as fast as it could, and now my yard holds just a few isolated pockets of clear, shimmering water, rather than being a sheet of shimmering water holding a few pockets of green grass as it was this morning. The ditches are nearly empty, the fields having finally dispersed and hungrily sucked down the remainder of the flood. Too late to go find an interestingly rotted piece of post and a long, semi-straight pole.

Aug 19, 2010

Of Rain and Time and Travel

There's so much I want to tell you, and so little time. Also, so little focus. Focus, you see, has become a rare commodity in the person of your singular writer.

I want to tell you about traveling to Colorado. I want to tell you about my first train ride, behind a gorgeous streamliner F-unit engine. I want to tell you about meeting new friends and about eating new food and about breathing air at 10,000 feet above sea level. I want to tell you about work and about play and about Weerelephant using my old 35mm camera as her own. But maybe later. After I've had more time to let the jostling, jumbled up images and thoughts settle into a coherent whole.

How about I tell you about the cicadas?

There's a few things in anyone's life that you can point to and say "their life seems to revolve around that thing." A point of reference, a common thread that runs through their lives. Cicadas are one of those points of reference for me.

I spent my entire childhood and my adulthood thus far around them. Their sharp, angular songs lull me to sleep at night, and their presence in the air makes me think of my childhood--long hot summer days and long humid summer nights. I spent entire summers filling paper grocery bags with discarded shells carefully harvested from every tree I could find. The first summer I traveled to Oregon I lay awake on a soft mattress with the windows open and I could not sleep. I lay there and fretted and wondered until I realised: I couldn't hear cicadas. I spent a magnificent three hour flight on an airplane sitting beside a beautiful young woman who had come down from Washington for a job, who explained to me that she lay awake at night and wondered what that horrific sound in the trees was. I spent an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of those little green shrieking bugs.

Such an odd little thing. Born from an egg dropped from a branch they immediately dig into the earth to eat soft fresh roots. There they live and grow for up to seventeen years, hidden from the sun and the fresh air and the rains. That strange little lovely insect lies in the ground for seventeen years, then one day a bright spark in them says "DIG." They dig their way up and they find themselves on the surface and that bright spark in them says "CLIMB." They look for a place to climb. A tree. A bush. Anything vertical will do, they just know they have to climb. They find their vertical place and they climb and claw and work their painstaking, dirt-covered way up until something inside them says "STOP" and they stop, and get a good grip.

They spread their legs wide, dig sharp claws into whatever surface they're on, and they start pushing. They arch their backs and push and strain with everything they have in them until their old, restrictive, clear skin cracks down the back and then they're struggling, fighting, straining to get out before they lose all their strength and die there, half in, half out. When I was a kid I'd find perhaps one each summer like that--trapped in the opening of that old skin, legs still pushing even in death, forever tied to both the old life they just left and the new one they never quite began. I used to be so terribly saddened when I'd see them like that.

But sometimes I'd get to see one free of its old skin, clinging with delicate legs to that old husk, the discarded past, their old home for seventeen years living blindly underground, digging in the dark, never knowing what lay just above them. They'd be hanging there, a shade of pale green so faint that they almost looked white. They'd have their long, tapered wings held straight behind them, drying in the morning air, and if you waited long enough their pale damp white-green would slowly change to a deep emerald colour, and their soft, pliant bodies would dry and they'd be wrapped in vert armor, patterned with sable, hanging like a tiny droplet of potential in the soft dawn air.

They're singing right now. That sharp, vivid summer sound, right outside my window, filling the trees with night music. I'm going to sleep good tonight knowing they're out there, making tiny eggs that will drop from the tree limbs like miniscule raindrops, to seep into the earth and not to be seen again for seventeen years.