Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Arborvitae (Crepe Myrtle)

Nothing about this is not confusing.

Several months ago my wife and in-laws were driving through the neighborhood and my father-in-law spotted what he said, in his Mississippi accent, was an ar-bo-vi-tuh, and my mother-in-law demanded to know where, to which he replied right there, to which she countered where, prompting my wife to back up the car and park beside that yard, which was filled with a variety of plant species, while a volley of where?/right there rocked back and forth within the car until it reached equilibrium, having the potential to continue into perpetuity until, that is, she responded Do you mean that?, to which he said No... that!, though the that was not clear in either case since they both pointed in some general direction at the yard, and this (if you remember your high school geometry and if you take into account the relatively small length of a person's finger) provided for a high degree of uncertainly as to the that being pointed at.

That, he continued, still referring to the object of his pointed finger, is an arborvitae. No, it's not, she replied with incredulity, as though he had mistaken a pig for a cat. That, she said, still pointing at the yard, is a crepe myrtle. No, it's not, he came back, either in disagreement with the plant or her finger, though the latter is much more likely since every person born in the south knows what a crepe myrtle looks like--it is a snobby sort of big bush that likes to be cut back to a stump every year or two. I say snobby because when I was a kid in Arkansas our snobby neighbors had several crepe myrtles. The picture (at the top) is a crepe myrtle from our side yard (taken from my balcony if you're wondering about the perspective). In December I cut it back and now it seems pretty happy (though I suspect it believes it is better than the other plants).

According to physicists, the true nature of matter is a paradox. Electrons, for example, are both a particle and a wave at the same time. They are neither this nor that at any one moment, but they exist. It's possible that, after several years of marriage (and as I am beginning to learn first hand), two people can communicate at such a level: one person seeing an arborvitae and the other seeing a crepe myrtle, both looking at the same thing and at different things at the same time, leaving the observer (me, in this case, though I wasn't even in the car at the time) to sort things out imperfectly, just as the experiments of Heisenberg's principle have borne out.

The Arborvitae.

Late update: Cheryl says that she was not in the car when this happened and that my account of this story is completely wrong (if, in fact, any of this actually happened at all).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Biobots are Back

The Sri Lankan biobot weevils are back, attacking our swamp hibiscus plant just as it prepares to show off its scarlet flowers. The weevils are making their way up the plant, chewing scallop holes into the leaves and attempting to violate the nascent blooms by burrowing into the pods, which causes the pods to tighten up and refuse to flower. We first saw this plant in a south Florida swamp--they are impossible to ignore when in bloom. A nice one (above) burst open this morning, but there may not be many more.

This weekend we brought in an environmental scientist from the CIA to see what, if anything new, could be done. What we know is that these pesty weevil bastards are white, just about the size and shape (but certainly not the cuteness) of a lady bug. They have no natural enemies, probably because they are not really organisms but rather are biobots engineered (by Sri Lankan terrorists) out of some neo-organic material that must have no taste at all (and may well be poisonous since even our koi will not eat them, and koi are not exactly discriminating eaters). Some people fear that these robobugs are part of a new and still mostly unpublicized terrorist campaign to disrupt food supply around the world. Our scientist friend confirmed some basic facts but would not elaborate, and at times the weight of the world appeared to rest on her shoulders. She did confirm that the bugs were totally gross, which may portend, like, serious consequence for sure.

The biobots are programmed to appear hopelessly stupid--they allow themselves to be captured and will happily crawl around on your hand, or they might take flight and buzz around in the air and then land back on your hand, like a pet eager to learn new tricks. Brilliant, right? To get rid of them we could fire bomb the back yard and turn everything to a white ash, or we might build an earthen berm around the property and submerge everything under water for a few years. Instead, we've decided to bring in a certified weevil wrangler from Phoenix next month. His methods are secret, possibly mystical. No matter--I just hope the plants can survive until then. Our Turks Cap is also under attack, and it concidentally also has a nice scarlet flower.

Meanwhile, the koi have accepted me back into their confidence. (They are whores for frozen peas.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rainy Days

For the rain it raineth every day.

After two years of neglecting us, the skies opened up 5 or 6 days ago and have been pouring down rain ever since. Willow had virtually forgotten about the world of wet grass and soggy soil that will push up into her paw toes during those few seconds each day when she needs to relieve herself, so she dances across the damp earth like it is on fire and generally behaves like a spoiled princess. Apparently the side yard, once her favorite place to pee, has become a wet and frightening wilderness--now she pees next to the bamboo (which is close to the house) and then runs back in as quickly as possible. Fine. I will continue to frequent my favorite spot (inside, of course).

Here she is, staring with contempt at the rain drops outside the window, in full micro-manage mode as I work inside to rebuild the little sections of wall at the base of the windows. Water had completely rotted the interior of the wall and even damaged part of the base boards, so I've replaced everything. When the caulking and the wallboard mud dries, by tomorrow, I can paint and it will be finished. I finished caulking outside today, out in the rain where the rust is deliriously drunk and threatening to make up for lost time. What can you do (except possibly rip out the whole thing)?

I'm not complaining about the rain. Our plants are also drunk with pleasure, shooting out new green shoots and broadcasting new roots, while they can, into the soft ground. The pepper plants are getting green and bushy, ready for the sun to come out so they can show off some new fruits. One of the plants is a real hottie all the way from Santa Fe. More on them later.

Somehow, even though the base of this window is hidden from view by the big sofa and theoretically out-of-mind, Cheryl became passionate about this project years ago and placed it at the top of her to-do list (things for me to do). Now I'm glad she nagged me about it. Even better, I'm happy that she likes the idea of making new windows here, which will be a super cool project when I can wrap my head around it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Fun and Pretty Project

If you're wondering why Obama changed his mind and decided not to allow the new torture photos to go public, don't blame (or thank) him--it was my idea. The fact is that you normal people are more delicate than you think, and it takes a major effort to protect you from the raw and unpleasant facts of life. Many of the photos I take, for example, are too disturbing to be published (I could show you a picture of termite damage that would scar you for life). So instead I try to sugar coat things as much as possible so that you don't have bad dreams.

Like this picture of my sun room windows. They are nice, aren't they? I'm fixing them, and it is a nice project. I've replaced the rotten sill. See the pretty new board? And see where I am replacing the two window panes? They will be pretty when I'm done. And so on...

Obama's actual argument is more practical on the surface--he says that the torture photos would probably make people in other countries hate us more, and this could complicate our withdrawal from Iraq and the ongoing effort in Afghanistan, and both statements are reasonable. However many people feel that complete transparency, now, is the best approach, conceptually (to get this all behind us) and for the long term (since the photos will eventually be made public). Transparency is the ultimate disinfectant, but it is not for cowards, like me, so I advised Obama to sit on the pictures for a while.

So, do you think you can handle the truth? OK, then, he is an actual picture of the utter horror of my window project. The picture is blurry, but I don't care--I don't want your damaged psyche on my conscious by seeing the actual nasty rustiness in focus. Look at the rust and the pointy glass. Look at it!!! LOOK AT IT!!! See it taunting me with its roots deep into the metal. And there's my sad little brass brush that couldn't scrape a blister off my butt if I rubbed it all day. And it's 90 something freaking degrees outside and my back is baking in the sun, smelling like roasted chicken on a grill, while I'm cramped down, trying to get in the shade and not cut myself on the broken glass. You want more? More pictures? I didn't think so.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Decay Management

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot;
And thereby hangs a tale

Having once lived in Arizona, where the dry winds preserve wood and metal indefinitely, I now find myself nostalgic for that slower environment. Our sun room, for example, has two big sections of metal-frame casement windows that are under siege from the weather. Only a few years ago they seemed fine.

In this picture you can see the pitiful bottom corner of the window that faces our side yard. The green sills are wooden (I'll be replacing them) and I believe they were painted over by the previous owner just before he sold us the house (what a clever guy to paint over rotten wood). But the real problem in this picture is something you really can't see. Under the red paint and churning over the surface of those poor metal frames is an infestation of rust, which causes the paint to blister and peel and eventually causes the metal to, well, just disappear. The rust is everywhere and it is unstoppable. Coincidentally, it seems, the previous owners chose this particular shade of rusty red paint for the metal window frames. Hmm.

To be sure, I will make an effort to remove the rust--I bought a cute little brass brush just for this purpose. But these frames have many angles and hard-to-get-to spots. After a while frustration will set in. I will be tempted to bring in some sort of power tool--a big industrial grinder would be nice or a sand blaster or my sledge hammer--but by this point I will be angry at the rust and not thinking clearly and prone to cut myself on the broken glass that will be scattered in all directions by the power tool. No, instead I'll get discouraged and defeated and I'll just paint over the remaining rust and pass the problem along. Experience tells me this is true about myself. I will rationalize as follows: Why waste hours and hours stripping these old frames until my fingers are all bleeding and I still can't get half of it? WTF! I won't do it!

What I really want to do is pull out these stupid frames and make some new windows, with a custom frame design that I can sit and admire. New Pellas would be nice, too, but they would cost thousands. I'll make the frames out of that new composite wood that lasts at least 50 years, which is plenty (if I'm doing my math correctly). They will be super cool windows. I can do this. More to come later.

We all have stuff within our spheres of responsibility, and that stuff gets older and older, but we always have a choice about what to do. From hour to hour we ripe and ripe. With the proper decay management (maybe even some yoga), we don't need to rot and rot.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Nate is Revealed

Nate's strategy gradually became clear after we entered the stadium late Saturday afternoon, just as the sun disappeared behind the massive wall of bleachers that reached high above the football field. Thousands of people were scattered about, sitting in folding chairs and resting on picnic blankets and, for all we knew, one of these poor souls, or maybe even one of us, would be Nate's intended victim for the night.

The strategy was ingenious. Nate was disguised as a guide dog in training, wearing a smart jacket just like the 40 other dogs, mostly puppies, in attendance, while Cheryl and I played the part of trainers, though we had no detail knowledge(for the sake of deniability, I suppose) of the real plan, which we feared had serious consequence based on my encounter with the CIA agent who delivered Nate to us with such a serious face, as if he could scarcely believe that so much responsibility rested on this silly black lab puppy and whatever diabolical behavior had been programmed into his brain.

As the concert progressed, after some Dvorak and Tchaikovsky, I thought I might throw up waiting for the events to play out. Would it be a musical phrase that sets him off? Was he waiting for nightfall? And what was the plan, anyway? We had no idea. How would we get out of there? Meanwhile the other dogs sat and mostly behaved, while Nate barked and licked and generally brought attention to himself, something that we only later realized was just part of the plan. Brilliant.

This silliness continued, in one form or another, until just after nightfall when Nate became serious and still. The orchestra was playing Prokofiev, and then it struck me--of course, the CIA planning group would see this as a perfect irony. Just then Nate looked at me with his real eyes and grinned as if to say, "so you get it now?" Instinctively, I let go of his leash and he ran through the crowd quickly--just a silly dog, after all--and over to a bearded Slavic-looking man resting on a blanket with two young girls who appeared, in face and temperament, to be his real daughters. The man reached into Nate's coat and pulled out a tiny chip while the girls surrounded him with pets and hugs. It all happened in a second, and Nate came back.

Afterwards we went to Mitchell's Fish House for dinner and Nate, no longer under the pretence of his role, took a long nap at the table, not the least interested in our dinners, understandable for a dog used to eating in some of the finest cafes in Europe. Nate is off today on another mission, this time to Zurich, far away from the humid armpit we call Florida.

Friday, May 8, 2009


The CIA sent us another prototype dog to observe this week--his name is Nate, a 1-year old black lab who refuses to be still for a second, so this is the best picture I can get.

Nate is about as vacant between the ears as a 16-year-old boy loose in Vegas with $5,000 and no supervision and no scruples. He sticks his nose where it doesn't belong, then attempts to bite, torment or chase anything new to him, which is apparently everything, including Cheryl's collection of yarn and papers in my office and anything in a trash can.

And like most labs he is naturally likable--just a big, goofy kid--though you could not get Willow to admit it. As for Nate's boyish charms, she is cold then indifferent then annoyed then frantic then bored then angry then sad then pitiful, and she definitely is blaming me for Nate, even apologizing for being mean to me in the past and promising to be a good girl (though I'm not buying it) if only I will make Nate go away.

At such a distance from my youth, it's difficult to remember if I passed though much of a Nate stage or if I spent, as I suspect, much more time brooding like a self-conscious Doberman or a worrying like needy Vizsla. I'm pretty sure I was some sort of dog.

We have Nate until Monday. In the meantime I have to remember that he's a trained dog and we are set to take him on a secret operation tomorrow night, one that only Nate is trained for but of course we are not. I've got a bad feeling. Will it be a code word that sets him off and turns him from a goofball to an assassin (or worse)? Whatever happens, you've got to love this puppy. Yes you do.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Today I saw millions of tiny tadpoles in the pond. The little guys are black, about 1/4 inch long, with round heads and wiggly tails and endless energy.

I can only guess that the koi are having tadpole for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but I haven't actually seen them in the hunt. Whenever I go outside, the security alarm for the back door beeps, and the fish come rushing over to see what I have for them. And when I come close, they watch me with a mixture of fear and loathing, not entirely sure about my intentions--with a white t-shirt on I probably resemble one of those big birds that come down to terrorize them. Where is the love, guys?

Despite all my my persuasions, my camera (I'll blame it on the camera) was able only to record a picture of the reflection coming from the surface. I tried all sorts of settings and angles (like this obviously stupid attempt reflecting the sun) but nothing.

We tend to think that a camera sees what we see, but it cannot adjust itself the way our mind does when, for example, we look into a mirror for just the right angle of light, for just the right combination of shadows, until the image comes close to what we hope others can see, something we do automatically and without effort or training, while the camera always needs some combination of settings, and even so it never can fool us into thinking that the image is something that it is not, even when we are looking for tadpoles.

So, in order to compensate for my inability to control my images, here is a video of tadpoles that look very much like the ones in our pond.