Author Archives: incidentalpunditry

An Autumnal Rite of Passage

Each autumn, my part of the country is besieged by leaf watchers. Those hearty souls who plan an annual trip up into the mountains in order to witness how the changing fall colors have painted the mountain landscapes.

Typically, the best time for seeing this transformation, and for enduring gridlock on the Blue Ridge Parkway, is in early October .

A couple of months ago, a professor at one of the local universities predicted that this year would be particularly colorful and appear early due to the amount of rain that had fallen during the summer.

Such prognostications are almost always in error and this one proved to be no exception.

A particularly dry period in late August and early September seems to have thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into the works. By the second week of October there had been very little color change among the hard woods on the slopes of the Blue Ridge mountains.

During that period, I’m confident that local hotels and inns were filled with disgruntled patrons who had booked their reservations a year ago hoping to be greeted with mountain vistas of flaming reds, bright yellows, and oranges; only to find a palate of mostly green.

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The Falls at Graveyard Fields – October 19th

All is not lost however. A few days of rain and nighttime temperatures which have dropped into the low 40s seems to have done the trick.

Within the last week, the awaited transformation has begun in earnest.

Those who were wise enough to book their reservations for late October or even early November appear to have won this year’s leaf watchers lottery.

The color changes will continue to increase at the higher elevations and slowly progress down into the lowlands over the next few weeks.

Better late than never.

An on-again, off-again blogger

I suppose that publishing a new blog post every six months isn’t exactly the rate of productivity that most bloggers aim to achieve, but it is in fact the span of time which has passed between my last post and this one.

I’m not going to attempt to offer any excuses for this, nor apologize, because I clearly recognize the turmoil that has been my life since last April.

Let it suffice to say that the earlier than expected retirement of my wife, the associated decision to move back to the mountains of North Carolina, managing the work of electricians, painters, plumbers, et. al. in order to get our house ready to go on the market, the listing and sale of the rejuvenated house in four days (rather than the four months we expected that process to take), multiple house hunting trips to find our new home, hiring a moving company, packing everything we own into boxes only to turn around and over a few weeks unpack everything we own, and ultimately the joy of closing on two houses in two days in two different states all has a way of filling a good bit of one’s time for periods up to and including six months.

HomeAnd I didn’t even mention the two or three months it takes to complete all of the changes that are required to turn the new house into “our” place.

It should come as no surprise that I have declared that I will never (voluntarily) move again. I included voluntarily in this statement in order to provide for the possibility that at some point, members of my family may need to take the bull by the horns and put me out to pasture in the, hopefully, distant future. But I can assure you that I will have little, if anything, to do in making that move happen.

I’m here to stay.

Sirens in the Night

sirenI was awakened at 4:57 am this morning by the tornado siren in the neighborhood directly behind our own.

If you’ve never heard a tornado siren sound off, it’s something similar to the horn that a freight train blows as it approaches a railroad crossing or the horn that sounds (repeatedly) when the home team in a National Hockey League game scores a goal.

I was confident that no one had scored in the other neighborhood, at least not at that hour of the night, but being as I was awake away, I decided to get up and check the radar app on my iPhone to see what was going on.  The radar revealed a band of bright red, orange, and yellow directly above my location on the map.

This in turn led me to do something that in recent years, I’ve typically avoided at all costs.  That is, to turn on The Weather Channel to see what they might be reporting.

I’m old enough to remember when The Weather Channel actually reported on the weather, rather than show documentaries about Australian photographers tramping around in the Outback or endless shows on “The Top 10 Most (fill in the blank)“.

When The Weather Channel does get around to discussing the current weather, they do so in the most melodramatic and outrageous manner possible.

Who hasn’t seen the endless pronouncements by their “meteorologists” instructing us to “never go outside in conditions like this“, while they, in fact, are outside in conditions like this?

Who can forget the scene in which one of their reporters was shown desperately holding on to a tree, leaning forward, and bracing himself so that he wouldn’t be blown away by the dangerously high winds; only to have that moment spoiled by two guys wearing shorts, casually strolling down the sidewalk behind him?

Pay no attention to the man behind the screen!

Anyway, I turned on The Weather Channel.  It came as no surprise that my expectations were immediately confirmed.

There she was, their leading early morning host, gleefully talking about the dangers associated with the weather system making its way across the southeast.  She was positively bubbling over as videos of downed trees and houses without roofs filled the screen.  She was barely able to control her excitement as she reminded her co-host that there had even been fatalities associated with this storm.  Thankfully, he had enough presence of mind to change the subject as rapidly as he could.
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In disdain, I immediately turned off the TV.

I returned to the radar app on my iPhone which provided me with immediate and accurate information regarding the current weather conditions.  And it did so, without melodrama, outrageousness, and without needless embellishments contributed by faux celebrity meteorologists.

Turf War

A little over 20 years ago, a promotion brought me to my employer’s headquarters in metro-Atlanta.  Prior to this move, my family and I had resided in relatively small towns where the company had located its manufacturing facilities.
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Our first order of business was finding a new home which we quickly realized was going to be as simple as deciding which of the hundreds of cookie-cutter residential developments provided the best access to good schools, good shopping, and a relatively easy commute for me to and from work each day.

I describe these neighborhoods as being cookie-cutter because once you had seen one, you had seen them all; 2-story brick homes with a full finished basement, 2-3 car garage, sidewalks, neighborhood pool and tennis court facility, and of course a sodded Bermuda grass yard.  The only things more ubiquitous than the endless expanses of Bermuda sod are the Bradford Pear trees.

I remember a co-worker asking me which “Corporate Ghetto” we had decided on moving in to; a tongue-in-cheek humorous description which nonetheless is not without merit.

Maintaining one’s Bermuda yard in a pristine, weedless state was, and still is, considered a priority of the highest order.  Many residents take the easy way out which means contracting with one of the limitless supply of lawn maintenance firms to treat their yards on a monthly basis with a cocktail of herbicides and fertilizers.

For the first few years, I too subscribed to that method; but eventually determined that I could protect my yard from the scourge of weeds by treating the lawn myself.  As long as the neighbors on both sides of one’s home are taking equally strident precautions to eradicate weeds (or native ground cover and vegetation to use the politically correct term),  this alternative can and will work quite well.

Unfortunately, in my case, there was a breakdown in this balance.  It came in the form of new neighbors.  Let me be quick to state that they are very nice people; a family of four who are friendly, out going, and very pleasant.  The only fly in the ointment is that they are apparently totally unconcerned with the appearance of weeds in their yard and the fact that those same weeds are slowly migrating into their neighbor’s yards.

For the first couple of years, I was successful in holding off the onslaught with a chemical treatment which was advertised as being able to eradicate a large variety of weeds while having no adverse impact on the grass.

Unfortunately this year, a new breed of weed has joined the invasion and which, to date, has proved to be immune to my tried and true chemical treatment.
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I’ve identified the culprit as a variety of annual bluegrass (curse you Kentucky!).  I confirmed that this particular weed is not listed on my current treatment’s hit list, but I have been able to find another product which claims to be effective against it.

The first treatment as been spread on my lawn and I’m currently in a “wait and see” holding pattern to determine whether or not harmony and balance will be restored.

In lawn care, as in so many other aspects of life, the best offense continues to be a good defense!

 

A plague on pollen and all other allergens

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In terms of being sensitive to, or even aware of, those mostly invisible foreign irritants which float around in our atmosphere, I led an idyllic childhood.  My brother suffered from recurring bouts of asthma and both my mother and father from seasonal allergies.  I, on the other hand, seemed to be immune to all such maladies.

That is until one fateful Spring day during my freshman year in college.  That was the day that Bobby Bumbles walked into my dorm room carrying a kitten.  His real name was Robert, but due to his proclivity to spontaneously disrupt the general welfare of those with whom he came into contact, Robert became known to all as Bobby Bumbles.  No doubt, he probably still is.

A perfect example of his impact on others was evidenced by his acquisition of the kitten.  No good can come from attempting to discern why he thought that having a kitten in a college dorm would be practical, much less a good idea.  There’s simply no reasonable explanation for that.  Nor is there an acceptable reason for why he began playing with the feline as he sat on my bed; rolling the kitten around, bouncing it on my blanket, and in the process dislodging copious amounts of cat hair, fur, and dander.

Within an hour, I began to feel as if someone had sprinkled tiny particles of sand under my eyelids, my breathing became labored, and a vile and noxious fluid began draining down the back of my throat.  That was the day that I learned that I was allergic to cats.  And I remain so to this day.

Thank you Bobby Bumbles, wherever you are.

I’m fairly sure that the initiation of my cat allergy also served as my personal Pandora’s Box in terms of the advent of other allergies.  Within a year or two, I found that I had become susceptible to various forms of pollen based hay fevers.

At first, my reactions to pollen seemed to occur on an every other year basis and were limited to short-term bouts of itchy and watering eyes, repetitious sneezing fits, and dull headaches.  But within a few years, I also began to develop nasal congestion, a scratchy throat, and tiny but incredibly itchy bumps on my fingers and hands.  A dermatologist told me that these bumps were known as vesicles, that they were related to hay fever, that they can develop within a very few minutes, last several weeks, and were essentially untreatable.

Did I mention that with my ever advancing age, my hay fever is no longer biennial, but now an annual affair?

As noted above, today’s pollen count is 10.1 – High.  I have no idea how that assessment is derived, nor do I want to have it explained.  I’m just glad that it’s less than the 11.0 – Extremely High levels that we’ve had here for the past three or four days.

img_0254I’ve tried using the common over-the-counter allergy medications with limited or no success.  These days, I tend to just stay indoors until the pollen counts subside. 

This has the added benefit of limiting my exposure to those other irritants in the environment such as urban sprawl, endless and unoccupied strip malls, traffic jams, and their basic root cause – people who have absolutely no clue how to drive a car!

Happy days!

 

Too much time on my hands?

Amazing!  Has it really been over 5 months since I last posted anything on my blog?  Well, obviously it has or I wouldn’t have made note of it.

My only explanation is that I’m retired and I have a plethora of interests, all of which are now bidding for my time and attention.  What I’m finding is that the manner in which all of these competing interests are prioritized is in a state of slow, but constant flux.  That which is dominating my attention span this month will, in all likelihood, take a back seat to another of my varied interests next month.  And on and on and on…..

So, what are these competing interests?  In no particular order (because in a very short period of time, the ranking will have changed anyway), they are:

  • Blogging (I gave this one top billing because at the moment I am…)
  • Photography (with the following subsets)
    • Landscapes
    • Sports
    • Street
    • Urban
    • Nature
  • Videography – taking home movies to a whole new level in the digital age
  • Reading – mainly fiction
    • SciFi
    • Mystery
    • Action/thriller
  • Amateur radio – also known as Ham radio
    • Talking around the world from the spare room upstairs
  • Learning to play the guitar

At the moment, learning to play the guitar has really taken over and supplanted all of the others on the list.

From the age of 9, I’ve had a desire to learn to play the guitar.  Unfortunately at that early stage of my life, I was unable to gain any traction in obtaining support from my parents in pursuing that goal.  I’m not really complaining, that was just the way it was back then, but the desire to learn guitar never left me.

During my college years, I came into possession of two guitars, an old Silverstone electric and a bargain basement acoustic.  As I recall, I traded a .22 rifle for one of them and a set of Koss stereo headphones for the other.  I spent many hours plucking on them both, learning to play short riffs from popular songs, but never seriously attempting to learn more than that.

Roughly 45 years later and a little over a year into my retirement, two things happened.  1) I decided that I now had the time to dedicate to the objective of learning to play the guitar, and 2) I discovered several on-line resources which provide very instructive guitar lessons.  I settled on JustinGuitar.com and can strongly recommend his site and lessons to anyone with similar interests to mine.

BCA0F188-A0FA-4284-B397-D6F3C17EEC34Both the old electric and acoustic guitars are still in my possession, but have been mothballed in favor of a new Yamaha acoustic.

I’m a month and a half into following Justin’s beginner lessons and I now know how to play all of the 8 standard open chords. Sadly, through all my years of free-style plucking, I never bothered to learn how to play a single chord.  I also can play several songs well enough that if you listen carefully, you can probably recognize what I’m playing.

That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but for someone who has wanted to be able to do just that, this is huge!

So yeah, in answer to my original question – it’s great to have too much time on my hands

I Meet My Match

Many years ago, we lived in the mountains of western North Carolina. A long ridge rose up on the outskirts of the small town in which we resided. From where it began, the rise to its highest point was around 3 miles in length. There, the ridge abruptly ended with a rocky outcropping, rapidly dropping away several hundred feet to the valley below. Along the ridge, a meandering and relatively steep two lane road led to the top of the ridge.

It goes without saying that any self-respecting town in which such a geophysical feature is found is also the home of a legend relating the sad tale of a young maiden whose true love had gone off to war, or to sea, or on some such quest.

You probably know the rest of the story. When fate, in one form or another kept her true love from returning, the young maiden, overcome with remorse, met her demise by flinging herself headlong off of said geophysical feature.

The ridge in our town was known as Jump Off Rock and the maiden in the legend associated with it; a Cherokee Indian whose warrior soulmate never returned from battle.

It’s interesting to note that over the last few generations, your average young maiden appears to have been made of tougher stuff or to have come up with more constructive strategies for handling any remorse they may feel in relation to absentee true loves. That’s probably a good thing.

That aside, I had taken up cycling as a means of keeping myself fit. I’d been a jogger for several years, but a hip injury had caused me to cut back on running. When I discovered that pedaling a bike didn’t negatively impact my hip, I hung up my running shorts and replaced them with a pair of black spandex cycling pants and away I went.

The ride up to the top of Jump of Rock became one of my favorite cycling routes. From my home, the round trip to the top of the ridge and back was about 15 miles. The climb up to the rocky outcropping wasn’t comparable to climbing the Pyrenees Mountains in the Tour de France, but I’m not ashamed to admit that it would cause one’s thighs to burn before the top was reached.

One spring afternoon, I completed the climb to the top, pulled my bike over to a grassy area near the outcropping, and was sitting there basking in the internal glow of having once again made the 3-mile assault to the top without having to stop anywhere along the route to catch my breath.

It was then that I noticed an old man hobbling toward me from the other side of the road. He was 85 years old, if he was a day, and was relying heavily on a weathered wooden cane which looked like it had been handmade from a crooked tree limb.

He slowly walked over to where I was relaxing in the grass. For some time he stood there silently gazing at my bike as it lay in the grass between us.

Abruptly, he reached out and began hitting the derailleur on the back wheel of my bike with his gnarly wooden cane. For the uninitiated, the derailleur is the device that allows for the multiple gear changes typically found on modern road bikes. For the record, my bike had 12 gears.

Then in a heavy, guttural German accent he shouted, “What’s that? What’s that!

That’s the derailleur. It allows me to change gears on the bike which makes it easier to pedal when riding up steep slopes like this one.” I explained.

He paused for a moment, shook his head slightly from side to side, and shouted, “One gear! One gear! When I was a boy, my schoolmates and I rode our bicycles from Zurich to Lyon, over the Alps, with only one gear!”

He paused momentarily to catch his breath and clear his throat before adding, “One gear!

Believing that he had sufficiently made his point, the old man silently limped back across the road to his car and drove away; all the while shaking his head.

I sat there for a few moments pondering whether or not I should go over to the rocky outcropping and hurl my bike, myself, or both my bike and myself over the edge.

But realizing that I didn’t want to be found laying at the bottom of the cliff in those spandex biker shorts, I got back on my bike and rode home; a more humble man than the one who had just ascended Jump Off Rock.