Monday, January 15, 2018

Hi Ho – It’s Off To Work We Go

When out and about with The Van I’m either hiking or biking most every day, so ‘working out’ is just part of the lifestyle, but when I’m hanging around the homestead (and the three or four regular readers I have might remember that I burned the hell out of my travel budget by mid-2017 so have been spending a lot of time hanging around the homestead since then waiting for the budget to trickle-charge.) staying in condition is something I have to pay attention to.

It wasn’t always that way.  Up until a few years ago (OK, maybe more than a few but I can still remember those days so it can’t have been all that long ago!) I was able to coast along on the remnants of my youth so ‘working out’ was a nice, responsible, grown-up thing to do, but not necessarily required. But now that I’m old enough that I will soon be shifting from years to months as I count my way down to Medicare, if I don’t stay on top of it, if I allow too many of those well it’s a little wet, or cold, or hot, or late, so I’ll do it tomorrow days to slip by without moving the muscles, banging the heart, and just generally getting’ the blood flowing, I find myself needing a rest-break on the journey from one side of the grocery store to the other. And let me tell you, it’s highly embarrassing to be pointed and laughed at by a cart full of sticky-faced rug-rats pushed along by a frazzled, and judging by the looks I get, disapproving parent, because I’m sprawled across a nest of family-sized bundles of toilet paper I’ve pulled down off the shelf (Clean up on isle 5!) since the floor is just too damn hard and far away to lay down on anymore, gasping for breath as I try to recover enough get-up-and-go to get-up-and-went all the way over to isle 8!

By the way, I’m not at all convinced about this shrinking-as-you-get-older crap. If that were the case then why does the floor, and everything floor-adjacent, such as my feet, keep getting farther and farther away every year??

(Nope, not me. Just something I stole off flicker)

Anyway – over the years I’ve done a lot of ‘fitness plans’, the Royal Canadian Air Force Fitness Plan (Screw this! I’m not Canadian!!), Billy Blank’s Tai Bo videos, (Dude! My legs wouldn’t go that high even when I was a kid!) Bo-flex machines, (Oh the hell with it, I’ll never look like those guys.) and the like, but the one thing that I seem to be able to stick with on a regular basis is cranking out a few sub-20 minute miles sandwiched between a warm-up during which I try to convince my body that it really can move that way, and a cool-down during which I gasp for every breath as if I’m about to go under for the last time. (And yep. This spectacle is also highly embarrassing which is why I prefer to do it in private.)  

Here on the near-side of the property, the side of the pond where the barn, driveway, electric easement and meadow create some open spaces, I’ve mowed a looping track from the gate (east) to the pond (west) and side-to-side between both the north and south fence-lines that adds up to just over a third of a mile. It’s not quite mall-walking, there’s a little bit of up and down involved and the ground under foot isn’t paved, but except for that climb up to the gate, which is a 9 percent-er, it’s pretty mild and even my mother was out there on it last time she visited.

But after the first lap or so it gets pretty mindless and boring. So much so that in order to keep track I have these three stones sitting on the water tank we use for the fire-pump. As I pass the tank at the end of each lap I grab a stone and put it in my pocket. If there are no stones left I pull one back out  and leave it on the tank. When all three stones are back on the tank I know I’ve made right around 2 miles and can switch over to my combination yoga and tai-chi cool-down. (which makes up part of a desperate attempt to remain flexible and retain some balance into my older years)

There used to be more trail on the mostly wooded back-side of the property. In fact years ago I had a little over a mile’s worth of walkable trails back there, but then one day, down in a ravine on the back side of the main ridge, a pair of trees fell during a storm, stacking themselves like dominoes right across the trail. The lower of the two trees was propped up on it's own branches about 8 feet above the trail with the upper tree sitting about 6 feet above that.

There was no way I was going to mess around under those unstable trees and risk ending up looking like road-kill! I suppose I could have cut a bypass around them but they were pretty big trees and it’s really difficult to cut trail all the way around them down in that thickly vegetated ravine, so, what with plenty of traveling and large shop-projects to keep me active at the time, I took the easy way out and abandoned the back-side trails.

But now, forced by budget into a long, unbroken stay at home, and with my current string of projects shrunk down to a non-aerobic table-top sized, the idea of opening up those old trails again was looking better and better.

Since the dam is the only connection between the front and back sides of the property, the first step was to carve a tunnel through the Live Oak that drapes over it.

After that was cleared I could throw my tools over my shoulder and trudge off up the hill like some mutant cousin of the 7 dwarves and spend a couple hours at a time opening up those old trails again,or, in some cases, cutting entirely new trails.

Depending on where I am back there, in a couple of hours

I can clear as much as a few hundred feet of trail per session, or as little as 20 feet.

It may seem a little perverse in this modern age, but I prefer clearing trail with hand-tools. It is slower, but it’s a lot quieter, and one heck of a lot less risky, than using a chainsaw. Besides, what’s the damn rush anyway? When finished I will use the trails to help maintain my physical conditioning and all that lopping and sawing and bending and straightening and pushing and pulling and lifting and dragging is a pretty good workout too, so why waste the opportunity?


 But there was one spot that required more than my puny little hand-saws.

After 6 or 7 years the domino’ed trees have settled to the point where they are fairly stable and the lower tree has sagged down to about chest high,

but I clearly needed to drag out the big guns if I was going to cut my way through. I had hoped my small, 14 inch chainsaw would do the job, but a quick measurement slapped that idea into the debris underfoot and I had to drag the bigger, and way heavier, 24 inch chainsaw up and over the hill

to clear the way instead.

After 3 to 4 sessions per week for a couple months I have managed to open up old, or cut new, trails as shown in blue. The next step is to cut another new trail along the red line and create one more option for getting to the back fence-line. (You know, in case some other tree decides to come down over one of my fresh new trails, which, since we had 45 mph winds around here overnight, is certainly a possibility) but I already know that’s going to be a long slog to clear because of a steep-sided and heavily overgrown ravine right about where the jog in the red trail is.

You see, walking these trails isn’t a stroll around your Grandma’s retirement community, dodging golf-carts driven by the mostly blind and waving to all the porch-perchers so they don’t talk bad about you at bingo.  Though the difference between the low and high points on our 14 acres is less than 100 feet, there are no flat spots anywhere. (We had to carve into a hillside in order to create a spot for the barn to sit.)The average grade overall works out to about 5% but there are a few 12% hills out there too. Steep enough to generate a little burn, in both thighs and lungs.

Speaking of which, it’s time to stop writing and get back to work.

Monday, January 8, 2018

A Two-handed Shooter I'm Not!

I was standing at my computer desk doing - well, who the hell knows what I was doing - in the barn. The doors at both ends of the building were open, sunset was approaching, mostly unnoticed, and then the light suddenly changed.

Panic stations!!

I grabbed the camera and ran out the front of the barn. That's the farthest away, since my computer station is only a couple steps from the back of the barn, but the trees crowd in pretty close back there so the best long-range views are out front.

When I skidded to a halt on the gravel driveway with all the grace of a world-class hockey player getting set for a one-touch slapshot deep in the blue-zone (OK, so my skid was more like a crash landing, but I saved the camera!!) I was confronted with a rainbow in the east and a pretty spectacular sunset in the west.

Now I'm a child of the 60's and grew up on Saturday afternoon westerns but I'm crap at two-handed shooting, what with being solidly left handed which means I don't have all that much control over my right hand. Besides, I only have the one camera. Unfortunately I also have only seconds before the light will change again and both of these magnificent views will be lost forever, so I start desperately fumbling with the settings on the camera while trying to figure out which way to shoot first. (On top of that, point-and-shoots are absolutely terrible at capturing lighting conditions like this, wanting to 'normalize' everything into a generic, studio-lit portrait instead, so auto is useless but the manual settings are clumsy when you're in a hurry.

By the time the light changed and the sky was boringly generic again I was feeling kind of dizzy, so I'm pretty sure I forgot to breath as I shot and adjusted and shot and spun around and shot and adjusted and - well, you get the idea.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Continuing Saga of Elmer; The Good News, And The Bad

The good news is that Elmer hasn’t thrown himself in the bay again - yet, the bad news is that to make up for that he threw his phone in the bay.

This is only the latest phone-icide in a string of many over the years. Half the time he accompanies the phone into the bay, the other half the phone makes the trip on its own. This time he claims the phone just jumped out of his pocket and flew into the water and it was over so fast there was nothing he could do about it.

I’m a little skeptical.

Apparently there’s no credible witnesses to verify this one way or the other, but the fishing hasn’t been great (By Elmer standards) and I’m not entirely convinced Elmer didn’t sacrifice the phone to the fishing gods in the hopes of more plentiful bait-snatchers. When the fishing is good Elmer is a happy guy, when it’s not he can be sullen and morose. Happy Elmer is preferable to Grumpy Elmer, but for crying out loud! Surely there’s something a little less inconvenient that would satisfy the fishing gods!

The good news is that when we got word of this latest incident-on-the-bay via Ike’s phone (Which, as far as I know, has never been sacrificed to the bay; though come to think of it, Ike doesn’t catch near as many fish as Elmer.  Could Elmer actually be onto something with the phones??) we just happened to already be on our way down to meet Elmer and Ike for lunch in a half-way-between town. It also just so happens that town has a Verizon corporate store so we dropped in, picked up a replacement, paid the upgrade and activation fees, (the bad news of course) had them load The Wife’s contact list (Largely the same as Elmer’s list which was now swimming with the fishes.) onto the new phone and had it ready to hand over to him when we got to the restaurant.

The good news is this was a rare Friday meetup (most are on a Monday) so The Texas Roadhouse was open for lunch, which includes their unequaled fried onion blossom starter. The bad news was, not only was Elmer grumpy, but he also chose to leave his hearing aids back in the trailer. (Don't need the damn things!) So instead of just a collection of old farts gathered for a nice lunch and some conversation, the shouting, constant repetition and misunderstandings drowned out everyone around us and turned our table into the obnoxious clown-car in a one-ring circus. (I can’t be sure, but I think there was a smattering of applause when the door closed behind us as we were leaving.)

And finally:

The good news is that as Elmer and Ike (Ike doing the driving of course) peeled off to stop at Academy (For some curly-tail lures) and then Sam’s (For a big box of frozen Jimmy Dean breakfast muffins [take one out of the box, pop it in the micro for 90 seconds, tear the plastic wrapper off, lick the melted cheese off the wrapper, then eat the muffin – good stuff! I know all this because Elmer has told me, in detail, about a hundred times now.]) Elmer had a working phone in his hands. The bad news is that the phone wasn’t working too well. . . At least in Elmer’s hands.

Other than some sleeker rounding to the edges and much cleaner keys, the new phone is identical to his freshly sacrificed flip-phone, but for some reason Elmer just can’t seem to get the knack of using this new-phangled piece of crap fone!

Now struggling with technology can be expected from someone that is old enough to remember when the first electric light was brought into their home, but what do you mean you can’t figure out how to call anyone?? It’s the same damn phone! (On which he managed, with little trouble at all, to make over 570 calls last billing period. Thank God for Family Plan!!)

 Of course not being able to call anyone doesn’t seem to include calling The Wife who received some 30 calls from Elmer in the two days following the Great Phone Switch. I had to leave the room once because if I heard her tell Elmer ‘press the dash key at the top right to get your contact list – press the dash key – press the dash key – Dad! press the dash key – press the dash key’ one more time I just might have reached right down the phone-line and pressed the dash key for him. . . and that could have been ugly.

Oh well, one day soon I'm going to be old(er) and then it will be my turn to pull an Elmer. . . (Is it bad that I'm already cackling with malicious glee at the thought of driving The Daughter nuts?)