Casting a Ballot

It’s late afternoon 
seasonably warm in the middle of October
in the year two thousand twenty 

The line to vote 
stretches from the shade of the north side of the courthouse 
into the sun of the west side in my north Alabama county 

We in line have a casual attitude
almost nervous but not quite
as volunteers walk up and down the file 
entreating us for questions about what is a simple process 

A simple process with an import 
that engenders uncertainty
so clarity is appreciated 

We stand
we shuffle
and we stand 

We can wait. We will wait.

Tiptoeing into Music

Have you ever tried teaching musical chord theory to a six-year-old?

Me either.  

Wow, that would be crazy.  I can’t even imagine.  I suppose there are people who can do it–and six-year-olds who can learn it–but they’re not in my immediate family.

If I’m being honest, my own grasp of music theory isn’t that great, but that doesn’t mean I can’t play what have been called the “three magic chords” on a few different instruments.  In case you don’t know, and you’re not six years old, the “three magic chords” in any key are the 1st, the 4th, and the fifth; in the key of C, that would be C, F, and G.  If that doesn’t make sense, please just trust me for now.  Many, many songs are based on those three chords alone; if you want me to I can make up a percentage, but for now I’ll leave it at, “it’s a lot.”

So, back to the six-year-old.  It’s my youngest granddaughter (my regular readers nod their heads and whisper, “Of course it is”), who’s been showing an interest in music for a few years now.  Until now, my encouragement has been limited to modeling (read: playing) and making instruments available.  Making them available, that is, with close supervision for everything except the dulcimer since it’s darn near indestructible.

When it comes to actually teaching, though, one of the obstacles young people face when learning a stringed instrument is, well, the strings.  Typically steel with a diameter measured in thousands of an inch, they’re tensioned to a degree that means simply pushing them to the fingerboard is anything but simple when your hand is small.  Adults know the pain as well when they first start playing–it’s hard.

The aforementioned dulcimer is nice to play because of its low string action, but it’s not a “guitar,” and it doesn’t have the same appeal as the instrument grandpa plays.  

Enter the ukulele.

The ukulele has enjoyed a surge of popularity in the last decade or so, but until now I’ve largely let it go by.  My, ahem, older readers might get the reference when I say that my being well over six feet tall and the fact that I go by, “Tim,” has had something to do with my hesitation toward the instrument.  Maybe I just wanted to avoid the latest fad, I don’t know.  Regardless, I haven’t had an interest until my youngest kin expressed a desire to play an instrument like the one I do.

Though the ukulele isn’t indestructible, it is relatively inexpensive, so two of them now have a home in my living room, readily available to the youngest musicians in my life as well as to me.  They’re fun to play, and they’ve got me thinking about polishing up my falsetto. We’ll see.

The Best Part of Going Away

My family and I got home from the Gulf Coast just the other day, and it’s wonderful to be back.  My wife, Lisa, and I have, as long as I can remember, held the belief that the best part of going away is coming back home.  

Lisa’s an organizer.  I’m not going to say she enjoys the planning and packing, per se, but she’s good at it and I think she finds satisfaction in it.  There’s something to be said for unpacking once we’re back home, though.  We try to do it quickly so we can settle back into our home routine without bags and boxes sitting around for days.

The drive down (it’s usually “down,” as in south to the coast from our home in north Alabama) is an organized affair, with everything in its place and an overall sense of organization.  The drive back up, by necessity, has a degree of organization as well–just to get everything back into the car–but it’s not quite the same as that initial trip.

Settling into our destination is a lot of fun.  Those first few days are exciting, and we do our best to relax and enjoy the time with family.  We love being on the coast even more than being on the beach, and each day there is a pleasure.  That said, there comes a time when we each start to think about being back home, and we begin to look forward to it.

And here we are, back home.  Our youngest granddaughter has already asked if we could make a countdown chain for next year.  I’m not sure I’m ready for that, but it won’t be long.

Six Strings and Memories

I didn’t know the man, but, then again, we all did.  If not him, then another.

These words, written in the first week of October, 2020, are in response to the recent loss of Eddie Van Halen, but they could have been written anytime since the advent of the public figure.  

The public figure: We don’t know them, but we do.  They’re who a small part (or a larger part) of us wants to be.  During the moments they’re at the forefront of our awareness, they’re what living vicariously is all about.  In the case of Van Halen, he’s the reason we even have air guitar and the imagining that comes with it.  Turn it up, please!

I’m reminded of the words of Bruce Springsteen during his recent recorded performance on Broadway.  Describing his legendary (there’s that idea again) saxophonist, he said, “nobody captured my audience’s imaginations or their hearts like Clarence.” 

That’s what they do, those musicians, those actors, those poets and performers.  For that, I’m thankful.

Longleaf

Hosford, Florida, has a Dollar General store.  

That’s not unusual, I suppose, since anymore most every little town in the United States has one or more.  This one, though–the one in Hosford–brought a smile to my face like no other Dollar General has ever done.

We weren’t planning to stop in Hosford on our way to the Gulf Coast, but according to the ‘net, it was our last chance to pick up the gallon of milk needed to replace the one that didn’t fit in our cooler as we packed it that morning.  So, Hosford it was.

As is my habit when I can, I opted to sit in the car with the grandkids while their mother, along with my wife, went into the store.  The kids were chattering in the back of the van, and I was enjoying the sound and just hanging out some eight feet in front of their carseats.

I’d examined the wall ahead of me already, and found it to be wholly unremarkable.  From where I sat, I could see the ice cooler wasn’t locked, but that probably wasn’t unusual in a town this size.  Beyond the cooler, though, the store didn’t offer a lot to look at.  My eyes wandered to the vacant lot beside the store, and from there to the vacant lot just behind that one.

And then I smiled.  Big.

The lot closest to me had been mowed sometime in the last few months, but the one further away had trees and shrubs within their first few years of life, nothing more than 10 feet tall.

My smile didn’t come immediately, because it took my brain a few seconds to process what I was seeing.  Pines, again, not more than 10 feet high.  But they were dense, the individual trees were.  Each tree had three or four branches reaching skyward, and they were thick with lush green needles.  Lush, long, green needles.  Long, green needles.

Longleaf pine needles.  The reason for my smile.

I’d lived in Alabama for a few years before I became aware of the longleaf pine and its history.  The tree, native to the southeastern coasts of the United States, both the Atlantic and the Gulf, was once abundantly spread through the region.  Found up to a few hundred miles inland, spread from Virginia to Texas, the longleaf ecosystem was primary in the coastal areas of the region, until it wasn’t.  

Since the earliest days of European colonization of the continent, the longleaf pine was logged for its lumber as well as tar, pitch, and turpentine.  The long, straight trees were first prized for their nautical uses: masts and the pitch used to make hulls watertight as well as others.

Originally covering nearly 100 million acres, the natural resource was  considered inexhaustible, again, until it wasn’t.  Now, less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the original range can be considered old growth, and just around one percent of the original range has stands of the trees at all, with much of that planted and managed.

But not that vacant lot near the Dollar General in Hosford, Florida.  Seeds for those trees arrived without a plan other than nature’s.  Those trees, growing in a gravel lot, will probably never see maturity, but their presence is still enough to warrant a smile.

Check it out!

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Dollar+General/@30.3900222,-84.7991246,94m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x88ecb7bae40f9065:0xf762bb7be20ecc01!8m2!3d30.3900222!4d-84.798851

I Washed My Hands. Again.

I sat down to write this, and–after just a few moments–I stopped.

I had to wash my hands.  Again.

—-

A few months ago, I was watching a Billy Collins video when I heard him say one of the truest things I’ve ever heard about writing: “There’s a lot of staring involved.”  When I write, I stare.  A lot. 

In addition to staring, for better or worse, I’m a beard stroker.  The fact that I don’t really have a beard right now (I shaved it three days ago and started growing it back moments after doing so) is beside the point, but I guess it’s more accurate to say I’m a chin stroker.  My own chin, for the record.

Anyway, that’s why I had to wash my hands.  Not because my chin was dirty, but because my hands apparently were.  Still dirty.  They smelled like rats, despite having recently been washed.  You can trust me: whenever I do anything to make my hands smell like rats, I wash them.  

A lot of people don’t know this, but recently thawed rats have a distinct smell, unlike, say, mice or quail.  I handle those a lot, and when I do, my hands rarely hold a smell after I’ve washed them.  “Hold a smell,” as in, “retain it.”  I don’t know if there’s another way for hands to hold a smell, but it’s best to be clear.

Anyway, I washed my hands again, and now I’m ready to write.  Before I sat down, I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about—that’s what led to the staring and chin stroking—but I soon found a topic right there at my fingertips.  Literally.

—-

Oh.  Before I sat down to write—even before I washed my hands—I had just gotten home from feeding one of the birds I care for, an American kestrel.  They eat juvenile rats, which, I’m here to tell you, have a odor all their own.

Libraries

Libraries.  I love ‘em.

There’s just so much in there, and almost all of it appeals to me.  While I’m not intrigued by, say, Home and Family Management in the 640s, or French and Related Literatures in the 840s, I’m definitely interested in Drawing and Decorative Arts in the 740s right between the other two. 

That doesn’t mean, though, that I won’t wander through those other two areas as I pace the stacks.

I’ll browse.  I’ll meander.  I’ll get a crick in my neck because I’ve been walking with my right ear toward the ground through all those shelves.  I’ll impulsively move from a section in the main library to the corresponding section in the “youth” area.  I’ll stand for a few minutes, trying desperately to remember what it was I just had to look up.

Music.  There’s plenty of it, even though nearly all of it is available through a few clicks on my phone.

Don’t forget video.  

And the children’s books, standing upright, ready to be flipped through in their wooden bins.

I love all of it, and I miss it dearly.

I was working out of a school library today (an elementary school, so walking through the French and Related Literatures (840) section doesn’t take long), and as I set my book bag down I heard the librarian ask one of the teachers not to touch the books on the shelves because she didn’t have time to wipe them down again after the teacher left.

I don’t fault the librarian; I worked in the same room with her for most of the day and she rarely stopped moving.  I don’t fault anyone, really.  

That little booger, the Covid-19 virus, is only 60 nanometers in diameter, and it’s messing some stuff up.

Someday, hopefully sooner rather than later, I hope the only place it’s found is Medical and Health (640).  You can bet I’ll walk right past it.

Big Rig

If, a few months ago, you asked me what came to mind when I heard the words, “Big Rig,” I probably would have said something about a semi-tractor/trailer combo.  Maybe I’d have thought about oil drilling, or even fishing tackle.  That last one’s kind of strange, but it goes back to my youth when I had the opportunity to go fishing in Canada.  What kind of tackle should one take?  Who knew, but it had to be big!

Now, though?  What comes to mind when I hear “Big Rig” mentioned?

A chicken.

Yep.  A chicken.

Well, and my granddaughter.

My granddaughter is learning to read, and with the current school situation I have been helping with that endeavor.  I didn’t have a lot of experience with beginning readers, since I’ve been a third-grade teacher most of my career, but I knew where to start: Talk to a kindergarten teacher.  And that’s what I did.  

After some talking and a little bit of brushing up on the basics, I came home with a handful of simple readers to use with my teaching.  I love books that are written with beginning-reader text, but–in my limited experience–a lot of them can be kind of boring.  Not the set I was able to borrow, though.  The text is good, but the pictures are what really make them great.  The series is set in a town populated by trucks and other vehicles.  Race cars, construction equipment like dozers, and even a tow truck named, yes, Big Rig.

My granddaughter really likes Big Rig.  

A few weeks after we started with that series, my wife decided it was time to start with a new flock of chicks.  Early one morning they found a home in a container under a heat lamp in our garage, and that afternoon our granddaughters came to visit them.  We’ve never been one for naming our chickens, but, well, that’s changed.  Again: Granddaughters.

So, we’ve got a Yeti, since it has “furry feet,” and we’ve got Dot because of a dark patch below her eye.  Plain Jane looks like Dot, but doesn’t have the dark patch.  The logic behind the naming process is strange, but it makes sense if you’re my wife or one of my granddaughters, especially the oldest one.

What else came out of the naming process?  

Yes, indeed, we have a feathered gal by the name of “Big Rig.”  

I suppose it’s okay.  She’s not going to answer to it anyway.