The bike, the trees, and democracy inaction

I spent a fair chunk of the day grading things that needed to be graded. And, boy does time fly when you’re trying to make sure students hit all of an assignment’s requirements. And that’s before the subjective parts of grading a somewhat subjective project.

Somewhere between that and the quotidian — watering the plants, reading the news, attending to the cats and the like — the day was filled. And that’s how the day is filled. Mostly, anyway. I spent a little time playing with maps.

Because I wanted to ride in a new direction today. So I drew a different 20-mile square. It was a good route. The first side of the square is a familiar road. I took a left, instead of a right, and went by where we get pizza. There’s a Wendy’s there. I hadn’t noticed that before. Right around there it was a bit crowded, but just after, I was back in the country.

And that’s where I found today’s barn.

I saw another barn that I didn’t photograph. Right in front of it, I realized the yard wasn’t a yard, but a huge chicken run. In the corner of that was the nicest, most suburban looking coop you’ve ever seen. I didn’t photograph the barn because I thought it was a house. It was nicer than most people’s houses. The chicken coop was better than some, too. I wanted to double back and knock on their door — the owners, not the chickens — and ask them a few questions.

What did you study? What do you do? Where did I go wrong?

But, hey, it was a stunningly beautiful afternoon and I was outside enjoying it, so maybe I didn’t do too much wrong.

Just down the road from that fancy set up, I was passing through two freshly cut fields, and wondering about this tree. Why did they leave the one? Was there something sentimental about it? Was this where they sat in the shade for lunch on the hottest days? Acreage is important, but just the one tree, right up on the road?

And then I noticed the Harvestore silos coming up in the background. The ol’ blue tombstones.

Those were a popular brand a few generations back, and they apparently worked well, unless there was a user error. But changing economies, scale, and the realities of farming changed underfoot of the Harvestore silo salesmen. Those things were always changing around the farmer, and they were used to it. But in, a wry way, this symbol became something of an omen, and not the best kind for a lot of small farms.

The blue is actually a glass treatment. These silos hold wet shelled corn, or corn silage, and they can be labor intensive. Other methods of feeding livestock make more sense these days. But that farm down the road has four of these big silos, and that’s not a small number. They look new, or at least well maintained. And someone was out there working when I slid past. Hundreds of kernels of corn were scattered across the road at the entrance to the lot.

Four more lefts and two more rights, nine miles and several smiles later, I was back in my yard.

I spent a few minutes walking among the trees during the golden hour. We have at least two different kind of pine trees on the property … make that three.

That tree sits on the back border, and it has a four-needle cluster. And these incredible pine cones make me think this is the eastern white pine (Pinus strobus).

Wikipedia tells me mature trees are often 200–250 years old. In New York they found one that was 458 years old a few decades ago. Others in Michigan and Wisconsin were roughly 500 years old. So let’s assume I’m right about the species. Those cones are mature, the tree is still quite youthful.

I believe this is a pear. Bradford (Pyrus calleryana) or Plymouth (Pyrus cordata), I don’t know. This tree was planted, or grew, in isolation, which is a shame. You need two pear trees to be about 20 feet apart to have pollination and of different varieties, for cross-pollination and fruit production. So, on the downside, no fruit. I love pears.

On the upside, I don’t have to pick up a whole bunch of rotten pears. And they look pretty nice, too.

This is a black cherry (Prunus serotina). I think. We have two of them, but they only produce very small, bitter fruits. Or at least that was the case this year. They can grow as old as 250 years, and produce fruit for a century. So the tree has time, probably.

We have a nice young eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), too. These guys are fascinating, and can live for almost a millennium. If, that is, someone doesn’t cut them up for good lumber. And, oh, the things you can make with good cedar.

Right next to the cedar there’s an American sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua). It’s a popular ornamental tree, of course. But the resin has been important for hundreds of years. Also, the spiny seed pods.

The people we bought the house from had some sort of handheld seed pod collector. They left it for us and we’ll see, at some point, if that thing is any good. And, from that knowledge, we’ll decide if they were generous, the previous owners, or tricksters.

Those seed pods are the key to a great many things.

Some of the rose bushes are still blooming.

And just after that I discovered I dropped my lens cap. The light was dying and I was going inside and, oh, I just touched glass and not plastic.

So I walked around, unsuccessfully, trying to find the 52 mm piece of black plastic in the blue-gray light that was fading away quickly. No luck. I’ll look again tomorrow. Guaranteed it’s under the sweetgum, which is shedding leaves rapidly, covering so many of those seed pods — those feet offenders, those heal harmers, toe ticklers, those arch agitaters — that feel like they should all be investigated.

We went to vote tonight — the off-off-year voting for the most spendingest state lawmaker candidates you can imagine being the local highlight. It’s gotten personal. And they’re buying in bulk. They might be taking out ad buys together. Where there’s the one fellow who doesn’t like women or employees, there’s the other fellow of questionable moral judgment. Whoever wins tonight the biggest loser will be the bulk mail printers, the political consultants and the TV stations.

I’ve decided, this campaign season, that the problem isn’t the campaigns or the saturation buys. It’s the quality of the advertisements. They’re just bad.

Anyway, we went down the road to the polling place. Three districts were funneled into one room, and then split apart again. We live in District 1, and that was to the right, where two tables were put together. Four pleasant women were staffing the two computers there. My lovely bride went to one, I hit the other. They could not, however, find us in the system. Voter registration is automatic with your license but, in this state, in the 21st century, it takes … several weeks for these data files to be merged.

We missed the cutoff by one day. Despite our names showing up on the customer-facing website I found, the clerk’s system didn’t show our names. One of the ladies made a phone call, which required another phone call. I figured two phone calls from a volunteer was above and beyond. We thanked the ladies, and made to leave, with disenfranchisement jokes — some of them pretty clever — as we stepped away. The women, of course, realized we were new to the small town, so the ladies seamlessly transitioned into a welcoming committee.

Go to this! Go to that! Make sure you check out the Christmas event! Oh, and there’s a great bookstore, too, one of them said.

She said it with a grin, the kind you were intended to see, so that you might easily get the joke. The bookstore is hers. Her husband’s, actually.

We know of the store, passed by it and all that, but I haven’t been inside yet. But now I’ve met someone involved and she told me all about it.

I said, “You know, I’ve said for years,” pointing to my lovely bride for verification, “that my retirement plan is to find a nice used bookstore that’s closed a few days a week and offer to work those days. The owner needs a day off, but I can go sit in there, open the store, maybe we sell a thing or two. I definitely read a lot.”

She’s nodding along, my wife, and the older woman says Don’t tell that to Tom. He’ll take you up on it. So now, I guess, I have to go make a new acquaintance.

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