Jul 24

Happy Fourth

I am starting to feel better today, thanks for asking. Many of the key symptoms have disappeared. I think I hard-coughed all of them right out of my body this morning. It was a huge fit. More the beginning of a cold than the end, or so it felt. But I patiently sat my way into an afternoon without any other great big symptoms.

And so this afternoon I willed my way into the pool to see what would happen.

What happened was I struggled through 500 yards or so and then spent another several hundred yards wondering when I would find my rhythm. Somewhere along the way in a long swim I just slip into a nice (for me) pace that just sees the laps melt away. I haven’t charted this, but it seems like it should come at a fairly consistent time, right? Only I was somewhere around 1,200 yards today and still wondering when that would happen.

It did not happen.

But I did swim what was, on balance, a solid 1,800. And I didn’t feel the need to roll over and sleep the rest of the afternoon away. It felt like progress.

After which I finished reading John Barry’s Rising Tide, which was an incredible book about the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River.

How can something so devastating be all but forgotten just a century later? At a place called Mounds Landing, the levee gave way and “a wall of water three-quarters of a mile across and more than 100 feet high” came through the crevasse. Weeks later, engineers used a 100-foot line to find the bottom, but they failed. The river had gouged a 100-foot-deep channel half a mile wide for a mile inland.

No one could every wrap their arms around an official set of figures for the entirety of the massive watershed, but Barry has some data on the lower Mississippi, where the flood put as much as 30 feet of water over lands where 931,159 people lived. The whole of the country was only 120 million people at the time. Barry continues, “Twenty-seven thousand square miles were inundated, roughly equal to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. (Months later) 1.5 million acres remained underwater. Not until mid-August, more than four months after the first break in a mainline Mississippi River levee, did all the water leave the land.”

The scale and scope is too big for a series of movies, and maybe that’s why it isn’t in the common zeitgeist. The rural nature of the landscape plays a part here, too. Could you imagine if this could have somehow happened on that scale on the east coast? There are certainly plenty of characters you could draw from. This book fixates on Hoover, of course, and on a few of the key locales. But, then, who would be the antagonists. Here’s one.

The good ol’ boy club of New Orleans would be another. Bankers, the New Orleans establishment and nothing but, and they wiped out two adjoining communities, having made desperate promises about it to save their city. New Orleans dynamited the levee that doomed St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. A day later, other upstream collapses proved New Orleans didn’t need the effort. And, of course, New Orleans civic leaders went out of their to deny the compensation promised to their neighbors. New Orleans’ old money would definitely be the bad guys. Alas, it set the stage for Huey Long. The flood — and Calvin Coolidge’s cold shoulder — returned Herbert Hoover to the national stage. The aftermath played a big role in the great migration, and all of it together was hugely influential of generations of what would come for the region.

The current plan for the river takes some of the old hypotheses and puts them together but, Barry finds some flaws in the mathematics. This isn’t an engineering book, though it does deal with some important issues in easily digestible ways. And, then, in 1973 …

It’s all folly — and we know it.

This evening we went to see the fireworks. (We missed them last year.) They were held at the county fairgrounds and we picked out a spot across a wide field from where they launched. We sat on the side of the road and thought of the past and the future. We were far enough away that it wasn’t noisy, and close enough that it was still pretty.

At home again, we lit sparklers in the backyard. Had a great time of it, too. There were at least three different kinds, because there’s no such thing as a supply chain shortage these days.

I’m trying to talk her into taking sparklers with her everywhere she goes.

It’s not a terribly difficult sell, frankly.

Jun 24

We moved a year ago today

One year ago today we were cramming the last of everything into our cars, taking one last shower, still finding things to pack up, and then, finally getting in those overstuffed cars and driving east. We spent the night in Ohio. (We try not to make a habit of it, but in this case it was a good contingency plan and a great idea, because we were physically and mentally beat — but emotionally upbeat!

That night I wrote:

Moving is a terrible thing. Packing is a tedious, physical chore. And if that’s not physical enough, there’s the move part. This is why people don’t do it frequently, if they can help it. But thank goodness, thank the universe and thank Providence for movers. At 8:30 this morning, precisely when they said, the movers arrived.

The owner of the company is the former student of one of our colleagues. And that professor has hired this company twice for moves, and is about to hire him a third time. A good endorsement.

Four guys come in. Two of them former D-1 football players. All of them strong and young and confident. All of them, “Sir” and “Ma’am” and “May I put my water in your refrigerator?” and “May I use your restroom?” These guys were great.

They were taking our things out of our hands because, as they said over and over, this was their job. And that’s true, but you’d feel like a total heel if you didn’t help.

One of the guys loaded his pickup with the last bit of junk and trash for the nearby dumpster run and followed me there to help us get it out of the way. These guys were great, and they worked hard.

And so have we! I told you about the packing. Things hurt on me, and part of that is a direct result of this. Moving is a terrible thing.


The thing I learned this evening — while loading up my car, full of a “You want it to go, I’ll get it in here” bravado that was mostly sincere — is that there’s something sad about some of those last few things that you put into the car when you’re moving your entire life.

Oh, some things you need. And I stupidly put my suitcase in the middle of the back seat, so everything is on top of it. Some things are important or are sentimental, and they go in their places. Some things are practical. We needed the vacuum and cleaning supplies for the last run through of the house for the buyers (a nice young family of four, first time home owners). And then there’s whatever else you keep running across in your last half dozen walk throughs of every room. And some of that stuff, dear reader, is just pitiful.

But now, underway, in a hotel, with pizza topped with plans and dreams and contingencies, we are past the hardest, most hectic part of the move. We packed it all. It all got loaded. Everything is in motion. It is almost difficult to believe it all came together, considering where we were on Friday.

Everything that well went well because of these guys. We came across them because the man that owns the business is the former student of a colleague. That colleague had hired him for two moves and was about to use him for a third. Friends, if you get someone that wants to re-hire movers, take note.

We’re not moving anytime soon, but if we were, these are the first people we’d call. They were phenomenal.

I won’t keep returning to the sequence of events. If I did, tomorrow I’d write about driving through Pennsylvania all day and sleeping at my god-sister-in-law’s house (just go with it). Saturday would be about the morning of signing a million documents and the afternoon of the incredible guys from Ballew telling us to stop helping. We did not stop helping. They did not stop working. We were so grateful for them.

Guess what I did for about four hours this afternoon.

It was a celebration, you see. One year in the making.

May 24

A double miss!

Completely whiffed on the Wednesday feature yesterday. Whoops. This just a day after I skipped a planned Tuesday feature. It seems that, in my haste to be hasty, I’ve been too hasty. That’s the problem with speeding up, or taking one’s time, or both. Anyway, apologies for missing out on the markers. I’ll return to them next Wednesday. We’ll talk music below. But first … today was a peaceful, relaxing, “What was I supposed to be doing again? Oh, that’s right, nothing.” sort of day.

And then, breaking news via email. Isn’t that something? Wasn’t that something?

Usually, I know about the story before the emails come out. Social media, despite it’s many frustrations, is a swift informer. But I hadn’t been on any of the apps in a bit, and then the New York Times wrote.

My lovely bride was swimming laps at the time. When she was finished I told her the news, and we set about wondering what the comedians and the satirists would say.

I also looked back at what I was doing on this day a year ago. We were in Alabama, and it seems I was looking at the ol’ family tree.

Five years ago, I said one of those bike things that sounds like something profound in a waxy wrapper of nothing. Still seems true, though.

Ten years ago, we were in Alaska.

There’s no way in the world that was a decade ago.

Fifteen years ago, we were in Savannah, and Tybee Island.

Twenty years ago, I stopped by the local civic center, on a whim, which was hosting a model train convention.

Now, I’m no train enthusiast, but there are granddads and dads and children all being kids together, so why not?

I walk in and meet some nice people; one man telling me of some very historic parts of his collection — he’d accidentally been given the paperwork that documents J.P. Morgan’s purchase of an entire railroad; three men talking at length about how best to paint a cliff face and so on. But the best part was stumbling onto a booth with college merchandise.

I found this tapestry that I love. I got it for a song.

Now I just need to figure out how to display it, without it being used for cover.

Funny the things you do, and don’t remember.

We return to the Re-Listening project, which is where I pad the page out with music. I’m doing this because I am currently re-listening to all of my old CDs, in the order of their acquisition, in the car. It’s a wonderful trip down memory lane and I’m dragging you along, because the music is good.

Today we’ll do a double entry, since it is back-to-back of the same act. I picked these up in 2004, but the albums are older than that. If we’re going back to my first listen in 2004, we have to hop in the time machine and go back another decade to when Barenaked Ladies released “Maybe You Should Drive.” It was their second studio album, and went double platinum at home in Canada, where it peaked at number three. It was the band’s first visit to the US charts, sneaking in at 175 on the Billboard 200.

The first of two singles, “Jane” was an instant catalog classic for Steven Page.

There’s a lot of great work from Page on this record. Here’s one more fan-favorite, the second single, which just feels like a deep cut at this point.

I picked up this CD after a handful of the later BNL records, and several shows. So many of the songs I knew. (Three of these tracks are on Rock Spectacle, which was my first BNL purchase.) And so I don’t know when I first heard this song from Ed Robertson, but it’s one of those beautiful works that I’d like to be able to hear again for the first time.

The day I bought “Maybe You Should Drive” I also picked up “Born On A Pirate Ship,” and I wish I remember, now, where I got them. But because I got them together, these CDs have always belonged together. The former came out in 1994, the latter was the followup, released in 1996. It was another hit in Canada, peaking at number 12, and captured more American ears. “The Old Apartment” was a breakthrough single and video, and Pirate Ship went to 111 in the American Billboard chart. It was certified gold four years later. Andy Creegan had left the band, Kevin Hearn came in soon after, but this is a four-piece record.

It is peak 1990s Canada pop.

I still think this is a song about a dog, Catholicism and a bunch of other random things. It’s inscrutable.

People that just knew BNL from airplay — well the Americans anyway — will recall this as their first song.

It used to be that “When I Fall” seemed like it had to be a full, live show performance. But then Robertson played it in one of the Bathroom Sessions, and you heard it in a different way entirely.

Page will occasionally remind you he’s working on a different level. This is one of those times. Seeing it live is the preferable way* to take in this song, so go back with me to a time when it’s amazing we had washed-out-color video and you can’t explain the tracking squiggles to the children of the future. But don’t fixate on that, follow the performance.

That song … Steven Page … it just feels like it should be a misdemeanor to not know anything more than their later pop hits.

*I think karaoke would be another ideal way to hear “Break Your Heart,” but that’s just me.

One of two Jim Creeggan songs on Pirate Ship, this one sneaks up on you every time, which isn’t creepy at all. And for four minutes it just gets better and better and better, and bigger and bigger, even when it lulls, which is a lot of fun.

And here’s Creegan’s other track, which refuses to fit in any pop music mold.

BNL is touring the US this summer, though we won’t be able to see them. We did catch them last year though, which was the third time we’d seen them in two or three years. Everyone wishes Steven Page was still in the band, most everyone has wished that for 15 years, but aside from the 2018 Juno Awards celebration of the Canadian Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, that may never happen. (Though they haven’t definitively ruled it out, and that’s what hope is aboot.) The band stills put on energetic rock ‘n’ roll shows. They’re very much worth seeing.

Apr 24

A most usual hodgepodge of wonderful things

It’s going to turn cool again. Cold, actually. We’re going to have nights where we dip down near to freeze warnings. This makes sense for the last week of April.

If spring is going to be short, summer better be long. And since we’re custom-ordering things, it’d be OK if summer was two percent milder than last year. Or without the two or three weeks of extremely July July we had last summer.

It was perfectly timed. Post-move last summer, while we were still trying to get settled, it was weeks before I could do a few chores without looking like a full workout was underway. In those first days it seemed like it took forever to cool anything. The fridge, me, anything. Turns out it was just the summer.

Which seems like a silly thing to complain about when it’s going to be 39 tonight and even colder in the evenings to come.

So in come the plants. Again.

For the third time.

I was out back looking for little bits of things that belong to the greenhouse — there’s always something to look for around here. Always something new to learn. Always some reason to wonder why things are the way they are. Always a puzzle to tease out.

So there I was, hands and knees, peering through some shadows, looking for small parts and found this.

That’s from a neighbor’s tree. I wonder how long it’s been sitting down there, caught between the greenhouse and the fence. All those intricate veins look like a suburban map, doesn’t it? It’s rather beautiful, but I wonder how and why a leaf withers away like that.

Nature on it’s own schedule.

I went for a 30-mile bike ride today. There was nothing remarkable about it, there was a tailwind, and then there was a headwind and then there was a pasture.

That’s right on the outskirts of a town, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense, really. It’s a nice town, but they don’t seem the sort to allow fun things like livestock. Nevertheless, there they are, eating and drinking and being raised.

Sometimes when you go through there the sheep aren’t in that lot, but the dogs that work them are. Today, no dogs, just sheep.

Let’s go back to California! There are many sights to behold, and we’ve been enjoy some of the critters we met at the Monterey Aquarium, like this on.

The mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) is a beautiful nocturnal hunter. They aren’t the best of swimmers, but they seem to be spread easily by winds and currents, and so they are fairly ubiquitous. Odds are, if you’ve ever had a stinging encounter with a jelly, it just might be one of these guys, or a closely related cousin.


They go very deep until nightfall, which is when they move up to shallow waters to chase down plankton. The tentacles and bumps on the jelly will leave its prey with a powerful sting.

I’m still way behind in the Re-Listening Project, meaning I’m right on schedule. The Re-Listening project is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. Then I write about them here to pad out some posts. These aren’t reviews, usually they are just memories, but mostly excuses to post some music.

In 2004 I bought 1999’s P.S. (A Toad Retrospective). It’s a greatest hits record from Toad the Wet Sprocket. At the time, 1999, Toad was broken up, so this was just a label cashing in and fulfilling a contract, I’m sure.

Here’s the memory. I have the hardest time keeping the Toad chronology straight. If you asked me without the benefit of liner notes or Wikipedia, I would swear that two or three of the same songs could be found on each subsequent record. I don’t know why I can’t keep this straight. It’s a problem unique to Toad the Wet Sprocket for me. Maybe it’s because of their radio and MTV airplay. Maybe it’s because I didn’t get any of their records for way too long. But, anyway, it’s a greatest hits record, so they’re all there.

So here’s one of the previously unreleased tracks.

And here’s the other new track.

Each of these songs have some internal-band-dynamics backstory to them, but they’re a quarter century old and don’t matter much to us. What matters is that they’re a band again.

And so here’s the other memory. In 2022, after 30 actual years, including a two-year Covid postponement, I finally got to see Toad the Wet Sprocket play live. (Twice!)

They still sound great, which was a good enough reason to see them twice that year. And they are on tour this summer, too. Maybe I should see them again.

Apr 24

Cats and bikes and jellies

No matter the day of the week — and it should belong on Monday, but there was already a lot of material here on Monday — the weekly check with the cats is the most popular regular feature on the site. So we, the cats and I, are always pleased to bring you what you want most.

Phoebe will spend part of any afternoon in a shopping bag if you let her. That is, of course, between pets and chasing the birds just outside her windows and looking for milk.

And also her naps. This is a late afternoon nap. And I’d like you to study that face. No one relaxes more intently than this cat.

Poseidon has lately discovered the watering can. The plants on the front porch were thirsty for a few extra seconds while this took place. First, I filled the can. Something about the process got Poe’s attention. Ever helpful, he jumped up to peer into the sink and, then, into the can.

I think he could hear the water moving around in there, and so he decided to investigate, first with a look and a sniff, and then, as you see here, with his paw.

He swished it around, and realized he had water on his paw. He, being named after the god of water, put his paw back in the water, swirled it around, pulled his paw back out and then licked the water off. He did this two or three more times, like he doesn’t have multiple water bowls conveniently located around the house.

Had a nice little bike ride this evening. The weather was pleasant and the company was better. We did about 15 miles together, and then my lovely bride took a left turn into the neighborhood and I did the first big triangle shape of the year.

Just before the golden hour.

Which quickly turned into the golden hour.

You know how trees will line a road? Sometimes these are called woods, but sometimes, it’s just one thin little row of trees between the road the field behind them? Sometimes, when you’re dealing with that thin little row, a gap will appear. And, sometimes, you can see that coming up. Those narrow little spots where the tree gives way to the crops or the pasture or the yard behind them are all about timing. Even at cycling speed, I have to reach in my pocket, open the camera app and try to frame this shot before I glide by.

Sometimes you get lucky with those.

I picked these things up in those last 10 miles. If you know anyone missing these items, send them my way.

And if you don’t know anyone missing those items, send someone else my way. I just want to get this stuff off the shoulder of the roads.

Back to last month’s trip to California, here’s one more view of the purple-striped jellyfish. They are highly localized to the central California coast. They can sting you, and it would hurt, so you’d be better off staying away, though human interactions with them are rare.

The bell on these can grow to about three feet. In the wild, those frilly arms can be twice as long as a human, or more.


That’s the last of the purple-striped jellies, but not the last jellyfish. We’ll see several more beautiful specimens in the next few days. You’ll love them, of course.