Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Needles stuck out all over me, about 15 of 'em. I felt the initial jabs only in the left ankle and breastbone, but otherwise, no pain. Hands, chest, feet, crown full of needles -- for 20 minutes. I wondered: Will this work? Will I come out "balanced," as they say?

After the 2-1/2-inch needles were jabbed through my clothes, I lay looking at the ceiling, never at the needles, worrying. The legs, feet and toes of another patient got pierced. The acupuncturist apologized to her, saying that needles in the pinky toes will always hurt: "Those are the ends of the meridians." The lady wanted stress relief. We chatted and I said I was an acupuncture virgin. She told me, "Afterward, you'll wanna sleep." True!

January around here is like being wrapped in a whole roll of toilet paper, just that blinding and just that dull. Cabin fever. Fantasies, good and scary, start ruling your mind. Climbin' the cabin walls, I decided to treat myself to two new things: Any two new things. One was acupuncture. It was just okay. The other was Yogi Tea. Bought the "Daily Stress Relief Formula," from Golden Temple of Oregon (1-800-YOGI-TEA). Pricey -- but gol-darn, it really calms and centers you like one of them there yogis who got his picture on the package!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Busy Beavers

Beaver dams create deep diving pools that are inconvenient for their predators. Here's the new beaver dam on the creek, and a close-up of a slender branch they lopped and stripped with their teeth. The bark was food; the stick is building material. Back in '01 on a moonlit night a friend and I crept down to the creek and watched a beaver clan at work.

It sounds like: Crunch crunch crunch crunch, Ker-PLOOP! (that's one of the beavers diving into the creek). He or she then swims silently, along with the current, head above the water, nosing along a branch, either stripped or with bark. He or she gets it to the dam area, and the engineer beavers take over from there.

The last beaver dam here was built in 2001; it was three times this size, strong enough to walk across the creek on, and so tightly built a branch could hardly be pulled from it. The beavers of '01 felled trees a foot in diameter (crunch crunch crunch) and permanently changed the course of the creek. A torrential flash-flood destroyed their dam and they moved on, and there haven't been any more until this year. They work mostly with slender new trees, so this dam isn't quite as spectacular. A conservation guy told me not to worry about the fallen trees, because if beavers chewed them down, that was nature.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Vitamin C and Propane

Nobody will tell you the price of propane. Prices per gallon are so high that if you ask the fuel company they won't tell you. Even the deliverymen won't say. They only ask you what dollar amount you want. When they're gone, you divide it by the gallons you got. There's a $100 surcharge if you call them after you've let the gauge sink below 10 percent -- an emergency.

I am fond of my blimp-shaped silver propane tank, and fed it $600 worth last May. Sixty percent was gone by Christmas. Electric power, if I play it right, can perhaps get the remaining gas to last until March; mid-March if I'm frugal and use an electric cooking ring rather than the stove. It's so old and crusty I feel like an old Alaskan prospector -- like Sam McGee in that Robert Service poem.

Please notice that I don't whine about heating the house. Native Missourians have one bizarre quirk: They think they deserve to go barefoot in the house in January, and if that means 80 degrees, they crank it up. We from the frozen north grudgingly raise the temp to 55, put on two pairs of socks, leg-warmers, shoes, a hat, fingerless gloves, a down vest over two layers of sweats, and tie a fleece bathrobe over everything; then close off three rooms and live in two. I look like a bag lady -- but who's looking? I'm saving money and the planet!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Magic of Aging

Getting older is both strange and fun. As in adolescence, you get these funny FEELINGS. Your legal age increases, but you feel no different than you did at 28. You see people, stop in your tracks and want to shout: "Dad!" or "Marie!" But Dad is long dead, and it's only somebody who's shaped like him, has his hairline and gait -- and the girl so much like Marie resembles Marie as she was 30 years ago.

Aging is a club you can join if you can answer "What were you doing the day Kennedy died?" You get light shocks that make you laugh, such as realizing that the TV show ("Green Acres") you have just mentioned to a co-worker went off the air 11 years before he was born -- or that you remember the lyrics to the novelty record "My Ding-a-Ling."

Weird to be invited to a 30-year college reunion. Weird to be tough and healthy all your life and then suddenly you get plantar fasciitis, or rip a muscle like I did. Weird to see family photos and realize that every adult in those pictures died years ago and you are the only person still living who can identify each one. Weirdest of all is to understand that young people see you as old, washed up. Nothing of the sort! 50-somethings are the royalty of the world! We know who we are and have mastered what we do! And "Fifty is the new 30!"

Fun and strange to find out that there is magic in aging, that it's wild country, stranger than fiction. To age is to become a time-traveler.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Toothpicks and Tarpaper

Not far from here some farmer sold an acre along the highway to a real-estate developer. The developer shaved all the trees off, and in record time, using toothpicks and tarpaper, erected another of those "dream houses," aka "McMansions." It has columns out front and a little treeless yard. It has never had an occupant, not in four years.

Nearby, within sight, are three acres of pasture in -- get this -- a floodplain. There a developer built yet another dream house, dressing it up with curtains and porch lights. Every summer for four years now, the hopeful real-estate agent opens up one door of the three-car garage and parks a car in it, and puts a kids' trampoline in the back yard. But you never see any kids, because there aren't any parents dumb enough to buy a dream-house in a floodplain.

On a ridge just above it, visible only in winter when the trees are transparent, is a huge rustic barnlike "dream house" with a wraparound porch and dramatic rows of Anderson windows. The buyers wanted to run a bed-and-breakfast in the nice oak-and-hickory Missouri woods. Anyone could have told them that city folk on weekends don't want to bed-and-breakfast in the woods. They want to be able to walk up the street to have a latte and buy antiques. This dream-house was advertised for sale in the paper, for $550,000. It's still for sale, for $450,000.

Now, you and I know that most people can't pay $450,000 for a house, or even $300,000. Even $200,000 is a little steep for most families. And the economists are wondering how it happened that "the bottom fell out of the housing market."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Open Windows

Out here there's no need to blind the windows. The sky pours in all day. I see birds and sun, sunrises and sunsets, storm clouds, the porch. Yesterday came three fat bluebirds trying to drink from the birdbath. I can see Highway F and the postal carrier's lime-green jeep, the hills across the road, my rugged rural Missouri.

And the sky pours in all night. Woke this morning with rulers of blue moonlight right on top of me and my bed. That tells me the moon is waning. I'm snug under two blankets and a flannel sheet. The south-facing window on clear nights is full of stars. Nothing in their way: Just black sky and constellations.

If I curtained my windows, what would I have? It is true that SOMEBODY can sneak around the house and peek at me or my stuff. But a Peeping Tom would get no thrill, I guarantee you. And a thief wouldn't see anything he wanted. What, a space heater? A 25-year-old exercise bike with 4,500 miles on it? Hey -- you don't look INTO my windows to see treasure. You look OUT.