Thursday, December 31, 2015

Lookie Lous

Click on the picture, taken this morning, for a bigger, better view.

Highway FF at Labarque Creek
I learned we're called "high-grounders," meaning that while our houses and businesses aren't flooded like downtown Eureka's and downtown Pacific, we're trapped on our high ground by flooded roads all around us. Forget Highway FF (pictured at left). Forget Highways F, W, O, MM, 109, 30, I-44, 141, or Business Loop 44; several square miles of our population simply can't get out.

So on this third day of staying home making the best of enforced vacation, quite a few of us high-grounders decided to take the kids to the barricades and see the disaster with our own eyes, or enjoy a walk down the car-less highways, or a hike at the high-ground conservation areas. I hiked one mile into the Glassberg Conservation Area to its overlook platform with its gorgeous vista of the Meramec Valley, facing toward Pacific. Spectacular flooding, and a view no TV crew can get at. Then I drove about 2 more miles to Highway FF's low point where the LaBarque meets the Meramec. I parked and took photos along with other disaster paparazzi, aka "lookie lous," all taking phone photos on our side of the highway and theirs. The twain shall meet when the water recedes, they say, about January 3. Regarding our Pacific and Eureka post offices (Eureka's P.O. moved to Ballwin), our bank, hardware stores, favorite restaurants and pubs, and gas stations that are still underwater -- how damaged they are and if they'll rebuild, we will have to see.

The Big River, which floods the Byrnesville Road toward House Springs, crested early this morning, and we might be able to get out that way in a day or so, but I want to be sure before driving there; my car is very low on gasoline. I'm sure there's some high-grounders low on insulin or something else crucial, but my neighbor and I are warm, dry, and safe. And what a blessing.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December Flood

To everyone's surprise, it rained all day, after a beautifully warm and sunny Christmas Day, and by 4 p.m. today we who live here were flooded in by our usually tame little creek; that means no traffic in our out of our area. You see the LaBarque all acting up, and then Doc Sargent Road firmly underwater; as I stood there taking photos the water gained an inch. Continual rain makes Internet satellite contact intermittent, so I'm posting quickly and only now. Reports from the city and the freeway also say roads and dwellings are underwater, and evacuations are taking place in the suburbs. More to come. At least it waited until the 26th, and at least it's not snow.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Yule Log

December 19, 5 p.m.: I wished everybody at the astrology club meeting--Christians, pagans, Jews, New Agers, etc.--a blessed Yule, the holiday for the Winter Solstice.

December 20, 12:30 p.m. I shoveled out the fire bowl and selected a Yule log from a woodpile that's been in the garage since I moved here, and had it set up when I'm told it's going to rain that night. I covered the bowl and logs and most of the kindling with plastic. It does rain that night. The wood stays dry.

December 21, 2 p.m.: Yule. Neighbor Terri and I meet for Yule lunch. It happens to be 66 degrees. We have ice cream.
Terri's natural ornaments

3:45 p.m.: While there's still light, Terri, who is an artist, brings over a beautiful collection of handmade natural ornaments made of feathers, fungi, and acorn caps, balls of suet wrapped with jute, and more, and I've made ornaments too, and we hang them on a bare little serviceberry tree not far from the firebowl, and it is adorable.

4:00 p.m.: I try to light the fire.

4:15 p.m.-8 p.m.: Using sawdust starters that were homemade by her son Patrick, Terri lights the fire and keeps it alive and flaming for hours while we sat in folding chairs and talked and threw dried herbs on the fire and burnt little slips of paper with what we want to leave behind and what we want for the future, and drank wine in glasses printed with stars and moons. And said goodbye to the sun when it set, and admired the moon and moon shadows. And moved our chairs ever closer to the fire, which took on several shapes and wonderful colors as wood was added. Then it got rather cold to stay sitting still and we went back into our respective houses.

10:45 p.m.: I'm outside in the moonlight setting up dozens of bottle rockets to fire at 10:48 (time of the solstice) and fire those and more until I'm tired of firing them.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Story of My Balance

In my late 40s my knees began trembling when I stood for any length of time, and neither going rigid or relaxed stopped them from quaking, and because I’ve always done public speaking, this development embarrassed me and I began requesting a podium to lean on when scheduled to speak. When it worsened I asked, when possible, to be seated when onstage, particularly at poetry readings, which take 10 to 40 minutes, so I could concentrate on my performance and not my balance. Then I bought and wore flats, and then wore pants, which hid my shaky knees, and sturdy oxford shoes. Still I quivered terribly and fought to remain standing. My mother has Benign Essential Tremor—that’s constant shaking you can’t help, but isn’t fatal—and it’s genetic. Her hands always shook. At age 80 when she couldn’t pour coffee or feed herself, she reluctantly sought medical help and took effective meds. I thought that was my future. At social events and readings, I propped myself against walls and blackboards, and leaned on the vanity while brushing my teeth. I figured I had something like Benign Essential Tremor, only sporadically and only in my knees.

Last winter I fell twice, sprawling on the gravel in front of my house, for no reason. Actual walking was no problem. Balancing, though, got worse. In April, hiking Arkansas, I crawled across rocks that others walked and even danced on. In July at the Lincoln Memorial, I had to really work the railing to descend the magnificent stairs. I noticed nobody else needed the railing, including people much older than I. Thinking I’d soon need a cane, I surfed the Net for cute ones. Balance deteriorates as we age and I accepted that, although I’m still in my 50s and older people said, "You're too young." Yoga improved my condition bit by bit, so I knew it wasn’t a brain tumor.

Touring Newfoundland and Labrador in late July, I daily walked on jagged or rounded oceanside rocks as blithely as a rockhopper penguin—without hiking poles. Only one time did I have to call for a hand. Back in hot humid Missouri, working indoors, I lost that ability. September 1, I started Tae Kwon Do, which requires balance (how else can you roundhouse-kick bad guys in the face?). Practicing the simplest kicks, I had black-belt instructors holding my hand or catching me by the belt as I toppled toward the mat. I was required to practice standing on one leg at a time for a full minute, to hop around the room on one leg, and to walk along a long thin strip of tape as if it were a balance beam. These foot, ankle, and calf exercises, essential to martial arts and to balance, help me improve.

I even went to a restaurant that had an unexpected, unmarked step down, and accidentally stepped down into nothing, wearing high-heeled boots. I caught myself and stayed upright and uninjured, and believe only Tae Kwon Do foot and ankle strength saved me.

Recently, an almost-mastered spin kick that would have won me an orange belt didn’t get better with fierce practice. My balance plateaued, then declined. That’s not supposed to happen.

Not long ago, on the Internet I learn that Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, is involved with balance. In Newfoundland I was outdoors all day each day, hiking, on ferryboats, absorbing sun. I no longer have the oncologist who prescribed 50,000-unit doses of D because blood tests always found deficiency. Now I take over-the-counter D supplements faithfully and spend more time outdoors, getting what sun there is. How much D I should take, I’ll have to ask an authority. It’s also crucial for bone health.

It was all a matter of D. This is for anyone who might have the same problem.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mushrooms Now? Yes!

In the woods seeking trinkets such as acorn caps and turkey feathers to decorate the Solstice tree (Solstice is Monday at 10:48 p.m. Central Time; be there or be square) I saw from a distance white stuff on a fallen tree, and hoped for treasure, and found it: fresh, edible oyster mushrooms, not only this ruffly one but more on the other side of the log, a plateful. A mushroom fan never stops hunting and hoping, even in December. There's my glove so you can see it was sizable. Among the other fungi in the woods were tree ears (edible, but not tasty), and common inedibles such as turkey tails and false turkey tails (false turkey tails have smooth undersides). I was two days too late to get a "chicken of the woods" that had blossomed at the base of a tree. Frozen and then thawed, it was mushy, no good.

I knew the possibilities because in December 2014 I found a dead tree with ten pounds of huge oysters around its foot. That tree has since fallen and this year produced nothing. 2015 was a frustrating year for morels -- too cold, and then they weren't abundant; I found only one -- but a great year for chanterelles, carpeting the woods in June and July.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

From Soffit to Suet

Most people don't believe me--it's the single most unbelieved thing I say--when I tell them that the five species of woodpeckers I feed all know which room of the house I sleep in, and know my bed is right beneath the window, and if I'm not up yet, they drum and drill on the fascia above the window to wake me so I will bring out their suet. Which I usually do first thing each morning.

"But it's true," I tell the unbelievers. "I can show you."

If I turn over and go back to sleep, the birds will drum and drill on the other side of the bedroom, too. If they know I'm elsewhere in the house but they're not sure where, they jackhammer on the tall metal TV antenna, making the entire house resound. It sounds like the clanking of pipes in old steam-heated buildings, except rapid. It throbs like a headache. Because the antenna, unlike the roof, houses no termites or bugs and even the boldest woodpecker can't drill holes in it, I've asked a friend, "Why do they do that?"

"Because it's fun," she said.

It's also effective. Sometimes the birds are my alarm clock. Often in winter they guilt me out of bed: I'm thinking, "They're hungry, I've got to feed them." Sometimes I'll stay in bed an extra half-hour just to let fat lazy devious birds know who is the boss around here. Sometimes I'll slide open the window and yell, "I am not your slave."

Friday, December 4, 2015

What's Wrong With Our Country?

Taken Dec. 4, 2015
Half-staff flags again, the photo taken at the same place, on a day the wind was blowing in the opposite direction it was on November 19, just a few days ago. Why is it so often a day of mourning for our country, people are asking, and they're suggesting various remedies, mostly forms of gun control.

My view, should you care to hear it: This culture lives and feasts on murder. The U.S. is the biggest arms dealer in the world. We engineer and avidly play murderous video games and let our kids play them; we enjoy murders and autopsies and death and gun violence on TV and in our movies and books; we count on slaughter, fictional and real, for entertainment. We just love to be stunned when mass murders happen in our country (we don't care a real lot when they happen elsewhere that isn't Western Europe). We are excited and enchanted by the fuss, the video loops, cable news pornographically following every move and chasing every ambulance, the "experts" and "heads of state" and talking heads blaming guns, gun ownership, the economy, parents, mental illness, the Koran, racism, privilege, liberalism, colonialism, education, or history. Especially when white middle-class folks going to movies or school are murdered, concerned people call for a ban on all guns, or on assault weapons and not other guns, or say we should try to make it really difficult to get guns, or confiscate all guns, or change the Constitution because it's not correct or up to date.

First of all, stop loving murder. Refuse to let murderous entertainment or murder mysteries or horror movies into your house even if they're from the BBC, don't watch them, don't read them, and don't listen to TV news, which is tailored to create anxiety and fear and is a great tool for demagogues.

Second, quit turning each and every mass murderer into a celebrity, their faces on the cover of People magazine. The more attention we pay, the more murder spectacles there will be and the more half-mast flags will result.

Third, if you're so concerned, get off Facebook and get active, join an organization and work for what you believe in, donate money, support mental health clinics, befriend a troubled boy, fix it so that only those over age 21 with a high-school diploma and 3.5 grade average and no record and doctor-certified can legally obtain a firearm and require firearm education. Because we can't ban all guns, and even if we did they'd be sold on the sly and people would still leave them where kids can get at them, everyone should be trained from early youth in firearms safety. Make firearms "forbidden" items and you only increase their ability to fascinate.

And, if you are a responsible firearms owner, keep them and stay responsible. The first thing Mao did when he wanted "cultural revolution" was require all citizens to give up all guns, then gave them to mobs of brainless teenage boys, Red Guards, who had no problem at all threatening, beating, and killing their parents and teachers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Turning Over a Leaf

Saw the pink and silver fallen leaf. Beautiful. Took its photo. Turned it over. Then I couldn't decide which side was more beautiful. Only photography can bring us both at once.