Trees, Running and Viruses

Trees on the Run

Trees can get sick, too. Since the descent into quarantine, isolation, social distancing, buying weeks’ worth of groceries at a time, and many other anti-communal activities, I have run solo a lot. In doing so, since conversation is limited to my occasional Tourette’s outbreak, I find myself admiring the scenery. Looking at trees along a run, one cannot help but be amazed at the way they grow, spreading branches, leafing out, producing flowers and tons of pollen. Yet they, too, are often victims of infection. Diseases that infect trees include bacteria, mycoplasmas, fungi, viruses, insects and other plants, like mistletoe or ivy. Some of the names of these diseases are whimsical, such as Drippy Nut of of Oak, Crown Gall, and Lucidus Root and Butt Rot. The American Chestnut has been completely wiped out by Chestnut Blight, a fungus. Dutch Elm Disease, another fungus, has killed a large percentage of Elms in the U.S., by obliterating the tree’s vasculature. My purpose here is not to do a treatise on tree diseases, but to appreciate these tall, sappy plants that provide awe and shade as we run.

Redbud in Bloom

Trees have nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. But they have developed amazing defenses against nature’s tree enemies, allowing them to survive, some for centuries.

Sugar Maple leafing out, with a fig just beginning to leaf out in the foreground.

Some can be old and massive.

On Bancroft School Grounds, Haddonfield, New Jersey.
Some get modified to fit our environment, and manage to thrive.
Some modify themselves. Here the trees are reaching for sunshine.
Reflected trees with a family of geese, goose, gander and goslings, in Newton Lake Park.
Some are home to birds; see the horned owl?
Or provide an egret a roost.
Not all trees have green leaves.
A domesticated tree turned wild, uprooting a sidewalk and caving in a roof.
The same storm took down many trees in our neighborhood.
Some just collapse. Perhaps this was a sick tree that died.
Trees grow where they’re planted, and some, like this one, are awe inspiring.
The ducks and I share the path.

Admiring the trees, their hardiness, beauty, longevity, and variety are inspiring as I run alone, waiting for Covid to be gone.

There’s Water on the Floor

For about a year, or maybe more, there’s been water on the floor in front of our refrigerator. The water appears overnight, and we never see it occurring. When I come downstairs in the morning to make coffee, looking over at the refrigerator, there is a little puddle of clear water in front. Our refrigerator is a side-by-side, counter depth Frigidaire, but this could occur to any refrigerator.

Where the towel is, that is where the water would appear. At first I suspected it was a couple of stray ice cubes. There did not seem to be any water directly under the refrigerator. But, we could not cause ice cubes to fall in a way to make that actually happen, so after some time, we discarded that theory. We also theorized that the water was due to leakage from the water line into the refrigerator, the one supplying the ice maker and the water dispenser. But the fact that it only appeared overnight, and was not a large volume, seemed to indicate that was not the problem. Looking this problem up on-line, it seemed this could occur from a clogged drain within the freezer. This could occur if there was ice or other debris clogging the drain. The drain is there to drain water which drips when the freezer goes through a daily defrost cycle. This occurs to allow ice built up on the freezer coils to thaw, and then drain into the drip pan under the refrigerator. Once in that pan, the water generally evaporates so that water is not getting on the floor.

In our refrigerator, there is a drip pan under the refrigerator side. It is not removable. I took off the plastic guard at the bottom of the front of the unit, and had a look at the pan. It was dry, and looked like it had not seen water in a while. This led to me checking for a frozen drain. For a freezer crammed with stuff, it is no small task to get to that drain, as it is in the back of the lower part of the freezer. I removed the lower two wire baskets, full of frozen green beans from the garden, steaks yet to be thawed and cooked, and a variety of other items. In the back, there is a panel one removes by unscrewing a few hex screws. There one can see freezer coils, with some built up frost, and a pan with a hole in it, the drain. Instructions on-line say to pour some hot tap water down the drain to be sure there is no ice clogging the drain. I did just that, but it seemed to go down without a problem.

Getting a little frustrated, I decided to do the equivalent of “looking under the hood”, that is, opening the back panel and taking a look.

These are the tools I needed. A hex screw driver and an adjustable end wrench.

Before starting, it is necessary to turn off the inflow to the water line leading to the refrigerator. In our case, it is a small valve in our basement.

Next, I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and pulled the plug out of the socket (very important step: Unplug the refrigerator before working on it.) Then, I disconnected the water line from the refrigerator.

I then pulled the back panel off by removing the screws holding it in place.

Removing the panel, one sees the refrigeration coils and the manifold for the water inflow. The water runs through the filter in the refrigerator then to the ice maker and water dispenser. I disconnected the screws holding this in place to get at what was behind this, the drain tube for the freezer.

A bit hard to see, but the arrow is pointing to the drain tube coming from the base of the drain pan inside the freezer. it is a wide black tube which is connected by sliding onto the drain channel, then heads over to the drip pan. In our case, I could see water had drained around the tube, and fallen onto the floor. A quick check of the drain pan showed no water in the pan.

This is the other end of the drain tube, with the drip pan underneath. Nary a drop of water seen here. My conclusion was that the drain tube was either cracked or somehow disconnected.

Reaching back to where the drain tube was connected to the freezer drain, I was able to gently pull on it and found that it indeed did seem to be not connected to the drain itself. There was a sleeve around the drain tube in the opening to the drain pipe, which I pulled down. It took a bit of straining to reach into the opening, but I was able to pull the drain tube down and feel up into the place where it should be connected. There is a hard plastic pipe it is supposed to slide around, but there is nothing to hold it in place. The pipe seemed to be pointing a bit sideways. I fiddled with it a bit, and was able to slide the drain tube back on to the pipe, and then slip the sleeve around the connected pipe. I took a few minutes with a vacuum cleaner to clear some of the dust off of the coils and surrounding areas.

I then put everything back together. I replaced the back panel, reconnected the water line, and went to the basement to turn the water back on. I have not checked overnight yet, to see if this does the trick, but it surely seems to have been the problem. Anyway, I’ve done all I can do, and if this doesn’t work, we’ll need to get a repairman in to fix it. But, I am hopeful.

So, if you find that you have water on the floor under or in front of your refrigerator, I hope this little adventure will be of some use to you.

One day update: no water overnight. Need to go through a few 24 hour cycles to be certain it is fixed.

Istanbul

When we arrived in Istanbul, we were expected to meet up with our driver, the brother of a friend of a friend. My wife and son were arriving from Budapest, and I was flying from Philadelphia, through London and Zurich. With good planning and fortune, our flights arrived within an hour of each other. We greeted each other as close families do, with hugs and cheer. My wife’s Turkish acquaintance had relatives in Istanbul who sent their brother to drive us from the airport to our rental apartment. He did not speak English, and our Turkish was limited to merhaba and nasılsınız. Nevertheless, we managed to provide him the address we were seeking. Our apartment was in the old part of Istanbul, Sultanahmet. After a difficult tour of the narrow streets blocked by pushcarts and pedestrians, we found our street, and apartment, on a section accessible only by foot, as the street had stairs. The apartment manager met us, and offered a larger apartment on the first floor, or a smaller but still spacious apartment on the top floor. We chose the top floor.

The street to our apartment

The area was an amalgam of busy cobblers, mostly immigrants from Romania, who’s hammers tapped out a constant rhythm of shoemaking clearly audible from our apartment. There were men pushing carts through the narrow streets laden with leather hides. Busy shops and restaurants were on street level, while the cobbling took place on upper floors. Our apartment was very nicely furnished, with elegant sofas, a complete kitchen, including an electric tea maker in the Turkish style, and comfortable beds in the two bedrooms. But the best features were the two rooftop balconies. From these, we had an amazing view of Istanbul’s old city, including multiple minarets, the narrow maze of streets, a glimpse of the Blue Mosque, but most intriguing, was the Sea of Marmara.

View from the balcony

From ancient times and immortalization in Greek mythology, to the current day, the Bosporus Strait and Sea of Marmara have been ever important arteries, carrying cargo from ports around the Black Sea through the Bosphorus Strait to the Sea of Marmara, then through the Strait of Dardanelles to the Aegean Sea and into the Mediterranean Sea. Bosporus was named after the Greek mythological story of Io. Io, a mortal priestess to Hera, wife of Zeus, became a mistress of Zeus. She was turned into a beautiful white cow, perhaps by Zeus as a way to protect her from jealous Hera. Hera discovered the deception, and sent a plague of gadflies to follow Io and constantly sting her. This set her wandering along the strait of Bosporus to the black sea, where she met Prometheus. The name, Bosporus, is derived from ancient Greek, meaning “bovine passage” (or ox-ford in English). Io met Prometheus, also a victim of Zeus, along the shores of the Black Sea, who told her not to fear as she would be changed back to human form.

From WorldAtlas.com, map of the Black Sea

In 2016, the number of vessels traversing the Bosporus straits and through the sea of Marmara was 42,553, and they transported oil, grain, manufactured goods and many other items. Fishing is also very important to the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and along the Straits of the Bosporus. Istanbul is strategically located at the entrance to the sea of Marmara, and thus in control of passage through this very busy waterway. The history of Istanbul goes back thousands of years and it’s origins are mythical. It was said to be founded by the Greek King Byzas from Megara, a city-state near Athens, in 667 BCE, and therefore it acquired the name Byzantium. Because of its strategic location, it was the subject of many attacks, some successful. The Achaemenid King Darius I conquered the city in513 BCE. His Samian engineer, Mandrokles, constructed a bridge across the Bosporus which allowed the troops to enter the city. Sparta controlled the city briefly from 411 BCE, then the Byzantians allowed the Athenian rulers to take control. Byzantium was besieged by the Romans in 193 CE, and in 330 CE Emperor Constantine became its ruler. After he died, it became known as Constantinople. It was controlled by the Romans, Crusaders, and back to Byzantine control until the Ottoman’s conquered the city in 1453. It has remained under Ottoman or Turkish control since then, and the official name was changed to Istanbul in 1923. This is a bit ironic given that the name Istanbul is derived from Greek.

Another balcony view, with ships in the Sea of Marmara, and a minaret in the foreground.
Dolmabahçe Palace, the new palace of the sultans, built 1843-1856, has a gate directly to the Bosporus.
Locals fish the waters of the Bosporus
While commercial fisherman and tour boats make a living from the water.
Fish for sale along the Bosporus, caught that day.

Being a center of trade and commerce, Istanbul was naturally a place to buy goods from around the middle east and other parts of Asia. The Grand Bazaar, which was initially built in 1455, survives today as a very busy marketplace, selling all sorts of items including jewelry, carpets, clothes, household manufactured goods and leather goods. It has been reborn many times after earthquakes and fires have destroyed parts of it, and in recent years more than 250,000 visitors may shop there in a day.

A shop in the Grand Bazaar

Since the time of the ancient Egyptians, the spice trade has played a large role in creating trade routes, from the far east, particularly India, from various regions in Africa, and from China and other parts of Asia. The Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, built around 1660 (during which the Great Fire of 1660 destroyed about two thirds of Istanbul, a story in itself), was initially built as another marketplace but became focussed on selling spices.

A typical shop in the Spice Bazaar. Walking around the bazaar is a heady experience of aromas of so many spices blending together.

I found it impossible to walk through the Spice Bazaar without stopping to buy spices. The salesmen are very good, but the spices really sell themselves. The aromas perhaps trigger our most basic instincts.

Dining in a restaurant along the Bosporus, on the Asian side of Istanbul, and getting introduced to Rakı, slightly anise-flavored liquor diluted with water and drunk with seafood.
In 513 BCE, Emperor Darius the Great built a pontoon-type bridge with boats to cross the Bosporus. This is the current bridge, the Bosporus Bridge built in 1973.

The Bosporus Bridge was the first modern bridge to cross the Bosporus and connect Europe with Asia. Since July 15, 2016, it has been renamed the 15th July Martyrs Bridge, honoring the soldiers who died fighting against an attempted coup. Barely visible in this photo, but hanging from the center of the span, is a soccer team pendant. Soccer, needless to say, is very big in Turkey.

Politics in the middle east and near east, where Istanbul is centered, have become very volatile in recent years. Yet Istanbul, or Constantinople, has lasted two millennia so is likely to continue on, especially with today’s 14 million population. It has survived fires, earthquakes, numerous invasions and changes in regimes. Its location, along busy trade routes and most significant, the Bosporus Strait and the Sea of Marmara, gives it a unique role in the world.

The text in the upper left of the photo says “Since 1475”
Our delightful “friends of friends” and guides.
A last look from the balcony.

Running in the time of Covid

East side entrance to Newton Lake Park, Collingswood, NJ

We’ve been encouraged to continue to exercise in this time of Covid. For a runner, it means getting outdoors and running familiar routes, but staying clear of others out on the trail. I’m fortunate to have some rather beautiful parks to run in, and thankfully they have not been closed. What I’m finding, is that, for the most part, walkers, strollers, families with baby carriages, and other runners are definitely aware of the rules of separation, and are complying with them. As I approach a person or group, we give each other wide berths, more than six feet, and continue on our way. While I am a strong proponent of wearing a mask while in public, one just cannot do that and still run. Plus, the mask would soon get wet with the humidity of my expired air (perhaps I should have used a different word than expired…). I have seen far fewer people out on the trails than normal, and that, too, helps with social distancing. There is the occasional yahoo who walks right down the middle of the path without a mask and without moving to an appropriate distance. Those I give even more room.

I think the most common person I come across on my runs now is a fellow runner, followed by a dog walker, then a single person walking, then a person or couple pushing a stroller. It must be particularly frightening to be raising a young family at this particular time.

The trees are in bloom, with cherry and pear blossoms everywhere. Other trees are just now starting to leaf out, which of course means a great deal of pollen everywhere. I learned in an obituary today of the death of William Frankland, at age 108, scientist and renowned allergist, who developed the idea of the pollen count, among many other accomplishments. I highly recommend reading the linked obituary, which is very interesting and entertaining. Pollen makes my nose run like crazy, and makes me cough when I finish a run. It makes me a bit of a pariah today. Fortunately, my wife is aware of this and does not get scared.

In the course of my run I came across this beautiful egret in the bushes.

Egret in Newton Lake Park, with a nice reflection in the water. There is also a goose in the photo. Can you spot him?

Today, these plants bursting from the ground had a paleo-biological look to them, in the wet runoff leading to Hopkins Pond.

Plant life in early spring, Hopkins Pond, Haddonfield, NJ

Now for the reward. Running has its benefits, good health, cardiovascular fitness, the opportunity (when this is all over) to participate in races, but one of great importance is breakfast. After I ran this morning I treated myself to pancakes, made from Gormly’s Buttermilk Pancake mix, and, of course, some Vermont maple syrup.

A good friend of mine, Simon, who lives in London, contracted what is probably Covid, although he was not tested, just told to hole up in his flat until he got better. After being inside for more than two weeks, and suffering a lot, he took a walk along the Thames today in the sunshine and said it felt great to be outdoors. A bit of good news, to counteract the really bad news we’ve been inundated with.

Autumn Run in the Evening

One of the most pleasant times to run is as the sun is setting on a cool autumn day.  This evening was just such a run.

The first stretch takes me through Saddler’s Woods.  This is a 25 acre square of old growth trees right in the middle of a well-developed suburban area.  It has a fascinating history.  Joshua Saddler was an escaped slave from Maryland, who was sheltered here by a Quaker family.  They bought his freedom, and he established a small farm, ultimately repaying the cost of his freedom.  The tract called Saddler’s Woods is now a conservatory, dedicated initially by Joshua Saddler as an area where none of his offspring were allowed to cut down any trees.

This giant old tree in Saddler’s Woods was felled by nature.

Back on the road, having passed through Saddler’s Woods, I had to cross a busy boulevard to get to the next park.  Newton Lake park is a beautiful chain of lakes bordered by running trails and weeping willow trees.  There are lily pads along the littoral edge, ducks and geese, and the occasional heron or egret can be spotted.  The paths are well-used, as this is a great place to walk, push a baby carriage, run, ride a bike, or throw a ball for a dog.

Fishermen in Newton Lake.

A pleasant aspect of running in autumn, especially in the evening, is that the cicadas are quiet, and the cricket’s songs can be heard.  There are leaves on the ground, and they crunch a bit underfoot.  Other than the padding of my shoes, and the occasional chat of walkers as I pass them, it is pretty quiet along this route.  While I am no fan of the hoards of geese we see in our parks, watching them as the pass with a subtle throbbing noise in their “V” formation and alight on the water is a beautiful sight.

Geese in the distance, lily pads.

When I got a little past three miles into my run, I turned and headed back along the opposite side of the lake.  Getting close to the end of the path I could see a three-quarter moon rising.

Heading back towards the east, as the moon rises.

I got my six miles in, but a lot more, having enjoyed the run tremendously.

 

Racing the Rain

This short episode has all the aspects of real adventure, man against nature, man against man, and man against himself. I knew it would be a stormy day, but took a risk and decided to ride my bike to work. The morning would be fine, but the afternoon was when the storms were expected to appear. Storms this summer have been particularly violent, coming in with fury, bringing down limbs and uprooting trees.

A downed tree and downed wires a few weeks ago.

As often happens, my day stretched out, and what started as a potential departure at 3:30 became a reality at 5:30. Also, as sometimes happens, the storms which were supposed to reach us by 2:00, were now predicted to start around 6:00. I walked across the street to where my bike is kept. I tried to assess the clouds as I walked, but our office building blocked my view of the western sky, from which direction the storm was approaching. What I could see to the east looked like a pleasant summer day, some blue skies, cumulous clouds, no rain.

After I crossed the street, I looked back to the west. There were dark clouds with swirling patterns, moving in quickly. No rain yet. I changed into cycling clothes, got my backpack on, and got on the bike. Already the wind had picked up. It was variable, sometimes in my face, sometimes from my side. The traffic was heavy. I made my way out onto the road for my seven mile commute. I knew from the look of the clouds it would be close, me getting home. That’s why I felt I better put the hammer down and turn this into a time trial. With the threat of lightning and rain imminent, the adrenaline kicked in and my usual leisurely pace going home changed to a hard ride. The darkened sky meant all the drivers (or most, there were a few clueless ones) had their lights on. I had mine on, too, blinking front headlight and bright flashing taillight. Along the road bits of tree branches and leaves were falling from the wind. I had to look out for these as I rode alongside the traffic. Sometimes the cars were stopped from traffic congestion and sometimes they were zipping by me. I stuck close to the side of the road. There’s no bike lane, but there is a wide enough shoulder so there is room for me and the cars. Yet, I got honked at several times as I zipped along. I did not look to see who honked. To do so would be to take my eyes off the road. A couple of drivers sped past me only to make a quick right turn. Instinctively I saw this coming and slowed, but it is a dangerous move for the driver to pull. I then had to crank up to speed again.

About three miles from home the rain started. It was very light and spitting at first, but the dark gray cloud in front of me that had no borders said it would get worse. Above me, there was a brownish cloud with a swirling unicorn shape pointing to the side. Tornado? Well what would I do if it did develop. Fortunately, that did not happen. As I got within a mile from home there was another traffic light. I stopped and waited as the rain became light and steady. I saw a lightning bolt off to my right and counted six seconds to the loud thunderclap. As the traffic light turned green I pushed for the last stretch to home, and a driver did a quick left turn in front of me. The driver was looking at a cell phone. Another driver pulled out in front of me from a side street. She clearly saw me, but I guess didn’t care. Drivers are not usually this awful on my way home. They must have been in race mode themselves. I finally got to my house as the rain and wind picked up. I looked at my watch. I knocked four minutes off my usual time for this ride. Backpack off and cleat covers on, I stood on the porch, unlocked the door and wheeled my bike in. A few minutes later, the storm hit with strong wind gusts and driving rain. The streets were filling with water and turning into rivers. I felt very fortunate to get in the door before that happened.

January in Southeastern Oklahoma

Yesterday, it was kind of typical. Woke to around 34 deg. F and the temperature reached a rather comfortable 64. Some at the local Walmart had on shorts, but still long sleeved shirts.

Today, something completely different. I was awakened very early to the sound of howling wind hooting down the chimney in our bedroom. It is not a working fireplace, and the top is covered by a heavy steel plate. Nonetheless, the sound was dramatic. It was also very cold. I had turned off the heater, since we were comfy without it. So, I turned it back on, and peered out our front door window. Oddly, the glass seemed frosted. Looking out another window, I saw why. There was snow on the ground, tiny ice droplets were flying around, and the bare tree branches where whipped up in frenetic motion. I made a pot of coffee, poured a cup for my wife and me, and snuck back under the covers to wait for daylight.

The day dawned in mixes of dark and light grays, blues, and white. I got dressed, layered well, put on my Iceland jacket, grabbed my camera, and headed out to hopefully capture the feel of a bitterly cold and windy day on the ranch.

Looking West, from the yard.

Trees plastered with snow on the north side of their trunks.

The steers looked a little unhappy.

This frisky filly did not stay still.

The birds kept moving about, too.

Sugar-frosted maxi-wheats (or rather, alfalfa).

The “Crust Buster” sits idle, awaiting spring.

Still hanging on….

The cabin in the cold.

Last November, we planted bulbs amidst the crape myrtle trees we planted earlier, along the north side of the house, and in a bed along our front porch. Some of the bulbs got fooled into sprouting early, with thin, green shoots already 6 inches long. Hopefully, the cold will put a hold on their development, and they will still blossom in true spring.

How does one know?

How does one know one is dead?

I was in the airport in Munich. My flight was scheduled to leave in about three hours. I made my way to the proper check-in area, checked my suitcase and walked to the passport check. The line was very long, and I had a small concern about making my flight. As slowly as the line seemed to move, it did move, and soon I was passing through. I was traveling with a group, but oddly, they were not in line with me. I’m not sure how I got separated, but the people around me were all strangers. Once through, we all made our way to another waiting area. There were seats, but the room was remarkably devoid of other features. No wall posters advertising vacation spots, No overhead signs showing gate numbers. After a short wait, we were led through a door to waiting buses. People jostled with their belongings and carry-on bags for room. Our bus was tightly packed and had only standing room. There was a small half-sized bench seat for a few older individuals. The bus would take us to a boarding area away from the main terminal building. It pulled out and everyone tilted backward for a moment, then righted. There was some soft chatter in the background, in languages I could not understand. It wasn’t German. After ten minutes the bus slowly came to a stop in front of a concrete building, two stories high with the part facing us all glass. There was a glass door leading in, and inside one could see an escalator. There was a small standing desk inside a few feet from the door. A man was standing at the desk. He was wearing a blue uniform-type shirt and had a reflective safety strap at an angle from right shoulder to left hip. He was looking down at the desk, and did not appear to look up when the bus arrived. The bus doors did not open. I looked around the bus, and realized I could see out the windows I was facing, but not out behind me, as there were no windows on that side. I also realized the bus got here without a driver, some kind of automatic transportation system. In the bus, we waited for something to happen.

After ten minutes when nothing had happened, people started to rustle and look perplexed. Another ten minutes went by. The man behind the desk walked to the door and stepped outside. There was a man in a wheelchair rolling up, and he went through the door held open by the man in the blue shirt. Inside, the man in the wheelchair, who did not look young, by the way, demonstrated remarkable wheelchair handling. He spun the chair around to back on to the escalator, and held it front-wheels-up as he ascended. We could only see the bottom part of the escalator and he was soon out of view. Another several minutes went by, and I started to wonder where we were and what was happening. Was this it? The end? Was this our exit from our existence? Who was the guy in the blue shirt? Why did I not know anyone on the bus? Suddenly, the middle door of the bus opened, and we were led into the building, through the glass door, and onto the escalator. The escalator seemed longer than I expected, but it did end and we streamed off. In the corridor at the top, again, with no signs, no posters, just off-white walls and a tile floor, there was the man in the blue shirt. He was directing some people to the left and some to the right down separate halls. Again, I wondered, are we being directed according to our ultimate destination? And if I died, would I know it? Would it feel different? Shouldn’t I feel nothing, and not be aware? But there is no one to tell us.

We walked a bit farther and I came to my senses. There was a waiting area which looked familiar. We had to pass through another security check to get there. My traveling companions had already made it through, and there was a loading gate manned by airline personnel. A sign above indicated our flight and time, and through a window I could see our American Airlines Airbus waiting for us to board.

For Halloween, 2018.

The Cabins at Madill

 

Horses in the pasture.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in what some refer to as flyover country. My wife and her sister share property bequeathed by her father in southeastern Oklahoma, a place very few people not from here would consider visiting. I would not say those people are missing out, as it would not be possible without the benefit of owning a chunk of this area to experience it like I did. But given the chance, it is a place of beauty, challenge and reward.

Early sunset with barns

My wife is investing a large amount of time and effort rehabilitating a house on the land that sits on a hill. We refer to it as the cabin, but it is really four old small houses and parts of houses stuck together at various times many years ago. This is why we are now calling it “The Cabins at Madill”, a fancy sounding name, like a resort in the woods. Madill is the nearest town, small and very “country”, nine miles away. The man doing the work is named Galen, and he is very talented at construction and hard-working. He grew up in the area, and knows its secrets, hidden roads, fishing spots and most of the locals.

The main part of the house has a bedroom, large living area, open kitchen and dining area. My son-in-law, Evan, and his friend Andy from Texas installed “mini-splits” two weeks ago, which are permanent HVAC units installed high on the walls. The units work great, and are necessary in a place where it is really hot in the summer and really cold in the winter. Galen reworked the ceiling in the living area, creating a high ceiling with cross beams, and installed a wood-burning fireplace. He put in new flooring all around, redid walls, rebuilt two bathrooms, installed new kitchen cabinets and appliances, and has replaced several windows. Rewiring required disturbing a skunk family and a snake under the house in the crawl space.

Early in the planning stages, the living area.

 

The living area with the new fireplace and the mini-split.

My wife and I arrived at DFW airport the night before July 4, following a three-hour delay for thunderstorms in Philadelphia. Fortunately, my rental pickup truck was still waiting in the lot for me, key on the seat, although the desk person for Budget was gone. We headed up to Denton, Texas and checked in to the Hampton Inn. Hampton Inns have great beds and always seem to be a delightful place to stay. The next morning at the breakfast buffet, we planned our day. It turns out, we had a lot of purchasing to do, at places like Home Depot and Lowe’s. First, though, we headed to the Guitar Center in Denton. After all, what good is a place in the country if you can’t sit on the front porch and strum your guitar? I found a nice acoustic, nylon string guitar to keep at the cabins. We then headed to Home Depot, where we bought a number of essentials, a shovel, some tools, a drill, a Weber grill, and a few other items. Back on the road, we reached Madill in an hour and a half, then went on to our house. It was warm, and as we stepped inside, the coolness told us the mini-splits were doing their job.

My new guitar. Galen brought his guitar over, and we sat in the living area playing music together.

We had plenty more to do to equip the house. We took a trip to town to the Walmart, to get groceries and household items. The grocery section of the Walmart is remarkably well stocked. They even had Mt. Rainier cherries, of which I am a huge fan. For dinner, we bought a roasted chicken and some broccoli. The Walmart also sells beer, nothing too exotic, but beer nonetheless. As we ate dinner, we were enjoying a marvelous sunset seen through our dining room window with the cows and a few horses in the near pasture, the subtle reds, oranges and purples of the sky and clouds, and the gentle hum of the mini-splits. After dinner with the darkness upon us, we sat on a tandem rocker on the front porch, playing the guitar and drinking a beer. Before long, the Independence day fireworks started, and we could see bits of four different displays, over Lake Texoma, in Madill, and in a couple other locations. Bugs were buzzing around us but were leaving us alone; we wisely had applied insect repellent.

Porch in daylight.

Galen had fixed plywood to the kitchen cabinets as a counter top until we could get our real counter tops installed. We had a working kitchen sink, and an unbelievably beautiful stove. We had a little old Sunbeam drip coffee maker that had one button, on/off, and made terrific coffee. Over the next couple of days we visited Lowe’s in Ardmore and Durant, buying a stackable washer and dryer and a dishwasher. These we hauled home in the back of our rental pickup truck, including bringing home the counter tops which had been previously custom ordered. We are not going too fancy with this place. We have vinyl flooring which has a wood look, and Linoleum counter tops.

Our bright red Ford four door F150, on a tour of the ranch.

Speaking of the kitchen, we, that is my wife Kathleen and I, love to cook.  There’s nothing quite like a gas stove to cook on, since one has complete control over the amount of heat applied to the pot.  So, what does one do when there is not a gas line to the house.  Yes, there is an old propane tank outside, but the idea of cooking on a propane stove was not very appealing.  Thermador makes a nice one for $5000 at the low-end of their range, but you’re still using propane, which is dangerous.  I talked my wife into going high-tech, still expensive, but much less than propane, and so much better than typical electric ranges which produce heat by heating a coil, or using radiant heat.  We got a beautiful induction range with a convection oven.  Briefly, induction ranges work by creating a magnetic field, which causes a current to form in a stainless steel pot set on the stove top.  The pot heats up, but the cook top only gets as hot as the pot sitting on it.  If one removes the pot, no heat is generated and in fact, the unit stops working until the pot is put back on the stove.  In our early experiments, it has functioned beautifully, heating quickly, easily controlled, and very similar to cooking with gas without heating up the house.

The amazing induction stove top.

This whole part of the country has been variably under shallow seas or dry over the last 550 million years.  It presents a great opportunity to go fossil hunting.  Galen showed us to a very special spot along the bank of lake Texoma, where many fossils can be found.  We piled into our pickup and headed down to the lake.  The roads we took would be impossible for a visitor to follow without a local to guide the way.  From two lane highway, to gravel road, to dirt road, to a track with overgrown grass and trees, we made it to the lake.  Here, we hiked down a steep embankment made up of broken up chunks of limestone, to start our fossil hunt.

Galen uses his keen eyes to hunt for fossils along the bank of Lake Texoma.

Every rock we looked at was packed with fossils.  Mostly, they were small shells, clams, scallops, and other bivalves.  With careful probing amongst the rocks, we found trilobites, ammonites, and clams.  I also found a fossilized bone.  Doing a little research, I found that trilobites and ammonites lived in different eras, so it is interesting and a bit puzzling that they should be found in the same vicinity.  Trilobites were incredibly long existing and diverse, with thousands of different subspecies.  They lived during the Paleozoic era, starting 542 million years ago, and lasting until the great Permian Extinction, 251 million years ago, or almost 300 million years.  Ammonites, a form of a cephalopod, lived mainly in the Cretaceous period, 200 million to 65 million years ago.  Lake Texoma is a large, man-made lake, so perhaps the rise and fall of the water has caused the various strata to wash up on shore, or fall down the side of the cliff, into the same location.  An interesting bit of information about the lake:  the dam to create it, Denison Dam, was started in 1939.  The last two years of construction, 1942 to 1944, German prisoners of war captured in North Africa were used as the labor.

Aside from creating one’s own entertainment, the big entertainment mecca here is the WinStar World Casino, located off Highway I35, one mile north of the Texas border.  By square area, it is the worlds largest casino, and boasts 7,400 electronic games (like slot machines).  We went to the casino on a Friday night to see Bill Maher, the comedian and talk show host from HBO.  While he is on the liberal side, and Oklahoma is a very conservative state, between North Texas and southern Oklahoma, and some from parts farther away, he packed the 3500 seat auditorium and gave a great show.  Typical of casinos, we had to walk past a mile or so of slots and blackjack tables to get to the event hall, and most of the machines were being used by hopeful gamblers.  When we left, around 11:00 PM, the place was even more crowded.  The casino is owned by the Chickasaw Nation, the tribe which is located in this area

Exploring the ranch on which our “cabins” are located, there are a number of barns, out buildings, fenced areas for cattle management, and a few structures for which the function was not immediately clear.  One barn has a bobcat living in it, which makes it a dangerous place to explore.  Another barn has an old pickup truck that was deeded to my daughter, for some odd reason.  The truck doesn’t run, but the tires are apparently in good shape.  It would take some significant expense to get the truck running again.  A big question for us is how to best utilize this property.  Cattle ranching requires a lot of attention and not insignificant risk.  Other ideas, however, include growing hops, creating a guest house experience for visitors who want to learn about the area, or several other ideas we are kicking around.  It will be a great family meeting place to have Thanksgiving together.

 

The barn with the bobcat as tenant.

 

This tree has clearly not let anything get in the way of its growth.

 

Livestock management areas.

 

This creature decided to take a ride with us on the windshield.

 

It is hard to say what he is thinking.

 

Every weed in this place has sharp thorns.

 

 

Galen’s coop of speckled Sussex hens provide him and his family with plenty of eggs.

 

A local denizen who wandered far from the pond down the hill.

 

Another local denizen, this one seen at Fort Washita, a fort built in 1842 to protect the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians from the plains Indians, and now owned by the Chickasaw Nation.

I had to leave our beautiful ranch on Sunday, five days after arriving.  My wife stayed on to take care of some family business in West Texas.  I look forward to coming back soon, to play my guitar on the front porch, to grill on our Weber on the back slab of concrete, and to explore some more of this very fascinating and attractive place.

Looking forward to the next trip down to OK.

Kathleen has a soft spot for kittens.

In the Rabbit’s Head

When it comes to looking out for myself, I often think I would do well to think like a rabbit.  I’m specifically thinking about my bicycle trips to and from work.

Yesterday was “bike to work day”.  I had planned to bike to work, but with the rain coming down, I figured I’d skip it.  Then, while eating breakfast early in the morning, I checked my email.  An email from the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia notified me that, rain or shine, they would have stations set up in Philadelphia with La Colombe coffee, snacks and other support for the thousands of cyclists that would be biking to work that day.  There would be a special group ride (I assume for people with unfixed work hours) starting at 8:30, and a press conference at 9:00 with civic leaders about making Philadelphia more bike friendly.  My commute is in South Jersey, so no chance of grabbing that cup of coffee, but this gave me the impetus to go ahead and ride, and not worry about the rain.

While I enjoy biking to work, it is far more dangerous than driving.  Adding rain to the ride makes it that much more of a challenge.  We have a few rabbits living in our backyard.  They munch on our grass, look longingly at our fenced-in vegetable garden, but are always on critical alert.  Their long ears stand up, and turn to face the sound of the gate opening.  Their eyes are ever open, and they are ready to move, or bolt, when they sense danger.  I think of the rabbits often as I ride to work.  I’ve gotten to know the route very well.  I know every grate, pot hole, rough spot, crack, traffic light, narrow spot, entering roadway, curve and even where deer sometimes come running across the roadway.  If I leave for work at 6:00 AM, I get passed by only about 20 cars and pickups on my ride, which is about 25 minutes.  If I leave at 6:30, that number about quadruples.  If I leave at 7:00, there is a constant stream of traffic all the way.  I like to imagine that the drivers at 6:00 are less likely to be talking on their cellphones, since there would be fewer people awake with whom to talk.  Most days, I need to be at work by 6:30, so the decision is made, but even when I’m not due in until 8:00, I will leave early to make the ride safer.

I think having a rabbit-like sense of danger is healthy for bike commuters, for we are the small, vulnerable animal on the road.  Keen hearing, sharp eyes, and an ever-present sense of danger are critical elements of the ride.  Why do it, then?  I will list several reasons.

It is a way to work in some physical activities into my day which I would otherwise not be able to do.  Twenty five minutes of riding twice a day adds up when done regularly.  While I can only ride three days a week, I definitely benefit from the exercise.  Not driving the car means less products of combustion ascending skyward.  Less oil consumption.  Granted, it is an infinitesimal subtraction from the total emissions of the day if one looks globally.  But, this brings up a question I’ve considered while riding, which is, what about my CO2 output and my energy consumption.  Is there no consequence of increasing one’s metabolism to ride to work, burning calories and producing CO2?  As it happens, a study has been done.  According to a study done by the European Cycling Commission, the CO2 produced by a cyclist is about 21 gm per kilometer.  For a driver in an efficient car, that amount is 271 gm and for a passenger on a bus, the average is 101 gm.   What about the cost of the fuel to ride my bike?  By that, I mean, the cost of the food I need to eat to cover the energy expenditure of my ride.  One could calculate this in many ways.  But, if I burn about 750 kcals total for the round trip, one can put that in food costs.  If I were to replace that with a muffin from Starbucks, about 380 kcals for a blueberry muffin at about $2.25 each, I would need to eat two to get my calorie needs met.  By eating some rice and beans, the cost would be far less.  Your choice.

I enjoy the sense of freedom I get riding my bike.  Maybe this hearkens back to childhood, when one’s bike was a ticket to adventure.  I also like the camaraderie with fellow cyclists on the road, who, at 6:00 AM, are frequently commuting to work.  On the way to work, the cars pass me.  But, on the way home, with traffic tie-ups, I can frequently breeze by a long line of cars waiting at a traffic light.  Ultimately, they catch and pass me, but it may be several miles down the road.

Yet, the danger is there.  Rain adds another dimension, of slippery roads, decreased visibility both for car drivers and for me, and reckless motorists who don’t think physics applies to them, with decreased tire friction, longer stopping distances, and so on.  I dress in bright yellows and reds, and have my blinking tail light and headlight on.  I put my mind in the head of the rabbit, knowing that those beasts of steel and glass are eying me as a target, keep my ears tuned and eyes open, look for the cues that tell me someone is about to do something evil, keep my hands on the brake levers, have an escape plan, and hopefully, get to work in one piece, refreshed and ready to hit the ground running.

DSC_1253a

Set to ride on a cool morning.

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