Friday, September 30, 2005

My Pick for SCOTUS

I'm in the mood for a fight. Oh, maybe I'm not ready to don the gloves and knock the crap out of Ted Kennedy, but I am in the mood to nuke some popcorn, sip a soda, and watch a real donnybrook. I'm thinking that the confirmation hearings for the next Supreme Court nominee might be exactly what I'm looking for.

Conservatives now control The Executive Branch by winning elections. Conservatives now control the Legislative Branch because we have won the elections. However, liberals control the Judicial Branch because conservative presidents in the past have done a poor job in picking "originalist" nominees for the court.

While liberals seem to revel in the theater of a good political fight, conservatives historically have shied away from shenanigans. However, I think that the tide may be turning. We conservatives might be becoming a little more interesting in our old age.

Ann Coulter made the point after the nomination of John Roberts that, since we rule the roost, there is no point in George W. Bush being shy about nominating a credentialed Conservative Originalist to the Supreme Court. She noted that John Roberts might be a good judge in the end, but why take the chance? This time around, I'm in Ann's corner.

I would be satisfied with a number of nominees that are being bantered about today. Certainly McConnell and Luttig have the credentials, and their nominations might very well bring about some spirited debate. The problem is, while these guys might have the credentials, qualifications and temperament for the high court, will they themselves become part of the confrontation, or will they sit back and let the powers that be take up arms in their defense? I suspect the latter, which is the tack that Roberts took.

Real confirmation battles come when the nominee actually responds to the arrogant pontification spewed by self-important committee members who really are doing nothing more than making sure that their liberal money guns hear them parroting the accepted position.

It is with this in mind that I hope to God that Bush nominates Janice Rogers Brown to replace Sandra Day O'Connor. I want to hear Sens. Biden, Kennedy, Durbin and Leahy lecture Brown, a black, single mother on the importance of civil rights. I want them to tell her that her position is insensitive to those in poverty. I want them to explain to her why she is out of the mainstream.

Then, I want to sit back and listen as she tells them that they are stupid, why they are stupid, how long they have been stupid, and the depth of their stupidity.

Now that will be good television.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Lawn Care

Since I bought my house my intentions for maintaining the yard have been to hire a local kid and pay him about one tenth of the amount that I would demand to do the same job. I always felt it best to keep salaries low on lawn care personnel since once they go to college and become doctors and lawyers they aren't going to be cutting me any financial slack. Well, that two-line advertisement in the local paper for Future Dr. or Atty. needed for large yard. $1.25 per hour. Your mower/your gas. 555-1245 didn't provide any leads. I only had one call and that was from some stinking lawyer wanting me to send any kid his way if I could find one for that price.

Only one week after I'd missed about three weeks of work because I could no longer locate my car in that jungle I called a lawn I decided I’d have to do the mowing since I couldn’t find some adolescent to do it. On Independence Day, after the lawn had gone half the summer without maintenance, it had a very untamed Serengeti feel. With a renewed spirit and a sense of adventure, I could just see myself bush whacking through the grasses, weeds, and small trees like the legendary Mr. Livingston did on the African continent so many years ago.

Mowing lawn is a squeamish business where dangers lurk behind every corner and each step must be taken with extreme caution. I contemplated this as I headed for the barn to gather up the lawn mower. (I have a small area left in the barn where I store my yard equipment, the rest of the barn I use to store adhesive bandages and aspirin.)

I oiled and gassed the mower and then at the last minute decided to take it to the shop to get it ready for the season. I told him to ignore the blade sharpening as I'd already checked it out. Then, I stood behind the counter while he looked over the mower and I watched the small engine genius weave his mechanical magic. In a very short time I was home again ready to mow. The repairman had been very polite to me as he explained that any "moron" should be able to add gas and oil in the right places. Only an "idiot" would get that mixed up. Up until that point in my life I had reasoned that the words moron and idiot were reserved to describe people of low intelligence. This day I amended my dictum to include these words as a way to describe a valued customer.

Removing the prairie grasses from my lawn did present a major problem. I chased up a flock of doves, a rhinoceros, three deer, a raccoon, a mountain lion, wild turkeys, and Boy Scout troop #35. It was a thrill knowing that I could provide the ecosystem necessary to sustain these wild creatures in such harmony.

I tried my best to allow these spirited animals to remain undisturbed as I destroyed their habitat. This worked for about two minutes when the mountain lion attacked me. Now, I really like cats and soon discovered that cougars are nothing but big housecats. She could have easily killed me but she kept me alive just so she could play with me a little longer. It was kind of cute the way she would place her teeth on my neck and bite only hard enough to make me pass out. Pretty soon she would let me regain consciousness and allowed me to run a couple of stumbling steps before she would bat me down again and restart the primeval process. After a while she lost interest and decided to chase the scouts.

But, I'm afraid that once the cat finished chewing on me things started to go downhill. Just to the north of my house stands my garage. I can't park a car in it since I use most of that space to store gauze. Many years ago, a large, frigid mass moved into Michigan and during its passage deposited countless rocks just to the north of my garage. After the divorce she moved out but the rocks remained. Mowing rocks, I quickly discovered, is a good way to break your rusty mower blade in half and send it screaming at the speed of light at a passing motorist. I couldn't believe how fast a car could stop, turn around, come up my drive, get out, knock the stuffing out of me, climb back in, descend my drive and take off again in such a short period of time. It truly was impressive to behold, even through blackened, watering eyes.

But, I was not going to let a little broken blade stand in my way. However, mowing grass with only half a mower blade tends to make the machine shake a wee bit. This shaking vibrates small parts loose which fall into the blade and become missiles in their own right. Fortunately I was able to knock down the streaking 3" bolt with my forehead before it caused any property damage. The rest of that portion of the lawn was completed with few complications aside from the wasps, yellow jackets and bumblebees. My one eye didn't even swell completely shut.

After the garage comes the driveway. There is an area next to my drive where the green and the grass are actually the same thing—an odd happenstance. While I usually cannot explain this phenomenon, I do know how this one patch of green stayed so vibrant. I had a small mishap this spring when I tried to help the septic tank serviceman operate his truck without his direct supervision or permission. The 1,400 gallons of waste I accidentally showered myself with taught me a few lessons. 1) Don't mistake the words "Don't mess with that" to "Open that hatch." 2) Don't mix the cloths you are wearing during such an event with your bath towels in the wash. 3) If covered in sewage one should not expect mouth-to-mouth resuscitation--you are pretty much going to have to deal with the pulmonary restriction by yourself.

As the green patch I’d just mowed receded into the more typical thigh length weeds, the drive gently slopes to the main highway betwixt two sweeping banks at about 45-degree angles. Over the past year or two I had wondered how best to mow these banks. My first method for conquering the hill was to throw caution to the wind and take that baby head on. I lost my footing almost immediately stepping onto a mole hole up to my hip and the mower became a bit difficult to handle. As best as I can remember I went to my knees and somersaulted face first down the grade with the mower in tow. I woke up with shorter hair and a new respect for gymnasts even though they don't compete with powered up lawn machinery.

I had a slight headache after the fall but I was not going to rest until the banks were mowed-no little concussion, broken jaw and dislocated hip were going to stop me. I had a brilliant idea as to how to proceed. I hacked down my neighbor’s clothesline and tied one end of it to the mower handle, walked down the bank to a large oak that was growing on the opposite bank, circled the tree with the line and walked back up to stand by the mower. I started the mower again and yanked on the cord sending the mower careening down the bank, wiping out my small plum tree on the way. Perplexed, I had to find a way to gently persuade the mower down the hill.

Eureka! The solution came to me in a flash. I tore up my neighbor’s television cable from underground and tied it to the front of the mower. However this time I ran the cable in the opposite direction of the clothesline, and wrapped it around a second tree thereby allowing me the ability to keep tension on the handle in the opposite direction of the clothesline. I went into my neighbor’s garage and took a long extension cord and then went into his woods and removed some clear plastic line that had for some silly reason appeared between the maples. The cord I tied between my left wrist and the mower on the left side of the mower handle and plastic line was likewise tied between my right wrist and the right side of the mower handle.

Now, standing behind the mower I was ready to go. I gave the line a tug while keeping tension on the cable so that the mower moved one foot down the bank and to the left. I gave the plastic a pull and the mower jerked too far toward the right. Startled, I yanked hard at the cord but accidentally jerked the line at the same time and was unprepared to temper the mower’s descent with the cable. I overcompensated by jerking the cable and overpowered the line. I panicked as the mower went charging down the hill on its two right wheels with me being pulled behind. I lost my footing and tried to pull the cord lying on my belly with a mouth full of dirt, but the cable had too much tension on it and it continued down the hill unimpeded. However, at that moment the cable began to wind around the mower shaft and up the hill the mower came at a frightening pace and in a nasty mood. I could see the way that the mower wobbled in its tantrum from the unbalanced blade and its great momentum. It was about this time that I blacked out. I woke in the early evening tangled in a mass of cord, line, cable and plastic with my head tucked unceremoniously inside the grass discharge slot on the side of the mower. By the feel of it the mower hadn't stalled until after my head went through the slot. I hoped that the blade hadn't been too badly damaged.

Trimming is that part of a lawn care where the yard artist can express himself. I have many bushes, flowers and shrubs lining my house. These are the accent pieces that set me apart from my neighbors. I had never attempted to trim my hedges before and I had to go about it carefully. I had no weed eater, trimmer or even a good scissors. My lawyers made me get rid of that stuff after the little accident I had last year with my now estranged-neighbor's also estranged wife. (Some people just are not very forgiving.) Also, my doctor has recommended on several occasions that I remove all items from my house that could in any way harm me if they became lodged in an orifice at great speed. After asking for a clarification, the doctor also recommended the removal of objects capable of making orifices of their own accord. Needless to say, my house is pretty much vacant. I therefore felt I had only one option—using the mower as my trimmer also.

I immediately began to make some design modifications to create my newest invention—the gasoline powered mower/trimmer/juicer. It didn't take long to figure out why you don't see these babies on the shelves of the local hardware every day. Basically from the onset I was faced with difficulties, the most obvious one is how to hang on to the mower while trimming. I solved this problem by hacksawing off the first two feet of the mower handle. I then duct taped a broken broom handle to each of the ends I had just cut. At the front of the mower on its chassis I torched a hole through which I strung two yellow nylon ropes. I tied these two six-foot rope ends together making a loop attached to the mower on the front.

On the left side of the mower I torched out a hole, just the proper size so that I could slide my fingers inside and get a good grip on the mower (I could use the grass discharge shoot as a handle on the right side.) After these quick alterations I was already able to lift the mower by the grips in the side of the machine, and hoist it up with the broom handle in contact with my lower belly. I then took the looped rope and flipped it over my back. This would allow me to distribute the weight of the mower to different parts of my body rather than just having to support it with my arms alone.

I was ready to crank that sucker up! The adrenal gland was doing some serious work about this time also. The engine started on the first pull and wobbled around the floor of the garage as if possessed. I approached it with some caution but unfortunately for me, caution usually takes a back seat to impulsive behavior. I discovered almost immediately that the finger holes needed to be grasped while not extending any digits into the path of the mower blade. A little duct tape and the fingers were almost as good as new and I knew the blood would wash out of the jeans.

The first and only bush that I tried to trim was a leafy monster with thorns. I approached it slowly moving to the back and forth gyrations of the mower. I kept my feet far apart to offer me additional footing as well as to prevent my bowling shoes from being in the line of fire.

The basic problem was that the bush stood about three feet high and I could only comfortably (indeed physically) lift the mower about two and a half feet while holding it parallel with the ground. In order to lift it I had to lean forward out over the bush perhaps a little farther than what an experienced mower-converted-to-hedge-trimmer-juicer-operator would have attempted—with horrifying results. My heart stuck in my throat as the mower made contact with the first of the leaves and tugged me forward. I held my balance for what seemed like…I guess it was pretty quickly…and then I toppled over, head first onto the top of the mower.

The mower, to my surprise, did not stall, and I, to my consternation, was firmly secured, face first, to the top of it from the rope I had been using as a support. I stayed like that, mounted on the machine like a bronked cowboy, twisting and gyrating in the air for several minutes before the mower blade was able to snag my jeans and began unraveling them. Within seconds my lower half was clothed only in torn, now-soiled boxers and one belt loop.

Fortunately, within 45 minutes the mower was out of gas and my head mercifully had stopped banging against the gas tank at 2200 clunks per minute (CPM). A lump developed over my right cheekbone, its swelling farther tightening the rope’s tether to my head and I was pretty much stuck. I do have mixed feelings now about the size of my lawn mower's carburetor. On the one hand, had it been smaller it would have broken off sooner and my burns would have been of only 2nd degree nature. On the other hand, it made it much easier to find a replacement at the lawnmower shop as the technician was able to identify the exact replacement parts by simply perusing the serial number that was branded deeply on my temple.

The next day, the sheriff’s department, investigating the report of a foul smell and vultures circling, found me semi-conscious, somewhat parched and completely swollen. They wondered initially how road kill had managed to crawl so far away from the highway. However, when they discovered my remaining belt loop they booked me on an indecent exposure charge. A nostril-clenched deputy, an animal control officer and an exorcist took me to jail where alone in my cell I was able to evaluate objectively the slight failure in my plans.

Next time I would need to wear khaki shorts and briefs.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Religion of Peace

I want everyone to take a look at this website if you havn't stumbled on it yourself. The Religion of Peace website has been documenting muslim terrorist attacks since 9/11.

So far September has been a good month for bloodshed according to my quick count.

Attacks documented in September: 121
Number of Countries where attacks have occurred: 11
Number of Killed: 611

Since 9/11 the site has documented over 3,000 attacks by radical Muslim fundamentalists.

The Great Cindy Anti-War Demonstration

I'm glad when I'm occasioned to see that the MSM hasn't completely lost it. Thanks to the Federalist for finding this.

"The media have pushed the idea that the demonstration this weekend at the White House was an 'anti-war' gathering. What they didn't say was who was behind it... For the record, the lead organizer [was] ANSWER, which the media routinely refer to as an 'antiwar group.' It is nothing of the sort. In fact, ANSWER is a front group for the Stalinist Workers World Party. And any group that qualifies for that epithet in front of its name deserves special scrutiny, since Josef Stalin was responsible for the murder of as many as 25 million human beings... So why do communists--- particularly those who march under Stalin's flag---get different treatment? And why do thousands of average people feel comfortable marching arm in arm with them? It's a puzzle. After all, according to the 'Black Book of Communism' ---a widely cited and respected compendium of communism's crimes in the 20th century---communist regimes murdered as many as 100 million people over the last century. That's quite a record. Indeed, all the century's great mass murders---Mao Zedong (65 million), Stalin (25 million), Hitler (21 million), Pol Pot (2 million)---were communists or socialists. Yet many well-meaning people who marched this weekend perhaps didn't know all this. Or perhaps they don't mind having their cause besmirched by people who aren't really anti-war at all, but anti-America, anti-West, anti-freedom and anti-capitalist... Maybe it proves the old adage: Lie down with dogs, wake up with fleas." ---Investor's Business Daily

Monday, September 26, 2005

Fantasy Football Reflections: Volume 2

Brandon Lloyd sucks.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Hopelessly trapped somewhere between adolescence and the golden years, I was about to turn extreme. I wasn’t sure which avenue I should use to remove the excess testosterone that was coursing through my body like generic moist dog food does my neighbor’s wandering dog—but I was determined to find a course of action. One by one I ruled out mountain biking (too much work), in-line skating (too hard on my ankles), sky-diving (too expensive), and street luge (I’m already driving an Escort which is really nothing more than a luge without all the options.) I have tried bungee jumping and still have the rope burns around my neck to prove it, but I thought I’d like something new. After these eliminations what remained was a much smaller list of activities in which I could slake my thirst for excitement while at the same time eliminating many means of violent death and dismemberment.

It was with much trepidation and the gnashing of my remaining real teeth that I decided upon kayaking. What you ask was an afraid, non-athletic, overweight, non-swimming indoor type doing with a new kayak? Well, at that moment he was most likely making sure his Depends were pulled up tight.

Many people would scoff at kayaking and my inclusion of the sport into the extreme category. But the bathtub to me represents an extreme arena. I took two days of swimming lessons when I was about 8 years old. Most of that time I stood on the bank of Smith Lake shivering while the rest of my pals were splashing each other and effortlessly swimming around. Every attempt I’ve made at swimming since that time has been a failure. I have found three subsequent ways to keep my head above water. The first method is to stay on shore. The second method is to wade. The third way is to swim about 30 yards all the while screaming for help.

The kayak purchase represented for me a first salvo in my desire to live life on the edge of something other than poverty. I have done many dangerous things in the past but this was perhaps the most adventurous since using the bloated remains of a dead cow as a trampoline. But the kayak was somehow different. At least in my youth I could use my age as an excuse. Now, I had come to realize, the only excuse I had was that I was just stupid. (I do have to admit that cow had some real bounce to it.)

I spent many minutes in the sporting goods store grilling the sales staff with what I was sure to be pointed and intelligent questions. Longer crafts I learned were for more open water excursions. Shorter crafts were easier to maneuver but were at much greater risk of tipping over. I immediately tried to order a 45’ but they didn’t come that big. I examined many crafts before finally deciding on the pretty green one.

However, one does not purchase a kayak by itself. There are many accessories for a kayak that are designed to help the owner in safety, paddling, storage and transport. Perhaps the most important of these is the floatation vest. It is a tight fitting, adjustable sleeveless vest that is to assist the boater in staying afloat after a mishap. I modified the vest in a few small ways in an attempt to eliminate some of my misgivings. On its back I taped several inflated birthday balloons. On the collar I strapped an attachment that I fashioned out of a block of Styrofoam. Finally, with a power nailer, I attached around the bottom flap of the vest an inflated bike’s inner tube. Note: try to attach the tube with the power nailer before putting on the vest.

The vest attaches to the boater by zipping up the front after these two steps; 1) Place your right arm in the right armhole; 2) place your left arm in the left armhole. It is seriously recommend not putting your head through either sleeve holes, however. In doing so one exposes him self to potentially serious zipper lacerations and wedged head complications. The former is most easily treated with a few stitches and black salve. The latter can be corrected without much injury by either using a child’s scissors or through the use of a self assembled Head Dewedger Kit. This kit should include tongue depressors, petroleum jelly (or 10W 30 Motor Oil), aspirin, a bowling ball, duct tape, chop sticks, Velcro, rubber mallet, saw, tape measure, gum remover and a picture of Pope Benedict. Neither the scissors nor the kit is actually necessary if you kayak with three or more burly outdoorsmen. However, you might want to carry extra salve in the kayak to help soothe any boot marks left on your forehead. In addition to the paddle I also purchased a kayak rack to transport the craft and a cockpit cover.

The paddle can be broken down, according to the manufacturer, for ease of storage and transport. The shaft of the paddle disconnects and leaves you with two, almost identical halves. While the break down feature of the paddle is ballyhooed as a wonderful innovation, I believe it is overrated. A paddle can thusly be reassembled in the wrong fashion. With out going into too many details I was able to re-assemble the paddle upside down and at the wrong angle. This particular assemblage created a paddle that would have been very efficient for a kayaker that could stand on his head and use coordinated strokes in reverse.

The paddle is also made with a drip guard to keep you from dribbling water on yourself while paddling. I did appreciate this addition but would suggest one more. A muck shield could be an invaluable option. On many occasions I found myself slathered with mud, algae, and fish waste that I inadvertently slung while practicing my stroke. Fortunately I was only in two inches of water and the added weight of the sludge didn’t hamper my buoyancy. This proposed muck shield could be easily manufactured with windshield wipers; fish waste sensors, automated shoveling apparatus as well as other options. I envision it as a Plexiglas cone circling the boater. The kayaker’s arms and head would protrude from the shield through circular holes located in the proper areas. If the kayak becomes dangerously weighted with water and muck an easily added ejection seat could launch the kayaker safely to shore.

With all the accessories now purchased, assembled, reassembled properly, repaired (with the completely unusable ones replaced with sculpted duct tape figurines), I was ready to make my first venture forth like the Voyageurs of old.

To acclimate myself to the feel of a kayak I took several intermediate steps of increasing difficulty before heading to the lake. First I sat in the kayak in the middle of my living room and practiced paddling. If you attempt this yourself I would make certain that you place the kayak several feet from the nearest window, lamp or knickknack. My insurance claim was rejected posthaste. My second step was filling my tub with water and trying to get the kayak into it. I was able to get the craft in the tub but was forced to do so with a sledgehammer. The cockpit was completely hidden after I secured the kayak between the shower walls so I just sat on it for good measure. I used a car jack, sledge, rope and cooking oil to get it out of the tub. Then it was off to the lake.

Transporting the kayak to the water from home was easily accomplished with the use of the rack I’d purchased and attached to my vehicle. This item can be assembled in only a few short days and the resulting medical bills may be defrayed by your auto insurance. It was to my surprise (and the surprise of the driver in the car tailgating me) when I found the kayak could not ride on the carrier without being strapped to it. The racks have proven to be quite durable with very little damage resulting from any of the times I had to gather the pieces off the road on the way to the lake. I believe, however, that a rubberized coating should be placed on the steel rods used in the manufacture of the rack. I’ve discovered quite by accident that when wielded as a weapon, these rods can really hurt when an ambitious tailgater takes exception to the way that your load is secured.

Once I arrived at the lake I discovered the value of a cockpit cover as mine had blown out the window on the way home from the store. Apparently it is to keep badgers out of the kayak for I had to coax one out from the cockpit after arriving at the lake. I discovered during that occurrence that badgers have sharp teeth, can run really fast, and could chase off a whole pride of lions from a kill.

As for a cover replacement, I can suggest a substitution that has proven effective in lieu of the one I purchased. I was able to rip the elastic cord out of the bottom of my floatation vest and stretch it around the cockpit overtop a seat cover I tore out of some stranger’s car. I will write an article on vest and seat cover repairs after I finish my next project—“Home Dental Repair Made Easy.”

Sneaking up on a kayak is a difficult thing. It can be circled, crawled to, peeked at and perused from any angle or direction and it still looks impossible to safely occupy. I will discuss each of my attempted entrances one by one. The first such attempt proved ill fated. With the kayak resting atop two inches of water (and a hidden 16” layer of muck) I tried to slog my way into the cockpit from the beach. After I was able to wrest my left shoe from the mud and my left foot from an irritated snapper, I limped to shore having lost only the one shoe, my glasses, car keys, cell phone and a bit of my left foot. My foot would heal and since I figured most of the rest of the day would be spent underwater anyway I didn’t mourn the loss of my spectacles overmuch. I considered other options.

I would discourage the headfirst method that I tried second. Going headfirst did provide me with the advantage of being able to see the aggressive reptile prior to its biting me. However, in retrospect, I think I would prefer my foot being chewed on rather than my face. My second headfirst attempt included an ingenious (I think) method of distracting the carnivorous reptile by jabbing at it with a stick before I leaped. Had I not gotten stuck in the mud again I probably would have been able to escape the hard-shelled animal with minimal bleeding.

After the failed headfirst attempts, I determined yet another tricky but theoretically possible way to inhabit the sea craft; the long jump method in which you vault from the beach, over the muck, and into the kayak in one acrobatic event. While theoretically possible there are several dynamics to consider. On my first attempt I pushed the kayak over the mud and out to sea but was unable to retreat up the lake’s bank quickly enough to allow for an adequate jump. This resulted in another assault by the snapper and my having to wait for a nearby boater to shove the kayak back my direction. My second attempt was much closer to successful. If it hadn’t been for my slipping on the hull and damaging my testicles I would be fully recovered already. The groin injury was only slight according to the attending surgeon and the cast can be removed once the bone chips mesh and set. I understand that the muck compact I inadvertently impacted tightly against my femur during the thrashing and flailing that followed may have actually done some good had not the crayfish been lodged there also.

A third method also proved unsuccessful. After carving two oval holes in the bottom of the kayak I was able to stand inside the craft, walk to the end of the dock, and jump in the water. While the craft proved no longer seaworthy (an oversight that I soon corrected with duct tape) I had managed to be in the cockpit of the craft while it actually touched the water. I was pretty pumped.

I finally managed to get the craft in the water with me inside it by using a few ingenious tools. A winch, pulley, and about 300 feet of steel cable provided all the means necessary for the successful craft launch. First I mounted the winch to the front of the dock. Then I detached it from the dock and put it on the shore. Finally I moved the winch to the front of the kayak. Next I placed the pulley on a neighbor’s dock some 100 feet down the shore. By stretching the cable from the winch and around the pulley I was actually able to sit in the kayak and crank that sucker out to sea. I should mention at this juncture that remembering your paddle prior to getting out to sea is key. Dog paddling is an inefficient method by which to ambulate a kayak especially when weighted down by the winch and cable.

Having now figured out how to get the kayak on the water, I was now ready to explore different methods of powering the craft. Paddling a kayak is a skill that can be perfected in only a few excursions according to the owner’s manual. I note that a “few” can be defined as any amount over two. While I am certain that paddling excellence is in my near future, for now I am typically content to get stuck in the mud, be pulled out to open water, get stuck in the mud, be pulled out to water, etc.

Once out in the water and in paddling territory I discovered several items that were unmentioned in the manual. The first of these was the import of knowing that the oars I received with my kayak were, in fact, one dismantled oar with two paddled ends. Before discovering this I went through the trouble of boring large holes through the side of the kayak for the oars to fit into. I then braced the openings with duct tape so that the shafts didn’t get unduly banged up during operation. After a few hours of going no where I mentioned to the several hundred onlookers that if they thought they knew of a better way to paddle the kayak around they were welcome to demonstrate this method to me. I’m not certain if they heard me or not over their riotous laughter. I did hear one clear voice mention to others something about a “crazy loon.” I have always loved loons; their beautiful early morning warble is breathtaking. Since I have never seen one live I waited quietly trying to pick up the bird’s song but was unable to.

Some other paddle pointers are as follows. The paddle can be very valuable in keeping off animals trying to attack your craft. But, the molded plastic ends that provide the rowing leverage cannot stand up to the bite of a bear. I would recommend paddling away from a bear rather than challenging it for the fish it has just captured in order to feed her offspring. The old axiom of never teasing a dog about its food dish can be literally transferred to any ursine mammal. This black bear apparently possessed no sense of humor.

It was shortly after this time that the duct tape on the bottom of the kayak began to leak. I asked for help but people were laughing at something so hard that they apparently did not hear me. I wish I knew what it was that they thought was so funny because I could have used a good laugh at the time.

The vest kept me afloat just as I was promised it would. The paddle also floated, as did the kayak. Some extremely helpful people, who were on the lake with me, assisted me by picking up all my stuff and placing it on the back of their pontoon boat I as swiftly paddled ashore with the bear in hot pursuit. The snapper tried to head me off at the dock—but for a dogpaddler I’m lightning quick. I proudly rested on the bank, truly content with the success of my adventure and with my ability to successfully avoid the foul tempered animals.

I enjoyed about thirty seconds of tranquility before the territorial badger attacked me from behind like the little coward he is. It was a bloody attack and it will suffice to say I cried like a woman. After the badger left me for dead I waited patiently for the boaters to bring back my kayak and gear, not moving a muscle out of sheer admiration for the badger’s temperament. After several hours of feigning death the sky began to blacken overhead. I set out on foot toward home sans my kayak and gear. Thankfully I still had my health.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fantasy Football Reflections: Volume 1

What size are the purple high heels Daunte Culpepper wears?

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Church of England

The stupidity of some church leaders these days makes me believe that the churches they lead are getting direction from someone other than the Big Guy upstairs. In a late example, the Church of England is pandering to Muslim murderers with the following request: Christians should apoligize for Iraq.

I have to wonder how hard the Church of England attempted to put an end to the torture and murder that was so common in Hussein's Iraq. Whatever attempts the church made there were no positive results as it took an invasion to free the people.

If there had been no invasion, who would the Bishops be lecturing today?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Preparing for a Michigan winter.

The title “woodsman” has been applied to me many times. I have been told by more than one scholarly person that I have “bar and chain oil in my blood.” I didn’t want to argue with them but it was my blood that had seeped into the bar and chain oil.

You see, I burn wood for heat in my home. It is an old farmhouse and does not have an alternative heat back up. Wood heat is very common in northern Michigan, so much so that on still, frosty mornings, the smell of wood smoke wafts faintly in the air. One of the benefits of wood heat, as it was explained to me before I bought the home, was the tremendous cost savings. A lot of people spent what they considered a fortune on alternate means of heat. Another benefit, I was told, was the gratification a person gets by harvesting his own fuel. I suppose now that people feel different levels of gratification for many different tasks.

I understand the hunting and gathering instinct that drives males. Being a male, I feel gratified after every late-night stumble into the kitchen lands me a Pop Tart. This hunting and gathering is in a man’s genes. But, my gratification gained by gathering wood that first winter was tempered by a sense of loss and discomfort. As an example, I felt very warm and comfortable and self-sufficient when I warmed myself in front of the vent, however, after I’d burnt the dining room chairs I felt the inconvenience of having to sit on the kitchen floor to eat. I was constantly debating the cost/benefit ratio as the winter embraced my home within its arms of bitter cold.

The ciphering I did after that first year of burning wood revealed to me that I spent about $14 on firewood that and most of that was for matches. So the fuel was cheap. At least it was cheap before replacement costs were calculated because it cost me over $22,000 to replace all my furniture, the furniture where I work, my cupboards and hardwood flooring. I know the church pew may have been taking it a bit too far, but it was the front one in the center section and nobody sits there anyway, and I couldn’t see a church trying to get their money back (Mennonites can be tough negotiators though.). I was wise enough to only burn the siding off the back of my house, thereby leaving the front portion of my home as stately as ever. I was somewhat steamed at the insurance company that refused to reimburse me for the siding that had burned—despite the fact that my policy clearly indicates that I am covered against fire loss. The case is on appeal.

But, that was last year, and with that first winter behind me I was much wiser as I once again laid out plans to harvest wood enough to last the next winter. But, I was not going to make the same mistakes a second time. When the snow melted in April, I went into the basement and grabbed my hatchet and headed outside in search of “real wood.” I walked just a short distance into my yard and noticed an enormous oak. I looked up at this majestic, stately tree that had without complaint offered shade and shelter to those that lived in the old farmhouse for many years. I felt huge admiration for the tree. This may have been a tree that served as venue to historic events. Perhaps a treaty was signed beneath its stalwart branches. Possibly this tree had shaded the horses of soldiers in one of the many wars that were fought on Michigan soil. I pondered this tree as having the branches over which vigilantes may have thrown their noosed ropes while meting out their swift, if not just, punishments. Finally, I thought of this tree and the fact that numerous children, scores, perhaps more, had climbed its branches, swung from it, played around it, and after reaching adulthood, without a doubt thought of it as an important piece of their childhood memories. But, since I grew up elsewhere, I pulled out my hatchet and started whacking away.

I had taken about 400 chops when I noticed that I wasn’t making a lot of headway. I had cut through the thick bark and had reached the wood itself, but with progress being that slow, it was going to take me forever to get that tree down. I wasn’t discouraged—in fact, quite the contrary. I simply had to put on my thinking cap and figure my way through it. Most inventions and innovations are the result of the type of deep thinking I was going to have to do. After much thought I discerned the basic problem with my tack was that the hatchet I was using wasn’t large enough to handle the job. What I needed were the proper tools.

With new found enthusiasm I headed to the grocery store to pick up the rest of the stuff that I needed. After circling the store several times I bought some pop tarts and decided that a hardware store would be more apt to carry the types of supplies I was seeking. In the hardware I purchased a hammer, a hacksaw, a chisel, a file, paint thinner, tin snips, a used bicycle (the store owner apparently giving me a good bargain because it only had one wheel) a roll of electrical tape, kneepads, and a pair of plastic flip/flops in a size eight. Excited about my ideas, and not wanting to waste any time while the creative juices flowed, I purchased items for plan one and plan two in this one fell swoop. It has been said that Thomas Edison would get so involved in his research and inventions that he would work around the clock completely oblivious to the passage of time. It has, similarly, been said about me that I would involve myself so completely in wasting time around the clock that anything I ever stumbled upon would remain unawares to people throughout the passage of all time. Having myself compared to Edison in such glowing terms is truly gratifying. Like Edison, I knew that once I became engrossed in my project it might be hours before I even thought about a need to eat, sleep or scratch and adjust, and I knew that having to go back to the store a second time would be crime to science and humanity.

At home again I was ready to get going. I took the snips and clipped off all of the spokes of the defective bicycle right at the axle. I then took my hatchet and busted the wheel rim all to pieces and cut off the tire so that I could get the pesky things off of the frame. I then stood the bicycle by leaning it against a tree. I took the hacksaw and cut the bike in twain, removing the front part of the frame just behind where the handle bar shaft meets the front struts. With the electrical tape I affixed the flip/flops to the pedals. I then took the file and filed the sprocket down to razor points. I was now ready to go. I took the bicycle and laid it on its side, took my shoes off and placed my feet inside the flip/flops and, lying on my side, I began peddling for all I was worth (about $1.94), and the sharpened sprocket tore into the wood. After about three and a half hours I could see that I was progressing more slowly than I had anticipated. A tree’s age can be measured by counting the rings in the wood from its outer wood to its core. At this point I was able to determine the oak’s age as greater than one.

I moved onto plan two shortly thereafter. I took the paint thinner and splashed it around the trunk of the tree about one foot from the ground. The three gallons I purchased seemed not enough to finish the job so I siphoned about 10 gallons off gas out of my neighbor’s truck and poured it on as well. Then I lit that baby up. It is remarkable how quickly a volunteer fire department can respond to a shrieking neighbor. The silly thing is, that the hullabaloo raised by him was totally unwarranted for, as far as I know, the neighbor had only modest possessions in the shed that burned down as a result of the explosion and fireball that followed the nearly successful plan two. Apparently my neighbor’s anger waned as after a while firefighters had to restrain him from approaching me to check on my condition. I indicated to him that the fire damaged neither my home nor me. I gave him a big grin and a thumb’s up. A tear entered my eye as with renewed vigor he attempted to break free of the firefighters to come see how I was doing.

After all the excitement had come to an end, I gathered up all the stuff I’d purchased from the hardware and took it back, 100% dissatisfied with the performance of the products and seeking a refund. Shortly thereafter I left the hardware wearing what was left of the defective cycle around my neck.

Since I was no longer allowed back in the hardware, I traveled 10 miles to another town to buy a chain saw. I also purchased all the tools and accessories that would typically accompany a chain saw and its master into timber country. Back at home I was ready to get started. I gassed and oiled the machine and pulled it several times before it fired to life. I carefully trudged outside with the running chainsaw in hand. I could tell by the quick work the saw made of the trim that surrounds my front door that this saw was the answer to my wood gathering needs.

I approached the smoking oak and stood before it with my saw, revving it up, readying it emotionally for the felling. I had witnessed my father cutting down trees several times. Never did he drop one on a house or car or person. I had watched him carefully enough that I felt there would be no problem in mirroring his success. The first thing that must be done is to take a pie shaped wafer from the tree. This wafer, when removed properly, will assure that the tree falls in the intended direction. I began working on the wafer. My father made his by cutting into the tree perhaps half way. I was certain that this was a mistake, as the tree would fall more quickly if you extended the cuts well over half way into the tree. I was about 90% through the tree with the bottom cut when I saw the error I had made. The tree’s weight shifted downward and began pinching the chainsaw making it impossible to cut through. The saw stalled and I kicked the tree.

After bandaging my foot, I limped back to the tree to investigate how I could best free the saw. The chain appeared to be pinched the entire length of the bar. I began by pulling on the thing. Then I pushed. I securely grabbed the saw by its handle, laid on my back and walked my feet up to the height of the saw and pulled straight back with my arms, legs, and back. After a visit to the chiropractor I stood and studied the fix I was in. Eureka! What I needed to do was pull the top of the tree toward the opposite side where I began my cut. That would relieve the pressure on the blade and I could slip it out. On second thought I decided that would never work.

I grabbed the hatchet and beat the bar until it was torn loose from the rest of the saw. After trying to return the saw to the store where I bought it, and failing, I had to travel to Alpena where, (hopefully) no one would have called ahead and warned of my approach. When I reached Alpena I tried to communicate with the store manager through a badly swollen and split upper lip, and a lower lip that more closely resembled a squished strawberry. It took the store’s idiot manager more than five minutes to finally understand that I was looking for a chainsaw refund.

After the store’s assistant manager was finally able to remove the store’s manager from atop of me, my nose now flattened, I traveled to Wal-Mart, to buy another chain saw and then headed back home. I did finally manage to get the tree down after another two hours of cutting here and there. Window replacement would only be a few hundred dollars so I was reasonably happy. Some of the smaller branches had actually broken off while crashing through the glass during the tree’s ill-fated descent and ended up inside my home on the bedroom floor. That was wood that literally gathered itself.

Having finally been able to harvest my first tree’s worth of wood, I struck off into the forest to find some more potential fuel providers. A little over the hill behind my house, I stumbled upon a tree that had been felled by a recent windstorm. This tree would be a snap to get cut up. I found it lying there on the ground—just inviting me to fillet it into burning length wood. (Fillet, that’s French, I think.) I got the first eight or ten pieces cut up until I reached a difficult part. I had to step either on a mound of moss or an unsteady piece of wood I’d already cut in order to set myself at the proper angle to cut the next piece of wood. My father would have chosen the moss but then my father would have been too conservative to even try the paint thinner thing too. I stepped on the wood and, the chainsaw howling, lowered the saw into the meat of the tree. Just about the time I’d gotten one quarter of the way through, the piece of wood I was standing on rolled away from me creating a terrible groin pull as well as a severe crotch tear in my $8.99 jeans. I could hear the rip all the way up my leg. Fortunately the jeans tore only half that far. I’d torn worse muscles than groins before so, after wrapping my belt around my leg for a tourniquet, (that may also be French) I proceeded on.

One would think that the difficulty surrounding a crotch tear the size of Connecticut would be its tendency to fill up with sawdust creating a terrible discomfort. Well, it was uncomfortable as most of the sawdust ended up in my shoe. Boy I hated that. I soon learned, however, that the sawdust problem was minor when compared to the abject pain associated with driving a sharply pointed stick right through the hole in my jeans, into my scrotum, and pinning my right testicle to my left butt cheek. I left the woods an inch at a time by dragging myself through the brush and onto the lawn, trying carefully not to jar the stick too much. All in all, my first wood cutting adventure hadn’t gone too badly. That night I ordered a fuel oil burner on line while standing in front of the computer. Of course, I will install that myself.