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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Sugar Snow

It is snowing today.
I realize being late January in Ohio, this is nothing new. Yet, there is something special about today’s snowfall.
For one, today is Saturday. There is absolutely no compelling reason to pile on layers of clothing only to venture forth into the Arctic wilderness of the drive to exhume the Jeep from its icy tomb.
Today, there is no need to fend off polar bears and wolves while vainly chipping at the ice on the windows. The melancholy tune of the heater fan and rumble of the exhaust will not be playing this morning.
Not today.
Upon gazing from our bedroom window this morning, I thought; “This is a perfect day to stay indoors and write.” And so I am.
This snow is not a Hallmark Channel Holiday movie light, fluffy, perfect snow.
No, this is what I refer to as “Sugar Snow”. It consists of a curtain of itsy-bitsy, teensy-weensy, tiny grains of snow which resemble granules of sugar. The primary problem with this type of snow is the tendency to go on and on, as well as pile up and up.
No, this is not Romantic Snow; soft white flakes alighting gently upon cheeks and eyelashes, sparkling like diamonds in my Lovely Bride’s hair.
Sugar snow is the continual, annoying, trickle of frozen water-crystals down the back of one’s neck while lost in a cold, dank labyrinth of never-ending caverns.
The comparison could be made that  Romantic Snow is similar to enjoying a spontaneous dance with the one you love beneath a mid-summer cloud burst. It is fun! It is exhilarating! It ends soon, and the Sun is out again. Bluebirds sing, flowers burst forth, and Life is good.
Sugar snow is comparable to trudging back to the clubhouse from the 14th tee in a cold, gray, monotonous drizzle. You are carrying your clubs because the battery in the golf cart pooped out. And your shoes don’t fit real well so now a blister is erupting on your heel All the while, your golf partner is nattering on and on without end about how the rain is great for the ground water levels. You wonder if his body would remain submerged in a water hazard with a full bag of clubs strapped to it.
THAT, my friend, is a Sugar Snow.
The city plows have been making a valiant effort to keep up with it. For the most part, they have done a commendable job. However it is one of Sugar Snow’s little quirks to not billow from the roadways. No, it prefers to lie there and morph into a greasy, tenacious goo. If you are not familiar with driving in Sugar Snow, an excellent simulation to enjoy follows.
First, turn on your garden hose. Even better, turn on your neighbor’s garden hose, and proceed to completely soak your street. If you can plug up the storm drains and achieve approximately a half inch of water, so much the better. If your neighbor complains, tell him you are conducting a scientific experiment. He should be honored you are using his water
Second, apply a copious layer of bearing grease to the treads of your tires. If you don’t have bearing grease, Vaseline or Crisco will suffice. Ask your neighbor if you can use some of his.
Third, get in your now greased up vehicle. You may wish to wipe your hands off, first. Failing to do so simply adds extra excitement. It is up to you.
Now, proceed from your drive into the now watery street. Accelerate to approximately 35 miles per hour. You say your wheels are spinning and slipping? Well, just mash in the gas more. There you go! See? Easy as pie.
Okay, now, slam on the brakes. Try to maneuver into your neighbor’s drive while frantically turning the steering wheel and the blasted car takes over with a mind of its own.
Brace for a crash. Watch out for the airbag.
There! Wasn’t that fun? What’s that? You need to return home for a change of clothing?
Such is a short journey to the corner store in Sugar Snow, even with four wheel drive. It gets you going, but does nothing to help stopping.
I have no idea how much snow is forecast from this storm. Nor do I really care.
It is late January, it is Saturday, it is snowing, and I am indoors. Excuse me; I think I hear my pillow calling my name.
Wake me up when it is March.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

January Sunrise

The other morning, I had some extra time on my hands. For whatever fortuitous reason, I had a full 15 minutes to squander on my way to the office.
Not wishing to waste them idling in line at a fast-food joint for fat, salt laden food I really didn’t need, I opted to take a more scenic route. Rather than turning right from the state route to another state route, I took the way less travelled, and turned left.
Pink, purple, and salmon tinged the ridges in Geauga County on the horizon. The newly fallen snow reflected back the most subtle of rose-colored hues as it exalted in the dawn of a new day. While down shifting the Jeep, I turned onto the park roadway.  No plows had disturbed the clean, white/rose surface of the road.
With the driver’s window partially open, the crisp winter air awakened my senses. There! A small herd of deer moving silently out of the wood line to browse in the first light of day stared while I motored past.  A coyote darted from the bridle path into the protection of the deeper woods.  The cries of blue jays mingled with the songs of wrens to proclaim the sunrise.
Intrigued, I watched as the trees, darkened and in shadow, became clad in the most delicate shade of gold, from the topmost branches  and down their trunks. The early morning, low-angle rays of light painted the eastern facing trees a brilliant color, while their westward sides were yet in darkness. While one could (and I did) draw any number of theological analogies to this, I assured myself the westward side of the tree would be in the light soon enough. A fact to which more theological analogies could be drawn; but I was too engrossed in merely enjoying the sunrise to ponder those.
The Jeep curled about, up and down hills, across streams, and through tall stands of Ponderosa pines. Past the frozen pond, and along the large meadow, we puttered. Finally, the roadway leading to the side road which eventually leads to near proximity of the airport and my office was before us.
To turn, or not to turn; that was the question. The siren song of my fishing rods and small tackle box called to me, singing of a certain little tributary to the Chagrin; a little tributary which probably held some lazy, hungry trout.
Alas, the light-hearted melody of the stream was overwhelmed by a louder, more powerful Wagnerian style opus extolling the virtues of work, receiving a paycheck, and keeping a roof over our heads. With a sigh of resignation, the Jeep and I made the turn.
We continued westward. As I drove past mega offices for a large insurance company, newer homes, and such; in my mind’s eye I saw the truck farms, orchards, and horse breeding facilities of my youth which once lined this curving roadway.
Glancing in the mirror, the sky to the east was now a cobalt blue, with the merest streaks of orange, pink and yellow.
It was going to be a good day; a very good day.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


I heard an interesting bit of news on the radio the other evening.
While mundanely making my way home in a post-work fog, the radio announcer stated Ohio Highway Patrol Troopers would soon be discarding their pens when issuing citations. As I mulled this over in my addled state, he then went on to say troopers would be issuing e-tickets.
With a swipe of the offender's drivers license in an electronic device, Johnny Law has only to tap-tap-tap on a key pad to complete a ticket.
Well...what about them apples?
Initially, I wondered how the citing officer can attest they are the one who actually wrote the ticket.
Sure, we now have “e-signatures”, yet my e-signature looks remarkably like every other time I type my name in the computer.
Of course, they could use the wonderful screen and stylus technique. Certainly, you have used this marvel of our time when signing for a purchase in a store, or the receipt of a delivery.
They are utterly amazing. These devices (at least the ones I have used) all posses the uncanny ability to transform anyone’s handwriting into a reasonable facsimile of a five year old dragging a stick through mud.
It is an ironic (no, diabolical) quirk of these little monstrosities when they sense one is actually attempting to write neatly, they render the result all the more indecipherable.
All that aside, my thoughts went next to the Court system. What if a local jurisdiction's Clerk's Office was not compatible with the Patrol's system? Would charges fail to be filed? Would defendants get off due to lack of prosecution?
Lingering for the briefest of time upon these legal matters, I soon thought of the most obvious fly in this seeming marvelous ointment.:
When was the last time you received a concisely worded, correctly punctuated, spelling-error-free text or e-mail? One with out abbreviations (r u busy, LOL, btw), the use of “...”, no run-on sentences, and no :) or :( characters. Yes, the same as me, I see.
Can you just imagine the citation of the future?
Jacl Smiith
124* Garfrnl Rosd
Cgattanpga TB
U r cuted 4 speddinf twwit 42mpb in a 53 zome.
U r 2b in Coyrt on Febbray 29, 2014
OR U cab pau fins of 250#

Sends chills down one's spine, doesn't it?

Yet, perhaps the most disturbing (to me, at least) is the ramifications of moving one step further along the road from writing.
Since the first human scratched the vague shape of a mastodon chasing his hunting buddies pell-mell through a primordial forest in the dust by a stream; we as a species have yearned to express ourselves.
The first crude strokes of Cuneiform having led to the various forms of language, alphabets, and script, resulted in a treasure trove of uniqueness

Have you ever wondered how various letters not only got their names, but also their sounds?
Nah, I didn't think so. Me neither.

Consider, though, why do we call an “e an “e”? Why not that “double curvy thing”?

And the sound of a long “e”. How did that come about? Did the first scribe to write the letter begin to giggle at its ludicrous appearance “Heee heee heee”? Did a young scribe-in-training just assume the older, wiser man was naming the letter?
From then on, it was known as “heee”, until the Angles and Saxons who resided in the area yet to be known as Cockney, got hold of it. With their aversion to the letter “h” (or “aitch”), they dropped the first letter.
Of course, this aberration of speech raised some eyebrows while conversing with the local Picts and Celts by saying “Eee” rather than “Heee”. But, being more numerous and louder talkers, the poor letter “Heee” is forever known as “Eee”.
Just think how poor our language would be without our curvy little pal.
What would elephants in cartoons exclaim when they see a mouse? Shouting “---K!!” just has no punch whatsoever.
What would people yell while riding on a roller coaster if they couldn't say “WHEEE!!”?
Know what- forget that one.
I have heard people on a roller coaster before. They say lots of things. “Wheee” is not usually in the Top Ten Words Yelled from a Roller Coaster.
If people have never written, think of the immeasurable wealth of literature, poetry, and comic books that would be lost.
Consider, for a moment, there would be no market for autographs. Anyone could squiggle any old thing on a piece of paper, and sell it as Abraham Lincoln's signature.
Can you imagine, while at a ball game, going up to Cal Ripken with your program, only to stare blankly at one another? He can't write, and you (having never written) wonder why you are extending a mustard smeared program to the Ironman of Baseball.
“When in the course of Human Events...” would be so much blank space on an old piece of parchment.
No Shakespeare, no Cicero, no Twain; on and on it would go. All lost simply due to not being able to write.
Imagine being stranded in the woods and not being able to write. Oh, I have heard the rationale a zillion times; “I have my (cellphone, tablet, i-phone, latest whiz-bang gizmo), I can just call for help.”
Sure you can.
Assuming you have a signal, the battery hasn't died, or you didn't drop the ridiculously fragile thing in a pile of goose down.
You spend three or four nights, teeth chattering from the cold, while you stare at strange glowing eyes in the darkness. Finally, just when you are about to abandon all hope, you are discovered by a hunter making his way to his tree stand. He is able to write out the word “HELP” in the snow. Soon, the thumping of rotors is heard as a rescue helicopter arrives.
As you are being trundled on your way to safety and cell-towers, you can not help but think:
“I would have been spared all this if only the Ohio Patrol had not given up pens!”

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Old School meets New Tech

Once again, Christmas has arrived, hung around, and moseyed on the way to next December. In its wake a trail of minimal destruction bobs gently along.
Regular readers may recall my mentioning a lack of technological adeptness.
My Jeep is low-tech; a cassette player in the dash is the apex of entertainment technology.
A little more than a year ago I got a smart phone. I choose the lowest-tech smart phone I could find. The only reason I got a smart phone is the absence of a not-so-smart phones.
We have satellite TV, with a DVR. I know how to turn the TV on, turn it off, change channels, raise and lower the volume. I even know how to press the “record” button.  Play and pause a live program? Record one thing and watch another? Find something I have recorded to view again? You have just sent me to the technological equivalent of the Okeefenokee Swamp. Without the benefit of a compass.
I can use a compass. One of the old, liquid filled orienteering compasses. The one which is hiding in my phone, however? Not so much. It is fun to play with, trying to get the needle to read 0.0 degrees North, 90 degrees East, all the way around back to North again.  I wouldn’t bet my life on the thing way back in the Alleghenies, though.
When the computer acts up, and I have exhausted my wealth of knowledge (and patience), I tend to lean toward the HIWAB repair technique. This consists of locating a rather large, leather-bound book. War and Peace does nicely. While grasping said book, smack the side of that tall, skinny thing attached to the screen a few times. Hence, the origin of the acronym; Hit It With A Book.
Should this fail to work, I then employ the fool-proof “the dog did it” defense. Works wonders! Just don’t tell my Lovely Bride.
I have a GPS which I program before taking a trip. I then take an old dog-eared road atlas with me as well.
I was dismayed when the 35mm film camera rode into the sunset on the back of a Conestoga wagon. I have to admit, LB’s state-of-the-art digital camera is pretty slick. I like being able to immediately see the photo, rather than waiting for the prints to come back to Wally World.
I suppose if I was born a hundred years ago, not only would I be really, really old, I would probably have been reluctant to send Ol’ Bess to the stable, and get a new fangled horse-less carriage.
I would have been the one saying this whole electricity thing would be a passing fad. I would have eschewed that Bell feller’s invention as just a rich-man’s toy.
I think you get the idea…
So, it was somewhat amusing to observe the irony of my Christmas.
Some may recall my lack of enthusiasm with today’s digital, electronic watches. Take a look at the column “Time” from November of 2013, for a refresher. I miss the old style “pull out the crown to set, and then forget” watches of my younger days.
I have several neat, cool, feature packed watches. One tracks my heart rate, calories I have burned, just about everything but my credit score. Another tells me the time in both digital and analog form. It lets me know the phase of the moon, in case I am too lazy to look skyward. It also lets me know the best days for hunting and fishing. It fails to take into consideration the fact my buddies and my Lovely Bride all agree my skills “stink”. I have others that blink, beep, (especially when I don’t want them to beep; such as in church, or serious business meetings), and so on. They all have instruction booklets that average 10,000 words in length. All these little booklets share a common bond; they are masters of escape and evasion.
Within 20 minutes of setting the manual down, they assume various forms of camouflage, such as a utility bill, a sheet of tablet paper, even the wood grain of the desktop. Surreptitiously, they sneak off to where ever the microwave manual, TV instructions, clock radio directions, and various other booklets have assembled.
Upon that semi-annual ritual of setting the clocks, I search high and low, hither and yon, far and wide; only to come up empty handed. This in turn forces me to access the internet and search under “How to set the time on a Fluglemeister all-season sport watch”
I gleefully click on link after link, only to realize half the population of Montana is trying to sell Fluglemeister watches!
Finally, upon clicking on an “instructional video”, I realize this was apparently filmed in a cave, with a single birthday candle for illumination. The narrator speaks marvelous Chaucerian English, with an Italian accent.
I collapse on the verge of tears. “Why can’t someone make an old-fashioned watch?” I wail…
I am a writer. By definition, I write, with a writing instrument and paper. My preference is the tried and true, expressive, imminently fulfilling, fountain pen.
I don’t have anything against ballpoints. I don’t have a grudge against roller-ball or felt-tip pens. I just like fountain pens.
I learned cursive writing (or hieroglyphics, according to LB) with a fountain pen. I remember my first pen well
It was a student pen made by Schaeffer. It had a green body (selected because I am Irish) with a silver cap. One unscrewed the writing end or “nib” and dropped an ink cartridge-kerplunk-in the barrel. One then screwed the nib back in place, and commenced to write.
The old Schaeffer student pens were a marvel unto themselves. Not only could they leave gracefully formed letters upon the old, stiff, off-white school paper (the stuff still had chips of wood in it!), they also had a peculiar ability to leak when least expected.
More than one shirt and pair of pants were ruined by the pen’s capricious desire to leave miniature blue-black renditions of Rorschach’s inkblots on shirt pockets, pant legs, even the unwary necktie.
Ahhh… all the fond memories of one’s thumb, index, and middle fingers being permanently stained by ink.  Just the faintest of smudges resides upon one’s left hand and wrist; the result of placing them upon a too recently written line.
Such simple, enjoyable pleasures, a distant memory.  
Now, alas, my writing is mostly produced while tapping at a key board while staring at a computer screen. There is little room for expression, no sweeping lines or flowing sentences. Cold, sterile, impersonal electronic blips on a faux page of white…. How dull….
Then, along comes Christmas, and both these conundrums are unwittingly addressed by generous family and friends.
A package arrived from our son and daughter-in-law in Florida.
I set it upon the kitchen table. LB and I looked at it wonderingly.
With a snap, I had my pocket knife out, and began working at the packing tape.  Inside were two smaller packages, one marked “Dad”, the other “Mom”.
I tore at the paper, to reveal a box emblazoned “Wenger”. I carefully opened the lid to find a Swiss Military watch!  I opened the little booklet, searching for the section about setting the instrument. The booklet said….oh glory…. It said “Grasp the crown, and gently pull out two clicks. Rotate the crown until the hands show the desired time. Gently press the crown in until it clicks.”
A watch I can set without the aid of a NASA engineer!
A few days later, my best buddy, Jim O. handed me a box, claiming it had fallen off a UPS truck.  I was puzzled by a return address I didn’t recognize.
Again, trusty knife in hand, I opened the box. Nestled within was a Dragon 12 speech-to-text system! Now, I can simply speak into the headset, and the words appear on the screen!
What a wonder!
At this time, I am still learning how to tame the Dragon. A clean-up of extraneous files had to be performed on the trusty old laptop. I have Dragon loaded up. Now, I just have to get the hang of it. I assure you, though; you will be reading speech to text columns in the near future.
All in all, it was quite juxtaposition; an updated old-school watch, plus a cutting edge writing tool.
And…no ink stains on my shirt.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Todd Hill

The other evening, our children and grand-children were making plans to go sledding today.
Our daughter and her family are in town from Fairfax, Virginia for New Year’s (and a belated Hopkins Family Christmas),  we have about five or so inches of snow, and the Southern contingent of grand-children don’t have all that many opportunities to go sledding.
I asked our eldest Grandson, in a joking manner, if they were going to attempt Todd Hill.
I was shocked by his response: “The City has closed down Todd Hill, a few years ago.”
Todd Hill… Closed?! I was incredulous, stunned beyond intelligent reply. Allow me to give you some background….
TODD HILL! The very words strike terror in the hearts of strong people.  TODD HILL!! That giver of concussions, broken bones, and missing teeth! What initially appears as a fun-filled sled ride down a modest slope rapidly becomes a terrifying trip from Hades! Suddenly, the sled is plummeting down what seems to be a sheer 87 degree precipice! An ice covered 87 degree cliff face! The sled hurtles toward the bowels of the Earth…faster, faster….completely out of control!! The rider sits in paralyzed fear, eyes riveted upon the rapidly approaching ground.  The wind screams past the rider’s ears, their eyes are glazed by ice.  A steely grimace stretches their face in a macabre grin.
Then, as if guided by the hand of God, the nose of the sled tilts skyward. With a stomach twisting lurch, sled and rider are now airborne.  Grasping the sled in a white knuckled frenzy, the rider howls like a banshee hopped up on gas-station Cappuccinos. After logging more air time than the Wright brothers first flight, rider and sled slam upon the snow and ice covered slope. The incline is beginning to level; only the partially frozen river looms before them.
THE RIVER!  A dark, roaring gash upon the field of white waits. Assuming one survives the 20 foot drop from the embankment, the waters await, singing their icy death song! Swept away, beyond the desperate reach of frantic rescuers, they are carried. Under the highway, beneath the railroad trestle (from which a coal train once derailed), the water propels them.  Encased in their soon to be icy coffin, the hapless sledder gazes uncomprehendingly as they pass the ball fields, the rapids where fishermen ply the water for salmon and steelhead trout. They bob past the marinas, to be carried out…out… far out into an icy Lake Erie, not to be seen until Spring when their stiff, waterlogged, horrifying body is discovered upon a cold, windswept,  gravelly beach somewhere in Pennsylvania. 
The State Trooper and the County Medical Examiner poke, and pull, and turn the body while seagulls expectantly wait a polite distance away. Finally the ME stands and removes the smoldering cigar from her lips. Looking through the veil of acrid smoke which protects against any olfactory assault, she says “Yep Tom. Looks like Todd Hill claimed another one. Poor bugger…never should have tried it.”  The trooper nods his head, signaling for the waiting mortuary crew to relieve the beach of this bit of unwanted flotsam.
Yes, such is the legend of Todd Hill.
Located behind the City Hall of a neighboring town, it once provided countless hours of panic filled amusement for generations of daring souls. In my own experiences with Todd Hill, I can recall staying on the sled all the way to the end only one time.
If the launching and subsequent landing failed to unseat a sledder, they were just as likely to collide with another participant barreling down the icy slope at land speed record velocities. More than once, my Lovely Bride and I have witnessed the grinding, sliding, out-of-control mix-up of sleds and riders. Much like spectators at Daytona or Talladega, you know The Big One is going to happen; you just don’t know to whom or when it will happen.
Todd Hill also provided the local Fire Department more than ample opportunity to practice their winter response techniques. With a once daily, or more often, regularity, one would see the ambulance and rescue pickup truck pull behind City Hall.
Firefighters and EMTs would scramble out; lugging their bundles of ropes, pulleys, carabineers, rescue sled and such. They would carefully slip/slide down the slope to the unfortunate lying in the snow. Would this be a concussion? A compound fracture of the tibia awaiting tending? Perhaps, the treatment of (and searching for) several missing teeth was on today’s agenda.
The crowd would be gathered at the summit of the slope, observing the rescue. As in any group of on-lookers, some wise guy would crack a few inappropriate jokes to break the tension. Following a jab or three in the ribs, plus The Look from LB, I would cease my attempts at alleviating the stress.
Then, as the victim and first responders began to make their way up the unforgiving hill, the crowd would burst into applause and cheers. Another notch was carved into the legend of Todd Hill.
I suppose the dawning of a new safety consciousness  along with a new millennium, the increasing litigious propensity of society, and the expenditure of funds and manpower for the Fire Department responding to injuries, all worked in consort to bring about the closing of Todd Hill.
An era has closed for winter sports enthusiasts. There will never be the like of Todd Hill again.
So, today, we will trundle off to our nearby Metropark to enjoy the rather modest sledding hill.
There are no stomach lurching launches, no spine compressing landings, or death defying approaches to the Chagrin River. Perhaps, for old-time’s sake, we may be able to take out a winter hiker as they attempt to dart across the bottom of the hill.
But…. It just isn’t the same.