Saturday, August 19, 2017

From Here To Totality

Let the record show we were on to it first. First, I say, and everyone else should get in line. By "we," of course, I mean my friend Linda, who notified me well over two years ago that there was going to be a total eclipse of the sun right handy-by, and that she was going to come out and watch it with us.

Not a lot gets by Linda, so it's good to travel in her wake. If there is a beetle in the natural world with a roof rack, pop-out cabinets and a convertible dinette, Linda has already read about it. If there is a sea creature with expandable tentacles for parachute capability that lures minnows by secreting vanilla pudding out its blow-hole, Linda will find it and send me a link. Linda can detect minor asteroids with her aura.

So this eclipse has been on our calendar a long time. "Great!" I said. "We'll do a little hiking, cook up a few nice meals, and the morning of the eclipse we'll pop down south a ways and soak it right up. Totality is only forty minutes away." Plans were later refined to get a slight jump by going to our cabin the night before, from which Eastern Oregon, with its more reliable sunshine, is but an hour's drive. We'll wander out to Madras, lean up against the fender, and have us a time. This was Linda's eclipse as far as I was concerned.

And then this eclipse got internet all over it.

Suddenly we are on the cusp of All Hell, and it's fixin' to break loose. One million people are slated to travel to Oregon just to see this sucker. Off the coast, the Cascadia Subduction Zone, leery of being upstaged, is sensing an opportunity to drown 300,000 tourists all at once. Inland forests and grasslands are expected to burst into flame from sheer anxiety. We are solemnly informed that allowing five hours to drive fifty miles is far too optimistic, and that if we really want to be in the path of totality, we should leave just before dawn four days ago. We should pack a cooler of water and sandwiches and a Bug-Out Kit with supplies to last three weeks including green-bean bake, freeze-dried protein pucks, astronaut poop bags, prescription medicine for ailments we don't have yet but which run in the family, a Glock, and a selection of luncheon meats. We should run through the list of personal friends that own helicopters and favorite them in our phones.

Meanwhile, astrologers have been working overtime to produce Content. Because this, that, and the other thing were mysteriously lined up when Donald Trump was born, we are warned that degrees were activated and are likely to be reactivated during the eclipse. A careful study of nearby celestial bodies, some of which have malevolent intent, reveals that something perfectly awful involving the president might happen soon, so watch out.

[Forewarned is still forescrewed, though.]

People who can't even get their Chevy to pass a National Guard water truck naturally ascribe great power to the moon passing in front of the sun. One fellow has advertised for a woman to conceive a baby with during totality. Such a child would be born to two parents who believe the universe is playing billiards with its matter-bits and who possibly shouldn't be trusted with a ballot; but confidence can get you a long way. For instance, this guy is pretty dang sure he can hook up with a random ovulating stranger and get the job done in a couple minutes, and I think he can, too.

Linda and I and our buddies Max and Peter are going for it. We're all in. If you don't hear from me by Wednesday, send someone out to paw through the charred-out remains of a mid-size rental car near Madras. It might smell like green-bean bake.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

That Clears Things Up


From my correspondence file:

Thank you for contacting us!

Yepzon one,works only in 2G networks that can be connected with Windows Phone 8.1 + NFC -iOS 7.0 or newer +Bluetooth Smart T 4.0) - Android 4.3 or newer + Bluetooth Smart (BT 4.0) + NFC. You can use the device with Bluetooth. Yepzon One has no LED on this device. In Yepzon One has Surface mounted M2M SIM component (MFF2 size standard), not changeable by user.

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

Best regards,
Anmol


Dear Anmol,

(1) Huh?

(2) I have an old 10G flaxon with rotating wankle-satchels. Could that be reconfigured with 14-cubit spatchcocks where the hipbuttons normally insert, or would that cause undue asparagus? I guess I'm worried that the coating might peel off.

(3) Is Anmol your real name?

(4) The W-Series 9-inch springform with stud-mounted rocker arms will not spatulate with only the four-and-a-quarter inch bore unless the quench area is preheated, at least at sea level. Is there an update?

(5) I think I'm in love with that barista with all the consonants in his name, but he doesn't even know I exist.  Everyone says I have a pleasing personality and am fun to be around. I'm 3'7" and love walks on the beach. Should I wear a hat?

(6) I'm told that inefficiencies in oxidative phosphorylation due to leakage of protons across the mitochondrial membrane and slippage of the ATP synthase/proton pump can be mitigated by continuous applied pressure to the clutch and passenger's forearm at the same time, but what if he pulls away?

(7) Re: compatibility issues with 64-bit internal and unsigned applications, I did wipe the SSD by going to Disk Utilities and selecting 512 GB SSD but I still had to change the partition size. Should I try the kind that's quilted for extra softness?

(8) riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. True or false?

(9) Why does everybody mumble these days?


This post is dedicated to David Gerritsen, whose birthday is today, and who would understand ALL this.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Going Over To The Dockside

The Dockside Restaurant is a modest pile of old timber surrounded by shine and money, and there are cheeseburgers in it, really good ones, the kind that isn't presented on a ciabatta roll with large food groups you can't wrap your teeth around--no. A nice squishy bun and a modest squishy burger, served with a side of potato chips and an RC. And lord only knows why the owners haven't sold out their precious footage in prime territory yet, but a lot of people are glad they haven't. You see an outfit like this, squatting like a turd in a field of gazelles, and you just find yourself rooting for it.

So it was fitting to discover that the Dockside's main claim to fame is its association with Oregon's own Tonya Harding. Or, more specifically, Tonya Harding's trash, not to be redundant. We loved Tonya Harding around here. She was a scrappy, hard-working figure skater with thighs that could snap a logger in two, and then pull an Applebee's off its foundation. She could leap into the air, spin three times, and part out a Trans-Am before hitting the ice again. She had rigid yellow hair and high bangs with enough engineering and product to fend off a tornado. She learned to skate in the Lloyd Center shopping mall, between the Cinnabon and Forever 21. And she was ours, all ours.

Also, she was not Nancy Kerrigan, a lanky, toothy beauty, and Tonya's chief rival on the ice. Nancy Kerrigan's dad was a welder and her circumstances growing up probably weren't much different than Tonya's, but we figured we knew a princess when we saw one, and that made us root for Tonya that much more. Tonya was more sturdy than beautiful. She was our Dockside.

So what's the Dockside connection? When Nancy Kerrigan was whacked in the knee by a large unintelligent fellow, the whole world immediately suspected Tonya was behind it. Our Tonya! But we knew her. We didn't suspect--we knew for a fact she was behind it. All the perps rounded up were related to Tonya in some way but she herself was held legally blameless, for lack of evidence. No matter: we were her fans and we knew what she was capable of, and we had faith in her too, knowing someone in this crew was going to do something massively stupid at some point, and then they did. She and her friends were heading to the transfer station with bags of trash and got within a mile of it and spied the Dumpster behind the Dockside, and they pulled over and hurled their trash in there, saving themselves the dump fee.

When the owner of the Dockside took trash out the next day, she saw the freeloaders' offending bags, and did what anyone would do: checked inside for clues to the miscreants. And there was an envelope with handwritten instructions for where to find Nancy Kerrigan and when and where she trained and an "X" where the treasure was and maybe a little "Kilroy was here" drawing. In Tonya's handwriting.

That's our girl.

We didn't like her in spite of it. We liked her because of it.

Tonya was banned from figure skating and carried on in a state of disgrace we find comfortable and familiar, and her legend lives on, as well as her place in our hearts. It might seem odd to cheer on a dim criminal with no principle beyond expediency, but resentment of the beautiful Nancy Kerrigans of the world can take you a long way. We're not looking for perfection. We're offended by it. The elites make us feel bad.

So don't say we haven't seen this kind of thing before. Donald Trump is just Tonya Harding with a nice 14-million-dollar bump from Daddy. He's always going to have his fans.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When Juices Run Clear

Maybe you heard about our heat wave here in Portland. We were in for a good three days of temperatures in the mid-hundreds, followed by a cooling-off into the merely obnoxious nineties. The forecasters had this horror in their sights over a week ago and the local news was all over it, breathlessly spewing out strategies and warnings. The first and most important bit of advice was to begin panicking early so as to save time later. After that came earnest tips such as "try to stay cool" and "stay out of the heat" and "check on the elderly," many of whom were otherwise expected to sit and rotate quietly until they were evenly browned. In spite of this, no one has yet checked up on me, but one of the benefits of being elderly is that I grew up without air conditioning and I have skills.

The first day, it got up to 106, although on account of the breeze it only felt like 102, assuming you are in a quickie mart at the time, draped over the popsicle chest. Our house has so far remained in the eighties. We have our routines of opening up the place at night and exhausting the air with window fans, and shutting everything up and pulling the drapes in the morning. Tater, as a member in good standing of this household, has her routine too. First she goes to the hottest part of the house and sits in the sun, plugging herself in like a rechargeable battery. When she has accumulated the maximum survivable amount of thermal units, she wanders methodically through every other room in the house in order to radiate heatness into it, and ultimately beaches herself on the kitchen counter, where she puddles out to platter size and slowly turns into paste.

It takes a few days of this in a row to really get this place up to pork-roast temperature, but I remain on the alert for the smell of cracklin's, at which point I will find the nearest popsicle chest and make a nuisance of myself until I'm booted out. Then I guess I'll go to the basement. The basement is always the coolest part of the house. Science has shown this is because of the cooling effect of the spiders, all of whom are massively cool.

So, not so bad. At least, not as bad as the hottest day I ever experienced. It was July 1976, and it was 115 degrees in Salt Lake City. We were passing through on a bicycle trip. Fortunately, we were going downhill at the time, so it could have been worse--and it was, the next day, when it plummeted to 110 degrees and we decided to cross the Bonneville Salt Flats with a pint of water each, because our mothers were not there to stop us. Science has shown that the Salt Flats were formed over many years as dull-witted bicyclists passed through in a state in which they were no longer capable of perspiration, and had begun to flake out into a salty powder instead. This layer plinks off and settles to the ground, eventually forming a thick, flat surface. This does take a long time but there isn't a scientist in the world who will tell you that the salt flats were built in a day, and there's no shortage of dull-witted cyclists. Because of the complete lack of lumps in the landscape, scientists further surmise that deceased bicyclists turn entirely into salt and blow away.

Anyway, good news. After suggesting we might get as high as 113 degrees, the forecasters have revised the temperatures downward somewhat because British Columbia is on fire and a fortuitous wind has blown smoke in from the north. In similarly good news, I plan to stay warm this winter by slaying a cow and climbing inside its carcass.

We remain doughty and stout of heart. Thanks to all of you for your concern; we are especially grateful for the kind words of sympathy coming out of the Phoenix area ("Grow up, bitches").

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Doing It Right

Sometimes, on good days, Portland reminds me of Dresden, without all the bombed-outness. We visited a friend in Dresden some years ago, and even though significant portions of the city were war-damaged or soiled or missing altogether, there was still a sense that people had their priorities straight. You could tell right off that they were doing something right because they were energetic and healthy while carrying a beer in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. No one seemed either particularly prosperous or destitute. Our friend didn't have much money but neither did anyone else. There's a level of contentment to be had in modest means, shared. The roads were filled with pedestrians, or people walking their bicycles, which doubled as baby strollers. The middle of any street was packed with people, and behind them would be a humbled automobile with its gearshift set on "plod." One didn't get the sense that the driver was at all impatient, either. He understood where he belonged in the processional. The celebrants were all ahead of him and he just carried the train.

This is as it should be, people.

As the masses milled about the ancient city, its stone buildings stained by a few hundred years of coal, with bright flounces of graffiti at their hems, I felt I was looking at the past and the future at the same time. This poorer nation was demonstrating our future--if we do it right.

Portland is groaning under new wealth but still taking deliberate aim at a sensible future. Meet Sunday Parkways. Periodically, on summer Sundays, the city closes off a goodly loop of streets to auto traffic and the neighborhood blooms with bicyclists, enjoying life in a civilized setting. It's not at all enjoyable for people in cars trying to get somewhere in the vicinity, of course. But shoot: car-driving makes people crabby anyway. That's a known fact.

Our local loop was eight miles, give or take, and included three major parks, with musicians and entertainers in them, along with food booths and free stuff. I've been in many mass-bicycle events but this one was different; we poked along, coasting behind little boys on scooters, and tandems with freeloading toddlers, and life in general slowed down so much it was strokeable. Portland Opera was set up at the first park and we discovered that, whatever else we'd planned to do that day, we had plenty of time to sit in the grass and listen to a dozen arias.

The entire first half of the loop was downhill with a sturdy tailwind, so I was bracing for the return trip, but in FutureLand it's downhill both ways. So many neighbors had claimed the peaceful streets that it seemed impossible we wouldn't run into someone we knew. Dave ran into someone he didn't know, but neither of them got too badly banged up. His bike is fine too. You can't really mess up a 1965 orange Schwinn Varsity. That vintage hunk of lead is now a certified classic and earned many compliments from those not called upon to operate it.

I looked around at the liberated streets and the smiles of the children and I said, fuck it: I'm leaving my helmet at home. I never wore one till I was 35 or so and I've hated it ever since. I suppose I should have been a good influence on the children, but then I realized that now is as good a time as any for our young people to recognize I'm not their best role model.

Hiphop at Alberta Park, blues at Woodlawn; gentle breezes turned with us and remained at our backs; miracles abounded; and then we rode right past a particularly fine brewpub. Ha ha! Of course we didn't. If you don't sit on a bioswale with your bike against a tree on a Sunday Parkway enjoying a pint of Breakside IPA, you're not doing it right.

You get a city like this on purpose. You combobulate neighborhoods where almost anything you need or want is a walk or a bike-ride away, and then--well, that little girl with the butterfly wings and the pink helmet and training wheels? That's all the faster you need to go.

Now to shut down some of those streets for good.






Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Does This Extinction Event Make My Asteroid Look Big?

Everything has its own perspective. What's good for one might not be so great for another. For instance, Dave doesn't like it, but he has effortlessly maintained a five-star rating for years on Mosquito Yelp, so somebody's happy. And while most of us are not thrilled about deadly disease, somewhere to the north a population of suppressed viruses has long awaited a savior that will allow them to rise again, and now that our permafrost is melting, their day of redemption is at hand. Hallelujah! (Or holy crap, depending on your viewpoint.)

So I don't know if the viruses and the bacteria and the mosquitoes are going to inherit the earth, or whether they are suitably meek--I wouldn't have thought so--but somebody is going to, and it isn't going to be us. And that's because of us. We are the architects of the Sixth Extinction event and it's certainly looking like we're going to be among the missing. We've done it a number of ways. We've resurrected a fatal bolus of carbon from its burial grounds and sent it into the sky, and done it in a blink of time. We've scraped off our natural vegetation to grow monocrops, and sent the fertilizer required into the oceans, killing them piece by piece. We've overfished. And so on, and so forth.

Lots of folks don't really believe we could make that much difference, but that's false modesty. Lift up your heads and own it, humans! Together, we're as big and strong as a killer asteroid! Boo-yah!

Well, poop. We didn't evolve to consider long-term consequences. We're wired for the tiger and, at most, the next growing season. So instead of trembling in fear over the disaster we're creating, we're all worked up about the moles in our lawn, or the waitress who totally dissed us. We'll point at something shiny in the road and not recognize it's Godzilla's big toenail. What's that shadow?

And maybe some of the fun we've been having could have gone on for a while longer, if only there were a reasonable number of us to dilute the consequences of our shenanigans. But there's nothing reasonable about our numbers. We're seven or eight billion and headed straight up. We'll have to get those numbers down. Way, way down. And honey, that involves attrition. That involves death.

There are a lot of choices here. There's your starvation--that'll wipe out a bunch--there's your disease, your plagues, your genocides, your war. All of these will come to pass, especially since so many of us are going to be on the move. Also, there's birth control. Can't realistically count on anybody keeping it zipped but we could make reliable birth control free, and encourage or even require people to hold it down to one or (why not!) none. And of course there's abortion.

I've read the script, and at this point it is mandatory to assert that even though many people support the right to choose, nobody is pro-abortion. But it's not true. I, for instance, am all for it.

Yes, I said it: I am a big fan of abortion. I believe that at over seven billion and counting, we can no longer consider ourselves so very precious. I don't even think I'm precious. It would be better if we just quit getting knocked up (except maybe the once, if we absolutely must), but we do. There might be 16 billion of us before this century's out, all wanting a standard of comfort and convenience we never could afford. As a result we're about to go extinct and take most everything down with us. I'm pro-abortion because I'm pro-life. In fact, I'll double down. When I look at those in power who are so willing to burn the whole village down just to hunker in their spider-holes and fondle their money, I think in some cases abortion should be retroactive.

I know this upsets people. I can hear some of you clicking off, never to return. I'm sorry about that, because I love my audience, and small as it is, I don't want it any smaller. You all sustain me. And mostly I want to make you laugh, and maybe every now and then to make you ponder. As I'm typing this, I am only imagining the rejection; I can still forestall it; I can write about chickadees, and not post this at all.

That's the beauty of looking realistically into the future. You can see what your choices are, with your eyes wide open. I choose to post.

Today, August 2, 2017, the forecast for Portland, Oregon is 108 degrees F.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Not Pioneer Stock

There's more than one way of getting to the little lake we wanted to visit. We wanted to take the Pacific Crest Trail, famous for scenically containing Reese Witherspoon and her giant backpack in Wild. But the signage was unclear, and we accidentally took a parallel path. After a quarter mile, it dumped us onto a dirt road. In fact, we were on the famous Barlow Road, named after Famous Barlow, who did some honest work felling trees and widening deer trails to allow passage of a covered wagon, or a few hundred thousand, across a major volcano, and collecting a nice toll at a cinch point. Without a doubt, I presumed, this road would transition back into an attractive woodsy trail and meet up with our destination lake, which not only had a mountain view but was likely to harbor gray jays. We like birds that land on us. We'd brought an entire baggie of Cheerios just for them.

"Not to worry," I told Dave, consulting my mental map--old people still have those--"this will end up in the same place if we just keep on it." And so I fervently believed for about four miles. The road failed to adjourn to woodsiness and dust began associating with my pants. I was, in fact, dusty. Like the people on the Oregon Trail, I said to myself.

The Oregon Trail is local history and of much interest to those who trace their heritage to it, but I never got real interested. Seemed so bleak. All dust and slog and sizing up your companions as possible dinner material. You didn't even get to ride in the wagon much. You were too busy fixing your wheel or pushing your oxen out of a rut or dividing a potato nine ways. And you probably started out starving or you wouldn't have left in the first place.

Maybe most people looking for a home in America were driven as much by the need to escape something as the promise of a better future. My ancestors had hopes of finding a territory unscathed by religion, so they could put a bunch of theirs in it. You might be seasick in a tub of a boat or eating dust on the trail, but none of it was easy.

This Barlow Road was beginning to get on my nerves. There should have been a tie trail to the Pacific Crest at some point, but it kept not showing up. The dust made me want to push my bonnet back with a weary forearm and say Lawsa Mercy and Saints Alive. Then I got bit by a mosquito. I can go years between mosquito bites if I stick close to home. Then came the second mosquito. I can do math, and I was thinking geometric progression. What's the point of already being in Oregon if we have to be on the Oregon Trail again? The road veered away from the direction I'd imagined the lake was. A fly showed up with a vicious gleam in its compound eye. Dave was squinting at me like he was wondering how I'd go with potatoes. I began to doubt that we were going to find the lake. Maybe this road was going somewhere else.

Maybe Kansas.

But maybe that's not all bad, I thought, rationalizing another quarter mile. Some of the very nicest people I've ever known are from Kansas.

Oh wait. They're from Kansas. Which means they got the hell out.

We turned back. We saw a deer. We had a beer. Someday soon, folks are going to be on the move again, likely without electricity or reliable food sources. But no point going pioneer until we have to.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Powerless

I had just picked up the cat--you start with the top end and just keep picking her up until, eventually, her feet leave the floor--and strolled into the kitchen, when something went bing! My first thought was that I must have had a thought. I've watched the cartoons and bing! is just the sort of sound that a thought makes when it goes off. Then I realized the only thought I had had was "Man, this cat weighs a thousand pounds," and that didn't seem profound enough to have produced a sound effect.

"What was that?" Dave asked.

Oh, you heard it too?  "I don't know," I said, and then noticed our oven was blinking. PF. Power Failure.

This was disconcerting. I understand power failures. They happen during winter wind storms. Trees are thrashing about, howling noises build up tension, and then all the lights go out. It's mildly exciting, and we grope our way up to the tower to see if the whole neighborhood is out. The world is dark except for mosaic patches of lit-up blocks, which stand as a metaphor for life and luck and the futility of expecting justice in a dispassionate world. You get philosophical in the dark.

But this was weird. It was a sunny summer morning, nine a.m., and our oven was out. We checked the other clocks and they were out too. It was so sunny it was hard to tell if the lights worked, but they didn't. I shoveled the cat under one arm and went to the computer, which was lit up. But then it made a baleful burbly sound. I shut it down.

Huh. Well, no big deal, I supposed--until I saw the coffee pot. It was plugged into the wall, so I didn't have to worry about it getting away, but it wasn't going to make me any coffee. This was serious.

The computer uttered a musical bleat. Somewhere in the next room, a laptop concurred.

A chirp from a smoke detector on the top floor was followed by a consensus of chirps. The doorbell put in an opinion. A portable intercom interjected a beep, and the second oven weighed in.

All over the house, digital gossip prevailed. Beep. Boop. Ping! BLAT.

I was chilled. This felt uncomfortably like the technological equivalent of birds taking off in advance of an earthquake. What was going on? Were we in danger? Beep. Boop. Ping! BLAT.

I don't trust my devices on the best of days. I resent their superior intelligence. Clearly they knew what was going on, and I did not. They were communicating with each other. It was ominous. It smacked of...collusion. Oh shit! Of course!

It's the RUSSIANS!

I needed to think. First things first. If I were going to get to the bottom of this, I'd need coffee. I decanted the cat and walked around the corner to the coffee shop. They hadn't lost power at all. I got a latte and walked back home. Where everything was up and running again. Full power. Lights and everything. Like nothing had ever happened. How silly of me! The Russians aren't in a position to turn off my coffee-maker.

Da, whispered the microwave.




Saturday, July 22, 2017

...In Which I Introduce The Adjective "Penish"

So I was just taking a break from the annual shaping of my topiary boxwood salamander and I decided to go around the corner and buy some new shoes, and I found some, and put them up on the counter, and got my credit card out, and the nice lady said it sure was a nice day, and was I was doing anything special on such a nice day?

And I said no, I was just shaving my salamander.

And it got kind of quiet, giving me a chance to reflect that that might have sounded a little dirty.

And then she told me to go ahead and slide my chip into the bottom end.

.....

So I figured we were even.

The transaction went smoothly after that. She said she liked those shoes, because they were so comfortable, and I thought that was odd, because why would anyone buy uncomfortable shoes? Then I realized it was probably just one of those things people say, and I smiled and picked up my shoebox and turned to go.

"Have fun with those salamander whiskers," she said, and I'm all, whuh? Who thinks salamanders have whiskers? What are they teaching kids these days?

Honestly.

It's bad enough that I have a twenty-foot boxwood salamander right in the front yard and no one ever notices it. Admittedly, I have it facing away from both the sidewalk and the entrance path, because I have a thing for subtlety, but still. People's eyes skim right over it. I believe their brains register it as a low hedge. You know: a low hedge with four legs and visible parotoid glands. As if.

Slumpage
I get why people don't always pick up on the topiary frog in the back yard. Especially after that time I accidentally lopped off his right front leg, which took a while growing back, and after last winter, when a load of snow produced some slumpage on the right side. Sensitive people are naturally going to look away from frog slumpage.

But whiskers?

Then I had one of those moments of grace wherein it occurs to me that people aren't stupid or mean so much as they're underinformed, and then I took my moment of grace a notch higher and thought: what if some salamanders do have whiskers, and I'm being crabby for nothing? I visualized something on the order of the mustache on a catfish. Not hairs, per se, but little curb-feelers, perhaps something a blind cave salamander might make use of.

After all, there is a Tailed Frog right here in Oregon, and I didn't know that was a thing until a few weeks ago. He doesn't have a true tail, but he develops something that looks like a tail when his cloaca becomes genetically exuberant and swells up in a notably penish fashion. Nobody wants to call it the Penis Frog but that's essentially what he is. With his fancy dangling cloaca he can actually insert himself into the female frog and fertilize her eggs internally. Your average frog mates in a nice quiet pond where he can dribble sperm over her expelled eggs and everything works out, but tailed frogs like to be in rambunctious water. If they tried standard external fertilization, the eggs and sperm wouldn't see each other until they'd reached the Pacific Ocean and the whole enterprise would be even more of a miracle than it already is.

So. Salamander whiskers.

I looked it up.

No whiskers. There are lots of larval salamanders with frilly gills, but those are more muttonchops than mustache, and you certainly wouldn't want to shave them off. That would be cruel.

But it all goes to show there are all sorts of things in this world, and perhaps I should be less judgmental about my young friend, the shoe store lady. Perhaps I should go back and thank her for the shoes, which really are exceptionally comfortable. Right after I finish shaving my salamander, and drenching it in fish fertilizer.

I probably don't need to mention that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tiny Little Voices Going Beep Beep Beep

Whenever I hear it,  nyank nyank nyank, my world lights up just a little bit more, because I know there are nuthatches around. I adore nuthatches. If it weren't for all the other cute birds, they'd have the cute franchise sewn up. Red-breasted nuthatches aren't at all uncommon but it wasn't until a couple years ago that I saw or heard them with any regularity at my house. That first year I heard lots of them. We even hosted a couple in our birdhouse, when they aced out our chickadees Marge and Studley Windowson, who were still measuring for the piano when the nuthatches bombed in with first-and-last and the security deposit. It didn't work out well for the nuthatches, though. Their tenancy turned out to be a complete disaster and the Missus wasn't even speaking to her mate when she flew off for the last time. This year I haven't seen any nuthatches at all, here. I've assumed the whole place brings up bad memories for them, and I'm sad about that.

Interesting fact: Dave can't hear nuthatches. Whenever we're walking and I point them out, he looks baffled. Even when I imitate them and point in their direction he can't hear them, or me. Apparently they beep in a very narrow frequency range and he doesn't have the bandwidth for it. My voice is in the same range. A lot of the time he can't hear me either. Apparently.

On the other hand, I can't hear the dog that drives him nuts. Our neighbor has a dog that she lets out into the back yard to deliver updates to the neighborhood. Everything the dog has to say he says in the first five seconds, but he's real thorough, in case anyone passing through a half-hour later has missed the first bulletin. It's not really that I can't hear him as much as I tune him out. He has a low voice, like Dave, whom I also don't always hear. Apparently. Probably I don't hear the dog because I get a lot of sleep and I'm thinking about other things.

I'm sure this annoys Dave though. It's pretty annoying when something is driving you nuts but your partner is all "what-ever" and smiling like the freaking Buddha. It makes you feel small and petty. I'm not sure why the Buddha didn't get his ass handed to him more often than he did.

Some of the time the dog is barking, I'm thinking about something I'm writing, or want to write. Sometimes there's almost nothing going on in my head. Sometimes I'm thinking about how I feel pretty good, which means I might have ovarian cancer, which often presents with no symptoms. Sometimes I'm just thinking about how nice and quiet it is.

"Haven't heard the dog barking in a while," I might say, at the risk of irritating Dave, if in fact the dog had been barking up a storm and I hadn't noticed.

Dave's head pops up, ready to refute, and then his face relaxes. "I don't hear anything," he marvels.

Yay! The nuthatches must be back!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Me And My Big Tool

Everyone should have a hod carrier to call her very own. What is a hod carrier, you ask? Well, that's what Dave was one of. The way he explains it--and he's perfectly happy to explain it in the presence of bricklayers, who can be thick and scary--you have your bricklayers, and you have your hod carriers. And all your bricklayers do is lay bricks. Your hod carrier is the one that sets up the job, anticipates the needs, gathers the materials, makes the cuts, does the math, brings the rocket ship home, and makes everything work. So the hod carrier is the brain and heart of the operation, and the bricklayer is the meat.

The point is, hod carriers take care of all the little details in your life so that it runs smoothly and everything you need is ready at hand before you even know you need it. If your personal hod carrier is, like mine, particularly good, you can go through life assuming groceries magically appear in your refrigerator and toilets are always clean. The toilet paper replenishes itself, gas tanks are always topped off, the bird feeder is full, and the cat is never hungry.

Even now, after all these years, I have the sorry habit of thinking that if I have everything I need or want, it's just because that's the way life is. I don't always give proper credit. But I do know to come to Dave for special requests. I think of him more as a multi-use all-in-one tool, with nothing missing but the little toothpick.

There's the Extend-A-Dave, with which I retrieve objects from high shelves. It operates wirelessly, triggered by a pointing finger and pitiful whimper.  "Ennh ennh ennh," I say, and point, and the crackers float down to the counter level.

And then there's the Stompinator. The Stompinator has size thirteen shoes and it can compact an overflowing yard debris container into a solid wad a third the previous volume. Yesterday I chopped up a bristly conifer and jammed it in the container. A mass the size of an entire Christmas tree towered above the lip. The Stompinator wadded it up in a minute and pulled four extra conifers in on top of it. There's still room for your softer weeds.

So there you have it: the Stompinator and the Extend-A-Dave, all in one easy tool. But wait! There's more!

One time we spent an entire day yarding out hedges and vines and stickery bushes and shoving them into the pickup truck to take to the dump. Limbs were married together and thorny branches intertwined and the entire tangle of rejected vegetation howled with malice. It was a mess. Nothing, it would appear, would be pulled out easily. Because the situation was insufficiently dire, we also did this on a 95-degree day, which is known to be fatal to Pacific Northwesterners. Dave pulled the truck around to the spot we needed to disgorge our debris. "How are we ever going to get this all out," I whined, plucking impotently at a vine and shouldering my rake in despair, and Dave handed me the rope from the tarp and said "Well, just coil this up for now," and I did. I spent a half minute coiling the rope around my elbow and I stashed it in the cab and then I turned around and our truck was flat empty.

Dave had a plywood sheet in the bottom of the truck and strength not generally required of 21st-century men and he'd gotten himself in the back of the bed, lifted the plywood sheet up, and dumped the entire load in fifteen seconds. He busied himself for another minute sweeping the dust out, shut the tailgate, and climbed behind the wheel.

And that's why he's also called The Big Dump. Happy 34th anniversary, sugar plum, that's the story I plan to stick to.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dearly Beloved

I was minding my own business until the crows started up, and then I decided to mind theirs. You get a little group of crows all going off at once this time of year, and odds are pretty good that somebody's cat needs skedaddling. By the time I walked outside, the racket was tremendous. And there, in the sky, was a gyre of at least a hundred opinionated crows. It was something.

"What is that?" my neighbor said.

"I'm not sure. But it's something."

"It sure is," he said.

A dogwalker came down the alley and looked up. "Wow, that is really something," she said, confirming our guess. The crows went round and round and round. They were circling above Sumner Street, just to the north. My neighbor Gayle poked her head out of her door with a look of abject horror.

"What are they doing, Murr?" Gayle is terrified of birds. Even the tweety variety. It might have been an early Hitchcock exposure. This was more than she could tolerate. She knows I like birds and, like other people who know even less about them than I do, she considers me an expert.

"I don't know, Gayle. But isn't it something?" Everyone agreed that that was exactly what it was.

An August Crow
Thing is, I have acquired a bit of bird knowledge. I've done some readin', and some writin', and I've also done some simple observin', resulting in what I consider reliable enough lore, even if I've never read it anywhere. And what I know about our crows is they go downtown to roost in the evening most days of the year, and they get together in nice raucous packs to do it, but they don't do it during nesting season. They stick around and jam stuff in their kids' front ends to get them to shut up for a second. That's what's happening now. A little later, in August, the adults will molt and look like shit for a few weeks. Then when they're all snappy again they gather the kids and hit the roosting scene downtown. This is too early for that. I briefly considered the possibility that there was a dead cow on Sumner Street, but rejected it. Even though that would have been a Life Cow for my yard list.

I settled on the possibility that one of the crows got into a can of malt liquor and started feeling a lot better about her lot in life, and then someone else showed up. "Go ahead, Harriet," Millie would say, "one little sip isn't going to kill you. Let the men feed the kids for a minute." Millie always thought Harriet had kind of a stick up her ass, to tell you the truth.

Harriet beaks away at the can and starts to feel kind of good too. "I mean, it's brawwk brawwk brawwk all day long, am I right? And I told the little shit, pick up your own damn walnut. It's right there in front of you. Put it in your face." And Millie is all "You know it, girl," and then the whole block shows up, and everyone's going on and on about the entitlement kids seem to feel these days, and would the world come to an end if the girls just checked out for a little while? Fine and dandy to get all that help with building the nest but it wouldn't kill those eggless wonders to take over all the feeding for a lousy half hour.

And so on.

I mentioned my theory later to my friend Margie. "Crow funeral," she said briefly.

Oh. Well, crumb. Maybe so. Margie's husband had once plunked a crow with a BB gun and then their dog pulled the stuffing out of it in the street, and, she said, the crows showed up from miles around to circle and complain. And they didn't forget, either. They harassed him and the dog every time they came outside for years. Windshield wipers fell off their truck, roof shingles began appearing in their yard, their home insurance lapsed when the annual bill failed to appear, and their credit rating mysteriously tanked. Don't mess with crows.

I looked up "crow funeral" and it's a thing. Scientists decline to characterize the crows' behavior as "grieving," preferring to assume instead that the crows are merely assessing what could possibly have gone wrong with the deceased crow, so as to avoid a similar fate themselves.

Horse poop. Scientists are so afraid of anthropomorphizing that they refuse to entertain the most obvious hypothesis. And these suckers were not investigating an unexplained death. They're crows. If they were doing that, there'd have been a chalk line around the body, somebody would have a pipette and test tube, someone else would have conducted a test for lead, and the one that looks most like Peter Falk would say, "Excuse me, ma'am, I don't want to be a bother. Just one more thing..."

That's just a fact. Could have been any one of them. They all look like Peter Falk, in August.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Glabrous Tidings

When last seen...
I understand you can have your eyebrows dyed now, either to make them show up better or the opposite, depending on which affliction you imagine you're suffering from. I'd be willing to try it but my eyebrows entered the witness protection program years ago and I don't know where they are.

I know, I know. I whine about this too much, and nobody else cares about the availability of my eyebrows for viewing. I can already sense some of you delicately suggesting that I move on, that this particular ship is over the horizon, that there are other things to attend to here at the dock. Which causes me to doubt myself: am I that guy in Tiananmen Square, standing alone against the tanks of unsightliness? Or am I that ragged soul clutching a Confederate flag and pouting about heritage?

I will move on.

In general, hair grows at a rate of about a centimeter a month, or a bit more in the United States, where we round up to an inch. The way body hair works is it grows to a certain length according to its aspirations, and then it falls out and a whole new one pops up in its place. It can do this sort of thing over and over for years and years and then at a certain point the futility of the whole proposition becomes evident to the follicle, and that's that. The follicle has been stuck on the same career path and never getting ahead and never retiring its debts, and once the kids are gone it pulls the plug. In some dramatic cases, the entire scalp decides to start over, ditch the knick-knacks and move into something shiny and easier to clean.

The fur enterprise has been going on for a very long time. Even well before the rise of mammals proper, there were critters with hair. We know this because some was found in a fossil turd dating back to the Permian. This is the earliest indication yet that mammals, when they eventually arrived, were destined to be delicious. Most mammals nowadays have quite a thick pelt of fur, with a few exceptions that include pigs, elephants, and me.

I used to have more of a pelt. I distinctly remember appreciating my own arm hair, and being grateful that I'd taken after the arm-hair side of the family and not the bald-armed Norwegian side. But now I can hardly see my arm hairs. I used to think maybe the hairs on my body got farther apart as I grew up, but this can't account for the sparsity, because I never got all that big. So I guess they just fell out.

Now I have virtually no arm hair, or leg hair, and also one other place I recall having had a bit of a patch. That would be an area that hasn't been all that busy of late anyway. If there's not a lot of activity in your inbox and outbox, you can keep your desk pretty clean.

Another thing you can do with your eyebrows is pluck them, to remove eyebrow hairs where you don't want them. I'm going to get right on that as soon as I finish mowing the sidewalk.

In the meantime, I haven't given up on the prospect of rounding up my missing eyebrows. If I get one more chin hair, I'll have me a posse.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Thanks, Don and Roberta!

When I first came to Portland, the go-to hiking guides were written by Don and Roberta Lowe. There's always a nice picture in the back of the couple, clean-cut Don in his darkroom and smiling Roberta in a plaid pencil skirt and a sensible Pixie cut. As far as I know, no one else had decent trail guides to this area. They had the franchise. Nevertheless, I suspect they didn't get rich. People in the olden days accepted a reasonable remuneration for their efforts and weren't expecting the big score.

I used these guides to death. The glue on the spine didn't hold up in the rain, and the pages kept falling out, which was actually handy, because then you could take the individual pages in your pack and reintroduce them to the complete volume later, after your shower and beer. Eventually other people started doing the work of documenting trail conditions and directions and elevation gains, but I kept with Don and Roberta for a good long time, because I already had the guides, and the new people were asking serious money for their books, and after all the terrain didn't change that much, did it? I picked up a few new books but I haven't yet thrown out Don and Roberta's oeuvre, which now exists as piles of individual pages loose inside the covers.

Some of their instructions are antique at this point. "Be sure to fill your water bottle before you go," they warn, "because some water sources are not reliable through the season."

"Not reliable," meaning some of the trickles might dry up. Not: the water is loaded with Giardia and you'd best have four quarts loaded in your pack if you don't want God's Own Diarrhea for the next eight weeks.

Wasn't that many years ago that I had their hiking guide with me as I introduced my friend Linder to the wonders of pikas and ferns and alpine meadows, and we hesitated at one juncture, unsure of the correct path to take. I fished out the guide and quoted: "Veer left at the old hemlock stump."

At that intersection, everything visible was considerably past stumpage. Linder paused and framed her query in a calm tone.

"Murr, how old is that hiking guide?"

I consulted it. Well! Not old at all. Shoot! Look at that date. I was a young adult. Which could not possibly have been long ago. Nevertheless, I did the math.

"Um, forty years?"

Linder said nothing.

"Is that old?" I wondered. There was no answer.

Today I got out my Don and Roberta Lowe hiking guide to guess at how far Dave and I just hiked. We'd gone up to Salmon Butte, the site of a former lookout tower. The guide had a photo in it depicting the scene from the top: snow-covered peaks in the distance, a rocky prominence, and a two-lane road that is utterly not in existence at the moment. I had to do some more math to come up with the answer, because the current trailhead is a good mile and a half away from the Lowes' trailhead. That kind of thing is happening more and more up here on Mt. Hood, and basically we approve. Some of the trails were accessible from old logging roads, and now those roads are being decommissioned. They pull out the culverts and return the streams to their natural topography; they use earth-moving equipment to shove some hummocks and low spots in, hoping to discourage motorbikes. The first few years these trails look unreasonably wide, and then the alders and such start to fill in, and by about year five you can hardly tell there was a road there at all.

Possibly your quadriceps can tell. We're kind of tired. We had a twelve-mile hike with considerable elevation gain that used to be a nine-mile hike when the estimable Lowes hiked it. And that is just fine. That is quite within our capabilities. Spooky thing, though? This is such an amazing coincidence, and there's no explaining it: in the forty years since our hiking guide was published, we got forty years older.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Oh Vanity, Where Is Thy Sting?

There are two doors to our downstairs toilet--possibly a design flaw--and if I don't make a point of shutting them all the way, I can count on my cat Tater to bump open the first door with her nose, glance at me, execute a graceful arabesque, and then stroll out the second door, leaving me open to the breezes. Her motivations are selfless: she is giving me an opportunity to admire her.

Which is admirable in itself, inasmuch as a lot of folks believe she has let herself go. It's emotionally healthy. I could learn from her. But I haven't felt real admirable in a while, thanks to a brisk and efficient visit from menopause. What's that, junior? Oh menopause is just a little heads-up. It's the universe's way of saying brace yourself, sugar bun, there's a bunch of stuff coming up for you to worry about, but at least you don't have to worry about being pretty anymore. 

So I don't waste a ton of time worrying about my looks, but it does occur to me on a nightly basis that I'm going to look like shit, dead. Assuming I'll die in my sleep (in a way other people will refer to as "peaceful," not knowing the terrifying content of my last dream), I have a pretty good idea what my survivors are going to see. Because as I drift in and out of sleep, I have become aware that my face and body, in their most relaxed state, assume an arrangement best described as "puddling up." Sometimes when I roll over, I have to pick parts of myself up and rearrange them on the mattress so I don't get a crease. It ain't sexy.

"She looks so peaceful," they'll say. Then they'll give in to curiosity and lean in, squinting.

"What IS that?"

"Huh. Oh, that's her lips."

"No, that. Over on the side of the pillow."

"Yeah, that's her lips. See? They're sprawled out on the edge of her left cheek, there."

"Man! I thought that was an old taco or something. What're her lips doing so far away from the rest of her face?"

"Looking for the cool spot, maybe?"

"And shouldn't there be breasts of some sort?"

"Sure. See [pointing]--that's one right there, sort of wedged underneath the armpit. You can tell if you follow it out from the chest. The other one has to be around here somewhere too. Turn the light on."

"Got it! It's hanging off the edge of the mattress. We should put these back."

"How we gonna do that?"

"I dunno. Fold 'em on a 45 and roll 'em down the front like shirt-sleeves?"

"Sure. What's all the rest of this stuff? All along the sides?"

"Huh. Now that we got the light on it, it looks like it's just the rest of her skin. It done come unmoored, somehow. Like frosting that didn't set up."

"Right? Aww. She looks like a big flying squirrel."

"A-dorable! Well, we should probably call the coroner or something, see if they can get this all scooped up."

All right, y'all. First one on the scene, have fun, but I'd be much obliged if you could get me resheveled and spruced up proper for company. Take all the time you want. I'll leave a couple spatulas and some duct tape and putty on the nightstand, and there's beer in the fridge.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Homewreckers

Ensatina
There were seven of us altogether, picking a delicate path through the forest duff, lifting stones and peeking under logs. Maybe the passing hikers mentally supplied their own crime-scene tape or something, but nobody asked us what we were up to.

What we were up to was looking for amphibians. There's not a lot that can cheer me up as reliably as a good salamander, but I've gotten out of the habit of looking for them. I used to live back east, where every other rolled log would yield two or three glistening beauties, and when I moved out to this damp paradise I assumed I was entering salamander heaven, but I wasn't. Not only were they scarce, but the few that were here blended together in my mind.  No bright orange, no speckles, no red cheeks, no yellow dots to be found. Pacific Northwest salamanders run the gamut between dull brown and dull blotchy brown, and they're shy, too. I gave up even looking.

So when the local Audubon Society advertised a field trip for local amphibians, I signed up. Finally I'd be tagging along with an expert. It seemed challenging. The field guide likes to point out distinctions such as "third toe on hind foot slightly longer." I figured the best I could do was be in a position to admire our amphibians without exactly knowing what name they answer to. That's basically what I do with birds, actually.

Dunn's
And it was challenging. All seven of us looked under everything in sight and we came up with only six critters all day long, representing only three species. But instead of having to settle for a marginal level of competence, I discovered that I have those three species totally nailed now. We learned the Dunn's salamander has no lungs or gills and doesn't breed in the water, so he was going to be under a flat stone in the mossy damp above the stream but not close enough to be in danger of drowning. We found two, both so hard-won that I won't forget that the dingy mustard stripe on his back stopped short of the end of his tail, just as advertised. Dunn's, nailed. And we knew the baby Coastal Giant salamanders are under rocks in the stream and they do have gills, and after we'd Tupperwared a few of them we could definitely see their heads are squarer than other salamanders'. Larval Giants, nailed.  And there was a certain kind of barky, punky log that the Ensatinas favored: the little lovelies with the constrictions at the base of their tails and the orange armpits. Ensatinas, nailed. When you look for these guys this hard, you notice them hard too.

Larval Coastal Giant
So it hasn't been that long since I learned from my friend Mark Lynch that rock cairns are a scourge. I always liked them. It's fun to stack rocks into towers. Cairns frequently mark the trail on an otherwise featureless scree-filled expanse. Never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with them. One day we found a gorgeous cairn of perfectly graded stones in the middle of a stream. When we came back an hour later, it had been taken apart. I was appalled. Vandals! I couldn't imagine who would do that.

Mark explained that every stone used in a cairn is a stone displaced, a bit of habitat destroyed. And it's gotten so popular to stack stones that in many places the ground is completely cleared. Okay, I thought. I guess, I thought. Seemed a little fussy, though.

Not no more. Now I know that this stone is perfect for a Dunn's salamander and those in the stream are exactly right for Giants, and our instructor spent all day unsuccessfully looking for Torrent Salamanders under stones right at the edge of the stream, so I know what they like and need. They weren't just stones any longer. They were homes. So who are the vandals? The cairn builders. Not the cairn destroyers. How would you like it if a giant came and plucked your little home away to stack it on some others? Oh right--that pretty much describes Portland's hot real estate market. Which is leaving a lot of people homeless.

People who build cairns aren't trying to produce a homeless salamander population. They think they're doing something satisfying and artistic. We nudge the thermostat up a bit so we don't have to put on a sweater, and halfway across the world a coral reef bleaches out. We're not mean; we're oblivious.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Every House Has A Story

"Every home has a story," according to a local architectural firm. They specialize in maintaining integrity of historical houses and that's why they talk about a house's story so much.

Our house has three stories, if you don't count the basement. There's not much of historical value to it, even though it is quite old by Portland standards. Of course, Portland standards for antiquity are pretty pale. By the time anyone rolled off the Oregon Trail and fetched up at the confluence of a pair of major rivers, they were too busy knocking dust off themselves to build a house. There were people here long before the 1800s but they weren't white, and so they don't figure into history. We have a mere handful of white-people houses that were built here in the mid-1800s. Since every one of my great-grandparents was plenty alive at the time, it doesn't seem that long ago to me.

The original house
My sister Margaret bought a perfectly ordinary house in the Maine countryside that was at least 175 years old. Nothing much holding it up but spiderwebs and stubbornness. It's not a distinguished place. Like a lot of other Maine houses, it started small and then various crappy rooms were scabbed onto it over the years. You just keep stapling stuff together and throwing a roof over it until you can reach the shed without going out in the snow. It's got funk shui. But still, there's nothing in Portland that old.

You want old? You want stories? Our friend Linda lives in France in a beautiful stone rowhouse, and it dates back to the 1400s. One day her husband Tom was in the back garden observing the shared roofline and they couldn't figure out what was below one section of the roof that they knew had to be theirs. They ended up punching a hole in the wall and they found an entire room they didn't know they had. Might've been a safe house in World War II. In Portland your house doesn't have to be all that old to be historical. It just needs to be associated with someone who made it big in lumber, say, or moss futures, and maybe got his name put on a grade school.


Lots of houses here make the list that aren't even as old as my dad would be. And ours goes back to 1906. According to the official records, it was built in 1926, but that is not true. Mrs. Kraxberger said so.

Mrs. Kraxberger showed up one day with an Instamatic camera in the company of her bored great-nephew when it was his turn to ferry her around. She grew up in the place, she said. We ushered her inside. We'd been doing some renovation. Dave had recently attempted to find the studs in the kitchen walls, finally giving up in aggravation and ripping a gash all the way through with a circular saw or a chainsaw or possibly a small nuclear device. There was no rhyme or reason to the studs. Two would be twelve inches apart and the next one would be yards away. Windows were hung from the ceiling joists. Truly hung: no studs underneath. Dave had been yelling about it for weeks.

Mrs. Kraxberger was four-foot-nothing before she got osteoporosis, and she snapped a bony grip on our kitchen counter and peered up at Dave, who was trying his darnedest not to loom. "This room used to be the entire house," she croaked, speaking of the single-story kitchen everyone assumed had been an addition. "My father built it all by himself. And do you know," she went on, proud as anything, "he didn't know the first thing about construction?" She beamed. Dave nodded madly while trying not to let any words leak out.

So the kitchen had been the whole house, and Mrs. Kraxberger's parents lived in it, and the kids lived in a tent in the front yard. The larger portion was added a few years later, and the second story got dormers in 1926, which is when the city caught wind of things.

Recently I discovered the house addresses had undergone a change in 1929, and I found out what our address had been previously. A short internet search later turned up a Miss Jane Farrelly who lived in the house in 1919. Her sister had married a Kraxberger. Miss Jane Farrelly was a member of the Mazamas, a prominent hiking club here. You have to have climbed a major peak--Mt. Hood, or Mt. Adams, for instance, or Mt. St. Helens, which used to be majorer than it is now--to be a member.

Suddenly a light flickered onto a sepia-toned past, and Miss Jane Farrelly appeared before me, grinning and squinting into the sun, leaning on a wooden ice axe, all woolen knickers and sweater and lace-up boots and verve.  Miss Jane later moved to an army base in Alaska and died, never having married, in 1941. I like Miss Jane a lot. I have an old wooden ice axe I keep in the old part of the house in case her ghost shows up. Every house has a story, and ours has a good one, even if I have to make most of it up.