Monday, October 25, 2010

A Fall Day Afield

Seems like my recent postings here could be called, "Reflections of a mature gentleman", subtitled, "musings of an old guy". Well, let's suffer through this one more time.

Yesterday I climbed on my four-wheeler and went for foray out over the countryside hereabouts. Now, to do this you must be familiar with the land, where the old logging roads wind through the timber, where the wire gaps are in the fences, and where the old home places are hidden in overgrown pastures.

I had my camera with me and decided to take some photos of the old wrecks of houses and barns, the collapsed cabins that have settled to earth in a grove of trees, the faint marks of humanity on the land. Then it hit me: All these structures were standing when I was young.

The old relic of a house was inhabited then, a family tending the fields in the creek bottom. This pile of boards and logs was a place, though abandoned then, had the traces of children in the upstairs bedroom where I sifted among their scant leavings. I realized out there yesterday that I have experienced a broad span of years in the surrounding land. Let's just say that yesterday I felt experienced.

Twas a beautiful fall day and I gloried in it, accepting my continually broadening span of years as something more than simply a relentless aging. History resides in me. I know these things personally. They don't come from old books. In fact, in a certain way I wish I was older.

I wish I was personally acquainted with the folks that lived in that sunken house. I would like to see their faces in my mind, perhaps have attended a spare one-room school with their rambunctious offspring.

Then, I would have even more to muse about on a clear fall day in the Ozarks.

The Hired Man at Rock Eddy Bluff Farm

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Electronic connections between people

Every once in a while the depth of changes that have occurred in recent years really smacks me along the side of the head. The internet and electronic instruments have certainly changed the world -- even how we think. Further, they have drastically changed relationships between members of our species (humans).

I was reminded of this only this morning after receiving an email from our friend, Marta Fuster Roca. Marta lives in the southern Mexico town of Oaxaca. But, we did not meet her there. We met her while strolling around Pompeii (the ancient Roman town that was covered by the volcano, Vesuvius). During our afternoon together we found we had much in common. Later, we exchanged addresses and went our separate ways; we back to Rome and she continued on to Florence.

With my trusty pocket camera I took a photo of Marta. With the help of my computer I later sent the picture to her in Mexico. But astoundingly, I could also send that photo anywhere in the world instantly.

I will admit that perhaps I am so astonished by all this because The Hired Man has become a little 'long of tooth', meaning I am now an older fellow. Heck, I can remember the use of old crank telephones. There, instead of a phone number or an email address, folks were identified as "two longs and a short."

These days, folks who want to know about Rock Eddy Bluff Farm, simply go to If they would like to book a vacation or getaway here, they can check availability and reserve right on line. The system then sends them a confirmation with lots of information, including driving directions. Then, it also informs us so we can prepare for their visit. All of this takes place in the cloud; we can access any of it from any computer anywhere.

Well, Marta's missive this morning was to show us a Chinese version of Swan Lake. It is beautiful and quite different from what you might expect. (Oh yes, it is a video. It shows people moving!)

Thanks Marta!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Toad Stranglers

I don't want to start an argument, but is sure does seem to me that the weather is changing. Toad stranglers present an excellent example. For the uninitiated, a toad strangler is a very heavy rain. That is a rain that could drown little garden toads and make most amphibians fear for their lives. We are having lots of them now. We're talking a pouring rain. Or, in the words of hill folk hereabouts, "It rained like a cow pissin' on a flat rock."

Road are washed out, swollen creeks tumble across low water bridges. "Thunder Storms" the weatherman calls them, but thunder seems to be the least of it. Deluges of water and heavy winds cause the damage. One of those lil thunderstorms visited us a couple of weeks ago. So far we have spent one day with the chain saw cutting out the road to the river. Trees were twisted down in several spots. Then there was at least two days of work clearing a tangled mess of trees that partially rested on the garage. There will be no shortage of firewood this fall from trees knocked over out in the timber. But, cleaning those up will have to wait....wait until we have the time and the temperature cools a little.

Now, consider what all this rain has done to farmers (mostly cattle farms in our area). Here it is late July and the folks in the valley across the river from Rock Eddy Bluff are just now getting their hay baled. That is at least a month later than usual and a month and a half later than needed for good quality hay. The problem, of course, is that farmers won't cut the hay if it looks like it could rain on it. Our next job will be hooking the blade to the tractor and working on the roads here. Water has put some ditches where they shouldn't be in our lane and up the track to the bluff house. Oh, I have tried to divert the storm water with those little "hoopdedoos" or "dead men" as they are often called. You know, those things that give you a jostle when you drive over them. But, these toad stranglers often overwhelm them.

All this sounds like a lot of whining and complaining, I know. But, just a few years ago we didn't have anything like this weather. On the news last night we heard that Chicago got a deluge of seven or eight inches that is causing all kinds of grief. The weatherman says that the weather here is sorta indefinite in the next few days but has advised all toads to seek higher ground.

Now it seems to me that folks who hold with the global climate change scenario have warned of this kind of stuff for some time. I know there are lots of folks sniping and arguing with one another about that. But, I suspect that down here in hill country you'll find most folks believing that "things is different now."

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pursuing Prairie

It is cold, raw outside and the wind is coming off the prairie at 20 - 30 knots, whistling into the small town where we are parked with our camper. It is a dark, raw day, so we keep mostly inside except to walk our dog PeeVee. For the last few days we have been in pursuit of prairie.

I don't understand it myself, but there is
something about prairie the seems to draw me, to stir my imagination. I suspect it has something to do with orderliness; coming away from the country of precise rows of crops and the almost manicured appearance of improved, permanent pastures. Here in the prairie there is none of that, just miles of rolling green grass stretching to the horizon. There are trees, yes, but they are mostly confined to the draws where small creeks and rivers support massive cottonwoods.

We started in Missouri a few days ago and made a brisk march to one of our favorite spots in the state, Prairie State Park, located nearly astride the Kansas line. There, a herd of some 150 buffalo roam a space of roughly 4,000 acres. There is a space for dry camping in a grove of tree surrounding a small creek. There are few people, little regimentation as is normal in state parks. I am free to be in the prairie -- to imagine I am on the way west in the sea of prairie. Or, perhaps I might just want to find a spot on a knoll and become "Pa", resting from building a soddy for Ma, Mary and Laura.

Presently we reside smack in the middle of the Kansas Flint Hills, a geological formation that runs the north/south length of the state. Prairie exists here because of the thin soils that reject plowing. The result is a carpet of native blue stem prairie grass sweeping over the rolling countryside, that provides perhaps the best cattle grazing in the nation.

We have days ahead for prairie, so to spend today in what the missus calls a "jammy day" is not an extravagance. And, I have time today to muse about prairie. Friends will likely find us here in the next day or two and we'll add some "catching up" to our prairie experience.

Tomorrow's to be a bright day and we intend to use it.

From Cottonwood Falls, Kansas, the Hired Man and Missus

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blues Men at Line Camp Cabin in the woods

It was kinda odd. In our Line Camp Cabin last week there were two parties, both with fellas who play in Blues bands. Now, you have to know that the cabin is "off the grid", meaning that when you stay there you give up at least eighty years, and you are secluded in the trees on the slope of a ridge not far from the river. You pump your water, you light the lamps at night, and there is a worn pathway to the little house in back. In modern terms, the place is "green."

Now, I am not saying that playing the blues might bring one to a need to retire to the woods and shed the skin of city life for a while. But, it could be! What might also be the case, is that those intercity folks may be more receptive to going green-- to returning to the old ways -- just for a time to see how it might be. Perhaps they are a little more adventurous.

Whatever the case, both of these guys and their women have been to Line Camp Cabin repeatedly. And, in one case they reserved a year from now. We can hardly hope that we will hear those blues riffs coming from around the campfire at the cabin then. I suspect during their time here they would much rather hear the birds outside in the day and the coyotes and owls at night.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Afterglow

Recently I wrote using the metaphor of estrus for the world of springtime flora here in the Ozark hills. (OK, estrus is commonly referred to as "heat" in animals, as in "my dog is in heat.") I thought the metaphor was apt, so I will continue it. Children cover your ears.

The stage we are now in I could describe as post-coital. Pollen has covered roofs, cars, decks and the interior of lungs for a couple of weeks now. The oak trees are spent. Catkins (see photo) litter the ground and clog gutters. They are everywhere, but then we are in the woods and have been surrounded by this sexual frenzy.

For the oak trees - the most dominant species here - I suspect the fun is complete and they are now to get down to the business of growing and photosynthesis. Perhaps it is the afterglow and time for a cigarette.

The transformation of the hills is nearly complete. Dull brown is changed to a brilliant green. This never fails to impresses me. Each year the surroundings here overlooking the valley and the hills are altered so dramatically. Our world is new.

An in hills turkey gobblers are strutting for the hens. Birds are nesting. Turtles are on the move. Maybe the fish are biting. It is a regular circus. Come see it.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Spring souvenirs

Back home in Missouri now, I was inspired this morning to photograph a few of the flowering trees and plants surrounding our home. And, as I was doing this, two thoughts occurred to me.

First, it occurs to me that many of these plants are souvenirs, reminders of pleasant places we have visited, or pieces of flora taken from treasured local spots that seem to inspire us each time we visit.

For example: the golden daffodils are certain to have come from one of two abandoned farms we have visited each spring for years. It may have been the old "Doyel Place" that sits high on a timbered hill overlooking a cedar-strewn creek bottom. Or, those particular flowers could have been removed from clumps growing at the old "Algerine Place" that sits behind the decaying school house up on what was known as "Clifty Dale Road."

The Japanese Quince almost certainly came from a broad thicket of it on the hill where is has become nearly out of control since folks last lived in the cabin, now a pile of rubble. And most assuredly, those folks got their start of that plant from another site, perhaps a neighbor's garden. No one paid money to Walmart or Lowes for those daffodil bulbs that now stream in clumps down the hill and into the timber. Dug-up starts of quince were once carried in pails to a new home site where they now flourish, abandoned.

And the tulips that are just too red - they are remnants of a wonderful European trip years ago. These are products of Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. Our visit to the gardens was wonderful, but the sight of these tulips brings memories of the complete trip - Amsterdam, Edam, the North Sea, and England, Scotland, and Wales. I guess that is what souvenirs should do, bring back vivid memories of travel.

My second thought this morning is sexual, I'm afraid (well sorta). Notice the red bud and service berry blooms above. Spring is much like estrus in the world of flora. The world is flowering, open, receptive, primal. In the world of animals, especially domestic animals, estrus occurs many times in a year. In the world of plants, it happens generally only once per year, spring. At any rate, perhaps while in the outdoors in spring, aside from the feeling of newness and awe, we should perhaps also turn our heads and blush.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Even Cowboys Get the Blues

It is a little-known fact, but even innkeepers need to go on vacation. (And, as with other things, more is better). We missed the Missouri Innkeeper's Conference because we were intent on beating the rotten weather. We are now in the California desert enjoying the fruits of our endeavor: temperatures in the 80's during the day, falling to the 50's at night. Of course we beat the chill at night by cliimbing into the hot mineral pools. Life is so hard here...

This winter we are traveling in the RV mode. The photo shows how our camper is set up at our present location near the Salton Sea. We have most of our solar panels tilted, giving us plenty of electricity during the day and quite a bit after dark. Note the TV satillite stuck on the side. This gives us TV when we want. Through the use of an AT&T aircard we are hooked to the internet. We have our cell phone for communication. (All calls come to our cell phone as we no longer have a land line, even at home.)

Our first guests of the spring come on March 24, so we will be back in the Ozark hills at least a few days ahead of that. Meanwhile, enjoy your weather.

The Hired Man and Missus

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Slabs: A Mecca for RV boondockers

The saga continues.

We had to come here, the Hired Man, Missus, and our pal, Cathie. We've heard so much about it. It is known as "The Slabs" or "Slab City". It is an abandoned military facility that his called by some down-and-out residents as "the last free place." And, there are at least two types of residents here: the full time residents who look like they are too far into drugs, and the transient RVers who simply want a free stop in the desert.

Directions to The Slabs: at Niland, California turn east on Main Street and go about 3 miles until you see "Salvation Mountain" and you are there. Well Jeez, you can't miss Salvation Mountain (see photo) It is an experience in folk art.

Progress on into the Slabs and your first encounter will be with Poverty Flats. It is a desert mess with old and young hippies in every kind of hovel. Not having our bearings, we stayed here the first night. Our neighbor, Vince, who was under the influence of some sort of substance explained that over the hill was the hot springs. "You need to go in buck necked," says he. "Occasionally you'll find folks floating belly up who have failed to get out of the hot water soon enough."

The next day we moved to the more gentile section of The Slabs. We abandoned any plan to bathe in the springs. We unhooked and ventured north in the truck to discover the Salton Sea and environs. So here is our new plan, as current as this morning: We will park (dry camp) at an RV park between the Salton Sea and the Chocolate Mountains. There we will bathe in their more refined hot springs and schmooze with other RVers of a somewhat higher station in life. We'll be there perhaps a week to remove some kinks to our old bones.
Enough for now. Wish you could see all of my Slabs pictures.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Soldier's Joy

Approximately 25 miles southwest of Rock Eddy Bluff lies the Army Fort Leonard Wood, near the town of St. Robert, Missouri. While we reside outside the fort's zone of influence, it is apparent to a traveler that a certain "seediness" increases in direct proportion to one's proximity to the fort.

We were close by the fort yesterday to visit the dentist and drove by some of the many "clubs" that cater to soldiers. Big Louie's is the most apparent of these businesses as it sits alongside the interstate highway. Actually it appears to be a small shopping mall as several other businesses cluster around Big Louie's club.
Young soldiers can quite simply change their lives while visiting this little Mecca of "things of the flesh". Often the signage carries notices of special deals on lap dances (as low as $1 each, I recall). I thought of trying out a few of them myself until I remembered what a poor dancer I am.

One such club featured what appeared to be a small motel behind the club. I assume this was used for those who had finished their dancing and wished to move on with the experience.

Peep shows and sex toy exist in abundance in this the little settlements. And, should that not be enough, you can be tattooed before leaving, preferably while still drunk. (Can you guess the amount of buyer's remorse the morning after?)

The Army appears to tolerate these businesses outside the gates of the post. Intestingly, the name "hooker" actually comes from the Civil War when Federal General Joseph Hooker recruited prostitutes to accompany his troops. And, nearly the same situation exists today as thousands of young boys leave hearth and home, girlfriends, and parental control to join the military.

Viewed thus, perhaps Big Louie's Club actually performs a valuable social funtion. Still, I think it best to just wave as you go by. But then, I am older now.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Firewood, a primal commodity

These days we still love a fire blazing in the house, especially on the coldest days. It is those sticks of firewood that we have felled, sawed, split and hauled that stand between us an the frigid cold that surrounds the house. Oh sure, we still have an electric furnace but we all know what could happen if that were our only source of heat out here at the end of the electrical power line.

I was about 10 years old when my father died suddenly and my mother moved her four boys to the Ozark hills. It was during our first winter that we discovered the supreme importance of those sticks of firewood that could keep some degree of comfort in our small cabin. In the first years we had only a fireplace. We would "bank the fire" at night (cover the coals with ashes) and then the first hardy soul in the morning would uncover the coals and lay more dry wood on top. If you were lucky, the temperature inside would become tolerable in an hour or two.

The most pressing problem was that we boys had no knowledge of wood cutting and splitting and had no older male in the family to instruct us. Somehow we made it through those first winters with only a crosscut saw. Wood was brought into the house in quite meager amounts, and as I recall we almost never had enough wood to create a stack outside the door of the cabin.

We boys struggled with the saw. We pushed and pulled and cursed and spent way too much time gaining just a few sticks of wood. We learned later from a helpful neighbor that the saw had lost it's "set", causing it to bind in the wood on every stroke. Later we purchased a David Bradley chainsaw from Sears and Roebuck. Of course that began a whole new learning curve for we boys, as we then needed knowledge of small engines, the art of sharpening the chain, safety, etc.

There is another, somewhat guilty memory. It is the recollection of how little wood my mother would burn during the day when her sons were away in a warm schoolhouse. She was just plain stingy with firewood, causing the inside temperature to be quite cold. I suspect she spent much of the day in a chair directly in front of the fireplace. When we returned home she would often cajole and beg us to fill the wood box on the back porch.

Well, we have just returned from outside where we dug those precious sticks of firewood out of the snow and brought them to the house. Hands, feet, and faces were painfully cold by the time we finished. It is 7 degrees outside and the wind is swirling. Inside, the fire blazes in the stove, bringing back memories of winters gone by and emphasizing once more the importance, each year, of building large stacks of firewood against the coming winter.