Tom gets his feet wet

“A whole new world can open up if you’re just willing to get your feet wet.” (Tom M., c 1988)

My friend Tom said that one day when I was visiting him with his brother Errol and Errol’s wife Cookie and daughter Debra. Tom has always been good at that kind of epigram.

At the time I was living in Huntsville, Alabama, and Errol and his family were living just outside Atlanta. Tom was living in Espanola, NM, and we liked to go out to visit as often as we could. We had taken a run up into Colorado, and had stopped to look at a stream that ran near the road. On the other side of the stream, there was a dark hole that we thought might be an old mine entrance. The stream was not too wide, but it was fast and cold. We worried a little but decided to jump the stream to investigate. Tom and I jumped over safely to the other side. Errol didn’t. He landed in the stream. He was OK, but he was drenched. That’s when Tom said it.

I have known Tom for a long time. I first met him in 1971 when I was attending Georgia State University in Atlanta and he was at Georgia Tech. I met him through my brother, and we ended up sharing an apartment. We lived near Piedmont Park in a neighborhood that was a center of the hippie and drug communities. It was an interesting experience. We should write a book. Tom had recently returned from Viet Nam. He told me some stories about that experience. He should write a book.

I don’t have a lot of pictures from that time, but here is a fuzzy shot of me on the left and Tom on the right. We were goofing around in Piedmont Park after a light snow. I find it hard to believe we were ever that young.

Two very young guys

Two very young guys

I graduated from GSU in 1973 and took a job at a newspaper in Augusta, Ga. Not too long after that, Tom left Georgia Tech just shy of his architecture degree. He rode his bicycle over to visit me, a short hop of only about 140 miles. And then he rode up to Canada. He went across Canada and ended up in Seattle. And then San Francisco. And then Lake Tahoe. At Lake Tahoe he provided pretty much all the expertise for a group to set up a printing shop. Tom should write a book.

In the first half of 1976 I quit the newspaper, thinking maybe I would start writing. Instead I rode my motorcycle up to Pittsburgh, Pa, where my brother was doing a post-doc at Carnegie Mellon University. Sometime around then I heard from Tom at Lake Tahoe. I decided to leave Pennsylvania to visit Tom, so I rode my motorcycle to California. When I got there, it was so beautiful that I decided to stay. I ended up sharing a house with Tom there for a year and a half.

When I ran out of money, I rode my motorcycle back home at Christmas and, coincidentally, was offered a job back at my old newspaper. So I left Lake Tahoe, which for me was pretty much the American dream, for Augusta, Georgia, which is just no place to be. Tom and I kind of lost track of each other again for a while.

After a year at the newspaper, I quit again. By that time I think it was becoming a habit. And that time I had no idea whatsoever what I was going to do. So I visited Errol in Woodstock, near Atlanta, and we found a very nice Volkswagen bus. My father and mother helped turn it into a camper. In the meantime, Tom had ended up in Albuquerque working at Sandia National Lab, so I took the camper and headed west again. I visited with Tom and drove around New Mexico and Colorado for a while, and then came back home. Before too long I ended up in school again, this time at Georgia Tech. And, once again, Tom and I kind of lost track of each other.

Before I finished Tech, Tom was found again by friendly forces. When I finished my degree, I ended up in Huntsville, Alabama, working for an Army contractor. My degree was in atmospheric sciences, but by then Ronald Reagan had decided that atmospheric science research was a waste of money, and we should instead spend billions on a missile defense system, so that’s where the work was.

Anyway, Errol, Cookie and I took several trips out to visit Tom over the next few years. Tom eventually ended up at Los Alamos. Tom had decided that he wanted to sail a boat around the world, so, in the middle of New Mexico, he started reading about how to do it. He ended up buying a small but seaworthy sailboat in Florida and moved into it to learn how to sail. When he was confident that he knew what he was doing, he sailed off and ended up in Cuba. He stayed there for a while, and when he left, he ran into bad weather. I was at work fairly late one night when I got a call from Errol. Tom had contacted Errol to let him know that he was in the process of having his boat run into a reef in a storm off the coast of Cuba.

The short of it is that he did, indeed, lose the boat, and stayed in Cuba for quite some time afterward. He eventually traveled back to the US by way of Mexico. Tom really should write a book.

Tom is now living in Edgewood, New Mexico, living the life of a very successful retiree, seeing the world and doing whatever in the hell he wants to do. He is one of the most interesting people I have ever known, and has lived a very different kind of life from most people. Over the years our trajectories have intersected and then flown off in different directions, but we have remained friends. We are both old guys now. I’m 63 and Tom is even older than that. I thought we were pretty much confirmed bachelors and expected that to continue. And then in 2005, just after my 55th birthday, I dragged Leah down to the courthouse and we got married.

And now, this day, July 27, Tom will marry Kay. I guess he decided it was time to get his feet wet and open up a whole new world.

And so, from both of us, congratulations and best wishes Tom and Kay.

Friday Felines

Chloe and Dusty

Chloe and Dusty

Chloe is the mixed tabby cat that showed up with her three kittens shortly after we moved in back in 2005. She has some orange that you can see on her hind quarters, but she has excellent camouflage for the pine bark mulch. One of her kittens looked like a siamese. We were able to find a home for him, but the two orange tabbies, Rusty and Dusty, are still with us. Here Dusty, the pale male, is trying to blend in with some of the native stone we use for landscaping. He’s pretty skittish, but sometimes he lies so quietly that you can walk right by him without even seeing him.

Growing pine

When I wrote about longleaf pines before, I mentioned the little grass-stage pine I had transplanted. I thought it had begun its transformation from grass stage to bottlebrush stage. At the time I was being optimistic and maybe a little generous, but now I’m sure: our little pine starting a growth spurt.

This is an overview I shot Monday evening.

The littlest longleaf on our property

The littlest longleaf on our property

This is a closer shot of the tree.

Closer view

Closer view

The main “trunk” has come close to doubling in height in the last several months. This is very encouraging, because I think it means it has truly survived being transplanted and has a reasonably good chance of growing up.

The little longleaf is currently shadowed by some shortleaf pines, pretty much on all sides. I’m not sure of the most favorable growing conditions, but I plan to thin the overhanging limbs and possibly cut at least one of the shortleaf pines. I want to give it more light without overwhelming it with too much sunlight all at one.

Fox Family Fare

We have been feeding the foxes for a while now, as much to save cat food as to help the foxes, we tell ourselves. We have been seeing two, we think, because one of them doesn’t limp. The mama, we think, has the bad front leg. She sometimes puts her weight on it, but holds it up when she walks. Last night, we saw three together. I tried to get a shot of all of them, but only managed to get two.

Two of the three

Two of the three

I had to shoot through the kitchen window, but before I could shoot, I had to take the screen off. We have casement windows, so the screens are on the inside. And then the camera wanted to use the flash, and I was too far from the foxes. In any event, I never got all three in the same shot.

One of these was definitely the crippled fox. We aren’t sure who the other two are. At first I assumed one was the father and the other was the kit, now almost grown, because a neighbor said her critter camera had caught only one kit. We were assuming that only one had survived, but these two looked so similar that now I’m not sure about that. They were more skittish than the mother, who sometimes just watches if we come out onto the front walk when she’s eating.

This explains why it’s taking so much dog food for a little fox. We’re feeding a family.

Where should Leah and Mark move?

I have been trying to retire for a couple of months now. Soon (I hope) I won’t need to be close to Huntsville, Alabama, where I have been working for the last 27 years. With both of our parents gone now, we have been talking about moving away from here in the northwest corner of Georgia.

Back in 1999 I bought the land where we now live. It’s near the top of Lavender Mountain, overlooking Rome to the south and, on a good day, with a view all the way to Kennesaw Mountain, just outside of Atlanta. Over the next five or six years I built the house. I hired a carpenter and one helper, and then the three of us framed and dried-in the structure. My good friend Tom came to visit from New Mexico and helped with some of the work. Other people came around sometimes to help, including Leah and my brother and both of my parents occasionally. My father, who worked as an electrician in his youth, planned to help me do the wiring, but he died before we could start. He did do a lot of heavy manual labor when I was clearing the hundreds of small pines off the lot.

I hired contractors for the work I didn’t trust myself to do. I had an electrician do the wiring, a plumber do the rough-in, drywall hangers do the hanging and mudding, and a floorer do the wood and tile. But the rest, my family, friends and I did ourselves. And, in case you haven’t built a house, that is a lot.

Leah and I got married in May, 2005, and moved into the house. We mostly like living here. It’s quiet and can be quite beautiful. Leah would prefer to be a little closer to the grocery store, and I wish I had cut a lot more trees early on. Winters are reasonably mild, and spring and fall can be very nice, at least for short periods. But the summers in Georgia are brutal. It’s hot and humid and you can’t do anything outside without getting soaked in sweat. Plus the house is too big. Upstairs we have three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Downstairs, which is not completely finished, has a large family room and another bedroom and bathroom. That’s way too much for two middle-aged – no, wait a minute, I think we are already past that age. Oh well, never mind that part. We have a fair amount of money in the house, and we would like to think we could sell our house, buy a smaller house, and then have a little left over.

Anyway, we are thinking, but we don’t have any place in particular in mind. I would like to live some place where it’s not quite so humid, but not really arid. Leah tends to agree with that, with the proviso that it not be too cold or too hot. I think we could handle cold more easily than hot, but I don’t really want a harsh climate. Neither of us wants to live in a big city, but realistically, we should probably be reasonably close to a reasonably large town. Rome is reasonably large, by our standards. There are decent places to buy food, and, if we should get sick, there are two fairly large hospitals. I’m not sure whether we could stand a really dry area. I found on a cross-country motorcycle trip that I suffered green withdrawal when I rode across Utah and Nevada. I was surprised at what relief it was to see green trees when I reached the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Just for the fun of it, back in June I started tracking temperatures in Terlingua, Texas, and Alamosa, Colorado. Terlingua is right outside Big Bend National Park. Alamosa is in south central Colorado, near but not really in the mountains. I used the Yahoo weather app on my iphone. I laughed every time I looked at Terlingua, because the highs were over 100 F every day. Alamosa was also funny, because the lows were generally shown in the 30s. Perfect. Just average them.

The Yahoo numbers don’t seem to track with other weather data, so I checked a few sources online. Based on what I found, the June temperatures in Terlingua were pretty much mid-90s, except for a few upper 80s and a few 100s. The lows started around 68 and ended up around 72. There was a decent amount of rain for such a generally dry area. Average annual precipitation is just under 12 inches.

Alamosa had highs in the 70s and 80s, with lows from the upper 20s early in the month to around 50 later on, with a little over a half an inch of rain. It was a surprise to me that Alamosa has a drier climate than Terlingua. Average precipitation is under 8 inches per year. Still, I have to laugh a little: on average there are only two months without freezing temperature, July and August (usually).

For comparison, in June Rome, had highs in the mid to upper 80s with a few 70s late in the month. Lows were mostly in the upper 60s. Rainfall was about 6 and a quarter inches. Rome gets an average of 56 inches of precipitation a year. That’s just four inches short of five feet of rain a year. We have droughts, but the rain in even our drought years would wash Terlingua and Alamosa completely away.

We are not really considering moving to Terlingua or Alamosa (although if I had multiple lives I might consider living in both at least for a while. Just for the hell of it, you know.)  But we still don’t really know where to move to.

Does anyone have any ideas?