Advantages of hanging around

Leah and I were born in Rome. We have both lived in other places but ended up back “home”. Neither of us has any really strong connections to this area any more, but we have found a few advantages to staying put for a while. They fall more into the convenience category, but it’s kind of nice.

I have mentioned before about our regular Wednesday huevos rancheros lunch at the Los Portales Mexican restaurant. When we walk in, the person who seats us usually says, “You don’t need menus?” because she knows we’ll be having the regular. When we’re seated, if the server is one of the regulars, she’ll bring out exactly what we want: sweet tea for Leah and unsweetened for me, with extra lemon. Also, one or two bowls of regular salsa, a bowl of hot ranchera sauce, and a bowl of burrito sauce. Then she will ask if we want the regular. If it’s a new server, one of the regulars we know will usually walk by to make sure we get everything we need.

At the end of the meal, the servers bring one to-go box (for Leah’s left-over rice), an empty cup for Leah’s tea (fixed just the way she wants it), and a to-go cup of unsweetened tea for me. On one occasion when we ate there for dinner, the server didn’t bring our check, so at the cash register the guy there let us give him our orders from memory. “You’re regulars,” he said, “So I trust you.”

I have also mentioned that I have had hair my hair cut at the same barber shop for my entire life, save for once when my father got adventurous and took us to another shop. Even though I get only a couple of haircuts a year, the barbers know what I want. On Tuesday when I got my second (and last for the year) haircut, there was a new barber. I ended up in her chair. She asked me what I wanted, and I said, “A short cut.” She asked how short. I was going to tell her to ask the barber next to her, but before I could say anything that barber volunteered, “Number 3.” I don’t know exactly what Number 3 is, but it turns out to give me a short haircut like I want.

I sometimes wish we could move somewhere else, somewhere we didn’t have to suffer through the miserably hot and humid summers. But, since it doesn’t look like we’ll move any time soon, at least we can enjoy some of the benefits of staying put.

Pretend it’s pepper

The fall line in Georgia is a narrow border between the rolling hills of the Piedmont Province and the flatter Coastal Plain. Millions of years ago the fall line was actually Georgia’s Atlantic coast line. It’s called the fall line because there is a quick decrease in elevation characterized by waterfalls and rapids. It’s the furthest upstream that the early settlers were able to navigate easily on the rivers. For that reason, towns were often formed at the fall line, like Columbus (home of Fort Benning) on the Chattahoochee River, Macon (best known for the Allman Brothers) on the Ocmulgee River, and Augusta (home of Fort Gordon and the Augusta National Golf Course) on the Savannah River.

The fall line also happens to coincide with another border in Georgia known as the gnat line. Below the gnat line, there is a kind of gnat that breeds in the sandy soil of that region. In the summer, the gnats rise up in swarms so thick it’s hard to keep them out of your eyes, nose and ears. Once many years ago when I was a small boy, my family vacationed at Jekyll Island, one of Georgia’s barrier islands near the southern end of the Georgia coast. My most vivid memory is of eating a picnic lunch and trying to keep the gnats out of the food.

We who live up here in the Valley and Ridge Province, part of the Appalachian Plateau, are not supposed to suffer the plague of the gnats, but lately I could make a good argument against that proposition. I spend a good part of my morning dog walk swatting gnats away from my ears and eyes. It may be only the recency illusion, but it seems like the gnat problem has been getting worse up here in north Georgia.

But maybe it’s not an illusion. The Macon Telegraph had a small article about whether the gnat line is moving north. Jeff Burne, an entomologist at Middle Georgia State University, said the gnats of south Georgia need sandy soil to breed, so they can’t actually move north of the sandy Coastal Plain. However, he said that another kind of gnat isn’t so limited. The reason those gnats may be (or seem to be) increasing in numbers north of the gnat line is global warming. North Georgia is just getting to be a better place for gnats to live.

The gnats I experience every day don’t swarm in the numbers that the gnats of south Georgia do. They are aggravating, of course, but so far I haven’t swallowed any, at least as far as I know. In south Georgia, however, it has long been considered impossible to eat outside without eating gnats, who seem to like human food almost as much as they like human eyes and ears. Down there, it’s just a way of life. When you look down and see gnats all over your food, there’s only one thing you can do: just pretend it’s pepper.

The 2 percent sol

Our eclipse was right on schedule Monday at 2:34 PM here in Rome, Ga. We had about 98 percent coverage of the sun. We took the same pictures that probably millions of others who were not in the path of totality did. Here are the crescents made by the sun filtering through a sparsely-leafed maple next to the driveway.

We made an eclipse viewer from a cardboard box. I cut a flap out of the side so we could look in. I made a small hole — a pinhole, as they say — that focused the sun’s rays pretty well, but I have to admit that viewing an eclipse that way is not all that satisfying. I think our new cat is going to get more use out of it than we did.

A couple of hours from of us (in normal traffic, not eclipse traffic) the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia was within in the path of totality. The TV stations covered it, of course. The thousands of people who gathered in the little towns in northeast Georgia had a scare as the clouds moved in, but I think they got a pretty decent look at the fully-eclipsed sun. The televised image from a telescope was probably better than what they got with the naked eye.

My brother was in Tennessee at almost the exact center of the moon’s shadow, so he got the full effect of the eclipse.

I would like to experience a total eclipse. Although I would like to see the solar corona when the sun is fully covered, what I would really love to see is the shadow of the moon racing towards us at 1800 miles an hour.

They say the next eclipse in the continental US is in 2024. I will be 74 by that time, but I hope I’m still able to travel. Maybe Leah and I can start making plans right away.

Old boots

Back when I was much younger, I sometimes went for weekend hikes on the Appalachian Trail. I started hiking with some clodhoppers that must have weighed 10 pounds each. Then I found a pair of nice Vasque boots that were much lighter, but, as it turns out, very durable. That was sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. I still have them.

I wear them when I work around the yard. On Saturday I wore them while cutting up a tree for firewood.

They used to be a very nice reddish color, which you can kind of see in the upper ankle area and the tongue. Those are the original laces. Believe it or not, I was able to find a photo of “Vasque boots from the 1970’s.”

What a lovely pair of boots. These are for sale for $82. I might consider them, but they’re a size 7, and my old boots are size 11. They don’t make boots like these any more. And also, based on some reading, what they sell is made in China. Mine were made in Italy.

I decided the old boots needed some TLC, so I am polishing them. The most appropriate shoe polish I could find in the basement is cordovan.

It’s a little dark, but they are going to look much better with a coat of shoe polish. They’ll probably feel better, too. So, they have lasted 35 or 40 years, and based on their appearance now, I expect them to last another 35 or 40 years. Or, in other words, for the rest of my life.

Snakes alive

Leah and I found a snake crossing the road last week on our way into town. It was stretched out across the centerline of the road. I passed, then turned around and came back. It was around three feet long.

Usually all they need is a little nudge to get them moving, but this one didn’t want to be nudged. He coiled and reared his head as I approached. When I got closer he began to lunge and strike. I was sure enough that it was not venomous that it didn’t worry me, but I still didn’t want his little snakey bites, so I got a collapsible umbrella out of the car to nudge him. No dice. Usually snakes just want to get away; this one just wanted me to get away.

While I was busy trying to move him, my uncle and aunt pulled up and stopped. Uncle Tommy said it was a chicken snake. After googling I found that it was a gray rat snake. Here it is at the side of the road, where it’s hard to see.

It’s actually a beautiful snake. The markings remind me of Southwestern design. I didn’t find anything online about the rat snake’s temperament, but “grouchy” seems appropriate.

Another person stopped. A young man jumped out of the car and ran up to the snake. He looked like he was going to stomp it. I told him not to kill it, but all he wanted to do was hold it down while he grabbed it and tossed it towards the edge of the road. I’m not afraid of snakes, but for some reason I just don’t like handling them. I can do it with gloves, but not barehanded. I know how to pick them up, I would just rather not.

A few days later as I took the dogs out just before dark, we found another snake on the driveway. It was too dark for me to tell what it was, but when it started striking at Zeke when Zeke was still about five feet away, I figured it was a gray rat snake. Zeke barked. I told him not to bother, but he felt it was his duty. The snake eventually slithered off into the tall grass at the side of the drive.

That tall grass is just a little bit worrisome now. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Poison Control Center says that snake bites are up 40 percent over last year, mainly because of a mild winter (what winter?). Copperheads seem to be the worst culprits. I’m not a herpetologist, but I knew the rat snake was not a copperhead. The rat snake’s head is small relative to its body. The copperhead’s head is larger, like an arrowhead.

The tall grass at the side of our drive is the result of seeds that were in the wheat straw I put all over the yard last year. I imagine it provides an ideal environment for snakes. I have been avoiding getting into that grass mainly because of ticks, but now I need to worry about snakes as well.

It was almost a relief on Wednesday to see this little green snake on the dogs’ morning walk.

This snake acted like he was supposed to. I nudged his tail and he slowly edged his way off the road.