Sunrise, 2 October

This greeted us Monday morning when we woke up.

It was the best sunrise we’ve had in a while, although we appreciate every sunrise, dramatic or not.

Nothing much has been happening around here, or at least nothing very noteworthy. Summer is fading into fall. We’ve had pleasantly cool nights and days that were warm rather than miserably hot and humid. The only bad part is that we have had very little rain.

Molly seems like she is at home now; in fact, she seems a little too much at home. She’s bullying Chloe, so Chloe doesn’t want to come inside. She plays enthusiastically with Smokey; we’ve had to warn Smokey that he needs to tone it down so that he doesn’t have a heart attack. She likes to ambush Sam when he comes down the hall. And she has finally learned that it’s OK to relieve herself outside. She is still using a litter box at night, and occasionally during the day.

Zeke is still escaping every once in a while, but he’s slowing down. I have to go out in the truck to pick him up. He’s hesitant to come to me, but eventually he will. Once the children of the people who bought our old house brought him home. He kept turning his head to look at them as they walked back home. I think he might like to visit a little longer with them.

Sam is still chewing on Zeke’s legs, neck, face and ears on every walk. They are such buddies, I worry about what will happen when Zeke is no longer around. After all, we’ve had Zeke 11 years, so he’s at least 12, maybe older. That’s pretty old for a big dog like him.

Lucy is still barking, and, unfortunately, peeing on dog beds. She loves to sneak out, go around the house, climb the steps up to the front porch, and eat the cats’ food. She absolutely does not want to go on our longer dog walks, so sometimes I leave her at home.

Leah’s feeling some arthritis pain, and what I think is sciatica. My knee hurts.

And that’s all from here.

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.

One hundred

My father was born 100 years ago today, August 2, 2017.

This is one of the earliest photographs of me, my brother and my father. I’m on the right.

I’m not sure I actually have any memories of those days. I must have been only about two years old, so that was around 65 years ago. Is that a lens cap I’m holding?

My father spent a few of his years as a young adult in Europe, where he met a few of the natives. That’s him on the left.

Although the houses might be from a lot of different places in Europe or even Britain, this is almost certainly Belgium, since my father’s division was the first to travel directly from the US to the mainland of Europe. Some Belgians still remember his division, 104th Infantry Division (the Timberwolf Division), with affection and respect for their role in liberating them from the Nazis.

He did some preparation for his trip to Europe in the American West.

This could be Arizona or possibly Colorado. It might also be somewhere in Oregon, although I haven’t seen enough of Oregon to be sure there is anywhere there that looks like this.

He was not a desert rat, but he looked like one.

It’s the goggles. He’s still wearing the crossed cannons of the artillery rather than the muskets of the infantry.

It might not be immediately obvious, but even typewriters played a part in winning the war.

When my father returned from Europe after World War II, he and my mother lived in Akron, Ohio, for a few years. That was where my brother was born. They moved back to Rome, Ga., in time for me to be born in 1950, and they spent the rest of their lives there.

By the late 1960’s they had sold my old home place on Redmond Road to a medical clinic and had built a house on the other side of town. That’s where this photo was taken.

This is me, my mother, her mother, and my father. You can get an idea of the date from the pants I was wearing: purple, button-fly bellbottoms. My lack of facial hair dates it to around 1973 or 1974, when I was working for the Augusta (Ga) Chronicle. I had a beard when I interviewed in 1973, but the managing editor wanted me to shave. So I did, until he died a year or so later. Then I grew it back.

My parents retired but kept busy. This must have been when they were about to leave to attend some sort of fairly formal event, possibly when they were singing in the community chorus in Rome.

This, like the previous image, is a scan of a Polaroid print.

Time passes while you’re busy doing things, which is a good recipe for missing a lot of other things. I was lucky enough to have quit my full-time job and gone back to work as a part-time consultant in the late 1990’s, which allowed me the freedom to accompany my parents on a few of their long RV trips.

This is a picture of my father at Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho.

He has a kokopelli on his hat and he’s wearing a sweat shirt with a timber wolf on the front. His Nikon F2AS is hanging around his neck. This photo was taken probably around 1997, twenty years after he bought the camera. I remember because he ordered it but had to leave with my mother on one of their months-long RV trips before it arrived. My father arranged to have his brother mail it to me at Lake Tahoe where I was living at the time. My parents stopped there for a couple of weeks. They left from there for Yosemite. I rode my motorcycle down from Lake Tahoe to see Yosemite with them.

They say that the sense of smell is directly wired into the brain in a more visceral way than the other senses. That may be true. To this day I can still recall the smell of their Airstream trailer, a distinctive smell I associate with traveling, the West and my parents.

This Craters of the Moon photo was taken before my father started showing obvious symptoms of the pulmonary fibrosis that would eventually cause his death. That death came in 2000, seventeen and a half years ago, when my father was 82 and I was approaching 50.

So 100 years. A century. One tenth of a millennium. In other words, a long time ago. There is almost no one alive today who was alive when my father was born. There is almost no one alive today who has first-hand knowledge of the world my father grew up in. I’m fortunate that my father told us a lot about his life when he was growing up. In fact, I think he did a lot to make the experiences of my brother and me like his own. We grew up a mile from where he grew up and spent a lot of time walking along the same railroad tracks and throwing rocks into the river at the same places he did. In some ways I think he relived his own boyhood with my brother and me.

I wish he had told us more. I wish he had been able to stay around a little longer.

Preparing to watch the grass grow

Leah and I both want a nice yard with lots of pretty shrubbery. Although we don’t particularly want a large lawn, our front yard is also our septic system leach field, so we don’t have many options for ground cover. It looks like it’s going to be grass.

The first decision was what type of grass to grow. The county agricultural extension agent immediately suggested Bermuda grass, because it’s fast growing, it spreads, and it’s drought resistant. Fast growing means it has to be mowed often, and I really, really don’t want to mow a lawn every week, or even twice a week. The other option was zoysia grass. Zoysia is slow growing and drought resistant. Slow growing is great for less mowing, or, depending on how you want your yard to look, no mowing at all. But slow growing also means it takes a while to establish, unless you buy sod. Sod would require regular, deep watering, while seed would require regular, shallow watering (at least at first). In the end we decided to try to seed the lawn with zoysia..

I picked a very hot, dry day to start raking the middle 3000 square feet in front of the house to clear the wheat straw and rocks. Then I dug into a pile of dirt the grading contractor left in the front yard to fill the low spots and gullies. I shoveled the dirt into the bed of our Mule, a side-by-side four-wheeler, and hauled it to where it was needed. The pile probably had about five cubic yards of dirt, all of which I moved with a shovel.

Next I had about nine cubic yards of mushroom compost delivered. It also had to be shoveled into the Mule’s little bed so I could spread it about an inch deep everywhere we plan to seed. Once that’s done, I’ll rent a big tiller and try to incorporate it into the soil.

Here’s the mule resting, while I supervise from the porch. The compost is piled to the right of the Mule.

Filling in the low spots and spreading the compost took most of three days, all of which were sunny and near 90 F.

Most of the topsoil was removed from the front yard during construction, leaving us with sandy clay with lots of rock but absolutely no organic material. I’ll till the compost into the soil, but it will still need to be augmented with some decent topsoil, so I had 18 cubic yards delivered on Wednesday afternoon.

We were having a little problem getting the last of the soil to slide out of the dumptruck, and I joked that at least it was easier than shoveling it all out. Then it occurred to me that I actually am going to have to move all those 18 cubic yards with a shovel.

At this point, Thursday night, I still have a little compost left to spread. Although nine cubic yards will cover almost 3000 square feet at one inch depth, I think I’m going to end up covering around 2500 square feet.

This is the yard with most of the compost spread.

The shadow of the house makes it look like we have rich, black soil, but that’s an illusion. The red clay above the darker compost slopes down so it doesn’t look like as large an area as it actually is.

The next steps are tilling the compost into the ground, spreading two inches of topsoil, and then sowing the zoysia seed.

As of Thursday, I don’t have the topsoil spread, or the seed sown. The zoysia seed must be kept moist for about three weeks. Regular gentle showers would be nice once the seed is sown, but I don’t want rain right now. So Thursday afternoon a large line of thunderstorms formed and was moving towards us from Alabama. Fortunately, I had put plastic over the topsoil and the remaining compost, just in case.

This is what it looked like as the rain moved across Alabama. The red push pin is our house.It looked like we were in for some heavy rain.

A little while after this radar image was made, the sky darkened and the wind picked up and began to roar through Fouche Gap. Rain began to fall. The plastic over the compost and topsoil started flapping and I had to put more rocks along the sides. I retreated back inside and waited for the rain. A little while after that, this is what the radar looked like.

It looks like we’re in some fairly heavy rain, but we weren’t. The sea of red had parted and passed on either side of us.

And then, after the line of thunderstorms had passed, this is what it looked like.

We had 0.06 inches of rain.

Here’s the front yard after the rain passed. Instead of water, it mostly deposited leaves torn from the trees.

On the plus side, the temperature dropped from near 90 F to 68 F in about fifteen minutes.