Saturday, May 31, 2008

Tourist town tremors

A friend is in Illinois this weekend visiting her sister and called back to say gas is $4.269 per gallon.

That is more than gossip in a place like the Dells that is built on tourism that is heavily impacted by the cost of travel. I have heard rumors from the businesses downtown that things are running thirty to forty percent less than the same time last year. At the railway things are off about ten percent, so we are actually doing well by local standards.

One couple who were in today mentioned that they brought their camper as usual, but this year they are not eating out -- they are doing all their own cooking. Another family that comes up every year decided that camping out would have to do instead of a stay at one of the waterpark resorts.

Those economic stimulus checks are not going to go towards a waterpark vacation at the Dells, but towards debt, food and gas this summer.

Small World Department


A couple came in to get tickets today, and as usual I aksed where they were from.

"We're originally from Wisconsin," she told me, "but now we live in Texas technically."

So I asked, "Where in Texas, technically?"

"Livingston."

Turns out that they retired to Livingston, which is their legal residence. But they have a motor home and travel around all the time, so they don't have a permanent residence there. But that is where they are registered to vote and so on. Hence the technically.

The small world nature of running into someone from Wisconsin who now lives not that far from where I grew up in Texas brought to mind a story about a guy I knew from Livingston my senior year. He was going to Sam Houston State University, and he came by Bookland during registration to get his books. Since MSU started later, I was still working there and he asked where I was going to school.

"Michigan State University," I told him.

He looked puzzled for a moment.

"Is that in the Panhandle?"

Friday, May 30, 2008

California flamingos

Angie and Justin sent pictures of their San Diego trip, and it was nice to see their faces since it has been so long. But they also sent a bunch of flamingo pictures from the San Diego Zoo, which was totally cool.

Meanwhile back in the Dells, Tom was engineer again today for six runs, and it pretty much wore him out. Right now he is recuperating by watching Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl with Sundance stretched out and dozing on his legs. My day in the store was not so strenuous, but I am pretty pooped, too. Today we had folks from Missouri, Arkansas and Minnesota. Nothing too exotic about that, but it still fun to talk to them.

The funniest thing to happen today was that I got a phone call at the railway inquiring about rail service to Florida. I explained that we run a very small train along a mile-and-a-half track. I offered to look up the number for Amtrak for her, and she said it hadn't occurred to her to check out Amtrak. (Why not?) Anyway, I found the number for the station in the Dells, but I know that they are only open when a train is scheduled to arrive or depart. So I then offered to look in the Yellow Pages to see if I could find her an 800 number. When I did look there under Railroads -- Commuter and Passenger Service, there was only one listing. It was not for Amtrak but for the Riverside & Great Northern Railway -- our place. And Amtrak wonders why it isn't getting more business.

Tom's youngest, John, will arrive, however, by Amtrak on Sunday for a spell. His plans to start law school got complicated by too much advice and too many options, and now he is thinking about entering the Air Force. I think he is coming up here to let his mind settle out and make more specific decisions.

Thomas the Train Engineer

Here is an excerpt from Tom's blog about his adventures yesterday.

I qualified as an engineer for the passenger trains this morning.

I hadn't planned to do that yet, but an early season mix up in scheduling left us without the scheduled engineer for the day, so I completed three check out runs under the eyes of Jim Hagen, and then went solo for the balance of the day.

I'm scheduled to be the engineer again tomorrow, but I doubt we'll run a lot of passengers. The weather looks like it will be inclement, and that usually cuts ridership.

Running a passenger train isn't much different than running a work train, technically -- you start, go and stop, signaling as needed -- but the passenger runs are carefully scheduled, include required safety checks at various points along the run, operate according to milestones, include signaling at various points along the run, and involve communications and other procedures designed to ensure 100% safety for the passengers.

In a nutshell, running a passenger train requires more careful attention than running a work train, involves a team effort between the engineer, the conductor and the communications center, and all of us have to keep thinking ahead to keep everything smooth and safe.

I don't plan to do a lot of engineering ... but I'll be able to substitute into the schedule as needed ...
The diesel that Tom drove is the one they are qualifying me to drive, but my intention is to only run it as a work train. For some reason, my legs are exactly the wrong size to be comfortable in the booth -- can you say cramp? --, and I would not want to have any problems when driving passengers around. I expect my most exciting moment will come when and if I ever have to drive the water tanker down to help fight a fire.

Oh, yeah. Don't call him Thomas.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

High finance

Got my bank statement today.

My money market account, which this time last year was earning almost $100 a month, is now earing under $40.00.

Hey, at least I have money in this account, right?

And I'm working. And secure as to home and food and so on.

As the Tao Te Ching says, "He who knows he has enough, is rich."

On a related note, perhaps, is the news that Spam sales are surging.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

We've got a gift theme going here

We got a lovely thank you note from Chris and Linda after their recent visit, and included was a bag of flamingo picks they had found in doing some cleaning up around their place. I don't know if you can tell that well from the photo, but they are long picks for sticking in things like chunks of fruit and the body is that sort of wraparound honeycomb tissue paper stuff.

So in the last few weeks we have received a flamingo windchime, a neon flamingo and now this.

I'm not hinting to future guests that you have to keep up the tradition, but just in case you were wondering what flamingo-related items we already have ...

I also found this flock of flamingos ornament to add to our Christmas ornament collection, which already includes a flamingo or two. The flamingos in my ornament are the same as these, but these look like they are standing in water and mine are on land.

Frost Advisory

Yesterday it hit 80 sunny degrees. This morning it was bright and sunny, and I dressed for summer: khakis, a frayed Texas Law t-shirt, moccasins and no sox.

As soon as I stepped out the door at 9:30, I realized this was a mistake. It was only about 50 degrees out there in the sun. So back in to put on sox and throw a flannel shirt over the t-shirt.

We had a high in the 50s and now I see we are under a frost advisory for tonight -- projected low of 34 degrees.

And, yes, children or grace, it is nearly the end of May here in Wisconsin, too.

On the brighter side, by Thursday we should be back up into the 70s.

Johnny and The Cheese Factory

As I have mentioned before, they are making a movie in the area about John Dillinger and starring Johny Depp (pictured in the role of Willie Wonka in the movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Today one of the other volunteers at the library, Marty Preston, was telling me that a lot of the crew on the movie have been eating at a local restaurant, The Cheese Factory, where she used to work and where she still has close friends. There's a whole 'nother story about the restaurant, but for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that it is the only vegetarian place around and that the food is great. Anyway, the movie people have a lot of vegetarians among them and often eat there or order things for take-out.

The other day the film folk called in a take-out order for lunch that included a number of items only available on the evening dinner menu. Since the kitchen is a bit understaffed at the moment, the hostess consulted with the chef and the other cooks. Sage, the head chef, agreed that they would do the extra work but only if Johnny Depp came in to pick it up in person.

And so he did.
----------
Daily wildlife report

Lots of orioles at the feeder this morning (even without grape jelly)
Wild turkey crossed Berry Road ahead of me this afternoon
Saw a couple of adult sandhill cranes with a juvenile in the field across from Beaver Springs

Matryoshka

Tom woke up a bit woozy today, a wooziness that developed into (mild?) vertigo by lunchtime. So it was my day to cook and I went to Wal-Mart to pick up some stuff.

On the way over, I saw a couple of guys walking back along P, carrying gallons of water and bags of stuff from Wal-Mart. As I drove by, they pulled out a map and began to talk. I figured they were either tourists, or more likely some of the Russian and Polish workers here for the summer. After my shopping, I met them again, trudging back the opposite way, clearly disoriented. So I offered them a ride to their motel, which was a few miles away beyond the road construction. Turns out they are from Moscow, arrived yesterday to work in housecleaning at the Kalahari Resort and had been given a ride to Wal-Mart but had no idea how to get back. It only took me a few minutes out of my way, and I remember when I got lost the first day I was in Mexico City in 1974 a nice Mexican lady came to my rescue. I figured this was a long-delayed opportunity to pass that favor forward.

When I got them to the motel, they insisted that I accept a thank-you gift, and gave me a a Matryoshka, a Russian nesting doll. Actually it is a set of dolls of decreasing sizes placed one inside another. Matryoshka is a derivative of the Russian female first name Matryona, which is traditionally associated with a ... let's just say robust Russian woman. Kind of like big Bertha, I guess, or Brunhilde. I think I gave Mama a Santa version a couple of years ago.

The guys are college students here as part of a work-study program, and I imagine they were told to bring little souvenirs to give to people they might meet while in the States as a gesture of goodwill. I told them they did not need to give me anything, that as a local resident I just wanted them to have a positive experience while they are here. But they would not take nyet for an answer. They also wanted to make sure that I realized there were a total of five dolls, which is good because the fourth is so small I would have assumed it was the last.

The study part of their program is pretty much learning English, but they do pretty well already, though with an obvious accent. Certainly far better than I would do in Russian!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day weekend

Well, we had a very busy weekend at the railway. Among the visitors was an English family who came to the States last year because of the mother's job (university-related). Before that they had spent nine years in Denmark. They said Wisconsin winter was worse than Denmark, but I tried to reassure them that this past winter had set all sorts of records and they could expect the next one to be not quite so bad. The weather report yesterday had called for morning showers and severe thunderstorms in the afternoon, but nothing happened around here (and then not much) until about an hour after we had finished operations for the day.

I had a telephone call from Steve Payne Saturday night. He was at Holy Hill for the weekend, but our schedules did not permit us to get together. He will be visiting his family in various places and then returning to Kenya later in the month. He still likes Kenya very much -- despite the political violence the country experienced this past year following elections.

Tom, Helen and Jay flew back from Peter's graduation in Santa Fe and arrived at the Minneapolis airport last night shortly after a tornado had touched down at nearby Hugo (pictured), killing one. Tom decided to drive home despite the still-threatening weather, and he had to get off the road at one point when another tornado was reported near Eau Claire, just inside Wisconsin. After that he basically drove between two lines of severe weather and made it home a little after ten. He had picked up a bug on the trip and just wanted to get back here to recuperate. The cats were delighted to have him back, someone besides me to torment.

I had expected to work all day at the railway on Memorial Day itself, but as it turned out I didn't have to do that. So I was able to go with Tom to the Wisconsin Dells Memorial Day parade and program. This is my third Memorial Day up here and my third Memorial Day parade. It takes place pretty early, nine in the morning, so that the locals can be off the Strip by the time the tourists crawl out of bed and start meandering up and down the sidewalks looking for ticky-tacky to take home.

The parade reflects the small town that is the Dells: the high school and middle school bands, the veterans organizations, the Boy/Cub Scouts and the Brownies/Girl Scouts, a local Lutheran school with their kids on decorated bicycles, the Kilbourn (Wisconsin Dells) and Lake Delton Fire Departments and their equipment. The funniest part was the high school band marching along playing the overture from Andrew Lloyd Weber's The Phantom of the Opera. What this had to do with Memorial Day, I'm not sure. Tom says they probably only know three songs and you go to the parade with the band you got. They did play traditional patriotic songs at the ceremony in the park, though.

The speaker for the occasion was a lieutenant colonel who has served recently in Afghanistan. He is a nurse who normally works at the VA hospital in Madison. He mentioned that a recent Gallup poll shows that only 28% of Americans surveyed knew that Memorial Day commemorates the military men and women who gave their lives in the service of the country. Most people confuse it with Veteran's Day in November, which honors all who served.

The first year I attended the Dells event they read the names of all the area men and women who had died in armed conflicts beginning with World War I up to the present. They did not do it last year or this year, which I think was a loss. They not only had read the names, but they gave a brief line or two biography, and it made those present realize that these were people, many with relatives still here. I don't know why that has been dropped. I doubt it added more than ten or fifteen minutes to the program and it was the most moving part, IMHO.

Rich is out of town (in Austin right now), and so we invited Peggy over for a cookout. Tom made chicken kabobs on the grill and a fine time was had by all. Afterwards Tom went out to mow while I watched The Big Bang Theory.

On the wildlife scene, I have been seeing lots of deer (none on our property), a pileated flew through the backyard yesterday and an oriole was at the feeder this afternoon. Peggy suggested putting out a cleaned up tuna can filled with grape jelly to attract more orioles. Oh yeah, you have to paint the outside of the can orange to get their attention first.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Willingly

I volunteered some time this morning over at the railway. It was not supposed to be open, but they had received a lot of calls and decided to open up anyway since so many of the volunteers were going to be there working to get things ready for tomorrow. I opened up the gift store and sold tickets and toys for a couple of hours and helped move some picnic tables around.

Roberta came in to take over so I could get to the library for my usual Friday volunteer stint there. When I walked into the library, they were having a blood drive in the large meeting room across the hall. And who was sitting outside signing people up? Dave Simerson, the head of operations over at the railway.

I have noticed that about the volunteers around here. People who volunteer for one thing tend to volunteer for other things as well. Dave volunteers time with the Red Cross, Roberta volunteers time at the Circus World Museum, Tom gives time to the railway and to the Stewards, people who help out at parish things help out with lots of non-parish projects and so it seems to go.

Of course, Tom and Dave are both retired and have more time to devote to various groups, but it is still pretty impressive to me -- though not surprising -- to see familiar faces at all sorts of places around here.

Let there be (neon) light!

True to the Dodd determination not to be outdone by faulty packaging and shipping, Tim Dodd contacted the folks who sent us the broken neon flamingo and a replacement tube arrived today. It works perfectly and is a good addition to Tom's office at the moment. I would put it in the window, but the cats' window seat perch is right there and I don't want them knocking it over and breaking it.

We expect Tim to visit again later in the summer, so maybe we will put the light in the guestroom.

Meanwhile, I can hardly wait until Peggy notices it.

Nigh

Kristin says that people seem to think southerners are pleasant because of the accent. Even when they are rude to you, it just sounds so nice.

When I was at Michigan State, I liked to talk real southern sometimes. One of my favorite things was to ask people if they knew what nigh meant.

The correct answer? Purt' near, but not plum'.

Well, gasoline is nigh onto four dollars here today, $3.999. Nothing nice about that. Actually, it is over $4.00 at a couple of places.

In a tourist town, Memorial Day is the beginning of the season. Everyone will be watching to see what happens this weekend.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Woodpeckers etc.

We get lots of woodpeckers at the feeders, especially downy and hairy woodpeckers. These two look a lot alike except the hairy is bigger. And we get the pileateds, although I haven't seen them for a while. Yesterday Peggy mentioned that she had been seeing a couple of red-headed woodpeckers at her feeder. I still haven't seen them here, but this morning I did see one on a telephone pole between our house and Jerry's. Yesterday afternoon I saw the blue heron down at the pond. Today there was a northern flicker at the feeder. What with my first eagle, it has been a good birdwatching week.

Here we go again

Last night was like a scene out of Tom and Jerry , or maybe since both the cats are female, Thomasinas and Jerry.

I was reading in the living room and became aware of odd noises coming from Tom's (Scharbach, that is) office. I went to check and Sundance had cornered a tiny mouse behind a painting Tom has leaning up against the wall near his easel. I moved the painting so she could get at the mouse, but the mouse scampered right by her and went behind some other stuff. I left them to it. A few minutes later, she came into the living room with the mouselet in her mouth, but instead of dispatching it, she put it down to play with. Cats are clearly not bound by any international laws against torture. Knowing where this was going, the mouselet ran away again.

Eventually both Sundance and Cassidy were involved with the chase and I just went back to my book. After a while it got quiet, but I never saw any evidence then or this morning that they had won the contest. Perhaps more will be revealed as the day goes along.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bishop

Kristin called a few weeks ago to ask if I had been a bishop. I explained that I had not, but here is a picture of Bishop Michael Duca, who just became the second bishop of Shreveport, Louisiana. Michael and I went to seminary together in Dallas, and he always struck me as one of the nicest and most balanced men around. In recent years he was rector of that seminary. I think the people of Shreveport will be blessed to have him as their bishop.

The man who was rector at Holy Trinity Seminary when Michael and I studied there was Michael Sheehan, now Archbishop of Santa Fe.

Fr. James Orozco, who was a Carmelite student with me in Dallas, left the Carmelites to become a priest for the Archdiocese of San Antonio. It was my privilege to preach at his first Mass. He is now the Spiritual Director at Holy Trinity Seminary, where I was once among the spiritual directors.

The church world can be pretty small.

Where eagles fry

On Monday Tom saw an eagle when he was out along the river with Debbie. This morning I saw my first of the year when I was coming back from Baraboo. It was on the same stretch of County Highway A where I saw one last year. This morning it seemed to be chasing a hawk.

I had gone into Baraboo to help Evelyn with some computer questions, and I was happy to meet Regina, a paralegal who began work there yesterday. I am glad they finally have someone to help them out, and I wound up staying almost two hours to go over various things with her. She is originally from Tennessee, although she and her husband now live in Reedsburg. She is a pleasant woman with charming traces of her southern accent.

I also happened to find in the Baraboo library a copy of Fry Me to the Moon: An Illustrated Journey to Wisconsin's Famous Friday Night Fish Fry - and Beyond. I knew such a book existed and stumbled upon it online while looking for something else. I am disappointed to find that it has little information about the places listed, but it is an interesting resource for further monthly exploration of this part of Wisconsin culture. One quote to leave you with: "Jolly Bob's avocado and chutney catfish takes you back to an island paradise."

Seriously, avocado and chutney? And they call that a fish fry!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Travels, troubles and trust

Tom took off this morning for St. Paul with a truckload of rocks for Helen and Jay's garden. Tomorrow he and Helen fly to New Mexico where they will meet up with Jay. Tom and Helen's older son, Peter, will be graduating from St. John's College on Saturday. Tom expects to be back late Monday night. The cats and I are holding down the fort, with the cats a bit agitated as always when Tom goes away.

I learned today that one of the victims of a recent brutal robbery in Baraboo is the 21-year-old grandson of friends of ours. He was in a horrible automobile accident some years ago, and Nancy and Gene are convinced it was only the combined prayers of the family that pulled him through, although he suffered some brain damage. Apparently he had become involved in what Nancy called "an addictive life" and was in an apartment with two other people when a drug-related attack took place. He was badly beaten and they are still uncertain how he will do now.

After talking with them, I went by the library in Reedsburg, and a woman, her daughter and grandchildren were stuck with car trouble in the parking lot. I offered to give them a ride, so the grandmother took the two children -- one an infant and the other about three -- and went to the apartment they all share to contact friends and see about getting someone to look at the car. They had just spent $1,000 on repairs to the rusty-looking Subaru, and she was afraid the problem was going to be the transmission. She and her daughter live together and are raising the kids by themselves, she has been unable to find work and her daughter just found a job two weeks ago. Without the car, she has no way to get to work, because there is no public transportation, of course. She assured me that she trusted God would help them somehow.

I was going to complain that I had to pay $3.799 for gas, but it does seem pretty small compared to what others have to deal with.

Back in the backyard

Well, no cows -- animated or otherwise -- in our backyard. We continue to see the occasional oriole and hummingbird, and recently we heard what we think was a heron calling from down near the pond. The hawks circle and robins and woodpeckers abound.

The plant life is finally taking off, both front and back. The crabapple is in full bloom. Tom got it from Home Depot last year and the branches were trimmed back so much that he says it looks more like a flowering post than a tree. But given time, no doubt, it will spread out. Meanwhile, all six of the wild plum trees made it through the winter and are adding color to the landscape with a scattering of small pale pink blossoms amid leaves that are reddish purple for now.

In the flower beds the tulips are out, as well as bleeding hearts, periwinkle, primroses and some of the iris. One of the daylilies looks like it will pop this week if we get enough warm days. (It was 34 when I got up this morning.) Tom had planted perennials out front and greenery is up. We are waiting for some to blossom so we can see what is a weed to be pulled and what is a flower to enjoy.

One of the lilacs has some blooms, and the wild strawberries that are everywhere are flowering. I was happy to learn what the white flowers meant, because the leaf pattern looked suspiciously like poison ivy at first glance. (The leaves themselves are clearly different.) So now no poison but instead we will get some strawberries if we can beat the birds and other critters to them. We also have wild grapevines and wild blackberry vines around, but Tom seems to consider them more a nuisance than a source of fruit. They remind me, though, of when we lived on Southwood Drive and would go berry picking along the side of the road with Muggie when she visited. If we got enough berries, she would make us a berry cobbler. Mmmm!

The wildflower garden Tom put in the back around the deck has become lush, and a few things have begun to flower. I think it will also look pretty good with a week of warm and sunny weather. The cats are now prowling through the foliage very stalkingly. It looks like the trumpet vine may begin creeping up the deck this year, and we hope some of the gazillion prairie roses Tom moved around last year will show up.

And there is a dead wasp in one of the wasp traps. It only took three weeks ...

Monday, May 19, 2008

This Day in Non-Dodd-related History

New England's Dark Day

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

May 19, 1780 was dubbed New England's Dark Day, when an unusual darkening of the day sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. This very probably was due to a combination of smoke from forest fires, a thick fog, and cloud cover. The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon until midnight and did not disperse until the middle of the next night.

Range of the Darkness

According to Professor Samuel Williams of Harvard College, the Darkness was seen at least as far north as Portland, Maine, and extended southwards to New Jersey. The Darkness was not witnessed in Pennsylvania.

Progress

The earliest report of the darkness came from Rupert, New York, where the Sun was already obscured at sunrise.

Professor Samuel Williams observed from Cambridge that "This extraordinary darkness came on between the hours of 10 and 11 A. M. and continued till the middle of the next night."

Reverend Ebenezer Parkham, of Westborough, Massachusetts, reported peak obscurity to occur "by 12," but did not record the time when the obscuration first arrived.

At Harvard College, the obscuration was reported to arrive at 10:30 AM, peaking at 12:45 PM, and abating by 1:10 PM, though a heavy overcast remained for the rest of the day.

The obscuration was not reported to reach Barnstable, MA until 2:00 PM, and peak obscurity there was reported to occur at 5:30 PM.

Other atmospheric phenomena

For several days before the Dark Day, the Sun as viewed from New England appeared to be red, and the sky appeared yellow. While the Darkness was present, soot was observed to be collected in rivers and in rain water, suggesting the presence of smoke. For portions of New England, the morning of May 19, 1780 was characterized by rain, indicating that cloud cover was present.

Religious interpretations

Since communications technology of the day was very primitive, most people found the darkness to be baffling and inexplicable. Since science could not explain it, they applied religious interpretations to the event. The Dark Day of 1780 was, and still is, regarded by many as a supernatural event caused by God.

In Connecticut, a member of the legislature, Abraham Davenport, became most famous for his response to his colleagues' fears that it was the Day of Judgment:

I choose, for one, to meet Him face to face, No faithless servant frightened from my task, But ready when the Lord of the harvest calls; And therefore, with all reverence, I would say, Let God do His work, we will see to ours. Bring in the candles.

Davenport's courage was commemorated in the poem "Abraham Davenport" by John Greenleaf Whittier.

Today, it is believed within some Christian churches, especially among Seventh-day Adventists following interpretations of the event by Ellen G. White, that the Dark Day was a fulfillment of end-times prophecy.

Cause

The likely cause of this was due to smoke from massive forest fires. When a fire does not kill a tree and the tree later grows scar marks are left in the growth rings. This makes it possible to approximate the date of a past fire. Researchers examining the scar damage in Ontario, Canada attribute the Dark Day to a large fire in the Algonquin Provincial Park.

Birthday

Well, here I am, older than I ever thought I'd be and still kicking. Thanks to everyone who sent birthday greetings by snail-mail, e-mail and telephone. Besides family and friends here in the States, I even got a greeting from Italy. All of them were much appreciated and brightened my day.

The picture is the gift Tom gave me, a Heartwood Creek angel that is 28 inches high and seems to weigh a ton. It is resin, I am sure, but it looks like carved wood, decorated in a folk art style. I have given Mama a couple of Santas from this same collection, though not as tall as this figure. I had been admiring it in the shop where I got the Santas for some time, but it was a bit beyond my means. Tom noticed that I liked it and picked it up on sale to surprise me.

At the moment she is watching over a corner of the living room. We will see if she stays there. Because she is on the same shelf as the entertainment center, Tom is already calling her Our Lady of the Television.
St. Clare (1200's), for what it's worth, is the Patron Saint of Television. One story I heard is that this is because she was supposed to have had a vision of St. Francis from afar. The other version is that when she was unable to attend Mass because of ill health towards the end of her life, the service would appear on the wall in her room and she could watch it there. Take your pick.
The name of this angel piece is Singing Makes the Heart Glad. If you look carefully, you can see she is holding a book in her hands. I guess it is supposed to be a song book, but the text written on the pages is "Bless This Home and All Who Enter." Anyway, since she is close to the CD player, maybe she could be the Angel of Music.

Except that's the name of a song from Phantom of the Opera ...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Provincial

Every three years the Carmelite friars gather to elect superiors and plan for the future. The Carmelites of my old province are meeting near Chicago for that purpose this week.

I learned today that Fr. Vinko Mamic (pictured) , the one whose dissertation I have been editing, was just elected provincial of the Province of Croatia. I just sent him my congratulations and a promise of prayers. I suspect, having been assistant provincial myself for six years, that he will have little time for his dissertation for a while.

I am sure they would all -- in Croatia as well as here in the States -- appreciate your prayers as well.

Worth twelve minutes of your time

I ran across this video of comedian Craig Ferguson (originally recorded February 2007) and thought you might find it interesting. He speaks about how certain aspects of contemporary culture (entertainment and media) have made him recently re-examine aspects of his own comedy, and he then speaks about his own struggle with alcoholism and his fifteen years of sobriety. If you do listen, you will notice that people laugh a lot at the beginning, but not so much later on.

I think what he says applies to many situations and so I post it here. Click on the arrow on the screen to start it. It lasts about twelve minutes.

I should warn you: he has a thick British/Scottish accent and you may find it hard to understand everything he says. And, Mama, he uses some bad language. I don't know how to edit that out, so here it is as I found it.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Of cats and circuses

Chris and Linda arrived around 7:00 last night and we had a great meal and visit. They were duly impressed by the flamingos and grieved with us over the neon one that arrived broken.

Sundance took it upon herself to stand outside their bedroom door (my room) and so persistently demanded to be let in that I finally put her outside and closed the door to the laundry where her cat door is. She could still get into the garage if she wanted shelter for some reason, but at least she wasn't annoying the Kimballs. I apologized to Chris, but he said they managed to ignore her.

Today I was at the railway store all by my lonesome. Circus World Museum opened its season today, and the woman who has been training me at the railway also works there as a volunteer and had to be in Baraboo for the day. Roberta's husband Bernie is our chief engineer and he does some things for Circus World as well. The museum is located along the Baraboo River on the former winter grounds of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and it includes a live circus performance as well as opportunites to ride an elephant and an incredible collection of old circus wagons.

I also missed the Faire on the Square today in Baraboo, a pretty good arts and crafts show. The more important thing is that I survived in the store on my own. The weather was good until late afternoon, so we had a pretty good morning, but things slowed waaaaay down after lunch. Tom brought Chris and Linda by to ride and then they took off to Minnesota to see their son Chase in a production of Romeo and Juliet. He plays Friar Lawrence. Chase is still a young man, but he keeps getting cast as the wise old man in the plays he is in. He's not all that happy about it.

Also on the railway front, a couple of days ago they came out to film the scenes for the Johnny Depp movie (Public Enemy, in which he will play John Dillinger) that they scouted for last weekend. They used this full-sized steam engine, Milwaukee Road #261, which will be paying the Dells another visit later in the summer.

I learned today that Spiritual Life is planning to publish my article on the names of God. All things considered, though, I doubt it will appear before early next year.

And that wraps up the week.

Friday, May 16, 2008

You (almost) light up my life

As a thank you gift for his recent visit, Tim Dodd sent us a neon flamingo which arrived via UPS this afternoon.

Unfortunately, although still in the original packing and apparently well padded with foam, the neon tube itself was broken in half, and so we are deprived of the opportunity to amaze the cats.

At any rate, it was a very appropriate gift for this place. The flamingo flock, meanwhile, has migrated to the back and now appears to be emerging from the woods and coming towards the house. I'll let you know how Chris and Linda react.

They just called to let us know that they are about two hours away, by an optimistic estimate. We will eat our stew with them a bit later than expected.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Details at 11:00

This just in: Cassidy brought in an eight-inch garden snake.

Fortunately Tom was away.


Who knows what she'll drag in next...

Train-ee

So this morning I went over to the Riverside & Great Northern and Jack showed me how to drive the diesel. I actually wound up driving it solo for a bit. Now I have to pass a test (open-book) and I will be certified. You may think I am certifiable as it is, but this will only mean I can drive the thing in an emergency and for maintenance tasks. I won't be hauling passengers around.

At least, I hope that's all it means. As short as I am, my right leg began to cramp up after being crammed into the tiny space for the engineer for almost an hour. (Remember, these are small trains, not the big dudes.) I don't know how the regular engineers -- most of whom are pretty tall or pretty wide or both -- manage it.

Snakes, bird seed and birthday cake(s)

A friend who lives nearby owns a used car dealership in Reedsburg, and he came by this morning to have Tom do some graphic design work for him. The minute he came in the door, he asked, "What kind of snakes do we have around here?"

This is not a question to send calm coursing through the veins of the hearer. Tom has no love of snakes, as I have mentioned before, and although growing up in Texas makes me more accustomed to them, I would be happy to get along without one in the yard. My first thought was that he had seen one in the flower bed out front or among the rocks that line the sidewalk. That seems to be where the cats found the ones they brought in last summer.

It turns out, however, that he had raked one up this morning working in his own yard. While he and Tom worked on the flyer design, I went online and found a Wisconsin DNR site with pictures of the 21 types of snakes in the state, only two of which are venomous.
I know we usually say poisonous, but a poisonous snake would be one that would poison you if you ate it. A snake that injects venom into you is venomous. See why you read this blog? It is so educational!
Anyway, neither the Timber Rattlesnake nor the Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake are found in our area. The Massasauga, in fact, is the most endagered reptile in the state. What Mike had found was an Eastern Plains Gartersnake (above), whose status is listed as "Locally common."

Well, duh.

On a brighter note, soon after Mike took off, I saw an indigo bunting out by the feeder. Helen called -- today is her birthday. Mike (that other Mike) celebrates his on May 30. So that's a whole crowd of May babies (now in their 50s).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Checks and cat hair

Well, I found out today that my tax rebate check -- or economic stimulus check -- will be among the ones mailed in the final batch later in the summer. (It's based on the last two digits of your Social Security number.) When it gets here, I think I will use it for some new glasses. I hope that won't run me $600, but who knows?
Today we began cleaning up to get ready for visitors. I took everything off the shelves in my room and dusted. I even vacuumed the lamp shade. How tidy is that? I will do the bathroom tomorrow and then move into the guestroom. My one dilemma is how to get all the cat hair off the bedding. I know from experience that washing won't do it. The sheets are fine, but the comforters and quilts could best be described as short-haired tabby. You can wash them but all that means is that the hair is clean. I have tried using those sticky rollers that are supposed to pick up everything, but they are not sufficient. I have even tried using long strips of duct tape, but all that does is waste duct tape.

I'm tempted to go out and buy some things to save just for guest use. Rebecca is allergic to cats, and it would be worth having some stuff for when she and David are here, too.

Probably when I get new glasses, I will find it harder to ignore all the cat hair all over everything anyway.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Me and the Mystery Man


It's that time of year in America and high school graduates-to-be are sending out invitations to their celebrations. Today we got one from Hannah Sobojinski, daughter of the Jerry who farms across the road from us. He and Tom have known one another since childhood, and Tom always calls him a cousin, although I think they are likely eighteenth cousins, twice removed.

Anywho, Hannah sent an invitation for Tom to come to her party, a Wisconsin traditional pig roast -- I think it is called a sparnfarkel. (Sounds like a character from Laugh-In or Hee-Haw, doesn't it?) A sticky note attached to the invitation assured him that "This invitation also includes Robert."

Robert?

Although I see Jerry occasionally, I have only met his wife once that I can recall. Somehow, Tom tells me, she has it in her head that my name is Robert. He has gently corrected her, but apparently that name is permanently stuck in her memory.

As it turns out, I will most likely be working at the railway on the day of the party and Tom may be elsewhere due to a prior commitment. If we send a gift from "Tom and Michael", I wonder if Hannah will wonder where it came from.

Monday, May 12, 2008

MIldly Monday

Not much to report today. The weather wasn't great for Peggy's family get-together yesterday, but people had a good time, ate in the garage and then repaired to the yard to sit around the fire. She has a pretty ethnically mixed extended family, which meant the food included delicious handmade egg rolls as well as my enchiladas suizas. Peggy's sister Debbie had also brought an enchilada casserole, so Mexican food was well represented at the feast. I had to go back to work at the railway after I ate, but somehow they got along without me.

Orioles continue to visit us, and Tom says he saw an Indigo Bunting at the feeder. Peggy says we have them around here, and I hope to see one eventually. They are almost iridescent blue. The rose-breasted grosbeaks are back, another bird that Peggy dislikes for some reason.

Some of our tulips are in bloom and the crabapple tree Tom planted in the middle of the front yard is covered with buds. If the weather doesn't wreck it first, it should be beautiful soon.

Chris and Linda Kimball are due to visit overnight on Friday. I will move into the guestroom so they can have my room since it has the attached big bathroom. I am happy to give it up for guests, but it does mean I have to give everything a good dusting and the bathroom a good scrubdown. Chris seems to be doing fine with his recovery from all the surgery and stuff, but I want everything to be as clean as possible for him. Chris has been here a couple of times before, but since it will be Linda's first visit to this house, we want everything to be in good shape for her, too.

If any of you come to visit and need my room, I will do the same for you. Hint, hint.

And that's about it.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Saturday summary

Tim got his ride on the R&GN this morning and then headed north. After a very slow start to the morning, we had a spurt of riders around noon and then quite a few in the afternoon. Moms ride free this weekend because of Mother's Day, and we will see if that offer brings more out tomorrow. Unfortunately, the weather is not supposed to cooperate.

Because of the cost of gasoline, everyone around here is anxious about what the summer will (or, worse, will not) bring in the way of tourists. Gasoline is over $3.75 a gallon in this area. The R&GN is a nonprofit, so a bad season won't be as bad for us as for some of the other businesses. Even so, the long and snowy winter we just had meant we opened later than last year, and we are running a thousand dollars behind where we were at this same date in 2007.

We were under a frost advisory last night, and it was in the upper 30s when I got up. I didn't notice any evidence of frost having harmed anything. This morning Jerry was out planting corn in the field across the road. It has to be in by May 15, and a number of folks we know are fretting that they will not manage because the rain has kept their fields too wet.

On a lighter note, Tom bought six more flamingos last night and put them up across the road. Now Peggy can really worry that they are coming after her. It will be interesting to hear how her relatives react when they come for her picnic tomorrow.

A Johnny Depp movie is being filmed in our area, and when they went to Wal-Mart this morning Tom and Tim saw where some of the vintage autos were being stored. Tom is now claiming that he has walked where Johnny Depp walked, and Tim said maybe he has driven where Johnny Depp has driven. I suspect the reality is that he has driven near cars that Johnny Depp has never even seen. This is a gangster movie set in the northwoods, and they were filming scenes in Mirror Lake State Park. Apparently filming was delayed because the winter weather lasted so long, and even recently they found snow still on the ground in some of the more sheltered areas they had wanted to use.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More Dodds

A friend from Chicago, Tim Dodd, arrived yesterday for a short visit. I met Tim back in 2003 when he was studying at the Catholic Theological Union, and he came to me for spiritual direction while I was still in the monastery. As far as we can figure out, we are not related except distantly. Before he decided to pursue ministry, Tim had a career in business and finance. Right now he is trying to get established as a counselor in the Hyde Park area.

Tim stopped by for dinner last winter on his way back to Chicago from Minnesota and got stuck in a snow drift during one of our storms. This time his visit was less dramatic. Tom grilled some steaks, we went for a stroll along the River Walk and showed Tim some of the natural beauty and some of the crazy commercial junk that is Wisconsin Dells.

This morning we took him to some of the other sights, including Belle Boyd's tomb. Tomorrow morning he will get the Riverside & Great Northern Railway tour and ride before he heads to Minnesota to visit other friends.

Cat on a bench with dog

Last year Tom built me this small Leopold bench for the reading corner in my room. I folded up a small blanket as a cushion and at some point put that stuffed dog there just to get it out of the way. The dog was part of a Halloween costume for Michelangelo's party a few years ago -- I went as Cracker Jack, in a sailor suit and carrying the dog.

Anyway, Sundance has taken a fancy to sleeping on the bench curled up beside the dog. She often does this when Cassidy has laid claim to my bed for the day, although there are times that they curl up there happily together . I'm sure there is some feline logic to it all, but it escapes me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Birds

This afternoon a male and a female oriole visited our feeder. They were pecking away at the suet. I am not sure whether to tell Peggy or not, since she claims we steal her birds and instructed me not to put out oranges to attract them.

Tom was out pulling dandelions this morning -- hardly making a dent, of course (dandelion comes from the French dent de lion, meaning "lion's tooth" because of the shape of the leaf) -- when I mentioned that a weed is just a plant out of place. Since he wants to maintain a natural look to the place, dandelions actually belong. I said we didn't have to worry about neighbors complaining that our dandelions were ruining their lawns because this is not a lawn-intensive road. He did think Peggy might mind, though, so I said we could tell her we were stealing her birds but sharing our flowers.

I don't think she would be amused.

Twenty-three flamingos skidoo

Cats


This is a pretty good picture of the cats (I won't say anything about their human cushion, but my posture and the way that shirt pattern works with my sleeve, it makes me look wider than I am), with Sundance facing the camera and Cassidy facing me.

Hmm. Didn't I say I wasn't going to say anything about the cushion?

Who killed Cock Robin?

When I got up this morning, I noticed what looked to my half-awake eyes like little chunks of dark foam or some sort of material on the carpet and scattered into my bathroom. Both Cassidy and Sundance like to stretch out on the carpet right at my doorway and claw the carpet while I rub their respective bellies. I thought maybe one of them had finally done some damage, but then I saw that the stuff was feathers.

Tom reported that Cassidy had brought in a sparrow and distributed bits of fluff generously around the whole house before he got the remains scooped up. I suppose I am lucky that it wasn't worse. Cassidy was in bed with me when I woke up, lying across my feet. At least she hadn't brought any prey into bed with her.
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That is clearly not Cassidy in the picture. She hasn't been that sleek for years!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Totally tubular Tuesday

Well, Vinko sent me some more pages to edit, which gave me something to do. I did the initial corrections already and will email it to him tomorrow. He decided to stay in Rome a couple of extra days, so this will work fine.

Got up near 80 today. When I get dressed in the morning now, the question I ask myself is no longer what will be warm enough but what will be too warm by afternoon.

Tom discovered online that one thing that attracts wasps is -- ta-dah! -- the smell of natural wood. Hence the guys swarming around the deck. Maybe we can buy some cheap perfume and spray it all around. Of course, then we won't be able to stand sitting out there either.

I rearranged the flamingos a couple of days ago so that it looks like they are emerging from the woods in front of the house up onto the bank by the road. Peggy told Rich that they looked like they are coming after her. Debbie Kinder came by this morning and also said they look sort of ominous. Scary stuff, boys and girls!

Monday, May 5, 2008

Birds, bees and butterflies

Peggy was working on her flower beds, getting them ready for her picnic on Sunday, when I went by to see her this afternoon. She has decided she is tired of re-planting annuals every year and is going to go with perennials except in her planters. She had bought us a salvia, Meadow Sage, which is supposed to attract butterflies. I tried to thank her for it, but she said it is bad luck to thank anyone for a plant. That was a new one for me, but I looked it up and apparently the plant won't grow if you thank the person for it. I can't imagine where that superstition came from.

Meanwhile, her oriole feeder had attracted two couples, and I got to see my first orioles. She said she almost didn't tell me, because she thinks our feeders compete with hers and we are stealing her birds. I admitted I had been thinking it would be good to put out some oranges to attract orioles, so that we could get some birds with different color. She had seen a bunting, by the way, so maybe there is still hope for us.

I also asked her for advice about the wasps and yellow jackets around the deck. The traps I bought are attractive but ineffective. Peggy is all in favor of using natural products to avoid adding chemicals to the environment, and she wants to keep wasps and bees away without killing them. That way they can do their ecological job of pollinating and pest control, too. She suggested sprinkling tomato and vegetable dust around, a product made with pyrethrin, a chrysanthemum extract. I guess she means Ortho Tomato & Vegetable Insect Killer. We'll have to give it a try. It is supposed to be safe around pets, too, assuming they don't pig out on it.

When I brought the salvia home, I was wondering when we might actually see butterflies. Seems pretty early in the season for that, but I see online that various species have already been sighted around the county. I put the plant out back on the deck and went to get some water. By the time I came back out, a hummingbird was already buzzing around it. Looks promising.

Antique?

Today's local advertiser paper included this item for sale:
1950 Antique stove.

Excuuuuse me?

1950? Antique?

I was born in 1950.

I always thought that an antique needed to be at least 100 years old. Otherwise one could speak of vintage items (typically clothing) or classics (like cars). So I looked it up and discovered this definition:
An item which is at least 50 to 100 years old and is collected or desirable due to rarity, condition, utility, or some other unique feature. Motor vehicles, tools and other items subject to vigorous use in contrast, may be considered antiques in the U.S. if older than 25 years, and some electronic gadgets of more recent vintage may be considered antiques
Okay, so apparently if it is 50 years old -- and I am about to become 58 -- it can be considered an antique,and some items are antiques at 25 by American standards. (After all, when I was in Spain, I stayed in monasteries that were old when Columbus discovered the New World, so by European standards, the oldest American stuff is pretty recent.)

Maybe I am an antique, but the soul-satisfying part is that in that case, I am "desirable due to rarity, condition, utility or some other unique feature."

Hmmm. It doesn't say that the unique feature itself has to be good ...
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The illustration is William Blake's watercolor etching, The Ancient of Days (1794). Although Blake may not have been a Freemason himself, you can see the Masonic influence in this image.
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P.S. -- We saw the first bluebird of the season in the backyard this morning. He was particularly blue, and at first -- seeing him from behind -- I thought he might be an Indigo Bunting, which would have been totally cool. But when he landed, I could tell he was an Eastern Bluebird. The bunting is smaller and all-over blue. Wisconsin gets them in the summer, but so far we haven't spotted any.

Thomas and Friend



If you haven't been subjected ... er, I mean, if you haven't had the pleasure of watching Thomas and Friends, I can only assume you haven't had children or grandchildren around for a while. This popular series about the adventures of a train and his friends has been running since 1984, and it came to the States in 1989. The name has shifted around over the years as new characters have been introduced.

Anyway, the railway gift store has a HUGE Thomas selection, which makes it very popular with younger children and their dads. We have everything from complete Thomas wooden train layouts to Thomas dishes and Thomas puzzles. (So don't be surprised next time you get a gift from me if ...)

Last night we had pizza at our favorite little pizza place up on Christmas Mountain, and Tom picked up some tourist pamphlets and was looking through them. The waitress (wife of one of the brothers who owns the place) came over with our regular order and noticed the stuff about the Riverside & Great Northern. She got very excited and explained that Riley, her two-and-a-half year old who hangs out there and who seems to have decided we are just two more of his grandfathers, is a big Thomas fan.

I could see the wheels start turning in Tom's head. In fact, he had worn his engineer's cap with the flashing train button over just to entertain Riley.

Riley has taken to visiting us when we are there, usually demanding a small sliver of pizza as his share of the take. At one point, he went to a neighboring table and took the small fire chief hats the people had taken -- no doubt for grandchildren of their own -- and brought them over to us. (The name of the place is Firehouse Pizza.) The folks at that table look startled and I think probably thought we should discipline our grandson. Tom went over to return the hat and explain that Riley owns the place and only let us eat there if we shared some of our food. They smiled, but I suspect they did wonder what that was all about.

At any rate, Riley and Co. plan to visit later in the summer and ride the train. If Tom is around, I am sure he will be rewarded with a cap or something as a souvenir.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

So deer, and yet so far

Before they take passengers out on the R&GN Railway every morning, they do a run along the route to make sure nothing is on the tracks, like tree limbs that might have fallen in the night. This morning when they made that first run, there was a doe near the tracks with a newborn fawn. They thought it might have been just a few hours old, because it was not able to stand yet. Roberta -- wife of the chief engineer and also a volunteer in the gift store -- and I were invited to take a ride to see it. Unfortunately by that time, they had disappeared. I wasn't too surprised. After all, if a train, even a small one, is running by over and over, you probably don't think it's a good place to stay with your baby.

So no deer sighting there. It did turn out to be a fairly busy day, though, for the railway, which is a good thing. I am enjoying it still. It is fun to talk to the parents while the kids run around playing with the wooden train set that is laid out for them or trying to convince their parents that they need the most incongruous things. There was a little Asian boy there today, probably five years old, trying to convince his father that he (the boy) definitely needed a red caboose key chain. His mother confided in me that they have so much train stuff that it is driving her crazy, but whenever they go anywhere, her husband gets on the internet and checks to see if there is anything train-related in the area. I'm sure his story is that it's for the kids, but I am more and more convinced that it is the fathers dragging their kids out there so the men can play with the toys.

Bright, bright sunshiney day

Helen and Buddy headed back to St. Paul early this morning. Naturally the day she leaves is beautiful, sunny and in the high 60s, while most of the days she was here were cool and at least intermittently rainy. It didn't stop her from helping Tom work in the yard some, however, and yesterday afternoon they put in about 50 gladioli out front. This was particularly noble of her since she doesn't like them. But then again, she won't have to look at them. Peggy, on the other hand, is a big glad fan and will enjoy getting some from us from time to time for her flower arrangements.

Last night Helen, Buddy and I watched The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first of the Disney versions of the Narnia tales by C. S. Lewis. We both thought they did a pretty good job of it. The next one, Prince Caspian, is due to be released soon, and ABC (a Disney company) used this opportunity to stir up interest in that new film. For those who have not read any of the Chronicles of Narnia, they are fantasies with a definite Christian slant. My favorite in the series is the seventh volume, The Last Battle, which serves as the apocalypse/end of the world. Although it was written in the mid-1950s, I always thought it presented the bad guys as barely disguised Muslims. I am sure Lewis did not intend that, and even if he did, the way things work out, it is obvious that at least in Narnia, it is not always so obvious in advance how people will be judged.

These are children's books, but I first read them in the monastery and found them engaging. If you are looking for fairly light reading with a clear message, you might enjoy them. I am sure your local library has them. The title of the entire series is The Chronicles of Narnia, and you can read individual books without having to read the whole set.

And that's the librarian's report for the day.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Somewhat soggy Saturday

The morning started off pretty cool and with a definite threat of rain. Tom and Helen joined some other people in the annual clean-up along the Wisconsin River and I went over to the railway. The threatened rain never amounted to much, although that combined with the chilly weather did mean we got pretty much no action this morning at the train. I sold two tickets right before I left at noon, but a few cars loaded with folks pulled in as I was pulling out. The skies began to clear in the afternoon, although it stayed cool, so maybe they got some business. Besides the two tickets, I had sold a coffee cup and Tom bought a couple of whistles and Helen got a postcard to send her mother. They have a clearance on pin-on buttons of a train with a flashing light -- normally $4.95, now going for $0.50 -- so I got one of those to add to my flashing button collection. (I now have three, so I am not sure that really constitutes much of a collection.)

I had a pretty quiet afternoon. Went to the bank to deposit a check, went by WalMart to pick up a prescription and a few odds and ends. Helen brought a book with her by a Harvard prof, James Kugel, called How to Read the Bible. It's one of the books she had been recording for the blind, and she found it interesting enough to get a copy for herself. It is a pretty hefty volume (over 800 pages with the notes and all), but I had read another of his books and have been reading what I can of this one while she is here. I am close to halfway through, but she has to go back to Minnesota tomorrow. I have added it to my request list at the library, as well as requesting yet a third book he wrote. He is an Orthodox Jew and an excellent writer. Apparently the course he teaches at Harvard, based on this book, is the most popular course at the university.

I think we are just going to watch a movie tonight. Last night we all went out to dinner with Debbie and a friend of hers. As a reward for helping with the clean-up, Tom and Helen got a nice lunch provided by one of the better local restaurants. As a result, they don't sound too concerned about dinner. I had a small piece of leftover fish for breakfast, a small bit of leftover Chinese for lunch along with a tablespoon of peanut butter. They may not want a real meal, but I likely will. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I keep checking my email to see if Vinko has sent me any more stuff, but nothing so far. He leaves Rome on Wednesday, so if he hopes for me to get anything back to him by Tuesday so he can give it to his director, he'd better hurry.




Friday, May 2, 2008

May flowers and things cold at Witches' Gulch

April showers and all that.

Seems we had more April snow, but Helen has been helping Tom work on the yard to get some more flowers and other things moved around. Today has brought May showers, thunder and lightning and more is predicted for tomorrow. When I was working at the library, we got a torrential spell. The good news is that the roof didn't leak the way it had a month or so back when a foot or so of snow had piled up.

It was still cool enough in Witches' Gulch -- one of the sights along the Wisconsin River that is included in the boat tours -- when Tom and Helen were there yesterday that you could see your breath and there are patches of unmelted snow. The boats stop and passengers walk up along the gulch to a rustic snack bar. During the warmer months, it is refreshingly cool there.

According to Native American legend it was a great serpent, wriggling down from the north and his home near the Big Lake, that formed the bed of the Wisconsin River. Crawling over the forests and the fields, his huge body wore an immense groove in the land and the water rushed in behind him. When he came to the sandstone ridge where the Dells begins he thrust his great head into a crevice between the rocks and pushed them aside to form a narrow, winding passage. At his approach, lesser serpents fled forming the canyons which lead off from the main channel. It was these timid, lesser serpents that formed Coldwater Canyon and Witches' Gulch, so the legend goes.