Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sometimes the bushes whack back

Too wet to mow this morning so we bushwhacked our way through the pollinator habitat, using a stick to clear out spider webs and beat back tall stalks of ironweed encroaching on the paths. I won't have many more opportunities to take daytime hikes before the semester gears up for good, so I grabbed at the chance to get out into the woods, even though I ended up thoroughly drenched and covered with little bits of yellow petals and fluff. Next week I'll be bushwhacking my way through campus meetings, a whole different kind of adventure leaving few visible marks. (Better leave the stick outside.)

Many of the wildflowers are past their prime.

Nine or ten feet tall, by a conservative estimate.

Toad habitat...we heard something jump in but couldn't see what it was.

It's purple and yellow season!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Fiddling with the syllabus

Fiddling with dates on syllabi--what could be a more boring way to spend the day? Click, copy, paste, shift everything to move an assignment over here and then change my mind and move it back again: it all feels pretty futile.

And yet imagine the power. With one click of the mouse, I can make my students' weekends miserable or open up broad expanses of free time. I can cram a bunch of demanding assignments into a short span of time or stretch them out more evenly, front-load the semester with reading and writing tasks or inundate my students in November.

No matter how I adjust the syllabus, one thing is certain: students will find something to complain about--and so will I. At some point in every semester I find myself wondering what possessed me to put so many pages of reading in the same week and what made me think I could read that many student drafts on the same day. 

But I think I've fixed it this time. I think this semester's syllabi are just about perfect, thanks to days and days of fiddling with dates and deadlines.

Of course I say that every semester. How long will it take for the inevitable flaws reveal themselves?


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What would the Lorax do?

Which came first, the tree or the house?

In the beginning the tree was small, but so was the house. The tulip poplar grew to shade the back yard, attract birds, support a tire swing, and spread beauty, and eventually the house grew too, doubling in size to stretch out under the tree and reach closer to the septic tank.

Now the tree has grown beyond its prime and dead limbs threaten to come crashing down on the house. Because of the tree's size and location, it needs professional help; however, the current configuration of house, tree, and hillside would require the tree service's truck to drive--and maybe even park--over the septic tank. I keep picturing a cherry-picker truck slowly settling into the septic tank while the chainsaw-wielding worker up in the bucket wonders why he's no longer able to reach the branches.

I love that tree and I hate to see it go, but I'd prefer to take it down intentionally than have it come crashing down on my house. However, I'm not willing to sacrifice my septic tank to the cause, and I'll bet the tree removal guys would balk at sacrificing their truck to my septic tank. 

So we're stuck: can't move the house, can't move the septic tank, can't remove the tree. I need to find someone who can cut down a big tree without the aid of a big truck--or else I need to learn to live with dead limbs dangling overhead. I wish the person who planted that tree had anticipated this problem, but then it's entirely possible that the tree was here first, before the house. And back then it would have been such a small tree--how could it possibly cause such big trouble?

It's hard to see, but this huge dead limb hangs right next to the deck.

I can't even get the whole tree into the picture.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

To sleep, perchance to breathe

I wondered whether the sleep doctor was trying to scare me this morning when she listed all the things that can result from failing to treat severe sleep apnea: high blood pressure, enlarged heart, stroke, memory problems, and "insult to the brain."

Insults? I can handle insults. What ever happened to "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me"?

But of course she wasn't talking about that kind of insult. Apparently my blood oxygen levels have been falling so low when I stop breathing in my sleep that my brain is feeling deprived and neglected, which can result, over time, in dementia. Now there's a word to scare the sleepy patient into alertness.

So okay, I guess I'm getting treated for severe sleep apnea. A home sleep test showed some really scary numbers so I'll be trying out a CPAP machine in the next week or so. Meanwhile, I'm being warned not to sleep on my back (lest I continue to insult my brain), although my ability to follow orders declines precipitately while I am asleep. Maybe if I just give up sleeping entirely, the condition will go away.

But how can I take such a big step without first sleeping on it?

Monday, August 06, 2018

When a flightless bird takes to the road

When my flight out of Orlando got delayed, I might have felt sorry for myself if I hadn't been chatting with a woman traveling with three small children: her flight had been delayed several times and she was looking at another three or four hours of waiting in the terminal--and she had run out of diapers for her baby. Sure, I was inconvenienced, but at least I wasn't stuck in an airport with three children and a dearth of diapers.

Remind me never again to try to fly out of Orlando on a Sunday afternoon. My whole area of the terminal was crowded with people whose flights to pretty much everywhere had been delayed, and no was was particularly happy about it. Then my flight got cancelled and the screaming started, one young man loudly encouraging the airline representatives to perform anatomically impossible acts while nearby a bride panicked over the prospect of missing her own wedding. I found a quiet space and checked online for options, most of which required waiting two or three days for an available flight, but if I'm going to be sitting around killing time for two or three days, I'd rather make a little forward progress while I'm doing it. 

So I rented a car and pointed it north.

I probably could have made it a little farther than Charlotte, North Carolina, by Sunday night if I hadn't started out at noon and then stopped for a dinner break at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. It was the wrong time of year and the wrong time of day to see many birds, but I saw some great blue herons, great egrets, and white ibises, one green heron, one snowy egret, and a really lovely tricolored heron fishing for dinner. My progress was briefly impeded by an alligator crossing the road, but I soon made my way back to the interstate and headed north.

It was an easy trip, with little traffic and not a drop of rain. I didn't realize that my rental car lacked cruise control until after I was on the road, but somehow I managed to avoid a speeding ticket despite heavy enforcement all along the route. At one rest stop the loudspeaker was blaring Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," but on a long road trip, girls just wanna clean rest room. (Sadly, you can't always get what you want.) And I'm pretty sure the bedsheets at the cheap hotel where I stayed in Charlotte were made of compressed styrofoam, but aside from that, I have no complaints.

I made it to the Columbus airport far more quickly than Frontier was prepared to get me there, and the airline will be footing the bill for my rental car (but not for the gas or one night at a cheap hotel). And then I picked up my own car and made it home without a hitch just 24 hours later than I'd expected, worn out and broke and kind of smelly but relieved to be sitting still. I'm not any happier with the airline than anyone else who was in that terminal yesterday, but at least I didn't have to sit there for two days listening to them scream.

I really love this place, even in the August heat.

Tricolor heron.

Not a speed bump.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

On the wing in the heat

Fun fact: even if I set out for a walk before the sun comes up, my fingers swell up so much from the heat that my phone can't recognize my fingerprint. Who thought traveling to Florida in August would be a great idea?

And yet here we all are: my brothers and sister-in-law and nephew, my daughter and son-in-law and grandkids, all gathered to celebrate at my dad's house. Yesterday the house was full of friends and family for a raucous lunch, and then those of us who didn't need an afternoon nap set out for the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. My brother was disappointed to find no dinosaurs at the raptor center--maybe next time we'll visit Jurassic Park.

All the birds at the raptor center arrive there because of injuries, and after they're treated and rehabilitated, those that can't be returned to the wild are used to educate the public. We looked through the window of the clinic to see a tiny injured screech owl that looked like a Furby, especially when it batted its big eyes. Handlers brought out an osprey named Hank and a bald eagle named Frank, who look pretty fierce but know how to behave around the public.

I fly back to Ohio tomorrow and then I'll soon be back in getting-ready-for-the-semester mode, so today is my final day to relax and have fun. In August. In Florida. Remind me again why I'm here?

Swallow-tailed kite


Barred owl


Hank the osprey

Frank and friend

This reminds me of the eagle muppet.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Liminal living

The alarm rings and without thinking I fling out my arm to turn it off, but my arm swings through empty space, unable to locate the alarm clock that ought to be sitting on the nightstand that isn't next to the bed. Either I'm caught in a bizarre nightmare in which my bedroom furniture has dissolved and my bed is flying through empty space or else I've forgotten that I'm in Jackson.

At home, the alarm clock is next to my head; in Jackson, it's on the other side of the room. 

Sure enough, I've lost track of which house I'm sleeping in. Awake, I know where I am; asleep, I don't care. It's the in-between state that confuses me.

It's not easy to get used to living in two houses, especially when I've lived in one long enough that it inhabits my dreams. At home, I can wander around in the dark, confident in my internal map of my surroundings; in Jackson, I still have trouble finding things even when the lights are on. And then there are gaps in my knowledge: I haven't set foot in the basement yet and I've heard that the attic is nice but I haven't found any reason to go there. 

And every time I think I'm done buying things, I discover another gap: Where are the cookie sheets? How can I drain pasta without a colander? How can we eat all this marvelous sweet corn without corn-grabbers? 

I remind myself that new students will soon be enduring fall orientation, when they learn what they need to know to shift from one mode of living to another, but the transition isn't instant. They'll spend a fluid amount of time in a semi-disoriented state, not sure how to find their classes or when to eat or where to find books. It's impossible to put a finger on the exact moment when they're fully oriented to their situation, but they'll know it when it happens.

At those in-between moments when I'm not sure where I am and I can't find the alarm clock, there's one sure cure for my disorientation: just swing my legs over the side of the bed and try to find the floor. The bed in Jackson is significantly taller than the one at home, so by the time my feet find firm ground, I know where I am--and if I can't find the floor at all, I'll know it's time to roll over and keep dreaming.