Dick's Blog

“Non Indigenous Species”, Chapter 47 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”, A Free Book

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READ THE SIGN. YOU MAY WANT TO WATCH WHERE YOU STEP

Next Week, “Welcome to Oinkville”, Chapter 48 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”

Update:

We are halfway through my “free” second memoir, “Inside and Outside”, expecting to finish before my 81st birthday, a year from now. So, what will come after that? Hitting the 80 milestone doesn’t sound like much until you start reflecting on how much time is left and what you want to do with it. I hope to continue with my sometimes humorous and self-effacing exploration of our inside and outside worlds (the internal and external terrains of life) as seen through the eyes of a lifetime hiker, depression survivor, and retired engineer. Even a little light science from a personal perspective can be fun.

This story is dedicated to my dear friend, Jimmy, who passed away a few years ago. When I was suffering the worst of my depression, he was there to extend a helping hand. He helped save my life. One thing he taught me was how to slow time down (read on). How do you repay a debt of gratitude, maybe by cheering up and helping others who read what I write?

Do you remember the American Revolutionary flag slogan? The image on the flag said it all, “Don’t tread on me!” Our good friends for over 58 years now live in Florida. We spend quality time with them, visiting for a week, usually in March when it’s typically cold and damp in New England. They used to live in Maine where we did much camping and hiking together, but they now prefer the warmer climate. Here is my humorous story, a true adventure about a Florida hike in the Marshall Swamp several years ago.

Non-Indigenous Species

Time can slow to a crawl. The eye and brain start recording a series of events taking only seconds, expanding them into minutes of fine detail. It happened to me over twenty-five years ago coming home from work with my friend Jimmy. The exact sequence of events is still fresh in my mind. It was his day to drive. The car directly in front of us spun out on black ice, which had formed on the overpass on the long hill leading into town. Jimmy started a life-saving avoidance maneuver that rivaled the skills of Sterling Moss and Mario Andretti.

To avoid hitting the driver of the car in front of us broadside, he braked and turned slightly, bouncing our right front wheel off the curb. That reduced our momentum and put our car into a sideways slide. We glanced, door to door, off the car in front and then careened across the centerline meeting a car coming up the hill with a blow to our right front bumper. That changed our course again and further lowered our speed, aiming us at the opposite curb and the guardrail protecting a thirty-foot drop to the street below. The high curb abruptly lowered our velocity, with the guardrail ending our erratic journey that had started only three seconds earlier. On our final jarring stop, Jimmy’s left hand slipped off the steering wheel and punched a fist-size dent in the windshield. The recoil rotated his torso over the center console into the passenger side of the car. This was the last time that Jimmy ever drove without his seat belt. After the thrill ride of the century, all I could think of saying is, “Jimmy, I would appreciate if you got your face out of my lap.” My brain had collected these events into a short story, one even with a humorous ending, amazingly without losing my sense of composure. I was about to use these unusual slow motion mental talents once again.

This was our third trip to Florida to visit friends who had moved from arctic Maine three years earlier. In New England, most of the hiking is up and down with elevation changes of hundreds and thousands of feet. In Florida, the hiking is mostly on the flat. Up, maybe two to three feet and down the same. I get a kick out of the interpretive signs along trails in the state parks, which explain that the forest growth can change with increasing elevation from mostly palms to pine. What they mean is that with a two-foot lower water table below the surface, the pines can survive and displace the palms. So went our latest hike in the Marshall Swamp just south of the Ocala National Forest in the center of the state. It’s a beautiful forest setting with a wide, manicured trail. A small sign at the trail entrance indicated that one should be aware of the dangerous plants and animals that inhabit the area. Have a nice day!

Florida has experienced problems over the years from the incursion of non-indigenous plants and animals. Water hyacinths choke inland waterways. We all hate the gypsy moths that defoliate their host oak trees and can turn a picnic into a disgusting disaster. (That’s not ground pepper falling from above on your potato salad.) Silver Springs, years ago, imported monkeys to make an island in their aquatic attraction more jungle-like for their visitors. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that monkeys are good swimmers and good procreators. We have wild parrots that are moving northward into New England, building elaborate nests and shorting out electric utility transformers. In the Everglades, they have an explosion of Burmese pythons that have been imported as household pets for years. When they outgrow their welcome, they usually get dumped in the woods. These critters can grow to 20 feet in length and 200 pounds, displacing the alligator as the top of the food chain. I can imagine one of these constrictors, hanging out and waiting, dropping out of a low tree branch, creating a permanent shortness of breath and ruining a perfectly good day.

In all the Florida hikes we have taken with our friends, we have never encountered anything on the trail that might cause concern. I must emphasize, “on the trail.” Wandering off into the puckerbrush is ill advised. In the Ocala National Forest, we hiked the fictional route of Jody who befriends a fawn in Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling. Jody’s father (Gregory Peck in the movie version) gets bitten by a venomous snake and almost dies.

Back in New England, I do go off trail often, especially with my son. I use my hiking poles to probe a dense thicket in front of me. Once, I thought I heard I heard a rattle in front of me. As I moved backward in caution, I accidentally stepped atop my son’s boots. Since his feet were now pinned under mine, my backward momentum toppled both of us, with me ending up sitting on his chest. I’ve never lived that one down. In Italy, my wife and I had lost the trail on a hike in the Southern Alps. Meeting up with two local gentlemen, who were similarly disoriented, we decided to bushwhack through the woods to the summit ridge. First, I gestured to them as best I could, if there were any poisonous snakes in the area. At first I got a blank expression, and then an “Aha!” One of them said, “veepair” (Italian for viper) with the accent on the “veep.” He pressed his open hands together, resting his cheek against them, indicating if there were, they were all sound asleep. So off we set out through the heavy undergrowth without a care in the world. You can only worry about “veepairs” so much.

In Marshall Swamp, we had about a half-hour left before exiting the forest. A loop trail that we had passed on the way in offered a change in scenery. This diversion put us on a wide leaf-littered woods road. Although it had been a cool day, the wide-open path provided a lot of direct sunlight. The warmth was luxurious. I stretched my arms, enjoying the sun’s radiant energy. My thoughts turned mellow, thinking of our plans for the rest of the afternoon, stopping for take-out Chinese food, picking up a rental movie and enjoying a long cocktail hour with good friends. The ladies were somewhere behind us. My friend, Eddie, was in front of me, probably equally semi-conscious, maybe thinking about a cold Heineken.

I absent-mindedly looked down at Eddie’s feet, thinking about his skinny bare legs. (I’m sorry Eddie, but that is what I was thinking) when, within three inches of his left foot, where mine would be in two paces, there appeared in my vision the fist size head of an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Its full seven-foot length was stretched across the road, luxuriating in the same sun that was putting me half to sleep. Its girth was bigger than my forearm. That’s when, as I back peddled, my brain went into hyper drive, expanding each fraction of a second into minutes. I yelled out, “Keep walking, Eddie. Keep walking, Eddie. Don’t stop. Keep walking!” I was afraid to even mention the word snake for fear the Eddie would stop in his tracks to look. It was either composure or automatic pilot that was working. The snake’s forked tongue sampled the air. Eddie was now a half step away from a visit to the emergency room, now a full step, now hesitating, now remembering that when somebody gives you a command, just do it, now two steps, then three, and finally out of harm’s way. The snake, the biggest rattler I’ve ever seen even stuffed, seemed totally oblivious to everything. If spurred to action, it could stop a man in his tracks, maybe bring down an elephant.

I clapped my hands. Nothing! I stomped my feet to create vibrations in the ground to get it moving off the road. More flickering of the tongue, the ladies behind me, asking, “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Eddie, at first somewhat bewildered, now eyes wide open, finally saw his almost perfectly camouflaged nemesis. Slowly, the snake half coiled and retreated silently back into the undergrowth. I thought I was cool as cucumber, but I couldn’t stop talking as I downloaded the long story from my brain. Come to think of it, they say that Copperheads, another member of the pit viper family, smell like cucumbers. I’m toast! I have no sense of smell. The possibility that Eddie could have stepped on the snake, or I could have, or the ladies behind us could have, gave me the chills. “What ifs” can drive you nuts.

On the way home we picked up Chinese and stopped at Blockbuster. One of the first DVDs I saw on the rack was Snakes on a Plane. Not tonight, I thought. I have enough to dream about! That snake, and its kind, lived in Florida long before the first Native American stepped foot here, longer than the dawn of mankind. We are the interlopers on its turf. We are the non-indigenous species here, the ones who should tread lightly.

Following that automobile accident years ago, I would wake repeatedly in the middle of the night with my mind replaying the incident in exact chronological detail. This went on until I became bored with the whole thing. Last night I awoke. Eddie’s left foot was just coming down. The hairs on my arms stiffened. What if he had stepped three inches to the left? Fortunately, there were no out takes or alternative endings. The movie was exactly as I remembered. Eventually, I will become bored watching the reruns.

Next Week, “Welcome to Oinkville”, Chapter 48 of 92 of “Inside and Outside” 

“Too Many in the Shower”, Chapter 46 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”, A Free Book

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WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE IN MY SHOWER?

Next Week, “Non Indigenous Species”, Chapter 47 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”  

Update:

If you are interested, the people posing with me in my shower are my son and daughter, who had just arrived to go winter hiking with their dad. They both work in the health field, unlike the giants of science who have shared my shower in the past. This parody is the second in my series of slightly humorous stories (well, it makes me chuckle). It’s about a well-documented phenomenon, which most people have probably experienced, but might wonder why anyone could get so excited about it.

Too Many in the Shower

My Old Friend,

I’d like to discuss something we’ve both experienced in the shower. As we already know, when the water is turned up high the shower curtain billows in, caressing and wrapping around our legs. You told me of a scientist who won a prize for solving and describing this phenomenon. I’ve heard the description, and I must agree that it will cause the above effect. Basically, air entrained by the shower spray creates a virtual cyclone, which reduces the static pressure inside the shower, causing the shower curtain to billow inwards. The low static pressure is a result of Bernoulli’s Law, which relates air velocity to reduced static pressure. I make an oath to you that I never invited this guy Bernoulli into my shower.

Alas, I must confess that I have found others in my shower, also causing the shower curtain to billow in. Even if I stop the spray by letting it play directly on my head or even turn the spray off for some time, the shower curtain continues to billow inwards. Some other effect is also at work here. The effect is the same that sends heat and sparks up the chimney. A flue is created by the warm moist air in the shower, which is less dense than the air in the bathroom. A column of warm, moist buoyant air exerts a lower static pressure at the bottom of the shower than at the bathroom floor. Cold air wafts in at the bottom, billowing the curtain, replacing the warm air leaving at the top of the shower. This activity stops if the seal at the sides of the wet shower curtain and wall are broken and the curtain parted, allowing the colder bathroom air to rapidly displace that in the shower. The laws of fluid mechanics and thermodynamics are working here as discovered by Boyle and Charles, who contributed to the perfect gas law, and Archimedes who first discovered the law of buoyancy. I swear to you that I’ve never invited these people into my house, certainly not into my shower.

I never questioned such things before, thinking it was something that curtains just do. Now you have made the whole thing scientific and made me clinically examine this to the point of tears. The magic is gone! The shower is occupied by ghosts of past scientific giants. I don’t know how to break the news to you, but I don’t want to share my shower with anyone. From now on I’m taking a bath!

Your Old Friend 

“Walmart Stargate”, Chapter 45 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”, A Free Book

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MY LOCAL STARGATE TRAVEL AGENCY (If you think that Walmart is big now, wait till they get into the travel business)

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A VERY LARGE ARRAY (VLA) ANTENNA LOOKING FOR INTELLIGENT LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE

Next Week, “Too Many in the Shower”, Chapter 46 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”

Update:  

The next 24 chapters and weekly posts are devoted to the subtle humor I find in life. Humor, especially the self effacing kind and not taking life too seriously, is what many humorists and comedians use to survive their own depression. I am no exception. What follows is “Walmart Stargate”, “Too Many in the Shower”, “Non Indigenous Species”, “Welcome to Oinkville” and many more. Hold on to your funny or silly bone and picture the images and pictures I paint with words. Welcome to my world!

Walmart Stargate

On a recent trip to Arizona and New Mexico, we visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory or Very Large Array (VLA) near Socorro, New Mexico. The observatory provided some of the background scenes for the movie, Contact, with Jodie Foster, based on the novel of the same title by Carl Sagan, who was a strong proponent for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence or SETI. The book was on sale in their small visitor center gift shop. Coincidently, the movie was being played on a local channel at our motel the next night. I’m sure the movie gets a lot of play in the area, good for the tourist trade. The story is about the discovery of an extraterrestrial intelligence radio message recorded by the VLA. A gigantic transporter machine is built according to the plans transmitted in the message. Human contact is made with an advanced civilization on a distant solar system. It’s a very good movie.  

We also visited the Kitt Peak National Observatory west of Tucson, home to many optical telescopes, a solar observatory, radio telescopes and new observatories being constructed for studying mysterious gamma ray bursts in the universe. The Kitt Peak Observatory is located on Indian reservation land. Permission was granted by the Indians to locate the observatory near their sacred land because the objective of the work performed here is to better understand God’s handiwork. We all have the same God. No question, the enthusiastic scientists we met and talked to on our tour seemed like reverent and spiritual people.

With this prologue, you will better understand where my mind was when I walked into a Walmart store in Tucson, Arizona. I had purchased a pair of sunglasses for my vacation at the Walmart store in Cromwell, Connecticut. Halfway through our vacation, one of the stems broke off. I didn’t have the sales slip, but my wife suggested that we visit a local Walmart and see what they could do for us. Boy was I surprised! They exchanged the broken pair with no question. Have a nice day!

The major surprise occurred when I walked into the air-conditioned store. Everything was familiar. The aisles and merchandise were identical to the store at home. I could have closed my eyes and felt my way to the counter where they sell sunglasses. The sunglass racks were the same, the same prices, and the same selection. I had this eerie feeling that when I left the store I would be in Cromwell, Connecticut. Even weirder, I could walk out this store and be anywhere on Earth where there is a Walmart store. Weirder still, I imagined that I had walked into a store on a different world. Should I look around at my fellow shoppers and see if they had five fingers on each hand. How many fingers did ET have?

In Contact, scientists built this multibillion-dollar machine or stargate, two in fact, to travel to an alien world. Why not just send the plans for a Walmart store out into space. Build them all over the world and universe. Because of the speed of light, the rate of spreading of Walmart stores throughout our Galaxy will take some time, a hundred thousand years to get to the other side of the Milky Way, but it’s a start. You walk into a store. There is this mild feeling of disorientation, but no nausea. You step up to the counter selling travel tickets. You tell them which gate, swipe your VISA card and you walk out into a different city or new world. If you think that Walmart is big now, wait till they get into the travel business.

Next Week, “Too Many in the Shower”, Chapter 46 of 92 of “Inside and Outside”