Skunks in the Garden

We have skunks in the garden. A mama skunk and several baby skunks. So far, they haven’t sprayed anyone or anything. Thankfully.

From what I’ve read, skunks tend to hang around if there’s a food source. We’ve inadvertently provided them two: cat food, if we forget to take it inside in the evening, and fruit that has fallen to the ground from our various fruit trees–apples, pluots and apricots.

I’m not sure how to trap a skunk. I’m not sure I want to trap a skunk. At any rate, the skunk family is officially now my first line of home defense. Skunks are nocturnal. If a home intruder comes creeping around at 2 in the morning, I trust he will enjoy his encounter with skunks as they pursue their regular activities of chasing bugs and trundling about the garden.

One of my fondest memories from high school involves a skunk.

In junior year biology class, each student was required to produce an animal skeleton. This was the big project of the year. We all had to find a dead animal, remove all the soft material (fur, skin, musculature, etc) and then mount the skeleton on a stand. You know, just like the big dinosaur skeleton installations you see in the Museum of Natural History in New York City. Except much smaller and without the vast crowds of people streaming by.

Some of the students in my class applied a very generous interpretation to the verb find. One boy found a neighborhood cat, whacked it on the head, and then stuck it in his family’s freezer chest. Another student found a goat (procured, bought?–I’m a little hazy on where the goat actually came from) and then helped it meet its Maker.

Reflecting on the class assignment, I now realize that our biology teacher, Mr. W, probably hadn’t thought through the implications of just blithely instructing us to “find” an animal. He probably should have given us some parameters. Such as: find an animal that is already dead and that you didn’t kill. I do remember that he said no fish. That would’ve been to easy. We could’ve simply gone to the fish department at the grocery store.

“One rainbow trout, please. I’ll debone it at home, thanks.”

As for myself, I didn’t want to do something as boring and mundane as a cat or a dog. I wanted something more exotic. Dinosaurs, of course, were out of the question for several reasons. Driving home with my dad one afternoon, I spied some roadkill on the side of the asphalt. It looked in very good condition. Probably assassinated by a gentle, glancing blow from a small, electric-powered vehicle driven by an animal-hating elderly lady with bad eyesight.

A skunk.

Obviously, this skunk had wandered far from his garden. Inspiration bloomed like the proverbial light bulb and I asked my dad to pull over. He agreed. His agreement points to yet another example of an adult not thinking through implications (adults, parents in particular, aren’t as infallible as you might assume).

However, he did point out that the roadkill was a skunk and skunks smell. But, he had a great solution. Being a farmer, he had a lot of random stuff in the car trunk. Including one of those opaque, plastic five gallon buckets. Complete with a gasket-lined lid that snaps securely closed. He said that would contain the smell.

After about one mile further down the road, we realized the plastic bucket, even with the efficient gasket, did very little to contain the smell. And what a smell it was.

I placed the bucket far away from our house that evening. We lived on a farm, of course, so there was plenty of space. The next morning, the bucket didn’t seem to smell at all. Dissipation had magically occurred. Reassured, I brought the bucket with me on the bus to school. Our bus was always sparsely populated, even by the end of its route, so I put the bucket in a front seat and then sat in the back.

Again, another interesting example of adults not bothering to think through implications. The bus driver neglected to wonder why this kid had a five gallon bucket and why he sat as far from the bucket as he could.

At the next stop, a seventh grader named Gary got on. He sat in a seat either behind or in front of the bucket seat. I can’t remember that detail exactly, but he was quite close. Several minutes later, he threw up. By this time, the skunk odor in the bus had gotten quite strong. Magical dissipation, contrary to my assumption, had not occurred.

The bus driver hurriedly stopped the bus and put the bucket in the outside storage compartment. One of those side flaps that tilt up between the two wheels. And then, off we went to school.

When we arrived at school, I headed straight to the biology classroom with my five gallon bucket and the prize inside. It wasn’t biology period yet, but I had to get rid of the bucket. What happened next was probably the most fascinating example in this entire sequence events of an adult not thinking through implications.

Mr. W, our biology teacher, had been taking all of the different animals we students brought in and placing them on trays on the flat roof of the school building. His idea was that then flies would lay eggs in the corpses, the eggs would hatch into maggots, which would then eat the corpses clean. Voila, clean skeletons.

His idea wasn’t bad. It was the execution, no pun intended, that faltered.

Mr. W placed my skunk on a tray and put it up on the roof. This roof, mind you, was of a fairly large building that contained many classrooms: biology, maths, chemistry, as well as the school library. Mr W, possibly moving too quickly due to the odor and not wanting to throw up, put my skunk tray right next to one of the main air intake vents for the building’s ventilation system.

After about ten minutes, doors flew open everywhere as classes hurriedly exited the building. Even from beyond the grave, the skunk was punching above its weight.

In case you’re interested, I did see the project through to completion. The skeleton was in excellent condition. I was able to reassemble it into a standing pose. Mr. W gave me an A.

I think I very much deserved that A.

Other people also deserved good grades. The bus driver for not getting mad at me. A lot of my fellow students and teachers for not getting mad at me for the smell in the building. My dad for putting up with his car smelling like skunk for months afterwards.

Anyway, I view the current skunks in our garden with nostalgia. As long as they don’t get hydrophobia. Then they’re out of here. With extreme measures.

Kindness of Strangers

Schools Or strange kindness? Perhaps both.

Living on a farm has its upsides and downsides. One of the downsides is a harvest crew firing up at 2:30 in the morning. Which happened last night. I groggily awoke to the sound of backup beeping and engines revving up their rpms. Put on jeans and boots, jacket, went outside and grumpily surveyed a a crew prepping trailers and tractors for a romaine field.

Despite the positive effect on my character (theoretically), I don’t enjoy waking up at odd hours of the night. I couldn’t get mad at the crew. They’re just doing what they’re told. The backup beeping was from a forklift loading empty crates on the trailers. The tractors were warming their engines and arranging various trailers into position. Three hours more to go before the actual harvesters arrived, but there’s always a lot of prep that has to be done first.

Aargh.

Another downside of living out in the fields, in the larger context of a law-disdaining state such as California, is dumping. Strangers will often pull over and kindly dump their garbage on the side of the road. Sometimes they’ll drive deeper into a ranch and deposit a whole pile of bags, appliances, old tires, you name it. Parents, schools, entertainment mind-molders, etc do not teach private property these days.

Free, to a good home

Anyway, here are some nice box springs that someone generously donated to the ranch next to my house a few days ago. Feel free to stop by and get them if you need a moldy box spring for your bed.

The noisy harvest crew is an unavoidable part of living on a farm. This place is like a big, open-air factory. It just is what it is. Nothing bad about it–just peskalicious. However, dumping garbage on other people’s property is different. That hobby is a very small stone in the mosaic called “The Center Cannot Hold.” Yeats describes the process much more eloquently, but I think a lot of people are getting suspicious about that these days.

Covid Survey David Bowie Style

NO, I AM NOT DAVID BOWIE

Whilst perusing the boundless, skunk-infested garbage dump that is the internet, gas mask firmly strapped on and idly recollecting David Bowie’s career, I encountered a page urging me to participate in a covid survey. Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University. Aside: I have never had the pleasure of purchasing a carnegie melon at the grocery store, but I imagine they’re delicious.

POSSESSED BY THE MODERN SPIRIT

Yes, I clicked on the survey. And, in the modern spirit of being all that you can be, self-identifying, grooving with your internal flow, floating on the subjective breeze of self, I decided to live my life out as a person of Finnish-Urdu extraction, housed with a large extended family of nine in a yurt. Unemployed, but possessing a doctorate in environmental studies, and the beneficiary of considerable monies from the public pocket of Uncle Sam. Also, I identified as being vaccinated four times, boosted twice, and currently suffering from more medical problems than the collective patient population of Mayo Clinic Rochester.

Needless to say, this made the survey much more enjoyable. I do appreciate sharing intimate medical issues with anonymous grad students from Carnegie Mellon. Doubtless, some might take umbrage with me and point out that I’ve skewed the statistics. The statistics? That, somewhere, are part and parcel of our national health defense?

BALDERDASH

The American health statistics, numbers, data, and whatnot available for covid-related matters are paltry and hopscotch. They’re laughable. Particularly in comparison to other countries. You can find rather comprehensive data sets from places like the UK, various Scandinavian countries, Israel, etc.

If you’re skeptical of that, do some research.

GUILTY?

So, no, I don’t feel guilty. After all, I write fantasy. I could’ve claimed I was an elf. Though I imagine there are plenty of people these days claiming such a reality in all earnestness. Blue-haired elves, possessed of many cats.

One of the more intriguing parts of the survey was toward the end. Several questions about whether I thought the pandemic was being secretly orchestrated by a small group of individuals (screenshots included here). What an intriguing question. It made me recollect the scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. You know, the one where Mike and others are discussing the secret society that the Queen and Colonel Sanders belong to.

This is the stuff that prompts story-writing, furtive conversations and, ultimately, throwing chests of tea in the harbor. I have always disliked tea.

 

Air and Space Museum

The main Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is closed for renovations these days. However, their sister museum, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center next to Dulles Airport, is open. And what a fantastic place it is.

Recently, the family (complete with Super Kids and even Superer Wife) were out in Virginia for a wedding and some sight-seeing (historical, mostly). We went to a great many museums (tax money well-spent, in my estimation). You can’t drive half a mile in Virginia without seeing some sort of historical and/or museum site. Appomatox Courthouse. Monticello. James Madison’s House. Bull Run. The Museum of This. The Museum of That. Upon This Ye Olde Spot Patrick Henry Did Converse With Several Farmers and One Ye Olde Cow.

Etc etc.

Virginia is an amazing place. Plus, coming from California, it is even more amazinger, because: green (not the ideology–I mean trees everywhere), no homeless people (other than wandering around DC, though, some of them might’ve been Congressional staffers after a late night bender), and no trash anywhere. California is cornering the world’s market on outdoor trash.

Back to the Hazy Center (Steve Hazy, by the way, is the CEO of the Air Lease Corporation, a billionaire, and, I imagine, quite a large donor to the Smithsonian). If you have any interest in planes and helicopters of any kind, this is the place for you. It contains the Enola Gay, the Discovery Challenger, a Blackbird, and many, many other fascinating examples of Man’s ingenuity. The place is huge. Free (tax money at work, which means it isn’t free). I could’ve happily wandered around in there for half a day.

One of the interesting things about the flying machines displayed is that they all had their provenance spelled out. Such as: “This F-100D entered service in 1957 and flew 6, 159 hours over a 21-year career. It served during the Cuban Missile Crisis, was later stationed in Japan, and moved to Bien Hoa Air Base in South Vietnam in 1965. Ground fire hit the plane several times during its years in Vietnam. The aircraft is displayed as it appeared during the heaviest fighting of the Tet Offensive of 1968, when it flew for the 90th Tactical Fighter Squadron…”

And so on.

I was particularly fascinated by a series of prototype helicopters invented by one Stanley Hiller, who apparently started his mind-staggering career at 15 years old, when he invented the world’s first, successful coaxial helicopter. I’ve included photos of three of his machines. He did a lot of work for the military (go where the money is, I suppose). The yellow Hiller Copter pictured here  he built while he was at Stanford, at the ripe old age of 19 (suddenly, I feel like a non-achiever). Called the XH-44, it was the first helicopter invented to use all-metal blades. He tested the XH-44 with amphibious floats in his parents’ swimming pool.

One of his odder inventions is the Flying Platform. He built this for the Army in the 1950s, but they never went to mass production with it. Apparently, a non-pilot could fly this thing by simply leaning in the direction he wanted to go. Top speed of 16 mph.

Another bizarre Hiller-machine was Rotorcycle. Hiller built that one for the Marine Corps in the 50s. They wanted a single-person, collapsible helicopter for Spec Ops missions or for dropping to pilots trapped behind enemy lines. Even though the Rotorcycle was a success, the Corps did not bring it to production due to slow speed (52 mph), vulnerability to small arms fire, and the fact that pilots could get spatially disoriented in it if they flew too high above the ground.

Interestingly enough, driving back from San Francisco Airport, I noticed a Hiller Museum off the 101 in San Carlos, near Palo Alto. Never noticed that sign before. Anyway, this Hiller fellow must’ve had quite a brain! It’s encouraging and inspiring to see creativity like that at work.

Creativity is creativity, whether it powers your drawing, your writing, or your helicopter-inventing. Unusual thing, isn’t it?

Backyard Tractors

The backyard on a ranch can look a bit different than other backyards. Such as your backyard in Georgetown, downtown Chicago, Manhattan (may I never live in Manhattan), or Santa Monica. May I never live in any of those places. If there are a high number of tractors in the surrounding fifty square miles, then I will probably be good.

Here’s what is currently living in my backyard. Tractors. Pretty big ones. Not that big by Midwest commodity standards, but big enough for coastal California farming. My boys are pleased, that’s for certain. These New Hollands are pretty cool. They also come in a double-tire version which is great if you need to roll over a large battalion of gophers at one time.

In epic fantasy terms, these tractors are the equivalent of ogres, large trolls, small dragons, or even mid-sized giants.

Gotta love these track Cases. They’re cooler than the Challengers that Caterpillar makes, but people around here tend to use Challengers more.