Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Exercises in Triviality

Exercises in Triviality

On July 1, 2007, the US Census Bureau estimated that the population of the US was 301,621,157.

According to Blum's Farmer's and Planter's Almanac for 2008 the United States has 1 birth every 8 seconds, 1 death every 11 seconds, 1 international immigrant every 27 seconds (didn't specify legal vs. illegal), making a net gain of 1 person every 11 seconds.

Based on the July population estimate and assuming the birth, death, and immigrant rates remain constant, when will the population of the United States double?

On a vaguely related note, are you bothered by the fact that the United States President and his administration seem to have a difficult time telling the American people truths?

Between September 11, 2001 and September 10, 2003, the U.S. administration made at least 932 false statements, according to The Center for Public Integrity. The non-partisan organization researched statements made by the President and key members of his administration then verified the truth or falseness of each statement. Once they made their determinations, they created a searchable database so that you can look up your favorite falsehood.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The following story is true. I harvested this tale from the Techsideline Lounge Message Board. The author, known to me as DixieHokie, went on a hunting expedition last week that nearly ended in tragedy. Here, like the good people of Reader's Digest like to promote, is a ...

Drama at Sea

Thursday morning a group of four of us ( Jason & Chris in one boat and myself and Chris in my boat) get done hunting in the Campbell’s Creek area in (Eastern North Carolina) around 10am.. We head back to the house to regroup grab a bite to eat and plan our afternoon hunt. Jason checks the weather on 2 different sites using his computer. Weather forecast was for 1 to 2 foot seas for the afternoon and building Thursday night to 2 to 4 and sustained winds for Friday blowing 20.. We made the call to go Seaducking since it wasn’t to suppose to turn windy until Thursday night… and Friday we would be sidelined to creek hunt.. We prepared my boat a 2005 20’ Center console Crestliner with a 75hp Etc. We took my hard blind off and got all the unnecessary stuff off the boat that we normally take with us just so we have room for the four us and all of our 3 bags of sea duck blocks and long line gear. we load the boat with 5 guns. I bring 2 guns just cause I like to have a back up gun on the boat.

We hop in the truck and head to the oyster creek boat ramp in Lowland.. then out of the creek we head north east toward the middle of the mouth of the Pamlico river in search of seaducks. We pick a spot that we see some birds in and set up.. At this point the seas are a nice 1 to 2, and we are having a good time. Getting everything set.. After a few attempts of setting the anchor we finally get it set and we are hunting. A few birds are working us and we are getting shots here and there. We shoot a Old Squaw that comes though and we cut anchor to chase him down. As we are coming back to the moor buoy we take a wave over the bow. Jason is getting soaked. and it was then we all look at each other and decide we should pick up before it gets bad.

At this point we know its going to be a bumpy ride in but nothing I haven’t done before. it s going to take some time. and we plan on getting wet. The time is approximately 3:30 I have a hard time figuring the times but I’ll try my best. We pick up the anchor out of 17feet of water. and turn to the decoys. We neatly load the first line. by the time we are picking up the second line the seas have turned BAD, and about to get a whole lot worse..
We now just are pulling in the remainder of the lines and throwing them in the boat so we can get to shore. the waves are now a easy constant 4 footers with the occasional 6 footer mixed in. We each have on our live vest.

I look at my GPS and take a heading to the nearest land, Pamlico Point, witch is approximately 6miles away. The boat is only able to run about 2 knots and is getting beat pretty hard. The bilge pump is on and pushing water out. in what seems to be a blink of a eye we were in bad shape. I am so focused on running the boat that I have not looked down. Chris asked me where the back up bilge was because my bilge pump cannot keep up. I looked down and I was standing in a foot of water. with wave after wave now breaking over the bow. I give the controls over to Tester and I grab the back up bilge pump and a battery out of the back.

Jason is trying to bail with a empty cooler. I attempt to hook the back up bilge pump up and I get it working as I’m getting shocked as I am holding the positive and negative leads on to make it work I look over and it is spitting some water out.. but it is useless we are getting pounded by a gallons of water every few seconds… the motor is now half way under and shutting off. It is now that we are done our fight to make it to shore. It is now time to take on a entirely new fight, the fight for our lives. I got on the radio while others got on their cell phones. I called mayday, and yelled out our position. We got in touch with Coast Guard station Hobucken and they said help is on the way.. Now was survival time and the minutes now passed like days. We got as much weight off the boat as we could. The boat at this point was almost completely full of water and we watch as our floating gun cases mix in with the decoys and make their way off the starboard side. I am standing in 2’5 and sometimes 3 feet of water depending on the wave that was come over the side. It was at this point I have to call my wife for what could be the last time I ever get to talk to her. I wish this phone call on no one.

I tell her to listen to me. I tell her what the situation is and to call someone anyone and let them know where we are. I then tell her that she is the light of my life, and that I love her. I tell her to tell Hunter ( my 8 month old son ) that I love him and always will. I hang up with her with a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat. I was more worried about her
than me. The boat now is under water but still up right. we are all hanging tough.. all four of us were lined up in a row surfing the now 4’ to 5’ waves. At this point most cell phones are low battery or toasted due to water..

Approximately one hour goes by and we are just waiting. Searching the skies and the horizon toward Hobucken for the Coast Guard. The water temperature is 45* we are all doing ok. The only worry I had was about Chris F, he was the only one of us who was not wearing waders. he has been standing in water for over a hour. I was truly worried about my friend.

Rescued at sea…
It was at this time we spot the twin bladed Marine helicopter that later I find out is named call sign Pedro. I will forever call this a gift from god. The problem now was that Pedro was searching for us at our original mayday call about 5 miles from our current position. We make one more phone call to the CG and tell them that we see the Helicopter and that he need to come about 180* and head east about 5 miles. He does. We are waving everything that I have in the boat that has some other color that camo or white. I do not have flares on the boat, which will change in the future.

Pedro finds us!

The Helicopter spots us and proceeds to fly over head to access the situation. He flies about 30 feet above us on our starboard side and opens his door. A rescue swimmer is deployed. He swims to the side of our boat and asked us how we are physically, and informs us the coast guard has a boat that will be hear shortly and that it is more safe for them to pick us up versus us going in the helicopter. So we wait. The 25’ Coast Guard boat pulls up to us a short time later and we board the boat.

After we all board and are safe I say a prayer thanking God for the ultimate gift, life. I then call my wife and let her know we are ok. I look behind me and see my boat still afloat and think to myself that’s a hell of a boat to be completely submerged and to hold 4 good size men and still be floating. The trip back to Oyster Creek took close to a hour and a half. It was the worse seas that I have ever been in. On the way in the captain of the Coast Guard boat mentioned that the “Weather service sure missed this.” We make it back to land and are meet by our friend Richard, and are checked out by the Pamlico EMT’s. All of us are shaken up a little, but we all decline to go with them. There is nothing a warm shower and some hot food won’t take care of.

I would once again like to thank the US Coast Guard, The Marines, Pamlico county EMT’s . They saved our lives! I also want to Thank Richard for being there on the phone for us and being a great help once we got back to shore. Thanks to all of you who have prayed for us and the phone calls and emails of support. Lastly Thank you to Chris T, My friend you are one steady dude. Thank god you had the Coast guard phone # programmed in your phone. I hope you are able to get your others number off of your fried phone.

Jason, You also have ice in your veins. You were always checking on each of us, and I truly appreciate that.

Chris F, What a great calmness and encouragement you provided us. Thank you for getting your prayer chain involved so quickly! I can’t think of anyone better than you guys to be to be in that situation with. You guys are my heroes and I love you guys.

Foot Note…

Boat is found! I get a call from the coast guard on Saturday morning at 10am. A fisherman is on the scene with my boat a few miles south of Cedar island ferry dock. (25miles from where we were rescued ). The Boat is afloat and most of the water that was in it had been pumped out by the bilge before the battery died., The guy who found it towed it in and trailered it to his house. My insurance adjuster will be on the scene first of next week

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Day in Oz

This blog entry is also on my teacher association blog: RCEA
I've been spending a bit of time there lately instead of here.

A Day in Oz

The Roanoke County School Board met today at their annual school board retreat. In past years, the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors would join them and open, frank discussions would take place over the issues facing the county and the school system. This year, the supervisors chose not to attend, much to our loss.

The retreat took place at the spacious and comfortable confines of the Roanoke County Schools central office boardroom on Cove Road from 8 am until 4pm with a 20-minute break for lunch. Water and Chik-fil-a nuggets and wraps were provided for the staff and board members. Certainly, no one can possibly accuse them of misusing taxpayer’s money on this retreat!

I also attended the session along with our Uniserv Director, Pat Wood. Together, we also played the role of “The Public” at the meeting. Few formal decisions were made at this meeting; instead, the purpose of the meeting was to take stock of where our school system is now and what we hope to pursue in the near and long-term future. To that end, the discussions were detailed, rich, and lively. Many of the discussions will bear fruit in policies adopted at future school board meetings, so I won’t report on them here and now.

As many of you know, the Roanoke County School Board was shuffled in the last election with Fuzzy Minnix and David Wymer being elected to the body. Today was their first opportunity for an intense and prolonged policy discussion. At the risk of heaping overwhelming praise on them, I would like to let readers here know that I was impressed with them today. Jerry Canada, chairman, has a breadth of historical knowledge which is key for keeping a group on course. Drew Barrineau, vice-chair, is an astute observer of county politics especially regarding the Board of Supervisors. He also has a keen eye for organizing a budget. Mike Stovall, besides having a depth of historical knowledge, has the unique ability to gather all of the ideas on the table and synthesize them. David Wymer possesses a strong understanding of the inner-workings of educational programs and internal budgets. Fuzzy Minnix brings a fresh perspective from the general public and a wealth of experience as a former supervisor. This board knows what they are doing, and that’s an important thing for the continued strength of our school system.

Those who know me, know that I don’t suck up to people. So my praise of the board is genuine. I’m sure that as time passes, there will be issues where our organization will disagree with decisions made and policies created by the board; however, I feel strongly that this board has the interests of the whole system in mind.

From the meeting today, several things are clear. I’m going to address them in list form with my perceptions, understandings, and opinions attached.

  1. The state legislative season is jumbled even more than it has been in recent years. The General Assembly is split ideologically and politically. There is a real possibility of continued acrimony and gridlock. That does not serve our public school children or public school employees well. Despite that, there is a real opportunity for a significant increase of state monies this year, despite the turmoil and despite the soured economy. It seems that Roanoke is poorer so our composite index score is lower. This should bring us more dollars from the state via their funding formal for local schools. On top of that, the state has re-benchmarked their Standards of Quality. These two factors, even if the legislature doesn’t add any additional money for teacher salaries, means that the county will receive a nice increase in state funding for the next budget year.

  1. It looks like the board is committed to providing a substantial increase in salary for classified employees (secretaries, building supervisors, nutrition specialists, and instructional assistants). While it may take two or more years to accomplish the goal of making these categories the regional leaders, this board seemed resolute in making that happen. While the RCEA has not taken a position on that, I personally applaud that move. We represent about 35 teaching assistants and all of the teachers in our organization work closely with these people daily. Their dedication and loyalty should be rewarded. They deserve our support and the board’s support in raising their wage to a more respectable level.

  1. Teacher pay was like the big gorilla hiding out in the open in the room. It wasn’t discussed, but it was always in the background. The RCPS Salary Committee will meet on February 14 to hash out the official committee position. Hopefully, the committee will come into agreement with the RCEA’s salary position: Multi-year approach to improve salaries to the best in the region (more on that later).

  1. A decision was made on the laptop initiative. I’ll hold off commenting on that until the central office staff has the opportunity to discuss release that information. I will say that the board has provided a clear direction on how technology will be integrated into the entire system.

Many more topics were discussed at the meeting. Ideas were thick and fast. All told, it was a great meeting.

Virginia Tech beat Boston College 81-73 today!!!!!!!

On another note, our members are very concerned about teacher salaries. I’ve heard from many of you. Many of you are upset that the Governor did not include money for the state’s share of salary raises for teachers in the first year of the biennial budget. I’m upset about that, too. Governor Kaine professed to be “The Education Candidate,” and he is coming dangerously close to joining recent governors Gilmore, Allen, and Wilder in the book of non-supporters. Here are some points to consider. Again another list.

1 VEA may still be able to persuade the General Assembly to amend the budget. Then it will be up to us to persuade the Governor to accept the amendment.

2 No matter what the state does for salaries, the salary war will be fought at the Board of Supervisor level. Will they pass along the increased state funds to the schools? We will have to persuade them.

3 I’ve heard those neutral on salary increases for teachers state that you really shouldn’t have to improve salaries to the National Average because that’s a “moving target” that can never be hit (Wouldn’t it be nice to hit the target for a change instead of continually missing?). Instead, they say that our state should compare itself to salaries in our region. They also proclaim that we shouldn’t necessarily be paid at or above the state average, because Northern Virginia skews that average, and the cost of living is much less here. Finally, they matter-of-factly state that teacher salaries in Roanoke County should only be compared to other systems in the region. So I’ve been thinking about all of that…

…and now a list in response to number 3

A. National Average-Moving Target: Okay, let’s play their game. Twenty years ago, Virginia was a leader in salaries for our region (VA, NC, SC, GA, FL, TN, KY, WV, MD, DL). By 2004-05, the state had slipped to 5th in that group. In recent figures just released by NEA for last school year, Virginia had fallen to 6th on that list. Looks like the target IS moving…away.

B. The State of Northern Virginia: In the latest national salary rankings, Virginia is ranked 31st in the country. If we were to allow the state of NOVA to succeed from us, the average salaries for the remaining school districts would drop to 46th in the country. I suppose that Virginia would no longer be the 7th wealthiest state either, but we certainly wouldn’t be the fourth poorest either.

C. Systems in the Region: As we’ve pointed out in recent blog entries, the unquestioned leader in teacher salaries in the area is Salem, a school system born from Roanoke County Schools about 30 years ago. Roanoke County surely would be second on that list, right? Wrong. We come in, generally, fourth or fifth in the region behind Roanoke City, Botetourt, Franklin County, and sometimes Craig County at various points on the teacher pay scale.

Why don’t teachers in Roanoke County have top pay in the region? I’m not one to tie test performance to pay, because we all know that there are many factors that affect whether or not a school makes AYP. But if I was that kind of person , a strong argument could be made in favor of rewarding pay for RCPS teachers.

So I guess the point of this little exercise is that a group can excuse, deflect, and deny the fact that teachers are underpaid, but no matter how the facts are twisted, teacher pay scales in Virginia and Roanoke County are, to adopt a word made famous by Tom Hanks in the movie- “The Terminal,” unacceptable.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stolen Heart

Tonight, my friends from Beggars' Circus will take the stage at Roanoke College's Olin Hall and perform in a joint concert with the nationally known eclectic group , "No Strings Attached." Recently, Beggars' Circus has been riding a wave of popularity that is unbeknownst to them. Many students at Roanoke College know of their fine musical work, and hopefully they will be coming out from behind the woodwork tonight.

What follows is sort of like a review of their latest compact disc.

Stolen Heart

Beggars’ Circus has released their third compact disc, Stolen Heart, and it is packed with Celtic flavors. Their fan is ecstatic.

The group, which consists of Tim Summers, Michelle Lawrence-Walker, and Mary Beth Coffey, is based in the Roanoke/Floyd County area and performs all over the region at festivals and celebrations. Their first CD was entitled Peddlin’ Bedlam which was followed a couple of years later by Moor For the Asking.

The new CD, Stolen Heart, is contains a spiffy mix of traditional reels and tunes.

This review consists of an insightful and sometimes witty look at each track from the new CD. As an added bonus, you will be able to directly link to a snippet from each track (in progress) so that you can validate my insights.

Sarn Mere

No doubt I will mention it over and over here (or maybe naught) that Michelle Lawrence-Walker is a superb wind player. Sarn Mere is hauntingly still. Every breath Lawrence-Walker takes sounds as if it will be her last. Mary Beth Coffey’s resonating viola walks solemnly beside Lawrence-Walker’s flute. It’s as if some doom is being visited or retreated from.

Behind The Bush In The Garden/The Rose of Castleton

Beggars’ Circus provides no clues as to the meaning of this woven piece. Perhaps they are simply allowing me to make up something…and that’s okay by me.

Castleton is a small village in the Peak District in Derbyshire. It’s most famous for the stunning Peak Cavern. This cavern, which has the largest natural cave opening in the British Isles, is also known as “The Devil’s Arse” and is home of the headwaters of the river Styx.

Throughout the piece, the trio happily dances on the devil’s arse.

Julia Delaney

Eileen Ivers performed this tune on her debut solo album, Traditional Irish Music, in 1994. The earliest recording of the song, however, dates back to 1903 according to the Irish Folk tune index.

As a consumer of this music, I find this piece to be driving somewhere, hard at it and percussive.

Paddy’s Lament

Tim stands alone behind the microphone for this song. To say it’s grim and depressing is grossly insufficient. It’s a downright hopeless tale, the kind that Beggars’ Circus brings forth with relish.

I spoke with Tim for some time about this song, and the more we talked about it, the more it struck a chord with me. In the song, “Paddy” leaves for America to see if he can find a way to feed his starving family back in Ireland. As he gets off the boat, he’s conscripted into Lincoln’s army and sent off to fight the Confederates. In the process, he loses a leg and his dreams.

Paddy’s tale isn’t altogether much different than my Polish grandparent’s tale. Some forty years after Paddy came to America, my grandfather came over to find work and to feed his new family. Eventually, he sent for my grandmother and his baby daughter. The voyage for them was very difficult with the baby contracting measles and was being taken from my grandmother. No one ever saw the child again. It is assumed she died on ship. My grandmother was heart-broken, confused by the foreign language, and angry. When the officials tried to give her someone else’s orphaned baby to take the place of her lost daughter, she refused. Paddy’s and my grandparent’s tales were more the norm rather than the exception, I think.

Canfield Polka*Three Penny Bit*The Templehouse Reel

Other-worldly weavings of sound and emotion. That’s what these three tunes share. The trio begins in a time not recognized by modern peoples. Then it morphs onto a table in a smoky pub where it lays out for all to hear.

Parcel of Rogues

Robert Burns. Unification. Dark. Damp. Wood smoke in the kitchen. Not rosy times. Lawrence-Walker’s deep harmonies under Coffey's lonesome lead vocal seal the true sad, depressing nature of this weathered tale.

Scharriff Riffle*Highway to Limerick*The Pigeon on the Gate

With these little pieces, the band marches away into the sea of Side A. Lawrence-Walker's whistle is haunting and driving. This intricate arrangement with a free-flowing manner steals the first half of the recording.


The band thought themselves extremely clever by placing a recording of a needle scraping across the virgin grooves of blank vinyl at the end of record side. Clever. Very clever.

I Know Who Is Sick

Coffey and Lawrence-Walker vocalize in this relatively painless ditty. They adroitly point out that no one is “sick, dying, crippled, drowned or otherwise inconvenienced for once in this one.”

Blizzard Hambo

Sadness and melancholy is what I absorb when listening to this musical Swedish tale. I want to know who is hurt and why they are suffering. As the tune builds, I cry along with them.

The Gypsy Laddie

When is it okay to allow yourself to succumb to charms from an enchanting, mystical person? Any tine is a good time. Gypsies invade this tune and turn it on its ear. Summers busts out the tune with vigor and a believer’s passion.

The first time I heard this song, I thought of the original Heavy Metal rock group, Jethro Tull. Ian Anderson's vocals on "Aqualung" sound boxed...much like Tim on this song. Hey, if it worked for Ian Anderson, perhaps it will work for Beggars' Circus, too!

Banish Misfortune*The Cat on Her Shoulder

Summers bangs out his percussive guitar beat and the band joins right along with him. Together they explore another side of the conscious reality, a new beginning. Yet it’s not even the last track on Side B.

Bonny George Campbell

Coffey laments the rugged yet beautiful simple life of Scotland back during a time when everything was most harshly simple. Building barns and building a family experience. It’s a life story.

The Kerry Reel*The Lads of Laois*Dunmore Lasses

The group has become known for arrangements of dissimilar tunes and weaving them into a single entity. An excellent finish to the record, this compilation leaves the listener longing for a time and place far from the stress and insanity of the modern world. It’s like it should be. All right.

Thursday, January 17, 2008



Admittedly, when I was twelve years old, my best friend and I would go out and look for UFO's. Often we'd actually "spot" them as they progressed across the sky from southwest to northeast or northeast to southwest. Sometimes, we'd see several at the same time. These UFO’s came with a sound not unlike the sound a high flying jet makes after it’s flown past at 30,000 feet.

However, those trivial sightings aside, we really did see something strange one evening when I was 13. On that evening, my friends-Mark, Jimmy, Donny- and I were laying under an apple tree spying on Beverly, our neighbor. We were hoping to get that really good view of her when she stepped into her bathroom or bedroom, and we were not disappointed. (To Beverly, I want to apologize for my immature act. I don’t know what I was thinking. It happened just once. I swear.)

The apple tree was located it the back end of an empty lot in an average 1950's style subdivision in Roanoke, VA. Its branches were untended, and over the years it had grown limbs that reached out like a bell-shaped umbrella from its trunk, creating a hollow space underneath.

As we were laying there that late summer evening, we noticed a round bright, blue spectrum white light grow larger in the sky above us. It was perfectly silent and grew as large as a house seemingly right above the house next to Beverly's house. There was no accompanying reasonable explanation for it. No truck. No plane. No searchlight from Searstown. No blimp (we lived within a couple miles of an airport). No reported weather balloons. No reported methane leaks. The light was so bright that we had to shield our eyes, which was not a problem because we were petrified and wanted nothing more than to bury our heads in the ground. I remember trying to mash myself flat to the ground on top of the half-rotted fallen apples.

Jimmy, the wildest of us, whispered, "G*** D*** Mother___" I'm getting the F*** out of here!" Bad idea. I remember we all had to tackle Jimmy and hold him down. The light hovered there moving back and forth gently as if pulsating or breathing and knowing. There seemed to be some sort of different colored light mixed in with the brightness, but I've never been able to determine exactly what it was. The glowing sphere stayed there a long time, seemingly an eternity, but probably about fifteen minutes or so. We laid there under our tree shielding our eyes and trying to be as small as possible. It seemed that the light was penetrating the apple tree looking for us. I knew that it was only a matter of moments before we were sucked up into the center of the ball or vaporized on the spot.

Then, without warning or explanation, the light flitted away at an incredible speed, without sound. It just zipped off and disappeared high into the sky to the west, quickly growing smaller and smaller until it was gone from sight into the dark of space.

I wanted to puke. I have never been as scared as I was that night. We sat around afterwards and talked it through trying to come up with any reasonable explanation that we could think of. But nothing seemed to fit.

To this day, I have no idea what it was that we saw, but from time to time, like the Stephenville UFO stories that have come out, it seems others have seen what we saw that night under the apple tree.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Giant Stride

My friend, Megs, has created an education blog that focuses on 21st Century literacies. She also has a deep and abiding interest in diving. Somehow she's managed to marry the two interests in a dynamic way.

Giant Stride

Check it out.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All Under the Wheeling Sky

I wasn't going to write anything this month, but I decided to sit down and listen to a DVD my son bought me, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Radio City. Dave, who lives near where I spent fifteen years of my life, has always been like an old-fashioned bard to me. Anyway, as I watched the DVD of the concert, I began to feel like writing again. Then he launched into the song, "Oh."

Oh Lyrics

The world is blowing up
The world is caving in
The world has lost her way again
But you are here with me
But you are here with me
Makes it ok

I hear you still talk to me
As if you're sitting in that dusty chair
Makes the hours easier to bare
I know despite the years alone
I'll always listen to you sing your sweet song
And if it's all the same to you

I love you oh so well
Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow
I love you oh so well
Enough to fill up heaven overflow and fill hell
Love you oh so well

And it's cold and darkness falls
It's as if you're in the next room so alive
I could swear I hear you singing to me

I love you oh so well
Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow
I love you oh so well
Enough to fill up heaven overflow and fill hell
Love you oh so well

The world is blowing up
The world is caving in
The world has lost her way again
But you are here with me
But you are here with me
Makes it ok
Oh girl you are singing to me still
Like a kid loves candy and fresh snow
I love you oh so well
Enough to fill up heaven overflow and fill hell
Love you oh so well

That led me to write this story...

All Under the Wheeling Sky

The world has lost her way again. It’s not hard to understand why.

A boy knows his way when the sun is shining and there are rabbits to chase.

I remember that time. It carried its own music, a bouncy rhythm. Two dogs, a best friend, and the wind in our faces carrying the scent of the wild. One dog, Heidi, who chased cars and belonged to my friend Mark, was a large, tan German Shepherd. The other dog, Wags, belonged to me. She looked like a miniature mutt collie and smiled a lot.

These were the best times. Autumn afternoons. Open fields full of rabbits for chasing through the tall grasses and scrub growth. The dogs loved it more than even Mark or me, I think. I’d head on over to his house after school with Wags running out ahead of me with her body quivering with excitement. Mark only lived a few backyards from me. Usually Heidi would meet her about halfway, and they’d leap and dance around each other a bit before they’d head off chasing each others’ tails and nipping the others’ shoulder.

Mark would meet me on his front steps. We might start off with some Oreos and lemonade, a gift from his mother, June Cleaver. Soon though, we’d march off with purpose to the fields nearby. Heidi and Wags would zip past us, unless a car happened by and then Heidi would have to break off to chase it down. Heidi was a professional car chaser, but even the best sometimes have accidents. Heidi had survived several encounters with tires, but had lived to chase some more.

The field we liked best was at the bottom of the hill below Mark’s house. It was a complete mixture of tall grass, briars with biting thorns, smoking weeds (hollow reeds that we’d break off and light…then inhale…blech!), dirt piles, and small paradise trees (stink weeds). Throw in some tangling honeysuckle and pokeberry plants with their poisonous purple staining berries and you had a recipe for wild afternoon rabbit chasing.

It never took the dogs long to realize where we were heading. They’d leap ahead and blast off into the grass. Mark and I were always determined to keep up with them, but our boy legs were no match.

Every now and then we’d catch a brief glimpse of one of the dogs flash through the dense growth. Meanwhile, we’d be pretending to be explorers breeching some remote undiscovered land. All kinds of dangers awaited our imaginations. Tigers. Strange men. Giganticpredatorybirds. Soon we’d find ourselves diving into prickly blackberry canes for cover, simply hiding there and whispering new danger warnings to each other.

At some point, Wags, the better nose of the two, would catch the scent of a rabbit, and we’d be jolted back to the present. She’d let out a telling yelp and begin high-pitched and excited yapping. Heidi would soon join in with her, bruskly barking while executing a serpentine chase of some frightened rabbit.

Mark and I would try to position ourselves in the woods so that we could catch a glimpse of the rabbit. Our ultimate goal was to capture the little fella. I’m not sure what we planned to do with a rabbit if we ever caught it.

After much exploration in that wild land, we had identified several promising rabbit trails. We knew that once the dogs scared up a furry critter, it would eventually come down the trail to us. I’d crouch on one side of the little path with Mark on the other.

Almost without fail, we would hear the dogs getting closer to us and soon we’d see movement just ahead. Without fail, we’d each time our leap and throw ourselves at the scurrying blur of fur as it blitzed past. We never managed to snag a rabbit using that approach, but it sure was fun diving and missing then just rolling over and laying there looking up at the rolling clouds. Sometimes I’d pretend the clouds were boats sailing across a sky ocean. I could lay there forever watching the clouds rushing away from me to someplace far away.

Heidi never caught a rabbit, but Wags actually got one a couple of times. Each time, she had no clue what to do with it. Each time, Mark and I would freak out and rush in to save the prey. Since Wags was clueless about what to do with it, we were always able to complete the rescue.

As the sun went from golden to orange and the wind went from refreshing to chill, we’d begin to head home. The dogs would have a bit less bounce to their gait and their tongues would be dangling and sticking to the ground.

Back at Mark’s house, they’d tear into bowls of refreshing well water. After shooting the breeze him for a bit, I’d eventually head home, because a boy knows when it’s time to eat and when it’s time to come home. I never lost my way.

The world has lost her way again. It’s not hard to understand why.

There are 30,000 wild parakeets flying around London according to my son who was reading the BBC News Monitor online.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


I just thought I'd stop by to let all my valued readers know that I'm taking a vacation from my blogs right now. I really need to recharge my creative side. I'll be back later in the month.