My Neck Gets Longer

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 28th, 2011 by MadDog
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My bags are packed. I’m ready to go. As you read this I will possibly be zipping across the sky from Buffalo to Phoenix leaving behind me a trail of noxious fumes. I will do this with the aid of an airplane, one Continental Airlines monster or another. As I board I will be chanting the mantra of all sensible airline passengers, “Sure hope the plane don’t crash.”

My suitcase is half full of the warmest clothing which I own. I certainly hope that I will not need them any longer once I reach Sedona. According the the 14 day trend, the lowest daytime temperature I’ll encounter for a while will be about 32°C (about 90°F). At night I might have to put up with 18°C (about 64°F). This is much more my speed. Now that I have wasted your time giving you my personal weather forecast I’ll move on to the equally boring subject of this post – my neck.

For several months I’ve had tingly fingers. The last two fingers on each hand are a bit numb and feel as if they have been frozen and are thawing out. It’s not debilitating, but it’s not pleasant, either. I’ve heard suggestions that it might be a pinched nerve in my neck. Googling seems to confirm the possibility. I’ve also heard suggestions that I might get my neck stretched. This does not appeal to me. I prefer the do-it-yourself approach.

A couple of weeks ago I was suddenly attacked by the idea that I could think my neck longer. Perhaps it might stretch itself. Yes, I know what you are thinking. However, in this case, you overestimate my absurdity. As I went about thinking about my neck being longer I discovered that if, for instance, I’m walking or sitting or whatever and I sort of make my head higher (it is hard to explain) my neck will stretch a little, maybe a few millimeters. I’ve been doing this pretty regularly several times a day. I’ve tried to hold that posture as long as I can continue thinking about it. After a while I forget what I was doing and my neck gets shorter again. I feel like a turtle.

It’s a distinctly strange sensation to think your neck longer. If I do it right now as I’m writing about it, I can describe it to you. First, I have to calm myself a little and hold my head level while looking straight ahead. Then I think about my neck being longer; I stretch it mentally. My head actually moves up a little, accompanied by some rather unpleasant popping and crackling noises. That’s the not-so-nice bit. The nice bit is that, after only a short while, I can feel the tingling in my fingers abating.

The weirdest thing about this is that it appears to be working. I don’t imagine that my neck looks any longer, but the tingling in my fingers has reduced appreciably, even when I’m not stretching my neck. Is it possible that I’d discovered a new medical technique? Can I patent it?

Okay, that’s pretty much everything I can squeeze out of that subject. If you’re still here I have some miscellaneous pictures from the last couple of weeks to show to you.

It’s entirely possible that you have never seen the Willis Tower (I still think of it as the Sears Tower) in Chicago nearly obscured by fog:

Now you have.  One less thing, eh?

While we’re doing tall things (hey, this fits in with the neck-stretching!) have a look at this shot of the big CN Tower in Toronto being annoyed by some wanna-be big ones. I call it Conflicting Egos:

Okay, so I get zero points for clever title.

Toronto is chock full of sculpture. Some of it is very cool. Others are so-so. I grabbed this shot from my bus:

I don’t know what to say about it. It’s big. It’s sculpture. It’s art. It reminds me of an eggbeater.

This also is a bus shot:

At first I thought, “How cruel. They are all tied together.” Then I noticed that they are simply hanging onto the child-securing line. This impressed me. They are remarkably obedient and rule-following. Hey, they are little Canadians. We would expect no less of them . If that sounds sarcastic, it’s not meant to be. I much admire Canada and its adorable inhabitants. I even have a tattoo to celebrate the whole idea of Canada. I would happily be a Canadian, if only it were possible. I might even survive the first winter. Or maybe not.

When I do these miscellanea posts I often fret over which images are worthy of the space. This one falls in the “I don’t know.” category. I include it only because I have not previously seen a pine tree which sports cute little green pom-poms on each branch:

Okay . . .

Moving on now.  I went to Fort George with Ron a few days ago. It was amusing. Ron stepped in a skunk hole and took a tumble. Actually, that part was somewhat less amusing and more scary. It could just as easily been me. You know, I have never been hurt while engaging in any of my adventurous activities. Years of cave exploring, rock climbing, flying helicopters, SCUBA diving, slogging through swamps and jungles, not to mention some recent skydiving have done me no injuries. The only times I have ever gotten hurt was when I was minding my own business and suddenly found myslef picking myself up off the ground. Perhaps this indicates that I am most at risk when I’m not paying attention, eh?

We gawked at the old buildings and I snapped a few of the mildly interesting items. No, really, that’s not fair. It is quite a spectacular place and well worth a visit. I’m just being difficult and moody. I did particularly want to get a shot of the demonstration of musket shooting. Maybe everybody else in the world has seen this, but it was my first time.

Here is the spiffily dressed soldier firing his musket:

Well, as you can see, that didn’t work out so well. The stupid thing failed to fire four times in a row. The guy who was talking us through the demonstration had just mentioned that the weapons were highly unreliable. So, having relaxed my guard, I lined up my camera for the fifth try and KA-BOOM the thing went off. It surprised me so much that my camera jumped out of my hands. I successfully juggled it back into my grip before it fell to the ground. I had a little laugh when I looked at the shot.

The shooter then went through his routine of loading the musket and fired again. I finally got the shot I wanted:

Uh, right. That one is checked off the list.

I’ll start winding things down with this shot off Morningstar Mill:

Don’t believe the “Always on hand” part. They had no flour for sale, not that I wanted to buy any. It is, however, a pretty site.

Here is a shot of the small waterfall:

I had to take three exposures at different levels of brightness and combine them into a single high dynamic range shot to make this image. Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway, you can see a rainbow in the mist at the right, if you look very closely.

The shot above and this one are what I call “Calendar Junk”:

Pretty, but devoid of purpose or meaning.

They are the pop-stars of images.

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Fooling Around – Experimental Photography

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road, Photography Tricks on May 26th, 2011 by MadDog
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Once again I will get all pedantic on you and deliver a lecture on a subject so obscure that most would not even consider its existence. Today’s endless monograph will lightly cover the pseudo-intellectual pursuit of what I dare to call Experimental Photography. If you Google that phrase, you won’t find very much of interest. Some of the Google Images do lead in the general direction, though. Are you laughing yet?

I use the term more to make fun of myself than for any other reason. It embarrasses me to admit that when I have my camera in my hands I have reverted to a kid with a particularly engaging toy. I wish to appear more serious and, uh . . . deep than that. It’s all about ego. So, don’t take the second part of the title of this post seriously. The “Fooling Around” part is the operative phrase.

My personal view of experimental photography includes a continuum of categories ranging from purely narrative or descriptive to abstract. Within these categories a range of camera techniques can be employed to get the desired effect. I could write a book about this, but I have only this much space. Prepare for compression!

When I take a picture of something which must be instantly recognisable and the object itself is more or less the message, I call this narrative or descriptive. The object is  the story.  Here is a very obvious example:

It’s a sign. How simple can it get? It would be a very uninteresting image except for the words on the sign. What is the message? I’m sure that you’ve gathered that this is a sort of visual double entendre.  There is a place called Lick Elevator, a grain storage facility which you have seen here before. What makes it amusing is that the sign could appear to be a command – a rather absurd one.

This also is a narrative image. In The Happy Singing Machine  I wanted to convey the little surprise I felt when I turned my head and saw the cartoon face staring at me from the side of this whatever-it-is machine:

Here again, to complete the transaction between the photographer and the viewer, the viewer must uncover the narrative – decode it, so to speak. This one is so obvious that it takes little effort.

As you wade through this post you’ll note that I’m slowly (oh, so slowly – will it never end?) moving from narrative or descriptive to abstract. You may find yourself nodding off.

This one is also narrative, in the sense that you can easily see what it is – a restaurant bar top with the street scene outside and everything reflected upside down in the shiny surface:

In actuality, this is a tripple entendre.  The first meaning is the obvious one – the descriptive image itself. It is what it is, an interesting visualisation, but otherwise not noteworthy. The second requires seeing the title of the image, often a clue to the photographer’s hidden message – The Honest Lawyer.  Aside from the fact that the place is possibly a hangout for downtown lawyers, there is the aspect of the mirrored but shaded world reflected in the bar top. Honest? Possibly. True? Probably not. Ethical? Quite likely. Accurate? Well, that depends on who you are asking, eh? You can play these little word games with the image until you decide that you’re wasting valuable time. The third part of the tripple entendre  works for you only if you live in Hamilton, Ontario where there is a matched set of way-too-loud-music quasi-sports (too many big screen TVs silently blaring miscellaneous mundane sports nonsense) plastic-food establishments called The Honest Lawyer. (The funky video clip makes this site worth a click.)

Whew! All that in there? It’s a stretch, I admit.

That shot didn’t require much in the way of camera technique. I simply plopped my Canon G11 down on the bar, pointed it towards the windows and pushed the button. It did require a lot of post-processing to get the effect I wanted.

However, some shots require some planning and fiddling with the camera controls. I like to take shots of things whizzing past the car window. This requires setting the camera to manual or shutter priority mode and selecting a relatively low shutter speed, in this case about 1/8th of a second. It also requires one to look ahead to see what shot might be coming up, because there will be a very short window of time for the exposure:

Here we have the giant communications tower in Toronto framed between trees which are blurred by the movement of the bus on which I was riding. Even more blurred, because it was closer to my camera, is the traffic light on the right. This image is light on transcendental value. There’s not much there. It’s only real interest is the demonstration of motion blur. Ho-hum.

This one is a little more meaty. I remember seeing this sculpture from previous visits to Toronto. I find it no less repulsive than I did before. I wondered how I could capture my revulsion in an image? Hah! A passing pedestrian. Make her appear as if she is fleeing the ugliness:

Simple – select a slow shutter speed, brace firmly against the window frame of the bus and hope that the bus does not move until the pedestrian reaches the precise point at which she seems to be rushing past the travesty. I give you Rush on By.

I’ve been waiting a long time for the opportunity to put a picture of that sculpture in a post and treat it with proper disrespect. Thank you, kind lady, whoever you are.

With this one we are approaching the abstract. I call this a concoction. It follows the recipe of the moment. It’s shaken and baked virtually on the fly. As I was looking out of the window of the bus I was distracted by the reflection of the bus driver. How inconvenient. Why not record my complaint?

Here again, a normal automated shot will not work. If both the reflection and the outside scene are sharp the reflection is lost in the muddle. What is needed is to blur the scenery outside so that the reflection stands our more by its sharpness than by its contrast. A slow shutter speed once again comes to the rescue. If there is a subliminal message in The Phantom Bus Driver  other than the title, you will have to find it. I’ve racked my brain and can’t puzzle it out.

If you are very observant or very bored, you may notice the reflection of my hand holding the camera at the far right of the image. There is a term for this self-referential imagery in which the artist or a portion of the artist appears in the image, but I can’t think of it. Any help out there?

Here the narrative and the abstract mingle. What is the mountainous object which dwarfs the trees? What kind of grass matches a good-sized pine? Does the title Around My Neck  lend a clue? Well, silly me, of course it does. Who am I trying to fool. Some images are just fun and camera technique boils down to nothing more technical than lying on my belly in the wet grass like a 140 pound short thick snake:

The object is, rather obviously, a millstone and it is not twenty meters tall, only about one. The camera angle, shooting from the ground nearly straight up, and the inclusion of the trees make it seem much larger at first glance. I call this Abstract But Not Really Abstract. It’s a visual joke, if not a very good one.

Some of these last ones are approaching abstraction. This one probably more than any of the others:

In Clouds and Angles  it’s all about photography. Nobody would paint this picture. It’s a found object which disappears in an instant unless it is captured and viewed. It appears in a singular place in a moment of time. Were it not for me, nobody would ever have seen it – nobody. Does that mean anything? Of course not. Wait . . . no, it does mean something. It means that somebody sat in a car thinking about the sky and the clouds and watching things go by as a little story about the sky and the clouds and the things going by was being scripted in the mind of the observer until the right moment came along when everything converged and the world was set right for a nanosecond and the finger moved of its own accord to freeze the instant for no purpose whatsoever except the stopping, the pause, the memory of the moment of perfection.

Is that abstract enough for you?

You have to be a little bit odd, I think, to be a photographer. I’ve never made any money to speak of from photography. I’d certainly like  to make some money from it, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards. However, I have made a little money at it and I take it very seriously as an expression of how I see the world, so I call myself a semi-professional photographer. Hey, you can have semi-pro baseball players and golfers, why not semi-professional photographers? Fair is fair. Part of that oddness I mentioned is allowing the mind to romp unfettered through the mountains of optical data flooding the visual cortex to stumble across little meadows of incongruity. I give you GO!

This shot would better fit the abstract label if it were not for the top of the bus at the bottom of the image. I, as the photographer, share a tiny hidden joke with you. There is a thing in Ontario called Go Transit. It’s a combination of bus and train service. The logo is entirely unintelligible – see the little turquoise colored symbol? It’s supposed to read “GO”, but you have to be a calligrapher to figure it out.

Patience, I’m nearly finished.

In This Way Up  we are back at the grain elevator again. We’re nearly all the way to abstract now. The object is not clearly recognisable. This is an assemblage of shapes and colours. It has been Photoshopped beyond all reason. My purpose was, as nearly as possible, to obscure reality under layers of camouflage:

If I’ve done my job well the reality will not be too obvious, unless you are an  employee of the establishment and you travel up and down this precarious ladder frequently. See, there you go. Once the reality is clear, the image loses it’s interest. It’s no longer a mystery. Phooey! I should have stopped while I was ahead.

This last one is neither narrative nor abstract. I might go so far as to call it a visual pun, though not a very good one. What makes it weak is that there is no common phrase “food temple” to match the title of the image:

I had some concept or other in mind as I was working on this image. It may have been a deep thought about the place that food has taken in modern western culture. I might have been thinking about how irritated I am that I can’t go to a meeting or visit with friends or engage in practically any social activity without being compelled to consume food. Really folks, I can’t eat that much. Please stop trying to feed me.

Yeah, that may have been it.

I can’t remember.

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Stupid Man Tricks and Crystals – The ROM

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 23rd, 2011 by MadDog
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On Friday my intention was to go to Toronto, no matter what the weather was doing. The weather cooperated somewhat. The sun even peeked out cautiously a few times, giving me the opportunity to walk about in my lumberjack flannel shirt. I did go to Toronto, but I did not get to do what I had planned. You see, planning is the key. That is precisely what I forgot to do.

What I wanted to do was to visit the MZTV Museum of Television at 55o East Queen Street. Forget about the address. It’s not important to you unless you plan to walk all the way to the museum from the bus station as I did. You have to pass through a very interesting neighborhood. When I say interesting you can surmise that I really mean scary. Don’t get me wrong. I fit in there quite nicely with my pony tail, earring and multiple tattoos. My choice of clothing also blended in with the attire of huge, rough-looking men hanging around in front of bars and loans-until-payday joints. The word “joint” fits into this picture also, if you get my drift. No need to purchase. Just pick up a roach from the sidewalk. Anyway, I did make it to the museum, but it did me no good.

This is where the planning comes in. You see, what I had failed to do was to ascertain whether or not the museum was actually going to be open when I arrived. The answer is NO, unless you have called ahead to make an appointment. I truly did not know how to react when I saw the sign saying “by Appointment ONLY!!!!!” No, there were no exclamation marks nor upper case. My mind added those. Having no cell phone with me I had no way to call for an appointment, as if such a thing could be arranged on the spot anyway. So I just stood there and stared at it for a while as my mind ran back over the previous twenty-four hours to try to figure out what other blunders I had made which were still lying in wait for me.

I soon found out.

My son, Hans, had mentioned the Royal Ontario Museum. I thought to myself, “Oh, I’ve never been there.” So, I decided to figure out where to find it and how to get there. It seems faintly ridiculous for a seriously mature man to admit that getting around in a big, unfamiliar city alone is a challenge. It is, nevertheless, true. So, I set about to meet the obstacles and overcome them one after the other.

The first of which was to learn how I could get onto one of those cute little streetcars with the wire over the top so that I could bypass the harmless, but disconcerting neighborhood I had just passed through. I did the obvious. I asked a kindly looking woman on the street how I could travel by trolley. She directed me to a corner variety store where I could purchase a tiny token to get me on the vehicle. The clerk there asked where I was going and suggested that I purchase two tokens. She also cautioned me to get a transfer so that I could use the subway. It seemed to be getting complicated, but I reckoned that I could manage it.

The trolley took me in minutes back to the spot I had been an hour ago. It was a while before I located the entrance to the subway. The sign was too small, I think. Four stops later I was here:

At this moment I realized my second blunder. I had been here before with Eunie. Maybe someday happy memories will flood over me when I revisit places which we once enjoyed. However, I now try to avoid those places, if possible. However, I was already there. I decided to tough it out.

As it turned out, the trip was not a bust. Three years ago I remember seeing a small section of the museum which displayed some amazing mineral specimens, including splendid crystals the likes of which I had never seen. I’m glad I forked over the CA$21 to get into the museum, because the new display – a hundred times larger – was a mind-blowing experience.

I give no credence to theories of “crystal power”. They seem nonsense to me. For me they are objects which dramatically display the myriad ways by which the laws of physics and chemistry can be expressed as wondrous works of beauty.

I tried Googling to get some idea of where the great mineral displays of the world are located. No luck. I can’t imagine that there are many which can beat this one. I took a lot of pictures. As the lighting was not bright enough for easy photography, I had to set my ISO at 400, which makes for noisy images in my Canon G11. Nevertheless, they are good enough to get an idea of the beauty of the specimens.

Here is a gallery of some of the better shots. You can start the gallery by clicking on any of the images:

I’m happy with the way the day turned out. It was a bittersweet mixture of emotions. I feel as if I salvaged something from it. Now most of life feels that way to me. I’m getting better at it.

I’m synthesizing happiness. It’s almost as good as the real thing.

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Hamilton – Too Much Water

Posted in On Tthe Road on May 21st, 2011 by MadDog
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A curious combination of laziness and furious activity has once again kept me off the air for a few days. The brief stay in Janesville, Wisconsin did not produce any interesting images. Now that I’m in Hamilton, Ontario I have either been freezing in my room or venturing outside occasionally when the weather permitted. Nothing happening, nothing to take pictures of, nothing to report. I’ve decided to escape from Canada a week early for my journey to Sedona, Arizona. When there I will probably complain of being too hot. Never mind . . .

A couple of days ago I did go out in the bleak countryside with my friend, Ron Barrons, to try to grab some waterfall shots. The images are miserable. The sky was a uniform bright grey. Maybe some photographers can make pretty pictures with that light, but I am not in that club. On top of that there was way too much water coming over the falls. While it may seem that is a good thing, it is not. Too much water does not make a nice picture of a waterfall.

Ron got this shot of me in the woods on the Bruce Trail with his Nikon:

I’m not as unhappy as I appear to be.

Here is my shot of Webster’s Falls. After working with it for much more time than I usually spend on an image I finally gave up in disgust. I can’t think of anything to do with the flat lighting which makes it any better. The only good thing I can say about it is that it does look pretty much the way my eyes saw it – listless, desultory:

This is Tiffany Falls. It is no better:

The Niagara Escarpment gives rise to the huge number of waterfalls in the area, including Niagara Falls. In this shot you can see a tiny sample of the kind of cliffs which are characteristic of the area.:

The area is relatively undisturbed. Canada always seems so clean to me. Canadians are very reluctant to make a mess. I saw absolutely no litter:

Always on the lookout for the visually stimulating, I found several of these hairy infant plants sprouting up from the rocky soil:

For some strange reason they are bright red and covered by fuzz when they are youngsters. Later on they turn green and lose their fur. You can see a more mature specimen in the upper left corner.

In this shot I used the aperture priority mode and set the opening at ƒ8 to get the maximum depth of field. The scene is in focus from a few inches to nearly infinity. This allows the red footbridge in the distance to be seen clearly:

Here is a macro shot of a millipede:

This is a Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum):

It is a very common plant in the area. In this shot you can see the blurry image of the waterfall in the background.

These images were taken a couple of days ago. Yesterday I trekked into Toronto for a day-trip. I had a bit of an adventure. I’ll be telling about it later. Today the sun is out for the first time since I came to North America.

Today I’m going to Niagara Falls. I hope the sun continues to shine.

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Post Number 1000 – I Zooify Myself

Posted in Humor, On Tthe Road on May 16th, 2011 by MadDog
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I didn’t get a chance to post this one while I was still in Indianapolis. So as not to be wasteful I’ll get in my WayBack Machine and send it out into the void now. It’s still my moldy observations, wacky thoughts and strange images. However, like Billy Pilgrim in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, it has come un-stuck in time.

By the way, this is post number 1,000 for Madang – Ples Bilong Mi.

~~~~~~~~~~~

In my American Adventure mere hours remain of this brief pause in Hoosier territory. I grew up in Indiana, downtown Indianapolis being my formative place. As I sit here, only a few minutes from my birthplace and the haunts of my childhood, I am transfixed by the wonders of circumstance which carried me on the kind of wild ride through life with which few are blessed.

Each pause in my adventure brings its own blessing. In Australia I benefited from sojourns to Gympie, Teewah and Toogoolawah. In these places I was cared for and entertained by people who love me not for what I do, but for who I am. In the USA my first refuge was Honolulu. There I enjoyed a stay with an old friend willing to share the nest. Also in Hawaii were long-time friends and co-workers who have, for over three decades, concerned themselves in many ways with my work. Now, here in the Midwest I have added family to the list of loved ones with whom I am renewing links.

Now I am possibly half-way through this journey. In many ways it is the most important in this season of my life. The shape of my future is being determined in a very compressed period of time as I stumble through the minefield.

That’s quite enough self-pity and introspection for the moment. Let me tell you about the bear attack.

Steve, my host in Brownsburg, and I were on our way to the Indianapolis Zoo via the Rocky Mountains. We took the scenic route. We paused for refreshment in some national park or other – I don’t remember which. As I scanned the horizon for likely camera fodder I saw this bear:

All was well until the bear noticed that I was taking its picture. This bear has a paparazzi issue. It became enraged and attacked me. I was forced to beat it senseless with my trusty Canon G11 camera. Ordinarily I take a picture of whatever creature I have knocked unconscious with my camera, but in this case Steve and I decided to beat a hasty retreat in case we might have been observed violating the right of the bear to consume annoying humans.

Of course all of the above balderdash is pure Walter Mitty daydreaming. There was a bear, but it was in a rather large cage at the zoo. It paced back and forth in a very desultory manner until I got tired of watching it. I felt its boredom. It did seem to look in my direction after a while and suddenly charged down the slope directly at me. As it approached and I felt an incipient flinch coming on it suddenly changed directions and dived into a hole in the fake rocks. Steve reckoned that it had heard its keeper opening the feeding door and was going for another kind of lunch. Along the way it was expending a little energy to give me a cheap thrill. You get your money’s worth when you go to the zoo.

This wart hog is not dead. At least I don’t think it was. I think it was sleeping, but I’m not sure. Can wart hogs hold their breath while sleeping? For how long? I tossed a couple of small pebbles at it, but it seemed not to notice:

Possibly it was waiting for popcorn, the most popular of foods which nobody is supposed to feed the animals, but everyone does.

I have several other shots of different angles of this rhino:

I’m using this one, because it’s really the most interesting. I don’t recall seeing a rhino’s posterior so clearly.

The front of the meerkat enclosure was glass. It was difficult to find a spot that was not smeared with child-residue, but I managed:

Ordinarily I would not give the time of day to a meerkat. I include them in the general classification of animals which I call “Way Too Cute”. This one, however, appeals to me. It’s a little snarly looking. That canine tooth sticking out seems to say, “I could give you such a bite, if I wanted to.”

I throw in this gratuitous orchid image only because they caught my eye in the White River Garden thingie which is next to the zoo:

I think it’s a hybrid. They had maybe a hundred different orchids in bloom in there. I can’t recall seeing that many in one place.

When we got back to Steve and Marta’s house I mowed Steve’s lawn. It was easy and made more slightly tolerable by a watered-down American “lite” beer. Pure swill:

That’s another tall tale. I most certainly did not mow Steve’s lawn or any other lawn since I was in Australia. The lawn mower gizmo was not even running as I sat for this shot. I just wanted to see myself as a typical American suburban home owner. Fantasy time . . .

This is more my speed. I haven’t relaxed this hard for some time:

It’s a shame that Steve was not quick enough to catch me falling out of the hammock.

I’ll wrap this up by telling you about my wild spending spree. I went to Goodwill Industries Store for Poor People to buy some clothes. I’m not really that poor, but I like to pretend that I am. Besides, if I’m cheap about some things it gives me more to blow on things that I genuinely want. I’m not much into fancy clothes, as any fool can see, but I have to put something on, especially in this climate:

 

I bought three perfectly good, if slightly too long pants and a nice pair of shorts for a little over nine dollars.

That’s what I call shopping!

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Disconnected in The Windy City

Posted in On Tthe Road on May 12th, 2011 by MadDog
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For a variety of reasons I’ve not written anything for a few days. That is not good for me, as it is so very easy to get out of the habit. I’ve been feeling that strange disconnect from reality which overwhelms me when I’ve been living out of my back-pack for too long, moving from place to place as necessity dictates. Here I am in Chicago, or nearly so, the grim finger of the Sears tower barely piercing the smoggy horizon. I just finished a pleasant conversation with a dear friend and adviser. As I ran out of words I excused myself by saying that I needed to sit down to write. Sensing my mood, she told me to “write something beautiful.”

Is that possible when darker thoughts prevail and the heart rests low and quiet, hardly venturing to whisper through the noise of confusion? I don’t know. We shall see.

You will note that I’ve visited the farmlands. I’ve seldom needed to imagine so much while searching for images. This part of the world can seem a visual wasteland. As I seek inspiration my eyes must listen very carefully for the tiny voices calling from unexpected places. My job is to try to make the mundane exceptional. I spot a corroding gas grill sitting beside a farm outbuilding. A few incongruous strands of straw hang limply from under the lid. When I see what is there I first laugh and then feel a little choke at the back of my throat as my mind frets over the absurdity:

Birds are not alone among the creatures which build nests in hazardous places. We are only aware of the hazards we can see and understand. We can see the future not at all.

Yet nature itself, which seems designed to kill us, provides that which we require, along with a little work on our part, to nurture us. Though this fallen world appears to favor weeds, the creator gave us wits enough to push them back a little so that we can squeeze out of the land what fills our bellies – most of us, that is:

Flood and drought, pestilence and disease, frost and storm all thwart our efforts, but somehow the farmer stays ahead. It amazes me how easily I forget those who feed me. It is good to get out on the land every few years to remind myself that those who are called to work the land bless us all by their efforts. The farmer leads a risky life, dealing constantly with forces beyond his control. He is an artist of the soil.

The soil itself can be beautiful, especially as it lends itself to be the canvas of the farmer. Here the corn-planting machine has tread, leaving its linear footprint on the land:

It awaits the first rain to fade it. The soil will warm and the days grow longer. The green shoots will rise cobra-like and grow astonishingly tall in a few brief weeks. Some say that the corn can be heard to grow. Maybe this is true. Does the farmer see his planted field as I do? Does he hear the same voice? Maybe he sees the same thorny path to an unknown horizon. Though we see it that way for entirely different reasons. He asks, “Will my crop be bountiful?” I ask, simply, “What lies ahead?”

John, husband of my niece, Pat, operates a grain storage facility. His job is to see that the farmers’ products are safely stored until it is time for them to be sold to those in need. This seems to require a lot of shifting of grain from one giant bin to another, for reasons which I do not completely understand. Here corn spills from one huge cylinder into a pit from whence it will be elevated to a dizzy height and spilled into another:

As I look at this image I cannot but note that all of the grains of corn, regardless of the wildness of their individually random paths, end up in the same place – the pit. The metaphor is inescapable. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But what a ride! I admire the kernels which bounce crazily – the outliers – the mavericks. They too will end up in the pit, but they do not go easily nor without squeezing every last bit of value from the trip.

I do not like to believe that destiny rules us. In the broad sense we cannot escape the notion. Certain things will happen no matter how we wriggle to avoid them. Still, in between birth and death, we like to think that we have some choices. Exactly how much choice we have is debatable. I can never make up my mind about this. My beliefs require that I accept that my creator is involved in my life in substantial ways. Sometimes I am very happy about this and other times I am resentful, even angry. This seems to be the nature of the relationship, if you accept that there is one at all. So, in a sense, I do have a destiny:

As I saw the angled lines of the machinery intersecting at the apex under the high, hazy sun, the image shouted at me. At first I shuffled around to fix the orb directly above the point at which the seemingly random paths joined. And then I realised that this was not the message. I will not intersect perfectly with my destiny. This is the skill of saints, to yield willingly and unerringly to the direction of the Divine GPS. I tend to ramble about.

To get there, the intersection where all paths which lead to the destination finally meet, I must follow one of the prescribed paths. I might have chosen any of these paths and arrived safely. Wolves lurk in the parched bushland between the paths and other paths lead to unknown dangers as they depart from the course to the apex.

And what is it, exactly, which lies where all safe paths meet? Heaven? What is that? We don’t have a lot of information to work with, eh? I can never decide whether I’ll really like it or not. There seems not a lot to do there. Perhaps I’m too attached to this world, to this life. It’s all shiny and sleek. It has a lot of bits and pieces with many knobs to twist and buttons to push. There is fun to be had, things to do, people to meet, plans to be made . . .

Plans to be made . . .

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The Search for the Perfect Tenderloin

Posted in On Tthe Road on May 8th, 2011 by MadDog
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I have but two days left here in the heartland of America. Three weeks of acclimation to the Hoosier culture has had little effect on me, except to remind me that I normally dwell in a place that might be taken to be on different planet. After living in Papua New Guinea for thirty years, I inevitably feel out of place in the USA – as if I am a foreigner. Of course, it’s natural that I still experience that same feeling while at home in Madang, since I am  a foreigner there. My conclusion is that I don’t really fit anywhere now. I am, in a sense, a man without a country. I won’t complain about that. I chose the life and it has been a great ride. I will have to live with the feeling of being a Stranger in a Strange Land for the rest of my life, no matter where I am. There are worse things . . .

I got only one decent sunrise shot while here in Hoosierland. The weather has been mostly miserable, causing huge floods south of here. In this shot the prevailing cloud structures are aircraft contrails, something never seen in Madang:

My search for the perfect tenderloin is being rudely interrupted by my departure for Illinois on Tuesday. I’ll be there for a few nights and then off to Wisconsin for the last of my meetings with supporters. Then I’ll be heading for Canada for three weeks of genuine R&R. I am very glad that my son, Hans, is picking me up  in Brownsburg and shepherding me through my last adventures in the Midwest.

I did manage to find an excellent candidate at Green Street Station in Brownsburg. They had a choice of “beer battered” or “crispy”. The waitress suggested that the crispy was less oily. As is the Hoosier tradition, the tenderloin was fairly thick and twice the diameter of the bun. There is plenty of protein there, kiddies. The fries were so-so:

As with most food in this genre, it’s best consumed with a rich, full-bodied brew, chock full of vitamin B. It this case it was a Killian’s Red Ale. The sandwich tasted just as I expected. Despite my shaky sense of smell, I could tell that it fit the tradition. It was a good feed. I could consume only half of it, so I had another good lunch the next day, thanks to a microwave oven.

Another candidate for a good sandwich feed can be found at Squealers with locations in Indianapolis and Mooresville. Though the meat in this sandwich can be found in other parts of the world, I don’t think that there is any place else where it is called pulled pork. That sounds vaguely disgusting to me. There are may different ways of serving it. In this case it was “sauce on the side”, which is my preference:

The pork at Squealers is excellent, very tasty and tender. The baked beans were also very good, but might be too sweet for some. As with the tenderloin I washed it down with a Killian’s. (Hey, I’m on holiday.)

That pretty well covers my culinary adventures in The Crossroads of America. I probably won’t be reporting what I eat until I hit Canada. I’m sure to make an appearance at Rebel’s Rock in Hamilton. Eunie and I have always gone there for a great evening of live music while in Canada. You’ll just have to wait. I’ll have pictures such as these and these. Oh, goody – available light shots.

Speaking of birds . . . uh . . . okay, now  speaking of birds, I had a very nice couple of hours at the Eagle Creek Park Ornithology Center a few days ago with my friend and host, Steve Hassfurder. I have enjoyed a wonderful time here with Steve and his very pleasant wife, Marta. Steve and I have some significant life experience in common. It has been very helpful to me to talk to him about this. Some of it has been stressful for him, I know. I see it as a mark of friendship that he was willing to give me the benefit of his experience and convey to me some of the wisdom he gained along the way.

Hmmm . . . was I talking about birds? It seems so:

That’s a shot of one of the observation stations. Both stations are indoors, so winter viewing should be reasonably comfy. The other one looks out over a special conservation area of Eagle Creek Reservoir. It’s my understanding that Eagle Creek Park is the second largest city operated park in the world.

I got this shot of a Common (or Northern) Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)  from the window in the image above. In Indiana it is usually called, simply, a Redbird:

This is a male. The female is rather dingy in comparison. I was told that if I sat in that room for a year I would very likely see over 270 species of bird life, but I would starve in the process. I had no idea that Indiana hosted such a huge number of species. Some of those, of course, would be migratory and not permanent residents. You know – like me! I am very migratory these days.

I can’t leave Hoosierland without showing you this very peculiar image. No, kiddies, this is not an up-and-coming executive treating his precious V-Dub to a little pre-wash tickle. This is the “greeter” (and cashier) at Mike’s Car Wash, a very popular vehicle grooming establishment in central Indiana. I’m serious, folks:

The basic wash is five bucks, a reasonable price these days, I suppose. The nice fellow will, of course, attempt to sell you all of the optional waxes, shiners, protections, glazes and tire glosses that trick out your ride and make you feel as if you have moved up a couple of income brackets. These last until the next rain. Be frugal. Your car is simply dirty. It needs no pampering. Pamper a human. It’s much more rewarding and the results last longer.

As a public service I will now brave the possibility of a take-down notice to expose one of those obnoxious As Seen On TV rip-offs which poison our minds with false dreams of ease and comfort which will enrich our lives and allow us to achieve the true happiness guaranteed by our beloved Constitution.*

UPDATE: My son, a student of political science among other things, pointed out to me in a comment that it is the Declaration of Independence and not the US Constitution which hints that we are free to knock ourselves out in the pursuit of happiness. My embarrassment falls short of acute. Like many other bits of information, I used to know that, but it has long been displaced by data which is more crucial to my survival. Thanks, Hans.

I have been disgusted on numerous occasions by the stupid, frivolous and apparently misleading TV commercial for an utterly ridiculous product called EasyFeet. If you have not already been offended by viewing this you can torture yourself here. (I’d be interested to know if anyone else is shocked by the much-too-old boy and girl in a bathtub together.)

I admit to being suckered by this product for about ten seconds. I spend very little time thinking of my feet or tending to them and I have absolutely no problem reaching them. However, the idea of simply slipping my tootsie into such a cute scrubbing device . . . hey, wait! My feet are insanely ticklish. Want to reduce me to spasms of raw panic? Just tickle my feet. I bet you can’t wait to try it, eh? No, this thing is not for me.

There are two web sites which purport to report about “As Seen on TV” items. One, As Seen On TV On Sale, seems to be legitimate. You can see its page about EasyFeet here. When I looked at it there were 303 reviews. I could find few which were complementary. The other “As Seen On TV” site seems to be purely promotional. There are also many sites that seem bogus to me and may be part of a web campaign to flood the Google result pages with glowing reviews and opportunities to purchase EasyFeet.

Why did I waste so much of your precious time with that? Sorry, I have no amusing excuses. “The dog ate it” is not going to work on this occasion.

I’ll try to do better next time.

* I should add a disclaimer here. The US Constitution does not, by any stretch of the imagination, guarantee happiness. What it does seem to imply is that we have an inalienable right to pursue happiness, which is an altogether different thing. Any fool can see that we are, with supreme effort, pursuing happiness with the vigor of a pack of bloodhounds. We are absolutely relentless in our pursuit of earthly bliss. The glitter of terrestrial Nirvana (not the band) glows like a beacon in the distance. Alas, few of us actually get our fingers through the brass ring.

I’ve stopped praying for happiness. I’ve switched to praying for wisdom. I reckon that some happiness will come packed inside.

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