Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gilbert Thomas Stocker, end of watch 07/31/72

Today is the 41st anniversary of our brother Tom's death. He was a Detroit police officer who was killed in the line of duty. He was a devoted husband, a loving father, and a cherished son, brother, and friend. He left behind his wife and three children. He was 31 years old.

Tom's Police Academy graduation photo.

From the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington, DC.


Tom was known to everyone at work as Gil. Here are some comments about him that have been made on the Officer Down Memorial Page:

"Gil was my partner and close friend. He was very devoted to his family. He loved his wife and children very much. He had a passion about serving the City of Detroit and helping others. No one was more proud to be a police officer than Gil. He was very quick witted and always kept others laughing. Gil had a great influence on others to better themselves. He was one of the first officers at our Precinct to attend college and encouraged others to do so. His influence resulted in my achievement of a college education that enabled me to greatly enhance my career. Gil is still missed by those who had the pleasure to know him."

"He was the most quick witted person that I have ever known. He once responded to an individual who was expressing his uncertainty about submitting to being placed under arrest, 'you talk like a man who has a choice'."

"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of you, glance at the picture of you that still remains in my wallet , miss your stinky little Italian cigars, your quick wit comments, the things we did together as partners, friends & families. Dora, Tommy, Annmarie & Jimmy he loved you more than life itself !! I miss my FRIEND & PARTNER still to this day !!!!!"

"I was proud to have known and served with Gil, your husband and father. I served with him at the 2nd precinct from Jan. 1968 until my transfer to the Motor Division in 1971. I was on routine freeway patrol on July 31, 1972. I was one of several motor vehicles that escorted Gil to Detroit Receiving Hospital where I discovered the wounded officer was Gil Stocker. The loss touched me deeply and I have never ceased remembering and prayering for all of you on the anniversary of his passing. Gil was an unforgetable kind of guy. Much love to his family."

"I met Gil while attended Police classes at Macomb County Community College. Gil had a great sense of humor and was always in the face of the liberal college Prof, Erick Beckman. Gil would get me into hockey games at Olympia Stadium. I remember he worked the Big 4, which was a kick butt assignment back then. He was a great guy. I attended his funeral as did Prof. Beckman and thousands of others. After all these years I still think of him. He helped shape me and be the officer I was for thirty years. To the family, I am so sorry for your loss. Gil was a cops cop and a man's man."

Our aunt had this memory of him: her oldest child, Frank, was newly ill with MS and was in the hospital. Tom and some of his police buddies went to the hospital where Frank was on the ground floor. These reprobate Detroit cops pried the screen off the window, got the patient out of bed, put a robe and slippers on him, and took him to a bar. They brought him back later that night and replaced the screen. The next morning, when Frank had some lab work done, the doctors couldn't fathom why his test results were so cockeyed. Better yet, they returned another time and went to Frank's room where they handcuffed him and took him out the front door, telling the nurse that he was under arrest. 

This is the kind of man Tom was - big-hearted, light-hearted, and devoted to his work and his family. He was one of those rare individuals who leaves a lasting influence wherever they go. We miss him still.

Tom and his daughter AnnMarie. I don't know the date of his photo but judging from AnnMarie's size, it may have been 1971. If that's so, he died the next year.

Tom's name engraved on the wall at the National Law Enforcement Memorial.

Thoughts of the day. Yes, my brother was and remains my hero.

The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example. (Benjamin Disraeli)

It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero to be one of those men who goes into battle.  (Norman Schwarzkopf)

Heroes may not be braver than anyone else. They're just braver 5 minutes longer. (Ronald Reagan)

I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel. (Florence Nightingale)

   Every society needs heroes. And every society has them. The reason we don't often see them is because we don't bother to look.
   There are two kinds of heroes. Heroes who shine in the face of great adversity, who perform an amazing feat in a difficult situation. And heroes who live among us, who do their work unceremoniously, unnoticed by many of us, but who make a difference in the lives of others.
   Heroes are selfless people who perform extraordinary acts. The mark of heroes is not necessarily the result of their action, but what they are willing to do for others and for their chosen cause. Even if they fail, their determination lives on for others to follow. The glory lies not in the achievement, but in the sacrifice. (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyone)

To be heroic does not have to mean possessing the ability to stand against the evils of the world, either well or successfully, but just that one is willing to stand. (Mike Alsford, Heroes and Villains)

Yes, there are plenty of heroes and heroines everywhere you look. They are not famous people. They are generally obscure and modest people doing useful work, keeping their families together and taking an active part in the health of their communities, opposing what is evil (in one way or another) and defending what is good. (Edward Abbey, Postcards from Ed: Dispatches and Salvos from an American Iconoclast)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

It's just good, clean dirt

When I got here in late April and began to learn about all the research that goes on in the park, I started thinking along the old familiar path: oh, I wish I'd studied archeology/paleontology/biology/zoology/botany. But probably not entomology. Except for entomology, everything interests me and that can be kind of distracting. I'd be the first person to say it's never too late to go back to school for whatever turns you on. I went back for my masters degree when I was 50. My friend P, who traveled with me for a week in April, earned her masters when she was 50. But there's also reality and my peripatetic lifestyle may be an excuse but I don't see how formal education would work for me right now. I do, however, take whatever opportunity I can to observe, ask questions, and try to learn something new, but in a more informal manner.

This deep philosophy is leading me to talk a short while about archeology and show real-life examples of what their life is like around here. The archeology folks are the culture people as opposed to the fossil people that the paleontologists are. Archeologists are interested in the human ancestors, where they traveled, how they lived, what they produced, what their beliefs and ceremonies were. The study can be back to the beginning of human life or pretty darn recent. 

One day the archeologist led a group out to old Route 66, which parallels Interstate 40, inside park boundaries. Petrified Forest is the only national park to host a section of the mother road. The lesson that day was not just seeing objects, the trash that still exists along the remains of the road, but also putting them in context. How does this liquor bottle reflect changing times? Rusted Spam cans - what do they mean in the context of traveling this road? Check out the bottom of the soda bottle and see that the bottling plant was 45 miles from here, not in Atlanta. Think how interesting it is and you can see how I get pulled in this direction.

 So one day I happened to be looking out the window at work, just resting my eyes, I swear, and saw a truck full of archeology people pull into the parking lot. I'm aware of how cooped up my work keeps me, and am often envious of the teams that head out to the field day after day. But then, as I say, I saw the truck pull in. It was the day after one of the better monsoons and seeing this - mess - brought back all the times I've seen them and the paleontologists coming back from the field dragging, filthy, and exhausted.

Several people piled out and I don't know how some of them drew the short straws, but maybe four of them stayed behind to clean up the best they could. One of them dragged out the floor mats and rather dispiritedly dropped them in a puddle and kind of swished them around with her feet. They weren't going to be clean but she was trying to get the big chunks of mud off. 

Another one went to the recycle dumpster for cardboard boxes to reline the cargo area. I remember riding in this truck when it was brand new and everyone was afraid of breathing in it, they wanted it to stay so clean. Ha!

There is nowhere to wash it because of contaminating the ground water with possible oil drips, things like that. It's a park service thing and it's just not allowed. All they could hope for was a good hard rain.

But here's the really good one, the photo documenting what put them in the condition they returned in. This is my photo of their photo. All of a sudden, being a cooped-up librarian looked pretty appealing.

Last week we gathered for the annual staff, volunteer, intern, and seasonal employee photo - everyone in the Resource Management department, including one researcher. The tall guy in the back row is Bill the archeologist. The guy seated second from the right is Bill the paleontologist. My boss is next to me. All in all, a great group of people to be around and absorb from.

Thought of the day:

I'm a dirt person. I trust the dirt. I don't trust diamonds and gold. (Eartha Kitt)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Archeo and Paleo - you know, those dirt-diggers

When I came here in late April I really had no idea of the difference between archeology and paleontology. I feel kind of stupid to even admit that, but there you are. It also didn’t help, that when I met the guys that head the two departments, I learned that both their names are Bill. I need things mapped out distinctly and having two guys named Bill who dig in the dirt didn’t help to clarify things. They're even often referred to as "the two Bills." I have a bit of a better grasp on things now, but still stepped in it big time a couple of weeks ago when I was being given a tour of the lab and made the amateur’s mistake of using the word archeology when I was looking at paleontology stuff. Don't ever do that.

On my way to do laundry I saw one of the paleo people, Cathy, sawing away on a chunk of dirt encased in plaster. 

Not one to miss an opportunity to see and learn something new, and loving behind-the-scenes activity, I dumped the laundry in the machine and wandered back to see what was what. Cathy is a preparator, someone who cleans up fossils from the matrix (the dirt) surrounding them. What she’s doing here is releasing a specimen from the dirt that it’s been encased in for a couple hundred million years. Seriously. 225 million years.

When the paleontologists find something, they dig outside of what they estimate the margins of the specimen are. Then they pour in plaster to encase the bottom of it. Once it’s dried it’s taken from the ground and the top and sides are enclosed as well, all with the intention of stabilizing the specimen. Cathy has already removed the top and is systematically, slowly, and carefully taking off the plaster, in order not to saw into the fossil. I know nothing but I know this wouldn't be good. 

This is what another jacket looks like before she does any work on it. (By the way, any errors in reporting the process or anything else the paleo people do are mine alone. Cathy knows what she’s talking about and I do not.)

She and the others catch the matrix and dump it in a bucket for later sorting. They can look at a lump of something and identify it as some kind of bone and all I would see is a rock. They don’t teach those kinds of things in library school.

Yeah, they’ll sift through these buckets to find the smallest pieces. It would make me nuts but this is what they do. Below is how small some of the pieces can be, where they can fit into vials like these that she’s labeled to know what part of the piece they’re working on they came from.

Below is a partial view of a jacket in the lab that’s been opened and has had so much matrix removed that bones are visible. Cathy pointed out a skull to me, and specifically its eye socket, which I couldn’t see, so she showed me a composite skull of what it was I was supposed to be looking at.

There was a third plaster jacket being worked on inside the lab, and the specimen was partially exposed. Apparently those are vertebrae, once again obvious to the people who do this every day.

The intern sitting across the table from this jacket is working on mold making, where bones (or other objects, I suppose) are embedded in the modeling compound so when that body part is needed to reconstruct a skeleton, a composite part can be made from the mold. Here’s what she’s doing. Now this I can understand. It’s like doing crafts. The intern likened it to being in kindergarten but that’s too far back for me to remember.

And here’s one last look at the work Cathy is doing outside. She was nice enough to ignore my ignorance about practically everything and pointed out one more item of interest. It’s the bullet-shaped object at near dead center of the photo. It’s a coprolite. Fossilized poop. Now, truly, how cool is that? It's 225 million years old!

Thought of the day:

It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it than we can explain light to the blind. (T.S. Eliot)

I just love, no, hate! the Internet

I had a nice post all loaded and ready to go last night and couldn't connect my computer to my hotspot on my nice new phone with what I think is a nice new expensive plan. I also couldn't connect to the park's wifi - again - and after trudging to the post office for one last try, Blogger kept sending out error messages and I couldn't post. Sigh. I just gave up. The internet is like food for me; it can be my best friend and it can be my worst enemy. I shall prevail, though, I just know it, and tonight will see me back in cyberspace.

However, even as a volunteer I'm aware of not being on my own time and right now I'm on government time. Back to work for me (as of yesterday I have scanned and converted about 700 articles, manuscripts, theses, even books, on the Triassic era) because I'm not done yet. In the home stretch on this particular project but not quite there. 

Thought of the day:

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There's no point in being a damn fool about it.  (W.C. Fields)

Sunday, July 21, 2013


I admit defeat. I have suffered, suffered I tell you, with little to no Internet since the end of April, trying to outlast Sprint, and I've given up. Yesterday I transferred my number to Verizon.

The basic reason I wanted to stay with Sprint was their unlimited data plan. I'm capable of using a lot of data. When I first got a smart phone I thought it would be fun to be able to look up prices online when antiquing or check prices of children's books at a sale or used book store. A mere convenience. It didn't take a month before Sprint was losing money on me. I love my Internets.

First I had to call Sprint to get my account number and they would not tell me. Honest to pete, they kept asking me if I knew they were the only carrier to offer unlimited data (uh, yeah...) and then warned I'd have a cancellation fee, and on and on. When I said with tight jaws like that, they got huffy and that's when I hung up.

The nice young guy at Verizon who looked like he was 14, really, but was actually 21, called the same number I called for Sprint and went through the same pick-a-number list of choices. When he talked to a human all he said was, "This is Nick from Verizon. I have a customer who needs her account number so she can transfer service to us, but you all are giving her a hard time," and they gave it to him. He could have been the Boston Strangler and they just passed over my info like it was yesterday's newspaper.

Today I have a shiny new carrier and a shiny new phone, and under ideal circumstances I would have 4G/LTE, but living where I am, the best I can get is 3G. And that's only when it feels like showing up. Already it's like deja vu to the dial-up era, but it's still better than the nothing I got from Sprint. I started with the 2 gigabyte plan and considering the amount of time I've been online today, for example since waking up, I think I might need to up the bytes.

It's not been all wasted time. While I've been waiting and waiting - and waiting - for pages to load, I've had plenty of time to watch this storm gathering in the north:

Note the white van to put the size of the cloud in perspective.

Thought of the day:

The Internet is a great way to get on the net. (Bob Dole)

Friday, July 19, 2013

Bone building exercise, or is it character? Can't decide.

The past few days have seen me wearing a different hat. It's the same, favorite Tilley (highly recommended, BTW) but it's been sheltering a head working in the Arizona sun.

My boss asked if I would help her plant some flowers in a couple of places in the plaza area of the Visitor Center at the north end of the park. Heck, yeah! I used to have about an acre I gardened, a long time ago, and I like grubbing around in the dirt. She showed me what she wanted and left me to it. 

One spot is boxes on a balcony in the Administration building. Piece of cake. I haven't actually planted them yet but when I get to it, they'll be easy. And then there was this:

And what it looked like from a distance:

Now tell me that "tree" doesn't look like it came right out of The Lorax. (It, incidentally, is an agave that bloomed, now has seed pods formed, and is dying. It gave its all. It was amazing to watch as the stalk grew like Jack and the Beanstalk.)

To my mind, the mess in the raised bed had to be cleaned out before anything could be put in. But what to do with the agave I was digging out? Well, it could go in this bed:

Didn't it have to be cleaned out before I could plant the agave?  Nah; just find a non-weed area and stick a plant in the ground:

But wasn't I raised better than this? Wasn't I taught not to do half a job? Of course! So this is what happened to the two beds against this wall. See the happy little soldiers all lined up, as far as the eye can see, almost? OK, OK, a couple are not quite in formation, but I'm a volunteer.

But I had more plants. They multiplied like Tribbles. Now what? Where to put them? How about here?

No half job here either. My dear mother may no longer be with us, but I know she's watching. This is what the back part of the bed looked like at 6:30 this morning, after I'd dug out a couple of those stinkin' pretty weeds. There is no pulling them sweetly from the ground. They have a tap root and have to be dug out. I discovered I am a left-footed shoveler; my right foot doesn't hit the shovel right and I have the bruise on my instep to prove it.

And this is the same bed at 8:30 this morning. Yes, 8:30. This child of the 60s did the work in two hours. Yes, I'm bragging.

At about 11:30 I called it quits, having drunk enough water to float a boat and accumulated enough dirt on myself to plant a totally separate bed. Before I left for the day, though, I had the idea of sticking in a flag at each plant. Some of the transplants are just babies and I had a hard time finding them to water, and was also stepping all over them, so I borrowed some Danger! Pesticide! flags and saluted each little agave with one. Here they are, drooping in the calm air:

And also here. See them drooping too, all the way to the back?

You might think I've made good progress. I thought so, too, until I took another look at the bed I'm supposed to be cleaning out and it doesn't look like I've made a dent at all. Not really. I'm going to need some help.

I used to tell my kids, when faced with hard work like this, that it taught them the value of a good education. But wait a minute; I have a good education!


Thought of the day:
If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well. (Martin Luther King)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oh, so THIS is what they mean by monsoons

That bit of rain I wrote about last week or whenever it was? That drizzle in a bucket? Those weak-sister flickers of lightning? That little purr of thunder? It was child’s play, it was the second string, it was not ready for prime time. It was nothing.

Last night I went out for a walk when the clouds were gigantic white puffs against an Arizona blue sky,

and turned around at the two-mile point to watch the sky darken in the west like someone flipped off the light and turned on the spigots. (I am not making these pictures up.)

When the wind began to whip I began to hustle and made it home about 15 minutes before the sky went as black as midnight and the deluge began. I have never been in a storm like this one and can’t wait for another. I turned off all the lights and sat crunched up against the dashboard so I could watch the show. The pretty little trees at the front of the RV parking spots, that in the 109 degree heat of two weeks ago I wished gave some actual shade, I now wished were the size of shrubs so they wouldn't block the view.

Thunder is an interesting thing. It’s deeper-voiced than James Earl Jones; it’s a giant sledge hammer breaking giant boulders; it’s a bowling ball crashing into pins; it’s ice cubes being levered loose in an old aluminum tray (raise your hand if you remember these); it’s a jet taking off; it’s the growl of the neighbor’s mean dog; it’s sky booms. Its partner, lightning, flashes indistinctly and indiscriminately across entire miles of sky; it’s so blindingly bright it leaves an after image on my eyes; it illuminates, not for split seconds but for multiple seconds. On Sunday I watched another storm from a distance and saw purple lightning. Purple! Last night, as the storm hung directly over Grace for about 10 minutes there was no time to count one Mississippi, two Mississippi; blinding lightning was immediately followed, in less than a split second, by crashing thunder that made me jump and vibrated the floor of the van.

Even after it moved on, lightning continued to light the sky with broad swaths of illumination, supernaturally bright. As the sound of thunder faded away, I found myself saying, do it again, God!

On Sunday I came in the south entrance of the park from visiting friends and had a ringside seat to another magnificent storm on the horizon. These pictures are from Sunday. I could hardly believe my eyes, looking at what was happening in the wide expanse of sky.

Thought of the day:

The best thing one can do when it's raining is to let it rain. (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)