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)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Guess where I am!!

I'm back at the post office! Yes, just when I thought I was done with the nightly trek down the road, my internet connection at the van has gone haywire. Maybe someone can 'splain this to me: the computer shows it's connected but at the same time says there's no internet access. One of those things that doesn't make sense, like fat free ice cream. It's against everything that's good and holy.

But on to something more interesting. There's a group of kids here, toiling like mad under the noonday sun, building a 1.1 mile trail from the visitor center to one of the turnouts on the road to the Painted Desert Inn. The group is part of an organization called the YCC, the Youth Conservation Corps, and let me say how happy I am I don't have to work as hard as they do.

When I say they're building a trail, I mean they're hacking out brush, digging a foundation, and laying a trail base that won't wash away in the monsoons or blow away in the dry season. 

I walked the partially completed trail at the end of my morning walk today and took a few pictures. 

This looks back toward the Visitor Center, out of the frame to the right, and shows the initial work done to dig the foundation.

There was an employee meeting yesterday and the Superintendent singled out this team for recognition. The youngest just turned 15. Another member had heart surgery one Friday and was back at work on Monday. A friend who sat with me at the meeting worked with the crew for a week and had nothing but good things to say about each of them. 

Rabbits must like the new easy trail through the prairie. There were tracks everywhere in the soft soil.

They're picked up in town in the morning and spend the entire day in the field.

Fortunately they don't have to do all the work by hand.

Now this is what I call a real Port-a-Loo.

When you hear someone bad-mouthing today's kids, remember the ones who are working here. I don't know how much they're paid, if anything, but it would take a lot of money to make me work as hard as they do, under the conditions they're working in day after day.

Thought of the day:

Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them. (Lady Bird Johnson)

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Monsoons, baby!

We have arrived in the rainy season, finally. Finally, for a lot of reasons: it's been so dry, which is saying a lot in a part of the country that gets maybe 9" of precipitation a year; it's been so brutally hot and even the little rain we've had so far is a respite, despite the humidity it brings; and just because I love a good storm. I missed some rain when I was in Tucson last week but it made a curtain call today. And it was awesome!

I sit with my back to a wall of windows when I'm on the computer, which is always these days, except when I'm standing at the copier. I live a scintillating life. But this afternoon, as I swung around to put another article to bed in a box (yay!) I looked out and across Interstate 40 to a full-out pounding rain on the horizon. Within a couple of minutes it had crossed the freeway. Raindrops so fat I thought they were hail. Rumbling thunder. Black, evil skies. Trees tossing and whipping with the wind. Rain blowing like a wave across the pavement. Then it was over, leaving a sheen of wet and the most marvelous organic smell behind. Not just wet earth, but a blend of earth and vegetation and fresh.

This is the beginning of the monsoons, which I thought was pretty funny when I heard the word in context with a short-grass prairie, but that's what they're called. I finished work, went home to Grace and got out the camera. The rain was done, at least for a while, but the sky kept taking bows.

A faint rainbow hugged the bottom edge of a brooding cloud in the northeast while rain poured down all around it.

This is one of the weird things that I've noticed about the rain here, that you can be in the dry center of a circular curtain of rain. People are doing rain dances, praying for rain but it usually seems like it's over there.

One of the things I love about storms like these is the strange, glowing light.

Ragged clouds kept forming and dissipating, a never-ending show.

This session has dripped a little more rain this evening but I'm waiting for the next powerhouse. There's nothing like a good thunderstorm.


Thought of the day:

Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby. (Langston Hughes)


Saturday, July 6, 2013

A slow week

I haven't been at work all week, having gone to Tucson to get the van fixed. It is. I think. Time will tell. I had a power converter installed in place of the power inverter (you really don't want to know), a move that saved me about $1500 but still cost $500. Oh, the joys of home ownership.

Here's what had been going on at the park, now that the library work is more or less done, and I'm quite sure it's still waiting for me since I've been gone. I moved on to digitizing the Triassic Library. It has a more formal name with many multisyllable words like vertebrate and paleontology, so I just stick with Triassic Library. It consists of papers - published articles, theses, dissertations, manuscripts - that have to do with the Triassic Era which, if you've been paying attention, predates the famous Jurassic and is known as the Dawn of the Dinosaurs.

There are boxes and boxes of these papers. Many of them have already been scanned and turned into searchable PDFs by staff members, but lots remain boxed and still need the work done. This is the bulk of the work and I've already removed and processed several boxes, maybe six or eight:

In the boxes are these folders, each holding an article or other paper. This box also has an entire journal that needs to be scanned. That's the item at the front of the box.

More papers are housed in in these and many more binders still in the regular library.

When I remove the papers from the boxes and stack them up for scanning, I get several piles like this.

My job is to scan all the articles, either on a super machine that I can bulk load and which will save the scans to its own server, and which I can retrieve from my desk, or by hand on a desktop scanner, page by single page, depending on the fragility of the originals and other factors that would prohibit them from bulk scanning. Guess which one I prefer.

After scanning I convert them in a two-step process to PDFs and then to searchable PDFs. It's not the most scintillating work but it beats unemployment or cleaning bathrooms.

I have at least a half-dozen piles of work in different stages of completion stacked up around me in a system known only to me and God; if I'm hit by a bus no one would know what to do. So far, no bus, and the work is proceeding apace: as of a week ago, I had 388 articles converted, stored on the computer, and backed up to an external drive.

I don't know how many articles there are and it's a piece of information I have declined to have revealed to me. It's just best for my mental health not to know.

Thought of the day:

You know you are on the road to success if you would do your job, and not be paid for it. (Oprah Winfrey)