Stupid Things I Have Seen (or done)

I reminisce at times to ponder life and meaning.  It is usually fruitless and provides no further enlightenment.

Still, I am grateful to have made it this far in life relatively unscathed.  It wasn’t for lack of trying.

During my late elementary school days I was fascinated by electricity and light bulbs.

Knowing electric current flows through wires and then the bulb filament, it seemed logical the more potent the electrical source the brighter the bulb would glow.  I should experiment.

Flashlight Bulb

I took the bulb out of a flashlight andextension-cord stripped the wires from a small extension cord.  Careful not to touch the bare wires together (no point being electrocuted at age 11) I plugged in the extension cord and carefully touched the exposed wires to the flashlight bulb to complete the circuit.

Not a total success.  The bulb was indeed very bright for about a millisecond.  Then it shattered (some might say blew up).  Then the house circuit panel blew.  Took Dad about a minute to get to my room where the smoke from the melted extension cord lingered.  He was not impressed.

Junior high brought the joys of science classes.  For our class project we made a batch of beer, but we also made individual projects for parent’s night.  My project was a volcano – what could go wrong?

On a piece of plywood I constructed the volcano proper from a flour/salt/water modeling mixture.  To create the lava simulation I used potassium permanganate and glycerin which was supposed to react and produce smoke and a bit of flame.

Apparently I used too much.  Luckily, my demonstration was outside of the classroom.  Unluckily, it was under an overhead breezeway, and the flames were trying their best to reach it.  The smoke was dense and widespread.

We did not have to call the fire department (or my Dad), but that was the last year active volcanoes were permitted as a science project.

Other fun times included:

  • Jumping off the roof of our house with an umbrella to slow the descent (come on, every kid does that).  Should have used a bigger umbrella.
  • Sitting with knees on a crossbar, flinging backwards, releasing and landing on your feet (called a penny drop). Can’t count the number of times I simply face-planted.
  • At fourteen I bet a friend of mine a dollar that he couldn’t get me drunk on Rhine wine. I probably lost that bet.  The mere sight or smell of wine would make me physically sick over the next 15 years.  (I’m okay now, thanks!)
  • Same friend had a front screen door. Wanted to see his surprise one day when he opened it and I was there with an aerosol can and a lighter, i.e., a small blow torch.
    Yes, he was surprised (and only slightly singed).  Never considered it would melt a hole in the screen.
    His dad figured an errant football pass had caused the hole, and we didn’t correct him.
  • We had some of the first skateboards (metal wheels off roller skates nailed to a 2×4) and would “shoot the curb” where 2 driveways were within a few feet of each other.  Down one driveway, over the curb, up the next driveway.
    One day another neighborhood kid, Mark, was sitting on our favorite curb in the cul-de-sac and he wouldn’t move.  I had a tiny pocket knife which I opened and held down with my foot – like a very small bayonet.  My plan was to raise my foot at the last second and just hit his leg with my skateboard.
    Realized my timing was off a bit since the knife hadn’t slid under my foot yet I didn’t know where it had gone.  I looked at Mark, he was looking at his leg, and there it was.
    Only a few stitches were required.  I was grounded a week for each stitch.
  • Thinking of knives, I received my first one as a birthday present when I was about 10. Thought I would carve a totem pole in one of the decorative square wooden pillars by our front door.
    Harder than you might think!
    Dad was not impressed, again, by my creative thinking and artistic endeavors.  Didn’t get that knife back until I was 12.

Almost all of us in the neighborhood survived our youth and, amazingly, stayed friends until we eventually drifted apart after high school.

Sam (the huntress — no, the princess)

This is Sam, aka Samantha, perched on our top deck, up on the railing, surveying her back yard.Sam 09-07-2012

Maybe looking at turkeys down the hill, or squirrels, or just contemplating her universe.

Sam was five or six weeks old when she came into my life.  Full of spunk and curiosity (as are all kittens), she was all black except for a few white hairs on her chest.  I kept her anyway.

A week later came Milo, all black, a bit smaller as a kitten but, then again, he was a week younger than Sam.

At the time they were Sam and Molly.  But, as Kim informed me after I returned from a short business trip, Sam was a girl and Molly was a guy, so they became Samantha (still our Sam, though) and Milo.

But this is about Sam.

Sam taught herself how to hunt.  It wasn’t part of my job description.  For some reason known only to her, she started off with earthworms.

I’d come home from work to find two or three worms on the hardwood floor, with Sam carefully watching over them.  She wouldn’t hurt them, at least not intentionally, so a lot of them were returned to the wild, i.e., the backyard dirt.

As Sam became more proficient she started bringing in night crawlers.  Where she found them, especially during summer days, baffled me.  Maybe they were in the ivy out front or in my neighbor’s beautifully maintained garden.  Happily the neighbor never complained about Sam — Sam was pretty good at using her own litter box.

The progression continued.  Still as a young cat, or old kitten, Sam would begin bringing home snakes.  I became pretty adept at finding them because it was an almost daily occurrence.  Their favorite spots for eluding Sam were under the base of a floor lamp and under my cedar chest (once Sam grew big enough to not be able to get under it herself).

The snakes were easy enough to rescue (Sam was just bringing home friends to play, not devour, and the snakes would simply curl up once out of Sam’s reach).

Then came, along with snakes, the lizards.  Sometimes blue-belly lizards, sometimes alligator lizards (like Larry).  Lizards are quick little creatures, not like the coiled, seemingly dormant snakes in hiding.

We didn’t even know there were snakes and lizards in our neck of the woods until Sam started bringing them home.  Squirrels, turkeys, deer — yes.  Our neighbors didn’t know we had snakes and lizards, either, until they saw Sam’s little friends.

It wasn’t long before we had shoe boxes strategically placed upstairs and down for whatever new surprise Sam had for us that day.  I’d come home, see a shoe box in the middle of the floor with a book on top to weigh it down, and know Kim had found the latest treasure for me to release back into its natural habitat.

The fun times were when I would lift the top of the shoe box and there wasn’t anything there.  Then the search was on, and sometimes we wouldn’t find the missing lizard until the following spring, in our closet, in one of Kim’s shoes.

Sam did progress to include warm-blooded critters in her repertoire — mice, bats, birds, and once a chipmunk which provided us with loads of entertainment as I tried to catch it.

Sam was with us for 17 years, Milo just shy of that.  We miss them both very, very much.

Sam on Lap

This is Larry

Or it might be Lucy.  I’ve never been very good at determining the sex of alligator lizards (nor any other reptile).  In our home, they are all named Larry.

Larry the Lizard
As I am not a herpetologist, this might not even be an alligator lizard — but since that’s what I’ve called them since I was a kid I’ll stick with that for consistency.

Larry is relaxing in our front garden probably looking for lunch.  Or maybe getting ready to take a nap after lunch.  We don’t use pesticides (or herbicides), so Larry has plenty of menu options to choose from.

I’d wager that a majority of folks in our neighborhood don’t realize we have lizards and snakes around here in the southern Willamette Valley of Oregon.

Deer and turkeys and squirrels?  Yes.  Joggers and bicyclists?  Yes (though only some are classified as wildlife).  Lizards and snakes (and chipmunks and bats)?  Who knew?  We knew, because they’ve been inside our home on a regular basis.  Why are they inside our home?  I’ll tell the story in the next post — hint, it will be about Sam.

So it was nice to see Larry outside for a change.  A few years ago, early spring, I came across a dried skin which Uncle Larry had recently shed in our walk-in closet, very near to my wife’s shoes.  Uncle Larry had apparently over-wintered in our closet and decided it was time to roam the house to search for a meal.  The lady of the house was not impressed.

Although we name all the lizards Larry, we do differentiate them based on relative size (nose to tail).

Little Larry is small, typically three to five inches.  Larry is normal size, five to eight inches.  Uncle Larry is into the large category, up to 12 inches.  Then there is Grandpa Larry, sometimes referred to as Godzilla.

Grandpa Larry can be somewhat intimidating, especially when he’s taken over one of the top stairs looking down and you’re on the way up — and you don’t see him until you’re at eye level — and then he starts hissing at you.  That’s usually when I hear my name being called, loudly, possibly accompanied by a stifled (or not) scream.

So please stay outside, Larry.  Try the snails and slugs, I understand they are pretty tasty.

Life is Twisted

We have a couple of wisteria trees.  Their branches, with each passing year, become ever more twisted and intertwined.

Wisteria Twisted 2

The swirling branches, new and old, remind me of the paths some people take during their lives.

New shoots, which can lengthen a foot or more each day, wander aimlessly skyward until their weight makes them drop down into the existing branches.  Children exploring their universe, eventually coming home to the familiarity and safety of friends and relatives.

And, like typical children growing up, some shoots are a bit rebellious and seek new paths away from home.  A nearby chimney to cling to and wrap around, or the adjacent maple tree with its branches beckoning like an exotic, far away town to run away to.

Wisteria Twisted 1

As branches grow more mature and seek their own spot in the world, they continue to wrap clockwise around their elders.  They embrace their siblings and support previous generations.

Sometimes they actually fuse with another branch and become one — a wedding of sorts for these young lovers.  As the years pass, however, one may end up choking the life out of the other until one or both succumb to the suffocating griphold.

Occasionally a branch will be reclusive, finding a path for itself with a minimum amount of twisting, touching, or interacting with others.

Our grape vines are also like perpetual children, year after year.  New growth is fast and furious and chaotic — like children at recess on a mild spring day.

As they run and skip and play, though, they seek friends and support.  “Hello, neighbor leaf.  Will you be my friend?”, a growing shoot may ask as it wraps its tendril around the adjacent vine.  “Hello, Mr. Steel Cable.  Will you help keep me in the air and sunshine?”, another asks on its seasonal journey.

We all have our twisted paths to follow and obstacles to face and overcome, and we can learn from the plants.

It is easier when you have another to hold onto.