Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day Camping

1. Where We Camped

For Memorial Day, we went camping in the granite hills along the shores of Lake Buchanan. Blackrock Park is becoming a bit of an annual tradition.

We pitched our tent upon a hill, on a gentle slope as flat as we could find. The stakes went in easily. It was a good place, although the afternoon sun beat down mercilessly.

Ben pitched his tent nearby. And we set up the screened canopy close to the picnic table and popup trailer that in years past has been a welcome refuge from the rain.

2. The Sky Was Blue

Friday night, the skies had opened and a horrific storm was unloosed on those few intrepid early-arriving campers. But by the time we got there the skies were blue, and the sun was shining, the Wrens and Mockingbirds were singing in the trees, and there was no sign of rain.

That's what it was like yesterday, Melody and Steve warned us.

But the sky was blue. The sun was hot. Our mission was not to avoid the rain but to avoid the sun. Storms were far from our minds. And anyway our tents seemed well-secured.

3. The First Night

So of course, that first night it stormed. There was lightning in the west after the sun went down. At first it was far away, and we reassured ourselves that certainly it would die down before it got to us.

But it got to us.

It came in two waves, dumping water from the sky each time. As they passed over us, the claps of thunder scared the dog, and Trudy let him out of his crate and under the covers. He doesn't like thunder, but the shaking of the tent in the wind was even worse. She said that she had never seen that look on his face before.

Then the rain passed, and the night was otherwise uneventful.

4. Next Day's Activities

As the sun came up over the lake in the east and a breeze began to blow, we hung out our sheets and blankets and opened both doors of the tent to let it dry out.

Within hours it had, and by early afternoon we had put everything back, this time with our heads pointing uphill -- a minor detail we skipped the day before.

There was swimming at the beach. There was bike riding. There were stomp rockets and much running around. The sky was blue again, and the sun was shining, and the Wrens and Mockingbirds were singing.

5. The Approaching Storm

And then the southern sky turned black.

Overhead it was a sunny, summer day. But across the lake in the general direction of Kingsland, a mighty storm was beating down. The wind coming from the southwest carried the rumor of rain on the air. Thunder rolled.

The rumbling grew louder and more frequent. The black sky gradually consumed more and more of the blue sunny day.

Until the very last, it seemed as though it would miss us. Overhead the sun shone until the margins of the storm extended over us and then the sky began to darken in earnest.

Trudy chose to ride it out in the dry, reconfigured tent with Guinness, who was already distraught at the approaching thunder. Ben opted for his tent, and he took his book with him. The others decided it was time to play a game and retreated to the popup camper. I was still sure that we would only get a minor slice of the storm.

The thunder rolled. Lightning flashed. Across the lake, approaching us like a wall, the water was whipped into a white froth. Here, the water was dark and still. There, chaos had let loose, and it was heading our way with noticeable velocity.

6. Staking the Canopy

As I sat under the screened-in canopy, a proud purchase from last year which we were now using for the second time, the rain began to fall -- gently at first, of course. But as the wall of chaos advance across the lake, the wind picked up and the rain began to fall at a slant, making the canopy not such a dry place after all.

About that time, it occurred to me that this might be a good time to put some stakes in the canopy.

Yes, now would be a good time to stake the canopy down. The rain was falling hard. As I finished the first corner, the wind was fierce, and I began to doubt the utility of the exercise. But I was already soaked, so I moved to the next corner.

From the popup, voices urged me to come inside. But I pounded at the second stake with my hammer as the rain streamed off the brim of my hat, and I prepared for the third. This was going to work, I told myself, in spite of the gale that was blowing.

7. The Arriving Storm

And that is when the storm arrived in earnest. What had come before was mere prelude. The rain, the wind, the black sky. These were just the preliminaries for what came next.

As I stood up and turned to the popup to tell them I was going to stake the other two corners, the wind began to howl. Inside the camper, I saw frantic hands trying to zip the windows shut. Voices were yelling for me to come inside. But I still had my canopy to stake.

As I turned and headed to corner number three, the force of the wind slapped me in the face. The rain pelted me. I heard voices in the camper behind me.

And then I looked up the hill.

8. What Happened on the Hill

We had pitched our tent on the hill. And Ben had, too. I looked up the hill at the tents and saw our six-foot tent rolling towards me as the howling wind pushed it. Trudy and Guinness were inside.

With my hat amazingly still on my head, I walked out into the gale and up the hill. The tent was completely upside down, all six stakes bent and popped out of the ground.

Are you ok!? I shouted. The wind must have drowned out my voice. There was no answer.

I walked to the southwest side, where one of the doors would have been before the storm blew in.

Trudy! Walk slowly in the direction of my voice! I heard her say, Ok.

I staked first one corner and then another and then another until all six corners were back as they should have been. The rain was still falling in a torrent, but the worst of the wind had now passed. The stakes held. Trudy said she and Guinness were ok, and amazingly, it was mostly dry inside. (Buy your tents from REI!)

Next, I looked in the direction of Ben's tent.

Are you ok!? I shouted when I got there.


So I started to restake his rain fly and the corners of his tent.

It's a lost cause, Dad. he shouted.

As I walked to the far side of the tent, I saw what he meant. One of the poles had broken the pierced the rain fly, leaving it uselessly torn.

The rain is pouring in thru the screen!

Are you dry? I asked.

Don't ask my why I would ask such a question as the rain pelted me and ran off my hat (which was still on my head) and as it poured in thru the screen of his flyless tent. But then don't ask how on earth the answer was, Yes!

I'm putting all my stuff in my suitcase! he yelled.

Ok. Then throw it in the car and run into the camper.

By this time, the wind was mostly gone. Soon the rain slowed. And within less than an hour the sky was again blue, the sun was shining, the birds were singing, and our stuff was hanging out again to dry.

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 Friday, May 27, 2005

Catching Uzbek Terrorists

From the BBC in Uzbekistan:

We caught some of the terrorists on Friday night, the Uzbek policeman said.

We beat them so hard that even their own mothers would not recognize them. We beat some of them to death.

Uzbekistan: that staunch ally of the United States in our war against terror and our quest to bring freedom to the world.

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White House pressure on Newsweek

Josh Marshall on how the White House pressure on Newsweek for its reporting of Korans being flushed down the toilet has backfired:

Remember, the McClellan/DiRita attacks on Newsweek weren't simply about getting a few facts wrong or weakly sourcing a story. Their claim was that the charges were outrageous, damaging and false, when in fact it turns out they were outrageous, damaging and quite likely true. And even more damaging for the US after McClellan and DiRita spent a couple weeks heaping attention on them.

The result of the White House and DiRita's jihad against Newsweek has only been to encourage a whole new round of international outrage...

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 Wednesday, May 25, 2005

They So Know About You

He must have felt a slight tremor in the force or something like that when I walked into the gym, because as I stepped thru the doorway Ben immediately turned and looked at me and smiled.

He had his trombone in his hand. Four other trombone players surrounded him. Five trumpets behind. Six saxophones arrayed in front. And the lead and bass guitars. And the drummer. And the piano.

He turned and smiled and then looked back at their director who started the bass and guitar and then the drummer.

Wipe Out!

As the drummer pounded away, people filed into the gymnasium. I found a seat in the middle, near the top. And the band moved from one song to another.

Zoot Suit Riot!

Their sound filled the room. The trumpets belted out a wall of high notes but held back when they needed to. The saxophones sounded perfect. And the trombones, well I am the father of one of them, so my opinion isn't exactly objective.

Between one song and the next, Ben looked up to where I was sitting. I opened my mouth wide and waved with exaggerated desperation. He opened his mouth, smiled, and waved back. Greg, the trombonist sitting next to him, leaned over and said something to Ben, making them both laugh.

Later, Ben said, They so know about you. Greg said you always wave and you always stay around until the buses leave. I told him that my dad loves me.

Graduation ceremonies, Small Middle School, Austin TX

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 Monday, May 23, 2005

Tears to my Eyes

Did I tell you about that morning when I took him to the parking lot where the buses were waiting? It was dark when we got there. I told you about that, didn't I? About the rising crescent moon. About the six buses full of kids. About how I watched all six buses pull out of the parking lot after the sun had come up.

I'm sure I told you about it.

But here's something I didn't say. A couple days after he got back, I asked him if he saw me standing there as his bus drove by. It seemed to me at the time as if he had already settled into something, a Gameboy, perhaps. So out of curiosity, I asked him if he saw me there.

Oh yes, he said. And I said to everyone, See? See my dad? He's standing there to say goodbye after everyone else has gone.

I don't think I told you about that. I only told Trudy that tonite as we stood in the kitchen. And it brought tears to my eyes.

And it brings tears to my eyes to think that I have to rise before the sun again tomorrow to take him to school by 5:30am for another trip they're taking.

Oh, does it bring tears to my eyes.

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 Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Vine Hanging Down

She sat down at a table in the shade. Her daughter and husband went back into the restaurant to order their food.

A vine hung down from a trellis overhead and dangled exactly where she sat. It rubbed her hair, and when she turned her head, it poked her in the face.

As she straightened the table with her left hand, she reached up to the vine with her right and tried to break the tip off or tie it in a knot so that it wouldn't reach so far. But her effort failed.

She just wasn't able to tie the vine up high enough with one hand. So she looked up at what she was doing. She folded the tip of the vine and started to tie is off in earnest. But just then, something fell in her eye.

Determined to get the vine out of her hair, she continued to fiddle with it with her right hand, but now she was looking down again and rubbing her eye with her left.

Something fell in my eye, she muttered.

I looked up at the vine. The tip was gone, but there was no knot, and it still hung down low.

It attacked you, I said, remembering a time long ago when my mother cracked a joke about cutting down a pine tree and looked up only to have it drop sap in her eye.

Then I looked at the tip of the vine again. There was a large drop about to drip.

Look, I said. It's about to do it again!

She quickly looked down and gave up on the knot.

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 Wednesday, May 18, 2005


George Galloway sat at a microphone with a crowd of onlookers and journalists and photographers seated behind him. His eyes were fixed squarely ahead, and he did not for a moment take them off the Senators seated before him. Not once did he look away or even down at the table.

Here is part of what he said. (See this page for a video link of his testimony. The transcription is mine as are any inevitable discrepancies between the text and his actual testimony.)

Now Senator,

I gave my heart and soul to oppose the policy that you promoted.

I gave my political life's blood to try to stop the mass killing of Iraqis by sanctions on Iraq which killed a million Iraqis most of them children. Most of them died before they even knew that they were Iraqis, but they died for no other reason than that they were Iraqis with the misfortune to be born at that time.

I gave my heart and soul to stop you committing the disaster that you did commit in invading Iraq.

And I told the world that your case for war was a pack of lies.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, did not have weapons of mass destruction.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to Al-Queada.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, that Iraq had no connection to the atrocity on 9-11 2001.

I told the world that Iraq, contrary to your claims, that the Iraqi people would resist a British and American invasion of their country and that the fall of Baghdad would not be the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.


In everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right, and you turned out to be wrong. And 100,000 people have paid with their lives. 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies. 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded,

If the world had listened to President Chirac, who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor,

If the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today.


This is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq's wealth.

Have a look at the real oil-for-food scandal.

Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when 8.8 billion dollars of Iraq's wealth went missing on your watch.

Have a look at Halliburton the other American corporations that stole not only Iraq's money but the money of the American taxpayer.

Have a look at the oil that you didn't even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where.

Have a look at the 800 million dollars you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee, that the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own government.

(Hat tip: Crooks and Liars for the link to the video clip.)
(Hat tip: Body and Soul for that crooksandliars link.)

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 Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Dumpster Event

A Mercedes pulled up to the curb. The driver stepped out. She wore tight, beige riding pants, a white shirt that tapered to her waist, and shiny black knee-high boots.

She walked to the back of her car, where she opened the trunk and pulled out a white bag that was bound at the top. Walking just as slowly as when she got out of her car, the woman carried the bag around the front of her car, onto the grass, across the sidewalk, and into a nearby parking lot.

There was a dumpster in that parking lot, and she walked toward it. When she got there, she opened its black plastic lid with her left hand and tossed the white bag in with her right.

Then she turned, walked back to her Mercedes by the curb and drove away.

I don't drive a Mercedes. I don't wear riding pants or black knee-high boots. But I've anonymously pitched a few bags into parking lot dumpsters in my day. And I know a few others who have, too. Ya do whatcha gotta do.

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 Monday, May 16, 2005


in the dim twilight
sitting still as daylight fades
watching green fireflies

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 Sunday, May 15, 2005

Silver Sixpence

The Old Grey Poet recalls how he lost and then recovered a silver sixpence in Surrey in the days of WWII.

I seem to remember the carpenter pulling the coin out, wiping it on his sleeve, spitting on it for good luck, and pressing it into my palm.

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To Think We Might Have Missed It

We had great expectations.

Fewer than two days ago, thunder rumbled and rain fell for a very long time. So we had great expectations that the creek would be running again.

We were anxious to see the green-blue water, to swim in it. We were hot and sticky and were looking forward to finding a place where we could at the very least let the water run over our feet.

But our hopes were dashed.

At the end of the winding path that leads to the water's edge, we found no edge and no water. No green-blue. No place to sit and dangle our legs. Just white rocks sitting in the afternoon sun.

Well this isn't worth the hike, we thought. Why walk the half-mile or so to that place where the water falls when there's no water here and certainly no water there? Sitting in the sun in a dry creek didn't seem like the thing.

We almost turned and left. Instead we decided to walk upstream in hopes of finding a pool that might not have dried up yet. Our hopes were few, but there are good swimming holes up there, so we decided to try.

We walked for about ten minutes. The path along the east side of the creek at that point is mercifully shady, running thru dense woods in a bottom lands of sorts. A breeze cooled us. The trees held back the sun.

And when the path turned back towards the creek, we saw what we had hoped to see. In spite of the dry rocks further downstream, here the creek was flowing. The water gurgled as it wound between and fell over mossy rocks.

Here was what we came for.

Here was a place to cool our feet. Here was a place where the water was deep enough to color it greenish-blue. Here was where we decided to stop and watch the minnows and tadpoles and water bugs. Here we found a place to cool down. Here was a place to listen to the music of the Central Texas spring.

We thought we might have missed it.

Barton Creek Greenbelt, Austin TX

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 Saturday, May 14, 2005

The Oak Tree Down the Street

A half-hour to go, and then the date turns. A half-hour to get some words down for today before tomorrow comes. A half-hour. Thirty minutes.

So there's this...

And I sit and wait for that great thought to reappear. That thought that set off a light bulb only a few moments ago. That thought that I was so certain I wouldn't forget -- a certainty that regularly lets me down.

And there's this...

Down the street there is a big Oak tree. If you stop nearby and look up into its limbs -- something I think no one does because so few people walk. If you stop nearby to look, you can see a few old boards nailed into the trunk high above the ground.

Once upon a time, that tree looked out on a field. And the children from the neighborhood -- a neighborhood that was already encroaching on the empty space -- would come to the end of the street and climb that tree.

They might have had a rope swing hanging from it.
They might have had a tree fort built in it.
They might have climbed it many times.
Listened to its rustling leaves.
Leaned against its trunk.
Sat in its shade.

The children have gone. The Oak is still there.

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 Friday, May 13, 2005

The Pottery Barn Rule

You break it; you own it, the Secretary said.

Not quite right, I think.

You break it; the shelves come down on top of you.
You break it; other things tumble and break.
You break it; you slip and fall.
You break it; you roll around on the broken glass.
You break it; you cut yourself and bleed.
You break it; you cannot get up and leave.

Owning has little to do with it.

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 Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Orange Crescent Moon

By the same measure that the crescent moon preceded the sun at dawn last Thursday, tonite it lags at sunset. A thin crescent hangs over the hills in the western sky, orange and dim and barely visible thru the smoke blown north from the burning fields and forests in Mexico.

That smoke made the skyline difficult to see from the freeway as we drove north this morning. And, I don't know, but that smoke might have made it a bad day to run around the lake on our drive back south.

I do know this, however. An orange crescent moon is hanging in the nighttime sky. And I am soon to lay me down to sleep.

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 Monday, May 9, 2005


Middle age, you ask? Why yes, I'm well into it. Long accepted that. Proud perhaps. Or at least I wasn't upset. Had plenty else to do, so the drugstore glasses and receding hairline and sprig of gray here and there just didn't seem to bother me.

But now what is this all about, this invitation to join the AARP?

Surely there must be some mistake.

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 Thursday, May 5, 2005

Leaving For New Orleans

It was dark, and a crescent moon was rising ahead of the sun in the east. The sky was still black but a hint of morning was glowing on the horizon. A cloud passed in front of the moon.

Six buses -- there were six tour buses to take the kids, fifty kids each. Beside each, chaperone moms held up notebooks with their names and waited for their four assigned kids to arrive. Roadie dads loaded the luggage. The parking lot was filled with sleepy faces, excited voices, and anxious waiting.

Band and orchestra and choir directors paced back and forth from Bus-1 to Bus-6, checking the loading of the luggage, checking with the chaperones, checking with the drivers. And while all this checking went on, the kids boarded their buses as soon as each group of four had assembled, jostling for the best seats near the back.

The last missing musician arrived and dashed toward Bus-2, returning to give his embarrassed but happy mother a hug. A dad came driving into the lot and dashed to Bus-6, triumphantly holding up a belt and bow tie, obviously relieved he got there in time.

A pink sun rose thru the smokey haze blown in from Mexico. After the long wait, it was time to go. Slowly, in single-file, the six buses drove around the parking lot and then pulled onto the street and began the long drive east.

Tonite they are in New Orleans, and it's almost time for their room check.

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 Tuesday, May 3, 2005

On The Trails

Today on the trails...

There was the dog training lady on the hill.
There was the little girl getting cups of water for her parents.
There was the grandmotherly, Greek-looking woman.
And there was this guy running alongside a woman who was going very fast.

I recognized her from when she dashed past on the other side of the lake. And then I saw her talking to that painter under the bridge. This guy was clearly an addition to her running routine.

I figure he was trying to start up a conversation as long as they were running the same pace. Problem is: they weren't running the same pace. Just before they passed beyond earshot, I heard him laugh and say, You're killing me!

Later I passed him walking, and the woman was nowhere to be seen. Then he came sprinting by, clearly hoping to find her at the stretching area. But around the next bend, I passed him walking again.

At the stretching area, she was nowhere to be seen. I guess she didn't want to wait for him to show up.

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 Monday, May 2, 2005

Honeysuckle 2

Don't you tire of this?

Tire of what?

The Honeysuckle, the limestone cliffs, the pink sunsets, and the green-blue water of the creek. Don't you ever tire of it all?


So why continue with it over and over?

I guess because the alternatives are just so grim. Really, that's about all I know how to do -- drown it all out with color or music or the sweet fragrance of Honeysuckle on a cool evening.

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Honeysuckle 1

The dog pulled at the leash, first this way and then that. We took the long walk by the middle school and around the far side of the soccer fields.

At the far side, the highway roars from across the chain link fence. And at the margins of the fields near the fence, weeds grow four feet tall, pushing up between disassembled soccer goals and a mass of plastic and paper and styrofoam litter.

We stopped for a moment. I picked up a bottle to recycle. The dog inspected a weed. The air was filled with a sweet fragrance. I looked up to see where it was coming from.

Here, at the far corner of the fields, the fence was hidden under Honeysuckle vines with whitish-yellow blossoms more numerous than the slender leaves. I reached over to smell one.

And then we went home.

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 Sunday, May 1, 2005

What I Want To Tell You

I want to tell you about lying in the shade against the limestone cliffs.

I want to tell you about walking along paths in the dark woods.

I want to tell you about swimming in the cold, blue-green water of the creek.

I want to tell you about the afternoon sun lighting up the compost pile.

I want to tell you about the pink sky in the west.

I want to tell you about the silhouette of the Monterey Oak as the western sky turned black.

I want to tell you about the smile she had on her face today.

I want to tell you about these things, but I don't think my words would do the things justice.

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