Sunday, July 31, 2005

Down on the Dock

What are you doing down there on the dock?

Oh, sitting. And watching.

But what are you doing, sitting and watching, down there on the dock?

Just that -- sitting and watching. That's plenty enough for me.

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 Saturday, July 30, 2005

This Spot On the Hill

From this spot on the hill, you can see the swimmers splashing in the water beyod the end of the dock.

From this spot on the hill, you can hear the birds singing in the forest and chipmunks chattering in the woods.

From this spot on the hill, you can see the blue heron glide into the reeds by the shore.

From this spot on the hill, you can watch the setting sun if you squint your eyes to shade its blazing.

From this spot on the hill, you can gaze across the water at another spot on another hill on the other side of the lake. And if you do that, you can't help but wonder if the people sitting over there would really rather be here.

For this spot over here is indeed a very good place to be.

Half Mile Lake
Gowen, MI

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Scraps In The Basement

Michael, at Reading A1, spent some time sifting thru boxes of stuff left behind by a previous generation.

Reading A1/Scraps: ... any item of it a piece of someone's, some loved one's, vanished life. Every item a small but possibly readable pattern of a world. The house has to be sold, for my Mom's sake, and to be sold has to be disencumbered, and this chaff has to go: but all weekend long I felt that I was consigning my grandparents, my aunts, in the material fragments of their memories and actions, to a second and more permanent oblivion.

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 Friday, July 29, 2005

The Day We Were Hoping For

This is the kind of day we all were hoping for. The day before yesterday the weather was uncertain, and the mosquitos were swarming. Yesterday it rained and blew and got progressively colder all day. But today... today the wind was gentle, and the sun was warm, and the sky was blue.

Now, as the sun crosses the sky, heading toward the treetops across the lake in the west, even a little bit of falling rain is magical. The sun still shines, and the gleaming droplets of silver-golden fire bounce on the water.

The last intrepid swimmers refuse to leave. With the sun low in the sky making us squint, it is impossible to see their faces. But we know their voices. And we know the shapes of their silhouettes dancing against the setting sun, dancing in the silver-golden rain, dancing in halos of shimmering light in the water around each of them.

Yes, this is the day we were hoping for.

Half Mile Lake
Gowen, MI

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 Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Skiing on One Ski

Colin was trying to drop a ski. On the first try his foot briefly searched for its place, but he fell.

Colin! Janet said from the boat. Colin! That was so good!

On the second try he fell again, and dramatically, but he went a bit farther.

Colin! Janet shouted again from the boat as it came around. You did so well!

On the third try he went further still but fell again, hard.

Janet shouted again, Look how far you went!

Each time he tried, his foot searched for its place. Each time he fell after going just a little bit farther. And each time she shouted nothing but words of encouragement.

The next day he made it around the lake.

Half Mile Lake
Gowen, MI

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 Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Before and After the Rain

It rained this morning. The thunder started rumbling in the southwest, and the sky across the lake turned black.

First came the breeze, which turned into wind, which picked up and then kicked up whitecaps on the water and made the tents flap furiously. And then came the rain, although it looked at first as though it might pass us by.

Afterwards for a time there was much napping, as the grey skies and cool air relaxed us all. I slept harder for an hour than I have slept for a very long time.

And now the gentle summer breeze has returned. The sun is shining. The tents are drying out. And there are some swimmers returning from their swim across the lake.

The maple leaves are rustling. Bird song is echoing in the canopy of the forest. And a squirrel hidden in the pine needles overhead is complaining loudly about something.

Half Mile Lake
Gowen, MI

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 Monday, July 25, 2005

Getting Organized

As I sat there writing, with Ben in the shower, Trudy was kneeling in the corner of the motel room in front of her suitcase. She was very quiet, but she seemed to be very busy.

She took things out of her yellow duffel bag and laid them onto the floor before her. Actually, I confess that I didn't actually see her do that (I was writing, after all), but I can picture the piles of her travel clothes neatly folded, stacked and categorized.

Then she put all her stuff back into her yellow bag, and I heard her sigh contentedly. This is when I began to notice the goings on, when she sighed contentedly and loudly.

I looked up.

Oh! she exclaimed, clapping her hands together. Oh, I just love getting organized!

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 Sunday, July 24, 2005

Gadgets, Sports and Bodily Fluids

It was hot. I was tired. My jog dissolved into a walk, and not long after that a couple passed me on the trail.

They didn't seem to be married. Something about them suggested that they didn't know each other well. Something about them suggested that this was their first date. He was doing the talking.

... and the amazing thing is, he was saying, every since I got my HDTV when I watch an NBA game I can see the beads of sweat on their foreheads.

His sentence trailed off and he seemed to be waiting for her to confirm the wonder of it all.

What an incredible sentence. What a textbook example of what not to do on a first date.

He was doing all the talking. He was talking about gadgets. And he was talking about sports. And he was talking about bodily fluids.

I waited for her response.

"Oh," she said.

Town Lake Hike and Bike Trails
Austin TX

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 Friday, July 22, 2005

Morning Rising

Long before the sun came up over the bluff across the river, the sky began to glow. I'm not sure if it was the sky or the cacophony of birds in the trees that woke me up.

Several times this happened: I would open my eyes and see the approaching day and then roll over and go back to sleep in spite of the light and in spite of the bird song echoing in the forest around our tent.

Finally I sat up and gazed silently out the screen. Ben was fast asleep in his sleeping bag. Trudy rolled over and tapped me on the shoulder and smiled her morning smile.

My sleepiness receded. The puffiness gradually drained from my head. And we got up to make breakfast.

Trudy heated water for coffee. I got out the cast iron skillet for sausage and eggs and toast. Soon the sound and smell of the sausage roused Ben from the tent. Twenty minutes later, we were full and very happy.

And now the sun (which has long since come over the bluff across the river) is shining thru the treetops and making my fingers throw oblique shadows onto my notebook.

Morning has risen.

Buffalo Point campground
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Thursday, July 21, 2005

Plum and Peach

So let me tell you about the Plum tree.

Off to the side of the parking lot at Wild Bill's, just past the stacked boles of uncut trees and the haphazard pile of cut and split firewood (3 sticks for a dollar), there was a Plum tree fully laden. I noticed it when we rented the canoe and kayak, and I told myself I'd pick and eat at least one plum later.

The tree was large as Plum trees go and had many branches. Each branch was loaded with fruit. You could have taken two bushels of ripe plums (if you had a ladder), and the tree would have appeared untouched.

We had a Peach tree at the house on Hillcrest when I was growing up. It was on the east side of the house, near the Anthony Waterer Spirea and the then-young Blue Spruce. It had narrow peach-tree leaves and dark, flaky bark that was in perfect counterpose to the Birch. But it never had fruit, except one year.

There came one spring, as I remember it, when the tree exploded in flower and later with fruit. Not only did it have peaches, but they were exceedingly large and unblemished (there being no peach tree pests for miles, situated as we were in the heart of corn country).

These peaches were perfect for eating straight off the branch, but there were too many for us to handle. As I recall[*], the task of mowing that year was a daunting one.

But late that sprint, the Peach tree died.

This Plum tree at the side of Wild Bill's made me think of that Peach tree and of its demise. So as I pulled a plum off a low-hanging branch and ate it, I wondered if the tree would be there next year.

Maybe we'll be there to see.

[*] The fidelity of this recollection is suspect. It is one of the shames of my youth that my father did almost all of the grass cutting.

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A Close Call in the Woods

There's something in the woods, Ben said. It gives me the creeps.

I heard what he said, but I didn't pay much attention.

Later that evening, well after it was dark, I was washing a pot and needed to toss the yucky water into the woods. I walked over to the trees and swung the full pot to empty it out. As I swung, something large scurried in the undergrowth. There was a scrambling/dashing sound.

When I got back to the campsite, a breeze blew up from the river and came thru the trees in the woods. And the unmistakable odor of skunk filled the air.

There was something in the woods. And what a close call I had.

Buffalo Point campground
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Wednesday, July 20, 2005


There were several people standing on the shore when we beached the kayak and canoe. We joined them, standing with our feet in the cool, shallow water of Rush Creek where is came gurgling over its stone bed out of the forest and flowed into the bath-water of the Buffalo River.

Time passed, and no bus arrived. More time passed, and the crowd grew, and people started wandering up to the top of the hill instead of waiting by the river. Eventually we were the last ones standing in the creek, so we too left the riverbank and walked up the hill.

As we were sitting in the shade of the pavilion at the top, somehow the conversation in one of the other families turned to frogs -- a pet albino frog they once had.

What's that? said the youngest kid in the family. He was maybe 8 years old.

What's what? his mother asked.

What you said.

You mean albino? somebody else asked him.

Yeah. Albino. What's that mean?

It means white, his mother said.

The boy was silent for just a moment and then asked, Mama, am I albino?

There was stunned silence under the pavilion. Everyone knew what he was asking, but no one said a thing.

Mama, he said. Am I albino?

No you are not, she quipped, no so much in an angry tone but more as an act of desperation. She wanted the conversation to end.

But you said it means white, the boy continued.

It does, she said. Like the white on this here T-shirt.

He didn't take the bait and continued with his previous line of questioning.

But mama, he said. You told me I'm white, so why am I not albino?

She snapped his name at him. I chuckled out loud. So did everyone else within ear-shot. His sister turned to look at me, perhaps to gauge my reaction. And the conversation evidently was over.

Rush Creek landing
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Ben's Campfire

Dad? Ben asked.


Can you teach me how you start a campfire?

I guess I've failed for him to have to ask this question at this point in his life.

Sure, I said. And I sent him out to gather three piles of kindling -- twigs, small sticks and larger sticks.

The gathering of the kindling took a very long time, with much delaying and several attempts to substitute piles of Sycamore bark (that lay in abundance around our campsite) for larger sticks (which required a bit of searching). But in the end the desire for smores kept him going.

And so with tutelage from a father horrified at his tardiness in passing on even this modest skill, Ben built a tee-pee of twigs and sticks and larger sticks around a core of crumbled newspaper, and he soon we had a roaring blaze.

He and Trudy roasted their Jet-Puff marshmallows on the inferno, quickly going thru one or two bars of Hersey's milk chocolate. (The stickiness of the process has never seemed worth it to me.) And in just a few minutes, they were sighing contentedly, pushing back in their chairs, gazing absently into the dancing flames.

One by one, we threw another log on the fire. The wood was dry, and it made spectacular coals.

Soon Ben had retreated to the tent, and Trudy was quick to follow. But with a fire such as that, I couldn't bear to leave. So I stayed behind, putting my feet up and leaning my head back in my folding chair.

Several times I woke up to the sounds of the frogs by the river and the crickets in the woods and the orange light of the fire lighting our campsite.

The night got quieter. The flames gave way to embers. I drifted in and out of sleep.

Ben's fire died down. The glowing embers crumbled to ash.

Finally I retreated, too.

Buffalo Point campground
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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Playing With Poison Ivy

Did you see what that little kid just did!? Did his parents see?

Is anyone watching him walking barefoot and without a shirt (not that there's anything wrong with that), walking with his little plastic bucket, walking to the edge of the woods, to the dark thicket, to the place where the poison ivy grows.

Did anyone see what he just did!?

Did anyone else see him grabbing handfuls of grass and weeds to dump into his bucket? Did anyone see him grab the poison ivy? With his bare hands? Grab it and pull at it and dump it into the bucket, too? Did anyone else see him reach into the bucket with both hands and stir his concoction of grass and weeds and poison ivy?

Barefoot and without a shirt and with his bare hands. Oh my gosh, can somebody please explain!?

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 Monday, July 18, 2005

Turning Off the Light

So now I prepare to turn off the light. The light on my desk. The light on the ceiling. And the light in my brain.

And if you can believe it, it's not even 11:00pm, yet.


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Trudy's Turtle Rescue

Have I told you about Trudy's turtle rescue? I don't think I have.

On our trip down the Buffalo River, we had several breaks. We stopped to switch positions in the canoe and kayak. We stopped to take pictures of some tree roots that looked as if they were flowing from the bank down into the stream. And we stopped for a picnic lunch near a bend in the river.

On one gravel shoal off to the left as we were beaching the boats, there was a large turtle lumbering across the field of round, white stones. When the water is higher, this place would have been submerged, so the turtle probably knew the terrain. It was making a straight line to the river.

It knew where it was, and it knew where it wanted to go.

I thought we were going to leave the turtle alone, but soon after we had disembarked, Trudy turned toward the turtle and walked off with a look of determination in her eyes

I am going to help the turtle, she announced.

She approached it slowly from behind. It stopped and watched her warily, and as she got close it pulled its head into its shell. She picked it up gently and then set it down at the water's edge.

It didn't move, and eventually she came back.

We sat around a little while longer, and eventually the turtle figured we were harmless -- or perhaps that it could dash into the water before another rescue ensued. In any event, it poked its head back out, scrambled the last few inches into the river and then disappeared into the deeps.

Later in the day, Trudy confessed, I think saving the turtle was my favorite part of the canoe trip.

I wonder what the turtle thought.

Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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Radio Aspirations

On NPR this afternoon, I heard a piece by Phillip Reeves about a man named Zelmai and the mountain roads of Afghanistan.

For radio journalists, his report should be something to aspire to:

Reeves/The Road from Pakistan to Afghanistan: He's a big man with large, expressive eyes beneath formidible, black brows and a large, expressive grin beneath a formidible, black beard. Such features are not oncommon among his kind, the Pashtuns of Afghanistan...

Zelmai wears his beard long. My Afghan friends say this is considered the sign of a man who's contemplative -- something of a sage. In Kabul, Zelmai does seem like that, but not up in these hills...

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 Sunday, July 17, 2005

Those Eskimos

As we paddled down the river we took our time, watching the limestone bluffs that loomed over us, watching the blue sky overhead, listening to the water gurgling over the rocks, listening to distant thunder that seemed to be following us, watching the black clouds on one side of the river and then the other (but never over us), watching the tree roots at the river's edge where the forest came down for a drink.

Most of the time, Ben was ahead of us paddling his kayak as we paddled our canoe. There came a point, however, when he reached his limit.

The water was moving slowly, and we had not even reached the landmark rocks that the outfitters told us marked the half-way point of our 5-6 hour journey. He was clearly exhausted, laboring greatly with each stroke.

Actually, laboring doesn't do the scene justice. He was delirious, talking goofy like a three year-old who's up way past his bedtime. After each stroke, he groaned and then laid back and rested so as to gather his strength for the next.

There was no sign of fast water ahead, so Trudy offered to take the kayak for a while, an offer that he immediately accepted. He clambered into the canoe as Trudy took the kayak and began practicing her stroke. A few moments later, we were floating downstream again.

Oh, he exclaimed quietly from the front of the canoe.

What? I asked.

Oh, those Eskimos.


Those Eskimos. They were real men.

He waited for a few seconds and then turned to me without waiting for my response.

... and you can put that in a jumpingfish!

Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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Imagine, if you will, the clear river cutting thru gravel shoals and flowing past high limestone bluffs with sycamores and oaks and maples coming down to the water's edge and a blue sky overhead.

And imagine a 14 year-old boy free to paddle his kayak fast ahead, scouting the best routes thru the rapids.

Or imagine him floating slowly wherever the current might take him, lying back and gazing at the limestone bluffs, at the forest on either shore, and at the summer sky.

Imagine him going from one side of the river to the other, sometimes looking back to see if he was getting too far ahead.

And imagine him singing as he goes.

Earlier in the day, we wondered if we were making the right decision to rent a two-person canoe for us and a one-person kayak for him.

I imagine we did.

Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Saturday, July 16, 2005

Beginning the River Journey

Wild Bill's Outfitter sell or rent gear and snacks and souvenirs and everything else you need to float the river. The building is set at an angle, behind two big shade trees that sit next to the road that leads down to Buffalo Point. Wild Bill's is not the only place to go for fun on the river, but their location and bright red-on-yellow signs drew us in.

We thought we might try tubing down the river, since there were three of us, and three's a crowd in a canoe. And when we drove up, we saw a line of large, orange inner tubes tied up to one of the shade trees in front. But the guy behind the counter suggested canoeing, since the water was low and we'd be bumping bottom all they way in tubes.

That was good enough for us. So after some last minute searching around in the store for a few supplies to take down the river, we went back to fetch Ben, whom we had left slumped at the campsite in a folding chair with his nose in a book.

We packed our rented ice chest. (It hadn't occurred to us to bring a second ice chest for the river.)

We changed into canoeing clothes.

I grabbed my wide-brimmed hat, and Trudy got her flowerty one.

We hopped into the car and drove ourselves to the put-in point, where our canoe and kayak were waiting.

Then we dragged the boats down to the river, put the ice chest into the canoe (with its top bungied shut -- a state law), and slid into the stream.

The water was deep here and moving slowly. Trudy and I paddled out and across the river, and Ben spun around a bit in the still water getting the hang of paddling a kayak. He was thrilled with the freedom, and in minutes he was ready to turn downstream.

With that, our river journey was begun.

Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Friday, July 15, 2005

Waiting for the Clock to Strike

So they'll be lining up about now, with their wrist bands declaring their places in line and the fun and games coming to an end. Now is when they'll be lining up to get their books.

The boys are there, filled with pizza at best and with ice cream more likely. They are there lining up with all the others, some of them dressed up perhaps, all of them anxious for the clock to strike midnight.

I will not wait for the clock to strike.

The book will come soon enough -- after he's read it and maybe several others after him. But eventually it will come and sit on the coffee table or on the floor beside the futon in his room where all his books seem to spend a lot of time. It will come soon enough. And soon enough we'll know who the half blood prince is.

As for me sitting here in the quiet of the night, there's no line, there's no crowd, and there's no noise. Trudy has long since disappeared. Now, as they line up and wait for the appointed hour, it's time for me to sleep.

The night before Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Austin TX

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Cumulus Clouds in the North

When we walked out of the book store, the sun had just set. There was a glow in the west, and the sky overhead was a deepening blue. But what caught our attention was the massive cumulus cloud in the north.

Lightning periodically raced along its periphery. Sometimes it would erupt in an internal glow. Sometimes the flashes would snake around the outside, jumping between the cloud tops.

At its base, the towering cloud was black, and streaks of rain were falling. The light of sunset painted the western edges of its middle heights pink. And the cloud-tops at the summit shone in blazing white.

We were supposed to get some of that rain, but it passed us by.

Friday evening in Austin TX

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 Thursday, July 14, 2005

Lights in the Forest

Ben was out like a light after our campsite got dark. This surprised me. I expected him to want to go exploring. But after eating a satisfying dinner of spaghetti and canned pears and after washing the dishes, Ben announced that he was tired and was going to bed.

Trudy and I went for a nighttime stroll. The sky had been shockingly hazy ever since Austin, and so the stars in the sky were kind of fuzzy. And the glowing lights of the Coke machines in the parking light behind us blinded us as we walked by. But we went down to the river and sat on a flat rock for a while.

The white bluffs on the other side of the river shone in the green glow of the pop machines. And somebody down by the water's edge was playing with a flashlight, making a show on the cliff walls and on the trees at the edge of the forest. Every once in a while a car came along the road above us, and its headlights would throw beams of white light over our heads.

Let's just say that it didn't exactly feel like wilderness.

But if we ignored the green and white lights, and if we were patient enough to wait for the breaks in the flashing flashlight, and if we happened to look at the forest across the water above the bluffs upstream from where we sat near the bend in the river, we could see little yellow lights blinking on and off.

As the frogs clicked and croaked, the yellow lights played a silent symphony: some high, some low, some near, some far, some bright, some dim, some at the cliff's edge, some deep in the woods so that their blinking was barely visible.

We sat there and watched this for a while, but it wasn't long before the afternoon in the river caught up with us too, and we were longing for our beds. So we returned to the campsite and tuned out the talking of the teenagers at the campsite next to ours and the whirring of the electric fans in their tents.

We lay down, closed our eyes, and in minutes we were fast asleep.

Buffalo Point.
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The View From Water-Level

I've already told you about how we swam in the warm water at Buffalo Point. But there's another story I want to share.

After we'd been in the water quite a while and our fingers were looking like raisins, Trudy and I began to work our way back upstream to where our towels were sitting by the river's edge. We weren't in a rush. We would move a bit and then just sit in the water and talk. And then we'd move a bit more.

At some point we both looked back to where Ben had been lying in the fast-moving water of the canoe chute. He was now standing and working his way slowly upstream, too. We were in neck-deep water, with our eyes right a water level. He was in ankle-deep water walking slowly toward us. He had to move slowly, because he was barefoot and the river bed was rocky.

We watched him, from water level, take one step and then tentatively take another, looking ahead then down, moving from side to side as he found each foothold. His long dark hair was wet and clung to his neck and almost his shoulders. His dark, wet skin glistened in the sunshine.

From water level we watched this. It was a dramatic sight. Something you might see in a movie. Certainly not a vantage point I'd ever had before.

So imagine the scene shot from water level where the river is moving slow and the water surface reflects the blue sky above the canyon. Imagine in the distance a man walking slowly, stealthily up the river bed, looking up then down, leaning left then right. Imagine him taking one step at a time upstream, walking alone in the wilderness, exploring the canyon, discovering the white bluffs at the bend in the river with no one else around for miles.

That is the scene we imagined as he walked back to where we were.

Then we got out of the water, dried off, and walked back to the campsite for dinner.

Buffalo Point.
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rocks in the River

At Buffalo Point the river slows down, and the water gets very shallow. As we walked downstream from the deep spot where we waded in, the water got shallower and shallower until there was barely and ankle's worth flowing over the rounded river rocks.

Here, near the far bank, large rocks had been lined up to hold a little water back, making a dam of sorts. The dam was V-shaped, suggesting that it was put there as a chute for canoes coming downstream. Without it, no canoes could have floated over the shallows.

Trudy found a spot where she could lie in the shallow water on the downstream side of the dam. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and we were tired from driving and setting up camp. She found a smoothish rock, used it as a pillow, and closed her eyes, lulled into dreamland by the gurgling of the water running thru the the rocks only an inch away from her ears.

Ben chose to lie in the deeper water of the chute. Here the water was deeper and faster. Unlike Trudy, who was motionless with her closed eyes facing skyward, Ben was face-down in the water, climbing upstream. Where the chute was narrowest and the flow swiftest, he found himself unable to hold his ground as the water pushed him downstream along with any rocks he tried to hold on to. He would crawl a few feet and then be pushed back to where he started.

I went on a rock hunt and found an orange-ish souvenir that had the face of a cartoon dinosaur and a white, gnarly rock that simply caught my fancy. They each fit into one pocket of my shorts, albeit with a little coaxing, and with them safely stashed, I floated and paddled in circles in a downstream swimming hole, watching three boys throw stones at me from the bluff.

Later, we saw that bad karma took revenge on the three stone-throwing boys on the hill, as they left their Coleman lantern behind when they packed up and left.

I guess it's a good thing that Trudy shamed me into tossing my souvenir rocks back into the river. Otherwise, who knows what the consequences might have been?

Buffalo Point.
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Monday, July 11, 2005

Name That President

At the podium with the White House seal hanging from the blue curtains behind him, the grim-faced press secretary took questions from the seated reporters:

I appreciate your question.

I -- I think your question is being asked related to some reports. Uh -- that are in reference to an ongoing criminal investigation. Um -- the criminal investation that you -- uh -- reference is something that continues at this point, and as I've previously stated, while that investigation is ongoing -- uh -- the White House is not going to comment on it.

The President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation, and as part of cooperating fully with the investigation, uh -- we made a decision that we weren't going to comment on it while it is ongoing.

What's the year?
What's the investigation about?
Who's the President?

Hint: see Whiskey Bar.
(Hat tips: Obsidian Wings and Crooks and Liars)

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Swimming at Buffalo Point

When we got to Buffalo Point, there was no obvious place to check in -- no building at the entrance, nobody at the park hosts' trailer. But (of course) Trudy knew out tent site number, and when we found it, we saw our name hanging from the post numbered B24.

As we set up camp, the skies darkened in the south, and thunder rumbled ominously. Trudy looked at me, and I rolled my eyes in an it figures kind of way. So not knowing how much time we had, I got right to patching the rips in the tent from the Memorial Day tempest. And when that was done and our campsite fully deployed, we walked directly down to the river to go swimming.

The swimming area was just a stone's throw away from our site. As we approached the river, we were apprehensive about getting in. It was crystal clear and looked ice cold, but as we waded in, we were pleasantly surprised. It was like bath water.

We walked into the river without nary a wince, advancing slowly as it came up to our ankles then our knees then our waists then our chests then our necks until the warm, slow-moving water was over our heads.

I swam out into the middle and turned onto my back.

On one shore, a few other swimmers splashed in the shallows and sat on the gravel shoals. On the other shore, the trees were quickly dwarfed by the white bluffs that climbed high above us, crowned by a forest looking down on the bend in the river. The sky was blue, and the sun was shining down on us. (The thunderstorms had passed us by.) White clouds drifted overhead.

I took this all in. And then as I stared up out of the canyon, a heron flew by high in the sky going from somewhere far away to somewhere far away else.

And I smiled to myself.

Buffalo Point.
Buffalo National River, NW Arkansas

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 Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Dog at the Grocery Store

We almost drove completely thru Fayetteville, and we had to turn back, because we figured this was the last chance for a grocery store before we got to the campsite. (We didn't know that there was a good one in Yellville.)

So we turned back. What was the name of that place? Harper's? Hunt's? Harp's. That's it: Harps (no apostrophe).

As we turned the corner into the grocery store parking lot, a man was riding down the middle of the (3 lane) road with his big brown lab. The dog was jumping and flopping and very excited to be out on the town. The man waited at the stop light (in the middle lane). We parked our car.

By the time we got to the door of the store, the dog was running up to us. He dashed back to the man, who was locking his bike, and then the dog dashed into the store, leaving the man outside.

Out! we heard a woman shout as we walked inside. Out, dog! she said as she waved her arms and shoo'd the dog back outside.

The dog went out just as the man came in with a quite disinterested expression on his face. Clearly the dog did not belong to him. Trudy got that very serious animal-saving look on her face and turned back as if she intended to find out where the dog came from. I quickly turned the other way and walked towards the produce.

We bought only a few things at Harps. We were already mostly stocked and needed only a few perishables. So we got some hamburger for dinner, eggs and sausage for breakfast, some yogurt, and a few other things.

As we left the store, the brown lab was still there, talking to a man seated on a bench. The man was feeding the dog some kind of snacks and talking quietly. Trudy walked over to investigate. When we got back to the car, Trudy walked up and reported that the man was not the owner but had called the number on the dog's tags. Thank heavens for that -- I'm not sure what time we'd have arrived at the campsite had someone else not assumed the animal-saving responsibility.

So with the dog in good hands, we drove east out of Fayetteville, toward our campsite at the Buffalo National River.

Travelling northward on summer vacation.
Fayetteville, AR

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Witnesses to the Waffle House Protocol

The motel clerk that night was not particularly helpful when we asked about a place to eat (although her face did initially light up when she thought we were asking about a good club in downtown Ft. Smith). When it turned out we were asking about breakfast for the following morning, all she could come up with was the continental breakfast, which in the event turned out to be quite lame. So we held out some hopes for the morning shift.

The next morning, Trudy said she asked the new clerk if there was a Waffle House nearby. Her blank face suggested that she doesn't do much travelling, and her suggestions (Denny's and IHOP) left us cold.

We found a Waffle House, anyway.

The place was pure chaos inside. It was as if we had found the corporate training center. There was no Good Morning! shout from behind the corner as we walked in. Indeed, after the greeter showed us our seats, he muttered, Oh for heaven's sake and walked to the other side of the shop, evidently dissatisfied with how long the empty tables were remaining uncleaned. And the middle-aged, skinny, blonde waitress who seemed to be shouting most of the orders had not yet worked up the nerve to actually shout them and was still learning the "protocol".

Since she was having trouble, we discovered that the shouted-out orders to the cooks actually follow a well-defined protocol:

  • Pull three bacon...
  • Mark ham and cheese...

That's a ham and cheese omelette, said the manager, who was on the grill.

What? the waitress asked.

Ham and cheese omelette, he repeated.

It took her a while, but she eventually figured it out and said, Mark one ham and cheese omelette.

Pull is evidently a cue for the person grilling the meat. Mark must be a cue for the person making the eggs. There's another term they used for the waffle person, although I can't remember it. And it's obvious that the difference between "ham and egg" and "ham and egg omelette" is crucial, since they have to know what to cook in addition to what goes in it. If I had a pencil with me, I might have jotted down a formal grammar for it. But I digress...

All the while, our order seemed to have disappeared into the abyss and it took forever to get our coffee, even though we were sitting at the bar and the staff smiled at us every time they passed by. Still, the order eventually came, and in the meantime, we got to watch the inner workings of Waffle House in action.

Trudy had eggs and a waffle. Ben had two waffles. I had three eggs and some of Ben's leftover waffles. When we left, we were quite satisfied, as you always are when you leave a Waffle House, and we were ready for a long day driving northward.

Travelling northward on summer vacation.
Ft. Smith, AR

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Joe posts great photos here.

I don't know how he does it. He's got a great eye for small pieces of what otherwise passes as the ordinary world. I've tried doing the same thing. I can't. The small pieces don't leap out at me as they must for him, and when I go looking for them the results are uniformly lousy.

Here is a recent example: blue sky, clouds, an office building, and a parking lot light -- oh, and a surveillance camera watching his every move, I suppose, as he took the shot!

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