Tuesday, April 30, 2013


I just spent three hours refurbishing a chicken coop. I'm not sure what's happened to me.

I was expecting the keets to stay inside longer than this, but they're already getting pretty big and starting to try to fly––which involves knocking things over and getting food, sawdust and feces in their water because they are [were] in a very confined space.

I've also given up on them being friendly to people––and I'm honestly not sure I want them to be. But that means the only way I'll have of getting them to stick around once they go free-range will be attachment to place. From what I've been told, that requires you to keep them in the place that's going to be their home for three months. Since this coop is going to be their home, I figured I'd better get a jump on it.

My only concern is weasels. But we've had chickens right next door for years now and I don't think that's ever been a problem. So hopefully it won't be one now.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Yarn-Bombing and Me French-Kissing an Arab

This afternoon I went along with my family to a place that I'd heard much about: Beulahland. I'd received a number of invitations to the farm house-turned-work of art in the past, but for one reason or another had never actually gone. Today though, two friends of mine were there for the New York "Arts In Bloom" arts trail event––and we also had to pick one of my sisters up. So after a few wrong turns in the wilderness of Upstate New York and stopping to ask a lumberjack for directions, we arrived at Beulahland.

I was impressed.

I was expecting it to be a property with a bunch of art work, but in reality, it would be more accurate to say the property was the artwork:

Of course, there was plenty of art not nailed to the floor too. Like my friend Eric's pottery––which I had the added bonus of seeing him throw on a wheel made entirely of scrap parts:

A lot of the art did seem to be on the edge of the absurd. Like this "yarn bombed" tree (I didn't know what yarn bombing was until just now––it's apparently covering some public object in yarn as a form of art––or vandalism) in the front yard:

Or this Adirondack style chair that looked like something from The Chronicles of Narnia––and felt like something worse:

I'm no art critic, and I won't pretend to know anything about it, but a lot of art seems pretty absurd to me. 

But then life itself can be pretty absurd sometimes. So perhaps absurdity in art is just a way of expressing truth? I don't know. 

On the subjects of life and absurdity, on the way home today I got a message from an old comrade in North Ireland about something I wasn't expecting. 

The story starts couple years ago, when I was interning in the Middle East. It was only my second or third day off the plane, and I was still jet-lagged––not to mention sick––but the company I was working for had a crew working on a promotional video, and since that was along the lines of what I do, I got drafted to help in any way I could. As I said, I was pretty out-of-it, and I think my only contribution was probably agreeing to pose as a westerner interacting with an Arab. 

Most of this interaction just involved walking around on crowded streets and shaking hands and such, but when we got to the departure scene, they insisted on using the authentic gesture––which in that part of the world is kissing goodbye in the French manner––not French as in with tongue, mind you, just the little exchange of pecks on both cheeks. 

That was only the first week I was there, and seeing as I hadn't heard anything about it in the almost two years since then, I assumed it'd been buried on a scratch disk in some studio closet and forgotten. 

Apparently, that is not what happened. 

My Friend today said he was just watching this new promotional video with a group of people, and suddenly saw me walk onto the screen. It was only a short clip he said, but guess which one it was? That's right. 

So now individuals and groups all over the world who share in interest in the Middle East are watching a video of me kissing an Arab––which I actually think is pretty awesome. 

But it's still absurd, across many levels. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Pig in the Park

A few miles east of my house, on the intersection of two roads––one paved and one not––is a little clearing with a single wooden picnic table and one of those charcoal grill things that sticks up out of the ground on a pole. This is the top of Coryland Hill, and the odd little clearing is called Coryland Park. I've always kind of liked it, if only because it has a kind of cozy feel and gives the area a sense of place that it would otherwise completely lack. In the 20 some years of my life that I have spent here though, I can't say I've ever actually seen someone picnicking at Coryland Park.

This could possibly have something to do with the fact that it's on a road with almost no through-traffic in a township where even the poorest residents own a few acres of forested land––land on which they could easily light their own fire and grill hotdogs without driving a mile to sit awkwardly beside an occasionally trafficked road. In fact, if our locality had any kind of a government worth commenting on, I might venture to say that Coryland Park was a genuine failure of civic planning. The word boondoggle, or "bridge to nowhere" might be applied. But our locality does not have a government worth commenting on, so I won't. And besides, as I said before, I rather like Coryland Park, if only for what it represents.

Just because it isn't used for picnicking doesn't mean that it isn't used though. No indeed, since I took to going for runs past it a few years ago I've noticed all kinds of interesting signs of, shall we say, recreational activity. In fact, coming up on it close to the three mile marker for my runs, speculating about what I may find there has become a kind of dry entertainment for me. Nothing however, has come close to what I came upon there last week as I rounded the bend....

My first thought was an instinctual reflex: Skunk! But as I neared, I realized that this was larger than any skunk seen in North America at least since what paleontologists call the Pleistocene Epoch. My next thought, as I passed by it was Panda, which I realize is entirely irrational, but that's kind of what it looked like. 

Positive identification required a closer inspection, upon which I determined that it was in fact a pig. A giant, black and white striped pig with all of its insides missing, its disconnected appendages piled neatly beside it, and an Adam Richman sized mouthful of dirt and leaves––to be specific. 

Once the initial gratification of having discovered something truly weird and disturbing that day in Coryland Park wore off––which it did almost immediately––my thoughts turned to how long it may be there before someone removes it. Judging by how long it once took a garbage bag of beer cans some environmentally and socially conscientious individual had discreetly stuffed in the barbecue to disappear, I would estimate it will be at least six months. And since running season is only just beginning, and the only long-run route I can take without fear of having my trachea ripped out by someone's adorable canine companion leads past Coryland Park, it looks like I'll be seeing a lot more of the pig for some time.

I'm thinking of giving him a name.

Thursday, April 18, 2013


One afternoon when was ten or eleven, my Mom and I went for a walk. As we were passing one of our neighbors houses about a mile and a half from ours, something scampered across the road. It was a bird. A relatively large bird, that appeared to be at least marginally flightless. Basically, it was like a chicken. But this was no chicken––it was a guineafowl. And ever since that day, I have wanted guineafowl. I can't explain why, I just have. So about two months ago, I tracked down our local guineafowl dealer (this is easier said than done) and placed an order for eight of them, to be delivered the day they hatched. Today was that day, and now I have guineafowl:

Of course they don't look much like guineafowl at this point, but––assuming I don't accidentally kill them and the cat doesn't sneak into my room as has been known to happen before––in a few months they should look something like this:

The guineafowl, or "guineahen" as it's sometimes called, is native to Africa where it lives wild, but has been brought to many other countries where it is commonly domesticated and raised for its eggs, meat, and what Vogue Magazine has referred to as "[their] irresistibly fresh sex-appeal."

Okay, I made the last one up. 

But that doesn't mean guineafowl aren't awesome.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unexpected Visitors from an Old Story

It's always an interesting––and kind of surreal––experience when you meet someone in real life who you've heard stories about for a long time. That happened to me this evening.

Some of you who know me from life outside the blogosphere (or have have read this blog for a very long time) probably know that my Grandpa Wilber was a NAVY fighter pilot and became a P.O.W. in the Vietnam conflict. When his F4 was shot down over North Vietnam, the ejection system failed, and he only made it out of the cockpit a few seconds before the plane slammed into the ground. His radio officer, Bernie, didn't make it out at all.

My grandpa and Bernie were both reported Missing In Action, and since my grandpa spent the next five years in a Viet Kong prison, it wasn't until after the war that he was able to tell Bernie's surviving wife what had actually happened. Since she was Norwegian and was then living back in that country, he went there to meet with her in person––and took his whole family along to tour Europe.

So I'd heard my grandpa tell the story of Bernie countless times over the years, and heard my Dad tell about going to Norway to meet Bernie's widow (it was one of my favorite stories when I was little––if more for the parts about seeing real Viking longboats and eating fish than any duty to the family of my grandpa's fallen comrade). But in the end they were stories.

This evening, as we were sitting down to supper, we heard a knock on the door and looked out to see a Volvo in the driveway that none of us had noticed pull in. My Dad went out to see what they needed, and then called my Mom and I out too. It was Bernie's wife Ryden (I'm only guessing the spelling), who along with her husband had been in the US. They had stopped by to see if my grandparents were home, but unfortunately they were away for the week, and they decided to stop at our house and ask about them.

So my Dad introduced us, we talked and my Mom and Ryden both had me take some photos. Then they left, and I went back inside and ate supper. But just like that, I'd met someone from a story I'd known since I was little, and it's suddenly a little more than it was before.

(The couple on the right is my parents)

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Crows, Dragons & Forest Fires

Thursday afternoon I'd just got back from a run and was about to swing my leg up onto the upper section of my parent's deck to stretch when I checked myself and almost fell backward in shock. There on the deck, where I'd been about to land my foot was a dead crow. And not just any dead crow. It was an elegantly and terrifyingly dead crow. On its back, talons extended in an eerie, frozen grasp, beak cocked slightly to the side, dead eyes staring piercingly into mid-distance, laying on a symmetrically curling slab of bark that looked vaguely like one of those three-leaf painting stands that they have in medieval churches. Basically, this crow looked like Boromir floating down the river in his funeral boat the last time you see him in The Fellowship of the Ring. 

After stumbling backward and finding somewhere else to stretch my hamstrings out, I walked inside and said something to the effect of: "Why is there a dead bird on the deck?" At which point someone casually answered: "I think your sister put it there," as if it's the most normal and natural thing in the world. After finding said sister, I finally gathered that she had been on a walk in the 40 acre pine forest near our house and had found the bird, there, and that I shouldn't worry because it was frozen.

I might add at this point that the cat we belong to, Jasper, who has been known to eat entire rabbits, absolutely refused to touch this bird. So there it sat. And I was left to say several more times throughout the day: "So, when are we going to do something about this dead bird on the deck?" Because it was honestly legitimately unsettling me every time I saw it.

Finally, sometime shortly after supper, I complained again, and my Dad, who I think was feeling the same way, finally said something about burning it, after which I saw the crow no more.

We had just bought the movie The Hobbit, so that evening, we all sat down to watch it for the first time since we'd seen it in theaters.

Somewhere between Smaug laying waste to the Drwarven stronghold in the mountain and burning the city outside to the ground with his breath and the part where Rabadash the Brown revives the poisoned hedgehog, my Dad disappeared for a minute, and then reappeared at the door, calling for my brother to come help him with something. Sensing a level of urgency in his voice, I stepped outside and through the darkness saw an eerie red glow emanating from the forest next to our house.

Apparently, the effort to incinerate the scary looking dead crow had backfired––literally––and now the entire hillside below our driveway was engulfed in a slowly but surely spreading lake of flames.

This may have been the worst forest fire we've ever accidentally started, it was by no means the first. So after a moment of petrified shock attempting to separate the reality of what was happening from the reality of marauding dragons, a frenzied dash into the the woods with rakes, shovels and a spiderweb of hastily connected garden hoses ensued, and the fire was no more than a smoldering black spot along the hillside. 

So all ended well.

But I knew there was something strange about that crow.

Monday, April 01, 2013

April Showers

This April morning I woke up to 30 mph wind gusts blowing fat snowflakes through the 13 foot walk-way between my room and my parent's house. I can't remember wanting it to be spring so badly in a long time.

Of course that's probably just because I haven't really had to wait for what I consider "spring" in a long time. I realized yesterday that it'd been five years since I spent an Easter Sunday with my family on their mountain in northern Pennsylvania. Of the four Easters between then and now, three have been in south-east Tennessee, and one in south-central Austria. Neither places that have too much winter to speak of––at least they didn't when I was there. 

Since I did end up back here––whether I really wanted to or not––I've decided to do some things that I'd always wanted to but for whatever reason never did. I'm going to start raising guinea hens. I'm going to plant some plants I've never planted before. A friend and I are going to start training to run a marathon.

But until it gets warmer, the guineas won't hatch, the plants can't be planted, and––as I have an odd aversion to the sensation of freezing to death from the inside out that I get whenever I run more than a mile or two in the cold––the training can't really start either.

When I was little––too little to create my own micro-civil engineering projects in the gulleys that formed along our lane in April––I always dreaded this month because of the rain. I know how the old saying goes: April showers bring May flowers, but all I could feel then was school was starting to wind down. And just as I had time to go out and play, it started to rain.

I guess that's kind of how I feel now. Only I would welcome some April rain showers. It's this snow thing that's bringing me down. 

I'm ready for spring.