Saturday, October 31, 2015

Great Day for a Blue Jay

I hiked the Enchanted Forest trail today.

It was ideal hiking weather.  The trail was strewn with aspen leaves, the next best thing to being strewn with rose petals.

I saw a flash of blue and grabbed for my digital camera.  It was a mountain jay.  I fired off several quick photos without wasting time to zoom in or even focus very carefully.  The mountain jay doesn't stay put long.

Farther up the trail I saw another jay (or maybe the same one again).  I took a quick photo before the bird vanished into the pines.

Soon after I saw another blue bird walking ahead of me on the trail.  This little fellow, about the size of a sparrow, is called a scrub jay.   It had no problem with being photographed.

Here are pictures of the mountain jay and the scrub jay taken by competent photographers.  (Also, the models were a bit more cooperative than mine.)

As I often say: "Any day you see a blue bird is a good day."

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Shop Till You Drop at the VeloSwap

My younger son and I attended the VeloSwap at the National Western Complex today.

VeloSwap is a giant consumer bicycling event part expo of new bicycle technology and part sprawling flea market of used bicycle parts.  Our goal for the day was to buy the parts to construct a good road bike for me.  And this goal supported my longer-term goal of having my son share his expertise with me on how to build and maintain a bicycle.

Doors opened at 9:00 a.m.  We arrived at 7:00 a.m. to get a good place in line.  There was no line.  We went back to the car and took a nap.

At 8:20 a.m.we roused ourselves and went to take our place in line.  About 60 people were in front of us.  During the next 40 minutes I had time to review my wish list of bicycle parts that my son had helped me compile last night.  The list contained all the major parts (e.g., frame, fork, brakes, crank, handlebars) and minor parts (e.g., stem, front hub, seat post, bottom bracket) needed to construct a bicycle.  For each part, we had gone on the Internet and determined compatible sizes for the parts and the price ranges (new and used) for each part.

We had done our homework: we knew what we wanted; we knew what we were willing to pay; and we were ready to haggle.  Caveat venditor!  Let the seller beware!

Promptly at 9:00 a.m. the doors opened and we filed inside with the rest of the eager bicycle enthusiasts.  The stadium was packed with vendors.

There were two immense halls filled with rows of bicycles from local shops, company booths with smiling young women selling bicycle clothing, and a great multitude of tables heaped with used parts.  My objective was to find quality used parts, and I relied on my son to sort out which used parts were junk and which were diamonds in the rough. 

Our first purchase was a pair of caliper brakes that my son found worthy.  The brakes were followed by a drop bar (handlebars).  On and on it went.  In keeping with flea-market practice, every purchase was a cash purchase.

Over the next two hours I checked everything off my list but the frame and the crank set.  Then we spied a used bicycle with an excellent frame made by Gunnar, a company in Wisconsin.  My son suggested that we could buy the bicycle, throw away everything but the frame, and then rebuild the bicycle from the ground up.  However, on closer inspection, it became apparent that all the parts on the bicycle were as good as the parts we had just purchased.  A rebuild had already been done.  Too bad.

Just for curiosity's sake, my son asked the owner what price he wanted.  The owner responded with a price so low that we immediately purchased the bicycle, a 2001 Gunnar Roadie with a substantial number of upgrades.  Here is the gorgeous contraption itself.

Now I was the owner of one complete bicycle and two thirds of the parts for a second bicycle, everything except the frame and crank set.  We decided to press on and buy everything for a second bicycle that we could build together.  After stowing the Gunnar safely in my car, we returned to complete our parts purchases.

We soon found a serviceable crank set.  Now all that was lacking was a frame.  We searched through countless aisles without luck.  The frames were either cheap but unsatisfactory (such as 50-pound Schwinn frames) or satisfactory but too expensive.  Then we stumbled upon an old 1980 Austro Daimler bicycle with a suitable frame.  The frame's height and overall geometry fit me well.

The bicycle's price seemed cheap.  But that didn't stop my son from haggling to get the price down by twenty percent.  Embarrassing perhaps, but that's just how the flea market game is played.  A few crisp bills and a handshake later, the Austro Daimler was mine.

On closer inspection, my son and I found that the Austro Daimler's various components an assortment of French, Belgium, Swiss, and Japanese replacement parts were quite sound in spite of their age.  Now I was the owner of two complete bicycles and another two thirds of a bicycle in parts.  Here is the Austro Daimler Inter 10, an eggplant-colored European beauty with a touch of Japanese.

The purchase of a second bicycle presented an unexpected complication.  I couldn't fit another bicycle in my car trunk.  (Not much thinking ahead here on my part.)  My son solved the problem by graciously offering to ride the Austro Daimler to the nearest light rail station and take the light rail home.

So now what?  I still want to build a bicycle with my son.  At the moment, though, I have misgivings about dismembering the venerable Austro Daimler to extract its frame.  On the other hand, it would be ridiculous to end up with three working bicycles in my garage.  (Or would it?)  The whole business requires further thought.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Signs of Autumn

I noticed the seasonal changes this morning as I went off for a hike on Mt. Falcon.  The trees in the nearby park are taking on their autumn colors.  I especially like the red trees.

On the hiking trail, the bushes are also changing colors.

But my favorite sign of autumn is the appearance of baby deer in the foothills.  Here is one young deer I saw today as I was leaving the west entrance of Mt. Falcon park.  It was calmly eating grass by the roadside as I stopped my car to take a picture.  I had to call out "Hey there" before it paid me any attention.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hooray for the Clogged Kitchen Sink!

Tuesday morning, prior to going to work, I ran the garbage disposal and saw the sink erupt like a geyser. Something like this.

There was a clog in the drain line somewhere.  I wrote a warning message to my younger son that the sink was clogged and left for work.

It was yesterday night before I summoned the nerve to address the clog problem.  Why the delay?  Because I am afraid of plumbing problems.  This goes beyond my incompetence as a handyman; it is a full-blown anxiety that I will fail so spectacularly that I will shame myself in the eyes of the plumber whom I will eventually be forced to call.  For me, a clogged sink becomes an existential crisis.  This is a psychological impairment that I need to overcome.

Yesterday night, with my younger son offering guidance and moral support, I nervously unscrewed the PVC trap beneath the sink and inserted a six-foot snake down the vertical pipe.  I had a few unsettling moments as I struggled to push the snake past the pipe elbow beneath the kitchen floor.  After that, the snake didn't hit any resistance at all.  With fading hope, I pulled the snake out, reconnected the trap, and turned on the faucet for a test.  My efforts had been useless: the water quickly backed up into the sink.  I gave up for the evening.

This morning, after a troubled sleep, I resumed the battle.  My son had discovered a plumbing remedy on the internet involving baking soda and vinegar.  He chucked a half cup of baking soda down the drain.  I poured down a cup of vinegar as chaser.  We waited for ten minutes to let the potion do its work and then turned on the faucet.  The water backed up faster than before.  The baking soda and vinegar had made the clog even more tenacious.  Dismal visions of a judgmental plumber filled my mind.

My son, who is never dismayed by household repairs, suggested we rent a heavy-duty snake from Home Depot.  Off we went to rent a fifty-foot snake that was spun by an electric motor.  It was a formidable piece of equipment.  How could a mere clog — essentially nothing but a ball of disgusting black grease, oatmeal lumps, and discarded tea leaves stand up to such an implement of destruction?

Its tip was a fearsome instrument of medieval clog torture.

In the interest of saving time (and sparing my nervous system), my son took charge of the snake.  He donned his trusty deerskin gloves and fed the snake down the pipe and past the initial elbow.  About seven feet along the wall, he ran into clear resistance at another elbow and tapped the motor switch to give the snake a spin.  The resistance went away.  He continued feeding the snake on and on through a long, straight run of pipe.  He explained that there was a danger of half measures — that is, leaving the clog largely intact and simply relocating it downstream.  To be on the safe side, he ran the snake all the way, some thirty-five feet or so, to the big drain pipe in the garage that led to the sewer.

I was ready to claim victory.  However, my son, with characteristic thoroughness, insisted on reeling in the snake and then repeating the entire process.  Only then was he ready to reconnect the trap.  He carefully cleaned all of the pipe threads to ensure a tight fit before connecting.  (This sensible precaution would never have occurred to me.)   He then stood up and turned on the faucet full blast.  The water sped freely down the drain.  The clog had been obliterated!

Our triumph had manifold benefits.  On a practical level, we once again had a functioning sink and could use the dishwasher.  On a psychological level, the experience had diminished my fear of plumbing.  And, best of all, I had the satisfaction of working closely with my son in solving a problem.  Hooray!  I was almost thankful for the clog.  We celebrated at a nice restaurant this evening.   
The only unhappy note was that my son's fine deerskin gloves were befouled.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Driving Off The Spleen

The famous opening lines of Moby Dick:

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."

Yes, and if you replace "Ishmael" with my name and replace "the ocean" with "the woods", then you get a good understanding of the feelings that I often cherish myself.

Today, my younger son and I hiked a moderately difficult (easy for him, difficult for me) trail in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park, west of Golden, Colorado.  The trail was called Burro Trail (marked on the map below by the symbol of a burro's hoof) and began at the Bridge Creek trailhead.  We saw no trace of burros.

The hike was a 4.5 mile loop with an elevation gain of 980 feet.  I lacked the stamina today to follow the adjacent spur to the top of Windy Peak.

The aspens were displaying their beautiful fall colors

Such was the calming effect of the hike that I felt no urge to knock off the hats of the people I met along the trail.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Ashley Sterne Photography

While searching Google Books, I found part of a comic sketch by Ashley Sterne in The Amateur Photographer & Photography, Volume 47, 1919,  p. 234.  A feature writer called "The Walrus" provided this snippet:

The photographer began to look me up and down as if he had lost something.  "If you are looking for my face," I said, "you'll find it on top of my neck, just underneath my cap.  It's that round thing, something like a melon." 

He uttered a little joyful cry as he recognized it from my vivid description.  "Yes," he said, reeling back in admiration, and holding his hand over his eyes to hide his emotion.  "I think I've got a couple of steel plates that will be able to take the strain.  Just sit down on that chair." 

I did so, while the photographer arranged a tasteful and pleasing background of thunderclouds and sea made out of painted canvas, and placed a beautiful Corinthian pillar made out of papier-mache for me to rest my right ear on.  He put a rustic stile, made out of rustic stile wood, on the other side of me, and thrust a newspaper made out of newspaper into my hand.  Then he produced a 3 in. 2 cwt. breech-loading camera, and aimed it straight at my weasand, odds bodikins.  Then he slipped a dark slide into the breach of the camera, squeezed a motor horn, took two guineas away from me, and threw me out.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

This is the forest primeval

As I hiked yesterday on Mt. Falcon, I remembered the haunting line that opened Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem Evangeline:

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks..."

I reread Evangeline today and was once again struck by Longfellow's wonderful descriptions, which skillfully evoked human emotion and brought to life long-ago Arcadia and Louisiana.

I doubt that many American schools still teach Longfellow's poetry in American Literature class.  My quick Google search of several dozen high schools failed to find Longfellow's work on any English syllabus.  As might be expected, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn was popular.  I was disheartened to see that Arthur Miller's polemical and dishonest play The Crucible was equally popular.  Worse, many English classes devoted significant attention to trendy (and vacuous) topics such as Gender Identification.  The Great Dumbing-Down continues.

I urge everyone to read Longfellow's works.  In modern America, reading fine literature from America's past has become a revolutionary act.  Search for what is true.  Think for yourself.