Welcome to Balanced Rocks: Pictures and Stories

Beginning March 16,2010, I began a journey of balancing rocks. I hold to the practice of setting to balance at least five sculptures a day, sometimes, many more. Of these I take lots of pictures and videos. While conducting this adventure, I have been introduced to an incredible unfolding story. Additionally, I discovered this phenomenon is manifesting worldwide. As I post pictures and stories, I found many others similarly engaged and sharing their works. Additionally, as folks come upon me performing my work, many want to find out how this is done and try themselves. This blog shares this work in both pictures and stories. Enjoy


A seeming impossibility becomes possible

Rock Balancing: The Beginning

On a fine summer day, sometime in August, 2009, I was visiting family in Toronto. Like most folks spending summer in a large city, we used up as much time as we could finding outdoor events that would cool us. One afternoon, we headed to the Beaches section of East Toronto. After spending some time playing in a large sandbox in the shade with my grandkids and some of their newfound companions, we headed to the Boardwalk that extends from Balmy Beach to Kew Gardens. Ella accompanied me, Liam took off with his mom, Natalie. They ventured down the boardwalk, Ella and I headed onto the sand toward the water’s edge. Halfway there we encountered what looked like a small size Stonehenge.

About a dozen sculptures were gathered together in a rough circle. Each was a stack of two or three rocks balanced one on another. The tallest one was slightly taller than Ella, who was small average height for a five year older. All were in the neighborhood of three feet and four feet tall. What immediately jumped out was the precarious nature of the balancing. Most points of contact were miraculously slight. Most seemed to be standing on a point. Two more folks were witnessing this amazing display. We imagined that there must be small metal rods embedded at the point of contact, or else some kind of glue was used. Each of us peered from close low angles to detect what could account for this mystical display. Ella, not being so cautious, toppled one structure over. Luckily, it did not land on her.

I hurried over and picked up the fallen rock. I saw no evidence of a rod or glue. It indeed had been balanced on its pedestal. I lifted it up and tried to place it back where I reckoned it had been balanced. I cautioned Ella, to be careful and not upset any more sculptures and went about the task of finding balance. I was not successful and struggled immensely but did not find the magic spot where stability could be achieved. After a lengthy effort, an attractive Asian woman about my age approached and gently nudged me aside offering to demonstrate her work. She pointed to the spot she would set the stone upon. She called it by a foreign name. To me it looked like a slight dimple.

Placing the small end of the upper rock into that hollow, she deftly and quickly moved it around, slightly twisting and cajoling it into position. The sight of this slender woman with longish graying hair performing an intricate dance with a rock slightly larger than her head emanated calmness. It seemed only the ends of her fingers were used to achieve these small movements. Apparently, equilibrium was close. Shortly she was done and withdrew her palms which naturally assumed an open prayer posture. The rock I had grappled with was majestically resting in its previous stable state. She next went over and reset two other structures, I had not noticed were also amiss. I just took them to be part of the rubble strewn about the beach. Now all the display was standing and providing a small sense of order in our chaotic world.

I never got this woman’s name, but heard her story. She had set this display up for the purpose of taking pictures, one of which she hoped to use for a cover of a book she was publishing. Unfortunately not getting her name makes it difficult to find her book. But I carried away with me the sight of her presentation and the incredible feeling I had witnessed an amazing ethereal event. I also felt an urge to explore this practice.

Rock in the Snow

Rock in the Snow
January in Toronto

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Firewood for Free

In my years of burning wood, I do not remember ever having to pay out money to obtain firewood. Sometimes it was completely free, other times I had to provide labor of some sort to get hold of it. Often I found the truth presented in the old adage, “firewood provides heat twice.” The first warmth comes when it is gathered, cut, split, stacked and then hauled indoors. Then it warms again when it is burned. This article will briefly explore the various ways that firewood came to me.
It was not until, I moved into a commune in rural Florida in the middle 1970’s that I had a stove that burned wood. Just before the first cold season arrived a truckload of wood was dropped off by the local electric utility. They were constantly clearing right of ways for electric lines to pass. Since not many people heated with wood, they most often dumped and buried tree trimmings to get rid of them. They were willing to drop wood off to anyone who requested it, provided it was not out of the way and on route between their cutting and dumping places. There were no choices and you had to accept what they brought. Our first load was a boon. It contained several sizeable limbs of dead oak that was well seasoned. The bulk however contained sizeable pieces of camphor tree. It seemed the whole tree was brought to us. Burning it provided the nose clearing scents that camphor is noted for and was a special treat to add to our fires.
After Florida, many of us moved to the Ozarks in Arkansas. This area is the timber capital of the Southwest. Much of the oaks were cut off in the early part of the twentieth century and now second growth was being harvested. Besides oak substantial stands of hickory and cherry were being felled. Logs were hauled to the mill and sizeable branches were left laying around. Landowners were glad to have a hand getting rid of this debris which contained sizeable pieces of firewood. Usually the parts being offered were not near roadways. This meant considerable efforts had to be expended getting them onto our vehicles. Normally, our crew would head into the forest with chainsaws and buck up large limbs into carrying size pieces. Once these were loaded up we took them back to our living sites. Here saw bucks, chopping blocks and wood stacks were worked on all through the year in order to have wood for both heating and cooking. Firewood came cheap but considerable effort gathering and preparing it.
After Arkansas, I moved to New England. Firewood was just as abundant but it was also much more desirable and had a larger demand. Winters were colder, and population greater. Wood was sold for a dear price. However, with ingenuity, it was available for the price of labor or trade. Land clearing, just like timbering resulted in large quantities of branch material. To have this cleared, folks were willing to let it be hauled away gratis. Other opportunities presented when part of the payment for firewood involved a work exchange to provide cutting, splitting and stacking services. This type of work was pleasant in cold season when work also heated and provided something to do when other outdoor opportunities were drying up. I felt especially grateful to have steady work exercise prospects.
Additionally, everywhere trees are susceptible to storm damage. When this occurs, owners not only welcome help clearing their property of debris, but are often willing to pay to have their wood hauled away. Sometimes large storms turn into blessing. Hurricane Bob wrecked havoc on the trees in southern New England in August 1991. Luckily flood damage was minimal, and property damage mostly confined to vegetation. I was fortunate to find considerable paid work clearing away remnants of this damage. As a bonus, I garnered over 12 cords of hardwood for future fires. By mid fall, I had this hauled home, stacked it up, ready to be split, brought indoors and used. This provided all our heat for the next four years.
I just moved to upstate New York and do not have a good woodstove for heat. My current residence has a fireplace that is more suitable for providing atmosphere than heat. It seems there is enough firewood around the neighborhood that can likely be obtained using my previous wood gathering techniques. This will also give me time to scout out the area finding other sources toward the day when I can again possess an efficient wood burning stove.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Burning Rope

For a time, I lived with Willow and her two kids in Gainesville Florida. Jeremy and Kelly were school age and enrolled in an alternative school. They were home schooled for a good part of their day. That meant one adult was home most of the time. Willow worked occasionally as a waitress and other times worked at home as a seamstress. My work was home services and I was self employed. Many of my projects were carried out at home so I could do my share of adult supervision. Money was tight, but our rent was paid and we ate well. Nonetheless, it seemed depressing at times considering our lack of funds and how that curtailed our spending habits.
On day, I was home. I had not much work of the kind that would provide income, so I concentrated on a clean up. We had a burn pit in the back yard where we got rid of yard debris and trash. We composted vegetable matter but burned most of the rest. Since I was launching a massive clean out, we had a lot for the fire. The kids were having a home school day. Jeremy was helping me, Kelly stayed indoors working on a school art project. I appreciated his help.
We had a lot of packing materials and scraps from projects to haul to the fire. It was not a large blaze and we just kept adding to it. I must have been lagging and experiencing a slight depression pondering my lack of funds. It made me drag along and threatened to turn our project into a full day affair. At one point, I carried a box full of debris up to the fire and noticed Jeremy dragging a piece of rope through the coals. As he passed it through it would catch fire. Upon withdrawing it, he would beat it against the dirt to extinguish it. Once out, he would pass it through the coals again and repeat the process. I sharply asked him, “What the hell are you doing?”
Without pause he answered, “ I am a rope burner.” I quipped, “Is that so? Tell me about being a rope burner.” Jeremy explained he was a part of a small element that had the job of burning ropes. It was kind of an exclusive fellowship with not many members. Being drawn in I asked, “If there are not so many of you, I guess you must get paid pretty well.” He nodded and agreed, “Yes, we get five hundred an hour and have a strong union.” Quite impressed with his imagination, I asked, “ Can I get a job with you?” “Sure, I can take you on as an apprentice.” Jeremy offered. That surely lifted my spirits and that is how I joined the international brotherhood of rope burners. Since that day I have never suffered depression as a result of a lack of work. I can always find a rope to burn.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

It’s a Gas

In teaching about fire, the beginning statement I make is “Neither wood, coal, nor paper burns.” I am greeted by puzzling looks that beg an explanation. “ I go on, “ Solid material does not burn. What you see are gases oxidizing in the final process of combustion.” There are three stages in the development leading to rapid oxidation. The first is applying heat that drives gases from combustible material. The second step requires mixing oxygen usually in the form of common air with the combustible gases. Lastly a spark is needed to ignite the air/gas mixture producing flame and heat. If enough combustible material is present, a sustainable cycle takes place. The heat produced drives off more gases, the constant flame provides ongoing spark and hot gases expand creating an air current that draws fresh air, hence oxygen, toward the gases and flame.
As you gaze at fire, you give witness to this ongoing interplay that produces combustion. The dancing flames show evidence of burning gases. Notice that nowhere is the combustible material, be it wood, coal or paper, aflame. It may glow red which is a sign of its heated state and conversion to gases. Flame displays its lively nature as it stretches out engulfing unburned gases. In the process the quantity of combustible material reduces. It has been converted to burnable gases; its unburnable component is ash. Some is light enough to be lifted away on the upward flowing air currents. Heavier ash sinks to a small pile left after the fire has extinguished.
For all material, this is the fire process. The difference is what temperature is necessary to drive off combustible gases. Gases that are combustible at normal air temperature only need spark. These gases are hazardous to handle. Even liquid gasoline does not burn . However, it’s temperature to convert to burnable vapors is lower than temperatures found outdoors on a mild day. Then spark is all that is needed to begin the inferno. Other burnable materials have combustion temperatures in the range produced in ordinary fires. Other materials will not combust in these fires. Examples are most metals, ceramics, stone, and rock.
But even these things can burn in conditions well beyond the ordinary. Some have combustion temperatures quite high. Even metal can turn to vapors at temperatures high enough. These temperatures are not normal and only found in controlled environments like science labs, deep furnaces, or nuclear experiments. At times, certain other elements need to be present to catalyze burning. They conditions may also occur in the bowels off the earth where high temperatures and pressure produce fires that have powers of transmutation. The ashes from these fires are known as gems and sometimes called precious.


Friday, September 26, 2008

Franklin Comes Alive

A Christmas storm in 1977 ushered in a long, cold, brutal winter. Living in a beach house on the Connecticut shore of Long Island Sound meant we had to find ways to supplement a fireplace and space heaters to stay warm. Smitty brought in an old Franklin stove. Although these are drafty and not noted as efficient stoves, it was a large step up from a fireplace. At least the heat it produced was contained within the house and not drawn up the chimney. We even constructed a new metal chimney to vent it out the side the house. This enabled us to seal up the fireplace and keep the heat from wood fire indoors.
Since, I was not employed, my task was to gather, cut and chop firewood. I also tended the fire and made sure the house did not freeze. It seemed that all thorough the month of January the temperature never got above the low twenties. Besides that a strong wind out of the northwest seemed constant. The beach side of the house faced south and was out of the wind and usually in the sun. This is where I set up a station to cut, chop and stack firewood. It was also easily accessible to the living room where Franklin Stove resided. The Christmas tree that was in the house for that celebration ended up on the beach near our pile of kindling. It had dried in the sun almost a month when our other kindling supply evaporated.
My routine upon awakening was to stoke up embers left from our overnight fire and add kindling to restructure a blaze to welcome folk in the morning as they rose. On the first day, that our kindling supply was gone, I took out an ax and chopped the old Christmas tree into pieces small enough to cram in the stove. And that is just what I did, crammed the stove full of dry brittle spruce tender. After loading it up, I shut the doors and stood back waiting for the kindling to ignite on the glowing bed of embers. While waiting, I stepped out to gather some firewood to add to the fire once it got going. When I came back inside with an armload, I was greeted by an alive Franklin. All the tender kindling was ablaze The heat it generated caused all the seams to open and the sides of Franklin to warp outward. Belching sounds emitted as Franklin whooped to gather oxygen to fed its raging inferno.
Each time it took a gulp, the stove seemed to move slightly. It seemed to be alive and straining to move itself outdoors to find more air and fuel. Luckily, the fuel provided by the chopped up Christmas tree exhausted rapidly. Just as hastily as it came alive, Franklin passed away. The belching , wheezing, and leaping about ceased. As the metal parts cooled down they returned to their previous shape and the seams closed up. When I opened the front, the remnants of the fire were ready to receive the pieces of wood, I had brought to sustain it. I placed them inside and sat back to observe Franklin do the job he was designed to perform.


Thursday, September 25, 2008

My First Campfire

We already had television to provide us with images of cowboys and the like perched around a campfire. Here they did their cooking, told stories, and huddled under their blankets to keep warm. All of our campfire experiences were gleaned from these television dramas. One day, I along with two friends, Michael and Drew decided o have a campout. Michael’s folks let us have use of a large field behind their house. Camping out meant we would build and maintain a campfire.
We already had plenty of experience building fires. We gathered a quantity of wood and constructed a sizeable one. We had no experience cooking, even indoors. So our meal consisted of fruits, snacks and other cold goodies. We did know about roasting marshmallows, We cut a few sticks to hold marshmallows to the fire and gobbled down a few of these toasty treats before settling in. We had maintained a sizeable fire and still had ample wood to burn through the night.and provide heat for sleeping out in the open. Taking our cue from soldiering movies we posted a guard, whose duties included tending the fire. Even in Florida it was a chilly night and we figured it a matter of survival to keep our fire going.
With the first guard posted the other two of us fell to slumber. At some time in the night I was awakened for my guard shift. I tiredly maintained a presence watching fire. By the time our next shift was due, we agreed to abandon guard duty and just put the remaining wood on the fire and sleep the night through. We all managed to get enough warmth from the final blaze that we all fell in deep sleep. At some time in the middle of the night. I was awakened by a powerful acrid smell a sense of being too warm. I found my feet had swung into the glowing embers. Likely they were cold and sought heat on their own. My wool blanket was smoldering. That was the source of the powerful smell. I got up scrapped the burnt part of my blanket away, bundled back up and went back to sleep.
Through the night, I must have alternately felt cold feet and smelt bad smells. Several times I awoke to the same scene, my feet snaked over to the barely glowing embers and my blanket again smoking. By morning my fitful night ended and I discovered the nice US Army blanket borrowed from my Uncle Bob, pretty much charred beyond use. My two campmates suffered no such loss. Apparently their sleeping bags kept their feet enclosed and warm throughout the night. I was disappointed by my first camping experience, and felt regret I ruined a fine blanket I cherished. I determined that should I try camping again, I would obtain a sleeping bag, and find a way to stay warm besides letting myself crawl into the fire.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Awakened by the blaze

Winter in Louisiana can seem just a cold as in the deep north. Houses do not possess the same degree o tightness nor insulation. The old tenement shack we rented also had no heat source apart from an electric space heater. Our well, out front, was at the bottom of a three foot hole. Down there, our water pump was exposed to the cold, which sometimes can get frigid enough to freeze water pipes until they rupture. To prevent that we had a 150 watt light burning all the time at the bottom of the hole. It probably worked since we suffered no broken pipes all winter.
Most likely since we lived in the deep south, we also lacked most gear that folks in the north wore in winter. I noticed no scarves, long underwear, woolen hats, nor heavy coats. Sweaters, long pants and heavy socks were the most used winter clothing. Damp mornings put a chill on us that usually was burned away by the sun when it arose. Days that remained overcast never seemed to warm, yet we did not suffer bone chilling cold, just uncomfortable dampness. At night leaving the space heater on did not seem safe, so we huddled under lots of blankets and comforters. Once tucked in it did not feel cold. The only problem presented when trying to get out of bed in chilly morning.
One night, I was awakened by an uncomfortable heat. I was puzzled at first since it seemed warmer than any sultry nights of summer. Then I noticed a strange glow coning around from the far side of our house. I got up to investigate. I noticed immediately it was not only warm, but unbearably hot. Once I got to the living room, I realized the house across the street was ablaze. The fire department was just arriving, but were unable to do anything except spray water at adjacent properties to keep them from igniting. The roar of the flames was intense and the heat issuing from the fire almost made it impossible to look in that direction. By now our housemates were awake and marveling at the intense inferno across the street.
We were amazed that temperatures were high enough to cause the electric wires strung along the road separating our house from the one on fire to sag until they reached the ground. Once in contact with the ground, sparks issued and our neighborhood was plunged into darkness except for glow of the yet to diminish flames. It was probably over and hour before the roof collapsed, dragging most of the high reaching flames with it to the ground. Finally the heat began to quell. We all got back to our beds and awoke the next morning to normal damp chilliness. The house across the street was reduced to a still smoldering pile of rubble. The electric lines had raised them selves off the ground and our electricity was restored. I sensed I had dreamed about the raging fires of Hell.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Still Burning Trash

During the oil boom of the early 1980’s, I moved to Louisiana and took advantage of the building construction surge. Several of us lived together in a rural setting outside Lafayette. This area bounds the Atchafalaya Basin which defines the western edge the Mississippi Delta. The landscape is decidedly flat and drainage ditches crisscross the area to remove rain runoff, dumping it into canals that head toward the delta swamp. The ditch next to our house looked blackened. This puzzled me. I next noticed that many stretches of ditches had similar look. It appeared that ditches caught on fire. After settling in, we discovered that garbage was not collected in this area and it was several miles to a collection point.
Convention established that trash was placed in the ditch and burned on a regular basis. Trash fires happened on a daily basis. We got used to smelling incendiary garbage. At first, we were not used to this custom and gathered our trash and hauled it away. It was burdensome and we also discovered the site where we hauled it also burned it. It just burned larger quantities. It seemed no matter what, our trash would be burned. We gave in and piled it in our ditch. About once a week we lit the pile and tended the fire. It pretty efficiently got rid of the bulk. To our advantage, we could dispose of all our work related garbage too. This added wood and other building materials to the pile.
Neighbors did not seem to mind the smells created. Everyone seemed used to breathing the fumes from all the various materials being turned to smoke and ash. Later on we discovered another local solution to solid waste management. When a rain occurred, the ditches would be swept clean of all remnants of fire. Whatever had not been lifted away as smoke or fly ash was washed down to join the murk in the Mississippi Basin. Our collective sensibilities about despoiling nature collided with local custom. More deep seated than our philosophy was the reality of living in a area that for years had collected the sediment of anything poured into the vast Mid American drainage stream.
When the scope of that system was considered, the small amount that we added seemed insignificant. We lived near the edge of a catch basin that gathered water from a wide ranging area. Rivers that flowed into the Mississippi sprang from places as far as Colorado, Montana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and traversed all the states in between. What ever was washed into the streams along the way, settled in our neighborhood. All along the coast and out in the swamp platforms were drilling deep into the earth to remove sedimentary ooze that had no doubt gathered and settled eons ago. Today’s workers were just as happy adding to that sedimentary collection that may provide future fuel. It appeared the mindset of this area condoned open burning. This area also is home base to the vast worldwide oil exploration empire, which make allowances for bringing fossil fuels from the bowels of the earth and burning them on the surface.
We did not stay long in this area. The boom tapered off and eventually our crew headed back to other parts of the country. I became more sensitive to the effects of burning. To help my process of coming to terms with the element of fire, I approached the native outlook of taking responsibilities for our actions and acknowledging our connection with our mother--the earth. To help ease the feelings of the harsh reality of how out of balance we were becoming with Mother Nature, I for a time turned to another type of fire that seemed to assuage these feelings. I began to consume large amounts of firewater.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Burning Trash

When I was in first grade, we lived in rural Florida. My first job was to clean my dad’s shop after the workers left. He built wooden boats and in a day turned out a considerable quantity of sawdust, wood scraps, paper waste, packaging materials and a small quantity of chemicals from the paint shop. My duties began with sweeping up the floors and cleaning out the sawdust hampers. We had a wheelbarrow which I would load up and haul to a burning pit we had just outside the chain link fence near the back gate. My last duty before locking the gate was to build and tend a fire that consumed our waste. Everything was burned.
First off, I stacked and arranged the pile. This experience taught me much about combustion principles. First, to have sustained fire air has to get to it. Sawdust even though it is combustible can smother a fire by preventing air from reaching the burn. I learned this when I dumped a whole load on a fire already burning well. Once smothered it would continue to smoke but all flames would extinguish. If I poked it, brief flame would appear but quickly go out after I withdrew the poker. If I left the fire, by morning an intact pile of charred sawdust would still be smoldering.. But by then all chance of flame would be gone since heat had left. On the other hand if a handful of sawdust is thrown into the air above a roaring blaze it almost explodes in flame. Plenty of air among the dust particles makes for an volatile mixture.
Next, I learned that some things may not have been meant to be burned. Once in a while a small amount I put it the fire would release a cloud of noxious smoke. Mostly, it was thick black smoke that concerned me. Although she never complained a neighbor whose house was directly behind the shop would often be subjected to dense smelly vapors rolling across her property. I must have intuited that this was not good. Close by, I could tell by the stinging in my nose that what was being produced should not be shared, besides not likely being good for me.
I learned that with a hot fire small quantities could be rapidly burned without producing toxic clouds. But mostly, I gathered some elements were not meant for my fire and would be saved for hauling to a burial dump.
Lastly, I learned that some stuff doe not burn up even in a hot fire. Even small pieces of metal would not be consumed, ceramic and glass likewise. Sometimes these items would melt and change shape but never be burned up. They also glowed when subjected to high heat for a spell. I felt fortunate to be able to conduct fire experiments as part of my tasks. I took to making hot spots in the fire. In these places I conducted tests with most items that did not burn. I learned that such objects retained heat long after being removed from the furnace, often times hot enough to cause burns or ignite fires. I suppose these experiments taught me much about fire safety.
Not only was I lucky to have a chance to play with fire, I learned the joys of just watching a it burn and letting my mind drift to the accompaniment of the moving light show. We did not have a television back then, but I do not think I missed much. I learned that there is always a good show to be had just watching flames perform their magic.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another Kind of Steam

Water that turns into steam when its temperature reaches the boiling point provides an analogy for other states of volatility. Apparently, human behavior has mimicked steam often enough that various phrases describing human behaviors have been introduced into English language. Examples are “I’m steamed up; I’m going to let off some steam; I’m just going to simmer; I‘ve reached my boiling point; or I‘m boiling over.” These are but a few that refer to human emotions, often anger, reaching an explosive state. This brief article will try to draw comparisons of the physical characteristics of steam to the less well known mechanisms that push human behavior.
I will give conjecture and a brief example from my experience in an attempt to analyze times when humans lose control and explode. One of the points that give rise to danger when dealing with steam is when there exists no pressure relief valve or when it malfunctions. . A similar danger may exist when humans try to bottle up and contain emotions that may produce pressure when not vented.
Just as steam relief valves vent extra pressure, humans have developed means to “let off steam. Two that come to mind are focused physical exertion to bleed off bottled up energy or calmness exercises that are designed to turn down the internal heat that builds stress. When these exercises are not in place or somehow not working, the danger of a human explosion comes to bear.
Like steam pipes that have gauges reading pressure and providing alerts that should be heeded, humans would do well to monitor their state in order to intervene upon an approaching angry outburst. Unfortunately human gauges are not as easy to read as mechanical ones. But usually with practice and helpful feedback, it may be possible to detect impending problems based upon precursor events unfolding. Of course, this assumes that a person is looking to curb violent outbursts. If they are not, it may pay those nearby to attend to reading the signs of looming pressure buildup so they may take appropriate evasive maneuvers. I hope that if I was near a pressure cooker that was showing sign s of going off, I could prepare an exit.
On incident that comes to mind, when I took this action occurred during a bout of cabin fever while living in rural Arkansas. I was not aware that being cooped up all winter can place inevitable pressure on human relations. I, Willow and her two kids had spent the whole winter cooped up with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, nor running water, and our only source of heat was a wood cook stove. There was certain romantic charm spending a winter in this gorgeous natural setting. However, probably neither of us regularly had pressure outlets, nor were we familiar with detecting coming flare-ups. One morning the pressure erupted.
My custom was to rise early, make a fire, and prepare a pot of coffee. Usually, I would sit enjoying my coffee, while waiting for Willow to arise and have breakfast and launch the kids off to school. One morning, Willow awoke in an agitated state. A heated discussion ensued. I remained in my chair holding my cup. At some point Willow placed her hand on my shoulder and started shaking it to make a point. She was unaware that her jerking my shoulder was spilling hot coffee on my wrist. I was suffering burns. When I exploded, I flicked the remainder of my cup up at her. It covered the front of her blouse. Fortunately she was not burned, but her pressure also reached explosive state.
Willow went over to the stove, picked up the whole pot of coffee and headed back to my chair. I saw her coming and detected a fit of anger in her stance. I sensed danger and automatically rose up and knocked the pot out of her hands and onto the floor. I rushed to her side and grabbed her in a bear hug, lifted her off the floor and carried her outside. There I remained in an embrace afraid if I let her go , we may start swinging at each other. In a few moments, pressure seemed eased, and I asked,, “If I let you go, can I go inside and get a few things, so I can get away for a day or so?” She agreed. Hastily, I gathered a small pack and walked down the road. Besides the small burns on my wrist, injury had been avoided. We both learned the necessity of not letting pressures build to unsafe levels. To this day, memory of that event provides me with an example of what may occur should I not attend to my pressure gauges.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Nature of Steam

Under normal atmospheric conditions water is liquid. When temperatures fall to 32 Fahrenheit (F) under normal pressure, water turns to ice -- a solid. Under the same pressure conditions when temperature reaches 212 F, it turns to steam -- a gas. This temperature is referred to as the boiling point. Liquid water on the earth’s surface cannot exist above this temperature. In its gaseous state, steam can continue to absorb more heat. This gives steam properties that can be useful, it also renders steam a danger.
Because of its heat carrying capabilities, steam is used for heating purposes. Under confinement, as steam is heated above its boiling point, its pressure increases. Therefore, steam carrying pipes and radiators must be able to hold great pressures. Whenever these systems fail, disaster looms, usually in the form of an explosion. Because of this danger, steam heating has largely been replaced by hot water and heated air heating systems. Steam is by far the most efficient, but its risk seems not acceptable. Steam under pressure also has another use, as it has an incredible ability to penetrate porous material.
Pressure cookers are an example of steam being used in this manner. Under pressure steam penetrates deep into food, carrying its heat and cooking quickly and efficiently. A safety feature of pressure cookers are built in pressure relief valves. These release excess steam pressure from confinement and into the air. Despite warnings to keep this valve clear, dangerous explosions have occurred when it gets blocked. Kitchens have seen metal cookers turned in shrapnel that has killed the cook. For this reason, many have abandoned pressure cooking using steam pressure.
Another use of steam’s penetrating abilities are found when working with fibrous materials. Wood for example is subjected to steam to help it absorb moisture making it more pliable. Various wooden products use steam to make them bendable. After being held in a bended state and dried, wood retains the bent shape. Common examples of this are found in boats, furniture and curved building frame construction. Another fibrous material commonly subjected to steam is cloth. Steam ironing is the example. Here, again, steam brings moisture deep into the fibers rendering them pliable. Pressure from the iron flattens the fibers and cloth and when dried they retain their flattened shape.
In nature, steam exists under tremendous pressure deep in the bowels of the earth. Water meeting earth’s molten core, renders it into steam. Because it is deep in the earth this steam is held under incredible pressure as it absorbs more and more heat. These steam pockets are called superheated. In some places, Iceland for example, these deep steam pockets naturally vent near the surface. This occurrence is used for heating purposes and gives an inexpensive source of energy. In other places where natural vents do not occur near the surface, pipes are drilled down to steam pockets. These deep troves of steam come to the surface and its pressure used to drive electricity generating turbines. As its pressure and heat is dissipated this steam returns to its liquid state and often is used for irrigation. For this reason, many steam exploratory projects are sited in arid locals.
Whether natural or man made, fires are constantly tended to produce this cycle of water being taken from its liquid state to gaseous and back to liquid. Water is not the only liquid that is brought to its boiling point turned into a gas and its properties changed before it is condensed back into its liquid form. Most liquids have a volatile gaseous state and heat properties are a constant part of this equation. Therefore fires of some sort are integral to our physical nature.


Friday, September 19, 2008

The Steam Box

Outside the chain-link fence behind my dad’s boat shop was a fire pit. Suspended across the pit was an eight inch diameter cast iron pipe several feet long. One end rested on the bottom of the pit. The pipe tilted up and its other end supported by a metal frame. The upper end protruded through a hole cut in the chain link fence and ended as it entered a long wooden box that was perhaps 10 inches high, several feet wide and at least twenty feet long. The far end of the box was covered by a canvas flap. The pipe was filed with water. When a fire was sustained beneath it the water would turn to steam and travel upward to enter the steam box. The canvas flap contained the steam so that it would not escape and when it condensed back to water would flow back into the pipe to be converted to steam again.
This steam box had an integral part in the process of building wooden boats. Several lengths of wood, usually oak or mahogany, that were pre-shaped into their finished profiles would be placed into the box and subjected to steam for several hours. Wood that has high water content is pliable. After being in steam for a while, the wooden parts would be flexible enough to be bent around a frame to produce gunwales, chines, or bow stems. However, determining the correct moisture content was not exact and resulted in mishaps.
While waiting for the wood to steam, shop workers would stay busy with other boatbuilding tasks. These included milling lumber, gluing up sub assemblies, or preparing previously finished hulls for the paint shop. Every so often one of the workers would go over to the steam box, lift the canvas flap, peer inside, then shake his head and walk back into the shop. Eventually, a worker after peering inside the box would don a leather glove, reach in, retrieve one of the pieces and carry it into the shop. Bending it around and fastening it to the frame took all the available workers.
Besides working handling steamy hot material, it had to be formed into its structural shape before it was secured. First one end was fastened into place with wood screws, Next, all available hands bent and twisted and applied clamps to hold the cooling piece of timber into position before it was permanently fixed into place. Sometimes before this task was accomplished a loud cracking sound would reveal that this piece had not been thoroughly steamed. The result would be a splintered half fastened piece of useless product. This event was usually accompanied by curses, mutterings and clanging noises from clamps hitting the floor as they were thrown off the piece of lumber that no longer held its place.
Fortunately more material had in the meantime been cooking. So, likely the next piece withdrawn would have a better chance of being bent without problem. Usually after cleaning up the mess from the broken piece and before drawing out the next one, a break was called and good mood restored. Happy attitude seems important when handling wood withdrawn from a steam box.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Our Florida Fireplace

When I was six years old we moved from Michigan to Florida. In the house my parents built was a fireplace; but, I do not remember it being significantly used as a source of heat. Only on the rarest of mornings would my dad put some scrap wood into the fireplace and take the chill out of the air. There were three of us kids at that time, myself, a brother and sister. After we stumbled out of bed, we would crowd in front of the fireplace screen to help transition from our warm beds to the chilly Florida morning.
There was not room for all three of us to be positioned to receive heat being radiated from the fire. Since it was usually too hot to stand still in front of the fire long, all three of us twisted and turned to spread and share the heat. We seemed to be performing this un-choreographed dance as we took turns being the one directly in front of the fire. It would not take very long to warm up one side and then turn around and get the other side cooked. Then the next kid in line would bump into position to take a turn at stealing the warmth. Just about as soon as we were sufficiently warm our dad would notice us absorbing all the heat.
With his stern voice we would chase us away from standing half dressed in front of the fire. He would order us to get on our clothes and get ready to go outside. We were reluctant to readily leave the warmth to return to our seemingly frigid rooms and scramble to retrieve room temperature clothing and struggle into it. It felt like by the time we finally got dressed all the heat we had captured would be evaporated and returning to the fireplace would not provide warmth next to our skin. Fireplaces seemed useless to clothed kids. But my dad’s cajoling worked since we did get dressed and move away from the fireplace.
Before the next heating season, the fireplace was supplemented by a kerosene stove at the end of the hallway that provided heat to the bedrooms. The fireplace fell into disuse and was only used to provide atmosphere, which was rarely called for. For a time, we kids, out of habit, would crowd around the heater like it was the fireplace. It was not the same. A kerosene stove does not radiate heat out, but rather heats the air which is fan feed into the house. It did not seem efficient to us. So before long, we abandoned our habit of crowding around the heat source in the morning and just routinely got dressed in the coldness of our bedrooms. I much preferred the flare of an open fire.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Lighting Matches

I cannot remember the first time I lit a match. It may have been under my Dad’s tutelage. Or he may have offered help and instruction after catching me trying to strike matches on my own. I did have plenty of examples of adults lighting them and may have lifted a few and went off on my own to experiment. Many times I was joined by young companions who were also interested in finding out about matches and fire. There was certainly ample opportunity to obtain a pack and go somewhere to try this test of ordinary magic.
Whatever the circumstances, several properties of matches sprang to the forefront while learning to light them. First, considerable attention had to be given to the amount of pressure applied to the match head as it was dragged down the length of the abrasive striking surface. Insufficient pressure would not allow enough friction heat to be generated to spark the combustion of the sulfurous substance on the match head. Too much pressure might break the body of the match. This would result in a flaming match fragment launching into an uncontrolled spin. When it landed it could easily leave an unwanted burn mark. Or worse it could land in a pile of tinder and ignite a fire in an undesirable place.
Matches came in two styles. One had a shaft made of a small sliver of wood. The other had a shaft made from paper. Wooden matches came in a small box that made a nice container for small items once the matches were used. Paper matches came joined together in two segments that were attached by a small metal staple. Each segment held about ten matches that were separate from each other except at the stapled end where the cuts that separated them did not penetrate. When you needed a match, you pinched it between two fingers and with a sideways pulling motion pulled it apart from the rest of the book held tightly with the other hand.
Paper matches required much more manual dexterity than wooden matches. It took great skill to separate the match from its book without tearing the book apart or separating it from its cover. Without careful attention, separating a match from its pack could result in three detached pieces; the match you separated, other matches still joined by a staple, and the cover with the abrasive striking surface. Once successful at separating a match from its cover, the next part requiring digital acuity involved striking the match. Missteps here could result either in failure to light the match or sometimes burned fingers.

Unlike wooden matches, paper ones did not have a rigid shaft. When striking a wooden match it was possible to hold it with your fingers at the far end of the match head which would burst into flame when struck. Perhaps that was why boxes of wooden matches were often labeled “Safety Matches.” On the other hand paper matches required the placing of one finger directly on or at least very near the head when striking it. Otherwise not enough pressure could be applied to the head to generate the friction necessary to cause combustion. Because of this necessity to place at least one finger near the combusting surface, it required certain quickness in order to remove the finger at the slightest indication that combustion was initiated. Removing it too soon meant that the match did not light; removing it too late often resulted in a burn. Sometimes a small piece of molten sulfur would stick to the finger resulting in a small but serious burn. I do not remember paper matches being labeled “Not Safety Matches,” but, they certainly were not safe.

At first it seemed most of us kids would remove our fingers too soon, resulting in repeated strikes in an attempt to light the match. Sometimes repeated striking resulted in the gradual removing of the sulfurous material rendering the match useless. Often an unlit paper stick would be discarded because it was no longer workable. Many times we would even run out of matches because we could not get the proper striking technique before expending our supply. Most often one good sulfur burn would considerably lighten the touch. For this reason it seemed we preferred wooden matches. If I had my way, they would have been labeled “Kid’s Matches.”


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Matches vs. Lighters

In my Dad’s shop was a small oak barrel that contained a dried mass of tobacco mixture he made. He would carve out a small plug and carry it with him in a leather pouch. Occasionally, he would shave off a few pieces with his knife. They looked like dark wood flakes and he place them in his pipe. Next he would reach into his trousers and pull out a tiny box that held little sticks, slightly fatter than toothpicks and covered with a small droplet of dried reddish substance at one end. He would rub this end along the side of the box until it burst into flame. With two fingers he held this flaming rod up to his pipe and would inhale and draw fire down into the tobacco until it ignited. Once lit it would continue to burn, until he finished smoking and put it aside where the fire in the pipe would extinguish.
Uncle Ray, who smoked cigarettes, would light them with the shiny polished metal device that he called a lighter. Smaller than a pack of cigarettes, and with a similar shape, it had a hinge on one of its narrow sides. When he wanted to use it, he would flip the top open with a smart flick of his thumb. In the same motion he would rub his thumb along a small wheel, which twirled against a piece of flint. This would produce a spark that ignited a wick that was soaked with lighter fluid. After lighting his cigarette, he deftly closed the lighter and returned it to his pocket with the same hand that seemed to reverse the motion that produced it. Uncle Ray made the whole event of producing a flame and returning the lighter to his pocket, seem like an act of magic. Unless one was aware of the existence of the small case of metal, it appeared that flame sprang from his fingertips.
Seeing the almost magical way that Uncle Ray lit his cigarettes I asked my dad why he preferred matches. He told me that while serving in the US Navy in the Pacific theater during WWII, all the crew on his boat were issued gleaming new Zippo lighters. He stated that like most of his mates he could not wait to use it. After he obtained sufficient fuel all he had to do was wait until the smoking lamp was lit. This was a signal that it was clear to go out on deck and light up. It was against regulations and unsafe to have an open flame or anything that could cause a spark below decks. It was also not safe in a war zone to carry lights even as small as a cigarette or pipe after dark on deck. Dad told me that the first time he used his new lighter he promptly blew out the flame and like a spent match he tossed the used lighter overboard. I am not sure if this story was true, but might have been the excuse he used to not use a lighter. He did not like the smell of any oil or gas type fuels burning and referred to engine powered boats as stinkpots. Through out his life he continued to use matches to light not only his pipe or cigars, but he used them to ignite any type of flame, burner or fire.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

Fire: First memories

My first memory of fire was looking through a grate in our floor to an oil fired furnace that was beneath the kitchen in a crawl space. There was a small window in the top of the furnace that gave a view of the flames contained in the firebox. Living in the northern part of Lower Peninsula Michigan meant that our furnace was glowing most of the winter. Because of this I quickly learned what heat and hot meant. One time I left a small plastic toy on the grate. It slowly transformed into a small droopy truck. I did not like the results of heat.

Later I ventured out onto the grate in my bare feet. Quickly, I came to realize the painful sensation of a burn. Despite my parents’ warning about hot, I suppose I needed to find out for myself. Some time later, I began to incorporate hot into my vocabulary. At the dinner table I wanted to put mustard on my hot dog. My mother would not permit this. She explained that mustard was too hot for children. I immediately reached for the jar of mustard, got down from the table and placed in on the grate. The adults laughed but it did not bother me since I knew where hot things were to be placed. Since the grate never burned or melted. I felt the jar of mustard was safe there.

Next to our house was my dad’s shop. He was a builder of wooden boats. Since there was much scrap wood from the boats and fire logs were readily available he heated his shop with a large upright wood stove. I was small but the top of the stove was higher than me. On cold days, upon entering the shop, it was customary to remove your scarf, gloves and hat and hang them near the stove, so they would dry out and be warm when you had to leave. Since I was never in the shop but for brief periods, I do not remember removing my outer clothes and hanging them up. Instead I would crowd near the stove all bundled up and warm the only exposed part of my body—my face. Once I stood too near the stove and my wool scarf badly singed. Singed hair or fur has a remarkable acrid pungent smell that still tinges my olfactory memory.

Before we moved to Florida when I was six, fire was almost a constant in my life. Not only did it provide heat in the winter as evidenced by the flickering glow in the furnace window or the smell of smoke and the sight of the blast when the wood stove door was opened. There were also the sparks and smells emanating from outdoor grills and campfires, most notably on the summer holidays when it seemed everyone was doing their living outdoors. It seemed too that many adults would make a fire on a small stick and use it to light tobacco, either in rolled form or in pipes. Once lit they proceeded to breathe in the smoke and appeared to gain much satisfaction, before releasing their breath that still contained a small trace of the wispy vapor. In Florida, fire was no longer the primary source of heat, but began to take on other meaning.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Letter to you:

September 2008,

Dear Reader,
I made a decision to suspend this daily blog for a one week period. During this time, my intention is to instead pen daily personal letters. This path is one I have wanted to tread for quite awhile, perhaps since before I began my blog. I t was one however, I never seemed to sustain. My hope is I can use this practice of writing my blog on a daily basis as a springboard to another venue.
During this week long break, I will decide on the future direction of my blog. The well of stories I was drawing on has pretty much run dry. I do not know if, by suspending writing it will replenish, or must I draw upon another source. In the meantime, letter writing not published on the internet is my intermediate goal.
I also wan to spend some time. Sorting, organizing and editing the work already put into cyber space. I might find some stories in the gaps I intentionally created.
I would also like to reflect on my other writing projects and discern and prioritize the energy I must exert in order to bring about their creation. Besides deciding a future direction, I would like to take stock of where I currently reside in the field of being a writer. To help accomplish this I will draw on the experience of those who went before me. This will be a topic of some of my personal correspondence. Some of it may land on you the reader. Only time will tell. I will miss you. Let’s stay I touch. ‘
The Author


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reflections on consumerism. September 2008,

By far, most of my working career has involved handiwork. I have been called upon or made myself available to take on odd jobs that folks do not have either the skill, tools or patience to take on. Many times I have been asked to come over with my tools and install some sort of household device or product. This provided me with a sense of being needed and useful, certainly a boon to my self esteem. As an added benefit of taking on this type of work, I have been invited into the homes and lives of a rich assortment of humans. While conducting their work projects, I often get the chance to engage in conversation and observe an array of human characteristics and foibles.
I have not taken a statistical analysis, but it seems that many times, when I get to the job, the device I am installing comes in an unopened package. More often than not that package was not of recent purchase. Sometimes it was not even purchased by intent, but was picked up at a yard or garage sale. This means that another person purchased it and perhaps never got around to having someone like me come over and install it. Often its present owner got it on impulse and uses my talents to finally get the item put to use. This points to a pattern of making purchases that perhaps do not reflect true need.
I am more familiar with a pattern of when a need arises, a tree of decisions is made that will lead to that need being met. In this manner most purchases are made deliberately and with need in mind. Along in the flow of decisions, comes its being put to use. That way, a need comes up, a plan to fulfill that need is developed and carried out--done deed. But when a purchase is made without such preplanning, no path to have that purchase utilized is in place. The snag of not having the ability to conduct an installation means the item may never be put into use hence its appearance in garage sales. I surmise that somehow purchases are made without a preplanned need. Apparently some force other than need is making us consume goods. I wonder how much work, I would still have lined up in front of me should folks all of a sudden decide to stop making rash purchases. I do not see our economy grinding to a halt despite the warning that if we do not keep the wheels of industry churning out goods, economic disaster looms.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

Another day off. September 2008,

I think I am on vacation. And, I will likely be on vacation for another week. Today, I rose later that I usually do--after eight AM. Dragging Wendy with me, we went to a Friend’s meeting in the morning. Directly afterward we visited the Farmer’s Market, where we looked around running into a few friends, I have met since arriving here. Next came a play at Kitchen Theater and dinner at Moosewood. Both these items are extravagances for me. But out of a sense of duty, I let my friend treat me to a night on the town. Tomorrow is back to my small part time job for a day. Tuesday, Wendy is heading back to Boston and Wednesday, I head up to Toronto to visit Natalie, Liam, Ella and Alex. I plan to get back to my job at Loaves and Fishes Monday morning.
How does a writer take a vacation? I remember being self employed for most of my working life. When I wanted a vacation, I needed only consider two things. One, it was most important that I had enough funds to cover my financial commitments while I was not earning an income. Two, I needed to cover, my work responsibilities while I was away. For the present, my income situation will be pretty near the same whether or not I am on vacation. That leaves the question; how do I cover my responsibility to continue a writing practice? Most likely, by continuing to explore in written format, these questions I ponder.
I guess that is why it is called a practice. No matter it is a pointed story or journal rambling, the point seems to be continuing with the form. Being a goal oriented person, it is difficult at times to consider practice just as important even when it does not produce a polished published work. Maybe, tomorrow, I will throw out a story just to get back a sense of producing a worthy piece. But for today, this is all that comes out, before I get back to conducting some research. Good Night.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

A day off. September 2008

Late last night I picked up a friend at Syracuse train station. After getting home late, I wrote a brief journal entry, then went to bed. I awoke later than usual this morning and after getting some coffee and breakfast, decided to spend the day entertaining my guest. Wendy and I spent the morning on a walking tour of downtown Ithaca. After a small lunch we headed to Taughannock Falls State Park.
Taughannock Falls is reported to be the highest fall of water east of the Mississippi River. I did not measure it, but it looks to be so. We took a hike around the rim trail. This trail follows the perimeter of the gorge past two splendid waterfalls. We began near an old bridge that crosses the creek near Upper Falls, which drops a magnificent one hundred feet. Following this trail around we began to obtain vistas of the two hundred fifteen foot drop of the glorious main falls. I calculated that our viewpoint of the upper falls was at least a hundred feet above its high point. Adding that to the height of the two falls meant we were at least four hundred fifteen feet above Lake Cayuga. The path down to the lake descends this drop in slightly over one and a half miles.
Descending was slow but not tiring. At the bottom we ventured up the creek bed for about a quarter mile. Wendy was intent upon finding a fossil even though a sign warned us to not take them. We found none, so I pasted a damp leaf to a small smooth piece of slate and presented it to her. She was not fooled in the slightest. We next ventured back to where the other rim trail ascends back to our beginning point. Gravity being present made our climb much more exhausting than our decline. But on the way there was ample opportunity to stop and enjoy incredible breathtaking panoramas.
This is a hike I frequently enjoy with my visitors. Anyone coming can, more likely than not, expect to be treated to this mind-boggling sight. After getting dinner and returning home we both decided to turn in and get some rest before tomorrow’s adventure. Before climbing into my bed, I plan on conducting some more research into the early Christian epoch. And as much as I feel capable, I will spend diminutive time editing previous blog entries.


Friday, September 5, 2008

A new look. September 2008, Writers workshop

Following through with yesterday’s entry, I will review today’s task at writing. Today’s adventure consisted of research into the time of Nero after the burning of Rome. It seems whatever fires were set, ended up as an excuse to go after Christians. They were blamed and had no strong defense against a massing of imperial forces. It seems that even back then, gathering in caves and underground was required for survival against overwhelming odds bent on persecution.
Gathering information about this epoch gives me an opening to reflect upon other times when there was an underground. Of course, in recent memory there was allied resistance movements throughout occupied countries in World War Two. It appears that whenever an army of occupation sets up, by nature, it forces the opposition to borrow. Our country has always shown a bias for the oppressed who are forced to take the subterranean stance. It seems odd that at the present we are taking the role of oppressor and seeking to persecute those who are forced into hiding. Much like in Nero’s time, the opposition are regarded as terrorist and worthy of being hunted down and exterminated.
The story I am constructing is set in the first century BC and the times seem similar to present. Although today was mostly spent in research and reading, I am finding that part of the writing process. Maybe out of all this will come opportunity to learn the art of crafting a novel. In the meantime, I keep the juices flowing by posting this journal. I am considering removing the location from my title as a way of preventing Goggle ads to zero in on my present location. Out of respect for those underground, I will practice hiding from predator advertising.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Transitioning again. September 2008 , Ithaca, NY

At onetime in my travels, I came across an idea for a historical novel. I remember it hatching while I was in Arkansas in 1977-78. I toyed with the idea and let a story develop in my mind. Over time, I watched it coalesce into a complete tale. It has the form of a historical novel set in the early days of the Christian period. I have spent the ensuing time researching that time and its characters. Near the end of the 1980’s I even began to write this story down. After getting one chapter set onto my hard drive, My computer gulped and swallowed it. I took it as a sign , I was not ready to begin.
Part of my drive to write this blog on a daily basis was to develop the habit of spending a set time each day transcribing the ideas in mind onto virtual paper. Along with this I have also habitually gone backward and edited previous works. Besides putting to paper the many stories I went out to gather I have a yearning to begin constructing this novel. I reckon that while working on it I will not be posting it to my blog as I have been doing with my other stories. So this provides a dilemma-- what to do with my blog. Many of the stories I set out to transcribe are yet to be told.
Another use for my blog could be to keep a journal of my progress with developing a novel. I could spice this with tales once in a while or anecdotal accounts about my settling process. I could perhaps editorialize and add social comment as I see fit. I hope whatever turn it takes, I can keep it interesting for my readers. And that may be a large assumption that I have an audience out there beyond the fringes of cyber space. I also plan on using some of my writing time to set down personal correspondence. Of course this will not see the light of day in my blog, but will go to individuals. My belief is that now I have a set time to devote to the craft of writing, I am ready to expand my genres. To me the important thing is that I keep to the daily regimen.


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

OK, I say uncle. January 1977, Gainesville, FL

I lasted exactly 22 days making croutons. It was a couple of days before Christmas when I got my last and only pay check. Soon the warmth of the Holiday season left and the bitter cold of Michigan winter set in. It did not take me too long to decide to head toward warmer environment. An oil tanker had befouled the waters off the coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. A call was out for help cleaning up shoreline. Although it was not the tropics, winter in southern New England is not as brutal as one facing Lake Michigan. I decided to hitch across to Massachusetts and see about helping cleaning up the spill.
After spending the whole of my first day trying to get across Michigan, I was getting disheartened about going all the way the across the Midwest and New England to get to somewhat milder winter. The temperature never rose above zero Fahrenheit by the time I reached I-75S. I knew from previous years this was the road used to get to central Florida. That cinched it, I changed directions and headed south. Quickly and elderly couple picked me up. They were only headed to Ohio, but assured me it would still be light out when they let me out. I had no illusions about trying got find a spot to make a fire to ward off the cold. Freezing to death seemed certain for anyone trapped out in this cold.
I made up my mind to press on until I hit Florida. I would stay on the road hitching. We passed a van that seemed full of smoke. You could not even see the driver and passengers. I made a remark about how they must be smoking up a storm. Secretly, I wished that after my ride let me out, this van would stop for me and keep me in smoke all the way to Florida. It did not take too long for my ride to reach its destination and let me out. As soon as I got my gear together a familiar van pulled over offering me a lift. My hopes soared, as I held a vision of riding all the way to florid awhile getting stoned on good smoke. I climbed in.
Right away, I captured reality. The smoke I believed I saw was caused by frosted windows. This van had no heater. This crew also held no smoke. However, they were headed to my destination--Florida. Several guys were installed in their sleeping bags scattered on the floor. Even the driver was in a sleeping bag. He worked the gas and brakes with both feet encased in his the bag. I rolled up in my bedroll and joined the parade. At least this gang was intent upon driving straight through until they found warmer weather. At first light in the morning we arrived in Chattanooga Tennessee. The temperatures were exceedingly mild-- up in the fifties. We stopped for coffee and breakfast, and stripped down to shirtsleeves enjoying the weather. I had not gotten my ride with a van load of hippies getting stoned, but I did find a ride that got me to mild weather. I felt grateful.


Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to make trillions of croutons. November 1976, Grand Rapids, MI

After my first day of making croutons, my chore became routine. I could start my shift and let my hands do the work while my mind wandered all about. It no longer took focus or concentration. I was slowly being transformed to an automaton. After they noticed I was taking to the job, I was offered a chance to join the bakers’ union and come on full time. Besides a big raise in pay and benefits, I would be allowed to work as many shifts as I desired. The only rule is that once you began a shift you had to complete it. Some workers aided by Dexedrine worked three shifts straight then left for a day to crash.
This seemed like no life for me. I asked them to hold my pay while I decided about joining the union. Unbeknownst to them, I planned on working as many days straight as I could tolerate. When I finally had enough, I planned to ask for my pay, then resign. I was only a temporary worker and planned on keeping it that way. My ambition was to head back to Florida as soon as I finished my career as baker. Every night my station was the same.
I faced a steady procession of boxes heading toward me, that I helped get into cases. I hardly was aware of the noisy machinery behind to my right that bagged and boxed the croutons being sent to me. Beyond was a large hopper that dumped croutons onto a belt headed to their boxes. I could not see further than that. Where the croutons came from remained a mystery. From the beginning to end of my shift , that was my world. I was assured it remained the same in between my shifts, a non stop march of boxed croutons. One shift the bagging machines became jammed and overloaded dumping several feet of crotons on the floor around them. Finally the whole line was shut down to halt the spillage of croutons. I took advantage of the break to take a tour of the plant.
In another part of the building were several machines that resembled cement mixers. Large pallets were lifted to their tops and bags of flour, boxes and jars of ingredients for making breads were poured into the mixers. Once full, paddles on the inside mixed batter. Water was added automatically. When ready, a small sphincter would eject a loaf into bread pans passing by its orifice. From here the pans would ride a conveyor line back and forth giving time for the bread to rise. At this point it its ride, bread would enter an oven. It took just enough time to pass through the oven to bake the loaves.
Still riding the conveyor till the bread cooled, the loaves would come to an end and be dumped out of their pans. Here human hands would grab the fresh loaves and place them on wire shelving. Once loaded the shelves would be stacked on mobile racks. Full racks would be hooked to a floor chain that dragged them through two swinging doors into a room as large as two football fields. This room was kept cool and dry. In the two days it took the racks to transport through, the bread they were carrying achieved staleness. At the far end of the room human hands again touched the loaves, placing them into a slicing and cubing cutter. Once turned into crouton shaped cubes they were sprayed with herb garlic flavored preservatives. From here, croutons journeyed into a toaster oven and emerged finished product in the hamper that churned them onto a conveyor belt that carried then to the now defunct bagging machines. Shortly after bagging they were delivered to my station. By the time my tour was complete, the bagging machines were returned to service. I proceeded to my station and waited the return of the croutons. In the wait, a scene was presented that reminded me of our food industry. Several workers came out with gleaming stainless garbage cans and just as bright stainless shovels. They proceeded to scoop the piles from around the bagging machines into their cans labeled “FOOD WASTE.” Until they got down to about a foot above the floor, they carried this waste and dumped it into the hopper that would carrying them back to the bagging machines. The mental picture I took was of workers dumping food waste into our national food production process.


Monday, September 1, 2008

Did you get your croutons. November 1976, Grand Rapids, MI

I was staying with my cousin Ralph heading up to Christmas. Neither of us had jobs. Ralph was actively looking for work without success. He hoped to land a job and have some money for Christmas. I accompanied him on his job search. By luck we both got hired at a bakery. This one had contracted to make croutons for a large cereal producer. We showed up for our first shift at midnight. We were scheduled to work until eight in the morning with only a short break, long enough to smoke a cigarette, half way through the shift. After suiting up in a white baker’s outfit, we headed into the factory.
The shift boss pointed over to a guy standing in front of a moving line of boxes and said,” Go over there and tap him on the back and when he steps away, take his place. Stay there until someone taps you on the shoulder. You’ll get a break in a few hours. If you got to go to the bathroom, do it now. You cannot leave your spot.” I headed down to where he pointed and tapped the guy facing the line on the shoulder, He moved away suddenly. I saw a stream of herb-garlic flavored croutons headed my way. A worker next to me stepped in front of me and demonstrated my task. He lifted two boxes up and then gathered the next two, lifting all four. Adding two more he got six stacked in his hand. These he placed back on the moving belt. He jumped back to his place and picked up those six boxes, whirled around and stuffed them into a case box.
I was busy trying to duplicate his movement and send him a pile of six boxes. My hands were not accustomed to this yet and I fumbled a lot. Pretty soon boxes were beginning get backed up on my left. No matter how deftly I tried to maneuver they seemed to be overcoming me. The guys who had just showed me the drill leaned over and brushed the log jam of boxes onto the floor. He added, “You can push them off it they get too much. It slows down sometimes and we can get the ones off the floor.” I thanked him and continued with my struggle keeping up with a line of boxes that relentlessly headed towards us.
Sure enough, the line slowed to a crawl for a while and gave us a chance to clean up the ones, I had brushed to the floor. Soon, I was given a break and went tour for a cup of coffee and a smoke. By the end of my first shift, I was getting pretty dexterous. I not only could keep a steady flow of piles of six headed to my co worker, but had time to flip them if needed so they could all be aligned the same. I was turning into a piece of the machinery that pushed out boxes of croutons twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. According to production figures kept on the chalkboard over head, since the beginning of this run in August we were heading to produce nearly one box for half of the humans on the planet. At that time, the world population was slightly over four billion. We had produced slightly over two billion boxes of croutons and the machinery was still going full tilt.


About Me, Part One

My photo
Rock Balancing: The Beginning. What began as a journal of my travels took a hiatus when I began to settle in Ithaca NY. In the meantime, I took up the practice of setting rocks to balance. I returned to my blog to begin recording this story

Part, The second

On Easter Sunday Morning, 2008, I made a decision to settle in the Ithaca New York area. At the same time, I decided to continue to post my blog, However, the stories now will come from the archive stored internally. These will be the stories I gathered while on previous journeys and never entrusted to paper. The date of each posting will not reflect the date of the story being related but will mark the date that narrative got inscribed.

Carry wood

Carry wood
33 years later

Part: The third

I took a brief hiatus from my daily blog writing. I did not know the direction it would take. part of me thought I would abandon it. It turns out I missed it. The old title "On the Road Again' is no longer apt. It appears I am settling. The travel stories will age to a point, when I will probably resusitiate them and do something with them. I dusted off some old stories and begin this new series.
Thr first is one was written two years ago. I edited it and begin again a series that is more apropos to someone settling in upper New York State. They are meant to warm, amuse, educate and sometimes inflame.