Amending Fences

We’re keeping a close eye on our new neighbor these days.  You see, he’s building a fence on his property.  In most cases the only discussion neighbors have about fences is who pays for what, or how the fence will look on either side.  But this situation’s more complicated.  Our neighbor doesn’t realize the driveway separating he and me is not right on the property line.  If his new fence line marches down his side of the driveway, he’s actually claiming several square yards of our property.

Better left alone

Here’s a story you never hear, certainly not in the United States.  A Belgian farmer was working on his property and decided to move a giant rock in one of his fields.  Several days later, federal authorities knocked on his front door.  Turns out, moving that rock adjusted the border of Belgium.  Our farmer moved one rock (as it turns out, a 300-year-old stone marker) and singlehandedly increased the size of his country by 1,000 square meters.  The very sovereignty of his nation was called into question.  Neighboring France was not thrilled.

So it is with my neighbor.  Unless he has a plot plan on hand he’ll unknowingly increase the size of his property while decreasing mine.  But that’s why we put up fences, right?  A fence specifies property; a literal landmark to indicate, “this is mine”.  That’s just for starters because we use fences for a lot of other reasons.

If I’m guessing right, my neighbor needs a fence to keep horses (or other livestock) between his house and the edges of his property.  His animals will be shut in from adjacent roads and lands.  Good luck with that, friend.  Most people around here seem to have breaks in their fences (if they have fences at all).  Not a day goes by where someone doesn’t post a notice on our neighborhood’s electronic newsletter about animals on the loose.  This morning’s alert concerned a bunch of cows grazing peacefully… on the wrong property.  You can’t blame ’em if “the grass is greener on the other side”, right?

Last week on our vacation to Charleston, South Carolina, we drove down streets full of the town’s characteristic row houses, with tasteful pastel colors and two-story side “piazza” porches.  We also walked by stately antebellum mansions in the waterfront “south of Broad” neighborhood.  Each of these estates was surrounded by high gates and brick walls, an obvious nod to security.  Yes, these palaces were beautiful, but their surrounding “fences” seemed to declare, “keep out”.  So we did.

Here’s another need for fences.  At last Saturday’s Triple Crown Belmont Stakes in New York, the eight thoroughbreds were guided – and in one case pushed – into the starting gate before the race began.  In the split second where the horses were all in a row, each standing in a sort of starting cage, there was structure.  Once they burst out of the gate, all horses and riders shifted to the left, jockeying chaotically for prime position on the rail.  Imagine the start of that race without that starting “fence”.  Disorder with a capital “D”.

Some fences don’t even need a physical definition.  Picture your city streets without lane markings (as if you lived in India).  All cars would tend to compete for the best position, just like those Belmont Stakes horses.  Horns would honk and road rage would rise to new levels.  Roll down your window and throw out any sense of safety.

I leave you with one final fence.  The shuttered Cal Neva Lodge and Casino overlooking Lake Tahoe straddles the border between California and Nevada.  A solid line on the floor splits the dining room and then the swimming pool, to indicate which state you’re dining or soaking in.  Drink on one side of the line; drink and gamble on the other.  I just hope the hotel’s current remodel doesn’t include relocating the pool.  California might become even bigger!

Some content sourced from the CNN Travel article, “Belgian farmer moves border with France by mistake”.

Ice Cream Dreams

Before our vacation in South Carolina last week, I took measures to ensure I was fully prepared for the low country’s late-May heat and humidity. I packed a reliable SPF 30 sunscreen. I purchased a couple of bottles of spray-on insect repellant. I added several hats to the wardrobe. I even brought a USB-chargeable mini-fan, which hangs around the neck, operates at three speeds, and adjusts to just the right angle. But guess what? I didn’t need any of these items in South Carolina last week (for the weather gods were merciful). Instead, I should’ve left it all at home and just brought my bed.

South Carolina is nicknamed “The Palmetto State”

Is it me getting older or can we all agree on the exceptional value of a good night’s sleep?  For me, it’s a day of brain fog if I don’t get a quality 7.5 hours in la-la land the night before.  When I’m up past midnight (which is never my intention), I know I’m going to pay dearly at 7am the next morning.  Because, I wake up without fail (and without alarm clock) every morning at 7am.  Even if I don’t hit the hay until 3am.

 Stay in a hotel – any hotel – and after one night you’re reminded how the circumstances of quality sleep are frustratingly beyond your control.  My wife and I booked a charming historic inn our first night last week, and what-do-you-know, our bed was just as historic.  The seemingly elegant four-poster contained a lumpy mattress with a few squeaky springs, and a decided slope from my side of the bed to my wife’s.  Throw in the two-hour time change and we tossed and turned like a washing machine’s most violent agitation cycle.

The second day we drove over to Charleston (half asleep), where you’d think a Courtyard-by-Marriott room would deliver the Z’s just a little bit better.  No such luck.  Our fifth-floor corner space included two windows with not-so-blackout curtains.  Our first night’s sleep was interrupted by the hotel fire alarm, triggered because one of the elevators malfunctioned.  The rest of our night’s sleeps were interrupted by the several amped-up bachelorettes and wedding parties resident in the hotel.  Finally, we were adjacent to the fire exit stairs, with a bangy access door used constantly… because of the malfunctioning elevator.

Once upon a time, I was happy just to afford a bed to sleep in.  But over the years I’ve developed a respect for the crucial elements of quality sleep.  A comfortable mattress is worth the max you can afford to pay.  A mattress where you can raise/lower the head and foot is even better.  Make the room pitch black (which in our case includes a small piece of cardboard to block the fireplace pilot flame).  Adjust the temp to the high sixties °F.  Invest in a white noise machine.  And table the electronic devices and alcohol several hours before bedtime.

If there was a plus side to my Charleston sleep, it was this.  We discovered a very good ice cream place within walking distance of the hotel.  Don’t know about you but ice cream does wonders for my sleep.  Specifically, my dreams.  Maybe it’s the sugar or maybe it’s just the late-night munchies, but I’m guaranteed all kinds of REM-sleep adventures when I’ve had ice cream.  Some are haunted-house scary, others earn a movie-theater R-rating, and still others are a jumbled hodgepodge of individual memories making no sense when thrown together.  Whatever the subject, my ice cream dreams are a ton of fun.  They also disappear from memory as fast as the ice cream did the night before.  I’m not one of those who greet you at breakfast with, “You’re not gonna believe what I dreamed about last night!”  Because I’ve already forgotten.

Dreams are the topic of an entire post and alas, I’ve already used up my typical word count this time around.  But let me leave you with some dreamy trivia.  The average person enjoys three to five dreams a night.  Like me, most people quickly forget their dreams the moment they wake up.  Dreams last longer as the night progresses.  The older you get, the less you dream.  Finally, for all we know about the brain, we know next to nothing about dreaming.

I can’t fit a bed in my suitcase so I already know the next time I travel means quality sleep stays behind.  But maybe I’ll pack a little ice cream on dry ice.  If I can’t get my usual dose of Z’s, the least I can do is enjoy a forgettable sweet dream or two.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

A Million Little Leaks

Several years ago, I worked out with a personal trainer in a bunch of one-hour sessions at my gym.  She was all about proper lifting and careful stretching – and nasty core exercises I’ve patently avoided to this day.  But she did give me one time-proven piece of advice: after working out, go relax 10-15 minutes in the dry sauna. You’ve already revved up your metabolism with the workout, so the sauna helps extract toxins from the body. Yes, and the sauna also helps imitate the heat and humidity of South Carolina in the summertime.

My wife & I are heading to the Palmetto State for a long-overdue getaway at the end of May.  We’ll be spending a few days in the western counties before catching up with our daughter and her boyfriend in coastal Charleston.  We’ve taken this trip before.  The difference?  Last time we were there in early April when the heat and humidity sort of caressed your cheek with a soft kiss.  This time we’ll be there to kick off summer and it’ll feel like standing under a hot shower.  Outdoors.  Fully dressed.

I’ve always been a sweater (no, I don’t mean the extra layer you pull over your head in the winter months).  After a long jog, my t-shirt and shorts are so wet they could double as sponges.  My hair falls wet-stringy straight down my forehead and the perspiration runs in rivers here and streams there.  Yep, I’m one handsome dude.  But where most people say ick, I recognize sweating for the healthy cooling/cleansing process it is. A sign my metabolism is alive and kicking.  Turn on the faucets, baby.

Speaking of moisture, isn’t moist one of the most atrocious-sounding words in the English language?  I’ve never made peace with those five letters and I know I haven’t used moist in a sentence in years (no matter how good my baked goods taste).  The English language has such beautiful words, like chimes and delicacy and silhouette.  Why disrupt the sweet-sounding party with a word like moist?

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’m not gonna pretend a good sweat is ever comfortable (maybe it’s because I feel moist) but I’ve certainly gotten used to the sensation over the years.  And now that I live in Colorado?  Zero humidity.  Well, okay, there’s a little humidity here at 7,500 feet above sea level.  But most of the time it’s so dry, the needle on your tank seems to be perpetually on “E”.  This pathetic little voice deep inside your body pleads for, “water… water…” (think Tin Man asking for his oil can – that kind of voice).

A dry sauna room (aka a “hot box”)

Let’s go back to my dry sauna sessions.  Since you’re already asking the question, I don’t mean “wet sauna” (where steam is introduced into a room as tiled as a Chinese kitchen). I’m talking about that other room, with nothing but wooden benches and a nasty little blast furnace in the corner (wood-burning, electric, hot rocks – whatever heats like hell).  You sit there draped in a small towel in 200º F and for a few minutes, all is quiet and comfortable.  But then, almost imperceptibly, your skin develops a sheen.  You begin to glisten.  Suddenly droplets of perspiration pop out all over the place and it’s “open the floodgates, Poseidon”.  A million little leaks.

I won’t speak for the ladies’ locker room (that mysterious country club adjacent to our locker room), but sometimes the men’s dry sauna can get a little awkward.  When you approach the glass door, it’s so steamed you can’t tell how many guys are already in there.  Once you enter, choose a place on the bench without hesitation or you’ll be judged.  Good chance you’ll end up next to a heavy breather, which in some schools of thought is therapeutic.  Other times you’ll end up next to someone with headphones, which somehow don’t block the four-letter words of his rap music.  One time I was subjected to the wellness preachings of a huge Samoan-looking guy, where I thought it best not to argue with his musings.  All of which is to say, you never really know what you’re gonna get with the dry sauna.  It’s an intimate little sweatbox filled with semi-naked strangers.  Good times, huh?

South Carolina’s “Holy City”

When I’m in Charleston I won’t miss the dry sauna because Mom Nature will provide her own version round-the-clock.  The heat and humidity will promote enough of my perspiration to – as the family says – “make my face rain”.  I’m like one of those mysterious underground springs, where the water keeps bubbling up from the ground and you wonder if it’s ever gonna stop.  Every gonna stop?  Not with my metabolism.  For sheer entertainment value, if you’re in Charleston later this month, keep an eye out for me.  I’m the one with the million little leaks.

My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Crushed Rock

Checked the tires lately? No, no, no – not the air pressure – the treads. Take a good look the next time you grab the car keys. Besides pebbles in the grooves or nicks in the rubber, your tires might sport a bright swipe of yellow on the sidewall. That, my friends, is the calling card of the local police, tracking your parking habits.  You could say you’re a “marked man”.  But sadly – at least for me – the time has come for that chalk to go back to just being rock.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sits in Cincinnati, with a jurisdiction of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Recently, a disgruntled Michiganite, possessor of fifteen parking tickets in three years (all issued by the same enforcement officer – creepy), decided she’d had enough and filed suit.  Just this week, the Sixth decided yes, in fact; chalking tires is unconstitutional.  By definition, chalking is somehow “a search of personal property”.  By ruling of the Sixth, that search is considered unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.  Whoa.  All because of a little chalk?

I’m trying to decide if “trivial” or “ludicrous” is the better word for this little story (see news article and twelve-page ruling here).  Clearly, I don’t understand the fuss.  Is chalking an invasion of our personal space?  Are we channeling our inner little kid and crying, “don’t touch my stuff”?  Have we arrived at the Land of Ridiculousness, where issuing a parking citation requires a search warrant?

In my Mayberry world, chalking tires is kind of charming.  It’s a mark of a small town.  Perhaps the council didn’t like the look of parking meters.  Perhaps they couldn’t afford them.  Whatever the reason, they released parking enforcement by foot (or bicycle), to cruise up and down the blocks “swiping tires”.  Two hours later, those marks sometimes become parking citations.

College campuses are common ground for chalking tires, so the mixed opinions of students on this week’s ruling came as a surprise.  Some worry new technology (camera shots?  microchips?) will be more intrusive.  Others are simply glad parking enforcement will be hands-off.  Still others will miss the opportunity of “clever” ways to beat the system (a. Spray tires with a non-stick coating.  b. Cover tires completely with chalk.  c. Take tires with you after you park.)

I feel bad for chalk factories.  Parking enforcement was a significant, high-profile use of their product, and now that’s been taken away.  A substance of little more than calcium carbonate just lost some major press.  The rest of chalk’s uses – by comparison – are downright banal.

White Cliffs of Dover, England

When was the last time you encountered chalk?  Probably been awhile.  Unless you’re a teacher at the blackboard, a tailor marking clothes, a gymnast, rock-climber, weightlifter, or cuing up a game of pool, it’s safe to say you haven’t used chalk lately.  Unless you’ve sailed in front of the White Cliffs of Dover, you probably haven’t even seen chalk lately.

How about chalk memories?  My earliest comes from the playground of my elementary school.  Before the days of painted lines, girls would chalk out hopscotch squares on the asphalt, doing their skips as they collected items from the squares (we boys were too cool for hopscotch).  My favorite chalk memory comes from college, when my engineering professor laid out equations on the blackboard, then turned to talk to the class.  As he spoke, he’d subconsciously hold the chalk aside his nose.  By the end of the lecture his face was fairly covered in chalk dust.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took a trip to Charleston, SC, and to nearby Folly Beach.  The (now defunct) Morris Island lighthouse stands several hundred yards off the coast.  A mile-long asphalt trail takes you from the parking lot to the beach, as close as you can get to the lighthouse.  That trail is the photo below.  Hundreds of pictures and sayings; bold, colorful sidewalk art.  You literally walk the chalk.

The next time I get a parking ticket (and there will be a next time), I’ll be tempted to check my tires.  No longer.  Instead, I’ll just chalk it up to days-gone-by, when marking tires was simply a good intention, not a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

What a world.