Change Is In The Air

Have you ever noticed something good but didn’t want to spoil it by talking about it? That’s been the past couple of weeks for me. Now I think it’s safe to say that summer’s finally over! The temperature hasn’t broken the century mark in Phoenix for almost a month and in Congress, it hasn’t cracked 80° for the last week. I’ve even broken out a light sweater to ward off the morning chill—relief at last.

Much like spring, the Sonoran Desert autumns only last a couple of weeks before winter sets in. Of course, our winters pass for other people’s summers. We have nice sunny days, but you may need a jacket now and then. It just rains more often. We don’t get fall color like they do in Flagstaff, the cactus stays green. The only plant that takes fall seriously around here is the desert broom which flowers and releases clouds of feathery seeds that cover everything in sight. It’s as if your dryer vent went berserk and spewed lint over the neighborhood. Unlike the leaves in Vermont, it’s not a cherished sight that tourists flock to see.

Desert Broom In Bloom
In fall, the desert broom flowers and then spews millions of feathery seeds into the air. It’s more annoying than cherished.

It’s that time of year when we clean and put away our travel gear. We don’t go abroad now. Instead, the rest of the world comes and lives with us. It’s the beginning of the annual snowbird migration. Locals are busy planning shows, galas and festivals to entertain them … and to help separate them from that last quarter in their pocket. We work hard at it and save up all the money we take in so that next summer we can afford to travel and get fleeced by someone else.

It’s also time to shift away from last year’s travel stories and photographs and begin to plan our trips for next summer. In the coming months, I’ll don my velvet jacket and sit by the fire, pipe in hand, scouring camera catalogs and studying how-to videos to improve my photography. It’s an endless journey.

At the same time, I committed to helping my local photography club host weekly photography seminars. A few of us are putting together a syllabus so that we can share our experiences with newbies. We’re planning to start these sessions after New Years and we’re gathering material for our presentations.

I think that some of this stuff may interest you too. How do you feel about being a ‘beta-tester’? As my thoughts congeal into coherent ideas, I want to post them here. My hope is that you can give me feedback like: was the idea clear, was it too technical, did it help or was too basic—or too advanced? Perhaps you already have a photo questions that you’d like to ask. You can ask a free-range of topics (Just don’t ask about the velocity of a fully ladden swallow). Do you want to know about cameras, improving your pictures, making frames, or putting your work on the Web? If you ask, I’ll try to get you an answer even if it’s from someone else.

I’m also open to having guest experts write articles. If you’re familiar with a camera or a technique, I invite you to share your knowledge with us. There is so much to learn about photography, it’s impossible for one person to know all of it. My plan is to start simple and try to disentangle the complex.

I’m excited about collaborating with the club group. I can see that it will take up my free time, but I can also see that these sessions will be helpful and rewarding. Isn’t that what retirement is for? I hope that you’ll join in on our experiment.

Till then … jw

Box-boy Builds A Drawer

I’ve been neglecting my social media for a couple of weeks because I was busy in the shop making my entry for the Worlds-Most-Expensive-Shelf contest. It took me a little over a week to make it—which is fast by my standards, and I installed in the closet yesterday. I didn’t make it expensive on purpose. My pocketbook just suffers because of my cabinetry skills.

I made the shelf to hold my Keith Monks Record Cleaning Machine. You probably do not know, I’m a fan of vinyl records and I have a substantial collection. Any serious collector knows the advantages of record cleaners and they care for their records by running them through washers. We geeks know that even new records sound better when you wash the mold release from them, and if you depend on the used market for new vinyl, a cleaning machine is essential.

The Library of Congress uses a Keith Monks for their records and I found mine at an estate sale at a fraction of its original price. I’ve had it in three houses now but I’ve never had a proper place for it. Our shack in Congress has an ideal spot. The previous owners replaced the original air conditioner with a version that sits on an outside slab. That left the utility closet next to the stereo empty, so I claimed it before Anne converted it into another junk drawer. The closet is wide enough for the machine to clear with a half-inch to spare, so I set the machine on the bottom shelf while I thought about the shelf design. After two years, I worked down my honey-do list far enough that I made this project a priority.

It’s possible to machine clean a record while it’s in the closet, but it’s hard to see in the dark—especially in the evenings when I do most of my listening, so my design had to have a slide, and a stout one at that. The thing easily weighs 50 lbs. At our Deer Valley house, I cut a piece of ¾ inch plywood which supported the weight, so I knew the general size I needed.

Drawer pushed in.
It’s possible to use the machine while it’s inside the closet, but space is cramped.

Last week, I set about measuring and drawing up the plans. I had a sheet of Baltic Birch Plywood and a plank of Cherry hardwood I bought for another project that’s still on the to-do list. There were two pairs of 100 lb slides collecting dust on my workbench. With plans in hand, I grabbed the wood and set out to make some sawdust.

With such a tight fit, I cut the side supports so they would just clear the opening … or so I thought. After mounting the outside rails, they rubbed, so I cut a shim out of scrap quarter-inch plywood to properly space the rails in the opening. After they were in place, I carefully measured the space between them so the drawer would be a perfect fit. I cut the piece of cherry to size and milled box joints on the corners to control the frame size. Then I cut a dado and dropped the plywood into the frame. The width was perfect, but the depth was short. To fix that, I cut another strip of plywood and glued it in place. With that done, my shelf was square and the exact size. All that I needed to complete the project was to sand and finish and sand and finish and sand and finish for the next two days.

Drawer Extended.
At full extension, it’s easy to see and work the machine so that I can get the best results.

On Friday, my shelf was on my assembly table all shiny and pretty and I was proud of how it came out. I carefully measured and installed the rail inserts and took it in the house to slide it in place. It didn’t fit. The rails would insert but they wouldn’t slide in. So I did the most logical thing; I got a bigger hammer. With a lot of pounding it went into place and now it wouldn’t come out. “Maybe the shelf is too wide,” so I sanded the sided with very coarse sandpaper. I gave up after a while and left it till morning.

Starting fresh on Saturday, I shaved each side .05 inches. The slides inserted but they’d stop with a clunk, so I looked closely at them and I saw that during my bout with the big hammer, I had damaged them. They were bent and some ball bearings had come out of their races. Then I saw that the right side was not parallel; when I put the ¼ inch shim in, I misaligned the track so it was binding.

After installing the second pair, the rails worked smoothly, but now the shelf was too narrow from all the trimming. Now I had to take the rails off again and use shims to space them correctly. It was late morning before I slid the shelf in place and worked it in and out. For a millisecond I thought about pulling it apart to finish the sides, but I decided to save that for another year when I get a round-two-it. I’m looking forward to next Friday’s music session when I get to relax while listening to clean records.

Till then … jw

My Dream Jaguar

Last night I had a dream—or maybe a nightmare—one good enough to share. Like most dreams, it was a conglomeration of disjointed segments. I don’t remember how it started, who I was with or any of the details that would make up a coherent story, but somewhere along the journey, we wound up on a porch overlooking a Jaguar for sale in the parking lot. I didn’t recognize the model, but it was a newer swoopy kind. I decided to look closer.

Bruce McLaren at Riverside
In my dreams, I drive McLarens in Can-Am races … if I can get them out of the garage.

When I walked up to it, I could see that the brown paint was cracking like an antique oil painting and after opening the bonnet—it was British after all—there was a fresh oil puddle under the engine. As I walked around it, I pushed on the trunk lid causing new cracks. Just then the owner walked up and asked if I’d like to buy it. I declined and pointed out the flawed paint and the oil, which was now beginning to creep toward the drain. “Yeah, that’s why the price is so cheap. We can talk about it over a scotch.” He was a pleasant enough chap in his late thirties with blondish hair, and since he was a man of good taste, I agreed to meet him at the bar.

Since I knew the way, I agreed to lead the procession and my companion and I headed to my car, which was a BMW, Mercedes or some other Teutonic brand, but when I walked up to it, the design was a mid-engine Italian pointy thing—the kind of car where you only want a view over the hood. It was afternoon rush hour and getting out of the Biltmore Fashion Park garage was going to be tough. Since I couldn’t see to back up, I pulled forward out of the spot and a line of cars followed. I made my way into a dead-end corner of the garage and now I had to back out, but first, everyone behind me had to move.

That’s how the rest of my dream went—with me inching the car backward through a crowded parking garage. I never got that sexy beauty out on the road and up to speed. It was an interesting twist on a common theme of my dreams—trying to get somewhere with insurmountable objects in the way. Studies haven’t been conclusive about the functionality of dreams. One camp believes they may be a harbinger of the future while others feel they’re a way of cataloging our daily experiences—sort of like a librarian putting books back on the shelf. I don’t know if dreams have any meaning or purpose, but at least in this one, I still had my pants on.

Till then … jw

Surprise Invitational

Surprise Invitational
This is such a high-class gig, they sent out post-it note adds for our Facebook pages.

Tonight we have some more good news. I have another print accepted for a show. This one is the Surprise Invitational show which will run from October 19th thru December 20th. The exhibition will be in the Arts HQ, at 16126 N. Civic Center Plaza. There will be a free reception on Thursday the 19th from 5 to 9 pm, with music and food trucks—some of those are good, but I still remember when we called them Roach Coaches.

Piedmont Crossing
Alone and in the middle of nowhere, I found this crossing guard with enough moonlight on it to make a picture.

Getting into this show was a last-minute effort. I found out about it the day before the deadline. Fortunately, they had an online application that I could send my photos from my computer last Monday. I sent in three shots I took over the summer and they picked the one called Piedmont Crossing. It wouldn’t have been my first choice, but what do I know.

I hope that you can join us at the opening on the 19th, but I understand if you’re busy with Halloween decorations. Surprise civic center is west of Grand Avenue south of Bell. If you’re in the area, I hope you take time to take in the show. Who knows, one of the art pieces may catch your eye and make it into Santa’s big red bag.

Till then … jw

Ah … What’s Up Doc?

We have rabbits at North Ranch. They’ve always been a fixture at the park, but with the abundant rain and good growing season, they’ve multiplied like … well, rabbits. On our morning walks, Queen Anne and I have spotted a jackrabbit or two, but they only venture onto the property when there’s no rain and they need to drink. They have black tails, cartoon ears, and they’re large enough that, when they rear-up on hind legs, they could slap a coyote silly. They’re also very skittish. Once they know that you’re looking at them, jackrabbits run off and don’t stop until they’re well out of sight in the desert.

Peter
A desert cottontail trying to make a decision.

More common are the desert cottontails. They are house-cat size with brown coats that blend well with the ground. Sometimes we’ll see two or three of them in a yard or they’ll leisurely hop across the street (presumably to get to the other side where the cactus is greener). Humans don’t frighten them and you nearly have to kick them out of your way. If startled, they’ll run about ten feet before they drop from exhaustion. They’re really out of shape.

Roger
Chain-link fences are useless for keeping rabbits out. They pass through them with ease.

When we first moved here, I’d hear Her Highness say, “Ooh look, a bunny. He’s sooo cute.” That was before she started planting flowers. Neighbors warned her about the rabbits eating everything, so she bought containers. She forgot that rabbits hop. Our house soon became the local Bunny-KFC and only plant stubs were left in her pots. Now she pots things they won’t eat and keeps the flowers on the porch.

Buggs
After a hard morning eating expensive landscape, Buggs turns up his nose at rosemary.

I tease her that they could be a cheap source of protein when we become old and destitute. She responded with her normal, “Eww.” People say that rabbit tastes like chicken. I say, “Just eat chicken.” I tried it once in an upscale Scottsdale restaurant and it tasted like … marinara sauce. I like to fish, but I don’t bring them home because she won’t eat them and I don’t care much for cleaning them. I can’t imagine myself skinning and cleaning a rabbit. I’d wind up marinating it with the old Technicolor-yawn before I made it half-way through.

Flopsy and Mopsy
A pair of cottontails scours the bank of a wash for tasty morsels.

In Denali last year we learned about snowshoe hares and how they were the food chain’s staple. Their population rises and falls cyclically. Prey animals that depended on the hare to survive also fluctuate in numbers a season or two behind the snowshoes. I expect that’s true about our cottontails too. I wouldn’t be surprised for them to attract more owls, hawks, bobcats or even a cougar. It’s the coyotes that keep them in balance though. Our local sportsmen have taken to hunting down the packs around North Ranch to protect their favored hound—the mighty Chihuahua.

I’m leery of actions that upset nature’s balance. We should have learned about thoughtless intervention and how often it backfires on us. I’m concerned about killing off too many predators leaving us overrun with desperate diseased and crazy rabbits. Anyone who has seen The Holy Grail knows how horrifying an attack bunny is. I say, this year everybody gets bunny slippers for Christmas.

Till then … jw

Night Creatures

We don’t have pets. We settled that quickly in our first year of marriage. Both of us had dogs before, but Queen Anne prefers yappy purse-dogs and I’m partial to working breeds. Neither was willing to compromise. What ended the debate, however, was that we weren’t willing to clean up after a dog, so we settled on houseplants. It’s worked for us so far.

When we had a fenced back yard, we had no worries about stepping on a surprise package, and we like being outside when the weather’s nice. The Congress house doesn’t have fences and in the past month, we’ve found good size turds in the yard. Our association has a strict dog policy mandating that they don’t run free and the owner must pick-up after them, so I deduced that it was the work of a loose cat I see from time to time. I call him Lucky, because we also have coyotes that move through the neighborhood, yet he’s still alive. Even more of a puzzle is that on our morning walks, we noticed that everyone has presents in their yard. Even the streets have droppings. That’s one hell of a busy cat.

When I got home after a meeting last Monday, I saw a large toad hopping from our driveway into the neighbor’s yard. I forgot about the Sonoran Desert Toads because I hadn’t seen one since I lived in Scottsdale thirty-five years ago. They hibernate most of the year and only come out at night during the monsoon season. Their backs carry poison glands that can kill a dog if it bites into it. You shouldn’t try to pick one up because they’re also toxic to humans. After they mate and lay eggs in standing water, they crawl back into a hole and sleep for another year.

It was our neighbor—Jane— that told us about the toad scat. “It couldn’t be, it’s too big for a toad! It’s gotta’ be a dog,” I thought.  She was right because the poop easily breaks down in a light rain leaving only the undigested insect exoskeletons which look like a handful of dry oatmeal. Damn! You learn something every day, I hate picking it up, but I can’t blame the neighbors anymore.

When we drove home from the Herberger opening reception last Friday, I put on the high beams and slowly turned into the driveway. I hoped to show Anne one of the toads. We lucked out because she spotted something by the porch stairs. Except it didn’t hop, it crawled. “Is there a flashlight in here,” Anne asked.

“Sure,” I answered and dug around in the console to fish it out. I turned it on and got out of the truck and went for a better look. When I was close, I turned and shouted, “You got to come and look.” She walked over from the truck and saw what I had in the light; she ran up the porch stairs without her feet ever touching them. It was a tarantula, about the size of my hand … If I had LeBron James’ hands. We followed it for a while—me from the yard and her from the porch—until I got bored and handed her the light so I could put the truck in the garage.

After I put Fritz away, I walked through the house and joined her on the front porch. Mr. Spider had made it around the porch as she silently watched. The giant spider acted like it was out for an evening stroll and seemed a bit annoyed in the spotlight. It stayed next to the house as it moved south. When I saw enough, I handed the light to Anne and went inside.

Soon the screen door slammed and Anne bellowed, “There’s a tarantula in my front yard. We’re moving.” Then she went to the desk and put new batteries in the flashlight before going back outside. I don’t know when she came in, because I went to bed. When I asked the next morning, she told me that she watched it until it disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Then she explained how we were going to seal up the house so they couldn’t get in. Now, she’s an old tarantula hand, they don’t faze her, but she won’t venture off the porch when it’s dark.

Till then … jw

It Is No More … It Ceases To Exist …

In the months before we married, my ex-wife bought a 59 cent Schefflera from Berridge Nursery as an apartment decoration. It came in a green-plastic pint container and was less than six inches tall with the same amount of shoots having the characteristic radial leaf pattern. She put it on the counter under the kitchen window so it could get enough light. Her cat, Frodo—being a contemptuous animal that cats are—ate half of the tiny plant’s leaves during the night. It would have made sense for her to toss the plant and run down the street to buy another, but she scolded the cat and moved the half eaten plant to a safer place.

Ten years passed, and my ex and I went our separate ways. When we divided the house, I got custody of the Schefflera. By now it was a waist-high shrubbery living in a large pot. When I moved into my condo, I put it at the end of my couch by French doors. It looked good there. Even when Queen Anne moved in, she agreed and promptly named it Harvey, which was how she marked her territory.  Between the high ceilings and southern exposure, Harvey continued to grow. Like kids and shoes, we constantly re-potted him. He grew to eight feet. When we sat at that end of the couch, his overhead leaves would shade us.

After another decade, we wanted a house, and as we looked for a place, one of our considerations was where to put Harvey. He needed space. With the help of a realtor, we found a place only five miles away, and after navigating all the paperwork we hired movers to schlep our crap to the new house. Harvey was one of the last things to go, so he wound up in the back of someone’s pick-up truck. We didn’t trust him with the movers, but as I followed behind, I watched in horror as the forty-five mile an hour wind began to shred his leaves. By the time we put him in the new house, he looked like a tornado victim. He went into shock and the taller branches were wind-burnt, so we pruned and nursed him. He managed to survive, but he was forever stunted.

The next time Queen Anne had her seven-year itch, we were wiser. On this move, we made sure to wrap Harvey in a sheet and put him inside the moving truck. He didn’t go into shock and he made it without damage. He was a bit stubbier but had new growth each year. We found a spot for him in the family room at the end of the couch where he watched TV and listened to music with us for another seven years.

Our latest move was two years ago—to Congress and retirement. By now we were old hands a moving our pygmy tree. Even though we stayed in temporary housing for a month, when we settled in, Harvey took his place at the couch’s end and stood proudly. As we neared our Alaska Trip, he looked scraggly and we worried he wouldn’t make it, so Anne found a plant-sitter to look after Harvey and his siblings. Before we left, we moved everyone to the dining room where the light is better and it’s not as warm. The plant-sitters did a good job and all the plants survived the summer without us.

Even though we’ve stayed home this year, we haven’t been as lucky. With the porch and large Palo Verde tree out front, the light in the living room is marginal. To manage the summer heat, we’ve also been closing the blinds, which means less light. Harvey started losing leaves. To get more light, we moved him to the dining room and then in front of the guest bedroom’s north facing window. Anne has rooted in the soil trying to aerate it. His last leaf fell off on Tuesday. I think he’s root bound and has slowly drowned. He looks like the summer mesquite—just leafless branches. I’m afraid that our forty-five-year-old living room centerpiece has gone to the great salad bar in the sky. I suggested to Anne that we throw in the towel and replace him.

She turned, scowled and barked, “He’s not dead … he’s merely resting his eyes.”

Till then … jw