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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014 -- Year's End

What a turbulent year it's been.  December was a hard month to end it on.  December 5 was the day we picked to say Goodbye to Big Guy.  At that point, he was becoming emaciated.  His tumors were getting quite large, and a couple of them appeared to be rupturing through the surface of his skin.  We took him to the vet and had him gently put to sleep.  I grieved that dog harder than I thought possible.

Most people don't know that we had been looking for another schnauzer even before Big Guy got sick.  We put feelers out through our groomer/breeder/shelter friends.  The first to bear fruit pointed us to a breeder in Centralia who had some standards.  Details were sketchy at the time, but we drove down on a Saturday to check them out.  She had a couple of 10-month-old sisters that were not destined for the show ring.  One was black, the other pepper-and-salt.  They were quite affectionate, and we couldn't decide on which one we wanted.  So we took both. I should mention that the kennel we got them from is nationally known and highly regarded in the show circuit, having been to been to Westminster:  Sketchbook Standard Schnauzers.

Isabel and Indigo

We named the black one Indigo and the other Isabel.  They are playful, athletic and damned smart.  Both learned to sit in about 3 days.  They are already crate trained and we are working hard on house training.  We call them the Sisters of Chaos, but we exaggerate.  They're pretty mellow for adolescent puppies.  They've only destroyed two three pairs of Stacey's flip flops.  Indigo is a friend to everyone, and has very pretty eyes.  Isabel is shy around strangers but full of mischief at home.  While both have cropped ears, one of Isabel's fell down, which gives her a comical look.  We're trying to break them of chasing the cat and barking at things from the window.  We love them to bits.

Another of our feelers turned up a giant schnauzer in Indiana.  We took a weekend to drive out and visit family in Crawfordsville and spent the night with Stacey's brother and sister-in-law in Indianapolis..  We drove down the next day to take a look at the giant. Kitty is a champion in her own right (Ch Fanta C's Gunsmoke's Leading Lady), 6 years old and a retired breeder.  She licked our faces and seemed very well behaved.  Though we had expected to pick her up in January (if, indeed, we wanted her and were allowed to have her), but decided to just take her home then.  Prior to that day, I had only seen two giant schnauzers during my whole life, and one was Big Guy.  Fanta C Giant Schnauzers had several magnificent adults in outdoor kennels and three puppies inside.  The pups were so adorable; all they wanted to do was lick your face.

Kitty has the cropped ears of a show dog.  She is already crate-and house-trained.  She walks on a lead perfectly and is generally cooperative.  She doesn't get up on furniture, nor bark much at all.  She rides in the back seat of my truck and just lays down, never barking.  We are working on sit and a few other commands.  She is playful and becoming integrated into the pack.  As the weather got cold recently, she climbed into the little fish pond and broke through the ice with all four feet, which then were covered in nasty mud.  So she got her first bath at home. I am still learning her personality, but she appears to be very sweet and loyal. She satisfies some inner need we have for a big dog.

Miss Kitty at Christmas

We still have the white miniature schnauzer Gretchen, of course.  So if you're keeping score, we now have four schnauzers in various sizes and flavors.  It's kind of crazy in our house right now, as we all adjust to a new routine.  I grew up in a house full of dogs, so 4 is not in the "crazy dog people" range for me.  Our plan is to make them well trained and well behaved so that the house is as orderly as it can reasonably be.  It's a process we are working.  We thank Shammy Johnson for connecting us to the standards and Carol Bridgeman for connecting us to Kitty.

I just finished reading the James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small) compilation of dog stories.  It was fascinating.  One of the things he recommended is that, upon the loss of a dog, one should get a new one right away.  The new one does not replace the lost one (for, like Big Guy, each is unique), but I think the new one keeps you so busy that you don't have so much time to think about the old one.

I have had few opportunities for photography this month except for the dogs.  You'll find some decent shots in the online album below.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Memories of Big Guy

I want to document here various aspects of Big Guy's personality before I forget them.  This is a fairly personal narrative, written for my own memoirs, so feel free to bail out of it at any point.

He never gave dog kisses. He would sometimes lick his nose after sniffing you, so if you got close enough he might accidentally lick your face. He did have a penchant for licking Savannah's legs. We don't know why.

Big Guy did not like water. Perhaps because he fell into a frozen pond when young, he would not enter water of his own volition. I never saw him swim.

He always liked drinking the rainwater in our rainbuckets best. You had to dry his beard after he had a drink, like wringing out a mop.

Every night he would roll on the living room floor and growl. This was his invitation to wrestle. He liked wrestling and would only return the level of aggression he was given. He seldom bit, but could nip with his incisors for a painful but harmless pinching effect. If he got a hold of my watch or other inanimate object, he knew that wasn't flesh, and he'd bite it hard. He tore holes in two of my T shirts while jumping for toys. He could hurt you on accident though. One time I bent over to pick something up in the back yard and I hadn't seen him running up. His head hit me in the temple and I saw stars. He liked tug-of-war best. He would fetch some toys, but not retrieve them all the way back. He had a few favorites, like the tractor dog and the double-donger, which was like a stick.

He liked to run. He would chase Gretchen, or be chased, around the back yard, making circles around a tree, the pond, or the wood furnace. He would really zoom around the softball field when we took him there, then usually take a poop in center field (we always bagged it).

He always had a problem with him licking his feet. Only at the end, when prednisone completely suppressed this behavior, did we know with certainty that it was allergies. I assume the same was true of his somewhat runny eyes.

He was always right around 100 lb. We never let him get fat. Had great lines, an elegant gait and looked beautiful running. We got compliments on him everywhere we went. We took him to the Autumn Folk Life Festival and could hardly get anywhere because of people stopping us to talk about Big Guy. He was a truly beautiful dog.

He would sleep in our bed with us for 20 minutes or so almost every night, and sometimes in the morning. Eventually, he'd get down to sleep on the floor or in his personal toddler bed. On the other hand, he often did like to cuddle, and would get in your lap if you let him. If you could get him to lie next to you with his head on your chest, it was glorious. He enjoyed attention, though could not really express affection directly. He always got excited when we came home, but was too busy jumping around to come close and get hugs.

He would let you know when he wanted to go outside by barking and pawing you. If I were working at the kitchen table in the morning, he'd do this about every 5 minutes. Drove me crazy. He also pawed at the door to get back in the house. If you were asleep, he might paw your face, or just sniff you and hit you with the big exhale at the end. He made very entertaining noises at times, like deep moans and growls. He would sigh at night when he went to bed. He often had dreams and could be heard growling, whining or suckling while his legs twitched. He had a deep chest and you could feel his heart beat through his ribs.

The only trick he knew when we got him was to put his paws on your shoulders. We taught him to sit and to stand from the sit to get a treat.  He wasn't a natural sitter and seldom did it spontaneously. He was learning to jump through a hoop at the end of his life. He could jump high and far. He often would vault over the rainbuckets when we let him out, and easily jumped the rabbit fence into and out of the prairie. I never taught him to draft a wagon or to pull me on a skateboard or skis. He just took to that naturally. He also followed hand signals, which was very useful, and, again, untaught. He loved doing all these things, as well as going for walks or runs. He was so good at reading body language, he could figure out what we were doing (such as running) by how I was getting dressed. He would figure out when you were going to bed and jump into your spot just before you got there.

He never wanted to be kenneled up in the laundry room during the day, so he would go "hide" in the basement on the couch just before it was time for me to go to work.

He was so tame and submissive, I could do almost anything to him. I could push him around in the bed to reposition him. I could pick him up completely off the ground. The only thing I could not do was to cut his toenails. He couldn't stand that. The most aggressive we ever saw him was when he got a hold of a steak bone. He would not give it up, and from the loud growling sounds he was making, I was not inclined to take it from him. He showed his dominance over Savannah and Racin--by humping them. Gretchen could dominate him, but he didn't seem to care much. He would seldom meet the eyes of a human, even when trying to get their attention. I saw him get nose to nose with an injured bird. He just sniffed it. Later, Gretchen killed it. He always chased squirrels but never caught one. I always wondered what he would have done if he had. He sometimes chased our cat, but never hurt him.

Once we visited a dog park and another dog got aggressive and bit him on the ear. He didn't seem to notice. His pain threshold was so high, he never seemed to show pain. The huge needle used to microchip him didn't even make him flinch. He ran into one of the columns on the back porch, damaging his kidneys, but didn't slow down.

He didn't like the vacuum cleaner, but I think he learned that from Gretchen. He didn't like the schnauzer statue that now lives on our front porch, and he really hated the cow puppet, which could incite them both to feats of jumping and biting.

He was a notorious counter surfer, and was extremely clever in taking food that did not belong to him. He used his size to advantage, and could take anything off the table, from inside the sink, or on the kitchen counter. For example, if the doorbell rang while we were eating dinner, he'd eat our food while we went to greet the visitors. The fire pager was the worst. We'd have to suddenly get up and leave at any time, including meal time. I don't know if I can remember all of the things he ate: part of the uncooked Thanksgiving turkey, most of a ham, pizza, an entire loaf of banana bread, a raw steak right out of the shopping bag (the $6.50 price tag remained), chocolate cake, prime rib bones, two dozen cookies (at once). He must have had an iron gut, as he never got diarrhea from any of these. He really liked butter. One time Stacey walked by and waved a stick of butter in his face and he bit it. She used it anyway, tooth marks and all.

When eating his bowl of kibble, he'd usually lie down next to it for awhile before consuming, presumably to give his stomach juices time to start flowing. He usually ate some in the morning then finished it off at bed time.

He was deceptively fast. He had good coordination and could catch toys in midair. Back when we had the futon in the basement we let him use both that and the couch. When he was playing he could bounce off of one and onto the other, the full width of the TV room without touching the floor. He wasn't allowed on the new couch, so no more bouncing.

He had a way of making himself look adorable, particularly when he figured out we would finish dinner. He'd come up to your side, hold his ears up a bit and wag his tail.

Otherwise, he was not very expressive externally. He lacked the docked ears that make Gretchen's every emotion plain as day. It made him look stupid and perhaps boring. It was only after maybe a year that I understood his depth. He was actually pretty clever, and you had to really watch him to understand his emotions and moods.

He had a nasty habit of grazing plants in the back yard. That would usually make him foam at the mouth, and occasionally throw up the leaves. He used to jump the rabbit fence to get into the prairie and sample my plants.

He loved to take rides in the car and was great at camping. He had his own couch in the RV and traveled well. He was perfectly housebroken, and never had accidents in the house. He hardly ever threw up either, fortunately.

He barked like mad when anyone came to the door, but he never bit them. That's the perfect guard dog. I never worried about anyone breaking into the house while he was there because his bark was loud, deep and forceful.

He's the only dog I've ever known who would watch other dogs on TV. If it was a particularly stimulating scene, he'd bark at them. A couple of times he had his paws up on the entertainment center and I thought he might try to go through the screen. He did the same for wolves and bears.

Let us tally the damages. He broke a piece of glass out of the old entertainment center (with his head), but we never replaced it. We did replace the screen on Stacey's laptop, which he broke by knocking it over. He has scratched up the baseboard in our bedroom where he sleeps, but I have a replacement for that. He broke out of the house one day by plunging through the screen in the bathroom window. I fixed that, but then one day we left it open accidentally, and he went through the screen again. He decided he could still get out the window by chewing through it, the damage of which we have not yet fixed. He tore a muscle in Stacey's shoulder while going after a squirrel. Not sure what the cost was of her surgery to repair it, but the orthopedic surgeon called him the most expensive free dog he'd ever seen. So we put up a fence in the back yard to keep him in without having to use leads. I think that was $1400. In only two years, three trees have fallen on it, requiring additional repairs. He would jump up against the laundry room wall when we got home, and had nearly worn a hole through the drywall, as well as scratching up all the door moldings. I did a minor remodel and covered the drywall with fiberglass reinforced panels.

In many ways, he was a high-maintenance dog. But I have no regrets. It was worth every cent for the four years we had with him.

Here's a playlist of videos I've made of him so far:

Big Guy: Adventures with a Giant Schnauzer

And here's an album of various stills.

FlickR Album

Monday, December 1, 2014

November 2014 -- The Shocking News

Winter came on with a sudden ferocity, plunging us from 70 F to below freezing within a week.  By now, we've already seen rain, sleet, snow, and freezing rain.  Wait, that was all in one DAY.  I had to start the wood furnace up much earlier than usual.  At least I am somewhat prepared to run out of wood early--Lowell and I cut some trees down, limbed them out, and dragged them out of the woods last summer.  It should be a short affair to log them out and haul them home as needed.

Last month Big Guy cut his toe running around the back yard.  We took him to the vet and had it glued back together and while he was there they gave him his vaccinations.  Shortly thereafter he developed a large swelling on his neck.  I suspected a vaccination reaction; the vet prescribed antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.  When all the pills ran out the swelling was reduced, but still there, and other bumps had sprung up in various places on his body.  I took him back to the vet on Friday, November 21st, his 7th birthday.  They took needle biopsies of his bumps.  The diagnosis was lymphoma, a type of cancer for which there is no cure.  We chose the option of trying to extend his life by treating him with high doses of prednisone.  We spent the weekend mostly grieving.  We had to go to Quincy so we stopped at Burger King and bought him a double cheeseburger.  He's been eating really well--lots of canned food, people food and treats.

One side effect of the prednisone is that he drinks and pees a lot.  We have to let him out almost every hour, even at night. He seemed to be responding to the medication, at least at first, in that his neck lymph nodes shrunk a bit and he had more energy.  Since then, he is more lethargic, the bumps grow and multiply while his muscles waste away. Words fail me when I try to express what this dog means to me.  If you are a regular reader of this blog then you know what adventures we've had, such as camping, skateboarding, and skiing.  Those activities don't convey what a playful, loving and gentle spirit he has, and how that has enriched our lives for the past four years.  The terminal diagnosis is hard.  He's still here, and we can see and hug him, but he won't be here long.  In a short time, we'll have some difficult steps to take.

Insect activity has ground to a halt, though we did sample the North Campus pond for aquatic species and the soil/leaf litter for tiny invertebrates.  I got some photos of some strange things, though good shots of the little springtails eluded me.  I have taken lots of images of the pets, fortunately, mostly with my phone.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

October 2014 -- Long Branch Lake State Park

We took advantage of midterm break to go camping.  We took my nephew Racin to Long Branch Lake State Park.  I hadn't been there in years, but it hadn't changed much.  The weather was cool and it rained about every night, but the days were clear enough.  We enjoyed walking the dogs around the sparsely occupied campground, while the dogs enjoyed trying to run after the two fawns that seemed to perpetually hang out there.

Racin and I took a short bike ride down the visitor's center on the first day.  I picked up a map of the park there, and we rode back on some interesting off-road trails.  I made measurements on the map to plan our our next day's ride: a circumnavigation of the park of about 17 miles.

It was sunny and cool when we headed out in the early afternoon.  Right away, we saw a covey of quail next to the prairie.  One bird just stood there and watched us pedal by.  I told Racin he'd never get as good a look at a bobwhite again.  After we turned north  Racin spotted a baby snapping turtle in the middle of the road.  We put him in my little seat bag until we came across a pond adjacent to the road and threw him in. There were a number of butterflies sunning on the road as well. We were chased by one dog, but it was kind of old and friendly looking so I wasn't worried.  As we were turning east there was a pretty horse in a corral, and Racin started calling to it in a high-pitched voice.  The horse ran up to the fence, presumably to greet him.  This fence was missing the top wire, and I was sure the horse had the ability to jump it.  Fortunately, it did not.  We visited the launch ramp and hiking area on the north side of the lake, passing a road-killed deer with a turkey vulture in close attendance.

I wanted to keep us off of Highway 63 as much as possible, and took us south on Jewel Road.  We hadn't gone far when we came across an apple orchard/beekeeping place that was open for business.  We went in and they gave us free cups of apple cider.  They had an observation hive that was fascinating to me, as I hadn't seen one in awhile.  I started talking to the owner, and we had a long discussion about bees.  They also had some neat antiques in the place--old radios and guitars.

We continued south on Jewel until we had to turn east, where the road, which had been gravel, turned to mud.  We stayed in the driest areas as long as possible, but where it turned south again there was not a dry spot to be had.  Sticky mud accumulated on our wheels, brakes and forks until we ground to a halt.  Even while we were able to pedal, our rear tires would slip constantly.  I fully expected an overt rebellion from Racin, but all he had to say was, "This is awesome!".  I found a tire iron in the road, which proved useful for getting the mud off.  Still, progress was slow.  Finally, the mud ended and gravel resumed.  Was it mere symbolism that there was a church at this junction?  This section of mud was more strenuous than all of the rest of the ride together.  We took photos and went south on 63.  I was worried about the traffic, but there was a good shoulder and plenty of grasshoppers to run over for entertainment.

I looked very carefully before we turned west on Jungle Road.  I didn't want to get into any more mud.  There were some minor hills, but no more mud.  Another dog came out to greet us, a young lab, and very friendly.  We saw a flock of turkeys down in a draw on this leg of the trip.  We turned onto Visitors Center Road and went past the proverbial visitor center, where we had been just the day before.  As we turned north again, we bypassed the quaint trails in favor of the most direct route back to the RV.  I stopped and showed Racin that you could actually eat the seeds of the Smooth Sumac.  He had asked earlier what these bright red shrubs were.

We collected leftover firewood from vacant camp sites.  Consequently, we had a camp fire to grill our dinner and to make s'mores for dessert.  Racin had brought his 12-string guitar along, and I had my charango.  We had some great jam sessions in the evenings.  We went through just about every song I can play.  That was a lot of fun.

After we returned, I used a pressure washer to get the mud off our bikes.  It was ugly, as the mud had dried on by then.  Our shoes got a similar treatment.

Stacey and I went to the Autumn Folk Life Festival in Hannibal. We took the dogs.  It was good socialization for them, except everyone wanted to stop and talk about Big Guy.  We went to the new dog park afterwards.  By then they were tired, and another dog was a big distraction, but I did get him to jump over the bar a few times.  He had also cut his toe and we had visited the vet earlier.  Shortly after that, he developed a huge lump on the side of his face.  I'm still unsure whether it was a lymph node or salivary gland.  In any case, another visit to the vet, and lots of pills, and it has begun to shrink.

I've been photographing the last of the insects for the year.  A seeping tree in the back yard was a big help. We collected aquatic invertebrates from the pond at north campus, which allowed me to photograph some strange things, including a big leech and a water scorpion.  On our visit to Fall Creek we discovered a patch of jewel weed (AKA touch-me-nots), and were diverted from insect collecting by picking the pods and making them explode.  Short videos are included in the slide show below, but I think you'll have to click through to see them.

I took the last kayaking trip of the year (I assume), paddling around the Mississippi below the dam here.  I didn't catch any fish, but there were some good bird migrations going on.

Monday, October 6, 2014

October 2014

My entomology class has been in full swing.  We've visited a number of different places and collected a diversity of species.  We did some blacklighting one night, and coupled our field trip to Lowell's with a bonfire, hotdogs and fishing.  We've also been to Lock and Dam 21, Quinsippi Island, and Fall Creek.  I usually take my macro lens.  At Fall Creek, we found ourselves in the midst of a big patch of Jewel weed.  I mentioned that they were also called Touch-Me-Nots because of their exploding seed pods.  As there were plenty of mature seed pods, we put it to the test.  This effort proved to be a major distraction for a long time.  Here's a video I took with my phone.
From September 2014

When we bought the property on Jamison last year, where Savannah now lives, we inherited a 55-gallon drum of "herbicide".  Going back three owners, that's all we could learn, and no one wanted to claim it.  Fortunately, our Missouri Department of Natural Resources had a pesticide collection last week.  I had a couple of friends (Thanks, Aaron and Barry!) help me load it in the back of my truck.  Stacey and I drove it all the way to Shelbina -- an hour one way.  It was a fun ride for the dogs anyway.  The DNR accepted the barrel.  Though I still don't know what was in it, I'm very glad to be shed of it.  It's like a weight off my shoulders.  It will be incinerated.

I returned to my office one day to have a student hand me a note.  He'd been working the front desk and took a call from a lady in distress who had exhausted all other possibilities to solving her problem, mostly pest control companies. She had suspicious holes in her yard, with little mounds of dirt. I wasn't really interested, as these things tend to be wild goose chases.  I delayed checking my voice mail, but eventually the phone rang.  I would have sworn this was a man on the phone from the voice. After a little Q&A, I determined she did not likely have wasps.  I had some ideas, and by now my curiosity was up, so I drove my motorcycle across Quincy to do an inspection of the premises.  She was, in fact, female, but with the lifelong smoker's voice.  Her back yard was riddled with burrows.  Each consisted of a little mound of earth, which, when upturned, revealed a burrow beneath of perhaps 5 mm in diameter.  I dug up about three of them, which revealed no occupants.  After noting that the dirt mounds consisted of hardened mud pellets, I could only conclude that her yard was full of earthworms.  She said they multiplied nightly.  I said, "Yes, because they're not pooping in the same place twice."  There was no need to spray her yard with insecticide.  Earthworms are actually a good thing to have.

Recently we learned that Canton is scheduled to host the final day of a bike ride across Missouri next summer, the Big BAM (  I was recently appointed to Canton's Tourism Commission and I'm apparently the most experienced cyclist, so I was chosen to lead the charge in making the arrangements to host something over 1000 people.  It's going to be a lot of work, but we are already getting a handle on it.

With repeated trips to Lowell's, I've done a bit of work on the proposed home site.  I sprayed and killed a lot of poison ivy.  Last time I cut down some trees so that the electrical line can be restored.  There is still much to do, but we are waiting on the surveyor to call so that we can make some real progress.  I thought I would reveal now that we are planning to build a nontraditional house.  We have experienced a tornado in the past.  We have both been firefighters and seen plenty of houses burn down.  As an entomologist, I've seen homes destroyed by termites.  Our house will be vulnerable to none of these.  It will be a monolithic dome, constructed primarily of steel-reinforced concrete.  Also, it will be very energy efficient.  We are not certain exactly what it will look like when finished, and we are still arguing about the floor plan, but we have plenty of time to make those decisions.  To learn more about monolithic domes, visit

Saturday, August 30, 2014

September 2014: new semester, new year

It's been awhile since my last blog. It's hard to remember the events of what is now last summer.  Savannah and I were going to kayak the Wyaconda River one day.  I had watched the forecast very closely, and it stated there would be no rain until late in the day.  We hadn't been on the river long before it began to sprinkle.  Right about when we got to the Highway 61 bridge, there was a spectacular lightning strike directly in front of us.  We pulled the kayaks out under the bridge and called for help.  Fortunately, our friend Rhonda was able to come and get us.  She even knew the landowner, and we were able to drive out easily.

One Sunday I took some boy scouts (and Joe, Rhonda's husband) out to Deer Ridge Conservation Area.  I taught them a little compass navigation while we rode mountain bikes around on the gravel roads.  It was a good ride.  The place was thick with butterflies, especially Red-spotted Purples.  We got into some mud while looking for an old graveyard, and enjoyed a low-water crossing.

I've gotten some decent insect photography lately, as the bloom of butterflies and other species has continued.  Great Golden Digger Wasps have been nectaring at a shrub at North Campus, which sas provided me with some opportunities to shoot this normally difficult species.  I still think it's one of the most beautiful wasps.  Entomology class has begun, which also provides lots of insect photo opps.

Just before classes began, my brother Mike and his son Racin drove out from California.  It wasn't just a visit, as Racin was enrolling as a freshman at QU.  His mother Cindy joined us by flying out.  We had some work to do getting Racin moved in and settled, but we had some time to goof off as well. They attended the Canton Camera Club meeting, where I gave a brief presentation on Shannon County.  We visited Hannibal, and had dinner at Angelini's in Keokuk.  Mike and I worked on my old Honda 70s.  We put a new carburetor on one, and I think it runs better now than it has in 30 years.  We got some assembly done on another, which was significant progress. Racin and I did some jamming on guitars, which is always fun.

Before you know it, their visit was over, and we had to drop Mike and Cindy at the airport.  Then it was back to business as usual, with my classes beginning that week.  It is kind of fun that, though I no longer have Savannah dropping by my office, Racin does nearly every day.

Savannah stops by the house more than she used to, sometimes to do laundry, but sometimes for fun. She helped me bottle beer last week. We have lunch fairly often and do yard work together.

I went out to Lowell's one day with great aspirations.  Our first major task was to take down a row of 18 dead pine trees.  In theory, it should have been easy: just fell all the trees, dropping them to the north.  The branches were so dense, and reaching to the ground, that the first two would hardly fall at all.  We had to pull them out of the row with the tractor and chains.  Once we had those out, I was able to fell them like dominoes.  Except, of course, that most of them were leaning the wrong way.  The small ones I pushed over by hand (big mistake, hurt my back), the bigger ones Lowell pushed over with the tractor.  It was hot, dirty work.  The undergrowth held lots of poison ivy.  By the end I was covered in burrs, and ultimately found 4 ticks on myself.  The purpose of our clearing these dead trees was, surprisingly, not for firewood.  Old, dead pine has almost no caloric value.  Instead, we were clearing the site for...

...wait for it... dream house.  Stacey and I used to enjoy living the country life back in Illinois, and we've decided to do it again.  With nothing strongly tying us to Canton -- Savannah's out of school and we're off the fire department -- we started looking at rural homes.  When I mentioned this to Lowell, he graciously offered to sell us a few acres on the corner of his place.  Though the old homestead is still there, it is in poor condition, and we'll be building something new.  We've been planning and plotting. Cutting down these trees was the first real progress we've made. We will be getting the site surveyed soon.  Next, I'll be spraying all the poison ivy.  It will be a long and perhaps difficult journey, but will fulfill a desire I've had for quite a long time.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This is my first blog post since GoDaddy shut down all QuickBlog accounts.  I imported all of my old blogs into WordPress here:  However, I have decided to use blogger for my new blogs, as it integrates with other Google products better, and seems to be very powerful.  

After Costa Rica, it was back to work.  Though I was running a couple of online classes, most of my daylight hours were spent working on houses.  My tenants of 5 years moved out of my rental house,  Savannah's place still needed some fixes, and our home always needs something.  Nonetheless, I did get out for some photography in my yard, as well as periodic trips to Lowell's and elsewhere.  
Remi, AKA Waddles, perched majestically on the neighbor's waterfall.  

One day I drove out to a friend's place in the country, and carried my camera and telephoto lens in my lap.  Near the Wyaconda River I saw a red fox on the roadside.  Taking advantage of my car's manual transmission, I coasted up to it and got a few shots off.  I would have gotten closer, but another car spooked it away.
It has something unidentifiable in its mouth.  

Stacey and I took a nice camping trip to Mark Twain Lake.  Aside from the lack of cell service, the campground was very nice, heavily wooded.  We were present during a tremendous bloom of butterflies.  I photographed 9 species of butterflies within one hour: 
Common Wood-Nymph
Little Wood-Satyr
Spring Azure
Hackberry Emperor
Eastern Comma
Red Admiral
Great Spangled Fritillary
Mourning Cloak
Hickory Hairstreak

Some years we have a dearth of butterflies, but this year is outstanding, especially for Great Spangled Fritillary.
GSF on milkweed at Lowell's catfish pond.

The rainfall has also been welcome for our wildflowers.  The little prairie in our backyard has bloomed beautifully, with many species flowering at different times through the summer.
Purple Coneflower

Click to examine all images from June.

The only science I attempted this summer was to spend a day with Mike Irwin recording locations of periodical cicadas.  This year was the re-emergence of the same brood we had mapped in 1997.  We were both amazed by how fast the time had gone. We spent a couple of hours playing guitars too.

Stacey and I did another weekend camping trip to Wakonda State Park.  We have now identified the ideal site in the Boulder Lake campground - #1.  It is isolated from all other sites by woods, and out of site of the playground.  The dogs bark a lot less.  I took my new mountain bike (a 29er) for it's first real off-road ride.  I video recorded the ride, and came across a feeding deer that didn't notice me for a few minutes.  I also tried having both dogs tow me on the skateboard.  Surprisingly, I wasn't injured or killed.  I only had to jump off once when Gretchen crossed too close in front.  Her contribution to towing is significant!  

I always take my camera when fishing at Lowell's, as there is almost always something interesting to see.  On the first of July, it was this large bird.
Great Horned Owl

More recently, Stacey and I took a longer trip to Shannon County, MO, well known as one of the most beautiful regions in the state.  In the heart of the Ozarks, home of the Current (very popular for float trips) and the Jacks Fork Rivers, it holds many interesting sites.  We camped at the Jacks Fork Canoe Rental and Campground, which had excellent location, but run-down facilities.  You can't be choosy on 4th of July weekend on short notice.  It was well positioned, such that I was able to take to kayak trips on the Jack's Fork without much difficulty.  It is a lovely stream with gin clear water.  You can see the fish on the bottom.  I didn't catch any fish, in spite of my best efforts, but I did get to round up about 19 Coors Light cans that came bobbing down the stream.  I took a bike ride that turned out to be quite eventful, but, sadly, not recorded.  The first 3 miles had brutal uphills, and scary downhills on gravel.  I was holding onto my phone while trying to make sure I was on the right road and took a spill at the bottom of one.  It had just rained, creating lots of low water crossings, which I find fun.  The route took me along the Jacks Fork for a bit, along bluffs with little caves where I came across a flock of turkeys in the road.  After Alley Spring, I took the paved road back, but the hills were still killers.  I've been chased by a lot of dogs in my biking career, but never by a pack of six.  I don't know that I've ever been more certain that I was going to be bitten.  I thought I could outrun them, but there wasn't enough left in my legs for that.  I yelled at them and lifted my legs away from their snarling mouths.  Fortunately, they gave up before long.  We enjoyed a massive emergence of alate ants in the campground.  These are new queens and males with wings.  I got some good video and stills, as well as collecting voucher specimens.  I'm sure the other campers were not as amused as I was.  We had a storm one night. We were glad to be snug in our RV, as I'm sure the tent campers were suffering.  We woke up with an Easy-up in our yard.  We took a number of short drives to see the sites, such as Round Spring, Alley Spring and, my favorite, Blue Spring.

It's really that blue.

Alley Spring Mill
Alley Spring, HDR

Diving from the bridge is illegal...
Pipevine swallowtail at Blue Spring.
Upon our return, I was displeased to find that a tree had fallen on my fence.  Again.  For those keeping score, that was the third time.  It was the exact same place as the last one. In addition, one of our Black locust trees had fallen in the yard.  I spent a day chainsawing and clearing brush instead of what I had planned to do.  Shortly thereafter, we had a new roof put on the house.  Though the previous layer of shingles was only 10 years old, they were badly worn and we were getting leaks in the house.  We got red steel this time.  I think the house looks like a barn.  We had it installed by an Amish guy named Harley.  
One day I was mowing down at Chateau Jamison (Savannah's house) and moved a piece of black plastic and saw something move.  At first I thought it was a toad going down its burrow, but a closer look showed that it was a salamander.  I haven't seen one in Lewis County for years.  Incredibly, we found two more under a board.  She has an infestation.  They are tiger salamanders, which are common, but still quite interesting.
Ambystoma tigrinum

For my birthday we went to the Lewis County Fair.  I got a sweet Lemon shake-up and a jalapeno corn dog from Jamie's stand.  We stopped at the petting zoo, run by our veterinarians.  Savannah and Hannah showed up,  They even sat through the demolition derby with us.  The second heat was pretty good.  We stayed for a little of the live band (Mad Hoss Jackson) before heading home.  Savannah stayed later, and got her car stuck in the mud.  Fortunately, a guy with a skid-steer pushed her out the next day.

Click to see July photos.

One day I got a call from a friend who had an overproducing apricot tree. I was free and Savannah wanted to come along so we went over and picked several gallons.  We dehydrated some and made the rest into wine.  Well, it will be wine in a few months anyway.  

If I'm home in the morning and reading or something upstairs, Big Guy likes to go outside about every 10 minutes.  This is how he lets me know.

From July 2014