Monday, July 21, 2008

Night Hawks

Unpleasant didn’t describe the day. Hellacious is a better descriptor with the dictionary’s connotation of “extremely difficult” rather than “remarkably good”.

Under failing light about 7:30 PM I decided to climb to the top of Frances Crater at a pace that would stress my heart but consume stress of spirit. A rain earlier in the day had cleared out the monsoon clouds but they had returned and the landscape was muted by a gray that replaced the layer of dust cleansed by the rain. The climb is continuous and about a mile long. At first the rise seems almost level but it quickly becomes steeper until it reaches nature’s limit on a fluid cinder cone.

To the west the sun colored the underside of a few of the lowest clouds with yellows, reds and oranges. The clouds shaded by the mountain were gray and grayer. Over the eastern desert silent lightning played in the clouds. A weak breeze pulled excess heat from my bare arms.

It was getting to the time that snakes would begin their nightly hunts and I chose a path around the thickest bunch grasses and listened for any warning buzzes. Though it was difficult to see I watched the ground for pottery shards uncovered by the monsoons, for small flowers growing close to the ground and for unusual flora. Vaguely I recognized young Winterfat plants that always seem soothing in some unconscious way.

I heard the cries of the Night Hawks before I saw them. Stopping, I looked up and occasionally could see a dark profile moving quickly. It was too dark to see the white bars on their wings but the profile and erratic flight were unmistakable.

On Friday morning as we ate an early breakfast outside a flock of Night Hawks flew over. I counted 13 and for several minutes we watched them work the sky to the north like tired bats feeding. On this night they were feeding lower and I was in the middle of their flock. Several times I caught sight of one as it began a dive toward an insect and heard the distinctive sound of its wings as it neared the bottom of the dive.

More than once a hawk flew low in a half circle around me. I doubt I was of as much interest to them as they were to me. Most likely I was scaring up insects that drew them so close to me.

I got to the steepest part of the climb and decided to turn toward home. Intentionally I had not brought a headlamp; I wanted the natural mysterious solitude of the dark. I couldn’t see the house but picked a distant cinder cone on the horizon as a navigation point and began stumbling toward home. Twice I dropped into the bottom of washes that led generally north but meandered somewhat west or east. Somewhere south coyotes began calling and added a melody to the Night Hawks and the breeze in the trees.

Near the bottom of Frances Crater the Junipers are sparse, small and only about six feet tall. Nearer the house they become thicker and taller. In the dark and the trees the only navigation aids were the slope of the land and the washes that I crossed. I selected a wash uncertain if it was the wash that would lead to the back of the house or the wash that passed the house to the west. Twice I stumbled over lava boulders and know I must be in the western wash. I tried unsuccessfully to pick out the wind generator against the dark horizon.

Things began looking more unusual when I looked over my right shoulder and saw a light. I had passed the house in the dark.

It was a good walk, a pleasant end to an unpleasant day. Tomorrow night I’ll get headlamps ready and invite Julie to walk to the open area south of the house. We’ll listen to the sounds of the night, watch the Night Hawks and let the stresses of life be carried off with the breeze.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Renewal Time

An American Civil Liberties renewal notice came in the mail today. I've made two decisions. First, I will renew and second, I'll increase my contribution for the next year.

Before joining two years ago I read the history of the ACLU. In the last two years I've received weekly emails and periodical state and national newsletters. I impressed by what the ACLU has done and is attempting to do.

A few of the emails have asked for additional contributions. I'm not offended by that. All of the emails have sought to inform and motivate me. "Write your representative. . .". "Let your senator know what you . . ." One email included the phone number of the governor of Arizona and asked that I phone her to encourage her to sign the legislation exempting Arizona from the national ID program. I phoned, left a message and she signed the legislation. She didn't sign because I phoned but she signed because many of us expressed our opinions.

Often the ACLU literature gives me a perspective that I hadn't considered. On complex issues they provide data and material that enable me to peer into the experiences of people like me who are challenged by threats of which I've been ignorant.

I feel good about the American Civil Liberties Union. If you're not a member, I encourage you to consider joining.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Amateur Archaeology

The pick struck something hard. I was digging near an area with a layer of caliche and assumed that was what I had struck. Caliche is hardened soil in which the soil particles are cemented together by calcium carbonate. It's like a layer of cement a few inches thick. I took another blow with more force, broke through and a piece of sandstone came out of the ground with the pick.

I stopped digging immediately.

I live in a volcanic area and the closest sandstone is a few miles away. I had discovered something unusual that must to have been carried to this location by a person. It was over a foot deep beneath some small roots from a Juniper growing several feet away so it had been placed here many years ago.

Uncovering the stone.
Uncovering the stone. (Larger version)

I brushed the soil away and began uncovering the edges of the stone and searching for other stones. In the end I found one piece that was oval and about 20 inches in length.

In seminary I had a professor who excavated a site in the Biblical city of Ai. He explained that he paid workers to scrub pottery shards to clean them. Another archaeologist on another dig paid workers to dip pottery shards repeatedly in buckets of water to clean them. The professor laughed when he said "My friend found writing on his shards. I never found writing. The workers had scrubbed it away."

With that small education in archeology I pieced he broken stone together and examined it. No decorations or painting. No soot from a fire. The edges were not the result of natures work but had been shaped by some person.

What have I found?

One person thought it might have been used to cook bread but there are no signs of it having been in an oven.

A second person was confident it was a stone used as a shrine.

I asked a co-worker who is Hopi and she quickly nixed these explanations. She thought it looked like similar to a piki stone but commented that it hadn't been seasoned so that didn't explain it.

The stone in 3 pieces.
The stone in 3 pieces. (Larger version)

What is a piki stone? I asked and she explained that it is a stone used to make piki bread which is a traditional Hopi bread. Piki is made using blue corn meal, water and Juniper ashes. According to Wikipedia the batter is "smeared by hand over a large flat baking stone that has been heated over a fire and coated with oil made from pounded squash, watermelon, or sunflower seeds." (

If this is a piki stone it wasn't used because it shows no signs of being coated with oil and used in a fire.

I don't know what I've found but I going to continue searching for an explanation.

The reassembled stone.
The reassembled stone. (Larger version)

My co-worker said she would make some Piki bread and bring it to work. I'm looking forward to trying the bread!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Highway Robbery?

I own a car only because it's a necessity. Julie and I own one car that is 9 years old and has over 209,000 miles of use. We bought it used and are attempting to make it last as long as possible.

The check engine light came on so I took it to a garage. It cost $80 to read the "computer" and more to install a new gas filter. I was told that was the most likely cause. Two days later the light came back on. After talking with the mechanics I decided not to spend another $100-plus on the next "most likely cause." Also, I was told something about another issue that I knew to be untrue. I decided not to use the garage in the future and began doing my own routine maintenance work.

Oxygen Sensor.
Oxygen Sensor. (Larger version)

I took the car to another garage. They charged $75 to read the trouble codes and told me four oxygen sensors and both catalytic converters were bad. Total estimated cost for repairs: $1,500. Things didn't ring true and solid to me. I asked the cost of replacing only the four oxygen sensors and was given an estimate of $750.

I said "No, thanks". After some research I bought an OBD-II reader. When I read the diagnostic codes I found the left front oxygen sensor was bad and that the engine has only three sensors. Also, I found the sensors on the web for $34 each and located them in town for about $53. The math worked out this way: assume 4 sensors at $60 each for a total of $240. Subtract $240 from the $750 estimate and the labor would have come to $510. The time required to replace four sensors is about one hour. $510 per hour?

I decided to test removing the one defective sensor before purchasing a new one. After breaking it loose with a wrench I tightened it back and moved to the electric connector to see what would be involved in reaching into the tight area to disconnect it. That's when I noticed a wire was severed on the sensor.

Severed Wire.
Severed Wire. (Larger version)

I removed the sensor, soldered the wire, reinstalled it, and cleared the trouble code from the computer. I've read the diagnostics repeatedly in the last week and the sensor is working.

OK, I saved $1,500 less the cost of the OBD-II reader but here's my frustration. Given the sensor's location it seems the severed wire wasn't accidental. It wasn't due to abrasion nor a mouse nor some road debris striking it. It appears the wire had been cut deliberately.

On the bright side, I've had to do some reading, research and learning to diagnose and isolate the correct sensor and understand how the emission system works. I quit keeping up with automotive technology about the time Ralph Nader wrote "Unsafe At Any Speed". This has been a good learning experience.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Vacation Fun

Our trip to Kentucky wasn't all work.

On the evening of the day we arrived my daughter's youngest son, Dalton, played the last game of his Little League career. He pitched most of the game. Dustin, my daughter's oldest son, is a pitcher in a Babe Ruth league.

Dalton pitching in a Little League game.
Dalton pitching in a Little League game. (Larger version)

I enjoyed the time we spent with my grandsons though I had less opportunity with my son's three boys -- Aaron, Brett and Chris. We planned a trip to an amusement park that was enjoyable. We rode a water ride repeatedly that got everyone wet. I used to enjoy roller coasters and agreed to ride without hesitation. I discovered having my brain shaken and jarred isn't as much fun as I remembered.

Before our trip Julie made reservations at Historic Rugby which is in Tennessee. We planned a two day break to give us some quiet time together. Our stay in Ruby was wonderful. I will write more about Rugby and include photos.

Enjoying the porch of Newbury House at Rugby. (Larger version)

Our drive to Rugby gave us the opportunity to stop by an old mill that was built and operated by Alvin York who was a World War I hero. He never capitalized on his fame but finally agreed to a movie of his heroism in the 1940s in support of the war effort. He was played by Gary Cooper.
Our drive to Rugby gave us the opportunity to stop by an old mill that was built and operated by Alvin York who was a World War I hero. He never capitalized on his fame but finally agreed to a movie of his heroism in the 1940s in support of the war effort. In the movie he was portrayed by Gary Cooper. (Larger version)

Julie cools off in the river below Burnt Mill Bridge after a hot and humid hike in Honey Creek Pocket Wilderness near Rugby.
Julie cools off in the river below Burnt Mill Bridge after a hot and humid hike in Honey Creek Pocket Wilderness near Rugby. (Larger version)

One unexpected pleasure involved supper with my first wife, Lorraine, and her significant other. I needed a pickup truck while working on my daughter's house. Gerald and Lorraine brought his truck and helped move some items. Later they invited us to have supper with them at Green River Lake where they are spending the summer. We had a good time that included playing Corn Toss using boxes that Gerald made. After supper we swam in the lake and made ice cream. Probably the best part of the evening for me was watching my grandsons enjoy life. Out of the blue Dustin started calling me Pops.

On our last evening we drove to Louisville and met Melody of Trap Door. We sat in a restaurant and talked for what I assumed was an hour. As we walked back to our car I discovered it had been two and one half hours. Melody and her husband were extremely pleasant. I look forward to meeting them again.

On our last morning we explored the riverfront in Louisville. We had never ridden a tandem bicycle together so we rented one and rode a few miles along the river past kids playing, men fishing, an old lift bridge rusting and paddle wheel boats awaiting passengers.

It was a relaxing end to a good trip.