Monday, May 24, 2010

Beauty in Nature

NR-4x startles some deer
While the above photo is NOT from my work, it was photographed by me and exemplifies what I am privelidged to witness while toiling at work.

This post was inspired by "The Other Side of Hunting" on Thoughts from a Yodeling Goatherder.

I'm employed as a railroad brakeman in a stone quarry. Not exactly a place which instills visions of owls, turtles, deer, frogs, or ravens is it? At first I didn't think so either. When I began employment I was warned about the black snakes and copperheads and I've seen and shared the same space with them subsequent times, all thankfully with positive outcomes (I think the copperhead was more frightened than I was that day)!

Deer frequent our facility, as we border water company property there's lots of land for them to roam, and most of last year I was able to spot a doe and some others either lazily sunning themselves in the grass which borders the quarry, or hopping the berm to get away from the obtrusive pick-up truck and noisy train. Some of them are brazen though. My first encounter was just a shadow of a frightened deer which ran along the travelway next to our train between two front end loaders (one backing up and the other approaching) which were busy loading the empty rail cars.

One morning while cutting new flangeways in the mud between the rails, a turtle happened to try crossing our tracks. The locomotive couldn't stop in time, but the space between the ties was large enough for the turtle to duck and avoid becoming soup. The loco backed up and the engineer and I scooped the critter up and drove it across the street to the swamp where we let it go. (There's a photo in my collection of the turtle in the back of the pick-up. I'll have to go digging for it).

I almost forgot to mention the geese which graze on the quarry's front lawn for passers-by to see, and the swans that live in the swamp across the street.

One day at lunchtime, during a Winter shut-down for repair, we men were summoned up into the mill. An owl had made its nest near the top of one of the spires in the complex, and seemed to tolerate all of us gawking hardhatted workers. The day before start up a wildlife specialist was brought in to relocate the owl so our noisy production wouldn't disturb it or the family, but each Winter for three years the owl returned to that spot. It even made the company magazine one year.

There was the Summer the track department was installing a spur and one of the crew discovered what appears to be a tomato horn worm. It looked like a green caterpillar but with a spike on its rear, and it stabbed at anything it felt provoked by!!

Then there's the spiders and deadly flying insects. I haven't been fond of spiders since being bitten in my youth by a hairy brown arachnid (I had a lump on my neck from the bite for over ten years). So when I see the eight legged beasties scurrying about, I usually scurry the opposite way, especially if they're larger than my big toe.

Speaking of Jurassic sized bugs: how about dragon flies and gypsy moths with six inch wingspans? Yeah, we got 'em.

Anyways, 90% of these encounters generally bring a smile to my face, as I'm witnessing nature in the wild, all by myself. Nobody else experienced it, just me, and that tiny connection is a special thing (like the chipmunk my father would feed every morning by tossing a piece of hard roll from his front end loader while he parked for coffee break).

Of course, work isn't the only place I can find the beauty of nature in the raw. One afternoon while in college, I photographed a squirrel eating a brownie.
Squirrel eating Brownie SU

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Those Old Classics

I'm of an age to have grown up on 33 1/3 rpm records. I fondly recall being a little boy rocking in my Mother's oversized rocking chair enjoying The Beatles, Barry Manilow, the Grease motion picture soundtrack, the Bee Gees, Bread and letting my imagination wander. Their lyrics painted locales and situations which formed in my mind and I could watch the story play out to its conclusion three to four minutes later.

Within a few years I received a record player of my own and my own records to play on it. Saturday nights after dinner were spent listening to the radio and the music of my parents's generation. I grew up on the rock and roll and country tunes of the 1950s, sixties and seventies.

One of my favorite albums was K-Tel's Kookie Klassics featuring Ray Stevens "Ahab The Arab", The Royal Guardsmen "Snoopy vs The Red Varon", Blanchard & Morgan "Tennessee Bird Walk", "Little" Jimmy Dickens "May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose", and many others.

Well, with the digital age many of these songs have seemed to have been forgotten about. The other day, my father handed me a two cd set of classic humourous country songs and spoofs and all of a sudden, my childhood came back for two minutes at a time. Honestly, nothing beats a good comedy song. That's why "Weird Al" Yankovic does so well.

In fact, I have to give a shout out to "Weird Al". Don't just listen to the lyrics (which are quite ingenious really) but listen attentively to the musical arrangements too. Sure, his earliest works are rather simple, but his stuff since is quite extraordinary (listen to "Pancreas" or "Hardware Store" for instance) and I'm not just espousing raves because the liner notes included with the 2disc "Essential "'Weird Al'" hope to encourage the reader to petition for "Weird Al"'s nomination and hopefully induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But really, he does deserve it.

Anyways, I digress a bit. Karaoke the other night was refreshing also as one of the singers belted out Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time".

Well, there you have it I guess. In this day of lack-luster television (which I've felt for a few years now) I've really only missed having watchable t.v just a couple of times -- and only when I haven't been able to listen to tunes or write.

Hopefully, I'm not regressing in the face of current life stressors...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Comics Convention in My Own Backyard

Well, not literally, but less than a mile up the main drag from my childhood home, still dwelled in by my parents. Naturally, this is right up a comics fan's alley. Of course I attended.

Show Banner
There was much in store for the first 125 people to buy premium level tickets (proceeds went for the Tommy Fund) and there were many exclusives done just for the show. There was a nice mix of comics dealers, toy and figure dealers, re-enactors, and artists.
The show organizers did a good job of getting people to come. In fact, 30 minutes before show open someone told him there were a lot of people in line. He came outside to see for himself because he didn't believe it. The line at that point was wrapped around the building's corner.
Stormtrooper Crowd Control
Stormtroopers ensured no one would be cutting the line, or blocking vehicle access. The 501st Conn Squad and Rebel Legion-Kamino Base groups were absolutely fantastic all day and roamed the convention. There was even a working R2-D2!
"You're Our Only Hope"
It towed the builder's children and even played "Born to be Wild" while leaving the show at the end of the day. That R2 is a cool droid.

There were many comics artists on hand as well, including a couple names I recognized and I sat in on the artists discussion panel (no spoilers, this was more of an informative discussion about Charlton Comics of Derby, CT, and how many of its employees migrated to D.C. in addition to honoring the late Dick Giordano).

But the real reason I was compelled to go (besides comic back issues -- which I didn't even peruse...) was the costumes. You've seen how well the Star Wars groups looked, here's some of the attendees:
Green Lantern & Clark Kent
Girls of Super and Invisibliity
Invisible Girl's costume was so well done, she and Supergirl kept disappearing throughout the day!
Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman took home first prize for her costume.

Organizers are promising 2011 will be twice the size. I'm looking forward to it already.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Godspeed Friend


"I can't STAND dogs! I don't want him," I insisted in August 1993, especially when the mixed mutt of some terrier descent kept yapping all afternoon. But it was cute to watch him struggle with a stuffed plush toy half again as big as he while he dragged it around the kitchen.

I acquiesced though as I was headed back to college and my Mom was determined the little guy would stay regardless of my feelings. Over time of course I came to love him. How could I not? I mean, look at him.

Growing up I was traumatized by ill behaved dogs who either intimidated me through loud scary barking and growling, or by jumping on me and knocking me around. Winston, though, helped me understand how to behave around dogs and to no longer be afraid of them.

His mellow (and sometimes mischievous) personality made the acceptance super smooth.

The canine contingency had to say goodbye to their best ambassador today. The Honor Guard Dogs all lined up for their 21-bark salute in their coats of arms as the old fellow was taken on his final walk to eternity.

Winnie lived the best 17 years any dog could ever hope for, and even though I don't feel I was ever super close to him, his loss is saddening. In some unexplainable way, this song seems appropriate:

Godspeed, Winston, I'll miss ya, bud.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I, Wood.

Cue the musical fanfare horn section, toss out the throw rug (admittedly this piece doesn't deserve the red carpet in some people's opinion) I hereby solemnly introduce -- re-introduce actually as it's been published on my former blog: the college poem which made my classmates groan!!! That's right! It's the one which rhymes EVERY line.

I, Wood.

My name is Woodrow.
I live in Buffalo.
Near Ohio,
Not Colorado.

I just ate an Oreo.
I found it on the window.
How long it's been there? I don't know.
Momma, in cleaning, has always been slow.

My Mom's name is Flo.
She watches her t.v. show:
"Search for Tomorrow"
I prefer "G.I. Joe"

I broke my toe.
I was playing with Daddy's hoe.
Eenie Meenie Mineey Moe
It fell on me when Billy let go.

I'd like to go to Tupelo,
but on board a boat I'd have to Stowe.
It'd have a motor, I hate to row.
I have no money, I'd need to owe.

My sister is the one who sews.
Except for seeds my uncle sows.
They ask me to work but I tell them no,
I'm headed out to catch a doe.

"Earn some dough!"
Yells Auntie Zoe
While doing so,
Cooks Chicken Gumbo

I used a bow
and arrow
to kill Yoko
Oh, no!

(revised May 13, 2010)

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Power of Words

If a picture is worth a thousand words, and the pen is mightier than the sword, doesn't it stand to reason that words can invoke infinite imagery?

The time has come for another dredging of my first blog, as I've been inspired again through words and I again reminisced about my college days. The following originally appeared on December 3, 2005:


There are many talented and thoughtful people in the world who share their talent with the rest of us who share not as broadly. Poets, sculptors, musicians, novelists, orators, talkshow hosts, comedians, blog writers...

I'll stick with writers for now for this entry. I was inspired tonight by a compact disc I've had for about ten years and never listened to until tonight called The United States of Poetry. Ladies and gentlemen there is such a diverse group on this earth. I grew up being told that's what makes us great. But I'm digressing. The real point I want to make is it reminded me of Poetry 101 at Susquehanna University, once nestled in the borough of Selinsgrove,PA but now has grown quite a bit since I graduated in 1996.

In this class were about 12-15 eager poets with ideas and convictions and a voice in their fingers which sometimes blew me away. After all, here were the next bards of rhyme with a sharp wit and biting sarcasm. Benders of irony (what an image, as when a blacksmith forges iron so do writers with words). Many of my contemporaries I admired for their words and mental images such words brought forth.

Then there was me, odd man out, the pop sell out poet who rhymed EVERY line in a poem making my classmates groan in painful disgust as if my ignorant childish creation had ripped out their hearts and left them beatless and torn jaggedly on the tabletop like forgotten thawing chicken breasts oozing goo. yeah.

This is what my blog was gonna be all about, thoughts and phrases and twists thereof. Profound thoughts for a moment's ponder, because they're not meant to be slept on really, more like a passing hmm. But feel free to let it grasp you. Should something really grab you, then continue to think about it. Let it brighten or sadden your day however you feel because once its out here its everybody's and you can keep your own little part of it as it applies to you. Like a song. (sharp turn of thought) Music is a mystical, wonderful entity and many feel this way. We each are touched in our own way by a song or note or lyric and we connect to it. Music isn't just passive, its dynamic, entrancing. Songwriters are poets and imagists too. Again I'm digressing.

Ultimately, this compact disc drew me in tonight with its words and support music, leading my brain from review to reminisce. And the irony is my ten year college graduation anniversary comes around in June 2006 and I wonder some days what happened to my classmates. Are my future world changers in power now? writing and invoking and provoking? or did they turn out to have traditional work overcome them and suffer among the bourgeoisie?


Since the above first appeared the Facebook phenomenon and my 10 year college reunion have both occurred. It turns out one of the above poets is a father and seemingly lives a normal life best I can gather.

As for the four year old 10 year reunion? There were so many classmates jammed into the private room at the venue I couldn't hear anyone and was entirely overwhelmed, winding up out on the sidewalk tables with six others who aren't mentioned above, but who are still awesome if not world changers.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Number 3's Revenge

It's well established I like trains.

It's not so well established I'm a professional railroader. Yes, I get to work on life sized real trains, as a brakeman in a stone quarry.

When I was promoted to this position in 1999, there were two pretty tired small locomotives, number 3 and number 5. Throughout that year we were swapping between the two because each would suffer some kind of crippling ailment.

In August 1999 our facility received an acquired used slightly larger small locomotive and number 3, being the more ailed of our two went into storage in 2002 (yes it took three years to be sure we wouldn't need her anymore).

Number 3 languished out back for another six years, becoming quite the habitat for insects and rodents (and a bird's nest for a little while until a predator discovered it).

Fast forward to 2008. Old Number 3 is finally getting attention again, albeit the wrong kind if you're a locomotive with operating aspirations.

That's right, Number 3 was getting dismantled. The parts in good order which were becoming hard to find on the market would be saved and the rest sold to a new home or scrap.

But priorities shifted, and like that purply-bruised and swollen prize fighter in the eighth round, near the end of his stamina, Number 3 got a stay of execution so to speak. Dismantling work was stopped.

Skip 2009 to today. Near the end of the shift, some parts were wanted for a project and so myself and two others crowded the dilapidated cab and wrestled the pieces loose. In addition the remaining headlight shroud and glass were needed -- but wouldn't budge (the whole reason they were left on two years ago actually). Today the bracket met a hacksaw, but upon finishing an asphyxiating cough overcame me as I clung to the front railings of Number 3.

Perhaps we'd stirred up microscopic dust particles, or maybe particulate matter of a more serious nature. Whatever the cause, Number 3 got in a lick of her own before the bell rang marking the end of this next round, exacting if for just a moment a bit of her own revenge.