Dicromantispa interrupta

Dicromantispa interrupta

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Blue's Creek Valley Karst

Brack and I did a 13-mile (7 biking, 6 hiking) bike-n-hike today at my favorite Florida state park, San Felasco Hammock. I have many missions to accomplish at San Felasco, but today’s was a new one I had not thought up before. There are two caves out there called Pine Arch Cave and Little Pine Arch Cave, and the Florida Cave Survey states that Pine Arch has a couple of tens of feet of small passage leading to a blowing hole beside a major chert boulder. I had heard of Pine Arch before, but had not heard of the blowing hole, so armed with lat/long from the FCS database, we set off to find it and evaluate the boulder.

Brack and I had walked very close to the coordinates last December without knowing of its existence. We were not all that sure we would have missed it anyway because we look for such karst features whenever we are out in the woods, but we were willing to give it a go. We left my truck at the park’s north entrance and biked about 3.5 miles along single-track trails, stashed the bikes in a clump of native giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea) and walked from there. We found that we had indeed walked right where the caves are supposed to be last December, but this time we saw no caves or even sinkholes where the caves could be hiding below. Oh, there were three sinks in the vicinity, but they were quite well plugged. Possibly, the original lat/longs for the caves were collected via a different datum and then not converted to the datum the FCS uses?

Ok fine, it was time for a backup mission, and I had one at the ready. I have several times been to the swallets that consume all the normal flow from Blue’s Creek, but always reached them from the south following the creek. I have wanted to come in from the north because there is a karst feature I have been trying to re-find for the last several years, so taking the north route today became Plan B. I non-imaginatively call the feature Limestone Pavement Marsh after its tall sedge vegetation and exposed white limestone ground surface. The rock “pavement” may actually be huge, flat boulders appx 15ft x 25ft x 2ft in size, lying not quite flat on the ground, but in any case, they may cover yet another swallet or two. I stumbled upon this marsh a couple of times over the decades, but always without a GPS, which is why I have been unable to re-find them. I can tell you that aerial photos and USGS Topo Quads are truly worthless in this place. Uplands and wetlands are both dominated by hardwoods that appear identical on aerial photos, and the USGS Topos are wretchedly wrong. Perhaps today would be the day we re-found the lost karst?

We set off following the toe of slope at the edge of Sanchez Prairie, rounding a peninsula separating the prairie from Blue’s Creek Valley and headed south. We did not have to travel far before the valley changed from low hammock forest to (dry) cypress swamp, and after progressing only a few hundred feet more along the west edge of the cypress, we hit pay dirt – huge limestone boulders.

Was this it? Was this part of a wetland that would segue into the sedge marsh and pavement limestone of my memory? I felt certain it would be, so I took my time admiring each 10 – 20ft boulder, photographing many of them, but they finally ended at a plugged sinkhole.

Beyond this was a small sedge and smartweed marsh that did NOT have pavement rock. But no, I was not disappointed. Promisingly, there was more cypress ahead that could yet contain the mission marsh, and I was still flush from finding this spectacular karst feature that was totally unsuspected! To top it off, we also found the shed skin of a diamondback rattlesnake, whole but for the rattles.

Happy enough with these things, I rationalized that maybe it was a good thing we had not found the Limestone Pavement Marsh after all, because now I still have that worthy goal to seek. Sometimes, looking for the pot of gold is better than finding it. On a previous trip, Bruce certainly seemed to think so:

Continuing southward we arrived at the location where Blue’s Creek leaves its main valley and flows into two little karst valleys on the west. These side valleys are where the creek’s water drains into the Floridan Aquifer via several small swallets. Each of these short valleys has very steep dirt side slopes with occasional, sheer limestone walls split by fissures into which the creek disappears.

Ordinarily, the first valley’s swallets take all the water, but as the creek rises in storm events or during wet seasons, it overflows the first and then heads into the second side valley, sumping into both of them.

These two small valleys are very picturesque. All exposed rock is covered with mosses and liverworts, spotted here and there with several species of ferns. Florida’s only species of genuine tree fern, Ctenitis sloanei, maintains a couple of ambassadors at the head of the second valley. These are the northernmost individuals of this species I know of in Florida. Half-way up the second valley, 3 – 4ft boulders are imbedded in the substrate and piled atop each other and the lushness of ferns, mosses, liverworts and wildflowers that carpet them is fantastic.

Even trees try to climb the rock!

Fallen logs are abundant along this boulder section, fodder for ferns, fungi and company. Draped over the entire boulder-and-log maze are grapevines and other vines, plus various shrubs. You cannot walk through this habitat upstream of the above photo – it is too treacherous. If you put your weight on the moss carpet, it will slip off the rock like a loose rug and you’ll faw down go boom. Many of the smaller boulders teeter-totter under your weight, plus you must move gymnastically, gingerly over and under the lianas and logs. So don’t! Instead, just stand at the start of it all and marvel. It may be the most beautiful karst valley I have seen in Florida, and I’d like it to stay that way. I have been here before, but Brack had not, and he wisely refrained from blundering in.

Just north of this second valley, another seasonal stream comes into Blue’s Creek Valley from the east and heads south toward the second valley. This stream drains a hardwood swamp. At its western end is a 2ft-diameter willow. Thinking it was an enormous Coastal Plain willow (Salix caroliniana) I was sure I was looking at an unrecognized national champion tree (the largest individual of its species in the US).

I used to nominate national champs and state champs, at one time having about a dozen of them in my portfolio, and continue to keep an eye out for unusually big trees. Brack and I estimated height/ diameter/ crown spread dimensions to use in checking the books back home, knowing that if it indeed is that worthy we would have to come back with a tape measure to obtain real numbers.

It could also be a black willow (Salix nigra), which can grow to a diameter of 5ft or more, but I have never seen this species on the Florida Peninsula. There is always a first time, so I collected a twig with leaves for later identification. CP willow has whitish undersides to the leaves whereas black willow’s are green like the leaf dorsum, and this tree has green leaf undersides (= black). However, tiny glands at the tips of leaf margin teeth are red on black willow and yellow on CP willow, but this tree’s leaves have orange glands and the book says the two can intergrade. If this were mid-summer and the leaves were turgid and strong, I would be satisfied to call it a possible intergrade, but we are late in the season when leaves are dying, so the red could easily be fading to orange (or even yellow?) by now. I shall have to wait until spring to find out for sure. I plan to notify park management about it next week anyway, because regardless of whether it is a black willow or an unrecognized champion Coastal Plain willow, it is a notable tree that warrants protection.

Peddling back to the parking area, we saw the Traveling Gnome that someone moves around the park:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Florida's Amendment 4 Debate

Monday night I attended a Florida Native Plant Society meeting in Gainesville FL, my first in over a year. I feel guilty about not attending more of their meetings because I am a founding member and because they are my kind of people. In fact, I ran into Peggy Y there, my longest running friend except for family; we have been friends and in frequent company since the early 1970s.

The meetings are usually about FNPS business and socializing, but tonight’s meeting was different. The group sponsored a debate regarding Amendment 4 that will be on Florida ballots statewide in November. Amendment 4, if passed by the people, would require all Comprehensive Plan changes be approved by voters in the districts where the changes are proposed. For you who are out of state or are Floridians out of touch, the Comp Planning process is in addition to local zoning and is more comprehensive than zoning, and is designed to prevent such bad things as leapfrog development, overcrowded schools and adverse impacts to environmental resources. The list of proponents of Amendment 4 is a Who’s Who of environmental and consumer advocacy groups. The list of cons is a regurgitation of land development interests.

The debate was set up like those run by the League of Women for US Presidential debates, and was MC’d, I think, by an LoW representative. The two pro debaters were an activist named Francis ____ and Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly; the cons were Robert Brinkman and the head of the Alachua County Planning Department, Steven ____ (I apologize for not knowing everybody’s last names). All were thoroughly versed on the subject and did great jobs responding to both canned and audience-generated questions.

Yes, I asked a question: “If it is assumed that elected officials fairly represent the will of the few people who take the time to vote, it could also be fairly assumed that Amendment 4 is redundant. What am I missing?” Somehow, Rob was not given an opportunity to respond, but Steve and Francis made good responses. Mike Byerly’s answer, however, was most pointed, replying that most elected officials are from the land development community because most other citizens do not have the time or money to run for public office and often do not even have the time to attend public meetings. Thus, he said, Amendment 4 will give citizens their only opportunity to vote against bad comp plan (land use) changes. In fairness, I have observed that there are many elected officials who are not part of the land development industry, especially in rural counties, but in urbanized counties, the land development industry does indeed hold sway.

In the end, however, the cons made an equally excellent but disheartening point. The comp planning laws are about to sunset – dissolve – unless the Florida Legislature renews them. However, the comp planning laws were passed by a far different legislature than the land development industry-controlled legislature that currently mismanages Florida’s affairs. Therefore, it is highly likely that next year’s legislature will allow comp planning to evaporate, plus the debate cons claimed that passage of Amendment 4 would make that likelihood even more of a certainty. Florida will still have zoning laws, so we won’t go the way of Texas, but those of us who love Florida’s nature bounty and a high quality of life in rural areas are afraid, very afraid.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Why I Climb Trees

Back in the mid-1970s, I invented a way to climb large trees using lassos made of one-inch tubular webbing and cave rope ascending gear. The idea is to reach up as high as you can and lasso the tree trunk, cinch the webbing down tightly, then use a set of three mechanical ascenders to “inchworm” your way up the webbing to the knot of the lasso. Then reach as high as you can to wrap a second lasso around the trunk and do it all over again, then do it yet again with a third lasso. Next, remove the first lasso and use it for a fourth, still higher wrap, and continuing on use the second lasso for a fifth wrap, etcetera, until you reach the canopy and can freely “monkey” around in the treetop branches. Thus, only three lassos are needed. Upon reaching as high as you dare to go, tie a fourth piece of webbing around the trunk, clip a carabiner onto it and thread a low-stretch rope through the ‘biner. The rope’s bitter end is already tied to the base of a second tree, and the hanging end of the rope is what you use to rappel back to terra firma.

Lately, I have discovered that several other cavers have also independently invented this method of ascending trees. The “wheel” keeps being re-invented.

I won’t describe here the caver’s ascending gear and ascension techniques because that is the subject of whole books that you can immerse yourself in for a looong time. Suffice it to say that, for safety’s sake, we American cavers always have at least three mechanical ascenders on the rope at all times, even though a single ascender is quite strong enough to support a person. A great weakness of the caver’s ascending system, however, is that although we have three ascenders on the rope, we have only the one rope; thus, we have a redundancy of three with ascenders but no redundancy at all with the rope. Needless to say, we take VERY good care of our ropes – don’t even think of asking to borrow our pit ropes!

So, why do we climb trees? An oft-cited reason is to construct a “rope stand,” that is, a standing rope that cavers can use to practice their Single Rope Technique, or SRT. Getting in and out of some caves involves rappelling into and then climbing out of rather deep pits up to several hundred feet deep. Rock climbers may climb solid rock like granite, but limestone is often called “rotten rock” for good reason, so cavers go up and down ropes, not rocks. SRT is not intuitive. It requires knowledge, patience and skill that only come from practice, practice and more practice. In addition, hanging in a harness constricts blood flow and pinch nerves, which can cause serious injury and even death if not performed correctly. Thus, conditioning is required in addition to practice.

Over the years, I have constructed several dozen rope stands in trees in my back yards and those of my friends. Frankly, climbing trees via lassos is slow and can be exhausting, so a more efficient method is to use a bow and arrow to drape a monofilament line over the base of a high branch, then use the monofilament to pull an eighth-inch line over the branch, finally using the latter to pull the rope into place. Disadvantages of this technique are that the lines and rope can saw through the bark, damaging the tree and getting tree sap on the rope. Pines make the best rope stands because they have a single trunk from which numerous horizontal limbs splay outward, making the canopy of a pine essentially a three-dimensional ladder; hardwoods are vastly inferior in that respect. But pine pitch is horrid on the rope. It can do serious damage to the rope and, because it gets on you and your gear, you get all hot and icky. Ugh! Everything is a trade-off. Sometimes we use the bow and arrow and sometimes the lassos.

My house lot in NC has several tall white pines (Pinus strobus) suitable for rope stands. Since much of my time recently preparing the lot for house construction was spent in waiting on contractors to show up, I decided to invest some time setting up a rope stand. I chose a hundred-foot tall pine about 75 ft downhill from the house pad and set to work using the webbing lassos. After a half-day of exertion and pinched arteries and nerves, I had climbed only about 30 ft up the tree. Part of the reason I was unable to ascend higher was because I was sawing dead limbs away from the trunk as I went, but using the webbing involved a lot of knot tying and re-tying, plus cinching myself closer to the tree so I could reach higher to wrap the next lasso, plus having to use not three but four points of attachment. The following pics do not really give the uninitiated a full grasp of the system but should imply how sloppy and complicated it is:

“There had to be a better way,” I thought, as I tucked myself into bed for the night. Visions of webbing and SRT danced in my head as cramped muscles failed into flaccidity. Then suddenly it came to me! “Why not use rope instead of webbing?” Rope is stiffer and easier to throw around the 3 ft diameter trunk, rope holds the ascenders in place more sturdily than slick, flat webbing, knots are easier to tie and untie in rope and rope tangles less than webbing. Excited about this epiphany, it took another couple of hours before I finally was able to fall asleep. I kept going over and over in my mind how my techniques would change.

The next morning, I cut three 16 ft long pieces of rope and turned them into lassos, and using them found them to be indeed a far more elegant solution. The fourth point of attachment was needed only momentarily, fewer knots were needed and never needed to be re-tied, ascenders never slipped or got snagged, rope lassos never tangled or got in my way and I was able to do away with cowtails and carabiner cinches. Although this photo (again) does not give you a full picture of the technique, it does show how much simpler the new method is:

While I climbed only another 30 ft the second day, again largely due to sawing off dead limbs plus having to work out the details of the new rope lasso method, it took an hour less time and I was not nearly as tired as at the end of the first day. I stopped at the base of the canopy where limb whorls are about 2 – 3 ft apart, almost to the point where I can free climb without having to use the lassos or have to cut more than a few additional dead limbs. I should be able to reach the top of the tree in only a few hours the next time I go out and play.

There are other reasons I like to climb trees. American scientists working in Costa Rica back in the 1970s were featured in an issue of Smithsonian Magazine roping their way around the Monteverde cloud forest canopy. Their research turned up interesting features of natural history new to science that fascinated me, and this in fact was the catalyst that precipitated me into exploring the canopies of Florida’s forest giants. I studied their photographs intently, trying in vain to figure out how their kit was composed, so invented my own from scratch. They learned, for example, that epiphytes on treetop limbs form a web of stems and roots that trap leaves, sticks, vines and the feces of insects, mammals and birds. Epiphyte roots penetrate tree bark, breaking it off and incorporating it into the rich organic matrix. The trees themselves then send their own roots into this mass to sip its moisture and sup on its nutrients – the trees had roots at both ends! Inspired, I climbed trees in Florida and discovered similar epiphytic mats with roots from host trees of red maple, Southern magnolia and swamp tupelo.

Other large trees I have climbed include live oak, winged elm and bald cypress. I have sat on brontosaurian limbs of live oaks a hundred feet above the ground, swaying in the breeze while eating sandwiches and sipping red wine, laughing at wide-eyed blue jays astonished to find me amongst them. I have ascended to the top of a bald cypress 80 ft high and 4 ft in diameter at that height, broken off by a hurricane long before, and looked down through its hollow trunk onto an abandoned bear den. I have found trails atop canopy limbs through epiphytic resurrection fern “lawns” that were created by gray squirrels, opossums, raccoons and cotton mice. I have come face-to-face with a yellow rat snake staring out of a trunk den, fat with four lumps in its gut. I have been startled by a family of raccoons, a mom and her four young-uns, emerging at dusk from a cavity high in a live oak, first to pee and then to scuttle down the trunk to forage for the night. I climb trees for many reasons.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

NC House Lot, Phase I

I have mentioned a few times lately that I am improving my house lot in NC in preparation for building a summer home there. I have written but little about it here because it really isn’t about Florida adventures or Florida nature, but it has taken so much of my time lately and a few curious minds say they want to know, so I will indulge. Besides, if I don’t write about something, you will forget about my blog and that just won’t do. But I will be merciful and keep the story to just one or maybe two postings, which you can choose to read or not.

The project began out of a marriage of love for the mountain property and desperation over a lack of income, thinking that it was about time I finally developed the site and should do so while still flush with recent income. I knew it would be a race between running out of money while building the house in NC versus saving money by not paying rent at my RV space on the edge of Orange Lake in FL. I just hope that I can figure out how to save enough money on the building and lot improvements to keep construction going forward while finding some paying work as I go.

I focused first on improving the lot. Having a driveway and house/RV pad constructed was expensive, but I got bids from 6 contractors and was astonished to have them vary by almost a factor of two! The cheapest bidder was the one recommended by Uncle Dave, a former realtor who had contracted on behalf of other snowbirds and thus had a lot of experience dealing with local contractors. Having a lot of faith in Dave, I bought the cheapest bid and it proved to be the right thing to do, so I saved almost $10,000 right off the bat. So far, so good.

The main reason I focused on the lot rather than house construction was because I calculated that building a house would greatly exceed my savings. As I proceeded with lot improvements, however, Uncle Ralph revealed he was building a portable sawmill that would handle a 16 ft long by 42-inch diameter log, and that all I had to provide were the logs, gasoline, saw blades and half the labor. There were 8 white pines and several oaks of saw-timber size within the house pad and driveway that were sufficient to build a decently sized house. Then, when an arborist friend of Ralph’s found out about the sawmill, he offered Ralph literally a hundred tons of free oak, pine and poplar logs! We plan to use the pine for framing, oak for flooring and poplar for indoor and outdoor paneling, all for just the cost of sawing. Oh, man! So far, so good.

But several contractors told us that we might not be able to use my own saw timber due to county ordinances that address wood strength and wood-boring insect concerns. We noticed, however, that a lot of the advice was conflicting, so I went straight to the horse’s mouth – the county building and inspection department. At first, the nice young man quoted ordinance wording that was fairly restrictive, but there were conflicts there, too, so he put me on hold and conferred with the county engineer. When he got back to me, he said, “Look, we think a person should be able to use his own timber, so we’re going to work with you on it.” (Say hallelujah!) He said the most important thing is that the house lumber moisture content must be less than 19% and that we would have to beef up on the load-bearing timbers. He also said that they would advise us on the latter when I submit house plans. You know that would never happen in a large-population county. So far, so good.

The distance of the house pad from the closest power pole was too far for Duke Energy to lay underground lines for free. They preferred to erect overhead lines, but I was unwilling for them to clear-cut a 30ft wide swath through my beautiful mixed oak-pine forest, especially after clearing the driveway and house pad, so I sprung $2000 for underground service. As a friend taught me some years back, I consider this to be merely a “temporary inconvenience.” The electric contractor put up the power pole and circuit boxes relatively inexpensively, as did the plumber when running a sewer pipe from the pad to the septic tank. So far, so good.

Friday, the well driller installed a 6-inch well. It needed casing only to a depth of 33 ft, whereas the usual for this area is 60 – 80 ft at a cost of $5/ft. They found first water at 40 ft although the usual here is 60 – 120 ft and can be much deeper. They continued to drill down because a well that shallow can easily go dry during drought, taking it to a total depth of 125 ft. Most of the folks I have talked to said their wells were drilled to depths of 160 – 220 ft, so at a cost of $9/ft I think I got off pretty good. Also, most of the wells around here produce only 4 – 8 gallons per minute, whereas my first water produced 10 gal/min and the total inputs are estimated to be 20 gal/min. We joked afterward that perhaps I should start a utility company. So far, so good.

There have been a few disappointments, mostly being the interminable delays in getting bids, return calls and construction delays from contractors. Then there was the instance when the sewer line plumber cut the underground phone line despite me showing him exactly where it was located, because he was too lazy to halt digging with the track-hoe and “find” the wires using his two strong young men and their shovels. Aaarrggh! But the latter didn’t cost me any money and the delays only cost me my time, which is cheap now as I am unemployed. So, ok … fine.

The driveway has also been a problem. The soil here is clayey sand that becomes mushy when rained upon, so much so that heavy equipment cannot access the site unless it is very dry or paved with asphalt or gravel. Since the site gets 60+ inches of rain yearly and most of the work has been during a rainy period, “dry” didn’t work. Asphalt is very expensive and is crushed by heavy equipment anyway, so I opted for gravel. Actually, we don’t use what they call “gravel” because it is uniform in size and therefore acts like ball bearings, plus it would get smushed into the ground when driven or walked upon immediately after rain. Instead, we use what is referred to as “road bond,” which is every size (of gneiss, I think) between rock flour and gravel. These mixed-sized grains interlock when being driven over and rained upon, and if thick enough the material becomes almost as hard a surface as concrete. Anyway, after having a 2 – 3 inch-thick layer of road bond placed on the driveway by a contractor, Ralph and I have been repairing the driveway after each contractor comes and goes. For example, this week we filled his truck bed at the local quarry twice each on Tuesday and Wednesday and once on Thursday, and then hand-shoveled the material onto the driveway. Since each truckload weighed 3000 lbs, ahem, we each shoveled 7,500 lbs of sand and rock this week. My lumbar region is a bit sore today (Saturday), but … I’m gonna say it … So far, so good.

Monday, the well driller should return and lay underground water and electric lines from the pad to the well and get the whole shebang inspected by the county. Likewise, the county should also make the final inspection of the sewer line on Monday, thus completing lot improvement and preparation for house building, a milestone worthy of note! I will return to NC when Ralph finishes constructing the sawmill for the next phase – making boards out of logs and stacking and covering them so they can air-dry over the remainder of autumn and then winter. Come spring, unless I am broke or employed, I will start building the house. Below is a sample of photos taken during the last few months; hopefully, they will give you an idea of what has been done and how beautiful the forest is and the home will be.

Now, where is that new mountain bike of mine? Where are the biking trails? Is it cool enough to get back to caving yet? I think I saw some fall wildflowers back there somewhere begging to be photographed…

In the beginning there was an old logging road and leaves...

And I said, "Let there be heavy equipment and dirt:"

Installing a culvert in a tiny creek flowing over sediments that are saturated "all the way down:"

It seems a shame to log a 32-inch pine, but it will make a fine living room. Here is the pile of logs that it made (the large log on the upper right is 16 feet long and the one on the lower left is 12 ft long):

This view is from the downhill side of the same pile of logs looking up toward the house pad and front yard on the upper left and the "greenfield" septic drainfield on the upper right:

Another view of the lot's forest from just uphill of the house pad:

New look of the driveway entrance after application of the road bond:

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Empty Bucket List

There are three things I thought I would never do in my life: physically bury a relative, wrongfully come under suspicion over a serious crime or kill a human being. I have been able to avoid war and bar fights, but the other two have indeed happened to me.

Preparing the corpse of a relative and burying it has become so “hands-off” these days. However the loved one may have died, we are rarely present at the moment of death. The person may have been killed in a vehicle crash, died on the job or passed away in a hospital. When informed of it the officer or doctor asks you where the body is to be sent, and you (if it is even you) tell them which funeral home. Someone else delivers the body and the undertaker prepares the corpse. It may or may not be cremated and is then put into a cremation urn or casket and buried by funeral staff. All you have to do is show up for the services and pay the bills. I have been through this many times and never thought much about it. It was not done that way by pioneers or beyond the frontier by early explorers. Kinfolk or fellow adventurers dug the holes themselves, laid the bodies down and shoveled the dirt back in.

My mom died of nicotine cancer. They took out the grapefruit-sized growth and pronounced her cured, but they also unknowingly excised an artery that fed a foot-long section of her intestine. That portion of the gut died, went septic and killed her. I was not there for the relapse nor was I present when she died, arriving several hours after she expired. The hospital called the undertaker, who took the body to the crematorium, reduced it to ashes and placed them in an urn that we had chosen. Again, it was all clipped and manicured. The undertaker said he would take care of everything, but a series of problems ensued so I drove back to North Carolina, picked up the urn and carried it to the cemetery myself.

It was not grave diggers but me that dug a hole beside the remains of her sister, father and stepmother. My (ex) wife was with me at the time, and we chatted nonchalantly about mom, the weather and lack of rocks as I dug deeply into the sandy soil. I set the urn in the bottom of the pit, and as I began shoveling dirt back into the hole, the heaviness hit me. Suddenly I was no longer confident and nimble, but clumsy, numb and heavy of heart and limb, but I set my jaw and finished the job like a man. I can tell you, burying a parent with your own hands and shovel is closure! I now know how the early explorers felt when they filled that hole under the tree. Perhaps it is only fitting, after all these years of adventures in the wild lands of Florida and beyond that I too had to finally hoe that row.

Not too long ago, a neighbor committed suicide, leaving a wife in a state of shock. I took her some vegetables from my garden a few days afterward, she invited me in for a cup of hot tea and after only a few weeks, we started dating. I justified my lack of hesitancy by repeating to myself her words that their marriage was in name only. Very shortly afterward, however, she dumped me, but then two days after that she disappeared, and I mean she just vanished off the face of the earth. Her landlady called the sheriff and a missing person’s report was filled out. It came to light that I had dated her only three weeks after the suicide and that she had dumped me, so suddenly (there’s that word again) I was a suspect. Egad!

The first detective was a nice man, casually dressed, short, fat and bald, and we talked about the falling water level in the lake and other random issues before he started the interview. The second detective, however, was tall and muscular, stern of countenance, all no-nonsense and literally covered with colors, appliances, leather and steel. He watched me out of the corners of his eyes as he asked every question at least twice. Good cop, bad cop. It turned out that she had simply decided in her paranoid haze to go into hiding out West, but the cops found her anyway. For a while, I was a prime suspect in a disappearance most foul, but now I can go about my business without looking over my shoulder. Whew!

So I guess I’ll stop thinking about things that I might ever do or not. I guess I’ll just do whatever tasks are before me.