Sunday, September 30, 2007

Merlin the Magician

Merlin on Guard
Everyone, meet Merlin the Magic Kitty. His BHF (Best Human Forever), is my friend, Val. Merlin is especially good at pulling fur balls out of thin air, conjuring imaginary insects and watching them fly about the walls and ceiling, and briefly levitating as he travels from counter to table in a failed attempt to snare some of the human's turkey or liverwurst. In this photo, Merlin can be seen gazing upon "items of interest" on the kitchen table. Although invisible to humans, these items are in constant need of investigation, monitoring, and feline scrutiny. Thanks for doing a great job, Merlin!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Eastern Tailed-blue

Location: Blackwater Falls, Davis, West Virginia

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Cupido comyntas)

A female Eastern Tailed-blue (Cupido comyntas) that recently visited my campsite. This butterfly is just under half an inch in length. As usual, click on the image for a larger view.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Feeding Cows

Location: Farmapalooza Celebration, Mountain Meadows, West Virginia

While the band took a break, this announcement was made: "The hayride will be leaving in five minutes. In addition to the ride, there will be cow feeding at the farm."

Consider the image you now have of what this will be like. I imagined riding through corn and soybean fields for a while, pulled by a chugging tractor. At some point, we'd be standing at a fence, giving small bunches of hay to a couple of bored and listless cows, who would stare vacantly as they chewed the hay. Then they would wander off to attend to their normal cow business, such as eating more grass or contributing to the number of cow patties littering the field.

At the time of the announcement I was just wandering around, taking in the festivities, so I thought, "why not go on the hayride?" and jumped on the wagon that had been hitched to a big green John Deere tractor. I sat in the back on one of the bales of hay that had been placed on the wagon to serve as seats, the farm's owner fired up the tractor's engine, and off we went.

The first part of the hayride went according to how I thought it would. We bumped and jostled along the roads and paths. The adults started singing hokey songs, and the teenagers looked at the singers like they had just grown pig noses and turned purple. The sun was warm and bright, the temperature was mid-seventies, and a soft breeze was blowing. It was a pleasant way to travel through the countryside.

And then we got to the cow field.

The owner had given us each a bag of food for the cows. The food was -- and I am not making this up -- hamburger buns. We quickly identified the irony in this, and had a hearty chuckle at the thought of the "bun-in-cow, then cow-in-bun" situation that was obviously the way this would eventually end.

As we approached the field with the cows, we could see them munching calmly on grass in the middle of the field. Instead of standing on the outside of the field and feeding the cows through the fence, we went through the gate so we -- humans on the wagon clutching our bags of hamburger buns, and the cows in the field -- were all sharing the same space. The cows, knowing more about this drill then we did, began steadily moving towards the wagon, visions of hamburger buns dancing in their huge bovine heads.

In seconds, we were surrounded. The pushed, they shoved, they begged, and they grabbed the buns as fast as we could toss them. They licked our hands with huge wet tongues and nuzzled our legs with soft noses. They ate buns with abandon and came back for more. They even tried to grab the plastic bags that the buns were in, but we managed to keep the bags away from the cows.

Cow and Bun  Cow Taking Bun

Cows Eating Buns

When we didn't give them the buns fast enough, they began an assault on the hay on the wagon -- otherwise known as our seats -- by pulling large hunks of it from the bales and chewing madly. I made the tactical error of standing up, and one cow quickly yanked the entire bale I had just been sitting on and dropped it to the ground, whereupon several cows descended on it. It was only due to the quick action of the owner that my hay-seat was rescued and returned to the wagon so I did not have to sit on the hard wood floor on the trip back.

Cow Grabbing Hay>  Two Buns For Two Cows

We finally got all of the buns in the cows and the humans back on the wagon, and started the trip back. After we passed back through the gate, I looked behind and saw that all the cows had trailed behind the wagon until they were stopped by the fence, and were gazing longingly in our direction as their new friends disappeared down the road.

Come Back Soon
It was a hectic, energetic, and fabulous adventure in an odd corner of the World of Cows. Who knew feeding cows could be such fun?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Blackwater Falls

Location: Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

Blackwater Falls, WV
The scenery is gorgeous, the tourists are gone, the weather is perfect, ten deer grazed outside my campsite last night, and I have phone and Internet service. Life is good.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ohio Oddities

Location: On the road between Columbus, Ohio and Davis, West Virginia

Ohio Oddities:

  • In the local IGA, the Sunday football scores are announced on the public address system as the game is being played. The announcement is made by one of the clerks, who, supposedly, might follow up with "Cleanup on aisle 5!" There was no background music piped in, so I'm guessing actually tuning to the radio station covering the game was not an option.
  • Beer and wine can be sold in grocery stores in Ohio. You cannot buy wine on Sunday in the local IGA, but you can, oddly, buy beer. I discovered this while listening to the clerk announce the Ohio State football scores over the PA. I'm sure the beer/football thing was just a coincidence.
  • As you walk by the side of the road, you notice that there are a lot of grasshoppers here. They are so plentiful that they look like little fireworks bursts as they jump in every direction to get away from your foot. Most of them make it to safety.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Finding Carlton

Location: Madison County, Oak Run Township, Ohio

Carlton Enzy Gregg -- my great, great, grandfather -- was much easier to "find" than his grandson Carl was, although he still has secrets he is keeping.

Carlton Enzy Gregg (CEG) was born September 18, 1813. Oddly, I am writing this on September 18, his 194th birthday. He was born in Pennsylvania, but came to Madison County, Ohio, with his mother and two brothers in 1829. He bought a grist mill, married several times, and was "generally respected for his good qualities" and was a "staunch democrat." His first son by his second wife, named John, is the father of my grandfather Carl, and the person who purchased the cemetery lots that led me to find Carl.

The Gregg's have left a mark in this part of Ohio. There are numerous cemetery plots in local cemeteries, and the grave markers are large and prominent, indicating the family was not without means. I found two streets named for my ancestors -- a Gregg Road in West Jefferson, and Gregg Mill Road that crosses Oak Run at the place where CEG's mill was located. He is mentioned in several history books, as a mill owner, a township trustee and a township supervisor.

Finding the site of the mill was ridiculously easy -- I located a Map of Oak Run Township in 1875, and there his property was, seemingly carved out of land owned by Eliza Chrisman. So I went on a road trip. The road that used to run to the mill is still Gregg Mill Road although the mill is long gone. If you know a mill was once there, you can still see traces of the mill race.
Gregg Mill Site

Rebecca Gregg GravesiteSo here is one of the remaining mysteries: One of CEG's three wives was Rebecca Chrisman, my great, great, grandmother. It seems reasonable to assume that she and Eliza were related and that the property came to CEG because of his marriage. But I can't link Rebecca to Eliza (who was very wealthy, having a quarter of a million in land and property in 1870), and, while I don't have the exact date when CEG built the mill, it seems that it was before he married Rebecca. Rebecca died at age 25, probably in childbirth, and her grave is quite plain. Maybe she was a relative of Eliza, and CEG met her after he was an established millwright. Maybe the name is a coincidence. Maybe the story lies elsewhere.

CEG was married three times -- the first marriage to Adaline lasted 11 months, and ended in her death. There were no children. The second, to Rebecca, was for four years, and they had three children. The third, and longest, was to Winnie and lasted 22 years, and ended with Carlton Enzy's death at age 79. They also had three children. There are some other researchers who have attributed additional Gregg children to CEG by other women, but he was only married these three times. He and Winnie share a grave site on a hill in the country:
Carlton Enzy Gregg Gravesite
I still don't know where John (Carlton's son, Carl's father, and my great grandfather) ended up -- he wasn't in the plots he purchased in Michigan, and I didn't locate his grave here -- but I'm leaving that particular mystery for another trip.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

DOVES, Domicile, Tires, and Doggies

Location: Goshen, IN

Escapade Plenary Session
The Fall Escapade, put on by the Escapees, is now over. An Escapade is like a conference, but everyone comes in (and lives in) their RVs. There are plenary sessions with bad jokes and door prizes, RV safety classes, seminars, crafts, vendors, nightly entertainment, and food. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, and a lot of them were full timers. I met some amazing people, shared more than one bottle of wine, and made lots of new friends. As usual, I didn't win a single door prize!

I became a DOVE. The DOVEs are one of many special interest groups that the Escapees call "Birds of a Feather" or a BOF. DOVE stands for "Disaster Operations Volunteer Escapees," and is comprised of RVers who assist the Red Cross at disaster sites, usually travelling to the site in their RVs. As a part of being a DOVE, I joined the Red Cross as a volunteer and am in the process of taking the classes I need to be a volunteer.

Tire ScaleI got my rig weighed the accurate way. When you pull into a scale in a truck stop, you normally weigh the entire vehicle -- so you don't know how the weight is distributed on each axle. To get an accurate picture of the load on each axle, and the distribution of the weight from side to side, you need to weigh each tire. Much to my delight, all of the weight limits (total weight of rig, total weight of vehicle, combined weight, weight on each axle, and weight on each tire) were all under the maximum, and the weight was distributed properly. Not sure how I managed all of that, but I'm glad I did -- the cause of a lot of accidents and breakdowns is an overweight rig.

I decided that I am going to make Texas my new domicile! Think they'll make me get a ten gallon hat and boots with spurs? Let me know if you find any on Ebay! And I WILL learn to speak Texan, and my practice phrase is: "Howdy, all y'all, did you know you can put your boots in the oven, but that don't make 'em biscuits?"

Doggie Parade
Captain Jack SparrowA lot of people at the Escapade had dogs that travel with them in their RVs (and I might someday, too) -- so they held a doggy parade! All the dogs bring their humans to the parade, where they (usually the dogs, not the humans) sniff and bark at each other, cavort, and generally have a splendid doggy time. Some even dress up, such as Captain Jack Sparrow in the photo to the right. By the way, Captain Jack, unlike his human, was NOT a happy camper.

Now I'm off to the middle of Ohio, where I hope to track down the mill of my great great grandfather, Carlton Enzy Gregg -- after I do laundry, get groceries, have my oil changed, and find a hardware store. Full timing doesn't mean the chores go away! And Carlton has been dead for 115 years, so I don't think he'll mind waiting one more day.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

At the HOP

Location: Goshen, In

Today starts the Escapees "Escapade" or Fall Conference. For the last two days I have been at a pre-conference "HOP" -- or Head Out Program. These are special event or themed excursions, and this particular one was a bus tour of the area surrounding Goshen. Friday's agenda was a guided walking tour of Notre Dame, a tour of an RV plant, and a visit to the RV/MH Hall of Fame. The what, you say? the Recreational Vehicle/Motor Home Hall of Fame -- the Elkhart area is the heart and soul of the RV industry, so it was a natural place for the Hall of Fame. The best part of the Hall of Fame was the museum displaying vintage RVs -- ones pulled with Model Ts, for example, or having a wood burning stove.

Saturday was Amish day -- a visit to the Amish-Mennonite Visitor's Center, a quilt shop, a buggy shop, a farmer's market, a drive through Shipshewana, and a woodcraft shop where we got to build our own birdhouse. Then the best -- dinner at an Amish house. You do not eat in the family's actual living quarters. Instead, they have constructed a dining hall, and that was where we had a marvelous dinner of ham, chicken, salad, potatoes, noodles, vegetables, and (of course) pie. If you ever eaten Amish food, you have an idea how good this was!

On both days, we had a local guide on our bus who would talk about the area as we travelled. Friday, our guide was a Mennonite man named Bill, who has strong family connections to the Amish, and Saturday we had a very personable, friendly, and funny Amishman named Orley. They were both very knowledgeable, and extremely willing to answer any questions we had -- and we had a lot!

Amish Girl and Horse
Some of the more interesting things we learned were:

  • The Amish have little white phone booths in the fields that are used by several families when they need to make a call. These are not pay phones, but regular land lines that one homeowner has put in his name. When one of the neighbors makes a call, they are responsible for entering the information into a log so the phone's owner can collect the charge each month when the bill comes. One sadder-but-wiser Amishman learned to block "1-900" numbers when he put in a new line and the local kids discovered they could call these numbers for free!
  • Each district (approximately 40 households) has a Bishop, who makes all the rules for the district, a Deacon, who conducts marriage ceremonies and funerals, and two Preachers (all are male). This is why the rules can vary even within a community -- each Bishop is free to make regulations for his district as he sees fit.

    When there is a vacancy for a Preacher, each adult (women are included here) in the district can submit a name of a man in that district who they feel would be a good Preacher. Any man who receives two or more votes is automatically in the running. Song books, one for each candidate, are placed on a table and one of the books has been previously marked by inserting a slip of paper invisibly in the pages. Each candidate then picks up whichever book "calls" to him, and whoever has the marked book is the new Preacher. Refusal is not an option, and the job is for life. A similar process selects the Deacons and Bishops from the existing Preachers. The Amish believe that a divine hand guides the selection of these leaders.

  • Some retired Amish snowbird to Florida for the winter. In the early fall, at least 6 bus companies run special buses to Florida, some scheduling three buses a day. These buses pick up throughout the Goshen/Shipshewana area, and then go straight to the Amish community in the Sarasota area with no additional stops. Many "English" (anyone who is not Amish) also use these buses.
  • There is a thriving business of shuttle vans that will take the Amish wherever they want to go. This provides transportation for doctor visits, shopping, and surprisingly for vacations. Two or three couples may decide they would like to go, for example, to Niagara Falls, so they hire a van to take them there and split the cost (and the van driver and his wife get a free vacation, too). The charge for the van is about $1 per mile.
  • Less than 10% of the Amish here live on a farm. Most of them work in the RV industry.
  • New buggies use LED lights that run from batteries. Many buggies have solar panels to recharge the battery.
  • Using a sleigh in the winter is problematic. They roads get salted and cleared so quickly that a trip into town for coffee could begin with a Dickensonian sleighride through the snow and end with a cleared road that is impassable for the sleigh. To solve this problem, some sleighs have wheels that can be dropped down to transform them into a carriage.
  • The Amish can buy "Amish Medical Insurance." It is expensive from their point of view -- for a family of seven children, a husband and a wife, a year's premium will be around $500. The Amish believe in paying for what they can, and there are no malpractice lawsuits.
  • When there is no logical explanation for an Amish practice or rule, the response to "Why?" is simply, "because that's the way it is."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bay City Oddities

As of Thursday, I am in Goshen Indiana attending an Escapade (an RV Rally).

For the last few days, however, I have been pulling up microfilm obituaries in the Bay City library, and making side trips to cemeteries. My favorite cemetery, from a purely aesthetic point of view, was the Heavenly Rest Cemetery in Linwood, MI. Even the sign was charming, as cemetery signs go.

The cemetery is out in the countryside, and obviously has less stringent rules than many other cemeteries have. People are free to plant and decorate the grave sites pretty much as they wish - and they do. Their endeavors were both creative and touching. One site even had wind chimes hanging from a tree over the grave of a man who died suddenly when only in his twenties. The chimes added an ethereal, beckoning atmosphere, and the small offerings at his grave showed he had been loved.

Some had surrounded the headstone with a ground cover of annual flowers. Some had left statues, pictures, messages, or flags. Newer gravestones had been engraved with colored images of things the deceased loved -- mountains, deer, and fish. One actually had a man and woman sitting outside their RV! There was one other adornment that caught my eye -- a natural visitor who added an eight-legged flare to the statuary:


When not at the cemetery, I was in the genealogy section of the library, where an odd thing happened. I had just finished looking up some obituaries (they are a treasure of information regarding relationships and who was alive when) and was on my way out when I decided to wander through their small area of books and reference materials. The last row had Bay City high school yearbooks. The main Bay City school has been Central High, and there were two rows of their yearbooks, lined up year after year, decades and decades of students. My mother was born in Bay City, and I found her picture easily in the 1935 book, housed on the top shelf of the two.

I looked down to the bottom shelf where a tiny collection of non-Bay City yearbooks were shelved, and saw a box labelled "Arthur Hill High School" that contained four yearbooks. Arthur Hill is an old school in Saginaw, 18 miles away, and it has been in existence for decades just like Bay City Central -- but only four of the yearbooks made it to this collection. My father was graduated from Arthur Hill High School in 1928. And, as you may have guessed by now, his yearbook was one of those four. So, against all odds, my mother's yearbook and my father's yearbook have been housed only two shelves apart, almost in a direct vertical line, in this small library in Bay City Michigan. Who would have guessed?

The photo below shows the two shelves of Bay City Central yearbooks and the shelf below it containing the non-Bay City books. Where I found my mother's is marked by the pink arrow, my father's, in the Arthur Hill box, with the blue arrow. I added their high school senior pictures from these yearbooks.

It's hard to believe they were ever that young -- heck, it's hard for me to believe that I was ever that young, and I was there!

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Truth Is Out There

Location: Mt. Pleasant, MI

They say skeptics like me will not be convinced until "it" happens to us. I have always been skeptical of:

But maybe I need to rethink all of this, now that I have seen a conspiracy up close and personal.

Meadowhawk DragonflyTurn the clock back to September 1, 2007 (Cinematic moment: envision the pages fly off a calendar -- "look, there goes one! There goes the other!" Scene done). Net in hand, I prowl the stream banks looking for insect candidates for my macro portraits. I find two -- the Cabbage White shown in the preceding post, and a Meadowhawk dragonfly. I net them (and didn't embarrassingly fall in the water like I did the first time I tried that - a story for another day), take them back to the RV, and let them play in my tiny studio that used to be a plastic bread box, complete with a custom backdrop and two-source lighting. I snap photos of them as they pose, wings in various stages of opening and closing. I then let them return to their homes in the great outdoors.

The Cabbage White left almost immediately, but the Meadowhawk did not want to leave and kept flying back in. Twice he even landed on my arm, but I was firm and made him go out into the cold, dark night (okay it was a summer night, and the moon was only four days away from full, but for a dragonfly this was probably very cold and dark). Sadly, the next morning I found his little red corpse at the foot of my steps. He had only tasted freedom for twelve inches before succumbing. One small foot that marked the difference between a life of flitting on a babbling brook in the sparkling summer sun --- or being bird food.

I'll never know what would have happened if I hadn't forced him away, if I had let him stay in the comfort and safety of the RV. But my thoughtlessness has cost me. I now know that CONSPIRACIES ARE REAL (we True Conspiracy Believers always type in all caps because we think it makes us sound sincere), as I have become the latest victim of what can only be called the Insect Illuminati Conspiracy. For as I left to go to the laundromat today, I started to pull open the truck's door and was immediately bitten in the finger by an bee or wasp who had been hiding there, just waiting for revenge. As the pain swelled and I began to feel a numbness where I was bitten, I looked down at the ground, and "I" was twelve inches from the body of the little red dragonfly. Justice was served.

Read more about Insect Conspiracies here. The Truth is out there.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Cabbage White Closeup

Location: Mt. Pleasant, MI

I thought you might be interested in seeing my own little "Norma Desmond," ready for me to do the "CB's closeup" thing (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, run to the video store and rent "Sunset Boulevard").

You have probably noticed the little white butterflies that seem to be all over the meadows and grasses during the summer. They are rather small, and in the world of casual butterfly watchers they are not as cool, as, say, a Monarch or a Swallowtail. That little white butterfly is probably a Cabbage White (Pieris rapae).

One came visiting last night (with the help of a net, but I'm SURE it would have jumped at the chance to visit me without the help). If I am wrong about this being a Cabbage White, would the entomologists out there please let me know?

If you have seen the butterflies, you have probably not given much thought to what they really look like. One of the things I love about insect macro photography is getting to see a part of the world we would otherwise miss. Here is the closeup view (as always, click on image for larger view):

Cabbage White