August 2007

Monthly Archive

Dog Days

Posted by on 02 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Nature

Copyright: Karl Meyer 

August 2, 2007

Colrain, MA.  We have entered the dog days.  I realized this upon heading out for a walk at 6:30 this morning.  It is mostly silent, mostly clear, and definitely going to be hot by mid-morning.  Predictions are for 95 degrees.  As I walk along a quiet secondary road between farmhouses and pasture I think that there is likely no more apt description than “dog days.”  It just fits.  It captures those humid, listless, pre-harvest weeks like no other term.  Others that do justice to similar venues in time and space are horse latitudes, and “the doldrums.”  Whoever came up with these had a descriptive gift—even as they lay there, dripping in sweat, launching groggy, adjectives above the rim of a gin and tonic.

The air here was actually sweet at that early hour.  The sun was peeking vaguely from behind mountain and mist.  And, though most bird song has gone quiet as parents and young gobble up a summer’s insects, a few tuneful exceptions are noteworthy.  Song sparrows are still piping away—likely they’re working on second broods.  And a yellow warbler tossed its voice from a bush.  This was probably a young one just trying out its lungs. 

But most-busy right now are the indigo buntings, which will raise a second family before heading south.  They are brilliantly both deep and bright blue, all at once—the sun or shadow making the difference in their outward flash.  The other late nesters here are the goldfinches, who will be with us through the cold of winter.  The bouncy songs of these last two species intersect closely; and yesterday I saw a brief territorial fight and retreat between an indigo bunting and a goldfinch in a grass patch.  It was wondrous to see that bold yellow and flashy blue interacting.  Who knew they even paid attention to each other?

Mid-summer is also a culling time for wildlife.  There is a small roll-call of dead on my route these last few days.  It’s not gory, just unfortunate.  The sun quickly desiccates what might otherwise be messy.  That tally has included a rose-breasted grosbeak (male), a bluish-green garter snake, a little brown bat, a shriveled red eft, and a chipping sparrow.  The sparrow was new this morning.  Another was hovering near so I took a stick and moved it off the roadway so that bit of bird mourning could possibly continue without another fatal bump from a car.

That little brown bat—all 2-1/2 inches of it, was something I moved off the pavement too.  It wasn’t particularly mangled, just a neat lump of velvety, light brown fur, bat bones and wing.  I just didn’t want to see it get smooshed, so I took a stick and moved it to the shoulder.  This was purely to satisfy my personal aesthetic.  What was curious was that when I pushed it along with the stick its vestigial thumb-nail was what caught and held it, so it could be moved.  It’s called the calcar, and they use it—not for hanging, but when positioning themselves to hang, or during those instances when they have to climb along limbs.  I know bats need to be upright while giving birth, so the calcar is probably employed during this time too.  The bones in a bat’s leathery wing are just one long, skinny, ghoulish, delicate, hand.  Bats are in the order Chiroptera—which translates from Latin as “flying hand.”

All in all I was lucky to get out for a cool, quiet morning walk.  There was one farmer out, set off against a hillside as he made his way up in a white tee-shirt to cull some wood with a chainsaw.  The local bloodhound breathed heavy from a farmhouse window near the road.  She’s used to me and didn’t bark as I passed.  I think we might be friends under other circumstances.  But when she’s out, she’s controlled by an unseen electric fence.  I talk to her across that covert fence when she’s loose, and she makes hunting-dog faints at me, and charges along her invisible fence-line.  Mostly though, I can see her stubby tail wagging.

The turnaround point of the walk came toward Fort Morrison farm.  I could hear the fans humming in the milking barn.  A couple of dozen cows were lowing deeply, waiting to unburden themselves.  The sun was just eating away the center of the early mist when I made my way back to Colrain Center.  A milk truck hurried by.  

Already in the System

Posted by on 01 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Humor

Already in the System

For me a trip to the mall is something akin to seeing the dentist: most times I’d rather just skip it.  But there was no getting around this visit.  I was after bedding, something no longer available in town–at least at prices that don’t feel like tooth extraction.  I bit my tongue and pushed through the double doors, smack into the jowls “big box” bedding.  I was greeted by a tidal wave of prints and plastic packaging.  It just seemed too MUCH!

I walked toward an area that seemed promising, and waded in.  The choices ranged from flannel, cotton, polyester, cotton blend, and silk, to striped, dotted, flecked, splashed and patterned.  Then there was the confusing tableau of size, color, depth, thread-count, and etc.  Tiring precipitously, I grabbed something plain, vaguely off-white (and hopefully the right size), and bolted to the register.  This would be quick.  There were two people in line.

And then I heard it: the first customer parroting his phone number to an inquiring cashier. I assumed they were not contemplating a date.  And I knew–for me at least, this was well into the realm of the personal.   This guy’s purchase consisted of hand towels, or something in terry cloth—about as impersonal as a quart of milk.   “It’s none of your business,” I thought.  The towel man soon had his plastic bag and receipt.  He moved on.  Maybe we’d all call him at home.  I started to do a little burn.

But then–I was saved.  “THANK YOU!” to the woman in front of me at the check-out.  When asked her phone number as the transaction commenced, she replied, “Oh, I’m already in the system.”  A light went on in my head.  “YES!”  I’m already in the system!  Here at last was the sweet rejoinder to every prying, annoying request for phone numbers, postal codes, maiden names–makes, models and plate numbers.  Here was a reply that would play as well on Main Street as at the mall.  Wall Street be damned, “I’m already in the system.”  The transaction proceeded seamlessly. 

 I started practicing.  Of course I was going to lie, but I wouldn’t have to sound uncooperative–not have to feel I was single-handedly challenging the global, free trade megalith.  Instead of tensing-up at the thought of disappointing a blameless cashier with, “I don’t give out that information,” I’d smile and chirp, “Already in the system!”   

In these days of security cameras, credit monitors, warrantless phone sweeps, pre-flight searches, thousand-mile border fences and vigilante boundary guards—I just want to keep a few boundaries around me.  The point for me is not to become another point, or series of data points.  The rub is not to be the rat in the grid: “Oh, he’s buying THOSE now,” blinks a message toward buyers in China or India, or Pakistan, “Make more of THOSE for him.” Maybe I don’t even like THOSE, or I am buying THEM for someone else and the world doesn’t need anymore of THOSE.  Maybe THOSE are already next week’s schlock and the planet would be much better off if we stopped making THOSE, or if we figured out how, once again, to make THEM nearer home.

The product–which the “friendly“ system was concerned enough about to ask my phone number, was a full-size, fitted, bottom sheet.  And yes, they used to make THOSE ten miles up the road.  I imagined them calling at night, “Mr. Meyer, hello.  Oh, sorry sir—you were sleeping.  Just wanted to check on that sheet.”   Nope, I would not be offering up any bites of personal data this day.  My sleep preferences–for now least, would remain my little secret.

As the “already in the system” woman completed her purchase I thanked her.  I was honest about my intended plagiarism, “I’m going to use that.”  She smiled, somewhat knowingly, but added, “Well, I really am.”  In explanation I offered my thoughts on out-of-control data collection.  “You’re quite welcome,” she smiled again.  The cashier eyed me as I stepped to the plate.  Before she could begin, we each raised an eyebrow.  “I know,” she said wearily.  Our transaction was seamless.


Show us your cookies

Posted by on 01 Aug 2007 | Tagged as: Politics

We’re being watched. I wanted to be up front about this–it’s my fault. This site collects cookies. REQUIRES cookies. The irony of this is that my computer settings have been pointedly turned away from any sites that collect cookies. Yet, once my friend Diane helped me put together this web-site and blog, I was unable to post anything in this space. It wouldn’t let me log in to blog. She couldn’t figure out why. I finally did.

I went into that little box that says “security” and checked the place where it gives permission to collect data. To collect cookies. There is only one other site listed there–one that I’ve agreed can track my computer strokes. Ironically, that’s the government. I’ve been doing breeding bird surveying for Massachusetts Audubon, and they use software from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I wanted to help out, so I compromised–“just this once.” I gave permission for the government to enter my computer. How ironic. As soon as I glimpse that last breeding kingbird of summer, I’m ripping them out of there. But who knows if the data biters will actually withdraw the troops…?

So now, in order to be a blogger, I’m comprimising both of us. How does that make you feel? Once I checked the cookies thing, I was able to log in. Now I can blog to my heart’s content–each keystroke becoming a valued addition to the collected babble of the information age. So, BEWARE ALL WHO ENTER HERE! I’m sorry we’re being watched. We now have a government that is the world’s largest collector of information. We now have an executive branch that is the most secretive in the history of this country. I know how that makes me feel: ANGRY, COMPROMISED, and more than a bit OUTRAGED. Like you I’m hoping the feelings pass with a second cup of coffee.

But this brings up questions for me. If this site is mine, and its collecting cookies, who exactly is eating them? Am I eating my own cookies? Can I offer them around? Would you like a cookie? I don’t even know where the jar is. I’m not even hungry, you? Also, and I’m not sure about this–am I eating YOUR cookies? Or is someone else eating OUR cookies? I guess what is most important to know is that THERE ARE COOKIES HERE! If you’re intelligent, or dieting, or wary of today’s inordinate appetite for secret data, I strongly advise you to take your shopping cart elsewhere. We’ve had our cup of coffee and we’ll just call it a day. Oh, but–are you going to eat these?

As to my more thoughtful and paranoid thoughts on the whole idea of data mining and freedom, I will post my first piece under “humor”–after I send this one into the “politics” category. It’s an essay that appeared in June in Hampshire Life Magazine, called “Already in the System.” You can find it in the Humor Category. The irony there is–even if you don’t find it funny, some data grinch will see that you went to the box that said “humor.”