Stairs

It’s funny how, in nature, that we see circumstances where like things clump – certain sizes pebbles, types of shells, leaves and seeds, etc.  No doubt it’s because the processes that sweep through the reality, currents of wind and water and time even itself grab each thing by what it affords to be held and change the position and character according to their influence – or something like that – but do take note, if you haven’t, of this.

So, stairs.  I’ve not given any thought to stairs per se much ever, yet this summer and fall no less than three sets of outside stairs required some sort of detailed review and partial rebuild.  Really, dear reader, you may skip entirely the tiresome monologue which is to follow, nonetheless it is one of the sorts of things I document, for insight hides in small things and perhaps virtue in the infinitesimal, (or maybe the reverse, but I know both are scarce and elusive).

I’m sure that little attracts your eye in the picture above.  It seems, though, the facts are, that perpendicular to the direction of the step treads, on the top layer underneath the planks, run lines of nails as if the planks were nailed to joists beneath them, those presumed joists presumably perpendicular to the planks.  Oh human folly and frailty!

Now to take off the planks to examine the underlying reality requires that some accommodation be made for the ‘decorative’ column on the left.  I call it decorative because it cannot be seriously structural – no structural element worth its weight would be deployed on top of decking, but I’ll save that monologue for another time.  You’re welcome.  One could take off the planks not beneath the column, put a temporary column behind the present column, remove the present column, remove the planks and lo, at what little effort have revealed what lies beneath.  Or one could say ‘Foo’ – the just saying of it is very powerful – and cut through the three planks that underlie the column, just next to the right side of the column, and even say ‘Ha!’, for then the revealing of all that lies beneath is a much simpler task, not that one has not introduced some issues in the reconstruction, but certainly fewer than the whole column swap exercise. This later path – Foo. Ha! – is the one I took.

I realize I have not said why yet.  Facts are that it was reported, and could be verified empirically, that along the rightmost line of nails on decking, those going into the presumably perpendicular joists, that a great softness was to be experienced, as if the presumed joists were rotting.  There was sag in the planks there, and, as the problem was noted but neglected for a year or so there came to be identified a similar softness and sag along the second line of nails at the front three planks (not counting the edge plank).  Presumably more rot, now in the second presumed joist.

Men must follow their conclusions, this perhaps being the hardest of lessons, and any foo ha notwithstanding, with azebiki in hand (there is no azebiki wiki, unfortunately, or I’d link you there) (an azebiki is a type of Japanese hand saw where the blade is curved convexly and so can cut into a flat surface, really a great tool) I cut the planks adjacent to the column.  I removed the edge planks and the first three boards.  I found two unexpected conditions.

First, as you’ve probably intuited, the joists did not run perpendicular to the planks at all – that would be just to simple.  They ran parallel and then between them were inserted and nailed spanning sections of 2 x 8, <joist emulators!?> into which the planks were nailed.  There was no rot in the joist emulators, rather that two of them were barely affixed to the true joists and over time had become loose enough as to no longer provide the support expected of their role in service.  Failed joist emulators.  Bad joist emulators.  Woe unto the improper affixer of a joist emulator, may your perdition match your indolence – woe I say.  But really this turn of events was bright and rather than having to replace the whole presumed rotten joist now it was merely a task of properly affixing the failed joist emulation sections.  Frabjous.

But wait, a second condition was revealed in the frame of the platform.  The outer box of the rectangle supporting the deck was made of  2 x 10’s, doubled, faced by a white 1 x 10.  Just taking the edge planks off revealed a considerable nest of carpenter ants, mostly in the outer 2 x 10 of the left side, a little on the left side of the front 2 x 10, in each case behind the white facing board.  No so frabjous.

Therefore some careful removal of rotted/infested material followed, the usual insults to reason and rightness subtly interwoven, and then a very sound reconstruction featuring the addition of an additional joist emulator, fittingly underneath the line that first my abeniki had taken.  With grace I made addition mahogany sawdust and mixed it with epoxy resin so that when I got the planks back on I could putty the sawn gaps in a manner both strong and matching.  Then finally I re-stained the deck.  I try to regard the whole exercise as a joy.  Such a tale.

More steps, you ask?  Yes.  I asked the same question.  It was during the time that the aforementioned steps were cordoned off so that the stain could dry.  It was during that time that it was discovered that no less than all three of the bluestone flagstones were significantly loose, so loose indeed that they would tip and might even injuriously (spell-checker wants ‘ingloriously’ and that would be true as well) bite one in the back of an ankle – a very undesirable prospect.  Actions to repair followed the next day.

Those actions were very pragmatic.  The most right thing to do would probably have been to take each flag stone off, chisel out all the ‘thinset’ mortar between the field stone risers and their former treads, mix up new thinset, apply, and properly re-set each of the treads.  However, to sweep the existing thinset, to examine it and find that it was barely degraded at all, to identify that masonry adhesive might well do the trick at least for the winter if not for years … Foo.  Ha!  The job was done very directly, less than an hour of total work, and in the morning no amount of my most manful lifting would dislodge the treads from their rightful places.

This last set of steps, I know, the narrative is quite a bit to bear, has a long history, as does the cause for their repair this summer.  Briefly I had built these in the spring of 2006 from a few slabs and a few bricks, nothing special, not even cement.  This spring I noticed an unusual amount of any activity on them, even some swarming, as if a great big nest were being built underneath.  Indeed, and in my kitchen above for the first time ever in fifteen years there were scavenging ants lugging breadcrumbs and whatsoever back to their not so traceable homes.  I put two and two together.

I mixed a good measure of boric acid with a few cups of sugar in a gallon of water.  My daughter and I removed the first slab – what a trove of eggs and scurrying colony members (picture to follow).  We were merciful.  We had a wheel barrow.  We shoveled out the earth into the barrow, repeated for the next two slabs.  We took the ant earth back to edge of the land and dumped it.  Got fresh earth, and as we put each layer in laced it with our antagonistic liquid.  A clear message to ants thinking of living there again, stragglers trying to return home, etc, but a problem solved without resorting to genocide.  We are so talking ‘Foo Ha!’.

So stairs, surprisingly, have taken more cycles this season than ever I would have imagined.  Is there a unity in these experiences that transcends the unity in the one having the experience?  And there’s a little more, that thing you see on top of the steps, the orange head that looks like it belonged to a Cyclops before he was struck by a thunderbolt and a big part split off.  That story will follow shortly enough, for I think that stone has asked to become a bird.

Summer in Sao Paulo

A summer in Sao Paulo could be so many things.  Mine was so few of them, as it was mostly business, but there was much that I saw and learned of the people and in the nature.  A few pictures and remarks, not that am a travel blogger, but since I was off my continent I figure an exception is permitted.

A tree eating a wall – a wall upon which the verb ‘to see’ is written.  This is one of the first things I saw, right outside the Pullman Hotel in Via Olympia.  It spoke to me.  I would wish the tree/all trees to succeed in tearing down as many walls as it/they wished to tear down, but to tear down the power to see, if that was the consequence, I hesitate.  Would a nature that was blind but vigorously growing be a superior nature?

I didn’t get around much initially, the fact-based rumors of the danger of the city had retarded my natural tendencies to wander.  Pushed them into a stealthier place.  I brought with me top-siders that holes in them.  Subtly inconspicuous t-shirts.  Sweat pants.  I carried an expired driver’s license and R$300.  Hey-eyes!  Hey eyes, you say?  Yes, because the Real (rhymes with See Al) is the currency, but you must know that when an R leads a word of course it changes to an H (is that not obvious!?) and that when we pluralize the Real it becomes Reai.  Really, such that we say ‘hey eyes’.

There are almost no bar stools in Sao Paulo.  My normal approach when manually discovering a new city is to have a few beers with the locals, talk, ask questions, listen to stories.  No go here.  All tables.  I could listen, but my listening in Portuguese was very weak.  I felt like a dog – I could understand some, perhaps even the important gist – happy, sad, etc, but specificity was not happening.  It feels very lame to get out the cellphone and do the Google Translate thing and point at it.  Google translate does have a cool thing I discovered though, on this trip, that you can point it (via cellphone) at a newspaper, for example, or any text, and it will substitute the translation for what it is seeing.  Bad ergonomics though for consuming much data.

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I did go to the Botanical Garden one Saturday.  Leaf cutter ants were fun to watch. Sloths and monkeys were advertised as lurking in the forest too, but perhaps it was a shy day.  I did also go another Saturday to the Ibirapuera park.  That was very nice, teeming with humans though.  Took a long walk to get there.

I did read the paper every morning.  The staff at the Pullman was very nice.  They’d help translate things and make sure I tried all the special things.  Beware the shell of the cashew, says the man who tried to chew through one.  Lip burns that only took a few days to heal, no big deal really.  The cashew fruit though, and the juice – most delicious.

I could say a thousand or more things about my time there, probably much more, but this really isn’t a travel blog.  Looking out the window of the Mercure, where I also stayed for a time, was what ultimately became the sense of Sao Paulo for me

this overwhelming density of urbanity, people packed and stacked high, thriving, perhaps, but certainly bustling, bustling beyond my ability to comprehend.

 

The Death of Little Dragon

So often we fail to appreciate what we have until it is gone.  We vow to cease being distracted from things that really matter.  We vow to forswear our insularity.  This lasts a little while, maybe.

This morning I saw the tower shake.  I saw him fall.  It was not pretty.  His youthful plasticity was not there to save him.  Caution for younger and sensitive viewers: the image which follows graphically depicts fatal injuries.

Little Dragon Dead

It was the sort of thing that doctors shake their heads at – no fixing that.  Right through the heart, the ribs, torso split in two.

Little Dragon was born in San Francisco and flew here to Massachusetts when but an infant.  He spent the most of his days in happy simplicity of Wood Block City.

Little Dragon Wood Block City

He was a carefree youngster, given to perching on wood blocks

Little Dragon 4 Little Dragon 2 Little Dragon 3

though sometimes a book would do, especially if he wanted to take a rest.

Little Dragon 1

That striped tower arrived in the city after he was born.  He took a fancy to perching upon it, though it was a little small for his feet and a little shaky, as compared to the other wood blocks.  Just the other morning – I wish I had a picture – he was perched atop this tower as the sun rose and cast a gentle and golden light on his mysterious dragon smile.  He looked very happy, clearly not realizing that this would become his tower of Doom.

Little Dragon that Dreadful Tower

Some say that everything should be understood as an Act of God, but this morning there can be no question that there was an Act of Dog.  The dog, attempting to impress upon me the need to take a walk in the woods, bumped the table.  I saw the tower shake.  I saw him fall.

Oh fleeting quick, we cannot capture thee.Little Dragon 5

Four Fixes

Little things accrue (of course they disappear too), little things we mean to do.  Here gathered as some sort of existential exhibit are four, all sharing a wood and glue theme.

Fix #1 – A Vase of Wormy Pine had a broken rim.  A small break really.

Fix batch 1 - Wormy Pine Vase

The good part of this repair was that I was able to find a similar softwood and pretty much closely match both color and grain direction.  The less than good part was that all the curve fitting, to get the inserted triangle to match the fluting curls top and bottom, had obvious failings.  Overall a useful lesson in how easy it is to fail at something with no conceptual challenge.  The execution was more demanding than I had patience for, and the benefit of approaching perfection (other than aesthetic) not high at all.

Fix #2 – Second beak break requires more substantial address

This concerns the original war spoon, the progenitor, a spoon that sits on my desk and doubles very nicely as my back-scratcher, and as such the availability of the beak is a functional requirement.

New War Spoon Archetype

Sometimes the war spoon falls off the desk and twice now his beak has broken off.  This happens right where the beak joins the spoon head and it is made the more likely by the grain being perpendicular to the direction of the beak.  Reconstructive surgery!

Fix batch 1 - War Spoon Beak A

Gruesomely the patient lay without anesthesia in the operating vise for over 12 hours.  I used saw and chisel and drill to form a half inch deep base in the center third of the spoon bowl side.  Similarly I dug such a trench at the base and top side of the beak.  I reattached the beak –

Fix batch 1 - War Spoon Beak B

And then inserted a fitting piece of mahogany (the same wood as the spoon) into the trench, in this case with the grain perpendicular to the direction of the beak.  Instead of the wood glue that I had used in the previous ‘stick it back on’ repair I used epoxy-resin, and mixed up a batch that I laced with sawdust from the mahogany.  This would give the right color to any hardened glue exposed in the final joint.  Came out great – remind me I have to return here to get a picture of the result.

Fix #3 – Kitchen stool had a broken stretcher.

More like obliterated.  All that remained was about fifteen percent of the original, not at all re-usable.  The wood seemed to be a maple with some sort of half-washy finish.  By that I mean a little milkiness, but some grain visible.

I had no maple lying around, nor any half-washy finishes, but I did have a piece of red oak that upon which I had been testing a draw knife.  I decided that to use a draw knife to fashion anything that would experience utility was a rare notch for a modern belt.  Thing was, it’s such an intuitive and satisfying tool to use.  Took no time.  Easy to zoom right to target, with opportunity for subtle and creative nuance.

Fix batch 1 - Maple Stool AFix batch 1 - Maple Stool B

Fix #4 – Dining room chair has two dislocations of the leg

The back right leg no longer goes into the seat nor into the stretcher

Fix batch 1 - Cherry Chair A

This had been fixed before, but before I knew anything of glue.  I think I used something soft and rubbery – not really very much adhesiveness – and as you might expect, it did not hold under the stresses a chair would naturally experience.

This was therefore a straightforward fix.  Use a glue with high adhesiveness and great strength.

Fix batch 1 - Epoxy Resin BeforeiFix batch 1 - Epoxy Resin After

Epoxy-resin.  This is the same stuff I used for the beak repair.  Notice the dried and darker smudge on the left.  That is where I mixed the beak batch with the sawdust.

Fix batch 1 - Cherry Chair B

Now it sits drying.  I expect it should be stronger than new by tomorrow.  If not I will report.

Please have a happy and effective day.

 

Welcome 2016

Hello fair Readers, persons, life forms all

I have not much here today, other than a recognition of my posting slump and overdue wishes for health and strength and joy in 2016.  In fact, I’m so far behind in thinks to take care of (because I’m taking care of so many things) that the picture, indeed, you see that right, in fine January light, is from January 2015 and I believe that it’s now February 2016.  C’est la vie?

20150101 Desmond at Plum Island

Since early December I’ve been on a project that has required a great amount of new learning from me.  This is the main reason I’ve been so non-productive elsewise.  I earnestly hope to brightly fulfill these currents demands sooner than later and return to my happy practice of sharing experience with you.

 

 

Vigor

or perhaps vigor with no outlet.  Perhaps all revved up with no place to go.

In this case we have the resolution of the matter of Box 17, which spent a week in limbo, unclear as to whether it would take up local residence as a plant pot or would have to take its chances in the great big world.  Long story short, the local authorities issued a variance in the grand design, and so it was deployed.

Deployed

The main focus of this post though is on the captive plants, those that reach a point where their captivity is much at odds with their instinctual drives.  Plants want to grow.  The palm tree here had pushed up the soil in its previous pot easily four inches above the brim.  Transplanting it I could see how.  These are the roots I pruned off.

Root Circle 3

What a tremendous amount of vigor in that root system.

Root Circle

Root Cirle 4

I’ve never done any root pruning before and I hope not to again.  I can see it in the context of having a plant that grew mal-adaptive roots because of unnatural constraints, as here.  I hope not to put plants in that position.  The current placement of that palm tree in Box 17 could well keep it satisfied for five to seven years.  I can note on my list of accomplishments that I temporarily removed one invisible stress.  How I would like rather to say that I had fundamentally aligned vigor with opportunity.  Maybe to small extent, but it does make one think.

Harvest 2015

‘Twas a year of not much planting, as other work during the spring took up most of the time.  I don’t like the phrase when one door closes one door opens – I think it suggests a balance that while it may exist in the aggregate, like flipping a coin, tells us very little about the likely sequence of events.  I could, were I to believe in what such a phrase suggests, believe that the not planting of the usual contingent of seeds and seedling led to this harvest of acorns.  I do not choose to believe that.

Many was the year I would gather acorns, never in great quantity, but always far more than for which I had use.  It was that each somehow seemed by itself a desirable thing, justifying the gathering.  I’ve had that feeling all my life – I don’t know why.  I romantically speculate that it has something to do with ancient genes.  They say that humans have eaten more acorns than all the crops ever grown since we became farmers.  Verify that!

In 2012 there were a lot of acorns where I live, and, compelled as I can be by them, I gathered quite a few, even taking my younger daughter out on a gathering mission.  What intrepid hominids we were.  We shelled them, leeched out the tannins with multiple soakings in water, roasted them, ground them, and made both acorn butter and acorn chocolate chip cookies.  it came out very well, but to say that there was little demand would be to radically exaggerate the demand.  Nonetheless, I wanted to do the acorn harvest/make food thing now that I have (since June 2013) a comfortable posting place.  I could be that demand was so low because the message really only got to about twelve disinterested souls.  Now it can get to thousands of disinterested souls and be memorialized forever wherever it is that internet bits go when they no longer live where first imagined, somewhere where some Spock in future times will say “Computer – tell me the first known internet publication concerning the harvesting of acorns and the making of acorn chocolate chip cookies” and of course, this will pop up like magic and the Federation will glide further toward glory.

Okay, okay – here is a bowl of them.  Gathered in about an hour.  Perhaps five pounds.  A post will soon follow where I take them them through the transformation to foodstuff.

Full Dish

On this gathering mission I took my faithful companion, to see if he had the disposition to perhaps train as an acorn hound.

Acorn Hound

To and fro he ran with great excitement, never once stopping for an acorn.  Even as I scrounged the forest floor picking up acorn after acorn.  Even as they fell at times nearly right upon us.  He was not interested.

Since this post is nominally about the harvest this year, let me also share the radishes, spoken of here originally.

Acorns with Radishes

For them a special fate awaits, to become half-sour Daikon spears.  Will advise on that.  Also I saved some 75 of their seeds, so next year is at least secure on the radish front. On the one hand, this is not the sort of a harvest that will contribute much to getting through the winter.  On the other hand though, well, perhaps this prototyping of fringe nutritional pathways will prove to be just the thing somewhere far down the road.

 

 

 

 

Dancing Mirror Cabinet

Because really, you did not know that you needed one, but is not the appeal to self-evidence sufficient?

Mirror Box Back

This is 100% upcycled.

Mirror Box Right

See how ready it is.  I think it more a dancer than a runner.  And it gives something back, like when you look it in the face it shows you something.  And it has ample payload capacity.

Mirror Box Left

It sees things too – notice how it reveals THE brass turtle spittoon.  You might have to click on the picture.  I close with an old poem referencing said turtle.

Melancholy Threshold
The day is waning where pomegranates,
lush and languorous, have blithe dominion
on sultry and indolent afternoons.

The hour is nearly past where languid decay,
like over-ripe fruit, sweetens the absence
of honest reflection and firm resolve.

The moment is fading in an amber
twilight where the imagined animates
the reality of the inanimate.

Now every stone that is thrown
is inseparable from the throwing.
Every intention nurtured becomes
the character of what is perceived.

Now the brass spittoon,
in the form of a turtle,
taunts the ghost of indecision.

 

Menagerie

Just emerging from a long run of regular work.  Wish I could say I’d made or done something of great purpose outside the work for a dollar channel, but not so much.  I did add a green stone and two tetradrachmas to the meager menagerie I maintain on my desk.

Menagerie

Some think it a distracting exhibition, but I find it fosters creativity.  Kokopelli plays his music.  The Sphinx has the head of Beethoven, so he listens, wishing he had the damn flute.  There’s a madrone root, some Kalahari jasper, you can see.  One of the shells has the opposite twist – I’ve only seen that in this one case.  It’s the gray one front left.

It’s late March and there’s still a foot of snow on the ground here.

 

Redwood Gobans

Alright.  This evening we have a happy turn, just a little bit of doing, one of those things one means to get to but of course years go by.

I’ve played the great and ancient game of go since 2001.  If you don’t know what it is I recommend it to you earnestly – it will sharpen your mind.  A wonderful website that is wide and deep can explain everything about it, the history, the strategy, the proverbs – yes, it has proverbs:  Sensei’s Library.

A goban is a go board.  There is a lot of history to this too.  The Japanese, who ruled the world of go in modern times (until recently) mandated that only certain woods be used, actually there was a hierarchy of woods that could be used.  I believe kaya was at the top. It’s quite a beautiful tree.  Bottom line it’s a big old evergreen.

Go boards are apparently divided into really good ones, with regular grain (masame), and less good ones, with irregular grain (itame).  The first board I made, just to be able to play, was of an outdoor plywood that probably was treated with arsenic.  Aesthetically it was a grave fail, but it did allow me to play.  After using it for maybe a year and a half I decided to make a real one.  This was 2003.  Massive hunks of kaya, though, are hard to find at any price, and if you do find them the price is quite prohibitive.  I scratched my head a bit and eventually came up with and appropriately American idea, why not use redwood?  It’s massive, available, beautiful, celebrates the game taking root on these shores.  Seemed like a plan.  Off to eBay and shortly I was the proud possessor of a 24 x 27 x 2 piece of quartersawn redwood – curly redwood no less, with flames, as they call them, a sort of chatoyance.  At that time I did not have any real working equipment, nor so much money, so I went to Home Depot to buy a sander, because I knew it would need a finish.  I walked over to the man with the big chop saw and had him trim it to the lines I had drawn.  Home I went and here it is, a redwood goban.

Old Goban Old Goban 2 Old Goban Corner Old Goban Detail Grain

What a lovely thing.  Even though it’s humble and rough in more ways than not, the wood ennobles it sufficiently, and that I took the trouble to precisely measure out – those are not squares mind you, but prescribed to be 7/8 by 15/16 inch rectangles, because that’s the specification.

Years go by.  This is a 19 x 19 grid.  The game of go is notoriously difficult.  Beginners falter.  The 19 x 19 dimension is daunting.  The culture of go recognize that the game is valid at any grid size, though the weight of particular considerations changes with board size.  I wanted to make a 13 x 13 one as a teaching platform.  Some like 9 x 9 for this purpose but I think at that point the relation between global and local is lost, and that’s such a key part of the game.

There I was on eBay one day and a piece of dawn redwood appears.  I’d not seen that ever commercially available as a wood.  Dawn redwood is a Chinese redwood, actually one of only three types of Sequoia in the world (these days) and the only Asian one.  This appealed to me conceptually, maintaining the redwood idea but gong back to where the game was born.  Can you say itame?  I don’t think it’s because dawn redwoods are necessarily of irregular grain, in fact I know that not to be the case, but the piece I’d beheld looked a little like the sky (ok, I exaggerate) in Munch’s ‘The Scream’  (marginally reminiscent?).  Since it was going to be itame I figured I’d just do it rough and quick, so here we are

New Goban 1 New Goban 2 Gobans End Grain New Goban edge and Face

This last shot shows the swirling sky I saw on the left, but gobans are so not supposed to be about swirling sky.  I figure for those who are not so serious that they bleed from the ears as they play that some light distraction is no great crime.  If they become serious enough to scoff at such lightheartedness, perhaps they’ve become too serious.

Anyway, this post was merely to share this creation and my feelings of happiness thereto pertaining.  I’ve played for 14 years now and the journey of playing and trying and learning has been deeply satisfying.  Mostly I’ve played online at the wonderful server DragonGoServer.net.  They keep all your stats for free and there’s a lot to be learned from a history spanning more than a decade.

Dragon Curve

If you ever have a yen to play go don’t hesitate to go there and invite Rusty2 to have a game.  Onegaishimasu.