Stories: Update

Many of you have downloaded and read ‘Carmen’ and ‘Fledglings: Part 1’. Thank you and I hope you’ve enjoyed them. If you haven’t had a chance, head over to my ‘Stories’ (https://gogzr.com/stories/) page and take a look.

Since posting them I’ve posted the rest of ‘Fledglings’, which can be had by paying one dollar. I think it’s obvious I’m not gonna get rich. The dollar will help me pay for the site and make other stories available.

I’ve also just finish recording Part 1 of Fledglings. I’ll start on Part 2 next week. The process of recording audiobooks is an interesting one. I’ve read these stories out loud as part of my editing routine, but when you record it takes on a whole new dimension.

In my first attempt I sounded stiff, wooden and boring. I think that was because that’s how I read it when I’m editing, I’m looking for mistakes. So, I took a second go at it and I think it sounds better. One thing I did find in both sessions is that my voice degrades over time, so I have to break it up and record over several days. My voice seems to last about an hour and a half before it starts crackling. I’m trying to figure out how to help that. After a recording session I’m almost hoarse. I know tea with honey helps, but I need something a bit more aggressive. 

I’m on the fence about releasing Part 1 alone and then charge (US$2.00) for the whole story in audio. I’m reviewing it now and should have it posted sometime next week if I’m going to. Otherwise I’ll wait until I’ve finished the whole story before posting.

Anyway, if you’ve read either or both stories, let me know what you think.

On a different note: Autumn is just around the corner and temps here in Florida will start to cool (I hope!). That means I can get back to producing camping videos! If you haven’t seen some of my earlier video, head on over to my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2qLDlGAraLqQ2FfSkIRHxw) and check them out and subscribe. Actually, there’s a nice mix of videos on my channel, from Howtos to travel, and few other projects I’ve worked on. My videos are amateurish, but I enjoy making them. Hope you enjoy watching.

Also, please feel free to pass along the links to my sites to others you feel might be interested.

More to come so…

Stay Tuned.

Vern

Stories

I love a good story. 

When I was a kid I watched a lot of tv. I watched stuff that any kid my age watched back then; Saturday morning serials like Sky King, The Lone Ranger, and Rocky Jones: Space Ranger. The stories they told were pretty simplistic: bad guys did bad deeds and the good guys always won the day. You didn’t have to think too hard about it and the action, such as it was back then, was really why you watched.

I also watched adult shows and movies back then too. The stories they told were far more nuanced, there were reasons the bad guys (and girls) did bad things and it made you wonder if they were truly bad. And the good guys were just a likely to do bad in the name of good. Shows like Perry Mason, The Loretta Young Show, Dragnet and 12 0’Clock High. I was entranced by movies like The Glass Menagerie, Marnie, Rear Window, Lost Horizon, The World of Suzy Wong and more. Though they were in black and white those shows and movies showed me that life wasn’t that way but a zillion shades of grey, and good and evil were often matters of perspective.

The same was true with the books I read, which tended to be science fiction. Still, the best stories were those where the lines that delineated right from wrong and good from bad were ofter blurry, faint, or nonexistent.

Back then, when other kids dreamt of being cowboys, firemen or race car drivers, I fantasied about climbing mountains, diving into the ocean abyss, rocketing into the void of space, and writing about all of it. I tried several times to write out stories by hand when I was very young, but I never really got anywhere with it. I pretty much abandoned the dream of writing until computers made word processors available to the masses. During my late 20’s through to my early 40’s I wrote what must have been hundreds of stories. Most are lost now, but I recall several.

If I remember correctly the stories I wrote back then horribly written, but the premisses were good. Over the years I have found some of those stories and read them, and the same can be said for all of them: good ideas, bad execution.

Recently I met someone who I now consider a friend, her name is Danielle. She and her husband, Rich (also a friend), lives in Virginia. She is a woman of many talents and one of them is writing. We have swapped a few stories and she thinks I should try to publish some of my work. Let me reiterate: The stuff I’ve written in the past were poorly done. They are replete with grammar and spelling errors and other technical issues, but the premisses of many of them are sound. So, what I intend to do is rewrite some of them, fixing the technical issues and updating the language while adhering to the basic storyline.

Publishing my stories is another thing altogether. What I’ve written in the past are short stories, they range from 5,000 to 10,000 words. So, for my publishing efforts I’ll start with those. To generate interest I’m going to create a repository for the stories I publish. My goal is to get the stories out so people can read them, but I also would like the effort to be self-supporting. To that end, my plan is this: As I complete a story I will post ‘Part 1’ of it and make it publicly available. You’d read Part 1 for free, but would pay a dollar or two to read the rest of the story. I also intend to offer audio versions of the published stories. Once you’ve paid the stories will be downloadable and you can load it onto your Kindle or other e-reader or just read it from your browser. Audio versions will be MP3 files and will play on anything that plays MP3s.

I don’t intend to get rich doing this. I just don’t want to drain my meager bank account to do it. So, to get this ball rolling I will offer my first story for free. ‘Carmen’ is about a nerdy guy who encounters a mysterious woman. To some the story may seem incomplete, but I assure you, it is complete. It focuses on the experience of the protagonist who is inexperienced when it comes to dating.

The next story is ‘Fledglings’ and it’s about a guy who discovers something strange about himself. As I’ve mentioned before, Part 1 of Fledglings will be offered for free. To read the rest you simply click on the link and pay $1.00. You can then download a PDF or ePub version. I will offer the audio version of the full story later if there’s interest.  

So, please take a look at my Stories, read Carmen, and leave comments. I promise to answer.

Here’s the link: https://gogzr.com/stories/

Stay tuned.

Vern

WESTWARD HO! (AND BACK)

First, let me apologize for taking so long to update my blog. A lot has happened since I last posted. I’ve moved back into my house, I’ve done some video work, I’ve caught and got over a bout of Covid, I’ve started writing a book, started playing darts again, just one thing after another. Since moving back into my house about 2 months ago I’ve been able to focus a bit more. Things don’t feel so temporary. 

Getting good at darts

The book I’m writing is nearly finished. I’m writing it as an experiment to see if I actually can write a book. For those of you who have written books, you may relate to what I am dealing with. I’ve written short stories before (they were horrible, but some had good ideas), but the thought of writing a book seemed daunting. A friend of mine has been coaching me. While it still feels like a huge project I can actually see it happening and, more importantly, finishing. What I’m finding interesting about the process is that, like my short stories, the book is unfolding as I write it. I have a vague idea where it will end, but I don’t know how it will actually happen. The characters have taken on lives of their own, so I feel that they are in control of the process, not me. Weird, right?

As I said, this book is an experiment, it will likely never be published. Or I may self publish it on Amazon. It won’t be much good, it is based on a short story I wrote 10 years ago and the premise isn’t something that appeals to a broad audience. Anyway, I’m enjoying the process and I’m writing every day. That’s what counts.

Ok, let me tell you about my latest adventure. Here’s a 4 minute video about it too. Not my best effort, but it was fun.

In early June I finally took a trip out west to see my son (Toby and his sig-oth, Ellen), my daughter (Sarah) and my grandson (Bane). I hadn’t visited them since September, 2019 and I really wanted to see them. 

Several thing lined up that would have delayed this trip even more, not the least of which was the price of gas, which was more than double what it was in 2019. I had expected to pay more than US$5.00/gal on the road, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I paid on average about US$4.60/gal. Still more than twice the cost per gallon in 2019, but every little bit helps.

I covered 5,250 miles (8,450km) on this trip. Heading out I drove the first 18 hours of the estimated 32 hour drive from Winter Springs, FL to Sahuarita, AZ stopping only for gas and bathroom. I had set up my car, a 2014 Mazda CX-5, so that I could stretch out and take a nap in the back if I needed to. I brought along a camping sleep pad and my lightweight sleeping bag, pillow and a light blanket. 

While the idea was sound, the execution left a lot to be desired. First off it was far too hot. The first time I tried to take a nap it was around 9pm somewhere between Houston and San Antonio, Texas. The outside temp was 90 degrees F, way too hot and running the AC in my car would waste a lot of gas. So I drove until I was so tired sleep had to happen, found a rest stop and tried again to nap. This time it was about 87 degrees F. In anticipation of my nap, I ran the AC on high while I drove to the rest stop. There was enough residual cool air in the car to allow me to drop out, and I did, for 3 hours.

The sleep pad I used (ThermaRest Basecamp. I’m going to post a review of this sleep pad soon.) was comfortable, especially with the lightweight blanket between me and the pad. I slept soundly and woke refreshed. I drove the rest of the way to my daughter’s house on just one Red Bull to help me stay alert.

By the way, I should have bought stock in Red Bull. I don’t know what it is about it, but one 8.4 oz can can keep me sharp, help me focus, and not make me jittery. I probably drink more than I should given that each can is 110 calories, but the benefits, for me at least, far outweigh any imagined bad side effects.

As I came over the Galiuro Mountains in western New Mexico I noticed that the outside temperature was around 101 degrees F. The mountains are fairly steep and I saw car after car along the roadside with hoods open, likely because they overheated. As if to further warn me, along the road there were sign indicating were water for overheated radiators was located. I had my car serviced a few weeks before driving out, but my car is used to Florida weather. Yes, it gets hot, but it seldom gets THAT hot and never for that long.  

It’s cookie’ in New Mexico

As I climbed higher into the mountains, however, the outside temperature dropped to around 97 degree F. Tolerable. But as I came down the western side of the mountains I anxiously watched the thermometer climb: 101, 102, 103. There it stayed until I was about 50 miles from Tucson. 104, 105, 107. I pulled over thinking that my car was overheating, but I found the coolant reservoir at the proper level. It was just that hot outside.

I got back in my car, but didn’t run the AC hoping that the lighter load on the engine would keep it from getting too hot. 

Nope! 108, 109, 110!!

By the time I pulled into my daughter’s driveway the thermometer registered 112 degree F (44.5 degree C). That’s just plain nuts!

Anyway, once at my daughter’s I rested because I needed to head out again the next morning to Oceanside, CA to see my son, Toby, Ellen, and their fur-kid, Reggie. It was great to see my  girl again, and my grandson who has sprouted since I last saw him.

I left early to get ahead of the heat. Still, in the Algodones Dunes area, it was 101 degree F. 

The Algodones Dunes is an interesting area nearly white dunes similar to those you’d find in the Namib or Sahara Deserts. Though the southwest US is extremely arid and is a desert with scrub plants and cacti you don’t normally find dunes. These dunes start just west of the Arizona-California border on the western side of The Chocolate Mountains and extend westward to El Centro, CA and Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and north towards Joshua Tree National Park. 

As I continued west on I-8 I started climbing the southern arm of the San Berdino Mountains. There the temperature dropped to a far more pleasant 94 degrees F. Coming out of the mountains the temps continued to drop and by the time I arrived at my son’s house in Oceanside, CA, it was a very reasonable 84 degrees F.

I spent 2 days with Toby and Ellen, Reggie and their 2 cats, Koa and Peanut Butter, who adopted me. Whenever I sat Reggie would come over and sit in front of me demanding that I pet him. The two cats would take up positions on either side of my chair and also demanded attention. Fun fur-kids.

Though my time with Toby and Ellen was short, it was full. Toby and Ellen both have started new jobs and couldn’t get time off to hang out except on the weekend. I was glad to have that time. Great food, great music, great family. I enjoyed every minute, but all too soon, I had to leave. 

Again, I left early to avoid the heat. I arrived back in Sahuarita around 2pm. I did stop at Painted Rock Mountains. An interesting area where Native American rock drawings have accumulated over the course of hundreds of years. It is surmised the area may have been a crossroads of sorts and traveling groups would leave markings for others to see, possibly passing on information. Or it could be Native American graffiti. Whenever the reason for the drawings, there are a lot of them.

Painted Rock Mountain in Arizona

I spent the following 4 days chillin’ with my grandson and my daughter. My grandson is becoming quite a programmer. He showed me a game he was developing. The kid is 11! Fascinating stuff. STEM development. He’s a huge gamer too, made quick work of me in any game I challenged him in (the smart little snot!)

Again, all too soon I had to leave. My daughter had recently taken on a new job as well, so she could only spend a limited amount of time with me. So, I started out early and drove, and drove, and drove through the heat. I was less concerned this time. My daughter had assure me that the heat was normal and a well maintained car shouldn’t overheat. (She’s so smart!)

The drive home was uneventful. I had originally planned to stop at several landmarks like Carlsbad Caverns, but with gas prices so high and a limited budget, I just couldn’t swing it this time. Next time though I’m gonna spend several weeks on the road and visit The Grand Canyon and other places like that. Maybe by then I’ll have a hybrid car. 

Stay Tuned

Vern

Silver Springs State Park

The Florida peninsula has an interesting geology. At its core it is porous limestone, a mineral that dissolves fairly easily in water. Given that the Florida peninsula is surrounded by sea water you might think that any water found in underground streams would be at least brackish, but that is not the case. Florida’s limestone core is riddled with fresh water streams that bubble up to the surface and form many of the fresh water rivers that web the state. There are over 1000 of these springs and they are typically created by rain water that percolate down through layers of sand and limestone to pool in underground aquifers. Florida and the surrounding states receive some of the highest amounts of rainfall in North America, well over 60 inches (1500 mm) on average per year. All of that water helps to create one of the most productive system of springs in the world discharging more than 10 billion gallons (38 billion liters) of fresh water every day!

One of the most productive springs is Central Florida’s Silver Springs, which discharges more that 65 million gallons (246 million liters) of water daily at a constant temperature of 72F (22c). The waters of the spring and the river it forms is clear for miles making it a perfect place to view wildlife both around and underwater. In fact, back in the 1950s, Silver Springs was the number one tourist attraction in Florida, visited by hundreds of thousands people from all over the world. Camping, hiking, diving, and swimming were the main activities. Glass-bottomed boats allowed visitors to marvel at alligators, river otters, manatees and an endless variety of fish. 

Today, Silver Springs still enjoys a steady stream of visitors who come to enjoy the clear green-tinted waters that gush forth from the springs.  In 2013 Silver Springs was taken over by the state of Florida and the springs was merged with the adjacent Silver River State Park to form Silver Springs State Park, a 4000 acre area of natural Florida beauty. The park provides camping, boating and hiking trails, and at the spring head visitors can rent kayaks and paddle boards or take a tour of the spring and river on one of the famous glass bottomed boats.

I had a chance to visit Silver Springs recently and produced a short video of the experience. If you visit Florida I encourage you to stop at Silver Springs. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Stay tuned

Vern

Vern Goes Camping!

It might’ve started as a vague urge, like the scent of hotdogs roasting over an open fire, a scent that caught in the wind and was attenuated by distance from its source, faint but distinct.

Maybe it was an instinctual need, hunter/gatherer roots buried deep in my DNA that took 68 years to break through my urban upbringing and make itself known. 

Perhaps it was the result of spending so much COVID time indoors watching Netflix and getting  the COVID Chub, a sensory and physical rebellion that could only be quelled by spending an extended period outdoors.

Whatever the cause, I had a desire to commune with nature, to walk among the trees, to trade concrete for earth beneath my feet. I needed to go camping!

The problem is that I know very little about how to camp. It’s not like you can just find a plot of land, pitch a tent and start a fire, at least you can’t in Florida. There’s a lot to consider, buy and plan before you start applying insect repellent. That’s what I’d been studying for the past year and I’ve put together some videos of some of my discoveries, I’ve even gone camping once to see if I could do it, but that trip was a dry run. This one was the real deal.

About 2 months ago I logged into the Florida State Parks website and reserved a campsite at Wekiva Springs State Park, a drop dead gorgeous tract of tress, meadows, trails and bike path surrounding a natural fresh water spring.

Being a managed park sitting smack dab in the middle of Central Florida, there are rules a regulations you MUST follow to do just about anything. That might sound restrictive, but it’s not nearly so in practice. The rules and regs are there to keep idiots from burning down the place or trashing it out, ruining the experience for others looking to sate their need for nature. Rules include prohibiting open fires except in designated places and in provided fire pits. The reason for this rule is obvious. While Central Florida is a relatively wet area, getting about 50 inches ( about 1300mm) of rain per year, forest fires can and do occur. Often they are caused by lightning strikes, but a fair number are caused by stupid people doing stupid things. Wekiva Springs, being a managed park, often create controlled burns which consume underbrush before it  can become fuel for uncontrolled fires. If you take a walk through the park you’ll see trees that bear the charred markings of recent controlled burns.

Anyway, with some book knowledge and more desire than sense, I arrived at my campsite. Having practiced several times beforehand, I had my tent setup, air pad blown up and in place and my sleeping bag unrolled and laid out inside the tent in well under a half hour. It was late afternoon when I arrived so the sun was still fairly high and warm. When I was done with the tent I was soggy with sweat, but I wasn’t finished. I took a brief walk to cool down and check out my neighbors.

The camp area was divided in two, one side for tent, car and small vehicle campers and the other side for land yachts, those huge campers you’ve seen cruising down the highway, often pulling a car behind it. Regardless, each campsite has water, power and sewer hookups, a convenience for tent and car campers, a must for anything larger. 

As I walked I discovered that campers are a friendly lot. Unsolicited waves and greetings are common. It’s like people have somehow found their humanity out in the woods and were eager to show it off. Even the dogs were friendly!

Back at my site, I unpacked gear for cooking. I was getting kinda hungry, and curious. See, I’d thought about what I was gonna eat that evening. I’d considered a nice sub from a local market (purchased before I entered the park), or maybe some canned nourishment like beef stew or soups, but I had decided against those options when I found freeze dried food packs in a local Walmart. The variety! The ease! The mystery!! I mean, wouldn’t you want to know what freeze dried chicken fried rice tasted like? Or freeze dried biscuits and gravy??

I have a nice little compact gas camp stove and an ultra compact stainless steel cook set that’s ideal for boiling water. From my research, boiling water is one of THE things you must be able to do while out in the wilds. If you can boil water you can eat and drink without the fear of getting some sort of dreaded disease. AND, with these freeze dried food packs, you can enjoy a gourmet meal while communing with nature! How cool is that?

Setting up my camp stove was simple; screw the stove onto a can of gas. Done! I filled my pot with water (from the spigot on my campsite), lit the stove, and waited about 10 minutes for the water to boil. According to the package all I needed to do was add 12 ounces (about 355ml) of boiling water into the pack, stir, close the pack and wait 5 minutes, stir again and wait another 4 minutes. Stir once more and enjoy!

With the water in my pot bubbling away, I did as instructed, closed the pack and waited. Peering into the pack before I closed it did little to excite my senses. Freeze dried chicken fried rice doesn’t look like much even after you’ve poured the water in and stirred. I hoped it would look more appetizing when I opened the pack again in 5 minutes.

No, after 5 minutes and some vigorous stirring, what I saw in the pack looked more like something that had been eaten, but regurgitated. Still, I had faith in the packaging so I closed it again and waited another 5 minutes instead of the instructed 4 minutes, I figured an extra minute wouldn’t hurt.

This time what I saw when I opened the package was a bit more appealing. The rice, chicken and vegetables had absorbed the water and had taken on forms similar to their original. Similar, but not quite the same. Fresh fried rice is not mushy, but this wasn’t too far off. I dug a spoon in and took out a sample. Steam wafted from the heap of my reconstituted dinner, filling the air with a suggestion of one of my favorite asian meals. I saw chunks of chicken, bits of egg, and veggies mixed in the pile of rice on my spoon.

I took a bite.  Hmmmm! Not bad! Could use some soy sauce, but beyond that, not bad at all. I could certainly see it being devoured without complaint by a hungry backpacker after a day long trek.

The package said it held 2 servings. I was surprised to find that it was accurate, there was a lot of food in that pack once the water was added. I ate as much as I could and put the remains in my cooler in the car. ( Another rule is NEVER leave food out unattended. There are bears and other omnivores in these woods and they can get brave and raid your campsite.)  

I had chosen mid September to camp because that’s when the local temperature starts to get cooler at night. I was expecting low 70s, maybe upper 60s. I had bought wood and started a fire in the open pit provided in my campsite. Unfortunately the air temperature hovered in the upper 70s all night and the humidity stayed around 80% making for an uncomfortable sleep, even with my battery powered fan going full blast. Around 2am I couldn’t get any rest so I decided to take a shower. The campgrounds provide excellent restroom facilities including hot showers. The shower was refreshing, especially after I finished off with a blast of cold water, but the heat and humidity sucked away any comfort I might have felt and by the time I got back to my site I was just as uncomfortable as when I left for the shower. There was only one thing to do, abandon the tent and sleep in the car. 

That didn’t work out either. I tried the driver’s side but my feet kept hitting the pedals and I bumped the steering wheel whenever I turned to get comfortable, so I tried the passenger side. That didn’t work either. The front seats are designed for sitting, not sleeping. The back of my SUV was filled with stuff I thought I needed for camping and I wasn’t going to rearrange it to make a space for me to stretch out in the dark, so I tossed and turned in the passenger seat until sunrise.

With the sun came the prospect of making coffee, which requires boiling water. I know how to do that! I’d brought along a small French press, ideal for a single cup of joe. I was also hungry. I eyed the package of freeze dried biscuits and gravy and it just did not make my mouth water. Still, with my stomach demanding food, I boiled more water, tore open the package, mixed and stirred and waiting. If the chicken fried rice looked unappetizing after 5 minutes, the biscuits and  gravy looked downright repulsive! Still, the fried rice turned out ok, and I was curious and hungry in equal measure. After another 5 minutes and some stirring the contents in my package reminded me less of southern breakfast favorite and more of blob of day old oatmeal. However, it smelled enticingly familiar so I took the plunge. 

I’m being generous in my description here. Use grains of salt when viewing.

Nope! Nope! Nope!

The “gravy”, while hot, was flavorless. There was chucks of what I assume was the “biscuits” and what tasted like eggs, and there were nodules of “sausages” too. Again, if you’re backpacking and you need protein I’m sure the content of that package I had before me would do the trick, and it would likely taste ok. I guess I’m just too city-fied to make that culinary leap just yet.

So, there I was, tired, hungry and a bit irritable. I took a walk to see if there were any animals roaming about and I was rewarded with several deer and bird sightings. There was a light mist hanging in a glen, muted sunshine making a field of yellow flowers glow. I couldn’t help but smile and take in a lungful of pine scented air. That was why people go camping!

Deer, fearless of humans, ate breakfast not more than 20 feet from me!

My first real camping trip wasn’t a complete bust, I enjoyed the surrounding, the discovery, and the feeling of being “out” enough to want to do it again. Next time I’ll be even better prepared. 

Stay tuned.

Vern

An Update

A while ago I mentioned that the Peace Corps had accepted me for a role in helping FEMA with the Covid-19 vaccination effort. Since I wrote that post a lot has changed.

First off, I didn’t get to go help FEMA.

While I was initially accepted, my full indoctrination depended on the completion of my medical clearance and I was in the middle of having cataract surgery. Though the doctors gave me a clean bill of health that clearance came too late and all of the positions were filled.

Ah well, I gave it a shot.

Secondly, I was also waiting to hear from the Peace Corps about when I could return to Namibia. If you’ve been following the news you’ll know that the pandemic has taken a new phase with the Delta Variant. My friends in Namibia tell me the country is being hit hard because relatively few have been vaccinated. There isn’t one colleague there who doesn’t know of an affected friend or family member, and many, including relatively young people, have died. It is a very sad state of affairs.

Because of this and other issues in that part of the world the Peace Corps has postponed sending volunteers to Namibia until things settle. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be even a tentative date when that might be.

So, what are my plans? I’m not sure. In the meantime please be sure to check out my YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2qLDlGAraLqQ2FfSkIRHxw). I have several new camping how-to videos with more on the way. Also, check the comment areas of the videos where you’ll find links to products I mention. Following the links and buying products help support the site. (Trust me, I have so few viewers and followers that I don’t make anything, but it does help me keep the site active.)

That’s it for now, but more to come.

Stay tuned,

Vern

Outside: An Observation

One of the upsides of this Covid-19 pandemic is that it has forced people to slow down. 

OK, maybe that’s not an upside for some, but for me, slowing down is a good thing. I was already in that process after having come back from a Peace Corps assignment and finding that I had little to do. So, I walked a lot. I found local trails and paths and spent a lot of time exploring and shooting video for a project I’m working on.

Along the way I started noticing more of the local flora and fauna, plants and creatures I might not have paid much attention to even while I walked wooded trails. There was a particular incident that got me to redirect my focus on my surroundings I’d like to tell you about. 

Early one morning about 8 months ago, while I was walking a bike path and listening to music I happened to glance up into the canopy above me. There sat a squirrel. That’s nothing atypical, you can’t spit in Central Florida without nearly hitting a squirrel, they are so plentiful. This one was a good 10 to 15 meters above the path I was on and it sat on a thin branch that looked like it could hardly hold the animal’s weight. The squirrel seemed agitated, it was eying an even thinner branch a good meter away, apparently trying to decide if it should make the jump. I stopped to watch the drama unfold.

The squirrel concentrated, its tail rapidly snaking and shaking as it moved to different positions on the branch, all the while focusing on the far twig. It must have been assessing, questioning whether it could jump that far or could the twig hold its weight or would it break. The fall would have definitely injured it, and since it was over a paved path, death was a real possibility. 

Now, this is a squirrel and squirrels know the trees they live in like we know the streets in our neighborhood. I’m sure it could have found a safer path. The upper canopy where I stood was fairly dense, so why did this squirrel pick this particular gap to cross?

Hmmmm!!!!

I’ve always believed that animals are far more complex creatures than we give them credit for. I believe that animals do have and display a wide range of emotions and thoughts that have human equivalents, but, because they are so different from us, we seldom see these emotions and thoughts expressed, or understand them for what are when they are expressed. When we do we attribute them to innate behavior, actions without thoughts or emotional content. They avoid predators to keep from being eaten, there’s no fear involved. They fly, crawl, jump, and swim, eat, reproduce, and exist because that’s what nature or God built them to do. 

However, if we observe closely, we can see behaviors that seems counter to the argument that animals, such as that squirrel above me, are little more than biological robots built to serve a particular purpose in nature.

So, there is our intrepid squirrel weighing its options: jump or no? Is it worth the risk? I liken that little guy( or girl) to a free climber, a person who scales rock faces without rope or other protection. These adrenaline junkies climb rocks that would give mountain goats pause. I think that squirrel was on that branch to test itself, just like free climbers. It wanted to push itself to limits that would leave other squirrels quivering in their nut stash.

After a minute or so of nervously weighing its options, the squirrel settled into position. I could see it focus as it prepared to jump, leaning a bit into the gap, eyes directed at the far branch. The branch it was on bounced up and down from the squirrel’s weight, it was so thin. Then the squirrel leapt, timing its jump on the upward swing of the branch it was on. It soared through the air, it’s tiny hand-like paws reaching desperately for something to grab. 

One paw grabbed a low hanging, impossibly thin limb and the whole branch sagged at the sudden weight increase, but it did not break. The squirrel was literally hanging on by one paw! 

It reached up with the other paw and pulled itself up like someone climbing a rope. Once safely on the far branch it turned and looked down as if it realized just how foolhardy the jump was. I applauded the effort. 

After that incident I started observing more, stopping when I found something even the slightest bit interesting. I’ve found that, if I watched long enough, other dramas often unfolded, maybe not as intense as that high flying squirrel’s, but interesting and thought provoking nonetheless.

This morning, as I sat outside enjoying a cup of coffee, I witnessed another interesting drama. This one I was able to capture on video.

A young Northern Mockingbird landed on the fence bordering my backyard. These birds tend to stand erect, but this one huddled down on the fence. As it adjusted itself I could see the reason for the odd behavior, it had an injured leg. 

As it sat it started peeping as young birds do when they want to be fed. An adult mockingbird appeared and shoved a bug of some kind into the gapping  maw of the young injured bird then flew off to find more food. This process went on for several minutes, but in one instance, another bird, perhaps a predator, approached the young bird. The momma or poppa bird appeared out of nowhere and drove the predatory bird away. All the while the young bird sat huddled on the fence, waiting to be fed. 

I was beginning to think that more than its leg was injured, but soon it decided to find safer confines and flew off. 

Here’s the video.

Mockingbirds

Nothing in the bird’s behavior suggests that its actions where driven by anything more than instinct, still it was interesting to see that the adult bird continued to care for the young bird even with its injury. Something counter to the ‘Survival of the fittest’ tenet. 

I’ve included a few more of my observations. If you haven’t found a desire to get outside maybe these will give you some inspiration. 

Wood Owl
Downy Woodpecker

Stay tuned.

Vern

I Can See Clearly Now: Part 2

Last Tuesday I went in to have the growing cataract in my right eye removed. In the follow-up examination on Wednesday the Dr. said that everything looked good, both eyes were healing nicely and that I would have great vision once the drugs I’m using to keep the swelling and infection in check is done. Right now things are a bit fuzzy, but it’s a marked improvement over what I was seeing before the operation. At least at a distance. Now I need reading glasses to setup close. Before the surgeries I didn’t need them, the odd way the cataract was forming allowed me to see well up close, but distance vision was a blurry mess.

So, I had to buy readers and join so many other in my generation whose eyesight has deteriorated and must wear glasses to read. 

Geez! I’m starting to feel old!!!

OK, maybe only a little. 

Anyway, that’s now behind me. 

On another and entirely different note, I’m really focusing on video creation. I don’t want to call it a hobby because the word makes it not sound as serious as I feel about the endeavor. I want to exploit the equipment I have to its fullest to create videos that tell meaningful stories. It’s more than just shooting pretty clouds and flowers, though there is certainly worth in doing so. I want viewers to see and examine what I see with the same scrutiny and emotions that I experience. That takes a bit of doing and I am no where near where I need to be to accomplish that, but that’s where I’m heading. 

Incoming Storm

If you’ve read my previous posts then you’ll know that I’m currently interested in camping, I want to learn as much as I can and as I learn I want to tell others who are camping neophytes like me everything I’ve picked up. I’ve posted 3 videos so far and am planning my next one, which should be about car camping or maybe glamping. 

If you go to my YouTube Channel and watch my camping related videos you’ll notice right away that I’m not entirely comfortable in front of the camera. I want to change that. Hopefully, as I do more of these videos I’ll feel a bit less self-conscious and more confident as I offer up the tidbits I’ve learned. It should be fun.

On a less than positive note, my application to Peace Corps to help with the FEMA Vaccine Rollout was declined. I’m told they have more than enough volunteers and my application was pending because of my eye surgery. Ah well. It would have been a fun adventure.

I still have my application in to return to Namibia, which should happen sometime this fall. We’ll see how that goes. 

In the meantime…stay tuned.

Vern

I Can See Clearly Now (Almost)

There’s been a lot happening since I last posted here, so let me enumerate and elucidate.

Peace Corps/FEMA Vaccine Support

The Peace Corps is typically focused on helping people in other countries, but there are times when Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) are asked to lend a hand domestically. It doesn’t happen often, in fact, it’s only happened one other time, during the recovery after Hurricane Katrina. 

Most will agree that the Covid-19 Pandemic is every bit as devastating, at least in the number of people affected, as Hurricane Katrina, and to helps us and the world recover requires that the majority of the population be vaccinated. FEMA was given the daunting task of vaccinating folks here in the US who, for whatever reason, have not had access to the vaccine. To accomplish it FEMA has asked other federal agencies who may be geared to support this effort for help. Peace Corps is one of those agencies. In turn, Peace Corps asked its recently returned volunteers for support. I saw it as a way to directly contribute to the effort of getting the US and the world out of the pandemic rut and back to some semblance of normalcy. So, I volunteered, and I was accepted. 

I don’t know where or how exactly I will serve, but I will be glad to do what I can wherever I can. My service will be for 3 months starting in May. It should be interesting and I’ll post something about it here.

Go Geezer Videos

I had not been sitting on my hands before the call came out to support FEMA, I had the idea to try something different, to do something I’d always wanted to do, but never seemed to find the time to fully explore it. I wanted to become proficient at camping.

Those of you who are experienced campers will likely think, “That’s not a big deal.” For you, that may be true, but for those of us who have never camped, it’s a huge deal. What, where, how, when and other questions are unanswered in our minds and just considering all that I don’t know is enough to make me want to change my mind. Lucky for me that I pay little attention to all the things I don’t know. (Not sure that’s a good thing…)

Anyway, I’ve been learning a lot and as I learn I’ve been creating videos explaining to other poor souls who, like me, wanna camp, but don’t really know how. Yes, there are a bunch of videos that talk about camping this and that, but few that talk about it from the newbie’s perspective. So, that’s what I’ve been doing, creating videos of camping as I learn. So far I have 3 (the third will be published soon) and intend to publish a bunch. This has been interrupted by the Peace Corps/FEMA thing, but I’ll pick it up once that’s done.

Please stop by my YouTube channel and check out what I’ve got so far.

Cataract Surgery

One sure sign that you are getting old is when your doctor insists that you investigate getting cataract surgery. For those who don’t know, cataracts is a condition where the lenses in your eyes start to harden and become cloudy, reducing your vision and in some extreme cases, cause blindness. Cataracts can also cause other problems such as increased eye pressure which can lead to glaucoma, a far more serious eye malady. 

So, taking my doctor’s advice, I saw a specialist and agreed to have the surgery. The surgery involves making tiny cuts in the eye to remove the problem lens and replace it with a plastic lens. If the surgery is successful the new lens restore and greatly improves vision in two ways; first it restores the ability of the eye to focus, often to levels of those when the patient was very young. Secondly, the new lens is not cloudy so more light comes into the eye, increasing visual acuity.

The surgery is usually performed on one eye at a time. I had the surgery done on my left eye earlier today and while it will take a day or so for my eye to focus with the new lens, I can already tell you that the amount and quality of light that the new lens lets in is dramatically Better. The photo below gives you some idea the difference I’m experiencing, and my cataracts was only moderate.

Focus will improve over time as well.

Many of my friends who have had the surgery have told me that I would be amazed at the difference. Like hearing loss, losing your vision over time is insidious because you don’t notice how bad it is until, often, it’s too late. Having this surgery will be life changing for me, especially since I am now focused of videography. 

There’s more stuff going on, but I won’t bore you with those details. Or maybe I will, but in a different post.

Stay tuned.

Vern

Camping Newbie

I think I want to try camping.

Setting up this tent!

As a kid I never had the opportunity to go camping though I loved being out in nature. I used to hang out in Druid Hill Park, which had a freely accessible zoo at that time. As I grew older and bolder I spent time in Gwynn Falls/Leakin Park which had a bunch of trails. I saw my first wild snake there, a large copperhead.  Escaped being sprayed by a skunk there as well. 

I did camp out several times in Namibia. My friend, Lysias Uusiku, loved throwing a tent up, striking a fire and roasting fish whenever we traveled. I did learn a few things from Lysias, but I don’t feel confident enough to proclaim myself a camper (happy or otherwise).

So, I intend to remedy that and do whatever I need to, buy whatever I need to and go wherever I need to to gain that confidence so that if the occasion arises and I need or want to camp, I can and feel good doing it.

To those of you who have experience with tents and cookstoves and are thinking that there’s nothing to it, you need to understand that though I did a lot of traipsing around the woods as a kid, I never spent the night out there. I’m sure I can figure out how to set up a tent, but I also need to know where, or more importantly, where I shouldn’t set up that tent. The same goes for making a fire, outfitting myself with sleeping gear, even shoes and clothing aimed at outdoor living are new to me. I need to examine all of that. 

There’s a great place near where I live called Travel Country Outfitters, its an outdoors shop that sells everything from kayaks to crampons. I went there to see what they had to say to a camping newbie. I’ve been a patron of Travel Country Outfitters for some time now and felt confident that they wouldn’t start grabbing the most expensive but ineffectual gear they had and throwing it in my cart telling me that I needed it all to make the most of my initial experience. Instead I was told that I should continue researching gear, techniques, and experiences of others to refine my needs then I could come back as a more learned customer, someone they could more easily work with.

I had done some research before seeking advise from the Travel Country staff. I knew, for instance, that I’d need some basic gear: tent, sleeping bag, backpack, but I hadn’t discerned which of the vast number of choices I should go with. After spending more time reading reviews I settled on a few items: A North Face Storm Break 2 Tent, an EcooPro LW250 Sleeping Bag, a Forceatt Ultralight Sleeping Pad, and a Cocoon Camp Pillow.

Travel Country had suggested that I wouldn’t want or need a backpack immediately and it could wait until I was comfortable using the other stuff I bought. So, last weekend I spent the night out in my yard with my new gear, and it was a surprisingly good experience. Surprisingly because I am prone to get bug bites. Mosquitoes seek me out in crowds, fleas nosh on my ankles and run, spiders think they’ve noted the biggest catch of their short lives. When I decided that camping is something I wanted to do I had to come to terms with the fact that I may lose a substantial amount of blood to bugs with each outing. It’s just something I’ll have to live with.

But I didn’t get one bug bite while I slept in complete comfort in my bag, on my pad, inside my tent. The only slightly annoying thing was the pillow, which would not stay put under my head. Its back is plastic and the pad is plastic so there was a lot of slipping around. I may have to rethink the pillow.

Still, it was such a good experience thatI intend to take this experiment further and camp in a real campground.  I’m currently researching local spots that allow tents, there are plenty here in Central Florida, so I should’t have a problem. I might even get a camp stove and victuals. I’m told that if I can boil water I can eat a decent meal. Could be fun!

Anyway, for those of you who are like me and can barely tell a carabiner from a CamelBack, I intend to publish how-tos on everything I encounter and learn, starting with setting up the tent I bought. Even if you’re comfortable around campsites the videos and reviews I’ll be posting may be of use to you as well. 

Here’s the first video: Setting Up The North Face Storm Break 2 Tent

All the more reason to…

Stay tuned.

Vern