Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Knothole Gang

Well, it's baseball season -- at least for the grapefruit league. And baseball season means little kids who hang around the ballpark hoping for an over-the-fence ball (foul or otherwise).

And then there was the knothole gang - the kids who wanted to watch the game but there was a board fence around the field and the only way to see the game was through a knothole in the fence.

Then, again, there was the knothole gang out behind our two-room school. Only thing was, it didn't involve a baseball game - it involved a couple of outhouses.

At our school there were two large four-holers - one outhouse for boys; one for girls. I'm not sure why four-holers - we were not that community minded - but, hey, it gave one an option of which seat to use.

Anyway, sometime before MY time, some of the larger boys got a great idea. Both outhouses were surrounded by metal fences for privacy. That held true for the girls but the door of the boys outhouse faced the entry through the fence so privacy was not a factor for the boys. The older boys decided that they needed a view for themselves so they brought a pipe, or a broomstick to school (the teachers didn't know or looked the other way). It so happened that two sheets of metal met just opposite the door the the girls outhouse. So, the broomstick, or pipe was used as a pry bar and separated the fence metal just enough to create a gap (in wood it would have been a knothole). It was just big enough to see the girl's outhouse door (which wasn't always closed). Needless to say, it created quite a stir among the boys over the years. Especially when one of the girls neglected to close their outhouse door.

However, once in a while, though, one of the girls might hear some giggling on the boys side of the fence and, looking through the gap in the fence, would see an eye peering through the hole. There'd be a scream - "I see you over there." "I'll tell the teacher on you!" That would get the boys attention and they would bail out of the outhouse enclosure with innocent smirks on their faces.

Outhouses were commonplace in our town. There are a number of stories about different outhouse events but we'll leave some of the other outhouse stories for another time. a few are better than this one.

Meanwhile, the old school has been converted into a museum and civic center of sorts. I've been back there a few times over the years, but I can't remember ever seeing the outhouses after the school no longer was a center of learning. (In more ways than one). If they are still there, I wonder if the crack in the fence is still there. And I wonder if the view through the fence is any different.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Forests grow - part two

Yesterdays blog talked about the 4-H trees
I planted in the 1930's. I ran across a couple
other photos that add to the story.
The picture on the left shows me and the trees
in 1981. The one above shows the forest in
2007. Wish I could find the old picture of the
field before the trees were planted.
Amazing what a few years can do in tree growth.
Not to say what the years have done to my aging

Monday, March 23, 2009

Have You Ever Done Something Right?

I've made a lot of mistakes in my lifetime but once in a while I've done something right. For instance, I contributed something special to our back yard seventy years ago. I planted trees. Lots of them. And I had dreams at that time of becoming a forest ranger.

Well, I never became a forest ranger but I continue to love a forest environment. That's why I enjoy our nearby Huron National Forest so much. The picture above is not local, here in Michigan, but is a picture taken in the sixties of the yard surrounding the house I lived in in the late 1930's to the mid '40's. Nothing special about the picture -- a pretty location with one of New York's famous trout streams out back. I loved living there and I relish going back from time to time.

When my father bought the house and 40 acres of land for 2 and a half thousand dollars there were trashy old buildings in the back yard - pig pens - chicken coops - and a lot of trash.
There was a barn with a sway-back roof that we were sure would cave in at the first snowfall.
A year of hard work cleared the area and it was beginning to look very attractive. Except for a worn-out hillside pasture on the other side of the stream. That's where the trees fit in.

I got involved in a 4-H club and thought about different projects. My brother eventually excelled in dairy raising Jersey milk cows. I didn't like cleaning up after chickens - I didn't like the work involved in raising a garden - and forestry sounded great. One day I attended a forestry meeting and came home with 500 Scotch Pine seedlings and 500 Norway Spruce. (If the truth be known, it was probably more like 250 of each but, hey, even 500 seedlings were a lot of trees for an 11 year old.)

At any rate, my project was to plant all of those seedlings on the worn out hillside across the stream from the house. A lot were "heeled in" to keep them alive, but every day I would load some in a bucket of water and with a mattock I'd make a hole on the soil and plant the trees one by one. It took a lot of time but every one of those seedling trees went into the ground.

I didn't think much about them at the time - I was just glad to see them all planted. But as the picture shows, there are a lot of trees growing on the other side of the creek, and that picture was taken thirty or forty years ago. You ought to see the trees now, and that hillside has become a much larger area - a huge 70-year old forest. I look at it whenever I get back that way and think to myself, "At least once I made one lasting impression on the world" And I feel an inner sense of peace that all the work by a little kid wasn't a wasted effort at all.

No, I never did become a forest ranger, but I still love the world about me - especially the
beauty of forests and countryside.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

For the birds

Well, we're getting close to Spring in Michigan. We drove the 75 miles to Bay City for a family reunion and St. Patrick's day celebration yesterday. Thew temp was as high as 68 which for Michigan is great at this time of year. We;;, Maybe it's great at any time of the year but Michigan weather can be capricious. One day wonderful - the next day stormy.

It reminds me of when I lived in Denver -- the weather was unpredictable there as well. One New Years eve it was zero or below when I stood on the Colorado State capitol steps to take a picture of the Christmas lights on the City Center buildings. The next day I was driving a friend's convertible around town with the top down. They say that the unpredictable weather in Denver depends upon Chinook winds coming down from the Rockies.

Around here we are subject to weather changes due to the Great Lakes. So one day it's great - the next day it can be horrible. Plus we can always blame the folks up north in Canada for what they export our way.

I remember the day we moved into our house in Oscoda -- March 27, 2003 to be exact. It was in the seventies that day and the sun was blessing us. A few days later (on April 1st to be exact) we had ten or more inches of snow and we were snowed in for some time. So it is with Michigan weather. (Some have asked us why we ever left Florida for the uncertainty of the Michigan weather after 17 years and we could only respond by saying, 'Have you ever been in Florida in the summertime' plus the old adage, 'Variety is the spice of life'.)

At any rate, We're seeing birds coming back. I am puzzled, however why the geese are flying west and not north. Is there a suggestion in that. And we saw our first robins yesterday.

Well, my friend above (a Scot in an Edinburgh park) is obviously a bird fancier and I thought it was a good character picture. (The man even held a sunflower seed in his lips and the bird would take it away.)

Like I said to begin with. some people are 'for the birds'. And that's not bad.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You have the right to remain silent....

Well, it just had to; happen sometimes -- she
was apprehended by one of Britain's Bobbies. Not that she had done anything wrong - it was just that she wanted to play typical American tourist getting a picture with someone wonderfully British.

The picture was taken during one of several tours we have taken to England, Scotland, and Ireland. Wonderful places to visit - they even speak a language we generally could understand. In the process of the tours we have had some thrilling experiences (like riding in the top front of a double-decker Austrian bus through British countryside). Then there were the other kind of experiences.

For instance, the day we had traveled an entire day and were ready to rest and have dinner.We checked in at a hotel and since I was in charge of the group and had to be sure all our passengers were settled in, I gave Joyce the key to our room and told her I'd meet her later. Half an hour or so later I went to our room, knocked on the door and got no response. "She must really have zonked out, I thought. Getting a maid to open the room (a very suspicious maid at that), I discovered the room was empty. I went down the the desk to ask if Joyce had called or if anyone had seen her. Negative to both questions. I was getting quite concerned when after quite a while she wandered into the lobby asking where I had been. I asked her the same question. Turns out she had gotten into the wrong room, (a maid had left a door open and Joyce mistook the room number) fell asleep, and then went searching for me while I was searching for her. I was about to call for a Bobbie to file a missing person report. However, when all was said and done, the story ended up happily after all

I've got another story or two about England but let this one do for today.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Anybody recognize the grand old lady of the seas above? It's February 1962. At the time of her construction, she was the longest passenger ship ever built, a record not surpassed until 2004.
She served transatlantic passengers from 1962 until 1974 when airline traffic across the Atlantic made her economically impractical. Who was she? The French Line flagship France in her inaugural arrival in New York Harbor.

By the time of her retirement, the France had completed 377 Atlantic crossings (588,o24 passengers), and 93 special cruises (113,662 passengers) and had sailed 1,860,000 nautical miles. To the dismay of a lot of Frenchman, the ship remained tied up for over five years.

It was an expensive ship to operate, especially in terms of oil prices at that time. But there was still life in the France and it was purchased by Norwegian Cruise Lines. Refurbished, and with an agreement that she would not go back to France, she went into Caribbean cruise service as the Norway in June of 1980 with a home port of Miami. That's where I first saw her and I thought she was huge and beautiful. In the Caribbean cruises we took from the mid-1980's to the early 2000's we saw the Norway frequently - sometimes underway at sea, and often anchored outside the harbor at St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands (the Norway was too long and too big for the harbor and passengers ended up being brought to shore in large tenders carried on the forward deck of the ship)

I always had hoped to cruise on the Norway; never happened, though. It was one of those wonderful classic ships that are More and more frequently fading into the past. Maritime law is making it more and more difficult to keep classic ships afloat and it is sad to see them go. The Norway's death knell came in May 2003 when a boiler explosion ended it's cruise life. It was towed from Miami across the Atlantic and it was deemed impractical (too costly) to re-engine the ship and for five years negotiations went on to try to save her. Finally, in 2008 the 42 year old France/Norway was beached in India and little remains of her today. One of the real classics of maritime history had gone the way of other ships we've sailed on: the Universe, and the Universe Explorer among others. Meanwhile, the at-sea pictures above were ones I took of this grand old lady in happier days, anchored off St. Thomas.

If you are interested in the history of cruise ships and a lot of pictures (including sequences of
the end of the Norway), check webpage maritimematters.com. It is really interesting reading if you are interested in cruise ships, old and new, current and past.
About the title of this bit (razorblades) -- It came from a conversation I had with a friend some time ago. I casually asked him what had happened to a certain old ship we had sailed on and he replied, "Didn't you know? It was melted down and made into razorblades." I'd rather think the reclaimed metal went into a more modern cruise ship, but, hey, razorblades are made of steel and steel is recycled so.......