The house where I grew up had back yard that ended with some woods. Like any boy living on the edge of the woods, I spent a lot of time there. It wasn’t a forest; they ended up making it into three lots and built houses on them, leaving only a few trees to mark the property line.

Most of the trees at the edge were sumac, as I recall, which are not great trees to have in your front yard, but have intense red leaves in the fall. They grow in any and all directions, and don’t seem to understand the concept of a trunk, and they produce seed pods that are a little like pine cones. But let’s call them hand grenades, since that’s what they were to us boys. Between the sticks that became guns and the hand grenades in season, those trees were like little weapon factories.

Photo of me in my home town. Likely not far from some pokeweed. Unlikely that I caught any fish.

Another plant that I remember seeing a lot of is something called pokeberry, or pokeweed. It was as tall as a bush, but not woody at all. The stems were reddish or even purple, and the berries got almost black when they were ripe. And if you smashed them against your clothes as you ran by, or against your friend as he ran by, they left vibrant purple evidence of the encounter.

But they are poisonous to humans, and most other mammals. Birds love them (also leaving purple evidence) and are not harmed by them. But it’s not just the berries that are poison, it’s the whole plant, and the root is the worst. And although the leaves are poisonous, they are actually eaten in the rural South after boiling and rinsing three times, and frying in bacon fat (of course). It’s supposed to taste something like spinach. And the plant is called poke salad, or polk salad, and you have probably heard Elvis sing “Polk Salad Annie”, by Tony Joe White, about a poor Louisiana girl who picked “a mess” of polk salad every day to feed her family.

All of which leads me to the question of whether the word pokeloken (poke-loke-n), which refers to marshy or stagnant water that has branched off from a stream or lake, is related to pokeweed, or related to pocket. Or maybe they have some common heritage. But if you have the Polk Salad Annie song going in your head, and you think about pokeloken, there’s a rhythm to it that makes it seem like it fits. Do you think there could be some marshy or stagnant water down in Louisiana where poor folks find things to eat?


A number of years ago, my son and I went to the Grand Canyon for a bit of an adventure. We had arrived at the campground at the south rim of the canyon at about midnight, and it was chilly. It was the first week of June, and the rim is about 7000 feet above sea level. That’s actually higher than the highest point in all but 15 states, and we don’t even call it a mountain.

The next day, we hiked down into the canyon about 3000 feet, to Plateau Point. As it turns out, between the mid-day sun and the 3000 foot loss of elevation, there was a drastic difference in temperature. I’m not sure how hot it was at the rim when we got to the plateau, but at the plateau it was almost 120 degrees. A normal person would probably try to find shade, rather than walk another 3 miles (round trip) to the point, completely exposed to the sun. But it was only the two of us; no normal people on the team.

View of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Sharp Top, elevation 3862 feet.

When we finally got back to the first shade, we sat down and fell very asleep for 45 minutes. Then we had to walk back up. Thus we arrive at the biggest challenge of hiking a canyon instead of a mountain: with a mountain, the return trip is literally “down hill”, but a canyon does that first, saving the uphill part for the end. Our 12 mile round trip didn’t end until almost 10 pm. Again, arriving at the cooler elevation at a cooler time of day.

The nation of Bhutan (just south of Tibet) is located in the subtropics, but includes part of the Himalayas, with peaks over 23,000 feet with permanent glaciers. So, the temperature differences we’d experienced at the Grand Canyon might be more like a trip to the grocery store in Bhutan. In fact, the nation moved its capital from Punakha to Thimphu in 1955, and although it’s only about 45 miles away, there is about a 7000 foot difference in elevation.

Punakha is hot in the winter and really hot in the summer, while Thimphu is cool in the winter and warm in the summer. Maybe that’s why they moved the capital. They even get a little snow in the winter. And monsoons in the summer (the monsoons hit Punakha, as well). Monsoon rains and high, steep mountains don’t mix well, but the people seem fine with it. In fact, they have something called “Gross National Happiness” that they try to measure and maintain as more important than Gross National Product.

I’m not sure that could take root here in the US, as we have mostly abandoned any attempts at decency and propriety in the press and social media. Many of us would have to live by the Golden Rule that we say we believe. The folks with the “Coexist” bumper stickers would have to actually mean it for themselves. Or the ones with the “War is not an option” stickers would have to decide that maybe arguing isn’t, either. What is best for the nation would have to come before what is best for the political parties. Truth would be embraced rather than whatever agrees with what we already think…. Oops. As we say in the South, now I’m meddlin’.


Well, the groundhog promised an early spring. The trees and flowers seem to agree. Unfortunately, so do the dandelions and wild onions. It’s not sunny, but it’s not cold and icy, either. Maybe tomorrow will bring some sunshine, like Annie promised. Like the hotel concierge in Cancun kept saying, “Rain today, but sunny mañana” when we visited many winters ago. Good thing he didn’t go into meteorology.

But rainy days are good. It’s a great time to catch up on reading and movies. Or even some extra work, since most of us are working from home anyway. And the grass and garden get a big boost early on. At least it hasn’t been heavy rains for us, so the buds and blossoms don’t get knocked off the trees just when they should be looking their best.

Weeping cherry tree in bloom in a light rain
Weeping cherry in blossom, in a light rain.

I’m looking forward to some cool, sunny days, though. Those are great for hiking in the mountains or working in the yard. Or reading on the porch or yard, for the folks that didn’t get enough rainy days to get through their book list. Plus, the vitamin D is always welcome. And the feeling of the hot sun on cool skin, or on closed eyelids facing just right.

As I write this, whether it is sunny or rainy or cold or whatever, just about anywhere in the world, we’re almost all in at least partial quarantine. It’s a different experience for most of us, and hopefully not to be repeated. Some folks are enjoying extra time at home, but for some it is too much, as home doesn’t pay the bills… And some have to avoid home and family to keep them safe, as they care for the ones already infected. And those who are either infected or most at risk may be experiencing the loneliest of times.

Opinions differ, as well, as some folks think the restrictions don’t go far enough, or didn’t start soon enough, and others are pretty sure these extreme measures are baseless and maybe even part of a nefarious plan. There’s also the guy who got to use the word of the week and “nefarious” in the same sentence. But enough about me; what about you? What would make your day? How are you taking advantage of the shift in lifestyle? Share in the comments, below.


On August 23, 2011, a magnitude 5.8 earthquake hit Virginia in the early afternoon. Even though the epicenter was over 100 miles away from me, I still felt it. I remember it felt like a truck was driving by, but too close and for too long. You may have felt it, too, if you were on the East Coast, as it was felt as far north as Quebec and south as Atlanta. In fact, it was felt by more people than any other quake in US history, and may be most memorable for damaging the Washington monument, which was then closed to visitors for several years.

Much of what we know of the structure of the Earth, and just about everything we know (we think we know) about its inner layers are calculated from measurements made during earthquakes. The Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne is just Science Fiction; in real life, nobody’s actually been there. The deepest we’ve ever drilled was about 7.6 miles, and there were a number of surprises (read: things we knew that turned out to be wrong), including how hot it would be at that depth, making it unsafe to continue. The center of the Earth would only be about another 3,950 miles.

Tangled Christmas lights, taken while (intentionally) shaking the camera.

In discussions of earthquakes, we often hear about tremors. When we talk about measuring earthquakes, we talk about seismometers. Although they can also register tremors, the device specifically designed to measure tremors is a tromometer, and that branch of study is tromometry. Since I can feel some trucks going by on the main road not that close to my house, and you don’t have to be very close to the tracks to feel a train go by, and even kids jumping in the house can cause a pretty good shake, how can a tromometer possibly measure Earth’s tremors with accuracy and precision? How is “vibration pollution” filtered out?

Tremors are often mentioned as precursors to full-blown earthquakes. There were almost continuous tremors, as well as a series of earthquakes before the massive eruption on May 18, 1980 which blew the top 1/3 off of Mt. Saint Helens in Washington State. In spite of the earthquakes and tremors and the growing bulge on the north side of the mountain, and the heat from magma melting the ice and boiling away the water in some places, some people just didn’t think much of the risk.

Most famously, 83 year old Harry R. Truman refused to evacuate, saying, “…the mountain is a mile away, the mountain ain’t gonna hurt me.” In fact, he became a bit of a folk hero, living life on his own terms. But when the mountain blew, it headed his direction at nearly the speed of sound, and buried him (presumably) under 150 feet of volcanic debris. It puts an ironic edge to his statement, “That mountain’s part of Truman and Truman’s part of that mountain.”

(for more info, see these articles:


It’s pretty much the norm around my house to combine as many errands as possible into a single trip, and then to grossly underestimate the time it will take to achieve each one. Extra points for failing to achieve most of them, as well. Today was a bit like that. I even got to go to two different post offices to fail a single task at both. Bonus round!

But I had a better day than the guy (or gal) who ran into the light pole at the supermarket. As far as I could tell, it was a simple accident–no crime committed. But maybe the driver was DUI or unlicensed or violating parole… But that would usually be signalled by an entire herd of police vehicles, so I’m back to simple accident. No one arrested; no suspect to apprehend.

Police vehicle on scene of single car accident earlier this evening.

If there had been, though, especially if the crime were particularly newsworthy, then the criminal may have to experience what is called the “Perp Walk”. We see this all the time, but we may not realize it’s set up this way. When a suspect (“perp” makes it sound like we’ve already decided they’re guilty) is being transported from the court building, for example, to another facility, such as the jail, the media is sometimes alerted. In fact, if there is enough interest, the pathway is extended to make room for more reporters and cameras. So when you see a suspect trying to hide his face as the police walk him from a building to the back seat of a patrol car, or someone more like John Gotti, who dressed up in a suit and tie for the occasions, remember that it’s a staged event.

Speaking of staged events, I have to admit to a bit of a twist in my story. Since this week’s random word is “apprehend”, I had decided to get a picture of police cars at the courthouse, which is on my way to the Post Office. There were no police cars at the courthouse at that time, so no picture. But in pursuit of my other failed errands, I came across the police SUV in the parking lot at the store. So, that picture ended up being my only success. That really is a bonus.


I recently saw a TEDx talk by John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. It was a reminder that there are very many things most women have in common, and men don’t, and vice versa. There is actually an amazing example in a YouTube video (I’ll post the link at the bottom), which addresses women’s desire to be listened to, and men’s desire to fix things. Many couples clash on this, as in the video.

As it turns out, my own wife tends to jump to the solution, even when I’m just venting. She’s also much more driven by competition than I am, etc. We challenge some of the stereotypes, if not the rules. This gives us the chance to have our own, unique clashes. None of these are the subject of this post, however.

So, one generally female characteristic that I’ve observed relates to how to manage what I’ll call lotion overdeal. Hand lotion, suntan lotion, bug repellant lotion–whatever, when more comes out than what you need, what do you do with the overdeal, or extra? Women often offer it to a friend or to their husband. Men don’t usually do this. They might not even accept the overdeal from their wives. This is just the way men are; don’t try to understand the rational.

Lotion overdeal

Years ago, my wife and I attended a “one-man-play” (a/k/a monologue) called Defending the Caveman, in which Rob Becker explained many differences between adult men and women as the result of girls growing up with girls and boys growing up with boys. By the time we’re old enough to be interested in each other, our expectations are pretty firm, and men act like they would act with other men, and women with other women. Thus, your husband doesn’t compliment (or notice) your new clothes. And your wife will never understand why it’s inappropriate for you to hold her purse in the mall while she walks off to the restroom.

As for lotion overdeal, women can continue sharing it with other women, and they will all be happy and well moisturized. Men, however may engage the side of a chair or the inside of a shirt. But the very best option would be to pat a friend on the back, “Hey man, how you been?” Just like when we were kids.

By the way, let me know in the comments about something you find different between the way men and women respond to things. I’d love to hear about it. Or maybe you disagree. Tell me.

“Mars brain, Venus brain” TEDx Talk
“It’s Not About the Nail”
“Defending the Caveman”


During a trip to a gourmet grocery store the other day, I spent a little time in the cheese aisle. In the end, I only picked up some Jarlsberg Swiss cheese and some hard, Italian cheese which may or may not be blue, but I liked the description. It turns out that the blue-or-not cheese is as good as the description had promised, and the Jarlsberg is as good as it ever is, and possibly the best cheese on earth.

The problem with cheese is that it challenges my sense of self-control. Let me make sure my point is clear that this is a problem with cheese, not with me. People talk about “death by chocolate”, but if I had a free supply of Jarlsberg for life, “death by cheese” would actually appear in my obituary.

Jarlsberg cheese showing the rind with grooves

As with most cheese, Swiss cheese has a rind, and my Jarlsberg has a very thin plastic one with little grooves. So we’ll call it a sulcate rind, since sulcate means having long, narrow grooves or channels, though the word seems to be most commonly used in biology (like plant stems and hooves).

Interestingly, there is such a thing as a sulcata tortoise (a/k/a African spurred tortoise), which makes a decent pet, as tortoises go. It has concentric grooves in the patterns of its shell, which is how it got its name. If you want to know more about having one as a pet, you can join over one-half million others who have watched the YouTube video(s) about it. I’ll post a URL at the end.

But if you want a sulcata tortiose as a pet, remember that it will grow to be pretty big and heavy. And it’s not at all soft and cuddly (two dogs are on my lap as I type this). Plus, it will outlive you. They can live to be 70+ years old. So, if I were to get one now, it could likely come to my funeral. My obituary already says “death by cheese”; I don’t need to add, “survived by Crush, the tortoise”.

Pet Sulcata care instructions video:


We found out an interesting fact about a friend of ours, recently. It turns out that although he is fully committed to obeying the law, he is not a fan of obeying rules. Opposite of that, in fact. I’m not sure that’s how he would word it, though. Because obedience is basically doing what an authority says to do. But if he’s not recognizing an authority, it’s just someone’s suggestion, not really a rule at all.

This week, our “word” is really an abbreviation… for obedient. We generally think of children, students or servants as being obedient or not. Maybe even wives, if anyone still promises to “love, honor and obey”. And of course, we obey the appropriate government agents, such as police, soldiers, tax collectors, etc. The Ten Commandments, representing God’s law, is another “must obey” example–maybe the most basic.

An obedient child with his obedient soldiers.

Following rules without a recognized authority is just compliance, or acquiescence, for the “Pirates of the Carribbean” fans. I think most of the people I know would be either compliant and obedient, or neither. The friend mentioned earlier is a bit of an exception, and there is probably an explanation that I may never hear. And, of course, there are the folks with the “Question Authority” buttons and stickers. While that is intended to suggest that folks in authority aren’t always right, in practice is simply seems to be disregard for authority in general, especially when you don’t like them or what they say.

As for the abbreviation for obedient, obdt, we really haven’t been using it much recently. And by recently, I mean since the Victorian Era, or maybe even colonial times. Naturally, it would only be in writing, not in speech, so it could show up in a letter, right before the signature. Something like, “Your obdt. servant,” which would sound familiar to fans of the musical, “Hamilton”.

A final reference to close out this topic is the famous obedience experiment from the 1960’s at Yale by psychologist Stanley Milgram. Volunteers were convinced they were giving stronger and stronger electrical shocks to students each time they gave an incorrect answer. There really wasn’t anybody getting the shock, but the volunteers were convinced that there was, yet most of them continued to flip the switches all the way up to 450 volts. They obeyed, even though they thought it was wrong, simply out of obedience to authority. Sometimes, we really do need to question authority, but no buttons or bumper stickers, please.


Plattensee is the German name for Lake Balaton in Hungary. At almost 50 miles long, it is the largest lake in Central Europe. Although it is a freshwater lake, it’s size gets it the nickname, “Hungarian Sea”. Plattensee translates into English as “flat lake”. But that’s better than the Hungarian name, which basically means “swamp” or “sink hole”.

The north shore is wine country, and the deeper part of the lake, and the southern shore is where the bulk of the resort towns are. The shallower water makes it a better location for families with small children. And my favorite fact about the lake, and especially since today’s word is the Lake’s German name, is that during the Cold War, East Germans and West Germans could both visit, allowing families separated by the Berlin Wall to visit together. How cool is that?

Skyline of Fonyód, a resort town on the southern shore of the Plattensee lake.
By Nobli – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

My own experience with a house on a lake was a mixed bag. Our property was very steep, which usually means that the water is deep. But 150 steps down to the water means 150 steps back up from the water. So don’t forget your towel or fishing rod. But a little relaxing on the dock, swimming on a hot day, or an easy kayak trip makes it hard to remember all those steps. It also works better for visiting with friends. “Come visit us” is a nice invitation, but gets a boost when you add “at the lake”.

I think our record number of overnight guests was over 30. When it’s 90 degrees out, it’s easy to talk all the kids into sleeping on the basement carpet, leaving the beds for the adults. But you do have to be sure the couples know where they’re all sleeping, and you can’t change the plan after anyone goes to bed. Just putting that out there because it might have happened…

Deep or not, there is a special attraction that most of us have toward the water. So many vacations center around bodies of water. I’m not trying to downplay the joy of having a desert house (I’m talking to you, Las Vegas), I’m just saying that a lake house, a beach house, or a cabin by the river just has a certain magic that is peaceful even to just think about. It might even be better if it’s on the shores of Central Europe’s biggest sink hole.


Before the breakup of the Soviet Union, when the news media frequently reported that the world’s greatest fear was a US vs. USSR nuclear war to end all wars, and all life on earth (except cockroaches), a friend visited Moscow. When he returned, he was a bit of a celebrity, and was required to tell about his trip at pretty much every opportunity. The thing he found most unexpected, as it turns out, was how well the Russian people treated him.

He was treated as an honored guest. Like an old friend they’d been missing. They were truly kind to him, happy to spend time with him, and sad to see him leave. It was quite a contrast to the expectations of boiling hatred and animosity for which he had braced himself. Although the Russian people who he met were very much Russians, they were not at all his enemies.

Qishm (Qeshm) photo found by a friend searching the Internet in Farsi

It is hard to separate a foreign government from the people in that nation. In fact, it is often hard to view a foreign nation as something other than a simple description defined by the encyclopedia or the press. So it may be poor or rich, dirty or pristine, hostile or friendly, barren or beautiful, but it cannot be all of those. And yet, most nations have a bit of each. There are many destinations where tourists and aid workers are seated on the same flights.

Certainly in recent years, it would be a challenge for most Americans to view Iran through a lens clear of the headlines. Qishm (or Kishm, or most commonly, Qeshm) is the name of the capital city (and the county) of an island by the same name off the southern coast of Iran. It is the largest island in Iran, and is a hotspot for ecotourism. There is also an underground military facility where submarines can be stored.

I suspect that the majority of the 110K or so Iranians who live on the island just consider it home. And the tourists and guests who come are customers and visitors. The locals probably don’t see themselves as players in an international power struggle or fodder for the press. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d love to just sit down for a strong cup of coffee and talk about the weather. Which sounds good to me.

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