Resurrection Palm

A year before the fire, after first pruning.

 

Forty years ago, in my first semester of college, I bought some plants to furnish the room. The dorms were dim and dogeared, depressing. Plants were cheaper than chairs, so I picked some up at a campus sale, all in little 4″ pots. For a few bucks they brought a little life into the place. At least for a while. The room was so dark, most of them died by the end of the first year.

One, though, managed to hang on. An odd little thing, just a grey scaly bulb the size of a billiard ball, with skin like an elephant, half buried in the soil. A stout trunk tapered up from the bulb, topped with a pom-pom of grassy green leaves. It looked like something right out of Dr. Seuss. A botany major friend determined it was a ponytail palm. I became rather fond of it. Frond of it?

The next year I moved off campus and it came with me, suffering mightily for the rest of my college career – knocked over by inebriated housemates, dug up and defecated on by ill-behaved cats, neglected when I went away for holidays. Even stayed home alone the summer I went abroad. It survived all that, and eventually outgrew the original pot, earning a splurge on a new larger non-plastic container.

I left college, and the plant came with me.

Years went by and wherever I went the plant went, too. Cars and furniture and clothes and jobs got shed along the way, dead husks shucked off like snake skins, but after each purge the plant remained. If I dug through all the photos of my life over the past 40 years, this one odd thing would keep popping up in the background like a silent Forrest Gump:

  • In a cabin on the York River where I had my first wooden sailboat, sitting on the old grain scale that served for an end table.
  • In the apartment in downtown Atlanta just off Peachtree Street, where I squatted under a tree next to John Lee Hooker playing the blues in Piedmont Park, and saw R.E.M. in a bar in Athens for $5, which included a pitcher of beer.
  • On the iron balcony of a pink victorian in the historic district of Savannah, where church bells chimed on Sunday mornings and Spanish Moss collected on the railings, and finches twittered in the aviary I built for them that summer when the Challenger exploded with a teacher aboard.
  • In the basement of my grandmother’s house in Richmond, when Apple and Microsoft started marketing the first viable desktop computers, and the Berlin Wall came down.
  • There in the attic in Richmond when I logged onto the World Wide Web for the first time, and stayed up all night exchanging messages with people across the world over a dialup modem.
  • In the background, a little bigger now, when my daughters were born, and learned to walk and swim and ride a bike.
  • In Scottsville, where they played soccer and finished high school and went off to college themselves.
  • In the sunroom where Terri and I drank coffee and planned trips to the West Coast or the Low Country.

All the while that funny little plant kept going, eventually filling a large oriental porcelain pot the size of a bucket, standing in the corner so tall it brushed the 9 foot ceilings in our house.

Until the night of the fire.

 

 

 

 

A week after the fire.

 

When we walked through the house the next day, all the plants were wilted, black like everything else. That night it got down to 16 degrees. Though heat from the fire kept the whole house warm for a day, it dipped below freezing every night the following week. There was no power and no heat in the house. Everything froze.

Seven days after the fire, I gave Doug a tour of the damage. When we came to this plant – black and wilted, covered in soot –he said, you know, that’s a pretty big root ball, it might be OK, maybe you could save it?

So a few days later I took it out back, lopped off the stalk, and stuck it in the neighbor’s spare room with the other smokey things we hoped to save. A month after that, I brought it to the cottage, still bare and black, and set it near the window and watered it.

 

Two months after the fire.

 

A month later still, two months after the fire, I noticed a small lump on the stalk. Then, a few days later, a tiny spud of green broke through.

 

 

I tipped the pot over and let all the black sooty water drain out, added some fresh soil. A week later, another spud appeared, then another.

 

 

 

 

 

Now, there are several sprouts of green, and it seems this tough old plant refuses to die.

 

 

 

 

 

When I lived in Savannah, I discovered a remarkable native plant called “Resurrection Fern“. It spreads out along the top of big Live Oak limbs forming a fringe of little bonsai forests.

 

 

 

Resurrection Fern after a rain.

 

An epiphyte, it has no root system, since there’s no soil where it grows. It clings to the bark and survives in the humid southern air on nutrients in the dust and rain dripping down the limbs.

In periods between rains it turns grey and shrivels up like origami ashes, losing up to 97% of it’s moisture and going dormant. But it revives and turns vivid green again within hours after the first splash of rain. Most plants die after losing only 10% of their water, and don’t come back. These plants could remain dormant without water for over a century, and still revive.

Very impressive, these little ferns.

So I’m christening this tough and homely house plant of mine the Resurrection Palm.

 

 

Moby Lives!

 

OMG! It lives!

Six Terabytes of data, over 50 thousand photos, all the raw and finished video footage, hours and hours and hours of it. Everything. Going all the way back to 2004. Photos of the girls since middle school, scans of family prints now gone, the boat building and sailing archives, travels, life.

Somehow tonight they all came back from the grave.

I had given up on it all. Already mourned the death, mentally buried the body and said last rights. And yet, still.

 

Laser printer.

 

Next to the living room, the office got it almost as bad. Smoke and flames and water. The intense heat melted anything made of plastic, making macabre Dali-esque drip art. Then smoke and soot seeped into the smallest crevices, turning all black. Then the water and foam from the firemen. The room was several inches deep in water before they were done, dripping through the floor to the workshop below throughout the next day.

 

 

All the camera equipment, radios, GPS, binocs, etc.

 

 

 

Computer, monitors, hard drives, and speakers.

 

 

 

 

 

Days after the fire, I went in and collected the hard drives. All the wires, the power supplies, and the cases of the cheaper backup drives, all melted. I yanked out what remained of the cables and put the bodies in a plastic tub in the boatshed, where they sat in the freezing cold for over a month, drying out.

I assumed they were all lost. Had to. Too hard to hope. But, still, mapped out a plan to try and recover what I could. It would require buying exact copies of each, sometimes used on ebay, and transferring the guts of the deceased into the bodies of the still living.

Last weekend the burned drives came to the cottage where they got cleaned off as best I could, at least so I could handle them. On some, the cases had to be broken off with pliers to access the drives within.

Tonight a duplicate of the main RAID storage unit arrived. I borrowed the power supply and cables from the new one, updated software on the laptop, and plugged it in, fully expecting to have to pull out the drives and transplant them. But low and behold, the dang thing fired right up and mounted on the desktop. Amazing.

 

New vs Old

 

Paying extra for the good stuff paid off this time. The cheaper drives, with cases made of plastic, all melted. I’ll still try to save a couple of those, but chances are slim. The LaCie 5Big RAID was expensive. Twice the cost of cheaper drives of comparable capacity, but made of metal, with premium drives and controllers, it took it all like a champ apparently. Even the LEDs and power buttons survived the heat.

 

LED status lights

 

Sometime in the next few days, a third party replacement power supply will arrive. Then I can connect the new and old together and start the transfusion, transferring a lifetime of imagery, digital lifeblood, to the new host.

Hallelujah.

 

Oasis

 

 

There are places in this world that punch above their weight. People have a sense for them, and congregate there. As do other living things: salmon, bears, whales, herds of elk. Wolves.

These are places where something happens.

 

 

It might be a fall line where water breaks. Or a predictable fissure in the ice, formed by sub-ocean currents. Maybe a pass through the mountains.

A creek deep in the woods, surrounded by tall trees.

We find them. Collect there. We meet, and fight, and mate there. Connected by lines of force, which we follow like ancient game trails. Invisible, but inveterate.

Nowhere else.

The in-between places are deserts.

These are the oases.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still ~ Reposted

Still here. 

December 12, 2018

I’ve back-dated this post. Looks like it didn’t come through when sent from my phone on the front porch, 12 hours after the fire.

I’m not going to post a lot of photos from the interior. There’s a grim surreal beauty to it, which is not lost on me; but for me those will be easier to look at once the restoration gets well down the road. I’ll save them for then.

For now, here are just a couple from the Living Room. The fire started in the outside wall at the sill, in the floor between this room and the basement. Lots going on there – three iterations of electrical wiring going back to maybe the ’30s (the house was built in 1919), plus the chimney, plus rodents coming in from the snow, etc.. Inspectors say they may never know for sure what caused it.

 

 

 

Astute followers will recognize this view, though somewhat altered. There were once over 2,000 books here and in the next rooms, which I’m told unsulated the house structure from the worst of the fire, all gone now.

We’re presently living in a cozy little two room cottage about a half mile away, where we may remain throughout the yearlong rebuild process.

 

 

A Very Large Small Town

 

Our little town is amazing. We’ve always known that. The past two weeks, though, showed just how amazing it is. And more surprising, how very big our little town truly is. The flood of kindness and generosity has been overwhelming, from near and far – across the street, across the country, across the world even – from friends and family, and people who don’t even know us.

We steel ourselves against all the bad we know will come one day, prepare to do the hard things just so we can get through them. But we never prepare for the unexpected good. The good has slayed us.

People are amazing. Really and truly amazing.

Thank you for being part of our town. Thank you all.

Barry & Terri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“In Singapore, she bought a monkey.”

Nellie Bly – via Wikipedia

 

Back when I was building the Melonseeds, I frequently got lost down a rabbit hole of history, thinking about all the things going on in the world at the end of the 19th century, in 1888, when the plans from the boats were drawn. Was a fascinating time, undergoing rapid change as fast as today. The transitions from sail to steam, agriculture to industry, rural to urban, were as transformational to society in that era as the computer and internet have been in ours.

On this day in 1889, Nellie Bly – a single young woman, 24 years old – set off alone from New York by steamship to set a record for circling the world, by ship and train and any other convenient conveyance. With just two days notice. She took the dress she was wearing, a coat, some underwear and toiletries, and a bit of money tied in a pouch around her neck.

The goal was to best the fictional Phileas Fogg, protagonist in a popular book of the time, Around the World in Eighty Days, written by Jules Verne. She would meet the author along the way, pausing in Paris long enough to interview him.

She was a  young journalist who had talked her way into a job at The World, working for Joseph Pulitzer. Her first assignment had been to convince people she was insane so she could be committed to a women’s lunatic asylum. This was after talking the paper into accepting the project in the first place, to get the actual job.

She spent 10 days in the asylum. The exposé she wrote about the experience made her famous, and the ensuing outrage prompted improvements at mental institutions.

This race around the world was just a different kind of crazy. She sent back dispatches on her progress from remote places around the world, all published in the paper, using what was then the first modern form of worldwide communication – by telegraph. She crossed Europe, passed through the new Suez Canal, was delayed by problems with the trains in Asia, visited a leper colony in China. In Singapore, she bought a monkey. In Hong Kong, she learned that another woman had set off just behind her in the US, and was traveling the opposite direction, trying to beat her time, making it a real race.

Bad weather slowed her Pacific crossing, threatening to make her miss the 80 day deadline. Pulitzer chartered a private one-time train run, dubbed the Miss Nellie Bly Special, to speed her from San Francisco to Chicago, traversing 2500 miles in less than three days – a the fastest train trip ever. To spur the crews along, she presented each railroad superintendent on the with way with a bottle of expensive champagne.

She arrived back in New York after only 72 days, setting a new record for circumnavigating the globe. Which, alas, would be broken over and over again as travel improved, but it was quite a feat at the time.

A few years later she married a 73 year old millionaire, who promptly died and left her all his money and his steel manufacturing plants, which she ran successfully until she died in 1922.

Yup, interesting times.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellie_Bly
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Around_the_World_in_Seventy-Two_Days
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Around_the_World_in_Eighty_Days
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miss_Nellie_Bly_Special

How Not to Drive to St. Michaels

The Intersection, DC at Rush Hour

 

link to Google Street View

 

I’m going to tell you about the fine time had at MASCF this year, I swear. First you have to hear about the terrible time getting there.

On a good day, the drive would take four hours. On this day it took six.

Things were still going fine when I passed Dave Gentry in Fredericksburg. He had two of his skin-on-frame canoes on top of the car, so was easy to spot. A honk and a cheerful wave. Dave only lives a couple of miles up the road, but somehow we meet more often at boating events than around town. (Neither of us is sure this is a bad thing.) He was also enroute to St. Michaels.

We’re running a little late. Anyone who lives anywhere near Washington, DC, knows you don’t want to be within 50 miles of it during rush hour. Which is more like rush four hours – it starts at 3 and lasts to 7. But with a little luck we’d be on the far side of DC by the time the worst traffic ramped up. That luck went the other way, literally.

If you use mapping apps, you know software engineers keep trying to make them smarter. For years they’ve tracked the speed of cars moving slower than normal and warn you when there’s a problem ahead. Gives you the opportunity to plan your route differently. Very handy.

Then they started suggesting alternate routes while you’re underway. This was more intrusive, but still helpful. In Google Maps, the voice assistant would say “Tap if you want to accept this new route.” I rarely took these alternate routes, because the time saved was minimal, and it was dangerous to try to grab the phone while driving and find and tap the button before it disappeared. Just wasn’t worth it.

Well, apparently, that function changed with the last update. Now, regardless of what route you planned to take, Google will automatically reroute you. That’s the default. Now the message says, “Tap if you don’t want to accept the new route.” There are multiple problems with this. Let me innumerate them:

  1. The option to reject the new route only lasts a few seconds. That means you MUST grab the phone, find the button, and reject it quickly. Every time it attempts to reroute you. Otherwise, within seconds it’s sending you off in some other unknown direction. This is dangerous, and contrary to the user’s wishes.
  2. More and more people are using these apps, even when they already know where they’re going, specifically to get the traffic updates. That means Google is routing ALL those people onto the same alternate “faster” route at the same time. A side road designed to handle local traffic instantly becomes overwhelmed and gridlocked with cars, as though a big river were suddenly diverted into a creek. These apps are NOT managing traffic flow overall, they’re optimizing the route for each car as an isolated individual, irrespective of the cumulative effect that rerouting all those individuals will have when it happens in unison.
  3.  Problem #2 is amplified by the core issue, which is these apps are not basing their recommendations on a predictable future. They are not looking at the bigger picture, or even using basic statistical probability to make smart decisions. They are at best giving you directions based on reported conditions already in the past, conditions that change very quickly. Effectively they look at somewhat recent reports and take you off what may now be a perfectly acceptable highway ahead, to send you and ten thousand of your closest friends onto a tiny side road in a residential neighborhood. All at once. And this is now the default. You have to take immediate action to prevent it. Every time that it thinks it knows better.

I did not know these things as I blithely wended my way towards the gaping maw of our nation’s capitol. The app worked fine before.

So at 3:30 when the little voice assistant said, “There’s a slow down ahead. You can save 11 minutes by taking this alternate route,” I ignored her to reject it. Moments later, I suddenly found myself in an exit only lane on my way toward the Pentagon, which closes at 3pm precisely because the 23,000 people who work there swamp all of DC with traffic so badly, all by themselves, they have to close early.

I, as a human with a modicum of experience, knew this. Apparently, the app does not know this. And does not know that with excruciating predictability the traffic in DC is about to explode. Nor does it know that I am towing a boat on a trailer. I, however, do know this.

Within moments I’m penned in on all sides next to the Pentagon by angry aggressive drivers, caught like a stick in a current flowing right toward the center of DC and the National Mall.

  • Yes, I saw the 9/11 Monument.
  • Yes, I saw the Washington Monument.
  • The Jefferson Memorial.
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • US Treasury
  • Smithsonian
  • Air and Space Museum
  • Museum of the American Indian
  • National Botanic Gardens
  • Library of Congress

AND

  • The US Capitol Building

Well, I would have seen the Capitol, except Google didn’t know I was towing a boat on a trailer, and I didn’t know that since 9/11 trailers are not allowed on Independence Avenue within several blocks of it. I found out this little detail when, around 4pm with the roads jammed with cars, police suddenly swarmed off the sidewalk toward me waving their arms and blowing whistles, and a patrol car whipped out across six lanes of traffic to block my way with lights flashing and sirens whooping.

There, in the middle of an intersection, blocking a total of nine jammed up lanes of angry traffic, surrounded by armed police persons, it was explained to me that I could not move one foot further forward.

They cleared the intersection and made me do a 270 u-turn right there, with the trailer, heading off somewhere into south DC and into the narrow one lane neighborhoods of Capitol Hill. All the while Google kept saying “Rerouting, make a u-turn, return to the route,” trying to send me back to the armed police officers.

From the time Google Maps took me off the highway to save 11 minutes, it took me 2 hours to get out of DC and back to where I would have been if I’d just stayed on the route planned.

Around dark, as I was rolling into St. Michaels, Dave Gentry called to see where I was. He had just arrived. He, too, had been rerouted into DC along the same “faster” path.