Friday, October 28, 2005

Rings of Life

This cedar tree section from a tree I cut in Wimberley is only about 10 inches across, yet is 130 years old. When I first cut such trees I thought nothing of it, satisfied that I was ridding the area of an invasive species. Then one day I started counting the rings. Realized that many of my victims were pre-civil war. So many presidents, wars, natural disasters, and a few billion births occurred during their lives. I think a little longer now before cutting them, keeping some of the bigger and better ones. I like the idea that a few will still be around in another 130 years, and wonder what wonderful and terrible times they'll witness.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Lodge

"The Lodge" is a name given to my 64 SF shack by friends who jokingly suggested that I should better market my accomplishment. In real estate terms, it is a "stunning 1/0/0 with a great room, vaulted ceilings, and low energy bills". Only half the size of Thoreau's cabin at Walden, it still provides a welcome relief from the rainstorm soakings I would otherwise recieve. My son was unlucky enough to be visiting during the foundation construction, and is shown hauling bags of concrete mix. (nasty work) I assembled the structure from modular components whose main requirements were that they had to: 1) be built in my Houston garage, and 2) fit in the back of my pickup truck to be hauled out to Wimberley. It is a very good thing that my sweetheart was already stuck on me before seeing The Lodge. Pictured below, parked in the limousine-like transportation available at no extra cost to visitors at The Lodge, she can enjoy the simple pleasures of life better than anyone I know. Real simple. I think The Lodge's greatest days of glory will be years from now, if we ever build an actual home there. When new friends visit, we'll point to The Lodge and say "that's where we stayed in the old days". And we'll be smiling.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Fight for Survival

Life is never guaranteed, especially if you are a tree in Wimberley. Underneath everything there is solid limestone. This photo shows how erosion has exposed this grim condition of life there. Also exposed are the years of hard work these cypress roots put forth to foil the shallow bedrock. For now the cypress is winning, and perhaps the currents of rushing water will shift once again and cover those roots with soil. Perhaps not. On the ground all around the cypress is proof that Mother Nature's version of a corporate Disaster Recovery Plan is well in place: Thousands of cypress seeds, each ready to start new life despite the fantastic odds against it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

A mom's work (Mom Nature)

The no-so-mighty Blanco created this lovely sculpture. Little pockets in the rocks trap creatures when waters recede, just waiting for a rescuer. I oblige with an effort miniscule to the river, but huge to the saved.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Marshmallow Nirvana

First, a definition of Nirvana:
Buddhism: The ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion.
Hinduism: Emancipation from ignorance and the extinction of all attachment.

Basically means you are a pretty happy, relaxed dude or dude-et. Because you've figured out what is really important in life. Can roasting a marshmallow help one achieve this enlightened state? Maybe not by itself, but I've felt surprisingly enlightened on occasion while roasting marshmallows by campfire in Wimberley. Probably helps when I'm also watching shooting stars or enjoying absolute silence broken only by distant coyote howls.

This photograph of my daughter joining me in marshmallow worship at Wimberley brings me memories much stronger than the sugar overload it produced. She's a clever woman, and quickly mastered the rules of this art:
1) Stay upwind
2) Don't drop your prize in the ashes
3) Rotate, rotate, rotate
Followed thus, the resulting treat is golden all 'round, and gooey to the core. Maybe this is material for a marshmallow-based version of "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten"? Applying the simple rules of roasting to all of life's situations? Maybe not. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine hate crimes, religious wars, frivolous lawsuits, political infighting, road rage, or similar ills among any people who ever took the time to simply sit by a campfire and roast marshmallows together.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chainsaw Poetry

Ode (not) to a Chainsaw Victim

My not-so-lovely cedar tree,
Your life is quite soon not to be.
A hundred years you've been around,
But now its time you hit the ground.

Stealing water from the earth,
Has been a thing that gave you mirth.
Now you'll hand your station over,
To another tree of prettier cover.

Hear the chainsaw roar with glee,
Before it sinks its teeth in thee.
Tilting is the last thing you remember,
As the Chainsaw Yogi utters "Timber".

I Saw in Wimberley a Live-Oak Growing
(With respect to Walt Whitman, from whose work "I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing" I substituted "Wimberley" to suit my needs)

I SAW in Wimberley a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it stood there uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wondered how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend near,
for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Wimberley solitary in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend or lover near,
I know very well I could not.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chainsaw Spirituality

What can chainsawing trees possibly have in common with yoga? Or have any sort of spiritual connection? Well, the Chainsaw Yogi will attempt to explain...

The photo at left is from my hill country property where I've been doing "tree management" for more than four years. That translates mostly to cutting down trees, but doing it in a smart way. So, the paradox of achieving a higher good while performing a basically destruction action begins there. Not only is chainsawing destructive (at least to the tree being cut!) , it is an annoyingly noisy task that is especially exhausting and sometimes dangerous in the Texas heat. If this cutting phase isn't bad enough, then the even hotter burning phase inevitably leaves one with singed body hair and little burn holes in your clothing from flying sparks .

Like other experiences in life which are initially difficult, chainsawing has a payback. Payback at the end of the day, when progress can be seen and measured. Payback for years to come, when smart tree management yields beautiful vistas and a healthy, balanced ecosystem. A particular problem in the Texas Hill Country is the invasive Cedars (Ash juniper) which crowd out other tree species. The photograph above left shows the bare dirt and rock in the areas where I had just cleared the cedars four years ago. The photograph below right from four years later shows some of the remaining oak trees, contorted from years of having to snake their way up to the sky through cedars that I have since removed. It also shows how the grasses and shrubs have reinserted themselves in the landscape.

Since I can't possibly post this blog without a photograph of an actual chainsaw, I've included one below of my son that I took at the property entrance a couple of years ago. Teaching him about chainsaw use and safety was lots of fun, and it was nice to seem like an expert even though I'd just learned myself the year before. Better yet, I got to pass on of the idea that we were shaping the long range future of the land itself, guiding the growth of remaining trees and re-establishing other native species. Hopefully that impression will stick with him for the rest of his life, and he'll always understand the importance of nurturing our planet.

OK, now for two last photos showing more direct and obvious ways that the noisy chainsaw can create a spiritual setting, and even provide a place for an unbelievable yoga experience! The photo at right shows a clearing made by the chainsaw for a future home, with my sweetheart enjoying the beauty of nature and no doubt formulating thoughts that she'll be expressing in her beautiful writing. Pictured at the very bottom photo is a deck I constructed beside a small creek, after clearing the area with (of course) the chainsaw. And guess what the deck is to be used for? Meditation and yoga practice. So, after some rambling and misdirection, there you have it. The chainsaw is connected with yoga practice and spirituality, even if the connection is only in my mind.

In case you are wondering about the location of this property, it is a few miles east of Wimberley, Texas, nearby the Blanco River. For me, it is just the right distance from my home in Houston, about a 3 hour drive. Any closer and I'm afraid I'd visit there TOO often, at the expense of other priorities...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Hurricane Yogi Experience

Yoga poses and hurricane evacuations don't normally share the same written page.

We've all seen lots of surreal images in the wake of the recent Gulf hurricanes. Mine is the "lucky, spoiled yuppie" version of that event.

When Rita threatened Houston I headed for the Texas hill country with my sweetheart , her daughter, and cat . Our whole trip was surreal, and at times even guilt-inducing. We thought we were running for our lives at about 3:00 AM on Thursday, Sept 29th, as forecasters were predicting a direct hit on Houston. Millions of others listened to their predictions and were fleeing with us, and after many hours on the road we arrived in Austin.

By the time we arrived in Austin, the storm had begun its shift to the East. After watching too many hours of TV storm coverage, we headed to my nearby property in Wimberley and took a dip in the waters of the Blanco River. I'm not sure whose idea it was to begin doing yoga poses. But suddenly, the three of us were doing just that, and taking turns photographing each other just to prove that we actually did it. Several families swimming nearby stared at us. No wonder. So, that's how the photo above came to be. (There are better photos of my travelling companions doing their yoga poses than this one of me, but publishing them here could create a hurricane of a different type.) So there we were, enjoying this beautiful, clean, refreshing water, just as Rita's foul waters were about to but a big ding in the lives of our brothers to the East. Again.

Traveling for hours in a small car with lots of stuff, your girlfriend, her daughter, and cat may not sound like a recipe for fun. But a funny thing happened on the way to Austin. Our despair with the traffic fiasco turned to humor sometime before sunrise as we realized just how lucky we were. The radio gave us frequent updates on those who weren't so lucky, and the horrors of Katrina were still fresh in our minds. Maybe it was sleep deprivation that increased our silliness factor as we jammed to music, stuck our feet out of the open windows, joked about our poor traumatized cat, and checked out every other vehicle on the road for something to point at. Funny bumper stickers, dogs sitting in their driver's laps, and treasures people were hauling away to safety in their pickup beds. Treasures like weightlifting machines, coffee makers, and some really stunning green velvet couches. That trip brought us closer together, this little sort-of-family of ours. Although so many people have suffered great losses from the storms and need our love & support, I hope that many more had experiences like mine. I hope that others created memories that will last a lifetime not from trauma, but because of the special appreciation for life they generated.

Those kind of experiences don't make the headlines, but this one reminded me that we all need each other, and that the most important things in life are right under our noses. Thanks Rita, I needed that.