Sunday, May 20, 2018

Far out, man

Back in 1969, the closest I ever got to Woodstock was to think about it. I mean, I was 18 years old at the time, fresh out of high school, and the idea of going to a live, outdoor music festival with 100,000 like-minded people was compelling. I lived in Pennsylvania at the time, and Yazgur's farm was only a couple of hours away.

But I never went. Although I was pretty much immersed in the hippie lifestyle at the time (or so I thought – I had shoulder-length hair and wore bell-bottom jeans with button flies), I couldn't quite bring myself to go.

Me graduating from Hippie College, 1973. Note hair.
 It was just as well. As it turned out, more than 400,000 people showed up to sleep in their cars, or on beds of straw, sometimes in the rain, hiking miles through impossible traffic jams to listen to great music. I would have been eaten alive.

 But all these years later, I still carry a tinge of regret for missing out on a definitive (and reachable) moment of popular culture for my generation.

Until yesterday, that is, when Kim and I went to Hippie Fest at the Rowan County Fairgrounds in Salisbury.

All right, all right. Please contain the giggles. Instead of 400,000  people, there might have been 4,000. Great music was performed by people you never heard of. Plenty of people who were in their 60's and 70s strolled the grounds, popping into boutique tents to consider buying love beads, mood rings or tie-dyed T-shirts in an effort to recapture a faded past – or lost regrets.

Flower power...
 There was some cool stuff to see, including about 20-25 iconic VW Beetles and buses. One guy was selling electric guitars he made out of gas cans (or anything else he could find). Going Up Country, I guess.

There were performers on stilts; a bubble machine kept the kids mesmerized (me, too, for that matter); food trucks scented the air with grilled onions and funnel cakes, thus taking on something of a Barbecue Festival atmosphere (Food trucks, I'm sure, would have been greatly welcomed at Woodstock).

There was a small performance stage where musicians who were not even gleams in their yet-to-be parents' eyes back in 1969 sang songs from the era, and that was cool. Made me think there was some legacy being passed on, even if it was on a small plot of muddy grass in Salisbury.

Bailey Rogers belts out 'Me and Bobby McGee.' Wow.
 (Side note: I took a picture of the stage, not knowing that former Lexington resident Bailey Rogers was performing an a cappella version of "Me and Bobby McGee" at the time. She was fantastic. We'd just met her several weeks earlier when her family was in town to visit friends in our neighborhood. We had no clue she had this kind of talent. Like, wow, man).

And speaking of muddy grass, I have to point out there was no hint of reefer to be sniffed anywhere, just in case you were wondering. There were no marijuana tents, no LSD depots. I'm guessing the only pills that were popped with this crowd were probably Ibuprofen.

I did have a little concern about the weather. We've been having rain day after day for more than a week, with more in the forecast. And, indeed, the skies were overcast once again as we left Lexington and headed to Salisbury.

I kind of wondered if we were caught in a shower if we'd throw our clothes off, like in some of the pictures I saw of the Woodstock generation, where scores of people unabashedly bathed in cow ponds. But naked septuagenarians is probably not a good visual. In any case, it never rained in the 90 or so minutes we were there. You can only take your memories so far, I guess.

In the end, we had a pretty good time.  The ebb-and-flow crowd was manageable; people were courteous to each other; music of several genres (including eastern Indian and Native American Indian) were on display. It was nostalgic.

I saw what I came to see, and it put a smile on my face.

Far out.

Kim leaves Hippie Fest in her VW bus...

Sunday, May 13, 2018

For the birds

One of the things handed down to me from my mother, no doubt through her DNA, was a fascination with bird watching.

I'm not a dedicated birder. I don't go out on weekends tromping through tick-infested fields or climbing impossible mountain trails, wearing binoculars and pith helmet, to track down some elusive species that only James Audubon was able to document.

On the contrary, I've set up a metal post on my backyard patio, where four bird feeders hang within easy view of my kitchen window (which is where our hummingbird feeder is attached). I can sit back in the comfort of my home, beverage in hand, watching birds compete for a place at the feeder.

Mom used to do this a lot. Sometimes she had feeders that had suction cups so you could attach them to the window, bringing the birds even closer to you. Except that the suction cups didn't hold forever and usually left permanent rings on the glass. A trade-off, I guess.

I'm content to use the feeder tree. Usually, we fill the feeder with wild bird seed, which is enough to attract the assorted wrens and sparrows on a regular basis.

A couple weeks ago, as the result of a store promotion at Wild Birds Unlimited in Winston-Salem, we won a free meal worm bell (Mmmm. Meal worms). I hung it on my feeder tree, and almost instantly, we had bluebirds (Sialia sialis). I hadn't seen a bluebird in years.

I also had a square meal worm cake (yummm), which I inserted into the cake holder, and Bingo!, we had catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis). In the meantime, our faithful wild bird feeder was still attracting the common finches and chickadees.

Suddenly, I wondered if word was getting out that the restaurant was open. Soon enough, the occasional bird I could not identify started showing up. I had to look at my copy of "The Birds of the Carolinas" to identify the tufted titmouse (Baelophus bicolor) that appeared. Then a brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) arrived. This is a fairly large bird that you would think would dominate the feeder, but he seems to get along well with others.

One day, I was working in the yard and saw a Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula). No, it wasn't Brooks Robinson.

I once saw an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), a true blue bird if ever there was one.

The birding was getting crazy. One of our feeders is filled with nyger, which almost exclusively attracts goldfinches (Carduelis tristis). These are comical birds. Our feeder is designed to where they have to hang upside down to peck for their nyger, and it's funny to watch. At first, I thought upside down was an odd way to view the world until I decided maybe it's the only way to see the world these days. Goldfinches actually might be on to something.

I have to say, robins are still some of my favorite birds. I was weeding the garden the other day, tilling the ground with my trusty mattock. Two robins (Turdis migratorius) landed in the freshly turned soil, not more than 10 feet away from me, which I thought was particularly bold for a bird. They always come to dinner dressed in their orange vests, black tops and white eyeliner. Classy.

It's been pointed out to me that robins are actually carnivores without teeth. They don't do feeders, but go after berries, insects and worms instead.

I do have one concern: we live in an area where birds of prey sometimes show up. I hear the occasional owl, and every once in a while, I'll see a sharp-shinned hawk patrol the sky. The songbirds and wild birds usually skedaddle when the hawk shows up.

I'm sure I've left out a bunch of birds: cardinals are abundant and once in a while a blue jay thinks he owns everything. Mourning doves, for some reason, think they can hang with this crowd.

All in all, it's pretty entertaining stuff, and I guess I have Mom to thank for my avian interest.

So, thanks Mom.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Leaking like a sieve

It was supposed to be another calming trip to the beach house, which my wife and her brother inherited, just to make sure everything was OK. You know, because the place is about 45 years old and things happen. Especially when it sits in salt air 24/7/365.

We'd already made previous repairs, including a serious leak underneath the house a year or so ago that forced us to return to Lexington on the same day we arrived at the beach. That was fun.

This time, when we arrived, we noticed some of the vinyl siding was starting to separate on the east side of the building. OK, we can live with that. So we unpacked the car and turned on the electricity. Yep, the air conditioner was still working. Whew. Lucky us. It was already 85 degrees outside.

Then I went streetside to turn on the water main

"Oh, no. Bruuuuuce," wailed my wife, who was standing in the carport of the classic two-story beach abode featuring a knotty pine interior.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing: water gushing onto the carport from under the house; water flowing down the side of the house of the lower apartment. Torrents cascading like a waterfall from the ceiling of the carport. Water everywhere. I only wish I was exaggerating here.

"Call Tom," I said, "I'll turn off the water."

Tom is our professional fix-it guy, who's done excellent work for us in the past. He arrived within the hour and assessed the situation. He said he'd be back the next day with an assistant.

In the meantime, Kim and I took a room at a nearby hotel – $142, including tax.

The next day, after breakfast and running a few errands, we found Tom busy with repairs. He thought he found the source of the leak. He turned on the water. It wasn't leaking where he'd fixed it. But the house had other ideas. It now leaked in a different location.

The entire day went like this, chasing leaks, making repairs. By late afternoon, we thought we'd caught the last leak – until we turned on the water. Yep. New leak, new location.

Apparently, the water in the house is running through 45-year-old thin gauge copper pipes that don't fare well against the salt air. The corrosion was profuse. Tom was replacing the copper with PVC tubing.

But we'd had enough for the day. Tom said he'd be back as soon as he could, but I hope he takes Sunday off. No hurry now.  We left for home after 32 hours at the beach