Sunday, May 26, 2019

Groundhog Day

Kim and I are both a little hesitant to bed out a few more Mortgage Lifter tomato plants. We're just not quite sure that we're free of our rodent problem.

Or, more precisely, our groundhog problem.

It wasn't that long ago – maybe a few months – when I just happened to look out my kitchen window and saw a 10- or 12-pound groundhog traipsing through our backyard.

I didn't think much of it at the time, other than how peculiar I thought it was for a groundhog to be inside the city limits. I mean, we've lived in our present location for more than 15 years now and had never seen anything more destructive than a couple of platoons from the army of squirrels that overrun our neighborhood.

Then, a few weeks ago, Kim sowed 11 Mortgage Lifters plants in a patch of earth we'd carefully nourished and cultivated with compost since the beginning of last winter. We were ready.

The abundant rain we had this Spring was wonderful. The plants were growing and producing blossoms. I even had them in cages. Mmmmm. Tomato sandwiches by July.

A Mortgage Lifter tomato plant under assault...
 Then, one day, the groundhog was back after a brief absence. I saw her. What I didn't see at first was the damage she was doing to our tomato plants. Apparently, groundhogs are connoisseurs of fine tomato plants. She'd eaten the leaves off three of our plantings, leaving only sorry looking stalks.

I went into action. I called Animal Control. But unless this was about cats or dogs, all they could do was give advice. Groundhogs are considered "wildlife" and as such, it is up to us to determine how to rid ourselves of the pest. We can do just about anything except shoot them because it's unlawful to discharge a weapon within the city limits.

The next day, Kim happened to look out the kitchen window, trying to spot the culprit groundhog.

"Bruce, come here," she hollered to me while I was watching TV in the next room. I'm always watching TV in the next room. "You've got to see this."

What I saw was four – count 'em, folks, four – groundhog young'uns in my next door neighbor's yard, grazing on the clover, I suspect.

What we decided to do was set up a humane trap, especially since I'm not partial to using poison in a vegetable garden. I ran to Wikipedia to find out how to bait groundhogs and learned they like cantaloupe, among other things. So we borrowed a trap from one of our friends, baited it and set it in our neighbor's yard, because that's apparently where the burrow is.

We once used a humane trap to catch opossums ('Possums' if you're Southern) when we lived in a different neighborhood, but all we ended up catching was our neighbor's cat. Twice. She looked confused.

Anyway, getting back to our current dilemma, I set the trap and patiently waited until morning. No groundhog, but the cantaloupe was gone, once again proving how much smarter nature is than we are. Unless a cat is involved, I guess.

A groundhog young'un (dead center, maybe even dead) plans his assault.
 In the meantime, something traumatic happened. One of the groundhog young'uns met its demise, apparently trying to cross the street without looking both ways first. Even today, four days later, his carcass is in the middle of the road, flatter than a postage stamp. The coroner's report said it was death by motor vehicle.

Groundhogs have few natural predators to begin with: foxes, coyotes. Maybe Chevrolets. One of my neighbors is a biology teacher and she noted this was simply an example of natural selection.

Oddly enough, we haven't seen any evidence since then of the surviving groundhogs. I don't know if they've gone into mourning, or what. But it's why we're reluctant to try more plants. We just don't know whether it's safe to replant or not.

Nevertheless, we're still leaving the remaining stalks in the ground. Some still have leaves, and we've been trying to rejuvenate them with Miracle Gro, knowing full well that a miracle is what is required. It could happen. You never know.

Meanwhile, word has spread through the neighborhood about the groundhogs. Other neighbors have reported destruction in their gardens. One local business said, forget it, there are groundhogs all over the place. We might be overwhelmed and just don't know it yet.

I'm constantly amazed by how much wildlife is inside the city limits. In the past decade, we've seen possoms (Okay, so this Yankee has been assimilated), raccoons and now groundhogs. My wife works near the old hospital and the employees there have recently seen a doe and her fawn.

Nature. Who knew?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Game of Groans

Any Game of Thrones fans out there? (Dumb question)

Disappointed with the series finale Sunday night? (Ummm, maybe)

Feel like you wasted eight years of your life? (Lucky me. I only wasted the last four. Or five)

Actually, I wasn't too put off by the ending. I mean, surely there's got to be some kind of Freudian thinking (relatively speaking, I mean) behind Jon Snow assassinating his lover/aunt Daenerys Targaryen (isn't Targaryen an herb I put on my swordfish filet?). I guess I just don't know what it is yet.

Dany and Jon were caught in that endless 30-second clinch and I breathlessly waited to see, between spoonfuls of ice cream, which one would fall to the floor first because I just knew one of them got the point. It was Dany. OK. But I knew Drogon, the last remaining flamethrowing dragon, wasn't going to be happy about it. What really surprised me was that Drogon didn't fry the guy.

Drogon, in his wisdom (the dragons always were smarter than anyone else, it seemed) melted the Iron Throne into a core element. That moment rendered absurdity to the entire raison d'etre of the last eight seasons. Snow stood face-to-face with a fired up Drogon and Snow never melted.

Which led to an interesting council between the surviving kingdoms. Samwell Tarley somehow became James Madison as he proposed one man, one vote democracy (a concept which was laughed off by the others). Bran Stark, bound to a wheelchair, more than resembled FDR as he was chosen king for life. Tyrian Lannister assumed the Winston Churchill role, trying to hold the coalition together. Arya was either Lewis or Clark as she sailed off to explore the world beyond Westeros.

What all this really means is that spinoffs are assured. Arya, a fiercely independent woman, could have her own show. Dany, stabbed in the heart, was carried off by Drogon, which probably means she could return in a different life. And Jon Snow, who did return from the dead, is seen marching from the ice wall (and from his exile) into a probable spinoff future.

So help us George R.R. Martin.

•   •   •

Another series that ended last week was The Big Bang Theory, wrapping things up after 12 seasons.

I really thought the show was very well written and very smart for a comedy. It had to be with all that dialogue about science and theory and astronomy and elemental tables and Bunsen burners and such. One of the actresses, Mayim Bialik (who played Amy Farrah Fowler) actually has a Ph.D in neuroscience in real life. Yikes. The show had no choice except to get it right.

But I always like the show's theme song, performed by the Barenaked Ladies. With lyrics that contain words like autotrophs and "Australopithecus would really have been sick of us," well, that's pretty darn good stuff.

So long, friends. See you on Me TV.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A sign of the times (long gone)

Imagine, for a moment, going to work one morning, like you usually do.

Except, this time, you're working in front of a curious audience. People come and go, stop, watch every move you make, occasionally offer suggestions – or criticism – and your only viable response is to smile and say "Thank you."

That's pretty much how Beth Stewart is working these days.

Except that she's outdoors. About 30 feet off the ground on a scissors lift. Painting new life into the H. Lee Waters ghost sign on the side of the Black Dog Emporium building on the corner of West Second Avenue and Main Street.

Beth Stewart likes the way her ghost ad restoration project is progressing
 You might be familiar with Stewart's work. She's the one who hand-painted the eye-catching sign (an original design by Margaret Sink) on the back of Conrad & Hinkle's grocery store to celebrate that business' 100th anniversary.

But this is different. She's working on a sign that might be close to 100 years old, badly weathered and hopelessly faded – an apparition of its former self. She's not creating. She's restoring.

She's using masonry paint that should help sustain the life and vibrancy of the ad for decades to come.

Stewart, who was retained by the Lexington Appearance Commission for the job, is essentially working with nothing more than the ad already painted on the brick wall. Interestingly enough, locally famous photographer H. Lee Waters, who documented nearly everything about Lexington, Davidson County and surrounding areas with his photography and film making in the last century, apparently never took pictures of his own studio. As far as anybody knows, no pictures exist of his ad.

So how does Stewart know what colors to use?

"The city did the best research they could," said Stewart, taking a short break from the 90-degree sauna that this Spring has become. "It's going to have a white background with black lettering. I hope to have it finished by Friday (May 24).

Makes sense. If any photos did exist of the sign, they'd probably be in black and white anyway.

Almost comically, one of the few criticisms she's heard is that the letters "aren't straight."

You get the feeling that H. Lee Waters himself would love this.*
"I try to tell them that it's actually Mr. Waters' signature," said Stewart, who is the owner of her own decorative finishing business, Painted Magic by Beth. "It's how he signed his name. He started off using big letters that tapered off and curved upward."

But mostly, Stewart is hearing high praise for her work.

"Kim Watson owns the building and she's really excited about it," said Stewart, who, as a little girl, went to Sheets Memorial Baptist Church, the same church as Waters did. "And so am I. To me, because I knew Mr. Waters, this is sentimental and personal."

Stewart is also in contact with Mary Spaulding, a daughter of H. Lee Waters who lives outside of Davidson County.

"She's been reaching out to me," said Stewart, noting that even Spaulding could not find photographic evidence of the ad. "She said she's excited to get this project going."

This is the first ghost sign that Stewart has attempted. Although she's not a trained artist, she's self-taught and experienced in faux finishes, signage, pet portraits, custom furniture and custom cabinets.

It's a profession that mostly keeps her grounded.

Here is her Website:

*Photo by Beth Johnson Stewart

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Roads not taken

Ever wonder what you'd be doing if you weren't doing what you're doing now?

I'm 68 years old, and I spent 30 of those years working fulltime as a sports writer for The Dispatch. I was a general assignment newspaper man for a year before that in Pennsylvania, and in the past 13 years after my retirement, I still dabble in writing for a contracted paycheck.

You usually go where your talent takes you. It's what makes a career interesting and fun, and believe me, I had a great career covering sports for Davidson County and The Dispatch. I'd write a book about it if I knew anybody would buy it.

But sometimes I wonder what might have happened, back when I was 5 or 6 years old, if I had really enjoyed taking those piano lessons my parents crammed down my throat. I had to sit at a piano for an hour every day when all my friends were across the street happily playing in the borough playground. As far as I was concerned, hammering on the piano was an hour every day I wasn't going to get back.

What did I miss?

Now, 60-plus years later, I wish I could play the piano. Or guitar. Or anything musical. Dad played the piano, and Mom could sing. I could do none of that. What happened to our genetic right of passage there? Why did I spend so much time playing on a swing at the playground instead of learning swing on a clarinet?

I'm musing about this right now because, so far this weekend, I've seen some very good live music by Jill Goodson at the amphitheater on Friday, and then watched an Eagles retrospective on AXS TV Saturday that had me mesmerized and taking it easy in my singularly horrific monotone. There's a good chance I'll be hearing more live music today.

I love music. Clearly, I didn't show an aptitude for playing music when I was 6, so how come I get wistful about it now?

I love watching musicians perform. I love watching a talented string instrumentalist run his fingers across the fretboard. I love watching a keyboard artist (that coulda been me) evoking melodies from a Steinway, or a percussionist laying down a beat that others can follow.

Is there reincarnation? Can I come back in another life as a bass player? Is there a do-over? Is 68 too late to learn the guitar?

Life is funny. There's no promise that learning the piano as a child would ever take me down a different (country?) road.

But, then again...