Sunday, May 30, 2021


Rock-a-bye baby, in the tree top

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall

And down will come baby, cradle and all

I always thought that was an unusual nursery rhyme to be singing to a kid, especially a young child.  Boughs breaking and cradles falling from trees with babies in them. Pretty unsettling stuff, actually.

And unsettled is where my next door neighbor, Billy West, and I were at the moment.

Work begins on cutting the tree.
Our property line splits a towering red oak tree neatly down the middle. A GPS device couldn't have divided the tree between us more equally.

But the tree was a serious problem. It was located at the end of our properties along an old trash alley, and it had an obvious lean to it, maybe 10 or 15 degrees off perpendicular. Furthermore, it was leaning toward our 100-year-old houses. And as if that wasn't enough, the troublesome tree was tearing up the asphalt in the alley. I could no longer drive over the annoying root bumps without scraping the bottom of my car. That didn't used to happen, thus giving me a clear indication the tree was slowly tilting toward our houses, degree by degree.

So we made the difficult decision to bring the tree down. I got estimates from two companies. One was for five figures. The other guy said he didn't want to touch it. He measured the tree: it was 170 inches in circumference, and probably 100 feet tall. It was a monster. If it fell, it would take out (or at least severely damage) three houses. Call someone else, please.

Billy found a company he'd used before when he lived in a different location. J & K Land Management out of Clemmons gave us a reasonable estimate, telling us they could take down the tree in two-and-a-half days as well as remove the stump and level out the ensuing crater with fill dirt.

The crane removes a bough.
They started work this past Monday, using an old (circa 1988) Navy surplus mobile crane rated for 40 tons. It took them all week to bring down the tree. They'll work on the stump next week.

Kim and I love trees, and so do the Wests. This wasn't an easy decision for any of us to cut this one down. But then a planning official from the city dropped by a day into the project, took one look at the lean of the tree and the odd nodules growing halfway up the trunk, and told us "this is a dying tree. Those are tumors."

Because we are in the historic district, we needed a Certificate of Appropriateness to remove the so-called Treasure Tree. The COA gave the reason for the project: "...tree is diseased and leaning, causing a public danger to life and property."

Suddenly, there was a sense of urgency in the take-down.

It was a fascinating project to watch. They brought down the tree bough by bough, tying off each bough to the crane, making chainsaw cuts, and then using the crane to lower the bough onto the grassy field at Mountcastle Insurance (Many thanks here to business owner Andy Calvert. The use of his field as a temporary sawmill was critical in making this a much less complicated process than it could have been).

Ryan Kemp, the "K" in J & K, was operating the crane and he had a computer that could weigh each pick he made from the tree. "That last bough weighed 10,000 pounds," he told me before they stopped for the day on Wednesday. Yikes.

The trunk is ready to come down.
I also held the J & K work crew in high regard. Imagine going to work 50-80 feet in the air every day, tied down with a harness and safety ropes, a chainsaw in your hands and a prayer on your lips. Oh, my.

The trunk of the tree came down on Friday, and with it came another revelation. The tree was rotting from the inside. There's a big hole in the center of the stump. When you look down into it, you can see the ground. There is no wood there, no there there. Only air. And a colony of carpenter bees. That figures.

That means the base of the tree was hollow, the upper weight of the tree being held up by the perimeter strength of the trunk. I have no doubt the tree could have fallen in the next windy day, or with the weight of the next ice storm.

Our alley gets a fair amount of foot traffic. Joggers. Strollers. Dog walkers. I figure by taking the tree down, we added another 100 years to our houses as well as to the general public safety.

You're welcome.

• Just a note on nursery rhymes. As scary as Rock-a-bye Baby can be if you take it literally, there is a theory that the lullaby could be a satire of the Glorious Revolution, with the baby being the son of James II as a Catholic heir, with the wind representing the Protestant force of William of Orange from the Netherlands, and with the cradle being the Royal House of Stuart.

Or not.


Sunday, May 23, 2021

That's a no-no

Well, here it is, May 23 – less than two months into the major league baseball season – and we've already seen six – count 'em, folks, six – no-hitters.

In fact, two of those no-hitters were hurled within 24 hours of each other when Detroit's Spencer Turnbull blanked Seattle on Tuesday and then New York Yankees Corey Kluber no-hit Cleveland on Wednesday.

The four other no-no's saw San Diego's Joe Musgrove defeat Texas on April 9; Chicago White Sox' Carlos Rodon blanked Cleveland on April 14; Baltimore's John Means did the same to Seattle on May 5, and Cincinnati's Wade Miley whitewashed Cleveland on May 8.

Look closer: Seattle, Cleveland and Texas have each been no-hit twice this season. That's weird. That's awful. Those three teams by themselves are going a long way to contributing to the MLB composite batting average of .236, the lowest in decades.

And don't forget the curious case of Arizona's Madison Bumgarner, who blanked Atlanta on April 25 in a no-hitter that didn't count because it only went seven innings instead of nine. This happened because Major League Baseball decided it could speed up the game by making both ends of doubleheaders seven innings instead of nine this season, and therefore it follows the guidelines it set in 1991 to eliminate rain-shortened no-hitters. So there. It's a rule. Write your Congressman (You know, the guy who won't vote to investigate sedition and insurrection in attacks on the Capitol. But that's a different blog).

At any rate, Bumgarner included or not, MLB is on a pace to see 20 no-hitters this year. That's nuts, and I don't think it will happen. Not unless Seattle, Texas and Cleveland somehow get worse. (Oh, yeah. Seattle just put four relievers on the Covid-19 list after positive tests on Friday. Yikes. The Mariners really are getting worse.)

The record for no-hitters in a season is seven, and believe it or not, it's happened four times: 1990, 1991, 2012 and 2015.

What's going on? All I can do is guess based on what I've read.

The most obvious answer is that the pitching has improved dramatically over the years. Not only are pitchers regularly serving up 100-mile-an-hour-plus fastballs, but 80-mph sliders, 95-mph sinkers, 85-mph changeups and 78-mph curves. I've always believed hitting a pitched ball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Now imagine even professional hitters going up against a pitcher's repertoire like this every night, especially when the pitcher is painting the corners of the plate with unbelievable control.

Coupled with this superior pitching is baseball's current offensive fad of trying to knock the ball out of the park with each swing. Home runs are where the big money contracts are. Ask Bryce Harper. Batters are lunging at pitches out of the strike zone. Nobody, it seems, is hitting for base hits. No sacrifice bunts. No hit-and-runs. The strategy is to knock the cover off the ball, ala Roy Hobbs (and he was fictional).

In 2019, MLB saw a record 6,776 home runs, which seemingly counters the superior pitching argument. Until you consider batting averages are dropping like anchors. As of today, there are only 22 players in all of major league baseball – both leagues combined – hitting .300 or above. Pathetic.

Now, the ball was altered slightly coming into the season with the aim of decreasing the number of homers being hit. The Rawlings company, which hand-stitches its baseballs in Costa Rica, has loosened the first three wool windings inside each ball, taking out some of its "bounciness." This, of course, has nothing to do with pitching, unless you figure the baseballs now weigh 2.8 grams less than they used to and is that really a factor?

We might be in a new manufactured dead ball era, but not a dead pitcher era.

I remember back in the late 1960s when pitchers like Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant were dominating the game. Seven starters had an earned run average of under 2.00 in 1968. That's nuts. Baseball decided to lower the mound that year from 15 inches to 10 inches high and the strike zone shrank from shoulders to knees to the current armpits to the top of the knees. Or thereabouts.

It worked. Pitchers lost their dominance.

But now, 53 years later, you have to wonder, what have we gained?

Sunday, May 16, 2021

To mask or not to mask

The other day I woke up knowing that if I went into a store, a gym or most any other business, I had to wear a mask.

By the end of the day, the Center for Disease Control told me that if I'm vaccinated for Covid-19 (I am), I (conditionally) didn't have to wear one any more.

Huh? After more than a year of wearing a mask whenever I left the house, now suddenly I didn't have to?

On the one hand, that's pretty good news. It's the news we've been waiting for. It's the kind of news that can really open up the economy. It's the kind of news that can get kids back in school.

But on the other hand, it's the kind of news that also feels funny. That dropping the mask mandate might be a little too much a little too soon.

What makes me feel this way is that we still haven't reached herd immunity. Just a third of us are vaccinated and we need to reach at least 70 percent to have a chance of quelling the pandemic. And that's just in this country. Covid is still out there. Just because I'm vaccinated doesn't mean I can't be asymtomatic and spread the disease to someone who hasn't gotten their shot.

Still, it was encouraging to see many people still wearing their masks the past few days, like it's an old habit they just can't undo.

But I don't know. It puts this country in the odd position where some of us might be anti-vaxxers who don't believe in vaccinations, while others aren't sure ending the mask mandate right now isn't a bit too soon.

It seems like nobody believes in anything they're told anymore. Ain't America great?

The curious case of eight New York Yankees is unsettling. Eight members of the organization have tested positive for Covid-19, even though we're told they are vaccinated.

What does that mean? It could be the testing is giving false positives, but eight people at once seems unlikely. Or the virus has mutated to a vaccine-resistant strain. Or those damn Yankees are lying about getting vaccinated.

 Nobody would lie about getting vaccinated, right? Right?

Anyway, here's my plan:

I'll probably still wear a mask while in most indoor situations. I'll do that until I see other people going maskless and I feel comfortable about it. I'll do that as we get closer to 70 percent.

And when Fall comes around, I'll get my flu shot, like I always do. And I may wear a mask again in indoor situations, since masking virtually stopped influenza outbreaks this year. That in itself should tell us something. It's empirical evidence that masking works.

I hope I can believe it.

Sunday, May 9, 2021


 Well, here it is, Mother's Day, and I haven't written to you in a while.

Sounds like me, doesn't it?

Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to bring you up to date, to let you know things are OK.

I guess you never thought you'd have a child that made it to 70 years old, although I know you would wish for long, healthy lives for all three of your sons.

Mom on her wedding day.
So there. I made it to my biblical three score and 10. But not without a hiccup or two. A couple years ago, I had colon surgery, and then five months after that, I had my gall bladder removed. That was interesting. I never saw either of those surgeries coming because, you know, I was bullet-proof for such a long time.

I'm running out of non-essential body parts, it seems, although I still have my appendix. And my tonsils.

But then, you struggled with cancer, so I guess you had your share of hospitals and doctors and chemo. You endured it all until the fight finally wore you out. To this day, I think both you and Dad were on the cusp of medical advances that could have given you your own three score and 10. But the timing was a little off.

You'll be glad to know that Kim and I live in a fantastic neighborhood and with people whom I consider to be our very close friends. That was lucky. But you were a good neighbor yourself and that left an impression on me.

Remember how you liked to live in old houses? Well, our house is in a historic neighborhood. It just turned 100 years old. I think I inherited that money pit appreciation from you. Thanks.

I still read voraciously, I think because you read voraciously. In an era of online books, I still have a library card, just like I did when I was a kid. And there's just so much to read and so little time. I'm hoping to extend my warranty to maybe three score and 20 (which I guess is really four score, but that's starting to sound a little too Lincolnesque), so we'll just have to wait and see.

You enjoyed puttering around in your yard and now I find myself doing a lot of that. Weeding, mostly. Kim does the actual garden art, planting flowers that provide both function and eye appeal. She has a talent for that. It is possible she inherited that from you transactionally? Probably not, but that's what I'm going to think anyway.

I do wish you had passed on to me your ability to sing. You did pass on your love of music, but you forgot to give me a singing voice. You gave me Alfalfa instead. Or, now that I think about it, maybe you gave me your ironic sense of humor instead. Love music, can't sing, can't keep a beat. Bwa ha ha.

You loved to watch birds. So do I. You had bird feeders everywhere. We live in Birdland.

Well, I think that pretty much catches us up for now. I'm sure there's more I could say, but I'll save it for some future time. This is your day, so enjoy your children and the lives they are living.

With grateful love,


Sunday, May 2, 2021


Just when I was feeling pretty good about the seemingly improving Covid-19 situation in this country, I saw a story on my phone yesterday that said the United States is about to run out of adults willing to get vaccinated against the virus.

It seems at least 57 percent of the population has received at least one shot (two may be required for most vaccinations, like Pfizer and Moderna), but 7 percent of respondents of a recent poll say they are waiting to see what happens to those who do get shots, and 20 percent say they will never get a vaccination.

All of which means herd immunity – where at least 70 percent and perhaps closer to 85 percent of the population has antibodies needed to prevent the spread of infection – may be harder to achieve. Which means the disease will continue to spread, probably mutate and thus become even more difficult to eradicate.

So my question is, why would you not get a vaccine? It's free. What is the fear? What is the rationale?

Apparently, getting vaccinated in this country has become highly politicized, as if you are making a political statement by not getting a shot. Well, in a global pandemic, that's just a brilliant assumption to make. Just ask those grieving for their dead relatives in Brazil and India this morning.

All of this had me wondering what our parents and grandparents might think about the vaccination wars. When I was a toddler, I was vaccinated for smallpox. Nearly all of us in the baby boomer generation were. Worldwide. Consequently, smallpox has been eradicated from the planet as a viable disease.

So has polio. I remember taking a pink sugar cube (or was it two?) in elementary school, filled with Jonas Salk's serum. Now, polio no longer exists in the United States.

And while I was just a kid, I don't remember any rebellions against vaccinations. I think they were even required for kids to attend public schools. Still might be, for all I know. I don't know what is mandatory, and what is simply recommended. Google tells me 16 vaccinations are recommended for school-age children, but it doesn't tell me if they are required.

In the military, inductees get six vaccinations: measles, mumps, diphtheria, flubicillin, rubella and, apparently still, smallpox. I think these are required. It would seem odd, to me, that an inductee would be willing to take a bullet for his country, but not a vaccine. A virus can be as lethal as a bullet.

Up until Covid-19 arrived, the big issue, it seemed, was whether or not to get a flu shot every year. Kim and I always get the flu shot, and – knock on wood – we've never gotten the flu.

At any rate, the empirical evidence seems to suggest (for all of you 7 percenters) that the Covid-19 vaccines work with little or no reactions to the shot. And history tells us vaccines of any stripe are critical to controlling dangerous viruses. My doctor once told me the two greatest life-saving advances in medicine over the course of human history have been sanitation and vaccination.

We have the answer to Covid-19 in the vaccine. It's our path out of this pandemic. Why are we still asking the question?