You Will Be An Ocean Too

“Here is a good message from the ocean: You will be an ocean too if you let every river, every rain, every flood and every stream flow to you freely!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

 

 

I have written about it before.

All my life I have wanted to live on a creek lot. I remember living in East Dallas and riding my bike along the hilly lanes east of White Rock Lake (back then I was young and thin and fit and I welcomed hills – now I’m afraid of them) and spotted homes along streams – some with little patios down among the trees perched out over the water. They would have a grill, some seats, and I imagined knots of people at sunset enjoying the setting – always wanted that sort of thing.

My wish finally came true, sort of, when we bought our house in Richardson. Technically it is a creek lot – but the creek (which emerges from the flood control ponds in Huffhines Park at the end of our block and runs a short distance beyond where I live to join with Duck Creek) has been manmade wrestled into an arrow-straight path. It’s really more of a ditch lot.

On most days it’s barely an algae and trash encrusted trickle. There are a lot of ducks and turtles (both the friendly box and the prehistoric snappers) with a nighttime cohort of opossums, bobcats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. There are a few trees – but the number is limited by the Corps of Engineers to insure proper flow. They only allow new plantings when an old tree dies. It’s a sleepy stretch, mostly useful to the local kids and cats, feeding and stalking, respectively, the ducks.

That changes with frightening rapidity when a big Texas thunderstorm strikes. The water rises and moves in a symphony of wet muscular gravity.

Last night one hit, hit hard. The ground was already saturated, the flood control ponds already overflowing when the sky dropped six inches of water in a couple hours.

I opened the garage door and looked out through a forest of honey globs of water caterwauling off the roof into the dark. Illuminated only by staccato bolts of lightning like a galvanic Gene Krupa, the bellowing water stilled by the strobing arcs into impossible waves rising above the creek banks and beyond. The usual quiet night lit up by blue thunder. The gleaming fury as millions of gallons of deafening water scream by is frightening and intoxicating. I watched from my house – afraid to get any closer.

This morning I walked around the strip of creek, grass, and trees. The highest water level was marked by a line of twigs and plastic water bottles. In several places the delimitation moved up over the bike trail and almost kissed the alley that runs behind the houses. By then the creek was down to its usual level, having dropped as fast as it rose, with only a little more water flowing by than usual.

The flow was a dozen feet below the level of the detritus line – which was in turn only a couple feet below the level of the houses (though it would take a lot – a lot – more water to raise the flood up that last bit).

I hope.

I did think of those little patios perched in the winding creek lots of East Dallas. I always liked them – but I’m sure they are all gone now.

My folding bike on a bridge over Huffhines Creek.

A line of detritus showing how high the creek had risen the day before.

I wrote that four years ago, but the creek continues to rise with every powerful thunderstorm. On my daily bike ride I stopped on the bridge over Huffhines creek and took a shot of the line of trash that marks yesterday’s high water mark. I’ve seen it quite a bit higher than this.

Not all that spectacular, but imagine what it looks like with all that water roaring down that little space behind my house. The amazing thing is how fast it rises, minutes is all it takes.

Now, I need to get a before and after shot – harder to do than you would think. Especially to do safely.

The Great Floodgates Of the Wonder-World

“…the great floodgates of the wonder-world swung open…”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick or, The Whale

The ponds at the end of my block, Richardson, Texas

All my life I have wanted to live on a creek lot. I remember living in East Dallas and riding my bike along the hilly lanes east of White Rock Lake (back then I was young and thin and fit and I welcomed hills – now I’m afraid of them) and spotted homes along streams – some with little patios down among the trees perched out over the water. They would have a grill, some seats, and I imagined knots of people at sunset enjoying the setting – always wanted that sort of thing.

My wish finally came true, sort of, when we bought our house in Richardson. Technically it is a creek lot – but the creek (which emerges from the flood control ponds in Huffhines Park at the end of our block and runs a short distance beyond where I live to join with Duck Creek) has been manmade wrestled into an arrow-straight path. It’s really more of a ditch lot.

On most days it’s barely an algae and trash encrusted trickle. There are a lot of ducks and turtles (both the friendly box and the prehistoric snappers) with a nighttime cohort of opossums, bobcats, coyotes and an occasional beaver. There are a few trees – but the number is limited by the Corps of Engineers to insure proper flow. They only allow new plantings when an old tree dies. It’s a sleepy stretch, mostly useful to the local kids and cats, feeding and stalking, respectively, the ducks.

They don’t call it Duck Creek for nothing.

That changes with frightening rapidity when a big Texas thunderstorm strikes. The water rises and moves in a symphony of wet muscular gravity.

Last night one hit, hit hard. The ground was already saturated, the flood control ponds already overflowing when the sky dropped six inches of water in a couple hours.

I opened the garage door and looked out through a forest of honey globs of water caterwauling off the roof into the dark. Illuminated only by staccato bolts of lightning like a galvanic Gene Krupa, the bellowing water stilled by the strobing arcs into impossible waves rising above the creek banks and beyond. The usual quiet night lit up by blue thunder. The gleaming fury as millions of gallons of deafening water scream by is frightening and intoxicating. I watched from my house – afraid to get any closer.

This morning I walked around the strip of creek, grass, and trees. The highest water level was marked by a line of twigs and plastic water bottles. In several places the delimitation moved up over the bike trail and almost kissed the alley that runs behind the houses. By then the creek was down to its usual level, having dropped as fast as it rose, with only a little more water flowing by than usual.

The flow was a dozen feet below the level of the detritus line – which was in turn only a couple feet below the level of the houses (though it would take a lot – a lot – more water to raise the flood up that last bit).

I hope.

I did think of those little patios perched in the winding creek lots of East Dallas. I always liked them – but I’m sure they are all gone now.

Short Story Day 1 – The Fall of Edward Barnard

1. – The Fall of Edward Barnard by W. Somerset Maugham
http://www.online-literature.com/maugham/the-trembling/3/

Over the years, I had not read very much… not anything, really, by W. Somerset Maugham. I did sit down with The Razor’s Edge once, a few decades ago, but couldn’t get very far into it. Although he wrote right at the edge of the modern era, his prose was too stifled and stuffy for my tastes. I set it aside after a few pages and didn’t revisit Maugham, though I knew this was a mistake – there had to be worth there, he is too well known and lauded for me to ignore.

This last weekend, I rode my bike into the crystal towers of downtown Dallas… intending to hang out there a bit before riding back up north. I went over to Klyde Warren Park, bought some lunch from a food truck, and settled in to rest a bit before pedalling home. I realized that I had forgotten my Kindle and discovered I wanted something to read. After a bit of frustration I remembered that the park had a reading area, complete with shelves full of books.

I walked over and perused the selection, eventually picking up a copy of W. Somerset Maugham’s Complete Short Stories – in a couple of volumes. I sat down and read a couple. There was a deliciously evil little tale set in two times and locations – A Woman of Fifty… and a very short work set in Guatemala about a Nicaraguan revolutionary on the run called The Man With the Scar.

I really enjoyed both of these stories. I realized that the stylized writing is employed by Maugham as a device to emphasize the wild irony of the stories beneath. He is not writing about proper society, but about the turbulent chaos that lies beneath and beyond… and that is a subject that fascinates me.

Those two little tales gave me enough rest to ride home and then I procured a selection of Maugham’s stories to read… more in depth. I started with Rain – a juicy story about the conflict between a strict missionary and a woman of ill repute while both are stranded in a cheap hotel in Pago Pago. It is arguably the best known of his short stories and has been made into a handful of films.

It was crackerjack. It impressed me enough for me to elevate the next story in the collection, The Fall of Edward Barnard to the first of my June Month of the Short Story daily selections.

The Fall of Edward Barnard is very similar to Rain – it is sort of the flip side of the same story, though with less horrific consequences (it even has an almost happy ending – though terrible in its own happy way). If you have the time read both… and then compare and contrast.

They concern the conflict between the European/American style – the ambitious, religious, strict, repressed, overbearing way of looking at life and the world with the relaxed, sensual, permissive way of the primitive South Sea Islands. Again, the archaic prose is used to good effect – be sure and don’t let that stop your reading or enjoyment; fight through the language (Word of the day: quixotry) until you get to the point where the author relents and lets loose a little.

So now I have added another classic author to my personal pantheon. It is interesting in that he is not overly careful about maintaining a strict point of view or even consistent tone – he lets his prose go where it needs to to tell the story. When I write, I sweat blood trying to make sure I don’t reveal facts or ideas that are not available to my point of view character at the time the story is unfolding…. Perhaps I need to relax a bit and let the story tell itself.

Something to think about.

“I think of Chicago now and I see a dark, grey city, all stone–it is like a prison–and a ceaseless turmoil. And what does all that activity amount to? Does one get there the best out of life? Is that what we come into the world for, to hurry to an office, and work hour after hour till night, then hurry home and dine and go to a theatre? Is that how I must spend my youth? Youth lasts so short a time, Bateman. And when I am old, what have I to look forward to? To hurry from my home in the morning to my office and work hour after hour till night, and then hurry home again, and dine and go to a theatre? That may be worth while if you make a fortune; I don’t know, it depends on your nature; but if you don’t, is it worth while then? I want to make more out of my life than that, Bateman.”
—-W. Somerset Maugham, The Fall of Edward Barnard

Three Bicycling Stories

A Photograph Doesn’t Do Justice 

I like taking photographs, though it is ultimately a frustrating and futile exercise. I see an image in my mind and I want to commit it to pixels, but I never can. What ends up on the screen is a poor echo, a warped ghost, of what was in my head. Still, I keep trying.

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, "Is your husband a professional photographer?"Candy answered, "He thinks he is."

This woman, a bartender at the NYLO Southside, asked Candy, “Is your husband a professional photographer?”
Candy answered, “He thinks he is.”

Sometimes, there are images, real images that appear in the eye, of such subtle and ephemeral beauty that a camera can never come close to capturing.

The other morning I was riding my bike to work. I had left before dawn and was moving west on Summit Drive just after Grove Road. It’s a quiet little residential street, perfect for bike riding. Going West, it’s a slight downhill, just right – steep enough to coast but not so much to require brakes – a nice little rest in the middle of my commute.

Behind me, the sun was breaking the horizon, the orange globe peeking out throwing a sudden bright warm light down the street. All along the street were thousands of black birds (grackles, I think) covering the yards, wires, and trees.

The birds did not like me or my bike. Maybe my flashing headlight helped spook them, but they all took off and began to fly away from me. As I moved down the street a massive wave of birds formed in front of me, a cacophony of squawking and flapping wings as they fled in formation.

It was like a giant, solid, noisy, black moving thing, this wave of birds, contrasted with the bare trees and piles of autumn leaves, all bathed in the coral light from the sunrise. A living shape, a rolling cloud, lasting only a few seconds until I reached the turn at the bottom of the hill when they scattered, the wave dissolving into the dawn air, the flock dissipating as quickly as it formed.

As surely as this scene could never be photographed… too evanescent and ethereal for a lens – words fail me. Trust me, it was beautiful – I smiled all the way to work and even for a few minutes in the land of the cubicals until the daily grind ground the moment out.

Still, it is there, in my memory. I’ve never been much of a morning person, but sometimes it’s nice to get up in time to see what the rising sun brings.

My First Fall 

At my age, I’m really afraid of bicycle accidents. I’m a lot more brittle than I used to be and I don’t heal as fast. Still, I ride slowly and carefully and hadn’t fallen for a long, long time.

Until now.

I was going West on Spring Valley (not far from the story above). There is a rail line that bisects my city north to south and is a surprising barrier to cycling – there are only a couple places where it can be crossed and none of them are very safe. The Spring Valley crossing is one of the best – open, wide, and not too much traffic.

Between the rails there are these rubber pads to fill in the gaps for the cars that cross. Unfortunately, the pads had a gap between them… not too much, maybe an inch. The gap, unfortunately  runs parallel to the curb – along the direction of travel. On a bike, cracks or gaps running across your path are a mere bump, but cracks running in the same direction your are – are a disaster.

I am starting to rebuild my commuter bike – an old mountain bike – so I am riding my road bike around town. The road bike has narrow tires. Narrow enough to fit right into the gap between the thick rubber mats.

So I wasn’t looking closely enough and my tire dropped into the gap. It immediately grabbed the rubber and stopped. Instant endo – a nasty crash where your forward momentum throws you over your front handlebars.

I felt the tire drop and grab so I had a split second to prepare myself. I was able to drop a shoulder and roll when I hit, so I wasn’t hurt. I was worried about my bike, but other than a broken toe clip and a missing bar end plug, not a scratch. Luckily, there weren’t any cars behind me, or that might have been a fatal crash.

All’s well that ends well. Hopefully, I’ll have another run of good luck.

It’s frustrating though. I’m sure the city thinks that railroad crossing is fine and doesn’t need any work even though it contains a hidden disaster to anyone riding a bike through there. I don’t have any choice, I’ll have to ride over the crossing at least twice a day when I’m riding to work and most other rides – it’s the only good way to get the the southwest part of town from where I live. I’ll have to be careful and not forget what happened – look out for that gap.

Of course, flying over the handlebars isn’t something you forget anytime soon.

My road bike - an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My road bike – an ancient Raleigh Technium.

My commuter bicycle - I'm now taking it apart for a rebuild.

My commuter bicycle – I’m now taking it apart for a rebuild.

Riding in the Rain 

My goal for 2013 is three thousand miles on my bicycle. Not too hard, that’s only a bit under ten miles per day (my work commute is ten miles round trip). Still, it will require consistent riding, under less than ideal conditions. Texas winters are cold, spring is wet, and summers… well, they can be fatal.

Rain was predicted for today, but when I woke up in the morning, I checked out the internet weather and the radar maps and it looked like I had a couple hours before the thunderstorms arrived. So I decided to get going and get in twenty miles or so. Never trust anything you read on the ‘net.

The fog was thick as I headed out and withing a couple miles it started to mist and sprinkle. It was fairly warm, so the light rain actually felt nice. I decided to ignore the weather and kept heading out on the route I had in mind.

Over the next few miles the rain slowly increased. Still, it wasn’t too bad and I kept going. Once you are soaked… you can’t get any wetter, so I didn’t want to give up. My phone rang and it was Candy, offering to pick me up, but I said I was doing fine. By this time I was around Galatyn Parkway along Highway 75 and I wanted to go north into Spring Creek and the trails up there.

Then the sky opened up.

I’ve been thinking about rigging my commuter bike for riding in the rain and reading up about bicycle fenders. One article I read had this nice quote:

I’ve cycled through thunderstorms in the U.S. Midwest and Texas and even a typhoon or two in Tokyo. For the Californians on the list, fill a bucket with water, toss in a tray of ice cubes (for the hail) and have a friend throw the contents on you — that approximates about half a second of a typical Midwestern spring storm.

That’s what it felt like – someone dumping a five gallon bucket of iced water on my head twice a second. It’s true that once you are soaked, more water doesn’t make you wetter… but I couldn’t even see. Luckily, a few feet up ahead the trail scooted underneath Highway 75, so I was able to take shelter until the tempest subsided.

It was amazing, waiting there, dripping, under the highway, watching the trickle of a creek rising quickly to become a raging torrent. I was safe on the elevated trail, leaning up against a guardrail halfway between the stream and the roadway above. The various drainpipes associated with the highway all began spewing vast cascades of roaring water, some falling in brown cataracts and others splashing against trees and logs into great sprays of foam. I never noticed, but the roadway is drilled with a pattern of drainage holes and all these began to spew a grid of falling fountains from the bridge far above.

The scene was unexpected and beautiful and it made me laugh to look at my private spectacular water display.

The rain was falling so hard I knew it couldn’t last too long and once the storm subsided to a mere rainstorm I bundled up my wet clothes and headed home. I couldn’t ride the trail all the way because the low-water crossings along Duck Creek were submerged. The waterfowl were all lined up along their swollen eponymous waterway watching the flotsam and jetsam closely, picking out any edible particle that came floating by.

I did manage to get my twenty miles in, and all my stuff is hanging in the house trying to dry out. I’m not sure if I’ll go out in a thunderstorm like that again… but it was kind of fun.

Rainy Day in New Orleans

New Orleans is over a hundred miles from the ocean, but it is barely dry. Rain comes quickly and unexpectedly… except it is always expected.

Luckily, there is a source of refuge in the Big Easy – whenever the skies open up, there is always a bar handy to seek shelter and good cheer.

Waiting for the St. Charles Streetcar, the rain came down, hard, so we ducked into The Avenue Pub (which happened to be right there).

The Avenue Pub is beer heaven. Open 24hrs. 7Days (never know when it’s going to rain). Their list of beers on tap is three pages long.

The Beer Buddha says:

“Honestly this category really isn’t fair; but why punish one bar because all the others can’t hold it’s jockstrap? We all know The Avenue Pub is THE beer bar in not only New Orleans but in Louisiana. Nothing against all the other bars in the state but you ALL know you have a long way to go to be mentioned in the same sentence with AP.”

Draft Magazine lists it as one of the 100 best beer bars in the country. They say:

“Only in New Orleans will you find a beer bar open 24/7. The staff is militant about clean beer lines and proper glassware, so even when you stumble in at 4 a.m. you get the best pint in the city. Choose from more than 47 rotating taps and about as many bottles, all focusing on American beer. Go for an exhaustive introduction to local NOLA Brewing or to people-watch from the balcony.”

The Complex City Guide has it at 12 in the 25 best Beer Bars in the country. They say,

“Louisiana may not be the first state you think of when you think of beer (sure, they’ve got Abita), but when you change state to city and beer to drunk, it’s no wonder that New Orleans has one of the best beer spots in the country. Avenue Pub features a rotating 47 taps on two floors (so you can get your exercise in between rounds) and once you mix that with some amazing Louisiana cuisine, you won’t be thinking about Bourbon Street no more. And the most important part, here in the land of to-go cups, the Avenue is open 24 hours a day. Yup.”

And all this is right there, right on the Streetcar Line, right when it starts to rain.

My only complaint – they don’t have Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Pollinator on tap. Maybe I can send them an email.

The Avenue Pub, on St. Charles in New Orleans

  • Moleskine with Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen
  • Streetcar Fare
  • Beer list and food menu
  • NOLA Blonde Ale Beer
  • Fox Barrel Pear Cider (sorry, it wasn’t even noon yet and I was a little beer’d out – so I had a cider. It was good. So sue me)

A lot of taps.

No Orange Slices! No Muddling!

Ice Melts in the Rain

Help me, I'm melting!

It was a cold (well, cold for Dallas) wet and miserably gray day. Storms all night and rolling bands of rain driven down from a dark sky all day. A perfect fall day to huddle inside… maybe read a little, eat the last of the leftovers, maybe watch some football on TV, maybe do nothing at all. And that’s what I did.

But there was one burr under my blanket. I wanted to see what the ice sculptures were doing in downtown Dallas. I had seen Transendence at its unveiling, one day later, and now… what was it up to? It had been raining constantly and I knew that fresh water from the sky would melt the ice quickly, so I had no choice but to head out and drive down there.

The roads were wet, the visibility was poor, and, of course, everybody else was driving like bats out of hell – so the drive was stressful enough. I pulled up and parked illegally right next to the installation (there was nobody, and I mean nobody around). Luckily, there was a bit of a break in the weather – only a cold spitting windy miserable drizzle.

The first thing I noticed was that they had put out some hand-lettered signs all around the place that said, “Keep Off Gravel (Art Exhibit).” No shit, Sherlock. If those had been out there that first night, would all the drunken idiots have trampled all over the place? Whatever. For the first time, there were no tracks at all across the raked gravel. Never underestimate the power of a hand-lettered sign. The Sharpie reigns supreme.

The human figures were melted into unrecognizable shapes. Their heads were gone, arms mere suggestions, their stone hearts seemed poised to plunge from their bodies to the gravel below.

I know that is what they are supposed to do, it is their purpose – but it is still a little sad to see the beautiful things come to such an end.

The rectangular blocks, on the other hand, are fairing a lot better. They have shrunk a little, one is tipping a bit, but are still intact. They may last quite a long time.

The flesh is feeble, weak, and transient, while the crystalline inanimate geometric mass resists the heat, the water, the slings and arrows and survives until the bitter end. It is the way of all things.

Here are three pictures of the second human figure on each of the three days. If I had thought about it, I would have carefully taken pictures from identical spots, using identical lenses, on each day… but I’m an idiot. Sorry, that would have been cool.

At the unveiling

One day later.

After a day of melting in the rain