The Make Believe Robots

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I’ve always loved the coin operated binoculars found in parks and recreation areas. I’ve commented before that they remind me of the goofy robots from every B science fiction movie that I’ve ever seen. Maybe it’s the combination of wrought iron and chrome or the fact that they seem to have that expressionless face that makes me think I should be seeing the saucers at any moment. Especially when I notice the one closest to my lens seems have his head cocked to one side as if trying to understand the human. And I can’t really blame him for being perplexed at the middle aged man with the camera who took his time making sure that all the “robots” were looking at the camera and commanded them to say cheese as he snapped the shutter. I’m a huge advocate of not taking adulthood so seriously that you can’t act a little silly in public. Especially when you have all of these blank stares looking back at you. Before gathering my gear and moving to the subject I gave my make believe robot commander the name “B-9” and instructed him to wait for the next human. I’m certain that he and his brethren stood there at full attention until a coin was dropped in the slot. Today we have real world robots that live in the internet and interact with us via our phones and tablets. We even have fully autonomous vehicles and aircraft but to me nothing says robot like a blank stare on a chrome face.

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Skipping Stones

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Nothing brings to mind the carefree days of childhood than skipping stones. Before cable tv, before the internet and before Fortnight we would hike down to Collison Creek where the stream was just wide enough to make a flat stone bounce and skip along the water’s surface. It wasn’t really wide enough to go for long distance. Making it to the other side of the creek was fairly easy so we got creative. In some spots the water flows around large rocks that made perfect bumpers. The object was to play the bank shot by skipping a stone into the bumper and making it land in a certain place. Sometimes we could get one to skip on the rebound after bouncing off of the bumper stone. Other skipping stone games involved landing a stone on a sand bar and a second player would try knock it off with his stone. This one lead to another incarnation that we called “soldier’s fort”. We would wade out to the sand bar and stack rocks like cairns. Usually the stack was only 2 or 3 stones high. Then twigs were gathered from the forest floor and stuck in the sand like a palisade. The object was to crash through the wall by skipping a stone into it until you could knock down a stack of rocks. We never really kept a score. It was all about finding something to do in an age where you had to create your own fun.

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Child’s Play

Ah, the carefree days of youth. The smell of the grass and the sun’s caress on my face. Most of all, the time to just wonder around and roam the landscape. I would love to have had a camera in those days when the whole world was one big adventure. The very pasture where I took the picture of my uncle’s calf in the feature image was one of the best places to be a kid. I remember gathering up a whole coffee can full of green plastic army men and positioning them in the rocky outcrops just a little beyond this spot. In the days before electronic devices we would go down to the swampy spot in the bottom of the pasture and prospect for fossils of reeds and such by banging the sandstone together until it cracked. Later on after I married I actually found a few while gathering stone to fix potholes in the driveway. There is a spring close by and at times the field was full of little clay chimneys created by crayfish. Also known as the mountains lobsters these crustaceans live on dry land and burrow holes to find underground water. Just over the hill is a field of honor where two knights (my brother and I) would meet to have duals. A dead stick was the weapon of choice and at one point we had a whole arena set up. A fallen tree served as the main contact point. The “knights” would stand on the log and battle for hours. There was really no way to win. Losing however was accomplished by either having your stick broken down until it was useless or losing your balance and falling off of the log. The consequences of losing was the shameful walk to the edge of the woods to find a new stick.

We would swing on grape vines, climb trees and skip stones. There might even be the remnants of a fort deep in forest.

Come to think of it, I’m adult enough to get out and act like a kid again. Who wants to go jump in a mud puddle? I won’t tell your mom. 😉

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Some Sunday Memories

One of the things that I love most about my home in the mountains is all the little churches. The steeples just seem to pop up above the canopy like friendly wave of hello. I remember as a kid that one of the most important jobs in the congregation was to be responsible for ringing the bell. The call to worship had to be given at about an hour or so prior to the start of service and then again when it was time to get started. On a good day we could hear the bell ring from miles away. Soon there was a parade of cars moving on the one lane road. You had to there early so you could get a good seat and a place to park. The funny thing is that everyone occupied the same seat and parking spot every Sunday. And, if one of the kids sat in a different place an adult would quickly remind them of the unwritten rules about where to sit. “Hey, that’s where so-and-so sits.” We would have to move around until we finally wound up in the same spot we sat in last week. At the end of service was another unwritten ritual. The shaking of hands. In a small country church the Right Hand Of Fellowship is a common practice. But young boys are mischievous by nature and quick to adapt a custom to their own uses. As soon as the service closed there was a race to the door where The Right Hand Of Fellowship was changed into the Running Of The Gauntlet. The boys would line the exit and extend their shaking hand to anyone trying to leave. The adults would then be obliged to accept the handshakes before they could exit thus creating a bottleneck at the door. I think that final joke was on us boys because we grew up to be the adults caught in the bottleneck later in life. I have to smile and and get warm fuzzies every time I see the steeples poking up from the trees. It always brings back childhood memories of the little churches and the extended family who attended them.

Moon Shots And A Box of Memories..

In the 1970s my brother and I would watch science fiction reruns on VHF T.V. and the adventures of Saturday Afternoons included reliving those we observed in monochrome. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and a slough of guys in rubber suits. Space travel was still new and every time an astronaut was shot into space the world held it’s breath. For two brothers growing up in rural Appalachia virtual reality required a large empty box, some crayons and bits of whatever they could find. Was the moon really made of green cheese? There’s only one way to find out.

The two boys worked diligently. Because they were brothers they didn’t need to speak much. Each knew instinctively what the other needed. A piece of tape here and crayon there. Flashlights rested in cardboard holsters on their hips. If the enemies attack before they were done they would need their laser swords close at a hand. The last meteor shower had done a lot of damage to the ship. Repairs took a lot of time but doing it right was worth the effort. Being the better mathematician, the younger brother picked up a stick and double checked his calculations in the dirt. “I think we’re ready.” He said as the boys stepped back and admired their handiwork. The refrigerator box had everything a good spaceship needs. Empty two liter bottles for rocket boosters. Empty toilet paper tubes for death rays. And flexible hoses they found in the shed for miscellaneous systems. They were really ready for a moon landing. Fortunately, they were able to record some space sounds by placing a cassette tape recorder next to T.V. This would allow for more realistic experience. The young astronauts entered into the cardboard ship and took their places at the control panel. The older brother pushed play on the recorder. Three…Two…One.. We have liftoff!

The adventure never ends as long as you believe.

Little Boys and Dirt Roads

I have often said that my highway to heaven is a dirt road. Dirt roads take us to places unknown and seldom seen. We enter another world where a good ATV ( commonly referred to as a 4 wheeler in my part of Appalachia) or your own feet are the best travel options. When I was a kid we would head out on an old dirt road like the one in the feature image ever chance we got. These roads often contain mud holes that more akin to ponds than potholes. In the spring and summer they’re normally full of tadpoles and newts. My brother and I would escape the heat of the mobile home by finding one of the largest holes we could back under the canopy of the trees to play in. We’d come home covered in mud after riding our bicycles through the mud as hard as we could. We were pretending to be motocross racers. We’d slam the brakes in mud and throw it out as hard as we could. Whoever could make the biggest splash was the winner. We’d play Evil Knievel too. (For those too young to remember he was the most famous stuntman of my youth. You can read about him here). My poor mother would have two boys who looked like mud monsters by the time we were done.

Later in life I would walk these dirt roads at a slower pace while stalking deer or just out exploring. Walking a road like the one in the feature image is kinda like being on a treadmill with people throwing mud, rocks and tree stumps at your feet. The mud settles in low spots and it’s a perfect way for a beginner to find animal tracks and learn about tracking.

Today necessity keeps me on the nice pavement. I walk through a world of concrete and asphalt. But I still long for an abandoned dirt road with a huge mud hole and a good off road bicycle.

Childhood Flashbacks

I think that we all see things from the perspective of the inner child. The image above is the side entrance of the Nicholas County Courthouse. Even though I have really good friends who work there I always feel a little intimidated walking into the building.

I start to have flashbacks of slowly strolling down the hallway towards the principal’s office. (Headmaster in other cultures). Now, I wasn’t really in trouble a lot in school. I swear it was someone else that was shooting wads of paper through a drinking straw. Or, placing small woodland creatures in the teacher’s desk drawer. And I have no idea how wild leeks (known locally as ramps) got into the heating system of small classroom. (Looks away acting innocent). However, I always found myself trying to explain these things to an authority figure at the end of a long narrow hall. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I can hear the funeral march playing in my head. As I approach the office the door creaks open. The secretary looks at me empathetically and offers a blindfold. The door closes behind me. Surly the end is near. Okay, maybe that’s just a little melodramatic. But isn’t it odd how certain places bring up old feelings?

We think of ourselves as full grown adults but at heart we’re all still children. Children that are full of wonder and daydreams. And yes, sometimes a little irrational fear.

( The truth is I’ve never had a bad experience with anyone in this building. They’ve always been kind and helpful. )