2020

The Assault on Democracy

Two longtime friends served as poll workers on Nov. 3. Both are about my age and thus by definition considered high-risk to COVID-19. Still, they felt it was their patriotic duty to assist voters in the Central Texas cities in which they live. I admire their willingness to volunteer. To be clear, they weren’t poll watchers for one party or another. They were there to direct and assist voters as they cast their ballots. Across this country, people both paid and unpaid performed the arduous task of working this election, with the highest turnout in American history in sheer numbers, and the highest...

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The Leaves That Are Green Turn to Brown

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — Andy Williams   The dulcet-voiced crooner was referring to Christmas. For me, it’s November in East Texas, as the leaves turn to red, yellow and brown, and shower down — our version of a New England blizzard, but far easier to tolerate. Most of our sliding glass windows are open, since I finally found someone to custom make replacements for the missing screens. Before that, we could only open a few windows throughout the house. Now a gentle breeze sweeps through, bringing the smell of autumn — moist, decaying leaves, the occasional...

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Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Once again, we have gone through the ritual of changing our clocks, this time reverting to standard time and regaining the hour of sleep stolen from us in early March. Our dogs now start whining to be fed at 6 a.m. since their internal clocks think it’s breakfast time, generally served at 7. The sun rises earlier and sets earlier, both of which are fine by me. I awake with the sun, so this means I rise earlier and feel more productive. That might be pure perception, but it works for me. Of course, falling back means 2020 is one hour further away from coming to its end — and this has been...

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We’re In This Hostage Crisis Together

Every day I wake up, hummin’ a song But I don't need to run around, I just stay at home And sing a little love song, my lover, myself If there's something that you wanna hear, you can sing it yourself  — “Everything is Free,” by Gillian Welch |———| Late every afternoon, just before decamping to the back-deck gazebo to read and listen to NPR, I pick up my Yamaha classical guitar and run through several scales, then play a half-dozen or so songs. The lyrics above are part of one of the songs I have learned to play. “Everything is Free” ostensibly is about how streaming music...

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Seeking The Beauty, The Blessings

A large succulent grows in a pot on our side deck, under the careful care of my Beautiful Mystery Companion. She often moves plants around, trying to find just the right combination of sunlight and shade. This season, she scored a goal by placing this succulent, called the Zulu Giant, or stapelia gigantia, in this spot. It has exploded in size and bloomed for the first time in the years she has cared for it. The bloom is exotic and somewhat creepy, as can be seen in the accompanying photo. That dark spot in the center of the bloom consists of the detritus of dead flies, which is how the bloom is pollinated....

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Adding a Greenhouse Before Winter Arrives

I recently bought a greenhouse kit on eBay for my Beautiful Mystery Companion, who loves nothing more than to play in the dirt — unless it is playing with a puppy. We have a bevy of decorative plants she tends to, while forbidding me to do anything more than admire them. I am happy to oblige. I can kill a plant just by staring at it too long. It’s a gift. For years, the plants in winter have taken up residence either in the house or the shop, which is a one-car attached garage filled with power tools rendered useless when the plants arrive. They don’t fare well in either location — not enough...

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Mucking About With the Muscovy Ducks

Just off Judson Road in my hometown of Longview, there is a creek behind an apartment complex that was dammed up decades ago to create a small lake. I lived for about a month at Willow Lake Apartments when I first returned to Longview in 2008, while the house I had purchased was being remodeled. I am not positive that Willow Lake is the official name of the lake (it doesn’t show up on any maps I could find online), but since it is partially surrounded by willow trees, that works for me. I often cut through the narrow road on the west side of the lake to get from our house to the Big Box Stores....

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The Last Handshake Amidst The Pandemic

The last time I shook hands with someone was in early March. A friendly fellow, who occasionally came to the CrossFit Citadel gym, stuck his hand out. I shook it, really before thinking. The coronavirus was already in the news, a faraway threat but rapidly drawing closer. After the handshake, I unobtrusively went into the restroom and washed my hands. The last time I hugged someone besides my Beautiful Mystery Companion occurred the next day, when a woman who I hadn’t seen at the gym in months got out of her car the same time I did. She’s what we call a “hugger” in East Texas. It was good...

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Furled Flag A Metaphor For Our Times

An American flag hangs from our front porch. The flag is three-by-five feet. It is attached to a pole that juts diagonally from a porch post. The flag often gets wrapped around the pole when a breeze kicks up, often winding itself four or five times around the pole. When that happens, I hold on to the post with one hand, lean out and unwrap the flag — whose corner I’m barely able to reach — so that it hangs properly once again. I have repeated this action hundreds of times in the eight-and-a-half years we have lived in this house. During the last several months — with a pandemic killing...

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Mystery Vines and a Banana Spider

For the past two summers, a weekend ritual — in addition to mowing, trimming and cleaning up the yard — has been to don a pair of gloves and pull up a 30-gallon trash can’s worth of a pungent mystery vine that threatens to strangle the mature azalea bushes that grace much of our yard. The mystery vine appeared after the May 2019 straight-line windstorm, which left four trees on our house and several more down in the backyard. When the debris was chain-sawed, chipped and hauled off, much of the back and side yard was now in full sun. That’s when the mystery vine cropped up, winding its way up the azaleas,...

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