A friend of mine, way back when we were first
ejected into society from high school, decided to hitchhike around the
country.In other words, he made his way
to California.He did not have
money.For a little while, he joined-up
with a group of migratory Mexican fruit pickers to earn a few meager wages.Nope.He did not do well.The heat
melted him.He picked too slowly.At one point, out of desperation, he gave
blood at a blood bank just for something to eat and drink.
Such is a fine point of desperation.
You have probably heard tales of wolves gnawing-off
their own legs to save themselves after being caught in a trap.And there is a human equivalent in the 2010
movie 127 Hours.The movie was
based on the true-life adventure of Aron Ralston.Ralston somehow managed to get his arm irreversibly
wedged between rocks when he tumbled inside a slot canyon while hiking in Utah.Knowing that he would dangle there until he
perished from lack of water and starvation, he sawed off his own arm with a
pocket knife to save his own life.
We will sacrifice a lot to save our own life.A few of us will even sacrifice body parts
In recent years, a black market has developed for
people wishing to sell their own body parts.Kidneys are a big mover in this market since a person can give up one of
those and walk away with a wad of cash instead.Most of the people selling kidneys are from
impoverished regions.According to one
source (Handwerk) some villagers in India sold their kidneys for as little as
$800.00.I am not sure I would sell a
toenail clipping that cheap.
Just the other day I bumped into something about
human teeth for sale on the internet.I
thought: Geez, how do you get those?Do you
just sock someone in the face and then pick them up off the ground?Does someone sell them from their mouth one
at a time?Do you dig them up?I decided that I did not wish to know that
answer—I figured the answer might be the first-cousin to the answer about how sausage
is made.More than one person has told me
that “you don’t want to know how sausage is made and what goes in it because
you likely won’t eat it again.”Maybe I
don’t want to know where the teeth came from.
My next question: What would you do with human
I looked that one up.I discovered that some folks buy the teeth
and use them for scientific displays or training in the various skills
associated with dentistry.That makes
sense.Other people, however, make
jewelry from them.That is maybe just a
Every summer in Montana, starting somewhere near the
end of July and extending through most of August, the huckleberries ripen where
they grow wild in the mountains. Huckleberries tend to ripen at lower
elevations first and then the ripening gradually ascends up through the higher
peaks.I have been following the
ripening berries from valley floors to the powder-horn peaks and gun-sight
passes for the last twenty years.
During a summer of abundance, I might pick six to
eight gallons.I recall one year when a
fungal blight called mummy berry decimated the berries in all of my normal
“honey holes.”That year, several days
of seeking everywhere yielded barely a cup of berries.
The summer of 2012 provided a bumper crop of
berries—maybe the best I have ever seen.Yesterday, several of my berry-picking companions drove out to my house
and we baked several huckleberry pies using some of our gathered bounty.We did not notice until we pulled one set of
pies from the oven what we had also made.
I was born weighing less than a hunting rifle and
not believing that words mattered.The
doctors did not slap me the way they always show in movies; though I suspect my
mother wanted them to.My mother wanted
everyone slapped.I knew from that first day that this was a
house of cards.
Imagine two men working together to transport a
bowling ball.To move the bowling ball,
one man must hold out a plastic trash bag so the other man can place the
bowling ball inside for transport.When
working together on such a project you might imagine these two scenarios.
One man extends the opened bag out.The other man—while grumbling about the way
the bag is being presented—drops the ball inside and watches as the ball rips
through the bottom and bounces away.
One man extends the opened bag out.The other man gingerly reaches down inside
the bag to settle the heavy ball at the bottom of the bag so they can haul it
I asked a friend to read through this post for an evaluation before sending it
to my blog.My friend responded with: “It’s imaginative and somewhat humorous
although it doesn’t make any sense to me.But then making sense is most likely not your intention.”Frankly, that sounds pretty grim.I decided to post this mess anyhow.My apologies.
Engineering and Brooding Parrots
Occasionally, and sometimes with a certain level of
derision, the name Hans Signal Blinker still surfaces in conversations within
genetics labs.Mr. Blinker is regarded
as something of a pioneer in the field of genetic engineering.He was also known for always wearing a
coonskin hat and packing a single-shot musket around the lab.
Blinker, a practical man, skipped the often
requisite college training in genetics and began his work on genetic
engineering employing only his gut instincts and what some referred to as “his
daddy’s money.”He squandered the first
three years of his work in an attempt to engineer an orange tabby housecat that
might also function as a footbridge across small streams of water immediately
following natural disasters.The project
met with some success functionally, though a large portion of the people who
took in the cats found themselves allergic to crossing the cats once they had
transformed into a bridge.Other people
who took in the cats complained that they preferred a bridge that fetched
Mr. Blinker soon embarked on a new project—this time
to genetically alter a group of parrots that could change both colors and
feather patterns to match a variety of lovely wallpapers.When questioned about the validity of such
work Hans replied, “And I suppose that next you’ll doubt the validity of my
efforts to develop a strain of carp that can teach aerobics classes between the
hours of seven and ten in the morning?”
Again, Hans Signal Blinker initially met with some
success.Sadly, the first dozen parrots
were shipped to a pet store in Southern California (an area noted for particularly
trendy and often irrational interior design).The parrots sold quickly and found themselves in homes raging with
tie-dye patterned wallpapers.Two of the
birds eventually escaped and joined a scantily clad dance troupe heading for Canada.Five others kept insisting that they wanted a
cracker.Four of the remaining five
parrots, after failing to match the tie-dye wallpaper patterns, turned black
and required constant solace for all of their brooding.The last parrot took up painting with acrylics.Holding the paintbrush in its beak, the bird
rapidly produced Picasso knock-offs.The
owner of this bird, Mrs. Emily Rhodes, secured an agent and began booking
talkshow appearances for the parrot.“My
bird,” she said with great pride, “holds the brush with his pecker!”
Hans Blinker eventually abandoned his lab research,
humiliated by the failure of his parrots.He soon embarked on the door-to-door sales of punchlines for obscure and
sexually connotative jokes.His favorite
(and best-selling) line went something like this: “And the shaved monkey danced
all the rest of the night.”
Somewhere back in my days, I read that certain
flowering plants require more strings of genetic code for accurate reproduction
than humans do.This idea struck me as
very plausible just the other day as I watched an American Idol audition
program on television.In some manners
we are not any more complex than a potted plant.Genetically, we are something near 57% the
same as a head of cabbage.Interesting,
yes.But the question remains: would
your neighbor render into a decent form of sauerkraut as well as a head of
Deciding to seek some actual facts about the human
genome, I surfed around the Internet until finding something dumbed-down enough
for me to (almost) grasp.I finally
chanced upon The Human Genome: Poems on the Book of Life, by Gillian K.
Ferguson.For all I know, Mr. Ferguson
might be a deranged and out-of-work machinist making everything up just to
confound dumb people like me.Still, I
enjoyed what he had to say. Below are a few things I learned from him:
First and foremost, the instructions (genetic codes)
that dictate the production of all forms of life are composed of only four letters:
A, C, G, and T.For those of you
who—like me—cannot spell, this is problematic because the code required to make
a human is three billion of these letters long.That is a lot of room for me to misspell!Who knows what might happen if I started
misspelling this code and placed an A where C is meant to go?What might I create in someone?A third ear in the palm of every left
hand?Men that desire to make-out with
The four letters actually represent Adenine,
Cytosine, Guanine, and Thymine.These
little “nine-sine-mine” structures are something known as nitrogenous
bases.Stacked together into groups of
three (codons) in various order and then linked together, these codons form a
kind of string or strand of DNA, more commonly known as a gene.Genes are essentially the hard drives upon
which the blueprints for building you, a starfish, a gnat, or even a
fiddle-leaf fig are stored.In fact, each
and every cell of an organism, from the simplest single cell amoeba to a
multi-zillion-celled elephant, carries within it the entire blueprint for the
Consider only that: four simple building blocks are
used to build every single living thing that you see around you.And every single tiny cell of every single
creature carries the information required to build the entire beast once again!More importantly, it took many millions of
dollars and a whole group of International scientists (the Human Genome
Project) a full ten years to sequence the Human Genome found in each of those
Facts on the human Genome:
·Only 0.1% the human genetic code varies
from person to person.
·The human body is comprised of 100
trillion cells—each carrying a full copy of the entire Genome.
·It would take a typist (whatever that
is) working eight hours a day a century to type out the entire letter code of
·Once written out, the Human Genome would
stretch 5,592 miles (9,000km).
·Mouse and man share 99% genetic
We may not be as genetically complex as a flowing
plant, but we are still pretty darned colorful.And if genetics do not convince you—watch an American Idol audition for
Lewis and Clark Caverns are located within the rugged
limestone shoulders and elbows of the mountains above the Jefferson River in
what is known as “Gold West Country” in Montana.The caverns fill the inside of the mountains like
intestines and stomachs inside a cow.The caves are teeming with unearthly formations.
Access to the caverns (for tourists) was initially fashioned
by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression.President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the
CCC as part of the New Deal.The CCC was
a broad-based work relief program that provided manual labor jobs on conservation
projects or projects to develop natural resources for public access.In 1941, the caverns became Montana’s first
Somewhere at about the time the caverns were being
developed by the Conservation Corps, a man ventured inside the caves all
alone.Deep inside the mountain, his
There is something to be said for light.Sunflowers certainly enjoy it.Light makes removing a sliver from your palm with
a needle a far more pleasurable experience than possible without light.The Mona Lisa is better in light.And—while all creatures are clearly able
adapt to blindness, which is a kind of darkness by default—suddenly being
plunged into total darkness is another sort of beast entirely.
The man in the cave went a little berserk at
first.For a while he groped and
shuffled and felt his way about the formations, utterly panicked, but mindful
of the holes and cliffs inside the mountains.He yelled out.He listened to the
water slowly dripping into formations.He imagined ten-thousand years forming an inch of new stone.He imagined arms reaching for him in the
Nearly three days after the man’s lantern went black;
men came at him with light dancing all around them.At first the light hurt his eyes and seemed to
be running in circles.But he was
excited about the light and the thought of going home.And he was so very happy to be standing there
when the light fell all around him.
He did not realize for several minutes that he was
not actually standing there…but was, in fact, lying on his back.
For the purposes of the rest of my life, the term
“investments” shall include tea cups,
18 year old Glenlivet Scotch, and small kittens.Investments shall exclude any monies related to banking or the stock market.
The picture I posted today is one I took about seven
years ago at a hot pot in Yellowstone Park.I like the photograph for the odd colors and almost startling
contrast.To add to the abstract quality
of the photograph, I framed a tight shot of only the edge of the pot; which
provides no meaningful reference for the subject.
photograph is a companion to the two photographs that I posted on June 29, 2012—captured
in the same area, though many years apart.
Trees will not grow in the Arctic Region.The winters are much too long and the short
summers see temperatures that only rarely climb to 50° F.Trees require a few days above 50° in order
to complete their growing cycles.Plants
native to the arctic tend to be modest in size and have learned to thrive with
shallow root systems that cling to the barest of soils (often layered above
permafrost). Yet, for all of their
hardiness, most plants from the Arctic would not survive a single turn of the
four seasons in Montana.
Many would not even survive the winter here.
The weather here in Montana is much too fickle for
most plants.Mind you, the season-to-season
changes in climate are not the problem.The trouble for most plants arises from the minute to minute
alterations.Here in the “Chinook Belt”
of Montana, the weather is particularly fickle.We have recoded some of the wildest temperature fluctuations on the
I live on the eastern front of the Northern Rockies.During the winter we are often overrun by
what we call the Arctic Express.An
express will shove bitter cold impulses all the way from the Arctic Region down
along the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains and into Montana.These fronts often bring temperatures below
-20°F.Sometimes the sub-zero
temperatures will remain trapped in the mountain valleys for days on end—even
as warmer air slips directly over top.
Weirdly enough, these bitter cold impulses might be
followed immediately by a Chinook.Native
Americans called Chinooks “snow eaters.”I have, on occasion, scuttled off to bed on a sub-zero and snowbound
winter night only to awaken to water pouring down my rain gutters and temperatures
warm enough for a short-sleeve game of golf—almost as if summer dropped out of
the sky during the night.Winter
temperatures may suddenly hoist into the upper-sixties.A whole foot of snow might vanish in a few
hours during a Chinook event.For a day
or two in January or February everyone in Montana might be wearing shorts and
hosting outdoor barbeques!Chinooks,
however, are typically accompanied by strong winds.
Chinooks are created by warm Pacific fronts
interacting with mountain ranges.They
are most prevalent in Southern Alberta, Canada and here in Montana where the
Rocky Mountains meet the Northern Plains.According to Wikipedia the most dramatic rise in temperature recorded
during a Chinook occurred in Loma, Montana in January 15 of 1972.The temperature purportedly rose from -54° to
48°F in a matter of 24 hours.Though I
am always doubtful of the veracity of Wikipedia facts, I have seen temperature
changes very near that dramatic during Chinooks.Sometimes, we call a prolonged Chinook “false
summer.”These are the sort of events
that would fool an Arctic plant into awakening—only to be killed when winter
We are known for crazy weather.
Below are a few examples of Montana weather extremes
I gathered from the National Weather Service:
·The lowest temperature ever recorded in
the lower United States was recoded at Roger’s Pass (about 20 miles, as the
crow flies, from my house).On January
20, 1954, the temperature plummeted to -70° F.
·Montana has recorded the widest range in
temperatures of all 50 states—a high of 117°F at Medicine Range in 1937 and the
low at Roger’s Pass in 1954—a range of 187°.
·In January of 1916, an Arctic front
overran Browning, Montana and forced the temperature from 44°F down to -56°F in
24 hours.This 100 degree swing is the most
dramatic 24-hour swing ever (officially) recorded in the United States.
·January 11, 1980.The temperature recorded at Great Falls
International Airport rose from -32°F to 15°F in only seven minutes as a
Chinook front invaded the area.This 47
degree change in only seven minutes stands as the most rapid temperature change
recorded in the United States.
Here in Montana, we have the same joke as everyone:
“If you don’t like the weather…stick around for five minutes…it will
change.The difference is we have many
records to prove it.
How do you know that the lifelong dream of that man
was not to be forty-two, single, and residing in a thirty-year-old mobile home
with a dozen threadbare tires thrown atop the roof to hold down the tin when
the wind blows?
Over the years I have learned that people are not
all alike.We each have distinct dreams
and differing views on what constitute success.More importantly, we should not judge the seeming failure or success of
others based upon our own definitions, which may be either narrow or
Here is a true story for illustration.
Many years ago (while attending college) my
brother-in-law took a job delivering flowers for a local flower shop.The shop employed two people for flower deliveries.As time went on, my brother-in-law came to
know the other deliveryman pretty well.The other man was a bit older and very gregarious.Eventually, the man told my brother-in-law
that he was a mathematician by trade.
My brother in law had trouble hiding his shock.“If you are a mathematician, why on earth are
you delivering flowers?”
The deliveryman answered without hesitation.“Oh, that’s easy!Most people don’t care about
mathematicians.I was unhappy.But now, every day and everywhere I go, I
make other people happy.People smile
when they open the door and find me there with flowers.This is the best job in the world!”
On occasion, when the sun is low in the sky and the
day is somewhat gray, the power lines festooned alongside Lincoln Road will
glow with captured light.That simple
touch from the sun will sometimes graph bright sine waves across the entire north
I snapped the photograph I posted today on my drive home
one evening.My place in the world is
there—in the bluish mountains at the end of the line.
Several years ago a man from Bozeman, Montana was
charged with a domestic abuse for beating his girlfriend with an elk
antler.What made the story Montana to
the very core was the fact that the news release splashed across the state made sure to note that the antler was a seven-pointer.Seven-pointers are a rarity and much prized
by sportsmen.A bull elk with seven
points on each side of his antlers is said to have “a royal crown.”
Due to a recent mental illness, I have been
following the stock market—the Dow Jones Industrial Average if you prefer to be
precise.Prior to following “the Dow,” I
tried following my 40 pounds of cat around the house—which only led me to bump
my head against chairs and the legs of various tables in my home.
When I say that “I have been following the stock
market,” what I actually mean is that I try to see what number is affixed to
the average (value) at the end of the day.I once surfed the net all the way to Wiki to figure out what the average
really meant.I discovered that the stock
average is determined by averaging the price of the stocks listed in the market
(30 of them) and dividing that by something called “the divisor.” The divisor sounds pretty nefarious to me—something
akin to an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie character—but is in fact a construct
intended to accounted for mergers, acquisitions, ice cream breaks, and some
Judging by the value of my stock portfolio, however,
not all malfeasance has been ferreted out.
Anyhow, the average value of the 30 commonly-traded
stocks and the divisor grapple on the market floor throughout the trading day.A graph plots the gaudy mathematical actions.At the end of each day the final number tells
you about the over-all health of stocks and, in some respects, the
economy.To be honest, all I know is
that a big number is good and a little number is bad.The number for yesterday was 13,986.52. That is a very good number.Near as I can tell, the Dow reached 500 the
year I was born.Hula-hoops and big
fenders on cars were popular then, too.
Probably, that is enough for me to know.
Part of my “following the market” involves watching
well-dressed men and women on CNBC talk (argue) about the economy.The market is divided into two sorts of
people: bears and bulls.Bears are
nay-sayers and sellers and sitters on stocks.Bulls surge ahead, invest in stocks, and are positive in their
view.CNBC has a mix of bears and
bulls.One fellow may like a particular
government mandate on energy while the next woman decries it.Government spending here may be good, while
there it is considered bad.One poor fellow
pretty much says only “I like natural gas” every day.
The other day, I watched a stockbroker and a
correspondent fiercely argue over a fraction of a percent on jobless
claims.We seem always bumping up
against bad-good or good-bad in the economic indicators such as unemployment and
gross domestic product.I have yet to
see anyone assure me of firm footing.
Two days ago, however, one of the men on CNBC said
that he did listen to the economists or pundits…he just worked hard and tried
to do what he felt was correct in the stock market.He said he never lost assets in the long
run.He suggested that hard work and
honesty are always rewarded in the long haul.
If I could remember his name, I would follow him
rather than the market.Or I may go back
to following my cats.
Below is a list of ten fairly scientific “facts”
about love.Well, only three of them are
anywhere near facts.The facts are
thanks to an article written by Judy Dutton based on an interview with Dr.
Helen Fisher of Rutger’s University.Dr.
Fisher has spent an entire career attempting to scientifically understand love.The seven bogus facts are of my own invention,
though often researched extensively for inaccuracy.
See if you can pick out the correct facts.The three correct answers will be listed at
the end of the blog:
given a chance to choose between two particular type fonts when writing
business letters, Verdana
or Elephant, studies have
revealed that people in a relationship are five-times more likely to choose Elephant
than those who have recently endured a breakup.
who are in love are more likely to wear mismatched socks.
of love trigger the release of dopamine in the brain—resulting in something
akin to a cocaine high.
average person falls in love only three times in a lifetime.
loves a duck.
who are recently smitten by love produce serotonin (a neurotransmitter that
helps relay messages from one section of the brain to another) at the levels
often associated with people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder.
fall in love faster than women do.
love lasts no more than one to three years.
to popular myth, men do not base their initial attraction to a woman on physical
Answers:3, 7, and 9
the rest of the answers: fall in love or
surf the net.
The Name of my blog is The Sky is my Garden for
a reason.The sky—as I said in my very
first blog entry on January 3, 2010—is a moving garden.Every day the sky is brand new.The drama of sunrise and sunset rarely finds
Today, I am posting another of my older sunset photographs.I purposely flashed the dead juniper in the
foreground to “splash” the stark branches against the blue clouds.In the distance, the sky above the Rocky
Mountains has blushed red.
During a conversation about craftsmanship, a
carpenter friend of mine told me about his first day working for one of the
more successful framing companies in our valley.The boss put him scrambling on the trusses of
a house roof system they were sheathing.He noticed that, each time he called down with his measurements for cuts
on the wafer-weld sheets, the fellow sawing the sheets on the ground below
would scowl when I called out something like “thirty-two inches and three
sixteenths.”Finally, after he yelled
down from the roof for a new cut at forty-five and nine sixteenths, the man on
the ground bellowed: “We don’t do
teenths!We are framing.This is not finish work!Give me a half or give me a quarter!”
They were very fast and did not see a necessity for undue
accuracy in framing.
My friend quickly moved on to doing his own work and
developed a finicky framing style that I greatly admire; I hire him without ever
asking for a price when I need help with something.He told me regarding his “persnickety” concern
with sixteenths in framing that “a sixteenth in the basement can blowout to
being a half-inch out by the time you get to the roof.”He added. “You will fight it the whole way
At least the framing crew was using the same
measurement scale on their tape measures.
Perhaps you recall the famous miscalculation on 1999
Mars Climate Orbiter where the guys on the ground (Lockheed) calculated
thruster force in terms of pound-seconds while the guys on the roof (the Jet
Propulsion Laboratory) thought the craft thruster stuff was in the metric units
of newton-seconds.I don’t know the
first thing about newtons, but this sounds pretty bad.
Near as I can tell, one pound is equivalent to
4.4ish newton.The miscalculation
translated into the craft pushing itself about 60 miles off course after a 416
million mile journey on a trajectory that looped the craft all the way around
the sun to intercept Mars on the opposite side of Earth.Certainly not close enough for guys nailing
together a home—a lot of caulking would be required to seal that gap.The Climate Orbiter stopped communicating
while attempting to insert into orbit around Mars and is thought to have either
disintegrated or skipped hard against the Martian atmosphere and then tumbled
off toward the sun, disabled.
By the way, technically, Mars is ever changing in
direct distance from Earth.Though the
two planets orbit the Sun in the same direction, Earth is on the inside track
and nearer to the Sun.We have a much
shorter year and essentially lap Mars on the inside every 780 days.When the two planets are in opposition (on
opposite sides of the sun) they are about 249 million miles apart (measured in
a straight line).This translates into
225 million kilometers for those of us interested in further complicating this
matter. Additionally, if you measure from Mars to
where my cat (20 pounds worth) lies on the floor of my sunken living room, the
distance would be 249 million miles and roughly 1½ feet.In 2003, while on the same side of the sun,
Mars and Earth found themselves a mere 56 million miles apart.
In my years of construction, I have seen all manner
of measurement errors.I once worked on
a nursing home where the plumber stubbed all of his pipes up in the poured-concrete
floor of the center hallway—missing the walls by almost a foot.Some of his pipes landed in doorways.A laborer spent about five weeks on a
jackhammer busting-out concrete so the new
plumber they hired could fix that one.I also know of a gymnasium in a small town on Montana’s Hi-Line (Highway
2) that was constructed a full two feet longer than drawn on the blueprints due
to a measurement error that started with the concrete cast in the initial hole
in the ground.
In horseshoes a few inches can be close enough to
win the game.A bullet zipped anywhere
within arm’s reach of you is far too close.On the other hand, the remote for your television, if only six feet
away, is much too far.I once worked on
a 10 megawatt generator that rotated on a 14-inch shaft and weighed dozens of ton.The tolerances on that required accuracy
within 2 or 3 thousandths of an inch.
Accuracy is relative.
Just the same, should you ever find yourself needing
either a framing carpenter or rocket scientist to help you with a project, you might establish early in the undertaking that the craftsman you
hire is interested in teenths.