Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and Barred Owls
Sunday, June 23 2002

setting: President Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York

It's summer and neither Gretchen nor I have regular jobs, so it's a good time in our lives to take advantage of the many vacation options available to us. The most striking of these is nearly on the scale of our President's Camp David "retreat." Like Camp David, it's a palatial cabin in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. Unlike Camp David, it deliberately lacks communication technology.
Gretchen managed to borrow (well, actually, rent at only $18/day) the car of our friend Anna for the next few days, which meant that we could bring Sally. As usual Sally was nervous at first that our packing meant we'd be leaving her behind with Aunt Eulalia, but then when I reached to grab her leash from where it hangs (the doorknob to the dog food and booze closet), she detonated in an irrepressibly wagging bundle of delight.
The only problem during our four-plus-hour drive to Maryland came in New Jersey at the end of I-278, the interstate that crosses the Verrazano Bridge from Brooklyn. We'd forgotten to bring a road map and naturally assumed that I-278 joined up with I-78, since that's how the numbers on the interstate system are supposed to work. Instead we found ourselves on some dismal four-lane business road, the sort of thing that gives New Jersey its unenviable reputation in America. One one side of the road was a huge mega-mall and on the other were gigantic tanks just waiting for a terrorist sleeper cell to wake up and smell the jihad. We'd made the mistake of driving past a few gas stations and now there were no places to pull over and ask for direction as far as the eye could see. But like all crises in America, it wasn't a problem that a few extra miles of driving couldn't fix.
The route we followed took us west on I-78 Harrisburg and then south on I-81 to I-70. Our destination was several miles to the east of Meyersville, Maryland.
Sometime in the afternoon we arrived at the log cabin. We'd heard that the cupboard would be bare, but nonetheless there were plenty of things to eat ranging from southwest-style corn chowder to microwave popcorn. There was also an impressive diversity of beers in the refrigerator. Since no two were alike, it seemed they were the accumulated remnants of many six packs.
Soon after arriving, we went on a walk through the forest behind the cabin. Our first stop was a clearing nearby featuring a long, narrow manmade pond. I don't think I've ever seen a pond this manmade before, excepting perhaps the stormwater retainment ponds built by VDOT. Sally immediately went wading along its edge and surprised herself by how quickly the bottom dropped away, necessitating her use of that timeless canine invention, the doggy-paddle. Sally has never been much of a water enthusiast, but she nonetheless has the skills it takes to survive in an aquatic environment. Meanwhile I was introducing Gretchen to the little-known sweet-sour flavor of Oxalis leaves (plucked from along the embankment).
The forest in this area was rich in Tuliptree and Sugar Maple, with an understory of Spice Bush (Lindera benzoin). The bulk of the trees were not over 40 years of age, though every now and then there'd be older trees (perhaps 60-80 years old), and these were mostly White Oaks. The soil was spread thinly over jagged grey boulders, some as big as automobiles. These looked to be typical Blue Ridge rocks, mostly of Precambrian volcanic origin. Striping some of these like excessively-frozen vanilla icecream were bands of white quartzite, the hard material that allows the Catoctin Mountains to resist the forces of erosion.
Somehow we got lost on the trails through the mostly featureless forest, even finding ourselves retracing our steps on a path we'd already taken, Blair Witch Project stylee. But, like all crises in the woods, it wasn't a problem that a little attention to landmarks couldn't fix.

Being that we were on a vacation, it shouldn't surprise you that we spent a large amount of time kicking back on the chaise lounges on the front deck, just watching the birds come and go. Gretchen's mother has put out several different feeders and they attract a variety of birds. The Tufted Titmice and Chickadees go to the sunflower dispenser, while the Goldfinches and House Finches are like little contemplative code monkeys at the workstations of their special finch feeder (which dispenses tiny seeds through a slit an eighth of an inch wide, a quarter inch tall, and a eighth-inch deep). Meanwhile Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (nearly all of them female) buzzed up and inspected their feeder, which I had filled incorrectly. Off in the distance we could hear several different Barred Owls hooting at one another. Hoo-hoo hoo-hoo hoo-hoo-hooooaw!

Though lacking a telephone, the cabin has amenities that make my parents' place seem like a teepee. It has a microwave oven, a television with a built-in VCR, and three toilets. (We discovered an extra one in the basement, a large space which wouldn't take much work to turn into a perfectly-habitable That 70s Show-style "rec room.") Gretchen had thought ahead before we'd left and had checked out a bunch of movies from the Brooklyn Public Library. Tonight we watched the 80s classic Tootsie. Aside from the dreadful music burbling from the soundtrack, it's a much more delightful film than I'd expected. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but the thing that makes it work is how convincingly Dustin Hoffman can play an frumpy middle-aged actress. I read somewhere once that Hoffman actually tried his drag routine in public a few times before doing the movie just to be sure his act was convincing. Reportedly he deceived absolutely everyone in these trials, not an easy feat even for "professional" drag queens.

Sally in the ugly pond.

Sally and the ugly pond.

Gretchen lost in the Catoctin Mountain forests of Maryland.

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