Monday, December 27, 2010

Five Hundred

A counter on the Colonel's blog dashboard tells him that, since opening this massive and egregious waste of energy, language, and valuable rod and cone time five years ago, he has posted 499 missives. That makes this one [insert kazoo fanfare here] Number 500 [insert diminishing echo here].

Not since the dawn of the algorenet, have so few readers invested some much time with so little to show for it, as have the five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon. The Colonel only hopes that none of you possess no better use of your time, no so infinitely idle curiosity, nor misplaced hope for a worthwhile read amongst the incoherent trash heap of inanity and reminiscence that is this blog, that you have actually subjected yourselves to the painful photo-receptive assault on the visual cortex and read all 499 of the previous posts hereon. Such a feat would surely represent the definition of "above and beyond."

Five hundred.

The Colonel paid $500 dollars for his first car. It lasted approximately 500 days.

Five hundred.

The Roman Republic lasted about five hundred years...until its leaders began to ignore the constitutional constraints on their power and a military dictator rode back from the battlefield to "save the Republic."

Five hundred.

Five hundred years ago Charles of Gelre and Bishop Frederick of Bathe took turns capturing and recapturing Oldenzaal, Netherlands, in a war whose only consequence today is that it proves the point the Colonel made in this post's second paragraph. The five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon really need to find something at least marginally more productive to do with your time.

Five hundred months ago (give or take a month or four), the Colonel entered his torturous teen age; wherein he completely lost his mind.

Five hundred weeks ago, the Colonel finally relented of all hope of regaining the mental faculties forfeited in his teens.

Five hundred days ago, the Colonel became a full-fledged, stay-at-home, grandad--an occasion which will no doubt find a prominent place in history texts five hundred fiscal quarters hence and will be celebrated as the moment 21st Century Civilization gained true Hope.

Five hundred million years from now, give or take a billion, the nuclear fires of the nondescript star, 'round which this tiny blue marble races, will gutter like a candle in a snowstorm, and our pebble will join the cosmic dust cloud awaiting the next collapse into infinity. At that time, no one will care that the five of you who regularly waste rod and cone time perusing posts hereon found nothing of more import with which to occupy yourselves.

So, while the radiation from Ol' Sol yet warms your bones and transmits information to your visual cortexes, the Colonel thanks you for your readage and wishes you a similarly unproductive New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Season Reason

The old man didn't believe in much, and he certainly did not believe in anything he couldn't prove. He was too intelligent and too learned to indulge himself in beliefs that required faith--that was just too simple-minded and uneducated for a college professor. He wasn't completely passionless--he did love his birds. As a trained biologist, he knew every detail of the physiology and behavior of animals in general, and, as a ornithological specialist, his knowledge of birds was particularly deep and broad. He was unabashedly vain in the surety that he knew practically everything there was to know about birds--he was darn near omniscient when it came to feathered fauna. He lived alone and kept several feeders in his backyard to attract the birds he loved so much--they were his company, and he often, embarrassingly, caught himself talking out loud to them.

He stood at the window as the light of the late December evening dimmed. It had snowed most of the day and several inches had accumulated. The temperature was dropping precipitously--it was going to be one of the coldest nights of the year. But, that hadn't deterred his neighbors from their annual ritual of asking him to join them at church for Christmas Eve services. He had politely refused, and even wished them "happy holidays," even though he considered it hypocritical to do so. His principled disbelief in the basis for the holidays prevented him from even recognizing Christmas in any way. There was no decorated tree in his house, no silly lights outside, and certainly no gift giving. He was no hypocrite.

As darkness fell, he heard the bells ringing from the church down the road, and he marvelled at the waste of time, energy, and resources devoted to Christianity. How could anyone with half a brain buy in to the immaculate conception fairy tale? If there was a God running this universe, and he was fairly certain there wasn't, why would he waste his time on the insignificant life forms on an insignificant rock circling a nondescript star in a galaxy of billions of stars?

It was snowing again, and he reached over and turned on the outside light so he could watch the flakes fall. His attention was drawn to the ground just at the edge of the circle of light, where a flock of small birds was huddled motionless in the snow. He was immediately concerned. He had seen this kind of behavior before and it normally resulted in the death of all the birds in the flock. Stunned by the sudden onset of bitter cold, they would just sit there and freeze. He hated to see that happen. He loved his birds and it just tore at him any time he found one dead. He had to do something for this flock.

He quickly pulled on his coat and boots and stepped outside in the snow. He thought maybe he could scare them into some life-saving activity. Maybe he could chase them into the air and they would fly somewhere safe. He waved his arms and stomped his feet, but the birds just moved out of his way and continued to huddle in the snow.

He walked across the yard to his workshop at the back of the lot, opened the door, turned on the light, and stooped to turn on the space heater in the corner. He propped open the door and then stepped outside and into the shadows. He hoped that if he remained motionless and hidden the birds would see the light and warmth of the workshop and move inside. After a few minutes, it was obvious that the birds weren't going to take the initiative to move into the workshop on their own. He would have to try to move them himself. He walked over to the flock and bent to pick up a bird, but it fluttered away and landed on the other side of the flock. He tried several times to catch a bird, but the results were always the same. He tried to herd the birds toward the warmth of the workshop by stooping and waving his arms, but the birds just scattered in front of him and then rejoined to huddle in the snow. Again and again he tried to shoo the birds toward the lifesaving warmth, and he became increasingly frustrated at his failure to save them.

The temperature was perceptively dropping and he noticed that one of the birds had slumped lifelessly. He redoubled his efforts to herd them to the workshop. Another bird slumped in the snow. He was frantic now, speaking to the birds, trying to reason with them, and then caught himself, embarrassed. He said to himself aloud, "If I could just become a bird for one minute, I could lead them to the light and warmth of the workshop and save them from dying in the snow."

At that moment, the bells on the church down the road began to ring again. The old man sank to his knees in the snow and understood.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Burrell and Cletus

Burrell, the 'Bama grad, and Cletus, the Mississippi State grad are deer huntin' together over in the Black Belt. Cletus hears a gunshot and then hears Burrell holler, "Whoooeee, Cletus, I just shot me a good ol' biggun'!"

Cletus climbs down outa his tree stand and hikes over to where Burrell is standing over a nice 'Bama buck and says, "Nice deer, Burrell. Looks like a ten point."

Burrell stiffens and sniffs loudly, "See here, Cletus, you big Miss'ippi redneck, I got an engineering degree from the University of Alabama and I can count past ten. This here is a twelve point buck!"

"Yore right," agrees Cletus.

"Betcha butt, ahm right, you dumb clod. Now grab holda that leg and hep me drag him to the truck."

The two struggle with the deer for fifty yards or so and Cletus finally stops and scratches his noggin, "Burrell, I got an animal husbandry degree from Mississippi State and I think I know a thing or two about animal anatomy. If we was to gut this here deer right here it would be a lot lighter to drag."

Burrell agrees and the two of them gut the deer, wipe their hands on their trousers, grab the deer by the hind legs and start draggin' again.

The deer is lighter, but it ain't slidin' real well. Finally, Burrell stops, faces Cletus, and snorts, "Looky here, you dumb redneck, I got an engineering degree from the University of Alabama and I know a thing or two more'n you about the coefficient of drag."

"The cohabitation of what?," Cletus asks.

"Not cohabitation, you dumb hick, co-e-ffi-cient. The coefficient of drag. If we were to pull this deer from the front instead of by the hind legs, its hair would lay flat and there would be less drag. Here, grab a hold of them antlers with me and lets drag this here deer the easy way."

The two grab the deer by the antlers and take off a draggin'.

After ten minutes of easy draggin', Cletus looks over at Burrell and says, "Burrell, it's a lot easier draggin' the deer this way, but..."

"But, what?, you big knucklehead! I got an engineering degree from the University of Alabama. Whadayou got from that poor ol' cow college you went to?"

Cletus looks sheepish and replies, "Burrell, I done told you I got a degree in animal husbandry from Mississippi State. But..."

"But, what, ya dumb redneck!"

Cletus kicks the leaves and starts to mumble.

"Speak up, you big dummy!," Burrell blasts.

Cletus kicks at the leaves again, "Well, I...uh... Well, you was right about the cohabitatin' drag and all, and the deer is a lot easier to drag from the front, but..."

"But, what, you mouth-breathin' Miss'ippi mutt?"

"Well, it is easier to drag from the front, but we're gettin' fuhther and fuhther from the truck."

Chain Gang

Give a Marine a four-wheel drive truck, a chainsaw, and a couple lengths of chain and there ain't nuthin' he can't move.

Yesterday, during a brief burst of unaccustomed energy associated with entirely too much Christmas goody sugar intake, the Colonel and his rusty red pick-up, Semper Fillit, accomplished item #7 on his 459-item Project and It Needs doin' File List (to which the Colonel has affixed the most appropriate acronym, PAINFUL).

Item #7 was "Move metal thang."

Accomplishing item #7 was indeed painful, both physically and mentally.

The "metal thang," was so called because the Colonel and his not-so bright sons (they take after the Colonel, not the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda) couldn't figure out, even with all of our not-so massive brain power cobbled together, just what in the world it was. The best that could be figured is that it was a piece of logging equipment left behind years ago when the section of land whereon it was discovered, during one of the Colonel's security patrols, was being logged in the far distant past. The metal thang looked like a large gate. A very large gate, made of inch-thick steel plates. The Colonel was able to figure out, as part of a hands-on-lift-test, that the metal thang was the approximate combined weight of two bull elephants and a well-fed goat.

The metal thang, when first discovered, was leaning up against a large cedar tree destined for harvesting and conversion to sawdust on the Colonel's sawmill, Semper Filet. The Colonel conducted the aforementioned hands-on lift-test and was able to move the metal thang approximately seven and one quarter microns away from the cedar destined for harvesting and conversion to sawdust, for approximately seven and one quarter micro-seconds. The Colonel's hands-on lift-test of the behemoth metal thang was immediately followed by a short recovery period during which the Colonel's infantry-ravaged lower back and pack-ridden shoulders convinced him that a strategic planning session in the inverse prone position would be advantageous as well.

Upon conclusion of the joint hands-on lift-test recovery period and inverse prone position strategic planning session, the Colonel spent the next three and a quarter hours conducting a low-light land navigation exercise back to the Big House, as darkness had fallen some time during the preceding six hours. During the exercise, the Colonel discovered the world's second largest blackberry bramble and a here-to-fore uncharted hardwood bottom with muddy creek. The Colonel's arrival at home was greeted by the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda, whose concern for the Colonel's whereabouts over the preceding day overrode her desire to conduct a cast-iron skillet Colonel-correction period for the copious amounts of mud and blood tracked into her home.

After cleaning up, and withstanding the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's withering condemnation of the Colonel's intelligence and judgment, summed up in the repeated use of the word, idiot, the Colonel trudged to his study, turned on his 'puter and entered on line seven of his PAINFUL list: "Move metal thang."

Said entry remained ignored for a year and a half, whilst the Colonel, and more worthwhile uses of his time, were exhausted.

A lack of cedar logs destined for conversion to sawdust adjacent to his sawmill, Semper Filet, finally stirred the Colonel to action on item #7 on his PAINFUL list, and he loaded chainsaw and chains on Semper Fillit, shifted into 4WD, and headed for the patch of mixed hardwoods and ten year-old planted pines in the very heart of which the metal thang rested against the cedar tree destined for harvest and conversion to sawdust like a rusting reminder of the Colonel's waning muscular might and mental acuity.

As there was no way to turn Semper Fillit around once in the woods adjacent to the metal thang, the Colonel backed his rusty red pick-up down the space between rows of pines, stopping to cut down intervening brush and hardwood saplings with his chainsaw. Fifty yards short of the metal thang's resting place, a near-ninety degree turn in the pines was required. (Dear reader, you must know that it took the Colonel nearly an hour to figure out how to construct that last sentence--backing the truck into the pines actually required a left-hand turn, as long as the Colonel was receiving visual navigation cues from his rear-view mirror; looking over his shoulder changed it to a right-hand turn. As the five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon know with frightening clarity, the Colonel is easily distracted...) At the point of the [insert direction here--the Colonel is tired of trying to figure it out] hand turn, the Colonel spent the better part of the morning jockeying Semper Fillit in the tight confines of planted pines until his rusty red pick-up was around the corner and backed up to within chain length of the metal thang.

The Colonel wrapped one end of the chain around Semper Fillit's bumper hitch and hauled the other end over to, and attached it to, the metal thang. When the Colonel hit the gas, the metal thang edged forward approximately one quarter of an inch, at which point the leading edge bottom corner dug into the ground like a quarter horse's hooves and stopped Semper Fillit in it's tracks like a roped steer. The Colonel succeeded in digging four impressive potholes with his rusty red truck's tires before it began to slowly dawn on him that the truck was no longer moving forward. The metal thang was going to have to be laid flat for movement.

The Colonel approached the metal thang warily, circling slowly, mentally measuring it's center of gravity and computing the foot-pounds of energy required to change the metal thang's physical orientation from on-edge to flat. Said computations delivered a sobering sum in the amount of approximately 400 foot pounds more energy than the Colonel believed was available to be mustered from his diminutive frame, infantry-ravaged lower back, and pack-ridden shoulders.

Math never was the Colonel's strong suit.

The Colonel braced his boots against the cedar tree destined for harvest and conversion to sawdust, placed his hands shoulder-width apart on the upper edge of the metal thang, coiled his atrophied muscles for one explosive release, summoned a Rebel yell that began in full Fredericksburg roar and choked, mid-heave, into an Appomattox Courthouse whimper, and pushed mightily; yea, verily, with much pain. The metal thang tilted ever-so-slightly away from the cedar tree destined for harvest and conversion to sawdust, and wavered mere microns short of the center-0f-gravity line beyond which attraction to the third rock rocketing 'round ol' Sol would pull the metal thang from vertical to horizontal orientation. Just as the Colonel's quivering muscles began to give out in a cascade of lactic acid-producing fatigue, a solitary breath of breeze blew from over his shoulders and provided just the needed combination of refreshment and reinforcement. The metal thang's leading edge crossed the line of no return and the behemoth began a momentum-gathering rush away from vertical to horizontal orientation.

The metal thang's earthside impact lifted the Colonel one half foot off of the ground, set off car alarms as far south as Hattiesburg, and no doubt registered on seismographs throughout the Mid-south region.

A veritable blizzard of pine-needles jarred loose from their coniferous connections and covered the ground in an accumulation of up to six inches, in a radius taking in the better part of seven adjacent counties.

A tsunami on Sardis Reservoir swamped three bass boats and a college professor-carrying-kayak (had to be a college professor; no self-respecting redneck would get caught dead in a kayak).

Water sloshed out of swamps and sloughs throughout the region, revealing relic-littered bottoms and panicking the local mouth-breathing, pillow-case and sheet crowd.

After the earth stopped moving, and upon conclusion of a short inverse prone position muscle recovery and strategic planning session, the Colonel reconnected chains between the metal thang and his rusty red pick-up and recommenced his practice for the upcoming county fair tractor pull. In flat-to-ground orientation, the metal thang slid nicely ... until the near-ninety degree [insert direction] hand turn in the narrow confines of the planted pines was reached. The Colonel spent the better part of the rest of the afternoon jockeying his rusty red pick-up around the near-ninety degree [insert direction] hand turn in the narrow confines of the planted pines.

As he dragged chains to reconnect the metal thang to his truck, it slowly dawned on the Colonel that the metal thang was positioned in one lane of the narrow confines of planted pines and the truck was positioned in another lane of the narrow confines of planted pines, with a near-ninety degree [insert direction] hand turn in between.

The Colonel, drawing on all-but-forgotten theorems from 10th grade geometry class, determined that looping the truck-to-metal thang connecting chain around the bottom of a pine tree on the far side of the near-ninety degree [insert direction] hand turn in the narrow confines of planted pines would, upon recommencement of county fair tractor pull practice, pull the metal thang to the center of the near-ninety degree [insert direction] hand turn intersection, from whence it could be re-chained and dragged hither and out of the narrow confines of planted pines. Practice, amazingly enough, confirmed theory. The Colonel's 10th grade geometry teacher, Mrs. Graham--the lady whose fierce discipline prepared him for that of the Marines--would be proud.

The metal thang is now positioned in a corner of a field on the Colonel's vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere.

Item #7 on the Colonel's PAINFUL list now reads: "Figure out what to do with metal thang."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Shaky Story

One hundred and ninety-nine years ago today, two terrible temblors rocked the Middle Mississippi River Valley. Those two approximately 7.5 to 8.0 Richter Scale jolts, and the two similarly-scaled subsequent quakes over the next two months, were the largest and widest-felt seismic events in recorded history on the North American continent. Whereas the 1909 San Francisco Earthquake--on which the sure-to-come repeat of which popular culture focuses dreadful anticipation--was felt over a roughly 6000 square mile area, the 1811/1812 New Madrid quakes were felt, owing to much different geography, over an area encompassing an incredible one million square miles.

The effects, and the distance to which effects extended, of those four earthquakes and the hundreds of attendant aftershocks were, quite frankly, unbelievable. Epicentered along a line extending from extreme northeastern Arkansas into the Missouri boot heel, the major jolts were felt as far away as the Eastern Seaboard. Straining credulity, some accounts maintain that the shocks were strong enough not only to be felt as far away as Boston and Toronto, but that they were strong enough at that extreme range to even ring church bells in those towns! Damage to dwellings was reported as far away as South Carolina and Ohio. In the region of the epicenters, population was very sparse. Yet, what few eyewitness accounts that survive recount scenes of unimaginable destruction. One such eyewitness, Eliza Bryan, a resident of the tiny village of New Madrid, wrote:

"On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o'clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do — the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species — the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi — the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed — formed a scene truly horrible."

The quakes significantly altered the very geography of the region. Soil liquefaction and land subsidence created vast swamps and lakes where once stood virgin forests. Not only were there reports of the Mississippi River flowing backwards, but eyewitness accounts tell us that an upheaval under the bed of the river actually created a waterfall at one point that persisted for several days before the mighty current carved away the disruption in the riverbed. Whole islands in the Mississippi River subsided and disappeared. Huge tracts of timber up and down the river were uprooted and washed away from the shoreline, forming giant log jams that impeded boat traffic on the primary trade artery for months.

From their study of the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ), geologists tell us that earthquakes of the magnitude of those in 1811/12 strike the zone every 200 to 500 years. Current forecasts, as inexact as the science of earthquake prediction is, are that there is a roughly 1 in 15 chance of a 7.5 quake in the zone in the next 20 years. Of course, the chances of a repeat of such a quake increase with time. The chances of a lesser, but significantly damaging nonetheless, 6.0 in the very near future are much higher.

How destructive would a major magnitude quake in the region be today? In 2008, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reported that a large earthquake in the NMSZ might cause "the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States," with "widespread and catastrophic" damage across a zone encompassing all or parts of the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. The major metropolitan area adjacent to the NMSZ is Memphis, TN, a city which did not exist in 1811 and is today the home of 1.5 million people. Memphis is a major redistribution center--the home of FedEx and a transportation hub for dozens of retail, supermarket, and construction supply chains. The FEMA report warned that a 7.7 magnitude quake or greater would cause damage to tens of thousands of structures affecting water distribution, transportation systems, and other vital infrastructure.

A major earthquake in the NMSZ would devastate Memphis, destroy the rail and road bridges across the Mississippi River there and probably seriously damage bridges as far south as Greenville, Mississippi and as far north as St. Louis. Highway and road bridges of every type would fall--the rubble of highway and rail overpasses and bridges over water courses would create obstacles to all but foot traffic. Pavement throughout the region would buckle, split, crack, and subside to make almost all vehicular traffic impossible. Nearly every building in Memphis and for 100 miles in every direction would be severely damaged if not destroyed. Buildings not flattened by shaking would burn in uncontrollable fires fed by thousands of gas pipeline breaks and other flammable releases. Those firefighting resources not themselves incapacitated by the quake's effects would be overwhelmed immediately, unable to respond to but a tiny fraction of the fires that could easily unite in an all consuming firestorm.

Casualties in the hundreds of thousands would overwhelm medical facilities, except that no medical facilities would have withstood the quake. And even if any had survived, their staffs would be limited by their own casualties and hampered by a lack of electricity and water.

If New Orleans' Katrina experience is any indication, police protection would break down completely as most law enforcement personnel would either themselves be casualties or decide to look after themselves and their own rather than attempt to maintain order in an increasingly desperate and violent situation.

The two-day wait for outside aid Katrina survivors experienced would pale in comparison to the weeks it would take for help to work its way into the destruction zone of a major NMSZ quake. Long before any appreciable help could arrive, survivors would have stripped and looted any surviving food stocks and begun to flee the destruction zone. Thousands would die fighting for food and water and in obstacle-filled flight to reach unaffected areas. Diseases, deadly and highly contagious cholera for example, would follow in rampant rapidity on the heels of the total collapse of sanitation and potable water infrastructure. Communities outside of the destruction zone, whose access to resources will be significantly affected by the quake's disruption of transportation and communications infrastructure across much of the middle of the nation, will face unprecedented challenges and choices as they first struggle to help the initial survivors to arrive on their doorsteps, and then find themselves in danger of violence from desperate throngs of hungry and homeless.

Excerpts of the Colonel's novel in progress, which deals with Southern society in the aftermath of a future New Madrid quake, can be found at

The Colonel hopes he can complete it before the next quake hits.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Just Ducky

With the temps in the teens this morning here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, the Colonel took binoculars in hand and glassed the shoreline of Lake Brenda from an upstairs window to see the progress of ice formation. A splash drew his attention and he swung to focus on a diminutive mallard hen frolicking in a still as yet un-iced corner of the impoundment. The duck's name is Archie. She is a free spirit. This is her story.

Back last summer, the Colonel's favorite daughter kicked the last of the sticky sand of the Scumslime State from her feet and changed residency to Eegeebeegee (the physical and spiritual capital of the Tallahatchie Free State--a virtual republic established as much tongue-in-cheek as hand-on-wallet). As reward for her display of outstanding wisdom and uncommon common sense, the Colonel procured for his favorite daughter a pair of call duck ducklings.

A call duck can best be described as a miniature show duck. Originally bred in Europe as live decoys for trapping wild ducks, call ducks were later used in America as live decoys by duck hunters, until the practice was outlawed in the name of "fair chase." The raising and showing of call ducks has become a hobby with a growing following.

Parenthetically, it seems to the Colonel that just about anything can take on the trappings of a fad or hobby with a fan base. The Colonel is earnestly awaiting the fad of sawdust collection to catch on in our popular culture--his sawmill, Semper Filet and the Colonel's ever-growing collection of wood-working power tools (insert monosyllabic guttural utterances here) in his Man-toy Internal Storage and Facility for Sawdust Production Training (the MISFSPT -- acronymically pronounced Missfit) account for a significant percentage of the nation's sawdust production and would, therefore, place the Colonel in an excellent monopolistic position to corner the market.

Go ahead and laugh. How many of you remember pet rocks? A jar of cedar sawdust has infinitely more intrinsic value than a painted rock. The Colonel is just sayin'...

Back to the Colonel's story about Archie and Peyton, the Colonel's favorite daughter's names for the pair of call duck ducklings acquired for demonstration of sound judgement in choosing Mississippi for residency over the state that will go unmentioned, but whose initials are FLORIDA. Why anyone would voluntarily live south of I-10 or north of I-40 baffles the Colonel more than Euclidean Geometry and the fact that there are still people who claim to honestly believe in Keynesian Economics. But, the Colonel digresses...

Throughout the interminably long, hot, dry summer that shrank the shorelines and exposed bottoms of ponds and lakes here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere so much that the pillow-case-hooded crowd hereabouts began to become increasingly edgier, and cloaked the kudzu-clad hills and long-tall loblolly pines with a choking chalk so that the green began to give way to grey, the Colonel's favorite daughter spent hours each day "teaching them to swim" in a small swimming pool formerly claimed by the Hope of 21st Century Civilization dashes One and Two, and lap-training her two ducklings to dry and preen themselves and then take naps nestled on her shoulders. It was a bit much for the Colonel to take. The Eegeebeegee Hen Herd (said fowl collection, as the five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may remember, was actually a lot less hen and a lot more heard) was none too favorably impressed, as well. The chickens took every opportunity to voice their displeasure at the ducklings and much effort was expended by the Colonel's favorite daughter to ward off the roosters' untoward advances on her charges.

Then, tragically, one morning dawned to reveal that the duckling known as Peyton had fallen prey to fowl play. The Colonel immediately opened a faunicide investigation, which has, due in great part to the dumpling diving demise of three of the prime suspects, failed to reach satisfactory resolution.

Poor Archie was now alone.

Even more grievous was the growing apparency that Archie, contrary to early gender assignment and subsequent naming, was not a drake.

The early gender miss-assignment of fowl here aboard Eegeebeegee is occurring much too frequently and is a matter for investigation by a select committee of the Tallahatchie Free State's Peoples' Congress. Whereas said committee will necessarily be chaired by the citizen of the Tallahatchie Free State, and given that there are many much more pressing subjects of congressional investigation yet to be addressed; such as: the strict portion control at the Colonel's table of late, the disturbing lack of key lime pie for desert, and the substitution of the Colonel's well-fitting for ill-fitting trousers by persons-unknown; it is unlikely that the issue of early fowl gender miss-assignment will be resolved anytime soon.

Archie is a hen.

Towards the end of summer, Archie was out-growing the kiddie-pool and the Colonel recommended that his favorite daughter take her duck down to Lake Brenda for a swim. At the conclusion of the first such dip, the Colonel's favorite daughter needed the help of her big brother and the Colonel's long-handled fish net to corral her duck. At the conclusion of the second such daily dip, the duck demonstrated a profoundly impressive learning curve and easily evaded recapture by net, or by any other means. Archie clearly was not to be a pen hen.

The dainty little duck was at the lake each time the Colonel's favorite daughter checked over the next few days. Then, she disappeared. That is, the duck disappeared. The Colonel's favorite daughter was still here and more than a tiny bit distraught. The Colonel scoured the shoreline of Lake Brenda for any sign. A few feathers at water's edge alongside a set of small predator tracks led the Colonel to surmise that Archie had fallen prey to an opportunistic coon cruising for some crustacean cuisine. The Colonel reported to his favorite daughter, however, that he believed that Archie had flown away. That was his story and the Colonel was sticking to it.

Two weeks later, Archie was back. With company. A hooded merganser drake had followed Archie back to her home waters. The odd couple flapped and flirted for several hours seemingly oblivious to the reality that fish-eaters and dabbling-feeders do not, under any circumstances, commingle, cohabit, or otherwise fraternize. Certainly not in the wide open. The Colonel, feeling oddly parental, finally had enough of the brazen avian PDA and walked down to the lake to break it up.

Stupid ducks.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A Life Well-Lived

A funeral for a college chum took the Colonel to West Memphis, Arkansas this morning. As he is wont to do to ensure that he is never late, the Colonel allotted double the time required to drive from the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere to the town the other side of the Big Muddy from Memphis. With a couple of hours to kill, the Colonel sat at a McDonald's, nursed a cup of coffee, contemplated man's mortality, and marvelled at a woman's immortal legacy.

Janine was taken from us much too soon.

And, yet, she enriched more lives in her one short life than a hundred men and women together could hope to in a hundred much longer lifetimes.

The Colonel was not a part of the very close knit group that made up Janine's first layer of friends during the years he knew her at Ole Miss and since. At least, not in his estimation. In her smile and hug greeting at our annual reunions in the Grove, however, she displayed a genuine love that made even the outliers, among whom the Colonel was counted in those early years, feel like long-lost siblings.

Janine was the glue that bound our extended group together--strong enough to hold our rambunctious, globe-trotting circle together, yet elastic enough to include everyone and anyone in her acquaintance. And, she had many, many such circles carefully drawn and overlapped in her life.

One of our classmates lovingly eulogized Janine to a church packed to overflowing with family and friends. He recalled Janine's campaign for Homecoming Queen at Ole Miss, remarkable in that she was member of no sorority. Had it been anyone else, it would have been scandalous--such honors at a school like Ole Miss are steeped in tradition thicker and more unmoving than molasses on Christmas morning. Janine transcended all that. She finished a very close second in a field of five and captured the hearts of the half of the 7500 students on campus then without fraternity and sorority affiliation--and the grudging admiration of the other half.

The thirty-five years since that convention-busting homecoming queen campaign were filled with scores more campaigns, large and small, challenging the status quo and conventional wisdom to accomplish great things for friends, family, and community. Janine won't be missed, however.

Her legacy won't allow her to be missed.

Janine Buford Earney
May 15, 1954 - December 3, 2010

Friday, December 03, 2010

Football Fantasies

Call him a "fair weather fan" if you like, but while the Colonel has always had a penchant for picking lost causes behind which to throw his unimposing weight, he has all but given up on his alma maters' football teams. One of the Colonel's alma maters' teams now plays only in his dreams; the other plays prominently in his nightmares.

It has been a nightmarish football season for Ole Miss, all too reminiscent of other nightmarish gridiron campaigns through which the Colonel's Rebels have marched over the past four decades during which he called his own self an Ole Miss Rebel. This year's eight loss record echoes the first disappointing season through which the Colonel suffered in his first fall of matriculation at the Harvard of the South. That 1974 season saw the Colonel's Rebels fall to South Carolina at Homecoming, enroute to a three and eight season -- South Carolina went one and ten that year.

So, there is no joy in Rebel Nation this year. Our beloved Colonel Rebel has been replaced by a Jellystone escapee, the maroonnecks won the Egg Bowl, and Pete Boone is still ruinously running things as Athletic Director.

To see just how bad things have gotten here in Oxford, one need only to have witnessed the scene at our final game against Mississippi State where our huge jumbo tron video board's sound system malfunctioned embarrassingly and the idiots (a stronger word is probably more appropriate, but the Colonel is feeling unusually gracious this morning) running the show in the stadium flashed a message on the board which said:

"We are aware of the problem with the sound system and we are woking on it."

That's right, woking.

This week, Pete Boone (whose presence here in Oxford is depriving some other more deserving village the services of a perfectly good idiot) sent an e-mail to season ticket holders apologizing for the problems with the video board sound system and other complaints regarding the stadium's concessionaires. The Colonel presumes that the problems with the fried rice concessions were connected with the efforts to wok on the video board's sound system.

The Colonel only wishes that his mind were fertile enough to make this kind of stuff up.

As the five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may remember from other of his frantically boring presentations of pusillanimous prose, the Colonel went to high school in a time far, far away in a place far, far away, which now exists only in the minds of a small minority of Americans who cling not-so bitterly to their principled guns and religious-like belief that they once lived in the most special place on Earth and learned at the most special school on this side of the galaxy. For those lucky few of us whose parents' government service took them outside of comfortable stateside confines, assignment to the Panama Canal Zone in the last century was one of the greatest blessings bestowed on minors in the history of children.

The Panama Canal Zone was a slice of lost-in-time America carved across the tropical paradise that is the isthmus of Panama. The Colonel won't debate the issue of American territorial occupation v. Panamanian territorial sovereignty here--except to say, in his not-so-humble opinion, that when we got around to giving territory on the isthmus back to "the rightful owners" maybe the re-United States should have given the territory of Panama back to Columbia, from whom we helped Panamanian rebels secede in the early Twentieth Century. At any rate, America operated a canal through the isthmus, governed a zone through which that canal ran, and administered the finest schools on the planet for the children of those who ran and defended that canal and that zone.

The Colonel went to, and graduated from, the Canal Zone's Balboa High School. The last class to graduate from Balboa High School did so in 1999, the year at the end of which Canal Zone territory, and the canal, reverted back to Panamanian ownership. The Colonel would stack the accomplishments of the alumni of Balboa High against those of any other alumni of any other high school IN THE WORLD, and feels quite confident that he could easily demonstrate that the world class faculty there produced (if not the finest football teams) the finest legion of learned the world has ever seen.

But, alas, BHS is no more, save in the fond memories of those of us fortunate enough to have matriculated there.

So, the Colonel and his lady, the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda (with whom the Colonel graduated from Balboa High), have adopted another high school; one at which the youth in our church attend and at which our grandsons, the Hope of 21st Century Civilization, Dashes 1 and 2 (H21CC-1 & -2) will someday matriculate and perhaps participate in a little gridiron glory. There are two high schools here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere--Oxford High, to which the city's students go, and Lafayette High, which the county's students attend. The Colonel and his lady live in the county. Those unfortunate to be considered the Colonel's friends likewise live outside of the city limits and are, by and large, alumni of Lafayette High.

So, while he waits for the unlikely reoccurrence of the Ole Miss Rebel gridiron glory which last resulted in conference and national championships fifty years ago, the Colonel cheers for the LHS Commodores.

The Commodores are a FORCE in Mississippi 4A football. They played in the 4A state championship last year. Tomorrow they are gonna win it.

GO 'Dores!