Baboons and Blooms

Back row: Bill Nelson, Robin Nelson, Lisa Sinclair, Krista Wilkowski, Margaret Mazzaferro
Front row: Edith Carlson, Barbara Hassing, Linda Ruecker, Sherrilee Carter

Here at the end of April, we see evidence everywhere that winter is in full retreat and summer is on the way. Occasionally there is a Very Serious bit of hand wringing over the Possibility Of Snow in the forecast, but when the most recent alert came for Saturday, the result was less than impressive.

Let’s face it, tomorrow is May Day and Old Man Winter is kaput – he has Thrown In The Trowel.

And yes, I mean Trowel. A group of kind baboons got together yesterday morning to put an exclamation point on O.M.W.’s demise. We who do yard work are naturally hesitant to get out there to start roughing up the soil too early. Most people I’ve talked to enjoyed our mild March but were too suspicious to take the bait. April is always a beautiful liar – things might be OK but April’s moods can change quickly. There’s really no sense in doing too much garden work when she’s around. But May … That’s the time when the work you do stands a chance of NOT being undone.

Baboons at work in the garden.

So the Baboon crew headed out to Plain Jane’s place to do a good deed for a comrade who suffered a nasty fall last February. She had fractures in her pelvic bone and pain galore, plus a stern admonition from the doctors to not overdo it during recovery.

How does a person who can’t garden get the gardening done? Steve takes it from here:

We met from 9 AM until 2 PM on a semi-overcast, brisk but beautiful day. PJ has made wonderful progress recovering from her accident, and yet she isn’t yet ready to garden. The gardening crew raked, cut out unwanted plants, pulled weeds, and hauled away a lot of refuse. It was all light, rewarding work that went quickly because there was so much good conversation.

After the work was over, about noon, Margaret served a luncheon buffet starring a broccoli soup and smoked trout. Various baboons brought cupcakes, sweet bread, cheeses, crackers, and plenty of red wine. Everyone seemed pleased with the quality, quantity, and variety of food . . . including Margaret’s dog, Pablo, who approved of any leftover he could reach. It was a party from start to end, and we all had a great time.

PJ’s fall happened on February 23rd. Less than a day before she tumbled, she told this story in the comments section of our ongoing conversation.

I have been blessed with numerous angels in my life. One stands out, mainly because his unexpected gift allowed me to go to college. When Bob, who I had met only six or seven times when I was 18 years old, but with whom I had remained in contact via letters, heard that wasband and I had moved to Carbondale, he sent me a check for $2,500.00. His accompanying letter said: “Please accept this loan, to be paid back, at no interest, whenever you can. Apply to the university, you will not be able to find a decent job unless you do. I’ll send you another $2,500.00 in six months. Love, Bob.” I followed Bob’s advice, got a scholarship and a student job, and made it through four years at SIU without any incurring any debt.

When I graduated and we were about to leave Carbondale, I wrote Bob to tell him that I would soon be able to begin repaying the loan. A couple of weeks later I received a letter from Bob’s attorney informing me that Bob had passed away. There was also a note from Bob’s wife stating that Bob had made no mention of, nor any record of this loan; she was sure he intended it to be a gift, and to please pay it forward.

Bob’s gift has enabled me to help two different friends avoid foreclosures, and other small gifts to people who have been in a tight spot. It is a gift that keeps giving forty years after Bob’s death.

Clearly PJ found inspiration in Bob’s gift and faithfully paid it forward, just as our Baboonish Garden Crew was inspired by PJ’s calamity to commit a random act of kindness yesterday.

When have you “paid it forward” or been on the receiving end of someone else’s kindness?

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Happy Birthday, Jean Redpath

Today is Scottish folk singer Jean Redpath‘s birthday. She was born in Edinburgh on April 28th in 1937. She is (has?) an M.B.E. (Member of the British Empire), which is an exalted title that carries some weight but mostly what it tells us is that everyone agrees she’s the best there is at what she does. The Edinburgh Evening News put it this way:

“To call Jean Redpath a Scottish folk singer is a bit like calling Michelangelo an Italian interior decorator.”

I would have issues with Michelangelo as my decorator, just as I’m sure he would have issues with my interior. I’m not so sure about painted ceilings, but can we talk about the color of the couch?

When Jean Redpath fills a room with a song there is a clear connection to the ancient and ongoing tradition of the Scottish people – their history and poetry come alive through her voice and she taken this all over the world in person and through the airwaves on “A Prairie Home Companion” and other broadcasts.

She has done 40 albums and has recorded at least 180 Robert Burns songs – wonderful tunes that are full of strange Scottish words that sound like throat clearing exercises but they connect to essential human experiences and emotions that cross all cultural barriers.

Perhaps she would like to sing a Lady Gaga tune every now and then, but my guess is that Jean Redpath is completely happy and engaged in the rich artistic realm she inhabits. It must be a great comfort to know so clearly what you are about and to have such success sharing it with other people.

Imagine that you have been anointed as an ambassador to the world of a great cultural tradition. Which one would suit you best?

Space Mine Balladeer

I was intrigued by the story this week that some above-average billionaires are proposing to explore space for a way to accumulate even more wealth through the burgeoning not-yet-an-industry of Space Mining. The idea is to find precious metal rich asteroids, and to plunder them with robots.

These machines will then somehow deliver the spoils to Earth where already fat portfolios will swell with an infusion of Space Cash. I suppose that’s the sort of thing you dream of when you’ve already got more money than a person can comprehend – more mind-blowing wealth. But what a sad business plan – to do all this with unfeeling robots cheats the rest of us out of all the melodramatic Space Mining Songs that would be written if humans actually left the planet to do this work.

Of course we’d have to change some of the standard references.
Here’s a Merle Travis original:

And here’s a group called Ryan’s Fancy doing their version that appears to include only Merle’s chorus. But I love it that they’re performing on what looks to be the ruins of a gantry after an especially tumultuous launch from the spaceport.

One could, if one were so inclined, imagine how this classic might be adapted by the poor unfortunates who would rush to find a living by collecting silver in space.

Come all you young fellows so young and so fine
And seek not your fortune way up in the mine
Every mineral is precious and pure – unalloyed.
But it’s hell to dig deep into an asteroid.

It’s dark and it’s cold and it’s desolate too.
Where the gravity’s weak and the comforts are few.
Where the metals are rare and the air is refined.
It’s stark and its grungy way up in the mine

They will tell you at launch that you’re gonna be rich
In a spacesuit there’s no way to scratch at that itch
It’ll claw at your heart, it’ll tickle your mind.
But there’s no satisfaction way up in the mine.

It’s dark and it’s cold and it’s desolate too.
Where the gravity’s weak and the comforts are few.
Where the metals are rare and the air is refined.
It’s stark and its grungy way up in the mine

You’ll feel weightless and nauseous and all kinds of sad.
And you’ll think of your family left back on the pad.
When you total it up and they give you your leave
You will barely earn back what they charged you to breathe.

It’s dark and it’s cold and it’s desolate too.
Where the gravity’s weak and the comforts are few.
Where the metals are rare and the air is refined.
It’s stark and its grungy way up in the mine

What was the least rewarding job you ever did?

Herding Cats

Today’s guest post comes from Edith.

I’m sure most of you have heard the phrase “herding cats” referring to “a task that is extremely difficult or impossible to do, due to one or more variables being in flux and uncontrollable” according to Wikipedia.

Well, in my house, there lives a Sheltie aka a Shetland Sheepdog. Shelties are derived from dogs used in the Shetland Isles for herding and protecting sheep. I don’t have any sheep, but when we first got our dog, youngest daughter was still fairly young, and occasionally the puppy would try to “herd” her. Dog didn’t try to herd the larger members of the household and now that youngest daughter is well along in her teens, there isn’t anybody around here small enough to herd.

Until late February 2011, that is. That is when the dog found a CAT in our yard. Being excitable, she barked incessantly until I came out to investigate. Long story short, the cat is still here and is now a member of the family. The dog and the cat sometimes play with each other, chasing and wrestling, with both doing pretty equal amounts of chasing. But sometimes the cat is very definite that he does NOT want to play with the dog. But as he walks around the house, the dog decides he should be going somewhere else…so she herds him. Or tries to. She tries to nose him in the “right” direction, but the cat just keeps going where he wants to go and pays no attention to this bigger animal trying to push him in a different direction.

It’s quite amusing watching the dog put so much effort into something that is so futile. That is, it’s funny until I start to feel like it’s a metaphor for my life.

What have you done, or tried to do, that you could compare to herding cats?

The Baboon Alley Tally

Yesterday marked post number 600 on Trail Baboon.

That seems like a big number, but it is just one of a mountain of behind-the-scenes statistics related to this site. We’re closing in on the 2 year anniversary (June 3) and this blog has been in business long enough to begin to have some numbers worth crunching.

At the moment the number of comments that follow all the assembled posts comes to a whopping total of 44,642! That’s a lot of chatter.

As I’ve often said, Trail Baboon is interesting for the daily post and also for the conversation that follows the post. In fact, there are officially more registered followers for the comments than there are for the blog itself.

The back-and-forth between baboons ebbs and flows. Our average number of comments-per-post is 74.4, but our gabbiest day happened around the entry “A Few Lines For the Graduates” with 179 opinions and/or observations offered. Clearly we are a community of people who are aching to be invited to be a graduation commencement speaker somewhere, anywhere.

Our quietest day may have been yesterday. As at any dinner party, the volume and the tone of the talk depends on who is at the table, what is on the plate and how everybody is feeling. Weather may be a factor as well.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that WordPress tracks the number of comments from individual sources. This is how we know that tim is the most talkative baboon, contributing 126 of the last 1000 overall comments. Of course we also can deduce this from reading any recent post. A day without tim is like a trip through the wide open west – glorious scenery but there’s a lot of space between the attractions.

In case you’re curious, I have a list of the top 7 recent commenters. After tim, the list reads:

Steve in St. Paul
Barbara in Robbinsdale
Lisa in Minneapolis

Now that I’ve revealed the recent ranking, let me emphasize that there is no prize here for blogular verbosity. Those who speak up and those who sit down are valued equally. It’s just that the presence of quiet ones is harder to gauge.

Still, way to go, tim.

Personally, I’m grateful for all the baboons and their many clever on-topic and off-topic thoughts. Our crew is funny, literate, unpretentious and kind. The one concern I share with several regulars is that the level of familiarity and the pace and wit of the conversation can be intimidating to newcomers. I’ve felt that very thing – a wallflower instinct – at parties where sharp people are gathered at the bar. If you have “lurked”, know that you are welcome to continue to do so here at Trail Baboon. And you are equally welcome to stick your oar in.

Everybody’s nice, really.

At a place where I once worked, I heard complaints from managers about the audience for certain blogs – how the same people camped there and dominated the conversation. I don’t know what the site administrators expected, but it sometimes happens that media organizations obsess over the audience they imagine having and wind up neglecting the audience they’ve already got. Not naming names here, but it is not an unheard of malady.

My intention for post #601 is simply to salute the uncontrolled collaboration that is Trail Baboon. If you are reading this, you are a member of our tribe.

And if you’re not reading this, please raise your hand so I can see you. After all, if you know I’m talking about you without visiting the site, then surely I can watch you without being able to look. Fair is fair.

What moves you to speak up? What leads you to sit quietly?

Ask Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

Against my better instincts, I went to a pet store and bought my daughter a mouse.

Delilah had been agitating for a rodent of some kind an frankly, Rats are too gross. But I had to get something and mice can be cute, if you squint. I justified this decision as an educational move when the store clerk told me this particular mouse had been in an experiment that recently made news.

It was all about exercise and the brain. “Exercise,” according to a NY Times report on the results, “does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.”

How can that be? If true, this makes our mouse a groundbreaking researcher!

My daughter named our mouse “Samson”, isn’t she brilliant for an 8 year old? And he has lived up to the name – an impressive physical specimen, he’s an exercising fool – Jack LaLanne with whiskers. I totally believe he was in that study and I’m absolutely certain that of all the mice, he was one of the extremely smart ones.

He picked up the exercise bug, that’s for sure. Samson climbs the sides of his cage like a character from Cirque du Soleil, charges through his plastic tunnel like a maniac, and jumps into his wheel and runs like a demon pretty much 24 hours a day. The squeak-squeak-squeaking of that damn wheel sometimes makes it impossible for my daughter to study, but she refuses to leave her room because she’s afraid the mouse will start to “feel lonely”. She says when she reaches a part she doesn’t understand she takes a break from the textbook and lies down in bed with pillows covering her ears.

Here’s the funny thing: She leaves the book open by his cage and she swears that when she comes back to finish her work, Samson explains it to her in a way she can understand.

“He’s amazing,” she told me. “WAY smarter than the teachers I have at school.”

Dr. Babooner, I think Delilah is imagining all this but I’m afraid to call her on it because it seems to work for her and I don’t want her to fail any of these important tests.

But it’s also possible that Samson is a truly miraculous mouse and is, in fact, helping Delilah with her homework. After all, he grew up in a laboratory! Who knows what kind of crazy chemicals he was exposed to in there! But if the mouse is tutoring her on math, who knows what other ideas he’s planting in her head? For instance, I believe mice are libertines when it comes to sex.

I’m torn between saying nothing, calling a doctor, or calling some TV stations.

Dr. Babooner, what should I do?

Concerned Mom

I told “Concerned Mom” that this mouse is a gift – a practice run for later years when human charlatans will also try to impress her daughter with similar bombastic feats. Have a sit-down with Delilah and force her to take a clear-eyed look at her furry benefactor. What sort of teacher is he, really? If he knows so much, why is his main activity running forward inside a wheel that goes nowhere? Would he seem as smart if, perhaps, he got a haircut?

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Birth of the Bard

Today is Shakespeare’s Birthday, we assume.
Three days hence the books note his baptism
Counting backwards experts all presume
For natal days, this one must be his’n.

Wrote sonnets and some pretty famous plays.
Penned some lines that surely are immortal.
With “bated breath” and other turns of phrase
that give us pause and cause enough to chortle.

No bigger star in scribb’ling has there been,
Nor likely will there be tomorrow.
All who write have lost ‘fore they begin.
Naught to do but read, admire and borrow.

What gift for Shakespeare’s birthday? But of course!
A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

What’s your favorite line from Shakespeare?

No Planet Left Behind

Here’s a note that came in yesterday afternoon from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden, who knows the routine and the calendar at Wendell Wilkie High School much better than the teachers and administrators.

Hi Mr. C.

I’m sitting in study hall with nothing to do after finishing the MCA tests. That’s the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments. They’re the tests we take to find out if we’re really the miserable losers our parents say we are, and also how bad our school is failing based on the rules for the No Child Left Behind Law.

I can tell you that law is definitely not working at Wilkie ‘cause I’ve been Left Behind, Kicked To The Side, Thrown To The Wolves, Pushed To The Curb and Tossed From The Train over and over again for so many years in a row now that school visitors pretty much always mistake me for the janitor.

Seriously, I’ve got a 5 day shadow by 5th hour every day. If I gained about 200 pounds I could totally pass for Mr. Lootanen.

But I wouldn’t want to be a school janitor. Cleaning up our school is the hardest job on Earth. Teenagers are gross. Me included. I just got caught dropping a Tootsie Roll wrapper on the floor and Ms. Flipping, our study hall monitor this hour, called me out on it. Actually, her name isn’t Ms. Flipping, that’s just what we call her because of how she reacts to things. Kinda dramatic. I couldn’t even defend myself because you know how slow your mouth gets when there’s a Tootsie Roll in there. I was helpless.

So anyway, she got steamed and said I should go online and find some resources and then write an essay based on my research about what I would do to clean up the planet for Earth Day, which is this Sunday. And then, she said, I would have to prove to her on Monday that I actually did something that was on the list.

The Earth is kinda big, so now I’m thinking maybe I’d be better off pretending to be Mr. Lootanen and trying to pick up here at the school.

But then I found this article at The Huffington Post that really makes it simple. According to the writer, I can take a hike with my family, (Somebody at home IS always telling me to ‘take a hike’) pick up litter in my neighborhood with friends, (I would have to get a totally different group of friends to try this one), come up with a recycling plan for the coming year, (I thought years just automatically recycled themselves – isn’t that how people like you get to be so old?) or join a larger public clean-up (my grandfather says there’s nothing clean about the larger public – that’s why he never goes out).

I was starting to feel a little desperate. I didn’t think I’d be able to do any of these things. But then I saw this last Earth Day idea: “Even if you can’t do any of the above – make sure you take some time to think about the importance of preserving our planet.”

Ahhh! That’s more like it! My life has been all about finding the simplest answer on a long series of multiple choice tests. There’s always an easy way out of having to do something, if you show some patience and look for it.

Yes, the planet is important, and preserving it is a good idea. If there were no planet, we’d just be floating free in space with no air or bicycles or cocoanuts – three things I would not want to have to do without.

Whew! Job accomplished for another year!

Your Earth Protecting Pal,

What are you doing for Earth Day?

Inflated Superstition

Today’s Guest Post comes from Clyde.

I had four flat bike tires in eight days. Then a week later my wife said, “Well, you haven’t had a flat in a few days.” I gritted my teeth, but did not answer her. Why did she have to say THAT?

I am a strange contradiction in a way. I have some education in and a strong reading interest in the sciences. And I’m a Christian, well a Lutheran, which is the next thing to a Christian. I have some education in and a strong reading interest in religion. While those two things are supposed to be in conflict, they should together rid me of all superstitions. Nevertheless, I have had one and only one superstition my whole life, but I can never shake it. It is the fear that words will make the opposite so. You know the “knock on wood” superstition.

When someone says something I fear may make the opposite happen, I do not knock on wood. I mean, that would be just stupidly superstitious. I would, however, never say that I had gone for awhile without a flat. (I just checked this minute–no flat. Pshew.) I might even say something like “Yep, bet I’ll get another flat” hoping my words will prevent a flat. (Just checked again on the bike tires. Still okay. But bet I get one, nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

I have a perfectly logical explanation for why I had the flats. God’s out to get me. No. Don’t be ridiculous. First, the streets and sidewalks, which is where I do almost all my riding, have quite a bit of glass on them this time of year before the city gets out with street sweepers. Second, when I put the bike away last fall, I made a note to remember that both tires were worn down, which is the number one way to get flats. I did remember the worn tires when I started riding a few weeks ago. But this is April. You know, tax month. I am SURE I will owe A LOT when I get them back from my accountant. A LOT. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)

I had no choice but to buy new tires. So now I’m sure I won’t . . .

Well, let’s just not say it.

What are your superstitions, perhaps in spite of yourself?

Old Soldiers

This is the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address, which included the catchphrase “Old Soliders Never Die, They Just Fade Away.”

Definitely not fading away here.

To my way of thinking, the line is more appropriate to describe the end of the perpetual Disc Jockey.
Dick Clark did just fade away, gradually vanishing like so many of the songs he promoted, the volume sliding down to an imperceptible nothing.

But for soldiers? I’m puzzled.

Why is just fading away any better or more appropriate for an old soldier than dying? Especially in a business where dying is such an ever present and immediate risk? We certainly know that young soldiers die – far too many of them. Why would old soldiers find any comfort in the prospect of a long fade? Or is this an expression of regret that they can’t go out in a blaze of glory like the young comrades they lost so many years ago? I don’t get the point. Soldiers? Anyone?

The famous line comes at the end of the speech, which was given to a Joint Session of Congress on April 19th, 1951.

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
Good Bye.”

The line comes from an old “barracks ballad”? I didn’t know that, and wondered if perhaps seeing the words to the ballad might shed some light on the sentiment. I didn’t find much on my first few tries with Google, but fortunately for me there’s Subtropic Bob, who writes a blog called “This Day In Quotes.”

Subtropic did some digging last year and managed to connect the quote to a hymn called “Kind Words Never Die”, which makes the case that kind words, sweet thoughts and human souls are eternal. Linking that idea to old soldiers was apparently a work of parody, and not a flattering one at that (what parody ever is?).

“Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
They simply fade away.

Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
Young ones wish they would.”

If this is actually the song MacArthur recalled, the proclamation about old soldiers sounds far from proud. But at the time he gave his speech, the General was looking back on a 52 year military career. It is entirely possible that this popular, poignant saying is actually a lyric lifted from a misremembered, cheeky song meant to mock the very same people who now shed a tear over it. The lesson for satirists – time wears away the sharp edges of your biting wit, and the joke is ultimately on you.

What would be a more modern version of MacArthur’s inadvertent transformation of a joke into into a poignant benediction? Imagine some long-serving college president made this comment as the final lines in a farewell speech …

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular dormitory ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘in the end, I learned to bend, and did it their way.’ So now I close my career in academe, I say to you what is a man? What can I do? Open your books. Read chapter Two. And if it seems a bit routine don’t talk to me, go see the dean. They get their way. I get my pay. We do it … their way.”

What song lyrics would you lift for your Farewell Address?