ice fishers of Onteora Lake
Saturday, January 28 2006
Gretchen was off teaching her library "science" class at the local community college, so it was my job to take Eleanor to the vet to have her stitches removed. I ended up wrapping that mission in an errand to the coffee place out on Route 28 to pick up a big bag of their Zanzibar blend that had been languishing for a week.
While I was there, I took the dogs on a walk to the adjacent Onteora Lake, which, unlike the Ashokan Reservoir, is frozen over solid. It doesn't seem as if average temperatures this winter have been below freezing, so I'm curious how exactly that ice managed to form. While I was there, several ice fisherman showed up pulling sleds full of equipment and set up fishing stations out on the lake. Temperatures had risen into the forties and the sun was beating down strong, so it was possible to be comfortable just sitting still.
The ice of the lake continued inland nearly to the parking lot, though the ice in places where there would normally be dry ground was fresher and weaker than the ice out on the lake. I walked on it gingerly and whenever it started groaning and cracking I'd lie down so as to spread my weight out evenly across its surface. Several times I was forced to drag myself along like a paraplegic coping with the theft of his wheelchair.
On the walk back out to the road, I found myself following a man with two boys, maybe ten or eleven years old each. They were doing typical boy stuff, throwing snowballs at one another and giggling about whatever kids that age find funny. Sally was in front of me and as she gained on the boys, they momentarily freaked out to see a strange dog so close. But then they made some inappropriate boyish attempts to bond, charging at Sally while she wasn't looking in hopes of being able to pet her. Looking at Sally, I could tell she considered this an awkward social situation. She kept her distance and pointedly yawned at them. She knew that an aggressive display would not be well-received, so she'd found another way to bare her teeth. Despite her clear annoyance with the rudeness of the boys, I could tell that there was a part of her that was fascinated with the situation. Would the boys try to throw a snowball? Would they charge again? Should I flee if they do? If I did so, would this be construed as weakness? At this point Eleanor came up all waggly and friendly, but Sally apparently thought she was getting in over her head and chased her away. Sally really is a very smart and socially-savvy dog.
The stitch-removing procedure took less than a minute. I felt stupid for having even bothered to come to have it done, even though the price of this procedure had already been paid for. I once sewed up a chicken named Agent Orange who had been badly injured by a dog, and that hen managed to pluck her own sutures out once the wounds had healed. (She died several years later from a form of avian senility I'd dubbed Etström's Disease.)
This afternoon and evening I worked on a new plumbing project whose goal is to supply pressurized antifreeze to all three hydronic systems in place of the existing fresh water supply. I'm worried that over time the systems' antifreeze may become diluted due to frequent boiler boilovers (and resulting demands for more hydronic fluid). If I can find a way to pressurize antifreeze and inject it into the hydronic systems' supply point, I can turn off the fresh water resupply system and maintain a high concentration of antifreeze throughout. The core of my supply system was a 3.5 gallon expansion tank used as a pressure tank. Into this I ran a spring-loaded check valve, with a tap for water coming in and another for water going out. Additionally, I provided overpressure relief, a pressure gauge, and a place to hook up an electric pressure switch that might some day turn on a pump. But pumps, the sort that can raise fluid to the 20 to 40 psi of pressure I need, don't come cheap. So I experimented with a $7 drill-powered pump and was impressed to find that it could lift water at least sixteen vertical feet. That's at least 6 psi, much better than pumps costing $100.
Rock and roll is all about adolescence, and this applies even to children raised by wolves. How do I know? I know because I was there. Let me explain. First of all, let's get the atoning for exaggerations out of the way, I wasn't raised by wolves. But I might as well have been. My parents were ignorant of all popular music trends since the early 1950s. In fact, they weren't really much into music at all except for classical music. But you could tell they weren't really into that either because they weren't obsessed with it. When asked what music they liked they'd say "classical" and that was pretty much it. The result of all of this was that there was a stong negative vibe coming from my parents about all non-classical music trends. My father had a special loathing for jazz, but he also dismissed rock and roll as a decadently primitive system of beats.
Until I went to college, my peer group had a weak influence on my cultural tastes, so up until my adolescence I duplicated my parents' taste in music and fancied myself interested in classical music exclusively. I listened to it and liked it, and all was well. But never really loved it. I never was obsessed with it. I liked it with the same ardour my parents had for it.
But then something interesting happened. My brother, who was three years older than me, started listening to the ordinary pop music playing on the radio, and that meant rock and roll (which in those days was trying to absorb disco as a major influence). He seemed to like the music and would have it playing while he was doing other things. Where was his interest coming from? Not my parents, who hated popular music, and not me, because I was still following my parents' example. Furthermore, my brother's interest couldn't be explained in terms of peer pressure. He experienced no peer pressure. He was such an odd duck that he had no close friends. Indeed, if anyone were to express an interest, his first inclination was always to express the one in greast opposition. But despite all this, here he was enjoying rock and roll on the radio. I remember for a year or so this mystified me and I would tease him about it in the cruel manner typical of such fraternal harassment.
But something interesting happened in 1980 or 1981 when I was 12 or 13 and entering puberty. I realized that, against my prejudices and better judgement, I was beginning to like rock and roll. I wasn't nearly the societal reject that my brother was, but I was similar to him in that I was not strongly affected by friends when it came to my views of popular culture. So something else was going on, something biological. Evidently there's an essence in rock and roll that appeals to the adolescent Homo sapien, and the desire to hear it is as unstoppable as any other biological urge. The sad thing is that this form of music doesn't predate the 1950s and millions of years of humans went through adolescence without it. If you don't think that's a tragedy, imagine them going through their adolescences without masturbation. It's like that. The invention of rock and roll was like the much earlier invention of masturbation in that it brought us closer to a complete understanding of the nuances of our psycho-sexual pleasure systems.
1981 was an interesting year in the evolution of rock. The late-70s disco craze had passed and pop music was entering a full-on anti-disco backlash. Any genre of rock predating disco suddenly experienced renewed relevancy even as new forms of rock (new wave and punk) emerged. Suddenly a lot of bands from the late 60s and early 70s were touring again and releasing new albums. I was listening to everything being played on the radio, but I remember that the song that most resonated with me was "The Voice" by the Moody Blues. I don't know what it was about the song, but it had an appealing futuristic quality achieved through layers of synthesizers playing dense melodies in a weird Middle Eastern or minor key. It was somehow sad and happy, pessimistic and optimistic, moody and cheerful, all at the same time, perfectly resonating with the bizarre feelings one has when one has a brain freshly rewired for adult patterns of thought. This one song sent me on a hunt for their earlier stuff, a hunt that was much more difficult in those days than it would have been today. Instead of downloading all their MP3s from a free file sharing network, I had to save my lunch money and buy vinyl albums, never sure what exactly I was buying but knowing that the brand was a good one. Part of what solidified my Moody Blues fandom was the fact that I had to like their music or else my hard-earned investment in their records would have been a waste, something I would never allow myself to believe. Still, I have to say that their early stuff stands up really well and I still occasionally listen to it. My absolute favorites include "Tuesday Afternoon," "Lovely to See You," "Ride My See-Saw," "Candle of Life," and "It's Up to You." I was still such a fan of the Moody Blues in 1983 when The Present came out that I also bought a copy of that, but it was a major disappointment, and I've mostly missed the long, sad dotage that has followed.
The other band that sent me on a major hunt for their early stuff was Pink Floyd, whose early stuff was vastly superior to the material that sent me on my quest. Dark Side of the Moon is alright, but my favorite album of all was Obscured by Clouds, particularly the song "Childhood's End."
There were other bands that caught my interest throughout my adolescence, and I occasionally bought their albums when I had money. The most disappointing of my purchases was a live Blue Oyster Cult album. As everyone now knows, the only song Blue Oyster cult ever did that was any good was "Don't Fear the Reaper." The fact that it's one of the five best songs ever written doesn't make me feel any better about that dreadful album I bought.
The golden era of my personal rock and roll discovery, the 1980s, was not an especially good period for rock. Electronic synthesizers were in their imperfect infancy but producers, emboldened by new studio techniques, were ladleing on layer after layer of the stuff. I found the resulting music tedious and uninspired. Only rarely did good music emerge from the process: "I Ran," by Flock of Seagulls, and "Bye Bye Love" by the Cars being stand out examples. Why couldn't musicians return to the techniques that had worked so well in the early 70s? It wasn't until the 1990s that the music I liked started being made again, first by various heavy metal offshoots, then grunge, and finally low fi. More recently, bands like The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Red Telephone have successfully distilled the essence of whatever I found so appealing in that old music.
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