Sunday, May 11 2014
The weather was so nice that Gretchen and I did our Sunday morning coffee out on a blanket in the yard even before she'd walked the dogs. They're not pushy for a walk at any specific time, but if they don't get a walk at all they become yarfy and disruptive. When Gretchen finally took them, I took advantage of their absence to retrieve the Subaru from Ray and Nancy's house. I wanted to go there by bicycle, and if the dogs are around, there's a danger they would follow me. I coasted down Dug Hill Road, which is always a gravity-powered thrill (particularly when temperatures are not down in the teens). At the intersection of Dug Hill Road and Hurley Mountain Road, the woods vanish, the landscape opens up and you find yourself on the edge of a vast flat lowland. It's beautiful in a car (which is how I usually experience it) but on a bicycle (particularly at this time of year) it's a wondrous spectacle. To the east, across that wide agricultural flatland of the Esopus Valley, is a low wall of trees, at this time of year lightly-brushed with a tentative layer of baby-lettuce green. The fields themselves were an expanse of primary green, perhaps due to some species of cover crop that had been sewn. This doesn't occur to me often, but at that moment I remember thinking, "Damn, it's good to be alive!" Pedaling over flat terrain on a bicycle that is conducive to such thoughts. Something about the combination of the 360 degree views, the silence, the lack of effort, and the gently decisive movement is a recipe for sublime serenity. The thought I had were similar to those I'd had while biking along the beaches in San Diego, though this time I wasn't even stoned.
A short way north on Hurley Mountain Road (41.925526N, 74.082377W), I took a right onto a dirt road heading east across the fields, an was soon far from the minor annoyance of motorized competition. I could see and hear car in the distance doing there thing, but where I was, it was just dirt, mud, plants, and (through a thin veil of trees) the meandering Esopus itself. At this point I felt a little like one feels while pedalling a bicycle in Grand Theft Auto, though it didn't feel as pathetic and provisional. And the nature, of course, was far more authentic and inspiring and far less repetitive.
The rich Republicans who own a mansion just south of Ray and Nancy's house were having a big Mother's Day party. Cars had driven there from all over, particularly Vermont. Given the number of Vermonters present, I imagine there were a number of political disagreements despite the Bloody Marys and other WASPY morning libations that had been conscripted to smooth out the lumps in the social fabric.
After loading my bike into the car, I hung out for a little while with Ray and Nancy in their kitchen, which on this gorgeous morning seemed dark and dingy by comparison. But we couldn't go outside and also socialize with Jack the dog, so I sat their while he gave me the love (and shed a surprising amount of hair onto the kitchen floor). Ray and Nancy were just about to go shopping for a lawn mower; due to a number of technical difficulties they'd yet to mow their grass this year and it was looking uncharacteristically shaggy.
Back at the house, I found that I'd spoken too soon about finding a solution to my problem of Windows 7 randomly shuffling my windows around on my monitors. While it's true that Windows 7 does this much less with another login active, it still does it occasionally, though it does it in a way that it somewhat less annoying.
The warm weather inspired Gretchen to make a Thai noodle salad containing zesty lemon juice and fresh greens, all of it served cold. We ate it while watching an episode of Mad Men, and afterwards, when we went down to the kitchen to put away the food, Gretchen saw a mouse disappear into a gap back behind the burners on the gas stove. This wasn't the first time either of us had seen a mouse; indeed, there's an abandoned house a mile north up Dug Hill Road where we routinely release the mice we capture in our live mouse trap. But Gretchen said this mouse was a "big" one, and then she was saw how many mouse turds it had sprinkled around the salt and flour containers on our countertops. "We have to keep this kitchen cleaner!" she suddenly insisted, adding, "No more of this leaving dirty dishes until the afternoon of the next day. We have a division of labor here." That part was aggravating, since it seemed to be placing most of the blame on me, but in any case it suddenly seemed prudent to go on a counter-cleaning jihad. So we cleared the counters, swept them of loose material, and then poured scalding water on them to dissolve anything that remained. Gretchen wanted to make our gas stove less hospitable to mice, and so somehow I managed to hinge the top surface up, revealing the gap between the burners and the oven. I know from having been in this space once before that it is usually heavily-sprinkled with mouse turds, but the last time I'd looked was back in the summer of 2008 when I was building a new oven hood. When Gretchen and I looked at it today it was, not surprisingly, a horror. Not only did it contain a good half cup or more of mouse turds, but there was also a mouse nest comprised of insulation and cat fur that some enterprising mice had dragged there from elsewhere. Naturally, it also stank of mouse urine. After removing the nest and vacuuming up all the turds, I turned my attention to the wires supplying high voltage electricity to the sparkers which are supposed to ignite the gas when one wants to use the stove's burners. Gradually those sparkers had lost their ability to ignite gas, and now only two of them worked with any reliability. Looking at the wires, I could see what the problem might be. These wires are a special kind designed to contain the thousands of volts necessary to create a spark, so their insulation is thick and there is an additional layer of fabric mesh. Something about this insulation had appealed to the chew instincts of the mice, and they'd stripped insulation and mesh from all of the wires, exposing bare conductor in multiple places. When attempting to ignite gas with the sparkers, a lot of the energy was being lost in arc taking place between the wires and the metal surfaces of the stove itself. Happily, though, this problem was easy to correct. Using some kapton tape that came with the Makerbot (it's a high temperature tape with good insulating properties), I was able to restore the insulation and get all four of the sparkers working again. Apart from the necessity of the anti-mouse measures, this was a huge thing for Gretchen; just the other day she'd said that what she wanted for her anniversary was a stove with working burner lighters.
In the course of the jihad, we pulled the stove out of the wall, vaccuumed up all the mouse turds back there, and then I used spray foam and wire mesh to block an entrance hole the mice had chewed in the place where the stove's gas line penetrates the wall. To keep mice from quickly moving back into the space beneath the burners, I sprinkled a thick layer of cayenne pepper, which I also dusted on the floor behind the stove. With the exception of humans, mammals hate hot pepper. (There's an episode of Mythbusters where a Grizzly Bear refuses to cross a line of red pepper sprinkled on the ground.) The chemical capsicum evolved specifically as a mammal repellant, since their seeds are best distributed by birds.
After our cleaning jihad, tonight's episode of Game of Thrones had downloaded, and for some reason Gretchen (who has not been watching the show) decided to watch it with me. She even cracked open one of the girlie beers she'd bought at Beer World on that day I bought all those expensive IPAs. Part of Gretchen's interest in Game of Thrones is the actor Peter Dinklage, whom she just discovered to be a vegan activist (and he also supposedly lives around here somewhere). While we both think his British accent on the show is appalling, tonight Gretchen was impressed by the speech his character Tyrion gave while on trial for the murder of the execrable King Joffrey. When Dinklage said that all his life he'd been guilty of being a dwarf, Gretchen detected real honesty and feeling that she hadn't noticed before. Indeed, she even thought his accent had improved for that one line. Being a dwarf in Westeros is no better than being one in the United States of America, and Dinklage can't help but have some real feeling when delivering a line like that.
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