Posted by: Don Bemis | May 25, 2015

Encore

(I entered this story in a writing contest for a fund-raiser to restore the South Haven south pier head light.  The story didn’t win first place, but it was published anyway.  Here it is, slightly altered.  That’s the trouble with stories; they’re never quite finished.)

ENCORE

(c) 2015 by Don Bemis

It was a perfect day for a sunset.  Scattered purple clouds trimmed with red and gold drifted high above sparkling waves.  Vapor trails streaked the bright August sky like comets bound to and from Chicago.  If one looked closely, one might see the flash of reflected sunlight from an airplane at the point of a stripe.

Cruisers and sailboats dotted the lake.  The Friends Goodwill presided over them, its puffed sails and flapping pennants dark against the sky.  The long, low line of the pier, topped by black filigree of an iron catwalk, directed eyes from shore to the red South Pier Light.  On shore, photographers lined the bluff and the beach forty feet below.

Clusters of sightseers ambled westward on both the North and South Piers, drawn like moths toward the setting sun.

I was a moth that day.  Family friends, up from the Southwest, had to see the lake.  We walked out the South Pier, grownups to the right along the channel rail, and kids chugging like a train down the middle beneath the catwalk arches.  Fishermen sat along the left edge, casting out and reeling in, but rarely catching anything.  Ducks in the channel congregated below anybody willing to toss food.

We finally reached the pier’s end.  Seventy miles to Chicago, ninety to Milwaukee, and nothing in between but water.  To the left, more water.  To the right, the river channel, North Pier, and water.  Half a mile behind, South Haven.  Looming over us, the light.  A hundred or so strangers milled about, conversing in multiple languages.  Garb ranged from barely legal to Old World All-Encompassing.  Irrespective of dress, arms waved cellphones like amulets, catching pictures.

“Where do all these people come from?” our she-friend asked.

“Kalamazoo.  Indiana.  But Chicago, mostly,” I replied.

“Why?”

“For this.  This, blueberries, and ice cream.”

She wasn’t convinced.  “You can’t get blueberries and ice cream in Chicago?  They could watch a sunrise from Navy Pier for a lot less money.”

“True, but our sunsets come at a more sensible hour.”

The sensible hour arrived.  The solar orb flattened on the bottom, as if it didn’t want to get wet.  Finally, though, it touched the line of the horizon.  Slowly, but perceptibly, it began to sink from view.  One almost expected to see steam.

Halfway point.  The sky was changing color, especially the clouds. The Friends Goodwill sailed directly between sun and pier.  A hundred cameras clicked.

The sun was down to a sliver.  Anybody with a camera was hard at work, trying to capture a sensation that really couldn’t be captured.  A few folk without cameras watched the real show instead of three inches of screen.  The fishermen, paying no attention, cast and reeled, cast and reeled.

The crowd quieted.  The sun, so reluctant to get its feet wet, was even less willing to disappear.  Finally, there was only a yellow slit on the horizon, and it popped out of view.

The audience applauded.

The he-friend was incredulous.  “Are you kidding?” he asked.

“No, they do it every time there’s a decent sunset, but it doesn’t do any good.  There’s never an encore.”

“I suppose not.  What happens next?”

“Nothing. The show’s over.”

We started back toward town, but we didn’t get there.  Not yet.  A shout from the end of the pier stopped us.  We turned to see what had happened.

A brilliant yellow stripe glowed on the horizon, right where the sun had set.  It broadened and brightened until it no longer was a stripe, but the top of a shining arc.  The sun slowly rose from the lake, just as it had descended.  Minutes later, it cleared the horizon entirely.  The light and catwalk again cast sharp shadows toward shore.

Everybody was silent.  Nearly everybody stood stock still gaping at the sight.  All but the fishermen, who cast and reeled, cast and reeled.

The sun shook itself dry like a wet dog, flinging streamers of clouds across the sky.  Shadows jiggled in the bouncing light.

The shaking stopped.  The sun again started down.  First it flattened, then it dipped, and finally it winked from sight.

There was no applause this time.  People were afraid to invite another appearance.

There also were no pictures.  The stunned audience was so caught up in the event that nobody thought to take any.

And that is why nobody believes us.

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Posted by: Don Bemis | May 15, 2015

Why engineers should not get days off…

The Chernobyl reactor was an RBMK.  I built my own RBMK today with four buckets and two balls of nylon string.

It’s a Raccoon Behavior Modification Kit.  We’ll see if it works.

Raccoons are intelligent, fun to watch, and disgusting.  They are housebroken after their own fashion.  A coon selects an elevated place where it can do its duty undisturbed while keeping an eye on the neighbors.  Our second story deck is just such a place.

The coon used to climb up the cedar tree to get onto the porch roof, but the tree and porch are gone now.  Last night, we heard scrabbling up the outside of our bedroom wall.  Birds nest in the ivy on the wall, so a coon can stop off for a snack on its way to or from the john.  All it needs is a big TV.

This morning, I noticed the ivy was peeling away from the wall, confirming what we already knew.

So I went to the hardware store and told them I needed noisy buckets.  They looked at me oddly, but they’ve known me for years and pointed to the noisy bucket department.  I left with four galvanized pails.

Raccoons like water, but presumably they prefer to deal with it on their own terms, and they aren’t Baptists.  The RBMK is designed so Mr. (or Ms.) Coon will encounter a string or two on the way to the pit stop.  Hopefully an unexpected immersion and the clatter of falling pails will traumatize the creature into not coming back.

I don’t want to kill the raccoon.  I only want it to kick the bucket.

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Posted by: Don Bemis | May 10, 2015

Construction Zone: No Meowing

Lois thinks I spoil the cats.

We’re having some remodeling done, and it involves removal of the enclosed porch.  Earl and Underfoot are indoor cats (Underfoot not by choice), so it’s as close to outside as they can get.  They would soak up the sun, watch birds, and go nose to nose with possums through the windows.

It’s gone now.  The contractors boarded over the door and windows.  Underfoot would prowl around the door, waiting for me to open it.  Finally I did.  I have never seen such a confused, disappointed cat as the one faced with brand new chipboard.

Underfoot came by his name honestly.  He loves everybody, including the contracting crew.  So what else could I do but give him his very own Lexan-glazed sidewalk superintendent window?

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Posted by: Don Bemis | May 2, 2015

My first earthquake

The first one I have felt, anyway.

We were about to sit down to lunch when the rumble came.  It was awfully large for a big truck on the street, and the shaking lasted too long for an explosion.  Dishes rattled for half a minute.  There was no damage.

Our suspicion was confirmed when the phone rang 25 minutes later to advise me of an “unusual event”, the lowest level of emergency classification for a nuclear plant.  The next level is “alert”, and I would have had to report to work, a lousy way to spend a beautiful Saturday.  The plant is designed to withstand quite large earthquakes without damage, so I’m not worried in the least.

A magnitude 4.2 earthquake had occurred five miles south of Galesburg, Michigan (near Kalamazoo), not quite fifty miles from us.  The epicenter was about 3.7 miles down.

I expect opponents of fracking and deep well disposal to make the most of it.  Although they may have valid concerns, they need to stick to facts.  As usual, I like to do my own research.  Here is what I found:

  • Oil wells in Michigan sometimes reach 11,000 feet deep.  That’s a smidge over two miles.  The quake epicenter was nearly twice as far down.
  • The deepest waste injection well in the quake area is less than 1-1/2 miles deep.
  • Although earthquakes are uncommon in Michigan, a few have resulted in minor damage such as cracked plaster, broken windows, and the occasional toppled chimney.  The Kalamazoo area experienced such quakes in 1883 and 1947.  Today’s quake was pretty much on schedule, but weaker.

Okay, there’s my research.  Don’t trust it.  Do your own.  A good place to start is earthquake.usgs.gov.  Then look up state drilling and well records.  This will work wherever you are, so you can check out your local tremors, as well..

Posted by: Don Bemis | March 4, 2015

Grandpossum

It’s nice to be thought of,…

… I think.

My phone rang just before quitting time today.  It wasn’t the credit card scammer from the Virgin Islands who had called earlier, but two grandchildren from New Hampshire.

There was a possum in their yard.

I wrote a book called Possum the Awesome for our grandkids a couple of years ago.

Now, when they see a fat, smelly possum, they immediately think of Grandpapa.

Posted by: Don Bemis | July 15, 2014

Mermoles

Our yard is pretty wild, and we like it that way.  We can sit on the new backyard patio, surrounded by birds and fuzzy things.

And mermoles.

Mosquitoes, too, which is why we have mermoles.

You see, we also have a pond.  Not quite five feet long and just over a foot deep, it’s a polyethylene oasis with a little splashing fountain.  The fountain aerates the water so it won’t smell like a cesspool.

The mermoles are so the mosquitoes won’t mistake it for a nursery.  The water was getting full of wrigglers when we went to the store and bought two goldfish.

Or so we thought.

The wrigglers were gone in no time at all, and the goldfish were larger.  Now we find ourselves detouring to the pond on our way between house and garage so we can say “hi” to the fish.  We even put up little solar path lights so we can watch them at night while flailing at mosquitoes.  Then we go back into the house, close the door against the bugs, and listen to the fountain through the window.

That is when the mermoles come out.

We have never seen the mermoles, but so far this summer, we have fished out two drowned common moles, one terminally sodden star-nosed mole, and, this afternoon, a defunct vole.

Moles have a few things going against them.  First of all, they don’t see at all well, so they’re probably easy to fool.  Also, they must be incurable romantics, considering how many little moles are born to make yards lumpy.

Imagine:  A mole pushes his way into the lamplight, and what does he see?  A golden apparition, dancing on its tail, singing in dulcet tones,

O manly mole, come, come to me;

We’ll hunt for grubs beneath the sea!

SPLASH!

Good-bye, mole.

A few nights later,

O lovely mole, with nose like flower,

You mesmerize me with your power.

GLUB…

Wait a week. 

Not one, but TWO glistening forms gliding to the edge, with come-hither looks in their bulging eyes…

“Hello, sailor, new in town?”

“Ooh, those big paddly feet give me chills!”

KERSPLOSH!

And last night, by the light of the fireflies,

Why should I settle for a mole

When I could love thee, mighty Vole?

Bad move, Vole.

What next?  The mermoles had better not get too sure of themselves.

What is so rare as a day in June,

Or luring in a fat raccoon?

Posted by: Don Bemis | May 29, 2014

Killer Animals of Death

It was my turn to give the safety presentation at work today…

Killer Animals of Death

  • Possum
    • Immune to snakebite and rabies.
    • Only live about 4 years due to parasites and taste for road kill.
    • Fifty teeth, more than any other mammal.
    • Rotten disposition.
  • Raccoon
    • Cute, but not cuddly.
    • They don’t like you.
    • Carry rabies and other diseases.
    • Sort of housebroken; will go where you least want them to.  Cleanup is a health hazard.
    • Local Nature Center would not rehabilitate raccoons for safety reasons.
  • Mole
    • Dangerous to grubs.
    • Also dangerous to Type “A” gardeners with high blood pressure.
    • In your efforts to rid your lawn of this peril, don’t endanger the pets & kids.
  • Bambi
    • Large.
    • Social, but oblivious, like texting teenagers.  If you see one, expect more.
    • Poor road manners.
    • Illogical when in rut.
  • Bullwinkle
    • Even larger.
    • Superiority complex.
    • Grouchy.
    • High center of gravity.  In a crash, half a ton of meat is coming your way.
    • Thankfully, they don’t live in our part of Michigan.
  • Skunk
    • A kind of weasel.
    • Fearless.
    • Significant rabies vector in the Southwest.
    • It’s safer to stink than swerve, but try telling that to your steering wheel.
  • Red-Winged Blackbird
    • Highly territorial.
    • Aggressive during nesting season.
    • Nest along some of the prettiest running paths.
  • Turkey
    • Large.
    • Familiarity breeds contempt.  Feed them, and they will feel familiar.
    • Congregate in trees.
    • Not housebroken.
    • Bad news for motorcyclists.

They don’t care about your safety.

Posted by: Don Bemis | April 26, 2014

Don’t try this at home.

Or anybody else’s home.

Blame the sunlight. Sunlight does strange things to Michiganders after long, grey winters. True, it’s only 42 degrees, but at least the snow is gone for the moment.

Lois and I went downtown to the Farmers’ Market, and she took along some yarn to give to a friend who might be there. The friend wasn’t. So we drove to the friend’s house. I sat in the car, and Lois rang the doorbell. Then she disappeared inside.

“It’s a beautiful day,” thought I to myself. “Why am I sitting in this car, when I could be enjoying the sun?” I killed the engine and got out.

…Let’s step into the house for a moment…

FRIEND: “Lois, your car is moving.”
LOIS: “That’s okay. Don’s in it.”
FRIEND: “No, he isn’t.”

…Meanwhile, back in the driveway, Don was chasing his car…

Gently and quietly, it had begun to roll backward. It slowly accelerated and curved toward the street. Like a dope, I yanked the door open and hoped to get at the brake. Dumb. That only works for stunt drivers, with lots of retakes. If I had actually tried to get into the car, I might have slipped beneath it instead. That thought did cross my mind, so I didn’t try to jump in.

I did the next dumbest thing instead, running alongside and tugging at the door handle. Honda Civics are light, but not that light.

That was when I noticed the signpost. A speed limit sign, I think, but we weren’t going anywhere near the speed limit. What a useless sign, especially when a car door is coming toward it.

The door did not hit the signpost. It protected itself with my leg. The car gently bumped over the curb and stopped in the parking lane, just as it would have if I had stayed back and watched the show.

My leg did not break. For that, I am grateful. The door broke instead, opening far wider and more loudly than it was ever supposed to do. Maybe I would have been more grateful if it could have been closed afterward.

It was a good adventure, mostly. I’m still walking, even if I’ll be purple by tomorrow. If I had set the brake, or if I had just let the car run away, we would not have had our impromptu, overdue visit while waiting for the tow truck. God does like his little jokes while steering us when we think we’re in charge.

Posted by: Don Bemis | March 11, 2014

Bang! Thud! Oh, my!

I like mystery novels.  I like some suspense novels.  I even wrote one.

G.K. Chesterton.  Rex Stout.  Tony Hillerman.  Edgar Allen Poe.  H.R.F. Keating (sometimes).

Agatha Christie.  Dorothy Sayers.  Helen MacInnes.  Ngaio Marsh.  Elizabeth Peters.  Ellis Peters.  Lillian Jackson Braun.

More than half of my favorite mystery/suspense authors are female.  They write differently, more cerebrally.  Irony is big.  That having been said, my favorite male authors also tend to be more subtle than my less favorite mystery/suspense authors.

Here is a gross stylistic comparison:

MALE AUTHORS:

Bang!  Thud!

FEMALE AUTHORS:

Oh!  Something thudded!

MALE:

He raced into the room.

FEMALE:

She stared.

MALE:

He crashed to the ground.

FEMALE:

She shut the door.

I’m guilty, too.  32 people died, 31 from unnatural deaths, in Dead Aggies Don’t Drive Trains.  Thirty of the unnaturally deceased were male.  The one natural death was on Page 1.

Posted by: Don Bemis | March 1, 2014

Jack Frost, give me back my toes!

As much as we love Michigan and enjoy winter, this is starting to get old.  We had snow before Thanksgiving, and it’s still going strong in March.  I don’t know how much more of this global warming we can handle.

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