Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Halloween Story

Most days this week were damply gray, with headlights shimmering on rain-polished pavement in mid-afternoon.

A week of watching rain run like cold sweat down the window might have inspired me to write about room 313 of the Belvedere Union Grand Hotel downtown. Instead, I found myself remembering a story my father told, about a college prank.

It happened in the late fifties, in a town near Chicago. One of the local points of interest was the old Seely place. Old Amos Seely had inherited the place, along with a small fortune, back in the twenties, and had managed to hold ownership of the massive collection of Victorian towers and brickwork through the Depression.

Amos Seely led a solitary and frugal life in the huge old place, and died a year after Eisenhower was elected. He had never married, and had no close relatives. The house wound up in the hands of some distant cousins, who found it impossible to sell and difficult to rent.

The old Seely place sat empty for almost five years by the time this particular Halloween rolled around.

By then, a story had grown that old Amos Seely was haunting the place. Hanging on to his wealth and house had, the story said, become so much of a habit that he couldn't let go: even in death.

Like a new-world Jacob Marley, he walked the halls in chains, crying for someone to release him.

Whoops. I've run out of room. I'll finish this next week.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Becoming One With Nature, Using a Unicycle and a Tree

Stan Parks, owner-operator of S. Parks Computers on Center Avenue, is an active member of the Taurus Association. Their goal is to save the world through unicycling.

The Taurus Association motto, One World: One Wheel, sums up their vision. This non-profit wants to replace the automobile with the unicycle.

I've heard people talk about using bicycles instead of cars, but unicycles was something new to me. As Stan Parks explained it, since the unicycle has only one wheel, it has only half the environmental impact of a bicycle.

This summer, Stan Parks showed me how unicycles could replace recreational vehicles like ATVs. At least, that was the idea.

Driving out to Raspberry Lake Trail, he explained how much better it was to ride a unicycle, than drive an ATV through the woods. With no motor, he said, it was a lot easier to ‘become one with nature.'

I'll admit that I was impressed, when Stan Parks showed how he could cycle up the trail, hop over small branches, and maneuver around larger obstacles.

His return was even more spectacular. Becoming airborne after jumping a branch, he kept his balance: but shot southeast as the trail turned south. He slowed down enough so that, when he hit a tree, the unicycle came through with only a bent seat. Stan was okay, and the tree is fine, apart from some scuffing.

I like to get out for a walk in the woods sometimes, but if that's becoming ‘one with nature,' I pass.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

About Leaf Blowers, Wild Flowers, and Raking

I've never minded leaf blowers myself. That whining roar is as much a part of what I grew up with, as the sound of lawnmowers. But, some people don't like the sound. At all.

Howard Leland, who converted his back yard into a butterfly preserve back in 2005, met with the city council to ban leaf blowers twice: Once, in 2003, because they were too loud; again in 2006, because exhaust fumes from the leaf blowers were making his milkweeds and wild flowers sick. He put it a little more scientifically than that, but that's the gist of it.

A week after that 2006 meeting, Glenn Severtson, a neighbor of Mr. Leland's, invited Howard and the other homeowners on that block to the Whistle Stop Cafe. They spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon there, talking about Mr. Leland's yard-full of milkweed, fireweed, columbine, goldenrod, and so forth; and their leaf blowers.

When it was over, they'd agreed that Mr. Leland wouldn't try to get leaf blowers banned in Loonfoot Falls, if they'd stop using leaf blowers. Mr. Leland said that he'd make sure their yards got raked.

In the autumn of 2007, Howard Leland was out daily for well over a week, getting one yard after another raked. He told me that it was great exercise: better than jogging.

He also told me that he was getting a leaf blower for the job this year. He's not giving up his principles, he explained. The blower's motor is electric.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Loonfoot Falls Cleaned Up Taft Campaign, 100 Years Ago Today

William Howard Taft's said his presidential campaign was "one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life."

I think his campaign train's stop in Loonfoot Falls may have been part of the reason.

On a Saturday morning, a century ago, Taft's campaign train, the Presidential Special, arrived in Loonfoot Falls. A large crowd, Loonfoot Falls' mayor, the town band, and a driving rain were there to greet him.

While Mr. Taft was addressing the people of Loonfoot Falls from the limited shelter of his observation car's overhang, the fireman was filling the locomotive tender's water tank from the water plug: a tank and spout contraption near the coaling tower.

The Loonfoot Chronicle, as the town's paper was called then, records that the rain was coming down even harder when Mr. Taft wound up his speech. As the Presidential Special began pulling out of the station, the band struck up "Anchors Aweigh." As the crowd cheered, Mr. Taft waved his hat in farewell. Ironically, he was wearing a straw boater.

As the observation car, with Mr. Taft inside, was passing the water plug, the plug swung free from it's mooring and struck the car's roof. At that point, hundreds of gallons of water from in the water plug's tank began pouring onto the observation car roof.

The Loonfoot Chronicle records that, after assuring everyone from the mayor to the band director that no one had been hurt, Mr. Taft thanked Loonfoot Falls for giving his car such a thorough washing.
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