June 2015 Archives

Desert Willow: Destruction & Rehab
June 26, 2015 3:15 PM | Posted in: ,

Alert Gazette readers may recall my report on the Great Ice Storm of 2015, in which I chronicled the apparent destruction of the beautiful desert willow in our back yard. That event was heartbreaking, and it even made the cover (with accompanying article) [PDF] of the newsletter for the Texas chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture. That was a dubious recognition, to be sure, and at the time I thought it might be an obituary.

Six months later, though, the outlook is brighter, thanks to a tree's stubborn persistence (and a little bit of elbow grease on my part). I'm happy to report that we may have the equivalent of a phoenix rising from its ashes in the form of our back yard willow.

Let's trace the major stops in this journey of rebirth, shall we?

It's New Year's Eve 2014 in Midland, Texas, and we're starting to see a bit of winter in the form of a light coating of ice. We weren't particularly concerned at this point; the tree was actually kind of pretty.

Tree on 12/31/14

However, disaster struck two days later, when a stronger ice storm followed that initial event. At 9:45 a.m. the tree was starting to show the burden of the accumulating ice.

Tree on 1/2/15

Over the course of the next hour, the thickening layers of ice began to break major limbs on the tree, as you can see in this photo taken at 11:00 a.m.

Tree on 1/2/15

An hour later, the tree was stressed beyond its limits and the trunk split down to below ground level. This picture was taken at 12:30 p.m.

Tree on 1/2/15

I knew the broken limbs couldn't be salvaged, so I immediately took them off with a bow saw. Here's what the tree looked like by 1:00 p.m. that same day.

Tree on 1/2/15

At this point, all I could think about was how we were going to get rid of the carcass, and what might go in its place. It's worth noting that some have estimated that as many as 40% of the trees in Midland suffered damage from this ice storm, so we were not alone.

However, a couple of weeks later I began to wonder if there was some way to at least make the tree look better, whether we decided to keep it or not. I used a ratcheting tiedown to pull the tree trunk back together (sort of), drilled a hole through both halves, and bolted a threaded metal rod with big washers on each side to hold it in place. (When I grow up, I now want to be an orthopedic surgeon.) I had no illusions that this was a cure, but at least the sight of the tree didn't make us want to cry. Here's how it looked on January 16th.

Tree on 1/16/15

Fast forward a few months. Spring rolls around and in typical desert survival fashion, the tree seems to not realize it's been mortally wounded, as you can see from this photo from April 29th.

Tree on 4/29/15

Cute, huh? But, seriously, nothing that hints at something we can work with. However, I'm having trouble working up the energy to do much about it, other than remove some of the remaining limbs that were hanging over the fence into the alley.

May comes around, as it inevitably does, and we get rainfall bordering on record amounts, and the tree gets a growth spurt that would make any adolescent boy proud. By June 5th, the tree begins to vaguely resemble Wilson, the volleyball that kept Tom Hanks company in the movie Castaway.

Tree on 6/5/15

The tree is now putting on new growth so quickly that you can almost see it in real time. In just over two weeks, it looks like a shrub on steroids, as this picture from June 21st illustrates.

Tree on 6/21/15

At this point, we decide we should just roll with it and see how things play out. There are still some wayward limbs that don't fit in with the new aesthetic...

Tree on 6/25/15

...but the trusty (and only somewhat rusty) bow saw makes short work of them. The result - for now anyway - is the reborn tree shown below that we'll allow to develop the remainder of this year, and then do some additional shaping in the off-season. The moral of the story? Never give up on Mother Nature. Life is resilient, if given the chance.

Tree on 6/25/15 after final pruning

Note: I'm not a professional arborist, and I haven't consulted one, which might be a mistake. If you have any suggestions based on actual experience to help us mold this tree into a masterpiece, feel free to share them.

Car Repair Customer Service Done Right
June 20, 2015 10:19 AM | Posted in: ,

Note: The following is an unabashed plug for a local business. If you're a competitor, don't take it personally. Better yet, use it as motivation.

So, my truck suddenly developed a rather severe front-end shimmy (a highly technical automotive term, implying that my vehicle was demon-possessed), and I began to imagine all sorts of complicated (and expensive) issues. When my usual strategy of ignoring mechanical issues until they went away didn't work, I decided to seek professional help. 

LogoI'd had some mildly unsatisfactory encounters with the dealership, so I did some research and selected Christian Brothers Automotive, a nationally franchised business, as the Shop Least Likely To Disappoint And/Or Bankrupt Me. The business had a very high ratio of positive-to-negative reviews on Google (including at least one from someone I knew), plus their location and hours were very convenient. Here's what happened...

I arrived at the shop a couple of minutes before opening time at 7:00 a.m. Not only were the doors unlocked and the lights on - something that hadn't always been the case at the dealership's advertised opening time - but they were instantly ready to help. I didn't have to wait for the computer to boot up, or for the coffee to finish brewing, or for the front-desk guy to adjust his attitude.

I explained the problem, gave them my contact information and key, and was assured of a call as soon as they'd had a chance to check things out. I was in their clean and comfortable courtesy car (driven by the shop's very personable owner, Trey) on my way to the office by 7:15.

I got a call shortly before 8:00 telling me that they had narrowed things down to a possible issue with one of the tires, and asking permission to rotate a couple of them to test the theory. I told them where to find the security socket for the locking lug nuts, and hung up with another assurance of a call when they had something else to report.

I had another call before 9:00 telling me that the tire swap had indeed eliminated the shimmy issue, but that I probably should get a replacement tire pretty quickly. They theorized that the tire might be delaminating on the inside, since there was no obvious external defect. In any event, the truck was ready to go, and I was relieved to know that there were no complicated (and expensive) repairs to deal with (not that a new tire is an inexpensive proposition nowadays*).

My wife dropped me off at the shop at lunch and I went in the office to settle up. They grabbed my key off the rack, handed it to me, and said "you're all set."

"Uh...OK...but what do I owe you?"

"Nothing. You don't owe us anything."

"Wait a minute...I know you spent some time working on it; surely you need to get paid for that."

"Don't worry about it. Have a great day!"

Alrighty then. That, my friends, is a textbook strategy for creating loyal customers. Customers who also act as evangelists for the business. Customers like, well, yours truly.

*The cloudy lining to this blue sky story is that the following day I had to drop $300 on a new tire. Another technical car repair term is "ouch."

When Species Collide
June 19, 2015 3:32 PM | Posted in: ,

Red Fox
Update (6/21/15) - A lot of people have asked if we're feeding this fox, and that's why he's in our yard so often. The answer is an emphatic "no." I have no doubt that there are some people who are providing food, perhaps inadvertently, in the form of cat or dog food, but I would never leave food for a wild animal. They shouldn't get too comfortable around, or come to depend on humans. Having said that, I do leave a five gallon bucket of rain water uncovered on our back porch, and I've seen the fox get a drink from it from time to time.

If you've spent much time around mockingbirds, you probably know that they're quite territorial, and will vigorously defend what they believe to be their personal space (which is generally arbitrary and expansive). I've shared this before but on at least one occasion I've worn a motorcycle helmet while mowing the lawn to protect my head from a spiteful mockingbird.

I've seen them repeatedly dive at cats, squirrels, and dogs; they're seemingly fearless, and quite persistent. (At the risk of being overly anthropomorphic, I don't believe they're sadistic, like blue jays, which have been known to swoop down and grab baby birds of other species and then drop them to their deaths, seemingly for the fun of it.)

So, it was no great surprise when I witnessed a mockingbird harassing our back yard fox earlier this week. We suspect there's a nest hidden in the thick foliage of the Mexican elder that's planted next to the back wall. I was fortunate enough to have my video camera running when it happened.



By the way - let me put this as delicately as possible - if you watch closely toward the end of the video, I believe there's evidence that dispels the question of whether we're dealing with a regnard or a vixen.

Filling the Dance Gap
June 16, 2015 9:48 PM | Posted in: ,

I spent much of a Sunday afternoon downloading Seventies and Eighties TV show theme songs from iTunes and editing them* into gain-consistent 20-second clips with tasteful fade-ins and -outs to serve as fillers between songs in the playlist I'm compiling for an upcoming ballroom dance. If this sounds like fun, you must be a geek, like me. 

You may wonder why a ballroom dance would require the Batman theme as a transition between a fox trot and a waltz. It's a good question, and the answer is simple: it doesn't. But the interval between songs in a prerecorded playlist poses a challenge for the dance DJ or playlist organizer. Continuous music doesn't allow the dancers to gracefully exit the floor to either change partners or take a breather; a comfortable gap solves this problem. 

Now, if a live band has any kind of personality at all, it can fill the space with banter, but with a prerecorded playlist, the gap turns into an awkward silence. One solution is to provide a snippet of music to serve as a transition, such as this one:



Choosing the right music for this purpose presents its own challenge. A snippet of an actual dance song might lead some to believe that it was meant for, well, dancing, and that's awkward in and of itself, as it fades out after twenty seconds. I've found that people respond well to something whimsical and completely different from the dance music, and old TV or movie theme songs seem to perfectly fit the bill.

Not only does this approach fill the silence while providing time for the dancers to do whatever they need to do between songs, it also provides a source of conversation as they attempt to identify some familiar jingles that they may not have heard in a long time. However, one must consider the likely demographics of the attendees, who may be more familiar with the theme from I Love Lucy than that from Friends (or vice versa).

The downside to using filler music, or for that matter, filler silence, is that there's that much less music for dancing. A typical dance set for our group is about fifty minutes, with a ten minute break. That's time enough for about fifteen continuous songs/dances, but a 20-second spacer after each song means that you'll get one or two fewer dances per set. To be honest, most people don't dance to every song in a set, so that's not a big deal. And for those who have the energy to continue dancing, I'll populate the breaks with music, although those songs tend to be out on the fringes of acceptable ballroom dance tunes (think polkas, or country 2 Step, or cumbias).
 
*I use an audio editing app called DSP Quattro for tasks like this. Now that Apple has dropped its DRM from music purchased from the iTunes Store, you can edit songs directly from your hard drive, although the app must first convert them from the native .m4a format to the .aiff format.

Dancing Batman illustration created by Jesse Lonergan 

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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