Caveat: a blog post in which Arthur is retrieved from the airport but no pictures are given

I went and got Arthur from the airport. Our friend Jan was generous in this. I have tire chains attached to the Blueberry, because the 6-Mile Hill on our road is a treacherous skating rink of ice. But driving the 10 miles each way from Craig to the Klawock airport with chains on the car would be quite tedious – that’s plowed and paved highway with a speed limit of 50mph, while chains limit the vehicle to 20mph or so. And removing and re-adding the chains is of course a bit onerous. Jan let me park my car at her house in town in Craig and then borrow her car to get to the airport. I got Arthur at about 6pm (his flight arrived early), we drove back to Craig in her car, and then switched to the Blueberry for the slow drive out the Port Saint Nicholas Expressway to home.

So Arthur is home. He said, “I’m glad to be home.” He paused 3 beats. “I think.” He’s referring to the cold, I believe. He’s had a somewhat ambivalent feeling about having selected this Alaskan getaway as his retirement abode ever since his accident. He feels that his body’s interior thermostat isn’t as tolerant of cold as it was before. And indeed it’s possible that was one of the aspects of his brain-body interface that may have been scrambled by the stroke.


Caveat: A bitter taste

The doctors said that I might regain some nerve-endings over time. They do grow back, sometimes.

Many of you know that I lost 90% or so of my taste buds, with my cancer surgery and tongue reconstruction. For these past years, the main taste I can experience has been “salt.” The others are almost non-existent. It doesn’t quite impair my ability to enjoy “taste” in the broader sense – at least half of what we think of as taste is not related to the taste buds at all but rather to things like smell and what is called “mouthfeel” – texture, I guess.

A few years ago I suddenly regained feeling on the back of my hand where it had been lost when they extracted nerve and muscle tissue for my surgery. Those nerves grew back.

Recently, over the past few months, everything I eat has begun tasting bitter. I don’t think I’ve suddenly become a bad cook for myself. I think what’s more likely is that some of the “bitter” taste buds in my tongue have somehow reactivated. And so things are tasting bitter.

I see karmic irony in this, given I’ve been in an emotionally bitter state since the disappointing news about my residency status with respect to the University of Alaska’s teacher certification program. Which bitterness drives the other?

Perhaps I’ll mull the question over a nice bitter cup of coffee.

Caveat: Unchained

It turns out that my adventure last Friday with the Blueberry in the driveway involved one of the snow chains (on the tires) actually breaking. So today, having decided to re-attempt my journey to town, I ended up having to do an emergency repair to the tire chains. I used a hammer and the bench vice in the shop.


The tire chains seem to be of low quality, frankly. I like the old-fashioned kind that have actual chain links. Our neighbor-down-the-road Joe came by as I was working on this, and assured me I was smart to be intending to use chains to get into town. He had chains on his much heavier-duty truck, and he’s an experienced truck driver. Indeed, as I later headed into town, the road at the 6 mile hill was like an ice rink but tilted 10°. It felt quite treacherous.

I had very little confidence in my repair job. I decided to ask around and see if anyone was selling chains in town – with the recent weather, they’d be making a killing. I got lucky – it turned out the single gas station / auto shop in town, Schaub-Ellison, in fact was not only selling chains but had the Tahoe’s wheel size in stock. I shelled out 150 bucks and got a new set of chains. Hopefully they will be of better quality.

Caveat: Kerosene

One of my periodic tasks here is to keep the kerosene heater in the boathouse (the lowest level of the house – it’s integrated to the “shop” which is the house’s basement) filled so that it can keep the boathouse’s interior temperature above freezing. This is important because the house’s water supply (and the main filters for it) run through the boathouse, given it’s the oldest part of the house. It is also uninsulated and has metal siding, meaning it loses heat rapidly when unheated and is likely quite inefficient to keep warm.

The kerosene heater has a 1 or 2 gallon tank, that needs to be removed and filled once a day when it’s not too cold. But as it gets colder (it’s 15° F / -10° C as I write this) this needs to be refilled more frequently. There is a 5 gallon plastic container for the kerosene, stored near the heater in the shop, which is in turn filled from the large outdoor storage tank. So I sometimes go to the storage tank and get a refill.

The kerosene heater is efficient, but it strikes me as impractical in this setting because although it burns kerosene, it has an electrical control that renders it useless if there is no power. In an extended power outage, it could not be used to heat the boathouse.


If I were to propose any single major project to Arthur to improve his house, it would be to figure out how to get the boathouse insulated. The spray-on insulation he used on the similar “kitchen shed” works well, but it was a nightmare to apply originally and for many years it was outgassing hazardous chemicals. The latter is not something Arthur ever cared about, but I’d rather not repeat that. I reckon the best insulation strategy for the boathouse would be some kind if inner frame (of wood or plastic) built within the boathouse walls, which could hold foam insulation or fiberglass and have some kind of outside layer – plywood or sheetrock, etc.

Caveat: adventures not even leaving the driveway

I had a quite difficult and disappointing day. No major disaster. But a lot of work, and farther behind than when the day started.

As background – we have received a great deal of snow over the past week.

I had decided to go to town this morning. Somehow since coming back up here after Thanksgiving, I moved “go to town day” from Thursday to Friday. The reason Arthur goes on Thursday is because there is a senior discount at the grocery on Thursdays. The store is often a bit crowded. Since I’m not eligible for the discount, I don’t feel constrained to Thursday. Thus Friday became the day.

I was out the door early, by 8 AM. But that’s because a lot of snow has fallen since I last drove to town. At least a foot, perhaps more.

I spent time shoveling the stairs to the driveway and parts of the driveway.

I felt smart, because I decided to just go ahead and put the chains on. That’s a big hassle, but the road hadn’t been well plowed. I shoveled some of the way in front of the car. But I figured with the chains and a running start I could make it up the rest of the driveway through the snow to the road.

That might have worked, except apparently I did a lousy job putting on the chains – they both got off the tires and next thing I know I was going sideways.

Arthur has a pile of scrap sheet metal (really leftover steel siding from his quonset-style sheds he built) piled alongside the east side of the driveway. And the car ended up more or less on top of that. I was good and stuck.

I had to jack up the car to take off the chains – they were trapped under the tires.

I had to dig out and move all the sheet metal from under the car, as well as some plastic culvert – which fortunately wasn’t damaged.

And I was working on how to get the chains back on when an angel driving a road grader (to plow the road) came by. Pat, who lives at around 10.5 mile, in every way an archetypal sweet grandma, happens to drive a road grader, and does so of her own sweet goodwill to support the south-of-the-inlet community.

Pat had some chains on the grader, which we attached to the front of the Blueberry to extract it from its dilemma. It took a few tries to get the right angle to pull it onto the road rather than throw it down Dean’s driveway – the snow was very slippery and the driveway is steeper than it looks.

Once the Blueberry was on the road – now just graded (plowed) – Pat went on her way and I made the decision to not try to clear the driveway to Art’s place – it was steep with mud and snow now pushed up in banks by the spinning wheels. It was a mess. Instead, I went over to the west lot (73) – the new driveway Richard made last spring – and shoveled out a nice, flat, road-level parking space for the Blueberry. And there she will stay, until I get super ambitious and shovel out the existing driveway, or until some of the snow melts. But at the moment, it’s snowing more.

It was almost noon by the time I got the Blueberry parked in its new spot. I decided not to go into town. Pat was grading the road, but it was still snowing. I expected the road to be treacherous at points into town. And I’m not in dire straights.

An adventure. But not good for my sense of self-confidence or self-sufficiency.

Some pictures.

Stuck against the pile of sheet metal.


Chains trapped under the tire.


Retrieving the chains using the jack.


Angel with a road grader.


The aftermath.


A new parking spot excavated on the west lot.



Caveat: Sitting Among the Snowdrifts

I need to talk about procrastination.

It’s easy to do, in this hermetic space on the edge of civilization, encased in fresh-fallen snow and betrayed by the bureaucracies that lurk just over the horizon.

I had been highly motivated in the fall to become a full-time student in the University of Alaska’s online teacher certification program. That fell apart, as I’ve noted before, due to the stringent, two-year basis of the state’s concept of “residency.” I would be subject to exhorbitant out-of-state tuition, and decided to forgo the privilege. Hopefully I can try again next year.

Meanwhile, I had already registered for a set of tests-for-credit to fulfill some outstanding prerequisites. Two parts of US History, and Intro to Psychology. I had scheduled the tests for the 13th of January, because given the online classes would have been starting the week before, it seemed the best way to maximize study time and still not end up overwhelmed once classes started.

So I told myself, after I decided to delay starting the online program for a year, that I would just take the scheduled tests anyway. It’d keep me busy during this hiatus while Art was still down south.

Unfortunately, that didn’t work. When the pressure is off, I tend to procrastinate. And the pressure was definitely off. There was no way to trick my mind into thinking these tests were important, when their “due date” was now more than a year off.

Last night I took a set of practice tests. Their results clearly show that my studying, such as it has been, hasn’t really been effective. Of course, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I might, indeed, be able to pass the tests. But not in the “summa cum laude” way that is my accustomed academic mode.

Further, there is no penalty in delaying the tests. I believe when I registered the only deadline is something like 8 months from registration. I have until summer to get them done without extra cost.

I have therefore elected to delay them. I specified a March date, only because I had to specify something. The test date is easily moved – the testing center in Ketchikan has several slots every week.

But I feel guilty.

I also had made a firm commitment to do something about a more generic job search once returning to the island. I made up new resumes, dropped feelers among my acquaintances, but have hardly been assiduous in follow up. It’s too easy to settle into a routine, here.

I put in some time outside: firewood, shoveling snow, maintaining the RV, checking that our water system is handling the cold, etc.

I put in time on my computer: maintaining my blog and server and websites, admin stuff on the geofiction website, trying to solve certain puzzles related to making my websites “cleaner” and more professional and better-coded.

What else? Study time happens, but not as it should (see above). I read some in various books-in-progress. I have developed a new hobby of reading a few well-written “web-comics.” This is an emergent genre – essentially graphic (i.e. pictorial) novels published online. They were extraordinarily popular among my students during my last years in Korea, and I made several efforts to get into some of the Korean ones at that time, in hopes it would inspire me to improve my Korean. I suppose it did, a bit, but the slog of reading them with dictionary in hand was hard to keep up. One English-language one that I’ve been enjoying is called Seed. It is science-fiction, essentially: a psychologically interesting set of characters dealing with a rogue Artificial Intelligence.

I admit that although I love the snow – it’s gorgeous and calming and I have no concerns about the chance of isolation or the work involved in shoveling out the stairs whatever, it does rather de-motivate me vis-a-vis any project to get out to town, whether job search or anything else. Heavy snow is about staying home and looking out the windows, not about going to town on treacherous roads in hopes of getting a dead-end job out of a sense of obligation to be “productive.”

I feel guilty about abusing my family’s generosity and Arthur’s “hospitality” (despite the notion, too, that I’m presumeably serving a genuinely useful care-taker role with him, which his disavowals of disability make difficult to maintain). I think if I was truly self-sufficient, I’d not feel guilty for being a currently “unproductive” member of society. I feel sufficiently creative in my various pursuits – my poetry, my offline writing efforts, my programming work on my websites – such that I am contributing to the world, just not for remuneration at the moment.

And that’s the news from this side of Port Saint Nicholas, here in Rockpit, Alaska.

Caveat: Changeable Weather

It can be interesting seeing the shifts in weather. These shifts seem more noticeable when it gets colder. I think it has to do with a change from the monotonic and endless fronts of Pacific rain to the colder continental airmasses that sometimes make it out this far.

Yesterday, I happened to capture this with a series of pictures from the deck looking north toward the mountain across the water.

8 AM.


10 AM.





Caveat: Snow Generator

I’m trying to make a habit of once a month, around the beginning of that month, to go and check the GDC (RV). I run the engine for 30 minutes, with the heater full blast, to heat things up inside. I start and run the generator for while to make sure it still works. I check the inside and make sure no major mold or such is growing.

It was snowing pretty hard as I did that this morning.



Caveat: Beetling toward the end

The VW corporation is officially retiring the Beetle after 70 years.

Actually, they retired the model once before but then resurrected it in the form of the New Beetle. And in fact the old Beetles lived on in countries like Mexico and Brazil. In Mexico, for example, I believe they only stopped manufacturing old Beetles in 2003, while in Brazil, they continued to be made until 2006.

I have owned 5 cars in my life. 3 of them were Beetles (old types). It’s the only car where I was able to take apart and put the engine together successfully. I lived in my Beetle for a summer in 1985.

The first bug I owned had been my mom’s before it was mine. We traveled in it across Canada in 1977. The car was known as “Betsy.”

Here is Betsy in Ontario in the summer of 77.


Later I drove Betsy through 25 states and she died in the town of Normal, Illinois, in late 1985. I sold her to a kid named Derrick for $50.

My second bug had been my grandmother’s, and when she died in the late 80’s I inherited it. That car was known as “Rog.”

I had it with me until I was living in Philadelphia in 1997, when Michelle and I sold it because we were broke. It was a sad.

My third bug I bought when living in L.A. and Burbank in 2000. It was named “Vato,” because it was a very Mexican-seeming bug – it had been “lowered” and had one of those vato-ized, mini steering wheels. But it was a good car.

It caught on fire and died on the 134 Freeway near Glendale, I think, one day when my dad was driving it.


Caveat: Tree #365

A year’s worth of trees. More or less.

I was with Arthur visiting his brother, my other uncle, Alan, in Colorado. I found myself struck by the stark trees in the snowscape there, and decided to take pictures of trees.

Without regret, I present a tree, one year on.


I suppose some readers of this here blog thingy™ will feel that it’s a bit tedious and definitely lazy, all these trees. Where is the idiosyncratic, random content of old?

It still crops up, I guess. The character of the blog has evolved, over the years, there’s no denying. It’s more anodyne, now, in some respects. I’m sorry. I have come to appreciate the daily poems and trees as a way to ensure I get something posted every day, even when I’m uninspired. I lean on them as habits, to force a communication with a world that I otherwise would quickly neglect. Which is a way to say, “Sorry if the trees are boring, but they’re better than nothing at all, right?”

Have a happy new year.

picture[daily log: walking, 1km]

Caveat: Temperance

Some people know I mess with tarot cards.

I don’t believe them at all. I am an empiricist and a rationalist, and committed to that. But I also enjoy apophenia – the misreading of random data as meaningful. It strikes me as a deeply human trait. And my interest in tarot is probably related to that – in this random set of cards, we’ve imbued each card with many layers of semiotic detritus, and then we can plow through the cards and find some interesting meanings, perhaps leading to reflection.

Well I pulled a card to define my year, 2020. And got the card called “Temperance.”

I pulled a series of cards to to define my month, January, and the summary card was again “Temperance.”

I  guess I could consider temperance – what is it, exactly?



Caveat: hay montes

Penas (Verso XXXIV)

¡Penas! ¿Quién osa decir
Que tengo yo penas? Luego,
Después del rayo, y del fuego,
Tendré tiempo de sufrir.

Yo sé de un pesar profundo
Entre las penas sin nombres:
¡La esclavitud de los hombres
Es la gran pena del mundo!

Hay montes, y hay que subir
Los montes altos; ¡después
Veremos, alma, quién es
Quien te me ha puesto al morir!

- Jose Marti (poeta cubano, 1853-1895)

This poem was recently brought to my attention because my friend Bob asked if I could provide some insight and translation for the poem, for a choral production he’s working on that includes this text set to music. It seems not that different from other things I’ve blogged, and given how sparse my blog has been intellectually, of late, I thought I might as well post what I gave him here.

It’s important to separate who Martí actually was from the mythical being he’s been made into by subsequent generations of Cubans of all political stripes. He was a classical liberal, and in an aesthetic school called “modernismo” -not exactly the same as “modernism” because of different circumstances. He spent a lot of time in the US during various exiles from Cuba, and was heavily influenced by US poets such as Walt Whitman. He was no communist, but he was aware of Marx and I believe may have interacted some with socialists and communists and anarchists in Europe – you take your allies where you can find them. He did believe in universal human rights as that doctrine emerged from the wake of the abolition movements of the 19th century.

I do believe this poem is political. He was fighting for Cuban independence from Spain, inspired by the liberal fantasies (ideals) exemplified to whatever degree of accuracy by the US, Mexico, Guatemala – all countries where he spent time. So what he’s saying is that the time for self-pity is over. Stop complaining and get up and fight for your freedom, fellow Cubans = fellow humans everywhere. That’s how I interpret it. There are mountains we should be climbing, now, battles to be fought. We’ll let God sort out later who was good and who was bad.

Versos was published in 1891, and Martí died while leading Cuban freedom fighters in Cuba in 1895. His political program was quite mature at that point, and it would be hard to read the poem any more innocently.

Here is my own word-for-word translation.

Problems! Who dares to say
That I have problems? Later,
after the lightning-bolt, and the fire,
I'll have time to suffer.

I know about a deep regret
among the problems without names:
The enslavement of men
is the great regret of the world!

There are mountains, and there's need to climb
the high mountains; later
we shall see, soul, who [it] is
that has set you, for me, to die.

The key word, of course, is penas. I prefer the translation “problems” – it feels contemporarily idiomatic. Penas has a very wide semantic field: “pains” “sufferings” “sorrows” “guilt” “sins” “problems” etc. Especially in the context.

We deploy the word “problems” in modern English similarly. Cf rapper Jay-Z, “I got 99 problems ….”

I almost chose to translate it as “complaints” – to emphasize the fact that the tone of the poem (to me) is a bit of “Get off your butts, people, and DO something!”

Other vocabulary worth comment: pesar. Also fairly wide. I prefer “weight” to “regret” but that doesn’t work with the intensifier “deep”. Perhaps “heavy weight” rather than “deep regret.”

As a syntactician, I love the double (in)direct objects in the last line (“… te me …”) – what Spanish grammar is famous for, in stumping linguists and being a fairly famous example of something characteristically difficult about the language.


Caveat: Tree #357

I walked over to Mike and Penny’s for Xmas dinner. They are my closest neighbors, about 3/4 of a mile down the road. They have been generous and kind to Arthur over the years and to me since my arrival here.

I saw this tree in their living room. It is fake. But very Christmassy.


Earlier I made cookies to take and share with them.


Arthur is down in California with Juli, Keith, Jenna, Braden – for Christmas – as I was last year.

Juli sent me this picture. Arthur is a “snowbird” – a retiree who goes somewhere warm in the winter.


picture[daily log: walking, 4km]

Caveat: Tree #345

I went into town today. With just me, and not Arthur here, going in on Thursday isn’t necessary – he goes on Thursday for the Senior Discounts. I decided to go on Friday. Also, I didn’t actually need many groceries – I am eating more in my bachelor style: I just made a big pot of rice and beans and have that every day for lunch. I have salads for dinner. I don’t run out of food as fast, when it’s just me.

I didn’t take a picture of a tree. Here is a tree from when I was at Juli and Keith’s in Oregon, over Thanksgiving.


picture[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: Train Canon

I found this video, below, mildly entertaining in a weird way. I suppose I’m not feeling very productive. I’m still in a funk about the residency problem from Univ of Alaska, and meanwhile the stormy weather and my flu-thing are also keeping me from doing much useful otherwise. Recovering from my trip, I guess, and feeling like I shouldn’t have taken the trip in the first place – spending money I don’t really have and accomplishing very little.


Caveat: Tree #342

I think I finally turned the corner on this flu-thing that hit me hard after getting back here. I’ve been using it as an excuse (I think a valid one) to not yet start some projects I’ve had in mind now that I’m back home, including updating my interaction with the school district (in hopes I can move up the potential substitute list). I coughed and sneezed less this evening than previous recent days. Knock on wood.

For example, this tree is made of wood.


NOTE: The last day or two, my blog site has been under a pretty intense, sustained effort to hack. So far it seems to be resisting, though the blog’s automated emailer has been spamming my email inbox with notifications of failed logins and junky comments (100’s to 1000’s per hour). This all may impact the performance of the blog. I am trying a few different security measures to tackle the problem, but I’m not very experienced with this. If the blog disappears for a while, please don’t be alarmed – I’ve created a full back-up, and worst case, I’ll take it down and rebuild it at some point. Thank you for your patience.

picture[daily log: walking, 3km]

Caveat: Tree #341

Do you get tired of trees? I don’t. I find solace in them, and company. It’d be nice if my life was more interesting. What am I doing? I’m still sick with my never-ending flu-thing. But it seems to be getting better. I have been cleaning and rearranging the attic – that’s a big job. I have been doing some work cleaning up my server, too. Trying to consolidate things so I can start a new project, there. I’m staying busy.


To supplement the tree, here is the hill across the inlet.


To supplement the hill, here is a fleet of some ducks disturbing the still water – mostly you can see their wakes.


picture[daily log: walking, 4km]

Caveat: a Garrison Keillor skit with no punchline

I went to a Christmas Concert in Craig today. All the “neighbors” were there – the people who live up and down Port Saint Nicholas Road: Jeri and Karl, Mike and Penny, Gary and Sandy. They’re all retirees. I felt like a youth brigade of one.

Before the concert, Jeri, Karl and I had a late lunch at their friends-in-town, Scott and Mike, both widowers I think. Scott is quite a cook. We were joking  that their houses, side by side, were the “gourmet district” in Craig. We had venison stew that Jeri and Karl had made, and fresh home-baked brown bread, cornbread, lemon pie. Scott had home-made kimchi, too – it’s the best kimchi I’ve had in a long time.



Caveat: Tree #338

It was a busy day of getting water restarted, cleaning things up, getting resettled. Not helpful that my head-cold, seemingly on the mend, reasserted itself. Of course, I could attribute that to the airplane – there’s a strong correlation in my experience between head-cold symptoms and airplane travel.

Well anyway here I am. I didn’t take a picture of a tree, exactly. Here is Sunnahae at dawn – it has trees.


picture[daily log: walking, 3km]