Friday, May 27, 2022

Progress Report on TSII #430


In the past week much progress was made on updating this 2003 saddle.  All 18 drops were made and installed.  New saddle conchos were invented and put on, something which involved taking the seat off!  The silver of the pommel was fixed up with a new underlayer.  At this point only two steps remain, the tapadero conchos and the cinch.  I am pretty pleased with #430 at this point.

Eighteen new drops were hung, 10 on the breastcollar and 8 on the serapes.  I finally got into the groove of making the drops.  It involved a white-glue phase where the Mylar tinsel was inserted into slits and held down; then the pins, strung with silver balls, had to pierce the middles (they are folded over). Then the two halves of each drop had to be glued together.  Then I trimmed off 4 corners per drop.  I had bought new scissors and I really liked how easily they could do that trimming!  Chop, chop!  I liked the almost-jet-jewelry look of the new drops; they remind me of great beads.  Yet it's just Mylar and leather.

The seat really did come off.  I'd pulled off the lining and cut all the pins that held it on.  I decided I didn't like the green corrosion on those pins and sought for a way to replicate the job they'd done -- hold the seat on and the saddle together -- without using pins.  This was a strikingly major design change from all my past.  Yet it was solved within a day.  Just sew the little things together.  Place an ikandi (iron-on) concho where the conchos should be, and roll on.  And so it happened.

I did, however, need to place a pin at the 2nd concho point, the one below the pommel welt.  I used a stiff steel pin for them, hoping it would corrode less than the soft brass ones.  As evidence I point to the same stiff pins used for the tapadero necks.  They don't seem to have gone green in their 19 years.  I really like working with these tack pieces after 10, 20, 30 years because I can see what corroded and what didn't -- it is fascinating.  Aluminum works; brass does not.  Dang I wish I had Aluminum pins -- that would solve everything!

The tapadero conchos remain to be dealt with, more Rio Rondo conchos which I am no longer happy with.  The picture doesn't show it, but they gained a coating of yellow-greenish exudate as well.  I've scratched it off here, but their silver-color and texture does not match the rest of the saddle.  I have a few options here, but I'm afraid the pins (necks) will have to come out and be replaced.  And I ran out of time tonight.

On the good news side, the new cinch for TSII #430 should be fun.  I've printed out my Willow Northland cinch tutorials and will be taking them along on the next birding vacation (May 28-June 5).  This is just the right project for evenings.

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Needle Chisel Repairs Part II of II


This is my oldest, best and favorite Needle Chisel.  I honestly don't know how old it is!  This portrait is a snapshot, one glimpse of a tool that has changed over time; we're talking probably more than 20 years.  It may change again, who knows.  This post is about one of those changes.   The story begins when I bore down on it too hard (possibly sidewise) and it crunched and folded in my hand:

The first step is to expose the damage.  On a braid-covered handle, I start by undoing and tying back that end's leather lace;  rebraiding will come later.  I'm using thread and Scotch Tape to hold back the leather.  Next, form a plan of battle.  This photo shows both the action plan:  A Pin!  and some of the tools to execute that plan:  the Pin Vise and a wood file.
What had broken was the wooden handle.  Unlike the last broken Needle Chisel [Part I], this one still had its already-perfected needle end, blade and ferrule intact.  All I had to do was stick the halves back together.  I don't have a photo of the wood handle before I filed it smooth (above).  I decided a pin, made of wire pointed on both ends, was the way to handle this join (o pun not intended... maybe....).

The wire is probably hammered slightly for strength.  I drilled a hole in the ferrule's wood and inserted the pin.  I'm not sure whether I glued it.  Friction is amazingly functional and tight at this scale.

Next is drilling the hole, same size, in the handle.  Here the hard part is keeping things lined up.  I'm afraid I rely solely upon feel and eye for this.

Test fit for alignment.  It looks pretty good.  If there is gluing to be done, now is the place and time.

Here is something we saw with Part I's broken Needle Chisel: using Aluminum tubing to make a ferrule.   In this case it isn't really a ferrule but a sheath, a sleeve for strength and alignment.  I've hacked open one end to help it fit.

This next step is some real magic.  To achieve a taper, I'm squeezing part of the tubing together, tightening the remainder.  Heavy wrist pressure can do it; I'm using my normal pliers.

Having made a flange of extra Aluminum, I next cut it off, using nippers and the X-Acto.  With the same file, I made the join as smooth as I could.  You can just see the join line here.

More magic.  I am adding aluminum tape (the much-vaunted Silver Tape, or plumber's metal mending tape) to this seam.  That's a folded rectangle of silver tape standing on its edge above the chisel, with the white paper of the used part still showing.

Getting there!

The goal is strength, smoothness and tightness.  I rub out any wrinkles and file smooth anything that needs it.  Rebraiding is somewhat unorganized as I figure out I was using a 6-strand round braid.  I even things out as best I can and re-use the gold-plated wire that was originally holding down the lace.  There is also a good deal of new waxed thread wrapped around it.  My braided handles use thread, wire or both to hold down the leather ends.

Ready for another 20 years! 

Friday, May 6, 2022

Friday Report: Restoring TSII #430

 For many months I've been sending Friday reports to those customers concerned with that week's model tack work.  Today I feel like posting such a report to the blog, something I've long threatened.  Usually the two or three people get two or three pictures.  We'll see if this Friday's decision changes anything!  It already has -- there are 8 pictures here.  There needs to be some background to this story...

Let's start with TSII #430.  Built in 2003, this was our fourth Little-Bit scale Silver Parade Set.  So far it is the ONLY saddle I've ever made using Mylar Tinsel as its main silvering element.

Thus #430 is 19 years old.  This is what it looked like (above) when it was new.  Fast forward those nineteen years, and now look at it:

The owner quite reasonably complained that the silver drops (teardrops) had tarnished, and she could not keep them clean.  There were other problems.  The central conchos, main design element of the breastcollar and the serapes (drapes), were badly corroded,  no longer silver but dull brass and green.  Most of the saddle's fastening (structural) conchos were a deep yellowgreen, coated with some awful exudate.  And the cinch was terribly twisted, something I've come to expect with TSII work of the time.  :(

The customer asked whether I could replace the drops.  I said yes.  Then I asked something extremely daring and unusual:  Not to give a quote until the job was done.  I have never done this before;  it's too much to ask.   Amazingly, she said yes.  I am still in a state of humble shock and she will get a discount for such faith... !

Here you can see the old central concho's condition.  They were plated brass and over the 19 years that brass reacted to the leather in no uncertain terms.  I took them off by peeling/cutting the lining and clipping the Mylar tinsel tie-downs.  

By great good luck, I had used separate ties for them.  This meant I didn't endanger anything else when they were removed!  I then made 3 new conchos from i-kandis and hot-ironed them on.  Normally I detest glue, but I haven't yet had i-kandis fall off.  This iron-on approach is simple, fast and guaranteed not to tarnish.  It allows me to match other elements of the saddle's overall design:  circular conchos with a center stamp and squarish borders.

Offside serape with new central concho

Here's what the brass domes did in those 19 years:

All you tackmakers out there who think that brass and leather together 'do nothing:'  This is what can happen.  Verdigris [the green corrosion] is created by the chemical reaction of the tannins in the leather to the copper in the brass.  But beyond that, I do not know the names of the involved chemicals, nor why it happens with some leathers and not with others.  On the same saddle, note (above) how the structural conchos merely turned a bright yellow-green.  I shall have to remove the seat and replace those pin conchos. 

Meanwhile, replacing the drops was progressing.  There are 18 teardrops, so that means eighteen handmade drops with Mylar.  I chose to re-use the small silver balls because they had not turned black like the sterling.  I will be re-using the drop pins.   you can hear a pin drop...

I apologize for the fuzziness.  This gives some idea of what the restored breastcollar will look like, and thus all the new drops.

Future plans include cleaning and replacing the structural conchos (oh boy, another seat to take off, Yarkk!) and making another cinch.  

This will all be put on pause while we go canoeing on Kentucky's Cave Run Lake from the 8th to the 17th.  Spring Migration!  :)   

As ever, thank you so much for your patience.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Needle Chisel Repairs Part I of II


Repairing a model tackmaking tool is a great chance to see how it was made as well as the more obvious 'how to make it better.'  I busted two of my needle chisels back in January working on the TwentyMule.  Documenting how I fixed them will be the subject of two posts.  Each tool is different in its construction and repair.  These are largely pictorial journies; the photos speak for themselves.

The needle chisel is a miniature chisel.  I make them from a needle and a paintbrush handle.  I use them for everything from slits to cleaning, from braiding to inserting to manipulating.  I have 5 needle chisels at this point in time [2022], ranging from extremely small to fairly large.  For the record, the broken ones were my smallest and my middle-medium, this last being my oldest and most useful, called the Red & Black in my tackmaking notebooks.  The name refers to the braided handle covering.  Its repair will be the subject of Part II.  Sometimes they don't have covers, as the lower, smaller shows.  We'll look at that one first : "Smallest."

Here's its problem.  The blade, part of a needle which has been sharpened into a tiny chisel, was soldered into the tip of the ferrule.  But that join wasn't strong or secure enough to withstand repeated force and sidewise thrusting -- or whatever caused it to break.  I break my tools multiple times, until I build them strong enough.  I really manhandle tools!  But in both these cases the chisels had been with me for years.  I think the TwentyMule really pushed me to mass-produce in a few places.

I suspect the ferrule was aluminum.  Aluminum won't solder, which would contribute to the original weakness.  I should have used a steel ferrule, but those are hard to find.

First step: Decide that, after all, an aluminum ferrule is not what I want.  (Also realize the handle is long enough to stand losing a little.)  I broke the ferrule off --- possibly it broke by itself -- and discarded it.  I got out some brass tubing and started opening up one end, for a ferrule replacement.  This is accomplished by haggling with the nippers, X-Acto and files.

This is where I have filed down the handle to a tapering point.

Here the magic is starting to happen.  I'm making a ferrule of my own.  Fitting it closely to the wood handle is taking a lot of filing and plier-work, squeezing, bending and rolling.

This very revealing picture shows something no one has seen yet:  my soldering station.  The yellow sponge is moistened and used to clean off the soldering tip.  The dark-amber, waxlike substance is flux, used in soldering.  The shallow plastic lid holds little snippets of solder, which I have prepared myself, by hammering and cutting.  The brass tubing can be seen in the upper left.
What the picture does not show is my vise, which holds the subject in place during the procedure.   (Watch yer spelling!  A vice is not a vise... well, not usually!)

More magic:  an inner, smaller sleeve (or shim) piece of brass tubing will hold the needle tip.  When the smaller tip is affixed to the needle chisel, I slip it into the outer tube and keep soldering.

The pictures don't show the intermediate step of the smaller tube.  But it's in there.  The whole end of the outer tube is filled with solder.  That baby is IN there!!
A closer look (it's cool now):

When things are cool, next comes a LOT of filing of the end.  I prefer a pointed, tapered tip, for reasons of handle-ability and grace as well as beauty.  The pointing makes the needle stronger since there is less sidewise stress on its base.

Here I've filed it even smoother and pointy-er.  So smooth, in fact, you can't detect the difference between solder and brass.  Symmetry is important in this step.  If the needle is not straight (and it isn't), this asymmetry is balanced by a bulge in the taper.

Done!  Smallest Needle Chisel, which has never had any braiding of its own before, gets a beautiful 'holding' button.  Oh, sure, in the course of time, that bare brass will corrode the leather.  But right now I'm not worrying about that.

When I do get around to worrying about corrosion, a piece of silver tape between leather and metal should solve it.

Two Vacations, Three Pizzas


I started out to write about the Three Pizzas and my injured thumbnail, both of these being pandemic emergence stories.  I got bogged down transcribing Notebook entries from our Outer Banks, NC (OBX) Christmas trip (December 18 - 30, 2021) [this is where the cat appears], and then I added some from our Spring Break trip (GA, FL), March 3 - 13, 2022.   Later still, I took out the longest Spring Break part -- Guana Lake -- and gave it its own post.  Paddling Lake Guana   Then I decided not to show my thumbnail after all.  You'll have to take my word that it is healing.  :)

The Three Pizzas then evolved an addendum or Chapter Two, somewhat more illustrated, which refused to settle down.  Forever went by before I realized this chapter was attempting to decide nothing less than whether I was going to BreyerFest.  Since this was a extremely major decision (family fights!) which really can't be settled until the last week before departure, I decided to try and publish anyway, while things were on a (relatively) positive note.  Other posts are waiting!!      

Sorry about the lack of pictures;  I'm very bad about taking vacation pictures; most of these were taken by George.  My Notebooks are, after all, completely hand-written.  Somehow photography requires a different mindset.

Since Blogger does not allow single line breaks but only doubles,... and since I use a LOT of single line breaks (new paragraphs) in my handwriting,.... I am using spaces      to represent the single line breaks in what I'm transcribing.  Imagine that!  Brackets [ ] contain editorial explanations.  A vertical line  |   indicates a change in mood without a new paragraph, a space-saving device.


[written 2112.23]

"This trip       [OBX, NC, Dec 18 thru 30, 2021]     is a success, if success be evading & avoiding every human being.  Our longest conversation was with a man walking his dog:  "Have a Merry Christmas you two!"  O.K. I did talk about birds to one young birder who appeared out of nowhere on one of the obs plats [observation platforms].  And Geo talked a lot with the Chinese Sandtrapped.*  But we were masked (KN95) for all of these, except the Merry Christmas.        No TV, no radio.  No Internet:  this feed is now only every other day, & today is not that day.       Oddly, Dry The Sea & Barbahamia  [my Breyers, Icabad and Dundee]  stay in their boxes.  They haven't come out at all.  Only Snickers, the carry in foal [a CollectA] has any out time at all.  No horses!!  No,... nor thought of them.  I'm living a very pure life.  Burning through IMAJICA VOL ONE  as a great clip & wishing I'd brought Vol 2, but I didn't.  :(  Tonight I'm not even doing letters.  We have retreated, or evolved, to a very pure mode:  Trip-taking and birding as of old, Sans people.  Sans restaurants, sans shopping.  Such things are pared down to the minimum.         Food becomes an important pleasure."

[Written 2112.25  OBX:]

"Today we hiked Nag's Head Woods Nature Conservancy trail 1, 2, 3 & 6 the ADA trail / boardwalk.  This ADA [Americans with Disabilities] trail was expertly laid & beautifully finished.  We had a warbler flock & got Black-&-White, Brown Creeper, Sapsucker, Downy & Geo saw an Orange Crowned and we got both Kinglets.  Really nice!  even tho our parking was a block away + so was the bathrooms.        The Woods trail was amazing.  I had not known such trees, & such hills, existed on the Outer Banks.  Mostly the ground was covered in pine needles & in places there was no underbrush.  Pines, hollies, oaks, junipers, gums & bays.  Few birds outside of the warbler flocks --only gulls overhead.  Those dunes!!  What a change from the flattish swamps, fields and beaches.  It was 5 miles all the way around & we were over-stimulated, & thus very tired, by the end.  |   Almost no people until 12:30 when, it seemed, the floodgates opened; & we had to mask a few times getting back.

"After this we drove down to Pea Island and parked in Coquina Beach.  A beach sit was called for.  Chose a place upwind of all & by ourselves.  Poncho down & both napped.  This was when the locomotive of a piled barge was towed past on the horizon.  This was also where the huge flock of Cormos, Gulls, Gannets & Pelicans congregated around the (invisible to us) fish school.  What a sight!!  Dozens of diving Gannets plunging into the sea all next to each other   in a sea of Cormorants all diving (there must've been a hundred)   w/ Gulls wheeling by.  Quite the crowd.  Only now does it occur to me to be jealous of their natural unthinking association.   It was during this nap I came out crying      thinking how I might never see my Mom again.  And if she died how I might not be able even to attend a funeral.  And how Dad might never forgive me, ...   What good does it do to wait, something wrong will always come along anyway!!!!  What can we hope for again....  Oh, that was so sad.  Geo flat on his back snoring & me with tears leaking out all over,...

But we go on.         The tug went on.        The surf went on.

The birds kept flying, kept fishing.  We can only keep on, doing our best, waiting, giving them time for another miracle, like the vaccine so fast, so incredibly advanced.        Our very last adventure of the day was to drive down to Oregon Inlet & park & look for birds.  No luck but we did see a very beautiful orange tabby cat w/ 4 white feet and golden eyes."

[Written 2112.26:]

"Today was Mattamuskeet.  A well-chosen place.  We hiked 3  1/4-mi trails:  Outflow, New Holland & Salyer's at Rose Canal.    This third was by far the best, being a 150-year-old forest (cleared in 1870s) & sporting the tallest biggest Loblolly Pines I've ever seen in my life.  Other trees there were as tall & big, (gums, cypress) but somehow the Loblollies were absolute kings.  And this trail was not mentioned on THREE maps they gave us!!!  We did Outflow & New Holland first, gradually learning & collating our map info.  After these pleasant strolls we drove to the end of the Central Canal mile (marked G on the map) & found a scope spot.  For an unknown time I examined every Widgeon, out of what seemed thousands but was probably only hundreds, for the rare elusive Eurasian Widgeon.  Never found one.  Had tons of fun all the same.  We added Canvasbacks to our total, bringing the trip's total to 98, & then a Forster's Tern made it 99.  Previous birds today -- Wild Turkey, Swamp Sparrow & Tree Swallow -- had taken us from 94 to 97.  Today was the day of the 100th bird, and halfway down the triangular Wildlife Drive (4 miles) we found him:  Killdeer  :)   long missing but now well supplied.

Sue on the Salyer trail, in front of giant Pine

"Mattamuskeet is a huge lake.  [...]   I never saw a more confusing set of maps:  Each had something new to add in;  none had it all.  These were free maps at the Visitor Center.  We wound up driving all the way around the lake, some 30 or 40 miles.  Such a view of a slice of life in the South.  The fields were cotton or corn.  The trees were Cypress or Pecan.  A vine grew wild over every abandoned building (& there were many).  It looked like black rusty fur.       Geo has a particular reason not to want to go back:  the risk of catching if Penn State forces him to teach in person again.  Oh if only we could've retired at Christmas this year!  Failing that, Oh if only we could teach remotely this last semester!  As with cancer, the worst is the not knowing  [...] ."

Loblolly Pine on the Salyer nature trail

On December 27th, on the Outer Banks, we ordered a pizza from a little greasy spoon called Yellow Submarine.  We parked in a strip mall, of which the Outer Banks is richly supplied  :)  and I walked in there, masked, ordered, turned around and walked back out.    The clerk was not masked, but quite cheerful.  They brought it out to our car, and we ate it there.   "Cold pizza for breakfast!"  Yellow Submarine was significant because it was the first commercial pizza we'd enjoyed since June of 2021.  Car picnics are de rigueur these days, happening more and more and with more kinds of fancy food.  The OBX trip was also noteworthy for its utilization of Rancho Nuevo in Front Royal VA;  if we had to lose Jalisco's [a favorite Mexican restaurant] (is there nothing Covid hasn't killed!?!) at least we found this very nice Mexican restaurant equivalent, very quick to fill take-out orders.

image from PensacolaBeachBall

[Written 2112.29:]

"... On the beach we saw the Currituck Flyer.  At first I thought he was a drone launcher.  No, the blades, when finally seen, were a yard long.  House fan?  Next I knew, a para-sail was lifting the guy into the sky, his propeller whizzing merrily behind his back.  He sat in a chair & controlled both motor and risers/shrouds (sheets) with his wrists.  You could see his fuel tank behind his chair, but it was opaque. He must have stayed up for 15 minutes.      Lots of walkers came by after about 2:30 but the beach was wide enough.  We left and settled for a room meal.  The next eat-out would be in Front Royal."

image from AOPO


Fast forward to March of 2022.  Spring Break canoeing and birding trip to southeast GA (Kingsland) and northeast FL.

[Written 2203.03 in Petersburg, VA:]

"Our first real post-Covid trip, whether we believe it or not.  Left home 8:08... [...] Using the smartphone (Galaxy A01) is still very new to us.  This is the 1st time we used it for nav outside PA -- & only the 2nd time for nav at all!!  ...[...]  We were on 95 for mere moments only, right after 288 ended; but even in that small interval between 1 exit & another we experienced very heavy slow traffic.  I can't explain it.  Thursday aft?!!  No snow,... there must have been a lot of crashes; & the pandemic has fostered lousy drivers, that's for sure.  :(           

 "On the way past Tyrone & Altoona the east face of the Allegheny Plateau was decoratively-dusted with what must have been a hell of a sleet storm.  Pure white over everything except the very top layer of trees.                I have spent the day being a perfect road companion / traveller,...  & thinking about covid.  This, THIS is the long-awaited 1st drive in freedom,... yet we're so blase'.    Still wearing masks, avoiding crowds, dodging people altho that's perfunctory.  At Mad Italian [favorite Italian restaurant] we ordered take out IN PERSON.  I stayed INDOORS to wait for it.  It was fast -- praise to them -- yet that interval, sitting in that beloved restaurant just looking around,... remembering,... made me wish I could feel everything more deeply.  For this is our homecoming.  This is our trip as of old:  But I am so polished, policed, perfected & practiced & pre-warned my god!!!  that there is precious little spirit left.

"I don't know where it went, that shimmer of eager awareness.  I didn't even bring in a horse (to the hotel room).  The 1st night, nothing much will happen.  The electronix didn't make it in.  Almost I understand Grandma Ellis's search-a-words."

 The paddle trip on Lake Guana happened on March 9th.

"Driving back North via palmetto parkway & 1 & 9B, we experienced the most awful storm.  Somehow we were not blown over.  Moxie [the car] rocked!!  It was torrential.  We wound up in John Muir boardwalk outside Yulee.  A nap & read before Whataburger was much appreciated."

So you see, drive-throughs had become standard by this time.

[Written 2203.10, Kingsland GA:]

"3:30 am.  Gnat/chigger/mosq  bites under my chin, at crook of left knee, left wrist, sides of neck.  Sunburn...  [...]  While truly we are having the time of our lives, the best, most triumphant trip so far.  A giant step towards the After Covid.  It may not be really so -- no data, no numbers are we seeing;  no eating in restaurants, no theatres, no shopping, no entering crowds of any sort -- but it FEELS so much more like the Before Times, that it's a shock every time I see a mask on somebody.... "


[Written 2203.11, Cupcake Day #2, Kingsland, GA]  [Cupcake Day is how my family is annually celebrating the start of the Covid pandemic.]

"Celebrated with, (you guessed it), 2 Cupcakes!!!        & 2 pcs of pizza.  OPS Pizza Kitchen [in Kingsland, GA]  was a good idea, provided you overlook the 38 minute wait, and the fact it was a Friday night.  I spent 38 mins in a public restaurant, surrounded by more and more and more people without masks on.  The only mask I saw in there was on another take-out customer like me;... [a] black [woman].  I thought I saw a glint of sympathy in her eyes.  One learns to read eyes over the mask.   I am proud of my sweeping-silver-spots KN95!!!       I sat there bemused.  Intoxicated, even, to be in a place where Covid apparently did not exist.  No sign acknowledged it.  I begin to see the great appeal of Republicanism Youth and Youngsters; to be as they were, free, without care!!!  To have the music blasting & the dozen giant (full 1-story high) TV screens going --- not one of THEM showing masks either.  Oh this is what all us cautious & serious & Democrat oldster types have been dreaming of in our secret hearts for all these 2 years, yearning for, not daring to allow ourselves to dream of  for it meant death ------

"------ and lo, here, in a reality I could not go against (preaching unthinkable), such a dream is live & well & doing fine      thank you very much.         No thanks to me.        I am here because I'm finally brave enough, convinced enough, assured enough, (almost even desperate enough) to believe the numbers and trust my mask for one pizza-length of time.  We did this in Mad Italian (tho there the staff was masked).  We did this in Yellow Submarine Pizza on the OBX (tho there we waited outside & they brought it out to us).  Plotted in a line, these 3 pizzas chart a course towards my normality, the 2-years-long desired return to The Before Times.  To the by-now-mythic  "safe" enough to "go back to normal,"  a wish I have despaired so often over that I never thought I'd see it inside 5 years sometimes.  Or ever.     And here it is in full roaring life, obviously has been for a long time.   It takes me by painful surprise.

"... [...] ...I understand so much better why they [people who ignore Covid] 've done what they've done.  Because THIS was part of their reward."

"Today 11th was Okefenokee hike day.  Adventures, drive the Wildlife Drive v-e-r-y  s-l-o-w-l-y and pick up Brn Hded Nuthatches, Sandhill Cranes and Marsh Harrier, Yellow-Throated Warbler and Yellowthroat.  Parked at Chesser Island and mended my binocular strap, which had suddenly parted.  Geo walked the top loop of the Drive.  Then back to [the headquarters] Adventures, surprisingly popular, & walked the old paved fisherman's bank trail to the Shelter-in-the-Marsh.  All old friends.  It was a peaceful day."

 *  This refers to a Chinese couple in a rental car which got bogged down in the sand at one of the birdwatching parking lots we visited.  They were rescued by Triple A but in the meantime enjoyed a conversation with George.



 I entered this pandemic reasonably young, still in my 50s.  (Technically true:  I was 59 in March of 2020 and didn't turn 60 until the end of April.)  I'm emerging, yes that is the word, old, so much older, like I was 80 years old.  Like Sophie in Studio Ghibli's Howl's Moving Castle, I feel like (and sound like) a 90-year-old woman.  !!  Two-feels-like-twenty is my new way of describing these past two years.  My body is in the 60s, remarkably healthy; but my spirit,... my very soul,... has been so pushed down that sometimes isostatic rebound (the lifting of land after the glacier on it melts) is a very natural comparison.

My heart is masked, even if my face isn't.  I have low white blood cell counts, ever since 2010.   This body takes a long time to heal.  When you see a mask, how do you know they're not undergoing chemotherapy or some such?

I feel crushed.  It occurs to me that the lion's share of the crushing is from our own, George's and mine, choices:  our own struggles to continue to take the disease seriously.  Two years and more have gone by, and his efforts have kept us safe.  ("Kept us sane" is my contribution.)  Yet one by one, the data sources we use to chart that course are dropping off.  "No data" is becoming more common.  Just today, he reports CDC is no longer showing PCR tests.   How can we navigate if the data itself is denied?  

Vaccines once eradicated diseases, as recently as our teenage years; but this time they have not.  If only CDC had had the courage to tell us that in the beginning-- !!   The inflexibility and narrow-minded conservatism of bureaucracies has triggered George's retirement decision ("This is really a resignation in disgust that just happens to coincide with retirement age," he says) and now is causing our faith in CDC to tarnish. 

Look Ma new glasses -- the old ones were 25+

 No matter how much time I give it, the conflict remains:  my bitter frustration at anti-vaxxers,...  how could they refuse?!?...  versus the equally bitter realization that vaccination is no silver bullet; ---  nothing can provide 100% proof against, not even 4 shots such as I have now.   There is no guarantee.

And yet hope persists.  New treatments continue to surface.  New trends appear.  Geo reports a periodicity that plots a low in infections right around the time of BreyerFest.  As of this writing I am planning to go.  One reason is that I cannot bear to lose my hotel reservation!  Logical?  No!  But I am trying harder and harder, and maybe coming closer, to imagine a BreyerFest where I can meet and mingle in safe places, largely outside.  Swords-edge-walking a specialty.  Oh yeah, I'll bling your mask for you on the spot!

Maybe the numbers will go down.  Maybe they will reach my family's impossible goal, the bad-flu-year:  Ten new cases per hundred thousand per week.  Forty-eight Covid deaths per week in all PA (twelve million).  The two-feels-like-twenty years have supplied this at least, one definition of victory conditions.   Yet real victory lies in the individual's acceptance and behaviour.

Until then, ---Til We Have Faces, --- we shall cling to sanity with long family trips, seeking the outer Wild, free in the woods and outdoors.  Maybe I do have the imagination to come up with safe BreyerFest behaviour.  Maybe I can come up with ways to visit, sell and gossip and swap, outside, maybe in my car?  in a place and time that does not expose me to crowds.  Maybe the smartphone & Chromebook can take up the slack.   Maybe I can sell some horses and tack, by posted list on the door or something.  Maybe it's time I created my own versions,...  possibly going back to what my beloved hobby was before 1993, when all was local and mail order;  25 years of roots, those days.

Taken at Aitch canoe launch, Lake Raystown

And maybe, just maybe, a healing can take place,... something we all need so very desperately.  Given enough time, healing does happen, even to one such as me.  My thumbnail is healing.  My heart attitude seems to slowly rebound as spring gains and as the brain keeps striving to reach out.  This thing I have, that I'll keep trying.  Steady, that's what they remember me for.  One great lesson from cancer:  Your fears are always worse than the reality.

Sophie healed.  She went back to her proper age.  She kept her white hair though.  I like that.

Image from PeakPx online

Now I need to find out whether Howl's hair changed color over the course of the movie too.  Oh!  It did!