Huzzah the light!

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HERE WE ARE at the winter solstice again! Dunno about you but I’m more than eager to mark the hour when the sun bottoms out. On December 21, at 11 minutes after noon, I’ll be happy to praise Yahweh, Jesus, Saturn, Woden, hoist one in the mead halls of Mag Mell, you name it. For that’s when our star begins its journey of rebirth and renewal; its steady climb back up the dome of the firmament. Or so it will appear—falsely appear—from where we sit, on this lovely, if theoretically unremarkable mote of dust.

Every time you turn around, the Kepler spacecraft is indirectly observing yet another distant, rocky world that’s warm enough to have liquid water on it. I like to think that living things, somewhere in creation, may be celebrating a winter solstice with every passing second of our earthly year. If so, I wonder what ideas they live by? What stories do they tell?

If I could journey to those places and see what’s what, noodle on the findings and the meanings thereof, my trusted travel companions would have to be known for seeing what they look at. In Blake’s terms, they’d see through the eye, not merely with it. Often, I’m certain I’ve peered through and been struck with an original thought. It lands like thunder, as jarring as that, and plainly true. It overturns all.

And then I find out that Marcus Aurelius said it in the 2nd century. Or Voltaire said it. Or Thomas Paine, or Samuel Clemens, or…!

Okay, well, here we go: Marc, Volt, Tom, Sam… and me.

We’d make our observations, get the data—on nature, culture, theology, cosmology, all 10 spatial quantum dimensions, not just the four easy ones. We’d figure it out, wrap it all up, coin a few quotable bon mots and call it a day. Throw in cigars and bourbon, what a pow wow. I’d be delighted to be the No. 1 listener in the room; or, from another perspective, the No. 5 talker.

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To compare the seasonal light here on the Earth, here’s what a summer night looks like in Tok, Alaska, just as you start channel surfing for Conan O’Brien. This is sneaking up on 11 p.m., June 9, twelve days before the summer solstice.

 

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Six months later, Rhode Island at 4 in the afternoon, December 8. The bride and I had just motored home from Exeter, where we had felled a Christmas tree.

 

I never did get around to writing up a road report on the Alaska journey. Maybe there’s still time before it becomes old, stale news. Will have to see how fast the winter zips by.

Autumn was a blur, mostly because of the bride’s mishap on October 7. She fell on a rocky trail in the Berkshires, on Mount Greylock, had to hike more than two miles to get a ride to a hospital. The fall broke her right shoulder in two places. Don’t confuse this with her practice run the previous summer, in which she broke her left shoulder in two places.

We hope to get our lives back in order after the first of the year. Pam will be settling into a new job at the bank, and I’ll be editing a manuscript I finished last spring. It’s a novel that I plan to publish on Amazon.com.

Pam required a lot less nursing care this time, but enough that I’d never be able to concentrate on the book. So I set it aside and worked on manual chores instead.

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I built a shed out back, by the mighty antebellum oak that sprouted in the 1850’s, when our neighborhood, I’m told, was an asparagus farm. It’s one of two sheds I’ve been meaning to build, to provide clean storage space for household things that are cluttering up the basement.

 

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I didn’t draw plans, just started knocking up walls one day. It’s small, 8′ by 8′. I’ll build the second shed a bit larger, maybe 10′ by 14′.

 

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This was the rough carpentry under way.

 

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I call it a shed, it’s actually standard new-house construction. I wanted mice to feel challenged trying to find their way in.

 

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I was racing the weather near the end. Finished up just in time.

 

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In September, when I got back from Alaska, I decided it was time for the iron piggy to be equipped with a Pelican case. It’ll save time in the mornings when I’m breaking camp and packing up; throw everything in, close the lid and go. It’s weatherproof and (note the padlock hasps) more theft-resistant than a backpack. That means I can leave my laptop and cameras unattended for longer periods of time. I won’t feel like, Hmm, better hike back to the piggy before things start disappearing… 

 

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My sleeping bag will get rolled up and stashed in a duffel between me and the case, to serve as a backrest.

 

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To position the case where I wanted it, directly over the rear wheel, I built a steel rack that bolts up to the sissy bar brackets and license plate bracket. My friend Mike Connelly was a great help in engineering a design, choosing materials, and getting the geometry right. I tack-welded the frame together here at home, then Mike did the critical welds at his shop. That space underneath, between the brackets, is for the rest of my bedroll: the ground cover, tent, sleeping pad…

 

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Here’s the driveway part of the job; drilling and tapping the square stock and test-fitting the pieces into the brackets.

 

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Next, line up the frame to get the angle right; then mark where the square stock has to poke up through the frame.

 

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Whittle four square holes in the hollow tubes, weld, grind off the tops… You get the idea…

Now, for a road test! The where doesn’t matter, but I wish I knew the when. The top job on my agenda is editing the book. After that, I’ll need to get some writing done for King Features. Last week I sent 66 pages of script to Paul Ryan, the artist on the Phantom dailies; and 46 pages to Terry Beatty, on the Sundays. They burn through copy fast! Good guys to work with.

In October, King Features Syndicate in New York asked me to contribute to their Phantom blog once in a while. It’s not a part of the work I do for them, and have done since Lee Falk’s death, in 1999; it’s more like just for yuks, a little added value for readers. If you’re a Phantom fan, you can see it here.

 

Until next time, here’s a selfie from Alaska. The other two guys in the pic are those sidecar bikers I ran into and palled around with for a while. To my right, that’s Jan Daub, from Texas. To my left, in the hairnet, Keith Hackett of Oregon.

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We were in a tight spot and somebody—Keith, I believe—kept declaring, “Damn! We’re in a tight spot!” Yeah, yeah, what else is new.

Tony DePaul, Cranston, Rhode Island, December 13, 2013

About Tony

The occasional scribblings of Tony DePaul, 62, father, grandfather, husband, freelance writer in many forms, ex-journalist, long-distance motorcycle rider, motorcycle wrecker, motorcycle rebuilder, collector of surgical hardware, blue routes wanderer, outdoorsman, topo map bushwhacker, handy with a wrench, hammer, chainsaw, rifle, former photographer, printer, logger, truck driver, truck mechanic, jet fueler… blah blah...
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21 Responses to Huzzah the light!

  1. A.J. Higgins says:

    Sounds like it’s been an interesting year — especially for Pam. I like how the truck came out and the shed — which looks like a project that will serve as a prototype for a larger one. We’re still living the dream here in Maine. You guys have a great Christmas.

    aj

    • Tony says:

      AJ! We’ve got to get north soon. I haven’t been to Maine in forever. Well, you know, once the kids grow up and the old folks shuffle off to Buffalo…

      Will see you at the shore house!

  2. brad says:

    Truck looks great, the bride is almost back in tune, shed looks bitchin’ (had a similar shed when I lived in Austin, perfect for engine assembly… just saying) and your wit is finely tuned. Amazing how early-dark it is way up there. Winter dark gets us around 5:45p down here. Happy holidays to all.

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Brad. Here’s hoping the work’s going well on that speed-record-breaking motorcycle you’re building. Will see you on the salt flats!

  3. steve lyon says:

    Be careful if you ever decide to ship that Pelican case; I’ve had two of them turn up “missing” – once from UPS, once from FedEx. Had ’em padlock’d shut, was probably too interesting for the average thief to pass up.

  4. Teresa Millett says:

    Great chat, Tony. The shed looks like a big doll house, perfect, like everything else you build. 🙂 Glad Pam is doing better. Merry Christmas to you all!

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Teresa. She’s mending, more feisty every day. The next shed will be a little bigger just in case she makes me move into it.

  5. Prasad Bhangale says:

    Great to see your post Tony after a while. Looks like it’s been interesting year so far for all of you at the side of the planet.

    I understand your need for the case, IMO it looks more lucrative to fool around. Also be mindful of changed bike mannerisms when you are load it little backwards.

    Best wishes to all for upcoming holiday season.

    Best regards from India
    Prasad

    • Tony says:

      Hello, Prasad. Yep, I’ll definitely experiment with distributing the weight, see how the bike responds. I think it should be all right, given that the case is centered over the rear wheel. The touring cases made at the Harley factory carry the weight pretty far aft of the wheel (to leave room for a passenger) and thus aren’t rated for much weight at all. This one, I hope I can safely load up with all the heavy stuff: tools, water, food…

      As always, I’m eager to ride a Royal Enfield across India before I start haunting my urn!

      Very best to you and yours,
      Tony

  6. Chris Whitney says:

    Sorry to hear about Pam. Maybe some cycle gear for her next hike? But glad to hear she’s mending. Couple months ago I went out in a soybean field nearby and watched a rocket launch from Wallops island, 108 miles away. As I watched it arc away, I got a touch of the same sorts of thoughts you expressed. Only you put it into words much better than I ever could. Nice shed!

  7. Vincent Ogutu says:

    Hey Tony! A friend of mine from Kenya passed by the city yesterday and left me a copy of last week’s Sunday Nation. Of course I flipped to the cartoons section as I always do, and there you were, with your name in black and white! First time I’ve had a chance to verify 🙂 Merry Christmas to you and Pam.

  8. Tarquino F. Flores says:

    1.- happy birthday (late…very late, I know)
    2.- that’s a shed, but in NY would be a deluxe plus-size house.
    It’s good to read you again! 😀 blessings!

    • Tony says:

      Very true, amigo. When Daughter #2 was working in New York, she lived in an apartment where the only available space for rent was the closet. It was smaller than the shed, I think, and the rent was $1,000 a month. And no windows!

  9. Denise Waterbury says:

    Tony,
    As always, I love reading your words and learning about all the goings on. I need to get my brother to read this. He now has two Harley Davidson’s…I’m trying to get him out on an adventures like yours, but I think he’s jut not ready. I haven’t met Pam but feel like I sort of know her. Hoping for a complete and thorough recovery from her fall.
    Jon and Kathy had Thanksgiving at our house. Fun and mellow evening.
    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidaze to you! ;-0 Denise

    • Tony says:

      Thanks, Denise. Pam hasn’t been to Bishop yet, hasn’t met Kathy and hasn’t seen Jon in forever. I’m hoping to get her there one of these summers. Will very much look forward to seeing you!

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