Sunday, January 27, 2019

Pure Florida... Pure Confession: Hubcap and Pocketbook

In the past 4 years, I have lost my father, my big brother, and most recently, my mother.
Suddenly, I am an orphan, the lone survivor of my sweet, loving childhood family.
And so it falls to me to be the caretaker, cleaner-outer, and custodian of the family "stuff".

I have helpers of course. My own nuclear family has been a tremendous help both as emotional support and as a motivated labor source. 

Every work session at Mom's turns up emotional treasures that may cause laughter, tears, WTH's, or combinations of these.

"So where is the confession, get to the confession part!"

Patience grasshopper... I'm telling a story here.

The job of cleaning out the Dad's garage fell to me. His garage was a time capsule whose contents had not changed substantially since the year 2000. Most of the stuff in the garage had sat undisturbed since the late '80s and '90s.

Much of the stuff in boxes and on shelves was easily tossed as junk, but not before inspecting everything carefully. The old musty cigar box on in the rusty locker might contain treasured photographs of teenage Dad (it did) or photos of Mom and Dad as twenty-somethings (did that too).

You get the idea ... go slow, inspect everything.

At one point in this adventure, I looked up and there, hanging from a rafter nail was a hubcap.
A Chevy hubcap.
Now, my parents never owned anything, but Chrysler vehicles, with 2 exceptions... a 1957 JEEP Wagoneer and a 1970 International Harvester SCOUT.
This was MY hubcap!  (I never owned a Chevy either).

Okay, here is the confession part... or at least we are getting closer. Let's set the scene...

My childhood neighborhood was one big playground for my cousins and the other neighbor kids. We roamed all over, often only heading home when we heard one of our parents calling us in from the front porch.


You could hear it anywhere in the hood and you could smell dinner as you got closer, because like most folks back then, we did not have air conditioning, so the windows were open.

On Summer and weekend nights, we went back out after supper. Sometimes we played neighborhood tag in which one person was "IT" and everyone else hid ... well... anywhere.
There really weren't boundaries, so this game while fun, often ended with a frustrated "IT" person getting mad and loudly announcing, "Okay, I quit. I'm going home!"

Somewhere around the age of 13, we learned of a new game, called "Hubcap", from some older kids. 

(Super close to confession time now...)

Hubcap had simple rules.
1. Get a hubcap ... preferably legally.
2. On a dark night, pick a spot with clear escape routes just in case.
3. Wear dark clothes.
4. After sunset, hide and wait for a car to approach.
5. As soon as the car passes your location, toss the hubcap and yell, "Hey mister, your hubcap came off!"
(Most cars still didn't have A/C at this time, so windows were usually down allowing the driver to hear both our yell and the clang of the hubcap.)
6. When the car stopped and began to back up, run out, grab the hubcap, and keep on running to avoid the driver with no sense of humor. 
7. Regroup, reload, and do it again.

That was part one of the confession in case you were wondering...

Part two:
At some point, after the shine had worn off the Hubcap game, we found an old purse. It was empty but intact and it inspired a whole new night game called "Pocketbook". 
"Pocketbook" was a direct descendant of "Hubcap"

Pocketbook had similar rules and was played at dusk or dark, much like Hubcap. 

To play Pocketbook, we first attached a long length of 20-pound test monofilament fishing line to the handle of the purse. 

The purse was then left on the edge of the road in plain view, but not out far enough to be run over. The other end of the line was in our hands of course.  

Once the purse was in place, we waited like any good fisherman does. Looking back, it seems very few cars can pass a purse on the road without inspecting it.
As soon as the car stopped, and the door opened, we'd pull in that purse as fast as we could and scoot.
The drivers' responses were a mix of laughter and profanity mostly. (Ours was entirely laughter).

Once a guy gave chase, but it was our territory and we vanished into the night with our purse.

Once, and only once, a lady jumped out the passenger side, tossed the purse in the back seat and the car zoomed off. The line tightened for just a second and then "ZING!", it popped.

I don't remember when we outgrew these games, but somewhere along the way to full teen status, they faded into our collective history...but not from our memories.

Cautionary note: This was all back in the "Wonder Years" era. I don't advise playing either of these games today. The world is a crankier place.
Plus ... few cars have hubcaps anymore so ...

Monday, December 24, 2018

Murmuration Saturation

I have witnessed starling murmurations before, but always at a great distance.

So when I passed a huge flock of starlings murmurating their little 4-chambered hearts out in a pasture off US-27, I pulled over just as fast as I could.

The dogs, Bear and Coquina, were with me, but this time they had to sit in the JEEP while I bird-nerded out at the pasture fence.

Before me, just a few feet away,  thousands of birds flowed like water... like intelligent water. 
They were close enough that the swoosh of thousands of wing pairs actually sounded like water. 
(I think on the video, the passing traffic sounds drown that out a bit.)

The sky dynamics of the murmuration as seen in the first video is wonderful and the part of this Sky-Tango that I had seen before.
And yes, I am always blown away by that, although as previously mentioned, usually from a great distance.

But this time, I was up close and personal to the ground level choreography and that was just as gobsmackingly amazing as the shimmering blur of an airborne murmuration. 

At times the birds poured, at near ground level, through the pasture fence and onto the grassy road shoulder where I was.

We were that close.

Here is the part that I had never witnessed. 
When the flock was descending and flowing along the ground, birds from above continuously advanced the leading edge of the ground flock by landing together directly in front of the leading edge.
In effect, row by fluid row, they replaced the front line. It was completely efficient, organized, and fluid.  

And beautiful to behold. 

On the ground, they seemed to be working the pasture grass for food, ... seeds, bugs ... whatever. 
In this system, everybody got fresh ground to search, because every row landed in front of the leading edge at that moment, and everyone moved forward until something triggered a flight to a new area where the same systematic movement happened again.

Here's a little bit of the science behind these bird brains from NPR.

A few years ago, George F. Young and his colleagues investigated starlings' "remarkable ability to maintain cohesion as a group in highly uncertain environments and with limited, noisy information" — a nice description of what goes on in a murmuration.
Going in, Young et al. already knew that starlings pay attention to a fixed number of their neighbors in the flock, regardless of flock density — seven, to be exact. Their new contribution was to figure out that "when uncertainty in sensing is present, interacting with six or seven neighbors optimizes the balance between group cohesiveness and individual effort."
The full article is here.

Every day I work, I wonder ... "What am I missing out there?"
It's events like this that keep that question swirling in my head.