Author Archive: Christopher Waldrop

Truckin’ Like The Doo-Dah Man.

Ozone Falls

On our of first full day at Camp Ozone all campers were taken to see Ozone Falls, which was a nice little hike–less than a mile, and usually the counselors did it right after breakfast so all the kids would be worn out until lunch. I think they also did it early because seeing the falls was a pretty amazing thing and the counselors didn’t want to have to hear, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes. It was my third summer so I was a Camp Ozone veteran who knew exactly what to expect and of course I’d been saying to the counselors, “When are we going to see the falls?” every five minutes since I arrived, but that’s another story.

The hike to the falls took us down the road and under an I-40 overpass. As we were walking a kid named Ken, an first-timer at Camp Ozone, glommed onto me and asked if I knew anything about trucks. I’m still not sure why he chose me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like the sort of kid who knew anything about trucks. Then again neither did Ken who, in his t-shirt and shorts, looked pretty much like me and all the other kids in our group. So I admitted I didn’t know anything about trucks except that they were big and had eighteen wheels.

“I know everything about trucks,” Ken went on. “I know every model. Do you know what the most expensive brand of truck is?”

Since it had already been established that I knew nothing about trucks I’m not sure how he thought I could name even a single brand, let alone know anything so specific, but Ken’s enthusiasm was making me interested in trucks so I played along.

“Peterbilt.”

I have no idea if this was true. This long before the internet, and even longer before the internet became available on devices most of us carry in our pockets, although Peterbilt doesn’t even make the Top 10 for most expensive semi-trucks, and the Wikipedia page just for semis is a very deep rabbit hole of information, which makes me wonder if Ken really knew as much as he claimed. Maybe he really did know a lot about trucks, though, which would have been impressive for a kid at the time.

For some reason Ken and I separated after that. It wasn’t personal. I liked him and, as I said, his enthusiasm for trucks appealed to me–any time I talk to someone who’s obsessed with a subject, especially if it’s something I’ve never thought about, I get interested. I may not share their passion but I still feel like they open up a whole new way of seeing the world. Anyway Ken and I were in separate cabins and, after the trip to the falls, our counselors took us in different directions. Camp also only lasted a week so any lasting friendships were rare.

It’s ironic to me that we now have the internet and that I can fact-check things Ken said, as best I remember them, but I’ve forgotten his last name so I can’t track him down. Even if I could I’m not sure I’d want to. I prefer to have Ken only in my memory, and to imagine he’s still somewhere out there truckin’ along.

Celebrating The Public.

Source: Nashville Scene

I love public art, especially large murals on buildings, and I feel very lucky that we seem to be in a time when those are very popular not just in Nashville but in cities everywhere. There are probably a lot of factors that have spurred the creation of murals everywhere but one thing I think has helped is a widespread desire for community, and public art is a great way to foster community. Murals on buildings that people drive or walk by are something we can all share. There’s also something very special about the fact that you don’t have to go to a museum or gallery to see them. You don’t even necessarily have to make a special trip just to see them. Often you find them on your way to somewhere else.

Source: Nashville Public Art

The murals I’m featuring here are the work of Nashville artist Charles Key. Unfortunately I didn’t take these pictures myself but I’ve seen his work around, but only in passing. Even though he has a very distinctive style, I didn’t realize I was seeing murals by the same artist.

Key was featured in a Nashville Scene article last month and his own thoughts on community, and especially the need for art in the neighborhood where he lives have stayed with me:


Why not shine light? My thing is I want to spark somebody, some little kid — spark their imagination. … Maybe I could keep somebody on the right path through this small gesture that I’m leaving in these communities.

Source: Tennessee Tribune

Summer Time.

So I found an Argiope aurantia in the yard and if you don’t know what that is you’re probably thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it and if you do know what it is you’re almost certainly thinking I should hire whoever handles that sort of thing to get rid of it because you know it’s a great big spider. She wasn’t that big, though—it’s still early in the season, but it did remind me of the time when I was ten and found a fully grown one under the deck of my parents’ house. They’re quite beautiful with shiny black, white, yellow, and green bodies, and they build big circular webs with zigzag patterns. No one’s sure why they weave such obvious patterns into their webs—maybe it’s to warn birds away, or it’s for camouflage, or for some other reason.  They sit in the middle of their webs patiently waiting.

I’d visit the one under the deck three or four times a day sometimes and bring it prey which I know sounds pretty sadistic of me. At least I felt a little bit of guilt but it was also fascinating to watch. I’d catch a katydid, holding it by its leafy wings, and throw it into the web. The spider would rush over, bite the katydid once, injecting a toxic cocktail, and then start wrapping it. Some spiders wrap their prey in a single thread but an Argiope aurantia activates all its spinnerets at once producing a skein of silk that turns its catch into a mummy in seconds. Then it leaves its prey to sit and cook for a while because spiders invented ceviche long before humans did.

Sometimes when I came back later I’d find her sucking the juices from her wrapped meal. Then she’d pluck it loose from the web and let it drop to the ground. By nighttime the web would be gone. They eat part of their webs before going to sleep, recycling the protein, and producing a fresh, neat web the next day.

I spent the summer watching her grow bigger and bigger, but I tried not to get too attached. Even then I knew enough about biology to know that most spiders grow fast and put everything into producing children they won’t live to see. It’s sad but also beautiful.

I knew she was a she because the males are smaller and less distinctive. The males build a web near a female’s when it’s time to mate. I never did see her partner but one must have come around. By late August I could tell she was slowing down. She sometimes ignored the grasshoppers I threw into her web, conserving her energy while her internal organs slowly turned into eggs. The morning I found her in the upper part of her web next to what looked like a small mottled brown balloon I knew it was time. Summer at that age lasted forever and was also over in a blink.

Her children, if they survived the winter, had a tough time ahead of them, which is one of the sad facts of a spider’s life. They lay a thousand eggs or more as insurance because the world is a harsh place. Most won’t make it to adulthood.

The one I found in the garden earlier this week has been gone for a couple of days now. Her web is still there but it’s tattered. It’s unlikely she’s moved somewhere else. She picked a well-protected place. It just wasn’t protected enough, and there’s a long summer ahead of me.

Wear A Helmet. Seriously.

Less than a month before my eighth birthday I saw my friend Tony get hit by a car while riding his bike. He and I were going somewhere—he was going to ride and I was going to walk because I hadn’t learned to ride a bike yet. He sailed down the hill right, past the stop sign, into the intersection just as a car was coming. He should have stopped, but I’m pretty sure the driver was also speeding. The driver got out of the car and started screaming and a bunch of people came out of their houses and stood around, probably blocking traffic. Tony’s father came running and yelled for someone to call an ambulance. Maybe someone already had. An ambulance came and a woman in a white uniform got out and did something. I couldn’t see anything because of the protective ring of people around Tony.

I can place the year and even the date precisely because I stood there in shock for a very long time and then turned around and went home. That night I watched Steve Martin’s first TV special which, thanks to the internet, I know was shown on November 22nd, 1978. I was terrified Tony was going to die, or that he’d be permanently injured, but Steve Martin took my mind off that for a while. A few weeks later Tony was back at school. I’d picked out a toy truck that his mom took to him while he was in the hospital and I saw him playing with it at the bus stop.

Well, that’s not very funny, but this PSA from Denmark about the importance of wearing helmets is, so it can take your mind off that.

 

 

Sartor Restartus.

I may look like I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear but that’s only because I don’t put a lot of thought into what I wear. As much as I’d like to say my slovenliness, at least around the house, is the result of a carefully studied sartorial choice, an affectation of looking disaffected, the truth is it’s usually the result of fumbling through drawers in the dark and pulling out whatever shirt is available before I throw on yesterday’s jeans. Although I do sometimes dress up, sort of, preferring a button-down paisley shirt and I at least put on today’s jeans, and sometimes I put on my red shoes and dance the blues.

Something else I never thought much about is the idea that agriculture started because early humans needed food, but prehistorian Ian Gilligan came up with the idea that people might first have started cultivating plants they needed to make clothing. As they migrated toward colder regions, or as temperatures dropped because of changes in the climate, which happened around ice ages, simple animal furs and skins weren’t enough. He distinguishes between two types of clothes:

Simple clothes made from thick furs were probably sufficient when hominins began to occupy northern Europe during colder glacial stages from half a million years ago. Complex clothes are closely fitted around the body and can have cylinders attached to enclose the limbs properly; additionally, they can have up to four or five layers.

One of the problems with studying clothing is that even the sturdiest woven cloth is fragile compared to tools and pottery, and at least as far back as the 18th century, if not farther, clothes were recycled into paper for books, so if you ever find a first edition of Pride And Prejudice you just might be holding some of Mr. Darcy’s underwear, but that’s another story, and also means that clothes have a short shelf life. This makes early fashion hard to study, but archaeologists have found prehistoric sewing needles, and there’s more evidence in lice. Clothing lice would only have evolved with, well, clothes, and genome research traces them back to about a hundred thousand years ago.

It’s an interesting thing to think about even as the world of haute couture is collapsing, at least from the perspective of the sort of people who actually think it’s wrong to wear white after Labor Day. My own feeling, and this is just a thought, is that agriculture for food and clothing might have evolved together. Cultivating any crop, whether it’s cotton or wheat, means a lot of time in the sun and early farmers would have wanted protection from the sun while they were sowing and reaping. But now that I’m thinking about why we wear clothes maybe I’ll put a little more thought into what I wear.

 

Crossing Over.

Source: Getty Images

There was a dead armadillo on the side of the road. They’re a fairly recent arrival here; I think we first started seeing them in Nashville around ten years ago, and while they’re cute they also carry leprosy and can tunnel under houses undermining the foundations so when you see an armadillo you really can say, “There goes the neighborhood,” but that’s another story.

I hate to see roadkill of any variety so I felt a little bit happy reading a recent article about overpasses and underpasses that provide a safe way for wildlife to safely cross roads. In one part of Montana they’ve reduced accidents caused by cars hitting animals by 90%, and some of them, like this one in Canada’s Banff national park, are really cool looking:

Source: Enjoy The Silence

Some also go under the road so that smaller animals like salamanders and even larger animals like alligators to go in search of food and mates safely. This isn’t just important because it decreases the amount of potential collisions for both animals and humans. It also allows groups of animals of the same species who might have been cut off from each other to interact and have offspring, reducing the amount of harmful inbreeding that can happen when animal groups are cut off from each other.

And, sure, there are some potential downsides. One that the New York Times article mentions is that people might get the idea that as long as they’re creating over- or underpasses they can expand the roads. It’s not hard to see why this is a problem. Anywhere cars go they bring pollution, whether it’s noise or exhaust or some asshole who has to throw half a milkshake out of the window as he goes by.

I can think of another possible problem: the overpasses could make elk, deer, moose, and other animals sitting ducks—not to mention ducks, which raises the question first asked by Chico Marx, “Viaduct? Vy not a chicken?” I think of that because of a distant relative I knew as Uncle Rupert who once brought venison to a family gathering and proudly told everyone that after years of trying to get a deer he finally figured out that if he held the gun while his brother Russel held the spotlight…If you aren’t familiar with this hunting technique it’s probably because it’s illegal, and is one of the reasons my grandfather said that between them Rupert and Russel had one full brain but that most of the time neither one used it. The following Thanksgiving Uncle Rupert outdid himself by bringing a pretty funny looking turkey that turned out to be an endangered osprey. “At least,” he told everyone proudly, “I didn’t need a spotlight to bring it down.”

This Island Earth.

Source: littleisland.org

A coworker and I were talking about travel and I said I really love islands, especially small islands because I feel it’s possible to explore every part of them and not miss anything.

“Are you a completist?” she asked.

I’d never heard that term and it sounded vaguely insulting but I just said, “Yeah, I guess I am.” And I liked the term. It sounded better than incompletist which is probably more accurate, but that’s another story.

That was a few years ago but I was reminded of it by New York City’s new Little Island Park, an artificial island set on top of a bunch of funnel-shaped pilings that look like something out of a futurist utopia. If it were in a movie I’d think it was a special effect but, no, it’s really real—smaller than Gulliver’s Laputa, but nicer, and easier to reach.

Source: My Modern Met

I keep looking at those pillars, though, and thinking how fragile they look. My inner cynic says that every utopia has its dys, an ugly underside that props it up, but it’s really more complicated than that. Little Island Park is a beautiful, if unintentional, metaphor for our world: a great place to be but carefully balanced and dependent on collective effort. Our world is an island unto itself but also connected to and floating in a very dark, very cold sea.

Source: My Modern Met

In spite of that somewhat morbid turn I’d really love to go there. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to New York but if I ever get back Little Island Park will be high on my list of places I’d want to go, even if it means missing something else.

Source: My Modern Met

Let It Commence.

Commencement Address, Catalpa University, May 2021

Class of 2021, congratulations. You’ve made it through significant challenges and unforeseeable challenges which no other graduating class in history has ever had to face. Your struggles and accomplishments are utterly unique. Just like every other graduating class in history. What you’ve been through is the sort of thing that would make great material for a college application essay if you weren’t already graduating from college.

Congratulations on making it here.  Most of you, having made it here as freshmen, were statistically unlikely to graduate. Or statistically likely. Or maybe it could have gone either way. I really don’t know. I haven’t looked at the numbers. Anyway congratulations on being a statistic, but in a good way, and not like somebody who’s been struck by lightning three times which, I think, is pretty statistically unlikely, but also makes you statistically very likely to be the sort of person people move away from at parties.

As I look over and slightly to the left of your faces I, having once been where you are now know exactly what you’re thinking. How long am I going to talk before you can get your diploma and get out of here? Someday, maybe very soon, you’ll be wishing you could have dragged this out for a lot longer. But bear with me. Be patient. I promise to only speak as long as I’m contractually obligated to do so, and sometimes putting in the absolute least amount of effort can lead to great success. College taught me that. Specifically when I I aced a test on statistics.

I would kill time up here by reading the phone book but they don’t have those anymore, and it’s a shame. Tough guys used to demonstrate their strength by tearing phone books in half. Believe me, you don’t have to be that tough to tear a laptop in half. You just have to be fast enough to run away from the guy it belonged to.

You know what you never hear about? Someone being bitten by a shark while mountain climbing. You know what you also never hear about? Someone being mauled by bear while they were at the beach. That’s something you can think about if you can’t think of anything else.

Because you’re here you’ve passed many tests. Those of you who are finally here after five or six years of trying also failed many tests. Once you leave here you’ll face many more tests. With luck, determination, and hard work you’ll pass most of those tests. However in spite of luck, determination, and hard work you’ll also fail many tests. Don’t worry about it. You won’t be graded on most of them.

It’s a shame phone books are no longer around. Once some friends and I called for a pizza. We didn’t know the number for the place so we looked it up in the phone book. There were two listed. We called the first one and ordered a pizza and then we had to go pick it up so we wrote down the address. But we wrote down the wrong address and when we got there they didn’t have any record of our order. We ended up getting two pizzas.

You’ve had to answer many questions as part of your education, but as you’ve already learned, life is full of questions, many of which don’t have clear answers. What will your career ultimately be? What challenges will you face going forward? Why do people make videos of themselves watching videos? Does anyone really know where Suriname is? Why are there no single-A batteries?

These are the kinds of questions you can use to fill up space if you’re trying to fulfill an obligation to take up a certain amount of time, but I don’t recommend using any of them to pad out a resume, but if you’re ever in a position to do so I hope you’ll stick some of them into a job application. Hire anyone who says they don’t understand the question. Hire anyone who has a funny answer. Hire people with eyepatches because you know they’ve got a story to tell.

 Thank you for your time and patience, and and for falling asleep and letting your heads droop forward so I could see the cool decorations on your mortarboards. I’d like to stay longer but I’m pretty sure I see a guy who wants to talk to me about his laptop.

Other People.

While things are gradually returning to normal, or at least a new normal, there’s still no clear word on when I’ll return to my old office. The place where I work is still under semi-lockdown which makes sense: it’s near a hospital and the higher-ups prefer to err on the side of caution.  The other day my wife, who’s arranged to work from home permanently, and I were discussing what we’d do when I do finally go back.

“Maybe we can just skip paying for a parking pass,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind driving you to the bus stop. And then on days when I’m not working you can get a day pass.”

That she offered to drive me to the bus stop surprised me at first but then I started thinking about it. We both get up at the same time every morning because of the canine alarm so it’s not as though she’d get any extra sleep if I drove to work, and, as short as it may be, the drive to the bus stop would be a chance to spend a little more time together before starting the work day.

And I thought about all the benefits of riding the bus. I get to sit back and relax, I don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, I get some exercise walking to and from the bus stop. In a small way me riding the bus benefits other people too.

Back in the pre-pandemic times whenever I’d drive to work I’d pass by people standing at bus stops. Some of them I even recognized. I’d frequently see a guy I knew from the bus. We never talked but I remembered him because he’d sometimes ask the driver to pull up about fifty feet so he could get off at the entrance to his apartment building. Why there was a stop fifty feet from the entrance to an apartment building and not, you know, right in front of it, is a mystery to me, but the bus drivers were always willing to go the extra distance.

When I’d see him, or others, I’d always think about pulling over and offering to give them a ride. There are a lot of reasons I never did. For one thing if there was heavy traffic there was no way I could safely pull over—I’m not driving a bus—and anyway by the time I recognized anyone or even saw someone at a bus stop I was already going by. For another thing I don’t know if anyone waiting for a bus would accept a ride from a complete stranger. I’ve had strangers offer to give me a ride. The only time I ever took one up on it was when I was chasing a bus I’d just missed and a guy pulled over and offered to drive me to the next stop so I could catch it. I’ve forgotten his name now but I’ll always be grateful to him for that.

To get back to my point, though, the reason public transportation exists is because people use it. Nashville’s public transportation isn’t great but as long as people use it we can hopefully prevent it from getting any worse. Maybe we can, collectively, make it better—although that would be more likely if more people rode the bus. I’m just one rider so, as I said, my contribution will be small, but at least I’ll be contributing to the continuing bus service, and that will benefit other people.

This doesn’t have anything to do with Memorial Day so here’s something that does.

In Position.

Several years ago I went to local yoga classes. It was fun and good exercise, mostly—I liked a lot of the poses but really hit my limit with the Sarvangasana, and I just couldn’t manage to go all the way into the next pose, Halasana. I told the instructor, who was younger, that at my age I didn’t think it was a good idea to put my ass over my head, but the truth is it’s something I always had trouble with, even as far back as seventh grade when I got a low grade in gym class because I couldn’t do a forward roll. Coach Withers said, “Come on, I’ll help you through it,” and he got me to tuck my head down as far as it could go and then he grabbed me and flipped me over. I immediately got up and said, nope, never doing that again. I still got a passing grade because, let’s face it, no one flunks gym, not even that one kid who refused to take a shower, but that’s another story.

I’m pretty sure I got a passing grade in the yoga classes too, even though we weren’t being graded, and we had two different instructors who alternated Saturdays. One was kind and supportive and tried to gear her choice of poses for the beginners in the class. The other was kind and sort of supportive and also working on a high level yoga instructor certification and would get all of us to try out more rigorous poses. She’s the one who got me to do the Sarvangasana for the first time, which involves lying on your shoulders and stretching your legs upward, and then suggested I go for the Halasana, which is the next position and involves lowering your legs toward your head, and said, “Come on, I’ll help you through it,” and that’s when I said, nope, not falling for that one again and headed for the showers.

The “Namaste” pictured above was carved into the railing at the center of this bridge which is a nice spot for looking at the lake.

Seeing “Namaste” carved into the center of the railing of the bridge at Radnor Lake reminded me how much I enjoyed those yoga classes, which, regardless of the instructor, always began and ended with the Hindu greeting. Hiking is great exercise and I very rarely have to worry about overstretching or getting into an uncomfortable position on the trail, but I need to get back to the challenges of yoga, even with the possibility that I might fail.

%d bloggers like this: