Woodsman, Spare That Tree

Behind the boat shed, on the property line between my good neighbors Phil and Beth, looming over the roof of the sail loft and the far back corner of my property, stands a towering honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos). I’ve written about my love-hate affair with this same tree before ( when I ranted about the “tree turds” the old timer manages to produce and drop onto the back yard each and every fall.

Honey Locust seed pods. Take one of these and repeat several hundred times every windstorm and you learn to despise these tree turds.

I have no idea how old the tree is, but despite the mess it makes, I’ve always been fond of it, respecting its survival instincts when nearly every other tree on the property has succumbed to winter gales or late summer hurricanes at one time or another. I also suspect whomever planted it was a serious tree connoisseur, because elsewhere on the perimeter of the property once grew a majestic black cherry and an English chestnut. The cherry tree, which gave up the ghost on Christmas morning 2017 during a sudden whiteout snow squall, dropped black fruit over the yard every summer which managed to stain bare feet purple and induce shrieks of horror in my wife when she discovered someone’s purple footprints tracked all over the rugs. The chestnut, , drops spiked nuts all over the sidewalk, little green caltrops that cause the little kids walking barefoot to their sailing lessons to shriek in.

According to Wikipedia a honey locust is:

  • a relatively short-lived tree with a life span of 120 years. That means this tree was probably planted around 1900 or later. I’m guessing by the same person who thought it wise to plant the cherry and the chestnut.
  • considered an invasive species — especially in Australia where everything not from Australia goes root and goes beserk
  • used in new developments and on compromised land without a steady water supply to provide fast shade.
  • normally is covered with wicked thorns that can be turned into primitive needles or fishing hooks.

My tree doesn’t have the thorns, but it does have the little leaves and the seed pods of the species. My good friend has a honey locus in his yard, just as big as mine, but his has a rope swing hanging from one branch, and the trunk is studded with the dreadful thorns like some psycho horror movie tree that can talk and impales misbehaved children who dare to ride its swing.

Shading the sail loft

After Phil and Beth moved in a couple years ago and finished restoring the houuse, the locust dropped a big branch onto their driveway, barely missing a parked car. Phil was astonished by the tree turds and how they seemed to keep dropping in an endless supply every time the wind blew hard or a storm swept through.

Last summer, after nearly decapitating myself taking a fallen Norway Maple off of the roof of my garage, I gave up any delusions of being a competent tree surgeon and called a professional, a local outfit called Treefrog. I asked them to get the maple off the garage, to finish removing the old cherry, another dead maple at the end of the driveway, and to please give the honey locus and the chestnut tree some love by cleaning out the deadwood and giving them a good going over.

The foreman on the job took me aside when his crew was finishing up and told me that the honey locust was the most beautiful specimen he had ever seen. I was glad he gave it a bill of good health.

Then one day this spring Phil and I conferred on matters related to our property line [insert the tired cliche of good fences make good neighbors here] and he floated the idea of cutting the honey locust down because of the risk it posed to his cars and the atrocious mess the tree turds caused.

Suddenly I got all sentimental about the tree. I told Phil what the expert told me, that the tree was healthy and an amazing specimen, but I had to put my usual reactionary aversion to change aside and agree with his reasons for cutting it down. My wife wasn’t a fan. She isn’t a tree lover and prefers open sunny spaces to dark, shady ones. But she knew my tree hugging fondness made me emotional about seeing it vanish.

My “woodsman, spare that tree” lament went something like this: “That thing is twice as old as we are. It survived at least six hurricanes, including 1938 and 1944 when very few trees in Cotuit survived. Squirrels and chipmunks crave the seed pods and sit on the fence eating them like cobs of corn. It shades the site of the first Masonic temple in Cotuit — my great-great grandfather’s sail loft, and has shaded four generations of Chatfields and Churbucks during summer chowder parties and other celebrations. Now it’s going to die.”

I made the case for keeping the tree, but I was resigned to see it go. Look at the bright side I told myself. No more tree turds. No more worries about English Ivy choking the bark of the trunk. No crushed cars or pedestrians. More sun for the rose bushes, less of a threat to the dilapidated boat shop and sail loft.

But deep down inside I was getting more sad about the tree than I expected. I’ve never planted a tree. I’m not a big celebrator of Arbor Day and I am quick to pull out the chain saw to do away with a shitty tree like a pernicious maple trying to undermine the foundation of the house. But this tree had a hold on me. I stare at its branches through the skylight over the bed in the winter. In the summer, when its leaves finally fill in (later than other trees), the entire canopy makes a soothing susurration in the breeze. I started to mourn it, staring at it all this past spring like I was saying goodbye to it.

On Monday of this week Phil called to let me know the tree service was coming the next day to take out a shattered maple and take care of the honey locust. Yesterday their trucks backed down the driveway, a man in a hard hat ascended in a bucket truck, and by 10 am his chain saw was making short work of the maple.

I took a few farewell pictures of the tree, recalling John Cheever’s beautiful description in his novel Oh What a Paradise It Seems of Connecticut’s former elm trees before the Dutch blight killed them all off in the 1960s.:

“He was old enough to remember when the horizons of his country were dominated by the beautiful and lachrymose wine-glass elm tree and when most of the bathtubs one stepped into had lion’s claws. “

I was sad. “Woodsman spare that tree,” I muttered to myself as I went to work and avoided going outside the rest of the day to witness the felling of the tree. I wanted to put it out of my mind and vowed to plant another tree, maybe not a honey locust, but the same impulse that makes people rush out and buy a puppy after an old beloved dog passes away.

The end of the maple, the honey locust stand on death row to the left.

Late yesterday afternoon Phil called. His tree surgeon had said the same thing my guy said — the tree was special and shouldn’t be cut down. Beth agreed. Phil agreed, and with true tears in my eyes I stepped out of the boat shop and looked up at my old friend and smiled. It sports a few steel cables in its canopy and some deadwood is gone, but it still stands and hopefully will stand for a long time to come.

Still standing after all these years.

Fly Fishing for mahi mahi south of Martha’s Vineyard

30 miles south of MV on an 8-wt sink tip, chartreuse clouser. We boated 25 fish in an hour from a single hi-flyer with ultra light spinning tackle. I nailed just one with the fly rod from the bow, almost went overboard trying to fight it back to the cockpit. I handlined it over the side just as it bit through the tippet and fell into the cooler.

Bait & Tackle

It’s the end of July and time to start obsessing about bonito on the fly rod. Why I chase these tiny tuna is beyond me, other than the thrill of occasionally hooking one and the feeling like I’ve dipped my arms in electricity as the fish takes off like a nuclear torpedo and the fact that the sushi grade meat makes for great spicy tuna hand rolls. Other than that it’s an exercise in madness as the crazed schools erupt exactly where I’m not, and the other deranged fishermen fire up their outboards and fruitlessly chase the fish where they were, not where they’re going.

Dave’s Bait & Tackle

I had to clean up my collection of fishing rods a few weeks ago to get them ready for the visit of my two sons and son-in-law. That triggered a bout of obsessive compulsive washing, waxing, greasing, and repairs that in turn led to a long overdue sorting of lures, weights, and flies. All the lures I have scavenged from the flotsam of Dead Neck during my annual fall clean up needed to be cleaned up and get equipped with new hooks. Wire leaders needed to be untangled, fluke rigs needed to be tied, and before I knew it my boat shop had been turned into a bait and tackle store cluttered with boxes of fresh treble hooks, new bucktail jigs, split ring pliers, nail knot tools, stacks of Plano plastic boxes, my old surf bag, crimps, swivels, snap hooks, hook sharpeners, spools of flourocarbon leader material, and some massive wooden plugs the size of my feet.

I’m a big believer in giving my fishing tackle business to local shops. I invested in a new ultra-light spinning rod in June from my friend Peter Jenkins, waiting patiently for exactly the right reel to come back in stock (a Van Staal VR-50) before driving to Newport, RI to pick it up and catch up with Peter who’s an old friend from way back in the early Reel-Time.com days, and who bore witness to my one and only catch of a Spanish mackerel on the fly. I could have saved myself the trip and ordered the thing online from Peter’s shop — The Saltwater Edge — but it was far more satisfying to drive there on a beautiful June Saturday and actually watch him spool it up with some braided line.

But when it comes to the little stuff that I need a lot of — hooks in all their various sizes and configurations, tools and the hardware that a good fishing rigger needs — I have no problems turning to Amazon and getting precisely what I need rather than compromising in the aisles of my local bait shop. Compounding the problem is the lack of a decent bait and tackle in my neck of the woods here on the Cape. SportsPort used to be my second home back when Karen ran it, but a trip to Hyannis in the summer is a terrible thing and there simply isn’t enough room in any store — save the big box fishing places like Cabela’s — to stock everything I need.

What’s old is new again

Over the course of the past two weeks I’ve been sitting in my great-great-grandfather’s old captain’s chair on the threshold of the boat shop, looking out at the garden while the local family of ospreys screech and the hummingbirds have territorial dog fights around the feeder, sitting there popping off old rusty tetanus hooks and splitting over tiny stainless steel split rings, trying my best after a couple IPAs not to hook myself as I revive about $1000 worth of plugs.

Deadly Dicks, Swedish Pimples (which live in a box labelled “Pimple Dicks”) Kast-Masters, Ballistic Missiles, Atom Poppers, bucktails, circle hooks, Yozuri minnows, Hopkins spoons, Rapalas, Rattle-Traps ….. it’s been said that most fishing lures are designed to hook the buyer before the fish, and given the extent of my collection I won’t be buying any new ones any time soon. Funny, but the most effective and versatile thing is the probably the most traditional: the bucktail jig, a lead head with a hook, wrapped with a skirt of deer hair. Everything eventually eats a bucktail.

After the re-hooking and restoration of the lures, I turned to the fly rods. Lines needed to be replaced or cleaned. A dozen boxes of flies for everything from offshore fishing to bonefish on the Bahamian flats needed to be sorted or cleaned to rid them of the stink of chipmunk pee. I shook one flyrod case and a family of mice dropped out. Next time I’m wearing a respirator to spare myself some toxic hantavirus.

I tied my own leaders up by knotting together 30-lb, 20-lb, and 10-lb flourcarbon leaders. That forced me to relearn all the fishing knots I forget every year and so I sat with a YouTube demo running on my phone in my lap as my arthritic sausage fingers struggled with the nearly invisible pieces of expensive monofilament. Kreh’s Loop, Homer Rhodes, Palomar, Albright, improved cinch ….. rigging has always been my favorite job on a fishing expedition to the point where I rather be tying rigs and setting spreads than actually fishing. They say a good rigger is priceless in big game fishing tournaments, and I’ve watched some Florida pros rig live baits under kites and then threaten predacious seagulls with death-by-shotgun if they dare try to pick off a precious Goggle Eye.

It’s been said that most fish are caught the night before — meaning it pays to be prepared before actually wetting a line. Hooks have to be sharpened. Rigs specific to the fish one is likely to encounter need to be tied up with dropper loops for teasers, and bait hooks snelled onto hi-lo rigs. I guess that’s the part I like the most. The tying of flies, the inventory of materials, the boxes, the bins, the little tools and glues and tiny swivels……it’s all just a very OCD exercise that goes out the window when I actually get on the water make that first cast and holler “Fish On!” even when I’m fishing by myself.

So who knows what this coming late summer season will bring. I live on some of the best fishing water in the world, the northernmost point for tropical species like King Mackerel, Mahi-Mahi, Atlantic Bonito (and manatees), a peninsula named after the fish that made Massachusetts great once upon a time.

Presentation of my Sampson’s Island lecture

I delivered my lecture on the history of Sampson’s Island and Dead Neck, and the related history of the Osterville Cut last night to a standing room only crowd at the Cotuit Library.

The lecture was recorded and as soon as it’s posted on the website of the Historical Society of Santuit-Cotuit I’ll add a link. In the meantime, here’s a PDF of my slides and speaker notes.

The Shifting Sands of Sampson’s Island: I’m giving a lecture

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 20th( at 7 PM I’ll be talking about the history of Cotuit/Osterville’s Dead Neck Sampson’s Island, with a close look at the history of the barrier islands, the construction of the Osterville Cut in 1900 over the objections of Cotuit, and other anecdotes as they come to mind.

Thanks to Cindy Nickerson at the Historical Society of Santuit & Cotuit for inviting me to kick off this summer’s Cotuit Chronicles series. This marks my fourth appearance, the previous ones being about the Mashpee Woodlot Revolt, Life in Colonial Cotuit, and Cotuit’s Hurricanes.

I’ll upload my slides tomorrow night

Thirty-five amazing years

Thirty-five year ago this amazing woman, Daphne Mallan Fullerton, married me in Cotuit at the Federated Church. We were 24 years old, the first of our friends to get hitched. We embarked on a life together that has made me rich with a loving family, a happy home, and a deep abiding friendship that has endured everything that came our way.

Back to basics: Unicomp EnduroPro Keyboard

In which I go back to the past and get myself a buckling spring keyboard.

I am typing this on a Unicomp EnduroPro keyboard. PC users of a certain age who used the original IBM PC in the early 1980s will remember the massive keyboards that came with the first machines. Heavy, beefy, noisy monsters that weighed enough to break a big toe should one drop it.

These keyboards are a far cry from the plastic contemporaries turned out by Logitech and Microsoft. There are no special shortcut keys, no split layouts that purport to be more ergonomic. Just big raised keys that make a strangely satisfying click as their “buckling spring” mechanism kicks in and lets you know that you are actually typing and getting stuff done.

I have the version with an integrated TrackPoint pointing device — complete with the familiar red cap found on Lenovo’s ThinkPads. I’m a big fan of the pointing stick because it means I don’t need to take my right hand off of the keys to find a mouse and click on something. Alas, the Unicomp driver doesn’t let one adjust the sensitivity of the pointer, and on my Windows machine the thing is way too twitchy to get much done.

But typing is another thing all together. The tactile and auditory feedback is very satisfying, especially if you type with only index fingers and thumbs like I do. This is a keyboard that brings me back to the days of actual mechanical typewriters and now that I hear and feel things the way I used to when I write I actually feel invigorated by the experience.

Rudyard Kipling wrote an essay about his desk which can be found in John Hersey’s excellent compendium of writers writing about writing, The Writer’s Craft. Kipling described how everything had to be arranged just so in order for the muse to inspire him, describing how every detail of the desk in front of his eyes had to be perfect in order for the mystical experience of creativity to flourish. Other writers have mused about the impact of their tools on their craft. William F. Buckley’s mused about the impact of the first word processors and XyWriute on his writing. David McCullough continues to bang out his work on a manual typewriter. Jack Kerouac fed a continuous roll of butcher paper into his typewriter so as not to interrupt his steam of consciousness when he wrote On the Road.

I won’t get into the fundamental truth that writing on any device connected to the internet is a recipe for distraction and procrastination. But for now, this $105, seven-pound revival of the original PC keyboard is making me very happy.

Date Formats

How do you write the date? I worked with a CEO who demanded the company respect its international operations by writing the date this way: DAY-MONTH-YEAR, or 17/5/2019. That’s backwards from how I was taught to write it in grammar school when it was MONTH-DAY-YEAR. or 5/17/2019. What’s an Ugly American to do in a globalized world?

I still hew to the common American format in my writing and speaking when I need to insert a date into a sentence: “Today is May 17, 2019.” But Non-American English speakers prefer to say the day first, as in “The Japanese attacked on the 7th of December,1941.” This follows the “biblical” construction used in many formal religious and legal documents: “On the 7th day of December, in the year of our Lord 1941.”

But neither written or spoken expression works when managing a lot of files that are being reviewed and red-lined by clients and their lawyers. I need a format that will allow me to sort a directory and the contents of each subdirectory in chronological order. In that case I follow the ISO 8601 format which seems to me to make the most sense: YEAR-MONTH-DAY. For example. a document is named with the date first, in descending order of the time units’ “size” and then separated by hyphens with an underscore after the date and before the document’s name, followed by another hyphen, my initials, another hyphen and the version number: 2019-05-17_documentname_DCC_V1.ext

The ISO format can be sorted but every single-digit month and day –like “May 5” –must be preceded by a zero, (e.g. 2019-o5-17) or it won’t sort correctly.

The various options are bewildering without the International Standard Organization’s official guidance.

  • DMY: Day-Month-Year: this, according to Wikipedia, is “common to the majority of the world’s countries and is the preferred form used by the United Nations. This is what that old CEO wanted. But even then there are a lot of options when writing in that format. “17 May 2019” is expressed with a period after the date in German-speaking countries: “17.May 2019.” Then there is: 17/05/2019; 17-05-2019;17-May-2019; 17May19; “The 17th of May 2019”; 17/May/2019; Friday 17 May 2019; 17/v/19 (when the Roman numeral is used to signify the month by some schools and by the Vatican (to avoid using the names of months named after Roman pagan gods) and in Canada to make the format bilingual for English and French speakers.
  • YMD: Year-Month-Day: this is favored in East Asia and a few other countries and is expressed as: 2019-05-17 or 2019/05/17. ISO 8601 follows this format, but expresses it as a monolithic eight digit number for digital file names: 20190517.
  • MDY: Month-Day-Year: This is the U.S. format (also used in the Philippines and English-speaking Canada): May 17, 2019 or 05-17-2019 or 5/17/19/
  • YDM: Year-Day-Month: 2019.17.05 or 2019 17 May. This is how they write the date in Kazakhstan,Latvia, Nepal and Turkmenistan. In case you wondered……

Internet dates are defined by RFC 3339 and is expressed as YYYY-MM-DD.

So why get all global and follow the ISO standard? Wikipedia explains:

“One of the advantages of using the ISO 8601 date format is that the lexicographical order (ASCIIbetical) of the representations is equivalent to the chronological order of the dates, assuming that all dates are in the same time zone. Thus dates can be sorted using simple string comparison algorithms, and indeed by any left to right collation….The YYYY-MM-DD layout is the only common format that can provide this.”

Wikipedia: “Calendar Date”