The Home I will Likely Never Build: the Garden

I’ve had a house in my head for thirty, maybe forty years now. It has evolved over that time, but my recent proximity to mortality has turned my thoughts to the dwelling with a more sharply-honed focus. The heavy walls I dream of are as old as the idea of the home itself. Likewise the secret passage. The sun has always been a friend, combining new tech with old architecture. The analemma in the secret room is new, as are the elevator’s virtual floors.

It’s a house a kid might design, full of fun and surprises, and it’s a house a hippie might design, a place that embraces nature and has a communal focus. Although I can’t let go of wood-burning fireplaces. It’s a house an engineer might design, optimized for efficiency and self-reliance. It is a house that celebrates artisans and craftspeople, honoring humanity and the hands well-applied to make something enduring. You can feel, in this place, the people who made it.

If you will indulge me, I would like to give you a tour of my imaginary home. I have tried to draw pictures, but for now at least I can offer only words. It would fill my life with light is someone reading this were to draw pictures of the words I write.

It starts at the gate. Unassuming pale stucco walls curve away from you on either side, but it is the gate that holds you attention. You notice right away that there are very few straight lines; all is curved and flowing. The opening in the wall is convex on one side, on the other it is a wave. It feels sculpted, rather than engineered. Perhaps you realize that this will be a foundational principle for all that follows. Perhaps you will just smile.

The gate itself is cast iron, decorated with motifs of nature — sun and soil and life, things that you will soon find in the garden. It curves and flows elegantly, and at the bottom is the mark of the artist who created it. Someone local, hopefully, who understands the land and what it means.

The gate is not locked; you lift the latch and step through into the garden.

Perhaps your eye is drawn to the house on the far side, but for once words beat pictures and I will instead bring your focus to the garden that surrounds you.

The path you are on curves and flows over the terrain, and crunches under your feet in a satisfying way. With every step you take, it whispers to you, telling you that you are in a quiet place, a place of contemplation. At least today it does, on this tour it is a sunny afternoon and there is no gathering at the house. Today there is the sun, and a gentle breeze making the trees sigh, and birds and whatnot, and you.

There is nohting exotic about the garden; the plants that grow here are the same as the ones that have grown on this land for millennia. But we aren’t above cheating a little; careful application of water and nutrients increases the density of the plant life, and the animals that depend on it. This is not simply a garden, it is an ecosystem*.

I said it was daytime, and in so doing robbed you of the scents of the night-blooming flowers, the weight of the colder air in your nose, the chime of the nighttime insects. I will have to replace that with the songs of the birds who find haven here, and the hum of the bees visiting the sex-parts of the flowers and taking their payday home. (new feature: beehive)

You have only taken a few steps, but you stop for a moment, to listen, and to breathe, and to shed the world on the other side of the gate. You are in a safe place now, a quiet place, unless you decide to raise a ruckus. No judgement here.

The path rises in front of you, then descends under your relaxed tread. From the top you can take in the whole garden. It is round, and vibrant, dotted with trees that remember when there were no people around here. Sorry about that, guys, but maybe a little extra water will help.

At the center of the round garden is a round patio, a place to sit and eat a sandwich or to read when the sun is not too bright. There is a sculpture here, interesting and whimsical, and functional in a way that will be revealed later.

Pausing here, you feel like you are at the center of the universe. You are surrounded by life, even if much of it is sleeping because I made you come here during daytime. Just wait for tonight. You will be glad you did.


Outdoor Hockey

In general, I enjoy the NHL games played outdoors. I might argue that they are turning to that gimmick a touch too often these days, robbing the event of its inherent specialness, but I’m still on board for at least one outdoor game each year. It’s different and fun and the players just seem a little happier.

Most years, it’s also a chance to have a hockey game in a giant arena that holds tens of thousands more fans than fit into a traditional hockey venue. After a couple of dicey years, the NHL developed a mighty mobile refrigeration unit that could maintain a good sheet of ice just about anywhere.

Just about. Today’s outdoor game in South Lake Tahoe was a disaster. The sun shone down and any ice over painted areas, like the logo in the center of the rink or the red dots, turned to slush. After the first period it was decided to postpone the rest of the game until long after nightfall. Luckily no one was hurt before that decision was made.

When you schedule an outdoor game, the weather will always be a risk. It seemed smart at first blush to put a game where there was no need to accommodate fans in a beautiful wintry setting. So the NHL decided to play a couple of games in Tahoe, setting up the rink on a golf course next to the lake. Lovely.

The thing is, when you don’t have to accommodate fans, you don’t have to build a rink. There are thousands (probably) of outdoor rinks on this continent that could have hosted this game — and imagine all the extra hometown color that could have enhanced the story.

I have been skating plenty of times — as ai kid I hit the ice fairly regularly in the winter — but I’ve never skated indoors. Not once. The little rink in my hometown was nestled in a deep canyon and shaded by ponderosas and long banners of fabric hanging from wires overhead to thwart the Northern New Mexico sun. At 7200 feet altitude, the air was cold and dry. Good for ice.

For the cost of building a rink on a golf course and then destroying TV ratings by moving most of the game until after most hockey fans were asleep, the NHL could have installed glass at our little rink and played the game in the most nostalgic setting imaginable — a little rink in a little town (high enough up that even the Avalanche might have been short of breath), and the players could have got their hot chocolate in little plastic cups just like the rest of us do. It could have been fuckin’ magical.

Much fancier than back in the day, but ready to host a big game.

Addendum: I went looking for a picture of the ol’ rink, and apparently it has glass now. In fact: “Built in 1936, the Ice Rink is the only refrigerated, NHL regulation, outdoor Ice Rink in New Mexico.” Those who know the history of Los Alamos realize that in 1936 the town didn’t exist; the rink was part of the Ranch for Boys that occupied the land before the Manhattan Project. Maybe there’s an old photo somewhere of Colgate and Pond in hockey garb. All more fascinating material for the TV yakkers to gush over.

The rink in this picture looks WAY swankier than it did was when I was a kid. Maybe not so good for nostalgia, but that ice is just waiting for the NHL to figure out how to get a no-audience outdoor game right. And with the glass they won’t have to send someone up the slope into the woods to find the puck quite so often.


Tools I Used While Installing a New Range Hood

An almost-comprehensive list of the tools I (and the Official Sweetie) used to install a new hood over our cooktop.

  • box knife
  • scissors
  • extension cord (green, 2-prong)
  • Craftsman variable-speed drill motor
  • Ryobe “drill saw” (sucked)
  • safety goggles
  • drill bits (various sizes)
  • straight steel aviation snips
  • left-turn steel snips
  • right-turn steel snips
  • flashlight, large
  • flashlight, small
  • table lamp with zebra stripes, fluorescent
  • Skil saber saw
  • stud finder (go ahead, say the joke)
  • MacBook Pro, to search for other tools
  • 2014 Mini Countryman, to fetch tools
  • Malco duct crimper (surprisingly fun!)
  • pencil
  • tape measure
  • paper towel
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • disinfectant spray
  • gauze
  • first-aid tape
  • heavy work gloves
  • chisel (3/8″)
  • Black and Decker circular saw
  • extension cord (orange, 3-prong)
  • 12″ rail clamp
  • 1/2″ socket
  • 1/4″ socket
  • 3/8″ socket
  • socket wrench, small
  • large-to-small socket adapter
  • socket wrench, large
  • small metal stool (pink)
  • Tacx bicycle repair stand (the key piece!)
  • wooden shims
  • digitally-controlled Dremel motor
  • analog-controlled Dremel motor
  • router attachment for Dremel motor
  • cutting bit for Dremel motor (x5)
  • Beats Audio over-ear headphones (for ear protection)
  • pointy hole-punch thing
  • Dyson upright vacuum cleaner
  • ratchet-drive screwdriver handle
  • Philips-head screwdriver attachment
  • long Phillips-head screwdriver bit (in drill motor)
  • hacksaw
  • carpentry ruler combination square (you’d think there’d be a better name for these)
  • Iron Horse sawhorses
  • Wood rasp
  • towel
  • Band-aid
  • hammer

It always ends with the hammer.


Tools I Used While Installing a Dishwasher

Tape measure
Box knife
Medium flathead screwdriver
Small flathead screwdriver
Pliers, electrician’s
Pliers, slip-joint
Pliers, long-nose
Pliers, groove-joint
Wire stripper (crappy)
Desk lamp
Flashlight (cheap and annoying)
Extension cords (3)
9/16″ crescent wrench
7/16″ crescent wrench
Drill motor
Medium philips screwdriver drill attachment
Drill-screwdriver extension
3/32″ drill bit
Mazda Miata (1999)
Credit card
Tote bag, canvas (No Kid Hungry)
Wood planer (antique)
Belt sander, small (belts all broke)
Belt sander, medium (borrowed)
Dremel motor with cutting bit
Mini Countryman (2014)
Circular saw
Dust mask
Vacuum cleaner
Level, carpenter’s
Level, torpedo
Socket wrench, 1/4″ drive
Socket, smallish
Socket, very small
Packing tape
Duct Tape
Multi-tool (used by helper)
Towels, cloth
Towels, paper
Topical antiseptic

The Suburban Dream

Three Home Depot visits into home ownership finds me on the back patio, a dog at my side, a fine beer next to my laptop on the glass-topped patio “dining table”. The umbrella is deployed for the first time and is doing its job admirably; my laptop screen is plenty bright enough and WiFi signal is strong. Across from me is my fancy new grill, just waiting for propane. To my left I see the new little push-mower and other garden tools.

My sweetie is around front right now; she spent yesterday pulling out some of the old landscaping to replace it with stuff more our style. Today’s Home Depot visit was to pick out the first wave of colorful flora for the front bed.

The Round Mound of Hound has forsaken my side to find a sunny patch of grass to lounge in. She seems pretty content.

This is pretty good.


Rocky Mountain Low

Location: Starbucks, Los Alamos, NM
Miles: I’ll check later.

Had an episode all typed up, but it sucked. The only good thing was the title, which I kept, even though it doesn’t really match the content anymore. I had even posted it by accident before I was done with it and Amy commented. There was lots of green chile in it, which was good, but other than that it was the same wandering drivel that most blogs seem to specialize in and I find myself falling into more and more these days. I was just telling about my day rather than writing. I’ve had a couple of episodes I’m quite happy with recently, and I don’t want to put up a bunch of boring crap now to break my momentum. My other writing is not going well either. I’m more fiddling around with words than writing.

So. Interesting stories. Hum. tum-te-dum…

I think I know the problem. It’s been more than four days since I had a beer. There are a few in fridge right now, chilling out, waiting for their moment. The threshold of “cold enough” is getting warmer as I type this.

Socially, Los Alamos is the exact opposite of Pacific Beach. There is no student population to speak of here and only one bar. You’re not going to go out on the town and meet someone you don’t know. This is the kind of town you come to after you’ve met your soul mate and settled down. Really settled down. Of course if you’re one of those hiking, biking, kayaking, skiing, going-to-opera-and-not-to-bars kind of wackos, this may be about as close to heaven as you can get.

As I mentioned before there is one bar remaining in this town, and it’s a beaut. This is an affluent town, but apparently all the wealthy alcoholics get plastered in the privacy of their own homes. The Canyon Grill is a dive if ever there was one. It’s a friendly place, however. Last time I was there I ended up staying way too long talking with people who seemed vaguely familiar. (“Your old man is the one who did the magic tricks, right?”) Everyone knew everyone else and I don’t want to know how many beers were bought for me.

I’ll be in there tomorrow afternoon, carefully monitoring my alcohol intake as I write. If you’re in the neighborhood stop by. The first round’s on me.