December 5, 2020•1937 words
Sedentary life always seems to settle into a pattern, for better or worse. Possessions find a customary place, routines are optimized, new skills are honed until they require less and less thought. It's an interesting challenge to grapple with the occasional anxiety this brings up, the way the known can be as scary in its own way as the unknown. Will this go on forever? Is this really the life I want to be living? But most times I'm too absorbed in the moment to worry about that, and I've had quite a few wonderful moments this week. Several people have asked me when I think Punkin will be finished, and I've told them I have no idea, never having done anything like this before. I feel like my work right now is to practice enjoying the process even as a certain restlessness passes through me from time to time.
The "beach group" is a group of families that have been celebrating Thanksgiving and going to the beach together every year for over 40 years. This year everyone celebrated Thanksgiving day in nuclear family groups, but they did come out here on Saturday afternoon to socialize outdoors and take some exterior home tours of AP's ever-expanding deck and my little camp. JRM and SM were in from Asheville and brought their baby R who's just a few months old, and fell blissfully asleep in the warm sun on his grandma's shoulder. EA was in from California with her son F, who hopped around on a little mountain bike and was very interested in stories about my dirt bike class, because he's saving up for one of his own. His grandpa GA told me he's been biking on greenways, trails, and pump tracks around the Triangle and is really gifted, although he falls occasionally because he's trying crazy tricks. It was really nice catching up with everyone, and JRM and I had a good philosophical talk about bumps in the road and how to find the good life.
As the sun sank lower and it started to cool off, people started to leave, and my new engine finally arrived on a FedEx truck. My mom volunteered to supervise me driving it over to the garage in the trunk of the car, and on the driveway we saw a huge flock of wild turkeys, around ten or so, running across with heads frantically bobbing. Although I often hear them or come across their scratchings in the woods, it's a rare treat to see them up close. Benjamin Franklin argued for the clever and resourceful wild turkey to be our national bird instead of the bald eagle, which often lives by stealing fish from smaller birds. I guess we have a bit of both in our national character, it's just a matter of emphasis. Anyway I spent the evening in the garage, and AP came over to do some work on his truck, changing a tire, replacing the air filter, and swapping out coil packs, frequently cursing at how hard Ford made it to get to everything. Meanwhile I mostly measured things and shopped online for parts, adding to the steady stream of packages coming in from all over the place. On the way home the moon was very bright.
On Sunday JH organized a walk down the Pokeberry Creek trail in Bynum, and lots of old friends showed up. RW came in from Cedar Grove. JB and ES were there with their daughter N, who whittled on sticks with her Swiss Army knife and whistled on pieces of horsetail. KC showed up in a car with "Rednecks for Black Lives" hand-painted on the side, and dropped a lot of botany knowledge along the trail. She pointed out the bitternut hickory as a possible local source of vegetable oil and a few people sampled the flesh and found it lived up to the name. The Haw rumbled by, still swollen with recent rains, and we stopped to snack and talk among the majestic pines and golden beech trees, on sandbanks and rocky outcroppings. JB shared acorn biscuits and slices of a delicious crunchy persimmon from their backyard tree. JH shared a thermos of chai-spiced cocoa, which JB drank in tiny portions from an improvised leaf cup. We crossed the big creek by wading through the shallows or balancing on a log as each felt called. I helped JH cut loose a mess of rusty barbed wire from an old tree, and she worked it into a sculptural ball and carried it back on a stick to dispose of. I talked solar power, rain gear, and homesteading with DD and SS, and caught up with the other JH about his experiences providing healthcare for old folks during the pandemic. There was an emotional moment where he told us all how thankful he was to have us as friends, and I think the feeling was shared by all. Most of us hung around awhile in the parking lot, talking about this and that: manatees, the cost of tiny homes, the various methods of processing humanure.
After the walk, JH and I sat on her porch for a while and discussed her part in the "unmarrying" ceremony that HW and I are planning, and we talked some about our evolving relationships with our parents. Then I went over to DD and SS's homestead and got a grand tour of the garden, PF Memorial Bocce Court, solar power systems, humanure outhouse, cypress siding, and fresh hardwood floors. By the time I left it was good and dark with a bit of light rain starting to fall, and I finished this very social weekend cozy in my sleeping bag, eating chocolate and reading Motorcycle Engineering by P.E. Irving by the light of a kerosene lantern.
It's an interesting little book from 1962, and still pretty darn relevant, especially for a motorcycle built in 1968. I have a theory that every technology goes through a period when it's moderately popular but there aren't any "best practices" established yet, so you get lots of enthusiasts experimenting with original ideas. For computer software this era was the 50s and 60s, and it's pretty common to have a seemingly brand new idea that it turns out somebody was fiddling with back in the day. Some of them like Grace Hopper invent something like a compiler that it's hard to imagine life without, and others are like Edward Fredkin and invent something like a computer that can do a calculation and then run it in reverse so you wind up with the inputs again. But who knows, maybe some day reversible computing will turn out to be a crucial technology. Anyway, for motorcycles this era seems to have been the first few decades of the 20th century, before the Great Depression took out almost all of the small producers. Eventually the industry settled into distinct categories with mostly predictable design choices. I think one of these creative eras may be drawing to a close for the web, because I'm seeing an increasing tendency toward uniformity. Although there's an explosion of tools, they all seem to be made for doing the same kind of thing, and I expect many of them will be abandoned in the next few years as standards continue to solidify. I'd love to get into another area with that same feel, but in the computing space that would probably be virtual and augmented reality or machine learning (aka artificial intelligence), neither of which interest me very much.
Strong winds and rain blew through the beginning of the week, and then it turned bitter cold. Once again I started burning fat and releasing Lyme disease toxins, which made it harder to concentrate on my work, but I kept it mostly under control by stepping up my consumption of citron jelly tea and bitter gourd tea. On Tuesday we celebrated A's second birthday with a song and cake, which let's be honest is just there to convey the all-important icing to your mouth without getting it on your fingers. I rode into Pittsboro one night for groceries and a special treat of takeout Chinese food, and found out that even with improvised liners my motorcycle gloves are no longer warm enough for the colder temperatures. After a painful ride home where I had to choose between going slower to reduce the wind chill or going faster to just get it over with, I promptly ordered some proper winter gloves and a neck warmer. On Friday I went over to AP and GB's house to use their space-age washer and dryer, and in exchange helped AP and CW move a little dirt to cover the foundation piers of the addition they're building.
I made a little progress in the garage, fitting new LED bulbs, replacing the hand-grips and throttle cable, and stripping out some of the old electrical system. I also used a power washer for the first time to clean the frame, and once most of the dirt and dust were gone it became clear that a previous owner had slapped some house paint onto Punkin's rusty spots, so there are at least three or four shades of red going on. I actually kind of like the funky look and decided to leave it that way. I also removed the stock air box because the placement of the new carburetor makes it hard to use and it really breaks up the clean lines and offends my design sensibility. And indeed the Honda designers made it look way better in the 1969 model. RM helped me test-fit the new engine and it turns out the bolt holes have a different spacing from the ones on the frame. At first I felt despair that it wasn't going to work, then I resigned myself to welding, grinding, and drilling the frame until it would, but then I did some research and found a special bracket for exactly this frame/engine combination for $25, thank goodness. So with that and a little reaming to correct a mismatched hole size it will hopefully work. I'm slowly learning not to freak out when I hit an obstacle.
Things I Learned
- Persimmon leaves give off an unpleasant smell in the spring, at least for some varieties.
- I can actually collect more solar power on cloudy days. Although the light is less intense, the clouds bounce it back down so it gets over the tall pine trees that otherwise shade my panels from the south in the morning and evening. It's true that I get more peak power when there are no clouds, but since I can only absorb around 60 watts of it at most, it's not really useful to me.
- Hot water bottles have many uses. With just one firing of the stove, I can use a batch of hot water for steaming beans, rice, and eggs, keeping me warm while working on a cold morning, and bathing and washing dishes in the afternoon once it's cooled to a more moderate temperature.
- US shoe sizes are measured in barleycorns, which are now fixed at 1/3 of an inch, but once referred to the length of a grain of barley.
- The low winter sun shining through a forest of wet branches, all glistening like impossibly bright strings of fairy lights.
- Dead leaves covered with delicate spikes of frozen dew.
- Festive city lights on a crisp evening.
- Standing in the full sun on a cold day and feeling the heat work its way into my bones.