October 30, 2012


I didn't sleep well at all last night. The wind just seemed to get worse and worse and the house kept up its groaning complaints throughout. When Rob's alarm went off at 7:30, neither of us felt inclined to get up. The wind was howling, and though our power was still on, there were reports of huge outages all over. Maybe school would be cancelled?

When I looked out the window, my stomach just about hit the floor. One of our neighbor's giant pine trees had fallen over during the night, and the only things that had kept it from smashing in the roof of Rob's new Honda were a couple of utility cables strung from a street-side power pole to the north-east corner of our house. I ran downstairs and took this photo...

Rob came downstairs next and, with a little assistance holding branches away from the door, was able to move the car further into the driveway and out of harm's way. Whew! Still, those stretched cables had me worried, so I called the Oberlin Police Department (whose dispatchers were inundated with similar calls), and put our address on the list of those waiting for assistance.

While we waited, Rob searched for news from the college about any class cancellations. No luck...school's still in session...but he did find this encouraging little tidbit on a campus news website:

In the event of a downed power line: report downed lines to safety and security...or to Oberlin Police...avoid anything that may be touching downed lines, including vehicle or tree branches. If a line falls on your car, stay inside the vehicle. Take care not to touch any part of the metal frame of your vehicle. Honk the horn, roll down the window, and warn anyone who may approach of the danger. Ask someone to call the police. Do not exit the car until help arrives, unless it catches fire. To exit, open the door, but do not step out. Jump, without touching any of the metal portions of the car's exterior, to safe ground and get quickly away.

Hmm. I guess we lucked out again that we weren't electrocuted when we moved Rob's car out from under the tree. I guess the lines must have just been for the cable or phone.

It wasn't long at all before a team from the power company showed up with a cherry picker and a chainsaw to cut the lines free.

I drove Rob to work a little later and observed that though a couple side streets are flooded enough to warrant closures (presumably from overwhelmed gutters), the neighborhood's overall damage seems to be minimal. Trash cans have been blown all over, and there were a few more broken tree limbs, but things could have easily been worse. It's certainly nothing like what the east coast is dealing with. We do have a little water seeping up in the basement, but only in small puddles so far...hopefully the sump pump will do its job.

We're going to continue to feel Sandy's effects through tomorrow. Yes, that wind's still howling, the house is still making funny noises, and I'm eyeing all our giant pine trees...especially the enormous one in the front yard that towers above the roof...with a certain amount of trepidation. It's fortunate that most leaves have fallen and left deciduous branches bare enough to let the wind whistle through them without too much trouble. If this storm had come a couple weeks earlier, we might have a few more collapsed giants. And if there's one thing I'm REALLY grateful for right now, it's that I'm not out there delivering mail in this mess...knock on wood!

October 29, 2012


I'm lying in bed trying to think about going to sleep while the western edge of the infamous "Frankenstorm" rages outside.

North central Ohio is under a high wind warning through tomorrow. With gusts expected around 60 mph it's not quite as bad as what New Jersy is dealing with, but it's certainly enough to shake the upper floors of this house and make me cross my fingers that we won't end up losing power...or have one of the front-yard trees smash our cars. There's also supposed to be some flooding up by Lake Erie and in low-lying areas around local rivers, but I think Rob and I should be mostly high and dry...though we just received an email from the owner of the house warning us to watch for flooding in the basement from water seeping up through the foundation.

...and the house continues to groan, and shudder...

It seems odd to me that this is the second time in about a year that I've experienced the outer reaches of a nasty tropical storm...and in both cases, I was quite a ways inland. The last one (remnants of Irene & Lee in Ithaca NY) gave us quite a show after its departure!

I'm not as afraid of storms as I was when I was a kid, but this one is really giving me the shivers for some reason. Maybe its because I can't find any of my flashlights (must still be in one of my unpacked moving boxes). Or more likely, it's because the house shakes with every sustained gust of wind...I may be less bothered by storms, but earthquakes are still high on my list of most potent phobias, and right now my brain doesn't seem to be making much of a distinction between the two.

At the same time, I know that somewhere up there a big, beautiful full moon is illuminating the tops of some incredible cloud formations. Jupiter and its moons should be up and about as well. I'll bet the view above the storm is incredible!

October 25, 2012

Nine Attic Studies

As most of you have heard, my practice space these days is set up in the beautifully maintained third-floor attic of an old Oberlin home. The room is long and thin with an east-west orientation, and two large windows at either end allow streams of sunlight to illuminate its interior. I love this room. The acoustics are average, but it's clean, well lit, and spacious enough to give me the sense that I can really let my sound travel. On days when my sound seems stuffy and tense, it helps to gaze out over the treetops and imagine my tone is vibrating the shingles on the house across the street. 

I've also found the attic to be a great place for drawing. One of this house's owners is a visual artist whose pastel creations adorn the walls in almost every room. The attic usually serves as her studio and I've often wondered if the creative vibe she lent the place is still resonating in her absence. The walls slant gently inward--following the line of the roof--and I enjoy the geometry this creates around the small winding stairwell leading back down to the house's second floor. 

Tonight's practice session extended from afternoon, through sunset, and on into the darkness. All the while, shadows and patterns of light danced over the interesting contours of the attic walls. During practice breaks I began snapping photos as the scene evolved...eventually even using various floor lamps and photographic lights to create some shadow play of my own. Finally, as is often my habit these days, I enhanced each shot in iphoto in order to highlight, and in some cases intensify, specific aspects of form, color, and mood. The following series of nine studies is the result. Each image is unique. I did not take one picture and then just change it 9 times. Rather, each variation was inspired by distinctive characteristics present in each individual photograph. Also, nothing has been overlaid or cut-and-pasted together. The shapes and patterns present are simply the result of light and shade playing over the folded surface of plain untextured walls.


A creative spurt like this makes me really wish my camera were a bit better quality. As it is, I'm not certain these images would be high-resolution enough to exhibit. Well...maybe if they were fairly small...

In any case, I enjoyed the exercise. Artistic playtime is never a waste.

October 17, 2012

Working Hard

For the past couple weeks, my rural-carrier training has intensified sharply. I've come into the office at 6:30 am every morning in order to prep and carry the route in halves (and one whole), spent hours internalizing the names and street addresses in my case, and worked to prepare myself mentally and physically for my first big test this weekend: tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday I'll be on my own for the first time...sink or swim. My hands and wrists are cut, dry, and achy from handling never-ending bundles of dusty inky mail, my mind is full to bursting with maps and numbers and names, and behind it all I'm pushed to be ever more efficient as I work...oh, and if I miss a scan, I'm probably fired.

No, being a mail carrier isn't rocket science (as one of the Wellington clerks quipped to me today), but there are sure a lot of little things you have to remember, and a whole series of tasks you have to do quickly enough to make it back for the final mail pick up at 5:00 pm. The route I'm assigned to is the longest in our office (somewhere in the neighborhood of 700 boxes) and is evaluated at 9 hours--which means that's how long they expect me to take from beginning to end: even on the heaviest of days...like most Mondays when many-feet-tall stacks of ads, catalogues, magazines, and political fliers must be cased and delivered along with the usual bundles of mail and parcels...and no, I can't throw out all that "junk mail" for you, it's against the law...I can even get in trouble for calling it "junk mail." Anyway, it's really the political mail ("more o' that *$#%! political $&%!" as Dee puts it), that's really inundated us lately. It's cool to be living in Ohio during an important campaign season, and to know that my vote really matters this time, but on the day after a boisterous presidential debate the office is flooded with mailers that eat up time and space in the case.

So far I've struggled to keep my pace quick enough to be able to make my route's evaluated time. On the day I carried the whole route for the first time, Dee came in and helped with the majority of my casing so that I'd be able to head out onto the route by 9:30 am. Even though I didn't take a break for lunch, and only squeezed in ONE quick bathroom run (and spent the rest of the day dehydrating myself and praying that my bladder wouldn't explode), I still barely made it back to unload by 4:15. It was grueling.

Once I get to know things a bit better and can reduce the amount of time I have to spend on navigating and sorting, I think the job might actually be enjoyable. Despite various hazards I've encountered during delivery (already been cornered by loose aggressive dogs, and had to avoid ants, spiders, bees, and wasps that seem to love to congregate on mailboxes...I've even found a few bird's nests...with eggs in them no less!), there are still moments when I'm caught unaware by the loveliness of the countryside and my good fortune to be out in it on a regular basis. I've seen red-tailed hawks perched on fence posts, delivered packages at homes situated at the end of old gravelly roads that wind past herds of bleating sheep and goats, and on Saturday I watched an enormous glider float over a stand of brilliantly colored trees to soar in for a landing at a tiny airport tucked in behind the cornfields.

I wish I could have taken pictures of all of this, but as it is I have no time to waste on such self indulgence...and I'd probably get in trouble for doing it on the job anyway.

Here, instead, are a few entirely random shots of the usual autumn loveliness that I took on my own time.

The dome of Oberlin's observatory (just over 2 blocks from our house)...

A reservoir bordering the Oberlin Arboretum...

A jazzed-up portrait of an assemblage of trees and vines I encountered while strolling through the Carlisle Reservation...

...and a more natural view of a Carlisle grove...

Such great texture!

Another attempt at iphoto artsiness: duckweed and reflections on the Carlisle wetlands...

A shot of our front yard taken from the attic window (it's sure going to be difficult to leave this awesome house when its owners return in a few months)...

The color in these sugar maples is unbelievable!

October 1, 2012

My new job

Last week I began training to be a Rural Carrier Associate with the United States Postal Service. As an RCA in Wellington--a town about eight miles south of Oberlin--I'll be the substitute carrier on a route that covers daily mail deliveries to residents living both in town and out in the surrounding countryside. Because rural routes are typically so long, many rural carriers have to use their own vehicles, but mine (measured at about 43 miles), is just under the upper milage limit, so I'll get to drive an LLV (a "long life vehicle": one of those cute little postal trucks whose daily stop at your mailbox is such an anticipated event).

My training so far has focused most on safety (watch out for DOGS!) and ethics (no, you may not moonlight at FedEx), as well as defensive driving techniques useful for light delivery trucks (keep your following distance to 4+ seconds), but on thursday last week I spent the day shadowing Dee (the regular carrier for whom I'll sub), to get my first real sense for what the job entails. My first impression is that the job is lots harder than I originally assumed...and I'm actually a little nervous about getting started. It didn't help much that my shadow day also happened to be the retiring day for a lady whose been with USPS for 30 years. She went about her duties with a beaming smile on her face saying things like "I can't wait to enjoy the snow for the first time in forever!" and "I'm actually going to like mornings...and CHRISTMAS again!" I suppose every job has its challenges.

In the back room of the post office, a carrier's day begins with "casing": sorting stacks of mail into the proper delivery order for each customer. Each carrier has a set of shelves with dividers labeled by house number and last name into which all the mail, from first class to magazines to political mailings (and in Ohio we have a LOT of those), is sorted. I watched Dee as she'd glance quickly at each piece and then shove it in its proper slot a second later. There are lots of things to watch for (holds, forwards, duplicate #s on different streets, mail sent to the wrong route, etc.), but Dee, who has been a carrier for over 20 years, found each piece's proper place without a moment's hesitation. After a while she asked me to start casing my own stacks and I nervously joined her inside the little cubby and did my best to keep up. I didn't even come close.

This is forgivable for a newbie. In the years she's been doing this route, Dee has come to know most of her customers well, and can easily remember that slot number 44356 is Mrs. Jones, who needs her medications delivered to the doorstep in the wintertime, and that slot number 36621 is Mr. Smith on this-or-that street whose mail is easily mixed up with Mrs. Burns' who has the same number on such-and-so street, and the list goes on. My first impression of Dee is that she's a tough cookie with a work ethic as strong as my mother's (who is hands-down the hardest worker I know), an appreciation for integrity and loyalty, and a genuine affection for people. Oh, and by the way, she was awarded Ohio's "rural carrier of the year" for 2012. As her sub, I have some big shoes to fill!

In the past year or two Dee's route has gone through a number of RCAs. One lady quit because the job was too much to handle, another guy was doing some inappropriate things out on the route and was too slow anyway, and the most recent lady loved the job, but had to leave after only a few months when her husband's work took them out of state. If a carrier doesn't have a sub, they are required to work 6 days a week...rain or snow, sleet or hail, birthday or vacation time be damned. No excuse is a good one. The mail must be delivered. Dee hasn't had a single day off in ages. Once I complete my training (what's left is 4 days in the "rural academy," a day-long driving test in the LLV, and 3 days of doing the route in pieces under Dee's supervision), I'll be working the route on Mondays (Dee's preferred day off), and whenever Dee needs a sub for whatever reason. 

After we finished casing, we hand-trucked the mail out to the LLV and went out to deliver. The LLV is not comfortable. It's cramped and noisy and, aside from about 5000 mirrors mounted on its frame, has terrible visibility. I was belted into a seat in the back of the truck which only allowed me to see out the front windshield and forced me to crane my neck forward in order to hear Dee's notes and instructions. The first part of the route covers an area in town and is pretty much your generic "suburban USA." As we drove the LLV, lots of people were already waiting by their boxes, and every one of them got a warm "Hello! How are ya!" from Dee. She waved at every cop, utility worker, and truck driver we passed, and often had stories to tell about them, what great folks they are, and specific details about how they like to receive their mail. I took all the notes I could on the little pad of post-its I had in my purse.

The second part of the route took us into the thick of northern-Ohio farmland. It is beautiful country, and getting to see it is one of the big reasons I applied for this job in the first place. Yesterday, Rob and I spent the afternoon driving the route together so I could become better acquainted with the lay of the land, and all the little details of where to turn around, where to double back, and how to spot the roads hidden behind stands of drying corn. It also gave me the opportunity to take some photos...something I'm assuming I won't have the luxury of doing while I deliver...at least until I get the hang of things. Most of the farms around here grow corn and soybeans and from the looks of things, we're right in the middle of harvest time. I stopped to take a picture of a soybean plant in particular because I'd never seen how it grows. The shimmering texture of dry soy fields reminded me a little of the roughly painted ground in Andrew Wyeth's iconic Christina's World...

Here are more views of the countryside I'll be driving through...

This part of the the route follows the western edge of Findley State Park.

I suppose I might eat my words this winter, but yesterday I couldn't believe my luck at finding such an incredible job! I mean, check out the view from my office! It's going to be a big challenge, for sure, but I'm looking forward to being able to do important work with and for some great people, in a position that pays well and still allows ample time for me to pursue my trumpet work, as well as other interests. I suppose it's one of those times I can sit back and acknowledge that things are pretty good.