“Slow Road Home”

I must admit I am impressed. I finished reading Fred First’s new book this weekend. I have been dragging out the finish quite frankly because I was enjoying the read so much and didn’t want it to be over.

Since I am cursed with an omnivorous appetite to read (thank God for the internet), I have read many books on a variety of subjects. There has always been a place in my heart for those few books I have stumbled across that weren’t widely read, but really spoke of a certain place in space and time and the authors connection there.

I have been following Fred’s journey for a relatively short time on his blog. It was his photo’s that first brought me in, but, it was the story which kept me coming back. And the audacity of his publishing his own book caused me to take him up on his pre-publication offer to pay the postage and order the book. I am very glad I did. I devoured the first half of the book and had to force myself to slow down and savor the remainder.

To give an idea of how much I was impressed by the word pictures I was seeing, I would divide my reading between the book itself and the archives at “Fragments From Floyd”. It was this reading and others that led me to begin to find my own voice and start this blog. You will find references to different conversations I found there in my archives and on Fred’s site. In many ways I find myself following in Fred’s footsteps, at 52 it’s nice to have someone up ahead breaking path. And his emails and blog posts are like calling back encouragement to those of us who are following.

Fred, keep strolling through the woods, keep taking photos, and keep writing. There are those of us out in the virtual community growing out of Floyd County, Virginia who will keep coming back to your front porch for the stories…and the companionship. Thanks, Fred.

And if you find yourself going over to visit with the Floyd County folks, tell ’em Gary sent ya…

A List Apart: Articles: 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web

I was cleaning up my bookmark list this morning and what usually happens when I try happened. I followed an old link that crashed. Then in trying to find a new clean link to the site I found a article that has more relevance to me now than when it was first published…

A List Apart: Articles: 10 Tips on Writing the Living Web: “Snapshot :
Your information architecture is as smooth, clear, and inviting as a lake. Your design rocks. Your code works. But what keeps readers coming back is compelling writing that’s continually fresh and new. Updating daily content can challenge the most dedicated scribe or site owner. Mark Bernstein’s ten tips will help you keep the good words (and readers) coming.”

That was the Blurb on the home page of A List Apart that caught my attention. Which led to a really good article on not only why to write, but how.

In first reading I was struck by some of the points Mark Bernstein had to make. Since I am in the beginning stages of trying to define not only why I am writing but what I am being pulled to say. I was particularly impressed by:

“Write for a reason, and know why you write. Whether your daily updates concern your work life, your hobbies, or your innermost feelings, write passionately about things that matter.

To an artist, the smallest grace note and the tiniest flourish may be matters of great importance. Show us the details, teach us why they matter. People are fascinated by detail and enthralled by passion; explain to us why it matters to you, and no detail is too small, no technical question too arcane.

Bad personal sites bore us by telling us about trivial events and casual encounters about which we have no reason to care. Don’t tell us what happened: tell us why it matters. Don’t tell us your opinion: tell us why the question is important.”

I guess that makes my reason for writing more of the search for the reason, than the reason for the search. If you follow along with my search maybe we can both arrive at the reason together. I promise to try not to bore, and if I do please tell me.

“If you are writing for the Living Web, you must write consistently. You need not write constantly, and you need not write long, but you must write often. One afternoon in grad school, I heard B. F. Skinner remark that fifteen minutes a day, every day, adds up to about book every year, which he suggested was as much
writing as anyone should indulge. You don’t need to write much, but you must write, and write often.”

I like the idea of the”Living Web” which Mark attributes to Dan Chan of Daypop. As I write this I am reminded of something I have seen over and over in the years I have been online and reading others blogs. It is the shared data that is out among the readers. Fred First has seen it when he asks a tech question and gets an answer from his readers. Jerry Pournelle has had it for years, when he would throw out a problem he was having with his technology, he would often get answers almost faster than he could post. It is almost like we are watching the evolution of the first glimmers of a shared human brain.

Then there’s that old bugaboo about writing often. I have always heard that it is harder to get started writing and develop the habit than it is feeding the monster in the long run. Hopefully, like all habits, doing something regularly for 30 days and it becomes a habit…

When he speaks of being good friends, I interpret that as the sense of community that grows from the interhnge of ideas that comes from sharing…

Read widely and well, on the web and off, and in your web writing take special care to acknowledge the good work and good ideas of other writers. Show them at their best, pointing with grace and respect to issues where you and they differ. Take special care to be generous to good ideas from those who are less well known, less powerful, and less influential than you.

Weblog writers and other participants in the Living Web gain readers by exchanging links and ideas…Find ways to be a good friend. All writers thrive on ideas; distribute them generously and always share the credit. Be generous with links. Be generous, too, with your time and effort; A-list sites may not need your traffic, but everyone can use a hand.

There is plenty of useful info in this article, so follow the link and read the whole thing.

Day into Night

Do you find it as disconcerting as I do when the morning goes from sunny to dusk in an hour? As you can tell from the screenshot, the weather here is a bit unsettled on this Memorial Day 2006. I am sure a whole lot of barbeque is being doused by the rain.

Today usually marks the beginning of the barbeque season here, which is a whole nuther thing than what ya’ll do in the Blue Ridge region. For one thing we are talkin’ smoked meat…and we are talkin’ beef briskit, the most unused piece of beef in existance. Of course, it takes a bit of work to make a brisket edible, mainly hours and hours of smoking. I actually started mine yesterday afternoon. Of course, you don’t do any of this at a high temperature.

So as I sit here watching the rain my brisket is finishing off in the oven at 250…Ya’ll have a great day, hear.

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My Back Yard at the end of May

Spring in Texas…
I thought I would give you a bit of a weather report:
7pm May 27, 2006
Temp: 82 Humidity: 76%

The high today was 85 with a 96% humidity.
The low last night was 73.

You gotta love the climate here Posted by Picasa

Apples by June?

 This just goes to show you how much difference there is between the Blue Ridge and my home here. This was taken today at 7pm. Posted by Picasa

My Family History

I was raised in a family that was slightly removed from the immediate locale of the rest of our relatives… therefore, whenever we were able to get together with our grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins it was a special treat. My dad’s family had moved into Wharton County, west of Houston, in the 1910’s and my mother’s family moved into Fort Bend County in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s. Both of these counties are second tier counties on the Texas Gulf Coast, meaning that the topography could be compared to a plate. The only relief from the flatness of this part of the state is negative, the streams and rivers are all cut into the surrounding flatness.

Even with the many visits and summer weeks staying with my kin, it was mainly just the immediate generation members that we knew. Our family Bible only went back one additional generation listing Great-Grandparents. As a child growing up I remember driving around Wharton County with my dad as he pointed out old houses set in cotton fields where he lived at one time or another growing up. Today I couldn’t even get you close to any of those sites, so that much of our family history is lost now. My dad was also great at passing on the stories he heard as a child growing up. Being the last of 13 children, a lot of his family’s history had happened before he showed up on the scene, so I am sure some of the stories had already taken on a certain amount of myth before he arrived.

I remember the thrill in 1972 when my Grandpa Sewell bought a copy of “Linville Family in America” by Alice Eichholz. There in the book was my family right down to me and going back into England in the 1500’s. I was so impressed with this information I painstakingly copied my direct ancestors all the way back from the book. These five pages of data I have managed to hang onto to this day.

When my dad passed away one of my long lost cousins showed up for the funeral. One of the things he brought was a copy of the ancestry chart for the family. When I had the opportunity to really look over his information, I noticed some discrepancies in the info and what was in our family Bible. Eventually, this led me to the local genealogy library and hours of research only to discover that both of our sets of data were partially right and, of course, partially wrong.

This search for my family’s history started in 1996 with the death of my father (it should have started earlier when I could still pick his brain) and has continued to this day. From the very first some of my research was done online, and today, with the digitalization of old records, more and more of my research is done on the internet. In the process of doing this research I have visited a number of states (and a lot of dank, dark courthouse basements) and sat with the graves of grandparents and aunts and uncles who just a short time ago didn’t even exist in my world. I will say that today I never pass a cemetery without wondering who might be there that I am related to.

Over the last decade I have met and enjoyed the friendship of enumerable other researchers looking for the same ancestors. These distant and not so distant cousins have shared in the thrill of the discovery of each little clue in the long search. It has been with the help of these researchers that I have expanded my research, and it has been the expansion of the available data on the internet that has made re-researching so much fun. The thrill of finding reference to a cousin (long gone now) and then tracing that family back through multiple generations in an hour is like finding buried treasure on the beach.

It was also this search for family history that led me to the Blue Ridge back in 2000. I had a couple of days to kill on a trip to Charlotte, I had a car, and I had a map that led me to Linville, NC. At the time I was not aware of the actual connection I had to the area, as a matter of fact I had made four trips into the Blue Ridge of northwestern North Carolina before I stumbled onto the information that the Linville River was named for a multi great uncle. It was just last year that I came across the records that my fourth Great-Grandfather was one of the original settlers of what was then Wilkes County and now is the community of Vilas, North Carolina. It seems he paid taxes on 270 acres in 1787 on what is to this day known as Linville Creek and were members of the Three Forks Baptist Church from 1790 to 1800. Sometime after 1800 the family moved on to the west and ended up in western Missouri by the 1830’s.

So, does this make mine a 200 year “slow road home”?

The photograph at the start of this text was taken about 1939 and is of my Dad and his family. James P and Sarah (Sallie) Boyd and Family…

How Much is Enough?

Fragments from Floyd: “most of what I find to do these days is done with my butt in a chair, letting my fingers do the walking. Ann prys me out of the seat a couple of times a day to accompany her on one of many sanity-walks, but that is hardly a cardiovascular workout…”

You know Fred, I have the same problem. All day on the computer at the day gig, all evening reading and writing on the computer at home. My better half doesn’t understand the call to put this out there, but then she has been questioning my sanity for most of the 25+ years we have been married. She was sure I was crazy back in the ’80’s when I bought that first computer, she has questioned each of the computers we’ve brought into the house since.

The problem I have is probably the opposite of yours though, here in my part of Texas it’s only comfortable for outdoor physical activity for about a quarter of the year. It’s not the quarter you are used to in the mountains, we have been pushing temperatures up toward the 90’s for better than a month now. By the time summer officially gets here we’ll be hitting the low 100’s…Makes me long for winter and temperatures in the 40’s.

Fragments From Floyd: Secret Places

I have been reading the archives at Fragments From Floyd and came across Fred’s “Secret Places” observations.

Fragments From Floyd: November 19, 2004 Archives: “This remote and unearthly quiet place above and below me was a hidden shrine, the rose that blooms unseen–a neighborhood secret. And I felt blessed.”

I too have stumbled into places of this type. I felt this way as I climbed the hollow above the cabin we rented in 2004. I would work my way about half way up and just stand in awe. The extreme diversity of nature in that one spot, the church like silence, it all led to that sense of the sacred. When I read Fred’s account of his trip to the fall’s, that is the impression I get, more sacred than secret.

Wendell Berry said something along these lines in his poem “How To Be a Poet” from Given New Poems:

Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
There are only sacred places
And desecrated places.

There is a place up the road and around a bend from this place I call home that once was a home of others long gone. It is my secret place in this home space. I do not own it and know not who does. Only the sheltering oaks still proclaim that this old and desecrated grove was once sacred. But there is a feeling amongst those old and weather battered oaks of what once they covered. When I stand quietly and allow the trees to speak I can still feel the sacred words they once proclaimed so openly…I don’t go to the grove often anymore ’cause I feel the oaks need their peace and I don’t tread as lightly as once I did…

Medina River Swimming Hole – Texas Style

 Just because I hate too many posts without a photo, here is a shot I took last year out west of San Antonio. I was taking the long road home (maybe that should be the title of my book if I ever publish one, do you mind Fred) which has always driven my wife crazy. She says I am the only person she knows that can turn a 3 hour trip into 9 and think I’ve made good time. Oh well, she’s probably right…

It was early spring and the weather was beautiful…low 60’s and sunny. When I saw a low water crossing I had to pull over and sit a spell. I enjoyed the rest, hope you enjoy the view… 

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How I spend my days…

I spend my days in a darkened room staring at twin windows on the electronic world. My twin windows are the twin 20” monitors on which I design my projects before sending them through the cable that ties my machine to the others in this network of interconnected ideas.

My job titles me a design manager, but how does one really manage designs? My actual job has me spending my days (to borrow the corporate branding speak) “designing environments and graphical interfaces that facilitate face to face marketing”. Which means, I design displays and graphics for exhibits, tradeshows and conventions? The illustration on this post will give you a slight idea of what I do…I tend to reinvent myself regularly, though, keeping the myth growing.

I came to this position primarily because I was always a computer geek even before there were computer geeks…and since I was originally a builder of modular exhibits working without the benefits of a designer or detailer to illustrate what we were putting together, I taught myself to draw them, first by hand and then by computer. I was always drawn to drawing and sketching, so the discipline of drafting was a natural progression. The reason I started to draw the exhibits we were building was to be able to communicate the setup instructions to the installation crews in my absence. Over the course of the years my primary work load has shifted from a mainly production bent to primarily a design focus, so that now almost all of my work is done in a virtual world…And, since the ankles and knees no longer appreciate the pounding of the concrete on the tradeshow floor for days and miles on end, I guess the virtual world will do until I can put myself into the real world of the mountains I dream of.