A Single Pebble – by John Hersey (1956)

A Single Pebble

What happens when you cross a young American engineer looking for the best place to build a dam on the great Yangtze River with a country steeped in 8,000-year-old beliefs? You get a story like “A Single Pebble”.  The entire book is a bird’s-eye view of what it was like for a Chinese merchant ship to get past the dangerous sections of gorges on the journey. The junk (ship) has a team of 40 trackers, men that walk along the shore and pull it with long ropes. It’s a job on par with building the pyramids of Egypt – backbreaking, dangerous, and thankless. The engineer feels sorry for their miserable lives, and tries to convince them that the modern dam could make life so much easier for them.

Fifty-six years after this novel was written (in 2012), the Three Gorges Dam was completed, producing more energy than any other dam in the world up to that point. A few years later the ship lift was also finished, making merchant travel on the Yangtze what the young engineer had envisioned. But it came at a great price. One and a quarter million people had to be re-located. Many archeological sites were lost. Erosion became a problem, as well as landslides. The dam caused some deforestation, which led to the decline of certain plants and animals. Progress has its cost.

A Different Kind Of Park

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Tree growing almost sideways panoramis

What’s your definition of a park? A playground with lots of swings and slides for the kids, and one of those merry-go-rounds that makes you sick? Picnic shelters with lots of tables, and some grills to roast hotdogs on? A place with curving cement sidewalks to roller-blade on?

I visited a very different kind of park today. It was the outdoors in its natural condition, unchanged by manicured landscaping, pesticides, herbicides, or play equipment. It was just… nature. There were several asphalt walkways near the entrance to the park, but then it changed into paths made by a lawn mower. It was like stepping back in time to what Michigan looked like before it became civilized. There were huge fields of wildflowers with butterflies and grasshoppers and bugs.

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Black-eyed Susans Daisis panoramic

From sunny open fields, the path veered off into wooded areas with a variety of trees. Occasionally a tree would have a sign by it for identification:

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Black Cherry Tree

We passed a green scuzzy pond that looked like something out of a fantasy tale.

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park green scum pool

Most of the park was in its natural state, with the exception of the occasional bench to sit and rest on, and the unusual sight of some stone blocks in the distance.

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Strange Block Formation panoramic

We hiked up the hill, through lumpy ground riddled with mole holes, but found no answer to the question of the stone blocks.

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Daisies and wildflowers

So we continued on, past prairie grasses nearly as tall as we were, trees whose branches grew almost sideways, and stagnant water pools with frogs and crickets. Then back to the car, back to traffic and noise, back to present day.

2017-06-20 Prairie Wolf Park Tall grass field panoramic









The Pigeon Wants To Know

2017 pigeon hey what are you reading

I found this bookmark in a library book, and had to smile. Ah, that lovable pigeon! The one that wants to drive a school-bus. The one that refuses to go to bed. The one that’s dying to have a puppy. The one trying to avoid the nightly bath.

The Pigeon Wants A Puppy

So what ARE you reading this summer? If you shrugged and said “I dunno”, start off by picking up one of the Mo Willem’s pigeon books and reading it aloud to a child. That’ll put you in a happy state of mind, and you’ll start looking for another book to read. And that, my friends, is the pigeon’s sneaky plan…

A Martian Odyssey – by Stanley G. Weinbaum (1934)

Wonder Stories magazine

In the midst of the Great Depression, many people found science fiction to be a welcome escape from the feeling of hopelessness that spread across the country. Magazines, such as “Wonder Stories” carried short stories about space travel and life on other planets. The image above shows the cover of the July, 1934 edition, which ran “A Martian Odyssey” by Stanley Weinbaum for the very first time.

The short story is about four men on an expedition to explore Mars. Jarvis, the chemist among them, has just returned from the first walk on the planet, and describes what he saw, and the creature named Tweel that he befriended. The classic science fiction author Isaac Asimov said that this short story was one of a few stories that changed the way future science fiction was written.

I found this little gem of a story in a small paperback collection of his short stories in a used bookstore yesterday. While looking for more information online about the author, I found out that the copyright on this book has expired, therefore making it possible to read and download for free! The world-famous Gutenburg project has made it available for all to enjoy, in several different formats. I thought the Australian version was the best. You can check it out here:

Unfortunately, Mr. Weinbaum died at the young age of 33, only a year and a half after this story was published. He left behind many manuscripts, which were published posthumously.

A Martian Odyssey

Argos Book Shop

2017-06-14 Argos Book Shop b

I thought it was about time to try out a used bookstore I hadn’t been to before. My internet search led me to a little shop in a mostly-residential neighborhood. My first obstacle was to find a place to park my car. There was a small lot a few doors down, but it was unclear whether it was private or public. As I had no desire to have my car towed away, I drove down some side streets, circled around, and found a spot not too far away.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore hardy boys


Once inside, the place seemed deserted, until I spotted a man slouched down behind the counter, his head hunched over a computer. He said nothing, so I just started quietly exploring. The area nearest the door was the neatest, with collections of comic books organized in boxes and individual slip covers. There were also a lot of classic youth series, like “The Hardy Boys”, “Nancy Drew” and “Cherry Ames”.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore music section

The farther in I went, the messier it got. There were bookshelves so high they could only be reached with a ladder, as well as books lying on the floor. As I looked up, I could see what had once been an elegant ceiling, but was now in disrepair. There was only one chair in the entire shop for customers to sit in, which seemed odd. I passed by fiction, mystery, presidents, history, music, and other non-fiction sections. The prices, which were hand-written inside the front cover of each book, were a tad high.

2017-06-14 Argos used bookstore messy

The science fiction/fantasy area was quite large. I was impressed (although it isn’t my typical reading preference). Then I found the 50 cent bookshelf! There were hundreds of old yellowed paperbacks from many decades ago that beckoned me. I picked out a half dozen of them and brought them to the counter. The man behind the computer rang them up with little enthusiasm, and I walked out the door and back to my car.

2017-06-14 Argoes books I bought

Based on my experience, I would give this used bookstore a “C”. With bookstores going out of business left and right, kudos to the owner for keeping it open. But if you want people to keep coming in, you need to have a welcoming smile, a cheerful hello, and a willingness to help your customers find at least one great book to take home.

Edge Of Apocalypse – by Tim LaHaye & Craig Parshall (2010)

Edge Of Apocalypse

It had been awhile since I’d read an apocalyptic novel, and this one caught my eye as I browsed the shelves at my public library. It’s the first in a four-book series, “The End”. The novel begins with New York City nearly being obliterated by nuclear warheads fired by North Korea. The United States fights back with an experimental weapon invented by Joshua Jordan, and the city is saved. Suddenly every country on earth wants it. Congress demands the schematics for the weapon, which Joshua is loath to give out, lest it fall into the wrong hands. That begins the political struggle between those who see Joshua as a hero, and those who want him arrested and punished for refusing to share the technology with the country and its allies.

Although I would call the book a political thriller, it does also include a fair amount about Joshua’s relationships with God, his wife, and his son Cal. There is also a friend who is struggling with addiction to anti-depression medicine in the story. The themes of globalism and big media control are also woven into the story.

Author Tim LaHaye is best known for his “Left Behind” series, which I read back in the 90s, when it was on the New York bestseller’s list. This series seems relatively unknown. I have read one other book by the co-author, Craig Parshall – Trial By Ordeal – and found it very entertaining.

If you like reading end-of-the-world book, you might give this one a try.

When The Water Heater Goes

2017-06-08 water heater leaking along seam

Today was the day our 19-year-old water heater decided to retire. I had lugged the dirty laundry down to the basement, and noticed the water on the floor. I called the gas company, as we have a service contract with them that covers our natural gas furnace and water heater. They said the soonest they  could have someone out to look at it was tomorrow.

2017-06-08 Herm examines water heater seams

Then my husband came home, unwrapped the insulation wrap from the water heater, and could plainly see the water sliding out the seams of the metal. This is not fixable, he said. We called the gas company back, and they said they didn’t actually install new water heaters, just diagnose problems and do repairs. (So this service contract isn’t really much good, is it?)

2017-06-08 Water heater warrantee and energyguide

I looked at the warrantee; it had expired nine years ago. The energy-efficiency tag was also in the basement, showing our water heater to be, well, not very efficient. Considering that it was a budget model the builder installed before we bought the house, it actually did pretty good.

A local hardware and plumbing store I called said it normally takes about two weeks to schedule a water heater replacement, but since ours was leaking water onto the floor, they would squeeze us into tomorrow’s schedule.  Hooray! They’ll disconnect the old one, get the city building permit, install a replacement that meets the current housing code regulations, and haul the old leaky one away. But until that happens, no hot showers or warm hand-washings. And the trusty tornado mop will stay nearby.

2017-06-08 leaky water heater mop fire extinguisher

I’m thankful for things like washing machines and water heaters. No way do I want to go natural, AKA, back to the “good ole days”. Things like leaky water heaters remind me that we are blessed in a hundred little ways every day.