Russ Ringsak

First Word

March 25, 2013

First word typed on this spanking new machine is the one at the beginning of this very piece: "First." Just out of the box; what you are reading here is the virgin paragraph. (For whatever that's worth these days.) (Said the grumpy old naysayer.)

And it feels good. Good keyboard, the familiar push type instead of the go-lightly tap screen, which to me is not real codger-friendly. I tried a few models and settled on this 13-inch with a bright screen and a real computer inside -- not the cheapest thing but familiar, and as light as a little dimestore novel. Fits in a tote bag.

It's pretty much the same breed as the big old five-pound 17-inch pooch I've been hauling around, more like a little road pup than a replacement. It replaces a piece of baggage and is part of a hassle reduction scheme for the upcoming spring expedition; getting it all down to a tote bag for the overhead and an easy-rolling 4-wheel spinner -- am I the last person to hear that name applied to a suitcase? -- for the carousel. One might also set the spinner on a truck passenger seat or throw it back in the sleeper, if one were persuaded to travel in a truck. Holds twice as much as a typical suitcase.

The weeks in off the road are hurtling by and I have photos of the old-time big-bore winter we're getting. Here's that barn lowering its icicles; you can see the break in the snowpack just beneath the ridge. Moving like a mini glacier.

Barn covered in snow
Easy there big fella... easy...

And here is last year's snowthrower sitting on the trailer after its persistent (insert multiple blasphemies) refusal to start. Had to push it up a ramp onto the trailer and it took so long the shop was closed for the day. The final straw. Big snow fell that night. You can see the orange spout sticking up like a submarine thinking it's about to surface. Next day it was hauled away and traded. Replaced by that red one shown gallantly trying to eat a fifty-foot yellow electric cord in the last edition. Nothing seriously wrong with the old one, just neglect, fuel gumming it up, but rather than another trip to the shop I solved it with my handy little credit card in the showroom. Doing my part to juice the economy (he said righteously.)

Snowthrower covered in snow
You can't hide under there, pal. You are outa here...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So the snow was cleared but now we are buried in it again. And the integration of this new computer into sweet harmony with the old guys -- meaning myself and the old Big Boy Seventeen clamshell -- has taken an ugly turn and is not going well at all. Two 25-mile trips to the desk wizards have managed to stuff years of typing and 900 tunes into the rookie machine, and they have found my missing list of phone numbers, but sharing photos between the two has descended into real ugliness.

Passwords are the devil's own playground, a beach where you really get the sand kicked in your face; made worse by the chronic incurable computer ineptitude one would expect in a trucker anyway. Blasphemy is of little value, perversely amusing only the devil without much soothing the blasphemer. Not this one anyway. Can't even use 'em for passwords.

So I scheduled another appointment for the morning and in a beautiful fresh blinding snowfall slid off the lower part of the driveway. My mighty all-wheel-drive lies akimbo and snowbound, butt halfway down the slope, awkward and helpless, a bit of cautionary entertainment for viewing by my fellow citizens. Ditched. Too melancholy to photograph.

It's real winter this year, the kind we oldtimers talk about; especially we who grew up in small towns in North Dakota within shotgun range of the Canadian border. We who are usually not so sympathetic to our neighbors down here in the tropical regions of St Paul. But here it is, that cutting cold snowbound misery we've bragging about all these years.

Snow and more snow and relentless cold, much of it below zero. But of course we walked a mile to high school in it and there was never ever a Snow Day. Like, Dude; never. Forty-eight below one year and they didn't cancel one minute of school. Walk and don't be whining about it either.

The farm kids had it a bit better; they rode a bus into city school. But it wasn't a real picnic standing for them out there at the road waiting for the bus to get there, and when they got home at night they'd have outside chores to do.

So here I sit, frozen in place with a ditched automobile and dysfunctional passwords. I think right now I will put on a fresh pot of coffee and maybe sit here until Spring.

Russ, distorted
Author ponders his next move.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

These are offered as situations amusing only in retrospect. Both incidents, as you might suspect, were peppered with some shameful foul language. We're thankful there is no accompanying audio track.

What the author ended up doing was to get up, go out with a grain shovel and the red snowthrower and try to dig his mighty AWD some clearance for a cable from a tow truck. But after two hours of shovel work it looked like it might actually move a bit, and some gentle backing and forthing it finally did nudge an inch. If she'll move an inch she ain't stuck, goes the maxim. More shoveling and scraping underneath the belly and it moved six inches, and once more with the digging and then a gentle touch on the accelerator and it was ahead a bit more. Backed off and hit it and she lept happily forward and upward and wow what a feeling. Drove right out. Couldn't believe it. Connected again to the mighty highways they write all those songs about. Wow.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Back indoors, more hot coffee, take a look at the few photos that have somehow made the passage into this little scout here, and come upon this cool shot of a genuine sabre tooth tiger skull:

Sabre tooth tiger skull
Nice kitty...

There were three main varieties of these big Pleistocene cats, native to the American continents. They are the rare little Smilidon Gracilis and the big monster Smilidon Populator from South America, which weighed half a ton; and there were our own fearsome North American guys like this one, the Smilidon Fatalis, which ran about 500-600 pounds, heavier than lions and with a shorter tail. None of them are related to modern lions or tigers. The big 10-inch teeth were used not so much for fighting but for ripping the throats of herbivores. They didn't grapple much, says the book, but would wait on a low branch and pounce from there. They'd deliver a killing strike to the jugular and then lay back and wait for the unlucky Ice Age dude to bleed out. The big fangs were sharp but brittle and they didn't like to risk them for settling disputes. Paleontologists figure out things like that.

They say they lived in groups because there are a lot of remains of older ones, over 40, and a solitary geezer cat would not last that long without family around. They weren't just a flash in the pan oddball species either; they were around for 5 million years, according to Richard Hulbert Jr. of the Florida Museum of Natural History.

They made it right up to the last ice age, a mere ten thousand years ago. Early cave paintings were done forty thousand years ago, meaning our ancestors co-existed with sabre tooths for quite a while. A surprise encounter with one would probably cause a caveman to soil his Fruit Of The Looms. I believe I would too.

And the paleontologists who named these guys -- Smilidon Fatalis -- that has to mean Smiling Death, no? A great name for the most awesome predator and largest cat to ever stalk the planet.

This wonderful bony head was lying in a shop in Cosmos Minnesota, a modest but spacious museum where they sell leather, buckskin, hides, Indian works and jewelry, blankets, beads, hats, rugs, jackets and the most elegant old powderhorns you'll ever want to see. A real find out there west of Minneapolis between highways 12 and 212. Not that far from Hutchinson.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So in the morning I'm back into the big city for a third trip and they may have found the password problems with Seventeen and he seems ready now to deliver the mail and to start talking to Sweet Little Thirteen and sending more pictures. I hope so. So far things are looking good. Well, I don't know good; maybe okay anyway.

© Russ Ringsak 2013

r dot ringsak at gmail dot com

P.S. After a fourth trip to town all is harmonious. At least for now. Now we'll find out how the mail is working.

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