Friday, February 8, 2019

Eight Months of Banjo

Next week, I'll be coming up on about eight months of banjo playing. In that eight months, I've learned simple songs in five separate instrument tunings - Standard G (gDGBD), G Modal, which is also called Sawmill Tuning or Mountain Minor (gDGCD), Double C (gCGCD), Cumberland Gap Tuning (fDGCD) and now, C Minor (gCGCD#). My favorites being G Modal and C Minor. I like the dark and moody tone of them.

I mostly got into playing the banjo in order to just plink out something around a fire on camp trips, but the more I mess with it, the more I'm loving it and I want to take it more seriously. I started actual lessons two Saturdays ago and I hope to be able to maybe play out places in a couple of years or maybe hook up with a guitarist or some other type of musician to play in a more band-like setting. It really is a fun instrument to learn and unlike when I attempted to learn the guitar in my early 30s, this time I'm seeing some real progress.

A bit more practice, a handful of days later.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Busiek State Forest

About 20 minutes south of Springfield, lies Busiek State Forest. 2500 acres of kinda wild, kinda not so much, land, just off the highway, about halfway south to Branson, Missouri. I have a love/hate thing with Busiek. I've been there dozens of times over the past 24 years living in the area. It's great for when you have just a few short hours to get outside and away from town, but it's equally crowded on a nice day and noisy with the nearby highway 65 and gun range. You never quite escape the sound of deer rifles being sighted in and semi trucks whirling past, no matter how loud the creek tries to babble over them.

Busiek State Forest

Anyway, with a few hours to spare on Sunday, I took my family to Busiek for a walk in the mud. We saw an armadillo, plenty of birds and animal tracks and a somewhat full-figured woman fall off of a sycamore log on a creek crossing, while managing to stay dry, ourselves. Nice little Sunday.

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Busiek State Forest

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cabin Camping, Firewood & Surprise, There's a Bat!

Cabin Camping, Firewood & Bats

Last weekend, my buddy Brian D. and I went down to his church friends' cabin about an hour south of Springfield. We stayed overnight Friday, then cut some firewood on Saturday before heading home.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Friday eve, we made it down about 7pm or so. Brian knocked out a dinner of steaks, potatoes and beans while I plinked around on my cigar box banjo. We sat up talking a bit before calling it a night close to 11pm, I hit the couch to read for a bit while Brian headed up to the loft.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Saturday, up about 8am. I made coffee and breakfast, testing out my Turkish coffee pot for use in cowboy coffee.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Then we headed out back of the cabin to walk the property some, looking for fatwood. We found a handful of downed eastern red cedars and cut the heavily resined fatwood from the upper facing branches of the fallen trees. It's very waxen in appearance when you cut it. I haven't tried yet, but it's supposed to burn very easily and can be used much like parrafin fire starter sticks.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

After patrolling the grounds a bit, we got to work on why we came down for part of the weekend, the firewood. Brian took a chainsaw to a downed tree while I split the logs with a maul and axe. He then downed a hollow and dying elm. While he worked it over, again, with the chainsaw, I took to splitting the sections he was done with.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

As I was splitting a wide hollow section, a live bat spilled out of the cavity I had just cleaved in two.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

We placed the bat in separate hollow stump to recover. Which I believe it did, since we had another encounter with a low flying bat buzzing me as I was splitting more wood, before it circled the clearing and the area where the elm had stood 20 minutes earlier. It then went on its way up through the woods. Later in the day, as we were driving home, we saw a few more bats out flying over the road. That gave us some hope for the survivability of the one we wrestled from hibernation. If others were out of their own volition on an unseasonably warm January afternoon (60+ degrees F), then the one we disturbed would probably be fine.

Cabin Camping, Firewood and Bats

Friday, December 28, 2018

Back to Boats - A Simple Sailing Scow Design

This spring, I'll be getting back to boat building, sailing and general small boat obsession. My life hasn't exactly let me lately, due to a number of over commitments at work and at home. But, in 2019, I'm making a heavier push to get back on the water more often. It's what I like to do most, recreation-wise and in the last two years, I haven't done nearly enough of it.

Here is my idea, so far. I'm converting an old 12 foot sailing scow boat plan to ply construction. I'm possibly modifying the rig to accommodate a 45 square foot lateen sail that I already possess and use on my sailing canoe, but I may scrap that altogether and use a lug rig or four-sided sprit rig in its place when I pull the trigger on the build. I do like the idea of a yawl rigged boat, though. So either way, I'll likely include a small mizzen sail offset on a stern corner.

The reason for such a simple hull shape is that my daughter wants to help me build something. She's taken more interest in what I like to do and she's outgrowing the kayak I previously made for her. I'd also like to be able to turn her loose more frequently, without Dad constantly looking over her shoulder. A wide and flat scow shape offers a very stable platform for a ten-year-old and a friend of equal age to row and sail around a protected lake cove with little worry of capsize.

The boat will have a leeboard, leaving the cockpit open for gear, possible camping aboard and easy sailing instruction for the kiddo. I have a centerboard and kick-up rudder/tiller arrangement that I pulled from a friend's Holder 14 when he scrapped it. A little reshaping and a new finish should put them back into use again with very little work on my part.

Anyway, here's my sketch so far.

Toying with the idea of another simple boat build.

Scrap Wood Passive Speaker

iPhone passive speaker/amplifier from scrap wood.

A quick and easy project in the garage. I made a passive cell phone speaker out of a few offcuts I had laying around. The way the sound bounces around in the inner chamber and the wood of the box gives it a louder, more full and deeper sound. Less tinny.

iPhone passive speaker/amplifier from scrap wood.

iPhone passive speaker/amplifier from scrap wood.

iPhone passive speaker/amplifier from scrap wood.

iPhone passive speaker/amplifier from scrap wood.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Echo Bluff State Park and Alley Springs Mill

Last weekend, myself and a couple of friends checked out Echo Bluff State Park. It's a few hours east of Springfield, close to Eminence, Missouri. We saw wild horses (feral since the Great Depression), bald eagles, red tailed hawks, pileated woodpeckers and bluebirds. As well as signs of beavers and the shouting of screech owls and coyotes at night.

Friday was rainy, we largely hung out under a tarp by the fire. I did my best to entertain on the banjo and we ate very well. That night, a stronger storm system rolled through and we got maybe three inches of rain and about 2:30am, a possible funnel cloud roared over the hill we were camped on. There were numerous tornadoes that touched down across the region. Saturday was downright warm. It hit 70 degrees. That night was clear and the stars put on a good showing. Sunday, up and at em. One of our party had an early leave time, so we ate quickly, packed up camp and checked out Alley Springs.

A very fun weekend, in spite of the weather. Here's a little video, rather than post a ton of pics in a line.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Some Banjo Progress

With just shy of three months of banjo playing under my belt, I'm finally starting to learn a good handful of simple tunes. I'm loving it. Such a fun instrument to learn. It's really all I've done lately, beyond being a dad and husband and general home/life stuff. I'm itching for the weather to cool soon and the chance to park my ass around the backyard fire pit or campfire and plink out some tunes.

The 1970s Harmony Banjo and part of "Red Rocking Chair" in sawmill tuning. Sawmill tuning is similar to standard G tuning, but you crank your second string, normally a B string, up to a C. It makes it more somber and what-not.

The fretless homebuilt cigar box banjo and part of "East Virginia" in sawmill tuning.