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River Views

This edition of the AVA hits the streets on August 29th; on the same day in 1892 traveling salesman Whitcomb Judson was issued a patent for his shoe clasp locker, a metal fastening device for boots and shoes. Today we would say that the device zipped two sides of the shoe together. Judson gained some notoriety for his invention while displaying it at the Chicago World’s Fair the next summer (read Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City for a definitive account of that murderous time in the Midwest). Unfortunately, Whitcomb Judson’s clasps broke open at inopportune times and he failed to gain any financial success. However, in the early 1920s the B.F. Goodrich Company modified Judson’s invention and applied it on their rubber galoshes, calling the device a “Zipper,” and the rest is business history.

August is starting to feel more autumnal than summery and despite a couple of bear forays through apple trees things are relatively hunky-dory here at the Macdonald ranch. Of course, hunky-dory requires etymological reflection. Did you know that there once existed a “Hunkidori” breath freshener? Tis true, the product came into being shortly after the Civil War, but our hunky-dory does not derive from the product. Business takes from the vox populi and applies it to products in hopes of profits. Hunkidori took its name because the word hunky already meant okay, good-to-go.

The meaning of “hunk” goes back to the beginning of the 19th century, if not before. It’s useful to recall that New York was originally the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. “Hunky” derives from “hunk” which comes from the Dutch word “honk,” which meant something akin to home. In the New York street slang of children around 1800 honk or hunk meant “home” in the sense of home base in games such as hide-and-seek or tag. Getting “home” safely meant you were alright or okay (earlier River Views explained the etymology of OK.). At some point slangsters added dory for no reason other than the singsong effect.

Things are indeed hunky-dory here at the ranch, in part, due to the presence of many western fence lizards (Sceloporus occidentalis). These grey-black lizards, typically two and a half to three and a half inches long, usually appear to have light and dark patterns on their backs. Locally you might be seeing a subspecies, the coast range lizard (Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii). Fence lizards are diurnal and sun lovers. As soon as coast or river fog rolls in they disappear under warm woodpiles. Here at the ranch they can be spotted on fences or gates, but often hang out on windowsills and garden boxes. When temperatures climb to the high eighties or nineties our fence lizards seek half-shaded areas under tomato plants and other leafy vegetables.

Fence lizards copulate for reproduction in the spring. If you’ve ever noticed fence lizards doing what looks like push-ups, it is part of their courtship ritual. Eggs are deposited in loose pits and hatch in summer. While watering the garden last week I noticed a tiny newborn lizard not much bigger than a thin stub of pencil lead. The fence lizards here at the ranch actually follow us around while we water or sit nearby observing the human condition during weeding or planting.

Don’t mistake them for lazy sunbathers, fence lizards eat many annoying insects and invertebrates including scorpions. Ticks bite fence lizards, but it turns out that is a good thing. Fence lizard blood contains a protein that seemingly kills the microbe in ticks that passes Lyme disease to humans.

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