Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New essay published

I've just published a new essay in The Write Room about walking our dog. Half the essay takes place in Massachusetts and half in Maine, which well-describes my life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Toboggan championships

The 23rd annual US National Toboggan Championships were held last weekend at the Snow Bowl, abbreviated to only one day of sliding, tippling, and posing because of the big storm. Herewith, I present my 3rd annual Best-Name winners

Four-Person Teams

Gold                           The Desperate Housewives
Silver                          Team Testicular Fortitude
Bronze                        Greatful Sled
Honorable Mention      Icy Privates

Three-Person Teams
Gold                            The Meat Thermometers
Silver                           Arma Sleddin'
Bronze                         Drive It Like You Stole It
Honorable Mention      Aristacracks

Two-Person Teams


Gold                           Cold and Hungry
Silver                           My Second Favorite Team
Bronze                         God Help Us
Honorable Mention       Drift Burgers

Note than past winners like the Soggy Boggan Boys and Eat More Kale are not eligible for a while. Also note that this award bears no correlation whatsoever to the actual winners.

Once again the Royal Dutch National Toboggan Team won Best Costume. The Dutch are so flamboyant!



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Storm notes

At 10:00 the snow has finally let up enough so I can see a bit of the action. I still can't see across to Sheep Island, of course, but a couple of hundred yards of ocean are now in view.

The first 100 feet out is all white water. It's just past high tide, and the force of the wind and the backwash from breakers is roiling the water like I've never quite seen before. Every once in a while a big wave breaks through and crashes on rocks with a deep roar. If this storm had been a southeaster instead of a northeaster, the waves would be twice the height, given the way the cove opens up to the southeast.

Seagulls are patrolling the shore - how do they do it? These winds must be 30-40 miles an hour. Can they actually pick out food in the maelstrom? Yesterday morning, as the storm was just starting, the flock of Canada geese that I saw a couple of weeks ago, now apparently area tenants, flew south en masse.

The wind is blowing the snow into remarkably precise drifts. In front, where a break in the trees allows free passage, the ground is virtually bare. In the space behind the trees and in front of the house, the wind has created a drift extending 50 feet, with a ridge line as sharp as an axe. The deck is scrubbed clean. In back, where the space between garage and house allows free passage, there's a little amphitheater, with bare ground for the playing field and a nearly perfect, open-ended bowl of snow for the spectators. Forming the northeast section is a drift piled up against the glassed back door, which drift I just measured - not too bad at 20 inches, but dipped down a few inches from the top tier of the drift. The bricks of the sidewalk just beyond are bare.

Opening the door will be interesting.

Further out back, between the driveway and the leaching field, I can now see that a tree has fallen, a very large spruce next to the utility pole. Fortunately, it fell directly away from the wires or I would have been marooned - cold, dark, unenlightened by Internet - for days. (Perhaps only two of those three would have been a problem.) Spruce have shallow roots, and they pull up an almost perfect pancake of dirt when they fall, and this one looks like it measures 10 feet in diameter. In the last storm, another spruce fell on the leaching field - we won't lack for firewood any time soon.

This storm has been a cold one. The temperature's at 15 and the snow is light, unlike the wet and heavy stuff that started the storm in places south.

At noon, the storm is approaching 30 hours straight of wind and snow. I'm very grateful for hot soup and cold yogurt. The backdoor blockade has crept up to 22 inches. The wind seems to be winning the battle for the waves, now that the tide is receding. Only the biggest breakers make it to shore; others are knocked sideways. The white water is split into two bands, perhaps because of the topography of the ocean floor.

3:00 - wind and snow abating only fractionally. I watch a squadron of seagulls hover and occasionally dip into the milky water. No, they're not dunking Oreos but it is food they're after. Every third or fourth try they come up with a bit of something churned up by the waves - fish, crab, mussel? - and settle on the snow- and ice-covered rocks to snack. Looks like a zero-sum game to me, or worse: the amount of protein they capture can't possibly keep up with the calories they burn hovering in the teeth of the wind. But I expect they know what they're doing and will survive on their own wits, something I couldn't do in this mess.

Wood running low - I'm going to have to break out soon and get to the garage for more.

4:00 - the blockage, recorded one last time at 24 inches, has been successfully breached and the snow carefully shoveled to the 50-yard line to preserve the lovely contours of Super Bowl MMXIII. A couple of minutes' work gets me to the bare sidewalk and the garage door, and that's plenty.

I'm signing off at 5:00. The storm is still busting its guts, the driveway has not yet been plowed, but who's going anywhere?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Estimating the wild

It wasn't too long ago that humans just took - shot, trapped, netted. The supply of wildlife seemed endless, just like the continent and our very definition as Americans did. There was no brake on our free-rolling desires, no need to conserve. Now, of course, there's not only the need to conserve populations, there's also the need to count the members of those populations. If we know how many moose live in Maine, for example, we can manage them for hunting, by rifle or Canon, and also maintain along the way the proper balance between awe and collisions with cars. The estimated number of cod in the Gulf of Maine determines how many people fish this year. The steady increase in bald eagles lifts our spirits and has the magical side effect of reducing the attention that global warming gets. Bengali tigers, African elephants - by God, we'll save them with the drama of mathematics. We love numbers. Surveys and studies prove we're doing something about It. Setting aside the paradox of trying to list the ineffable, corral the untameable, factor the mysterious - no, wait, I won't set that aside. The point of all this counting seems mostly to pinpoint the exact day when the last wild moose dies.

It's hard not to be cynical about human activities. We tend to exploit until it's too late. I therefore stay positive and applaud the State of Maine for its creative use of destructive technology in saving the moose. The state is nearing the end of a three-year study in which the primary research tool for counting moose is the helicopter. You see, if you fly your Sikorsky low and slow over the Great North Woods, methodically slicing up Maine's quadrants of wilderness, you'll frighten the moose into bolting from their hidey holes, and you the wildlife biologist can much more easily determine size and age and gender and make much more sophisticated projections about populations. (Disclosure of bias: I too have been frightened out of sleep by monsters, i.e., the Gulfstreams using Knox County Regional in the middle of the night.)

Let me therefore propose extensions of this technique of overkill to other areas:

NOAA could  use nuclear submarines to count cod.
The Army will undoubtedly conduct the next Census.
Drones could pollinate crops once all the bees die.
EZ-Pass could offer the implantable transponder, billing not only turnpike tolls but uses of public restrooms, smart phone minutes, BTUs in your living room, minutes thinking about sex....

Unfortunately, I can't think of any way to re-purpose cars.