My Favorite Season

Season of change, when nature redecorates her house.I wake in the morning, about the same time as always, and notice that outside is darker longer than it was only a few short months ago. I get to make a similar observation in the evening as darkness blankets my home like a youngster pulling a wool blanket over his head to keep the monsters at bay.

Most every evening, between 6 and 6:30, I hear the approaching honking of Canada geese coming from, roughly, north. Last night nearly 100 birds appeared over the trees then made a 45-degree turn to the left, the entire chevron bending itself around an invisible post in my neighbor’s yard, until the entire formation was pointed toward the Chesapeake Bay, or maybe Florida.

Continue reading

It’s time to get out of the way

Weather station on Stock Island, in the Florida Keys.“IThe rain is falling outside my window, and has been, steadily, for three days.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott – who in 2015 decreed the phrases “climate change” and “global warming” would not be spoken or printed by state employees, is warning his constituents to prepare for what could well be the worst hurricane since Andrew came ashore in 1992. Residents who are not leaving probably should be, as they brace for an onslaught of wind and water in a county where water already gushes up through its streets with the rising tides, even when the sun is shining.

Continue reading

A question most worth asking

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.Our annual school tax check – about 75 percent of it goes to public schools – is on the dining room table. Yes, it’s mostly a school tax and, truth be told, a reasonable investment in our communities’ offspring. Still, it’s taxes, and it’s a large enough check to pay for a trip I’d like to take later this year.

Wednesday morning’s newspaper had a front page story about Darlene Brown earning more than $168,000 plus nearly $34,000 benefits for her role in providing housing to poor people. Clearly, those numbers were what the writer wanted readers to take away – he mentioned them several times – and in a county that considers $30,000 to be a pretty OK salary, those numbers are certainly worthy of note.

Continue reading

Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the The Wall

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.“In early spring 2008, two young bison bulls jumped a sagging three-string barbed wire fence separating Chihuahua, Mexico, from New Mexico in the United States. On both sides of the international line lay an unbroken grassland valley scoured almost bare by a prolonged drought, which announced itself meanly on the dusty hides stretched taught [sic] over bison bones. … Here is a landscape that has seen the birth of jaguars, the death of Spanish missionaries, the budding of Saguaro cactus, the persecution and dogged endurance of native peoples, and the footsteps of a million migrants recorded in the smoldering sands of the Devil’s Road.”

One of the principles I have offered my children and grandchildren has been that books have the power to take us places we might otherwise never visit. One such book is Krista Schlyer’s “Continental Divide.” In words and pictures gathered over several years, Schlyer, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental photographer and writer, takes us to this nation’s border with Mexico, and “The Wall.”

Continue reading

Myth and reality

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.We humans, I’ve discovered through many years of observation, are complicated.

We like, for instance, the story of Romeo and Juliet, two young (some say about 15-year-old) lovers who got together in spite of their parents feud. Or maybe at least partially because of it; youth often does things just because the elders forbid it.

Continue reading

Ode to lettuce

With enough lettuce, one can forget the entree is tiny.My favorite movie popcorn went up a buck. I didn’t mind that. Really! I normally attend the $5 show, and often I’m one of the few in the theater. Paying staff and electricity can’t be cheap, I figure, and I think the township gets a cut off every ticket, so why complain.

Then I started noticing the giant tubs that once were served rounded were about two or three handfuls from topped up. Of course, when you buy a giant tub of popcorn, the movie house offers a free refill  (provided you don’t attend the late show, when the concession stand closes before the movie gets out and there is no one there to dispense the refill).  But I don’t usually go to the late show, so I get two buckets of popcorn – one when I enter to eat with the movie, one on the way out to eat later, while watching Game of Thrones.

But I was taken aback the other day when my favorite dining-out partner and I went to our once-favorite sit-down, not quite fast food chain. The atmosphere is nice, the service friendly, and the prices not terrible. At least that was the case. Times, and servings have changed.

Continue reading

Phone technology has run amok

Image the time and effort to bend rock into marble-cake swirl.It used to be if the phone rang, which wasn’t often, we answered. That was before Caller ID and telemarketers.

Now the phone rings constantly, especially during dinner and those evening television shows I like to watch. And the only thing Caller ID does is tell me whether to answer the phone or just let it keep ringing. Some calls display numbers beginning with “800-“ while others report titles like “Friendswood, TX” and “Platinum Reward.” One day this week, the phone rang and the display reported “Adams County.” We answered because we live here – to hear a recorded pitch about interest rates.

There was a time when I could go through my detailed phone bill and look up each number I called to find out who I tried to talk with. All I needed was an Internet connection to my phone company, enter the number, and get back the name of the person who owned it. Not anymore.

Now I search the number and get pages of advertisements for companies who report knowing the information, and offering to charge $10 or more to share it.

Continue reading

A reporter’s look at history

Image the time and effort to bend rock into marble-cake swirl.If I had not decided to be a journalist, I probably would have become a geologist. The only thing that intrigues me more than why people do the things they do, is the length of time this planet has been building the place to do them.

It has been noted by people who calculate such things that if the 4.5 billion years this planet has been a-making were converted to a 24-hour clock, we humans have been here less than five minutes. Sixty-six million years ago, give or take a couple months, what must have looked to the universe to be a small pebble hurtled through the blackness we humans would eventually call “space” and ran into a larger rock circling what humans eventually would call The Sun.

Continue reading

Where’s the water?

Rainwater may fall on Sandstone 50 miles from the wells that supply people's kitchen faucets.When I was young, finding water was fairly easy. An old farmer would take a forked apple branch, some of the younger fellows used a wire coat hanger bent into the requisite “Y,” and head out to the area one proposed digging a well. It was called “dowsing.”

Holding the branch by the short legs, the long end poking out in front, the dowser would begin to walk around. Eventually, the tip of the divining rod would dip toward the earth. At the point the rod dipped deepest – hopefully, pointed straight down – the person in need of water started digging.

Continue reading

Where is Johnny Tracy?

A black upright piano sat in the corner of the classroom at Roosevelt Grammer School.I wonder where Johnny Tracy is today. He came to mind Sunday when, at the Totem Pole Playhouse production of “I Love a Piano,” there stood an antique upright at the front of the stage, just like the one – or close enough – Johnny Tracy used to play at Roosevelt Grammar School.

That was the two-room schoolhouse where I spent my early years of more or less formal education, from Fourth through Eighth Grade. It was where Emma Hargreaves made hot lunch every day, where I fell in fourth-grade love with a cute red-haired girl who gave no sign she was aware of my existence, smoked my first cigarette (which didn’t work out nearly as well as when other guys did it) and learned to love Rock-and-Roll music, the latter thanks mostly to Johnny Tracy.

Continue reading

Silly Rules

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.News Flash: Archeologists have found Sally Hemings house. Most of us know Sally Hemings was a slave owned by our third president, Thomas Jefferson. I wonder what, if anything, will her abode reveal.

I was a substitute high school teacher in the late 1980s, occasionally in charge of a high school Social Studies class.

“How many of you think women’s lib started in your lifetime,” I asked one day. Except for a couple of students clever enough to suspect a trick question, all raised their hands. So I told them about Abigail.

Continue reading

Whitetails and water

In a blur, a whitetail fawn heads for the safety of the woods.Summer is nigh. Fireflies blink in the tall grass. This year has given us several catbird families — we’ve always had one or two, but never the more than three pair of nesters we’ve seen this year. And a Brown Thrasher has been around this year for the first time, often enough we are pretty sure he has a lover.

One of our daughters picks on us for being old people, sitting around watching birds. I say more of us should do that. It is relaxing.

But Oh! To share the piece of video I did not get this week!

Continue reading

The American Way?

Rep. Steve Scalise, third in the chain of command in the House of Representatives, two House staffers and two Capitol Police officers were wounded Wednesday morning, apparently by a guy from Illinois who didn’t like Republicans. The operative phrase is “didn’t like,” because police killed the shooter.

It’s OK to not like Republicans – or Democrats – but when we claim this isn’t the way we do things in this country, shooting people we don’t like, or people ostensibly on their side, should top the list. Unfortunately, it does not.

Continue reading

Subsidies good – for new tech

Rooftop solar panels could become part of a neighborhood microgrid.A few years ago, I wrote about the subsidy Pennsylvanians give to oil companies. I’d done some research and some math, and calculated that if we paid the subsidies at the pump rather than in our tax bill, gasoline would cost slightly north of $16 a gallon. We are still paying, but it’s likely more now.

Natural gas is plentiful and, for now, cheap, but it was the United States government that used taxpayers’ money to make fracking an economically viable process.

Continue reading

Play in it to preserve it

Water is not only for drinking and washing dishes.I often tout the idea of getting the kids down to the swimming hole. Let them splash in the creek, and watch the fish and turtles that live in the water and on the shores. Let them flip over rocks and identify some of the larva.

One of the ways biologists determine the quality of water is to check for macroinvertebrates such as May and Stone fly larvae. If the water is too polluted for human consumption, it also will not support the bugs – or the fish that feed on them.

Continue reading

Perpetually wandering

Robin brings breakfast to the nest.I was chatting, the other day, with a niece about mountain hiking.

“I’d love to hike up a mountain,” I said, “as long as who I hiked with wasn’t in a hurry and loved, or at least liked, mountains.”

“As a spoiler alert, I’m in much less a hurry once I reach the top,” she replied.

Australians, I am told, like to go “on a walkabout.” I prefer to go “on a wander.” “In a hurry” has never been one of my defining traits. I could walk as long and as far as anyone, but almost anyone could beat me in a run. I always figured if where I was going would be gone by the time I got there, so be it.

Continue reading

Mice in the kitchen

Robin brings breakfast to the nest.The mouse traps were empty when I slid out of bed to check. I’m glad.

I know about disease vectors and the bother of the little critters nibbling into the sleeves of saltines crackers, leaving a carpet of tiny black pellets on the pantry shelf. But, really, they don’t eat much.

I lived for awhile in a cabin in a wood. On a winter evening, we would watched a tiny critter appear on one side of the living room, scurry around the top edge of the tongue-and-groove knotty pine sheathing to the pantry – where he (or she) – knew a tube of Ritz crackers waited. He took one, then retraced his path to his family.

Continue reading

Wanted: traveling transparency

Vehicle barely visible behind Jersey barrier between lanes.Jersey barriers came into being for a really valid safety reason – but do they have to be opaque?

Our kids got their car legs at a very early age. First was a P1800 Volvo, a two-seater with a ledge behind on which we strapped the bassinette containing our firstborn, as we toured the mountains of central California and eastern Nevada. We found an observatory on a high place in the near-desert I probably could not find now if my life depended on it.

Continue reading

Springtime celebrations

Two-day-old Northern Cardinals await parents'return.The eldest granddaughter graduated from college Saturday, first in her familial generation to be so accomplished. Even the gods were joyful, judging from the graduation eve celebration and fireworks. The rain started Friday evening as the celestial band tuned up, beginning with a soft breeze and a few drops, growing rapidly progressively windier and wetter with each hour. Then suddenly, amid the cloud-to-cloud arcing,  the lights went out, as though one of the young gods, overcome with his own revelry, had stumbled into the switch.

Continue reading