Discovering dinosaurs, and other life forms

What big teeth you have.
(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/25/2013)

The three-year-old took his dad and me to the zoo this week. The little guy is a chick magnet. Everywhere we went, he was so happy playing with dad, laughing and grinning, that young ladies 100 yards away were looking at him and smiling. Which caused them to look at me and smile because they knew I was with Peter, and Peter’s an obviously really cool little guy.

There’s something really great about watching a youngster discover new things, even – maybe especially – when he has no real idea what he has discovered.

First it was a ride on the Metro to Washington, then lunch outside the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Peter loves dinosaurs, and he knows which skull is the Triceratops and which the T. Rex. He found a Pterodactyl, which he properly identified as a bird, and oohed over the monsters behind the glass of a miniature Jurassic Park.Read more

Lack of GED, diploma or degree not necessarily indicator of school’s failure

Some valuable jobs, e.g. heavy equipment operators, do not require college education.(First published in the Rock the Capital, 6/22/2012)

I graduated from Eighth Grade at Roosevelt Grammar School in 1961.

…we expect that all young people can learn all things, and should all go to college – or at least stick it out through high school. Hogwash!

When I was young, Eighth Grade graduation marked the limit of many students’ academic career. I was raised in rural Maine, where young people helped their families on the farm, and the school calendar was written around planting and harvest schedules, and the fall agricultural fair.Read more

Idea: kids pick up lunch on the way to school

A few remaining peppers hang ripening on the vine.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/18/2013)

It’s nearly 7 a.m. The sun soon will come into view. Not long ago, I would sat on the back porch to read. Now I am glad the electronic paper on which I write has its own illumination.

“Seven out of 10 people will live in a city by 2050,” Meaghan Parker, writer/editor at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

A school bus passes my home, right on time. It will stop in a hundred yards or so to pick up several students and carry them to brick-walled institutions of learning. Would that it take them to a forest or a garden. I live in a county where agriculture is one of the two main industries, so a smaller percentage of our kids than, say, Baltimore’s or New York’s, think food comes from a Food Lion, but even a few are too many.

The stream beside our back porch looks and sounds cooler these days. The Forest of Brown-eyed Susans and Echinacea has withered, as have the clumps of Hostas, their tall purple bell-bearing stalks nearly completely bereft of their autumn royalty.Read more

Firing fossils: messy, expensive, and too often deadly

Kingston coal ash storage on the banks of the Emory River.(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/11/2013)

Click thumbnail for full-size panoramic image

One of the highlights of a week-long conference I recently attended in Chattanooga, Tenn. was a bus trip a few miles north, to the Kingston Fossil Plant, one of 11 coal-fired electricity generating plants owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The plant burns coal to turn water into steam to drive generators to provide electricity to about 540,000 homes.

It also was the site, in the early morning of December 22, 2008, of a massive release of coal ash into nearby rivers and a lake. Without warning – at least without warning considered by plant managers, an 84-acre pile of ash broke loose to befoul the waters below – and above – the plant. The ash mass hit the Emory River with such force the downstream flow could not immediately absorb it, so the ash, and the river it rode, flowed backward several miles, and created “ashbergs” in the watercourse.Read more

Electric buses, u-rent bicycles, and fish at the brink of extinction

Fellow SEJer and NPR reporter Karen Schaefer contemplates renting a bike to explore Chattanooga.I am returned home from a six-day conference, counting travel, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, during which I saw little of the city whilst I mingled with fellow recorders of “environmental” tales and observations. It was an informative sojourn, full of camaraderie and information, at least some of which we members of the Society of Environmental Journalists each hope will add value and color to our future musings.

But I was impressed, in what limited exposure I had, with the uncity-ness of the historic burg.Read more

Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster

Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, by Walter M. Brasch(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/4/2013)

Well before most Pennsylvania residents were aware of a natural gas industry north of the Gulf of Mexico, it was taking root in the Commonwealth. “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” by Walter M. Brasch, is the story of that enterprise.

The narrative begins in 2000, when Mitchell Energy, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, finally proved that extracting natural gas from shale a mile and-a-half below the state’s surface was a practical – read profitable – undertaking.Read more