Category Archives: Environment

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Building walls

Walls block human ideas and wildlife migration, creating more problems than they solve.I recently overheard a parent ask his offspring what to do if he met someone on “technology” who he didn’t know, and who wanted to talk. The youngster said he would tell his teacher. And not talk to the stranger. The parent was proud his progeny had given the safe answer. I thought about the youngster’s future.

I remember the lesson well from my youth, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

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A new area code on the near horizon

It seems telephone sales are doing so well that the phone companies are running out of numbers for the 717 area code, so the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission will be adding a 223 area code. Sometime this summer, probably in August, telephone callers in the 717 area will be required to dial all 10 digits including the area code, rather than only seven digits.

If your new neighbor obtains a new number, you may have to remember that 223 is not necessarily on the other side of the region; it’s next door. And the seven-digit number you are dialing is not in some other state. It’s across the street.

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The fever is breaking

The most recent real snowstorm - Feb. 2014.The field was beautiful during the night of the “Blizzard of ’17.” White light suffused the forest, almost as though under a full moon, but without shadows from the leafless trees, making the very air seem to glow. In another life, on a night like that, I would have sallied forth with a snowthrower and cleared the half-mile between the hard road and my house, the snow muting the machine’s rumble, making the walk through the timber feel like virtual reality with the sound turned off.

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Mother nature’s sending a message

Orchardists begin to worry when the seasons skip the freezing winter.This spring was a record-breaking season for attendance at the annual Mount Hope Maple Madness, held at Camp Eder, on Mount Hope Road, Hamiltonban Township. The event was staged by Strawberry Hill Nature Preserve, an environmental education facility a short distance from Camp Eder.

Folks from miles around showed up to learn about maple syrup making, and to enjoy some of the sweet, sticky nectar on hot pancakes.

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States’ Rights an unsettling question

Kayaking on a creek.While many of us have been quibbling over the details of our Distracter-in-Chief’s latest tweet – or more recently, his sudden lack of early morning digital shouts to his public – most of us are, for various reasons, not paying much attention to some of the more important edicts he has, with less fanfare, issued and will continue to issue. It’s not that what he is doing is secret; too many of us are simply not paying attention.

When Scott Pruitt was made head of the Environmental Protection Agency, we understood on some level that he would like to abolish the agency, and there was media commentary noting the incongruity of placing in charge the guy who had mounted 14 lawsuits to block the his new subordinates from doing what their name seem to indicate they should be doing.

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Flying in formation

Snow geese in flight.I saw something last weekend I’d never seen off television. Tens of thousands of Snow geese covered a rather large pond near Kleinfeltersville, occasionally lifting off en masse to create a low cloud of white over the water. The birds were enroute their Arctic birthing grounds.

At rest, they virtually blanketed large portions of the pond, mostly paddling around in small circles filling the air with a sound like hundreds of playing puppies. Here and there, a pair would actually move from one side of the crowd to another, but mostly they stayed where they landed.

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