Category Archives: Environment

Seasons

A gate color-matched and decorated for the season.It’s chilly outside. Colors are at peak — maybe a bit past, depending on where one looks. A damp cutting breeze is trimming leaves into great clouds of kaleidoscopic flakes onto earthen carpets where, except in the ‘burbs, they will become fertilizer for next years’ growth rings on the trees from which they fall.

Red maples, yellow poplars. Across the pasture over which Pickett’s Charge took place, Little Round Top wears horizontal stripes where different species have chosen different growing areas.

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Forests, multi-purpose rooms on the mountain

Color change at the top of the ridge.I walked in a portion of Michaux State Forest a few days ago. Splashes of white paint brushed onto trees along the trail were spaced out so one could stand at one and very nearly see the next one. The path was littered in alternating sections of oak leaves and pine needles. Here and there a few birds flittered through the branches, difficult to identify in the breaking darkness. A solitary squirrel scrambled through a long-needle pine.

I was raised in logging country. I’ve cut trees and twitched them out to staging areas where they were loaded on trucks to be hauled to the paper mill.

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Sexual assault: culturally secret bullying

Observations on the human condition.The past few weeks of television coverage of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual proclivities likely will not do much to ameliorate the situation. It’s not like we have not been discussing how poorly some men treat women.

We love to see rich folks get their come-uppance. Weinstein has paid out millions of dollars to ensure his victims’ silence. We have watched with interest every time Bill Cosby’s name has crossed our electronic screen; he, too has “settled,” paying an accuser to forget anything happened. Bill O’Reilly has several times “settled” with accusers — the latest settlement was for $32 million — and then denied that anything happened. And multiple times each week — sometimes it seems almost daily — our local newspaper carries the story of someone who has abused women or children, or both. Mostly those passing through Adams County courts on their way the front page are men. Mostly, they don’t have the money of a Bill Cosby, or a Bill O’Reilly, or a Harvey Weinstein with which to pay off an accuser.

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The most graceful bird

A Herring gull comes in for a landing in a tidal pond.An eagle is majestic, beautifully decorated, lord of all he surveys. He is not always hunting, but even when he is not, he is cataloging possibilities against the time when he desires a snack.

Wild turkeys are utilitarian. Ben Franklin, according to a 2013 article in Smithsonian Magazine, wrote in a letter to his daughter he thought the wild turkey “a true original Native of America … a little vain and silly (but nonetheless) a bird of courage.” Some have thought the wild turkey flightless, but they err. On the other hand, it flies only when it must, and then only for short distances.

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The soothing sound of silence

A Red squirrel dines on an abundance of hemlock seeds, leaving piles of scales below.Rows of waves crash in thunderous cadence onto the rocks outside my bedroom window. Some 15 miles to the southeast, the Monhegan Island light blinks its warning to passing vessels: “The rock on which I stand has been here billions of years, and likely will be here billions more,” the lighthouse flashes. “Pass with care.”

Winters can be frigidly unforgiving. A young couple who had gone to town one winter day spent longer away than planned. If one is accustomed to living in a winter wood, one knows how to “bank” a fire so it will burn all day, slowly, to keep the house from freezing. But the hour had become late, and the fire expired, leaving the cabin turned cold enough to freeze stuff.

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Our neighbors need help

Turn right at the stop. If you're in the creek, you missed it.It is difficult to watch the television evening news and not know that some U.S. citizens seem to be less than the rest of us. And no, I’m not talking about African-Americans living in the contiguous 48 states.

Puerto Rico is politically an interesting situation. It is not a state. It does not have a vote in Congress. Yet its 3.5 million people are U.S. citizens. And it is, as President Trump has noted, an island, separated from the rest of the United States by about 1,000 miles of Atlantic Ocean.

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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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