Category Archives: Environment

How cold was it?

An old friend stands more than 8,000 feet tall.It snowed a couple nights ago. Road crews were out trying to make the roads unslippery. I met a former co-worker grocery shopping and mentioned I hadn’t yet pulled out my snowthrower or even a snow shovel. Where he lives, he said, a borough ordinance requires him to shovel snow – even when the wind would blow it away quicker and cleaner – from his sidewalk.

I once lived where there were no ordinances requiring that I keep my sidewalk cleared. Of course, I had no sidewalk. Winters when the need to shovel snow was indicated by snow piled up, 24 or more inches at a time, outside the kitchen door.

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The confluence of birthrate and technology

Checkout as you shop -- convenience, or job killer?IA teenage girl pulls out her smartphone, and flicks her finger a few times at the screen. A message flashes in a thought bubble to let her know her crescent and chai tea have been paid.

Later, sitting drinking the tea she flicks the screen a few more times and orders a football jersey in her favorite team’s colors.

Somewhere, a robot whirs to life and follows a track to bin B7825JF. A mechanical claw reaches to the highest level and retrieves a plastic bag containing the desired jersey. The robot – actually a motorized bin, returns to the packing station. vinyl envelopes filled with air are placed in a box to take up the space not occupied by the jersey. the flaps are folded down as the box passes through another machine, and packing tape and a shipping label are applied.

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Winters passed and future

An old friend barks defiance at winters passed and future.I have not yet pulled out my snowthrower. Foolishly, perhaps, I am counting on the Allegheny Mountains to keep from my door the 102 inches already dumped on Erie and other parts to my north and east.

I learned the value of snow fences when I was a kid. Farmers would stretch the fences, looking like rows of wire-bound two-inch slats, across their fields, about 20-30 feet from and parallel to the road. Wind would blow the snow across the pasture, against the fence, up and over, to drop it down on the opposite side – the side nearer the road – where it “drifted,” into a wall sometimes eight to 10 feet tall.

But not on the road.

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Space: the limitless frontier

The needlelike nose of a Spacex rocket points toward space from Cape Canaveral.Sometimes I like to simply sit still and try not to move – to look up into space and ponder the stars.

Light travels really quickly. As a youngster, I discovered, while standing at the edge of a lake, that I could see a man splitting maple for his winter fire, about a half-mile distant on the opposite shore, swing a sledgehammer, and a short time later hear the hammer hit the steel wedge he used to split a maple log. Even at that distance, the disparity between the speed of light and the speed of sound was easily measurable, though at my then young age it was merely a curiosity.

I look “up” into the night sky and look at light reflected from stars so far away some of them have not existed for millions, maybe billions, of years.

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You had to be there

Billboards do not have to blot out the scenery.I would like to visit North Korea. I would like to learn what wildlife calls the place home, and maybe why.

I have been a foreigner in many countries. Spain was prettiest, even after I landed a single-engine plane in some olive trees and spent a month filtering hospital food through a grill that held my jaw from falling on the floor. I still have a piece of platinum wire in my mouth that occasionally sets off an airport scanner.

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Some of the best tastes are junk food

Green is the lobster, fresh from the sea.When are Buffalo Wings not Buffalo wings?

When they’re made from pressed-together pieces of chicken other than wings.

The lore is that when a bar owner near Buffalo ran out of other snack food, she poured some of her special hot sauce on a bunch of chicken wings and served them up with bleu cheese and celery. The wings were a hit. Soon, bars and Hooters across the nation were serving them. Most people don’t know the name of the bar. Many people don’t know they are called Buffalo Wings because the bar was in Buffalo, New York.

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Giving thanks for change

Thanks for Fall in Adams County.As I write this note, my vegan granddaughter is preparing the Thanksgiving feast. As you read this note, we will have experienced and graded what promises to be an interesting culinary experience. Vegans, for the uninitiated, do not eat anything that is of or from a blooded animal, which means no milk or butter in addition to no meat. I’m going to miss the turkey.

In my youth, Mother spent the day baking turkey, pies and fresh bread. The gobbler was huge, more than sufficient for sharing among Mom, Dad, brother and two sisters and whichever relatives happened by. The stuffing was bread-based, bound with chicken broth and onions. No raisins. The bird was surrounded on the table by a plethora of vegetables, the most important of which, to my taste, was cranberry sauce, slow-cooked on the back burner of the kitchen stove to a juicy thick sweet-and-sour sauce with those delicious red lumps. I ate turkey primarily to justify additional helpings of cranberry sauce.

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So quit already. Uh huh.

Observations on the human condition.Come spring, She Who Must Be Loved will have been making it easy staying away from tobacco for 17 years. Add the year we were dating, and I haven’t had a nicotine fix in nearly 18 years. Way less than that, though, since I’ve thought about it. Not seriously, but still …

I’d been using tobacco for more than 30 years. I tried cigarettes when I was real young. Swiped some from Dad’s supply of Marlboros. Didn’t like ‘em. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but it was somewhere between fourth and eighth grade, when a few of us would slip off down a trail behind the two-room schoolhouse and try to impress each other with our budding manhood. Some of us were not very manly.

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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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