Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Deluge

Okay, it wasn't Hurricane Florence, but we just had the most intense rainstorm since I have lived here -- ten years, actually, if you count the time I was building the house. We've been through tropical storms that have dumped a lot of rain, but this was more rain in a short time than ever before.

I know because it washed down mounds of debris from the hill behind my house onto my lawn, which has never happened before. I know because the intermittent watercourse down that hill is flowing torrentially, and as far as I can remember it has never run at all before when the leaves are on the trees. It flooded so high at one point that it overtopped the culvert and ran over the driveway. The water even took a new it never has before, flowing from west to east behind the house and eroding part of the driveway. I'm going to have to rake up all that gravel from the lawn back up where it belongs, but no major damage and it's still passable.

My neighbor was not so lucky. His driveway has deep gullies and is barely passable. Another heavy rainstorm will wash it out. It doesn't help that he just had double bypass surgery and he can't exert himself. So I went over to the local paving supplier and got a ton of process, left the truck at his place where he's going to have a couple of kids come over and fill the gullies. I'm not even sure a half ton will be enough.

Anyway that's part of life out here, where lots of us have long gravel driveways on hill sides. We're basically in the bottom of the Shettucket river valley, which is one of those u-shaped valleys carved out by the glacier, and the road runs between the hills. And yes, part of the road washed out. I was impressed how quickly the town repaired it. I've had to rebuild parts of my driveway twice, but each time we've figured out how to harden it against the next episode. Last time I added a ditch and a culvert, and that part held up perfectly. My neighbor is going to have to build some water bars or this will just happen again. These road will always need maintenance, but with luck I at least won't get trapped, which I nearly was last time.

Climate change means more flooding rains, of course. We'll see how bad it gets.

* Actually the road material is called "process" a mixture of sand and clay, on top of stone.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Country Fun

We've just had the season of agricultural fairs. These were once economically important events, where farmers would sell preserved produce and livestock, women would sell textile art, and equipment vendors would be there as well. Social bonds among neighbors would be renewed, and of course there were competitions. Getting the prize for best hog or whatever would likely be worth a premium price for stud.

Many of these of course are still happening but their character is very different. Agriculture is now of much less economic importance and the country fairs play no significant role in marketing. What with automobiles and telephones we don't need the occasion of the fair to keep up connections. The fairs are now full of carnival attractions: scam games, fried dough, thrill rides. The old agricultural competitions still happen, of course, but 99.9% of the attendees have never set foot on a farm, so it's all just exotic entertainment. Still, there is some real connection to the past in going into a tent full of goats or dairy cows and smelling the sawdust and excrement; or seeing the shelves of home-canned peaches and tomatoes; or watching the ox-pulling contest.

Other somewhat similar events are a regular part of the rural economy for three seasons. We have a vineyard here that just held an artisans' fair, with music and wine tasting. That gets people to the winery and they can sell some bottles. Just because of the name of the town, we also have an annual Scottish games festival where they throw the telephone pole and eat haggis. We also have a "farm days" festival in the spring, so as not to compete with the bigger county fairs. So it's not like the big city, but stuff does happen here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018


I just harvested my onions and I'm about to go for the garlic. Those are no problem, they keep. But I'm also harvesting peaches, pears, tomatoes and zucchini. They come in mass quantities so you have to do something.

It used to be that every household (or I should say the women) knew how to do home canning, pickling and preserving; make fruit pies and zucchini bread; and jams and preserves. The Italians would dry their tomatoes -- traditionally marinara sauce was made with dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and dried basil. You can also use red wine and oregano. Anyway, point is, it's all preserved, which is why sailors could make it, hence the name.

Now I'm going to have to can some tomatoes and make a peach crumble. Should actually be fun. Last winter my canned tomato sauce and onions lasted until February. In the old days, the farmers around here  would have a root cellar where they'd keep carrots and winter squash and whatnot to get through the winter.

Think about it next time you go to the supermarket and buy fresh produce in January. And think about what you might do if that becomes impossible.

Thursday, August 9, 2018


I grew up in Madison, Ct, which was a shipbuilding center in early times, then became a summer resort and increasingly, a bedroom community. Probably the best thing about Madison is its town beaches, and especially the Surf Club. It has ball fields and basketball courts, and a big event hall where they have dinners and dances and youth activities. You can have your wedding reception or your fundraiser there. That's where all the kids hang out in the summer and it's what makes Madison a town, basically.

I had a summer job as manager of the concession stand -- hamburgers and hot dogs, ice cream, soda, snow cones. We had a very popular fried pizza. Snow cones were where the profit was -- a cup of ice and some syrup, and we got IIRC 75 cents for them. It would be a lot more now. It was a responsible, hard job for a kid -- I started after my senior year in high school and did it for a couple more years when I was in college. One day I got to work and found that some morons had broken in and trashed the place. Why?

I don't know but it happened again. This time they didn't just trash the concession stand:

Vandals blocked the sinks and toilets and left the water running, opened the staff refrigerator and took whatever food was inside and threw it across the kitchen floor, turned over trash, and did a fair amount of damage outside as well.
The vandals sliced up the new tent on the Surf Club patio. That tent cost the town thousands of dollars and had only been in place for about six weeks.
“They took the lighting off their hangers and pilled them up all along the seawall along with the two propane tanks, the high chairs, they flipped some tables over that were chained, and they pulled [the concession stand] menus off the side of the building that he has on the left and right,” said Erskine. “Then they defecated on [the stand’s] service counter on the outside.”
The difference now is that they have surveillance cameras. If you go to the link you will get a very clear look at these bozos. You can scroll  through the photos by clicking on the arrows and see how much they are enjoying themselves and how smug they look. In one shot, one of them is holding a beer. They don't look all that young either -- maybe college age. I haven't read yet that they've been arrested but obviously it's only a matter of time.

So what's the psychology of this? For some reason they want to strike at the whole community, ruin everybody's good time for the next day, and it makes them happy. Yeah, the surveillance cameras everywhere are kind of disconcerting, but this time I'm glad they were there. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

An insoluble problem?

There is a house that I pass on my daily commute. A few months ago, it burned. No people were hurt but apparently several dogs died. I guess the people weren't home. It's sad because the house was dated to 1801. Most people don't care about old stuff any more but I do.

The house was totaled -- the roof is gone but for a few charred rafters, and it's gutted. But the walls are still standing. It's a godawful eyesore. It's at the intersection of two state roads, across the street from a small supermarket, and diagonally across from a historic site, the Prudence Crandall School for Girls. Prudence taught African-American girls in the 19th Century, which was quite progressive of her, and the site is now a museum. There are other old houses around there and it's all very scenic -- except for the burned out house.

Apparently the people didn't have insurance, because there's no sign of anybody showing up to tear the house down. (I'm pretty sure it can't be rebuilt.) The yard is now overgrown. Every time it rains the house rots a little bit more, but the wreckage will be there pretty much forever if nothing is done about it.

This is in a small town that can barely afford to plow the snow and keep the schools open. The lot is tiny, and there is no reason why anybody would want to buy it, especially if that means removing the wreckage. There is already a shopping area down the street with two restaurants, two liquor stores, a pub, a pharmacy, a multi-pump gas station and minimart, and several other small businesses so there's no evident reason why anyone would want the property for commercial purposes.

So I can't think of any solution. As far as I can figure I'm going to have to drive by the burned out house five days a week until I retire. The locals are going to have to look at it every time they go grocery shopping, and the tourists and schoolchildren on field trips are going to have to look at it when they check out Prudence Crandall. For 100 years. Unless somebody has an idea.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Time to start up this blog again . . .

Yes, I'm back. So, with half the western U.S. and Europe on fire, we're the lucky ones. We've had some warm spells but nothing horrific, and plenty of rain. The farmers are ecstatic, it's been absolutely perfect. This is one reason people are complacent about climate, I expect. Most of the time, in most places, the weather is still basically okay. And when we have a storm or a drought it isn't immediately obvious that they're happening more often than before.

Actually where I am the predictions are pretty benign for the foreseeable future. A longer growing season, maybe some greater extremes of heat and cold with the wandering jet stream, greater chance for the occasional hurricane to make it north with more punch, but we won't have wildfires or dust bowls.

Actually the bad news is subtler. The dominant tree species here are oak and hemlock. My woods contain hemlock groves, while the expanses of oak are interspersed with other hardwood species. But the hemlocks are dying. This is because of an insect called the woolly adelgid which is expanding its range north. In centuries and decades past we lost our chestnuts and elms to imported blights, and now the emerald ash borer is threatening another species. In fact at some point I'm going to have to work up the energy to fell a couple of dying hemlocks on the edge of my clearing. I just cut one down at my neighbor's business yesterday.

I don't know what these woods will look like in 10 or 15 years, but they will be a lot different. Should we care about that? Change is always with us. Maybe next time I'll talk about bats.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Churchy LaFemme*

I was driving on a country road -- actually a state road but around here that doesn't exactly mean Route 66 -- and there was a big snapping turtle just sitting in the travel lane. The car ahead of me swerved to miss it and went on its way, but I stopped and put on my double flashers.

The turtle wasn't even trying to cross the road, it was just basking. The road was crossing a swampy area but there was a culvert, so if it really wanted to get to the other side it didn't have to climb up onto the asphalt. I picked it up, which made it very unhappy. It extended its claws and thrashed its head from side to side, but it was, you know, in a shell so it couldn't get at me. I carried it across and set it on the bank. Had I not done that, it would be dead.

The principal predator of most wildlife around here is the motor vehicle. For some reason I can't really figure out, Connecticut is not among the highest risk states for colliding with a deer. According to State Farm insurance, only about 1 in 300 of us hit a deer in 2016. But believe it or not, in Pennsylvania 1 out of every 67 drivers did, and in West Virginia the number was 1 in 41. At that rate, in a decade you have a 25% chance. Two hundred people die in these collisions every year, but obviously the deer get by far the worst of it.

Wikipedia has a whole article on road kill. It turns out that there is good evidence that some people deliberately hit reptiles. "[R]esearch in 2007 found that 2.7% of drivers intentionally hit reptile decoys masquerading as snakes and turtles.[4] "Indeed, several drivers were observed speeding up and positioning their vehicles to hit the reptiles".[4]:142 Male drivers hit the reptile decoys more often than female drivers.[4]:140–141 On a more compassionate note, 3.4% of male drivers and 3% of female drivers stopped to rescue the reptile decoys.[4

 So I'm in the virtuous 3.4%. I would have hoped not to be so alone.

*For those of you who are too young, Churchy was a talking turtle who was a friend of the talking possum Pogo. Strangely, there was only one example of most species in the swamp. Pogo's best friend was an alligator named Albert who for some reason refrained from eating the other animals. Pogo's occasional love interest was a French skunk named Mademoiselle Hepzibah. I didn't know there were skunks in France, and if there are, they probably seldom emigrate to a swamp in Georgia. Species of which there was more than one example included bats -- there were 3 of them -- Miz Beaver and her children, and Porky Porcupine who was sometimes visited by his uncle Baldwin.

Pogo had much to say of great wisdom, but most famously: