Wednesday, January 28, 2015


The common view seems to be that the meteorological haruspexes are guilty of overhype and unnecessarily fomenting mass hysteria because the recent storm turned out to be no big deal in New York City. I wish you all to know that there is life outside of Manhattan. When I went to bed Monday night there was  coating of snow. When I woke up, there was two feet. I struggled all morning to get the driveway open with my little tractor but it was impossible. And it kept snowing. All day. We wound up with more than 30 inches.

That is a huge amount of snow in one dump. I wound up hiring a guy with a honking F-150 who managed to open a road to my house. But before the days of F-150s, country folk who got hit with snow had to wade through it to the stable and hitch up the sleigh if they wanted to go anywhere. No fun for the horses, I expect. The Indians had snowshoes but it must have been a hard time for them. According to William Cronon (Changes in the Land), they just took it as normal to be hungry all winter.

So that's two days I couldn't get to work. Not the end of the world but still a disruptive event. I am now frustrated, tired and grumpy.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Athletic non-competition

Here in the otherwise great state of Connecticut, the only major league professional sports team we have is the WNBA Mohegan Suns, and let's face it, professional women's basketball is not that impactful.

So, it's out UConn basketball teams that get all the attention, and the women's team even more so because they win all the time. The problem is that there isn't enough talent to go around in NCAA women's basketball, so there are only four teams in the country that are competitive. We already know who the Final Four will be. Meanwhile, in conference play, the Huskies smash everybody, ending games with two or three times as many points. The whole season is just cupcake after cupcake.

Whether this will be good for the team's popularity in the long run is hard to say. It's fun  to win but watching these games just makes you cringe. You would think the success of the team would encourage high school girl's basketball in the state but in fact the only Connecticut natives on the roster are two walk-ons who only play in garbage time. Well, the entire last 30 minutes of every game are garbage time but what I really mean is the last 3 or 4 minutes. They could be regulars, of course, on any of the opposing teams.

How long can this go on?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Darn, it keeps happening

First, I went down to the Highland Festival and it turned out it was fifteen bucks admission. I thought that was excessive since once you get in you're going to spend money on haggis and bagpipe lessons and whatever, so I passed. But I did have a pleasant walk down country lanes with the beech leaves turning yellow.

So now it's a week later and most of those leaves are on the ground. The oak leaves are still mostly green but the maples are turning red. The grass has pretty much stopped growing, although we've had no real frost yet. I'm waking up in the dark now and pretty soon it will be dark by the time I get home from work. We had a mild week but yesterday afternoon I built a fire and I'll need to do it again today. I've always said it's important not to hibernate, and you can avoid it in the city, but out here there's not much choice.

It's good that we have to go through winter, I suppose. A regular challenge overcome keeps us strong. But that's what it is. As a kid, the difficult parts were somebody else's problem and we could just enjoy sledding and snowball fights, but now it's a real pain in the ass, frankly. Maybe I shouldn't admit that but honestly, I'm not looking forward to it this year, intrepid though I be.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What's in a name?

Lest you think we do nothing but drive tractors and milk cows out here, every year we have a Highland Games festival where men in plaid skirts throw telephone poles and what not. Why does it happen here, you ask? Because the name of the town is Scotland.

That's the only reason. We don't particularly have people of Scottish descent here, and we aren't actually in any highlands -- in fact a river valley. But, the festival organizers figured it would be fitting to have people come to Scotland for the purpose. They have to park 2 miles away in a hayfield and take a shuttle bus because there isn't enough parking at the historical society property where the festival is held, which, is by the way, mostly not in Scotland at all but in Sprague. (Ssh!) Anyway, I'll check it out and let you know how much fun it is, it's an easy walk from my house.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Peace and Quiet?

That's what many people imagine to be the essence of country life. Well, it depends. I lived most of my adult life in the city and yes, there's traffic noise during the day and you'll hear people talking loudly or yelling. Sometimes people have their domestic quarrels on the sidewalk. You'll hear sirens a couple of times per hour.

After about 11:00 pm, though, it gets quiet. Often at night it will be dead quiet, until the truck comes at 4:30 am to empty the dumper across the street.

Here, the soundscape is different, but it's really not quieter. In late summer -- August and September, i.e. right now -- the racket in the woods feels almost deafening. It isn't really loud enough to impede conversation, but it feels overwhelming because it is so complex. Continual thrumming, chirping, skirling, trilling, cheeping overlaid by birdsong and the harsh calls of crows and barred owls. It evolves over the 24 hours but never stops. Late summer nights, in other words, are much louder here than they are in Jamaica Plain.

Then there's the gunfire, which I have written about before. If you hear gunshots in the city, you call the police. If people did that here, the cops would be camped out. There's a guy somewhere nearby who empties a 12 round magazine every afternoon, I guess when he gets home from work. Some people need a martini, that's what he does. Weekend mornings it's like Donetsk around here.

We also have chainsaws, and kids riding motorbikes and RVs. And farm equipment. The corn harvest is about to start and I'll be hearing it all day.

Winter is when it's quiet. When the snow blankets the ground you can step outside and hear exactly nothing. But you know, it's cold.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


As I may already have mentioned, I've seen fewer bats this year than in the past. It's hard to keep track of how many are in view, because they move around so erratically and so fast, but my impression has been typically 3 or 4 in the clearing, maybe half of what I saw last year. As you must know, there is an epidemic of a fungal disease that has been decimating bat populations in the region so I have been worried about it.

Last night, however, I saw lots of bats. I got 7 in a single visual field, at one point, and there must have been more because these were all below the tree tops and a couple of seconds later I saw two more at a much higher level. So maybe our local population is healthy, so far. The good news, by the way, is that the disease is endemic in Europe but the European populations are resistant to it, and doing fine. We can hope that there are resistant individuals here who will be the basis of a rebounding population.

But I got to thinking. They use a tremendous amount of energy -- they don't coast or soar, their flight depends on constant, vigorous flapping. And they are constantly turning, climbing and diving, all this to harvest tiny packages of food. It's hard to believe they manage to achieve a positive caloric budget, but obviously they do.

Which brings me to the second puzzle. Why are all those insects flying around 25 to 70 feet in the air? What can they possibly be achieving other than making themselves available as bat food? Mosquitoes and biting flies want to be down here on the ground where the meals are. Same thing with insects that feed on plants - I mean, there's just nothing up there. There are, in fact, plenty of insects near the ground but the bats don't come down to get them. What gives?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A hiatus summer

This summer has been cool here, which is a great break from the trend of recent years. I have a regret, though. I couldn't put in a garden or do much work on the grounds for most of the season because I had surgery on my hand in April. Osteoarthritis at the base of my left thumb had gotten seriously disabling. I couldn't play the sax, it hurt to take a paper cup off a shelf or to take money out of my wallet. My cousin-in-law talked me into buying a guitar and I found I couldn't play it. So I finally gave in and went for the Hail Mary.

This surgery is pretty grotesque. They remove the trapezium bone that joins the wrist to the thumb, and stuff the cavity with tissue harvested from a wrist tendon. For the first month or so the pain is incredible. It's taken a good six months for me to get to the point where I'm thinking, okay, I would now trade this for what I had before. I can play my instruments, and the activities of daily living are painless. It's just heavy lifting that's painful and the hand and wrist are weak. But I figure I'll get all the way back in due course.

So I'll be doubly motivated for a great garden next year, but more than that, consider the overall course of my life and health had this not been available to me. I would have become increasingly sedentary, I would have lost some of my greatest pleasures in life, I would have gotten old early. This surgery depends on anesthesia, antibiotics, and techniques honed over decades. It's also expensive. Of all the people who have ever lived and are living, the proportion who have such opportunities is miniscule.

Arthritis is actually a major driver of decline in aging people. That we can replace joints in defiance of nature is a magnificent accomplishment. But just think how inequitably such really priceless blessings are distributed. In my social circles, we take it for granted. I met a guy at a party last night who'd had the same procedure. Now he's back to playing the mandolin. What astonishing good fortune.