Sunday, July 14, 2019

Country tragedies

So last night a kid -- well, he was 21 years old -- was riding his dirt bike on the state road at about 8:30 in the evening. State road just means a 2 lane road that's maintained by the state and is a thoroughfare. A guy in a pickup truck didn't see him -- the bike didn't have a headlight -- and pulled out from as stop sign. The kid hit the side of the truck, went over the roof, and died. I wouldn't want to be the pickup driver.

The kid who lives next door to me is about the same age and actually knew the dead guy. My neighbor also used to ride his dirt bike on the public roads. One time a cop spotted him and started chasing him, so Jason (not his real name) tried to get away by cutting through the woods. The cop tracked him down at home, cuffed him in front of his parents, gave him a free ride to a night in jail, and threw the book at him for several hundred dollars worth of fines that he took a few months to work off.

At least he didn't die, but a couple of years later he got drunk, took his truck to the park to do doughnuts, and flipped it onto the roof. On my way home from work that night I saw this truck upside down in the park and of course I said WTF, then I found out it was Jason's. He wasn't badly hurt but next time he might not be so lucky.

A somewhat more constructive method of winning a Darwin award is to fell a tree onto your head, which happened to a guy down the road from me last year. I met another guy who got knocked unconscious and fractured his skull, but fortunately his wife came looking for him before he expired.

I don't know if it's more or less dangerous, on the whole, to live in the city. We don't have much crime out here but a while back a guy killed his girlfriend and drove all the way to Warwick, Rhode Island with her head in the car. (Really.) This was also the stomping grounds of the notorious serial killer Michael Ross, but that's pretty much a random misfortune  as far as I know. Anyway whatever you legitimately ought to be afraid of, keeping a gun in the house is not going to protect you from it. The most common way country folks win Darwin awards is of course by playing with guns. But nobody will listen to me about that.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

The OJ Treatment

I expect at least 2 of my 3 readers are old enough to remember the OJ Simpson murder case, including the slow-speed car chase, the investigation, and the trial. It dominated the national news media for however long it took to play out, at least a whole year. This is a single case of a guy murdering his estranged wife, but of course the difference is that he was rich and famous. There was a racial element that dominated interpretation of the event, but I expect it would have been about as sensational without that. (His lawyers got him off by convincing the jury that the LA police investigators framed him because they were racist. He was later found responsible for wrongful death in a civil trial.)

A few years after that, while I was still living in Boston, a guy murdered his wife in the affluent suburb of Brookline, and fled to his home country of England. This dominated the news, at least in Massachusetts, until he was finally extradited and convicted. There were hundreds of murders in Massachusetts that year, most of which merited two sentences on the nightly news.

So now comes the case of Jennifer Dulos, a woman who was living in New Canaan, Connecticut who disappeared three weeks ago. This has been the lead story, taking up extensive minutes in local news every night, on all networks, and major real estate on the front pages of the newspapers (what is left of them). As one might expect, her estranged husband, with whom she has been in a bitter custody battle, is suspected. The police have charged him with hindering the investigation, along with his girlfriend, but no more than that. No remains have been found.

There were 102 murders in Connecticut in 2017. They haven't yet published final numbers for 2018, for some reason, but anyway that's the order of magnitude. Again, all the other murders merit a sentence or two. Lots of the are domestic violence cases of one sort or another. So what determines who gets the OJ treatment?

Well, the victims are white, the families are affluent, and they live in wealthy suburbs. In this case the husband, Fotis Dulos, is a developer who lives in a vulgarly ostentatious  mansion in the Hartford suburb of Farmington,  while the "Missing Mom," as she is universally referred to, was living in the well-to-do New York City bedroom suburb of New Canaan. That's it.

The people who run the corporate media, who decide how we are to view the world, have absolutely no self-awareness and are completely immune to criticism. This single incident is the most important thing to have happened in Connecticut in the past three weeks, and in fact it is the most important thing to talk about every single day, despite the utter lack of any new information. I'm sorry for her kids but there are hundreds of children in Connecticut right now with a murdered parent, some of them just as recently, and we have never heard one word about them. Oh yeah -- the families aren't in the same social class as TV executives. But they are just impervious to any input, so why do we bother?

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Weed from the ninth circle of hell

That would be Japanese Knotweed. The existence of this scourge should convince everyone, including Ken Ham, that there is no intelligent designer. Its existence in Japan was tolerable because, naturally, since it's indigenous to the islands there are many insects and other creatures there that eat it. But in Europe and North America, there aren't any, not a single one.

The plant spreads vegetatively, via rhizomes. It outcompetes every other plant, and it forms dense thickets where nothing else can grow. It is extremely vigorous and thrusts up through gaps between paving blocks, destroys roads and oh yeah, destroys the foundations of houses. It is extremely difficult to eradicate because it grows back from the rhizome and if you leave even 1/2 inch, it will reappear. It is particularly fond of riverbanks and can totally destroy riverine habitats.

This is what it looks like when it newly sprouts:

Image result for Japanese Knotweed

And here's what it looks like in bloom.

Image result for Japanese Knotweed

If you have knotweed on your property, your real estate is literally unsaleable. Eradicating it takes years. You have to keep cutting it down and poisoning it, over and over. If you see any, start killing it now, and expect you will be devoting yourself to the project for a long time to come. Most homeowners, we are told, will be unable to cope with a large infestation themselves and will need to hire expert help.

The bad news for me is that there are extensive stands along the state road near the center of my tiny little town. The biggest stand is on the edge of a cornfield, which makes me wonder if the farmer has all his marbles. I haven't seen any in my neck of the woods but presumably we will at some point.

Gypsy moths, Russian olives, barberry, Asian long-horned beetles, emerald ash borers, woolly adelgids, knotweed -- who knows what these woods will look like in 20 years. I think we have no choice but to try to fight back by introducing natural enemies of these pests. Yeah, maybe that will backfire but I don't see how it can make things any worse.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

A serious glut

Last year we had an extreme breakout of gypsy moth caterpillars, for the second year in a row. They do best in fairly dry conditions, which means that the trees along the roads were devastated, while the  deep woods weren't as badly affected. But when I say devastated I mean it -- miles of dead oak trees, particularly along the state roads. So the DOT sent crews along this spring to take them all down, leaving immense piles of prime firewood.

There is so much of it that the landowners took to putting up signs saying "Leave the wood!" because they couldn't get around to processing it themselves or hiring someone. It's still disappearing very gradually.

So my neighbor has three dead oak trees along his driveway, and he has a crew taking them down right now. This afternoon I'm going to go over there and start sectioning it and bringing it back to my house to split and shed. I figure I'll end up with enough for the next two winters. I believe I mentioned that I already had a grandmother maple tree come down on my own property so I have a  head start. The bad news for a lot of hardworking young guys is that the price of firewood is obviously going to tank. Selling firewood is no way to make a living anyway, but now, forget about it. But, if they can keep it shedded, maybe it will be worth something in another year.

The good news is we have had an exceptionally wet spring. In fact we set an all time record for the most rainy days in April. The caterpillars won't be back this summer, but still, we lost millions of old trees. The landscape will never be the same.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Top Soil

As I believe I may have mentioned, my  neighbor owns hundreds of acres of woods  and I keep his roads open in exchange for the firewood. This involves chainsaws and a tractor that I use to load big pieces into the truck and pull logs to more accessible locations. The tractor also has a backhoe, which comes in handy for my neighbors at times.

So yesterday I took the day off from work to have my car serviced and my neighbor and I took advantage of the opportunity to dig out a culvert. It carries a stream under one of his roads near the property of the town historical society. The stream is runoff from a cornfield.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this sort of situation, what can happen is that if the stream slows down at the entrance to the culvert, silt will fall out of it. Once this starts to happen it's self-reinforcing. The ridge of silt slows the stream down further and more and more silt falls out until the culvert is completely obstructed and the water is forced to flow over the road.

So I dug out what must have been a ton of the most beautiful black topsoil you ever saw. The farmer sprays the field with synthetic fertilizer every spring, and as the topsoil washes into the Shetucket he just keeps spraying more. That's where the corn comes from -- a factory that uses natural gas both as fuel and as feedstock to manufacture ammonia. About 2-3% of the world's natural gas consumption is used for this purpose. So to be clear, you are eating fossil fuel, while the world's top soil washes  into the ocean.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

State of the Forest Report

Two weeks ago the top of a huge maple tree on the edge of my woods broke off. I cleaned up the top, which had about 40 feet of trunk. Well, mostly. I still have to split it and shed it. Anyway I had to borrow my neighbor's chain saw with a 25 inch bar to fell the trunk, and that was still pretty difficult since it's a good 36 inches in circumference four feet up where I made the cut. It came down quite nicely though. I measured it at 32 feet so the total height of that tree was about 76 feet. It was senescent, with a hollow bole, and it was hollow where it broke off.

So that tree had reached its natural life span. I looked it up and that could be anywhere from 100 to 175 years depending on the environment. Since it was in the woods, away from any noxious environmental stress, I'd lean toward the high end. Since it was in a moist environment, it hadn't been defoliated by gypsy moth caterpillars, at least not since I've been here.

There are a few mature trees like that around. The predominant species is oak. I have one oak tree that's more than 4 feet in diameter. It has a long scar from a lightning strike but otherwise seems sound. Red oaks typically live 200 years but can live much longer. Most of my oak trees --

Oh, I just stopped to watch a red fox ambling through the woods --

Anyway, as I was saying, my oaks are mostly about 18 inches or so in diameter, some 24, I'm guessing a little over 100 years old. This land does not appear ever to have been farmed but some of it was evidently used briefly as pasture as there are stone walls. (The stone walls did not function as property dividers, as some people think, but just as a dump for rocks.) Anyway, what happened is that the New England forest was largely cleared for charcoal in the 19th century. They would leave a "grandmother tree" here and there, for shade and also to  anchor the block and fall they used to pull stumps. That's what the big ones are. The forest regrew after petroleum largely eliminated the market for charcoal, so the math works out. This is a second growth forest but it's reaching maturity.

There are real problems however. Invasive species are number one. The woolly adelgids are killing the hemlocks, and outbreaks of gypsy moths have severely stressed the oaks. In fact there are so many dead oak trees along the roads them state has been out cutting them down and vast tracts of oak logs line route 14. The gypsy moth outbreak was more severe along the roads. As I say, in the deep woods they don't seem to thrive as much. Now we're threatened by the Asian long horned beetle, which hasn't made it here yet, and the emerald ash borer. The chestnuts and elms were wiped out long ago. The white birches were almost exterminated by a blight but there were some resistant trees and they've made a bit of  comeback. I have a few, I'm happy to say.

I already mentioned the deer overpopulation as a major threat to the forest. Still, it's come back enough that the wildlife has recovered with it. We'll see how long it lasts.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Pride in Dixie

I was at the local auto repair shop the other day and Russ and his friends were there sitting around the cracker barrel. They were discussing a story in the Norwich newspaper (there still is one, believe it or not) about our first selectman who had apparently allowed himself to be photographed in front of a Confederate battle flag at an outdoor meeting in the neighboring town. Evidently the flag just happened to be there, a homeowner was displaying it. The meeting was about building codes or some such anodyne matter.

So Dan should have known better but the interesting question for me is why we see so many Confederate flags here in northeastern Connecticut. The people who display them have probably never been south of New York. Not too long ago I saw a pickup truck in a restaurant parking lot. The front license frame proclaimed the owner to be the town fire chief. Instead of a license plate, it contained a Confederate battle flag. For a while it was fashionable to fly a U.S. flag on your pickup. Some guys actually had a U.S. flag on one side and a Confederate flag on the other. There's a house on a road that's heavily traveled because it connects Windham Center with North Windham, where there's a commercial district. This guy has a lot of old heavy equipment rusting in his yard, and a huge Confederate battle flag hanging from a tree.

I don't think I have to tell you that Connecticut did not join the Confederacy. Connecticut was in fact the home of many noteworthy abolitionists including, of course, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Lincoln won the state's electoral votes in a landslide. The state lost more than 4,000 men in the Civil war.

So what point are these clowns trying to make? There must be some intention behind the gesture. Unlike southerners, they can't pretend they're honoring their ancestors or remembering their dead. What do they want us to think of them?