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:

Monday, July 10, 2017

Animal behavior

A doe and fawn wandered into my back yard this morning, just outside the window where I happened to be sitting. They were unaware of me and went about their business.

The fawn was browsing, or really just tasting a little bit of this and a little bit of that. They were on the forest border so this was wild vegetation, nothing I needed to protect. It just seemed to sampling the menu rather than eating a meal.

The mother, however, was nibbling and licking the baby's hindquarters and rear legs while this was going on. Perhaps this had to do with hygiene -- removing ticks and whatever other external parasites there might have been. Then she apparently heard something concerning in the distance and went into an alert posture, staring fixedly into the distance and moving her ears around. They ran away when I went out to the sun porch and the mother noticed me.

The deer population is seriously out of control, and it's a problem. On the other hand they're fun to watch.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Farm Mechanics

My friends Festus and Rosalita, who I have written about before, are farmers. They have a small scale, intensive organic farm that sells to local restaurants, farm markets, and the Willimantic Food Coop. I once spent a day as a volunteer farmhand just to get an idea of what the life is like.

We spent a good part of the day wrestling with equipment. He had a manure spreader that was originally horse drawn, believe it or not. It had a steel chain system that was originally driven by the wheels as the thing rolled along, but had been modified to run off the tractor's PTO. That way you could control the speed of manure distribution independent of the speed of travel. Some of the chain links needed replacing. We also installed a tiller on a tractor and did some other wrenching. Festus told me that his job consisted mostly of mechanics. It occurred to me that in the old days, growers must have spent as much time taking care of horses as they did growing plants.

I do my snowplowing with my tractor, which I hope not to do next winter because it means I have to take the loader off, and it would be useful to have the loader as well as a snowplow. They each have their own utility for moving snow around, and I might have firewood to transport in winter as well. Actually most of this past winter was so mild the ground wasn't frozen and I could have done some landscaping.

Anyway, the time has come for the annual Royal PITA of getting the loader reinstalled. It inevitably involves scraped knuckles and needing help from a neighbor. (Don't believe the alternative facts in the owner's manual about how simple it is.) Part of the process is connecting four hydraulic fittings. Yesterday I struggled for half an hour and I couldn't get one of them to click on. Three went on just fine, but that fourth one was impossible. I tried all the tricks -- pressing on the button to bleed off pressure, moving the stick around. It was hopeless. But there is one bit of lore I learned a few years ago. I went back first thing in the morning, when the temperature was around freezing, and it slipped right on. That's the story -- when I removed the loader back in the fall, it was cold. Yesterday afternoon was warm, which meant the pressure in the system was so high the fitting would not seat. Wait for the cold morning, and there's no problem.

The point of this story is that we all have odd bits of knowledge and expertise that are specific to our ways of life. The Bushmen of the Kalahari know just as much as a college professor, they just know different stuff.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Time has come today

There were two 19th century mantel clocks in my mother's house, family heirlooms, that had stopped working. So I took them to the only person for miles around who fixes old clocks. Such people are called horologists, in  case you didn't know.

It turns out this common style is called an ogee clock, named after the molding around the door. They are weight driven (although one of my mother's clocks had a replacement spring driven movement), and they chime the hour. 

The horologist told me that these were first mass produced in the 1830s, making it possible for the first time in history for families of moderate means to own clocks. He said the inventor of this weight driven brass clockwork sent a shipload to England, where they sold out instantly. The Brits impounded the next shipment because they were putting British clockmakers our of business.

Anyway, this got me to thinking. The typical family's experience of time must have changed radically. Before, if you lived near enough to a church, you might hear the steeple clock chime the hours, and perhaps the quarter hours, but you never had a more precise sense of time than that. People outside of the village would have measured time only by the passage of the sun. Now suddenly we lived in a world of minutes. We could make punctual appointments. We could measure the speed with which we accomplished tasks. We could time cooking processes.

But people must also have developed a new sense of urgency, of guilt about being late, of the need for discipline in the use of time. Time was necessary for factory work. Of course the factory could and did blow a whistle to let people know when the shift started and ended, but workers needed to keep track of time so they could be ready.

I expect the 19th century clocks chimed the hour because people were accustomed to the steeple clock doing that and they expected it. By the 20th, however, we had gotten used to seeing clock faces everywhere, quite likely on our wrists, and the chime was obviously pointless and was abandoned.

I took one of the clocks, so now I live with the tick tock and the hourly chime. I have to wind it every day. So I have a new connection to my ancestors.