Monday, April 22, 2013

say it with food

"If you have something to say, say it with food," is a phrase not unique to this specific place. It's something that, while not generally verbalized so explicitly, is played out in many places urban, suburban and rural. I'm in a number of community groups and I am happy when the 'build community' goal is spurred along by people bringing hand crafted foods. Most of you are likely familiar with the poster "How to Build Community," which features advice such as "turn off your TV" and "go for a walk" and "sit out on your front porch." I'll add "bring along hand crafted food." The world would be a much better place if more people had their hands in a mixing bowl when they did not have their hands in the soil of the garden. Just be sure to wash your hands inbetween.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Skiing Bonus Round

This extended late winter weather has provided a bonus round of cross country skiing. It’s a particular kind of cross country skiing – sliding on what yesterday was a layer of slush but this mornings is a hard crust.

Throughout most of the winter, I have my favorite trails to follow and like a meadow vole I stick to those runways. Must be my goal orientedness (is that a word?). I like to know how far I skied and how long it took me to do so. The past few mornings, though, I’ve gone off track. Off track in a good way. I just go out and go in which ever direction I feel like going with no real plan. I don’t know how far I’ve gone. I do know it’s been great fun.

A topo map of our property would look like a blank piece of paper. There is not a single contour line. Sounds like a boring ski, and I generally do prefer skiing in some topographic relief. But these aimless wandering skis over our flat terrain have been a real delight. First, skiing over the hay fields brings out a Walter Mitty feeling of skiing across the trackless arctic (except it’s only for an hour and I get to retreat to a warm house*). Also, the prevailing NW winds over the winter have driven the snowfalls into drifts downwind of the scattered shrubs. Sliding up and down and around the drifts offers another Walter Mitty feeling of skiing big moguls.

It’s not all fantasy though. And it’s not about ‘oh, now I feel recharged to get on with the day’s tasks.’ Or not totally anyway. And it’s not just ‘oh, good, I’m burning off that delicious but very large piece of home-made apple pie with an all butter crust I ate last night.’ Not totally. It’s mostly an in-the-moment, having-fun- right now kind of sensation. The idea of ‘as much fun as you can have with your clothes on’ did go through my mind. The other aspects are added benefit, but it’s all about the fun. It’s the same sensations derived from bicycling down an open road. And that season is coming real soon.

*I recently finished Adam Gopnik’s book “Winter: Five Windows on the Season.” It’s a good read, wildly rambling through history, humanities, sports, global climate change. His contention is that winter only became thought of as a pleasurable time of year once central heating was invented. I would agree with that. Winter activities are enjoyable only if one can then go back to one’s nice warm abode. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Remains of winter

Several days ago, winter made an encore performance. We got a few inches of new snow on top of the snowpack. We also had cold overnight temps that firmed up the snowpack. Before that, it was starting to rot, which made for a certain sinking feeling when the ground drops out from under you as you walk or even ski across. There's the expression about having the rug pulled out from under you. Is there an expression about having the ground drop out from under you? Falling into 2' of rotting snow makes for a tricky extrication exercise.

Yesterday through today, winter made a curtain call. Not quite an encore. Not everyone was encouraging winter's return to the stage. For the past several ski sessions I have thought that it would be the last of the season. I think there's a few more left but I do feel some degree of infidelity to skiing. The sun angles are such that I can't help but think about cycling while skiing. That must be a sign that it is time to indeed bid winter a fond farewell. Well sometime during the month of April anyway.

The snowbanks are starting to recede a bit, too. One advantage of the snowbanks is that they lend a degree of topographic relief to an otherwise flat plain.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ecology of a cracker childhood

If you're interested in how place informs one's life, you should read "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood," by Janisse Ray. It's Janisse's story about how she grew up in a south Georgia junkyard but developed a strong sense of place around the pine woods and from the base provided by her devoted but troubled family. Several of us here at the University plan to use it at as a common reading across several of our classes -- English, Biology, Psych, Sociology, Communications. One of the ideas I need to do a better job of in my Ecology class is to show these science students that science facts are an important part of communicating information about natural resources conservation, but stories are very important, too. I'll explain that's why we're reading a Ms. Ray's very engaging story in addition to technical texts and articles.

Just in case you're curious, Janisse Ray is a conservation advocate, runs a farm in Georgia and teaches writing. I have not read her other books yet but highly recommend "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Warming up

It is cold out with minus double digits overnight and  +/- single digits during the day. Bright sunshine really helps but it's still cold.

Skiing today I felt like the older cars we used to have that required a little bit of warm up before driving them off. (Today's cars do not. They are made to start and go. I see people warming their cars up, often starting them with a remote starter, so that they will be nice and toasty when they get in. I also see people leaving their cars running while they run into the store for 'just a few minutes.' For the sake of the air we all breathe, I wish they would be willing to be a little cold for the few minutes it takes modern cars to start putting out heat.)

I felt like the older car today, not the newer car. I'm not old enough to have achy joints that need to be loosened up, but I did notice that my hands were cold starting off. My body said "It's cold, I'm going to keep the warm blood in my core area. Sorry hands, you'll have to wait until we know it's safe to send some out to you." My hands saud "Oh don't worry about me," meanwhile thinking of the next time they're called on to convey food. Then we'll see if they remember this incident.

After about 10 minutes I was all warmed up and my hands got their warm blood and were happy. I guess it was cold out if I'm imagining conversations between body parts.


Somewhere I saw a quote in which a character in the story said to another character "You couldn't live in a dry country." I guess it was kind of a taunt. Up here we could say to others "you couldn't live in a cold country,"  Some could reply back "you couldn't live in a hot country." Those in the middle of the country could say "you couldn't live in a -10 one day then 50 the next then back to 20 the next country." And some would reply "Um, well, I could but I don't think I'd like it."

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Lost in thought and not because that's unfamiliar territory

Today I had a chance to ski to one of my favorite woodland sites.

I visit the site frequently in summer and fall with my ecology class to take forest composition data (and to show the area off to the students) but otherwise I don’t get out there on my own. I’ve been wanting to ski back to that site but it’s not on the way to anywhere I often go and just far enough away to require a special trip. Today I was in luck. I had a meeting and this site was on the way. The weather recently turned against us skiers: we lost a good deal of snow in the recent deep thaw. The trails on our place have bare ground showing. But I gave it a try on this site anyway.

Turned out that snow conditions were OK. Yesterday’s flurries left a light dusting over the hard pack left from the thaw. It looked like this area had gotten some extra lake effect snow before the thaw, so enough of the base survived.

First was the ski in to the trail since the road was closed for the winter. The one mile of skiing on the 30 ft-wide, snow-covered roadway was easy but not especially scenic. The trail was more than scenic.

I know this woodland well. I know and even have data (the class-collected data) to show the rich diversity of flowers and the forest composition. It’s a maple/yellow birch/yew forest with scattered oaks and spruces and firs, and hemlocks and white pines over by the lake. The large, widely spaced trees; lack of early successional species; pit and mound topography; and abundance of coarse woody debris across decay classes indicates that it’s taking on some old-growth characteristics. That’s been quantified. I also know, but don’t have hard data to prove, that’s there’s just something about it that makes this an especially pretty forest. I make that unsubstantiated claim to the students. They don’t feel the need to write that down. They know it won’t be on the test.

What I wanted to see today was the winter contrast.  And it was a contrast. The coarse woody debris was mainly covered up. There were no tracks except for one set of squirrel tracks. I did make a note of the hemlock regeneration in the patch of hemlocks for thinking more about at a later time. Not a lot of natural history action to see. What there was to see was a quiet forest under a thin blanket of snow. And that same ‘just something about it that makes it a lovely forest’ was still there.

I found myself not so much lost in thought as lost in lack of thoughts. That feeling of health, beauty and goodness took over. Issues that were bothering me before became the trivial annoyances of life that they actually were. That’s a feeling I like. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Paying attention

Sorry open fields. You only got the dismissive ‘very nice’ like one would tell a budding young artist about her work when one was sincere but not really paying that much attention. As I skied the first part of this morning’s loop, my mind was on the start-up phase of a new project instead of on appreciating the natural scene I was skiing through. The track was well packed through open fields. It didn’t require any higher order cognitive skills to navigate. My mind wandered. At least I wasn’t mulling over controversies and issues of one of my other projects. But neither I wasn’t adhering to the guideline “When I am skiing, I am skiing.”

Nature got me back, though. The next part of the loop required my full attention to squeeze through the shrubs and trees and over and around the downed logs. That gave me time to notice the woodlands a bit more. Then nature commanded my attention as I came out of the woods into the stream valley. Bright, slanting morning light on a quarter mile stretch of open stream and wetlands with woods up on the banks. That got more than an ‘very nice.’ That got a ‘oh, yes, wow.’

Nature also got the last laugh. While finishing up the loop, my mind started to wander again only to be brought up short. Nothing fills one’s gloves with snow quite like a hands- first dive into the snow caused by the old ski-under-a-shrub-branch-that-foot-can’t-fit-through routine. After some muttering, I was back on my way only to find myself back into the snow having caught my pole basket in a shrub on the upswing. That elicited some actual vocalizations not meant for others to hear. So OK nature, I get it. In the future, I will  try to remember “when I’m skiing, I’m skiing.”