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.”

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Know the other guy's place

This blog is about knowing more about where you live – to know your place. The idea is that by knowing your place, you’re more likely to appreciate your place and to work toward stewardship of your place. It’s also about using place making as an economic development tool.

This past holiday break, we did our usual, wonderful, family visits. Our visits take us to quite contrasting places: a now 4th generation family farm in farm country where the farms are getting ever larger (‘tho not our family’s), to sprawling suburbs (including aging neighborhoods and newer neighborhoods that even have restrictive covenants), to a walkable, livable downtown area of a smaller town. Each place has its merits. We know each of those places; some were our own places at previous points in our lives.

It occurs to me that in addition to knowing your place, we should also get to know each other’s places, since in our family, place seems to be correlated to political leanings. Given the polarized politics we seem to have gotten ourselves into as a nation, maybe by knowing each others’ places, we can partly come to see things from the other guy’s  perspective and appreciate each other’s viewpoint. Where we’re from and how we have interacted with that place provides some insight into why we think the way we do. At college, ‘where are you from’ is often the first question new acquaintances ask one another (soon followed by ‘what’s your major?’) It’s not just small talk. Knowing someone’s background – i.e., their place -- and interests helps us know them. By getting to know each other, we may even come to realize that all those people who disagrees with us politically are not necessarily just idiots.  Well, not all of them anyway.