March 2012


Beth and I are in Freeport Maine for Music Clinic. We got here yesterday, and we’ll leave Sunday morning. Va will come up for the performance tomorrow evening. There are over 450 participants in Music Clinic this year. That’s a lot of people to manage, and I am in awe of the effort that goes into organizing this. Besides the two choirs, the band, the strings, bell choirs, and school choirs, there are about three dozen pianists, and some of them are also in the choir/bnad/school choir/etc. Each pianist is assigned half a dozen practice sessions in one of the four practice rooms, and that’s in addition to their practice as a group (there are four two-hour sessions of that). Trying to get everyone scheduled for that is a tremendous task (the piano schedule is three pages).

Beth at group practice

Beth at group practice

Meanwhile all I have to do is hang out and make sure Beth is where she is supposed to be when she’s supposed to be there. And also help clean up after the meals.

Last year my assignment was more nebulous. I showed up for duty at the appointed place at the appointed time, but I was the only one there. That is something I don’t like at all. Then when the coordinator did show up he didn’t really have anything for me to do. I like to do things. I do not like to have non-assignments. So this year I signed up for things that sounded more like work. And that’s what I got, which is a huge improvement, even when things don’t go very well.

Yesterday I had a mitigated disaster. My assignment was to mop the kitchen (which is great! that’s doing something!) I got right to work and mopped the whole place. It was filthy when I started and spic-and-span when I finished. And then I rolled the mop bucket out into the hallway and towards the janitor’s closet to empty it. That’s when things went awry. The floor of the janitor’s closet is about a quarter inch higher than the hallway (do you see where this is going?) When the bucket wheels hit the threshold, the bucket tipped. It sloshed water back towards me (and soaked my pants) and then it sloshed forwards where it ended up tipping the bucket into the closet. Yeah – about six gallons of mop water by my estimate. It took half an hour to mop the kitchen and about the same amount of time to mop the janitor’s closet. That included moving vacuum cleaners and floor buffers out into the hall, mopping up six gallons of water, and then putting all the stuff back again. We aren’t going to talk about the gallon or two that soaked into the hallway carpet.

But this is still better than a non-assignment.

Tonight mopping went much smoother. I was wise to the threshold, and it took about 60 seconds to empty the mop bucket.

While Beth is in practice, I have been amusing myself by attempting to id some lichens. I got a new book on the topic and brought it with me. I’ve identified half a dozen types (though not down to the species level – that often requires biochemistry).

Bristly Beard Lichen (Usnea... hirta?)

Bristly Beard Lichen (Usnea... hirta?)


The book is called “Lichens of the North Woods” by Joe Walewski, and I like it very much except for one minor thing. Apparently, “The North Woods” are the woods surrounding Lake Superior. I’m assuming that a lot of the lichens there are in New England as well, but it’s entirely possible that we have species here that aren’t there. And I won’t know what they are when I find them. Oh well. The book is pretty good anyhow, and I’d still buy it even knowing that it doesn’t cover New England.

Tomorrow Beth has a performance during the church service, and after that we will go hang out at the beach. In Maine. In March. I don’t expect we’ll do any swimming, but I might take some pictures.

We do have a pool here at the hotel though, so maybe we will do a little swimming.

Since April Fool’s Day is approaching, I thought I might take the opportunity to regale you with one of the pranks I pulled in college. It is elegant in its simplicity.

It came about when I bought a can of Scotchguard waterproofing spray for my coat. At the time, I wore a surplus army field jacket (and I wish I still had one of those). It came with a hood that could be rolled up and tucked into a compartment which would zip closed. The hood was just a bit of canvas, and the rain would soak right through it. But I heard that Scotchguard was some pretty good stuff and that it would solve this little problem.

I unfurled the hood and sprayed it liberally. I mean, I soaked the hood and good. When it was dry, I decided to test it. I took it to the sink and ran some water over it. The water rolled right off, and the drops that didn’t just beaded up on the fabric. One shake, and it was dry. Wow. Then I filled the hood with water. It easily held a gallon. The dry side of the hood was still dry, and the wet side was confining a gallon of water. I was impressed. I dumped the water out, and gave the hood a good shake, and once again, it was bone dry.

I thought to myself, “This is some pretty amazing stuff! What else can I use it on?” I cast my eyes about the dorm room until they settled on my roommate’s towel. In short order, I unloaded the rest of that can of Scotchguard on his poor, threadbare towel, and then I waited.

I don’t remember how long it took, but when he took a shower, the plan worked about as well as you could imagine. He turned off the shower and grabbed his specially-treated towel. He toweled off, but it had no effect. The towel was still perfectly dry, and he was still soaking wet.

To this day, it is the greatest prank I have ever pulled.

Yesterday Beth and I took a a short hike to visit our geocaches.  Hers had been reported as somewhat vandalized, and I wanted to drop a travel bug in mine.  The vandalism to hers was not severe.  Someone had found it and scattered the stuff in it around.  The cacher who reported this could not find the a log book.  So we went there with a new log book, and hid the cache somewhere else.  We need to add more toys to it though.

Then we quickly made a visit to my cache.  I dropped the travel bug in it, and also emptied all the trade items and arranged them in a pose.

I don’t know which if these guys is Little Cohas.  We bushwhacked to the cache (that is the only way to get there), but from a different direction this time.  On the way, we saw a log crossing Little Cohas Brook, and from the other side of the creek, it was only 50 feet or so to the railroad tracks.  So we crossed the log.

Beth went first.  Penny went last, but she decided to swim across.  It was much easier going that way, because there is a trail that dumps out onto the railroad tracks. 

We went home and I got cleaned up a bit.  Va and I had tickets to see the Granite State Symphony Orchestra (compliments of my employer).  They performed three songs, one of which I am well familiar with, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture.  I especially enjoyed that one.  Va liked that las piece they performed, Tchaikovski’s Fourth Symphony.  I may have liked that one better had I been familiar with it, and I guess that says something about me.

The next morning we had a Pathfinder meeting, and we resumed work on the cardboard boats.  Here’s where we left them:

I need to bring in a second set of sawhorses to put the kayak on.  It’s hard to work on it on the table (can’t get the rope beneath it very handily).  I am very well pleased with the progress of the kayak.  If we pull this off (and it looks like we will), I am convinced it will be the fastest boat in the competition in May.

Spring has been busting out all over the place here. A bit early I suppose, and I sure hope we don’t have a hard frost any time soon. I don’t think a lot of the plants would survive such an ordeal.

A lot of the blooms are not your typical “flowers” – you have to look up to see them.

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)

Red Maples (Acer rubrum)


But some of them are pretty close to the ground:
Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)


In fact, the Latin name “Epigaea” for trailing arbutus means something like “pretty close the the ground.”

This will just be a quick post this evening. I am going on an Internet fast for 24 hours starting at sunset. This was something I had intended to do about a month ago, but forgot I was doing it and slipped up. Then I saw this challenge which reminded me that I had wanted to do this.

I think it’s good to unplug every now and then. I don’t intend to avoid all things electronic – just the Internet. Also, I find it amusing that in order to “take the pledge” on the organizer’s website, you have to have a Facebook account. No thanks Zuck! My goal is to be less plugged in, not more!

So if you comment on my blog and I don’t answer right away, now you know why.

The past three days have featured some glorious weather. I was out in it (for at least a little while) on all three days, but didn’t manage to post anything here until now. So let’s back up and see what’s been happening here.

On Sunday we had a Pathfinder meeting and began constructing our cardboard boat, or rather, boats. We’re going to try building two of them this year, both of them being molded on my canoe and kayak.

Cardboard boat-building begins

Cardboard boat-building begins


Last time we did this (back in 2009), the whole thing was built inside. We didn’t have summer weather in March in 2009. Step one was to wrap my canoe in plastic so we don’t end up gluing a bunch of cardboard to it. I didn’t bother with the kayak, because it’s already plastic, and I don’t think the glue will stick so much to it.
The first layer

The first layer


Then we started wrapping them in cardboard, and tying that down with rope (on the canoe), or duct tape (on the kayak). We’re trying two techniques simultaneously so we can compare results afterwards. That was about as far as we got Sunday. Next week we will continue by gluing cardboard onto the cardboard, until we have four or five layers on there. But I am getting ahead of myself. We’ll talk more about the process as we make progress.

When we got home, Beth and I took a walk through the Northfield Town Forest, the purpose again being to bring the GPS and map out some of the trails. The purpose was also to go for a lovely walk. We succeeded on both points.

We hiked the trail that includes this bridge over Little Cohas Brook (as I call it).

Penny crosses the bridge!

Penny crosses the bridge!


As you can see from this photo, Penny went right over the bridge. This is a first for her. In the past she has been terrified of this bridge, far preferring to swim the brook even when it is choked in ice. I have tried pulling on her leash to get her to cross and I’ve even carried her over more than once (when I thought the chill of the brook would likely kill her before we got home again). But today, she just trotted across. This photo is actually showing her crossing the bridge on the return trip. She was acting like it was no big deal, but that is not at all how she has acted in the past. It’s nice to see she has overcome her terror.

The town forest abuts Sandogardy Pond, and some of the trails lead to the beach. So of course, we found ourselves there in our quest to map the trails. It’s still iced over.

Sandogardy Pond, still iced over

Sandogardy Pond, still iced over


Penny’s nonchalant crossing of the bridge has nothing to do her fear of hypothermia. As soon as we got to a place along the beach with open water, she plopped herself right down in it and drank. Dogs are insane. I didn’t manage to get a picture of that though.

When I got home, I uploaded the GPX file recorded by my GPS and traced out the trails. Now the trails through the town forest are completely mapped (on OpenStreetMaps anyhow).

When we got back to the house, I went into my front woods looking for the pile of slime mold I posted last time. It was nowhere to be seen, so by that, I assume it really was a slime mold. They look like fungi, but unlike fungi, they move.

That takes us to Monday. I had Va bring Beth to my office after school so we could collect some seeds. She needs 15 different species. We had collected several on our walk Sunday, but she still needed some more. When she arrived, we did my normal lunchtime walk. The advantage of having phenology as a hobby is that I have memorized the id’s of several plants along that path – and I can now recognize them even from the dead stalks that are still standing.

Collecting Seeds

Collecting Seeds


Here she is collecting some hawthorn berries. The seeds are inside. We also grabbed a horse chestnut, some common yarrow, rose, cherry, black locust, round-headed bush clover, maple, and an oak-leaved hydrangea. There were three others too, but I can’t remember what they were at this point.

We both stopped and photographed some crocuses before heading back to the office.

Crocus

Crocus

That brings us up to today, the first day of Spring (or was that yesterday?) I took a nice walk around my woods when I got home. Rather than sticking to my path, I zig-zagged all over the place to see what I could find that would be different. I found what I think is a patch of pyrola.

Pyrola?

Pyrola?


This stuff grows in my woods, but I have not been able to put a species name on it yet. Pyrola’s are pretty difficult to distinguish (at least for me). They are an evergreen though, and I’ve found that the evergreens in my woods are really starting to green up. Here’s another example:
Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)

Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens)


Trailing arbutus is among the first plants to flower in my woods, but that’s still several weeks away.

I also found two piles of deer sign:

Deer sign

Deer sign


I’ve not seen the perpetrator of this deed, but it’s nice to know they are around. There are a lot fewer deer here in NH as compared to VA. When we lived in VA, I’d see at least a half dozen deer per day. Here I see them about once per year. That makes them special for me again, which is a nice change.

Yesterday when I got home from work I took a lap around our property. I was on the lookout for small, straight hardwood trees. I need some poles for a competition the Pathfinders will engage in this May (lashing poles together to make a ladder). I found some suitable trees (2 inches in diameter) and cut them down. I wanted to cut them down with my bow saw, but I had left that in the Pathfinder trailer at the church. So I used my ax instead.

While I was scouting for trees I came across this bit of loveliness:

Slug surfing a slime mold

Slug surfing a slime mold


I believe this is a slime mold. I should have gone out again today to look at it – slime molds are motile, so it would have moved by today. Instead, David and I took Penny for a walk.

The path is still ice-covered

The path is still ice-covered

I wanted to bring the GPS and turn on some third-party software I loaded onto it. This software logs the position every 15 seconds or so. The reason I wanted to do this was so that I could add the trails in the Northfield Town Forest to OpenStreetMaps.org. Mission accomplished (but the trails don’t show up when I view the maps for some reason – maybe because I don’t know what I’m doing).

We covered most of the trails through the forest, but there are still a couple more I will get later. It was getting dark.

Along the road we live on their is an old chair in the woods. It has been there at least since we moved here seven years ago. Back then there was still leather on the seat and the back rest has not rotted off.
Decomposing chair in the woods
The beer bottle in the seat is relatively new though.
Decomposing chair in the woods

I had to go to the bank today, so while I was out I did a lap around my usual lunchtime walk. The silver maple in front of the Holiday Inn was in full bloom:

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)

Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum)


It’s not a very spectacular flower, but I like it anyhow.

Yesterday I noticed that a crocus near my office had bloomed. I was on my way to the grocery store to get a pie for Pi Day when I noticed it, but I didn’t have my camera. I swung by today with the camera, but the flower had closed. Oh well.

When I set out for the pie, I thought I might try the bakery downstairs from my office. I asked the lady there if they had pie, and she said no – but lots of cake. Then she asked, “Does it have to be a pie?” Since I was getting it for Pi Day (March 14, or 3-14, as in pi ~= 3.14), I said, “Yes, it has to be a pie.” Then she surprised me by asking, “Is this for that Pi Day thing?” Wow. I guess Pi Day is famouser and famouser now.

Just in time for me to embrace tau (which is two times pi, and a much better number). There is a manifesto, but I will spare you. Suffice it to say that I think a lot of people would be less confused if we used tau (the ratio of a circle’s circumference over its radius) instead of pi (circumference over diameter).

Tonight was Chess Night again, so I took David to the community center for that. He won all his games tonight. Va took him to the library for chess on Monday, and he played a two-hour game against a guy, ending in a draw. He has still not been defeated.

While he played chess, I did a little shopping. I bought three gallons of wood glue, some cheapo paint brushes, a large sheet of plastic, some paint buckets, and some masking tape. This is, of course, all for the Pathfinders’ cardboard boat. I hauled a bunch of cardboard from the office to the church on the way home. Construction begins on Sunday.

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