Saturday, February 28, 2015

Minor Mystery Solved

We have been shoveled out for over a week, but I don't feel entirely free, since I can't easily walk where I want to.  I haven't even had the dogs around the block but once--it's just too difficult with so many uncleared stretches of sidewalk.  And, of course, I can't even get all the way to the little woods behind the house.  (My attempt at quick-and-dirty snow shoes was not very successful.)

So my natural history observations these days are no farther from home than the backyard bird feeder, and--today--the driveway.   

Actually I did get out into the backyard today--my only such foray this week.  Stumping along through snow still knee-deep (after a week and more of settling and melting), I was struck by the intensity of blue sky, brightness of afternoon sun, and most of all by the singing of birds.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ninety-five inches and not over yet

The Boston Globe reports that Boston has received 95.7 inches of snow this year (16 in this latest Saturday-Sunday storm), and with more on the way Tuesday could top the 1995-6 record of 107.6 inches.  Another storm this weekend--if it is snow--will surely push us over.  Of course, eight inches here and a foot there are all in the normal course of events, but getting nearly all that snow in a three-week period is not.

We are relatively lucky, since significant snowfall always means school is cancelled, so we can enjoy a more prolonged, relaxed shoveling schedule.  On the other hand, if school is cancelled a substitute teacher does not get paid.

I am continuing the time-lapse series of photos I began a couple of snow-storms ago.  And I will paste in most of today's journal entry.

Sunday, February 8, 2pm

 This snow was stickier than the others.  Pretty!

Monday, February 9, 9am.  No school.

Monday, February 9, 2:20pm.  Snowing again.

 2/9, 1pm  Surprise was looking pretty seaworthy a few days ago; now it appears to be sinking

2/9, 3:30pm.  Snow has ended for now.

2/9. 5:10pm

Tuesday, February 10, 5:15pm.  No other pictures today because Rochester
--with much less accumulation--was open and I was on my way before dawn.

10:13am on Valentine's day after FOUR ENTIRE DAYS with NO SNOW.  Of course, 
there's a snowstorm due this afternoon, and a blizzard warning beginning overnight.

11:35pm.  I like the tracery of branches against the white sky.

 Sunday, February 15, 8:30am the snow is still falling, whipped by gusty winds.  My tripod is still out on the back deck, but now its legs are nearly buried.  No tomato stakes visible in the garden.  Beatrice's decision yesterday to cancel church (for the second time this month) was not a struggle.

2/15, 12:21pm the snow has stopped falling, but gusty north winds
continue to frustrate shoveling, and fill in the paths I am making.

 The dogs are getting very tired of white; they haven't seen anything but walls in days,
and haven't been around the block in far longer.

Twenty-four hours ago this was a fully-cleared sidewalk.

 10:30 this morning.  The photo series is being taken
from the large first floor window near the middle.

Today, 1:47pm.  I cleared a path to the tripod.  Th wind has revealed a bit of two tomato stakes
in the garden foreground left.  The snow on top of Surprise's cabin is about four feet deep.

Monday, February 16, 2015
Thermometer this morning showed it had gone down to -4 F last night; all-time low still showed -5 F from a few days ago.  When Bea got up it was a few degrees warmer.  When I went out to shovel a bit before 9am it was 5 F.  I didn’t stay out long, since I only had my driving gloves on.  (The rest of me was warm enough in long handles, trousers, fleece jacket, and my wonderful knit aviator-style (Russian-style?) cap with ear-flap buckle.)  There were still wind gusts from the north, but it was calm most of the time.

Yesterday, needless to say, there was no church.  The snow was still falling and blowing and visibility limited until afternoon.  In the afternoon it took me about two hours of shoveling in gusty winds in the high teens merely to clear a shovel width path all the way from the front door around the front, and down the driveway to the corner of the garage.  There are few places to throw the snow, since the piles are mostly 7 feet plus. 

When I tunneled to the garage, I had visions of improvising snow shoes from plywood and other scrap materials from the garage: the wind went out of my sails when I realized that almost all my materials were trapped on the other side of the boat, with no room to maneuver even if I could get to them.  But as soon as we get through the berm today, I am going to Lowe’s for materials for proper diy shoes to a nifty design long popular in a Colorado Scout troop that often does winter camping in deep powder.  The binding alone is very impressive.  The design, done right, involves a jig for forming a frame from softened pvc pipe, and other parts from professionally-worked sheet metal, plus stuff mail-ordered—all very reasonable when mass-producing the shoes well in advance of need, but I’m hoping I can adapt it into a two-day home project resulting in two pair of shoes.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Valentine's Day means a whole hour of extra light in the evening

Sunday, February 15.  Temperature dropping, wind gusty, and snowed-in.  Again. Time to reflect!

What a difference an hour makes!  At my latitude of 42 degrees, we have gained an hour of evening light since the winter solstice on December 21st.  The result, for me at least, is that the oppression of the dark days is lifting, my mood rising with it.  (From late fall through early winter, I seldom see the sun at all during the week except through my classroom windows.  I am sorry for anyone without even decent windows!)  --actually, sunset was earliest a good week before the solstice, although days were still shortening as sunrise got later.  Since mid-December, sunset has been moving back at an accelerating rate, reaching a seasonal high of nearly 2 minutes per day near the end of January.  The sun set here on the 14th at 5:15, but today at 5:17.  

It's worth mentioning that the definition of sunset is not as clear-cut as you might imagine.  It's true that sunset is the moment that the sun finishes disappearing below the horizon, but the lens-like effect of Earth's atmosphere means that the sun is actually well below the horizon before that--its light bending slightly around the curve of the earth as it passes through the air.  The sunset times given by my buddies at the NOAA Solar Calculator are for "apparent sunset."  And I seldom see sunset anyway, since you need a clear horizon without trees or thick clouds that interfere--both pretty rare in the northeast, except perhaps well out at sea.

Short of actually witnessing sunset, we can often get a pretty good idea of the time--not to mention a great experience--as the pink glow of the last light on the undersides of the clouds fades to purple-gray. 

 Sunset on Block Island Sound on a sailing trip from Pt. Judith to Montauk, September 2013.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Brief Meditation on Throwing

Throwing the umpteen-hundredth shovelful of show yesterday I almost injured our dog.  She wanted to move around, and there was no place a dog that small could move except where I had shoveled, so as I advanced down the driveway, she was there, too. 

For a moment I couldn’t believe she would put herself heedlessly in harm’s way as I sought to throw the snow with sufficient force to get it over a shoulder-high snow pile.  She was utterly clueless.  Then I thought, of course! Golda has no experience of throwing, not the force, not the arc, not the speed, not the momentum--since SHE could never throw!   

Then it occurred to me what a rare ability we have: since grasping hands and opposable thumbs are pretty much limited to primates, and the peculiar shoulder structure to make accurate distance throwing appears to be limited to humans, no other creature would understand it.  

--which I looked up to see if I was remembering that right.   We do indeed have an unusual shoulder, but a whole suite of other features help, also.  And these aren't uniquely human (even if we're the only remaining species possessing them), since these adaptations first come together about two million years ago in Homo erectus.  

And that is why even the strongest chimpanzee will never throw a hundred-mile-per-hour fast ball.

Model of elastic energy storage.
NT Roach et al. Nature 498, 483-486 (2013) doi:10.1038/nature12267