If you’re anywhere near coastal Maine, you’re going to be around granite. There are outcroppings pretty much everywhere.
The granite makes a nice setting for flowers, if you can get them to grow on or about the rocks. The sun-bleached stone makes every color of a flower seem more vivid, and on a sunny day like today the hues can be eye-popping.
These purple beauties are just wildflower ground cover that grew naturally in the crack of the huge rock near our front door. You couldn’t have planned a better presentation if you hired a landscape designer.
The successful launch yesterday marks two milestones. It’s the first launch of human beings into space from the Kennedy Space Center since 2011, when the last space shuttle mission occurred. More significantly, the launch is a huge step forward in America’s entire approach to spaceflight and space exploration and development. The launch vehicle and “Crew Dragon” capsule carrying the astronauts were designed and built by SpaceX, one of the many private companies that are working to make spaceflight a successful commercial venture.
The new approach has several consequences. For one, it is unquestionably cheaper for taxpayers. In addition, the interplay between private companies looking to control costs while delivering the required product and governmental engineers who have long experience with spaceflight issues is producing innovation and new perspectives on how to solve problems. And finally, the successful launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, demonstrates that commercial spaceflight works. SpaceX is one of many private companies that are making space their mission, and yesterday’s triumph will undoubtedly spur other companies to look to space as a new frontier for investment and commercial activity. If, as many of us hope, spaceflight is to become a routine activity, with expansive space stations and lunar bases and the exploration of Mars as the next steps, the involvement of private investment and private capital will be essential to making that dream a reality.
Yesterday’s launch marks the Era of the Dragon in spaceflight. It’s the first time in history that equipment built by a private company has carried human beings into space. It won’t be the last.
2020 has been just about the worst year imaginable so far, but over the last few days it has acquired a definite ’60s vibe, too. With riots happening in the streets of American cities in reaction to the shocking and outrageous death of George Floyd, it’s like 1966 and 1967 and 1968 all over again. Even middle-of-the-road Columbus has seen its share of disturbances.
Civil unrest seemed pretty commonplace when I was a kid. Whether it was “race riots,” Vietnam War protests that got out of hand, reactions to the assassinations of leading figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, or random civil disobedience, smoke in the air and tear gas canisters on the ground were a familiar sight. Authorities would warn about what might happen during the “long hot summer,” and rioting and looting seemed to occur as a matter of course. Footage of people throwing Molotov cocktails, smashing windows, and running with armfuls of loot from burning buildings were staples of the nightly TV news broadcasts and morning news shows. And authorities learned the hard way that when a population gathers in sufficiently large numbers and decides to go on a building-burning rampage, there’s not much you can do about it — without applying overwhelming force and ramping up the tension even further.
Although rioting seemed like an annual occurrence during the ’60s, eventually the riots stopped. Unfortunately, they left behind areas of gutted buildings and ruined, derelict neighborhoods that in some cases still haven’t recovered, more than 50 years later. And the small businesses that are typically the focus of the burning and smashing and looting often don’t come back, either. Drive around modern Detroit if you don’t believe me.
Disturbances happen when people feel that they are being treated unfairly and that they have nowhere to turn for justice. They protest because they feel its the only way to make their voices heard. Mix in some people who are looking to gain some cheap thrills and personal advantage from the unrest, and you’ll have looting and arson, too.
The best way to begin to deal with the issue in this case is to let the system work and do justice in the terrible case of George Floyd. Giving people the feeling that things are getting back to normal, by lifting some of the coronavirus restrictions, might help, too.
We’ve learned a lesson during this shutdown period: if you are ordering groceries for delivery in order to comply with a mandatory governmental quarantine, you really need to be specific about what you want. Otherwise, you run the risk that the person who is doing the shopping for you will make a judgment call that might not be what you intended.
We learned this lesson this week when we placed a delivery order and one of the items was “American cheese.” We were thinking of the Kraft singles for use in grilling cheeseburgers, but what we got instead was a box of Velveeta “liquid gold” cheese — which definitely stirred some childhood memories.
In the Webner household of the ’60s, a brick of Velveeta was a staple of the family refrigerator. Who doesn’t remember opening up the foil wrapper and gazing at that soft, golden brick still bearing the traces of the foil wrapper that indicated that the cheese had been injected into the packaging in liquid form. (Presumably, that’s why the package calls Velveeta “liquid gold.”) Unlike other cheese, Velveeta could not be cut and eaten by hand, unless you wanted to squish the cheese and end up with a thick cheese residue on your hands. Instead, Velveeta was specifically designed for melting and cooking purposes — like gooey grilled cheese sandwiches, or even more gooey macaroni and cheese.
We haven’t had a brick of Velveeta in the fridge for years, but it doesn’t look like it has changed one bit in the intervening decades. The packaging and presentation looks the same, although the box now helpfully notes that Velveeta has 50 percent less fat than cheddar cheese. Back in the ’60s, the fat content of Velveeta — or for that matter any other kind of food in the family fridge or cupboard — was not something that was disclosed, or even considered.
We’ll be using every ounce of this unexpected brick for cooking, because in the shutdown period, it’s “waste not, want not.” Yesterday we made scrambled eggs with the “liquid gold,” and it still melts as well as it ever did.
When you’re stuck at home by governmental edict and need to be mindful that you can’t simply go out at your whim to replenish your supplies, what is your approach to how to address the available resources? More specifically, do you consume the good stuff first, knowing that at the end of your shut-in period your future self will be dealing with the dregs and cursing your present self for total selfishness, or do you hit with the sketchy items first, secure in the knowledge that your future self will be reveling in the good stuff later and thanking you for your foresight and sacrifice?
I always adopt the latter approach — which is why, last night, I tried my first few cans of “hard seltzer.”
I’ve seen younger people trying this stuff, but had never been tempted myself. A global pandemic and mandatory isolation periods have ways of imposing their will upon such preferences, however. A few cans of the stuff were in the refrigerator, and since I wanted to preserve our limited supply of beer and wine, I decided to give it a try. Last night I sampled the “ruby grapefruit” and “black cherry” flavors.
In looking at the can, I can see why people might drink this stuff. It’s low carb, and low calorie. It’s also low taste — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you’re talking about an over-the-top flavor like “ruby grapefruit.” I braced myself for the first few sips, thinking that it might be horribly cloying. Fortunately, the folks at White Claw took a more subtle approach. It’s still the flavor of grapefruit (not exactly the taste I’m going for in an alcoholic beverage) but at least it’s not at the pungent, hit you over the head level. That said, in my view the black cherry flavor was more potable — although it still isn’t a flavor I would choose for an adult drink, and reminded me more of the kind of beverage you’d get as a kid at an amusement park.
Flavors aside, the hard seltzer is definitely a light and refreshing beverage, and as someone who’s gone the low-carb route before in the desperate twilight struggle against unnecessary pounds, I can see its appeal from that standpoint. It’s not going to replace a cold beer in my book, but it’s not undrinkable. Once we get out of the house and get a chance to hit the grocery store, I might actually try some other flavors, and stock the refrigerator with a few cans in anticipation of the next global pandemic.
It’s been foggy the last few days. This morning the fog is so thick that the rising sun is about as bright as a street lamp looming over the harbor, as the picture above shows. When it comes to fog, Maine could give Sherlock Holmes’ London a run for its money.
As this morning’s sun shows, fog is a natural shield of sorts. It obviously blocks your view of things that, on a clear day, you could see distinctly, and narrows your universe to the small realm that you can see. It swallows and engulfs sound, too. Sound waves fight to get through the legions of water droplets in the air, then just give up and fade away. The silence of a foggy day is about as silent as the busy modern world can get. Your ears will search diligently for any scrap of noise, simply not believing that it can be so quiet. Even the sharp barking of a neighbor’s dog become muffled and softened.
It’s odd to be encased in fog as the country slowly emerges from a global pandemic. On a foggy Maine hilltop, the coronavirus, and the harms and divisions it has caused, seem very far away.
From time to time I experience insomnia. After a while, you get used to it. You wake up at 1:30 a.m., fully alert, and after trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep you yield to the inevitable, get up, and do something until you feel like you can fall back asleep again. I think insomnia occurs when something important is happening, and my subconscious brain just won’t stop fretting about it even while my conscious brain is asleep.
But, for me, at least, there is a cure for insomnia: physical labor, preferably outside.
The last few days I’ve been fighting the dandelion wars out in the yard. This involves bending over and, frequently, getting down on hands and knees to find the roots of the dastardly dandelions, then using a gardening tool as a lever to try to pop them out. Often that’s a struggle, as you dig around in the hard ground trying to find the root — because if you don’t find the root those dandelions are just going to crop up once more and you’ll have to do the whole exercise over again. Fill a bucket with the dandelion roots, flowers, leaves and other remains, walk down to deposit them in our compost pile, and then start over again in another part of the yard. Do that for a few hours on a bright, sunny day and you’ll discover muscles in your back and legs and hands that you’ve forgotten you had. Do that for a few days and hands that haven’t known callouses for decades might actually begin to develop a few, and hamstrings will be crying out for relief.
And at night, when darkness falls, you’ll find that you’re so exhausted that sleep comes easily and the nocturnal bouts with insomnia simply don’t happen. It’s as if the physical fatigue overwhelms any effort by the subconscious mind to force you awake, so you sleep well — other than a leg cramp or two.
It’s just one of the many benefits of physical work — and obviously weeding doesn’t even hold a candle to the degree of effort needed to work on a construction crew or a farm. People who do that for a living must sleep like rocks.
Memorial Day comes very early this year, but for a grateful nation it is never too early to appreciate those who have served on behalf of their country. On this day, we take time to remember the selfless men and women who have fallen, and to recognize those who are serving yet today. We say thank you to the soldiers and sailors, to the Marines, the Air Force pilots, and the Coast Guard captains, and — because it is the 21st century, after all — to the members of the newest branch of the U.S. military, to the members of the U.S. Space Force.
Thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep our nation safe and strong!
The battle is on, already. It’s an eternal, never-ending battle, like good versus evil or modern Americans versus encroaching obesity. Except this battle is for the highest stakes of all: a nice, grassy yard come summertime.
The enemy is the dandelion. Sure, there are other weeds in the yard — lots of them, to be honest — but the dandelion is the undisputed leader of the weed brigade. It sits there in the yard, flaunting its bright yellow flower, putting on an act of innocence. As a child, you might have have gathered a fistful of dandelion flowers and brought them home to Mom. You certainly picked and blew with delight on a dandelion puffball — blissfully unaware that, in so doing, you were scattering nefarious dandelion seeds to every corner of your yard and unconsciously aiding the ultimate lawn care enemy.
But with adulthood came the realization that dandelions had to be defeated — in fact, they had to be wiped from the face of the yard at all costs. You understood that dandelions, with their wicked sawtooth leaves and spreading roots, were killing off the grass and opening the way for other, prickly weeds to quickly turn your nice, soft, barefoot-friendly lawn into a ugly, painful, weed-infested disaster.
There were times, after a long weed-hunting day out in the yard, when contemplated your aching hamstrings and briefly wondered whether the constant battle against dandelions was worth it, because you seemed to be fighting a desperate rear-guard action against an implacable, inexorable inhuman foe. You wondered: Would it really be so bad to let the weeds win? But you quickly dismissed that thought as ridiculous and self-defeating. You grasped that it was your duty, as a good neighbor concerned about property values and the wrath of other homeowners on the block, to fight the good fight.
Well, it’s Memorial Day, dandelion fighters! That means it’s time to get out those tools and gloves, scan for the familiar dandelion signs, and get down on your knees and get back into the fray. Once more into the breach, dear friends!
We took a long drive this week. It was our first extended road trip in a while, but it also was interesting in other ways as well. In fact, I would say it was one of the more memorable drives I’ve ever taken.
It’s as if the country is reawakening from a long sleep. Some people are up and wide awake, some are groggy from the long slumber, and some are still snoring. As a result, the roads weren’t nearly as busy as you would normally expect on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend. In the early morning hours in Ohio, we saw lots of trucks on the road — a good sign, incidentally, for a resurgence in the nation’s economy — but virtually no cars. By mid-morning, as we rolled through northern Pennsylvania on I-80, the trucks still dominated the road and cars remained few and far between. The traffic picked up as we skirted New York City and Boston, but we didn’t hit any stoppages, even with lots of road construction. As a result, we made excellent time.
But the lack of traffic wasn’t the only reminder of the coronavirus. As has now become the norm, for me at least, once you are out of your personal space you become acutely conscious of every common surface you touch. Refueling means touching buttons on the gas pump and holding the nozzle. You don your mask as you enter gas stations — some stations have signs saying that masks are mandatory — and think about the safest way to open the bathroom door, flip up the toilet seat, and flush the commode if you need to use the facilities. (Your prim and proper grandmother was never more worried about the cleanliness of rest stops than you are right now.) At one stop, as I stood masked and trying to do my 20 seconds of vigorous, soapy hand-washing, a trucker stood next to me and brushed his teeth, which was a bit unnerving.
You put your mask on, again, as you pay at toll booths, which is probably the best argument ever for getting EZ Pass and just rolling on through. Every toll booth worker was wearing masks and gloves, and at the I-84 toll booth in New York City the attendant applied some kind of disinfectant to the dollar that I handed her. It makes me wonder if COVID-19 will drive another nail in the coffin of cash and spur faster adoption of contactless payment card technology. For that matter, it makes me wonder if toll booths where you can actually use the nation’s currency also aren’t going to be around for long.
In all, a very memorable trip. The coronavirus continues to affect just about everything.
How many industries will be put out of business by the coronavirus pandemic? Many people are predicting that movies will be one of the victims. I’m hoping that isn’t so.
There is something magical about experiencing things in crowds. I”m not a fan of Hollywood culture and its enormous phoniness, but no one who’s seen a good movie in a packed theatre can deny that there’s an energy, and a shared communal experience, that simply can’t be replicated by watching something in your living room. Sporting events are one of those things that really has to be experienced in crowds. So are movies.
Who here saw Jaws when it was first released in theatres? And who remembers the hushed stillness and expectation in the crowd when the Richard Dreyfus character went down into the deep to explore the wreck and heard the collective gasp of literally everyone in attendance when the corpse popped out to startle the heck out of everyone? Or hid their eyes when Quint fought desperately, and unsuccessfully, to stay out of the shark’s huge, unforgiving maw? Who remembers the thrill that ran through them when the shark’s theme music thrummed through the auditorium, and they knew that another character was about to be launched into the infinite? For many of us, the theatre experience is part of their collective experience, to be shared and discussed with our friends.
Think of every other movie that had that raw, communal effect on an audience. Whether your tastes run to slasher films, or science fiction awesomeness, or weepy chick flicks, there is something indefinable, yet very real, about experiencing a movie in a crowded theatre full of people ready to be entertained. Can we really give up the richness of that experience because of a simple virus? Doesn’t doing so take some of the richness out of our lives?
I obviously don’t know whether the film industry will survive the current pandemic. I just hope that it does, because I don’t think watching Netflix in your living room holds a candle to the crowd-watching experience. When the new James Bond movie hits the theatres, I’m going to try to watch it in a theatre with other thrill-seekers.
It’s a beautiful sunny morning in Stonington, Maine, as we prepare to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. It’s cooler here than in Columbus, but the sunshine is much appreciated after days of rain in Columbus.
The sun officially rose at 5 a.m. today, but at 4:30 it was bright enough to wake me up. The lobster captains like that, because they like to get an early start. When I arose at 4:30, I could hear the throaty thrum of marine engines starting up in the harbor as they headed out to sea for their daily tour of their traps.
I realized the other day, as I was checking my messages while waiting for a doctor’s appointment, that my iPhone facial recognition software doesn’t work when I’m wearing one of my coronavirus masks. Like a character in a Lone Ranger TV show, the phone was left dumbfounded and asking: “Who was that masked man?”
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The mask covers a significant portion of your face, including some noteworthy recognition-triggering features — namely, your nose and your mouth. Our identification of a person’s face is based on the eyes, nose, and mouth working in combination, and the masks are covering up two of those three features. We’ve been trained since birth to pay careful attention to the facial features of the people we talk to and notice any changes. And think about how much attention you pay to the mouth, in particular, as you interact with people. Are they smiling? Frowning? Grimacing? Does the combination of the mouth and eyes indicate that they’re angry?
I thought about the blocking effect of the mask when I went to get a haircut yesterday. Both my stylist and I were masked — of course — after I had gone through a doorway vetting procedure that included having my temperature taken and answering some COVID-19 exposure questions. As we talked during the happy haircut, she mentioned that she was trying to be more expressive with her eyes, because people couldn’t tell whether she was smiling or not. It was true, and I realized that she also couldn’t see my smile. After that, I tried to be more expressive with my eyes and eyebrows, but the eyebrows especially are not designed for nuanced non-verbal cues. You’ve got knitted eyebrows, and raised eyebrows, and that’s about it. Trying to communicate much with your eyebrows is like mugging for a camera.
Masks definitely change things, but we’re just going to have to get used to them because they are going to be a requirement for a while. I’m going to have to work on adding some additional, unmistakable eye and eyebrow communication techniques to my facial repertoire.
And I guess Apple is going to need to come up with a masked and an unmasked version of the facial recognition software.
The testing was quick, easy, and efficient. They’ve set up a drive-through testing facility in one of the rear parking lots of the administration building of the sprawling Mt. Carmel East hospital complex. Your doctor puts your name on a list and writes you a prescription for the test, and you drive up and wait in your car for your turn. As people are tested, the car line moves through two lanes of testing that occurs under tents, like cars moving through a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. When I arrived shortly after the testing facility opened at 8 a.m., I was probably tenth in line, and all told, I think it took me less than a half hour to make it entirely through the process.
When it was my turn I donned my mask and drove through the tent, which was manned by four nurses who thoroughly disinfected themselves after each encounter with someone being tested. A pleasant and professional nurse who was fully clad in protective gear — helmet, face shield, gown, and gloves — took down my information and then conducted the test. It was one of the viral tests to determine if I currently have coronavirus, and it consisted of sticking a long Q-tip swab pretty deep into my nostrils, gathering some mucus, and putting it into a plastic bag. I was told that the sample tested positive for coronavirus, I would be notified, and if the test was negative I wouldn’t be called and should just show up for my appointment. I never got a call, so I’m apparently currently free of COVID-19. (The viral test is different from the antibody blood test, which would tell you if you had the coronavirus at some point in the past and have developed antibodies against it.)
News reports on coronavirus typically report raw statistics on how many people have the illness. Expect to see significant increases in the numbers, simply because more mobile testing stations like the one I used are springing up everywhere. Given what I saw, I’d guess that my testing facility probably processes several hundred tests each day, and there are similar testing facilities in Columbus and across the country. We’re going to start to get a lot more data on the coronavirus as a result.