Out Of An Abundance Of Caution

The Stonington airport is basically a strip of asphalt, a windsock, and some outbuildings, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t appropriately focus on safety and faithfully report on pertinent federal regulations. This particular federal regulation, though, is a curious one. You wouldn’t think that this kind of regulation is really necessary. It conjures up images of an unfortunate walker incident where a person using a walker was out on the runway trying to dodge an incoming aircraft—and not quite as nimbly as the Cary Grant character evading the crop duster in North By Northwest.

But it’s the second part of the regulation that is the real head scratcher. No wheels on the runway? Hey, doesn’t the landing gear of all planes feature wheels?

Resolution’s End

You see some interesting things at the Stonington town dump (technically called the town “transfer station”). This exercise equipment no doubt started out its existence with an owner who was full of promise and and enthusiasm and resolution. Now, it’s been brutally discarded — perhaps because the owner just couldn’t stand the pangs of guilt they experienced when they looked at it, unused and gathering dust in the corner of their bedroom — and it has landed at the dump, among the broken down lobster traps.

I’m confident that lots of the stuff at the dump has an interesting back story., but pitched out exercise equipment has got to be at the top of the list.

A Future Of Dancing Robot Dogs

Sports franchises across the globe have struggled with how to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.  In some places, like the United States, sporting events for the most part haven’t occurred at all.  In other places, like Japan, the games have been going forward, but without any spectators due to contagion concerns.  And that raises a question:  what do you do, if anything, to substitute for the fans in the stands?  Do you play the games in eerie, empty, silent stadiums?  Or, like some Korean teams have done, do you put cardboard cutouts of fans in the seats?

A Japanese team, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, took a different approach: dancing robots and robot dogs.

The YouTube clip above shows a recent performance of the choreographed moves of jersey-wearing robots and a number of ballcap-wearing, four-legged, black-and-yellow machines (which are supposed to be dogs).  The annoying song they are “dancing” to is apparently a kind of theme song for the Hawks, and the moves they are performing are normally performed by human fans.  The whole thing comes across as pretty creepy to me.  Is the future of live sports a future of dancing robot dogs?  And I thought furry mascots like Slider were annoying!

One good thing about this:  after watching the robots and robot dogs cut a rug, I’ll never feel embarrassed to dance at a wedding again.

The Deer Factor

During our unseasonably cool Fourth of July weekend, I noticed that many of our flowers were just getting ready to bloom.  Having planted a number of them and watered all of them, I was eager to see the splash of colorful blossoms and how the flowers looked in our setting.

Unfortunately, it was not to be.  When I left yesterday morning to take my walk, I saw a flash of a white tail in the distance and a deer bounding away through the underbrush.  And then when I checked on our flowers, I was disappointed to discover that something had neatly clipped off, and presumably happily consumed, the flower buds that were just ready to burst, leaving only the bristling stalks behind. 

I’m guessing that the deer is the culprit.  And when I checked on other flowers we’ve planted, I saw that some had also been trimmed of their tender and delectable buds — although some had been left alone.  Apparently, the deer of Stonington have discriminating tastes.  Only the flowers that are in the fenced-in part of the yard, and the thorny wild roses that grow from the rocks next to the house, were totally safe from the scourge of deer teeth.

I’ve checked into what you can do to discourage deer from eating your flowertops, and frankly the cure sounds worse than the disease.  The Better Homes and Gardens website notes that smelly things might work, at least temporarily, and suggests placing odorous objects like mothballs, fishheads, and “processed sewage” that might repel the deer.  The problem is that they would no doubt also repel us.  The other alternative is to try to create physical barriers like rigging hidden fishing lines, putting up netting or fencing, or hanging shiny objects like aluminum pie plates.  Again, this seems like it would interfere with our enjoyment of the grounds, and in any case is unworkable due to the size and nature of the area that needs to be addressed.

The last option is to go for “deer-resistant plants.”  But the BHG website page on “deer-resistant plants of the northeast” cautions: “There aren’t really any plants you can truly say are deer proof. And the animals are smart and unpredictable — so the deer in your yard may love a particular plant, but avoid it in a garden down the block.”  And it seems like planting presumably deer-resistant plants that hungry deer might decide to eat anyway isn’t going to keep them from devouring the other tasty perennials that I’ve already planted.  

So it looks like we’re stuck.  I guess I’m just going to have to start appreciating the rare beauty of denuded flowerstalks.

Ground Fireworks

As was the case in many communities, Stonington cancelled its annual Fourth of July fireworks show due to coronavirus concerns.  Of course, that didn’t stop people around town from setting off strings of firecrackers, with their familiar staccato explosions, now and then.

And if you like the color of fireworks, you’re not going to be deprived in Stonington, either.  With the arrays of brightly colored lobster buoys that you see just about everywhere — even in the back of bright red pickup trucks — you can get your fireworks colors fix just by keeping your eyes open.

Snips About Snails

Yesterday’s constant rain and drippy, overcast conditions brought the snails out of their normal hiding places and onto our driveway and other wet surfaces.  I took the picture of the little guy below just outside our front door.

Snails are common in Maine — so commonplace that the University of Maine has a web page entitled “slugs and snails” devoted to helping gardeners deal with the little creatures, and people have written entire academic papers about the “slugs and snails of Maine.”  Snails are interesting creatures and actually kind of fascinating to watch, as they move slowly but surely ahead.  Little boys are supposed to be made out of them, in part (“snips and snails and puppy dog tails”) so it’s worth knowing a few facts about them.

Terrestrial snails are part of the phylum Mollusca and the class Gastropoda and are closely related to slugs.  The name of the snails’ class comes from the Greek words for belly and foot, because snails move through the progressive expansion and contraction of one large, muscular foot under their shell.  The snail’s foot has a gland that secretes a coating of mucus, and the snail then glides on that coating of slime.  The fact of a single foot and the need for slimy mucus generation helps to explain why snail movements are so deliberate. 

There are dozens of different species of snails in Maine, some of which were actually brought to the state from Europe.  (Why Europeans did this is anybody’s guess.)  Because of their need for slime, snails avoid direct sunlight and wind and prefer moist, damp areas — like gardens, where they are commonly found.  If you’re trying to get rid of slugs and snails, which can cause harm to some plants, the U of Maine webpage helpfully notes that “removing boards, rocks, logs, leaves and dense growth helps” and that it “is also wise to minimize shaded areas, rock walls, rock gardens, or forested borders and leave bare ground or close-cropped grass next to vegetable or flower beds.”  No stones, or rock walls, or rock gardens, in Maine?  Good luck with that!

Interestingly, the snails of Maine all are supposed to have shells with whorls that move from the center in a clockwise direction.  Nobody really knows why.

Snails don’t bother me, and I try not to disturb them when I’m gardening.  I don’t think they are doing much harm to our flowers and plants, and I figure anything that is living in slime with only one foot deserves a break.   

Useful German Words

Many of us are familiar with the German word schadenfreude.  It refers to the pleasure you feel from observing another person’s misfortune.  Think about the guilty but nevertheless real surge of joy you get when your arch-rival sports team loses a big game, and you’ve captured it.

trachtSchadenfreude is a very useful word.  So why does a specific word for that sensation exist in the German language, but not in English?  What caused the Germans, at some point in the past, to identify that very particular feeling and coin a term for it, and why didn’t somebody in merry old England do likewise?  You can’t tell me that, during the period of one of their countless wars, the British weren’t happy to see the French take a pratfall.  Why didn’t they come up with a word to capture that specific unseemly yet nevertheless real surge of pleasure?

Schadenfreude doesn’t stand alone.  In fact, the Germans have been pretty good at creating lots of words that capture unique feelings or circumstances.  Here are some:

Futterneid — translated as “food jealousy” or “food envy,” it refers to the feeling you have when you go out to dinner with someone and they order food that looks much better than what you ordered, and you then suffer through the meal wishing you’d ordered their dish.

Fernweh — translated as “distance sickness” (the opposite of home sickness), it refers to the overpowering desire to be traveling, preferably to somewhere far away.

Fremdschamen — the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment you experience when watching someone else go through a personally humiliating experience, like telling an unfunny joke to an audience or having way too much to drink at a work-related function.

Kummerspeck — translated literally as “grief bacon,” it refers to excess weight that is put on by emotional overeating.

Torschlusspanik — translated literally as “gate shut panic,” it identifies the fear that certain opportunities or activities are being closed to you as you get older.

Weltschmerz — the sensation of melancholy and resignation that you experience when your hopeful expectations about what will happen in the world fall disappointingly short . . . again.

We could use such words in English, so the word creators need to get cracking.  And isn’t it interesting how many of those German words describing unique, very precise feelings or conditions can be applied to what we are experiencing in 2020?

This Morning’s Virtual Run

The Stonington 600 is a running and walking event put on the by Island Community Center to promote health and wellness among residents of Deer Isle.  Yesterday we passed a sign announcing that, with COVID-19 and the interest in promoting social distancing, the event will be a “virtual run/walk.”  When I saw the sign, I thought:  “A virtual run?  Finally, a running event I’d be willing to participate in!”

Imagine my disappointment when I learned that, if you are participating in the Stonington 600 by running, the “virtual” nature of the event means that you are still supposed to actually run!  You’re just supposed to do your distance by yourself, running whatever course you wish during a three-day period, rather than being part of a group that runs the same course at the same time.

This approach doesn’t seem to fully embrace the “virtual” part of the concept.  So, this morning I am taking a virtual run around town.  In fact, I’m doing it right now.  I’ve left our house, trotted down the gravel path, and turned left to head down the hill.  I’m starting to feel loosened up as I turn left, so I pick up the pace on the short stretch of road and then head onto the main road, where I’ve got to keep an eye out for the over-sized pickups roaring past on their way to the lobster co-op.  By the time and turn right and head down the hill into town, I’m moving with a fluid, elegant pace.  I check my watch and realize that I’m making pretty good time this morning, which makes me feel good. 

I dash past the town hall and the Harbor Cafe and the hotels, then turn right to sprint down the hill toward the mail boat dock, turn left, then turn left again onto heartbreak hill.  I hate this part of the run!  I’m huffing and puffing as I head straight up the 30 degree incline.  Why don’t I run down this stupid hill, rather than up?  When I finally reach the Catholic Church, I’m laboring.  Feel the burn!  Then it’s back to the main road and down the hill to trot back through town again.  I’m back on pace and grateful that it’s a nice cool, clear morning, so I’m not getting overheated.  I check my virtual watch and take a swig of virtual water, and I’m on the home stretch.  I dodge some more trucks, turn left onto the road to the lobster co-op, and then charge up the final hill, with my legs feeling a little rubbery.  When I finally reach our place I towel off and revel in that runner’s afterglow.

Hey, that virtual run was pretty good!  Later today, I’m going to do some virtual power-lifting.

A Dummy’s Palate

Stonington and Deer Isle are blessed with an excellent local coffee house, 44 North.  (44 North is the latitude of Stonington and Deer Isle, in case you are interested.)  The shop roasts its coffee right here, and its location in Stonington, at the edge of the downtown area, is a classic, comfortable place to sit and drink a cup of coffee and enjoy a cookie or a scone — in normal times when social distancing doesn’t require that you drink your joe outside, that is.

But here’s the problem:  whenever I go into 44 North to get some of their fine, fresh ground coffee, I feel overwhelmed, like a junior high school algebra student sitting at a table listening to a bunch of college physics professors talking about the finer points of their lates calculus equations.  I might get that they are chatting about math in some mysterious sense, but that’s about it.

It’s the same with 44 North’s terrific coffee.  I love the smell, but when I taste it I just can’t appreciate the subtleties of the roasting and preparation process.  I’m sorry to admit that, when it comes to coffee, my palate is not only not educated, it hasn’t even begun its schooling.  Sad to say, I’ve got a dummy’s palate.

This week, for example, I bought two bags of coffee.  One, the Colombia, is described in the “tasting notes” on the bag as having a “sweet and spicy aroma with a rich dark chocolate body.”  The “tasting notes” on the other bag, the Sol Y Luna Blend, refer to “bright raspberry and dark chocolate.”  But try as I might, even squinting in a physical effort to maximize the discernment of my taste buds, I cannot detect the raspberry — or for that matter the dark chocolate.  I can enjoy the sweet and spicy aroma of the Colombia and when I take a slug I can recognize that it is a darker roast than the Sol Y Luna (at least, I think it is), but that’s about it.  They both taste to my poor dummy’s palate like coffee — excellent coffee, to be sure, but still coffee.

Well, at least I can enjoy the smell of the coffee grounds when I open the bag.

Wildflower Maine

I’ll be happy if the flowers I planted over the weekend do well, but if that does happen It probably won’t have much to do with my gardening abilities.  The summer in coastal Maine is just about the perfect climate for growing flowers and other plants:  it’s not too hot, so the soil doesn’t dry out like it often does during a broiling Midwestern summer, it rains every few days (and often with real gullywashers) so there’s lots of water for the plants, heavy morning dews are commonplace, too, and there’s plenty of sunshine.  Basically, Maine supplies everything the native flowers need — if you just leave them be.

As a result, flowers seem to grow pretty much everywhere, on their own.  The lupines that are framing the harbor in the picture above are thriving In an untended area off the berm of a very busy street.  And the lupines and the other wildflowers in the photo below are growing in profusion in a huge area that presumably isn’t being actively weeded and watered by a human gardening crew.

So what does it all mean?  It means that if I can’t grow flowers here, I’m undoubtedly the world’s worst gardener.

In A Star-Crossed Year, Anything Can Happen

It’s fair to say that 2020 hasn’t been a great year so far.  In fact, it’s fair to say that 2020 is not only below average, it is probably the worst year that I’ve experienced in my lifetime.  With the coronavirus pandemic, government-ordered shutdowns, massive shocks to the economy and resulting unemployment, and widespread civil unrest, it’s safe to say that, when the clock nears midnight on December 31, no one is going to be looking back fondly on the year limping to a close.  To the contrary, I would expect that people will be drinking heavily to forget the year gone by and to toast the arrival of a new year that is bound to be far better — that is, assuming we make it to December 31.

And that’s really the significant, underlying problem with 2020:  it has forever altered our perception of what could actually happen.  Before 2020, anyone predicting the arrival of a strange new virus, sweeping closures and stay-at-home edicts, and the other elements that make this year such a bummer would have been laughed out of town.  But now — well, it seems like just about anything is possible, doesn’t it?  That’s why gun sales, survival gear sales, and, relatedly, liquor sales are through the roof.  So far, 2020 has been like Edvard Munch’s The Scream brought to life.

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So when I read that scientists have measured significant “earthquake swarms” underneath Yellowstone National Park that could presage the eruption of a catastrophic “supervolcano” in one of Earth’s hottest hot spots — something I would have scoffed at until recently — I now think:  “well, it’s 2020 — why not?”

The strikingly counterfactual element of 2020 opens the doors to many possibilities that seemed absurd only a few months ago.  Remember those stories we see from time to time about asteroids and meteors coming uncomfortably close to Earth?  Well, it’s 2020, so . . . better get that survival gear handy.  And for everyone who’s wondered about when we’re actually going to make contact with intelligent alien life, well, it seems like 2020 is the ideal year for that to happen, doesn’t it?  And it’s not going to be cuddly, adorable E.T. aliens, either.  Because it’s 2020, after all, think Independence Day or Predator or Aliens, and you’re probably going to be closer to the mark.

To prepare myself mentally for the rest of this year, I’ve tried to identify every worst case, disastrous scenario that we’ve been warned could happen — locust invasions, massive solar flares, global warming and cooling, zombie apocalypses, Ragnarok, the reunion of ABBA — and am bracing myself that they all might happen this year.  And if we make it through without finding ourselves on a denuded, brutalized planet that has to endure a remake of Waterloo, I’ll raise my glass to 2020 come December 31.

Tie Died

Yesterday the Bus-Riding Conservative (who hasn’t been riding the bus much these days since the office has been closed) sent around a picture of himself wearing a mask and a suit and tie.  He was donning his lawyer garb and mask to attend an important meeting, and he looked like a dashing corporate raider or somebody getting ready to rob a high-end country club — after cocktails, of course.

title-image-1But the BRC made a somewhat shocking confession in conjunction with sending his photo.  He admitted that it actually felt good to put on a tie after enduring a long, tieless period.

I’m surprised that the BRC’s astonishing statement didn’t produce thunderbolts from on high or breathless news reports that hell had frozen over, because it is likely the first time in the history of western civilization that a man has said that it felt good to put on a scrap of colored cloth that is specifically designed to cinch down on your windpipe and your sagging neck wattles and serves no functional purpose whatsoever, other than to become stained by splashes of food during power lunches.

The BRC’s mind-boggling confession got me to thinking, and I realized two things.  First, I don’t miss wearing a tie in the slightest, although I will certainly put one back on, as part of the lawyer’s uniform, when things get back to some semblance of normalcy.  And second, this has undoubtedly been the longest I’ve gone without wearing a tie in decades.  This coming week will mark my three-month anniversary in the untied category.  That hasn’t happened since at least law school — which ended, incidentally, during Ronald Reagan’s first term — and maybe since college, back in the Carter Administration.  And even in college, we periodically had parties following a Blue Brothers theme where the costume required attendees to put on a hat, tie, and sunglasses.  We may be going all the way back to high school.

I’ve written before about what parts of the new, coronavirus world will continue, and what parts will end when a vaccine is invented or “herd immunity” is achieved.  Even before COVID-19 struck, there was a strong push against standard business attire — including tie — and in favor of general “business casual” requirements, in which the tie went the way of the Dodo.  It will be interesting to see whether we’ve seen the last gasp of the necktie in the business world, and it turns out to be one of the many victims of the coronavirus.

If it is, there won’t be many male mourners — other than the BRC, of course.

F and F vs. S and S

If you’re ever going to visit Maine during the summer, especially if you’re going to head up north of the southern coastal areas, plan on checking your smartphone weather app regularly.

5e217fada5253478210383b5395ca68d-thermometer-vintage-sIn fact, plan on consciously rooting for specific weather developments — like increases in the daily high and low temperatures — even though you are well aware that puny humans have no ability to change the weather that’s heading your way.  You’ll be hoping to see temperatures in the sixties and seventies (S and S) rather than temperatures in the forties and fifties (F and F).

You would think that, by the middle of June, the F and F squad would have been chased off the field, but you would be wrong.  Even now, when the Midwest is getting slapped with temperatures that are in the upper 80s and even hitting 90, the low temperatures in Stonington on many days stubbornly remain in the 40s, and it’s a desperate, furious battle to get the high temperature out of the 50s.  Even now, looking at the weather app and its forecast for the next 10 days, we still see only one day where the high temperature is in the upper 60s.  (Brace yourself: a week from tomorrow the temperature is supposed to reach a scalding 66.)  And days in the 70s in June in Stonington are apparently as rare as hen’s teeth.

It’s weird to pay so much attention to your weather app, but there’s a significant difference between temperatures in the 40s and 50s versus 60s and 70s.  In the 40s and 50s, you’re still donning coats and sweaters.  When you reach the upper 60s and — God forbid! — the 70s, the air has that sultry, summer feel that is simply absent when the F and F squad is in command.

None of this is a surprise.  In fact, many people come to Maine specifically to escape the broiling summer heat — and Maine doesn’t disappoint in that regard.  The temperature will warm up, and we’ll be in the toasty 70s when the rest of the country is groaning about the intense heat.  It will be nice to the S and S team prevail.

Old Habits . . . Die Surprisingly Easily

For years, my daily routine when I’m at home has been unvarying:  when I get up in the morning, I take a brisk walk, on the same route, in the same direction, to get the blood pumping and the brain engaged.  I did it rain or shine, hot or cold, without exceptions, with no ifs, ands, or buts.

When we lived in New Albany, my route took my around the Yantis Loop.  When we moved to German Village, my course changed to circumnavigation of Schiller Park.  But in either case, the early morning walk was a key component of the day, mixing inner compulsion, simple enjoyment, and a desire to be sure to get some exercise before plopping myself down behind my desk.

I would call my morning walk routine a “habit.”

But when we came to Maine recently and had to self-quarantine on the footprint of our cottage for two weeks, I was unable to take my morning walk.  The first few days I got up early anyway, but in short order I realized that I there was no need to do so because I couldn’t take my walk, so I might as well roll over in bed and sleep a little longer.  And that turned out to be pretty enjoyable, actually. 

By the time the 14 days was over, I found that my routine had been shattered.  On the first day after the quarantine ended, I took my walk, but on the second day it rained, and I decided I should just stay home, without really giving it much thought.  But when I did think about it, I thought:  “What the hell?”

So clearly, my long-standing habit has been broken to pieces and needs to be reestablished.  I thought the saying was, “old habits die hard,” but that turns out to be totally wrong.  Maybe it should be, “good habits die easily.”