A Summer Like No Other

Today is, officially, the last full day of summer.  Tomorrow morning at 9:30 or so the autumnal equinox arrives.  In Stonington, it feels like the northern hemisphere has been moving speedily away from the sun for some time now.  As I write this the temperature outside is a bracing 39 degrees, and you can definitely get a heady whiff of winter in the sharp breeze.

It’s been a unique summer in Stonington, as it has been across the country.  The statue of the stonecutter downtown has been masked up for months, and so were most of the people around town.  Here, like everywhere else, things that used to be strange and different have become second nature — like donning a mask before entering a building, working remotely with your office in a laptop, or automatically veering off to the other side of the street to keep that social distance from approaching pedestrians.   

Some businesses opened, some didn’t, and some found new ways to operate while scrupulously obeying the coronavirus rules.  The restaurants that opened seemed to start slow but gather momentum, and our guess is that grateful patrons will feel a long-term loyalty to the places that figured out a way to safely serve food to customers who just had to get out of their houses during a pandemic.  The shops in town all stayed open through the season and seemed to do a reasonably good trade, and while the Opera House was closed in 2020 it decided to offer drive-in movies on a big screen set up at the old ballfield and experienced a string of sell-outs.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the summer drive-ins become a permanent part of the Stonington arts calendar.

Of course, it wasn’t like a normal summer, and a lot of the things that we enjoyed in the past — like live musical performances at some of the venues around town, and the end of summer Labor Day party in our neighborhood — just didn’t happen this year, for totally understandable reasons.  But with summer now ending, the key point seems to be that the town and its businesses made it through, and will still be here next year.  That’s not true elsewhere, as thousands of American restaurants and shops and other small businesses closed their doors for good.  We’re grateful that our favorite places dodged that bullet.

The summer of 2020 truly has been a summer like no other.  We’re not sorry to see it ending, but it’s safe to say we won’t forget it.

Office Envy

My last full day in the office was March 13, 2020.  As I close in now on my six-month anniversary of an office-free work existence, untethered to a specific physical location, I have to admit it:  I kind of miss my office.

I’ve been perfectly content working remotely and using all of the technology that permits us to do so.  And without having to do my “walking commute” in the morning and evening, and with “lunch hours” that often consist of a hastily prepared sandwich that I eat while continuing to work, I feel like I’ve made very productive use of my “working remotely” time.

But, after working at the firm for 35 years, I’d gotten to the point of having a pretty darned nice office.  I miss my L-shaped desk set-up, which allowed me to easily pivot from working on the computer to a large, reasonably tidy desk surface, at the just the right height, where I could spread out papers and keep documents for different matters in different stacks that were close at hand.  I miss my office windows and the overhead lights that made my office a bright place to toil.  I miss my office chair, with its ergonomic design and rubbery webbing that would let you kind of sink into it, that gave me the ability to swivel around and lean back, always with total lumbar support.  And I really miss the susurrus of the office background noise coming in through the doorway, and the drifting voices of my colleagues as they pass by in the hall and chat at the nearby elevator bank.

So, don’t get me wrong — working remotely has been just fine.  Really!  But I suspect that, when I get back to the office for a regular day’s work, and get to experience that office environment again, I’ll sink back into that familiar chair, give it a quick whirl around, lean back, and think “aaah.

A Bottle’s Story

My latest recreational activity up here has been a project to try to expose the large rocks in the down yard and level out the ground in the process. it’s a classic pointless project. Is it necessary? Absolutely not! But it’s fun, and gets me exercise out in the fresh air, and I like to see physical results of my daily labors.

The project involves lots of digging with small tools as you work between the big rocks to lever out small rocks and level out the soil. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday afternoon, you find stuff — like the classic Nehi bottle and blue glass canning jar lid pictured above, both of which were wedged into a tiny crevice between two large rocks and covered in decades of dirt. They’ll join our collection of other bottles that have been retrieved, intact, from the down yard.

Alas, most of what I’ve dug up is shattered glass. I’ve excavated so many shards of glass that I’m convinced people must have used our down yard area for target practice or random, drunken bottle breaking. That’s why it’s cool to retrieve some intact old pieces that escaped the onslaught.

The Sound Of Hammering

Julie Andrews like to whirl around in an Austrian meadow and sing about the hills being alive with the sound of music.  In our neighborhood, lately, the hills have been alive with the sound of hammering–and it’s nothing to sing about.

Two workers have been building a one-story wooden house about 100 yards from our front door.  On every non-rainy day, starting at about 6 a.m., we are treated to a hammering symphony as they put up the structure and pound away as if their lives depended on it.

It’s made me wish for rainy days.

Hammering is a uniquely annoying sound.  It make a sharp noise, it’s repetitive, and it echoes and reverberates against the nearby hills, which just amplifies the irritation factor.  I’ve gotten to the point where I distinguish between the individual hammering style of each of the workers.  One guy uses four strokes of increasing force — bam, bambam, BAM — to get the nail flush with the planking of the roof.  You find yourself cringing inwardly as you wait for that inevitable fourth hammer blow to fall.

Oddly, on some days you don’t notice the hammering . . . until you do.  And then, once you do notice it, you can’t consciously unnotice it again.  You just hope that the workers will take a break at some point soon and let your brain cycle back to non-hammer-focused mode again.

I’m all for commerce, and it looks like the little house will be a nice addition to our neighborhood.  But I will be immensely grateful when the house is built and that infernal hammering ends.

Judge Gina Russo

My regular readers know that this year I’ve sworn to avoid writing about politics, and so far I’ve kept my pledge. But today I want to deviate from that course and write about a candidate who is running to keep a seat on the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas:  Judge Gina Russo.  You can read about her on her website.  

Judge Russo began her legal career as an associate at our firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP.  She was a smart, capable, hard-working member of our litigation group who had a special love for trials and the courtroom.  Judge Russo also was an absolute pleasure to work with:  someone who invariably displayed a positive, cheerful, can-do attitude and who could be counted on to get the assignment done, and done right.  She worked on pretty much every kind of case our firm handles, large and small, and got a lot of experience in various aspects of the civil litigation area.  Judge Russo also showed a knack for establishing strong relationships with clients–which is one of the hallmarks of gifted lawyers.  If a client keeps coming back to you when they’ve got a legal issue, it’s a tangible sign that the clients think you really care about their problems and are doing a good job on their behalf.  I’m happy to report to you that Judge Russo’s clients kept coming back.

Judge Russo left our firm because she relished the courtroom, and civil litigation trials tend to be few and far between.  If you want to get that regular courtroom experience, the prosecutor’s office is where to go–and that’s where Judge Russo went.  I was sad that she left our firm, but people have to follow their star, and I knew that she yearned to be on her feet before judges and juries and had made a careful, thoughtful decision, as she always had done.  It turned out to be a very good decision for her, because Judge Russo got the courtroom work she craved and rapidly worked her way up in the prosecutor’s office to the point where she was handling some of the office’s most challenging, high-profile felony cases. 

In March of 2019, Governor DeWine appointed Judge Russo to fill a vacancy on the Franklin County Common Pleas Court bench.  Now she is running for a new term as a judge, in the election to be held this November.  I’ll be voting for her, and I recommend that others do so, too.  Judge Russo has the breadth and depth of experience that we ideally look for in a judge–with significant direct involvement in civil and criminal litigation and first-hand exposure to the law in both of those areas.  And the same personal characteristics that made her a fine associate at our firm also serve her well on the bench.  Our society wants and needs judges who care about justice, objectivity, and fairness, who aspire to reflect those qualities in their conduct and their rulings, who will read and think carefully about what lawyers have written and argued, and who will work hard at their jobs.  And I want to emphasize that last point, because court dockets can become clogged and inert if judges aren’t always focused on deciding motions and keeping the cases before them moving forward.  I know from positive personal experience that Judge Russo will do all of those things, and no one will work harder, or with a more positive attitude, at their job.

It’s wonderful for the Columbus community and the justice system that we have excellent judicial candidates like Judge Gina Russo.  I recommend her wholeheartedly and without reservation.  Remember her when you head to the voting booth this fall.

Back To The Crack

Some loyal and curious Webner House readers have asked for an update on how the flower beds that I planted in the downyard earlier this summer are doing.  The answer is: good and bad.

The good news is that I have, for the most part, kept the flowers I planted in the crack between the two huge rocks from being gobbled up wholesale by hungry gangs of marauding deer.  As a result, after several frustrating incursions where the deer bit off the flower buds just as they were getting ready to burst, the flowers have actually bloomed, as the photo above shows.  The black-eyed susan plant at the forefront was the subject of repeated violation by the deer, so it’s still trying to catch up with its counterpart at the other end of the bed, which has only suffered one or two deer visits.  If you want to do a comparison of how the bed looks now versus how it looked at the outset, you can find some “before” photos of the crack here.  

When viewed from our deck, above, the crack between the rocks actually looks like a flower bed.  The bright yellow of the black-eyed susans stands out against the granite rock, and I like the purple of the phlox.  The bad new is that the Husker red beardtongue flowers planted in the middle have been a disappointment.  The plants seem to be healthy, but they don’t produce many flowers and don’t add much, visually, to the beds.  And a lupine that I planted in another bed was decimated by a slug attack.

Looking at this floral experiment with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, I should have just planted black-eyed susans, which seem to do well in this soil, in the whole bed.  But all of these flowers are perennials, so I’m hoping that the beardtongues bounce back next year and strut their stuff.  

I’ve also learned something else:  gardening is really kind of fun, and interesting, besides.  In fact, it’s somewhat addictive.  Already I find myself thinking of what I might do in the gardening arena next year.  A gardener’s work is never done.

The Bane Of The Reminders

We’ve been working remotely for a while now, and with the coronavirus refusing to go away peacefully and quietly, it looks like we’ll be working remotely for a while longer.  That means technology will continue to play a key role in our ability to earn our living, and on a regular basis, new programs and applications will be rolled out for us to use in the remote working space.  And then we’ll have to learn them, and figure out how to incorporate them into our work days.

I accept all of this — really, I do.  I’m grateful for the tech geeks and programs that have kept the ball rolling during the shutdown period.  But there’s one thing about these new software applications that really, really bugs me — the reminders.

Here’s what always happens.  The new application is rolled out.  You sign up for it . . . warily.  And then the onslaught of reminders begins.  At first the reminders are somewhat friendly, like “Hey, we’re glad you’ll be using McGuffin.  Learn how!”  But quickly they become increasingly insistent.  “The McGuffin will help you collaborate seamlessly.  You can be trained on it through this free webinar!”  “Follow this link to take your McGuffin training!”  “Don’t forget your McGuffin training!”  “Hey, buddy boy — nice little remote working arrangement you’ve got here.  Be a shame if something happened to it because you didn’t take the McGuffin training.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of an exaggeration.) 

And if you do take the training, the emails don’t stop.  “Please rate the McGuffin training.”  “We’ve made great new  improvements to McGuffin.  Click here to find out about them.”  “We noticed you haven’t been making full use of McGuffin.  We’re monitoring what you’re doing, in case you have any doubt about that.”  (OK, that last one is a bit of exaggeration, too.)

The constant nagging quickly reminds you that you are up against a soulless computer program that will never tire or falter in its relentless quest to get you to click on the links and complete the stupid training.  You can’t ignore it.  It will keep bugging you to do its bidding and filling up your inbox with totally unwanted reminders.  It’s like an annoying, whining kid constantly tugging at your pant leg and asking you to buy it an ice cream cone.  Its need for immediate attention and responsiveness on your part becomes unbearable.   

There’s probably some new application out there that could stop the never-ending flow of reminder statements.  But if I sign up for it, the whole process will start over again.

At Greenhead Lobster

Greenhead Lobster is one of the places where the Stonington lobster fleet unloads its catch.  Once the lobster boats dock at the Greenhead pier, the lobsters are taken from the salt water tanks on the boats, put into plastic bins that are placed on a conveyor belt, then rolled up a ramp to a large holding facility where the bins are removed from the ramp and put into a large salt-water holding tank, shown above.  The holding tank takes up pretty much the entire building and can hold immense quantities of freshly caught live lobster that waits in the tank until it is trucked off to its ultimate destination. 

It’s an interesting operation, and a labor-intensive one.  From the lobster boat crews unloading their catch, to the guy rolling the bins on the conveyor belt, to the guy who removes the bins from the belt and lugs them over to the holding tank, the people you see at Greenhead are all working hard to get America the fresh lobster it loves.  

This year has been a really tough time for people in the lobster trade.  With the coronavirus, many restaurants are closed or operating at reduced capacity, which means reduced markets for the lobsters.  We can’t make up for the reduced demand all by ourselves, of course, but we’ve been trying to pitch in by going down to the retail shop and buying lobster regularly.  You know when you buy from Greenhead that the lobster is absolutely fresh, and you’re getting a great price, too.

If you’re thinking of what to have for dinner tonight, how about some lobster?  The hard-working folks at Greenhead Lobster would appreciate it.

The Watering Circuit

It’s been blistering hot up here.  Of course, “hot” is a relative term.  “Hot,” by Stonington standards, means any temperatures above 70 degrees, and “blistering” means the thermometer touches 80.  (Given their sensitivity to heat, I don’t know what the good people of Stonington would do if confronted by a true Midwestern or southern summer, where temperatures in the 90s and above are commonplace.  Probably, they would be grateful they live up here, nod and say ayuh, and then stolidly retreat to these rockbound shores.)

But I digress.  On the days that promise to be hot and dry, I try to give our plants a good watering.  Because of the configuration of our yard and flower beds, that means using different watering devices and following a circuit.

I begin with the beds by our front door, where I can use a hose.  We don’t have a spray nozzle, so I use the thumb-over-the-water-flow method to achieve a sprinkle, and give the beds a good dousing.  They are on the western side of the house and won’t get sun for a while, so the water will get a chance to really sink in and do some good before the day heats up.  The hose water gets very cold against my thumb and helps me to wake up, and I do the watering while I’m making coffee so I can get a hot cup of joe when the watering is done and the hose is rolled up.

The next stop on the watering circuit comes later, after I’ve taken a walk and given the ever-hungry neighborhood deer a reasonable opportunity to eat more of the down yard flowers.  Because the down yard is in deep shadow in the morning, it can wait.  There’s no hose, so I need to use a watering can that I fill to the brim in our basement sink.  I carry the can down the steps and hillside and water three areas:  next to the outside stairs, where I’ve tried to transplant a lupine and set up a little flower bed, the flowers I planted in the crack between our two big rocks and next to the creek, and finally the vegetables we got from Russell.  It usually takes three trips and helps me to get my daily stair climbing in.  I also inevitably fill my daily quotient of obscenities when I survey the damage the deer have done to the flowers in the crack between the rocks, where we’ll probably never get the black-eyed susan blossoms — they always get neatly clipped off by deer teeth just as they are ready to bloom.  As I trudge back up the hill, cursing inwardly and trying to figure out some new, actually effective way to discourage the rapacious deer, I’ve become mentally ready to face the work day.

The last step in the watering circuit comes in the early evening, where I use a different hose to water the beds in the side yard and a little tree that has always struggled.  The side yard is starting to get shade by then, and the hose water feels cool and crisp after a hot day.  Watering, with its mindless back and forth motions to try to fully cover the relevant territory, is a good way to wind down after work and let the brain wander a bit.  The side yard beds also are a bit more uplifting to water, because the yard is fenced and deer don’t bother it, so the flowers are actually blooming rather than being consumed.  At the end of the day, it’s nice to see some fruits from your labors.

That’s my hot day watering circuit.  The deer appreciate my efforts, I’m sure.

An Old Guy’s View Of New Technology

There is no doubt that — for some people, at least, including me — there has been an inverse relationship between age and receptivity to new technology.

Once, as a callow youth, I was dazzled by new technology.  Of course, the Mercury and Gemini and Apollo space programs made everyone interested in new advancements in computers and technology as a point of national pride, and that carried over into home life and school.  When our family signed up for a crude early version of premium cable TV called Qube, I wanted to know how it worked and what it offered.  And I was excited when Dad brought him one of the first Atari game systems, so UJ and I could play Pong in our family room.  I even took a computer course in high school and learned some of the basics of FORTRAN programming using punch cards, and thought it was fantastic that the computer did what my carefully arranged stack of punch cards commanded.

This happily open-minded approach to new technology continued through college and into law school.  In college, I learned how to use video display terminals (“VDTs”), one of the first forays into stand alone word processing units, and spent hours in front of a VDT, with its greenish glow.  I believe that is where I first learned the word “cursor.”  And my friends and I happily enjoyed every cool new video game that appeared in our favorite bars, whether it was Tron or Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man or Asteroids or Galaga.  And in law school I learned to use computer legal search engines, and even took on a job where I had to “back up” the hard disks on a computer system that crashed regularly.

angry-old-man-with-computerBut at some point, my receptivity to the new technology changed, and I can’t quite put my finger on when it happened, or exactly why.  Some of it might have been repeated experience with technology that overpromised and underdelivered, or that focused on bells and whistles — “look, you can program your own individualized message to appear as your screen saver!” — without meaningfully improving the basics, like word processing capabilities, that were the meat and potatoes uses of the system.  Some of it no doubt was brutal experience, where one false key stroke, or one ill-timed system crash, caused hours of work to maddeningly vanish and have to be recreated.  And with each glitch and crash, skepticism began to replace receptivity, and fear of disaster began to replace eager interest.

The pace of technological change didn’t help things, either.  With new computers, search engines, phone systems, cell phone systems, remote access fobs, security systems, constant annoying password changes, and other developments being introduced all the time, it seemed like things were never really set — at least, not for long — and there was always some overwhelming new training to take.  And that reality caused another reaction to enter into the mix:  “why can’t things just stay the same for a while?”

I had that kind of jaded reaction to new technology — but then the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, and everything changed again.  For many of us, technology saved our butts and allowed us to keep working remotely in a way that really wouldn’t have been possible even 5 years earlier — much less 20 or 30.  I’ve learned how to use a number of new programs and applications, and have been grateful for the opportunity.  And whenever I talk to one of our IT people these days, I thank them and acknowledge just how crucial this wonderful technology has been.

I wouldn’t say I’ve quite returned to the wide-eyed fascination I had as a kid, but this current experience has definitely moved the needle back by a lot of years.  The next time you hear me fulminating crotchety old man views about technological advancements, just remind me of COVID-19 and 2020, and I’ll shut up.

Lobsters’ Day Off

There are always outboard boats coming into and heading out of the main pier at Stonington harbor, but you can tell whether the lobster fleet is out in force by the number of boats tied up at the floating outboard dock. 

The lobster crews take the outboard boats out to their larger craft and anchor them in the harbor before they board the bigger boats to head out to sea for some serious lobstering.  If the floating dock is empty, that means the big boats are out and hauling up hundreds of lobster traps, hoping for a good catch.  If the dock is full, as it was this morning, that means the lobster crews are taking it easy and bracing themselves for tomorrow’s work day.

For the lobsters, Sunday tends to be a day of rest.

Video Etiquette 101

Video conferences have become such a big part of the work day during this coronavirus pandemic period.  For me, at least, video calls emerged abruptly, and went from a once-in-a-while thing to a routine, several times a day occurrence.  And now, nobody seems to use regular phone calls anymore.

video-conferencing-01-as-rt-200327_hpmain_16x9t_608But the thing about video calls is that they don’t seem to have a standard, accepted etiquette yet.  Their sudden burst onto the daily work scene means we’re still thrashing around and trying to figure out how to behave.  As a result, you wonder how you are supposed to deal with certain issues that are presented by videoconferences.  With people having heightened sensitivity during this whole weird period we are in, you don’t want to unwittingly be rude, crude, and socially unacceptable, or otherwise give offense.   And muddling through doesn’t seem like a really wise, viable option.

For example, when you get a video call, do you always answer with your video enabled?  Is it considered rude or a kind of affront not to do so?  What if the person who calls turns out not to have their video enabled?  Should you immediately conform to the video-enabling practices of the caller, or is the act of disabling, with no apparent technical reason for doing so, itself considered impolite?  And if you don’t have the video enabled, is the well-mannered course to explain why — or is that just wasting people’s time?

The fact that these video conferences are occurring from people’s homes adds another layer of potential faux pas to the mix.  Is it acceptable to ask where the person you are talking to is, or comment on the background, or is that considered really intrusive?  If kids, spouses, or pets appear in the picture, are you supposed to comment, or act like you haven’t seen them?  If someone is totally backlit and you can’t see their face, do you say something or hold your tongue?  Is it considered appropriate to ask somebody to move to a different location or adjust their screen so that their face is more visible, or is that unforgivably untoward?

Where is the modern-day Emily Post, ready to instruct us on the dos and don’ts of the new situations that are being created by technological advancements?  It sure would be helpful to have somebody give us some instruction on this stuff.

 

 

Pathfinding

My latest project is the classic definition of a “yard project.”  It is absolutely not necessary.  In fact, some people would undoubtedly consider it to be pointless “busy work.”  Life could go on quite easily without it, and no one — not the birds, or the trees, or the insects that call the down yard home, or the folks who live in the neighboring homes — would care.  But it’s something I have pictured in my head, I want to see if I can bring it to fruition, and I like having a project to work on during my leisure time.  How many “yard projects” start in that way?

Basically, the project is focused on doing something interesting and hopefully attractive with the area shown in this photo, which is at the bottom of a very steep, rocky outcropping.  The first step happened several years ago, when Russell and I chopped down the scrubby trees that had overgrown this area between the rocks.  Last year I tried to keep the remaining tree roots from sprouting new trees, and this year I’ve dug out all of the stumps and tree roots of the scrub trees — about 20 stumps and root systems in all — to create an area for some planting.  Most recently, I’ve been building stone paths that will allow us to readily reach the little garden plot where we have planted Russell’s vegetables, and in the process make some productive use of the abundant supply of rocks we’ve got around here.  The next step will be to figure out what kind of ground cover, consisting of hardy, and hopefully somewhat colorful, native plants, can be planted in the areas between the paths and on some of the rocky slopes around the areas.

Digging out the stumps was hard work that left me as dirty as an adult can reasonably get, but each day I made some progress, and each stump that was successfully removed was satisfying.  The pathbuilding was challenging, but also interesting because it involved trying to find routes for the paths that made use of the existing boulders that are found in the area and also worked around the root systems of the two large birch trees that are immediately overhead.  So, perhaps “pathfinding” is a better word for the work.  And trying to find the right rocks to fit in the right spaces has been a nice creative exercise.  

I’ve enjoyed working on my utterly gratuitous “yard project,” and at night I look down on the area, compare it to the mental image that got this whole process started in the first place, and look forward to the next step. 

The Lure Of Lobstering

The official welcome sign outside of Stonington says the town is Maine’s largest lobster port, and the visual evidence around here supports that assertion. You see the paraphernalia of the lobster business pretty much everywhere, from the lobster boats at anchor in the harbor to the brightly colored buoys, coiled ropes, and stacked rows of lobster traps seen on the properties around town. Especially traps. More traps than you can imagine!

And it appears that the younger generation is embracing Stonington’s traditional occupation. According to statements from this year’s graduates published in the local newspaper, a number of the 2020 graduates of the Deer Isle-Stonington High School — both male and female — are planning on “lobstering” as their career. It’s the kind of future plan you wouldn’t see from a student in, say, Columbus, Ohio.

My hat is off to the kids who are going into the lobster trade. It’s a tough, physically demanding job that requires you to get up before dawn and spend your days on the water, going from buoy to buoy, hauling traps up from the ocean floor, removing any catch, rebaiting the traps with yukky objects that lobsters like, and winching the traps back down again. But it makes a living, and you get to be your own boss. From the decisions of the local high school kids, that’s still an attractive option.

Tiered Up (Cont.)

I’ve finished with my tiers project — for this weekend, at least — and am reasonably happy with the results. I created the beds, planted some spider plants I picked up at the farmers’ market from the local garden club, and replanted the ferns. Unfortunately, my efforts to replant the wild rose bushes failed. The root systems of the rose bushes are just too difficult to dig out. And speaking of digging, I successfully removed some tree stumps, too, which was satisfying.

After two solid days of yard work, I’m ready for a celebratory beer.