Appreciating A Wet Walk

It rained for most of the day yesterday, rained some more throughout the night, and is raining still this morning. As this look down our road/driveway shows, my walk today is going to be a wet one.

I don’t mind a wet walk. In fact, I appreciate them as a real change of pace. You’ve got to adjust your mindset for a wet walk, because you’ll need to really pay attention to what you’re doing. I don’t wear my earbuds and listen to music on the wet walks, because I want to stay actively engaged with my surroundings. No wool gathering is permitted. You’ve got puddles to dodge, and an umbrella to maneuver against the windblown raindrops, and potential splashes from passing pickups to watch out for.

But once you get out into all that rain and wetness and puddled terrain, you find things to like. The road has a special shine to it. The rain makes drumming and popping sounds against the fabric of the umbrella and the leaves on the trees and the surface of the puddles. The wet air almost seems to hug you, and the watery breeze smells fresh and clean and good. And when you get back, wetter than when you left, you feel pretty good about going out at all.

Circling Gulls

On my walk this morning I noticed a few dozen seagulls circling one of the piers near the mailboat dock, with more gulls joining every minute. They were raising an unholy racket and clearly had spotted some potential food that they might grab off the pier. It was either that, or a reenactment of a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The gulls looked very picturesque, silhouetted against the sunrise, but the harsh reality is a different story. Seagulls are trash birds that will try to eat just about anything and will fly off with the disgusting items you can imagine. We know this because we’ve found items dropped by seagulls on our deck. This summer’s seagull gifts have included a large, rotting, eyeless fish head and a gross bait bag with fish guts that probably was snatched from a lobster boat.

It’s just part of the price you pay for living in a seaside community.

The Nature Prescription

I ran across an interesting article recently about a new kind of prescription that some doctors are issuing. According to the article, rather than prescribing drugs, the doctors are prescribing . . . nature. In order to treat conditions like stress, asthma, obesity, and anxiety, doctors are instructing patients to get off their duffs, get out of their houses, and enjoy hiking, walking, or other activities in specific parks and green spaces. The “nature prescription” is apparently particularly popular with pediatricians who are concerned about the spike in childhood anxiety, inactivity, and increasing obesity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Studies show that time spent in nature is effective in reducing stress and addressing obesity. Neither of those results should be surprising; parks are quiet, less crowded, and far away from stress inducers like rude people, news broadcasts, and angry social media posts. And while you can’t be out in nature without getting at least some exercise, you also aren’t near the refrigerator, the snack drawer, or the jug of sugary soda that might otherwise tempt you.

Doctors who are using the nature prescription approach try to be specific with their patients. They identify a park or green space near the patient, and then discuss how often the patient should go to the park and the activities they should follow for a specific period of time–say, walking briskly for 30 minutes every other day. The doctors report that a specific instruction on what to do, and for how long, is more likely to be followed by the patient than a general admonition that the patient “get more exercise.”

There are obvious challenges with “nature prescriptions”–parks to hike in are a lot easier to find in Maine than in Manhattan, for example–but I think the notion of “nature prescriptions” is a great initiative. We need to get away from the idea that every condition can be addressed with a pill, and encourage people to be more active and to exercise more control over their health and their mindsets. I’ve been following my own “nature prescription” for years, and my experience with morning walks is that fresh air, exercise, and some quiet time to think can work wonders.

Project Hail Mary

Over the weekend I finished reading Project Hail Mary, the latest book by author Andy Weir. Actually, saying I read the book really doesn’t capture the process; you might say instead that I devoured it. Weir also wrote The Martian, and if you enjoyed that book (or even just the enjoyable Matt Damon movie version of that story, although I thought the book was better), I’m pretty sure that you’ll also enjoy Project Hail Mary.

The plot of the book grabs your attention from the very first page. The main character, Ryland Grace, wakes up from an enforced multi-year coma that has left him mentally sluggish and forgetful about pretty much everything. As he slowly regains his memory, he realizes that he is on a spacecraft and was part of a three-person crew that has been sent to a faraway star system. Unfortunately, his two crewmates didn’t survive the prolonged coma, and he is alone except for his robot caretaker. As his memories gradually return, he not only realizes things about himself, he also recalls that the purpose of the mission was to try to save the Earth by figuring out a way to eliminate the threat of astrophages–tiny organisms that are consuming the Sun’s energy and threatening to convert the Earth into a frozen waste that humans and other creatures cannot survive. His crew was sent on a one-way suicide mission to the Tau Ceti system because that star–alone among the stars in our solar system’s neighborhood–isn’t showing signs of its output being affected by astrophages.

I won’t spoil the book for those who might wish to read it; obviously, I thought it was well worth the read. I do want to say two general things about the book, however. First, the book–like The Martian–makes me wish I had paid more attention to science and math courses in high school, and actually taken some more math and science classes in college. In both books, Weir’s characters routinely use their scientific knowledge, and their deftness with math, to solve imponderable problems and develop practical solutions to fend off one potential disaster after another. If school boards are looking to incentivize kids to take more math and science courses, assigning the kids to read The Martian and Project Hail Mary would be a good first step.

Second, and despite the fact that the plot of the book has the Earth and the human species teetering on the brink of extinction thanks to the astrophages ravaging the Sun, the book presents a fundamentally optimistic view. The nations of Earth manage to come together to address the astrophage blight, and Ryland Grace, like Mark Watney in The Martian, also takes a positive, cheerful approach to his impossible situation and the immense challenges he encounters. As he remembers more and more about how he got to where he is, works to overcome every challenge thrown his way, and maintains his sense of humor in the face of unimaginable circumstances, it’s hard not to come to like the guy.

It was a pleasure to read a book that projected such optimism about the future, and human beings. It was a special treat to read the book right now, when positive news and cause for optimism can sometimes be hard to find.

The Mushroom Trail

On Sunday we headed off the island to the nearby Holbrook Sanctuary for a hike. The Sanctuary has a lot of trail options that we haven’t tried yet, and the middle of a three-day weekend was a good time to experience a new one. We chose the Mountain Loop trail, which promised to offer what we like about hikes: a pleasant ramble through the cathedral of trees, where you can enjoy surroundings so peaceful and quiet that even a whisper seems like a shout.

It quickly became clear that, at this time of year at least, the Mountain Loop trail could also be called the Mushroom trail. We saw lots of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes and colors, from a bone white that stood out sharply against the prevailing browns and greens, to a bright orange shooting up from the moss, and finally a harvest gold to brighten the side of the trail.

When we started our hike we wondered if any of the leaves on the trees would be starting to turn. They really weren’t, although some of the ferns in the forest were showing some colors along the edges of their fronds. But who needs fall foliage when you’ve got mushrooms to brighten the forest floor?

The Bees Are Back In Town

If, like me, you’ve been troubled by news articles over the past few years about declining bee populations, here’s some good news: the bees are back, in Stonington at least. We’ve had lots of bee activity by the little guy shown above and a number of his hive mates in our flowerbeds and have seen bees buzzing around flowers and plants along the roadways and even in the downtown area. In contrast, bee sightings last year were a rarity. Fellow gardeners in our neighborhood also report that their flowers are attracting many more bees than they saw last year.

It’s great to see the bees out, being “busy as a bee.” Even better, I haven’t heard of any bee stings.

You Know It’s The End Of The Tourist Season When . . . .

The Stonington Ice Cream Company proprietor has a simple way of notifying customers when he’s out of particular flavors: he puts tape on the flavors that have regrettably been totally scooped out and depleted. When I walked past on this Labor Day weekend—the traditional end to the summer tourist season—pretty much every ice cream flavor was gone except the old reliables vanilla, chocolate, and . . . moose tracks.

What’s wrong with the tourists this year? Chocolate and vanilla are classics, and moose tracks is pretty darned good, too. I would have thought that some experimental maple flavor would be the last man standing.

At The Midpoint

Well, we’re at the midpoint of our three-day Labor Day weekend. And with a beautiful sunrise this morning to spur us on, we are at the moment of decision. What should we do today, knowing that tomorrow is also a day off? Hiking? A long walk? Yard work? Grilling out? Reading? Watching football and savoring a cold beer?

That sounds a lot like exactly what we did yesterday—and it also sound like exactly what we should do today, too. That’s the beauty of the Labor Day weekend.

Sailing Practice

Normally the view of the harbor from Greenhead Peninsula exclusively features the familiar, functional outlines of lobster boats. Every once in a while, however, a graceful sailboat will change the view as it passes, silhouetted against the islands in the bay.

The sailboat that was out this morning looked to be getting in some practice as it tacked and changed course on a brilliant and cool morning, when sailing conditions were just about perfect.

An App Too Far

Governments the world over have struggled to address the COVID-19 pandemic. In the United States, we’ve seen large-scale shutdowns of businesses, mask mandates on planes and in buildings, and social distancing and stay-at-home orders. But it is the Land Down Under — Australia — that has really pushed the envelope.

This week The Atlantic carried an eye-opening article about some of the governmental edicts that have been imposed in Australia–edicts so draconian that the article carries the provocative headline “Australia Traded Away Too Much Liberty.” Consider this partial list of emergency decrees and requirements:

  • Australia has dramatically curtailed its citizens’ ability to leave the country. The article quotes a government website (which you can see here) that states: “Australia’s borders are currently closed and international travel from Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. International travel from Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.”
  • Travel between the six states that make up Australia also is restricted. You can access the governmental website that discloses the current restrictions, which include closing state borders, limiting ability to travel within a state, and mandatory quarantines, here.
  • States have imposed curfews, have banned anti-lockdown protests, and have used the military to disperse and arrest anti-lockdown protesters in Sydney and Melbourne. In Sydney, more than five million people have been in lockdown status for more than two months.

But the most draconian requirement of all is being tested and rolled out by the state of South Australia. It’s an app that the state would require its citizens to download, and the Atlantic article describes it as follows:

“People in South Australia will be forced to download an app that combines facial recognition and geolocation. The state will text them at random times, and thereafter they will have 15 minutes to take a picture of their face in the location where they are supposed to be. Should they fail, the local police department will be sent to follow up in person. ‘We don’t tell them how often or when, on a random basis they have to reply within 15 minutes,’ Premier Steven Marshall explained. ‘I think every South Australian should feel pretty proud that we are the national pilot for the home-based quarantine app.’”

It’s a pretty amazing development when a democratic government claims the ability to unilaterally require citizens to download an app, respond to random government texts, and be required to respond within a specified time period with a personal photo showing they are in “the location where they are supposed to be” or receive a visit from the local police. It’s even more amazing that the head of that government actually thinks citizens should be proud that their state government is the leader in imposing that kind of extraordinary government intrusion. I’d like to think that no duly elected government in America would think that kind of action was anything other than an egregious overreach–but then, I would have thought the Aussies would never have done anything like that, too.

There’s obviously a delicate balance between preserving individual rights and liberties and dealing with public health issues. As The Atlantic article notes, Australia’s dramatic decrees can be cited as allowing it to achieve COVID-related death statistics that are far below those in the U.S. But Australia also shows how the balancing of health and rights can tip decidedly to one side, in a way that strikes at the core of freedoms that are a defining characteristic of democratic societies. Citizens of other countries should be looking at what has happened in Australia and asking themselves: “Was it worth it?” and “Could that happen here?”

Our New Look Buckeyes

The Ohio State Buckeyes played their first game of the new season last night. Watching the game was a different experience, due to the date and time–has Ohio State ever played a football game on a Thursday night before?–and the fact that the team opened the season on the road in the Big Ten, before a packed house of rabid Minnesota Golden Gopher fans, and had to come from behind in the second half to pull out a 45-31 win. But mostly it was a different experience because Ohio State’s starters include a lot of new names, on both offense and defense.

On offense, it’s pretty clear that the Buckeyes have plenty of firepower and weapons galore. They have a new quarterback, C.J. Stroud, who played through some first half jitters and had a bad interception before settling down and making lots of good throws as the Buckeyes pulled away. Give some credit to head coach Ryan Day for continuing to dial up pass plays and give Stroud a chance to show his arm. If Stroud can settle down and throw the ball accurately, he’s likely to put up some big numbers this year, because the Buckeye receiving corps is loaded with talent and speed, starting with veterans Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. And the Buckeyes have a lot of punch in the backfield, too, with Miyan Williams, who rushed for 125 yards on only 9 carries and had a 71-yeard TD burst, dependable Master Teague, and true freshman TreVeyon Henderson, shown in the photo above, who looks like a star in the making.

The defense is another matter. Ohio State’s D was exposed last year by Alabama, and that was a veteran unit. This year’s defense features loads of new players in the defensive backfield and at the linebacker position, and there were some breakdowns last night–including a long run on a gutsy fourth-and-one play by the Gophers–that will need to be fixed. In fairness to the defense, Minnesota had a lot of veteran players at the offensive skill positions and a huge offensive line, and it can be tougher for a defense with a lot of new players to learn to play together as a team. We’ll call the defense a work in progress for now, but we’ll hope that the progress comes quickly, because Ohio State plays Oregon next weekend and the Ducks will be a handful.

It’s the Friday morning before Labor Day, the Buckeyes already have a conference road win under their collective belts, and members of Buckeye Nation have lots to analyze and criticize. It’s not a bad way to start a three-day weekend.

Ida’s Impact

We’ve had multiple tropical storms move up through New England this summer, but Ida–which blew through last night and today–was by far the most memorable. The remnants of the storm brought high winds and sheets of rain that dumped multiple inches of water on our community. And that impact doesn’t even compare to the chaos that Ida produced in New York City, according to news reports.

The amount of rain associated with tropical storms is impressive. I can’t find an official announcement of just how much rain fell in Stonington over the last 24 hours, but it was enough to totally flood our down yard, submerging the beds I’ve created and turning some of the lupines and ferns into underwater greenery, and to convert the drainage ditch on the northern border of our property, which normally carries a small trickle down its narrow channel, into a loud, raging torrent of whitewater.

Fortunately, the ferns and lupines that are planted in the flooded area are hardy and capable of withstanding a water onslaught. It’s going to take a while for the yard to dry out from today’s drenching, however.

Gardening Winners . . . And Losers

With the coming of September, we are, regrettably, nearing the end of our summer growing season in Stonington. It’s a time of year when gardeners can survey the fruits of their labors and make some judgments about what worked and what didn’t. Rationally identifying the winners and losers is a key step in thinking about next year’s efforts and avoiding any repeat of mistakes.

I’ve done my analysis and identified winners, losers, and plants where the jury is still out. Fortunately, there are more winners than losers, which means it’s been a pretty good year in the garden.

Winners

Marigolds—Initially planted because they are supposed to help repel deer, these flowers bloomed repeatedly over the growing season and added lots of bright color to our beds, as shown in the photo above. And whether the marigolds are responsible or not, we had a manageable year on the deer decimation front. I’ll be planting marigolds again next year and giving them a bit more room to spread out.

Black-eyed Susans—We’ve got Black-eyed Susans at multiple locations in our yard, and they have always come through like champs, producing clusters of pretty flowers that hold up over time. I bought the plant shown in in the photo above from the local garden store and planted it in May; it has grown to about three and a half feet tall with lots of flowers and provides a nice height contrast with the marigolds.

Geraniums—we planted geraniums in the ground and in pots, and they all grew beautifully. The plants in the ground produced new flowers all summer and grew to tremendous size. We’ll want to give them even more room when we plant them next year.

Verbena canadensis—I discovered these flowers this year when I was looking for something to fill in the small space in front of one of our patches of Black-eyed Susans. The plants hug the ground and spread out somewhat and produced very cool, bold colors, with deep crimson and purple petals. I’ve got big plans for these guys among the down yard rocks next year.

Losers

Phlox—I’ve tried different varieties of phlox in different locations, and they all have failed to perform. One died outright, others never produced flowers, and the one that did produce flowers did so only for a short period. I’m done with phlox.

Grass—Let’s just say our yard isn’t going to be featured in any grass or lawn care commercials. Maine grass seems to thrive where you don’t want it—i.e., garden beds—and promptly surrenders the yard itself to dandelions and other weeds. Figuring out the lawn issues will be the big challenge next year.

Jury still out

Day lilies—I bought two of these at the Deer Isle Garden Club sale in May. The plants have done okay, but no flowers so far.

Lupines—Most of the lupines that I have tried to grow from seeds survived, but only one of those plants has produced the distinctive flower. I’ve harvested more lupine seeds and will be planting them this fall before I head back to Columbus, and I’ll be looking for a big step forward from the existing plants grown from seeds, and some new lupine seed growth, next year.

Another COVID-Related Casualty

We’ll be tallying up and analyzing the consequences of COVID-19 for years to come. The pandemic has not only had a direct human toll, in terms of deaths, and hospitalizations, and illnesses, but also substantial indirect impacts — on businesses, on local economies, on social interaction, on children’s perceptions of the world, and countless other parts of our lives. This week Deer Isle felt one of those indirect impacts when the Island Nursing Home announced that it will be closing its doors in October after 40 years in business.

As has been the case with many of the human casualties, COVID was just one of the causes of the demise of the Island Nursing Home. As the article linked above indicates, the facility had been dealing for years with challenges in hiring qualified staff, attributable to a series of factors–a general shortage of qualified health care workers, its remote location on an island, “Maine winters,” and a lack of affordable housing in the area–and the COVID pandemic exacerbated the staffing shortage to the point that the facility can no longer provide care. And this isn’t the first time that the COVID virus has affected the facility, either; in 2020, there was an outbreak at the facility among both residents and staff.

The closure of the Island Nursing Home will have an impact on this community, by virtue of its position as a significant employer and because it will leave residents, and their families, with difficult decisions about where to go. Many of the residents are from this area, and the notion of moving away to unfamiliar surroundings is unsettling to them. And there will be challenges in finding places for the residents, because the staffing shortage experienced by the Island Nursing Home is also being felt by other facilities. That’s a real problem when a growing percentage of our population is aging and reaching the years when they are seriously looking at assisted living facilities.