Muddy Work

As a native Midwesterner who grew up about as far from oceans as you can get, I’ve still got a lot to learn about life along the coastline. So I was fascinated to watch these two people taking advantage of the low tide to dig for clams, mussels, quahogs, periwinkles, whelks, or some of the other abundant shellfish that can be found in the seaside mudflats of Maine when the tide rolls out. They were toiling away in the basin between the dock and the rocks just below the Greenhead peninsula.

It looked like very hard work. They were wearing rubber boots that came up to their knees and sank into the mud above their ankles as they dug and searched. You could only imagine the sucking sound the mud must have made on their boots as they moved steadily along, and the smells they experienced, being nose down and only a foot or two from the thick, briny mud. And the tide put a definite deadline on their efforts, because it was only a matter of time before the seawater rushed back in to cover the mud again. It’s not work that permits dawdling.

I can only hope that the mudflats rewarded their efforts, which were interesting to watch.

Signs Of A Stonington Summer

In seasonal towns like Stonington, many businesses close for the winter. When spring comes, residents start to look for signs of when the businesses will reopen. The businesses reopening sends the welcome message that summer, when Stonington will (we hope) welcome happy and free-spending tourists back to the town, is just around the corner.

Because all of the businesses are locally owned, each one follows its own timetable, which means the town-wide reopening is really a gradual process. Some businesses have partially reopened, some have shown activity that suggests they are getting ready, and others remain dark and shuttered, with no signs of life yet.

I like to look for clues about where things stand during my walks around town. Sometimes the signs of reopening are literal signs, like the hand-lettered notice in the door of one of the shops shown below, and sometimes it is doing the things that get a space ready for business—like painting the gray wooden deck and putting up the signs and the bright red lobster at the Stonington Ice Cream Company stand, above. When the handwritten list of flavors goes up next to the order window, completing the last step in the reopening process, we’ll know that summer is really here.

Remember The Alamo Article!

Allow me to don the proud parent garb for a minute. Our son, Richard, had an article published in the Washington Post over the weekend, about the controversy in Texas about what to do with the Alamo site. You can find the article, which is a pretty nifty piece of reporting on an interesting topic, here.

Richard is a talented writer and careful journalist, and I think it is pretty darned cool that he got an article published in the national section of the Washington Post.

Camp Maskedalot

The CDC has been hard at work. It has developed extensive COVID-related guidelines for virtually every activity or gathering Americans might conceivably participate in these days. There is specific CDC guidance for workplaces and businesses, schools, retirement communities, church functions–even something super-specific, like what to do if you are operating a community garden or outdoor learning garden. You can take a look at the roster of guidance here.

A lot of people are wondering what the CDC is doing to come up with its extensive guidance, and precisely what the scientific basis–if any–is for some of the ultra-cautious rules the CDC has laid down. One set of CDC recommendations in particular has been target of special criticism: the guidance for summer camps. In fact, a recent article in New York magazine called the CDC summer camp guidance “cruel” and “irrational.”

It’s fair to say that the CDC rules would produce a summer camp experience that would bear no resemblance to the summer camps many of us attended as kids. Let’s just say that the kids who were unlucky enough to go to a CDC-compliant camp wouldn’t be spending carefree hours around a campfire, playing capture the flag with their newfound camp friends, or sitting at long tables and making bad ashtrays for Mom and Dad during the “craft period.” The New York article summarizes some of the guidance as follows:

“Masks must be worn at all times, even outdoors, by everyone, including vaccinated adults and children as young as 2 years old. The exceptions are for eating and swimming. (The guidance helpfully notes that if a person is having trouble breathing or is unconscious, no mask need be worn.) Campers must remain three feet apart from each other at all times including, again, outdoors. Six feet of distance must be maintained during meals and between campers and staff. If you need to sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, do it into your mask. (Children presumably are expected to carry a cache of spares.) Campers and staff should be cohorted, and any interaction with a person outside the cohort must be conducted at a distance of six feet. Art supplies, toys, books, and games are not to be shared.”

(Other than that, kids, have a blast!)

The New York article notes that the science and statistics have shown that kids are at “exceedingly low” risk of any kind of serious illness from COVID–and that’s from statistics gathered before most of the adults around them, including, presumably, camp counselors, have been vaccinated. And there is very little evidence that there is a serious risk of COVID transmission from outdoor activity like hiking (or running around with fellow campers), either. As a result, the New York article observes: “The notion that children should wear masks outdoors all day in the heat of July, or that they can’t play any sport that involves physical contact, or put an arm around a friend strikes many experts in infectious diseases, pediatrics, epidemiology, and psychiatry as impractical, of dubious benefit, and punishing in its effects on children.”

Has anyone at the CDC even experienced a broiling Midwestern summer day? Anybody who masks up on a 90-degree day with the sun beating down on them is asking for a truly miserable time–and maybe heat stroke, besides. It’s hard to believe that any rational person reviewed this guidance, or ran it past others for comment and evaluation. It’s as if the CDC is so focused on the COVID boogeyman that it has forgotten all of the other health risks involved in life.

Our public health authorities haven’t exactly covered themselves with glory during this COVID period. They’ve sent out a lot of mixed messages, and in my view their hyper-cautious recommendations about what fully vaccinated people should be able to do is quashing enthusiasm for getting vaccinated. The absurd CDC guidance for summer camps is just another hard-scratcher that further undercuts the credibility of a once-esteemed institution. The CDC would benefit by taking a hard look at what it is doing.

Back To The Fin & Fern

The Fin & Fern is a cozy local restaurant on the edge of town, next to the mailboat dock. It serves great food in a relaxed, casual atmosphere. Last year it was a dining mainstay for us during the COVID Summer of 2020, when some of the other local restaurants shut down. And it apparently stayed open, at reduced hours, through the winter months, continuing to serve the residents of Stonington and provide them with another chance to get away from their home cooking for an evening.

So when we got back to Stonington, of course we decided to promptly pay a visit to the F&F, both to get an excellent meal and also to reward them for being courageous stalwarts during a very difficult time. The food was great, as always–we shared some very tasty oysters, and I had a delicious, perfectly cooked ribeye steak for my entree–and we were glad to see that the place was jammed with patrons. I’m betting that many of them also wanted to reward the F&F, and that the restaurant’s decision to stay open created some customer loyalty that will last for a long time.

Last year I wrote periodically about the need to support local restaurants and bars, which were hard hit by the shutdown orders. Keep them in mind this year, too, as the country works to recover from the pandemic period. And if there are places in your towns that stayed open during the worst of it, give them a special nod, won’t you? They deserve it.

The Stonington Salute

On my walk this morning, a few pickup trucks–the official vehicle of choice for most of the hardy residents of Stonington–passed me on the road. I gave the “walkers’ wave,” which is a cheerful smile and an upward flap of the right hand, fully exposing the palm. In return, the drivers of the pickups gave thestandard two-finger wave from the steering wheel, which I call the “Stonington salute.”

The two-finger steering wheel wave isn’t unique to Stonington–not by a long shot. Texas apparently has tried to claim it as a Texas invention; in the Lone Star State it’s evidently called the “hi sign.” Others describe the gesture as a “rural wave.” I like calling it the Stonington salute, even if it wasn’t invented or perfected here, because I’m a fan of alliteration. But I also like and appreciate the friendly thoughts behind the gesture. The drivers want the walkers to know that they see us and are acknowledging our presence, and the walkers want to be sure that the drivers are aware that we’re sharing the road, too.

The Stonington salute is a small-town thing, for sure. When I’m walking down the street in German Village, passing cars don’t give a wave. If big-city motorists waved at every pedestrian, they’d be waving their arms off. And there’s really not the need to do it, either. Pedestrians aren’t walking in the roadway, like they do here; they are on sidewalks, separated from the street by the devil strip and, in the case of German Village, a row of parked cars, too. The safety concerns that are part of the motivation of the Stonington salute and the walkers’ wave just don’t exist.

Of course, another part of the motivation for the salute and the wave is just that people are friendly around here. I like that, too.

“You Owe Me A Coke”

The other day a much younger colleague and I were discussing something. We each sent the other an email expressing the same thought that crossed in the internet ether.

Her reaction was to say “jinx.” Mine was to say “you owe me a Coke,” which I’m sure baffled her. And as I thought about my reflexive response, I realized that “you owe me a Coke” even baffled me. That’s been my standard response to two people saying the same thing at the same time for as long as I can remember, but I have no idea why that’s the correct phrase to say at that moment, or even when I learned to say “you owe me a Coke” under those circumstances. I’m guessing it happened when I was a kid and some older and more worldly kid used that phrase and explained that it was what you do when that happens, and you need to say it before the other person does. I promptly incorporated that notion into my understanding of how the world works, as kids do, and there it remains. I’ve forgotten the incident, but definitely remember the phrase.

Internet searches don’t really shed any light on why anyone–me included–would say “you owe me a Coke” in this scenario. It’s recognized as one of the things you do when people say the same thing at the same time. (According to some websites, another thing that you can do is punch the other person in the arm, and now that I think of it, I seem to remember getting slugged in the arm a few times, too.) But the origins of “you owe me a Coke” seem to be lost in the mists of time. Who came up with that notion? Why would one person need to buy the other a soda, and why a Coke, specifically? And for that matter, has anyone ever really lived up to the obligation and actually bought the person who said it first a Coke?

It’s just destined to be one of life’s enduring mysteries, I suppose.

At The Ready

The last year has seen a lot of changes for everyone. We’ve rolled with the changes and adjusted as necessary—there’s really no alternative to that, is there?—but it’s also nice when we learn that something hasn’t changed, and probably won’t change.

That’s why I was glad to see the Stonington mailboat docked and at the ready when I took my first early morning walk through town and past the harbor earlier this week. That’s it there at the right of the photograph above, prepared to toot its horn, head out to the islands in the Bay and deliver mail, packages, and passengers, just as it has for years.

In the ever-changing world, the mailboat is a constant. I like that.

Over Old Mars

I admit it: I’m a space geek. I avidly followed the space program when I was a kid and watched all of the launches and landings, I joined The Planetary Society when I was a college student and got some great photos of planets taken by exploratory spacecraft of the ’70s that I tacked up on the wall around my desk, and I’ve been hooked on space and planets and the technological advances made in our exploration efforts ever since. That’s why I think what we’re doing now on Mars is pretty darned thrilling.

The photo above is a picture of the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, taken by Ingenuity, the helicopter/drone that has been taking short flights over the surface of Mars. It’s not the greatest photograph from a technical standpoint, of course, but the amazing thing is that it is a picture of human technology taken by another item of human technology on the surface of a distant, alien planet. The picture was snapped on Sunday on Ingenuity‘s third, and longest, flight over old Mars, when Ingenuity was about 16 feet above the Martian landscape and about a football field away from Perseverance.

We keep making significant advances in the space arena, whether it is developing reusable capsules and rockets, sending drones to Mars, or seeing more entrepreneurs entering the space technology and exploration business. It makes me believe that the next few years are going to see some real landmarks established: space tourism, permanent bases on the Moon, and even human landings on Mars. But for now, a blurry, grainy photo of Perseverance is still a pretty cool thing.

Cereal Advances (II)

The cereal makers keep pushing the envelope and blurring the lines between cereal and dessert—as well as messing with our holiday traditions. I’m not sure that Kellogg’s Peeps cereal can ever be topped, but I saw two new strong entrants in the cereal advances category on a recent trip to the grocery store: Kellogg’s Elf On The Shelf Sugar Cookie Cereal With Marshmallows (really, that’s what it says on the box) right next to Post’s Dunkin’ Mocha Latte Cereal made with Dunkin’ coffee that the box discloses is both naturally and artificially favored. (No kidding!)

I can’t figure out what’s weirder—Christmas-themed cereal in April, or wanting to buy a cereal that tastes just like the sugary flavored coffee that you are drinking with your cereal. I guess as between the two I would have to pick the Elf On A Shelf cereal, both because it threatens complete sugar overload and because kids deserve a break from thinking that creepy bug-eyed elves are spying on them and monitoring their behavior all year ‘round.

New Words For New Times

Germany has a checkered history, to put it mildly, but you’ve got to to give them credit in one area. As I’ve noted before, Germans have an uncanny knack for inventing useful words that capture very specific feelings or concepts.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Germany would be leading the way in inventing new words to deal with the COVID-19 world. In fact, the Leibniz Institute for the German Language did an analysis and determined that some 1,200 new words have been created during this pandemic period. One of the professors involved in the process of collecting the words concludes that the word creation process helps the German to deal with pandemic anxiety, which is captured by one of the new words: Coronaangst.

Some of the 1,200 words are pretty useful, and I’m going to try to incorporate them into my daily vocabulary. For example:

Impfneid — vaccination envy

Hamsterkauf — panic buying and stockpiling food like a hamster (This one is bound to be used in the post-pandemic world, whenever a hurricane or some other hazardous impending event is forecast.)

Coronafrisur — corona hairstyle (Who doesn’t know at least one person who hasn’t grown a special coronafrisur? I’ll be using this one the next time I talk to the Red Sox Fan, who has grown a remarkable mane during the shutdown period.)

Alltagsmaske — everyday mask

Abstandsbier — distance beer

Maskentrottel — literally, “mask idiot,” to refer to someone who wears a face covering leaving the nose exposed

When you consider the choice words the Germans have come up with, I’m afraid we Americans are losing the Words Race. About the only new phrase I can think of is “social distancing”–which I think gets absolutely blown out of the water by hamsterkauf.

Taking Crust

The other day I was characterizing somebody’s action that was pretty darned brazen. The phrase that immediately popped into my mind was “it takes crust,” so that is what I used. To my surprise and disappointment, the other party to the discussion had never heard that phrase before and had no idea what I was saying.

I can identify the source of this particular phrase with precision. It was one of Grandma Webner’s favorites, and always said with a look of abject disgust. It meant that the person in question was acting with unmitigated gall, impertinence, recklessness, and a complete lack of regard for social mores and Grandma’s accepted rules of behavior. Usually there was a certain element of hypocrisy in the mix, too. For example, if somebody with a well-earned reputation for sketchy and dubious behavior insisted that another person be held to the highest standards of conduct in their personal affairs, Grandma would get that look and say “it takes crust for so-and-so to do such-and-such.” And everyone who heard her knew exactly what she meant.

It’s a great little bit of American slang that apparently was much more commonly used in the early 1900s, although it seems to have fallen out of favor recently–as the bewildered reaction to my use of the phrase indicated. I’ve always thought that the phrase must draw from the meaning of “crust” as a kind of protective coating, and reflects that the impertinent actor must be hardened or oblivious to how polite society will react to their conduct. But “crust” is just too good a word to fall out of slang usage entirely, and according to the Urban Dictionary it is now used to described a particular kind of fast and garbled punk music, and it can also refer to a thing or person that is unappealing.

I like Grandma’s sense of the word better, and I’ll continue to use it, explain it when necessary, and do my part to ensure that “it takes crust” doesn’t fall completely out of usage.

Paul Revere’s Ride

Two hundred and forty-six years ago, on April 18 and 19, 1775, Paul Revere made his famous ride through the Massachusetts countryside, warning the Minutemen and residents that “the British are coming!”

Our friends John and Monica do their part to make sure that people remember that heroic ride on the eve of the Revolutionary War. Every year, they send out t-shirts to remind people to “keep the ride alive.” To assist in their effort to keep the ride alive in our hearts and minds, I offer this post, with the famous poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that some of us learned in our school days.

Paul Revere’s Ride

By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light, —
One, if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade, —
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay, —
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read,
How the British Regulars fired and fled, —
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm, —
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

The Middle Seat Muddle

This week the CDC released information about whether airlines should follow policies that block off the middle seat on their planes. The CDC announced that laboratory modeling showed that blocking off the middle passenger seat, in either single-aisle or double-aisle planes, reduced airborne exposure to infectious diseases from fellow passengers by 23 percent to 57 percent. Those in the airline industry promptly noted that “the CDC admits that the current studies quantifying the benefit of specific social distancing strategies in the cabin, such as keeping the middle seats vacant, are limited.”

I don’t know which airlines–if any–are still blocking off the middle seats of flights. We flew American to and from Arizona on our recent visit, and on our flights every seat, including the middle seat, was filed. The airlines not only take the position that the science cited by the CDC is “limited,” but also point out that the airline industry took a huge hit in the early days of COVID, when most people avoided travel, and they need to sell those middle seats to recover economically and become profitable again.

It’s a class example of the tug-of-war between public health and profitability. I’m convinced that, if the CDC had its druthers, they’d rather every American stayed in their homes and avoided any risks whatsoever. And when it comes to air travel, they’d rather people are more spaced out (cramped passengers wouldn’t mind that, either), everyone wears masks, no food is served, and aircraft are designed so that all potential disease transmission vectors are avoided. Of course, if the airlines followed all of the CDC’s guidance, the cost of air travel would inevitably increase, some airlines would go out of business, and people wouldn’t be happy about it.

I’m guessing the airlines will come out on top in the middle-seat muddle and will continue to fill those middle seats, unless the FAA or Congress actually mandates that middle seats be left vacant. But you can bet that the airlines won’t object to the public health requirements that don’t affect their bottom line–like requiring passengers to wear masks at all times, regardless of their vaccination status or COVID case data. I think air travelers are going to be masked for the foreseeable future–and maybe permanently.

Ancient Names

Every morning on my walk around Schiller Park I see this bright red Jeep Rubicon. It’s a cool looking car, but I scratch my head at the name.

Anybody who is interested in history knows about the Rubicon. It was a shallow river that marked the boundary between the Roman Republic and the province of Cisalpine Gaul. In 49 B.C. Julius Caesar violated Roman law and custom by leading a legion in crossing the Rubicon and bringing his army into the Roman Republic. That made war inevitable. Caesar reportedly paused on the banks of the Rubicon to consider his fateful decision, then said “the die is cast” as he waded across and his soldiers followed.

Of course Caesar prevailed in the ensuing conflict; he didn’t meet his bloody fate until the ides of March some years later. But ever since Caesar made his choice “crossing the Rubicon” is used to describe doing something that reflects an irrevocable commitment to a pivotal and perilous course of action. it’s a very useful phrase.

What does any of this have to do with a red Jeep? That’s not clear to me. Did the Jeep namers just like the sound of the word, or did they have any appreciation for its historical sign?