Sunday, December 21, 2008


Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, is always a nice time to nest and consider the blessings or burdens of the recent past (luck, fate and/or perseverance). Irrespective of your take on the etiology or source of your present circumstance, this place of equipoise in the progress of celestial meandering is an appropriate time to pause and take stock of what you intend for yourself. I notice the symmetry of having started this blog on the last winter solstice. That's all I have for the moment.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Daily Visitors

These deer and a couple pals that are not in the picture visit everyday. Once in a awhile, we see a buck, but these are does and their less than one year old but rapidly growing offspring. The object of curiosity is a neighbor's wandering cat. A minute later, the deer moved in closer and the cat scampered under the deck. The deer are cleaning up leaves that just came off a pear tree in this week's snowfalls. We had a total of about five inches here this week but they still aren't blowing snow at our local hill. Holiday Valley over in Western New York is open. Got to get out on the skinny skis before this cover melts off.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


A few months ago, I became an avid spinner. I have been a lifelong biker but never much enjoyed locking the road bike into a stationary trainer. When Linda and I joined a local club that offered spinning and yoga in addition to the obligatory weights and cardio machines, our weekly workouts improved– a lot. We have both had knee surgery and don't pound the pavement anymore. We ration our remaining cartilage playing recreational and competitive hard court tennis and did time on treadmills and ellipticals with some outdoor biking. Now, we have a great off-season alternative. I've quickly become addicted to the spinning class. Monday nights is an intense one hour workout but Saturday morning is an hour and a half killer. The class leader, Karen, gears these classes to triathletes and competitive cyclists (which I presently am not) but I am pleased to be surviving and improving. Heart rate monitors are mandatory and I can report that we spend nearly all of the class in various levels of training zones and very little in recovery. As many of you know, spinning bikes are designed to replicate some of the feel and posture of outdoor riding. What is different is the lack of elements (wind and temperature variations- and traffic!) and a high energy sound track. It's just not the tempo of the music that pushes the pace but the exhortation of the class leader who wears a mike. It's not "better," just diferent. Our instructor is hard-core and also an outdoor racer. What a workout!

Sunday, October 5, 2008


The vice-presidential debates last week touched upon the country's energy future. I was disappointed that Sarah Palin reacted to Joe Biden's dismissal of "drill, drill, drill" with a correction. "No, Joe, it's drill baby, drill!" I was hoping to hear a more substantive discussion of what might happen over the next four to eight years to get us moving toward the new technologies.
The first picture is a scanned postcard that shows a portion of the Mahoning River Valley as it looked when I was a kid in Youngstown, Ohio (click on it for a zoomed view). On overcast nights, the underbelly of the clouds would flicker with an orange glow from these and other steel mill stacks and furnaces. Water from the river was used to quench the hot steel. The air was pretty bad, but people said that the fumes and soot were a sign of good times: everybody working. My Dad and Granddad jockeyed locomotives in and between the mills and freight depots. In the late seventies, the mills began to go away and now the stacks are gone and there is loose talk of what to do with the river, again showing signs of life (though the bottom has several feet of toxic sediment). Some of us would like to see it restored to a truly live river fit for fishing and paddling. Northeast Ohio may be in the heart of the rust-belt, but we have tremendous water supplies (even though many are too polluted to bear their full potential) and beautiful, still fertile countryside in between the expanse of urban sprawl.
The second picture shows solar panels arrayed over a parking area and the third is obviously a cluster of windmills (these are not located in Ohio). The steel mills are never coming back to northeast Ohio, but I wonder what we're waiting for (as a country) to convert our power grid. Think of all the roof space atop malls, strip plazas, parking decks, schools, and factories that could support solar panels. Here in one of the cloudier regions, we will need combinations of new technology and energy efficiencies. As a family, we drive a little less and favor the hybrid that gets 50 mpg over the vehicle that averages 20 mpg. I have a feeling we are all going to be making much bigger adjustments in the near term.
I try to imagine what our towns and countryside will look like twenty years from now. I am optimistic, because we have no choice but to change.
(postcard compliments of Kelly Bancroft)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lumberjacking Update

So Dave and I got the tree down, limbed, sawed and stacked as well as a couple of smaller ones that were dead wood. The reward for our work was a feast of a lunch, fit for lumberjacks. The biggest reward was doing this kind of work without an accident: careful, under control. At one point we needed to roll the better part of the trunk up onto some cut pieces to get it off the ground so our saws weren't going in the dirt at the end of the cut. A couple of metal bars for levers did the trick. Above is the pictorial evidence.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Here are two views of a tree that a friend and I are going to take down tomorrow (Dave Materna–he's a teacher, writer and musician, not a lumberjack). My wife and I live in the middle of a couple of acres of woods. You might think that means it's maintenance free–not so. Over the years we have lived here, we have had several windblown or lightning struck trees down, often across the drive. A couple of ice storms cost us many trees and parts of trees including a fairly big hickory that fell on our deck. Sometimes I take care of it all with my chain saw and other times have to call in professionals. One tree within twenty feet of our house required a crane for safe removal. This particular tree up and died for reasons of its own and I need to get it down before the weather topples it at an inopportune time (like when I am walking out to the road for the paper or mail). We leave many dead trees away from the house or drive alone for the benefit of the woodpeckers. If you click on the picture of the trunk (right), you will see big holes in the other trunk to the left. Those are the result of a pileated woodpecker harvesting ants. Pileateds are as big as crows–quite spectacular (picture above). Dave and I will tackle this one and a couple of others tomorrow. The challenge will be having them fall in the preferred direction and then cutting them into firewood-size chunks that will be stacked. The branches will form a huge pile and I'll need to rent a major league chipper later to turn them into mulch. So, I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Tree Trouble

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a three day writing conference in Cuyahoga Valley National Park called the Language of Nature. It was sponsored by the Environmental Education Council of Ohio. We stayed at the Stanford Hostel, a really cool farmhouse built in about 1830, restored and converted to the Hostel in the 1980's. The weather for this event was hot and humid and on the second evening a cool front blew in while we were getting ready for dinner. The leading edge of the storm was rather typical. It got dark rather suddenly and an initial burst of wind heralded the storm. The gusts were probably in the range of 40 to 50 mph or so, very common around here. What was unusual was that those of us who happened to be watching the storm approach through the front windows suddenly saw the better part of a TREE coming at the house. My first thought was TORNADO. Just as I was about to hit the deck, I realized that if I was still standing and the house was still standing, it was not a tornado. This moment was shared by a buddy of mine who was an instructor in the program, Dawson. The tree, pictured above, was simply waiting for the right angle of wind to complete a trimming. The huge maple with a divided trunk had been attacked at its core by insects and the longstanding process completed itself in this particular storm. The top grazed the house and casused some damage. A woman had been sitting on a bunk in the corner room and it would have been worse had the tree made a more direct hit. As you can see, the forked trunk neatly framed the corner of the house with this minor damage instead of a catastrophe had it been a direct hit. We enjoyed our dinner by lantern, went for a hike in the fresh aftermath of the storm at a ledges area and did some outdoor writing. My journal has a few splotched pages from occasional drops from the still wet trees. The Institute was a great way to spend a few hot Ohio days: enjoying the Park, the wildlife, the scenery and the company of educators concerned about environmental ethics.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Last Days With Lucky

I have written earlier here about Lucky, the rescued cat whose name tells his story. He was a very integral part of our family for the last 14 years. Cats are very spartan and vets often miss the diagnosis. We tried to rescue Lucky again when he suddenly decided to eat tiny portions and wasted his body weight in half over a few weeks. The vet was confounded and just said he was an old guy. Linda fed him with a syringe for several weeks and during that time, despite his spiral toward the feline heaven, he maintained his personality and congeniality. This is him taking a nap on my back while I took a snooze on my favorite nap place: the floor in front of the computer. He's frail and gray here but still engaged with his role as part of the family. Shortly after this, he took his last breath. He was a wonderful cat and we still see him in some of his favorite places.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Osprey at Nimi

This nesting osprey is one among the pairs at Nimisilla Reservoir (the southern most of the Portage Lakes south of Akron). Click on it to enlarge. It's a beautiful bird. I snapped it from my kayak as the stiff NW wind was pushing me toward the nest closer than I wanted. The bird flapped off just after this shot. It's a spectacular sight to see them drop into the water to capture fish. Years ago, while windsurfing there, we saw lone birds fishing once in awhile. For the last several years, they have returned for nesting. A few minutes after taking this picture, I rolled my boat (unintentionally). Fortunately, my camera was in a sealed bag. I had to make a decision whether, after righting the kayak, to deploy an oar float and climb in (difficult) and then pump the gallons of water out with a small pump or swim the boat to shore. I was a quarter mile or so off shore and decided to swim it. Filled with water, it felt like a barge and when i finally hauled it out, I felt like I had run a 10k.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Garden Time

This morning I went to Crown Point Ecology Center in Bath, Ohio for the big plant sale. The attraction is organically grown heirloom varieties of plants difficult to find in these parts. I arrived at the opening time (9a.m.) and there were already a couple of hundred people there! The picture shows my haul along with a flat from a local nursery (these are not cheap) which will take up about 1/2 my vegetable garden. I go heavy on peppers and like the longish Italian peppers that are great fried in olive oil or grilled. I also have a few varieties of bell peppers (chocolate, for example–they're brownish). I have a low fence around the garden which discourages the groundhogs but they can burrow under and have in the past. It takes just a few minutes for one of those guys to eat the tops of several dozen pepper plants. I must be vigilant! The tomatoes are various and sundry but our favorites include Moby Grape because they are indeterminate (just keep producing) and we can pick a handful each evening for the dinner salad and some of the sweet yellow varieties.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Banff Mountain Film Festival

Last night Linda and I met our daughter, Stephanie, and her fiance, Matt, at the Allen Theater in Playhouse Square for the Cleveland stop of the Banff Mountain Film Festival. Before the films, there was a wonderful array of light food and sponsor exhibits in the rotunda. I have missed this touring event in the past but this experience has me hooked. I will try to make it an annual event. The films are all outdoor settings with focus on adventure sports, often less than ten minutes long, but the best was a feature about a former mountain runner turned wildlife biologist who set out to encounter coastal wolves in British Columbia. The visuals were stunning. The only downside is that the Allen does not have a big screen. On the other hand, the theater is beautiful, comfortable and huge. The place was pretty packed which surprised me in that this was the second night. The crowd was enthusiastic and raucous at times which is fitting. Outdoor culture is alive and well in NE Ohio.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Snug at Smuggs

Seems silly in a way that I fled the beginning of Ohio spring to return to winter here at Smugglers' Notch in Vermont for two and a half days of skiiing. (The picture of purple crocuses was taken in the front yard and edited in on Monday after my return). The map is the Smuggs Trail Map. The mountain has great conditions considering it's early April. There is a little sleet here at the base but a few hundred feet up it will be all snow. Yesterday I had some great runs and am about ready to head out for some fun right now. Last evening the local news we listened to was a Montreal station. Made me want to plan a trip there some time soon. These trips have me missing my wife and dog! I have a WiFi hookup connection here and heard from the guy with a ruler in the grad office that my thesis only needed one tiny formatting change. That was good news. Upload the electronic copy next week and then on to the defense. Now for some fun.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

snow (thesis) madness

The first picture is out a back window. The second is out the front door. The drive is in there somewhere between the trees. Snowbound is a great way to try and finish the thesis. Got up at 6 and started writing. The MFA thesis is due this week. My stories are in the can (figure of speech) but I am trying to close out my novella. More writing, some shoveling, more writing. Trouble is, I keep thinking of that Stephen King novel that was made into a movie starring a guy named Jack.
"All work and no play makes Rick a dull boy. All work and no play makes Rick a dull boy . . . . . "

Saturday, February 16, 2008


A family is a thing that evolves. I'll start with the losing part. I try to conjure images of of time spent with my grandparents, now gone, and it is easy as some of those times, so rich and vivid, fuel my aspiration to create space in my life for events that replicate the good feelings. I have written of the loss of a Brother and will some day write of the loss of my Dad and another Brother. Actually, I have written of those losses but have not found a way or reason to share it yet. But a wonderful thing about family is that, if you are lucky, it is a living thing that changes and grows. Here is a picture of part of my evolving family. You see my daughter, Stephanie, sustainability professional, and her high energy fiance, Matt. He's a social worker and a martial arts expert. I like that combination. He makes a living providing assistance to folks who have been swatted down by the system and/or their own dysfunctional decisions but also has the competence to fend off a gratuitous attack. People are safer when he's around. You also see Casey, our Benji-looking mutt, who has the amazing skill and talent necessary to train a couple of adults, me and my wife, Linda, to look after his every need. He's a good dog and his pack instincts make him an integral part of the family. Whenever we bring him along to a family event, he races around the array of humans to greet those he knows and to test the bonding possibilities of the less familiar. There's a lesson there. He recognizes the immense value of a pack (family).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Too Soon to Think Spring

I have a mantra that one should wait until March 1 to start yearning for spring weather here in Northeast Ohio. Any long stretch of springlike weather before then is perverse I have learned causing buds to sprout and then freeze. Warm days in March are gifts to be appreciated and savored because they are invariably followed by revisits of winter. However, in this post-postmodern, global-warmed early 21st century such sentiments are probably ephemeral. Who knows how the carbon load is changing the seasonal cycle. It's bound to be chaotic. But there's nothing wrong with musing over memories of what the warm weather brings around here. Each spring, we have anticipated a doe showing her fawn the way to the salt lick in our myrtle patch. Imagine our spring delight when last year, a relatively small, probably yearling, female brought triplets out of the woods ( 12% occurrence). This picture was a little later in the summer. We were amazed but gratified that this mom was able to feed and protect all three.

Saturday, January 26, 2008


I love these rock formations in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. I'm not sure why they're called hoodoos but the term seems perfect. I'm now exactly half a year's rotation from the trip that included this hike and it's time to finish the story that I started then, a novella. It's funny to think that I was carrying pieces of the story under my hat then that had not yet found the page. The trip was actually an MFA workshop with five other writers and a professor. You can see things in and among those hoodoos. Click on the picture to blow it up and take a good look. What do you see?

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Just Like Las Vegas

The current stock market volatility (roller coaster style) is cyclical (but unpredictable) and it feeds media frenzy in the same manner as a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. My demographic puts me in the class of an investor somewhat reliant in the future on the integrity of a system that has some loathsome aspects. Many of the decisions that affect the direction of the market are made by Wall Street professionals whose goals are extremely short term. What profit can be turned today? What scheme will result in a big return for those closest to the deal? The long horizon of the rest of "us" is not primary. Many folks who don't even think about the stock market are affected by it. Teachers and professors count on pensions that are in large part tied into the stock market. As to the individual investor, in order to outpace inflation, one just about has to have some savings invested in equities (stocks). Relatively safe money market funds do not beat inflation. The tragedy of these big drops is that tons of folks who can least afford losses panic and cash out rather than gritting their teeth to wait for the next up cycle. If an investor has a diversified portfolio and can resist the urge to try and time the market fluctuations, patience is the primary strategy. For those inclined toward Vegas type thrills, timing the highs and lows provides the same kind of rush and, often, the same result at the end of the day. Busted!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Kitties, Too

My last post may have given the impression that I was exclusively a dog person. Not so! Here are two guys, Woody and Lucky, that share our home along with our Benji-looking mutt, Casey. Lucky gained his name from circumstances. First, he was the "outside cat." He showed up one day as a pencil-thin stray kitten hiding under our deck. We had two cats already and decided to take him to a humane shelter for adoption. On the way (on the freeway), he pooped in his crate and when my wife stopped to extricate him to clean up, he bolted through her hands, but she caught him by a hind foot and held on; otherwise, he'd have been into the bush and probably never seen again. When she arrived at the shelter, it was closed. So, he was returned to our home and we decided he was simply a lucky cat. It was spring and we fed him and enjoyed his company on the deck everyday. When November arrived, we let him in the house and he decided that's where he would stay (at first, not a popular move in the eyes of our two older, now departed, indoor felines though they "accepted" him within a few weeks). The other guy is Woody. Anyone have an idea what kind of cat he might be? He's a mix and looks like his dad who we were told was not Siamese.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Read Merle's Door

Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote is a great read-but then I am commenting from the perspective of dog person and outdoor enthusiast. The book opens with the author encountering Merle at a put-in for a long river run. He gives Merle, then an eight month old stray but friendly pup, the choice of accompanying the group. Merle chooses and the two are together for the next thirteen years. The author lives near Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the book is laced with tales of hikes and hunts (he characterizes himself as an ethical hunter and says the only meat he eats is that which he has hunted). He makes his living as a writer and his work has appeared in several national publications (e.g. Outside). His home is not actually Jackson Hole (where Dick Cheney owns a spread) but Allen, a smaller settlement for the relatively impecunious. Some dog training lore and researched speculation on the evolution of canid domestication is interspersed but not to a point of distraction from the primary narrative, Kerasote's relationship with Merle. Oh, don't worry, there is also reasonable devotion to the presence of human friends and a little about his love life.