Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Coal sludge: clean and sparkly!

The way the "clean coal" cheerleaders sis-boom-bah, you'd think emissions are the only thing about burning coal that is the least bit troublesome. They conveniently avoid discussing the impacts of extracting the (non-renewable) raw materials and post-combustion byproducts like toxic coal sludge, 5.4 million cubic yards of which escaped an 80-acre impoundment via a breached retaining wall last week in Kingston, Tennessee, flooding hundreds of acres of community land and waterways.

The National Research Council estimates that coal plants in America produce 129 million tons of post-combustion byproducts a year, the second-largest waste stream in the country, after municipal solid waste.

Hurray for clean coal!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Owl prowl

I guess the owl Christmas card was an omen. Friday night, we were on an evening wildlife safari on the dirt roads in the woods on my parents' farm. My niece spotted this screech owl in a chinaberry tree. We were in a very loud pickup truck about 5 feet from the branch it was sitting on. We watched it through the driver's side window for about five minutes, then decided to drive back to the house and get our cameras.

When we returned, the owl was sitting in exactly the same spot. Even with the noise and with my niece and I snapping flash photos, it didn't budge. My brother even talked to it. After a few minutes of posing for its closeup, the owl flew to a branch about 5-6 feet higher in the tree. My brother thought the bird might be sick. Dad's guess was that it was young and inexperienced with nosy people in pickup trucks.

This photo is one that my niece took. Mine were terrible.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Old Christmas card

A good one. Owls. Who doesn't love 'em? Mice, maybe.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

From the archives

Found this postcard among my "keepsakes."

Frequent surprises await the Blue Ridge Parkway traveler as deer and occasionally a bear pause to forage on the beautiful mountaintop highway. 1972.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Laotian rock rat

Thought to have become extinct 11 million years ago, the Laotian rock rat is still among the world of the living, in Southeast Asia's Mekong, along with all kinds of other creatures unknown until recently. I love rodents, and this ratty-squirrelly combo is no exception. It's like a squirrel compromised and got a more conservative tail-do, and a rat decided to grow his out a little. The fur looks sooooo soft. I'd love to see one of these little guys dangling from my bird feeder. I'd be shooing the birds away.

Conservation International ranks this region among its top five "most threatened biodiversity hotspots in the world." Talk about your dubious distinctions. Click here to see a few cool photos, including a blindingly green snake and a crazy-hot-pink millipede.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Red-bellied woodpecker

Just before this guy stopped by the suet feeder, a marauding squirrel made off with a mouthful. The squirrel was guilty, apparently, of leaving the cage door open.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tufted titmouse

This was my first real attempt at birding with the new camera. It was late-day and my hands weren't steady. Plus, little birdies almost never sit still. Ideally, I'll try shooting with a tripod—some day when I can camp out long enough for them to ignore me and go about their business.

The day before yesterday I filled all the feeders for the first time in forever. I didn't feed at all last winter. That was a matter of economics. But now that I have the new camera, it's a must. I'll make it part of our "entertainment budget." I filled the hanging feeder pictured here with cardinal/songbird mix, one tray feeder with black oil sunflower, the finch feeder with black thistle, and I hung two suets. No one got wise to them yesterday, but today everybody found 'em. I saw:
  • Blue jay on suet (I expect the downy woodpeckers will find it soon)
  • Titmice and cardinals at hanging feeder
  • Towhee at tray feeder
Looking forward to more adventures in photography. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chasing unicorns and clean coal

I heard Al Gore being interviewed on the radio today about my favorite topic: that fabled "clean coal" the industry would have us believe is already powering our salvation from global warming. The way you hear everyone prattling on about it all the time, you'd think it was more than a hypothetical.

So it was music to my ears when Al told NPR's Robert Siegel: "If it can be created, if it can be paid for, if it works, then wonderful. But let's don't pretend that it exists now. It does not."

Finally, I didn't have to stick my fingers in my ears upon hearing the words "clean coal" and say: La-la-la-la-la-la-la!

Then later tonight ... the Reality Coalition aired this ad on TV.

Even when it tastes bad, sometimes reality is just the tonic you need. Drink up, people!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Yellow-berried nandina

Nandina domestica 'Leucocarpa'
Today, J.C. Raulston Arboretum

Monday, December 1, 2008

What are you looking at?

I upgraded my camera last week and gave it a trial run while visiting The Farm for Thanksgiving. It has a great 20x zoom that allowed me to get closer to this gal than she would've liked otherwise.

I can just envision her saying, "Good day, sir. I said good DAY!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One of these things is not like the other

Remember that game where you have to circle the item in a sequence that doesn't belong?

These photos were taken in Utah—three of them are natural wonders in Canyonlands National Park. The odd man out is the row of oil derricks. As a parting blow from our Commander-in-Grief, 50,000 acres of oil leases near Canyonlands and Arches National Parks will go on the auction block Dec. 19.
"This is the fire sale, the Bush administration's last great gift to the oil and gas industry," said Stephen Bloch, a staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "The tracts of land offered here, next to Arches National Park or above Desolation Canyon, these are the crown jewels of America's lands that the BLM is offering to the highest bidder."
Thanks, Georgie!

Mesa arch, Canyonlands National Park
Oil derricks in Utah
Pothole Point, Canyonlands National Park
Ancient Indian petroglyphs, Canyonlands National Park
Royalty-free photos taken from CNP's Web site

Friday, November 7, 2008

Keeping hope alive

I'm not sure if there will be firm numbers on how many thousands of people volunteered for the recent political campaigns. But I believe it's safe to say that there was unprecedented involvement. As President-Elect Obama said in his victory speech Tuesday night, there is still work to do.

I predict that in the wake of this election, volunteerism will surge—among young people as well as older ones who had lost their faith. People longed for empowerment, and their efforts paid off.

No matter what issues are important to you—poverty, hunger, environmental protection, health care reform, youth mentoring, literacy, care of the aging, etc.—I think we've all learned that even an hour or two of one's time can be influential. Let us all resolve to contribute as much as we can afford. As the great fighter Muhammad Ali wisely said: "Service to others is the payment you make for your space here on earth."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Monday, November 3, 2008


Sunday was the annual fall cookout in our neighborhood. It was an unexpected but delightful surprise to be joined this year by the adorable Cactus. With grace and patience, he gave gentle rides to many of the kids. Cactus is owned by one of our neighbors, who keeps him at a remote location. I wish Cactus could live here! But alas, the city only allows dogs and cats in this part of town.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paving over paradise

Back in May, I wrote about an ongoing plant rescue taking place at the site of a future road extension project in Raleigh. Local conservationists and plant lovers were granted permission from city and state officials to dig and claim plants from the forested site—from diminutive spring wildflowers to larger shrubs and trees. Over a period of a few years, hundreds of people did just that. Tom Harville of the North Carolina Native Plant Society has compiled a list of at least 70 species of native plants that were collected. Tom took this photo of the site this week, where construction of the road is finally under way.

"I am saddened by this loss for many reasons, but I take a bit of solace in the fact that we did move thousands of native plants that would otherwise be gone," he says. "It also reinforces the idea that when we find a site like this, we should not procrastinate. If you know of a site that is going to be developed, let me know—please!" (You may contact Tom at tomhar@bellsouth.net.)

I'd like to use this forum to thank Tom for his tireless efforts throughout the project—for showing up mornings and afternoons to help us navigate the woods (in all seasons, rain or shine); for locating, identifying and pointing out specimens; for retrieving lost trowels, gloves and keys; and not least of all, for securing permission from the proper authorities and seamlessly coordinating the effort. He must be a real smooth talker to convince landowners that we're not all a bunch of loonies!

Black River, Sampson County, North Carolina

This is where I grew up. I'm a little bit homesick.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Willow-leaved sunflower

I took a quick snapshot of my perennial sunflowers before I went on vacation. I'd hoped to get a better photo when I returned, but most of them have flopped and gone to seed now. The willow-leaved sunflower, Helianthus salicifolius, is among several native perennial sunflowers that are, as garden author Peter Loewer puts it, “akin to many American originals: tough, rugged and, like the American skyscraper, tall and bold.”

The North Carolina Botanical Garden selected a cousin of the willow-leaved sunflower, the swamp sunflower (H. angustifolius), as the 2007 Wildflower of the Year, calling it “the giant exclamation point at the end of the growing season.” As its name suggests, swamp sunflower lives in the wild in swamps, marshes and savannas, but it will thrive in wet to average soil.

In exchange for a self-addressed stamped envelope, the Botanical Garden will give you free seeds of its Wildflower of the Year selections. The 2008 flower is white wood-aster. Send your request with SASE to: 2008 NCWFOY, North Carolina Botanical Garden, CB 3375 Totten Center, UNC-CH, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3375. I don't know whether they still have any sunflower seed, but it wouldn't hurt to ask. You can e-mail them at ncbg@unc.edu.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Please press rewind

Back to work today. Sigh.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Happy camper

Husband. Flounder. 10/23/08. Lea Island, N.C.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Black skimmers ...

... at the south end of Lea Island tonight before sunset. According to Audubon North Carolina, there are 50-75 breeding pairs of black skimmers here during nesting season, along with the greatest number of least terns on the North Carolina coast. As best I can tell from The Google, Audubon and cooperating conservation groups are in negotion to buy this private island. I kayaked along the marsh side today and explored the beach on foot. Found two nice whelk shells, a sand dollar and an olive for Mama. Paddled back toward the inlet late afternoon, against a healthy wind, and met up with my brother and husband, who were fishing at the inlet. Shortly after I beached the boat, Ian caught a nice flounder and my brother followed suit with a bluefish. After sunset, we headed back to the cottage in the skiff (with my kayak as a hood ornament). Choppy and cold. Wet pants. Wet sneakers. Daddy had homemade shrimp gumbo waiting. Perfect. Tomorrow's our last full day. Sad. But a high of 71 is forecast, so at least it should be a nice one. And we have all vowed not to let another five years pass before taking a weeklong vacation. What were we thinking?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The stuff I don't know

Dad and I were on the little bike path again today and I saw two peculiar seed pods on a yucca plant I couldn't identify. They were eggplanty/brownish in color, sort of like a cucumber in shape, with three flat sides, about 5 inches in length. Of course, I stole one of them, brought it home and cut it into slices to see the insides. It smelled rank, and I didn't taste it, even though I have this bad habit of sampling wild plants. Once, I was on a field trip with a busload of naturalists. I saw a wildflower that had umbels, like something in the parsley family but not Queen Anne's lace. So I snapped a stem and touched the tip of my tongue to it. It did taste rather parsley-esque. Back on the bus, I raided the stash of field guides. The mystery plant was Conium maculatum: poison hemlock, which is said to cause respiratory collapse and death when consumed in any quantity. Yet I survived.

Before sunset I watched a heron in the marsh for a solid half hour through the scope. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting for it to strike a fish. I was going to give it 5 minutes, which turned into 10, and then 20. I felt that if the bird could wait, so could I. In a half hour it never moved a leg. First my neck started to hurt, then my shoulders, then my feet. And I was cold. And hungry. I gave up. Now here's the thing. You'd think as much time as I spent staring at that damn bird, I'd be able to identify it handily with a field guide. If I had to lay money, I'd say an adult little blue heron. But boy, do I feel ignorant.

Sitting on the table in front of me is a slab of a tri-color confection. I can quickly and easily identify it as Banana Split Fudge. Much tastier than poison hemlock. Decidedly less dangerous.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Postcards from the edge

These are the steps leading to the beach at high tide. Crazy, huh? We like to live dangerously. What is this thing they call vacation? It seems familiar. Like maybe in another lifetime we were here.

Ian has caught two bluefish in the surf, one yesterday and a larger one today. We baked the one from yesterday and shared it among the four of us. It was maybe 12-14 inches long. We are light eaters. Hah. Today he caught the smallest flounder he'd ever seen, about the size of a sand dollar. Needless to say, he sent that little fella back to its home.

Dad and I rode the beach cruisers yesterday and today. There are few things that make you feel more like a child than riding a bike with coaster brakes. The first time I rode, I forgot to tie my laces and one got hung in the pedal axle. That was a blast from the past. Daddy has a few aches and pains but he is spry at 78. I think he gets more exercise than I do.

It has been warm (for the season) and sunny so far. Yesterday, the high was about 69. Before sunset I took a swim. Bracing! I tried again today but I seized up from the cold. Hightailed it right back out of there.

As for birding, I'm way out of my depth. All those gulls and terns and plovers and sandpipers just confuse the hell out of me. Winter and summer plumages, juveniles and adults, males and females. The sanderlings are well-known to me though. They are in winter plumage. Is it too soon for that? I guess it will be winter soon.

I sneezed all day today, though according to the weather channel the pollen count is low. Mama gave me a Zyrtec tablet but I think it must have been a sugar pill. Tomorrow will be cooler but still sunny. There is a public kayak launch three blocks away. I think I see a marsh outing in the near future.
(Daddy just looked over my shoulder and asked me what this was. I said it was my blog. He said, "What's a blog?" I said it's like a diary without a key. I told him he was in it. He said that was fine, that I could write anything about him that I wanted to. Hmmm. I will have to ask Mama to tell me a scandalous story from his past.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Prize jams and jellies

I'm on vacation this week, so I'll miss the annual State Fair. I found these photos I took of the food judging a few years ago. I had a "press pass" so I was allowed to come in and observe. Fifty judges put their taste buds to work sampling homemade canned vegetables, preserves, cakes, cookies, breads, pies, mincemeat, salsa, pickles, ketchup and other edibles in nearly 500 categories.

Culinary superintendent Charlotte Wyatt told me the staff keeps plenty of cold water, coffee, celery and saltines on hand to help judges cleanse their palates between bites. Sometimes the cake tasters will give a few of their leftovers to the "pickle people" and vice versa, "just to give them a little change in their taste," she says. Unfortunately, some foods aren't in their ideal state. "I admire the judges who judge a cold biscuit," said Wyatt, with a laugh. No exhibitors or other people are present for the judging, although Wyatt says there's been some talk of letting the culinary exhibitors watch the judging from behind glass.

I took these photos back before I had a decent camera. Also, the flash issue was a problem. Still, I like the image of the ladies, all in a row, sampling the cakes and cookies. Yum.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Mrs. Rosa's dahlias

This is the daughter of Mrs. Rosa Hicks of Banner Elk, N.C., standing next to her mother's dahlias at a family reunion. Rosa is the widow of famed storyteller Ray Hicks. Mrs. Hicks and her flowers are a treasure. I interviewed her for a 2007 magazine article, excerpted here:
Rosa Hicks, 76, who has lived her life in the high country of Avery County, was one of the North Carolina farm women immortalized in Lawrence's book "Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins," published after the author's death. Hicks has advertised in the N.C. Agricultural Review for more than 50 years, and still sells dahlias through the mail and at her house on Old Mountain Road in Banner Elk. Her offerings from the 1950s and 60s read like an encyclopedia of North Carolina's treasured wildflowers: Dutchman's breeches, Ladyslippers, trilliums, bellworts, trout lilies, mayapples and galax.

"Mostly all the flowers we advertised were around the house on our place," she said. "But some we had to go to the woods to get." Back then, Hicks swapped plants with "other flower lovers" and sometimes bartered for printed feed sacks, which she used to sew pillowslips and children's shirts and dresses. Though she enjoyed trading plants and says it sometimes felt like a hobby, the money she earned was—and still is—a vital source of household income.

Elizabeth Lawrence also wrote a passage about Ray Hicks and his thoughts on snakebite.
"People don't understand snakebite," he said. "There are herbs for it, but turpentine and whiskey are the surest cures." He knows a man who has three scars on his face and twelve on his legs from being bitten when he was gathering ginseng. "He never goes where snakes are without taking three bottles of turpentine and a pint of pure good whiskey with him. When a snake strikes he pours the turpentine on the wound, a bottle at a time, until all the poison is drawn out. Then he drinks the whiskey and lies down. If you drink the whiskey first it will kill you."
You can read some of the memories of Ray and Rosa Hicks here.

Mrs. Hicks' flower trade is pretty informal. There are no fancy catalogs. I mailed her $15 last year and asked her to send me as many dahlia tubers as she'd like for that price. I received quite a few fat ones in great condition. They were mixed, so I had to wait for them to bloom to see how they'd look. I know that's not for everyone, but I like to be surprised. And knowing how long they've been in her family makes it extra special.

Should you wish, you may write to her to inquire about her flower sales: Rosa Hicks, 218 Old Mountain Road, Banner Elk, NC 28604.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Cecropia moth caterpillar

This is one of several caterpillars I raised on sweetgum leaves a few summers ago. Wish I had gotten a better photo, but at least you can see the beautiful colors. An entomologist offered to give me some this year, but they'd already been started on sour cherry and were large enough that he doubted they'd make the transition to sweetgum. I didn't have access to cherry. I'll let you in on a little secret. I don't have a sweetgum tree either. But there's one behind a fast food restaurant not too far from here. That's where I "borrowed" the branches when I was raising this guy. There's a much better and more dramatic photo of a cat here and an adult here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Monday, October 6, 2008

Armchair traveler: the Canadian Rockies

My friend Tracy likes to live large. While on a business trip to Calgary last week, he took a spur trail to Banff National Park and points beyond.

Word of the Day: "katabatic wind," which means, says he, "a [expletive] cold wind that blows off a glacier"!

Photos, copyright 2008, Tracy Fulghum
[top] Sunrise in Banff from the 9-1/2 floor of Banff Springs Inn
[bottom] Lake Agnes (he thinks) near Lake Louise

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Abandoned macaque finds a friend

I think this might be one of the most poignant photos I've ever seen. Click on the image for the whole story.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Grandfather Mountain still in good hands

One of the biggest environmental success stories in North Carolina this year is the announcement Monday that Grandfather Mountain has been purchased by the state. Put up for sale recently by the heirs of Hugh Morton, the mountain and surrounding wilderness areas will become the home of North Carolina's newest state park—2,601 acres!

A steal at $12 million, Grandfather Mountain is not only a state treasure, it is a national and world treasure. Designated an International Biosphere Reserve, the mountain and its backcountry contain 16 distinct ecological communities and 73 rare and endangered species, including the Rafinesque's big-eared bat, Carolina northern flying squirrel, bog turtle and Appalachian yellow-bellied sapsucker.

Tourists know Grandfather Mountain for its most famous attraction, Morton's Mile High Swinging Bridge. When I was a tot, that bridge scared the daylights out of me, but on my most recent visit, I was able to walk (with trepidation) to the middle before turning back. Another beloved attraction was the late Mildred the Bear. The Morton family will continue to operate the tourist attraction through a nonprofit organization supported by money from the sale.

We have Hugh Morton to thank for his conservation ethic and stewardship of Grandfather Mountain. And we have his heirs to thank for selling to the State of North Carolina, at a bargain, a chunk of land that would make billionaire developers weak in the knees.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


I know many of my wonderful neighbors, but I'm not always aware of all their unique talents. Yesterday I discovered that Debra, who lives down the street from us, makes and sells beautiful handmade paper goods. An artist and ecologist, she creates whimsical cards, albums, journals and other crafts with nature themes. You can view (and purchase) Debra's wonderful work via her Web site, Paperbird. She also does custom designs and orders. Pop in for a visit. I think you'll like it!

Eastern bluebird
copyright 2008
Debra Shore

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Gulf fritillary caterpillar

Found this gulf fritillary caterpillar crawling on my hops vine one night last week. The passionflower vine—the host plant for the larvae of gulf fritillary butterflies—is nearby. I had not realized that anything was feeding on it (we're talking serious vine traffic jam—moonflower, hops, passionflower and butterfly vine), so I was excited to find this caterpillar looking for a place to make that final molt (they usually travel away from the host plant once they're "full up").

.... and so ......... the next day I found the caterpillar in its "J" stage—hanging underneath our front porch awning. If you click to enlarge the photo, you'll see something going on around its head. I think these guys shed head-first, so I figured this was the beginning of the molt (or a serious case of the ick). We had a cold snap and it stayed like this for about a day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And on the third day: Houston, we have pupation!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The cat alarm clock, a work in progress

In theory, a cat toy could make a great alarm clock. That is, if your cat jumped on the bed precisely at the time you desired to wake up every morning and started batting his toy around the foot of the bed. As most cat owners know, this is almost never going to happen.

Not only is my "jingly-bell feather" alarm highly variable, it is very hard to turn off, and there is no snooze feature. In the throes of sleepiness, my solution is a little sleight-of-hand. I snatch the toy and quickly stash it under my pillow. Max is baffled and rather quickly exits the mattress.

IF you could set the alarm for the same time every morning and IF you could develop reliable snooze technology (getting up, throwing the toy down the hallway, then waiting for the cat to bring the toy back to the bed exactly 9 minutes later), then the cat alarm clock would surely be a hot ticket item. The folks in R&D should get right on that.

For some non-feline related snooze button lore and advice, read on:

Why are snooze alarms on a 9-minute cycle, rather than a more logical 10-minute increment?

Jeff Elder at Jewish World Review offers one answer: "By setting the snooze time to 9 minutes, modern digital alarm clocks only needs to watch the last digit of the time. So, if you hit snooze at 6:45, the alarm goes off again when the last digit hits 4 — at 7:54. They couldn't make the snooze period 10 minutes, or the alarm would go off right away — or the clock would take more circuitry."

And how many of us actually use the snooze?

More from Elder: "If you smack a snooze button, you ain't sleepin' alone. According to USA Today, more than a third of American adults hit the snooze button every morning an average of three times. Snooziest group? The 25- to 34-year-olds — 57 percent of them hit the snooze button daily. Peppiest risers? It's the seniors. Only 10 percent of Americans over 65 regularly use their snooze button."

For those who can't resist postponing their day just a little longer, psychology professor Ken Carter has this advice:

"I always tell my students to avoid the snooze at all costs! It's basically forcing yourself to relive the worst part of your day over and over and over again."

Oh, Dr. Ken. You feel my pain.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Japanese anemone

The first time I've ever had a Japanese anemone bloom before I killed it! This one's happy as can be, in fairly moist 2/3 shade, keeping company with an ostrich fern.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Carla revisted

Hurricane Carla, for whom I am not named, slammed the Texas coast Sept. 11, 1961, and at least for now, holds the record for the highest storm surge in the Lone Star state. Writes Jeff Masters' at Weather Underground: Carla was a Category 4 hurricane with 145 mph winds at landfall, and drove a 10 foot or higher storm surge to a 180-mile stretch of Texas coast. A maximum storm surge of 22 feet was recorded at Port Lavaca, Texas. Despite the fact that the center of Carla hit over 120 miles southwest of Houston, the hurricane drove a 15-foot storm surge into the bays along the south side of the city.

Curiosity compelled me to learn more about the hurricane with my name. I found a colorful recollection of Carla by Texan Adela Kutch Farley, who was 31 years old at the time. When the stormwaters sucked their back door from the hinges, her husband Virgil shored up the front door with boards to keep the cows on the porch from smashing in. Adela, Virgil, the kids and the dog made for the attic, where they braced against the spray of saltwater through the roof vents. After the storm, rattlesnakes were everywhere, she said, "blinded by saltwater." "I hope and pray Carla was the 100-year-hurricane for us," she wrote in a special storm retrospective in the Jan. 6, 2005 online edition of the Palicios Beacon.

Though the "during" and "after" parts of Farley's account are evocative, my favorite anecdote is about her pre-storm restlessness. A woman after my own heart, Adela started cooking.
"Sunday night before Carla came in, I couldn't sleep, so I got up and started frying chicken and baked two cakes, as I knew we would be without electricity and water. When I turned the kitchen light on, I was met by millions of ants on the cabinet and crawling up the wall on both sides of the window, up to the attic. Were the ants trying to tell me something? I sprayed and sprayed everywhere, cleaned them up and started cooking."
If my math is correct, and if she is still alive, Mrs. Farley is around 77 now. Judging from my map, Palicios, known as "The City by the Sea," looks to be smack dab at the halfway point between Galveston and Corpus Christi. As Hurricane Ike approaches, mandatory evacuation has been issued for Palicios. I hope Mrs. Farley is far from there.

An interesting TV footnote:
All those intrepid (or foolish) wind-battered reporters who must suffer the obligatory "seaside report" have Dan Rather to thank. Says Wikipedia: Then little-known newsman Dan Rather reported live from the Galveston Seawall during the storm, an act that would be imitated by later reporters. Hurricane Carla marked the first live TV broadcast of a hurricane: "Our graphics were a little unpolished, but that day we did something that had never been done before: put a live radar image of a hurricane on television," said Rather.

Photo of Hurricane Carla aftermath from MSNBC archive
I.D. of woman unknown

Mexican sunflower & bengal tiger canna

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is the answer really blowing in the wind?

As if the constant blather about "clean coal" weren't irritating enough, here's another energy "solution" that has me scratching my head: the flying turbine. Hyped by the Discovery Channel, the project is spearheaded by a dude named Fred Ferguson, a "Canadian engineer specializing in airships." He envisions:
"...launching millions of helium-filled aerial turbines to break the world's dependence on fossil-fueled energy. These turbines, held by tethers, would float up into high-wind conditions where their spin will power generators with electricity flowing through the tethers. By harnessing wind energy properly, the team believes they can reduce the amount of fossil fuel used today. According to their research, 20 percent of the power generated by global winds in a year could meet the world's annual energy needs six times over."
Now, though I love science, I'm not a scientist. What I don't know about science—and pretty much every other subject—could give chronic acid reflux to a black hole (interestingly, a Yale scientist is purporting that black holes have their limits). Still, this idea sounds pretty kooky to me.

Here's what a fellow on a bat Listserve I subscribe to wrote in a recent post to BATLINE:
Of all the farcical ideas we hear, this looks to be on the sillier extreme. Also somebody can't do sums. On inland sites you are lucky to get a wind factor of 20%, say 30% to prevent an argument. Therefore, to supply the UK average load, these would have to have a peak generating capacity of 20% of 40GW times 3.3 equals 26GW. This is about the off-peak "base load" which is already supplied by generators which can't be shut down, so these turbines would have to be shut down (how) in off-peak periods which makes a mess of the wind factor figure above.

In gales, these assemblies would have to be winched down into protective hangars to prevent damage. You can't "feather" a balloon like a turbine blade.

Elementary mechanics show that the torque generated by the horizontal axis turbine (old technology) has to be counteracted to stop the generator spinning as well. More helium balloons and guy wires. Helium leaks through plastic balloon material and would need to be piped up to replace this loss.

Say these were huge and could generate 20 KW, the UK would need 1,300,000 of these with hawsers, cables and pipes up to 300 feet. Apart from the visual amenity question, That would be a considerable human, let alone wildlife, hazard.

Reworking the figures for a more realistic practical wind factor (including gale shutdowns) of 10%, the UK would need more like 4,000,000 balloons, turbines, hawsers, cabling and hangars. And I haven't even started on public health and safety. :-)

David Brinicombe
North Devon, UK
I'm one of those people who "can't do sums," but D.B.'s argument sounds sound.

OK, by now (and probably way before now), you're probably wondering what the hell this photo has to do with turbines? It's Ferguson's turbine "tether test":
"The team tested the strength and conductivity of two competing tethers by using them to lift a string of cars, each car weighing about a ton. The cars were hung from 15-foot sections of steel, then Vectran tethers."
Does anyone else find it ironic that they used automobiles?

The facts of life

For all the entomologists in my life (and let's be honest, everyone else too).

*original source
*shout out to hipparchia for the find—love the blog

Ailanthus webworm moth on dahlia

Too lazy to pore over my bug guides, I e-mailed this photo to my trusty friend Mike, who ID'd the insect as an Ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva punctella). "One of my favorite little moths," he wrote. He said they are commonly seen this time of year on goldenrod. I want a better macro lens. Waaaaahhh! This is a species dahlia—D. atropurpureathat I bought from Old House Gardens this spring. It hasn't grown as much as I'd hoped. Maybe next year. It got knocked silly during T.S. Hanna last weekend—from the torrents, not the wind. We got 4.75 inches of rain on Sunday. Another 2 inches fell today.

The weeds are taking over now that there's moisture. That cybernetic organism nutgrass (keeps coming back, just like the Terminator) has invaded even more beds. It is creeping in from the lawn. Bermuda grass is snaking underneath the agave. I worked it a little bit and managed to avoid falling into the prickly pear cactus. I went out this evening and weeded in the drizzle for about a half hour—until my Keds got good and waterlogged. I came back in soaked and defeated. Nutgrass. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Note to self

Self: When you are weeding next to the agave—taking great care not to skewer your eyeballs on its fearsome spines—be sure to keep your balance. Otherwise, you might fall ass backward into the prickly pear cactus hiding under the gigantic brugmansia.

I'm just saying.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hitch up the camper!

I found this postcard in an old trunk belonging to my Dad's mother, who died almost 20 years ago. It was blank and contained an uncanceled 1-cent stamp. Seemed like an appropriate image to usher in the Labor Day weekend.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Change the margins

On her environmental blog ChangeTheMargins.com, writer/actress Tamara Krinsky says, "I've always tried to save paper. Not because I was an environmental revolutionary. But because I was poor. When I found myself going through reams of paper on a regular basis as I was printing out drafts of articles and audition scripts, one of the ways I realized I could save some cash was by making my margins as narrow as possible. Narrower margin settings = more text/page = less paper used = fewer $$ on my credit card at Office Depot."

Since then, however, Krinsky actually has turned into an environmental activist, spreading her message to help people save money and natural resources. She has even started a petition to encourage Microsoft to change the default margins in Word from 1.25" on each side to .75".

According to a study done by the Penn State Green Destiny Council, reducing margins to .75” on all sides uses 4.75 percent less paper.

I have to buy a lot of paper for my job, and I need all the help I can get! I already use both sides of printer paper before it goes into the recycling bin, which helps my pocketbook and the environment. But I had totally forgotten about Change the Margins, which I read about quite a while ago. It popped into my head today out of the blue (or perhaps out of the green). I've decided to go one better and shrink my margins to .5". My new mantra before I press "Command P" will be Change the margins. Change the margins. Change the margins.

Margin-changing is only a smidgen of the great content on Krinsky's blog.

Click here to hear Krinsky interviewed on NPR.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Possum shrimp

I stumbled across this image on wikipedia. This mysid is described as a shrimp-like creature in the critter tribe Mysidacea (I'm using my own little descriptor, as the taxonomy confused me). They are colloquially known as opossum shrimp because females have a brood pouch. Anyway, I wish I could say I had taken this photo.