Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Mid-Winter's Day!

Welcome to Mid-Winter’s Day!  The Solstice!  The day on which Winter’s back is broken and the sun starts climbing back into the sky.. 

 "Now is the solstice of the year.
Winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Join together 'neath the mistletoe,
By the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Praise be to the distant sister sun,
Joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out."

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Another Monday, Another Mess

Watch out on Monday, December 19, 2016.

It snowed - a lot - today.

Tomorrow it will be 50F and raining.  That means snow melt and flooding.

Then the temperature will plummet into the teens Sunday night.  All of that water in the road will turn into ice.

Expect a very slow drive Monday morning, and don't be surprised if there is an hour delay until the roads can be salted.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Monday December 12 - Late Opening

It looks like the warmer air will push the snow north of us - again.

There will probably be a late opening everywhere in Connecticut, but unless you live in the far northwest corner you will eventually have to go to school.

So do your homework.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016 - Do Your Homework

Because if your homework is prepared, you will be able to sit back and enjoy the snow day in Connecticut.

It is still too early to be positive, but all suggestions are that the eastern and western hills, as well as the northern half of the Connecticut Valley will receive enough snow to close schools. 

I'll put the odds of a late opening at 100%, and of school closings at over 50% as of Thursday evening.

Check back on Saturday.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

More of the Same - Wednesday.

Another messy drive on Wednesday, December 7 - Pearl Harbor Day.

Expect there to be school.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

VERY Messy Monday - December 5, 2016 [Updated Sunday night]

I now think that the central Connecticut Valley schools will have a late opening on December 5.  The morning drive time will be very messy.

If driving, allow extra time.

Students, do your homework anyway.  No matter what, it will not be a good day for sandals and shorts.

Teachers  allow for the possibility of shortened classes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Snow!

As of right now, it looks like we will see some snow on Thursday.  It might even cover the ground.

It will not affect school.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hurricane? Meh. 10/6/2016

There are about 2 dozen computer programs that try to predict the movement of hurricanes based on hundreds of variables.   

Here are the predictions for Hurricane Matthew: None of the models now show the storm hitting or even coming close to New England.  It now looks like there is a big high pressure area over us and the storm bounce off it and head back out to sea, then loop around and slam Florida again, just like Hurricane Jeanne in 2004But....

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Hurricane? Not Likely 10/5/2016

There are about 2 dozen computer programs that try to predict the movement of hurricanes based on hundreds of variables.   

Here are the predictions for Hurricane Matthew 4 days out: None of the models now show the storm hitting or even coming close to New England.  It now looks like the storm will head back out to seaBut....

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hurricane? More Likely. 10/042016

There are about 2 dozen computer programs that try to predict the movement of hurricanes based on hundreds of variables.   

Here are the predictions for Hurricane Matthew 5 days out: There is anything from several chances for a direct hit over Connecticut to a total miss.  The average of all predictions is that it will now come closer to the coast and definitely give us rain.  More of the models show the storm actually hitting land over eastern ConnecticutBut...

Monday, October 3, 2016

Hurricane? Maybe. 10/03/2016

General weather systems are fairly easy to track.

For the most part, all we have to remember is that warm, humid air masses move from the Gulf of Mexico to the northeast.  Cool, dry air masses move from northern Canada to the southeast.

Then it is a matter of when and where they will collide.  There are complicated computer programs that track the speed of the air masses, as well as high pressure systems (denser, colder and/or drier air) that can block the movement of the air masses, and low pressure systems (less dense, warmer and/or moister air) that can pull the air masses in.

Usually the computers have the generalities figured out a week ahead, and the specifics a few days before the weather reaches us.

Then there are hurricanes.  Hot, dry, dusty air is swept up from the Sahara Desert by the Easterly Trade Winds and blown out westward over the hot waters of the tropical Atlantic where huge amounts of water are evaporated.  As the water condenses at the top of the clouds, it releases tremendous amounts of energy that fuel more evaporation.

OK, moving west.  But then the storm usually drifts northward through the islands and gets caught by the prevailing westerlies which might blow it back out into the Atlantic.  Or not.  It bounces off high pressure systems and gets pulled by low pressure systems.  It becomes very difficult to predict the path.

From Weather Underground
There are about 2 dozen computer programs that try to predict the movement of hurricanes based on hundreds of variables.   

Here are the predictions for Hurricane Matthew one week out: There is anything from a direct hit over Connecticut to a total miss.  The average of all predictions is that it will brush the coast and give us only rain.  But...

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Good News For Devils!

Not so good for creationists.  For years now Tasmanian devils have been afflicted with a highly lethal and contagious form of cancer (devil facial tumor disease or DFTD) that is almost 100% fatal.

Tasmanian devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world. They display significant aggression toward one another, which often involves biting on the face. This sometimes transmits DFTD, one of only three known forms of contagious cancer.

Twenty years since its discovery, DFTD has wiped out an estimated 80 percent of devils in Tasmania, the only place in the world where the animals live.

Now a Washington State University researcher, Andrew Storfer, and an international team of scientists have  discovered that two regions in the genomes of Australia's iconic marsupials are changing in response to the disease.
It was expected that by now there would be no more devils in the wild, but they have survived.
The reasons is simple evolution.  "If a disease comes in and knocks out 90 percent of the individuals, you might predict the 10 percent who survive are somehow genetically different," said study co-author Paul Hohenlohe, assistant professor of biology at the University of Idaho.
The theory (REMEMBER! A scientific theory is the best explanation for what has been observed and tested successfully.) of evolution states that those who can survive changes in the environment because of genetic variation will have offspring that can also survive. 
In other words, here is an example of evolution at work in the modern world.  Sorry, reality-deniers.

For more information, see

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Vegetables That Eat You

Well.... if you are only a few millimeters long.

The bladderworts (Utricularia radiata) are starting to bloom in Chase Pond.  These plants have small yellow flowers that float just above the water.

 They are pretty, but they aren't the most interesting thing about these plants.  The fun part is below the water.  Each bladderwort leaf is covered with little ... yep, bladders.  These small balloons have the water sucked out of them by the plant leaving a partial vacuum.

 When small aquatic crustaceans bump up against small hairs on a bladder it pops open and sucks in water and the crustacean.

Then the bladder closes up and digests the prey.


Friday, August 19, 2016

And What Do We Do With It?

All to produce a huge crop of grass - which is raked up and thrown away

Plant gardens, not lawns.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


I remember as a kid seeing pictures of the Portuguese Man-O-War, that tropical terror that resembles an old sailing ship.

Photo by Ray Ewing from the Vineyard Gazette
I read about the dangers it presents to swimmers on tropical shores with its long tentacles full of stinging cells.  I was curious about how all of these different types of animals lived together as a single organism (not knowing then that the human body is a colonial being also).

But I never expected to see one, as I don't hang around tropical shores.

Now, thanks to the climate change that certain politicians are paid to deny exists, beaches on Martha's Vineyard, in the cold North Atlantic, have been closed to swimmers because of this once-tropical animal.  

These are not the first, and definitely not the only, tropical dangers moving north with increasing atmospheric temperatures.

More news here:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Snowball's Chance

Not that long ago, the chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Environment, James Inhofe, threw a snowball to prove that climate change does not exist.  Researchers around the world have overwhelming evidence that human combustion of fossil fuels is increasing the average temperature of the atmosphere.  They have the numbers.  My students have seen those numbers and have calculated the results.  Inhofe had a snowball.

While politicians (whatever their financial motive) in this country have been sticking their heads in the sand and denying reality, other governments have taken steps to reduce their contributions to climate change.  Germany, for example, produces about 38% of their electricity through renewable sources and on sunny days gets 50% of their energy from solar panels (

New York City after Sandy
Cities are now planning how to deal with rising sea levels.  

New York Subway after Sandy
Many parts of New York and Washington are only a few feet above current sea level.  Hurricane Sandy flooded large areas of NYC.

Miami is already flooding at highest tides, without the assistance of storms.

As part of our study of topographic maps, I created a map of the future USA after the Greenland ice cap finishes melting.  Say 'goodbye', Disneyland.

The New York Times has produced an article showing just how much of major cities in the US will partly or completely disappear in the not-to-distant future. (

An interactive map from Time ( will show you how many people will be affected in your community.

Oh, and what does the US military say is the greatest threat to our security?

“The impacts of climate change may cause instability in other countries by impairing access to food and water, damaging infrastructure, spreading disease, uprooting and displacing large numbers of people, compelling mass migration, interrupting commercial activity, or restricting electricity availability,” the Pentagon writes. “These developments could undermine already-fragile governments that are unable to respond effectively or challenge currently-stable governments, as well as increasing competition and tension between countries vying for limited resources. These gaps in governance can create an avenue for extremist ideologies and conditions that foster terrorism.” (
 And our chance of surviving if the politicians have their way?  Not a snowball's chance in Hell.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Yeahh, What I Said

I forget how many times I told my students that even if Connecticut shut down all factories and all traffic, our air would still be poisonous from all of the industry upwind of us.

Now today it is official.  An article in the Hartford Courant today reports:

Bad Air Kills 168 A Year In State
Connecticut Air Pollution
Deadliest In New England


Air pollution is causing an estimated 168 deaths a year in Connecticut and sending 472 more people to doctors and hospitals for health issues like heart attacks and bronchitis, according to a study released Wednesday.
The research by experts at New York University found that approximately 9,320 deaths related to air pollution occur annually in the United States. The study, which is being published by the American Thoracic Society, focused on urban regions with concentrations of ozone and particulate pollution higher than the society's recommended health standards.
This state's air quality has improved since the 1980s, but Connecticut is routinely cited by federal monitors as having among the worst air pollution on the East Coast. The most critical pollutant is ozone.
“Connecticut has the highest ozone levels in the Northeast, which adversely impacts the health of our citizens and the quality of life in our state,” Robert Klee, Connecticut's commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said recently.
“Over 90 percent of [air pollution] emissions comes from out of state, from upwind states,” Pirolli said.
According to the study, more people in Connecticut die each year as a result of air pollution than in any other New England state.
A major problem for Connecticut is that the state is downwind of coal- and oil-burning power plants in the Midwest and in states to the south that are sending tons of air pollutants toward it.
Connecticut joined with other states in the Northeast in 2013 asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to enforce tougher air pollution standards in nine states to the west and south that have power plants that are sending massive amounts of air pollution in Connecticut's direction.
In April, after efforts to negotiate a compromise solution failed, Connecticut and several other Northeastern states notified the EPA of their intent to sue unless the federal agency acts soon.
The out-of-state pollution problem means that Connecticut, despite efforts to cut in-state pollution, is often exceeding even the higher federal ozone standard.
The hotter the days become, the more likely it is that ozone levels will rise – an ominous scenario in this era of global warming.
“I think it could get worse,” Pirolli said.

Monday, August 8, 2016

On the Science of Appearances

People tend to get very hung up on what others look like, especially size.  There is one thing I always notice first.  The one thing that would cause me to really sit up and notice someone:

Sunday, August 7, 2016

A Coincidence

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is blooming now.   This member of the blueberry family contains methyl salicylate in the leaves, giving it that wintergreen smell and flavor.

Methyl salicylate is what is called a "counter-irritant", that is it can soothe muscle and headache pain by drawing blood to your skin.  It is why so many ointments for muscle pain smell like wintergreen.

If you happen upon the plant (and you are sure what you are looking at), try nibbling on the leaves or the berries.

For many generations plant-savvy people would make a mash of the leaves and hot water and apply it to their skin to ease the pain of sore muscles.

The smooth black bark with horizontal lines of black birch
By a not-uncommon coincidence in nature, another plant here in the northeast also contains methyl salicylate:  the black birch tree.

  In fact, until synthetic production of the chemical became cheaper, most of our supply came from birch sap.  There is also wintergreen flavored birch syrup, and birch "beer" soda.  Wintergreen.
Black birch has saw-toothed leaves

Friday, August 5, 2016

This morning on Chase Pond

I took a nice paddle around Chase Pond before breakfast this morning.  

I found a patch of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis).


And I found 2 frogs.  

One is an adult, and the other is just losing his tadpole tail now.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Otherwise known as relaxing.

This is what I have been doing instead of maintaining this blog:

I now own a small cabin on the shore of a small pond.

And I drift, and watch the birds and the flowers.

As the Water Rat said in "Wind in the Willows", "Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing--absolutely nothing--half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An Update On My Lawn

We have now gone over 2 months without significant rain.  We are 8 inches below average for the year.
Avoiding monoculture is always a good idea -
even on lawns!  Drought-proof lawn courtesy of
multiple species of plants.

As a result, my lawn is getting a bit crispy - but just a bit.

The clumps of grass that have survived my neglect for the past 34 years are brown and crisp, but the plantain, violets, and especially the thyme are doing just fine.

In fact, the thyme is looking better than it ever has.  

The result is that while my no-work lawn is not lush and green, it looks just fine.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Lawns with No Work

Istanbul on a spring evening
Reykjavik on a January afternoon
A former student just contacted me and pointed out that I have not been updating my blog lately.  He is correct;  since retiring I have been too blasted busy.  I actually anticipate those rare occasions when I have nothing to do for a few hours.  I have been collecting memories of wandering the back streets of foreign cities and eating interesting food, hiking trails in the desert and finding interesting food, and eating ice cream all around the world.

He asked me to repost my 2 rules for a no work, low expense lawn, so here they are:

Rule 1.  Have as little “lawn” as possible.
Sam rests on the rear lawn
Just enough space in front.
Unless you are running a football league or landing ultralight aircraft behind your house, or maybe raising sheep, what good does it do you?  I started off with just enough open space for my kids to run around on, to keep the trees from
encroaching on my house, and to let the sun on my solar panels.  More than that is a waste.  Now that the kids are grown, my gardens are given more and more of what I once had to mow.  Trees, shrubs, perennial gardens, vegetable gardens.

Why do you want to poison your kids?
Rule 2.  Plant those species that can thrive in your area without water, fertilizer, or pesticides.   Water, fertilizer, and pesticides are expensive, and require WORK to apply.  I can’t image why anyone would want to cover their property with poisons that kill insects, the toads and birds that eat them, and require warnings to keep children off.

Here are examples of two lawns, one where my neighbor spends a fortune to keep out anything that isn’t grass, and mine, where I spend next to nothing in either time of money.  Note that after much time and money, my neighbor really does have only grass – and lots of bare patches because lawn grass does not thrive in CT.  I have included several species of plants that don’t want water, fertilizer, or help with insects. 
"Grass or nothing" gives you nothing.
Many species provides a solid carpet

Here is how I follow my own rules.

•    Trees along the perimeter of the property for privacy and the birds that nest high.  Deciduous trees like oak and maple along the south side provide shade in the summer and drop their leaves in the winter to let in the sun.  Evergreens where needed east and north to block the winter winds.

•    I don’t want the trees too close to the house, because they can prevent the flow of air. 
Huge elder blossoms seem to glow at night.
Robins and waxwings love winterberry
The next row in is made up of shrubs that are native to my area:  blueberries, mountain laurel, winterberry, black elderberry, and witch hazel.  The birds love the winterberries, blueberries, and black elderberries.

•    Next in are perennial gardens, because while I like a lot of the annual flowers it is work to replant them every year and I am lazy.  I do plant some zinnias and such each year, but not much.  Those perennials that don’t thrive where I plant them are replaced with a different species.  My gardens seem to get wider every year.

•    Then there is the “lawn”.  I have a ring around the house wide enough for trucks to get in for well maintenance and to take down the occasional tree in back.  Zoning and neighbors don’t appreciate tall plants outside of the gardens so I supplement the grass with plants that don’t grow very high and can withstand being mowed.  There are plenty of species that have evolved along with grazing animals in meadows.

Wild thyme
My lawn includes (I did buy some seeds originally)

Wild thyme – loves sun, dry soil, does not grow above a few inches tall, is great bee and butterfly food, and smells wonderful when walked on or mowed.

White clover – the kind that was included in all lawn grass seeds once upon a time.  Is able to pull nitrogen out of the air to fertilize the lawn free of charge.  More bee and butterfly food.

Violets – green all year, low growing, and every May my lawn turns into a blue and white carpet of flowers.

 Speedwell – a trailing plant that greens up quickly in the spring and covers the lawn with tiny blue and white flowers.
Speedwell and violets
Creeping Charlie

Creeping Charlie / Ground Ivy – this one came out of the woods by itself and is a wonderful ground cover.  Pretty blue flowers.  Food for bees and butterflies….

Broad-leaved plantain – not a favorite of mine, but the other plants keep it under control and it is food for a lot of caterpillars.

Dandelions – yes, those bright yellow flowers that break up the green.  The long tap roots pull nutrients up to the surface and improve the soil.

Chiondoxia and Scylla spread into a carpet of color
Another lazy person’s trick – many (many...) years ago a friend showed me how filling a window with indoor plants means that you don’t have to wash them as often.  She also filled her yard with flowering bulbs.  They provide bright colors in the early spring and of course you don’t want to mow until they start to die back. 
For several weeks after my neighbors have dragged out their mowers I sit on the porch and enjoy the flowers.

End result:  Other than planting a few more bulbs every other fall, the only work I put into my lawn is about 30 minutes every week or so to level off the ‘lawn’.  The rest of the time I just sit and enjoy.