Sunday, December 16, 2007

Think Snow...

Several years ago bumper stickers containing the phrase "Think Snow" began to appear on the vehicles of enthusiastic skiers throughout the New England area. I was not one of them. I refused to join in the collective importuning of Ullr, or any other "God of Snow" - feeling that, in a world governed by the laws of trickle-down meteorology, at least some of the white fluffy stuff that graced the ski slopes up north would inevitably also end up on my sidewalk out front. Fun sport for others (most of whom are and always will be strangers) versus hard work for me - humm, what should I choose? Others apparently agreed, for soon I saw an auto decal that began with the same annoying snow slogan but ended with the phrase "...Good, Now Think Shovel!"

These days shoveling snow is my favorite winter sport. It burns slightly less calories than cross country skiing which used to be my preferred form of snow exercise - five hundred eighteen versus six hundred ninety calories per hour according to - without the inherent danger of broken bones and hopelessly twisted limbs that the Nordic form of snow gliding offers as possible side effects. Plus you don't have to drive anywhere to do it.

When Mars and I originally took up cross country it actually used to snow a lot on free, close by, open-to-the-public places such as golf courses, public reservoirs and state parks. A morning of x-country involved thirty minutes or less of driving and two hours or more of actual skiing. As we got better at herringboning and snowplowing, the amount of ski-able local snow decreased correspondingly and the ratio of drive time to ski time reversed - then got worse.

But the white precipitation didn't stop entirely - at least at my homestead.

We live in a corner house with sidewalks along two sides of the property, a path across the front of our house, and a four-plus-car-length driveway. I have a snowblower that was purchased in 1978 as a direct result of what became known in Connecticut as "Ella's Storm" - named after our then Governor Grasso who, apparently for the first time in recorded history "shut down the state" for a couple of days in order to deal with a multi-inch dumping of snow.

This was before we skied, so all there was to do snow-wise for forty-eight hours or so was to shovel.

I don't remember how much snow there was, or how many shoveling laps around the property we did, but it was enough to convince me and a neighbor that we each needed one half interest in a machine method of snow removal. Obviously at that time I was not as entranced with the idea of manual loose-granular labor as I am now. All I was, was tired and sore - all due to my false belief that age and not physical condition should determine my ability to do things like repeatedly tossing shovelfuls of endlessly accumulating snow onto the top of a pile that, as I grew more and more tired, grew concomitantly taller, and taller.

Over the years I have had many occasions to use the snow blower. But Mars and I also have had the opportunity to get ourselves into better physical condition, beginning about twenty-five years ago when we realized that our home and work activities did not provide enough activities requiring significant manual effort.

We began with running and have added, here and there over the years, weight lifting, yoga, and other cardio stuff, including our brief career as Nordic skiers. As a result the physical discomfort, exhaustion, and resentment previously associated with activities such as snow shoveling were replaced first by a sense of relief at their absence; then by an appreciation of the benefits of the act itself (time out of doors, exercise, a sense of accomplishment); and a finally a gradual understanding that if I did more stuff like this then I wouldn't have to "exercise" as much.

The last realization was the hardest of all to accept. I had never in my upbringing made the equation between physical-exertion-type-work and exercise probably because, other than two summer jobs, I had basically never performed any of that type of labor. "Exercise" was done in a gymnasium and work was done in an office - and never the twain shall meet. Fortunately I was now in good enough condition from my "exercising" to be able to continue "exercising" every day and periodically also do some of that manual labor type stuff that didn't technically count as "exercise".

So, back during my working days, I would rise at 4:45 a.m. in order to shovel the snow so that we could be at work by 7:00 a.m. (our normal start time) and also get in my regular health club training session. Although I never totally gave this routine up until retirement, I gradually began to enjoy my pre-dawn work more than my workout

The sky was cloudless and the early morning stars were visible. The air was clean and cold - and the neighborhood around me was absolutely still. I had an (admittedly self imposed) time constraint of twenty minutes, thirty maximum, so I moved quickly. This resulted in enough generated body heat to cause my turtleneck shirt to absorb perspiration, and my stocking-hatted hair to matt down with moisture. The few cool-down stretches that I allowed myself after, and the warm shower that followed were like whipped cream and cherries on top.

On weekends I traded the solitude of early morning for the warm sunlight of the midday - and with it the opportunity to strip off my sweater and allow the natural light to supplement my man-made heat with an equal dose of externally generated warmness.

Although I actually miss them, in retirement I'm not planning on any more pre-sunrise snow shovel fests. Instead I'll have breakfast, read the comics, and wait for the sun to light the way to my exercise d'jour - right here in my own front yard.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mulch Ado....About Mulching

I have been mulching the leaves that fall onto my lawn, into my lawn every autumn since 1977 when Mars and I first bought this property. In all of that time I have never met anyone else who disposes of his or her dead foliage that way.

I've told lots of people what I do. And all of my neighbors have seen me raking the leaves back up onto my lawn from my curbside collection point in the road. Just about everyone says things that lead me to believe they approve of and maybe even admire my practice - but not a one of them ever said that they tried it.

The most enthusiastic endorsement that I can remember came from a sales person at the Organic Lawn Care Company that feeds and nourishes my lawn. (I cut it myself - likewise returning the mown blades of grass unto the place from whence they came. Another act that seems to draw verbal kudos but no imitative action.) "Ooh that's good." She cooed throatily when I told her of my leaf recycling efforts. I felt really special until I recalled what I was once told by a consultant trying to sell something to my former employer - "Always remember - marketing people say marketing things."

I began this recycling regimen by accident. After we bought my first ever house with the first ever lawn that I was responsible for, I went to my friendly Sears store to purchase my first ever lawn mower. I was advised by the salesman to purchase a mulching one - "puts that grass right back into the ground!" It also probably provided the biggest sales commission - what did I know? He did promise however that it would eliminate the entire cleanup process from mowing. And it did - "That", I thought, "is a good thing."

It became a part of my yard maintenance routine so when the leaves fell that first autumn I just kept mulching. The next spring my lawn seemed fine so I repeated the process, etc., etc., etc., uninterrupted for the next thirty years.

Even at the beginning I felt somewhat ambivalent about the ecological holiness of my undertaking. We didn't talk about "carbon footprints" in 1979. But we had just recently gone through the great Jimmy Carter gasoline shortage and were at lest dimly aware that pumping excess amounts of petro-chemical smoke into the air was not only wasteful but probably not the healthiest thing to do. Still there was that laziness factor - something that always has figured heavily in my ethical calculations and probably plays a bigger part in most moral decision-making than people recognize or are willing to acknowledge. Plus there was that positive feedback that I seemed to be getting from my non-followers. So I just kept mulching away.

Recently I decided to Google the information base of the world and see if in fact there were any other leaf mulchers out there. The answer is yes - at least on the academic front. For one, Michael Goatley, Jr., Extension Turfgrass Specialist, Virginia Tech writes: "While we enjoy the beautiful colors associated with fall foliage, we also realize that most of those leaves will soon be on the ground. At this time of year, many turf managers quit managing grass and shift their focus instead to managing leaves...Are there reasonable alternatives in leaf management?...there is also a technique that can be less labor intensive...- mulching the leaves directly into the turf."

Good news in the sense that I am apparently not doing the lawn any harm and, at least in pedagogical circles, might be doing it some good. Disappointing in that, unlike virtually every other cause in the world, there is no bevy of blogs broadcasting its benefits -no grassroots "grassroots" movement as it were.

Research, experience, and reasoned arguments can only go so far - well not that far actually. What you really need to start a mulching movement is some ill-informed, one-sided opinions expressed in a sarcastic, belligerent, incite-ful manner, and tailored to appeal to an audience of likewise lethargic landscapers. (Like I said - never underestimate that laziness factor).

And that is after all exactly what the Internet was made for. Just imagine sites like,,, or

I could set up and blather on any or all of them - if it weren't just so darn much work.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Functional Tai Chi

First snow, first shoveling
One inch, one pass, one movement
Winter's labor's dance.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Squirrel Update

I haven't written about our yard squirrels for a while so I thought that I should.

They are fine.

Currently we have seven of them. They only appear as an entire group around 8:30 a.m., just about the time we head out to the health club. Prior to that they come in groups of two or three for what seems to be turning into a morning ritual.

Around 8:00 a.m., depending on what is on the "Today" show in regard to the missing woman d'jour, I go out to fill the two "day feeders" and re-supply the corn holder. Normally the tree-rats scatter when I open the door but sometimes one of them is so intent on breaking his fast that I come within inches of him as I move past the soda bottle feeder to the other ones.

Suddenly he senses my presence and, after making panicked eye contact, he leaps to the ground and runs away. Invariably at that point one of the other two squirrels will run immediately to the oak tree that houses the corn holder and wait, either at the empty station itself or on the bark on the opposite side of the trunk. Then mysteriously he wanders off somewhere without paying even a perfunctory visit to the newly placed food.

They also come to the feeders in groups of two or three at other times of the day. Until recently they usually arrived singly. Then, with the weather getting colder we hung up our suet feeder.

The fat holder is a square green wire cage specifically made to accommodate the "Hi Energy" version of the hard white blocks that we buy from a local nursery. Not surprisingly the additional feeder has attracted additional eaters - particularly of the bushy tailed rodent variety. It is now not uncommon to look out the family room windows and see one squirrel clinging to the suet basket, another inside the cylindrical pottery fish seed holder, and a third draped along the length of our soda bottle feeder. There also is an increased number and variety of birds - juncos, Downey woodpeckers, and nuthatches. But judging by the rapidly increasing size of the squirrels they are getting more than their fair share of the fabulously fattening food.

Probably because of the impenetrability of the metal wire, even to the sharp rodentia of the tree-rats, they have done little if any damage to that particular food station. Likewise the pottery fish, which has stood up to at least twenty years of, squirrel invasions. Not so the soda bottle feeder - which of course is the reason that we have a soda bottle feeder.

One of the squirrels, we have not definitively fingered which (although it is for sure one of the fatter ones), has every week or so taken to chewing head-sized holes in the bottom of the bottle (top of the feeder). This allows easy access to the seeds when the feeder is full-up, but requires continual modification as the food level diminishes - resulting after a few days in a visible-from-the-street fissure, and replacement of the bottle.

Not being soda drinkers we have only those few containers that we can grub from friends and relatives. Therefore, at the first sign of squirrel destruction we take action to prolong the useful life of the plastic container.

Normally Mars spots them first. "Bad squirrel!" she shouts as she leaps from her chair and opens the door to better communicate her message. This usually causes the squirrel to cease and desist its destructive activities - temporarily. Moments later Mars is outside. She is looking up at the recidivistic rodent and drawing her words out more slowly and forcefully to really get his attention. After, at most, one more verbal thrashing and perhaps a follow-up visit from me ("good cop - bad cop"), the squirrel withdraws from the scene and allows one of its more etiquette-inclined partners to dine, in the proper non-destructive manner, at the damaged decanter.

A few days later I replace the bottle and in a couple of weeks the saga is replayed.

You know - I really think that finally we are getting them trained.

"Good squirrel!"

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Breathless Hype from Local TV Anchor

"School bus driver suspended for improperly touching a student.
Find out where, ahead at five!"

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Existential Autumn

Mulching frozen leaves.
Unaccepting, hard'ning earth.
Sisyphus mowing.