Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Chop Wood, Carry Water

Okay.  So, just like all of us do, you go to the health club every day where you spend at least sixty minutes doing a combination of cardio exercises (sprinting on the treadmill, cranking away on the elliptical, spinning your buns off on the stationary bike), and strength (free weights, chin-ups, pushups, flys, dead lifts) topped off by some power yoga for balance and flexibility.

And you garden.
So, like me, you’ve got to wonder – does the gardening count as a workout?

(Ignore the irony of the question.  The reason that we 21st century people are going to gyms at all is, of course, because we don’t get anywhere near as much physical activity in our every day lives as our ancestors who spent their days horticulturing did.

Anyway – can gardening be the means to a leaner, meaner body?

“No way!” says at least one Personal Trainer.
“To better understand just how effective gardening is as a form of exercise, let's consider just who can garden. Or better yet-who can't.
“Not many people can't garden. This says something right off the bat. If just about all populations can perform a particular activity, its challenge to the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems is quite minimal.
“Gardening is popular among people of retirement age. Also, even people with severe mobility issues can garden. Gardening is busy work. It requires attention to detail, focus, knowledge and patience. It produces relaxation, the satisfaction of a job well-done, and chemical-free vegetables or fragrant flora. Gardening exercises the mind more than the cardio and musculoskeletal systems.”
“Peh!” I say.  Obviously this apartment-living city-dweller has absolutely no idea how physically demanding gardening work can be – especially if it is done right, or more accurately if it is done in the most difficult way possible.
Take for example lawn maintenance.  Hop onboard the riding mower, turn the key, and tool around the property.  Zero calories calorie burn, zero raise in heart rate, zero muscle strain.
But do the same job on-foot pushing a self-propelled mower and, according to the super-scientifically accurate calculator I found on the Internet, you burn 386 calories per hour (if you weight 183 pounds – a number I just pulled out of the air).  BTW you can use up roughly the same number of calories/hour by raking up the mess afterwards.
Take away the self-propulsion – like my Toro “Self Pace” model – and the weight loss increases by 104 calories.  (I really like the marketing folks at Toro who came up with a spiffy name for a feature that is essentially the lack of a feature.)
Now try the same job with a forty-year old mower motor that refuses to turn over until somewhere between the thirty-fourth and fifty-ninth pull on the starter rope – on a good day.  You can actually feel your arm getting stronger, and longer, with every tug you take.  Alternate your arms for a more complete workout and to avoid the need for custom made long-sleeve shirts.  To get even more out of this exercise, disconnect the spark plug and/or empty the gas tank.
And how about watering?
In-ground sprinkler = 0 calories.   Above ground sprinkler = 1.  Standing and spraying = 1.5.  But what about watering cans?
There is a famous Zen saying, "Before Enlightenment chop wood carry water, after Enlightenment, chop wood carry water." What’s it mean?  Who knows?
Anyway, from another Internet source at least as trustworthy as the above calorie calculator, here is the “Red Can Watering Exercise.”  (My watering pails are orange so I’m probably not getting the full benefit, but nonetheless…)
“First get two red 10 L watering cans. (Red watering cans work best but any other color will work too!) Gently raise them up and walk 150 yards to the water supply. Bend and stretch while slowing allowing your can to fill up. Raise and put can down. Repeat with the other can.
“Once full point both cans in the same direction to balance out, then return the 150 yards to where your veg plot (or flower plot if you prefer). Drop down the can using a side motion. Then walk to the first bed raise the can above the plants. With a slow side-to-side motion cover the plants in water. If you need to you can support the bottom of the can.
“Repeat this with the other can.
“Once the cans are empty gently bend to pick them up. Repeat the whole process another 12 to 14 times each day or every other day for maximum effect.
“In a few weeks you will lose weight and have lots of veggies.
“If you need to warm up first, do so by walking a mile or so to the plot. Always consult your doctor before taking any exercise. They will probably say ‘whatever’ and shrug their shoulders - but do it anyway!”
Next month – aerobic and acrobatic exercises anyone can do with an 8 ?” Japanese pruning saw, and an eighty foot oak tree.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Red Bird, Black Head

We’ve had a really ugly bird at our feeders for the past week – the first one in thirty-six years of doling out sunflower seeds to the avian population of Wethersfield.  This is not what we had been hoping for.

Mars saw it first and immediately called my attention to it.  It was a red-bodied creature, about robin or oriole size – with an amazingly unattractive, flea-bitten looking black head.  I looked it over and grabbed our bird identification book, which sits on a wooden chest in front of the window through which we were gawking at our ghastly, gustatory guest.
Looking up the species of an unknown bird in a bird book is, to me anyway, comparable to trying to find the spelling of an unfamiliar word in a dictionary.  You open the book near the section where you think it might make sense to look for it and then flip through the pages, browsing for something similar and hope that the correct answer literally jumps off the page at you and slaps you in the face.
So I went upstairs to our data room and logged onto Google.com, searching for “red bird black head”.  This time the response literally leaped from the screen – one more harbinger perhaps of the death of books, or at least their shortcomings.
“Red bird, black cap? - Help Me Identify a Bird - Whatbird ...
“I bet this is the same bird as the posts re "Help! Black head, red/pink body,      “Please help ID this strange red bird with black head - Help Me ...
“Wild Birds Unlimited: What is That Red Bird with a Black Head?
“Sep 8, 2010 - I've had a couple calls lately trying to identify a new bird in the yard. The callers describe them as red birds with a black heads. Not black wings ...”
And all these sites gave me pretty much the same answer as this one from wildbirdsunlimited.com “Mystery solved. They are Northern Cardinals going through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers that leaves them bald. After nesting season most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.” – i.e. a really, really chrome-domed cardinal.
Once she knew the answer Mars decided our homely houseguest would be named Kojak – after the mid 1970s television series starring Telly Savalas as the bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak.  The name is just too perfect as you can see below.
 I also learned during my research that “kojaking” is “to find an empty parking space directly in front of the building you are visiting, regardless of the time of day, or busy urban location. From the television series "Kojak". The title character would race off to locations in Manhattan and always park right in front of the building.  Sasha totally “kojaked” it, finding a spot right out front.”
We have had cardinal couples residing in our yard every year that we’ve had the feeders.  So I suspect our Kojak did not ”kojak” the food station but rather, being one of this year’s offspring, has probably been a regular patron of the eating establishment since his fledgling days when he perched there and squawked until nourishment was delivered to him by one of his weary parents.
 And now I am sure he especially appreciates our largesse in his current embarrassing condition. 
“Who loves ya baby?”