Monday, February 25, 2013

Bird Watching in the Fox Valley---not very Sustainable

The word was in a local paper that thousands of birds commonly associated with water had assembled in what amounts to down town Appleton. There was banter of performing Golden-eye Ducks, clouds of Eagles, huge Mergansers and other assorted divers not to mention the spotting of rarely seen gulls.

So in a fit, of bird fever (sounds like a disease) my brother, Crow, and I  binoculars and camera in hand, headed for a junket of sustainable bird watching. I suspect, I was thinking sustainable (which is important now) because we didn't plan on killing any birds nor consuming anything that could not be replaced.

We took off in my diesel Gulf, the one that gets close to 50m/gal,(oh ya, that fuel can't be replaced in my life time) and headed out for the 50 mile drive thinking we were going to be over-whelmed in bird life. We made it to town in good form all revved up on bird adrenaline but found that the bulk of our time was spent rambling around town trying to find the damn spot where they were supposed to be stacked up like cord wood. At the yacht club there were a few stragglers pushing up against the far shore some 80 yards off, some Golden-eyes, maybe a couple of Redheads but nothing to create a froth.

Off to the next park and again nothing of great note. I was beginning to look like the newspaper article was a propaganda item put in the paper to attract high dollar watchers like us---you know the upper middle class jack-asses who come over, oooh and aaah, snap a few shots of favorites and then repair to the local establishments that serve the kacki clad, bino wielding, herbal-kerbal, intellectuals who look at birds. We could suck a couple of artisan beers and pine endlessly of our outing. Ya, ya, we looked like scum in salvation army sweats and dirty shirts, unshaven and babbling incoherently so as to disguise or trendy selves

We did walk out on the trestle and managed to get a good look, oh not a real good look because the damn ducks don't fancy humans and they tend to split as soon as a couple of Neanderthal-type dudes get within a 100 yards. We were delighted to see some posturing by the males Golden Eyes and the sight of a huge very white gull but the high point was the penguin that was sitting on the edge of a small island. Really looked like a penguin. However, once home with the photo chip in the computer it turned out to be large Merganser  or is it a Cormorant? ( turned out it is a Great Cormorant) Damn big in any case. Maybe he was eating ducks?

All of this was cool and the local food establishment did get their cut. We concluded it still worth it as the Golden Eye is not a common duck but the trip was not sustainable because only driving a horse would make that possible. We could have eaten venison jerky that might have helped---but then there is the economy that needs support. Damn, those birds are beautiful. Liked the Baldies too.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

My Life---Sustainable Comfort?

At the moment I am sitting on a leather sofa right up tight against a one-hundred year-old wood burning stove. My feet are covered with some hand-knit socks made by my charming wife. My toes are so comfortable, they are smiling and occasionally dozing off. The radiant warmth is like sunshine, on a spring morning,  flooding on my face.  The Earl Gray tea is especially delightful with the carefully chosen amount of fragrant, locally-produced honey. I am in a position of comfort and I am aware of it, not just accepting it, but actually reveling in the glory of it all. That is to say, I am profoundly thankful.

In this position of extreme comfort, it is possible to look outside and see the wind howling, snow whipping over huge piles of frozen winter. One can sense the ten-degree temperature that the local Chickadees sitting on the feeder are having to endure, their little feathers lifting with each gust as they cower behind the bouncing wooden feeder. There is no sign of comfort there. I watch from my privileged position and reflect.

One might say, “Oh, birds don’t even care about comfort. They always live out there and like it. It is what they do.” But I remember an obese chicken we had, one called, Heavy Hen, who when given the opportunity, would sneak into the shop, actually, I let her in, because she would beg, would strut across the room and plop herself on the arm of the old raggedy stuffed chair right next to the wood burning stove. She would do this even if Brown, our hound dog was in the chair lounging. Like that lush-of-a-dog, that bird knew comfort and sought it out.

So in a fit of thinking and reflecting from my privileged position,  it seemed appropriate to visit comfort, say the comfort of mankind, or better yet the history of comfort. I wondered how long has this more-than-pleasant situation been around? Do we have more comfort than any generation gone before?

So the bigger question becomes, how much comfort have people, and I mean average people,  known through history? Sixty years ago in my childhood home, we heated with coal and I remember being comfortable even though if it was below zero, the house was not always toasty and I can recall lying on the floor heat register as a way, like Heavy Hen, of absorbing comfort. It has to be assumed that elsewhere in the house, it was not exactly comfortable, at least not like today where every room is climate controlled to accommodate our changing moods.

This last year we clamored through an unoccupied “apartment” of a castle in Italy and noticed that each small room had a rude fireplace. This particular residence had not been occupied since prior to World War II and many artifacts were still laying about. This picturesque castle village had been there and occupied for 400 to 500 years---and was still largely occupied. It was not hard to imagine living there, cramped, totally cold as the place was clearly impossible to heat,  unless using modern equipment and fuels. To top if off, the landscape obviously had been stripped of most wood hundreds of years ago. They must have used lumps of coal, sheep dung, maybe twigs right up until the war. Little imagination also indicated the place had to be filled with vermin of all sorts. It simply seemed improbable there had been much comfort in this life style.

In reading bits and pieces on early Wisconsin settlement, fascinating tidbits of information show up that make me ponder even more. They talk of mattresses filled with straw, and coarse wool blankets spun at home, and again the open fireplace. Iron stoves, of the type that bring me such pleasure, didn’t show up until the mid-eighteen hundreds. Prior to that, all folks needing warmth, possibly with the exception of the Scandinavians and their masonry stoves, had to huddle around an open fire during the big freeze.

I have read of potatoes stored under the beds to prevent them from freezing---what does that say about the temperature of the place? There were no over-stuffed sofas, no down jackets. Insulation was unknown even in the 1910 house we live in now. No stove could have kept that structure warm at 30 below. Comfort must have been like candy. A person could just get it once in a while sitting, face to the summer sun. 

I recall being at my wife’s family farm in the mid-sixties and realizing that in the winter only one room was being heated, the kitchen. Yes,  there was comfort next to the cook stove and next to the small glass of schnapps that grandpa Otto seemed intent in finding as we huddled about in the warmth of fire and friendship.

In going back in time even farther, people lived in bark-covered huts with nothing but a pit fire and a mound of skins---filled with how many bugs? At twenty-five below, I am not sure comfort was even a word that crossed the lips of a single soul. I suspect that is why on this day, as I sit here with unbounded comfort, without a hunger pain in my stomach, not a single bug bite, I have not a miniscule of doubt on the nature of my good fortune, and that is why I am marveling at this tick of time, here in this western world,  when every day, we live in total comfort.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Growing Old------Side Affects

Now, it is not that I am really that old, but 69 is rather an eye-opener I never really thought about when I was a young dude. While I knew there would be some side affects of this predicament, I never really sat down and listed them. The reason is that some of them just showed up and it seemed like a reasonable thing to do to quit playing rugby (broke another finger doing calisthenics) in about 1967. Done with that.

 Then, it was basketball when I was 48. Acting stupid on the court by cheating to compensate for my noticeable lack of movement, closed that door. I left the gym in tears knowing it was over.

However, mostly, things felt good and I was able to do almost any activity up until I was, say, sixty. This would include fishing, hunting, chasing Ann, hiking, shooting my mouth of with great gusto. Gardening was a favorite and snowshoeing still is delightful but anything involving violence is out---meaning like falling down in a feather bed. Leisurely, is the key word or is it moderation.

Sure, I have a shinny artificial hip and long list of nagging injuries and none of the 4 or 5 concussions (the ones I can remember) seem to have impaired my thinking---as near as I can tell, but I do get some strange looks from Ann while trying to explain Game Theory or The Red Queen Syndrome.Ya, there is a hitch in my giddy-up but so what?

But here is the deal I do not like about this aging thing, the side affects. Every time I get a new pain, it is almost impossible not to think, "Is this the big? The one that will put me down for the dirt nap?" It is nuts but a few days ago I had this strange pain in my jaw (still there a little), for no reason, a pain in the my right jaw---I know the flapping one. It also seemed to maybe be in my ear. I took the usual couple of vitamin I (Ibuprofen) and did some reading still being distracted by the new pain-in-the-ass jaw thing.

The real problem comes about after one goes to bed, a time when the brain has a tendency to function a touch erratically, drifts in odd directions, in places uncomfortable, places the daylight would not tolerate . It focuses on some of the damnedest things and in a half sleep, all sorts of images show up, none of them pleasant, most involve suffering and ultimate death. Sometimes it even shows up in deep sleep and on at least one occasion, I dreamed very realistically I had signed out. I even tried to wake myself and could not, so I just excepted it.  I was gone. Very uncomfortable side affect of this thing called age.

I suspect this is an occurring  experience of all age-challenged people. I am complaining because I don't like it. Today, in a more rational state, I seem to be generally OK. What little pain will be next? I'll call the priest.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Bird Watching---A Simple Pleasure

This year we have gotten a little more serious about feeding the local birds. I don't think it is totally about being just nice people wanting to help the wildlife, not that we are not delightful, but rather it is about helping ourselves. I don't mean this in a totally selfish way, but due to the time we spend watching the flitting flock, it would seem it is more than just giving a handout and being done with it.

In the morning under the influence of tea and biscuits, we twist our necks and try to get that one good look at bird action on the feeders. Unlike many, we have not plopped the feeder right next to the window, even though just today, we went over that possibility because we want more spectacular views, but we put the thing in the middle of the yard thinking it was the only easy place to put it and keep it away from the fricking squirrels. Kept it high and kept it away from any structures so the stinking varmints that wants the feeder will have to walk the tight rope. However, if they were to try, and I am sure they will, it would be a Wallenda moment, and worth watching the looters fumble about.

It is suspended out there, form a line stretched between the big maple and the lean to and to date has been a success from city standards. I refuse to compare it to rural opportunities because they have an embarrassing amount of varieties and number compared to us. We have had three types of wood peckers, Downy, Hairy, and Red Belly, Juncos (might be two kinds) 2 different Nuthatches, Eastern Blue Jays, spectacular Cardinals, Morning Doves, Finches of the purple kind, assorted sparrows of the English variety (they take tea with us) and of course the noticeably busy Chickadees. Today as I left the house I saw a mature Bald Eagle fly over so I counted it as solid sighting on the feeder---he was looking for food down here.

It is also true the squirrels do work the low ground under the feeder, picking up the spillings that some of the slop birds dump off the platform. Just today a Downy Pecker rifled through the various seeds picking only his most preferred selection and in the process dumping copious amounts to the stupid squirrel laying on his back with his mouth open. May have been a plot. We are easily entertained--and all this for a $20 bad of seeds. 

Revolution Watch--Hedge Fund Makes Move

Recently, I have been watching economics more than anything because that seems to be the arena where there is the most action in the process of the sustainable revolution. The aspect of it that is most alarming is the disparity in wealth created by the money handlers on Wall Street.

It would appear that the levels of outstanding debt has reached a point that can not be maintained for long. While it is particularly bad in Europe, notably London, it is not great in the good old USA. Many economist believe there is a huge bubble in this debt. Meaning that there is very little collateral to back up all the trillions of debt obligations that are out there in the form of derivatives.

So when I saw this headline in the local paper one has to get the willies. I mean, what is a Wall St. hedge fund doing manipulating business in this area.  It is startling because their interest are no doubt, not in the local community. It is simply in their own financial position. They could give one God damn if they put Wisconsin workers out of business. They are only interested in their bottom line and if they are in the hedge fund business, right now they are more than likely looking to capture a bit of dollars to cover their capitol asses.

To me that means this business can probably look for a shut down with the hedge fund grabbing the liquid assets and taking them back to Wall street while our citizens find themselves out of a job. Yup, they will join the thousands that have already been laid off around here. So, now they can watch as their old jobs are shipped off to China where the workers will get a whopping $1/hr.

This system sucks. Sure makes a person wonder just who the hell is going to be able to buy much of anything if no one is working. I guess one could call it a revolution.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sub-zero in Wisconsin

We do not have these days much anymore. They just don't come as they did in the 70s. Just went away. Today it just barely hit the big zero and it felt different. I don't believe in the 6 years we have been back this has happened. As a kid there were times when the high for the week was zero but this global warming thing has a way of creeping in.

People don't really complain but a the same time they hate the now prevalent increase in the amount of Deer Tick, those are the ones that used to be held in check by winters cold. Of course, these are the same ticks that now are peddling huge amounts of Lymns disease. Everybody here has had one damn tick born disease after another. Some have been crippled by it.

So I don't complain. Maybe a little, as today we refused to go for a walk on the rail berm because we were candy-asses and filled with lame excuses. It was a little too breezy, we said. The fire was wonderfully warm and sitting there, as I am now, tight up against it, is a very pleasurable experience even if my ass is getting too flat.

I looked out this morning and noticed a Morning Dove in the neighbor's Cherry Tree. It was riding out the cold and was doing only what a bird can do. Puff up like a summer toad and sit tight, preferably in the sun. Taken from the window the birds eyes were closed but as I approached one eye came open and followed me. The cold dove said, " I see you, but I'll be damned if I am going to sacrifice my position to avoid you taking my picture. "Go away, white man".

As a kid, I do not remember doves in the winter, nor Robins but now they try to winter over, even the Kingfishers at the river hang on as long as there is open water. Each day now we have two pairs of doves on the feeder. All of them confident that the likelihood of sub-zero weather is minimal. Their patterns are changing. It is a new world---and about to become an even newer.