Friday, April 29, 2005

Thanks For the Flowers, Lady Bird

Evinston roadsides and yards are flooded knee-high with a solid mass of yellow and pink perennial flowers right now, thanks in part to Lady Bird Johnson's highway beautification efforts in the mid-1960's. Coreopsis and pink Garden Phlox were so successful in Texas and elsewhere that Florida's highways were soon seeded with these and other species as well.

Evinston lies off the beaten track at the south edge of Alachua county and so its county-maintained roadways are conveniently just off the radar for the Public Works Department's mowing and trimming rotation. And that is just how Evinston residents prefer it. So every spring the unmown roadsides and swales are a solid tide of wildflowers that bloom for a few weeks and then go to seed. Locals don't mow their yards until the wildflowers have disappeared, so the flood of color extends into yards and pastures and waste places. Its a stupendous, gorgeous sight. The flowers have been allowed to run rampant over the years, thanks to a group of old-timers who have always taken the long view when it comes to preserving their land and peaceful way of life. Now folks drive in from miles around to see the sea of flowers.

This year the Coreopsis display is especially stunning (sorry no photo) in the vicinity of the Wood and Swink store and post office. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. The store/post office is a community gathering place where locals pick up their mail, buy Freddy’s fresh citrus and vegetables in season (red potatoes, green beans, and onions are in now), and catch up on local news and gossip.

This week Freddy Wood met with a documentary film maker who is making a film that treats land conservation in this area. Freddy has entered into negotiations with a local land trust to put his 200 acres or so under a permanent conservation easement.

Eagles 3 Alligators 2

I so enjoy the drive across Paynes Prairie every morning. On today’s journey through the 21,000-acre preserve I spotted 3 bald eagles and 2 alligators.

I wonder what the eagle thinks when it spots a ‘gator lurking beneath its favorite perch. I wonder what the alligator thinks when a low-soaring eagle passes over it.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Lord God Bird Rediscovered

The Ivory-billed woodpecker has been rediscovered in Arkansas! The species has not been observed in this country for over 60 years.

The rediscovery of this species is BIG news. Its like discovering a passenger pigeon. Or, in the words of Frank Gill, senior ornithologist of the Audubon Society, “Its kind of like finding Elvis.”

This article has a recent photograph of a male individual that shows the distinctive white arrowhead on the back of the resting bird. [5/2/05 update: photo replaced with an illustration...sorry.]

Decades ago, when these majestic woodpeckers were more common, locals had a variety of names for them. My favorites are The Lord God Bird and kint; the latter name homophonic with the nasal one-note toot the bird mutters while foraging. Audubon himself noted the call as “pait”, and compared it to the “high false note of a clarinet”, which, I might add, anyone that has endured a beginning band class has experienced.

Ivory-billed woodpeckers are about 20 inches tall, which makes them even larger than the common pileated woodpecker, the other big woodpecker in North America.

Emily Dickinson began a sweet poem with these lines:

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all"
I admire and believe in the hope that drove ornithologists to search the primeval swamp forests of the Southeast for 60 years until they found The Lord God Bird again.

Now my plug for one of the best nature books I've read in years, which I've mentioned before: Chistopher Cokinos' book Hope is the Thing With Feathers. Cokinos writes passionately about North American bird extinctions. Incidentally, the cover of the book has a great illustration of an Ivory-billed woodpecker, one of the birds he treats in the volume.

House of Reps to End DeLay Tactics

Today's San Francisco Chronicle ran this story about the House of Representatives rule reversal that will likely result in the investigation of alleged ethics violations by Republican Tom DeLay. The House voted overwhelmingly last night to return to its old ethics rules, with only 20 members dissenting.

I predict we can soon expect Republican attempts to tar Democrat lawmakers with the same brush, in true and predictable partisan fashion.

I will go on record here and proclaim that "I support separate but equal tarring under the law". Lawmakers can decide if they want to employ the same brush.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Well Then There Now

We were awash in rain yesterday. Water everywhere. Frogs happy. Alligators happy. Thirsty earth and growing things happy. Clog-wife and I unhappy because the well pump broke and the motor burned up so we’re without potable water in the Clog Almanac household. Praise the Holy Blessed Rainwater caught in a stockpot to flush with.

The whole matter has brought up severely unpleasant memories of going 6 days without water or electricity during one of the hurricanes during the heat of last summer, then a few days more of the same in the aftermath of another hurricane a couple of weeks later.

Skies have cleared for a few days and the pump should be replaced by day’s end.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Budding Evangihadists to Eliminate US Judiciary

They might as well just say it: "WE elected Bush; Now WE are in charge, and we're going to punish jurists and courts that we dont like".

I admit that I made that and the post title up. Nobody said exactly that, yet.

But this Seattle Times article quotes folk who say almost as much, and truth be told, well, Tom Delay's statements don't deviate that far from their compass points. But I might as well quote him/the article:
"We set up the courts. We can unset the courts. We have the power of the purse."
Slap me naked if Delay or those hoo-hoo dillies eager to kiss up to Delay's rhetorically inclusive "we" were actually present when said courts were established. I just don't think that they were there. Would somebody please tell me definatively who is the "WE" in that quote?

Does anyone else bristle that a babble of rabblemongers actually aspires to commandeer the courts by claiming the right to regulate and to punish said courts just because somebody claimed he/she had a moral mandate, and then has apparently left the barn door open to the horse-thieves who think they can therefore shoot the moon and influence and intimidate judges?

"We have the power of the purse". Does that mean "they" think judges can be bought and sold according to the direction of political winds? That statement reeks of last-decade, banana republic, third world thinking. Is that the direction "they" would have us turn?.

Cursed Be He Yt Moves My Bones

The Clog Almanac herewith marks and celebrates the birth and death of Stratford-on-Avon's most illustrious son. William Shakespeare was born April 23, 1564, and died April 23, 1616.

Shakespeare is buried in the Holy Trinity church in Stratford, the church of his baptism. His gravestone bears this inscription:

"Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare, to digg the dust encloased heare, Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones, And curst be he yt moves my bones."

The Clog-wife and I have each read many of the plays and sonnets. It is remarkable that many phrases that reside in our collective consciousness were coined by Shakespeare. Phrases such as "the dogs of war", "What's in a name?", "To be or not to be", and so many others.

Here and here are listings of other phrases and sparkling quotes by Shakespeare, the latter list arranged by topic or subject matter.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Clog Sunday

The Clog-wife and I, along with other members of the Cross Creek Cloggers, performed at a farm and forest festival in Gainesville on Sunday. The weekend-event took place at the City of Gainesville's Morningside Nature Center.

There were the usual participants and activities: a blacksmith, a cooper, a flintknapper, a kettle corn cooker; a tour of an 1840's cabin, early 1-room schoolhouse, and farm animals in their pens; wagon rides, performances by the cloggers and the Greenwood Morris dancers (now including the Clog-wife), and old-time musicians. The weather was sunny, breezy, and a little on the cool side. A perfect day for dancing and enjoyng the period scenery and activities.

During the events I heard and observed Summer Tanagers. My first sighting of these cardinal-red birds was in that very park, around 1990, shortly after moving to Gainesville from Bloomington, Indiana, to continue graduate studies.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Haste to the Wedding

I attended a beautiful Spring wedding today, in the capacity of a paid musician in a SportKilt, in the company of other Irish musician friends. We treated the large wedding party to ~30 traditional Irish tunes featuring Uillean pipes, blackwood flute, and fiddle, to my rhythm guitar and occasional tin whistle.

The ceremony took place on the west shore of Lake Santa Fe in Earlton, Florida. The groom, a salt and pepper haired professor of Architecture at the University of Florida; the canny lovely bride, a considerably younger, buxom, animated Cindy Crawford look-alike dare I say trophy wife. The bride arrived from across the lake via motorboat. But it was no ordinary motorboat, it was a 1940's vintage Chris Craft mahogany boat with cedar interior and inboard 357 Chrysler engine.

The gig went well; good food, engaged and appreciative company dominated by architect faculty members and their pretty-people retinue, and it paid $100 each for the musical effort. Highlights of the lovely afternoon: The sunlight filtering through the oaks and pines; remembering my own wedding vows in anticipation of the Clog-wife's and my first anniversary in June; and the ride in the vintage mahogany Chris Craft Holiday, similar to this one, and very much like this one. The evening was coming on and the cypress trees fringing the lake were illuminated in the evening sunlight. I was in boat-heaven. In fact I'm still *there* now, and must cut this post short so I might daydream about it just a bit more.

[Personal disclosure: For years I have dreamed of owning a vintage mahogany boat. Today's ride on Lake Santa Fe strongly reinforced that dream.]

Coincidentally, my 2 brothers and I have exchanged photos and comments about mahogany motorboats for 2 weeks now. Today's surprise ride in one seems like an omen to me. Hopefully, I'll soon post a photograph of the occasion. One day, this site will record my purchase of one of these fine old craft, and the exhilaration of my first spin in one.

Friday, April 22, 2005

As the Glacier Melts

Spring has sprung and a young man’s thoughts turn to global warming.

Some of us watch the weather every day, and most of us keep pretty tight rein on the microclimate inside our homes. Others among us are content to know that the Sun will rise tomorrow, and pay attention to little else.

Some few, scientists mostly, look beyond their four walls, or region, and look at global weather patterns. A select few of those scientists study climate change over the long term, and they are pretty much of the consensus that mankind is causing the rise in global temperatures that they are documenting all over the planet.

A few of those scientists maintain a great weblog,, that reports their findings and concerns in language that lay people and journalists can understand. I think you should bookmark the site and check it frequently.

Today at that website there appears an article by scientist David Vaughn that treats glacial retreat on the Antarctic Penninsula. Vaughn and his colleagues assembled and compared data and aerial photographs of 244 marine glacier fronts over a period of 50 years and show that 87% of the region's glaciers have retreated. That research is presented in detail in the April 22, 2005 issue of Science, one of the world’s premier peer-reviewed scientific publications.

Now for my soapbox. Why is it, that in the face of mounting conclusory evidence that human activity has changed the climate, does the general population pooh-pooh what the scientists are telling us? If some astronomers showed us a picture of a giant asteroid that was on a collision course with Earth would the same Doubting Thomases ignore the evidence until they saw the giant rock obscure the sky over their state?

I think the answer to my question is complicated. A giant rock hitting the Earth would get everyone’s attention really fast. But faced with the world’s glaciers melting at the speed of, well, a glacier, folks will tend to ignore the evidence until the ocean starts lapping at the outskirts of their town 20 miles inland from the historical coastline. If one happens to live 40 miles inland, well, then, too bad for those folks who lived so close to the ocean. And some governments choose to wrangle over details rather than act, and that makes the problem worse while lulling the masses into some sense of security. Hey, tomorrow will be the same as today, so no problem, right? Honey, could you be quiet, they're talking about Paris Hilton on the boob-tube right now.

Folks, over 2 billion people worldwide live near a coastline - that's 37% of the world's population. Its safe to say that eventually everyone would be affected by a significant rise in sea levels brought on by global warming.

54% of Americans live in a coastal county. By 2025 approximately 75% of the American population will live near a coastline. So rising sea levels will affect a huge percentage of the population in this country. If just the Greenland ice sheet melted, sea levels would rise 22 feet.

It is alarming to note that responses to warnings from scientists that we’re messing things up on a global scale tend to become political footballs that few want to catch and run with. I'm sad to say it, but the current Administration in the United States seems intent on rolling back hard-won gains in environmental protection that would protect our air and water resources, and that would begin to address the global warming issue, at least in this country.

Its time to act, as individuals, and as a society, to get these important issues out of the hands of the politicians where they will languish and into the habits and practices of our daily lives. That is why I try to do many little things within my sphere of influence to leave as small a footprint on this precious earth as possible. I want my posterity to inherit a legacy worth living in, and you should too.

Snakes and Gators

We’ve experienced a spate of lovely sunny Spring days and the snakes and 'gators have begun working on their tans. I saw one of each yesterday as I drove down the short stretch of blacktop county road that runs by our home.

The 7’ gator was lying motionless among the wildflowers adjacent to the drainage swale beside the road. A week ago I noticed that the wildflowers were being smashed flat in that spot, and knew that an alligator had been using that place to haul out and sun itself. Two weeks ago along that same stretch of road, I stood, heart a-thumping, 2 feet away from a much larger one laying up against a hogwire field fence at the edge of a small meadow beside a swamp.

The snake was a young water moccasin about 2 feet long that had slithered onto the sun-warmed macadam.

Because we’ve seen so many moccasins and diamondbacks on that road, we don’t walk down it at twilight or in the darkness of night. Now we also have to consider alligators beside the road.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fair Housing Act Turns 37

This month is the 37th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, otherwise known as la Ley de Equidad de Vivienda.

The Fair Housing Act is supposed to prevent things like this from happening.

Each April HUD celebrates Fair Housing Month, and in my little corner of north central Florida, local agencies are colaborating and celebrating as well by assisting in the completion of Celebration Oaks, a residential neighborhood of 60 Habitat for Humanity homes in Gainesville. In my capacity of county urban forester I review development plans, and I am presently looking at plans for a childrens’ playground for that very neighborhood.

In my formal review comments of the project, I’ll have the pleasure of urging the builders to plant some shade trees "for the kids".

Just a Splash of Yellow

I heard, then spotted a prairie warbler in an oak tree next to our driveway this week. A lovely little splash of yellow that really brightened my day.

This week is about the peak of the prairie warblers' Spring migration through this part of Florida. The observation was red-letter day for me, since it was the first individual of this species I've ever seen. Chalk that one up on the life-list.

I Can't Think This Big

Super-iceberg B15A has been throwing its weight around McMurdo Sound in Antarctica lately, causing all sorts of problems for penguins and scientists. Now it has shattered the end of a giant glacier.

The rectangular iceberg is 100 miles long - about the size of Jamaica, and holds enough frozen fresh water to supply the Nile River for 80 years. Follow the link to see a satellite image of the colossal havoc, and to read the associated story.

B15A is the largest moving object on the planet. And it creates its own weather. Doesn't it make you feel like Man is but a mere trifle?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Minutemen Then and Now

Lexington, Massachussets, April 19, 1775: English troops numbering in the hundreds marched into Lexington to capture Patriot leaders. About 70 local "Minutemen" ambushed the British, fired "the shot heard 'round the world", and the Revolutionary War had begun.

Fast forward to today. So-called vigilante patriots calling themselves "Minutemen" patrol the Arizona-Mexico border on the lookout for illegal aliens. A founder of the minutemen movement, Jim Gilchrist, will tomorrow abandon the vigil, apparently out of boredom and a sense of completion, and will appear next week before the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus in Washington.

I'm not sure what to think of this blogger's take on the minuteman issue.
Gabriel Thompson feels that the minutemen share a victim's insecurity complex.

I would certainly watch this and similar immigration/border security issues in the future. We may be observing the incipient beginnings of a hugely contentious debate in months and perhaps years to come.

GM's 1.1 Billion Loss In Perspective

1.1 billion Catholics: Have a new Pope today.
1.1 billion people worldwide: Are followers of Islam.
1.1 billion dollars: GM's first-quarter loss posted today.
1.1 billion pirated music discs: Are sold each year.
1.1 billion people: Have no access to clean safe water.
1.1 billion dollars surplus: In the Emirate of Dubai's 2005 budget.

The wealthy Arab emirate of Dubai could bail out GM in a single bank transfer. Or, if every Catholic or every follower of Islam in the world contributed just ONE dollar to GM, this American icon would be in the clear. Perhaps they could work out a cars-for-debt scheme.

A bail-out scheme mightn't help GM at all, since the company's troubles run far deeper than its first quarter report suggests. The linked article suggests that GM is a prisoner of its past.

Habemus Papam!

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was elected as the new pope on this, the second day of the conclave of cardinals in Rome.

Blog-a-Recipe - Kreplach

I usually like to blog a recipe on Sunday, but had too much going on. But that didn't stop me from cooking this past Saturday. After you try this quick and simple-to-make noodle dough just one time, you'll want to treat your family to fresh home-made noodles often, and can use them in chicken and dumplings, with marinara, or in other soups and stews.

Spicy Sausage Kreplach in Onion Soup
[Modified - recipes found in The Joy of Cooking]

Top and peel 4 fresh onions.
Chop coarsely and carmelize in 1T butter.
Place onions in a soup pot and add 4-5 cups water or broth.
Season with salt and a sprig of rosemary.
Cook over low heat for 2-3 hours, removing rosemary after 1 hour.
Remove most/all of the onions.
[My onions were pulled fresh that day from Freddy Wood's garden. You can complete this soup by topping with slices of toasted bread and grated cheese and bake, as for standard onion soup recipes - I'm just interested in the onion broth to cook the Kreplach in here.]

Brown 1/2 C spicy pan sausage with
1/3 C each minced carrot and onion.
Season during cooking with salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes.
Set aside when cooked.
[I used the green top of one of the fresh onions.]

Dough (makes ~20 pastries - a good basic noodle dough recipe):
Place 2/3C flour in a large mixing bowl.
Lightly beat 1 egg with 1/2 tsp salt and 1T each water and oil.
Mix by hand, then knead for 10 minutes.
Rest kneaded dough for 1 hour.
Roll out dough to 1/8" thick.
Cut rolled dough into 3" squares.
Place about 1T Filling onto the center of each square.
Fold one dough corner to its opposite over filling.
Seal pastry edges with the tines of a fork.
Dry each pastry on parchment for 15 minutes each side.
Gently float Kreplach one-by-one into boiling Onion Soup.
Cook Kreplach for 7-10 minutes, turning gently with a slotted spoon.

Ladle 6-7 Kreplach into a soup bowl along with a portion of the Onion Soup broth. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and serve immediately with sliced French bread.

Unless you can roll out dough into perfect rectangles, there will be edges you've trimmed off when cutting squares to make the pastries with. Not to worry. Just slice them into 1/4" strips, dry them with the Kreplach, and then toss them into the onion broth too. They're wonderful and won't be wasted.

This recipe turned out really well. The Clog-wife really enjoyed it as a lunch following a 2-hour dance class. I had no idea making home-made noodles was so easy or so rewarding.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Kite Flying Over Evinston

This evening on the drive home I saw a swallow-tailed kite wheeling around the pastures just up the road from our home. These splendid agile birds are yet another "black and white" raptor species that can be observed in north central Florida.

Swallow-tailed kites generally hunt on the wing, taking insect prey out of the air like swallows, but occasionally may also take small snakes, mammals and other small prey from low branches or other spots nearer to the ground. These kites have a beautiful forked tail and their black and white plumage makes them look like they are flying around in black-tie formalwear.

Beauty, thy name is Elanoides forficatus.

Sistine Chapel Chimney Watch

Sistine Chapel chimney watch 4/18/2005: black smoke.

More Observations From The (Llama) Field

Temperatures were quite cool this past weekend, and the llamas probably were glad to have their long fleeces intact. Except for the two that were shorn last week.

When I first spotted the two shorn llamas I thought I was looking at caricatures from a Dr. Suess book. All the wool from the base of the jaws on down had been removed. The result was a pair of ungainly, oddly spindly and skinny animals with oversized blocks of fur where the heads should have been. One black, the other white.

Apparently the other llamas don't put up with this sort of blatant swim against the current tides of llama fashion and sensibility, because they will have nothing to do with their two naked cohorts. Its the sort of reception you get if you show up to a politically-themed birthday party wearing an American flag for a kilt and another smaller one for a bib at the dinner table (which is just what an acquaintance did at the Friday night party previously reported here.)

All the sheep were shorn, so they are all equally accepting of eachothers' new school uniforms. And guess what? That's the crowd the shorn llamas hang out with now. Turncoats.

See, we can learn alot about human nature from observing animals. The dumber ones, anyway.

Boston Marathon Day

The Boston Marathon was run today. Winners and times reported here.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Partying With The Senator

The Clog-wife and I attended a party last night and got to briefly meet State Senator Rod Smith. He's recently joined the slate of candidates for the Florida Gubernatorial Race, and hopes to have Jeb Bush's job come 2006. I asked him for some campaign info and a Gainesville contact, and he gave me his campaign website URL. The party host had asked her long-time friend Senator Smith, a Baptist Democrat, to offer an invocation on the party and dinner. He did just that. Your basic uplifiting invocation that didn't alienate anyone, and urged us to support and love each other, and to do the right thing.

Smith's only challenger to date is Congressman Jim Davis, who has a strong following in the crucial Tampa area, and who has already raised about a half-million dollars in the first 2 months of his campaign.

I'm no stranger to parties where local-level politicians appear for some handshaking and good old-fashioned one-on-one discussion of issues. This party wasn't a political event per se; it was a politically-themed and well-catered birthday party, complete with outspoken liberal political comedian and Air America Radio talk show host Marc Maron, who'd been flown in all the way from New York.

Mr. Maron cracked wise for a half-hour or so after dinner, and managed to reach every one of the party-goers by either making them laugh or squirm, or both. The Senator didn't laugh at all the jokes - probably felt they were way left of where he's at in public. I didn't see him squirm once. I suspect that, being a successful trial attorney, he's probably practiced his poker face for a long time.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Lessons From The (Llama) Field

Just east of Micanopy, where the county road know by us as The Cross Creek Road joins Highway 441, there lies a pasture known by us as The Llama Field. The 10- or so acre pasture is home to a band of ewes with their new lambs and a band of llamas and their young, perhaps 30 animals in all. I pass by the field each day during the morning and evening drive to and from work in Gainesville, and so I am able to make brief observations of the place, and even learn some lessons.

Generally the sheep are milling about seemingly oblivious to any outside stimuli.
Something there is about a mouthful of grass that turns sheep into deeply contemplative creatures.
These sheep don't seem to do much else besides stand around and slowly, metronomically, chew...chew…chew, as if entranced in some
hypnotic state. We’ve all seen people like that, and they vote.

In contrast, one or more of the adult llamas is always alert, turns to face whatever has its attention, and is more than ready to snort or stamp the alarm, fume and spit in defiance or disapproval, or just plain bolt off in a huff. We’ve all met people like that too, and sometimes we don’t like them very much.

When I hear someone growling on about being “empowered” I commonly think this: You either think
the rest of us are predators that threaten you, or else you think we're all just dumb sheep who need the blustering of one such as you to protect us from ourselves. Now, I firmly believe that one should stand up for one's self. However, standing up for what is right doesn't mean one need be a crabby sharp-toothed old buzzsaw all the time. I guess, like my dear mother, I consider patience and meekness to be virtues that apply in most situations.

Sometime last year, a pair of helium-filled mylar balloons got loose from a child's grasp and floated away, only to become snagged in the top of an oak tree in the llama field. The hurricanes of last summer blew down a few trees, including the one the balloons had become lodged in. Fast-forward to the present. The balloons are still there, in the top of the fallen oak tree, but are now just 3 feet off the ground within easy reach of even a child. I'm not sure of the lessons to be learned there, but several phrases come to mind: What goes up eventually comes down; chickens come home to roost; even a lost balloon may outlive the tree that it catches in; and, nothing is ever truly lost.
Don't ever keep your good ideas, dreams and good intentions to yourself. Float them out there with patience and meekness for all to see and share. They may get away from you and may even soar beyond your grasp, but they may be found and taken up by strangers and outlive you after all.
Those are lessons I learned from two balloons and a llama field.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Send Me An Owl

Yesterday morning I lay awake beneath an open window trying to pick out the odd birdsong behind the wall of noise put up by the cardinals, titmice and mockingbirds. Far back in the woods and floating nearly inaudibly above the immediate clangor, the hoo hoohoo hoo hoo of a great horned owl caught my attention.

The last time I saw, rather than heard, great horned owls was during a hike in the foggy twilight in the wintry foothills above Boise, Idaho with my brother VBC3 and his young daughters. The owls were perched in the bare branches of cottonwood trees and were periodically swooping at a flock of American robins pattering among the fallen leaves of scrubby western hackberry trees that were clinging to the sides of a rocky ravine that we were exploring. The misty twilight and the presence of hunting owls in the last light of day made the experience especially magical.

Later, on the morning drive across Paynes Prairie I saw three ospreys perched on the power poles that parallel the road. Then, at the north end of the stretch I saw the familiar pair of bald eagles that I always see. Ospreys commonly hunch over when at perch, whereas the eagles typically perch boldly upright. Even at distances too great to note differences in size or in the black and white coloration of the two raptors, one can frequently correctly distinguish and identify the perching birds by their silhouettes. In flight the ospreys soar with a crook in their wings, and eagles soar with their wings at the horizontal.

I do love seeing these majestic raptors at the start of nearly every day.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Clog-wife Wins Medals

While I lay in bed listening to the bobwhites early yesterday, the Clog-wife was preparing to compete in an Irish feis, at Hutchinson Island, Fl.

She brought home 6 gold medals, 2 silver medals, and a fourth place plastic medal. She's got the dance in her. Locally, the Clog-wife sponsors and runs the Inisheer Irish Dance Company, a performance group that is in regular demand in the Gainesville area.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Bobwhite Days in Evinston

After nearly two days of some fearful thunderstorms that spawned flooding and damaging tornados, the Sun has come out again over my rural village of Evinston (scroll down for java-script link) in north central Florida.

I lay awake in bed this morning, as the first rays of sunlight lit the sky, and listened to the many birds cheerfully greet the day, as I always do. Today was a Bobwhite coming-out party. The air resounded in all quarters until 4:00 p.m. with the clear and distinctive two-note "bob-WHITE!" calls of their namesake, and now the 4-6 individuals have fallen silent. To my ears, the call sounds rather more like "toot-SWEET!" or "hoot-WHEEET!" than "bob-white". The call is a perfect and surprisingly loud and ringing whistle that rises abruptly at the end of the second syllable. I can easily replicate this whistle, and, chiming in between calls of the birds, I like to imagine that the birds hear and respond to my attempts to join their party (I frequently try to whistle-banter with Eastern Towhees and Carolina Wrens too, in the same fashion.)

I killed a Gambel's quail when I was but 18, as it foraged among the willows and vegetation along a small tributary of the Payette River near Horseshoe Bend, Idaho. The blast blew the poor bird's legs right off and didn't kill it. I cried when I looked at the helplesss bird's lively black eyes, knowing I had to dispatch it. I haven't willingly killed a bird since, although I once shot unsuccessfully at a Canada goose with my brother VBC2, as it winged over a frozen Snake River near Rexburg, Idaho, in about 1980. I wonder if he remembers that occasion?

I also have observed in Idaho the rarer and secretive Mountain Quail, and,
near The Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, the lovely Scaled Quail, whose neck and chest feathers reminded me of the large scales of the carp and other similar fish.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Prince of Tides is Dead

Pat Conroy died yesterday. Conroy was the author of such impassioned novels such as The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides. All of these works were made into memorable movies that I would recommend to nearly anyone.

Conroy's description
of the salt marshes of the South Carolina lowlands in The Prince of Tides made me seek out salt marshes upon my relocation to Florida and to visit and walk among the hundreds of bronze and marble sculptures at the 9,000+ acres Brookgreen Gardens near Muriel's Inlet, SC (patience, the site loads slowly). Mormon visitors to Brookgreen Gardens will be undoubtedly be very interested in the scupltures of Mahonri Moriancumer Young, grandson of Brigham Young, whose works are represented at Brookgreen Gardens, and whose sculptures also include the Seagull Monument on Temple Square, in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the "This is the Place" monument in Emigration Canyon east of Salt Lake City proper.

Salt marshes quickly became one of my favorite Florida ecosystems, and are among the most nutrient-rich and productive natural communties in the state. The Clog-wife and I have a 4' x 2' painting of a Cedar Key, Florida salt marsh, by Gainesville artist Eleanor Blair, hanging in our living room. The painting captures the surprising light and varied hues perfusing a local salt marsh, as an unseen Sun pierces the clouds of a brief afternoon thunderstorm.

Flat Stanley has visited Cedar Key, and has even kayaked among the salt marshes there.

Our Daily Bread

One of the first jobs my Dad held was as a baker for Albertson's grocery in Pocatello, Idaho, in the early 1950's. Twenty-something years later he taught me how to knead and bake bread consistently and efficiently, and taught me to appreciate the joy in a job well done. Of course, the bread itself was the reward, especially after smelling the delicious loaves baking in the oven for nearly an hour, and during the recommended cool-down before slicing.

Bread, the most fundamental of all foodstuffs, lives in our cultural consciousness and also inhabits our speech in such phrases as our daily bread, and bread of life. Baking and breaking bread are activities fraught with tradition and history, and symbolism.

The World Cup of Baking, the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie is held every 3 years in Paris. This year the competition is to be held in Paris, and the American team is getting ready for the bake-off. Learn about this event at this article from National Public Radio.

1200 bread recipes, courtesy of Sara Lee.
140 bread recipes here, courtesy of Fleischmann's Yeast.

Counting Bailey's Beads

Two momentous events occur this day, April 8, 2005, whose conjunction is a momentous coincidence worth remark at The Clog Almanac: Pope John Paul II's funeral and interment at St. Peter's in Rome, and an eclipse of the Sun.

Today's eclipse is a hybrid eclipse. As the moon covers the Sun, one situated at the center of the swath where the total eclipse can be viewed will see the phenomenon known as Bailey's Beads, produced as the Sun's photosphere shines through the valleys on the Moon's irregular surface.

Bailey's Beads remind me of a celestial rosary appropriate for a Pope.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Lileks on Places that He Wouldn't Want to Live in

James Lileks weighs in about places in which he wouldn’t want to reside, with his usual lighthearted grumbly phrases that never fail to make me chuckle. My home state of Idaho gets a small but favorable nod, as it should.

Florida, the state I live in at present, is described as a “strange theme park alternately run by Walt Disney and Pennywhistle the Clown”. I can't say I'm in complete agreement with that statement because that would overlook the natural gems that abound in this state, as well as the sprawling and depressing boneyards otherwise known as "retirement communities" - neither of which are exactly Disneyesque or clown-scary.

Lileks is taking April off so his posts are light and sporadic. The post I reference (no permalink) appears in his April 7, 2005 update. I read Lileks every day.

Killing Wolves and Grizzlies in Alaska

Alaska is allowing hunters to kill grizzly bears so said hunters will have more moose to kill.

That about sums up the reasoning behind the state’s “predator control” program. The linked Seattle Times article states that 250 wolves have already been done in. I guess it was time to move on to bears.

What do you want to bet that next year it will be cougars?

Meanwhile, Canadian and US authorities seem to be closing in on a ring of bald eagle poachers and eagle parts traffickers.

Oil Bubble?

Lawrence Kudlow, one of the heavy-hitters that use the Blogger service, warns that rising oil prices AND the highest oil reserves inventory in 25 years is evidence of a speculative bubble that is about to burst. He predicts that after the pop, oil prices will return to normal.

I say the sooner, the better.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and April 7 is Sexual Assault Awareness Day.

Last evening Gainesville's local TV20 news reported that a forcible sexual assault is perpetrated every 42 minutes in Florida.

Florida is home to around 30,000 (!!!) sexual predators, and state and local law enforcement agencies have lost track of a bunch of those.

By way of comparison, the population estimate of Oregon's top predator, the black bear, ranges from 25,000 to 30,000. Why Oregon has the largest US population of black bears is just as vexing as why Florida seems to have such a high number of (sexual) predators, who because of their murderous proclivities seem to populate the national media as well.

The Clog-wife and I are house- or land- hunting. Occasionally the disclosures that accompany the listings include sexual predator data along with the usual utility service, acreage, housing type, and flood zone information.

This is the America we live in, but not the one I was born in.

Solar Eclipse

Part of the US will experience a partial solar eclipse on Friday April 8, 2005. The hybrid eclipse will be visible in areas of the country that lie south of a line extending from southern California to New Jersey. Here in north central Florida, the eclipse will be at its fullest a few minutes after 6:00 p.m. EST.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Little Purple Flowers and a Piece of Purple Legislation

Purple is the color long associated with popes and kings. Prince Charles, perhaps the next King of England, has postponed his wedding in order to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Were I to send flowers to either of these men, I would send a big boquet of these purple flowers which are blooming now in north central Florida:

Blue Flag Iris, which I saw blooming next to a small pond this morning as a pair of red-shouldered hawks screamed from the overhanging trees; Venus' Looking-glass, a demure little flower and one of my favorites; our common Florida Violet; and a non-native which has been associated with southern homesteads for so long it is considered a native by most, the Chinaberry.

The Pope is dead, and lies in state in the Vatican. Here in Florida, the legislature just passed a bill making it easier to kill someone who threatens you in a public place.

If that is not a piece of purple legislation, nothing is. Some commentators feel it will spur gun sales and turn Florida into a post-modern version of the Wild West.

I wonder how many folks will be left brain-dead with feeding tubes after the spent shells stop plinking on the sidewalks. [No disrespect to Terri Schiavo or her family intended.]

Monday, April 04, 2005

Fuel Takes Off

The price of 87-octane petrol stands at about $2.36/gallon in Gainesville, Florida today. Ouch.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sunday Recipe Blog

Flounder Filets with Dill & Garlic Bechamel Sauce, Glazed Baby Carrots, Buttered Turnips, and Garlic Potatoes

4-6 small flounder filets
4-5 medium potatoes
10-12 fresh baby carrots
1-2 medium turnips
1 strip bacon
4-5 sprigs fresh dill leaves (remove from coarser stalks)
4-5 cloves garlic
3/4C milk + 1/4C heavy or whipping cream
4T butter or margarine
2T white flour
1T honey
2T sour cream
1 quartered lemon

[This meal requires the cook to manage several operations at once in order to ensure that all the elements will be finished at the same time. Best engineer the order of preparation and cooking ahead of time.]

Carrots: Remove tops and tails from 10-12 fresh baby carrots. Pare and cook whole in salted water. Drain, add 1T butter and 1T honey. Agitate over low flame until reduced and carrots are glazed.

Turnips: Dice 1-2 medium peeled turnips and cook in salted water at a slow boil until just tender. Drain, and add 1-2 tsp butter, and salt and pepper to taste.

Potatoes: Pare 4-6 potatoes, cut coarsely and boil slowly in salted water until just tender. Drain and add 1T minced garlic, 2T sour cream, and 1T butter. Stir until potatoes are slightly smashed and coated, sprinkle a pinch of minced dill leaves over the finished potatoes.

While the above are being prepared, prepare the Bechamel sauce:

Bechamel sauce: Mince 1 strip of bacon and fry until done in the skillet in which the filets will be cooked. Remove the bacon bits to a paper towel to add to the Bechamel sauce; add floured filets to the hot bacon grease (see below).

In a separate skillet, melt 2T butter then add about 2T white flour and cook over low heat for 5-8 minutes to make a light roux. Add 3/4C milk +1/4C cream and stir over low heat. Add 1-2T minced fresh dill, 1T minced garlic, the bacon bits and a dash of salt and white pepper to taste. Continue stirring until thickened.

Flounder Filets: Dredge 4 small Flounder filets in white flour. Pan-fry filets over medium heat in the bacon grease (see above). These filets cook in just a minute or two - DON'T leave them to fry for more than a couple of minutes on each side! Remove filets from pan to serving plates, and squeeze a lemon quarter over each, then pile on the vegetables, which are just now perfectly done.

Ladle Bechamel sauce over the filets, and serve with the glazed carrots, buttered turnips, or/and the garlic smashed potatoes. Garnish sparingly with chopped dill leaves.

Next (Salad) Course: Follow the flounder/vegetables course with a lightly dressed mixed greens salad if desired - add peeled orange sections or dried cranberries to provide a tart contrast to the mild fish and starchy vegetable course. (At the host's disgression, at this point in the meal, any obnoxious guests *could* be made to suck on a spent lemon quarter instead of being served a nice salad, and thenceforth barred outright from partaking of the forthcoming dessert course, and sent packing.)

Clog-wife and I really enjoyed this meal for our Sunday dinner. Unlike me, she is NO fan of turnips - which explains the garlic potatoes in addition to the turnips, which I love, and the carrots.

Major Intelligence Failure

The media focus surrounding the death of John Paul II has eclipsed what I think is a very big news story:

On Thursday the
Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction issued its 618-page report.

The report is unsparing in its criticism of the performance of this country's intelligence agencies, and serves up precious tidbits like this one, which I think should be read in a loud voice twice over at least:
"We conclude that the intelligence community was dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgements about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. This was a major intelligence failure".
The report offers 70 recommendations on how to fix the 15 agencies now under the direction of John Negroponte, the newly-appointed Director of National Intelligence.

The text of the surprisingly frank letter to the president that accompanied the report is here.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Non Habemus Papam

Rome: Pope John Paul II is dead.

One billion Catholics worldwide now mourn the death and celebrate the life of their good shepherd. Latest reports from the Catholic News Service at this link.

President George Bush's press statement given at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 2, 2005 is summarized in this Reuters article.

Hans Christian Andersen Bicentennial

The Danish writer of beloved children's stories, Hans Christian Andersen, was born 200 years ago today, on April 2, 1805. Is it not fitting then, that the country of his birth should celebrate the bicentennial with a week-long festival?

There is a very nice article this morning at the National Public Radio website. Anderson penned such favorites as The Princess and the Pea, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Mermaid, and The Emperor's New Clothes.

Why not pick up a copy of his tales and read a few of them aloud to your children, in remembrance of this anniversary? On-line versions of 31 Anderson tales in easy-to-read print can be found here.

Bird Flu, Equine Encephalitis and Petting Zoo E. coli

On April 1, President G.W. Bush issued a directive that allows the quarantine of anyone entering the United States via international airlines that is suspected of having bird flu. But wait, what if they are suspected of having the swine flu, which scared us all in 1976?

Because avian flu strains may be transmitted to humans from birds, and because wild bird populations migrate over long distances that traverse oceans and continents, scientists and health officials are hoping to avoid a global flu pandemic by studying and tracking the transmission of the flu among or between domestic fowl, wild fowl, and human populations. Follow this link to the Centers for Disease Control web resources concerning bird flu. Very complete list of recent news items concerning the spread of bird flu in Asia is located here, at the The Poultry Site.

Meanwhile, here in Florida, we've just been apprised of the year's first case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis. The affected horse had also been exposed to West Nile Virus. Both of these serious, and in some cases, fatal diseases can be transmitted to humans by mosquitos.

While we're in the category of *diseases spread by animals*, at last count, at least 22 in Florida have been infected with a particularly virulent strain of E. coli from the same traveling petting zoo outfit.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Jazz Month and Tartan Week

April is National Jazz Awareness Month. The calendar- or almanac-minded jazz enthusiast will want to check out the This Day in Jazz History sidebar at this very informative Smithsonian website.

I pretty much stay away from the modern fusion style, preferring the old stuff, from the period spanning the days where ragtime and blues were mingling, up through the 1960’s. But I'm no rabid enthusiast, and the Clog-wife considers modern jazz too jangled and discombobulated for her tastes.

Just to poke the diehards in the eye, let me say this:
It seems to be, and quite oddly so, accepted as sophisticated to praise a theme that is played in one key, against inversions of 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th chords of a wholly distinct other key, while set to a trap-set drum rhythm seemingly improvised for a completely separate tune. The result is a Mysterious and Wondrous Alchemists' Dream to some, while to others, like the Clog-wife, it is but unremarkable dross, and nothing more. My sentiments lie somewhat north of there. Still, I'll never sport just a little tuft of short whiskers immediately below my lower lip, like those the m0dern *beatnikoids* have affected these past few years.
Rather, I'll be content with the standard geologist/biologist beard, suitable for wearing with a kilt on occasions such as National Tartan Day.

National Tartan Day is April 6th. New York hosts a parade on Saturday April 2nd. This year the sword used by William Wallace (Braveheart) at the Battle of Stirling will be exhibited in New York. I understand this is the first time the sword has left Scotland's borders in 700 years. Time to put on the Sport Kilt the Clog-wife gave me for my birthday.

Serene, But Gravely Ill

The Pope is serene but gravely ill. He has chosen to remain in his apartments at the Vatican. The news networks are now looking to what would occur should the Pontiff pass away.

My brother Vaughn and I visited Rome in 1980, just 2 years after John Paul had become the Pope. We were sightseeing when I overheard 2 young women discussing in Spanish that they'd better leave off their sightseeing and get over to the Vatican so they could see the Pope at his Thursday appearance at St. Peters. At that point I interupted and inquired how to get to the Vatican. The two girls, daughters of Argentinian diplomats, said "Easy - go down to the corner and catch Bus 61!"

So we did. That was the most crowded bus I'd ever ridden on, even the ones in the middle of Guadalajara. One of those hang on while you hang out bus rides, full of chattering people with only one thing on their mind - Il Papa!

We were rewarded. The Pope came out, spoke a short sermon and blessing, then conversed and sang in the various languages of the very large crowd assembled in the square. Most memorable to me: the contingent from Mexico; a busload of 15 year-old girls, all dressed in white lace and satin and chiffon, who had travelled all that way to celebrate their quincean~eras at the center of the Catholic universe.

Today nearly a quarter century later, the Pope rests peacefully at the end of the 3rd longest papacy
in history. Link to the Catholic World News here.