TLC's Blog (173)
It's July 1st. How did half the year get by me already?
When in grade school, summers seemed long & luxurious. Lots of time to do all the things that I wanted, plus extra things that were not on my personal to do list (like paint the laundry room in the basement). I had what seemed an infinite time to read, visit friends, go to camp, ride bikes, climb trees, build forts, etc, etc.
Now everything seems to be a blur. Is it just that time moves more quickly, or do I move more slowly?
There is a theory that each year of one's life passes more quickly than the previous because it represents a smaller percentage of one's total life. [My initial reaction to that was "hunh?"]
The math experts explain it this way: When you are 10 years old, one year of your life is 10% of your lifespan. But, when you are 50 years old, one year is just 2% of your lifespan, so it seems to go by a lot faster. In other words, it's all relative.
Which brings me to Albert Einstein's Big Idea: Time is Relative. He hypothesized that time moved slower or faster depending upon the speed that one thing moves in relation to another. He was able to prove mathematically that as one approaches the speed of light time passes much more slowly than it does for those of us stuck at human speed.
This helps me understand why time moves so slowly for young kids -- they have a lot of energy, and move a lot more quickly than adults! So, seems to me the message is that if we want to slow things down, we need to speed ourselves up!
I read an article about bats in the most recent University of Vermont alumnae magazine today. It made me want to cry.
Bats are dying due to a little-understood disorder called "White nose syndrome." The disorder causes the bats to wake frequently throughout their winter hibernation, and since they are hungry when they wake, they fly off in search of insects - their primary source of food. The problem is that in the winter, there are no insects, so the bats expend valuable energy in futile searches before returning to their winter slumbers. By the time they wake in the spring, the bats are so emaciated, that they are susceptible to other illnesses that healthy bats can easily fight off. So, the bats die from a variety of things, so it has been hard to pin-point the exact cause of the syndrome.
For the month of July, the average high temperature in Chicago is 83.5. So far this year (2010), the average high temp in July is closer to 87. The average last summer was about 80 degrees - one of the coolest July's on record, and certainly part of the reason this month has felt so darn hot!
Last year, I didn't put the air conditioner on once all summer. But last night I slept with the A/C on all night! The combination of heat and humidity was more than I could stand, but 76 degrees sure hit the spot! I think 2005 was the last summer that seemed this hot.
If there is anything to this Global Warming/Climate Change thing (and I believe there is), then these hot summers will become more frequent. That's the point of the two maps at the top of the page - the one on the right shows average temperatures for the eastern US today, and the one on the left shows what they could be in 2050. The take home message is that average temps are predicted to be much higher almost everywhere.
So, our area would be more like southern Missouri? And Northern Wisconsin would be like Central Illinois? And Florida would be mostly under water? Cripes! So in another 40 years, all those Midwestern snowbirds will just stay right here? Sounds like Sun City will need to expand!
I heard a talk about Water this morning by Reverend Budd Friend-Jones of the First Congregational Church of Crystal Lake. He spoke of the spiritual aspects of water - the life force that all religions somehow honor through their creation stories and important rituals.
Our bodies are about 70% water, as is the planet. Where there is no water, there is no life, for all life on our planet evolved in a water world.
Reverend Friend-Jones suggested that when we look into water, we see ourselves - not just our reflections, but our deeper selves as a people. What does our relationship with water say about us? What kind of people would treat the source of all life on the planet as a waste product or a garbage can?
Call me a savage, but I don't think you need modern religion to be moved by that idea!
Consider the Lakota word for water, "mee-nee." The literal translation of "mee-nee" is "my spiritual quality of life." The Lakota regarded water as the life source, and felt they had been entrusted to care for this Sacred Resource by the Creator!
I thought a nice winter photo would help me keep my cool while writing about the heat!
I heard someone refer to the "Dog Days" of summer, which got me wondering about where that term came from.
First off, the dog days are generally considered the hottest, most humid days of summer that run sometime between early July and mid-September. But, why are dogs taking the heat for this unpleasant time of year?
After doing some research, it looks like the term originally had nothing to do with the furry, friendly critters known as "man's best friend." Rather, the term arose in reference to the "dog star" in the constellation "Canis Major" (Big Dog).
It may be safe to say that "scenic" is in the eye of the beholder. One person's scenic drive may be tedious to another who just wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and is annoyed by the hills, slower speed limits, curves and trees close to the road.
I love driving through the county's gently rolling farm fields, but know people who think this area is too flat and the farm fields are b o r i n g.
Whether one likes scenic vistas of farmfields, or curvy, hilly routes that cross through examples of the county's glacial remants (moraines, kettles, kames and outwash plains), there are many scenic driving experiences to be had in McHenry County.
For example, I think most any road through Bull Valley is scenic, with their windey turns and hills, plus the trees overhanging the road and the farm fields stretching across the rolling hills.
As if we needed another reason to purchase our food from local sources, along comes the Great American Egg Recall of 2010!
Billions of eggs potentially tainted with Salmonella bacteria, and thousands of people sick as a result.
The photos of the factory egg "farms" are too awful for me to include here -- chickens packed in cages, stacked on top of one another in conditions that should be criminal. And why? Because Americans want cheap eggs. Lots of cheap eggs. At the rate of 150 (or more) eggs per person, per year, that adds up to nearly 50 billions eggs a year - and that's just the ones folks buy in cartons -- add in all the eggs that are used as an ingredient in the foods we buy, and we are looking at closer to 75 billion eggs consumed each year in the US!
At a price of about $1.00 per dozen, we are talking about at least $4 billion in egg sales each year.
There is an alternative, you know. Yep, more folks could buy their eggs from local farmers.
Did you know that native people, for perhaps thousands of years before Europeans arrived on this continent, managed the land to make it more conducive to hunting? They lit fires to keep the brush down in the woods, and to keep the landscape around their encampments open for visibility, and safe from wildfires.
This painting by Frederic Remington, noted painter of the American west in the 1800s, shows Native people watching a grass fire that they set. This would be an image that Remington actually witnessed -- he wasn't one for painting from his imagination -- he liked to depict real people and real situations that he witnessed first hand. Kind of like an early newspaper photographer, but with a canvas and paint brushes.
An early settler's journal describes this place we live in today as looking like "apple orchards planted by the hand of God for the pleasure of man." The oak woods that early settlers found were open, easy to walk or ride a horse through. Today, one might say they were "park like."
This open and inviting scene was part natural (through spread of wildfires), but also partly human-made, through the use of controlled fires by Native peoples.
After European settlement of the region, wildfires were eliminated as were human-made fires. This permitted brush and less hardy trees (like maples and ash) to grow unhindered by fire.
If you've driven on Fleming Road, you have probably thought "This is pretty" or words to that effect. But why do people react that way to some drives and not others?
The hills. The trees. The curves in the road. Trees close to the road. Trees overhanging the road way -- a canopy effect. It all contributes to a scenic driving experience.
A "peaceful and comforting ride" is how one friend describes her trip down Fleming. Another told me that when she is all stressed out, as soon as she turns onto Fleming, the stress melts away - it has that effect on her.
But there is a plan afoot to "improve" the road -- to make it safer -- by enlarging the shoulders to at least 4 feet, and by cutting some of the hills down. The work would also include a change in how water runoff is handled.
Currently, runoff goes wherever it can since there are not consistent swales along both sides of the road. That may sound bad, but actually, it seems to work okay. The runoff flows into the existing low spots along the roadsides and slowly infiltrates into the ground, or is absorbed by plant roots. Modern engineering "standards" say that proper road design means that one must build either large swales or curbs and absorption wells to handle the runoff.
And all that engineering comes at a price - it means widening the road way by nearly 30 feet, from the existing 22 feet of pavement, to at least 30 feet of pavement and up to another 28 feet of ditches. I'm sorry, but how is that an improvement? An improvement in what way?
It seems counter-intuitive, doesn't it? Using fire as a tool to improve the condition of natural areas.
Yet, through millenia of struggle between plants, animals, and the natural forces of wind, snow and fire, a system developed in this area where the trees that were best able to withstand the effects of fire came to dominate much of the landscape. And along with those trees came the plant, animal, bird & insect species that were most compatible with those trees.
Yes, I'm talking about our oaks.
Like sentinels, the bur oaks stretched their branches out across the prairie, catching the maximum amount of sunlight - growing broader than they were tall.
And the fires made that all possible.
As I look around this time of year - leaves off the trees, flowers now brown, insects and other small creatures hidden away - I can't help but think of the wisdom of Nature.
Months ago, as the amount of daylight was shrinking and temperatures started to decline, plants and animals were heeding these signals and starting to store energy for the coming winter.
Deciduous trees and bushes like oaks and maples literally shut down for the season. Sap no long flows, and without leaves, photosynthesis - that energy producing machine - ceases. Perennial plants like coneflowers and hostas die back to the ground after storing as much energy in their roots as they can. Frogs find a mucky spot where they nestle in for the winter, their vital signs dropping to near zero as they enter a state of suspended animation.
When the snow and ice and freezing temperatures arrive, they are ready. And rather than fight back against the weather with shovels and salt and four-wheel drive, they wait. They wait patiently while the amount of daylight grows longer and the temperatures climb ever so slowly.
The plants and animals are ready for winter. Are you?
January is just around the corner now.
A blanket of snow covers the ground, insulating the earth during the cold of winter.
Nuthatches, juncos and chickadees are now regulars at the birdfeeders, keeping up their energy for the cold months ahead.
Resolutions are being made. Year end donations are being given. Holiday decorations are coming down.
It is a time when many of us reflect on the year just past -- and marvel at how much faster this year passed than years prior to this one. "Where did the time go?" "What did I accomplish this year?" are some of the laments heard.
Some reflection is good - lessons learned, friendships renewed, pounds lost. Too much reflecting can become dangerous -- dwelling on worries and regrets, all those "what ifs" and "if onlys" that we carry around with us.
As one thinks back on events passed, remember to keep an eye to the future - to the times ahead. Rather than worrying about the friends you didn't contact this year, resolve to make contact in 2011. Instead of beating oneself up for mistakes made this year, give yourself a break, and resolve to do better next year -- you can't change the past, but you can sure do something about tomorrow!
Wishing you all peace and happiness in the new year!
In 1979, author John Fowles released his non-fiction book "The Tree." Coming from the author of The French Lieutenant's Woman, this sweet little book must have surprised many.
The writing style is pure Fowles - densely packed with sensuous descriptions of his life in England - but the subject matter is unexpected.
Using his experiences with trees growing up and living in both urban and rural England, he expertly tells a story of the interdependence of humankind, art and nature.
Thirty years ago, he was asking questions that we have yet to answer. How do we heal the disconnect between people and nature? Are doing nature a disservice when we try to explain it using science, rather than appreciating it as we do great art?
Do you ever wonder why it snows?
With the regular snow events that we've had since early December, I find myself thinking about snow - where it comes from and why it falls...
Well, the simple explanation is that we get snow when moisture falls from the clouds and the air is below freezing, so the water falls in a frozen state.
Actually, it is so cold up in the clouds that all rain starts out as snow, but then it thaws on the way down.
According to a short article on The Weather Predictor website, ice crystals form in clouds, and as they stick to each other, eventually they become heavy enough that they fall.
If the air is warm enough on the way down, the ice crystals (aka snow flakes) turn into rain drops. If the air temperature is just above freezing, the snowflakes partly melt and we get sleet. And if the air is below freezing, then we get snow!
Now, snow takes up a lot more space than rain. In fact, on average, a 10" snow fall, if melted, would yield about an inch of water. So, when we get a couple inches of snow, and traffic gets all messed up -- cars in the ditch, skidding on the slick pavement -- that is an amount of water equivalent to less than a quarter inch of rain.